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2012 November 8 & 9 Current Affairs


International Issues 

An international trade dispute over bananas dating back two decades has finally been settled. The European Union and ten Latin American countries signed an agreement to formally end eight separate World Trade Organisation cases. The head of the WTO Pascal Lamy called it a truly historic moment. 

The formal agreement followed the EU agreeing in December 2009 to gradually reduce the tariffs on Latin American bananas. Latin American banana exporters had long protested against EU tariffs designed to protect small growers in former European colonies in Africa and the Caribbean.



Australia says it is ready to join a second phase of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. Climate Minister Greg Combet said Australia was making the move because more action was being taken internationally to tackle climate change and replace the Kyoto deal. The second commitment period for Kyoto could renew pledges to limit emissions until 2020. Australia is one of the world's leading emitters of greenhouse gases. 

The protocol, initially adopted in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997, is aimed at fighting global warming by setting legally binding targets for countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The first round of cuts, which only apply to developed nations, expires at the end of this year. The protocol also created market mechanisms for countries to meet their targets by trading in carbon emissions. Discussions over a new legal deal covering all countries are due to begin at a climate conference in Doha in December and end by 2015. The new deal would come into effect by 2020.



Greek parliament narrowly approved a new 17.3 billion U.S. dollars austerity package aiming to clear the way for the release of fresh bailout loans to the debt-laden country. Deputy Speaker Thanassis Nakos said the vote will ensure Greek's position within the eurozone. 

The omnibus bill, containing the third set of harsh spending cuts and reforms in two years, was presented as a prerequisite for the disbursement in coming weeks of the next 31.5-billion-euro tranche from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund creditors who have been keeping Greece afloat since 2010. Demonstrators shouted that the additional cuts on wages, pensions and benefits, tax hikes, mass dismissals in the public sector and reforms in the labour market which facilitates lay offs condemn Greek society to prolonged recession and poverty.



China said it will speed up modernisation of military and build itself into a maritime power. Invoking Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong's military strategic theories, which were stated to be one of the successes of Chinese revolution, President Hu Jintao told the once-in-a-decade leadership Party Congress that China will speed up modernisation of its 2.3 million-strong People's Liberation Army, PLA. PLA is the world's largest standing army.


National Issues 

The Cabinet approved levy of about 31,000 crore rupees as one-time fee on spectrum held by incumbent telecom companies to create level playing field between old and new operators. Briefing reporters after the Cabinet meeting in New Delhi, Finance minister P Chidambaram said the Cabinet has endorsed the recommendation of an Empowered Group of Ministers, EGoM. He said GSM-based telecom operators have to pay for airwaves they hold beyond 4.4 Mega-Hertz at an auction-determined price, while CDMA carriers pay for holdings beyond 2.5 MHz, for the remaining validity of their permits. He said GSM-operators holding more than 6.2 MHz of spectrum will pay a retroactive fee for the airwaves from July 2008. Mr Chidambaram said while the price discovered in the auction beginning 12th of this month will apply for the one-time fee to be charged from incumbent GSM operators, the Department of Telecom (DoT) will work out the basis for the same for CDMA carriers. 

The cabinet also approved change in funding arrangement for the Universal Service Obligation Fund schemes including the funding of the scheme for creation of National Optical Fiber Network from Non-Plan to Plan allocation in Budget. The approval was given for better appraisal, monitoring and performance evaluation. 

In another decision, the Cabinet gave its nod to the third phase of the Small Development Projects in Afghanistan. The outlay for the third Phase of the Small Developmental Projects is 100 million US dollars or approximately 500 crore rupees. The finance minister said that local communities of Afghanistan will directly benefit from the Small Development Projects. This will cover all 34 provinces of Afghanistan. He said the projects will be implemented over a period of four years through local Afghan Government Bodies, Community Organization, Non-Government Organizations, Charitable Trusts and Education and Vocational Institutions.



The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, CCEA, approved the release of funds for establishing 21 integrated textile parks with a total investment of 819 crore rupees during the 12th Five Year Plan. The objective of the parks is to provide the industry world-class infrastructure facilities for setting up their textiles units. In October 2010, the CCEA approved a proposal for the sanction of additional parks under the Scheme for Integrated Textiles Parks to utilise the balance of 200 crore rupees in the 11th Plan. 

The CCEA also approved disinvestment of 10 per cent equity in Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, HAL, through Initial Public Offer, IPO in the domestic market. Breifing the media after the meeting Finance Minister P Chidambram said five per cent discount on the issue price will be allowed for retail investors as well as to eligible employees of HAL. He said the disinvestment of HAL will take place in the next fiscal.



The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs has approved to divest 10 percent equity in Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) out of its holding of 100 percent through an Initial Public Offer (IPO) in the domestic market as per the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) Rules and Regulations. Five percent discount on the issue price will be allowed for retail investors as well as to eligible employees of HAL applying under the employees reservation portion. The paid up equity capital of the company, as on 31st March, 2012 is Rs.120.50 crore. Currently, the company is unlisted. After the divestment of 10 percent, Government of India’s shareholding in the company would come down to 90 percent. 

HAL is a Schedule – ‘A’, Navratna Central Public Sector Enterprise under the administrative control of the Ministry of Defence. It is engaged in the designing and development of Fixed Wing Aircraft, Rotary Wing Aircraft and their systems/accessories/avionics, manufacturing of Aircraft (Fighter, Trainers and Transport), Helicopter and associated aero engines, accessories and avionics for both military and civil applications.



Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has released “The Standards of Quality of Service of Basic Telephone Service (wireline) and Cellular Mobile Telephone Service (Second Amendment) Regulations, 2012 (24 of 2012)” on financial disincentives. The purpose of these regulations is to prescribe financial disincentives on the service providers for failure to meet the prescribed Quality of Service (QoS) benchmarks for Basic Telephone Service (wireline) and Cellular Mobile Telephone Service. 

Some of the provisions of these regulations are:

• Financial disincentive on Cellular Mobile Telephone Service operators for non-compliance with the benchmark for the Network Service Quality Parameters at a rate not exceeding Rs 50,000 per parameter for the first non-compliance and Rs 1,00,000 per parameter for subsequent non-compliance of the benchmarks. 

• Financial disincentive on Basic Telephone Service (wireline) and Cellular Mobile Telephone Service operators for non-compliance with the benchmark for the Customer Service Quality Parameters at a rate not exceeding Rs 50,000 per parameter. 

• Provision of a deterrent against false reporting and delay in submission of report of the Quality of Service benchmarks.



The Union Cabinet approved the proposal for change in funding arrangement for the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) schemes, including the funding of the scheme for creation of National Optical Fiber Network (NOFN) from Non-Plan to Plan allocation in Budget. The proposal of Department of Telecommunications was based on the advice of the Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance wherein it was suggested that the funding of USOF schemes including the scheme for creation of National Optical Fiber Network (NOFN) should continue to be financed out of the Plan allocation for better appraisal, monitoring and performance evaluation. 

Accordingly the Note dated 4th October 2012 was submitted for approval of the Cabinet, for reverting to the earlier arrangement for allocation through Plan Head, as implemented by the Ministry of Finance from the financial year 2011-12 onwards.



The Union Cabinet approved the third phase of the Small Development Projects in Afghanistan. The outlay on the third phase of the Small Development Projects in US$ 100 million. The outlay for the third Phase of the Small Developmental Projects is US$ 100 Million (approximately Rs.500 crore).  

The Small Development Projects directly impact local communities and support social-economic development, provide livelihood, help conserve environmental and cultural heritage, empower women, promote child welfare and facilitate community life through creation of infrastructure in the education, health, agriculture and agro-industry, renewable energy, trade, transport and communication, recreation and community development sectors. Local communities of Afghanistan would directly benefit from the Small Development Projects. Exact number of beneficiaries cannot be verified. This will cover all 34 provinces of Afghanistan. 

The Small Development Projects were earlier implemented in two phases: 
  • the first in July 2006 comprising 50 projects worth US$ 11,216,179; and 
  • the second in June 2008 comprising 51 projects worth US$ 8,579,537. 

Most of the projects in the two phases have been completed The projects will be implemented over a period of four years through local Afghan Government Bodies, Community Organizations, Non-Governmental Organizations, Charitable Trusts and Education and Vocational Institutions. The expenditure on the projects will be met from the Non-Plan head of `Aid to Afghanistan’ budget of the Ministry of External Affairs.



Mr. Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group has announced the appointment of an independent panel of experts to conduct a review of the World Bank’sDoing Business report. Mr. Arun Maira, Member of The Planning Commission, Govt. of India, has been appointed as one of the ten international experts to this panel. 

Mr. Trevor Manuel,Minister in charge of the National Planning Commission of South Africa, would chair the panel.The other members include experts from China, Brazil, Germany, UK, and Korea.



The Supreme Court has favoured establishment of special fast track courts to handle cases linked to various scams in implementation of the rural job guarantee scheme under MNREGA in different states. A bench of justices Swatanter Kumar and Madan B Lokur said such courts are operating in Andhra Pradesh and asked the state of Odisha to consider establishing similar ones. 

The bench said it would take up the cases linked to the alleged irregularities in implementation of the rural employment scheme in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha on November 27. The court had earlier on September 14 issued notice to the Uttar Pradesh government on a plea for CBI probe into the alleged irregularities in implementing the rural job guarantee scheme under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA).



The total approximate earnings of Indian Railways on originating basis during 1st April to 31st October 2012 were Rs. 68671.58 crore compared to Rs. 57359.88 crore during the same period last year, registering an increase of 19.72 per cent.



The 60th Meeting of the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) was held on 8th November, 2012 at New Delhi under the Chairmanship of Dr. M. M. Pallam Raju, Minister of Human Resource Development.



Andhra Pradesh High Court termed the life-ban imposed on Indian Cricketer Azaruddin illegal. The Bench headed by Asuthosh Mohantha has asked the BCCI to lift the ban against the Indian former Skipper. In connection with the match fixing allegations, the BCCI has imposed the life ban against the cricketer after an inquiry in 2008. The Court has said that imposing life ban is illegal on the petition filed by Azaruddin. 

The BCCI had acted against Azaruddin after former South African Captain Cronie went public agreeing his involvement in the match fixing and made revelations that Azaruddin had introduced him. After ordering enquiry into the matter, the BCCI had imposed ban on Ajay Jadeja for five years while life ban against Azaruddin.




Bilateral Issues

India and the United Kingdom will enhance their cooperation in the field of cyber security. Visiting British Foreign Minister William Hague and External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid discussed a wide range of key international and biletaral issues . These include security, defence and counter-terrorism. Both the leaders expressed their commitment to develop a strong, mutually beneficial and wide ranging partnership covering diverse areas such as trade and investment, education, research and reforms of international institutions.  

Mr Hague also said that his country will continue to support India's claim for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security council. Both the countries also agreed to enhance cooperation in civil nuclear area and green energy initiative.



Security situation in the region, including Afghanistan, Pakistan and cooperation in key areas, including civil nuclear energy, defence, counter-terrorism and cyber security were discussed between External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid and his British counterpart William Hague in New Delhi. The two leaders, held comprehensive delegation-level talks, also discussed international issues such as Syria with both sides expressing readiness to support the efforts for peaceful resolution to the crisis there. The two sides also decided to enhance cooperation in the area of cyber security, structured dialogue which was held for the first time last month, and agreed to conduct their Cyber Dialogue on a bi-annual basis. The two sides decided to enhance their cooperation in cyber security. 

Both the leaders expressed their commitment to develop a strong, mutually beneficial and wide ranging partnership covering diverse areas such as trade and investment, education, research and reforms of international institutions. Mr. Khurshid said India attaches great importance to its relations with Britain. British Foreign Minister said that his country will continue to support India's claim for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security council. Both the countries also agreed to enhance cooperation in civil nuclear area and green energy initiatives.



India and Malaysia have agreed to enhance cooperation in the field of renewable energy, especially in the areas of biomass and biogas, micro hydropower, solar energy and wind power. A Memorandum of Understanding to this effect was signed in New Delhi, between the Minister of New and Renewable Energy, Dr. Farooq Abdullah and Minister of Energy, Green Technology and Water of Malaysia Data’ Sri Peter Chin Fah Kui. 

Both the countries also agreed to form a Joint Working Group for better coordination through joint research on subjects of mutual interest, exchange and training of scientific and technical personnel.



A Vietnamese delegation led by Mr. Nguyen Van Nen, the Vice Chairman of Tay Nguyen Steering Committee of Vietnam called on Shri. V. Kishore Chandra Deo, Minister of Tribal Affairs and Panchayati Raj. During the hour long meeting, the wide range of issues pertaining to the welfare schemes for Scheduled Tribes and local governance in India. 

Shri Deo appraised the delegation about the various issues pertaining to tribals including, historic Forests Rights Act in 2006 and subsequent initiatives taken by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs. He informed that the Ministry of Tribal Affairs enacted the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 with the objective of remedying the historical injustice done to the forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers. 

He further said that the Ministry implements various centrally sponsored schemes for the socio- economic development of tribal people in the country. The Ministry also works for preserving tribal arts and also supports for marketing of tribal art products.


Economic Issues 

A new Investor Outlook Survey released in Dubai reveals that in the wake of global economic downturn the investors in United Arab Emirates are adopting a cautious approach to the emerging markets. Despite these concerns, the largest number of them, around 35 percent identify India as the most attractive world market for investment. 

According to the biannual survey, the Emirati investors now prefer to invest in assets which they judge to be safe. The survey said that Emerging market investments, once the rising star of financial markets, are now considered too risky by many Emiratis and only 13 percent would consider adding them to their investment portfolio in the next six months. The survey also revealed that the Emirati investors are responding to on-going volatility in financial markets by selling higher risk investments and holding more cash.



Remittances from the NRIs in the current financial year 2012-13 are expected to cross $75 billion mark up from $66 billion in 2011-12. According to World Bank Estimates, even though the rupee may not see as much depreciation as it did in past 12 months, remittances would remain robust and may well cross $75 billion in 2012-13. The NRIs from the West Asia region account for over 40 percent of the total foreign remittances to India. 

The report says that one of the main reasons which has created additional incentives for foreign remittances in India has been a depreciation in the value of Rupee against US Dollar. During May till September this year, the value of Rupee was somewhere around Rs.55 which dropped to a four month high of Rs. 51.70 . Analysts say that over the past two years a strong recovery has been seen in rupee ahead of Diwali which is triggered by increased remittances from the NRIs. The trend is expected to continue and so will be the remittances with the Dollar- Rupee exchange rate closing at Rs.54.20 per Dollar.


Sports 

The Indian duo of Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna has won its must win Men's Doubles Group-B match of the ATP World Tour Finals in London. The fifth seeded Indian pair last night defeated the Swedish-Romanian combination of Robert Lindstedt and Horia Tecau, 6-3, 5-7, 10-5, to keep its hopes of a semi- final berth alive. Bhupathi and Bopanna had lost their opening Group match and will now have to win their next and final league match to make it to the semis. They will take on the second seeded Belarusian-Canadian pair of Max Mirnyi and Daniel Nestor in the final Group match. Meanwhile, the third seeded Indo-Czech pair of Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek will clash with the Spanish duo of Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez in their second Group-A match. Paes and Stepanek had won their opening Group fixture and a victory will virtually ensure them a semi-final berth.


Awards 

President Pranab Mukherjee stressed the need for preserving India's handicrafts and handloom herritage. He said that a focussed approach is need to adopt changes that are taking place in the present global economic sceinario. Conferring the Shilp Guru Awards, Sant Kabir Awards along with National Award to master craftpersons and master weavers at a function in New Delhi, Mr Mukherjee said that artisans are also required to be given access to modern tools. He said great tradition of handicrafts and handlooms can play an important role in giving employment and stregthening of country's economy as well. 

Shilp Guru awards are conferred to legendary master craftspersons of Handicrafts whose work and dedication have contributed not only to the preservation of rich and diverse craft heritage of the country. 

While Sant Kabir Award is conferred on such outstanding weaver who has made valuable contribution in keeping alive the handloom heritage and also for his dedication in building up the linkages between the past, present and future through dissemination of knowledge on traditional skills and designs. 

National Awards to Master Craftspersons and master weavers were introduced in 1965 and the award comprises of a cash prize of 1 lakh rupees, a certificate, Tamrapatra and an Angavastram.


Science & Technology 

Astronomers have discovered a new super-Earth planet around a nearby star that may have an Earth-like climate and be just right to support life. The new planet exists in the habitable zone of a nearby star and is part of a six-planet system. The system was previously thought to contain three planets in orbits too close to the star to support liquid water.


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