New anti-graft law comes into force

Bribe givers can now be punished with a jail term of maximum of seven years under a new anti-corruption law that has got assent from President Ram Nath Kovind. Besides, public servants — politicians, bureaucrats and bankers among others — have also been given a ‘shield’ from prosecution in the legislation that makes it mandatory for investigating agencies such as the CBI to take prior approval from a competent authority before conducting any enquiry against them.

The president gave approval to the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Act, 1988, recently, an official order said. The central government has decided July 26, 2018, as the date on which the provisions of the Act shall come into force, it said. “No police officer shall conduct any enquiry or investigation into any offence alleged to have been committed by a public servant under this Act, where the alleged offence is relatable to any recommendation made or decision taken by such public servant in discharge of his official functions or duties, without the previous approval,” the order said.

The Act, however, states that such permission shall not be necessary for cases involving on the spot arrest of a person on the charge of accepting or attempting to accept any undue advantage for himself or for any other person. This ‘shield’ will be also applicable to retired public servants, according to the Act. Union Minister Arun Jaitley had recently said that the amendment to the Prevention of Corruption Act will ensure that bonafide actions of public servants are not called into question.

The somewhat loose language of the Act (Prevention of Corruption or PC Act, 1988) enabled investigating agencies to shed their professionalism and follow the investigator’s golden rule- ‘when in doubt, file a charge sheet’, he had said. “The result was many honest persons were harassed and eventually never convicted. Reputations were ruined and a fear amongst decision makers was created. This witnessed a tendency where civil servants would postpone decision making to their successor rather than take the risk upon themselves,” Jaitley had said.

According to the amended law, any person who gives or promises to give undue advantage to a public servant shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years or with fine or with both. Bribe givers were not covered in any of the domestic legislations to check corruption. Instances of corruption and provisions to punish the guilty are provided in the 30-year-old Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.

The new law has amended certain provisions of this Act. However, to protect persons who give bribe under coercion, the Act has provided that “the person so compelled” would have to report the matter to the law enforcement authority or investigative agency within seven days. For bribe takers, the amended law has increased the punishment to a minimum of three years of imprisonment, which may extend to seven years, besides fine. The Act has included commercial organisation into its ambit also.

“A commercial organisation shall be guilty of an offence and shall be punishable with fine if any person associated with the commercial organisation, gives or promises to give, any undue advantage to a public servant,” it said. The amended law also sets a two-year deadline to decide on corruption cases, as per the Act.

NRC draft leaves out four million people in Assam

A little over 4 million people in Assam, out of the 32.9 million in the state who applied to be included in the National Register of Citizens, have been left out of the complete draft of the contentious document released, although both the central and the state government were at pains to point out that the register is still a draft and that there is adequate recourse available to those not included.

The NRC, which was first prepared for Assam in 1951, is being updated at the insistence of the Supreme Court, although it has been a longstanding demand of most political organisations in the state. The register is aimed at distinguishing the state’s citizens from illegal immigrants, mostly from Bangladesh. The first draft of the updated NRC, released on December 31 last year, listed 19 million people.

In Delhi, the central government said there is no need to panic and that those excluded from the draft will not be declared foreigners immediately, as such powers are vested only with tribunals.

Political opponents of the BJP government in the state and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre were quick to find fault with the exercise.

Ahead of the publication of the list, there were fears that most of those excluded would be from the minority community.

Modi Congratulates Imran

Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to former Pakistani cricketer Imran Khan, whose Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf  party has emerged as the largest party on the country's general elections last week, and called for peace and development in the South Asian neighbourhood.

Imran Khan has said that he will take oath as Prime Minister on August 11.

Although PTI has emerged as the single largest party in the National Assembly, it is short of numbers to form its government independently. To meet the required number of votes, the PTI leadership has reportedly approached several parties as well as Independents.

Assam’s National Register Of Citizens

What is National Register of Citizens?

During the Census of 1951, a national citizen register was created that contained the details of every person by village. The data included name, age, father’s/husband’s name, houses or holdings belonging to them, means of livelihood and so on. These registers covered every person enumerated during the Census of 1951 and were kept in the offices of deputy commissioners and sub-divisional officers as per the Centre’s instructions issued in 1951. In the early 1960s these registers were transferred to the police.

Why was there a demand to update Assam’s NRC?

Since Independence till 1971, when Bangladesh was created, Assam witnessed large-scale migration from East Pakistan that became Bangladesh after the war. Soon after the war on March 19, 1972, a treaty for friendship, co-operation and peace was signed between India and Bangladesh. The migration of Bangladeshis into Assam continued. To bring this regular influx of immigrants to the notice of then prime minister, the All Assam Students Union submitted a memorandum to Indira Gandhi in 1980 seeking her “urgent attention” to the matter. Subsequently, Parliament enacted the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act, 1983. This Act, made applicable only to Assam, was expected to identify and deport illegal migrants in the state.

What spurred the Assam agitation? What was the outcome?

The people were not satisfied with the government’s measures and a massive statelevel student agitation started, spearheaded by All Assam Students Union and the All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad. This movement resulted in the ‘Assam Accord’ signed on August 15, 1985, between AASU, AAGSP and the central and state governments.

Who are included in the NRC?

Persons whose names appear in NRC 1951 or in any of the electoral rolls up to March 24, 1971, and their dependents are to be included in the current NRC. Persons who came to Assam on or after January 1, 1966, but before March 25, 1971, and registered themselves in keeping with the Centre’s rules for foreigners registration, and who have not been declared as illegal migrants or foreigners by the competent authority, could register. Foreigners who came to Assam on or after March 25, 1971, are to be thereafter detected and expelled as per the law. Apart from this, all Indian citizens including their children and descendants who moved to Assam post March 24, 1971, were eligible for inclusion in the updated NRC. But ‘satisfactory’ proof of residence in any part of the country (outside Assam) as on March 24, 1971, would have to be provided.

What happen to those whose name are not in the NRC 2018?

The July 30, 2018, NRC list is a draft and not the final one. People whose names are missing can still apply. The period to file such claims is from August 30 to September 28. Applicants can call toll-free numbers to enquire with their application receipt number.

Maratha quota fire rages near Pune

The industrial town of Chakan, 40 km from Pune, which houses manufacturing plants of top automobile firms was held to ransom for five hours by rampaging Maratha protesters. Ninety vehicles, many of them public transport buses, were torched, a police station attacked and 10 cops injured in the rioting that disrupted traffic on Pune-Nashik highway.

The violence came a day after a 35-year-old unemployed Aurangabad man and a Nanded villager ended their lives purportedly in support of the Marathas’quota demand.

Pramod Hore Patil, a resident of Aurangabad, had jumped in front of a train on Sunday. A graduate who’d given the MPSC exams many times, Patil put up a Facebook post at 2.30 pm supporting the Maratha stir and at 4.50 pm posted a selfie at Mukundwadi railway station. In his FB post he wrote, “Chala aaj ek Maratha jaatoy, pan kahi tari Maratha arakshanasathi kara, jai jijauaapla Pramod Patil (today one Maratha is leaving... but do something for Maratha reservation...).” He is survived by parents, wife, and two children.

In Dabhad (Nanded), Kachru Kalyane (42) hanged himself. He is survived by his mother, wife and 3 daughters. Nanded SP C Mina said, “We have found a note saying he ended his life in support of quota but we are trying to confirm its authenticity.” Tehsildar Arvind Narsikar said the family had said Kalyane had been upset for days that he worked as waiter-cum-cook at a dhaba despite being qualified. Narsikar did not know Kalyane’s qualifications.

Pune rural Dy SP and 9 other cops were hurt in Chakan. Police said rioting began after a meeting of Maratha Mukti Morcha at 11 am. SP Sandeep Patil said a probe indicated anti-social elements from neighbouring districts participated in the violence. “They had sharp weapons and fuel cans. It appears a conspiracy.” Dy SP for Khed R Pathare said, “Some trouble-makers had swords.” Cops had to do lathi charge and burst teargas shells at many spots to disperse mobs.


2022: Housing for all

 Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday said his government was bound to build a system for future generations where life was based on 5 Es – ease of living, education, employment, economy and entertainment.

He was speaking at the ‘Transforming Urban Landscape’ event that marked the third anniversary of three key government initiatives related to urban development, including Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, Atal Mission for Rejuvenation of Urban Transformation and Smart Cities Mission.

He said successive governments allowed unplanned and uncontrolled development of cities making urban India a ‘concrete jungle. “By 2022, my government will ensure that everyone has a house,” Modi said, adding: “To meet this target, the government has approved 54 lakh houses for people in cities and provided more than one crore houses to the poor in villages.”

He said the housing scheme was not merely a project to provide houses to the poor but a means of women empowerment since houses under the scheme are registered in the name of a woman member of the family or jointly.

Citing the example of people who gave up their LPG subsidy and concessional rail fare, the PM said people were always willing to contribute to the nation’s development provided the government reposed faith in them.

Lynching in cow’s name may lead to another partition : PDP MP

Senior PDP leader and Lok Sabha member from Baramulla Muzaffar Hussain Baig warned of another partition of India if lynching of Muslims over cow-smuggling allegations were not stopped .

He was addressing a rally to mark the People’s Democratic Party’s 19th foundation day. “We want to appeal to PM that killing of Muslims in the name of cow be stopped. One partition already took place in 1947, more could take place if these continue,” Baig said.

He said PDP had allied with BJP not for power but to ensure justice for Muslims. “We allied with BJP so that they can trust Muslims. We allied with them so that justice is done to Muslims and the people of Kashmir and talks with Pakistan can take place,” he said.


Sensex surges past 37,000 for first time

The sensex crossed the 37,000 mark during intraday for the first time on the back of improved earnings from listed companies. The National Stock Exchange’s benchmark Nifty rose 35 points to close at an all-time high of 11,167.

The sensex opened at 36,928 and touched an all-time high of 37,061 before closing at 36,985, a 126-point increase over its previous close.

The sensex has gained 8.6% in 2018 making it Asia Pacific’s best performing market. According to Bloomberg, the April-June earnings season has had a mixed start.Net income at 10 of the 19 NSE Nifty 50 Index companies, that have reported so far, have met or exceeded estimates.

A stronger rupee also improved sentiments in the equity market. Most emerging market currencies gained against the dollar after a trade truce between the US and Europe boosted market sentiment. The rupee rose by 13 paise to close at a fresh one-week high of 68.66 against the US dollar. Forex dealers however said that rising crude prices will continue to keep the domestic currency under pressure.

Analysts said strong liquidity in the market, following unabated buying by domestic investors and better-than-expected Q1 earnings by some index pivotals, lifted the mood. Covering-up of pending short positions on expiry of the July derivatives contracts and a strengthening rupee propped up the markets at high levels, they added.

Government clears Vodafone, Idea merger

The government has approved the merger of Vodafone India and Idea Cellular that will create the country’s largest mobile phone operator worth more than $23 billion with a 35% market share. The department of telecommunication has given its stamp of approval for the amalgamation after the two firms provided Rs.7,249 crore towards onetime spectrum charges.

The combined entity, Vodafone Idea, with nearly 430 million customers, would overtake Bharti Airtel, which currently has 344 million users. The deal also comes at a time of raging price war.

In Mumbai, Aditya Birla Group chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla confirmed getting the nod, saying it marks the beginning of an “exciting journey”. “The actual work starts now, so we will see...we are very optimistic about it,” Birla will be the non-executive chairman. 


West Bengal to be called Bangla

The West Bengal Assembly unanimously passed a resolution to change the state’s name to Bangla.

However, the change will require the approval of the Union home ministry to come into effect.

The move follows months of back-and-forth between the state and the Centre over the proposal.

The Centre had earlier turned down the state government’s proposal to change the name of West Bengal to ‘Bengal’ in English and ‘Bangla’ in Bengali. Another proposal, suggesting three names — Bangla (in Bengali), Bengal (English) and Bangal (Hindi) — was also rejected.

The state government, led by chief minster Mamata Banerjee, then decided to send another proposal to change the name to Bangla in all the three languages, state education minister Partha Chatterjee said.

On Thursday, Mamata Banerjee informed the legislators that the Centre had told the state that they can accept only one name and not three. Then the House zeroed in on Bangla as the new name.

Incidentally, the state government had decided to rename the state as ‘Bengal’ after its earlier proposal of rechristening it as ‘Paschim Bango’, made in 2011 when the Trinamool Congress took office, failed to get the Centre’s approval.

The primary reason for changing the state’s name was that whenever there was a meeting of all the states, West Bengal figured at the bottom of the list which is prepared in alphabetical order.

A change in name would ensure the state came the fourth after Arunachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Assam.

Incidentally, the name of the state capital, Calcutta — that was also the national capital till 1911 — was changed to Kolkata in January 2001 by the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee-led Left Front government.

After she assumed power in May 2011, chief minister Mamata Banerjee changed the names of a number of roads and metro stations.

Union minister Babul Supriyo, an MP from the state, also tweeted in 2016 expressing support for ‘Bangla’.

Kochi Metro snippets

Giving a much-needed boost to the Kochi Metro rail project, the state cabinet accorded approval to extend the rail network from Jawaharlal Nehru stadium station to Infopark via Kakkanad.

The approval for the 11.2 km stretch was given at the cabinet meeting held on Wednesday. The project is estimated to cost Rs.2,310 crore.

There will be 11 stations on the stretch, including JLN Stadium, Palarivattom Junction, Palarivattom Bypass, Chembumukku, Vazhakkala, Padamughal, Kunnumpuram, Kakkanad Junction, Kochi SEZ, Chittethukara, KINFRA and Infopark-1 .

“For Kakkanad extension, there is a need to acquire 6.97 acres and the process will cost approximate Rs.93.50 crore. There is also a need to acquire 8.55 acres to execute preparatory work on this route,” said KMRL spokesperson.

KMRL had engaged Rail India Technical and Economic Services to prepare technical feasibility study and detailed project report for various Metro corridors in July 2013 and they submitted the DPR for JLN stadium to Infopark under Phase-II to KMRL in February 2015.

As per the revised DPR, Kochi Metro’s ridership is expected to touch 1.04 lakh by 2023. Apart from the employees at Infopark, the Metro is expected to serve those working at Ernakulam collectorate and several other state and centre government establishments at Kakkanad. Moreover, it will also improve the transportation facilities offered to public.

Meanwhile, KMRL said that the social impact assessment study for extending the project to Kakkanad will be completed next month.

The extension of Kochi Metro to Kakkanad is expected to bring down the travel time from city. As connectivity improves, it is expected to reduce traffic congestion in the city. Widening of the Palarivattom - Kakkanad stretch of the road as part of preparatory works will also help in improving transportation.

Fundamental rights above religious practices: SC

Making it clear that fundamental rights do not offer iron cast protection for “essential and integral” religious practices, the SC observed that such traditions can be struck down as unconstitutional if they discriminate on grounds of caste or sex.

Hearing a batch of petitions challenging Sabarimala Ayappa temple’s custom of barring entry of women between 10 and 50 years, a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra said both Article 15 and Article 25(2) enjoin a duty on constitutional courts and governments to act against a religious practice discriminatory to women.

Appearing for Nair Services Society, senior advocate and former attorney general K Parasaran said the Sabarimala Temple custom does not discriminate against women as it permits entry to those below 10 years and above 50 years. “Lord Ayappa is a naishthik brahmachari. The devotees believe in the God’s pristine celibate state, that is the reason why women in the menstruating age group are not allowed entry...” he said.

The lawyer’s arguments on the nuances of Hindu religion and spirituality — touching upon verses from Ramayan and meandering through Sankaracharya, values of celibacy and sanyas, Hanuman, Yoga and yogis — succeeded in briefly halting the bench’s desire to test the temple’s customs on the constitutional touchstone. “Religious customs cannot be tested on the constitutional point of view alone. The test must take into account devotion and faith,” he said, attempting to dissuade the SC from interfering with a decades-old religious practice.

Justices Nariman and Chandrachud waited till Parasaran completed his potent religion-coated arguments to focus on Article 25(2), which provided that legislature can enact a law to provide for “social welfare and reforms or throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus”.

Both judges said the theme of Article 25 is meant to apply to all religions and when the Constitution says no religion can discriminatingly restrict women, it applies to all religions. Parasaran said Articles 15, 17 and 25 did not bar the legislature from enacting laws to bring in social reforms, but the Constitution through a fundamental right has protected customs that are essential to a religious denomination.

Justice Chandrachud said: “Even if it is part of Hindu religious custom to exclude any particular category from entering the temple, the state has been empowered (by the Constitution) to enact a law to throw open temples to all categories of persons.”

Supplementing Justice Chandrachud’s view, Justice Nariman said since untouchability and discrimination on ground of sex is prohibited under the Constitution, the Sabarimala Temple custom to bar entry of women in a certain age group could also fall foul of constitutional ethos.

Parasaran said provisions of Article 25 could not be used to alter or do away with customs associated with Hindu religion.


The first Indian PM to set foot in Rwanda

Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Rwanda on the first leg of his three-nation Africa tour as part of India’s outreach to the resource-rich continent, becoming the first Indian premier to visit the East African country.

The Prime Minister’s aircraft landed at the Kigali International Airport where he was received by President of Rwanda Paul Kagame. He was accorded a red carpet welcome at the airport.

His two-day state visit to Rwanda -- one of Africa’s fastest growing economies -- assumes significance as this is the first by an Indian premier.

Prime Minister Modi held one-on-one talks with President Kagame. He will also meet the business leaders and the Indian communities in Kigali. He will visit the Genocide Memorial and participate in an event on “Girinka” (one cow per family), a national social protection scheme of Rwanda initiated by Kagame.

A defence cooperation agreement is also expected to be signed between India and Rwanda during the visit.

India will also be opening a mission in Rwanda very soon.

An important element of the programme would be the prime minister’s visit to Rweru Model Village where he will gift 200 cows as a contribution from India to the ‘Girinka’ scheme of Rwanda.

Under ‘Girinka’, a social protection scheme of the Rwandan government personally overseen by President Kagame, poorest families are gifted dairy cows by the government and the first female calf born to the cow is gifted to the neighbour, thus promoting brotherhood and solidarity.

The cows to be gifted by India would be sourced from Rawanda.

Modi’s visit comes days after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s trip to Rwanda.

Modi would proceed to Uganda for a two-day visit, the first bilateral visit by an Indian prime minister since 1997.

The President of Rwanda is the current Chair of the African Union.

Modi will attend the 10th edition of the BRICS Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa during which the grouping’s leaders are expected to deliberate on global hot-spot issues, international peace and security, global governance and trade issues among others.


A new revenue stream for dairy farmers

It’s not just milk, cow urine, too, is bringing in a revenue stream for dairy farmers in Rajasthan now. The demand is such that the farmers are selling urine of high breed cows, such as Gir and Tharparkar, at Rs.15-Rs.30 per litre in the wholesale market, while a litre of cow milk fetches them a price between Rs.22 and Rs.25.

Kailesh Gujjar, from Jaipur, has started selling cow urine to people who are into organic farming. He says his earnings has increased by at least 30% after he started selling cow urine, apart from milk. Cow urine is used as an alternative to pesticides by organic farmers. People use cow urine for medicinal purposes and also in rituals.


Some GST relief!

The common man had much reason to cheer, with the Goods and Services Tax Council approving reduction in the rate of a number of items, including refrigerators, washing machines, video games, coolers, leather goods, paints and varnishes from 28% to 18%.

Businesses will see a significant reduction in compliance burden with the introduction of a simple monthly returns. Small businesses with turnover up to ₹5 crore can file quarterly returns. There will not be any tax on sanitary napkins, rakhis and fortified milk, while hotel rooms will be charged tax on actual tariff and not printed rate, which will simplify the regime and lower tax on hotel rooms that were so far charged tax on the published rates.

Televisions up to 25 inches will be taxed at 18%, against 28% earlier, along with perfumes, cosmetics, shavers, water heaters, vacuum cleaners and kitchen appliances. Footwear up to ₹1,000 will now be taxed at 5%. Earlier, this limit was ₹500. Many handicraft items will now be taxed at 12%, down from 18% earlier. The reduction will be applicable from July 27. The sharp cut in tax means the 28% rate is largely now on sin goods and the luxury segment, with the exception of cement. Ethanol supplied to oil companies will be taxed at 5%. E-books will be taxed at 5%, against 18% earlier.

The 28th meeting of the GST Council was chaired by Finance Minister Piyush Goyal. The council also approved changes to the laws to implement its decisions, including an earlier approved increase in composition limit to ₹1.5 crore from ₹1 crore. 


Collegium maintains stand on elevation of Joseph to SC

The Supreme Court collegium has reiterated its recommendation to elevate Uttarakhand high court chief justice K.M Joseph to the apex court, in a move that threatens to widen the rift between the executive and the judiciary.

The collegium has also recommended the appointment of chief justice of Madras high court Indira Banerjee and chief justice of Odisha high court Vineet Saran as Supreme Court judges.

The collegium, consisting of the five senior most judges of the Supreme Court— Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur, Kurian Joseph and A.K. Sikri—in its resolution of 16 July said it has “carefully considered the observations made by the law minister in his letters dated 26 April and 30 April 2018 on reconsideration of Justice Joseph’s name for elevation” to the top court.

“The collegium, on due consideration of all aspects mentioned in the aforesaid two letters, resolves to reiterate the aforesaid recommendation, especially since nothing adverse regarding the suitability of K.M. Joseph has been pointed out in the aforesaid letters,” it said.

In April this year, the government had rejected the recommendation by the collegium to elevate Joseph as a judge of the apex court, while accepting a second recommendation to promote senior advocate Indu Malhotra.

The Centre had said that the elevation of Joseph “at this stage” did not “seem to be appropriate” as it would be unfair to other more senior, suitable and deserving chief justices and senior puisne judges of various high courts.

Another reason that was cited was that Kerala high court—which is Joseph’s parent high court— is already adequately represented in the apex court as compared to other high courts. Non-representation of Scheduled Castes and Tribes in the Supreme Court was given as another reason.

In April 2016, a bench headed by Joseph had set aside the Centre’s decision to impose President’s rule in Uttarakhand while reviving the Congress government headed by Harish Rawat.

The No Confidence Motion : Theatrics on Live TV

After a raging 12-hour debate, the Narendra Modi Government won the no-confidence motion by 325 votes against 126 votes in the Lok Sabha. 126 MPs voted for the motion. The day-long session in the House saw the government and the opposition trade charges and a moment of drama when Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, after a blistering speech, walked over to hug the Prime Minister.

The figure of 325 was a little surprising especially after the 18-member Shiv Sena abstained from voting. A simple back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that the ruling party, which initially had the support of 314 MPs, pulled some rabbits out of its hat at the last minute.

BJP sources said that the defeating no-trust vote by a comfortable margin had become possible only after party chief Amit Shah took an active interest in getting extra support from the 37 AIADMK MPs.

Modi’s heaping praise on the TRS leadership also could have affected the votes of their 11 MPs in their favour.

The smooth sail also comes after Modi, in a point-by-point rebuttal to Gandhi’s attack earlier in the day, ripped into the Opposition by mocking at Gandhi’s hug, saying the Congress chief was actually dreaming to be the next PM, so he had asked him to get up from his seat.

He said the opposition was enacting a drama and coming together “to remove one Modi”.

The Prime Minister said the no confidence motion has exposed how the opposition is hungry for power.

Earlier, while addressing the Lok Sabha during the no-confidence motion debate, Gandhi had capped off his blistering attack by hugging the prime minister, taking everyone present by surprise.

After his no-holds-barred attack, he walked across the green-carpeted Well of House and shook Modi’s hands. The PM, however, ignored his call to stand. Nevertheless, the Congress chief embraced him even as he remained seated.

Modi initially looked nonplussed but recovered quickly and called Gandhi back and patted him on the back.

In a move that dominated news cycle all day, Gandhi then proceeded to deliver the knockout punch – a wink.

Gandhi presented it as his show of love for the BJP despite its ‘abuses’, including calling him ‘pappu’.

Speaker Sumitra Mahajan pulled him up for both the hug and the wink, saying he was disrespecting the PM’s chair.“The PM was on his seat which commands respect. Why will I oppose hugging? That wink wasn’t proper.”

Though Rahul’s peace gesture initially caught the treasury side off-guard, the BJP decided to go on the offensive and moved a privilege motion against the Congress leader for putting forth ‘misleading’ the Parliament and ‘violating House rules’. BJP MP Prahlad Joshi submitted a notice for privilege against Gandhi in the Lok Sabha.

Gandhi had alleged that the French president had clearly conveyed to him that there was no problem in sharing details relating to the Rafale deal worth Rs.58,000 crore. Countering his allegations, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said all charges are ‘absolutely wrong’, adding that the initial agreement for the deal was signed when the UPA was in power in 2008.

Sitharaman’s statement was endorse by France after a French Foreign Affairs spokesman said in a statement that, “France and India concluded in 2008 a security agreement, which legally binds the two states to protect the classified information provided by the partner. These provisions naturally apply to the IGA (Inter-government agreement) concluded on September 23, 2016 on the acquisition of 36 Rafale aircraft and their weapons.”


ADB raises inflation forecast for India

The Asian Development Bank has raised its inflation projection for India to 5% from 4.6% for this financial year, blaming higher crude oil prices, depreciation of the Indian rupee and increase in minimum support prices.

In its supplement to the Asian Development Outlook released in April, ADB said that the upward revision “responds to higher oil prices, significant depreciation of the Indian rupee in the past few months, and generous increases announced on July 4 in minimum support prices for summer crops, by which the government intervenes in markets to protect agricultural producers from any sharp fall in farm prices.”

The International Monetary Fund had on Monday lowered its growth projection for India by 10 basis points to 7.3% citing higher oil prices and speedier interest rate increases by RBI due to higher than expected inflation.

However, ADB said India is expected to achieve its earlier growth forecasts of 7.3% in 2018-19 and 7.6% in 2019-20 as bank-strengthening bolsters private investment and benefits kick in from a new goods and services tax, while maintaining that increase in oil prices pose a downside risk to growth. In 2017-18, the Indian economy grew at 6.7%.

ADB said growth gained momentum in Q4 of 2017-18 as GDP expansion reached 7.7%, the highest rate since Q1 of 2016-17. It said in the first half of FY2019, the growth rate is expected to benefit from a low base.

In June, India’s wholesale price inflation shot up sharply to a five-year high of 5.77% while retail inflation quickened to a five month high at 5%. Many analysts now do not rule out RBI going for another round of rate hike next month in its policy review on August 1.

RBI to issue new Rs 100 notes

The Reserve Bank of India will shortly issue new Rs.100 denomination banknotes in the Mahatma Gandhi (new) series.

The new denomination will have the motif of ‘Rani ki vav’ – a stepwell located on the banks of Saraswati river in Gujarat’s Patan – on the reverse, depicting the country’s cultural heritage. The base colour of the note is lavender. The note has other designs and geometric patterns aligning with the overall colour scheme on both sides.

The new banknote will also be smaller in dimensions compared to the currently circulated notes.

All Rs.100 banknotes issued by the Reserve Bank in the earlier series will also continue to be legal tender.


Domestic Air Traffic Rises 18.4% in June

Domestic airlines registered 18.4% growth in passengers flown during June compared to that a year ago. Indian carriers carried 11.3 million passengers during the month, up from 9.6 million in June 2017, which is a traditionally strong month for airlines.

Gurugram-based SpiceJet continued to maintain its pole position in terms of load factor by flying its planes 93.3% full, followed by GoAir, which flew its planes with 88.6%. IndiGo was a close third by flying its planes with 88.3% seats full.

In terms of operating flights on time, IndiGo topped the list by operating 84.1% of its flights on time closely followed by SpiceJet that operated 81.2% flights on time while Jet Airways operated 78.8% of its flight on time. The national carrier Air India was the laggard with only 68.5% of its flights on time.

IndiGo remained the market leader in terms of passenger volumes accounting for 41.3% share of the passengers in the month of June. Jet Airways was second in terms of market share by flying 15% of the passengers flown during the month. India’s national carrier Air India, was the third largest carrier in terms of market share, accounting for 12.5% of the market.


WPI @ 5.8%

Wholesale inflation soared to an over four year high in June on the back of costly vegetables, fuel and manufactured products’ prices, prompting economists to say that the RBI will most likely raise interest rates when it reviews its monetary policy next month. Wholesale price index rose an annual 5.8% in June, higher than 4.4% in the previous month.

This was a 54-month high number for the WPI, since it touched 5.9% in December 2013. Food inflation rose to 1.8% in June, higher than 1.6% in the previous month.

The government also revised upwards the annual rate of inflation for April to 3.6% compared to 3.2% reported earlier.

The RBI largely focuses on the retail inflation or consumer inflation numbers, but the spurt in WPI inflation highlights the price pressure in the economy. Latest data released last week showed retail inflation rose to a five-month high of 5% in June.

The WPI data showed vegetable prices rose an annual 8% in June, higher than 2.5% in the previous month. Potato prices increased 99% in June.

Economists said they expect several factors to influence the inflation trajectory in the months ahead but expect the central bank to raise interest rates, keeping in view the increasing price pressure.


Of India’s 4G Speed....

4G is the talk of the town, but buffering is still a reality in India. The average 4G LTE data speed has remained static for more than a year – at 6.1 Mbps – which is almost a third of the global average of about 17 Mbps, making it among the slowest countries on this metric.

Even as the big telcos step up 4G deployment, brace for 5G and talk of offering fibre-based home broadband at starting speeds of 100 Mbps soon, data junkies have little reason to cheer.

India’s 4G download speeds are even slower than that of neighbours Sri Lanka (13.95 Mbps), Pakistan (13.56 Mbps) and Myanmar (15.56 Mbps), according to UK speed tester OpenSignal. They are much lower than developed markets such as the US (16.31 Mbps), UK (23.11 Mbps) and Japan (25.39 Mbps).

US data speed tester Ookla has ranked India 109th – almost at the bottom of its list of 124 nations – on overall mobile internet speeds, with an average download speed of 9.12 Mbps, which is way below the 23.54 Mbps global average. Ookla’s mobile internet speed test results for any country include measurements of various networks – 2G, 3G and 4G.

OpenSignal analyst Peter Boyland said that the comparatively slower speeds in India are due to the “astronomical growth in terms of smartphone penetration in India, with millions of new users connecting to its mobile networks every month.”

Ookla spokesman Adriane Blum said another possible reason behind India’s slower mobile internet speeds is the challenge of serving an extremely dense population.

“With more people using the internet at any given time, network congestion can certainly be a factor,” Blum wrote.

Experts said a country’s 4G speeds also hinge on how much spectrum is devoted to LTE, whether it has adopted new 4G technologies like LTE Advanced, how densely networks are built and congestion levels.

“The spectrum per operator in India is low compared to other countries, which affects 4G network speeds,” said Rajan Mathews, director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India. He added that “spectrum per subscriber also remained comparatively low, due to high population.”

The COAI represents top telcos such as Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India, Idea Cellular and Reliance Jio Infocomm.

Mathews also blamed low 4G data speeds on “the frequent shutting down of internet across the country by law enforcement agencies, challenges in securing permissions to install vital telecom infrastructure and undue tower shutdowns by municipal bodies.”

However, ex-Bharti Airtel CEO Sanjay Kapoor said the current pricing and generous quantum of data on packs offered by telcos, amid continuing price wars, are “probably a lot more than what present networks are designed to handle, which can spoil customer 4G experience in terms of speeds and pervasiveness.”

Another possible reason, he said, is that barring Jio, which is the sole pure 4G player, big telcos continue to run multiple mobile technologies. Accordingly, most networks, he said, “are not offering contiguous 4G coverage, which is why, mobile signals can drop off from 4G to 3G to 2G to fill the 4G gaps that, in turn, can impact speeds and experience.”

Some analysts partly ascribed the phenomenon to higher latency levels of Indian telcos. Latency is a measure of the delay that users experience when their computers/smartphones try to access internet servers.

“In India, Vodafone had the lowest latency in our measurements, with a response time of 66.4 milliseconds, but that’s still relatively high as most operators around the world tend to fall within a range of 30-50 milliseconds,” said an OpenSignal spokesperson.

Almost Every Adult Has an Aadhaar Now

Those with Aadhaar numbers in India has crossed the landmark 2011 census figure. Nearly 92% of the population and almost every adult now has a unique identification number, if one goes by projected population figures as in 2018.

The 2011 census had put India’s population at 121.08 crore, while figures as on July 15 show 121.75 crore have enroled for Aadhaar. The Unique Identification Authority of India puts projected population of India as on date at about 133.5 crore.

“As per our calculations, almost every adult now has an Aadhaar – there are just about 35 lakh adults who have not enroled. This figure too is mostly in states like Assam and Meghalaya, where Aadhaar work is not in full flow,” said a government official.

“With enrolment nearing saturation in adults, focus has gradually shifted to child enrolment (those below the age of 18) and managing updates to ensure currency of the Aadhaar database,” noted a recent UIDAI document outlining the new vision.

ISRO successfully tests new rocket engine

Isro’s rocket engine development programme crossed a significant milestone when it successfully tested a new high-thrust version of the Vikas engine. According to Isro, the engine qualified through a ground test which lasted for 195 seconds. The test was carried out at the organisation’s Propulsion Complex at Mahendragiri in Tamil Nadu.

“All the propulsion parameters during the tests were deemed satisfactory and closely matched the predications,’’ Isro stated.

The ground test validated the performance adequacy of Vikas for its use in the upcoming second developmental flight of the Gslv-Mark 3 mission.

This engine will improve the payload capability of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, the Geo Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle and Gslv Mark 3 launch vehicles.

The Vikas engine is a liquid rocket engine powering the second stage of the Pslv, the second stage and the four strap-on stages of the Gslv and the twin engine core liquid of the Gslv Mark 3.


India to be $10 Trn Economy by 2030: Garg

The Indian economy is at a “take off” stage and is expected to be the world’s third largest by 2030 with GDP worth $10 trillion, Economic Affairs Secretary Subhash Chandra Garg has said. “Good days are ahead and lot of good work is happening in the economy. The economy is on a stage of take off where Indians can legitimately hold their heads high. Eight per cent growth is very much achievable. If we keep that, we can look forward to be an Indian economy of $10 trillion which would be the third largest economy in the world,” Garg said.

Indian cities worst managed

South Asian countries have among the worst managed cities and this, among other things, prevents their full integration with the global economy, Junaid Ahmad, country director-India for the World Bank said.

He said these countries should empower their mayors and make them accountable. “India and South Asia have the worst managed cities in the world because you cannot say who is responsible for the city,” Ahmad said, addressing a gathering of the Pune International Centre at the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics.

He said there are two ways to empower a mayor. “The Western way is where mayors are elected, given requisite powers and held accountable for everything that happens in the city. The other one is the Chinese way, where city managers are appointed,” he added.

“In South Asia, you have complete fragmentation of governance of city systems. This is not allowing cities to be managed as a unit,” he said.

Ahmad also said the labour force participation of women in India and in other South Asian countries is dramatically low.


Mukesh Ambani is Asia’s richest

Mukesh Ambani overtook Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma to become Asia’s richest person as he positions Reliance Industries to disrupt the e-commerce space.

The chairman of the country’s refining-to-telecom conglomerate, Ambani, was estimated to be worth $44.3 billion on Friday with Reliance Industries rising 1.6% to a record Rs.1,100, according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Ma’s wealth stood at $44 billion at close of trade on Thursday in the US, where the company is listed. Later on Friday, Ma had regained his lead.

Ambani has added $4 billion to his fortune this year as Reliance doubled its petrochemicals capacity and investors cheered the success of his disruptive telecom upstart Reliance Jio Infocomm. Then earlier this month, the tycoon unveiled plans to leverage his 215 million telecom subscribers to expand his e-commerce offerings, taking on the likes of Amazon and Walmart. Alibaba Group’s Ma has lost $1.4 billion in 2018.

“We need to broaden our horizon of expectation with Reliance,” said Nitin Tiwari, a Mumbai-based analyst at Antique Stock Broking. “They are in for something really transformational.” Ambani, best known for executing large-scale projects, spearheaded construction of the world’s largest refining complex in Jamnagar, owns the most-widespread mobile data network globally and claims to have India’s biggest as well as most-profitable retail firm.

Trade deficit hits 43-month high

Exports grew by 18% to nearly $28 billion in June on account of healthy growth in sectors such as petroleum and chemicals but trade deficit widened to a 43-month high of nearly $17 billion due to costlier crude oil imports. Imports rose by 21.3% to $44.3 billion during the month.

The trade deficit in June 2018 is the highest since November 2014 when the gap was $16.9 billion. The deficit in June 2017 stood at close to $13 billion. During April-June this fiscal, exports rose by 14.2% to $82.5 billion. Exports of petroleum products, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, gems and jewellery, and engineering goods registered a positive growth. However, shipments of textiles, leather, marine products, poultry, cashew, rice and coffee recorded negative growth.

Imports during the first quarter of the fiscal increased by 13.5% to $127.4 billion. Trade deficit during the period widened to nearly $45 billion as against $40 billion in April-June 2017. Oil imports during the month were up by 57% to $12.7 billion. These imports during April-June 2018-19 were valued at $34.6 billion which was 49.4% higher as compared to the same period last year. 

India to grow over 7%: OECD

India’s economic growth is poised to rise to 7.4% in 2018 and 7.5% in 2019 as the economy has been able to navigate through growth obstacles due to demonetisation and impact of GST rollout, a report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development showed.

China’s GDP growth is projected to moderate to 6.7% in 2018 and to 6.4% in 2019, the report said. The forecast for China and India is in line with other multilateral agencies such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, which see a growth pick-up for the Asia’s third largest economy.

“China’s growth rate surpassed the government’s target, while India managed to navigate quite well the growth obstacles tied to lagged demonetisation effects and the sales tax reforms,” OECD’s update to the economic outlook for Southeast Asia, China and India 2018 said.

It said private spending should benefit from rising credit growth. Improvements in revenue intake should also help the government expand spending coverage. But it cautioned that the issues related to banks’ non-performing assets will require careful attention.

India will go ahead with Russian missile deal

India will go ahead with the Rs.39,000-crore acquisition of five advanced S-400 Triumf air defence missile systems from Russia despite pressure from the US, Union defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman said.

India has reached the “conclusive stage” in the procurement of the S-400 systems after negotiating with Russia over the last few years, much before the US law called CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) came into force to deter countries from buying Russian weapon systems.

“I don’t see it as choosing between the US and Russia…We have told the US Congressional delegation (that visited India recently) that we have had relations with Russia, including defence procurements, which have endured for years,” Sitharaman said, dismissing CAATSA as “a US law and not a UN law”.

India had kicked off plans to acquire the S-400 missile systems, which can detect, track and destroy hostile strategic bombers, stealth fighters, missiles and drones at a range of up to 400 km and altitude of 30 km. CAATSA will figure in the inaugural ‘two-plus-two’ dialogue between Sitharaman and foreign minister Sushma Swaraj with their American counterparts, Jim Mattis and Mike Pompeo, now slated for early-September.

India and the US will also discuss bilateral military pacts like Communications, Compatibility and Security Arrangement and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation. But Sitharaman said “final positions are yet to be arrived” in discussions over COMCASA, which the US says will allow India more access to advanced military technologies.


RIL Joins TCS in $100-b Mcap Club

Reliance Industries shares hit an all-time high, breaching the $100-billion mark for market capitalisation, a feat achieved by the company only once before in 2007. RIL joins Tata Consultancy Services in the $100-billion market cap club, leading the leader-board for India’s most-valued companies.

At the company’s 41st annual general meeting on July 5, Chairman Mukesh Ambani said that RIL aimed to more than double its current size by 2025, as its customer centric business expands to match the traditional revenue stream.

On Thursday, shares of RIL rose 6% to touch an all-time high of ₹1,098 on the Bombay Stock Exchange. The shares closed at ₹1,082.20, making its market capitalisation stand close to ₹7 lakh crore ($103 billion). Prior to this, RIL broke into the $100-billion club once, in October 2007.

SC: Sec 377 hearing

The Supreme Court stopped short of making an affirmative declaration to end discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals and insisted that all discrimination against them would end once it struck down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which makes all homosexual behaviour a criminal offence.

The court stuck to its position that it would only deal with the constitutional validity of Section 377. It said it would be enough to ensure that the community leads a life of dignity it deserved, gets equal opportunities to work and also have intimate relationships without being harassed and demeaned.

A five-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra Justices RF Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra, is dealing with a host of petitions which have said that Section 377 violated a host of rights of LGBTs, including the right to lead a dignified life and other consequential rights such as privacy. The court has already clarified that it hopes the community would be able to enjoy all other consequential rights available to a citizen such as the right to cohabit etc., once the offence excludes all consensual adult sexual behavior.

The court has, however, drawn a line at debating the broader civil rights of the community such as marriage, adoption, maintenance etc. The CJI also refused to examine the implications of Section 377 on the community’s right to conscience under Article 25.

On Wednesday, the court had heard the community’s grievance about not being able to get together to agitate their rights democratically, not being able to float companies for common good and not being able to contest polls. When arguments resumed on Thursday, senior advocate CU Singh, appearing for mental health professionals, argued that the stress and strain of being constantly treated like criminals plays havoc with the community’s mental health.

Sensex Scales New Peak

The Sensex closed at record levels and the Nifty reclaimed 11,000 for the first time after five months as stock benchmarks extended their unforeseen bull run, overcoming pessimism over a weak rupee, higher crude prices, global trade dispute and rising US interest rates.

Continued purchases in select bluechips like Reliance Industries, HDFC and Hindustan Unilever, which have been the backbone of the recent strength in Sensex and Nifty, kept the momentum going even as market participants persisted with their bearish outlook on equities in the foreseeable future.

The Sensex ended up 282.48 points, or 0.8%, at 36,548.41 after touching an all-time high of 36,699.53. The Nifty ended up 74.90 points, or 0.7%, at 11,023.20. The NSE index is just a little over 1% away from its lifetime high of 11,171.55 which was hit on January 29. The Sensex and Nifty have gained 13% and 11%, respectively, from their 2018 lows in late March, making them the best performing emerging market since January.

Reliance Industries, which re-entered the $100-billion market capitalisation club, led gains, ending up 4.4% at ₹1,082.20.

Double Whammy

Inflation — measured by the consumer price index — rose by an annual 5% in June, higher than previous month’s 4.9%. Fuel prices increased by 7.1%, while fruit prices shot up by 10.1%. The RBI had flagged inflationary pressures in its last policy review when it raised rates by 25 basis points.

Separate data showed industrial output growth slowed to a seven-month low of 3.2% in May, raising fresh concerns about health of the crucial sector. Capital goods, a key gauge of industrial activity, rose 7.6% during the month compared with a contraction of 1.6% in the year-ago period. Consumer durables grew 4.3% in May compared with 0.6% expansion in May 2017.


WhatsApp spreads awareness to spot Fake News

India is the Sixth largest economy

Updated World Bank figures for 2017 show that India is now the world's sixth-biggest economy, having muscled past France, which was pushed to the seventh spot. India's gross domestic product stood at $2.597 trillion at the end of 2017, compared to $2.582 trillion for France.

The US continued to be the world's biggest economy, followed by China, Japan and Germany. Britain remained the world's fifth-biggest economy with a GDP of $2.622 trillion at the end of 2017.

Backed by government spending and investment, India's economy grew at a seven-quarter high of 7.7 per cent in the January-March quarter of the financial year 2018. But this did not prevent GDP growth, at 6.7 per cent in 2017-18, from falling to its lowest rate in four years of the Narendra Modi government.

The finance ministry said India's economy would clock 7.5 per cent growth in 2018-19, the upper range of growth projected by the Economic Survey.

India is expected to grow at 7.4 per cent in 2018 and 7.8 per cent in 2019, leaving its nearest rival China behind respectively at 6.6 and 6.4 per cent in the two years, the International Monetary Fund  said in April this year.

Last year in December, the World Economic League Table 2018 released by the Centre for Economics and Business Research forecast that India would "leapfrog" Britain and France to become the world's fifth largest economy in 2018, ahead of an oncoming major global economic shift towards Asia.

Motown : June 2018

Sales of passenger vehicles grew by 38% in June (year-on-year) on a lower base even as actual volumes were the lowest in the last six months. Deliveries to dealerships were uncharacteristically low in June last year as companies held back stocks in view of a cut in manufacturing duty in the GST era that kicked off from July 2017.

According to numbers released by Siam, passenger vehicles sales in June stood at 2.7 lakh units against 2 lakh units in the same month last year. The growth was led by high deliveries from companies such as Maruti Suzuki, Hyundai, Tata Motors, Toyota and Honda. However, the combined volumes for passenger vehicles were not inspiring in June and were the lowest since January 2018 when the dealer deliveries were at 2.8 lakh units.

Industry analysts attributed the subdued volumes to the “monsoon phenomenon” where demand is usually slower.

Global Innovation Rankings

India has been consistently climbing up the Global Innovation Index since 2015, but it still has to improve on many indicators to catch up with China and others leading the table in the 126-nations list.

The 2018 rankings, released in New York, put India at 57th position and China at 17th as compared to their last year’s rankings of 60th and 22nd, respectively, providing an insight into their growing innovation capabilities and results.

The rankings are published by the World Intellectual Property Organisation — a specialised agency of the United Nations — in association with Cornell University and graduate business school INSEAD. The Confederation of Indian Industry is one of the knowledge partners which assists the GII team in bringing out the rankings. India has maintained its perch at the top in the central and south Asia region, consistently moving up from 81st rank in 2015 to 57th this year.

The GII report shows India has been improving its ranking on certain parameters which are flagged as the country’s strengths. It includes India’s human capital (graduates in science & engineering), growth rate of GDP per worker, exports of information and communication technology and services, productivity growth and creative goods exports, among others.

However, the country fared badly on other indicators, including political stability and safety, ease of starting business, overall education and environmental performance.

Maharashtra slips to 13 in Ease of doing Business

Andhra Pradesh topped the list of states on ease-of-doing-business ranking for the second year in a row, narrowly beating its neighbour and bitter rival Telangana in the closely watched contest. Haryana came in at number 3 while Maharashtra slipped three places to 13 in the latest rankings released by the government.

Unlike the last two editions, this year, the department of industrial policy and promotion teamed up with the World Bank to factor in user feedback while ranking states in addition to the reforms undertaken by individual states. In the past, rankings were based on reforms undertaken by the states and no feedback was taken, as is the case with the global ranking of countries.

Business Reforms Action Plan, or ease-of-doing-business rankings, as they are popularly called, has been triggered by a sharp improvement in India’s global rankings and the stiff target set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to move the country to the top 50.

Most states have been taking the rankings seriously and see their performance as a key factor in helping companies select their investment destination. The intense competition can be gauged from the fact that the difference in score between Andhra Pradesh (98.4%) and seventh placed Madhya Pradesh (97.3%) was just over a percentage point. At least two states — Telangana and Jharkhand — had undertaken all the reforms, while Andhra, Haryana and Gujarat scored 99.73%.

What made the difference was the feedback from businesses, lawyers, architects and electrical contractors. While 50,000 were contacted, 5,000 responded, a majority of which were businesses. Industrial policy and promotion secretary Ramesh Abhishek said that next year the entire evaluation would be done based on feedback from the industry.

Over the last three years, the reform plan has expanded from 285 to 372 action points and the states and Union territories undertook reforms to ease their regulations and systems in areas such as labour, environmental clearances, single-window system, construction permits, contract enforcement, registering property and inspections, DIPP said. They have also enacted the Public Service Delivery Guarantee Act to enforce the deadlines on registrations and approvals.

While there was stiff competition for the top slots, there were at least three — Arunachal Pradesh Meghalaya and Lakshadweep — which did not undertake even a single reform. Mizoram, Andaman, Manipur and Sikkim undertook less than 4% of the reforms that were listed out by DIPP at the start of the year.

“Several of them attended the video conference sessions but complained of lack of capacity,” said an official. Apart from the feedback-driven ranking system, this year the Centre also decided to pair states, typically a better performer with last year’s laggard or a smaller state, as part of a handholding initiative to improve the overall business environment.


IISc, 2 IITs among 6 in govt’s ‘institutes of eminence’ list

The centre announced the names of six “institutes of eminence”, three each from the public and private sectors, as part of its plans to create world-class universities to enhance research and improve global rankings of Indian educational institutions.

The human resource development ministry granted the “institutes of eminence” status to India’s top three institutions, the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, and the Indian Institutes of Technology in Delhi and Mumbai, besides privately-held BITS Pilani, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, and a yet-to-be launched greenfield university project of the Reliance Foundation.

The list marks Reliance’s big foray into higher education through its philanthropic arm. The university, named Jio Institute, will come up with an investment of ₹9,500 crore—a shade over 25% of the central government’s higher education budget for 2018-19. Reliance Industries, which has presence across oil and gas, petrochemicals, textiles, telecom and retail is expected to make a big statement with the university.

It wants to have sizable presence in humanities, medical science, engineering, law and performing arts, research collaboration with top global universities, and start-up research package, besides faculty from 500 global universities.

“Jio Institute’s vision (is) to be the youngest global top 100 universities,” said the Reliance’s plan document released by the HRD ministry. “Admission to the university will be merit-based,” it added.

Reliance Foundation has reportedly acquired a land parcel in Maharashtra. However, the location of the proposed university was not revealed.

The move assumes significance as India seeks to enhance its performance and global rankings with none of its top schools finding a place in the top 100 universities rankings in the world.

According to the latest world university ranking by UK-based agency Quacquarelli Symonds, IIT Bombay has a global ranking of 162, the best among Indian institutions, followed by IISc (170) and IIT Delhi (172). Other institutes of repute in the list released on Monday was ranked way below, with Manipal in the 751-800 band, and BITS Pilani in the 801-1,000 grouping.

The institutes of eminence will have three key benefits—complete freedom from regulatory interference in terms of academic and administrative requirements, added funds for the state-run institutions, and more collaboration opportunities with top global universities. The IITs in Delhi and Mumbai and IISc will each get ₹1,000 crore additional grants over a five-year period.

South Korea to put India ties on par with China, US, Japan

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said he was committed to raising South Korea’s relations with India to the level of those with China, Japan, Russia and the US, as he sought to expand cooperation in areas such as shipbuilding, aerospace, manufacture of medical devices and food processing.

Moon, who was on his first visit to India since being elected president last year, sought an expansion of trade and economic ties with India. He described the opportunities between the two countries as “boundless” in a speech to Indian and South Korean businessmen just hours before inaugurating an expansion of Samsung Electronics’ cellphone manufacturing unit in Uttar Pradesh jointly with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Korean company recently announced it was investing $760 million in the expansion, making the unit the largest in the world, according to Indian government officials. “I am committed to raise relations with India to the level of those with our four major powers around the Korean peninsula,” Moon said, adding that this commitment was embodied in his new southern policy outlined last year.

A report in The Korea Times on Sunday said Moon’s visit to India and later to Singapore are aimed at advancing his “New Southern Policy” with the two countries seen as key elements of the initiative to diversify Seoul’s diplomatic and economic strategies.

India, the report said, was emerging as a key economic partner for Korea, with its huge market whose importance would only increase as South Korea tried to reduce its reliance in its two biggest trading partners, China and the US. South Korean investments in India amount to $4.64 billion between 2000-2017 with Kia Motors announcing a $1.1 billion investment to set up a manufacturing unit in Andhra Pradesh.

“India is witnessing dynamic development,” Moon said, adding that his country would contribute actively to the “Make in India” policy aimed at boosting Indian manufacturing.

The more than 500 Korean companies operating in India were mostly concentrating in the automobiles, electronics and textiles “but going forward, we will expand cooperation to various areas, including shipbuilding, medical devices and food processing,” Moon said.

The South Korean president noted India’s plans to make smart cities and industrial corridors in the country and said his country wanted to participate in these projects given its experience in building such cities back home. “Currently our two countries are discussing building the Nagpur-Mumbai freeway and the Kalyan, Dombivili and Bandra smart cities. The Korean government will tap into the Korea-India financing package worth $10 billion to provide active funding for these infrastructure projects,” he said.

“I have high expectations from the aerospace sector as well... If our two countries can pool our efforts to succeed in lunar exploration, we will bring much hopes and dreams to our people,” he said.

Trade minister Suresh Prabhu invited Korean investment in areas such as manufacturing, services, agriculture and food processing, stating that India was looking at setting up a special economic zone for Korean companies alone.

“Unlike some other countries in the world which like Korean money but not Koreans, we like Koreans more than Korean money,” Prabhu said in an apparent reference to uneasy relations between South Korea and some of its immediate neighbours.

Prabhu and his South Korean counterpart Kim Hyun-Chong signed the joint statement on the Early Harvest package—issues where a breakthrough was achieved—in the India-Korea Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement upgradation.

China launches 2 ‘spy’ satellites for Pakistan

China successfully launched two remote sensing satellites for its “all-weather” ally Pakistan, which will also help the two countries monitor progress as they build the strategic $50 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

The remote-sensing satellites are also used for reconnaissance and surveillance and thus these two can be classified as ‘spy satellites’. Besides monitoring the economic corridor, Pakistan can use them to keep an eye on arc-rival India and its military activties along the border.

The launch of the two satellites marks yet another space cooperation between China and Pakistan since the launch of PAKSAT-1R, a communication satellite, in August 2011. The satellites — PRSS-1 and PakTES-1A — were launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest China at 11.56 am using a Long March-2C rocket, state-run Xinhua news agency reported. The PRSS-1 is China’s first optical remote sensing satellite sold to Pakistan. It is the 17th satellite developed by the China Academy of Space Technology for an overseas buyer, it said. A scientific experiment satellite, PakTES-1A, developed by engineers of the Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission, was sent into orbit using the same rocket.

The PRSS-1 will be used for land and resources surveying, monitoring of natural disasters, agriculture research, urban construction and providing remote sensing information for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor under the BRI of the Chinese government.

The satellite, which has a life of seven years, is equipped with two panchromatic / multispectral cameras, with a resolution up to a metre and a coverage range of 60 km. The satellites can turn at wide angles to enable cameras to cover a wider range. The PRSS-1 has an information security design, and the data can be encrypted.


Global Firepower Index 2018

32L trees to guard Delhi from dust storms

Delhi’s forest department is planning to build a “wall” of trees that, it claims, will guard against dust and pollution from neighbouring states. Officials said they were planning to conduct this year’s monsoon plantation in a way that in a few years when the saplings grow into trees, they would act like a natural wall.

Recently, Union and state development agencies in the capital had informed the lieutenant governor that they would plant about 28 lakh saplings of native trees. The figure has now been raised to over 32 lakh. These will encircle the borders to shield the city from frequent dusty winds coming from Rajasthan. A Delhi forest department official said that “this time, our focus will be on the outskirts like Asola, Tughlakabad, Ayanagar, Narela, Sawda Ghevra and Yamuna floodplain. We will plant both native shrubs and saplings and our intention is also to replenish the ridge so that it acts as a barrier”.

The natural barrier is to come up all along Delhi border with Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, while also encompassing the Aravali and the Yamuna forests areas. The scheme has two objectives — absorption of particulate matter by trees and shielding Delhi from dust storms.

Pilkhan, goolar, mango, mahua and other native tress have been chosen for this scheme. Peepul, neem, amla (Indian gooseberry), jamun, amaltas, bahera and a few other species will also be planted. The minute dust particles and other pollutants of air easily get deposited on the leaves of evergreen trees and are subsequently washed down to the ground.

Samsung sets up ‘world’s largest’ mobile unit in Noida

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and South Korean President Moon Jae-in will inaugurate Samsung’s expanded factory in Noida Sector 81, which is being billed as the world’s largest mobile phone production unit in terms of the number of devices rolled out every month.

The move to double the production capacity to 1.2 crore mobile phones a month comes at a time smartphone users in the country are likely to touch the 340-million mark by the end of this year. Studies have described India as the second-largest smartphone market in the world, only behind China.

Experts have said Samsung’s decision to revamp the Noida unit could not have come at a better time. India’s smartphone consumer base, driven by its young demography, has been expanding rapidly over the recent years. By 2022, India’s smartphone users are expected to shoot up to a whopping 442 million.

Sources said Samsung had pumped in Rs.4,915 crore for expanding the unit, from where it plans to not only cater to the Indian market but also export phones to Europe, West Asia and Africa.

Set up in 1995, the Samsung unit in Noida had started with producing television sets and later added mobile phones to its repertoire.


SC to begin fresh hearing: LGBTQ rights

A rainbow of hope emerged afresh for the LGBTQ community as the Supreme Court set up a five-judge bench to hear from Tuesday a batch of new petitions seeking constitutional protection to the gay community’s sexual orientation through decriminalisation of Section 377 of IPC.

Chief Justice Dipak Misra will head the bench, which will include Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra, to hear the writ petition filed two years ago by dancer N S Johar, journalist Sunil Mehra, chef Ritu Dalmia, hotelier Aman Nath and business executive Ayesha Kapur.

Naz Foundation was the first to file a petition in December, 2001 in the Delhi high court, which had on July 2, 2009 decriminalised Section 377 by ruling that no adult would be prosecuted for indulging in consensual sex in private with another adult irrespective of gender. Tuesday’s hearing holds out hope to the LGBT community as the bench includes Justice Chandrachud, who held the fundamental nature of right to privacy and said sexual orientation is part of this right.


Karnataka Farm Loan Waiver

Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy kept his poll promise and waived off farm loans totalling ₹34,000 crore. Presenting the JDS-Congress government’s maiden budget in the new assembly, the CM who holds the finance portfolio increased taxes on petrol, diesel, power and liquor to mop up additional revenue needed for the farm-loan waiver.

Farmers who have taken agricultural loan up to ₹2 lakh and defaulted till December 31 will benefit from the measure. Those who repaid loans will be given ₹25,000 or the entire repaid amount, whichever is lower. The families of government officials, cooperative sector and farmers who have paid incometax for the last three years will not be given the waiver.

Though the loan waiver may bring relief to farmers, the increase of taxes on petrol and diesel by ₹1.14 and ₹1.12 per litre, respectively, is unlikely to go down well with the public. The tax on electricity too has been raised from 6% to 9%. Within hours of Kumaraswamy completing his budget speech, his predecessor Siddaramaiah endorsed the proposals. However, alliance partner Congress will find it difficult to defend the hike in fuel prices after criticising the Union government for not controlling the surging oil prices. The budget also proposed a 4% hike in additional excise duty on liquor across all 18 slabs, besides raising motor vehicles tax for private service vehicles by 50%.

The chief minister said to facilitate fresh loans to farmers, clearance certificates would be issued after waiving arrears of defaulters. He insisted that despite the waiver, his government was committed to fiscal discipline and will ensure there was no resource crunch for development projects. Kumaraswamy said his government would continue with all programmes Siddaramaiah launched. 

RIL to double its size in 7 yrs: Ambani

Reliance Industries — the country’s second largest company by market value — plans to double its size in the next seven years, tracking the economy’s growth story.

“India’s prosperity and Reliance’s progress have been closely intertwined in every phase of our journey so far. As India starts on its high growth journey to double the size of its economy by 2025, I assure you that the size of Reliance will more than double in the same period,” said RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani.

The $66-billion RIL clocked a net profit of nearly $6 billion in fiscal 2018 with its refining and petrochemicals businesses accounting for the bulk of it. But with the company increasing its investments in consumer-facing businesses like telecom and retail, their contribution to RIL’s overall earnings is expected to rise significantly in the future. The energy giant has invested over Rs 2.50 lakh crore in the telecom business till date.

“Reliance has reached an inflection point. As the golden decade rolls on, our consumer businesses will contribute nearly as much to the overall earnings of the company as our energy and petrochemicals businesses,” said Ambani. RIL’s consumer businesses — Jio and Reliance Retail — together accounted for 13% of the company’s consolidated operating profit of about $10 billion in fiscal 2018, up from a mere 2% in fiscal 2017.

Ambani had earlier said that the company will look to unlock value in the consumer businesses when they attain a certain level, but hadn’t spelled out any specifics. Bloomberg had reported that Jio could go for an initial public offering.

With RIL investing significantly in building a digital infrastructure system, Jio has enabled it to strategically reinvent itself as a technology platform company, said Ambani. “Digital platforms have become the new-age factories and service providers.”


Services PMI : June 2018

Buoyed by a surge in new business orders, India's services industry expanded at its quickest pace in a year in June.

Data released earlier had showed an equally strong performance by the manufacturing sector, suggesting a broad-based recovery in the economy.

The Nikkei/IHS Markit Services Purchasing Managers' Index climbed to 52.6 last month — its highest since June 2017 — from 49.6 in May and above the 50-mark reading that separates growth from contraction.

The recovery in services firms' activity, along with the robust pace of manufacturing growth reported on Monday, lifted the composite PMI to 53.3, its highest level since October 2016. The strong improvement in demand encouraged businesses to hire at a faster pace last month than in May.

The index is based on a survey conducted among purchasing executives at more than 400 companies that are divided into six categories: consumer services, transport & storage, information & communication, financial & insurance, real estate and business services.

The Indian economy expanded 7.7% in the January-March quarter. Growth this fiscal year is expected to strengthen to around 7.4% from 6.7% last year.

Overall input costs rose at the strongest rate since July 2014, the survey showed, and amid a weak rupee and higher oil prices, inflation may remain elevated.

Retail inflation in May rose to a four-month high of 4.87%, justifying further monetary tightening.

The Reserve Bank of India increased key lending rate last month after four years, as crude oil prices surged and the bank raised its inflation projection. It now expects inflation at 4.8-4.9% in the first half of the financial year and 4.7% in the second, compared with earlier estimates of 4.7-5.1% and 4.4%, respectively.

This raised concerns over growth prospects and optimism faded among purchasing managers, according to the survey, with sub-indexes measuring business expectations and future output dipping to an eight-month low in June.

Despite an improvement in demand conditions, business sentiment across the services sector dropped to the lowest since last October. While optimism was relatively weak, firms still anticipate activity to rise in the year ahead.

LG Bound by Advice of Council of Ministers: Supreme Court

The Arvind Kejriwal government received a potent power booster as the Supreme Court ruled that although Delhi isn’t a full-fledged state, the lieutenant governor is bound by the advice of the council of ministers, except for a few subject matters such as land, police and public order reserved for the Centre.

In a unanimous ruling, a five-member Constitution bench led by the chief justice of India Dipak Misra overturned the August 2016 judgment of the Delhi high court, which had ruled that since Delhi was a Union territory all powers lay with the central government, not the elected Delhi government. The high court judgment had prompted the Kejriwal government to appeal to the apex court.

The Supreme Court judgment capped a relentless tussle for powers of governance between the Kejriwalled Aam Aadmi Party government and the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre apparently in Delhi government’s favour, even as both sides sought to claim victory. “The lieutenant governor... is bound by the aid and advice of his council of ministers in matters for which the Delhi legislative assembly has legislative powers,” the court ruled.

The only exception to this rule, it said, was a proviso to Article 239-AA, which allowed the LG to refer to the President any issue on which there was a difference of opinion with the council of ministers. In such a case, the court said, the LG would be bound by the President’s decision.

Rebuffing Kejriwal government’s demand of full statehood for Delhi, the court said that “by no stretch of imagination, the NCT (national capital territory) of Delhi can be accorded the status of a state under our present constitutional scheme”.

However, it said that “the status of the LG of Delhi is not that of a governor… rather he remains an administrator in a limited sense, working with the designation of the LG”.

As per the judgment, the state cabinet will have to routinely convey all decisions taken by it to the LG. In accordance with the 1991 Act and Rules of Business of Delhi assembly, the LG has to be apprised of every decision taken by the council of ministers. But the process of “consultation” with the LG does not mean that the cabinet can take decisions only with the LG’s “concurrence” or “permission”, the court ruled.

The Constitution bench said that “requiring prior concurrence… would absolutely negate the ideals of representative governance and democracy conceived for the NCT”. “Any view contrary would not be in consonance with the intention of the Parliament to treat Delhi government as a representative form of government,” it said in the judgment.

The LG will enjoy the power to differ with the council of ministers, the court said, but it cannot be difference for the sake of difference. It cannot be mechanical or in a routine matter. It has to have a rationale and has to be on a fundamental issue.

Animals have similar rights as humans: HC

The Uttarakhand high court ruled that “all members of the animal kingdom, including birds and aquatic life, have similar rights as humans”. It also said that animals across the state should be treated as “legal entities having a distinct persona with corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person.”

The division bench of Justices further named “citizens throughout Uttarakhand persons in loco parentis as the human face for the welfare/protection of the animals.”

The court also directed the state government to constitute societies for prevention of cruelty to animals in each district and to appoint infirmaries for the treatment and care of animals. The HC, in its 57-page order, banned use of “spike stick or bit, harness or yoke with spikes, knobs or projections or any other sharp tackle or equipment” throughout the state.”

The court also directed the state government to “enforce the provisions of the Prevention and Control of Infectious and Contagious Diseases in Animals Act, 2009, to prevent the animals from infectious and contagious diseases” and to appoint veterinary officers.

The judges cited in their order several articles as well as Isha Upanishad which they said dwell on the principle of equality of all species. They also cited an SC judgment which had held that an animal, too, has honour and dignity which it cannot be arbitrarily deprived of and its rights and privacy have to be respected and protected.

The HC was hearing a PIL which sought to restrict the movement of horse carts/ tongas between Nepal and India stating cruelty on horses and mules used in the carts.


Lynching Unacceptable : SC

The Supreme Court called the latest instance of lynching over rumours of child-lifting “unacceptable” and said it would frame guidelines to prevent such incidents and force governments that fail to stop them to pay compensation.

The guidelines could come out in two weeks, Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said, while dealing with a petition on cow vigilantism. The three-judge bench’s attention had been drawn to the latest instance in which a mob had gone after alleged child lifters and it said lynching was not acceptable in a civilised society.

“… people can’t take the law into their own hands. These kind of incidents cannot occur. They are unacceptable…by any norm,” said Misra, sitting alongside justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud. The CJI declared at another point that no motive can “justify such mob violence”. “It is the duty of the court to prevent such incidents and the obligation of the states to prevent it,” the CJI remarked.

He was hearing a petition filed by activist Tehseen Poonawala against cow vigilantism. The petition was argued by senior advocates Indira Jaising and Colin Gonsalves. The bench indicated it would not restrict its intervention to cow vigilantism and would cover all mob violence.

The bench insisted that state governments, charged with the constitutional duty of maintaining law and order, must be held responsible for failing to check the occurrence of such incidents.

The court hinted its norms could include payment of compensation for victims of all mob violence. “For controlling law and order, each state will be held responsible,” the CJI said.

The CJI’s remarks came after the central government said it had done its part by issuing advisories to state governments to prevent such incidents from happening.

“We have taken cognisance of such incidents and issued advisories,” additional solicitor general PS Narasimha told the court. “If states are not implementing this, take states to task.” The CJI said that states have to be held to constitutional parameters of governance. He was open to a suggestion to incorporate guidelines laid down in the honour-killing case.

These guidelines include tasking senior police officials with identifying problem areas and taking preventive steps to ensure that these type of incidents do not recur. Jaising complained that despite a court direction earlier to appoint nodal officers in each district to prevent such crimes, more such instances had been reported from different parts of the country.

Things have gone way beyond law and order, she said. There seems to a pattern and motive to this targeted violence, she argued.

Jaising said since most of these incidents took place along highways and railway tracks, the Centre could not wash its hands of the matter. She suggested more highway patrolling in vulnerable, violence prone areas.