9 PM Current Affairs Brief – May 3, 2019

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Manufacturing PMI dips to 51.8 in April

  1. According to Nikkei India Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) data, manufacturing activity has slowed down to 51.8 in April which is lower than 52.6 in March, 2019.
  2. The prime reason for the slow growth was disruptions arising from the elections as companies may have adopted a wait-and-see approach on their plans until the public policies become clearer after the formation of a new government.
  3. PMI or a Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) is an indicator of business activity — both in the manufacturing and services sectors. It is a survey-based measures that asks the respondents about changes in their perception of some key business variables from the month before. The
  4. PMI is derived from a series of qualitative questions. Executives from a reasonably big sample, running into hundreds of firms are asked whether key indicators such as (a)output (b)new orders (c)business expectations and (d)employment were stronger than the month before and are asked to rate them.
  5. The headline PMI is a number from 0 to 100.The figure above 50 denotes expansion in business activity. Anything below 50 denotes contraction.
  6. The rate of expansion can also be judged by comparing the PMI with that of the previous month data. If the figure is higher than the previous month’s then the economy is expanding at a faster rate. If it is lower than the previous month then it is growing at a lower rate.

 Cyclone Fani: Odisha evacuates over 11 lakh

  1. The Odisha government has evacuated over 11 lakh people from low-lying areas in 15 districts as extremely severe cyclonic storm Fani expected to cross the Odisha coast between Gopalpur and Chandbali
  2. In an ‘extremely severe cyclonic storm’, the wind speed goes up to 170-180 kmph and could touch 195 kmph. The India Meteorological Department said it is the first cyclonic storm of such severity in April in India’s oceanic neighbourhood in 43 years.
  3. Cyclone Fani is also the strongest cyclonic storm since the Super Cyclone of 1999, which claimed close to 10,000 lives and devastated the Odisha coast. The name ”Fani”, which is pronounced as “Foni”, was suggested by Bangladesh.
  4. Cyclone Fani is expected to result in Storm surge of about 1.5 metre height which may flood low-lying areas. A storm surge happens when sea levels rise dramatically during a storm sending a destructive wall of water towards land.
  5. Storm surge is not the result of rainfall or flooding, rather it happens when powerful winds push ocean water rushing towards land. According to US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) storm surge is an “abnormal rise of water generated by a storm, over and above predicted tides.”

 Russia President Vladimir Putin signs into law a sovereign internet bill

  1. Russia President has signed a sovereign internet bill which will allow Russian authorities to isolate the country’s internet. The bill says the government will exercise centralized control over the communication network of general use.
  2. The law is aimed at isolating the country’s Internet (Runet) from the rest of the world to ensure it could remain available and secure in the event of a cyber-attack or other incident.
  3. This means that data from its own organisations and users would remain within Russia rather than being distributed globally. Further, Internet pre-filtering centres will also be introduced which will allow Russian authorities to regulate traffic routing.
  4. This will increase the cyber security and stability of Russian internet in the event of foreign interference. However, critics have said that it is one more layer of censorship from the government which will further isolate consumers from the outside world.

 ICRISAT hosts multi-nation meet to tackle Fall Army Worm

  1. ICRISAT (International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics) has hosted representatives from eight nations to understand the challenges and find solutions to tackle the rapidly growing problem of Fall Armyworm(FAW).
  2. This workshop was aimed at fostering collaboration between national and regional institutions as well as the private sector to support farmers in making informed decisions on FAW management.
  3. Fall Armywormis an invasive agricultural pest. It was first reported in West Africa in 2016, the pest quickly assumed epidemic proportions and spread to over 44 African countries. In India, its infection was first reported in Karnataka in 2018
  4. It is a lepidopteran pest that feeds in large numbers on the leaves and stems of more than 80 plant species, causing extensive damage to crops such as maize, rice, sorghum and sugarcane. It also attacks vegetable crops and cotton.
  5. FAW can be controlled with insecticides through natural enemies or by inter-cropping. A species is considered invasive when it reproduces and spreads successfully in a non-native area, where it may have harmful effects on native plants and animals.

 Kashmir: Why the Hangul’s future still hangs in the balance?

  1. There has been a massive decline in the population of Kashmir’s iconic wildlife species, the Hangul also known as the Kashmir stag. This has been a matter of big concern as conservation efforts have not yielded any significant results so far.
  2. Hangul is the state animal of Jammu & Kashmir.It is the only subspecies of red deer in India. It is restricted to Dachigam National Park some 15 km north-west of Jammu & Kashmir summer capital Srinagar.
  3. The Hangul is placed under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act,1972 and the J&K Wildlife Protection Act,1978.The Hangul was once widely distributed in the mountains of Kashmir and parts of Chamba district in neighbouring Himachal Pradesh.
  4. The IUCN’s Red List has classified it as Critically Endangered and is also listed under the Species Recovery Programme of the Wildlife Institute of India(WII) and the Environmental Information System (ENVIS) of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC).
  5. According to the latest survey in 2017,the population of Hangul is 182 in Dachigam and adjoining areas. Earlier population estimates suggest that they were 197 in 2004 and 186 in 2015.
  6. The biggest challenges which have been identified by experts in the way of conservation and population growth of Hangul are (a)habitat fragmentation (b)Lack of desirable breeding (c)male-female disparity in the Hangul population and (d)Influx of livestock herds of nomadic communities in the Dachigam National Park

 NCLAT allows banks to declare defaulting IL&FS, group companies as NPAs

  1. The National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) has allowed the banks to declare the accounts of IL&FS and its group companies as non-performing assets(NPA) if they have defaulted on payments. NPA is a loan or advance for which the principal or interest payment remained overdue for a period of 90 days.
  2. However ,the appellate tribunal has said that the banks could declare the IL&FS accounts as NPAs but can not initiate recovery process and debit money. The NCLAT has also said that the lender cannot withdraw support until a resolution is found of the IL&FS and its group companies.
  3. The order came on a plea moved by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), which had said that banks had an obligation to mark bad loans as NPA in the cases of non-payment after the default of 90 days.
  4. Earlier, NCLAT had restrained banks from declaring accounts of Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services(IL&FS) and its group companies as non-performing assets(NPA).
  5. IL&FS is an infrastructure finance company registered with the Reserve Bank of India as a ‘Systemically Important Non-Deposit Accepting Core Investment Company’. IL&FS has run out of money and,therefore, has been unable to service its repayment obligations which led to a series of defaults on loans, debentures and commercial papers.
  6. National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) was constituted under the Companies Act, 2013 for hearing appeals against the orders of (a) National Company Law Tribunal(s) (NCLT) (b)Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India and (c)Competition Commission of India (CCI).

ICAT – A World Class Automotive Testing Centre

  1. The International Centre for Automotive Technology (ICAT),Haryana, is a leading world-class automotive testing, certification and R&D service provider under the aegis of National Automotive Testing and R&D Infrastructure Project (NATRiP).
  2. ICAT is an important element of the automotive sector with its world-class infrastructure and domain expertise providing services in development, testing, validation and homologation. Further, ICAT also intends to eventually transform Centers of Excellence(CoE) into an automotive product development centre.
  3. National Automotive Testing and R&D Infrastructure Project (NATRiP), is the most significant initiatives in the automotive sector of India.
  4. Under this project, Government of India, a number of State Governments and Indian Automotive Industry have joined hands to create a state of the art Testing, Validation and R&D infrastructure in the Automotive sector of the country.
  5. Further, at the end of this year, the ICAT will also be organizing a NuGen Mobility Summit,2019.The objective of the Summit is to (a)share new ideas (b) learnings (c)global experiences (d)innovations and (e)future technology trends for faster adoption, assimilation and development of advanced automotive technologies for a smarter and greener future.

 New SBI rules link savings bank interest to repo rate: what has changed, why

  1. State Bank of India (SBI) has linked its interest rate on savings account with balance above ₹1 lakh and short-term loans to Reserve Bank of India’s(RBI) repo rate.
  2. SBI had taken this decision even though RBI had deferred the plan to link the rate of interest to external benchmarks like the repo rate or Treasury Bill rate following opposition from other banks.
  3. Repo stands for ‘Repurchasing Option’. It refers to the rate at which commercial banks borrow money from the RBI. It is one of the main tools of RBI to keep inflation under control. The repo rate currently stands at 6%.
  4. Recently, Reserve Bank of India(RBI) had proposed a major change in the way banks price their loans. It had said that banks will now have to link the interest rates charged by them on different categories of loans to the external benchmark like Repo rate or Treasury Bill rate instead of the used internal benchmark like marginal cost of fund based lending rate (MCLR).
  5. MCLR is an internal benchmark rate that depends on various factors such as fixed deposit rates, source of funds and savings rate. The price of loan comprises the MCLR and the spread or the bank’s profit margin. Spread refers to the difference in borrowing rates and lending rates of financial institutions.
  6. The biggest problem with the MCLR system was lack of required transmission of policy rates to the borrowers. The new system of linking interest rate to repo rate is expected to bring in more transparency in fixing rates and faster transmission of rates.

Pepsico agrees to withdraw cases against Gujarat farmers

  1. PepsiCo India Holdings Ltd.(PIH) has decided to withdraw cases against potato growers in Gujarat after discussions with the government. The company said that the government has assured them of long-term and amicable resolution of all issues around seed protection by the government.
  2. PepsiCo uses FC5 variety of potato for making chips. For this, PepsiCo had also entered into an exclusive buyback arrangements with farmers in India. It had also engaged with the farmers in Gujarat for sowing and producing the FC-5 variety of potato for its snacks division.
  3. However, PepsiCo had found potato farmers not under such an arrangement with the company buying seeds and selling the FC5 variety of potatoes, following which it had filed suit against them.
  4. Under the suit, PepsiCo had claimed exclusive rights over the said variety under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act,2001 seeking damages worth Rs 1 crore from at least four farmers.
  5. However, farmers groups have cited Section 39 of the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act,2001 which specifically says that a farmer is allowed to grow and sell any variety of crop or even seed as long as they don’t sell branded seed of registered varieties.
  6. The Protection of Plant Variety and Farmers Right Act,2001(PPVFR Act) is an Act of the Parliament of India that was enacted to provide for the establishment of an effective system for the protection of plant varieties, the rights of farmers and plant breeders, and to encourage the development and cultivation of new varieties of plants.

 ‘Xinjiang surveillance app targets lawful behavior’

  1. According to a Human Rights Watch report, Chinese authorities have been using a mobile app for mass surveillance to profile, investigate and detain Muslims in Xinjiang by labelling completely lawful behaviour as suspicious. This has put the Muslims in the region at risk of being penalised or sent to re-education camps.
  2. Human Rights Watch had previously reported that Xinjiang authorities use a mass surveillance system called the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP). The system seeks to gather information from multiple sources, such as facial-recognition cameras, WiFi sniffers, police checkpoints, banking records and home visits.
  3. China has also been alleged of preparing a DNA database for surveillance against Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region.
  4. Xinjiang is an administrative region in north-western China. The population in Xinjiang is predominantly Uighurs who are ethnically Turkic Muslims.
  5. In response to large-scale ethnic rioting and attacks in Xinjiang since 2009, China has enhanced security in the region to combat terrorism, extremism and separatism.
  6. China has been repeatedly accused of detaining Uighur Muslims and other Muslim groups in the western Xinjiang region. However, China has always maintained that there are no internment camps. China has advocated that people in Xinjiang are receiving “vocational training” in “re-education camps”
  7. Human Rights Watch is an international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights. It is headquartered in New York City, USA.

 Glaciers from half of world heritage sites to disappear by 2100

  1. A study published in the American Geophysical Union’s journal Earth’s Future has predicted that glacier would completely melt by 2100 under a high emission scenario in 21 of the 46 natural World Heritage sites where glaciers are currently found.
  2. The study has noted that even under a low emission scenario, eight of the 46 World Heritage sites will be ice-free by 2100. The study also expects that 33% to 60% percent of the total ice volume present in 2017 will be lost by 2100, depending on the emission scenario.
  3. A UNESCO World Heritage Site is a place that is listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as of special physical/ natural significance. There are 209 natural World Heritage sites and 8 mixed (both cultural and natural) World Heritage sites.
  4. Currently, there are 46 natural World Heritage sites where glaciers are found. Examples: Waterton Glacier International Peace Park, in Alberta, Canada; Olympic National Park, in the state of Washington, USA; Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina; Grosser Aletschgletscher in the Swiss Alps, Greenland’s Jakobshavn Glacier and Khumbu Glacier in the Himalayas. All these glaciers are likely to be gravely impacted by carbon emissions and climate change.

 SC directive to EC on poll timing

  1. The Supreme Court has asked the Election Commission to pass necessary orders on a plea seeking to begin voting at 4:30 a.m. or 5 a.m. instead of 7 a.m. in view of the Ramzan month Ramzan coinciding with the last three phases of the Lok Sabha elections.
  2. The petitioners have argued that their sole intention is to increase voter participation in the electoral process. Further it is important to ensure convenient and fair opportunity to persons of all communities, particularly the Muslim community, to cast their vote.
  3. They have highlighted that the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has issued a temperature warning indicating severe heat wave conditions over the next few days across large parts of India.
  4. They have argued that in intense heat, it will be inconvenient for Muslim voters to queue up at polling booths during the day to exercise their franchise as most Muslims during the Ramzan fasting avoid going out in the heat to the extent possible to avoid thirst, dehydration and the possibility of a heatstroke

 Economy may have slowed in 2018-19: Finance ministry report

  1. According to theFinance Ministry’s report, the Indian economy has slowed down slightly in 2018-19.The slowdown is due to (a)declining growth of private consumption (b)tepid increase in fixed investment and (c)muted exports.
  2. Further, the report has said that Indian economy needs to reverse the slowdown in growth of agriculture sector and sustain the growth in industry.
  3. The report has also noted that current account deficit is set to decline as the decrease in imports has reduced the trade deficit. Current account measures the flow of goods, services and investments into and out of the country. Current account deficit takes place if the value of the goods and services we import exceeds the value of those we export.
  4. The report said that inflation has come down which has created a room for repo rate cut. However, reduction in the key short-term lending rate or repo rate announced by the Reserve Bank of India have so far not led to a decline in commercial lending rates offered by the banks.
  5. The report also observed that the private consumption has also declined due to drop in the growth of two-wheeler sales towards the end of the year

 In-flight connectivity likely in next three months

  1. In recent months, the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) has issued licences to BSNL, Airtel, Hughes Communications India Ltd and Tata Telenet for Internet and mobile services on flights. However, air travellers need to wait few months to avail the services as the installation of equipment and their certification is under process.
  2. In-flight connectivity is offered in the airlines by using either signal from the nearest antenna on the ground or satellites available in the airspace for internet and mobile communications.
  3. In December 2018 that, the DoT had notified the rules for enabling in-flight WiFi and calls, named as ‘Flight and Maritime Connectivity Rules, 2018’. According to the Rules, Indian and foreign airlines and shipping companies operating in the country can provide in-flight and maritime voice and data services in partnership with a valid Indian telecom licence holder.
  4. As per the Rules, in-flight and maritime connectivity (IFMC) can be provided using telecom networks on ground as well as using satellites. The services can be provided by a valid telecom licence holder in India through domestic and foreign satellites having permission of the Department of Space.
  5. The Rules had stated that when the satellite system is used for providing IFMC, the telegraph message need to pass through the satellite gateway earth station located within India. Such satellite gateway earth stations shall be interconnected with the NLD (national long distance) or access service or Internet Service Provider (ISP) licensee’s network for further delivery of service.
  6. Under the Rules, the IFMC licences will be granted against annual fee of Re 1 for a period of 10 years. Further, the permit holder will have to pay licence fees and spectrum charges based on revenue earned from providing services.

 The Microbots Are on Their Way

  1. Researchers at the American Physical Society in Boston has presented an army of microbots that are about the size of a speck of dust. They can walk and survive harsh conditions.
  2. Microbots is the field of miniature robotics, in particular mobile robots with characteristic dimensions less than 1 mm. The term can also be used for robots capable of handling micrometer size components.
  3. The microbots were developed using a technique wherein they placed layers of titanium and platinum on a silicon wafer. Whenever they applied an electrical voltage, the platinum contracts while the titanium remains rigid. This reaction is what became the motor that enables the robot to move.
  4. Further, researchers skipped the batteries and instead powered their tiny robots by shining a laser on the solar panels behind their backs. Since these microbots are manufactured using silicon, scientists can incorporate sensors that will enable the microbots to measure temperature and electrical pulses.
  5. It is expected that microbots will be useful in applications such as (a)looking for survivors in collapsed buildings after an earthquake (b)crawling through the digestive tract (c)crawl into cell phone batteries and clean and rejuvenate them and (d)helpful to neural scientists by looking into the brain to measure nerve signals

 ‘Consent letters of miners’ families filed in SC’

  1. The Meghalaya government has filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court stating that the families of the victims, who were trapped inside a rat hole mine in December 2018 and are still untraced, have consented to call off search operations.
  2. 16 miners had gone missing in an illegal rat hole mine located at Ksan near the Lytein River in East Jaintia Hills, Meghalaya. This happened after water from the Lytein River gushed into the rat hole mine.
  3. In January 2019, the Supreme Court had asked the Centre and Meghalaya government to continue multi-agency operation to rescue the miners. So far only two bodies have been retrieved.
  4. In April 2019, an interim relief package of Rs 3 lakh was paid to the miners’ family members. However, the families had claimed that the amount was too less for their sustenance.
  5. Rat Hole Mining is mining procedure which involve digging of very small tunnel of only 3-4 feet high for extracting coal. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) had banned rat hole mining in 2014. The ban was on grounds of the practice being unscientific and unsafe for workers.
  6. However, the orders of the Tribunal has been repeatedly violated and the State Government has failed to check illegal mining effectively.

 ISRO plans to land a rover on lunar South Pole: Sivan

  1. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has said that The Chandrayaan 2 mission would land a rover on Moon’s South Pole. If ISRO manages to successfully execute this, India will be the first country to land a rover on the moon’s South Pole.
  2. Some regions of the lunar South Pole have permanently shadowed craters with some of the lowest temperatures in the Solar System. It is of special interest to scientists because of the occurrence of water ice in permanently shadowed areas around it.
  3. The mission is set to be launched any time between July 5 and July 16, 2019. The moon landing is likely to around 6thSeptember, 2019. Unlike the first lunar mission Chandrayaan 1, which was launched using PSLV rocket and involved only orbiting the moon, Chandrayaan 2 would attempt a soft landing the lunar surface.
  4. Chandrayaan 2 is a totally indigenous mission. It comprises of an Orbiter, Lander named ‘Vikram’ and Rover named ‘Pragyan’.
  5. The orbiter will circle the moon and provide information about its surface, while the lander will make a soft landing on the surface and send out the rover. The payloads will collect scientific information on lunar topography, mineralogy, elemental abundance, lunar exosphere and signatures of hydroxyl and water-ice.
  6. It will launch aboard a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III, (GSLV -MK III) rocket. The GSLV-MkIII is a three-stage heavy lift launch vehicle that has been designed to carry four-tonne class satellites into Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO).
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