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General Awareness

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General Awareness - Top Stories

13 Feb 2019

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS

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Taliban Forms Team for Peace Talks

  •  The Taliban announced a 14-member team to meet American negotiators in February in Doha, including five former Guantanamo Bay inmates and a high-profile militant behind bars in Afghanistan.
  • U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has undertaken extensive recent peace talks with the Taliban about ending the 17-year war in Afghanistan, with another round expected in late February.
  • The expanded negotiating team unveiled by the insurgents includes Anas Haqqani, who was captured in 2014 and whose older brother is deputy Taliban leader and head of the Haqqani network.
  • The Taliban has long demanded that Anas be released, saying that he is a student. Afghan authorities accuse him of a being a high-level player in the Haqqani network.

A Tentative Border Deal

  •  House and Senate negotiators reached an agreement in principle to avert another government shutdown at the end of the week.
  • President Trump said that he was not happy with the deal, although he did not signal whether he would sign it or veto it.
  • The deal would provide $1.375 billion for physical barriers at the southern border with Mexico, far lower than the $5.7 billion Mr. Trump had demanded. And it would allow for 55 miles of new fencing, a fraction of the 200-mile steel-and-concrete wall the president had envisioned.
  • The deal appeared to be a win for Democrats, who were able to weave in a reduction of the number of migrants and undocumented immigrants who can be held in detention centers.

Australia to Allow Medical Evacuation

  •  The Australian Parliament narrowly passed legislation that would let some asylum seekers being held on remote Pacific islands come to Australia for medical treatment, a blow to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who had strongly opposed the measure.
  • Under Australia's offshore detention policy, asylum seekers who try to reach the country by boat are barred from ever settling there.
  • About 1,000 migrants intercepted at sea have spent years on the tiny island nation of Nauru or on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, under conditions that visiting experts have described as dire.
  • The detention policy has been condemned by the United Nations and various human rights groups, and Australians who oppose it celebrated the 75 to 74 vote in the House of Representatives and the 36 to 34 vote in the Senate. 

ENVIRONMENT

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Increasing Earth's Green Cover

  •  According to a Boston University report prepared from data received from NASA satellites, India and China have led the way in increasing Earth's green cover, the two countries are ahead of others in increasing the green cover.
  • As per the study, the Earth's green cover is more at present than what it was 20 years back. A bulk of the credit goes to India and China where tree-planting exercises, as well as intensive agriculture, has helped the cause.
  • The two Asian countries are followed by European Union, Canada, Russia, Australia, the United States and Mexico which are above the global average of in changes in lead areas between 2000 and 2017.

BUSINESS AND ECONOMY

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Air India Arm Stake Sale

  •  The government has invited interest for 98% stake sale in Air India's ground handling arm — Air India Air Transport Services Limited (AIATSL). The remaining 2% will be offered to the employees of the subsidiary for a stock ownership plan.
  • The expression of interest was floated on behalf of Air India Asset Holding Company, the special purpose vehicle set up by the government which will house Air India's subsidiaries, assets as well as debt. Interested players have time till March 26 to submit their bids.
  • The ground handling company currently provides passenger and baggage handling, cabin cleaning, ramp handling and cargo handling services at 76 airports. 
  • Private limited companies, public limited companies, corporate, funds and AIATSL employees are eligible to buy the ground handling company, either as a sole bidder or as part of a consortium provided they have a net worth of at least Rs. 200 crore.

JSW Steel Receives Letter of Intent from BPSL

  •  JSW Steel has received letter of intent (LoI) from the resolution professional of Bhushan Power & Steel Limited (BPSL), taking the country's largest steelmaker a step closer towards acquisition of the insolvent company.
  • The development comes more than a week after the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) turned down Tata Steel's request to consider its bid as the most legitimate one for BPSL.
  • The resolution plan will be submitted to the National Company Law Tribunal after company's approval. JSW Steel topped Tata Steel's offer of Rs. 17,000 crore with Rs. 19,650 crore bid. 

RBI Penalises Seven Banks

  •  Seven Banks were penalised by the Reserve Bank of India for violating various norms.
  • Three banks- HDFC Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank and IDBI Bank were fined Rs. 2 million each for non-compliance with various directions issued by RBI on Know Your Customer (KYC) norms and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) standards.
  • As per RBI, this 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 banks with their customers.
  • The central bank also penalised four other banks- Allahabad Bank, Andhra Bank, Indian Overseas Bank and Bank of Maharashtra- for non-compliance with various directions issued by RBI on monitoring of end use of funds, exchange of information with other banks, classification and reporting of frauds, and on restructuring of accounts.
  • While Andhra Bank was fined Rs. 10 million, the other banks were fined Rs. 15 million each. 

SPORTS

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New Australia Sports Super-watchdog

  •  Australia unveiled a new national integrity body to tackle cheating and corruption in sport in the wake of a ball-tampering "sandpapergate" scandal that rocked cricket.
  • The new watchdog, Sport Integrity Australia, will combine the powers of three existing agencies, including the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA), to better investigate doping, match-fixing, illegal betting, organised crime and corruption.
  • In addition to ASADA, the new umbrella body will incorporate the National Integrity of Sport Unit and the integrity watchdog functions of the governmental Sport Australia agency.
  • The current agencies are set to receive a boost in funding before Sport Integrity Australia formally launches in two years.

Nehal Wadhera to Captain India "A" U-19 Cricket Team

  •  Ludhiana cricketer Nehal Wadhera has been selected to captain the India "A" U-19 Indian squad for one-day matches in the upcoming series to be played against South Africa, Afghanistan and India "B".
  • This series would be starting from March 5, 2019 onwards from Thiruvananthapuram. Young top order left handed batsman also participated in the U-19 tour of Sri Lanka in July 2018, where he had stunned everyone by scoring two half centuries.
  • He started his international career by hitting a six. He was part of the U-19 team for Asia Cup held at Dhaka (Bangladesh) in September 2018.
  • It is believed that Nehal's performance in the Challengers Trophy matches played at Lucknow few months back helped him in donning the captain's hat for the upcoming series.
  • Otherwise known as a very cool and composed scorer, he played a pivotal role in India Green picking the Challenger's trophy at Lucknow. 

NATIONAL AFFAIRS

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India and Maldives Reverse Visa Stand-off

  •  India and Maldives exchanged an agreement to facilitate visas for travel between the two countries in a number of categories, easing a bilateral stand-off which had resulted in thousands of Indian job seekers being denied work permits in 2018.
  • This agreement provides a very liberal visa regime for Maldivian nationals to visit India for tourism, business, education and medical purposes.
  • It also makes it easier for Indians to travel to Maldives for business purposes. The agreement was signed in December 2018 during the visit of Maldives President Ibu Solih.
  • The agreement will ease visas on arrival for Indian businessmen, and bring cheer to Indians applying for work in the Maldives, as it stipulates that work permits will be issued within 15 days to Indian employees, and the visa fees will be paid by employers in the Maldives.

Jharkhand Bans Popular Front of India

  •  The Jharkhand government banned the Popular Front of India (PFI) in the State to curb its anti-national activities and for links with terror outfits like the IS.
  • The PFI has been banned with immediate effect under the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 1908.

DEFENCE

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Contract for Assault Rifles

  •  After several failed attempts to equip the infantry with a basic rifle, the Army signed a contract with Sig Sauer of the U.S. for 72,400 SIG716 assault rifles for front-line soldiers deployed in operational areas.
  • The entire lot will be delivered in 12 months.
  • Of the 72,400 rifles, 66,400 are meant for the Army, 2,000 for the Navy and 4,000 for the Air Force. The new rifles will replace the Indian National Small Arms System (INSAS) rifles.
  • The Defence Ministry also issued the Expression of Interest (EoI) for a deal to buy 111 naval utility helicopters.
  • This is the first project to be executed through the strategic partnership policy.
  • Under this, the chosen Indian private company will team up with the Original Equipment Manufacturer to build the product in India.

IAF to Get Israeli Killer Drones

  •  In a move which is set to enhance unmanned warfare capability of Indian Air Force (IAF), the Defence Ministry approved the proposal to acquire 54 Israeli HAROP attack drones which can destroy the high-value enemy military targets completely by directly crashing into them.
  • The IAF already has an inventory of around 110 of these drones, which are equipped with electro-optical sensors.
  • These sensors allow the drones to move over high-value military targets such as surveillance bases and radar stations before destroying them.

PERSONS IN NEWS

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Sibghatullah Mojaddedi Passes Away

  •  Former Afghan mujahideen commander Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, who fought the Soviets and rose to become the country's interim President after the collapse of the Afghan communist regime in 1992, died at the age of 93.
  • His death comes three days before the 30th anniversary of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.
  • Mr. Mojaddedi served just two months as interim President under a power-sharing deal struck by mujahideen leaders.
  • In 2003, he served as chairman of the Loya Jirga — or Grand Assembly — that approved the Constitution for a post-Taliban era. 

Ram Jatan Sinha Joined JD (U)

  •  Former Bihar Congress president Ram Jatan Sinha joined the ruling Janata Dal (United) and lavished praise on Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who heads the party.
  • Sinha had severed his ties with the Congress ahead of the 2015 assembly polls which he unsuccessfully contested as an Independent candidate.
  • A three-time MLA from Makhdumpur assembly segment in Jehanabad district, now a reserved constituency, Sinha had served as the BPCC president in 2003.
  • Sinha is the second former state unit chief of the Congress to have joined the JD(U) in a year. In February 2018, three Congress MLCs including former BPCC president Ashok Choudhary had crossed over to Nitish Kumar's party.

AWARDS AND HONOURS

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Queen Elizabeth Prize

  •  This year's £1m QE Engineering Prize has been won by four Americans who played key roles in developing GPS.
  • The Americans Brad Parkinson, James Spilker Jr, Hugo Fruehauf, and Richard Schwartz were all present at the London ceremony held to announce the honour.
  • The Global Positioning System began as a military project but has since had a revolutionary impact on wider society, and now underpins hundreds of billions of dollars of economic activity.
  • GPS is made possible by a network of 24-plus spacecraft in orbit that transmit precise timing and positional information to receivers around the globe. 

ART AND CULTURE

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Artists from India Win Japan Snow Sculpting Competition

  •  Three poor, rural lads have won accolades for the country by bagging the first prize at the international snow art competition held in Japan.
  • Hailing from remote villages of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh (MP) and Uttar Pradesh (UP), the three artists pooled their resources to participate in the event and got the achievement without any government sponsorship or support.
  • Working under the most adverse conditions, the ill-equipped youths of Team India Abhyuday beat the better equipped 11 teams from eight developed countries that participated in the International Snow Sculpturing Competition (ISSC) Japan Cup 2019, held at Nayoro in Japan from February 6 to 9.
  • Team Russia and Team Thailand came second and third respectively.
  • This was the first-ever team from India to participate in the extremely popular competition in Japan.
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