Current Affairs 31st January 2017

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Scientists from the UK, China and Germany have recently discovered a balloon-like sea creature called Saccorhytus, the earliest known ancestor of humans. The findings were published in the journal Nature in January 2017. The fossilised traces of this 540 million year old creature are exquisitely well preserved. This microscopic sea animal is the earliest known step on the evolutionary path that led to fish and humans. Saccorhytus : Saccorhytus is the most primitive example of a category of animals called deuterostomes which are common ancestors of a broad range of species including vertebrates. Saccorhytus was about a millimetre in size and is thought to have lived between grains of sand on the sea bed. Its body was symmetrical, which is a characteristic inherited by many of its evolutionary descendants, including humans. It was also covered with a thin, relatively flexible skin and muscles.   It probably used to move by contracting its muscles and got around by wriggling.The most striking feature is its large mouth, relative to the rest of its body. It probably ate by engulfing food particles or even other creatures. However, the researchers could not find any evidence of anus in the creature, which suggests that it consumed food and excreted from the same orifice. The conical structures on its body might have allowed the water that it swallowed to escape and so these structures might have been the very early version of gills.

Indian actress Priyanka Chopra, who has been turning heads on the red carpet with her elegant choice of outfits, has made it to the list of Harper's Bazaar's 150 most fashionable women.  The 34-year-old "Quantico" star features on the list under the section of "New Guard. Thx u @harpersbazaarus for including me as one of ur 150 Most Fashionable Women, among such an extraordinary group!" Priyanka posted on Twitter alongside the link to the list.  Other stars on the list include Brie Larson, Dakota Johnson, Emilia Clarke, Margot Robbie, Gal Gadot, Dakota Fanning and Elle Fanning.  

Cab-hailing firm Uber has launched two-wheeler aggregation service UberMOTO in Hyderabad. The firm, which has signed an agreement with the Hyderabad Metro Rail Ltd recently, formally launched the services . Using the app, people can hire two-wheelers for short-distance commute at cheaper rates. The agreement was aimed at providing the last-mile connectivity from and to the upcoming Metro railway stations. Uber Founder and CEO Travis Kalanick came to Hyderabad last month to seal the deal. Uber inducts two-wheeler owners into the network, the same way it ropes in cabs for the main service. It said the owners would be sensitised on safety aspects before being hired. Telangana Industries and IT Minister KT Rama Rao said the new service would help solve the transportation and congestion problems to some extent in the twin cities. Driver partners of Uber had organised a protest early this month against the reduced incentives. They were also protesting against the shared services and UberMOTO, which, they felt, would hit their earnings.  

India Post Payments Bank (IPPB) kicked off its operations by rolling out pilot services in Raipur and Ranchi. The bank will offer an interest rate of 4.5% on deposits up to ₹25,000; 5% on deposits of ₹25,000-50,000 and 5.5% on ₹50,000-1,00,000.The paid up equity of the new bank is ₹800 crore, of which the government has already infused ₹275 crore. The idea is to have a branch in every district and make 3 lakh postmen come alive in payment bank function.Also 1,000 ATMs of India Post will be transferred to IPPB. Telecom Minister Manoj Sinha stated that IPPB plans to have 650 branches across the country by September 2017.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) in its key recommendations for Union Budget 2017-18, has suggested differential excise duty regime and tax exemptions to be expanded to personal computers and servers. Ministry’s suggestions were as per the Phased Manufacturing Roadmap, it had worked out in consultation with the NITI Aayog. Retain differential excise duty regime and tax exemptions granted for the manufacture of mobile handsets and tablets, under the impending GST regime, to boost domestic manufacturing of electronic products.  The current differential duty makes imports of mobile handsets more expensive compared with making them locally, encouraging smartphone players to set up manufacturing units in India. Specified capital goods for the manufacture of electronic goods be exempted from basic customs duty and countervailing duties to increase the competitiveness of the Indian electronics Industry. Specified key raw materials and inputs for the boosting manufacture of LCD and LED panels should be permitted at 0% customs duty. Extension of income tax benefit for research and development (R&D) to software products and the chip design industry. The proposal is expected to boost the generation of intellectual property in the country.

The Union Finance Ministry has agreed to contribute partially to a new dedicated railway safety fund named as ‘Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh’ in the upcoming Union Budget 2017-18.  The proposed safety fund will be utilised for track improvement, bridge rehabilitation, rolling stock replacement, human resource development, improved inspection system and safety work at level crossing, among other things. The Finance Ministry is likely to grant a fresh infusion of only Rs. 5,000 crore in the upcoming financial year out of the initial proposed corpus of Rs. 20,000 crore.  About Rs. 10,000 crore will be earmarked from the Central Road Fund (CRF) that is collected by levying a cess on diesel and petrol at present for safety-related work. Railways may now be asked to fund the remaining Rs. 5,000 crore for the initial corpus from its own resources. For this Indian Railway’s may either have to bring back a cess on rail tickets to finance its share of Rail Safety Fund or look to fund it from non-budgetary resources.  The Railway Ministry had requested the Union Finance Ministry to create ‘Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh’, a ‘non-lapsable’ safety fund of Rs. 20,000 crore over five years.  Its request was based on the recommendations of a high-level safety review committee headed by Dr. Anil Kakodkar, former Chairman Atomic Energy Commission.  The Committee, in its report submitted in 2012, had projected an investment requirement of Rs. 1 lakh crore on safety over five years.

The Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on 31 January 2017 presented the Economic Survey 2017 in the Parliament.’ The survey suggested following steps to revive the economy -   It has advocated the concept of Universal Basic Income (UBI) as an alternative to the various social welfare schemes in an effort to reduce poverty. The survey juxtaposes the benefits and costs of the UBI scheme in the context of the philosophy of the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi. The Survey states that the Mahatma as astute political observer, would have anxieties about UBI as being just another add-on Government programme, but on balance, he may have given the go-ahead to the UBI.  Based on a survey on misallocation of resources for the six largest Central Sector and Centrally Sponsored Sub-Schemes (except PDS and fertilizer subsidy) across districts, the Economic Survey points out that the districts where the needs are greatest are precisely the ones where State capacity is the weakest. This suggests that a more efficient way to help the poor would be to provide them resources directly, through a UBI. Exploring the principles and prerequisites for successful implementation of UBI, the Survey points out that the two prerequisites for a successful UBI are: (a) functional JAM (Jan Dhan, Aadhar and Mobile) system as it ensures that the cash transfer goes directly into the account of a beneficiary and (b) Centre-State negotiations on cost sharing for the programme. The Survey says that a UBI that reduces poverty to 0.5 percent would cost between 4-5 percent of GDP, assuming that those in the top 25 percent income bracket do not participate. On the other hand, the existing middle class subsidies and food, petroleum and fertilizer subsidies cost about 3 percent of GDP. The Survey concludes that the UBI is a powerful idea whose time even if not ripe for implementation, is ripe for serious discussion.

Hafiz Saeed, the chief of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and co-founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba has been placed under house arrest along with four others by Pakistani authorities. The order of detention was issued by Punjab Province’s Interior Ministry under Anti-Terrorism Act in accordance with a directive issued by Pakistan’s Interior Ministry on 27 January 2017. In the directive, Pakistan’s Interior Ministry had stated that the government had reasons to believe that JuD is engaged in activities that could pose a threat to peace and security and violate Pakistan’s obligations towards the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution No 1267. The directive further ordered the Punjab government to put JuD under Watch List. A similar order was also issued for Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF) for a period of 6 months, which may be extended later.  Highlights : The order called for preventive detention of Saeed, mastermind behind 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and four others including Zafar Iqbal, Abdullah Ubaid, Qazi Kashif Niaz and Abdur Rehman Abid. Saeed was arrested from Masjid-e-Qudsia Chauburji, the JuD headquarters in Lahore. He will be shifted to his residence in Jauhar Town, where he will be put under house arrest. His residence has been declared as a sub-jail. All party flags at the JuD offices were replaced with National flags on the directive of the provincial home department. The provincial authorities have also started removing JuD banners from the roads of Lahore.  Hafiz Saeed : Hafiz Saeed is an internationally designated terrorist and his organisation JuD has been declared as a terrorist organisation by the United Nations and the United States of America. Saeed is one of the most wanted terrorists in India due to his involvement in three major terror attacks in India- 2008 Mumbai attacks, 2006 Mumbai train bombings and 2001 Indian Parliament attack. In April 2012, a $10 million bounty was placed on him by the United States of America for his alleged connection with the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, which lead to the killing of around 200 civilians.   According to reports, the current crackdown is a result of immense pressure from the administration of the newly-elected President of the United States, Donald Trump.

The Reserve Bank of India will lift restrictions on daily withdrawal of money from ATMs (automated teller machines) starting 1 February 2017.  The announcement was made through a circular issued on 30 January 2017. According to the notice, the decision was taken after a review of the pace of remonetisation. Highlights : RBI has asked all banks to set their own daily limit as they did before the demonetisation of old high denomination currency notes on 8 November 2016. The RBI will also be removing all limits on cash withdrawals from current accounts, cash credit accounts and overdraft accounts. The weekly limit of Rs 24000 on savings bank accounts will continue to hold for now but is under consideration for withdrawal in the near future. Along with this, the RBI has also urged all banks to encourage their constituents to move towards digitisation of payments and switch the mode of payment from cash mode to non-cash mode.

Chad's Moussa Faki Mahamat on 30 January 2017 was elected as the Chairman of the African Union (AU) Commission. Mahamat was elected through a voting held at the bloc's headquarters in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. Mahamat defeated favourites Amina Mohamed of Kenya and Senegal's Abdoulaye Bathily after seven rounds of voting. The Chadian diplomat succeeds South Africa's Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the first woman to lead the AU. Moussa Faki Mahama  :  Moussa Faki Mahamat is served as the Prime Minister of Chad from 24 June 2003 to 4 February 2005. He is a member of the ruling Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS).He belongs to the Zaghawa ethnic group. From 2007 to 2008, he served as the President of the Economic, Social, and Cultural Council. Since April 2008, he has been serving as the Minister of Foreign Affairs. African Union Commission : The African Union Commission acts as the executive/administrative branch or secretariat of the AU. It is headquartered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Commission is somewhat analogous to the European Commission.Thomas Kwasi Quartey is the Deputy Chairman of the Commission.

AP Singh has been appointed as the interim Managing Director and CEO of India Post Payments Bank (IPPB) by the government. Earlier, he worked as a Joint Secretary in the Department of Investment and Public Asset Management. He was one of the founding members of the Unique Identification Authority of India. IPPB received the final license from RBI to start its operation as payment Bank. With this it has become the third entity after Bharti Airtel and digital payments firm Paytm to receive the approval from RBI and till now only Airtel has started operations. IPPB has been incorporated as a Public Sector Bank under the Department of Posts with 100% GOI equity. Payments banks can accept deposits from individuals and small businesses of up to Rs 1 lakh per account. IPPB would deal with acceptance of demand deposits, remittance services and other specified services.

Dushyant Chautala is elected as youngest president of Table Tennis Federation of India during the Annual General Body meeting held in Gurugram on January 30, 2017. Chautala with  two observers are selected for four years, extends until 2021. Kuldip Vats – representing Indian Olympic Association Ashwani Kumar – representing the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports from the Sports Authority of India The election has been conducted and supervised by Justice Ranjit Singh (Retd.) of the Punjab and Haryana High Court Three main office-bearers, eight vice-presidents, four joint secretaries and five out of eight Executive Committee members were filled as per the TTFI constitution and  the other three vacant posts in the Executive Committee will be chosen by the TTFI head.  

Future Generali India Insurance Company (FGII) today said it has entered into a corporate agency tie-up with Bank of Maharashtra  Bancassurance is one of the key avenues to distribute products. Our focus is to offer customised products, best customer service and sustain the trust of customers of Bank of Maharashtra . Currently bancassurance accounts for 5 per cent of Future Generali's total business. It has tie-up with over 100 banks across the country.  Through this partnership, we aim to immensely benefit our customers by providing them an ease of access while choosing from a diverse range of non-life insurance products, all under one roof 

American President Donald Trump has signed an executive order on January 27, 2017 to temporarily ban visas for refugees belonging to seven Muslim-majority countries namelyIraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. The decision aims at protecting United States from the entry of foreign terrorists to keep the nation safe. The ban is not aimed at restricting Muslim countries from entering US. As per the order, the travelers including legal permanent US residents residing in any of the seven mentioned countries would be prohibited from entering US for 90 days. Besides, refugee admission would also be banned for 120 days.  The ban is not limited to these 7 nations. A further expansion of the list may be done as per the order of the US president.  However, the ban would not apply to diplomats and members of international organizations.

The Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) has launched climate change programme under which the first study funded by Oracle and facilitated by CAF-India, will assess the status, distribution and conservation of pheasants and finches in the Central Himalayas.  The Himalayas hold a rich natural heritage with diverse flora and fauna enhancing the beauty of the region. The study will focus on their conservation in the context of climate change with the help of community participation.  The Indian subcontinent is home to nearly 50 species of pheasants and 62 species of finches, with several species listed in 'Globally Threatened' category by IUCN.  Both these groups are spread across the Himalayas. Shrinking habitats combined with several biotic factors, along with trapping and poaching pressures in many areas have pushed several of them to near extinction.  Climate change can highly influence vertical and horizontal distribution of these groups making boundaries of protected areas fuzzy. The species that can adapt will survive but habitat specialist and species sensitive to temperature will suffer. The major aim of this project is to assess the status of phasinidaes and fringillidaes, particularly globally threatened species found in Himalayan region and evaluate their distribution . This long-term monitoring project also aims to assess the socio-economic activities of local communities and involve them in conservation efforts and sensitize the local forest department staff.  The project will contribute in making an inventory of pheasants and finches, documentation of local specific conservation issues, and designing local as well as species specific conservation action plan with the community participation.  The conservation action plan of these sites is a first step towards the protection of the ecosystem which benefits both biodiversity as well as the people in the system. 

In a first, India's Fanatic Sports Museum opened to the public in Kolkata .  The museum will display memorabilia from cricket, hockey, football and the Olympics and Paralympics.  Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar were among others to inaugurate the museum.

Siliguri lad Abul Hossain won the Kolkata Marathon as amateur runners from north Bengal and Northeast India dominated the first edition of the meet here. Hossain won the race with a timing of two hours 34 minutes and two seconds to leave Kolkata lad Biswanath Pal second, five minutes behind.  Paritosh Roy finished third with a timing of two hours, 52 minutes 48 seconds.Sikkim's Mangali Tamang won the women's half marathon with a timing of one hour 31 minutes and 13 seconds.  

The Union Government has launched nationwide “Sparsh Leprosy Awareness Campaign (SLAC)” on the occasion of Anti-Leprosy Day (observed on the last Sunday of January).  The day is observed every year on January 30 in the memory of Mahatma Gandhi who attained martyrdom on this day in 1948, to remember his selfless efforts and care for the people affected with Leprosy. Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae and it usually affects the skin and peripheral nerves. The mode of transmission of leprosy is still not known. According to WHO, the diseased had affected 2,12,000 people globally in 2015.  India alone reported 1,27,326 new cases, accounting for 60% of new  cases globally. India is among the 22 countries considered as having a “high burden for leprosy” along with high transmission. The other high-burden countries were Brazil and Indonesia.  Leprosy Awareness Campaign  : The thrust of SLAC campaign is to promote community participation in diagnosis and treatment of leprosy in its early stages and to spread awareness about the disease to help in early diagnosis and treatment. It seeks to promote decentralised community-based demand-driven approach from present centralised top-down delivery-driven approach to fight the disease. It also seeks to empower local communities to take over the responsibility of sensitising people to not stigmatise and discriminate against those affected.

Seven new countries Lithuania, Gabon, Hungary, Indonesia, Malta, Mauritius and Russia – have signed Multilateral Competent Authority Agreement for Country-by-Country Reporting (CbC MCAA).  With this, the total number of signatories has increased to 57 including India (signed in May 2015). CbC MCAA is a tax co-operation agreement to enable automatic sharing of country-by-country information. The CbC MCAA aims to boost transparency by multinational enterprises (MNEs) by allowing signatories to bilaterally and automatically exchange country-by-country reports.  This exchange of information is facilitated as part of Action 13 of the base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) Action Plan adopted by the OECD and G20 countries in 2013.  The agreement will help to ensure that tax administrations obtain better understanding of how MNEs structure their operations and also ensure that the confidentiality and appropriate use of such information is safeguarded.  

India’s first dedicated space observatory, ASTROSAT has captured the rare phenomenon of a small six-billion-year-old vampire star preying on a bigger celestial body.  The vampire star phenomenon is observed when smaller star sucks material (mass and energy) out of the bigger companion star, causing its eventual death. It is also called a blue straggler as small star becomes bigger, hotter and bluer, giving it the appearance of being young, while the ageing companion burns out and collapses to a stellar remnant. Astrosat is India’s first dedicated multi-wavelength space observatory launched in September 2016. It is one of the major scientific missions of ISRO after the highly acclaimed Chandrayaan-I and Mangalyaan.  It is placed at low earth equatorial orbit at altitude of 650 km. It has ability to observe celestial bodies like cosmic X-Ray sources and distant stars in different wavelengths simultaneously.  It can observe the universe through ultraviolet, optical, low and high energy X-ray components of the electromagnetic spectrum. It has mission life of 5 years.  Its successful launch made India member of select elite group of nations comprising US, Japan, Russia and Europe having its own space observatory.  

The Union Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports constituted a Task Force to prepare an action plan for 2020, 2024 and 2028 Olympic games. An announcement in this regard was made by the Union Ministry of State (Independent Charge) for Youth Affairs and Sports Vijay Goel on 30 January 2017. The tenure of the committee will be for three months or till the time it submits its report, whichever is earlier. To suggest a comprehensive action plan that includes short-term, medium term and long-term measures for effective participation of Indian sports persons in the 2020, 2024 and 2028 Olympic games. To suggest effective methods to identify core probable medal prospects for the 2020 Olympics, their coaches and support staff.To suggest effective talent identification system for 2024 and 2028 Olympics. To identify components of world class support system for elite sports persons and lay down the pathway. To suggest ways to achieve synergy in the efforts of key stakeholders within the Union Gover and across State Governments, Indian Olympic Association (IOA), National Sports Federations, NGOs, etc. To suggest ways to significantly improve the standards of coaching and sports scientists within the country. To suggest ways to create and upgrade sports infrastructure that is necessary to train top-level athletes.To make suggestions regarding foreign training and exposure of top-level athletes. To make recommendations on any other matters referred to the Task Force by the Union Government. Member Who is he Pulella Gopichand Olympian and coach Abhinav Bindra Olympic gold medalist Rajesh Kalra Chief Editor, Times Group Online Om Pathak School Sports Promotion foundation Viren Rasquinha CEO – Olympic Gold Quest S. Baldev Singh (Hockey) Coach Prof GL Khanna Professor and Dean (Exercise and Physiology), Faculty of Applied Sciences, Manav Rachna International University, Faridabad Sandeep Pradhan Director General, Sports Authority of Gujarat (Member Convenor)