Global Healthcare Index

Motown's Top 10 models: January 2017

Airtel waives off roaming charges

India’s largest telecom company Bharti Airtel Ltd dropped domestic roaming charges, matching rival Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. In a statement, Bharti Airtel said all incoming calls and messages will be free and no premium will be charged on outgoing calls while roaming across India from 1 April. There won’t be any data roaming charges either, the company said in its statement. Home data packs for customers will apply even while they roam across India.

Starting 1 April, even customers on international roaming without a pack will be fully protected from “bill shocks” through an automatic adjustment that is equal to the daily pack for that particular country.

In Barcelona, in a keynote address at the Mobile World Congress, Mittal said most regulators still live in an “analogue world” and urged them to allow consolidation. Large countries only need three service providers while smaller ones could be covered by two carriers, he said.

City Liveability Index

You would soon know how liveable your city is. Taking a leaf out of international practice of rating cities on liveability, India is all set to introduce its own liveability index.

Beginning with 100 smart cities, the liveability index would rank all Indian cities on 77 parameters including how they fare in terms of grievance redressal of citizens, pollution, availability of water and power, online citizen services, upkeep of historical buildings, increase in tourist footfalls, crime rate, extent of crimes recorded against women, children and elderly , availability of traffic surveillance system and education.

The liveability index, which would be unveiled at an urban development ministry workshop, would chart a city's progress against various standards under four categories ­ institutional, social, economic and physical. These would in turn be divided into 15 sub-categories of standards and take the form of 15 category indexes, which will together contribute to a common City Liveability Index.

These indices will be used to create a ranking framework for all cities, facilitating a competitive environment amongst cities to improve their liveability.

A senior urban development ministry official said, “Sub-indices will help cities to identify and improve upon particular areas of deficiency for improving their indices and comparative inter-city rankings. This competitive approach would help in improving urban infrastructure in the cities.“

A scientific formula has been developed giving percentage weightage to the four categories of reforms. Maximum weightage (40%) would be given to physical infrastructure, which would include water, energy , waste water, solid waste, housing, open space, mobility and pollution indices.

This would be followed by governance index (30%). Social index (20%) would include health index, education, identity and culture index and security index. Economic index (10%) would include unemployment rate, annual increase in number of registered offices and commercial establishments and other indices reflecting the health of city economy .


Delhi's Iconic Centaur Hotel to be razed

Delhi's Centaur Hotel, a landmark built for the 1982 Asian Games, will soon be consigned to history . The Delhi International Airport Pvt Ltd says the site of the hotel will be needed by December 2019 -by when it would have completed 37 years--to make way for aircraft parking bays as part of the terminal 3 expansion plan.

Run by Air India, the 376-room Centaur was a landmark when it opened because of its glitzy interiors. Its glass elevators visible from the central lobby, a novelty back then that only Le Meridien at Janpath boasted of, were a big hit. Today, it is a pale shadow of its original self due to years of mismanagement and poor upkeep. AI is likely to ask for land elsewhere in the 4,608 acre IGI Airport complex in lieu of this site.

National Transit Oriented Development Policy

The Union urban development ministry has formulated a policy framework for transit oriented development, which promotes living in proximity to mass urban transit corridors such as metros, monorail and bus rapid transit corridors. The Centre is also holding a workshop on February 28 to brief the states and Union Territories on the 'National Transit Oriented Development Policy'.

This new urban design & planning in the form of TOD is being incentivised by the ministry under two more initiatives -Metro Policy and Green Urban Mobility Scheme -which will be discussed with states and UTs for taking them on board.

TOD has been mandatory under the new Metro Policy, while it has been made an essential reform under the Green Urban Mobility Scheme, and is put on priority for receiving central assistance. Though the Centre had notified the TOD policy in early 2015, there was no clarity on the process for various sanctions management of open spaces, parking space, water requirement, etc.

States and UTs are required to incorporate TOD in the master & development plans of cities besides identifying `influence zones' from transit corridors for tapping revenue streams. Though all states are drafting their own TOD policy, the new policy framework by the urban development ministry is expected to provide basic guidelines for finalising it. Development, or redevelopment, in a TOD zone will be incentivised by providing significantly higher floor area ratio, which will enable vertical construction that is required to address shortage of land availability. TOD also promotes integration of land use planning with transportation and infrastructure development to avoid long distance travel in cities through compact development.

The policy will be financed by channelising a part of rise in property values resulting from investments in transit corridors through betterment levies & financing tools.


IGI to get an Air Train

The IGI airport will soon get its own air train, a dedicated Metro, for passengers to transit from one terminal to another. Leading airports of the world like New York's JFK, London Heathrow, Hong Kong and Zurich have long had free-to-use Metro lines between their terminals and Delhi will be the first Indian airport to boast of the same.

At present, passengers transit between terminals by buses. DIAL is going to ask Delhi Metro Rail Corporation to do a technical study on the routing and also give an indicative costing of the air train project. The airport operator has held initial consultations with a New York-based firm. Based on that, the plan is to have four stations for its air train -at T1, Aerocity (the hospitality district), cargo terminal and a common one for T3 and T2/4.

India in fairly good shape: IMF

India's economy is in a “fairly good shape“ and it is likely to be less affected than other emerging economies if there is a further shock to the global economy. “We've seen pretty tepid global growth rates in the recent past. If there's any adverse shock to the global growth and thereby global demand, we think India will not be unaffected but will be less affected than other countries which rely on exports and trade far more than India does,“ Paul A Cashin, assistant director in IMF's Asia & Pacific department, and mission chief of India, said.

Thousands turn up for soldier's funeral in Shopian

Thousands of people joined the funeral service of Lance Naik Mohiuddin Rather at a mosque in Punchpora village in Anantnag district of south Kashmir on Friday; a sight rarely witnessed in chronicles of the Valley's troubled past.

Mohiuddin, 35, and two of his mates were killed in a militant ambush at Mulu Chitragam in Shopian district on Thursday when they were returning from an anti-terror operation near Kungnoo village. Two other officers were also wounded in the attack.

When the tricolour draped body of Mohiuddin was brought in an Army vehicle to be handed over to his family members for the last rites, thousands of residents of Punchpora village poured out of their homes in a spontaneous gesture to pay their respects to the dead soldier and console the bereaved family . Many even came from other villages for the nimaz-ijanazah (last prayers), which took place in the presence of top Rashtriya Rifles officers.

A group of women were seen consoling his young weeping wife, Shahzada Akhtar, 26, and the soldier's unwell mother. Women from the nearby villages walked to the slain soldier's village Punchpora, and were seen offering water to the young widow. As colleagues bid farewell to Mohiuddin, giving him a gun salute, many villagers couldn't control their tears.

The turnout astonished some seasoned Kashmir ob servers considering that south Kashmir villages are known to be militant hotbeds.


A hotter Summer forecast

State Banks' Merger

The merger of State Bank of India's five associate banks with the parent will become effective in the new fiscal year. In gazette notifications published on Thursday , the government said the entire undertakings of these five banks shall stand transferred to and vested in State Bank of India from April 1, 2017. Separately, SBI informed stock exchanges about the effective date of the merger.

The Union Cabinet earlier this month approved the merger of State Bank of Bikaner & Jaipur, State Bank of Mysore, State Bank of Travancore, State Bank of Patiala and State Bank of Hyderabad with SBI.

The merger will create a bigger SBI that will account for nearly a quarter of all outstanding loans in the country . The combined entity will have a network of nearly 23,000 branches, further increasing the dominance of the country's largest bank.

Two of the five associate banks, State Bank of Patiala and State Bank of Hyderabad, are unlisted. Among the listed ones, SBI holds a 75% stake in State Bank of Bikaner & Jaipur, 90% in State Bank of Mysore and 79% in State Bank of Travancore.

The government had earlier said the SBI-associate merger was an important step towards strengthening the banking sector through consolidation of public sector banks.

The merger is likely to result in recurring savings, estimated at more than Rs.1,000 crore in the first year, through a combination of enhanced operational efficiency and reduced cost of funds, the government had earlier said.

Officers and employees of the associate banks, with the exception of board members and executive trustees, will become employees of SBI after the merger.

BJP sweeps Maharashtra Civic Polls

The Bharatiya Janata Party won eight out of 10 municipal corporations across Maharashtra and almost ended rival Shiv Sena's stronghold over capital Mumbai as chief minister Devendra Fadnavis' strategy of going it alone in the civic elections paid off handsomely . A wave of support for the BJP and Fadnavis across urban Maharashtra sunk the Congress and the NCP, with the BJP emerging victorious on its own in many civic bodies for the first time in many years.

The Sena's hold over Asia's richest civic body , the BMC, and India's financial capital Mumbai, built assiduously over the years by the late Bal Thackeray, was threatened by a late, spectacular BJP surge, which more than doubled the party's seat tally to 82 from 31 in 2012. The Sena captured 84 seats of the 227, while the Congress came a poor third with just 31 seats. Both the BJP and the Sena are now trying to cobble together numbers to cross the majority mark. The BJP has already announced that it has the support of four independents.

Fadnavis credited the party's performance to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's “clean image“. He said the people had voted for the “transparency agenda“ of the BJP. Fadnavis hinted that the BJP and Sena could come together for a post-poll arrangement.

In Pune, where results for 124 of the 172 seats were declared, the BJP managed to get 77 seats and in Pimpri-Chinchwad, it emerged as the single-biggest party with 61 of the 101 seats declared (total seats: 128). Both Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad are considered the stronghold of the NCP and the drubbing that the party received in spite of campaigning by its leaders like Ajit Pawar will lead to tough questions within the party.

In Ulhasnagar, too, the BJP has become the single-biggest party there with 34 seats. The Sena got 25 seats and the NCP, 4. The BJP was the single-biggest party in In Akola, Amravati and Nashik also. The Congress was at the helm in Amravati.

The Congress lost power in Solapur, the domain of former Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde. The BJP managed to emerge as the single-largest party with 39 seats.

The results are significant for two reasons.One, the elections were seen as a referendum on Fadnavis's rule. Secondly, the BJP was contesting all the polls on its own without allying with the Shiv Sena.

Thane is the only municipality that doesn't seem to have come under the BJP effect with the Sena coming up trumps.


Bharti Airtel to buy Telenor India

In further consolidation in the Indian telecom sector post the entry of Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel said that it will acquire rival Telenor India to further augment its customer base and network.
The acquisition will add about 44 million subscribers to Bharti Airtel’s existing 266 million, taking the total to 310 million. It will still be behind the possible Vodafone-Idea combine, which will have 390 million users.

As part of the agreement, Airtel – India’s largest telecom service provider – will acquire Telenor India’s operations in seven circles, namely Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Gujarat, UP (East), UP (West) and Assam.

Solar park capacity to double to 40GW

The government approved a plan to double the capacity of solar parks and ultra-mega solar power projects to 40,000 MW from 20,000 MW. The decision was taken by the Cabinet's panel on economic affairs. A roadmap would be finalised shortly to set up at least 50 solar parks, each with a capacity of 500MW except in hilly areas where adequate land is not available.

Smaller parks in Himalayan and other hilly states, where contiguous land may be difficult to acquire in view of difficult terrain, will also be considered under the scheme.

These solar parks will be set up by 2019-20 with an aid of Rs.8,100 crore from the Centre. After completion, the total capacity of all solar parks will generate 64 billion units of electricity per year, saving 55 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emission a year over their life cycle.

State governments will first nominate solar power park developer and identify land for the project. They will then send the proposal to the ministry of new and renewable energy for approval.

The renewable energy ministry is implementing a scheme for development of at least 25 solar parks with an aggregate capacity of 20,000 MW , which was launched in December 2014.

Note Ban hampers growth : IMF

Cash shortage and payment disruptions caused by demonetisation have undermined consumption and business activity and poses a new challenge to sustain the growth momentum in India, the International Monetary Fund has said and called for quick restoration of availability of cash to avoid further disruptions.

Growth is projected to slow to 6.6% in 2016-17 and then rebound to 7.2% in 2017-18 due to temporary disruptions, primarily to private consumption caused by cash shortage. The government and RBI expect growth to be about 7.1% in 2016-17.

IMF has supported government's efforts to clamp down on illicit financial flows, but noted the strains that have emerged from the currency exchange initiative. It called for prudent monitoring of potential side-effects of demonetisation on financial stability and growth.

It said supply of new banknotes in the first month after the demonetisation initiative was insufficient, even as authorities took multiple steps to ease the currency situation.

IMF mission chief for India Paul Cashin said the demonetization initiative presents an opportunity to increase size of the formal economy and broaden financial intermediation in the long term and can also support widening of the tax base, help reduce fiscal deficit, enhance bank liquidity , and give a fillip to government's efforts to promote greater financial inclusion.

He said the government has made significant progress on important economic reforms, which will support strong and sustainable growth going forward. Cashin said implementation of GST, which has been in the making for over a decade, will help raise India's medium-term growth to above 8%, as it will enhance efficiency of production and movement of goods and services across states.

Antyodaya Express set for launch

Antyodaya Express, the new superfast train service for the common man with specially designed colourful coaches and comfortable seats, is ready for launch. The fully unreserved train is ready to be pressed into service on busy routes. The first Antyodaya Express will be launched between Mumbai and Tatanagar, and the second will be between Ernakulam and Howrah, shortly . The general class coaches with new colour schemes are equipped with facilities like LED lights, water purifiers, cellphone charging points and fire extinguishers.

The fare structure will be between 10-15% more than the regular fare as railways have maintained that manufacturing cost of these coaches is high. Provided with bio-toilets, Antyodaya coaches will have toilet occupation indication lights provided at each end near the doorway .


Informal economy set to contract

A forced and rapid transition of the Indian economy towards using less cash is likely to result in businesses not paying tax becoming unviable, says a report by Ambit Capital Pvt. Ltd. The government’s demonetization move is being followed up with initiatives to use formal payment channels including digital, and disincentives are being put in place for cash usage. India’s informal economy, which was reliant on cash, may shrink rapidly going ahead. Ambit estimates that its share can fall from 40% as of the third quarter to 20% by fiscal year 2020.

Shoot @ sight in Corbett

In a stringent anti-poaching measure, authorities at Corbett Tiger Reserve have issued shoot-at-sight orders “to prevent killing of big cats in the reserve“. The orders were passed after movement of suspected poachers was reported near the southern boundary of the park. Officiating in-charge of CTR, Parag Madhukar Dhakate, said that the step has been taken for “protection of wildlife, especially tigers“. Authorities are also taking other steps including barring villagers from entering the protected area and subjecting visitors to extensive frisking.

The order comes days after the controversial BBC documentary , `Killing for Conservation', raised a question as to whether the war on poaching had gone too far. The film claimed that guards at the reserve were given the power to `shoot and kill', which, according to BBC's South Asia correspondent Justin Rowlatt, had led to the deaths of 23 poachers, compared to 17 rhinos last year. The environment ministry later criticised the BBC for “presenting a one-sided picture“ and requested that it blacklist Rowlatt.

Dhakate added that to protect wildlife in the tiger reserve, two drones and 150 forest frontline staff have also been deployed. Over 388 camera traps have been set up and sharpshooters equipped with night vision goggles have been put on duty in the park, which has a population of 164 tigers and sees over 1,000 visitors daily.

J-K govt announces guest control @ weddings

The J-K government has issued an order, limiting the number of guests allowed to be invited to any social and private gathering, including weddings. It also imposed a complete ban on sending gifts with invitation cards, and the use of fire crackers and loudspeakers on such occasions. Choudhary Zulfikar Ali, minister for Food, Civil Supplies, and Consumer Affairs said, “The number of invited guests should not exceed 500 for a daughter's marriage, while it should be limited to 400 for the marriage of a son. The number of guests should not be more than 100 for occasions like ring ceremony ... The number of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes should be restricted to a seven each,“ Ali said. The order will apply from April 11.


India Most Confident Place for Consumers

India remained the most confident country in terms of job prospects, personal finance and immediate spending intentions in the fourth quarter of 2016, when the government invalidated high denomination currency notes.

The country's consumer confidence score climbed to 136, up three points from the previous quarter and the highest level in 10 years, according to the latest Nielsen Global Survey of Consumer Confidence and Spending Intentions. The Philippines came second with a score of 132 and the US was third with 123.

Consumer confidence levels above and below a baseline of 100 indicate degrees of optimism and pessimism, respectively, in the online survey conducted by the New York-based research firm.

During the survey period, the Indian government had announced the demonetisation of  Rs.1,000 and Rs.500 notes accounting for 86% of the currency in circulation by value.

India's personal finance sentiment improved by one percentage point to 85% and the job outlook went up three percentage points to 84%.

However, 17% of the respondents indicated that job security continues to be their `biggest concern' followed by the state of the economy for 16% and terrorism for 14%.

As many as 70% of urban Indians indicated that it's a good time to buy things they want and need over the next 12 months. While 65% said savings are the best way to utilise spare cash, 54% said they would prefer to spend on technology and 53% chose spending on holidays and vacations.

On household expenses, 78% indicated a change in spending to save money, five points lower than the previous quarter. To control spending, 44% said they would cut down on gas and electricity , 39% said they would spend less on new clothes and 33% would cut down on out-of-home entertainment.

World's 30 Most Dynamic Cities

India's climb past China on the ladder of fastest-expanding economies has made its cities match those in its northern neighbour for glitz and glamour, with six South Asian urban centres featuring in a global index of 30 dynamic cities against five from the Asian powerhouse.

At the top of JLL's City Momentum Index 2017 sits Bengaluru, that has knocked global financial hotspot London off the perch the UK capital had tenaciously held on for two years. Hyderabad follows at 5, while Pune at 13, Chennai at 18, Delhi at 23, and Mumbai at 25 constitute the rest of the Indian presence on the list.

India's dominant presence is in sharp contrast to the list three years ago that did not have even a single city. In this period, the rate of economic growth in China has moderated, allowing India to emerge as the world's fastest-expanding major economy. Among the most densely-populated areas globally, the Indian cities on the list have shown the fastest change on key parameters -economic output, corporate headquarters,FDI, construction, absorption and prices of commercial real estate, investment transactions and transparency .

Hyderabad and Bengaluru also lead the rise of agile emerging world cities figuring with best-in-class examples such as Shanghai, Shenzhen and Dubai. Being India's leading IT hub, Bengaluru has attracted a range of leading technology firms, apart from nurturing successful start-ups.

Cyber Swachhta Kendra

India's first dedicated heliport

The capital will soon get India's first dedicated “heliport“ for flying in and out of Delhi to nearby areas in choppers. The Rs 100-crore project will be inaugurated on February 28 and will be an integrated one with a chopper maintenance, repair and overhaul unit part of the complex at Rohini.

Owned by Pawan Hans Helicopters Ltd.  the hugely-delayed heliport will have a large number of parking bays and an AC passenger terminal building with car parking area for the flyers.

The heliport will bring choppers within the reach of common man. Only top VVIPs and industrialists manage to get permission for flying in or out of IGI in choppers. The country's top dignitaries, including the president, prime minister, home minister and chief ministers of a few states, use choppers from Safdarjung airport.

Pawan Hans had successfully carried out the first trial test landing an Eccuriall B3 chopper exactly a year ago to assess standard operating procedures and safety standards.Since then it has carried out many more tests. This heliport has a terminal building having capacity of 150 passengers, four hangers with parking capacities of 16 helicopters and 9 parking bays.

Towards cutting urban carbon footprint

The government has started preparing a road-map for building 8,000 km of pavements and laying more cycle tracks in 106 cities in the next five years to promote walking and cycling and to reduce carbon footprint in urban areas.

The urban development ministry targets building these infrastructures, lay 1,300 km bus rapid transit corridors with dedicated fast lanes for buses, set up 500 new bus depots and promote use of electric and hybrid vehicles under the “Green Transport Scheme“.

The scheme will involve investment worth nearly Rs.80,000 crore and will benefit about 22 crore urban population. The ministry has floated a detailed proposal for discussion and for carrying out the preparatory work. In the first phase, cities with population over 5 lakh will be covered.

Considering that the scheme won't be successful unless cities have necessary rules and regulations in place, so to enable cities to get financial incentive from Centre, the states are required to have and implement a parking policy, adopt street vendor regulation norms, have a policy to prevent encroachments and also have an urban transport fund.

Somewhere in Mumbai....

Oceanarium to come up @ Somnath

The Gujarat government plans to build a “mega oceanarium“ at Somnath, which will likely be the first of it's kind in India. The Gujarat environment and forests department has sanctioned Rs.350 crore for the oceanarium under the World Bank funded Integrated Coastal Zone Management Project.

The state government has allocated 10 acres of land at Somnath which was with the Somnath Temple Trust. The unique features of this proposed oceanarium will be a 270-degree acrylic tunnel, showcasing more than 300 marine species, large aquariums, touch pool shows, sea lion shows and full-fledged marine and coastal research laboratories.

Jio crosses 100m users

Led by free voice and data services, Mukesh Ambani's telecom venture Reliance Jio managed to cross 100-million in subscribers, achieving the number in less than six months of its launch.
He had publicly expressed his desire to cross the 100-million mark, when the company announced its official launch on September 1 last year.

Jio, which marked Ambani's second coming in the telecom business, has had a high decibel run in the market. While its free services offering -especially the lifetime zero charges on voice calling -virtually took the steam out of the traditional telecom business, the company has been embroiled in a bitter war of words with the older telecom companies such as Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular.

While the subscriber acquisition success has been quick for the company, many analysts have expressed doubts over the sustainability of this momentum once the company starts charging customers, many of whom use the services on a second SIM card. If billing happens post-March, when the company's second free offering ends, then it will be a real test for the company to not only retain the existing subscriber base but also add new ones at the same pace.While Jio has blamed the call failures on rivals (due to which Trai has recommended a Rs.3,050 crore penalty on Airtel, Vodafone and Idea), there have also been many issues regarding the internet speed on its network.

India's oldest warship set to bid adieu

India's oldest warhorse with 30 glorious years of service in the Indian Navy is in danger of being junked and sold for scrap. With March 6 being fixed as the final retirement date for the 58-year-old aircraft carrier INS Viraat, the proposal to convert it into a museum is yet to take any concrete shape.
Defence ministry said it may be forced to scrap the 27,800-tonne carrier, which saw operational service in the Royal British Navy for 27 years before being inducted by the Indian Navy in 1987, because of the continuing imbroglio with the Andhra Pradesh government over who will foot the bill.

The carrier will now be decommissioned at Mumbai on March 6 after several delays. The farewell for the “grand old lady“, which will witness the Tri colour, naval ensign and commissioning pennant being hauled down for the last time at sunset, will be attended by Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba and many Indian officers associated with the carrier as well as around 20 British naval veterans. 

BHARATQR is here!

The next time you walk into a kirana store in a small town without electricity or landline phones, chances are that you will spot a BharatQR code placard which can be scanned for payment using your bank's mobile application. Indian banks and payment network companies: Visa, MasterCard and RuPay - have said that one million small shops will be onboarded for accepting digital payments using BharatQR code in a year.

BharatQR can be used for making payments by storing debit or credit card details within a mobile app. Soon the code will also enable payments using the Unified Payments Interface and Aadhaar-enabled payments.

For shopkeepers, the savings will be in the cost of buying or renting maintaining a card swipe machine. However, there will be a cost which is at present similar to charges paid on debit and credit cards. Even the Unified Payment Interface, which is vaunted as a low-cost payment option, attracts the same transaction fee when used by a merchant. There is a proposal to have lower charges for BharatQR and merchant UPI transactions.

This is the second digital payment offering by the National Payment Corporation of India after demonetisation.


Zeliang quits as Nagaland CM

Bowing to the opponents of reservation for women in urban local bodies, Nagaland chief minister T R Zeliang resigned from office late on Sunday and called an emergency meeting of the ruling Naga People's Front on Monday to select his successor.

Two major anti-reservation groups, the Nagaland Tribes' Action Committee and the Joint Coordination Committee, have been carrying out a relentless campaign for Zeliang's sacking since the death of two people in police firing during a protest Dimapur on January 31.

On Saturday night, 49 legislators, including the 39 who had earlier supported Lieziestu, agreed “in principle“ to back NPF Lok Sabha member Neiphiu Rio as the next CM when the latter met them at a resort at Assam's Kaziranga National Park.

DBT saves Rs.50,000 crores

Savings due to Direct Benefit Transfer over the last three years have touched Rs.50,000 cr as on December 31, 2016. This amount is equivalent to the subsidy paid out under DBT in this financial year, implying nearly a year's subsidy was saved. Nearly 33 crore people receive various subsidies directly in their bank accounts now through DBT.

As per government's interim figures as on December 31, the cumulative DBT savings stand at Rs.49,650 cr, pending information from many states.

The government says it has saved almost Rs.14,000 cr in its PDS by deleting 2.33 cr ration cards so far and better targeting of beneficiaries through DBT. Rs.7,633 cr is cited as the savings in the MGNREGS scheme by the government so far. Rs.399 cr is cited as savings in the National Social Assistance Programme. The biggest saving of Rs.26,408 cr is cited in the LPG PAHAL scheme, including Rs.4,824 Cr in the first nine months of this financial year. The LPG subsidy payout qualifies as the world's largest cash transfer programme. The government is sticking to its guns on the LPG subsidy savings figure despite the Comptroller and Auditor General of India poking holes in the same in a recent report saying the savings were “exaggerated“. C&AG said the government had assumed that the 3.11 cr blocked or inactive customers would have availed 12 subsidised cylinders apiece rather than only 6 cylinders as per national average per capita consumption of cylinders.

The major schemes new on DBT platform over the next one year will include Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, Atal Pension Yojana, PM Suraksha Bima Yojana and PM Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana, PM Crop Insurance Scheme and PM Gramin Awas Yojana.


GDP Will Bounce Back Sharply: RBI Governor

Reserve Bank of India Governor Urjit Patel said India's economic growth will make a “sharp V“ recovery following the recall of old Rs.500 and Rs.1,000 notes. Patel also made a strong case for continuing with globalisation even in the face of a potential shift to trade protectionism under US President Donald Trump as India has benefited from open trade.

RBI last week lowered economic growth for the current fiscal to 6.9% from the previously projected 7.1%, but saw it bouncing back in a big way to 7.4% in 2017-18.

He said the benefit of junking 86% of currency in circulation will take time to fully play out and needs more work to ensure they are lasting.

Asked when India could achieve 9% GDP growth, he said it is difficult to predict sustainable growth rates. Higher growth rate is possible if very fundamental reforms, especially in factors of production like land and labour, are undertaken, the governor said.

PPP route to beautify Howrah roads

In a first-of-its-kind initiative by a civic body in Bengal and perhaps India, Howrah Municipal Corporation introduced the PPP model for maintenance and beautification of six key roads in Howrah town. HMC's PPP partner, selected through a bidding process, has already started the work.
The thoroughfares entrusted to it on a five-year contract are Drainage Canal Road, East West Road, Foreshore Road, Jagat Banerjee Ghat Road, Grand Foreshore Road and Kadamtala 100 Feet Road, spanning a combined road length of 24 km. The move is a win-win for both HMC and its PPP partner, M3 Eco Path. While HMC will save Rs.1.7 crore a year on maintenance and beautification of these thoroughfares, the company will be free to earn revenue from billboard advertisements along these roads to cover cost of maintenance and beautification and earn profit as well.

Besides, the agreement requires M3 Eco Path to make a one-time payment of Rs.1 crore to HMC as compensation for loss of tax revenue from billboard advertisements along these roads over the next five years. Besides, the PPP partner will have to build a 1 km road off Drainage Canal Road to a helipad in Dumurjola. Choppers carrying chief minister Mamata Banerjee uses this helipad.

Chaos in TN Assembly

The Palaniswami government won the trust vote but not before five hours of high drama in the Tamil Nadu assembly. DMK members created a ruckus, stood on tables, flung chairs, tore up papers and poured water on marshals called to evict them. In the melee, the speaker's table was overturned, his mic was broken and DMK members sat on his chair after the speaker left. After the DMK members were forcefully evicted by more than 100 marshals, and eight Congress and one IUML members walked out in protest, the motion of confidence was put to vote. Chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami's ministry won with 122 votes, while rebel leader O Panneerselvam mustered the support of 11 MLAs.

In the morning, when speaker P Dhanapal asked the chief minister to move the confidence to vote, unruly scenes were witnessed as the speaker refused to heed to a key demand of the DMK -a secret ballot that it argued would truly reflect public opinion since the AIADMK MLAs had been sequestered at a resort for nearly 10 days. Leader of the opposition M K Stalin also pleaded that the motion be taken up at a later date.

DMK president M Karunanidhi did not attend the assembly . AIADMK MLA P R G Arunkumar from Coimbatore North abstained from voting.

Andaman Volcano spews smoke & lava

India's only live volcano in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands has again started spewing smoke and lava. After lying dormant for 150 years, Barren Island volcano erupted in 1991 and, since then, it has been showing sporadic activity, scientists of Goa-based National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) said.

Researchers from CSIR and NIO have sampled the sediments and water in the vicinity of the volcano and recovered coal-like black pyroclastic material representing proximal volcanic ejecta. These samples will help in deciphering the nature of present and past volcanic activity in the region.

The Andaman basin is an active back-arc spreading basin and is known for its strong seismicity , many submarine volcanoes and hydrothermal activity. Scientists from CSIRNIO have been surveying the Andaman basin and they have identified many small submerged volcanoes in a linear chain called a volcanic arc.

The volcanic island is uninhabited and the northern part of the island is, as the name suggests, barren and devoid of vegetation. Indian citizens can visit the volcanic island by chartered boats after obtaining permission of the forest department in Port Blair.


More about Momentum Jharkhand

The Jharkhand government has signed 210 MoUs worth over Rs.3 lakh crore that will generate employment for about six lakh people in the state. Conceptualised on the lines of Vibrant Gujarat, the two-day global investor summit saw the biggest commitment from Adani Enterprises of about Rs.50,000 crore in fertilisers, power, solar panel manufacturing and methanol. Christened Momentum Jharkhand, MoUs at the event ranged across industries -from textile, apparels, footwear, food processing, IT & ITES to agriculture, mines and minerals, energy ,urban infrastructure and automobiles.

Jharkhand CM Raghubar Das's confidence stemmed from the assurances his plans received from the Central government, including finance minister Arun Jaitley . In total, 12 Central ministers participated during the summit.

Top leaders from India Inc, including Ratan Tata, Kumar Mangalam Birla of Aditya Birla group, Shashi Ruia of Essar Group and Anil Agarwal of Vedanta Group also attended the summit. Each of these business groups has already invested substantial amount of money in the state and are planning to put in more money.


Economic Freedom: India Slips

India has slipped noticeably in the latest annual ranking of the economic freedom index brought out by American think tank The Heritage Foundation. Putting India in the category of “Mostly Unfree“ economies, Heritage said progress on market-oriented reforms has been “uneven“, with the state “maintaining an extensive presence“ in many areas through public sector enterprises. 

Momentum Jharkhand

Conglomerates such as the Adani Group Vedanta, AV Birla Group and JSPL have committed nearly Rs.50,000 crore of fresh investments in Jharkhand, as the state's maiden investment summit, Momentum Jharkhand, got off to an encouraging start.



Trade statz

Improved demand from the United States, European Union and Japan helped increase India's exports for the fifth month in a row in January, indicating that demonetisation has not hit exports as much as feared. A faster increase in imports, however, widened the trade deficit.

Exports went up 4.3% in January from a year ago to $22.1 billion. Imports rose 10.7% to $31.9 billion during the month, yielding a $9.8 billion trade deficit in January compared with $7.6 billion in the year-ago period.

Gold imports declined almost 30% to $2.04 billion in January.

As many as 17 out of 30 exporting sectors showed an increase in shipments, but labour intensive sectors such as leather, carpets, and gems and jewellery reported a fall in exports.

Global trade is expected to have grown about 1.7% in 2016 from the previous year. Exports got a boost from higher crude prices. Among non-oil merchandise exports, engineering goods did well while gems and jewellery, and drugs and pharmaceuticals saw a decline.

Oil imports in January saw a 61% spike to $8.14 billion while non-oil imports were flat at $23.8 billion.

Non-oil, non-gold imports rose 4.2% in January, in line with 4.4% rise in the previous month, driven by coal imports.

Trade deficit in first ten months of 2016-17 was $86.3 billion, 19.82% lower than deficit of $107.7 billion a year ago.

Fast-track courts to be set-up

To expedite justice delivery in cases of heinous crimes and those against women, children and the elderly, the government has earmarked over Rs.4,100 crore to set up 1,800 fast track courts, one of the largest allocation of funds so far to set up such special courts. These funds will be available to states till 2020.

Fast-track courts were constituted for the first time in 2000 for a period of five years with an allocation of Rs.500 crore. The scheme was extended by another five years, and again till 2011, with an additional allocation of Rs.509 crore. According to the law ministry , at least 1,700 fast-track courts were set up by states during the first two phases.

The highest amount of money was allocated to Uttar Pradesh, followed by Maharashtra, Gujarat and Bihar. These four states together account for Rs.1,695 crore, or over 40% of the total allocation.

Though the government had discontinued funding for fast-track courts after 2011, some states continued with such courts. The recent allocations are based on the recommendation of the 14th Finance Commission which had endorsed the Central government's proposal.

The government had proposed to set up 1,800 fast track courts in different states to help bring down pendency of cases. Uttar Pradesh, which was granted Rs.488 crore to set up fast track courts, accounts for the largest pendency of cases in subordinate courts as well as among high courts (Allahabad HC).

New Pune airport will take 5 years

The new Pune airport at Purandar taluka will take at least five more years to be built and become operational, district guardian minister Girish Bapat said. Bapat said the expansion plan for the existing airport in Lohegaon was in sync with the new airport project, which will be ready in five years. Bapat's statement goes against claims made by Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis earlier. While announcing the project last year, Fadnavis had said the new airport would be operational within three years.

Maharashtra Airport Development Company Limited vice-chairman and managing director Vishwas Patil had also recently announced in Pune that the new airport would be ready by 2019, even before the one at Navi Mumbai.

Aviation experts and the business community said the delay could result in confusion. Besides, air traffic in the city, which is growing every year, could become too much for the existing airport to handle.

As per figures provided by the AAI, the revenue generated by the Pune airport was Rs.7.87 lakh in 2011-12, which increased each year since. In 2015-16, the revenue touched Rs.11.72 lakh. In terms of growth, the airport witnessed a growth of 23% during 2015-16. At present, it handles 142 scheduled flight movements, with as many as 16 new flights of different airlines in queue waiting for slots.

The delay could impact BJP's 2019 Lok Sabha poll prospects.

Bapat also said that the corridor between Pune and Saswad would be made wide and speedy. The MADC, meanwhile, said all announcements regarding the new airport will now come only after the elections.

SBI merger with 5 arms gets Cabinet nod

The Union Cabinet approved SBI's acquisition of its five subsidiary banks, a move which is expected to accelerate consolidation in the banking space.

SBI chairman Arundhati Bhattacharyasaid, “The merger will result in creation of a stronger entity . This will minimise vulnerability to any geographic concentration risks faced by associate banks. This merger is an important step towards strengthening the banking sector through consolidation of public sector banks.“

The subsidiary banks include State Bank of Bikaner & Jaipur, State Bank of Hyderabad, State Bank of Mysore, State Bank of Patiala and State Bank of Travancore. In August last year, the SBI board had approved the proposal to merge five associate banks with itself .

The Cabinet also approved the introduction of a bill in Parliament to repeal the State Bank of India (Subsidiary Banks) Act, 1959 and the State Bank of Hyderabad Act, 1956.

The merger is likely to result in savings, estimated at more than Rs.1,000 crore in the first year, through a combination of enhanced operational efficiency and reduced cost of funds. Existing customers of subsidiary banks will benefit from access to SBI's global network.

Trump may be good for India: Mukesh Ambani

American President Donald Trump might be a blessing in disguise for India, said Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani.“It will help Indian talent and Indian IT industry to focus on solving problems in India. The domestic market is huge and this provides an opportunity to improve people's quality of life and to make sure industries are more productive,“ he said at the Nasscom India Leadership Forum 2017 in Mumbai.

In a similar vein, TCS' outgoing CEO and Tata Sons chairman-designate N Chandrasekaran said the Indian IT industry is reimagining itself to add value to its clients. “I think every time there is a regulation change or a perceived challenge, whether it is H-1B or increase in visa fee, people talk about IT industry being in trouble. I want to categorically say it is the most exciting industry to be in,“ he said. He added, “Every business is getting reimagined. So, the opportunity and the demand that we are going to see is just huge. Whether it's products or platforms -it's almost like a cricket pitch where the occasional ball will do something.“

Speaking on the topic `Dial D for disruption: Is data the new oil?', Ambani argued on how data is at the heart of India's digital transformation story , how the foundation of the fourth industrial revolution is connectivity and data. “Yes, to my mind, data is the new natural resource and, fundamentally, you have to have a lot of people to generate data and, in that sense, India is naturally blessed with its 1.3 billion people.We are really at the beginning of the era where data is really the new oil and India, with its talent and young population, will be the natural resource that will have a competitive ad vantage,“ he said.

Speaking about tech impact, he explained how Aadhaar helped Jio add 1 million users per day using e-KYC. “Remember, at the end, tech has to adjust to human beings and not the other way round. The big lesson for all of us to understand is that there is common sense and tech has to adjust to human beings. At the end, it has to serve society.“

Aero India snippets

“Make in India“ seems to be the focus of this year's Aero India, the 11th edition of Asia's biggest aviation spectacle, which kicked off at the Yelahanka airbase in Bengaluru.

A day after the IAF inducted the first indigenously developed all-weather airborne early warning and control system on the inaugural day of the show, the Army on Wednesday tested the Light Combat Helicopter, a multi-role combat chopper developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited that is likely to get initial operational clearance soon.

Defence PSU Bharat Electronics Ltd also unveiled a remote-controlled weapon system for the Army's Arjun tanks that would enable a soldier to fire the mounted machine gun at aerial targets from interiors of a tank.

The desi AEW&C, developed by the Centre for Airborne Systems in Bengaluru and integrated on Brazilian-made Embraer-145 aircraft, will add to surveillance capabilities of the IAF .However, the latest AEW&C addition and two more in the pipeline will not put India on a par with China or even Pakistan.While China has over 20 AWACS, including the new KJ-500s that can track over 60 aircraft at ranges up to 470km, Pakistan has four Swedish AEW&C aircraft and four Chinese-origin surveillance aircraft.

The LCH, armed with a gun, rockets, air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles, is a potent force multiplier and will greatly enhance the Army's combat capability. 

ISRO hits a Century!

At about 10 am on Wednesday, India's nearly 50-year-old space programme rocketed into record books by successfully deploying 104 satellites in orbit--a feat not accomplished by any country so far. The record-breaking mission, which has been six months in the making, will be one for history books.

It began at 9.28 am with a thunderous lift-off of the advanced version of the four-stage Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, designated as PSLVC37, at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota. The 104 satellites consisted of three Indian satellites, including the 714 kg Cartosat-2 series satellite, and 101 international co-passengers which included nano and micro satellites. After the launch, both President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Isro.

For Isro, it was a giant leap from 20 to 104. On June 22, 2016, it had placed 20 satellites in orbit in a single shot which gave it confidence to raise the number of satellites it can fly. In Wednesday's mission, the total weight of all the 104 satellites flown was 1,378 kg.

Considering the complex nature of the mission, in the moments prior to the takeoff, the mood among the scientists and engineers in the mission control room was a mix of confidence and a degree of apprehension. About 30 minutes before the launch, the weather was a `go' and a few minutes later came an announcement that the mission computers and all the tracking stations were ready for the flight.

Then came the much awaited countdown. The rocket emerged through the thick jungle around the launch pad. For a few moments, it was soundless. As the rocket pierced the morning sky, leaving behind a yellowish plume of smoke, the area reverberated to the thunder and roar of the vehicle. Nearly 17 minutes and 30 seconds into the mission, when the rocket hit a velocity of 7609.52 metre per second, the prime payload, the indigenous Cartosat-2 series satellite separated, evoking loud applause in the mission control room. Within seconds, the other two Indian satellies, Isro nano satellites, went into orbit.

At 18 minutes and 32.80 seconds, the first pair of foreign nanosatellites separated, and half-an-hour after lift the last pair was placed into orbit. A new world record had been created in space. All satellites were placed in a 505 km polar sun synchronous orbit.


Air Pollution in India

WPI surges to 2.5 year high

Wholesale price inflation surged to a two-and-a-half year high in January, driven by higher fuel prices and pointing to lurking prices pressures, which may prompt the RBI to sit pat on interest rates.
Inflation measured by the wholesale price index rose an annual 5.25% in January, higher than previous month's 3.39% and decline of 1.1% in January 2016.

The government revised upwards the inflation reading for November to 3.38% from the previous 3.15%, highlighting build-up of price pressures. Acceleration in WPI in January was powered by 18.14% increase in the fuel and power index.

Separate data showed that retail inflation had slowed to five-year low of 3.17% in January.

Economists said they expect the WPI to settle in the 4-4.5% range by March.


Somewhere in Delhi....

Somewhere in West Bengal....

On December 6, 1864, when Kalimpong was annexed by the British rulers and made a part of India, it had spent 152 years under Bhutanese rule.

On Tuesday, another 152 years later, it will be reborn as Bengal's 21st district. It will finally emerge from the shadow of its “big sister“ Darjeeling, of which it was a sub-division all along.

Bengal's newest district is also expected to be its most sparsely populated with 49,403 people (according to the 2011 census) inhabiting 1,056 square kilometer area. The same census pegs Darjeeling district's population at 9.37 lakhs (total area of the district being 3,149 square kilometer).

As chief minister Mamata Banerjee's motorcade winded its way into the soon-to-be district headquarters, it seemed she waded into festivities, which had already began. Such was the exuberance that the chief minister ­ much to the anxiety of her security personnel ­ had to step down no less than seven times.

The political underpinnings of the move, coming close on the heels of forming no less than 15 development boards by the Mamata Banerjee regime -including one for the Gurungs -however can't take away the fact that the district formation will also bring relief to geographically-remote hamlets in the subdivision etched between Nepal and Bhutan. For example, to reach Kalimpong's remotest polling booth, Tangta Primary School one needs to travel 156 kms by vehicle and then a further 10 km by foot. 

Larsen, MBDA tie up for missiles

Engineering conglomerate Larsen and Toubro entered into a joint venture with European defence major MBDA to develop and produce new-generation tactical missiles for the Indian armed forces.
L&T will own 51% in the JV , named `L&T MBDA Missile Systems' to be registered in India, with the European company holding 49%. The JV will initially work to develop and supply fifth-generation, anti-tank guided missiles, missiles for coastal defence batteries and high-speed target drones to the Indian forces.

L&T and MBDA, which is the world's largest exporter of missiles, have been already working together for over five years now.

The JV will bid for different military projects under the new indigenous design, development and manufacturing category of the Defence Procurement Procedure of 2016, which has been accorded top-most priority by the government to boost the country's fledgling defence-industrial base.