2014 – March

Current Affairs for March, 2014

[tabby title=”Featured”]

03 Mar – G7 condemns Russia’s military build-up in Ukraine, US moves to expel Russia from G8

Russia’s G8 partners, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US have condemned Russia’s military build-up in the Crimean Peninsula and have suspended the G8 summit in June. Pro-Russian armed men have taken control of the Crimean Parliament and Russian armed forces have captured major air bases and blocked all major roads, cutting access to the Crimean peninsula. Ukraine’s interim government has accused Russia of having declared war, and has ordered the mobilisation of its armed forces. Russian President Vladimir Putin had so far defied calls from the West to pull back his troops and said that Russia has a right to protect the interests of Russian-speakers in Ukraine. The US has called on Russia to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Meanwhile, the US has also been considering measures to expel Russia from the group of G8 nations and also to freeze Russian assets, cancel trade talks and a visa ban on its officials.

03 Mar – Govt. issues new medical guidelines, 2 finger test outlawed

The Union Health Ministry has issued new guidelines for treating rape victims and has asked all the hospitals to
set up a designated room for forensic and medical examination of victims. Under these guidelines it has also outlawed the two-finger test performed on them (rape victims) by dubbing it as unscientific.

The guidelines also say that doctors are required to give the patient a structured explanation of what the examination comprises and how the various procedures may be carried out.

04 Mar – Sheila Dikshit to be new Kerala governor

Sheila Dikshit, former Delhi chief minister has been recently appointed as the governor of Kerala.

Before her, from March 2013, Nikhil Kumar had held the post. Amid speculations that Nikhil Kumar may contest the Lok Sabha poll from Bihar, and after him subsequently stepping down as the governor, Dikshit was appointed as governor of Kerala.

From 1998 to 2013, Sheila Dikshit served her term as Delhi’s chief minister after which she lost to Arvind Kejriwal, the leader of the Aam Aadmi Party in the December 2013 assembly polls by over 20,000 votes. Before becoming the CM, between 1984 and 1989, Dikshit had represented Kannauj parliamentary constituency in UP.

05 Mar – Rs 100 crore defamation suit by Reliance Infrastructure against AAP in High Court

Reliance Infrastructure filed a Rs 100-crore defamation suit against the Aam Aadmi Party in the Bombay High Court. The defamation suit was their response to allegations against the company regarding malpractices in the company’s power distribution business in Mumbai.

AAP, has been attacking R-Infra for buying power priced higher at over Rs 6 per unit when the cost of generation is around Rs 3.50. AAP also demanded that the R-Infra should remove Regulatory Assets, losses accumulated in previous years that can be recovered by a discom, on the ground that discoms were used to making imaginary losses and later recovering them from customers. AAP has stated that Rs 22,000 crore were lost in Maharashtra in three years due to corruption and inefficiency in the state government and power firms.

AAP had accused Mumbai’s power discoms, R-Infra and Tata PowerBSE -3.25 % of making a wrongful gain of Rs 434 crore in the three years ended March 2013, by overstating taxes while calculating costs. The charges, made by AAP members Anjali Damania, Preeti Sharma Menon and Satish Jain, were strongly denied by the company at the time and they filed a defamation case against them. In its petition, R-Infra has refuted the allegations made by AAP and has stated that the party’s allegations were -incorrect, false, malicious, misleading, and defamatory- and sought the court’s intervention to restrain AAP from repeating such charges. They said that the party was targeting them for political mileage.

06 Mar – Crimea Parliament asks to join Russia

Members of Parliament from Crimea, the peninsula on the southern Ukraine region, have requested Russia to
include it as part of the Russian Federation. Pro-Russian and Russian forces have been in de facto control of the Crimean peninsula for several days. The parliament said if its request was granted, Crimean citizens could give their view in a referendum on 16 March. The ballot released for the referendum shows that Crimean citizens will be given two options: either immediate “reunification” with Russia, or adopting the “1992 constitution”, which gives parliament the power to vote to join Russia. There is no room in the ballot paper for voting against control by Russia. However, Russia has till now not responded to the issue. America, the European Union and Ukraine’s own government have promised not to recognize any change in Crimea’s status.

08 Mar – Malaysia Airlines flight with 227 passengers goes missing in air, no evidence of crash

A Malaysia Airlines flight Flight MH370 carrying 227 passengers, including two infants, and 12 crew members bound for Beijing lost contact with air traffic control after leaving Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur on Saturday 8th March, 2014. The flight has been missing since then and there has been no trace of a crash anywhere in the South China Sea region. The plane, captained by a veteran MAS pilot, had relayed no indications of distress, and weather at the time was said to be good. There had been rumours of plane debris being found near the coast of Vietnam, where flight controllers lost contact with it. It was later proved to be untrue. Ships and aircraft from seven countries and high-capacity satellites of the US and China have been scouring the seas around Malaysia and south of Vietnam for trace of the aircraft. Conspiracy theories have been doing the rounds including that of a terrorist attack on the plane. However, the US has ruled out any such possibility. The passengers on board were of 14 different nationalities, with majority of them Chinese. There were also 5 Indians on the flight. Airlines experts have said that the flight might have disintegrated mid-air and the vast expanse of water was making it difficult for search parties to find any remains.

10 Mar – Four new ozone-depleting gases discovered

Scientists have discovered four new man-made gases in the atmosphere that they say are depleting the ozone
layer more than 20 years after governments started phasing out such substances. Three of the gases discovered are a type of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC), a compound once used in aerosol sprays and refrigerator coolants until it was found to be causing the hole in the ozone layer. The fourth gas is a hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC), a compound that replaced CFCs because it is less harmful to the ozone layer.

Measurements show that all four new gases have been released into the atmosphere recently – and that two are significantly accumulating.

The gases were discovered by comparing today’s air samples with air trapped in snow that acts as a century-old natural archive of the atmosphere.

13 Mar – NSA used Facebook to plant malware on user PCs, report says

New information linked to NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s data indicates that the NSA implemented some of its surveillance activities by masquerading as Facebook servers. The report claims that the NSA spread malware to users’ computers under a program called Turbine.

Turbine, which was allegedly part of a larger intelligence initiative called “Owning the Net,” was reportedly able to infiltrate 85,000 to 100,000 computers around the world. According to the documents cited in the report, the initiative includes a number of targeted operations with codenames and acronyms out of a pulp spy novel. But the one that likely to raise the most eyebrows, called Quantumhand, allegedly used Facebook to gain access to computers around the globe.

17 Mar – India remains the biggest arms buyer over the last 5 years

India remains the biggest buyer of arms in the world, importing nearly three times as many weapons as its nearest competitors China and Pakistan over the last five years, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Indian imports of major weapons rose 111 per cent in the last five years compared to 2004-08 and its share of total global arms imports increased from seven to 14 percent. India had replaced China as the world’s largest arms buyer in 2010. India has a huge defence spending to keep up with better-equipped Chinese forces and a range of military challenges in its hostile neighbourhood. The main supplier of arms to India in 2009-13 was Russia, accounting for 75 per cent of all imports. India has lately started procuring arms from other sources, particularly the US.

18 Mar – Medicines made in India set off safety worries in the US

Following a flurry of recalls and import bans by the Food and Drug Administration, U.S. doctors are becoming concerned about the quality of generic drugs supplied by Indian manufacturers.

In recent months, the FDA, citing quality control problems ranging from data manipulation to sanitation, has banned the importation of products from Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd, Wockhardt Ltd and, most recently, Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.

India supplies about 40 percent of generic and over-the-counter drugs used in the United States, making it the second-biggest supplier after Canada.

18 Mar – Putin signs treaty to include Crimea as part of Russia amidst threat of more sanctions

Ignoring sanctions from the West, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a draft treaty with Crimean leaders, making Crimea a part of Russia. The events unfolded two days after Crimeans voted in a disputed referendum to break away from Ukraine. While his actions were cheered in Crimea and Russia, Ukraine’s government called Putin a threat to the world. The US, Japan and the EU have warned of more sanctions on Russia. But Putin said they won’t deter Russia and sought India and China’s support. The U.S. President Barack Obama has slapped sanctions on 11 Russians and Ukrainians blamed for the seizure, including Ukraine’s ousted president Victor Yanukovich, and Vladislav Surkov and Sergei Glazyev, two aides to Putin. Obama’s order cleared the way to sanction people associated with the arms industry and targets “the personal wealth of cronies” of the Russian leadership. The EU has imposed visa restrictions and freezed assets of 21 Russian and Ukrainian officials.

20 Mar – Noted journalist and author Khushwant Singh passes away

Noted author, scholar and journalist Khushwant Singh, passed away on March 20 at his Delhi home. He was 99. Singh was known for his witty, fearless and acerbic writings. He was one of India’s best satirists and former editor of the now defunct magazines Illustrated Weekly of India and Delhi and later, of the newspapers Hindustan Times and National Herald.

Singh was born on 2 February 1915, at Hadali in Punjab, now in Pakistan. Khushwant Singh authored some internationally renowned books like “Train to Pakistan”, “I Shall Not Hear the Nightingale”, “A History of the Sikhs”, “The Company of Women” and “Delhi”, and has written over 30 novels, many short stories, essays and countless commentaries. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1974 but returned it in 1984 in protest against the storming of the Golden Temple in Amritsar by the Indian army. In 2007, he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan.

20 Mar – Scientists 3-D printing to develop artificial heart tissue that mimics natural heart muscle

Researchers at the Harvard Medical School in Boston and the University of Sydney in Australia have been able to create artificial heart tissues in the lab that mimics the mechanical and biological properties of the native heart. The artificial tissue has worked properly when implanted in animals. Natural proteins that form gelatin-like materials called hydrogels have been utilized to help in the regeneration of various tissues in the body and a human protein called tropoelastin has been used to develop a new family of gels that give the hydrogels resilience and strength. On it, the researchers grow actual heart cells. To make sure the cells form the right structure, researchers have used 3-D printing and micro engineering techniques to create patterns in the gels. These patterns coax the cells to grow the way the researchers want them to.

23 Mar – Scientists announce possibility of particle smaller than Higgs Boson

Thomas Ryttov, particle physicist and associate professor at the Centre for Cosmology and Particle Physics Phenomenology, says that there may exist so-called techni-quarks which can be the yet unseen particles, smaller than the Higgs particle.

If techni-quarks exist they will form a natural exention of the Standard Model which includes three generations of quarks and leptons. These particles together with the fundamental forces form the basis of the observed matter in the universe.

24 Mar – 528 Morsi supporters sentenced to death by Egypt court

528 supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi have been sentenced to death by an Egyptian
court. They were convicted of murdering a policeman and attacks on people and property. The group is among some 1,200 Muslim Brotherhood supporters on trial, including senior members. The attacks took place in August after security forces broke up two camps of pro-Morsi supporters in Cairo, killing hundreds of people. Mr Morsi was ousted by the military last July following mass street protests against his government. He is facing four separate trials. There has since been a severe crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood group, as well as on other activists seen as hostile to the military-backed interim government. The Brotherhood has been declared a terrorist organisation and authorities have punished any public show of support for it. Washington and the UN Human Rights Commission have expressed shock at the mass death sentences.

25 Mar – Top Indian Mujahideen operative Tehsin Akhtar arrested

Chief of terror outfit Indian Mujahideen Tehsin Akhtar, one of the most wanted terrorist blamed for a number
of terror attacks, has been arrested by the special cell of Delhi Police.

Akhtar was heading the Indian Mujahideen after the arrest of Yasin Bhatkal, co-founder of the terror outfit. With the arrest of Tehsin, almost the entire top leadership of Indian Mujahideen has been nabbed by the police.

Indian Mujahideen co-founder Yasin Bhatkal, Tehsin Akhtar, Asadullah Akhtar and Zia Ur Rehman were the brains behind almost every IM attack on Indian soil. Yasin Bhatkal and Asadullah Akhtar were arrested from Indo-Nepal border last year.

[tabby title=”Awards”]

02 Mar – Oscars 2014 Winners

The 2014 Oscars were handed out at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. ’12 Years a Slave’ was named best
picture, while supporting actress honors went to the film’s Lupita Nyong’o. John Ridley won best adapted screenplay.

Overall, ‘Gravity’ won the most Oscars with a total of seven. ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ took home three awards, including wins for best actor Matthew McConaughey and supporting actor Jared Leto.

Cate Blanchett was named best actress for ‘Blue Jasmine’, while Alfonso Cuaron won best director for ‘Gravity’. Ellen DeGeneres hosted the show.

[tabby title=”Banks”]

17 Mar – State Bank of India to sell off Rs. 5000 crore bad loans to ARCs

The State Bank of India (SBI), for the first time since it started, will sell around Rs. 5,000 crore of its Rs. 67,799 crore non-performing assets to Asset Reconstruction Companies (ARCs) before the end of the month. Normally ARCs pay 5-10 per cent of the total bad loans being bought in cash and the rest could be security receipts (SRs). The bank had reported Rs 11,400 crore or 5.73 per cent of its assets as bad loans in the December quarter. This pulled down its net profit by a whopping 34 per cent to Rs 2,234 crore. Banks, mostly state-run ones, are in a hurry to sell close to Rs 43,000 crore to ARCs by the end of the month as the total bad assets in the system rose to 4.1 per cent of the total advances, exceeding four times the amount in the past quarter. The urgency to offload bad loans comes as the RBI has been encouraging lenders to clean up bad loans. The banks also want to avoid higher loan loss provisions that will set in from next March, by when all restructured loans would be classified as non-performing accounts attracting higher provisions.

[tabby title=”Corporate”]

09 Mar – Google might face $ 5 billion penalty from CCI, Facebook-WhatsApp deal might also come under the scanner

Internet search giant Google, which is facing investigation from the Competition Commission of India (CCI), might end up paying a $ 5 billion penalty, if it is found to have violated competition norms of India. The case relates to Google abusing its dominant position in the internet search engine space and has been before the CCI since the last two years. Google said that it has been cooperating fully with the CCI and that the US Federal Trade Commission had already given Google a clean chit in a related case in the United States.

The complaint against Google was first filed by advocacy group CUTS International way back in late 2011. Later, matrimonial website matrimony.com also filed a complaint.

Facebook’s $19 billion deal to acquire WhatsApp may also face a detailed scrutiny by the CCI, especially since both players have significant presence in India. All merger and acquisition deals of companies having their presence in India have to get approval from the CCI. The CCI has still not received an application from Facebook or WhatsApp for the deal.

10 Mar – Vodafone accused of secretly sharing data with British agency: Home ministry

The Union Home ministry has accused Vodafone of secretly sharing subscriber data with a British intelligence and security organisation. According to documents of the Internal Security Division of the Home Ministry, Vodafone is alleged to have given the UK-based Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) “secret unlimited access to their network of under-sea cables, which carry much of world’s phone calls and Internet traffic”. The charges were denied by Vodafone.

13 Mar – Panasonic offers expatriate workers in China pollution compensation

Panasonic has become the first international company to declare it will pay employees it sends to China a
premium to compensate for the dangerous levels of pollution in the country. It cited the high levels of PM2.5 -particulate matter that can contribute to asthma, cancer and heart trouble. Hazardous air has been cited by expatriates as one of the main reasons for leaving the country. Many companies are quietly increasing the benefits they offer to expat staff over the past year. Premier Li Keqiang said his government would wage “war on pollution”. Although, the government has implemented some steps, controlling pollution becomes difficult given China’s heavy reliance on coal burning.

15 Mar – Supreme Court rejects Nokia’s plea in case related to transfer of plant to Microsoft

The Supreme Court has dismissed Nokia’s appeal against a Delhi High Court order which directed the company to give a guarantee of Rs 3,500 covering its tax liabilities in addition to the Rs 2,250 crore that it needs to deposit in an escrow account before allowing transfer of its plant in Chennai to Microsoft. The Income Tax department has claimed that the Nokia-Microsoft deal is fraudulent and aimed at thwarting any attempt to recover legitimate taxes from Nokia India. Nokia India’s counsel Vikas Srivastava contended that Nokia’s tax liabilities, as estimated by the tax department, were way beyond its worldwide operations and the IT department should attach Nokia India’s properties, sell it and recover the money. Nokia had been trying to end the dispute before closing the deal with Microsoft, expected this quarter ending March 31.

18 Mar – Lockout halts Toyota car production in Bangalore plants

A day after the management declared a lockout over a failed wage deal with its employees’ union, car
production halted at Toyota’s twin plants in Bangalore. Toyota Kirloskar Motor Ltd vice chairman Shekar Viswanathan said that they have stopped production in both plants as a precautionary measure to ensure safety of machinery, employees and management personnel.

Both the parties have been negotiating wage hike and other demands, including work load and overtime allowances, over the last 10 months but have failed to reach an agreement. Toyota India revises wages every fiscal year beginning April unlike other firms that undertakes wage revision once in three years and gave Rs.4,000 increase per employee in the previous fiscal (2012-13).

[tabby title=”India”]

04 Mar – After Penguin, another publisher recalls Wendy Doniger’s previous book

Following Penguin, another publisher, Aleph, has recalled Wendy Doniger’s book, ‘On Hinduism’. Penguin had earlier recalled Dongier’s work, The Hindus: An Alternative History’. Aleph Book Company, promoted by Rupa publishers has said that it doesn’t want to get involved in any controversy and hence was recalling the book. ‘On Hinduism’ was published in 2013 while ‘The Hindus: An Alternative History’ was published in 2009. Bookshops across the country have seen a rise in sale of Doniger’s books following renewed interest in Doniger’s work post- Penguin’s withdrawal of her book. Penguin had recalled the books following protests by an organization called the ‘ Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti, on grounds that its contents were “derogatory and offensive to Hinduism” and misrepresented facts. The Samiti scaled up the protests last week and demanded ‘On Hinduism’ be withdrawn as well, as it too was “malicious and offending.

10 Mar – Study reveals three out of four working women in India have health

A recent survey by Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ASSOCHAM) has found that three out of four working women in the country suffer from health disorders. The survey found that about 42% of working women are suffering from lifestyle diseases such as hypertension, obesity, depression, backache, heart ailments while 22% are afflicted with chronic diseases such as obesity, depression, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart, kidney disease, etc. The study was conducted in ten cities including, Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, and Mumbai to mark International Women’s Day on March 8.

10 Mar – Supreme Court sets deadline for trial against MPs and MLAs

The Supreme Court set a deadline for lower courts to complete trial in cases involving lawmakers within a year
of framing of charges. A bench headed by Justice R.M. Lodha also said that trial courts will have to give explanation to the Chief Justice of the respective high court if the trial is not completed within a year. The bench, however, said the period can be extended by the Chief Justice of the High Court if he is satisfied with the reason given by trial judge for not completing the trial within this period.

17 Mar – India is 73rd in women’s participation in politics

The Women in Politics Map 2014 launched by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and UN Women has ranked
India 73rd in participation of women in politics with just 9.9% of parliamentary or ministerial posts being occupied by women.

India ranks below countries like Haiti, Rwanda, Congo, Chad and Zambia. The map shows that out of the 43 ministers in India, only 4 are women. Around 88 parliaments out of 188 in total have women deputy speakers, the map said.

18 Mar – Classified report on India-China war released, Jawaharlal Nehru personally held responsible

A section of the confidential Henderson Brooks report that critically reviewed the 1962 war with China has been released online by Australian journalist Neville Maxwell, who was based in Delhi at that time. The report blamed the ‘Forward Policy’ of the Jawaharlal Nehru government for provoking China when the Indian military was ill-prepared in Ladakh and NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh) and also severely indicted then senior Army generals for the complete rout. Further, Maxwell goes on to say that the report holds India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, personally responsible for the war. The report has always been held as classified by the government and Maxwell blames “political, partisan, and perhaps even familial reasons” for the long-term withholding of the report. The BJP has accused the Congress of compromising the country’s military preparedness, then as well as now.

24 Mar – Money can now be withdrawn from Bank of India ATMs without an account

Bank of India became the first state-run lender to allow withdrawal of funds to individuals from its ATMs
without an account in the bank. The bank launched a domestic remittance service called ‘Instant Money Transfer (IMT)’ that allows card-less cash withdrawal from its select ATMs which are tuned for this facility.

The IMT allows a customer to send money to a receiver only by using the receiver’s mobile number through the bank’s ATM or using retail internet banking facility. The receiver may withdraw money from designated Bank of India ATMs without using a debit card.

The receiver would receive partial details for cash withdrawal on mobile phones. The sender will be charged of IMT fee of Rs 25 for every IMT transaction, he or she issues to a receiver or beneficiary.

24 Mar – Supreme Court asks to government to withdraw instruction to make Aadhaar mandatory

The Supreme Court has directed the Centre to immediately withdraw the instruction, if any, issued by it for making Aadhaar card mandatory for citizens to avail government services.

The bench said biometric or any other data should not be shared with any authorities unless the accused gives consent in writing.

27 Mar – CCI fines Google Rs.1 crore for non-compliance

The Competition Commission of India (CCI) has imposed a penalty of Rs 1 crore on Google for failure to supply information and documents in on-going investigations.

CCI is investigating a 2012 complaint that alleged Google was abusing its dominant position in online search and search advertising. Google said it was disappointed with the development.

Last year, Google reached settlements with competition regulators in the US and Europe in probes that included concerns similar to those in India.

31 Mar – Supreme Court commutes Khalistani terrorist Bhullar’s death sentence to life

The Supreme Court has commuted the death sentence awarded to Khalistani terrorist Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar in the 1993 Delhi bomb blast case into life imprisonment on the grounds of inordinate and unexplained delay of 8 years in disposal of mercy petition by the President of India and mental illness. The Centre had also informed the Supreme Court on March 27th that it had “no problem” with commutation of death sentence of Bhullar.

31 Mar – Facebook cracks down on fake accounts ahead of 2014 polls

Facebook has started blocking fraudulent accounts showing suspicious high number of ‘likes’ and ‘followers’.
Majority of these accounts / pages belong to politicians as most have taken to social media to connect with the youth ahead of the poll season. Facebook says that close to 52,000 pages exist for politicians and political parties in India. Of them, 60 are verified pages. Facebook said that action is being taken against sellers of fake clicks and their accounts are being shut down. Among the pages for politicians on Facebook, BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi leads with a massive 1.2 crore ‘likes’, followed by Arvind Kejriwal (48 lakh), Mamata Banerjee (670,000) and Akhikesh Yadav (475,000).

[tabby title=”Politics”]

05 Mar – Lok Sabha polls to be conducted from April 7 to May 15, votes to be counted on May 16

The schedule for Lok Sabha polls 2014 has been announced by the Election Commission. The polling process consists of nine phases between April 07 and May 12 and May 16 is when the counting of votes will be held. More than 81.4 crore voters will exercise their ballot in this election. The number of voters is 10 crore more than the last general election held in 2009. The current Lok Sabha term will expire on June 1 and the new House has to be constituted by May 31.

The electoral roll has been updated till January 1, 2014 and the final rolls have been published in all states. Still camps will be set up on March 9 at all polling booths, which is around 9,30,000 across the country, to let people enroll themselves.

Introduction of paper trail system for electronic voting in some constituencies on a trial basis is an important feature of the polls. The introduction of “None of the Above” (NOTA) option, which was introduced in the assembly elections a few months ago, is another new feature in the Lok Sabha elections.

From the coming elections, candidates in a parliamentary constituency in bigger states can spend up to Rs 70 lakh on their campaign, more than Rs 40 lakh in 2011. In the 2009 elections, it was Rs 25 lakh.

18 Mar – Government plan to connect rural India with Bharat Broadband by end-2013 moves beyond deadlines

A government project that aims to connect all of India down to its villages, Bharat Broadband, remains a case of missed deadlines. What was supposed to have been in place by end-2013 has moved little beyond pilots — fibre being laid in just 40 development blocks covering 800 panchayats. The Rs 20,000-crore project, started in 2011, planned to lay down fibre in 250,000 panchayats, providing Internet connectivity to 600,000 villages and deliver services like education, healthcare, e-governance and e-commerce online.

24 Mar – BJP distances itself from ‘Har Har Modi’ slogan; senior leader Jaswant Singh to contest as independent

Narendra Modi has asked his supporters not to use the ‘Har Har Modi’ slogan following protests by Hindu seers and opposition parties. The BJP has also clarified that their official slogan is “Ab ki baar, Modi sarkaar.” Earlier, Shankaracharya of Dwarka Peeth Swaroopanand Saraswati had objected to the slogan and registered a protest with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat asking him to stop such “vyakti puja” (eulogising of individual). Political parties like Samajwadi Party and Congress have also protested against BJP’s slogan, saying it disrespected Lord Shiva.

Upset at being denied a Lok Sabha ticket from his home district of Barmer in Rajasthan, senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh has filed his nomination papers as an independent from the district. Although, he has accused Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and party president Rajnath Singh of betraying him, Singh will remain the member of BJP for now. Singh had previously won the Lok Sabha ticket from Darjeeling in 2009. He will now be fighting the elections against BJP candidate Colonel Sona Ram Choudhary, who had left the Congress a few days ago to join the BJP and enjoys the backing of Vasundhara Raje. The BJP senior leadership has indicated that there will be no reversal of decision.

24 Mar – Election Commission tells Centre to put gas price hike on hold

The Election Commission (EC) on Monday asked the central government to defer its notification increasing
natural gas prices from April 1 after Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal said that it was a violation of the model code of conduct. Not agreeing with Kejriwal fully, the EC took the view that it would make no difference if the notification was deferred till the election process got over by the end of May. The EC said that by taking into account relevant facts, including that the matter was sub-judice, it was decided that the proposal may be deferred.

[tabby title=”Science”]

07 Mar – Gene editing technique may offer ‘functional’ cure for HIV

A technology called ‘gene editing’ that genetically modifies cells from people infected with HIV could help to
control the virus that causes AIDS, without the use of antiviral drugs. The data from a human trial of the technology called the Sangamo BioSciences therapy (code name SB-728-T) has been published for the first time in the New England Journal of Medicine. The technique is designed to disrupt a gene, CCR5, used by HIV to infect T-cells, the white blood cells that fight viral infections. A patient’s cells are removed and processed to alter the DNA that codes for the CCR5 receptor. The altered cells are multiplied and tested, then infused back into the patient. The Phase 1 trial, led by the University of Pennsylvania, enrolled 12 HIV patients. The study’s main goal was safety, but it also showed that the modified T-cells persisted and the presence of HIV DNA in the patients decreased.

17 Mar – Worms evolve to become resistant to genetically modified corn meant to kill them

Bt Corn, that was genetically altered to be poisonous to pests, might have turned vulnerable with scientists documenting the rapid evolution of rootworms resistant to Bt Corn. Bt corn now accounts for three-quarters of the U.S. corn crop. Its vulnerability could be disastrous for farmers and the environment. Bt seed industry, seeking to maximize short-term profits, ignored the warnings of outside scientists. Scientists said that refuges should be set aside and planted with non-Bt corn. Within these fields, rootworms would remain susceptible to the Bt toxin. By mating with any Bt-resistant worms that chanced to evolve in neighboring fields, they’d prevent resistance from building up in the gene pool. However this suggestion was resisted by seed companies and the EPA. Famers also chose to ignore keeping voluntary refuge areas, since BT corn was pest-resistant, ensured higher yields and was more profitable. As rootworms become more resistant, farmers will turn to insecticides, thus increasing their costs and losing the ecological benefits originally gained by using Bt corn.

18 Mar – Facebook Messenger now offers voice calls in India

Facebook users in India can now make voice calls via Facebook Messenger. Following the roll out of the feature, the Facebook and Facebook Messenger mobile apps now offer a ‘Free Call’ option in the chat window’s menu button on Android and ‘I’ button on iPhone. It works on 3G as well as Wi-Fi networks.

Interestingly, the introduction of the feature comes shortly after mobile messaging app WhatsApp, which was recently acquired by Facebook, announced plans to introduce free voice calling.

20 Mar – ‘Chicken from hell’ sheds new light on bird-like dinosaur

Paleontologists have announced the existence of a newly identified species of feathered dinosaur, nicknamed the “chicken from hell,” as tall as a human roamed North America at least 66 million years ago. The fossils reveal new details about a category of Oviraptorosaurs called caenagnathids, which were first discovered a century ago and came in a variety of sizes, from as small as a turkey to – in the case of Gigantoraptor – as heavy as 1.5 tons.

The latest findings portray a creature double the size of those found in older rock beds, a trend also seen in T. rex and Triceratops, which by the end of the dinosaur age were also the largest of their kind.

31 Mar – IPCC warns of dangerous impacts of climate change, says world not prepared

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has come out with a report during the recently held 5-day conference in Yokohama, Japan. According to the report, risks are “high to very high” if temperatures increase over 4 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels, where the world is now heading. Asia is facing the brunt of climate change and will see severe stress on water resources and food-grain production in the future. Extreme weather events such as last year’s flash floods in Uttarakhand and cyclone Phailin in Odisha might increase. The impacts of climate change would be felt severely in the Indo-Gangetic plains, affecting poor people in the entire region. Among other things, the report warns that climate change increases the risk of armed conflicts around the world because it worsens poverty and economic shocks. However, the report gives hope of climate stability provided we cut pollution faster and act on the importance of adaptation and mitigation choices.

[tabby title=”World”]

03 Mar – Rolls-Royce Faces Indian Corruption and Bribery Investigation

India’s defence ministry has ordered an investigation into the purchase of jet fighter engines from Britain’s Rolls-Royce in a deal reportedly worth $1.6 billion.

The deal, which was signed in 2011 between the British automaker, which also makes airplane engines, and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, or HAL, will be investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation.

British police had arrested two men in connection to UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) probe into the aerospace and defence giant over allegations of bribery and corruption in February 2014.

The Defence Ministry has also put on hold to all deals with the British engine manufacturer till the completion of the investigation process.

04 Mar – Drought conditions might be responsible for collapse of Indus Valley and other great civilizations

A new research has found out that climate change was the main factor behind the collapse of the world’s first great civilizations, the Bronze-Age ‘megacities’ of the Indus Valley region of Pakistan and north-west India. The research, carried out by the University of Cambridge and India’s Banaras Hindu University (BHU), reveals that a series of droughts lasting some 200 years hit the Indus Valley zone. It’s now thought likely that the droughts were partly responsible for the collapse not only of the Indus Valley Civilisation, but also of the ancient Akkadian Empire, Old Kingdom Egypt and possibly Early Bronze Age civilisations in Greece. Scientists have found evidences of severe drought by examining deposits from the bottom of the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman as well as stalactites from caves in North east India and southern Arabia. Scientists have also detected the climatic conditions by examining isotopic evidence from the shells of snails that had lived between 6500 years ago and 1500 years ago in a dried-up lake bed near Delhi, 64 km east of the eastern region of the Indus Valley Civilization.

06 Mar – ‘Nirbhaya’ the play opens in London

Playwright and director Yael Farber’s play “Nirbhaya” premiered at London’s prestigious Southbank Centre. It is based on the rape of a young girl in a moving bus in Delhi. This comes after the play’s successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe festival.

The play, which bagged the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award 2013 after its opening in Scotland, will have a short run at the Southbank Centre in London until March 12. It will then travel to Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore over the coming months.

06 Mar – CEO of Bitcoin exchange First Meta found dead

Autumn Radtke, the 28 year old American CEO of Bitcoin exchange First Meta, has been found dead in her home in Singapore. The police have said that there was no suspicion of foul play in the death of Radtke. First Meta allowed users of virtual currencies such as bitcoin to trade and cash out the currencies.


Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer payment system and digital currency introduced as open source software in 2009 by developer Satoshi Nakamoto. It is a cryptocurrency, so-called because it uses cryptography to control the creation and transfer of money. Bitcoin has been a subject of scrutiny amid concerns that it can be used for illegal activities. The scrutiny has increased all the more after one of the largest bitcoin exchanges, Mt. Gox shut down on February 26, after reporting how it had lost some 744,000 Bitcoins to theft over several years and was on the verge of bankruptcy.

09 Mar – ‘Upskirt’ ban in Massachusetts signed into law

Massachusetts lawmakers have passed a bill banning “upskirting” in response to a ruling by the state’s highest
court that said a law aimed at criminalizing voyeurism did not apply to the snapping of secret photos up a woman’s skirt. The new law would make photographing or recording video under a person’s clothing illegal.

Earlier, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts declared that the man who was caught taking cellphone photos up women’s skirts on a Boston subway in 2010 did not violate state law because the women weren’t nude or partially nude. And the women weren’t in a place where they need privacy, like a bathroom or dressing room.

10 Mar – Not a single vote cast against Kim Jong Un

With no one else on the ballot, supreme leader Kim Jong Un was not only elected to the highest legislative body in North Korea, he won with the unanimous approval of his district, which had 100 per cent turnout. It was his first election since the 2011 death of his father, Kim Jong II, and the national turnout topped the nation’s traditional 99 percent showing.

17 Mar – BBC apologizes for North Korea documentary

The BBC apologized for a documentary which used a student trip as cover to gain access to the secretive communist state of North Korea which caused a war of words between the U.K. public broadcaster and the London School of Economics (LSE).

BBC journalist John Sweeney and other reporters snuck into the country posing as LSE students to gain access for an episode of the broadcaster’s flagship current affairs program Panorama, which a report on a probe by the BBC governing body said had breached key editorial guidelines.

Foreign journalists are unable to get visas to enter North Korea, but overseas academics and students can.

17 Mar – Italy judge rejects India’s request to recover AgustaWestland guarantees

According to the Italian defence group, an Italian judge has rejected the request by India to recover more than
278 million euros ($387 million) in bank guarantees backing a scrapped helicopter deal with Finmeccanica.

India had cancelled the 560 million-euro order with Finmeccanica unit AgustaWestland for 12 top-end helicopters in January, citing a breach of integrity relating to alleged corruption. The Indian government can still appeal against it.

17 Mar – Paris imposes partial driving ban to reduce pollution in city

To curb rising levels of pollution in and around Paris, the government imposed a partial driving ban for the first time in 20 years and made public transportation free for a fourth consecutive day. Seven hundred police officers were deployed throughout the city to stop and fine the drivers of vehicles with even-numbered license plates. Electric and hybrid vehicles were exempted, as were cars with three or more passengers, the cars of public transport employees and those with foreign plates. Speed limits in and around the city have been reduced and heavy trucks have been diverted from the region.

18 Mar – Vatican, Anglicans, Muslims unite to fight slavery

With the launch of a global network to tackle human trafficking, forced prostitution and child labour, Catholics, Anglicans and Muslims have come together to fight slavery. According to Andrew Forrest, founder of the Global Freedom Network, the Vatican, the Anglican Communion and Cairo’s Islamic al-Azhar University are leading the initiative, which brings together faith communities of almost three billion people — nearly half of the world’s population — and will invite all faiths to join its leadership.

In 2013, the Walk Free Foundation published a Global Slavery Index, covering all forms of bondage from people trafficking to children forced to wed, which estimated that 29.8 million people live in slavery worldwide.

The West African nation of Mauritania was ranked worst for slavery, followed by Haiti and Pakistan.

25 Mar – Malaysia Airlines flight crashed into southern Indian Ocean

The missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was found to have ended its flight in the remote waters of the southern Indian Ocean, with all 239 people on board feared to have lost their lives, the Malaysian Prime Minister said. More than 17 days after Flight 370 disappeared from radars an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing, he announced that the flight’s “last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean”, believed to be more than 2,000 km west of Perth, Australia.

25 Mar – US, allies eliminate Russia from G8, cancel summit in Sochi

The United States and its allies, which include Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom,
have suspended Russia from the group of G8 nations. They have also cancelled the planned June G8 meeting in Sochi, Russia and would meet instead in Brussels, Belgium, in the G7 format without Russia. The move comes in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and making it a part of the Russian Federation on the basis of a disputed referendum. The G7 and allies have further made it clear in the declaration that painful sectoral sanctions would only be imposed on Russia in case of military intervention in Ukraine’s Russian speaking regions in the east and South. However, ministers from the BRICS group of nations have rejected Australia’s threats to block Russia from the G20 meeting to be held in Australia later this year.

31 Mar – Pak court indicts Musharraf; rejects plea to travel abroad

A court in Pakistan has charged former military ruler Pervez Musharraf with treason, the first army chief to face such a prosecution.is accused of treason for suspending, subverting and abrogating the Constitution, imposing an emergency in the country in November 2007 and detaining judges of superior courts. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

The high-profile treason case is seen as a setback for Pakistan’s powerful army that apparently looked like moving to protect Musharraf when he was being shifted to a military hospital in January.

31 Mar – Israeli court convicts ex-PM Olmert in bribery case

An Israeli court convicted former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of accepting a sum in bribes linked to a real-
estate deal. Olmert, a centrist internationally credited with pursuing peace with the Palestinians, had denied wrongdoing in the Holyland apartment complex deal, and other corruption allegations that forced his resignation in 2008.

He was among 13 defendants in the Holyland case, revolving around the construction of a hulking, hilltop housing project widely regarded as Jerusalem’s worst eyesore.

One of the accused, Shula Zaken, who was Olmert’s former long-time aide last week offered to turn state’s witness against him.

A newly excavated tomb, dating back around 3,300 years, at an ancient cemetery in Egypt would have
boasted a pyramid 7 meters (23 feet) high at its entrance, archaeologists say. A finely crafted sandstone sarcophagus, painted in red, has been found, which was created for a scribe named Horemheb. There was no mummy in the sarcophagus, and the tomb was ransacked at least twice in antiquity. Archaeologists found disarticulated skeletal remains from three to four men, 10 to 12 women and at least two children in the tomb. It was not uncommon at that time for tombs of elite individuals to contain small pyramids, according to Kevin Cahail, who led the excavations at the tomb.