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Daily G.K. - Top Stories

27 Jan 2019

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS

US to Resume Premium Processing of H-1B Visas

  •  The US announced that premium processing of applications for H-1B visas in all categories subject to Congress-mandated caps will resume, after it was suspended temporarily to clear the backlog of applications for the work visas popular among Indian IT professionals.
  • Premium processing allows applicants, US employers, to seek fast-tracked adjudication of their applications, within 15 days, against payment of a fee.
  • It allows applicants to jump the queue by months, but it only guarantees early decision and not the visa itself.
  • US citizenship and immigration services (USCIS) announced that it will resume premium processing for all fiscal year 2019 H-1B cap petitions, including those eligible for the advanced degree exemption.
  • Petitioners who have received requests for evidence (RFEs) for pending FY 2019 cap petitions should include their RFE response with any request for premium processing they may submit.
  • The US grants 85,000 visas every year under the H-1B programme to allow US companies to hire foreign professionals for high-skilled jobs to make good the shortage of local hands.
  • Indians have usually cornered more than 70% of these visas for foreigners hired mostly by companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, Google and others.
  • A smaller number are hired by Indian outsourcing giants such as Infosys, TCS and Wipro.

Trump Signs Deal to End Shutdown for 3 Weeks

  •  The US government shutdown is set to end for the time being, thanks to a deal signed between President Donald Trump and the Democrats.
  • The move reopens shuttered agencies for three weeks as discussions continue on funding a Mexico border wall - an issue that still remains unresolved.
  • The two chambers of the US Congress passed a legislation ending the shutdown which was to go into effect as soon as it was signed into law by Trump.
  • An estimated 800,000 federal employees can now return to work and they will receive their held-up pay.
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BUSINESS AND ECONOMY

Concerns over India's Trade Interests Post-Brexit

  •  The law ministry has cautioned the commerce ministry that the UK's imminent exit from the European Union (EU) is a matter of serious concern for India's trade and industry and the government must take legal recourse to protect Indian interests during the Brexit.
  • The Law Ministry wants the administrative ministry (Commerce Ministry) to take up the matter in the WTO (the World Trade Organisation).
  • The government's legal experts have said that Brexit could restrict Indian companies' access to the EU through the UK. Several commercial agreements will also need to be renegotiated on account of this.
  • The government has been discussing this matter with trade experts, legal specialists and the industry bodies, including FICCI and CII.
  • Some sectors that are likely to face the heat due to Brexit include automobiles, auto components, pharmaceuticals, gems and jewellery, education and IT enabled services. Most of these sectors will be vulnerable to changes in demand and currency values.
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SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

Nasa Probe Transmits Image of Deep Space Object

  •  A space snowman visited by Nasa on New Year's Day is pitted all over and has a bright "collar" between its two fused spheres.
  • These are the newest details to emerge about Ultima Thule, the most distant object ever explored by humanity.
  • A close-up picture taken by Nasa's New Horizons spacecraft right before closest approach on January 1, shows lots of little pits on Ultima Thule — located in the so-called Kuiper Belt.
  • They are less than a 0.7 kilometre across. There's also a much bigger, circular depression on the smaller lobe, considered the snowman's head. Scientists don't know if these are impact craters or sinkholes.
  • Categorised as a contact binary, the approximately 32-kilometre-long, reddish Ultima Thule has both light and dark patterns. The brightest spot is where the two lobes connect.
  • Scientists say the varied shading may help explain how the ancient object was formed, as the solar system was emerging 4.5 billion years ago.
  • Launched in 2006, the spacecraft became the first visitor to the dwarf planet Pluto in 2015. Ultima Thule was its second target. A third destination — even deeper inside Kuiper Belt on the frozen fringes of our solar system — could be possible in the 2020s.
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NATIONAL AFFAIRS

Citizenship Bill Creates a New Identity

  •  The northast's most-populous state, Assam, is a veritable museum of competing tribes, sub-tribes and ethnicities. Bablu Nandi, a Hindu Bengali young man whose community is now staring at a looming identity conflict, has added one more community to that simmering list: "Assamese Bengali."
  • The birth of this new identity can be attributed to the Centre's push to the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which seeks to give citizenship to any non-Muslim from Bangladesh, Pakistan or Afghanistan who wishes to settle in India.

MP Becomes First State to Map Trees 

  •  In a move that will make wood poachers think twice before felling a tree in a protected reserve, for the first time in the country, Madhya Pradesh' s Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary has started collecting DNA samples of standing trees, stumps and logs.
  • This smart use of technology will not only discourage wood poachers from felling trees in reserved forests, but also fix responsibility of conniving officials.
  • Wood mapping has been used in the United States and elsewhere in the world to identify and prosecute wood smugglers with success but Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary.
  • The samples will be sent to State Forest Research Institute (SFRI) Jabalpur, where DNA will be extracted. Then, a DNA data bank of all trees will be prepared and the samples preserved.
  • Whenever a forest team catches wood smugglers or spot protected wood made into furniture or other products, their DNA samples will be taken and matched with those in the data bank.
  • A match of samples will make it easy to book the accused in a court of law, because it will be possible to trace back the origin of the smuggled wood to the source.
  • Officials say that wood smugglers usually chop off the tree bark at the point where there are markings by the forest department, cut the wood and sell it as jungle wood for furniture and other products. When forest teams encounter anyone carrying wood, it is difficult to prove that it has indeed been sourced from a protected reserve.
  • The DNA technique is now giving forest officials fresh hope.
  • Nauradehi is Madhya Pradesh's largest wildlife sanctuary. It was created in 1975 and consists of forest spread over 1,197 square km across four districts of the state.
  • In addition to precious trees like teak, saja, dhawda, sal, tendu, bhira, mahua and sandalwood, the sanctuary is also home to the keystone species of the Indian wolf, the Bengal tiger, the Indian leopard, the striped hyena, crocodiles and many other wild animals and rare birds.
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DAYS AND EVENTS

70th Republic Day Celebration

  •  The 70th Republic Day celebrations were held at Rajpath, Delhi. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was the chief guest this year.
  • The ceremonial parade was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Ram Nath Kovind, vice president M Venkaiah Naidu, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Rahul Gandhi and other dignitaries.
  • After the national anthem, slain soldier Lance Naik Nazir Ahmad Wani was posthumously awarded the Ashok Chakra by President Kovind. The former militant-turned-soldier was awarded the country's highest peacetime gallantry honour for laying down his life fighting militants in Shopian in November 2018. Wani's wife and mother received the award.
  • For the first time, four Indian Indian National Army veterans—all above 95-years-old— participated in the parade. Assam Rifles also created history by fielding an all-women marching contingent led by Major Khusboo Kanwar for the first time.
  • While Captain Shikha Sharma was the first woman army officer to become a stunt rider, the audience's loudest cheers were reserved for the human pyramid formed by 33 daredevils on nine motorcycles.
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GOVERNMENT POLICIES AND SCHEMES

MP Unveils 100-day Job Scheme for EWS

  •  Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath announced the launch of Yuva Swabhiman Yojana — a scheme that assures 100 days of employment to the economically weaker sections (EWS) in urban areas, riffing off a similar programme for rural poor families launched by the then UPA government in 2005-06. Registration for the scheme is to begin from February 10.
  • The announcement was made by Nath during his Republic Day address in Chhindwara.
  • According to the provisions of the scheme, the beneficiaries will be trained in a field of their choice during the 100-day period.
  • These skills will make them employable in different sectors.
  • The chief minister said the scheme was launched because there were programmes that benefited the urban poor the way Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Generation Scheme (MGNREGS) helped the rural poor get 100 days of employment.
  • According to the state census, there are 2.4 million unemployed people in Madhya Pradesh and every seventh house in the state has an unemployed person.
  • During his speech, Nath also announced an increase in social security pension from the existing ~300 to ~600 per month for the elderly, differently abled and widows from April, with a promise to increase the amount every year. The Congress, in its election manifesto, had promised that the amount would be increased to ~1,000 per month.
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