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Current Affairs - 24 July 2018

General Affairs 

Delhi Court To Consider Probe Agency Charge Sheet In Chopper Scam
  • The Enforcement Directorate (ED) today told a Delhi court that it has enough evidence to prosecute former AgustaWestland and Finmeccanica directors Giuseppe Orsi and Bruno Spagnolini, and others for alleged money laundering in the VVIP chopper case.
    Special Judge Arvind Kumar reserved for Tuesday the order on whether to take cognisance on the charge sheet filed by special public prosecutor N K Matta, and summon Orsi, Spagnolini and others as accused in the case.

    In the charge sheet, the ED said it had recorded unimpeachable evidence supporting the allegations against all the accused persons.

    The probe agency had on July 18 filed a supplementary charge sheet, through advocate Yashu Khurana, accusing Orsi, Spagnolini and ex-IAF chief S P Tyagi, besides others, of money laundering in the case.

    It accused 34 Indian and foreign individuals and companies, including Tyagi, Italian middlemen Carlo Gerosa and Guido Haschke, lawyer Gautam Khaitan and Finmeccanica, the parent company of AgustaWestland, of laundering money to the tune of around 28 million Euro.

    The probe report also claimed that the kickbacks were paid by AgustaWestland through two different channels.

    The ED, in its charge sheet, has alleged that money was laundered through multiple foreign companies, which were used as fronts to park the alleged kickbacks.

    The agency said it may file more supplementary charge sheets in the matter.

    On January 1, 2014, India scrapped the contract with Finmeccanica's British subsidiary AgustaWestland for supplying 12 AW-101 VVIP choppers to the IAF over alleged breach of contractual obligations and charges of kickbacks of Rs. 423 crore paid by it to secure the deal.

    The accused named in the charge sheet include Guido Haschke, Carlo Gerosa, S P Tyagi, his cousins Rajiv Tyagi and Sanjeev Tyagi, advocate Gautam Khaitan and his wife Ritu Khaitan, Shivani Saxena and her husband Rajeev Saxena, both directors of two Dubai-based firms,

    Besides, the final report also named various Indian and foreign firms, including Finmeccanica SPA, AgustaWestland, Aeromatrix Info Solution Ltd, Windsor Group Holdings, Ismax International Ltd, Cricklewood Ltd, Long Lasting Ltd, Matrix Holding Pvt Ltd, UHY Saxena, Dubai Interstellar Technologies Ltd, O P Khaitan and Co, International Mediterranean Consulting, Tunisia, Infotech Design Systems Gordian Services.

    "Khaitan, the mastermind behind laundering the proceeds of crime in the present case, was known to the accused persons Gerosa, Haschke and the Tyagi brothers. He prepared a corporate structure of companies and got incorporated several legal entities across the globe.

     "Thereafter, the proceeds of crime were laundered through various companies in Tunisia, Mauritius, India, BVI, Singapore, Switzerland, Dubai etc.," according to the charge sheet.

    It further claimed that Khaitan also received proceeds of crime in personal bank accounts opened in his name and the accounts of his companies in India and abroad, M/s Windsor Holding Group Ltd, M/s Ismax International Ltd and M/s O P Khaitan & Co.

    The ED had earlier attached properties worth Rs. 10 crore and freezed shares worth more than Rs. 150 crore belonging to the Tyagi brothers, Gautam Khaitan, Gerosa, Haschke, Christian Michel James and Rajiv Saxena.

No Plan To Make Military Education Compulsory After Class 12, Says Centre
  • There are no plans to make students go for compulsory military education for three years after clearing Class 12, the government said today. Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre said this in a written response to a question in the Rajya Sabha.
    He was responding to a question on whether the government proposes to make it mandatory for students after Class 12 to take compulsory military education for three years, before they are appointed in government jobs and armed or paramilitary forces.

    Responding to another question, Mr Bhamre said that in 2017, a preliminary enquiry was conducted by the CBI against 13 civilian academic officers or CAOs of the National Defence Academy in Pune, including two from the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun, following allegations of erroneous academic performance indicators score and work experience for their selection and appointment.

    "Based on the PE, the CBI has filed an FIR dated May 8, 2018 against five CAOs and certain unknown persons. A regular case has been registered against them and is under investigation by the CBI. No military officer is found to be involved so far," Mr Bhamre said in his written reply.

    Some nations have made it mandatory for their citizens to serve in the military for a limited period of time.

Officer "Taking Notes" In Lok Sabha, Congress Alleges "Surveillance"
  • The Congress on Monday objected to an officer allegedly taking notes and counting the number of the opposition members during the Question Hour and alleged that he was carrying out "surveillance".
    Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan then assured the Congress lawmakers that she would look into the matter.

    Bringing the attention of Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan to the issue, Congress leader Mallikarjuna Kharge said: "An officer standing in the Officer's Gallery was taking notes of the debates and even counting the number of the opposition members."

    "It is surveillance. Who is he? Why is he taking notes? He is counting the number of the lawmakers this side," Mr Kharge said.

    However, the Speaker assured the opposition members that she will look into the matter and said she could not see the Officers' Gallery from her seat.

    "I will see to it," she said.

    Meanwhile, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Arjun Ram Meghwal said the concerned officer belonged to his ministry and was doing his duty.

    Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar in an apparent jibe at Congress President Rahul Gandhi said the proceedings of the House were telecast live and everyone could see what was happening in the House.

    "People can even see who is winking in the House," he said, referring to Mr Gandhi's wink in the House on Friday during the no-confidence motion after his speech and hug to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Climate Change Leading To Reduced Crop Yield, Study Shows
  • A scientific study commissioned by the government to assess the impact of climate change has projected reduction in crop yields for irrigated maize, wheat and rain-fed rice, the Rajya Sabha was informed today.
    The study has also found that malaria has spread to new areas and its transmission may increase in duration, the Minister of Environment Forest and Climate Change Harsh Vardhan said during Question Hour.

    Answering a question, he said the study has assessed the impact of climate change on four key sectors of the economy -- agriculture, water, natural ecosystems and biodiversity and health in four regions-the Himalayan region, Western Ghats, the coastal region and the Northeast.

    "The study projects a variable rate of agricultural production including decrease in yield in some crops and change in composition of forests and net primary productivity. Extreme precipitation events are likely to increase in all the regions, water yield is projected to increase in the Himalayan region whereas it is likely to be variable across other three regions," the minister said.

    He observed that the Indian Council of Agricultural Research has also analysed the impact of climate change on crop yields using crop simulation models.

    Replying to another query, the minister said the government has made a very detailed action plan for cleaning Ganga.

    A scientific study commissioned by the government to assess the impact of climate change has projected reduction in crop yields for irrigated maize, wheat and rain-fed rice, the Rajya Sabha was informed today.

    The study has also found that malaria has spread to new areas and its transmission may increase in duration, the Minister of Environment Forest and Climate Change Harsh Vardhan said during Question Hour.

    Answering a question, he said the study has assessed the impact of climate change on four key
    sectors of the economy -- agriculture, water, natural ecosystems and biodiversity and health in four regions-the Himalayan region, Western Ghats, the coastal region and the Northeast.

    "The study projects a variable rate of agricultural production including decrease in yield in some crops and change in composition of forests and net primary productivity. Extreme precipitation events are likely to increase in all the regions, water yield is projected to increase in the Himalayan region whereas it is likely to be variable across other three regions," the minister said.

    He observed that the Indian Council of Agricultural Research has also analysed the impact of climate change on crop yields using crop simulation models.

    Replying to another query, the minister said the government has made a very detailed action plan for cleaning Ganga.

BJP Misled Nation On Rafale, Says Congress, Wants Parliament To Act
  • The Congress today said it would bring a privilege motion against the government for misleading the country on the Rafale deal. There is no secrecy clause on the price details of the aircraft and the government has to reveal the price details about each aircraft, said senior party leader AK Anthony. The BJP has already filed a privilege motion against Rahul Gandhi after his blistering attack on the government in Lok Sabha over the issue last week.
    The Congress says the government has brought 36 Rafale fighters at thrice the price negotiated by the UPA government for 126 aircraft and a detailed breakup of the commercial aspect of the deal will reveal this. The government, the Congress said, had settled for a higher price to favour a businessman and the defence minister is misleading country on the deal.

    "They must reveal the price details of the aircraft and they must also tell us why a company was selected as offset partner who has no experience manufacturing aircraft," Mr Antony said today, alleging the private player has benefited by crores.

    "The government cannot hide the price details of the Rafale jets as the deal has to be scrutinised by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) as well as Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC)," said Mr Anthony, who was the defence minister in the Manmohan Singh government.

    During the debate on the no-confidence motion against the government on Friday, Mr Gandhi contended that French President Emmanuel Macron had told him during their meeting in March that no agreement signed by the two countries stopped India from disclosing the aircraft's pricing.

    As the BJP ranks started raucous protests, France issued a statement saying there was a 2008 agreement on classified information "that could impact security and operational capabilities" of the defence equipment of India or France.

    "These provisions naturally apply to the IGA (inter-governmental agreement) concluded on 23 September 2016 on the acquisition of 36 Rafale aircraft and their weapons," the French foreign ministry said in a statement.

    The statement, however, did not spell out if the purchase price of the fighter jets was also considered classified information under this pact.

    The BJP continued its consistent takedown of the Congress. Today, law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, "Rahul Gandhi is behaving irresponsibly. Dragging the French President into internal politics is unfortunate. His understanding of national security issues is poor".

    Explaining why the pricing details cannot be revealed either, law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, "It is a basic thing. You go to buy a car - you get to decide whether or not you went fog lights, whether you want lights, bumpers," implying that a breakdown of the pricing will reveal details the capabilities of the aircraft and its compatible weapons system.

Business Affairs

Lok Sabha passes bill for quick prosecution in cheque bounce cases
  • A bill for quick prosecution in cheque bounce cases and to provide compensation to the complainant was passed by the Lok Sabha on Monday. The Negotiable Instruments (Amendment) Bill, which was passed by a voice vote, provides for allowing a court trying a cheque bounce offence to direct the drawer (person who writes the cheque) to pay interim compensation to the complainant.

    This interim compensation, not exceeding 20 per cent, may be paid under certain circumstances, including where the drawer pleads not guilty of the accusation within 60 days of the trial court's order to pay the compensation. Earlier while moving the bill for passage, Minister of State for Finance Shiv Pratap Shukla said it will bring down ligitation and provide credibility to cheques and the banking system.

    He said the bill will reduce inordinate delays in cheque bounce cases. The bill seeks do away with "unnecessary" litigation in cheque dishonour cases. "The banks would be helped by these amendments," Shukla said urging members to support the measure.

    The bill, which amends the 1881 Negotiable Instruments Act, says if the drawer is acquitted, the court may direct the payee to repay the amount paid as interim compensation with interest. Opposing the bill, A Sampath (CPI-M) dubbed the bill as unconstitutional and demanded that it should be withdrawn. "It is a bill for the money launderers," he said.

    Participating in the discussion, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor termed it as an important legislation and said there was a need to have a provision for "trial in absentia". "It is a good bill but not sufficient and more should be added," the Congress leader said and urged the government to include fast-track courts exclusively meant for cheque bounce cases. "This bill is grossly inadequate for the purpose you are trying to serve through this bill," he said.

    Terming the bill as a good endeavour, Kalyan Banerjee (TMC) was of the view that the objective behind the legislation was that the victim should get justice as soon as possible. "The endeavour is good but more endeavour has to be taken," he added. Ganesh Singh (BJP) said the legislation will help the public and it was a welcome initiative of the government. Making a point over his party's demand for special status to Andhra Pradesh, TDP MP Ravindra Babu said former Prime Miis Manmohan Singh had given them a cheque (assurance to give special status to his state) but "it has bounced".

RIL has spent over Rs 9,500 cr on R&D, plans to pump in Rs 2,000 cr in FY19
  • Reliance Industries has been aggressively investing in research & development (R&D) to support its digital services business. It spent over Rs 1,824 crore in the last financial year for strengthening and future-proofing the company. The petroleum and petrochemical giant made initial investments in R&D after buying spectrum for the telecom business and has spent over Rs 9,500 crore in the last eight years -- it is likely to invest another Rs 2,000 crore in the current financial year.

    The company filed 192 patents in 2017/18 and 373 in 2016/17 -- it was granted 68 and 60 patents, respectively, in the two years. The company has got 186 patents granted in the last four years. Over 900 scientists and engineers are working in the R&D division that has 24 labs in the 1.2 lakh sq. ft. R&D headquarters in Reliance Corporate Park (RCP), Navi Mumbai.

    The R&D investments are not large for RIL considering its revenue of Rs 4.3 lakh crore and Rs 36,000 crore profit.

    RIL also has an Innovation Council that has Nobel Laureates Jean-Marie Lehn and Robert Grubbs as members. Dr. William Haseltine, Prof. Gary Hamel and Prof. George Whitesides are other members of the council. Its objective of scaling up and patenting its proprietary technologies led to the creation of the R&D headquarter. The company uses internal crowd sourcing as an enabler to R&D and documents the R&D data, process and analytics digitally. The R&D activities are spread across various businesses and functions for conducting high-end inter-disciplinary research, says the company.

Banks, financial institutions sign inter-creditor agreement for swift resolution of bad loans
  • In a bid to ensure swift resolution of non-performing assets, around 22 public sector banks (including India Post Payments Bank), 19 private lenders and 32 foreign banks on Monday signed the inter-creditor agreement (ICA) to fast track the resolution of stressed assets. Finance Minister Piyush Goyal described the move as a 'huge step forward' in addressing the banking sector's bad loans. The agreement was also signed by 12 major financial institutions like LIC, HUDCO, among others.

    Under the ICA, which is part of project 'Sashakt', each resolution plan will be submitted by the lead lender to an Overseeing Committee. The pact gives more powers to the lead lender in a consortium and allows a resolution plan to be approved if 66 percent of the banks in the group agree to it.

    As per the ICA, "The lead lender, that is the lender with the highest exposure, shall be authorised to formulate the resolution plan, which shall be presented to the lenders for their approval." The decision-making will be by way of approval of 'majority lenders', those with 66 per cent share in the aggregate exposure. The ICA agreement covers cases of stressed assets worth at least Rs 50 crore under consortium lending.

    The lead lender will submit the resolution plan along with the recommendations of the Overseeing Committee to all the relevant lenders. Once a resolution plan is approved by the majority lenders, it will be binding on all the lenders that are a party to the ICA.

    In case a lender dissents, the lead lender will have the right but not the obligation to arrange for buy-out of the facilities of the dissenting lenders at a value that is equal to 85 per cent of the lower of liquidation value or resolution value. The dissenting lenders can exercise such right of buy-out in respect of the entire facilities held by other relevant lenders.

    The framework authorises the lead bank to implement a resolution plan in 180 days and the leader would then prepare a resolution plan including empanelling turnaround specialists and other industry experts for operation turnaround of the assets within RBI's stipulated time-frame of 180 days.

    "Almost the entire banking system and prominent NBFCs like REC, PFC are joining the ICA which has held back fast and effective resolution of stressed assets for decades in the past," Goyal said, adding that several others including the ICICI Bank would be joining the agreement after seeking board approval.

    ICA was drawn up by banks themselves and is a reflection of bankers' resolve to collectively find a solution to the problems of the banking sector, he said.

    "This is a huge step forward. It is a historic occasion. There is absolutely no parallel system. This is within the framework of IBC that the entire process has been worked out and it will help in faster resolution within extant guidelines and rules," Goyal said.

    The agreement, as suggested by the Sunil Mehta committee, has aligned its processes with every instant laws, rules and regulations of the land and the RBI.

    Goyal further said that ICA, which has been drawn up by the banks themselves, is truly a reflection of the consciousness that has now come into the Indian banking system.

    He said there were often occasions that a good resolution plan, which would have helped saved jobs, save national assets and recover large amounts of loans, were held up by one or two creditor for months and years, thereby eroding value of the banking system.

    "...we finally have the banks recognising the importance of working as a team to collectively find solution to the banking problem and ensuring an orderly credit flow in the future so that we don't have to see the kind of problems that we inherited in 2014 in terms of large amount of NPAs which have cost the nation dear and which have affected the credibility of India," Goyal said.

    The agreement said that each resolution plan that is formulated in terms of the ICA will be in compliance with the Reserve Bank of India circular and all other applicable laws and guidelines.

    "Pursuant to the recommendations of Sunil Mehta Committee and under the aegis of Indian Banks' Association (IBA), an Inter-creditor Agreement (ICA) has been prepared which shall serve as a platform for the banks and financial institutions to come together and take joint and concerted actions towards resolution of stressed accounts," said the agreement.

    The non-performing assets (NPAs) or bad loans in the banking sector crossed Rs 9 lakh crore at end-December 2017 and the Reserve Bank of India has warned of further worsening of the situation.

    "Each of the relevant lenders appoint the lead lender to act as its agent under and in connection with the formulation and implementation of any resolution plan in the manner contemplated in this agreement," the ICA said.

    This agreement will be terminated in case there is any guidance or prescription from the RBI or any other regulatory or governmental authority to terminate it.

US retail giant Walmart to open 6 more stores in Uttar Pradesh soon
  • US retail major Walmart will open six more stores in Uttar Pradesh soon, taking the number of such outlets to 10, a top company official said."We have four stores at present - two in Agra, and one each in Meerut and Lucknow," President and CEO of Walmart Krish Iyer said here on Tuesday.

    He was addressing reporters after launching Walmart India's second B2B Fulfilment Centre here -- the first in Uttar Pradesh and the second in the country after Bhiwandi, Mumbai, which was set up last November. "Uttar Pradesh is a very important and priority growth region for us and we are further expanding our business in the state to support kiranas, small farmers and local suppliers to help make them successful," Iyer said.

    "The next such centre will be set up in Hyderabad," he said. Iyer said that these centres would support 'kirana shops' and other small businesses. "It aims to contribute to local and state economy by creating thousands of job opportunities at the local level, besides giving a boost to the SME sector and the farmers," he said.

    "The Fulfilment Centre will cater to the business needs of under-served small businesses such as kiranas (re-sellers), offices and institutions, and hotels, restauants and caterers," he said. Walmart also plans to set up its 'Best Price' stores at various locations in Uttar Pradesh, including Kanpur, Moradabad, Varanasi, Gorakhpur, Sharanpur, Lucknow and Ghaziabad.

Sensex may trade at 36,000 by June 2019 on poor poll outcome: Report
  • Global investment bank Morgan Stanley sees the Sensex trading flat at around 36,000 by June 2019 if the general elections throw up a weak outcome, but cruising to 44,000 if the poll result is strong.

    Last week, the Sensex had hit an all-time high of 36,548.41, while the broader Nifty also reclaimed the 11,000-mark, touching a high of 11,078.30. This was the highest closing since January 31, when it had ended at 11,027.70.

    "The domestic stocks are jostling weak emerging markets, rising rates, higher oil prices, an election year and relatively rich mid-cap valuations. The large-cap index has support from an improving growth cycle, strong macro stability and local appetite for equities," Morgan Stanley said in a weekend note.

    In a bear case scenario, which has a 50 per cent probability, the Sensex may trade at 36,000 by June 2019, which is under-16 times the one-year forward P/E, and below historical averages, the report warned and said in this scenario, earnings growth will be 5 per cent in FY18, 23 per cent in FY19 and 24 per cent in FY20.

    But in a bull case scenario, which has a probability of 30 per cent, the report sees the Sensex hitting the 44,000-level by June 2019, largely led by better-than-expected poll outcomes, most notably on policy and global factors.

    "The market starts believing in a strong election result as well, and the earnings growth will accelerate to 29 per cent in FY19 and 26 per cent in FY20," the report said.

    The nation would have a new Parliament by mid-May next year if the polls are held on time. Even though there are talks that the government may advance the polls to December-January.

    The report titled 'India Equity Strategy' highlighted six factors that are favouring the domestic markets and six which are against.

    Listing out the factors that are favouring Dalal Street, the brokerage said strong macro stability backed by a central bank that is committed to keeping real rates positive, a steepening of the yield curve that is at post-2010 highs now, GDP accelerating relative to other emerging markets and strong domestic flows, currently averaging around $2-2.5
    billion a month are in a structural uptrend now.

    The factors working against the markets are rising crude prices, upward pressure on inflation from MSP hikes making sure that more rate hikes are coming, the election cycle, which brings its own set of uncertainties and relatively rich mid-cap valuations.
    The global investment bank prefers large caps over midcaps. On the sectoral front, it votes for private sector banks, rising discretionary spends, industrials and domestic materials, and keeps out healthcare, staples, utilities, global materials and energy.

General Awareness

    Urja Ganga Gas Pipeline Project
    • Context: Five public sector oil and natural gas companies have signed the joint venture agreement to implement the Rs 6000 Crore gas pipeline grid project in Northeast.

      Key facts:

      The five companies are Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL), ONGC, GAIL, Oil India Limited and Numaligarh Refinery Limited (NRL).
      The joint venture company will have equal equity contribution from all the partners for development of the natural gas pipeline project.
      The schedule for commissioning the project will be four years, including one year pre-project activities.
      With the signing of the agreement the joint venture company will develop, build, operate and maintain the natural gas pipeline grid.

      Northeast gas pipeline grid project:

      The proposed gas pipeline grid will connect Guwahati to the major Northeast cities and major load centers. The project is being implemented under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious Urja Ganga Gas Pipeline Project.
      Besides connecting all the state capitals in the region, the pipeline will also connect with the National Gas Grid through Barauni-Guwahati Gas Pipeline, which is being laid by GAIL.
      From Guwahati, the pipeline will extend to Numaligarh, Dimapur, Kohima and Imphal in one direction; Shillong, Silchar, Aizawl and Agartala in the second direction and to Itanagar in the third direction. Gangtok will be connected from Siliguri from the gas pipeline of GAIL coming from Barauni to Guwahati.

      About the Pradhan Mantri Urja Ganga project:

      The gas pipeline project aims to provide piped cooking gas to residents of Varanasi and later to millions of people in states like Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha.
      From Varanasi’s perspective, an 800-km long MDPI pipeline will be laid and 50,000 households and 20,000 vehicles will get PNG and CNG gas respectively. The government estimates that around 5 lakh gas cylinders will be sent at rural areas annually.
      According to GAIL, with the Urja Ganga project, 20 lakh households will get PNG connections. The project is said to be a major step towards collective growth and development of the Eastern region of India.
      GAIL has built a network of trunk pipelines covering the length of around 11,000 km. With Urja Ganga project, this number will further increase by 2540 km.

      What’s important?

      For Prelims: Northeast gas pipeline grid project and Urja Ganga Project- key features.
      For Mains: Significance and the need for such projects for India, especially for NE region India.

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