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Current Affairs - 29 July 2018

General Affairs 

Nirmala Sitharaman Hands Over "Made In India" Engines To Indian Army
  • Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman today formally handed over two types of indigenously built high-power multi-fuel engines to the Army.
    The engines manufactured by the Engine Factory, Avadi - a unit of Ordnance Factory Board, Department of Defence Production - were fully indigenised for the first time under the central government's Make in India programme.

    At a function held at the factory, Ms Sitharaman formally handed over the documents of the two types of engines to Vice Chief of Army Staff Devaraj Anbu.

    The first engine of 1000 HP engine - V92S2 engine - powers T-90 Bhisma Tank, the second engine - V-46-6 engine - powers the T-72 Ajeya Tank and its variants.

    The Engine Factory has manufactured more than 12,000 engines since its inception in 1987.

    Though these engines were manufactured based on Russian design, India was depending on Moscow for its supply of critical assemblies like turbocharger, supercharger, fuel injection pumps.

    The Engine Factory under the Make in India programme manufactured the two engines with 100 per cent local parts.

    Earlier localisation level was about 73 per cent, officials said.

    The indigenisation efforts by the Engine Factory would save Rs. 80 crore of the exchequer every year.

    It also exhibits the self-reliance of the Ordnance Factory Board in manufacturing these engines in India without any import support, the officials added.

    The Engine Factory has manufactured more than 12,000 engines since its inception in 1987. 

Odisha To Implement Own Food Security Act From October: Naveen Patnaik
  • Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik today announced that the state government would implement its own food security act from October 2 this year.

    Odisha's own food security act would cover nearly 34.44 lakhs people who have been left out from the National Food Security Act (NFSA), he said.

    Mr Patnaik made this announcement while participating in the 'Ama Mukhyamantri, Ama Katha' (Our Chief Minister, Our Issues) program.

    "My government has always given importance to the food security of the poor. We have been providing rice at Rs. 2 per kg since 2008. The success of the program prompted the decision to launch rice at Re 1 per kg for people living below poverty line in 2013. This was a big step towards food security in the country," Mr Patnaik said.

    Mr Patnaik said lakhs of poor were being deprived of benefits under NFSA as the ration was being provided as per the 2011 census.

    From 2011 to 2018, the number of beneficiaries' population has increased, he said.

    "Not a single poor man will be deprived of his rights once the new Odisha Food act is implemented on Gandhi Jayanti," Mr Patnaik said.

    The chief minister said though he had taken up the matter relating to the left out population several times with the Center, but no step was taken to address this concern.

    Mr Patnaik had written a letter to Prime Minister in this regard on May 23, 2018.

Special Police Officer Kidnapped By Terrorists In Jammu And Kashmir
  • A police staffer has been kidnapped by terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama district, the police said today. State police chief SP Vaid said they are verifying reports of the kidnapping, which happened a few days after a police constable was kidnapped and killed in Kulgam.
    The relatives of the special police officer or SPO, who has been working as a cook, said he has gone to his aunt's house.

    SPOs are special police officers who help the police in day-to-day and anti-terrorism operations. They are not regular employees of the police force.

    Jammu and Kashmir has seen several kidnappings of people in the security forces in recent times. Security analysts say the terrorists are targeting individuals to deter them from joining the police and the military.

    After the Kulgam kidnapping and murder of a police constable who had come home on leave from his training centre in Jammu, the army and police had shot dead three terrorists within 12 hours.

    Earlier this month, police constable Javed Ahmad Dar was kidnapped from his village in Shopian and killed by terrorists.

    Last month, army jawan Aurangzeb was kidnapped and killed in Pulwama when he was going home for Eid.

    The swift operation against the Kulgam terrorists was a clear signal to those targeting security personnel on leave that they will be dealt with quickly.

    "One after the other, our security forces are successfully moving ahead in their anti-terrorism operations, but killings of local security personnel can be a conspiratorial design to discourage the local Kashmiri youth to join the security forces," Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Jitendra Singh had said.

Nitish Kumar Skips NDA's First Anniversary Event In Bihar
  • It was the first anniversary of the NDA's rule in Bihar, but Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who prides himself on presenting his report card, once again decided to give the event a miss.

    No reason has been cited, but Nitish Kumar did attend a function to start the construction work of a record number of 11 lakh homes under the Prime Minister Rural Housing Scheme, where his deputy Sushil Modi was also present.

    It was not for the first time that Nitish Kumar had abandoned presenting his report card as he did on the first year of the Grand Alliance government in 2016, when he cited a train accident as the reason for the miss. But it was not that he had not prepared the report card -- it was later printed and distributed to the media.

    But this year, there was no such preparation. People familiar with the matter in the BJP say it shows Nitish Kumar is clearly disenchanted with the party. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had not only let him down on granting central university status to Patna University last year, but also decided against the Rs. 7,600 crore demand for flood relief.

    Bihar got only Rs. 1,700 crore from which Rs. 500 crore was deducted and announced as immediate relief funds.

    Sources say Nitish Kumar may be upset over BJP leaders and volunteers being allegedly linked to the Ram Ravmi clashes in April last year. The BJP had expressed its unhappiness over the crackdown on scores of leaders over the violence that started after religious posters were found torn.

    Then union minister Giriraj Singh landed in a controversy after a show of support for a set of riots-accused leaders, whom he visited at a jail in Bihar's Nawada.

    Although unlike the RJD regime, Nitish Kumar completely enjoyed an upper hand in day-to-day running, but due to Amit Shah it appears the Bihar chief minister did not get a chance to play any role in the NDA. Mr Kumar was not even invited to attend a single NDA meet in four years.

No Talk Of Replacing Devendra Fadnavis, Says Nitin Gadkari On Maratha Row
  • Union minister and senior BJP leader Nitin Gadkari on Friday ruled out any change of guard in Maharashtra amid the Maratha community's ongoing agitation for reservation.

    "People should have patience as Chief Minister (Devendra) Fadnavis is sensitive about the issue of reservation and the government will resolve all the issues," the road transport and highways minister said in Nagpur.

    Mr Gadkari was answering a reporter's question about a speculation regarding Devendra Fadnavis's fate.

    Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut had claimed two days ago that there was talk within the BJP that Fadnavis should be replaced in view of the Maratha agitation.

    "I do not know why there is discussion in the media about removal of Fadnavis. The entire party stands with Fadnavis and there is no talk in the party about changing the leadership in Maharashtra," Mr Gadkari asserted.

    "Some people are trying infuse venom of casteism and communalism in society. I firmly believe that all the communities including the Marathas will get justice under Fadnavis's leadership," the senior BJP leader from Maharashtra said.

    Mr Fadnavis has done a very good work in areas of infrastructure, irrigation, investment and employment generation, Mr Gadkari added.

Business Affairs

Facebook taken to court after stock plunge wipes out $120 billion of shareholders' wealth
  • Facebook Inc and its chief executive Mark Zuckerberg were sued on Friday in what could be the first of many lawsuits over a disappointing earnings announcement by the social media company that wiped out about $120 billion of shareholder wealth.

    The complaint filed by shareholder James Kacouris in Manhattan federal court accused Facebook, Zuckerberg and Chief Financial Officer David Wehner of making misleading statements about or failing to disclose slowing revenue growth, falling operating margins, and declines in active users.

    Kacouris said the marketplace was "shocked" when "the truth" began to emerge on Wednesday from the Menlo Park, California-based company. He said the 19 percent plunge in Facebook shares the next day stemmed from federal securities law violations by the defendants.

    The lawsuit seeks class-action status and unspecified damages. A Facebook spokeswoman declined to comment.

    Shareholders often sue companies in the United States after unexpected stock price declines, especially if the loss of wealth is large.

    Facebook has faced dozens of lawsuits over its handling of user data in a scandal also concerning the U.K. firm Cambridge Analytica. Many have been consolidated in the federal court in San Francisco.

    Thursday's plunge also hit Zuckerberg's bottom line.

    Zuckerberg had been tied with Warren Buffett as the world's fourth-richest person, but the Berkshire Hathaway Inc chairman's current $83 billion fortune tops Zuckerberg's $66 billion, Forbes magazine said.

    Buffett now ranks third among the world's billionaires, while Zuckerberg is sixth.

    Facebook shares fell another 0.8 percent on Friday, closing at $174.89 on the Nasdaq.

    The case is Kacouris v Facebook Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 18-06765.

Rupee ends at one-week high as US dollar lags, eye on RBI policy meet
  • The rupee staged a smart rebound to end at a fresh one-week high of 68.65 against the US currency on bouts of dollar selling by exporters and corporates even as stocks continued their bullish ascent. Reversing its brief fall, the home currency regained 19 paise during the week. The domestic unit oscillated between a high of 68.53 and a low of 69.08.

    A significant bullish breakout in the domestic stock markets coupled with positive trade-related headlines provided an additional boost and largely weighed on the trading front.

    Forex sentiment witnessed a revival of enthusiasm as currency traders took comfort in the encouraging meeting outcome after US President Donald Trump obtained concessions from the European Union to avert a transatlantic trade war.

    Expectations of buoyant capital inflows along with likely initial public offering-related inflows predominantly outweighed impact of robust dollar overaseas cues.

    The upbeat trend was also supported by unwinding of longdollar positions by speculators and local banks.

    However, the greenback's gains against some currencies overseas and dollar buying by importers, mainly oil refiners to meet their month-end requirements kept rupee under little pressure and capped the rise amid some caution ahead of the much-awaited two-day RBI policy meet next week.

    The Indian currency had plunged to its life-time low of 69.13 a dollar last week.

    Earlier this week, the rupee resumed higher at 68.70 from weekend finish of 68.84 at the inter-bank foreign exchange (forex) market.

    However, it eventually lost ground and breched the key 69-mark to hit a low of 69.08 in the midst of good dollar demand before taking a strong reversal.

    After touching a high of 68.53 towards the tail-end trade, the local unit finally settled at 68.65, revealing a gain of 19 paise, or 0.28 per cent.

    The rupee had depreciated 31 paise last week.

    The RBI, meanwhile, fixed the reference rate for the dollar at 68.7041 and for the euro at 79.9821.

    The 10-year benchmark yield settled little changed at 7.78 per cent.

    The escalating US-China trade tension entered a new phase amid Yuan drepreciation even as China announced a package of policies to spur domestic growth.

    In the meantime, country's forex reserves increased by USD 67.7 million to USD 405.143 billion for the week ended July 20, RBI data showed.

    Foreign investors, however continued their selling spree and pulled out over Rs 2,000 crore from the capital markets this month so far.

    The latest sell-off comes after foreign portfolio investors (FPIs) withdrew over Rs 61,000 crore from the capital markets in the last three months (April to June).

    On the energy front, crude prices drifted lower larely weighed down by a drop in the U.S. equities market despite strong macro data, but Brent still marked a weekly increase supported by easing trade tensions and a temporary shutdown by Saudi Arabia of a key crude oil shipping lane.

    Brent crude futures fell 25 cents to settle at USD 74.29 a barrel, but notched a 1.8 percent weekly increase, its first increase in four weeks.

    Globally, the US dollar slipped against a basket of currencies on Friday as data showing the U.S. economy expanded at its fastest rate in nearly four years failed to erase worries that trade frictions would be a drag in the second half of 2018.

    Gross domestic product registered a seasonally- adjusted annual rate of 4.1 per cent growth in the second quarter, underlining the case for the Federal Reserve to gradually increase interest rates.

    The dollar index, which measures the greenback's value against a basket of six major currencies ended at 94.47.

    Elsewhere, the euro stabilized after its biggest one-day loss in a month following the ECB's decision to keep rates unchanged and reiterating its plan to slowly end its accommodative monetary policy.

Renu Satti steps down as Paytm Payments Bank CEO, named COO of new retail initiative
  • Paytm Payments Bank CEO Renu Satti has resigned from the role and will now head Paytm's new retail initiative.

    Paytm will look for a replacement for Satti, who had taken over the CEO role last year.

    "Renu Satti will be leading the charge as COO of this new (retail) initiative... She has already resigned from Paytm Payments Bank CEO position and the Bank will soon be recruiting a new CEO," Paytm said in a statement.

    In the past, Satti has built businesses ground up that include marketplace, movie ticketing and most recently Paytm Payments Bank.

    "She has been a champion of new business launches and her acumen makes her a perfect candidate for leading this important launch," the company said.

    Under its 'New Retail' model, consumers will soon be able to discover nearby pharmacies, groceries and other shops to place an order and get instant deliveries.

    Paytm is also building P2P logistics with a network spread across the country which will be utilised for intra-city deliveries, the statement said.

    The company has already partnered with a large network of local shops, restaurants, pharmacies and groceries for accepting Payments and will soon extend New Retail' services to them, it added.

    "We will work with local restaurants, grocery stores and pharmacies to enable them for local ordering and delivery," Paytm founder and CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma said.

    Local ordering is expected to become one third of Paytm orders and gross merchandise value (GMV) by 2020, he added.

Reliance's refining margin shrinks; petchem becomes largest cash flow generator
  • The traditional crude refining business of Reliance Industries (RIL), India's largest private company by revenues, has been hit by declining margins in the first quarter, leading to 16.8 per cent fall in refining earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) to Rs 5,315 crore.

    The gross refining margin (GRM) of the company fell to $10.5 a barrel from $11.9 a barrel in the first quarter of the last financial year.

    "Lower crude throughout due to planned turnaround of one crude distillation unit and softer refining margins led to decline in segment EBIT. Refining and marketing performance was also impacted by higher flat price and adverse movement in Brent-Dubai differentials on Y-o-Y basis," the company said.

    The spike in petrochemical volume - RIL spent about Rs 1.5 lakh crore for the expansion of its petrochemical facilities in Jamnagar - has offset the slip in crude margins.

    The petchem business has become the largest vertical in terms of cash flow for the first time, overtaking the refining business of the company.

    The revenue from petrochemicals segment increased by 58.2 per cent to Rs 40,287 crore, thanks to 35 per cent jump in volumes and about 24 per cent higher realisations.

    The segment EBIT witnessed record rise of 94.9 per cent to Rs 7,857 crore, supported by the newly built world's largest Refinery Off-Gas Cracker (ROGC), its downstream units and Para-xylene (PX) plant.

    While its hydrocarbon exploration and production continues to be in shambles, the new businesses like Reliance Retail and Reliance Jio have shown signs of becoming the formidable force in their respective industries.

    The retail revenues grew by 123.7 per cent to Rs 25,890 crore - over 100 per cent growth for the third consecutive quarter. PBDIT grew by 203 per cent to Rs 1,206 crore. Reliance Retail added 68 stores and 794 Jio Points during first quarter and operates 8,533 stores and 502 petro outlets across 5,200 cities.

    Reliance Jio's subscriber base grew to 215.3 million at the end of the first quarter - a net addition of 28.7 million during the quarter, compared to 26.5 million in the previous quarter. The standalone revenue from operations grew by 13.8 per cent to Rs 8,109 crore, while EBITDA rose 16.8 per cent to Rs 3,147 crore.

    The biggest advantage of the nearly two-years-old digital services firm is the EBITDA margin of 38.8 per cent. Jio posted a net profit of Rs 612 crore in first quarter, higher compared to Rs 510 crore profit in the fourth quarter of the last financial year.  

NTPC Q1 results: Net profit slips 1.14% to Rs 2,500 crore; revenue up 11%
  • State-owned power giant NTPC reported 1.14 per cent decline in standalone net profit to Rs 2,588.14 crore for the first quarter ended June 30, due to higher depreciation, borrowing cost and expenditure on fuel.

    The company's had posted Rs 2,618.17 crore standalone net profit in the corresponding period last fiscal, it said in a BSE filing.

    According to the statement, the company's total revenues in the quarter rose 11 per cent to Rs 22,839.98 crore from Rs 20,541.93 crore in the year-ago period.

    The company provided Rs 1,860.15 crore for depreciation, amortisation and impairment expenses in the first quarter, which were higher than Rs 1,570 crore in the same period last fiscal.

    Similarly, its borrowing cost increased to Rs 1,219.93 crore from Rs 895.60 crore. The fuel cost also rose to Rs 13,118.74 crore in the quarter under review from Rs 11,940.11 crore a year ago.

    Besides, the board also "approved the issue of secured/ unsecured, redeemable, taxable/ tax-free, cumulative/ non-cumulative, non-convertible debentures ('Bonds/NCDs') up to Rs 12,000 crore during the period commencing from the date of passing of Special Resolution in the ensuing Annual General Meeting till completion of one year thereof or the date of next Annual General Meeting in the financial year 2019-20 whichever is earlier," the company said.

    The company's gross power generation in the quarter stood at 69.21 billion units (BU), up 7.45 per cent from 64.41 BU a year ago.

    Its plant load factor (PLF) or capacity utilisation of coal based plants has come down by 1.07 per cent at 77.98 per cent in the quarter compared to 79.05 per cent a year ago.

    The average power tariff of the company during the quarter was Rs 3.36 per unit.

General Awareness

    Bombali: New strain of Ebola virus
    • What to study?

      For Prelims: six strain of Ebola virus, Ebola- the disease, spread, causes, treatment and vulnerability.
      For Mains: Epidemics- spread, global concern and joint efforts in this regard.

      What? Researchers have discovered new strain of Ebola virus.

      Where? In bats in northern Bombali region of Sierra Leone.

      Key facts:

      It has been named as Bombali virus strain, after district where it was found.
      The sixth in line: The Bombali virus is overall sixth known virus strain Ebola virus. Others are Zaire, Sudan, Tai Forest, Bundibugyo and Reston.

      What you need to know about Ebola?

      Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is a severe, often fatal illness in humans.

      Transmission: The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission.

      The average EVD case fatality rate is around 50%. Case fatality rates have varied from 25% to 90% in past outbreaks.

      Prevention: Community engagement is key to successfully controlling outbreaks. Good outbreak control relies on applying a package of interventions, namely case management, surveillance and contact tracing, a good laboratory service and social mobilisation.

      Early supportive care with rehydration, symptomatic treatment improves survival. There is as yet no licensed treatment proven to neutralise the virus but a range of blood, immunological and drug therapies are under development.

      Background:

      More than 11,000 people died in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014-2015, mainly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. The last outbreak in the DRC was in 2014 and killed more than 40 people. The region affected lies 1,300 km north-east of Kinshasa, close to the border with the Central African Republic.

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