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 Third – 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)

Politics

Bihar education minister resigns 3 days after appointment

The newly appointed Education Minister of Bihar Mewalal Choudhury resigned from his post following allegations of corruption against him. He was among the 14 ministers who were sworn in on November 16 as part of Nitish Kumar’s new term as Bihar chief minister. Soon after he resigned following corruption charges, Congress took a swipe at the NDA alliance asking whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar are the “real culprits” for appointing him as a minister three days ago. Read MoreChaudhary expressed dismay over the controversy and told journalists that he was neither convicted by a court nor named in any charge sheet filed by the investigating agency in connection with irregularities that allegedly took place at an agriculture university a few years ago while he was its vice-chancellor. His resignation was accepted by Bihar Governor Phagu Chauhan on the recommendation of Chief Minister Kumar.

Donald Trump will be remembered as the most irresponsible president: Joe Biden

The United States President-elect Joe Biden said that President Donald Trump’s refusal to authorize an orderly transition of power ensured that he would be remembered as “one of the most irresponsible presidents in American history”. This statement from Biden comes days after Donald Trump refused to concede his defeat to Biden by making debunked allegations like the US elections were rigged. Pointing towards the delayed transition process, the president-elect said that this delay is making it harder for him to plan an effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic.Read More ‘This delay can also slow the nationwide distribution of Coronavirus vaccine,’ he added. Americans are “witnessing incredible irresponsibility, incredibly damaging messages being sent to the rest of the world about how democracy functions,” Biden said. “I don’t know his motive, but I just think it’s irresponsible.”

Ivanka Trump calls New York fraud inquiries ‘harassment’

Ivanka Trump called New York state investigations into her father’s business dealings “harassment,” seeming to confirm that the probes now include tax write-offs that appear to involve her. The New York Times said there were twin New York investigations, one criminal and one civil. The criminal inquiry, led by the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr, and a civil investigation by the state attorney general, Letitia James, are just some of the many legal challenges that will probably face the president and his family business when he returns to being a private citizen. Read MoreThey both are separately investigating whether Donald Trump manipulated company finances to avoid tax. “This is harassment pure and simple,” Ivanka Trump said on Twitter that this ‘inquiry’ by NYC democrats is 100% motivated by politics, publicity and rage.

Indian lawyer ‘sues’ Barack Obama for insulting leaders in memoir

A lawyer has filed a civil suit against former US President Barack Obama’s latest book ‘The Promised Land’ in which he has mentioned Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. The lawyer has alleged in his petition that what Obama has said about Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi is humiliating and an attack on the sovereignty of the country. He has claimed that there are millions of supporters of these leaders and they feel hurt by the remarks made in Obama’s book. Read MoreIn his book he has remembered Manmohan Singh as a “man with uncommon wisdom” and also mentioned that Singh owed his position to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. Referring to Rahul Gandhi, the former US president has written: “Rahul Gandhi has a nervous, unformed quality about him, as if, he were a student who’d done the coursework and was eager to impress the teacher but deep down lacked either the aptitude or the passion to master the subject.”  The case has been scheduled for hearing on December 1.

US got first woman Vice President now, India got woman PM 50 years ago

Kamala Harris became the US’ first woman Vice-President. On the birth anniversary of former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, her granddaughter and Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi reminded the world that the US might have got its first woman vice president now, India had got her first woman prime minister 50 years ago. Born on November 19, 1917, Indira Gandhi was the daughter of independent India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and was the first and only woman Prime Minister of India. Read MoreTaking to Twitter, Gandhi wrote in Hindi: “Kamala Harris became US’ first woman Vice-President. On the anniversary of Indira Gandhi, it should be realised that India had chosen a women Prime Minister 50 years ago. Indira Gandhi’s courage and strength will always be an inspiration for women worldwide.

Science and Technology

Microplastics found around Mount Everest’s death zone

Scientists have identified the highest recorded microplastics ever found on Earth at an altitude of more than 8,000metres, close to the summit of Mount Everest. Samples collected from Earth’s highest point — the death zone of Mount Everest revealed substantial quantities of polyester, acrylic, nylon, and polypropylene fibers. It’s called the ‘death zone’ because that’s where the level of oxygen is insufficient to sustain human life over an extended period. Read MoreResearchers have suggested the plastics could have been transported from lower altitudes by the extreme winds which regularly impact the mountain’s higher slopes and fibers could have fragmented from larger items during expeditions to reach the summit. There is now global recognition of the need to take action, with Nepal itself imposing regulations on climbing expeditions to try and curb the environmental problems created by waste.

Another COVID-19 vaccine, from newcomer Moderna appears effective

Preliminary results indicate that the coronavirus vaccine by Moderna Inc. is nearly 95 percent effective in preventing sickness. These results are the “first clinical validation that our vaccine can prevent COVID-19 disease,” says Stéphane Bancel in a news release. Bancel is the company’s chief executive officer. In the coming weeks, both Moderna and Pfizer plan to apply for this early use of their new vaccines. Read MoreModerna’s results come from an analysis of 95 coronavirus cases. Based on those data, the vaccine appears 94.5 percent effective. But those numbers could change because the trial is still ongoing. The Pfizer/BioNTech collaboration first gave the pandemic-fatigued world a shot of hope when it reported that its vaccine candidate, a strand of messenger RNA (mRNA) wrapped within a lipid particle, had an efficacy of greater than 90%.

India becomes 4th nation to get IMO nod for navigation satellite system

India has become the fourth country in the world to have its independent regional navigation satellite system recognised by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) as a part of the World Wide Radio Navigation System (WWRNS). The other three countries that already have its navigation systems recognised by the IMO are the US, Russia and China. Read MoreThe union government calling it a significant achievement towards the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ said, “The Maritime Safety Committee of IMO during its recent meeting held from 4 to 11 November 2020 has approved the recognition of the IRNSS as a component of the World-wide radio navigation system.”

NASA Reveals Pollution Levels Changed Due to COVID-19 Lockdown

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, space- and ground-based observations have shown that Earth’s atmosphere has seen significant reductions in some air pollutants. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has an exact figure of the pollution deviation this year. The data reveals how much pollution would have occurred if we were not facing a pandemic and the percentage drop in nitrogen dioxide emissions in different nations compared to their usual emission percentage. Read MoreNASA researchers found that since February, pandemic restrictions have reduced global nitrogen dioxide concentrations by nearly 20%. The NASA statement states that air pollutant is “primarily produced by the combustion of fossil fuels used by industry and transportation” and since there was a sudden halt in both at the height of the pandemic, a significant drop in the level was seen.

Higher Temperature is a new concern for vaccines

Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine might work as well as one made by Pfizer and BioNTech means the world could have two powerful weapons to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the next concern is heat temperature. Both vaccines use a novel technology—strands of messenger RNA (mRNA), held within lipid particles—that is vulnerable to degradation at room temperature and requires doses to be frozen for transportation, then thawed for use. That’s where the Moderna vaccine may have an edge: Unlike Pfizer’s and BioNTech’s offering, it does not have to be stored at –70°C, but can tolerate a much warmer –20°C, which is standard for most hospital and pharmacy freezers. Read MoreThat difference means Moderna’s vaccine should be easier to distribute and store, particularly in the rural United States and developing countries that lack ultracold freezers. Hence various vaccine types have different temperature requirements for storage and transport.

Business

Reliance-Future retail gets CCI nod, despite Amazon’s objections

Despite Amazon’s requests to various Indian regulators to take note of an interim stay awarded by the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC), on Future Group-Reliance Industries deal, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) has approved Reliance’s proposed acquisition of retail, wholesale, logistics and warehousing businesses of Future Group. The retail business will then be transferred to Reliance in a slump sale for nearly Rs Rs 24,713 crore. Read MoreFuture is trying to get out of its debt trap with the deal, while Reliance is looking to consolidate its position as the country’s largest organised retailer. Reliance Retail Ventures will acquire the retail assets of Future Group in a deal that will see five listed entities, including Future Retail, folded into Future Enterprises Ltd (FEL), which currently houses the group’s retail back-end infrastructure.

Amazon launches AFBP to prepare MBA graduates for leadership roles at the company

The e-commerce giant Amazon has launched its flagship leadership development programme ‘Amazon Future Builders Program’ (AFBP) for students enrolled in B-Schools in India, including IIMs, ISB and XLRI and prepare them for leadership roles at the company. The programme will consist of a two-month incubator period, followed by a 24-30 month period of domain expertise in particular lines of business (LoBs). Interested students can connect with their placement cell in their respective institutes, following which selected candidates will be invited to take an online assessment and video/phone interviews. Read MorePost completion of their course, these selected students will start with the AFBP incubator. Candidates will learn about AWS, consumer, HR, advertising, devices, operations, finance and video. Students will also learn about Amazon’s ‘Day 1’ philosophy, the company culture, and get acquainted with the processes and mechanisms that Amazonians use every day, the tech giant said.

Jaguar Seeks to Block U.S. Imports of Porsche, Audi SUVs

Jaguar Land Rover Automotive PLC filed a complaint with the US International Trade Commission to block imports of Volkswagen Group’s Porsche, Lamborghini, Audi and Volkswagen sport utility vehicles (SUV). The complaint says that it is using its patented Terrain Response system without permission. JLR, owned by India’s Tata Motors, said in its filing with the U.S. International Trade Commission that the technology helps negotiate a “broad range of surfaces” and is a key feature in Jaguar’s F-Pace and Land Rover Discovery vehicles. Read MoreThe International Trade Commission cannot award damages but has the power to block products from entering the U.S. Jaguar has also filed patent lawsuits against the companies in federal courts in New Jersey and Delaware seeking cash compensation. Those cases are likely to be put on hold once the trade commission launches its investigation.

RBI panel clears banking license for large industries

A Reserve Bank of India (RBI) panel has recommended giving banking licensing policy for private banks and suggested allowing large corporate and industrial houses to float banks in India after suitable amendments to the Banking Regulation Act potentially allowing the Aditya Birla group, the Tata group and Reliance Industries Ltd to apply for banking licences. The panel has also suggested that large non-bank lenders with asset sizes of more than ₹50,000 crore, including those owned by corporates, should be considered for conversion into banks, provided they have completed 10 years of operation. Read MoreThe RBI committee has also recommended that after 15 years, promoters should be allowed to hold up to 26%, instead of the current cap of 15%, a move that will help the promoters exploit the upside in a bank.

Economics

JPMorgan becomes first major bank to say First-Quarter GDP will decline

JPMorgan, in its 2021 outlook, now says first-quarter growth will be negative due to the spreading virus and associated restrictions. The economists expect the first quarter to contract by 1% after growth of 2.8% in the fourth quarter. For the second quarter of 2021, they see the economy rallying and growth of 4.5% followed by a robust 6.5% in the third quarter. The economists also expect about $1 trillion of fiscal stimulus, likely beginning near the end of the first quarter. Read MoreThat should help boost mid-year growth. They mentioned they anticipate the economic system to broaden briskly within the second and third quarter, based mostly on constructive vaccine developments. The economists also expect to see monthly declines in employment at different points over the next few months, but monthly job gains should be back in the millions around the middle of the year and then moderate again late in 2021.

US and Taiwan sign blueprint for economic ties, despite China’s warning

Despite strong criticism of China, the United States and Taiwan signed a blueprint for closer economic ties in Washington. The move is expected to draw outrage from Beijing which has been constantly opposing official exchanges between the two regions. The memorandum of understanding signed by both sides – during the inaugural talks over a US-Taiwan Economic Prosperity Partnership Dialogue – included healthcare, semiconductors, 5G infrastructure, energy sectors, and supply-chain security.  “We end up in a radically changing world with new difficulties to basic liberties, network protection, financial security and international affairs,” Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan’s authentic delegate in Washington, said in an assertion. Read MoreIn this way the present discourse comes at an ideal opportunity to examine how we could cooperate to address these difficulties. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin warned last week that the partnership risks damaging Washington-Beijing relations.

Jobless claims increase to 742,00 as pandemic worsens

The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid rose last week to 742,000, the first increase in five weeks and a sign that the resurgent viral outbreak is likely slowing the economy and forcing more companies to cut jobs. The worsening pandemic and the arrival of cold weather could accelerate layoffs in the weeks ahead. Of the roughly 20 million Americans now receiving some form of unemployment benefits, about half will lose those benefits when two federal programs expire at the end of the year.  Yet that extended benefit program is one of two federal supports that are set to expire at year’s end, eliminating benefits for 9.1 million people, according to the report. Read MoreCongress has so far failed to agree on any new stimulus package for jobless individuals and struggling businesses. The cutoff of aid will sharply reduce income for the unemployed, force a further reduction in their spending and perhaps weaken the economy.

India’s overall spending on health sector is low

India’s overall spending on the health sector is “low” and the situation must be “corrected”, says NITI Ayog Health member VK Paul. Further, said that the government may target the primary healthcare sector and the private sector should focus on the secondary and tertiary healthcare sector. In secondary and tertiary healthcare, there is a huge scope for expansion, he noted. Emphasizing that there is a need to enhance spending on health, he said the COVID-19 experience will justify an increase in expenditure on the health sector. Read MoreCiting the National Health Mission (NHM) document, Mr. Paul said India’s expenditure on the health sector should be to the tune of 3% by 2025. We all need to request both the union and state governments’ to enhance the expenditure on health, he said, adding that post-COVID-19, there will be a way to increase healthcare sector infrastructure.

Economy ‘losing momentum’ amid virus second wave

The global economic recovery may be losing momentum as coronavirus infections surge again, the International Monetary Fund has warned. Fund chief Kristalina Georgieva said more economic help is needed, and warned countries against withdrawing aid too soon. Recent progress towards a vaccine has raised hopes of a return to normal. But despite those steps, “the economic path ahead remains difficult and prone to setbacks,” she said. The IMF has predicted the world economy will shrink by 4.4% this year in the worst annual plunge since the 1930s. Read More It expects growth of 5.2% next year, but said recovery is likely to be “partial and uneven”. Except for China, economic activity next year is likely to remain below 2019 levels in most major economies, the IMF said in a report prepared for this weekend’s upcoming summit of the G-20 nations. Growth could slow further if countries must maintain social restrictions for longer than expect.

Finance

India’s losing Rs 75,000 crore in taxes every year

India is losing over USD 10.3 billion (about Rs 75,000 crore) in taxes every year owing to global tax abuse by MNCs and evasion by private individuals, a  State of Tax Justice report said. Globally countries are losing a total of over USD 427 billion in taxes each year to international corporate tax abuse and private tax evasion, the report further added. Of this, over $10 billion is lost to tax abuse by multinational corporations (MNCs) and $200 million to tax evasion committed by private individuals. Read MoreThe social impact of the lost tax is equivalent to 44.70% of the health budget and 10.68 per cent of education spending. It also equals paying yearly salaries of over 42.30 lakh nurses. The report highlights the state of global tax abuse and governments’ efforts to tackle the menace.

TCS Shareholders Approve Up to Rs 16,000 Crore Share Buyback Plan

India’s largest IT services firm Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) said its shareholders have approved its up to Rs 16,000 crore share buyback plan. Last month, TCS’ board of directors had approved a proposal to buy back up to 5,33,33,333 equity shares of the company at Rs 3,000 per scrip for an aggregate amount not exceeding Rs 16,000 crore.  The voting, which started on October 20 and ended on November 18, saw 99.57% of the votes being cast in favour of the buyback offer. Read MoreThere was 100% voting in favour of the proposal by the promoters, 98.11% by public institutional shareholders and 98.43% by other shareholders. The company had said its buyback offer was part of its long-term capital allocation policy of returning excess cash to shareholders.

Mastercard USAID join hands for Project Kirana to empower women financial inclusion

Global payments technology major Mastercard has joined hands with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for the Project Kirana that will help increase revenue streams, expand financial inclusion and digital payments adoption of kirana shops that are owned or operated by women. As many as 3,000 such women are targeted to be enrolled under this project in certain places in Uttar Pradesh to begin with. Mastercard said that around the world, gender inequality limited women-owned businesses’ ability to launch, grow and thrive. So Project Kirana under the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative (W-GDP) will help address the gaps. Read MoreThe two-year programme will be implemented by DAI and ACCESS Development Services in select cities of Uttar Pradesh, including Lucknow, Kanpur and Varanasi. The programme will focus on building financial and digital literacy skills on banking, digital payments, saving, credit and insurance.

RBI imposes Rs 5 lakh penalty on Nissan Renault Financial Services India

The Reserve Bank of India has imposed a penalty of Rs 5 lakh on Chennai-based Nissan Renault Financial Services India Private Limited for non-compliance with the central bank’s directions contained in Non-Banking Financial Company – Systemically Important Non-Deposit taking Company and Deposit taking Company (Reserve Bank) Directions, 2016 on Fair Practices Code for relevant NBFCs. Read MoreThis action is based on deficiencies in regulatory compliance and is not intended to pronounce upon the validity of any transaction or agreement entered into by the company with its customers, according to a RBI report. RBI has said a notice was issued to the company to show a cause as to why penalty should not be imposed for failure to comply with the directions issued by it.

Punjab & Sind Bank to Raise up to Rs 5,500 via preferential issue

The board of state owned Punjab & Sind Bank has approved a proposal to raise up to Rs 5,500 crore by issuing shares on preferential shares. This approval is in line with the government sanction to infuse Rs 5,500 crores in the bank towards contribution of the Centre in the preferential allotment of equity shares during FY2020-21. Read MoreThe bank said that the clear agenda is to offer, issue, create and allot equity shares up to Rs 5,500 crore including share premium to the Government of India by way of preferential issue of equity shares.” The fund will help the bank meet its regulatory and growth capital.

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