Current Affairs – Banking and Finance

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has allowed start-ups with an overseas subsidiary to open foreign currency accounts with a bank outside India. The accounts will help the start-ups to credit foreign exchange earnings from exports and sales. The balance in such accounts, to the extent they represent exports, will have to be returned to India.

The Union Cabinet has approved the establishment of ₹10,000 crore “Fund of Funds for Start-ups”, as a part of ‘Start-up India Action Plan’ unveiled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in January 2016. The fund is expected to provide a stable and predictable source of funding for start-up enterprises and facilitate large-scale job creation.

The gross non-performing assets (NPAs) ratio of public-sector banks rose to 7.6%, from 5.1%, between September 2015 and March 2016, according to the Reserve Bank of India’s bi-annual Financial Stability Report.

Chennai-based Equitas Holdings has received Reserve Bank of India’s final approval to launch a Small Finance Bank (SFB). Equitas is the first bank after independence from Tamil Nadu and first private bank from Chennai.  Small Finance Banks help provide banking products to the unserved and undeserved sections of India, which includes small and marginal farmers, micro and small industries, and other organized sector entities, at an affordable cost.

Housing finance major HDFC has raised ₹3,000 crore in the first ever issue of ‘masala bonds’. The bonds will be listed on the London Stock Exchange and cannot be traded in the local Indian market. ‘Masala bonds’ are rupee-denominated bonds through which Indian entities can raise funds by accessing overseas capital markets.

Large industrial houses, whose income from non-banking sources are over 40 per cent of total will not be eligible to set up a bank in the country, according to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) guidelines on on-tap licencing. However, they are allowed to pick up 10 per cent stake in banks. RBI has allowed individuals with 10 years of experience to promote banks, as well as business groups with ₹5,000 crore of total assets and provided, the non-financial business of the group does not account for 40 per cent or more in terms of total assets/in terms of gross income. The existing non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) that are controlled by residents and have a successful track record for at least 10 years will also be eligible.

In a push to a cash-less economy, National Payments Corporation of India has launched Unified Payments Interface. UPI, which works on single click two-factor authentication, will allow a customer to have multiple virtual addresses for accounts in various banks. The new payments interface will also provide an option for scheduling push and pull transactions, such as sharing bills among peers. One can use the UPI app instead of paying cash on receiving a product from an online shopping website and also for making miscellaneous payments such as utility bills, school fees and over-the-counter/barcode-based payments. To ensure privacy of customer data, there is no account number mapper anywhere other than the customer’s own bank. This means customers can freely share their financial address.

In August 2016, RBL Bank became the first private bank to hit the capital market since 2005. RBL Bank Limited is a scheduled commercial bank headquartered in the Kolhapur region of Maharashtra. Founded in August 1943, RBL is one of the oldest private sector banks in India.

Current General Knowledge – Days & Years

World Oceans Day is observed on June 8. The 2016 theme was “Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet” to encourage individuals and organizations across the planet to take action for prevention of plastic pollution in our oceans.

15 June is observed as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

World Refugee Day, a day dedicated by the United Nations to increase awareness about the situation of refugees, is celebrated worldwide on June 20 every year.

World Public Service Day, a day dedicated by the United Nations to “celebrate the value and virtue of public service to the community”, is observed on 23 June.

International Widows’ Day, a day dedicated by the United Nations “to give special recognition to the situation of widows of all ages and across regions and cultures”, is observed on 23 June.

August 7 has been declared as National Handloom Day to mark the Swadeshi movement, which was launched on this day in 1905. The movement involved revival of domestic products and production processes.

World Photo Day is observed annually on 19 August to acknowledge passion for photography.  World’s first photograph made in a camera was taken by French scientist Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1820s.

Current Affairs Round up – May 2015 – June 2016

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS

CONFERENCES

  • The Heart of Asia (HoA) conference was held in New Delhi in April 2016, with the objective of bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan and speeding up its reconstruction. The key elements of HoA process have been to devise a sustained, incremental approach to implementation of the confidence building measures (CBM) in Afghanistan. The 14 participating countries in HoA process are: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and UAE. The supporting countries include Australia, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Iraq, Japan, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, UK, USA and the EU.
  • The 10th World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Conference was held in Nairobi, Kenya in December 2015. The business of the WTO is conducted through the Ministerial Conference, which is the highest decision making body of the organization. The Conference is held every two years. In between the Ministerial Conference, the affairs of the organization are managed by the WTO General Council.
  • The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 21 or CMP 11 was held in Le Bourget, France, from 30 November to 11 December 2015. It was the 21st yearly session of the Conference of the Parties to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 11th session of the Meeting of the Parties to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The conference objective was to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate from all the nations of the world.

NEWS FROM COUNTIRES

  • CANADA: Justin Trudeau, a charismatic politician who captivated many voters with his youth and optimism has been elected as Canada’s new Prime Minister after his Liberal party won a majority of Parliament’s 338 seats in a sweeping, come-from-behind victory. For many, the election was foremost a referendum on out going Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party’s near-decade in power. His secretive and often partisan political style grated with many voters. And in pushing Canada to the right, Mr. Harper supported policies that many viewed as out of sync with the nation, including his refusal to pursue climate change legislation and his push to shrink government and trim spending. The election marked a stunning turnaround for the Liberals, who held only 36 seats when Parliament was dissolved in early August. Their victory amounts to the largest seat increase for a party between elections in Canadian history.
  • CHINA: China has dropped its controversial one-child policy bowing to pressures imposed by the prospects of an ageing society and a growing shortfall in the workforce. The decision allowing couples to have two children was taken by the Chinese Communist Party (CPC). According to UN estimates, nearly 440 million people in China would be over 60 by 2050, signaling a sharp decline in the labour pool. In 2014, the working population between the ages 15-59 slid by 3.71 million.
  • GREECE: On 20 September 2015, Greek leftist Alexis Tsipras stormed back into office with an unexpectedly decisive election victory, claiming a clear mandate to steer Greece’s battered economy to recovery. The vote ensured Europe’s most outspoken leftist leader would remain Greece’s dominant political figure, despite having been abandoned by party radicals after he caved in to demands for austerity to win a bailout from the euro zone. Tsipras had resigned and called the election in August when his party split over his reversal on the bailout, which he had accepted despite having won an overwhelming referendum mandate in July to reject similar terms.
  • IRAN: Iran President Hassan Rouhani’s moderate and reformist allies have won the majority in the Parliamentary and clerical body elections. President Rouhani’s allies won 85 seats while the moderate conservatives won 73, giving them the majority in the 290-seat Parliament. Iran’s moderates can also appoint the Supreme Leader with their 50-seat majority in the 88-member clerical body Assembly of Experts. However, as per one analyst, candidates running on the reformist ticket were not necessarily reformists. Roughly 80% of the around 800 contenders were disqualified from running in the elections by clerics appointed to the hard-line Guardian Council by Ayatollah Khamenei, leaving the reformists little choice but to form a coalition with “less-hard-line hardliners”—who call themselves moderates—to have a chance at winning seats. Another point to note is that radicals still dominate the Assembly of Experts, The Guardian Council, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps—an ideologically driven militia that controls virtually every aspect of Iranian society under the watchful eye of the Ayatollah.
  • MYANMAR: 14 November 2015 marked a historic moment for Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition party, National League for Democracy, as it clinched a victory in general elections with enough seats in Parliament to form a government and elect a President. The victor made possible the way for formation of the Southeast Asian country’s first truly civilian government in more than half-a-century, raising hopes for a peaceful transfer of power after five decades of military domination. Winning a majority in both houses of Parliament gave the National League for Democracy control over both the legislative and executive branches of government—a breathtaking sweep of power for the democracy movement. However, the police, army and large parts of the bureaucracy will remain under the military’s direct control. There are 664 seats in the two Houses of Parliament; the military appoints 166 of them.
    Myanmar’s Parliament elected National League for Democracy’s (NLD) Htin Kyaw as the President, making him the first civilian in over 50 years to lead the country. He is a close ally and the former driver of NLD’s President Aung Suu Kyi, who was not eligible for the post under the country’s junta-era Constitution, because she married and had children with a foreigner. She had earlier said she would be “above the President”, who will have “no authority”. Son of a revered poet who has helped run Suu Kyi’s charitable foundation in recent years, Htin Kyaw has long been a trusted member of her inner circle.
    Myanmar’s Parliament also approved the creation of a new post for Aung San Suu Kyi, head of the country’s newly installed ruling party, that is similar to Prime Minister. Suu Kyi is banned by the constitution from becoming President because her children hold foreign citizenship. The Bill establishing the position of State Counsellor was opposed by the military’s representatives in Parliament, but passed easily because of the strong majority that Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won in November 2015 election. The military representatives, who under the constitution drafted under the former military regime hold 25 percent of Parliament’s seats, boycotted the vote.
  • NEPAL: On 16 September 2015, Nepal’s Constituent Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favour of a new constitution, ending a seven-year process that saw many ups and downs. Despite 11 minor parties from southern plains quitting the process in protest against demarcation of federal States, 507 members of the 601-strong Assembly voted in favour of the new statute. The new constitution came into effect on 20 September with President Ram Baran Yadav unveiling it. The interim constitution, in existence since 2007, ceased to be effective after that. The Constitution has 37 Divisions, 304 Articles and 7 Annexes. The seven States will be finalised by a high-level commission within a year.
  • SINGAPORE: On 11 September 2015, Singapore Premier Lee Hsien Loong’s People’s Action Party returned to power after scoring a landslide victory in general election, dashing hopes of the opposition seeking to end half a century dominance by one-party. The People’s Action Party (PAP) won an absolute majority of 83 seats in the 89-member Parliament. The opposition Workers’ Party won six seats.
  • SOUTH KOREA: South Korean opposition lawmakers seeking to block a government-backed “anti-terrorism” Bill pushed their record-breaking filibuster into a sixth straight day of speeches in the parliamentary chamber on 28 February 2016. The filibuster continued around the clock for more than 115 hours, making it the world’s longest. The marathon filibuster easily surpassed a 58-hour session by 103 members of Canada’s New Democratic Party in 2011. A filibuster is a parliamentary procedure where debate over a proposed piece of legislation is extended, allowing one or more members to delay or entirely prevent a vote on the proposal.
  • SRI LANKA: Former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s hopes of staging a political comeback were shattered when his party lost a closely-fought parliamentary election, held on 17 August 2015, and he conceded defeat to incumbent Ranil Wickremesinghe. Ranil Wickremesinghe (66) was sworn in as Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister for the fourth time in his political career spanning four decades.
  • TURKEY: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s hopes of assuming greater power suffered a major setback on 7 June 2015, when the ruling AK Party he founded failed to win an outright majority in a parliamentary election for the first time. The AKP’s failure to win an overall majority marked an end to more than a decade of stable single-party rule.

INTERNATIONAL ECONOMY

  • On 13 July 2015, Eurozone leaders reached a unanimous agreement after all-night talks in Brussels to move forward with a bailout loan for Greece to help Greece to “get back on track” and not leave the euro currency, the so-called Grexit. Greek Prime Minister Tsipras accepted a compromise on German-led demands for the sequestration of Greek State assets to be sold off to pay down debt. In exchange for funding worth up to 86 billion euros, Greece accepted reforms including significant pension adjustments, increases to value added tax, an overhaul of its collective bargaining system, measures to liberalise its economy and tight limits on public spending.
  • On 29 June 2015, representatives from 50 founding countries, including India, signed an agreement that provided the legal framework for the China-led USD 100 billion multilateral Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)—seen as a rival to the Western-dominated World Bank and Asian Development Bank. India has been allocated 9-10% of the shares and will be expected to contribute $1.6 billion over a period of five years. China will hold 25-30% of the shares being the bank’s promoter and largest stakeholder.
  • India ranked 130 among 188 countries in Human Development Report 2015, titled ‘Work for Human Development’, by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The country’s rank was 135 according to the 2014 report. India climbed five notches on account of rise in life expectancy and per capita income. Norway topped the rankings, followed by Australia and Switzerland. Among the BRICS nations, India was ranked lowest.
  • International Monetary Fund (IMF) has admitted China’s yuan into its elite reserve currency basket, formally recognising Beijing as a global economic power. The yuan, also known as the renminbi, joins the US dollar, euro, Japanese yen and British pound in the basket of currencies the IMF uses as an international reserve asset. With the inclusion of yuan, the new Special Drawing Rights formula, which gives more weight to financial variables and less to exports, has led to cutting the euro’s share to 30.93%, from 37.4%. The yuan will come in with a higher weight than sterling and yen, which will drop to 8.09% and 8.33%, respectively, while the dollar remains broadly unchanged at 41.73%.
  • On 1 August 2015, the United Nations 193-member States agreed on an agenda for the world’s sustainable development over the next 15 years that pledges to leave no-one behind. The new Sustainable Development Goals will aim to eradicate hunger and extreme poverty, reduce inequality within and between States, achieve gender equality, improve water management and energy, and take urgent action to combat climate change.
  • On 21 July 2015, officials from the world’s largest emerging nations launch the New Development Bank (NDB), the second of two new policy banks heavily backed by Beijing that are being pitched as alternatives to existing institutions such as the World Bank. Also known as the BRICS bank, it will fund infrastructure and development projects in BRICS countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
  • The 193 Member-States of the United Nations, following negotiations that lasted from July 2012 till August 2015, have agreed upon the text of a new document entitled, “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. The agenda contains 17 goals and 169 targets. The goals are to be achieved by all member countries within the next fifteen years, thereby giving it the moniker of ‘Agenda for 2030’. The United Nations defines sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
    The new sustainable development goals are: End poverty in all forms, End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture, Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all, Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education, Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all, Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation, Reduce inequality within and among countries, Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns, Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts, Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources, Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss, Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels, Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.

ENVIRONMENT NEWS

  • India and 170 other nations signed the historic Paris climate agreement on 22 April 2016, marking a significant step that has brought together developing and developed nations for beginning work on cutting down greenhouse gas emissions to combat global warming. The signing ceremony set the record for the most countries to sign an international agreement on one day, previously set in 1982, when 119 countries signed the Law of the Sea Convention. All countries need to now ratify the agreement. The agreement can enter into force 30 days after at least 55 Parties to the UNFCCC, accounting for at least 55 per cent of global emissions, ratify the agreement. In the agreement, all countries have agreed to work to limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and to strive for 1.5 degrees Celsius.
  • The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP-21, was held in Paris, France, from 30 November to 12 December 2015. It was the 21st yearly session of the Conference of the Parties to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 11th session of the Meeting of the Parties to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The conference reached its objective for the first time in history to achieve a universal agreement on methods to reduce climate change in form of the Paris Agreement, that will become legally binding once it is ratified, accepted, approved or acceded to by at least 55 countries that represent at least 55 percent of global greenhouse emissions, and implemented by 2020. On Earth Day, falling on 22 April 2016, the agreement will be opened for one year for the signatures of members. While leaving each country to pursue the agreed measures on its own, the agreement finally sets a common vision and course of action after years of bickering over how to move forward. The long-term goal is to limit global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius over pre-Industrial Revolution levels, and to try for 1.5 degree if possible.

 

HEALTH

  • Cuba has become the first country in the world to eradicate the transmission of HIV and syphilis from mother to newborn, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
  • The World Bank has announced Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEF) to mobilise funds quickly against virulent disease outbreaks in the world’s 77 least developed countries. PEF is a combination of insurance and bonds.

NUCLEAR PROLIFERATION

  • On 14 July 2015, Iran and six major world powers reached a nuclear deal, capping more than a decade of on-off negotiations with an agreement that could potentially transform the Middle East, and which Israel called an “historic surrender. Under the deal, sanctions imposed by the United States, European Union and United Nations would be lifted in return for Iran agreeing long-term curbs on a nuclear programme that the West has suspected was aimed at creating a nuclear bomb. There was a strong reason for the United States to improve its relations with Iran, as the two countries face a common foe in Islamic State, the Sunni Muslim militant group that has seized swathes of Syria and Iraq. For Iran, the end of sanctions could bring a rapid economic boom by lifting restrictions that have drastically cut its oil exports and hurt its imports.
  • Nicaragua formally completing ratification of an amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material led to enough countries ratifying it for it to go into force, which means that more than 100 countries will have to meet higher standards on the protection of nuclear facilities and materials from May 2016. The amendment, intended to guarding against threats such as smuggling and sabotage, makes it legally binding for countries to protect nuclear facilities as well as the domestic use, storage and transportation of nuclear material. It also provides for broader cooperation among countries on finding and recovering stolen or smuggled nuclear material. The convention and amendment are only binding on countries that have ratified them. The United States, Russia, India, Pakistan and former Soviet republics including Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan are among the countries that have ratified the amendment. Those that have not include Iran and North Korea.

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

  • On 7 November 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Taiwanese counterpart Ma Ying-jeou, smiled in dark suits as they shook hands for more than a minute before hundreds of reporters in Singapore. The first face-to-face encounter since 1945 between leaders of China’s civil war foes provided a new high-water mark in efforts to resolve one of the last century’s biggest unsettled conflicts. The handshake and the 50-minute closed door meeting that followed capped a seven-year effort by Ma to strengthen economic ties across the 180-kilometer Taiwan Strait. While investment, tourism and trade have flourished between the two sides under Ma, they remain politically distant, one democratic, the other ruled by the Communist Party.
  • India, China, Canada, Iceland, Israel, and New Zealand have signed the Multilateral Competent Authority Agreement for the automatic exchange of information on tax issues amongst countries. This brings the total number of signatories of the pact to 39 (including France, Japan, Germany, the UK, and Australia), according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
  • Following confirmation from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency that Tehran had fulfilled its obligations under an agreement to limit its nuclear programme, sanctions against Iran were officially lifted on 16 January 2016. The IAEA report triggered Implementation Day, which will give Iran access to billions of petro-dollars frozen in foreign banks and remove the constraints that have capped the country’s crude exports at just 1 million b/d over the past four years.
  • Leaders of four prominent Asian countries joined hands on 13 December 2015, in Turkmenistan, for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project, aimed at creating an economically integrated region stretching from the Bay of Bengal to the Caspian Sea.
  • During the maiden visit to China, of Nepal’s Prime Minister K.P. Oli, China agreed to build a strategic railway link between the two countries through Tibet to reduce land-locked Nepal’s total dependence on India. The two sides also cemented their ties by signing 10 agreements, including a landmark transit trade deal which will end Nepal’s total dependency on Indian sea ports for third-country trade.
  • The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution aimed at disrupting revenue that the Islamic State extremist group gets from oil and antiquities sales, ransom payments and other criminal activities—a goal that finance ministers agree will be challenging. The resolution was drafted under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which can be militarily enforced. It urges countries to share information about extremist groups and encourages the 193 UN member States “to more actively submit” names for inclusion on the sanctions list. It also expresses “increasing concern” at the failure of countries to implement previous sanctions resolutions.
  • Saudi Arabia unveiled a “military alliance” of Muslim nations to fight terrorism, another sign of the conservative Gulf monarchy’s growing interventionist approach amid proxy conflicts with rival Iran and the rise of Sunni militancy. The formation of the 34-strong Saudi-led alliance came ahead of international mediation efforts in regional sectarian conflicts, such as the civil wars in Syria and Yemen. The alliance is mainly formed of Sunni-majority Muslim states, including powerful armed nations such as Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt, Morocco and Jordan and most of the Gulf Cooperation Council States. Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival, is not part of the coalition, along with Shia-majority Iraq, which is battling Sunni militants ISIS. Fellow GCC state Oman, which had acted as a bridge in talks with Iran and Houthi rebels in Yemen, is also absent from the coalition.
  • President Barack Obama arrived in Cuba on 20 March 2016, on a historic visit—the first by a U.S. President to Cuba in 88 years—opening a new chapter in U.S. engagement with the island’s Communist government. The three-day trip was the culmination of a diplomatic opening announced by Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro in December 2014, ending a Cold War-era estrangement that began when the Cuban revolution ousted a pro-American government in 1959.

SUMMITS

  • The fourth Nuclear Security Summit was held in Washington on 1 April 2016. The leaders attending the summit, including Prime minister Narendra Modi, acknowledged the threat of nuclear and radiological terrorism, which is constantly evolving, remaining as one of the greatest challenges to international security. Since 2010, the Summit has helped to raise awareness of this threat and driven many tangible, meaningful and lasting improvements in nuclear security. The leaders also underline the importance of the Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and its 2005 Amendment and the International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism and resolved to work toward their universalization and full implementation. Prime Minister Modi announced that India will host a meeting of Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism in 2017.
  • The 15th Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit opened on 10 July 2015 in Ufa, Russia. The meeting focused on planning the organisation’s future development. Membership in the group potentially offers India greater access to the energy resources of Central Asia. Founded in 2001, the SCO has China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as its full members. Afghanistan, India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan were observers, while Belarus, Turkey and Sri Lanka are dialogue partners. Among the documents released during the summit were: SCO development blueprint, a border defence cooperation agreement and a declaration on the 70th anniversary of the victory in World War II.
  • The annual summit of ASEAN was held on 22 November 2015, at Kaula Lumpur, Malaysia. The highlight of the meeting was the establishment of an EU-style regional economic bloc, ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), a single market with a free flow of goods, capital and skilled labour in the region. The AEC envisages a single market with a free flow of goods, capital and skilled labour across borders in the highly competitive economic region. It will integrate Southeast Asia’s diverse economies, a region with 620 million people and a combined gross domestic product of USD 2.4 trillion. The ASEAN leaders also adopted the declaration on “ASEAN 2025, forging ahead together”. The document charts the path for the AEC building over the next ten years.
  • The BRICS summit was held at Ufa, Russia, on 8-9 July 2015. The grouping includes India, Russia, China, Brazil and South Africa. The leaders finally launched the group’s largest initiatives to date—a development bank and a currency pool—and called for a swift deal on curbing Iran’s nuclear programme. The BRICS also adopted an “Action Plan” that maps the 2016 trajectory of the group—the Russia-proposed “Strategy of BRICS Economic Partnership,” a blueprint for the group’s trade, investment and commerce ties up to 2020. Among other things, it will be aimed at increasing the competitiveness of BRICS countries in the global economy. The Central Banks of the five countries also signed cooperation agreements with the New Development Bank.
  • The economic agenda of the two-day G-20 summit in Turkey’s Antalya, on 15-16 November 2015, took a backseat as leaders discussed terror in the wake of terrorist attack in Paris. Leaders pledged to work together to ensure price stability and support economic activity, conceding that global growth remains uneven, and vowed to choke off financial channels funding terrorism. At the end of the summit, the leaders, in a joint comminque, resolved to lift their collective gross domestic product (GDP) by 2 percentage points by 2018. The G-20 countries also endorsed a package of measures developed under the G20/OECD Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) project to check tax evasion by multinational companies. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) had spelled out a long-awaited plan to close the loopholes on tax-avoiding multinationals that cost countries more than $100 billion a year.
  • The leaders of the Group of Seven developed nations, during the G-7 summit in Ise, Mie Prefecture, Japan, agreed to improve the lot of the middle class worldwide, pledging to spur economic growth, fight corruption and clamp down on tax evasion by the rich. For this, the G-7 members have decided to compile a set of economic measures to be called the Ise-Shima Economic Initiative. However, the leaders failed to agree on how much exactly each G-7 country should spend to spur growth and thereby benefit the middle class the world over. The G-7 committed in their broad-ranging, 32-page declaration to market-based exchange rates and to avoiding “competitive devaluation” of their currencies, while warning against wild exchange-rate moves. The G7 nations also pledged to end government support for coal, oil and gas by 2025. On the political side, the G-7 leaders agreed on the need to send a strong message on maritime claims in the western Pacific, where an increasingly assertive China is locked in territorial disputes with Japan and several Southeast Asian nations.

WORLD TRADE

  • After hectic negotiations for five consecutive days here—exceeding the scheduled closing by almost 24 hours—the WTO Trade Ministers concluded their talks on 19 December 2014, without any commitment on rich countries being asked to check their domestic subsidies. Besides, rich nations refused to budge on their long-standing position of putting the onus on developing countries with regard to duties. The members of the global trade body, however, agreed on a commitment for giving the developing nations a right to take recourse to Special Safeguard Mechanism to protect their farmers—a long-standing demand of India. The five-page declaration at the Nairobi meeting, which also marked the 20th anniversary since the establishment of the WTO, underlined the crucial importance of the multilateral rules-based trading system and reaffirmed the principles and objectives set out in the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the WTO.
  • On 24 July 2015, World Trade Organization (WTO) members finalized a deal to cut tariffs on $1 trillion worth of information technology products in a boost for producers of goods ranging from video games to medical equipment. The agreement to update the WTO’s 18-year-old Information Technology Agreement (ITA) adds more than 200 products to the list of goods covered by zero-tariff and duty-free trade.
  • The biggest trade deal in decades, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) between 12 Pacific rim countries, including USA and Japan, was struck on 5 October 2015. It cuts trade tariffs and sets common standards in trade for member-countries and marked the end of five years of often bitter and tense negotiations. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a trade agreement under negotiation among 12 nations: Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the US and Vietnam, which comprise 40% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP). In addition to greater market access for goods and services, the areas of negotiations covered by TPP include intellectual property rights, foreign investment, competition policy, environment, labour, State-owned enterprises, e-commerce, competitiveness and supply chains, government procurement, technical barriers to trade, transparency in healthcare technology and pharmaceuticals, and regulatory coherence.
  • World Trade Organisation (WTO) is to expand from 161 to 164 members, with Kazakhstan, Liberia and Afghanistan agreeing to membership terms.

UNITED NATIONS

  • India has been re-elected to the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) for another six years’ term (2016-22), maintaining its unbeaten track record of winning elections at the world body, which is recognised as the core legal body of the United Nations system in the field of international trade law.
  • Palestinians have won the right to fly their national flag in front of the United Nations headquarters, a symbolic step opposed by Israel and the United States. The change was made by the UN General Assembly, as a vast majority of member countries vote in favour of a resolution granting non-member observer States the right to fly their flags alongside member States. Palestine became an observer State in 2012. The Vatican, the only other observer State, has held that status since 1964.
  • Ukraine, Japan, Egypt, Senegal and Uruguay garnered the required votes to be elected as non-permanent members of the UN Security Council. The five countries ran unopposed for the non-permanent seats after regional groups put them forward as their choice, but the contenders still had to garner two-thirds of votes cast. One of the most experienced non-permanent members, Japan, will be taking its seat for the 11th time.

WARFARE

  • On 6 January 2016, North Korea claimed to have carried out a “successful” hydrogen bomb test—its fourth nuclear blast—unnerving the region with its latest bout of sabre rattling. Experts broadly agree that the country probably carried out some kind of nuclear explosion but remained sceptical over the “hydrogen” assertion. A hydrogen bomb is a much more powerful atomic weapon and it can devastate whole cities in one explosion. Till date, Hydrogen bombs have never been used in war. The test marked a new low point in relations between North Korea and neighbouring China, which has been the country’s main diplomatic supporter for decades. The move violated UN Security Council resolutions and is seen as grave challenge against international efforts for non-proliferation.

MISCELLANEOUS

  • India ranks a lowly 143rd on a Global Peace Index, lagging way behind the likes of Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh with Iceland emerging as the most peaceful nation in the world. Denmark and Austria were at second and third spots.
  • Pakistan’s Parliament has become the first in the world to completely run on solar power, a venture supported by close ally China with a whopping $55 million funding.
  • According to the 2016 Global Slavery Index, released by Australia-based human rights group Walk Free Foundation, an estimated 45.8 million people, including women and children, are subject to some form of modern slavery in the world, compared to 35.8 million in 2014. The report said India has the highest absolute numbers of people trapped in slavery, with 18.35 million slaves among its 1.3 billion population, while North Korea has the highest incidence (4.37 per cent of the population) and the weakest government response to deal with it. Incidences of slavery were found in all 167 countries in the index, with Asian countries occupying the top five places. China (3.39 million), Pakistan (2.13 million), Bangladesh (1.53 million) and Uzbekistan (1.23 million) were behind India in the list. Modern slavery refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot leave because of threats, violence, coercion and abuse of power or deception.
  • According to the UN International Telecommunications Union’s flagship annual Measuring the Information Society Report, globally 3.2 billion people are now online, representing 43.4 per cent of the world’s population, while mobile—cellular subscriptions have reached almost 7.1 billion worldwide, with over 95 per cent of the global population now covered by a mobile—cellular signal. Out of the 167 economies included in the ITU’s ICT Development Index (IDI), India is ranked 131 in the IDI 2015 rank, dropping six notches from the IDI rank in 2010. South Korea is ranked at the top, followed by Denmark and Iceland, in second and third place, respectively. IDI is a composite measurement that ranks 167 countries according to their level of Information & Communication Technology (ICT) access, use and skills.

NATIONAL AFFAIRS

AGRICULTURE

  • India launched an electronic trading platform for farm goods on 7 April 2016, to improve transparency in wholesale markets and help farmers fetch better prices for their produce. It would trade products from 365 wholesale markets initially but aims to increase that to 585 by March 2018. Initially 25 commodities including rice, corn, wheat, oilseeds and a few other vegetables and spices will be traded on the platform. About 50 years back, the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act was introduced to protect farmers from rich landlords. But it led to the creation of a layer of middlemen in these markets, who take a hefty cut, depriving farmers of a better price and also inflating the cost of farm goods. The Modi government has urged Indian States to amend the APMC Act to facilitate the online trading of crops. However, eight of India’s 29 States have not agreed to adopt electronic trading, which means that farmers in those States will lose out.
  • “Kisan Suvidha” app has been developed for use of farmers, to provide information on weather, market prices, seeds, fertilisers, crop protection and agricultural machinery. The app will also send extreme weather alerts to farmers. Market prices of commodity in the nearest market and the maximum price in State as well as India will also be available.
  • According to the agriculture and soil experts, land degradation is posing a major threat to India’s food and environmental security. The biggest problem being faced is the loss in the biological or productive capacity of soil. According to year 2010 estimates of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, of the total geographical area of 328.73 mha, about 120.40 mha is affected by various levels of land degradation. As water and wind erosions were widespread across India, some 5.3 billion tonnes of soil gets eroded every year. Of this, 29 per cent is permanently lost to the sea, 10 per cent is deposited in reservoirs, reducing their storage capacity, and the balance 61 per cent gets shifted from one place to another. Excessive use of chemical fertilisers is also a major reason for soil degradation.
  • The Union government has approved a crop insurance scheme—Pradhan Mantri Fasal Beema Yojna—that would replace the existing two schemes—National Agricultural Insurance Scheme (NAIS) and Modified NAIS—to ensure that farmers pay less premium and get early claims for the full sum insured. The new scheme will be implemented from the 2016 kharif It will substantially reduce the premium paid by farmers—1.5% on rabi crops, 2% on kharif crops and 5% on commercial/horticultural crops—and reduce delays and leakages in payment of compensation through direct transfers into the bank accounts of farmers. The premium rates are very low, with the government contributing five times the premium paid by a farmer. There is no cap on subsidy on premium, meaning the government will bear the cost even if the balance premium is as high as 90%. In previous schemes, due to a cap on premiums, farmers did not get the full sum during claim settlement.
  • Sikkim has become India’s first fully organic State by converting around 75,000 hectares of agricultural land into sustainable cultivation. The agricultural land was gradually converted to certified organic land by implementing organic practices and principles as per guidelines laid down in National Programme for Organic Production. It was in 2003 when the Pawan Chamling-led government decided to make Sikkim an organic farming State through a declaration in the legislative Assembly. Later the entry of chemical inputs for farmland was restricted and their sale banned. Farmers therefore had no option but to go organic. Bestowed with varied agro-climatic condition, some of the major crops in Sikkim include large cardamom, ginger, turmeric, off-season vegetables, flowers, Sikkim mandarin, kiwi, buck wheat, paddy maize and millets.

BANKING & FINANCE

  • The Union Cabinet has given its approval for the creation of a Credit Guarantee Fund for Micro Units Development Refinance Agency (MUDRA) Approval has also been given for converting MUDRA Ltd into MUDRA Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI) Bank, as a wholly owned subsidiary of SIDBI. The fund is expected to guarantee more than ₹1,00,000 crore worth of loans to micro and small units at the first instance. The salient features of the scheme are establishment of Credit Guarantee Fund for MUDRA Units (CGFMU) for guaranteeing loans sanctioned under Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana, with the objective of reducing the credit risk to banks/NBFCs/MFIs/other financial intermediaries, who are Member Lending Institutions (MLIs).
  • According the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into India increased by 37% to $39.32 billion during 2015. Computer hardware and software sector attracted the highest FDI, followed by services, trading business, automobile industry and chemicals. Singapore emerged as the biggest FDI source, followed by Mauritius, USA, Netherlands and Japan.
  • According to fDi Intelligence, a division of The Financial Times, India has overtaken China as the world’s top destination for foreign direct investment by attracting greenfield capital investment worth $63 billion in 2015. Greenfield investments are a form of FDI in which a company starts a venture in a foreign nation by setting up new operational facilities.
  • As part of the Open Market Operations (OMOs), Reserve Bank of India, on 17 March 2016, purchased government securities maturing in 2020 (bearing interest rate of 8.27%), 2022 (8.35%), 2024 (8.40%), 2026 (8.33%) and 2028 (8.60%), 2032 (8.32%). There is an overall aggregate ceiling of ₹150 billion for all the securities in the basket put together, RBI said. Earlier on March 10, RBI had bought g-secs of similar quantum to infuse liquidity into the market. OMOs are market operations conducted by RBI by way of sale/purchase of government securities to/from the market with an objective to adjust the rupee liquidity conditions in the market on a durable basis. If there is excess liquidity, RBI resorts to sale of securities and sucks out the rupee liquidity. Similarly, when the liquidity conditions are tight, the RBI buys securities from the market, thereby releasing liquidity into the market.
  • Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has tweaked the marginal cost of lending rate(MCLR) linking all loans including working capital loans with a fixed rate of interest to the benchmark rate. Even working capital loans with fixed rate up to three years will now be linked to MCLR, making them rate sensitive. Only fixed rate loans of over three years will continue to be exempt. Computing the lending rate based on the marginal cost of funds will help banks in lowering rates faster, feels RBI.
  • Reserve Bank of India has allowed foreign banks higher shareholding in private sector lenders in India under exceptional situations. Regulated, well-diversified, listed and government-run foreign financial institutions will be allowed to own as much as 40 percent of a private sector bank. The ownership of non-regulated and non-diversified financial institutions will be capped at 15 percent. However, the voting rights of foreign banks will remain capped at the current level of 15 per cent.
  • Reserve Bank of India has designated State Bank of India and ICICI Bank as Domestic Systemically Important Banks (D-SIBs). Following this designation, additional Common Equity Tier 1 (CET1) requirements became applicable for SBI, India’s largest bank, and ICICI Bank, India’s largest private sector bank, from 1 April 2016, in a phased manner and would become fully effective from 1 April 2019. The additional Common Equity Tier 1 requirements as a percentage of Risk Weighted Assets (RWAs) for SBI and ICICI Bank have been set at 0.60 per cent and 0.20 per cent, respectively. The additional CET1 requirement will be in addition to the capital conservation buffer.
  • Singapore’s largest bank, DBS Bank, has launched Digibank, India’s first mobile-only bank. The bank will use the Aadhaar card as the sole customer authentication document and there will be no paperwork involved.
  • State-owned IDBI Bank has launched India’s first-of-its-kind facility which will allow retail customers of the bank to invest in government bonds (G-Sec) through the bank’s ATMs.
  • Telecommunications firm Bharti Airtel’s mobile commerce subsidiary, Airtel M Commerce Services, has received payments bank licence from the RBI. The subsidiary operates under the name of Airtel Money. Notably, Idea Cellular and Vodafone had earlier received approval to form payment banks.
  • The National Payments Corporation of India Ltd’s (NPCI) most ambitious project, unified payments interface (UPI) system, went live on 11 April 2016. The launch of UPI will reduce need for e-wallets as UPI will allow payments using mobile phone as the primary device, without the need to download an app to send or receive money. There will also be no need to disclose identity while making payments. UPI will also make the payment system inter-operable. Thus, one will be able to use the products of any bank which has entered into an agreement to use the UPI platform, without being its customer.
  • The New Development Bank (NDB) of BRICS countries has handed out $250 million to India’s Canara Bank for renewable energy projects as part of its first set of loans amounting to more than $800 million. The financial assistance of $811 has been given to Brazil, China, South Africa and India. Along with Russia, all four countries are founding members of the bank.
  • The Union government has approved interest rate of 8.7% on the Employee Provident Fund (EPF) for 2015-16, from 8.75% in 2014-15.
  • DCB Bank has started India’s first Aadhaar-based ATM facility wherein a customer can transact using the biometric details instead of the PIN. Customers can also initiate the transaction by entering their 12-digit Aadhaar number.
  • ICICI Bank, India’s largest private sector bank, has launched a service to enable customers to make electronic payments from their smartphones at physical stores, e-commerce and other deliveries at home, radio taxis, and utility billers, among others. This service is based on ‘mVisa’, a new mobile payment solution from Visa. ICICI Bank claims to be the first bank globally to launch a mobile app-based ‘mVisa’ solution for consumers and merchants.
  • Indian banks that decide to recast a company’s debt under the so-called “strategic debt restructuring” (SDR) scheme must hold 51 percent or more of the equity after the debt-for-share conversion, as per new guidelines set by Reserve Bank of India. Other measures announced include allowing lenders to convert debt to equity within 30 days of the review of the company’s account. In addition, lenders who acquire shares of a listed company under a restructuring will be exempted from making an open offer, as per rules from capital markets regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI).
  • Indian government has permitted seven companies—National Highways Authority of India, Indian Railways Finance Corporation, Housing and Urban Development Corporation, Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency, Power Finance Corporation, Rural Electrification Corporation and NTPC—to issue tax-free bonds worth ₹400 billion rupees in the 2015-16.
  • Indian Overseas Bank (IOB) has become the India’s first lender to start the distribution of the Indian Gold Coins. Available in the denominations of 5, 10 and 20 grams, the coins bear the national emblem of Ashok Chakra on one side and Mahatma Gandhi’s face on the other.
  • On 14 August 2015, Finance minister Arun Jaitley launched a seven pronged plan—Indradhanush—to revamp functioning of public sector banks. The seven elements include appointments, Bank Board of Bureau, capitalisation, de-stressing, empowerment, framework of accountability and governance reforms. Bank Board of Bureau will replace existing appointments board for selection of wholetime directors and non-executive chairmen at PSBs.  It will be headed by the RBI governnor. It would also hold bad assets of public sector banks.
  • On 16 September 2015, ten entities, including Ujjivan Financial Services and Equitas Holdings, have got Reserve Bank of India’s approval to set up Small Finance Banks to provide basic banking services to small farmers and micro industries. Other entities to get RBI’s nod are: Au Financiers (Jaipur), Capital Local Area Bank (Jalandhar), Disha Microfin (Ahmedabad), ESAF Microfinance (Chennai), Janalakshmi Financial (Bengaluru), RGVN (North East) Microfinance (Guwahati), Suryoday Micro Finance (Mumbai) and Utkarsh Micro Finance (Varanasi). As per RBI norms, a Small Finance Bank will primarily undertake basic banking activities of acceptance of deposits and lending to unserved and under-served sections, including small business units, small and marginal farmers, micro and small industries and unorganised sector entities.
  • Private sector lender ICICI Bank has become the first financial institution in the country to tie up with the BRICS Grouping-promoted New Development Bank (NDB) for a partnership in bond issuances, co-financing, treasury management and human resources.
  • RBI has relaxed capital rules for banks to help meet Basel-III norms that will provide additional capital to banking sector. It is a big relief to banks that have been struggling with higher NPA issue. As per the new rules, banks will be allowed to recognise part of their real estate assets, foreign currency assets and deferred tax assets as capital with suitable hair-cut. The new amendments on balance sheet items will help in improving common equity Tier 1 (CET I) by 1.1 percent.
  • Reserve Bank has allowed banks to keep Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY) bonds under the held-to-maturity (HTM) category. HTM refers to a part of debt holdings which are not subjected to daily price movement and can be held by banks till maturity.
  • Reserve Bank of India (RBI) will allow lenders to count short-term bullion deposits under the gold monetisation scheme as part of their cash reserve ratio or statutory liquidity ratios, increasing the appeal of the plan for the sector. The measure is part of the Reserve Bank of India’s guidelines for the gold scheme, which is intended to lure Indian households to deposit gold at lenders in exchange for interest rate payments. The RBI said it will allow banks to take a minimum deposit of 30 grams of gold from individuals, who will be allowed to place the bullion for time periods ranging from one-year to 15 years.
  • Reserve Bank of India has granted banking licence to IDFC Ltd, making it the second lender to enter the banking sector after more than a decade. Indian microfinance company Bandhan Financial Services and Mumbai-based IDFC were the only two companies to be granted preliminary bank permits in 2014. Yes Bank was the last bank to be set up in India, in 2004.
  • The National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF) is being set up with the aim to catalyse infrastructure development in the country. It would have an initial authorised capital of ₹20,000 crore and would provide equity support to non-bank finance companies and financial institutions engaged in infrastructure financing across sectors. It would also extend equity and debt support to commercially viable infrastructure and other projects.
  • By 2018-19, the Union government will infuse ₹70,000 crore into public sector banks, 42 per cent of these banks’ overall estimated requirement of ₹1,80,000 crore. While ₹25,000 crore each will be infused in 2015-16 and 2016-17, ₹10,000 crore each will be provided in 2017-18 and 2018-19. Through capital infusion, the government hopes to address the fact that these banks’ funds are stuck with large projects that are stranded due to various reasons. Among these, the government says, are delays in land acquisition and clearances.
  • The RBI cut the repo rate by 25 basis points to a five-year low of 6.5% in its bi-monthly monetary policy review meeting on 5 April 2016. The RBI increased the reverse repo rate by 25 basis points to 6% while maintaining the cash reserve ratio at 4%.
  • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) draft guidelines for issuing on-tap universal bank licences excludes large industrial houses from entering the sector. The proposed licensing policy is a change from the stop-start policy where RBI opens the window for bank licences periodically but rarely. The minimum paid-up capital for a bank shall be ₹500 crore, and the bank shall maintain a minimum net worth of ₹500 crore at all times. Foreign shareholding would be capped at 74%. Since the bank licensing will be on-tap, applications can be submitted to RBI at any time.
  • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has set new rules on how banks can calculate their lending rates. Starting 1 April 2016, lenders will calculate their lending rates based on the marginal cost of funds, or the rate offered on new deposits. The new rules will make loans cheaper for new borrowers. For existing borrowers, it may take as much as a year for the benefits to be transmitted. Banks currently set their lending rates based on the average cost of funds on deposits outstanding, a system that had given them more freedom to determine how much to change.
  • The Reserve Bank of India has given the go-ahead to a total of 11 companies for setting up payment banks. The ‘in-principle’ approval is valid for three years, after which they stand a chance to get a license, provided they fulfill all the conditions listed down by the RBI. The list of 11 successful applicants includes big players such as Reliance Industries, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India, Idea Cellular and India Post. The minimum capital needed to set up a payment bank is set at ₹100 crore. The payment bank will, however, need to invest 75% of its fund in government securities. Unlike regular banks, the payment banks will not be able to offer loans or credit cards. They can, however, offer debit cards and ATM cards.
  • The Union Cabinet has approved Gold Bond and Gold Monetisation schemes to reduce the metal’s demand in physical form and fish out idle gold lying with households and other entities. The Gold Bond scheme will have an annual cap of 500 grams per person and such bonds would be issued for a period of 5-7 years. Idle gold can be deposited in banks for short, medium or long term. Depositors of gold will earn interest on their metal accounts. Quantity of gold to be credited will depend on the purity of gold. Gold can be in bullion or jewellery form. Mobilised gold will be used in auctioning and replenishing RBI’s gold reserves.
  • The Union Cabinet has given its approval to India Post to set up payments bank. 650 branches of the postal bank will be set-up across the country by September 2017. Payments bank, aimed at improving financial inclusion, allows customers to transfer money or remittances using a mobile phone.
  • The Union government has cleared a proposal to amend the Mines and Minerals Act (MMDR Act) to include the provisions of allowing transfer of captive mines granted through procedures other than auction. The step will help in checking the stressed assets of banks by allowing them to liquidate the same where a firm or its captive mining lease is mortgaged.
  • The Union government launched the Gold Bond Scheme in November 2015. The bonds were issued by the Reserve Bank of India, on behalf of the Union government, and were sold to Indain entities only, including residents, trusts, universities and charitable institutions. The minimum permissible bond was worth 2 grams of gold, and the maximum 500 grams. The Reserve Bank fixed the public issue price at ₹2,684 per gram for the sovereign gold bonds. The Sovereign Gold Bonds offer an interest rate of 2.75%. The interest will be payable semi-annually on the initial value of investment. The tenor of the bond is for a period of eight years, with exit option from fifth year, to be exercised on the interest payment dates. The interest earned on gold bonds would be taxable, and capital gains tax shall be levied as in case of physical gold.
  • The Union government, on 28 September 2015, formally announced the merger of Forward Markets Commission (FMC), the erstwhile regulator of commodity futures, with capital market regulator, Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI). The Forward Markets Commission regulated commodities market since 1953. The merger is aimed at streamlining the regulations and curb wild speculations in the commodities market, while facilitating further growth there.  At present, there are three national and six regional bourses for commodity futures in India.
  • RBI will now allow Indian companies to issue rupee-denominated bonds with minimum maturity of five years. In currency markets, the RBI said it would allow flexibility in managing currency risk for investors in over-the-counter markets in order to make hedging easier. It also introduced exchange-traded currency futures and options for euro, sterling, and Japanese yen trades against the US dollar.
  • To push lower interest rates and make a switch to market-linked rates for small savings schemes, the Union government has slashed returns on schemes like Kisan Vikas Patras and recurring deposits by 0.25 per cent. It has also linked the returns of all small savings schemes, including the PPF, to the market rate prevailing on government securities, to be re-calibrated every quarter, effective from 1 April 2016. The returns on Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana, the Senior Citizen Savings Scheme and the Monthly Income Scheme will continue to enjoy a higher return than government securities but would also face a quarterly reset. The compounding of interest, which was being done bi-annually for 10-year National Saving Certificates, 5-year National Saving Certificates and KVPs, will be done on an annual basis from April 1 onward.
  • Union government has cut interest rate on Public Provident Fund to 8.1% from 8.7%; on Kisan Vikas Patra to 7.8% from 8.7%.
  • West Bengal, with a gross collection of ₹32,713 crore into small savings schemes, topped the collection in India for the financial year 2014-15, according to the National Savings Institute. Uttar Pradesh was second, followed by Gujarat, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. The nation-wide collection in 2014-15 rose 19.1% year-on-year to ₹2.47 lakh crore.
  • With effect from 4 April 2016, the limit on the investment by Foreign Portfolio Investors (FPIs) in government securities, including those of the States, has been increased by ₹14,000 crore to ₹2 lakh crore.

COMMISSIONS

  • The Seventh Central Pay Commission, headed by Justice A.K. Mathur submitted its report to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on 19 November 2015, and recommended an overall increase of 23.55 per cent in pay, allowances, and pension to government employees. The Commission’s report recommends a 16 per cent increase in basic pay, a 63 per cent increase in allowances and a 24 per cent in pension. Based on the Aykroyd formula, the minimum pay in government is recommended to be set at ₹18,000 per month and ₹2,25,000 per month for Apex Scale and ₹2,50,000 per month for Cabinet Secretary and others presently at the same pay level.

ECONOMY

  • India’s merchandise exports for 2015-16 fiscal stood at $261.16 billion, down 15.9% year-on-year, and were at the weakest level since 2010-11. Net imports for the fiscal were also down 15.28% year-on-year, at $379.59 billion.
  • Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) equity inflow into India for 2015-16 grew 29% year-on-year to $40 billion. The services sector attracted the highest investment at $6.88 billion, followed by computer hardware and software ($5.90 billion). Singapore accounted for the highest inflow at $13.69 billion, followed by Mauritius ($8.35 billion) and the US ($4.19 billion).
  • India ranked sixth among the world’s largest manufacturing countries, up from its previously held 9th rank, according to a report by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization. China tops the list, followed by the US, Japan and Germany. The manufacturing output in India grew by 7.6% in 2015 compared to the previous year.
  • India’s external debt increased by 6.6 per cent to $475.8 billion in 2014-15, compared to $446.3 billion at the end of the previous year, according to the annual report by the Department of Economic Affairs—India’s External Debt: A status report for 2014-15. Country’s external debt has grown faster than its GDP, with the external debt-GDP ratio rising to 23.8 per cent at end-March 2015, from 23.6 per cent at end-March 2014. Most of this external debt is in the form of long-term debt ($391.1 billion). Short-term external debt was at $84.7 billion, down 7.6 per cent from $91.7 billion at the end of March 2014.
  • India’s per capita income rose by 7.4% to ₹93,293 in 2015-16, as against ₹86,879 witnessed in 2014-15. Gross National Income (at 2011-12 prices) was estimated at ₹112.13 lakh crore, as against ₹104.28 lakh crore in 2014-15.
  • On 3 June 2015, India and five other nations joined a multilateral agreement for automatic exchange of financial information, a move that will help it combat tax evasion and deal with the problem of black money. Australia, Canada, Costa Rica, Indonesia and New Zealand are the other five nations that signed the multilateral competent authority agreement (MCAA) in Paris for automatic exchange of financial account information.

ELECTIONS

  • On 8 November 2015, Mr. Nitish Kumar won a third term as Bihar Chief Minister as the grand alliance surged past the majority mark and left the BJP-led coalition far behind in one of India’s most politically-crucial States. The RJD-JD(U)-Congress alliance led in 178 seats, an emphatic victory over the NDA that could only win around 59 seats, belying all predictions of a closely-contested election.
  • The Left Democratic Front (LDF) coalition comprising CPI and CPI(M) has won the 140-member Kerala Assembly elections, securing a total of 91 seats. The United Democratic Front (UDF) comprising Congress emerged as the second largest alliance, winning 47 constituencies, while the BJP won one.
  • Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress retained power in West Bengal, winning 211 seats in the 294-seat Assembly, the highest number of seats won by a single party in the State’s history. CPI(M) and Congress won 26 and 44 seats, respectively.
  • The BJP and its allies swept the Assam Assembly polls to form the party’s maiden government in the north-eastern State. The BJP won 60 seats in the 126-seat Assembly, while its allies Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodoland Peoples Front won 14 and 12 seats, respectively. Congress got 26 seats and AIUDF won 13.
  • Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa returned to power, breaking a pattern of alternation that had held since 1989, winning 134 seats. DMK-Congress combine will be the main opposition party in the State with 98 seats.
  • The Congress-DMK alliance claimed victory in Puducherry by winning 17 of the 30 seats with a combined vote share of 39.5%.
  • A parliamentary panel has asked the government as well as the Election Commission to explore possibility of holding simultaneous elections, to reduce frequency of polls and enforcement of code of conduct that impedes economic development. The 31-member panel is headed by Congress party’s Tamil Nadu MP Dr E.M.S. Natchippan. The panel said massive costs could be saved with the conduct of simultaneous elections. The Committee has envisaged holding of elections of some state Assemblies at mid-term of Lok Sabha and remaining with the end of tenure of Lok Sabha. It said the proposed first phase could be held in November 2016, involving States like West Bengal, Kerala, Puduchery, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Uttarakhand, Manipur, Goa, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Meghalaya, Tripura, Nagaland and Karnataka. The States whose terms end between May 2016 to May 2018 should be clubbed together. In Phase two, rest of States, whose terms end between December 2018 to June 2019, should be held in June 2019, along with Lok Sabha elections.

ENVIRONMENT:

  • Agasthyamala Biosphere Reserve has been added to UNESCO’s World Network of Biosphere Reserve. Located in the Western Ghats, the site was established in 2001. It includes peaks reaching 1,868 metre above sea level and is home to 2,254 species of higher plants. Of the 18 biosphere reserves in India, nine are included in UNESCO’s network. Spain has the largest number of registered reserves.
  • Delhi is no longer the world’s most polluted city, according to urban air quality data released by the World Health Organisation. India’s capital, which earlier ranked first on the list, is now 11th. But, India is still home to four of the five worst cities. Based on readings of fine particulate matter in the air or PM 2.5, Zabol in Iran is now the most polluted city in the world. Gwalior and Allahabad come a close second and third. Patna and Raipur are sixth and seventh on the list.
  • In a step to conserve several species of birds of prey, India has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Convention on Conservation of Migratory Species, having its secretariat in Abu Dhabi, for the ‘Conservation of Migratory Birds of Prey in Africa and Eurasia’, better known as the Raptor MoU. The Raptor MoU covers 76 species of birds of prey, of which over 50 occur in India, including the critically endangered vulture. Raptors, or birds of prey, are threatened by habitat loss and degradation, illegal shooting and poisoning, collisions with aerial structures and electrocution by power lines.
  • Environmental Information System (ENVIS) Portal—http://envis.nic.in—is a new initiative that runs parallel with the Digital India Objective, and works on improving the digital literacy in the environment sector and deliver services digitally all over the country. The digitization of valuable data covering the broad spectrum of subjects on environment will serve as an asset in generating feature rich repository of information.

HEALTH

  • India and World Health Organisation have signed a pact to promote Yoga, Ayurveda and traditional medicine. This pact will provide WHO with a benchmark document for training in Yoga, Ayurveda and traditional medicines for the first time. It will also promote the use of traditional medicines and integrate it into national healthcare system.
  • A new drug to treat multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB), Bedaquiline, is the first TB drug to get a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in over 40 years. The drug became available from 21 March 2016 in six public hospitals across India. Notably, India has the highest prevalence of TB in the world.
  • According to a paper published in The Lancet, India has to not only increase resources for healthcare but also radically transform the architecture of the country’s healthcare delivery system, if the nation is to achieve the vision of assuring health for all. A large proportion of the population stands impoverished as a result of high out-of-pocket health-care expenditures and people also suffer the adverse consequences of poor quality of care. Nearly 25 per cent of children born to the poorest people are severely malnourished, compared with 5 per cent children born to the richest people. India accounted for 20 per cent of the global burden of disease in 2013, as against 21 per cent in 2005. “At the heart of the constraints faced by India is the apparent unwillingness on the part of the State to prioritise health as a fundamental public good, central to India’s developmental aspirations, on par with education,” says the report.
  • The Haryana government has launched Project Salamati, making it the first State in India to implement the use of injectable contraceptives towards family planning. The facility will be available free of cost.
  • The national cancer grid links all existing and proposed cancer care centres to create a uniform line of treatment for cancer patients across India. Maharashtra is the first State to join the initiative.

JUDICIARY

  • On 16 October 2015, in a collective order, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court—J.S. Khehar, J. Chelameswar, Madan B. Lokur, Kurian Joseph and A.K. Goel—held the 99th Constitutional Amendment Act and the NJAC Act 2014 “unconstitutional and void”. The Supreme Court also held that the Collegium system as it existed before the NJAC ‘operative’. The five-judge Bench invited suggestions to improve the working of the existing Collegium system. The collegium system evolved after three landmark judgements of the Supreme Court, known as the ‘three judges cases’. The Constitution’s Articles 124 and 217 deal with the appointment of judges of the higher judiciary.
  • The conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices of High Courts has adopted a resolution to appoint retired judicial officers as ad hoc judges to reduce the pendency of cases. Article 224A of the Constitution will be invoked to accomplish this.

LAW POINT

  • The Supreme Court has ruled that the State is not bound to grant reservation in promotion to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) employees. Articles 16(4-A) and (4-B) empowers the government to make provisions for reservation in matters of promotion to any class or classes of posts in the favour of SC/ST employees which, in the opinion of the State, are not adequately represented in the services under the State. The Bench said this was a discretionary power vested with the State and that the courts cannot issue directions to the government to collect data regarding any group’s alleged under-representation in various services.
  • The Supreme Court has upheld the validity of the criminal defamation law. The court pronounced its verdict on a batch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code providing for criminal defamation. Asserting that the law has no chilling effect on free speech, the apex court said, “Right to free speech is not absolute. It does not mean freedom to hurt another’s reputation which is protected under Article 21 of the Constitution”. The petitioners comprise prominent leaders cutting across party lines, such as Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Subramanian Swamy, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, among others.

LEGILATION

  • The Union Cabinet has approved the Real Estate (Regulation & Development) Bill, 2015, which will be applicable both for commercial and residential real estate projects once the Parliament approves it. The legislation provides for insurance of land title to protect buyers and developers from the risk of land fraud, since there is little protection for consumers in the present framework. It will also provide uniform regulatory environment to ensure speedy adjudication of disputes and orderly growth of the real estate sector. There is also a provision for a jail term up to three years or penalty or both in case of builders, one year for real estate agents and buyers for violating the orders of appellate tribunals. The legislation also puts the condition of keeping 70% of the sale proceeds for a particular project in a separate account to meet the construction cost of that project, including the land cost. This has been done to minimize diversion of funds and ensure timely completion of projects. Each State will establish the real estate regulator and the appellate tribunal as per the rules. The tribunal will be the final arbiter in case of disputes between a buyer and builders or promoters.
  • National Waterways Bill 2015 has been passed by Rajya Sabha—setting the stage for the adoption of the new law. Once it is a law, it will lead to the conversion of 106 rivers and creeks across India into transport waterways, thus providing an alternative form of transporting goods, which at present is dominated by road and rail, and open up economic opportunities to new regions.
  • On 22 December 2015, Rajya Sabha cleared the Juvenile Justice (Amendment) Bill, 2015, lowering the age of a legally defined juvenile from 18 to 16 in the case of heinous crimes. Heinous offences are those which are punishable with imprisonment of seven years or more. Also, any 16-18 years old, who commits a lesser offence, may be tried as an adult if he is apprehended after the age of 21 years. The Bill mandates setting up Juvenile Justice Boards and Child Welfare Committees in every district. The decision to try a juvenile 16 years or older as an adult will be taken by the Juvenile Justice Board, which will have a judicial magistrate and two social workers as members. If the board decides against it, the juvenile will be sent for rehabilitation.
  • The long-pending Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Bill, has been passed by the Parliament. It is designed to protect consumer interest, ensure efficiency in all property related transactions, improve accountability of developers, boost transparency and attract more investments to the sector. The real estate regulator will monitor transactions and settle disputes between buyers and builders. Further, builders will have to pay an interest to buyers for defaults or delays.
  • In a first in India, Maharashtra Assembly has passed the Prohibition of Social Boycott Bill, penalising social boycott by extra-judicial bodies like caste panchayats and communities. The Bill prescribes a maximum punishment of three years and up to ₹1 lakh fine.
  • Parliament has passed the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 which aims at consolidating and amending laws related to reorganization and insolvency resolution in a timely manner. It will cover individuals, companies, limited liability partnerships and partnership firms. The Bill proposes setting up of an Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board, and Insolvency and Bankruptcy Fund. The code aims to hasten debt recoveries and restructurings by setting a deadline of 180 days to decide the fate of a company that defaults. If 75 percent of creditors agree on a revival plan, that term can be extended by 90 days. Otherwise, a firm would be automatically liquidated. A debtor could be jailed for up to five years for concealing property or defrauding creditors under the new law. Bankrupt individuals would be barred from contesting elections.
  • Rajya Sabha has passed the Sikh Gurdwaras (Amendment) Bill that aims to remove the exception given to the Sahajdhari Sikhs in 1944 to vote in the elections and select the members of the Board and committees constituted under the Sikh Gurdwaras Act, 1925.
  • The Aadhaar Bill 2016, passed as a money bill by the Lok Sabha, seeks to give legal sanction to the unique identification number programme or Aadhaar as a single window to distribute subsidy and other direct benefit transfers. Leakage in subsidy has been a grave concern for India’s exchequer for years. The linking of bank accounts to a unique social identity number will help plug the spillage. Once a Money Bill is passed by the Lok Sabha, the Rajya Sabha or Upper House can only discuss it and not make amendments. If not discussed within 14 days of being tabled in the Rajya Sabha, it is “deemed passed”. The government sought to present the Bill as a Money Bill, as “the principal purpose is spending the money” for beneficiaries and not as a mere identification document.
  • The Bureau of Indian Standards Bill, 2015, passed by Lok Sabha on 3 December 2015, seeks to extend the ambit of the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) to include services, processes and products while ensuring production of world class goods in line with the best global practices. It also proposes to make BIS a national standards body, introduce mandatory hallmarking of precious metal, prevent misuse of Standard marks and provide for recall of ISI marked products not conforming to relevant standards. The Bill gives BIS the legislative backing to formally represent India abroad. Due to non-availability of legislative backing, BIS was not formally recognised as a national standards body of the country, though it had been representing India in various international bodies.

NUCLEAR ENERGY

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced at the 4th Nuclear Summit, held in Washington, USA, several key initiatives taken by India in the area of nuclear security and non-proliferation, including countering nuclear smuggling and deployment of technology to deter nuclear terrorism. The plan includes development and deployment of technology—physical and cyber barriers, technological approaches, setting up a facility for medical grade ‘Moly-99’ using low enriched Uranium and using vitrified forms of vulnerable radioisotopes such as Ceasium-137—to deter and defend against nuclear terrorism. A dedicated counter-nuclear smuggling team has also been set up. India’s export controls list and guidelines have also been harmonized with those of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

PLANNING

  • Chandigarh, Faridabad, Raipur, Ranchi, Warangal, Agartala, Imphal, Port Blair, Panaji, Lucknow, New Town in Kolkata, Bhagalpur and Dharamsala are the 13 additional urban centres picked to be developed as smart cities under the Modi government’s ambitious plan for an urban overhaul. Meant to change the way urban India lives, smart cities will enjoy uninterrupted power and water supplies, internet connectivity, e-governance along with quality infrastructure. While 20 cities were selected in January 2016, 40 more will be added to the list by the 2016-end.
  • India added 6,937 MW of grid-connected clean energy capacity in 2015-16, against the targeted 5,060 MW. Solar and wind power led the capacity boost, with addition of 3,019 MW and 3,300 MW, respectively, while biogas and hydro projects added 400 MW and 219 MW, respectively. India’s total renewable power capacity as on 31 March 2016, reached 42,728 MW.
  • India’s per capita electricity consumption in 2015-16 was approximately 1,075 Kilo Watt Hours (kWh). The world average per capita electricity consumption in 2013 was 3,026 kWh while India’s per capita in 2013-14 was just 957, less than 1/3rd of the world average.
  • The Union Cabinet has approved a ₹ 8,000 crore scheme—Pradhan Mantri Ujwala Yojana—to provide on a war footing free LPG connections to women members of below poverty line (BPL) families.
  • The Union government has effected a regime makeover for oil and gas exploration in India by prospectively replacing the existing profit-sharing arrangement in hydrocarbon exploration with a revenue-sharing formula. There will be a transparent, single licence and policy framework for oil, gas and coal-bed methane exploration in the country, instead of the different policy for each form of hydrocarbons. Gas pricing has also been freed from the new blocks and existing discoveries which are yet to commence production. However, to protect user industries from any unexpected spikes in gas prices, the government a price cap linked to the opportunity cost of imported fuels has been imposed.
  • The Union government has given its nod to the multi- purpose National Hydrology Project (NHP), which has an outlay of over ₹3,679 crore. The project will provide real-time flood forecasts, as well as data to help farmers plan their cropping pattern. It will also facilitate water resource management and ensure equitable use of water.
  • The Union government has merged the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Abhiyan (RGKA), aimed at building sports complexes across India, with the Khelo India scheme which is based on Gujarat’s Khel Mahakumbh. RGKA was started in 2014 by the Congress-led UPA government.
  • The Union government has proposed to build an application called Unified Mobile Application for New age Governance (UMANG), which would let people access e-Gov services. The mobile application would include Central and state services, and will also let people apply for passports, as also file income-tax returns.
  • A total of ₹6,338 crore were spent on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities by 460 different companies in 2014-15. Reliance Industries spent the most amount, while most number of projects were implemented in Maharashtra.
  • According to the latest government survey (2015), conducted by the Quality Council of India, Mysuru has maintained its position as the cleanest city in India, while others in the top-ten list are: Chandigarh, Tiruchirapalli, New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), Vishakapatnam, Surat, Rajkot, Gangtok, Pimpri-Chindwad and Greater Mumbai, in that order. Varanasi, which was the Lok Sabha constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been ranked among the least clean cities in India, at 65th position. Besides Varanasi, others in the bottom-10 list include Kalyan-Dombivali, Jamshedpur, Ghaziabad, Raipur, Meerut, Patna, Itanagar, Asansol and Dhanbad. This was the first survey after start of Swachch Bharat Mission. Top-ten cities to move substantially up the 2015 list, from their rank in 2014, are: Allahabad (from 67 to 22 rank), Nagpur (60 to 20), Visakhapatnam (44 to 5), Gwalior (64 to 30), Bhubaneswar (56 to 24), Hyderabad (50 to 19), Gurgaon (65 to 36), Rajkot (32 to 7), Vijayawada (46 to 23) and Lucknow (51 to 28).
  • Shyama Prasad Mukherjee National Rurban Mission intends to bridge the rural-urban divide by bringing civic and infrastructural amenities to clusters of villages across States, evolving a new mantra for urbanization. The mission would also help reduce migration of people towards the cities. The States would identify clusters of geographically adjacent Gram Panchayats with 25 to 50 thousand population in the plains and 5 to 15,000 in desert, hilly or tribal areas.
  • India has made a blueprint to tackle national disasters through its first ever National Disaster Management Plan (NDMP), which aims to make the country disaster resilient and reduce loss of lives and assets during calamities. The NDMP provides a framework to deal with all phases of disaster management cycle—prevention, mitigation, response and recovery—and lays down duties of various government departments at all levels such as Centre, State, district and panchayat. It identifies 18 broad activities to be served as a ready reckoner. These include early warning, maps, satellite inputs, information dissemination, evacuation of people and animals, medical care, drinking water and essential supplies like food, communication, power, fuel, transportation, disposal of animal carcasses, relief employment, and data collection and management. With the plan, India has joined the list of nations that follow the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, endorsed by the United Nations in 2015.
  • Indian government has decided to ease the rules for new oil and gas exploration blocks to lure foreign investment and tap the nation’s vast energy resources in a bid to cut its crude import bill. To begin with, it has decided to auction 69 small, marginal oil and gas fields to private firms on a revenue-sharing model, offering pricing and marketing freedom to the operators. The auction is expected to unlock ₹70,000 crore of reserves. To minimise intervention by State agencies, under new rules the government will not be concerned with the costs incurred for production and will receive a share of the gross revenue from the sale of hydrocarbons at market rates. As an additional change from the existing regime, companies operating these new fields will be able to sell gas to any customer of their choice and not be bound to the government’s allocation policy. In addition, under the unified licence policy, companies will be able to exploit any and all hydrocarbons (oil, gas, shale oil, shale gas, etc) found in the field, unlike the current system where a separate license is required for each hydrocarbon.
  • Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat, Telangana and Tamil Nadu score well, but eastern States of India fare quite poorly according to the Index of Internet Readiness of Indian States” by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI). Among the smaller States, Delhi emerges on top in terms of Internet readiness, followed by Puducherry and Goa. Among the Union Territories, Chandigarh ranks on top. The Internet index has been arrived at by looking at four things—e-infrastructure, e-participation, IT services and e-governance. A key differentiating measure in this report is that it not only looks at digitisation of services but also usage of these services by citizens.
  • Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) that came into force on 2 February 2006, covering only the 200 poorest districts of the country, has completed a decade of existence. It was expanded to cover all rural areas of India from April 2008. This is the largest programme of its nature for providing employment in rural areas anywhere in the world.  The Act has so far generated 19.86 billion person-days of employment benefitting 276 million workers, with more than half the jobs going to women workers and almost a third to members of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
  • On 16 January 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a three-year income tax holiday, an inspector raj-free environment and a ₹10,000-crore fund in a string of incentives to support start-ups in India. He also offered capital gains tax exemption and a self-certification scheme in respect of nine labour and environment laws, besides a three-year exemption from inspections. The Start-Up India initiative by the BJP-led NDA government is crucial for the country struggling to revive industry and create jobs needed to absorb about 10 million people joining the work-force every year.
  • On 17 June 2015, the Union government launched its ‘Housing for All by 2022’ mission and approved a substantial increase in interest relief on loan for the urban poor to promote affordable homes. The Urban Housing Mission will be taken up in all the 4,041 cities and towns. Houses of up to 30 sq metre carpet area would be built with basic civic infrastructure like water, sewerage, roads, power and telephone lines and social infrastructure such as community centres, parks and play grounds, livelihood centres etc. Registration of houses would either be in the name of women or jointly in the name of wife and husband.
  • Projecting the country’s highways sector as a “unique opportunity” for investments, Union government has rolled out projects worth US$ 93 billion, including the US$ 45 billion flagship road building programme— National Highways Building Project (NHDP). The government, releasing a document on highways sector, said the opportunities comprise “Bharat Mala project of US$ 12 billion for 6,000 kms” scheme for providing connectivity to 123 district headquarters for US$ 15 billion and construction of 350 bridges/ROBs in two years for US$ 8 billion. Besides, it includes ‘Char Dham’ connectivity for 2,500 kms in mountainous terrains for US$ 8 billion and a “strong network of roads in the North-East and Border areas for US$ 5 billion.” Right of Way (ROW) for project land is being made available to concessionaires free from all encumbrances, while NHAI is providing capital grant (Viability Gap Funding) up to 40 per cent of project cost to enhance viability on a case to case basis. Besides, government would provide 100 per cent tax exemption for 5 years and 30 per cent relief for next 5 years, which may be availed of in 20 years.
  • The 2011 census data of religious communities shows proportion of Hindu population to total population has declined by marginal 0.7 percentage point since 2001. The Hindu population stands at 96.63 crore or 79.8% of the total population of 121 crore Indians. In 2001 census, it was 82.76 crore or 80.46% of the total 103 crore Indians. In comparison, the Muslim population stands at 17.22 crore or 14.2% of the total population, thereby increasing marginally by 0.8% over the last census done in 2001 when their population was 13.81 crore or 13.43% of the total population. The proportion of Sikhs has seen a minuscule decline by 0.2% and their population stands at 2.08 crore or 1.7% of the total population. Similarly, population of Buddhist sect declined by 0.1% in last one decade and stands at 84.42 lakh. However, in absolute terms both Sikhs and Buddhists have gained as their population was 1.92 crore and 79.55 lakh, respectively, in 2001. There has been no significant change in the proportion of population of Christians and Jains. While Christian population stands at 2.78 crore or 2.3% of the total population, the Jains constitute 45 lakh or 0.4% of the total population.
  • The new Social Economic and Caste Census was released on 2 July 2015. However, despite the name, the census does not include caste. It provides useful data on households, reflecting various aspects of their socio-economic status—housing, landholding/landlessness, educational status, status of women, differently abled, occupation, possession of assets, SC/ST households, incomes, among others. The census provided for automatic exclusion on the basis of 14 parameters, and inclusion on the basis of five parameters. Of the rural households, 7.05 crore or 39.39 per cent were excluded, while 16.50 lakh or 0.92 per cent were included. The excluded families may not be beneficiaries of various Government programmes or may not be given full benefits while those included may be given top priority in welfare schemes. According to the data, there are 24.39 crore households in the country, of which 17.91 crore are in the rural areas. Of this 4.58 per cent pay income-tax. Among the Scheduled Caste Households (18.46 per cent of the total number), the tax paying percentage is 3.49 per cent, while for the Scheduled Caste Category (10.97 per cent of total number), the tax paying population is 3.34 per cent. 10.69 crore households were considered for deprivation, while 2 crore did not report deprivation. Punjab has the highest percentage of SC households in the country at 36.74 per cent.
  • The Union Cabinet has approved the ‘National Tariff Policy for Electricity’ aimed at tightening regulations for setting power rates and promotion of clean energy. The regulations tighten regulations for setting power tariffs by asking electricity regulators to “necessarily” be guided by the new policy while framing regulations under section 61 of the Act. A major addition to the objective of the policy are promotion of renewable generation sources and aim to create more competition, efficiency in operations and improvement in quality of power supply.
  • The Union Cabinet has given its approval to a new scheme moved by the Ministry of Power—Ujwal DISCOM Assurance Yojna or UDAY for the financial turnaround and revival of Power Distribution companies (DISCOMs), and to ensure a sustainable permanent solution to the problem. It focuses on four major initiatives: improving operational efficiencies of discoms; reduction of cost of power; reduction in interest cost of discoms and enforcing financial discipline on discoms through alignment with State finances.
  • The Union Cabinet has provided State governments fiscal headroom of 50 basis points to increase borrowings to meet their development needs under the current volatile macroeconomic situation, thus formally accepting the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission. However, only those States that have a favourable debt-GSDP (gross state domestic product) ratio and interest payments-revenue receipts ratio in the previous two years will be eligible to raise their fiscal deficits to 3.5% of gross domestic product (GDP), from 3% of GDP permissible to all States.
  • The Union government announced on 5 September 2015, the acceptance of the long-pending demand for ‘One Rank One Pension’ (OROP), under which there would be revision of pension every five years. The base year would be calender year 2013 for calculation of the OROP and it will be implemented from July 2014. Officials said the annual burden on the pension bill will be about ₹ 8,000 crore, which would progressively go up with revision in pensions. The current pension bill of the defence ministry was ₹ 54,000 crore.
  • The United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) will store crude oil in India’s 1.5 million tonnes-Mangalore strategic petroleum reserve, using it as a wholesale storage capacity and sell to the Indian refiners whenever needed. Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserve Ltd (ISPRL) is building the strategic reserve in Mangalore and two other reserves at Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh and at Padur in Karnataka. The three facilities have a total storage capacity of 5 million tonnes of crude, which could meet a few days’ requirement. India imported 189 million tonnes of crude in 2014-15, about 80% of its total requirement.
  • Union government has approved India’s first-ever policy for the capital goods sector and said the thrust on demand creation, technology depth and exports will help address the challenges faced by the sector. To create an ecosystem for globally-competitive capital goods sector, the policy bats for devising a long-term, stable and rationalised tax and duty structure. It also advocates adoption of a uniform Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime with a view to ensuring a level-playing field.
  • Union government has earmarked ₹48,000 crore for development of 100 smart cities. Each smart city would get a Central assistance of ₹100 crore per year for five years. The cities were selected through intra-city competition evaluated on parameters such as service levels, financial and institutional capacity, past track record and reforms. In the first phase, Centre will pick 20 cities and in the next two years 40 cities each will be selected for receiving Central funding. The core infrastructure elements in a Smart City would include: (i) adequate water supply, (ii) assured electricity supply, (iii) sanitation, including solid waste management, (iv) efficient urban mobility and public transport, (v) affordable housing, especially for the poor, (vi) robust IT connectivity and digitalization, (vii) good governance, especially e-Governance and citizen participation, (viii) sustainable environment, (ix) safety and security of citizens, particularly women, children and the elderly, and (x) health and education. The purpose of the Smart Cities Mission is to drive economic growth and improve the quality of life of people by enabling local area development and harnessing technology, especially technology that leads to smart outcomes.
  • Union Urban Ministry has announced the names of the first 20 cities which will be developed into smart cities in 2016. These are: Bhubaneswar (Odisha), Pune (Maharashtra), Jaipur (Rajasthan), Surat (Gujarat), Kochi (Kerala), Ahmedabad (Gujarat), Jabalpur (Madhya Pradesh), Visakhapatnam (Andhra Pradesh), Sholapur (Maharashtra), Davangere (Karnataka), Indore (Madhya Pradesh), New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC, Delhi), Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu), Kakinada (Andhra Pradesh), Belagavi (Karnataka), Udaipur (Rajasthan), Guwahati (Assam), Chennai (Tamil Nadu), Ludhiana (Punjab), and Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh). These cities will be developed to have basic infrastructure through assured water and power supply, sanitation and solid waste management, efficient urban mobility and public transport, IT connectivity, e-governance and citizen participation.

Economic Survey 2016

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley tabled the annual Economic Survey in Parliament on 26 February 2016. According to the survey, India’s GDP is expected to grow between 7 and 7.75% in 2016-17. This is a relative slowdown, which the survey attributed to a struggling global economy. It also pegged India’s long-run GDP at 8-10%.

The Economic Survey is the government’s report on the state of the economy over the last 12 months and reviews performance and policy decisions. It also makes key predictions for the next economic year, including announcing an estimated GDP rate.

Highlights:

  • 2015-16 fiscal deficit seen at 3.9 percent of GDP seems achievable.
  • Time is right for a review of medium-term fiscal framework.
  • CPI inflation seen around 4.5 to 5 percent in 2016-17.
  • Expect RBI to meet 5 percent inflation target by March 2017.
  • India ranks the world’s highest in milk production, accounting for 18.5% of the world’s output. The share of Horticulture Output in agriculture is more than 33%.
  • Foreign exchange reserves have risen to $349.6 million.
  • Proposes widening tax net from 5.5 percent of earning individuals to more than 20 percent.
  • Capital requirement for banks estimated to be around ₹1.8 trillion by 2018-19.
  • Corporate, bank balance sheets remain stretched, affecting prospects for reviving private investments.
  • Recommends government should sell-off certain non-financial companies to infuse capital in State-run banks.

Railway Budget 2016

Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu presented the 2016 Railway Budget on 25 February 2016. Mr Prabhu gave the theme of 2016 Budget as being:  Chalo, Milkar Kuch Naya Karen to overcome challenges—Reorganize, Restructure Rejuvenate Indian Railways.

Presenting his second Budget in the Lok Sabha, Railway Minister promised rationalising of the tariff structure by undertaking a review to evolve competitive rates vis-a-vis other modes of transport and to expand the freight basket as a means of additional revenue mobilisation.

The three pillars of the strategy, he said, are: Nav Arjan (New revenues), Nav Manak (New norms) and Nav Sanrachna (New Structures).

₹ 8,720 crore savings will help to neutralize most of the revenue shortfall. Revenue generation for 2016-17 has been targeted at ₹1,84,820 crore.

The other highlights of the Budget are:

  • No hike in passenger fares.
  • ₹8.5 lakh crore to be spent in 5 years for modernisation of rail infrastructure.
  • ₹ 1.21 lakh crore to be invested in 2016-17.
  • Three new super-fast trains announced—Humsafar Express, Tejas, Uday.
  • Aastha circuit trains to connect important pilgrim centres.
  • Super-fast unreserved train Antyodaya Express
  • Deen Dayal coaches for long distance trains for unreserved passengers. These coaches will include potable water and higher number of mobile charging points.
  • Overnight double-decker trains to be introduced on business travel routes.
  • Eliminate all unmanned level crossings by 2020.
  • 17000 bio-toilets and additional toilets in 475 stations before the close of this financial year.
  • Increased quota for senior citizens and women travellers.
  • Wifi at 100 stations this year and 400 stations by 2017.
  • Enhanced capacity of e-ticketing system from 2,000 tickets/min to 7,200/min, supporting 1.2 lakh concurrent users now, as opposed to 40,000 earlier.
  • All major stations to be brought under CCTV surveillance in a phased manner.
  • IRCTC to manage catering service in phased manner. Local cuisine of choice will be made available to passengers.
  • Cleaning of toilets by requests through SMS.
  • Children’s menu, baby foods, baby boards to be made available for travelling mothers.
  • GPS-based digital display in coaches for showing upcoming stations.
  • Cancellation facility through 139 helpline number.
  • Rail Mitra Seva for old and disabled passengers
  • Bar-coded tickets to be issued on pilot basis to tackle menace of ticketless travel.
  • 1,600 km of electrification in 2016-17 and 2,000 km proposed for the next year.
  • Broad Gauge Lumding-Silchar section in Assam, connecting Barak Valley with rest of country.
  • North-East India, especially Mizoram and Manipur, to be connected through broad gauge soon.
  • Special purpose vehicle to be registered for the Ahmedabad-Mumbai high speed corridor.

Union Budget 2016

Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley unveiled a budget for the poor on 29 February 2016, announcing new rural aid schemes and skimping on a bank bailout.

Finance minister forecast that India would grow by 7.6 percent in the fiscal year that is drawing to a close. He said the government wanted to spread the benefits of growth more widely among India’s 1.3 billion people, but that he would stick to the government’s existing fiscal deficit target for the coming year.

Highlights:

  • Fiscal deficit seen at 3.9 percent of GDP in 2015-16.
  • Fiscal deficit seen at 3.5 percent of GDP in 2016-17.
  • Plan expenditure seen at ₹5.5 trillion in 2016-17.
  • Rural jobs programme allocated ₹385 billion rupees ($5.61 billion) in 2016-17.
  • Farmer welfare budget to total ₹359.84 billion.
  • Rural road development to get ₹190 billion.
  • Target of agriculture credit at ₹9 trillion.
  • RBI act is being amended to give a statutory basis to the monetary policy framework.
  • To list general insurances companies on stock exchanges.
  • Government to infuse ₹250 billion capital into State-run banks in 2016-17.
  • One-time tax dispute resolution proposed for retrospective taxation.
  • To rationalise corporate tax for new manufacturing companies.
  • Companies with revenue less than ₹5 crore to be taxed at 29% plus surcharge.
  • Limited tax compliance window from 1 June 2016 to 30 September 2016 for declaring undisclosed income and pay 45% tax that includes surcharge and penalties.
  • 5 per cent Krishi Kalyan Cess to be levied on all services.
  • Pollution cess of 1 per cent on small petrol, LPG and CNG cars; 2.5 per cent on diesel cars of certain specifications; 4 per cent on higher-end models.
  • Dividend in excess of ₹10 lakh per annum to be taxed at additional 10 per cent.
  • ₹1,000 crore allocated for new EPF (Employees’ Provident Fund) scheme.
  • will pay EPF contribution of 8.33% for all new employees for first three years.
  • Deduction for rent paid will be raised from ₹20,000 to ₹60,000 to benefit those living in rented houses.
  • Additional exemption of ₹ 50,000 for housing loans up to ₹35 lakh, provided cost of house is not above ₹50 lakh.
  • Service tax exempted for housing construction of houses less than 60 sq. m.
  • 15 per cent surcharge on income above ₹1 crore.
  • To implement general anti-avoidance tax rule from 1 April 2017.
  • Security transaction tax on options raised to 0.05 percent.
  • Infrastructure cess of 1-4 percent on certain models of cars.
  • Raises factory gate tax on various tobacco products by 10-15 percent.
  • Proposes limited compliance window on undeclared income of domestic tax payers.
  • Proposes new dispute resolution scheme to resolve tax disputes.
  • Proposes to abolish 13 different levies.
  • Gross market borrowing seen at ₹6 trillion for 2016-17
  • Allocates ₹2.21 trillion for infrastructure development for 2016-17.
  • Allocation for roads and highways development at ₹550 billion.
  • Capital expenditure on roads and rail development at ₹2.18 trillion.
  • 100 percent foreign direct investment to be allowed in food processing industry.
  • Promises further reforms in foreign direct investment policy in insurance, pension, asset recast companies.
  • To encourage central public enterprises to divest own assets for raising resources for new projects.
  • ₹ 38,500 crore for Mahtma Gandhi MGNREGA for 2016-17.
  • Swacch Bharat Abhiyan allocated ₹9,500 crores.
  • Hub to support SC/ST entrpreneurs
  • Government is launching a new initiative to provide cooking gas to BPL families with State support. LPG connections to be provided under the name of women members of family: ₹2000 crore allocated for 5 years for BPL families.
  • ₹2.87 lakh crore grants to gram panchayats and municipalities—a quantum jump of 228%.
  • 300 urban clusters to be set up under Shyama Prasad Mukherji Rurban Mission.
  • 2 lakh renal patients added every year in India. Basic dialysis equipment gets some relief.
  • A new health protection scheme for health cover up to ₹1 lakh per family.
  • National Dialysis Service Programme with funds through PPP mode to provide dialysis at all district hospitals.
  • Senior citizens will get additional healthcare cover of ₹30,000 under the new scheme.
  • PM Jan Aushadhi Yojana to be strengthened, 300 generic drug store to be opened.
  • 10 public and 10 private educational institutions to be made world-class.
  • Digital repository for all school leaving certificates and diplomas. ₹1,000 crore for higher education financing.
  • ₹1,700 crore for 1500 multi-skill development centres.
  • 62 new Navodaya Vidyalayas to provide quality education.
  • Digital literacy scheme to be launched to cover 6 crore additional rural households
  • Entrepreneurship training to be provided across schools, colleges and massive online courses.
  • Objective to skill one crore youth in the next three years under the PM Kaushal Vikas Yojna.
  • National Skill Development Mission has imparted training to 76 lakh youth. 1500 Multi-skill training institutes to be set up.
  • ₹3000 crore earmarked for nuclear power generation.
  • ₹27,000 crore to be spent on roadways.
  • 65 eligible habitats to be connected via 2.23 lakh kms of road. Current construction pace is 100 kms/day.
  • Shops to be given option to remain open all seven days in a week across markets.
  • ₹55,000 crore for roads and highways. Total allocation for road construction, including PMGSY is ₹97,000 crore.
  • Total outlay for infrastructure now stands at ₹ 2,21,246 crore.
  • 100 per cent FDI in marketing of food products produced and marketed in India.
  • Department of Disinvestment to be renamed as Department of Investment and Public Asset Management.
  • MAT will be applicable for start-ups that qualify for 100 per cent tax exemption
  • Direct tax proposals result in revenue loss of ₹1060 crore, indirect tax proposals result in gain of ₹20,670 crore.
  • Total allocation for agriculture and farmer welfare at ₹35,984 crores.
  • 5 lakh hectares of land will be brought under irrigation.
  • 5 lakh acres to be brought under organic farming over a three year period.
  • ₹60,000 crore for recharging of ground water recharging.
  • Government to increase ATMs, micro-ATMs in post offices in next three years.
  • Defence budget increased by 9.87 per cent to ₹2.46 lakh crore, as compared to the revised estimates of ₹2.22 lakh crore for 2014-15.

POLITICAL

  • On 3 August 2015, Union Government signed landmark peace treaty with Nationalist, Socialist Council of Nagaland—NSCN(I-M)—in presence of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who described the accord as ‘historic’, and appreciated Naga leaders for showing “wisdom”. The accord was signed by Thuingaleng Muivah, general secretary of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim-IM and one of key leaders who had spearheaded the rebel movement in Nagaland.

FOREIGN RELATIONS

  • INDIA-SINGAPORE: During the bilateral visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Singapore, in November 2015, India and Singapore signed a joint declaration on strategic partnership and nine bilateral accords. The joint declaration on strategic partnership will help to elevate bilateral relations to a “strategic partnership to deepen and broaden engagement in existing areas of cooperation and catalyse new ones ranging from political, defence and security cooperation to economic, cultural and people to people contact”. Besides, two agreements on defence cooperation and loan of artifacts from India to Singapore, two executive programme/operationalisation documents on arts and culture, and white-shipping, and five memorandums of agreement (MoUs) on cyber security, civil aviation, knowledge exchange in the field of planning, urban planning, and combating drug trafficking were also signed.
  • INDIA-ABU DHABI: Sixteen pacts in a wide range of sectors like nuclear energy, oil, IT, aerospace and railways, facilitating billions of dollars of investment by UAE in India, were be inked during Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayad Al Nahayan’s visit to India in February 2016. Ways to contain radicalism, stepping up counter-terrorism cooperation and dealing with the ISIS figured prominently in talks. A major focus of the three-day visit was on stepping up economic ties. Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital, has a sovereign wealth fund of about USD 800 billion. India has been eying the fund, parked with the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, for its infrastructure sector.
  • The Union Cabinet has approved the signing of an MoU with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for it to set up the South Asia Regional Training and Technical Assistance Center (SARTTAC) in India. The SARTTAC will be a collaborative venture among the IMF, and member countries, including Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka, and several development partners.
  • INDIA-BRUNEI: Vice-President Mohammad Hamid Ansari arrived in Brunei on 1 February 2016, on a first-ever bilateral visit by a high-level Indian dignitary to oil rich country since diplomatic relations were established 32 years ago. During his visit, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on defence was signed—the first such MoU with Brunei—in addition to signing of agreements on health and sports. India is currently the third largest destination for exports from Brunei and makes up for 10 per cent of Brunei’s exports. Brunei’s major markets are Japan and South Korea. Although Brunei produces 9 per cent of the world’s liquid petroleum gas (LPG), it is unable to sell any to India since it has contracted sale of LPG to other countries.
  • INDIA-AFGHANISTAN: Prime Minister Narendra inaugurated the Parliament building in Kabul, Afghanistan, on 25 December 2015, which was built by India. He inaugurated the “Atal Block” in the new Parliament building of Afghanistan. The parliament building, that was started in 2009 has missed its completion deadlines at least three times since 2011, and has gone over-budget by double the original costing of $45 million.
  • INDIA-AFRICA: The third India-Africa Forum Summit kicked off in New Delhi on 26 October 2015. The five-day Summit saw over 50 African countries taking part, with most of them represented by their Heads of State or government. This was India’s most important and extensive outreach and set the stage for even more economic and political interaction between India and Africa. This was the biggest foreign policy event hosted by India in more than three decades. A rapidly growing India not only needs more commodities from Africa but also needs its vast market to pay for them.
  • INDIA-ASEAN: At the India-ASAEN Summit, held on 20 November 2015 on the sidelines of ASEAN Summit, at Kaula Lumpur, Malaysia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for enhancing cooperation with ASEAN to tackle the global challenge of terrorism and underlined the need for settling territorial disputes through peaceful means. India also intends to set up an ASEAN-India Innovation Platform to facilitate the commercialisation of low-cost technologies, technology transfer and collaborative Research and Development projects.
  • INDIA-BANGLADESH: Following the revival of the trade agreements signed in 1974, as a part of a coastal shipping agreement signed in November 2015, India sent its first direct container vessel to Bangladesh from Andhra Pradesh’s Krishnapatnam port, on 28 March 2016. Earlier, the ships from Indian ports to Bangladesh were routed through Colombo or Singapore.
    On 23 March 2016, opening a new chapter in bilateral relations, India began supplying electricity to Bangladesh in return for Internet bandwidth that will help connect its North Eastern States. India will supply 100 megawatt of electricity in return for 10 Gigabits per second Internet bandwidth. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina launched the twin links through video conference.
    On 6 June 2015, during the two-day visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Bangladesh, both countries opened a new chapter in their ties as they settled the 41-year-old boundary dispute and promised to do more in other areas. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also announed a fresh line of credit of $2 billion. Both countries inked as many as 22 agreements, including on curbing human trafficking, smuggling of fake currency and setting up an Indian Economic Zone, to boost bilateral ties.
  • INDIA-EU: Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with Donald Tusk, President of the European Commission, and European Commission President, Jean Claude Juncker at the 13th India-EU Summit in Brussels on 30 March 2016. The EU and India committed to continue talks for a trade and investment deal, and shared common positions on foreign affairs and security issues. The European Investment Bank, the financial arm of the EU, agreed its biggest loan to India to develop a metro line in the Indian city of Lucknow with 450 million euros of EU money. The discussion also included the transitions in Afghanistan, trade, climate change, migration, and a broad agreement to increase cooperation between the Indian and European Parliaments. Both sides agreed that a flexible approach would allow the Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) to move forward.
  • INDIA-FRANCE: President of France, Mr Francois Hollande began his visit to India on 24 January 2016 from Chandigarh, a city laid out and partially designed in the 1950s by Swiss-French Architect Le Corbusier. Mr Hollande was also the Chief Guest at the 2016 Republic Day parade at New Delhi. Three MoUs under the ‘Smart City’ theme were among the 16 pacts signed between India and France. India and France also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on purchase of Rafale fighter jets. Leaving out financial aspect, India and France signed the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) on purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Francois Hollande jointly inaugurated the interim secretariat of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) in Gurgaon. The ISA is specialised platform for cooperation among 121 solar resource rich countries which is aimed at increasing utilisation and promotion of solar energy.  History was created on the 67th Republic Day celebrations, when French Army soldiers—French 35th Infantry Regiment—marched down the majestic Rajpath, becoming the first foreign military contingent to take part in the occasion.
  • INDIA-GERMANY: On 5 October 2015, during the official visit of German Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel, India and Germany signed a deal to fast-track business approvals, an arrangement to make it easier for German companies to operate in Asia’s third largest economy. The agreement is the first of its kind and came as Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeked to attract foreign investment in support of his “Make in India” drive to boost industrial investment and create skilled jobs. From renewable energy to skill development, India and Germany also signed 18 MoUs. Prime Minister Modi also expressed his gratitude for the return of the 10th century statue of Durga in her Mahishasurmardini avatar.
  • INDIA-INDONESIA: During the visit of vice President Hamid Ansari to Indonesia in November 2015, two key MoUs were inked—cooperation in new and renewable energy, and a renewal of the cultural exchange programme 2015-18. However, the ratification of the extradition treaty between India and Indonesia, which was expected to be completed by the two countries during Mr Ansari’s visit, could not be executed as Indonesia was unable to process some key documents in time. Vice-President Ansari thanked Indonesia for its support in organising Sahabat India: The Festival of India in Indonesia early in 2015.
  • INDIA-IRAN: Looking to strengthen connectivity, infrastructure and energy ties with Iran, Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Iran on 22 May 2016—first Indian Prime minister to visit Iran in the last 15 years—on a two-day visit.  A “milestone” pact on the strategic Chabahar port in southern Iran which will give India access to Afghanistan and Europe bypassing Pakistan was among the agreements signed. Besides the bilateral pact to develop the Chabahar port for which India will invest USD 500 million, a trilateral Agreement on Transport and Transit Corridor was also signed by India, Afghanistan and Iran.  Iran also agreed to cooperate on combating radicalism and terror.
  • INDIA-IRELAND: On 23 September 2015, Mr Narendra Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Ireland in 59 years. He made a five-hour stop-over en route to USA. During talks with his counterpart Enda Kenny, he sought Ireland’s support for India’s membership of UN Security council and international export control regimes, including NSG. The talks with also covered global challenges like terror and radicalisation. Mr Modi also hoped that Ireland’s visa policy will be sensitive to the requirements of India’s IT firms. He also thanked Irelad for its support which was crucial for India-specific exemption from NSG in 2008.
  • INDIA-JAPAN: Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan, paid an official visit to India from 11 to 13 December 2015. Expressing satisfaction at the direction of bilateral engagement, the two Prime Ministers resolved to transform the India-Japan Special Strategic and Global Partnership, a key relationship with the largest potential for growth, into a deep, broad-based and action-oriented partnership, which reflects a broad convergence of their long-term political, economic and strategic goals. India and Japan signed 16 agreements, among them were agreement on military purchases for India’s armed forces, high-speed trains and upgrading India’s infrastructure, cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy, comprehensive technological cooperation with Indian Railways, cooperation in the energy sector between NITI Aayog and the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan, and Forest management. India and Japan also reaffirmed their shared commitment to the total elimination of nuclear weapons. One of the highlights of the visit was the signing of the Memorandum of Cooperation on introduction of Japan’s High Speed Railways (HSR) technologies (the Shinkansen system) to Mumbai-Ahmedabad route. Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with his Japanese counterpart also visited Varanasi where they took part in Ganga Stuti at the Dashashwamedh ghat.
  • INDIA-JORDAN: President Pranab Mukherjee, during his two-day visit to Jordan, from 10 October 2015, hailed India’s relationship with Jordan, and thanked the King Abdullah II for his “great humanitarian” policies as well as the help the Kingdom offered to India for evacuating its citizens from the conflict-hit countries in West Asia. President Mukherjee was the first Indian President to travel to Jordan since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries 65 years ago. The two countries signed six MoUs relating to: (i) maritime transport; (ii) exchange of information on structure and content of training programmes for diplomats; (iii) Cooperation in the field of IT and Electronics; (iv) Cultural exchange programme for 2015-17; (v) Cooperation in the fields of standardization and conformity assessment between the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and the Jordan Standards and Metrology Organization (JSMO); and (vi) Regular exchange of content between Jordan News Agency (Petra) and Press Trust of India (PTI). President Mukherjee also inaugurated a street named after Mahatma Gandhi in Amman and planted an Olive tree in peace park.
  • INDIA-KAZAKHSTAN: On 8 July 2015, during visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Kazakhstan, India and Kazakhstan inked five agreements, including in defence, railways and uranium supply. The two sides inked a joint statement, titled Tej Kadam, which “noted the rising challenge posed by terrorism in their immediate region, highlighting importance of regular consultations”. Prime Minister Modi gifted Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev a set of books relating to religions born in India. The set included an English translation of Guru Granth Sahib, Bhadrabahu’s Kalpasutra in Prakrit, Ashtasahasrika Prajnaparamita in Sanskrit, and a Persian translation of Valmiki’s Ramayan in nastaliq script.
  • INDIA-KYRGYSTAN: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Kyrgyzstan, on 12 July 2015, was part of his eight-day six-nation tour to Central Asia to seek a peaceful and secure neighbourhood amidst threat of terrorism and extremism. India and Kyrgyzstan signed four agreements, including one on bolstering defence cooperation and holding annual joint military exercise—Khanjar 2015. Two MoU were also signed for cooperation between the Election Commissions of the two countries and on cooperation in the sphere of Standards, a move that will help economic relations.
  • INDIA-LAOS: During Vice-President Hamid Ansari’s visit to Laos, on 17-18 September 2015, talks were held with the top Laotian leadership on a host of issues, including bolstering bilateral trade and investment, as part of India’s push to strengthen its economic engagement with ASEAN nations. This was the first visit by an Indian Vice President to Laos. Mr Ansari also visited the That Luang Stupa, which has a relic from Buddha that was brought from India in the 2nd century BC.
  • INDIA-MALDIVES: During the visit of President of Maldives, Mr Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, both countries signed six agreements in the fields of defence, tourism, taxation, space research, and conservation of mosques after delegation-level bilateral talks led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The visit also indicated a major reset in bilateral relations after India had snubbed Maldives when Prime Minister Modi cancelled visiting the country during his Indian Ocean countries’ trip, following the arrest of former President Mohammed Nasheed on terrorism charges. Security concerns, as well as the desire to avoid the embarrassment of an Indian PM visiting a country while the main opposition leader was behind bars, had led to the cancellation. The sharpest dip in relations was in July 2016, when the Yameen government pushed through a constitutional amendment which allowed ownership of land by foreign nationals. New Delhi was alarmed that this move could open the door for China to set up a base in the Maldives. However, President Yameen later undertook not to allow militarisation of the Indian Ocean. The lingering fear about China’s spread in the Indian Ocean weighed in favour of New Delhi mending its bridges with the Yameen administration. Malé is also important for India’s counter-terrorism strategy–with Maldivians accounting for the largest group from South Asia fighting in Syria, on a per capita basis.
  • INDIA-MAURITIUS: More than three decades and several billions of dollars of lost revenue after India entered into a bilateral Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement with Mauritius, the two countries have finally renegotiated the terms of their agreement. With effect from 1April, 2017, companies and investors resident in Mauritius will have to pay capital gains tax on the sale of shares purchased, on or after that date, in a company based in India. The DTAA amendment will also ensure India’s conformity to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and G20-led guidelines on combating base erosion and profit shifting.
  • INDIA-MOZAMBIQUE: Mozambique President Filipe Jacinto Nyusi paid a five-day visit to India in August 2015, during which he held bilateral talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The two countries inked a MoU to have deeper engagement in the field of renewable energy, besides exploring ways to cooperate in areas such as defence, maritime security in the Indian Ocean region, agriculture, railways and ocean economy.
  • INDIA-OMAN: During the maiden visit of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar to Oman in May 2016, both countries vowed to deepen bilateral defence ties and signed four agreements in the defence sector with a focus on enhancing military cooperation.
  • INDIA-PALESTINE: On 12 October 2015, President Pranab Mukherjee arrived in Palestine for an overnight visit, the first by an Indian Head of State. The visit came amidst heightened tension between Israel and Palestine which had led to heavy casualties.
  • INDIA-ISRAEL: On October 13, President Mukherjee became the first President of India to visit Israel. Describing President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit as historic, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the sky was the limit for collaborations between the two countries and promised India any technology for its development. India and Israel signed a double taxation avoidance pact and explored ways to ramp up engagement in diverse sectors during President Mukherjee’s historic visit.
  • INDIA-RUSSIA: Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Russia in December 2015 to attend the 16th annual India-Russia Summit. Mr Modi conveyed to President Vladimir Putin that Russia was a strong and reliable friend of India and both countries had a ‘truly strategic’ partnership. The Russian President acknowledged that the bilateral relations were developing in all directions—in international politics, economy and the humanitarian area. India and Russia signed 16 agreements on defence, nuclear energy and other key areas during, with the two sides announcing that Russia plans to build at least six new nuclear power units in India, in addition to inking key deals like the production of BrahMos missiles and the attack chopper Kamov-226 in India. President Putin gifted to Prime Minister Modi a page from Gandhiji’s diary, containing Bapu’s handwritten notes, and a 18th century sword from Bengal, featuring intricate silver artwork.
  • INDIA-SAUDI ARABIA: During the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi India to Saudi Arabia, in first week of April 2016, both countries agreed to expand strategic cooperation in areas of counter-terrorism, defence, trade and investment. A memorandum of understanding on intelligence sharing and a framework agreement aimed at facilitating investments by the private sectors were signed. Pacts on recruiting general category workers and promoting cooperation in the field of handicrafts were also inked. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was conferred with the highest civilian honour of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the King Abdulaziz Order of Merit.
  • INDIA-SEYCHELLES: James Alix Michel, President of the Republic of Seychelles, came for a official two-day visit to India on 26 August 2015. An agreement for exchanging information with Seychelles on taxation, in a bid to curb illegal hoarding of money, was among the several security and defence agreements signed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and visiting Seychelles President. The tax pact was part of the Indian government’s efforts to crackdown on tax evasion. India has already signed similar pacts with other offshore tax havens such as Bahamas, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Gibraltar, Guernsey, Isle of Man, Jersey, Liechtenstein, Monaco and San Marino.
  • INDIA-SRI LANKA: The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has signed a currency swapping agreement with the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, under which RBI’s Sri Lankan counterpart can withdraw up to $700 million for a maximum of three months.
  • INDIA-TAJIKSTAN: During the official visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Tajakistan, in July 201, both countries pledged to further deepen their cooperation to fight the menace of terrorism and agreed to step-up defence ties, besides boosting trade and investment. Mr Modi to presented President Rahmon a specially-commissioned miniature painting of the tomb of the 17th century Indian poet Abdul Qadir Bedil who is regarded, especially in Tajikistan, as one the greatest masters of Persian poetry.
  • INDIA-TANZANIA: Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, President of Tanzania, came on a five-day official visit to India from 19 June 2015. India and Tanzania agreed to set up a joint working group on counter-terrorism and increase gas exploration cooperation in the east African nation. The two sides also inked eight agreements, including for cooperation in the field of agricultural science, statistics, hydrography and tourism. India is the largest trading partner of Tanzania in Africa with bilateral trade in 2013-14 being more than USD 4 billion.
  • INDIA-TURKMENISTAN: During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Turkmenistan in July 2015, an early implementation of the $10 billion TAPI gas pipeline project was sought. The two countries inked seven pacts and vowed to jointly combat terrorism in the region.
  • INDIA-UAE: On 16 August 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in the United Arab Emirates on a two-day official visit during which he held talks with the Gulf country’s top leadership to enhance cooperation in key areas of trade and security. UAE’s concern over the spread of the terror group Islamic State in the region also featured in talks. Mr Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the UAE in 34 years. He seeked enhanced bilateral cooperation in energy and trade and reached out to investors in the UAE, which has a sovereign wealth fund of more than $800 billion, to promote India as an attractive business destination. Another significant outcome of the visit was the decision to set up a UAE-Indian Infrastructure Investment Fund.
  • INDIA-UK: Britain and India welcomed more than 9 billion pounds ($13.7 billion) in commercial deals during the visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to United Kingdom, in November 2015. This was the first visit to UK by any Indian Prime Minister since 2006. India promised a new “fast-track mechanism” as the two sides firmed up at least 27 deals, covering sectors ranging from banking to energy, skill development to environment. The UK said it plans to invest in three Indian smart cities and the two sides also announced the signing of a civilian nuclear agreement. Agreeing to intensify their political dialogue and hold regular bilateral summits, the two sides decided to support development in other regions of the world. Prime Minister David Cameron announced 2017 as the UK-India Year of Culture to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Indian independence. Madame Tussauds—whose Bollywood figures are some of the most popular in London—announced its first Indian venture in New Delhi, scheduled to open in 2017.
  • INDIA-USA: In a step towards elevating the strategic partnership between the countries, India and the U.S. have agreed “in-principle” on the draft of a modified Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) which will make it easier for both the militaries to share and access each other’s facilities. This was among a series of new initiatives announced in April 2016 by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and his U.S. counterpart Ashton Carter. The Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) is expected to be signed in few months’ time.
    On 3 June 2015, India and US signed a new strategically important 10-year defence framework agreement, setting the stage for co-development and manufacture of defence equipment and technology besides holding joint exercises and greater intelligence sharing.
    On 9 July 2015, India and USA signed an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) to implement the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) to promote transparency between the two nations on tax matters. The agreement underscores growing international cooperation to end tax evasion everywhere. FFIs in India will now be required to report tax information about US account holders directly to the Indian government which will, in turn, relay that information to the IRS. The IRS will provide similar information about Indian account holders in the United States.
  • INDIA-UZBEKISTAN: On his first visit to Central Asian countries, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on 6 July 2015, held talks with Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov on key bilateral and regional issues, including the situation in Afghanistan. They also explored various initiatives to further enhance connectivity between the two countries and in this context, Mr Modi briefed Mr Karimov about the International North South Transport Corridor and proposed that Uzbekistan consider becoming a member. The two sides also recognised tourism as an important area of bilateral cooperation and agreed to implement practical measures under the framework of the bilateral agreement on cooperation in tourism.
  • INDIA-VIETNAM: India will set up a satellite tracking and imaging centre in southern Vietnam that will give Hanoi access to pictures from Indian earth observation satellites that cover the region, including China and the South China Sea. The move, which could irritate Beijing, deepens ties between India and Vietnam, who both have long-running territorial disputes with China.

SUMMITS

  • The first ever Maritime India Summit 2016 was held in Mumbai in April. The objective of the three-day Summit was to attract potential investors to the vast opportunities that the various components of the maritime sector have on offer.
  • The first World Humanitarian Summit was convened in Istanbul in May 2016, in a bid to better tackle what the United Nations has described as the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. An estimated 125 million people worldwide require humanitarian assistance, among them 60 million people displaced from their homes. UN Secretary-General Ban urged those gathered to commit to reducing the number of people displaced from their homes by half by 2030.

TELECOM

  • In a significant move that could address the problem of call drops, the Union government has allowed spectrum sharing between telecom operators. For telcos, it means they will be able to improve the quality of their services, efficiency of their spectrum, and expand their networks without buying more spectrum through an auction route. Telecom players have always claimed that lack of spectrum, among other things, is one of major reasons for call drops. Spectrum-sharing can be done between two licencees on the condition that there will be two independent networks in the same band. Leasing of spectrum will not be permitted. All access to spectrum, including traded spectrum, can be shared.
  • The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has ruled that differential pricing for data services will not be allowed in the country. Service providers breaking these rules can be fined minimum ₹50,000 per day, up to a maximum of ₹50 lakh. The ruling is a jolt to Facebook’s Free Basics and Bharti Airtel’s Airtel Zero Net neutrality is based on the concept that the Internet should remain an open platform, with network service providers treating all content, applications and services equally, without discrimination. This means they should not favour specific apps or services, either through pricing or quality of service.

MISCELLANEOUS

  • According to the India State of Forest Report 2015, India’s forest cover has increased by 3,775 sq. km since 2013 to 701,673 sq. km, which is about 21.34% of the land mass of the country. When scattered trees are added to the country’s forests, the green cover increases to 24.16% of the land mass. The increase in total forest cover also includes an increase of 112 sq. km in mangrove cover, taking the total mangrove area in the country to 4,740 sq. km. About 40% of the forest cover is in nine big patches of 10,000 sq. km and more. The top three States that saw a maximum increase in forest cover were Tamil Nadu (2,501 sq. km), Kerala (1,317 sq. km) and Jammu and Kashmir (450 sq. km). The three States that showed the maximum decrease in forest cover were Mizoram (306 sq. km), Uttarakhand (268 sq. km) and Telangana (168 sq. km). The top three States in terms of largest forest cover were: Madhya Pradesh with 77,462 sq. km, followed by Arunachal Pradesh with 67,248 sq. km and Chhattisgarh with 55,586 sq. km.
  • India’s Comptroller & Auditor General will be lead auditor at UN Headquarters from 1 July 2016. This will be first time that a developing country will be the lead auditor at UN.
  • Kala Utsav is an initiative of Union Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) to promote arts in education by nurturing and showcasing the artistic talent of school students at the secondary stage in the country. The initiative is guided by the recommendations of the National Focus Group Position Paper on Arts, Music, Dance and Theatre for National Curriculum Framework 2005 (NCF- 2005), and by the report of the Central Advisory Board on Education (CABE) Sub-committee on Integration of Culture Education in the School Curriculum.
  • Kochi airport is the first solar power airport in the world.
  • The DRDO has setup an Extreme Altitude Research Centre at Chang La in Jammu and Kashmir, at 17,600 ft above mean sea level, making it the world’s highest terrestrial R&D centre. It has been established by Defence Institute of High Altitude Research (DIHAR), Leh, a constituent establishment of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). A large number of life sciences activities are proposed to be undertaken at this centre including human physiological work, long term conservation of plant genetic resources, designing, testing, validation and demonstration of mobile and portable greenhouses, soil-less micro-farming technologies for fresh food in remote landlocked posts, besides conservation and propagation of endangered extreme altitude medicinal plants and others.
  • On 28 December 2015, Rajiv Gandhi International Airport (RGIA) at Hyderabad became the first airport in India to go live on e-boarding for all domestic passengers. E-boarding solution fully eliminates the need to manual stamping of boarding cards even for physical boarding cards issued by CUSS (Common Use Self Service) machines or the check-in counters.
  • Tata Trusts and Google India have launched a special programme called “Internet Saathi” to empower women and their communities in rural India by enabling them to use the internet and benefit from it in their daily lives.
  • The department of biotechnology, Union Ministry of Science & Technology, has signed up to become an associate member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO). After Singapore signed on in July 2015, India is only the second such country outside Europe to be an associate member. EMBO is an organisation of more than 1,700 leading scientists and 84 Nobel laureates that promotes research in life sciences.
  • The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) has launched its digital motor insurance policy for all vehicles called e-Vahan Bima. Through this a person is not required to carry physical documents of car insurance policy, and can just store the policy in his/her mobile and show it to the police when asked for policy papers. Telangana became the first State to accept the digital policy format from 2 January 2016.
  • The Payment of Bonus Amendment Bill ordinance doubles the salary ceiling eligibility of industrial workers as well as doubles the bonus payout, with effect from 1 april 2015. It makes all industrial workers drawing a monthly salary up to ₹21,000 eligible for bonus, as opposed to the current ceiling of ₹10,000. Besides, the bonus amount will go up to ₹7,000, instead of the current peak of ₹3,500. The Payment of Bonus Act 1965 is applicable to every factory and every other establishment in which 20 or more persons are employed.
  • The UN Broadband Commission released ‘The State of Broadband’ report on 21 September 2015. According to the report, India ranked 131 out of 189 countries on fixed-broadband subscriptions in 2014, a drop from the 125th rank a year before. On active mobile-broadband subscriptions, India ranked 155, a significant drop from the 113th rank in 2013. In total, there are now 79 countries where over 50% of the population is online, up from 77 in 2014. The top ten countries for Internet use are all located in Europe.
  • At 108 (from rank 114 a year before) out of 145 countries, India’s ranking in the global gender index, compiled every year by the World Economic Forum (WEF), climbed six places, primarily on account of political representation, but continues to be abysmal on the economic and health fronts. India fell five places in terms of women in the workforce, to hit nearly the bottom of the rankings at 139 of 145 countries, its worst rank in this category since 2006. Iceland tops the list, followed by Norway, Finland, Sweden and Ireland.
  • According to the 2015 Global Terrorism Index released by the Australian think tank, Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP), Nigeria-based Boko Haram is the deadliest terror group in the world. Together, Boko Haram and ISIS were responsible for 51% of all deaths from terrorism in 2014. Terrorist activity, according to the index, is highly concentrated in five countries—Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria—accounting for 57% of all attacks and 78% of all deaths in 2014. India, ranked sixth in the index.

BUSINESS NEWS

  • Cricketer Sachin Tendulkar has announced a joint venture with Arvind Fashion Brands, to launch his premium menswear apparel and accessories brand, ‘True Blue’.
  • Mahila E-Haat is a first of its kind online platform from the Union Women and Child Development Ministry to promote women entrepreneurs, particularly from rural areas. Women can sell their products on the platform directly without bearing any cost. The products can include clothing, organic products, toys etc.
  • Ahmedabad-based e-tailer Infibeam Ltd has become the first Indian e-commerce company to get a public listing.
  • Arms manufacturer BAE systems has selected Mahindra Defence as its partner for the nearly $700 million M-777 lightweight howitzer gun deal.
  • Hero MotoCorp, the country’s largest two-wheeler maker, has formally inaugurated its ₹850-crore research and development facility in Rajasthan. This will help the company make new products independently while cutting down on development costs.
  • Nike has unveiled its first self-tying shoes called HyperAdapt 1.0. Built on Nike’s adaptive lacing technology, the shoes are aimed at reducing athlete distraction and will automatically tighten as soon as the wearer steps into them.
  • The London Stock Exchange (LSE) Group and Germany’s Deutsche Börse AG have agreed to an all-share merger, creating Europe’s largest securities markets operator worth $30.5 billion.
  • Vedanta Ltd has won India’s first-ever auction of a gold mine, as the nation opens up the sector to private companies to curb overseas purchases of the metal that cost it $36 billion in 2015. Vedanta, a unit of London-listed Vedanta Resources Plc, beat three other bidders in the auction of the Baghmara mine in Chhattisgarh.
  • In one of the biggest transaction in the cement industry, debt laden Jaypee group has sold off its cement business with 22.4 million tonnes per annum capacity to Aditya Birla group’s UltraTech Cement at an enterprise valuation of ₹16,500 crore.
  • Amazon has launched its online video service, called Amazon Video Direct, that lets users post videos to its website and earn through advertising, royalties and other sources. The service will be in direct competition with Google-owned
  • Cadbury India, part of Mondelez International, has set-up a $190 million factory in Sri City SEZ in Andhra Pradesh. The plant is the company’s largest plant in Asia Pacific, and will have an initial capacity of about 60,000 tonnes a year, which will be increased to 250,000 tonnes by 2020.
  • First Solar Inc., a US-based photovoltaic cell maker, has started commercial operation of its first Indian project in Telangana. The 20 MW photovoltaic project at Marikal village in Mahbubnagar district of Telangana is part of the solar module manufacturer’s plans to build 200 MW project portfolio in India.
  • Japanese commercial vehicle maker Isuzu Motors has opened its first manufacturing facility in India at Sri City, Andhra Pradesh. The initial production capacity of the plant is 50,000 units per year, which will be scaled to 1,20,000 units
  • The Union Cabinet has approved the National Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) policy with a view to promoting creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship, and incorporate global best practices in the Indian context and adapt to the same. The aim is to create awareness about economic, social and cultural benefits of IPRs among all sections of society. By 2017, the window for trademark registration will be brought down to one month. The policy also puts a premium on enhancing access to healthcare, food security and environmental protection.
  • Auto components maker Bharat Forge Ltd (BFL) has entered into an agreement with Rolls-Royce Plc to supply critical and high integrity forged and machined components for a range of aero engines, including the flagship Trent engine.
  • Bengaluru will soon be home to India’s first smart shopping district. 100 Feet Road in Indiranagar, a street filled with high-end stores, will be Internet-of-Things (IoT) enabled. More than 30 stores on this road will be part of the new initiative which will be enabled through the Mobmerry App. The app will connect consumers and retailers in real-time and inform consumers about new products, discounts, deals and so on.
  • Dow Chemical and DuPont have decided to merge to create the world’s biggest chemical company. The all-stock deal would create a merged company valued at $130 billion. The new group will be split into three separate entities: agriculture, specialty chemicals and materials.
  • Google has announced the launch of Alphabet Inc as its parent company, with co-founders Larry Page as its CEO and Sergey Brin as president. India-born Sundar Pichai has been named CEO of Google, which will be the new entity’s largest fully owned subsidiary.
  • HCL Technologies has signed an agreement with Mumbai-based engineering services firm Geometric to acquire the latter’s business.
  • Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries has launched its online fashion portal Ajio. The website will showcase collection for women, aimed at 18-34-year-olds, and will include around 60% of the company’s merchandise.
  • Hero Cycles, the world’s largest bicycle maker, has announced the acquisition of Firefox Bikes Ltd as it seeks to tap the potentially lucrative market for premium cycles. The acquisition will help the company expand its presence in all major categories of bicycles in India.
  • In a first of its kind collaboration, Google has partnered with Idea cellular to bring carrier based payments to India. The service is aimed towards easing the payments process for purchasing apps and other services. Under the direct billing system, Idea customers choosing to download premium apps from Google Play will be charged a fee deducted from their pre-paid or post-paid account.
  • India has jumped 4 spots in the World Bank’s rankings in terms of ease of doing business. For 2016, India has been ranked 130th on a list of 189 countries, compared with a ranking of 134th in 2015, the steepest rise in the ranking seen by the country in recent years. The rise in the 2016 ranking was primarily on account of improvement in two areas—ease of starting a business and securing an electricity connection. Singapore retained the top spot in the rankings, followed by New Zealand, Denmark and South Korea. While China’s ranking improved from 90th to 84th, Pakistan fell 10 positions to 138th from 128th in 2015.
  • Leading aircraft maker Airbus has inaugurated a BizLab in Bengaluru as part of its strategy to establish a global network of aerospace business accelerators. This is Airbus’ third such BizLab after Toulouse, France and Hamburg, Germany.
  • Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd (M&M) has agreed to acquire 35 percent equity stake in Finland-based farm equipment firm Sampo Rosenlew. Through this strategic partnership, a combine harvester company, Mahindra & Mahindra has forayed into the global combine harvester business.
  • Nexa is a separate sales network that will position Maruti cars as premium offerings in the market.
  • Reliance Defence Ltd, a unit of Anil Ambani’s Reliance Infrastructure Ltd, has signed an accord with Andhra Pradesh government to set up a naval facility, to be located 70 km south of Visakhapatnam, with an initial investment of 50 billion rupees. Reliance Defence plans to build submarines and aircraft carriers, as well as provide services, including maintenance and refitting of ships at the facility.
  • Tata Advanced Systems Ltd (TASL), a fully owned subsidiary of Tata Sons (a holding company for the Tata Group), has signed a framework agreement with Boeing to collaborate in aerospace and defence manufacturing and potential integrated systems development opportunities, including unmanned aerial vehicles.
  • Tech Mahindra and Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M) have formed a joint venture (JV) to acquire the Italian automotive and industrial design firm Pininfarina for an overall outgo of over 50 million euros (approximately ₹370 crore). Pininfarina SpA, is an independent Italian car design firm and coach-builder, located in Cambiano, Italy. It was founded by Battista “Pinin” Farina in 1930. The company has designed cars for Ferrari, Maserati, Rolls-Royce and Cadillac.
  • The defence division of the $16.9 billion Mahindra Group and Airbus Helicopters of Europe will set up a joint venture to produce helicopters in India.
  • Bharti Airtel has become the world’s third largest mobile operator with 303 million subscribers. China Mobile is the top mobile operator in the world with 626.27 million subscribers. Vodafone Group of UK ranks second with 403.08 million subscribers.
  • The Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion (DIPP), government of India, has allowed 100% foreign direct investment (FDI) in marketplace e-commerce companies, where the company provides a platform to act as a facilitator between buyers and sellers—and not for the inventory-led model. However, it has set some conditions: sales cannot exceed 25 per cent for any vendor, marketplace players or their group companies cannot sell, guarantee and warranty must be the sole responsibilities of the sellers, and platform owners cannot influence pricing of products so that there’s a level-playing field.
  • The government announced appointment of managing director and CEOs of five State-run lenders, as well as non-executive chairmen at five PSBs, which include private sector inductees. These include: Ravi Venkatesan, former Microsoft India chairman and independent director, Infosys as non-executive chairman of Bank of Baroda, T.N. Manoharan, director, Tech Mahindra Public Health Foundation. as non-executive chairman of Canara Bank and former Citibank consumer banking head P.S. Jayakumar, as MD and CEO of Bank of Baroda.
  • Three Indian companies—Titan (32nd), Gitanjali Gems (40th) and PC Jewellers (44th)—have for the first time featured among the top 100 global luxury goods firms, according in the “Deloitte Global Powers of Luxury Goods 2016” report. Among the top 10 companies globally, the top three were luxury conglomerates Louis Vuitton SA, Richemont and Est e Lauder.
  • Titan Co. Ltd, India’s largest watch maker, has decided to start the retail operation of its joint venture with global luxury brand Montblanc International. As part of the venture, Titan will open five Montblanc boutiques in Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad. Montblanc sells premium pens, leather products, watches, perfumes and jewellery.

Gains and Pains of Digital Transformation

Descriptive Questions & Essay Topic Gains and Pains of Digital Transformation

Essay Topic Gains and Pains of Digital Transformation – A big challenge is the change in the IT customer who is now behaving like a consumer.

Social, cloud, analytics and mobility are rapidly changing the way companies operate. Their synergy has resulted in easy-to-use products and services for customers on the one hand, and richer dividends for companies on the other. Seeing a positive correlation between business performance and the emerging technologies, companies are fast-forwarding to digital transformation.

Customer expectations are changing faster than what IT teams can anticipate. “With multiple conversation platforms, it doesn’t matter where it starts: may be with a chat, then goes on to a social platform. Digital transformation is about integrating platforms and departments to get a unified experience,” says Suman Reddy, Managing Director, Pegasystems.

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Via: The Hindu

reduce stress

Switching off email notifications may reduce stress: Study

Researchers from UK-based Future Work Centre have found that people who automatically receive emails on their devices report high levels of ’email pressure’. The key to happiness so as to reduce stress, they say, is switching off email notifications on your smartphone.

Despite its widespread usage and popularity as a communication tool, for some individuals and employers, email can be a source of major frustration, anxiety, stress and lost productivity, the researchers said.

As the volume of email continues to rise, many struggle to prioritise work effectively and are constantly interrupted by the flow of messages and demands, resulting in decreased productivity and stress.

After conducting a survey of about 2,000 people across a variety of industries, sectors and job roles in the UK, the researchers “found a strong relationship between using ‘push’ email and perceived email pressure. This means that people who automatically receive email on their devices were more likely to report higher levels of email pressure.

Checking email earlier in the morning or later at night is also associated with higher levels of stress, they said.

The research also highlighted some interesting group differences in the role personality plays in the experience of email and how email has the potential to both positively and negatively impact work-life balance.

People who reported higher levels of stress due to email pressure also experienced greater interference between work and home.

Researchers also found that personality plays a key role in determining how much email pressure one feels and the extent to which it interferes with work-life balance.

“To reduce stress use email when you intend to, not just because it’s always running in the background,” researchers said.

job search challanges
Job Search Challenges Career Planning" >

Job Search Challenges Career Planning

Career Planning: Job Search Challenges

Market conditions keep fluctuating from being depressed to boom and keep throwing new job search challenges. But, job seekers need to keep a positive outlook and intensify their search in both good and bad times. Yes, during depressed market times it does become difficult, but one has to survive the bad period to fight another day.

HR professionals explain that the man-power structure in companies is like a pyramid, with fresh graduates at the bottom and experienced people forming the rest of the pyramid. With time, people from lower levels start moving upwards and some people leave the company as well, leaving a vacuum at the bottom layer. To sustain future operations, companies have to hire new people no matter what is the market scenario.

So, even in the tough times, fresh hiring will not stop altogether. New opportunities will continue to be created, even though the pressure to perform at higher levels will increase. Fresh graduates just need to cast their net wider and look for companies that are doing fresh hiring. One cannot rely on the campus placement only; one has to look for companies beyond those visiting the campus.

This, however, calls for a big change in attitude. During the boom period, fresh graduates are lapped up by companies at phenomenal salaries, and youngsters happily. switch jobs. Campus placements in many colleges get over in a few days. However, when gloom sets in, students and colleges have to wake up to the new reality—they need to work for getting offers, as also scale down their expectations and be ready to accept lower paying jobs to tide over the crisis.

Remaining unemployed for too long, waiting for the dream job to come your way is not advised. To survive, a graduate must take up any job in order to acquire skills that college degrees do not provide. The period should be taken as a good learning experience. Slowly, as things begin to improve, one can look for a better opportunity or get promoted in the job in hand.

The changing job market constantly demands new survival kit, both for freshers who are looking for their first job, and for those who are already in jobs and need to make sure they do not lose their job before getting a new one.

Acquire Marketable Skills

Many students tend to think that getting a degree is enough to get a job. This is not correct, because a degree does not guarantee the skills required to do a particular job. Our education system, even in technical and professional institutes, does not make the students fully employable-ready. A degree is good only to get you an interview call; beyond that it is your ability that will get you selected.

Students, thus, need to build a set of skills beyond what is offered by educational institutes. These skills consist of confidence, communication, technical skills and problem-solving techniques. Many institutes do not go beyond completing the syllabus and conducting examinations, so students often turn up for jobs lacking even the basic etiquette. Companies report that though they get many applications for a job, very few of the candidates are even considered, and fewer are selected. Knowledge and ability are both important to be marketable.

Several surveys have shown that apart from academic knowledge, students must have the following skills to improve their employ-ability:

  1. Communications Skills: The skill mentioned most often by employers is the ability to listen, write and speak effectively. Increasingly, candidates are required to write essays or summaries when they go for interviews. Spend some time to improve these skills before you start applying’ for jobs.
  2. Computer literacy: All jobs now require a basic understanding of computer hardware and software. Word processing, spread-sheets and presentations are essential.
  3. Analytical/Research Skills: These skills assess your ability to assess situations, seek multiple perspectives, gather more information if necessary, and identify key issues. Your research skills can be seen through your project reports that were part of your course.
  4. Flexibility/Interpersonal Abilities: Apart from your degree what else have you done? Have you managed multiple assignments and tasks and widened your horizons?
  5. Multicultural Sensitivity: Do you have knowledge about global practices? Job-seekers must demonstrate a sensitivity and awareness to other people and cultures.
  6. Leadership or Management Skills: Freshers might find it difficult to exhibit these skills, but if you have taken part in extra-curricular activities, there could be an activity in which these skills were exhibited.
  7. Personal Values: Values such as honesty, morality, adaptability, dedication, and a positive attitude are sought by employers. If you have lied about some detail on your bio-data, it will be taken seriously. Also, make sure that your ex-employers or teachers speak well of you if they are asked for a reference. Increasing your employability skills is of utmost importance. The good news is that these skills and personal values can be learnt and developed over a period of time. Remember to document them and use them in your bio-data or your covering letter.

Know Yourself

Before you start searching for a job, spend some time in discovering yourself. Most students have not done this exercise when they turn up for interviews. Many candidates simply expect a job on basis of their degree. The attitude is: “I am a graduate so you owe me a job.” This approach has long ceased to work in the job markets. Employers increasingly have stopped hiring just on the basis of the label.

There are several tests available to discover your personality and inner motivations. The Myers-Brigg Personality Test or the Motivational Appraisal or Personal Potential tests are useful in this context. Through them, a person is able to list down his/her personality type and also discover what kind of job is suited. So, when an interviewer asks what the candidate can do, the answer has to be more specific than simply saying, “I want to make a lot of money.”

Before you venture out, consider what kind of job you want to do and what will make you happy. Think of your short-term goals, as well as where you want to reach in 10 or 15 years. If you think you are creative, search for jobs that will give you freedom. Think beyond money. We do accept that young people are looking for money, but that should be a secondary objective? The first objective in any person’s life should be to achieve something, and surely money will follow.

Another step in knowing your-self is to list down all your characteristics. If someone has given you a compliment, list it down. If you have won prizes or awards, list them down too. Even if you have not won any prizes, make an inventory of all your qualities. Make it a point to document them as far as possible. Once you are clear in your mind about yourself, you can convince the interviewer that you are the person most suited for the job.

Knowing yourself will also help you avoid the common pitfalls that fresh graduates can easily fall into:

  1. Being casual: A candidate who has not profiled himself and answers in general terms shows that he is casual:
    —I want to earn a lot of money.
    —I can do any job that you assign to me.
    —My cousin is an engineer and he got a good job, so I should also get one. Instead of the above, if one says that he can do something well and help the company in some way, that candidate will certainly be valued more.
  1. Undermining oneself: Many students put themselves down: They compare themselves to others, or make mental notes about qualities they think they do not have. Some of the common complaints we hear are:
    —I am not good in English
    —I did not get the opportunities that others have got
    —People from another college/city are smarter
    Avoid these common pitfalls. If you think you are not good in something, make efforts to overcome your problems. Seek the help of teachers or join coaching classes. But do not go out with a baggage that makes you feel inadequate.
    Surprisingly, many of the short-comings that people think they have are just imaginary. Too many people don’t give themselves due credit for the skills they have. They keep comparing themselves to people who are better than them, and have a tunnel vision about themselves and focus only on what they have done in the past or their mistakes/failures. After analyzing yourself, you will discover that you really do have skills that are valuable to the marketplace.
  1. Packaging: If you are buying a product, chances are that you will choose one that has a recommendation from your friend, or testimonials, studies or surveys. People usually pick products from a shelf that help them feel nice in some way. This gives us an insight as to what HR managers are looking for. Your chances of standing out among other people will improve if you too gather some testimonials, references and praise for what you have done during your college years. If you have done some projects, collect a letter from your supervisor saying that you did a commendable job. This helps in better packaging yourself. Highlight your accomplishments and remember that your resume is your label. You need to separate yourself from other candidates by ways that your label stands out. Think of yourself as a valuable product in the market, a product that can help the company in some way.
  1. Widen your net: Do not rely on one source only for employment opportunities. Your first source for finding a good job is the campus placement programme. Use it well. Your second source is people whom you know. Many companies circulate a vacancy internally before going out for recruitment. So, if your friend can recommend your name, your chances of getting an interview will increase.
  1. Avoid websites/advertisements that offer lucrative jobs: You will get many interview calls and offers in your mailbox that offer good jobs easily. Many candidates have found that these are nothing but fraud mails. If you get such offers, make it a point to visit the named company and meet the HR manager yourself instead of responding to mails. Advertisements are also unreliable ways of finding jobs. The Internet might seem a lucrative way to find jobs, but remember that the path of least resistance leads to the place of least results. The time spent in meeting people and finding about projects that they might have, is likely to yield better results.

What is Climate change?

Officials from across the world are gathered in Paris, France, to try to hammer out a deal to tackle global warming. Here’s what we know and don’t know about the Earth’s changing climate.

What is climate change?

The planet’s climate has constantly been changing over geological time. The global average temperature today is about 15 degrees C, though geological evidence suggests it has been much higher and lower in the past.

However, the current period of warming is occurring more rapidly than many past events. Scientists are concerned that the natural fluctuation, or variability, is being overtaken by a rapid human-induced warming that has serious implications for the stability of the planet’s climate.

What is the “greenhouse effect”?

The greenhouse effect refers to the way the Earth’s atmosphere traps some of the energy from the Sun. Solar energy radiating back out to space from the Earth’s surface is absorbed by atmospheric greenhouse gases and re-emitted in all directions.The energy that radiates back down to the planet heats both the lower atmosphere and the surface. Without this effect, the Earth would be about 30 degrees C colder, making our planet hostile to life.

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Via: BBC News