Current Affairs: 19 May 2017

National Events

NITI Aayog holds the first Samavesh meeting

  • In pursuance of the Prime Ministers call for a New India 2022, the first meeting of the National Steering Group and other knowledge partners was held in NITI Aayog under the co-chairmanship of Shri Amitabh Kant, CEO and Shri Ratan P Watal, Principal Adviser, NITI Aayog. 
  • The meeting was aimed at bringing together 32 premier educational and policy research institutions to catalyse the development process, enhance institutional capacity development and a field level interface with the community for New India 2022. 
  • The meeting witnessed signing of Memoranda of Understands (MoUs) between NITI Aayog and major think tanks across the country to create an ecosphere of evidence based policy research. 
  • This network will enable efficient knowledge sharing and information exchange among all partners to fulfil their role in transformative policy reform so as to achieve a sustainable and more inclusive development in line with the National Development Agenda, Sustainable Development Goals as well as the 15 year Vision, 7 year strategy and 3 year action plan. 
  • The meeting was also attended by representatives of four State Governments viz. Kerala, Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

Cabinet approves Faculty Exchange Agreement b/w NDC, New Delhi & NDC, Dhaka

  • The Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, today gave its ex-post facto approval to the Faculty Exchange Agreement signed between the National Defence College, New Delhi and National Defence College, Dhaka, Bangladesh, 
  • The objective of the Agreement is to institutionalise regular exchange programmes and establish sustainable mechanisms between the two National Defence Colleges with an aim to enhancing mutual cooperation in the field of national security, development and strategic studies, Mr Goyal said while addressing reporters here.
  • Given the geographical and cultural closeness between the two countries, there are many common challenges like countering terrorism that needs joint action. 
  • Hence, there is a need for better coordination and cooperation among the armed forces. 
  • The exchange of faculty members of the premier institutes will help to bring symmetry in the capacities of the armed forces and contribute to countering and managing common threats and challenges much better. 
  • The Agreement establishes the framework for enhanced cooperation in the field of military education concerning strategic and operational studies.

Cabinet approves setting up of Indian Agricultural Research Institute (lARI) in Assam

  • The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs has approved the setting up of Indian Agricultural Research Institute (lARI) in Assam.
  • The proposal of Department of Agriculture Research and Education (DARE) / Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) under the scheme, the establishment of the "Indian Agricultural Research Institute (lARI)-Assam" seeks to set up the Institute on 587 acre of land provided by the Govt. of Assam.
  • lARI-Assam would be a Post-Graduate Institution of higher learning in Agricultural Education.
  • It will have the hallmark identity of an IARI including all sectors of agriculture like field crops, horticultural crops, agro-forestry, animal husbandry, fisheries, poultry, piggery, silk rearing, honey production, etc.
  • It will be off-campus of IARI, New Delhi and integrated multi-disciplinary research would be undertaken in school mode i.e. Schools of Crop Sciences, Natural Resource Management, and Animal Sciences & Fisheries.
  • IARI-Assam would work on the agrarian challenges and complexities of North Eastern India in tandem with all existing Central and State Government R&D Institutions and Private sector enterprises. 
  • It would undertake research, education, extension programs in its mission towards developing quality human resource, generation of farmer-friendly technologies to enhance productivity, quality and profitability, promote agro-based industries and generate employment opportunities for holistic and sustainable development of the agriculture sector in the North Eastern region.

India to set up 6000 mw indigenous nuclear plants

  • India will set up 6000 mw of indigenous nuclear power plants, power, coal, renewable and mines minister 
  • The Union Cabinet approved the scheme that will promote energy self-sufficiency, clean, carbon-free sources of power and place India high among nuclear power countries, he said. 
  • The decision will lead to Rs 70,000 crore domestic orders for pressurised heat water reactors and create 33,400 direct and indirect jobs. 
  • BSF begins operation 'Garam Hawa' along international border in Rajasthan 
  • The BSF has started operation 'Garam Hawa' in the western sector in Rajasthan, under which vigil along the international border with Pakistan has been stepped up. 
  • The operation, which started on Monday, will continue till May 23. 
  • The operation is being conducted as chances of infiltration across the border increase during intense heatwave conditions 

GST Council finalises tax rates on 80-90 per cent goods, services

  • The GST Council on Thursday finalised tax rates on 80-90 per cent of goods and services under the four-slab structure with essential items of daily use being kept in the lowest bracket of 5 per cent. The Council, headed by Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and comprising representatives of all states, in the opening session of the two-day meeting also approved rules for the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime that is scheduled to kick in from July 1.
  • Official sources said that 80-90 per cent of the items has been fitted in 5, 12, 18 or 28 per cent brackets. 
  • Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh sought zero levy on ‘puja samagri’ instead of the proposed 18 per cent. A few others are keen on only two rates for service tax — 12 per cent and 18 per cent. The GST will be a national sales tax that will be levied on consumption of goods or use of services.
  • It will replace 16 current levies — seven central taxes like excise duty and service tax and nine state taxes like VAT and entertainment tax — thereby creating India as one market with one tax rate.
  • With the GST, India will join select league of nations with a goods and service tax. 
  • France was the first country to implement the GST in 1954.

International Events

Australia one of 'world leaders' for life expectancy: WHO

  • Australia is one of the "world leaders" for life expectancy, ranked only behind Japan, Singapore and Switzerland, according to the World Health Organisation`s (WHO) latest world health check.
  • Clean, pollution-free cities and a low smoking rate are contributing factors in Australia`s exceptional life expectancy. 
  • Although there are some very big health issues in Australia and lots of preventable causes of ill health, Australia is one of the world leaders (in life expectancy),

Bilateral Exercise Between Indian & Republic Of Singapore Navy Simbex-17 Commences

  • As part of "SIMBEX-17, the ongoing Bilateral Naval Exercise between Navies of the Republic of Singapore and India, lndian Naval Ships Shivalik, Sahyadri, Jyoti and Kamorta and one P8-I Maritime Patrol and Anti-Submarine Warfare Aircraft are participating. 
  • While INS Sahyadri and INS Kamorta are at Singapore since 12 May 2017, INS Shivalik and INS Jyoti would be joining directly for the sea phase of the exercise. The ships are under the command of Rear Admiral Biswajit Dasgupta, YSM, VSM, Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Fleet. 
  • SIMBEX is an acronym for Singapore-India Maritime Bilateral Exercises". Bilateral cooperation between Singapore and India was first formalised when RSN ships began training with the Indian Navy in 1994. 
  • This years edition of SIMBEX-17 being held in the South China Sea would be the 24th in the series and is aimed to increase interoperability between the RSN and IN as well as develop common understanding and procedures for maritime security operations.
  •  The scope of the current exercise includes wide-ranging professional interactions during the Harbour Phase scheduled from 18 May to 20 May and a diverse range of operational activities at sea during the Sea Phase to be held from 21 May to 24 May. 
  • The thrust of exercises at sea this year would be on Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), integrated operations with Surface, Air and Sub-surface forces, Air Defence and Surface Encounter Exercises. 

Anti-dumping duty imposed on Chinese chemical, aluminium foil

  • India has imposed anti-dumping duty on a Chinese chemical used in the pharma industry and aluminium foil to protect domestic industry from cheap imports.
  • While an anti-dumping duty of up to $1.63 per kg was imposed on aluminium foil, up to $8.71 per kg duty was slapped on imports of amoxicillin, used in pharmaceuticals. The duty on both the products would be effective for a period of five years, 
  • The commerce ministry’s investigation arm — Directorate General of Anti-Dumping and Allied Duties (DGAD) — in the separate probe had concluded that these products were dumped into India and that has caused material injury to the domestic industry.
  • Countries initiate anti-dumping probe to determine if the domestic industry has been hurt by flooding of below-cost import. As a counter-measure, they come up with duties under the multilateral WTO regime.
  • Anti-dumping steps are taken to ensure fair trade and provide a level-playing field to the domestic industry. They are not a measure to restrict import or cause an unjustified increase in cost of products. 

UN launches “Year of Polar Prediction” for Arctic, Antarctic weather-watching

  • The United Nations weather agency has kicked off of a two-year international effort “to close gaps in polar forecasting capacity and to improve future environmental safety at the farthest reaches of the planet.”
  • The World Meteorological Organization has launched the Year of Polar Prediction, which will aim to improve predictions of weather, climate and ice conditions in the Arctic and Antarctic.
  • Warming Arctic air masses and declining sea ice are believed to affect ocean circulation and the jet stream, and are potentially linked to extreme phenomena such as cold spell, heat waves and droughts in the northern hemisphere
  • During the Year of Polar Prediction—spread out from mid-2017 to mid-2019—scientists plan to observe, model and improve forecasts of weather and climate systems.
  • The goal: to learn more about and improve the understanding of the weather changes at the poles.
  • The Year of Polar Prediction will also see special observing periods added to improve the number of routine observations by weather balloon launches and buoy deployments from research vessels to measure conditions in the air and water.
  • The WMO says changes in weather, climate and ice conditions at the poles are also linked to more transportation, tourism, fisheries and mining.

Sports

India hold on to top spot in ICC Test rankings, South Africa six points behind in second place

  • India continued be perched at the top of the International Cricket Council rankings, but second-placed South Africa have narrowed down the deficit to just six points. Virat Kohli’s men have 123 points while the Proteas, who have made a nine-point surge, are now at 117
  • Australia are at third with 100 points, suffering an eight-point slump from the last time the ICC rankings were released. Only nine points separate them from Sri Lanka (91), who are seventh in the table.
  • England continued to stay at third, New Zealand were placed fifth and Pakistan, who registered their maiden Test series win in West Indies recently, conceded four points to lie at sixth place. Bangladesh are ranked ninth with 69 points, trailing eighth-ranked West Indies (75) by six points.

Harikrishna posts first win in Moscow FIDE Grand Prix

  • Indian Grandmaster Pentala Harikrishna registered his first win at the Moscow FIDE Grand Prix after getting the better of English GM Michael Adams 
  • With this win, the World No. 16 Indian has now maintained his unbeaten run against Adams this year and recorded his second successive victory against him. 
  • With a win, three draws and a loss in five games so far, Harikrishna has accumulated a total of 2.5 points and is placed 13th on the leaderboard. 
  • After a day's break, Harikrishna will resume his campaign against the Greek GM Boris Gelfland in the next round of this elite tournament. 

Awards & Achievements

Indian-American student wins National Geographic Bee contest

  • Pranay Varada, a 14-year-old Indian-American student, has won the prestigious $50,000 National Geographic Bee competition, maintaining the dominance of the community in the contest.
  • A runner-up last year, Varada this time did not want to give any chance.
  • He was declared the winner as he won the first tiebreaker question when he correctly identified the Kunlun Mountains as the 1,200-mile range that separates the Taklimakan Desert from the Tibetan Plateau.
  • As a result, he gets $50,000 in scholarship and other prizes.
  • Veda Bhattaram another Indian-American from New Jersey finished third at the finals held here last night, while Thomas Wright from Wisconsin was declared the runner-up.

Banking & Finance

Raj Kumar joins LIC Mutual Fund as whole time director

  • LIC Mutual Fund has appointed Raj Kumar as a whole time director.
  • The position was created after Sarojini Dikhale was transferred to LIC as executive director, marketing and product development some time back. 
  • With an average assets under management at Rs 21,475 crore as on March 31, LIC Mutual Fund is currently ranked 17th in the industry. 
  • In his professional career, spanning more than 32 years, Kumar has worked as zonal manager central zone, LIC of India, at Bhopal for one year. 

India Ratings downgrades IDBI Bank

  • India Ratings and Research downgraded State-run IDBI Bank to AA from AA+ and gave a negative outlook due to challenges arising out of stressed assets and weak capital position.
  • The rating agency also downgraded various debt instruments of the bank.
  • The Reserve Bank had recently initiated ‘prompt corrective action’ for the bank on account of higher NPAs and negative return on assets.
  • The downgrade in the long-term issuer rating reflects the consistent drop in IDBI’s share of systemic assets as the bank struggles with its asset quality challenges,” the rating agency said in a note.
  • It said the bank continues to grapple with a weak capital profile and the RBI’s invocation of the prompt corrective action framework would continue to weigh on its share of systemic assets and liabilities.
  • The bank’s credit costs are likely to remain significantly high over the medium term on account of higher fresh slippages and provisioning requirements on the current stock of stressed assets

BSNL Signs MoU With Facebook, MobiKwik, And Disney Land India

  • Delhi-based Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL), an Indian state-owned telecommunications company has reportedly signed agreements with Facebook, Mobikwik, and Disneyland India to commemorate World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, which is celebrated worldwide on May 17.
  • The tie-up aims to increase BSNL’s foothold amongst Indian consumers with its Internet and value-added services. 
  • Also, it’s a step towards gaining an edge over private players such as Airtel, Vodafone, Reliance Jio and more, currently dominating the market share in the country.
  • With MobiKwik, BSNL will work alongside to create a mobile wallet to facilitate digital payment services to its consumers. Initially, the wallet will be available only to BSNL customers. 
  • Also, Mobikwik will initiate the digital sale of BSNL SIM cards through its app and website. MobiKwik recently made news when it revealed its plans to get merged with Snapdeal’s digital payment subsidiary FreeCharge.

Awards & Achievements

Green Oscar for Assam conservationist

  • Purnima Barman, the force behind the Hargila Army in Assam, has won the Whitley Award, a prestigious international nature conservation prize, in honour of her work to protect the greater adjutant stork and its wetland habitat.
  • Whitley Award is also known as Green Oscar. The announcement was made by Whitley Fund for Nature today in London.
  • Princess Anne will tomorrow present the award, worth £35,000 in project funding, to Purnima during a ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society, London.
  • Purnima has mobilised followers into the 'Hargila Army', an all-female team of conservationists dedicated to protecting the greater adjutant stork which, through this programme, are offered sustainable livelihood, training and education opportunities. The project is giving marginalised women a voice. 

David Letterman to receive Mark Twain Prize for American Humor

  • David Letterman, who reinvented late-night television with his irreverent and distinctly original comic sensibility, will receive the Kennedy Center’s 2017 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
  • The Twain, considered the most prestigious honor in the world of comedy, will be awarded to Letterman five years after he was made a Kennedy Center Honoree. 
  • Steve Martin, Bill Cosby, Lily Tomlin, Carol Burnett and Neil Simon also have received both honors.
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