18, January 2017

1.Railways on a ‘Mission 41K’ to save energy worth Rs 41,000 crore

Union Railway Minister unveiled ‘Mission 41K’ to save Rs 41,000 crore on the Indian Railways’ expenditure on energy consumption over the next 10 years.

  • This target will be achieved by taking a slew of measures which include moving 90 per cent of traffic to electric traction over diesel. Presently, this is at 50 per cent of the total rail traffic.
  • The ministry plans to achieve this target by doubling the current pace of electrification.
  • The railways also aim to procure more and more electricity at cheaper rates through open market instead of sourcing it through DISCOMs and thereby hopes to save as much as 25 per cent on its energy expenses.
  • New technologies are also being explored to bring down electric consumption.
  • In the last Budget the railways have already set a target of generating 1000 MW of solar power and 200 MW of wind energy.

2.Silicon identified as ‘missing element’ in Earth’s core

Source: Indian Express

It is far too deep to investigate directly, so scientists study how seismic waves pass through this region to tell them something of its make-up.

Silicon likely makes up a significant proportion of the Earth’s core after iron and nickel, say scientists who claim to have identified the ‘missing element’ in the deep interiors of our planet that has eluded us for decades.

  • A team of Japan-based researchers has suggested that silicon accounts for the remaining 5% of the Earth’s core, which was known to consist mainly of iron (85%) and nickel (10%).
  • By imitating Earth’s core’s temperature and pressure conditions in the laboratory, scientists showed the missing 5%, which was unknown till now, could be explained by silicon dissolved into iron-nickel alloys.

Background:

  • Scientists have believed that the Earth’s core is made up mainly of iron—subsequent analysis of seismic data readings after earthquakes, volcano eruptions, etc. along with measurements of the Earth’s moment of inertia, and the composition of meteorites, has led most to agree that mixed in with the iron is a small amount of nickel.
  • But as the core meets with the mantle, other elements creep in, some of which scientists have suspected are light elements, such as carbon, silicon, sulfur and oxygen.
  • Seismic data alone has not been able to reveal which of them might be present, though many have suspected that the most likely is oxygen. The results of the new effort also suggest that oxygen is likely not very abundant in the core, which some in the field have suggested was a real possibility.

Key facts:

  • This is the only approach possible because the core is far too deep to dig a hole and send a probe down—it is approximately 3,000 km below the surface and is a relatively small target—about the size of Pluto.
  • Experiments have consisted of building cores containing different materials, subjecting them to heat and pressure and then sending seismic waves through them to compare with real ones sent through the real core.
  • Silicon has been considered as a possibility before due to the ease with which it bonds with metals, but it had not been thoroughly tested.
  • The researchers in Japan heated their iron, nickel and silicon core to 6,000C° and applied pressure 3.6 million times that at the surface of the planet.
  • Seismic analysis indicated the mixture they had created matched that at the real Earth’s core, strongly suggesting they had found the missing element.

3.India becomes Associate member of CERN

Source: The Hindu

India and European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) signed an agreement making India an Associate Member State of CERN.

CERN is run by 22 member states, and many non-European countries are involved in different ways.

CERN:

  • CERN is the world’s largest nuclear and particle physics laboratory, where scientists and engineers are probing the fundamental structure of the Universe by using the most sophisticated scientific instruments and advanced computing systems.
  • CERN is based in Geneva on the French-Swiss border.
  • Becoming Associate Member of CERN will enhance participation of young scientists and engineers in various CERN projects and bring back knowledge for deployment in the domestic programmes. It will also open opportunities for Indian industries to participate directly in the CERN project.

Key facts:

  • As an Associate member India will have full access to all data generated at CERN. As there are many experiments in CERN, there will be plenty of information available.
  • As an Associate member, India can participate in all experiments.
  • Also, whenever any CERN facilities get upgraded and go through maintenance, it will provide opportunities for Indian industries to participate.
  • Indian industry will be entitled to bid for CERN contracts, which will allow it to work in areas of advanced technology.
  • Since Indian scientists will become eligible for staff appointments, it will also enhance the participation of young scientists and engineers in operation and maintenance of various CERN projects.

India and CERN:

  • In 1991, India and CERN signed a Cooperation Agreement, setting priorities for scientific and technical cooperation.
  • India and CERN have signed several other protocols since then. But India’s involvement in CERN began in the 1960s with researchers from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai participating in experiments at CERN.
  • In the 1990s scientists from Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology, Indore too got involved in CERN experiment. Researchers from TIFR, Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology and other institutes built components for an accelerator (LEP) and detectors (L3, WA93 and WA89). India was granted Observer status to the CERN Council in 2002.

In September 2016, CERN Council adopted a resolution upgrading India’s position as associate member from earlier ‘observer’ status. Prior to it, in 2015 the Union Cabinet had given its nod to the proposal for India’s officially entry to CERN.

CERN convention:

The CERN convention was signed in 1953 by the 12 founding state. Currently, CERN has 22 member states. Besides India, Turkey, Pakistan, Ukraine are Associate members and Serbia and Cyprus are associate members in the pre-stage to membership

  • Members: 1953 12 founding states Belgium, Denmark, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Yugoslavia, and entered into force on 29 September 1954.
  • The organization was subsequently joined by Austria (1959), Spain (1961-1969, re-joined 1983), Portugal (1985), Finland (1991), Poland (1991), Czechoslovak Republic (1992), Hungary (1992), Bulgaria (1999), Israel (2014) and Romania (2016). The Czech Republic and Slovak Republic re-joined CERN after their mutual independence in 1993. Yugoslavia left CERN in 1961.

4.Finance Ministry suspends Dec. 21 tax circular on indirect transfers

Source: The Hindu

In a move that will provide a respite to foreign portfolio investors (FPIs), venture capital and private equity investors, the central board of direct taxes (CBDT) has decided to put on hold its recent circular on taxation of indirect transfers.

The tax department circular issued on December 21 clarified that all foreign portfolio investors (FPIs) with more than 50% of their assets in India and owning over 5 % stake in any listed entities would incur tax under India’s indirect transfer provisions.

What’s the issue?

  • In December 2016, the tax department issued a clarification on the scope of indirect transfer provisions that sought to even apply these provisions to FPIs. This would have taxed any profits made by funds with underlying assets (including equities) in India.
  • This would have subjected FPIs, especially those with India-focused funds, to greater scrutiny by the income-tax (I-T) department and led to double taxation in many cases.
  • It was estimated that 181 publicly traded funds whose India exposure is more than half of total assets could be affected by this move. These funds managed $39 billion of assets.
  • This had forced many foreign investors to make representations to the finance ministry asking the latter to reconsider the circular. They had pointed out that applying these provisions on offshore investors investing in these foreign funds or FPIs would lead to double taxation as they already pay securities transaction tax and tax on capital gains from selling of shares.

This tax would be levied in addition to the securities transaction tax and short-term capital gains tax and would hurt India-dedicated global investment vehicles more than, say an emerging markets fund that has less than 50% exposure to the Indian market



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