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 Fifth- 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 and Creamy Garg)

Politics

Trump gives ‘Legion of Merit’ to PM Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was awarded the prestigious “Legion of Merit” by US President Donald Trump for his role and leadership in advancing strategic partnership of India and the US and his vision that accelerated India’s emergence and growth as a global power. Taranjit Singh Sandhu, India’s Ambassador to the US accepted the award from US National Security Advisor on behalf of the PM at the White House. The award was also presented to former Japanese PM Shinzo Abe and Australian PM Scott Morrison.

The awards were important considering that the US, India, Japan and Australia constitute of “Quad” group of countries, an alternative to Chinese domination in the Indo-Pacific region. Mr. Modi took to Twitter to express that he was deeply honored by the award. While India-US ties had its own challenges in trade, security relations grew several-fold under Trump administration. 

Nepal PM calls for new elections
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and strained relations with India, Nepal has plunged into another political crisis as the PM KP Sharma Oli dissolved the parliament this week and announced elections to be held in April-May 2021, a year ahead of scheduled  time. This decision has come after hundreds of Nepali people were taking it to streets of Kathmandu since November 2020 demanding re-establishment of constitutional monarchy due to the failed attempts of current political parties to cater to public interests. Read MoreHowever, major reason behind this political development is the power tussle within the ruling party with respect to the recent ordinance passed by govt. to amend the Constitution al Council Act last week. Mr. Oli had reportedly agreed to withdraw the ordinance in a party meeting but to everyone’s unexpectedness, the cabinet recommended the dissolution of Parliament which was later cleared by the President and now, the issue leaves to be resolved by the Supreme Court.

J&K DDC Polls results declared
The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) have swept the first-ever District Development Council (DDC) polls held in Jammu and Kashmir after the state lost its special status to abrogation of Article 370. The Farooq Abdullah-led seven-party coalition, which comprises Abdullah’s National Conference (NC), and Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP), has won 110 seats. Read MoreThe BJP has, meanwhile, bagged 75 seats after securing the largest vote share in the polls. Out of the 278 seats for which results have been declared by the J-K Election Commission, Independents have won 50, Congress 26, Apni Party 12, PDF and the National Panthers Party two each and the BSP one seat. The results of two constituencies – one each in Bandipora and Kupwara districts of north Kashmir – are still awaited as counting of votes has been deferred there until further orders. Both the BJP and the People’s Alliance have termed the poll results as their success.

Britain Faces Major Brexit Challenges After Last Minute Deal
Britain is set for a new chapter after securing a hard-fought post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union as EU envoys awaited a briefing on an accord reached only after months of tortuous negotiations. The country will now not tumble off a trade “cliff-edge” come January 1, avoiding a mountain of tariffs and quotas. ReadMoreBut major changes are inevitable as Britain definitively quits the EU’s single market and free movement with the bloc comes to an end after nearly half a century of integration. Britain had been in a standstill transition period still subject to the bloc’s rules since formally leaving the EU on January 31. The EU has offered Britain unprecedented tariff- and quota-free access to its single market of 450 million consumers.

Farmer groups  call for boycott of Jio
The protest of farmers against the three bills enacted by Union Govt. has taken a bad turn with the aggravated farmers calling for boycott of Jio stores and products  as the farmers allege that Reliance will come out to be the major beneficiary out of the farm laws. However, several miscreants made the situation worse by sabotaging the Jio telecom towers at various places in disguise of ongoing farmer agitation. Read MoreThe Reliance Infocomm noted that atleast 200 sites had been vandalized in three days and there has been a damage between Rs 5 to 10 crore. The police chiefs were directed to ensure that further damage should not happen and question the farmer organizations in this regard. Even though the latter agreed on the call for boycott but made it clear that vandalism was never on their agenda and asked the miscreants to stop using their name for such actions.

 

Science and Technology

PTA issues notice to Google, Wikipedia for spreading sacrilegious content
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has issued a notice and criticized Google Inc and Wikipedia for disseminating sacrilegious content and demanding the immediate removal of such unlawful content to avoid legal action on Friday. The authority pointed out complaints of misleading search results on “present khalifa of Islam” and circulation of an unauthentic version of Holy Quran uploaded by Ahmedi community on the Google Play Store. Complaints were also received on hosting of caricatures of Holy Prophet and spreading misleading, wrong information through articles portraying Mirza Masroor Ahmed as Muslim. Read MorePakistan further stressed that if the two tech firms don’t take the necessary measures, action would be initiated under its Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 and Rules 2020. Pakistan earlier banned video platform TikTok over objectionable content and dating apps like Tinder and Grindr to restrict immoral and indecent content.

Scientists develop new gene therapy for deafness
An innovative treatment for deafness, based on the delivery of genetic material into the cells of inner ear, has been presented in a study from Tel Aviv University (TAU). This breakthrough involves replacement of genetic defect with the genetic material which enables the cells to continue functioning in a normal manner. Read MoreThis therapy cures a rare deafness caused by a mutation in the gene SYNE4  by creating a harmless synthetic virus and using it to deliver genetic material that is defective in the person. According to notable scientists in the field, the therapy can yield promising results and holds enormous potential for treatment of hearing disabilities. The scientists are now working on similar therapies for other deafness causing mutations as well.

Micro plastics found in placentas of unborn babies for first time
To the matter of extraordinary concern, researchers have found microplastic particles in the human placenta of unborn child. The particles were found in the placentas of four solid ladies who had typical pregnancies and births.Read More As indicated by an examination published in the journal Environment International , these particles, which may have been taken in by the mother, are fit for conveying synthetic compounds that could prompt long haul or upset the embryo’s creating the resistant framework. Their impact on the body is obscure and the researchers state that there is an immediate need to survey this issue.

New Coronavirus Strain, more Infectious than UK variant, Found in South Africa
A new, potentially more infectious variant of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has been found in Britain in cases linked to South Africa, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock has confirmed. South Africa’s health department confirmed last week that a new genetic mutation of the virus had been discovered and might be responsible for a recent surge in infections there. Read MoreClose contacts of those with the new variant and all those who have been in South Africa in the or were in close contact with someone who had, have been ordered a compulsory  quarantine. Immediate restrictions were being imposed on travel from South Africa, he added. Countries around the world have in recent days closed their borders to both Britain and South Africa following the identification of the new, fast-spreading variants of the coronavirus.

MediaTek Dimensity 1000+ SoC to power 5G in India by early 2021
Flagship phones powered with the MediaTek Dimensity 1000+ SoC will launch in the first few months of 2021 in India, according to an official statement by the company. MediaTek states that the new chipset will allow smartphone brands to deliver premium experiences to Indian customers and will come with integrated 5G. The Dimensity 1000+ chipset was launched back in May 2020 as a successor to the original Dimensity 1000 chipset. Built on the 7nm architecture, the 5G-enabled chipset is optimised for faster refresh rates and supports features like MediaTek’s HyperEngine 2.0, MiraVison Picture Quality and UltraSave Technology.Read More For a flagship mobile gaming experience, the chipset supports display panels with up to 144Hz refresh rate. The MediaTek Dimensity 1000+ is also optimized to automatically switch to 5G when gaming or on voice/video calls, and back to 4G when on standby to save power. The company also claims that the chipset will bring a stable 5G experience for users, with minimal interruption during voice calls and video calls. MediaTek also claims its new 5G UltraSave Technology is capable of saving a lot of battery power. The company claims the Dimensity 1000+ will consume 48 per cent lesser power than other flagship 5G chips. Meanwhile, MiraVison technology will improve the quality of pictures and enhance playback of videos on phones.

Business

In-person verification mandatory for GST Registration 
Businesses and applicants seeking Goods and Services Tax (GST) registration will now have to compulsorily physically verify their business premises for the same. Further, applicants opting for Aadhaar authentication will undergo biometric-based authentication at the facilitation centre notified by the Commissioner. According to the GST Council Secretariat, the decision was taken after following recommendations of the Law Committee of the GST Council to control GST fake invoice frauds. Read MoreThe Law Committee recommendations are focused on four central themes, suspension based on data analytics, tightening of the verification process, ease of doing business and minimum cash payment to deter dummy business. Alternatively, a rule of a minimum 1% payment of GST liability in cash instead of using input tax credits has been introduced for firms with monthly turnover exceeding Rs. 50 Lakh by the Central Board of Indirect Taxes (CBIT). Further, e-way bills have been changed doubling the distance to be covered from 100Km to 200Km from 2021. 

Airtel registers highest subscribers for the second continuous month
While India’s telecom subscriber base grew to 1.17 Billion in October, according to TRAI, Bharti Airtel maintained its leadership in mobile subscriber base addition for the second consecutive month this year. Airtel revived its position for the first time in September after a gap of 4 years. While Bharti Airtel added 3.67 million new subscribers in October to reach a total of 330.28 million base, Mukesh Ambani led – Reliance Jio added 2.22 million new subscribers to reach a total subscriber base of 406.35 million. Read MoreOther four service providers, Vodafone Idea Ltd (VIL), MTNL, BSNL and Reliance Communications witnessed a decline in subscriber base with VIL losing up to 2.65 million subscribers to dip to 292.83 million subscriber base. The telecom subscriber base increased overall to 1171.8 million and wireless subscriber increased to 1151.81 million in October.

India loses to Cairn Energy in the Arbitration case
After Vodafone, Indian Govt. faced a second loss in three months over the retrospective levy of taxes upon Cairn Energy Ltd. India had put a claim of  Rs 10,247 crore worth of taxes from Cairn Energy citing a retrospective legislation in March 2015 and had stared selling Cairn shares to recover the dues. Govt. has settled nearly Rs 1590 crore of the claim by selling 5% of the company’s shares till date. Read MoreHowever, the international arbitration tribunal, two years after taking the case, has unanimously ruled that the India’s claim of past taxes was not a valid demand and it has failed to respect the terms of bilateral investment protection pact with U.K. The tribunal ordered the govt. to stop demanding tax claim and compensate Cairn for the total harm suffered including the dividends and value of sold shares, tax refunds, interest accrued and the cost of arbitration which roughly account for a total of $1.4 billion.

PM Modi lays foundation stone for development projects in Kutch
Targeting growth and development in his home state Gujarat, PM Modi has laid the foundation stones for a number of projects including a desalination plant, a hybrid renewable energy park, fully automated milk processing and packaging plant in district of Kutch. The desalination plant will provide clean drinking water to 8 lakh citizens in the state and will be a major step in achieving sustainable and affordable water resource harvesting in the country. Read MoreThe hybrid renewable energy park will generate nearly 30 gigawatts of energy and will have an exclusive zone for wind park activities. The milk processing plant will cost nearly Rs121 crore and will have the capacity to process 2 lakh litres of milk per day.

Reliance Industries to buy IMG Worldwide’s stake in sports management JV
Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) has agreed to buy out IMG Worldwide LLC from their sports management joint venture for Rs 52.08 crore. The nation’s biggest company by market value, in a stock exchange filing, will buy IMG Worldwide’s 50 per cent stake in IMG-Reliance Ltd (IMG-R) for no more than Rs 52.08 crore in cash. RIL will rebrand the company after the closure of the deal. RIL had formed an equal joint venture with IMG Worldwide, an international sports marketing and management company, in 2010 to develop, market and manage sports and entertainment in India. Read MoreIMG is a global leader in sports, fashion, events and media, operating in more than 30 countries, and is a part of the Endeavor network. The company has entered into definitive agreements to acquire the shares held by IMG Singapore Pte Ltd in IMG-R, for a cash consideration not exceeding Rs 52.08 crore. IMG Singapore Pte Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of IMG, holds 50 per cent of the share capital of IMG-R. IMG-R had a turnover of Rs 181.70 crore (including GST of Rs 25.79 crore) and a net profit of Rs 16.35 crore in FY20

Economics

Manufacturing demand revived in Quarter 2
Following shrinkage of 41.1% in the previous quarter that was hit by nation-wide lockdown due to Covid-19, according to the RBI data, demand position in the manufacturing sector has been reinstated to a recovery phase with a smoother contraction of 4.3% year-on-year in the Third Quarter, in terms of nominal sales. As compared to the sales of Rs. 397233 Crores in April-June of FY21, the manufacturing companies witnessed sales of Rs. 599749 Crores in the second quarter. Companies in iron and steel, food products, cement, automobile and pharmaceuticals industry led the recovery. Read MoreThe sales growth for the IT industry remained stable at 3.6% in Quarter 2. However, the nominal sales of non-IT services sector witnessed a lower contraction of 14.5% year-on-year that was led by the expansion in telecommunication and real estate companies’ sales. The Reserve Bank of India stated that the facts and figures were derived from abridged quarterly financial results of 2637 listed non-government, non-financial companies.

 

Forex reserves rise US$2.56 Bn to hit an all-time high
With the Indian economy under fallout due to the coronavirus pandemic, India’s foreign exchange reserves have been rising at a swift pace, and have touched a new high. According to the RBI’s weekly data, the forex reserves of India have upsurged by US$2.56 Billion to hit a record high of US$581.131 Billion in the week ended December 18. This would make India, and the RBI, the fifth-largest holder of reserves in the world. In the previous week, the reserves had witnessed a decline by US$778 million to US$578.568 billion. Read MoreHowever, a rise in foreign currency assets, which is the largest component of the overall reserves, contributed to a rise in forex reserves. The RBI’s weekly data showed that the FCAs rose by US$1.382 Billion to US$537.727 Billion. The other components of foreign exchange reserves are gold reserves, special drawing rights (SDRs), and the country’s reserve position with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

 

Indian rupee worst performing Asian currency in 2020
The Indian rupee is the worst performing currency in Asia in 2020 so far, even underperforming minor South Asian currencies like that of Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The rupee is down about 3.5% with respect to US dollar on an average this year. On the other hand, asian currencies like Chinese yuan, Phillipine peso, South Korean won and Malaysian ringgit have appreciated on an average.Read More The reasons for such a bad performance of Indian rupee include the failure in capitalizing on the weakened US dollar by COVID-19 and unprecedented foreign fund inflow in the country as the RBI admitted continued to buy US dollars, thereby, increasing the demand of dollars which led to depreciation of Indian rupee.

RBI Issues Warning Against Aggressive Digital Lending Practices
Amid continued reports of poor loan approval and aggressive recovery practices, the Reserve Bank of India has issued a warning for borrowers to avoid securing loans from lending companies that are not registered with the central bank or those that operate outside of the ambit of state governments. The warning prompted the Digital Lenders Association to publish a revised code of conduct for lenders. In June this year also, it reemphasized its fair practices code for lenders and mandated the gathering of additional documentation for loan contracts drawn up by digital lenders. Read MoreThe advent of digital lending apps has given rise to new-age loan sharks that operate similarly to traditional illegal moneylenders. The only material difference is that these apps leverage technology to advertise their products, identify prospective retail borrowers, and engage in coercive and intrusive recovery practices. These unregistered financial apps work through sourcing funds from unknown borrowers, many of whom are based abroad. They make intensive use of popular social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and (now banned) TikTok to aggressively advertise their services, while also engaging in wide-scale email and SMS marketing campaigns.

China to overtake US as world’s largest economy by 2028
China will overtake the US as the world’s biggest economy before the end of the decade after outperforming its rival during the global Covid-19 pandemic, according to a report. The Centre for Economics and Business Research said that it now expected the value of China’s economy when measured in dollars to exceed that of the US by 2028, half a decade sooner than it expected a year ago. In its annual league table of the growth prospects of 193 countries, the UK-based consultancy group said China had bounced back quickly from the effects of Covid-19 and would grow by 2% in 2020, as the one major global economy to expand. Read MoreWith the US expected to contract by 5% this year, China will narrow the gap with the USA. Overall, global gross domestic product is forecast to decline by 4.4% this year, in the biggest one-year fall since the second world war. China’s share of global GDP has increased from 3.6% in 2000 to 17.8% in 2019 and will continue to grow. It would pass the per capita threshold of $12,536 (£9,215) to become a high-income country by 2023.

Finance

Modi Cabinet approves Rs. 59000 Crore package for 4 Crore SC Students
As a part of the centrally sponsored Post-Matric Scholarship Scheme, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have approved a total investment of Rs. 59000 Crores that will benefit around four Crores Scheduled Caste students in the upcoming five years. Out of the total investment of Rs. 59048 Crores, 60% of the investment amounting to Rs. 35534 Crores will be spent by the Centre, and the remaining by the State Governments. Read MoreThe official statement said that the package would replace the existing committed liability system, and bring substantial involvement of the Centre in this crucial scheme. The main aim of this scheme would focus on the enrolment of poorest students, timely payments, comprehensive accountability, continuous monitoring, and complete transparency. It will run on an online platform with robust cyber security measures. This decision would ensure greater educational access to the youth belonging to SC communities.

 

RBI alerts public against unauthorized digital lending platforms

Amidst the growing concerns over coercive recovery tactics and outrageous interest rates charged by a section of such lenders, the Reserve Bank of India has issued an alert for the public against unauthorized digital lending apps. This is considered to be RBI’s second step in a span of six months involving app-based lenders. The first step was taken on 24th June, where RBI had directed the banks and non-bank financiers to adhere to fair practices guidelines in letter and spirit. Read MoreRBI has witnessed reports about individuals and small businesses being exploited by the growing number of unauthorized digital lending platforms and mobile apps on the guarantee of getting loans in a quick and hassle-free manner. These types of reports lead to the adoption of unacceptable and high-handed recovery methods, and also the misuse of agreements that will give access to the data from the mobile phone of borrowers. RBI has urged the public to not fall prey to such unscrupulous activities, and hence verify the antecedents of the company that is offering loans online, or via mobile apps.

Cabinet approves 100% FDI in DTH services
In order to ensure full benefit of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to the Direct-to-Home (DTH) services, Union Cabinet has revised its guidelines and enabled 100% FDI in the sector and increased the licensing period from 10 to 20 years. The license fee has also been revised down from 10% to 8% of AGR and needs to paid on the quarterly basis rather than the current annual basis. Read MoreGovernment has further allowed DTH operators to share infrastructure if they are willing to as this can bring down the operational costs borne by the ultimate consumers.

SBI Life acquires 9%stake in Paisalo Digital
SBI Life Insurance Company on Thursday said it has acquired nearly 9 per cent stake in non-banking finance company Paisalo Digital for about Rs 186.20 crore through the open market. SBI Life has acquired a total of 38,00,000 equity shares equivalent to 8.99 per cent at Rs489.99 per share for a cash consideration as an ordinary course of business on the stock exchange on December 24,as stated in a regulatory filing. Paisalo Digital has a market capitalisation of Rs 2,204.69 crore as on December 24, 2020. The company’s turnover as of March 31, 2020, was Rs337.45 crore. Read MoreThe promoters hold46.07 per cent stake in the company, foreign portfolio investors 23.91 per cent, LIC 3.53 per cent and others26.49 per cent. Incorporated on March 5, 1992, Paisalo Digital provides loans to individuals, SME and MSMEs and to Joint Liability Group (microfinance) through 129 branches across the country. The company’s profit after tax in FY20 stood at Rs 54 crore and a loan book of Rs1,725 crore.

Price of world’s 3rd Largest cryptocurrency XRP crashes post lawsuit
The value of XRP, worlds third largest cryptocurrency after Bitcoin and Ethereum, crashed more than 40 per cent after the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) sued both the founder and current CEO of tech company Ripple for raising more than $1.3 billion through an “unregistered securities offering” after selling their cryptocurrency XRP. XRP’s declined more than 42 per cent in the past 24 hours and was down more than 63 per cent from its 30-day high of $0.76. It now sits at just $0.27. Read MoreThe lawsuit which said that XRO is a security not currency, claimed that Ripple’s former CEO and founder Christian Larsen and its current CEO Bradley Garlinghouse violated securities laws by selling XRP over a seven-year period starting in 2013. According to the company, the SEC is completely wrong on the facts and law and is confident to ultimately prevail before a neutral fact-finder. The company said that the other major branches of the US government, including the Justice Department and the Treasury Department’s FinCen, have already determined that XRP is a currency.

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