85% of Indians trust government

More than four-fifths of Indian citizens trust the government, but, interestingly, the majority also support military rule and autocracy, a new survey by the Pew Research Center Pew survey has said.
“In India, where the economy has grown on average by 6.9% since 2012, 85% (of people) trust their national government,“ Pew Research said in a report based on its survey on governance and trust among key countries.

According to the survey, 55% of Indians support autocracy in one way or the other. In fact, more than one-fourth (27%) want a “strong leader“.

Nearly half of the Russians (48%) back governance by a strong leader, but the prospect is generally unpopular, the report said.

A global median of 26% say a system in which a strong leader can make decisions without “interference from parliament or the courts“ would be a “good way of governing“. Roughly seven in 10 (71%) say it would be a bad type of governance.

India is one of the three countries in the Asia Pacific where people support technocracy (a government comprising an elite of technical experts). “Asian-Pacific publics generally back rule by experts, particularly people in Vietnam (67%), India (65%) and the Philippines (62%),“ it said. Only Australians are notably wary, as 57% say it would be a bad way to govern.

According to the survey, roughly half of both Indians (53%) and South Africans (52%) say military rule would be a good thing for their countries. But in these societies, older people (those aged 50 and above) are least supportive of the idea, and they are the ones who either experienced the struggle to establish democratic rule or are the immediate descendants of those democratic pioneers, Pew said.

NIIF signs first investment deal

The government-backed National Investment & Infrastructure Fund signed its first investment deal with Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, which will invest $1 billion.

NIIF was envisaged to be established as one or more Alternative Investment Funds under Sebi Regulations with a corpus of Rs.40,000 crore. Of this, the government's contribution was pegged at 49% of the commitment at any given point of time. “ADIA will become the first institutional investor in NIIF's master fund and a shareholder in NIIF's investment management company,“ the finance ministry said in a statement.

Six domestic institutional investors -HDFC Standard Life Insurance, HDFC AMC, HDFC, ICICI Bank, Kotak Mahindra Old Mutual Life Insurance and Axis Bank -will also join the NIIF master fund along with the Centre, which had conceived the fund a couple of years ago, the ministry said. While the government was in talks with various global investors, including those from Singapore, and long term investors, it had not signed an agreement so far.

A few investors such as the government of UAE, Rusnano, Qatar Investment Authority, RDIF and Japan Overseas Infrastructure Investment Corporation for Transport & Urban Development had signed MoUs with the NIIF. In addition, the government has signed terms for cooperation on the NIIF with the US Treasury and the UK Treasury . An India-UK Green Growth Equity Fund was also announced last April 2017, which will be set up under the fund-of-funds vertical of NIIF, and will have anchor commitments of 120 million pounds each from Indian and British governments. The Indian government's funding will be through NIIF.

While ADIA has been in talks with the government for long, it had concerns related to its earlier investment such as Etisalat's failed at tempt to tap the Indian telecom market. The company was forced to exit India after the 2G controversy led to the cancellation of 122 telecom licences by the Supreme Court.

NIIF has been set up to fund long-term infrastructure projects and reduce the pressure on bank lending, which typically face an assetliability problem, given that they accept a majority of their deposits for two years or so, while power, railway or road projects have a tenure of 20 years or more.

While the government has tried the idea of dedicated funds for infrastructure in the past two, it had limited success. In June 2016, the government had appointed Sujoy Bose as the NIIF CEO. Bose was earlier with the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank's private sector investment arm


Rs.10,000 cr grant for 20 universities

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said it was a “blot“ that Indian universities do not figure among the top 500 of the world and added that the government has decided to give autonomy and Rs.10,000 crore to top 10 public and 10 private universities over the next five years to make them world-class.

Addressing the centenary celebrations of Patna University here in presence of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Modi said Indian universities such as Nalanda and Takshashila attracted students from all over the world.

Modi asked Patna University to compete for a place among the top 20 universities in the country and win Rs.10,000 crore central grant to develop itself into a world class institution. He said the top 20 universities would be selected by an independent jury.

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar had earlier made a fervent appeal to Modi to grant central university status to PU and said everyone was looking towards him with a lot of hope. This was the first time Modi shared the stage with Nitish Kumar after the JD(U) returned to the NDA fold.

India's Hunger Problem

Grappling with a “serious“ hunger problem, India has been ranked 100th among 119 countries on the global hunger index -behind North Korea, Bangladesh and even Iraq. India was ranked 97th last year.

The country's hunger problem is driven by high child malnutrition, and underlines the need for stronger commitment to the social sector, the International Food Policy Research Institute said in its report.“India is ranked 100th out of 119 countries, and has the third highest score in all of Asia -only Afghanistan and Pakistan are ranked worse,“ IFPRI said in a statement. “ At 31.4, India's 2017 Global Hunger Index score is at the high end of the `serious' category , and is one of the main factors pushing South Asia to the category of worst performing region on the GHI this year, followed closely by Africa south of the Sahara,“ it added.

As per the report, India ranks below many of its neighbouring countries such as China (29th rank), Nepal (72), Myanmar (77), Sri Lanka (84) and Bangladesh (88). It is ahead of Pakistan (106) and Afghanistan (107). North Korea ranks 93rd while Iraq is at 78th position. The GHI, now in its 12th year, ranks countries based on four key indicators: undernourishment, child mortality , child wasting and child stunting.

The report ranked 119 countries in the developing world, nearly half of which have `extremely alarming', `alarming' or `serious' hunger levels. “India's high ranking on the GHI again this year brings to the fore the disturbing reality of the country's stubbornly high proportions of malnourished children,“ the statement said.

IFPRI pointed out that more than one-fifth of Indian children under five weigh too little for their height and over a third are too short for their age.

Direct tax kitty rises 16%

The growth in direct tax collections marginally slowed down in September but with a 15.8% rise during the first half, it was just a shade ahead of the asking rate for the current financial year.
Latest data estimated collections at Rs.3.86 lakh crore in first half of the financial year, net of refunds, compared to corresponding period last year. Gross collections were 10% higher at Rs.4.66 crore, but the government issued refunds of around Rs.79,600 crore between April and September. Till August, net collections were 17.5% higher.

While there is a slowdown in economic activity, tax collections seem to be staying firm for the moment. At the end of September, the growth in advance tax collections was estimated at 11.5%, compared to 11.9% by June-end, the quarter in which growth moderated to a three-year low of 5.7%. Advance taxes are seen as an early indicator of economic activity.

Aadhaar units to be set up in post offices

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approved Rs.2,000 crore specifically for setting up Aadhaar centres in post offices, a move that will see private contractors phased out from the data collection process. The decision comes in the wake of complaints against private vendors on counts such as petty corruption and attempted frauds and the SC taking note of reports of alleged leakage of UID data.

Aadhaar enrolment and updation facilities will be available in around 15,000 post offices by March 31 next year and this will complement the earlier decision that bank branches will have similar centres by October 31. Around 5,000 post offices will have the facility by December this year.

Though much of the data collection so far has been done by private vendors and Aadhaar procedures ensure that they cannot access the biometrics they record, the government believes the process would be best handled by agencies like post offices and public sector banks. The centres will have machines approved by the Unique Identification Authority of India and personnel will be trained by the agency as well. Banks already have 2,000 branches running centres. A total of 15,200 bank branches will have centres with Aadhaar facilities. The decision to sanction Rs.2,000 crore is intended to respond to issues raised by the court and activists and is also aimed at ensuring improved access to Aadhaar enrolment and updation. The post offices and banks will considerably extend the reach of UID, particularly in remote areas where they are often the only permanent presence in terms of government services.

In its order upholding the linkage of PAN with Aadhaar, the SC had said it was necessary to highlight that a large section of citizens were concerned about possible data leak, even as many supported the government's initiative.The government has now decided that the role of contractors carrying out enrolment be wound down to a minimal presence in the interest of better safety and improved access.

44 Economic Corridors planned

The road transport and highways ministry's ambitious programme to construct 44 economic corridors at a cost of Rs.5 lakh crore is likely to get the Cabinet's approval soon.

The project involves construction of 24,000 km of new highways, as well as feeder routes alongside these roads. It is aimed at faster movement of cargo, along with developing multimodal logistics hubs and parks on the periphery of major commercial centres.

Around 80% of the total work would be government-funded engineering procurement and construction projects. The remaining would be undertaken as public-private partnerships under the hybrid annuity model. The government will spend more than Rs.4 lakh crore on its own on the project in the next five years.

The Public Investment Board, headed by the expenditure secretary, had given its clearance to the economic corridor project a couple of months ago. A draft cabinet note was floated after that.
Detailed project reports for the economic corridors, which would primarily be access-controlled highways with earmarked industrial development alongside, are being prepared by global consultancy firm AT Kearney.

Telcos Busy Upgrading Networks

Vodafone India, Idea Cellular and Reliance Jio have started to prepare their networks for the futuristic 5G technology, introducing massive multiple input multiple output into their respective networks. Massive MIMO is a key enabler for 5G networks that are expected to be rolled out after 2020. Bharti Airtel has already started with the first round of deployments in Bangalore and Kolkata and will expand to Pune, Hyderabad and Chandigarh.

Idea Cellular, which now has a pan-India 4G network, is trialling massive MIMO technology in various cities. Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Jio, which has all-IP network in India, had earlier said its 4G network can be easily be enhanced to 5G and beyond.

Massive MIMO ramps up a base station by five to seven times and reduces interference substantially, helping boost transmission signal to the devices. A subscriber using voice and data will get data speed between 30 Mbps and 35 Mbps on average and even up to 50 Mbps during peak times. Comparatively, depending on one's 4G plan, the mobile in ternet speed varies from 4 Mbps to 16 Mbps on paper.

The technology can be deployed in highly congested or high traffic areas, to improve indoor coverage and in high-rise buildings.

Analysts said the technology allows a telco to improve signal reception increasing link capacity so for the same amount of spectrum, one gets better spectral efficiency and data rates. For a customer it means much faster downloads.

Currently, gear vendors like ZTE, Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia are working with telecom operators in the trial the technology in various circles. Huawei and ZTE have taken lead and commercially deployed massive MIMO technology for Airtel in India, while Ericsson is in talks with telcos over 5G technology solutions.

September CV Sales Rise

India's commercial vehicles sales in September rose at the fastest pace in nearly six years, suggesting a recovery in the economy. Manufacturers dispatched 77,195 commercial vehicles, 25.27% more from a year earlier, to dealerships in the past month. This is the fastest growth since November 2011, when it was 34.97%. Commercial vehicle sales are often seen as an indicator of economic growth.

Commercial vehicle sales declined 22.93% in April and 6.36% in May, before expanding 1.44%, 13.78% and 23.22% the next three months.

Last month, while sales of medium and heavy commercial vehicles increased 25.61% to 31,086 units, those of light commercial vehicles went up by 25.05% to 46,109 units.

However, an 8-10% increase in ownership cost in the MHCV segment, due to higher vehicle prices following the transition to BS IV emission standards, may impact demand to some extent.

IMF Lowers India's FY18 Growth Forecast

The International Monetary Fund has pared India's growth forecast for FY18, citing the lingering impact of demonetisation and disruption caused by the GST but expects a revival as structural reforms bear fruit.That will help India win back the title of fastest-growing economy from China.
The Indian economy will grow 6.7% in FY18 against 7.2% estimated earlier, according to the latest edition of the IMF's flagship World Economic Outlook. FY19 growth is pegged at 7.4% against 7.7% estimated earlier.This comes as global growth is set to pick up pace and China expands faster at 6.8%, marginally ahead of India.

India is set to regain the tag of the fastest-growing major economy in FY19 with China forecast to grow at 6.5%.

The world economy is set to grow 3.6% and 3.7% in 2017 and 2018, respectively, which is 0.1 percentage point higher for both the years than earlier estimates.

India's GDP growth slumped to a three-year low of 5.7% in the June quarter, triggering downgrades in estimates for the full fiscal year. The World Bank expects the economy to slow to 7%, down from 7.2% estimated earlier.

The Reserve Bank of India expects growth in gross value added (GVA, which is adjusted for net indirect taxes to arrive at GDP) to slip to 6.7% in its latest assessment, down from 7.3% estimated earlier.

The IMF expects consumer inflation at 3.8% in FY18, rising to 4.9% in FY19. Under the monetary management framework, RBI has to target 4% consumer inflation, staying within a band of two percentage points on either side of that. The IMF also expects the current account balance to worsen from -0.7% in FY17 to -1.4% in FY18 and -1.5% in FY19.

It predicts an acceleration in per capita real output growth for India from 5.3% in the current year to 6.8% by FY23.

Key structural reforms will boost growth, the IMF said. GST, which “promises the unification of India's vast domestic market, is among several key structural reforms under implementation that are expected to help push growth above 8% in the medium term,“ the IMF said. It pointed to other critical areas where reform is awaited: “Simplifying and easing labour market regulations and land acquisition procedures are longstanding requirements for improving the business climate.“

The IMF also pointed out that growth doesn't necessarily mean matching gains in income for a majority of the population. “In China and India, for example, where real per capita GDP grew by 9.6% and 4.9% a year, respectively, in 1993­-2007, the median household income is estimated to have grown less -by 7.3% a year in China and only 1.5% a year in India,“ it said.

Sitharaman greeting sends warm signal

A state-run Chinese newspaper has lauded defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman's friendly gesture towards Chinese soldiers during her recent visit to Nathu La border pass by describing it “as the most warm-hearted scene at the Sino-Indian border area since the Doklam standoff“.

“Sitharaman's visit to the border regions as defence minister can be easily interpreted as New Delhi's push to intensify combat readiness against Beijing. But Sitharaman's traditional Namaste greeting to the Chinese soldiers sent another signal to the public that might not erase the first impression but may at least balance things out,“ Global Times wrote in an editorial titled `Sitharaman greeting sends warm signal'.

The editorial, which comes in the backdrop of recent reports of large deployment of troops by China near Dokalam, further said, “Being on guard against China is a widespread mindset in Indian society . But confrontation with Beijing is also a radical idea beyond its national strength and contradicts its fundamental interests.Such an idea is only advocated by extreme nationalists. Indian public opinion is inquisitorial on any hard-line Beijing policy by the Indian government and foresees a `second round of Sino-Indian face-offs', constantly pressuring New Delhi's diplomacy after the Dokalam standoff.“

Sitharaman's greeting to the Chinese soldiers conveys her hope for peace on the Sino-Indian border and unwillingness to see a new standoff, the Global Times said, softening its tone from the earlier editorials which advocated war during the Dokalam standoff during July-August. China welcomes Sitharaman's greeting and hopes this friendly gesture is also welcomed by Indians, the editorial said. It said Sitharaman's charm offensive might help break the ice between Chinese and Indian public opinion.

“This is a realistic and responsible attitude for the country and its people. Both before and after the Dokalam crisis, the Chinese government hopes for border peace with the broad support of the Chinese people. But Indian society's understanding of their country's border policy seems ambiguous and chaotic.Some Indians believe New Delhi will take tough measures to crush Beijing's will,“ the Chinese publication said.

Global Times, widely regarded as the Chinese government's mouthpiece for external outreach, said, “New Delhi has been strengthening its military presence at the Sino-Indian border in recent years... India isn't a major focus for China's international strategy. India's development lags behind China. Its modernisation and development does not depend on winning the initiative in its relations with China. Friendly cooperation is the best option, strategic exhaustion the worst. Both countries should control the risks.“

Seeking to caution India against forming alliances with US and Japan, the editorial said, “Indians must overcome the paranoia that suggests their country is strategically thwarted and threatened by Beijing.“

Reliance Nippon Life Asset Management announces IPO

Reliance Nippon Life Asset Management, India's third largest mutual fund, will raise up to Rs.1,524 crore through an IPO later this month, valuing the firm at Rs.15,240 crore. The issue: the first by a domestic mutual fund -has been priced in the band of Rs.247-252 per share.

The mutual fund, jointly owned by Anil Ambani's Reliance Capital and Nippon Life Insurance Company, manages assets worth Rs.3,80,000 crore. Of this, the average assets under management under mutual funds is Rs.2.31 lakh crore on September 2017, while pension accounts make up the bulk of the rest.

At a value of Rs.15,240 crore, the IPO will value the fund at 4% of the total assets of Rs.3,80,000 crore. The issue will value the firm at 6.6% of the domestic mutual fund business.

Money managers said the company has a `first mover advantage' with its IPO as investors would want to bet on the shift in household savings from physical assets to financial assets.

The firm's IPO, which opens on October 25, will issue 2.44 crore shares afresh and existing shareholders will sell 3.67 crore shares.The IPO closes on October 27.

The Indian mutual fund industry is at a nascent stage of growth with approximately 34% of the population invested in mutual funds.

Demonetisation has accelerated the shift from physical savings to financial savings and assets under management of the industry grew sharply by 24% from Rs.16.90 lakh crore in October 2016 to Rs.20.94 lakh crore by September 2017.

Himachal Elections on Nov 9

The assembly polls in Himachal Pradesh will be held in a single phase on November 9 and the results will be declared on December 18, the Election Commission has announced.. EC, however, withheld the announcement of poll dates for Gujarat, even as the term of state assembly ends on January 22. CEC AK Joti said Gujarat polls would be held before December 18 so that Himachal results do not impact the polling outcome in Gujarat. The date of elections in Gujarat will be declared later, he said.

Joti said in a letter to EC from the Gujarat chief secretary, the state government had sought additional time as flood relief and rehabilitation was yet to be completed.

After Goa, Himachal will be the second state where VVPATs will be used across all 68 assembly seats. EC has decided to verify votes through paper trail in one booth of each constituency. The booths would be chosen randomly and this would serve as a pilot for future polls, Joti said. EC has also decided to set up a monitoring committee to check `paid news'. Bulk SMSes and WhatsApp messages would also be considered under the purview of election-related advertising, Joti added.

Double Cheer for Economy

The government had twin cause for cheer with industrial growth picking up pace to a nine-month high in August and consumer inflation remaining steady in September, exceeding expectations and raising hope the economy is set for a revival after slumping to a three-year low in the June quarter.
The IIP rose 4.3% in August, reversing a contraction in June and faster than a 0.9% rise in July. Inflation based on the CPI was at 3.28% in September, unchanged from August. The expectation had been for inflation of 3.5% and industrial growth of around 2.5%. The numbers will buoy the government, which has been at the receiving end of a spate of criticism for its economic management after growth fell to 5.7% in the April-June period, triggering a raft of downgrades in FY18 growth estimates by multilateral institutions, the Reserve Bank of India and brokerages.

Experts welcomed the signs of recovery but want to watch the data for a few months before calling a turnaround.

Advance indicators such as car sales and the purchasing managers' indices for September have also been buoyant, suggesting some strength ahead of the festival season.

The government has maintained that the economy bottomed out in the April-June quarter and that it will revive, a view endorsed by RBI that last week pared GVA growth to 6.7% from 7.3% estimated earlier. It said GVA growth will rise to 7.7% in the March quarter. The IMF had on October 10 cut India's growth forecast for FY18 to 6.7% from 7.2% estimated earlier, attributing the slowdown to GST, implemented on July 1, and demonetisation.

The industrial recovery in August was boosted by electricity (8.3%) and mining (9.4%), while manufacturing grew 3.1%. Capital goods production, an indicator of investment activity, was up 5.4% in August while a 6.9% rise in output of consumer non-durables or FMCG indicated strength in the rural economy. Consumer durables, which has a more urban consumption bias, were up a modest 1.6% in August.

The data suggests manufacturing and demand are returning to normal after the disruption caused by the GST rollout, though not as strongly as anticipated.

Thirteen out of the 23 sub-sectors of manufacturing with a weight of 27.0% in the IIP recorded a contraction in August 2017.

September's consumer inflation of 3.28% matched that of August, which was revised down from 3.36% estimated earlier, as food inflation slowed to 1.25% from 1.52% in the month before and 3.96% in the year ago.

However, most independent economists ruled out the possibility of a rate cut in December when the RBI governorled Monetary Policy Committee meets to review key policy rates.

The MPC kept rates unchanged at its last meeting earlier this month.

The staggered impact on the housing index of the CPI due to the increase in the HRA of central government employees is likely to push up housing inflation further over the coming year.

Exports Climb 26%

India's merchandise exports rose sharply in September, belying fears of a slump due to disruption and working capital issues brought on by the introduction of the goods and services tax. Exports climbed 25.67% in September, exceeding an 18.1% increase in imports, helping narrow the trade deficit to $8.98 billion from $9.07 billion in September 2016.

In absolute terms, India's exports were pegged at $28.6 billion in September against $22.8 billion a year ago. Imports were up at $37.6 billion from $31.8 billion.

There were apprehensions that exports would take a hit because of GST, which was rolled out on July 1, with refunds getting blocked. The government has already eased GST rules for exporters to reduce transition pains and speed up refunds.

In rupee terms, both exports and imports grew at a slower pace -21.3% and 14% respectively ­ from a year ago, showing the impact of the sharp appreciation of the rupee over this period.

The increase in exports was driven by a broad-based performance, with 26 of 30 categories posting positive growth. Outbound shipments of engineering goods grew 44.2%, chemicals (46%), petroleum products (39.7%), pharm (14.7%), readymade garments (29.4%) and gems and jewellery (7.1%).

Higher exports will support India's economy, which expanded 5.7% in the April-June quarter. Part of the increase in both exports and imports was because of the rise in commodity prices.

Airtel picks up Tata Teleservices

The Tata Group has agreed to sell its mobile business to Bharti Airtel for free, ending the salt-to-software conglomerate's long-standing attempts to rid itself of this loss making venture while bolstering the market share and 4G airwaves capacity of the Sunil Mittal-led company .
The deal, which has been done on a `debt-free, cash-free basis' will intensify the consolidation process underway in the telecom industry, which has now come to be dominated by three players -the Idea-Vodafone combine, Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio. Once the Idea-Vodafone merger is closed, Airtel will slip to the No. 2 position in the Indian market, and the acquisition of Tata Teleservices' wireless operations will help it to narrow the gap with the merged entity.

N Chandrasekaran, chairman, Tata Sons, said, that the deal was the best possible for the Tata Group and its stakeholders. “Finding the right home for our longstanding customers and our employees has been the priority for us,“ said.

Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Mittal said the deal would strengthen his company's market position in several key circles.

Under the contours of the present deal, Tata Teleservices' wireless operations -consumer mobile business -with over 40 million mobile subscribers, majority of 5,000 employees, and around 178.5 MHz of airwaves -nearly 40% of which are 4G ready -spread across 19 circles will be transferred to Bharti Airtel on a cash-free, debt-free basis. Tata Teleservices also runs enterprise and fixed line & broadband businesses.

A person familiar with the matter said that Bharti Airtel will take care of roughly Rs.1,500-2,000 crore of the Rs.10,000 crore airwaves auction payments that Tata Teleservices needs to make to the government over the next few years.

Tata's wireless operations will continue as usual until the completion of the deal, which will also see Bharti Airtel getting the right to use part of the existing fibre backbone network of Tata Teleservices. Besides, the Tatas will retain their stake in tower company Viom Networks, and will take care of the liabilities associated with it, the two companies said.

The employees of Tata Teleservices are being separated on the lines of the two businesses -consumer on one side and enterprise & fixedline and broadband on the other.

For the 53-year-old Chandrasekaran, the deal with Bharti marks the second significant restructuring of the group portfolio since he assumed office earlier this year. Last month, Tata Steel and German steelmaker Thyssenkrupp AG, agreed to merge their European businesses to become the second-largest steelmaker of the continent.

Shares of Bharti Airtel and Tata Teleservices (Maharashtra) ­ the listed unit of Tata Teleservices -surged, a day after India's biggest telcom operator announced its decision to take over the consumer mobile business of Tata Teleservices.

Brokerages have turned positive on Bharti Airtel and upgraded their stance from sell to buy as the acquisition of Tata Tele's wireless business is expected to boost the Sunil Mittal-led telco's overall cost position and spectrum portfolio and help defend its margins and cashflows against Reliance Jio.

The Tata Tele deal, close on the heels of Airtel's buyout of Telenor India and an earlier spectrum trading deal with Aircel, will allow India's top phone company to make it difficult for Jio to continue with its disruptive pricing.

Analysts also expect the Tata deal to allow Airtel to defer any major spectrum purchases for a few years and accelerate its ability to migrate the present three-layer mobile network to pure 4G without disrupting the 2G business. This is despite Tata Tele's spectrum coming up for renewal in five-six years.

The Airtel-Tata Tele deal is slated to close in a year with some insiders suggesting this could happen even sooner.

Somewhere in Mumbai....

Six out of seven corporators of the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena joined the Shiv Sena, giving the party, which rules the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), an edge over the BJP.

With this, Shiv Sena's strength in the BMC, the country's richest municipal body, has increased to 90, eight more than that of BJP. Of late, relations between the Sena and BJP, which are in alliance at the Centre and in Maharashtra, have been strained.

MNS corporators Dilip Lande, Archana Bhalerao, Snehal More, Datta Narvankar, Parashuram Kadam and Ashwini Matekar joined the Shiv Sena in presence of its chief Uddhav Thackeray .

Uddhav Thackeray said nobody should accuse the Sena of “poaching“ as this was homecoming.

MMS on him becoming PM

Former prime minister Manmohan Singh has said ex-president Pranab Mukherjee had every reason for grievance at being ignored for prime ministership despite being more qualified but knew “I had no choice“ in the matter, and that smoothened their relationship.

Singh's comments at the launch of Mukherjee's book -`The coalition years -in the presence of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her deputy Rahul Gandhi left the audience in splits. “In 2004, when Soniaji chose me to become the prime minister, Pranabji was one of the most distinguished colleagues that I had. He had every reason to feel a grievance that he was better qualified than I was to become the prime minister, but he also knew that I have no choice in the matter,“ the former PM said as the audience, including Sonia Gandhi and Rahul, burst into guffaw.

Mukherjee wrote in his book that after the 2004 election victory there was intense speculation in the party about who would be the prime minister, but the consensus within the Congress was that the incumbent should be a political leader with experience in party affairs and administration.

“The prevalent expectation was that I would be the next choice for prime minister after Sonia Gandhi declined. This expectation was possibly based on the fact that I had extensive experience in government,“ he wrote.

Mukherjee also said that when he declined to join the government headed by Manmohan Singh, Sonia insisted on his being a part of it as he would be “vital to its functioning and also be of support of Singh“.


Somewhere in Gujarat....

Somewhere in Delhi....

PAN paused

Jewellery purchases exceeding Rs.50,000 won't require the income tax PAN to be provided after the government reversed an earlier notification, providing a big festive cheer for the sector and potential customers.

Jewellers will also not be required to inform authorities about jewellery purchases of over Rs.50,000 after the government rescinded a notification issued on August 23.

Dealers in precious metals, precious stones and other high-value goods having a turnover of over Rs.2 crore in a financial year had been notified as persons carrying on designated business and professions under the PMLA 2002. This had made them reporting entities under the PMLA requiring them to intimate the relevant authorities about transactions above certain limits.

The government said the notification had been rescinded because certain incongruities had been brought to its notice and a fresh notification will be issued, indicating that the sector may still come under greater watch.

Earlier, like other sectors, the threshold for KYC was Rs.2 lakh. This got lowered to Rs.50,000 after the jewellery sector was brought under PMLA on August 23.

The entities covered by PMLA have to maintain records of all transactions of value exceeding Rs.10 lakh, all cross-border wire transfers of more than Rs.5 lakh and all purchases and sales of immovable property of Rs.50 lakh or more.

GST tweaked

India announced a significant revamp of the GST regime three months after it was rolled out, addressing key complaints, especially those of small-scale industry and exporters.

The GST Council raised the composition scheme threshold to Rs.1 crore from Rs.75 lakh, allowed smaller businesses with a turnover of up to Rs.1.5 crore to pay tax and file returns quarterly instead of monthly, exempted exporters from payment of tax under various promotion schemes, deferred implementation of the tax deduction at source and collection at source provision to April 1 next year and suspended the reverse charge mechanism until the fiscal year-end.

The council also slashed tax rates on 27 items including sliced dried mango, khakhra, manmade yarn, stationary items, e-waste, plastic waste, rubber waste and job-work services while deciding to adopt a concept paper on the tax rates that would form the backbone of all changes in future.

Jaitley said a number of representations had been received and the council had decided to give relief to small and medium enterprises and exporters. “Large part of the tax collection about 94-95% comes from large taxpayers... Smaller ones have low tax burden, but it was felt their compliance burden is high,“ the minister said, explaining the rationale behind the move to relax compliance for the sector, which was known to have been hit hard by the switch over to the new tax regime from July 1.

“Small ones should remain in the tax net for the expansion of the base, but we have significantly reduced their compliance burden,“ he said. Composition scheme allows traders, manufacturers and restaurants to pay tax at a flat rate of 1%, 2% and 5%, respectively, on their turnover. This facility will be available from October onwards and past returns will have to filed in time.

The council has also set up a group of ministers to examine on an urgent basis issues concerning the small scale sector such as whether the total turnover calculation for the composition scheme should include exempted goods, if inter-state sales should be allowed for those availing of the scheme and whether input tax credit needs to be given to them. This group will give its report in two weeks. It will also look at the taxation structure for restaurants, Jaitley said.

“The group will see if tax system needs to be revisited, tax rate needs to be reduced without input tax credit... It will see what should be the alternate tax mechanism,“ he said. Currently the rates for air-conditioned and non-AC restaurants are 18% and 12%, respectively.

The reverse-charge mechanism has been deferred until March 31, 2018, to streamline its working.

The council allowed merchant exporters to pay 0.1% GST on the goods they source, which they can claim as input credit, to address the issue of blockage of funds. Besides, both state and central tax authorities have been directed to issue refund cheques for July by October 10 and for August by October 18.

An e-wallet facility will be created that will be provided with notional credit as an advance refund for exporters that could be used to pay GST from April 2018. Exporters availing export promotion schemes such as advance authorisation, Export Promotion Credit Guarantee scheme and Export Oriented Unit scheme would not have to pay GST on their inputs.

Pre-GST vehicle leases would be able to avail abatement of 35%, implying that the present GST rate will be applicable only on 65% of the total lease value. This facility would be available even when the vehicle is sold.

Services providers providing interstate services up to Rs.20 lakh will be exempted from GST. Those providing exempted service on which interest is received would be eligible for exemption of up to Rs 1.5 crore. Eway bill will be fully implemented from April next year. The council has approved a concept paper that would guide the fitment committee on tax rates.


U-17 World Cup: India's Football moment

Bangladesh Signs $4.5-b Line of Credit with India

Bangladesh signed a whopping $4.5 billion third line of credit agreement with India for its infrastructure and social sector development with finance minister Arun Jaitley pledging to back the country's development initiatives.

The agreement was signed in the presence of Jaitley and his Bangladeshi counterpart AMA Muhith after the two leaders held talks here.

“Bangladesh has developed significantly on the socio-economic front in the past seven years,“ Jaitley said following the signing of the deal. “We have stood by Bangladesh's attempts to develop and we will do so in the future.This significant agreement is a continuation of that effort,“ he said.

Speaking on the occasion, Muhith said, “Bangladesh and India have excellent relations at the moment.“

Jaitley also encouraged developing countries to emulate India's initiatives towards a less cash-based economy, saying excessive cash harms the poor, supports corruption and leads to terror activities. ­

PM Takes on Critics

Prime Minister Narendra Modi intervened in the economy debate and, in a fiercely combative speech peppered with both rhetorical flourishes and hard data, slammed his government's critics and made the case that growth is on track, policy making is robust and economic fundamentals are strong.
In a highly significant observation, addressing concerns of the business community, the PM said: “Businessmen and traders now returning to mainstream may be worried that old records will be checked. We will not allow that to happen... I welcome you now, leave the old things behind and do not be worried. I am with you in the future.“

He also said the government will review GST procedures and remove bottlenecks.The speech appeared to have four purposes.

First, to confront head-on expert criticism of the economy with facts and data sets on leading indicators of growth like spends on consumer durables and commercial vehicles as well as data on low inflation, low current account deficit, record forex reserves, high levels of foreign investment, faster road construction and improved tax compliance.

Second, the PM's speech seemed to be aimed at his political critics like the Congress by reminding everyone of “gloomy“ economic numbers during the previous government's rule.

Third, the speech reiterated his often-made point that demonetisation and GST, which some critics have blamed for the dip in growth, were reforms aimed at “putting a premium on honesty in the economy“. “People now think fifty times before dealing in black money ,“ Modi said, making the point that his government has sought to “institutionalise honesty“.

Fourth, and perhaps in politically most potent part of the speech, the PM took on critics “within“.

Former finance minister Yashwant Sinha and former disinvestment minister Arun Shourie, who were part of the Vajpayee government, recently attacked the government's economic performance.

Referring to Shalya ­ a character in Mahabharata who always spread pessimism and fought for Kauravas despite being a Pandava kin ­ Modi said, “There are many Shalyas today...they spread pessimism and get a good night's sleep only after they spread gloom and hopelessness.“ “A one quarter dip in growth was fodder to them,“ the PM said, in an apparent reference to the likes of Sinha and Shourie.

Addressing directly the recent dip in quarterly GDP growth to 5.7%, the PM said too much is being made by “pessimists“.

“In last 3 years, India has seen 7.5% average growth,“ Modi said. “This time, the last quarter's growth is less...we agree. But the government is working to reverse this. We are ready to take decisions and we have the capability to do it.“

The PM said his government “will take all required steps to improve growth“, adding “our steps will put country in a new league of development.“

Post-speech, there were tweets saying that the PM quoted RBI's growth figures wrongly today. But there was immediate response from the government saying when the PM had mentioned 7.7% GDP growth rate, he was referring to RBI's estimate for the fourth quarter, and not the annual growth estimate. “Informed people have said economic fundamentals are strong,“ the PM said and after telling his audience ­ company secretaries ­ that “I am no economist and have never claimed to be one“, he said the tone and tenor of criticism of recent GDP growth makes it imperative that everyone gets the “right perspective“.

The PM listed a number of bad-to-average economic performance data points under the previous Congress-led UPA government. Employing his trademark combative style, the PM said, “Is this the first time that GDP growth in one quarter has gone to 5.7%? During the last government's term, in 6 years there were 8 times when growth was below 5.7% or same.“

He went on to say such low numbers during Congress rule were worse for the economy because the general economic situation was “worse“. “Such falls were more harmful for the economy because in those years, India had higher inflation, higher fiscal deficit,“ he said.

Staying on growth numbers, Modi made a caustic reference to pundits who he said found the central statistics office's revised growth estimation model suspicious when growth rate was 7.5% under his government, but found CSO's model fine when growth dipped to 5.7%.

The PM quoted a large number of economic data points while arguing that economic fundamentals were strong. Drawing comparisons between his and the previous government's performance, he said, “10% inflation has come down to 2.5%, almost 4% current account deficit has come down to 1%, fiscal deficit has come down from 4.5% to 3.5%, foreign investors are doing record investment and foreign exchange reserve are now up by 25%“.

UP investment growth higher than all

UP has registered the highest investment growth in the country among all states in the past five years, stated Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, the apex industrial body, while unveiling its report on `UP economic growth & investment performance from the FY12 to 17'.
Notably, most of its development happened in the 2014-2016 period but declined after that.

The report points out that UP has registered an average investment growth of over 40% in last five years, which is higher compared to national average investment growth of 26.6%. This has been on the back of growth in sectors like agriculture and allied sectors, industries, manufacturing and MSMEs, etc. This is the seventh highest investment in India and accounts for 4.9% of In dia's live investment for period FY 12-17.

However, around 1,050 live projects worth Rs.8.78 lakh crore that were committed by the UP government during the period have either been stuck for lack of environment clearance, land availability or procedural delays. Of these, 606 projects worth over Rs.6 lakh crore are under implementation but moving at a slow pace, says the report.

The report added that UP accounts for a share of about 5% in total live investments worth over Rs.177 lakh crore attracted from domestic and global investors representing both public and private sectors across India. Of this, non-financial services account for lion's share of about 39% in the total live investments attracted by UP. Electricity (27%), construction and real estate (22.5%) and manufacturing (about 8%) are other sectors with significant share in this regard.

Non-financial services sector attracted investments worth over Rs 3 lakh crore in FY 17, an increase from Rs 1.7 lakh crore in FY12.

Similarly, manufacturing sector attracted live investments worth over Rs.68,000 crore in FY17, an increase from over Rs.47,000 crore in FY12. Transport services accounted for highest share of 83% in this regard.

Pune adds 81 sq km

Pune is officially a much bigger one now with the addition of 80.7 sq km and a population of 2.78 lakh after the state government issued the merger notification on Thursday to bring 11 fringe villages into the Pune Municipal Corporation's limits. The civic body will require Rs.2,000 crore to undertake development of these fringe areas.

“The government of Maharashtra had accounted its intention to issue a notification with the view to alter the existing limits of Pune Municipal Corporation,“ stated the GR, adding “government has considered the objection received pursuant to the said notification within the period of specified therein.“

In July, the state government had decided to merge two villages, Uruli Devachi and Phursungi, in the PMC limits besides completely merging nine other villages that were partially under the civic limits in 1997.

A decision about merging the remaining 23 villages would be taken in the next three years in phases, considering the availability of water, garbage planning and connectivity, the government had said. The court had asked the government to clarify its stand after a public interest litigation was filed.

The letter to the government pleader signed by deputy secretary S S Gokhale states, “The state government has issued a notification of merging 34 villages in the PMC limits. The government has decided to complete the merger process in phases. Of the 34 villages, those which were partially merged in the city limits will be completely brought under the PMC and two villages -Uruli Devachi and Phursungi -will be merged into the city limits.“

The letter had stated, “The process of final notification of the merger of these 11 villages will be completed by December 2017.“

Services return to growth in September

Services sector activity in India expanded for the first time in three months in September as it rebounded from GST-related contractions, driven by a surge in new business orders that supported job creation.

The Nikkei India Services PMI Business Activity Index rose to 50.7 in September from 47.5 in August -a reading that pointed to a slight pace of expansion. In PMI parlance, a print above 50 means expansion while a score below that denotes contraction.

The combination of marketing campaigns by companies and strengthening demand conditions led to new business growth in September. The latest services PMI follows the manufacturing one announced on Tuesday which showed that industrial activity registered the second straight month of expansion in September. Accordingly , the Nikkei India Composite PMI Output Index, which maps both manufacturing and services sectors, rose to 51.1 in September, from 49 in August.

Future Retail to acquire HyperCity for Rs.655 crore

Future Retail, an arm of Kishore Biyani-led Future Group said it will acquire Shoppers Stop's HyperCity chain of food and grocery supermarkets for Rs.655 crore. Enterprise value of HyperCity is Rs.911crore. It has debt of around Rs.256 crore. Future Retail bought HyperCity at Rs.655 crore for part cash and part share consideration.

Bombay Stock Exchange-listed Shoppers Stop, which will receive the cash and shares of Future Retail in proportionate manner, owns 51% in HyperCity , while parent K Raheja Corp holds the rest. Future Retail will issue shares worth Rs.500 crore, while the rest of the Rs.155 crore will be paid in cash.

Biyani's Future Group, which owns Big Bazaar, arguably the largest retail chain the country , has been on a buying spree. It acquired Easyday chain from Bharti Enterprises, Delhi-based Big Apple and southern chains of Nigiris and Heritage Foods.

The latest acquisition will take the Future Retail's store count past 900. Founded in 2004, HyperCity clocked revenue of around Rs.1162 crore in FY17. It is a loss-making entity and operates around 19 stores. The acquisition is expected to add muscle to Biyani's operations in western India.

Doordarshan's DTT platform


RBI maintains status quo

The Reserve Bank of India kept interest rate unchanged as was widely expected in view of upward trend in inflation even as it cut the growth forecast to 6.7 per cent for the current fiscal.

Consequently, the repo rate, at which it lends to banks, will stand at 6 per cent.

The reverse repo, at which RBI borrows from banks will continue to be at 5.75 per cent. In its last review in August it had slashed the benchmark lending rate by 0.25 percentage points to 6 per cent, the lowest in 6 years.

The six-member monetary policy committee voted 5:1 for the decision, with only Ravindra Dholakia voting for a 0.25 per cent reduction in rates.

The Reserve Bank of India said that after a record low in June, inflation is trending up and estimated the headline number to touch 4.6 per cent by the March quarter.

On growth, it cut its 2017-18 forecast by gross value added basis to 6.7 per cent from 7.3 per cent earlier.

Excise duty cut

Facing flak for the recent rise in petrol and diesel prices, the Centre reduced the basic excise duty on both by Rs.2 a litre, while acknowledging that this was fuelling inflationary pressures.

Pump prices will go down by Tuesday midnight. The move came as diesel price hit a record high of Rs.59.14 a litre in Delhi and petrol was at a two-year high of Rs.70.88. Since the start of daily price changes on June 16, retail price of petrol and diesel have climbed 8.5% or by Rs.5.56 a litre and Rs.4.65 a litre, respectively .

The government said the rise in the prices of petrol and diesel is reflected in WPI inflation, which rose to 3.24% in August, compared to 1.88% in July 2017. This was in contrast to its earlier stand when it was defiant in keeping taxes unchanged.

While there was a clamour for the government to reduce taxes, the Centre sought to shift the blame to the states and oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan made a pitch for a shift to GST, suggesting it will lower retail prices. In case of petrol, more than half of the retail price is on account of taxes by the Centre and the states, while it a little lower for diesel. But a bulk of the taxes are levied by the Centre.

With economic growth slowing down and the Centre's policies coming under attack, the Narendra Modi government seems to have acted to provide some comfort.

The government had defended the high duties, arguing that funds were needed to meet infrastructure and development spending at a time when private investment has slowed down. But with an increase in oil price the government is still raking in the moolah with tax collections from the petroleum sector estimated at Rs.2.4 lakh crore last year, nearly two-and-a-half times the Rs.9,000 crore collected in 2014-15. With prices rising, the collections will be higher this year, although the finance ministry said that the Rs.2 cut in excise will shave off Rs.13,000 crore during the second half of the current financial year.

Some Cheer!

Core sector growth rose to a five-month high in August, car sales remained robust on the back of festival demand, while the manufacturing sector showed signs of reviving in September from the impact of the GST, triggering hopes for the sluggish industrial sector and the overall economy .
Data showed eight core sectors -coal, crude oil, refinery products, natural gas, fertilizers, steel, cement and electricity -grew an annual 4.9% in August, higher than 3.1% expansion in August 2016 and 2.6% growth in July .

The core sector accounts for 40.3% of the index of industrial production and any improvement in growth augurs well for the overall industrial production. The rebound in August was led by a surge in coal and electricity output, while some sectors such as steel and cement remained sluggish.

Separate data showed the manufacturing sector kept up the recovery momentum as new orders increased. At 51.2 in September, the Nikkei India Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index was unchanged from August.The 50 point mark separates expansion from contraction.

Car sales also shot up in September on festive fervour as dealers stocked up ahead of Navratras and Diwali. Volumes were healthy for almost all manufacturers, except for Ford. But companies said the “going may be tough“ in the coming months as the market may have already got saturated due to “early purchases“ on account of fear of price hikes due to GST rate changes.

Maruti Suzuki registered a10% growth in volumes and has been going strong on demand for models such as Brezza mini SUV , Baleno hatch and Dzire entry sedan.

Hyundai's domestic volumes crossed the 50,000 mark, registering nearly 17% growth over the 42,605 units it sold in the same month last year. Tata Motors continued its comeback with an 18% growth in September volumes. Economists said the string of strong data augured well for the industrial sector.

The spate of healthy numbers come against the backdrop of the debate on health of the economy which slowed to a three-year low of 5.7% in the April-June quarter, prompting calls for measures to revive growth.


Swachh Bharat: 3 years on....

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that issues such as cleanliness and hygiene should not be politicised and asserted that even 1,000 Mahatma Gandhis could not achieve the goal of a `clean India' without the participation of 125 crore Indians.

Addressing a gathering to mark three years of the Swachh Bharat mission, he said he had been severely criticised when he had initiated the programme and stepped out with a broom to launch it. Maintaining that it was essential for children to wash their hands before eating as unhygienic conditions had led to several children dying, the prime minister said when he flagged the issue people asked how they would get soap and water.

Modi said the issue of cleanliness should be looked at from the prism of women, who face difficulties due to lack of toilets, and lauded children for being ambassadors of the key programme.

Somewhere in Kochi....

The city is set to welcome Kochi Metro to its commercial hub, the MG Road, today. The services will be thrown open for public within an hour after inauguration.

Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan will arrive at JLN Stadium station at 10.30 am along with Union minister Hardeep Singh Puri for flagging off the Metro train up to Maharaja's College. They will then take a Metro ride from JLN Stadium Station to Maharaja's College Station along with the mayor, MPs and MLAs. They will return to Kaloor station and from where they would proceed to Ernakulam Town Hall for the public function, marking the launch of Metro services.

Opening of five new stations -JNL Stadium, Kaloor, Lissie, MG Road and Maharaja's College Ground -along a five-km stretch will provide better connectivity with other major locations in the city including, Ernakulam Town (North) railway station, Ernakulam Junction (South) railway station, KSRTC bus depot and Ernakulam boat jetty .

The Kochi Metro Rail Ltd (KMRL) has roped in reputed artists from Kochi to make caricatures of those who take the first ride.

Earlier in June, KMRL had opened the 13.4 km first stretch of Kochi Metro from Aluva to Palarivattom. There are 11 stations along this stretch. The opening of the new stretch linking Palarivattom and Maharaja's will help connect the city to urban centres.

KMRL will operate nine trains between Aluva and Maharaja's College Ground. The Metro agency said a set of two trains will be kept as back up. Trains will operate between 6 am and 10 pm. Extension of services will be useful to those who go for late-night movies or those who opt to dine out.

According to KMRL, the Metro will bring down travel time in the city. People will not have to spend long hours at traffic signals and waste time on congested roads.

The Metro's fare from Aluva to Maharaja's College Ground is fixed at Rs.50. The Kochi1 card will be made available at all Metro stations within one week of inauguration. KMRL spokesperson said that they expected joy riders in the initial phase, and will decide on weekly and monthly fares once regular commuters start utilizing the service.


Chennai's Central Metro Station

Away from the hustle and bustle of Poonamallee High Road and deep in the silence of the earth, one of the largest underground metro stations in the country, Central metro station, is taking shape.
With a majority of the work complete, Chennai Metro Rail Ltd is gearing up to open by the first quarter of 2018 a part of the station that will connect Central metro station and the airport via Nehru Park.

The rest of the station is expected to be ready by 2018-end, almost seven years after construction began.

Central metro station, which will be an underground transit hub with facilities for easy commuter access and travel, will connect both corridors Central to St Thomas Mount and Washermenpet to Chennai airport of the 45 km phase-1 project. Afcons, the infrastructure company which is building the tunnels for phase-1, is also building the station. With three decks, the 390 m-long, 33 m-wide and 28 m-deep Central metro station will be one of the largest underground transport structures in the country. Hauz Khas in New Delhi is one of the deepest stations, at 29 m, and has six decks; Majestic metro station in Bengaluru is one of the largest, built across 48,000 sqm.

Being a transit hub, the station will have several facilities that are not present at other underground stations in the city. Commuters can walk down the station's entry exit points on either side of the road to the top deck of the station which will be the ticketing or concourse level. The entrance will link two levels instead of one built in other underground stations. Commuters heading to the station by car or bike can get into the station through one of the entry points and head to an underground parking lot before walking to the ticketing level.

The second and the third decks of the station will be the platform levels for the two corridors of phase-1. While the second or upper deck will connect Central and St Thomas Mount (corridor 2), the third or lower deck will connect Washermenpet and the airport (corridor 1). Pedestrians on the arterial road will also find it easy to cross the busy road as the station will be opened along with two new subways that will facilitate easy access to either side of the road.

The station will also have several other features for train operations like a siding line, where trains can begin operations for the day and chug to the main line in both directions and in both the corridors simultaneously. Like the Shenoy Nagar underground station, Central metro station too will have crossover lines where trains can cross tracks in an emergency on either deck.

The construction posed a challenge from the time work to build the station began. Extreme variation in the soil strata, excavation under several heritage structures, multi-storeyed buildings with shallow foundation, railway tracks and Buckingham Canal slowed down construction. There was a thick layer of rock, under a layer of loose soil below the road level, which had to be cut and covered with curved concrete slabs that formed the rings of the tunnels. The concourse level was built around a different type of loose soil, while the upper and lower decks were built on rocks. The mixed soil strata drastically reduced the average speed of tunnel boring on the stretch.

At one point, engineers took more than six months to excavate a 300 m stretch between Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital and Chennai Central due to rocky soil condition. Engineers did not apply more pressure while drilling through the rocks as it would have affected the weak structures as well as heritage buildings on the road.

Net Problem

There are now 3.9 billion internet users in the world, according a new Unesco report. Nearly half of these users -1.94 billion -are in the Asia Pacific. With a penetration rate of 34%, South Asia continues to be a laggard in the region...

Lower Courts See Uptrend in Pending Cases

While the number of pending cases in the Supreme Court and the 24 high courts has shown a downward trend in the past three years, the backlog has gone up in lower courts, law ministry data show...

The Consumer Buying Power is back!

Sales of cars, televisions and refrigerators increased more than 15% this Navratri and Dussehra from last year, pointing to bumper business in the run-up to Diwali and calming concerns that the currency swap and the GST will have a prolonged impact on consumer sentiment.

Maruti Suzuki, Hyundai Motor, LG, Sony, Panasonic, and Godrej Appliances said consumers across the country, including those in smaller towns, are buying more premium products this festive season. Companies attribute the pronounced migration up the value chain to a good monsoon, availability of cheap financing options even in the hinterland and an end to supply disruption associated with introduction of GST.

India's biggest carmaker Maruti Suzuki reported an 18% growth in bookings and 15% increase in volumes during Navratri, while Hyundai Motor India's sales rose 50%, making this festive season a record of sorts for the car maker.

For white goods makers, the Navratri-Dussehra sales came as a major relief after a rather muted Onam and Ganesh Chaturthi this year. The festive season accounts for almost 40% of annual sales for appliance makers.

Manufacturers said demand this year is more for frost-free refrigerators, inverter ACs and large-capacity washing machines. According to industry estimates, the top four firms ­ LG, Samsung, Sony and Panasonic ­ have increased their primary sales (to dealers) by 25% this festive season.

Two-wheeler makers, too, are reporting strong volumes during Navratri on prospects of a robust rural economy, underpinned by good monsoon rain.

The earliest signs of buoyant festive sales this year were visible when ecommerce marketplaces, led by Flipkart and Amazon, reported their best-ever performance. While Flipkart had doubled its overall sales, Amazon reported similar growth for more than half the categories of products on its web site.


Monsoon signs off with a deficit

Jayakwadi dam fills to capacity

The water level at Jayakwadi dam has reached up to its brim on Friday, for the seventh time in the history of the dam. One of the largest earthen dams in Asia, Jayakwadi was constructed in 1976 and has fuelled agriculture and industrial growth across Marathwada.

Experts have cited the good rainfall in the upstream areas as well as the catchment area of the dam as the reason behind the dam getting 100% of its live storage. This year, besides considerable rain in the catchment area of the dam, the upstream areas also received excess rainfall, resulting in water release from all the 22 upstream dams.

Since its inception 41 years ago, Jayakwadi dam has managed to get filled up to 100% of its capacity only seven times -four times in a row from 2005-06 to 2008-09 and in 1989-90, 2000 and now.

The lowest water storage was recorded in 2012-13 at 3.27%, followed by 5.23% in 2015-16. Ahmednagar and Nashik have constructed seven major and 15 medium upstream dams with a total capacity of 156 TMC live storage, whereas the permitted limit for live storage of these upstream dams is 112 TMC. For Jayakwadi, the live storage is 76 TMC and the dead storage capacity is 26 TMC, taking the total capacity of the dam to 102 TMC.

Sources in the Command Area Development Authority said that the doors of the dam will have to be opened for more than a couple of times to ensure that the water level does not cross the danger mark.

SpiceJet orders up to 50 turboprops

Low-cost carrier SpiceJet finalised a purchase agreement with Bombardier Commercial Aircraft for up to 50 Q400 Turboprop aircraft worth $1.7 billion at list prices.This is the largest ever order for Q400 Turboprop and SpiceJet will be the launch customer globally of the extra-capacity, 90-seater Q400. The purchase agreement includes 25 Q400 turboprops and purchase rights on an additional 25 aircraft.

SpiceJet has taken delivery of 15 Q400 aircraft since 2010 and it currently operates 20 Q400 aircraft in a 78-seat configuration to domestic and international destinations. SpiceJet had earlier this year placed an order for up to 225 narrow and wide-body jets with Boeing.

SpiceJet, a participant in the government's regional connectivity scheme, was awarded six proposals and eleven routes under the first phase of the Regional Connectivity Scheme.

Mumbai mourns Elphinstone Stampede deaths

A morning rush-hour tragedy in one of Mumbai's railway stations engulfed the city in grief and focused the spotlight on India's inability to upgrade its creaky railway infrastructure despite a massive annual budget.

A desperate attempt to avoid a sudden burst of heavy rains forced people to crowd together in a narrow, decades-old bridge at Elphinstone railway station in central Mumbai, leading to the death of 22 people and causing injuries to 30.

Nearly 8 million people travel in Mumbai's suburban railway network every day and the stations at Elphinstone and nearby Parel support the thousands of employees who work in swanky high-rises nearby. The Parel and Elphinstone areas house two of India's biggest private sector banks -HDFC and Axis -and hundreds of other private sector offices.

The incident occurred between 10:15 am and 10:30 am, and was sparked by a stampede as hundreds of people tried to access that narrow bridge after alighting from trains. Authorities and police officials say the situation was worsened by rumours as the flood of people trying to reach the road outside became inexorable.

The incident highlights the worst aspects of Indian Railways' infrastructure and the bureaucratic lethargy that prevented a modern foot overbridge from being built at the spot despite being sanctioned by former railway minister Suresh Prabhu. The Railways sanctioned the widening of the foot over-bridge in 2016, but work was held up as the ministry did not want this to clash with other upgradation and repair works planned in the Parel-Elphinstone area. The tenders were uploaded only in September this year, and were to be opened in November.

The incident happened on a day railway minister Piyush Goyal was in Mumbai to attend a ministry function. The function was cancelled and Goyal went straight to KEM Hospital, after landing in the city, to meet the injured. He announced a high-level inquiry into the tragedy. The Railways and the Maharashtra government have separately announced ex-gratia payment of Rs.5 lakh to the next of kin of those killed.

While the Railways may claim that passengers had overcrowded the foot over-bridge, the ministry had ignored numerous warnings by travellers as well as passenger associations that a stampede was waiting to happen. It was suggested that a new bridge be built to connect Parel and Elphinstone railway stations.

The reasons for the stampede vary. Some blame it on rumours of a bridge collapse, others said there was talk of a short circuit. A few others said it was caused by a man slipping on the foot over-bridge.Since the station is used by commuters to interchange between the Western Railway stations of Elphinstone and Parel, it is crowded at most times.

Railway officials claimed a morning downpour could have contributed to the stampede as it forced many office-goers to take shelter inside the four-feet-wide over-bridge.

At around 10.15 am, things started going awry as commuters jostled to exit the station via the bridge and others tried to enter it. Many accounts claim this is when a person reportedly slipped, causing the stampede. Videos shot by commuters showed how bad the situation was, as people climbed on to other's heads to escape.By the time other commuters reached the over-bridge and began pulling out people, it was too late.

Officials in KEM Hospital, where most of the victims were rushed to, said more than 10 people were brought dead. By the evening, the death toll climbed to 22 with at least seven more in a critical condition.

The mood on the final day of Navratra became subdued as news of the Elphinstone Road tragedy arrived. Visuals of victims dressed in festive purple, which was the colour of the day, were doubly traumatic. Dussehra too is expected to be a quiet affair on Saturday. In Dombivli, Shiv Sena MP Shreekant Shinde who had organized the biggest Ras Rang garba cancelled the event.

The Ramlila Prachar Samiti in Malad as well as the Ramleela of Azad Maidan both offered condolences to the families of the departed souls. The Ruparel garba of Falguni Pathak in Borivli offered solemn prayer shortly before midnight as the season ended. Kora Kendra did likewise around 10 pm. Durga Puja pandals like AamPrabashi in Thane and Probasi ra Prabashi in Thane and Probasi Bengali Samiti, Thakurli, offered a two-minute silent tribute. Maitree Cultural Association in Malad expressed sorrow too. Maitree office-bearers offered a special prayer and wore black ribbons before the sandhya aarti.

The Bangiya Sanskritik Parishad Durga Puja of Kalyan also prayed for the accident victims and their families.


Global Competitiveness Index

Bandra by the Bay on track

Encroachments that stand in the way of BMC's major plan to beautify the Bandra seafront are slowly but surely being removed. The BMC's ambitious project `Bandra by the Bay', which involves a complete overhaul of Bandra Fort, will be kicked off next month. Plans are afoot to create a continuous pathway from Bandstand to Bandra Fort, from where it would turn up towards the underpass of the Bandra Worli Sea Link to connect to Bandra Reclamation. On September 27, the civic standing committee approved architect Hafeez Contractor as the consultant for the project, for which the BMC has made a budgetary provision of Rs.2 crore this year. The estimated total cost for the project is Rs.30 crore. The project is the brainchild of Bandra Bandstand Residents' Trust along with BJP Mumbai president and MLA Ashish Shelar.

The walk from Bandra Fort to Reclamation is expected to be a big tourist attraction.

The Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority had earlier “deferred“ the proposal as it was not inclined to allow any construction or reclamation near the sea. But architect Hafeez Contractor clarified that the project would not require any reclamation of land.

Other features of the project include an ampitheatre, butterfly park, a promenade designed like waves, a cycling track. LED lighting along the promenade will also create a Queen's Necklace counterpart in the suburbs.