27.4.17

Social media clampdown in Kashmir

The J-K government has asked Internet Service Providers to stop the transmission of around 22 social networking sites in Kashmir valley with immediate effect. Some popular social networking platforms that will remain unavailable in Kashmir Valley for at least a month include Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, QQ, We Chat, Qzone, Tumblr, Google+, Skype, Viber, Snapchat, Pinterest, Flickr, Telegram, Reddit, Snapfish, You Tube (upload), Vine, Xanga, Buzznet and Baidu.

However, a question mark hangs over the order's effectiveness, as it's known among internet users that blocks on social media can be overcome by downloading and installing free or paid VPN services.



UDAN takes off


BJP sweeps civic polls in Delhi


BJP's gambit in replacing all its sitting municipal councillors, putting an outsider, actor Manoj Tiwari, at the helm of the state unit and using PM Narendra Modi as a trump card has paid it handsome dividends in the elections to the three municipal corporations in Delhi. It steamrolled AAP and restricted Congress to a modest revival by taking 181 of the 270 seats--that's over two -thirds.

For AAP, the municipal election outcome could not have been worse, coming as it did on the heels of its humiliating defeat in the Rajouri Garden bypoll and soon after its loss in Punjab and Goa.

AAP had hoped it would be able to favourably contrast its performance in the state government with the the state government with the BJP's in the MCD, but the strategy didn't work. Also, by dumping all its sitting councillors, the BJP managed to signal a clean break from its 10-year-old legacy even as it rode on Modi's huge post-UP popularity. Raising a scare over disease outbreaks because of the insanitary conditions in the city didn't serve AAP well.


Sensex tops 30,000


Stable domestic economic fundamentals, steady buying by local and foreign funds and strong global cues helped the sensex to finally close above the elusive 30,000 mark for the first time in its 31-year history.

After a strong opening, the Bombay Stock Exchange's bellwether index of thirty companies scaled an all-time high at 30,167 and overcoming a bout of late selling, closed at 30,133, up 190 points on the day. Nifty on the NSE too closed 42 points higher at 9,352, also an all-time high.

The sensex, in intra-day trades, had crossed the 30,000 mark more than two years ago and then again earlier this month, but had never closed above this mark as strong selling emerged soon after in both the sessions. The market has risen nearly 53% since Narendra Modi was named the BJP's prime ministerial candidate in September 2013.

The recent market rally, combined with a non-intervention strategy by the Reserve Bank of India, has led to strengthening of the rupee.On Wednesday, the Indian currency rallied to a 20-month high at 63.93 to a dollar and closed at 64.11, up 17 paise from Tuesday's close. During Wednesday's session, foreign funds were net sellers at Rs.493 crore while domestic funds were net buyers at Rs.1,011 crore. So far in the year, while foreign funds have net bought stocks worth Rs.43,200 crore, domestic funds have net pumped in nearly Rs.15,800 crore during the same period. However, in the current month, while FPIs have been net sellers of stocks worth about Rs.1,000 crore, domestic funds have more than made up for the outflow with a net inflow of Rs.6,300 crore.

Interestingly, during the day's rally, midcap and smallcap stocks witnessed some selling. In the past few weeks, these stocks had outperformed the large caps and blue chips which in turn had led to cautious words from market analysts. In Wednesday's market, BSE's smallcap index closed 0.6% lower while the midcap index was down by a marginal 0.1%. As a result, despite the sensex's record close, investors' wealth, measured by BSE's market capitalisation, dipped by Rs.70,000 crore to Rs.124.5 lakh crore.

25.4.17

Gross Fiscal Deficit: Snapshot


Of Military Spending....


India's military expenditure grew 9% in 2016, making it the world's fifth largest spender at $55.9 billion, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. India was ranked seventh in 2015. The US remains the country with the highest defence spending bill, accounting for more than a third of the global expenditure of $1.6 trillion...


Monday Massacre


At least 25 CRPF personnel were killed and seven wounded in Chhattisgarh's Sukma district on Monday, the deadliest attack by Naxalites targeting security forces this year. The Naxalites mounted the assault around 12:25 pm in Kalapathar area of south Bastar region, one of the worst hit by Left-wing extremism in the country.

The area is close to the Chintagufa-Burkapal-Bheji axis, the hotbed of Naxal violence, which has seen a number of such attacks in the past resulting in high casualties.

The incident occurred near Burkapal village within Chintagufa police station limits. While 11 bodies were recovered first, 12 were found during combing operations. A jawan succumbed to injuries while being evacuated by air.

An injured jawan, brought to a hospital, said the CRPF patrol was attacked by around 300 Maoist guerrillas. He said around 10-12 Naxalites must have got killed in the “befitting“ retaliation by the CRPF contingent.

It is understood that the company commander, an inspector rank officer leading the contingent which was ambushed on Monday , was also killed.

Niti Aayog's New India vision

It's a grand vision that the Niti Aayog has drawn up for a “New India“ in which nearly everyone will have houses with toilets, two-wheelers or cars, power, ACs and digital connectivity by 2032.
The Vision 2031-32 document was unveiled by Niti Aayog Vice-Chairman Arvind Panagariya to the Governing Council, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “By 2031-32, we must transform India into a prosperous, healthy , secure, corruption-free, energy abundant, environmentally clean and globally influential nation,“ according to the presentation drawing inspiration from the PM's vision.

The presentation--India 2031-32: Vision, Strategy and Action Agenda--made before CMs also visualises a fully literate society with access to healthcare.It also calls for having a much larger and modern network of roads, railways, waterways and air connectivity and a clean India where citizens would have access to quality air and water.

Alphonsoes from Devgad, Sindhudurg get GI tag

The alphonsoes from Devgad and Sindhudurg have been given Geographical Indication tags. With this, the total number of GI tagged products in Maharashtra has risen to 25, the highest in the country.
A GI tag specifies the geographical location--like a town, a region, or a country--where the product is created. Devgad Taluka Mango Growers Cooperative Society ,which had filed for a GI tag in 2012, said that the process was a long one but they have finally got a verbal order from the GI registry .

DTMGCS comprises of close to 650 mango growers from Devgad. Every mango grower in Sindhudurg can use the GI tag now. Action can now be taken against those selling mangoes by falsely claiming that they are from mangoes Sindhudurg and Devgad.

24.4.17

Poverty Gap Index


Poverty has traditionally been measured by the number of people with income below the poverty line. But this doesn't tell us how far below that line the poor are. The poverty gap index adds up the shortfall of each poor person's income from the poverty line and divides the sum by the country's population to arrive at the mean shortfall

India's GDP to Grow 3-fold by 2030


India will be a Rs.469 lakh crore, or $7.2 trillion, economy by 2030, growing at an average rate of 8%, Niti Aayog, the government's premier think-tank, has projected as part of its 15-year vision document.

This would be a more than three-fold expansion from Rs.137 lakh crore, or $2.1 trillion, in 2015-16. The increase of Rs.332 lakh crore ($5.1 trillion) in 15 years compares with the addition of $8.1 trillion in China's GDP over the past 15 years.

India's economy grew by 7% in the third quarter of 2016-17 compared with 7.4% in the second quarter. The Central Statistics Office retained its projection of 7.1% growth in 2016-17, slowing from 7.6% in the previous financial year. The IMF estimated India's GDP growth at 7.2% for 2017-18.

The Aayog has already circulated a draft three-year action plan to all states as a roadmap that will help India achieve the government's 15-year vision, which it is currently preparing. The three-year action plan will replace the decades old five-year plans and are aimed at transforming the planning process in the country.

There were over 300 specific action points that had been identified, covering a whole gamut of sectors. The period of the action agenda coincided with the period of the 14th Finance Commission's award. The other six parts of the plan talk about all sectors, India's growth, connectivity, governance, social sectors and sustainability.

Drawing inspiration from the PM's vision, the idea is to transform India into a prosperous, highly educated, healthy, secure, corruption-free, energy abundant, environmentally clean and globally influential nation by 2031-32.

Since the government has done away with five-year plans from April 1, 2017, it is imperative the new action plan is put into place at the earliest to guide various central ministries, departments and states to achieve the goal of `Vision 2030' document.

The 12th Five-Year Plan, which was the last of its kind in the series, was terminated on March 31, 2017.

A Rate hike in the making?

It's not about an interest rate cut any more. Rather the question is when will the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) raise rates? Minutes of the April 6 monetary policy committee meeting released last week showed that five of the six members, except Ravindra Dholakia, expressed concerns on inflation, citing varied reasons from higher house rent allowances, increase in taxes due to the new GST, volatile weather conditions due to a possible El Nino, firming global commodity prices and inflation from protein-rich items other than pulses.

Economists say that the minutes indicate that the central bank's the next move will be an increase in interest rate, possibly as early as next year.

March consumer inflation increased to 3.81% from 3.65% in February, but was well within RBI's 5% target for the fiscal year ended March 2017. However, the central bank's stated medium term target is to keep inflation at 4%. The RBI's own projection for the current fiscal year ending March 2018 is for inflation to rise to 4.5% in the first half and further to 5% in the second half.

Expectations also are that RBI's rate hike cycle could begin by an increase in the CRR as the central bank grapples with Rs.4 lakh crore of excess liquidity in the banking system currently .

On April 13, RBI announced the sale of  Rs.1 lakh crore of treasury bills to suck out excess liquidity from the banking system through the so-called market stabilisation scheme. This after it had raised its reverse repo rate, the rate at which banks park excess funds with it, by 25 basis points to 6%.

Bond yields have already moved higher anticipating a rate hike. From a low of 6.20% in December, the benchmark 10-year bond yield touched a high of 6.96%.

BIMSTEC snippets

The recent visits by Bangladesh Prime Minister, Nepalese President and upcoming trip of Sri Lankan PM to India this week have given momentum to the BIMSTEC Motor Vehicle Agreement, envisaged as a multil-modal regional connectivity initiative between seven BIMSTEC states after the proposed SAARC MVA could not be concluded due to Pakistan's intransigence.

The BIMSTEC MVA, that will be key to the outcome of the group's fourth Summit in 2017 to celebrate 20 years of creation of BIMSTEC, will have all multi-modal features connecting Sri Lanka which is linked to the rest of six members only through air or sea. As part of this goal, the grouping also hopes to put in place BIMSTEC Framework Agreement on Transit, Trans-shipment and Movement of Vehicular Traffic.

Intra-regional connectivity and BIMSTEC process were key elements that dominated the agenda of leaders of member states: Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka to India in quick successions.

Further, a recent study conducted by Jaipur headquarted think-tank CUTS International and BIMSTEC Secretariat-based in Dhaka suggested that tourism corridors can be effective precursors to business corridors since regional tourism can help attract investment vis-à-vis building confidence among the political constituencies in the region.

23.4.17

Activa is the highest selling two-wheeler


Reflecting the growing popularity of scooters in the Indian market, Honda Activa has overtaken Hero Splendor, India's No.1 motorcycle brand in terms of sales, to emerge as the largest selling two-wheeler in the last financial year. Although motorcycle sales were are roughly double that of scooters in 2016-17, the latter grew three times faster during the year...

GST to Boost GDP by 4.2%


India's changeover to the GST has resonated with the Fed: A research note at the US central bank reckons that the biggest indirect tax reforms since Independence could enhance the country's gross domestic product by up to 4.2%, or Rs.6.5 lakh crore -a sum greater ` than the central government's annual borrowing.

A part of Federal Reserve System's series of International Financial Discussion Papers, the research note says that the potential gains to GDP -one of the most bullish growth estimates on the reform measure to date -will be underpinned by a surge in manufacturing output, something New Delhi has been trying to achieve for a while.

An estimate by economic think tank NCAER had earlier projected an increase of 1-2% in GDP after GST is implemented.

The model suggests that the GST would lead to real GDP gains of 4.2% under the baseline assumptions, driven by a surge in factory production. Growth is also driven by an increase in both domestic and international trade, it said.

The GST is also expected to increase international competitiveness of Indian companies, thus helping the country expand external trade by 32%.

To be sure, the authors sounded a note of caution on placing goods in higher tiers of taxation. The rise in internal and external trade is expected to be carried by a surge in manufacturing production of 14%, said the paper. IFDP notes are articles in which Fed Board economists offer their own views and present analyses on a range of topics in economics and finance.

In the just concluded Budget session, Indian lawmakers passed the crucial GST legislations, paving the deck for state assemblies to take up the relevant bills.

The GST, which seeks to replace multiple central taxes and state taxes with a single levy, is scheduled to be introduced from July 1

Maximum City pays maximum for Petrol



With the Rs.3 increase in drought cess, collected along with VAT from Friday midnight, Mumbaikars now pay the highest price for petrol in the country. Petrol now costs Rs.77.45 per litre in the city, while it's around Rs.77.14 in Nagpur -both higher than in Bhopal, which till Friday had the country's highest rate at Rs.75.85. In comparison, it's almost 10 rupees less in Delhi at Rs.68.26 .

Incidentally, the drought cess collected all over Maharashtra has been increased to Rs.9 from Rs.6 at a time when there's no drought in the state, thanks to abundant rainfall last monsoon. 

21.4.17

Aviation Snapshot : March 2017


The 20% plus growth in domestic air travel has taken a break in the lean travel month of March. The month saw IndiGo return to the top of on-time-performance charts after several quarters. SpiceJet pipped Air India to become the third largest airline in market share after recovering from a near collapse 2 years ago.

The high growth in the domestic air traffic seems to be tapering to 14.91% in March this year, continuing the trend from February, when growth fell below 20% after 13 consecutive months of above 20% growth.

Passenger data released by the DGCA show Indian airlines carried 9 million passengers in March this year compared to 7.9 million the same month last year.

Among airlines, SpiceJet remained first with largest seat occupancy. SpiceJet topped the Passenger Load Factor metrics for the industry with 91.4% seats full, followed by AirAsia that flew 87.8% of its flights full. GoAir flew planes with 84.8% of its seats full was the third.

In terms of On-Time Performance, Indigo topped the chart flying 88% of its flights on time. It was followed by SpiceJet with 85.7% of flights on time, closely followed by Vistara that flew 85.1% of its flights on time.

IndiGo remained the market leader during the month of March and carried 39.9% of total passengers, followed by Jet Airways, which together with JetLite, flew 17.9% of the total passengers.

Of Domestic Investors in Equity....


Domestic money flow into Indian equities outstripped foreign fund flows in a cumulative two-year cycle in FY16-17 for the first time in seven years while a broad-based comparison of stock ownership suggests favourable tailwind for Indian funds and investors.

The total market value of domestic money invested in the BSE-200 at the end of March 2017 was bigger than the value of foreign fund holdings for the first time in two years. It is estimated that the value of Indian non-promoter and non-government holdings was $323 billion compared with $303 billion for foreign funds. This is the first time this has happened in eight quarters. The cumulative 24-month flow of domestic funds have been greater than the FPI flow for the first time since October 2010. Domestic funds invested $16 billion in local stocks in the two years compared with $6 billion for FPIs.

After a gap of seven years, domestic investors are once again emerging as a force to reckon with in the Indian equity market as foreign fund flows remain volatile. Experts and financial market analysts say that fund flow from DIIs appears to be more stable and is growing by day thanks to increasing SIP investments and rising flows into National Pension Scheme and the Employee Provident Fund Organisation. Domestic money includes investment by institutional investors and retail investors.

The rising share of local funds is important as it reduces market volatility and fluctuation every time FPIs pull out money as part of global risk aversion strategy. This was a major reason for the Indian equity market to hold on its own in the December 2016 quarter even though FPIs sold $4.5 billion worth of equities.

Domestic mutual funds have received investments worth $12.5 billion every year in the last two years. The assets under management of domestic equity funds increased to $94 billion in FY17 against $31 billion in FY14, implying an annualised growth of 44%. Experts are expecting monthly SIP book to increase to Rs.6,000 crore by next fiscal compared with Rs.4,200 crore currently.

SIPs by retail investors have played a big role with monthly flows increasing to Rs.4,200 crore from about Rs.3,500 crore last year. According to AMFI, mutual funds are on an average adding 6.3 lakh SIP accounts every month with an average SIP size of Rs.3,200 per account.

SIP accounts for nearly 40% of the total monthly equity MF collection in the past few months. The contribution of equity MFs is likely to increase to 45% in five years from current 35% led by growth in financial savings and steady returns, said CLSA.

The firm expects 17% CAGR growth in AUM in the next five years on the back of 29% growth in the past three years.The AUM penetration in India is lowest at 12% of GDP compared with 55% for the world.

There are two other important reasons behind the spurt in domestic flows. First, the government has mandated that all new government employees have to subscribe to the NPS.

The total AUM of the NPS has reached around Rs.1.7 lakh crore through the contribution of 51 lakh employees. Of this, over 12.7% was in equities in February 2017.

Besides, new NPS accounts have been opened by people in the private sector to avail additional tax rebate of Rs.50,000. The incremental contribution from government and private sector employee may add $700-1,000 million every year to equities.

Second, the government raised the share of equity investment by EPFO to 10% of the new money in FY17 from 5% in FY16. EPFO fund is worth Rs.1 lakh crore, which means around Rs.10,000 crore will be deployed in equities.

Delhi Metro's longest line


Delhi Metro's longest line: Majlis Park to Shiv Vihar, will open in April 2018, subject to availability of land. The revised schedule was updated by Delhi Metro based on ground reports. The section from Majlis Park to Lajpat Nagar will be completed by September, though commissioning of the 59 km-long line 7 will take longer.

The other new corridor, line 8, Janakpuri (west) to Kalindi Kunj, will be opened in sections starting next month.

The latest project status report on line 7 says that around 91% of civil works on the line is complete as of March. For line 8, the progress of civil works till March stands at 91.37%.

The ITO-Kashmere Gate section is slated to be completed this month, while the Mundka-Bahadurgarh and Dwarka-Najafgarh lines will be completed by December.

While construction as well as train and signalling trials on the ITO-Kashmere Gate section have been completed, the line is yet to become operational as it awaits safety audit by the commissioner metro rail safety.

Line 7 will touch portions of inner Ring Road and drastically cut travel time between eastern and southern flanks of the national capital.It will connect northwest Delhi's Mukundpur to northeast Delhi's Shiv Vihar cutting across various south Delhi areas, including Sarojini Nagar, INA, South Extension, and densely populated parts of east Delhi, such as Mayur Vihar-I, Vinod Nagar and Karkardooma.

A total of 140 km of Metro network will be added to the current coverage of 213 km in the phase-III expansion project that is being undertaken at a cost of around Rs.40,000 crore.

20.4.17

Of EVMs with Paper trails: 2019

The government cleared the decks for a fully paper trail-based parliamentary poll, with the Union Cabinet approving release of funds to the Election Commission for 16.15 lakh voter verifiable paper audit trail units in time for the 2019 general elections.

The expenditure of Rs.3,173 crore on the VVPATs will be split over two financial years, 2017-18 and 2018-19. If the EC places the order this month, the machines will be delivered by September 2018, well in time to ensure that all electronic voting machines have VVPAT units in the next general election. The decision comes at a time when many opposition parties including BSP , Congress and AAP have cast doubts on EVMs being tamper-proof. AAP chief and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal has even alleged that the polls in Punjab, UP and Uttarakhand were rigged by tampering the EVMs, and demanded that only VVPATs be used in future polls.  VVPATs will be manufactured by Bharat Electronics Limited and Electronics Corporation of India Ltd as per the design approved by the commission based on recommendation of the technical experts committee on EVMs, comprising professors from IITs. The poll panel said it would ensure “total compliance of the orders of Hon'ble Supreme Court and its commitment to use VVPATs with every EVM at all polling stations in the country in general elections 2019“.


Mumbai's Freeway, MTHL & Coastal Road to meet


A plan's afoot to connect the Eastern Freeway , and the proposed Coastal Road and Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link. For this, the MMRDA has leased a plot of 27 acres (11 hectares) from the Mumbai Port Trust. The plot, which abuts the Sewri railway station on the east and is locally known as `Gaadi Adda', is currently reserved as a special industrial zone. The lease is for an initial 30 years.

The state urban development department has issued a notification to change the reservation of the plot to transportation interchange zone, and has invited objections and suggestions.

The plot will comprise a loop with two lanes each branching out from MTHL to the Freeway , the proposed elevated Sewri-Worli road and the existing at-grade Messant Road.

All of 27 acres will go into the construction of the loop and there will be no commercial exploitation of the land. The at-grade road, which handles heavy port traffic, will be reinstated once the interchange zone is ready .

The 4.25 km elevated Sewri-Worli road will meet the Coastal Road on Worli Seaface. The sea link is to be integrated with the Coastal Road.

The interchange zone is part of the MTHL construction, while the elevated road is a separate project. A consultant is being appointed to carry out a pre-feasibility study and prepare a fresh estimate for the elevated road project.

The MMRDA is awaiting the final order of the National Green Tribunal on Coastal Regulation Zone clearance for the MTHL project. The clearance has been challenged before the tribunal. Once the matter is sorted out, MMRDA will be able to go ahead with the bidding process for the Rs.17,843-crore MTHL project. Meanwhile, the BMC has obtained clearance for phase I (island city) of the Coastal Road project. Work is expected to begin in October.

PM fuses the Lal Battis

From May 1, no VIP, dignitary or official at the Centre and states will be able to use any beacon--red or blue--on their vehicle. There will be no exceptions even for the Prime Minister, President and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Only emergency service vehicles like ambulances, fire brigade and police cars will use blue beacons.

PM Narendra Modi tweeted the decision, noting, “Every Indian is special. Every Indian is a VIP. It should have gone long ago. Glad that today a strong beginning has been made.“ The political message was clear enough that his government has acted where previous ones did not and that the decision was a blow to India's notorious “VIP culture“.  Modi informed the Cabinet of the decision on Wednesday after the PMO held a meeting last week on the options, including doing way with the beacon culture, submitted by road transport minister Nitin Gadkari.

Gadkari termed it a historic decision, saying common people feel bad when their way is blocked for passage of VIP vehicles with red beacons.

The decision comes in the wake of critical observations of the Supreme Court on unfettered use of red beacons and inconvenience caused to the public. The Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi was the first to withdraw the use of red beacons by ministers. More recently , the Amarinder Singh government in Punjab has done away with red beacons, followed by the Uttar Pradesh government led by Yogi Aditya Nath, which banned hooters on ministerial vehicles.

Soon after the decision was announced, ministers began removing their red beacons.

Another provision which empowers states to “determine and notify“ which vehicles can use blue lights with flasher has also been done away with.

Gadkari said since only a couple of rules would be changed, the decision would be implemented soon.

19.4.17

Petrol Pumps to shut on Sundays

From May 14, petrol pump dealers in seven states and Puducherry will shut shop on Sundays. The Petrol Dealers' Association has taken this step with twin objectives in mind firstly, it hopes to armtwist oil companies into shelling out higher commission, and secondly, it wants to respond to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's call to conserve petroleum products.

There are 233 petrol pumps in Mumbai, out of which 223 are run by dealers and the rest are owned and run by oil marketing companies. All those operated by dealers will be closed on Sundays. There are another 250 petrol pumps in areas like Thane, Navi Mumbai, Mira-Bhayander, Kalyan and Dombivli. There around 4,500 petrol pumps across the state, out of which 2,500 are along highways.

Tracking Inflation

India's wholesale inflation eased to 5.70% in March from a three-year high of 6.55% in the previous month thanks to a slower increase in prices of fuel and in manufacturing sector, even as costlier vegetables pushed up food inflation during the month. Food inflation firmed up to 3.12% in March from 2.69% in February, led by an inflation in vegetable prices that had been falling for the past six months.

Wholesale price inflation had declined 0.45% in March last year. Core wholesale inflation declined to 2.1% in March.

Last week, government data showed consumer inflation accelerating to a five-month high of 3.81% in March largely due to increased fuel prices.

Wheat inflation subsided in view of the expected arrival of the new crop, but rice inflation inched up. Fuel and power inflation rose 18.16% in March from 21.02% in the previous month. Wholesale price inflation in manufactured products, which has a 64.97% weightage in the index, increased to 2.99%, down from 3.66% in February .

On Monday, the government revised the increase in Wholesale Price Index for January to 5.53% from 5.25% earlier.

Experts said that a warmer summer and uncertainty over monsoon rainfall may push up food inflation further in the coming months.

The RBI last week kept interest rates unchanged citing inflation risks.

Tigress found dead in Pench

With one more tigress dead in Mansinghdeo Wildlife Sanctuary's Saleghat range, now part of Pench Tiger Reserve, India has lost as many as 32 tigers in just over three months. The latest death was the fourth in Pench since January. Official sources said on Tuesday that a highly decomposed carcass of a subadult tigress was found in the early hours in compartment number 697 in Ghatkukda beat. The area falls in Saleghat core, bordering West Pench. The carcass was about six days old.

Pench field director Ravikiran Govekar ruled out the possibility of poaching as all body parts of the tigress were found intact. “The wild cat must have engaged in a fight with another tiger while trying to explore a new area. Bones of the tigress were found to be broken. A post mortem report would give a clear picture,“ he said.

“We also need to find out whether the tigress was one of the sub-adult cubs from the litter of the tigress that was electrocuted at a farm in Maharkund,“ said Govekar.

A tigresses was electrocuted outside Saleghat in Maharkund on a farm on January 13. Another, was found dead on January 14 in Tuyiapaar, while a male was found dead at Kolitmara in West Pench on February 15.

Of the 32 tiger deaths in India, 18 have been recorded inside tiger reserves or sanctuaries. National Tiger Conservation Authority figures say seven deaths were due to poaching. As many as 99 deaths were recorded in 2016.This year Karnataka, which has the highest number of tigers as per the 2014 estimation, lost 10 tigers followed by Uttarakhand (7), MP , (6), Maharashtra (4) and Assam (3).

17.4.17

Bombay Dreams


A structure taller than Dubai’s iconic 163-floor Burj Khalifa with a green boulevard bigger than Mumbai’s Marine Drive will form part of a new eastern waterfront to be developed on a wasteland in the country’s financial capital.

These grand plans are part of a dream project of Nitin Gadkari, the union minister for Shipping, Road Transport and Highways, who sees the Mumbai Port Trust as the “richest landlord” of the city and wants to give a makeover to its huge swathes of industrial wasteland. “In Mumbai, we are the number one landlord. The iconic Taj Hotel, the Ballard Estate, the Reliance building, we are the owners. There are beautiful plans to develop the huge land with the port,” Gadkari said.

The plans are ready and we are awaiting Centre’s nod, the Minister said. “We are not giving our land to the builders and investors. We have plans to develop the area…We are making a green, smart road, three times bigger than the Marine Drive. We plan historic landmark bigger than Burj Khalifa. The plan is ready, we are waiting for the approval from the Cabinet,” Gadkari said.

MbPT, which was earlier called the Bombay Port Trust, is one of the largest public land holders in Mumbai city and has been operating the port since 1873. It is one of the top 12 major ports in the country. “About 500 hectares is proposed to be developed with a mix of port operations, business, office, commercial, retail, entertainment, community projects and convention centres, etc,” a top official said.

A key feature of the plan is a 7-km long marine drive between Mazagaon Docks and Wadala, much bigger than the existing Marine Drive. The proposed projects also include creation of spaces for community recreation and engagement, maritime museum, marinas etc.

Mumbai Port has already invited global tender from consulting firms for master plan and infrastructure design of the port. The Centre had earlier set up a committee under the chairmanship of R Jadhav for preparing a roadmap for development of Port’s waterfront and land, which has already been submitted to the Ministry of Shipping.

Somewhere in Goa....

A small group of Hindus reciting Sanskrit shlokas and praying on Good Friday at Se Cathedral, Old Goa yet again brought to the fore rich cultural tapestry and communal harmony in Goa. Old Goa, as an international tourist and pilgrimage centre, is known for its cultural and linguistic diversity of pilgrims flocking to the old capital. The state also has many examples of its communities praying and celebrating feasts and festivals together, but perhaps not many had known about this unique Good Friday tradition. The group belonging to Swadhyaya Parivar, being followers of Pandurang Shashtri Athavale, started this tradition almost a decade and half ago.

A largely attended Good Friday service at one of Asia's biggest churches with its façade towering 115 feet high starts at 3.30 pm. But the Parivar members professing universal brotherhood gather in the chapel of Miraculous Cross, a little detached from the Cathedral's main body at 3 pm, recite shlokas from the Narayana Upanishads and their prayers. It is a short ceremony before the church services.

The parishioners and the parish priest are positive about the groups' tradition. “This is a shining example of how people lived and should live together,“ Fr Alfred Vaz, parish priest said.

The Parivar members are aware about Jesus Christ's sacrifice on the cross and his preachings for peace and brotherhood. Jesus has laid down his life in sacrifice to free man from suffering.

“It is God who came down to save us and they want to be part of the community to pray together,“ Vaz said. Many feasts and festivals are examples of Goa's multicultural practices and community participation in religious events.Catholics and Hindus are still known to observe old practices that cut across lines of religions.“The spirit in Goa is not one of antagonism but of fraternal communion,“ Vaz said.

India will grow at 7.2% : World Bank


India's economic growth is expected to pick up speed from 6.8% in 2016 to 7.2% in 2017, and to 7.7% by 2019, after a modest setback due to weaker than expected investments and effects of demonetisation, a World Bank report said.“Timely and smooth implementation of the GST could prove to be a significant benefit to economic activity. However, India faces the challenge of further accelerating responsiveness of poverty reduction to growth,“ it said. Several multilateral agencies have raised the growth prospects as the impact of note ban has waned.



Petrol, Diesel Prices Hiked

State oil companies have raised the prices of petrol by Rs.1.39 per litre and diesel by Rs.1.04 per litre following an increase in the international rates.

The increase in prices excludes state levies. In Delhi, petrol now costs Rs.68.07 litre, up from Rs.66.29; and diesel comes for Rs.56.83litre, up from Rs.55.61.Retail prices in other states would vary according to the local levies.

On April 1, companies had cut prices of petrol by Rs.3.77 per litre and diesel by Rs.2.91 per litre.

Hike Set to Roll Out Payments Feature

Hike Messenger is set to launch a payments mechanism on its app that will be linked to the government-backed UPI, a move that can make the messaging app the first in India to have the capability ahead of peers such as WhatsApp.

The home-bred messaging app, which raised $175 million last year from Tencent and Foxconn, valuing the company at $1.4 billion, may launch peer-to-peer payments within the app and provide a platform for making digital transactions such as recharges for mobile phone subscriptions.

The app is holding talks with an Indian bank to support the back end of the payments service. The messaging platform had said last November that it will look at integrating payments into the app and making the messenger a platform for making purchases from the app, a model which has a lot of resemblance with WeChat, the Chinese super-app backed by Tencent.

By launching payments, Hike would become the closest competitor to WhatsApp, which is planning to launch payments in India in the next six months.

The largest messaging app in the world, which considers India as its biggest market with over 200 million users, may also introduce payments based on UPI and BHIM. The government launched the BHIM-Aadhaar or Aadhaar Pay app that authenticates a customer's biometric details linked to his Aadhaar account through fingerprint scanner, thus doing away with the need to remember banking details.

The payment play of WhatsApp, Truecaller, Hike and even several wallet apps like Paytm and MobiKwik ties in with the government's structured move towards cashless transactions, while using or even without using the Internet.

When the payment service goes live, it could make Hike the largest UPI-based payment platform in the country.

16.4.17

Global Entrepreneur Index 2017


The top nations ranked according to the Global Entrepreneurship Index 2017. Compiled by US-based Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute, it looks at how countries allocate resources to promoting entrepreneurship.

India is ranked 69th

BJP National Executive in Odisha


Breaking security protocol, Prime Minister Narendra Modi mingled with crowds as he embarked on a road show soon after landing at the Biju Patnaik airport, en route to the BJP national executive meet.

Chants of `Modi' filled the air as the PM made his way from the airport to the Raj Bhavan and then to the venue of the meet at Janta Maidan, standing on the footrest of his Range Rover for the better part of the 8 km journey .

During the one-hour journey, Modi constantly waved to the people who had lined up on both sides of the route despite the scorching sun to cheer him. Overlooking all security paraphernalia, Modi even allowed some to take selfies with him.

Modi was greeted by the BJP brass at the airport. Modi garlanded portraits of noted Odia icons such as Madhusudan Das, Gopabandhu Das, Gangadhar Meher and Krushna Chandra Gajapati. When state BJP members greeted Modi, a musical composition by the late Raghunath Panigrahi was played amid the beating of `Ghanta', a traditional musical instrument.

The enthusiastic crowd who waited for two to three hours for the PM's arrival summed up the mood, which could be heartening for the saffron cadre in the state where the party won just one of 21 Lok Sabha seats and 10 of 147 assembly seats in 2014. Acknowledging the warmth shown to him, Modi tweeted, “Landed in Odisha to a memorable welcome. Gratitude to the people for the warmth...“

After finishing second to BJD in the recent panchayat polls, state BJP members are optimistic to emerge an alter native to the BJD government, which is in its fourth term.And the party banks immensely on the credibility quotient of Modi on account of the government's pro-poor schemes, including Ujjawala, and measures like demonetisation.

Rumblings in AAP?!

Senior AAP functionary Kumar Vishwas has created a stir by unploading a video on Twitter which directly criticises the AAP government and chief minister Arvind Kejriwal without naming them. In the course of a 13-minute address to countrymen, in which he spoke on a range of issues -from Kashmir to Pakistan -he has virtually indicted the government for trying to protect its own when they come under the corruption scanner. “If in Delhi you form a government on the anti-corruption plank with the promise of freedom from corruption and fall silent and try to protect your own people when they come under the scanner, you will be questioned by people,“ he says.

However, the party is maintaining its composure in public and has described it as a measure of democracy within. Kejriwal even tweeted the video, describing it as “shaandaar“ and one which shakes you up from within.

Vishwas further said, “My message is clear. I have said country first, politics later. I don't want to say anything beyond that. Each is free to interpret the message his own way .“ He did point out that AAP had tweeted his video message from the official twitter handle though much after it had created a stir on social media.

India too poor for Snapchat

Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel said India is too poor a country to expand its business to, a former employee of the company has alleged in a lawsuit.

The former employee, Anthony Pompliano, alleges that the comment was made in a 2015 meeting discussing user growth, where Spiegel reportedly said, “This app is only for rich people. I don't want to expand into poor countries like India and Spain.“ Variety magazine reported the comment earlier this week, when Pompliano's allegations against the company were made public.

Snapchat is an ephemeral photo and video-sharing app.Here, pictures and videos posted publicly or sent to a recipient vanish within a defined number of seconds. In the last quarter of 2016, the company claimed having 161 million daily active users. Pompliano sued the company in January this year, challenging the growth numbers it claimed, saying Snap Inc. has been misleading its investors. He worked at the company for three weeks before being fired.

14.4.17

Operation Clean Money 2.0

After getting poor response to the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, an income declaration scheme, the Income-tax department has again launched the second phase of operation ‘Clean Money’ to detect black money post-demonetisation; by issuing notices to 60,000 entities including 1,300 high-risk persons. IT Department detected Rs.9334 crore undisclosed income post-demonetisation till Feb 28 said CBDT.

A senior officer said advanced data analytics has been used to identify suspect cash deposits before launching the latest edition of the operation. As part of the first phase of the ‘Operation Clean Money’, launched on January 31 this year, the department had sent online queries and investigated 17.92 lakh persons out of which 9.46 lakh persons have responded to the department. Several locations were raided in Delhi. 200 Shell companies were detected and most of them converted black money.

By this move, the IT department aims to catch hold of tax evaders who could have deposited large sums during the demonetization drive. While the first phase of the so-called Operation Clean Money scrutinized cash deposits of over ~10 lakh, the second phase will examine deposits between Rs.5 lakh and Rs.10 lakh. A data analytics firm has already started the analysis of such cash deposits made during demonetisation drive.

The data analytics firm has been analysing the deposits in bank accounts before and after November 8 last year — the day the government decided to junk 86 per cent of the currency in circulation. this exercise will also attempt to link individuals with multiple accounts or PAN numbers who have deposited large sums of money. The I-T Department has begun analysing accounts which show a pattern of deposits or have some common linkage like common address, PAN, telephone number, email address or name.

While standalone deposits are not under scrutiny right now, IT department is also likely to ignore deposits below five lakhs. In this phase people who deposited unaccounted cash in denominations of Rs.500 and Rs.1000.

Somewhere in Telangana....


Bypoll results


India shining a lot more!



US space agency NASA released new global night time images of the Earth including a detailed view of India and its surroundings that show how patterns of human settlement changed across the country between 2012 and 2016. The two images show how cities have grown and patterns of human settlements have changed across the country during those years.

Exports grow at a 5-year high: March 2017


India's exports grew 27.6% in March, the fastest pace in five years on the back of rising shipments of petroleum products, engineering goods and marine products. Exports rose to $29.2 billion compared to $22.9 billion in March 2016. However, overall exports during 2016-17 rose 4.7% to $274.6 billion compared with $262.3 billion in the previous year. This has been a difficult year for the country's exports given the sluggish global economic environment.

Trade deficit in March, rose to a four-month high of $10.4 billion largely due to surge in gold imports. Imports rose 45.3% to $39.7 billion, while gold imports soared to $4.17 billion during the month compared with $973.45 million in March 2016.


Women can retain their maiden names on passports

Indian women will not have to change their names on passports after marriage. They don't have to produce a marriage or divorce certificate to get a passport. In addition, they can give either their father's or mother's name on the passport, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressing businesswomen at an event in Mumbai. “From now onwards, women will not have to change their names in the passport after their marriage,“ Modi told a gathering of the Indian Merchants Chambers' ladies wing over video conferencing.

These rules were actually announced in December 2016, as a result of recommendations made by a parliamentary panel. Women were expected to change their status on their passports after marriage by submitting their marriage certificate. This would also entail a change of name.The new rules, in place since December 2016, have done away with this requirement.

Muslims support CJI on Ayodhya

Days after Chief Justice of India J S Khehar suggested to resolve the Ayodhya dispute through dialogue, a section of Muslims have welcomed the idea, but with a condition. They have said that Muslims should forgo the claim on the disputed land in Ayodhya provided the Hindu organizations give an undertaking in the Supreme Court that the status quo of all the religious sites across the country be maintained as on August 15, 1947.

The new thinking in the community is driven by a desire to settle the dispute once and for all and enter a new era of Hindu-Muslim unity.

The community favours negotiations under the supervision of the Supreme Court. Islamic scholar Zeenat Shaukat Ali said that Muslims would only follow a famous tradition of the Prophet if they climb down from their demand.

Urdu commentator Hasan Kamaal too endorsed the idea of a dialogue. “After solving this dispute, no organization should raise the issue of taking back any other mosque,“ he said.

13.4.17

Indo-Israel Drip Irrigation Project In Dindigul

A drive down Israel's countryside is an eye-opener. Lush agriculture fields nestle amid the desert that covers at least 60% of the country. But, slowly, the harsh terrain is giving way to fields.This is a remarkable feat, considering that the country, tiny though, gets just 300 mm average rainfall every year. In contrast, India is experiencing its second consecutive drought year and many parts of the country, including Tamil Nadu, are facing an acute drinking water crisis.Incidentally, the annual average rainfall of Tamil Nadu is 1,500 mm.

Head of Israel's Agency for International Development Cooperation Gil Haskel has been quoted as saying that the most productive region in horticulture in Israel is perennially drought-prone. There is no correlation, he said, between drought and the ability to have a good harvest. India is now taking lessons from Israel, a path breaker in water conservation methods that are being borrowed by bigger and developed nations.

Micro or drip irrigation is ushering in a green revolution in Israel. Water is always in constant demand in the country with the availability of natural or fresh water just not sufficient. So Israel abandoned the traditional flood irrigation method and launched major water conservation initiatives. Today, at least 60% of its water needs are either from desalinated or recycled waste water. But the water revolution of Israel did not stop with just quenching the thirst of its citizens.

Israel's entrepreneurs went a step further. Over the years, they perfected their irrigation systems and made it a global business. They now sell drip irrigation technology to India and Africa and help farmers here grow quality crops with less water.

In the vegetable belt of Reddiyarchatram village, 16 km from Dindigul, a southern town in Tamil Nadu, the state government's horticulture project officer K Srinivasan oversees a Centre of Excellence, an Indo-Israel collaborative project. Fully funded by the Centre, the Rs.10.18 crore initiative is creating more than a buzz in the parched region. Here, the centre showcases vegetable cultivation in poly green and insect-proof net houses using drip irrigation.

Israel has helped India set up nine such centres across the country, with one more in Tamil Nadu -in Thali, Krishnagiri district -where flowers are grown. The Union government has sanctioned 26 such CoEs in all.

Subburaj Govindasamy, a farmer of Sellakuttiyur village, 30 km from Dindigul town, said he was happy with the Israeli takeaway. He visited the CoE three years ago. “I used to grow guavas. But, with the new technology, and poly houses I am growing cucumbers. I got a yield of 1.2 lakh kg,“ he said. Kerala is a huge market for his cucumbers that is sold at the big Ottanchatram market in the south. “I found that the water I used for one acre, earlier following the traditional method, can irrigate five acres now with these new technologies,“ said the 69-year old economics graduate, who has a one-acre holding in his hamlet and one acre in Sundarapuri taken care of by his son Ramesh.

Laid along a row of crops, a hose with holes positioned directly above the roots provides just the right amount of water, ensuring little wastage. The drippers that regulate the water flow are placed behind the holes.Farmers in Israel who began to manufacture these pipelines worked on improving the technology. They made the drippers more sophisticated and connected the pipelines to computers to regulate the water with precision.

“Drip irrigation is the world's most advanced technology. In flood irrigation, more than 70% water gets wasted, whereas in the drip irrigation system, there is 95% water efficiency ,“ said Counsellor -Science and Agriculture at Israel's International Development Cooperation Dan Alluf, who is based in New Delhi. Israel was keen on working with India on a larger platform, he said. On transferring agri technologies to paddy crop cultivation, which is Tamil Nadu's mainstay , Alluf said, “Our Indian partner should lead us, tell us what is required.

IIP contracts 1.2%, retail inflation rises


Retail inflation inched up to a five-month high in March on the back of higher fuel prices, while industrial output contracted to a four-month low, posing fresh challenges for policymakers.

Inflation, as measured by the consumer price index, rose an annual 3.8% in March, faster than previous month's 3.7%. While food prices remained calm, fruits, sugar and confectionary showed signs of firmness.

Industrial output fell 1.2% year-on-year in February compared with 1.9% growth in the same month last year. During April-February, industrial output rose 0.4% compared with an increase of 2.6% in April-February 2015-16. The surprise contraction in February came against the backdrop of a rebound in January as the sector emerged from demonetisation.

The industrial output data has remained volatile, triggering calls for revamping the methodology . Economists said the February numbers were disappointing. 

Fuel prices set to change daily


Petrol and diesel prices will be revised daily in five cities: Chandigarh, Udaipur, Visakhapatnam, Puducherry and Jamshedpur, from May 1 as a pilot run before a countrywide roll out. While daily revisions are expected to take the sting out of price hikes as they would be in small doses, the move has the potential to set off a price war that would give public sector retailers a chance to match private firms who have been exploiting a free market in times of low oil prices.Till the system is in place countrywide, public sector retailers will continue tweaking prices on the 15th and last day of each month in all other places.

The end of Five Year Plans

Five-year plan, a relic of Nehru-era economic policy, will officially be buried as Niti Aayog's governing council is likely to approve the government's new policy document : three-year action plan (2017-2020). The government had announced that it would junk the decades-old practice of five-year plans after the 12th Plan ended on March 31, and replace it with three-year action plan and 15-year vision document. It will also come out with a seven-year strategy paper.

BJP dispensation's first key policy document related to planning needs approval of Niti Aayog's high-powered governing council, which is headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and has all chief ministers, administrators of Union Territories and senior cabinet ministers as members.

The government's premier think tank has forwarded the key document to the Prime Minister's Office for final vetting. The action plan is aimed at accelerating economic growth and making it more inclusive by focusing on employment generation.

The action plan is likely to take into account the impact of demonetisation on the economy , especially on informal sector. The three-year action plan will not contain revenue projection for 2017-18, though it will have details for 2018-19 and 2019-20.

The Aayog is also working on the 15-year vision document and seven-year strategy paper which will guide the government's development works till 2030. As per the plan, the vision document will be reviewed every three years, with the first appraisal in 2019-20, when the next Finance Commission award is implemented.

As the 14th Finance Commission recommendations have altered the revenue sharing pattern in favour of states, the Centre is expected to focus more on transformative ideas.

In the new system, the allocations of funds to states will be linked to achieving targets specified for each sector. The Modi government had abolished the Planning Commission, which was set up by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1950, in 2014 and replaced it with Niti Aayog.

12.4.17

An overbridge over Sabarmati


The Sabarmati riverfront is all set to get a swanky foot overbridge across the river that will connect lower and upper promenades on the east and west banks. The steel bridge's design has received the nod from the Sabarmati Riverfront Development Corporation Limited.

The overbridge, which will cost roughly Rs.70 crore, will draw inspiration from the theme of kites and the celebration of Uttrayan. Even the colours chosen reflect the hues of kites. The overbridge will be a combination of steel and glass and will be protected on all sides.

Apart from the overbridge, the SRFDCL is also creating a biodiversity and meditation park. The AMC had announced recently that a medicinal plants park, a butterfly park, and a meditation park would be established.

11.4.17

Bengal gets India's largest coal mine

Bengal is set to develop India's largest coal mine in Birbhum district, with the Centre allotting the development rights for the Deocha-Pachami coal block to the state under the government route.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee said that her government was drawing up a Rs.12,000-crore plan to develop the block, which would create one lakh jobs and usher in rapid economic development in the area.

Addressing a public function at Kenduli on January 18, 2016, the chief minister had said the block will produce coal worth Rs.2.10 lakh crore and attract total investments of Rs.22,000 crore. The block is located in the southwestern part of Birbhum coalfields, adjoining the Dewanganj block. It is spread over an area of 9.7 sq km and estimated to have in-place reserves of 2,102 million tonnes.

The block was originally offered jointly to West Bengal, Bihar, Punjab, UP , Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Sutlej Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd. None, however, showed any interest in developing the block in the last three years or so, prompting Mamata to seek sole operatorship.

The Centre responded to Mamata's demand by setting up an inter-ministerial committee to examine her proposal. After two years of deliberations, the Centre has now agreed to allow Bengal to develop the mine.

Mamata has already put in place a SPV - Bengal Birbhum Coalfields Ltd -for developing the block. Her government is now expected to appoint a mine developer and operator to start mining.The land acquisition issue is, however, yet to be sorted out.

Bengal will get the largest share of 584 million tonnes of coal from the block, followed by Bihar which has a share of 486 million tonnes.

The block has four seams of coal ranging from 9 metres to 80 metres in thickness at depths ranging from 135 metres to 835 metres. The ash content of coal is estimated at 15-20%, which covers Grades A, B C, D and G.The block can be accessed through the Panagarh-Mourigram road and the nearest railway station is Mallarpur.

Shimla gets its first ropeway


The tourist town of Shimla got its first ropeway as chief minister Virbhadra Singh inaugurated the Rs.40-crore Jakhu ropeway project. Now one can reach the Jakhu temple from the Ridge in around five minutes.

Till now, one had to either walk up a steep climb of about 40 minutes to an hour to reach the temple from the Ridge or take a taxi ride. While one side fare of the ropeway for adults has been fixed at Rs.300, the charge would be Rs.550 for a round trip. The fare for children would be Rs.250 for one side and Rs.450 for both sides.

In July 2007, Virbhadra had laid the foundation stone of this project. It took 10 years for the project to complete as it got mired in mutliple issues, including certain environmental reasons and forest clearances.

Constructed by Jagsons International Limited, the project would facilitate visitors a smooth ride to the famous Hanuman temple at Jakhu. Built on public private partnership model, the company will give Rs.57 lakh as dividend via tourism department to the government in its first year and 15% of the collection money every year thereafter .

All the cabins and ropes were imported from Switzerland and one cable car costs around Rs.15 lakh.

India, Oz sign 6 pacts




Delhi and Canberra sought to provide a boost to trade and security ties in a meeting between PM Narendra Modi and his visiting Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull even as the much awaited free trade agreement remained elusive.

The two countries signed six agreements, including one for expanding counter-terrorism cooperation, but could not conclude negotiations for Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement which they have been negotiating

The discussions also veered around energy with Turnbull saying that Australia is ready to supply uranium to India as soon as possible. The two countries had signed a civil nuclear cooperation three years ago but the actual supply has not yet commenced in the absence of any commercial contract.

Modi said Australia is ready to export uranium to India with the passage of a legislation in the Australian Parliament with bi partisan support.

A joint statement issued after the talks said Modi and Turnbull reiterated their support for continued bilateral nuclear cooperation and that they anticipated commercial export of Australian uranium to India could begin soon.

In the talks, Turnbull noted Australia's strong support for India's membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The Australian side also expressed its support for India's membership of the Australia Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement, the two export control regimes.

Resolving to deepen maritime cooperation, the two prime ministers recognised that India and Australia share common interests in ensuring maritime security and the safety of sea lines of communication.

India is 4th largest aviation market


India's record breaking aviation growth continues unabated. The International Air Transport Association said the country saw the fourth highest number of passengers taking off in 2016, up two places from the previous year overtaking UK and Brazil.

India had 13.1 crore passengers taking off -including domestic, international and connecting -last year. Globally, IATA says, 380 crore passengers took off last year (half domestic, 35% international and 15% connecting), up from 350 crore in 2015. The top three markets -US, China and Japan -remained unchanged but there was a shakeup below with India a part of this upheaval.

The big movers on this year's rankings are the key emerging markets of India and Indonesia. India has jumped up two places to the fourth ranking with 13.1 crore departures in 2016 and, with growth of 20% year-on-year, continues to close in fast on Japan. Just three years ago India held the eighth ranking. Indonesia also moved up two positions in 2016, to the sixth spot.

At this rate, India will so on be at the third spot in terms of number of passengers taking-off by overtaking Japan. In total passenger terms, India saw 15.2 crore passengers flying in 2016, with 9.9 crore flying within the country and 5.3 internationally. IATA's take-off numbers are at 13.1 crore as it include 9.9 crore domestic flyers, 2.7 crore people flying out of India and only a part of the 2.6 crore international flyers coming to India, who took off to take more flights last year.

However, the growth is coming amid an infra crunch -especially at busy metro airports -that is getting worse by the day due to the over 20% rise in traffic that India has been witnessing on a month-on-month basis for almost two years now .Air traffic congestion has made hovering common at Delhi and Mumbai. These two airports hardly have any free slots available for new flights, with Mumbai completely choked.

The Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation had recently said India had become the third largest domestic air travel market globally with more people flying here within the country last year than Japan, pushing the “land of the rising sun“ to number four spot. India's 9.9 crore domestic flyers in 2016 were more than the 9.7 crore in Japan.

LS OKs Motor Bill with hefty fines

The Lok Sabha has passed the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill which seeks to reduce crashes, deaths and injuries on roads and bring reforms in road transport sector. The proposed legislation, which will go to the Rajya Sabha for its approval, has provisions of making stringent penalties for traffic violations, checking fake driving licences and introducing measures to protect good samaritans.

The bill also has provisions of making vehicle-makers responsible for design defects, recall of faulty vehicles and also holding road owning and maintenance agencies or contractors accountable for road deaths and injuries on account of flaws on their part. Such agencies will have to cough up fines up to Rs.1 lakh as fine.

While most provisions were largely welcomed by members, there were reservations about government indirectly putting a cap on insurance compensation where victims or their kin agree to Rs.5 lakh for death and Rs.2.5 lakh for grievous injuries.In these cases, they can't pursue the case in Motor Vehicles Claims Tribunal. This has come under criticism from different quarters, though government claims in more than 70% cases the average compensation awarded by the tribunal is less than Rs.5 lakh.

Road transport minister Nitin Gadkari said those who don't accept the compensation offered by insurance companies will be free to pursue the case in MACT and in those cases the insurance companies will pay the entire award amount.

Gadkari said it would not be possible to increase the third party compensation in case of death to Rs.20 lakh as it would entail substantial hike in insurance premium.

Annually, at least 5 lakh road crashes take place claiming around 1.5 lakh lives.

Replying to the debate, the minister assured the members that his ministry would make all efforts to eliminate corruption in the transport sector.

10.4.17

EC nixes TN bypoll for voter bribery

The Election Commission has decided to postpone indefinitely the bypoll to the R K Nagar constituency, scheduled on April 12, attributing its late-evening decision to rampant voter bribing and corruption.

The by-election to fill the vacancy in R K Nagar “shall be held by the commission in due course when the vitiating effect created by the distribution of money and gift items to allure the electors gets removed with the passage of time and the atmosphere in the constituency becomes conducive to holding of free and fair election“, said a 29-page statement signed by chief election commissioner Nasim Zaidi and his two associates, election commissioners A K Joti and O P Rawat.

EC's sudden decision also came two days after income tax sleuths launched extensive searches and raids at the residence and several premises of state health minister C Vijayabaskar across Tamil Nadu. I-T officials told media representatives the raids helped uncover a major plot to bribe voters.The documents unearthed showed close to Rs.90 crore was distributed to voters in R K Nagar by AIADMK-Amma party, which fielded T T V Dhinakaran.

In its elaborate justification of its decision, the commission said considering its duty “of conducting free and fair elections and upholding the purity of election and after taking into account all relevant facts and circumstances of the case“, it is fully satisfied that the current electoral process in R K Nagar had been seriously vitiated.

This was on account of unlawful activities of the candidates and political parties and their workers who bribed the electors and unlawfully induced them by offering money and other gifts of consumable items to woo them in their favour.

Gujarat gets new NSG hub

A crack team of National Security Guard commandos has been permanently posted at its newest hub in Gujarat by the central government. This is the fifth hub of the counter-terrorism force in the country; other bases were created in Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, and Chennai after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

The new hub, operationalized recently near Gandhinagar, has been tasked with securing the entire western flank of the country from Gujarat to Rajasthan. About 100 commandos of the counter terror and counter-hijack squads of the NSG have been based at the hub. The commandos are currently operating from a Gujarat Police facility.

They were first sent to Gujarat last year in March after intelligence inputs indicated a possible terror strike in the state. The facilities at the permanent hub, on a 1.33 lakh sq m land near the Randesan village in Gandhinagar, will be enhanced soon and a proposal to equip the centre with commando training facilities, living barracks, and other logistics is in progress

The Centre, a few years ago, had proposed to create the latest hub of the elite black cat commandos force in Gujarat as it shares a 512.km land border with Pakistan and has 1,640 km coastline. It is foreseen that in case of a terror threat or attack to locations in Gujarat and Rajasthan, the commandos can be airlifted or deployed for action in quick time from here.

The nearby hub in Mumbai could supplement its efforts in case the challenge erupts at two-three different locations at once.The Gujarat government, after handing over the land to the NSG for the hub last year, had said while the market value of the plot is more than Rs.470 crore, it was giving it to the Centre at a token cost of just Rs.1. The main garrison for the commando force is in Manesar in Gurgaon, near the national capital. Creating NSG hubs in all the four corners of the country was aimed at rushing in the commandos for any counter-terror and counter-hijack operations in quick time.

The response time taken by the commando force for countering the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008 had come under criticism and therefore the government had decided to station the commandos at various locations so that crucial time was not lost in transit. The NSG was raised in 1984 as a federal contingency force to counter terrorist activities.

Of the need to increase Parliamentary Seats....

President Pranab Mukherjee has said India needs to consider increasing the number of parliamentary seats without delay. According to him, the current scenario of just 545 MPs representing 1.28 billion people is clearly anomalous. Here's a quick look at countries with the highest population-per-seat ratio...


RSS Chief Condemns Violence by Cow Vigilantes


RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat condemned violence by cow protection groups, saying their activities were belittling the cause. Bhagwat, however, made it clear that he favoured a law banning cow slaughter across India. Bhagwat's comments came against the backdrop of the lynching of a Muslim man by cow vigilantes in Alwar in BJP-ruled Rajasthan, an incident that had sparked protests from opposition parties.

Speaking on the occasion of Mahavir Jayanti, Bhagwat said as a veterinary doctor he was aware of a `desi' cow's utility, including the usefulness of its urine and dung, and said these benefits were accepted by even scientific bodies now. He said non-violence was an essential part of Mahavir's teachings and that only this principle can unite the Indian society that had people of different faiths and behaviour.

Calling cow slaughter a “vice“ that needs to be removed, Bhagwat pitched for stepping up cow protection efforts across the country by making people aware of the issue and engaging them in those activities. He, however, said these activities should be in compliance with the law and Constitution. 

9.4.17

India & Bangladesh....




PM Narendra Modi promised an early solution to the vexed Teesta water dispute with Bangladesh. “I firmly believe that it is only my government and excellency Sheikh Hasina, your government, that can and will find an early solution to Teesta water sharing,“ he told the visiting Bangladeshi PM, who is a staunch ally against terrorism.

Given that Hasina faces polls in 2018, Modi's statement has been interpreted to mean that a Teesta pact may be a reality within months. Mamata Banerjee, prime opposition to the pact, was present and had a quiet dinner with Hasina and President Pranab Mukherjee raising hopes of a breakthrough. A joint statement said the two sides would start negotiations on sharing waters of the Feni, Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla and Dudhkumar rivers.

However, within hours, Mamata flagged her concern, saying a water-sharing pact would lead to water crisis in north Bengal.

India has positioned itself as Bangladesh's premier development partner, investing in the country's development and prosperity .

The two nations signed 22 pacts and India extended a $ 4.5 bn line of credit. They also reaffirmed an old alliance--one that had helped liberate Bangladesh. As Hasina honoured seven Indian soldiers who lay down their lives in 1971, the significance of the gesture was not lost on anyone. In his statement, Modi said, “Every Indian takes pride in the knowledge that Indian soldiers and `vir muktijodha' fought together to liberate Bangladesh from the reign of terror.“ India openly celebrated its role in Bangladesh's war of liberation, as well as much closer relations with Bangladesh, described as “exceptional ... fraternal relationship“ by foreign secretary S Jaishankar.

The two countries signed five defence cooperation agreements, including a $500 million line of credit for defence purchases from India. The defence framework agreement is an enabling pact for all others. India and Bangladesh also signed a civil nuclear agreement. India will play a supporting role in training and supplying components when Bangladesh buys its first nuclear reactor from Russia.

Connectivity was one of the main themes of the summit. India also announced a $4.5 billion line of credit, for which both countries have already identified 17 new projects, including development of three ports (Payra, Mongla and Chittagong), railway and roads.The other key MoUs inked were on passenger and cruise services on the coastal and protocol route, cooperation on cyber security and cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space.

India and Bangladesh came out strongly against terrorism. A joint statement issued reiterated the “strong commitment to combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, and stressed that there can be no justification whatsoever for any act of terror. ... the fight against terrorism should not only seek to disrupt and eliminate terrorists, terror organisations and networks, but should also identify, hold accountable and take strong measures against states and entities which encourage, support and finance terrorism, provide sanctuary to terrorists and terror groups, and falsely extol their virtues“.

“We in India rejoice in our ties with Bangladesh.Ties that have been forged in blood and generations of kinship. Ties that seek a better and secure future for our people,“ Modi said at the joint media event with Hasina. The two countries also agreed to confront challenges of terrorism with deeper security and defence cooperation with Modi terming spread of radicalism as a “grave threat“, not only to the two countries but to the entire region.

8.4.17

Modi receives Bangladesh PM at airport

Prime minister Narendra Modi broke protocol to receive Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina at the airport this morning, signaling the importance of the visit as well as the relationship. It was the first time Modi made this exception for a neighborhood leader, having done so for former US president Barack Obama and recently, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. Modi also traveled to the airport in normal traffic rather than following VIP protocol, which was just as unusual as the fact that he spent time with Bangladeshi journalists and Hasina's staff, even taking selfies with them.

Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj called on Sheikh Hasina afternoon to reaffirm India's commitment to Bangladesh. Saturday will be the official part of the visit, beginning with a ceremonial reception at the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan, followed by a wreath laying at Rajghat. The two sides will go into delegation level talks and launch of new bus and train services between India and Bangladesh.

Sheikh Hasina in a special “shommanona“ ceremony will honour those Indian soldiers who had fought in the Bangladesh war and been killed in action. This comes after her decision to honour the Indian civilians who had worked and made a difference during the 1971 war.

On Saturday, Hasina will also have occasion to meet with and talk with Mamata Banerjee, CM of West Bengal who is the single obstacle to a Teesta water sharing pact.

On Sunday, Hasina will offer prayers at Ajmer, before returning to Delhi for a meeting with President Pranab Mukherjee who will host a dinner in her honour. On Monday she will be felicitated by a think tank, India Foundation and address Indian business leaders to solicit investment in Bangladesh before leaving for home.

Mumbai's coastal road Phase I gets green clearance


The coastal road cleared its last major hurdle, after the Union environment ministry's expert committee approved work on the first phase of the total 29.22-km road connecting Marine Drive to Kandivli. Work on the Marine Drive-Bandra stretch is likely to begin in October and be completed in four years.

The expert appraisal committee of the ministry of environment, forest and climate change gave conditional approval to the first phase of the coastal road. The minutes will be sent to the ministry which will issue the notification. Municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta said work on the coastal road will start from mid-October.

In the first phase, the BMC will build a 10 km toll-free road between Marine Drive and the Worli end of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link. Plans for the second phase are still being discussed.

The eight-lane road will have four interchanges, all with double-decker ramps. The interchanges will encourage motorists travelling shorter distances to use the coastal road, which will, in turn, help decongest the city's internal roads. Sources said when complete, the entire coastal road can be covered in around half an hour, assuming a speed of 80 km per hour.

The coastal road project required around two dozen approvals, but the BMC struggled to get environmental clearance from the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority and the MoEF . Both had reservations over destruction of mangroves to construct the road but finally agreed on certain conditions, which include depositing 2% of the project's total cost to conserve coastal and marine biodiversity.

The BMC is yet to get two `technical permissions', one from the traffic police to transport materials and another from the state government which is the default owner of any reclaimed land. The BMC is expediting tenders for the first phase, work for which has been divided into three parts.