25m Jabs in a Day: India Sets a New Record

India administered a record 25 million Covid-19 vaccines on Friday — putting it ahead of Europe until now — and is targeting to cross the 1 billion jab mark by October 10, buoyed by enhanced and consistent supplies.

The Centre has been assured of 200 million doses of Covishield by Serum Institute of India and 35 million Covaxin doses by Bharat Biotech this month. About 10 million doses of Zydus Cadila’s newly approved vaccine for those 12 years and above will also be available by end of this month. This will help India cross 1 billion by October 10, before the festival season begins with Durga Puja on October 11 and Dussehra on October 15. The 25 million peak was hit on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's birthday, a minute before midnight. The previous record was 14 million doses on August 31. With this, India claimed to have made a world record, beating China whose highest daily vaccination is at 23 million doses.

India has administered a total 797 million doses, ahead of Europe (777 m doses), North America (593 m) and South America (403 m doses), according to government data. More than 10 million doses have been given in a single day for the fourth time in a month, counting Friday. According to government data, the peak vaccination rate on Friday was 3,000-4,000 doses a second.

By Friday evening, India had covered 63.45% of its targeted adult population with at least one dose and 21.04% with both doses. States and union territories such as Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam have exceeded the national average. Health ministry sources said the government is prioritising election-bound states including Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Goa to ensure the population is fully vaccinated before mass gatherings start.

“Our aim is to fully vaccinate election-bound states even before any form of campaigning begins,” said the senior official. “Himachal Pradesh has administered the first dose to 100% of the population.UP, with such a vast population, has covered 50% of the population. Gujarat 79% and Goa is also doing well. We have been emphasising to Punjab to increase the pace.”

The government expects Biological E’s vaccine and Sputnik Lite to complete phase 3 trials successfully, after which they will be approved for use. “More and more vaccines will be available by October and we should be able to fully vaccinate the entire population this year,” the official said.


Sensex tops 59k

The unabated rally in the stock market that’s continuing for about one and half years now, on Thursday took India past France in terms of market capitalisation. The day also saw the sensex rally past the 59k mark for the first time. It closed at 59,141 points, up 418 points on the day.

The recent rally has taken India’s market capitalisation to $3.44 trillion, ahead of France’s $3.39 trillion and within touching distance of fifth-placed UK which has a market cap of $3.7 trillion, Bloomberg data showed. The top four slots in this league table are occupied by the US ($51tn), China ($12.4tn), Japan ($7.4tn) and Hong Kong ($6.4tn).

In the last one month, India’s market cap has risen by about $300 billion or about Rs 22 lakh crore. In local currency, now India’s market cap is at Rs 263 lakh crore.

Govt sets up NARCL

The government on Thursday announced the setting up of the National Asset Reconstruction Company, which will take over bad debt of nearly Rs 2 lakh crore from banks, and promised to provide backup guarantee of over Rs 30,600 crore to the entity.

Under the plan cleared by the Union Cabinet, the NARCL will acquire the impaired assets from lenders, and India Debt Resolution Company, which will be a service company majority owned by private sector banks and institutions, will manage the asset and seek to add value, wherever needed.

NARCL, or the bad bank, will bid for the impaired assets from banks — with Rs 90,000 crore of the completely written down assets to be taken over first — and the other ARCs will compete through a Swiss challenge method.

Like in other such transactions, banks will be paid15% of the value of the impaired asset in cash, with the remaining coming in the form of security receipts. “Based on the estimates from the lenders, we have arrived at the value of guarantees, which will be valid for five years. It will be invoked at the time of resolution or liquidation and is meant to cover any shortfall between the face value of the SRs and the actual realisation,” finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said.

The FM said they were part of steps initiated by the Modi government to clean up the books of banks since it first came to power in 2014. She said that the steps have resulted in over Rs 5 lakh crore having been recovered by banks, with Rs 3.1 lakh crore coming back since March 2018. She also said that guarantees have been provided but may not necessarily be invoked.

Financial services secretary Debasish Panda said guarantees were the norm globally. “It will enhance the credibility of the process. Through the new ARC we are looking at aggregation of assets, quicker resolution, better valuation from the process and freeing up of bank officers from the recovery process, allowing them more time to deal with other issues,” Panda added.

“Going by historical average recovery performance of various assets either resolved or liquidated in last five years, from a debt pool of Rs 2 lakh crore, recovery of Rs 30,600 crore being guarantee amount, is most likely to be recovered in full on an aggregate basis. If upside is netted at aggregate pool level instead of shared for individual accounts with lenders, there is a possibility of no outgo from the government,” UV ARC director Hari Hara Mishra said.

Delhi: Grey Line Extension

On Saturday, the much-delayed extension of the Grey Line (Dwarka-Najafgarh) to Dhansa bus stand will be put into operation, making the Delhi Metro network 390 km long with 286 metro stations.

The 891-metre section, which will take the metro further into the interior of Najafgarh, will be jointly inaugurated by Union housing and urban affairs minister Hardeep Singh Puri and chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on September 18 at12.30pm via video conferencing. Passenger services will commence at 5  pm that day.

The section was scheduled to be opened along with the ‘missing link’ of Pink Line (Majlis Park-Shiv Vihar) at Trilokpuri on August 6, but was deferred due to the restoration work on an approach road that had caved in on May 20. A large portion of the road near the under-construction Dhansa bus stand metro station had collapsed during heavy rainfall, damaging some nearby buildings. 

The Dwarka-Najafgarh section of the 5.4-km Grey Line opened in 2019 with three stations at Dwarka, Nangli and Najafgarh, while work remained to be completed on the extension to Dhansa bus stand.

The station is going to be Delhi Metro’s first ever below surface station to have an entire underground floor dedicated to parking. The parking facility will be integrated with the main station area and commuters will be able to leave their vehicles and proceed directly to the concourse using the elevators and escalators.

Gujarat: Clarion cull

In a political purge seen as BJP’s most audacious experiment yet, PM Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat on Thursday lived up to its reputation as the saffron party’s laboratory with a “no-repeat” government of 24 new faces, most of them freshers, replacing all 22 ministers from the erstwhile Vijay Rupani cabinet.

The tsunami of transformation capped a frenetic six days for the state, starting with Rupani’s sudden resignation as chief minister last Saturday and the even more surprising elevation of first-time MLA Bhupendra Patel to the top post in the state.

The writing was on the wall for Team Rupani on Wednesday given the no-repeat formula even as most of them spent the day trying to lobby with the state BJP leadership in a last-ditch attempt to save their places. While the swearing-in had to be postponed by a day amid murmurs of discontent, even that rare episode of discord in the party did not alter the central leadership’s resolve to prop up a new team of netas to lead Gujarat into the 2022 polls.

The overhaul is being bandied about as an attempt to wipe out any anti-incumbency sentiment after BJP’s more than two-decade stint in Gujarat. In trying to build BJP’s bulwark against the possibility of voter fatigue, veterans like former deputy CM Nitin Patel, Pradipsinh Jadeja, Saurabh Patel, Bhupendrasinh Chudasama and Kaushik Patel — each with decades of experience in government — found themselves swept away by the sweeping tides of change.


Relief for Telcos

The government announced a four-year moratorium on adjusted gross revenue and spectrum payments, approved redefining AGR to exclude ‘non-telecom’ items and cut the spectrum usage charge to zero — both prospectively — as part of wide-ranging reforms to improve the health of the debt-laden sector and make sure the market has at least three private players. Telecom shares rose.

Other key decisions include giving operators the option to “pay the interest amount arising due to the said deferment of payment by way of equity,” the government said in a statement Wednesday. The Centre also has the option of converting operators’ dues owing to the deferred payment into equity at the end of the moratorium period, guidelines for which will be finalised by the ministry of finance.

The government also decided that carriers can henceforth use spectrum bought in auctions for 30 years instead of 20 years.

It allowed telcos to surrender unused airwaves after the first 10 years by paying a surrender value besides scrapping the 0.5% additional SUC that operators needed to pay for sharing frequencies. The government also reduced the quantum of bank guarantees that operators need to furnish to cover for their dues. It cut the interest rate on delayed licence fee and SUC payments to SBI’s marginal cost of funds based lending rate plus 2 percentage points from MCLR plus 4% while scrapping the penalty and interest on penalty components altogether.

To encourage overseas investments, the government allowed 100% FDI in the sector under the automatic route, compared with the 49% allowed now. This is subject to safeguards such as curbs on investments by companies based in countries that share a border with India, telecom minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said at a briefing after the cabinet meeting.

The package, while is meant for giving relief to an industry with more than Rs 8 lakh crore of debt, will specifically ease cash-strapped Vodafone Idea’s immediate cash flow woes and help it remain in a market that has Reliance Jio Infocomm and Bharti Airtel as the other two private players. State-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. is the fourth telco in India.

"Competition is extremely important for telecom industry to offer choice to customers," Vaishnaw said. "The reforms are to ensure healthy competition and attract new players... There will be further reforms when we auction 5G so that more players can enter the sector."

He said that the reform measures — applicable to the entire industry and not any particular company — are revenue neutral for the government. He added that telecom companies already going through the insolvency process will have to get clarity from the National Company Law Tribunal.

Shares of Vodafone Idea – a joint venture between the UK’s Vodafone Group PLC and India’s Aditya Birla Group — rose 7% intraday before closing 2.8% higher at Rs 8.93 on the BSE on Wednesday. Bharti Airtel jumped to its all-time high of ₹734.95, before closing at ₹725.55, up 4.5%. Shares of Reliance Industries, the parent of telecom market leader Jio, ended 0.5% up at Rs 2,378.95.

Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani said the decisions were "bold". Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal called the reforms "seminal". Aditya Birla Group chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla said the steps were "pathbreaking" and will ensure the "healthy growth of the industry".

"Telecom sector is one of the prime movers of the economy," Ambani said. The "reforms and relief measures… will enable the industry to achieve the goals of Digital India."

Mittal said the steps will "ensure that the industry is able to invest fearlessly and support India’s digital ambitions."

Vodafone Group CEO Nick Read said the measures will support a competitive and sustainable telecom sector in India, and hoped that they will usher in a "new era" for India’s digital ambitions and for Vi’s "continued contribution to creating an inclusive and sustainable digital society".

More needs to be done toward a sustainable tariff regime to ensure the industry gets a fair return, said Gopal Vittal, MD and CEO, India and South Asia, Bharti Airtel.

Further, extending spectrum allotment for a period of 30 years and a calendar for spectrum auctions is also a positive for the industry.

Vodafone Idea hasn’t been able to complete its ₹25,000 crore fundraising plan, leading to the telco ceding ground rapidly to rivals Jio and Airtel. Birla had blamed the sector’s lack of viability as the chief reason.

India’s Growth Likely to be Fastest in 2022: UNCTAD

India’s economy is expected to grow the fastest, at 6.7%, in 2022, followed by China even though its growth will be faster in 2021, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development said on Wednesday. In its Trade and Development Report 2021, UNCTAD said that India’s economy is expected to grow 7.2% in 2021, the second highest in the world after China but the growth will slowdown to 6.7% in 2022.

It also said that the reluctance of other advanced economies to follow the lead of the US on the vaccine waiver is a worrying sign and a costly one. India’s growth comes amid a 5.3% projection for global growth, its fastest rate in nearly five decades. This is seen decelerating to 3.6% in 2022.

UNCTAD noted that a severe and broadly unanticipated second wave of the pandemic, compounded by bottlenecks in the vaccine roll out, hit the country in the second quarter, on top of rising food and general price inflation, forcing widespread lockdowns and drastic consumption and investment adjustments.

Going forward, assuming away a resurgence of the pandemic to the degree experienced in the second wave, it said private sector activity revitalisation, subject still to a slow recovery of jobs, is likely to be matched with a more adverse policy environment, especially on the fiscal front, and with continuing pressures on the trade balance.

“On these conditions, the economy is expected to decelerate to 6.7% growth in 2022,” it said.

Supporting the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights agreement waiver proposal for vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics at the World Trade Organization, UNCTAD said that this is “a necessary first step to enabling the local manufacture of vaccines” but it has been resisted by other advanced economies, whose defence of large corporate interests is causing new fissures in the global economy, based on access to vaccines and freedom of movement despite belated backing from the US.