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 Sixty Sixth 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, Creamy Garg)

Politics

Armenia- Azerbaijan Conflict
Armenian and Azerbaijani forces have been engaged in intense fighting over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, scuttling diplomatic efforts to reach a ceasefire to end the latest conflict that has killed hundreds of people. Armenian and Azerbaijani forces seemingly ignored calls this week by the U.S., France and Russia for an immediate cease-fire in Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic-Armenian breakaway province inside Azerbaijan. Read MoreArmenian Defense Ministry officials said they had repelled a large attack by Azerbaijan along the front line and shot down three planes. Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry denied any planes being shot down and said Armenian personnel had shelled civilian territory. Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev said his forces had taken control Saturday of the strategic village of Madagiz. Both sides previously had dismissed the demands for a truce in the disputed region, where fighting has escalated in recent days to levels not seen since the 1990s.

Babri Masjid demolition Case
A special CBI court has acquitted all 32 accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case, giving a major relief to BJP stalwarts like former deputy PM L K Advani, former UP CM Kalyan Singh, former Union minister M M Joshi, former MP CM Uma Bharti, Bajrang Dal founder Vinay Katiyar and three BJP MPs — Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, Lallu Singh and Sakshi Maharaj. Read MoreIn his verdict, CBI court judge S K Yadav also agreed with the defence that the structure was demolished by miscreants who defied the directive by BJP and VHP leaders assembled at Ram Katha Kunj to restrict themselves to symbolic kar seva in the vicinity of the now demolished mosque. The acquittal comes in the wake of the Supreme Court verdict allotting the disputed Ayodhya site to Hindus for the construction of Ram Mandir. The conspiracy charge against Advani had been dropped by the Allahabad high court in 2001, but was restored by the Supreme Court in 2017.

Ministry of Defence removes the offset clause requirement in IGAs
Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had earlier observed that French defence majors Dassault Aviation and MBDA have till date “not confirmed” the transfer of technology to the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) under the ₹60,000 crore deal for 36 Rafale fighter jets. The deal has a 50% offset clause to be executed by the French companies. Under offset clause, foreign companies are required to invest part of their deal value in the country and meant to improve the domestic defence manufacturing. Read MoreHowever, Ministry of Defence has, in the new Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAC) 2020, removed the clause for this requirement in the Inter- Governmental Agreements (IGAs). It says that this change will enable provision for services to procure essential items through Capital Budget under a simplified procedure in a time bound manner. It also introduces a new category for leasing of military equipment. The renewed DAP is supposed to be more industry- friendly and aims to bring greater foreign investments in India.

China’s military exercises could hurt talks, says Vietnam
Vietnam has expressed that military drills conducted this week by Beijing in the South China Sea will hurt negotiations on a regional maritime code of conduct (COC) for the disputed waters. China on Monday began five military exercises simultaneously along different parts of its coast, including two exercises near Paracel Islands, the area which is also claimed by Vietnam. Read MoreForeign Ministry spokeswoman of Vietnam Le Thi Thu Hang said that the exercises could complicate efforts to restart talks on a long-awaited code between China and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). The situation is alarming as China, which has for years been locked in maritime disputes with other coastal states in the South China Sea, has in recent months boosted its presence and held exercises in disputed parts of the strategic waterway, at a time when other claimants are battling coronavirus outbreaks.

US President Trump tested +ve for COVID-19
US President Donald Trump tested positive for coronavirus on Friday. Following this news, his cabinet and people close to him were tested. Following which Melania Trump, Hope Hicks, Mike Lee, and six other members tested positive for COVID-19. The president received oxygen at the White House and was later admitted at a military hospital. Since him being transported to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, multiple messages contradicted each other and were often misleading about Trump’s diagnosis. The White House Chief of Staff on Saturday said that the president’s vital signs were concerning and he is not out of danger. Read MoreThis contradicted the statement that was presented by his doctor saying that the president is improving. Trump posted an assurance four-minute video on Saturday evening stating that he has started feeling better, however, he added that the severity of his case would become evident over the coming two to three days.

Science and Technology

A new thermometer measures temperature with sound devloped
A new thermometer has been devloped which takes the temperature of objects by sensing sounds that the objects give off when they get hot. In this simulation, a sheet of silicon nitride at the center detects sound waves from hot blobs of epoxy via the ovals at top, bottom, left and right. In experiments, the physicists deposited blobs of an epoxy material on the chip’s surface around the silicon nitride sheet. When heated with a laser, each epoxy blob gave off sound waves that rippled through the chip to the sheet, causing the sheet to vibrate. The hotter the epoxy blob, the stronger its sound waves, and the more intense the silicon nitride’s vibrations. Read MoreBouncing a laser beam off the sheet and measuring the beam’s angle of reflection allowed the researchers to track the sheet’s motion, and therefore the temperatures of the epoxy blobs. Tom Purdy, along with Robinjeet Singh of the University of Maryland in College Park, have created thid acoustic thermometer that senses the intensity of heat-generated sound emanating from nearby objects. The heart of the device is a one-square-millimeter sheet of silicon nitride. That sheet is suspended within a window cut in the center of a silicon chip, which transmits sound waves better than air.

India’s AI spending to grow at 30.8% CAGR to nearly ₹6,490.6 cr in 2023
India’s AI (artificial intelligence) spending is expected to grow at a CAGR of 30.8% to touch $880.5 million (around ₹6,490.6 crore) in 2023, research firm IDC has stated in its reports. Enterprises are relying on AI to maintain business continuity, transform how businesses operate and gain competitive advantage. India’s AI spending will grow from $300.7 million in 2019 to $880.5 million in 2023 at a CAGR (Compound annual growth rate) of 30.8%,” as per IDC’s Worldwide Artificial Intelligence Spending Guide Forecast. Read MoreThe report cited IDC’s 2019 Cognitive AI Adoption Survey to state that almost 20% of enterprises are still devising AI strategies to explore new businesses and ventures. Data trustworthiness and difficulty in selecting the right algorithm are some of the top challenges that hold organisations back from implementing AI technology. The variety of industry-specific tech solutions supported by emerging technologies like Internet of Things (IoT), Robotics, Blockchain, etc. are getting powered by complex AI algorithms and are cloud-enabled to reach their max potential.

IIT-M team develops sutures with nanofiber yarns
A prototype of suture thread made of nanofiber yarns has been developed by a team of researchers in IIT-Madras. The developed prototype is bio-absorbable and can deliver a higher load of antibiotics and/or therapeutics at the site itself. The suture material uses nanofibers woven as yarn using certain specific techniques, and the strength can be varied depending on the target tissue (skin, muscle, cartilage). Read MoreEach strand has a good tensile strength, besides degrading rapidly and mimics the collagen fibrils of body tissues. Initial funding has been received for the project, and the team is looking for further funding to deliver surgery-ready nanofiber yarn at reasonable costs.

NASA schedules the first Crew Dragon operational flight for Halloween
NASA and SpaceX have set a new launch date for Crew Dragon’s first crewed operational flight for  31st October. This mission follows the Spacex’s successful Demo-2 test flight, which flew astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station (ISS).Read MoreTo give both ground and station teams a longer time to prepare and check for issues, the mission has been given sufficient time after a Soyuz launch on October 14th and a Soyuz departure from the ISS on October 21st. The mission will take NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, as well as JAXA’s Soichi Noguchi, to the ISS. There will stay there for six months. Crew Dragon spacecraft of Spacex  will be used for this flight to Cape Canaveral in Florida back in August.

UAE plans the first “Arab mission” to the moon in 2024
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai Emirate announced that an Emirati-made lunar rover named Rashid will land on the surface of the moon in 2024 in areas that have not been explored by human missions before. The rover is said to carry two high-resolution cameras, thermal imagery camera, microscopic camera, robe, and other devices. Read MoreIf successful, UAE could become the first in the Arab World and fourth nation to land a spacecraft on the moon in 2024, after the United States, the former Soviet Union, and China. Last year, UAE sent its first astronaut to the International Space Station, and in July, the nation launched a rocket to Mars. UAE’s participation in the moon exploration is a part of UAE’s space strategy, and the main motive is to build new knowledge capabilities and foster the country’s scientific, technical, and research environment.

Business

Billionaire Issa brothers buy Walmart’s Asda for $8.8 Billion
British billionaire brothers, Mohsin and Zuber Issa, along with private equity firm TDR Capital have won the battle to buy Walmart’s Asda in a deal whereby the supermarket chain was valued at US$ 8.8 Billion. Issa brothers are the owner of the petrol station operator EG Group that has more than 5200 petrol stations across the UK and Europe. Following the deal, Asda will be under the majority of British ownership for the first time since 1999. Read MoreThe brothers will invest US$ 1.3 Billion over a span of 3 years and wish to expand Britain’s third-biggest supermarket chain’s presence by rolling small neighborhood shops. Roger Burnley will continue as the CEO of Asda. Judith Mckenna, President and CEO of Walmart International said that the Issas good reputation for brand partnerships was what they were interested in for Asda. Walmart had earlier bought Asda for £6.7 Billion in 1999 and will still retain an unspecified minority stake in it.

Mobile phones to become costlier after govt. imposes 10% duty on display panel
A rise in mobile phone prices after the government imposed 10% duty on display and touch panels in a bid to promote local manufacturing. According to the India Cellular and Electronics Association (ICEA) Chairman, the overall increment will be in the ballpark of 1.5 to 3%. He also stressed that the industry couldn’t increase production in a rare miss due to Covid-19 and NGT embargo. Read More Duty on display and touch panels was proposed to be applied from 1st October under Phased Manufacturing Programme (PMP) that was announced in 2016. The objective of the same was to discourage imports and facilitate domestic manufacturing. The duty was initially planned to be levied in April 2019 but was deferred twice to allow local manufacturers to set their bases. This will impact the price of leading brands like Apple, Samsung, Oppo, Xiaomi and RealMe.

Disney is laying off 28,000 employees as pandemic hits its theme parks
As workplaces around the world cut down their workforce because of the economic impact of Covid-19, Disney followed suit as well. Walt Disney Co said that the company would be laying off approximately 28,000 employees from its Disneyland parks in the US since the attendance had gone down drastically due to the Covid-19 crisis, especially in California, where Disneyland is still closed. Disney’s theme parks shut down globally this spring as the pandemic hit, dealing a huge blow to the company’s bottom line. Read MoreThe company’s profit dropped a whopping 91% during the first three months of 2020. The company had to limit the number of visitors in its parks in order to follow the social distancing norms. Of the 28,000 employees who will be laid off, two-thirds are part-time workers. Nicknamed the Happiest Place on Earth, Disney had hired 77,000 full-time and part-time workers for Walt Disney World in Florida before Covid-19 hit us in full force. California’s Disneyland had hired 32,000 employees.

Amnesty International quits India
The human rights organisation and Nobel awarded Amnesty International has decided to cease its operations in India and has laid off its entire staff in response to a series of government reprisals including the freezing of its bank accounts. According to the govt., the organisation was receiving foreign funds illegally as it was never registered under Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) and thus, it has clearly violated the rules laid down by the country. Read MoreHowever, the organisation claims that it is being falsely accused in response to its work towards exposing of violations of rights during the February Delhi riots and in Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 and termed the treatment of govt. as ‘witch-hunt’. The govt. has ridiculed the statements made by Amnesty International and has also advised other countries, where the organisation operates, that they should not condone the organisation’s actions.

Cairn seeks $1.4 billion from Centre due to losses from tax demand
After the telecom company Vodafone has won the retrospective tax battle against Indian Govt., the latter faces the second most hight profile litigation from British Oil exporter Cairn Energy Plc. The company is seeking $1.4 billion dollars from Indian government due to losses arising from confiscation of its investments claimed by the retrospective tax demands. Read MoreIn accordance with the U.K.-India Bilateral Investment Treaty in The Hague, the company has all the evidences in its favour in claiming the award and the tribunal is expected to issue the award by the end of Summer 2020. Cairn is seeking full restoration of punitive damages, arising from continued attempts to enforce retrospective tax measures and the failure to treat the firm and its investments fairly and equitably.

Economics

Tamil Nadu seeks Rs 31,000 cr under Atmanirbhar Bharat to pay power bills
Tamil Nadu has sought Rs 31,000 crore from the Centre as loan, a-fourth of the Centre’s extended Rs 1,20,000 crore liquidity infusion scheme, to settle its power bills. The state ranks lowest in the country’s discoms ratings and is among the large defaulting power consumers. It hasn’t raised its tariffs in the last six years but will now have to bring in operational and financial efficiencies to meet loan pre-disbursement conditions, including reduction of the gap between revenue and costs in 3-4 years.Read MoreThe application by Tamil Nadu comes after the government on August 19 approved extending the power sector liquidity infusion package to cover discom dues till June 30 and allowed a one-time relaxation in working capital lending limits by Power Finance Corp and REC to electricity distribution companies. The relaxation helped Odisha, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir and Tamil Nadu to avail loans. The special long-term transition loan to discoms for Covid-19 for tenure of 10 years are disbursed by the two lending agencies in two tranches. The discoms need to submit an unconditional and irrevocable guarantee from the respective state governments before the first disbursement. Tamil Nadu may have to undertake to provide budgetary support for loan repayment.

Merchandise exports break losing streak, 5.27% growth recorded
After half a year of continuous decline, India’s merchandise exports broke the losing streak and grew 5.27% in September on a YoY basis to US$ 27.40 Billion against US$ 26.02 Billion the previous year. On the other hand, merchandise imports contracted 19.6% to US$ 30.3 Billion from US$ 37.69 Billion in September the previous year. Read MoreHence, the trade deficit in September narrowed to US$ 2.91 Billion against US$ 11.67 Billion in 2019, an improvement of 75.06%. According to Ministry of Commerce and Industry, several commodities registered growth in exports like rice (92.4%), oil meals (43.9%), carpet (42.9%), iron ore (109.5%), pharmaceuticals (24.4%), while oil imports fell 35.9% to US$ 5.82 Billion. Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal said that this growth indicates rapid recovery of the Indian economy from Covid-19 pandemic.

Factory activity growth at fastest pace during September in over 8 years
Increase in demand and output amid relaxations from nationwide coronavirus lockdown has expanded India’s factory activity at the fastest pace during September in over 8 and a half years according to a private survey. The Nikkei Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index which is compiled by IHS Markit, jumped from 52.0 in August to 56.8 in September which is the highest since January 2012. Read MoreAccording to economics associate director at IHS Markit, the movement of the Indian manufacturing sector in the right direction highlights number of positives. Despite this, employee layoffs have continued for six months in a row now and have left millions jobless. According to experts, the industry is unlikely to receive major support from RBI in coming months due to high inflation. The index first went into contraction in April after 32 months of consecutive growth. A print over 50 depicts expansion and below 50 depicts contraction.

CARE Ratings projects India’s combined fiscal deficit at 13% of GDP in FY21
Domestic rating agency CARE Ratings pegged India’s combined fiscal deficit at 13-13.4% of gross domestic product (GDP) for the current fiscal even as it assumed no further fiscal stimulus. While the Centre’s deficit is expected to touch Rs 17.8 lakh crore against the target of Rs 8 lakh crore, the states are likely to record a deficit of Rs 7.73 lakh crore over the budgeted Rs 6.35 lakh crore. This implied a deficit of about 9% of GDP for the central government against the budgeted 3.5% and at 3.9% for the states over the budgeted 2.8%, resulting in a combined deficit of more than double the year’s target of 6.4%. Read MoreFurther, the additional borrowing of Rs 97,000 crore that states will have to undertake due the shortfall in goods and services tax (GST) compensation from the Centre would push up the states’ deficit to 4.4% of GDP or the combined deficit to 13.4%. Overall, these states were facing a 116% increase in their aggregate deficit till July compared to the previous year. Widening the gap further, CARE Ratings expected the union government’s tax revenue to fall short of its FY21 target of Rs 16.4 lakh crore by Rs 3.9 lakh crore while its disinvestment target shortfall would be Rs 1.2 lakh crore against the budgeted Rs 2.1 lakh crore.

Government retains Rs 12 lakh crore borrowing plan
The Central govt. is adamant on its borrowing plan of ₹12 lakh crore for the year with the Finance Ministry expressing confidence that it would manage to meet its expenditure commitments within this plan, despite the soaring of fiscal deficit to 109% of the budgeted target in just five months.Read MoreThe government has borrowed ₹7.66 lakh crore in the first half of the fiscal and plans to borrow the remaining ₹4.34 lakh crore between October 2020 and January 2021. The government is leaving some room for States who have to do ‘major borrowings’ as well as the private sector to raise money in the second half of the year. With this development, the rating agencies expect the fiscal deficit slippage to be much higher by the end of the year.

Finance

Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh get additional borrowing for PDS, EoDB
Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have been granted additional borrowing permission of Rs. 7376 Crore by the Ministry of Finance for successfully undertaking reforms in Ease of Doing Business (EoDB) and Public Distribution System (PDS). While Uttar Pradesh after becoming the sixth state to complete reforms on account of One Nation One Ration Card System (ONORCS) under PDS is eligible to raise Rs. 4851 crore through open market borrowings, Read MoreAndhra Pradesh is eligible for Rs. 2525 Crore after making the state business and investor-friendly. Andhra Pradesh hence became the first state to get additional borrowing limit of 0.25% of gross state domestic product (GSDP). Centre in May had allowed states additional borrowing of 2% of GSDP. 0.25% of this was contingent on reforms in EoDB, power sector, urban local bodies and ONORCS.

NABARD disbursed Rs. 12298 crores for Swachh Bharat Mission so far
NABARD on Friday said that it has disbursed Rs. 12298 Crores so far for the construction of 3.29 Crore household toilets under Swachh Bharat Mission – Gramin (SBM-G). On the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the financial institution has launched a sanitation literacy campaign on a nationwide level. This will continue till 26th January 2021 and is aimed at creating awareness towards hygiene and sanitation practices. Under the campaign, which will cover more than 2000 villages, judgement on sanitation needs will be made. Read MoreThe NABARD Chairman G R Chintala also emphasized on the need for greater awareness for better water, sanitation and hygiene due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. According to NABARD, the campaign will support SBM-G and Water, Sanitisation and Hygiene (WASH) programmes. It also announced a special refinance facility for WASH programme for which Rs. 800 Crore has been set aside of 2020-21.

TDS/TCS provisions to be applicable for e-commerce
The Income Tax Department has issued guidelines for applicability of TCS provision which requires an e-commerce operator to deduct 1 per cent tax on sale of goods and services with effect from October 1. The Finance Act, 2020 inserted a new section 194-O in the Income-tax Act 1961 which mandates that with effect from October 1, 2020, an e-commerce operator shall deduct income tax at the rate of 1 per cent of the gross amount of sale of goods or provision of service or both, facilitated through its digital or electronic facility or platform. The Finance Act, 2020, also inserted sub-section (1 H) in section 206C in the I-T Act which mandates that with effect from October 1, 2020, a seller will collect 0.1 per cent tax from the buyer if sale consideration exceeds Rs 50 lakh or if aggregate sale value exceeded Rs 50 lakh in any previous year. Read MoreIt has been stated that sometime in these transactions there is no one-to-one contract between the buyers and the sellers. The CBDT said the new introduced TCS provisions would not apply to transactions in securities and commodities which are traded through recognized stock exchanges or cleared and settled by recognised clearing corporation, including recognised stock exchanges or recognised clearing corporation located in International Financial Service Centre. It would also not apply to transactions in electricity, renewable energy certificates and energy-saving certificates traded through power exchanges.

SBI conducts mega e-auction for properties across the country
State Bank of India conducted an electronic auction for the mortgage properties both the commercial and residential properties. Under SBI mega e-auction, bidders were given a chance to bid and win home, plot or shop at a lower price than the existing market rate. More than 1,000 properties were set up for the sale. Read MoreThe lender puts up the mortgage properties of defaulters to recover the bank dues. SBI has a long record of being very transparent when putting immovable properties, mortgaged with the bank or attached by court order to auction, by furnishing all the relevant details that can make it an attractive proposition for bidders to participate in the auctions. SBI also incorporate all relevant details and state whether the same is freehold or leasehold, give its measurement, location etc., including other relevant details in the public notices issued for auctioning,SBI chairman mentioned.

Credit demand from priority sector drops.
There has been significant fall in the credit demand by the priority sectors and MSMEs, despite the efforts taken by govt. for the same. The credit demand has plunged to a low 1.9% in the June quarter from 10.2% a year ago. Care Ratings on Tuesday said in absolute terms that the overall bank deposits stood at ₹141.3 lakh crore in June 2020, up 11.5% from ₹126.7 lakh crore in June. Read MoreHowever, credit growth has seen a negative 1.1% during the reporting period, which was also a negative 1% in the March 2020 quarter. This decline is computed of decline in overall sectoral growth as  agriculture and allied credit declined by 0.4% incrementally, industrial credit by 1%, services sector declined by 2.6% growth and personal loan segment declined by 2.5% growth.

 

 

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