BSE waives trading fee on sensex scrips

Aiming to bring in more investors to trade on its platform, the BSE said it will not charge any fee for trading in the 30 blue chips that constitute the sensex index.

This will be effective from March 12. Investors, however, will have to pay brokerage, regulatory and government charges.

Currently, BSE’s transaction charges range between 50 paise and Rs.1.5 per trade for securities under the exchange’s groups A and B, and other non-exclusive scrips, the bourse’s website showed. Of the 5,053 stocks listed on the BSE, there are 391 stocks in Group A — which also includes the sensex’s 30 stocks — and 1,115 stocks in Group B.

Currently, each BSE broker pays a fee to the exchange for executing a trade on behalf of their clients. For up to 1 lakh trades per month, brokers have to pay Rs.1.5 per trade to BSE, while they pay Rs.1.25 per trade if their monthly trade count exceeds 1 lakh but is less than 3 lakh trades. Again, if the monthly trade count exceeds 3 lakh, brokers pay Re.1 per trade till it reaches 5 lakh, 75 paise per trade if it exceeds 5 lakh but is less than 20 lakh. And if the monthly count exceeds 20 lakh, for every trade the broker pays a transaction fee of 50 paise per trade.

The 30 sensex stocks on which investors will not pay any fees from March 12 are Adani Ports, Asian Paints, Axis Bank, Bajaj Auto, Bharti Airtel, Coal India, Dr Reddy’s Labs, HDFC, HDFC Bank, Hero MotoCorp, HUL, ICICI Bank, IndusInd Bank, Infosys, ITC, Kotak Bank, L&T, M&M, Maruti Suzuki, NTPC, ONGC, Power Grid, Reliance, SBI, Sun Pharma, Tata Motors, Tata Steel, TCS, Wipro and Yes Bank.


Elephanta Island finally gets electricity

Elephanta Island, this picturesque location just 10 km off Mumbai was finally electrified by undersea cable.

The 1,200-odd inhabitants who live on Elephanta were dressed in festive finery as CM Devendra Fadnavis arrived to inaugurate the MSEDCL power supply. A flick of a switch lit up several LED bulbs which had been installed in homes, canteens and pathways.

Residents claim the island did have electricity during British rule but supply lines were reportedly torn down after 1947. Former CM Sharad Pawar had allocated funds but nothing came of it.

The tourist island has waged a long struggle with poor infrastructure. There is no school or doctor. 

Global Corruption Perception Index 2017

India has been ranked 81st in Transparency International’s Global Corruption Perception Index 2017. While it maintained its score at 40 on a 100-point scale, where anything below 30 is considered seriously corrupt, its ranking changed from 79th last year partly because Vanuatu, one of the countries added this year, was rated higher and partly because others improved.

A Transparency International release also characterised India as “among the worst offenders” in Asia Pacific region on grounds of journalists, activists, opposition leaders and even personnel of law enforcement or watchdog agencies being threatened or even murdered. In this, it was clubbed with the Phillipines and Maldives. “These countries score high for corruption and have fewer press freedoms and higher numbers of journalist deaths,” the report said.

Pakistan with a score of 32 and China with 41 are perceived to be more corrupt than India. Russia is more corrupt with a score of 29. New Zealand and Denmark were ranked at the top in the 2017 list, with scores of 89 and 88 Of the three countries were tied with India in 2016, Belarus moved up to 68th with a score of 44 and China (41) to 77th. But Brazil slipped to 96th with a score of 37.

India poised to be a $10 trillion economy by 2030: Biz Leaders

Indian and global business leaders came together during the ET Global Business Summit in the capital and unanimously agreed that India will breach the $10-trillion GDP mark, which is four times bigger than its current size, by 2030.

But to do that, the country may have to adopt several unorthodox measures. For instance, with around 120 million people set to join the Indian workforce, skilling them in a short span of time is essential, said global managing partner of McKinsey & Co, Dominic Barton.

“You cannot do that with conventional education,” said Barton. Taking the example of online courses that have been adopted successfully across the world, by even people in the middle of their careers, time frames of educating or imparting skill to people should be shortened, Barton added.

The time is ripe for local entrepreneurs to make bold decisions, Rana Kapoor, founder and CEO of Yes Bank, said. “Today, we have a global economy growing at 3.9%.” If India manages to tap into the tail winds that are being created as a result of that, Kapoor said, the country’s economy may start growing at 9% in the next one and half years.

A similar enthusiasm was shown by Naspers chief executive Bob van Dijk, who reckoned India will witness e-commerce sales of $150 billion within 10 years, a 10X growth from the current number.

“Currently e-commerce penetration as a percentage of retail is 3-4%. If you look at global benchmarks, probably UK is around 18-19%. China went from sub-10 to 17% in five years, so if India can get to 15% internet penetration in five years, you will be talking about 10X,” said Dijk. “What we have seen in China is that explosive growth drives innovation, I think the innovation that will come out of India will actually be viewed by rest of the world.”

When very large e-commerce businesses like Flipkart come to scale, they will take a bigger role in the lives of the average Indian than they would ever do in Western economies, he added. And, when asked about the Nirav Modi scam that rocked the nation and cast doubts on the robustness of its banking system, global chairman of KPMG International, Bill Thomas said, “When this happens, how a country responds makes the difference. Trust is going to be essential to drive the growth that you are talking about.”


Of Competitive Federalism....

Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants the Uttar Pradesh government to compete with Maharashtra in the race to become India’s first trillion-dollar state. Speaking at the Uttar Pradesh Investors Summit in Lucknow, Modi said the Maharashtra government has set itself the target to become the first state to achieve a trillion-dollar economy.

“Can there be a competition between Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra to achieve the target of trillion-dollar economy, first? This kind of competition will lead to development and generation of employment. Besides, this kind of healthy race will strengthen the spirit of competitive and cooperative federalism,” Modi said.

According to the Central Statistics Office, the size of the Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh economies was $308 billion and $172 billion, respectively, in 2015-16. In 2016-17, UP became a $196 billion economy, while data for Maharashtra is not available for that year.

Speaking at the Magnetic Maharashtra global investment summit on Monday, Modi said when India’s economy joined the $1 trillion club, it created headlines. “But later everything went down in scams and there was talk about Fragile Five. Now, in the last three years, the talk has gained traction and credence that India could well join the 5 trillion dollar club,” Modi said.

Morgan Stanley, in a report published last year, said the Indian economy will become a $5 trillion economy by 2025. The Indian economy is estimated to be a $2.56 trillion economy in 2017-18.

4G speed in India slowest in world

India may be going digital, but high-speed internet on mobile phones still remains a challenge, even on 4G. Despite telecom companies announcing massive rollout of 4G services, the average network speed in India remains the slowest across countries having substantial telecom networks, lagging even Pakistan, Algeria, Kazakhstan and Tunisia.

According to a list prepared by mobile analytics company OpenSignal, 4G download speed in India is the slowest across 88 countries spanning six continents. This is despite the fact that 4G has been expanding at a rapid pace across the country, and networks are being upgraded from slower 2G services.

On an average, the 4G speed in India has been measured at 6 mbps (actual experience could be much lower), whereas subscribers in neighbouring Pakistan enjoy internet at a more than double speed of 14 mbps. Algeria is ranked second-last at 9 mbps.

According to OpenSignal, subscribers in Singapore get the fastest downloads on 4G at 44 mbps, followed by the Netherlands at 42 mbps. In Norway, the 4G download speed is 41 mbps, while South Korea gets 40 mbps. OpenSignal analysed more than 5,000 crore measurements (collected between October 1 and December 29 of 2017) of speed from over 38 lakh smartphone and tablet users across six continents.

Giving out reasons for a slower network speed in India despite a wider 4G reach, the study blamed capacity constraints on network. Though 4G is available for around 86% of the time people access the internet, “4G networks lack the capacity to deliver connection speed much faster than 3G”, it said.

The telecom industry in India is staring at a financial nightmare, with most of the companies either deep in the red or just managing to stay profitable. The onslaught of fierce competition from 4Gonly Reliance Jio saw Vodafone and Idea Cellular slip into losses, while Airtel saw profits shrink massively.

Companies that provide network infrastructure to mobile companies said in private that most of the operators are slow in making fresh investments for augmenting capacities.

While Jio has launched pan-India 4G services, others were literally forced to follow suit. Airtel is also giving 4G on a pan-India basis, while Idea Cellular covers the country, except Delhi and Kolkata. Vodafone is currently giving the service in 17 circles.

Subscribers complain that they “do not get promised 4G download speeds”, although companies make tall promises.

Concerns over poor service and slower speed have also been raised by the government, as it has started offering a variety of services online and is pushing digital payments in a big way.

Telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajan has said the government is mindful of the slow internet speed experienced by internet users in many parts of the country.


Train runs over 14 camels in Bikaner

At least 14 camels have been mowed down by a train at a village in Bikaner district. Camel is the state animal of Rajasthan.

The accident took place when a herd of 60-70 camels was moving along the National Highway parallel to the railway tracks before they came under the speeding Jaisalmer-Jaipur intercity train late Monday night. The train driver tried to apply emergency brake after spotting the camels, but in vain, killing at least 14 of them and injuring several others, the police said.

According to railways PRO of Jodhpur division Gopal Sharma, the accident occurred around 10:50 pm near the Karkada police checkpost, around 70 km from Bikaner

Coal India's monopoly to end

The Union Cabinet has ended the monopoly of the state-owned Coal India Limited by approving a new methodology for the auction of coal mines and blocks for the sale of coal.

Briefing the media, Coal Minister Piyush Goyal said that the opening up of commercial coal mining for the private sector is the most ambitious reform in the coal sector since the nationalisation of this sector since 1973.

“This reform is expected to bring efficiency into the coal sector by moving from an era of monopoly to competition. The higher investment will create direct and indirect employment in coal bearing areas especially in mining sector and will have an impact on economic development of these regions,” he said.

According to a Cabinet note this reform will ensure an assured coal supply, accountable allocation of coal and affordable coal leading to affordable power prices for consumers.

Magnetic Maharashtra

The Maharashtra government has received investment intentions for 4,106 projects worth Rs.12,10,464 crore, with job potential of 36,77,185. In addition to this, the government has received an approved investment for 104 projects from the Centre and various state undertakings worth Rs.3,90,419 crore during the three-day Magnetic Maharashtra Summit. Collectively, the investment is worth Rs.16,00,883 crore for 5,110 intentions.

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who was accompanied by Railway Minister Piyush Goyal and state Industries Minister Subhash Desai, said at the valedictory session of the Rs.12.10 lakh crore, as high as Rs.5,48,166 crore of investment is proposed in industries, Rs.3,85,000 crore in the Housing sector and Rs.1,60,268 crore in the Energy sector. “The investment intentions are across the state and not just restricted to developed regions. Investors have preferred to put in money in the underdeveloped regions like Marathwada, Vidarbha and North Maharashtra in multiple sectors,’’ he noted.

Desai said overwhelming response from investors from India and abroad has once again proved that Maharashtra continues to be one of the most favored destination in the country for doing business.

Some of the major investment intentions include Reliance Industries for development of integrated industrial area (Rs.60,000 crore); Virgin Hyperloop One for Mumbai-Pune hyperloop transportation system (Rs.40,000 crore); Thrust Aircraft Cluster (Rs.35,000 crore); Hyosung for textile technology (Rs.1,250 crore) and Mahindra and Mahindra for E-vehicle (Rs.500 crore).

Some of the key projects in foreign direct investment are Carier Midea India (Rs.300 crore), Emerson Process Management (Rs.815 crore), Iljin Global (Rs.750 crore), LG Electronics (Rs.350 crore), Owens Corning India (Rs.1050 crore) and Peri Werk (Rs.528 cr).

Fadnavis highlighted that the government’s recent move to release 13 policies in various sectors, including defence and aerospace, logistics, textiles, logistics, fintech and start-ups and gems and jewellery, have been well received by investors.

“The government will focus on services and manufacturing to achieve 15.4% growth rate from the present level of 9.5% and thereby become a trillion dollar by 2025. Policies are dynamic and the government will amend the policies released recently and also bring in some more for the benefit the investors too,’’ he added.

Fadnavis said the state government through Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation will set up a defence and aerospace fund of the order of Rs.1,000 crore. The government has tied up with IDBI Bank and couple of other banks and financial institutions to boost skill development, he added.

Meanwhile, the government, in a bid to pacify its ruling partner Shiv Sena, refrained from signing MoUs with oil companies for the setting up a refinery in Ratnagiri district, with a proposed investment of Rs.3 lakh crore.

Fadnavis said the government will soon ink MoUs, but a decision on project development will be made only after reaching out to local villagers for their views. He clarified that the government will not impose the refinery project on the people.


Somewhere in Delhi....

At 90 acres, Sunder Nursery is comparable in size to the famed Lodhi Garden. But it doesn’t receive many visitors as it’s just a place to buy plants. This week, this is set to change as a renovated Sunder Nursery opens to the public as a heritage park.

For over a century, this place has been a nursery, and 20 acres are still an active nursery maintained by CPWD. The rest of the area would now be a treat for nature lovers and heritage enthusiasts. The nursery was renovated by Aga Khan Trust for Culture, and following an agreement signed last December, AKTC would maintain the park for 10 years. For that, requisite infrastructure would be built such as a garden house to showcase flora, a cafe, toilets etc.

So far, the park is open only on weekdays up to 5pm. This would be stretched and even weekends would be open days. Security and other maintenance infrastructure would be put in place by October. Entry would be ticketed.

Sunder Nursery rivals the Rashtrapati Bhavan for the huge variety of flora and fauna. Earlier, the area only housed Mughal garden tombs. At the beginning of the 20th century, the British converted the area into a nursery for the new capital city. In 2007, following an MoU between CPWD, ASI, the municipal corporation and AKTC, conservation and landscaping works started. AKTC has built similar parks in Kabul, Cairo, Chantilly (France) and Edmonton (Canada).

Designed by landscape architect Late M Shaheer, Sunder Nursery has a 550m ornamental central vista that starts from the entrance zone of Humayun’s Tomb. An official said the landscape master plan derived inspiration from the “traditional Indian concept of congruency between nature, garden and utility coupled with environmental conservation”.

The gardens along the central vista, inspired by Mughal traditions, have lotus-shaped marble fountains. Water flows through geometric flowerbeds and raised sandstone pathways. A lake on the northern edge of the central vista will have walkways, seats and pavilions along the edges. An amphitheatre has also been built for cultural events. The lake would collect rainwater and also serve as a reservoir for emergency use.

Officials said the nursery has over 300 tree species, some not found elsewhere in Delhi. Over 80 bird species have also been recorded. As an added attraction for children, an educational resource on Delhi’s ecology has also been set up for the 5,00,000 schoolchildren who visit the adjoining Humayun’s Tomb annually. This 20-acre micro-habitat zone showcases plants of the Ridge, and the riverine, marshy landscapes that were once found in Delhi.

The heritage aspect is striking too. There are 15 Mughal monuments within the nursery, some under ASI and some unprotected. These have been conserved by AKTC over the years. In 2016, Unesco extended the world heritage designation to 12 monuments.

Half of Himalayan springs are dry or seasonal now

Half of the perennial springs in Himalayan region have already dried up or have become seasonal resulting into acute water shortage for drinking and other domestic purposes across hundreds of mountain villages. As per a rough estimate, there are five million springs across India, out of which nearly 3 million are in the Indian Himalayan region alone Recently released report of Niti Aayog working group on “Inventory and Revival of Springs in Himalayas for Water Security” states that there is increasing evidence that springs are drying up or their discharge is reducing throughout the Himalayan region.

Spring discharge is declining due to increased water demand, changing land use patterns, and ecological degradation. Many natural watering holes for wildlife are in the form of springs and seeps. Depletion has meant disturbances in the water security inside forests and national parks and their fringe areas as well.

Mountain springs are the primary source of water for the rural households in the Himalayan region. For many people, springs are the sole source of water. For example, a major proportion of drinking water supply in the mountainous parts of Uttarakhand is spring based.

With half of the perennial springs having dried up or have become seasonal, acute water shortage is being faced for drinking and other domestic purposes across hundreds of Himalayan village.

The report says that despite the key role that they play, springs have not received due attention.

What is even more important to note is the fact that while glaciers are easily considered to be the source of the mighty Himalayan rivers, most of them have their origin in the form of springs, the report points out.

The non-glacial rivers clearly show how hundreds of springs provide the flows in stream and river channels even during the dry season. Any significant depletion in such spring flows at river origins will surely impact the flow of rivers, it added.

Navi Mumbai to house India’s first gem, jewellery park

Maharashtra and the Gems and Jewellery Export Promotion Council have signed an MoU at the ongoing Magnetic Maharashtra summit to develop a 25-acre gems and jewellery park at a cost of Rs.13,500 crore.

This will be India’s first gems and jewellery park, which will be developed on the lines of the Shenzhen model in China.

The park, likely to come up in Ghansoli, is intended to house nearly 4,500 units and will employ 90,000-1 lakh people. The government also plans to provide housing to craftsmen on the premises. However, artisans and craftsmen have questioned the viability of the plan.

Mumbai already has a diamond bourse in BKC and several traders over the years have moved there from their south Mumbai units.


PM lauds Maharashtra for $1 trillion economy target by 2025

Prime Minister Narendra Modi yesterday congratulated the Maharashtra government for setting the ambitious target of making the state a trillion dollar economy by 2025, saying, “Nothing is impossible in the land of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.”

Modi was speaking at the inauguration of the first global investors’ summit organised by the state, Magnetic Maharashtra: Convergence 2018, at MMRDA grounds at BKC. Maharashtra’s economy is currently pegged at around $400 billion.

Taking a dig at the previous UPA government, the Prime Minister said, “A few years ago, India’s economy became $1 trillion economy but that advantage was wasted in scams and there was talk about Fragile Five.”

In 2013, Morgan Stanley had coined the term, Fragile Five, to describe the economies that were too dependent on foreign investment to achieve their growth target. Along with Turkey, Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia, India fell in that group.

“The opportunity of India entering the $1 trillion club was wasted but after this government came, we changed the atmosphere and now people are talking about India becoming a $5 trillion economy. This change was brought about by policy interventions, timely decisions, reforms and increase in ease of doing business,” Modi said.

He pointed out that his government scrapped 1,400 redundant laws and while drafting new legislations, care was taken to ensure they are not unnecessary complicated.

“Summits like Magnetic Maharashtra are example of co-operative and competitive federalism and now all major states are organising such summits, including North East state like Assam,” he said, adding that this was a trend Gujarat started and all states followed it up.

Showering praise on the state leadership, the Prime Minister said, “Due to business-friendly policies of the state government, Maharashtra was able to attract 51% of the FDIs that came into the country during financial year 2016-17.”

He also congratulated the state government for undertaking ambitious projects like the 700-km Samruddhi corridor (Mumbai-Nagpur Expressway), which has the potential to create 2.5 million jobs.

Speaking earlier, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced that, Maharashtra aspires to be $1 trillion economy and it will be the first Indian state to achieve this mark.

“Maharashtra is growing at 9.3% and at this rate, we can achieve the target of becoming a 1 trillion dollar economy by 2030. But we are advancing the target by five years and to achieve it, services need to grow at 15% per annum and industry at 12% per annum. We have drawn our policies in such a manner that they will help us achieve this target,” Fadnavis said.

The state has set the target of signing MoUs worth Rs.10 lakh crore at the investment summit. “During Make in India two years ago, we signed MoUs worth Rs.8 lakh crore. Maharashtra’s conversion rate of MoUs in actual investment is 61%,” said Fadnavis.

Maharashtra’s economy must grow at the rate of 15.4% annually to become a $1 trillion economy (Rs 65 lakh crore at current exchange rate) by 2025, compared to its current growth rate of 9.4%, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said.

He also said that he is working to transform the state’s economy into mainly a services driven one from the current mix of manufacturing-cum-services driven. And for this, Fadnavis wants to focus more on a digital-enterprise driven administration-cum-services and also impart skills to about 50 lakh youth in the next eight years to be employed in the services sector. If the state’s economy continues to grow at the current annual rate, it would only be in 2029 that the $1 trillion target would be achieved, the CM said. Fadnavis was speaking at the Magnetic Maharashtra global investor summit in the city. Currently, the state’s economy is nearly $400 billion (Rs.26 lakh crore).

To achieve the targeted double-digit growth rate, the services sector has to take the lead with an estimated growth rate of 15.5% annually while the manufacturing sector should grow at 12.3% and the agriculture sector at 5.5% rate, he said. Fadnavis also said that by 2025, the share of services in the state’s economy should be about 67% from 59% now, industry’s should dip to 27% from 30% while the agricultural sector’s share should nearly halve to 6% from 11% at present. He said that the agriculture and industry sectors at present are showing positive growth, but some more acceleration is required in the services sector.

Fadnavis said that though agriculture’s share in the state GDP is only 11%, it employs nearly half of the workforce and there was hardly any more scope for it to absorb more people productively.

Navi Mumbai Airport to Have 1st Flight in 2019: PM

Prime Minister Narendra Modi asserted that Mumbai’s second airport will have its first flight next year, even as he acknowledged aviation infrastructure in India is lagging growth.

Modi inaugurated the much-delayed ₹16,000 crore airport project, seen as an imperative alternative to the existing Mumbai airport which is bursting at its seams. An earlier government had initially approved setting up the airport in 2007, but the project ran into several environmental and land acquisition problems until the last stages of the final bid. Each stage has been delayed for months, pending clearances and procedural clarity.

Modi mentioned the airport as one of the many projects worth ₹10 lakh crore that were pending before his government came into power. Speaking ealier at the event, Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said the airport project had been pending for a decade with not one of eight NOCs getting approved. “It came up during a project monitoring meeting. The very next day 7 of 8 NOCs  were approved. The last one came 5 days later,” he said.

Mumbai International Airport runs the current airport in the country and has got the mandate to build the new one, touted as the biggest greenfield airport project in the country. The consortium consists of GVK Industries, Airports Company South Africa and Bidvest. They together hold 74% of the existing Mumbai airport and the state-run Airports Authority of India holds the rest.

The Navi Mumbai airport project is likely to be completed in four phases ultimately giving it an annual capacity to handle 60 million passengers. The airport will span an area of 2,867 acres, with a terminal building of 523,000 square meters and two runways. Bhushan Gagrani, vice-chairman of the City and Industrial Development Corporation, the nodal body for the airport, said the land would be handed over to MIAL in 6-8 months.

CIDCO is responsible for the ground clearance, levelling of the hill, turning the course of a river and clearing the villages on the envisaged airport land.

It is spending about ₹2,500 crore of the airport project. Gagrani said 25% of the preparatory work has been completed.

He echoed Narendra Modi’s assertion and said single runway operations would be ready to start by 2019 December.

Virgin Hyperloop One

A US-based firm developing a near-supersonic mode of onground passenger travel signed an ‘intent agreement’ with Maharashtra to build a transport system between Mumbai and Pune which aims to bring down travel time between the two cities to 20 minutes from three hours. Virgin Hyperloop One’s chairman Richard Branson, who is in Mumbai for the Magnetic Maharashtra summit, said the route for the hyperloop system will pass through the proposed Navi Mumbai International Airport. The fare is too early to decide, but will probably be close to airfares.

“The hyperloop will reduce accidents. Teams are working to study the feasibility of the route,” Branson said. Officials said the final feasibility study may be completed in six months, and construction of a test track can start in early 2019 and finish by 2021-end. If the tests are successful, it would take about four years to build the entire Mumbai-Navi Mumbai-Pune track.

The estimated cost of the route is around Rs.20,000 crore, which officials say works out cheaper than other forms of high-speed on-ground travel.

“Individual ports of the loop will go inside individual gates of the (proposed) airport, reducing travel time further. The project will leapfrog Maharashtra into a transport hub,” said Branson. He said the system will have a capacity of 150 million passengers per year (saving more than 90 million hours of travel time), with a potential to reduce greenhouse gases by 150,000 tons a year. Hyperloop is a technology in which a passenger-carrying capsule moves almost at the speed of sound using magnetic levitation through an almost air-less tube. The technology is not yet commercially operational anywhere in the world. “Possibly, India may have this track as the first operationalized route, though Dubai is competing close,” Branson said. “The Pune-Mumbai route is an ideal first corridor as part of a national hyperloop network.”

VHO CEO Rob Lloyd said, “We have always believed that India would be a tremendous market for the hyperloop. The Pune-Mumbai route is one of the strongest economic cases we have seen to date.”

Officials said that under the agreement, the company will also look at potential routes and undertake preliminary studies to analyze the economic impact and technical viability of hyperloop transportation in India. The US-based company signed the Maharashtra agreement in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. Apart from Branson, also present were VHO investors Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem (CEO and group chairman of DP World), and Ziyavudin Magomedov (chairman of Summa Group).

The Pune-Mumbai route could result in $55 billion (Rs.3.5 lakh crore) in socio-economic benefits (time savings, emissions cuts, accident reduction, operational cost savings, etc) over 30 years of operation, according to an initial pre-feasibility study by VHO. The 100% electric system will also ease expressway congestion.

“With VHO, we can create sustainable infrastructure that will enhance Maharashtra's competitiveness and attract new investment and businesses,” said Fadnavis. “The Pune-Mumbai hyperloop route will be an economic catalyst for the region and create tens of thousands of jobs for India’s world class manufacturing, construction, service, and IT sectors, and aligns with the Make in India initiatives.”


Purandar airport work will start soon: CM Fadnavis

Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said the work of the proposed international airport would start “very soon”.

Fadnavis gave this assurance a day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for the Navi Mumbai airport on Sunday during the Magnetic Maharashtra meet. The Navi Mumbai airport is expected to start operations in 2019. Fadnavi earlier said the Purandar airport could be operational by 2020-21.

Pune district collector Saurabh Rao said the landholders in the seven villages would be compensated according to the new ready reckoner rates to be announced in April stated. The collector’s panel on Thursday proposed 9% increase in RR rates for Pune rural areas to the state government as against the last year’s 15.6%. The collector said the landholders of the seven villages would get good price for their plots under the new rates.

“The land acquisition process should start only in April. If the landowners opt for the direct purchase system, they will be compensated according to the RR rate or the market rate, whichever is more,” said Rao.

The collector said the chief minister directed to expedite the airport project. Fadnavis also asked to carry out the land acquisition by taking people into confidence.

The land acquisition process can be initiated by the district administration only after the state government issued a notification. The administration has prepared the survey numbers with the names of each beneficiary from the village document (8a) in its anticipation.

This data will give the administration a clear idea on the land holding of each beneficiary. The administration is also fixing the rates of each land holding according to the RR rate. The collector has sought appointment of 25 persons for land acquisition in the seven villages. “I will want three persons for every village. The rest will operate from the district headquarters,” Rao said.

With a target of six to eight months set by the administration to acquire land for the proposed airport, five deputy collector-rank officials have been sought by the district administration to expedite the acquisition process in the seven villages. Besides, the administration will be appointing a private agency to conduct aptitude test so that an eligible member from each of the project-hit families got a job in the proposed airport project post-skill training. Strengthening women self-help groups is area of focus because their help would be required for various initiatives for the proposed airport.

India, Iran Sign Nine Pacts

Iran may be faced with US sanctions but that did not come in the way of India looking to further ramp up its economic ties with Tehran, with focus on connectivity, energy, trade and investment when PM Narendra Modi met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday. The two countries signed nine agreements, including a lease contract which will allow an Indian company to take over operational control of facilities at Shahid Beheshti Port in Chabahar for 18 months.

Thanking Rouhani for Chabahar port development, Modi said India will support construction of the Chabahar-Zahedan rail link to allow Chabahar gateway’s potential to be fully utilised. “We want to expand connectivity, cooperation in the energy sector and the bilateral relationship,” said Modi.

The port project is important for India, as it will allow it to bypass Pakistan in accessing not just Afghanistan but also central Asian countries. The agreement is also a message to the US that India remains committed to Chabahar, located just 65 miles from China’s Gwadar port in Pakistan, despite the US threat to tighten sanctions on Iran.

Security cooperation was also on top of the agenda, with both countries coming down heavily on terrorism. Without naming Pakistan, Modi and Rouhani urged an immediate end to all support enjoyed by terrorists. They called for action against states that “aid and abet” terror.

India and Iran also signed an agreement for avoidance of double taxation and prevention of fiscal evasion “with respect to taxes on income”. “They agreed to undertake text-based negotiations on a preferential trade agreement as well as conclusion of a bilateral investment treaty,” said a joint statement.

India is now hoping Rouhani’s visit and Modi’s recent visit to Palestine will help dispel the notion that its West Asia policy is no longer on an even keel. For trade and investment, the two leaders recognised the need of an effective banking channel for business transactions. “It was noted that permission for Iranian Pasargadbank to open a branch in India was under consideration,” said the joint statement.

The government is looking to facilitate investment in Iran, which could aid Iran offset international sanctions. There was also focus on enhancing maritime cooperation.


Iranian Prez Hails India As Living Museum of Religious Diversity

The visiting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has applauded India’s religious diversity and called for unity between the Shia and Sunni communities in a statement that is being seen as important for the Islamic world in the backdrop of lukewarm ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia often ascribed to sectarian differences.

“India is a living museum of different ethnicities and religions peacefully co-existing. This process is going on for centuries. Shia, Sunnis, Sufis, Hindus, Sikhs and others are living together. They together built their country and built their civilisation,” Rouhani said in Hyderabad in a speech delivered in Persian. Addressing Muslim leaders and scholars belonging to different Islamic schools of thought, Rouhani called for unity among the Shias and Sunnis while blaming the West for sowing the seeds of discord among various sects of Muslims.

That the Iranian president chose India to call for unity among the Shia and Sunni communities is significant given India’s growing multi-faceted partnership with both Iran and Saudi Arabia, experts said. India has been able to maintain a balanced foreign policy outreach to engage with both the countries at the same time, they said. Pointing out that there can be no military solution to conflicts, Rouhani said that Iran seeks brotherly relations with all Muslims nations and the countries of the region including India. Rouhani on Friday visited the historic Makkah Masjid in Hyderabad and offered prayers for Shia-Sunni unity and peace across the Muslim world. The visit to the Sunni mosque is significant as it is aimed at conveying the message of Shia-Sunni unity.

The Cauvery Verdict

Putting to rest a 126-year-old emotive dispute over the sharing of Cauvery water, the Supreme Court increased Karnataka’s entitlement on Friday by 14.75 tmcft to 284.75 tmcft and reduced Tamil Nadu’s share to 404.25 tmcft while keeping allocations for Kerala and Puducherry unchanged.

Kerala will access 30 tmcft and Puducherry 7 tmcft and the award that now has the SC’s seal can be re-examined only after 15 years, in 2033.

This brings down the curtain on a volatile issue that has roiled Karnataka and Tamil Nadu politics for long while also giving successive governments at the Centre a headache.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices Amitava Roy and A M Khanwilkar gave a unanimous verdict making a minor change in the 2007 award of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, which had, of the total available 740 thousand million cubic feet of water, allotted Tamil Nadu 419 tmcft, Karnataka 270 tmcft, Kerala 30 tmcft and Puducherry 7 tmcft, while keeping aside 10 tmcft for environment protection and 4 tmcft as inevitable discharge into sea.

Authoring the judgment, CJI Misra said the share of Karnataka was increased by 14.75 tmcft because the CWDT had not taken into account two crucial factors — the availability of 10tmcft groundwater to Tamil Nadu from the Cauvery basin and 4.75 tmcft of water required to satiate the drinking water requirements of residents of Bengaluru, a city with “global status”.

Poll aspirants must reveal income sources: SC

In a landmark verdict aimed at bringing more transparency and curbing money power in elections, the Supreme Court has ruled that a candidate would have to make public the source of his income along with that of his spouse and dependants.

Holding that voters have a fundamental right to know all the relevant information about the candidates, including their sources of income, a bench of Justices J Chelameswar and S Abdul Nazeer directed the Centre to amend the Conduct of Election Rules and Form 26 to incorporate the provision on declaration of source of income. It also directed that the candidates would also have to provide information regarding contracts with any government agency or PSUs, either by them or spouse and dependants.

“The voter is entitled to have all relevant information about the candidates at an election. The information regarding the sources of income of the candidates and their associates would in our opinion, certainly help the voter to make an informed choice of the candidate to represent the constituency in the legislature. It is, therefore, a part of their fundamental right,” the bench said.

“The enforcement of such a fundamental right needs no statutory sanction. This court and the HCs are authorised by the Constitution to give directions to the state and its instrumentalities for enforcement of Fundamental Rights,” the SC said. The SC said the experience of the first 50 years of the functioning of democracy in the country disclosed some undesirable trends that have crept into its working and it was necessary to deal with it on urgent basis to maintain purity of the electoral process.

The bench also made it clear that non-disclosure of the informations by the candidates would constitute a corrupt practice falling under heading undue influence as defined under the Representation of People Act, and the election of the candidate could be quashed if elected.

Terming possession of disproportionate assets by MPs and MLAs as a “culpable offence”, the Supreme Court on Friday said such lawmakers must be disqualified as accumulation of wealth by elected representatives beyond known sources of income “paves way for the rule of mafia substituting the rule of law”.

A bench of Justices J Chelameswar and S Abdul Nazeer said “such people are enemies to all good governments” and they should be disqualified from being members of legislative bodies. It, however, put the ball in the Centre’s court to amend the law to allow disqualification on the grounds of amassing illicit wealth. “If assets of a legislators or his/her associates (spouse and dependant) increase without bearing any relationship to their known sources of income, the only logical inference that can be drawn is that there is some abuse of the legislator’s constitutional office,” said Justice Chelameswar, who wrote the judgment for the bench.

JNPT’s capacity to double by 2022

The country’s biggest container cargo terminal, Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust, will be on par with European ports by 2022 when it is expected to handle 10 million teus (a measurement of 20- foot equivalent container units) annually. Before that, its capacity is set to go up by 50%, from the present 4.8 million teus per year, with the launch of the first phase of its fourth container terminal.

The handling of 10 million teus annually will put it on par with big ports—Antwerp in Belgium, Hamburg of Germany and Los Angeles of the US.

The one-km long first phase of the fourth container terminal will be officially e-launched by PM Narendra Modi on Sunday. The first phase will increase JNPT’s capacity by 2.4 million teus per year, and the second phase—another one km extension by 2022—will give similar benefit. As a result, the fourth terminal alone will handle as much load as the other three do now.


Trade Deficit balloons

India’s trade deficit touched a 56-month high in January, driven by a sharp rise in imports of petroleum, chemicals, silver, pearls and machine tools, even as exports expanded for the third consecutive month.

A 9% rise in exports at $24.3 billion was outweighed by a 26% increase in imports at $40.6 billion, leaving a trade gap of $16.3 billion, the highest since May 2013.

Petroleum and crude oil imports continued to inflate India’s import bill, rising 42.64% from last year to $11.65 billion. Imports of pearls and precious and semi-precious stones jumped 55.71% to $2.4 billion. However, gold imports declined 22% to $1.59 billion last month.

In the April-January period, trade balance was $103.7 billion.

Five sectors — coal, chemicals, precious metals, petroleum and machinery — showed at least $500 million of increase in imports from a year earlier.

On exports side, outward shipments increased in 20 out of 30 sectors, but declined in traditional sectors like yarn and ready made garments whose competitive edge could have been blunted by an appreciating rupee.

Exports of readymade garments fell 8.4% to $1.39 billion, while cotton yarn and fabric shipment declined 9.6% to $0.84 billion.

Major commodity groups which showed growth in exports were engineering goods (15.77%), petroleum products (39.5%), gems & jewellery (0.89%), organic & inorganic chemicals (33.6%) and drugs & pharmaceuticals (8.6%).

A slowdown in exports from labour-intensive sectors like garments, carpets, handicrafts and man-made textiles was primarily due to liquidity crunch as tax refunds have been getting blocked since the introduction of goods and services tax, FIEO said in a statement.

Exporters urged the government to look into the refund issue “seriously” by undertaking a drive so as to clear all cases by March 31, 2018.


PNB hit by a massive scam

The Punjab National Bank yesterday reported a scam of around Rs.11,400 crore where city based billionaire jeweller Nirav Modi allegedly acquired fraudulent letters of undertaking from the bank’s one of the branches in Mumbai to secure overseas credit from other Indian banks. The PNB has suspended 10 officers and referred the matter to the Central Bureau of Investigation.

In its regulatory filing, the PNB – India’s second-biggest state-run bank – said it detected “fraudulent and unauthorised transactions in one of its branches in Mumbai for the benefit of a few select account holders”. The bank further said that based on these transactions, other banks appeared to have advanced money to these customers abroad. While PNB did not name the other lenders, the Press Trust of India reported that Union Bank of India, Allahabad Bank, and Axis Bank are said to have offered credit based on letters of undertaking issued by PNB. A letter of undertaking is also called a ‘letter of comfort’, issued by one bank to other banks, based on which foreign branches offer credit to buyers.

Last week, PNB had filed a complaint with the CBI stating that fraudulent letters of undertaking, worth Rs.280.7 crore, were first issued on January 16. At the time, PNB had said it was digging into records to examine the magnitude of the fraud. In the complaint, PNB named three diamond firms -- Diamonds R Us, Solar Exports and Stellar Diamonds -- saying they approached it on Jan 16 with a request for buyers’ credit for making payment to overseas suppliers.

The bank sought 100% cash margins for issuing letters of undertaking for raising buyers’ credit, which was contested by the firms saying they had availed of the facility from as early as 2010. Nirav Modi, his wife Ami, brother Nishal, and Mehul Choksi are partners in Diamonds R US, Solar Exports and Stellar Diamonds, which has shops in Hong Kong, Dubai, and New York.

Among those suspended by the PNB is deputy manager Gokulnath Shetty, who was posted at PNB’s foreign exchange department in Mumbai since March 31, 2010. He had allegedly, along with another official Manoj Kharat, fraudulently issued letters of undertaking to these firms without following procedure or making entries in the banking system, avoiding detection of transactions.

The bank is assessing whether claims arising out of letters of undertaking are legally binding. A partner in a Mumbai-based auditing firm, which had earlier audited PNB’s accounts books, said the fraud must have been detected following claims by other banks on loans taken on the basis of PNB’s letters of undertaking.

“Whether letters of undertaking are binding on the bank like letter of credit or a bank guarantee is a matter of legal interpretation and that’s the reason the PNB, in its communique to the stock exchanges on Wednesday, said liability arising out of it was “contingent in nature”, the auditor said.

The fraud has come to light at a time when the Central government is scheduled to bonds worth Rs.5,473 crore as part of its plan to recapitalise nationalised banks that are facing problems due to non-performing assets and unpaid loans. A leading chartered accountant said in this case, even if 50% of the loans are not paid, the entire recapitalisation amount received from the Centre “will get wiped out”.

Hyderabad Muni-bonds

Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation has raised ₹200 crore by selling munibonds, aimed at supporting the government’s much coveted “smart city” project.

This is the second such bond sale in recent months after the Pune local body in June last year. Insurers, pension funds and banks have invested in the debt securities that earn 8.90% semi-annual interest rate with 10-year maturity.

“We will use the proceeds to strength our road projects,” said B. Janardhan Reddy, Commissioner of Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation. “Such form of fund raising will also help improve financial health as you are directly liable to investors.” Greater Hyderabad has a road network of more than 9,000 km. The local body is now busy widening the roads and building flyovers, underpasses and lane expansions. The issue, handled by SBI Capital Market, was oversubscribed more than two times, having received subscriptions of more than Rs.400 crore. Rating companies have graded it as AA, a notch lower than Pune Municipal Corporation bonds, rated AA+.

The rate offered is about 74 basis points and 134 basis points higher, respectively, than the Telengana and Andher Pradesh state bonds, going by the latest RBI auction of state development loans, a platform where state governments raise money by selling bonds.

“We are working with two more top cities whose municipal bonds are likely to hit the market within a few months,” said Ashiwani Bhati, COO, SBI Capital Market. “People are now looking for good quality and higher yields amid good liquidity.”


Bengal first to opt out of Modi’s healthcare plan

Bengal has become the first state to opt out of the ambitious National Health Protection Scheme unveiled in the Union Budget — and dubbed ‘Modicare’ — with chief minister Mamata Banerjee announcing that the state will not “waste” its hard-earned resources to contribute its share of 40% to the programme.

“The Centre has drawn up a health plan in which 40% of the fund has to come from state governments. But why should the state spend on another programme when it already has its own scheme? A state will have its own scheme if it has the resources,” the Bengal CM said, adding: “We have made hospitalisation and treatment free in Bengal. We have done it even after the Centre takes away Rs.48,000 crore a year for debt-servicing the loan liability left behind by the preceding CPM government.”

Banerjee, speaking at a public meeting in Krishnagar, pointed out that the Bengal government had already enrolled 50 lakh people under its own Swasthya Sathi programme. 

Blast kills 5 @ Cochin Shipyard

Five persons, including two fire safety officers, were killed following an explosion during routine repairs in an empty ballast tank of Sagar Bhushan, an ONGC oil rig undergoing maintenance at Cochin Shipyard Limited. Seven persons were injured in the blast, of whom one sustained over 45% burns.

The blast happened as the walls of the Pot Water Tank on starboard-1, deep in the bowels of the ship, were being reinforced — the 13-meter high walls were being attached with fresh steel plates — and it is suspected that a combination of acetylene and oxygen (oxy-fuel) gas used for cutting and welding may have caused the blast.

Shipyard sources said that there could have been a leak in one of the hoses through which gas for cutting and welding work is supplied from metal pipes, or residual gas may have been trapped inside the tank.

The deceased have been identified as Unnikrishnan CS, senior fireman at CSL, Gevin Reji, safety assistant and general workers Jayan K B, Kannan M V and Ramshad MM. Sreeroop PT, a general worker, suffered 45% burn injuries and is recuperating at a private hospital. Two more injured persons are still in hospital and four were discharged as they had minor injuries.

An ex gratia of Rs.10 lakh for the kin of the deceased has been promised by CSL. All treatment expenses of the injured will be also be met by the company as per existing policies, company officials revealed.

Sagar Bhushan arrived at Cochin Shipyard on December 7, 2017 for dry dock repairs. It was dry-docked on January 12, 2018 and was to be undocked on February 28, 2018. The work completion was scheduled by April 7, 2018.


Pune: 44 ­km riverfront development project approved

The standing committee of the Pune Municipal Corporation has given the nod to execute the river development project on the lines of the Ahmedabad project which will be executed on the 44-km river stretch that passes through the city.

Municipal commissioner Kunal Kumar said that Ahmedabad has only 11.5 km riverfront development project but Pune is planning a 44 km stretch. “Ahmedabad had spent ₹110 crore per km. However, considering Pune’s ground situation, we will need only ₹60 crore per km,” said Kumar. Kumar said that the SPV will decide the funding pattern for it. PMC is already executing this project with the help of Japan International Co-operation Agency. Under this project PMC is spending ₹1,000 crore to improve water quality and stop discharge of untreated water in the river. Under the riverfront development project, PMC is going to make the river safer and undertake beautification work.

Under this project, PMC is going to preserve all historical sites and create open spaces and gardens around the river.

Modi's Oman visit

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the last leg of his tour inked two agreements and five MoUs with Oman. At his meetings with Sultan Qaboos and his two deputy prime ministers, Sayyed Fahad and Sayyed Asad, both sides agreed to strengthen maritime security in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean regions, vital for India’s security interests and shipping lanes.”This Oman visit is one I will cherish for a long time to come,” PM Modi tweeted before concluding his two-day visit as Omani ruler took personal care to attend to him.

“We are deeply honoured and we look forward to the forthcoming 50th anniversary of your stewardship of Oman,” he said as he concluded his three-nation visit to Jordan, Palestine, the UAE and Oman. Modi, who arrived in Muscat from Dubai, led talks with Sultan Qaboos on a wide range of issues. The talks went on beyond midnight. Several aspects of existing cooperation and means of promoting good relations were discussed. Sultan Qaboos appreciated the contribution of “honest and hard working” Indian nationals in the development of Oman.

After their talks, the two sides signed seven agreements, including an MoU on legal and judicial cooperation in civil and commercial matters.

India’s Ambassador Indra Man Pandey said signing the MoUs will promote cooperation between the two friendly countries. He said Indian companies have a strong presence in Oman and have significant investments in the Omani free zones and ports in Suhar and Salalah. He said Indian investments are estimated at $1.8 billion in two projects in the Special Economic Zone in Duqm.

Before flying to New Delhi, Modi offered prayers at the 125-year-old Shiva Temple, one of the oldest in the region. He also visited the iconic Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, the main mosque in Oman.

RBI Retires Debt Recast Schemes

The Reserve Bank of India has scrapped a number of loan-restructuring programmes that banks were using to recast debt, with the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code having become the main tool to deal with defaulters. It also put strict time limits on the resolution of defaults in a notification issued.

The central bank warned lenders of monetary penalties and higher provisions if they are found to have violated the rules or ‘ever greening’ accounts to escape the stringent new norms on fixing defaults.

Almost all schemes such as corporate debt restructuring, sustainable structuring of stressed assets, strategic debt restructuring and flexible structuring of existing long term project loans have been abolished. The Joint Lenders Forum that was designed to resolve potential bad debts has also been disbanded.

“Any failure on the part of lenders in meeting the prescribed timelines or any actions by lenders with an intent to conceal the actual status of accounts or evergreen the stressed accounts, will be subjected to stringent supervisory, enforcement actions,” the RBI said in a notification. That includes but is “not limited to, higher provisioning on such accounts and monetary penalties”.

The central bank’s action comes after a series of directions to banks, telling them to invoke bankruptcy proceedings against big defaulters under the IBC enacted in 2016. The various restructuring schemes that have been in force for years continued while banks became familiar with the new law. Now that the bankruptcy process appears to be stabilising, the regulator has found it apt to scrap the schemes, which were mostly regarded as having been misused or not being sophisticated enough to deal with the bad loan burden.

RBI has also tightened the reporting of defaults to the Central Repository of Information on Large Credits whenever an account becomes a so-called special mention account, that is, when payment is overdue for more than 30 days.

Raje Woos Farmers With ₹50K Loan Relief

Whatever her merits as an economist, there is no denying that chief minister Vasundhara Raje is a seasoned politician. The last Budget of her second tenure as CM amply reflected this fact. With her eyes firmly on state assembly elections slated for later this year – and having absorbed some lessons from the drubbing her party suffered in the recently held bypolls – the CM sought to reach out to agitating farmers, unemployed youth and the disgruntled business community alike.

Raje proposed a one-time loan waiver of up to Rs.50,000 for small and marginal farmers in the state which, she said, would cost Rs.8,000 crore to the exchequer and benefit 20 lakh farmers. However, the loan waiver scheme would only benefit those who have taken loans from cooperative banks. Interestingly, only Rs.2,000 crore has been set aside in the budget for the loan waiver scheme, indicating that the burden on the state could end up being much less than the Rs.8,000 crore mentioned by the CM.

Raje also proposed to recruit 1.8 lakh people in government departments, though the Budget did not focus much on tourism and transport, two of the major avenues for providing large-scale livelihood opportunities to people in the state. “We have tried to touch every aspect of farmers’ issues and moved on to infrastructure, students, young, old and ‘divyang’ (specially-abled persons), industry, education, health and social areas. We are happy that we have still remained within the FRBM (fiscal responsibility and budget management) limits,” said Raje at a press briefing after announcing the Budget.

For healthcare – where the state finished just above the bottomplaced Uttar Pradesh in NITI Aayog’s health index announced last week – she proposed to set up a new medical college in Dholpur, 28 new primary healthcare centres and upgrade 16 PHCs to community health centres. But what could be of relief for the manpower-strapped medical administration in the state is the plan to recruit 4,514 nurses and 5,558 women health workers.

The social and community services sector received the largest outlay of 41% in the budget followed by rural development (13%), reflecting the priority of the government in reaching out to the people who matter the most in an election year.

Providing milk thrice a week in mid-day meals to constructing toilets in model schools, recruiting 77,100 new teaching staff and providing free Wi-Fi in government colleges, the chief minister made no bones about her game plan of hoping to reap a rich harvest of votes in the coming elections.

Retail inflation eases, factory output beats expectations

Retail inflation cooled in January on the back of slowing food prices, while industrial output growth in December was better than expected, due to robust manufacturing and capital goods sectors.

Inflation, as measured by the CPI, rose an annual 5.1% in January, slower than previous month’s 5.2%. Consumer food prices also cooled and increased 4.7%, lower than its 5% increase in December. Housing prices remained firm, and surged over 8% during the month.

Economist said inflation in non-food items continues to be worrisome, with clothing and footwear (4.7%), housing (8.3%), fuel (7.7%) household goods (4.9%), all being high.

Cooling food prices will have a calming effect on retail inflation.

Separate data released by the CSO showed industrial output growth rose just over 7% in December, slower than previous month’s upwardly revised of 8.4% but still higher than market expectations. The manufacturing sector rose an annual 8.4% in December, compared to 0.6% in same month last year.

Several data sets in the past few months have pointed to a revival in the manufacturing sector as it shrugs off the impact of demonetisation and rollout issues linked to the GST. Economist said the robust trend in factory output augured well for overall growth.

Of India’s forest cover....

India’s forest cover increased by 6,778 sq km over the last two years with Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Odisha and Telangana increasing their green footprint during the period though there is a worrying decline in six northeastern states, including a shrinkage of 630 sq km in the eastern Himalayas.

While overall green cover, including tree patches outside recorded forest areas, reported an incremental 1% increase (8,021 sq km) over the last assessment year in 2015, the quality of forests remain a hotly debated subject even as satellite monitoring has increased availability of data.

The increase, based on satellite data and subsequent ‘ground truthing’, has put the total forest cover at 7,08,273 sq km which is 21.54% of the country’s geographical area.

Releasing the India State of Forest Report 2017, the environment ministry looked at the overall green cover (total forest and tree cover) of 8,02,088 sq km and pitched it as a success of multiple afforestation programmes.

Though this figure puts green cover at 24.39% of India’s geographical area, this does not reflect a complete picture as it includes tree cover of 93,815 sq km, primarily computed by notional numbers. In the past, studies have argued that the problem of depletion and over-exploitation of forests has taken a toll of India’s forests and their sustainability and the problem of simplifying a maze of rules and tune conservation with the needs of local communities remains a challenge Taking into account the density (canopy covering branches and foliage formed by the crowns of trees), forest cover is divided into ‘very dense’, ‘moderately dense’ and ‘open’ forest. The ‘very dense’ forest cover has increased over the last assessment of 2015, but the ‘moderately dense’ category reported a decline — a sign which environmentalists consider quite worrying. 


States: Health Report Card

The World's Workaholics

Of Passenger Traffic Growth @ Asian Airports....

India - UAE Statement

In an oblique reference to Pakistan, India and UAE deplored efforts by countries to give religious and sectarian colour to the political issues.

In a joint statement, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Abu Dhabi crown prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan said it’s the responsibility of all states to control the so-called ‘non-state actors’ operating from their territory. Such nations should cut all support to terrorist groups, the statement said.

The two countries agreed that extremism and terrorism cannot be defeated by force only, and acknowledged the need for a holistic approach, which includes disrupting the use of web and social media for promoting extremist and violent ideologies.

Earlier in the day, PM Modi said India-UAE ties go beyond trade and both the countries will work together to fulfil the dreams of the Indian diaspora in the Gulf country.

“I assure you that we will work together to bring to reality the dreams you see, here and in India,” Modi said at the foundation stone-laying ceremony of Abu Dhabi’s first Hindu temple. He was addressing hundreds of Indians working in the UAE who had gathered at the iconic Dubai Opera House to listen to him. “Our relations with the UAE are not just that of a buyer and a seller. It has become much more,” Modi said in his speech delivered in Hindi.

He thanked the government of the UAE — home to a nearly 3.3-million strong Indian diaspora — for providing them “a home away from home”.

Modi also witnessed through videoconferencing the foundation stonelaying ceremony of the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha temple on the Abu Dhabi-Dubai highway. The groundbreaking ceremony of the first Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi was livestreamed to the Dubai Opera House.

Inviting UAE businessmen to invest in India, Modi said India’s leap in the World Bank’s ease of doing business rankings from 142 to 100 was “unprecedented, but we are not satisfied”. “We want to do better. We will do whatever it takes to make it possible,” Modi said.

In his keynote address at the World Government Summit in Dubai, Modi rued the fact that even after all the development, poverty and malnutrition have still not been eliminated. “On the other side, we are investing large portions of money, time and resources in missiles and bombs. We must use technology as a means to development, not destruction,” he told the gathering, amid applause.

He also expressed concern over attempts by some to radicalise the cyber space with the use of technology, in an apparent reference to its use by jihadists to recruit cadres.

Noting that 9.5% of the world’s population lives below the poverty line despite the tremendous population growth, he said: “Today there are great challenges — poverty, unemployment, education, housing and human catastrophes.”

India is the ‘guest country’ at the sixth edition of the World Government Summit in Dubai being attended by more than 4,000 participants from 140 countries.

“It is a matter of pride for not only me but also the 125 crore people of India that I have been called as the chief guest at the World Government Summit,” Modi said. He hailed the use of technology by the Dubai government, saying a desert has been transformed.

“It’s a miracle,” he said, describing Dubai as an example for the world. “In terms of technology, a desert has been transformed...” “Technology has empowered common man via minimum government, maximum governance. In e-governance, E stands for effective, efficient, easy, empower, and equity,” he said.

Modi shared his insights as well as developmental strategies. The PM said that everyone must follow the six ‘R’s — reduce, reuse, recycle, recover, redesign and remanufacture since this will lead to ‘Anand’.

He also listed various digital and technological advancements under his government in India such as biometric registration of people and farmers being able to sell through portals online. “India Mars Orbiter costs less per kilometre than a taxi ride — ₹7 per kilometre compared with ₹10 per kilometre.”


Modi in Palestine

Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Mahmoud Abbas on a historic visit to Palestine during which the Palestinian President sought India’s support for a multi-country mechanism to achieve a “just and desired peace”” with Israel in accordance with the two-state solution. President Abbas accorded a red carpet welcome to Modi, the first Indian Prime Minister to make an official visit to Palestine, in an official ceremony at the presidential compound, also known as Muqata’a, in Ramallah - the Palestinian seat of government.

They discussed the full range of India-Palestine ties following which the two sides signed six agreements worth around $50 million that includes setting up of a $30 million super speciality hospital in Beit Sahur. Three agreements in the education sector worth USD 5 million, one MoU for procurement of equipment and machinery for the National Printing Press and one for construction of a centre for empowering women were also signed.

Modi assured President Abbas that India is committed to the Palestinian people’s interests. “Friendship between India and Palestine has stood the test of time. The people of Palestine have shown remarkable courage in the face of several challenges. India will always support Palestine’s development journey,” Modi said, adding that India hopes for Palestine to soon become a sovereign and independent country in a peaceful environment through dialogue.


Forex Reserves @ a New High of $421 billion

India's foreign exchange reserves swelled by $4.12 billion to a new high of $421.914 billion on a healthy increase in the core currency assets and uptick in the gold stock, the Reserve Bank said.