2013 - December 23 to 29 - Current Affairs


International 

The UN General Assembly on 27th December approved a budget of US $ 5.53 billion to cover the organization's regular operations in 2014-15, cutting it for a second successive time. This is 1% less than the established sum for the last two year period, sources reports. For the first time since the institution's establishment in 1945 it also approved a 2 percent reduction of staff positions, or 221 jobs, and a one-year freeze of compensation for staff members. 

Major contributors to the U.N. budget such as the United States, the largest donor, in 2010 began pressuring the New York-based United Nations to reduce its spending as they endured austerity measures to recover from the global financial crisis. Negotiations pitted major developed countries that pay most of the bills against developing nations that seek to increase UN development spending. 

The UN's staff cut is "crucial" and will "eliminate unnecessary, duplicative or outdated posts," Joe Torsella, the US ambassador to the United Nations for management and reform, told the General Assembly on 27th December. The budget doesn't include peacekeeping, which for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2014, is about US $ 7.54 billion, or the costs to operate several major U.N. agencies funded by voluntary contributions from member states.



The UK will be in a position to overtake Germany as Europe's largest economy, according to the think tank the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR). The CEBR predicts that Germany will lose its current top spot in Europe by 2030. It cites the UK's population growth as an aid to economic acceleration. The report echoes the recent confidence of other business groups such as the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC). 

Earlier this month the BCC said that the UK economy will surpass its pre-recession peak in 2014. In its annual World Economic League Table, where it ranks the ups and downs of global economies, and forecasts their future position, the CEBR said in addition that China will overtake the US in 2028, which is later than some analysts have suggested. 

The UK will overall perform second best of all advanced economies, the CEBR said. Yet, this performance will still lag behind growth in emerging countries such India and Brazil. As for France, The CEBR said it will be one of the "worst performing" of the Western economies, and will be overtaken by the UK by 2018. This is because of slow growth due to "high taxation" in addition to the general issues of Euro Zone economies.



China has said it is willing to offer its neighboring countries use of its home-grown satellite navigation system free of charge, in a strategic push that has already garnered interest from a number of countries including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Thailand, according to officials. Chinese officials said on 27th December, they intend to widen use of the Beidou satellite network, which already has 16 satellites serving the Asia-Pacific and has been promoted as an alternative to the American Global Positioning System (GPS). 

The focus will be on countries in the Asia-Pacific region, and particularly in South and Southeast Asia, where the satellites offered the highest accuracy. China has already agreed deals with Pakistan and Thailand on use of the Beidou network, officials said. In recent months, China has also had consultations with Sri Lanka, for which it has already launched a satellite, and Bangladesh, over cooperation on satellite use. 

China’s deepening cooperation with these countries prompted the Indian government, earlier this year, to belatedly prod the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) in being more active in providing technological assistance to countries in the neighborhood in launching satellites. For China, however, granting use of its 16-satellite Beidou network – which will be expand to 35 satellites by 2020 to provide global coverage – offers an added advantage.



China formally approved on 28 December, easing its decades-long one-child policy and the abolition of a controversial labor camp system, the official Xinhua news agency reported. Both were among a sweeping raft of reforms announced last month after a meeting of the ruling Communist Party that mapped out policy for the next decade. Under the new policy, couples will be allowed to have two children if one of the parents is an only child. Previously, a couple could generally only have a second child if both parents were only children. 

The plan was envisioned by the government about five years ago, with officials worried that the strict controls were undermining economic growth and contributing to a rapidly ageing population China had no hope of supporting financially. The resolution, formally approved by China's largely rubber- stamp parliament on 28 December, will allow local legislatures to decide when to implement the policies, Xinhua said. 

Parliament also approved the abolition of the "re-education through labor" system, in place since 1957, which allows police to sentence petty criminals to up to four years' confinement in labor camps without going through the courts. Critics say the system undermines the rule of law and is often used against political activists and followers of Falun Gong, a banned spiritual group.



Following escalation of violence in South Sudan, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Videsh Limited (OVL) has shut down its oilfields and has evacuated its dozen-odd employees to India as a precautionary measure. ONGC sources said in New Delhi on 23 December. The company was forced to carry out evacuation of all its employees after rebel forces loyal to deposed South Sudanese Vice-President Riek Machar captured Unity state, which housed most of the oil fields it was operating. OVL owns 25 per cent stake in the Greater Nile Oil Project, which produces about 40,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd), and 24.125 per cent in Block 5A, which t produces 5,000 bpd. 

Other partners in the blocks—China's CNPC and Petronas of Malaysia too have decided to evacuate their officials from South Sudan. Fighting in South Sudan, which broke out on December 15, has already claimed as many as 500 lives, including Indian soldiers working as United Nations peacekeepers. The oil produced in OVL's fields and other projects in the country are exported through pipelines across neighboring Sudan. 

Greater Nile Oil Project (GNOP) comprises of Block 1, 2 & 4. While OVL has 25 per cent stake in the project, China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) has 40 per cent, Petronas of Malaysia has 30 per cent and Sudapet of Sudan the remaining 5 per cent. In Block 5A, OVL holds 24.125 per cent while Petronas has 67.875 per cent and Sudapet has 8 per cent.



Egypt’s military-installed government declared the Muslim Brotherhood of ousted president Mohamed Morsy a “terrorist” group, banning all its activities, Ministers said after a Cabinet meeting held on 25 December. Deputy Prime Minister Hossam Eissa made the announcement. Social Solidarity Minister Ahmed al-Borei said the government would not allow it to even stage “protests.” 

The decision is likely to accelerate a crackdown on the movement that has killed more than 1,000 people, mostly Islamists, in street clashes and imprisoned thousands since Morsy’s overthrow by the military in July. It comes a day after a suicide car bombing of a police station killed 15 people, in an attack condemned by the Brotherhood and claimed by an Al-Qaeda-inspired group. Morsy’s supporters, who continue to organize demonstrations demanding his reinstatement, insist they are for peaceful protest. Egypt will notify Arab countries who signed a 1998 anti-terrorism treaty.



Japan on 27 December 2013 approved the relocation of the US military airbase on its southern island of Okinawa. The relocation was accepted by the Governor of Okinawa, Hirokazu Nakaima. He agreed to landfill work to develop a new base in a less densely populated part of the island. 

A document was signed to give a green light to the Governor of the landfill. It has paved a way to the construction of the new base on the coast. The relocation of the airbase was accepted after the Prime Minister of Japan, Shino Abe pledged an annual injection of 300 billion yen (about 2.9 billion dollar) into the island’s economic stimulate budget until 2021 fiscal. 

The Governor’s nod is a breakthrough to the 1996 agreement to shut down the Futenma airbase that is located in a densely populated urban area of the island. The agreement searched for a new site for placing the new US base. The US has around 26,000 troops on Okinawa under a long-standing security alliance with Japan.



In a unique effort to combat childhood obesity, a primary school in Melbourne has launched the world's first standing classroom. A grade six class at Mont Albert Primary School has been fitted with height-adjustable desks to allow the pupils to sit or stand, as part of an experiment by Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute researchers. Since the desks were introduced more than two months ago, most students have taken the opportunity to stand. 

The standing students will be monitored by a team of scientists keen to know if being upright can improve their health, fitness, learning and memory. Students will also be fitted with devices to measure how long they spend sitting, with lesson plans overhauled to cut down the time students are idle. 

The institute's head of physical activity research, Professor David Dunstan, said the long hours sitting at school were a hazard for children he hoped to overcome." It is a two fold process: changing the environment and also training the teacher in how to administer this in a new and innovative way," Dunstan said." When they stand up they are engaging more muscles that are likely to be of great benefit for keeping the blood flowing throughout their body and reducing the level of fatigue." If we can ingrain good health behaviors in early age we know they track into adulthood," Dunstan said. 

Previous studies have shown students spent two-thirds of a school day sitting, and prolonged childhood sitting can contribute to the onset of such diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity. If comparisons show benefits for the cardiovascular health, learning and memory of the standing students over a traditional class, researchers hope to progress the pilot study into a much larger trial to see if it can have an impact on lessons across Australia.


National 

The Prime Minister has asked the University Grants Commission (UGC) to play the role of a national Think Tank for the promotion of Higher Education in the country. Addressing the Diamond Jubilee celebration of the Commission in New Delhi on 28 December, Dr. Manmohan Singh appreciated the role of Commission as a principal regulator of Higher Education in the country. 

The Prime Minister in this regard, announced instituting awards in the name of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru for individual excellence in the areas of Science, Humanities and Social Sciences, Technology, Fine Arts and Culture. He also said the Government has put unprecedented emphasis on education at all level in the last ten years. Giving details of the expansion in the Higher Education in this period, the Prime Minister said, Gross Enrolment Ratio has gone up from 11% in 2005-06 to 19.4% i 2010-11. 

Twenty three Central Universities, 7 IIMs,9 IITs, 10 NITs and 4 IIITs have been set up by the Central Government .Highlighting the role recently launched Rashtriya Uchttar Shiksha -Abhiyan(RUSA) will play in promoting Higher Education in the Country, Dr. Singh said the scheme aims to create 278 new universities and 388 new colleges and to convert 266 colleges to Model Degree Colleges by the end of the current five year plan ending 2017. The scheme will also provide infrastructure grants to 286 state universities and 8500 state colleges. 

Speaking on the occasion the HRD Minister, Dr. M. M. Pallam Raju said that UGC will launch Chair in the name of the Indian Nobel Lauerates including in the name of C.V. Raman, Rabindra Nath Tagore, and Mother Teresa. He said the government has focused on access for the weaker sections of the society and the minorities by giving scholarships and equal opportunities. He said that the government is keen to promote Research and more funds are being earmarked for them. 

Dr. Raju informed that the government is keen to give more autonomy to universities. The Chairman of the UGC, Dr. Ved Prakash said the Commission has been given the additional charge of Distance Education. It is also taking several steps to ease the constraints caused by the paucity of quality faculty by engaging Recharge Programs and appointing contractual faculty.



A Nuclear University will be set up in Haryana soon at a cost of Rs 2,200 crore, Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda on 28 December announced at Ambala. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will lay the foundation for the institution on January 3, Hooda said.



The Centre on 26 December, cleared a proposal for setting up of National Cancer Institute at the Jhajjar campus of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, at a cost of Rs 2,035 crore. The cancer institute will be located in Badhsa village in Jhajjar of Haryana, near Delhi and will be completed in a period of 45 months. Approving the health ministry's proposal, the Union cabinet cleared a long-pending demand of Haryana government i.e. expanding cancer care. 

The step is being considered as a landmark in the area of cancer research in the country and shall lessen the deficit of tertiary cancer care in the northern region. Cancer is emerging as a major public health concern in India, where 11 lakh new cases are diagnosed every year and the mortality rate is 5.5 lakh per year. Cancer treatment facilities in India are lagging behind when compared to WHO standards that require a radiotherapy machine per million population.



In a landmark judgment, the Himachal Pradesh High Court on 26 December cleared the decks for a complete ban on sale of potato chips, wafers, kurkure and all other junk food-items packed in non-biodegradable and plastic material. The ban would come into effect from January 26, 2014. The court also vacated its stay on the notification issued by the department of Science, Technology and Environment on June 26, 2013 imposing ban on sale, storage, entry, supply and manufacture of these items in the state. 

It directed the government to strictly enforce the ban on these non-essential packaged food items, which however will not include drinking water - both packed and mineral. The order was passed by a division bench comprising Justice Rajiv Sharma and Justice V.K. Sharma which while hearing the petition filed by some dealers and manufacturers of these items challenging the government's notification. 

The court directed the government to ensure that the edible oils/fats shall not be sold in the plastic bottles or pouches and shall be packed in tin containers. Also, from March 31, 2014, the milk and milk products along with edible oils, fats, fruits and vegetables and meat products will be manufactured, transported, sold, packaged and distributed as per regulations of the Food Safety & Standards (Packaging & Labelling) Regulation, 2011, the court ordered.


Bilateral 

India has signed a Rs. 4,000-crore deal with the US for procuring six more C-130J Super Hercules Special Operations aircraft for the Indian Air Force. The proposal was cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on December 20. 

The two sides signed the deal on 27 December, under which the US Air Force will supply the aircraft to the IAF through the Foreign Military Sales route, sources said. The IAF already has a fleet of six similar planes which are deployed at the Hindon air base near New Delhi and the force uses it for carrying out special operations including landing on inhospitable air strips in the Ladakh area. 

The IAF had acquired the first lot of six aircraft at a cost of around Rs. 5,500 crore. The new lot of six planes will be located at Panagarh in West Bengal, which would be headquarters of the proposed Mountain Strike Corps of the army along the China border. 

The aircraft is capable of airdropping commandos and material in darkness due to its night-vision imaging. It can prove very handy in wartime due to its ability for special air operations and transport of material and supplies. It can be used in mountainous terrain in hostile circumstances. The four-engine plane with Rolls Royce engines has the technology and configuration to perform low-level precision flying.


Economy 

As part of a CSR initiative, energy major Oil India has decided to step into dairy sector and has signed an agreement with Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA) to carry out a feasibility study. According to company sources, a detailed project report (DPR) will be prepared after the study in two districts of Assam where Oil India Ltd (OIL) has significant presence. "It is going to be significant CSR initiative of the company. 

This project is aimed at filling the gap in milk production in North East and giving employment opportunity to the youths of Assam," a source said on 28 December. The state-run OIL has signed an MoU with IRMA in Gujarat around 10 days ago for the study that will cover select villages in Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts of the state. 

The project is planned to be developed on the lines of the 'Amul' model. The study funded by OIL will focus on the prospects of developing a cooperative dairy project in Assam. The feasibility study will focus on quantitative, qualitative and participatory methods of enquiry where secondary data will be collected from various sources, helping the company to identify dairying as an alternative source of livelihood, he added. 

Earlier in July this year, OIL Chairman and MD Sunil Kumar Srivastava had said the company plans to tie up with the Assam government to start a cooperative dairy business in the lines of Gujarat's successful 'Amul' model. The project named 'Kamdhenu' envisaged setting up a milk production facility in Upper Assam to establish the dairy business in 3 to 5 years, he had said.



A three-way joint venture between Steel Authority of India (SAIL), Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Ltd. (RINL) and MOIL (formerly known as Manganese Ore India Ltd.) to produce ferro alloys is on the cards with the earlier two separately proposed between SAIL-MOIL and MOIL-RINL having virtually been scrapped. 

MOIL had inked two separate joint venture pacts with SAIL and RINL to set up two ferro alloy plants with a total outlay of Rs.600 crore. Ferro alloys are used in steel-making for de-oxidising purposes. 

The Rs.400-crore joint venture between SAIL and MOIL was proposed to be set up in Chhattisgarh with an annual capacity of one lakh tonne per annum. The Rs.200 crore venture between RINL-MOIL in Andhra Pradesh was supposed to manufacture 50,000 tonnes of ferro alloys a year. While power shortage was the primary reason for scrapping the RINL-MOIL joint venture; till recently SAIL was maintaining that the proposed venture with MOIL was not yet scrapped. 

Meanwhile, a committee has been set up comprising members from all the three state-run firms under the Steel Ministry to work on the shareholding pattern, proposed capacity and likely investment for the three-way venture, a top management in one of the three firms said.


Awards 

Rajiv Gandhi International Airport (RGIA), operated by GMR Hyderabad International Airport Ltd, has been awarded the ‘Sword of Honour’ for safety management. The award was in recognition of its effective implementation of occupational health and safety management systems from the British Safety Council for health and safety works at the airport. 

The ‘Sword of Honor’ is considered to be the Oscar of the Safety World. RGIA is the first Indian airport to receive this honor in the world. SGK Kishore, CEO, GHIAL, in a statement said: "The ‘Sword of Honor’ places a huge responsibility on us to sustain the initiatives and take our safety management system to the next higher level.’ The award was presented recently in London.


Sports 

Deepika Kumari of Jharkhand won her sixth straight individual women’s recurve title in the 34th senior National archery championship at the JRD Tata Sports Complex in Jamshedpur on 25 December. she won the title with a 6-4 win over V. Pranitha of Gujarat. 

The men’s individual recurve title went to Atanu Das of PSPB who should thank veteran Muni Ram Tirkey of Services in gifting the title. Rajat Chauhan of Rajasthan regained the compound men’s individual crown after a gap of a year defeating Kawalpreet Singh of Punjab 144-142 in the summit clash. 

The women’s title went to veteran Jhano Hansdah of Jharkhand who got the better of Ramandeep Kaur of Punjab 137-132. This was Jhano’s third National crown. Deepika figured prominently in Jharkhand’s triumph over Punjab in the final. She and Jayanta Talukdar won mixed team gold with a 203-202 win. The men’s team honors went to Services, which got the better of Assam 219-214. 

Punjab won the men’s compound team title outplaying Himachal Pradesh 224-215. Bihar ladies won against Manipur 222-216 to take the women’s crown.



K. Srikanth and P.V. Sindhu won the men’s and women’s titles respectively at the 78th Senior National Badminton Championship in Siri Fort Sports Complex at New Delhi on 23 December 2013. Srikanth won the men’s singles title of the Senior National Badminton Championship by defeating M V Guru Sai Dutt 21-13, 22-20 in the finals. In the Women’s singles, PV Sindhu defeated the Junior National Champion Rituparna Das 21-17, 21-11 in the finals to win the title. 

In the men's doubles the second seeded Pranav Chopra and Akshay Devalkar beat the top seeds Munnu Atri and Sumit Reddy 21-19, 21-17 to won the title. 

Women's doubles title was won by Jwala Gutta and Ashwani Punnappa. Jwala and Punnappa regained the women’s doubles crown for the first time, since 2009. Defending mixed doubles champions Aparna Balan and Arun Vishnu retained their title by defeating Tarun Kona and Ashwini Ponnappa 21-10 21-17. The second seeded pair of Jwala and Ashwini prevailed over top seeds Pradnya Gadre and Siki Reddy N 21-17 21-16.


Persons 

Mikhail Kalashnikov, the designer of the fabled AK-47 automatic rifle, died on 23 December in Izhevsk, the capital of the Udmurtia Republic, where he lived. He was 94. Kalashnikov designed a weapon that became synonymous with killing on a sometimes indiscriminate scale but was seen in the Soviet Union as a national hero and symbol of Moscow’s proud military past. 

Lavished with honours including the prestigious Hero of Russia prize for designing the iconic rifle, Kalashnikov has said he had never intended for it to become the preferred weapon in conflicts around the world. 

AK-47’s name stands for “Kalashnikov’s Automatic” and the year it was designed, 1947. Also called the “Kalashnikov”, the rifle and its variants are the weapons of choice for dozens of armies and guerrilla groups around the world.



J.N. Choudhury, senior IPS officer J.N. Choudhury has been appointed as head of National Security Guard (NSG) in place of Arvind Ranjan who will take over as the full-time chief of Central Industrial Security Force (CISF). The Union Home Ministry issued the orders on 26 December. Mr. Choudhury, who has been appointed as the new DG of the premier ‘black cats’ counter-terror force, is due to retire in May, 2015. 

A 1978-batch IPS officer of Assam-Meghalaya cadre, he has served in the Intelligence Bureau (IB) for a number of years before he took over as Assam police chief last year. The NSG has specific tasks of undertaking special counter-terror and counter-hijack operations.



Arvind Ranjan was appointed the full time chief of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) on 26 December 2013. Ranjan’s name for the post was cleared by Union Home Ministry. He is a 1977 batch Kerala cadre IAS officer. 

Ranjan took over his charge from January. He will take his charge from incumbent Director General Rajiv. The Central Industrial Security Force is a Central Armed Police Force in India. CISF was established in 1983 in the present form. 

CISF is the largest industrial security force in the world. It is directly under the federal Ministry of Home Affairs and its headquarters are at New Delhi. The CISF guards vital government installations including airports and nuclear and aerospace facilities in the country.



Smt. Jayanthi Natarajan, the minister of state for environment and forest has resigned from the Council of Ministers (COM) on 21 December 2013.The President of India, as advised by the Prime Minister, accepted the resignation of Jayanthi Natarajan from the Council of Ministers. 

The Prime Minister advised the President of India that M. Veerappa Moily, Minister of Petroleum & Natural Gas shall be given additional charge of the work of Ministry of Environment & Forests.Jayanthi Natarajan expected to return to party work which is relating to manifesto and other election matters of the Congress Party. 

Jayanthi Natarajan , a senior member of Rajya Sabha for the third term from Tamil Nadu and served in Environment ministry for two years.


Science and Technology 

An international team of researchers has found more than 40 new areas in DNA that increase the risk of rheumatoid arthritis. The work is the largest genetic study ever carried out, involving nearly 30,000 patients. 

The investigators believe new drugs could be developed to target these areas that could one day provide a cure for the disease. The findings are published in the Journal Nature. 

The research team compared the DNA of arthritis patients with those without the disease and found 42 'faulty' areas that were linked with the disease. The hope is that drugs can be developed to compensate for these faults. The lead researcher Professor Robert Plenge of Harvard Medical School found that one of these areas produced a weakness that was treated by an existing drug that was developed by trial and error, rather than specifically made to correct the genetic problem. This finding, he says, shows such discoveries could be used to design new drugs."What this offers in the future is an opportunity to use genetics to discover new medicines for complex diseases like rheumatoid arthritis to treat or even cure the disease," he said. 

According to Prof Jane Worthington, director of the centre for genetics in Manchester, this observation suggests that drugs that are being used to treat the cancer could be effective against rheumatoid arthritis and so should be fast tracked into clinical trials.



Europe has launched the Gaia satellite - one of the most ambitious space missions in history. The 740m-euro (£620m) observatory lifted off from the Sinnamary complex in French Guiana on 19 December. Gaia is going to map the precise positions and distances to more than a billion stars. This should give us the first realistic picture of how our Milky Way galaxy is constructed. 

Gaia's remarkable sensitivity will lead also to the detection of many thousands of previously unseen objects, including new planets and asteroids. Separation from the Soyuz upper-stage was confirmed just before 10:00 GMT. 

The satellite is now travelling out to an observing station some 1.5 million km from the Earth on its nightside - a journey that will take about a month to complete. Gaia has been in development for more than 20 years. It will be engaged in what is termed astrometry - the science of mapping the locations and movements of celestial objects. 

To do this, it carries two telescopes that throw light on to a huge, one-billion-pixel camera detector connected to a trio of instruments. Gaia will use this ultra-stable and supersensitive optical equipment to pinpoint its sample of stars with extraordinary confidence. By repeatedly viewing its targets over five years, it should get to know the brightest stars' coordinates down to an error of just seven micro-arcseconds. 

Gaia will compile profiles on the stars it sees. This will enable scientists to use them as three-dimensional markers to trace the evolution of the Milky Way, to in essence make a time-lapse movie that can be run forwards to see what happens in the future, or run backwards to reveal how the galaxy was assembled in the past.



In the fifth consecutive success of its flight trial, nuclear weapons capable Agni-III surface-to-surface ballistic missile was test-fired for its full range of a little over 3,000 km from the Wheeler Island, off the Odisha coast on 23 December. 

The mission was carried out by the personnel of Strategic Forces Command (SFC) as part of regular user training. This was the sixth trial of Agni-III and the fifth successful mission in a row with two of them conducted by the users. The two-stage, solid propelled missile took off from a rail mobile launcher. 

After a flight time of about 800 seconds, the missile carrying a dummy payload impacted the pre-designated target point more than 3,000 km away in the Bay of Bengal with an accuracy of about 100 meters. The performance of the17-metre tall missile was tracked in real time by radars along the East Coast.


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