UDAN to Connect 31 More Airports

The aviation ministry said the first regional flight under the policy to make air travel accessible to the common man, Ude Desh Ka Aam Naagrik scheme, will start from next month after it selected 27 proposals from five airlines to connect 128 routes across the country, connecting 31 more unserved airports.

Under the scheme, the government aims to enhance grassroot adoption of aviation as a transportation medium and offers carriers cash subsidies for selling up to 40 seats per aircraft at Rs.2,500 for each hour of flight.

The five selected airlines are Alliance Air, SpiceJet, Turbo Megha Airways Pvt (TruJet), Air Deccan and Air Odisha Aviation Pvt Ltd (Air Odisha).

Of the five airlines, three will have to apply to the DGCA for Airline Operator Permit under the scheduled commuter category. Alliance Air and SpiceJet do not have to apply for any such permit and can start regional flights right away.

Through the UDAN scheme, the government will provide connectivity to 31 more airports in the country.

The government said the subsidy outgo on account of regional flights for the first year of operation will be in the range of  Rs.205 crore, which will be funded by charging Rs. 50 per passenger on trunk routes.

The government also said they had received 43 proposals from 11 airlines for connecting 200 routes. Of the 11, only five airlines were selected.

Another round of bidding for the second phase of the UDAN scheme will begin soon.

New Jammu-Srinagar tunnel to cut travel time

Piercing through the inner Himalayas, a new 9.2 km tunnel will shorten the driving time between Jammu and Srinagar by two hours, come Sunday. PM Narendra Modi is scheduled to inaugurate the two-lane Chenani-Nashri tunnel, which would be Asia's longest, cutting down the Srinagar-Jammu distance from 300 km to around 250 km.
The tunnel, which took seven years to build, will act as an all-weather alternative to the existing Jammu-Srinagar highway, linking Chenani in Udhampur district with Nashri in Ramban district. It will bypass the ecologically sensitive Patnitop area, and reduce the distance between Chenani and Nashri from 41 km to 9.2 km, while also steering clear of 44 avalanche and landslide-prone spots on the highway.

The construction, which began on May 23, 2011, involved nearly 1,500 engineers, geologists and labourers, besides skilled workers. It was supposed to be completed within five years but unhelpful weather on the thoroughfare and local disputes between labourers and contractors delayed the project by two years.

The National Highway Authority of India has spent Rs.3,720 crore on the project which has two tubes: the main tunnel and the escape tunnel. These two are internally connected through 29 cross-passages, with each located 300 metres apart.

Since the tunnel will bypass three major highway passenger stops, Kud, Patnitop and Batote, residents and businesses of these areas are upset that the tunnel will deprive them of their livelihood. Taking their objections into account, Asad said the J&K government was planning to rehabilitate small-time businessmen of the three stations.

There are 124 CCTV cameras for surveillance inside the tunnel. In case of traffic violation, the control room will inform the traffic police deployed outside the tunnel, who will fine the errant drivers. The suffocation levels created by excessive carbon-dioxide inside the tunnel will be checked by exhausts along the way .

Wadala to get promenade thrice the size of Marine Drive

The eastern water front, which will undergo a major revamp, will have a promenade thrice the length of Marine Drive. Mumbai Port Trust has decided to create a recreation zone on its port land, for which a master plan is being prepared. The length of Marine Drive is 3.6 km.

MbPT had appointed a consortium, which designed the Sabarmati waterfront, to prepare a master plan for the revamp of the eastern water front into a hub of tourism, recreation and entertainment under the self-financing model, through commercial exploitation of land, in November 2016. The consultant will start work on the draft plan for 550 ha within six months. Of this, 300 ha is available but the detailed master plan for 165 ha will be ready in nine months.

MbPT wants the consultant to create a landmark site for Mumbai and India, with plazas and shopping arcades, and a pedestrian and bicycle friendly environment. The revamp will be carried out on land where non-port activities are undertaken, to the north of Ferry Wharf. Since it is being carried out under the s elf-financing model, MbPT will monetise the land so that another central business district can come up on the lines of BKC.


SC bars sales of BS-III vehicles after March 31

The Supreme Court banned the sale and registration of vehicles that don't meet the Bharat Stage-IV emission standards or higher from April 1, dealing a major blow on an industry that is sitting on inventory worth an estimated Rs.14,000 crore that they won't be able to sell.

Automakers claimed that they had 8.24 lakh units of mostly two-wheelers, three-wheelers and commercial vehicles that conform to BS-III standards lying in their factories and dealerships. The Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers petitioned the Supreme Court seeking some leeway to clear the inventory citing the financial impact, but a bench led by Justice Madan B Lokur refused to extend the April 1 deadline to usher in the new standards.

SIAM said while the industry would abide by the Supreme Court order, the resultant financial losses could trigger job losses across the industry.

Most passenger vehicle makers, including Maruti Suzuki, Hyundai, Toyota, Ford and Honda, have already completely shifted to production of BS IV-compliant vehicles, but some two-wheeler, three-wheeler and commercial vehicle manufacturers kept on producing BS-III vehicles even after the government notified the March 31, 2017 deadline.On Wednesday , companies sitting on unsold BS-III inventory were busy discussing ways to dispose of the vehicles. Some suggested the possibility of exporting these vehicles to countries where they meet local emission rules.

As of March 20, the inventory pile up of BS-III vehicles comprised 6.71 lakh two-wheelers, 96,700 commercial vehicles, 40,048 three-wheelers and 16,198 passenger vehicles, according to SIAM data.

In its ruling, the court said the manufacturers were fully aware that from April 1, 2017 they would be required to sell only BS-IV compliant vehicles, but for reasons not clear, they chose to sit back and declined to take sufficient pro-active steps.

Modi Sarkar Races Ahead to Roll Out GST

India took a big leap forward in rolling out the GST, seen as the biggest tax reform since Independence, with the Lower House of Parliament giving its nod to four supplementary Bills.
Their passage will allow the government to prepare for the July 1 launch of the single levy that will replace multiple central and state taxes and make the country a seamless national market, boosting India's growth rate.

The Lok Sabha passed the Bills late on Wednesday evening after several hours of debate.

The detailed rules for the single tax and rates of individual goods are to be decided next by the GST Council and the states will take up the state GST Bills in their respective assemblies. The government is simultaneously planning a massive outreach to increase awareness and get stakeholders trained and ready for the tax that, according to some estimates, will lift the country's GDP by up to 2%.

The 4 Bills have been introduced as Money Bills, which will ensure a smooth passage through the Rajya Sabha where the ruling coalition does not have the numbers. The Upper House of Parliament has limited powers in respect of Money Bills.

The GST Council, the apex body comprising the Centre and the states set up to decide on GST issues, has finalised a four-tier tax structure of 5%, 12%, 18% and 28%, but the highest slab has been pegged in the law at 40%.

Besides, a cess would be levied on demerit and luxury goods on top of the peak rate to create a fund, the proceeds of which will be utilised to compensate states for revenue losses on account of GST. If the tax rate had been raised to build up the compensation fund instead of the cess, the tax burden would have become very high, Jaitley said.

Jaitley defended the anti-profiteering law, saying any rebates should be passed on to consumers. He said GST on real estate and petroleum goods could be levied once states endorse such a proposal and these would be taken up for discussion later.

The technology backbone is approaching readiness with most state governments leading the registration campaign for bringing industry onto the GST tax portal. The GST Council will meet on March 31 to clear the rules and procedures and subsequently begin work on fitting goods and services in the tax slabs.

Much needs to be done between now and July 1. The law provides for a composition scheme for turnover below Rs.50 lakh under which manufacturers will be charged 1% CGST and 1% SGST, restaurants 2.5% CGST and 2.5% SGST and other supplies 0.5% CGST and 0.5% SGST. This has been brought in to reduce the compliance burden for small and medium enterprises.

It has provisions for the levy of GST on specified petroleum products (petroleum crude, petrol, high-speed diesel, aviation turbine fuel and natural gas) from a date to be notified by the government on the council's recommendation. The I-GST Bill provides for the levy of tax on all inter-state supplies of goods and services except supply of alcohol for beverages at a rate to be notified not exceeding 40%. The tax collected will be apportioned equally between the Centre and the states. It will not apply to Jammu and Kashmir. The GST Council, chaired by Jaitley, approved the four legislations over a series of 12 meetings.


India: Net's All Mobile

Internet usage via mobile phones is among the highest in India, according to web analytics company StatCounter. In February, mobile Internet usage of Indians, as measured by StatCounter Global, reached 79% compared to 49.7% worldwide. And, among G-20 nations, India is the No. 1 user of mobile Internet...

Pro Kabaddi League set to expand

Mumbai Coastal Road snippets

The proposed coastal road along the western shore will have multiple interchanges / ramps to get on or get off the almost 30 km artery, to encourage motorists travelling shorter distances to use it and help decongest the city's internal roads.

In the first phase of the coastal road from Marine Drive to Bandra, there will be four interchanges -at Amarsons garden in Breach Candy, Haji Ali, Worli and Bandra. These interchanges, with double decker ramps, will cover two of the coastal road's eight lanes (four in each direction).

Officials said the interchanges have been planned after studying the locations and examining all details of the areas. A large part of the interchanges will be on reclaimed land and only the landing will be on existing roads, stressing that they will not block views from existing buildings and are, therefore, unlikely to meet with opposition from local residents.

The BMC has prepared a draft plan for the interchanges which it will share with interested consultants. Once selected, the consultant will have the option to come up with its own design for the ramps, but the suggested landing directions are final.

The BMC had made a budgetary provision of Rs.1,000 crore in 2016 in the hope that work can begin on the coastal road, but there has been no progress and the amount has remained unutilized. The BMC hopes to get the final Union environment ministry's all-clear soon.

The road has been bumpy for the project since it is the first time in many years that the authorities are proposing to reclaim land from the sea to build infrastructure for the extremely congested western suburbs. As much as 164 hectares is planned to be reclaimed. Civic officials said they will reclaim land near the iconic Haji Ali Dargah and build an underpass (below the coastal road) to connect the main road to the shrine.

The authorities are keen to boost south-north connectivity through the coastal road, on which work will progress in phases. Initially, the focus is on phase one from Marine Drive to Bandra. The BMC is in the last stages of finalizing the Request for Qualification process, where they have asked interested bidders to submit their work experience and other details. It is examining the interested bidders' background details and after finalizing RFQ, it will ask the selected bidders for their designs for the coastal road and about the technology they plan to use.


Pune Ring road set to get economic corridor status

Maharashtra Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said the state government wants the proposed eight-lane, 128 km ring road around Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad to be developed as an economic corridor by integrating tourism, industrial and agri-based activities.

Fadnavis said the government would consider both the proposals submitted by the PMRDA and the PWD. While executing the project, the state would ensure that there is no overlapping of stretches in the proposals submitted by the two agencies. The CM was speaking to reporters after a PMRDA meeting chaired by him.

Fadnavis said the government had constituted a committee comprising principal secretaries of the urban development department and the PWD, and officials of MSRDC and PMRDA to look into the proposals. This committee will decide on the stretches to be developed in the jurisdiction of respective departments. “The proposed ring road is being designed in such a way that it will have a provision for metro rail,“ he added.

The CM said the main aim of the ring road was to provide better connectivity and have a comprehensive development around Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad.

Earlier during the meeting, Fadnavis sanctioned Rs.799.65 crore annual budget (2017-18) of the PMRDA. He said the budget had substantial provisions for the ring road and Hinjewadi-Shivajinagar metro rail, which is being developed by the PMRDA. Guardian minister Girish Bapat, during the meeting, instructed officials to make provisions for hospitals and rest rooms at every 15 km of the ring road. “Agencies should also develop feeder routes along with the ring road and remove all encroachments that have cropped up on the path of the ring road,“ Bapat added.

PMRDA chief Mahesh Zagade said the ring road would not have any traffic signals. 

Jaitley tables GST bills in Lok Sabha

The government introduced four tax reform bills, aimed at rolling out the much-awaited GST, in the Lok Sabha. The bills were introduced by finance minister Arun Jaitley despite objections from the opposition over the procedures of introduction of the proposed legislation.

The opposition members asked how the government could introduce the bills when these were not listed in the agenda of the House for Monday. They said they were not given enough time to study the proposed legislation. Once passed by Parliament, the bills-Central GST, Integrated GST, Union Territory GST and the Compensation Law--will implement the one-nation, one-tax regime. The government proposes to launch GST from July 1. It is estimated that rolling out of the GST can add up to 2% to India's economic growth. Jaitley had on Saturday emphasised the urgency to pass the GST laws during the current session, saying the Centre and the states will otherwise lose their right to collect indirect taxes after September 15.


Top Creditworthy Civic bodies

The municipal corporations of Navi Mumbai and Pune, along with the New Delhi Municipal Council, have emerged as the most creditworthy civic bodies in the country among the 94 municipalities that have received credit ratings so far. The urban development ministry said Ahmedabad, Visakhapatnam and Hyderabad municipal bodies enjoyed the second highest ratings of `AA'.

NDMC, which had initially got `AA-' when ratings began for the first time, has improved its score to AA+ rating along with Pune and Navi Mumbai. Surat, Nasik, Thane and Pimpri-Chinchwad have received AA rating.

At least 55 municipalities across 14 states were found to be investment grade. This means that investors who buy bonds should not worry about defaults based on their current financial condition.


Economic Freedom Index 2017

Air travel statz

Propelled by the tail wind generated by increasing domestic air travel demand, the Indian aviation industry continues to soar to new heights. The world's fastest-growing air travel market for several months in a row has added another feather on its cap by being the third-largest domestic aviation market globally with more people flying within the country last year than Japan, which has been pushed to number four spot.

Calendar year 2016 saw 10 crore domestic flyers in India, more than the 9.7 crore in Japan.

On the international-cum-domestic air travel front, India saw a combined traffic similar to the UK in 2016 and they are both at number four spot now. UK was ahead of India on this front in 2015. Given the way our air traffic is growing, India is all set to overtake UK this year.

According to the IATA, India has overtaken Japan on domestic air travel front as the country has been the world's fastest growing in-country market for 22 months in a row .

This growth, however, has left Indian airports ­ at least the big ones ­ choking.While slots for new flights at metro airports like Delhi and Mumbai are very hard to get, hovering of flights is a regular occurance again due to air traffic congestion. Given the massive growth, Indian carriers have ordered hundreds of planes but no one knows where they will even be parked.

The government has said it will add aviation infrastructure. Navi Mumbai may get the hugely-delayed airport in a few years and Delhi could also expect another airport in NCR soon with a BJP government both at the Centre and in Lucknow.

Aadhaar - Driving Licence link planned

In a move to check multiple driving licences in one name, the Centre will ask states to make Aadhaar identification necessary for new licences as well as for those seeking renewal. The decision is expected to prevent the menace of multiple licences, means usually adopted to beat the suspension of licence for traffic/criminal offences or for fake identity . The Aadhaar number's biometric details will help prevent such malpractices and the new regime should kick off from October.The road transport ministry has started work to roll out the measure by incorporating the necessary changes on Aadhaar use. Since issuance of driving licence is a state subject, the ministry will urge states to adopt this “safe system“. The government's decision to make Aadhaar must to get a driving licence or renew it is expected to end the practice of people getting multiple permits from different RTOs in different states. Since it is not too difficult to get such multiple licences at present, even the confiscation of a driving licence by police doesn't work as a deterrent.

All RTOs will have access to the central database of driving licences (known as Sarathi) to check whether the applicant has got any other driving licence issued anywhere in the country, Till recently, RTOs followed the manual system and in the absence of access to real time data of all RTOs, they couldn't check if an applicant already had another driving licence. The National Informatics Centre, which is responsible for managing the database of vehicles and licensed drivers, has uploaded most of the data available in RTO records. According to official estimates, about 18 crore driving licences have been issued across the country so far.


Shivaji's sea statue to get taller

The proposed equestrian statue of warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in the Arabian Sea may tower a few metres higher on the Mumbai skyline to make it the world's tallest.

Senior state government officials confirmed that they have gone back to the drawing board to ensure that the memorial, which is expected to cost Rs.3,700 crore to develop, rises to a height of 210 metres as against the proposed 192 metres. This may, however, push up the costs from the present estimate. The revised plan will ensure that the statue, whose foundation was laid by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in December, is two metres taller than the Spring Temple Buddha in China's Henan province. This is currently the world's tallest statue. Officials said the hill on which the statue of Vairocana Buddha is built was reshaped to increase its height to 208 metres.

The Shivaji Maharaj statue will come up on a 15.96 hectare rocky basalt outcrop in the Arabian Sea, 1.2 km south west of Raj Bhavan. 

Ganga & Yamuna: Being Human

It must count as one of the fastest adoptions of a legal principle stated in another country. Barely days after the news broke of the Whanganui River in New Zeal and being accorded the legal status of a human being, Justices Rajeev Sharma and Alok Singh of the Uttarakhand High Court extended the same status to the Ganga and Yamuna. The judges mentioned and praised the New Zealand decision as inspiration.

As with the Whanganui, where two guardians were appointed to act on behalf of the river, the judges appointed three officials to act as legal custodians of the rivers and ordered that a management board be set up within three months. With the riparian states of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh conspicuously failing to maintain the rivers, the judges seemed to indicate it was time the rivers took matters in their own hands.

This fits a trend towards a wider expansion of personhood beyond human beings. Sometimes it is being mandated by courts and sometimes just being argued before them with a view to future change. Some are still only thought experiments and some might seem to be just practical rules, yet with potentially wider implications.

How does becoming a person, through a single decision of a court, really change the reality for the Ganges? The pressures on it, of population growth and climate change and industrialisation remain. Few would argue that the states have failed to deal with this, but it's not clear how the Ganga's guardians can do much better. Being a legal person might help in certain ways, like filing cases against polluters, but most of the problems of dealing with real people will remain.

For reasons like this some activists are stepping back from legal personhood, but retaining some of its aspects.

SIM card - Aadhaar to be linked

A bulk of India's 1.1 billion telecom subscribers will soon have to go through a fresh verification exercise based on their Aadhaar identification, following an order of the Supreme Court last month. The industry estimates the process could cost at least Rs.1,000 crores.

The notice comes within a month of the top court order making it mandatory for telecom subscribers to be re-verified via Aadhaar cards in a push to root out those who have used fraudulent means to get connections. SC passed the order on February 6, providing a deadline of exactly one year -February 6, 2018 -for compliance.

The new diktat will mean that only those with Aadhaar cards can have subscriptions. Privacy advocates have expressed their concerns about the widening practice of Aadhaar being made compulsory for purposes of establishing identity and access to entitlements.

For Aadhaar based re-verification, the telecom operator will have to send an SMS to a subscriber with a verification code after establishing that the SIM card is physically available with the person.

Experts said the move would be a big drag on the telcos, especially the older ones as most of their subscribers were signed up before the government allowed the Aadhaar-linked e-KYC verification process last August. Most subscriber additions after August won't need to be reverified. New entrant Reliance Jio Infocomm will be the least hit as most of its 100 million users have come on board via the Aadhaar-based eKYC since it started services in early September.

India is water-stressed

India is “water stressed“ and drifting inexorably towards what is technically termed a “water scarcity condition.“ A majority of the country's populace is either forced to use contaminated water, or is deprived of access to the resource entirely.

As the country prepares for a harsh summer, the India Meteorological Department forecasts temperatures will be 1°C above normal in most parts :the latest information from the Union water resources ministry reveals that India can sustain only one drought season, given its live storage.

The numbers make for grim reading. A country is classified “water stressed“ if per capita availability is less than 1,700 cubic metres. In India, the reading against this parameter is 1,545 cubic metres. Factoring multiple variables, including population, the ministry predicts availability could fall to 1,341 cubic metres in 2025, and even plummet to 1,140 cubic metres in 2050, which is perilously close to a “water scarcity condition“ (per capita availability of less than 1,000 cubic metres).

While the prevailing bleak situation can be attributed to successive droughts, the condition is largely a consequence of over-exploitation and pollution over the years. With 68 crore people :56% of the country's population, relying on groundwater, the government has also been encouraging borewells. As many as 9.36 lakh hand pumps have been installed by the government in the past four years, in addition to the hundreds of pumps set up by citizens in recent times.

Another set of documents from the ministry of drinking water and sanitation throw another disturbing fact into stark relief: water in 320 of the 640 districts in the country is contaminated. Among the pollutants are fluoride, arsenic, other chemicals and heavy metals such as chromium and lead. Contaminated water affects more than 6 lakh habitations directly , while many more are adversely affected indirectly . According to the Union health ministry, five diseases that result from water contamination have claimed more than 18,000 lives in the past seven years.

Groundwater reserves in the country have depleted by 50%, and the latest survey by the ministry of water resources indicates that 66% of the wells have registered a decline in water levels while the rest show a marginal increase.

Lexus drives in

Japanese car major Toyota's premium brand Lexus entered India to challenge the stronghold of German trio Mercedes Benz, Audi and BMW on luxury car buyers. Lexus, a top brand in markets such as the US, China and Japan, drove in three new models. Apart from German companies, British brands Jaguar and Land Rover (owned by Tata Motors) are also key players in the luxury segment.

Lexus had shelved plans to enter India a few years back, but changed its mind now as it expects sale and share of luxury cars to rise gradually on the back of economic growth and rising affluence.

The company's line-up for India includes two SUVs and one sedan, and these will be imported till Lexus takes a decision on local assembly operations. The cheapest car from the company's stable will be ES 300h hybrid sedan -priced at Rs.55 lakh (Delhi ex-showroom). RX 450h Hybrid SUV will cost up to Rs.1.09 crore, while the company is yet to reveal pricing of the third model, all powerful LX 450d SUV .

Lexus sold 6.78 lakh units globally in 2016.


Airtel acquires Tikona's 4G spectrum

Bharti Airtel has acquired Tikona Digital's 4G airwaves for Rs.1,600 crore, ramping up its high-speed broadband spectrum capacity to take on Reliance Jio Infocomm and the Vodafone-Idea Cellular combine in a fiercely competitive market which is seeing rapid consolidation.

The deal gives the Sunil Mittal-led company access to Tikona's 4G airwaves in five circles -Gujarat, UP (East), UP (West), Himachal Pradesh, and Rajasthan. It will also narrow the gap between Bharti's pan-India 4G spectrum capacity and Vodafone-Idea's and Reliance Jio's, although the difference will still be significant.

Bharti Airtel had bagged 4G airwaves in only four of the 22 circles in the 2010 auctions.

Bharti Airtel has subsequently followed a strategy of buying out companies with 4G spectrum and this is the fifth such acquisition since 2015. It had acquired more airwaves in the 4G auctions that took place last year.

The Tikona deal, which includes taking on debt of Rs.500-600 crore, will see Airtel net 100 MHz of 4G spectrum in the 2300 MHz band equally split across the five circles, taking its total 4G holding to close to 880 MHz (including Telenor India), compared with 1,169 MHz for Jio and 1,089 MHz for the Vodafone-Idea combine. It will also get 350 cell sites in those five circles but won't take on any employees of Tikona.

The company plans to roll out high-speed 4G services on the newly acquired spectrum immediately after the deal is closed in the next four to six weeks.

Apart from increasing spectrum capacity, Bharti Airtel's weighted average spectrum usage charges will also reduce because Tikona's SUC is at 1% of adjusted gross revenue.

The combined spectrum holding of Airtel in these five circles won't breach any spectrum holding limits and the company won't have to pay any additional market price to the government for the spectrum as it was bought by Tikona in the 2010 auctions for Rs.1,058 crore.

Current Account Deficit Inches Up

Current account deficit increased marginally in the quarter through December despite the trade gap getting narrowed, as both services exports and remittances by global Indians slowed down. As capital flows too took a hit, balance of payments ended in a moderate deficit of $1.2 billion in the quarter.
Current account deficit, the excess of imports of goods and services over exports in the external sector balance sheet, expanded to $7.9 billion during October-December, the quarter in which the decision to ban Rs.500 and Rs.1,000 notes was made, from $7.1 billion a year earlier. But as a percentage of gross domestic product, the ratio was unchanged at 1.4% for both periods. Trade deficit contracted to $33.3 billion in the third quarter of fiscal 2017 from $34 billion a year earlier.But crude oil imports, which account for more than 20% of India's total import bill, rose about $1.7 billion year-on-year as global oil prices started firming up. A structural shift in the current account number in the balance of payments was evident as traditional contributors to current account surplus : software exports and remittances by overseas Indians, continued to slip for the second consecutive quarter.

Remittances by the Indian diaspora amounted to $15.2 billion, having declined by 3.8% from a year ago. Software services exports fell 3% to $17.7 billion.

Net foreign direct investment at $9.8 billion in the third quarter of fiscal 2017 was marginally lower than its level a year earlier. There has been a $11.3 billion net outflow in portfolio investment as against a net inflow of $0.6 billion in Q3 of the previous year -portfolio outflows occurred in both equity and debt. Even deposits by non-resident Indians declined in the past quarter by $18.5 billion, as against an inflow of $1.6 billion a year earlier.

The capital account ended in a lower surplus of $6.1 billion compared to $10.5 billion in the same period of fiscal 2016. The overall balance of payments ended in a modest deficit of $1.2 billion, compared with a $4 billion surplus a year earlier.


Samsung Pay launched

Top smartphone maker Samsung debuted in the payment space in the country yesterday by launching Samsung Pay, a payment method that incorporates all credit cards and debit cards, mobile wallets such as Paytm, and the newly launched Unified Payments Interface.

Users can save several cards on Visa, MasterCard and American Express on their Samsung Pay app and link their Paytm and UPI accounts. To make transactions they need to authenticate their biometric on the phone and then bring the mobile close to the PoS device, the company said.

At the launch of Samsung Pay, Amitabh Kant, CEO of Niti Aay og, said it is not just a revolutionary app but a “killer“ app.

The feature is currently only available on eight mobile devices of Samsung and Samsung Gear S3 watch.

Samsung Pay works with both magnetic secure transmission technology and near field communication. Since most PoS terminals in India are MST enabled, they will work seamlessly with Samsung Pay without any upgrade required, the company said.

Samsung has tied up with Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Axis Bank, HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank, SBI Cards and Standard Chartered Bank and Citibank India, which will be live on Samsung Pay shortly. 

Buxa tiger relocation project

In another couple of months, north Bengal's Buxa Tiger Reserve will become home to six big cats from Assam. If the detailed project report submitted to the state recently by the Global Tiger Forum is to be believed, Buxa, in the first phase, will get six tigers ­ two males and four females­ from either Kaziranga National Park or Orang in Assam, both of which now have surplus tiger population.

Bengal's chief wildlife warden Pradeep Vyas confirmed receiving the DPR. According to him, once the first phase relocation is over, there are plans to reintroduce at least six more big cats in the next nine years to carry on with the `tiger re-stocking plan'. Adding that they have plans to release 50 sambar deer from Jaldapara to improve the prey base in Buxa.

But wildlife enthusiasts are keeping their fingers crossed since Assam had earlier taken U-turn in 2010 and refused to hand over critically endangered pygmy hogs to the Bengal government under a similar reintroduction plan. Before that, the Assam government had also refused to part ways with its Barasingha, a threatened deer species.

Wildlife Institute of India scientist K Ramesh, who leads post-release monitoring programme for tiger reintroduction and had earlier monitored such a programme in MP's Panna, is giving scientific inputs for the project in Buxa too.

Hyderabad Metro update

The long-awaited Metro rail will become operational by the end of this year. Municipal administration minister KT Rama Rao said that the Miyapur-LB Nagar Metro corridor (29 km) and the Nagole-Raidurg Metro corridor (29 km) will be opened to the public by December-end.The minister was, however, silent on the Jubilee Bus Station (JBS)-Falaknuma corridor covering a distance of 15 km.

The Metro rail project began in April 2012 and a major portion of the work on Miyapur-LB Nagar and Nagole-Raidurg corridors has been completed. Earlier, it was expected that the Metro would be operational by June 2, the day Telangana state was formed.

Traffic woes in Hyderabad are likely to ease with the launch of the Metro.

Work on the 72 km Metro rail project--it includes the JBS-Falaknuma corridor II--began in June 2012 and was to be completed in five years.Till February, about 78% of work had been completed. As per the concessionaire agreement signed between Hyderabad Metro Rail Ltd and Larsen & Toubro in 2010, the entire project was to be completed by June 2017. While the project cost was Rs.12,132 crore when the agreement was signed, it was revised to Rs.16,375 crore.

Namma Canteen Logo Design contest

The BBMP has urged the public to design logo and architecture for Namma Canteens, proposed to be set up in all the 198 wards of Bengaluru where food will be sold at concessional rates.
The best logo will be awarded with Rs.1 lakh and the best architectural design will get Rs.2 lakh.The architectural designs have been sought for an area of 200 to 500sq feet. The BBMP has set a 15day deadline for sending the designs in black and white and colour to the BBMP commissioner. Log on to http:www.bbmp.gov.in

Aadhaar for I-T returns

The Centre said that making Aadhaar mandatory for filing income tax returns was necessary to plug evasion and frauds. Finance minister Arun Jaitley indicated that it could replace other identity cards such as PAN and voter ID cards in future. Defending the move to make Aadhaar mandatory for IT returns, Jaitley said 98% Indian adults or 108 crore people have an Aadhaar card.

The government’s move to make Aadhaar compulsory for filing income tax returns or applying for a permanent account number from 2017-18 may well be a part of an ambitious plan to eventually replace PAN with Aadhaar as the sole warehouse of individual tax information.

Over the last two years, the Income Tax Department has hastened the pace of seeding PAN with the unique identity number Aadhaar that contains citizens' biometric and other details.

A pilot project to integrate PAN cards with Aadhaar data was first undertaken in 2012.

A PAN number, besides serving as a unique 10-digit alpha numeric identity for citizens, has also become mandatory in a host of transactions. Aadhaar uses fingerprints and iris scans, and integrating this with tax return data should help identify duplicate PAN holders and tax dodgers.

In July 2015 the Central Board of Direct Tax introduced the Electronic Verification Code,  allowing individuals the option of linking Aadhaar details to their income tax returns.

Previously, after e-filling the ITR, the taxpayer had to post the signed copy of ITR-V to Centralised Processing Centre in Bangalore.

Since July 2015 the income tax department has started linking of PAN with the Aadhaar Card, eliminating the procedure of sending a physical copy of the I-T return to CPC, Bangalore.

Last year, the tax department gave taxpayers the option to disclose their Aadhaar number in the income tax return form. This is going to be made mandatory from the next assessment year.

The tax department is so far learnt to have seeded about 10 million Aadhaar numbers into the PAN database.

The move to make quoting Aadhaar compulsory in I-T returns is expected to significantly hasten this seeding process, and allow a complete “360 degree profiling” of all taxpaying individuals to help detect evasion and tax fraud.

The income tax department has been using technology to match personal details to ensure that duplicate PANs are not issued. However, some taxpayers managed to get more than one PAN by making some changes in their personal information at the time of submission of the PAN application.

So far, about 250 million PAN cards have been issued, but only about 40 million individuals file income tax returns in India, a sign that millions may have been evading taxes despite holding PAN cards.

Furnishing PAN is now mandatory for cash transactions such as hotel or foreign travel bills exceeding Rs.50,000, purchase of jewellery above Rs.2 lakh in cash or through card, purchase of immovable property of over Rs.10 lakh, term deposits exceeding Rs.50,000 at one go or Rs.5 lakh in a year with banks, post offices and non-banking financial companies.


India & BRICS: Human Development Index

Worldwide Cost Of Living 2017

SC suggests out-of-court settlement for Ayodhya dispute

The Supreme Court has proposed an out-of-court settlement for the Ayodhya stand-off saying it was a matter of religion and faith. It even offered to play negotiator, cheering the proponents of Ram temple at the disputed site. The advice came during the hearing of a petition by BJP leader Dr Subramanian Swamy, who had sought expeditious hearing of the appeals filed against the Allahabad High Court order that has been pending for seven years.

Chief Justice J S Khehar said the top court was ready to spare a sitting judge as mediator provided all aggrieved parties sit together and decide if an out-of-court settlement could be possible.

Appeals have been filed by the Sunni Waqf Board and other parties challenging a 2010 verdict of a three-judge Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad HC that said Hindus have the right to the makeshift temple under the central dome of the Babri Masjid. The 16th-century mosque was pulled down by Hindu protesters as it was popularly believed to be the birthplace of Lord Ram.

Muslim leaders involved in the Babri Masjid issue were wary of going through another round of negotiation. AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi said the Babri Masjid case is about the title and he is waiting to seeing if “conspiracy charges“ would be held against senior BJP leaders in the matter.

However, many from the community want to move on. 

Kerala to be a trendsetter in promoting gay rights?

In a major step to include LGBT community into the mainstream, the Kerala state government is mulling on bringing in an amendment to Section 377 of the IPC, which criminalizes homosexuality .
Law Secretary B G Harindranath said that he has drafted the bill on amending Section 377 which will be introduced in the assembly. He added that even if the state brings in the amendment, it has to receive the presidential assent.

As the law falls under the concurrent list in the Constitution, the state can bring in an amendment to it. After his two attempts to introduce a private member bill in the Lok Sabha were defeated, Shashi Tharoor had recently requested the state government to consider amending the bill in the state assembly.

Tharoor, in a recent letter to chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, had requested him to look into the possibility of introducing it in state assembly “so that state an once again lead the nation and set new standards, correcting a historical wrong of Victorian vintage and lighting the path for other states and the national as a whole to live up to the values enshrined in the Constitution'. 


India slips in World Happiness Report 2017

Norway displaced Denmark as the world's happiest country. The Nordic nations are the most content, according to the World Happiness Report 2017 produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a global initiative launched by the United Nations in 2012.

Countries in sub-Saharan Africa, along with Syria and Yemen, are the least happy of the 155 countries ranked in the fifth annual report released at the United Nations.

The aim of the report, he added, is to provide another tool for governments, business and civil society to help their countries find a better way to wellbeing.

Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden rounded out the top ten countries.

South Sudan, Liberia, Guinea, Togo, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Central African Republic were at the bottom.

Germany was ranked 16, followed by the United Kingdom (19) and France (31). The United States dropped one spot to 14.

The rankings are based on six factors -per capita gross domestic product, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity, social support and absence of corruption in government or business.

Delhi - Jaipur Super Expressway snippets

The new speedway will not originate in Delhi. It will branch out from the Delhi-Gurgaon expressway near the Kherki Daula toll plaza in Gurgaon and pass through seven districts before terminating at the Rajasthan capital. Its total length will be 195 km, as opposed to around 235 km that one needs to travel to get to Jaipur from the same point, with a main carriageway of six lanes and will be fully access-controlled.

Officials said the `super expressway' would make the Gurgaon-Jaipur journey possible in 120 minutes. At present, the journey takes anywhere between four and five hours, or even more if there is heavy traffic.

The earlier plan was for a 226 km greenfield expressway starting near the Indira Gandhi International airport and terminating at Daulatpura in Jaipur. But the route was modified because of the cost factor.The expressway will now terminate at Chandwaji in Jaipur district. The new alignment has brought down its land requirement from 2,800 hectares to 1755.90 hectares.

The `super expressway' is expected to cost of Rs.6,530 crore to build.Its rehabilitation and resettlement cost is also a sizable Rs.5,000 crore as most of the land that needs to be acquired for the project is privately owned.

The `super expressway' will pass through 423 villages in seven districts -Gurgaon, Jhajjar, Rewari, Mahendergarh, Alwar, Sikar and Jaipur.Out of the 1755 hectares that need to be acquired, 360.65 hectares is government land, 1.22 hectares is part of a reserve forest area and 38 hectares are `protected forest' land in Haryana and Rajasthan. Land will be acquired by NHAI.

4 GST-related bills cleared

The cabinet has cleared four GST-related bills that will be introduced by finance minister Arun Jaitley in Parliament with the government saying the new tax regime is “likely to be implemented“ from July.The bills are expected to be introduced in Parliament later this week.

While four legislations -Central GST, Integrated GST, Union Territory GST and the Compensation Bill -need to be enacted by the Centre, every state legislature needs to enact the State GST law. Last week, all the draft bills were cleared by the GST Council, which comprises Union and state finance ministers and is vested with powers to decide on all issues related to the new regime.

Apart from doing away with a plethora of indirect taxes and cesses by merging them into a single levy. The GST would mitigate cascading or double taxation and pave the way for a common national market. Some studies have also estimated that GST will boost the nation's GDP by 1-2%.


Idea Cellular - Vodafone India merger announced

The board of the Aditya Birla-backed Idea Cellular has approved its merger application with Vodafone India and Vodafone Mobile Services, according to a notification to the BSE.

The merger, when it comes though, will mark the first consolidation amongst the existing players after the Mukesh Ambani-backed Reliance Jio's entry into the telecom market in September last year.
Subject to the necessary approvals, Vodafone said it expects the merger to be completed in 2018.

Vodafone India and Vodafone Mobile Services have a combined turnover of about Rs.454 billion while Idea has a turnover of about Rs.360 billion.

In the merged entity, Vodafone will own 45.1% of the company, transferring a stake of approximately 4.9% to the promoters of Idea and/ or their affiliates for Rs 38.74 billion in cash. Idea's promoters will hold 26% of the company while the balance will be held by the public.

The merger will ensure the "creation of the largest Indian telecom operator with the widest mobile network in the country and pan India 3G/ 4G footprint;" it will ensure "sufficient spectrum to compete with major operators while offering innovative and attractively priced mobile services; acceleration of expansion of wireless broadband networks across India, substantial cost and capex synergies, and leveraging the customer's affinity for both the existing brands."

- The promoters of both - Idea Cellular and Vodafone India - would have the right to nominate three directors each. The board will also consist of independent directors.

- Idea's promoters would have the sold right to appoint the Chairman while the appointment of the CEO and the COO will need a nod from the promoters of both the companies.

- Vodafone would have the right to appoint the CFO.

- Decisions like shares issue, consolidation, liquidation, entry into related party transactions, change to the name or key brands or branding strategy would need a nod from the promoters of both the companies.

- If Vodafone and the Aditya Birla Group's shareholdings in the combined company are not equal after four years, Vodafone will sell down shares in the combined company to equalise its shareholding to that of the Aditya Birla Group over the following five-year period.

Yogi joins Single CMs' Club

Priest-turned politician Yogi Adityanath, 44, who was sworn in as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, now joins Trivendra Singh Rawat, 56, (Uttarakhand), M L Khattar, 62 ,(Haryana), Sarbananda Sonowal, 54, (Assam) and 70-year-old BJD chief Naveen Patnaik (Odisha) in the league of singletons running state governments. Barring Patnaik and 62-year-old TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal,) all the chief ministers, who are unencumbered by a family, are from the BJP. Mamata, who is currently serving her second term, has often claimed in public that she has dedicated her entire life to the people of Bengal and has no time for thinking about herself.

Among the current crop of top politicians, Rahul Gandhi, 46, the scion of the Congress party, BSP chief Mayawati, 61, and senior BJP leader Uma Bharti, 57, are unmarried.

Singlehood can even become an article of pride for politicians. “I'm of low caste, I'm unmarried, and I'm yours,“ Mayawati has often proclaimed in election rallies.

Naveen Patnaik, who is ruling Odisha since 2000, is also known for telling his electorate that there is no danger of his government indulging in nepotism as he is unmarried.

Rahul Gandhi when asked about his singlehood ahead of 2014 Lok Sabha polls had replied, “Right now I am engaged in fighting the elections.Unfortunately, I have not been focused on private life.“

Like many RSS activists, Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of the ideological fountainhead of the BJP, decided against tying the knot.

Former PM and BJP stalwart Atal Bihari Vajpayee never married. He used to underline his bachelor status in public meetings saying that since he has no family, there is no question of nepotism or family rule.

Manipur Blockade ends

After almost 138 days, apex body of Nagas in Manipur United Naga Council has decided to lift the economic blockade on two highways which it imposed following the earlier Congress government's decision to create seven new districts in Manipur.

Representatives of UNC and BJP-led government met and decided that the blockade will lifted from Sunday midnight. People of the state had to face immense hardship due to the blockade. Police had in the past arrested UNC leader Gaidon Kamei in connection with the economic blockade. Blockade was an issue in the recently held assembly elections with Congress blaming the UNC and Bharatiya Janata Party and NSCN-IM for being in hand in glove and persisting with the blockade.

BJP blamed the Congress for the blockade and failing to perform its constitutional duty despite being rendered all help from the Centre.


First branded train to chug ahead

When the Mumbai-Ahmedabad double decker Shatabdi chugs out of Mumbai Central on March 20, it will be swathed in advertisements. The train ­ its coaches will carry advertisements of hygiene brand Savlon ­ will be Indian Railways first `branded' train, and will be part of the Savlon Swasth India Mission, a social awareness initiative for promoting hand hygiene.

Spurred by prime minister Narendra Modi's suggestion to look at raising revenues from alternative sources, the Railways hopes to earn around Rs.2,000 crore in non-fare revenues by selling the rights for vinyl wrapping ads on the exteriors of its flagship trains and stations. Mumbai Rajdhani, August Kranti Rajdhani, and Mumbai-Ahmedabad Duronto Express are some of the other trains that will carry advertisements from leading brands.

Truck queues at state borders may end soon

Traffic congestion at border checkposts could be a thing of the past with the GST Council setting up a task force, to ensure seamless movement of freight across the country and reduce losses to the economy, due to frequent stoppages. A study conducted by IIM-Kolkata has estimated loss to the economy due to delays at border checkposts at $6.6 billion, apart from the cost of fuel due as transporters deal with documentation of nearly 20 state and Central government agencies. Another study undertaken by the road transport ministry has revealed that less than 1% of trucks were detained for not having proper documentation.

Another study by a consultancy firm has shown that the average waiting time for trucks for documentation checks is 10% of the total driving time resulting in significant delays.

Several states such as Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Haryana have done away with physical checks at border posts on some vital freight routes and instead rely on flying squads. This has significantly cut down delays at border checkposts, sources said. Introduction of the GST, a key reform measure, is expected to usher in seamless movement of goods across the country but border checkposts remain an irritant. An analysis of the pile-up at border checkposts has shown the delays are largely due to physical verification of documents by state commercial tax and transport departments.

Sources said the proposed task force would comprise officers from finance and transport departments of some states, the ministry of road transport and highways and the department of revenue to examine the “issue of creating an eco-system for seamless freight movement.“ While the ebill under the GST is expected to support seamless movement from the point of view of the commercial tax department, but if the practice of transport documentation checks is continued, it is unlikely to reduce congestion at checkpoints and ensure “barrier free freight transport.“ There are various options to reduce pileup at checkposts. For example, the “Vahan“ database of the road transport ministry is used to generate bills by the Goods & Services Tax Network.


2017 Quality of Living City rankings

Exports swell : February 2017

India's merchandise exports registered double-digit growth in February for the first time since the Narendra Modi government took office, on the back of a 47% rise in engineering goods and improved international demand.

Exports swelled by 17.48% in February to $24.5 billion but a steeper increase in imports at 21% widened the trade deficit to $8.8 billion -from $6.5 billion in the year-ago period.

This is the sixth consecutive month of an increase in exports this year but double digits were last seen in June 2014.

The month saw 23 of 30 exporting sectors, led by iron ore, registering more exports.

However, a 147% spike in gold imports pushed total imports to $33.3 billion. Exports of gems and jewellery are expected to be higher in the next few months.

The pace of growth in non-oil, non-gold imports firmed up to 5%, from 4% in the previous month, indicating strengthening domestic demand. Oil imports saw a 60% spike to $7.6 billion while non-oil imports were up 13.6% at $25.7 billion.

India's robust export numbers have come in a month when Chinese exports fell 1.3% and it reported a rare trade deficit.

US President Donald Trump's `America First' policies have clouded the outlook for global trade.

India exported $245.4 billion of goods in the first 11 months of 2016-17, up 2.5% from a year ago, while imports declined 3.7% in the same period to $340.7 billion, leaving a deficit of $95.3 billion.

Revival in growth of services exports in January had been outweighed by an even faster expansion in services imports, as a result of which, the surplus shrank for the ninth month in a row, by 10% year-on-year.

Starbucks India App launched

Tata Starbucks has introduced an app across the country, offering customers the option of paying through mobile phones for in-store purchases.The Starbucks India mobile app also helps customers earn loyalty points using the mobile device. The app is available for download on iPhone and Android devices. The app also allows customers to register for My Starbucks Rewards. 

Maharashtra's Village Social Foundation

The Maharashtra government has appointed Ramnath Subramanian, a former executive director of Goldman Sachs Asset Management Fund, to head its Village Social Foundation, an initiative that aims to develop 1,000 socially backward villages in the state.This is the first time that the government has appointed a senior executive from the corporate sector to spearhead a state initiative.
Ramnath, who is currently executive director of the Maharashtra Metro that is executing the Nagpur and the Pune Metro projects, will also hold the additional charge of the CEO of the Village Social Foundation.

State government officials claimed that they had appointed Ramnath as he had successfully raised funds worth of Rs.4,750 crore from multilateral agencies to fund the Nagpur Metro in a short time.

The Village Social Foundation is a brainchild of Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis who has roped in corporate heavyweights such as Ratan Tata, Mukesh Ambani, Deepak Parekh, Anand Mahindra, Deutsche's Bank's India CEO Ravneet Gill and Sanjay Mehta CEO of Hindustan Lever to be part of the project.

Since the August meeting with these CEOs and industrialists, the Maharashtra government has formed a Section 8 not-for-profit company which enjoys all the tax exemptions and an institutional framework has been created. The 1,000 villages that are to be developed have been identified as well.

The CM's plan is to uplift villages which perform badly on the Human Development Index, have a huge concentration of SCSTs, and suffer from illiteracy, acute poverty , low sanitation and low water levels. This is also the first PPP initiative of the government and the corporates in the social sector.

The governing council will oversee the work of the Village Social Foundation and it would be headed by the CM and apart from the industrialists. Fadnavis' core team led by his principal secretary Praveen Pardeshi will oversee the initiative. The state has said that for every rupee these companies would spend in these villages, the state would not just match it, but would also ensure that the government machinery puts its weight behind their activity.

Government officials claimed that the enthusiasm among the corporates is so high that some of them have already sent in their CSR teams to the selected villages to identify the problems and have started working on the ground.

CPEC violates Indian sovereignty

India has expressed strong opposition to the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, which is the key to Beijing's ambitious `One-Belt, One-Road' initiative. “The CPEC passing through Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir challenges Indian sovereignty ,“ said the defence ministry, in its annual report submitted to Parliament. In the past too, India has criticised the Chinese funded CPEC, which links China's Muslim-dominated Xinjiang province to the Gwadar deep-sea port in Pakistan, because it passes through Gilgit Baltistan in PoK, which New Delhi considers its own territory .

During the G-20 summit at Hangzhou in September last year, PM Narendra Modi had expressed India's concerns over the CPEC in his bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, holding that the two countries needed to be “sensitive“ to each other's strategic interests.

National Health Policy cleared

The Union cabinet cleared the National Health Policy which puts forward a concrete framework for universal healthcare and suggests policy directives to make free drugs and diagnostic facilities available across the country besides involving the private sector to make the services widely available.

The policy , which was pending for over two years, also suggests raising public health expenditure to 2.5 % of GDP.  It addresses issues of universal health coverage by making essential drugs, diagnostic facilities and insurance available for all. The idea is to reduce out of pocket expenditure on health. Estimates show that drugs and diagnostics constitute over 70% of a family's out of pocket expenditure on health.

While final contours will come up in the policy's detail implementation framework, it suggests increasing private participation and making device manufacturing easy for Indian manufacturers. It also focuses on reducing maternal and infant mortality and addressing increasing burden of non communicable diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disorders.


50 Economic Corridors planned

The government will soon start work on the construction of 50 economic corridors that will include 30,000 km of highways, 35 logistics parks and 10 intermodal stations across the country at a cost of Rs.5 lakh crore, Nitin Gadkari said.

This will establish the much-needed backbone for the country's lagging transportation sector and is part of an integrated transport and logistics policy aimed at increasing the average freight speed on highways to 50 km per hour from the existing 20-25 km per hour and slashing logistics cost by almost half.

The projects will be funded through budgetary allocations, bonds issued by the National Highways Authority of India and leasing existing national highways to pension funds for the collection of tolls and operations for an upfront fee.

Gadkari said his ministry was working toward major reforms in the urban transportation sector, which had failed to meet the demand of the country's ever-growing mega cities.

Inflation Increases

Firmer food and fuel prices drove India's overall inflation higher in February, further dimming any possibility of a cut in interest rate by the Reserve Bank of India amid worries of hardening global commodity prices and expectation of vegetables turning dearer as summer approaches.
India's headline inflation rate based on the Consumer Price Index (combined) went up to was 3.65% in February compared with 3.17% in January and 5.26% a year ago.

India's wholesale inflation firmed up to a 39-month high of 6.55% in February from 5.25% in January.

The increase in prices may weaken the case for an immediate interest rate cut by the RBI, which had kept lending rates unchanged at the last review in February, citing risks to inflation. The next meeting of the monetary policy committee is scheduled for April 5-6.

Consumer inflation had touched its lowest level in at least five years in January. Economists are also taking into account Australia's Bureau of Meteorology's forecast of a higher chance of an El NiƱo forming in mid-2017 and affecting monsoon across the globe.


20-year wait for Bogibeel Bridge over Brahmaputra to end

Taking your car on the ferry to cross the mighty Bramhaputra will be a thing of the past once India's longest rail-cum-road bridge is commissioned in December. You will be able to zoom across the 4.94 km long Bogibeel bridge connecting Assam to Arunachal Pradesh. Ironically, the technological wonder that is India's first fully steel-welded bridge has been under construction for 14 years, and carries the unflattering tag of being one of the slowest moving infrastructure projects in the northeastern part of the country. Now, only one pillar is left to be completed.

Former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee of the BJP-led NDA had flagged off the project way back on April 21, 2002. His successor in the next BJP government, Narendra Modi, is scheduled to open it to traffic this year-end. But the foundation stone of the mega project was laid long ago, by H D Deve Gowda, on January 22, 1997.

The Bogibeel undertaking has been plagued by several time and cost overruns. With an outlay of Rs.600 crore added this year, the final cost of the bridge will touch Rs.6,000 crore. The original budget was Rs.1,767 crore.

The bridge is double decked, with two railway lines on the lower deck and a three-lane road on the upper deck flanked by pavements on either side.

The total steel used for the Bogibeel bridge is 75,000 MT, which is equivalent to 10 Eiffel Towers. About 75 % of the fabrication work (56,000 MT of 75,000 MT) and construction of 29 of 39 spans is over. Deck-slab concreting has started from the north bank.

The Bogibeel bridge was one of the major promises made by the Centre during the Assam peace accord of 1985 to promote economic development of upper Assam.

Note ban cash curbs are over

All limits on savings bank cash withdrawals post-demonetisation ended on Monday. In a two-stage process, the weekly withdrawal limit per account had been raised to Rs.50,000, from Rs.24,000, with effect from February 20, and all limits on ATM withdrawals were slated to cease from March 13.

On January 30, RBI had ended all curbs on withdrawals from current accounts, cash credit accounts and overdraft accounts.

While lifting of ATM withdrawal limits represents full circle for these machines in respect of demonetisation, the return to normalcy in terms of cash available in them is still awaited, indicating the slow pace of remonetisation.


Twenty22: A vision for a new India

A day after leading the BJP to a historic victory in state assembly elections, PM Narendra Modi emphasised that enhancing opportunities for the poor remained the cornerstone of his vision for a New India as the country approaches the 75th year of its Independence in 2022.

The prime minister, however, also stressed that the focus on the poor was not going to mean a permanent burden for the relatively better-off and suggested that a rising tide will lift all boats. He also sought to heal schisms by saying that Bharatiya Janata Party governments would be for all, not just those who voted for the party .

“I find great potential among the poor. More the poor get the opportunity, the country will progress faster as well. The poor are the strength of this country,“ Modi said in his first public address after the election results were announced on Saturday.

BJP swept to victory in the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere, putting him in a strong position ahead of the 2019 general elections.

“At times, the middle class bears a larger burden, say , in tax, rules, etc... Once the poor are able to take care of themselves, the burden of the middle class will go down,“ the PM said at the BJP headquarters in Delhi, acknowledging that this would help them progress faster.

The elections were a watershed as people turned out in large numbers because the single biggest issue is development.

“We have seen emotive issues creating electoral waves,“ Modi said. “In the past, development used to be a passing reference in elections... but there was high voter turnout without any emotive issue. The poor turning out in large numbers for development presents the image of a New India.“

This vision encompasses the dreams of large swathes of the population -people below 35 years, women and the poor seeking better opportunities, he said.

“The poor have moved away from the tendency to seek doles.They want the opportunity to work hard. This is the foundation of New India,“ Modi said. BJP has projected its stellar performance as a vindication of the prime minister's pro-poor initiatives.

Modi said the new BJP governments will leave no stone unturned in their bid to live up to the expectations of the electorate even as he cautioned party cadres to be responsible in the wake of the massive trust reposed by the public in the party. He also seemed to make a conscious attempt to reach across social and political divides.

“The BJP governments will be for those who voted for BJP as well as for those who did not vote for it. Sarkar ko bhedbhav ka haq nahi hai. BJP will not tolerate any discrimination,“ he said.