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 Seventh – 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)


Congress appoints its senior leaders as observers for 2021 assembly polls campaign
The Congress party has appointed its senior leaders including chief ministers Ashok Gehlot and Bhupesh Baghel as observers to oversee the party’s election campaign management for the upcoming assembly polls in several states and a Union territory. Assembly elections are due to be held in the states of Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and the UT of Puducherry by the middle of this year. Read MoreAn official communication from the party said Congress president Sonia Gandhi has appointed the leaders as senior observers for overseeing the election campaign management and coordination in states where assembly elections are going to be held in 2021. Their appointment is with immediate effect as the Congress is in the process of finalising seat-sharing with its allies in these states.

Twitter permanently bans Donald Trump
Twitter has suspended President Trump from its platform, the company sar this in its statement. “After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence,” Twitter said. Twitter said that In the context of horrific events this week, we made it clear on Wednesday that additional violations of the Twitter Rules would potentially result in this very course of action. Read MoreTwitter said the tweet concerning inauguration could be viewed as a further statement that the election was not legitimate. It also said that the tweet could be interpreted as Trump saying that the inauguration would be a “safe” target for violence because he would not be attending. Twitter will enforce its policy against ban evasions to ensure that Trump does not circumvent his personal account’s suspension.

Supreme Court okays Central Vista and new Parliament projects in two to one majority
A three-judge Supreme Court bench on Tuesday by two to one majority green signalled the high political significance Central Vista and new Parliament building projects, that would create larger working space for efficient functioning of the country’s highest legislative wing and integrated administrative block for ministries and departments of the Union government in the heart of New Delhi. Read MoreOn the issues pertaining to land use, environmental and heritage clearances, the SC has rejected the challenges contested by petitioners. An additional direction was given to the govt. by the apex court to set up smog towers of adequate capacity in the new Parliament building and use “smog guns at the construction site throughout the construction phase is in progress on the site”.

Violence by Trump supporters at US Capitol.
Thousands of angry supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol demanding the repeal of presidential election results and clashed with police, resulting in casualty and multiple injuries and interrupting a constitutional process to affirm Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election. Read MoreAs a result of the chaos, US Capitol Police shot down one woman protester and three more died in medical emergencies. Even though Donald Trump has asked the protesters to go home, he seems to have a defensive stance for them. These violent protests have attracted criticism all across the world concerning the disturbing state of such a great democratic nation.

Saudi, Qatar restore ties after 3 years of crisis
Qatar restored its diplomatic ties with the four Arab states ending a three year embargo crisis. Following the restoration after a landmark deal, Qatar and Saudi Arabia reopened their land borders on Saturday. Saudi, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt had cut off their ties with Qatar in June 2017 in a response to Qatar’s closeness to Iran, backing to radical Islamist groups and supporting terrorism. Qatar had however denied all such accusations.Read More It is believed that the breakthrough is US brokered as Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner visited Qatar and Saudi Arabia in December 2020. The announcement of lifting the restrictions and embargo on trade and travel was made at the Gulf Cooperation Council Summit, reportedly attended by Jared Kushner as well.


Science and Technology

Bird Flu scare in India
India has begun culling tens of thousands of poultry birds after avian influenza was detected in ducks, crows and wild geese in at least a dozen locations across the country. Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying issued an alert urging states to take measures to avoid any further spread of the disease. About 17,000 birds have been culled in Kerala so far, and eggs have also been destroyed in some districts. The northern state of Himachal Pradesh reported the death of more than 3,000 birds from the disease, mostly bar-headed geese at a wildlife sanctuary. Read MoreAvian influenza, also called avian flu or bird flu, is an illness that usually only affects birds. There are many different strains, but the most commonly seen and most deadly form of the virus is called Influenza A (H5N1), or the H5N1 virus. In India, the disease spreads mostly through migratory birds entering the country during the winter season. Most cases of human bird flu infections are due to contact with infected poultry or surfaces that are contaminated with infected bird excretions: saliva, nasal secretions or feces.

Researchers Turn Coal Powder Into Valuable Nano-Graphite in Microwaves Oven
In a new study, scientists at the University Of Wyoming have generated an environment in a microwave oven to convert raw coal powder into nano-graphite successfully. They have done this by using copper foil, glass containers, and a conventional household microwave oven. The study offers a whole new approach that could represent a simple and relatively inexpensive coal-conversion technology. The method also provides a new route to convert abundant carbon sources to high-value materials with ecological and economic benefits. Read MoreThe resultant nano-graphite can be used as a lubricant and in items ranging from fire extinguishers to lithium-ion batteries. Past studies had shown that microwaves could be used to reduce the moisture content of coal and remove sulfur and other minerals. But, such methods need specific chemical pretreatment of the coal. In this new study, scientists just ground raw Powder River Basin coal into powder. They then placed the powder on copper foil and sealed it in glass containers with a gas mixture of argon and hydrogen before being placed in a microwave oven.

The world’s first integrated quantum communication network established at China.
Chinese scientists have established the world’s first integrated quantum communication network, combining over 700 optical fibers on the ground with two ground-to-satellite links to achieve quantum key distribution over a total distance of 4,600 kilometers for users across the country. Unlike conventional encryption, quantum communication is considered non-hackable and therefore the future of secure information transfer for banks, power grids and other sectors. Read MoreThe researching team is now looking to expand the network in China and with their international partners from Austria, Italy, Russia and Canada. They also aim to develop small-scale, cost-efficient QKD satellites and ground-based receivers, as well as medium and high earth orbit satellites to achieve all-time, ten-thousand-km-level QKD.

Largest canyon in the solar system revealed in images
After America’s Grand Canyon, NASA scientists seem to have just revealed new images of a Martian Canyon that may become next largest canyon in solar system. Valles Marineris canyon stretches more than 4,000 kilometres across the Martian equator and more than four kilometres deep. Read MoreThe canyon was captured by the HiRISE high-resolution camera – the most powerful sent to another planet.  Scientists are still unsure how the canyon was formed.

Earthed rotated faster than usual in 2020, broke the record of shortest day several times
According to a few scientist, Earth is rotating faster than usual in the past half century. The 28 fastest days ever recorded all took place in 2020 with the Earth rotations being milliseconds faster than the average time. The shortest of all was July 19 2020 which was 1.4602 milliseconds shorter than the standard 24 hours.Read More This makes it problem for international time measurers who use ultra-accurate clocks to measure Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). However, the scientists have clarified that such a thing is not alarming as it may have taken place due to changes in ocean currents, atmospheric pressure etc. Scientists add leap seconds (similar to leap years) in June-end or December end to adjust UTC when Earth takes slightly less time than 24 hours. Prior to 2020, the shortest day on record was July 5, 2005.



TCS Q3 net profit rises 7% to Rs. 8701 Crores
India’s largest IT exporter on the basis of revenues, Tata Consultancy Services, announced that their profit for the December Quarter (Q3) rose to 7.18% year-on-year to Rs. 8701 crores, compared with Rs. 8118 crore in the corresponding quarter previous year. The figures have been said to be more than the ET Now Poll of analysts which limited the same to be Rs.8600 crore. Read MoreThe revenue of the company during Quarter 3, that ended on December 31, 2020, rose by 5.42% to Rs.42015 crore, compared to Rs.39854 crore in the corresponding period, the last year. It has been reported that the company’s revenue growth in FY21 Q3 was strongest in the last nine years. Consequently, in a statement by the company, they declared a dividend of Rs.6 per share. The 3rd interim dividend to the equity shareholders will be paid on February 3rd 2021.

Elon Musk becomes the richest man, overtakes Jeff Bezos
Elon Musk edged past Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to grab the title of world’s richest man. A 6% rise in Tesla (TSLA) shares early Thursday lifted the value of its CEO’s stock holdings and options by $10 billion, taking his net worth to about $191 billion. A more modest rise of less than 2% lifted Bezos’ Amazon (AMZN) shares by about $3 billion, putting his net worth at $187 billion. Bloomberg’s real-time billionaire tracker still has Bezos about $3 billion ahead of Musk. Read MoreBut the tracker doesn’t update until the end of the trading day. Bloomberg posted an article confirming Musk’s title. Another gain in Tesla (TSLA) shares this week lifted Musk’s net worth by $4.1 billion to $165.4 billion. Musk is also the primary shareholder and CEO of SpaceX, though SpaceX is privately held, so its value does not fluctuate as much as the value of Tesla. Musk caught Gates for the title of the world’s second-richest person in late November, but Tesla shares have increased in value by 45% since then, lifting Musk’s net worth by $53 billion over the past couple months.

Jio, Airtel spar with tech cos over spectrum delicensing
At a key meeting of Department of Telecommunications, India’s private telcos and global tech giants sparred over accessing commercial spectrum bands to provide fast mobile broadband services.  Top telcos Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio called for protection of their spectrum-related investments, warning that any move to give non-telecom companies access to top-grade airwave bands without auctions would put billions of dollars of their investments at risk and also upset the level-playing field in the telecom sector. Read MoreThis comes after global tech giants pushed back, saying the Indian government must quickly open up key 5G spectrum in the 6 Ghz and V bands to ring in unlicensed technologies like WiFi-6 that offer 5G-like speeds for driving mass broadband penetration in rural India at affordable rates.

India’s biggest poultry producer’s shares fall 10% due to birds flu.
Shares of India’s biggest poultry producer Venky’s dropped more than 4% on Thursday to their lowest level in two months after an outbreak of avian influenza was reported in four states. In wake of this outbreak, Kerala has started culling chickens and ducks to contain the virus, while Madhya Pradesh has banned imports of poultry products from Kerala for 10 days. Read MoreIndian soybean futures fell more than 1% on Thursday on fears demand for soymeal from the poultry industry could falter due to the bird flu outbreak. Moreover, people fear to consume poultry products in these areas after this major outbreak adding to the loss of business for sector’s businesses.

Swiggy, Flipkart under Income Tax scanner.
Following the fraudulent Input Tax Credit Claims made by the third-party vendors, the Income Tax Department conducted the inspection of Instakart, the logistics arm of e-commerce giant Flipkart, and online food delivery platform Swiggy. In response to the search conducted by the IT department, Flipkart said that they are providing the officials with all the necessary information and are extending their full co-operation. Read MoreSwiggy and Flipkart both added that they are in full compliance with all the tax and legal requirements. The necessary searches came in backdrop of Confederation of All India Traders complaints concerning the violations of the Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Exchange Management Act 1999, by the e-commerce companies. The matter was taken into notice by the Union Ministry, following which they directed the Enforcement Directorate and the Reserve Bank of India to take appropriate actions.


Japan extends fresh loan to India to combat socio-economic impacts of Covid
Japan has decided to assist India by providing a loan of up to 30 billion yen (appx. INR 2,129 Crore) for its efforts to mitigate socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 here. The Exchange of Notes for the COVID-19 Crisis Response Support Loan for Social Protection were signed by SUZUKI Satoshi, Ambassador of Japan to India and Dr C. S. Mohapatra, Additional Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs. This yen loan is the latest addition to Japan’s supports to India in its fight against COVID-19. Read MoreYen loan for COVID-19 emergency (up to 50 billion yen or INR 3,549 crore approximately) This financial support is for the implementation of health and medical policy by the Government of India, and is expected to lead to the development of hospitals equipped with ICUs and infection prevention and management facilities. It is also expected to lead to the enhancement of telemedicine using digital technology in numerous villages across India.

WTO members praise India’s GST, ease of doing business, other structural reforms
Members of the World Trade Organization have appreciated India’s goods and services tax, reforms on taxation, trade facilitation and improving the ease of doing business, and liberalised regimes for FDI and intellectual property rights at the second and final session of its Trade Policy Review (TPR). On its part, India said it is committed to become an attractive trade and investment partner for the world and that it has a stable policy environment with considerably lower applied rates than its WTO commitments, with only a miniscule fraction of its imports being subject to trade remedial measures.Read More Indian Government also said it is streamlining and simplifying the overall domestic business environment even further with an aim to break into the top 50 in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report. The TPR is an important mechanism under the WTO’s monitoring function wherein member countries’ trade and related policies are examined by the organisation for improved adherence to multilateral rules and feedback to the member under review.

Unemployment rate surges to 9.1% in December: CMIE
Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) has said that India’s unemployment rate shot up sharply in December to 9.1% from 6.5% in November, the highest since the economic recovery started in June. This comes on the back of high unemployment in rural India, raising doubts over the ongoing economic recovery. Read MoreThe average number of unemployed in 2019-20 was 33.3 million while it was 37.9 million in March 2020 and less than 36 million before that. The reasons of such high rates of unemployment include shedding of labor in the farm sector, partial recovery in Labor Participation Rate (LPR) and deterioration of labor market conditions.

To probe into undisclosed foreign assets, government creates special unit
The government has created a special unit in countrywide investigation wings of the Income Tax Department to focus on cases of black money in foreign shores and undisclosed assets held by Indian people abroad. Read MoreThe primary task of the 14 recently created Foreign Asset Investigation Units (FAIUs) is to check tax evasion done by various methods and undertake raids and seizures. The FAIUs work will be monitored by the CBDT and it will be under the authority of jurisdictional director general of income tax officer. The FAIUs will also probe cases of the Indian entities listed in the global tax document leaks similar to Panama Papers.

215 people arrested by GST authorities for fake invoices
In relation to the fake GST invoices that were being used illegally to avail or pass on input tax credit, the Directorate General of GST Intelligence and the CGST Commissionerates have recovered more than Rs.700 crore and arrested 215 people in the last two months. Among the 215 arrested people, 6 are chartered accountants, and one is a company secretary. The arrested people includes operators of fake entities, and also the end beneficiaries who conspire with these fraudsters running businesses of fake invoices on commission basis.Read More Managing directors, proprietors and partners of various businesses who have been involved in availing the ineligible ITC fraudulently are among the arrested people. According to the sources, GST Intelligence authorities have lodged about 2200 cases and uncovered more than 6600 fake GSTIN entities during this period. Data analytics, data-sharing and Artificial Intelligence, along with the BAFTA tool has contributed towards identifying layer-by-layer activities of those fake entities and recognize the fraudsters with accurate input.


India’s fuel demand at 11-month peak in December as activity rises
India’s fuel demand reached a 11-month high in December 2020 after rising for fourth continuous month as a result of recovery of economic activity after nationwide lockdown. However, the demand is still 2% lower than pre-Covid levels. According to provisional data published by the Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell of the Oil Ministry, compared on a year-on-year basis, the demand of petroleum products in 2019 December was 18.94 million tonnes as against 18.59 million tonnes for the same month in 2020. Read MoreDespite the overall fuel demand being high, main transportation fuel i.e. petrol and diesel decline in November and December. While petrol demand reached pre-Covid levels in September, diesel demand did so in October but both declined thereafter. The consumption of bitumen jumped 20% to reach 761000 tonnes. LPG demand was 7.4% higher while Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF) demand reduced 41% to 428000 tonnes.

EPFO settled close to 150 lakh claims during this fiscal, disbursing over Rs five lakh crore
The Employees Provident Fund Organisation has settled 149.3 lakh claims in the first seven months of the current fiscal, disbursing Rs 55900.88 crore to its beneficiaries. This includes 47.58 lakh non-refundable Covid claims amounting to Rs 12220.26 crore. As part of Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana scheme, under para 68L, provision was made for a non-refundable advance from EPF account to EPF members, employed in any factory or establishment located in an area, which is declared to be affected by outbreak of epidemic or pandemic by the appropriate government. Read MoreEPFO claims 87% increase in claim settlement productivity during the period despite serious challenges posed by pandemic and consequent lockdown. Innovative measures like auto-settlement mode and multi-location claim settlement were deployed overnight to ensure that COVID-19 claims are settled within 72 hours despite deployment of less than 50% staff.

SBI raises $600 million through overseas bonds
The nation’s largest lender State Bank of India (SBI) on Thursday raised USD 600 million from selling bonds to international investors at a coupon of 1.80 per cent. The issue, oversubscribed by 2.1 times, is part of the bank’s USD 10 billion medium term note programme, the ratings of which were withdrawn by the rating agency Moody’s. Read MoreThe 5.5-year issue denominated in US dollars was priced at 140 basis points (bps) over the US treasury, the bank said in a release adding this is the lowest pricing for any Reg S/144a issue from the country with such a maturity. Earlier this week, the Exim Bank had sold USD 1 billion at a coupon of 2.25 per cent, the lowest for any such issue. With this issue, two domestic financial institutions — Exim Bank and SBI — have opened the new year on a high raising USD 1.6 billion in a week.

GDP estimates point at sustained V-shape economic recovery
The finance ministry on Thursday said the GDP estimates suggest a continued resurgence in economic activity in second half of the current fiscal and point at post-lockdown sustained V-shaped recovery. Commenting on the the recent estimate of contraction of GDP by 7.7% by NSSO, the ministry asserted continuous quarter-on-quarter growth to sustain a post-lockdown V-shaped recovery. Read MoreWith the estimated increase in demand by 5.8% and substantial growth in agriculture and manufacturing sector, it expects the economy to be back on track on the path of recovery.

At Rs.5104/gram, Sovereign Gold Bond to open for subscription on Jan 11
Subscription for the tenth tranche of Sovereign Gold Bond 2020-2021, issued by the Reserve Bank of India, have been opened, and will continue till January 15, 2021. The issue price of the gold bonds has been fixed at Rs.5104 per gram of gold. The government will be offering a discount of Rs.50/gram less than the nominal value to the investors who will be applying via online, payment for which is made through digital mode. Read MoreThe price of the gold bonds is derived from a simple average of the closing price of gold of 999 purity published by the India Buillion and Jewellers Association Limited for the last 3 days of the week prior to the subscription period. To apply for the subscription of the bonds, resident individuals, Hindu Undivided Family, Trusts, Universities, and Charitable Institutions are eligible. The investors can issue gold bonds from commercial banks, Stock Holding Corporation of India Limited, post offices issued by RBI, and other recognised stock exchanges.

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