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♦ Nine bank unions call for one-day strike on December 26
- Close to 1 million employees of various banks, including private lenders, have called for a one-day strike on December 26 to protest the proposed amalgamation of Vijaya Bank and Dena Bank with Bank of Baroda.
- The strike call comes on the heels of an officers union of State-run banks observing a day-long strike last Friday on similar grounds along with demand for immediate settlement of their wage negotiations.
- In September, the government had announced the merger of State-owned Vijaya Bank and Dena Bank, both under the prompt corrective action (PCA) framework of the RBI, with larger peer Bank of Baroda, creating the third largest lender.
- “This amalgamation is not in the interest of banks or bank customers. It is rather detrimental to both,” the United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU) said.
- The UFBU is an umbrella organisation of nine unions, including the All-India Bank Officers Confederation, the All- India Bank Employees Association and the National Organisation of Bank Workers, among others.
- The unions claim that the government wants banks to grow in size by this amalgamation but even if all public sector banks are bundled into one, the merged entity cannot find a place among the top 10 globally.
♦ China launches first satellite for space-based broadband project
- China on December 22 launched its first communication satellite to provide broadband internet services worldwide in an apparent bid to rival Google and other international firms.
- The satellite was launched from a Long March 11 carrier rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in north-western China and is the first in the Hongyun project planned by China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp. (CASIC).
- The Hongyun project, started in September 2016, aims to build a space-based communications network to provide broadband internet connectivity to users around the world, especially those in the underserved regions.
- The spacecraft is tasked with verifying basic designs of Hongyun satellite and demonstrating low-orbit broadband communications technologies, state-run China Daily reported.
♦ Volcano-triggered tsunami toll climbs to 222 in Indonesia
- A tsunami killed at least 222 people and injured hundreds on the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra following an underwater landslide believed caused by the erupting Anak Krakatau volcano, officials and media said on Sunday.
- Hundreds of homes and other buildings were “heavily damaged” when the tsunami struck, almost without warning, along the rim of the Sunda Strait late on Saturday, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the disaster mitigation agency, said.
- Thousands of residents were forced to evacuate to higher ground. By 1040 GMT, the disaster agency had raised the death toll to 222 from 168, with 843 injured and 28 missing.
♦ Nuclear-capable Agni-IV missile successfully test-fired
- India on Sunday successfully test-fired its nuclear-capable long-range ballistic missile Agni-IV, with a strike range of 4,000 km, as part of a user trial by the Army.
- The strategic surface-to-surface missile was flight tested from launch complex-4 of the Integrated Test Range (ITR) at Dr. Abdul Kalam Island, earlier known as Wheeler Island, at 8.35 a.m., defence sources said.
- Describing the trial as a “complete success”, they said all mission objectives were met during the test-fire. All radars, tracking systems and range stations tracked and monitored the flight performance of the missile, which was launched with support of a mobile launcher.
- Radars and electro-optical systems had been positioned along the coast of Odisha for tracking and monitoring all parameters of the missile, the sources said, adding two naval ships were anchored near the target area to witness the final event.
- This was the 7th trial of Agni-IV missile. The last trial conducted by the strategic force command (SFC) of the Indian Army from the same base on January 2, 2018 was successful.
♦ Trai imposes Rs 56 lakh penalty on telcos for call drop
- Telecom regulator Trai has imposed penalty of Rs 56 lakh on telecom operators in the first half of this year for failing to meet call drop benchmark, Parliament was informed Friday.
- According to the data shared by Telecom Minister Manoj Sinha in the Rajya Sabha, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India imposed highest penalty of Rs 22 lakh on Tata Teleservices, which is in process of merging its mobile business with Bharti in March 2018.
- Trai found Idea Cellular and state-run telecom firm BSNL not meeting the call drop benchmark during January-March and April-June quarter. The regulator imposed penalty of Rs 10 lakh and Rs 12 lakh on Idea in first and second quarter of 2018, respectively.
- It imposed penalty of Rs 2 lakh and Rs 4 lakh on BSNL during the first and second quarter, respectively.
- The regulator also found Telenor, which has merged mobile business with Airtel, not meeting quality of service criteria and imposed a penalty of Rs six lakh on the firm.
♦ Government to auction power transmission contracts worth Rs 8,000 crore soon
- The government will soon auction power transmission contracts worth over Rs 8,000 crore connecting renewable energy projects in western and northern states while it has deferred a decision on lines worth Rs 5,500 crore.
- Minutes of a meeting of National Committee on Transmission (NCT) held on December 4 showed that contracts worth about Rs 3,500 crore have been awarded on nomination basis to Power Grid Corp (PGCIL). Private sector firms such as Tata Power, Adani Power Transmission, L&T Infra, Torrent Power, Kalpataru Power Transmission and Megha Engineering had earlier bid for such contracts.
- The government has also compressed the timeline for implementing the projects to 18 months while setting September 2020 as the target completion date for some projects.
- Power transmission companies have welcomed the move but have demanded the government to half the auction timeline from the planned 140 days to 70 days. The companies have also said the government can auction transmission lines instead of deferring them and a green signal can be given later to the selected company to match the schedule of generation projects.
♦ GST cut on 17 items, 6 services
- The Goods and Services Tax Council cut rates on 17 items and six types of services during its 31st meeting on Saturday, leaving only one common use item — cement — in the 28% bracket.
- Cutting rates on cement would have a significant impact on revenues and so the Council decided to hold off on it, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said.
- Seven items that saw tax rates being slashed from the 28% bracket are certain vehicle parts used in agriculture, monitors and TVs up to 32 inches, retreaded tyres, power banks, digital cameras, videogame consoles (all from 28% to 18%), and parts and accessories for the carriages for disabled persons (from 28% to 5%).
- The GST rate on cinema tickets above Rs. 100 was cut from 28% to 18% and on tickets up to Rs. 100 from 18% to 12%.
♠Vocabulary (The Hindu)♣
- MENACE (NOUN):danger
Synonyms: threat, peril
Antonyms: safety, surety
Example: Terrorism is a potential menace to the integrity of the country.
- MANIFEST (ADJECTIVE):clear
Synonyms: understandable, palpable
Antonyms: unclear, obscure
Example: His evil intentions were manifest when he mentioned the question of dowry.
- MODICUM (NOUN): small amount
Synonyms: ounce, shred
Antonyms: lot, whole
Example: There is no modicum of truth in her statement.
- OBLIVION (NOUN):mental blankness
Synonyms: forgetfulness, unconsciousness
Antonyms: awareness, concern
Example:He drank himself into oblivion.
- REFURBISH (VERB):make clean
Synonyms: repair, renovate
Antonyms: ruin, destroy
Example: A person can refurbish his image by leading life dedicated to his vocation.
- RAZE (VERB):destroy completely
Synonyms: demolish, obliterate
Antonyms: build, construct
Example: Dozens of villages have been razed.
- RAPT (ADJECTIVE): fully attentive
Synonyms: elated, ecstatic
Antonyms: dejected, doleful
Example: He listened to the speaker with rapt attention.
- DESCENT (NOUN): going down
Synonyms: drop, plunge
Antonyms: ascent, climb
Example: That is a steep descent.
Plunger in a churn: Nitish Kumar and Bihar politics
If politics in Bihar is in continual churn, then the plunger in the barrel is Nitish Kumar, the Chief Minister and leader of the Janata Dal (United). Each time Mr. Kumar ditches an old friend or chooses a new ally, the other parties are forced into a realignment. The latest to shift camps is Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samta Party. After the BJP and the JD(U) reached an agreement on sharing an equal number of seats for next year’s Lok Sabha election, the other allies of the BJP felt squeezed for space in the National Democratic Alliance. With the BJP, which won 22 of the 30 seats it contested in 2014, cutting down its own share of the seats in order to make room for the JD(U), both the RLSP, which won all its three seats in the last election, and the Lok Janshakti Party of Ram Vilas Paswan, which won six of its seven seats, were expected to do the same. But more than the LJP, the RLSP found the situation uncomfortable as Mr. Kushwaha had built his party in opposition to Mr. Kumar over the last five years. The BJP made no serious attempt to retain the RLSP within its fold, in a way glad that the pressure on the process of allocation of the 40 seats in Bihar would ease a bit. If the NDA got crowded after the entry of Mr. Kumar and the JD(U), the alliance led by the Rashtriya Janata Dal remained a mahagathbandhan only in name. Both Mr. Kushwaha and Hindustani Awam Morcha’s Jitan Ram Manjhi, a former ally of the BJP, were easily accommodated by the RJD-Congress combine in the mahagathbandhan.
In a way, the exit of Mr. Kushwaha has strengthened the bargaining power of Mr. Paswan and the LJP. The LJP seems unwilling to surrender any of its sitting seats to accommodate the JD(U). Like many of the other parties in Bihar, the LJP has switched sides often, choosing between the Congress and the BJP on the basis of how it reads the political winds. With the RJD steadfastly wooing the LJP, the BJP has been trying hard to keep the party within the NDA. The bilateral agreement with the BJP was a victory of sorts for the JD(U). It was very much the senior partner in the NDA right until 2013, when it broke away from the BJP, protesting against the nomination of Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate. But since then the party appears to have conceded a lot of ground to the BJP. Another change of alliance partners for the JD(U) is unlikely. As things stand, the RJD may not entertain such an option. The JD(U) has been the most important player in Bihar’s politics in the last 13 years, but Mr. Kumar’s room for political manoeuvre is now severely limited. The plunger might have just done its last churn in the barrel.
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