Welcome to the Endeavor Editors Current Affairs Choicest Blog series. Get a weekly roundup – on news from business, economy, markets, policy, and more. A quick capsule format news summary and update to keep you abreast with all the latest current affairs.
Current Affairs May 2021 – Week 5
1. Current Affairs – International News & Global Economy
US Targets Belarus with sanctions over forced diversion of the plane
The United States has announced punitive measures against Belarus targeting the regime of strongman President Alexander Lukashenko, who met with Russian leader Vladimir Putin amid a global outcry over the forced diversion of a European plane. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki called for “a credible international investigation into the events of May 23,” which she called “a direct affront to international norms.” Belarus scrambled a military jet to divert a Ryanair plane and arrested 26-year-old opposition journalist and activist Roman Protasevich who was onboard, triggering a global outcry. For details visit.
Belarus dictator Lukashenko ‘hijacks’ Ryanair plane to trap blogger, Europe, US, aviation in a tizzy
Shekhar Gupta takes a look at the Alexander Lukashenko-led Belarusian government’s interception of a Lithuania-bound Ryanair flight in order to arrest dissident journalist Roman Protasevich.
Explained: A look at what’s inside Joe Biden’s $6 trillion budget request
President Joe Biden’s first budget request maps out a vision of an expansive federal government in the years to come, with increased spending in areas like infrastructure, education, and climate change. The $6 trillion plan for the 2022 fiscal year, provides a detailed accounting of Biden’s economic agenda. It includes two marquee proposals that he has put before Congress: the American Jobs Plan, which calls for new spending on the nation’s infrastructure, and the American Families Plan, which addresses issues like child care, universal prekindergarten, and paid family and medical leave. As part of those plans, Biden is seeking to increase taxes on corporations and high earners. The president’s tax proposals are detailed in the budget request as well. For details visit.
Texas poised to allow unlicensed carrying of handguns
Texas is poised to remove one of its last gun restrictions after lawmakers approved allowing people to carry handguns without a license, and the background check and training that go with it. The Republican-dominated Legislature approved the measure, sending it to Gov. Greg Abbott, who has said he will sign it despite the objections of law enforcement groups who say it would endanger the public and police. Gun control groups also oppose the measure, noting the state’s recent history of mass shootings, including those at an El Paso Walmart, a church in Sutherland Springs, and a high school outside Houston, though each of those attacks, the assailants primarily used assault-style rifles, not handguns. For details visit.
Explainer: Why tighter U.S. firearm laws are unlikely
President Joe Biden has announced limited measures to tackle gun violence in the U.S., but they’re a long way off his more ambitious election promises.
2. Current Affairs – India
India COVID update
How Covaxin became a victim of vaccine triumphalism
Poor transparency and mismanagement have plagued the development of the vaccine– touted by the government as India’s first fully indigenous Covid vaccine—since it commenced last May. The biggest example of this was Bharat Biotech’s application for regulatory approval for Covaxin in December 2020, even though it had no efficacy data—evidence that the vaccine prevented disease. Many believe that the hastened approval of Covaxin hurt the reputation of the Make-in-India campaign, instead of bolstering it. When questions were raised about the hurried launch, government spokespersons demanded greater public faith in the regulator, instead of sharing data. This didn’t do much to address skepticism, because the skepticism wasn’t driven by a lack of faith in the first place. Scientists always believed that, as an inactivated vaccine, Covaxin had a good chance of being efficacious. They just wanted evidence of efficacy to be collected, and due process to be followed. The biggest threat to Covaxin’s acceptance then was not a lack of faith, but the government’s own opacity and triumphalism. For details visit.
Prepare for 45, 000 cases a day: IIT warns Delhi to be ready for worst-case scenario
Delhi needs to be prepared to handle around 45,000 Covid-19 infections daily with 9,000 patients needing hospitalization in the “worst-case scenario” of a third wave hitting the capital hard, a report by IIT-Delhi says. To overcome such a crisis, the city would need 944 metric tonnes of oxygen daily to be shared between hospitals and refillers, mentioned the report filed in Delhi High Court. Titled “IITD Review and Recommendations for Management of Oxygen during Covid-19 Crisis for GNCTD”, the report draws three scenarios in case of a third wave. A bench of justices Vipin Sanghi and Jasmeet Singh asked Delhi government to file a chart within four weeks indicating the timeline within which several steps could be implemented based on the recommendations. The court identified one of the findings of the report as crucial that apart from decentralized plants, oxygen generation units could be set up by the government at various locations and hospitals. For details visit.
India’s middle class shrank by 32 million in 2020: Pew Research report
The novel coronavirus pandemic may have shrunk India’s middle-class population by 32 million and driven an additional 75 million people below the poverty line in 2020, according to a Pew Research Centre report published in March even before the second wave of COVID-19 in the country. The Pew Research report based on an analysis of World Bank data suggested that China, in comparison, fared much better with the number of people in the middle-income tier decreasing by only 10 million. China’s poverty level remained virtually unchanged in 2020, the report suggests. The research report suggests that India’s poverty rate rose to 9.7 percent in 2020, up from the January 2020 forecast of 4.3 percent. For details visit.
Left, Right & Centre | Has COVID-19 Pushed Millions Of Indians Into Poverty?
An important new report from Pew Research claims that in the pandemic, India’s middle class has shrunk, and that poverty has spread. On Left, Right, and Centre, Nobel laureate Dr. Abhijeet Banerjee talks on why that has happened.
India – Other News
CAA rules on hold, Centre opens similar citizenship window in five states
With the Centre yet to frame rules under the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019, it issued a gazette notification granting powers under existing rules to authorities in 13 districts of Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Haryana, and Punjab to accept, verify and approve citizenship applications from members of minority communities hailing from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. The notification lists Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians as the communities that will be covered, and states that the applications will have to be submitted online. In December 2019, the Parliament amended the Citizenship Act granting citizenship to illegal non-Muslim immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. The legislation was passed amid strong criticism from the Opposition, which called it discriminatory and triggered massive nationwide protests. For details visit.
Determined to revoke Mehul Choksi’s citizenship, pursue his extradition to India: Antiguan PM
Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne has said that his country was determined to revoke fugitive Mehul Choksi’s citizenship and pursue his extradition to India to face criminal charges. Wanted in India in connection with the Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam case, Choksi had gone missing from Antigua and Barbuda only to be detained in Dominica, about 100 nautical miles away, for illegal entry. After getting captured in Dominica, the effort began from India to bring him back from the island of escape. For details visit.
Banks to sell Mallya’s UBL shares worth Rs 5,500 cr after PMLA court nod
Indian lenders, led by the State Bank of India, have initiated talks with SBI Caps to sell Vijay Mallya-owned shares in United Breweries. Mallya’s 16.15 percent stake in the UB group is valued at Rs 5,500 crore and will be sold via block deals. Earlier in the week, the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) court in Mumbai had restored properties seized by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) from Mallya to banks that had granted loans to the fugitive businessman. The ED had seized assets worth Rs 9,000 crore from the former UB group chairman in connection with money laundering. For details visit.
3. Current Affairs – Economy
COVID-19 toll on Indian economy deepens, jobs crisis to worsen: Reuters poll
India’s economic outlook has weakened again, albeit slightly, with worst-case scenario forecasts suggesting the toll from the coronavirus pandemic could be much deeper, stoking fears the job crisis may worsen over the coming year, a Reuters poll found. Renewed restrictions to curb the current coronavirus wave have stalled economic activity, leaving many millions out of work and pushing economists – who have broadly been bullish – to downgrade their views for the second time since early April. “Recovery in India was strong in the months before the second wave. This leads us to believe the recovery can rebound quickly after the number of new infections has come down. But vaccination implementation needs to pick up pace in order to have an effect this year,” said Wouter van Eijkelenburg, an economist at Rabobank. For details visit.
The government borrows 55% more so far this fiscal as lockdowns hit revenue collections
Indicating a massive revenue crunch due to the second wave of the pandemic that has forced many states to declare full lockdowns for almost two months now, the Centre has borrowed Rs 2.1 lakh crore so far this fiscal — a whopping 55 percent more than what it was a year ago. The market borrowing of Rs 2.1 lakh crore is 17.5 percent of the budgeted debt creation of Rs 12.05 lakh crore for the full year and 30 percent of the first half borrowings calendar of Rs 7.24 lakh crore. For details visit.
4. Current Affairs – Markets, Banking, and Finance
Banks need to closely monitor asset quality, prepare for higher provisioning: RBI
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has asked banks to closely monitor their bad loans and prepare themselves for higher provisioning in the wake of the second Covid wave and the Supreme Court order lifting the ban on the classification of non-performing assets. The waiver of compound interest on all loan accounts which opted for a moratorium during March-August 2020 may put stress on banks’ financial health. The apex bank, however, expressed confidence that banks are better positioned than before in managing stress in their balance sheets in view of higher capital buffers, improvement in recoveries, and a return to profitability. For details visit.
SBI threatens to suspend Credit cards used for Crypto transactions
After ICICI Bank and Paytm Payments Bank recently decided to block transactions by users towards crypto exchanges, India’s largest bank State Bank of India has now issued another advisory to its customers. In its email to its credit card customers, the bank has cautioned that any usage of credit cards for crypto transactions may lead to suspension or cancellation of the customers’ SBI credit cards. Ignoring the Supreme Court’s verdict from March 2020, the SBI reiterated the RBI’s long-standing stance on cryptocurrencies and said, “Reserve Bank of India has not given any license/authorization to entities regulated by them to operate in cryptocurrency schemes or any form of virtual currencies such as Bitcoins.” For details visit.
The number of fake 500 notes in India increased by 31% in the last one year
Fake currency has been a thorn in India’s economic system even after the Narendra Modi administration’s demonetization exercise back in 2016. Four years down the line, and after adding ‘security features’, the counterfeit currency still seems to be lurking in the shadows. Overall, there has been a 29.7% decrease in the circulation of fake currency over the last year. However, at the same time, the number of fake ?500 notes in India jumped by 31%, according to the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) latest annual report. For details visit.
Why does the fake currency problem persist despite demonetization & new notes?
5. Current Affairs – Business
59% of startups and MSMEs may shut shop, sell off or scale down: Survey
More than half of the existing startups and small companies could shut shops or sell off their companies by the end of the year due to the Covid pandemic, a LocalCircles survey said. As per the survey, 59% of startups and MSMEs (medium and small-scale enterprises) are likely to scale down, shut down or sell themselves this year. “Only 22% Startups & MSMEs have more than 3-months runway; 41% are out of funds or have less than 1 month of funds left and 49% plan to reduce employee compensation and benefits costs by July,” the survey said. The second Covid wave has hit the startups and the MSMEs hard. Most of the companies have witnessed their working capital being hit as sales crashed. For details visit.
GST compliance relief: what businesses need to know
Businesses have got an extra leeway in making their goods and services tax (GST) payments for March, April, and May sales as the federal indirect tax body, the GST Council, has extended the scope of the relief that was offered earlier this month. This benefit is for businesses with up ?5 crore sales. They have also been extended the relief of no interest liability for 15 days after the due date for paying taxes for May transactions. Businesses have got a longer period for paying taxes for sales achieved in these three months, with relief on interest liability. The interest relief is expected to help small businesses in a big way as many of them are facing cash flow problems and disruption in business owing to regional movement restrictions imposed to fight back the pandemic. For details visit.
Mahindra expects car sales to take two years to rebound after COVID shock
India’s Mahindra & Mahindra expects it will take at least another two years for car sales to return to their pre-pandemic peaks, but a slow pace of vaccinations could hurt recovery prospects. Battered by the pandemic in 2020 and an economic slowdown in 2019, passenger vehicle sales in India fell to 2.7 million units in the last fiscal year – their lowest level in six years and well below the peak of 3.4 million units in the fiscal year 2019. Car sales had started to pick up in the January-March period but a second, more deadly wave of infections forced lockdowns again. This time consumer sentiment has taken a hit and discretionary spending is likely to take longer to recover. For details visit.
Infosys reduces carbon emissions by 46% in FY21
Infosys Ltd has cut its carbon emissions by nearly 46% in FY21 mainly through the successful enablement of work-from-home, the company said in its Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) report 2020-21. “Enabling work from home effectively has helped bring down our overall Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions by about 46% while paving the way for a hybrid workplace of the future. With most employees working from home, we moved towards a revenue-based intensity tracking for our environmental KPIs (key performance indicators) as opposed to the conventional employee-based intensity,” Infosys said. Infosys said its ongoing efforts related to ESG have helped the company in remaining carbon neutral for fiscal 2021, for the second year in a row. For details visit.
6. Current Affairs – Technology
Billionaire investor Mark Cuban invests in Indian crypto startup Polygon
Bengaluru-based blockchain technology company Polygon has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from US-based tech billionaire and serial startup investor Mark Cuban. The owner of NBA’s Dallas Mavericks and one of the main ‘shark’ investors on the American reality TV show Shark Tank, Cuban is one of the prominent backers of cryptocurrencies, especially Ethereum and Dogecoin. He has invested in over 10 blockchain startups. Formerly called Matic Network, Polygon was founded in 2017 by three Indian software engineers Jaynti Kanani, Sandeep Nailwal, and Anurag Arjun, with Serbia’s Mihalio Bjelic later coming on board as the co-founder. With the entry of Mark Cuban, the firm, which has entities in Europe, the Middle East, and Singapore, is now looking for more presence in the US. According to reports, Cuban is integrating Polygon crypto into Lazy.com, a portfolio company that allows people to easily display non-fungible tokens (NFTs). For details visit.
New Influencer Marketing guidelines mandating disclosure on promotional content to be effective from June 14
The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), has unveiled the final guidelines for influencer marketing on digital media, after consulting all stakeholders like advertisers, agencies, influencers, and consumers. The guidelines were released in February 2021 and ASCI had asked for feedback before March 8 from the stakeholders before imposing them. The new guidelines, which mandate the labeling of promotional content, will be applicable from June 14, 2021. ASCI will keep track of any potential violation through France-Based Reech Influence Cloud. For details visit.
Sameer Sathpathy of ITC shares brand’s perspective on the Influencer Guidelines
New norms may revive the fortunes of digital wallets
Digital wallets may regain some ground, with India’s payments body and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) allowing more flexibility to the digital payment mechanism that lost some relevance following the introduction of unified payments interface (UPI) transactions. Wallets had lost favor when the National Payments Corp. of India (NPCI) introduced UPI in 2016, a quick payments network that allowed customers to transfer funds between bank accounts. Electronic wallets, which need to be first loaded with money from bank accounts and then used, did not seem that convenient to customers. According to experts, allowing the use of UPI to load money to e-wallets will help make the payment instrument more popular. For details visit.
Bharti-backed OneWeb launches 36 new LEO satellites
Bharti Airtel owned satellite communications company OneWeb, confirmed the launch of 36 new Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites today. The launch is part of OneWeb’s ‘five to 50’ programme, which is meant to bring satellite-based broadband Internet to countries like the UK, Alaska, US, Northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland, the Arctic seas, and Canada. The company has said that its services will start from 2022. For details visit.
Dream11’s FanCode gets $50 Mn infusion from Parent Firm; Targets 100 Mn Userbase
Mumbai-based sports tech startup Dream Sports, the parent company of fantasy gaming unicorn Dream11, has infused $50 Mn funding in one of its subsidiaries FanCode, which is a multisport aggregator platform founded in 2019 by Yannick Colaco and Prasana Krishnan. The investment was carried through Dream Sports’ investment arm Dream Sports Investments (DSI). FanCode is a multi-sports aggregator platform that focuses on offering personalized experiences across sports content, commerce, and sports statistics. FanCode’s latest funding would allow the company to accelerate its growth plans and scale its digital sports services in an attempt to create the biggest sports fan platform in India. Besides this, the company would also expand its team to include top engineering and product development talent across various roles as well as leadership positions. For details visit.
Google I/O 2021: Holograms in video chats, smarter AI bots, and future workspaces
Google chief Sundar Pichai offered a glimpse into Project Starline, an experiment underway at the Mountain View, California-based technology giant that seeks to bring a new dimension to video conferencing. The futuristic project proposes to deliver virtual chat booths which allow users to convert themselves into 3D hologram versions. Aside from holograms, the company also came with a slew of announcements across the Google spectrum of products. The company claimed that its active Android users have now touched 3 billion, as opposed to rival Apple which claims a billion mobile users. Google just released a beta version of Android 12 which most Pixel users (and partner devices such as Asus, OnePlus, etc) can install and try out. For details visit.
7. Current Affairs – Sports
Chelsea beat Manchester City 1-0 to win Champions League title
Chelsea won the Champions League for the second time as a Kai Havertz goal secured a tense 1-0 victory over Manchester City in the finals in Porto, shattering Pep Guardiola’s dream of lifting the trophy for the third time, a decade on from his last triumph. The London club may have finished fourth in the Premier League, a huge 19 points behind the champions City, but this, remarkably, was their third win over Guardiola’s side in six weeks. They ended City’s hopes of a domestic treble when they triumphed in the FA Cup semi-finals in April and then delayed their title celebrations with victory in Manchester. Now, in a final watched by a limited crowd of just over 14,000 fans who created a raucous atmosphere, they have denied City the first Champions League crown they and Guardiola so crave. For details visit.
BCCI moves IPL 2021 to UAE
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has decided to move the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2021 to the UAE in view of the Covid-19 situation in India. The IPL matches are expected to resume tentatively on September 18 or 19 with as many as 10 double-headers to be played during a three-week window. The league was suspended indefinitely in early May after many players tested positive for Covid-19. For details visit.
French Open 2021: With the Big 3 in the same half of the draw, will a new champion emerge?
The French Open singles draw has a few interesting potential match-ups. This is despite four top-ranked players missing out through injury this year. Denis Shapovalov, former champion Stan Wawrinka and Borna Coric in the men’s side, and World No.3 Simona Halep, who would have been a favorite in the women’s draw, have pulled out. Since the Major uses world rankings to draw up seeds, ties that could easily have the look of a ‘final’ may just happen in the quarterfinal and semi-final of the men’s draw. Find out some of the key readings in this article. For details visit.
8. Current Affairs – Opinion
CarTrade IPO: What are the risks for the used Cars marketplace?
As CarTrade looks ahead to an IPO, it has to contend with well-funded competition in the space as well as the challenges for the used cars market in India With the expected growth for electric cars, autonomous vehicles, and more in the next few years, will older ICE used cars remain appealing in the long run? A major challenge with the used-car market is matching the right model car with desired features, price, and overall condition of the vehicle that the customer required. However, with digitization and automation in the listing and inspection process, such challenges have been largely overcome. On the back of this, the organized used car channels are expected to grow from an 18% market share in FY2019 to 30% in FY2022. The question for CarTrade is whether it can continue to compete with the host of competitors in this space that are also equally capitalized. For details visit.
India well-placed to apply AI to solve challenges, tap into opportunities: Nandan Nilekani
Aadhaar architect Nandan Nilekani says India is well-placed on the government and business fronts to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) in unique ways to solve challenges and tap into opportunities. Nilekani noted that over the last few years, the government has focused on how to make transactions more efficient and effective, which has driven digitization across the board. He added that as a byproduct, huge data across systems has been generated and that the time is right to apply AI across the board to India’s most challenging issues across areas like healthcare and education. For details visit.
Is hydrogen really the way forward for trucks?
Unlike private cars, which are looking at rapid and total electrification in the near future, long-haul truck makers are keener on using hydrogen as a renewable energy source. The primary reason for this is that hydrogen is more suited to consistently long-distance, cross-country journeys that heavy-duty trucks have to undertake. According to David Cullen, a scientist studying fuel cell catalysts at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in the US, “Hydrogen fuel cells are ideal for the trucking industry because the refueling time and driving range are comparable to gasoline-powered trucks and travel routes are predictable, which lowers the barrier for developing a fueling infrastructure”. As such, Europe is looking at a hydrogen-powered freight corridor, stretching roughly 1300km, to be fully functional by 2025. For details visit.
What is Green Hydrogen and will it power the Future?
Hydrogen is a clean-burning molecule, meaning that it can help to decarbonize a range of sectors that have proved hard to clean up in the past. But today, most hydrogen is produced from CO2-emitting fossil fuels. Hydrogen produced from renewable electricity, known as green hydrogen, could be the solution to cutting our carbon footprint. But first, it must overcome a number of challenges. Watch video:
Why enterprises must reskill their workforces for the cloud age
Even as cloud computing services were witnessing an uptake in adoption over the past couple of years, the situation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic has only rapidly accelerated the process. A recent Synergy Research states that global revenue from cloud services and infrastructure grew by $187 billion in the first half of 2020, up 20% from the same period in 2019. However, as businesses adopt the cloud, a new set of challenges are emerging, notably the need for skill development of the workforce. Successful cloud migration can be defined by the evolution of the workforce, both in terms of their positive attitude towards these changes and their skillsets. Providing opportunities in reskilling can truly turn the existing talent in an organization into a true asset in its cloud journey. For details visit.
With that, we come to an end for our Weekly Current Affairs May 2021 -Week 5. Hope you have liked it. Write your feedback in the comments below and let us know if there is anything else you would like us to cover.
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