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General Awareness

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General Awareness - Top Stories

08 Mar 2019

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS

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Dissolution of Key Thai Party

  • A key party linked to Thailand's powerful Shinawatra clan was dissolved by a court, just weeks before a general election, over its ill-starred bid to front a Princess as a candidate for Premier.
  • Thai Raksa Chart, which is tied to ex-Premiers Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra, proposed Princess Ubolratana as its prime ministerial candidate if its bloc emerged with a Lower House majority after the March 24 election.
  • The Election Commission alleged that Thai Raksa Chart had committed an act "hostile to the constitutional monarchy" and called for its dissolution.

India Excluded again from Student Visa Relaxation List

  • As per reports, India is, once again, not included in an expanded list of countries from where students applying for visas will be subject to less stringent documentation requirements.
  • This follows last year's controversy when the failure to include India triggered much criticism, particularly after the U.K. sought to suggest that the exclusion related to New Delhi's decision to pull out of a Memorandum of Understanding on the return of illegal migrants.
  • Among the new countries to which the streamlined documentary requirements apply are Peru, Kazakhstan, Mauritius and Oman. This change will not only benefit students but also help to ensure that the U.K.'s world-leading education institutions remain competitive internationally.

U.K. Offers All Assistance to Fight Terror

  • A week after the Indian Air Force targeted a Jaish-e-Mohammad training camp at Balakot in Pakistan, the U.K. has offered India all assistance in counter-terrorism and intelligence sharing. The offer was made during a telephone call between National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and his British counterpart, Mark Sedwill.
  • Sedwill said that all assistance in dealing with any form of terrorism will be extended to India bilaterally through counter-terrorism cooperation, intelligence sharing and by bringing the perpetrators of terrorist attacks to justice.

ENVIRONMENT

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Greenland Ice Sheet Melting Even in Winter

  • A new study has found that rain is becoming more frequent in Greenland and accelerating the melting of its ice.
  • Scientists are surprised to discover rain falling even during the long Arctic winter.
  • The massive Greenland ice-sheet is being watched closely because it holds a huge store of frozen water.
  • And if all of that ice melted, the sea level would rise by seven metres, threatening coastal population centres around the world.

BUSINESS AND ECONOMY

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Volkswagen India to Deposit Rs. 500 crore

  • The National Green Tribunal (NGT) directed Volkswagen India to deposit a sum of Rs. 500 crore with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) within two months for using cheat devices in its diesel vehicles.
  • A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel enhanced the compensation amount of Rs. 171 crore, which was recommended by an NGT-appointed committee, as a means of "creating deterrence. 

New Coal Linkage Rules

  • The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approved new rules that will provide greater coal availability to stressed thermal power projects, based on the recommendations of the Group of Ministers constituted to look into the issue. One of the reasons for the stress was the [non] availability of coal and that thermal projects without medium to long-term power purchase agreements would not get coal supply.

Income Tax Exemption Limit on Gratuity Doubled

  • As per the Labour Ministry, the income tax exemption limit on gratuity has been doubled to Rs. 20 lakh from the existing Rs. 10 lakh. This move will benefit employees who are not covered by the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972. 

Renewable Status for Large Hydro Power Projects

  • To boost hydro power generation, the government approved a slew of measures including providing renewable energy status for large hydro projects and new funding provisions.
  • Earlier, hydro projects up to 25 MW capacity were considered as renewables and were eligible for various incentives like financial assistance and cheaper credit.
  • With the government's decision, hydro projects above 25 MW can also avail the benefits.
  • The Cabinet decision has also paved the way for adding hydro capacities of about 45 GW to the renewable energy basket of existing 74 GW which includes solar, wind and small hydro.

Government to Come Out with Rs. 20 Coins

  • The Government will come out with the first-ever Rs. 20 coin, which will be shaped like a 12-edged polygon with design of grains. A new series of one, two, five and ten-rupee coins too would be minted, with denominations written in the Hindi script. The exact date of issuance of these new series coins is yet to be announced.

Notifications on GST Exemption Limit

  • These notifications shall come into effect from the 1st of April, 2019. The decisions were announced on January 10 after the GST Council's 32nd meeting.
  • The government issued three notifications to implement a slew of concessions for small businesses, including doubling of Goods and Services Tax (GST) exemption limit to Rs. 40 lakh. The move is expected to benefit an additional two million micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), a key political constituency, ahead of the crucial general elections.
  • According to the changed rules, state governments would opt for one of the two threshold limits for MSMEs: Rs 40 lakh and Rs 20 lakh. MSMEs having a turnover above these limits would be mandatorily required to get the GST registration for suppliers of goods.

The Fastest Billionaire Population Growth

  • According to a report released by Knight Frank LLP, the number of Asian billionaires will rise by 27 per cent to 1,003 between 2018 and 2023, making up more than a third of the world's total billionaire population of 2,696. The billionaire population growth rates for North America and Europe are 17 per cent and 18 per cent respectively.
  • Asia will see the fastest billionaire population growth in the world over the next four years, despite economic uncertainties in the region triggered by the China-US trade war.
  • Asia will also see the biggest increase in ultra-high net worth individuals (people with net assets of $30 million or more). India leads the world with an expected 39 per cent surge, followed by the Philippines and China.

SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

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SpaceX Dragon Demo Capsule

  • America's new commercial astronaut capsule will complete its demonstration flight with a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.
  • The SpaceX Dragon vehicle will leave the International Space Station (ISS) where it's been docked this past week and drop through the atmosphere.
  • It has a heat-shield to protect it from the high temperatures of re-entry.
  • The mission, which has no humans aboard, only a dummy covered in sensors, has gone according to the script so far.
  • Assuming the Dragon performs equally well in the coming hours, it will set the stage for the US space agency (NASA) to approve the vehicle for crewed flights.

SPORTS

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India-A Defeats Afghanistan

  • India-A won against Afghanistan by 92 runs in the Quadrangular Under-19 one-day series at the Sports Hub.
  • With this second win, India-A ensured its place in the final while it was second consecutive loss for Afghanistan in the tournament.

All England Championship

  • Saina Nehwal defeated Denmark's Line Hojmark Kjaersfeldt in three games and made the quarterfinals of the All England Championship.
  • K. Srikanth also entered the last eight defeating Indonesia's Jonatan Christie.

NATIONAL AFFAIRS

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Names for Lok Pal Shortlisted

  • Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal informed the Supreme Court that names for Lokpal, the anti-corruption ombudsman, have been shortlisted and forwarded to the Selection Committee chaired by the Prime Minister.
  • A Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi asked Mr. Venugopal to enquire within 10 days about the probable date by which the Selection Committee would meet to finalise the appointment of the first Lokpal Chairperson and members.
  • As per Mr. Venugopal, 10 names were shortlisted for Lokpal Chairperson and five names each for judicial and non-judicial members.

Congress' First List for U.P. and Gujarat

  • The Congress announced party president Rahul Gandhi as its candidate from Amethi and Sonia Gandhi from Rae Bareli.
  • The party released its first list of 15 Lok Sabha candidates for Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.
  • Among the 15 candidates announced, four are from Gujarat and 11 from U.P.
  • In Uttar Pradesh, former Union Ministers and MPs have been named. While Salman Khursid will contest the Farrukhabad seat, R.P.N. Singh has been named from Kushinagar. Jitin Prasad is the candidate for Dhaurahra and Anu Tandon for Unnao.
  • Former U.P. Congress chief Nirmal Khatri will contest in Faizabad and Salim Sherwani from Badaun. Imran Masood is the candidate for Saharanpur.
  • In Gujarat, former Congress chief Bharatsinh Solanki has been fielded from Anand, Raju Parmar from Ahmedabad West and Prashant Patel from Vadodara.

DEFENCE

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Deal on Nuclear Submarine

  • As per reports, India sealed a $3-billion deal with Russia for leasing a nuclear-powered attack submarine for the Indian Navy for a period of 10 years.
  • The two countries signed an inter-governmental agreement capping months of negotiations on price and other aspects of the deal. Under the pact, Russia will have to deliver the Akula class submarine, to be known as Chakra III, to the Indian Navy by 2025. It will be the third Russian submarine to be leased to the Navy.

PERSONS IN NEWS

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Soumya Swaminathan is WHO Chief Scientist

  • Previously, she was one of the three Deputy Director-Generals supporting the Director-General in overseeing all programmes. She was the first Indian to hold the post. 
  • As part of the reforms at the World Health Organisation (WHO), Soumya Swaminathan has been moved from the position of Deputy Director-General to chief scientist heading the division created to strengthen the organisation's core scientific work and ensure the quality and consistency of its norms and standards.

DAYS AND EVENTS

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International Women's Day

  • International Women's Day (IWD) is celebrated on March 8 every year. It is a focal point in the movement for women's rights.
  • After the Socialist Party of America organized a Women's Day on February 28, 1909 in New York, the 1910 International Socialist Woman's Conference suggested a Women's Day be held annually. After women gained suffrage in Soviet Russia in 1917, March 8 became a national holiday there. The day was then predominantly celebrated by the socialist movement and communist countries until it was adopted in 1975 by the United Nations.
  • The theme for 2019 International Women's Day 2019 is: 'Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change'.

AWARDS AND HONOURS

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GD Birla Award for Scientific Research

  • The 28th GD Birla Award for Scientific Research for the year 2018 was awarded to Dr. Rajeev K. Varshney of the Centre of Excellence in Genomics, Telangana. Varshney is internationally known for his outstanding contribution in the area of decoding plant genomes, genomics-assisted breeding, and translational genomics for agriculture.
  • He has made a pioneering contribution by integrating advanced discoveries in genomics with crop improvement in developing countries. He has genome sequences of 9 crops.
  • The GD Birla Award for Scientific Research was instituted in 1991 by the KK Birla Foundation with the objective of accord recognition to high calibre scientific research undertaken by Indian scientists living and working in India. It is awarded to scientists below the age of 50 for their original and outstanding contributions to any branch of Science or Technology. It carries a cash prize of Rs. 5 lakh.

GOVERNMENT POLICIES AND SCHEMES

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Scheme to Rebate Embedded Taxes

  • The Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, approved a scheme to rebate State and Central Embedded Taxes for apparels and made-ups exports.
  • This will enable the Government to take various measures for making exports of apparels and made-ups zero-rated. The government has a Rebate of State Levies (ROSL) for these two segments. However, some taxes were not covered under the scheme. The Cabinet decision is to rebate all embedded taxes of the Central and State Governments.
  • The new scheme would come into effect when the rates are notified. It is applicable for apparel and made-ups now and will be extended to yarn in the future.

Ex-Servicemen Contributory Health Scheme

  • The Cabinet approved the grant of Ex-Servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS) facilities to Second World War veterans, Emergency Commissioned Officers, Short Service Commissioned Officers and premature retirees. This would benefit over 43,000 individuals who were so far not covered under the ECHS.
  • The facility allows them to get cashless medical treatment through a network of over 425 ECHS polyclinics, 2,500 empanelled private hospitals and all government hospitals throughout the country, subject to certain conditions.
  • Launched by the NDA government in April 2003, the facility provides quality medicare to 54 lakh ex-servicemen pensioners, their dependants and a few other categories.

GENDER/ HEALTH/ EDUCATION

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Nod to 50 New Kendriya Vidyalayas

  • The Union Cabinet, chaired by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi approved setting up of 50 new Kendriya Vidyalayas across the country. This includes many in areas which are affected by Left-wing extremism.
  • According to KV officials, Rs. 1,579.9 crores will be spent in next five years on construction and staff salary for the 50 new schools. The schools are proposed to be opened in the civil and defence areas and once they are fully functional, they will provide quality education to approximately 50,000 students.
  • There are 12,002 KV in the country and three in foreign countries.

BOOKS AND AUTHORS

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Aishwarya Punekar Pens Cookbook in Braille

  • Aishwarya Punekar from Dombivli is probably one of the few writers to publish a cookbook in Braille. Her book, Ruchipalat, was originally written in Marathi.
  • She has distributed 90 copies of her book to institutes for blind in Dombivli, Thane Mumbai and Alandi.

ART AND CULTURE

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Bharat Nritya Utsav - 2019

  • The 'Bharat Nritya Utsav – 2019,' dance festival, inaugurated on January 19 will conclude on March 10. The valedictory function will take place on March 10, at Narada Gana Sabha, Chennai.
  • Nalli Kuppuswami Chetti, art patron, will preside and present certificates and cash awards to 25 artistes, who performed at the fest and were adjudged best performers.
  • More than 50 dance gurus from all over India took part, with their disciples performing at the festival so far. Nearly 125 artistes from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Bombay, Delhi, and some from the U.S. and Singapore took part.
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