Politics & the Nation
  • Take a look at some of the important points from CPI(M)'s manifesto
    • Reverse moves for full capital account convertibility 
    • Re-impose strict controls on outflow and inflow of finance capital 
    • Prohibit participatory notes used by FIIs 
    • Halt dilution of govt equity in PSU banks 
    • Scrap Banking Regulation (Amendment) Bill 
    • Prevent takeover of Indian banks by foreign banks 
    • Scrap proposed legislation to increase FDI cap in insurance sector 
    • No privatisation of pension funds 
    • No diversion of pension fund and PF to stock mkt
  • A new central service -- Indian Corporate Law Service -- created
    • The government has introduced a new central civil services cadre called the Indian Corporate Law Services (ICLS) to create an army of experts who would be involved in corporate law making and its enforcement in the country. This gives a new service option to those who qualify the toughest entrance test to get into government service. 
    • The government would train the officers at the newly-set up Indian Institute of Corporate Affairs (IICA), a policy think tank, before placing them in various offices of the ministry of corporate affairs. 
    • The recruits will be trained in subjects like management, law, accounting, business finance and economics before being deputed in various agencies under the ministry. 
Finance & Economy
  • A look at the advance tax collection figures for the country
    • India’s advance tax collection till March 15, the last date for the payout, stood at Rs 2.82 lakh crore. While this is way below the budgeted Rs 3.95 lakh crore for FY09, the income tax department hopes the figure would approximate the previous fiscal’s Rs 3.2 lakh crore by the fiscal end. 
    • State Bank of India, the largest taxpayer in the country, registered a 41% growth in tax outgo at Rs 5,733 crore for the current fiscal. 
    • The advance tax collected from Mumbai, which accounts for 35-40% of the countrywide tax collections, was nearly Rs 99,000 crore until March 15. 
  • Why is that the disclosure of the list of counterparties to transactions with AIG kicking up such a storm?
    • Take a look at this picture.  You will understand the reasons.
    • To put it briefly: AIG received about $302.8 bn as bail-out money since September, 2008.  This is one institution that is considered as too big to fail by the American polity.  While giving the last tranche of $30 bn the Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is reported to have voiced concerns over where the bail-out money is being spent by AIG.  As a result of this, AIG had to publish the list of beneficiaries for about $105 bn of the bailout money it received.  The revelation of the list has raised a huge ruckus.  People are now questioning as to why the American tax payer should foot the bill for the losses incurred by other private firms and foreign firms.
  • A look at India's advantages and challenges in drug R&D space (excerpted from today's ET debate)
    • The first advantage that India offers is, of course, one of the cost. Clinical development costs account for up to two-thirds of the total money spent on new drug development. This cost has risen to hundreds of millions or even more in developed countries. Most multinationals find it cost-effective to outsource this specialised activity to contract research organisations (CROs) in a country like India, where they can get many more value additions. 
    • Other than low cost, skilled manpower in trial and IT management, rich resource pool of clinicians trained in Good Clinical Practice (GCP), large pool of patients suffering from Diabetes, Cancer, Hypertension, Asthma, Tropical infections and degenerative diseases, high patient-doctor ratio, world class training in research and documentation etc. are most attractive features that Indian institutions offer. 
    • There are several obstacles to achieve sustainable success in innovation-driven pharma R&D. Some of these are—unavailability of trained personnel (medicinal chemistry and various disciplines of biology, toxicology, clinical pharmacology etc.), a lack of academic institutions to train the large numbers of scientific professionals and an academic infrastructure that can lay the biological foundations for novel approaches to treat diseases. There are also people- related issues (high attrition rate and young professionals not understanding importance and need to stick with a team to achieve success, lack of required team work and top down management). Finally, a lack of adequate funds to support the high-risk opportunities by having more shots-on-goal. For this to happen, India needs to focus more on high-risk innovation while maintaining its core strength in the service and generic industry—not an easy balancing act! 
  • El Salvador elects Leftist President
    • Mauricio Funes of El Salvador's former Marxist rebel FMLN party has won the country's presidential election.  He is the first FMLN leader who has not been a combatant.  He defeated his conservative rival, the Arena party's Rodrigo Avila.
    • FMLN (Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front) party was founded by Marxist guerrilla fighters from the civil war.  The conflict ended in a UN-sponsored peace accord in 1991, after the loss of some 70,000 lives over less than two decades.
  • Israeli politics
    • Israel has seen elections in February.  No political party won substantial seats in the 120 member Knesset to form government on its own.  Let's take a look at the political firmament:
    • Likud: Led by Benjamin Netanyahu this party has been asked to form the government now.  But it still needs support from other political parties to form a stable government.
    • Yisrael Beiteinu: Led by Avigdor Lieberman, this party supports Israeli settler movement and opposes exchanging land for peace with the Palestinians.
    • Kadima: Led by Tzipi Livni, this was the party that was in power till the elections in February.  It supports the formation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
    • Labour: Led by Ehud Barak.
    • There are a lot many other parties; all having single digit seats in the Knesset.  Israel mostly had coalition governments.  This time round, it is the Kadima party which has won the largest number of seats in the Knesset -- 28.  But it decided to stay in the opposition. 
Science & Technology
  • Europe set to launch one of the most challenging space missions to date
    • Strongly recommend a read of this BBC news report.  Worth it.
    • Goce (Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer) is a satellite to be launched from Russia (but it is a European Space Agency satellite) that will map minute variations in the pull of gravity experienced across the planet.
    • The data from the satellite is expected to enhance our understanding of how the oceans move, and to frame a universal system to measure height anywhere on Earth.
    • Hailed as a 'supermodel' satellite for its great looks, it is arrow shaped and sports fins to keep it stable as it flies through the wisps of air present at an altitude of just under 270 km.  Take a look at the craft here.
    • Goce will be put into a sun-synchronous orbit, meaning the spacecraft will be kept in daylight for a sustained period of time. 
    • Goce is the first of ESA's Earth Explorers, a series of spacecraft that will provide quick answers to key environmental questions.
    • An interesting scientific fact worthy of note in this connection:
      • The force of gravity is not uniform all across the earth.  It is less at the equator than it is at the poles.  It is because of this that we weigh more at the poles than at the equator.