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Current Affairs - 16 October 2018


Saudi Arabia promises to meet India’s oil needs
  • Saudi Arabia stands committed to meeting all of India’s energy needs, especially in oil, its Energy Minister Khalid A. Al-Falih said.
  • Speaking at the India Energy Forum, he said this meant an increase in investment in India as well.
  • Mr. Al-Falih said Saudi Aramco’s investment of $44 billion in the Ratnagiri refinery was “just the start” .
  • “To strengthen relations with India is a strategic priority of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he said.
  • According to him, the ongoing belief that the rise of electric vehicles would mean the decline of oil missed the reality of the situation.
  • Conventional vehicles, he said, still represented 99.8% of all vehicles in the world. Electric vehicles, he pointed out, are in the passenger vehicle segment, which accounts for only a quarter of oil demand.
  • “The oil price pain being currently felt would have been much worse if we had believed people who 4-5 years ago said that oil demand had peaked and would decline,” Mr. Al-Falih added.
  • “But Saudi Arabia pro-actively and responsibly invested to strengthen our spare capacity and so averted a major price shock.”
Pollution forecast system unveiled
  • The Central government on Monday announced a pollution forecast system that can alert, three days in advance, about the likelihood of extreme pollution events and dust storms.
  • Though unveiled by Union Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan, the system is yet to go live but is expected to be made available “in the next two days” to the public via the CPCB and the Environment Pollution Control Authority, said Secretary of the Ministry of Earth Sciences Madhavan Rajeevan. 
  • The National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting, the IMD and the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, are involved with developing the application.
Bid to build consensus on Sabarimala issue
  • An air of uncertainty hovers over the pilgrimage as the Sabarimala temple opens for monthly poojas on Thursday, the first time since the Supreme Court lifted curbs on entry of women into the hill shrine.
  • While the State government reiterates its constitutional obligation to implement the verdict, the Travancore Devaswom Board opened a channel for parleys with the erstwhile royal family of Pandalam, members of the ‘Tantri’ (chief priest) family and organisations such as the Ayyappa Seva Sanghom and the Ayyappa Seva Samajam on Tuesday in a bid to evolve a consensus.
  • If the board and the agitators stick to their stated positions — to implement the verdict, on one side, and to retain the tradition by preventing the entry of women aged between 10 and 50 years to the temple respectively — the talks may not yield a positive outcome.
    ‘12 courts set up to try MPs and MLAs’
    • The Supreme Court has upped the ante on the States, Union Territories and High Courts which have not provided it with details of criminal cases pending against sitting lawmakers, warning that their Chief Secretaries and Registrars General will be made personally liable for non-compliance.
    • The Centre informed the court that so far a dozen such courts had been created in 11 States.
    • A Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, on October 10, gave 11 States/Union Territories (UTs) and the High Courts of Karnataka, Kerala and Tripura a deadline of four weeks to comply with its September 12 order.
    • The order has called on States/UTs to furnish data to determine the number of special courts to be set up across the country to exclusively try accused legislators.
    • The States/UTs which have not complied with the September 12 order are Goa, Himachal Pradesh Meghalaya, Mizoram, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Chandigarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman & Diu and Lakshadweep.
    India, France in talks to conduct tri-service exercise
    • India and France are in discussions for a bilateral tri-service military exercise to take forward the strategic cooperation while also exploring ways to operationalise the logistics agreement. 
    • These issues were discussed during the visit of Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to Paris last week.
    • This will be India’s third such joint exercise. The first joint tri-service exercise was held with Russia in October last year and has finalised one with the U.S. to be held next year.
    • India and France currently hold bilateral exercises between individual services — Shakti, Varuna and Garuda respectively for the Army, Navy and Air Force.
    • India and France signed a logistics pact in March this year which gives access to their militaries to each other’s bases for logistics support. While the agreement gives India access to French military bases all over the world on a “reciprocal basis,” of particular interest for New Delhi are the three French bases in the Indian Ocean — Reunion Island, Djibouti and Abu Dhabi.
    • Ms. Sitharaman and her French counterpart Florence Parly discussed “how to operationalise it and make it happen.” 
    • These three bases would give the Indian Navy and the Air Force operational turnaround to the far end of the Indian Ocean, improving its monitoring and surveillance of the region, in the backdrop of increased Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
    Ahead of climate talks, India in touch with 40 countries
    • Ahead of the December climate talks in Katowice, Poland, India is having discussions with 40 countries, including China, to forge alliances and compel developed countries to make good on promises, made over the years, to provide enough finance and technology to stem runaway global warming.
    • Over the years, developed countries have promised to provide $100 billion annually to developing countries to check such warming.
    • “Mainly, it is about firming up about how the Paris agreement is to be implemented, as well as outstanding commitments on providing finance and technology.” C.K. Mishra, Secretary, Environment, Forests and Climate Change Ministry, told The Hindu on the sidelines of a conference.
    • The ‘Like Minded Developing Countries’ (India, China, Venezuela and Iran) and BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India, China) are networks that are formed to lend weight to developing country concerns.
    • The Conference of Parties (COP) is a group of 200 countries which meet annually on addressing global warming.


    Wickremesinghe to meet Modi
    • Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, according to his office, will take part in high-level meetings, including with Mr. Modi, on October 19 and 20.
    • New Delhi has been concerned with the slow pace of several India-aided projects in the island, while Colombo appears inclined to iron out issues in order to better balance its ties with key partners India and China. 
    • President Maithripala Sirisena is scheduled to visit Beijing soon.
    • From the Indian side, “priority projects” in the island include the Mattala airport, near the China-controlled port in the southern Hambantota district; the Palaly airport in Jaffna in the Northern Province; the Trincomalee oil tank farm in the east; the East Container Terminal at the Colombo Port and a Liquefied natural gas plant in Kerawalapitiya, north of Colombo. 
    • Despite bilateral discussions and joint agreements on development cooperation and commercial partnership, none of the projects have taken off the way it was envisaged. 
    • Over the last few months, New Delhi and Colombo have put out conflicting messages on the Mattala airport, sparking speculation on whether India’s interest to run it would actually materialise. In principle, India and Sri Lanka have already agreed to jointly operate the world war-era oil storage facility in the strategically advantaged port town of Trincomalee and more 
    • recently, the two countries decided that the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation and the Lanka IOC PLC (LIOC) would jointly develop the near-85 tanks in the upper farm of the facility. The upcoming discussions, officials on both side said, might help accelerate the projects.
    • Mr. Wickremesinghe’s visit to New Delhi comes a little over a month after former President and key Opposition figure Mahinda Rajapaksa met Mr. Modi. The meeting was read by many as a possible thaw in the relationship between the former strongman and New Delhi.

                Trade deficit shrinks to 5-month low
                • India’s trade deficit shrank to its lowest in five months in September, at $13.98 billion, even as exports contracted for the first time in as many months, according to official data released on Monday.
                • The data from the government’s mid-year assessment of India’s trade shows that merchandise exports registered a growth of 19.93% in rupee terms and 12.54% in U.S. dollar terms.
                • “Merchandise exports in September 2018 exhibited a positive growth of 9.65% in rupee terms. In dollar terms, there was a marginal negative growth in merchandise exports of 2.15% in September 2018.”
                • During September, the major commodity groups that saw a strong export growth included petroleum products (26.8%), organic and inorganic chemicals (16.9%), drugs and pharmaceuticals (3.8%) and cotton yarn/fabs./made-ups, handloom products, etc. (3.6%) and plastic and linoleum (28.2%) in dollar terms.
                    OYO Hotels launches operations in UAE
                    • Hospitality chain OYO Hotels said it had launched operations in the United Arab Emirates. 
                    • The company said it has a string of over 10 full-inventory-franchised and operated hotels and more than 1,100 rooms in three Emirates — Dubai, Sharjah and Fujairah, in the UAE.
                    • It plans to host guests in over 12,000 rooms, 150 hotels and all seven Emirates, across UAE by 2020.
                    • “With over 170 countries committing to the World Expo 2020, the hospitality sector in the Middle East, and more specifically UAE, is poised to grow substantially,” said Ritesh Agarwal, founder and CEO, OYO Hotels. 
                    • According to data from Dubai Corporation of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (Dubai Tourism), overall, Dubai hotel room supply is set to reach 1,32,000 by 2019 end.
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