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Current Affairs - 01 May 2018

General Affairs 

Parliamentary Panel To Tour Border Areas In Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh Next Month
  • The Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs, headed by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor which also includes Rahul Gandhi, will visit border areas in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh next month to take stock of the situation following the Doklam crisis with China, sources said.

    The panel has been looking into various aspects of the India-China military standoff at Doklam and has been briefed several times on the issue by the current Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale.

    Another source said that the idea was to get a firsthand experience of the situation on the India-China border in the two states and to see, or if possible visit, areas where incursions have happened, another source said.

    The panel, which may also use a chopper to get an aerial view, could also interact with top security and defense officials deployed there, sources said.

    Indian and Chinese troops were locked in a 73-day standoff in Doklam after the India objected to the construction of a road by China.

    Bhutan and China also have a dispute over Doklam.

    Earlier, foreign ministry officials had informed the 31-member parliamentary panel that Bhutan was with India on the issue.

    During the discussions, Congress president Rahul Gandhi questioned foreign ministry officials on China's objective and why Beijing chose Doklam to create a confrontation, sources said.

    Mr Gandhi had also asked about reports of a major Chinese buildup near Doklam, to which officials replied that nothing had been done in Indian Territory.

Kavinder Gupta, New J&K Deputy Chief Minister, Stirs Controversy On Day 1
  • Jammu and Kashmir's new Deputy Chief Minister Kavinder Gupta began his government innings with a comment on the 8-year-old's rape and murder in Kathua that stirred a new controversy. He said the incident that has shaken the country was a "minor" issue and said it should not be given much importance. "Rasana is a chhoti si baat (minor issue)... We have to think this should never happen again and the child gets justice. There are many challenges like this facing the government. We should not give Rasana so much bhaav (importance)," Mr Gupta told reporters.

    Mr Gupta, a long-time member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS, the ideological mentor of the BJP, replaced Nirmal Singh as Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti's number 2. He joined the BJP's ideological mentor RSS when he was 13. He was later a secretary of Vishva Hindu Parishad in Punjab and also headed the BJP's youth wing for two consecutive terms between 1993 and 1998.

    Mr Gupta is a veteran in state politics and served three terms from 2005 and the mayor of Jammu. The 59-year-old has also been general secretary of the state's BJP unit. He was elected an MLA for the first time in 2014 from Gandhi Nagar seat where he defeated senior Congress leader Raman Bhalla.

    After the BJP-PDP came together to form government in the state in the elections that year, Mr Gupta was elected as the speaker.

"India Makes No Distinctions Between Religions," Says PM Modi
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday said India made no distinction between religions and had no history of attacking other countries or schools of thought.

    Speaking at an event in New Delhi on the occasion of Buddha Purnima, PM Modi said the teachings of the Buddha were based on humanity and the country was proud that the philosophy had originated here.

    "India has never had a history or tradition of attacking others' ideology or country. We have also never tried to create a distinction between religions," PM Modi said while speaking at an event organized by the Ministry of Culture.

    "In today's world, humanity and compassion had become even more relevant," PM Modi added.

    The Prime Minister offered "Sangh Dana" (donation) to Buddhist monks from countries such as Japan, Sri Lanka and Vietnam who were present at the event.

    He also presented the "Vaishakh Sammaan Prashasti Patra" to the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, Sarnath, and the All India Bhikshu Sangha, Bodh Gaya.

On Buddha Purnima, PM Modi, President Send Across Greetings
  • President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday extended greetings on the occasion of Buddha Purnima.

    "On Buddha Purnima, greetings to fellow citizens and to the global Buddhist community. Lord Buddha's message of non-violence, love and compassion provides us the strength to work for the welfare of others. May his teachings guide us towards universal fraternity," the president said. 

    PM Modi said: "The teachings of Lord Buddha are extremely relevant in the 21st century. 

    "His was a life devoted to alleviating suffering and removing injustice from society. His compassion has endeared him to millions. Buddha Purnima greetings to everyone."

    Buddha Purnima is traditionally celebrated in majority of East Asia to commemorate the birth of Gautam Buddha, who later became the founder of Buddhism.

Mamata Banerjee's Party Wins More Than A Third Of Seats Without Contest
  • Even before the May 14 local body elections in West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's party has won a stunning 34 per cent seats unopposed. There were no opposition candidates for these seats by the time nominations closed on Saturday, which means a walkover for the Trinamool Congress.

    Without a single vote being cast, the Trinamool has won over 20,000 of 58,692 Panchayat seats in the state - the highest number to go uncontested in Bengal's history. In all these seats, the opposition either withdrew candidates or had failed to complete paperwork.

    "Without the eggs hatching, chicken are born," said Bengal Congress chief, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury. "This is a glaring example of the mockery of democracy, an eloquent testimony of the butchery of electoral rights of the common people," he commented.

    Ever since the polls were announced, opposition parties have been in and out of court claiming their candidates were unable to file nominations because of violence and "terror" by the ruling party.

    The election body accepted the nomination of nine candidates on WhatsApp after they complained that they were not being allowed near the filing centre. Earlier this month, bikers waving swords, daggers, knives and axes drove into the office of a district magistrate in Birbhum just before the filing of nominations were to start for the day. It is not known what party they belonged to.

    The election commission that day scrapped nominations, seemingly under pressure from the government.

    The court ordered an additional day of nominations to help candidates who couldn't submit their documents. But there was violence again on the new date, and one person was killed in Birbhum.

    By then, the ruling party had filed over 72,000 nominations, the BJP around 35,000, the Left 22,000 and the Congress 10,000.

    Birbhum is among the districts with the highest number of uncontested seats.

    On Saturday, the last day for withdrawing nominations, the Trinamool took back 10,000 nominations; it had filed almost 15,000 more than the number of seats.

    This is not the first time seats have been won uncontested by ruling parties in the Panchayat polls.

    In 2013, the Trinamool had won over 10 per cent of the seats unopposed.

    Ten years before that, it was the Left that had won 11 per cent of the Panchayat seats without contest.

    Mamata Banerjee's party has surpassed the Left's record three times over.

    Accused of terror tactics, the Trinamool has said that opposition parties have no connect with people on the ground and are therefore unable to find candidates to field.

    Opposition parties are back in the High Court challenging the decision to hold one-day polling instead of three days as announced earlier. Opposition parties have petitioned the court expressing concern over security during the election.

    "The poll has turned into a war," former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee said in Kolkata on Sunday. The state Election Commission, he said, had violated a court order to talk to all stakeholders to ensure peaceful polls.

Business Affairs

All villages electrified, but not all houses: PM Modi's mission far from complete
  • Seven decades after independence and nearly three decades after India's economic liberalisation, the government of the day took great pride in announcing that every village in the country has now been electrified. Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter to announce that "28th April 2018 will be remembered as a historic day in the development journey of India. Yesterday, we fulfilled a commitment due to which the lives of several Indians will be transformed forever! I am delighted that every single village of India now has access to electricity." There was much back-slapping, especially because this was managed 12 days ahead of the deadline set by Modi.

    On paper, Modi has now delivered on a key electoral promise that helped him storm into power - electricity to all. When he took office in 2014, there were over 18,400 villages without electricity and last Saturday, Leisang in Manipur became the last village to be connected to the grid. However, that is mostly on paper because, almost 32 million homes remain in the dark as you read this.

    The government considers a village electrified if it boasts basic electrical infrastructure and even 10 per cent of its households and public places - including schools, local administrative offices and health centres - have power. A Bloomberg report said that, as of last week, less than 8 per cent of the newly electrified villages had all homes electrified. That means a majority are still a long way off from enjoying access to electricity, and that is hardly a cause for celebration.

    According to a 2015 study by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, which covered six of the most energy deprived states of the country - Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal - there is typically a "significant lag between the time when electricity was first brought to the villages and the households in these villages actually getting electrified". The median lag in the report ranged from two years in the case of Jharkhand and Bihar to about 15 years in the case Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh and over 25 years in Odisha.

    So even Team Modi recognises that much more needs to be done to make India truly shining. Last September, the government unveiled the Rs 16,320 crore Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (SAUBHAGYA) to provide electricity connection to around 40 million families in rural and urban areas by March 2019. In fact, the power ministry, optimistically, had set an internal target of December 2018 to achieve universal electrification under the Saubhagya scheme.

    "I'm sceptical that the government would be able to electrify all the households by 2019. It's going to take many more years after that," Johannes Urpelainen, a professor of energy and resources at Washington's Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies told the media company. The government's records back him up. The report adds that per latest government data, India has electrified only about 13 per cent of the almost 36.8 million homes identified in October as needing power. To meet its electricity-to-every-household promise, the government will need to more than triple its monthly electrification pace.

    And mere power poles and transformers won't suffice - access to electricity has to be backed by reliability, quality and duration of supply for the hinterlands to get a taste of the much promised acche din.

    After Modi's tweet, India Today sent out a volley of reporters across India and they found a different ground reality. In Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj's constituency, more than six villages are yet to see a tube light switch on. Village Saprum, barely 90 km from Jamshedpur, Jharkhand, which even boasts a railway station - albeit 1.5 km away - has had poles without electricity for two years, and counting.

    Significantly, the CEEW study had found that among the 50 per cent of households without an electricity connection, a whopping two thirds had not taken an electricity connection despite having the electricity grid in the vicinity. "Households cited main reasons as affordability of the connection charges and monthly charges, and unreliable supply," said the study.

    The National Electricity Policy unveiled in 2005 had pompously stated that "The Act mandates supply of electricity through a correct meter within a stipulated period. The Authority should develop regulations as required under Section 55 of the Act within three months...The Act requires all consumers to be metered within two years." According to media reports, only half of the connected rural households are metered currently.

    Despite these challenges, the country has traversed a long, hard, impressive journey towards achieving 100 per cent electrification. In fact, according to the International Energy Agency, by providing energy access to over 500 million people since 2000, India has become one of the greatest-ever success stories in electrification. But with the World Bank last year claiming that India topped the list of most power-deficient countries - with Nigeria for company - celebrations seem a tad premature.

Data mining at its worse! Chinese workers wear caps that monitor emotions, brain activity
  • If you have been very perturbed, like most people, with the Cambridge Analytica-Facebook data mining scandal, you will not be happy to know that the worst is yet to come. Data mining pales in front of what is happening in a lot of Chinese companies - data mining directly from the workers' brains and controlling productivity levels. This is done with the help of uniform caps or safety helmets that workers wear during their shifts.

    A report in Hong-Kong-based South China Morning Post looked into Hangzhou Zhongheng Electric that researches on, develops, produces and distributes high frequency switch power supply systems to understand how this technology works. They found that the workers wear caps that monitor their brainwaves and data that is used by the management to adjust the pace of production and redesign workflows. The company can manipulate the frequency and length of breaks taken by the workers to increase efficiency and reduce stress.

    How this works is that there are lightweight sensors concealed within uniform caps and safety helmets that continuously monitor the wearer's brainwaves and send the information across to computers. These computers, in turn use AI to keep a tab on emotional spikes including rage, anxiety and even depression.

    Stephen Chen, the author of the report mentions that although this technology is available across the world, it is only in China where it has been used in such a huge scale. This technology is used across Chinese factories, state-owned companies, military and public transport to maintain its lead in the manufacturing sector and to maintain social stability.

    With the help of this technology that has increased efficiency, the Hangzhou Zhongheng Electric has made profits of USD 315 million since 2014 when it was introduced.

    Jin Jia, Associate Professor of Brain Science and Cognitive Psychology at Ningbo University's business school mentioned that a highly emotional employee in an important post could "affect an entire production line, jeopardising his or her own safety as well as that of others". She added that when the system flags a warning, the manager urges the worker to take a day off or moves them to a less critical post. Ningbo University has one of the main centres of research on brain surveillance in the country, Neuro Cap, that's central government-funded.

    Jia also said that initially workers were scared and there was a resistance to the device. "They thought we could read their mind. This caused some discomfort and resistance in the beginning. After a while they got used to the device. It looked and felt just like a safety helmet. They wore it all day at work," she said according to the SCMP report.

    The Changhai Hospital in Shanghai is working with Fudan University to develop a more sophisticated version of the device that would scan a person's facial expressions and body temperature. Ma Huajuan, a doctor at the facility said this could detect potential violent outbursts and warn the medical staff beforehand.

    Train drivers working in the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail line wear brain monitoring devices manufactured by tech company Deayea. The sensors map all kinds of brain activities, including fatigue and attention loss with 90% accuracy. In case the driver dozes off, the sensor would trigger an alarm in the cabin to wake the individual up.

    Similarly, the device has been put to use in the aviation industry as well to detect if the pilot is fit to fly.

    Invoking George Orwell's 'thought police' from his novel Nighteen Eighty-Four, Qiao Zhian, Professor of Management Psychology at Beijing Normal University said that while the device helps in making headway in business, it could also be used to control minds and infringe privacy. He added that while employers have huge incentives to use this technology, employees are always in a rather weak position to say no.

    "The selling of Facebook data is bad enough. Brain surveillance can take privacy abuse to a whole new level," he said.

HDFC reports 28% rise in Q4 net profit to Rs 3,961 cr, Rs 16.50 per equity share dividend declared
  • Mortgage lender HDFC on Monday reported a 28.63 per cent rise in consolidated net profit at Rs 3,961 crore in Q4, which came above estimates. The lender reported net profit of Rs 3,079.33 crore in the corresponding period of previous financial year (2016-17). A Bloomberg poll of analysts expected the lender to report profit after tax (PAT) of Rs 2,550 crore last quarter.

    The lender reported a 17.78 per cent rise in total income to Rs 21,248.79 crore as against Rs 18,040.59 crore in the year-ago period.

    Net profit rose 47 per cent to Rs 16,254.96 crore from Rs 11,051.12 crore in 2016-17.

    The board recommended a dividend of Rs 16.50 per equity share of face value of Rs 2 each for the financial year 2017-18.

    HDFC clocked Rs 265.46 crore in pre-tax gains due to profit on sale of investments after the corporation sold 100% equity share capital in HDFC Developers and HDFC Realty to Quikr India.

    On standalone basis, the lender posted 39.23 per cent rise in net profit at Rs 2,846.22 crore in the reported quarter as compared to Rs 2,044.2 crore earlier.

    Total income grew 13.14 per cent to Rs 9,633.89 crore as against Rs 8,514.51 crore in year-ago period.

    Total income in the full financial year rose to Rs 69,141.67 crore from Rs 61,087.63 crore in 2016-17.

    In a separate filing, HDFC announced appointment of Upendra Kumar Sinha and Jalaj Ashwin Dani as independent directors (additional directors) on the board for a period of 5 years with effect from April 30, 2018, subject to the approval of the members at the ensuing AGM.

    It also announced resignation of D M Sukthankar, Non-Executive Director and D N Ghosh, Independent Director from the board with effect from April 30.

    Shares of HDFC closed 1.44% per cent or 26 points higher at Rs 1,884 per scrip on BSE.

    HDFC is a holding company. The company is engaged in financing by way of loans for the purchase or construction of residential houses, commercial real estate and certain other purposes, in India. The company's segments include loans, life insurance, general insurance, asset management and others. It offers insurance products, such as motor, health, travel, home and personal accident in the retail division, and customized products, such as property, marine, aviation and liability insurance in the corporate division.

Sensex rises 190 pts to 35,160, Nifty closes at 10,739 level; Axis Bank, Reliance Industries, ICICI Bank top losers
  • The Sensex and Nifty closed higher amid optimism over Q4 earnings and higher Asian markets. While the Sensex rose 190 points to 35,160, Nifty was up 47 points to 10,739 level. YES Bank (3.90%), HUL (2.27%) and TCS (2.22%) were the top gainers on Sensex.

    Axis Bank (3.87%), Reliance Industries (3.18%) and ICICI Bank (1.25%) were the top Sensex losers.
    RIL (Rs 53.26 cr), YES Bank (Rs 51.72 cr) and Axis Bank (Rs 43.26 cr) were the top three stocks on the BSE in terms of volume toppers.

    VK Sharma, head Private Client Group and Capital Market Strategy at HDFC Securities said, "The Nifty carried on from where it closed Friday, to edge higher by 0.43% to 10, 739. It was the third day of gains for the Nifty. The gains came on the back of the RBI Circular Friday evening liberalizing the norms for external commercial borrowing (ECB).  This would will allow Indian companies to access cheaper funds from overseas markets. RBI has permitted Housing Finance Companies and port trust to avail of ECB. These relaxed norms are likely to cool-off short term yields significantly in our markets.  Bond Yields are likely to soften  when the markets open Wednesday. Equity markets are likely to open higher Wednesday, other things being equal."

    The Reliance Industries stock was among the top losers on Sensex and Nifty today after the Mukesh Ambani-led firm logged its highest-ever quarterly profit of Rs 9,435 crore in Q4, beating street estimates. The stock closed 3.18% or 31 points lower at 963.10 level on BSE.  The stock opened at 984 level and hit an intra day high of 992 level.

    "We're following the global trend, and there has not been any major disappointment in the domestic earnings season," said Sumit Pokharna, deputy vice president, Kotak Securities.

    While the MidCap index rose 0.56% to 17012, the BSE smallcap index  closed 0.89% higher at 18,401.

    Capital goods (1.48%), IT (1.44%) and banking stocks (0.43%) the major gainers among the BSE sectoral indexes. Sentiment got a boost after the RBI on Friday further liberalised External Commercial Borrowing (ECB) policy by including more sectors in the window, in a bid to facilitate easy access to overseas funds for India Inc, brokers said.

    Market breadth was positive with 1404 stocks rising against 1254 closing lower on the BSE.

    Domestic financial institutions continued to hold ground and retail investors built up more bets amid a firming Asian trend, said marketmen. Domestic institutional investors (DIIs) picked up shares worth a net Rs 633.71 crore on Friday. Foreign portfolio investors (FPIs) exited, pulling out shares amounting to Rs 759.21 crore on a net basis, showed provisional data. 

    Markets will remain shut tomorrow on account of "Maharashtra Day".
    Global markets

    Shares were higher in Europe and Asia on Monday following the release of better-than-expected manufacturing data for China. Markets were closed in Japan and mainland China.

    Germany's DAX rose 0.2 percent to 12,608.52 and the CAC 40 of France added 0.2 percent to 5,494.72. The FTSE 100 of Britain climbed 0.4 percent to 7,533.71. The future for the Dow Jones industrial average was up 0.4 percent to 24,372.00 and the future for the S&P 500 advanced 0.3 percent to 2,878.70.

    The Hang Seng in Hong Kong climbed 1.7 percent to 30,808.45 and South Korea's Kospi added 0.9 percent to 2,515.38. The S&P ASX 200 in Australia added 0.5 percent to 5,982.70. Shares also rose in Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia. Markets in mainland China and Japan were closed for holidays.

Direct Benefit Transfer process in fertiliser subsidy still far from perfect, says NITI Aayog commissioned study
  • A study by consulting firm Microsave, commissioned by NITI Aayog on the performance of the ongoing pilot direct benefit transfer in fertilizer (DBT-F), programmes shows improvement in success rates of Aadhaar authentication but slippage in real time Aadhaar authenticated transactions.

    A gradual roll-out of the project would have been beneficial, the agency points out.

    The total outgo on fertliser subsidy was Rs 70,000 crore in 2017-18 - it's the second largest component of the government of India's subsidy programme after food. DBT-F is supposed to reduce misuse of the programme and provide relief to the targeted beneficiaries. The government has launched pilots in 14 districts across Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Kerala, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, and Rajasthan. The Microsave analysis will help plan a wider roll out in the coming months.

    The study shows that fertiliser retailers 'adjust' transactions - report transactions on the IT platform with a delay -  due to Aadhaar unavailability with farmers at the time of purchase and Aadhaar authentication failure to minimise transaction time and manage high customer footfall. "Though the average transaction time through point-of-sale (PoS) device is five minutes, retailers are not inclined to use more than one device to manage high farmer footfall during peak season. This is because they would then have to hire a larger workforce," it says.

    In fact, the incidences of adjusted transactions increased to 21 per cent as compared to 10 per cent observed in an earlier round of similar survey conducted by Microsave. It noted that retailers don't ask farmers their Aadhaar numbers and sell to them on a manual basis without Aadhaar authentication. Later, they adjust these transactions. The average transaction time through PoS is 5 minutes. The duration has not changed from the previous round of evaluation.

    However, the response was positive in terms of transaction experience. The successful Aadhaar authentication in the first attempt has increased to 62 per cent as compared to 35 per cent in Round II. Overall, successful Aadhaar authentication in three attempts has increased to 97 per cent as compared to 93 per cent and 41 per cent in Round II and Round I, respectively, Microsave report points out. The study also reveals that 41 per cent of retailers update the fertiliser stock in PoS devices immediately after receiving the acknowledgement ID. The remaining 59 per cent of retailers take at least one day or more to update the stock. Ideally, retailers should not sell fertiliser without updating the stock in the PoS devices. However, pressure from the farmers and fear of losing business compel retailers to sell stock manually without Aadhaar authentication.

    MicroSave conducted the evaluations over three rounds spanning a year, starting from September, 2016. "We had conducted the evaluations of pilot districts over three rounds. The first round was in September 2016, the second in January 2017 and the third during July to September 2017. The objective has been to provide the government with actionable solutions to improve implementation and preparedness for the national rollout of DBT-F," says Manoj Sharma, Director of MicroSave Asia.

    The research covered 427 retailers and 5,659 farmers and was accompanied by interviews with 138 retailers and 185 farmers besides other stakeholders including district government officials, fertiliser company representatives, and district consultants.

    The study recommends doubling of retailer commission and issue of new retailer licenses to streamline the nation-wide launch.

    General Awareness

    Peace Mission 2018
    • What is it? It is a multi-nation counter-terror exercise that will take place under the framework of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. The main aim of the exercise will be to enhance counter-terror cooperation among the eight SCO member countries.

      Peace Mission exercises are held once in two years. This year’s exercises will be the 10th edition. The last time, it was held in 2016 in Kyrgyztan.

      Where is it being held? The 2018 edition will be held in the Ural mountains of Russia.

      Significance of this edition: In a first, India and Pakistan will be part of this exercise. It will be for the first time since Independence that India and Pakistan will both be part of a military exercise, though the armies of the two nations have worked together in UN peace keeping missions.

      SCO:

      The SCO was founded at a summit in Shanghai in 2001 by the Presidents of Russia, China, Kyrgyz Republic, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
      India and Pakistan were admitted as observers of the grouping in 2005. Both the countries were admitted as full members of the bloc last year.

      What’s important?

      For Prelims: SCO and Peace mission.
      For Mains: Significance of counter terror exercises and the need for international cooperation.

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