Submarine Karanj to be Launched Today

The third Scorpene-class submarine Karanj will be launched at Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited in Mumbai.

Karanj is the third of the six Scorpene-class submarines being built by MDL under the Project 75 programme. The first one, INS Kalvari, was commissioned on December 14 last year. The second one, Khandari, has already been launched and is undergoing sea trials.

The Scorpene submarines are a primary modernisation requirement of the Indian Navy, which is currently faced with an ageing submarine fleet, and that too when the Chinese navy has a growing presence in the Indian Ocean. MDL in a statement said, “The third Scorpene class submarine Karanj will be launched at Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited on January 31, 2018.” Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba will be the chief guest on the occasion.

The contract for the construction and transfer of technology for six Scorpene submarines in series has Naval Group, formerly called DCNS, of France as collaborator and are being built by MDL.

According to MDL, the technology being used for construction of the Scorpene class submarines has ensured superior stealth features such as advanced acoustic silencing techniques, low radiated noise levels and hydro-dynamically optimized shape. “These stealth features give it an invulnerability, unmatched by most submarines,” said MDL. The submarines also have the ability to launch a crippling attack on the enemy using precision guided weapons. “The attack can be launched with both torpedoes and tube launched anti-ship missiles, whilst underwater or on surface,” said MDL.

A Shore Integration Facility has been developed at MDL for integration and simulation of various equipments of the Scorpene submarine combat system for which there was no facility available in the country.

The Scorpene deal for India was signed in October 2005 and the first submarine was to be delivered by 2012, but due to inordinate delays and teething problems it could not happen.

However, MDL said, “Close monitoring, proactive resolution of problems and concerted efforts to keep the assembly line moving resulted in MDL completing critical sub section fabrication of all six submarines, eleven months before the PERT date. Further the time taken to complete the fabrication of the 16 sub sections of a submarine came down from 39 months in Boat 1 to 20 months in Boat 2. This time frame of 20 months has been accepted by Naval Group as higher than their standards.”

MDL further states that the Scorpene submarines can undertake various missions such as anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, intelligence gathering, mine laying and area surveillance. The submarine is designed to operate in all theatres. This is important in light of the Chinese navy presence in the Indian Ocean.

India hits 20GW solar capacity milestone

India has achieved 20 gw (giga watt) cumulative solar capacity, achieving the milestone four years ahead of the target for 2022 originally set in the National Solar Mission.

The achievement comes on the back of a major renewable energy push by Modi government, which after coming to power in 2014 had scaled up the target to 100 gw of solar capacity by 2022.

According to the latest India research report by green energy market tracker Mercom Capital, the utility-scale cumulative installations now stand at approximately 18.4 gw, with rooftop solar accounting for another 1.6 gw.

For the first time, solar was the top source of new power capacity additions in India during the calendar year 2017, with preliminary figures showing solar installations reaching 9.6 gw in this period and accounting for 45% of total capacity additions.

But the country has reached the milestone at a time when protectionist measures threaten to slow down activity in the industry. The pace of overall solar installations is expected to be less impressive in 2018 as several protectionist government policies appear poised to increase costs and uncertainty.

“The government’s revised solar installation target of 100 gw by 2022 has recently been clashing with PM Modi’s ‘Make in India’ initiative to promote domestic manufacturing. The recommendation for 70% safeguard duty on (solar panel) imports, the ongoing anti-dumping case, and a 7.85% port duty on imported modules are together creating an atmosphere of regulatory uncertainty that is taking a toll on the industry and slowing down installation activity,” the Mercom report quoted CEO Raj Prabhu as saying.

The rooftop solar sector also witnessed steady growth in 2017 alongside the rise in grid-connected utility-scale capacity. In a display of government’s commitment to this segment, solar power producer Azure Power on Tuesday won a project to electrify 152 schools with rooftop solar projects of 11.35 mw. The company will sign the agreement with Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti, an autonomous body under human resources development ministry.

Chennai Metropolitan Area

The government is likely to notify the proposal to expand Chennai Metropolitan Area seven-fold from 1,189 sq.km. to 8,878 sq.km., including parts of Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur districts and Vellore’s Arakkonam taluk, making it the country’s second largest urban agglomeration after the National Capital Region (46,208 sq.km.).

A housing and urban development department official said that the government would seek public comments on the extension, meant to give infrastructure a fillip and provide uniform and regulated urban development under a single planning body Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority.

The expanded metropolitan area will leapfrog Bangalore Metropolitan Region (8,005 sq.km.) and relegate Hyderabad Metropolitan Region (7,257 sq.km.) to the fourth largest urban cluster. Pune Metropolitan Area (6,616.79 sq.km.) will come in at fifth, followed by Visakhapatnam Metropolitan Region (5,573 sq.km.).

Greater Mumbai Metropolitan Region (4,355 sq.km.) will be seventh, though, with 20.80 million people, it ranks second only to NCR (46.05 million) in population.

The government will give people two months to make suggestions on the expansion, the official said, before hurrying to plan infrastructure and transportation services and identify townships, agricultural zones and eco-sensitive areas.

Connectivity would be one of the thrust areas of the extended CMA as the government gears up to seek public comments regarding the expansion. The extended metropolis is likely to have areas earmarked for infrastructure projects such as a new airport, rail links and highways.

Even as a proposal for developing a greenfield airport at Sriperumbudur was dropped last year, there are reports that the government was considering a few other sites, including Madurantakam in Kancheepuram district, for the purpose.

As part of the plan, the CMDA will consider a report of a study (Chennai Comprehensive Transportation Study) prepared by a consultant in 2010. It was designed to provide parameters for the long-term development of transport infrastructure for the next two decades.

It had suggested building a satellite town ring road linking Mamallapuram and Gummidipoondi. The 190-km road would cut across Chengalpet, Kancheepuram, Arakkonam and Uthukottai covering the contours of the extended CMA. It also emphasised the need for a railway connectivity running almost parallel to the STRR between Chengalpet and Gummidipoondi via Tiruvallur. “The objective behind having yet another ring road and new railway lines is to develop these areas as investment destinations and decongest the city,” said an official, who is privy to the development.

Urban planners insist that promoting public transport should be the priority. “The core focus must be on the mass rapid transit system and not on promoting private modes of transportation. Else, it would again end up building flyovers to resolve the traffic bottlenecks,” said urban designer Advait Jani.


The Economic Survey

The Economic Survey released suggested that the Indian economy was in the pink of health, but was cautious about risk arising from persistent high crude oil prices or a sharp correction in stock markets over the medium term and from climate change over the long run.

The warning on climate change was particularly alarming since it suggested that agricultural incomes could drop by as much as a quarter if global warming isn’t checked in time.

The roughly 500-page official economic report card, coloured pink this year to reflect its gender focus, argued that boosting private investment and exports would remain the two surefire ways of sustaining growth.

It also called for a focus on creating jobs, revamping education and raising farm productivity, identifying these as the key challenges in the medium term.

While being generally laudatory of government policies, there were some nuances in the prescriptive elements of the budget that could be read as a slight shift in stance. For instance, while extolling the benefits of demonetisation, the survey maintained that carrots rather than sticks should be the mainstay of government policy in cleaning up the economy.

Similarly, at a time when North Block sees recapitalisation of public sector banks as the solution to the problem of bad corporate debt, the survey warned that the practice of bank recapitalisation and of state governments taking on the debt of power distribution companies need to be halted.

Showcasing the GST Council as a unique model of cooperative federalism, it appealed for extending this model to settling inter-state water disputes and to creating pan-India markets for farm produce and electricity. It also called for states and municipal bodies to do more in terms of raising tax revenues of their own.

The survey allocated an entire chapter to detailing the benefits of GST in terms of widening the tax base, including through voluntary compliance. It also mined GST data to highlight that the informal sector did not quite dominate the non-farm economy to the extent generally believed.

Noting that gender discrimination in India had gone down in 14 out of 17 parameters in the last 10-15 years, the survey said that the correlation with increasing wealth was more significant in India than in most other countries. Hence, it observed, there was good reason to be optimistic about further improvements as the economy hits a high growth path.

All parties to shun Nagaland assembly polls

Casting a shadow on the assembly elections in Nagaland next month, 11 major parties, including the ruling Naga People’s Front, its ally BJP and Congress, decided not to field any candidate in the polls until the Centre resolves the decades-old Naga problem.

Peace negotiations between the Centre and Naga militant groups haven’t made any headway since the signing of the Naga ‘Framework Agreement’ in 2015.

The 11 parties signed a ‘joint declaration’ announcing that they will not field candidates for the February 27 elections. 


TN's Kudimaramath scheme

The Madhanam tank off Trichy-Ariyalur main road is brimming with water— it is a heartening sight for locals after three decades. Over the years, due to heavy silt, the Peruvalai feeder channel that brings water to the tank from river Cauvery had become almost invisible. But, thanks to Kudimaramath, Tamil Nadu's ambitious project to restore water bodies with people’s participation, the community hopes to irrigate some 208 hectares of ayacut in the region without depending much on deep borewells in the otherwise dry area.

While opposition brands it a scam, Kudimaramath, has come as a relief, especially at a time when Tamil Nadu is battling droughts and legal battles for water with its neighbours.

It all started in May. As part of the scheme, ‘ayacutdars’ (local farmers), living in the vicinity of defunct tanks were identified by the public works department that was looking for nominees to carry out the restoration. Among the water users in the area one farmer was chosen as a nominee and the schedule was laid out — the 1.8 km long Peruvalai feeder channel would be desilted first and later the tank bund strengthened after silt was removed from the bed. The cost worked out to ₹14.47 lakh and the chosen ayacutdar removed 19,723 cubic metres silt using machinery. The 48.5 acre tank is today a rich source for 10 water-starved villages in Lalgudi taluk after the recent spell of rain.

Poovalur former president K Ashokraj said, “We have enough water to irrigate our paddy and sugarcane crops for two more months. Our neighbours from Vellanur, Irudhayapuram and Alampakkam are also being benefitted by the tank.” The level of groundwater table that had dropped due to heavy use of borewells, is recharging now, with officials estimating 65,100 cubic feet of available water in the tank.

Far away, a feeder channel of Paganur tank near Srirangam got a facelift due to the contribution of farmers. A damaged sluice has also been repaired. “The tank should be desilted immediately,” Y Arockiasamy, of Yagappa Udaiyanpatti said. Paganur, Suriyur Big Tank, Ootathur, Veeramachanpatti, Serkudi and Soorampatti tanks in Ariyar division may soon be restored too.

In ancient times, Kudimaramath, the maintenance of water bodies, was carried out by the public. The system was widely practiced with farmers taking charge of construction, repair of the revival of this system, the state government sanctioned ₹100 crore during the last fiscal. About 10% of the estimated cost of the work is being borne by the user association or ayacutdars, in the form of labour, material or cash.

“With 1,513 projects being completed in the first phase, the storage in these tanks increased due to excavation of earth from the bed and strengthening of the tank bund. The supply channels are being cleared of debris and free flow of water is being ensured for efficient irrigation. We will launch our second phase soon,” said PWD, water resources department, engineer-in-chief, M Bakthavathsalam. The second phase covers 2,065 tanks.

There is an imperative need for restoration of water bodies in the state. A study conducted by several central and state government agencies and Central Water Commission in 2013 on effective utilisation of northeast monsoon, said the deficit in total water demand (domestic, irrigation, livestock and industrial needs) would rise to 17% by 2045 from the existing 11%.

The developments help to prevent flooding of adjoining parcels of land during rain, but the opposition to the initiative is far from happy. While chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami has been taking credit for rolling out the scheme, DMK alleges corrupt practices and seeks a white paper on Kudimaramath. 

Global Trust Index

India continues to be among the top three nations where trust in government remains high despite a small slip since last year, according to the Global Trust Index released annually in Davos. The ranking will reassure the Modi government in the wake of tough reforms like demonetisation and goods and services tax.

India is also in the trust zone as far as how the public sees business, media and NGOs. Though its position slipped to number three this year from first last year, its rating remains at ‘trust level’ with Indonesia and China ahead of it.

The annual Global Trust Index, released by communications marketing firm Edelman in Davos last week, showed that China gained strongly and jumped to the top position whereas the US reported the steepest decline in public trust in its institutions. China's climb could be linked to the view in the country that it has gained at the expense of a US “withdrawal” from the Asia-Pacific in trade and security.

In aggregate, India's trust rating across government, media, NGOs and business fell 13 percentage points, statistically marking one of the sharpest decreases. But in each category it remained in the 60-100 band marking popular ‘trust’ in institutions. Media was the lowest at 61, dropping five points since 2017.

The index showed that globally, trust in government, media and NGOs was low as 20 out of 28 countries surveyed online during October-November last year came in the categories where general population distrusted those institutions. India, as last year, continued to buck this trend.

The overall high trust rating will come as welcome news to the Modi government, particularly in the wake of his visit to Davos where he gave a major speech pointing to the benefits of tough and painful reforms like demonetisation and implementation of GST. A worry for India was the perception — outside the country — that its businesses could not be fully trusted. It scored low on this parameter, pointing to the need to make contracts and arbitration more reliable. The report showed that companies headquartered in Canada, Switzerland, Sweden and Australia were most trusted. The least trusted country brands were headquartered in Mexico, India, Brazil and China.

The index report — 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer — revealed that trust in the US had suffered the largest ever-recorded drop in the survey’s history among the general population. Trust among the general population fell nine points to 43, placing it in the lower quarter of the 28-country trust index. The collapse of trust in the US was driven by a staggering lack of faith in government, said an Edelman statement.

Railways lines up ₹96,000 crores revamp plan

Railways has lined up mega investment to scale up its operations, including a revamp of the signalling system across its network, a new $3-billion electric locomotive unit and a station development plan for large cities such as Mumbai. Together these projects could be worth over $15 billion (around Rs.96,000 crore).

Railway minister Piyush Goyal, who was in Davos last week, said that discussions are underway to ensure that the deals are structured in a way that local manufacturing gets a fillip and cost comes down. “We want to replicate the model that was used for LED bulbs, where the cost was brought down. If costs are lower and local manufacturing is ensured, we will scale up investments,” Goyal said.

Over the next few weeks, the railways is planning extensive consultations to work out a model that serves the twin goals with the minister maintaining that funds are not going to be a constraint. “There is enough budget and we have many options to raise resources,” he said.

The government has stepped up investment in railways as it seeks to modernise the creaking infrastructure, a result of low investment and overuse. Railways’ capex has increased from Rs.35,000 crore five years ago to Rs.1.3 lakh crore during the current fiscal, which is partly led by the need to step up public investment at a time when the private investment remains muted due to excess capacity and stressed finances of several Indian companies.

Complete modernisation of railways’ signalling system, including automation at a cost of Rs.78,000 crore, is expected to get approval in the Budget. The Budget is set to focus on electrification as railways has advanced the deadline for complete switch-over from diesel to electric by two years to 2020.

Maharashtra has India’s most polluted rivers

Sabarmati riverfront is considered a model in giving facelift to an ailing river. However, if figures of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change submitted in Lok Sabha on January 5 are considered, Sabarmati is among Gujarat’s 20 most polluted rivers. Gujarat ranks fourth among the states with highly polluted rivers.

The MoEF states Gujarat has 20 polluted rivers and streams, including big rivers like Sabarmati, Narmada and Mahi. Maharashtra is worse off with 49 polluted rivers. Next is Assam with 28 polluted rivers and Madhya Pradesh with 21 such rivers.

According to MoEF data, the Union government has released over Rs.200 crore to curb pollution in Sabarmati and Mindola rivers. This is the highest amount ever spent outside the Ganga river conservation project on which Uttar Pradesh government has spent Rs.917.24 crore, West Bengal Rs.411.26 crore and Bihar Rs.216.46 crore. Experts believe industrial effluents is the most common reason for pollution of Gujarat’s rivers. Vadodara-based environmental activist Rohit Prajapati says industrial and sewage effluents are being released in big rivers like Sabarmati, Mahi and Narmada without being treated.

“Moreover, dams have been built on big rivers due to which the rivers are drying and vanishing. The condition of rivers in Gujarat is going from bad to worse each passing day,” Prajapati said. 


Ken-Betwa linking update

Seeking to quickly set in motion implementation of its ambitious Ken-Betwa river-linking project, the Centre has decided to fund 90% of its cost of over Rs.18,000 crore and planned to get its foundation stone laid by PM Narendra Modi by March.

The plan is to implement the major part of the project in three years so that people of the parched Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh start getting its benefits before the country celebrates 75 years of its independence in 2022.

Both the states had been wary of its huge cost, considering the earlier planned 60 (Centre):40 (State) funding pattern. It is expected that the decision on new 90(Centre):10 (State) funding pattern would bring them on board to start construction of the project.

The Centre’s intent was announced by Union water resources minister Nitin Gadkari at a function on Wednesday where he asserted that the PM would visit Bundelkhand within two months and lay the foundation stone of the project.

“We will try to ensure its implementation within the next three years and free the Bundelkhand region from the drought-like situation,” said Gadkari, adding 90% of the project cost would be shared by the central government.

PM’s op-ed in 10 nations

India and Asean have relations “free from contests and claims” and believe in sovereign equality of all nations irrespective of size, and support for free and open pathways of commerce and engagement, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Friday.

Twenty-seven newspapers in 10 languages in 10 Asean countries have published the op-ed by Prime Minister on the historic occasion of 69th Republic Day and the Asean-India Commemorative Summit.

In the article, ‘shared values, common destiny’ published in the Straits Times, Modi highlighted the importance of India's ties with Asean nations, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Brunei. “India and Asean nations have relations free from contests and claims,” Modi said.

“We have a common vision for the future, built on commitment to inclusion and integration, belief in sovereign equality of all nations irrespective of size, and support for free and open pathways of commerce and engagement,” he said.

Modi said that he had the privilege to host the Asean leaders for the commemorative summit to mark 25 years of Asean-India partnership. It is a historic milestone in a remarkable journey that has brought India and Asean to a deepening partnership of great promise for their 1.9 billion people, about onefourth of humankind, he said in the article.

The India-Asean partnership may be just 25 years old, but with South-east Asia stretch back more than two millennia, Modi said.

Forged in peace and friendship, religion and culture, art and commerce, language and literature, these enduring links are now present in every facet of the magnificent diversity of India and South-east Asia, providing a unique envelope of comfort and familiarity between our people, he said.

Asean is India’s fourth-largest trading partner; India is Asean’s seventh.


India-ASEAN Summit

India and the 10-member Asean decided to deepen partnership for combating terrorism and radicalisation through information sharing, law enforcement cooperation and capacity-building projects.

Countering terror and maritime security cooperation were the top agenda for the plenary session at the Commemorative Summit addressed by the 10 southeast Asian leaders and PM Narendra Modi. Fight terror figured in all bilateral meetings too.

The Delhi Declaration adopted at the Summit read: “Deepen cooperation in combating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, violent extremism and radicalisation through information sharing, law enforcement cooperation and capacity building under the existing Asean-led mechanisms. In addition, strengthen cooperation and collaboration in combating other transnational crimes, including people smuggling, trafficking in persons, illicit drug trafficking, cybercrime, and piracy and armed robbery against ships.”

The leaders, on the occasion of 25 years of Indo-Asean partnership, further stressed that there can be no justification for acts of terror on any grounds whatsoever. They also decided to strengthen cooperation between Asean and India on cybersecurity and policy coordination.

Amid China’s aggression in South China Sea region and agenda for Indo-Pacific, the Delhi Declaration reaffirmed “the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, stability, maritime safety and security, freedom of navigation and overflight in the region, and other lawful uses of the seas and unimpeded lawful maritime commerce and to promote peaceful resolutions of disputes, in accordance with UNCLO”.

Promoting connectivity was yet another key item on the agenda of discussions at the plenary session of the Summit. The leaders decided to promote maritime transport cooperation between Asean and India, and encourage potential private sector participation in the development of seaports, maritime logistics network and maritime services in order to create greater efficient linkages; and encourage Asean and India to continue discussions on these priority areas.

The two sides further decided to strengthen cooperation in the area of aviation and maritime transport and look forward to the expeditious conclusion of the Asean-India Air Transport Agreement and the Asean-India Maritime Transport Agreement.

GST Receipts Rebound in December

Goods and services tax receipts rose in December 2017, reversing the decline seen in the previous two months. The government expects collections to improve in the coming months as measures to raise compliance have begun to show results.

The total collections for December rose to ₹86,703 crore, as on January 24, the finance ministry said in a post on microblogging site Twitter. GST receipts had slipped to ₹80,808 crore in November from more than ₹83,000 crore in October and over ₹92,000 crore in September.

Under the fully integrated nationwide e-way bill system, interstate movement of all taxable goods will be closely monitored.

The receipts rose in December despite the cut in tax rates on 178 goods from 28% as also restaurants to 5% in November, indicating greater compliance.

The economic recovery in the past few months could also have contributed to higher GST receipts. Fast moving consumer goods maker Hindustan Unilever reported 11% volume growth in the October-December quarter from a year ago. Auto sales have also been strong.


A fresh list of 9 smart cities

Senior Congress leader Sonia Gandhi’s constituency Rae Bareilly and Delhi’s next door neighbour Ghaziabad are among four cities from Uttar Pradesh that failed to make it to the final list of 100 smart cities under the NDA government’s flagship programme.

Union housing and urban affairs minister Hardeep Singh Puri announced a list of nine of the remaining smart cities. These are Bareilly, Moradabad, Saharanpur, Bihar Sharif, Silvassa, Erode, Daman & Diu, Itanagar and Kavaratti.

So far, 90 cities have been selected under the programme, launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June 2015.

On Friday, the Centre was set to announce the names of the final ten cities but one of them, Shillong, could not submit its proposal.

The state government has been given two weeks time to submit its proposal failing which, another city will be selected for the programme.

The nine cities have proposed an investment of ₹12,824 crore.

Meant to change the way urban India lives, smart cities will enjoy uninterrupted power and water supplies, internet connectivity, e-governance along with quality infrastructure, according to the government.

Under the programme, the Centre will spend ₹48,000 crore over five years.

Each city will get ₹100 crore per year.

A matching fund of ₹48,000 crore will have to be contributed by states from their internal resources or through market borrowing and through private sector.

The selection is based on the scores cities get for carrying out urban reforms in areas including sanitation and governance. Cities that score the highest will be picked for the project, to be implemented over a 10-year period.

The number of cities that each state can select is based on a formula worked out by the urban development ministry that gives a 50:50 weightage to a state’s population and the number of statutory towns.

The nine cities were selected from among 15 cities.

Bank recap update

The government announced it will give ₹88,000 crore of capital to 20 state-run banks in the current fiscal while prescribing a reforms package to make them more accountable. Of this, ₹80,000 crore will be through recapitalisation bonds and ₹8,139 crore as budgetary support while banks will raise ₹10,312 crore from the market.

Apart from ensuring customer service levels and responsible banking practices, lenders will have to monitor loans, keep a close eye on bad debt and sell non-core assets.

The package has six themes with 30 action points, the government said in a press release.

“The reform agenda is aimed at EASE — Enhanced Access and Service Excellence — focusing on six themes of customer responsiveness, responsible banking, credit offtake, PSBs as Udyami Mitra, deepening financial inclusion and digitalisation and developing personnel for brand PSB,” the government said. “The overarching framework for the reforms agenda is Responsive and Responsible PSBs.”

Banks will need to set up specialised monitoring agencies for loans above ₹250 crore and a separate vertical for NPAs, apart from selling non-core assets and rationalising overseas businesses. They also need to have a minimum 10% exposure in consortium loans to prevent a situation in which too many lenders are involved when it comes to debt resolution.

Eleven banks that are currently under the Reserve Bank of India’s prompt corrective action  programme because of their bad loan burden will together get ₹52,311 crore to meet regulatory capital requirements while nine performing banks will get ₹35,828 crore to allow them to pursue growth.

The finance ministry said the capital support will enable banks to lend more than ₹5 lakh crore.

“This plan addresses regulatory capital requirement of all PSBs and provides a significant amount towards growth capital for increasing lending to the economy,” it noted in a statement.

IDBI Bank, the state-run lender with the highest non-performing assets, gets the maximum ₹10,610 crore to maintain regulatory capital, followed by Bank of India which gets ₹9,232 crore. Among the performing banks, State Bank of India will get ₹8,800 crore.

“This announcement is credit positive for all public sector banks, and especially the weaker ones,” ratings agency Moody’s said in a statement.

Finance minister Arun Jaitley said the government’s objective was to find robust solutions and strengthen institutions so that mistakes were not repeated.

“The entire objective of this exercise has been that it is the government's prime responsibility to keep PSBs in good health,” he said.

Financial services secretary Rajiv Kumar said EASE would boost credit offtake. “This would facilitate lending and also put checks and balances on borrowers who were misusing this system.”

Gross non-performing assets of public sector banks rose to 12.47% at the end of March 2017 from 4.72% at the end of March 2014.

The Rs.80,000-crore bond issuance will be a cash-neutral swap deal between the lenders and the government. In exchange for bonds, the government will get shares of banks, a transaction that will not have an impact on the fiscal deficit.

Department of economic affairs secretary Subhash Chandra Garg said the bonds will have a 10-15 year tenure and will not be eligible for SLR status. This means they will not count toward mandatory investment in government bonds by banks.

The infusion is part of the Rs 2.11 lakh crore plan announced last October.

The government will provide Rs.1.35 lakh crore through recapitalisation bonds, while the banks will need to raise another Rs.58,000 crore on their own. The balance will come from the budget.

Jaitley, however, noted that consolidation among PSBs is independent of this capital allocation. He also said that the government has not shelved its proposal to privatise IDBI Bank.

5 jawans killed in Maoist ambush

Maoists hit security forces at two places in Bastar — killing five jawans in an ambush in Abujmad and injuring two in an IED blast in Bijapur. Eight jawans are critically injured.

This is the biggest attack on security personnel since the back-to-back ambushes in Sukma in March and April last year in which 37 CRPF personnel were killed.

Special DGP (anti-Naxal operations) D M Awasthi said two sub-inspectors and three constables were killed when a joint team of Special Task Force and District Reserve Guards was out on anti-Naxalite operations in the forests of Irpanar in Abujmad region of Narayanpur district.

Of late, security forces have been moving deeper into Abujmad, the last remaining stronghold of the Maoists. On Wednesday, over 60 jawans were out on an operation when they were ambushed by the Maoist 6 Company around 11 am. The forces retaliated and a four hour-long encounter ensued. All the slain personnel are from DRG.

SIs Vinod Kaushik and Moolchand Singh Kanwa and constables Devnath Pujari and Raisingh Markam were killed on the spot. Nine jawans were severely injured, two of whom are critical with gunshots to the head. All the injured were air-lifted to Raipur for treatment, where constable Lakhan Gadpale died.

Asked if the Maoists suffered any loss, police said it will be known only when the security personnel return to camps. Bastar IG Vivekananda Sinha and DIG Ratanlal Dangi have gone to the spot.


@ Davos, PM pitches India

PM Modi made a strong pitch to investors and said the government had rolled out the red carpet and was removing red tape. He also showcased India as a sustainable counterpoise to the US and China on the global challenges of climate change, terrorism and protectionism.

“Come to India if you want wealth and wellness. Come to India if you want health and wholeness. Come to India if you want prosperity with peace... You will always be welcome,” Modi said before a lunch with over 100 CEOs.

Addressing the opening session of the World Economic Forum’s annual meet, the PM also made not-so- subtle references to America’s rising protectionism, and China’s stubborn defence of terrorists promoted by Pakistan as well as its exploitation of the natural resources of its partner countries. Modi did not name countries, but his 52-minute speech was a clear attempt to cast India as a big player which has consistently stood for a rule-based global order.

Like Chinese President Xi Jinping’s address last year, Modi’s speech seemed to attack the US’s recent retreat into protectionism. “Many societies and countries are becoming self-centred. It seems that globalisation, as opposed to its definition, is shrinking. Such misplaced preferences can't be considered any lesser threat than terrorism or climate change. We must admit the shine of globalisation is fading,” the PM said.

But the policies of Jinping — who last year used the WEF to project China as the new champion of globalisation against the backdrop of neo-mercantilism in the US — also came under attack for China’s relentless hunt for natural resources in Africa and its backing for Pakistan, which has been accused by India of promoting terrorism.

“Terrorism is a big threat but an even bigger threat is when you give definitions like good terrorism and bad terrorism,” Modi said, adding that the other big worry was radicalisation of educated youth.

Referring to the US, which pulled out of climate talks, and other developed countries which have failed to meet their commitments to help fight global warming, the PM said there was only talk of lower carbon emissions but there were few countries that were indeed offering resources and technology to developing countries to deal with the challenge. In contrast, he said, India and France had come together to put in place the International Solar Alliance.

While pointing out how there were few trade deals and tariff and non-tariff barriers were increasingly being used to block exports, Modi said overseas investments were also being impacted.

The comments came on a day when the US slapped higher import duty on solar panels and washing machines in what was seen as the latest move to restrict imports, especially from China.

In contrast, Modi cited recent data and surveys to suggest that India was open for business and added that his government’s policies had received widespread endorsement from international agencies, apart from support from the people.

While talking about the changes in India, he said by 2025, India would be a $5 trillion economy with Indian innovators becoming “job givers” as opposed to “job seekers”.

In his address, interspersed with “shlokas” and quotes by Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore, Modi repeatedly referred to the Indian way of doing things — be it inclusiveness or environment protection. Despite charges against his government and party for promoting intolerance, a major thrust of the PM’s speech was to portray India as an open and inclusive country that could address some of the challenges and divisions in the world.

“India has always believed in values of integration and unity, ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’, which means the entire world is one family. It is relevant to bridge distances,” Modi said.

In what was a reference to the UN, World Bank and IMF, the PM also called for a revamp of multilateral bodies, while asking countries to adhere to global rules.

PM to hold 9 bilateral meets with visiting Asean leaders

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will host nine back-to-back bilateral meetings with Asean leaders starting Wednesday and in the run up to the unprecedented presence of as many as 10 heads of state and government at the Republic Day parade.

Modi will have a separate bilateral meeting with Cambodian PM Hun Sen who will stay back for a state visit on January 27. All 10 leaders will be participating in the India Asean commemorative summit on January 25 which is being held to mark 25 years of dialogue partnership, 15 years of summit-level interaction and five years of strategic partnership.

Maritime cooperation and security will be the main focus at the summit with India and Asean expected to underscore the significance of freedom of navigation and respect for international law in the region.

This is significant in the light of growing Chinese assertiveness and irredentism in South China Sea. While looking to realise the full potential of their ocean economy, India and Asean will look to step up cooperation in countering terrorism, piracy and other transnational crimes. Modi will hold meetings with Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, President of Philippines Rodrigo Roa Duterte and Myanmar’s state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday itself after their arrival in New Delhi for the summit on 25 January.

There will be a leaders’ retreat during which the leaders will have a “free and frank” discussion on 25 January. The theme of the retreat is ‘maritime cooperation and security’. Following the retreat, a plenary session will take place on the same day. Asean comprises Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, Laos and Brunei.

Third fastest 1000 points leap takes Sensex past 36000

Four days after the Sensex scaled the 35,000-point level, it went past 36,000, closing at 36,140. It was the third fastest 1,000-point leap for the index, a tie with its rise from 18,000 to 19,000 in October 2007. The gains came as investors are upbeat about better-than-expected corporate results and the Centre’s seriousness about reforms, among other factors. 

Shiv Sena to go it solo in 2019

The Shiv Sena, BJP’s oldest and for at least 25 years its sturdiest ally, announced that it would go solo for the 2019 Lok Sabha and Maharashtra assembly elections. While the Sena’s newly constituted national executive passed a resolution to this effect, Sena president Uddhav Thackeray urged Indians to pull down the Narendra Modi government in the next polls.

“This regime thrives only on hollow ad campaigns. It needs to be brought down,” Uddhav said at a party conclave that saw his son Aaditya (28) being elevated to the status of a ‘neta’ in the Sena.

Though Sena is not withdrawing from the Modi government or the BJP-led state government as of now, its stand, and especially Uddhav’s call to defeat the Modi regime, is certain to worsen Sena-BJP ties, rocky since mid-2014, and raise doubts over the Sena’s role in the BJP-led NDA at the Centre.

Though the allies fought the 2014 LS polls unitedly, Matoshree snapped ties with BJP for the October 2014 state elections, only to later join the Devendra Fadnavis-led government as BJP’s junior partner. The tie-up came apart again for the 2017 Mumbai civic polls where BJP fell just 2 seats short of the Sena tally.

India in elite Australia Group

India gained entry into the Australia Group, an important non-proliferation regime which seeks to ensure that exports do not contribute to the development of chemical or biological weapons.

After the Missile Technology Control Regime and the Wassenaar Arrangement, the membership in another of the four major export control regimes is expected to give India a leg-up in its bid to secure a berth in the 48-member Nuclear Suppliers Group, which has been blocked by China at the behest of Pakistan.

China is not a member of the MTCR, the WA and the AG.

“On 19 January, 2018, India formally became the 43rd member of the Australia Group, the cooperative and voluntary group of countries working to counter the spread of materials, equipment and technologies that could contribute to the development or acquisition of chemical and biological weapons by states or terrorist groups,” the AG said in a release.

The AG is an informal forum of countries which, through the “harmonisation of export controls, seeks to ensure that exports do not contribute to the development of chemical or biological weapons”.

It decided to admit India as the Group’s 43rd participant through a “consensus” decision, the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement. Reacting to India’s entry to the group, MEA spokesperson Ravish Kumar said it would be “mutually beneficial and to help in non proliferation”.

Kumar said the membership in the AG would be further contribute to the international security and non-proliferation objectives.

India’s air traffic doubles in 6 years

India’s domestic air traffic nearly doubled to 117 million passengers in 2017 with 100 flights taking off every hour compared with 67 in 2011.

India’s airlines flew 117.18 million passengers in 2017 compared with 59.87 million in 2011. They also registered an 18% growth over the 99.88 million passengers who flew in 2016.

Going forward, the feat of doubling air traffic at the same rate will be difficult because growth will be hampered by infrastructure issues. Plus, overall costs have gone up in the past decade.

Air India, InterGlobe Aviation Pvt. Ltd-run IndiGo, SpiceJet Ltd, Jet Airways (India) Ltd and GoAir were able to fly fuller flights in 2017—flights were 86.1% full in 2017, compared with 75.5% in 2011.

Besides, the capacity deployed by airlines rose 68% during these years.

Another clear trend that has strengthened during these years is the shift to low-fare airlines.

Jet Airways group had the highest market share at about 27% in 2011, IndiGo was at about 17%, followed by Air India at 15%, Kingfisher Airlines at 14% and SpiceJet and GoAir had about 6% each.

In 2017, IndiGo had about 39.6% market share, Jet Airways group had 17.8%, Air India 13.3%, SpiceJet 13.2%, GoAir 8.5% and Vistara and AirAsia 3.5% and 3.7%, respectively.

Vijay Mallya’s Kingfisher Airlines and M. Thiagarajan’s Paramount Airways and Air Costa went belly up during these years.

Vistara, AirAsia India and TruJet are the new start-ups, while G.R. Gopinath’s Air Deccan restarted regional flights late last year.

India has close to 500 planes in service and about 800 planes on order and is set to become the third largest aviation market by 2025, overtaking the UK, the International Air Transport Association said in a report in October.

China will be the top market, followed by the US.

Besides infrastructure woes like lack of flight slots and aircraft parking bays at some major airports, the analyst quoted above said airlines will be worried about a rally in fuel prices.


Disqualification of 20 AAP MLAs gets Prez nod

President Ram Nath Kovind on Sunday accepted the Election Commission’s recommendation to disqualify 20 MLAs of Delhi’s ruling Aam Aadmi Party for holding offices of profit. The party retaliated with describing the order as “unconstitutional” and “dangerous for democracy”.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal attacked the Centre saying his government was being harassed.

A notification issued by the law ministry quoted the president as saying that in the light of the opinion expressed by the Election Commission (EC), the 20 members of the Delhi legislative assembly have been disqualified.

The AAP MLAs were appointed parliamentary secretaries and their appointment was described as them holding offices of profit by a petitioner. In a blow to the AAP, the EC had on Friday asked the President to disqualify its 20 MLAs.

“...Having considered the matter in the light of the opinion expressed by the Election Commission, I, Ram Nath Kovind, president of India, in exercise of the powers...do here hold that the aforesaid 20 members of the Delhi legislative assembly stand disqualified from being members of the said assembly,” the notification said.

All the 20 AAP MLAs had moved the Delhi High Court challenging the EC’s recommendation but Justice Rekha Palli had refused to pass any interim order.

Addressing a gathering in Najafgarh, the chief minister said that when someone is on the path of truth, that person has to face a lot of problems.

Without naming the BJP, he said, “We are saving every single penny of the government, but there are a lot of problems coming our way. They are trying to harass us by all means. They have imposed false cases on us and our MLAs.”

“When they did not find anything against us, they today disqualified our 20 MLAs,” he said.

Kejriwal also said that the almighty would have given the party 67 seats keeping in mind the disqualification. He tweeted, “There was some logic when God gave us 67 seats. The Almighty stood behind us in our every step. Otherwise we would have been nothing.”

Inclusive Development Index

India was ranked at the 62nd place among emerging economies on an Inclusive Development Index, much below China’s 26th position and Pakistan’s 47th.

Norway remains the world’s most inclusive advanced economy, while Lithuania again tops the list of emerging economies, the World Economic Forum said while releasing the yearly index before the start of its annual meeting, to be attended by several world leaders including PM Modi and US President Donald Trump.

The index takes into account the “living standards, environmental sustainability and protection of future generations from further indebtedness”, the WEF said.

India was ranked 60th among 79 developing economies last year, as against China’s 15th and Pakistan’s 52nd position.

Despite its low overall score, India is among the ten emerging economies with ‘advancing’ trend.

‘India’s Osama’ held after over 9 years

A top Indian Mujahideen figure and the alleged architect of the 2008 Ahmedabad serial blasts that claimed over 50 lives was arrested in East Delhi after a brief gun battle. After being on the run for over nine years — during which he lived in Nepal and Saudi Arabia — 46-year-old Abdul Subhan Qureshi, often described as “India’s Osama bin Laden”, resurfaced to revive IM cells in the country.

Qureshi, a software engineer-turned bomb maker who studied and worked in Mumbai before embracing extremist ideologies, is suspected to be involved in the July 2006 explosions aboard local trains. He has not been charged over the attacks that killed over 180 people, but the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad is now expected to seek his interrogation to ascertain his role. Qureshi has been also been linked to the July 2011 blasts in Mumbai.

The Delhi police’s Special Cell nabbed Qureshi, also known as Tauqeer, from East Delhi’s Gazipur area on the night of January 20, but they announced the arrest only on Monday. A 9mm pistol, five cartages and a set of documents were seized from him.

Qureshi was one of India’s most wanted terrorists and the National Investigation Agency had declared a reward of Rs.4 lakh for solid leads about his whereabouts. He is believed to have played a major role in the creation of IM with the lead founder Riyaz Bhatkal, who is now in Pakistan, and allegedly trained several youths at camps in at least four states. Some reports describe Qureshi as a co-founder of IM. He faces a number of cases related to the camps, and his association with the banned Students’ Islamic Movement of India and people linked to terror cases.

Qureshi was born in UP, but his family moved to Mumbai when he was very young. He studied in a Byculla school and later completed a diploma in industrial electronics at a Navi Mumbai college. He worked at a Fort company before being drawn to activities of SIMI in Kurla in 1995-96. By 2000, he had become completely disillusioned with the establishment and resolved to follow the path of jihad, according to investigators Mirror spoke to.

Qureshi quit his job in Mumbai and moved to Delhi. He became close to SIMI chief Safdar Nagori, who was last year sentenced Safdar Nagori to life imprisonment for possessing arms and plotting terror activities.

Qureshi constantly changed his location after authorities started cracking down on SIMI activities in 2000 and banned the organisation a year later. Enraged by the arrest of several SIMI members, including Nagori, Qureshi contacted Bhatkal in May 2008 and went to meet him in Pune, where he allegedly offered his expertise for plotting and executing the Ahmedabad attacks. Twenty-three explosions rocked Ahmedabad on July 26, 2008, killing 56 people and injuring over 150. According to cops, over 50 bombs were planted in busy locations such as markets and bus stations. Twenty-nine of them did not explode and were recovered between July 27 and August 3, 2008. Unexploded IEDs were also found in Surat.

“Qureshi is the mastermind of the Ahmedabad blasts. He fled to Nepal after the attacks. He lived there under a false identity before travelling to Saudi Arabia in 2015 to raise funds for reviving IM’s network,” Kushwaha said. “He lived in Saudi Arabia till June 2017.”

The DCP described Qureshi as a “very sharp-minded man” who lately had been trying to radicalise unemployed youths. “We are also investigating his role in Mumbai train blasts,” Kushwaha told Mirror.

The Maharashtra ATS will soon send a team to Delhi to seek access to Qureshi, an officer said. ATS chief Atulchandra Kulkarni said Qureshi’s main role as a terror operative had been to draw people into IM’s fold. “We suspect his role in the train serial blasts, but things will become clear only after his custody,” he said.

Sensex Tops 25-Year Returns

India is the best performing equity market in the past 25 years among $1-trillion plus markets, outpacing some of the bigwigs in the developed world such as the US, Germany and Hong Kong. The Sensex has returned 1,289% in local currency compar with Dow Jones’ 690% and 756% Germany’s DAX in the period.

The stellar performance Indian markets has been driven by strong flows from foreign investors, who have been mostly bullish on the country since the economic liberalisation of 1991.

The performance of some bluechips like Reliance Industries and ITC standout. RIL has returned 5,675% in 25 years while tobacco major ITC has risen 5,096% during this period.

Tripura, Meghalaya & Nagaland to vote

The Election Commission of India has announced the schedule for the assembly elections in three states in the Northeast – Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland.

Polling will be held in Tripura on February 18 while Meghalaya and Nagaland will go to the polls on February 27. Counting for all three states will be held on March 3. The terms of the 60-member assemblies in Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura are due to expire on March 6, 13 and 14 respectively.

Chief election commissioner Achal Kumar Joti said that voter-verified paper audit trail will be used in these elections, a first for the three states that have seen the use of electronic voting machines or EVMs for the past two decades.

Just as in the recent Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh polls, the VVPAT slips will be tallied with the EVM votes in one booth of each constituency. “There was no mismatch between the EVM votes and paper trail tallied during the last two elections,” Joti said.

The limit of expenditure is ₹20 lakh per candidate in all three states, he said.

Jio Posts its First Net Profit

Reliance Jio Infocomm posted its first net profit since starting services, buoyed by strong subscriber additions and cost efficiencies, including sharply lower payments of interconnection charges.

The Mukesh Ambani-owned company, which upended the market since its entry in September 2016 with its initially free voice and data offerings, posted a profit of ₹504 crore and a 12% on-quarter increase in revenue to ₹6,879 crore in the three months ended December. India’s fourth-largest telco by users made a net loss of ₹271 crore in the three months ended September, when it reported results for the first time.

The company’s average revenue per user  — a key performance parameter — stood at ₹154 compared with ₹156.4 in the previous quarter. Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (Ebitda) were ₹2,628 crore, surging over 82% sequentially, with an Ebitda margin of 38.2%, compared with 23.5% in the previous quarter.

Jio added a net 21.5 million customers to end December with 160.1 million users. With its rivals having more users, Jio is a net payer of interconnection usage charges, which were reduced by the telecom regulator by 57% from October 1. Jio paid about Rs 1,082 crore as IUC, less than the almost Rs 2,140 crore in the previous quarter.

IMF Forecasts 7.4% Growth for India in FY19

The International Monetary Fund has said India’s growth will pick up in FY19. That will see the country regain the tag of fastest-growing major economy, backing the government’s revival theme. The IMF also said 2017 saw the best global growth in seven years.

India is forecast to grow 7.4% in FY19 against 6.7% this year, gaining pace to 7.8% in FY20, the IMF said in its January update of the World Economic Outlook: Brighter Prospects, Optimistic Markets, Challenges Ahead that was released simultaneously in Davos and Washington.

The global economy is expected to grow at 3.9% this year, faster than 3.7% forecast in October. India’s growth remains unchanged from the October forecast.

In the current year, China will grow 6.8%, just ahead of India but will slip to 6.6% next year. The US is forecast to grow 2.7% and 2.5% in 2018 and 2019, respectively, higher by 0.4 and 0.6 percentage point than earlier estimates. According to India’s official estimates, the economy will grow 6.5% in the current fiscal with the second half clocking 7% growth.

Early corporate results for the October-December quarter have shown a pickup in earnings, providing more evidence of a recovery. India has slipped behind China this year owing to the disruption caused by demonestisation and the imposition of GST.

Industrial production growth touched a 25-month high of 8.4% in November. Consumer goods leader Hindustan Unilever reported 11% volume growth in the December quarter, indicating a revival in the rural economy. Exports have grown at a fast clip in the last two months amid the global resurgence while automobile sales have been robust.

In December, passenger vehicles sales rose 5.2% from a year earlier to 239,712 units. Sales of commercial vehicles surged 52.6% to 82,362 units, while those of two-wheelers rose 41.5% to 1.29 million units. Meanwhile, stock markets have been surging, hitting successive records over the past few weeks, buoyed by revival prospects and earnings optimism, apart from other factors.

The government has also announced a reduction in extra borrowings it had planned in the January-March quarter following better-than-expected tax collections.

The IMF said rich asset valuations and faster-than-expected increases in advanced economy core inflation and interest rates, inward-looking policies, geopolitical tensions, and political uncertainty in some countries are key risks to global growth.

India now 5th most attractive place to invest

India moved up a notch to overtake Japan and become the fifth-most attractive investment destination in a global CEOs’ survey, even as the IMF said the country would again emerge as the fastest growing major economy in 2018, clocking 7.4% growth amid signs of an improving economic environment.

In a survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, chief executives said excluding their home market, they were most likely to invest in the US, followed by China, Germany and the UK. The world’s largest economy expanded its lead as corporate chiefs expect more rapid growth in the US.

The survey will come as a booster for PM Narendra Modi, who will court international investors in Davos in a bid to get more investment into the country, especially in the manufacturing sector that has remained sluggish and is crucial to job creation.

Aided by opening up of several key sectors over the last few years, foreign direct investment in India surged 17% to over $25 billion during the first half of the current financial year, even as private investment has remained muted due to excess capacity and high financial stress. It had topped $60 billion for the first time in 2016-17 (an increase of around 8%) but remains less than half of China’s $137 billion in 2017.

IMF on Monday reiterated its earlier estimate that India will grow 7.4% in 2018 and accelerate to 7.8% in 2019 from 6.7% last year. In contrast, China, which IMF suggested grew 6.8% last year, is estimated to slow down to 6.6% in 2018 and further to 6.4% next year.

At a press conference, IMF chief Christine Lagarde urged global policymakers to “fix the roof ” while the going was good, calling for a more inclusive development strategy as nearly one-fifth of developing and emerging economies saw their per capita income decline in 2017.

She also asked for structural and fiscal reforms and called upon leaders to put together a robust global collaboration to fight corruption, improve conditions for trade, stop tax evasion and prevent catastrophic climate change.


Agni-V update

India successfully tested its long range surface-to-surface ballistic missile, Agni-5, for its full range from Dr Abdul Kalam Island in Odisha. The nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile has a strike range of 5,000 km, which can cover most of China.

The missile will eventually be inducted into the tri-service, Strategic Forces Command, which manages India’s nuclear arsenal. With the Agni-5, India will become part of a small group of countries having ICBMs (range of 5,000-5,500 km) — only the US, China, Russia and France are known to have ICBMs.

This was the fifth test of the missile and the third consecutive one from a canister on a road mobile launcher.

India is a step away from gate-crashing into the super exclusive club of countries with ICBMs with the successful “first pre-induction trial” of its over 5,000 km range Agni-V inter-continental ballistic missile that brings all of Asia and China within its nuclear strike capability.

The range of the missile places parts of Europe and Africa within reach but India’s security concerns are closer home. Sources said India’s most formidable missile will undergo one more pre-induction trial “within this year” before it is inducted into the Agni-V regiment already raised by the Tri-Service Strategic Forces Command with the requisite command and control structures.

Once that happens, India will rub shoulders with countries like the US, UK, Russia, China and France. While a belligerent North Korea over the last six-seven months has rattled US with tests of its two new ICBMs—Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15—expert opinion is divided whether they are fully-operational and deployed as of now.

On Thursday, in its first preinduction trial conducted by the SFC, the 17-metre Agni-V was launched from a canister atop the road-mobile launcher from the Dr Abdul Kalam Island off the Odisha coast at 9.53 am. The three-stage missile zoomed to a height of over 600-km in its parabolic trajectory and then splashed down around 4,900-km away towards Australia in the Indian Ocean, barely 19 minutes later. The missile’s canister-launch version makes it deadlier because it gives the armed forces the requisite operational flexibility to swiftly transport and fire the missile from anywhere they want. “Since the missile is already mated with its nuclear warhead before being sealed in the canister, it drastically cuts down the reaction time for a retaliatory strike…only the authorised electronic codes have to be fed to unlock and prime it for launch,” said a source.

India, of course, wants a credible strategic deterrent against an aggressive and expansionist China, which has a large arsenal of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. The SFC already has regiments of the Prithvi-II (350-km), Agni-I (700-km), Agni-II (2,000-km) & Agni-III (3,000-km) missiles—mainly meant to deter Pakistan from any misadventure. The Agni-IV (4,000-km) and Agni-V (over 5,000-km), in turn, have been developed with China in mind.

Protection gap in India at ₹480L cr: IRDAI

The insurance regulator said that the protection gap, which refers to the required cover and the cover actually availed, in Indian life insurance is Rs.480 lakh crore. The regulator also said that the health insurance market in India has a Rs.3-lakh crore potential.

Speaking at the FICCI annual insurance summit in Mumbai, T S Vijayan, chairman, Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India, said that over Rs.6 lakh crore of insurance premium was collected in India in 2017. The potential is even bigger, he said.

“The average award by the motor insurance claims tribunal to accident victims is Rs.5 lakh,” said Vijayan. This includes children, women, senior citizens across classes. “Organizations like MACT value the average life at Rs.5 lakh. Even if you take the population size to be 100 crore, the required total sum insured is Rs.500 lakh crore as against Rs.120 lakh crore,” said Vijayan.

According to Vijayan, there is a similar protection gap in health insurance. “If you consider the Rs.3 lakh crore spent by people on healthcare, this should be the size of the health insurance market if all the costs were to be borne by insurance,” said Vijayan.

Speaking about the opportunities in the Indian insurance market, Vijayan said that with several foreign reinsures setting up branches in India and Gift city throwing open offshore opportunities India could become a reinsurance hub.

Later speaking to newspersons, Vijayan said that the regulator would come out with new reinsurance regulations are coming by February end. The regulations will define the business in India and the order of preference, he added.

On foreign companies showing interest in entering the Indian market, the regulator said there are four or five that have applied for licences and have evinced keen interest on the non-life and health front.

ONGC’s Acquisition Of HPCL

Almost a year after the idea of creating a truly integrated oil behemoth by merging state-run giants was conceived in the Budget, flagship explorer ONGC on Saturday said it would acquire the government’s holding in the country’s third-largest refinermarketer Hindustan Petroleum for nearly Rs.37,000 crore to complete the first consolidation exercise in the public sector energy space.

The “strategic sale” will see ONGC pay Rs.36,915 crore in cash for the government’s over 51% stake in HPCL. This works out to Rs.473.97 a share, which is a premium of 14% over Friday’s closing price of the HPCL scrip. It is also “reasonably higher” than the government’s own valuation.

The transaction, to be completed by the end of this month, will help the Centre cross its disinvestment target by over Rs.20,000 crore and end the year with a record Rs.90,000 crore sell-off proceeds. With 10 weeks to go for the fiscal year to close, the deal will considerably ease the pressure on government finances and help the Centre close the year with a fiscal deficit that is not far from the budgeted level of 3.2% of GDP, sources said.


Diesel Prices Hit Record High

Diesel prices have soared to a record in many cities while petrol is at three-year high as international crude prices hover around $70 a barrel.

The rise in global prices in recent months has raised concerns about inflation and a higher import bill.

The government had raised taxes on fuel when prices had plunged in 2014.

On Monday, diesel was sold for ₹61.74 per litre in Delhi, ₹64.40 in Kolkata, ₹65.74 in Mumbai and ₹65.08 in Chennai.

State oil companies and private firms price petrol and diesel within a few paise of each other. Petrol prices in Delhi and Chennai are highest since August 2014 while they are highest since July 2015 in Kolkata, and since October 2017 in Mumbai.

Petrol cost ₹71.18 per litre in Delhi, ₹73.91in Kolkata, ₹79.06 in Mumbai, and ₹73.80 in Chennai on Monday.

Petrol and diesel prices have been market-determined for the past few years in India where state companies control more than 90% of the fuel retail market.

Companies determine retail prices by adding their marketing margin, dealers’ commission and government duties to refinery gate prices that are linked to international prices of petrol and diesel.

Prices of petrol and diesel in the international market largely follow crude prices although specific fuels’ own demand-supply equation, constraints in refining or transportation capacity and other business or geopolitical events sometimes create divergences. Since July 1, crude oil is up 46%, while diesel has risen 42%, and petrol 22% in the international market, according to Bloomberg data.

In Delhi, diesel and petrol prices are up 16% and 13%, respectively, since July 1. Prices of petrol and diesel vary from state to state according to local levies.

An extended agreement by Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries and Russia to curtail output to clear the supply glut has lifted prices substantially in the past six months. The producers’ determination to continue with the cut despite recent price surge, along with healthy demand for oil amid strong global economic growth, has strengthened the oil rally.

Higher oil prices are not good for heavy consumers like India, which imports nearly 82% of its requirement. Higher fuel prices trigger broader inflation, shrink room for rate cuts by central bank, increase demand for foreign exchange, and leave the exchequer with lesser resources for development work as demand for subsidy and tax cuts rises.

Purvanchal Expressway

The nondescript villages of Chand Sarai in Lucknow and Haidariya in Ghazipur will be the two ends of the country’s longest expressway. The Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh government has finalised details of the 341-km long Purvanchal Expressway, which will be constructed at an estimated cost of ₹13,186 crore by the end of 2020.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to lay the foundation stone of the project in February or March. Uttar Pradesh has secured assurances from banks for a loan of ₹15,000 crore for the project, of which ₹2,000 crore has already been released, an indication that lack of finances will not come in the way of completing the project in the targeted 30 months.

Besides being the country’s longest six-lane expressway, linking Uttar Pradesh’s capital to the state’s eastern end, the other unique selling point of the highway is that it will connect the state’s ‘three temple towns’ of Varanasi, Ayodhya and Allahabad.

While Varanasi will be connected through a widened NH that will crisscross the expressway, the state’s Public Works Department will build a link road to Ayodhya from the expressway. The state government has also decided to build a new link expressway that will branch out of the Purvanchal Expressway and go till Allahabad. The government is also doing pre-feasibility study to link the expressway to the chief minister’s home town of Gorakhpur, besides a link up with the new Bundelkhand Expressway being built from Jhansi to Kushinagar.

“This expressway will bring about development of eastern districts by connecting these to the state capital and further to Agra and national capital Delhi through Agra-Lucknow Expressway and Yamuna Expressway. The expressway has the potential to be linked with Patna–Buxar National Highway (NH 922) at Bharauli through NH 19/31,” the state government has said in a request for qualification document, inviting bids through international competitive bidding for constructing the expressway.

Work is expected to start on the Purvanchal Expressway this April, with the entire stretch being divided into eight packages of 28-54 km each, which could be awarded to different companies. The six-lane expressway will be designed for speeds of 120 km/hr with the option of converting it to eight-lane.

Haj Subsidy withdrawn

The Narendra Modi government has withdrawn subsidy given to pilgrims who undertake Haj to Mecca and Medina. No subsidy will be given to Haj pilgrims from 2018. Approximately ₹250 crore was spent on Haj subsidy and the money would now be utilised for education and other welfare measures of Muslim women and girls. A Supreme Court order in 2012 had directed that Haj subsidy should be done away with in 10 years (by 2022).

The Centre was is in talks with Riyadh to work out modalities of sea travel to make Haj affordable for poor Muslims.

The NDA government had increased India’s Haj quota by 5,000. Despite the subsidy withdrawal, around 1.75 lakh Muslims are likely to go on pilgrimage, the highest since Independence. With the government allowing women to go without mehram (male companion), 1,300 women had applied for the pilgrimage and their applications have been accepted. Government will provide lady Haj assistants for the women and take care of some of their logistical requirements, including lodging in Mecca and Medina.

Exports up 12.4%: December 2017

Propelled by engineering goods and petroleum sectors, India’s exports rose 12.4% to $27 billion in December even as the trade deficit touched a three-year high.

Imports too surged significantly to $42 billion, up 21%, on increased inbound shipments of crude oil and gold. Exporters body FIEO said India is on course to reaching the $300-billion milestone for overseas shipments.

The trade deficit or difference between imports and exports was $15 billion, up about 41% year-on-year.

FIEO said that positive growth for the second month in a row, after a fall in October, shows resilience of the Indian exporters.

“Since we have already achieved exports worth $224 billion in first nine months of the fiscal and global trade growth remains robust in 2018, we are on our course to achieve the milestone of $300 billion in 2017-18,” said FIEO president Ganesh Kumar Gupta.

The exports had totalled $275 billion in 2016-17, up from $262 billion in the preceding industry. Exports of engineering goods as well as petroleum products showed an increase of over 25% in December. However, shipments of ready-made garments declined by 8% to $1.33 billion last month. Gold imports surged by 72% to $3.3 billion last month as against $2 billion in December 2016.

The imports of petroleum products and crude oil increased by a significant 35% to $ 10 billion in December, from $8 billion a year ago. 

Somewhere in Rajasthan....

Bengal means Business

Of Foreign tourist arrivals....

In happy tidings for India’s tourism sector, 2017 ended on a high with the number of foreign tourist arrivals crossing the 10-million mark, which pushed the country’s earnings to over $27 billion.

The sector is looking to ramp up tourist arrivals this year with new and niche projects. “I think our sector is doing very well. But am I happy with the numbers? I want these numbers to increase dramatically because India is an incredible place and we have everything for everybody. So we are trying to bring in lot more people,” Union tourism minister KJ Alphons said in Kochi.

The minister also said the sector is contributing 6.88% to India’s GDP and had a 12% share of jobs in the total employment figures in 2017.

The increase in numbers has helped India ramp up its overall ranking on the Tourism Competitiveness Index, 2017. It jumped 25 places from 65 in 2013 to 40 in 2017. Ministry sources attributed the improvement to the government’s renewed focus on developing infrastructure besides promoting theme-based and religious circuits under the Swadesh Darshan scheme. “Eleven projects have been sanctioned under this scheme in 2017-18 alone, taking the total number up to 67 projects. The plan is for holistic development of pilgrimage destinations, the Buddhist circuit being a case in point,” a ministry official said.

Sources in the ministry also said that the government is “looking East” in the tourism sector to promote India’s north-eastern states. As part of the efforts to introduce new concepts to engage the larger world, India’s golf courses have found mention in the ministry’s ‘Incredible India’ campaign alongside the heritage monuments.

Government orders another 1.2 Lakh cos off books

The government said it had decided to strike off the names of 1.2 lakh more companies from official records for various counts of noncompliance. This comes as part of the Centre’s bid to fight black money. Nearly 2.26 lakh companies had been deregistered by the end of December 2017 and around 3.09 lakh directors associated with them disqualified. The companies were held guilty of non-compliance.

The latest decision came after a review meeting last week to discuss action taken with respect to deregistered firms. Junior corporate affairs minister P P Chaudhary has directed officials to expedite action against the identified companies. According to a government release, 1,157 cases had been filed with the National Company Law Tribunal for the restoration of deregistered companies. “...NCLT has given orders for considering restoration of 180 companies, of which 128 have already been restored,” it said.

Maharashtra seeks Israel help

The Maharashtra state government is seeking Israel's help to design its ambitious water grid for drought management in the Marathwada region.

In November 2016, the Devendra Fadnavis government had announced inter-linking of all major dams of the Marathwada region during a special cabinet session to address issues of Marathwada.

“The key aspect to make the water grid effective is to design it well. Since Israel is the leader in drought management techniques, we are going to approach them,” said a senior official. Officials say the project could cost the government up to Rs.10,000 crore.

This is not the first tie-up between Maharashtra and Israel. The state prisons department has implemented a pilot project to beef up security and surveillance of prisons with Israel’s help. This was done after Fadnavis was impressed with the jail security system in Israel when he visited the country in 2015. The pilot project in Nagpur central jail included setting up of a jail intelligence system, an inmate assessment system, a physical security ring, a system to monitor prison entrances, check guards' alertness, and a canine squad. "We will be replicating this is all the central prisons. We are only waiting for the MoU from Israel," said a senior official.

However, the digital project for which Maharashtra tie-up with Israel is yet to take off. Tel Aviv joined hands with Thane municipal corporation to replicate the civic transformation it underwent, using digital technologies, in Thane, the project is yet to see the light of day. 


Aadhaar through face recognition

In a move intended to offer major relief to older people whose fingerprints and irises are unclear, Aadhaar will now allow face recognition along with biometrics as a means of authentication of users.

The decision comes less than a week after the Unique Identification Authority of India sought to address privacy concerns by offering the option of creating virtual IDs that mask the actual unique identification number of an individual during an UID-authenticated transaction and just ahead of the apex court hearing the challenge to the use of the Aadhaar system.

To be made available by July 1, the face authentication option will be allowed in combination with fingerprints or iris or OTP to verify the details of Aadhaar users and is expected to go a long way in dealing with problems faced by older users with blurred biometrics. Interestingly, the authentication will require some facial movement like blinking or smiling to ensure a live presence of the user.

Face authentication will not require any new reference data as photos of citizens are already on the Aadhaar database. The objective is to increase inclusiveness of the system so that genuine beneficiaries of government benefits like pensioners are not denied their dues.

“This is a landmark development which will go a long way in helping people in authentication in a secured manner, particularly whose fingerprints have worn out because of old age or manual work,” UIDAI CEO Ajay Bhusan Pandey said. He said the ‘liveness’ detection will provide additional security.

The new method will also be allowed “on need basis” for those who face problems in carrying out Aadhaar-related transactions.

A recent Niti Aayog commissioned report had found that farmers found fingerprinting a problem while accessing fertiliser subsidy under the Aadhaar authenticated system.

A UIDAI statement said face authentication would be allowed “only in fusion mode”, meaning along with either fingerprint or iris or OTP to verify the details of the Aadhaar holder.

Aadhaar number is being used for identity authentication across banks, telecom companies, public distribution system, income tax among others. The use can be gauged from the fact that an average four crore authentications are being done on a daily basis.

The move to allow face authentication came within a week of UIDAI allowing residents to use a 16-digit temporary virtual ID to avoid sharing their 12-digit UID number when accessing government benefits and other services in a bid to protect privacy.

“This facility is going to help in inclusive authentication of those who are not able to biometrically authenticate due to their worn out fingerprints, old age or hard work conditions,” the UIDAI statement said.

To facilitate the new authentication service, the Aadhaar issuing body will work with biometric device providers to integrate face modality into the registered devices.

It will also line up software development kits that will have the ability to capture face image, check liveness and create digitally signed and encrypted authentication input.

As many as 119 crore biometric identifiers have been issued so far, and Aadhaar is being used as an identity proof of people by various government and private agencies and for verifying bank accounts and PANs to weed out black money and bring unaccounted wealth to book.