India kick-starts sub project

India has finally kick-started its `mother of all underwater defence deals' after a 10-year delay . France, Germany, Russia, Sweden, Spain and Japan are also joining in to build six advanced stealth submarines for an estimated Rs.70,000 crore in collaboration with an Indian shipyard.

This conventional submarine programme, Project-75 (India), languishing in politico-bureaucratic apathy since in November 2007, is likely to be the first mega project under the new `strategic partnership' policy of the defence ministry.

But it's early days yet. The six shipbuilders have to first respond to RFI (request for information), issued last week, by September 15.

The Navy will then formulate NSQRs (naval staff qualitative requirements) before the formal RFP (request for proposal) is issued to the six for submitting their technical and commercial bids. The Indian shipyard for the strategic partnership will be chosen in a parallel process.

It may take around two years for the original equipment manufacturer - Indian shipyard combine to be down-selected. Moreover, the first new submarine will be rolled out only seven to eight years after the final contract is inked.

The Navy wants the six new diesel-electric submarines to have land-attack cruise missiles, air-independent propulsion for greater underwater endurance, and the capability to integrate indigenous weapons and sensors as and when they are developed.

As per approved plans, the Navy should have 18 diesel-electric submarines as well as six nuclear-powered attack submarines (called SSNs) and four nuclear-powered submarines with long-range nuclear-tipped missiles (SSBNs) for effective deterrence against China and Pakistan.

The force is grappling with 13 conventional submarines, at least 10 of them are over 25 years old, apart from two nuclear-powered submarines, INS Arihant (SSBN) and INS Chakra (SSN).

The six French Scorpene diesel-electric submarines being built in Mazagon Docks under the Rs.23,652 crore Project-75 will all be delivered by 2021. But by then, many of the 13 existing submarines will be up for retirement.


Domestic air traffic soars 20% in June

Domestic air passenger traffic grew 20% in June from a year earlier, continuing the growth trajectory.

Airlines flew 95.8 million passengers in June compared with 79.7 million the year before. The April-June period is considered the peak season for airlines along with the October-December quarter as schools are shut for summer vacations, boosting leisure travel.

Among the major carriers, IndiGo retained the largest market share of 40%, followed by Jet Airways at 17.5%, SpiceJet's 13.3%, Air India’s 13.1%, and GoAir’s 8.4%. AirAsia clocked 3.7% and Vistara 3.6%.

IndiGo also had the highest cancellation rate of 3.34% followed by Air India’s 1.62%, SpiceJet’s 0.28%, GoAir’s 0.27% and Jet Airways 0.15%.

SpiceJet had the highest passenger load factor of 94.5%, followed by 89.4% for GoAir, IndiGo at 87.8% and Vistara at 86.4%.

IndiGo clocked the highest 86.1% on-time performance at the four metro airports of Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru. Vistara took the second spot reporting an on-time performance of 80.8% followed by SpiceJet at 79.8% and Go Air at 75.9%.

Maharashtra all set to launch 9 airports

In one year, nine airports in small cities across Maharashtra could start operations. The new airports will make travel to smaller cities easier and affordable. The Maharashtra government is planning to get the nine airports working under the Centre’s regional connectivity scheme. The state has tied up with aircraft carriers for airports at Nanded, Solapur, Kolhapur and Jalgaon, and has started operation of one route at Nanded airport. It is also planning to connect Nashik, Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg, Gondia and Amravati under the scheme, and is offering a host of incentives to make services to these airports viable.

TruJet, which is operating services at Nanded airport, has started a Nanded-Hyderabad flight, and plans to start a Mumbai sector by September. For the Jalgaon, Solapur and Kolhapur airports, the state has tied up with Air Deccan, which won the bid the Union Ministry of Civil Aviation floated to operate services from these airports.

The state will also provide security and fire services to the airports free of charge, give a concession on water charges and provide any land required for expansion free of charge. As it cannot directly underwrite seats for airlines, the state is in talks with industry bodies such as the Confederation of Indian Industries, to give aircraft carriers a kind of a guarantee their executives will fly these sectors.
The Maharashtra Airport Development Corporation owns and operates Amravati and Solapur airports; Gondia and Jalgaon airports are under Airports Authority of India; Indian Coast Guard and HAL own and operate Ratnagiri and Nashik airports. MIDC owns Nanded, Kolhapur, and Sindhudurg. These are operated by Reliance, AAI and IRB.


Reliance launches JioPhone

Reliance Industries Ltd's stock surged to its highest in almost a decade on a day India's largest company by market capitalisation announced a one-for-one bonus share issue and unveiled a 4G feature phone aimed at attracting millions of low-spending users, raising the prospect of greater disruption in an already stressed telecom market.

Named JioPhone, the device is technically free but the subscriber will have to pay a deposit of  Rs.1,500 that's refundable after three years if the handset is returned. Its target is the 500 million Indians who are still on feature, or basic, phones using primarily voice services and haven't moved to a smartphone for reasons of affordability or because they don't really feel they need one. The company has signed up 125 million subscribers but there's been a slowdown of late in the pace of user additions.  With voice free for life, a JioPhone user will also get unlimited SMS services and half a GB of data a day for Rs.153 a month. Subscribers can watch videos and listen to music through Jio's own preloaded apps besides accessing popular apps such as Facebook and YouTube, apart from regular Internet browsing on a 2.4-inch screen.

A government source said the phone will also have the Narendra Modi app pre-embedded, so that the “poorest of the poor can directly connect with PM Modi. In case users want more data to watch content on TV through a specially developed cable that they need to buy, they can also avail Jio's Dhan Dhana Dhan plan .Since Jio has focused on building a 4G network, the JioPhone will allow the company to extend its reach to the lower end of the market.

Besides the feature phone -launched by Ambani scions Isha and Akash Ambani -RIL marked 40 years since its listing by surprising investors with a 1:1 bonus offer and a dividend of Rs.13 a share. This is the company's first bonus issue since 2009; Ambani called it the country's largest.

Ambani expects the Jio team to ensure most 2G feature phone users migrate to JioPhone, thereby making the “2G feature phone obsolete“.

The JioPhone will work on the company's in-house operating system known as Kai and will come with preloaded apps. It supports all 22 major Indian languages, and comes with a voice command feature that will allow users to make voice calls and send messages. JioPhone users can press #5 to send a distress signal along with location information to a de signated list of numbers. The device hardware is ready for secure payments, allowing customers to make digital payments.

Later this year, Jio plans to introduce NFC technology, which will be enabled via a software upgrade.

NFC, or near-field communication, is a form of contactless communication between devices like smartphones or tablets. The technology allows a user to wave the smartphone over a NFC compatible device to send information or even make payments.

The phones will be available for beta testing from August 15, and for pre-booking to the general public from August 24. Deliveries will start in September on a first come, first-served basis. Jio aims to make 5 million JioPhones available every week.

All JioPhones will be made in India from the last quarter of 2017.

Jio said its 125 million-plus customers make 2.50 billion minutes of voice and video calls every day.

The company said it will have over 10,000 Jio offices across the country, servicing sales channel partners and more than 1 million retail outlets.

The parent company, which has invested more than Rs.2 lakh crore in its telecom venture, plans to cover 99% of the country with Jio's services in one year.

The 40th AGM of Reliance Industries was a noisy and emotional affair with an excited group of shareholders cheering the Ambani family, chanting their names and giving them multiple standing ovations. There was immense excitement when Isha and Akash Ambani showed off some of the features of the JioPhone and rousing applause when Mukesh Ambani thanked his wife for being with the group for 30 years of its 40-year journey.

The matriarch of the family Kokilaben got emotional when the chairman dedicated the past 40 years of the group's success to his father and Reliance founder, the late Dhirubhai Ambani.

US labels Pakistan a safe haven for terrorists

The US listed Pakistan among countries and regions providing “safe haven“ to terrorists, saying groups like the LeT and JeM continued to operate, train, organise and raise funds in the country in 2016.

Official sources in Delhi said segments on South and Central Asia in the state department's Country Reports on Terrorism, 2016, vindicated India's long-held position on cross-border terror. It said, “Pakistan forces held operations against groups that conducted attacks within Pakistan like Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.“ India, the state department said, continued to experience attacks, “including by Maoist insurgents and Pakistan-based terrorists“.

Indo-Japan Civil N-deal comes into force

India completed the process of its civil nuclear agreements, as the landmark India-Japan civil nuclear agreement entered into force on Thursday.

Foreign secretary S Jaishankar and Japanese ambassador Kenji Hiramatsu exchanged diplomatic notes, marking operationalisation of the pact.

The civil nuclear cooperation agreement was signed last November during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Tokyo after over six years of negotiations.

The entry into force comes a few months before Shinzo Abe's scheduled visit to India in September this year. Prime Minister Modi and Abe had a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg on July 8, where they reviewed the state of bilateral relations. Abe is expected to formally begin the ground breaking for the high-speed train project to run from Ahmedabad to Mumbai.

“This agreement is a reflection of the strategic partnership between India and Japan and will pave the way for enhanced cooperation in energy security and clean energy.

The deal allows Japan to export nuclear technology to India, making it the first non-NPT signatory to have such a deal with Tokyo.

Chennai Open shifts to Pune

Come January 1, 2018, the sport of tennis in Pune will witness a new dawn.The ATP World Tour event that has been held in Chennai for the last 21 years will be held in the city from next year under a five-year deal signed between the Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association and event's right holders IMG-Reliance.

The 'Maharashtra Open', as the event will be rechristened, will replace the Chennai tournament on the ATP calendar after Aircel pulled out as the title sponsor.

The tournament has the full financial backing of the state government which has formed a high-level committee headed by the Chief Minister, through a Government Resolution issued last week, to oversee the event.

“We welcome the world class ATP tournament to our state,“ Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said in a press statement.