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Current Affairs - 17 October 2018

General Affairs 

No Stubble-Burning For 17 Years, Punjab Farmer Says He Has Technique
  • With the government today saying it will not relax the Reserve Bank of India's October 15 deadline for data localisation, the road ahead has become tough for global digital payment providers who have sought more time to comply with the guidelines.

    The RBI guidelines say that all digital payment firms like Google Pay, WhatsApp and others must store data locally for their businesses. The deadline to comply with the norms ended today.

    In a statement, WhatsApp said that in India, almost a million people are testing WhatsApp payments to send money to each other in a simple and A farmer in Punjab has claimed he has been sowing wheat directly into the hard soil of his fields without burning crop residue since 2001 and getting up to 2.5 quintals of higher crop yield per acre, a feat that the authorities said could encourage other farmers to do the same.
    Surjeet Singh of Sadhugarh village in Fatehegarh Sahib district showed on Tuesday his farming techniques called 'super straw management system' in the presence of the district deputy commissioner Shiv Dular Singh Dhillon.

    Appreciating Mr Singh's efforts, the deputy commissioner said the administration would take steps to encourage farmers in the state to follow his ways of farming.

    Air pollution in Delhi and the National Capital Region in winter has been blamed on stubble-burning in Haryana and Punjab.

    Under the straw management system, wheat can be sowed directly in hard soil with the help of a seeder machine and without burning the stubble and tilling the land afresh, said Mr Singh.

    It saves the cost of diesel for tilling the land, he said, adding farmers don't even need the pre-sowing irrigation and end up having higher crop yield from 2 to 2.5 quintal.

    Farmers get higher crop yield because the residue paddy stubble serves as nutrient for the new crop on decomposition, he said, adding that one does not need pre-sowing tilling and irrigation either as the seeds can be directly drilled into hard soil.

    This farming also tackles the problem of falling water table in the area as post-sowing, the crop can be watered by rain guns just for 40 minutes per acre, he said.

    Mr Singh said he has never burnt paddy straw since 2001 and is constantly practising resource conservation technology to manage crop residue produced on his 45 acres farm.

Court Admits Plea Seeking Stay On Man-Eating Tigress Avni's Killing
  • The Bombay High Court's Nagpur Bench on Tuesday admitted a public interest litigation that sought a stay on plans to kill a 'man-eater' tigress and instead capture her alive, a wildlife activist said.
    Wildlife activist Jerryl A. Banait said that a division bench headed by Justice B.P. Dharmadhikari posted the public interest litigation he had filed on behalf of his NGO Earth Brigade Foundation for hearing on October 19.

    Mr Banait contended that instead of killing her, which will orphan her two 10-month-old cubs, the Forest Department should capture her alive, as per the Supreme Court orders on September 11.

    "The department claimed that this tigress has killed over a dozen humans and in January this year, issued orders to shoot her at sight. However, in that month, she gave birth to two cubs, who are solely dependent on her for survival in the wild," he told news agency IANS.

    He claimed that since the birth of the cubs, there was not a single human death reported in the area, where seven other tigers roam the wild.

    "So, how have the officials concluded that she is the man-eater and are now hunting for her? They have not even conducted proper scat (droppings) tests or analysed her predatory habits. If they kill her without following the Supreme Court and National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) guidelines, they will actually be responsible for three deaths, since her cubs cannot survive without her," Mr Banait said.

    Meanwhile, the hunt for the tigress is on, with the help of trap cameras, drones, a pack of trained sniffer dogs and a hang-glider along with a team of Forest Department officials in the vicinity of the Tippeshwar Tiger Sanctuary.

    The department has also hired the services of controversial private marksman Shafat Ali Khan but Banait says it not only violates the NCTA directives but also disregards the top court orders.

Winter Session Of Parliament May Start In December Second Week: Sources
  • The winter session of parliament is likely to start from the second week of December, just after the Rajasthan assembly elections on December 7, highly-placed sources said on Tuesday.
    The dates of the session will be finalised by the cabinet committee on political affairs or CCPA, which is expected to meet in the next fortnight, the sources said.

    Discussions are on to decide the length of the session and it may end in the second week of January, the sources said.

    The winter session assumes significance as an ordinance for the triple "talaq" bill is on the centre's legislative agenda. The bill has already been passed by the Lok Sabha. Besides, the ordinance for disbanding the Medical Council of India is also on the list.

    In 2017, the winter session was held from December 15 to January 5.

    This year's monsoon session, which began from July 18 and ended on August 10, saw a no-trust vote in the Lok Sabha and a floor test in the Rajya Sabha over the election of the deputy chairman.

Railways To Run More Trains To Clear Rush During Festival Season
  • The railways is preparing to take some 16 crore passengers in the next 30 days to clear the festival rush, an official of the railway board said. The number will include 10 lakh additional passengers to be carried by trains which were introduced last year during Chhath Puja.
    East-bound trains will run more than 250 trips to and from Bihar, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh during Durga Puja, Diwali and Chhath Puja.

    "We have planned to run more than 400 trips of around 40 special trains over the next 30 days. We are prepared to carry around 16 crore passengers during that time overall," the official said.

    "We have also taken several measures to manage the rush during that time, including deployment of more personnel, adequate facilities and amenities for passengers," the official added.

    Eleven special trains will be run from Bihar, six trains from Uttar Pradesh, one from Jharkhand and three from West Bengal. The railways will also run half-a-dozen special trains from Delhi to UP, Bihar and Bengal daily, the official said.

    The frequency of some trains will also be increased to clear the festival rush.

    Some of the special trains include Gorakhpur-Anandvihar Special Express, Katihar-Delhi Humsafar Express, Darbhanga-Jalandhar Antyodaya Express, Udaipur-Pataliputra Humsafar Express and Allahabad-Anandvihar Humsafar Express.

    Another official said the railways is planning to have additional ticket counters, boards with train information on them displayed prominently on platforms and proper announcements so that there is no confusion on platforms.

    Additional personnel like ticket-checking staff, Railway Protection Force and volunteers will be deployed to manage the rush of passengers. Staff will also be deployed at foot-over-bridges to avoid overcrowding, the official said.

    Doctors and ambulances will be on standby at important stations to attend to the passengers, he said.

Kashmir Local Body Elections Peaceful But Record Lowest Voting Ever
  • Once again, Kashmir observed a near-total boycott of elections in the valley. But for the first time in recent memory, the boycott was civil and peaceful. Like last three phases, there was not a single incident of poll-related violence during the fourth and final phase Urban Local Bodies elections today. Held after a gap of 13 years because of tension and unrest, the polls saw about eight times more security personnel than the number of votes cast.
    The media, however, was at the receiving end after the police barred journalists and TV crews from entering polling station premises at many places despite having valid authority letters issued by the state Election Commission.

    Today’s polling ended with a dismal 4 per cent voter turnout. It echoed the record low voting turnout in the last three phases: Six per cent in the first and 3 per cent each in the second and third phases of polling.

    “No election has been so peaceful as this election in Kashmir. We are not concerned about the voting percentage. For us what matters is that polling was completely peaceful. Even boycott was civil,” a senior police officer said. The centre brought in 400 companies or about 40,000 personnel of paramilitary forces to assist the already heavy security set up in Kashmir.

    The police however denied that there was any direction to restrict media from entering polling stations.

    “It may have been done at local-level by some cops. But after your report in the morning we have issued instructions to all formations that media should be allowed to go wherever they want to visit. We have nothing to hide,” Swayam Praksh Pani, Inspector General of Police, said.

    It was for the first time that mainstream regional parties, who have always ruled the state, joined the boycott. These parties want the centre to take a firm stand on safeguarding Kashmir’s special status which has been challenged before the Supreme Court.

    Although there were fears of violence before the elections, the elections eventually turned out to be a remarkably peaceful one. There were no anti-poll protests, stone-throwing incidents or terrorist attacks related to the elections.

    Two National Conference workers in Srinagar were killed but they were not linked to the polls because the party was not participating in elections.

    Last year during by-elections for Srinagar parliament constituency, nine people were killed in firing by security forces on polling day and dozens were injured. The polling was marred by attacks on polling stations, protests and stone-throwing. That violence was seen as a major reason for the boycott and a humiliating turnout of just 7 per cent.

    But despite the heightened security this time, the degree of fear was underlined by the fact that the state election commission kept the names of candidates a secret. In most places people didn’t know who their candidates are.

    The opposition parties called it a sham election and the controversial remarks by Jammu and Kashmir governor naming the prospective Mayor of Srinagar Municipal Corporation even before the polls gave them a handle to question the credibility of polls.

    “It’s a selection being done in the name of election. What else a proof you need than the governor naming a person as mayor before polls,” said Aga Rohullah, chief spokesperson of National Conference.

    But Sajad Lone, a former minister and BJP ally in Kashmir, defended the governor’s comment.

    “Governor reflected what was emanating from the reports at an official and unofficial level - that who could be one of the contenders for the post of mayor. Junaid Matoo’s name cropped up and we are supporting him,” said Sajad Lone.

    The poll boycott by regional parties has led to a situation where more than 60 per cent municipal seats across 10 districts of the valley are either vacant or a single candidates was elected unopposed.

    Despite a massive turnout in other regions of Jammu and Kashmir, the overall poll percentage too remained very low.

Business Affairs

Over 50,000 jobs in data science, machine learning vacant in India: Report
  • Data science and machines learning are hot topics of the season, but as more and more companies are trying to tap these new technologies, the dearth of talent has also become apparent. A recent report by knowledge portal Analytics Vidhya and ed-tech platform Great Learnings, reveals that more than 50,000 positions related to data and analytics are currently vacant in India.

    "If we look at the number of job postings for the position of a Data Scientist, the job postings as well as the job seekers' interest show an all-time high in 2017. However, the jobseekers are almost half as much as the number of postings. This clearly indicates how the industry needs more data scientists and that we haven't really acquired the right skills to bag these available opportunities," the report says.

    The report adds that currently India contributes 12 per cent to such jobs when compared to the world. However, the number of such jobs is likely to have an exponential growth owing to the dearth of skills worldwide and the underlying demand.

    According to the report, the sectors with biggest markets for analytics and data science professionals are banking and financial Services, e-commerce, healthcare and media.

    The report says that banking and financial services is the biggest market for analytics and data science professionals and 44 per cent of all jobs were created in this domain in 2017, while e-commerce created 12 per cent jobs.

    The report also says that around 39,000 analytics jobs will be created in India by 2020. As per the report, cyber security will create 5000 jobs in data and analytics by 2020, healthcare 15,000, genomic 2000 and space exploration 350. Besides these, sectors such as agriculture, aviation etc. too would need people in data analytics. Agriculture, according to the report, would create 5500 jobs in the space by 2020, aviation 4500, and driverless transportation 7000.

Vodafone, Idea, Jio submit plan to close down Aadhaar-based authentication
  • In line with the Aadhaar-issuing body's directive, the country's top three telcos -Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio Infocomm - have reportedly submitted their action plans to stop using the biometric database for customer authentication. The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) had asked telecom companies to submit the plans by October 15 after the Supreme Court's September ruling that private companies can no longer use Aadhaar data.

    However, according to The Economic Times, the three telcos have flagged off cost implications, saying that although they are working with the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) for alternative verification methods, the sudden change will need more investments. This will further burden the financially-stretched operators.

    "We have told the UIDAI that massive investments have been made in setting up infrastructure for digital 'know your customer' (KYC). Operators have invested in biometric devices and workforce training. It will be a colossal wastage specifically for companies in telecom sector, who are already reeling under severe financial stress," a senior executive at a telco told the daily.

    The telcos also pointed out that Aadhaar-based verification was swifter and worked well in rural markets. But migrating to alternative systems of authenticating mobile users will take time since the firms will not only have to train their workforce but also educate consumers on the new processes. "We have highlighted that these factors will be challenging in the competitive market today," said an executive of another telco, who was aware of his firm's response to UIDAI.

    According to the daily, some of the other telcos have asked for more time to share their exit plans since directions from DoT were still awaited.

    Industry body Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), meanwhile, has taken the stand that the telecom department must give clear directions to telcos on KYC norms to be adopted by telcos. "COAI has not written to UIDAI. We have left it to individual operators to respond as they see fit. Our position is that Department of Telecom must provide clarity on the issues raised by the UIDAI," COAI Director General Rajan Mathews told PTI. However, the Apex Advisory Council for Telecom in India (ACT), which includes COAI, approached DoT a few days back with alternative options for the verification process in place of the Aadhaar-based one.

Infosys Q2 net profit grows 10.3% to Rs 4,110 crore
  • Infosys, country's second-largest IT firm, reported a 10.3 per cent growth in its consolidated net profit at Rs 4,110 crore for the quarter ended September 2018.

    The Bengaluru-based software services firm had posted a net profit of Rs 3,726 crore in the year-ago period, Infosys said in a BSE filing.

    Infosys' revenue grew 17.3 per cent to Rs 20,609 crore in the quarter under review as compared to Rs 17,567 crore in the same period of 2017-18, it added.

    "We are delighted with our broad-based growth across all business segments and geographies during the quarter. This is a testimony to our strong client relationships, digital-led full service capabilities, and intense focus on the needs of our clients," Infosys CEO and managing director Salil Parekh said.

    He added that large deal wins at over USD 2 billion during the quarter "demonstrate our increased client relevance and also give us better growth visibility for the near-term".

    Digital revenues at $905 million make 31 per cent of total revenues, it said.

    The company retained its FY'19 revenue guidance in constant currency at 6-8 per cent.

    Infosys also said it will comply with arbitration award asking it to pay Rs 12.17 crore to former CFO Rajiv Bansal.

    "The company has received legal advice and will comply with the award and make the necessary payments," the software services major said in a statement.

    The company declares interim dividend of Rs 7 per share.

RSS affiliate wants PM Modi to thwart possible ITC takeover
  • RSS affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) has sought Prime Minister Narendra Modi's intervention to stall a possible takeover bid on ITC by the British American Tobacco Company (BAT).

    In a letter on October 16, SJM has expressed concern over the decline in the share holding of domestic financial institutions in public listed ITC and cautioned that it will result in BAT, a 29.6 stakeholder in ITC, gaining control over the agri-business and hospitality major. The recent decision of BAT to not support a decision by ITC board to give stock options to its employees is what has enraged SJM.

    "In case of ITC, shares held by domestic financial institutions used to be 32 per cent of total and by BAT's group companies (foreign entity) is 29.60 per cent. As a consequence of the share sales management by agencies, the shareholding of public sector financial institutions and the government of India in ITC has come down significantly, narrowing the gap between the shareholding of the government of India and its institutions and BAT," SJM notes. The letter says, "This has increased the risk of the possible takeover of management by the foreign company BAT, by virtue of the fact that BAT would become the dominant shareholder and the company will go into the hands of foreign management, and for all practical purposes, become a foreign company, which at present is an Indian company with an Indian soul".

    According to Ashwani Mahajan, National Co-convenor, SJM, ITC had a turnover of Rs. 43,957 crores in 2017-18 with no transfer of royalty to foreign countries. "The company also has significant cash reserves. If it goes into the hands of an MNC, as per the existing rules with regards to transfer of royalty payments to foreign masters; and as per the projections of sales, by the company in 2018-19, royalty outflow would be over Rs. 2,200 crore which in next 5 years would cumulate to over Rs. 13,500 crores. Apart from this, the government would lose dividend income of over Rs. 4,000 crores over the next 5 years", Mahajan warns.

    Mahajan says that ITC has been earning huge profits, doing enormous value addition and contributing greatly to the exchequer in recent times. "Past experience clearly tells us that with the change in management from Indian to foreign nationals or other entities, the entire nature, working and objectives of the companies change altogether. The thrust shifts to maximising profits by increasing import intensity that increases outflow of money in the form to royalty, technical fees, salaries and others, directly affecting the country's forex reserves," he says.

    Terming BAT's move to oppose the board decision on employee stock option, as "a symptom of the real game plan of BAT to destabilise the Indian Management to achieve its long term objective to taking over the company and re-converting ITC into a tobacco company, and maximising returns for the parent company", SJM sought Prime Minister's intervention to increase government shareholding in the company.

    Earlier known as Indian Tobacco Company, ITC had in the recent years diversified its business into a wide range of activities including hotels, paper and paperboards, education and stationery products, personal care, agri-business and food processing.

RBI issues guidelines to allow payments among mobile wallets
  • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Tuesday released guidelines to facilitate payments among different mobile wallets, a move aimed at promoting digital transactions.

    As per the road-map laid down in 2017, interoperability of all KYC-compliant Prepaid Payment Instruments (PPIs) was to be enabled in three phases - interoperability of PPIs issued in the form of wallets through Unified Payments Interface (UPI), interoperability between wallets and bank accounts through UPI, and interoperability for PPIs issued in the form of cards through card networks.

    The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) issued consolidated guidelines for enabling all phases "in order to prepare better for implementation of interoperability".

    Interoperability is the technical compatibility that enables a payment system to be used in conjunction with other payment systems.

    Interoperability allows PPI issuers, system providers and system participants in different systems to undertake, clear and settle payment transactions across systems without participating in multiple systems.

    MobiKwik, Oxigen, Paytm, ItzCash, and Ola Money are some of the popular mobile wallets in the country.

    Currently, a mobile wallet does not allow customers to send or receive money from a wallet run by another company.

    Welcoming the RBI's guidelines, Navin Surya, Chairman, Fintech Convergence Council said this is very progressive move for non-bank players and huge foundations to reach under-banked and unbanked with equally powerful payment product in league of debit/credit cards.

    "Also now UPI would be accessible to large masses even those who are not banked or are under-banked," he said.

    Paytm COO Kiran Vasireddy said, It is a great step for the payments ecosystem in India. With these set of guidelines, the PPI ecosystem will become more stronger.

General Awareness

    Special courts to try politicians
    • What to study?

      For Prelims: States where special courts have been set up.
      For Mains: Need, challenges and significance of these courts.

      Context: The Supreme Court has upped the ante on the States, Union Territories and High Courts which have not provided it with details of criminal cases pending against sitting lawmakers, warning that their Chief Secretaries and Registrars General will be made personally liable for non-compliance.


      The apex court had on December 14 last year ordered special courts to be established to fast track the long-pending trials against MPs and MLAs in a bid to weed out corruption and criminality in politics. So far, the centre has set up 12 special courts to deal such cases.

      Need for special courts:

      There are several high-profile cases against leaders from almost all political parties—regional and national where investigations have dragged on for years and those facing trial have evaded prison.

      Implications of this move:

      The Centre’s decision could be a setback to politicians who, despite facing serious charges, have remained members of Parliament and state assemblies due to time consumed in trials. Such cases will fall in the purview of special courts and their fate will be decided expeditiously.

      Way ahead:

      The court has given 11 States/Union Territories (UTs) and the High Courts of Karnataka, Kerala and Tripura a deadline of four weeks to comply with its September 12 order.

      The order has called on States/UTs to furnish data to determine the number of special courts to be set up across the country to exclusively try accused legislators.

      The States/UTs which have not complied with the September 12 order are Goa, Himachal Pradesh Meghalaya, Mizoram, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Chandigarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman & Diu and Lakshadweep.

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