Global Competitiveness Index

Bandra by the Bay on track

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

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

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

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

Mumbai locals to get a boost

In a major boost to suburban rail services in Mumbai, the railways will introduce 100 additional local train services on its suburban network in the financial capital. After introduction of additional services, the total suburban services in Mumbai for Western Railway and Central Railway put together will increase from the existing 2983 to 3083. The services will be launched by railway minister Piyush Goyal.

Out of these 100 services, thirty two new services will be introduced on Western Railway while sixty eight services will be introduced on Central Railway. 


Maha Ryots Plan State's First `Co-op MIDC'

A farmers' cooperative in Maharashtra is setting up the state's first industrial colony, on the lines of Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation. MIDC is a state government undertaking which provides businesses with infrastructure such as land (open plot or built-up spaces), roads, water supply, drainage facilities and street lights.

“Expected to be completed by the year-end, the `cooperative MIDC' will invite private industries to set up their units,“ Lok Sabha member and farmers' leader Raju Shetti, who has initiated the project, said.

Spread over 30 acres, the project has been registered with the industries department as `Swabhimani Audyogik Sahakari MIDC' and owners of the land would be shareholders of the cooperative society, Shetti said.

“We have already received seven investment proposals, mainly from the food processing sector,“ he said. Forty farmers from Nandni village in Shirol tehsil of Kolhapur district, around 400 kms from Mumbai, are members of the project, he said. “We have created a land bank and officially converted the status of our land from agriculture to non-agriculture and invited companies to set up their plants on the land,“ Shetti said. “The revenues will be shared with farmers based on their share of land,“ he said.

An MIDC official said this is a unique concept in Maharashtra, where such an industrial project is being set up by farmers and not by the government.

There are 107 cooperative industrial estates in Maharashtra, developed in areas other than MIDC.The state government provides them share capital and technical guidance.

“Our project has also been registered with the Union ministry for food processing industries,“ Shetti said.

Asked what prompted him to come up with this project, he said, “In Magarpatta township near Pune, farmers had floated a company with a large land bank and leased it out for IT sector and residential homes. A similar pattern is being implemented here.The project site is crucial as there are two industrial townships adjacent to it. This will prove beneficial to automobile and machinery parts suppliers,“ Shetti said.

Sandeep Patil, a member of the project, said, “Earlier land acquisition took years to complete, which was frustrating for farmers. In this case, the process took less than six months.“

India listed 40th most competitive economy

India has been ranked as the 40th most competitive economy, slipping one place from last year's ranking, on the World Economic Forum's global competitiveness index, which is topped by Switzerland.

On the list of 137 economies, Switzerland is followed by the US and Singapore in second and third places, respectively. In the latest Global Competitiveness Report, India has slipped from the 39th position to 40th while neighbouring China is ranked at 27th.

“India stabilises this year after its big leap forward of the previous two years,“ the report said, adding that the score has improved across most pillars of competitiveness. These include infrastructure (66), higher education and training (75) and technological readiness (107), reflecting recent public investments in these areas, it added. According to the report, India's performance also improved in information and communications technologies indicators, particularly internet bandwidth per user, mobile phone and broadband subscriptions, and internet access in schools.

However, the WEF said the private sector still considers corruption to be the most problematic factor for doing business in India.

“A big concern for India is the disconnect between its innovative strength (29) and its technological readiness (up 3 to 107) -as long as this gap remains large, India will not be able to fully leverage its technological strengths across the wider economy ,“ it noted.

Among the BRICS, China and Russia (38) are placed above India.

South Africa and Brazil are placed at 61st and 80th spots, respectively .

In South Asia, India has garnered the highest ranking, followed by Bhutan (82), Sri Lanka (85), Nepal (88), Bangladesh (99) and Pakistan (115).

Modernisation of Police Forces cleared

The government has approved a Rs.25,000 crore internal security scheme to strengthen the law and order mechanism, mordernise police forces and for the fight against terrorism.

The Cabinet Committee on Security, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, gave its approval for implementation of Modernisation of Police Forces for 2017-18 to 2019-20. “This is the biggest ever internal security scheme in the country . The financial outlay for the scheme over the three years period is Rs.25,060 crore, out of which the central government's share will be Rs.18,636 crore and states' share will be Rs.6,424 crore,“ home minister Rajnath Singh said.

The scheme has special provisions for internal security, law and order, women security , availability of modern weapons, mobility of police forces, logistical support, hiring of helicopters, upgrade of police wireless, national satellite network, crime and criminal tracking network and systems and e-prison.

The new initiatives are being introduced to provide assistance to states for upgrade of police infrastructure, forensic science laboratories, institutions and making equipment available to plug critical gaps in the criminal justice system.

Singh said under this plan, a central budget outlay of Rs.10,132 crore has been earmarked for internal security-related expenditure for Jammu and Kashmir, northeastern states and those affected by the Left-wing extremism.

Police stations will also be integrated to set up a national data base of crime and criminal records.


India will rank among top 3 economies

Reliance Industries chairman, Mukesh Ambani said that the Indian economy in another 10 years would rank among top three economies of the world. Speaking at the 3-day long India Mobile Congress, Ambani said, "I believe Indian economy will grow to $7 trillion in next 10 years."

Emphasising the importance of digital India, Ambani said, "Data is the new oil and India possesses its abundance." He said that the firms need to provide ubiquitous data to every Indian at an affordable prices. "Data is the oxygen to digital economy", he added.

He said, "4G coverage in India will become larger than 2G coverage in the next 12 months". Highlighting the increased use of data in the country, he said that India has potential to lead fourth industrial revolution as India does not need to import data.

He also mentioned that how India has become the largest telecom market in the world.

Government plans 5G network rollout by 2020

The government has set up a panel to lay down a roadmap for the rollout of 5G mobile networks in India by 2020 in a move that not only promises to make wireless connections blazingly fast but will also make room for the proliferation of Internet-connected smart devices.

5G wireless networks promise more speed and less latency, can serve a higher density of broadband users and are optimized for the Internet of Things, which refers to everyday objects becoming intelligent with the ability to send and receive data.

The government’s push to move to 5G is driven by the logic that India, one of the world’s largest markets for telecom services, should not be left behind when the world shifts to 5G. India’s adoption of 4G was delayed earlier this decade.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India released a consultation paper on framing regulations and standards for the rollout of 5G networks and IoT in August. The paper sought the views of telecom operators on spectrum caps and rollout obligations for 5G spectrum, besides the pricing of 4G airwaves in the coveted 700 MHz band that went unsold in the last auction, Mint reported on 29 August. Trai also sought the industry’s views on the valuation methodology of spectrum in the 3300-3400 MHz and 3400-3600 MHz bands used for 5G services.

An auction of spectrum will potentially generate more revenue for the government but it will also require telecom firms to invest more.

India’s largest telecom service provider Bharti Airtel Ltd said that it would deploy a so-called massive multiple-input multiple-output technology, a key enabler for 5G networks.

Aadhaar and the IndiaStack

India's Aadhaar identity system rivals the growth of other platform innovations like Windows, Android or Facebook, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has said. Nadella, in his book Hit Refresh, which was released during the on-going Microsoft Ignite 2017 conference, has praised India's leap forward in the digital and technological arena.

“Aadhaar now has scaled to over one billion people, rivalling the growth of other platform innovations such as Windows, Android or Facebook,“ the 50-year-old wrote in his book that hit book stores on Tuesday. He praised the creation of the new digital ecosystem IndiaStack.

IndiaStack is a set of APIs (application programming interface) that allows governments, businesses, startups and developers to utilise a unique digital Infrastructure to solve India's hard problems towards presence-less, paperless and cashless service delivery.

“China strategically used the global supply chain and their own domestic market to amplify their comparative advantage and bootstrap their economic growth,“ the India-born CEO noted. “The combination of industrial policy, public sector investment, and entrepreneurial energy is what many other countries will also look to replicate from China's success. I see the beginnings of this in India with the creation of the new digital ecosystem known as IndiaStack,“ Nadella said.

“India is leapfrogging from once being an infrastructure-poor country to now leading in digital technology. IndiaStack ushers in a presence-less, cashless, paperless economy for all its citizens,“ said the Indian-American CEO.

In his book, Nadella wrote that on a trip to Bangalore he engaged in a conversation with Nandan Nilekani about IndiaStack and its future road map. “Nandan is the legendary founder of Infosys, who went on to create a new start-up working with the Indian Government ­ Aadhaar ­ the identity system that is at the centre of IndiaStack,“ he said. Nadella has also mentioned Enlightiks, a start-up that was acquired by Practo, a leading e-health company in India. “I met the founder of Enlightiks on the same trip to Bangalore. They are using the latest cloud technology and AI from Microsoft to create a state-of-the-art health care diagnostics service that can, for example, detect an atrial fibrillation event before it happens because of the rich data going from the personal device of the patient directly to the cloud,“ he said. “In turn, this cloud service can be made available to hospitals in smaller towns or rural areas in India. Enlightiks also has plans to take advantage of IndiaStack to authenticate the user, accept payment, create portal medical records, and much more. This Indian innovation is now looking to expand in the US, Africa and everywhere else,“ he wrote.

States will have to Compete for Central Projects

The Centre has decided to adopt the so-called challenge method for awarding all projects to states so as to bring in speed, efficiency and transparency, besides putting an end to allocation of big projects on political consideration. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approved Niti Aayog's proposal for using the challenge method for awarding projects to states. Under this method, prospective states will be rated on more than half-dozen parameters prescribed in the guidelines issued and the project will go to the state with the highest score on a scale of zero to 100.

This is expected to spur competition among states and UTs, both in terms of offering the best sites and committing resources in terms of land, utilities, infrastructure support and financial contribution, which in turn would encourage optimum utilisation of scarce resources and help in timely completion of projects.

The challenge method for selecting the state as well as the site for the projects, which can be both brownfield and greenfield projects, will now be applicable across sectors such as aviation, roads, railways, health, education, IT, power and textiles. It will also be used for awarding all national events such as national games and youth festivals to states.

Following the PM's approval, detailed guidelines have been issued outlining the basis for setting up new IITs, IIMs, AIIMS, IT and textile parks, new roads and airports as well as thermal plants.

The government is of the view that in many instances projects along with locations used to be announced in the Budget or as a development package while the formulation of the scheme, land acquisition got done after the announcement.

Amazon to Take Dabur Global

Dabur has signed an agreement with Amazon to sell its range of herbal and ayurvedic products in the US, Canada and Mexico. Under this partnership, Amazon Global Selling Program will help Dabur sell 30 products from its popular range such as Vatika hair oil, Meswak toothpaste and Chyawanprash to the consumers in these countries.

Launched in India in May 2015, Amazon Global Selling Program facilitates Indian sellers to sell their products to consumers across the globe.At present, 26,000 Indian sellers are enrolled in this program, who collectively list more than 70 million products for the global audience.

India Mobile Congress

ADB cuts India growth forecast to 7%

The Asian Development Bank marginally lowered its growth forecast for India on account of demonetisation, sluggish consumption and low investment in the economy.

In its latest outlook, the Manila-based multilateral agency said growth will moderate to 7% in 2017, from 7.4% estimated earlier, before picking up to 7.4% next year. It said the “transitory challenges temper India's strong growth prospects“. The revision is based on the slowdown in the first quarter of the current financial year, when the Indian economy expanded 5.7%, the slowest pace of growth in three years.

While ADB blamed demonetisation for some of the woes, it expects the move to result into gains in the future.  However, short-term disruption is expected to dissipate, allowing these initiatives to generate growth dividends over the medium term. The agency also lowered its inflation projection for the year to 4%, from 5.2% earlier, and expected a mild pick-up in the pace of price rise in 2018 with inflation estimated at 4.6%.

Developing Asia is on track to grow faster this year and next, ADB said, buoyed by a pick-up in world trade and China's expansion, but it flagged risks from tightening US monetary policy. Developing Asia is expected to grow by 5.9 and 5.8% in 2017 and 2018, respectively. That is unchanged from its July estimates, but higher than the 5.7% forecast it gave for both years in its outlook released in April.

Fadnavis signs Nagpur E-way MoU with South Korea

The Maharashtra government has signed a memorandum of understanding with South Korea's ministry of land, infrastructure and transport on “strategic partnership for infrastructure development projects“. The MoU was signed in the presence of chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who is currently on a two day tour of South Korea.

Under the MoU, it has been agreed to share implementation strategy , legal systems, policies, technologies, experience and information in the field of infrastructure development projects, with special focus on smart cities, expressways, including the Nagpur-Mumbai Expressway, airports and Metro rail. “We have proposed to form a special purpose vehicle with the participation of authorities and public corporations on both sides to execute key projects,“ a senior bureaucrat said.

“The special purpose vehicle will explore the possibility of financing and executing infrastructure development projects, particularly the Nagpur-Mumbai Expressway . We have proposed to take assistance of the Korea Expressway Corporation as well as the Korea Land and Housing Corporation for the expressway and key housing projects in the state,“ he added.

The ministry of land, infrastructure and transport will appoint an independent nodal officer, while the state will name a nodal officer for effective coordination.


PM sets up Economic Advisory Council

Prime Minister Narendra Modi constituted a five-member Economic Advisory Council which will analyse economic and other issues. Headed by NITI Aayog member Bibek Debroy, the EAC includes NITI Aayog's Principal Advisor Ratan Watal as its member and economists Surjit Bhalla, Rathin Roy and Ashima Goyal as part-time members.

Terms of reference of the EAC would be to “analyse any issue, economic or otherwise, referred to it by the prime minister and advising him thereon,“ the statement said.

It will also “address issues of macroeconomic importance“ and present its views to the prime minister, it said, adding, “This could be either suo-motu or on reference from the prime minister or anyone else.“

PM launches Saubhagya

PM Narendra Modi said he will not relent in his “battle against corruption“ even as he sharpened his government's development and welfarist image by announcing a mega scheme to provide electricity connections to 4 crore families deprived of regular power.

He launched a Rs.16,000 crore scheme, Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (acronym Saubhagya meaning good fortune), that he said would deliver free power connections (not billing) by December, 2018. “Rs.16,000 crore will be spent to bring a monumental change in the lives of the poor,“ the PM said pointing out that people still lacked electricity over a century after the incandescent bulb was invented. Even 70 years after Independence, 4 crore out of 25 crore families did not have a connection, he added.

The scheme reflects the Modi government's focus on delivering on schemes like housing, power, loans and farm insurance to key sections of the electorate. Alongside electrification, the PM awas yojana has sanctioned more than 26 lakh houses for urban poor and more than 1.76 lakh units have been constructed while 11 lakh are being built. Another 2 lakh houses are complete under JNNURM.

As he has often done, Modi sought to explain that he has experienced the travails of the less well-off, doing without electricity as a student. He also said that all villages will be electrified by December this year beating the deadline of May 1, 2018.


Somewhere in Karnataka....

E-waste: Snapshot

Only 1.5% of electronic waste generated in India is recycled through an `institutional process', industry body Assocham has said. E-waste is growing 30% yearly and set to explode beyond the 1.8 million metric tonnes India generated in 2014, given the rapid penetration of mobiles, computers and other consumer devices.

A snapshot of where India, the world's fifth largest producer of e-waste, stands

Foreign Funds Head for Dalal Street Exit

Overseas funds have soured on Indian equities since the beginning of August because of rich valuations and slower-than expected corporate earnings recovery, prompting them to look for opportunities elsewhere.

They've sold Indian stocks worth a net $2.66 billion between August 1 and the third week of September, making it the most that's been pulled out of any major emerging market that discloses portfolio flows during that period. The outflows exceeded those from major emerging markets such as South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia and South Africa. Brazil has bounced back, with investment of $2.17 billion in the same period.

The Nifty and Sensex gained 21.9% and 20%, respectively, this year -among the best-performing emerging market indices. Analysts said some foreign investors, who have been betting on a corporate earnings recovery, lost patience and booked profits. Market strategists said poor earnings growth doesn't justify the steep climb in stock prices. Readjustments in corporate balance sheets as a result of the GST could squeeze the domestic economy further after gross domestic product growth fell to a three-year low of 5.7% in the June quarter as private investment remains a laggard.

Rising geopolitical tensions over North Korea have hastened outflows from emerging markets. Investors are also concerned that the unwinding of the US Federal Reserve balance sheet may lead to the dollar strengthening and a bigger exodus from emerging markets like India. On Friday, the Sensex and the Nifty posted their highest single-day loss in 2017 with the Nifty closing below 10,000.

Indian stocks are among the most expensive emerging market equities. The Sensex is trading at 20.55 times earnings estimates for the current financial year compared with 13.77 times for the MSCI Emerging Market Index.

Brazil's Bovespa index has risen 13.66% since the beginning of August until September 21, compared with the Nifty's 1.49% fall in the same period. But for purchases by domestic investors to the tune of Rs.25,500 crore since August 1, the fall in Indian stocks would have been sharper.

Equity strategists said stability in commodity prices may have also led to improving earnings expectations in other emerging markets including Russia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brazil. They have seen the benefits of higher commodity prices leading to robust export growth. Earnings growth has returned to these markets, unlike India where export growth doesn't impact the overall market as much. Foreign investors are likely to remain net sellers and may continue to allocate funds to other emerging markets in the coming days.

Even though Indian benchmark indices have scaled new heights recently, a comparison of the Nifty's performance with that of other emerging market peers shows that the Indian index has underperformed the MSCI EM index, which is up 27.8% for the calendar year.


Arvind Subramanian gets 1-year extension

The government announced a year's extension for chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian, whose three-year term was due to end on October 16. The announcement by finance minister Arun Jaitley ended speculation about the return of the economist to Peterson Institute, a US-based thinktank. Jaitley said he had cleared the proposal for the extension.

There were reports almost six months ago announcing an extended term for the trade economist. The St Stephen's alumnus was appointed by the Modi government in 2014. Subramanian had agreed to a three-year term and wanted to return to his assignment in the US as he also has family commitments, but the government convinced him to stay back for some more time.

While he has been providing critical inputs on the economy, including to the PM, Subramanian was closely associated with designing the goods and services tax.

For BJP, it's nation first: PM Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on the second day of his constituency visit, said development is his government's prime agenda. Modi, who was at Shanshahpur village, 30 km from Varanasi, to inaugurate the Pashu Arogya Mela (cattle health fair), said the BJP , unlike other political parties, does not decide its priorities on the basis of votes. “Some politicians work only when it gets them votes. But we have been brought up in a different culture. For us, the nation is above all and it's our top priority, not votes,“ he said.

The PM, while referring to the mega cattle fair, the first-of-its kind in the district, said, “These animals don't vote. They aren't anyone's voters.“ But, he said, the fair would benefit UP's animal husbandry sector by providing relief to farmers, increasing milk productivity, and improving cattle health.

Modi also laid the foundation of a twin-pit toilet as part of the government's cleanliness drive, and praised the Yogi government for naming it “Izzat ghar,“ which means house of honour. “Jis bhi kisi ghar mein izzat ghar hota hai, wahan ghar ki izzat hoti hai (houses with toilets are always respected),“ he said. Quoting surveys, Modi said that households could save up to Rs.50,000 annually on an average if they started using toilets.

Talking about the Centre's flagship scheme of providing housing for every Indian by 2022, Modi said, “It's an uphill task but if Modi doesn't perform it, who will?“ The PM also praised CM Yogi Aditya Nath implementing the welfare schemes.


New Pune airport plan ready for takeoff

The proposed Chhatrapati Sambhaji Raje International Airport project at Purandar near Pune has acquired a fresh momentum with 80% farmers giving their assent for land acquisition. International funding agencies have also shown keen interest in the project, minister of state for irrigation, Vijay Shivtare said.

“Land acquisition for the project will be completed in the next three months as 80% of the farmers have given their nod. We expect the airport to be ready in the next four years,” Shivtare, who represents the Purandar constituency, said.

“Many international agencies have shown interest in bidding for the project and providing soft loan. The new airport would have the biggest cargo facility in the country. It will change the topography of Purandar taluka, south of Pune and boost the economy of the entire region,” said the Shiv Sena MLA, who is a minister in the Devendra Fadnavis cabinet.

India calls Pak `Terroristan' @ UN

In a stinging reply to Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi's fulminations against India at the United Nations, India described its western neighbour as “Terroristan“ which is home to a flourishing industry producing and exporting global terrorism.

Exercising its right of reply, India emphasised that Pakistan had become a land of “pure terror“ synonymous with terrorism rather than being the “land of the pure“ as its literal meaning suggests.

“Terroristan is, in fact, a territory whose contribution to the globalisation of terror is unparalleled,“ said Eenam Gambhir, first secretary with India's permanent mission to the UN, as she read out India's response. She had been fielded last year as well when she said the “ivy league of terrorism“ was located in Pakistan.

Pointing out that Pakistan is facing the blowback of its actions, Gambhir said, “The polluter, in this case, is paying the price.“

India was forced to exercise its right to reply after Abbasi yet again raised the issue of Jammu and Kashmir at the UN and urged it to appoint a special envoy to Kashmir, claiming that India was violating the ceasefire agreement.

Gambhir said Pakistan's current state can be gauged from the fact that Hafiz Saeed, a leader of the UN-designated terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba, was now sought to be legitimised as the leader of a political party. The Indian official said Pakistan is a country whose counter-terrorism policy was to “mainstream and upstream“ terrorists by either providing safe haven to global terror leaders in its military towns, or protecting them with political careers. “None of this can justify Pakistan's avaricious efforts to covet the territories of its neighbours. In so far as India is concerned, Pakistan must understand that the state of J-K is and will always remain an integral part of India. However much it scales up cross-border terrorism, it will never succeed in undermining India's territorial integrity ,“ said Gambhir.

Brushing aside Pakistan's “gumption“ to play the victim despite having sheltered 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, Gambhir said by now all of Pakistan's neighbours were painfully familiar with these tactics of creating a narrative based on distortion, deception, and deceit. “This august assembly and the world beyond know that efforts at creating alternative facts do not change reality,“ she said. In his speech, Abbasi had also claimed that there were no Taliban safe havens in Pakistan. Attacking Pakistan, Gambhir said having diverted billions of dollars in international military and development aid towards creating a “dangerous infrastructure of terror“ in its territory, Pakistan was now speaking of the high cost of its terror industry . “Even as terrorists thrive in Pakistan and roam its streets with impunity, we have heard it lecture about the protection of human rights in India. The world does not need lessons on democracy and human rights from a country whose own situation is charitably described as a failed state,“ Gambhir said.


OECD Cuts India's FY18 Growth Forecast

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has trimmed India's growth forecast for the current financial year, citing the temporary impact of the rollout of the GST and demonetisation, expecting the economy to expand at a slower pace than China.

OECD said India's economy will likely grow 6.7% in FY18, lower than its estimate of 7.3% in June. In contrast, China's economy gets a 0.2% lift from its earlier assessment to 6.8% for 2017.

The Paris-based group of 35 advanced and emerging countries cuts its forecast for India's growth to 7.2% in FY19 from 7.7% estimated earlier. China is predicted to grow 6.6% in 2018.

Global GDP growth is projected to pick up to about 3.5% in 2017 and 3.7% 2018, higher than in 2016 but still below historical norms, OECD said.

Growth is seen higher in the euro area, Russia, Japan and Canada. The forecast for the US is unchanged at 2.1% for 2017 and 2.4% for 2018. The group warned against complacency in the face of stronger shortterm momentum.

World trade is expected to grow 3.6% in 2017, well above last year's lacklustre growth of 1.3%, buoyed by a revival in import demand in Asia and North America.

The World Trade Organization upgraded the forecast for 2017 on Thursday as “trade rebounds strongly“ from its earlier projection of 2.4%.

The stronger growth in 2017 is attributed to a resurgence of Asian trade flows as intra-regional shipments picked up and as import demand in North America recovered after stalling in 2016.

These risks include the possibility that protectionist rhetoric translates into trade-restrictive actions, a worrying rise in global geopolitical tensions and a rising economic toll from natural disasters.

The multilateral trade body expects the pace to moderate next year and is estimated at 3.2%, within a range of 1.4-4.4%. This is because the US and euro zone monetary policies are expected to tighten and China is likely to rein in easy credit to stop its economy from overheating.

The ratio of trade growth to GDP growth, which traditionally ran at about 2:1 but slumped to about 1:1 in the decade since the financial crisis, should rise this year, with trade growing 1.3 times faster than the global economy, the WTO said.

Sonia nudges PM to pass women's quota bill

Congress president Sonia Gandhi has asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make use of the BJP's majority in Lok Sabha to ensure the passage of women's reservation bill “languishing“ in the Lower House for over seven years.

In a letter to the PM, Sonia said Rajya Sabha passed the women's quota bill on March 9, 2010, but the bill has been stuck in the Lower House “for one reason or the other“. While making the demand, Sonia also promised Congress' support to the legislation. “I am writing to request you to take advantage of your majority in the Lok Sabha to now get the women's reservation bill passed in the Lower House as well,“ the Congress supremo said in the letter.

Releasing the letter at a press conference, Mahila Congress chief and Lok Sabha MP Sushmita Dev questioned “government's delay“ in piloting the bill, urging the ruling BJP to go beyond “symbolism“ in its commitment to the legislation. She said Congress leaders would soon meet the President and present him “lakhs of signatures“ collected during a party drive.

Responding to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi's letter seeking the passage of the women's reservation bill, a senior BJP leader claimed that the relevant bill, which provides for one-third of seats in Lok Sabha and state assemblies for women, could soon be introduced. The leader said the government may table the bill in the winter session but added that a final call has not been taken. He refused to elaborate whether the provision for 33% quota will be retained or amended.The bill was first introduced by the Deve Gowda government in 1996. 

Gujarat forest experiment bears fruit

Not far from the densely packed industrial belt in Ahmedabad's Pirana Piplaj areas where 1,500 factories and warehouses jostle for space, a 29-acre green zone, packed with 47,000 trees, now brings a whiff of fresh air to the Sabarmati, named the third most polluted river in the country by the Central Pollution Control Board four years ago.

The Gyaspur forestry experiment of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, 2 km from 50-metre-high smouldering garbage mounds in Pirana landfill, is partially responsible for the transformation. The experiment was undertaken to mask the stench from Pirana's four garbage mounds that have 78 lakh tonnes of waste accumulated over 30 years and smoulder throughout the year. The green zone was also AMC's attempt to compensate for the trees cut to pave the way for development in the city and complement the state's efforts to develop the environs of the river in the city.

The thick plantation has started attracting birds, animals and insects driven away by rapid industrialization and pollution. It's now home to 110 species of birds, including migratory varieties. Further, hundreds of species of insects, around 40 peacocks, 30 nilgais, 10 hedgehogs, jackals, a few mongoose and 15 species of snakes can also be found here.

AMC parks and gardens director Jignesh Patel said that in 2005, they had started it with around 100 trees to offset loss of trees cut in the city . “I had no idea that this place will turn into a rich bio-park,“ Patel says.

Naturalist Haseeb Sheikh, who rescues wild animals, prefers to release them here. “Gyaspur is an example of how trees and plants beside a polluted river become ecosystem engineers... You allow trees and plants to colonize a bare river sediment patch and they will do everything--from trapping of sediments to retention of seeds,“ he says.

In the past seven years, the locals have put up water pots at 13 places on this patch. “The river water is toxic with sewage and chemicals and we didn't want the animals and birds here to drink it,“ says one of the locals helping in upkeep of the 'forest'. As a result, Gyaspur has also become the go-to place for researchers.

However, some say more needs to be done. The AMC should plant more fruit trees.

The city civic body too agrees that Gyaspur is a work in progress. AMC's Jignesh Patel said: “We have started growing fruit trees like jamun and desi mango to encourage more nesting.“

8 public-pvt models for affordable housing announced

Minister of housing and urban affairs Hardeep Singh Puri announced eight public-private partnership models for affordable housing. Puri told that the ministry has so far sanctioned 2.6 million affordable homes with an investment of Rs.1.40 lakh crore.

The models include six for promoting affordable housing with private investment, using government land. The first (DBT model) envisages private builders designing, building and transferring houses built on government land to public authorities. Government land will be allocated based on least cost of construction. Payments to buildings will be made by the public authority based on progress of project as per agreed upon milestones and buyers will pay the government.

Under the second model (mixed development cross-subsidised housing), government land will be allotted based on number of affordable homes to be built on the plot by builders. The tenements will be cross-subsidised from revenue from high-end housing or commercial development.

The third (annuity-based subsidized housing) will entail builders to invest against deferred annuity payments by the government. Land allocation to builders will be based on unit cost of construction.

The fourth model, annuity-cum-capital grant based affordable housing, is where builders can pay a share of project cost upfront.

The ministry will also offer direct relationship ownership housing, where promoters will directly deal with buyers and recover cost. Allocation of land is based on unit cost of construction.

The sixth model, direct relationship rental housing, is where recovery of cost by builders is through rental income from houses built on government land.

“Under the six government land-based PPP models, beneficiaries can avail central assistance of Rs.1 lakh to Rs.2.50 lakh per house, as provisioned under components of Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna,'' said Puri.

The minister urged developers to enter the affordable housing segment.

Shirdi airport is ready to handle commercial flights

After a long wait, the Shirdi airport is finally ready to handle commercial passenger flights and not just the smaller turbo prop aircraft, even the narrowbody jets like the Airbus 320 and Boeing 737. The airport is located in Kakdi village, which is about 14 km to the southwest of the temple town Shirdi.

Once the new airport starts operations, the travel time to Shirdi from Mumbai is expected to reduce to just 40 minutes as against five hours by road. The DGCA has granted aerodrome licence to the Shirdi airport in Maharashtra for day operations. It has ensured the compliance of all relevant standards. The airport can then be operational between sunrise and sunset.

According to sources, Air India's Alliance Air plans to launch flights from Mumbai and Delhi, while regional carrier Trujet will air-link Hyderabad to Shirdi. Spread on 400 hectares, developed by the Maharashtra Airport Development Company at a cost of about Rs.350 crore, the airport had received an “in principle approval'' from the ministry of civil aviation in 2011. According to an estimate about 60,000 pilgrims visit Shirdi every day, of which the airport authorities plan to tap at least 10-12 per cent.


Somewhere in Mumbai....

India will soon commission its first new conventional submarine in over 17 years, with the first Scorpene submarine INS Kalvari being delivered to the Navy at Mazagon Docks. The second one INS Khanderi is slated for delivery by December.

The delivery of INS Kalvari (tiger shark), the first of the six French diesel-electric Scorpene submarines being built under the Rs.23,652 crore “Project-75“ at Mazagon Docks in Mumbai, is significant because the Navy currently has just 13 ageing diesel-electric submarines, with just half of them operational at any given time.The force needs at least 18 conventional submarines.

India also has two nuclear-powered submarines, INS Arihant and INS Chakra, but the latter does not have nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles because it has been acquired on lease from Russia. The Navy needs at least six nuclear-powered attack subs and four nuclear powered subs with nuclear tipped missiles. The Scorpene project has, of course, faced huge time and cost overruns. INS Kalvari, for instance, was to be ready by 2012, with the other five coming by 2017. Now, with the third submarine INS Karanj to be “launched“ later this year, all the six will be inducted by 2020 or so.

Moreover, even the tender for the long-delayed Project-75-India for the six new stealth submarines, with both land-attack missile capabilities and air-independent propulsion for greater underwater endurance, is yet to be even floated.

Earlier this year, India finally kick-started this “mother of all underwater deals“ after an excruciating 10-year delay, with arms majors from France, Germany , Russia, Sweden, Spain and Japan being asked to submit initial proposals for the estimated Rs.70,000 crore ($10.9 billion) project to build the six submarines in collaboration with an Indian shipyard here. When P-75I was accorded “acceptance of necessity“ in November 2007, its estimated cost was around Rs.50,000 crore then. Once the domestic shipyard and its foreign collaborator for this project are selected under the “strategic partnership“ policy, it will take another seven to eight years after that for the first submarine to roll out.

Monsoon Tracker: 20th September 2017


Ratan Tata backs PM Modi

Ratan Tata, the Chairman Emeritus of Tata Sons has reposed his faith in the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi and says that he will certainly deliver a ‘New India’. The renowned industrialist said, “He (Narendra Modi) is able, capable and innovative enough to look at India afresh. I, for one, am optimistic that India will be the ‘New India’ that he has promised.”

Elaborating why he believes so, Ratan Tata said that as Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi had helped him by providing a “home” to set up a factory in the state, after the company shut down a Nano car manufacturing unit in Singur, West Bengal back in 2007. Recollecting the anecdote, Ratan Tata said, “I’ve known Mr Modi when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. I turned to him when we had to change factories from Singur in West Bengal to Gujarat. I’ve seen him, will never forget the way he found solutions for a company that was looking for a home.”

Further, Ratan Tata said that Narendra Modi kept his promise to provide land for the factory within ‘three days’ — a practice very uncommon in a country like India. He said, “Mr Modi invited me to move the factory to Gujarat, and I said, we we’ll come if we had a home. He said I’ll get you the land you want in three days. He delivered that! On the 3rd (day) morning, he said Ratan ji, here’s the land that I promised. That just doesn’t happen in India!”

Ratan Tata is highly optimistic about the Prime Minister’s new India initiative. “As Prime Minister now, he is offering to the Indian people a new India. I think we need to give him that opportunity to offer that new India,” he said.

Trai Slashes IUC

India's telecom regulator more than halved the interconnect usage charge from October 1 and said the fee will be scrapped from 2020, in a move that it said would benefit consumers.The decision saw the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India coming down on the side of new entrant Reliance Jio Infocomm, while rejecting the arguments made by older telcos Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular.

IUC has been reduced to 6 paise a minute from 14 paise a minute and to zero starting January 1, 2020, based on the view that costs incurred by operators will drop.

India's incumbent top telcos said they will go to court against the step. IUC is paid by the mobile operator on whose network the call originates to the network where it terminates.

Mumbai-Vadodara E-way snippets

Work on the 380-km-long Vadodara-Mumbai Expressway will begin next month, Union minister of road transport and highways Nitin Gadkari announced in Vadodara. The six-lane highway is expected to bring down travel time between Ahmedabad and Mumbai to around six hours.

The project will cost Rs.44,000 crore. Officials suggested the expressway will start from Ghodbandar in Thane and traverses through Silvasa, Navsari, Surat, Bharuch and Vadodara, where it will connect to the Ahmedabad-Vadodara expressway .


Maharashtra on track to become a trillion dollar economy

Maharashtra is on track to become a trillion-dollar economy, given the impetus to infrastructure development in the last three years, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said. The state attracted more than half of the total FDI in the country last fiscal, Fadnavis said.

The theme of the 5th edition of the ‘Progressive Maharashtra Summit’, organised by industry body FICCI is ‘Maharashtra 2025: Leapfrogging to $1 Trillion Economy’.

Noting that the state has always been a leader in industry and business in the country, the CM said there have been times when Maharashtra’s leadership position was “threatened, challenged and compromised” to some extent. “However, in the last three years of our government, we have been successful in bringing the state back to the leadership position in the country,” he asserted. Using the FDI metrics in Maharashtra as an indicator, Fadnavis said the state accounted for more than half of the country’s FDI last year, which shows the confidence of global investors. There used to be a very close competition between Delhi, Karnataka and Gujarat in terms of attracting FDI, he said. In 2016-17, of the overall FDI, as much as 53 per cent came into Maharashtra, making it the undisputed leader, the chief minister added. Fadnavis stressed that the reforms being taken up by the government are paving the way for making India globally competitive. 


Internet giant Google has forayed into the crowded-yet-exciting space of payment solutions in the country with the launch of Tez. Built on the government-backed Unified Payment Interface platform, the app allows users to do financial transactions like sending money, receiving payments directly into bank accounts of not just individuals but also merchants.

Designed in a chat-like interface, Google released the app on Android as well as iOS. Tez is Google's made for India payment product and payments will be an area where India will leapfrog the West.

Tez will be available in seven Indian languages including Bengali and Marathi. Google has partnered with four banks -Axis Bank, HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank and SBI for the solution.

Over the last one year, the payment space in India has become very exciting with several large players foraying into it. This includes the likes of Amazon, Flipkart and Uber which recently launched UPI payments through its app. Apple is also said to be working on a payments solution for India.

Google has also enabled merchants to use the Tez platform to receive payments directly through the app but promised only businesses that consumers transact with will be able to use the feature and there will be “no spamming.“

Google is also working on integrating credit and debit card payments through Tez and will enable it later this year. Google has also struck exclusive partnerships with mobile manufacturers including Micromax, Xolo (which is a Lava sub-brand), Nokia and Panaonic. All of Lava's upcoming phones will come with Tez pre-installed.


Gujarat and HP elections to see 100% use of VVPATs

While the Election Commission will hold the upcoming polls in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh fully with voter-verifiable paper audit trail machines, there will be no mandatory counting of paper trail for a designated percentage of polling stations in the two states.

The EC is not in favour of introducing compulsory counting of VVPAT slips up to a definite percentage just yet, as it wants to focus on smooth implementation of 100% VVPAT-based polls in the two states later this year.

Stating there was already a provision in the counting rules enabling a candidate to seek paper trail count if not satisfied with the result, the EC functionary said candidates were free to exercise this option in the Gujarat and Himachal polls. The suggestion for compulsory counting of paper trail up to a fixed percentage was first placed before the EC at an all-party meeting on EVMs in May .

Some parties, including AAP , demanded this be introduced to instil confidence in the reliability of VVPAT.

While AAP had mooted mandatory counting of paper trail in 25% polling stations in each constituency, EC discussed a 5% ceiling, ensuring that paper trail was not mandatorily counted in less than five or maximum 14 polling stations of each constituency .

Maharashtra government rallies for rivers

As key ministers of the state came together at the Raj Bhavan and pledged to put their might into Rally for Rivers--a campaign initiated by spiritual leader Sadhguru of Isha Foundation--to draw attention to depleting rivers and find solutions through widening of green cover, governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao, in his capacity as chancellor of 20 universities in Maharashtra and 20 universities in Tamil Nadu, made an interesting resolve of pushing collegians into planting trees that would earn them brownie points on their degree certificate.

“I have already asked vice-chancellors to join hands to save rivers and increase the green cover. All universities are preparing an action plan. In Tamil Nadu, we launched a `one student one tree' scheme for university students. I have requested all vice-chancellors in Maharashtra to implement this scheme too. If a student plants and nurtures one tree for three years during the period of his/her graduation, the same should be reflected on his degree certificate,“ explained Rao adding that “65% of Maharashtra's 112.3 million population comprise the youth, four times the combined population of Australia and New Zealand put together.“

At what was called the Plantation Conclave, Rao also pointed at five rivers in and around Mumbai--Dahisar, Poisar, Mithi, Oshiwara and Ulhas --which he described as having been “lifelines“ for people but reduced to “drainage lines“ today, before emphasising on the need to “clean and save the arteries of the nation“.

In July, the department of forest and Isha Foundation signed an MoU to enhance the green cover in Maharashtra by planting 50 crore trees in the next three years with a focus on rejuvenating the Godavari by planting trees, especially in the floodplains of the river.

Isha Foundation with its experience of promoting green cover in south India will act as a consulting and technical partner for the state. The forest department with suggestions from the Foundation has planted 4 crore seedlings this year and is targeting 13 crore in 2018 and 33 crore in 2019.

In a rare show of candour, CM Devendra Fadnavis admitted, “Making promises isn't new for us politicians but we are here to really make changes and that is why we've devised the drive in a way that makes us answerable for each tree planted. We will do what we can to accelerate this initiative.“

A conscience call from Sudhir Mungantiwar, minister of forest, planning and finance, reminded cricketer Sachin Tendulkar of his bat that would not be there if not for trees, as he promised to plant “as many saplings as I can“ at Donja, a village in Osmanabad, that he adopted last year.

The Sadhguru expressed his delight at the state leaders' enthusiasm to enhance the well-being of rivers irrespective of political differences. The Sadhguru is driving to 16 states and Maharashtra is the seventh one he has covered after starting from Coimbatore in Kerala on September 3. “There are six parties ruling the seven states that I visited so far but they've all come together in one voice. This is fantastic for the nation. This is our moment to prove we're a responsible generation,“ he said.

An expert committee of environmental scientists and lawmakers are in the process of drawing up a draft river policy that the Sadhguru will hand over to the Centre on October 2, with the culmination of the campaign in the Himalayas. “If at least 30 crore people join us, that is 40% of the total electorate, it will help us pressure the government for a longer gestation period for the policy.“

PM Modi Dedicates Sardar Sarovar Dam to Nation

Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated 138-metre Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada river on Sunday, saying “no other project in the world has faced so many hurdles“.

Dedicating the dam to the nation on his 67th birthday, PM Modi said at Dabhoi, near the dam, that he would live and die for the dreams of the people of the country. “You know me, I can't do small things. I don't think small, don't do small things. With 1.25 billion people with me, I can't dream small.“

Remembering Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Babasaheb Ambedkar, the prime minister said: “If they had lived even a few more years, the dam would have been completed in the 60s and 70s itself... India would have been on the path of progress much earlier. But it was our misfortune that we had to lose them.“

Recollecting the opposition to the construction of the dam, Modi said: “When the Word Bank stopped giving money, the temples of this state organised donations for the dam.“

“I have knowledge (kacha chittha) of everyone who tried to stall this project, but I will not name them as I do not want to go on that route,“ the PM said, adding: “I have always refrained from politicising the issue and wouldn't do so even now.“

Modi said the project was an engineering marvel and should be part of engineering curriculum.“The quantity of cement concrete that has been used to set up this dam is incredible. The material required to construct an eight km wide concrete road from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Kandla to Kohima has gone into putting this structure.“

Earlier in the day, Modi visited his mother Hiraba at her residence on the outskirts of capital Gandhinagar and sought her blessings on the occasion of his birthday. His visit to Kevadia Colony, however, was delayed due to inclement weather as his helicopter had to land in Dabhoi instead of Kevadia Colony and the prime minister had to travel by road to reach the venue.

Later, the prime minister called upon farmers to launch `sweet revolution' and `blue revolution' by taking up honey bee farming and optimising use of waterways for transportation.


Global Peace Index 2017

Marshal Arjan Singh passes away

Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh, India's third air force chief, passed away at the age of 98 here on Saturday, marking the end of a life and career closely intertwined with events that shaped India after Independence.

Born on April 15, 1919, in what is now Faisalabad in Pakistan, he joined the Indian Air Force in 1938 at the age of 19 and went on to command the IAF during the 1965 war with Pakistan when he was 44. He earned a Padma Vibhushan for his exceptional leadership that saw the IAF shake off initial setbacks and counter Pakistan in air battles. The IAF history of its operations acknowledges it “suffered disproportionately higher losses“ than PAF. But says the force showed “resilience and determination“ to gradually turn the tables with effective counter-strikes till the ceasefire came into effect on September 22. He oversaw the transition of the IAF from propeller craft to a jet fleet and was given diplomatic assignments after he retired at the early age of 50.

His lifelong companion Teji passed away in 2011. The Indian armed forces have had only three Marshal-rank officers, the highest honorary rank possible, till now. The first, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, regarded as the architect of the swift military operation to liberate Bangladesh in 1971, died in 2008 at the age of 94.


Forex kitty hits $400 billion

India's forex reserves crossed the $400-billion mark for the first time on Friday. The latest $100 billion has been added to the reserves in three and a half years after they crossed the $300-billion level on April 2014. At current level, the reserves are enough to fund more than a year of imports. In nominal terms, foreign exchange reserves have increased by $6.6 billion during the first quarter. The reserves have risen by $30 billion since Urjit Patel took charge as RBI governor in September 2016.
An increase in these reserves provides the RBI with ammunition to tackle volatility in the forex market. The forex reserves are built up by the central bank by purchasing dollars from banks. The reserves -which comprise foreign currency assets, gold and special drawing rights with the International Monetary Fund -stood at $400.7 as on September 8.

The highest contribution to the reserves has been from foreign portfolio investors. During the April-September quarter, foreign direct investment surged by $7.2 billion in the reporting period from $3.9 billion in the same period last year. Foreign institutional investment flows increased by $11.9 billion in the first quarter from $1.2 billion in the same period last year.

The central bank's buildup of reserves comes ahead of the US Federal Reserve exiting its stimulus -a move which is expected to result in funds moving back into US dollar assets. Accretion to reserves are expected to slow down with a widening of the CAD and rising crude oil prices. Foreign institutional investors have pulled out $810 million from the equity market in September on the back of $1.7 billion in August.

Current account deficit @ 2.4%

The country's current account deficit-the shortfall caused by the gap between imports and exports -has widened sharply to 2.4% of GDP during the quarter ended June 2017. This is the widest gap since June 2013 when the rupee had come under severe pressure. The balance of payments for the April-June quarter stood at $11.4 billion as against $6.7 billion in the year-ago period on the back of foreign inflows.

The CAD was $14.3 billion, which amounts to 2.4% of the country's GDP. The surge in imports has resulted in the first-quarter CAD being almost as much as the $15 billion for the whole of FY17.

The deficit would have been worse had it not been for a healthy 15% increase in the services trade surplus, and a modest increase in secondary income inflows. 


WPI inflation @ a 4-month high

Wholesale price inflation rose to a four month high in August on the back of soaring food and fuel prices, dampening hopes of any interest rate cut by the RBI when it reviews monetary policy in October.

Inflation, as measured by the wholesale price index, rose an annual 3.24%, higher than previous month's 1.9% and above 1.1% recorded in the same month last year. The government kept the June inflation rate unchanged at 0.9%.

The WPI inflation data mirrored the retail inflation number, which hit a five month high of 3.4% in August largely driven by food and housing prices.

While both retail and wholesale price inflation numbers are below the central bank's comfort level the rising inflationary pressures may prompt the RBI to hold interest rates for now.

Economists said they expect the central bank to hold rates in the October review.

Rajasthan waives farmers' loans

Rajasthan became the third BJP-ruled state, after Maharashtra and UP, to waive farm loans. The state announced the waiver after reaching a deal with farmers who had been agitating since September 1. Farm loans up to Rs.50,000 will be written off, putting a burden of about Rs.20,000 crore on the Vasundhara Raje government. 

The Bullet Train Bhoomi Poojan

The ground-breaking announcement of India's first bullet train project signalled the fast-tracking of India-Japan ties as PM Narendra Modi and his counterpart Shinzo Abe looked to strategically align India's `Act East' policy with Japan's `Open Pacific' initiative and fashion an Asia-Africa “growth corridor“.

Abe's evocative reference to how merging Japan's `Ja' and India's `I' will give `JAI' at the launch of the bullet train project heralded the warmth in ties, and while the Japanese leader said he would do all he could for India, Modi responded by saying Japan was a true friend who offered loans at virtually no interest.

“The difference a half percent can make in interest rates is evident, particularly to people in Ahmedabad...Here is a friend who says `Pay back the loan over 50 years',“ said Modi, acknowledging Abe's commitment to initiatives such as Make in India. Modi's fourth annual summit with Abe saw a strong commitment to ensuring unhindered commerce and trade through the India-Pacific region with the convergence of India's interests with Japan's Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy offering an alternative vision to China's much-discussed OBOR .

With many seeing OBOR as an instrument to further China's geopolitical objectives, the two PMs delivered a clear message to Beijing as they called on India and Japan to play a central role in safeguarding a rule-based order in the India-Pacific through maritime security cooperation, more defence exchanges and by improving connectivity .

Despite the focus on strengthening defence cooperation, the two countries couldn't finalise an agreement for purchase of US 2i surveillance aircraft by India from Japan. Foreign secretary S Jaishankar said discussions were still on. Also India and Japan decided to drop a specific mention of South China Sea from the joint statement despite reaffirming their commitment to freedom of navigation and overflight in the India-Pacific. Jaishankar said the principle was being acknowledged in the reference to India-Pacific rather than “specific geographies“.

This is significant as India and China weeks ago successfully resolved the Doklam stand-off. Jaishankar said the joint statement dealt with a full set of issues in the Indo-Pacific and under that all “sub-sets“ were covered.

However, the fact is that both 2016 and 2015 Modi-Abe joint statements had a specific reference to South China Sea while underlining the significance of freedom of navigation.

Asked if Doklam was discussed in the talks, Japanese officials said all issues of strategic interests came up in the dialogue. When asked the same question, Jaishankar said while it wasn't specifically discussed, there was a discussion on regional and global developments in a broader sense. He did make a pointed reference that the North Korea crisis highlighted the need to remember “backward linkages“ to its missile and nuclear programme -a pointer to China as much as Pakistan. India and Japan signed also signed 15 agreements after the talks, one of which was to create an Act East Forum to enhance connectivity and promote developmental projects in India's northeast in an “efficient and effective manner“.

In a not so subtle dig at China, Modi and Abe underlined the importance of all countries ensuring the development and use of connectivity infrastructure “in an open, transparent and non-exclusive manner based on international standards and responsible debt financing practices, while ensuring respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity , rule of law, and the environment“. India has accused China of undermining its sovereignty through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a showpiece OBOR project.

There was no formal launch of an Asia-Africa growth corridor, but Modi and Abe welcomed efforts to explore development of industrial corridors and networks which, the joint statement said, will benefit various stakeholders in the India-Pacific region including Africa. As expected, Abe in his meeting with Modi called for “combining'' Asia, a continent that is rapidly growing, with Africa which has huge growth potential.


Abe in Ahmedabad

The city extended a spectacular welcome to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his guests, Japan prime minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe.

The VVIPs embarked on a road show whose route was lined by the display of the highlights of Indian culture. The show has entered the Golden Book of World Records for the largest number people dressed in various traditional Indian attire. The format of the welcome was a dazzling departure from convention.

The Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International airport abounded with life-size cut-outs of Modi and Abe. Modi landed at around 2.30 pm and took stock of preparations. The Abes arrived at 3.29 pm and were greeted by Modi and governor O P Kohli. This is the Abes' maiden visit to Mahatma Gandhi's homeland. Modi escorted Abe to a group of Buddhist monks who chanted `Buddham Sharanam Gacchami' in benediction.

Abe was then given the guard of honour by the three wings of the Indian armed forces. Modi and the Abes began the road show in an open vehicle. Crowds cheered them on with effusiveness, drawing warm smiles from both PMs. The first tableau that the visitors saw represented Gujarat. 

Dawood's UK properties seized

In a boost for Indian agencies, authorities in the UK have seized properties belonging to fugitive don Dawood Ibrahim.

The assets, which have been frozen, include properties in Midlands. Dawood Ibrahim owns a hotel in Warwickshire and residential properties across the Midlands, according to reports. The treasury sanction document lists three recorded addresses for Dawood in Pakistan, including one called The White House in the seaside Clifton area in Karachi. It also lists 21 aliases used by the don.

The sanctions prohibit the transfer of funds to anyone on the list and freezes any assets the targets may hold in the UK.

The Indian investigators had been pursuing Dawood's assets in the UK and visited the Midlands in 2015 to identify his assets. According to an Enforcement Directorate official, a large chunk of Dawood's money has been invested in the UK and in Dubai and India.

Dawood is also reported to have properties in Dartford and Essex and in central London. He is on India's most wanted list for his role in the 1993 Mumbai blasts. UN documents identify him as an associate of Al Qaeda while the US Treasury Department declared him a global terrorist in 2013.

Monsoon tracker

Around 235 districts across the country face the prospect of drought this year as the monsoon appears headed for a below-normal performance, with the season's deficit currently at 6.2% of normal.
These districts, accounting for 37% of the country's 630 districts for which rain data is available.

A majority of the distress districts lie in the hinterland, in a swathe running through Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Vidarbha. Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and MP are the hardest hit states, showing rain deficits of 31%, 28% and 25%, respectively .

The deficits have grown gradually since the end of July, when the monsoon started failing in central and north India.The first two months of the season, June and July , ended with a countrywide rain surplus of 2.5%. Monsoon's performance since August 1 has been a dismal 17% below normal (till September 12), with good rainfall being mainly restricted to south and northeast India.

Poor distribution of rainfall has added to the distress. As many as 110 districts have had excess or `large excess' (over 60% of normal) rainfall. In addition, heavy rain spells in Gujarat, Rajasthan and catchment areas in the Himalayas (particularly in Nepal) caused the worst floods in the nation in 10 years. Ironically, states such as UP have seen both flood fury as well as the prospect of drought. The monsoon deficit in west UP stands at 37%, highest for any subdivision in India.

This combination, of poor rains and floods, may hit kharif output, although data till September 8 shows that the sowing area this year is only marginally less than last year's, with the biggest drops seen in oilseeds, pulses and jute. Several state governments have reportedly started drought exercises. Poor rains have affected water storage levels, important for winter crops. According to the Central Water Commission data, live storage at 91 important reservoirs in the country was at 58% of capacity on September 8.


Hinduness is all embracing: RSS

Hinduness is not about what one should wear or eat but accepting others as they are, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said in comments that are significant in the context of the current political and ideological debate over intolerance and moral policing. In an interaction with diplomats, Bhagwat also spoke out against trolls which he called aggressive, adding that the extreme expressions on the internet amounted to hitting below the belt. He also asserted that neither the RSS nor the BJP ran each other and despite interactions the two organisations took separate decisions.

In a rare meeting, Bhagwat spoke to a group of ambassadors and diplomats from around 50 countries at an informal gathering organised by BJP general secretary Ram Madhav's India Foundation. The RSS chief, who spoke on activities of the organisation, dealt at some length on “Hinduness“, which he said accepted everyone, irrespective of what the person wore or ate.

Hinduness is about “accepting others as they are“ and “Hinduness is the ever changing quality of Hinduism“, said the RSS chief, according to a source who attended the session. His comments come in the backdrop of BJP and Sangh being accused of encouraging right wing extremists like cow vigilantes and the saffron parivar claiming it is being targeted selectively by political opponents. But Mohan Bhagwat's remarks that Hinduness is not about setting down dress and food codes, coming after PM Modi's repeated warnings that vigilantism is unacceptable, mark out the Sangh's official position and should be a marker for overtly Hindutva outfits like VHP and Bajrang Dal. 

Of IIP and inflation....

India's factory output expanded by a modest 1.2% in July, 2017, after contracting 0.17% in June, possibly on the back of some restocking by companies following the July 1 GST rollout and a marginal uptick in the core sector. However, it remained subdued compared with 4.5% clocked in the year-ago period.

Retail inflation in August rose to a five-month high on the back of food inflation turning positive after three months of contraction.

Data showed a mild expansion in the country's industrial activity, as measured by the Index of Industrial Production even as manufacturing continued to remain weak.

A separate set of data released by the office revealed a rise in consumer inflation in August at 3.36% compared with 2.36% in July.

Manufacturing output rose a meagre 0.1% while mining and electricity grew 4.8% and 6.5%, respectively.

Economists expect manufacturing GDP to rise in the July-September quarter as restocking of inventory picks up momentum. Manufacturing growth in the first quarter of the current financial year plummeted to 1.2% and was the main cause of a slump in India's GDP growth to a three-year low of 5.7%.

Reflecting sluggish urban demand, consumer durables output fell 1.3% compared with 0.2% rise in the year ago period. Capital goods production, an indicator of investment, fell 1%, a steep fall from the 8.8% growth in July 2016.

Retail inflation in August is the highest since March 2017 and is attributed to an across-the-board rise in inflation in food, housing and fuel. Vegetable inflation, at 6.16%, turned positive after 11 consecutive months of deflation in August 2017. Housing inflation rose 5.58% and that in pan, tobacco and intoxicants was up 6.85%.

However, economists are not perceiving inflation as a threat and expect it to remain in the targeted 4% range. Despite dismal first-quarter GDP growth and continuous weak IIP growth numbers, economists expect RBI to keep its October 2017 monetary policy unchanged.