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Current Affairs - 09 December 2018

General Affairs 

"Biggest Surveyor" Shivraj Chouhan Says BJP Will Keep Madhya Pradesh
  • The BJP will win with a comfortable majority in Madhya Pradesh, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said today, amid forecasts by election analysts that the BJP and the Congress could see a right race in the heartland state. "I am the biggest surveyor as I remain in the midst of public all day long. The BJP is set to romp home," Mr Chouhan told reporters after visiting the Shree Pitambara Peeth temple in Datia, 348 km from state capital Bhopal. "I have come to seek the blessing of goddess Pitambara for the well-being of Madhya Pradesh," he added.
    The BJP is looking to retain power in Madhya Pradesh for a fourth term, while the Congress is hoping on anti-incumbency to propel it to power.

    "We have got the blessings of every section of society in the elections and we are on the way to win the polls," Shivraj Singh Chouhan said when reporters asked for a comment on reports that it is going to be a close fight in his state. "Abki baar, 200 par (this time, over 200 seats)."

    Republic TV-Jan Ki Baat exit poll gave 108-128 seats to the BJP and 95-115 to the Congress in the 230-member Madhya Pradesh assembly. India Today-Axis said the BJP may win 102-120 seats as against 104-122 for the Congress.

    Times Now-CNX exit poll predicted a majority for the BJP with 126 seats and gave the Congress a tally of 89 seats.

    ABP News exit poll said the Congress is likely to get a majority by bagging 126 seats. The BJP, it added, would get 94 seats.

    According to an aggregate of nine exit polls, the BJP will get 110 seats in the state, while the Congress will get 109 seats. The halfway mark is at 115. Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party will get 2 seats.

    Election in Madhya Pradesh was held on November 28. The results will be announced on Tuesday.

"Like A True Soldier": Rahul Gandhi Attacks PM After Officer's Criticism
  • Congress president Rahul Gandhi has taken a swipe at the Modi government over a comment by a former Army officer that there was "too much hype" over the surgical strike across the Line of Control two years ago. Lieutenant General DS Hooda (retired), who monitored on live video feed the precision attack on terrorist launch pads in September 2016, had approved the special forces operation in retaliation to the killing of 19 soldiers in Jammu and Kashmir's Uri by Pakistani terrorists. He said though the initial euphoria may have been a natural reaction, the "hype" around the operation was unnecessary.
    "Spoken like a true soldier General. India is so proud of you. Mr 36 has absolutely no shame in using our military as a personal asset. He used the surgical strikes for political capital and the Rafale deal to increase Anil Ambani's real capital by 30,000 Cr," Rahul Gandhi tweeted today.

    Ministers in the NDA government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi have often highlighted the surgical strike as an achievement the country should be proud of and not to be kept hidden. The opposition has, however, alleged that the government's continuous use of the surgical strike narrative amounts to misusing the military's work for political ends.

    General (retired) D S Hooda: I do think there was too much hype over it (surgical strike). The strike was important & we had to do it. Now how much should it have been politicised, whether it was right or wrong is something that should be asked to the politicians. (7.12) pic.twitter.com/8v0QJ1tzK5

    - ANI (@ANI) December 8, 2018
    "I do think there was too much hype over it. The military operation was important and we had to do it. Now how much should it have been politicised, whether it is right or wrong is something that should be asked to politicians," Lt. General Hooda said at Chandigarh on Friday while attending the Military Literature Festival themed on cross-border operations.

    Responding to a question from the audience, Lt. General Hooda said that in hindsight, the surgical strike should have been carried out in secret. "The aim of any such offensive had to be not only tactical but strategic too, which substantially hampers enemy morale," he said.

    Lt. General NS Brar (retired), who also attended the literature festival, asked whether politicians would have taken responsibility had there been any casualty in the surgical strike, and cautioned them against being "adventurists".

    Reacting to Lt General Hooda's comments, Army chief General Bipin Rawat said, "These are individual person's perceptions, so let's not comment on them. He was one of the main persons involved in conduct of these operations, so I respect his words very much."

    The Army had said its special forces inflicted "significant casualties" on terrorists waiting across the Line of Control to cross into Indian territory.

    "Surgical strike is one of the options available to the Army. It had a positive effect on the country. We have been able to curb terrorism to a great extent," Northern Army Commander Lt. General Ranbir Singh told news agency ANI.

    The government is reportedly planning to set up a surgical strike force comprising the best soldiers drawn from the three branches of the military.

After Tech Teams Grow 150%, Uber Says Will Double Workforce In India
  • Online ride-hailing platform Uber today announced to double its workforce in the product and engineering departments -- from over 500 to more than 1,000 -- at its Bengaluru and Hyderabad facilities next year.
    Uber aims to hire full-stack teams that include product managers, product designers, data scientists, user researchers, mobile, front-end and back-end engineers, as well as machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) experts, the company said in a statement.

    "In 2018, our tech teams grew by 150 per cent and we are focused on doubling down again in 2019," said Apurva Dalal, head of engineering, Uber India.

    According to the company, its tech centres in Bengaluru and Hyderabad are critical to the global mission of developing urban mobility solutions for everyone.

    "Engineers are working on exciting areas of customer engagement, rider access (next billion riders), Uber Eats, maps, marketplace and data platforms," Mr Dalal said.

    Uber said it will continue to hire from top engineering universities in the country. Uber Engineering India has developed some key innovations such as Uber Lite, which is a lighter and faster version of the main app.

    "Engineers have been able to work and contribute to the complete lifecycle of the product, which includes design, research, development, operations, data science and data mapping," the company said.

    Uber operates in 31 cities in the country and aims to take its services to other, deeper parts of the country.

    "We're competing here for growth and we look at India as one of the largest -- not just the fastest -- providers of growth in our global corporate portfolio," said Pradeep Parameswaran, president, Uber India and South Asia.

KCR's Gamble Pays Off, Set To Retain Telangana, Show Exit Polls
  • Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao's gambit of dissolving the state assembly way ahead of time has paid off, exit polls indicated on Friday. Out of 11 exit polls, the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi has been given outright majority by five. An aggregate of the exit polls have predicted the party will win 67 seats in the 119-member assembly -- well above the majority mark of 60. The alliance of the Congress and Chandrababu Naidu will win 39 seats.
    The BJP will win five and others, eight, the poll of exit polls predicted. Mr Rao had a good equation with Asaduddin Owaisi's AIMIM, which won seven seats in the last election.

    Exit polls are known to get it wrong.

    Both Congress and Mr Rao's party said they were confident about a victory. The Congress predicted that would win 80 seats in the state. Mr Rao, on the other hand, said, "Pro-incumbency government is again coming back with a huge majority without any doubt".

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    Telangana voted on Friday -- the provisional figure of turnout was 67 per cent, down from last time's 69.5 per cent. Polling, however, was marked by a huge section of people complaining about their names being missing from the voters' list.

    Mr Rao's party had won 63 seats last time against the 21 seats of Congress and 15 of Chandrababu Naidu's Telugu Desam Party. But data from the last election shows if the state votes in a similar fashion, a 2 per cent swing may change the outcome of the election.

    A defeat of the Congress and Chandrababu Naidu will be a blow for the opposition plans for a united front against the BJP in next year's national elections.

    While KCR, as the Chief Minister is popularly known, advocates a non-BJP, non-Congress Third Front, Mr Naidu had taken on the role of the facilitator for the united front against the BJP.

"Paid News": BJP Approaches Election Body Over Rahul Gandhi Interview
  • The BJP on Friday approached the Election Commission demanding action against the Congress and its president Rahul Gandhi for his interview published in an English daily on Thursday, claiming it is a "shining example" of paid news.
    A delegation including union ministers JP Nadda, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and BJP's media in-charge Anil Baluni submitted a memorandum to the poll panel enclosing a copy of the interview that was published from Hyderabad, saying "the reporting by way of an interview...is shining example of paid news."

    Addressing the media after meeting the poll panel officials, Mr Naqvi said,"Just a day before the polling in Telangana and Rajasthan, Rahul Gandhi through his interview, which was actually a paid news, tried to influence voters and electoral process also. It is a violation of electoral reforms."

    Mr Naqvi further said that Mr Gandhi in his interview cited a survey to claim that the Congress is winning and BJP is losing elections in all the five states.

    "This news (interview) comes under the category of paid news. As per the rules no campaigning or such interviews should be done 48 hours before the polling. Gandhi intentionally tried to influence voters and free and fair process of election. We demand an immediate action against him and his party," he said.

    The BJP in the memorandum further said that the interview "goes against the very spirit and parameters of the permitted coverage in the compendium of poll panel's compendium of instructions on the media related matters".

Business Affairs

India to remain highest remittance receiver with diaspora sending home $80 billion: World Bank
  • India will retain its position as the world's top recipient of remittances this year with its diaspora sending a whopping $80 billion back home, the World Bank said in a report Saturday.

    India is followed by China ($67 billion), Mexico and the Philippines ($34 billion each) and Egypt ($26 billion), according to the global lender.

    With this, India has retained its top spot on remittances, according to the latest edition of the World Bank's Migration and Development Brief.

    The Bank estimates that officially-recorded remittances to developing countries will increase by 10.8 per cent to reach $528 billion in 2018. This new record level follows a robust growth of 7.8 per cent in 2017.

    Global remittances, which include flows to high-income countries, are projected to grow by 10.3 per cent to $689 billion, it said.

    Over the last three years, India has registered a significant flow of remittances from $62.7 billion in 2016 to $65.3 billion 2017. In 2017, remittances constituted 2.7 per cent of India's GDP, it said.

    The Bank said remittances to South Asia are projected to increase by 13.5 per cent to $132 billion in 2018, a stronger pace than the 5.7 per cent growth seen in 2017.

    The upsurge is driven by stronger economic conditions in advanced economies, particularly the US, and the increase in oil prices having a positive impact on outflows from some GCC countries such as the UAE which reported a 13 per cent growth in outflows for the first half of 2018.

    Bangladesh and Pakistan both experienced strong upticks of 17.9 per cent and 6.2 per cent in 2018, respectively, the Bank said.

    For 2019, it is projected that remittances growth for the region will slow to 4.3 per cent due to a moderation of growth in advanced economies, lower migration to the GCC and the benefits from the oil price spurt dissipating.

    The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is a regional inter-governmental political and economic bloc of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

    As global growth is projected to moderate, future remittances to low- and middle-income countries are expected to grow moderately by four per cent to reach $549 billion in 2019. Global remittances are expected to grow 3.7 per cent to $715 billion in 2019.

    The Brief notes that the global average cost of sending $200 remains high at 6.9 per cent in the third quarter of 2018. Reducing remittance flows to three per cent by 2030 is a global target under Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 10.7.

    Increasing the volume of remittances is also a global goal under the proposals for raising financing for the SDGs, it said.

    "Even with technological advances, remittances fees remain too high, double the SDG target of 3 per cent. Opening up markets to competition and promoting the use of low-cost technologies will ease the burden on poorer customers," said Mahmoud Mohieldin, Senior Vice President for the 2030 Development Agenda, United Nations Relations, and Partnerships at the Bank.

    The average cost of remitting in South Asia was the lowest at 5.4 per cent, while Sub-Saharan Africa continued to have the highest at 9 per cent.

    No solutions are yet in sight for practices that drive up costs, such as de-risking action of banks, which lead to closure of bank accounts of remittance service providers.

    Another persistent factor that keeps fees high is the exclusive partnership between national post office systems and any single money transfer operator, as it allows the operator to charge higher fees to poorer customers dependent on post offices, the Bank said.

    "The future growth of remittances is vulnerable to lower oil prices, restrictive migration policies, and an overall moderation of economic growth.

    "Remittances have a direct impact on alleviating poverty for many households, and the World Bank is well positioned to work with countries to facilitate remittance flows," said Michal Rutkowski, Senior Director of the Social Protection and Jobs Global Practice at the World Bank.

India to remain highest remittance receiver with diaspora sending home $80 billion: World Bank
  • India's current account deficit (CAD) widened to 2.9% of the GDP in the second quarter of the fiscal, against 1.1% in the year-ago period, mainly due to a large trade deficit, the RBI said on Friday.

    The CAD, or the difference between outflow and inflow of foreign exchange in the country's current account, was $19.1 billion during the quarter ended September 30, 2018. It increased from $6.9 billion, or 1.1% of GDP, in the second quarter of 2017-18. The CAD stood at $15.9 billion (2.4% of GDP) in the April-June quarter.

    "India's current account deficit (CAD) at $ 19.1 billion (2.9% of GDP) in Q2 of 2018-19 increased from $6.9 billion (1.1% of GDP) in Q2 of 2017-18 and $15.9 billion (2.4% of GDP) in the preceding quarter," the RBI said.

    The CAD increased to 2.7% of GDP in the first half of 2018-19, from 1.8% in the corresponding period of 2017-18, on the back of widening of the trade deficit.

    According to the central bank, the widening of the CAD on a year on year basis was primarily due to a higher trade deficit of $50 billion, compared with $32.5 billion a year ago.

    RBI's preliminary data on India's balance of payments (BoP) for July-September 2018-19 further revealed that net services receipts increased by 10.2% on a year on year basis, mainly on the back of a rise in net earnings from software and financial services.

    Private transfer receipts, mainly representing remittances by Indians employed overseas, amounted to $20.9 billion during the quarter, a 19.8% increase from a year ago.

    In the financial account, net foreign direct investment at $7.9 billion in the second quarter of 2018-19 moderated from $12.4 billion in the same period last fiscal.

    RBI said portfolio investment recorded a net outflow of $1.6 billion, compared with an inflow of $2.1 billion in the second quarter last year, on account of net sales in both debt and equity markets.

    Further, net receipts on account of non-resident deposits increased to $3.3 billion in the second quarter of 2018-19, from $0.7 billion a year ago.

    In July-September of the current fiscal, there was a depletion of $1.9 billion of foreign exchange reserves (on BoP basis), against an accretion of $9.5 billion in the year-ago period.

Farmer gets 51 paise per kg for onions, sends money to Maharashtra CM in protest
  • After a farmer sent his meagre earnings from sale of onions in the wholesale market to the Prime Minister, another farmer in Nashik district of Maharashtra has adopted the same mode of protest.

    Chandrakant Bhikan Deshmukh, resident of Andarsul in Yeola tehsil, has sent a money order of Rs 216 to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. He got this princely amount after selling 545 kg of onions at the Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) at Yeola in an auction on December 5, Deshmukh said Friday.

    The rate he got was 51 paise per kg, and was paid Rs 216 after deducting APMC's charges, he said, showing the sale receipt.

    "There is a drought-like situation in my area. How I am supposed to run my house and repay my loans with these paltry earnings?" he said, speaking to reporters. "I did not get good price though my onions were of good quality. So I sent Rs 216 to Maharashtra chief minister in protest," he said.

    Nashik district in north Maharashtra accounts for nearly half the onion production in the country. Earlier, another farmer from the district, Sanjay Sathe from Niphad tehsil, had sent his earnings of Rs 1,064 for 750 kg of onions to the Prime Minister's Office by way of protest.

HCL Technologies stock closes lower on $1.8-billion deal with IBM
  • The HCL Technologies stock closed lower today after the firm said it would acquire select IBM software products for $1.8 billion (over Rs 12,700 crore) in an all-cash deal. The stock ended 4.98% or 50 points lower at 961.55 compared to  previous close of 1011.95 on the BSE.

    The large cap stock has been losing for last two days and fallen 8.53% during the period. It touched an intra day low of 935 in trade today, logging a fall of 7.60%.

    The stock has gained 11.92% during the last one year and risen 7.96% since the beginning of this year. The large cap stock was trading below its 50 day and 200 day moving averages of 1009 and 994.89 level, respectively.

    32 of 43 brokerages rate the stock "buy" or 'outperform', 8 "hold"  and three "underperform", according to analysts' recommendations tracked by Reuters.

    "I don't think it will help HCL on a long term basis ... this deal is a negative from HCL's standpoint," said Sudheer Guntupalli, a technology sector analyst with Ambit Capital in Mumbai.

    "They already have IT partnerships for five of the seven products in the deal. So there would hardly be any incremental benefits on a qualitative basis," he told Reuters, adding that it did not make sense for HCL to rely so heavily on a single vendor's software when rivals have remained technology agnostic.

    The transaction, subject to "completion of applicable regulatory reviews", is slated to close by mid-2019, HCL Technologies said.

    The deal entails seven products in areas including security, marketing and collaboration solutions, and represents a total addressable market of more than $50 billion, HCL Tech said.

    "IBM and HCL Technologies today announced a definitive agreement under which HCL will acquire select IBM software products for $1.8 billion," it said.

    With this acquisition, HCL Tech will get software products in areas of marketing, commerce, security and collaboration, a "highly profitable revenue stream" containing a significant annuity component, and access to over 5,000 large clients across industries and geographic markets, along with sales and marketing teams, the filing said.

    HCL Tech Chief Financial Officer Prateek Aggarwal told PTI that the deal also entails transfer of IBM employees, but did not divulge any numbers.

    The cash deal will be funded largely through internal accruals, with $300 million of debt, HCL Tech said, adding that nearly half of the total amount will be paid at close of the deal.

    This is the biggest acquisition for HCL Tech till date, and among the largest by an Indian tech company. The acquisition also reflects HCL's ambitions for software products business-considered to be the next growth frontier for IT companies.

    The software products in the deal include Appscan (for secure application development), BigFix (for secure device management), Unica (for marketing automation), Commerce (for omni-channel eCommerce), Portal (for digital experience), Notes & Domino (for email and low-code rapid application development), and Connections (for workstream collaboration).

    HCL and IBM have an ongoing intellectual property partnership for five of these products.

    "The products that we are acquiring are in large growing market areas like security, marketing and commerce which are strategic segments for HCL. Many of these products are well regarded by clients and positioned in the top quadrant by industry analysts," said C Vijayakumar, president & CEO, HCL Technologies.

    John Kelly, IBM senior vice president, Cognitive Solutions and Research, said: "We believe the time is right to divest these select collaboration, marketing and commerce software assets, which are increasingly delivered as stand-alone products. At the same time, we believe these products are a strong strategic fit for HCL, and that HCL is well positioned to drive innovation and growth for their customers."

Kotak Mahindra Bank denies talks with Warren Buffett, says unaware of Berkshire interest in buying stake
  • Private sector lender Kotak Mahindra Bank on Friday informed the exchanges that it had not considered any proposal to sell stake in the bank to Berkshire Hathaway.

    Denying reports of talks with Warren Buffett, private sector lender Kotak Mahindra Bank in a BSE filing clarified that it is unaware of any plans by Berkshire Hathaway to buy a stake in it.

    The clarification came after a media report claimed that Billionaire global investor Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc is looking to pick up a 10 percent stake in Kotak Mahindra Bank.

    Early in the day, shares of Mumbai-headquartered bank opened at Rs 1183 apiece and rallied as much as 13.86 per cent to touch an intra-day high of Rs 1345.35 on the BSE after media report suggested that Berkshire Hathaway may buy stake in the bank.

    However, the scrip trimmed some gains to close at Rs 1282.25, up 8.53 per cent, after the bank clarified that it was unaware of any such development. On the National Stock Exchange, stocks of company closed at Rs 1,284.55, up 8.84 per cent on Friday.

General Awareness

    State of Maharashtra’s Agribusiness and Rural Transformation (SMART) Project
    • What to study?

      For Prelims: Key features of the project.
      For Mains: Significance of the project and challenges ahead.

      Context: Maharashtra Government has launched World Bank assisted State of Maharashtra’s Agribusiness and Rural Transformation (SMART) Project to transform rural Maharashtra.

      Aim: to revamp agricultural value chains, with special focus on marginal farmers across 1,000 villages.

      State of Maharashtra’s Agribusiness and Rural Transformation (SMART) Project:

      The objective of project is to create and support value chains in post-harvest segments of agriculture, facilitate agribusiness investment, stimulate SMEs within the value chain.
      Focus: It will also support resilient agriculture production systems, expand access to new and organised markets for producers and enhance private sector participation in the agribusiness.

      Coverage:

      It will cover almost one-fourth of Maharashtra. Its focus is on villages which are reeling under worst agriculture crisis compounded by lack of infrastructure and assured value chains to channelize farm produce.

      Significance:

      The project is giant step towards transformation of rural economy and empowerment of farmers and also sustainable agriculture through public-private partnership (PPP) model.
      It seeks to ensure higher production of crops and create robust market mechanism to enable farmers to reap higher remunerations for the yield. It unites agriculture-oriented corporates and farmers by providing them common platform.

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