Motown: November 2017

The sales of automobiles showed an impressive growth across segments in the month of November due to a low base as the year-ago period had witnessed demonetisation of high-value currency notes.

The cumulative vehicle sales across categories registered a rise of 24.05% during November in comparison to the corresponding period last year.

The note ban announced in November affected the industry for several weeks, hitting demand as a significant percentage of purchases in semi-urban and rural areas are made in cash.

As per the statistics from automotive companies and SIAM, the passenger vehicle sales in India rose 14.29% on year to 275,417 units last month, helped by robust demand for utility vehicles as well as discounts. Car sales increased 4.49% to 181,395 units.

With the overall automobile sales, including PVs, commercial vehicles and two-wheelers recording a 9.29% growth during the April-November period this fiscal, SIAM expects the overall industry growth to be around 8-10% during the current financial year.

In the PV segment, Maruti Suzuki India posted a growth of 14.32% at 144,297 units, while rival Hyundai Motor India saw 9.98% growth at 44,008 units.

Mahindra & Mahindra also posted an increase of 21.66% at 15,990 units. Homegrown rival Tata Motors saw a growth of 38.14% at 18,832 units in November this year.

Total two-wheeler sales in November rose 23.49% to 1,535,277 units compared to 1,243,246 units in the year-ago month. Motorcycle sales increased by 23.25% to 959,122 units. Market leader Hero MotoCorp posted domestic sales of 510,749 units as against 414,709 units in the year-ago month, up 23.15%. Rival Bajaj Auto saw its bike sales rise 1.56% to 141,948 units. Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India's sales rose 56.13% to 150,420 units.

In the scooters segment, total sales last month were at 506,267 units, up 30.25%. Segment leader HMSI posted sales of 281,704 units as against 203,076, up 38.71%, while Chennai-based TVS Motor Co had sales of 76,084 units, a 9.06% jump. Hero MotoCorp's scooter sales were at 77,783 units last month as against 53,410, up 45.63% from last year.

Sales of commercial vehicles, which is witnessing a cyclic revival in recent times, witnessed an increase of 50.43% to 68,846 units.

Musi facelift plan

The detailed project report for Musi riverfront development project is being prepared. The project will be taken up in three phases at an estimate cost of Rs.1,500 crore.

A total of Rs.500 crore has been allocated for Musi riverfront development in the 2016-17 budget. Setting up storm water drains, sluice-gate at nala outlets, developing green spaces near Musi are a few of proposals in the DPR.

The Musi flowing near Chaderghat falls under the phase-one of the project.

The river from Osmansagar to Golnaka, covering a length of 33 km, falls under the first phase.

As of now, Musi lies in a pitiable condition, causing eyesore for citizens. One of the gates was also blocked earlier due to dumping of garbage. Another major issue with the Musi is discharge of sewage water into the water body.

On the other side of the city, commuters at Nagole Metro station also complained about the rancid smell arising from the Musi located near the station.

To put an end to the ongoing issue of foul smell, Musi Riverfront Development Corporation has proposed to set up sewage treatment plants.

STPs at three locations — 70 MLD (million litres per day) at Attapur, 30 MLD at Hydershahkote behind Golconda fort and 6 MLD at Miralam — will be set up.

Wherever there are open spaces near Musi, the civic body has proposed to set up parking facilities. The construction of 72 check dams is also a part of the project.

MRDC has been exclusively constituted in June for Musi development. The civic body aims to conserve Musi by creating green spaces along the riverfront.

2017 Legatum Prosperity Index

The gap between China and India’s prosperity has narrowed by four ranks since 2016 and to a quarter of what it was in 2012, according to the latest Legatum Prosperity Index, an annual ranking developed by the London-based Legatum Institute.

The upward trend in India’s prosperity is significant in view of the fact that India registered lower GDP growth following demonetisation and implementation of the GST reform in 2017. India closed in on China through gains in business environment, economic quality and governance, the report said.

The Legatum Institute applauded India for improving governance by legislation “that increased the ability to challenge regulation in the legal system”. The report attributed the gains in business environment and economic quality to improvement in intellectual property rights and massive rise in bank account holders.

The Prosperity Index determined by nine sub-indices — business environment, governance, education, health, safety and security, personal freedom, social capital and natural environment — is reviewed by a panel of academics from various disciplines and reputed schools like London School of Economics, Tufts University, Brookings Institution and University of California, San Diego.

In the 2017 Legatum Prosperity Index, based on 104 different variables analysed across 149 nations, India has significantly improved in the economic quality and education pillars. “More people are now satisfied with their standard of living and household incomes,” the report said.

China, according to the report, has lost out “economically as people perceived greater barriers to trade and less encouragement of competition; and educationally through a falling primary school completion rate”.

Overall, world prosperity increased in 2017 and now sits at its highest level in the last decade even as the world went through turbulence due to terrorism, war against Islamic State and displacement of massive number of people in West Asia and North Africa. The global prosperity is now 2.6% higher than in 2007. While prosperity improved around the world in 2017, no region grew as fast as Asia-Pacific.

The Asia-Pacific region, which includes China and India, registered greatest improvement in business environment and worst performance towards natural environment.

Rural India saw 22% rise in number of internet users in one year: Unicef

There has been a 22% increase in the number of internet users in rural India in just one year, says an Unicef study, which for the first time comprehensively looked at the different ways digital technology is affecting children’s lives across the world.

According to the report, despite children’s massive online presence — one in three internet users worldwide is a child — little is done to protect them from the perils and increase access to safe content.

A flagship report released on Monday, “State of World’s Children 2017: Children in a digital world,” says internet users in rural India saw a jump of 22% between between October 2015 and October 2016 to reach an estimated 157 million. Urban internet users grew by 7% during the same period to touch 263 million.

The report also explores benefits digital technology can offer to the most disadvantaged children, including those growing up in poverty or affected by humanitarian emergencies. But it also shows around one third — 346 million — are not online. African youth are the least connected, with around three out of five offline, compared to just one in 25 in Europe.

Dragon & Elephant can dance together

China’s foreign minister Wang Yi has said that friendship and good neighbourliness between India and China are far more important than “partial frictions” on the border. Speaking at a symposium on China’s diplomacy before leaving for New Delhi where he is attending the Russia-India-China meeting of foreign ministers, Wang said, “Both being big developing countries, China and India have far greater shared strategic interests than concrete differences, and far greater needs for cooperation than partial frictions.”

Wang specifically mentioned the 73-day border standoff at Doklam which ended last August. “China is also firm in upholding its sovereign rights and interests and territorial integrity. We handled Indian troops’ trespass into China’s Dong Lang area with restraint,” he said.

The Chinese minister met minister of external affairs Sushma Swaraj in New Delhi on Monday ahead of the RIC meeting. Russia has refrained to be drawn into border and other disputes between India and China, which is one reason why Wang has adopted a conciliatory posture, observers said.

The border settlement reached last August was a sign that a lot could be achieved through diplomatic means, he said. “This demonstrates not only the value and emphasis we put on relations with India but also our sincerity and sense of responsibility in maintaining peace and stability,” he said.

At the same time, Wang made it clear that it was Beijing, which has been taking the initiative to resolve differences with India. Wang even tried to paint the picture of “the Dragon and Elephant Dancing Together”, which symbolically refers to China and India, if the two countries are able to overcome their border differences promptly.

“We believe as long as we continue to engage in in-depth strategic communication, there will be a prospect of ‘the Dragon and the Elephant Dancing Together’ and ‘1+1=11’ effect as expected,” he said.

Rahul is now Congress chief

Though her influence will not fade completely, the curtain fell on the Sonia Gandhi era in Congress with her son and party vice-president Rahul Gandhi elected as party president with expectedly no other challenger in the fray.

Rahul was elected Congress president after a long suspense over just when he would grasp his family legacy. His elevation follows Sonia’s 19 years at the helm, the longest tenure in the party’s 132-year history, and comes at a time when the 2019 Lok Sabha elections are not too far off.

The Gandhi scion will formally assume the top post on December 16 — two days ahead of results to Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assembly elections which will set the tone for his initial stint in office. He will assume charge at a time when Congress has fought hard to regain its electoral touch, barring an exception like Punjab earlier this year, making the current round of elections significant. His immediate goal will be to get Congress battle-ready and lead it into the next national election. At 3.45 pm, Congress MP and returning officer for the election Mullapally Ramachandran told a press conference, “I hereby declare Rahul Gandhi elected as president of the Indian National Congress.”

The declaration sparked festivities and senior leaders descended on the Akbar Road headquarters to mark the event. Rahul, busy campaigning in Gujarat, tweeted, “A heartfelt thank you to everyone for the tremendous support and good wishes... It is an honour for me to work for the ideals of the Congress party and through it for our great country.”

Congress’s arch rival and PM Narendra Modi tweeted his congratulations and wished Rahul a “fruitful tenure”. The passing of baton from Sonia to Rahul marks an important chapter in Congress history as the issue of succession has been hanging fire for over three years when leaders started pressing for it vigorously amid indifferent health of the party chief. Rahul was elevated as Congress vicepresident in 2013 when he gave his famous “power is poison” speech.

With endless speculation finally settled, all eyes are on the future and how Rahul steers the party. While his start in the organisational role was beset with problems of generational clash with veterans who also questioned his experimental style of leadership, he has since tailored his functioning to emerge as more surefooted and accommodating.


Train mows down 5 elephants in Assam

Five elephants, including a pregnant one, were killed in the early hours of Sunday after a train hit a herd of seven tuskers at a tea garden in Sonitpur district. The incident took place at Bamgaon Tea Estate in the Chariduar police station area near Balipara at 1.30 am.

The herd was trying to cross railway tracks between the Rangapara and Dhalaibil stations when the Guwahati-Naharlagun Intercity Express hit them.

Four female elephants, including a pregnant one, and a male jumbo were killed on the spot. The premature unborn calf came out from its mother’s belly due to the massive impact. Forest officials were trying to locate the other two elephants, which were part of the herd. The dead elephants were cremated after post-mortem examination. Wild elephants often come out of the nearby Nameri National Park for food. In the last couple of days, a herd of around 70 strayed into the area near the accident site.


India gets entry in Wassenaar Arrangement

In a significant development, elite export control regime Wassenaar Arrangement has decided to admit India as its new member, which is expected to raise New Delhi's stature in the field of non-proliferation besides helping it acquire critical technologies.

The decision was taken at the two-day plenary meeting of the grouping in Vienna yesterday.

"Wassenaar Arrangement participating states reviewed the progress of a number of current membership applications and agreed at the plenary meeting to admit India which will become the Arrangement's 42nd participating state as soon as the necessary procedural arrangements for joining the WA are completed," the grouping said in a statement.

India's entry into the export control regime would enhance its credentials in the field of non-proliferation despite not being a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The WA membership is also expected to build up a strong case for India's entry into the 48-member Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Significantly, China, which stonewalled India's entry into the 48-nation NSG is not a member of the Wassenaar Arrangement.

The Wassenaar Arrangement plays a significant role in promoting transparency and greater responsibility in transfers of conventional arms and dual-use goods and technologies.

Its member countries are required to ensure that transfers of these items do not contribute to the development or enhancement of military capabilities which undermine these goals. The aim is also to prevent the acquisition of these items by terrorists.

In June last year, India joined the Missile Technology Control Regime, another key export control regime, as a full member.

Since its civil nuclear deal with the US, India has been trying to get into export control regimes such as the NSG, the MTCR, the Australia Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement that regulate the conventional, nuclear, biological and chemicals weapons and technologies.

FRDI Bill: Depositors to Get Extra Protection

The Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill, 2017 goes beyond the current provisions to provide greater protection to depositors, the finance ministry has said defending the Bill that has raised apprehensions in some quarters.

The statement follows concerns regarding “bail-in” provisions of the Bill.

“The provisions contained in the FRDI Bill, as introduced in the Parliament, do not modify present protections to the depositors adversely at all. They provide rather additional protections to the depositors in a more transparent manner,” the statement said clarifying the provisions.

Introduced in the Lok Sabha on August 10, the Bill is presently under the consideration of a joint committee of Parliament, which is consulting all the stakeholders on the provisions of the proposed legislation. The claim of depositors will be further strengthened as the FRDI Bill raises the order of priority for uninsured deposits above than unsecured creditors, central and state governments, a government official said.

“The objective of the Government is to fully protect the interest of the financial institutions and the depositors. The Government stands committed to this objective,” finance minister Arun Jaitley had tweeted.

At present, bank depositors can be only protected to a limit of Rs.1 lakh by the guarantee of Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation, and remaining deposits over ₹.1 lakh are treated at par with claims of unsecured creditors, and in the event of liquidation of a bank, such depositor claims are only paid after preferential payments are made.

The FRDI Bill seeks establishment of a Resolution Corporation for protection of consumers. Deposit insurance powers and responsibilities will be transferred to the Resolution Corporation.

“The FRDI Bill is far more depositor friendly than many other jurisdictions, which provide for statutory bail-in, where consent of creditors / depositors is not required for bail-in,” the finance ministry’s statement observed.

“Equity will absorb losses first and then subordinated debt will be bailed-in. The other liabilities including deposits maybe bailed in only after this,” the official said, adding that in case of injudicious exercise of bail-in, the National Company Law Tribunal may direct the Resolution Corporation to pay compensation to depositors. The FRDI Bill also mandates that the Resolution Corporation to send a report to the central government explaining the reasons why a bail-in instrument was required.

The ministry further noted that the Bill does not propose in any way to limit the scope of powers for the government to extend financing and resolution support to banks, including public sector banks.

“The government’s implicit guarantee for Public Sector Banks remains unaffected,” it said adding that banks have adequate capital and are also under prudent regulation and supervision to ensure safety and soundness, as well as systemic stability.

“The FRDI Bill will strengthen the system by adding a comprehensive resolution regime that will help ensure that, in the rare event of failure of a financial service provider, there is a system of quick, orderly and efficient resolution in favour of depositors,” the ministry 

States of Growth


UP gets an investors summit

RBI keeps rates on hold

The Reserve Bank of India’s Monetary Policy Committee voted to keep rates on hold, citing inflation and improved growth prospects for the economy. The MPC said in its statement that, while inflation was expected to be marginally more than envisaged in October 2017, growth as measured by gross value added would improve to 7% and 7.8% in Q3-FY18 and Q4-FY18 respectively.

As a result of MPC’s decision, the policy repo rate (the rate at which RBI lends to banks) remains unchanged at 6% and the reverse repo rate at 5.75%. In its fifth bi-monthly policy statement, the RBI said several significant recent developments augur well for growth. However, banks need to buttress them by passing on earlier rate cuts to borrowers.

Besides nudging banks, the RBI also eased funding for top corporates by allowing Indian banks to refinance external commercial borrowings of AAA-rated corporates and top public sector units classified as Navratnas and Maharatnas through their overseas offices.

In its policy, the RBI has raised its inflation forecast by 10 basis points from its earlier range of 4.2-4.6% to 4.3-4.7%.

Although actual growth in the second quarter has turned out to be 0.3 percentage points lower than RBI’s forecast, the policy has focused on the improved growth prospects and retained its GVA forecast for FY18 at 6.7% with risks evenly balanced. Among the positive developments, the RBI has highlighted the pickup in bank credit, surge in initial public offerings, improvement in ease of doing business and movement in the resolution of bad loans.

The RBI’s decision to keep rates on hold also appears to have been influenced by steady inflation expectations. In the MPC, all three members from the RBI — governor Patel, deputy governor Viraj Acharya, and executive director Michael Patra voted to hold rates. Of the external members, Chetan Ghate and Pami Dua supported the RBI view, while Ravindra H Dholakia voted for a policy rate reduction of 25 bps.

According to the RBI, inflation, which was seen to be easing in the first quarter of FY18, has by and large reversed and there is a risk that this upward trajectory may continue in the near term. The other factors that would push up prices in the second half were a delayed impact of the increase in housing rent allowance for government employees and the decision of oil-producing countries to impose cuts.

HC upholds Rera

In a victory for home buyers, the Bombay high court has upheld the constitutional validity of the Real Estate (regulation and development) Act and its applicability to ongoing projects across states. The law intends to make home-buying a transparent and speedy transaction with powers of redressal.

The judgment, however, offered a breather to builders too. It expanded the Rera authority’s powers to grant more time in exceptional cases to a builder to complete a project. The additional time is meant to be granted in compelling circumstances on a case-by-case basis.

A division bench of Justices Naresh Patil and R G Ketkar gave separate but concurrent findings. The extension would go beyond the statutory one-year extension after the deadline for completion, which the Act requires the project’s promoter to mention during registration.

The HC pronouncement is the first such verdict in the country on challenges raised by builders in various high courts. The Supreme Court had in September tasked the Bombay HC to set the path while staying hearings in other courts on similar challenges.


Pune-Mumbai hyperloop snippets

The Pune Metropolitan Regional Development Authority, in collaboration with the United States-based Virgin Hyperloop One, has started a pre-feasibility study of the proposed hyperloop project for a speedy commute between Pune and Mumbai. A team of Virgin Hyperloop One also visited Shivajinagar station to identify ideal areas for the hyperloop station, given this central location and its connectivity to different parts of the city.

A cutting-edge mode of transport, hyperloops carry passengers and freight in pods via electromagnetic propulsion through a low-pressure tube. The preliminary study is intended to analyse the benefits of the technology, and identify high-priority routes and socio-economic benefits, the report of which is to be submitted to the state government within the next six weeks.

Before identifying the places, a workshop was conducted with PMRDA to finalise and evaluate possible hyperloop routes in the preliminary study. The session was attended by the officials of PMRDA, Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority, National Highways Authority of India, Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation, Pune Regional Transport Office, National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited and other relevant stakeholders.

PMRDA chief and metropolitan commissioner Kiran Gitte shared, “The hyperloop will directly connect the proposed airport at Purandar to Navi Mumbai. Among possible routes that were discussed, a track might be steered from Central Mumbai around Dadar to Shivajinagar in Pune. We also discussed the possibility of connecting Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust to the Chakan MIDC area. We further spoke about potential extensions to the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport of Mumbai.”

Gitte added that they have identified the Pune-Mumbai Expressway as a potential corridor to lay down the hyperloop. “The area is has already aligned with the hills, making the task easier,” he informed.

Another official, on the condition of anonymity, emphasised on the transportation’s feasibility if it is laid through the E-way. “The track can be ducted from Dadar through Navi Mumbai Airport, Vashi, Sion and Sewri,” the officer said.

Google Buys Stake in Dunzo

Google has picked up a significant minority stake in hyper-local concierge and delivery player Dunzo, its first direct investment in an Indian startup underlining how the global search giant is quietly getting into an investment mode in the country.

Google led a $12-million investment in the Bengaluru-based startup as part of its ‘Next Billion Users’ push, as it seeks to build an ecosystem in India across high-frequency hyper-local transactions as well as in the healthcare, financial services, and education sectors.

Google wants to build an ecosystem in India similar to those of Flipkart, Paytm-Alibaba and Amazon India, ecommerce giants that are investing significantly across food-delivery, grocery and local services.

The Dunzo deal comes after Google International quietly infused ₹1,204 crore in its main local unit, Google India, this year — its largest and only investment in the unit since 2008, when it infused ₹26 crore in it. The size of the latest infusion, previously unreported, underlines the company’s intent to spend more aggressively on Google India, which has been profitable for over a decade and yet not been aggressive on spending here.

Over the last few months, Google has been spending aggressively in India, offering discounts on its payments app, Tez, as well as on its hyper-local services aggregator, Areo. Experts see possible synergies linking the investment in Dunzo with Areo and Tez.

Dunzo, currently present only in Bengaluru, runs an assortment of errands for users, such as picking up food from restaurants and groceries from stores, or your mobile charger that you forgot at a friend’s place. Dunzo, initially launched on WhatsApp in 2015, handles 3,500-4,000 tasks a day.

Google’s investment in Dunzo was through Google Asia Pacific, and not through Google Capital, which has backed domestic startups including education technology firm Cuemath and automobile classifieds company Cardekho.

Dunzo plans to expand to half a dozen cities across India by the end of 2018, and to ramp up to 1,00,000 transactions a day by the end of 2018 from about 1,00,000 transactions a month now.

Services activity dips in November

Activity in India’s dominant services industry shrank in November as rising prices, driven up in part by the new national sales tax, took a toll on both foreign and domestic demand. November’s Nikkei/IHS Markit Services Purchasing Managers’ Index fell to 48.5 — its lowest since August — from 51.7 in October, well below the 50 mark that separates expansion from contraction.

After initial confusion among firms over the pricing of products, firms are now better adjusted to the Goods and Services Tax and are gradually passing higher input costs to end-consumers.

That, however, has hurt demand still recovering from the government’s currency clampdown late last year. The survey showed the new business sub-index, a proxy for both foreign and domestic demand, slumped to 48.3 last month from October’s 51.5.

Although a sister survey showed factory activity expanded in November at the fastest pace since just before the government’s currency ban, a composite PMI, which takes into account both manufacturing and services activity, fell to 50.3 last month from 51.3.

Annual consumer inflation was at a seven-month high of 3.6% in October and is likely to breach the Reserve Bank of India’s 4% target in the next few months

Stars, showers as Shashi Kapoor makes final journey

On a grey Tuesday morning, the skies continued to pour as the mortal remains of Shashi Kapoor, romantic screen icon of the 1960s and 70s who straddled the worlds of commercial and art house cinema, were taken from the Kokilaben Hospital to Janki Kutir, his home in Juhu, before he was cremated with state honours at the Shastri Nagar electric crematorium in Santacruz. The actor passed away on Monday evening at age 79.

In the last leg of his journey, scores of fans geared with umbrellas and raincoats had gathered outside the crematorium, undeterred by the unseasonal showers, while friends and family from the Indian film and theatre realm stood on the premises with folded hands amid massive security to pay their last respects to the actor, his mortal remains shrouded with flowers and his favourite shawls.

Kapoor’s sons Kunal and Karan and daughter Sanjna stood with other members of the family – Randhir, Rishi and Ranbir Kapoor -- while a dozen policemen draped the actor, a Padma Bhushan awardee, in tricolour, before three rounds of fire went up in his honour. His sons Karan and Kunal and Kunal’s son completed the rites.

Earlier on Tuesday morning, actors Sanjay Dutt, Naseeruddin Shah, Anil Kapoor, Tanvi Azmi and Neila Devi Kapoor (late Shammi Kapoor’s wife) had assembled at the residence for a prayer meet, while those at the crematorium included Amitabh and Abhishek Bachchan, Shyam Benegal, Shah Rukh Khan, and Salim Khan.


Rahul Gandhi will become Congress president

The Congress set the ball rolling for a generational shift in its top leadership with Rahul Gandhi becoming the only candidate to file his nomination papers for the post of the party’s president before deadline expired.

Blessed and accompanied by a host of senior party leaders like former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Sushil Kumar Shinde, former Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit, Mohsina Kidwai, Oscar Fernandes and Ambika Soni, Rahul, who has been the party’s vice president for over four years since 2013, filed his papers before the party’s Central Election Committee. His mother and incumbent Congress president Sonia Gandhi did not accompany him but proposed his name as an AICC delegate.

Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah, his Punjab and Meghalaya counterparts, Capt Amarinder Singh and Mukul Sangma, respectively, were present during the nomination filing ritual. Himachal CM Virbhadra was away in Kerala, where he is undergoing treatment. Senior leader AK Anthony, who is in hospital because of a brain stroke, was also missed. Digvijay Singh, however, was not spotted.

The party’s election authority later announced that around 89 sets of nomination papers had been filed, which means that 890 delegates backed Rahul. Five sets of papers were filed by 48 AICC office-bearers.

The 47-year-old Gandhi scion is most likely to take over the party’s reins from Sonia on December 11, two days after his mother’s birthday on December 9. The last date for withdrawal of nomination papers is December 11. Scrutiny of the nomination will take place on Tuesday.

By evening, a string of Congress leaders took to twitter to welcome Rahul’s nomination and imminent coronation. From Ahmed Patel to Ajay Maken to Siddaramaiah, everyone began hailing his leadership. While Patel wished Rahul “all the best for his future endeavours,” the Karnataka CM expressed confidence that the “party would renew itself with greater vigour and scale new heights” under Rahul’s leadership.

Rajya Sabha deputy leader Anand Sharma said the party has been waiting for Rahul’s elevation since he was appointed vice president in January 2013. “It is a historic moment,” he said.

Terming Rahul Gandhi as a “capable” leader, Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad exuded confidence that he will turn out to be a “very successful” leader. “And under his leadership, the Congress will regain power,” Azad added.

An air of euphoria hung on 24 Akbar Road amid expectations that the Congress would win the Gujarat elections.

Party leaders described Rahul as the “most suited for the job” as he has known party cadres in almost all 30 states /UTs since he took over as general secretary in 2007. “He must be knowing at least 50 people in each state,” said RC Khuntia, AICC in charge for Telangana.

The best compliment, however, perhaps came from Manmohan Singh.“Rahulji has been the darling of the Congress...Rahul Gandhi will carry on the great traditions of the Congress party,” said the normally taciturn Singh.

Before filing his nominations, Rahul also sought the blessings of former President and Congress veteran Pranab Mukherjee. It was Mukherjee, who put a tilak on his forehead. Initial rumours — stirred by the BJP — were that Rahul had visited a temple in Delhi before going to file his nomination papers.

India-Russia Corridor to be Operationalised Next Month

The International North South Transportation Corridor connecting Mumbai with St Petersburg and beyond – which has been 17 years in the making – is set to be operationalised from the middle of next month with the first consignment from India to Russia.

Although formal operationalisation of INSTC is planned for mid-January, the corridor will start functioning fully in a few months thereafter, according to people aware of the matter. Hectic preparations are underway to firm up all elements of the corridor in all key stakeholder states.

India, Iran and Russia had in September 2000 signed the INSTC agreement to build a corridor to provide the shortest multi-model transportation route linking the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea via Iran and St Petersburg. From St Petersburg, North Europe is within easy reach via the Russian Federation. The estimated capacity of the corridor is 20-30 million tonnes of goods per year.

Conceived well before China’s Belt and Road Initiative, INSTC will not only help cut down on costs and time taken for transfer of goods from India to Russia and Europe via Iran but also provide an alternative connectivity initiative to countries in the Eurasian region. It will be India’s second corridor after the Chabahar Port to access resource rich Central Asia and its market.

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, in an indirect criticism of the BRI project while addressing a meeting of the heads of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation member states on Friday last week, emphasised on the need to make connectivity corridors inclusive. The operationalisation of Chabahar Port (whose Phase 1 was inaugurated on Sunday) coupled with INSTC will be a game changer for India’s strategic and economic goals in the Eurasian region, where China has benefited from its geographical contiguity.

Bandra-Versova Sea Link plan cleared

If all goes according to plan, work on the Bandra-Versova Sea Link is expected to begin by 2018-19. The state government has finally granted administrative approval for the Rs.7,502-crore project eight years after the state cabinet committee on infrastructure cleared the proposal.

On Monday, the state public works department issued a government resolution flashing the green light to the crucial infrastructure project which will help ease the traffic situation in the western suburbs. The GR, however, did not mention when the work would begin, or the deadline.

Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation will be the nodal agency that will float tenders for the proposed BVSL project, which is an extension of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, in the next four months.

Motorists will have to pay levy on Bandra-Versova Sea Link too

The state cabinet committee on infrastructure had cleared the original project in August 2009 and all necessary permissions, including coastal regulation zone and environment clearances, had been obtained by the state in January 2013.

Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has directed MSRDC to execute the project on engineering-procurement-construction model. “In an EPC model, all the rights will be given to MSRDC, which will appoint a contractor to only build the sea link. The agency will appoint separate contractors for toll collection and for repair and maintenance,” said a PWD official.

This means, motorists will have to pay another toll for the 9.6-km long Bandra-Versova Sea Link. The existing prevailing toll rates shall apply to BVSL and the concession period will be up to 2052.

“However, the toll collection contract will be renewed every three years,” explained the official. Unlike the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, the agreement for this project will have suspension rights clause as per the government policy.

The GR stated that taking into account the increase of vehicular traffic due to the proposed coastal road and BVSL on real-time basis, the recalculation of the concession period should be done 10 years after the sea bridge’s commercial use starts. Also, if there is any change in the toll tax policy in future, the concession period will be revived as per the toll tax policy prevailing then.

“MSRDC will follow proper procedure and raise funds for the project either through loans from financial institutions or by raising bonds,” said the official. The government has also allowed MSRDC to set up a special purpose vehicle to raise loan for which it has approved 2% interest rate.


Media, entertainment industry’s revenue to reach ₹8 L cr by 2022

The Indian media and entertainment industry is expected to double its revenue to reach ₹7.5-8 lakh crore by 2022 from an estimated ₹4.5 lakh crore in 2017, said a report published by consulting firm Boston Consulting Group and lobby group Confederation of Indian Industry.

Over the next five years, the industry is set to grow at an average annual growth rate of 11-12%, said the report. It highlighted that the sector has the potential to generate four million jobs (direct and indirect) over the next four-five years, via technology adoption, big data and analytics.

By 2022, total employment in the industry is expected to be 6-6.5 million from the estimated 3.5-4 million in 2017.

The report said the structural changes across the sector and major shifts around adoption of technology, big data and analytics will lead to new job roles and a major reskilling of the current workforce.

With rising consumer demands, changing business models and digital disruptions leading to a consumption explosion, the sector is required to ready itself for a different workforce.

The report highlighted that companies need to rework strategies to fit in the shifting digitally oriented landscape.

FIIs invested $3 bn in equities in November

Foreign institutional investors invested $3 billion in Indian equities in November, the highest since March, but are likely to take further cues from the US Federal Reserve’s policy meeting later this month.

The Sensex touched a record 33,865.95 points on 7 November, and has since shed 3.05% to 32,832.94 points on 30 November. Year to date, it is up 23.3%.

The net November FII investment of $3.05 billion is the highest since the $5.1 billion in March. Their net investment so far this year stands at $8.86 billion.

Data from Bloomberg showed that FIIs sold a net of $1.4 billion, $661.5 million, and $1.5 billion of equities of South Korea, Indonesia and Taiwan in the last one week. In contrast, they bought India shares the most in the region at $489.4 million.

Iran Offers Management Rights for Chabahar Port

Iran has offered India management rights for Phase-1of Chabahar Port launched by the country’s President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday in presence of MoS shipping P Radhakrishnan from Delhi a day after Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj was in Tehran to push Delhi's agenda.

Eyeing a foothold in the region barely 100 km from Pakistan’s Gwadar port built and managed by China India has alloted $ 235 mn for expansion of Phase II of strategically located Chabahar Port besides another $500 million for development of Chabahar Port complex including SEZ.

Earlier, India sent its first wheat consignment to Afghanistan through the Chabahar Port on October 29. India, Iran and Afghanistan signed a trilateral pact in 2016 for use of Chabahar port. The October shipment is a part of commitment made by India to supply 1.1 million tonnes of wheat for the people of Afghanistan on grant basis. Six more wheat shipments will be sent over the next few months.

The opening ceremony at Chabahar port at the confluence of Oman Sea and the Indian Ocean was attended by 60 representatives from 17 countries. The project, due to its strategic location, links the region to Central Asia and the Commonwealth of Independent States, according to Iranian officials.

The offer involves management rights for two years and could be renewed by another decade, according to one of the officials quoted above.

Air India Sale snippets

The government is said to have decided that the sale of Air India will involve its core aviation assets packaged with low-cost subsidiary Air India Express and AI-SATS, a ground handling joint venture with Singapore Airport Terminal Services.

All non-core assets, like the Air India building in Mumbai and other offices, will not be part of the sale and become part of the special purpose vehicle.

Core aviation assets include aircraft, slots at airports and flying rights to various countries. Both Air India Express, a nofrills overseas carrier, and AI-SATS are profit-making subsidiaries of the airline. While Air India Express is a fully owned subsidiary, Air India and SATS own 50% each of the ground-handling joint venture.

The other Air India arms — profit-making Air India Air Transport Services and loss-making Air India Engineering Services — will be sold separately.

These were among decisions taken by the Air India sale committee headed by finance minister Arun Jaitley that includes the ministers of aviation, commerce and railways.

The SPV will house Air India’s non-aircraft debt as well as non-core assets. “Assets like Air India offices, residential quarters, land and even ticketing offices — as airlines today prefer internet booking over ticketing offices — will become part of the SPV,” said the official. “All non-core aviation assets will be transferred to the SPV.”

Air India has total debt of ₹52,000 crore, of which about ₹33,000 crore is on account of working capital loans, which will be transferred to the SPV. The rest is against aircraft purchases and will be included with the company that’s put up for sale. The national carrier, along with consultants hired for Air India’s divestment, has started identifying properties that will be transferred to the SPV.

“Air India operates to 44 foreign destinations and 72 domestic destinations and has assets in each of these cities,” said another official. The Cabinet approved the divestment of Air India in June and formed a committee to decide on its modalities. IndiGo is the only carrier that has officially shown interest in buying Air India.

The Tata group, which has stakes in Vistara and AirAsia India, has also been mentioned as a possible suitor. Companies like Bird Group and Celebi—both of which are involved in ground handling-—have shown interest in that part of Air India’s business.


Core Sector Grows 4.7% in October

The country’s eight core infrastructure industries grew 4.7% in October, matching the September growth, which has been revised down from 5.2%. This is the highest core sector growth since March 2017.

April-October growth stood at 3.5%, down from 5.6% in the corresponding period last year.

Six of the eight industries included in the core sector recorded a sequential deterioration in growth, but that was offset by pick up in output of steel and fertilisers.

Steel production rose 8.4% and was followed closely by refinery products that reported 7.5% growth.

Coal output grew 3.9% in October against 10.4% in September. Cement production fell 2.7% against 0.1% rise in September. Crude oil production also fell 0.4% in October.

The other industries in core sector are electricity, fertilisers, refinery products, natural gas, and coal.

The core sector industries have a 40% weigh in the Index of Industrial Production.

India Must Nurture its Muslims: Obama

India needs to “cherish and nurture” its Muslim population, which is integrated and considers itself Indian, former US president Barack Obama has said. It is an idea that needs to be reinforced, he emphasised.

Obama touched on a host of topics, including his relationship with Narendra Modi and Manmohan Singh during his address and the question-answer session.

Obama said he emphasised the need for religious tolerance and the right to practice one’s own faith during closed door talks with PM Modi during his last trip to India in 2015.

Responding to questions, Obama said his comments then were general in nature and he had repeated it in the US as well as in Europe.

“There’s a counter narrative taking place, at all times, but it's particularly pronounced now... You are seeing it in Europe, you are seeing it in the United States and sometimes you see it in India where those old tribal impulses reassert themselves under leaders who try to push back those impulses and under leaders who try to exploit them,” Obama said.

Replying to a question, Obama spoke of India's “enormous Muslim population”, which is successful, integrated and thinks of itself as Indian. That is unfortunately not always the case in some other countries, Obama added.

Referring to India, he said, “And that is something that needs to be cherished and nurtured, cultivated. It’s important to continue reinforcing it.”

To a separate question, he said Modi’s “impulse” was to recognise the importance of Indian unity. “I think he firmly believes the need for that in order to advance to the great nation status,” Obama said.

Asked about terror emanating from Pakistan, Obama said, “What is true, and an understandable source of frustration, is the view that sometimes there are connections between explicit terrorist organisations based in Pakistan and elements that are connected to various more official entities inside Pakistan.”

Questioned on his equation with Modi, who often referred to him as “my friend Obama”, the former US president noted that he also shared great rapport with Manmohan Singh.

“I like him (Modi) and I think he has the vision for the country. But I was also great friends with Dr (Manmohan) Singh.”

“The unifying thing (between Modi and Singh) was that (they advocated) strong US-India relations were important,” Obama said, adding that both had the same mission to take India towards a more modern economy.

Later, at a town hall meeting with 300 young Indian leaders organised by the Obama Foundation, the former US president said that his post-presidency priorities are to extend his voice to issues that he cares about like fight against discrimination and racism besides training the next generation of leadership.

Forex kitty claws back to $400bn mark

The country’s foreign exchange reserves reclaimed the $400-billion mark again, rising by $1.2 billion to touch $400.7 billion in the week to November 24, according to the weekly data from the RBI. In the previous week, the reserves rose by $240.4 million to $399.5 billion.

The spike in reserves was helped by an increase in foreign currency assets, which are a major component of the overall reserves. The foreign currency reserves increased by $1.2 billion to $376.3 billion for the reporting week.

Expressed in the US dollar terms, foreign currency assets include the effect of appreciation or depreciation of the non-US currenciessuch as the euro, the pound and the yen held in the reserves.

Gold reserves remained unchanged at the earlier figure of $20.7 billion. 

Motown: November 2017

Car companies loaded up inventories at dealerships ahead of December, looking to clear 2017 stocks as the new year approaches.

Wholesale data released showed most of the companies reporting a double-digit growth rate in deliveries to retail points. December is usually a comfortable retail-sales month as companies throw in heavy discounts to clear stocks.

Maruti Suzuki reported 14% growth in numbers at 1.4 lakh against 1.3 lakh units in the same month in the previous year. The company has been witnessing healthy demand for models like Brezza mini SUV and Dzire sedan and is now eyeing R&D for electric vehicles.

Hyundai, which plans to carry out a feasibility of a mini electric car, also witnessed double-digit growth in volumes. The company’s sales in November stood at 44,000 units against 40,000 units in the same month in the previous year, showing a growth rate of 10%.

Tata Motors, which has launched a series of new cars, reported 35% growth with sales crossing 17,000 units. This was more than compatriot Mahindra & Mahindra, which had a 21% rise in numbers on sale of 16,000 passenger vehicles.

Honda Cars saw 47% growth in volumes and its sales in the month stood close to 12,000 units against 12,700 units in November 2016.

Manufacturing activity strongest in 13 months

The Indian manufacturing sector recorded its strongest improvement in business conditions in 13 months on the back of new orders and increase in output.

The Nikkei India Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index showed that companies reported a renewed increase in new export orders in November.

The PMI index rose to 52.6 in November, from 50.3 in October, displaying the strongest improvement in manufacturing conditions since October 2016. The PMI survey is based on data compiled from monthly replies to questionnaires sent to purchasing executives in over 400 industrial companies and is a closely watched data set.

On the jobs front, greater production requirements led to the fastest rate of employment creation since September 2012. Meanwhile, there was a pickup in inflationary pressures, with input costs increasing to the greatest extent since April.

The PMI data for November is the latest in the string of positive data that has emerged for the economy. Data released by the Central Statistics Office earlier showed the Indian economy grew 6.3% in the July-September quarter, up from 5.7% in the previous quarter, on the back of a strong manufacturing sector performance.

The manufacturing sector had been hit hard by the government’s move to scrap some high-value notes in November last year, while implementation issues linked to the goods and services tax had hurt businesses. The sharp cut in GST rates for more than 200 items had also helped boost sentiment in the sector.

While there are some weak spots in the manufacturing sector and overall economy, data now points to a recovery and policymakers are optimistic that growth will be sustained and durable in the months ahead.

BJP sweeps civic polls in UP

Support for the BJP in urban areas, which helped the party score a landslide win in the UP state polls earlier this year, appears to have survived the grouses arising over the implementation of GST, with the party sweeping 14 out of 16 mayoral seats in the state.

However, the BSP showed signs of a comeback by snatching two seats from the BJP, while the SP and the Congress failed to open their account. Congress lost badly in Amethi, Rahul Gandhi’s LS seat.

The BJP won three newly created civic corporations—Ayodhya-Faizabad, Mathura-Vrindavan and Saharanpur —and also in Muslim-dominated cities such as Moradabad, Bareilly and Firozabad.

BJP also won in Agra, frequently referred to as the “Dalit capital” because of the big concentration of Dalits it boasts of. The resounding victory at the expense of Congress and other rivals comes on the eve of Gujarat polls and should act as a morale-booster for BJP. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah hailed the ‘thumbs-up’ from the UP electorate, the third consecutive one since its massive victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. BJP’s strength in UP, which has 80 Lok Sabha seats will be key to its attempt to retain power in 2019.

The reaffirmation in the urban centres, almost all of them with sizeable presence of traders, should also reassure the party which is having to deal with Congress’s attempt to stoke grouses against GST.

The results suggest a revival of sorts for BSP, especially in western UP, where electoral collaboration between Dalits — core constituents — and Muslims prevailed against BJP in Aligarh and Meerut and can politically resuscitate party supremo Mayawati, who appeared to be facing an existential crisis. But by underlining its potential as a possible BJP-beater, BSP has created complications also for SP and Congress, especially considering the trend among Muslims to switch their support to whoever is in the best position to defeat the Hindutva outfit. While for Congress, the rout only adds to its string of humiliations, SP is in the spotlight for failing to open its account. It has been defeated in its strongholds by BJP, say analysts. SP chief Akhilesh Yadav is facing criticism for not campaigning and for a “casual” approach to politics.


Cyclone Ochki wreaks havoc

 A deep depression in the Bay of Bengal intensified into a cyclonic storm, Ochki, resulting in rain and strong winds in the southern districts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Four persons were killed in each state. Around 180 fishermen in Thiruvananthapuram are reportedly missing.

The storm is expected to hit the Lakshadweep Islands on December 2. A bulletin from the India Meteorological Department said gale wind speeds reaching 65-75 kmph gusting to 85 kmph were very likely along and off south Kerala during the next 48 hours. Fishermen have been advised not to venture into sea. In Tamil Nadu, Kanyakumari district was the worst hit, with over 500 trees coming down in the early hours of Thursday, affecting traffic and disrupting power supply. Hundreds of electricity poles too came down. A fisherman died in the sea, while a search is on for many more who are yet to return to shore.

As the meteorology department had warned of heavy wind two days ahead, fishermen in the coastal hamlets did not venture into sea from Wednesday night. However, many of those who set sail before that are yet to return.

Tamil Nadu CM E K Palainiswami ordered the collectors of Kanyakumari, Tirunelveli and Tuticorin to take relief measures speedily. He said monitoring officers have been appointed to coordinate rescue measures. A team of 70 members from the state disaster response force and two teams of the national disaster response force have rushed to Kanyakumari. The administration has declared a holiday for schools and colleges in Kanyakumari, Tuticorin and Tirunelveli districts on Friday also.

Economy shakes off GST, DeMon impact

India’s growth staged a recovery in the September quarter as the economy emerged from the shadows of the impact of demonetisation and rollout issues linked to the Goods & Services Tax, prompting the government to say that it was poised for a durable recovery in the months ahead.

Data released showed that the economy grew 6.3% in July-September—the second quarter of the current fiscal year— faster than the June quarter’s 5.7% expansion, led by robust manufacturing. It helped break the cycle of 5 consecutive quarters of slowing growth.

Growth had slowed to a three-year low in Q1as the impact of demonetisation and GST implementation issues hurt expansion and troubled businesses, providing enough ammunition to critics to attack the Narendra Modi government for its handling of the economy.

Since then a raft of positive news has lifted sentiment.

India improved its ranking significantly in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business survey while Moody’s Investor Services upgraded the country’s sovereign rating. Another agency S&P kept the rating and the outlook unchanged but applauded the reform measures unleashed by the government which it said should help boost growth in the coming months.

The upbeat GDP data comes in the midst of the Gujarat assembly poll campaigning where opposition parties have sought to use the slowdown narrative to attack the BJP. The rebound in growth is expected to act as a major boost for the BJP and help reassert PM Narendra Modi’s reformist credentials.

The 6.3% growth in the September quarter has helped break the cycle of five quarters of slowing growth.

Economists pointed to several positive signals such as a good kharif crop, boost in manufacturing due to GST concessions. They expect growth to be closer to 7% for the full year. The sluggishness in the farm sector emerged as a concern. The farm sector grew 1.7% in the September quarter, slower than the previous quarter’s 2.3%.


UK NRIs commit ₹500cr for clean Ganga plan

NRI billionaire business magnates in London have committed more than Rs.500 crore of investment to the rejuvenation of the polluted Ganga.

Union minister Nitin Gadkari, whose responsibilities include water resources, said that in addition to Ravi Mehrotra and Anil Agarwal’s commitments to the sacred river, the London-based Hinduja brothers have agree to maintain the Haridwar stretch and Prakash Lohia, chairman of Indorama Corporation, has committed to the Kolkata section. Lohia is from Kolkata. In India, Shiv Nadar, chairman of HCL, has taken up the Varanasi part, Gadkari, who is on a trip to London, said.

He explained that whilst the government had sanctioned Rs.20,000 crore towards the clean Ganges programme, the corporates would pay for their stretches themselves as ”total charity cause” and he appealed to “all Indian companies and NRIs across the world” to participate. The costs vary between Rs.100 and Rs.200 crore per project.

Ideal growth rate for India is 8-10%: Subramanian

The growth in gross domestic product dipped to 5.7% in the first quarter of financial year 2017, coming to a three-year-low. However, the ideal growth rate of the economy should be between 8% and 10% according to chief economic advisor, Arvind Subramanian.  According to him, as the economy overcomes certain challenges, exports improve and the implementation of Goods and Services Tax stabilizes, the growth rate will improve.

He prudently didn’t comment on the time-frame within which the growth rate will recover. However, sharing more details on the road map to recovery, Subramanian said, “The economy is facing certain challenges. Once we overcome them, the growth will surely improve. At a time when the growth was around 8%, the growth in exports of both goods and services stood at 25% which was significant.”

When asked if the cascading effect of demonetization and GST implementation decelerated the growth, the chief economic advisor to the Union government said, “The growth had already begun slowing down in the second quarter of 2016. These moves further reinforced this deceleration. Demonetization did restrict cash flow. However, now the cash is back in the system. As far as GST is concerned, it is still stabilizing and SMEs are still coping with the new structure and compliances.”

Talking specifically about credit-offtakes, Subramanian said, “Overall credits have picked up recently, especially with increase in lending to consumers. However, credit to industry is a concern. Firms cannot spend and therefore, cannot borrow and banks cannot lend because they have bad assets. The credit cycle will begin to pick up the once recapitalization of banks takes place.”

On GST, he said, “We are taking the feedback and criticism very seriously, and are very responsive in bringing about necessary changes.”

India and Singapore ink naval pact

India and Singapore inked a naval pact to significantly crank up their maritime security cooperation with access to each other’s bases, while reiterating the need for all to respect freedom of navigation and trade in international waters in the backdrop of China’s aggressive and expansionist behavior in the Asia Pacific region.

The naval cooperation agreement to bolster maritime security, joint exercises, “temporary deployments from each other’s naval facilities” and mutual logistics support was inked after delegation-level talks between defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman and her Singaporean counterpart Dr Ng Eng Hen in the morning.

Easy access to the Singapore port, with refueling and berthing facilities, will serve to enhance the operational reach of Indian warships and aircraft east of the Malacca Strait, which is a critical choke point for China’s ever expanding energy supplies. It fits into India’s overall “Act East” policy to deepen military ties with ASEAN countries like Singapore, Vietnam, Myanmar, Malaysia and Indonesia as a counter to China.

India, in turn, will provide naval practice and logistics facilities to Singapore, which will include live firing drills in the Andaman Sea, to add to similar services already being provided to the army and air force of the city-state for the last 10 years. Appreciating India’s “leading role” in the Indian Ocean Region, Dr Ng said Singapore would “encourage” more Indian warships to come to its shores, help in further securing the sea lanes of communication towards the Andaman Sea and the Strait of Malacca, expand and institutionalise maritime exercises with like-minded regional and ASEAN partners.

“We want to see more participation, cooperation and activity in both the Strait of Malacca and the Andaman Sea,” said Dr Ng.

Sitharaman said the two countries had decided to expand overall defence ties and were “strongly committed” to boosting cooperation in tackling transnational security threats, especially terrorism.

The two countries also decided to renew the bilateral army pact, under which facilities are provided to Singapore for exercises of mechanised forces at Babina and artillery at Deolali ranges, when it ends next year.


GES 2017: Modi meets Ivanka

Prime Minister Narendra Modi called on the world’s entrepreneurs to invest in a resurgent India as the government had made great strides in minimising the regulatory burden for companies, creating a level playing field, evolving transparent policies and overhauling the taxation system, efforts that were recognised by global rating agency Moody’s recent upgrade.

“To my entrepreneur friends from across the globe, I would like to say, come, Make in India, Invest in India, for India and for the world,” he said at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad, citing such initiatives as the goods and services tax, demonetisation and the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code. “I invite each one of you to become a partner in India’s growth story. And once again assure you of our wholehearted support.”

Among those in the audience was Ivanka Trump, US President Donald Trump’s daughter, leading her country’s delegation. She paid tribute to Modi for efforts “to build India as a thriving economy — a beacon of democracy — and a symbol of hope to the world”.

He (PM Modi) had proved that transformational change was possible through his own example — from selling tea as achild to becoming PM — and was now “bringing that promise to hundreds of millions of people across your country”, she said.

Modi said he was not satisfied with the 100th rank that India secured in the World Bank’s ease of doing business list thanks to the various reforms undertaken in the past three years. India needed to work toward breaking into the top 50, he said.

Having doubled the renewable energy capacity under the clean energy programme in just three years to about 60,000 mw, India is now working on developing a national gas grid, he said. “A comprehensive national energy policy is also in the pipeline.”

The government has scrapped more than 1,200 redundant laws, eased 87 rules for foreign direct investment in 21 sectors and taken several government processes online to help companies meet regulatory requirements, improving the business environment and providing support to startups.

“The jump in India’s ranking in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report, from 142 to 100, in three years, is a result of this,” said Modi, adding that his government understood that an environment of transparent policies and rule of law providing a level playing field were necessary for entrepreneurship to flourish. Elaborating on the insolvency code, Modi said it was aimed at ensuring timely resolution for stressed ventures and India had recently improved it further, by preventing wilful defaulters from bidding for stressed assets.

Referring to measures adopted to tackle the parallel economy, check tax evasion and control black money, the prime minister said, “Our efforts have been recognised by Moody’s recent upgrade of India’s government bond ratings. This upgrade comes after a gap of almost 14 years.”

An investment-friendly environment needs to be stable from the macroeconomic perspective, Modi said, adding that India had succeeded in containing the fiscal and current account deficits while curbing inflation. “Our foreign exchange reserves have crossed $400 billion, and we continue to attract large foreign capital flows.”

Elaborating on initiatives such as the MUDRA scheme to provide easy finance to entrepreneurs, the PM said over 90 million loans worth ₹4.28 lakh crore had been sanctioned since its launch in 2015. “Of these, more than 70 million loans have been sanctioned to women entrepreneurs.”

Modi stressed the initiatives such as Aadhaar, saying it was the world’s largest biometric-based digital database, which currently covers over 1.15 billion people and digitally authenticates more than 40 million transactions daily. India now provides monetary benefits of various government schemes to beneficiaries through Direct Benefit Transfer using Aadhaar, he said, minimising the possibility of leakages and corruption.

Modi said his government completed a programme to connect all villages with electricity and launched the Saubhagya scheme that will provide power connections to all families by December 2018. India has also launched a programme to provide high-speed broadband Internet to all rural areas by March 2019.

TRAI on Net neutrality

The telecom regulator has backed an open Internet, and proposed tweaks to licence conditions to bar blocking or slowing down of content, while allowing fast lanes for ‘specialised services’ and keeping ‘content delivery networks’ out of the ambit of net neutrality, as it released its much-awaited recommendations on the controversial subject.

“Internet access services should be governed by a principle that restricts any form of discrimination or interference in the treatment of content, including practices like blocking, degrading, slowing down or granting preferential speeds or treatment to any content,” the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India said in its 54-page recommendation to the telecom department.

Trai has said telecom or Internet service providers should be barred from signing pacts that can lead to discriminatory treatment on the Web, based on content, sender, receiver, protocols or even equipment. It has recommended changes in the licence conditions and other provisions so that the penalties for violating licence norms would be applicable here as well.

The regulator has exempted content delivery networks, which do not use public Internet, from restrictions on nondiscriminatory treatment. Analysts said this will benefit telcos such as Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel, who are trying to create their own content ecosystems.

The regulator has left it to DoT to decide the ‘specialised services’ that can be exempted from the purview of net neutrality. It clarified that this tag should only be applicable to those services where optimisation was necessary to meet specific quality of service needs.

Trai also allowed carriers or Internet access providers to use some traffic management practices on their networks to ensure quality of services, preserve security of networks, providing emergency services and for implementing a court order or government direction, as long as they are transparent and their impact on users is declared.

Net neutrality activists appeared to be satisfied with Trai’s proposals. DoT will take a final view on Trai’s recommendations. The government has so far been vocal about its backing for a free and open Internet, and has opposed the so-called ‘walled garden’ within which certain content is prioritised.

But telcos were upset that while they have to adhere to net neutrality guidelines, these would not apply to over-the-top players such as WhatsApp. They also opposed the proposal to include Internet of Things, expected to be a big revenue generator under 5G technology, within the ambit of net neutrality.

Arunachal river turns black

The crystal clear waters of the Siang river, one of the major constituents of the Brahmaputra and lifeline of northern Arunachal Pradesh for centuries, has suddenly turned black triggering panic in the frontier state. The East Siang district authorities have pressed the alarm bell as the water of the river, containing large volumes of heavy slag, is no longer fit for consumption. “The water can’t be used for any purpose because it contains a cement-like thick material. A lot of fish died one and half months ago,” said East Siang district deputy commissioner Tamyo Tatak.

He added, “In the last monsoon season, the river turned dark and we thought that it was because of mud being carried by the river. The rainy season is long over but the river water is still black. Usually, from November to February, the water is crystal clear and pure.”

Tatak said water samples have been collected and China is the primary suspect. “It seems that some major cement work is on in the upper reaches of the river in China… may be China is carrying out some deep water boring work. What else could be the reason for such a big river remaining black for nearly two months,” Tatak said.

Chabahar port inauguration

After Chabahar port received the first wheat consignment headed for Afghanistan from India in October-end, the Iranian government on Tuesday said it had completed construction of the first phase of the port. Officials said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will inaugurate the first phase on Sunday, in a ceremony attended by “regional beneficiaries and neighbouring countries”.

Shipping and highways minister Nitin Gadkari will represent India at the event. Earlier this year, Iran had asked India to operate the first phase of the port. India wants to spend $235 million on the Chabahar port, but that’s in the second phase. The government has even set up a special purpose vehicle for the project. In addition, India has teamed up with Japan to develop the port as well as a special economic zone near the port.

India shipped 1.1million tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan from the western port of Kandla on October 29. The shipment will be taken by trucks to Afghanistan from Chabahar port.

“I believe this is the starting point of our journey to realise the full spectrum of connectivity — from culture to commerce, from traditions to technology, from investments to IT, from services to strategy and from people to politics,” foreign minister Sushma Swaraj said in a statement on October 29. Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that the launch of the trade route “marks a new chapter in regional cooperation and connectivity”.


Rupee @ 64.50

Showing resistance against early volatility, the rupee surged by a hefty 20 paise to end at a fresh two-month high of 64.50 even as S&P kept India’s credit rating unchanged. The rupee marked its best closing since September 20. The rupee has appreciated 31 paise last week.

Full-fledged Fin Recovery in 2018: Morgan Stanley

Wall Street investment bank Morgan Stanley said that India is all set for a full fledged financial recovery in 2018, undergirded by the first pronounced revival of private-sector capital expenditure in six years in Asia’s third-biggest economy.

With six years of continued deterioration in private capital spending, investors have remained skeptical of a turnaround in the cycle. One of the key drivers for private capex, Morgan Stanley says, is the expected rate of returns from the corporate sector, which had been cyclically depressed and, in turn, held back substantial private investment in assets.

Reflecting improved balance sheet fundamentals, the corporate sector, in aggregate, will be well positioned to enhance capex to meet higher demand.

The global bank also pointed out that the headline inflation gauge seems to be firming, and that there could be a case for raising rates in the second half of FY19.

India Growth to Rebound to 8% in FY19: Goldman Sachs

India’s economic growth will bounce back to 8% in the next fiscal year as one-time hits due to demonetisation and goods and services tax wear off and benefits due to formalisation of the economy, strong global growth and recapitalisation of public sector banks kick in, US-based investment bank Goldman Sachs said in its year-end forecast.

India’s growth will accelerate to 8% in the fiscal year through March 2019 from 6.4% in fiscal 2018, the bank said, making it the fastest growing major economy in the world, like it was in fiscal 2017 with a 7.1% expansion.

GS expects the ₹2.11-lakh-crore bank recapitalisation, announced last month, to boost credit supply and lower borrowing costs as healthier public sector banks push lending. Wage hike for government workers and higher infrastructure spending from the government will also boost growth.

Accelerating inflation, mainly due to higher food prices, could lead to a shift in the Reserve Bank of India’s monetary policy stance by the middle of the next fiscal year, the investment bank said. GS expects consumer price inflation in India to rise to 5.3% in fiscal 2019 from 3.4% this year, as food prices rise from a low base.

Higher inflation will lead the Reserve Bank of India increase its benchmark repo rate by threefourths of a percentage point between October 2018 and June 2019 — from 6% now to 6.75%, it said.  It expects the rupee to rise to 62 a dollar from around 65 currently.

The bank expects the local stock market to yield 14% returns in local currency, which means that the 50-share Nifty index will rise to over 11,600 by December 2018 (vs 10,215 on November 16).

PM Modi to flag off Hyderabad Metro Rail today

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the much-awaited Hyderabad Metro Rail on Tuesday afternoon. The 30 km-long first phase of the metro rail project between Miyapur and Nagole, having 24 stations, would be launched by the Prime Minister at 2:40 pm at Miyapur station. Its commercial operations would start the day after. During its inaugural run, Modi and Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao will travel by the metro from Miyapur to Kukatpally, and back,

ADB sticks to India’s GDP growth estimates

The Asian Development Bank is sticking to its growth forecast for India and is optimistic that growth will pick up on the back of several factors, including an improving global economy.

“We are optimistic of India achieving 7% growth in 2017 and 7.4% in 2018. There has been a front-loading of capital expenditure and consumption trend is being sustained and external environment is turning favourable,” Sabyasachi Mitra, deputy country director at ADB told a news conference.

Growth is expected to slow in the current financial year as the impact of demonetisation and roll-out issues linked to GST hurt expansion. But most economists and multilateral agencies expect growth to accelerate in the years ahead. The Manila-based multilateral agency had lowered India’s growth estimates for 2017 due to the short term impact of demonetisation.

The Central Statistics Office will publish the data for July-September on November 30. Growth slowed to three-year low of 5.7% in the April-June quarter, triggering criticism over the handling of the economy. But since then a string of goods has bolstered the confidence of policymakers. Global rating agency Moody’s Investor Service raised the country’s sovereign rating, while India improved its position significantly in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing business ranking.

ADB country director Kenichi Yokoyama said the agency plans to raise its annual funding to India to $4 billion from existing $2.7 billion next year. He said this would be done to “accelerate inclusive economic transformation of India.

“The other priority pillars include increasing annual funding to low income states and climate change,” he said.


We won’t forget. We won’t forgive.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Sunday urged the people of the nation to join the fight against terrorism, adding it would be the biggest tribute to the brave hearts. Speaking at the ninth anniversary of 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks at an event held at the Bombay Stock Exchange commemorating the martyrs of the attacks, he said, “The way incidents of terrorism are increasing, not only the police and security forces, but all citizens of this country need to be vigilant and alert. Every citizen should cooperate with our police and the army force. We should work together to crush terrorism. This would be the biggest tribute to the martyrs.”

Falaknuma wears a fresh look

Ahead of Ivanka Trump’s epic dinner trip to Falaknuma palace, authorities have cleared roads and decked up pavements, walls and old structures.

The entire route leading to the historical Falaknuma Palace gives a smooth and joyous ride to motorists, courtesy round-the-clock work by the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation workers.

Locals and motorists say that after many years, they are pleased to see such glamorous and attractive lights in their locality. Many attractive and informative paintings have been decorated on the walls and colourful lighting on the trees have added to the beauty of the surrounding during the night.

Modi puts NE at heart of Asean embrace

The north-eastern states will, for the first time, play a big role during the India-Asean summit in January.

Last week, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj called in the governors of all the northeastern states and the lieutenant governor of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands for a unique meeting — to begin the process of integrating domestic and foreign policy.

Sources said all governors came with suggestions and these have been prioritised into short- and medium term deliverables.

Bhutan will be the first country to open a consulate in Guwahati, but India will open the city for select countries like Japan as well, a first. Japan is becoming a major development partner for India’s northeast transformation programme.

At some point, India’s ‘Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal’ Initiative will segue into its ‘Act East’ policy. Within the MEA, the new initiative will be run by several departments — from the ‘states’ division and ICCR, to officials in charge of Bangladesh and Myanmar and the big ‘south’ division that is in charge of the Asean region. Outside the MEA, state governments and the home ministry will be roped in.

It’s not only the Republic Day celebrations that will see action with the presence of all the Asean heads of government. For the first time, Assam will host an ‘Invest Assam’ summit, on the lines of Vibrant Gujarat, which will see several Asean heads of state hoping to create economic linkages.

The leadership push is being given by President Ram Nath Kovind, who travelled to three northeastern states last week. Opening the Northeast Development Summit, he said, “If you consider the hundreds and thousands of years of civilisation, far from being a frontier, the northeast has been at the heart of Indian imagination. And if you take South Asia and Southeast Asia as a continuum — as it has been perceived for most of history — then the northeast is right in the middle of it. Its geographical location makes it the obvious gateway to India...” That is the crux of this new outreach.

On top of the list is connectivity. In the huge effort to integrate India’s domestic and foreign policy, the big constraint has undoubtedly been the lack of land connectivity in the region and with neighbours.

That’s not easy but officials said after several years of missteps, the trilateral highway through Myanmar was in “implementation mode” and should open by 2020. The same goes for the Kaladan multimodal project, which is currently lagging because of the unrest in Rakhine.

With Bangladesh, the aim is to revive the connectivity linkages that existed before 1965. Of the six erstwhile rail links between India and Bangladesh, four connecting West Bengal with Bangladesh have been made operational. In the past few months, two immigration check posts have been cleared along the borders with Myanmar and Bangladesh, and Suterkandi in Assam is being upgraded into an ICP with Bangladesh. This will facilitate legitimate travel. Under the Udaan project, officials said, WWII-era airports are being upgraded to enhance air connectivity.

North-eastern music and dance groups will travel more, particularly to Asean countries. Funds are being earmarked from other departments to upgrade medical colleges and hospitals in Assam and Meghalaya to receive patients from Myanmar and Bangladesh. Central and state governments will reduce the number of areas that need an inner line permit for these states to incentivise tourism. “We used to be a trading and maritime nation, we’re trying to recapture that space,” an official said.


Terrorists kill off-duty soldier

A 23-year-old soldier, who was on vacation, was abducted and killed by terrorists at Shopian in South Kashmir. According to police, the body of Irfan Ahmad Dar, who went missing on Friday, was found with bullet marks.

His car was also found a km away from the spot where he was found dead.

“He was perhaps kidnapped by terrorists. His bullet-riddled body was recovered on Saturday morning,” SSP Shopian, Ambarkar Shriram, said, adding that the soldier was posted with the Engineering Regiment of the Army at Gurez near the LoC.

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who is on a tour to South Kashmir, strongly condemned the killing. This is the third such killing in the recent times.

In May, Lt Umar Fayaz was killed in the same area after terrorists kidnapped him from a marriage party in Kulgam district. His bullet-riddled body was found on May 10 in Harman village of the same district. He belonged to neighbouring Kulgam district. He was posted with 2 Rajputana Rifles in Akhnoor area of Jammu district. The killing of the bright son of a Kashmiri farmer was widely condemned. After Fayaz’s gruesome killing, the state police issued an advisory asking its personnel not to visit their ancestral places in south Kashmir districts for six months.

In September, Mohammad Ramzan, a BSF jawan, was shot dead. Meanwhile, Dineshwar Sharma, The Centre’s Special Representative for Kashmir, met representatives of many outfits and undertook school visits, meeting children and teachers.