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Current Affairs - 14 February 2018

General Affairs 

Defence Ministry plans to buy 17,000 machine guns, 6,500 sniper rifles
  • At a time terrorists have increased attacks on the Army and security forces, the defence ministry will consider proposals worth over Rs 2,000 crore to provide over 17,000 light machine guns (LMGs) and 6,500 sniper rifles for the armed forces on Tuesday.

    A high level meeting headed by the defence minister is scheduled to consider buying 17,000 LMGs and 6,500 sniper rifles under the fast-track procedure of the defence procurement procedure, a government source said.

    The need for these weapons has been long pending as the LMG contract had to be scrapped due to a single vendor situation in the procurement. That is why, the LMGs are being procured through the fast-track procedure, the source said.

    LMGs provide heavy firepower to infantry troops in both counter-insurgency and conventional war operations, sources said.

    To be fast-tracked, the Army will have the option of going in for government-to-government contract to fulfill the requirement in the earliest possible timeframe.

    The existing LMGs with the infantry units are quite heavy, which is why the force is looking at lighter versions of the gun that can be easily shifted from one position to another in case of an ongoing encounter.

    The sniper rifles would replace the Russian Dragunov rifles which have been in service for decades now with the Infantry and Special Forces.

    To ensure that sniper rifles are always available for training and operational use, the users have demanded that the supplier also provide one crore rounds of ammunition.

    During the last meeting of the defence acquisition council, headed by defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, the ministry cleared procurement of 72,000 assault rifles and 93,895 carbines. The procurement is expected to address the shortage of small arms for the forces.

NIA team returns empty handed from Sunjwan army camp

  • The National Investigation Agency (NIA) team that rushed from Delhi to Jammu to examine possible clues on Sunjwan camp attackers returned on Tuesday virtually empty handed as the Army gave them limited access.

     Sources said that the Army took NIA sleuths led by IPS officer Sanjukta Parashar to the bodies of three attackers and the weapons that were recovered from the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) militants.

     Sources said, however, the access was not provided as combing operations continued on the third day as well. Sources said the NIA team in Jammu sent a preliminary report citing limited access to the area of the encounter.

     The Sunjwan attack had all the hallmark of a JeM operation. No mobile phones, GPS devices or Matrix international phone cards were recovered from the slain militants.

     A thorough body search of the killed terrorist was carried out in the presence of the Army but the terrorists, all believed to be foreigners, left no clue linking them back to Pakistan.

     Sources said that photographs of the bodies with weapons were taken. The pictures and DNA samples are being used as evidence by investigation agency.

     But the probe into the terrorist attack on the military camp will be an uphill task as it would be difficult to prove the link between the militants and Pakistan.

     A similar pattern emerged with the recent terror attacks in Jammu and Kashmir where terrorists have managed to cover their tracks in a bid to avoid exposing the Pakistan connection. Terror attacks carried out in Uri, Handwara and Nagrota showed a clever modus operandi to camouflage the terror trail.

     While in the Uri terror case, top sources told India Today that the agency even tried to activate local intelligence contacts across the Line of Control (LoC) in order to gather evidence in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK).

     But despite the best efforts, the probe made little headway. Retracing the route taken by the Uri fidayeen from Pakistan also received a jolt after the US agency Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as well as India's National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), which specialises in technical surveillance, failed to retrieve any data from the GPS set recovered from the attackers.

     In Handwara, three fidayeens dressed in army fatigues were killed in an encounter on October 6 as they opened fire outside the 30 Rashtriya Rifles camp at Langate.

     One of the fidayeens managed to flee. NIA managed to trace the origin of one phone to Pakistan. The Huawei phone was shipped to a dealer in Pakistan, while the Samsung mobile phone was shipped by a company to Zambia, from where it was further transported to Mauritius. The terror masterminds had managed to cover their tracks.

     In Nagrota terror attack, the investigation agency closed in on JeM behind the attack on an Army camp in which two officers and five soldiers were killed in November 2016. Evidence pointed to the Afzal Guru squad of JeM behind the attack.

     Security forces carrying out combing and sanitisation operations at the Sunjwan camp recovered a body of army soldier on Tuesday morning, pushing the toll to seven -- six Army jawans and a civilian.

Soldier killed in Pokhran firing range while trying to dispose of faulty ordnance
  • A solider of the 14 Engineers Regiment died today at the Pokhran firing range in Rajasthan while trying to dispose of a "blind" ordnance (a round that has been fired but has failed to explode), Army sources told India Today

    "The demolition-round that was being used to dispose the blind ordnance malfunctioned and exploded, unexpectedly killing the soldier," a source said.

    The ordnance was a rocket that had been fired during training, but didn't explode. All blind ordnances need to disposed of.

    The Indian Army has often flagged the poor quality of ordnances being supplied by the Ordnance Factory Boards.

    In June 2016, at least 19 soldiers - including officers - died when defective anti-tank mines stored at the Pulgoan Central Ammunition Depot leaked, triggering a massive fire.

81 per cent of Indian CMs crorepatis, Chandrababu Naidu richest, says report
  • Eighty one per cent of Indian CMs are crorepatis, a report published by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch (NEW) said. The report also analysed the criminal cases against these chief ministers.

    Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu is the richest while Manik Sarkar of Tripura is the poorest among Chief Ministers in office in the country. Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) has released ranking of CMs based on their total assets, criminal cases, and educational qualifications.

    As per the report, Chandrababu Naidu with assets worth Rs 177 crores is at the top followed by Pema Khandu of Arunachal Pradesh with Rs 129 crores while Punjab CM Capt Amarinder Singh is third richest with assets worth Rs 48 crores.

    ADR has analysed self-sworned affidavits filed by the Chief Ministers of 29 states and two Union Territories.

    Among the Chief Ministers with least assets, Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar with Rs 26 Lakhs is the poorest, followed by West Bengal CM Mamta Banerjee with assets worth Rs 30 Lakhs and J & K CM Mehbooba Mufti with Rs 55 lakh worth assets is at the third place. Interestingly, Mamta Banerjee has not declared any immovable asset in her affidavit.

    The report says that 25 out of 31 Chief Ministers are crorepatis while six of them have assets less than Rs one crore.

    Interestingly, out of the 25 crorepati CMs two of them have net assets worth more than 100 crores.

    CRIMINAL CASES

    The report also analysed the number of criminal cases against each CM.

    "Out of the all 31 chief ministers analysed from state assemblies and Union territories, 11 (35 per cent) chief ministers have declared criminal cases against themselves," the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) report noted.

    26 per cent CMs have also declared serious criminal cases including murder, attempt to murder.

    EDUCATION, GENDER AND AGE

    The report has also analysed the list of Indian CMs on basis of education and gender. According to the report, only 3 or 10 per cent of Indian chief ministers is women.

    Comparing the educational qualifications, the report found that 10 per cent of Indian CMs has passed Class 12, 39 per cent are Graduates while 16 per cent are Post Graduates.

    India's youngest CM is Arunachal Pradesh's Pema Khandu at 35 years while the oldest is Amarinder Singh at 74 years, the report said.

5 dead in ONGC tanker blast at Cochin Shipyard, Nitin Gadkari orders probe
  • At least five people have been killed and 10 injured after a blast occurred in an Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) tanker in Kerala's Cochin Shipyard.

    The blast took place after an ONGC tanker was brought to the shipyard for maintenance. Police and fire tenders have reached the site of accident.

    Those working at the time of the blast mostly included daily labourers and contract workers. Tuesday being a holiday, no regular workers of the shipyard were present.

    The blast took place around 11 am in the water tank of the berthed ONGC tanker Sagar Bhushan when some 20 workers were working in the tanker ship. High ranking police and top shipyard officials have reached the accident site.

    Speaking to the media, Kochi City Police Commissioner M.P. Dinesh said: "The death toll from the blast includes some who apparently choked on the smoke after the explosion

    Eleven persons trapped inside the ship were evacuated and rushed to various hospitals in the city, a CSIL spokesperson said.

    Efforts are on to evacuate two more trapped inside the ship.

    Minister of Road Transport and Highways, Shipping and Water Resources Nitin Gadkari tweeted his condolences and has initiated inquiry.

    Shocked by unfortunate blast at Cochin Shipyard where 4 people have died. My heartfelt condolences to bereaved families. I have spoken to MD,Cochin Shipyard n asked him to provide all necessary medical support to victims n to initiate immed inquiry with help of concerned agencies

Business Affairs

Indian Railways to create 10,000 km of high speed corridors to run faster trains
  • With an aim to make inter-city travel faster, the Indian Railways is planning to construct 10,000 km of new high speed corridors to run trains at the speed of 200-250 kmph. Railway Minister Piyush Goyal has asked the Railway Board to identify the corridors and work on cutting the cost of construction by less than half, the Times of India today reported.

    The report said that the Minister may announce the plan sometime in April. "The plan is to ensure that the train reaches the destination at a time that gives the traveller enough time to attend office after reaching home," TOI quoted an official as saying.

    According to the report, the Railways is exploring the options such as building single pillar, two track corridors on top of national highways or building them on existing railway land to bring down the cost of construction of high speed tracks. If the plan succeeds, the government may not have to shell money on land acquisition, thereby bringing down the construction cost by almost half. The Railways is also considering the possibility of constructing high-speed train corridors for shorter routes where it could offer better alternative to airlines, the report said.

    Currently, the fastest train in India is Gatiman Express which runs at a speed of 160kmph.  Launched in 2016, this runs between H Nizamuddin to Agra. Prior to Gatimaan, Rajdhani and Shatabdi were the fastest trains in India. The government in the last couple of years has taken multiple initiatives to make passengers' train journey faster and smoother.

    Last year in September, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe laid the foundation stone for the country's first high-speed rail project between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. India is expected to run first bullet train sometime in 2022.

    But before 2022, Indian Railways is reportedly planning to introduce semi high-speed trains that will replace Rajdhani and Shatabdi. According to reports, Indian Railways is developing two trains - codenamed as: Train 18 and Train 20 - at the Chennai-based Integral Coach Factory and the first train is expected to be rolled out in June.  Train 18 is said to run at a top speed of 160 kmph. Another train set called Train 20 is expected to follow in 2020, to replace the Rajdhani trains plying on longer routes. The only difference between these new trains is that Train 20 will have an aluminium body while Train 18 will have stainless steel body.

    According to a study, Indian Railways will be able to cut travel time by three hours and thirty-five minutes on the 1,440-km Delhi-Howrah route with this new train set. Given that the calculation factored a maximum permissible speed of 130 kmph, travel time could come down further if the permissible speed limit is raised to 160 kmph.

Amazon lays off hundreds of employees in a rare job cut
  • Amazon.com Inc is cutting hundreds of jobs in its consumer business in Seattle, a person familiar with the matter said on Monday, as the company shifts resources into fast-growing areas like its work on voice assistant Alexa. The job cuts, rare for the world's largest online retailer, are in the low hundreds, the person said on condition of anonymity.

    Amazon determined through planning for 2018 that certain mature areas of its business no longer required as much staff for the results it was seeking, the person said. It was unclear which specific teams inside Amazon were affected. Amazon's consumer organization includes its retail and marketplace businesses, as well as programs like food delivery service Amazon Restaurants.

    Seattle-based Amazon has been on a hiring tear, creating some 130,000 jobs worldwide in 2017 and announcing plans to open a second headquarters in North America, anticipating up to 50,000 more jobs there. Its full-time and part-time headcount surged 66 percent in the fourth quarter to 566,000 from a year earlier. That figure includes employees at Whole Foods Market, which Amazon acquired in a USD 13.7 billion deal last year.

    But many of the corporate jobs are going to areas of soaring profit, like cloud-computing division Amazon Web Services, or areas where Amazon sees potential, like voice-controlled computing. "Our 2017 projections for Alexa were very optimistic, and we far exceeded them," said Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder and chief executive, in a statement earlier this month. "We don't see positive surprises of this magnitude very often - expect us to double down."

    Amazon hopes Alexa will become a regular part of consumers' lives and will spur shopping orders by voice. The company currently has 3,900 jobs open in Seattle, and staff facing job cuts can apply for them. The company has contracts for 1 million square feet or more of new office space in the city to hire still more employees. The Seattle Times earlier reported the job cuts.

This startup lets you book traditional, home-cooked meals at someone else's home
  • En route to Alka's home in Munirka Vihar, opposite JNU main gate, on a rather sunny wintry afternoon in Delhi, my colleague and I were apprehensive of what kind of experience awaited us. To elaborate, we were going to a perfect stranger's residence for lunch. We had made the reservation through Authenticook, a startup that allows people to book home-cooked meal and dine at the chef's home.

    Alka was already waiting as we climbed up the stairs to her house, before she let us in to her bright, spacious living room. After a brief introduction, she offered us kaanji, a cool drink made of fermented carrots, mustard seed, salt and red chilli powder. Soon came delectable snacks - mirchi pakodas stuffed with potato, cashew and raisins mash, followed by dahi bhalla.

    Once the starters were gobbled up within a span of minutes, Alka served us a Western UP vegetarian thali, an assortment of sabzis, dal, bedmi poori, aloo sabzi, kathal pulao, pomegranate raita, mirchi pickle and papad to go along with it. The meal was dangerously rolling over to become a multiple-course, and was far from over. Once we lapped up the scrumptious thali, Alka served us rabdi and malpua, with spoonfuls of sugar syrup. She also offered a steaming cup of ginger tea to wash off our heavy-duty meal. The curtain was closed on the meal with a neatly folded meetha paan.

    Alka is an entrepreneur when she is not hosting diners at her posh South Delhi home. And she is not alone; like Alka, there is Yasmin who was Authenticook's first host, and Seema, Anjali, Pallavi and many more. Authenticook has now more than 160 hosts who offer traditional meals like Goan, Gujarati, Deccan, Malayali, Lucknowi, Rajasthani, Tamil, Bengali, Burmese at their homes.

    Speaking to Business Today, Ameya Deshpande, 33, co-founder of Authenticook shared how the idea for the start up occurred during a trip to Ladakh with his wife Priyanka and friend Aneesh Dhairyawan who are also the co-founders of Authenticook.

    "We had gone to Ladakh and were visiting the Leh market, where to our disappointment, we found burgers and pastas all around us," he adds. So, the three wondered the best way to interact with someone from another community. The answer, as Deshpande says, was food. 

    Deshpande and co have roped in home-chefs, primarily women, who, they believe along with earning also get a way to socialise and meet new people through their platform. The start up operates in seventeen cities - Agra, Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Bengaluru, Chennai, Goa, Gurugram, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Kochi, Kolhapur, Lucknow, Mumbai, New Delhi, Puducherry, Pune and Udaipur. They are likely to expand to more places in the months ahead.

    The business model adopted by Authenticook is quite simplistic. "For instance, if the meal is for Rs 1,000, we keep 20-30 per cent and the balance goes to the host. It is all commission-based," Deshpande explains.

    Authenticook's innovative model was recognised by Amsterdam-based travel e-commerce giant, Booking.com, who funded them for 200,000 Euros or Rs 1.5 crore in 2017. "We were the only Indian startup to make it and we were given the full amount we asked for," Deshpande says.

    Deshpande, Deshpande and Dhariyawar are pretty clear about what they do not want Authenticook to transform into - a delivery platform, with few or no interaction with the chef. They also only bring in chefs who are willing to cook traditional meals they have a strong connection with.

    As much as the founders are considerate about the hosts or chefs, they also try and make it as comfortable to the diners. The confirmation mails they send out include the minutest details - how many flight of stairs will the diners need to take, is there an elevator to access the host's home, can diners smoke inside the host's house, can shoes be worn inside the host's home, does the host have any pets, is there parking available, Google Maps direction to the house and so and so forth.

    Deshpande very modestly acknowledges that they are not offering any 5-star hotel luxury, but a comfortable and homely experience. The three founders want to eventually take their venture abroad and make it a global concept.

    Before ending the long conversation with Business Today, Deshpande says something which might point towards Authenticook's uniqueness.  He says, "Authenticook offers meals between equals, not as much a transaction. We are looking to bring people together and hope that when they part ways after the meal, they add each other on Facebook and remain in touch. And I hope they experience a great meal in the process."

Reliance JioFiber expected to launch next month with disruptive offers: Report
  • Reliance Jio is expected to finally launch the JioFiber commercially. The service has been under testing since more than a year in various Indian cities. However, a new report now suggests that this broadband service will begin as early as next month.

    The new service will create another major wave of disruption, this time in the broadband sector. Other major players like Airtel have already started pricing their data plans competitively. A report by Telecom Talk claims that the service will be launched officially launched by the end of the first quarter which is next month.

    Initially, JioFiber is expected to offer 100mbps speed with a data limit of 100GB. While this might not sound revolutionary per say, the effective price of Rs 0 will prompt a lot of first time subscribers to take up a JioFiber connection.

    As was the case with the Reliance Jio's introductory offers, the initial offers with JioFiber are expected to trigger a tariff war among popular network providers. However, unlike the cellular network, the Fiber will have to be spread across a wide network physically. This might give the competition a buffer time to cope with the aggressive pricing.

    Currently, JioFiber is being offered across a few localities in Mumbai, Delhi-NCR, Ahmedabad, Jamnagar, Surat and Vadodara under its JioFiber Preview Offer.

    Jio's broadband offer will come with a JioMedia share device, a smart set top box, routers and Power Line Communication devices, in a bid to promote additional Jio services.
    Later when the offer period ends, the broadband service prices are expected to start at Rs 500 for 600 GB data and for 1000 GB data at 100Mbps speed subscribers would be required to pay Rs 2,000 a month.

    Apart from Airtel, state-owned BSNL and MTNL networks will be affected by the entrance of Reliance Jio in the broadband arena.

IndiGo's engine nightmare: 3 in-air failures, 69 replacements in 18 months
  • India's largest airline IndiGo, which flies four out of every 10 Indians, has had to replace Pratt & Whitney engines on its 32 A320 Neo aircraft at least 69 times in the period May 2016-November 2017. This is an astonishingly high number that raises a question mark over passenger safety in Indian skies. On an average, a fleet of 100 aircraft requires about 40 such engine changes/replacements in a 3-year period.

    IndiGo says these are related to non-detection of chip, carbon seal lining or combustor chamber lining in Pratt & Whitney 1100 series engines. The airline calls these engine 'glitches' and 'non-safety' issues. Indigo's boroscopic tests (which are used to test defects or imperfections through visual inspection by a boroscope of aircraft engines and gas turbines, etc) detected these anomalies in 69 instances. As per practice, the defective engines were replaced with other engines. Such engine replacement is typically done overnight. After the replacement, the defective engine is sent to the manufacturer to fix the problem. The planes continue to operate with the replaced engines.

    However, that's the least of IndiGo's problems as it has had graver issues to deal with. Over the past 18 months, IndiGo has had three instances of one of the two engines of the aircraft shutting down. The aircraft landed safely powered by the second engine. Those engines have been replaced and the aircraft are back in the air.

    Over the past 2 days, however, its Pratt & Whitney PW4500 series engines have reported issues related to vibration. However, the manufacturer advised all airlines around the world to ground such planes which have both PW4500 series engines. Indigo had 3 such planes out of the 11 such planes worldwide. These planes are grounded and one of the PW4500 engines is being replaced in each of these aircraft.

    IndiGo has been struggling with the Pratt & Whitney engines in the newest A320 Neo aircraft ever since they were first inducted in February, 2016. Greg Hayes, chairman of Pratt & Whitney's parent UTC, responded to the issue in the post-earnings call in September, saying the company remains, "on track to certify a combustor upgrade to incorporate into new engines."

    Yet, it is the continuing problems with the engines that raise concerns regarding passenger safety in Indian skies. Especially, when it comes to India's biggest airline.

General Awareness

Development processes and the development industry the role of NGOs, SHGs, various groups and associations, donors, charities, institutional and other stakeholders.
  • Context: The India Health Fund (IHF), an initiative by Tata Trusts, in collaboration with the Global Fund has come forward to financially support innovations and technologies designed to combat tuberculosis and malaria.

    The IHF aims to support individuals and organisations with already germinated innovative strategies, services, products, such that they become sustainable and scalable solutions in addressing TB and malaria.

    About India Health Fund:

    The India Health Fund is a lead initiative of Tata Trusts, with technical support from the Global Fund. It is a pioneering vehicle by Tata Trusts, designed to not only influence philanthropic capital within India, but also serve as a trusted mechanism to generate significant impact in addressing key health challenges in the country – starting with malaria and tuberculosis.

    The IHF looks at catalysing agility and innovation within large scaled programmes of The Global Fund and the Government of India. Addressing infectious diseases like TB and malaria, the India Health Fund plans to support programs and projects that develop new products or strategies for innovative business models and innovative partnerships or financing mechanisms that significantly scale existing effective solutions.
    The investments made by the IHF will be aligned to national strategies and link to clear pathways of scale including government platforms, private health networks, open source technology or sustainable organization growth.

    Background:

    TB and malaria pose long-standing health challenges for India. The two diseases account for over 4.23 lakh deaths and around 15 million lab-confirmed cases every year.

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