Today Current Affairs 9th February 2017

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The Union Cabinet has been apprised of the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) of Cooperation in the field of Science and Technology and innovation.  The MoU was signed between India’s Technology Development Board (TDB), Department of Science & Technology and France’s public Investment Bank Bpifrance.  The agreement will ensure exchange of best practices and setting up of coordinated measures to foster technological exchanges.  The exchanges under it will be through collaboration between companies, organizations and institutions of France and India. The agreement also aims to carry out activities related to exchange of best practices in the field of Science & Technology through the India’s Technology Development Board and Bpifrance. TDB is a statutory body established under Technology Development Board Act, 1995. Its mandate is to promote development and commercialisation of indigenous technology and adaptation of imported technology for wider application. It consists of 11 Board members.  The board plays a pro-active role by encouraging enterprises to take up technology oriented products. The Union Government had reconstituted the board in March 2000.  It is the first organization of its kind within the government framework with the sole objective of commercializing the fruit of indigenous research. It provides financial assistance to research and development institutions and equity capital or loans to industrial concerns. The loan carries a simple interest rate of 5% per annum.

The Union Cabinet has been apprised of the Framework Agreement between India and Vietnam on cooperation in the exploration and uses of outer space for peaceful purposes.  The Framework Agreement was signed in September 2016.  It will enable pursuing the potential interest areas of cooperation such as space science, technology and applications between both countries. The agreement covers cooperation in remote sensing of the earth, satellite communication and satellite-based navigation; space science and planetary exploration.  It also covers use of spacecraft and space systems and ground system and application of space technology. It will also lead to development of joint activity in field of application of space technologies for benefit of humanity.  It will also provide impetus to explore newer research activities and application possibilities in field of remote sensing of earth; satellite navigation; satellite communication; space science and exploration of outer space.

A committee comprising 33 members has been constituted for the speedy completion of the Sagarmala Project in Andhra Pradesh. The project aims to improve the state’s coastline and inland waterways. The committee will be chaired by the state’s Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu. The committee will be responsible for overseeing the entire project. It will bring together all the concerned departments and review their work on a daily basis, in order to ensure timely completion of the project.  The committee’s first meeting took place on 8 February 2017 under the leadership of Naidu. Highlights  : At the meeting, Naidu emphasised on the many opportunities that Andhra Pradesh has, as a state with the 2nd largest coastline, to develop a coast-led industrial economy. Naidu further emphasised the importance of the development of inland waterways. He also highlighted the importance of sourcing raw material at a reasonable rate, stating that it is the key for development. He also stressed on the need for an action plan and requested all the officials concerned to create one for their respective projects.   To enable the smooth working of the same, a nodal officer will be appointed from every department who would represent the department. He also asked the members to identify ports as clusters and stated that the Krishnapatanam port will soon be turned into a national employment zone. Besides this, Naidu has called for interlinking of ports, highways and corridors to give more momentum to industrial development. He also stated that Andhra Pradesh has a sent a proposal to the centre for building 90 projects, worth Rs 130762 Cr and has ordered for the creation of an implementable action plan for all the projects. Lastly, Naidu added that he will be reviewing the progress of the project once in two months.

Railways Minister Suresh Prabhakar Prabhu on 8 February 2017 launched the first phase of the Station Redevelopment Program comprising 23 major railway stations on Indian Railways network.  Some of these 23 stations will be Chennai Central, Ranchi, Udaipur City, Indore, Yesvantpur, Bangalore Cantonment, Visakhapatnam, Howrah, Kamakhya, Faridabad, Jammu Tawi, Secunderabad, Vijayawada, Kozhikode and Bhopal. The Railways Ministry will collaborate with the Union Ministry of Urban Development to develop these smart stations.   The re-development of 400 A1 and A Category Stations is a non-fare revenue generating programme which will be done on Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model through a fair bidding system.  In the first phase, 23 stations will be selected and redeveloped for the fullest use where passengers can enjoy so many facilities at one place.  These stations will be selected after a detailed feasibility study by the strategic advisor The Boston Consulting Group.  After the first phase, 100+ stations are expected to be launched in Phase 2 and the remaining A1 and A stations will be launched in Phase 3 of this program. These railway stations will be redeveloped using the surplus revenue generated from commercial development of spare railway land. Indian Railways will provide approximately 140 acres of encroachment free land at these stations to the developers on a 45 year lease.  There will be nodal officers in each zone to ensure smooth interactions with the developers.  The redeveloped stations will improve passenger experience by providing amenities like elevators, self ticketing counters, executive lounges, luggage screening machines, walkways, distinctive roofing and flooring, free and paid Wi-Fi, etc.  The program will benefit more than 100 cities and 16 million passengers per day across the country. With an overall investment of Rs 1 lakh crore, this program is one of the largest PPP program undertaken in the country.

India ranked at 43rd position out of 45 countries in the 5th Annual International Intellectual Property (IP) Index of the US Chamber of Commerce (USCC). The 2017 International IP Index, named as 'The Roots of Innovation', was released on 8 February 2017. India was ranked just above Pakistan and Venezuela. The United States continued to be on the top of the index. The top four positions of the index were fetched by the United States, United Kingdom, Japan and the European Union. According to the report, the 45 countries, analysed in the index, represent nearly 90 per cent of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  In 2016, India was placed at 37th position out of 38 countries.  The National IP policy cleared by the Union cabinet in May 2016 was considered as a positive measure for the index. However, the policy failed to address the fundamental weaknesses in India’s IP framework.  IP-intensive industries faced challenges on the patentability of computer-related inventions and Section 3(d) of India’s Patent Act, 1970 which relates to restrictions on patenting incremental changes.  A Delhi high court ruling that permitted photocopying of copyrighted material for educational purposes also featured among the factors that went against India.   International IP Index : The USCC's IP Index ranks countries on the basis of the points received on various aspects of patents, copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets and market access, enforcement and ratification of international treaties. The Global Intellectual Property Centre of the USCC works around the world to examine the Intellectual Property (IP) rights and their role in creating jobs, saving lives, advancing global economic growth, etc. The fifth edition of the index included seven new countries – Egypt, Hungary, Kenya, Pakistan, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Spain.

Gujarat in the first week of February 2017 became the first State in the country for establishing a cashless system for distribution of food grains. An announcement in this regard was made by the Union Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Ram Vilas Paswan, who congratulated the Government of Gujarat for this achievement. Cashless System in FPSs of Gujarat : The Government of Gujarat installed Aadhaar Enabled Payment System in 17250 Fair Price Shops (FPSs), much before the targeted date of 31 March 2017. Under this new system, the beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act, 2013 will need to carry only Aadhaar cards for getting their food grains. This will help in establishing the identity of beneficiaries, help in stopping the leakages of grains at shop level and eradicating corruption in the Public Distribution System (PDS). FPS System in Gujarat : The Gujarat Government has partnered with common service centers (CSCs), a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) of the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), by offering 30 odd digital services through the FPSs. This partnership will enable consumers to get his/her rail, air and bus tickets reserved in fair price shops. A beneficiary can also pay his mobile bill, a farmer can deposit crop insurance premium and LIC premium in these centers. A farmer can get the Soil Health Card (SHC) and get registered for Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSSs). The FPSs have been equipped with the necessary infrastructure to provide basic computer and internet services.

House of Commons, the lower house of British Parliament passed legislation on 8 February 2017, authorising Prime Minister Theresa May’s government to initiate Brexit talks with the European Union. The historic legislation witnessed 494 Members of the Parliament voting in favour of Brexit and just 122 against. Among the MPs who voted against the bill, 52 were labour MPs,  the leading opposition party, who went against their party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s orders of backing the bill. Few of the pro- European legislators even whistled European Union’s anthem, Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ while the votes were being tallied. Highlights : Though the members of the lower house had already shown overwhelming support to the bill in its initial reading, the final votes were cast following a seven-hour debate on amendments.The bill was passed with no changes.    It will now be sent to the second chamber of UK Parliament, House of Lords, also known as the upper house of the British Parliament.The House of Lords will be posed with two options: Approve the bill after several readings and debates and pass it on for royal assent to be turned into a law.  Make amendments and send the bill back to the House of Commons for further debate and votes. At most, the upper house can force the lower house to reconsider their decision but it cannot prevent the bill from being passed. So, the bill is most likely to become a law within the coming few weeks, right as per the deadline set by Theresa May. The British Prime Minister has vowed to set off Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the legal method to start Britain’s exit from the EU, by the end of March 2017. According to David Davis, the Secretary of State for exiting the EU, the final legislation was preceded by a healthy and serious debate with contributions from MPs representing all parts of the UK. He further added that the Brexit decision was taken by the people of Britain and so, it is vital for everyone to now unite to make the task successful.

The fifth One-Day International (ODI) between India Under-19 and their English counterparts ended in a tie after India lost its final wicket on the last ball of the match. The 5th match was held on 8 February 2017 at the Wankhede Stadium. With the 5th ODI ending in a tie, India won the series by 3-1. In the 5th ODI, England scored a modest 227. India needed one run off the last ball with just one wicket in hand, but pacer Ishan Porel faltered at the last moment and was caught by Max Holden off Liam White. 4th One-Day International: The Indian Under-19 cricket team defeated England by 230 runs in the fourth match. The match was held on 6 February 2017 at the Wankhede Stadium. In this match, India U-19 posted their second highest total; the best being 425 for three against Scotland U-19 in Dhaka in 2004. 3rd One-Day International: India Under-19 team defeated England by seven wickets. The match was held on 3 February 2017 at the Brabourne Stadium, Mumbai. 2nd One-Day International: India Under-19 team won the match by 129 runs. The match was held on 1 February 2017 at the Brabourne Stadium, Mumbai. 1st One-Day International: England U-19 defeated India in the opening game of the five-match series. India were all out for 233 in 42.5 overs. The match was played on 30 January 2017 at the Wankhede stadium.  

The Parliament of Somalia elected former Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, as the country's new president on 8 February 2017. Farmajo was chosen after two rounds of voting, after which he immediately took the oath of the office. The large consensus for Farmajo led current President Hassan Sheikh, who was elected to the office in 2012, to concede defeat and withdraw himself from the contest. Highlights : Due to rising security threats from Islamic militants, the voting was conducted at a heavily guarded airport complex in its capital city, Mogadishu. To ensure further safety, a no-fly zone was imposed over the city and traffic was also banned. From the 328 votes cast, 184 were won by Farmajo and remaining 97 by Mohamud. Mohamed's election is part of a lengthy process initiated to rebuild the nation’s democracy and achieve stability. Farmajo's victory was welcomed by several senior-level ministers including the country’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Abdusalam H. Omer. His victory was also greeted by celebratory gunfire in all government-controlled areas of the country. Challenges Ahead : Somalia is one of the seven Muslim-majority countries that face an immigration ban in the US, according to US President Donald Trump’s recent executive order. The country is also one of the poorest in the world. Due to a long-drawn civil war, the country’s governance structure, economic infrastructure and institutions are in complete shambles and need complete revival. It hosts various extremists groups such as Al-Shabaab that pose a danger to its peace and security.

The US space agency NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory in February 2017 detected a very strange and distinctive X-ray signal from the Milky Way galaxy. This observation can help the scientists in proving the existence of dark matter in the universe. A team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Yale Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics in the US observed the energy spectrum of X-rays coming out from the mysterious source.  Researchers observed extra photons with an energy of about 3500 electron volts in the spectra. While probing the spectrum, researchers concluded that the production of X-ray photons with particular energy level could have been the result of decay of dark matter. Scientists have recorded such energy levels in the past, but they were not sure that the bump or line created by photons was just an instrumental artefact or something else. As per researchers, around 80 percent mass of universe is made up of dark matter itself. As per its name, the matter is dark and cannot be seen. However, scientists have felt its presence through the gravitational tug it exerts on stars within galaxies. For years, physicists have been trying to detect particles of dark matter directly by intercepting them using instruments on Earth. It is this latest research that targets relatively light particles of dark matter. Esra Bulbul of the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was the first scientist to spot an anomalous line at 3.5 keV, while examining the X-ray spectra of large numbers of galaxy clusters in 2014. NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory  : It is a telescope specially designed to detect X-ray emission from very hot regions of the Universe like exploded stars, clusters of galaxies, and matter around black holes.  As X-rays are absorbed by Earth's atmosphere, therefore Chandra is positioned above the Earth's atmosphere up to an altitude of 139000 km in space.  The Smithsonian's Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge controls Chandra's science and flight operations.

Karnal Singh, Director of Enforcement Directorate (ED), on 7 February 2017 was given a fixed two-year tenure to head the anti-money laundering investigation agency. The move came following a recent Supreme Court directive. The Appointments Committee of Cabinet (ACC) also approved a two-year fixed term for Singh effective from 27 October 2016. In October 2016, the ACC had approved the name of Singh as ED chief until 31 August 2017. Singh, a Union Territories cadre officer, had held the additional charge of the post of ED chief since August 19, 2015, until the time he was elevated as the Director.  The Supreme Court recently ordered that Singh's appointment as ED Director would be for two years from 27 October 2016. The apex court’s directive came following a PIL petition filed in 2016 by Mumbai-based former Indian Revenue Service officer Uday Babu Khalwadekar. The SC had noted that, as per the appointment letter issued to Singh, he would cease to hold office the day he superannuates in August 2017, which was a violation of Section 25(d) of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) Act. The top court directed the Union Government to issue a fresh notification within a week on the appointment of Singh as the ED Director for two years, in line with the provisions of the CVC Act. The government's move came considering Singh's retirement due in August 2017 and following the recent direction by the apex court to the government.  

Dr P Raghu Ram, president of Association of Breast Surgeons of India, has won the prestigious Dr B C Roy national award for 'outstanding service in the field of socio medical relief' for 2016.  The award, the highest recognition for medical practitioners in India, would be conferred on Ram by President Pranab Mukherjee on July 1, observed as Doctors day. Dr Ram was honored for his significant contribution towards improving the delivery of breast health care in India and creating the much needed awareness about importance of early detection of breast cancer in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh through a number of initiatives. He is the youngest surgeon ever from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh to have been selected for the award. Apart from ABSI, Dr. Ram is also the Director of Krishna Institute of Medical Sciences (KIMS) and CEO of Ushalakshmi Breast Cancer Foundation. Dr P Raghu Ram : Raghu Ram Pillarisetti is an Indian oncoplastic breast surgeon who was born on 22 September 1966 in Guntur in the undivided Andhra Pradesh. He graduated in medicine (MBBS) Siddhartha Medical College, secured a master’s degree in surgery (MS) with gold medal from Kasturba Medical College, Manipal in 1995 and migrated to UK to work at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust Hospital. He opened a dedicated purpose built facility for breast cancer care in India under the name, Krishna Institute of Medical Sciences (KIMS), in Hyderabad in 2007 Raghu Ram Pillarisetti is the youngest recipient of the Overseas Gold Medal of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.He is also the founder of Pink Connexion, the first quarterly newsletter from India about breast healthcare. The Government of India honoured him in 2015 with the award of Padma Shri, the fourth highest Indian civilian award.

Shaikha Mozah Al Maktoum, one of the female members of Dubai's ruling family, is claimed to have become the first woman commercial pilot, In 2016, Etihad Airways announced that more than half the UAE nationals employed by the airline are women, including nearly 50 pilots. In recent years, an Emirati woman fighter pilot - Major Mariam Al Mansouri - made headlines around the world when she led an aerial raid against ISIS in Syria. A few members of the Al Maktoum family took to Instagram to congratulate the young achiever, expressing their pride and joy on her accomplishment.

Russia has been barred from international competition since November 2015 following a damaging report alleging that state-sponsored doping was rife in the country. The ban had already been extended in March and then June 2016, preventing Russia’s athletes from competing at the Rio Olympics. Russian athletes will be allowed to compete under a neutral flag in the world championships provided they can prove to the IAAF that they have been tested regularly outside Russia.  Thirty-five athletes have already applied to the governing body of international athletics for approval.  

Rajeev Singh, Member (Finance) in Prasar Bharati Board, will take charge as interim CEO of the public broadcaster after S C Panda retires in February. The previous CEO Jawhar Sircar had quit in October last year, a few months before his tenure was due to end, following which Panda, who is Member (Personnel), was made the acting CEO. However, Panda is also due to retire in February. The issue of vacancies arising due to Panda’s retirement was discussed in a meeting headed by Prasar Bharati chairman A Surya Prakash in Hyderabad yesterday, sources said. “In a key decision, the public broadcaster decided that its Member Finance Rajeev Singh will take over as interim CEO, after the present incumbent S C Panda retires in February,” a source told PTI. The sources said that a need for felt for expeditious appointment of the two top posts of the CEO and well as Member (Personnel). It is learnt that the I&B ministry had issued an advertisement for the post of Member Personnel and received several names. The process of finding a CEO for the board which oversees the country’s public broadcasters All India Radio and Doordarshan is also underway, it is learnt. The sources also said that the Prasar Bharati Board meeting being held in Hyderabad was also unique as these meetings are generally held in Delhi itself.  However since the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU) Dance Festival, which is a mega event, is being held in Hyderabad, the city was chosen for the meeting of the board

Housing Development and Infrastructure Ltd said it will soon launch its new budget homes brand in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR). Through this brand, HDIL aims at making quality housing at affordable prices accessible to a wider section of people. Under this brand, HDIL will provide affordable homes within Rs. 50 lakh inclusive of stamp duty and registration in Mumbai’s suburbs and within Rs. 20 lakh, including stamp duty and registration charges, in the Vasai–Virar region. HDIL is committed in its endeavour to cater to the housing requirements of all sections of society. This brand is in continuation with our mission to provide affordable houses with modern amenities and comfort to our buyers. The recent announcement by the Centre to grant infrastructure status to affordable housing is a welcome move as it would ensure easy access to institutional credit and help in reducing developers’ cost of borrowing for affordable projects. The approval process would be simplified with clear guidelines and transparency.  

The Supreme Court has approved the government‘s plan to record the identification details of mobile subscribers through an e-KYC (Know Your Customer) mechanism linked to Aadhaar in a bid to enhance national security and prevent fake users. A Bench led by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar asked the government, represented by Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi, to put in place the mechanism within a year.  The mechanism would cover at least 100 crore mobile phone subscribers, 90% of whom use pre-paid cards. 

China has emerged as the world’s largest producer of solar energy. According to China’s National Energy Administration, its photovoltaic (PV) capacity reached to 77.42 GW in 2016.  It has surpassed Germany, former global solar-power leader which has produced 40.78GW solar energy in November 2016.  China claims that 11% of its energy use comes from renewable supplies such as solar and wind power. China also leads the world in wind-powered energy.  India’s PV capacity has reached to 9 GW in 2016.

A seven-judge bench of the Supreme Court has issued a contempt notice to Calcutta High Court Judge C.S. Karnan, initiating suo moto criminal proceedings. Justice Karnan has to file a reply in the case. The seven-judge bench headed by Chief Justice J. S. Khehar heard the matter. Justice Karnan had on February 15, 2016 stayed his transfer order after the apex court asked the chief justice of Madras High Court not to assign any judicial work to him. The same day the apex court had suspended Justice Karnan's order and made it clear that all administrative and judicial orders passed by him after the issuance of the proposal of his transfer from the Madras High Court to the Calcutta High Court shall remain stayed till further orders.  

The Reserve Bank of India announced that the cash withdrawal limit on savings accounts will be scrapped from March 13, 2017 . In the first phase, the withdrawal limit will be raised to Rs 50,000 from Rs 24,000 a week, effective February 20.  The limits on cash withdrawals from savings bank account will be withdrawn completely from March 13. As of now, there is no limit on current account and there is a cap of Rs 50,000 for farmers a week and Rs 2.5 lakh for marriage.  As on January 27, RBI said currency in circulation was worth Rs 9.92 lakh crore.  After the note ban on November 8, Reserve Bank had capped withdrawal limits on ATMs and bank branches. It raised limits from Rs 2,000 a day to Rs 4,500 a day to Rs 10,000 a day while maintaining the overall weekly ceiling of Rs 24,000.  Restrictions on cash withdrawal had resulted in long ATM queues after the November move. 

The Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approved ‘Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan’ (PMGDISHA) to make 6 crore rural households digitally literate by March 2019.  PMGDISHA is expected to be one of the largest digital literacy programmes in the world. This approval comes in line with the announcement made by Union Finance Minister in the Union Budget 2016-17. Under the scheme, 25 lakh candidates will be trained in the FY 2016-17; 275 lakh in 2017-18; and 300 lakh in 2018-19.  The outlay for this project is Rs. 2,351.38 crore to usher in digital literacy in rural India. To ensure equitable geographical reach, each of the 250,000 Gram Panchayats across the country will be expected to register an average of 200-300 candidates.  Digitally literate persons will be able to operate computers/digital access devices, send and receive emails, access government services, browse internet, search for information, undertaking cashless transactions, etc..  The scheme will be implemented under the supervision of Ministry of Electronics and IT in collaboration with States/UTs through their designated State Implementing Agencies, District e-Governance Society (DeGS), etc. As per the 71st National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) Survey on Education 2014, only 6% of the total 16.85 crore rural households have a computer.  It highlights that more than 15 crore rural households i.e. 94% do not have computers. Besides, significant numbers of these households are likely to be digitally illiterate.