Current Affairs 18th March 2017 - Banking, SSC, UPSC Affairs

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The Union Government has announced that total of 29 lakh debit cards were subjected to malware attack in through ATMs that were connected with the switch of Hitachi.  It was announced by Union Minister of State (MoS) for Finance Santosh Kumar Gangwar in a written reply to the Lok Sabha. The reply mentioned that the malware-induced security breach between May and July 2016 had compromised only 3,291 cards as reported by banks to the RBI.  The Hitachi Payment Services (HPS) had appointed SISA Infosec for The Payment Card Industry (PCI) forensic investigation. NPCI had not carried out independent investigation. The forensic report suggested that the only ATM infrastructure of HPS was breached and not the POS (point of sale) infrastructure. RBI had advised banks to improve and maintain customer awareness and education with regard to cyber security risks. RBI also has set up a Cyber Security and IT Examination (CSITE) Cell within its Department of Banking Supervision in 2015. The central bank also had issued a comprehensive circular in June 2016 covering best practices pertaining to various aspects of cyber security. It had instructions on banks cyber-security framework, asking them to put in place a board-approved cyber security policy, make arrangement for continuous surveillance and prepare a cyber-crisis management plan. Malware is short form of malicious software. It is any software used to disrupt computer or mobile operations, gain access to private computer systems, gather sensitive information, or display unwanted advertising. Before the term malware was coined by Yisrael Radai in 1990, malware was referred to as computer viruses.

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) have signed an agreement to work together They will work together on crop improvement and agronomy programmes for grain legumes and dryland cereals. It will benefit small farmers in India and globally. The agreement has identified climate smart crops, smart food and digitalisation of breeding database as some of the core areas of research. The other areas of focus include developing genetic and genomic resources of finger millet and enhancing genetic gains for priority traits, integrating systems modelling tools for upscaling climate resilient agriculture. On crop improvement front, it will facilitate research on pigeonpea and chickpea for insect resistance. Dryland cereals and grain legumes are branded as smart foods. International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid-Tropics (ICRISAT) ICRISAT is a non-profit agricultural research organization headquartered in Patancheru in Hyderabad, Telangana. It was founded in 1972 by a consortium of organizations convened by the Ford and the Rockefeller Foundations. Its charter was signed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It has several regional centres around globe- Niamey (Nigeria), Nairobi (Kenya) and research stations Bamako (Mali), Bulawayo (Zimbabwe). Since its inception, India has granted special status to ICRISAT as a UN Organization operating in the Indian Territory making it eligible for special immunities and tax privileges.  Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) ICAR is an autonomous body responsible for co-ordinating agricultural education and research in India. It is the largest network of agricultural research and education institutes in the world. It reports to the Department of Agricultural Research and Education under the Union Ministry of Agriculture. The Union Minister of Agriculture serves as its president.  

The Union Labour Ministry has proposed a labour code which will provide social security cover to the entire workforce in the country, including self-employed and agricultural workers. In this regard, it has proposed a draft code on Social Security and Welfare with an aim to provide social security cover to the entire workforce in the country of about 45 crore workers.  It will cover every working person whether he/she belongs to the organised sector or the unorganised sector in the country under it. Thus, for the first time, agricultural workers along with self-employed people will be covered under the social security cover.  Even factories employing single worker will have to contribute towards social security benefits. It will cover any factory, mine, shop, plantation, charitable organisations and all establishments or households employing casual, fixed-term, part-time, informal, apprentice, domestic and home-based workers. If such establishments or factories fail to contribute towards the social security schemes of the workers, they will be liable to pay compensation.  It even covers households employing domestic help and they will also have contribute towards schemes, including gratuity for the worker and provident fund.  It proposes, National Social Security Council (NSSC), chaired by the Prime Minister to streamline and make policy on social security schemes related to all the Ministries. NSSC’s other members will include Union Finance Minister, Labour Minister, Health and Family Welfare Minister along with employer and employees’ representatives. It will co-ordinate between central and State governments, monitor the implementation of social security schemes, regulate funds collected under various social security schemes, among others.

GST Council meeting presided by Finance Minister Arun Gaitley has approved draft Bills for implementing the goods and services tax (GST) in States and Union Territories (UTs).  It was the 12th meeting of the GST Council. The Council already has approved three other GST Bills pertaining to central GST, integrated GST and the compensation to be paid to States for loss of revenue.  The approval of these bills paves the way for the Centre and the States to pilot GST, the new indirect tax system, proposed to be introduced from July 1, 2017 through Parliament and the state assemblies. The Council also approved the ceiling rates for the cess to be levied on top of the maximum GST rate of 28% on demerit or sin goods. Four tax rates (ceilings) 5%, 12%, 18% and 28% have been proposed under the GST. It also proposed 15% ceiling on the cess to be levied on aerated drinks and luxury cars over and above the maximum proposed GST rate of 28%.  It also proposed separate cess ceilings for pan masala and tobacco products, including chewing tobacco and cigarettes. However, Beedis have been kept out of the GST net. It also decided to make the tax treatment of items produced in special economic zones (SEZs) similar to that on exports. Procurement of supplies by SEZs will be zero-rated. GST is proposed uniform indirect taxation regime throughout the country. It was approved by The Constitution (One Hundred and First Amendment) Act, 2016. It will merge most of the existing indirect taxes into single system of taxation. It is consumption based tax levied on the supply of Goods and Services which will be levied and collected at each stage of sale or purchase of goods or services based on the input tax credit method.  

India and Russia have signed two long-term support agreements for the Sukhoi Su-30MKI combat aircraft fleet, covering around 57,000 spares and components related to the aircraft. The agreements were signed by India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) with Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation and United Engine Corporation at the first India-Russia Military Industrial Conference held in New Delhi. India has contracted 272 Su-30 fighter jets from Russia in various batches and has so far inducted over 230 jets. However, their serviceability rate has been an issue of constant concern. Over the last couple of years, the serviceability rates had dropped below 50% and at one point it had improved to over 60%.  India has the third largest armed forces in the world and one of the largest importers of defence equipment. Since most of India’s defence platforms and weapon systems are of Russian-origin, their maintenance and life-cycle support is extremely important from the point of view of our defence preparedness. The deal follows a Russian legislation permitting its companies to enter into direct agreement with foreign companies for long-term support agreements. Currently, procurement of spares is a long and cumbersome process as India cannot deal directly with the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) but has to deal with designated intermediaries. India is also exploring the possibility of Russian OEMs allowing licence manufacture of the spares locally by Indian vendors under Make in India initiative

The Union Finance Ministry has given permission to Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to conduct field trials of plastic (polymer-based) currency notes of Rs 10 denominations. It was announced by Union Minister of State (MoS) for Finance Arjun Ram Meghwal in a written reply in the Lok Sabha.  These notes will be first introduced in five cities (not yet declared) across the country with diverse geographical and climatic conditions. The Finance Ministry has asked the RBI to go ahead with the procurement of the requisite plastic substrate material and approved the printing of plastic Rs. 10 notes. The plastic notes are considered to be cleaner than paper (cotton substrate-based) currency notes. They will last longer (average life span of about 5 years) and are difficult to counterfeit. Under the previous UPA Government, Parliament was told in February 2014 about a plan to print one billion plastic notes of Rs. 10 denomination for a field trial in five cities viz. Kochi, Mysuru, Jaipur, Shimla and Bhubaneswar. Note: Plastic currency notes were first adopted by Australia in 1988 and are now used in more than 20 countries. These notes are smaller and stronger than cotton-based paper notes. They also have more security features that make them harder to counterfeit.

Trivendra Singh Rawat was on 18 March 2017 sworn-in as the Chief Minister of Uttarakhand by the State Governor Krishna Kant Paul at the Parade Ground in Dehrandun. TS Rawat succeeded Harish Rawat of the Indian National Congress (INC) in the aftermath of the recent general elections to the State Legislative Assembly. In the February 2017 elections, while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 57 out of the 69 seats by garnering 46.5 per cent of the total votes polled, the ruling INC got only 11 seats and 33.5 per cent of the total votes polled. Trivendra Singh Rawat : 56-year-old Rawat completed a post-graduate degree in history and a diploma in journalism from the Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University. Rawat joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1979 before becoming its pracharak for the Dehradun region in 1985. He was the organizing secretary of the RSS in the Uttarakhand region and later of the State after its formation in 2000.For the first time, he was elected as a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) of the Uttarakhand from Doiwala constituency in 2002. The recent victory in the 2017 elections is his third win from the Doiwala constituency.He was appointed as a National Secretary of the BJP in 2013. In 2014, he was appointed as the in-charge of the BJP in Jharkhand.

Former Australia captain Michael Clarke has launched his autobiography named ‘My Story’ in Kolkata in the presence of former Indian cricketer Saurav Ganguly This book was triggered by how he was affected by Phil Hughes’ death when India were touring Australia in 2014-15 Michael Clarke: Michael John Clarke is a former international cricketer and captain of Australia. He was retired from One Day cricket after the end of the 2015 Cricket World Cup and retire from all forms of cricket after the final test of the Ashes Series from August 2015.

Lenovo,  Computer manufacturing company appointed Subhankar Roy Chowdhury as HR for Asia Pacific. He will replace Andrew Dahms. Now, Roy will responsible for transformation and people strategy in Asia Pacific with focus on building leadership, cultural transformation and developing talent resources. He is currently working as the company’s executive director and global head for HR Strategy, M&A and HR Analytics. Prior to this , he held leadership positions in HR consulting and HR generalist roles at Nokia, IBM Business Consulting, PwC, Siemens Information Systems and L&T in India, Middle East Africa and South East Asia regions.

France based Aircraft maker Airbus will set up Asia’s first training facility for pilots and maintenance engineers in New Delhi. Union Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju performed the ground-breaking ceremony for the training centre on March 17, 2017. The centre will formed by the European aviation major Airbus.It is expected to beoperational by the end of 2018. Vistara become the first client for this sentrs to provide training services to Vistara pilots for the A320 type aircraft for 5 years.

Kerala’s first private sector bank ESAF Small Finance Bank was launched by Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in Thrissur, Kerala on March 17, 2017 This bank is promoted by ESAF Microfinance and Investments (P) Ltd and it is targeted toopen 85 branches in unbanked rural centres in first year. Target of the bank: Rs 20,000 crore by 2020.

Monash University Institute of Railway Technology (IRT), Australia has entered into an agreement with the Indian Railways to support future research and technology development related to critical infrastructure in India. The agreement was signed on March 16, 2017 in New Delhi between the representatives from Monash University Institute of Railway Technology (IRT) and Indian Ministry ofRailways Corporation DFCCIL (Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Limited). IRT along with partners, Balaji Railroad Systems Ltd (BARSYL), a leading railway consultant in India, PwC, and Indian Institute of Bombay (IITB) will provide necessary support to Indian Railways. They will provide guidance on the establishment of a new applied research and development institute in India known as SRESTHA (Special Railway Establishment for Strategic Technology & Holistic Advancement). Though, SRESTHA will be locally engaged but will also have a global reach with the aim to become a world leader in the advancement of rail. The project will provide guidance to the Indian Railways for adoption of international models to the Indian railway environment.  

Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh inaugurated a Crime and Criminal Tracking Network & Systems (CCTNS) in Shimla on March 15, 2017 to connect all the police posts in the state with each other. Thus Himachal Pradesh has become the first state in India to link its police posts invarious districts with CCTNS. The CCTNS was first linked at Sanjauli Police Post in Shimla, followed by simultaneous linking of Police posts of Manikaran in district Kullu, Police Post Solan City and that of Dada Siba in district Kangra. All the police posts in Himachal Pradesh would be linked with CCTNS. The system will facilitate people in lodging online/offline complaints, police verification of job applicants, tenants, character verification and migrant labourer registration. Besides, senior citizens, differently abled and women in far-flung areas of the state can lodge First Information Reports (FIRs) through the nearest police post. With the linkage of Police Posts with CCTNS, the general public can now file complaints at these posts which earlier were confined only to Police Stations to register complaints. Once the police posts are linked under the CCTNS system, its daily activities can be viewed online by supervisory officer of the police department which will make it easy to supervise the staff.  

The Congress’s floor leader in Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge will become next chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).  He will succeed his party colleague KV Thomas, who will complete his third term as Chairman of PAC on April 30, 2017.  The chair of the PAC by convention is given to an MP of the main Opposition party with Cabinet rank. 

Scientists from US for first time have developed a blood test to accurately predict whether a child has autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  The first of its kind of physiological test for analysing a blood sample opens the door to earlier diagnosis and potential future development of therapeutics. To develop this test, scientists had investigated patterns of several metabolites and found significant differences between metabolites of children with ASD and those that are neurotypical.  These differences allowed them to categorise whether an individual is on the autism spectrum. This algorithm by measuring 24 metabolites from a blood sample can tell whether or not an individual has Autism spectrum and even to some degree where on the spectrum they land. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) :  ASD is characterised as a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain. It is estimated to affect about 1.5% of individuals and The physiological basis for ASD is not known, but genetic and environmental factors are both believed to play a role.  People with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. Early intervention can improve development, but currently diagnosis depends on clinical observation of behaviour, that is considered as an obstacle to early diagnosis and treatment.

The World Bank Board has approved the USD 175 million National Hydrology Project to strengthen capacity of institutions to assess water situation in their regions. This loan from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) of World Bank will have a 6-year grace period and a maturity of 23 years. The project is aimed at assisting the institutions in reducing the vulnerability to recurring flood and droughts. Highlights  : The National Hydrology Project will scale up the successes achieved under Hydrology Project-I and Hydrology Project-II to cover the entire country including the states of Ganga and Brahmaputra-Barak basins. For the first time, under HP-I and HP-II, real-time flood forecast systems integrated with weather forecast in Krishna and Satluj-Beas river systems will give reservoir managers an accurate picture of the water situation in their region. Apart from benefitting the states in further upgrading and completing their monitoring networks, it will also help new states to better manage water flows from the reservoirs. National Flood Forecasting Systems with an advance warning system and reservoir operation systems as well as water resources accounting in river basins will be included under the project. It will have the potential to help communities to build resilience against possible uncertainties of climate change. It will also help the states to monitor all the important aspects of the hydro-meteorological cycle and adopt the procedures to measure how much rain or snow has fallen right in the catchments of rivers, how much silt has built up, and how much water will reach the reservoir.  Sensors in the field will instantly transmit this information to data centres through satellite or mobile phone technology to form a clear picture of the water situation unfolding in the region.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) of the United Kingdom on 16 March 2017 granted a license to the Newcastle University to create babies using the 3-parent technique. With this, the Newcastle University has become the first organisation to receive a license since the unveiling of the ‘3-parent baby policy’ by the HEFA in December 2016. 3-parent baby technique : The 3-parent baby technique involves in vitro fertilization of both the mother's egg and a donor's egg with the father's sperm.Before these two fertilised eggs begin dividing into an embryo, the unhealthy mother’s egg nucleus is replaced with the egg's nucleus of a healthy donor. This gives the doctors with a fertilised egg with a healthy donor mitochondria and the mother's DNA in the nucleus.This fertilised egg with the donor’s healthy mitochondria will be implanted in the mother’s uterus. Mitochondria are structures in cells that generate vital energy and contain their own set of genes called mDNA. Mitochondrial diseases are passed through the mother to baby. These diseases cause symptoms ranging from poor vision to diabetes and muscle wasting.After years of research, the 3-parent baby technique proved to be the only viable option to treat patients with rare genetic mutations to have healthy babies. Controversies : The technique has attracted criticism due to the ethical dimensions involved in the process. The pro-life believers claim that the technique involves the destruction of life. They maintain that the technique is not foolproof as it is sure that majority of the fertilised eggs are unhealthy.Majority of the scientific community argue that the technique may open the doors for the creation of designer babies. A designer baby is a genetically engineered baby with specially selected traits such as gender, appearance, intelligence, etc. Though the designer baby technology is aimed at developing a healthy human being, it is vulnerable to misuse with far-reaching social, economic and political consequences.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) on 16 March 2017 cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar as the UNICEF Cricket For Good ambassador for the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017. The ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 will be hosted in the United Kingdom from 23 June 2017 to 23 July 2017. The ICC Women’s World Cup and other sports platforms will become catalysts in providing spaces for girls to engage meaningfully with sports. Highlights of the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 : The ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 will begin on 23 June 2017 at England and Wales with eight top cricketing countries locking horns to grab the coveted trophy.  The 21-day tournament having 28 matches will be played at five different venues with the final at Lord's. The first match of the eight-nation tournament between the hosts England and India will take place at County Ground in Derby. India will join the World Cup against the host nation on the opening day itself at Derby. UNICEF and ICC partnership  : UNICEF and the ICC together will engage the broader cricketing community to empower adolescent girls during the ICC events over the next five years. For the same purpose, both the institutions will also develop and implement various community outreach programs and initiatives in collaboration with coaches, cricketers and cricketing personalities.During the events, there will be coaching clinics with participating teams.

The United States (US) has temporarily suspended the premium processing of H-1B visas. H-1B visas, which are popular among Indian IT firms and professionals. The US that gave the information about this suspension in the second week of March 2017 said the temporary ban was implemented to handle the huge rush of applications for the work visas in the first week of April. At the time of suspension of the H-1B premium processing, the petitioners will not be able to file Form I-907, request for premium processing service, for a Form I-129, petition for a nonimmigrant worker which requests the H-1B nonimmigrant classification. In the case of such H-1B petition during the period will be rejected. As per reports, Lori Scialabba, the acting Director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), told members of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight and Management efficiency that US will start accepting applications for H-1B work visas from 3 April 2017 for fiscal 2018. A notification on the official website of the department of homeland security says, “All cap-subject H-1B petitions filed before April 3, 2017, for the FY 2018 cap will be rejected”. Scialabba informed that USCIS receives about two lakh or more H-1B applications for processing in the first week of April. She also said, once the suspension is lifted, people will be able to file for premium processing and their application will be processed within 15 days. H-1B Program : The programme allows US companies to temporarily employ foreign workers in occupations that require the application of a body of highly specialised knowledge and a bachelor’s degree or higher in the specific speciality, or its equivalent. H-1B speciality occupations may include fields such as science, engineering and information technology. Under the H-1B programme, US issue an H-1B visa, which is a non-immigrant visa for foreigners. These visas are provided to foreigners for being employed in US companies.  

Japan on 17 March 2017 launched a new satellite to track land and maritime movements in North Korea. The satellite will also be able to conduct surveys on the weapons programme of the secretive nuclear-armed state.  The launch project was conducted jointly by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the aerospace manufacturer. The move comes shortly after North Korea launched four banned ballistic missiles into the sea off Japan's north-west coast, alarming both Japan and the United States. Highlights  : The Radar 5 unit was launched into space on Japan’s H-2A rocket from Tanegashima base, a site located towards the south-east of Japan.  The launch was initially scheduled for 15 March but it got delayed due to poor weather conditions at the base. The satellite will be replacing an existing satellite, which is coming to the end of its mission.  Japan initiated the process of launching spy satellites into the orbit in 2003, following North Korea’s testing of a mid-range ballistic missile over the Japanese mainland and into the western Pacific in 1998.  The threat of unprecedented missile firing by North Korea has only accelerated after that, especially recently after three of the four ballistic missiles launched by N Korea landed extremely close to Japan.  Currently, Tokyo has three optical satellites for daytime surveillance and three radar satellites for night time. Two among those are kept as backups.  The newly launched satellite is meant to succeed one of the three night-time surveillance radar satellites, which was launched in 2011. Though the real objective of the satellites is to gather information regarding N Korea’s military movements, they are also used to survey and monitor the damage caused by natural disasters.

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