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Current Affairs - 29 May 2018

General Affairs 

Man With Nipah Symptoms Kept Under Observation In Goa Hospital
  • The state-run Goa Medical College and Hospital (GMCH) has kept under observation a 20-year-old Kerala resident who was found having symptoms of the Nipah virus.

    State health minister Vishwajit Rane said the man was under observation at Goa Medical College and Hospital, located near here in North Goa district, and it was not yet confirmed if he was infected with the deadly virus.

    The blood samples of the patient were sent for testing to the National Institute of Virology in Pune, Mr Rane said, adding that there was no need to panic.

    The patient's identity was not disclosed by Goa Medical College and Hospital.

    "The patient was travelling alone on a train from Kerala but took ill when he reached Thivim railway station in Goa this morning," Dr Utkarsh Betodkar, Chief Surveillance Officer, Directorate of Health Services told reporters.

    He said that the patient was initially referred to the district hospital in Mapusa town from where he was admitted to Goa Medical College and Hospital.

    "The patient is not quarantined. He has been kept in isolation as a precautionary measure," he said.

    He said that there was no need to panic as it was not a confirmed case of Nipah. He also ruled out the need to notify authorities about the patient's co-passengers.

    Dr Betodkar said that the results of the blood samples, which have been sent to Kerala, would be available by tomorrow evening.

    He added that the future course of action regarding the patient would be decided once the blood sample report arrives.

    "No advisory has been issued by the State government about the virus," he said.

    The Goa government has formed a committee, headed by the state's Health Secretary, to draw a protocol to deal with Nipah virus cases, if any, in the state.

    The virus has so far claimed 13 lives in Kerala.

    The outbreak of the Nipah virus infection, a newly emerging zoonosis that causes severe disease in both animals and humans, is suspected to be from an unused well at Perambra in Kerala's Kozhikode district which was infested with bats.

    The natural host of the virus is believed to be fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family, Pteropus genus.

    So far there is no vaccine against the virus which was first identified in 1998 in Kampung Sungai Nipah, Malaysia.

PM Modi's Idli, Dosa, Maggi Chat With Beneficiaries Of Cooking Gas Scheme
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi's interaction today with beneficiaries of the "Ujjwala Yojana", a government scheme to provide cooking gas cylinders to the poor, had some lighter moments.

    PM Modi "snagged" an invite to the home of a Tamil Nadu woman for idlis and dosas and also laughed when a woman in Odisha shared that she had started making Maggi noodles since she received an LPG connection.

    "How has having a gas cylinder been useful," PM Modi asked a woman, Rudramma, from Tamil Nadu's Krishnagiri, during his interaction with the women beneficiaries across the country.

    "Did you make dosa and idls before getting a gas cylinder," the Prime Minister asked. "It was very difficult to make them before," said Rudramma, adding that it was much easier now.

    "Will you make me some dosas when I come over?" the PM asked, smiling. She was delighted.

    When it was the turn of a group of women from Mayurbhanj in Odisha, the PM asked, "Since you got LPG connection, what is it that you make that your children love most?"

    "Maggi, chowmien, chatpata (spicy food), these are what my children love," one of the women said.

    The prime minister, amused, repeated: "Maggi banati ho? (you cook Maggi?)"

    A group of women from Anantnag in Kashmir said they prayed every day during Ramzan that PM Modi continued as prime minister.

    "This is the month of Ramzan. We read the Holy Quran daily. We are going to pray daily for you and we hope that you continue to be our prime minister," the women said.

    PM Modi recalled that when he was young he had many Muslim neighbours. "Many of my friends were Muslims. I remember during Ramzan, women woke up particularly early but the coming of the Ujjwala Yojana would have changed that too," he told them.

    PM Modi said the government has given 10 crore LPG connections in the last four years. Of this, four crore connections have been given for free to women from economically weak families, and 45 per cent of the beneficiaries were Dalits and tribals.

No Change In Status Quo At Doklam, Says Sushma Swaraj
  • Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj today said there is no change in status quo in Doklam and the position of China and Bhutan on the matter continues to exist as before.

    "There has been no change in the situation at the Doklam faceoff site. Status quo is continuing," Ms Swaraj told reporters in New Delhi.

    She was addressing a press conference on the fourth anniversary of the National Democratic Alliance government.

    The tension began in June last year when Indian troops entered the Doklam plateau to stop the Chinese military from building a new road, which New Delhi viewed as a serious security concern because of the access it provides to Beijing.

    Chinese military positions in Doklam would have been in a position to strike targets in the "Chicken's Neck" -- a strip of land in West Bengal's Siliguri, which connects India with the states in the north-east.

    In August last year, both India and China announced that they had withdrawn all their troops from Doklam.

    Any attempt by China to change the status quo along the Indian border may lead to another Doklam-like stand-off, India's envoy to China Gautam Bambawale has said, adding that the best way to prevent such incidents is through candid and frank talks.

    India has also pinned the genesis of the Doklam crisis on China, asserting that it was the communist nation that first tried to change the "status quo" in the disputed plateau, eventually leading to the over three-month-long military standoff.

    "The Chinese military changed the status quo in the Doklam area and therefore India reacted to it. Ours was a reaction to the change in the status quo by the Chinese military," Gautam Bambawale had told Hong Kong-based daily South China Morning Post in March.

    Following the Indian ambassador's remarks, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying had said that "Donglong (Doklam) belongs to China because we have historical conventions."

    "China's activities there (Doklam) are within our sovereign rights. There is no such thing as changing status quo," Hua had told reporters in March.

Pranab Mukherjee Accepts RSS Invite To Address Trainees In Nagpur
  • Former President Pranab Mukherjee, a veteran Congress leader, will address an event of the RSS or Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the organisation frequently criticised by Rahul Gandhi. Mr Mukherjee will deliver the main address at a function organised on June 7 in Nagpur for RSS cadre training to become full-time volunteers or pracharaks.

    The RSS is the ideological mentor of the ruling BJP and several ministers visit its headquarters in Nagpur. Congress president Rahul Gandhi accuses the organisation of trying to divide the country on religious lines.

    An RSS leader said that the former president, a lifelong Congressman, had accepted the invite to the event was a significant message.

    "Former President Pranab Mukherjee's acceptance to attend the RSS event in Nagpur sends a message to the country that on vital issues there should be dialogue and adversaries are not enemies. Questions raised on RSS-Hindutva is being answered by his acceptance of the invitation," said Rakesh Sinha.

    Reports say around 800 RSS workers below 45 from across the country will attend the annual training camp or Sangh Shiksha Varg, organised in the summer.

    RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat is also expected to address the event.

    Mr Mukherjee, 82, was the top troubleshooter of the Congress till 2012, when he became President. He was a minister in almost every Congress government since Indira Gandhi helped him get elected to the Rajya Sabha in 1969. He was widely expected to be the Congress choice for Prime Minister after Sonia Gandhi refused to take the top job in 2004. But Sonia Gandhi picked Manmohan Singh.

    As president, Mr Mukherjee witnessed the transition from the Congress-led UPA to the BJP-led government in 2014. He also enjoyed a cordial relationship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and is believed to have invited Mohan Bhagwat to the Rashtrapati Bhavan despite perceived differences in ideology.

No Talks With Terror, Sushma Swaraj Denies Softening Of Stand With Pak
  • Addressing her annual press conference on the Modi government's fourth anniversary, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj ruled out a dialogue with Pakistan unless terror emanating from there into India, stopped.

    "We are ready for talks. But there's a caveat -- terror and talks cannot go together. This has always been our position," Ms Swaraj told reporters in New Delhi.

    She was asked whether India was softening its position on Pakistan with a maritime dialogue taking place in Delhi today. Last year, the same talks were called off by India due to tensions over Indian prisoner Kulbhushan Jadhav. Both countries also restarted a track-two dialogue last month.

    But the foreign minister insisted there was no fundamental change in policy. "When the border is hot, when soldiers are dying, we can't talk to Pakistan. The NSAs (national security advisers) talk, because talks on terror should be held," she said.

    Asked about India's position on the new US sanctions against Iran, Ms Swaraj said, "We accept UN sanctions, not country specific ones."

    India has a crucial strategic port in Iran and also depends heavily on oil imports from there, both of which will be hit by American sanctions.

    On concerns regarding H-1B visas, the foreign minister said India was talking to all arms of the US government and administration to ensure Indians are not affected. "Ultimately it's America's decision; they are a sovereign country but we are trying our best," Ms Swaraj said.

Business Affairs

Sterlite plant closure to cost India $3 billion annually; copper price to rise
  • While the copper smelter plant of Sterlite in Tuticorin has been shut for want of a consent to operate from the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, the announcement by the state Chief Minister E Palaniswamy that the plant would be shut is likely to impact domestic supplies and create a temporary spurt in domestic prices in the physical market, say analysts. This could impact downstream manufacturers also. Order signed by MD Nasimmuddin, Principal Secretary to state govt, said: "...the government endorse the closure direction of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board and also direct it to seal the unit and close the plant permanently."

    "The closure of Sterlite Copper plant is an unfortunate development, especially since we have operated the plant for over 22 years in most transparent and sustainable way, contributing to Tuticorin and the state's socio-economic development. We will study the order and decide on the future course of action," Vedanta, in a statement, said.

    Ankit Narshana, Commodity Analyst at Edelweiss, said: "Temporarily, the shortage of copper can expect a temporary spurt in prices (up to about 2 per cent) from the current level of around Rs 455 per kg in the physical market." He, however, said India produces less than 10 per cent of the total copper production in the world, and there may be more copper imports to stem the price rise. He added imports would make up for shortage but would cost India around $3 billion in Forex annually.

    Soon after the protests turned violent in Tuticorin, Sterlite Copper CEO P Ramnath had told Business Today that the unit was the seventh largest smelter in the world with an installed capacity of 400,000 tonnes per annum of copper and, when operational, it used to meet 36 per cent of the total domestic copper market demand in the country with the balance getting exported. Incidentally, he also said that apart from copper, the unit, which employed 3,500 people directly and over 30,000 people indirectly, was also producing sulphuric acid and phosphoric acid for fertilizer plants.

    "The domestic production is going to be impacted because it is one of the topmost producers of copper. Also, it could have an impact on downstream manufacturers. However, it may not have a huge impact on pricing as that is impacted to a large extent by global developments," says Kaynat Chainwala, research analyst at Angel Broking. She says, copper prices are currently depressed as compared to the previous year and this is largely on account of global factors.

    The decline in global prices has been more than that in the domestic market due to the rupee depreciation. The months of June and July are generally a low seasonal demand period for copper. China dominates the base metals landscape, Chainwala points out, adding that on the London Metal Exchange copper prices are around $6900 per tonne.

21 PSBs took hit of Rs 25,775 cr due to bank frauds in FY18; PNB, SBI worst affected, RTI reveals
  • The Nirav Modi-Punjab National Bank saga may have hogged the limelight in recent times, but the problem of bank frauds is much longer and deeper, two recent right to information (RTI) replies revealed.

    To begin with, the 21 public sector banks (PSBs) together took a hit of whopping Rs 25,775 crore from bank frauds in the last financial year. Chandrasekhar Gaud, who had filed the RTI with the Reserve Bank of India, also told PTI that the apex bank's reply had clarified that only those cases of fraud involving a sum of over Rs 1 lakh were included in the list. Furthermore, it did not disclose the numbers of cases or the nature of the fraud.

    PNB had incurred the highest loss of Rs 6461.13 crore due to different cases of fraud followed by State Bank of India's loss of Rs 2,224.86 crore. Here's how the remaining PSBs stacked up in the hit list:

    Commenting on the RTI, economist Jayantilal Bhandari said that the condition of the state-owned banks was "extremely worrisome" due to banking fraud. "With regard to fraud cases, the banks are not only facing huge economic losses, but the prospects of giving new loans by them in the future are also affected adversely. This situation is obviously not good for the economy," he said.

    Another economist, Prasenjit Bose, in another recent RTI, found that banking frauds have gone up significantly in the last decade. According to The Hindustan Times, the RBI response to Bose's RTI revealed that in 2008-09, the average amount involved in loan related fraud was Rs 75 lakh. This increased to Rs 9 crore in 2017-18. Here, too, only loans with a ticket size of more than Rs 1 lakh were considered.

    Worse still, as per RBI's reply, the total value of bank frauds have gone up a scary 1,356 per cent in the past decade.  The report added that in seven years of the 10 under review, nationalised banks accounted for more than two-third of the total amount involved in these frauds.

    A total of 5,152 cases of fraud were reported in various banks of the country in the last fiscal. This is 76 more than the number of fraud cases reported a year before. A total of 5,076 cases of fraud had been reported in 2016-17.

    It's worth adding here that the total loss incurred from fraud is still a small proportion of the massive non-performing assets problem afflicting the country's banking sector. Last month, rating agency Crisil had called the current financial year the "year of reckoning" for banking system.

    According to senior director Somasekhar Vemuri, gross NPA will hit a peak of 11.5 per cent during the fiscal but will slip to 10.3 per cent in March 2019.

Hike Messenger to trim 25% of workforce to streamline operations
  • Acquisitions are usually followed by layoffs, and Hike Messenger is the latest start-up to prove this axiom true. The messaging and social media technology company founded by Kavin Bharti Mittal - son of telecom billionaire Sunil Mittal - has reportedly started laying off 20-25% of its workforce. According to The Economic Times, a major chunk of the pink slips are directed at former employees of Hike's latest two acquisitions, Creo and Pulse.

    "We made a few acquisitions last year that skyrocketed the team size, mostly in Bengaluru. We're integrating and streamlining these teams. Just business as usual," a company spokesperson told the daily. Sources in the know added that the total number of retrenchments could range between 50 and 75 employees across locations and across functions, including accounting and human resources.

    To remind you, the five-year-old, Delhi-based company had acquired Bengaluru-based tech startup Creo for an undisclosed amount last August. The latter had introduced HDMI media-streaming device Teewe and a smartphone, Mark 1. The Creo team at the time boasted a headcount of over 50 while Hike was already employing over 300 employees across its two offices in Delhi and Bangalore.

    A few months previously, Hike had acquired the social networking app Pulse and its parent InstaLively Livestreaming Pvt. Ltd, which was once considered to be the desi equivalent of Twitter-owned Periscope, the live video-streaming app. This company had boasted a headcount of under 50 at the time as per its LinkedIn profile.

    The report added that Hike, India's youngest unicorn, is offering the fired employees a severance package, starting at two months' salary and upwards. The timing may seem curious, since it comes four months after Hike launched a new product called Total, which lets users access essential services such as messaging, news, recharge and others without a data connection and paves the way for them to get on Data by providing packs at as low as a rupee. The company called it a "refined version of Android" and the idea was to democratize information and services, enabling the next billion people in India to access them at competitive prices. Streamlining the workforce at such a juncture raises eyebrows, especially since rival WhatsApp is busy adding newer features.

    The big question is whether this summer will be as bad as the previous one, which had seen huge layoffs among start-ups. Recent media reports - 50 fired by ShopClues, 40 asked to resign by Housejoy - seem ominous.

Forget UberAIR, India could soon have 'Made in India' flying taxis
  • As the developed countries advance towards devising better ways of transportation, India could also join the race soon. While tech giants like Google, Airbus, Uber, Volvo, and dozens others are working on driverless cars, a few among them, like UberAIR and Elon Musk's Boring Company and Hyperloop One, are taking the race to air or underground. In what can be good news for India, IIT-Kanpur this month signed an MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) worth Rs 15 crore with VTOL Aviation India Pvt Ltd, an Indian private aviation company, to build operational prototypes, which would be used as flying taxis. Over 100 researchers from IIT-Kanpur would work on making a fully-functional prototype and the project would be completed by 2023. Though in India the technology is at early stage, it definitely has the potential to change the country's ever growing traffic problem, especially in major cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata.

    Project to be Completed in 5 Years

    Under the deal, researchers will first conduct a feasibility test to identify key technological areas where they would work, and the rest of the project would be completed in the next five years. "We will establish proof of concept and identify the key technology areas. There will be over a 100 students working on this in the coming years," The Print quoted Ajoy Ghosh, the head of the Aerospace Engineering and the Flight Lab at IIT-Kanpur, as saying.

    Besides, in a big boost to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'Make in India' initiative, VTOL Aviation India has launched a project named 'VTOL AIR TAXI-Abhiyaan', as per which the company intends to make a new-age VTOL aircraft, which is designed to render its services as the most economical and fastest mode of transportation.

    Flying Taxi to Use VTOL Technology

    The researchers would work on the VTOL (Vertical take-off and Landing) technology, which is primarily used in making aircraft to take off and land vertically. The VTOL technology is used in two types of aircraft currently: fixed-wing aircraft and those with blades like helicopters, which are powered rotors such as cyclogyros and tiltrotors. The proposed 'flying taxi' would work on electric power, so the energy used in it would be completely clean. For better efficiency and endurance, IIT-Kanpur would also develop a hybrid propulsion system prototype.

    Can it Revolutionise Transportation?

    The technology, traditionally used in militaries across the world, is now being tested to revolutionise transportation. The benefits are immense: shorter trips, comfortable rides, pollution-free journey, and no traffic congestion. Flying taxis would provide "greater access to remote locations as well where today's transportation modes cannot reach, giving greater access to everyone to reach anywhere without restrictions", says VTOL Aviation India.

    Can Flying Taxis be Used in India?

    Once developed and fully-tested, its utilisation would require active participation from government as well as civic bodies as a new aviation policy on air traffic congestion would be needed, say experts. The technology would not only address traffic congestion problem in metro cities, but would also be useful in remote locations. The researchers would also develop the hybrid prototype, which would work on fuel and batteries. IIT-Kanpur's aerospace engineering department, having state-of-the art infrastructure, specialises in aerodynamics, flight mechanics, propulsion, etc. It has a unique flight laboratory with four powered aircrafts, four gliders, and a 1,000 metre runway.

Sensex closes 240 points higher, Nifty rises to 10,688 on rupee recovery, lower crude oil price; Sun Pharma, Coal India, L&T top gainers
  • The Sensex and Nifty gained for a third straight session today boosted by a recovery in rupee and falling crude oil price. While the  Sensex closed 240 points or 0.69% higher at 35,165, the Nifty gained 83 points to 10,688 level. Sun Pharma (7.11%), Coal India (3.22%) and L&T (2.52%) were  the top Sensex gainers.

    Market breadth was positive with 1840 stocks closing higher against 846 stocks ending lower on the BSE. 174 stocks were unchanged.

    Banking stocks (1.18%), capital goods (2.50%) and oil and gas indexes (2.47% ) were the top gainers on a sectoral basis on BSE. The information technology stocks were the top losers among BSE sectoral indexes falling 1.72% after the rupee recovered nearly 95 paise during the last two trading days. The bank Nifty gained 340 points or 1.30% to 26,614 amid rise in financial stocks. 

    The Sun Pharma stock rose after the firm posted Rs 1,308 crore in net profit in Q4 of last fiscal. The company had reported a net profit of Rs 1,223.71 crore in the same period of the previous fiscal. Total revenue from operations fell to Rs 6,977.10 crore for the fourth quarter against Rs 7,136.96 crore during the same period of 2016-17. 

    The stock market gain was led by oil prices which extended even steeper declines from Friday, as Saudi Arabia and Russia said they may increase supplies and as US production gains showed no signs of abating.  Brent crude oil prices were trading around $75 per barrel. 

    "I think it's a shift in sentiment," said Krish Subramanyam, co-head and equity adviser at Altamount Capital, adding that high crude prices and a weaker rupee had been hurting equities. 

    The rupee firmed up against the dollar on Monday to its strongest level in two weeks. 

    Bank of Baroda which reported results on Friday touched its highest level in nearly three weeks despite a quarterly loss. Brokerages expect improvement in the state-run bank from fiscal 2019. Its stock closed 2.97% higher at Rs 145.40. 

    Shares of NBCC (India) Ltd posted their biggest intraday loss in over two months after the engineering and construction services provider posted weak March-quarter results on Friday.  The firm reported consolidated net profit of Rs 150.41 crore for the quarter ended March 2018 against Rs 166.62 crore  in the same period of the previous fiscal. 

    Shares of Larsen and Toubro closed 2.52% or 33.80 points higher at 1377.60 on BSE ahead of the firm set to announce its Q4 earnings later in the day. 

    Global markets

    European and Asian shares were mostly higher Monday as investors digested the latest developments regarding North Korea and Italian politics. Crude oil extended losses as traders braced for possible output increases.

    France's CAC 40 rose 0.3 percent to 5,557.86 and Germany's DAX advanced 0.3 percent to 12,982.62. Italy's benchmark FTSE MIB dipped 0.1 percent to 22,366.72 after opening higher. British and U.S. markets were closed for public holidays.
    Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index edged 0.1 percent higher to 22,481.09 and South Korea's Kospi rose 0.7 percent to 2,478.96. Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.7 percent to 30,792.26 while the Shanghai Composite in mainland China dipped 0.2 percent to 3,135.08. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.5 percent to 6,004.00. Taiwan's benchmark rose and Southeast Asian shares were mixed.

    General Awareness

    Eastern Peripheral Expressway
    • Context: Eastern Peripheral Expressway was recently inaugurated by PM Modi.

      About Eastern Peripheral Expressway:

      The 135- km expressway connects National Highway 1 and 2 from the eastern side of Delhi and aims to decongest and de- pollute the national capital by diverting traffic.
      It commences near Kundil in Haryana and terminates near Palwal by passing through Sonepat, Baghpat, Ghaziabad, Noida, Faridabad and Palwal.
      It is India’s first highway to be lit by solar power besides provisions of rain water harvesting on every 500 metres on both sides and would showcase 36 national monuments and 40 fountains.
      The state-of-the-art road will have auto challans for over-speeding as cameras will capture speed of vehicles. It will also have provisions of tolling only for the distance travelled. The expressway has an iconic toll plaza at the entry point on Kundli side besides digital art gallery.
      Around 2.5 lakh trees have been planted near it, including transplant of 8-10 year old trees. It also has drip irrigation provision.

      Background:

      The Eastern and the Western Peripheral Expressways were planned in 2006 following the apex court’s order to build a ring road outside the national capital for channelling the traffic not bound for Delhi.

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