Current Affairs Current Affairs - 20 June 2018 - Vikalp Education

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Current Affairs - 20 June 2018

General Affairs 

2 JeM Terrorists Killed In Encounter In Pulwama
  • Two unidentified terrorists, belonging to Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), are believed to have been killed in an encounter with the security forces in Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir today, police said.

    "Encounter going on at Hyena Tral, 3 (three) important JEM Terrorists trapped, 2 (two) apparently neutralised. Good luck to our boys fighting (sic)," Director General of Police (DGP) SP Vaid wrote on Twitter.

    The encounter broke out after security forces launched a cordon and search operation in the area in south Kashmir's Pulwama district following specific intelligence inputs, a police official said.

    He said the gunfight was going on when last reports came in, adding further details were awaited.

BJP Lists Reasons For Pullout From Alliance With Mehbooba Mufti
  • The failure of ceasefire during Ramzan, law and order and "discrimination" to Jammu and Ladakh are behind the BJP's decision to pull out of the alliance with Mehbooba Mufti, senior party leader Ram Madhav said today. Asked why the BJP decided to dissolve the alliance now, Mr Madhav said, "I have said why we pulled out now. There's no other concern".

    Announcing the end of the alliance at a press conference, the 53-year-old national general secretary of the party, who was one of the architects of the alliance, said,  "Terrorism, violence and radicalisation have risen and fundamental rights of the citizens and free speech are in danger in the Valley".

    To solve the situation in Kashmir, "keeping in mind the larger national interest and that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India, we have decided it is time that the reins of power in the state be handed over to the Governor," he added.

    The tie-up between the two parties, whose ideologies in some areas are diametrically opposite, had been shaky at best. Made necessary by the fractured verdict in the 2015, their differences had surfaced over a number of issues, including the Centre's package for the state, the proposal to scrap the Armed Forces' Special Powers Act, which grants sweeping powers to the army in insurgency-hit areas, the Kathua case where two BJP ministers supported the alleged attackers of the 8-year-old girl, PDP's promise of talks with separatists and the rollout of the government's flagship Goods and Services Tax (GST).   

    But the breaking point came after the government decided to resume anti-terror cordon and search operations on Sunday. There had been a spike in terror attacks since the peace initiative was announced, but the killing of veteran journalist Shujaat Bukhari on the eve of Eid made the choice clear.

    "After killing of Shujaat, there was no question of not continuing terror ops. It was obvious we could not have asked for extension... we came to conclusion that present scenario cannot be handled by present government at this juncture," Ram Madhav said, without mentioning the PDP misgivings about the decision to end ceasefire.

    Stance towards separatists had been one of the key differences between the two parties since beginning. While the PDP favoured a soft approach, the BJP was vehemently against the idea.

    Sources said the PDP, at whose insistence the Centre had agreed to the month-long ceasefire, had been extremely upset about the decision. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, whose brainchild it was, had seen the ceasefire as an outreach to the separatists, in view of the prevailing mood of the Valley.

    Ram Madhav said, "Our expectation was that the separatists, Hurriyat would understand this... this was our goodwill gesture... But there was no outreach from them. That's why decided to stop the suspension".

India Will Contruct War Memorial At Villers-Guislain In France, Says Sushma Swaraj
  • India will construct a war memorial at Villers-Guislain, a town around 200 km from Paris, to honour the valour and sacrifice of thousands of its soldiers, sailors and airmen who fought in World War I. The announcement was made by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in Paris. This will be the second such memorial in Europe.

    During the World War I, Villers-Guislain had witnessed a fierce battle in which the British Indian cavalry regiments were heavily involved. The town was held by the Germans but was finally liberated by allied forces in 1918.

    Ms Swaraj, who arrived in Paris from Rome yesterday on the second leg of her four-nation tour, addressed the Indian diaspora at a reception organised in her honour. She said that Indians in every part of the world carry India and its civilisational ethos in their heart.

    She also handed over certificates of appreciation to Indian community organisation and individuals who have contributed to the Swacch Bharat Kosh.

    The minister also attended a ceremony held to name the Indian Culture Centre in the memory of Swami Vivekanand.

    A bilateral Letter of Intent was signed between India and France in her presence on cooperation in the field of conservation of pre-historic ornate caves and rock shelters. The document signed between the Ministry of Culture of India and the Ministry of Culture of France will aid conservation efforts at the Bhimbetka caves in India and the caves of Lascaux and Chauvet in France.

    Ms Swaraj also visited the India House, Maison de l'Inde, which is a hostel for Indian students in the University City of Paris.

    She addressed the Indian students and unveiled a plaque at the India Hostel to commemorate the golden jubilee of the landmark building.

    "Bridging the gap between India and France through people-to-people connect! EAM @SushmaSwaraj with the Indian students staying at Maison de l'Inde or Indian hostel on the occasion of its 50th anniversary," Ministry of External Affairs Spokesman Raveesh Kumar tweeted.

    Ms Swaraj also released a publication titled, 'States of India' which is meant for increasing awareness of the business climate in various states of India and would prove to be a handy guide for French investors.

    Later, the minister left for Luxembourg for a two-day visit. She is the first external affairs minister from India to visit Luxembourg.

Dumped By BJP, Mehbooba Mufti Says Muscular Policy Won't Work In Kashmir
  • As Jammu and Kashmir heads for a spell of governor's rule following the BJP's divorce to its partner of three years, Peoples Democratic Party boss Mehbooba Mufti on Tuesday sought to present a strong defence of her party's decision to ally with the BJP back in 2015. She also sent a message to her constituents in the Kashmir valley that its alliance with the BJP, described by the opposition Congress as a "Himalayan blunder", had helped her protect the state's interests and influence the centre's policy in the state's interest.

    Just hours earlier, BJP's point person for J&K Ram Madhav had announced the end of the BJP-PDP coalition government and held Chief Minister Mufti's leadership responsible for the alliance's premature termination. Ms Mufti, who met Governor NN Vohra soon after and resigned from the Chief Minister's chair, did not hit back directly.

    Instead she chose to outline what she said, were her government's achievements.

    She also insisted that the PDP's unlikely alliance with the BJP after an inconclusive election in 2014 wasn't drive by its desperation to come to power but to work for the people.

    The statement, which came after she told Governor Vohra that her party wasn't going to attempt to form another alliance, is seen as an effort to prep for the next round of assembly elections.

    Mehbooba Mufti started her press conference by raising Article 370 and Article 35A, under which the state enjoys a special status, and said "...we have safeguarded Article 370 and 35-A (of the Constitution) and we will continue to do that".

    The Chief Minister said Jammu and Kashmir was not an enemy territory as being perceived by few. "We have always said muscular security policy will not work in J-K... reconciliation is key," she said, before she went on to list the administration's decision to withdraw 11,000 cases against young men and women facing police cases for throwing stones at security forces.

    Ms Mufti, who was seen to have persuaded the central government to put the offensive against terror groups in Kashmir on hold during Ramzan, said it had "brought a lot of relief to the people".

    She also counted Prime Minister Narendra Modi's surprise stopover in Lahore to meet then Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in December 2015 as an achievement of the coalition government.

    Between the lines, PDP leaders suggest the message from Mehbooba Mufti's brief media conference was to counter the opposition criticism that the alliance was a mistake and drive home the point that it was able to get the BJP-led central government to tone down its approach towards Kashmir. The BJP has long favoured a tough approach to deal with violence in Kashmir valley, while the PDP had advocated a softer touch to address the grievances in the state.

    With the PDP and the opposition National Conference ruling out any possibility of the two parties joining hands, Jammu and Kashmir is set to come under Governor's rule in the state. Direct rule by the central government would give the BJP-led central government a free hand to control the state ahead of a general election.

    Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who had been a sharp critic of the PDP-BJP alliance, has also declared his party won't help the PDP stay in power and an offer that he had made to support its regional rival after the fractured mandate in the 2014 assembly elections had "expired". "It was a one-time offer," Mr Abdullah said.

Supreme Court Declines Plea To Declare AAP Protest As "Unconstitutional"
  • The Supreme Court today refused an urgent hearing on a plea seeking its direction to declare as "unconstitutional" the sit-in of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his cabinet colleagues inside the lieutenant governor's office in Delhi.

    Arvind Kejriwal and his ministers have been staging a sit-in at Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal's office since the evening of June 11 to press for their demands, including a direction to IAS officers to end their "strike" and action against those who have defaulted at work.

    A vacation bench comprising justices SA Nazeer and Indu Malhotra said that the plea would be listed for hearing after the summer vacation.

    Lawyer Shashank Sudhi, appearing for petitioner Hari Nath Ram, sought the urgent hearing of the plea, saying a constitutional crisis has been created due to "the unconstitutional and illegal" protest by the chief minister inside the lieutenant governor's office in Delhi. Moreover, the citizens are "left high and dry", he said.

    Mr Sudhi said the Delhi High Court, which had heard the matters on the issue yesterday, has now posted them for hearing on June 22 and that the city is facing an "emergency situation" in which citizens are  facing severe water crisis.

    "We will list it on reopening of the court," the bench said, while declining the request for urgent hearing.

    Besides seeking declaration of the sit-in as unconstitutional, the plea also sought initiation of perjury proceedings against either the chief minister or the office of the lieutenant governor on the ground that one of them is lying.

    The chief minister has been claiming that the IAS officers are on strike, but the Lieutenant Governor's office has asserted that the officers are very much on the job, the lawyer said.

    The high court had virtually disapproved the sit-in led by Arvind Kejriwal at the LG's office and questioned the AAP government over who had authorised such a protest.

Business Affairs

Indian Railways on a maintenance drive; to provide free meals on Sundays if train is delayed
  • Amid frequent complaints by passengers regarding delayed timings of trains, the Railways has decided to overhaul its time table by August 15. The new schedule will assist in creating 'time blocks' that would be used to foster maintenance work. The schedule is structured in such a way that maintenance work is carried out in a phased manner and causes minimum disruption to railway services. It will come in effect once the affected trains are identified.

    Time blocks are particular time slots reserved for conducting repair work. When a time block is in session, a section of the track will be cleared and no train will be allowed to run on the same. The maintenance work will be conducted across all 17 zones of the Indian Railways. While interacting with the media, Railway minister Piyush Goyal said, "We will be combining the works from across the zones and try to carry out maximum maintenance work on Sundays," as mentioned in a report in Business Standard. He further added if a train gets delayed during meal time, passengers holding reserved tickets will be provided complimentary food and water by the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), the catering and ticketing arm of Indian Railways. Unreserved passengers would, for the time being, be excluded from the scheme.

    During weekdays, Railways is planning to create 2-3 hour time blocks to drive maintenance work. The same would be extended to 5-6 hours during the weekends; with primary emphasis on Sundays to complete as much work as possible. "We will work towards passenger engagement, creating awareness among the passengers through SMS and advertisement in newspapers," said the minister. Emergency work would be conducted in unscheduled blocks, and will be allotted on demand and priority basis.   

    In order to keep track of the maintenance work, the Railways has also introduced a GPS logger system which will track progress of each train on real time basis. The data will ultimately be available on the Railways website.

    A few days ago, the Railway Board had indicated that, among other upgradations, it will be repainting close to 30,000 mail and express trains. All steps taken together, it gives a clear indication that, in the time to come, the Railways is all set to carve a new identity for itself.

Airtel row: Emotional Intelligence over Artificial Intelligence
  • A disgruntled customer, a Twitter interaction, and the ensuing outrage! The social media was abuzz on Monday following a bizarre conversation between telecom operator Airtel and one of its annoyed customers. Airtel would regret the manner in which its social media representatives handled religiously-sensitive comments of a customer.

    An Airtel DTH customer, named Pooja Singh, tagged the company's social media handle on Twitter raising complaint of a rude behaviour against one of its employees. One of the Airtel's customer care representatives, named Shoaib, assured her to look into the matter. The customer replied with concerns in dealing with this particular rep because he's a Muslim, and asked to assign her a Hindu rep. Instead of taking a tough stance against such a request, Airtel's social media team yielded to her demand and assigned Gaganjot to assist her.

    An Airtel spokesperson says that Airtel do not differentiate between customers or its employees and partners on the basis of caste or religion. "If a customer contacts us again for an ongoing service issue then the first available service executive responds in the interest of time. We request everyone not to misinterpret and give it unnecessary religious colour. The said customer has been responded to."

    For any consumer-centric company, the customer care team - at the call centre or behind the social media desk - plays a crucial role. Their biggest mandate, as one US-based back-office service provider told me recently, is customer retention - at any cost. The Airtel's social media reps did exactly just that even if it required compromising on the ethical business practice of not discriminating its customers/employees on the basis of their caste, race or religion.

    Meanwhile, companies specializing in customer care are bringing in new tools, including automation and artificial intelligence (AI), to get a better grip on understanding their customers. In India, telcos and financial institutions like Airtel, ICICI Bank and Wipro use specialized BPM (business process management) agencies to sort out issues of their customers.

    Based on machine learning, there are tools being built by BPM firms that predict the odds of losing a customer in case of dissatisfaction. These tools also suggest measures to retain the customers - by hook or by crook. Since retaining a customer is at the core of everything, basic business practices often take a back seat.

    Whether there's an interaction involving an actual person, or the use of intelligent assistants (chatbots), the customer care teams needs to be sensitized about issues that can cause irreparable damage to the brand. By supporting ethical practices, businesses can strengthen the brand-customer relationships. There's no denying that AI is the future for the BPM industry; in the end, a brand's reputation can be built around sound practices.

Jeff Bezos adds $5 billion to his kitty in less than a month while Amazon employees demand fair wages
  • In less than a month, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has reportedly added $5 billion to his wealth, taking his net worth to $141.9 billion. According to media reports, he is now $49 billion richer than Microsoft's Bill Gates, who came in second on the latest Forbes World's Billionaires list.

    But this news of his success comes against the backdrop of disgruntlement among his employees. According to the Daily Mail, last week over 400 employees of the Washington Post signed an open letter to Bezos demanding fair wages and better working conditions. The world's richest man had bought the newspaper for $250 million in 2013.

    The petition, which was shared on Twitter by the Post Guild last Thursday, claimed that the newspaper had "doubled the number of digital subscriptions and increased its online traffic by more than half; its advertising team has met or exceeded all its targets" in the past year. But the employees said they had not received their fair share of this success. "All we are asking for is fairness for each and every employee who contributed to this company's success: fair wages; fair benefits for retirement, family leave and health care; and a fair amount of job security," said the petition.

    It also cited some hard evidence to back up the employees demands. "Offering $10 a week in pay increases - or about 0.6 percent of the median salary and less than half the current rate of inflation - is unfair and even shocking from someone who believes democracy dies in darkness," it read, adding, "Refusing to improve retirement benefits is unfair, particularly since you froze the traditional pension. The current retirement plans, including a 1 percent match on our 401(k), suggest that you place little value in your employees' future financial security."

    The letter concluded saying, "Please show the world that you not only can lead the way in creating wealth, but that you also know how to share it with the people who helped you create it."

    The employees at Amazon are reportedly not any happier. Last year, the median salary of the 566,000 employees at the e-commerce giant was reportedly $28,446. According to, the average salary at arch rival Wal-Mart Stores Inc is $52000 per year. The Daily Mail had previously reported that Amazon 'dehumanised' its staff to deliver products to customers, adding that workers at its distribution centres faced disciplinary action if they took too long to track down items ordered by online shoppers, or even if they took long bathroom breaks. Citing the staff, the report had painted a picture of a stressful working environment, rife with mistrust and suspicion. In late 2017, another Sunday Mirror undercover investigation had revealed similar dismal working conditions at Amazon's warehouse in Essex.

    Actually, Bezos has been battling criticism about workplace conditions in Amazon since 2015, when a New York Times had claimed that it was "conducting an experiment in how far it can push white-collar workers to get them to achieve its ever-expanding ambitions".

    Bezos had reportedly reacted to this article by sending an internal memo to his employees where he said "The article doesn't describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day. But if you know of any stories like those reported, I want you to escalate to HR. You can also email me directly at Even if it's rare or isolated, our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero."

    It will be interesting to see how he reacts to the Washington Post petition.

Sensex falls 261 points, Nifty at 10,710 as US-China trade war intensifies
  • The Sensex and Nifty closed lower for the second straight day today, tracking a sell-off across global markets after the US and China reignited their trade dispute. The BSE Sensex plunged around 262 points to end at a two-week low of 35,286.74, while the broader Nifty dropped 89 points to 10,710.45. This is the index's lowest closing since June 6, when it had ended at 35,178.

    Asian markets nosedived after US President Donald Trump's threat to impose a 10 percent tariff on another $200 billion of Chinese goods drew warnings from Beijing of about $50 billion retaliatory penalties on US goods.

    Unabated selling by foreign funds and a weak rupee added to the gloom, brokers said.

    "Escalating trade disputes between US and China is impacting global market and the ripple effect dented the domestic market sentiment. Lack of fresh triggers and weakening rupee may lead the market to consolidate further. Consolidation in oil price in expectation of gradual increase in output ahead of OPEC meet may provide some support to INR," said Vinod Nair, Head of Research, Geojit Financial Services.
    Vedanta was the biggest loser in the Sensex pack, sinking 3.55 per cent, followed by Adani Ports that fell 2 per cent. Other laggards included M&M, RIL, IndusInd Bank, Sun Pharma, Bajaj Auto, Infosys, SBI, Maruti Suzuki, Tata Motors, Wipro, Axis Bank, Tata Steel, L&T, Asian Paints, Coal India, Kotak Bank and Hero MotoCorp, falling up to 1.94 per cent.

    Only ITC, HDFC Bank, HDFC Ltd and ONGC managed to close in the green.

    All sectoral indices ended in the red. Metal fell 1.69 per cent, followed by realty (1.33 per cent), oil and gas (1.22 per cent), IT (1.21 per cent), teck (1.08 per cent), PSU (1.07 per cent), auto (1.06 per cent), power (1.02 per cent), consumer durables (0.93 per cent), capital goods (0.91 per cent), infrastructure (0.71 per cent) and banking (0.64 per cent).

    Selling pressure also gathered momentum in broader markets, with the BSE small-cap index falling 1.29 per cent and the mid-cap index losing 0.98 per cent.

    Foreign portfolio investors (FPIs) sold shares worth a net Rs 754.43 crore, while domestic institutional investors (DIIs) picked up equities worth Rs 824.10 crore yesterday, as per provisional data.

    Global markets

    Germany's DAX was down a sharp 1.3 percent to 12,673 and France's CAC 40 fell 1.1 percent to 5,394. London's FTSE 100 lost 0.4 percent to 7,598. Wall Street looked poised for heavy losses, with the future for the Dow Jones industrial average off 1.3 percent and that for the Standard & Poor's 500 index down 1.1 percent.

    The losses were even heavier in Asia, where the Shanghai Composite Index fell 3.8 percent to 2,907.82 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng lost 2.8 percent to 29,468.15. Tokyo's Nikkei 225 retreated 1.8 percent to 22,278.48 and Seoul's Kospi gave up 1.5 percent to 2,340.11. Sensex shed 0.6 percent to 35,331.28 and Sydney's S&P-ASX 200 declined 0.6 percent to 6,102.10.

    Trump directed the US Trade Representative to prepare new tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports, stepping up a dispute companies and investors worry could drag down global trade and economic growth. Trump accused Beijing of being unwilling to resolve the dispute over complaints it steals or pressures foreign companies to hand over technology. China's Commerce Ministry criticized the White House action as blackmail and said Beijing was ready to retaliate.

EPFO mulls tightening PF withdrawal norms to improve social security cover: Report
  • The past few years have seen the interest rate on Employees' Provident Fund (EPF) steadily dip from 8.8 per cent in 2015-16 to 8.55 per cent for 2017-18. But it remained a good way to build a retirement nest egg - tax-free to boot after five years of continuous employment. Besides, a major advantage that it offered compared to other retirement products like PPF and NPS was higher liquidity - person could withdraw his/her entire corpus if unemployed for over two months.

    But, according to The Business Standard, concerned with the high level of PF withdrawals, the Employees' Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) is proposing to introduce caps on the amount that can be withdrawn before retirement. The retirement fund body has reportedly proposed that it's over five crore members be allowed to withdraw only 60 per cent of their total savings or an amount equivalent to three months' salary - whichever amount is lower - if they are unemployed for one month.

    The proposal adds that should a subscriber be unemployed for more than three months, he/she will be eligible to withdraw 80 per cent of his/her PF savings or an amount equivalent to two months' salary, again the lower of the two. The report claimed that the move is aimed at creating a social security cover for formal sector workers.

    Ironically, the retirement fund body had tweaked its rules last April to enable its subscribers to withdraw a higher amount - up to 90 per cent - from their PF savings to make down payment and pay EMIs to buy homes.

    This is not the first time that the government has attempted to tighten PF withdrawal norms. Back in 2016, the Labour Ministry had issued a notification restricting 100 per cent withdrawal of provident fund by members after unemployment of more than two months and had proposed to bar PF withdrawal until an employee attains the age of 58 years. But following the huge backlash from trade unions and other stakeholders, the idea was dropped.

    If you want to dip into your PF savings while you still can, here's how you can do it through the EPFO portal:

    Withdrawing PF online

    1. Go to EPFO members' portal and log in using your UAN and password.

    2. Check your KYC details like Aadhar, PAN and bank details available under the 'Manage' tab.

    3. Once satisfied that the required details are correct, select 'Claim' from 'Online Services' tab.

    4. Click on 'Proceed For Online Claim' tab on the 'Claims' screen.

    5. Choose from PF Withdrawal, PF Advance, or Pension Withdrawal from the drop-down menu under 'I Want To Apply For' tab.

    6. Fill in the form that comes up after selecting one of the options from previous step and authenticate it using Aadhar OTP to finish online claim submission.

    General Awareness

    Banks Board Bureau
    • Context: The Banks Board Bureau (BBB) has recommended 22 general managers to be elevated as executive directors at various public sector banks. These recommendations are based on interactions held by the Banks Board Bureau with eligible candidates from PSBs towards appointment against vacancies in PSBs for the period 2018-19.

      The Appointments Committee of Cabinet headed by Prime Minister will take the final decision in this regard. There are already some vacancies at executive director level and more would be created during the course of the year.

      About Banks Board Bureau (BBB):

      It was set up in February 2016 as an autonomous body– based on the recommendations of the RBI-appointed Nayak Committee. It was the part of Indradhanush Plan of government.
      Its broad agenda was to improve governance at state-owned lenders. Its mandate also involved advising the government on top-level bank appointments and assisting banks with capital-raising plans as well as strategies to deal with bad loans.

      What’s important?

      For Prelims: Mandate, objectives and composition.
      For Mains: Indradhanush plan, recommendations of Nayak Committee.

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