The First Forum is an initiative that focuses on covering the latest happenings in a brief format. This is in lieu of the importance of knowledge about current happenings in this fast-changing world.
In the Seventy Eighth- Edition of The First Forum we would be covering the following topics:
1. Politics
2. Science and Technology
3. Business
4. Economics
5. Finance

(By Divyansh Gupta, Ayush Harlalka and Creamy Garg)

Politics

Supreme Court stays implementation of three farms laws & forms a committee
The Supreme Court this week stayed the implementation of the three farm laws until further orders. Pronouncing the order, the top court also said it has formed a four-member committee to hold talks. During the hearing, the Supreme Court initially said that it is planning to suspend the new farm laws, but not indefinitely. Chief Justice of India (CJI) Sharad Arvind Bobde said the apex court is also forming a committee to get a clearer picture of the three farm laws. Read MoreThe batch of petitions, including those filed by DMK MP Tiruchi Siva, RJD MP Manoj K Jha, regarding the constitutional validity of three farm laws, passed by the Central government, and the plea to disperse protesting farmers was being heard by a three-judge bench, headed by the CJI. Advocate ML Sharma, who filed a plea challenging the farm laws, told the apex court that farmers have said they will not appear before any committee to be constituted by the court. Farmers have been protesting at different borders of the national capital since November 26, 2020, against the three newly enacted farm laws – Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.

Maldives’ first foreign funded project of 2021 backed by India inaugurated
The first foreign funded project in Maldives in 2021 that was backed by India was inaugurated this week. Ekuveni synthetic running track in Male’ was inaugurated by the President of Maldives Ibrahim Mohamed Solih. It is the 1st India-funded grant project to be inaugurated in 2021 and overall, the 8th Indian grant project in the Maldives to be completed in the last six months. The ceremony included a limited over cricket-match with participation of Solih and Indian High Commissioner Sunjay Sudhir, a relay race and showcase-events by differently-abled children. Read More The Ekuveni running track is the only track of international standards in the Maldives. It is a landmark open space in the capital city of Male’ which has been used by sportsmen and professional athletes to conduct sporting events and host sports tournaments. Moreover, it also attracts fitness-enthusiasts in Male’ for jogging, exercise and other athletic pursuits. Over the next 2-3 months, India looks forward to the inauguration of Rasdhoo Coastal protection project, Wetland Park in Faresmathoda, a refurbished ‘My Home -Fiyavathi’ orphanage in Hulhumale’, Central Park and renovated Jetty in Hulhumale’, classrooms in Lhohi and Kinolhas schools.

Russia follows the US and pulls out of the Open Skies Treaty. 
Russia’s foreign ministry on Friday announced the country’s withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty citing that the pact has been seriously compromised by the withdrawal of the US. The treaty allowed unarmed surveillance flights over member nation’s air space. The US had earlier left the treaty in November previous year after accusing Russia of violating it. Read MoreHowever, Russia has denied all such allegations. Russia in a statement said that it would officially notify other member nations for the same after formalities are completed in-home. It also stressed that it made specific proposals to member nations to reduce the impact of the US leaving the treaty, however, US allies never backed it. Tensions are rising between the two days before President-elect Joe Biden begins his four years from 20th Jan 2021 as the last remaining nuclear arms treaty is set to expire in February this year.

House of Representatives impeaches Trump for the second time
The House of Representatives impeached President Trump for inciting a violent insurrection against the United States government, as 10 members of the president’s party joined Democrats to charge him with high crimes and misdemeanours for an unprecedented second time. Read MoreThe issue behind such an action was Trump’s role in inciting violence at US Capitol to reverse the presidential election results in which Democratic candidate Joe Biden had gained victory. The republicans who voted for impeachment made it clear that they were against any kind of violence and vandalism encouraged by the Republican leader.

MP CM calls for increasing marriage age of women and tracking of their location.
Flagging off a programme on Monday to raise awareness on crimes against women , Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan suggested that the age of marriage for women be increased from 18 to 21 years and women living outside their parental homes for work register themselves with the police so that they can be tracked for their own safety. Read MoreThis statement is inviting a lot of criticism from public as this proposes violating privacy of women by ‘tracking their locations’. Some people are also commenting this to be a very sexist policy as it will make lives of women difficult whereas nothing has been suggested to control actual perpetrators.

Science and Technology

New quantum technology projects to solve mysteries of the universe
UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is investing £31 million into seven projects to show how quantum technologies could solve some of the greatest mysteries of the universe such as dark matter and black holes.Read More“Today’s funding will enable some of the UK’s most ambitious quantum researchers to develop state of art technologies that could help us solve important unanswered questions about our universe, from proving Einstein’s theory of relativity to understanding the mysterious behaviour of black holes” says the Science Minister Amanda Solloway.

Parler clocked 23000 downloads in India
Parler, a social media platform favoured by many supporters of US President Donald Trump and other conservatives, garnered 23,000 downloads in India before it was taken down by Google and Apple app stores, according to data shared by app analytics firm Sensor Tower. Read MoreThe social media app has gone offline after Amazon Web Services cut off services for alleged violent content. Indians have not flooded Parler by numbers, but they have done so in spurts.

WhatsApp privacy policy update delayed
WhatsApp has announced that it is delaying implementation of the new privacy policy till May 2021, as the company wants users to understand the new terms and then agree. It admitted that the new policy has caused plenty of confusion and there has been a lot of misinformation about the changes as well. Further, WhatsApp as also promised that it will not delete anyone’s account on February 8. Read MoreThe Facebook-owned company is giving users at least three months of time to properly review and accept the policy. WhatsApp said that the privacy policy will come into effect on May 15. Earlier this month, WhatsApp updated its privacy policy and asked users to agree to the changes before February 8. The new updates included more information about how businesses use Facebook hosted services to store and manage their WhatsApp chats. It also expanded on how WhatsApp partners with Facebook to offer integrations across the Facebook Company.

NASA’s Boeing moon rocket cuts short ‘once-in-a-generation’ ground test
NASA’s deep space exploration rocket built by Boeing briefly ignited all four engines of its behemoth core stage for the first time on Saturday, cutting short a crucial test to advance a years-delayed U.S. government program to return humans to the moon in the next few years. Mounted in a test facility at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, the Space Launch System’s (SLS) 212-foot tall core stage roared to life at 4:27 p.m. local time (2227 GMT) for just over a minute — well short of the roughly four minutes engineers needed to stay on track for the rocket’s first launch in November this year. Read MoreThe expendable super heavy-lift SLS is three years behind schedule and nearly $3 billion over budget. Critics have long argued for NASA to retire the rocket’s shuttle-era core technologies, which have launch costs of $1 billion or more per mission, in favor of newer commercial alternatives that promise lower costs. By comparison, it costs as little as $90 million to fly the massive but less powerful Falcon Heavy rocket designed and manufactured by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, and some $350 million per launch for United Launch Alliance’s legacy Delta IV Heavy. NASA and Boeing engineers have stayed on a ten-month schedule for the Green Run “despite having significant adversity this year,” Boeing’s SLS manager John Shannon told reporters this week, citing five tropical storms and a hurricane that hit Stennis, as well as a three-month closure after some engineers tested positive for the coronavirus in March.

India begins world’s largest vaccination drive with Made in India vaccines.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 16th Jan launched the world’s largest vaccination drive in India with two Made in India vaccines to vaccinate 1.3 Billion people against Covid-19. India began administering doses of Covishield (Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India) and Covaxin (Bharat Biotech’s vaccine). Read MoreIn the 1st phase, India plans to cover 3 crore health and front line workers with a high risk of being affected. Following this, in the second stage additional 27 Crore citizens of 60+ age will be covered. In the 1st day itself, more than 1.5 lakh doses were administered throughout the nation. However, few people are concerned about the efficacy of Covaxin as its third phase trial is yet to complete. Hence, the company is asking all the candidates to sign a three-page form that provides for assistance in case of any adverse reaction. 

 

Business

PIA plane impounded in Malaysia over British court dispute.
Malaysia sealed a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) Boeing-777 passenger aeroplane at the Kuala Lumpur Airport. The decision was taken in regards to a pending British court case of non-payment of the aircraft’s lease dues after a local Malaysian court ordered the same. A case of non-payment of US$ 14 Million for six months was first filed in a UK court in October 2020. Read MoreIn response, PIA announced the news on Twitter and stressed that it would move through diplomatic channels to resolve the issue. It has also said that alternative arrangements are being made for the passengers stuck at the Kuala Lumpur Airport as the plane was seized after the passengers had boarded it. According to the Pakistan Civil Aviation authorities, PIA will have to clear all its dues to get back the aircraft. This is important to prevent its reputation from deteriorating any further. 

The US adds Xiaomi to “Communist Chinese Military Companies”. 
The Trump administration has added Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp. to a blacklist of alleged Chinese companies that has ties with the Chinese military. Following the decision, shares of the Hong-Kong listed company fell 10.6% on Friday. The decision means that US investors will now have to divest all their stakes in the third-largest smartphone maker (in the third quarter of 2020) subject to a November executive order that restricts American investors to buy securities of companies designated in the list.Read More In response, Xiaomi has denied all such allegations and stressed that its products and services are only for commercial and civilian use. An order was signed in the US in November 2020 to highlight and counter PRC’s military-civil fusion development strategy that provides it with advanced technologies and expertise for development through companies that seem civilian entities but are not.

Tesla Makes Entry in India
Ending years of wait and speculation, electric car maker Tesla has finally entered India by registering the company in Bengaluru. According to the details available on the Registrar of Companies website, Tesla India Motors and Energy Private Limited has been incorporated and the registered address is in Lavelle Road, Bengaluru. Tesla registered its Indian subsidiary with the Registrar of Companies (RoC) in Bengaluru on January 8, with Rs 15 lakh authorised capital and Rs 1 lakh paid-up capital. Read MoreTesla India Motors and Energy Ltd has been opened in the city centre, with Vibhav Taneja, Venkatrangam Sreeram and David Jon Feinstein as its directors. This was confirmed by Tesla CEO Elon Musk.  Taneja is Tesla`s Chief Accounting Officer while Feinstein is the Senior Director, Global Trade and New Markets, at Tesla. Sreeram is also a director in Xenon Automotive India Ltd since April 2014 and Clearquote Technologies India Ltd since August 2020. Tesla is also in touch with other state governments like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh to start its India operations. Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari had said last month that Tesla will begin operations with sales in early 2021.

US bans cotton, tomato products from Xinjiang.
In the series of actions taken by US to raise pressure on China over some companies’ alleged ill-treatment of workers. The U.S. imported $9 billion of cotton products in the past year and $10 million of tomatoes from China. Read MoreBut now US has decided to ban all cotton products and tomatoes from China’s Xinjiang region, where it has been alleged that a Muslim-minority Uighurs are being oppressed. The U.S. says the Chinese government has detained more than 1 million Uighurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in “re-education” internment camps, allegations that the Foreign Ministry in Beijing has been denying.

Reliance Retail to change business strategy
Reliance Retail plans to undergo a major change its business model by contracting with Kirana stores to become their franchise partners to sell products while completely moving away from the direct sale of packaged food, grocery and FMCG products on its JioMart platform Reliance Retail will continue to sell perishables items on its own. Show MoreIn this new B2B delivery of products, the kiranas will source goods from the retail giant or elsewhere in case it is not available with Reliance Retail.

Economics

Financial Stability Report by RBI projects financial stress.
The central bank has alerted against the rise in gross non-performing assets for the banking system due to COVID-19 induced stress in its latest Financial Stability Report. In the report, RBI has cautioned that GNPAs may rise from 8.5% in March 2020 to 12.5% by March 2021 under the baseline scenario or it may even rise to 14.7% if the situation continues to worsen as indicated by macro stress tests. Read MoreThe report highlights that regulatory dispensation like loan moratorium and deferment of interest payments will have implications on the financial health of banks going forward. The report also called for banks to improve their ability to weather the COVID-19 storm by “proactively augmenting capital and improving resilience.”

Biden reveals US$ 1.9 Trillion economy rescue package.
The US President-elect Joe Biden unveiled a US$ 1.9 Trillion economy and coronavirus rescue plan on Thursday to put at an end on the ongoing crisis and speed up vaccination program. The proposal is expected to meet Mr. Biden’s target of administering 100 million vaccine doses by the 100th day of his tenure. Read More The package will be a major step in stabilizing the economy. A total of US$ 400 Million in the package is towards combating and controlling the virus spread. The package will also provide aid to reopen schools by spring, unemployment benefits and rental assistance. Mr. Biden has proposed for US$ 1400 payout for qualifying individuals, in addition to the US$ 600 provided in the recent bill. The US is the worst-hit country from the pandemic with over 200000 cases per day for several days now.

India’s trade with China lowest since 2017, deficit at a 5-year low. 
India’s trade with China in 2020 was at the lowest level since 2017 amid border issues between the two giant nations of Asia. India’s goods imports from China were roughly 1/10th lower in 2020. Bilateral trade fell 5.6% to US$ 87.6 Billion. The trade deficit narrowed down during the period to a 5-year low at US$ 45.8 Billion as apart from the decline in imports, 16% rise in exports was observed with the export figure crossing US$ 20 Billion for the first time. Read More China’s increasing appetite for Iron-ore in the past year has been a major contributing factor to rising exports as according to a few reports, Iron-ore imports rose by 10% in China in 2020. However, it is to be seen whether 2020 was an exception pertaining to the ongoing scenario or is it an about-turn India has taken for the upcoming decade due to souring ties. 

New Foreign Trade Policy for India
India’s new Foreign Trade Policy, under formulation, will come into effect from April 1, 2021 for five years and will strive to make the country a leader in international trade, the government stated. The information was shared with Members of Parliament during a briefing about the Foreign Trade Policy (FTP). The Parliamentary Consultative Committee of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry held a meeting on the subject ‘New Foreign Trade Policy 2021-26’. It was chaired by Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Hardeep Singh Puri, and attended by Members of Parliament (MPs) and senior officers of the ministry. Read MoreIt was informed that the District Export Hubs initiative will form an important component of the new FTP. A key driver for India to achieve the USD 5 Trillion mark in an expedited time frame would be boosting exports, both merchandise and services, through systematically addressing domestic and overseas constraints related to the policy, regulatory and operational framework for lowering transactions costs and enhancing the ease of doing business, creating a low cost operating environment through efficient, cost-effective and adequate logistical and utility infrastructure.  Improvements in the operations of the domestic manufacturing and services sector in combination with efficient infrastructure support by the government would result in correcting the imbalances within India and feed into the trade policy.

United States says India’s digital services tax is discriminatory
USA has determined that India’s Digital Services Tax is discriminatory and has an adverse impact on American commerce and is actionable under the trade act. At the same time, the outgoing Trump administration has left the onus of taking any action against India under Section 301 of the US Trade Act to the incoming Biden administration. Read MorePublishing the results of the investigation on the Digital Service Tax (DST) in the Federal Register, the US Trade Representatives (USTR) said that it had consultations with the Indian Government on the issue on November 5, 2020. In the report, the USTR describes DST as an outlier which burdens US companies by subjecting them to double taxation. India had adopted the operative form of its Digital Services Tax or DST on March 27, 2020. The DST imposes a two per cent tax on revenue generated from a broad range of digital services offered in India, including digital platform services, digital content sales, digital sales of a company’s own goods, data-related services, software-as-a-service, and several other categories of digital services.

Finance

CNBC Awaaz anchor, family banned by SEBI for fraudulent trading.
Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) on Wednesday banned Hemant Ghai (CNBC Awaaz show host at Stock 20-20), his wife and mother from the capital market for indulging in fraudulent trade practices. The SEBI in its interim order explained that strong co-relation has been found in the three’s trading pattern with the stocks recommended in the TV show between Jan 1, 2019, and May 31 2020. According to its estimation, Mr. Ghai gained around Rs. 3 Crore from the same. Read MoreHe buys a stock the day before, suggests the same on the TV show and sells it as soon as the share price increases to demand of investors after watching his show. SEBI has also directed him to refrain from giving investment advice and publishing research papers related to the securities market in future. The Network 18 group that runs CNBC Awaaz has fired him with immediate effect. 

India’s Pharma export rose 16% in 8 months this fiscal.
India’s pharmaceutical exports rose around 16% from April to November 2020 in light of increased demand due to ongoing global pandemic. While the merchandise exports overall were down 18%, this sector outperformed and jumped to US$ 15.3 Billion in exports from US$ 13.2 Billion a year ago, in the initial 8 months of this fiscal according to the data by the Commerce Ministry.Read More Exports include bulk drugs, intermediaries, biological etc. Along with exports, imports rose by 9% too for the same period. India imports raw materials for the Industry from China which accounts for 65-70% of India’s import. Exports of chemicals and related products were up 2.4% to US$ 30.7 Billion till November. The US is India’s biggest exporting partner that accounts for around 30% of the imports.

RBI likely to propose stricter regulations for shadow banks
The Reserve Bank of India is likely to propose stricter regulatory norms for shadow banks in a bid to strengthen solvency and sustainability of a sector that has been showing signs of stress in recent years. RBI began trying to move towards tighter norms for the sector after Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services, the largest NBFC, went bankrupt in 2018, and Dewan Housing Finance Corp and Altico Capital defaulted on payments in 2019. Read MoreThe RBI is expected to set out its proposals in a discussion paper next week and recommend that bigger non-banking finance companies (NBFCs), or shadow banks, maintain a statutory liquidity ratio (SLR). Currently, banks are mandated to maintain SLR or the minimum percentage of deposits that they must hold in the form of liquid cash, gold or government securities at 18%. The RBI could also suggest large NBFCs be required to maintain a cash reserve ratio. CRR currently stands at 3%, below the usual 4% level, after a temporary reduction by RBI due to the ongoing pandemic that will be reversed after March 31.

Borrowing cost surges in bond market over RBI’s measures to drain out cash
Borrowing costs for companies in the Indian rupee bond market are surging after the nation’s central bank unveiled measures to drain cash it had infused into the financial system to counter the impact of the pandemic. Average yields on three-year rupee bonds rated BBB have risen 28 basis points this week through Thursday, on track for their biggest weekly increase since 2018. Read MoreBorrowing costs for top-rated issuers have climbed by a similar amount, but they generally have greater access to funding than weaker peers. The surge comes after the Reserve Bank of India announced plans last week to restore normalcy to liquidity operations in markets in a phased manner. The central bank’s action comes after market interest rates fell below RBI desired levels, but Governor Shaktikanta Das will have to be careful in calibrating changes so as to avoid unintended consequences for the weakest borrowers. Reserve Bank of India plans to absorb 2 trillion rupees from the local banking system via a 14-day reverse repurchase auction.

Govt. approves purchase of 70million vaccine shots
The government has approved the purchase of close to 70 million Covid-19 vaccines in the first phase of the inoculation programme. While most of the shots,  around 60 million jabs  will be ordered from Serum Institute of India, while up to 10 million shots will be sourced from Bharat Biotech. Read MoreThe order to Serum Institute is priced at ₹220 for one dose of the injection and that to Bharat Biotech is at ₹309, inclusive of taxes. The detailed vaccination plan says that the first phase of inoculation, beginning from Jan 30, will vaccinate 30 million people.

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