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Daily G.K. - Top Stories

19 Mar 2021


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US Senate Confirms Becerra as Head of Biden's Ambitious Health Agenda

  • The Senate confirmed California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as President Joe Biden's health secretary, filling a key position in the administration's coronavirus response and its ambitious push to lower drug costs, expand insurance coverage, and eliminate racial disparities in medical care.
  • The 50-49 vote makes the 63-year-old Becerra the first Latino to head the Department of Health and Human Services.
  • The USD 1.4 trillion agency encompasses health insurance programs, drug safety and approvals, advanced medical research, substance abuse treatment, and the welfare of children, including hundreds of Central American migrants arriving daily at the US-Mexico border.
  • Becerra has been California's attorney general since 2017. He sued the Trump administration 124 times on a range of policy issues, earning the ire of conservatives. Before that he represented a Los Angeles-area district in the US House for 24 years.

North Korea to Sever Diplomatic Ties with Malaysia

  • North Korea said that it would sever diplomatic relations with Malaysia after a court there ruled that a North Korean man could be extradited to the United States to face money-laundering charges.
  • North Korea's Foreign Affairs Ministry also warned Washington would "pay a price". Malaysia's Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
  • The North Korean statement did not name its citizen, but in early March, Malaysia's top court ruled that a North Korean man, Mun Chol Myong, could be extradited.
  • Mun had been arrested in 2019 after the United States accused him of laundering funds through front companies and issuing fraudulent documents to support illicit shipments to North Korea. He fought the extradition request, arguing that it was politically motivated.
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HSBC in Talks to Sell French Retail Banking to Cerberus

  • HSBC has entered final negotiations to sell its French retail banking business to private equity firm Cerberus.
  • The planned disposal is part of HSBC Chief Executive Noel Quinn's strategy to slash costs across the banking group and Reuters previously reported that Cerberus was among two remaining bidders.
  • The talks are conditional on price and terms and may not necessarily result in a sale.
  • HSBC is working with Lazard to sell its 270 retail branches in France, but has been struggling to attract interest as bidders fret over restructuring costs and complex talks with local regulators.

Hero Sets up Global Headquarters in London

  • Hero Motors Company (HMC) announced the setting up of its international headquarters Hero International (HIT) in London to strengthen its global presence. HIT is aimed at bringing HMC's European businesses under one umbrella and giving its electric bike business a major boost globally.
  • The move will unify the HMC-owned European businesses, including HNF GmbH in Germany and Insync Bikes in the UK, by bringing them under one umbrella. The company aims to take up its European revenue up to €300 million by 2021.
  • HMC's Global R&D is currently centralised in Berlin with HNF which is a premium engineering unit.

India Signs Contracts to Develop Water Supply and Sewerage Network in Maldives

  • Contracts to develop Water Supply and Sewerage network across 34 islands of the Maldives were signed in the presence of Minister of Planning, Housing and Infrastructure, Mohamed Aslam, Minister of Finance, Ibrahim Ameer, Secretary (Multilateral) from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Dr. Hala Hameed and Deputy High Commissioner of India Rohit Rathish.
  • Development of Water Supply and Sewerage System in 34 islands of the Maldives is the most geographically dispersed of the 9 mega infrastructure projects being undertaken under EXIM Bank of India's Lines of Credit (LoCs) extended to the Maldives.
  • The 34 islands chosen by the Government of the Maldives for the project span across 16 atolls viz. Haa Alifu, Haa Dhaalu, Shaviyani, Noonu, Lhaviyani, Kaafu Alifalifu, Alif Dhaalu, Vaavu, Meemu, Faafu, Dhaalu, Thaa, Laamu, Gaafu Alifu and Gaafu Dhaalu.
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A Gargantuan Supernova Remnant Looks 40 Times as Big as the Full Moon

  • A cloud of expanding gas in space is the largest supernova remnant ever seen in the sky, a new study confirms.
  • The Milky Way has some 300 known supernova remnants, each made of debris from an exploded star mixed with interstellar material swept up by the blast.
  • This supersized one, located in the constellation Antlia, is not necessarily the biggest of all physically, but thanks to its proximity to us, it looks the biggest. As seen from Earth, it spans a region of sky more than 40 times the size of a full moon. The Antlia remnant appears about three times as large as the previous champion, the Vela supernova remnant.
  • The star that created the Antlia supernova remnant exploded roughly 100,000 years ago. 

India Top Country in World in Use of Mobile Apps

  • IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad informed the Rajya Sabha that India has become the top country in the world in the use of mobile applications and the government is encouraging and promoting Indian innovators to create apps.
  • Replying to supplementaries during the Question Hour, he said that the Digital India programme coupled with encouragement being given by the government to promote Indian innovators to create apps has of late become a big movement.

ISRO Gaganyaan

  • Data Patterns, a Chennai-based firm delivered a crucial component that is meant to be used in Gaganyaan, which is India's ambitious human spaceflight programme. The checkout system, which was delivered to the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), is meant to perform health checks of the various cable harness assemblies used in the Crew Module, which houses the astronauts. 
  • The handing over ceremony took place at Data Patterns' facility near Chennai, in the presence of Dr. S Unnikrishnan Nair, Director, Human Space Flight Centre (HSFC) among others. According to the private firm, the component was delivered within four months, against the typical schedule of twelve months.
  • During its three decade-long association with ISRO, Data Patterns has supplied the 14000 point countdown checkout system for the second launch pad, upgraded the launch vehicle tracking radars, supplied the X-Band and C-Band weather radars.
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All England Championship

  • Lakshya Sen became the youngest Indian male shuttler to reach All England Championship quarter-finals, where Olympic silver medallist P. V. Sindhu joined him with an easy win at the Super 1000 tournament.
  • Sindhu, the reigning world champion, recorded a dominant 21-8 win over Denmark's Line Christophersen in a completely lop-sided second-round match.
  • Lakshya from Almora, who had claimed five titles in 2019, saw off France's Thomas Rouxel 21-18 21-16 to make it to his maiden quarter-finals.

Rohit Second Indian to Complete 9000 Runs in T20 Cricket

  • Senior opener Rohit Sharma became the second Indian to complete 9000 runs in T20 cricket after skipper Virat Kohli.
  • Rohit achieved the feat during the fourth T20 International against England at the Narendra Modi Stadium.
  • Rohit, who is one of the modern-day greats in white-ball cricket, is the ninth highest-run getter in the T20 format.

'Girl Gang' Official Song of ICC Women's World Cup 2022

  • Girl Gang, a track by New Zealand singer Gin Wigmore, has been announced as the official song of the 2022 ICC Women's World Cup. The tournament is set to be hosted in New Zealand from March 4 to April 3, 2022.
  • The International Cricket Council (ICC) made the announcement in an event at Mt Maunganui Beach with Wigmore skydiving to the beach with the World Cup trophy in her hands.
  • Originally scheduled to be held from February 6 to March 7, 2021, the World Cup was postponed by a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
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Parliamentary Panel for Use of 'Officials of the Union of India' in Place of Central Government Officials

  • A parliamentary committee has suggested the use of the term "officials of the Union of India" in place of "central government officials" for those serving in all the three organs of governance – the executive, the legislative and the judiciary.
  • In its report, the panel observed that the executive, the legislature and the judiciary have well-defined roles and they all function under the Constitution.
  • The committee is of the considered opinion that these three organs of governance, by and large, constitute the Union government.
  • The committee desires the term 'Central Government' to be substituted by 'Union of India' and the officials of the three organs of governance of the Union government, henceforth, be referred to as Officials of the Union of India.

Dr. Harsh Vardhan Appointed as Chairman of International Body Stop TB Partnership Board

  • Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare Dr. Harsh Vardhan has been appointed as the Chairman of the international body Stop TB Partnership Board. He was appointed in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the movement to eradicate Tuberculosis from India by 2025. Dr. Harsh Vardhan will serve a three-year term, commencing from July this year.
  • The Stop TB Partnership is a unique international body with the power to align actors all over the world in the fight against TB. The participation of a wide range of constituencies gives this global body the credibility and the broad range of medical, social and financial expertise needed to defeat TB. The Partnership's vision is a TB-free world.
  • The appointment of Dr. Harsh Vardhan as the Chair of this prestigious global body is a proud recognition of India's political commitment to the eradication of TB. Established in the year 2000, the 'Stop TB Partnership' is mandated to eliminate Tuberculosis as a public health problem.

Arindam Bagchi Next Spokesperson of Ministry of External Affairs

  • Senior diplomat Arindam Bagchi is set to be the new spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), succeeding Anurag Srivastava.
  • A 1995-batch Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officer, Bagchi is currently serving as the joint secretary (north) at the MEA headquarters.
  • Srivastava will assume charge as the joint secretary (north) in place of Bagchi.
  • Bagchi served as India's ambassador to Croatia from November 2018 to June 2020.
  • He was India's Deputy High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and also served at the Prime Minister's Office as a director.
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Indian Navy Conducts Passage Exercise with Bahrain's Navy

  • Indian Navy undertook Passage Exercise (PASSEX) with Royal Bahrain Naval Force Corvette Al Muharraq in the Persian Gulf under Operation Sankalp.
  • Enhancing interoperability & strengthening bilateral Maritime cooperation, Reassuring Diaspora & merchant shipping INS Talwar Mission Deployed for Op Sankalp, undertook Passage Exercise (PASSEX) with Royal Bahrain Naval Force Corvette Al Muharraq in the Persian Gulf till March 21.
  • PASSEXs are conducted regularly by the Indian Navy with units of friendly foreign navies, whilst visiting each other's ports or during a rendezvous at sea.
  • Maritime Security Operations, code-named Op Sankalp was initiated in the Gulf region on June 19, 2019, in the aftermath of the attacks on merchant ships in the Gulf of Oman. 
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Ordnance Factories Day

  • Ordnance Factory Day is observed every year on the March 18 to commemorate the foundation of the first Ordnance Factory at Cossipore near Kolkata in 1801.
  • The day is celebrated by displaying the rifles, guns, artillery, ammunition in exhibitions all over India. Usually the exhibitions are open to all. The celebrations start with a parade and the exhibition also displays the photographs of various mountaineering expeditions.
  • The theme 2021 of Ordnance Factories Day is Vinashaya Dushkritam.
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Rajya Sabha Passes Bill to Hike FDI in Insurance

  • The Bill to hike the foreign direct investment (FDI) limit in the insurance sector to 74 per cent provides adequate safeguards so that control, ownership, and money collected from policyholders stays within the country, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told Parliament.
  • Insurance is a highly regulated sector where every product, its pricing, investment and marketing is regulated in the country, Sitharaman said in response to a debate on the Bill in the Rajya Sabha. The Bill was later passed by the Upper House.
  • The decision to increase the FDI limit from the current 49 per cent was taken after the sector's regulator Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) held detailed consultations with stakeholders.
  • The Bill provides that no insurer shall, directly or indirectly, invest policyholders' funds outside India. Indian companies that have foreign investment will also be required to retain a specific percentage of profits as a general reserve.
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Rajasthan Passes Demand for Higher Education Grants

  • The Rajasthan Assembly has passed the demand for grants of Rs. 370.60 for the higher education by voice vote.
  • The bill was passed amid the protest by the opposition legislators. The bill was passed in line with the government's focus on the skill development and quality education.
  • Demand for Grant is a form where the estimates of expenditure from the Consolidated Fund are included in annual financial statement or the Budget. The demand for grant is required to be voted upon in Lok Sabha or in the state assembly.  The demand for grants is submitted in light with Article 113 of the Constitution.
  • It comprises the provisions with respect to the revenue expenditure, grants to state & Union Territory governments, capital expenditure along with the loans and advances. The demand for grant is presented with respect to each ministry or department. On the other hand, for the large ministries and departments more than one demand is put forward. It includes both the voted and the charged expenditure.

IIT Kharagpur, University of Manchester Launch India-UK Dual Doctoral Programme

  • IIT Kharagpur and The University of Manchester announced the launch of a dual award PhD programme which represents the next phase of their strategic partnership. This will serve to consolidate and build on existing research collaborations across a number of thematic areas including environmental geochemistry, biomaterials and Industry 4.0.
  • Students will be jointly recruited and spend time in both Manchester and Kharagpur, benefiting from the expertise, facilities and infrastructure of two globally renowned institutions.
  • The programme, launching this July, will be open to IIT and IISc graduates from India during its initial phase.
  • Successful candidates will be required to enrol at both institutions spending the first year at IIT Kharagpur with the remaining time on the programme split between the University of Manchester and IIT Kharagpur according to the project requirements as determined by the supervisors and the Joint Programme Board.
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Maharashtra Governor Releases e-book Titled Dawn Under The Dome

  • The Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari released a digital e-book titled Dawn Under The Dome. The digital book depicts the history of the Mumbai General Post Office building.
  • It has been authored by Post Master General of Mumbai Swati Pandey in collaboration with Orchida Mukherjee.
  • The book says that three types of Indian stones were used in the construction of the building: the grey basalt with buff trachyte and the Yellowstone from Mumbai's Kurla and Malad respectively and the white stone from Dharandhra.
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