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 Second – 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 Mehak Gupta, Nikunj Gulati and Kanika)


Nitish Kumar to become Bihar CM

Hours after the NDA was declared a winner in the Bihar polls, defying exit polls predictions and a strong anti-incumbency in Bihar, JDU president Nitish Kumar is all set to take oath as the Chief Minister for the seventh time as the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) got a clear majority, winning 125 seats in the 243-member Assembly. There is no confusion on the issue of Nitish Kumar as Chief Minister of Bihar. The decision was taken before the polls and it will remain the same,” Sushil Kumar Modi, Deputy CM of Bihar told reporters. Read MoreModi’s clarification comes in the backdrop of media speculation that Kumar would think of crossing over to the other side of the BJP claimed the chief minister’s post. If Nitish Kumar completes this term, he will become the longest-serving Chief Minister of Bihar, breaking the record set by the 18-year tenure of the state’s first CM, S.K. Sinha.

Joe Biden elected as US president decisively : Kamala Harris

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris has said that Americans have made a clear choice in favor of Joe Biden, who won decisively against incumbent President Donald Trump with more votes than ever cast in the country’s history. These remarks come amid Donald Trump’s reluctance to admit defeat in the Presidential polls and his administration effort to undo former President Barack Obama’s signature health law. Our country had a clear choice in this election. Every vote for Joe Biden was a statement that healthcare in America should be a right and not a privilege, she said. Read MoreThe Trump administration wants to strike down the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, that covers more than 23 million people. Harris said that healthcare was very much on the ballot during the closely-contested election. As Biden’s vice president, Harris, will make history in myriad ways, becoming the first woman to occupy the office.

Indian-American Chief of Staff to act as US Defence Secretary

Indian-American Kash Patel has been named as the Chief of Staff to the acting US Defence Secretary Chris Miller. The new appointment from the Pentagon comes a day after Donald Trump fired Defence Secretary Mark Esper and designated the National Counter Terrorism Center Director, Chris Miller, as the Acting Secretary of Defence took over the functions and responsibilities of the new role. Read MoreKashyap Pramod Patel or popularly known as Kash Patel had previously served as senior counsel for Counterterrorism at the House Permanent Select Committee. He was appointed as senior director of the Counterterrorism Directorate of the National Security Council (NSC) in the White House in June 2019.

Europe welcomes Biden’s win after four fractious years of Trump

European leaders have warmly congratulated Democrat Joe Biden following his projected election win, a victory that comes after four years of fractious relations with President Donald Trump. Trade has been one of the most contentious issues for the U.S. and Europe over the last four years. Trump ended talks over a U.S.-EU trade deal, imposed higher tariffs on imported European steel and aluminum products, and threatened to do the same on European car imports and changed its position on international trade, favoring bilateral agreements and using the imposition of import tariffs to put pressure on trading partners and to promote an “America First” agenda. Read MoreHowever, they are hoping the relationship will improve following Biden’s win, according to NBC projections. Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, spoke about a “renewed” partnership between the U.S. and Europe when congratulating President-elect Biden for the victory.

Science and Technology

New Pfizer vaccine appears 90% effective against COVID-19

The race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine entered its final sprint as Pfizer and the German biotech company BioNTech co-developed the new vaccine. These companies shared their news in a press release. In it, they described preliminary results of their ongoing Phase III clinical trial. An early analysis of its coronavirus vaccine trial suggested the vaccine was robustly effective in preventing Covid-19, a promising development as the world has waited anxiously for any positive news about a pandemic that has killed more than 1.2 million people. Read MoreThe company said that the analysis found that the vaccine was more than 90% effective in preventing the disease among trial volunteers who had no evidence of prior coronavirus infection. If the results hold up, that level of protection would put it on par with highly effective childhood vaccines for diseases such as measles. No serious safety concerns have been observed, the company said.

ISRO successfully launches earth observation satellite EOS-01

After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, ISRO carried out its first launch on November 7.  It launched the EOS-1 Earth observation satellite and nine smaller payloads into orbit. As reported by Spacenews, the launch was scheduled for late 2019 but got delayed due to COVID-19. Roughly weighing 628-kilogram, EOS-01 is part of ISRO’s RISAT series of SAR satellites. It is a synthetic aperture radar satellite with all-weather and day-and-night observation capability. Read MoreThe intended applications of EOS-1 are agriculture, forestry, and disaster management. At least ten space missions were delayed for launch this year since the COVID-19 lockdown came into force. ISRO Chairman K Sivan was quoted saying after the launch that the mission was extremely special and unusual, as space activity cannot be done from ‘work from home’. Hence, each engineer had to be present at the lab and had to work together, he added.

Jupiter’s Icy Moon Europa can Illuminate on its Own in Dark
Europa—one of Jupiter’s 79 moons—has already shown glimmers of its potential to support life. Scientists have already deciphered that beneath its frozen crust there is a vast ocean, which could host some form of life. Now, scientists have found that the ice-covered in its surface may actually glow in the dark—giving Europa a perky look. The study, conducted by scientists from the US space agency NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, can further help shed light on the compositions of ice on Europa’s surface. Read MoreThrough the lab-based experiments, it is determined how this glow will actually look like. This glow is due to the high level of radiation emitted by Jupiter. The high energy radiations continuously bombard the icy surface with electrons day and night, and interact with the molecules present beneath and brighten the ice scattered on its surface. To the naked eyes, the glow might actually appear slightly green or blue and these colours may appear to vary based on the brightness.

Independent Review Indicates NASA Prepared for Mars Sample Return Campaign

An independent review report released by NASA indicating the agency is now ready to undertake its Mars Sample Return (MSR) campaign to bring pristine samples from Mars to Earth for scientific study. The agency established the MSR Independent Review Board (IRB) to evaluate its early concepts for a groundbreaking, international partnership with ESA (European Space Agency) to return the first samples from another planet. Read MoreThe first step in the Mars Sample Return project requires the Perseverance rover to perform a safe landing on the planet and ensure that all of its hardware is working as intended. Eventually, the rover will snatch samples of the planet’s surface and then secure them in containers that will eventually be sent back to Earth.


Reliance Industries to infuse up to $50 mn in Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures

Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries Limited has announced that it is going to make a contribution of up to $50 million in Breakthrough Energy Ventures. Breakthrough Energy is newly incorporated under Delaware state laws. The capital contribution will be for a limited partnership with the US-based firm and will be done in tranches over the next 8-10 years.  BEV is a global group of 28 high net-worth investors from ten countries committed to find solutions to the climate crisis by flexibly investing to develop breakthrough energy and agriculture technologies. Read MoreThe company will invest the funds raised from the investors to support innovation in clean energy solutions. Though the deal between Reliance and BEV has been made, the transaction is subject to approval from the Reserve Bank of India.

Alibaba, JD set new records to rack up record $115 billion of sales on Singles Day as regulations loom
Chinese e-commerce giants Alibaba and racked up around $115 billion in sales across their platforms during the Singles Day shopping event, both setting new records. Alibaba said its total gross merchandise value (GMV) over the 11-day Singles Day event totalled 498.2 billion yuan or $74.1 billion. While’s transaction volume over the same period was 271.5 billion yuan or $40.97 billion. However, it was overshadowed by huge stock price falls for both  e-commerce giants which came after Chinese regulators released draft rules that define what constitutes anti-competitive behavior. Read MoreInvestors fear that China’s technology giants could get caught up in tough regulations which could damage their business. Due to the travel restrictions, chinese shoppers who would usually be going abroad to buy foreign products, were expected to purchase them in China which could have been a major driving factor to boost sales.

Amazon accuses Future Retail of Insider Trading
Amazon has asked market regulator SEBI to investigate a possible violation of insider trading norms by Future Retail. The American e-commerce giant has alleged that Future Retail of breaching confidentiality by leaking price sensitive details of an injunction granted by Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) to Reliance Industries Ltd to block the deal that future Group has signed a pact for selling its retail business to Reliance Industries Ltd for Rs 24,713 crore. Future Group, however, denied the charges, saying these allegations were “Amazon’s ill-motivated attempts to throw everything at the situation to stultify the transaction.” Read MoreThe court held that it can’t examine the legality of an arbitral award till it isn’t contested, Amazon has insisted on enforcement of the Singapore arbitral award. Amazon submitted that the definition of “arbitral tribunal” in Indian law includes emergency arbitrators, hence it has full rights to write letters to regulators SEBI and CCI to stop the Future Group-Reliance deal. Amazon, Reliance and Walmart Inc’s Flipkart are locked in a battle to gain market share in India. The stakes are particularly high for Amazon, which believes India is a big growth market after shutting its online store in China last year.

Air India to raise short-term loans of Rs 6,150 crore
Debt laden carrier Air India has sought government-guaranteed loans of Rs 6,150 crore through short-term loan (STL) from domestic lenders by the end of this month to repay its aircraft debt towards six of its Boeing 787 and one Boeing 777 planes. According to the bid document, Air India will raise the total amount in seven tranches, which would consist of tree tranches of ₹790 crore each, three tranches of ₹925 crore each, and one tranche of ₹1,005 crore. Read MoreThis is the first time Air India is approaching lenders to raise money since the coronavirus pandemic struck the aviation sector which has forced the government to delay the airline’s privatisation process four times by now. So far, Air India has received an equity infusion of ₹30,520.21 crore till date from the government since FY 2011-12, which includes financial support and cash support.

NPCI enforces 30% cap on share of UPI transactions; Companies plan to develop UPI alternative

The National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), which recently announced a 30% cap on the total volume of UPI (unified payments interface) transactions through third-party app providers (TPAPs) starting January 2021, is likely to enforce these rules by moderating the onboarding of new customers by these applications when they approach the 30% market share threshold. Although the existing UPI apps still have 2 years to implement this new rule, new entrants such as Whatsapp Pay will need to follow this rule immediately. Read MoreThe 30% cap for hinders them from expanding their existing services, and stops them from rolling out loyalty programs and features, since they cannot go beyond 30% share. In a twist of events, digital and Internet’s global giants are planning to launch an alternative to UPI, and fighting the dominance of NPCI in the digital payments industry. Besides this other parties like HDFC, TCS and others are also interested to develop a UPI-alternative.


Centre announces ₹10,000 cr boost for rural economy
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has announced an additional ₹10,000 crore to boost rural employment and accelerate growth in the rural economy. The ₹10,000 crore is to be funnelled into the rural sector through the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Rojgar Yojana. The funds ars expected to be used for Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) and the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna. Read MoreMGNREGS is seen to have helped reduce rural distress during lockdown following the coronavirus outbreak, which had led to migrants going home to their villages in the wake of the closure of factories and businesses. ₹73,504 crore had been released to states under MGNREGS, resulting in the creation of 2.51 billion person-days of employment. This will further accelerate growth of the rural economy, the finance minister said.

12 Major state may to cut capex by up to Rs 2.7 lakh crore in FY21: ICRA

Due to the stress on finances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, ratings firm ICRA has cautioned that the capital expenditure (capex) of 12 major state governments is expected to decline by Rs 2.5-2.7 lakh crore in the current financial year. The agency has also projected the aggregate debt of these states to deteriorate sharply to 28.9% of the gross state domestic product (GSDP) in FY21 from 22.3% in FY20. Read MoreShortfalls in state goods and service tax collections, sales tax or value-added tax and central tax devolution have contributed to the contraction. The study covered Andhra Pradesh,Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal whose combined GSDPs accounted for three-fourths of India’s GDP in FY19.

UK out of recession but growth slows in September

The UK economy has rebounded out of recession after growing by a record 15.5% in the three months from July to September. The third-quarter growth was the highest since records began in 1955, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). However the pace of growth has started to slow after a boost from the Eat Out to Help Out scheme and summer staycations faded – and hopes for a so-called “V-shaped recovery” have been dashed after the announcement of a new lockdown. Read MoreGDP is widely expected to go into reverse again in the final quarter of 2020 – though there are hopes that after that a new vaccine could see the economy return to pre-COVID levels more quickly than previously expected. But if the vaccine doesn’t prove to be successful economists warn the economy is likely to shrink again after England’s second Covid-19 lockdown.

Fin Min seeks public suggestions for Union Budget 2021-22
The Finance Ministry has sought ideas, suggestions, proposals for Annual Budget 2021-22. A micro-site on MyGov platform which will go live on Sunday, and will remain open till the month-end to receive suggestions from industry bodies and experts on the Union Budget 2021-22, instead of physical pre-Budget consultations that have been happening over the years, owing to the pandemic situation. It is done in order to make the Annual Budget consultations more “participatory and democratic by taking it closer to the people of India.” Read MoreThe submissions will be further examined by the concerned Ministries/Departments of Government of India. If required, individuals may be contacted on the email/mobile no. provided at the time of registration to seek clarification on their submissions. The Union Budget 2021-22 is expected to be tabled in Parliament on February 1.


TCS is saving 1,500 German jobs with just over $1

Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) agreed to acquire Postbank Systems (PBS), the technology services unit of Deutsche Bank for one euro ($1.18 or Rs88). With this deal, TCS will salvage around 1,500 jobs, which would have been trimmed as part of Deutsche Bank’s restructuring announced last July. The PBS acquisition will strengthen TCS’s position in the German market and would add $310 million to revenue in 2021. TCS, which first entered Germany in 1990, lists Deutsche Bank among its 100 clients in the country. Now, the company ranks as the fastest-growing IT service provider in Germany. Read MoreThe PBS acquisition will strengthen TCS’s position in the German market and would add $310 million to revenue in 2021. We are pleased to deepen our long-standing partnership with Deutsche Bank, continue to help accelerate their digital transformation, and to acquire market-specific capabilities in the banking domain,” N.G. Subramaniam, chief operating officer and executive director for TCS, said in a press release. The PBS acquisition will strengthen TCS’s position in the German market and would add $310 million to revenue in 2021.

Cabinet Approves Production-Linked Incentive Scheme For 10 Sectors

The Union Cabinet has approved Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme worth Rs 2 lakh crore for 10 sectors to boost India’s manufacturing capabilities and enhance exports. It is unlike other schemes, is an outcome- and output-oriented program where manufacturers get cash incentives over 5-7 years for production. The final proposal of the PLI scheme for individual sectors will be approved by an empowered finance committee and Union cabinet. Read MoreThe concerned departments and ministers will start implementing schemes immediately, Sitharaman added. There is no cap on the number of companies that will be eligible for PLI under each category, for now, she added. The scheme has already been announced for implementation in the electronics manufacturing sector.

CARE upgrades ratings on various Yes Bank debt instruments

CARE Ratings revised its rating of private lender YES Bank’s debt instrument. The credit rating agency upgraded YES Bank’s infrastructure bonds rating to ‘CARE BBB’ from the previous ‘CARE B’. A similar rating was assigned on lower tier-II bonds and tier-II bonds. The outlook on YES Bank’s ratings was changed to stable. Additionally, CARE has given ‘CARE BB+’ rating each on Yes Bank’s upper tier-II bonds and perpetual bonds from previous ‘CARE D’. It hits 5% upper circuit as CARE upgrades debt instrument rating. CARE said the ratings remained constrained on account of stressed asset quality parameters as well as expected higher credit costs in the near to medium term on account of the Covid-19 related stress on the advances book. Read MoreThe bank has seen a significant decline in the scale of operations with a sizable decline in its deposit base especially during the period from January to March; however, the bank has been able to increase its deposits from April to September.

More money in-hand for employees

The central government will make the employees’ provident fund (EPF) contributions of employees and employers for two years. Ordinarily, employees have to contribute 12 percent of their salary towards EPF and employers have to match this contribution every month. So, now, the government will take care of the aggregate contribution of 24 percent. However, it has laid out a list of parameters for organizations to be eligible for this scheme.  For one, the benefits will be restricted to employees who earn up to Rs 15,000 a month. Read MoreMore importantly, it will apply only to new employees who have been hired after October 1, 2020. In the case of companies with employee strength of up to 1,000, the government will pick up the tabs for the employee as well as employer contributions. For establishments employing over 1,000 staff, only employee contributions will be financed by the government. The objective of the move is to create more jobs, but for such employees, this will also translate into more money in their hands every month.

Sundaram Home Finance to raise Rs 2,000 crore

Sundaram Home Finance, a subsidiary of Sundaram Finance Ltd, has said it will raise Rs 2,000 crore in the second half of the year through a mix of debt instruments and bank funding, as part of funding its growth plans. In the first half of the year, SHF had seen demand pick up from the non-metro towns and hopes that there is room to grow its business in these markets. It plans to raise ₹2,000 crores in the next six months to fund the growth plans.  It would continue to expand its presence in the four southern States, especially in tier-two and tier-three towns. Read MoreSundaram Home Finance has 115 branches across the country providing home loans, plot loans, home improvement and extension loans, and loans against property. On the impact of COVID-19, Lakshminarayanan Duraiswamy, MD, said that the housing segment is still under-penetrated in the country. “Given this scenario, I believe that Housing Finance as space will continue to grow.

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