The new Smart Cities List

Smart City Mission: Full list of 30 new smart cities

1 Tiruvanthapuram - Kerala
2 Naya Raipur - Chattisgarh
3 Rajkot - Gujarat
4 Amaravati - Andhra Pradesh
5 Patna - Bihar
6 Karimnagar - Telangana
7 Muzaffarpur - Bihar
8 Puducherry - Puducherry
9 Gandhinagar - Gujarat
10 Srinagar - Jammu & Kashmir
11 Sagar - Madhya Pradesh
12 Karnal - Haryana
13 Satna - MP
14 Bengaluru - Karnataka
15 Shimla - Himachal Pradesh
16 Dehradun - Uttarakhand
17 Tiruppur - Tamil Nadu
18 Pimpri  Chinchwad - Maharashtra
19 Bilaspur - Chattisgah
20 Pasighat - Arunachal Pradesh
21 Jammu - Jammu & Kashmir
22 Dahod - Gujarat
23 Tirunelveli - Tamil Nadu
24 Thootukkudi - Tamil Nadu
25 Tiruchirapalli  - Tamil Nadu
26 Jhansi - UP
27 Aizawl - Mizoram
28 Allahabad - UP
29 Aligarh - UP
30 Gangtok - Sikkim

Prez Polls: Meira Challenges Ram

Former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar was chosen as the Opposition's presidential candidate against NDA's Ram Nath Kovind. Kumar is a four-time Congress Lok Sabha MP and daughter of Dalit leader Babu Jagjivan Ram. Worried about the fissures in the ranks, the Opposition zeroed in on Kumar's name but Nitish Kumar's JDU ruled out rethink on its support for Kovind.

At a meeting of 17 non-NDA parties in Parliament House Library , RJD chief Lalu Prasad is learnt to have proposed only one name -that of Bihar-born Meira Kumar. NCP, which was maintaining a curious silence so far, finally rallied behind Meira, even though NCP chief Sharad Pawar's first choice was former Maharashtra CM Sushil Kumar Shinde.

The Left parties were initially backing Mahatma Gandhi 's grandson Gopal Krishna Gandhi or BR Ambedkar's grandson Prakash Ambedkar, but finally agreed to go with Meira. BSP has also decided to back Meira.

Meira's choice was unanimous. Pawar was the first speaker at the meeting and he proposed three names -Shinde, educationist B Mungekar and Meira Kumar. Prasad strongly supported Meira's name. Following Prasad, all parties, including the Left, decided to back Meira.

It is also gathered that no further discussions were held on the strategy for the presidential elections, with numbers stacked up in favour of the NDA.

CPI's D Raja said that the contest was for the idea of India. “For us it is simply RSS versus the rest. It is about saving the ideals and idea of India and hence we support Meira Kumar's candidature,“ he said.

Pune Ring Road update

Maharashtra Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis cleared a proposal to fund the ring road project through town planning schemes. The Pune Metropolitan Region Development Authority will undertake 12 9km the project in two phases, the first of which is expected to complete in three years. The entire project is estimated to take seven years for completion.

The town-planning schemes were floated as a means to fund the project, on the lines of the Gujarat model of land monetization. The CM approved the proposal at the third PMRDA general body meeting in Mumbai. More than 10,000 hectares will be acquired for the 20-plus townplanning schemes along the ring road, which is estimated to cost Rs.17,412 crore.

The detailed project report will be prepared by a consortium of three companies -Intelligent Information Conversions Technologies (Hyderabad), Monarch Surveyors and Engineering Consultants Private Limited (Pune), and India International Infrastructure Engineers Ltd (Bengaluru).

PMRDA chief Kiran Gitte has proposed for the Surat and Ahmedabad town planning models for setting up corporate and industrial hubs along the ring road, likely near the Chakan industrial belt and the proposed airport in Purandar.

Gitte further said that with over 2 lakh people needing affordable housing, they will look to attract as many builders as possible to the town planning schemes. With Pune saturated, these individual clusters can take on a lot of projects, he added.

Most of the clusters will come up on government land, while the PMRDA will also acquire and develop private land which will be sold back to the original owners. PMRDA was recently granted 7,800 hectares of government land for this purpose.But before proceeding with the schemes, the authorities will first clear the land of encroachments before fencing it off.


Somewhere in Maharashtra....

Now Karnataka does a Farm Loan Waiver

Joining the states that recently wrote off farm loans, Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah announced a waiver of crop loans and short-term loans of up to Rs.50,000 availed from agricultural cooperative banks in the state. The governments of UP , Maharashtra and Punjab have already announced waivers to quell the growing demands of distressed farmers following a crash in prices of farm produce.
“While some farmers have got interest-free loans of Rs.25,000, others have availed up to Rs.3 lakh. We'll waive off loans up to Rs.50,000, irrespective of the total amount,“ Siddaramaiah said. “I want the Centre to waive off farmer loans availed from nationalised and commercial banks,“ Siddaramaiah said in the legislative assembly , putting the onus on the Centre to do its part for farmers. The CM said Karnataka was the first state in the country to transfer input subsidies directly to bank accounts of farmers.

The loan waiver will benefit 22,27,506 farmers who have taken loans worth Rs.10,736 crore from cooperative banks.This puts a burden on Rs.8,165 crore on the state exchequer.

The waiver, seen as a bonanza for farmers reeling under consecutive drought, is expected to win their goodwill towards the Congress government which is heading for elections in early 2018.

Moreover, Karnataka's move assumes significance as it comes in the backdrop of two political developments: One, Union finance minister Arun Jaitley's statement that the Centre will not fund any waiver of farm loans by states; Two, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi expressing his solidarity with the farming community by demanding Prime Minister Narendra Modi waive farm loans.


SpiceJet Places Order for 50 Bombardier Q400 Planes

SpiceJet has announced an order to buy Bombardier Q400 aircraft valued at $1.7 billion. This order, which is split in half, is a firm order for 25 aircraft and an option to add 25 more, will make the airline the largest turboprop aircraft operator in India.

Notably , the aircraft order follows a 50 ATR aircraft order by IndiGo, which announced it would float a new regional subsidiary, recently . Singh said the aircraft would be used for regional connectivity as well as for providing connectivity to the neighbouring international destinations.

Besides the Regional Connectivity Scheme, there are small airports that are opening as a consequence of the RCS scheme.

The airline said the Letter of Intent includes 25 Q400 turboprops and purchase rights on an additional 25 aircraft. Based on the Q400 turboprop list price, an order could be valued at up to $1.7 billion. This would be the single biggest order for the Q400.

On Monday, SpiceJet ordered 40 Boeing 737-10 aircraft worth $5 billion, which should start joining the fleet most likely from 2020.

GST's Midnight Parliament Bash

The goods and services tax will be showcased as a unifying force at the midnight event that marks the rollout of India's biggest indirect tax reform. “The world will witness a transformation and how all the political parties of different ideologies united for the implementation of the GST,“ Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in Lucknow, terming the rollout of the GST from July 1 as “historic“.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley set to rest any remaining doubt about the tax being implemented as scheduled. “The hour-long function will mirror the contribution made by different political parties and states to the revolutionary new tax regime,“ he said in New Delhi. The launch function will be held in the central hall of Parliament.

Jaitley reiterated that GST, over the medium to long term, will lead to a rise in central and state revenue as the size of the formal economy will grow. Being a more efficient system, GST will also result in better tax compliance, he said.

The new levy will subsume state and central levies and help create a common market, although some sticking points such as e-way bills remain to be resolved. These pertain to inter-state transactions.

Incredible India 2.0

India's spirituality and it's wellness traditions will be the highlights of Incredible India 2.0 campaign.
The revamped version of the government's marketing initiative to promote India as a preferred tourist destination for global audiences will be launched formally on World Tourism Day on September 27.

While the usual spiritual circuit-Varanasi, Mathura and Ajmer -will continue to receive a helpful hand from the government. Ayodhya, the birth place of Lord Ram, apart from far flung monastries in Lahaul Spiti to be promoted as tourist spots for a global audience.

In addition to the Buddhist circuit that attracts a large number of foreign tourists, the government has also decided to include the temple town of Goraknath, home to UP chief minister Aditya Nath Yogi's Gorakhnath Math.

Incredible India 2.0 campaign will focus on developing at least 10 cities where it will promote their spirituality quotient and also develop their medical and wellness potential.

Rishikesh, for instance, will not only offer `adhyatm' to the tourists it hosts, but also offer traditional wellness programmes that tourists can enrol for.

Kerala, likewise, will not only be promoted for its natural beauty , but also for it's ancient ayurvedic healing systems.

Hike, Yes Bank tie up for UPI payments

Hike will offer payment facilities to its 10 crore users through the Unified Payments Interface by partnering with Yes Bank. According to Hike CEO Kavin Bharti Mittal, the partnership will make Hike Messenger the largest UPI-based platform in India. “It will empower over 10 crore of our users to transact seamlessly on the revolutionary UPI platform, which was launched by National Payments Corporation of India to accelerate the adoption of digital payments in the country ,“ he said.

The partners have claimed that this is the first time in India that a large mobile chat platform has embedded a payments solution in its app. “This development will revolutionise the way P2P and P2M payments are done within the chat platform, including mobile top-ups, among others,“ a statement said.

Earlier, Swedish communication company Truecaller partnered ICICI Bank to offer UPI payments service. Facebook's WhatsApp too has shown interest in participating in the payments market in India.

Mumbai Metro III snippets

The first Tunnel Boring Machines to be used for the Metro-III corridor will reach Mumbai in July, from Guangzhou in China. Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation has set a deadline of September 2019 to complete the tunnelling work. The TBM will be procured from German major Herrenknecht AG, from its manufacturing facility in China. The machine will deployed for construction of the 6.08-km twin tunnels from Siddhivinayak to Dharavi through TBM launch shafts located at Naya Nagar in Mahim.

The machines will initially have to be assembled after they reach the city, which is a time-consuming process. The contractors on the seven civil packages of the entire Bandra-Colaba-Seepz alignment of Metro-III plan to deploy a total of 17 TBMs from leading manufacturers such as Robbins, Terratec, Herrenknecht and STEC. Of the 17 TBMs to be used, 10 will be new while seven machines will be refurbished.

A shaft 25 m deep into the ground is being built at Naya Nagar. Work on the project had earlier been held up due to the stay order on cutting of trees.

MMRC said it hopes to run the first train on the underground corridor by 2020 between Seepz and Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC). The remainder of the corridor will be opened within a year after that.


Ram Nath Kovind : NDA's choice for Prez

Known for springing many a surprise, the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo stunned everyone this time as well when the BJP announced the name of Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind as the NDA's candidate for Presidential elections. Low-profile and non-controversial, Kovind, a lawyer from UP's Kanpur Dehat, may not be a popular face, but his selection for the country's top constitutional post is being dubbed as a political masterstroke by the BJP leadership because of his strong Dalit roots and sustained work for the downtrodden sections of the society, which will make him endear him to other political parties.

BJP chief Shah said the party's parliamentary board went through a long list of potential candidates before choosing Kovind, who was its MP in the Rajya Sabha for two terms and headed its Dalit Morcha.

Kovind has never been an RSS pracharak and came to be associated with the Sangh Parivar much later after joining the BJP in 1991. Many said that he only has nodding acquaintance with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat.Yet, Kovind's candidature has been lauded by the RSS with the outfit's spokesman Prof Rakesh Sinha describing him as “a flawless person“ and “a man with a clear vision“.

Poised to be the country's 14th President, Kovind will be the only Dalit after KR Narayanan to occupy Rashtrapati Bhavan. With this move, the BJP, which has been seeking to widen its base beyond its traditional constituencies of upper castes and trading classes, will further consolidate its base amid the Dalits. Sources say that a Dalit Presidential candidate from UP will provide a “healing“ touch to the recent incidents of Thakur-Dalit clashes in Saharanpur,Meerut.

India-Afghan air freight corridor is operational

India and Afghanistan established a direct air freight corridor with the first flight from Kabul to Delhi received on Monday by foreign minister Sushma Swaraj. The flight, which carried 60 tonnes of cargo (mainly asafoetida) from Afghanistan, was flagged off in Kabul by President Ashraf Ghani. A similar cargo flight from Delhi to Kabul had earlier carried 100 tonnes of cargo (mainly pharmaceuticals, water purifiers, medical equipment) on June 18, 2017 from Delhi to Kabul.

The connectivity established through the air freight corridor will provide Afghanistan greater access to markets in India.

India wants to be a trade & transit hub

India became the 71st country to join the United Nations TIR Convention, the international customs transit system, to position itself as a regional trading and transit hub. The TIR system is the international customs transit system with the widest geographical coverage.

As other customs transit procedures, the TIR procedure enables goods to move under customs control across international borders without the payment of the duties and taxes.

TIR Convention is more than a transport agreement and has a strong foreign policy element. In a world where China's `One Belt One Road' is the dominating project straddling economics and geopolitics, India has no option but to play a better game if it wants to be counted as a serious rising power. Welcoming India into the global transport arrangement, Umberto de Pretto, the secretary general of IRU which manages the TIR Convention, said that India's accession would have a big impact on regional connectivity . “TIR can help implement the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal Motor Vehicles Agreement by addressing policy incompatibility among the BBIN group. For example, Bangladesh does not recognise insurance policies made in India, Nepal or Bhutan. With TIR, there would be no need for bilateral arrangements as guarantors are covered by the global guarantee chain.“

One of the persistent problems for India's connectivity projects has been the disconnect between transport and customs systems with different countries. Once the systems are integrated with global norms, India reckons it will become easier to service African and Asian markets when the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor comes online. It will breathe life into the International North-South Transport Corridor and the Chabahar project that India has been working on for some time.

China joined the TIR in 2016 when its giant inter-regional connectivity projects began to take off. As India ramps up its connectivity ambitions this is a necessary step. For instance, the BBIN motor vehicles agreement needs this convention to make it operational.

Joining the convention “would be a major economic boost to South Asia, eventually connecting the region to the rest of the world. It could become a key link between South and South-East Asia, particularly as China is already a TIR member, and connects transit routes east to Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and beyond“. He added it can link India to maritime transport routes across the entire Asia-Pacific region.

A statement from International Roads Union said this was “part of India's multi-modal transport strategy that aims to integrate the economy with global and regional production networks“.

Departure Forms scrapped at Airports

Indian flyers headed for foreign destinations will not be required to fill up departure cards starting July 1, which means one formality less before boarding the aircraft. However, those travelling out of the country via rail, sea ports and land immigration check-posts will have to fill the embarkation card.

The departure card contains passenger details such as name, date of birth, passport number, address in India, flight number and date of boarding.

The requirement for Indians to fill up arrival cards upon their return from abroad was done away with in 2014.

These steps are among several taken of late to facilitate both international and domestic travel. Last year, the customs department did away with the need for Indian passengers to fill up a declaration form while coming to India if they were not carrying dutiable goods.However, those carrying prohibited and dutiable goods are still required to fill up an `Indian customs declaration form'.

The Central Industrial Security Force, mandated to secure airports in the country, has also started doing away with the practice of tagging and stamping of domestic passengers' hand baggage.

The practice has already been done away with at Delhi, Mumbai, Kochi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Ahmedabad.

Toll extended to fund projects in Maharashtra

The Maharashtra government has decided to extend toll collection at three posts in and around Mumbai by up to 29 years to fund new infrastructure projects. Increasing the burden on citizens, the Bandra-Worli Sea Link toll will now continue till 2068 to fund the Bandra-Versova sea link, the Vashi toll will run till 2038 to recover funds spent on widening the bridge over the creek, and the Pune Expressway toll will have to be paid till 2045 for a tunnel through the Lonavla-Khandala ghats. The state government's cabinet sub-committee on infrastructure, which is led by chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, recently allowed MSRDC to recover the additional toll. It also approved a six-lane expansion of the 30-km Mumbra bypass (Shilphata) to Kalyan up to the Nashik highway. For this, citizens will have to pay a toll -which was scrapped in 2016 following the decision to wind up around 60 toll posts across the state -till beyond 2040. The toll will start once 70% of the project is complete.

The cost of the 16-km tunnel expressway bypass is pegged at around Rs.4,800 crore, the 12-lane Vashi creek bridge expansion at about Rs.777 crore and the Bandra-Versova sea link at Rs.7,502 crore. The Bandra-Versova sea link project has received all the required approvals, including the crucial CRZ and environmental clearances. In the second bidding for the bridge, five firms, including China Harbor Engineering, Reliance Infra, HCC, Hyundai and L&T, with their respective partners have qualified in the technical round. The final bidding is expected in a month or two.

The initial toll period of the BWSL was till 2020, but already an extension has been granted till 2039 to recover the cost of the city's first sea link. If the initial date is taken into account, toll is being extended by a mind boggling 48 years.

On the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, the collection of toll is already extended till 2030 to recover the cost of about Rs.2,500 crore. The existing collection contract with IRB ends in 2019. Thereafter, MSRDC may appoint another contractor or collect toll itself till the extended period of 2045.

Going by the toll, the per km cost of toll on the expressway stands at around Rs.2.40 now. Going by this rate, the toll on the proposed Mumbai-Nagpur super-expressway could be at least Rs.1,200-1,800 one way. Ahead of the CM's pet project, the state allowed expansion of the Shilphata-Kalyan road to improve connectivity to the Nagpur expressway .

The debt-ridden Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation, the infrastructure arm of the state government, has got a shot in the arm. Around 5.3 acres abutting the BWSL on which MSRDC's office is located is now officially owned by the company. Earlier, it was leased to MSRDC by the PWD.

Since the valuation of the land is worth around Rs.34,000 crore, the number of companies approaching MSRDC for various projects has gone up. That's because MSRDC, which is facing losses of over Rs.4,000 crore, can now show this land as its asset.

Maharashtra Farm Loan Waiver snippets

The debt waiver for farmers that the Maharashtra state government had announced will cover loans of up to Rs.1 lakh, provided they were taken prior to June 30, 2016. Conditions are the same as those announced in Uttar Pradesh for writing off farm loans.
The criteria for the waiver, which was announced by revenue minister Chandrakant Patil, drew criticism from farmer groups who accused the BJP-led regime of reneging on its original promise and threatened to revive their agitation.

Patil said under RBI guidelines a loan waiver can be provided only in case of a drought, and hence, the offer would be valid for loans taken between 2012 and June 30, 2016, when the state was reeling under a dry spell. State revenue minister Chandrakant Patil led a panel of cabinet ministers for a meeting with farmer groups to finalise the terms of an agri loan waiver.

While indicating that Rs.1 lakh would be outer limit for the amount that is written off, Patil clarified that extent of landholding would not be a criterion for eligibility of beneficiaries. However, he said other factors would count.

There are nearly 40 lakh farmers in the state, whose cumulative outstandings add up to Rs.30,000 crore till June 30, 2016.

Patil also said criterion set by government to provide a bank guarantee for a loan advance of Rs.10,000 to farmers ahead of the Kharif season will be revised after feedback from farmers representatives. In any case, farmers with four-wheelers will not qualify for it nor will members of panchayat samitis.

Mars Mission Completes 1,000 Earth Days in Orbit

India's low-cost Mars spacecraft completed 1,000 Earth days in its orbit yesterday, well beyond its designed mission life of six months or 180 days. “The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) completes 1,000 earth days in its orbit, today (June 19, 2017) well beyond its designed mission life of six months,“ the Indian Space Research Organisation said. It said 1,000 earth days correspond to 973.24 Mars Sols (Martian Solar day) and the MOM completed 388 orbits. The satellite is in good health and continues to work as expected, it said, adding that scientific analysis of the data received from the spacecraft is in progress.

India had on September 24, 2014 successfully placed the spacecraft in the orbit around the Mars in its very first attempt, joining an elite club of countries with expertise in space technology . ISRO had launched the spacecraft on its nine-month-long odyssey on a home-grown PSLV rocket from Sriharikota in AP on November 5, 2013.

Pune Raises Rs.200 crore Via Municipal Bonds

Pune Municipal Corporation has raised Rs.200 crore for the smart city project by issuing municipal bonds, becoming the first local body in the country in nearly one-and-a-half decades to issue the instrument. The bond sale, handled by SBI Capital Markets, was oversubscribed six times. The bonds, rated AA+, one of the top ratings, offered 7.59%, about 30-40 basis points more than bonds sold by state governments.

“We have shown resolution and financial strength,“ said PMC commissioner Kunal Kumar. “We have chalked out a 30-year plan to increase our tariffs, a source for revenue. We have also obtained political support for the plan,“ he said. “This successful fund-raising should encourage other local bodies also to hit the markets soon.“

Pune municipality became the first civic body in the country to raise money by issuing bonds on Bombay Stock Exchange. The municipal body raised Rs.200 crore through BSE's bond trading platform and was oversubscribed by six times --approximately Rs.1,200 crore.This also marked the re-entry of municipal bonds after 14 years, which is being seen as the beginning of resurgence in the municipal bond market in India.

New Delhi Municipal Council is likely to issue bonds to raise Rs.200 crore by this month-end while Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation would hit the bond market to raise a similar amount in the next one month. About a dozen municipalities are expected to raise Rs.6,000 crore through municipal bonds during this financial year.

Pune Municipal Corporation raised Rs.200 crore at a 7.59% coupon for 10 years for its ambitious 24x7 water supply for the entire city , which is better than the coupon rate for government securities at 8%.

“We require about Rs.3,300 crore for the round-the-clock water supply ... We will raise 2,300 crore by issuing bonds. We will go more fresh tranches as and when we require funds,“ Pune municipal commissioner Kunal Kumar said. He added municipal bodies tapping the bond market will improve availability of finance for more development works and projects, particularly under the government's Smart City programme. Ashishkumar Chauhan, CEO and MD of BSE said that the PMC bond offering is a pilot case and it will help municipalities understand the servicing aspect related to such papers. Even investors will understand the risks associated with municipal bonds. “We invite all the municipalities to raise the funds and follow PMC's successful bond issuance,“ Chauhan said. He added that Indian bond markets are poised for a substantial growth and the nation can use its domestic savings to fund its infrastructure needs.

Over-subscription of PMC's bond is also being seen as a positive indication considering that only Rs.1,100 crore have been raised through bonds in the past three decades. In developed markets, a large number of municipalities raise money issuing bonds, called Munis or Muni bonds, but the investors in these debt papers are very specialised ones and hence liquidity is less compared to other types of debt papers. In the US, according to one database, average daily trading in Munis in May was $10.7 billion, compared to about $32.7 billion in corporate bonds and over $530 billion in government papers. The Pune municipal bond issue came within six months of PM Narendra Modi asking SEBI bourses and other market players to get at least 10 municipal bodies listed within the next one year.

Amarinder Singh announces Farm Loan Waiver

In a bid to go one-up on the moves by BJP governments in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, the Congress government in Punjab has also announced a farm loan waiver, offering double the relief for a farmer than the two BJP-ruled states.

Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh announced crop loan waiver of up to Rs.2 lakh for small and marginal farmers having less than 5 acre of land holding and a flat Rs.2 lakh waiver for marginal farmers having a bigger land holding. The move would benefit 10.25 lakh farmers in Punjab. UP in April announced a waiver up to loan amount of  Rs.1 lakh for nearly 87 lakh small and marginal farmers in the state. Maharashtra also announced a loan waiver up to Rs.1 lakh for farmers.

UP will bear a burden of nearly Rs.36,500 cr due to the loan waiver while Maharashtra is expected to bear a loan waiver amounting to nearly Rs.25,000 cr. Punjab has not specified the total burden on its exchequer but claimed its offer is far more attractive for the state's farmers than their counterparts in the two BJP-ruled states. Captain Amarinder Singh said the state would also take over outstanding crop loans from institutional sources of all families of farmers who have committed suicides in Punjab. The state has also decided to repeal a provision in law which provided for auction or seizure of farmers land due to unpaid loans.

Upgrading Railway Stations

Tata Realty, Shapoorji Pallonji, IL&FS, Reliance Infrastructure, Raheja Group and Essel Infra are among developers to evince interest in modernising and upgrading five major Mumbai railway stations -Bandra Terminus, Mumbai Central, Lokmanya Tilak Terminus, Borivali and Thane -at an estimated cost of Rs.10,000 crore. The stations will be awarded under the Swiss challenge method, where proposals are invited online and rivals can offer counter-bids. The builders will get commercial exploitation rights for railway land for 45 years in lieu of redeveloping and modernising the stations.

The successful bidders will be required to raise the stations to world standards by building new platforms, providing lifts and other passenger amenities and also maintaining the premises. In lieu, the railways will allow them to build hotels, malls, cinema halls and shops within the station complex.

The Lokmanya Tilak Terminus is the largest in Mumbai with an area of eight acres; Mumbai Central has an area of almost four acres.

The bidding process will start in August and the stations awarded for redevelopment in early 2018. For the Bandra Terminus and Borivali stations, the prospective bidders have flagged concerns over relocating the railway quarters, which would cost them almost Rs.150 crore. Other than the Mumbai stations, the one in Pune is also attracting a lot of interest from big bidders. The estimated area of the Pune station is about eight acres.

Railways has engaged EY as consultant for its market outreach programme. It plans to redevelop 400 major stations, envisaging a minimum investment of Rs.1 lakh crore. The Swiss challenge method cuts the long-drawn tendering process currently used by the railways. An expert committee will accept the best proposal and the original proposer will get an opportunity to match it.

The government is taking various steps to increase private sector participation for upgrading and modernising the Railways.

NITI Aayog, the government's think tank, has suggested measures such as flexible design and lease payment norms to ensure wider private sector participation in station redevelopment. It has recommended that station redevelopment be given infrastructure project status, which will enable easy and economical borrowing from banks.

Lockheed Martin and Tatas to Make F-16 Fighters in India

The defence arm of the Tata Group has signed an agreement with American firm Lockheed Martin to produce and export new generation F-16 fighter aircraft, potentially kickstarting a mega `Make in India' project days ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's first meeting with US President Donald Trump. The deal, signed at the Paris Air Show, is subject to the condition that the F-16 Block 70 fighter jet emerges as the winner of an Indian Air Force competition to procure more than 100 single-engine fighters.

The Tata Advanced Systems Limited-Lockheed Martin combine will compete with Sweden's Saab, which will offer its Gripen fighter aircraft for the requirement. Lockheed Martin will move its only operational line producing the F-16s from Texas to India if it wins the contract. The American company also sees a $15 billion export potential for the jet to other customers in the region. Industry executives said the agreement will give the Tata Group firm the ability to integrate Indian sensors and systems into the high technology Block 70 version of the US fighter jet.

Besides providing full service support for the F-16, the agreement will enable the Indian company to offer all future upgrades for the aircraft on its own.

The timing of the announcement assumes significance, coming as it does ahead of Modi's visit to the US, where he is also scheduled to meet Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson, according to people familiar with the matter. Lockheed Martin has said the partnership will support thousands of jobs in the US, besides creating new manufacturing jobs in India. It has pitched the F-16 as a fighter jet that makes the best business case for India as well, pointing out that there are nearly 3,200 operational aircraft of this type worldwide.

The Maryland-headquartered company has offered to make India the hub for all service and support requirements of the F-16 fleet worldwide, even as its service centres in countries such as Turkey, which services the Pakistani Air Force, will continue to operate.

Saab is expected to be a keen competitor, offering the Gripen as a newer aircraft with more technology transfer. While the Swedish company has yet to announce an Indian partner, it is in talks with both the Mahindra Group and Adani Group for collaboration.


GST to roll out on July 1

The GST Council has agreed on July 1 rollout of the Goods and Services Tax despite some pending issues. Regarding the government's preparedness, Finance Minister Jaitley noted that over 80 per cent registered entities have already received their provisional GST registrations. There are 80.91 lakh assessees of whom some will get excluded, he said. Some new trades will come under the GST for the first time.

The Finance Minister said that the Council has allowed businesses a relaxation of time for the first two months (July-August) for filing their returns. These would also need to submit only a simple declaration initially, and would have time to furnish the exact “invoice-by-invoice data“ later.

The GST Council also decided on a two-slab structure for taxing lottery tickets. While state-run lot teries will be taxed at 12 per cent under the GST, state-authorised private lotteries will attract tax at the highest rate of 28 per cent.

The Council deferred a decision on e-way bills due to lack of consensus, which means states which have an e way bill structure in place can continue with it, while others are exempt. Eway bill is an electronic way bill for movement of goods which can be generated on the GST Network portal. Movement of goods of more than Rs.50,000 in value cannot be made by a registered person without an e-way bill.

All border posts will be removed from July 1 with the implementation of the GST.

The Council also decided that hotel rooms in the tariff range of Rs.2,000-Rs.7,500 a day would attract 18 per cent tax, while rooms with daily tariff above Rs.7,500 would be taxed at 28 per cent. Restaurant service in 5-star hotels would attract 18 per cent tax.

Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir are still to complete the legislative formalities for implementing the GST regime.

The Search for Saraswati

Thousands of years ago, Saraswati River used to flow in Jaisalmer and Barmer and its remains have been found at many places at these two places. There is also another reason that there are some areas where water in 40-50-year old tubewells has not depleted. The state government has made a plan of Rs.100 crore to search the extinct river in five districts of the state and its detailed project report has been sent to the Centre's water resources ministry for approval and funding. The search will be done in five districts namely Jaisalmer, Barmer, Bikaner, Ganganagar and Hanumangarh in over 543 kilometre area and it will start from Jaisalmer.

On Friday, central land study team reached Barmer and searched for the remains of Saraswati River. The Centre will also dig 122 tubewells in Barmer and Jaisalmer in search of the path of this extinct river.

Over Rs.100 crore will be spent in these four border districts.

Scientist Punia said there is mention of Saraswati River here in Vedas. There is potable water in some areas in abundance and despite exploitation, the water level in wells is not going down.

The central land study team will conduct surveys from Himalayas to Arabian Sea. Baytu area is spread over 6,000 square kilometres in which there are huge water reserves in over 434 square kilometres of area. This is the reason that around 15 villages are getting drinking water through tubewells in Bhadkha, Bothia, Chokhla, Batadu, Bhimda, Cheetar Ka Paar, Kawas etc.

Taj Palace becomes first Indian building to get trademark

The iconic Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai has just got itself trademarked. This makes the 114-year-old building the first in the country to get such a registration. The hotel, which has been a defining structure of Mumbai's skyline, has joined the elite and small club of trademarked properties in the world which includes the Empire State Building in New York, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and Sydney Opera House.

Usually, logos, brand names, combination of colours, numerals and even sounds are trademarked but the registration of an architectural design has never been attempted since the Trademark Act came into force in 1999.  The Taj Mahal Palace which was built in 1903 even before the Gateway of India. The unique red-tiled Florentine gothic dome which crowns the Indo-Saracenic arches and architraves of the hotel became a symbol of the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai after images of it being engulfed in smoke broke in the media.

With IHCL trademarking the building, nobody can now use Taj Mahal Palace's images for commercial purposes without paying the company a licensing fee. Currently , a couple of stores, including the ones inside the property  sell merchandise like photo frames and cufflinks with the hotel's pictures on them. 


Darjeeling continues to boil

With hotels running out of food stock, they have started asking tourists to leave Darjeeling. Till Wednesday , the same hoteliers had stood by tourists and asked them to stay back despite the shut-down call by Gorkha Janmukti Morcha. The hoteliers weren't worried as markets were open and transport was unaffected. But things have changed drastically after Thursday's announcement of an indefinite shutdown in the Hills.

The police helped by segregating those gathered there according to age, sex and profile and making them queue up. The idea was the help the elderly , women and children leave in the first vehicles that arrived from Siliguri. Finally, four buses -two from North Bengal State Transport Corporation and two school buses -started from Darjeeling with police escort.

Most tourists expressed their relief after getting on buses. 

Namma Metro's Green Line

Eleven years after then PM Manmohan Singh laid the foundation stone for the Namma Metro project, Bengaluru is set to get a 42 km Metro network. The Green Line section, connecting Mantri Square Sampige Road and Yelachenahalli, will be inaugurated by President Pranab Mukherjee today  between 6 pm and 7 pm and will be open to the public from Sunday. The section, marking a 12 km-stretch, will not only bring south Bengalureans on board, it will allow commuters on the north-south and east-west corridors to switch lines at the Kempegowda-Majestic Interchange. In all, the Metro is expected to cater to at least five lakh people with the complete roll out of the first phase.

The first phase, which was to be commissioned by December 2010, was delayed by seven years primarily due to two factors -land acquisition that got entangled in litigation and the difficulties of tunnelling through mixed soil conditions.The project also faced opposition in the initial days over axing of trees and razing of heritage and iconic properties. With the resolution of some issues and the passing of time over others, the project has been much awaited to ease the traffic situation in the city.

Aadhaar mandatory to open Bank Accounts

The government has made having an Aadhaar card mandatory to open bank accounts and to conduct financial transactions of Rs.50,000 and above. It is also mandatory for those having existing accounts to submit the unique identification number by December.

Those who do not submit the details by December-end, run the risk of their accounts turning invalid.

While the income tax department had earlier announced the decision to make Aadhaar mandatory for banking and financial purposes, the new regulations were notified through amendments to rules related to maintenance of records under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.

The move came around the time SC upheld validity of an I-T Act provision, making Aadhaar a must for allotment of PAN cards and filing I-T returns. The apex court had granted `partial relief ' to those who do not have an Aadhaar number or an Aadhaar enrolment ID, ruling that their PAN will not be cancelled for the time being.

The notification mandated quoting of Aadhaar along with PAN or Form 60 by individuals, companies and partnership firms for all financial transactions of Rs.50,000 or above with effect from June 1. After June 1, if a person does not have an Aadhaar number at the time of opening of account, then he has to furnish proof of application of enrolment for Aadhaar and submit the Aadhaar number to the bank within six months of opening the bank account. So far, it was mandatory to provide PAN number or Form 60 to banks while opening accounts or for high value transactions.

For companies opening bank accounts, Aadhaar number of managers or employees holding an attorney to transact on the company's behalf will have to be provided.

In all other cases, identity should be verified if there is any transaction of an amount equal to or exceeding Rs.50,000.

1993 Serial Blasts Verdict

Six accused were pronounced guilty by a special court in the 1993 serial blasts case that claimed 257 lives in the city. Qayyum Shaikh, 64, behind bars for almost 11 years, was acquitted for lack of evidence. Special judge Govind A Sanap found “concrete evidence“ against gangsters Abu Salem,  Mustafa Dossa, Taher Merchant, Feroze Khan, Karimullah Khan,  and convicted them on charges of criminal conspiracy, murder and indulging in acts of terrorism that cause death during the hour-long procedure. Riyaz Siddiqui, 67, was found guilty for abetting and aiding terrorism, a charge that attracts a maximum punishment of life imprisonment.

This trial of seven was the second in the 1993 case. The main trial of 123 accused ended in 2006 with the conviction of 100. Yakub Memon, brother of prime absconding accused Tiger Memon, was hanged in 2015, and the others have served or are serving time.

Friday's verdict stands out since the evidence adduced in the main trial was also used in the second one. The court said none of the accused was held guilty under the Indian Penal Code charge of waging a war against the nation. When the court said evidence against Qayyum Shaikh, 64, accused of bringing smuggled arms to the city with Salem, “is not credible and acceptable“ and acquitted him, he raised his folded arms and thanked the court.

After proceedings ended at 1.20 pm, the court allowed the accused to meet their family members.Cops restricted access and allowed only two family members to meet each of them. Salem did not have many visitors. His family members were back home in Azamgarh, UP. 


Media & Entertainment Industry: Strong Growth Forecast

Kochi Metro: Snapshot

Somewhere in Kaziranga....

Latest estimates show that there are 104 tigers in the Kaziranga National Park and Burachapori. In 2014, there were 83 tigers in Kaziranga. While 95 adult tigers were found in Kaziranga National Park, two adult tigers and their cubs were found in Burachapori. Both the parks are located within the Kaziranga Tiger Reserve, sprawling over an area of 860 sq km.

With 104 tigers, the big cat density in Kaziranga has be en found to be 21 tigers per 100 sq km.

Assam has four tiger reserves -Kaziranga, Manas, Orang and Nameri. Orang has 28 tigers and the highest tiger density in the country with 35.44 tigers per 100 sq km. In Manas, which is also a World Heritage Site, 30 tigers were found in last month's estimate. Nameri is yet to come out with its latest tiger estimate.

Video streaming gets another player

Agriculture Statz

`Peculiar' monsoon going straight north

The Indian Meteorological Department has found the behaviour of the monsoon this year to be “peculiar“, saying this may have been responsible for the delayed onset over central India. According to the IMD's latest extended range forecast for four weeks, the monsoon seems to be travelling directly to north India and the Himalayan foothills around June 23, leaving parts of central India uncovered.

India Rises in Global Innovation Rankings

India continued to rise in the Global Innovation Index rankings for the second year in succession, after four consecutive years of decline. In this year's rankings, India improved its position from 66 to 60. Last year, it had improved from 81 to 66. Its improvement is part of a trend both in the middle income countries and Asian countries, many of which have improved their innovation capacities in recent years.

The GII was first developed 10 years ago by the business school INSEAD in Paris as a way of benchmarking countries and their innovative capacities. It is now jointly developed and executed by Insead, Cornell University and the World Intellectual Property Organisation. It includes 127 countries and the rankings are topped by developed countries. Switzerland is the most innovative country for the seventh year in succession. The US is in fourth place and China moved up from 25 to 22.

India has continued its roller coaster ride over the last 10 years. In 2007, when the GII was first developed, India was at 41. It is currently at rank 60, but it doesn't mean that India's position is worse than that it in 2007. This is because the GII parameters have changed over the years, as its originators have continued to tweak and improve the methodology. However, it clear that India and some other Asian countries are quickly improving.

The top 10 innovative nations in GII have been remarkably unchanged over the years, but there have been changes in the middle. Apart from India, China and Vietnam are the other major countries that are improving rapidly. Vietnam has improved its ranking from 59 last year to 47. In 2012, Vietnam was at 76.

The GII has been taken seriously by several governments around the world, including India, as a way of benchmarking national competitiveness. India has improved its data capture system in recent times, and this change has had an impact on its ranking improvements. However, India has a large informal sector whose innovations go unrepresented in global rankings.

Trade Deficit Swells

Exports grew for the ninth month running in May, but large gold imports ahead of the GST rollout from July 1spiked imports and pushed trade deficit to a 30-month high. Exports rose 8.3% year on year to $24 billion in May, growing far slowly than imports that were up 33% from a year ago to $37.8 billion. May trade deficit at $13.84 billion was more than double of $6.2 billion trade deficit recorded in the same month last year.

The pace of growth of non-oil, non-gold imports firmed up to 19.8%, indicating strengthening of domestic demand. The growth in merchandise exports in May was broad based, led by petroleum products, engineering goods, gems and jewellery , and food items such as marine products and rice.

Imports of gold, silver and precious and semi-precious stones recorded a growth of 128% in May while gems and jewellery exports rose 6% in the month.

This was the ninth consecutive month of rise in exports. Twenty-one out of 30 sectors showed an increase in exports.

Ready made garments saw 8% growth in May to $1.6 billion while engineering goods shipments added up to $6.2 billion, up 8.25% year on year. The rise was largely due to 236% higher gold imports at $4.9 billion. Other big contributor to imports was electronics goods that saw a 34% rise to $4.15 billion in May. Oil imports in May saw 29.5% spike to $7.7 billion because of higher prices.

Under the GST regime, gold, silver, gold jewellery and processed diamonds would be taxed at 3%. With the existing 10% import duty, consumers will have to pay an effective duty of 13% on gold jewellery, up from 12.5% now.

A surplus BoP

India's external sector balance sheet remained in the comfort zone during the quarter ended March 2017 despite a higher merchandise import bill and almost flat growth in services income as both software services income and remittances by overseas Indians were at the same level as that of the previous year. Strong FDI and portfolio flows helped put the overall balance of payments in a higher surplus.

The current account deficit, excess of the country's imports over exports, expanded marginally to $3.4 billion (0.6% of GDP) in the fourth quarter of FY17, according to preliminary figures released by the Reserve Bank of India. It was higher than $0.3 billion (0.1% of GDP) in Q4 of FY16, but lower than $8.0 billion (1.4% of GDP) in the preceding quarter.

CAD was higher primarily due to higher trade deficit of $29.7 billion. The March numbers, however, fell short of economists' expectations.

Private transfer receipts, mainly representing remittances by Indians employed overseas, at $15.7 billion remained almost at the same level as in the preceding year.

Capital flows comprising foreign direct investment, foreign portfolio investments, overseas borrowings and NRI deposits were strong during the quarter. Capital account surplus more than doubled to $10.3 billion from $3.9 billion in the same period a year ago on account of strong portfolio flows during the quarter. The overall balance of payments, which is the sum of the current and capital account, ended in a higher surplus of $7.3 billion compared with $3.3 billion surplus in the same period a year ago.

For the financial year as a whole, CAD narrowed to 0.7% of GDP in 2016-17 from 1.1% in 2015-16 on the back of a contraction in trade deficit.

India Tops in Receiving Remittances in 2016

Indians working across the globe sent home $62.7 billion last year, making India the top remittance-receiving country surpassing China. The `One Family at a Time' study by the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development said about 200 million migrants globally sent more than $445 million in 2016 as remittances to their families, helping to lift millions out of poverty .

Remittance flows have grown over the last decade at a rate averaging 4.2% annually , from $296 billion in 2007 to $445 billion in 2016.

The study said India was the top receiving country for remittances in 2016 at $62.7 billion, followed by China ($61 billion), the Philippines ($30 billion) and Pakistan ($20 billion). In the decade between 2007 and 2016, India surpassed China to become the top receiving country for remittances.

Rumblings in Maharashtra Government

Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has said that the Bharatiya Janata Party is prepared for midterm polls and expressed confidence that it will return to power in the state, an apparent response to alliance partner Shiv Sena which has been threatening to pull out of the ruling coalition. “When the farmers' agitation was on, some were talking about bringing down the government or withdrawing support. The BJP is ready for midterm polls. If anyone wants to pull out support to the government and go for fresh elections, then we are ready for it. We will come back to power after the elections,“ Fadnavis told media persons on Wednesday night.

The Shiv Sena has been threatening since the civic elections in March that it may withdraw support to the BJP government.

The CM said that the BJP's performance in the recent panchayat, municipal council and municipal corporation polls shows that the party will come back to power.“The victories that we have got are unprecedented. Even the Congress-NCP , when they were in power, did not get such a result. This itself shows that the people have faith in us.“ Reacting to the CM's statement, Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray said on Thursday , “All this talk of midterm polls is being used to divert attention from the issue of farmers' loan waiver. The BJP , it seems, has a lot of money to be used in the elections. They should give the money to the farmers.“ Thackeray said that the BJP would not need to worry about a midterm poll if the farmers in the state were given a complete loan waiver. He warned that the Sena will bring about a “political earthquake“ if the farmers' demands are not met.

Amid the sparring between the Shiv Sena and the BJP, BJP president Amit Shah is likely to visit Thackeray when he arrives in Maharashtra for a three-day trip. Shah is likely to visit Matoshree, the residence of Thackeray, and hold discussions on the presidential election.

RIL, BP to Pump Rs.40,000 crores

Reliance Industries and BP will invest Rs.40,000 crore to produce 30-35 million cubic metres a day of gas from new fields in the Krishna-Godavari Basin, RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani and BP chief executive Bob Dudley said, strengthening a longstanding relationship. The big announcement follows increasing comfort with the policy and pricing regime for natural gas after prolonged acrimony during the previous government that halted investment in one of the most promising oil and gas basins.

BP and RIL also announced a strategic partnership for initiatives in transport and aviation fuel retailing and a big push to jointly tap global opportunities in the low-carbon energy domain, which includes transportation and renewable energy -an initiative that Ambani said would take Indian technology and innovation to the world market.

The two plan to award contracts to develop the R-Series deep-water gas field that is expected to produce up to 12 million cubic metres of gas a day from 2020. The companies plan to submit a development plan for two more projects by the end of 2017. Together, the three fields are expected to produce 30-35 million cubic met res of gas a day by 2022.

As the world continues to focus on climate change, policies that support free-market pricing for natural gas would be beneficial for the industry and would reduce India's dependence on import for gas, Dudley said. Incentives to combine renewable energy with gas as a link fuel would create another opportunity , he said.

Reliance and BP expect to collaborate on the transportation and jet fuel retailing business.Reliance already operates in both segments dominated by state oil companies.

BP has also obtained licences to run petrol pumps and the aviation fuel business but hasn't started these yet.

The two companies also plan to jointly explore options to develop differentiated fuels, and unconventional mobility solutions.

Ambani said details on these will be shared over the next several months and years but the attempt would be to engage the best universities and minds across the globe and undertake experiments to bring out solutions that benefit the world.

Six years ago, Ambani and Dudley signed a $7.2-billion deal for the sale of a 30% stake in 23 hydrocarbon blocks, including those in the KG Basin.


Intel to invest Rs.1,100 crores

Intel will invest Rs.1,100 crore to advance its R&D and innovation programmes at its Bengaluru facility. Much of this money will be used to build a new state-of-the-art design house in Intel's 44 acre campus in the city.

Intel was one of the first technology MNCs to establish a full-fledged campus of its own in Bengaluru, and Intel India is today the company's largest design centre outside the US. The company has invested over Rs.28,000 crore ($4.5 billion) in the country since 1999 and has over 6,500 employees.


India plans a Digital Reboot

The who's who of the Indian technology and startup industry will convene for a brainstorming session in the National Capital as the government tries to chalk out a blueprint for the $1-trillion digital economy of India. Those who have confirmed include Rishad Premji of Wipro, Pravin Rao of Infosys, Sachin Bansal of Flipkart, Kunal Bahl of Snapdeal and Rajan Anandan from Google. Amit Agarwal of Amazon and Vijay Shekhar Sharma of Paytm have also confirmed their presence.

Union minister for electronics and information technology Ravi Shankar Prasad had first announced the intention to call for a meeting of the industry stalwarts last month.

The idea is to seek contribution and participation of the private sector as the country hopes to increase the size of its digital economy from the current $400 billion to $1 trillion over the next five years.The meeting will be chaired by Prasad and minister of state for electronics and IT.

The government has set a target of $1 trillion digital economy by 2022.

Ideas and inputs will be sought from the people present (the government has tried to restrict the group to 20 people) on how to increase the impact of digital on various sectors such as health, education and financial inclusion.Jobs growth will also be a key focus area. Driving innovation will be a priority, developing solutions for India and exploring public private partnerships will be some of the areas of discussions.

Post the meeting, the government will cull out the workable ideas from the discussion and may form a working group to act on them since it may require intervention of different government ministries and departments apart from IT.

S Gopalakrishnan, cofounder of Infosys, industry veteran Saurabh Srivatava, NIIT chairman Rajendra Pawar and Microsoft India president Anant Maheshwari have also been invited. Top officials from IBM, Tech Mahindra, Quickheal, phone maker Lava, Practo and Panasonic along with heads of industry associations Nasscom and IAMAI are also expected to join the gathering.

The idea behind inviting industry captains instead of just industry associations is be cause, “these people have been winners in their respective fields.“

The government has tried to keep a good mix of people from traditional IT sector as well as from new economy such as e-commerce, startups and fintech.

Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said that he has decided to call a meeting of all the major industry players to give a road map about the promising prospects of the emerging $1-trillion digital economy. He had said that the government will unfurl in front of them all the prospects, as the government sees, and also seek their feedback on how they can contribute towards it. 

May Inflation at 5-Year Low

Consumer inflation fell to its lowest in at least five years in May because of softer food prices, raising hopes the Reserve Bank of India may cut rates to boost the struggling industrial sector. Retail inflation declined to 2.1% in May from 2.99% in April. Separately released numbers showed industrial growth at 3.1% in April, below the upwardly revised 3.8% figure for March.

May's retail inflation is the lowest since the government began issuing data based on the consumer price index in 2012.

Retail inflation is near the lower end of the 2.0-3.5% range forecast by the RBI in the first half of the year. The central bank did not cut rates in its policy review last week, but adopted a less hawkish stance even as it saw inflation picking to 3.5-4.5% cent in the second half of FY18.

RBI kept interest rates unchanged as expected on June 7 amid speculation the government was looking for a more accommodative stance in order to revive growth, which slumped in the March quarter. Both sides have denied any friction between them on this issue.

A good monsoon is expected to keep a lid on food prices and overall inflation, which may force RBI to shift its attention to growth. The next meeting of the monetary policy committee is scheduled for early August.

India's GDP growth slipped to 6.1% in quarter ended March, the lowest in more than two years, as the economy struggled with the effects of November's demonetisation. The impact lingered on in April with consumer durables production contracting 6%.

The manufacturing sector was sluggish with 2.6% growth. The mining and electricity sectors did better with 4.2% and 5.4% growth, respectively.

The outlook is not particularly bright going ahead with the incoming GST expected to cause some disruption.

The contraction in capital goods production by 1.3% indicated difficulty in reviving private capital investment, seen as an essential component of India's revival strategy. The only bright spark in the bright spark in the production numbers was the 8.3% rise in the production of consumer non-durables, or fast moving consumer goods, which suggests some recovery in rural sentiment.

The newly introduced category of construction and infrastructure goods reported a reasonable 5.8% growth in April.

The decline in consumer inflation was led by a sharp fall in vegetable prices. Food inflation turned negative in May at -1.05% against 0.61% in April, as inflation in vegetables and pulses crashed 13.44% and 19.45%, respectively. That's linked to the agitation by farmers in parts of the country in pursuit of loan waivers, which have been granted by Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.

India Ratings attributed the decline in inflation for vegetables and pulses to both the high base of last year and higher production. It expects inflation to remain low and well within the comfort zone of the RBI. Easing crude prices have also added to this.


Uttar Pradesh cities take to VCF

Within two months of BJP government coming to power in Uttar Pradesh, the state has gone from being a laggard on all urban development initiatives to being the front runner in urban reforms agenda. Uttar Pradesh has taken the lead among all states with 61 cities opting for value capture financing to fund infrastructure projects.

In less than two months of finance ministry directing all central ministries and state governments to tap into the value that infrastructure creation generates for land owners, 163 cities across 17 states and two union territories have decided to opt for the initiative.

Leading the pack is Uttar Pradesh where 61 cities have decided to frame value capture financing policies. Andhra Pradesh follows Uttar Pradesh with 33 cities planning to frame VCF policies and Gujarat with 32 cities.

The financing tool, used the world over, is based on the logic that the government makes large investments in developing public infrastructure leading to rapid economic development in those areas and a spike in land prices. A VCF policy would mean tapping into this increment through additional taxes, government-as-realtor and other tools and then using these finances to fund future infrastructure projects in the same area.

Uttar Pradesh, which under Samajwadi Party government had shown little enthusiasm for Modi government's flagship programmes, has taken the lead with even mofussil towns jumping on the urban reforms bandwagon.

All 61 cities have appointed consultants to guide them in framing VCF policies. These include Amroha, Banda, Baraut, Chandausi, Kasganj, Maunath Bhanjan, Sitapur and Varanasi.

According to urban development ministry sources, most cities would be using the financing tool for the first time. “This way a city would also get to know which new areas it can plan projects in and how it would rake in the funds. The consultants would also help in identifying the best-suited VCF tool. So far only a few states like Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra had been using VCF tools sporadically on case-to-case basis but never as a policy,“ an urban development ministry official said. Urban local bodies would commonly increase property tax of an area in case of developmental projects escalating property prices.

However, the local bodies would never use these finances for future urban development projects of a specific area.

The official said, “The main point of a policy would be that whenever there is a new project, an urban local body would know how much it can tap from it and use the additional funds to finance a future project in the same area. The consultants would also help a city in identifying specific zones where these tools can be used.“

The tremendous response from the cities has come as a fillip to Modi government's urban reforms agenda. The finance ministry had notified VCF guidelines in March and made it mandatory for central ministries from April this year.

It had laid down that each project proposal put before the Public Investment Board and the Delegated Investment Board will contain which VCF tool is most feasible.The Centre had not expected state governments to own up the initiative with such enthusiasm.

Maharashtra Offers Full Loan Waiver

The Maharashtra government has agreed `in principle' to give a complete loan waiver to farmers -a move that would bring stability to the Devendra Fadnavis government but at the same will leave a big hole in the state's coffers. This decision came after a six member high-power ministerial committee, constituted by the government, met members of various farmers' groups to negotiate on their demands. The farmers' groups have called off their statewide rail roko agitation on June 13 following the meeting.

Revenue Minister Chandrakant Patil said, “We have agreed in principle to a blanket loan waiver and the criteria would soon be fixed. Loans of small and marginal farmers have been waived with immediate effect.“

Maharashtra has a debt burden of Rs.3.56 lakh crore. Prior to the loan waiver, it was expected to cross Rs.4 lakh crore by the next fiscal. With the current loan waiver, the debt is set to balloon massively . The state pays a massive Rs.31,000 crore as interest annually on its loans.

Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis tweeted after the announcement, “Discussions between government of Maharashtra and representatives of farmers (have) reached a common consensus. Farmers have called off the strike.“ “Farmers and their betterment was, is and will always remain a priority .“

The government had already announced that they were planning to waive loans for 34 lakh small and marginal farmers who owned 5 acres or less and who were `out of the credit system' as they were unable to repay their loans. This waiver would have cost the state Rs.30,000 crore. Farmers' groups were not happy with this `limited' loan waiver as they felt that this would benefit only a few farmers. Fadnavis had said last week that a complete loan waiver would not be possible as it would cost the state more than one lakh crore. However, the ministerial committee on Sunday said the state would go in for a complete loan waiver. Patil, however, said that there would be conditions attached to this waiver. The waiver would be given after the government and farmers' groups formed a committee which would fix the eligibility criteria.

The loan waiver was designed for `genuine farmers' ­­ that is farmers whose only source of income is farming. So, those farmers who have a double income, say a teacher who is also into farming, would not be eligible for the waiver.

Both the government and farmers' representatives have agreed that `only genuine farmers' who are not businessmen or salaried class, can avail themselves of the waiver.

Farmers' leader Raju Shetti, who took part in the discussions, said, “It is the common people's money that is in the treasury of the government. So, we want to ensure that the rich don't get the benefit of this loan waiver.“

Shetti, an ally of the BJP, however, added that if the waiver was not announced by July 25, when the Maharashtra's monsoon assembly session begins, they would resume their agitation again.

The state has also agreed to fix a minimum support price for milk. Milk co-operatives would have to share their profit with farmers on a 70-30 ratio from June 30.

The state has also agreed to take back all criminal cases against farmers in the recent agitation, except cases against those who indulged in looting.

Regarding the implementation of the Swaminathan Committee report, Patil said that since it is under the purview of the Centre, a delegation from the state would soon go to Delhi to persuade the Centre to implement it.


Somewhere near Pune....

NaMu Airport update

Cidco will start the Ulwe hill blasting work from tomorrow to pave way for the proposed Navi Mumbai International Airport.The hill cutting and blasting operations will also involve diversion of Ulwe river's course. It will take about one week to prepare for the blasts. The work will start from the western side of the hill which is far from the villages that are situated in the core airport area.

The hill will be brought down to 8 m from its present highest point of around 90-92 m. Cidco will level the hill down to 5.5 m and the remaining 2.5 m will later be filled up by the strategic partner, GVK-led MIAL group. The blasting will involve developing three-tier steps of some 15-20 m. The rock face will be used to develop a flat area for drilling 10 m holes in which explosives will be placed.

The trial blasting will help Cidco study the intensity of the blasts and the quantity of rock debris that will be obtained to level the airport area. According to a rough estimate, 3.5 crore cubic metre of rock debris will be obtained after the blasting operations are done.

High-tech video cameras will capture the blasts for future reference in case similar projects are planned. The noise levels too will be monitored by a seismograph and kept within the permissible frequency limits with respect to settlements and habitats. Cidco engineering department, which will undertake the hill operations and a major part of phase I of the Rs.16,000 crore airport project, claimed that no other airport in India or elsewhere has had to cut hills as well as fill land. There are instances of sea being filled up to build an airport--in Hong Kong--but no airport project involved both the operations.

Blasting operations can continue in monsoon except during intense showers.

The entire operation will be monitored and guided by Central Institute of Mining and Fuel Research.  The Jharkhand-based centre has been engaged with major infra projects across the country such as the Koyna dam, nuclear power plants and road infra works in hilly areas of Jammu and Kashmir.

Cidco had appointed Central Water and Power Research Station, Pune, a central government body , to study the level of the airport from mean sea level, rise in the water level and rainfall. The height of the airport will be almost double the high flood level pegged at 4.5 m.


Services sector activity rises: May 2017

Services sector activity rose to its highest in four months in May, driven by an upturn in incoming new business. The Nikkei India Services Business Activity Index climbed to 52.2 in the past month from 50.2 in April, marking a strong rebound in a sector that makes up nearly 60% of the economy.

India's economy grew 6.1% in the January-March quarter, its lowest in more than two years.The new survey suggests a rebound in the first quarter of the current fiscal year.

A reading above 50 on this survey-based index indicates expansion, while a figure below that suggests contraction in activity.

Data released by the same firm last week had showed May manufacturing activity growing at its slowest in three months. But the strong upturn in new services work made up for the slowdown in manufacturing orders, helping new work across the private sector economy to expand at a faster pace in May than the previous month.

Overall, the seasonally adjusted Nikkei India Composite PMI Output Index rose to a seven month high of 52.5 in May from 51.3 in April.

The higher activity -though it is still below par for India -helped create employment.

Motown: May 2017

India had its best-ever auto sales for the month of May, with the industry logging double-digit growth, paced by the sustained demand for cars and the revival in sales of two-wheelers in the rural hinterland. With total volumes of 2.03 million units, the industry expanded 10% in the month.Two-wheeler sales increased 12% to 1.69 million units, while utility vehicles drove passenger vehicle sales higher by 8.6% to 2.51 lakh units.

Passenger car sales also were the highest ever for the fifth month of the calendar year. Commercial vehicle and three-wheeler sales growth showed decline because of pre-buying in the previous fiscal, masking the true market demand.

Passenger vehicles have been forecast to increase between 9 and 10% in 2017-18, and the industry's performance in this segment is currently on track to meet the goals. With the implementation of the GST, SUV and luxury cars are likely to pick up further on prospects of price cuts. Two-wheeler sales are likely to increase 9%, while truck and bus sales may increase about 7%. Smaller cars may also become slightly cheaper, ensuring higher sales in the future.

The rural areas account for a significant part of India's utility vehicle and SUV demand, and these are used both for transporting goods and passengers.

About a third of the sales for the country's biggest carmaker, Maruti Suzuki India, is generated in the rural areas, where the company deploys local salesmen at showrooms for the convenience of buyers. Mahindra & Mahindra, too, relies on the villages for about 40% of its sales. The proportionate share is even higher for two wheelers, with villages accounting for one in two vehicles sold in the country .

The Sensex in May 2017

Benchmark sensitive index Sensex was among the top performing indices globally during May, and this momentum is expected to continue in the next two- three years. The one month return of S&P BSE Sensex stood at 3.9 per cent, while for South Korea’s Kospi it stood as high as 6.1 per cent, for FTSE it was at 4.1 per cent and Hong Kong’s HangSeng at 4 per cent, the research note by ICICI Prudential AMC said.

Returns of the benchmark index are absolute returns calculated between April 30 to May 31, 2017.

In India, among the market-cap based indices, large-cap index continued to outperform. While returns for BSE Sensex stood at 3.9 per cent, for BSE mid cap it was at (-) 1.1 and for BSE small cap it was (-) 1.8 per cent.

Meanwhile, the benchmark indices of China, Brazil and Russia gave negative returns of (-) 1.1 per cent, (-) 3.9 per cent and (-) 5.2 per cent respectively. India has gained significant traction among the investing community globally as the policy environment has been improving. “The interest of foreign investors can be gauged from higher level of foreign direct investment. It has now again reached around 2 per cent of GDP,” the report added.

4G speed in India 3 times lower than world average

According to a new report by OpenSignal, India’s surge in 4G availability ranking can be attributed to Reliance Jio launch in 2016. A study by OpenSignal ‘The State of LTE’ gives us a glimpse into how LTE availability and speeds have grown across the world. Meanwhile, some interesting stats have come up as far as India is concerned. The country has risen to the 15th spot in 4G availability in the world, but the average download speed of 5.1 Mbps is less than one-third of the global average and just a little higher than the average global 3G speed of 4.4 Mbps.

Download speeds in the country have declined over one megabit per second in the last six months as traffic has surged. India, which is positioned at the 74th position among 75 countries, ranks below countries such as Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The report said, “While signals may be plentiful in India, capacity isn’t. India has some of the slowest LTE speeds in the world.”

When it comes to 4G speeds, Singapore scored the highest. Meanwhile, South Korea was ranked first in 4G availability. The global average 4G download speed was 16.2 Mbps. OpenSignal, for the report, collated data from regular user smartphones under conditions of normal usage, covering 75 countries. OpenSignal’s report says 4G speeds in a country depend on a lot of factors including spectrum assigned for 4G LTE, adoption of new technologies like LTE-Advanced, congestion on networks. The report says countries with fastest LTE speeds are those that have “built LTE-Advanced networks and have a large proportion of LTE-Advanced capable devices.”

OpenSignal also says they saw a drop in global LTE speed average and points out that as more users come on board in developing countries, the average speed will drop. On Costa Rica and India, OpenSignal notes, “as these countries ramp up their 4G services they’re bringing hundreds of millions of new LTE subscriptions online. That’s one of the reasons we saw a drop off in average global LTE speed.” According to OpenSignal, India still doesn’t have the capacity when it comes to speeds on LTE, and these are some of the slowest in the world.