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 Eighty Fourth- 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, Kanika Meena and Nikunj Gulati)

Politics

Atmanirbhar Bharat a national spirit, says PM Narendra Modi in Mann Ki Baat

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 28 February underlined that Atmanirbhar Bharat is not just a government policy but also a national spirit, and said the mantra of self-reliant India is reaching villages of the country. In his monthly Mann Ki Baat radio program, Modi also called for a 100-day campaign to clean up all water bodies and prepare them for rainwater harvesting before the monsoon starts. Read MoreStressing the importance of collective responsibility towards water conservation, he said the Union Jal Shakti Ministry will soon initiate a “Catch the rain” campaign with its main theme being “catch the rain, where it falls when it falls”. Conveying greetings on the National Science Day, Modi pointed out that this day is dedicated to the discovery of the ‘Raman Effect’ by the great scientist of India, Dr. C V Raman. Modi said water has been crucial for the development of humankind for centuries and people should understand their collective responsibility towards its conservation.

Much to Pakistan’s dismay and India’s delight, Saudi Arabia maintains neutrality over the Kashmir issue

Much to Pakistan’s dismay and India’s delight, Saudi Arabia has maintained neutrality over the Kashmir issue, even when Islamabad is making all efforts to mend its relations with the Gulf country and is wooing it to change its stance. Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, his government has had good relations with Saudi Arabia. Read MoreAfter the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Riyadh in October 2019, Saudi Arabia has maintained neutrality over Kashmir and backed India on cross-border terrorism, said Abhinav Pandya, a strategic analyst and the CEO of Usanas Foundation. “After 1979, the Saudis sponsored Wahhabism across the globe.” Muslim majority Kashmir became a “natural choice for Wahhabi proselytization” because of the deep penetration of Pakistan, which had historically close relations with the Saudis, added Pandya. The rift between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia started when Riyadh didn’t heed Pakistan’s demand to call a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC, which Saudi Arabia leads) to discuss the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s original political status by the Modi government.

SC not to use WhatsApp groups to share VC links for hearings

The Supreme Court will no longer use WhatsApp groups to share video conference links for court hearings, the apex court registry said on Saturday. In a circular, the registry said that instead of WhatsApp, the links for virtual court hearings in the apex court will be shared on registered email ids and registered mobile numbers of the concerned advocates-on-record and party-in-person. Read MoreThe step was taken in the wake of the newly notified Information Technology (Guidelines for intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (IT Rules, 2021). It is notified for the information of the Advocates-on-Record /Party-in-Persons that the creation of groups in WhatsApp for sharing of VC links for the hearing of their matters is restricted/barred due to new guidelines or regulations issued by the government of India pertaining to social media Apps and OTT platforms, it said. It said the VC links shall be shared “w.e.f. March 1, 2021, through registered email ids as well as by SMS on registered mobile numbers of the Ld. Advocates-on-Record / Party-in-Persons

Israel, Palestine must avoid unilateral action that could prejudice final status issues: India at UN

Reiterating that only a two-state solution will deliver enduring peace that the people of Israel and Palestine deserve, India has said this should be achieved through direct negotiations between both sides on final status issues, and any unilateral action which could prejudice these issues must be avoided. Read MoreIndia’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador K Nagaraj Naidu said on Friday at the UN Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question that New Delhi reaffirms its support to the Palestinian cause and the establishment of a sovereign, viable and independent State of Palestine living side by side in peace and security with Israel. We firmly believe that only a two-state solution will deliver enduring peace that the people of Israel and Palestine desire and deserve. This should be achieved through direct negotiations between both sides on final status issues. Both sides must avoid any unilateral action which could prejudice these final status issues.

Puducherry Assembly Speaker quits on health grounds
Puducherry Assembly Speaker and Congress leader V P Sivakolundhu quit on 28th February citing health reasons even as his brother joined the BJP just over a month ahead of the elections in the union territory. Read MoreIn the resignation letter to Lt Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan, Sivakolundhu said he quit as Speaker only on health grounds. Meanwhile, Sivakolundhu’s brother V P Ramalingam joined the BJP in Karaikal in the presence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who is on a campaign visit. The Puducherry government headed by V Narayanasamy fell on February 22 after the coalition ministry was reduced to a minority following a spate of the resignation of Congress MLAs and a DMK legislator.

Science and Technology

NASA captures panoramic view of Mars crater

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has shared the first high-definition panoramic view image captured by the Perseverance Mars rover’s Mastcam-Z dual cameras. These images will help scientists to study the geological history and atmospheric conditions of the 45km wide crater on the Red planet. Read More Later, the analysis will help them decide which rock samples to collect and bring back to Earth. It was the rover’s second panorama ever, as the rover’s Navigation Cameras, or Navcams, also located on the mast, captured a 360-degree view. A key objective of Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, paving the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).

YouTube announces ‘supervised’ mode for parent-controlled viewing

Google-owned video-streaming platform YouTube has unveiled a new feature that would help parents to control what their kids watch on the platform by enabling different content settings on the platform. The new feature will give parents the ability to choose from Explore, Explore More and Most of YouTube. Read MoreIt has finally announced that a new beta will be launching for parents who can allow access for their kids via a supervised Google account. The new setup will restrict what teenagers can watch and the kind of content they will put on the platform. Parents won’t just have control over what kind of content their kids watch. They will also have access to their search history and have controls like screen timers. YouTube says that it will also introduce the ‘blocking content’ feature to parental controls.

Google uses underwater fibre-optic cable to detect earthquakes

A 10,000-kilometre-long fibre-optic cable owned by Google that is at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean can be used to detect deep-sea seismic activity and ocean waves. Researchers at Google used traffic data from one of the tech giant’s optical fibres to measure changes in pressure and strain in the cable. Read MoreUsing this data, they could detect earthquakes and ocean waves called swells generated by storms. The team had wanted to measure a tsunami, but none occurred during the monitoring. There have been previous efforts to use fibre-optic cables as seismic sensors, but these required specialised laser-detection equipment at both ends of the cable or the use of dedicated fibres within the cables. Such fibres are in short supply on deep-sea cables, so dedicating one to measuring earthquakes would be difficult.

DRDO successfully launches VL-SRSAM

The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) conducted two successful launches of indigenously designed and developed Vertical Launch Short Range Surface to Air Missile (VL-SRSAM). The missile is capable of neutralizing various aerial threats at close ranges. The two trials by DRDO were carried out for a demonstration of vertical launch capability as part of the missile’s maiden launch campaign. Read MoreThe missile, on both occasions, intercepted the simulated targets with pinpoint accuracy and were tested for minimum and maximum range and VL-SRSAM with Weapon Control System (WCS) were deployed during the trials. The present trials have proved the effectiveness of the weapon system and few more trials will also be conducted shortly by DRDO before the deployment on Indian Naval Ships. The VL-SRSAM system, once deployed, will prove to be a force multiplier for the Indian Navy.

Government launches National Urban Digital Mission

The Central Government launched the National Urban Digital Mission (NUDM) to create a digital infrastructure for the Indian cities. The step will institutionalize an ecosystem-driven and a citizen-centric approach to Urban governance and service delivery in cities by the year 2022, and across all the towns and cities of the country by 2024. Read MoreThe National Urban Digital Mission was launched at a virtual event by the Minister of Electronics and IT Ravi Shankar Prasad and the Minister of Union Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Singh Puri. It will create a shared digital infrastructure that will cross-leverage and consolidate various digital initiatives of the Ministry. It will enable towns and cities across the country to benefit from the diverse and holistic forms of support, by their needs and local challenges.

Business

Reliance to enter mobility with skyTran acquisition
Reliance Strategic Business Ventures Limited (RSBVL), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Reliance Industries, has acquired additional equity stake in the US-based technology company skyTran Inc for $26.76 million (around Rs 196.94 crore). The Mukesh Ambani-led company has increased its shareholding to 54.46 per cent on a fully diluted basis. Reliance is planning to delve into developing pod taxi prototype in India, a next-generation transportation system. Read MoreIn November 2019, RSBVL had raised its stake in skyTran to 17.37 per cent and further to 26.3 per cent in April 2020.
Commenting on the development, Mukesh Ambani, Chairman and MD of Reliance Industries, said, “Our acquiring majority equity stake in skyTran reflects our commitment to investing in building futuristic technologies that would transform the world. We are excited by skyTran’s potential to achieve an order of magnitude impact on high-speed intra and inter-city connectivity and its ability to provide a high speed, highly efficient and economical ‘Transportation-As-A-Service’ platform for India and the Rest of the World. We firmly believe that non-polluting high speed personal rapid transportation system will help facilitate environmental sustainability through efficient use of alternative energy and make an impactful reduction in air and noise pollution.”

Tata Consumer to replace Gail India in Nifty 50 effective March 31
Tata Consumer Products will replace state-owned Gail India in the benchmark Nifty 50 index. The change will take effect on March 31. The move is expected to result in passive inflows of $89 million (Rs 650 crore) in Tata Consumer. Gail, on the other hand, could see outflows of $57 million (Rs 410 crore). In February end, the free-float market capitalisation –a key criterion for index inclusion—of Tata Consumer and Gail stood at Rs 36,989 crore and Rs 30,570 crore. Read MoreTata Consumer, formerly known as Tata Global Beverages, will join FMCG peers such as Hindustan Unilever, Nestle India and Britannia in the widely-tracked Nifty 50 index. NSE has also announced changes to its several other indices such as Nifty Next 50, Nifty 100 and Nifty 500. Adani Enterprises, Apollo Hospitals and Jubilant Foodworks are among the seven stocks added to the Nifty Next 50 index.

RIL gets Sebi approval to hive off O2C business into an independent subsidiary

Mukesh Ambani-controlled Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), which has proposed hiving off its oil to chemicals (O2C) business into an independent subsidiary, on 23rd February said it had received an approval from the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) and stock exchanges to create this subsidiary. The company now requires the approval of equity shareholders and creditors, regulatory authorities, and the income-tax authority, besides the National Company Law Tribunals (NCLTs) in Mumbai and Ahmedabad. Read MoreRIL said the approval process had commenced and was expected to be completed by the second quarter of the 2021-22 financial year. In a presentation to investors, RIL said that the creation of this subsidiary would facilitate value creation through strategic partnerships and attract dedicated pools of investor capital. The ongoing talks with Aramco for a stake sale in RIL were also mentioned in this presentation. When finalised, the deal is expected to be one of the largest downstream transactions in India. “The reorganisation will lead to RIL carving out the O2C business as a separate subsidiary and support strategic partnerships and new investors in the business,” Morgan Stanley said.

Airlines see a 10-12% drop in bookings as states insist on the Covid-19 test

Domestic airlines have seen a 10-12 per cent drop in bookings over the past seven days as state governments have reintroduced measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19. West Bengal joined Maharashtra and Karnataka in insisting on negative RT PCR tests for travellers from certain states, which has dampened sentiment. Read MorePassengers from Maharashtra and Karnataka will have to undergo seven days of home quarantine in Tamil Nadu under the state’s new rules. The Delhi government, too, is expected to insist on RT PCR tests for passengers from some states.“Last-minute bookings are not taking place. Inbound loads have dropped to cities where RT-PCR tests have been made compulsory,” said the senior executive of a private airline. An executive of another airline said the impact is around 20 per cent. At present, around 40-50 per cent of tickets are being booked in the week before travel, compared with 20-30 per cent in pre-Covid time.

Coal India signs MoU with Railways’ CRIS to monitor freight movement

The country’s largest coal miner, state-owned Coal India Limited (CIL), has joined hands with the Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS), an arm of the Ministry of Railways, for freight monitoring and data sharing. CIL will get access to the Freight Operations Information System (FOIS) of Indian Railways, to help the coal miner monitor movement of coal rakes and coal despatch activity. Read MoreCIL signed a Memorandum of Understanding with CRIS for the same. FOIS is the management information system of the Indian Railways for its freight business which includes rake management and real-time tracking. The first of its kind data sharing offers CIL a bouquet of benefits that helps it in rationalizing the entire coal supply matrix through rail mode. It provides precise details of loading, weighing and unloading details along with the turnaround time of rakes. The mining giant said the information would help minimise the instances of under loading and overloading of rakes and untangles the knots benefitting CIL, Railways and consumers.

Economics

India steps out of technical recession as GDP expands 0.4% in Q3
India’s economy resurfaced to growth territory in the third quarter of the fiscal year (FY) 2020-21, clocking a 0.4% rise in the gross domestic product (GDP), as per data from the National Statistical Office (NSO), joining a select club of countries including China, Taiwan and Vietnam that have seen positive year-on-year growth in the period and reversing a technical recession of the two previous quarters due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Read MoreThe government said the positive growth rate was a “reflection of a further strengthening of V-shaped recovery that began in Q2 of 2020-21” but warned that India was still not out of the woods. The Indian economy will still face its largest-ever contraction in the current fiscal year. According to the second advanced estimates of GDP in 2020-21, GDP is expected to contract by 8% in 2020-21.

The mobile app improves price data collection of essential commodities says Govt
Data collection of wholesale and retail prices of 22 essential commodities on a daily basis has improved following the launch of a mobile app in January this year, the government has said. The mobile app has started providing effective real-time information and price data is being collected from 127 centres across the country through the food and civil supplies departments of state governments. Read MoreAs per the guidelines for retail price reporting, the prices of the same variety of a commodity are to be collected from three markets — high-income market, middle-income market and low-income market, and the average of the three prices is to be reported. The department is also utilising the services of Agriwatch for providing market intelligence, predictive analysis of prices and to develop price forecasting models.

Fiscal deficit soars to Rs 12.34 lakh cr
The central government’s fiscal deficit soared to Rs 12.34 lakh crore or 66.8% of the revised budget estimates at the end of January of the current fiscal. The fiscal deficit at the end of January in the previous financial year was 128.5% of the Revised Estimates (RE). In the current fiscal ending March 31, the fiscal deficit is likely to touch ₹18.48 lakh crore or 9.5% of the GDP. Read MoreIn absolute terms, the fiscal deficit stood at ₹12,34,004 crore at the end of January 2021, as per the data released by the Controller General of Accounts (CGA). For this financial year, the government had initially pegged the fiscal deficit at Rs 7.96 lakh crore or 3.5% of the GDP in the budget presented in February 2020. However, as per revised estimates in the Budget 2021-22, the fiscal deficit in the year ending March is estimated to soar up to 9.5% of the GDP or Rs 18,48,655 crore.

 

RBI sees Central Bank Digital Currency as a mixed blessing
The Reserve Bank of India sees a central bank digital currency (CBDC) as a mixed blessing—such virtual tokens can take away low-costs deposits from banks with implications for the economy, while also increasing financial inclusion and transparency. In emerging markets facing large scale-capital inflows, such a currency can act as an instrument of sterilisation, alleviating the constraint that a finite stock of government securities in the central bank balance sheet poses. Read MoreOn the downside, central-bank backed digital currencies pose a risk of disintermediation of the banking system. More so, if the commercial banking system in a country is considered to be fragile. The report also said that it is imperative for RBI to monitor global developments, explore the possibility of the need for the introduction of the digital currency and remain in readiness to operationalise CBDC, as and when necessary.

The US owes $216 billion in debt to India says, Lawmaker
The world’s largest economy, the US owes India USD 216 billion in the loan as the country’s debt grows to a record USD 29 trillion, an American lawmaker has said, cautioning the leadership against galloping foreign debt, the largest of which comes from China and Japan. “We are a global competition with China all the time. Read MoreThey are holding a lot of the debt. We owe China over $1 trillion and we owe Japan over $1 trillion”, the Republican Senator from West Virginia said. In 2020, the US national debt was $23.4 trillion, which was $72,309 in debt per person. Congressmen Mooney said that things have gone completely out of control. The Congressional Budget Office estimates an additional USD 104 trillion will be added by 2050. The Congressional Budget Office forecasted debt would rise 200 per cent.

Finance

Mukesh Ambani is again the richest Asian

A net worth of about $80 billion, Ambani is again richer than Zhong Shanshan, whose bottled-water company tanked a record 20% this week. The Chinese tycoon is worth $76.6 billion, down more than $22 billion from a peak just last week, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Zhong Shanshan had previously become Asia’s richest person, surpassing Chinese tech titans like Jack Ma.
Read More Zhong and Ambani are not the only two swapping titles lately. Tesla Inc.’s Elon Musk became the world’s richest person at the start of January before Amazon.com Inc.’s Jeff Bezos regained the No. 1 spot earlier this month as shares of the electric-car maker tanked. Musk lost $15 billion alone after he tweeted that the prices of cryptocurrencies seemed high — just two weeks after Tesla said it invested $1.5 billion in Bitcoin.

SEBI proposes the concept of accredited investors

Regulator SEBI introduces the concept of ‘accredited investors’ in the Indian securities market. It noted that accredited investors, also called qualified investors or professional investors, are those who have an understanding of various financial products. Read MoreIt proposes that resident Individuals, HUFs and Family Trusts having annual income greater than or equal to Rs. 2 Cr. or a net worth of Rs. 7.5 Cr. or more with more than Rs. 3.75 Cr. of financial assets shall be eligible to be classified as Accredited Investors, and, in the case of body corporates, the net worth should be greater than Rs. 50 Cr to be Accredited investors. It can be seen as the beginning of a regulatory regime that enables regulatory supervision or intensity based on the sophistication of an investor. This new flexible regulatory framework is expected to result in customized investment products, reduced compliance, better risk labelling (product classification) and increased transparency.

RBI has major concerns for cryptocurrencies

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has “major concerns” about cryptocurrencies, Governor Shaktikanta Das, flagging potential risks to financial stability. He said he had communicated his concerns to the government, which has largely opposed trading in private cryptocurrencies in recent years. Read MoreThe Centre is now planning to introduce a bill in Parliament barring companies and individuals from dealing in cryptocurrencies while it creates a framework on an official digital currency. Das also said the RBI is “very much in the game” and is getting ready to launch its digital currency. The RBI had in 2018 banned banks and other regulated entities from supporting crypto transactions after digital currencies were used for frauds. The Supreme Court cut the curbs last year in response to a petition by cryptocurrency exchanges.

Government clear vision for the financial sector  

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his government has a clear vision regarding the financial sector in this country and that there are “no ifs and buts” as he reaffirmed its stance on strengthening the public sector. And also insisted that not every decision taken by the government has bad intentions, adding that the country’s financial and banking sector had been weakened due to aggressive lending in the past, which was brought in control by his government. Read MoreHe stressed the steps taken to do away with non-transparent trading culture, adding that insolvency and bankruptcy codes brought by his government helped foster trust and belief for lenders and borrowers. Elaborating on the Budget proposal of setting up an Asset Reconstruction Company (ARC), Modi said the ARC will address the bad loans in a “focused manner” and this will help strengthen PSBs and increase their lending capability.

Zerodha faces investor fury after stock exchange glitch

India’s largest brokerage Zerodha is facing a backlash from traders who saw their equity positions abruptly closed during an exchange glitch, amidst criticism that a lack of communication from the country’s top bourse caused losses. The National Stock Exchange (NSE) suddenly shut down for nearly four hours blindsiding traders. Read MoreAs the NSE did not swiftly update whether, and when, it would reopen, brokers began closing intraday equity positions on another exchange later, leading to sharp losses for some investors. Hundreds of traders who bought stocks via Zerodha dubbed the Robinhood platform of India, voiced concern on Twitter, with many posting pictures showing portfolio losses due to trades squared off by the broker. Many signed an online petition calling for strict action.

 

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