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Current Affairs - 13 March 2018

General Affairs 

Shiv Sena Says Would Support Protesting Farmers Regardless Of "Red Flags"
  • The Shiv Sena today threw its weight behind the thousands of farmers who marched from Nashik to Mumbai to highlight their problems and said the party would back them regardless of their red flags.

    The saffron party also said the role of leaders with communist ideology - a red flag usually symbolises communism - in the agitation for a separate Maharashtra cannot be forgotten.

    The CPI(M)-affiliated All India Kisan Sabha is spearheading the protest that turned south Mumbai's Azad Maidan into a sea of red today as thousands of farmers carrying red flags converged there after walking around 180 km from neighbouring Nashik district.

    The farmers plan to surround the state Assembly complex to press for their demands of an unconditional loan waiver and transfer of forest land to tribal farmers who have been tilling it for years.

    "It is possible that the government may talk of assurances to farmers and even deploy some of its ministers to temporarily confuse them," the Sena, an ally of the ruling BJP in Maharashtra and at the Centre, said in an editorial in its mouthpiece 'Saamana'.

    "However, seeing their persistence it can be gauged that farmers will not fall prey to any of the tactics," it said.

    The Sena added that it would not give importance to what thoughts, organisation and colour the agitation represents.

    "They do not have any caste, religion or political ideology...Farmers have red flags in their hands. How can the Sena support them is the question?" it said.

    "We may have differences... however, their active participation in the state's agitation, especially for Mumbai, cannot be forgotten...those who do (forget), should be considered enemies of the state," the Sena said.

    It noted that Shreepad Amrut Dange, Ahilya Rangnekar and Shahir Annabhau Sathe were leaders with communist ideologies.

    "Mill workers and farmers were ready to spill their blood for the Maharashtra movement (held in the 1960s for creation of a separate Marathi-speaking state). Today, they are despondent and committing suicide," the Sena lamented.

    Lakhs of farmers are yet to get benefits of the loan waiver scheme, the Sena said, alleging that the government only indulged in advertisements for political benefits.

    "Today, thousands of 'Dharma Patils' have come to Mantralaya (the state secretariat) chanting the slogans of 'Jai Kisan'. Their anger and pain will burn the government," it said.

    Dharma Patil, a farmer hailing from Dhule district, consumed poison at the state secretariat here last month and died in hospital a few days later.

    His family alleged that their land was acquired by the government at a low price for a thermal power plant in Dondaicha, while neighbouring farmers got higher compensation.

    He approached authorities many times with his grievance, but in vain, the family alleged.

PM Modi, Macron Push For World's Largest Nuclear Power Plant In India
  • The leaders of France and India reiterated their intention to start work by the end of this year on what could become the world's largest nuclear power plant, advancing talks that have continued for nearly a decade.

    French President Emmanuel Macron and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged Electricite de France SA and India's monopoly atomic energy producer, Nuclear Power Corp., to accelerate discussions on a contract and start work at the site in Jaitapur, in Maharashtra state, by December.

    "Once installed, the Jaitapur project will be the largest nuclear power plant in the world, with a total capacity of 9.6 gigawatts," according to a joint statement issued Saturday by the governments during Macron's visit to India.

    International equipment makers have been hesitant to move forward with projects in India because the nation's nuclear liability law exposes reactor suppliers to claims for damages during an accident. That complicates India's plans to expand its nuclear power capacity more than ninefold by 2032.

    In the statement, the two leaders "welcomed the understanding shared by the two parties on the enforcement of India's rules and regulations on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages applicable to the Jaitapur project."

    French state-run reactor maker Areva SA signed an initial agreement in 2009 with Nuclear Power for the Jaitapur project following a civil nuclear cooperation accord between the governments. After Areva's restructuring, EDF in 2016 signed an initial pact with the Indian atomic energy producer to supply six reactors at Jaitapur, a small town on India's western coast known for its mango and coconut orchards.

    EDF will undertake all the studies and component purchases for the first two reactors. For the remaining four, some of those activities could be assigned to local companies, according to an emailed statement from the French supplier.

    India's nuclear power capacity is about 6.8 gigawatts, barely 2 percent of the country's total generation capacity.

PM Modi, French President Macron Inaugurate UP's Biggest Solar Power Plant
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron have inaugurated Uttar Pradesh's biggest solar power plant in Mirzapur district's Chhanvey block. The prime minister and the French president pressed a button to energise the solar panels and dedicated the 100 MW facility to the people of the state.

    Built at a cost of around Rs. 500 crore by French firm ENGIE, the 100 MW solar plant has come up at Dadar Kalan village on the hilly terrain of the Vindhyas range. Some 1,18,600 solar panels have been set up in over 380 acres. The solar plant will generate 15.6 crore units of electricity annually, which is about 1.30 crore units per month. The electricity would be transmitted to Mirzapur's Jigna sub-station which belongs to the Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation Ltd, officials said.

    Prime Minister Modi, Uttar Pradesh Governor Ram Naik and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath received the French president and his wife Brigitte Macron at the Lal Bahadur Shastri International airport Varanasi earlier today.

    Yesterday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron co-hosted the first edition of the International Solar Alliance or ISA summit at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi. The spotlight was on India which is being viewed as a key player in tapping solar energy.

    The International Solar Alliance is a treaty based international inter-governmental alliance of 121 solar resource rich countries lying fully or partially between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. The aim of the alliance is to promote solar energy and reduce the use of fossil fuels in sunshine-rich countries.

    Prime Minister Modi also pledged to generate 175 gigawatts (GW) of electricity in India from renewable energy sources by 2022, out of which 100 GW would be generated from solar power.

    23 heads of state, senior representatives of many countries, including deputy prime ministers and energy ministries attended the summit yesterday. Of the 121 potential countries, 61 have already joined the International Solar Alliance. 32 have ratified the Framework Agreement.

    Earlier today, the French President was given a welcome reception at the airport in Prime Minister Modi's parliamentary constituency - Varanasi. From the airport, the two leaders took a helicopter to Mirzapur for the inauguration of the solar power plant.

    From here the two leaders will proceed to Deen Dayal Hastkala Sankul - a trade facilitation centre in Varanasi.

    President Macron and Prime Minister Modi will also visit the Varanasi's Assi ghat, where the two leaders will take a boat ride on the ghats of the Ganga - from Assi to Dashashwamedh ghat. The two leaders will then have a private meeting over lunch, following which PM Modi will head to the Manduadih railway station, from where he will flag off the Varanasi-Patna intercity train.

    The French President will leave back for New Delhi shortly after lunch. The prime minister will then address a public meeting before flying back to Delhi from the Varanasi airport.

Karti Chidambaram Seeks Separate Cell In Tihar, Moves Court To Hear Bail Plea Today
  • The CBI today produced Karti Chidambaram, former Union minister P Chidambaram's son, in a Delhi court after his three-day police custody in the INX Media corruption case ended and sought his judicial custody for 15 days.

    Karti Chidambaram was produced in the court of Special Judge Sunil Rana, before whom CBI counsel V K Sharma moved an application for judicial custody of the senior Congress leader's son.

    However, Karti Chidambaram's counsel moved the court to hear his bail plea today itself which was otherwise listed for March 15.

    He also sought a separate cell in case Karti Chidambaram was sent to judicial custody.

    Karti Chidambaram's father P Chidambaram was also present in the courtroom.

    He was remanded in CBI custody for three days after the investigative agency claimed it had recovered some incriminating documents and CD from the Chennai office of Advantage Strategic Pvt Ltd., a company linked to him.

    Karti Chidambaram has been in CBI custody for questioning since his arrest from Chennai Airport on February 28.

    He was arrested on his return from the United Kingdom in connection with the FIR lodged on May 15 last year. It alleged irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance to INX Media for receiving overseas funds of about Rs. 305 crore in 2007 when his father was Union finance minister.

    The CBI had initially alleged that Karti Chidambaram received Rs. 10 lakh as bribe for the FIPB clearance. It, however, later revised the figure to USD 1 million (about Rs. 6.50 crore at the current exchange rate and Rs. 4.50 crore in 2007).

    The fresh evidence in the case, which triggered Karti Chidambaram's arrest, was based on the statement of Indrani Mukerjea, former director of INX Media (P) Ltd, who recorded it under section 164 of CrPC before a magistrate on February 17.

Not The First Time Naresh Agrawal Made A Controversial Comment
  • Former Samajwadi Party leader Naresh Agrawal, who after joining the BJP today took a swipe at actor-turned-politician Jaya Bachchan, has been in the news several times in the past for making controversial comments, even in parliament.

    "I have been compared with those who dance and work in films," Naresh Agrawal said today at an event in Delhi to mark his entry to the BJP.

    But his remark forced his new party to issue a disclaimer. "Shri Naresh Agarwal has joined Bhartiya Janata Party. He is welcome. However, his comments regarding Jaya Bachhan ji are improper and unacceptable," union minister Sushma Swaraj has tweeted.

    Mr Agrawal said the Samajwadi Party did not give him a Rajya Sabha berth from Uttar Pradesh and instead gave it to another person just because she "could dance and act in films".

    In July last year, Mr Agrawal's comment in Rajya Sabha during a heated debate on cow protection gangs had to be expunged.

    And more recently in December last, Mr Agarwal provoked a controversy with his comments on Kulbhushan Jadhav, the Indian man on death row in Pakistan, at a time there was widespread anger over the way his family was treated in Islamabad.

    "If they (Pakistan) consider Kulbhushan Jadhav a terrorist in their country, then they will treat him that way. We should treat terrorists in our country the same way," Mr Agrawal had said.

    And last month, Mr Agarwal triggered a row when he made remarks about Prime Minister Narendra Modi's caste, drawing severe criticism from the BJP, a party that has now welcomed him.

    At an event organised by traders in Lucknow, he had said, "Tell them to make laws in favour of the community... Amit Shah is from our community, but Modi is a Teli (community of oil-makers)."

    Mr Agrawal's term in the Rajya Sabha is ending next month and he was expecting a re-election to the Upper House. But his hopes were dashed when the Samajwadi Party chose Mrs Bachchan to be its candidate.

    On Monday, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra also immediately distanced his party from Mr Agrawal's remarks against Mrs Bachchan, saying the BJP respects people from all fields and welcomes them in politics.

Business Affairs

Manufacturing, capital, consumer goods push IIP growth to 7.5%, retail inflation falls to 4.4%
  • High on the strong growth seen in the manufacturing sector, India's industrial production registered 7.5 per cent growth in January, the data released by the Central Statistics Office stated on Monday. In January, the index expanded by 4 percentage points from 7.1 per cent in December. The industrial growth had grown 8.8 per cent, registering a 25-month-high, in November.

    The IIP growth in January this year was mainly on account of an uptick in the manufacturing sector, which constitutes of 77.63 per cent of the index. The manufacturing sector grew 8.7 per cent in January, and 10.7 per cent and 8.4 per cent in November and December, respectively.

    Capital goods, a barometer of investments, showed a sharp increase in output by 14.6 per cent in January 2018 against a decline of 0.6 per cent year ago. Consumer non-durable goods, which are mainly fast moving consumer goods, too showed an increase of 10.5 per cent as against a growth of 9.6 per cent. Consumer durable goods recorded a growth rate of 8 per cent in January 2018 against a contraction of 2 per cent a year ago. However, the mining sector saw a flat growth of 0.1 per cent compared to 8.6 per cent a year ago.

    As per the use-based classification, the growth rates in January 2018 over January 2017 are 5.8 per cent in primary goods, 4.9 per cent in intermediate goods, and 6.8 per cent in Infrastructure/ Construction Goods. In terms of industries, 16 out of 23 industry groups in the manufacturing sector showed positive growth during January, 2018.

    Experts suggest the consistent growth in the industrial production could boost the overall economic growth in the fourth quarter. The industrial production, which was 3.5 per cent in the same month last year, has seen a consistent growth in the past one year.

    The overall recovery in the industrial growth will also bring a sigh of relief for the NDA government. The BJP-led government struggled to bring the economy back on track after two big structural reforms - demonetisation and the GST rollout - were carried by the Modi government. Though a positive industrial growth and recent PMI numbers indicate an economic recovery, a major chunk of the economy, which is the informal sector that employs significant population of the country, is still coping with the effects of the structural reforms. The PMI indicates the country's purchasing power; it took a five-year high in December to 54.7 and settled at 52.4 in January.

    Retail inflation falls to 4-month low 

    The retail inflation, however, fell to four-month low of 4.44 per cent in the month of February as compared to 5.07 per cent in January. The reduction in retail inflation has been seen due to cheaper food articles and lower cost for fuel. In February 2017, however, it was 3.65 per cent. Inflation in vegetables was 17.57 per cent in February against 26.97 per cent in January. Inflation for the fuel and light category was at 6.80 per cent in February against 7.73 per cent in January.

Supreme Court to auction unencumbered assets of Unitech to refund homebuyers
  • In what could be another cause of worry for the beleaguered real estate developer Unitech Limited, the Supreme Court on Monday said that it will auction unencumbered assets of the embattled realty major. The apex court today sought details of all unencumbered assets of Unitech.

    Coming as a relief for Unitech homebuyers, the Supreme Court said the auctioned assets will be used to refund money to home buyers. A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra also imposed a cost of Rs 25 lakh on JM Financial Asset Reconstruction Company, which had taken over some loans advanced by HDFC Bank to Unitech Limited.

    The bench, also comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, said that the asset reconstruction company had given the impression that it would pay the money for refund to home buyers and now the entire proceeding had been diverted. "We treat it as an unnecessary diversion form the main case," the bench said while imposing the cost.

    The bench asked the real estate company to file the details of its unencumbered assets and made it clear that they would be auctioned to settle the deals of hassled home buyers. The details of assets have to be filed within 15 days from today. "You (Unitech) have cheated and deceived home buyers," said Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said, according to NDTV.

    The firm had on March 5 told the apex court that Mumbai-based firm J M Financial Ltd was interested in financing their under-construction projects.

    The apex court had on October 30 last year said that Unitech Ltd Managing Director Sanjay Chandra, currently in jail, would be granted bail only after the real estate group deposited money with its registry by December-end.

    The top court had earlier directed the jail authorities to facilitate Chandra's meeting with his company officials and lawyers so that he could arrange money to refund the home-buyers as well as for completing the ongoing housing projects.

    Chandra is seeking interim bail from the apex court after the Delhi High Court on August 11 had rejected the plea in a criminal case lodged in 2015 by 158 home-buyers of Unitech projects' -- 'Wild Flower Country' and 'Anthea Project' -- situated in Gurugram.

    Last month, Crisis-hit Unitech Ltd reported widening of its net loss to Rs 103.42 crore for the quarter ended December on higher expenses. Its net loss stood at over Rs 17 crore in the year-ago period.

80:20 gold import scheme: Will take action against those who relaxed norms to favour private parties, says govt
  • The government on Monday said it would take a suitable action against those who were responsible for relaxing the norms while launching the 80:20 gold scheme, which resulted in a windfall of around Rs 4,500 crore to 13 private entities in just six-month time. On March 7, the members of the sub-committee of Public Accounts Committee (PAC) had found that the 80:20 gold import scheme was given a go ahead against the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence decision.

    Now the government has said the norms were relaxed to allegedly to favour certain private trading houses during the last days of the UPA government. 
    Faced with a barrage of attacks from the Congress over the Rs 12,700-crore fraud at Punjab National Bank, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on March 6 had said former finance minister P Chidambaram helped Mehul Choksi's Gitanjali Group through the UPA government's 80:20 gold import scheme. Mehul Choksi and Nirav Modi are both the main accused in the country's biggest bank fraud case.

    Without naming any of the jewellers who may have benefited from the scheme, the government said on Monday it would definitely examine the circumstances as to why some private parties were benefitted by allowing them to import gold under the 20:80 scheme when the government was in transition.

    The government said the increase in gold imports had put pressure on the current account deficit in 2012-13. And after coming to power, the NDA government took a series of steps, including increasing the import duties on gold and gold products and placing restrictions, a government release said.  
    The release added that at first on July 22, 2013, and then on August 14, 2013, the restrictions were modified to introduce the 20:80 scheme, under which, it was mandated that at least 20 per cent of gold imported is to be used for export. Under this scheme, only banks and PSUs like MMTC, STC, etc. were allowed to import gold for domestic use following the 20:80 formula.

    The scheme was designed to restrict the import of gold, conserve foreign exchange by imposing export obligations, and ensure the premium from purchase and sale of gold resided in the hands of public agencies.  

    However, from May 21, 2014, the Premier Trading Houses (PTH) and Star Trading Houses (STH) were also allowed to import gold under the 20:80 scheme. "Then finance minister (P Chidambaram) approved the modified scheme on May 13, 2014, even though the model code of conduct was in place since March 5, 2014, with the announcement of the Lok Sabha Polls, and the counting was due on May 16, 2014," said the release.

    At the time when the scheme was announced, it was known that there was a shortage of gold for domestic use, and a premium between $100 to $150 per ounce (approximately Rs 2 lakh per kg) was being charged from the domestic customers. "Allowing private companies like PTHs and STHs to import gold provided these agencies opportunities of windfall gain, as the benefit of the high premium on gold could now be availed of by these agencies," said the release.  

    The release said a CAG report had indicated that the gold imported by 13 trading houses during June 2014 to November 2014 was 282.77 MTs, which means a windfall gain of about Rs 4500 crore to these agencies during this period (assuming a premium of Rs 2 lakh per kg and 80 per cent of imported gold supplied to domestic market earning the premium). Even the export obligations were being met through export of plain jewellery, viz., bangles and chains, which were re-melted in offshore locations through front/ shell companies for the purpose of re-import, it said.  

    After the NDA government came to power, it reviewed the scheme and noted that since the liberalisation in May 2014, recorded gold imports had increased substantially averaging about 140-150 tons a month, the release said. "The increase in gold imports had benefitted disproportionately the STH/PTHs whose imports had shot up by 320 per cent and who then accounted for 60 per cent of all imports compared to 20 per cent before May," it said.

    This benefit stemmed from a de facto discrimination in their favour because the expanded 20:80 scheme privileged these STHs/PTHs, who being traders and exporters (of anything and not just gold), and best positioned to take advantage of the scheme, said the release. On November 28, 2014, the NDA government had scrapped the 20:80 scheme altogether.

India's retail inflation eases to 4.44% in February
  • India's retail inflation eased for the second straight month in February but remained above the 4 percent medium-term target of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), strengthening views that it will hold rates steady at its April meeting rather than raise them. The central bank, which has kept rates steady since a 25-basis-point cut in August, is widely expected to maintain rates at their current level next month.

    India's measure of consumer price inflation on an annual basis, the CPI index, eased to 4.44 percent in February, data released by the Ministry of Statistics showed on Monday. January saw annual consumer inflation of 5.1 percent, off the December figure of 5.2 percent, which was the highest rate in 17 months. Analysts polled by Reuters had predicted February's rate would ease to 4.8 percent from 5.1 percent in January. Forecasts ranged from 4.4 percent to 5.6 percent.

    Consumer food prices rose 3.26 percent in February, compared with 4.70 percent in January, as prices of pulses fell more than 17 percent from a year earlier. Fuel and light inflation stood at 6.8 percent, compared with 7.58 percent in January, while housing inflation stood at 8.28 percent, from 8.33 percent the previous month.

    Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who faces a general election next year, is trying to push up economic growth while keeping inflation under control.

    The central bank expects retail inflation to pick up to 5.1 percent to 5.6 percent in April-September before easing, assuming normal rainfall. Some economists feel that with annual economic growth climbing to 7.2 percent in the October-December quarter, the RBI could resort to pre-emptive monetary tightening to cool prices.

    "We expect the RBI to allude to possible policy tightening at the next meeting in early April, as the concerns on growth slide," Prakash Sakpal, ING Asia economist in Singapore, said in a note published before Monday's data release.

    Analysts said retail inflation could accelerate to 6 percent by June and may remain at 5 percent to 6 percent in the financial year that begins on April 1, leading to pre-emptive monetary tightening. Several analysts now expect one 25-basis-point hike in July-September.

    Separately, India's annual industrial output grew 7.5 percent in January, data released on Monday showed, compared with 6.7 percent forecast in a Reuters poll. The world's seventh largest economy is expected to grow 6.6 percent in the current fiscal year ending in March. The International Monetary Fund expects growth will pick up to 7.4 percent in 2018, and 7.8 percent in 2019.

Sensex closes 43 points lower, Nifty at 10,226 level amid rangebound trade
  • The BSE Sensex finished 43 points lower at 33,307.14 today after a bout of fag-end selling wiped out early gains. Metal stocks came under heavy selling pressure after US President Donald Trump signed two proclamations that imposed tariffs on some steel and aluminium imports, sparking fears of retaliatory moves by other countries.

    The 30-share index, which remained in the positive zone for the major part of the session, hit a high of 33,519.49 but succumbed to a late sell-off to end at 33,307.14, down 44.43 points, or 0.13 per cent.

    The broad-based NSE Nifty, after shuttling between 10,296.70 and 10,211.90, finally ended 15.80 points, or 0.15 per cent down at 10,226.85.

    Meanwhile, foreign portfolio investors (FPIs) sold shares worth Rs 364.80 crore on net basis while domestic institutional investors (DIIs) bought shares worth Rs 675.26 crore yesterday, provisional data showed.

General Awareness

Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA)
  • Context: European Investment Bank (EIB) and Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA) Ltd. have signed a loan agreement for a second line of credit (LoC) of Euro 150 million on non-sovereign basis.

    The line of credit is for tenure of 15 years including a grace period of 3 years, and it will be used for financing Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency projects in India. More than 1.1 million households are expected to benefit from clean energy produced with these funds.

    Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency Ltd:

    Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency Limited (IREDA) is a Mini Ratna (Category – I) Government of India Enterprise under the administrative control of Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE).

    IREDA is a Public Limited Government Company established as a Non-Banking Financial Institution in 1987 engaged in promoting, developing and extending financial assistance for setting up projects relating to new and renewable sources of energy and energy efficiency/conservation with the motto: “ENERGY FOR EVER”.

    The main objectives of IREDA are:

    To give financial support to specific projects and schemes for generating electricity and / or energy through new and renewable sources and conserving energy through energy efficiency.
    To maintain its position as a leading organization to provide efficient and effective financing in renewable energy and energy efficiency / conservation projects.
    To increase IREDA`s share in the renewable energy sector by way of innovative financing.
    Improvement in the efficiency of services provided to customers through continual improvement of systems, processes and resources.
    To strive to be competitive institution through customer satisfaction.

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