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Current Affairs - 26 July 2018

General Affairs 

Indian Institute Of Public Health Working On Drone For Medicine Delivery
  • Researchers at the Indian Institute of Public Health, Hyderabad (IIPH-H) are working on a drone delivery system for medical products which is expected to be time and cost effective compared to transportation by road.

    The Digital Drone based Real Time Advanced Medical Modular logistics system (2 DREAM) model envisages delivering medical products to the point of need or utilisation on a drone, Assistant Professor and Program Coordinator- Health Informatics, IIPH, Suresh Munuswamy told news agency PTI. The medical products include blood samples, vaccines, medicines, he said.

    Munuswamy said the institute is working on developing the design of the drone (suitable for the purpose), the specifications, including the distance the drone is supposed to travel, and the approximate size of the payload (of the drone) i.e carrying capacity of the drone. "(We are working on) One is  coming out with specifications, second is working on the design part, third is looking for partners who actually have these technologies and bring them together," he said.

    The specifications are needed as there are drones which travel varied distances, he said. The medical products are proposed to be carried in a modular purpose built digital carrier box where temperature and the payload carried is maintained, monitored and recorded continuously.  

    The institute, which comes under the aegis of Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), has partnered with the US-based Johns Hopkins University to develop temperature-controlled carrier box.

    The drone-based medical logistics would be time and cost effective compared to travelling by road though it has weaknesses like limited payload. It is time effective as drones can reach the destination fast, Mr Munuswamy said.

    It is cost effective as it reduces the cost of public health service delivery (costs of maintaining various facilities and manpower at multiple locations to provide medical care all over the state), he said. Meanwhile, the researchers are also trying to sensitise the government on the concept as a valuable idea.

    "We are not hoping drones are going to fly, may be six months or perhaps even a year. But, this has to be considered as a long term approach," he said. "May be in the next two years or even three years, if you are even thinking of providing universal coverage (for healthcare), you need to start the work now," he said.

    The researchers need permission from government to test and as per present regulations, there is no restriction on government to use the drone. The restriction is on private individuals and NGOs not to use the drones, Mr Munuswamy noted.  The government itself can take the lead and do the testing, he said adding "We are happy to give the technical support..."

Heated Exchange In Lok Sabha Over Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet Train
  • The Lok Sabha today witnessed heated exchanges between the opposition and the government over the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project, with the former terming its cost exorbitant and the latter alleging that the previous regime had sanctioned projects for "narrow political gains".

    As the House took up a question related to the Rs. 1.10 lakh crore project during the Question Hour, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said the cost of the high speed rail corridor was exorbitant and the amount could have been spent on activities like doubling of thousands of kilometres of railway tracks or opening up of new divisions.

    Railway Minister Piyush Goyal alleged during the Congress rule, the railway projects were sanctioned keeping in view "narrow political gains" and railway ministers then sanctioned many projects in their own constituencies, without caring about the health of the Railways.

    Mr Goyal said the project was funded by a 50-year loan from Japan for an interest of just 0.1 per cent and there was a moratorium on the repayment of the loan for 15 years.

    He said there were projects sanctioned by the Congress-led government which did not kick off even after 40 years.

    The remarks invited vociferous protests from Congress MPs which were countered by BJP members. As the turmoil continued for quite some time, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan moved on to the next question.

    Earlier, Mr Goyal said the land acquisition process for 1,484 hectares has been initiated in 12 districts along the alignment of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high speed rail project, falling in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Dadra and Nagar Haveli.

    The master implementation programme for the project has been prepared and in the feasibility report, the project completion date is indicated as December 2023, he said.

Green Court Raps DJB Over No "Meaningful Progress" In Yamuna Cleaning
  • The NGT today rapped the Delhi Jal Board over cleaning of the Yamuna river and said there has been no "meaningful progress" on the ground in the last three years.

    The green panel noted that work on 14 sewage treatment plants (STPs) has not even begun despite its January 13, 2015, judgment on the river's rejuvenation.

    "In spite of proceedings in the case in the last three years, there is no meaningful progress at the ground level. It does appear that the present in-charge may not be competent enough to handle the issue.

    "Today, we are in a failure situation. We don't want useless and incompetent people, who have failed us, the people and the country," a bench headed by National Green Tribunal (NGT) Chairperson A K Goel said.

    Expressing dissatisfaction over the situation, the tribunal directed the CEO of the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) to put in place a suitable officer who can ensure that the work on the 14 STPs starts within a month and asked him to file an affidavit in this regard within two weeks.

    The bench, also comprising Justice S P Wangdi and Expert Member Nagin Nanda, directed Haryana to file an affidavit on the steps taken to ensure that no untreated effluents flow into the Yamuna river.

    The hearing in the matter remained inconclusive and the bench said it would pass more orders tomorrow.

    The tribunal had earlier directed the Delhi government and the DJB to submit a status report on the progress of the work in the first phase of cleaning the Yamuna.

    It had then directed Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh to file a complete report of the stretch of the Yamuna falling beyond the national capital.

    The green panel had said pollution in the Yamuna was of serious concern as it was highly contaminated by industrial effluents and sewage.

    It had also asked the Haryana and Himachal Pradesh pollution control boards to jointly conduct a study of the water quality and the flow of Yamuna at the point it enters Haryana, and submit the list of industries located in the catchment area.

    The green panel had noted that almost 67 per cent of the pollutants reaching the Yamuna would be treated by the two sewage treatment plants at Delhi Gate and Najafgarh under the first phase of the 'Maili se Nirmal Yamuna Revitalisation Project'.

PM Modi Unveils Sardar Patel's Statue At Community Event In Uganda
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni unveiled a bust of India's first home minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel at the Indian community event they addressed in Kampala.

    "Saluting the 'Loh Purush'! PM @narendramodi and Ugandan President Museveni unveil the bust of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel at the Indian community reception," Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said in a tweet, which accompanied two photographs of the two leaders.

    In one of the photographs, PM Modi was seen bowing before Patel's bust and folding his hands as Mr Museveni looked on.

    In another tweet, Mr Kumar said Indian community members turned out in large numbers to listen to PM Modi's address.

    "The Indian community represents strongest & most durable economic & cultural link between India and Uganda," he said.

    The Ugandan president remained present throughout the nearly 30-minute address of PM Modi and also spoke at the event.

    "Ugandan President Museveni was effusive in his praise for the Indian community in Uganda. In his address at the community reception, he praised them for their hard work and contribution in the economic development of Uganda," the MEA spokesperson said on Twitter.

    In his address, PM Modi lauded the contribution of the Indian community in the growth of Uganda. He thanked Museveni for re-embracing the Indian community.

    PM Modi arrived in Ugandan capital Kampala last evening on a two-day visit to the country - the first bilateral tour by an Indian prime minister since 1997.

PM-Led Panel To Consider Eminent People For Lokpal Search Committee
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led panel may consider appointment of eminent persons as members of the Lokpal search committee, the government said today.

    The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, which envisages establishment of anti-graft body Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayuktas in states to look into cases of corruption against certain categories of public servants, was passed in 2013.

    Three meetings of the selection committee, headed by the prime minister, were held on March 1, April 10 and July 19 this year, Union Minister Jitendra Singh minister said in a written reply to the Lok Sabha.

    Upon the recommendations of the selection committee in its meeting held on April 10, President Ram Nath Kovind has nominated Mukul Rohatgi, former Attorney General of India as 'Eminent Jurist' member of the panel against the vacancy due to the passing away of senior advocate PP Rao, he said.

    "The selection committee has proposed to consider names of eminent persons who qualify as per the statutory provisions to be appointed as members of the search committee in its next meeting," the Minister of State for Personnel said.

    An eight-member search committee is mandated to recommend a panel of names for the appointment of the Lokpal and its members.

    While hearing a case on delay in appointing a Lokpal, the Supreme Court had yesterday expressed dissatisfaction over the Centre's response on appointment of search committee members.

Business Affairs

Anil Ambani justifies Rafale deal to Rahul Gandhi; asks for meeting. And then...
  • Days after Congress President Rahul Gandhi's thundering speech in Parliament where he took on Prime Minister Modi and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman over the Rafale deal, BusinessToday.In has got access to a letter Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group Chairman Anil Ambani had written to the Congress chief back in December 2017. Anil Ambani justified his selection for the JV on the grounds that his company, Reliance Defence Limited, is the leader in several defence areas and has the largest shipyard in the private sector. The company is involved in the construction of five Naval Offshore Patrol Vessels for the Indian Navy and total 14 Fast Patrol Vessels for the India Coast Guard, he wrote.

    The Congress party had neither disclosed that it received the letter from Anil Ambani nor the fact that whether the meeting Anil Ambani sought from the Congress President ever took place, and what transpired in that meeting if, at all, it took place.

    In the letter, Ambani said he was "personally saddened" over the Congress party's allegations against the Narendra Modi government for choosing his company for the Dassault Reliance aerospace joint venture.

    Under the deal between India and France, India would buy 36 Rafale fighter jets from France, and as part of the offset obligation, the French Dassault Aviation would invest 100 million euros in India to make the components for the fighter jets and Falcon civilian aircraft.

    Giving reference to Rahul Gandhi's poll campaign rallies before the Assembly elections in Gujarat in December -- in which he criticised the government for favouring Anil Ambani's company Reliance Defence, which he claimed had "nil experience" for the contract -- Anil Ambani said the deal was made through a pact signed between both the countries, and that these aircraft would be built in France, only to be delivered to the Indian Air Force on 'fly away' basis. He said no Indian company had any role to play in the process.

    Rahul Gandhi in November 2017 had asked PM Modi to explain his "Reliance on someone with nil experience in aerospace for the Rafale deal?" Through a series of sarcastic tweets, Rahul had accused that "Self 'Reliance' is obviously a critical aspect of Make in India".

    Talking about the offset policy -- a mechanism to drive defence manufacturing in India -- Anil Ambani wrote to Gandhi that it had been in force since 2007 when the UPA government first introduced offsets to boost the Indian defence industry. "Over 30 plus programmes have been undertaken, and over 70 offset contracts between foreign OEMs and Indian private sector companies exist," said the letter released on December 12. Ambani said since the inception of the offset clause, several contracts had been undertaken by leading corporations working with original equipment manufacturers just like the agreement with Dassault Aviation.

    Over the allegations of the Modi government favouring Reliance Defence for the Rafale deal, Anil Ambani said the decision to choose his company as a joint venture partner was an independent agreement between the two companies, and that the government of India had no role to play in it.

    Expressing surprise that several Congress members had raised objection over his company's selection for the project, Ambani said his company not only had the necessary experience but was also the leader in several major defence areas. "Reliance Defence has the largest shipyard in the private sector at Pipavav, Gujarat, and we are currently building five Naval Offshore Patrol Vessels for the Indian Navy and 14 Fast Patrol Vessels for the India Coast Guard," said Ambani.

    The company's shipyard is the only one in India selected under a rigorous process by the US Navy for maintaining over 100 ships of the US 7th Fleet. He said Reliance JV with Dassault was only related to offsets i.e. export obligations, under which his company will make components and systems, primarily for the aerospace and defence sectors.

    Ambani said the joint venture would not only create thousands of jobs in India but would impart necessary skills to engineers in aerospace and defence manufacturing. Besides, several MSMEs, SMEs, and start-ups would also benefit from business opportunities this deal would produce, he said.

    The timing to incorporate Reliance Defence does not correspond with the deal but with Modi's announcement that India wants to acquire aircraft from France. While the inter-government deal between the two countries was initiated on March 28, 2015, the final deal was signed on September 23, 2016. However, the joint venture between both the companies was formed on December 16, 2016, two months after the deal. But what's interesting is that Modi announced the Rafale deal on Apr 10, 2015, during his France visit, 13 days after the Reliance Defence was set up there. At that time, nobody knew Reliance would get this deal.

    Meanwhile, invoking his family's relationship with the Gandhi family over generations, Anil Ambani said his entire family, including his late father Dhirubhai Ambani, enjoyed a respectful relationship with the Gandhi family and the Congress party at large, and that such statements had hurt their sentiments.

Parliament amends Prevention of Corruption Act; honest bankers, bureaucrats can breathe easy
  • The Prevention of Corruption Act (Amendment) Bill, 2018 was passed by the parliament on Tuesday. The amendments propose a lot of changes to the anti-corruption law which range from redefining criminal misconduct to bringing collusive bribe givers to book. Moreover, bankers and civil servants are considering the latest amendments to Prevention of Corruption Act as means to ease pressure on them amidst mounting bad loans and investigative scrutiny against their commercial decisions.

    The amendments extend the provision of prior permission before prosecuting a civil servant to retired officials too. This means that an investigating agency like the police or the Central Bureau of Investigation will have to secure permission from a competent authority before they can arrest a retired banker or civil servant. Earlier this provision was applicable for serving banking staff and public officials as well as public servants above the joint secretary level.

    Criminal misconduct redefined

    After the amendments, the definition of 'criminal misconduct' under Prevention of Corruption Act now includes misappropriation of assets or possession of disproportionate assets. The amendments say that criminal misconduct will also include intention to acquire disproportionate assets. This redefinition could mean that abuse of position and disregarding public interest cannot be reasons alone for prosecution, said a Bloomberg report.

    So while some bankers are seeing this as an opportunity to work without the fear of prosecution, some fear these amendments will be bad for bankers. "Earlier it was just disproportionate assets and now they are talking about intention to acquire disproportionate assets. So how does that impact the process. I would say that instead of raising the threshold it has actually lowered the threshold," SBI Chairman Rajnish Kumar was quoted in the report.

    The Central Vigilance Commission will set up some guidelines on how offence should be dealt with and what kind of approvals are needed before making an arrest, vigilance commissioner TM Bhasin was quoted as saying in the report. The report also mentioned bankers saying that the amendments will help them to overcome the fear of prosecution while take crucial decisions regarding restructuring, haircuts or even financing stressed firms any further.

    Before the Monsoon Session of the Parliament, Indian Banking Association asked the government to expedite the amendments to Prevention of Corruption Act this month. This came after former Bank of Maharashtra managing director Ravindra Marathe was arrested on charges of banking fraud.

    Strict penalties for giving bribes

    The amendments to Prevention of Corruption Act also call for harsh action against those who offer bribes without any coercion from the bribe taker. The amendments call for penalties against a first time bribe giver if they give the bribe willingly to a government official or bank staff. The term of sentence for giving or taking bribes has also been increased to seven years.

    The Prevention of Corruption Act amendments will help bankers and public sector officials to carry out their duties fearlessly and on merit, while doing away with any paralysis in decision making, Bhasin was quoted in the report.

Tata Sons earmarks Rs 10,161 crore investment in 5 group units, including retail, insurance
  • Recent buzz had suggested that the Tata Group was ready to start focussing on new businesses like smart cities but latest developments suggest that the conglomerate's chairman N. Chandrasekaran is still concentrating on getting the house in order first.

    According to The Economic Times, Tata Sons, the investment holding company of the $100-billion Tata Group, has approved a Rs 10,161-crore investment plan that focuses on the conglomerate's finance, insurance, defence, realty and retail units - all areas that its chairman is aggressively betting on.

    The Tata Group has been in serious consolidation mode - focussing on growth, scale, synergies and making itself leaner - in the past year under Chandrasekaran, who took over the reins after Cyrus Mistry's ouster. Two key challenges that he faces are turning around loss-making units and ensuring the right capital allocation for growing businesses. So he is reportedly looking to trim unscalable businesses to concentrate more on sectors and companies expected to clock a high growth rate.

    In line with this game plan, the daily added that Tata Sons has decided to invest up to Rs 1,800 crore in Tata Advance Systems; Rs 1,750 crore in Tata Realty & Infrastructure; Rs 2,500 crore in Tata Capital; Rs 260 crore in Tata AIG General Insurance; Rs 250 crore in Infiniti Retail; and Rs 2,001crore in subsidiary holding company Panatone Finvest. The investment budget also includes Rs 1,600 crore earmarked for a possible acquisition of IDBI Federal Life Insurance. The company reportedly took the decisions in its board meetings on March 26 and May 18.

    The Group might leverage its cash cow Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) for this. After all, the IT firm announced a Rs 16000 crore share buyback plan just last month. Given that Tata Sons has a 73 per cent stake in TCS and, if it tenders shares, could stand to gain around Rs 10,000 crore from the buyback and the cash may be used to steer core sectors forward. It had raked in a similar amount when it tendered over 3.61 crore shares in TCS' similar-sized buyback programme last year. The funds were reportedly used to unwind the complicated crossholdings among Tata companies.

    Chandrasekaran took over reins when the Group was going through turbulent times - the European steel business was bleeding, the Indian telecom arm was accumulating losses, the automobile business was losing market share and the brand image had taken a hit from the public spat with Mistry.

    His first-year report card has been pretty impressive so far, and he has addressed many of the legacy issues of the Tata Group companies. His tenure has also seen three major deals - merging Tata's mobile services business with Bharti Airtel in no-debt and no-cash deal, merging Tata Steel's European business with German company ThyssenKrupp's business in the region, and Tata Steel's acquisition of Bhushan Steel, unless NCLAT throws a spanner in the works.

    Chandrasekaran has also divided the Group's companies into various clusters, like one for finance and a separate one for aerospace, defence and infrastructure. Large companies Tata Steel, Tata Motors and TCS have their own independent clusters.

    Citing experts the daily added that going by Tata Sons' recent moves, Chandrasekaran is focussing on aggressively growing the diversified conglomerate even as he continues to streamline the group. That apart, he is concentrating more on the domestic market rather than the uncertain and slow global markets, which currently yield about 60 per cent of the conglomerate's revenues.

L&T Q1 results: Net profit jumps 43% to Rs 1,472 crore
  • Engineering and construction conglomerate Larsen & Toubro (L&T) today reported a 43.14 cent jump in consolidated net profit at Rs 1,472 crore for the first quarter ended June 30, 2018.

    The company had posted a net profit of Rs 1,028.3 crore in the corresponding period a year ago.

    Its total income in the quarter under review increased by 17.12 per cent to Rs 28,527.48 crore, as against Rs 24,355.52 crore in the year-ago period, L&T said in a BSE filing.

    L&T said the revenue, which is a part of total income, for the periods up to June 30, 2017, includes excise duty collected from customers. Revenue from July 1, 2017, onwards is exclusive of goods and service tax which subsumed excise duty.

    Shares of the company closed 0.19 per cent lower at Rs 1,320.05 apiece on BSE.

You may soon be allowed to use your private car as Ola, Uber cab
  • In an attempt to reduce the number of passenger vehicles on roads and subsequently reduce air pollution, the government is pushing for a rather unconventional method. The Centre wants to promote ride sharing on private cars. This would enable carpooling of private vehicles and allow them to operate as taxis through services such as Ola and Uber. However, it is not lost on authorities that permitting this would adversely affect the livelihood of cab businesses that are already struggling to keep up with aggregators like Uber, Ola as well as with self-driving car services like Zoomcar. To protect the livelihood of cab drivers, the government is mulling to cap either the number of rides one can offer or the amount of money one can earn through this.

    The Centre is taking inspiration from Singapore and the US, where private car owners can offer upto two share rides per day or only earn upto a certain limit respectively.

    In effect, what this entails is that private car owners can charge upto a certain amount as long as it is on a no-profit, no-loss basis. This amount earned cannot be a source of income and will only be to recover fuel and additional costs.

    A senior bureaucrat told The Economic Times that the government is reviewing various models, including commercial ride sharing by private car owners. He added that this can be carried on through services such as Ola, Uber and taxi permits may be liberalised so as to convert private cars to be used as taxis. That would, however, require the government's nod, he added.

    While a high-level government taskforce suggested liberalising taxi permits, various corridors of the government flagged the impact it would have on businesses of taxi operators.

    Not only that, government is also considering extending this move to include motorcycles and autorickshaws.  

    Sharing ride on private vehicles for profit is not permissible by law. Last month, a good samaritan in Mumbai got fined for offering a ride to people stranded due to the rains. The law makes it illegal to offer rides to strangers. Section 66 (1) of the Motor Vehicle Act 1998 states:  No owner of a motor vehicle shall use or permit the use of the vehicle as a transport vehicle in any public place whether or not such vehicle is actually carrying any passengers or goods save in accordance with the conditions of a permit granted or countersigned by a Regional or State Transport Authority or any prescribed authority authorising him the use of the vehicle in that place in the manner in which the vehicle is being used.

General Awareness

    Inter-Creditor Agreement (ICA)
    • What to study?

      For Prelims: What is Inter-Creditor Agreement (ICA)?, standstill clause.
      For Mains: ICA- features, significance and challenges associated.

      Context: more than 50 banks and financial institutions in India have entered into an inter-creditor agreement to speed up the resolution of stressed assets of Rs 50 crore and above that are under consortium lending.

      What is Inter-Creditor Agreement (ICA)?

      The inter-creditor agreement is aimed at the resolution of loan accounts with a size of ₹50 crore and above that are under the control of a group of lenders. It is part of the “Sashakt” plan approved by the government to address the problem of resolving bad loans.

      The agreement is based on a recommendation by the Sunil Mehta committee that looked into resolution of stressed assets.

      How it works?

      The agreement says if 66% of lenders by value agree to a resolution plan, it would be binding on all lenders. The dissenting creditors will, however, have the option to sell their loans to other lenders at a discount of 15% to the liquidation value, or buy the entire portfolio paying 125% of the value agreed under the debt resolution plan by other lenders.

      The agreement says each resolution plan would be submitted to an overseeing committee comprising experts from the banking industry. For dissenting creditors, the agreement says the “lead bank has the right, but not the obligation, to arrange the buyout of the loan facilities at a value that is equal to 85% of the liquidation or the resolution value —whichever is lower.”

      Dissenting creditors can also exit by selling their loans to any entity at a price mutually arrived at between the lender and buyer.

      The agreement has a standstill clause wherein all lenders are barred from enforcing any legal action against the borrower for recovery of dues. During the standstill period, lenders are barred from transferring or assigning their loans to anyone except a bank or finance company.

      The standstill provision will be operative for 180 days from the reference date — the RBI had asked lenders to resolve their restructured loans within 180 days beginning March 1 or refer those to the bankruptcy court. However, the provision would not prevent lenders from acting against borrowers or directors for criminal offence. Lenders are in the process of getting this inter-creditor agreement approved by their boards.

      Significance of the agreement:

      The agreement is a “huge step forward” in tackling the bad loan issue as it is drawn up by banks themselves and is a reflection of bankers’ resolve to collectively find a solution to stressed asset mess. 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.

      Background:

      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.

      Way ahead:

      The biggest obstacle to bad loan resolution is the absence of buyers who can purchase stressed assets from banks, and the unwillingness of banks to sell their loans at a deep discount to their face value. Unless the government can solve this problem, the bad loan problem is likely to remain unresolved for some time to come.

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