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 Ninth – 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 Gunika Vij, Ashika Deb and Shitij Goyal)

Politics

Defence Ministry acquires strategic land near Sumdorong Chu

The defence ministry is taking control of over 200 acre of Lungro Grazing Ground in Bomdir village near Lungro La pass, which has a population of about 250 people, to develop new defence infrastructure close to the border with China. The rural development ministry has now notified that the defence ministry is its ‘appropriate authority’ under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013 for acquisition as per which any land can be acquired for defence purposes, railways and communication without the requirements of a ‘village body’ meeting. Read MoreThe area is of great strategic significance and saw tensions during the border standoff of Sumdorong Chu in 1986 and the Lungro La (pass) is vital as it opens up access routes to Tawang and dominates the Sumdorong Chu valley.

MoD sets new rules for land transfer

The defence ministry has approved changes to land transfer rules that will allow the armed forces to receive infrastructure equivalent in value to the land under their control which is needed for public utilities. It’s expected that this move will reduce the defence forces’ expenditure on development works. Under these rules the forces will effectively be able to monetise their considerable land holdings for internal use. Read MoreNational Highways Authority of India, metros, state governments can offer equal value infrastructure in lieu of defence land required by them. The defence forces have one of the largest holdings of land in India, spread across states but a recurring problem has been freeing up land for infrastructure. The new rules provide for land to be transferred in lieu of equal value infrastructure (EVI).

GUPKAR Alliance planning way forward

Omar Abdullah on Sunday said that Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad shouldn’t “presume to know what the Hon judges will decide” on the special status of J&K and Article 370 in reaction to Prasad’s remarks on Saturday that Article 370 won’t be restored. At least seven pro-Indian political parties have formed the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration to fight for the restoration of J&K’s special status. Read MoreThe alliance leaders were now formulating a strategy to reach out to the public regarding their fresh political discourse. They would also be discussing the possibility of participating in panchayat and district development council elections that are scheduled to be conducted soon.

Why Russia might be worried about a Biden presidency

Despite some tough sanctions and even tougher criticism, Russia has not topped America’s foreign policy priorities under President Donald Trump but all that could change if Joe Biden wins the election. Analysts expect that Biden’s victory would increase tensions between the two countries and would raise the probability of new sanctions on Russia, given allegations of Russian interference in the 2020 presidential election. A meaningful conflict resolution over Crimea, and in the Donbass region, a region Biden was heavily involved in as vice president, still eludes Moscow and Kiev, despite efforts by Germany and France to broker a lasting settlement that both sides can live with.Read More Arms control is an area that both parties believe could be a point of mutual interest and Biden has signaled as much, saying in 2019 that he would want to see an extension of the major U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reduction treaty.

German border will be transformed into a green oasis

A physical border between East and West Germany was first built in 1952. While the militarised border that split Germany for 38 years has disappeared, a faint 870 mile-long scar remains. After a long-running battle between landowners, government authorities and environmentalists, the federal government announced last month that the entire former border zone would be designated a nature reserve. Read MoreThirty years after the border between East and West Germany ceased to exist, it remains one of the most important psychological dividers in the country. During the last legislative session, which ended with parliament voting to dissolve itself, lawmakers designated most of that land as national park or protected nature reserves and with last month’s announcement, the entire border will be safeguarded.

Science and Technology

Scientists Have Created ‘Super White’

Scientists have created a super white paint which can reflect 95.5% of sunlight contrary to ultra-black materials which can absorb more than 99.96 %. Objects painted with this ultra-white material can remain cooler than their surrounding temperature even under the Sun, which could allow for a new energy-efficient way to control temperature inside buildings. Read MoreOther “heat rejecting paints” can only reflect 80 to 90% of sunlight. It’s imperative to the wide application of radiative cooling and to alleviate the global warming effect. Creating single-layer paint that can reflect heat directly out into space without requiring an energy input would be a huge win for the climate crisis.

Scientists Find Evidence of ‘Lost’ River through Thar

The Thar Desert, 1,72,000 years ago, hosted a brimming stream of a large river. Evidence suggests that the lost river flowed through the central Thar Desert near Bikaner. The findings indicate that the strongest river activity at Nal occurred approximately 1.72 and 1.4 lakh years ago and this was the time when the monsoon was weaker than what we see today! Read MoreThe river is estimated to have flown for up to 95 to 78 thousand years ago. The study also states that the Thar Desert plays a crucial role in understanding the past weather patterns and how environmental changes led to the migration and adaptation.

Indian law hurdle for scientists sharing new microbes with the world

International Committee on Systematics of Prokaryotes (ICSP)’s code stipulates that newly discovered bacterial species should be deposited in two culture collections in two countries, where it should be freely accessible to other researchers but this is at odds with an Indian law passed in 2002 under the International Convention on Biological Diversity which requires that non-Indian researchers who want to access cultures originating from India, Read Moreeven those stored abroad, obtain permission from the country’s National Biodiversity Authority causing lengthy delays, and culture collections around the world have increasingly stopped accepting new cultures from Indian researchers.

Scientists may have found a new organ

Scientists may have identified a previously undiscovered pair of salivary glands which sits near where the nasal cavity meets the throat. Researchers noticed these unfamiliar structures while looking through the computerized tomography scans of 100 patients diagnosed with prostate or urethral gland cancer. Read MoreMore research is needed to conclude if these mysterious structures are newly discovered organs, or one of the hundreds of minor salivary glands in the mouth and throat and if the finding is confirmed, it would be the first discovery of salivary glands in about 300 years.

Asteroid samples leaked from packed spacecraft

A NASA spacecraft is stuffed with so much asteroid rubble that it’s jammed open and precious particles are drifting away in space, which was announced three days after spacecraft Osiris-Rex briefly touched asteroid Bennu, its first visitor in billions of years. There’s nothing flight controllers can do to clear the obstructions and prevent more bits of Bennu from escaping, other than to get the samples into their return capsule as soon as possible. Read MoreScientists won’t know how much the sample capsule holds until it’s back on Earth by 2023. Getting pieces from this cosmic time capsule could help scientists better understand how the planets formed billions of years ago and how life originated on Earth.

Business

Reliance rolls back salary cuts, offers bonus

Billionaire Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries is rolling back salary cuts for the employees of its hydrocarbons division and is also giving out performance bonus that had been deferred after business was hit by coronavirus lockdown. The firm is also offering an advance 30 per cent of the variable pay from the next year’s salary to its lakh-plus employees as a goodwill gesture for working during the pandemic, two persons familiar with the matter said. Read MoreReliance in April had cut the salary of employees of its hydrocarbons division by 10 per cent to 50 per cent with the firm’s chairman and richest Indian Mukesh Ambani agreeing to forgo all his remuneration. Also, the oil-to-technology conglomerate had deferred annual cash bonus and performance-linked incentives that are normally paid in the first quarter.

Vedanta pays $476 million dividend before potential downgrade

Anil Agarwal’s Indian commodities major will pay about $476 million in dividends to investors as a potential credit ratings downgrade looms at its parent Vedanta Resources Ltd. Vedanta Ltd. approved a dividend of 9.50 rupees a share amounting to 35 billion rupees ($476 million), according to an exchange filing Saturday. The outflow follows $1.2 billion in payouts announced by cash cow unit Hindustan Zinc Ltd. earlier this week. The payout will also come as a relief for Vedanta’s minority shareholders, after the company didn’t pass on a previous dividend in May by Hindustan Zinc to them. The decision comes two weeks after the failure to delist Vedanta. That has curtailed the London-based holding company’s ability to easily access cash from its units and pare down elevated debt. Read MoreMoody’s Investors Service put Vedanta Resources’s credit rating under review for a downgrade Tuesday, citing an increase in refinancing risk and significant funding needs at the holding company level following the collapse of the privatization bid.

Proposal for sovereign overseas borrowing

A proposal for sovereign foreign borrowing is back on the table at the finance ministry, and could figure in the government’s annual accounts statement next year. It will secure cheaper overseas money, and ensure that large government borrowing does not drive up domestic interest rates. Read MoreIndia’s sovereign external debt to GDP is at less than 5%, so supporters of the plan argue that it would be easy for the government to service the borrowing. The government’s present liabilities extend to debt that matures in 2055, and several of the long-term borrowings are at high interest rates.

Singapore court halts Future-RIL retail deal

Amazon Inc. on Sunday secured interim relief in a Singapore arbitration court, stalling partner Future Group’s plan to sell its retail and wholesale assets to a unit of rival Reliance Industries Ltd. It claimed that Future Group had violated an investment contract when it agreed to sell its retail assets. Read MoreAlthough the parties will have to wait for further orders from the tribunal, the ruling gives Amazon a breather as a Future-Reliance combine may pose serious competition to the online retailer.

Gold loses lustre on Dussehra

Sales of gold, silver and diamond jewellery fell by a staggering 35% in Maharashtra during Dussehra, compared to last year. The reason behind it is the raging Covid-19 pandemic, hefty hike in gold and silver rates along with lack of enthusiasm among the buyers. Read MoreThis situation has upset both sellers and consumers. One of the major reasons was the exorbitant increase in gold and silver prices compared to last year, besides the general slowdown caused by Covid-19 pandemic. Gold now costs Rs 52,960 per 10 grams and silver is now priced at Rs 62,500 per kilogram.

Economics

Indian economy on verge of slow recovery as worst is over: Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Industry body PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PHDCCI) expects India’s GDP to contract by 7.9 per cent in the current financial year and grow by 7.7 per cent in 2021-22, assessing that the worst is over and the economy is on the verge of a slow recovery. The chamber, however, stated that unemployment remains a key challenge to be addressed by the government. Read More“Going ahead, India should focus on moving away from imports from China, divert trade towards friendly economies, build domestic capacities and significantly scale-up indigenous production with a thrust to become self-reliant,” it said.

India reacted early and well on Covid-19, has potential to shape global agenda: World Economic Forum Chairman

Bullish on India’s power to shape the global agenda, the WEF’s Founder and Chairman Klaus Schwab has said the country’s early policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic was strong and now its biggest opportunity lies in leapfrogging to a more digital and sustainable economy. Schwab, who founded WEF over 50 years ago, said, Read More“The early policy response in India to mitigate the impact of the pandemic was strong; from an early lockdown, to large-scale food rations to over 800 million people risking starvation, to collateral-free credit for small businesses.”

Govt. to seek Parliament nod for ₹37,000-crore spending on infra development

Earlier this month, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced additional budget of ₹25,000 crore as capital expenditure (capex) on roads, defence, water supply, urban development and domestically produced capital equipment. Besides, the central government approved issuance of a special interest-free 50-year loan to states of ₹12,000 crore for infrastructure development. Read MoreApproval for this additional spending will be sought through second supplementary demands for grants, sources said. It not only improves current economy but also future GDP, she had said while announcing ₹37,000 crore extra spending for infra development.

World economy in deep recession in 2020, growth to be -4.4 per cent: IMF

The IMF on Tuesday predicted a deep global recession this year and the world growth to be – 4.4 per cent, asserting that the global economic crisis is far from over mainly due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. In its latest World Economic Outlook report, the International Monetary Fund also said the swift recovery in China has surprised on the upside while the global economy’s long ascent back to pre-pandemic levels of activity remains prone to setbacks. Read MoreThis upgrade owes to somewhat less dire outcomes in the second quarter, as well as signs of a stronger recovery in the third quarter, offset partly by downgrades in some emerging and developing economies. According to the report, in 2021, growth is projected to rebound to 5.2%, -0.2% points below its June projection.

India opposes binding commitments for easier cross-border goods clearance

India has opposed binding commitments on countries to put in place practices for faster clearances of cross-border merchandise even as it has implemented almost 75% of its commitments ahead of schedule under the global trade facilitation agreement (TFA). New Delhi’s stance comes amid the US, Brazil, Colombia and Japan urging the World Trade Organization (WTO) members to speed up implementation of the agreement, arguing that trade is a critical channel for getting essential products to those in need amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Read MoreThe agreement is a global protocol that has articles covering provisions such as information availability and publication, advance rulings, review procedures, customs cooperation and exportation-importation of goods, and seeks to reduce the cost of global trade. The benefits are pegged at over a trillion dollars. It is part of the WTO’s Bali ministerial package of 2013. Separately, India told the WTO members that it has implemented several of its TFA commitments ahead of the originally scheduled dates and that it has now put into place more than 73% of its commitments.

Finance

NITI Aayog begins groundwork on identifying more PSUs for sale

A preliminary meeting will be held at the Aayog on Monday to identify more state-owned companies across sectors that can be put up for sale, a top government official said. The Aayog has asked different ministries to recommend the names of the enterprises which can be considered for a strategic sale, where both ownership and control will be transferred. Read More“The idea is to see which all companies and assets, which are non-strategic in nature, can be pushed for sale in the next round.  The government can opt for strategic deals, disinvestment where a minority stake will be sold, monetisation of certain assets of a company or even a share buyback in the enterprises that will be identified. Such details will be worked out later.

GST shortfall: Centre borrows, transfers Rs 6,000 crore to 16 states, two union territories

“Today, the central government borrowed and transferred Rs 6,000 crore as first tranche to 16 states namely Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and two union territories: UT of Delhi and UT of Jammu and Kashmir,” it said in a statement. Read MoreThe borrowing is at an interest rate of 5.19 per cent and  tenor of borrowing is expected to be broadly in the range of 3 to 5 years, the ministry said it intends to release Rs 6,000 crore to the states every week. The finance ministry said that the Centre would borrow from the market to pay the GST compensation shortfall of Rs 1.1 lakh crore to states, and then act as an intermediary to arrange back-to-back loans to state governments.

Central govt approves Rs 3,737 cr bonus for 30.67 lakh employees, to be disbursed in a week’s time

The government on Wednesday decided to give Rs 3,737 crore bonus to 30.67 lakh central government employees to encourage spending during the festival season and add to demand in the economy. The decision to give a productivity-linked bonus and non-productivity-linked bonus for 2019-2020 was taken at the Union Cabinet meeting, Minister of Information and Broadcasting Prakash Javadekar told reporters. Read MoreThe bonus ahead of Vijayadashami and Diwali will encourage the middle-class to go out and spend and thus add to the demand in the economy, he said.

EPFO records 10.05 lakh new enrolments in August

The retirement fund body, Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation has reported net new enrolments of about 1,005,000 in August, up from about 748,000 in July, indicating that more formal jobs are being added as economic recovery gathers momentum. The number of net new enrolments for April was revised to negative (-) 104,608 from -61,807 shown earlier, while the number for May was revised to a fall of 35,336 from addition of 40,551 stated in the data released earlier. Read MoreNet new enrolments with EPFO hover around 700,000 every month on an average. With the imposition of lockdown in the last week of March, the net enrolments in EPFO fell to about 572,000 in March 2020 from about 1,021,000 in February. During 2019-20, the number of net new subscribers stood at 7.86 million against 6.11 million in the preceding fiscal.

India receives highest ever FDI in Apr-Aug FY21: Government

India, in April-August 2020, received the highest ever total Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) for the first five months of a financial year, the commerce and industry ministry said in a statement on Tuesday. The total FDI inflow into India in the first five months was $35.73 billion, 13% higher than that in the same period last fiscal. This is 16% higher than the inflows witnessed in the first five months of 2019-20 which were $23.35 billion. Read MoreTotal FDI into India in the first quarter of 2020-21 plunged by 60% from the year-ago period to $6.5 billion, data released by the department for promotion of industry and internal trade (DPIIT) showed last month. India’s performance was worse than the global projections by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

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