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Current Affairs - 14 July 2018

General Affairs 

India To Pass Britain Next Year, Become 5th Largest Economy: Arun Jaitely
  • Union Minister Arun Jaitley today exuded confidence that India will surpass Great Britain to become the fifth largest economy in the world next year if economic expansion continues at the projected rate.
    However, rising international crude oil prices and the global trade war would throw up challenges going forward, he added.

    "If we keep growing at the rate which is being projected, it is likely that next year we will be the fifth largest economy ahead of Great Britain," Mr Jaitley said in a Facebook post titled 'The Congress Gave Slogans to Rural India, Prime Minister Modi Gave Resources'.

    "This is in consonance with the rest of the narrative. Being the fastest growing economy for the last four years, we can look at the next decade as one of economic expansion," he added.

    A latest World Bank report has said that the Indian economy has become world's sixth-biggest economy, pushing France to seventh place. The US tops the list followed by China, Japan, Germany and Britain.

    The new calculations were arrived on the basis of Indian economy's performance in 2017.

    India's gross domestic product (GDP) was valued at USD 2.597 trillion at the end of 2017 overtaking the French economy, which was amounted at USD 2.582 trillion last year.

    "We have already seen a significant move up in India's ranking in the ease of doing business and as a preferred investment destination. Today we stand to be tested in the midst of a global challenge thrown up on account of the international crude oil prices and the trade war," Mr Jaitley said.

    Crude oil prices, which were around $66 a barrel, in April are now hovering around $75 a barrel.

    The Indian economy is estimated to grow at 7-7.5 per cent in the current fiscal, higher than 6.7 per cent growth clocked in 2017-18 fiscal.

    "The recently released World Bank data reveals that India has now become the sixth largest economy relegating France to the seventh position. Obviously, on account of disparity in the size of the population, there would be a very significant difference in the per capita of the two countries," he said.

    The NDA government, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has ensured that rural India and the less privileged get the first right on resources and if this, along with increased expenditure, continues for the next decade the impact on India's rural poor would be significant, he said.

    "This benefits all - irrespective of religion, caste or community. The Congress provided India's poor with slogan. Prime Minister Modi has given them resources. This will ensure faster growth and lead to a faster depletion in the poverty," Mr Jaitley added.

    He said the Congress party in 1970s and 1980s followed the model of "populist slogans" rather than "sound policy and actual expenditure for the welfare of the poor".

    "The 1971 'Garibi Hatao' model was one of redistribution of poverty rather than the generation of wealth and resources. The result of this misguided approach was that the lives of the poor did not move up significantly.

    "On the contrary, the present Prime Minister is a man of many words and many more actions. He announces stiff targets and programmes which at first sight appear to be difficult, if not impossible. He follows it up with the actual implementation and delivers the promise," Mr Jaitley said.

    He said the government's programmes for rural India will lead to increased incomes, increased social security, improved quality of life, higher income from agriculture and better healthcare.

    Mr Jaitley said ever since the present government took over, it has been working to translate the advantages of faster growth to rural India as well as to bring a significant section of people into the neo-middle class and bring people out of poverty.

Rajnath Singh Leaves For Bangladesh, To Discuss Bilateral Issues
  • Home Minister Rajnath Singh today left for Bangladesh for a three-day visit during which he will hold discussions on various issues, including anti-terror cooperation and influx of Rohingya refugees, officials said today.
    The Home minister will also meet Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and discuss various bilateral issues.

    "The relationship between India and Bangladesh is anchored in history, culture, language and shared values of democracy. India attaches great significance to ties with Bangladesh," Mr Singh tweeted before embarking on the visit.

    The Home minister said India and Bangladesh have made notable progress in transforming land and maritime boundaries into zones of peace and tranquillity.

    "Looking forward to strengthen the bilateral relations between both the countries on the basis of friendship and trust," he said in another tweet.

    In his meeting with Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan, Mr Singh will discuss ways to strengthen the anti-terror mechanism between the two countries and check radicalisation of youths by terrorist groups, a Home Ministry official said.

    The Rohingya issue is also likely to figure in the meeting.

    Mr Singh is accompanied by top officials of the Home Ministry and security agencies.

    The delegation will discuss the steps to be taken to strengthen the existing mechanism to check movement of illegal immigrants and smuggling of cattle, arms and ammunition, narcotics and other items through the porous Indo-Bangla border.

    The Indian side is expected to take up the issue of the continuous inflow of Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICN) from across the border and the attacks on BSF personnel by criminals based in Bangladesh.

    FICN with face value of about Rs. 13.66 lakh have been seized along the border till March this year, another official said, adding that fake notes with face value of more than Rs. 68.96 lakh were confiscated last year.

    The attacks on BSF personnel by criminals based in Bangladesh is expected to be flagged by the Indian side during delegation-level talks.

    Two BSF men were killed and 122 injured in criminal attacks on this frontier last year, and as many as 109 personnel were injured in 2016, the official said.

    The Bangladesh side is expected to raise the issue of their nationals being killed or injured in BSF firing along the border and the illegal transport of drugs into their territory from the Indian side.

Centre Wants To Monitor Social Media, WhatsApp, Top Court Seeks Response
  • The Supreme Court today took a strong note of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry's decision to set up a social media hub for monitoring online data, observing that it will be "like creating a surveillance state".
    The top court said the government wants to tap citizens' WhatsApp messages and sought its response within two weeks.

    A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud issued notice to the Centre on a plea by Trinamool Congress (TMC) legislator Mahua Moitra and sought Attorney General K K Venugopal's assistance in the matter.

    "The government wants to tap citizens' WhatsApp messages. It will be like creating a surveillance state," the bench said.

    Senior advocate A M Singhvi, appearing for Ms Moitra, said the government has issued request for proposal and the tender will be opened on August 20.

    "They want to monitor social media content with the help of this social media hub," Mr Singhvi said.

    The bench then said it is listing the matter on August 3, before the opening of tender on August 20 and the AG or any law officer for the government will assist the court in the matter.

    Earlier, on June 18, the apex court had refused to accord urgent hearing on the plea seeking to stay a central government move to set up a 'Social Media Communication Hub' that would collect and analyse digital and social media content.

    The counsel for Ms Moitra had said that the government is trying to monitor social media content of individuals by tracking their social media accounts such as those on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and their e-mails.

    Recently, the Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Limited (BECIL), a Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) under the ministry, had floated a tender to supply a software for the project.

    "A technology platform is needed to collect digital media chatter from all core social media platforms as well as digital platforms such as news, blogs... In a single system providing real-time insights, metrics and other valuable data," the tender document says.

    Under the project, media persons would be employed on contractual basis in each district to be the "eyes and ears" of the government and provide real-time updates from the ground.

    The tender document says the platform is expected to provide automated reports, tactical insights and comprehensive work-flows to initiate engagement across digital channels.

    "The platform maybe used to disseminate content and hence, should support publishing features," the document says, adding the platform needs to power a real-time New Media Command Room," according to the tender document.

    It should also help the ministry to understand the impact of various social media campaigns conducted on Centre-run schemes, it says.

Chandrababu Naidu's Party To Move No-Trust Motion Against Centre
  • Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu's Telugu Desam Party, once the BJP's biggest ally in south, will pitch for a no-confidence motion against the National Democratic Alliance government at the centre in the upcoming monsoon session of parliament over the demand for special category status for his state.

    The demand for the special category status for Andhra Pradesh has been a big issue ever since the bifurcation of the state which gave birth to Telangana in 2014. Mr Naidu said Andhra Pradesh was promised a special category status, which would grant to extra funds from the centre, but the BJP-led NDA has refused what it was promised.

    Mr Naidu's party had tried to bring a no-confidence motion against the government in parliament earlier this year after arch-rival Jagan Mohan Reddy's YSR Congress sent a notice. However, the no-confidence motions against the government were not been taken up due to repeated adjournments in parliament.

    Mr Naidu had pulled out his ministers from PM Modi's government and end their alliance in March this year.

    Assembly elections are due in Andhra Pradesh next year and regional parties in the state, including the YSR Congress, have repeatedly targeted the TDP for being unable to secure a special category status for the state.

Ticket To First Space Travel Flight Likely To Cost $200, 000
  • Jeff Bezos' rocket company plans to charge passengers about $200,000 (151,280 pounds) to $300,000 for its first trips into space next year, two people familiar with its plans told Reuters.
    Potential customers and the aerospace industry have been eager to learn the cost of a ticket on Blue Origin's New Shepard space vehicle, to find out if it is affordable and whether the company can generate enough demand to make a profit on space tourism.

    Executives at the company, started by Amazon.com Inc <AMZN.O> founder Bezos in 2000, told a business conference last month they planned test flights with passengers on the New Shepard soon, and to start selling tickets next year.

    The company, based about 20 miles (32 km) south of Seattle, has made public the general design of the vehicle - comprising a launch rocket and detachable passenger capsule - but has been tight-lipped on production status and ticket prices.

    Blue Origin representatives did not respond to requests for comment on its programs and pricing strategy. Bezos said in May ticket prices had not yet been decided.

    One Blue Origin employee with first-hand knowledge of the pricing plan said the company will start selling tickets in the range of about $200,000 to $300,000. A second employee said tickets would cost a minimum of $200,000. They both spoke on condition of anonymity as the pricing strategy is confidential.

    The New Shepard is designed to autonomously fly six passengers more than 62 miles (100 km) above Earth into suborbital space, high enough to experience a few minutes of weightlessness and see the curvature of the planet before the pressurized capsule returns to earth under parachutes.

    The capsule features six observation windows Blue Origin says are nearly three times as tall as those on a Boeing Co <BA.N> 747 jetliner.

    Blue Origin has completed eight test flights of the vertical take-off and landing New Shepard from its launch pad in Texas, but none with passengers aboard. Two flights have included a test dummy the company calls "Mannequin Skywalker."

    The company will do the first test in space of its capsule escape system, which propels the crew to safety should the booster explode, "within weeks," one of the employees said.

    SMALL STEP FOR A MAN

    Blue Origin, whose Latin motto means "step by step, ferociously," is working towards making civilian space flight an important niche in the global space economy, alongside satellite services and government exploration projects, already worth over $300 billion a year.

    Bezos, the world's richest person with a fortune of about $112 billion, has competition from fellow billionaires Richard Branson and Elon Musk, Tesla Inc's <TSLA.O> chief executive.

    Branson's Virgin Galactic says it has sold about 650 tickets aboard its own planned space voyages, but has not set out a date for flights to start. The company is charging $250,000 per ticket, in line with Blue Origin's proposed pricing.

    SpaceX, founded by Musk in 2002, says its ultimate goal is to enable people to live on other planets.

    All three are looking to slash the cost of spaceflight by developing reusable spacecraft, meaning prices for passengers and payloads should drop as launch frequency increases.

    While Blue Origin has not disclosed its per-flight operating costs, Teal Group aerospace analyst Marco Caceres estimated each flight could cost the firm about $10 million. With six passengers per trip, that would mean losing millions of dollars per launch, at least initially.

    Three sources said Blue's first passengers are likely to include its own employees, though the company has not selected them yet.

Business Affairs

Mukesh Ambani pips Alibaba's Jack Ma to become Asia's richest person
  • Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries has broken three records in the past two days -- his company initially entered the $100-billion market cap club, then it breached the Rs 7-lakh crore market valuation, and now India's richest man has replaced Chinese giant Alibaba Group's founder Jack Ma to become Asia's richest person.

    As RIL stock surged to a record high of Rs 1,101 after touching an all-time high of 1,106.65 during the day on Friday, the net worth of Mukesh Ambani -- who holds 44.5 per cent stake in the company -- also jumped to $44.3 billion. According to BloombergQuint, Ma's wealth stood at $44 billion at the close of trade on Thursday in the US, where the company is listed. The report suggests while Mukesh Ambani has gained fortune worth $4 billion this year alone, Jack Ma lost around $1.4 billion.

    RIL crossed the m-cap of Rs 7, 01, 404 crore (over $102 billion) on Bombay Stock Exchange on Friday, becoming the second company in India to achieve this feat after TCS. Before this, RIL had crossed the magical $100-billion valuation mark in 2007 when the rupee was valued at 39.5 against the dollar.

    This is not the first time Ambani has outclassed a Chinese businessman. In December 2017, Mukesh Ambani toppled another Chinese billionaire Hui Ka Yan to become the richest man in Asia. Though the energy and petrochemicals magnate was ranked 14th among the world's Real Time Billionaires' list last year, he slipped to the 19th spot with $40.1 billion in the latest Forbes rich list in March.

    A rapid rise in Mukesh Ambani's net worth has been due to his $51 billion (revenues) oil-and-gas-conglomerate, Reliance Industries. Apart from doubling its petrochemical capacity, the company this month said it plans to grab a bigger piece of country's fast-growing e-commerce sector, posing a major threat to the already established Amazon and the newly formed Walmart-Flipkart combine.

    At Reliance Industries' 41st AGM on July 6, Mukesh Ambani said his company wants to synergise Reliance Retail, which has a widespread network of physical stores across India, with the strength of Reliance Jio's digital infrastructure, an upstart company that has achieved a phenomenal growth since its launch in 2016. "As Reliance transitions to become a technology platform company, we see our biggest growth opportunity in creating a hybrid, online-to-offline new commerce platform," Ambani said at the shareholders' meeting. Jio has already grabbed over 15 per cent market share as of April due to its expansion in rural areas where it added over 96 lakh subscribers in April alone.

    After disrupting the telecom market, his company, which is also the world's largest producer of polyester fibre, is now aiming to launch another blitzkrieg with its plan to connect 50 million homes with its high-speed optic fibre network, under which it has already invested Rs 250,000 crore for creating digital infrastructure.

    Meanwhile, the Alibaba Group Holding stock is down nearly 10 per cent from its 52-week high of $211.7 in mid-June. Currently, it stands at $190 on the New York Stock Exchange. The decline in stock has led to falling in the Chinese e-commerce giant's market capitalisation.

Johnson & Johnson ordered to pay $4.7 billion in damages to cancer patients
  • Johnson & Johnson has been ordered to pay $4.7 billion in damages to 22 women with ovarian cancer who alleged that they contracted the ailment after using the company's talc products. A jury in US decided in favour of the women and ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay up $500 million plus $4.1 billion punitive damages. Johnson & Johnson said that it is deeply disappointed with the verdict and has said that they will challenge it.

    In the trial that went on for six weeks, the women said that they developed ovarian cancer after using Johnson & Johnson talc products for decades. Six out of the 22 women represented in court have succumbed to ovarian cancer.

    The prosecution argued that Johnson & Johnson were aware that its talc is contaminated with asbestos since 1970s but did not warn their customers about the risks involved.

    Johnson & Johnson denied the claim and insisted that their products do not cause cancer. The company said that several studies approved their talc as safe and that the verdict was the result of a "fundamentally unfair process" that allowed the women to be represented as a single plaintiff. The prosecution also added that Johnson & Johnson used flawed testing methods.


    The talc-asbestos link

    The US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) had earlier - from 2009 to 2010 - commissioned a study of a variety of talc samples. It did not find asbestos in any of them. However, some talc are contaminated with a form of asbestos called tremolite. Tremolite is related to crocidolite and amosite, two of the most carcinogenic asbestos. Both talc and tremolite are created by the same process and are forms of magnesium silicate. Talc deposits have been uncovered from tremolite sources. Many talc mines extracted material highly contaminated with tremolite asbestos fibres, which most likely went into products made from talc.


    Is talc carcinogenic?

    Despite inconclusive evidence, there have been concerns that using talcum powder on the genitals can lead to ovarian cancer. The International Agency for Cancer Research termed this process "possibly carcinogenic" as there were no concrete evidence of ovarian cancer due to talcum powder on the genitals.
    Companies also have been using asbestos-free talc in its products since 1970. The debate has been waging on for years, nevertheless.

    The case first came to light in 2013 when a woman claimed that she had been using the company's talcum powder for 40 years and developed ovarian cancer in 2006. The woman, Deane Berg also said that the company offered her a settlement of $1.3 million that she turned down. Following that case, multiple women came forward and Johnson & Johnson is currently facing around 9,000 cases regarding its talcum powder.

Exports up 17.6% in June; trade deficit widens to 43-month high amid surge in crude oil imports
  • India's exports grew 17.57 per cent to $27.7 billion in June on account of healthy growth in sectors such as petroleum and chemicals but trade deficit widened to a 43-month high of $16.6 billion due to costlier crude oil imports. Imports rose 21.31 per cent to $44.3 billion during the month, according to the data released by the commerce ministry.

    The trade deficit in June 2018 is the highest since November 2014 when the gap was $16.86 billion. The deficit in June 2017 stood at $12.96 billion. During April-June this fiscal, exports rose 14.21 per cent to $82.47 billion. Exports of petroleum products, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, gems and jewellery, and engineering goods registered a positive growth.

    However, shipments of textiles, leather, marine products, poultry, cashew, rice and coffee recorded negative growth. Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO President Ganesh Gupta expressed concern over rising trade deficit, saying it could impact current account deficit thereby adding to the woes of the government on the fiscal deficit front.

    "MSME sectors of exports are still feeling the pinch of liquidity crunch as banks and lending agencies have continuously been tightening their lending norms," he said in a statement. Imports during the first quarter of the fiscal increased 13.49 per cent to $127.41 billion. Trade deficit during the period widened to $44.94 billion as against $40 billion in April-June 2017.

    Oil imports during the month were up 56.61 per cent to $12.73 billion. These imports during April- June 2018-19 were valued at $34.64 billion, which was 49.44 per cent higher as compared to the same period last year. Gold imports in June dipped about 3 per cent to $2.38 billion. Meanwhile, the Reserve Bank data showed that services exports in May contracted 7.91 per cent to $16.17 billion. The trade balance in services (i.e. net export of services) for May was estimated at $5.97 billion. The imports stood at $10.21 billion.

RBI to hike key policy rates by another 25 bps in August, says BNP Paribas
  • Brokerage BNP Paribas today said the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) will go for another 0.25 per cent hike in key policy rates at its August monetary policy review, a day after an official data showed retail inflation rising to a five-month high of 5 per cent in June.

    "Consumer price inflation points out to a hike in August," the French Brokerage said in a note, adding it expects the RBI to hike the repo rate by 0.25 per cent to 6.5 per cent.

    It said the price is higher than the RBI's medium term target of 4 per cent and the risks to inflation going forward are tilted on the "upside".

    The upside risks to the price rise come primarily from the hike in minimum support prices (MSP) for food grains procurement and also the hike in wages, it added.

    "Even though the hike in MSP came in lower than what the brokerage initially expected, it will fan the inflation print," the brokerage said, estimating that the headline inflation will come at 4.5 per cent for March 2019.

    Apart from MSP, it said salary hikes for government employees, especially in the housing component, will lead to rise in the critical inflation number.

    The RBI's rate setting panel had hiked the repo rate by 0.25 per cent at the June review. The central bank, however, had sticked to the neutral stance of the policy and affirmed that its future actions will be data determinant.

    The six-member monetary policy committee is slated to begin its three-day meet on rate review from July 30 and announce its resolution on August 1.

Sensex, Nifty close flat; Reliance Industries, Infosys, Bajaj Auto top gainers
  • The Sensex retreated from its all-time high of 36,740 to close flat in volatile trade as investors booked profit amid firm global cues. Disappointing macroeconomic data and unabated capital outflows by foreign funds too added to the weak trend, brokers said.

    While the Sensex closed 6 points lower to 36,541 level, the Nifty fell just 4 points to 11,018 level.

    The Sensex gained 282.48 points on Thursday and closed at a record high of 36,283.25 after crude oil prices posted their biggest one-day drop in two years and robust start of the earnings season.

    Reliance Industries (1.34%), Infosys (1.12%) and Bajaj  Auto (1.02%) were the top Sensex gainers in trade today.

    Reliance Industries remained in limelight ending 1.34 per cent higher after company surged past the Rs 7 lakh crore mark, making it the second company after TCS to achieve this milestone.

    RIL's market capitalisation (m-cap) rose to Rs 7,01,404 crore (over $102 billion).

    The Infosys stock closed at Rs 1,309.10, up 1.12 per cent on the BSE before the firm's Q1 earnings were announced. Intra-day, it gained 2.83 per cent to Rs 1,331.35.  

    ONGC (2.80%), Axis Bank (2.48%) and ITC (2.29%) were the top losers on the Sensex.

    Of 30 Sensex stocks, 15 closed in the green.

    Caution crept as profit-booking was witnessed in most sectors as investors reacted to key macro data release, which came post market hours on Thursday.

    "The market is grappling with rising core inflation. While the recent drop in crude will help, the likelihood of a rate hike has clearly risen, and that is compressing spreads and margins for financials, particularly those with challenged balance sheets," said Sunil Sharma, Chief Investment Officer at Sanctum Wealth Management.

    The Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation rose to a five-month high of 5 per cent in June, while the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) slowed to a seven-month low of 3.2 per cent in May.

    It was the second week of gains in a row for the markets. The Sensex recorded a significant rise of 883.77 points, or 2.48 per cent, while the Nifty gained 246.25 points, or 2.29 per cent, in the week.

    Foreign portfolio investors (FPIs) sold shares worth a net of Rs 742.63 crore, while DIIs bought shares worth a net of Rs 366.40 crore on Thursday, provisional exchange data showed.

    Market breadth was negative with 812 stocks ending in the green against 1825 closing lower on the BSE. 131 stocks were unchanged.

    Global markets

    Global shares were mostly higher, rebounding from jitters over the US-China trade disputes for a second straight day.

    Britain's FTSE 100 advanced 0.6 percent to 7,693.11 and France's CAC 40 rose 0.4 percent to 5,429.49. Germany's DAX gained 0.4 percent to 12,540.36. Futures augured a lukewarm start on Wall Street with S&P futures down 0.1 percent and Dow futures almost unchanged.

    Asian markets finished mostly higher led by Japan, where the Nikkei 225 jumped 1.9 percent to 22,597.35, helped by a weakening in the yen against the U.S. dollar in a boon to blue chip manufacturers. South Korea's Kospi advanced 1.1 percent to 2,310.90 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng index added 0.2 percent to 28,525.44. But the Shanghai Composite Index fell 0.2 percent to 2,831.18. Australia's S&P-ASX 200 was flat at 6,268.40. Stocks in Singapore, Taiwan and other Southeast Asian markets finished higher.

General Awareness

    Failure to educate girls could cost world $30 trillion a year
    • Context: World Bank has said that Failing to let girls finish their education could cost the world as much as $30 trillion in lost earnings and productivity annually.

      Present gap:

      About 132 million girls worldwide aged 6 to 17 do not attend school, while fewer than two-thirds of those in low-income nations finish primary school, and only a third finish lower secondary school.

      Need for education:

      Women who have completed secondary education are more likely to work and earn on average nearly twice as much as those with no schooling.
      If every girl in the world finished 12 years of quality education, lifetime earnings for women could increase by $15 trillion to $30 trillion every year.
      Other positive impacts of completing secondary school education for girls include a reduction in child marriage, lower fertility rates in countries with high population growth, and reduced child mortality and malnutrition.
      Also, women who have completed secondary education are at lesser risk of suffering violence at the hands of their partners and have children who are less likely to be malnourished and themselves are more likely to go to school.

      Way ahead:

      This report is more proof that we cannot afford to delay investing in girls. We cannot keep letting gender inequality get in the way of global progress. While we do need to ensure that of course all girls complete primary school, that is not enough.

      What’s important?

      For Prelims: Nothing much.
      For Mains: Women Education- need, significance, challenges and efforts by governments.

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