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Current Affairs - 16 September 2018

General Affairs 

Countdown Begins As ISRO Launches 2 Foreign Satellites Today
  • The 33-hour countdown for the launch of two earth observation satellites on-board PSLV from the space port of Sriharikota, about 110 kilometers from Chennai, began at 1.08 PM on Saturday.

    The Indian Space Research Organisation or ISRO's trusted workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle-C42 (PSLV) would carry the satellites, NovaSAR and S1-4, together weighing over 800 kilograms, at lift off on Sunday at 10.07 PM, ISRO said in a release.

    The foreign satellites, meant for forest mapping and flood and disaster monitoring, among other uses, would be released into sun synchronous orbit at a height of 583 km, it added.

    They have been developed by Surrey Satellite Technologies Limited, United Kingdom.

    We have begun the countdown today at 01:08 pm (IST) for the launch of #PSLVC42 from Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota. The scheduled launch is at 10:08 pm (IST) tomorrow. Stay tuned for more updates.@PMOIndia #ISROMissions#PSLV

    In January, PSLV-C40 launched India's weather observation satellite Cartosat 2 Series and PSLV-C41 launched IRNSS - 1I navigation satellite in April.

NASA Launches New Satellite For 3-Year Mission To Study Global Ice Loss
  • NASA's most advanced space laser satellite blasted off Saturday on a mission to track ice loss around the world and improve forecasts of sea level rise as the climate warms.

    Cloaked in pre-dawn darkness, the $1 billion, half-ton ICESat-2 launched aboard a Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force base in California at 6:02 am (1302 GMT).

    "Three, two one, liftoff!" said a launch commentator on NASA television.

    "Lifting ICESat-2 on a quest to explore the polar ice sheets of our constantly changing home planet."

    The launch marks the first time in nearly a decade that NASA has had a tool in orbit to measure ice sheet surface elevation across the globe.

    The preceding mission, ICESat, launched in 2003 and ended in 2009.

    The first ICESat revealed that sea ice was thinning, and ice cover was disappearing from coastal areas in Greenland and Antarctica.

    In the intervening nine years, an aircraft mission called Operation IceBridge, has flown over the Arctic and Antarctic, taking height measurements of the changing ice.

    But a view from space -- especially with the latest technology -- should be far more precise.

    The new laser will fire 10,000 times in one second, compared to the original ICESat which fired 40 times a second.

    Measurements will be taken every 2.3 feet (0.7 meters) along the satellite's path.

    "The mission will gather enough data to estimate the annual elevation change in the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets even if it's as slight as four millimeters - the width of a No. 2 pencil," NASA said in a statement.

    Importantly, the laser will measure the slope and height of the ice, not just the area it covers.

    "One of the things that we are trying to do is, one, characterize the change that is taking place within the ice, and this is going to greatly improve our understanding of that, especially over areas where we don't know how well it is changing right now," said Tom Wagner, cryosphere program scientist at NASA, mentioning the deep interior of Antarctica as one such area of mystery.

    The mission is meant to last three years but has enough fuel to continue for 10, if mission managers decide to extend its life.

PM Modi Walked The Path Shown By Mahatma Gandhi: Piyush Goyal
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi had followed the path shown by Mahatma Gandhi by honouring those who worked towards keeping the country clean, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal said on Saturday.

    Speaking at a "Swachhata Hi Seva" programme at the Old Delhi Railway Station, he said PM Modi reached out to over 10 crore people when he launched the movement, a fortnight-long event, earlier on Thursday.

    "By walking on the path shown by Mahatma Gandhi, the PM has honoured all those involved in sanitation work and who are working towards keeping the country clean," Mr Goyal said.

    PM Modi, in a tweet, praised the contribution of the railway employees in keeping the railway network clean and called upon the passengers to maintain cleanliness.

    "The role of all my employees in the railways is crucial in keeping such a large railway network clean, to make things convenient for the travellers. They have also contributed to the improvement of cleanliness in the railways," the prime minister tweeted.

    He further said there was a close relationship between cleanliness and community feeling.

    "In train compartments, it is written that the Indian Railways is the property of the public. It is written to make you feel that it belongs to you and that you must reserve and protect it," PM Modi tweeted.

    Mr Goyal also highlighted the need for citizen partnership in keeping India clean.

    "If each citizen of this country takes an oath that he will take the responsibility for change, then not just his home, his whole country will be clean. Then this country will have a place of pride globally," Mr Goyal, who took part in cleaning the Old Delhi Railway Station premises on Saturday, said.

J&K Local Body Poll Dates Announced, Voting To Be Held In 4 Phases
  • The municipal body elections in Jammu and Kashmir will be held in four phases through October 8 to 16, State Chief Electoral Officer Shaleen Kabra announced on Saturday.

    The polling dates are October 8, 10, 13 and 16, and the votes would be counted on October 20. The electoral process will be held from 7 am to 2 pm, news agency ANI quoted Mr Kabra as saying.

    Mr Kabra said that the notification for phase 1 of the municipal polls will be issued on September 18, and those for the second, third and fourth on September 20, 22 and 24 respectively. This is the first time electronic voting machines or EVMs will be used for civic polls in the state. Moreover, the election body has provided migrants with the option of voting through postal ballot.

    According to Mr Kabra, as many as 17 lakh voters are registered for the municipal polls.

    Previous reports had suggested that the municipal body elections could be deferred in view of two major regional parties -- the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) -- threatening to withdraw from the fray. They had refused to participate unless the Centre came clear on safeguarding Article 35A, a constitutional provision that defines "permanent residents" of the state. The PDP had said that holding the elections at this juncture would be a "mockery" of the democratic process.

    But the Government stuck to its stand, with State Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam assuring the media that the schedule will remain as planned. "There will no change in dates... Three weeks from now we will have urban body elections and on the first week of November, we will have panchayat elections," he said.

    Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also declared in his Independence Day speech that the state local body polls would be held "in the coming months".

    Jammu and Kashmir came under Governor's Rule in June, after the BJP pulled out of its ruling alliance with Mehbooba Mufti's PDP over ideological differences. Two months later, Satya Pal Malik replaced NN Vohra as the administrative head of the troubled state.

    Separatists in the Valley have asked the people to boycott the municipal as well as the panchayat polls.

Swachhata Hi Seva: PM Modi Cleans School Premises In Delhi's Paharganj
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi today reached Baba Sahib Ambedkar Higher Secondary School in Delhi's Paharganj and picked up a broom to clean the surroundings. As part of his 'shram daan' or voluntary work, he cleaned the school surroundings.

    Wearing a pale pink half-sleeve kurta, Prime Minister Modi was seen picking up pieces of paper and disposable plastic glasses with his hands. He also used a shovel to gather the garbage at one place.

    After reaching the school, he first paid floral tributes at BR Ambedkar's statue in its premises.

    He also interacted with some students, and explained to them, the importance of cleanliness.

    The prime minister later tweeted, "With enthusiastic young friends at the Baba Sahib Ambedkar Secondary School in Delhi. It is India's youth that have led from the front and ushered in a positive change when it comes to cleanliness."

    Earlier, he interacted with people via a video link to launch "Swachhata Hi Seva" movement, a fortnight-long event.

    The 'Swachhata Hi Seva' movement aims at generating greater public participation towards Swachhta (cleanliness) and is being organised in the run-up to the fourth anniversary of the Swachh Bharat Mission, on October 2 2018, which will also mark the commencement of the 150th birth anniversary celebrations of Mahatma Gandhi.

    The Prime Minister's Office said no special traffic arrangements were made for the movement of the prime minister and that he reached the venue in usual traffic conditions.

    Baba Sahib Ambedkar School near Ambedkar Bhawan on Jhansi Rani Road, Paharganj, is a higher secondary school affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education.

    The school has been operating under a trust named as Delhi Schedule Caste Welfare Association registered under Society Registration Act. The Society has been registered on  June 17, 1946.

    The campus was bought by Dr BR Ambedkar himself in 1946 with an aim to advance the educational, social and economic well being of scheduled castes.

Business Affairs

Mobile operators ask UIDAI to defer Sept 15 deadline for face authentication rollout
  • Barely hours to go before the September 15 deadline comes into play, mobile operators have sought more time to implement the UIDAI-mandated face authentication feature, citing non-preparedness of biometric device makers.

    The operators under the ambit of Apex Advisory Council for Telecom in India (ACT) have said that the date of implementation of face authentication should be at least two months from the date that the device ecosystem is ready, and till such time no penalty should be levied.

    " the absence of device ecosystem being completely ready, telecom service providers would not be able to comply with the instructions of the UIDAI within the defined timelines and our members have conveyed the same in the meetings held on August 31, 2018 and September 10, 2018," the forum said in a letter to UIDAI Friday.

    The operators have argued that the first move towards implementation of face authentication is required to be done by the device vendors since they are the ones who have to upgrade their devices and obtain stipulated certification.

    "Till now only some of the device vendors have made available the upgraded service, that too, in pre-production environment," said ACT, which is a joint initiative of Cellular Operators' Association of India (COAI) and the telecom service providers.

    Even after the device vendors are ready, there will be a requirement of thorough testing, deployment of the revised process and training of on-field retailers, an exhaustive exercise in itself, and all of this will take time, it said.

    "Hence the date of implementation should be minimum two months from the date the device ecosystem is ready. Accordingly, there should be no provision of penalty as the industry is working mutually with UIDAI to enhance the security features in eKYC and making the system more robust," said the letter addressed to UIDAI CEO Ajay Bhushan Pandey.

    COAI had earlier too flagged concerns over the nuances of face authentication feature rollout, saying that some of the stipulated provisions impose additional cost and time burden on telecom firms and are against the tenets of ease of doing business.

    In its latest letter, ACT maintained that capturing of photo after eKYC authentication is completed, and matching it with the photo received from the UIDAI will lead to duplication of efforts at the telecom operators' end without any commensurate value addition.

    "We thus submit again that this requirement of clicking additional photo of the subscriber should be done away with...the authority is...requested to revise the timeline of September 15, 2018 for 10 cent of transactions on face authentication, urgently," it said.

    Last month, UIDAI had announced a phased rollout of face recognition feature as an additional mode of authentication, starting with telecom service providers from September 15.

    It has also proposed a monetary disincentive for telcos found slipping on the prescribed targets. Significantly, the UIDAI has said 'live face photo' capture and its verification with the photo obtained in eKYC will be essential in those cases where Aadhaar is used for issuance of mobile SIMs.

PM Modi holds economic review meet; Jaitley announces steps to revive rupee, bridge current account deficit
  • The government has decided to withdraw withholding tax on Masala bonds, allow some breathing space to foreign portfolio investments, and check non-essential imports and promote exports in order to arrest the decline in rupee and check the widening current account deficit. The steps were announced after a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to assess the prevailing issues in Indian economy.

    Talking to media personnel after the meeting, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that external factors like policies adopted by the United States, trade tensions and skyrocketing crude oil prices are impacting economies like India, despite "strong fundamentals". He said that the government has decided on five steps to contain current account deficit, which has widened to 2.4 per cent of the GDP in the first quarter of the current fiscal.

    Several issues were discussed during the meeting and a call will be taken on them in coming days, the minister further added. More issues will be discussed in the meeting with the Prime Minister, Jaitley said. However, "there are some issues on which immediate action is needed," the minister said while announcing steps to increase inflow of foreign funds and check current account deficit.

    One of the important decisions taken during today's meeting is that mandatory hedging condition for infrastructure loans will be reviewed. This relates to external commercial borrowing (ECB). It has also been decided to permit manufacturing entities to avail ECB facility with minimum maturity of one year, instead of the earlier limit of three years, Jaitley said.

    Further, restrictions will be removed with respect to FPI exposure limit of 20 per cent in corporate bond portfolio to a single corporate group or company or entity and 50 per cent of any issue of corporate bond. The Reserve Bank of India had imposed these restrictions on FPIs earlier this year in April.

    With regards to Masala bonds, Jaitley said it has been decided to do away with the withholding tax on bonds issued till March 2019. Bonds issued outside India, but denominated in Indian rupee are popularly called Masala bonds. The current withholding tax on such bonds is 5 per cent. Notably, no Masala bond has been issued so far in the current fiscal. Jaitley also informed that restrictions on Indian banks on marketing and underwriting of Masala bonds would be removed.

    The Finance Minister further said that the government would restrict import of non-essential items and encourage exports. He, however, did not disclose the list of non-essential items which would be subject to import restrictions. These restrictions would reportedly also extend to private imports of such items.

    "To address the issue of expanding CAD, the government will take necessary steps to cut down non-essential imports and increase exports. The commodities of which imports will be cut down will be decided after consultations with concerned ministries and will be WTO-compliant," he said.

    Large trade deficit and rupee decline against the US dollar are putting pressure on the CAD, and these steps are likely to have a positive impact on the external sector. Jaitley said the government gives importance to fiscal deficit and expressed hope it would be contained.

    Economic Affairs Secretary Subhash Chandra Garg said the five measures announced today would definitely have a meaningful impact. "It is difficult to give a specific number. I think it should have an impact of $8-10 billion," he was quoted as saying by PTI.

    The emergency meeting was called in the backdrop of dire condition of the Indian rupee after it sunk to an all-time low of 72.91 against the US dollar on September 12 before closing at 71.84. The domestic currency recovered marginally earlier this week. Petrol and diesel prices have also touched record highs.

Infosys to acquire Fluido for up to Rs 545 crore
  • India's second largest IT services firm Infosys said Friday it will acquire Finland-based Fluido in a deal worth up to 65 million euros (over Rs 545 crore).

    The acquisition -- for "up to 65 million euros including earn-out, management incentives and bonuses -- is expected to close during the third quarter of fiscal 2019, subject to customary closing conditions," Infosys said in a statement.

    "...this acquisition strengthens Infosys' position as a leading Salesforce enterprise cloud services provider and enhances its ability to provide clients an unparalleled cloud-first transformation...The acquisition strengthens Infosys' presence in the Nordics region," it added.

    Headquartered in Espoo, Finland, Fluido is one of the largest Salesforce (software company) consulting partners in Europe. It is majority-owned by its management team and CapMan private equity, with Salesforce Ventures having a minority stake. Its offerings include cloud consulting, implementation and training services.

    Founded in 2010, Fluido has offices in Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Slovakia. Its customers span industries like manufacturing, energy, retail and telecommunications.

    "This acquisition demonstrates Infosys' commitment to the Salesforce ecosystem to address our client's digital priorities. Fluido will be an important addition to the Infosys family, bringing a unique combination of market presence, deep salesforce expertise, agile delivery and training," Infosys President and Deputy COO Ravi Kumar said.

    This acquisition also aligns to Infosys' efforts to invest in local capabilities in the regions in which it operates, he added.

    In a separate filing, the Bengaluru-based company said its Board will meet on October 15 and 16 to consider the financial results for the quarter ended September 30, 2018.

    "The financial results will be presented to the Board of Directors on October 16, 2018 for their approval," the filing added.

India to cut down on oil imports from Iran ahead of US sanctions
  • Indian refiners will cut their monthly crude loadings from Iran for September and October by nearly half from earlier this year as New Delhi works to win waivers on the oil export sanctions Washington plans to reimpose on Tehran in November.

    India's loadings from Iran for this month and next will drop to less than 12 million barrels each, after purchases over April-August had been boosted in anticipation of the reductions.

    The United States is renewing sanctions on Iran after withdrawing from a nuclear deal forged in 2015 between Tehran and world powers. Washington reimposed some of the financial sanctions from August 6, while those affecting Iran's petroleum sector will come into force from November 4.

    India, Iran's No.2 oil client behind top buyer China, does not recognise the reimposed U.S. sanctions, but winning a waiver from the restrictions is a must for New Delhi to protect its wider exposure to the U.S. financial system.

    India's oil ministry in June told refiners to prepare for a "drastic reduction or zero" imports from Iran from November.

    "Some refiners have either already exhausted or front-loaded their term contract to a large extent, which allows them the flexibility to go to zero if required, or until clarity on the waivers emerge," Amrita Sen, chief oil analyst at Energy Aspect, told Reuters.

    Washington will consider waivers for Iranian oil buyers such as India but they must eventually halt crude imports from Tehran, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week in New Delhi after a meeting of high level officials.

    The Indian government, already facing a backlash over a falling rupee and record high fuel prices, does not want to halt the oil imports from Iran as the Islamic republic offers a discount on oil sales to India.

    Government sources said India made this point clear in last week's meetings with U.S. officials and remains engaged with Washington to work out waivers on its oil purchases from Iran.

    "We have a special relationship with both the U.S. and with Iran, and we are seeing how to balance this all, and also to balance out the interest of the refiners and end-consumers," said one of the government officials.

    But if Washington adopts a tough line, India would have no other choice than to end imports from Iran, they said.

    Cutting imports nearly in half

    India lifted about 658,000 barrel of oil per day (bpd) from Iran in April-August, according to data obtained from trade sources by Reuters, and the cuts projected for September and October would drop the daily average over those two months by about 45 percent to 360,000-370,000 bpd.

    Indian oil refiners have already given the October loading plans to the National Iranian Oil Co (NIOC), sources familiar with the loading schedule said.

    Top refiner Indian Oil Corp wants to lift 6 million barrels each in September and October, while Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals would load 3 million barrels each for those two months, the sources said.

    IOC would also lift 1 million barrel for its subsidiary Chennai Petroleum Corp in October, they said.

    Bharat Petroleum Corp would lift 1 million barrels in September and skip purchases in October, a company source said on Tuesday.

    Bharat Petroleum has already drawn more than its fixed volumes - the amount it is obligated to purchase - that were contracted for 2018/19, its chairman said on Tuesday.

    Nayara Energy, part owned by Russian oil giant Rosneft, plans to lift 1 million barrels each in September and October, the sources said. But the refiner began reducing its oil imports from Iran in June and aims to completely halt purchases from November.

    Hindustan Petroleum, Reliance Industries and HPCL Mittal Energy (HMEL) have no plans to buy from Iran in September and October, they said.

    India refiners - excluding Reliance and HMEL, which do not have term contracts with Iran - will together lift about 73 percent of their fixed contract volumes from Iran by end-October, the loading data showed.

    IOC, Nayara and MRPL did not respond to Reuters' emails seeking comments.

SEBI fines Sumangal Industries, promoters Rs 1 crore for not returning illegally collected funds
  • Markets regulator SEBI Friday slapped a penalty of Rs 1 crore on Sumangal Industries and nine individuals, including promoters and directors of the firm, for not complying with its directions to refund the money collected illegally from investors.

    The individuals are Subrata Adhikary, Sajal Bhattacharya, Indusekhar Chakraborty, Madhumita Adhikary, Somnath Adhikary, Gopal Chandra Adhikary, Sarbani Adhikary, Astick Kumar Roy and Debika Adhikary.

    The penalty has to be paid by the entities "jointly and severally".

    According to a SEBI order, Sumangal had collected Rs 85 crore from investors through illegal collective investment schemes (CIS). The firm was running illegal potato purchase investment schemes promising up to 100 per cent gain in just 15 months to investors.

    In July 2013, the regulator had passed a ruling whereby the entities were directed to wind up the schemes and refund the money collected within a period of three months. They also had to submit a winding up and repayment report to SEBI in accordance with the CIS Regulations.

    However, Sumangal challenged SEBI's July 2013 order before the Securities Appellate Tribunal (SAT).

    In February 2014, the tribunal granted extension to the company for refunding money to investors till January 2015 subject to furnishing quarterly report as to the progress made in the winding up of its schemes and refund of the amount to the investors and furnishing further quarterly reports from time to time till January 2015.

    However, Sumangal failed to submit quarterly report to SEBI in line with the SAT order following which the regulator filed an application before the tribunal requesting cancellation of the extended time granted to the firm to repay investors till January 2015. The tribunal, through an order in September 2014, recalled its earlier order.

    In its fresh ruling, the regulator said the entities "have failed to comply" with the July 2013 order with regard to the directions to wind up the CIS and refund the money collected by the firm under the schemes.

    "... entities violating the directions/ orders of the Board seriously compromise the regulatory framework and are detrimental to the interests of the investors," the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) said.

    Noting that such violators should be sternly dealt with and be suitably penalised, the regulator imposed a fine of Rs 1 crore on the 10 entities.

General Awareness

    India’s first indigenous anti-nuclear medical kit
    • What to study?

      For Prelims and Mains: Components and significance of the kit launched.

      Context: In a major shot in the arm for paramilitary and police forces, scientists at Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Sciences (INMAS) claim to have developed India’s first indigenous medical kit that may ensure protection from serious injuries and faster healing of wounds resulting from nuclear warfare or radioactive leakage.

      The kit has been developed for the armed, paramilitary and police forces only as they are the first ones likely to get exposed to radiation — be it during nuclear, chemical and biomedical (NCB) warfare or a rescue operation after a nuclear accident.

      About the kit and its components:

      The kit has over 25 items, including radio-protectors that provide 80-90% protection against radiation and nerve gas agents, bandages that absorb radiation as well as tablets and ointments.
      Developed in India for the first time, it’s a potent alternative to similar kits that were till now being procured from strategically advanced nations such as the US and Russia at much higher prices.

      The contents:

      The contents include an advanced form of Prussian blue tablets, highly effective in incorporating Radio Cesium (Cs-137) and Radio Thallium, among the most feared radioisotopes in nuclear bombs that destroy human body cells.

      The kit also has an Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) injection that traps uranium in the guts and blood of victims during a nuclear accident or warfare. When EDTA is injected into the veins, it “grabs” heavy metals and minerals and removes them from the body.
      The kit also has Ca-EDTA Respiratory Fluid, which is the inhalation formula for chelation, or grabbing, of heavy metals and radioactive elements deposited in lungs through inhalation at nuclear accident sites.
      The kit also has a radioactive urine/biofluid collector which is cost-effective, easy to store and can safely dispose of the urine of a person affected by radiation. The collector has silk at its base, more than enough to jellify 500 millilitre of urine, which could be disposed of safely.
      The kit has anti-gamma ray skin ointment that protects and heals the radiation damage on the skin.
      Also part of the kit is the amifostine injection, a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved conventional radiopharmaceutical that limits damage from gamma radiation.
      Another medicine in the form of a tablet is Indranil 150 mg. It is being introduced as a reserve emergency drug for services, rescue workers and places where high acute exposures are expected and lives will be at stake.

      Significance of the kit:

      During radioactive accidents thousands of patients may be rushed to hospitals. In several cases, if not most, they will also have traumatic, orthopaedic, surgical injuries or burns. The blood of such patients will have radioactive elements and will require wound dressing with significantly higher absorption capacity so that nothing leaks and infects others. Such highly absorptive dressings and gauze also make it safer for the medical staff to handle radioactive patients as the chance of their own contamination is reduced.

      The kit is a potential alternative to those being procured from nations such as the US and Russia at much higher prices. Such medicines will help everyone and not just soldiers. This will also help the victims affected in terrorist attacks.

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