The First Forum is an initiative which focuses on covering the latest happenings going around in the world in a brief format. This is in lieu with the importance of catching up with these events in this fast changing world.
In this Seventh Edition of The First Forum we would be covering the following:
1. Business
2. Economics
3. Finance
4. Science and Technology

Business

(By Ankita Punjani, Divyansh Gupta, Mehak Gupta)

Centre Plans to Offer 6,000 Acres of Land in J&K to Woo Businesses
India plans to offer around 6,000 acres (2,400 hectares) of land in Jammu and Kashmir as part of a business summit planned for April or May to help the region after withdrawing its special rights and making sweeping administrative changes. Over 1300 acres of the land offered is in Kashmir valley according to reports. Read MoreThe area is one of India’s least industrialised regions, with per capita income of Rs 62,145 in 2016-2017, lower than the national average of Rs 82,229 but better than several other states. Businesses will also get tax breaks and insurance cover, Commissioner Secretary, Industry and Commerce, Manoj Kumar Dwivedi said.

93000 BSNL, MTNL employees opt for voluntary Retirement scheme
Nearly 50 percent employees at Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) and around 80 percent at  Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) have opted for the latest central government offering – the voluntary retirement scheme (VRS), as per a report. Read MoreThis adds up to a total of about 93,000 staffers at both the state-run telcos opting for the retirement route. BSNL’s wage bill will reduce by about 50 per cent, while MTNL wage expenses will come down by about 75 per cent after the process is completed. Their annual expenditure on employees, which was about Rs 1,300 crore, will come down to Rs 650 crore. 

Airtel, Vodafone Idea to pay AGR (Adjusted Gross Revenue) Rates
After getting an earful from the Supreme Court for putting on hold recovery of dues from telecom companies, the government on Friday began issuing orders, asking firms like Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea to clear past dues immediately. Read MoreDebt-ridden telecom operator Vodafone Idea who has to pay rs 53000 crores said that is assessing the amount that can be paid towards AGR(Adjusted Gross Revenue) dues, even as it flagged concerns over the continuation of its business. Bharti Airtel has offered to pay Rs 10,000 crore of payment out of the total of rs 35000 crores by February 20 and the rest well before the Supreme Court’s next hearing on March 17.

India’s Trade Deficit Widens to $15.2 Bn, Exports Dip 1.66% in January 
The country’s exports contracted for the sixth month in a row by 1.66 percent in January to 25.97 billion dollars, according to the data released by the commerce ministry on Friday. Read MoreThe trade deficit was 15.05 billion dollars in January 2019. During April-January 2019-20, exports slipped 1.93 percent to 265.26 billion dollars, imports declined by 8.12 percent to 398.53 billion dollars, leaving a trade deficit of 133.27 billion dollars. 

Court stalls Amazon, Flipkart antitrust probes 
Indian antitrust investigation of Amazon.com Inc and Walmart’s Flipkart has been put on hold by a court. Amazon this week challenged the investigation in a court in Bengaluru and the court has granted a stay of two months reported according to a lawyer from P&A Law Offices representing Amazon and two other legal counsels involved in the matter. Read MoreThe Competition Commission of India (CCI) last month ordered a probe into Amazon and Flipkart over alleged violations of competition law and certain discounting practices. Last month, the trade minister said Amazon wasn’t doing India any “great favor” by announcing $1 billion in investment, laying bare the tensions with the US online retailer. 

Edelweiss relieved from Capstone Case investigation 
Edelweiss Group has denied media reports that it is being probed by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with a forex scam. In a statement, Edelweiss Chairman & CEO Rashesh Shah has said that Capstone Forex Pvt Ltd, and not Edelweiss, is under ED scanner for the FEMA violations. Read More“Edelweiss has no relationship with Capstone Forex Pvt Ltd and all allegations of FEMA violations are false.” Edelweiss Reported that Sanjay Nathalal Shah, Chartered Accountant and an independent director of a few of our group companies, is alleged to be connected to Capstone. Shah was recently asked by ED to appear for questioning but he failed to comply.

LIC Housing Finance refers 15 stuck infra projects to AIF
LIC Housing Finance has referred 15 stuck infrastructure projects on which it has a combined exposure of more than Rs 1,100 crore to the government-approved alternative funding mechanism to help the stalled ventures generate last mile financing. Read MoreIn November last year, the government announced the setting up of a Rs 25,000-crore AIF to provide relief to developers to complete unfinished projects. This was necessitated after several housing projects were left unfinished due to the unfavourable growth environment and a funds squeeze. The housing financier in its latest December quarter had posted a flat net profit growth of 0.2% to Rs 567.53 crore even as its provisions for stressed assets rose. 

Economics

(By Gunika Vij, Manraj Uppal, Somya Yadav)

Coronavirus Causing Recession
The rapid spread of the coronavirus is a tough blow for the world  economy. The extent of the damage, of course, depends on how soon and how effectively the outbreak is contained. the world’s second-largest economy has come to a near standstill. Infections and fatalities are mounting. Read MoreBig urban manufacturing and financial centers remain on partial lockdown, migrant laborers are unable to return to work, and factories are unable to get raw materials or ship their goods out reliably. Consumption has also been reduced, as people mostly stay indoors. Service industries such as tourism and restaurants are being hit especially hard. Beijing does have room to increase public spending, cut taxes and provide cheap credit to bolster growth. China’s central bank has already taken measures to loosen monetary policy. Flooding the economy with cheap credit will increase risks to the banking system, which the government recognizes, but these are desperate times.

UAE Saudi Growth 
The UAE and Saudi Arabia will lead the gradual pick-up in GDP growth led by non-oil economic activity. Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank economists see aggregate real non-oil GDP growth strengthening to 2.6 per cent in 2020, up from an estimated 2.1 per cent in 2019 and 2 per cent in 2018. Saudi Arabia and UAE as largely driving the acceleration in non-oil GDP growth in 2020, despite being at different stages in their economic cycles. Read MoreSaudi Arabia should benefit from building momentum with its investment programme, whilst UAE is forecast to get a boost from hosting Expo 2020. While there is some pick-up in investment activity in Oman, Kuwait is expected to see stronger manufacturing activity with new refining capacity coming onstream. In the case of Bahrain, GCC support for investments will remain a key support to economic activity. During the current year Dubai is expected to see greater implementation of projects to finalise infrastructure in Dubai in the first half of 2020 ahead of Expo 2020, both direct and indirect. Stronger project awards are expected in Abu Dhabi in 2020.

*IMF to Nirmala Sitharaman: India needs reforms urgently; economically weaker than projected earlier*
Owning to the surge in debt levels, IMF has pointed out the need for both structural and financial reforms along with urgent fiscal consolidation measures as part of the medium term fiscal consolidation strategy by the government while keeping in mind an accomodative fiscal stance in the upcoming budget 2020. Read MoreThe global rating agency, S&P  Global ratings expects India’s growth to stabilise in the coming two years however it has anticipated limited fiscal consolidation even as fiscal deficits are greater than the government’s actual plan. A number of fresh measures have been announced in the budget 2020 to revive the sluggish economy.

States should get the provision to widen their fiscal deficit, FCC suggests government
Unlike the Centre, the states did not have flexibility to respond to economic shocks until now. Under the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act, states had to keep a fiscal deficit at 3% of GDP. Read MoreBut with the authorisation of Fifteenth Finance Commission (FFC), states under specified conditions are no longer obliged to stick to their mandated fiscal deficit target and will be given flexibility to the extent of half a percentage point. This will allow them fiscal space and the autonomy in borrowing  funds in case of tightened tax collections. This reform has been brought with the extensive widening of fiscal deficit at 3.8% in the new budget. States have been demanding a similar provision. A new committee will be set up to form the fiscal consolidation framework at both the centre and state level.

Finance

(By Aditya Jain)

Banks see Good Times as Bond Sales Spike up
The rupee bond sales by Indian Banks have witnessed the best sales since 2015. Since, January 1 Indian banks have issued a total of 93 billion rupees (1.3 billion $) in local currency notes. Read MoreThis comes amidst investors looking for alternatives to the riskier shadow banking. This is in particular good news for the Indian Banks who are looking for opportunities to bolster funds and capital buffers in order to strengthen their balance sheets and strengthen credit growth.

Oil Prices likely to fall amidst Coronavirus fears
The Brent Crude was down by 33 cents a Barrel and US West Texas Intermediate Crude fell 14 cents a barrel. The fall in prices comes amidst falling demand due to the rise of Coronavirus. The oil companies in order to maintain their share in the Asian Market took this bold step of slashing the prices. However, the prices could see stabilisation as China has taken multiple stimulus measures to support its economy.   

China Taps Blockchain Technology to boost financing for Businesses
Blockchain Technology shows its potential in an archaic financial system as it 87 China based businesses have received more than $200 million in loans. This financing is done through a cross-border, pilot blockchain finance network, Xuan Changneng. Read MoreThe Chinese officials feel that the cross border blockchain services can play a bigger role in helping medium and small term enterprises improve efficiency and convenience of getting export trade financing and other financial credit support.

Indian Overseas Bank to focus more on MSME Sector
The Indian Overseas Bank would increase its lending to the MSME Sector from present 31000 crores to 50000 crores. For the same the Bank has converted 250 of its branches to MSME Centric Branches and has given training to 700 employees for the same. Through its outreach program the bank is also meeting industry experts to gain suggestions from them and incorporate them into their activities.

Science and Technology

(By Shruti Jha, Nikunj Gulati, Kanika)

NASA Mission Finalists would Explore Venus Planet
NASA announced the four finalists for its next round of low-cost planetary exploration mission. It has not launched a mission to Venus planet last visited by NASA with a dedicated mission by the Magellan orbiter in 1980. Read MoreThe discovery program develops a relatively low-cost robotic exploration efforts; each one is capped at $500 million, excluding costs for the launch vehicles and missions operations. The four missions selected are Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry and Imaging Plus (DAVINCI Plus), Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography and Spectroscopy (VERITAS),  Io Volcano Observer (IVO), Trident.  Two of the missions ( DAVINCI Plus and VERITAS ) are competing to become NASA’s first mission to Venus.

After China’s Coronavirus, Brazil’s mysterious Virus puzzled scientists
The discovery of Yaravirus comes amid the outbreak of Coronavirus across the world and started in China. A mysterious new virus Yaravirus completely unknown emerged from an artificial lake called Pampulha in Brazil. Read MoreThe team named it after the Brazilian mythological water queen Lara. It is speculated to be a new virus that affects amoeba, a water-dwelling animal. Scientists are puzzled as researchers have found that 90% of Yaravirus genes have never been seen before, making it wholly unique. The new virus which is only 80 nanometers in diameter or about 0.1% the thickness of a human hair has the ability to infect other amoebas. But there is no indication that the virus is a risk to humans, researchers said.

IAF pilots picked for Gaganyaan started training in Russia
The four Indian Air Force pilots have been chosen as an astronaut trainee for India’s first manned space mission Gaganyaan have commenced their full-fledged training at Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC) in Russia. Read MoreRussian cosmonaut and aerospace medicine expert Valeriyevich Kotov had helped ISRO in shortlisting the four pilots for training from a field of 60 who were sent to undergo the selection process. The pilots will return for a mission in India after a training period of one year from GCTC. The Union Cabinet had sanctioned Rs.10,000 crore for ISRO’s ambitious Gaganyaan Mission. This has been scheduled to be launched in December 2021 or early 2022 ahead of the 75th Independence Day deadline fixed by PM Narendra Modi.

Drexel University researchers show how cold plasma can eliminate PFAS in water
Researchers from Drexel University have found a way to destroy stubbornly resilient toxic compounds, ominously dubbed “forever chemicals,” that have contaminated the drinking water of millions across the United States by treating it with a blast of charged gas, called cold plasma. Read MoreThese chemicals, commonly called PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) were used for some 60 years as coatings for nonstick pans and waterproof clothing and in fire-fighting foams. In the last two decades concerns about health risks associated with exposure to PFAS have led to federal bans, monitoring mandates and massive remediation efforts as these substances have a complex structure making them difficult to break down. Although the cold plasma blast technique has been a success at experimental level but will it be equally efficient at large scale as well is still a mystery.

Toxin From Rattlesnake Venom to Treat Chronic Pain
Crotoxin, extracted from the venom of the South American rattlesnake, has been studied for almost a century for its analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and antitumor activities however the toxicity of crotoxin limits its medicinal use. Read MoreResearchers Butantan Institute succeeded in reducing the toxicity and potentiating the analgesic effect of crotoxin by encapsulating it in nanostructured silica the results of tests in an animal model of neuropathic pain are promising. Because silica influences the immune response, the researchers decided to see whether the defense against toxicity it triggers would end up hindering crotoxin’s beneficial action but after various tests this possibility was ruled out in the study. Although Crotoxin is a large molecule with a complex structure that’s hard to replicate in the laboratory, scaled-up use is a long way off. Still this is considered a great success for medical treatment.

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