Today Current Affairs 17th March 2017

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Kalpana Chawla, the first woman of Indian origin to go to space in 1997, was remembered on 17 March 2017, which marks her 55th birth anniversary. Born on 17 March 1962 in Karnal, Punjab, the Indian American astronaut first flew on the space shuttle Columbia in 1997. She was the mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator of the mission. In 2003, Kalpana Chawla was killed along with six other crew members during the disaster of the Space Shuttle Columbia. Chawla’s first space mission: On 19 November 1997, Chawla flew to the space as part of the six-astronaut crew in the Space Shuttle Columbia flight STS-87. With this, she became the first India born women to fly into the space and the second Indian after cosmonaut Rakesh Sharma who flew in 1984 on the Soyuz T-11. Second space mission: On 16 January 2003, Chawla went to space aboard Space Shuttle Columbia STS-107 mission. The spacecraft was destroyed while returning back to earth. It was destroyed after a piece of foam insulation broke off from the space shuttle external tank, which struck the left wing of the orbiter making the spacecraft unstable and slowly break apart. Chawla's responsibilities during this journey to space included the microgravity experiments, for which the crew conducted nearly 80 experiments studying earth and space science, advanced technology development, and astronaut health and safety. Kalpana Chawla : Born in Punjab, Chawla moved to the United States in 1982, where in 1984, she earned her Master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington. While chasing her dream to be an astronaut, she earned her second Masters in 1986 and a PhD in aerospace engineering in 1988 from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Before moving to US, she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh. In April 1991, she became a naturalized US citizen. After becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen, Chawla applied for the NASA Astronaut Corps and joined the corps in 1995. In 1996, she was selected for her first flight.

The Delhi High Court on 16 March 2017 asked the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) to audit the forest department and other agencies on the aspects of how much timber and money are generated from the felling of trees in the city. The direction was issued by a two-judge bench of Justice Badar Durrez Ahmed and Justice Ashutosh Kumar. The direction was issued by the court while hearing a PIL initiated by the court on the issue of air pollution and its causes. In its reply on the plea, the Delhi Government informed the court that some timber is auctioned off and some are provided free of cost to crematoriums. In response to which, the court said that it wants to know what happens to the funds that are received by auctioning the timbers and the quantity of timber that is provided to the crematoriums. It also observed that the bereaved families are made to pay for the wood at crematoriums. Highlights of the observation of the High Court : The court said that it wanted to know how the timber from felled trees and the money charged for permission to cut them were being utilised. The bench observed that the trail of timber and the trail of money has to be checked. In its observation, the court said that what concerns is that whether each and every tree felled is accounted for in terms of money and timber and whether compensatory afforestation is taking place. Besides, the court also directed the Delhi government to increase the green cover in the national capital to the desired objective of 25 per cent. It also said that not only the existing forests should be preserved and maintained, but areas under encroachment should be reclaimed. It said that the trees in non-forest areas should be replenished if cut and further plantation of trees under compensatory afforestation scheme be undertaken. CAG will be auditing the case in aspects of the forest department of the Delhi Government and other agencies including the three municipal corporations, the New Delhi Municipal Council, the Public Works Department, Delhi Metro, the Cantonment Board and Northern Railway.  

The Whanganui River in New Zealand has become the first landmark in the world to be granted the same legal rights as that of a human being, following a 140-year struggle. The river’s new legal identity comes with the passing of the Whanganui River Claims Settlement bill. The bill passed its third reading in New Zealand’s Parliament on 15 March 2017. It aims to establish a new legal framework for the river. Highlights  :  The bill recognised the river as an indivisible, living whole from the mountains to the sea. The river is the first in the world to be granted all the rights, duties, liabilities and legal status of a person.  The bill’s passing brought an end to the longest running litigation in the history of New Zealand. The people of Whanganui iwi have been fighting for the recognition of their relationship with the river since the 1870s.  The settlement included a financial redress of $80 million as well as an additional $1 million contribution for establishing the river’s legal framework.  Besides this, the crown would also be contributing a sum of $30 million for further betterment and well being of the river.  The move followed the example used in the Tuhoe Settlement Bill that saw Te Urewera National Park gain the status of a legal entity in 2014. Commenting on the century-long fight, Gerrard Albert , the lead negotiator in the case, stated that the  river is a sacred landmark for the Maori Iwi tribe, they treat it as an ancestor and thus, they needed to find something that would help uphold its position. Speaking on the case, Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Christopher Finlayson stated that the approach of granting legal identity to a river was unique, as the legislation recognised the deep spiritual connection between the locals and the ancestral river and created a strong platform for the future of the river.  The new status means that from here on, any abuse or harm caused to the river will be viewed in the same light as harm caused to a human being. Besides this, two guardians will be appointed – one from the crown and one from the Whanganui iwi to act on the behalf of the river. All the Maori tribes regard themselves as part of the universe, at par with the mountains, rivers and seas. The local tribe of Whanganui has been fighting for the recognition of the river as their ancestor for almost 140 years.  The river is New Zealand's longest navigable river and so, it has got a rich history of human interactions.  There were once more than 100 Maori villages along the river’s banks. The introduction of a riverboat service in 1891 made the river an ideal channel for the flourishing of tourism and trade. The trade and communication undertaken through the river reached as far as Wellington, Waikato, Taranaki, Taupo and the Bay of Plenty.

Commonwealth badminton doubles gold medallist Jwala Gutta in the second week of March 2017 was included as a member of the governing body of the Sports Authority of India (SAI). In addition, BV Papa Rao, IAS (retired), was also added to the newly constituted governing body. He has the experience of being an officer on special duty of SAI from 1985 to 1990. At present, he is a sports administrator and advisor to Telangana Government. Jwala Gutta : Jwala Gutta is a left-handed Indian badminton player. She is India’s most successful doubles specialist.She has won the National Badminton Championships fourteen times. She has won numerous medals for Indian badminton including the bronze medal BWF World Championships in 2011 and a gold and silver at 2010 and 2014 Commonwealth Games respectively in women's doubles.  In 2011, she was awarded the Arjuna Award, India's second highest sporting award, for her achievements. Sports Authority of India : The Sports Authority of India is an apex National Sports body. It was set up in 1984 by the Union Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Government of India.  It was instituted for broad basing and bringing excellence in sports across India. SAI has 9 Regional Centres, which are located at Bengaluru, Gandhinagar, Chandigarh,Kolkata, Imphal, Guwahati, Bhopal, Mumbai,Lucknow and Sonepat.  It has two Academic institutions, which are Netaji Subhash National Institute of Sports (NS NIS), Patiala and Laxmibai National College of Physical Education (LNCPE), Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala).

India and Brazil signed a social security agreement on 16 March 2017 in Brazil's capital Brasilia, exempting detached workers of the two countries from making social security contribution in either country, as long as they were making such contributions in their own respective nations.  The text was signed between the Indian delegation led by Joint Secretary of the External Affairs Ministry, K Nagaraj Naidu and Brazilian delegation led by Benedito A Brunca, Secretary, Ministry of Finance, Government of Brazil. The same was confirmed through a statement from the Ministry of External Affairs. They are the workers sent by their respective employers to work in the office of their company or an affiliated one located in a different country.  Highlights  : The agreement establishes the rights and obligations of nationals belonging to both the countries and provides for their equal treatment and unrestricted payment of pensions even in the case of residence in the other contracting state.  The requirements to be entitled for pension can be met by aggregating the periods of insurance completed in India and Brazil, whereby each country pays only the pension for the insurance periods covered by its laws. India has, so far, signed such Social Security Agreements (SSAs) with 18 countries including Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, and South Korea. The agreement will come into force in the first half of 2018. It will have a positive impact on the profitability and competitive position of companies of both India and Brazil that are operating in either’s territory.  The agreement will also help promote more investment flow between the two countries.  Once the text comes into force, it will be the first such agreement between the BRICS nations.

The finance ministers and central bank chiefs from the Group of 20 economies (G20) are due to meet in Baden-Baden in Germany from 17-18 March 2017.  The meeting is expected to focus on strengthening economic resilience in finance and digitalisation and to promote investment in Africa.  Highlights  : The meeting will provide a preliminary discussion platform for the finance ministers and central bank governors to discuss their points ahead of the G20 Summit of heads of state and government that will be held in Hamburg, Germany from 7-8 July.  All the focus will be on whether they are able to agree to work together to promote free trade between themselves despite the protectionist tendency of the United States.  This meet will be the first such gathering of leaders to discuss global economic challenges since Donald Trump took over as the President of United States in January 2017. While most of the G20 nations have been in agreement that encouraging free trade is the way to foster the world economy, Trump administration has been seen taking a protectionist stance on the same, saying it is a part of their effort to save jobs in the US.  The results of the meeting will be shared by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann in a news conference, which is to be held on 18 March 2017.  The G20 finance ministers and central bank chiefs will be convening again at the International Monetary Fund's spring and annual meetings in April and October 2017 in Washington DC. G20 : It is an international forum comprising governments and central bank governors from 20 major economies.  It was founded in 1999 with the aim of achieving international coordination on policy issues to promote international financial stability.  The group seeks to address issues that are beyond the responsibility of a particular organisation.  Some of the member economies include the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil, India, China, Australia, Germany, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Russia.

The World Bank Group (WBG) on 15 March 2017 approved USD 210 million loan to strengthen gram panchayats (GPs) in West Bengal. The loan amount will be utilized for the implementation of the Phase II of the West Bengal Support to Institutional Strengthening of Gram Panchayat Program (ISGPP-II). The ISGPP-II will support all 3,342 GPs in the state to effectively utilize untied and discretionary funds that are being provided to them under the inter-governmental fiscal transfer system. Features of West Bengal Support to Institutional Strengthening of Gram Panchayat Program (ISGPP) The program seeks to strengthen local communities’ participation in the planning, budgeting and financial management of projects undertaken in rural areas.  During the first phase of this project (ISGPP-I), performance-based block grants (PBG) were given to 1,000 better performing GPs within nine districts for investing in priority local infrastructure and service delivery projects. So far, 92,000 activities were carried out by the GPs under the ISGPP. Out of them, while 54 per cent of the activities belonged to the transport sector, 23 per cent in the areas concerning water and sanitation. Similar activities are envisioned under ISGPP-II for all 3,342 GPs. These activities will generate economic benefits including employment generation and increased efficiency in spending. The ISGPP-II will accelerate the pace of decentralization to all GPs across West Bengal through a state-wide unified performance-based grant (PBG) allocation system. In order to access the PBG, GPs will be assessed on an annual basis through an independent Annual Performance Assessment (APA). The APA will be conducted for all 3,342 GPs in key performance areas including planning and budgeting, project execution and service delivery, accounting, financial reporting and auditing and transparency and accountability. Some of the other areas that the program will focus on include building human resource capacity for increased transparency and accountability in local government functioning. To achieve these goals, a robust internal audit system will also be developed and implemented in all the GPs.

Kansas, a state of the United States, recognised 16 March as Indian-American Appreciation Day. The day was recognised to honour an Indian techie, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who was killed in a racially-motivated hate crime in February 2017. Kuchibhotla was killed when a US Navy veteran Adam Purinton, 51, opened fire at him and his friend Alok Madasani on 22 February 2017 in Olathe. Madasani along with American national Ian Grillot were injured in the attack. While declaring March 16 as the Indian-American Appreciation Day, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback said, the unique contribution of Indian community has made Kansas a better place. He asserted that the senseless act of violence will not divide or define the state and said the state of Kansas remains committed to standing with the Indian community. The state will always reject the acts of violence and harm. Brownback, who issued a proclamation to this effect at an event in Topeka, the state capital, said that these actions can never overshadow our shared values. He also said that Kansas will continue to welcome and support the Indian community in the State of Kansas. The governor also publicly apologised for the loss of life and injury to Madasani. Meanwhile, India House, Houston held a candlelight vigil in honour of Kuchibhotla. The candlelight vigil was attended by a large gathering of Indian Americans, friends and several elected officials. To celebrate true American spirit, India House has also decided to honour Grillot, who tried to stop the shooter.

Bandhan Bank Ltd in March 2017 announced the signing of an agreement with Avenues India Pvt Ltd, the leading payment solution provider in India. The agreement signed at the Bandhan Bank headquarters in Kolkata. The pact was signed to provide the merchants with seamless access to the Point of Sale (POS) and the payment gateway products. The partnership will help merchants to have speedier and more direct access to POS machines, payment gateways and competitive financing options. The pact also asks the two parties to cooperate and benefit from each other’s networks, customers, systems, techniques and expertise for the purpose of enhancing customers’ experience. Bandhan Bank : Bandhan Bank Ltd. is an Indian banking and financial services company.It is headquartered in Kolkata, West Bengal.  Initially, Bandhan started as a micro-finance company in 2001.  It received banking licence by Reserve Bank of India in 2014. Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley officially inaugurated the bank on 24 August 2015 in Kolkata. Initially, it opened with 501 branches, 50 ATMs and 2022 Door step Service Centres across the country. It is the first bank to be set up in eastern part of India after Independence. At present, it has 3383 touch points pan India consisting of 744 bank branches, 2371 Doorstep Service Centres and 268 ATMs.

The three-day International Buddhist conference began at Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, Rajgir in Nalanda district of Bihar on 17 March 2017.  The event was jointly inaugurated by the much respected religious leader Dalai Lama and the Union Minister for Tourism and Culture, Mahesh Sharma. Highlights : The inaugural session saw the release of Pali Tripitaka book by Dalai Lama and other dignitaries, who were present at the event.  Over 1000 delegates from 35 countries including Indonesia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Singapore will be participating in the three-day event.  The main topic of the conference is Buddhism in the 21st century. The event would witness scholars giving their deliberations on perspective and responses to global challenges and crisis. The concluding ceremony, which will be held on 19 March 2017, is expected to see in attendance Pranab Mukherjee, the President of India.  The conference is an annual event. Last year, it was held in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Senior IAS officer Karan Avtar Singh was on 16 March 2017 appointed as the Chief Secretary of Punjab. His appointment came after the swearing-in ceremony of Captain Amarinder Singh as Punjab Chief Minister. Avtar Singh succeeded Sarvesh Kaushal who was posted as Special Chief Secretary-cum-Director General of the Mahatma Gandhi State Institute of Public Administration. Singh was also given the charge of the Principal Secretary of Department of Personnel, General Administration and Vigilance and Investment Promotion. Apart from Karan Avtar, 11 other senior IAS officers of the state were also given the new posting.  Senior IAS officer Himmat Singh was appointed as the Special Chief Secretary, Horticulture and in addition was given the charge of Special Principal Secretary, Forests and Wild life. Karanbir Singh Sidhu was posted as Special Chief Secretary, Revenue and Rehabilitation. Nirmaljeet Singh Kalsi was posted as Additional Chief Secretary, Home Affairs and Justice. IAS officer Satish Chandra was posted as Additional Chief Secretary Finance. S K Sandhu, who was the Principal Secretary to former Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, was posted as the Additional Chief Secretary, Social Security and Development of Women and Children.

Bibhu Prasad Kanungo from Odisha has been appointed as Deputy Governor in Reserve Bank of India (RBI) for three years by the Appointments Committee of Cabinet (ACC) . Prasad is the succeedor of R Gandhi.He will take charge on or after April 3, 2017. Presently, he is working executive director of the central bank. Prior to that, he has been earlier the RBI’s regional director in Jaipur and Kolkata and the banking intermediary for Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

Mumbai based Central Bank of India won the first prize in the implementation of Official Language Policy in the western region for the year 2015-2016  at the Official Language Conference of Central and Western Regions in Udaipur ii. Rajasthan governor , Kalyan Singh has presented the trophy and certificate to Sudhir Pathak, Chief Manager, Central Bank of India

Singapore based Changi Airport was named as the World’s Best Airport for the fifth consecutive year at the 2017 Skytrax World Airport Awards on March 14, 2017 held at the Passenger Terminal EXPO in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. The award was received by Mr Lee Seow Hiang, CEO of Changi Airport Group from Mr Edward Plaisted, CEO of Skytrax. Besides, this is the eighth time that Changi Airport has been awarded the top international title at the World Airport Awards since it was introduced in 2000. Changi Airport was also named the Best Airport in Asia and the Best Airport for Leisure Amenities which it has held since the award category was introduced in 2009. World’s Top 5 Airports  1 Changi Airport Singapore 2 Tokyo International Airport (Haneda Airport) 3 Incheon International Airport 4 Munich Airport 5 Hong Kong International Airport  

India’s public sector banking and financial services company State Bank of India(SBI) and real estate developers’ body CREDAI have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) which is valid for a period of 3 years. To jointly conduct various initiatives towards development of the realty sector. To promote housing for all SBI will be a national partner for all CREDAI activities and both will jointly work together for various marketing activities like conclaves, seminars, exhibitions, campaigns and CSR activities as well.  

HDFC Bank in collaboration with National Securities Depository Limited (NSDL) has launched an instant Digital Loan against Securities (LAS) product on March 15, 2017.  LAS will reduced the time to disburse the overdraft facility in just 3 minutes rather than several days previously. This is a first-of-its-kind initiative in India and probably the first in the world as well. Key Features of the LAS : Under the facility, customers can pledge shares directly through their demat accounts and give necessary approvals while applying for the loan. Shares dematerialised by NSDL and executed through HDFC Bank demat account could be used for pledging. The bank will instantly approves the loan and the money will be credited to their bank accounts. Once shares are pledged, a customer cannot sell them unless the loan against them has been cleared. The loan amount ranges from Rs 1 to 20 lakh for a period and every year the loan amount will be reevaluated. The overdraft will be offered at an interest rate of 10.5 percent, same as the non-digital loans. Initially the facility is restricted to only HDFC Bank demat account holders so customers need to open accounts with the bank to avail the digital service. Besides, the facility will be available for Demat shares in the beginning which will soon be extended to other securities such as mutual funds, bonds and insurance policies.

China and Saudi Arabia officials on March 17, 2017 have signed Memorandums of Understanding(MoU) and Letters of Intent(LoI) potentially worth about $65 billion during Saudi King Salman’s visit to China. This was announced by Zhang Ming, Deputy Chinese Foreign Minister To promote investment opportunities in the kingdom The agreements seeks co-operations in the field of investment, energy, space and other areas. Highlights of MoU : For Saudi Arabian Oil Company Saudi Aramco, the potential investments fit with its strategy to expand its refining and chemicals portfolio Norinco will look into building refining and chemical projects in China Saudi Basic Industries Corp (SABIC) and Sinopec have agreed to develop petrochemical projects in China and Saudi Arabia.  

India along with other South East Asian Region countries signed a ‘Call for Action’ on March 16, 2017 to end tuberculosis (TB) and pledged to take efforts to end the disease by 2030.  The  ‘call for action’ was signed by the Health ministers of the WHO’s South-East Asia Region countries and the World Health Organization (WHO) on the concluding day of the two day ministerial meeting towards ending TB in the region that began on March 15, 2017. Features of ‘Call For Action’ for TB : The initiative envisages scale-up efforts and implementing adequately funded, innovative, multi-sectoral and comprehensive measures to achieve the global target to end the disease by 2030.  The initiative also stresses on increasing government and partner budgetary allocations to enable national TB plans to be fully funded. Besides, the ministers discussed about setting up of a ‘regional innovation to implementation fund’ for accelerated sharing of knowledge, intellectual resources and innovations to reach out and treat all cases. WHO South-East Asia Region : WHO’s South-East Asia Region comprises Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste.  Six of the region’s countries namely Bangladesh, DPR Korea, India, Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand are among the 30 high TB burden nations globally. India reports 2.8 million new TB cases annually and nearly half a million deaths due to the disease.  

Goa Chief minister Manohar Parrikar won the floor test in the Goa state assembly with 22 legislators support out of legislators out of 40-member House while the oppositionCongress has only 16 votes The state assembly conducted the floor test on March 16, 2017 following an order by the Supreme Court. Manohar proved his majority with 12 legislators from the BJP, three from the Goa Forward Party (GFP), three from the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), three Independents and one from the NCP voting in favour of the trust motion. The test was passed through a clear division which was ordered by Pro-tem Speaker Siddharth Kuncolienkar(BJP) The session will meet again to elect the Speaker on March 23 and followed by presentation of the state budget on March 24.  

The Union Ministry of Commerce & Industry has launched Trade Infrastructure for Export Scheme for developing export linked infrastructure in states with a view to promoting outbound shipments. TIES seeks to bridge the critical infrastructure gap and provide forward and backward linkages to units engaged in trade activities. Enhance export competitiveness by bridging the gap in export infrastructure, which has not been addressed by any other scheme. It would focus on projects like customs checkpoints, last mile connectivity, border haats and integrated check posts. All central and state agencies including Commodities Boards, Export Promotion Councils, SEZ authorities and Apex Trade Bodies recognised under EXIM policy of Central Government are eligible for financial support. The cost of projects will be equally shared by the Centre and the states in form of grant-in-aid. In normal cases centre will borne 50% of the total equity in the project. For projects located in north-eastern and the Himalayan region states, Centre may bear 80% of the cost. Projects leveraging of funds from bank financing will be promoted. It will not include recurring costs of land and operating & maintenance costs to be met through pay and use charges. Priority will be given to the projects involving significant contribution by the implementing agency and bank financing for achieving financial closure. An inter-ministerial empowered committee will sanction and monitor the projects. It will be headed by the commerce secretary.  

A Parliamentary panel in its report has suggested a merger of state-run telecom firms Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) for their long-term survival. The Committee on Petitions, chaired by Bharatiya Janata Party MP Bhagat Singh Koshyari, in its report tabled in Lok Sabha on 16 March 2017, said that for the long-term survival and success, the merger of the MTNL and BSNL would be a good proposition. The panel opined that their merger would give both the entities a chance to compete against private sector players. In addition to this, the panel also suggested that the synergies and advantages inherent in an integrated national telecom infrastructure would pave the way for the lower cost of investment and greater combined ability to face competition. As per reports, the panel was informed that both the public sector firms are in financial losses and are facing declining revenues from the loss of market share and increasing expenditure. The information was provided by the Department of Telecom (DoT). Highlights of the DoT’s information to the panel : The two PSUs were not successful in investing adequately in the expansion and modernisation of their network, which leads to coverage issues.  Now, these firms are taking steps to modernise their wireline and wireless networks. The panel was informed about phase 7 and 8 network expansion plan for BSNL. In the case of MTNL, the DoT informed that due to financial crunch, the firm was not able to upgrade its GSM and landline network for the last three-four years. But at present, it is exploring Managed Service Model with BSNL for its mobile services. Besides, urging the government to consider its findings in relation to the merger of BSNL and MTNL, the panel also requested it to constitute an expert committee. The committee was formed to look into representation received by BJP MP Arvind Sawant regarding improvement in services provided by BSNL and MTNL.

Indrani Das, an Indian-American high school student, in second week of March 2017 won the 2017 Regeneron Science Talent Search bagging the top award of USD 250000. Das won the prestigious high school science and mathematics competition for her new approach to neurological damage. The Indian-American teen is a student at the Academy for Medical Science Technology in Hackensack. Aaron Yeiser, a senior at Perkiomen Valley High School, Pennsylvania, won the second place award of USD 175000. He grabbed the prize for his development of a new mathematical method to solve partial differential equations on complicated geometries. The third place was clinched by another Indian-American student, Arjun Srinivasan Ramani. He was awarded USD 150000 for blending the mathematical field of graph theory with computer programming to answer questions about networks. Regeneron Science Talent Search : The Regeneron Science Talent Search is a research-based science competition in the United States for high school seniors.  For its first 57 years, the competition was known as the Westinghouse Science Talent Search. From 1988 to 2015, it was known as the Intel Science Talent Search. The competition has been referred to as "the nation's oldest and most prestigious" science competition. Former US President George H. W. Bush, in his speech at the dinner honouring the 1991 winners, called the competition as the "Super Bowl of science."

Manhar Valji on 16 March 2017 became the chairperson of the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis. Along with Valji, two members - Manju Diler and Dalip Kallu Hathibed – assumed office. National Commission for Safai Karamcharis : The National Commission for Safai Karamcharis seeks to study, evaluate and monitor the implementation of various schemes meant for the welfare of  safai karamcharis. The commission was constituted in August 1994 as per the provisions of the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis Act, 1993. The commission consists of a chairperson, a vice-chairperson and five members. Among them, at least one of the members  shall be a woman. The chairperson, vice-chairperson and every member shall hold office for such period not exceeding three years. All orders and decisions of the commission shall be authenticated by the chairperson or any other officer of the commission duly authorised by the chairperson in this behalf. The commission performs following functions, namely, i. Recommend to the Union Government specific programmes of action towards elimination of inequalities in status, facilities and opportunities for safai karamcharis under a time-bound action plan ii. Study and evaluate the implementation of the programmes and schemes relating to the social and economic rehabilitation of safai karamcharis iii. Investigate specific grievances and take sou moto notice of matters relating to non-implementation of  programmes or schemes in respect of any group of safai karamcharis

The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and UN Women on 15 March 2017 launched the Women in Politics Map 2017. The rankings showed that the number of women Heads of State or Heads of Government fell from 19 to 17 since 2015, and progress in the number of women in parliament continues to be slow. The report was launched on the sidelines of the 61st Commission on the Status of Women, known as the largest inter-governmental forum on women's rights and gender equality. For 2017, the theme is on women's economic empowerment in the changing world of work. Top 10 countries with highest women in parliament Rwanda Bolivia Cuba Iceland Nicaragua Sweden Senegal Mexico Finland South Africa India in the report : The world ranking of the number of women parliamentarians placed India at number 148. As per the report, women made up 11.8% of the Lok Sabha where 64 were elected to the 542-member house and 11% of the Rajya Sabha with 27 of the 245 members. India ranked 88 in the number of women Ministers with five or 18.5 per cent in the cabinet. However, women hold important positions. For instance, Sumitra Mahajan is the Speaker and Sushma Swaraj is the Union External Affairs Minister.

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA), chaired by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on 15 March 2017 approved the proposal for setting up around 50 new Kendriya Vidyalayas (KVs) under Civil or Defence Sector in the country. The total project cost for the proposed 50 new Kendriya Vidyalayas is Rs 1160 crore based on Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS) norms.  Highlights : New KVs will be opened from classes I to V for which 650 regular posts shall be created in all 50 Kendriya Vidyalayas.  When the school will grow up to class XII and becomes a full-fledged school with two sections in each class, then about 4000 regular posts of various categories will be created including 2900 teaching posts and about 1100 non-teaching posts.   When fully functional, these new KVs will provide quality education to approximately 50000 students in addition to the approximately 12 lakh students that are already studying in present KVs.  The new KVs will address the educational needs of eligible students with high quality standards and will play a role of pace-setting educational institutions in the districts concerned.  The Kendriya Vidyalayas are considered as model schools in the country in terms of physical infrastructure, teaching resources, curriculum and academic performance. The main objective of KVs is to cater to the educational needs of children of transferable Central Government employees including Defence and Para-military personnel.  These schools have consistently shown their excellent academic performance as evident from the Board Results of Class X and XII exams conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). At present, there are over 1100 functional Kendriya Vidyalayas including three international branches at Moscow, Kathmandu and Tehran.

The US Judge, Derrick Watson of Federal District Court in Honolulu, Hawaii issued a nationwide order on 14 March 2017 blocking US President Donald Trump’s new travel ban order on six Muslim-majority nations.  The block came hours before the ban was supposed to come into effect. Trump’s directive, had it been effective, would have stopped travel to the US from six Muslim-majority nations including Yemen, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Somalia and Libya for 90 days and imposed a 120-day ban on refugees. The new order that excludes Iraq from the banned list unlike before has been criticised to be a thinly veiled version of the earlier order. Highlights  : The US district judge in a 43-page ruling stated that a reasonable and objective observer would view the new order as one issued with the purpose of disfavouring a particular religion in spite of the stated religiously neutral purpose.  The judge ruled that the state of Hawaii and petitioner Ismail Elshikh had reasonable grounds to challenge the order as religious discrimination and concluded that allowing the travel restrictions to go into effect as scheduled could have caused them irreparable harm. Speaking only in respect to Elshikh, who is the imam of the Muslim Association of Hawaii and an American citizen who has been struggling to get a visa for his Syrian mother-in-law to enter the United States, the judge stated that the travel regulations would harm him on the basis of his religion. Besides this, several other cases challenging the constitutionality of Trump’s order were filed in the courts of Washington State and Maryland. This is the second major setback for Trump, as his first attempt in implementing the travel ban that he proposed critical for national security was halted by a federal court in Seattle.  Trump decried the ruling as an unprecedented judicial overreach and pledged to take the issue to the Supreme Court if necessary. He also stated that he might reissue the initial version of the order.

D Jayakumar, the Finance Minister of Tamil Nadu, on 16 March 2017 presented the 2017-18 state budget of Tamil Nadu in the assembly. This was his maiden budget presentation. This was also the first budget to be presented by the state government headed by Chief Minister E Palaniswami. In light of the awaited GST implementation, the state has not introduced any new taxes in the budget. The finance minister said that introduction of GST will benefit the state. The main high light of the 2017-18 TN budget: The State Planning Commission will be replaced by State Development Policy Council. This council will be responsible for advising the state government on policy coherence and formulation of programmes to guide the development of State. 10000 blind people will be provided with smart canes. Disability pension was increased to Rs 2000 from existing Rs 1000.  Javvadu hills will have a modern residential school with hostel facilities for teachers. The school will be developed at an expense of Rs 24 crore. The school would benefit the tribal communities of the region. Number of seats in PG medical college was raised to 1362 from 1188. Plan and Allocations  Laptop Scheme: Rs 758 crore allocated. Anna Daanam scheme: The scheme started by Jayalalithaa will be continued in 265 temples in Tamil Nadu. Free schemes extended to school going children: Rs 758 crore allotted. Scooters at subsidised rates: Rs 200 crore allotted to help 1 lakh, women, to purchase scooters School infrastructure: Rs 352 crore was allocated for improving the infrastructure of the state. Public health and family welfare: Rs 10158 crore allotted. Primary Health Centres: 30 new such centres will be developed at an expense of Rs 43.76 crore. Green housing project: Rs 420 crore allocated for building 20000 houses.  Urban Swachh Bharat Mission: Rs 600 crore allocated.  Chennai Mega City development mission: Rs 400 crore allocated for finishing infra projects, which was undertaken by the Greater Chennai Corporation. Urban poverty alleviation schemes: Rs 272 crore allocated. 100 days employment scheme in rural areas: Rs 1,000 crore allocated. Medical Park will be developed in Kanchipuram at an expense of Rs 130 crore.  Rural area temples: Rs 1 lakh per temple will be spent to renovate 1000 rural area temples. Tamirabarani-Nambiyaaru River linking project: Rs 300 crore allotted Kudi Maramathu project: Rs 300 crore allotted Conservation of Pallikaranai marshland: The work of conservation will be undertaken under the Green Climate Fund. Crop loan: the state will disburse Rs 7000 crore as crop loan through cooperative banks. Fishing harbour: Mookaiyur in Ramanathapuram district will get new fishing harbour. On the other hand, the fishing ban compensation was raised to Rs 5000. Animal husbandry department: It saw an allocation of Rs 1161 crore.  Aavin milk production unit: A new milk production unit will be developed in Madurai at an expense of Rs 40 crore. This unit will be involved in the production of the flavoured milk under brand Aavin.  Drip irrigation scheme: It will be used to encourage sugarcane cultivation. Refugee welfare fund (Sri Lankan refugees): Rs 116 crore was allocated. Eradication of poverty in rural and urban areas: Rs 469 crore and Rs 272 crore was allotted respectively. Tamil Nadu Rural Transformation Project: It will be undertaken in 127 rural districts with a fund of Rs 1000 crore from World Bank. Rs 116 crore allocated to Information Technology department. Rs 2192 crore was allocated to transport department. Rs 160 crore allotted to widen state Highways and Rs 3156 crore was allocated for maintenance of the road infrastructure. On the other hand, Rs 100 crore was allocated under the Highways safety fund. Rs 165 crore allocated to youth welfare and sports ministry.  Rs 1010 crore allocated to Labour welfare department. 3.5 lakh plots of land will be given to economically weaker sections. In addition to these, Rs 3042 crore loan from World Bank will be used for conservation of various water bodies. Besides, Rs 3009 crore was allocated to Adi Dravida welfare ministry, while Rs 983 crore was given for BC/MBC welfare.  

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, presided by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on 15 March 2017 gave green signal to marketing and pricing freedom to the Coal Bed Methane (CBM) Contractors to sell the CBM at Arm's Length Price in the domestic market. As per the policy, the Contractor, while discovering the market price for Arms Length Sales, has to ensure a fully transparent and competitive process for sale of CBM. While doing so, the Contractor must also take care of the fact that the best possible price is realized for the gas without any restrictive commercial practices. Highlights : As per the policy, CBM contractors have been permitted to sell the CBM to its any affiliate, in the event contractor cannot identify any buyer. Royalty and other dues to the Government shall be payable on the basis of Petroleum Planning & Analysis Cell (PPAC) notified prices or selling prices, whichever is higher. The policy is expected to incentivize the CBM operation in India to boost gas production. The policy also aims at generating economic activities, which in turn will be beneficial for creating more employment opportunities in CBM operations and related activities. Coal Bed Methane : Coal Bed Methane is a form of natural gas extracted from coal beds.  It is an important source of energy in United States, Canada, Australia, and other countries.The term CBD refers to methane adsorbed into the solid matrix of the coal. CBD is distinct from typical sandstone or other conventional gas reservoir, as the methane is stored within the coal by a process called adsorption. It contains very little heavier hydrocarbons such as propane or butane, and no natural-gas condensate.

Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah on 15 March 2017 presented the State annual budget for the period between April 2017 and March 2018. The overall size of the budget was pegged at Rs 1,78,385 crore. Compared to the budget 2016-17, which is estimated at Rs 1,57,222 crore, it is higher than Rs 20,000 crore. Highlights of Karnataka Budget 2017-18 : The Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) in the year 2016-17 grew at the rate of 6.9 percent as against the rate of 7.3 percent during 2015-16. • Krishi Bhagya scheme will be extended to costal and malnad areas (excluding command areas) covering all the taluks in the year 2017-18. For this purpose, a grant of Rs 600 crore will be provided. For the year 2017-18, an amount of Rs 845 crore has been provided for the Karnataka Raitha Suraksha Pradhana Manthri Fasal Bima Yojana to make the State drought-proof.  In order to emphasize the judicious and efficient use of water, drip and sprinkler irrigation units will be distributed at 90 per cent subsidy for up to 2 hectares. It is proposed to start Cashew Development Board for developing 10,000 hectares of good quality of cashew orchards over next 5 years. During 2017-18, Rs 6,000 crore will be spent on various irrigation projects across the State. It is proposed to develop ‘Salumarada Thimmakka Vruksha Udyanavana’ in every assembly constituency. In respect of teachers, need based restructured medium to long term training of 50 thousand teachers and lecturers will be taken up for specific core subjects and languages including English. For improving school management and sector governance, the use of technology initiated under “Shikshana Kirana” will be strengthened including biometric attendance of teachers. It is proposed to pay honorarium of Rs 1,000 to ASHA workers in addition to the existing payment of incentive to reduce the rate of infant and maternal mortality. A new Karnataka Institute of Endocrinology will be established in Indiranagar, Bengaluru, using own resources, at an estimated cost of Rs 35 crore.

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) gave its approval to permit Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IndianOil) to sell its 24 per cent equity in M/s Lubrizol India Private Limited (LIPL) to Lubrizol Corporation, USA (LC). The approval was given at a meeting of the CCEA chaired by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 15 March 2017 in New Delhi. The sale will enable the IndianOil to have a long term association with the Lubrizol Corporation. Indian Oil Corporation Ltd :  Indian Oil Corporation (IndianOil) is India's largest commercial enterprise, with a sales turnover of Rs 3,99,601 crore (USD 61 billion) and profits of Rs 10,399 crore (USD 1,589 million) for the year 2015-16. As India's flagship national oil company, with a 33,000-strong work-force currently, IndianOil has been meeting India’s energy demands for over half a century. Its business interests involve the entire hydrocarbon value-chain including refining, pipeline transportation, marketing of petroleum products, exploration and production of crude oil and gas and marketing of natural gas and petrochemicals. The company accounts for nearly half of India's petroleum products market share and 35 per cent of the national refining capacity. Having set up subsidiaries in Sri Lanka, Mauritius and the UAE, the corporation is simultaneously scouting for new business opportunities in the energy markets of Asia and Africa.It has also formed about 20 joint ventures, including Lubrizol India Private Limited (LIPL), with reputed business partners from India and abroad to pursue diverse business interests. The LIPL was formed a joint venture between the IndianOil and the Lubrizol Corporation. Lubrizol Corporation : It is a market leader in the specialty chemicals industry. It manufactures products like additives for engine oils and other transportation-related fluids, additives for industrial lubricants and additives for gasoline and diesel fuel. Lubrizol also makes ingredients and additives for personal care products, pharmaceuticals and medical devices and specialty materials.

The US Senate voted on 16 March 2017 to confirm the appointment of former Republican Senator Dan Coats and Lieutenant General HR McMaster as President Donald Trump’s Director of National Intelligence and National Security Adviser respectively. While the senate voted 85 to 12 in favour of Coats’ appointment, McMaster’s approval vote was even more overwhelming with 86 votes in his favour and just 10 against. Though National security advisers aren’t subject to Senate confirmation, McMaster’s reappointment to the new position had to be considered because he chose to remain as an active military officer rather than retire from the service and generals need the chamber’s approval when they’re promoted or given a different assignment. Highlights : The appointment makes Dan Coats the fifth person to hold the post created after the 11 September terror attack.While both the candidates faced opposition from democratic senators, Coats also faced opposition from one Republican, Senator Rand Paul who is one of the Senate's leading privacy advocates. McMaster will be succeeding retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign from the office on 13 February following the emergence of reports of him misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the discussions he had with the Russian ambassador to US about US sanctions on Moscow before the presidential transition took place. Coats would be replacing James Clapper, who retired as President Barack Obama left office in January 2017. Coats will be overseeing 16 intelligence agencies that have been criticized by Trump for their past assessments. Coats will also hold a key position in the government’s ongoing investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Dan Coats : Born in Jackson, Michigan, Coats served in the US Army from 1966 to 1968  He served as a Senator from Indiana from 1989 to 1999 and from 2011 to 2017.He had served as US Ambassador to Germany under former President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005. He was a member of the Senate's intelligence committee until he retired from the Senate at the end of 2016. Since the early 1980s, Coats has either served in government or worked as a lobbyist and board director.His most recently available Senate financial disclosure from 2014, shows his net worth as more than $12 million.  

The Union Cabinet on 15 March 2017 approved a special financial assistance for bifurcated Andhra Pradesh. This financial assistance will be provided by special dispensation in funding of Externally Aided Projects (EAPs. The financial assistance will be also provided for the irrigation component of Polavaram project. The special assistance will be provided to the state towards repayment of loan and interest for EAPs signed and disbursed from 2015-16 to 2019-20. The decision to this effect was taken at a Union Cabinet meet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Externally Aided Projects: Andhra Pradesh will be provided with a special assistance measure by the Union Government. Under this measure, the centre would make up for the additional central share the state might have received during 2015-16 to 2019-20. This will be done is the funding of the Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS) would have been shared at the ratio of 90:10 between the Centre and the State. In addition to this, the special assistance will be provided by way of repayment of loan and interest for the Externally Aided Projects (EAPs) signed and disbursed during 2015-2016 to 2019-20 by the State. This support in repayment of the EAP loans will help Andhra Pradesh to put its finances on a firmer footing and promote economic growth. Polavaram project: The Union Government will also fund 100 per cent of the irrigation component of the Polavaram project starting from 1 April 2014. Completion of the Polavaram project will help in increasing irrigation prospects in the state. As per an official release, the work on the project will be executed by the Andhra Pradesh government on behalf of the Union Government. However, other works like overall coordination, design issues, monitoring, quality controls, clearances and other related issues will be dealt by the Polavaram Project Authority of Ministry of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation. The Polavaram Project Authority will also assess out the cost of the irrigation component as on 01 April 2014 in consultation with the Department of Expenditure, Ministry of Finance. The above mentioned special financial assistance is being provided to Andhra Pradesh in accordance with the union government’s commitment to the state under the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act 2014. During the financial year 2016-17, the centre has provided the special assistance of Rs 1976.50 crore to the state. This allocation includes Rs 1176.50 for Resource Gap Rs 350 crore for the development of 7 backward districts covering Rayalaseema & North Coastal regionRs 450 crore as assistance to the capital city In addition to this, the Union Ministry of Water Resources has provided Rs 2081.54 crore for the Polavaram Irrigation Project during the existing financial year. Since enactment of the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act 2014, the Union Government has provided central assistance of Rs 10461.04 crore to the state of Andhra Pradesh. The funds include Rs 4403 crore released during 2014-15 Rs 2000 crore released during 2015-16 Rs 4058.04 in released in 2016-17