Southwest monsoon may end in below-normal zone

The southwest monsoon, which began to withdraw from the country on Saturday, starting from west Rajasthan, is likely to end in the ‘below-normal’ zone this year with a deficit of 9.4% so far.

The India Meteorological Department, meanwhile, released its forecast for the northeast monsoon that brings rain to south India during the October-December period, saying rainfall is likely to be ‘normal’ in the region and higher than normal in Tamil Nadu.

While the monsoon season rainfall was below expectations, sowing of kharif crops was not majorly affected because of fairly good rain distribution. The acreage under kharif this year is 1.9% less than last year’s and around 0.7% lower than normal.

IMD has in association with IIT Gandhinagar, come out with a map that shows soil moisture content across the country as a result of this year’s rains. The map shows the soil moisture content in most parts of the country is extremely good.

Despite the over 9% monsoon deficit, water reservoir status, too, is positive this year. The June-September monsoon season is categorised as normal when rains are 96 to 104% of the long period average. Rainfall in the 90 to 96% range is termed ‘below normal’ while rains less than 90% of LPA is termed deficient, popularly referred to as a drought year.

IMD also declared the beginning of monsoon’s withdrawal, a month later than the normal date of September 1. It expects monsoon to withdraw from more areas of north India during the next two-three days.


SC throws open Sabarimala temple to all women

In a path-breaking verdict to ensure gender equality at religious places, the Supreme Court opened the doors of Sabarimala Temple in Kerala to women devotees of all age groups and bulldozed the age-old gender barrier of not allowing women in the mentruating age group of 10-50 inside the temple to worship Lord Ayyappa.

A five-judge Constitution bench, by a majority of 4-1, held that the devotees of Lord Ayyappa were “exclusively Hindus” and do not constitute a separate religious denomination and the practice of exclusion of women of the age group of 10 to 50 years, followed at the Sabarimala Temple, could not be regarded as an essential part of religion.

Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud were unanimous in their view that the practice of barring women devotees in the 10-50 years’ age group was illegal, unconstitutional and arbitrary. But Justice Indu Malhotra, the lone woman judge on the bench, penned a dissenting verdict holding that worshippers of Lord Ayyappa belonged to a separate religious denomination and the ban on entry of women in the temple was an essential part of their religion.

Referring to restrictions on women belonging to the reproductive age of 10-50 years, the apex court said any subversion and repression of women under the garb of biological or physiological factors (like menstruation) could not be given the seal of legitimacy, and any discrimination against women because of their biological characteristics was not only “unfounded, indefensible and implausible, but can also never pass the muster of constitutionality”.

“Any relationship with the Creator is a transcendental one crossing all socially created artificial barriers and not a negotiated relationship bound by terms and conditions. Such a relationship and expression of devotion cannot be circumscribed by dogmatic notions of biological or physiological factors arising out of rigid socio-cultural attitudes which do not meet the constitutionally prescribed tests. Patriarchy in religion cannot be permitted to trump the element of pure devotion borne out of faith and the freedom to practise and profess one’s religion,” Chief Justice Dipak Mishra, who wrote the judgement on behalf of himself and Justice Khanwilkar, said.

The verdict, another boost for gender equality, came a day after the apex court delivered its verdict decriminalising adultery.

The CJI said there is no place for discrimination in the matter of faith and religion but religious practices are sometimes seen as perpetuating patriarchy, thereby negating the basic tenets of faith and of gender equality, which must be discouraged. He said the notions of public order, morality and health cannot be used as “colourable device” to restrict the freedom to freely practise religion and discriminate against women by denying them their legal right to enter and offer prayers and that public morality must yield to constitutional morality.

“The attribute of devotion to divinity cannot be subjected to the rigidity and stereotypes of gender. The dualism that persists in religion by glorifying and venerating women as goddesses on one hand and by imposing rigorous sanctions on the other hand in matters of devotion has to be abandoned. Such a dualistic approach and an entrenched mindset results in indignity to women and degradation of their status. The society has to undergo a perceptual shift from being the propagator of hegemonic patriarchal notions of demanding more exacting standards of purity and chastity solely from women to be the cultivator of equality where the woman is in no way considered frailer, lesser or inferior to man,” CJI said.

“In no scenario, it can be said that exclusion of women of any age group could be regarded as an essential practice of Hindu religion and on the contrary, it is an essential part of the Hindu religion to allow Hindu women to enter into a temple as devotees and followers of Hindu religion and offer their prayers to the deity. In the absence of any scriptural or textual evidence, we cannot accord to the exclusionary practice followed at the Sabarimala Temple the status of an essential practice of Hindu religion,” he said.


PM Modi, Macron bag top UN award for solar alliance

PM Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron have been declared joint winners of this year’s ‘Champions of the Earth’ award — UN’s highest environmental honour. UN secretary general Antonio Guterres will present the award to Modi on October 3.

UN Environment Programme announced Modi and Macron as winners for “their pioneering work in championing the International Solar Alliance” and promoting new areas of cooperation on environmental action.India’s Cochin international airport — the world’s first fully solar-powered airport — was also selected for the award for leadership in use of sustainable energy.

“I accept, with all humility the ‘Champions of the Earth Award’ and thank the UN for conferring this honour. This award is not for an individual but for the Indian tradition and value systems of living in harmony with nature and protecting the environment,” tweeted Modi. Referring to selection of Cochin airport, he said, “The airport is an inspiration for several other airports in how we can leverage the power of solar energy for a better tomorrow.” Congratulating Macron, he tweeted, “The honour is a fitting recognition for his work towards creating a cleaner and greener tomorrow. His role in strengthening the International Solar Alliance is also commendable.”

The UN chief will be in India to attend the first assembly of the ISA which will be inaugurated here by Modi on October 2. UNEP also noted PM’s “unprecedented pledge” to eliminate all single-use plastic (items such as carry bags, straws and water bottles) in India by 2022.

SC strikes down Sec 497

The Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional the 158-year-old Section 497 of IPC that punished a married man for adultery if he had sexual relations with a married woman “without the consent or connivance of her husband”, but said adultery could continue to be a ground for divorce.

“When parties to a marriage lose their moral commitment to the relationship, it creates a dent in the marriage and it will depend upon the parties how to deal with the situation. Some may exonerate and live together and some may seek divorce... A punishment is unlikely to establish commitment,” a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra said, rebutting the argument that Section 497 worked as a deterrent against spouses going astray.

While saying that adultery could continue to be a ground aggrieved spouses to seek divorce, the court said if one of the spouses committed suicide because of the adulterous nature of her/his partner, then the culprit could be proceeded against for the criminal offence of abetting suicide.

The SC tested Section 497 on the touchstone of constitutional provisions dealing with right to equality and guarantees against arbitrariness and discrimination, with Justices Chandrachud and Malhotra using privacy, individual’s autonomy and personal choice as yardsticks of legality.

The decision rejected a conception of women as actors with no agency of their own—mere “chattel”. Thursday’s decision puts India on a par with many European countries, China, Japan, Australia and Brazil where adultery is not a criminal offence.

CJI Misra, writing the judgment for himself and Justice Khanwilkar, said Section 497 violated right to equality as it punished only the married man while exonerating the ‘partner in crime’, the married woman, who could not be punished for being the abettor.

The section also treated the woman, with whom the married man had sexual intercourse, as a chattel of her husband as it was not an offence of adultery if the latter consented or connived for his wife’s adulterous relationship, the CJI said. Refusing to buy the Centre’s argument to uphold validity of the provision on the ground that it was to protect the sanctity of marriage, the CJI said the section did not punish married men for adultery if they had sexual relationship outside the marriage with unmarried women, divorcees or widows.

Moreover, the provision specifying that only the husband of the married woman could be the aggrieved person to file complaint of adultery against the adulterous married man made the SC say, “The offence and the deeming definition of an aggrieved person, as we find, is absolutely and manifestly arbitrary as it does not even appear to be rational and it can be stated with emphasis that it confers a licence on the husband to deal with life as he likes which is extremely excessive and disproportionate.”

“That women are treated as subordinate to men inasmuch as it lays down that there is connivance or consent of the man, there is no offence. This treats the woman as a chattel. It treats her as the property of man and totally subservient to the will of the master. It is a reflection of the social dominance that was prevalent when the penal provision was drafted (in 1860),” the CJI said.

Hoping to bring about a change in the societal mindset, CJI Misra said, “We are of the view that there cannot be a patriarchal monarchy over the daughter or, for that matter, husband’s monarchy over wife. That apart, there cannot be a community exposition of masculine dominance.”

Justice Nariman rescinded Section 497 because it said it was not adultery if the married woman’s husband approved her adulterous relationship with another married man. “This can only be on the paternalistic notion of a woman being likened to chattel, for if one is to use the chattel or is licensed to use the chattel by the ‘licensor’, namely the husband, no offence is committed,” he said.

“This archaic law has long outlived its purpose and does not square with today’s constitutional morality, in that the very object with which it was made has since become manifestly arbitrary, having lost its rationale long ago and having become in today’s day utterly irrational. On this basis alone, the law deserves to be struck down,” he added.

Justice Chandrachud took a broader view and said, “This court has recognised sexual privacy as a natural right, protected under the Constitution. To shackle the sexual freedom of a woman and allow the criminalisation of consensual relationships is denial of this right. Section 497 denudes a married woman of her agency and identity, employing force of law to preserve a patriarchal conception of marriage which is at odds with constitutional morality.” He added that marriage could not force an individual to cede her sexual autonomy to others.


Centre raises import duty

The government raised import duty on 19 items, including air conditioners, refrigerators, small washing machines, speakers, footwear, radial car tyres, several gems and jewellery and household items. The duty hike is expected to make these items costlier.

Even air travel may get more expensive as the government has raised import duty on aviation fuel to 5%. So far, fuel could be imported duty free.

Higher duties are part of the government’s plan to reduce non-essential imports, lower the trade deficit and support the rupee, which has depreciated 14% in 2018. While the decision was taken at a meeting convened by PM Modi a few weeks ago, the revenue department announced the tariff hike which will be effective from Wednesday midnight.

The value of these imports was estimated at around Rs.86,000 crore.

Companies said they are looking to raise prices of white goods because some of the compressors will get more expensive.

High-end speakers from companies such as Bose and Sony, too, may cost more. “We are working out price modalities in line with the new duty structure,” an official of one company said, asking not to be identified.

In recent months the government has increased import duty on several products to make it more attractive to make in India and provide a thrust to local manufacturing.

Economists, however, said the latest move may have a limited impact on the widening current account deficit, the gap between exports and imports and other inflows, such as remittances and investment. 

Aadhaar stays

The Supreme Court upheld the validity of the Aadhaar Act, terming it a beneficial legislation, but weeded out provisions which had potential for misuse. Aadhaar will no longer be mandatory for opening bank accounts, buying mobile phone SIM cards, getting school admissions, or for appearing in board or common entrance examinations.

The SC also ruled that Aadhaar would be voluntary for those who do not intend to receive any subsidy, benefit or services under welfare schemes, and should only be given to Indian nationals. However, those filing income tax returns must link their Aadhaar with their PAN (Permanent Account Number).

A five-judge Constitution bench of CJI Dipak Misra and Justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan upheld the NDA government’s Aadhaar legislation by a 4-1 majority, but said its insistence on linkage to bank accounts and mobile phones was disproportionate and every citizen could not be suspected of acquiring black money.

“The portion of Section 57 of Aadhaar Act which enables corporate bodies and individuals to seek authentication is held to be unconstitutional,” the majority verdict said, agreeing with the petitioners that such a provision could lead to sharing of protected data and privacy of citizens with private bodies.

The court, while taking note of apprehensions expressed about Aadhaar’s potential misuse, rebuffed their opposition to passage of the Aadhaar Bill as a money bill and said it was perfectly justified.

The opposition could have stalled the bill in the Rajya Sabha. However, the Lok Sabha Speaker upheld categorisation of the Aadhaar legislation as a money bill — which reduced the Upper House’s role to rendering a mere advisory on corrections required in the bill.

Of the 1,448-page judgment, Justice Sikri wrote the majority judgment for himself, CJI Misra and Justice Khanwilkar, running into 567 pages. Justice Bhushan penned a separate but almost concurrent 400-page opinion.

Delivering a powerful 481-page dissent judgment, Justice Chandrachud said categorisation of an ordinary Aadhaar bill as money bill was wrong and its passage without voting in Rajya Sabha rendered it unconstitutional. Justice Chandrachud also raised serious issues about Aadhaar having the potential to turn India into a surveillance state.

The scathing observations, however, paled before the pat the NDA government got, with the majority judgment endorsing the idea of Aadhaar as advantageous to the underprivileged millions. “We have come to the conclusion that Aadhaar Act is a beneficial legislation which is aimed at empowering millions of people in the country,” the court said. However, it added, “We are of the view that there is a need for a proper legislative mechanism for data protection.”

It also turned down the contention of the petitioners, 31 in all, that Aadhaar was a means to convert India into a surveillance state. “The architecture of Aadhaar as well as the provisions of the Aadhaar Act do not tend to create a surveillance state. This is ensured by the manner in which the Aadhaar project operates,” Justice Sikri said and detailed Aadhaar’s embedded security and safety measures narrated by UIDAI CEO Ajay Bhushan Pandey.

It also did not find evidence to suggest, as argued by petitioners, that Aadhaar was meant to create 360 degree profiles of individuals. “We are of the view that it is very difficult to create profile of a person simply on the basis of biometric and demographic information. Insofar as authentication is concerned, the Centre and the UIDAI rightly pointed out that there are sufficient safeguard mechanisms,” the SC said.

However, the bench struck down Regulation 27(1) of Aadhaar which provided that authentication records were to be stored for five years. Drastically reducing this, the SC said storing Aadhaar authentication records for six months would serve the purpose.

The SC also struck down Section 33(1) of Aadhaar which permitted a joint secretary level officer to permit release of biometric and demographic data of a person from UIDAI for the purpose of national security. The court said non-involvement of a judicial officer, preferably a high court judge, in adjudicating the need for such data release to investigating agencies and the absence of chance to the aggrieved person to challenge such a decision made the provision bad in law.

Striking down parts of Section 57 of the Aadhaar law, the court said, “We have impressed upon the government to bring out a robust data protection regime in the form of an enactment (legislation) on the basis of Justice B N Srikrishna Committee report with necessary modifications thereto as may be deemed appropriate.”

On whether Aadhaar violated privacy, the majority took a broader view of what constituted privacy and extended it to cover dignity. It said Aadhaar, backed by a law, was to ensure human dignity through socio-economic uplift of marginalised sections by ensuring that subsidies, benefits and services reached the intended beneficiaries through proper identification. “Their entitlement to such socio-economic benefits is also a fundamental right,” the court said.

However, it clarified that non-possession of Aadhaar could not be a ground to deny benefits to the needy under a social welfare scheme provided s/he furnished other identification documents.


India can Triple Trade with South Asia: World Bank

Deeper regional trade and connectivity has the potential to more than triple India’s trade with its south Asian neighbours, the World Bank said in a report. In the report titled ‘A Glass Half Full: The Promise of Regional Trade in South Asia’, the bank estimates India’s potential trade in goods with south Asia at $62 billion, against its actual trade of $19 billion, which is a mere 3% of its global trade and about $43 billion below its potential.

“Deeper regional trade and connectivity can reduce the isolation of northeast India, give Indian firms better access to markets in south Asia and east Asia, and allow it to substitute fossil fuels with cleaner hydropower from Nepal and Bhutan,” the bank said in the report.

Trade between India and Pakistan is valued at $2 billion but can reach $37 billion without trade barriers, according to the report.

“Given the context of South Asia, an incremental approach toward deeper trade cooperation can be very powerful, and the region has witnessed examples of this in the form of India-Sri Lanka air services liberalisation and India-Bangladesh border haats,” said Sanjay Kathuria, lead author of the report and lead economist at World Bank.

Citing the setting up of borders haats by India and Bangladesh to enable small-volume trading among local communities and liberalisation of India-Sri Lanka air services, the report showed that India can play a critical role in regional cooperation for mutual economic and welfare gain

Oil at Near 4-Year High

India should brace for even higher petrol and diesel rates as it faces bullish global factors that have driven crude prices close to a four-year high above $80 a barrel. On top of that, the rupee has depreciated sharply this year, impacting fuel rates as India imports 80% of its oil needs. Analysts are already talking of oil at $100 next quarter.

OPEC has refused to pump more oil, ignoring US President Trump’s pressure This has driven crude oil above $80 a barrel, and petrol over ₹90/litre in Mumbai.

Commodity traders Trafigura & Mercuria predict crude soaring to $100 by December. Crude oil has risen by 30% since mid-February, when the current bull run began The depreciating rupee has made India’s problems worse In rupee terms, the landed price of crude has risen nearly 50% since mid-February With Iran facing US sanctions, there will be a squeeze on global oil supply Indian consumers will therefore need to pay much more for petrol and diesel,unless the government cuts taxes on fuels State refiners are considering cutting inventory to reduce imports for some time A crude price surge will hurt global demand, which can lead to a price crash like in 2008 when it tumbled from $147 to below $40

India's Boom Towns

Delhi metro area (capital and its neighbouring towns) outperformed other Indian metro areas on the two strongest magnets of migration—job opportunities and standard of living. During 2014-16 Delhi created 6.21 lakh jobs and added $500 (PPP) to its per capita income, which was highest among all metros in the country. In growth rate of income Hyderabad did better and in growth rate of jobs Surat beat others. Greater Mumbai was the fourth overall best performer. Global top 3 metros are Dublin, San Jose and Chengdu (China)


Petrol crosses 90 mark in Mumbai

The price of petrol touched Rs.90.8 per litre in Mumbai today, recording a hike of 11 paisa since Friday.

Other metros recorded a similar hike as petrol prices were recorded at Rs.82.72 per litre in Delhi, Rs.84.54 per litre in Kolkata, and Rs.85.99 per litre in Chennai.

Fuel prices had shot up on Friday as well with the cost touching Rs.82.32 per litre in Delhi while diesel rates were at Rs.73.87 per litre. In Mumbai, petrol was being retailed at Rs.89.69 per litre and diesel at Rs.78.42 per litre.

Gangtok gets an airport

Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Pakyong airport in Sikkim, putting the Himalayan state on the aviation map. Located 30 km from Gangtok, Pakyong will become the country’s 100th operational airport when the first scheduled flight lands there on October 4.

The 201-acre picturesque airport is located at an altitude of 4,500 ft above sea level and has a 1,700-metre tabletop runway certified for operations of small fixed wing aircraft like ATR, CRJ and Bombardiers. It was constructed at a cost of Rs.605 crore after shaving off a mountain top to build the runway.

“With Pakyong, we have hit a century. In 67 years since Independence, we had just 65 airports, less than one airport per year. In the past four years, we have added 35 new airports at the rate of nine airports a year,” the PM said.

For Sikkim’s citizens and tourists to the state, the 75-minute flight from Kolkata will cut down commute time and expense. Till now, one had to take a 10-and-a-half hour train journey to New Jalpaiguri or an hour’s flight to Bagdogra in West Bengal and then drive down National Highway 10 for four hours to reach Gangtok.

The airport also frees the state from the vulnerability of blockades during statehood agitations in Darjeeling.

Britannia is 100

PM launches world’s largest state-funded health scheme

Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the world’s largest state-funded health insurance scheme, Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana, which aims to provide free secondary and tertiary care to 50 crore people across the country.

Calling the scheme a “game changer”, Modi said the plan will change the healthcare scenario in India and will form a model for other countries to follow and replicate. “A government scheme on such a grand scale is not being carried out anywhere in the world. Even the last person standing in the queue should get better health facility. More than 50 crore people will get insurance up to Rs.5 lakh. This is the world’s first such scheme,” Modi said while addressing an enthusiastic crowd in Ranchi’s Prabhat Tara Maidan.

“Some call it Ayushman Bharat, some call it Modicare, but it is a scheme to serve the poor,” the PM said, evoking folk hero Birsa Munda.

Officials said Jharkhand was chosen to launch the scheme as it was one of the most backward states with poor health infrastructure. Around 57 lakh families in Jharkhand will be covered under the scheme. The Centre had identified 25 lakh families in Jharkhand but the CM added another 32 lakh and agreed to bear the additional cost of Rs.540 crore. The Jharkhand government has signed an MoU with National Insurance Company.

Modi said the number of beneficiaries of this scheme was roughly equal to the population of the European Union, or the population of America, Canada and Mexico put together.

Launching a veiled attack on the former UPA government, Modi alleged that health of the poor was ignored for the past 60 years due to vote bank politics. “Those who chant the name of poor, had they done something concrete for them 50 years ago, the situation would have been different. I have lived in poverty and realise the pain of a poor man,” he said.


Chandrayaan-2 slated for Jan 3 launch

India’s second lunar mission, Chandrayaan-2, provisionally slated for launch on January 3, 2019, is expected to provide major findings about water on the moon.

According to Isro, Chandrayaan-2, which has an orbiter, lander and rover, will execute a never-before attempted soft landing on the moon’s South Pole region. The orbiter has a range spectrometer that goes upto five microns which will provide the water signature. “It is expected to yield strong conclusions about the distribution of water on moon. The dual frequency synthetic aperture radar experiment on Chandrayaan-2 will refine sensitivity to sub-surface water,’’ it stated.


Freaky Friday on Dalal Street

Bringing back the horrors of flash crashes, the sensex lost 1,500 points — or 4% — within an hour and a half during Friday’s mid-session, and then recovered as quickly to finally settle with a 280-point loss at 36,842. This was the BSE benchmark’s first sub-37k close in nearly two months.

The shock movement in the index was mainly due to a 29% crash in Yes Bank’s stock, which tanked after the RBI declined to extend the term of its incumbent managing director Rana Kapoor beyond January next year.

Additionally, the sensex’s dive came when Rs.300 crore worth of bonds issued by home mortgage provider Dewan Housing Finance was sold by DSP Mutual Fund. The MF has about Rs.630 crore worth of bonds issued by the troubled infrastructure finance firm IL&FS.

The selling soon spread to stocks of non-banking finance companies, lenders and other financial entities. As a result, the BSE’s banking index closed 3.1% lower, while the finance index was down 2.2%.

Top officials at housing finance companies and other financial entities clarified that there were no fundamental changes to the sector or any particular company that warranted a crash. Indiabulls Housing Finance VC & MD Gagan Banga said that the company followed a very strict liquidity principle and “we pay a lot of negative carry through the year for such times”. Negative carry is the process of paying higher interest rate on borrowings and getting lower rates on its deposits.

“Indiabulls Housing has over Rs.23,000 crore of cash and cash equivalents as of this (Friday) morning, which cover more than 125% of our six-month liabilities. We have continued to be engaged with bond markets and have done issuances of over Rs.5,000 crore over the last 10 days,” he said. ICRA, a leading credit rating agency, also reaffirmed its AAA rating for Indiabulls Housing Finance.

Incidentally, an internal report by the RBI’s department of banking supervision recently said that a vast majority of the HFCs demonstrated significantly better asset quality and performance metrics in relation to the NBFC sector. Industry players said that this reinforces the fact that, despite the strong growth that HFCs have shown over the last few years, their risk containment measures have not been diluted. Interestingly, the slide came despite both foreign and domestic funds turning net buyers with inflows of Rs.761 crore and Rs.497 crore, respectively.


Samara-Amazon to acquire More

Private equity firm Samara Capital along with Amazon.com Inc., the world’s largest online retailer, have agreed to buy Aditya Birla group’s food and grocery retail chain, More, for an undisclosed sum.

A person close to the development, however, said the transaction was valued at around ₹4,200 crore.

The acquisition of Aditya Birla Retail Ltd, which runs More, will be done through Samara Capital’s arm Witzig Advisory Services Pvt. Ltd in which Amazon is a minority shareholder.

RKN Retail Pvt. Ltd, a promoter entity of Aditya Birla Retail, said it has agreed to sell its entire 62.2% stake in the retailer to Witzig.

Samara and Amazon will be acquiring More through a two-step process.

It will first buy the stake in Aditya Birla Retail from RKN Retail. The balance stake will be acquired from Kanishtha Finance and Investment Pvt. Ltd, another promoter entity of Aditya Birla Retail.

The move to acquire Aditya Birla Retail follows Amazon’s plans to build its food retail business in India for which it has made a separate allocation of $500 million.

More will help Amazon execute its strategy to build out an offline presence in India at a time when its US rival Walmart Inc. is seeking to establish its dominance in online retail through the purchase of Flipkart for $16 billion. In August, Walmart completed its acquisition of Flipkart, India’s biggest e-commerce company.

Aditya Birla group ventured into food and grocery retailing business in 2007 through its acquisition of Trinethra Super Retail.

According to the company’s website, the firm operates 523 supermarkets and 20 hypermarkets under the brand More, making it the fourth largest supermarket chain in the country, after Reliance Retail, Future Group and D-Mart.

Some of Aditya Birla Retail own brands include More Daily, More Fresh, Prarthana and Blue earth.

The transaction will help Aditya Birla Group to pare debt.

Of Car Exports in FY19....

The India arm of Hyundai Motor has regained the position as the nation’s largest exporter of cars and SUVs in the April-August period, beating the local unit of Ford Motor.

Hyundai Motor India exported 71,645 vehicles from India during the five months, up 23% from the same period a year earlier when it was ranked second. Ford India’s shipments to foreign markets fell 12.5% in the period to 65,176 units.

South Korea’s Hyundai Motor exports cars and SUVs to 88 countries across Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, Australia and the Asia Pacific from India.

Among India-made models, there is strong demand for the Grand i10 and i20 in Africa and Latin America, the company said. Compact SUV Creta sells across the globe, while the mid-size Verna sedan is extremely popular in the Middle East, it claimed.

An analyst cited Hyundai’s efforts to keep its product portfolio refreshed and Ford’s failure to do so for the contrasting performance.

The local units of General Motors, Nissan Motor, Volkswagen and Suzuki Motor all posted a decline in exports in the first five months of this fiscal year. Renault, Mahindra and Mahindra and Honda Motor were the automakers apart from Hyundai that posted higher exports from India in the same period.

Some car makers that are facing weak local sales are boosting exports, leveraging the country’s low-cost labour, infrastructure and electricity. However, a few believe in and focus on strategic products which do well both on the domestic as well as international markets, industry experts said.

India International Convention and Exhibition Centre

Occupying an an area bigger than Connaught Place, a building with a facade architecturally designed to look like the traditional folded hand Indian greeting, with a price tag of $4 billion — those are the basic details of the India International Convention and Exhibition Centre, the country’s first world class official venue that can hold big events like a G-20 summit.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will lay the foundation stone for IICC today at Dwarka, Delhi, and the plan is to complete the first phase by end-2019.

The nearly 90-hectare IICC has been planned as a venue that will not just allow India to hold multilateral state events in style but also become an option for global convention and exhibition events in the private sector. This is estimated to be a $280 billion business annually and India, after IICC is built, can compete with other Asian countries for a slice of this pie.

Besides, the convention centre, the multi-purpose arena will have a capacity to host 20,000 people. The venue will also house three five-star hotels, four four-star hotels, two three-star hotels, as well as service apartments. Parking facility for nearly 30,000 vehicles is being planned.

The Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion is implementing the project, which will be operated by a consortium of South Korea’s Korea International Exhibition Centre and eSANG Networks.

The project work will be a mix of engineering procurement and construction and public-private partnership. The exhibition and convention centre including the allied infrastructure will be on EPC model and the mixed-use infrastructure including hotels, retail, commercial space and arena will be in PPP mode. Larsen and Toubro  had won the contract for the first phase, which is being developed in EPC mode.

“Work is on track... Phase 1 will be completed by end of December 2019,” said a senior government official. The estimated cost of the project in $4 billion or about ₹25,700 crore to be completed in two phases, phase 1 by end 2019 and phase 2 by 2024.

The union cabinet had on November, 2017 approved development of the exhibition cum development centre. Subsequently, a new government company as a special purpose vehicle — Indian International Convention and Exhibition Centre — was incorporated for implementation of the project.

The government has provided a budgetary support of ₹2037.4 crore to the SPV as equity over a period of three years to fund trunk infrastructure, a part of the exhibition centre, foyer, convention centre, metro and road connectivity. The rest of the funding will be through debt. The SPV will raise debt through IDBI Capital Markets and Securities, which is the financial advisor to the project.

E-Voting Project Taking Shape

The Election Commission may be busy trying to dispel all doubts over EVMs and VVPATs, but it is also closely monitoring the research on a challenging dream project -- fully electronic internet-based voting, or two-way electronic transmission of ballot, as it is referred to in electoral terminology.

The Centre for Advanced Computing, which is working on the project, is in advanced discussions with EC teams and stakeholder departments of telecom and posts to address key red flags, ensuring vote audit trail and multiple levels of encryption in two-way electronic ballot.

The project was entrusted by EC to C-DAC in mid 2017. Top EC officials said that once successfully tested, it would first be tried at a bye election as a pilot next year after Lok Sabha elections. Depending on how the pilot goes, it would be tried at an assembly election before any large scale plans.

While the successful rollout of one-way electronic transmission of postal ballot for service voters in 2016 has increased EC’s confidence, the two-way transmission is a tall order.

One-way transmission for service voters involves sending a blank postal ballot electronically to the voter. The ballot paper is downloaded, ballot cast and then sent via normal postal service to the returning officer for counting.

Two-way electronic transmission of vote envisages that a registered voter from any location in India -- once his identity is well authenticated -- will be able to cast his vote electronically through a secure encrypted system and the same will reach the designated returning officer for counting.

C-DAC is learnt to have identified 13 major parameters to two-way electronic transmission of vote and these range from voter authentication to the right ballot size for download and scan, layers of encryption, server security, using technological solutions to make sure that the vote is not cast under any coercion and an audit trail that established the voter-vote relationship, and its correct manifestation at the time of counting.

At a time when even the EVM, which has been used so successfully for years now, is being doubted, the biggest challenge in the coming years will be sociopolitical -- that of building consensus and confidence for electronic voting. The technological challenges, however, are hardly minor.

For instance, discussions are on over the authentication of the voter and whether it should be done through an OTP-based approach or biometric based. The first could leave out those without access to mobile phones or good network connections. While biometrics can only work, provided seeding voter cards with Aadhar gets the go-ahead.

Then there is the crucial question of audit trail -- whether the vote cast has reached and counted – and how can the voter verify that. The postal department is closely looking at that and plans to integrate a bar code on the ballot to make it traceable.


Of Busy Air Routes....

Of falling confidence....

Except 2004, Rupee Slipped Before All Polls Since 1984

As the rupee slipped, trading room chats veered around to the curious case of a weakening currency in the run up to polls. Past data shows that in eight of the nine general elections since 1984, the rupee had skidded by 3-19% against the dollar. It’s no different this year: since January, the unit has declined 12.5% — closing at 72.975 yesterday. The conspiracy theory is that money flowing back into the country translates into more rupees as the exchange rate dips – generating extra funds ahead of elections. Between 1984 and 2014, the fall was in double digits on five occasions; the sharpest drop of 19.2% was in 2009. The exception to the trend was in 2004 when it had appreciated by 6.4% in a year to the election. Economists, however, scoff at the theory as capital flows aren’t simply adequate to fund the current account deficit caused by higher oil price and import of handsets and other electronic items.

Mobile subscriber additions : July 2018

Reliance Jio Infocomm added a record number of 11.78 million mobile subscribers for the month of July, easily outpacing its rivals by a distance, and in the process, cornering nearly half of the country’s growing broadband market.

With the latest additions, Reliance Jio touched 227 million subscribers at the end of July, surpassing Vodafone India and Idea Cellular individually with 223 million and 220 million respectively, at the end of the month. Bharti Airtel ended the month with nearly 345 million mobile subscribers, adding 313,283 users in July, to Vodafone Idea’s 609,074 and Idea’s 5,489.

The data captured the market figures for July, a month before the merger of the British telecom giant Vodafone’s India operations with the Aditya Birla group company Idea Cellular. The combined entity now holds the largest market share in terms of subscribers as well as revenue.

The data shows that Jio held a subscriber market share of 19.62% of the 1.16 billion wireless market, racing ahead of both Vodafone as well as Idea’s 19.30% and 19.07% independent figures respectively. However, it is still behind Bharti Airtel’s 29.81% share.

Some 99.4% of Airtel’s subscribers were active, while it was 91.3% for Idea, 92.8% for Vodafone India and 82.5% for Jio.

In terms of broadband subscribers, Jio held a 49.33% of the total wireline as well as the wireless market, followed by Bharti’s 20.7%. Vodafone held a 13.86% share of the market and Idea a 9.46% share.

In terms of urban and rural subscribers, the overall tele-density in the country increased from 89.72% at the end of June to 90.44% at the end of July. The urban tele-density increased from 158.16% at the end of June to 159.38% at the end of July, and rural tele-density also increased from 57.99% at the end of June to 58.45% at the end of July.

The share of urban and rural subscribers in total number of telephone subscribers at the end of July was 55.86% and 44.14% respectively.

Indians are upbeat about the future

Ten years after the 2008 financial crisis, most major economies have recovered and the public mood has improved. However, despite the recovery, a Pew Research Centre survey found people in Western countries think the coming generations will be worse off than their parents. But Indians disagree, reflecting confidence in the economy and the outlook for the future…Indians think their kids will be better off

Indians are positive about the economy at present and also confident that their children will have a better future. However, while 56% Indians in 2018 were upbeat about the economic situation, it is a 27% drop from the 83% in 2017 who said the present financial situation is good

In many advanced economies, strong economic performance is not enough to convince the public of a bright future for their kids...Few Indians think the past was better

While in many advanced economies, despite a big uptick in growth, people believed the past was better than the present, respondents in India mostly think that the average person on the street is better off today than 20 years back

Asked if the financial situation of average people in their country is better than 20 years ago, most people in advanced economies disagree...

Hindutva is inclusive: RSS Chief

Saying “Hindutva” is an inclusive concept and does not represent hostility to Muslims, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said his outfit has embraced the Constitution, including insertions of ‘socialist, secular’ in its Preamble.

“Hindu Rashtra doesn’t mean there’s no place for Muslims. If we don’t accept Muslims, it’s not Hindutva. Hindutva is Indianness and inclusiveness,” he said on the second day of the three-day lecture series, “Bhavishya Ka Bharat — an RSS Perspective”.

Responding to the charge that RSS wants to change the Constitution, Bhagwat said the Constitution is “sacrosanct as it reflects the consciousness of the country”.

“We have accepted the Constitution and its adherence is everyone’s responsibility. Constitution-makers passed it with consensus. Rest of the laws are based on the Constitution and the court has the right to interpret it ... therefore it is the country’s consciousness and we must adhere to it,” Bhagwat said. He read out the Preamble and referred to “socialist and secular” added to the Constitution through the 42nd amendment in 1976. “The two words were added later but we have to accept them too,” he said.

In a veiled reference to Rahul Gandhi’s comparison of RSS with ‘Muslim Brotherhood’, he said, “The Sangh talks of global brotherhood, which envisages unity in diversity. This is the tradition of Hindutva. That’s why we call it a Hindu Rashtra.”


Bank of Baroda, Dena Bank & Vijaya Bank to merge

The government announced the merger of three state-run banks —Bank of Baroda, Dena Bank and Vijaya Bank—to create the country’s third largest lender, setting off consolidation in the nationalised banking space after years of discussion.

The decision was taken by a ministerial panel comprising finance minister Arun Jaitley, railway minister Piyush Goyal and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman late Monday afternoon and announced less than an hour later. “Aspirations of the fastest growing economy have to be supported by stronger and globally competitive banks, with increased choices to the stakeholders. The boards of Vijaya Bank, Dena Bank and Bank of Baroda have been advised by the Alternate Mechanism (the ministerial panel) to consider the proposal (for consolidation),” financial services secretary Rajiv Kumar said at a press conference.

The dates for the board meetings have not been fixed yet as the banks will await a formal communication from the government. But officials said the process would take about six months, including shareholder, regulatory and government approvals. The board approvals are seen as a formality after which the details of the share swap ratio will be worked out. Kumar assured the banks of providing capital till the deal was completed. The name of the new entity is still to be decided, Jaitley said.

This is the fourth major restructuring in the financial sector initiated by the Narendra Modi government. It kicked off with the merger of State Bank of India’s five associate banks with their parent along with Bharatiya Mahila Bank. Then, the government announced the merger of three staterun general insurers, while allowing LIC to acquire a majority stake in troubled lender IDBI Bank.

While announcing the amalgamation of BoB, Dena and Vijaya Bank, the finance minister sought to assure employees that their jobs will be protected and service conditions won’t be diluted.

No employee will face a service condition that is in anyway adverse to his present one. On the contrary, the SBI experience has been that among the merging and new entities, the best of the service conditions continue to apply to all of them,” Jaitley said. The government believes that the merger will improve the operational synergy of the three banks and is part of a plan to create larger Indian lenders instead of smaller entities vying for the same business. Public sector players have been grappling with a mounting pile of NPAs or bad loans and several of them are in the red and have seen massive doses of equity infusion from the Centre to stay afloat.

In fact, Dena Bank is amongst the weakest in the country with its fragile financial position forcing the Reserve Bank of India to impose restrictions on its lending.


Skewed Monsoon so far....

June was a good month: monsoon hit Kerala on time and most of the country, barring four states, got decent rain. By mid-June, rainfall was actually 20% in excess. Things got choppy after that – heavy rain in parts, deficit in others. So, by August 8, there was a 10% deficit. This shrunk to 6% by end of the month, but by September 11, deficit was up to 8%.

All this, coupled with how it has rained in the previous years, led to some reservoirs running dry while some are overflowing. Gujarat has been among the worst hit, with reservoirs linked to river Sabarmati 74% drier than last year.

It’s exactly the opposite down south. There, the reservoirs are overflowing. Tamil Nadu’s reservoirs now have 67% more water than in 2017.


WPI at 4-month Low

India’s wholesale inflation moderated to a four-month low of 4.53% in August from 5.09% in July as softening prices of food articles, especially vegetables, offset a surge in fuel prices.

Inflation, as measured by the Wholesale Price Index, was 3.24% in August 2017.

Inflation in fuel and power softened slightly to 17.73% in August from 18.1% in July.

Data released earlier this week showed retail inflation easing to a 10-month low of 3.69% in August, below the Reserve Bank of India’s target rate of 4%.

Core inflation hardened to 5% in August from 4.8% in July, suggesting strong demand conditions in the economy. August core inflation is the highest in the 2011-12 base series.

Moreover, the impact of increased minimum support prices of kharif crops is expected to reflect in inflation from October.

ICRA’s principal economist Aditi Nayar said rising core inflation could prompt a majority of the members of the RBI’s monetary policy committee to vote for a rate hike in October.

PM Lauds Bohra Community

Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the contribution of the Dawoodi Bohras to peace, development and the growth of the entrepreneurship in the country even as he emphasised how this section of the minority community had supported government causes be it health care and child nutrition, education, housing for the poor or cleanliness.

Speaking at the Ashara Mubarak programme held at Indore to mark the commemoration of the martyrdom of Imam Husain, Modi underscored his proximity to the leaders of the community and their support and love towards him since his days as chief minister of Gujarat. The Prime Minister also highlighted the various welfare schemes of his government on the occasion.

Dawoodi Bohras are an economically sound community that are present in good numbers in Gujarat, Modi’s home state.

They have business interests in various states and on foreign shores. Though BJP sources maintained there was no vote bank politics or any political motive behind Modi attending this programme, the Prime Minister used the occasion to show his long association with the top leadership of the community. He also underlined that the Centre’s programmes are for the welfare of all sections of the society.

Incidentally, Modi also mentioned that not all business people are honest. His remarks come at a time when the issue of businessmen like Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi fleeing the country is being hotly debated.

Modi lauded the work done by the Dawoodi Bohras for child nutrition through Project Rice, running community kitchens for the people, working for affordable and preventive health care, education, building homes for the poor.

The Prime Minister said the ambitious Ayushman Bharat scheme for universal health care will be inaugurated on September 25 and described it as one that would cover more people than the population of US, Canada and Mexico put together.


PMRDA to start work on first phase of Pune ring road in October

The PMRDA will start work on the proposed first phase of the 128 km ring road, from Satara Road to Ahmednagar Road, in October.

Officials of the Pune Metropolitan Region Development Authority said tenders for the service roads have been approved and the Centre has agreed to sanction funds for the main carriageway.

PMRDA commissioner Kiran Gitte said, “Work on the first phase of the ring road (32.3 km) should start in October. The PMRDA will use Rs.326 crore of its own funds to build the service lanes for the proposed first phase, while the Centre is expected to release Rs.1,981 crore for the main carriageway.”

The total cost of the project is Rs.23,828 crore, of which the Centre will give Rs.10,234 crore, while the remaining Rs.13,594 crore will have to be generated through town planning schemes and other means. The PMRDA will acquire land through town planning schemes, raising FSI or through TDR for the 97 km stretch of the ring road, while for the remaining 31 km, the land will be purchased directly from the land owners after negotiations.

The PMRDA officials said the first phase — Satara Road to Ahmednagar Road — is expected to see a spurt in traffic movement in the coming years. “It will be followed by the second phase, from Ahmednagar Road to Nashik Road,” they said.

The second phase will see the PMRDA constructing a road from Wadki to Pargaon Memane village in the Purandar taluka for better connectivity to the proposed international airport. The proposed road will be from Wadki to Dive Ghat, Saswad and then to Pargaon Memane — one of the seven villages where land will be acquired for the proposed airport.

Gitte said the project will be taken up on priority and be executed at the earliest. “We are waiting for the Maharashtra Airport Development Company’s detailed project report for the airport. Once the it is ready, we will know the expanse of the project,” he added.

Cooling consumer inflation, steady IIP

Retail inflation cooled to a 10-month low in August on the back of easing food prices, while industrial output growth held above the 6% mark in July, bringing some relief for policymakers battling turbulence in the currency and stock markets.

Inflation, as measured by the consumer price index, rose an annual 3.7% in August, slower than previous month’s 4.2%. Rural retail inflation was at 3.4%, while urban areas recorded 3.9%. The food price index slowed to 0.3% in August compared with 1.3% in the previous month.

Economists said the dip in August retail inflation below the Monetary Policy Committee’s medium-term target of 4%, juxtaposed by the looming inflation risks, robust GDP growth for the first quarter and continued weakening of the rupee, would complicate the next monetary policy decision in October.

Most economists said they expect RBI to hike rates to calm financial markets, particularly the rupee, which has weakened over 11% to emerge as Asia’s worst performing currency this year, hit by high oil prices and selloff in emerging markets.

Separate data showed the index of industrial production rose an annual 6.6% in July, marginally lower than the revised 6.9% in June but higher than 1% growth recorded in July 2017. In April-July, the sector grew 5.4% compared with 1.7% in the same period a year earlier.

Economists said they expect the buoyancy to sustain due to the festival demand in the months ahead.


Car sales dip in August

Car sales witnessed a marginal dip in August, the second month in a row, as a higher base and sluggish demand due to heavy rains in many states hit volumes.

Wholesale deliveries to dealerships in August stood at 1.97 lakh units, a decline of 1% over the 1.99 lakh units sold in the same month last year.

Volume of passenger vehicles (cars, SUVs and vans) fell 2% to 2.87 lakh units against 2.94 lakh units in August last year.

However, numbers in five months of this fiscal (ended August 2018) remain robust. Car sales in this period are up 10% and there is a similar growth for overall passenger vehicles category.

New models are also expected to give a boost to the industry, ahead of the festive season that starts in a month or so. While Mahindra and Mahindra has launched a new MPV Marazzo, Hyundai will be launching a new avatar of Santro.

While Mercedes-Benz will drive in a new C Class, Tata Motors and Maruti are set to roll out Harrier SUV and new Ertiga respectively.

Companies are expecting to finish this fiscal with a growth of around 10% for both cars and the larger passenger vehicles category. 

More Mumbai Metro Lines cleared

The Maharashtra state cabinet approved the extension of Metro Line 7—Dahisar to Andheri—on both sides. The entire project will be executed by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority.

To the north it will be known as Metro Line 9—Dahisar to Mira-Bhayander—and to the south as Metro Line 7A—Andheri to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport.

Both lines together will cost around Rs.6,600 crore.

Line 7A on airport land will be underground for 2.2 km of the total 3.2 km. The two lines together will have one underground and 10 overground metro stations.

The state government will provide a Rs.1,631 crore interest-free loan to cover Central and state taxes as well as the land cost.

The cabinet also approved the initial ticket charges for travelling on this route.

MMRDA has been allowed to raise loans for the project from bilateral, multilateral agencies, too.

The entire project is expected to be operational by 2022. Initially, 8.5 lakh people are estimated to travel on this route daily and by 2031, 11.2 lakh people are estimated to travel every day.

It will save 30-40 minutes of travel time.

While the original Metro Line 7 was touted to be operational by December 2019, sources said MMRDA is working to get the trial runs started by that time.

Recently, the MMRDA issued a public notice informing that it is required to widen the Western Express Highway at three places since the metro work is causing traffic congestion.

The metro and flyovers have made it difficult for buses to ply, said activist and architect Nitin Killawala.

Killawala further said work on the metro car shed is yet to begin so it is unlikely that it would be operational by 2019.

Metro man E Sreedharan, too, has said the metro in Mumbai must be underground as there is no space for widening of roads.

GoAir goes International


Film City set for a massive upgrade

Film City, Goregaon, is set for a major revamp. The state aims to not only make it a one-stop solution for all cinematic requirements, but also develop it as a preferred site for tourists. Nearly seven years after Film City’s redevelopment plan was announced, the government has floated global tenders for the Rs.2,600-crore project.

Film City is spread over 521 acres, over half of which will be used for redevelopment. Private studios and institutes that have already been allotted land there are not part of the project. Officials said they will start applying for permissions, including environmental clearances, once a bidder is selected and the design finalized.

Tenders were floated July-end, with December 12 as the last date for submission of bids, said an official from the Maharashtra Film Stage & Cultural Development Corporation, which is overseeing the project. “A key condition for the bidder is to ensure that trees are untouched, and that green cover is not reduced,” said an official.

The aim of the revamp is to make everything from pre-production to shooting to post-production available under one roof. As for developing tourism, an official said, “There is a huge demand for cine tourism in Mumbai, the home of Bollywood. People want to see shoots, meet stars and experience the history of cinema. We are trying to create all these experiences at Film City.”

The initial plan is for an amusement park, a museum, a wax museum on the lines of London’s Madame Tussauds, a Marathi cinema and culture museum, hotels, food courts, souvenir shops and viewing galleries for observing shoots. Importantly, the revamp will increase studio blocks from 11(mostly low-tech) to 31state-of-art facilities. Nevertheless, though Bollywood is India’s biggest film industry, its southern rival Tollywood houses the world’s largest studio complex. Hyderabad’s Ramoji Film City is a 47-studio unit production facility spread across 1,666 acres.

Film City, Goregaon, on an average hosts 60 shoots every day and earns Rs.65 crore in revenue annually, figures the government hopes will go up considerably after the revamp. Production houses that have used Film City say a lot can be done there.


Section 377 Judgement valid in Kashmir as well

Ending speculations, the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which is currently under Governor’s rule, said the Supreme Court judgment on Section 377 is a law for the entire country and implementable in the state under Article 141 of the Constitution of India.

“The Supreme Court Judgment is a law for the whole country. The Section 377 RPC was not in consideration before the top court, but the judgment is a law for the whole country,” a government officer said.


KCR Dissolves Telangana House

Telangana chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao dissolved the state assembly, accusing opposition parties of stalling development projects and denting the morale of administration with unfounded allegations of large-scale corruption, and sought early elections.

Chandrashekar Rao, president of TRS, also announced a list of candidates for 105 out of 119 assembly constituencies, hoping to have the polls by November-end.

Addressing media immediately after the governor accepted his cabinet’s decision and advised him to head the caretaker government, Rao, popularly known as KCR, said his party would go solo in the polls to win at least 100 seats comfortably. He ruled out any alliance with BJP, and said TRS will remain a secular party come what may.

He said TRS will have a friendly relation with AIMIM in Telangana which had extended support to the TRS government during early days of Telangana state against attempts to destabilise the government.

Rao ended weeks-long suspense over dissolving of the state assembly on Thursday afternoon. He attributed the decision to opposition parties’ unfounded corruption allegations that, he claimed, were weakening the morale of the administration. The move will help curb growing ‘political fragility’ in Telangana, he said.

Rao said his colleagues and bureaucrats held discussions with the CEC’s office and hoped the poll notification would come by October first week and elections would be held in November for announcing results in December first week.

KCR is said to be against holding assembly elections along with the Lok Sabha elections, fearing adverse effects owing to national-level political alignments. In normal course, both the elections would have taken place together around April-May 2019.

Rainbow Nation: SC Decriminalises Sec 377

Defanging a 158-year-old Victorian era law, the Supreme Court, in a landmark judgment, legalised consensual sexual relations among gay adults by partially striking down Section 377—a momentous event, perhaps the first step towards the gradual embrace of the LGBTQ community and hesitant acquiescence of alternative sexuality.

In a unanimous 5-0 verdict, Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra led Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra in declaring that a two-judge bench’s decision in December 2013 in the Suresh Koushal case, which had re-criminalised Section 377, was “arbitrary, fallacious and retrograde”.

In the Suresh Koushal case, the SC had reversed a Delhi high court verdict which had decriminalised gay sex among consenting adults by reading down the controversial Section 377.

As it righted the error it made five years ago with yet another verdict which seeks to expand personal freedoms, the court invoked “transformative constitutionalism” and struck a confessional note, saying “history owed an apology to LGBTQ members and their families” for the wrongs inflicted on them.

In the four concurrent opinions cumulatively running into 493 pages that abhorred imposition of the majoritarian view on the LGBTQ community to snuff out their fundamental rights, Chief Justice Misra, writing for Justice Khanwilkar and himself, said targeting LGBTQ community members for their sexual preference violated their fundamental right to equality (Article 14), right to freedom of expression (Article 19) and right to choice coupled with right to dignity (Article 21).

Section 377 IPC, so far as it penalises any consensual sexual relationship between two adults, be it homosexuals (man and man), heterosexuals (man and woman) or lesbians (woman and woman), cannot be regarded as constitutional. However, if anyone, by which we mean both a man and a woman, engages in any kind of sexual activity with an animal, the said aspect of Section 377 is constitutional and it shall remain a penal offence under Section 377 IPC,” the CJI said.

The CJI, who read the judgment for Justice Khanwilkar and himself to begin the pronouncement of verdict, started by saying there were four separate but concurrent opinions. The tense anticipation inside the court melted the moment he said Section 377 was partially struck down to decriminalise gay sex. Only the strict court etiquette prevented gathered LGBTQ members from applauding in relief.

Justice Nariman said, “Persons who are homosexuals have a fundamental right to live with dignity... We further declare that such groups (LGBTQ) are entitled to the protection of equal laws, and are entitled to be treated in society as human beings without any stigma being attached to any of them. We further direct that Section 377 insofar as it criminalises homosexual sex and transgender sex between consenting adults is unconstitutional.” He directed the Centre to take all measures for wide publicity of the judgment at regular intervals through media and also initiate sensitisation programmes for society, government and police officials to “reduce and finally eliminate the stigma associated with such persons” by making them aware of the plight of the LGBTQ community.

Justice Chandrachud, who authored the lengthiest judgment at 181 pages, said it was axiomatic that lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders and queer members continued to be denied a truly equal citizenship seven decades after Independence. “The law has imposed upon them a morality which is an anachronism. Their entitlement should be as equal participants in a society governed by the morality of the Constitution. That in essence is what Section 377 denies to them. The shadows of a receding past confront their quest for fulfilment,” he said.Justice Chandrachud was cited by colleague judges for laying the foundation for liberating the LGBTQ community from Section 377 as he, in the Puttaswamy judgment in August last year, had ruled that sexual orientation was part of right to life and indirectly said that the Suresh Koushal judgment was not in sync with constitutional ethos.

“It is difficult to right the wrongs of history. But we can certainly set the course for the future. That we can do by saying, as I propose to say in this case, that lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders have a constitutional right to equal citizenship in all its manifestations. Sexual orientation is recognised and protected by the Constitution,” he said. Justice Malhotra, writing a 50-page judgment, said, “History owes an apology to the members of this community and their families, for the delay in providing redressal for the ignominy and ostracism that they suffered through centuries. The members were compelled to live in fear of reprisal and persecution. This was on account of ignorance of majority to recognise that homosexuality is a natural condition, part of a range of human sexuality.

“The misapplication of this provision (Section 377) denied them the fundamental right to equality guaranteed under Article 14. It infringed on the fundamental right to live a life of dignity. LGBT persons deserve to live life unshackled from shadows of being ‘unapprehended felons’.”

India-US: 2+2 talks

An intensifying strategic embrace marked the first India-US ‘2 plus 2’ dialogue with the inking of ‘Comcasa’, a defence pact that breaks historical barriers, allowing India to access encrypted technologies, and a pointed call to Pakistan to desist using terror proxies.

The dialogue and agreements commit New Delhi and Washington to working together on the open seas, with critical emphasis on the Indo-Pacific with its implied reference to China, sensitive technology and counter-terrorism even though trade and economic disputes remain unresolved.

The tone for the talks was set by the special gesture of foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman receiving counterparts Mike Pompeo and James Mattis at the airport on Wednesday evening.

The tenor of discussions on Thursday made it evident that there would be no combative negotiation on a laundry list of issues. The reference to Pakistan and use of terror proxies closely reflects India’s concerns and a growing impatience of the Trump administration, with Islamabad backing anti-US Taliban in Afghanistan even as it awaits the new government’s actions.

Sources said the four leaders set a broad direction, describing the talks as “positive and constructive”. With both sides willing to listen, convergence was the buzzword and after the dialogue, Pompeo and Mattis called on PM Narendra Modi, a meeting that lasted for almost an hour. The most important takeaway was the signature of Comcasa. The pact will facilitate access to “advanced defence systems and enable India to optimally utilise its existing US-origin platforms”, a joint statement said.

The “foundational” pact will help services of both countries to advance interoperability, as US becomes one of India’s closest defence partners. Comcasa comes into effect immediately, and is actually an enabling agreement, with terms that apply to all US-origin platforms that India has already bought or plans to buy.

In discussions on Iran sanctions, US made it clear that it expects a sharp reduction of energy imports by India. Swaraj insisted India was an energy-reliant economy. But it appears there may be a carve-out for Chabahar port, as was the case in previous sanctions legislation too. India has been developing the port as an access to Afghanistan free of Pakistan’s influence. At a press conference, Pompeo said the US understood that countries like India will “take time to unwind” even as he said India had been told that sanctions on Iranian crude oil will be enforced on November 4. Though waivers will be considered, US expects purchase of Iranian crude to go to zero.

While Indian officials said they did not raise CAATSA and sanctions on Russia (a major Indian defence partner), they were assured by Mattis that “legacy platforms” will be respected. Pompeo said, “With respect to S-400, no decision was made. We are working to impose CAATSA Section 231 in a way that is lawful and to exercise that waiver only where it makes sense.”

The joint statement “welcomed inclusion of India by the US among the top tier of countries entitled to license-free exports, re-exports, and transfers under License Exception Strategic Trade Authorization.” The two countries also announced readiness to begin negotiations on an industrial security annex to support closer defence industry cooperation.

As expected ‘Indo-Pacific’ took up most time. Pompeo said, “India and the US United States have a natural starting point for advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific.” The time taken on this issue signalled its importance as India and US seek to build a counter-narrative to China’s aggressive moves..


The Jio effect

Two years since Reliance Jio launched its services on Sept 5, 2016, consumers have been the absolute winners, with tariffs hitting rock bottom (voice almost free), data consumption increasing multifold. But the price wars have meant that smaller telcos have exited the market and even big ones such as erstwhile no. 2 and 3 operators — Vodafone India and Idea Cellular — have had to merge to be competitive. Take a look at some fundamental changes in the sector since Jio’s launch…

India’s Media & Entertainment Industry to Touch ₹2.66 trillion by 2022-23

The Indian media and entertainment industry is on the road to recovery after facing headwinds due to major regulatory interventions such as demonetisation, GST and real estate regulatory authority, resulting in lower consumption and advertising spends during FY18. Strong and consistent economic growth fuelled by a rise in consumption and growth in digitisation has enabled the sector to grow at 11% over FY17 to reach ₹1,436 billion in FY18, says a report by KPMG. The long-term outlook remains strong on the back of a buoyant economy, robust domestic demand, particularly in rural and regional markets and growing digital access and consumption, it added.

Telecom, Media and Technology convergence is now a reality and will likely cause significant disruptions across the value chain

Services growth slows : August 2018

India’s services sector activity fell in August from July’s 21-month peak as new business orders declined, following which firms raised their staffing levels at a modest pace amid rising input cost inflation.

The seasonally adjusted Nikkei India Services Business Activity Index fell from July’s peak of 54.2 to 51.5 in August owing to weakest growth in new work in three months.

In PMI parlance, a print above 50 means expansion, while a score below that denotes contraction.

Meanwhile, the headline seasonally adjusted Nikkei India Composite PMI Output Index fell to 51.9 in August from July’s 21-month high of 54.1, owing to weaker growth in both the manufacturing and service sectors.

On the price front, input cost inflation was the strongest in nine months.

On a positive note, business confidence rose to the highest level since May.