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2013 - February 16 to 24 Current Affairs


International Affairs  

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel on 19 February 2013 announced a coalition deal with the rival centrist Hatnua Party Chairwomen and the former Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, at Jerusalem. Under the deal agreement, Netanyahu's Likud party and its Beitenu alliance partner announced that Livni would serve as justice minister and "negotiator with the Palestinians to reach an agreement that would end the conflict.



Ecuador's President Rafael Correa was re-elected for a third term with more than 50 percent of the vote according to the election results declared in the third week of February 2013. As per the results, Rafael Correa got 56.7 percent while his closest competitor Guillermo could secure only 23.3 percent. 

Correa is a socialist leader who was first elected in 2007. He is credited with bringing political stability to a nation that experienced several protests and coups. He is known for his citizen revolution which made him popular among people of Ecuador. During his six years in power, Correa provided access to education and healthcare and bettered thousands of miles of highways, leading to creation of jobs in the process. Moreover, Poverty rates declined significantly. 



After a week of talks, delegates from 140 countries on 19 February, agreed to the world's first treaty on limiting use of mercury at Geneva, Switzerland. The treaty will be actually signed in October this year at Minamata, Japan where over 10,000 people died as a result of mercury poisoning between 1932 and 1968. Mercury was being released in the Minamata Bay from a chemical factory nearby. 

The new treaty aims to reduce the production and the use of mercury, especially in the production of products and in industrial processes. Mercury is found in products ranging from electrical switches, thermometers and light-bulbs, to amalgam dental fillings and even facial creams. Large amounts of the heavy metal are released from small-scale gold mining, coal-burning power plants, metal smelters and cement production. 



A new report by the UNEP released just before talks began in Geneva said that nearly 2,000 tons of mercury is emitted globally into the air from human activities every year. Much of this toxic substance eventually becomes deposited on vegetation, in the soil, and in oceans, lakes and rivers. The deputy head of UNEP's Chemical Branch said that much human exposure to mercury is through the consumption of contaminated fish. Mercury affects the brain and nervous system. 

Pregnant women who ingest mercury can pass the toxic effects to their unborn children. Serious mercury poisoning affects the body's immune system and can lead to problems including psychological disorders, loss of teeth and problems with the digestive, cardiovascular and respiratory tracts.


The Minamata Convention, as the treaty will be known after it is signed by the agreeing countries formally, will set rules limiting the supply of and trade in mercury and the use of mercury in products and industrial processes. It will also lay down measures to reduce emissions from artisanal and small-scale gold mining, as also from power plants and metals production facilities. 


Bulgaria's government resigned on 20 February, after mass protests against high power prices and falling living standards, joining a long list of European administrations felled by austerity during four years of debt crisis. Prime Minister Boiko Borisov, who took power in 2009 on pledges to root out graft and raise incomes in the European Union's poorest member, faces a tough task of propping up eroding support ahead of an expected early election. The spark for the protests was high electricity bills, after the government raised prices by 13 percent last July. But it quickly spilled over into wider frustration with Borisov and political elites with perceived links to shadowy businesses.



Regional African leaders signed a deal on 24 February, aimed at bringing peace and stability to the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congoafter years of unrest. Eleven countries in the Great Lakes region signed on to the accord at a ceremony in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa in the presence of UN chief Ban Ki-moon. DR Congo's mineral-rich east has been ravaged by conflict involving numerous armed groups for the past two decades, with new rebel movements spawned on a regular basis.
The presidents of the DR Congo, South Africa, Mozambique, Rwanda, Congo and Tanzania were present for the signing, along with envoys from Uganda, Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic and Zambia. The accord calls for regional countries to refrain from interfering in each other's affairs and aims to encourage the reform of weak institutions in the DRC, central Africa's largest country. It could also lead to creation of a special UN "intervention brigade" in eastern DR Congo to combat rebel groups as well as new political efforts.  The latest surge in violence was in 2012 and culminated in the rebel March 23 movement (M23) force briefly seizing the key town of Goma last November. The pact calls on regional actors "to neither tolerate nor provide assistance or support of any kind to armed groups."



Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali resigned on 19 February after his attempt to end a political stand-off by forming a government of technocrats failed. Jebali had proposed the cabinet of apolitical technocrats to quell turmoil caused by the assassination of secular opposition politician Chokri Belaid on February 6. Belaid's death touched off mass protests targeting in part the ruling moderate Islamist party Ennahda to which Jebali belongs. 

The crisis has disrupted efforts to revitalize an economy hit hard by the disorder that followed the overthrow of veteran strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011. Jebali proposed forming a cabinet of apolitical technocrats to restore calm and take Tunisia to elections, but did not consult his own party or its secular coalition partners. But his party skippered the plan by rejecting the idea of a technocratic government. 



The Court of Arbitration at The Hague on 18 February 2013 allowed India to go ahead with the Construction of the Kishanganga hydroelectric project in Gurez valley near Bandipura in North Kashmir,the court rejected the plea of Pakistan that the construction was a violation of 1960 Indus Water Treaty. The Court of Arbitration, chaired by Stephen M. Schwebel in its order stated that India can move ahead with the diversion of water plans of Kishanganga that is a tributary of Jhelum, for generation of hydro-electric power. 

Bhaswati Mukherjee, Indian Ambassador and her Pakistani counterpart Fauzia Mazhar Sana received the Judgment of the Court at The Hague. Pakistan initiated the arbitration against India with a charge that India violated the provisions of the Water Treaty between the two countries. But India denied the charges forced on to it by explain that the country reserved its rights to divert the water from one of the tributaries of Jhelum to another. Pakistan on 17 May 2010 raised objections on the making of the Kishanganga Hydro-power project for which it demanded setting up of the Court of Arbitration. The project is being developed at the down streams of Kishanganga River that is known by the name Neelam in Pakistan and is a tributary of Jhelum. India is diverting the waters of the river from the dam site to Bonar Madmati Nallah that is another tributary of Jhelum. The Indus system of rivers comprises three Eastern Rivers (Ravi, Beas and Sutlej and their tributaries) and three Western Rivers (Indus, Jhelum and Chenab and their tributaries).The Indus Waters Treaty 1960 was signed on 19.09.1960 between India and Pakistan. 

Kishanganga hydroelectric power project is a 330 MW project under its construction phase on the Kishanganga River and is developed by the National Power Corporation in Gurez Valley, near Bandipura in North Kashmir. The work on the project started in the year 1992. The Kishanganga hydro-electric project is a 3600 crore project. Kishanganga is called Neelam in Pakistan. 


National Affairs

The second meeting of the Coordination Committee on Living and Diverse Cultural Traditions was held in New Delhi on 18 February, under the chairpersonship of Union Culture Minister Smt. Chandresh Kumari Katoch. The high-powered committee goes into all aspects of intangible heritage and makes recommendations on the areas of preparation of a national inventory on Intangible Cultural Heritage, archives, education and outreach programmes by using such information. The committee comprises individuals who have distinguished themselves in the field of research and promotion of Indian culture viz. Kapila Vatsyayan, Sitakant Mahapatra, Prof. G.N. Devy, Prof. Kartikeya V. Sarabhai, Prof.

Peter Ronald De Souza and secretaries of several ministries of the Union Government. It was decided by the coordination committee that an expert committee should be constituted to decide on the work of preparing a national register of India’s intangible culture and to advise on a mechanism overarching inter-ministerial coordination leading to a comprehensive action plan to preserve and promote India’s intangible heritage and dying cultural traditions. It was also decided that we should focus as much on people since without that focus on our living traditions cannot be sustained.


The Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, Government of India has organized a two day International conference on “Inclusive Urban Planning” on 18-19th February 2013 at Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi. Kumari Selja, Minister for Social Justice & Empowerment, Government of India, inaugurated the International Workshop on “Inclusive Urban Planning”. In her inaugural address, Minister highlighted the social and cultural dimensions of exclusionary outcome of traditional planning processes and spoke of the need to integrate the marginalized in the spatial planning processes, giving particular emphasis to the aged and the disabled. 
The opening session reflected at India’s current urban planning models, of planning visions, strategies and tools, and at the institutional form of planning institutions in Indian cities. 
The second session focused on inclusionary planning models practiced in cities outside India, and reflected at processes and outcomes linked to the choice of planning model adopted from societies and nations in transition, including from South Africa, Brazil, China and East Asian countries. 
The third session reflected on ‘governance’ of urban planning, looking at laws, institutions and regulatory rules that govern the urban planning process. The fourth session critically examined the different plans and policies that evolved through Government schemes and programmes in India. A “Delhi Declaration on Inclusive Urban Planning” was adopted by the Conference. The two day International Conference was well attended by national and international level experts on urban planning & poverty alleviation, officials from Central and state government, Municipal Commissioners, international donor agencies and representatives from academic, training and research institutions.



Government has decided to constitute a subcommittee of experts to work towards a draft National Conservation Policy. Chairing the meeting of the National Empowered Committee (NEC) of the National Mission of Manuscripts (NMM) in New Delhi on 19 February, Minister of Culture Smt. Chandresh Kumari Katoch appreciated the performance and work of the NMM. She said there is a need to provide training to people in the preservation and conservation of documents and manuscripts of historical and archival value. She said both the National Archives of India and National Manuscript Mission may work in close coordination to attract talent towards manuscripts conservation work. The 13-member NEC is the highest policy making body of the NMM. The Minister assured the members of the committee to consider the proposal of the experts to review the status of the NMM at an appropriate time.


After six years, the final award of the Cauvery Waters Dispute Tribunal was notified on 19 February. The move came after the Supreme Court rapped the Centre for delaying the decision and had on February 4 set February 20 as the deadline to issue notification. The Tribunal, comprising chairman Justice N P Singh and members N S Rao and Sudhir Narain, in a unanimous award in February 2007 had determined the total availability of water in the Cauvery basin at 740 thousand million cubic (TMC) feet at the Lower Coleroon Anicut site. The proceedings of the Tribunal, set up in June 1990, went on for more than 16 years. 

In, what was then described as a balancing act, the Tribunal gave Tamil Nadu 419 TMC of water (as against the demand of 562 TMC); Karnataka 270 TMC (as against its demand of 465 TMC); Kerala 30 TMC and Puducherry 7 TMC. For environmental protection, it had reserved 10 TMC. The Tribunal's award will come into effect within 90 days of its notification by the Centre. As per law, the award comes into effect after being notified by the Centre through its publication in a gazette. After the issuance of the notification, institutions like the Cauvery River Authority (CRA) chaired by the Prime Minister and the CMC will cease to exist. New organizations like the Cauvery Management Board and the Cauvery Water Regulation Committee will be constituted which will have representatives from all the co-basin states, experts in hydrology and agriculture. They will be headed by an officer of the central government and will be under the control of the Centre.



Students with Disabilities will now be trained in the Hospitality Industry under ‘Hunar Se Rojgar Scheme’. This is a pro-poor scheme aimed to bridge the gap of skilled manpower in the hospitality sector. This is a new initiative of the ITDC through its Ashok Institute of Hospitality & Tourism Management (AIH &TM) where a PwD who has a minimum qualification of 8th Class and is between the age group of 18 – 28 years is eligible to get training and other benefits.

The National Handicapped Finance & Development Corporation (NHFDC), CMD, Harsh Bhal and India Tourism & Development Corporation (ITDC), Vice Chairman & MD, Dr. Lalit K. Panwar signed an MoU on 21 February, for skill development of Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) in Hospitality Sector.

The scheme consists of six/eight weeks full time training programmes in services like, Food & Beverage, House Keeping Utility and Back office jobs etc. No application fee or course fee is chargeable to the trainees. Under the MoU signed today between NHFDC & ITDC, the Students with Disabilities will also be eligible for skill up gradation course (Second Stage) which will be of the duration of 2 months to 6 months.


The Union Cabinet on 21 February, gave its approval to extend the tenure of the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK) for a further period of three years beyond 1 April, 2013 that is up to 31 March 2016, with the existing terms. The continuation of the Commission for three more years will help in fulfilling the desired objectives of the welfare and development of the target group as there is a continued need to monitor the various interventions and initiatives of the Government for the welfare of Safai Karamcharis in general, and to address the problem of manual scavenging, in particular. An amount of Rs. 11.50 crore would be required for meeting the expenditure for the extension of the tenure of the Commission.

A statutory National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK) was constituted for the first time in August 1994, according to provisions under Section 3 of the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis Act, 1993. This Commission continued until February 2004, when the relevant Act expired. Thereafter, the tenure of the Commission has been extended from time to time, as a non-statutory body, the last such extension being upto 31.3.2013. The Commission functions among other things for the upliftment of safai karamcharis, evaluation of the implementation of measures taken for the welfare of safai karamcharis, making of suitable recommendations to the Central Government in this regard, and to investigate grievances relating to implementation of schemes, laws etc. for the purpose.


Justice (Retd) (Ms) Usha Mehra Commission submitted its report to the Government which was received by the Union Minister of Law & Justice, Ashwani Kumar and the Union Home Secretary R.K.Singh in New Delhi on 22 February. The Commission was constituted on 26 December 2012 to inquire into various aspects of shocking incidence of rape and brutal assault at a young woman in Delhi on December 16, 2012 to submit its report within 3 months and the Commission has submitted it before time.


Minister of Panchayati Raj V. Kishore Chandra Deo in the Lok Sabha said that, the Government in 2010 to suggest appropriate measures on Ownership, Price Fixation, Value Addition and Marketing of Minor Forest Produce constituted a Committee under the Chairmanship of Dr. T. Haque. The Committee submitted its Report in May 2011. The major recommendations made by the Committee are:
1) Amendment in State Laws and Indian Forest Act, 1927 should be done to clearly reflect the ownership of minor forest produce by the Gram Sabha. 
2) Strategic government intervention would be necessary in the short and medium term in the form of minimum support price (MSP) for at least 14 main MFPs, namely tamarind, mahuwa flower, mahuwa seed, tendu leaf, bamboo, sal seed, myrobalan, chironji, lac, gum karaya, honey and seeds of karaja, neem and puwad.
3) The minimum support price should be fixed at the national level by a specially constituted Central Price Fixation Commission, comprising one chairperson who will be an expert in the field of tribal and rural development and three other members having experience in the relevant field.
4) It will be obligatory for the State Government to ensure payment of MSP through its agencies. All administrative and operational costs of agencies defending the MSP shall be borne by the Government, as envisaged under first proviso to Article 275(1) of the Constitution or any other provision. The Government has examined the recommendations of the Committee and has decided to work on a separate Scheme for minimum support price. 



The Minister of Panchayati Raj V. Kishore Chandra Deo on 22 February, in a written reply in the Lok Sabha for a question about the initiations to strengthen the panchayats, submitted that the Ministry of Panchayati Raj (MoPR) has provided assistance to States for capacity building of Panchayats through the Rashtriya Gram Swaraj Yojana (RGSY), Capacity Building grant of the Backward Regions Grant Fund (BRGF) and Panchayat Mahila Evam Yuva Shakti Abhiyan (PMEYSA) and promoted e-enablement of Panchayats through the e-Panchayat scheme.

An untied grant is provided to Panchayats through States for bridging critical gaps in local infrastructure in identified backward districts on the basis of decentralized planning under BRGF. MoPR has incentivized States through the Panchayat Empowerment and Accountability Incentive Scheme (PEAIS) for devolving funds, functions and functionaries to Panchayats and has incentivized Panchayats for performance. For the Twelfth Plan MoPR has initiated the Rajiv Gandhi Panchayat Sashaktikaran Abhiyan which enables States to take measures to strengthen their Panchayati Raj systems as per their needs.


Bilateral Relations

The inaugural meeting of the India-UAE High Level Task Force on Investments was held in Abu Dhabi on 18 February. More than 50 government and private sector representatives from India and the UAE were present. The high-level taskforce, co-chaired by the Union Minister for Commerce, Industry & Textiles Anand Sharma and HH Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court, was established in April 2012 as a platform to address mutual issues associated with existing investments between the two countries and to promote and facilitate investments between the two countries.
India and UAE are significant trading partners and bilateral trade between the two countries is expected to reach new record levels in years to come. The meeting of the India-UAE High Level Task Force on Investments included a wide-ranging discussion on priority sectors of engagement for channeling investments in the two countries, areas of shared interest including the agreement in principle to put in place an Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (BIPA) and expedite its conclusion, as well as assistance and support of Governments of both countries for expediting the resolution of issues associated with existing investments and opportunities for new cross-border investments across a range of sectors. 
In order to progress these efforts, it was decided that working groups will be created to strengthen and develop bilateral relations in the investment fields and an agreement was reached between the two countries on the format and structure of future discussions, including the allocation of USD 2 billion for investments in infrastructure projects in India and support the establishment of a strategic oil reserve in India. India and United Kingdom on 20 February singed two MoU to promote development of community colleges and implementation of School Leadership Programme.

The MOU are signed on behalf of India by Minister of State, HRD, Jitin Prasada and for United Kingdom by Mr. David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science in New Delhi. Mr. Willetts is in India as a member of height level delegation led by Prime Minister of UK, David Cameron. The two sides also discussed the ways and means to strengthen the education sector. The leaders welcomed the partnership between the UK Open University and Government of India, supported by British Council and UKAID, to provide training to teachers using web-based and other innovative technology. The leaders welcomed the UK-India partnership to support secondary education through the Government of India’s Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) to universalize access to secondary education with emphasis on quality and equity. Mr. Prasada and Mr. Willetts expressed satisfaction on the ongoing collaborative programmes and assured of their strong support to various programmes being devised by the Government, institutions as well as the industry leaders from both the countries to bring in further momentum to the educational relations between India and UK. 



The Healthcare Sector Skill Council (HSSC), promoted by CII, NSDC and leading healthcare service providers in India, and Skills-for-Health, UK have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to collaborate and work together in the area of healthcare skills. The MoU was signed by Dr. Naresh Trehan, Chairman, Healthcare Sector Skill Council and John Roger, CEO, Skills-for-Health, UK. The MOU was formally announced during the UK Prime Minister Mr. David Cameron’s State visit to India on 19th February 2013.The Healthcare Sector in India has grown at a CAGR of 12.4% over the last 5 years and is estimated to increase at a CAGR of 17% to reach USD 250 billion by 2020.

While the healthcare sector in India is expanding, the biggest challenge for the sector is shortage of skilled workforce. Availability of physicians, nurses, mid-wives is far below global standards. Both the organizations - HSSC (India) and Skills-for-Health (UK) - recognize that there is a huge scope for mutual cooperation and learning between India and the UK in skill development in allied healthcare & paramedic space. Skills-for-Health has a unique combination of experience, expertise and institutions which could be of immense help to HSSC in India in creating the proposed eco-system for quality vocation education to meet its needs for a trained workforce in allied healthcare and paramedics.

Economic Issues
 
The Minister for Civil Aviation, Ajit Singh on 20 February, said that Civil Aviation Authority, (CAA) will soon replace the Directorate General of Civil Aviation(DGCA). Addressing a press conference, the Minister said that the Bill for creation of the Authority is likely to be introduced in the second part of the Budget session of Parliament. The Civil Aviation Authority will be headed by a Chairperson who will be supported by Director-General and seven to nine members. Chairperson, DG and Members will be appointed by the Central Government on the recommendation of a Selection Committee.

In this backdrop, the CAA would take over the responsibilities of the DGCA in areas like air safety, airspace regulation, setting aviation standards, licensing of airlines, pilots, air traffic controllers and consumer protection. It would have financial and operational autonomy to take expeditious decisions on matters relating to a range of activities. It will have power and authority to call for information including financial information and conduct investigations, power to issue directions, power of seizure, power to punish any person, operator, company or a Government Department, if they fail to comply with its orders or directions and the punishment will be in the form of fine as prescribed under the Rules.

The Authority shall have full financial autonomy and shall have a separate fund, the “Civil Aviation Authority of India Fund” which will be used for all expenses of the authority in connection with the discharge of its functions including salaries etc. The main functions and powers of the proposed CAA, which would replace the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) will be to regulate civil aviation safety and provide for the better management of civil aviation through safety oversight of air transport operators, airport operators, air navigation service operators and providers of civil aviation services. The minister said that the reasons for establishment of Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) are because of shortage of trained human resource, its inability to recruit and retain adequate manpower due to procedural and structural problems. 


The Cabinet Committee on Investment on 20 February, has cleared the proposal of the Ministry of Power for setting up of the North Karanpura Super Thermal Power Plant (NKSTPP) (3 x 660 MW) by the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) in the vicinity of Tandwa town, district Chatra in Jharkhand. Safeguards according to the recommendation of the Chaturvedi Committee and accepted by the Group of Ministers (GoM) under the chairmanship of Finance Minister will apply.

The project to be set up by NTPC will be on a pit-head with environment friendly super-critical technology. The power will be generated by NTPC for about 35 years of plant life. Execution of the project would lead to generation of 1980 MW of power. This is the first project of NTPC in Jharkhand which will benefit the state and people of Jharkhand where about 26 percent of the population is tribal.



The Union Cabinet on 21 February, gave its approval for merger of Bharat Heavy Plate & Vessels Ltd. (BHPV) Vishakhapatnam with Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL), New Delhi. The merger will facilitate BHPV to become a unit of BHEL. BHPV would be able to participate in tenders, obtain orders and attract best vendors for procuring materials / capital goods. Bharat Heavy Plate & Vessels Ltd. (BHPV) is an engineering / heavy fabrication company established in 1966 in Vishakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh.

Due to various factors, there were heavy losses and the company was declared sick by the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction (BIFR) in October, 2005. Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) took over BHPV as its 100 percent subsidiary in 2008. However, the company's performance was not up to the mark, as it remained a separate company and it could not derive full benefits of synergy with BHEL.



Northern Coalfields Ltd, a Mini Ratna company and subsidiary of Maha Ratna Company Coal India Ltd, has bagged the award of “50 Most Caring Companies of India” in the World Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) congress 2013 held in Mumbai on February 18, 2013 on world’s CSR Day. 

NCL’s Director (Personnel) Ms Shanti Lata Sahoo received the award on behalf of the company consisting of a trophy and a citation. The award was conferred on NCL for its good corporate citizenship and company’s endeavors to promote partnership between the Business and Social Welfare Sectors.

The World CSR Congress brings over 130 countries under one roof to unite the best and celebrate leadership in building a better society and making better world. The theme of Congress was “Possible to Do Well by Doing Good”. 



Almost three years after it was first promised in the Union Budget of 2010-11, theReserve Bank of India on 22 February, has allowed all private and public sector companies to apply for bank licenses, paving the way for business houses such as the Tatas, Aditya Birla group, L&T, ADAG, Mahindra & Mahindra and Reliance to come in to the business. Besides these large groups, financial service companies like Bajaj Finserv, Shriram Capital, Srei Finance and some public sector finance companies such as Power Finance Corporation, Rural Electrification Co and LIC Housing Finance may also seek a license. 

The last time the RBI issued a license to a private player was in 2004 to Yes Bank. The final norms, announced on 22 February, come 18 months after the RBI issued draft guidelines on the issue and does not exclude real estate companies from applying for licenses as was widely believed. The final guidelines were delayed as the central bank insisted that the government amend banking laws to give it sweeping powers to replace the boards of banks and supervise conglomerates that have a bank in the group. Even after amendments to the act, the guidelines went through a few iterations with the government asking RBI to knock out parts that excluded builders and brokers. The final set of rules requires promoters to bring in a minimum capital of Rs 500 crore. Also, unlike the earlier draft it does not require the applicant to get a clearance from enforcement authorities. However, it does say that RBI may seek feedback from investigative agencies such as Income Tax, Central Bureau of Investigation, and Enforcement Directorate, which suggests that the background of applicants have to be squeaky clean. 

Given that the RBI will receive applications until July and subsequently pass them on to a screening committee, it is unlikely that the first bank license will be issued before October-November. 



Unlisted Indian firms Tata Sons Ltd, Arun Bhatia's Telestra Tradeplace Pvt Ltd and Malaysia's AirAsia Bhd Asia's biggest budget carrier, said on 20 February, they are seeking approval to establish a joint venture. Air Asia has applied to Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) to take 49 per cent in a venture with Tata Sons Ltd and Arun Bhatia's Telestra Tradeplace Pvt Ltd, the low-fare carrier. Once approved, they will seek an air operators permit. The move follows government's recent decision to allow foreign carriers to invest in Indian airlines.

The proposed joint venture will operate from Chennai and will focus on providing domestic connectivity to Tier-II and Tier-III cities. As per current rules, a carrier must complete five years of domestic operations before becoming eligible for starting overseas flights. Air Asia, through its operations based in Thailand and Malaysia flies to Chennai, Bangalore, Kochi, Tiruchirappalli and Kolkata in addition to 20 countries across Asia. Air Asia, Tatas and Hindustan Aviation of Bhatias have signed a partnership agreement for the venture.


Science and Technology

The first wildlife skywalk of India will be coming up in Maenam wildlife sanctuary, Sikkim. The State Government of Sikkim proposed to construct 22 km rope-way from Maenam sanctuary to skywalk which would be built on edge of Bhalleydhunga steep face. Maenam wildlife sanctuary in Sikkim is 65 km south from Gangtok, the capital of the state. It is a popular tourist destination as well.

The environment ministry too has approved the proposal of Sikkim government for the first wildlife skywalk of India proposal that would cost 500 crore Rupees. This skywalk would be like the one in Grand Canyon in North America. The skywalk in Grand Canyon in North America gets more than 300000 visitors every year, in spite of opposition from the wild-lifers.

Awards

Leading accounting and consultancy firm E&Y India has awarded the Tata Group patriarch Ratan Tata, the Chairman Emeritus of the $100-billion conglomerate, with the Entrepreneur of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award. Tata received the award from Corporate Affairs Minister Sachin Pilot in Mumbai on 22 February. Tata had won the E&Y Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2003 as well. Adi Godrej of the Godrej Group has won the Entrepreneur of the Year for 2012, who will represent India at the E&Y World Entrepreneur of the year award in Monte Carlo, Monaco in June.

The other awardees are Dr Naresh Trehan of Medanta—The Medicity for start-ups, Dhiraj C Rajaram of MuSigma Business Solutions for services, Francisco D’Souza of Cognizant for manager category and Devi Prasad Shetty of the Narayana Hrudalaya in the for life sciences and healthcare segment. TT Jagannathan of TTK Group in the consumer products category, Onkar S Kanwar of Apollo Tyres for manufacturing, and Cyrus S Poonawalla of Serum Institute of India for business transformation was the other awardees. The Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, which is into the 14th edition, is recognized as one of the world’s prestigious business awards for entrepreneurs.


The President of India Pranab Mukherjee on 18 February 2013 conferred 2011Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development Award to Ela Ramesh Bhatt, a renowned Women social worker. The award was given away at Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi. Ela Bhatt was given away the award for life time achievements in women empowerment, promotion of grass root level entrepreneurship as well as contribution towards promotion of equitable development and peace.

Ela Bhatt has her organization SEWA (Self-Employed Women’s Association). Ela Bhatt is the founder of more than 1 million SEWAs in India. Ela Bhatt has been working for women empowerment and bringing women out of poverty through promotion of Self Help Groups. SEWA has empowered women with freedom as well as financial self- reliance.


The world's two leading internet giants have set aside their rivalries and joined forces to set up the most lucrative science prize in history which is more than double the value of the Nobel Prize. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan are working alongside Google co-founder Sergey Brin and his wife Anne Wojcicki to create the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences worth USD 3 million.

The project's aim is to reward research aimed at extending human life. In the first round of awards 11 scientists were awarded a total of USD 33 million but going forward an annual amount of USD 15 million will be set aside for five prize winners. The team that has already chosen 11 winners for this year including Cornelia Bargmann, a neurobiologist and Napolean Ferrara, a molecular biologist has planned to award science heroes five annual prizes.


Eminent Hindi litterateur Narendra Kohli (73) has been selected for the prestigious Vyas Samman for 2012 for his historical novel 'Na Bhooto Na Bhavishyati' which is based on Swami Vivekananda and the era he belonged to. Instituted by the K K Birla Foundation in 1991, the award is given annually for an outstanding literary work in Hindi published during the past 10 years.

The award carries a cash purse of Rs 2.5 lakh. 'Na Bhooto Na Bhavishyati', published in 2004, gives an account of the incredible impression that Vivekananda cast on the history of the country and its culture.


Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC SHAR), Sriharikota, director Dr. MYS Prasad has been selected for Dr. Y Nayudamma Memorial Award for 2013 for his outstanding contributions to the field of space science. That award will be presented to Prasad at a function shceduled to be held in Nellore,A.P. in March last week, a press release by Nayudamma Centre for Development Alternatives director Jagadeesh said on 18 February. Prasad will also deliver the 18th Dr. Y Nayudamma Memorial Lecture at the function. The dignitaries who had received the award earlier include ISRO ex-chairman K Kasturi Rangan.


Sports 

India's Sania Mirza and her American partner Bethanie-Mattek Sands won the Dubai Tennis Championship on 23 February 2013. The Indo-American pair defeated the second seeded Russian-Slovenian combination of Nadia Petrova and Katarina Srebotnik, 6-4, 2-6, 10-7. Sania bagged her second Doubles title of the season. Meanwhile, Czech Republic's Petra Kvitova clinched the Women's Singles trophy. In the finals, she defeated Sara Errani of Italy, 6-2, 1-6, 6-1 to win her career's 10th title.


Serena Williams became the new World number one women’s tennis player. Serena Williams who is aged 31 years thrashed Petra Kvitova of Czech Republic 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 and reached Semifinals of Qatar Open Tennis Championship in Doha. On entering the semi-finals, she achieved the top position after a period of two and a half years. Serena Williams will compete against Maria Sharapova in the Semifinals on 16 February 2013. Maria Sharapova reached semi-finals after defeating Samantha Stosur 6-2, 6-4.


Persons

Azim Premji--Wipro head, AzimPremji has transferred Rs 12,300 crore worth of personal shares to his trust that funds his philanthropic activities. This comes on top of a transfer he did in 2010, then valued at Rs 8,846 crore. This would be the biggest ever charity gesture shown in India. The Azim Premji Foundation is the vehicle through which the philanthropic activities are conducted.

This trust will utilize the endowment to fund various social, not-for-profit initiatives of the Foundation, which are expected to scale significantly over the next few years. The Foundation said it would open 60 district-level institutes and 8 state-level institutes across the country by 2016. It will also open 60 to 100 schools of its own. Premji University is expected to have 3,500 students in the next four years from 350 students now. The Foundation's work is spread across Karnataka, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Puducherry, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh.


T. S. Vijayan- the former LIC chief took over as the Chairman of the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) on 21 February 2013. Vijayan will succeed J. Hari Narayan. J. Hari Narayan completed the five-year term on 20 February 2013. The tenure for IRDA chairman is five years or till 65 years.



Justice Omkareswar Bhatt (Rtd)-The State Government of Uttar Pradesh on 18 February 2013 appointed Onkareshwar Bhatt, the retired Justice of Allahabad High Court to conduct Judicial Probe into the Allahabad Railway Station Stampede that occurred during Kumbh Mela. The constituted committee that will probe into the matter is a one-man committee and was directed to submit its report in two months. The State Government ordered a Judicial Probe into the incident that occurred on the day of Mauni Amawasya 10 February 2013 at the Allahabad Railway Station during Kumbh Mela.


Ronald Working (81)--American philosopher and Constitutional law expert, Ronald Dworkin died in a hospital at London on 14 February 2013. The liberal scholar who argued that the law should be founded on moral integrity died from leukemia. Dworkin was a professor of law at New York University and was an emeritus professor at University College London. He was one of the best known and most quoted legal scholars in the U.S. and also an expert on British law. He wrote books named A Matter of Principle, Law's Empire and Justice for Hedgehogs.

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