Current Affairs 24th March 2017

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The National Commission for Schedule Tribes (NCST) on 23 March 2017 approved the proposal for five additional seats for tribals in the Sikkim assembly. The commission approved the proposal requesting the increase in the reserved seats for the Scheduled Tribes from 12 to 17 at a meeting held in New Delhi. The meeting, chaired by the Chairman of the Commission Nand Kumar Sai, saw in attendance the Vice Chairperson of the Commission Anusuiya Uikey, Members Hari Krishna Damor and Harshdbhai Chunilal Vasava, Secretary of the Commission Raghav Chandra and other senior officials.  Highlights : Currently, there are 32 members in the Sikkim assembly and following this decision, the number would be increased to 40. Among the eight additional seats, five will be reserved for the Limbu and Tamang tribes.  The NCST commission will also be sending a 3-member high-level investigation committee for an on the spot investigation of the atrocities done on the Schedule Tribes.  The commission will also be sending a letter to all the north-eastern states seeking an update on their tribal welfare programmes and details about their Tribal Advisory Committees.   It would also be requesting the states to provide the link to NCST’s website on their official website in order to make people more aware of the activities of the commission. The commission’s chairman, Nand Kumar Sai assured that all necessary steps will be taken to ensure that the Commission is effective in its objective and any officer found not taking the commission’s notices seriously or failing to provide the requested information in the set time period will have to face dire consequences.

Bharti Airtel on has acquired 4G business of Tikona Networks including the Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) business and 350 sites across 5 circles of Tikona Digital for Rs 1600 crore. Currently, Tikona has 20 MHz spectrum in the 2300 MHz band in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh (East), Uttar Pradesh (West), Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh circles. With this acquisition, Airtel will be second company after Reliance Jio to have pan-India presence in 2300 Mhz band. The 2300 Mhz band has second largest ecosystem of 4G devices. The acquisition of the 4G business in Gujarat, UP (East), UP (West) and Himachal Pradesh will be undertaken by Airtel, while in the Rajasthan circle, it will be accomplished through Airtel's subsidiary Bharti Hexacom Limited. Post-acquisition, Airtel will roll-out its high speed 4G services on the newly acquired spectrum in the five circles. The combined spectrum holding of Airtel in these five circles will be within the spectrum caps prescribed by the government. Post the completion of the deal, Airtel will have 30 MHz in the 2300 MHz band in 13 circles. This will be Bharti Airtel’s fourth acquisition between March 2016 and March 2017.  In February 2017, Bharti acquired Telenor India for Rs 1600 crore, which strengthened its spectrum holding in the seven circles of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Gujarat, UP (East), UP (West) and Assam.  Earlier, Bharti had acquired 2300 MHz spectrum from Qualcomm in 2012, Augere Wireless in 2015 and Aircel in 2016.  In 1800 MHz, it acquired spectrum from Videocon Telecommunications in 2016.  

The World Tuberculosis (TB) Day 2017 was observed globally on 24 March 2017 with the theme Unite to End TB: Leave no one behind. This year, WHO places a special focus on uniting efforts to Leave no one behind, including actions to address stigma, discrimination, marginalization and overcome barriers to access care. This year marks the second year of the End TB Strategy of the World Health Organisation (WHO). The strategy aims to help ensure that countries implementing it adhere to sound ethical standards to protect the rights of all those affected. In 2016, WHO reported that 10.4 million people fell ill with TB and there were 1.8 million TB deaths in 2015, making it the top infectious killer worldwide. The day commemorates the day in 1882 when Dr Robert Koch astounded the scientific community by announcing that he had discovered the cause of tuberculosis, the TB bacillus.  It is aimed at building the public awareness about the tuberculosis that remains an epidemic in much of the world, causing the deaths of nearly one-and-a-half million people each year. It is also an opportunity to mobilize political and social commitment for further progress in efforts to end TB.

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has granted Sri Lanka the two-year extension it sought to probe into the alleged war crimes committed during the three-decade long civil war that ended in 2009.   The resolution granting the country the extension was approved by 40 including the United States and the United Kingdom. It was adopted without a vote on 23 March 2017. Highlights : The resolution welcomed the steps taken by Sri Lanka to implement the UNHRC resolution that was adopted in October 2015. It also called for the country to fully implement the outstanding issues.The UNHRC chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein however, did express his concern over Sri Lanka’s slow progress in fulfilling its obligation of establishing justice mechanisms to address the accountability on the war crimes. Hussein also emphasised on the need of building a comprehensive strategy, with a proper timeline and detailed benchmarks to address all the transitional justice pillars identified in Resolution 30/1. Harsha De Silva, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka in a statement said that Sri Lanka is fully committed to the reconciliation and accountability agenda with a victim-centred approach.  The Sri Lankan government’s slow progress in the war crimes probe has been heavily criticised by the minority groups and human rights activists in the country.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in March 2017 announced that it has sent four teams to install stakes on ice for Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS) to validate the glacier surface velocity. The teams will mount the stakes around Indian station known as Bharati and Maitri. Highlights : One team is from Space Application Center and the second team is from National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC). The third and fourth team belongs to IRS Dehradun and Space Physics Laboratory. The Union Ministry of Earth Sciences organizes the Indian Scientific Mission to Antarctica (ISEA) every year.  Climate change is the thrust area of the 36th ISEA. The mission aims to install stakes on the ice for DGPS measurements. These teams will study and collect the data from the satellite. Based on the data collected, the teams will validate the glacier surface velocity in order to measure the thickness of snow over the land and sea using GPR’s.Further, the teams will also verify the situations of snow over the sea and land ice. In addition, these four teams will study snow melt and freeze dynamics on Antarctica. They will use space-based and ground-based facts and data to research on this. Indian Antarctic Program : The Indian Antarctic Program is a multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional program. It was initiated in 1981 with the first Indian expedition to Antarctica. It gained global acceptance with India's signing of the Antarctic Treaty and subsequent construction of the Dakshin Gangotri Antarctic research base in 1983. The base was superseded by the Maitri base from 1990. The newest Indian base at the continent, Bharati, was commissioned in 2015. It is constructed out of 134 shipping containers.

The World Bank has signed a USD 100 million credit agreement with the Union Government and Uttarakhand to improve quality of healthcare services in all 13 districts of Uttarakhand.The agreement for the project was signed by Raj Kumar, Joint Secretary in Union Ministry of Finance; Neeraj Kharwal, Project Director for the Uttarakhand Health Systems and World Bank India Operations Manager and Acting Country Director Hisham Abdo Kahin. The project aims to reduce the financial risk for its citizens and make affordable and quality health care available to all. It will also strengthen the government’s ability to effectively engage with the private sector to pursue the innovations planned under this project. The loan will be from the International Development Association (IDA) of the World Bank with a maturity of 25 years, including a 5-year grace period. Most public health facilities in the middle and upper mountainous areas of Uttarakhand are unable to function optimally because of large-scale vacancies of health staff. In 2013, 48 per cent of the posts of general duty medical officers and 75 per cent of the specialists posts were vacant in the state despite a liberal government policy to hire contractual doctors.  

Noted Tamil litterateur Thiagarajan, popularly known as Ashokamitran, passed away on 23 March 2017 following a brief illness in Chennai. He was 85. A well known novelist and essayist, Ashokamitran was noted for his subtlety and refreshing creativity in expression. Ashokamitran : Born in Secunderabad in 1931, Ashokamitran moved to Chennai in 1952.  He worked in the Tamil film production house Gemini Studios for close to a decade before taking up full time writing in 1966.Ashokamitran began his career with the award-winning play Anbin Parisu.  He quickly became one of the most influential figures in Tamil literature and published over 200 short stories and around two dozen novels.  Manasarovar, Thanneer and 18-vadhu Atcha Kodu are some of his famed works. He also edited the literary magazine Kanaiyazhi for a period of time. Many of his works have been translated into a number of languages such as English, Hindi, Malayalam, Telugu and some European languages.Besides many Tamil Nadu state awards, Ashokamitran also won the Sahitya Akademi Prize in 1996 for his collection of short stories Appavin Snegidar.

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) approved the Phase I of the North East Road Network Connectivity Project. The approval was given at a meeting of the CCEA chaired by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 22 March 2017 in New Delhi. Details related to North East Road Network Connectivity Project Phase I : Under the project, 403 kilometers of National Highways (NHs) will be developed in Meghalaya and Mizoram. Out of 403 kilometers, approximately 52 kilometers will be in Meghalaya and 351 kilometers in Mizoram.  The project will be executed in the Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) mode.  The projects will be taken up for implementation during the financial year 2017-18. The civil works are expected to be completed by 2021 and the maintenance works are expected to be completed by 2025. The project will encourage sub-regional social as well as economic development by improving infrastructure in Meghalaya and Mizoram.It will also enhance the connectivity with inter-state roads and international borders. The estimated cost is Rs 6,721 crore, including cost of land acquisition, resettlement and other pre-construction activities. The project will be executed with assistance from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The JICA is a governmental agency that coordinates official development assistance (ODA) for the Government of Japan. The existing carriageway of all the stretches in Meghalaya and Mizoram is varying between single lane to intermediate lane. The condition of the pavement is also very poor and at some locations not in traffic worthy condition. In addition, the majority of these stretches is located in landslide areas and sinking zones. Against this backdrop, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) approved the Phase I of the North East Road Network Connectivity Project.

Veteran photojournalist Raghu Rai on 22 March 2017 was conferred with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 6th National Photography Awards. Rai began his career in photography in 1965. He has also served on the jury of World Press Photo and Unesco’s International Photo Contest. Raghu Rai : Born in 1942, Raghu Rai is an Indian photographer and photojournalist.He was a protégé of Henri Cartier-Bresson. He became a photographer in 1965. Later in 1965, he joined year later joined The Statesman newspaper as its chief photographer. In 1976, he left the paper and became a freelance photographer.From 1982 until 1992, he served as the Director of Photography for India Today. From 1990 to 1997, he served on the jury for World Press Photo. He is known for his books, Raghu Rai's India: Reflections in Colour and Reflections in Black and White. For Greenpeace, he completed an in-depth documentary project on the chemical disaster at Bhopal in 1984. The subjects of his photographs include MS Subbulakshmi, Bismillah Khan, Mother Teresa, Satyajit Ray, Indira Gandhi, Raj Kapoor and Mrinal Sen.

Indian shooter Ankur Mittal won the gold medal at the International Shooting Sport Federation Shotgun World Cup in the men’s double trap event at Acapulco, Mexico on March 23, 2017. Mittal beat Australia’s James Willet with a score of 75 out of 80 while Willett managed 73.  With this, India got its first medal of the competition where it has sent a nine member squad.  In the six man 80­targets final round, Ankur missed a total of 5 targets, including just two in his last 40. Besides, Australian James Willett managed 73 to settle for the Silver, while the Chinese Yin won Bronze shooting a score of 52, before being eliminated after 60 targets. Earlier in February 2017, Mittal won silver medal at ISSF World Cup in New Delhi, losing to the gold medalist at that event, Australian James Willet.   

Ravish Kumar, the senior executive editor of NDTV India, was awarded the inaugural Kuldip Nayar Journalism Award at New Delhi’s India International Centre on March 19, 2017 in recognition of his outstanding contribution in the world of Journalism. In the event organised by the Gandhi Peace Foundation, Ravish was presented the prestigious award by veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar after whom the award has been named. He was conferred with an award plaque along with a cash amount of Rs 1 lakh. iv. Ravish has earlier won several prestigious awards including the Ramnath Goenka Award in 2013.  He was also awarded the best journalist of the year 2015 by mumbai press club.  Kuldip Nayar Journalism Award  : The Kuldip Nayar Journalism Award has been jointly instituted by journalist Kuldip Nayar and the Gandhi Peace Foundation. From now on the award will be conferred annually to a journalist of Indian languages who, through their work, promotes independent thinking, democratic values and civic rights.   

The 26 year old English singer songwriter and record producer Ed Sheeran from UK will be honoured with the Songwriters Hall of Fame’s 2017 Hal David Starlight Award Sheeran will receive the award at the 48th Annual Induction and Awards Dinner on June 15, 2017 in New York.  Other Awardee: Global Ambassador Award – Pitbull 2017 SHOF inductees – Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, Berry Gordy, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Robert Lamm & James Pankow p/k/a “Chicago,” Max Martin and Shawn “Jay Z” Carte  Hal David Starlight Award : The Hal David Starlight Award was created in 2004 in honor of Songwriters Hall Chairman Emeritus Hal David .  

Yves Meyer, a French mathematician, was honored with the 2017 Abel Prize, given by Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, on March 21, 2017 in a ceremony in Oslo, Norway. The 77 years old nomad was honored the prestigious award for his contribution in the development of the mathematical theory of wavelets. Yves will receive 6 million Norwegian krone (about £600,000) cash award from His Majesty King Harald V at an award ceremony in Oslo on May 23, 2017. 

The Government of India has officially notified the third Protocol amending India Singapore Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) on March 23, 2017. The third DTAA will come into force from April 1, 2017.  The India Singapore DTAA will provide source based taxation of capital gains arising on sale of shares in a company.  This will curb revenue loss, prevent double non taxation and streamline the flow of investments.  It would facilitate relieving of economic double taxation in transfer pricing cases. Capital gains on shares during the period 1st April, 2017 to 31st March, 2019 will be taxed in source country at half of normal tax rate.  It also inserts Article 9(2) in the DTAA which would facilitate relieving of economic double taxation in transfer pricing cases. 

Chennai Based Indian Overseas Bank (IOB) will get Rs 1,100 crore capital infusion from the Government  This was confirmed by Finance Ministry on March 22, 2017. This was approved after the bank achieved the parameters set by the government as part of a turnaround linked capital infusion plan. It was the second tranche of capital infusion in public sector banks to enhance their capital base while the first tranche was first announced in July, 2016. 

Kerala based South Indian Bank has introduced Aadhar­based UPI mobile application SIB M­Pay on March 23, 2017.  Features : SIB M­Pay will enables all bank account holders to send and receive money from their Smartphone without bank account information. It required only Aadhar number of the beneficiary  This feature will be a major step s towards a ‘Cashless Society’ and Aadhar ID plays a key role in Digital India initiatives 

The state government of Assam has signed two MoUs with Mumbai based State Bank of India(SBI) to provide housing loan and education loan for its employees on March 23, 2017  Devajyoti Hazarika, state additional secretary of finance and Om Prakash Mishra General Manager of SBI of NE Circle have signed MoU for loan facility at subsidized interest rates.  Highlights : Housing loan at the interest rates of 5% for women employees Housing loan at the interest rates of 5.5 % for men and Education loan for higher education for their children at 4% interest rate The maximum limit of the housing loan is Rs 15 lakh and Education loan is Rs.10 lakh 

India has been placed at 87th position among 127 countries in the global Energy Architecture Performance Index (EAPI) 2017 by World Economic Forum released on March 22, 2017. The 5th annual index has been topped by Switzerland while Bahrain is ranked the lowest at 127th.   Top 5 Countries in EAPI 2017 Switzerland  Norway  Sweden  Denmark  France  Though, India marginally improved its position by three places from 90 last year, but, ranks among the worst for pollution.  The report showed that including India, some of the other largest consumers of energy such as China (95th), Japan (45th), the Russian Federation (48th) and the United States (52nd) have either slipped in the rankings or experienced only marginal gains. Most of the highest performers in the index belonged to the advanced economies. The top 20 performers in the fifth annual index have achieved twice the average increase in their score compared to that of all other countries.

The Fifth ‘Rashtriya Sanskrit Mahotsav (RSM) – 2017’ is being organized in North Eastern Region of India by Ministry of Culture from 23rd to 31st March, 2017.  The festival will be inaugurated at Parade Ground, Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh on 23rd March, 2017 and extend to other Northeastern states including Dimapur (Nagaland) Majuli (Assam) Imphal (Manipur) Aizawl (Mizoram) Gangtok (Sikkim) Shillong (Meghalaya) Khowai (Tripura) The essential thrust of Rashtriya Sanskriti Mahotsav (RSM) is to present rich diversity and uniqueness of Indian culture and to promote the cultural inter-linkages amongst the states to strengthen National integration and also to bid the artists of other parts of the country with the people of North East in a single thread of culture.  The Mahotsav was envisioned to preserve, promote and popularize the heritage and cultural diversity of Indian culture and reconnect the new generation with Indian culture. About 5,000 artists from North East India and 2,000 artists from across the country will showcase India’s cultural heritage through performances, arts and cuisines. The festival will be implemented through the seven Zonal Cultural Centres and other organization under Ministry of Culture.

The Union Cabinet on 22 March 2017 approved the proposal to establish the Fund of Funds of Start-ups (FFS). The Union Cabinet in 2016 approved the proposal to establish a Fund of Funds for Start-ups (FFS) with a total corpus of Rs 10000 crore. Highlights : Alternate Investment Funds (AIFs) supported by FFS shall invest at least twice the amount of contribution received from FFS in Start-ups. If the amount committed for a Start-up in whole has not been released before a Start-up ceases to be so, the balance funding can continue thereafter. It was also decided that operating expenses will be met out of the FFS to the extent of 0.50 per cent of the commitments made to AIFs and outstanding.  The operating expenses including carrying out due diligence, legal and technical appraisal, convening meeting of Venture Capital Investment Committee, etc.   The operating expenses will be debited to the fund at the beginning of each half year that is on 1 April and 1 October.  Fund of Funds for Start-ups  : The Fund of Funds for Start-ups was approved by Union Government in the year 2016 itself. It was decided that the FFS shall contribute to the corpus of Alternative Investment Funds (AIFs) for investing in equity and equity linked instruments. The FFS is being managed and operated by Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI).   FFS contributes to SEBI registered Alternative Investment Funds (AIFs) that may go up to a maximum of 35 per cent of the corpus of the AIF concerned.

The Union Government on 22 March 2017 informed that five Indian cities were included in the Tentative List of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The information was given by the Union Minister of State for Culture and Tourism (Independent Charge) Dr Mahesh Sharmain in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha. The five Indian cities included in the list are – i. Ahmedabad ii. Delhi iii. Jaipur iv. Bhubaneswar v. Mumbai  UNESCO World Heritage Sites. : To represent a masterpiece of human creative genius To exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design To bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared To be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history To be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use, which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change  To be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance To contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance To be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features To be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animalsTo contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation