Ebix to buy Yatra

The US-based Ebix group announced the acquisition of leading domestic travel portal Yatra for an enterprise valuation of $337.8 million (over Rs.2,300 crore).

Both the parties have signed a definitive agreement for the deal which would create the country’s largest travel services platform. It is the largest acquisition by Ebix Group in the country so far.

Ebix, in a statement, said that each ordinary share of Yatra will be entitled to receive 0.005 shares of a new class of preferred stock of Ebix. Further, each share of these preferred stock of Ebix will be convertible into 20 shares of common stock of the US firm.

Ebix will issue 2,43,747 convertible preferred shares, which, in turn, will be convertible into 48,74,931 shares of Ebix’s common stock, the statement said.

The company paid a 32% premium compared to Yatra’s closing price on March 8, when Ebix had offered to acquire Yatra.

Ebix, which is on an acquisition spree, has two global travel portfolios in the form of Via and Mercury.

In April last year, Ebix had acquired the forex card business of Centrum Direct for about Rs.1,200 crore.

Dibang dam gets nod

The Centre has given a green signal to the Dibang dam — set to be the largest hydropower project in India at 278 metres — which was put on hold during the United Progressive Alliance regime due to environmental concerns.

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approved ₹1,600 crore for pre-investment activities and clearances for the Dibang multipurpose project in Arunachal Pradesh, which is estimated to cost ₹ 28,080.35 crore to build, and once completed, will generate 2880 MW power.

Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar hailed the hydro-electric multipurpose project as a “major contribution of India” to the world which is battling climate change. “This project will produce 2880 MW of power but not use any coal,” Javadekar said.

In 2013, the Forest Advisory Committee of the ministry of Environment and Forests put the project on hold after it found that around 350,000 trees had to be felled for the project that was supposed to come up on the Dibang river.

Once complete, the project is expected to generate 2880MW (12x240MW) power to produce 11223 MU of energy in a 90% dependable year. “On completion, the government of Arunachal Pradesh will get 12% or 1346.76 MU free power from the project. The total value of the benefit to Arunachal Pradesh will be ₹ 26,785 crore over the project life of 40 years,” an official said.

The project has received statutory clearances, including the environment clearance, forest clearance (stage l) and defence clearance. Only forest clearance (stage II) remains, for the project to seek investment sanction from Centre.

A sum of ₹ 241 crore has been allocated for community and social development.

Sushanta Talukdar, a Guwahati-based analyst on Northeastern affairs, pointed out that the “main issue before the union government is to take the people of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh into confidence over the possible impact on the environment, as Arunachal Pradesh has a fragile geology.”


90% of Kaziranga park submerged

With over 150 anti-poaching camps in the Kaziranga National Park affected by the Assam floods, the authorities are working round-the-clock to check poaching at the UNESCO World Heritage site, officials said.

The staff and security personnel are performing their duties using mechanised and country boats to deal with any kind of eventualities, they said.

Ninety per cent of the Kaziranga National Park in Golaghat and Nagaon districts of the state was still submerged, a statement from the Assam Ministry of Forest and Environment said.

Besides forest guards, a State Disaster Relief Force team was engaged alongside Assam Police personnel in vulnerable spots of the park, Divisional Forest Officer, Kaziranga National Park, Rohini Ballab Saikia said The press communique said 155 of the 199 antipoaching camps at the KNP are affected by floodwaters.

The Kaziranga National Park is home to the world’s largest population of Indian one-horned rhinoceroses. Other animals such as tigers, elephants, sloth bears, monkeys and musk deer are also found in the forest.

Some of the animals have taken shelter in highlands within the park and many are migrating to the southern highlands of Karbi Anglong, crossing National Highway 37, the statement said. Though 90 per cent of the KNP is submerged, water level inside the park and the adjoining NH-37 has receded to some extent, restoring the movement of heavy vehicles on the highway on Tuesday.

However, passenger buses were not being allowed to drive through the park, Saikia said.

Till now, six accidents have been reported on the national highway, causing the death of five Hog Deer and a Sambar, the communique said.

Five other animals in the park are reported to have succumbed to injuries “for various reasons due to flood”, it said. “Teams for rescue operation of distressed animal, as per necessity, are kept in readiness. The Special Rhino Protection Force is also deployed in vulnerable locations of the park,” the communique said.


Wholesale Inflation Softens to 2.02%

A fall in energy prices and a moderate rise in prices of manufactured goods helped wholesale price-based inflation slow down for the second straight month and touch a 23-month low of 2% in June, as against 5.7% a year ago and 2.5% in May 2019.

In contrast, primary articles saw a rise with the food segment witnessing an increase of close to 7% in June, driven by a spike in prices of pulses, vegetables and onion. Economists attributed the over 23% rise in pulses to lower sowing, with the impact visible in the retail prices of tur and other daals.

Although monsoon has revived, economists are keeping a close watch as poor rains will have an adverse impact on food prices, something that policymakers are wary of.

Others also warned on some impact of the recent increase in taxes on fuel prices, which could stoke inflation.

On Friday, data released by the government showed that retail inflation had risen to a six-month high of 3.2% in June. So, what explains the divergence in the two inflation numbers? “Unlike the CPI where the weight (of primary products) in the index is higher, in case of WPI, manufactured products dominate and hence the overall impact of food inflation is less stark on headline inflation. Hence,... CPI inflation (will) be at a higher level than WPI inflation for the coming months,” CARE Ratings said in a statement.

NIA’s scope swells

The National Investigative Agency (Amendment) Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha, empowering the body to investigate cases not only in India, but also those affecting the “interests of India” abroad. Despite a heated debate over the bill, as Opposition parties raised serious objections to it, it managed to get a nod as the ruling party reigns in the lower house.

The bill proposed to broaden the NIA’s powers enabling it to investigate and prosecute ‘scheduled offences’ (a specific list of offences) and creation of special courts for trial among other things. G Kishan Reddy, minister of state (home affairs), told the House on Monday that NIA has a good track record with 90 per cent convictions.

Reddy said that the special court judges will be appointed by the Chief Justice of India in a bid to fast-track the justice delivery process. “State governments must constitute special courts to tackle terrorism. NIA will investigate cases under the Arms Act, and tackle cyber-terrorism,” he said.

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Exports contract for the first time in nine months

India’s merchandise exports contracted for the first time in nine months in June while imports shrank first time in four months, signalling that rising protectionism and trade tensions between the US and China are impacting India’s trade prospects as well.

Exports in June fell 9.71% to $25.01 billion, while imports dipped 9.06% to $40.29 billion, leaving behind a trade deficit of $15.28 billion during the month. Comparatively, China’s exports in June fell 1.3%, while imports shrank 7.3%, leading to a trade surplus of $50.98 billion, significantly higher than what analysts projected.

During June, petroleum exports declined 33% while non-oil, non-gems and jewellery exports contracted by 4.86%. Among other major items, exports of gems and jewellery (10.7%), ready-made garments (-9.18%), chemicals (-8.17%) and engineering goods (-2.65%) also contracted.

Chandrayaan-2 launch aborted

India postponed its second lunar mission, Chandrayaan-2, roughly an hour before blast-off after scientists noticed a glitch in the launch vehicle, delaying its bid to become only the fourth country to land a spacecraft on the moon.

Fifty-six minutes and 24 seconds before the scheduled lift-off at 2.51 am on Monday from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh, scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation noticed a snag in the indigenously built GSLV Mark III, India’s most powerful rocke.

The glitch was detected by the rocket’s inbuilt system.

This is the fifth time India’s second lunar mission has been postponed, but the first time it happened after the assembly of the spacecraft was completed at the country’s only launch site at Sriharikota.

No revised launch schedule was released but a former Isro scientist, who worked on the mission, said scientists were racing to plug the leak in time for a new launch window at the end of the month.

If that window is missed, the next opportunity for launch will come in September, which will necessitate changing the spacecraft’s orbit. This will require more fuel and likely drive up costs of the mission.

All senior Isro officials, including chairperson K Sivan, are investigating what went wrong, but no scientist has been allowed near the rocket because it is still filled with fuel.

The 3,850 kg Chandrayaan-2 consists of an orbiter that will circle the moon for about a year, taking images and testing the atmosphere; a lander named Vikram, after Vikram Sarabhai, known as the father of India’s space exploration; and a rover named Pragyaan, which was scheduled to soft-land between two lunar craters on the south pole of the moon on September 6.

It was to spend 14 days studying the topography, seismography and chemical and mineral composition of lunar rocks and look for water deposits — confirmed by India’s first lunar mission in 2008, Chandrayaan-1, which didn’t land on the moon.

Chandrayaan-2 will follow Chang’e-4, launched by China, which in January became the first spacecraft to successfully land on the far side of the moon. Only three countries — the United States, the erstwhile Soviet Union, and China — have successfully landed missions on the moon.


Floods in Assam inundate 28 of 33 districts

As the second wave of floods in Assam worsened by the day, with 12 lakh more people getting affected and four more deaths being reported over 24 hours, the Army was pressed into rescue operations and asked to remain on standby on Sunday.

The National Disaster Response Force and State Disaster Response Force have been engaged to rescue 7,833 people in 11 districts. As many as 800 people were rescued on Sunday. Death toll rose to 11 as bodies of four more people were retrieved on Sunday.

According to a state disaster management authority report, over 26 lakh people have been affected in 28 districts, leaving just five districts unaffected in the state. Meanwhile, 90% of Kaziranga’s 430-sqkm area has gone under water.

Floods have marooned over 5,000 people in Tripura where incessant rain over the last two days washed a person away and forced the administration to move people to around 25 relief camps.


All set for Chandrayaan 2

More than a decade after Chandrayaan-1, and at a time of renewed global interest in lunar science, India will start its second trip to the Moon from the Sriharikota spaceport at 2.51 am on Monday.

While a successful mission will mark multiple firsts for India, the attempt is seen as the country’s next step in the international space race as it vies to rub shoulders with giants like the United States, Russia and China.

In the 10 years between Chandrayaan-1 and Chandrayaan-2, China has landed on the Moon multiple times, the latest being ‘Chang’e 4’ that touched down on the far side of the Moon in January, a first for any country.

While keeping its eyes firmly on Mars, Nasa is also working on the Artemis programme that may use GPS while orbiting the Moon before putting humans there again. Isro missed multiple launch windows in 2018 and one in January 2019, which would have made it the first to soft-land on Moon’s south polar region. Chandrayaan-2 will ride aboard a GSLV-MkIII.

The actual achievements will come 52 days later, when it lands on the lunar surface. The Rs.978-crore mission involves an orbiter around the Moon, a lander (Vikram) and a rover (Pragyan).

Its success, Isro chairman K Sivan says, will make India the fourth nation to land a probe on Moon. Most of Nasa landings were in the equatorial region, while Chang’e 4 landed near the south polewhere India boldly goes now.

Discovery of water molecules by an instrument carried by Chandrayaan-1 has given a boost to hopes of finding water in a more thorough manner in the second mission.

Chandrayaan-2, a project cleared in September 2008 by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, will also try to understand the history of early solar system, and learn secrets of Earth’s formation.


Inflation inches up, industrial growth dips

Rising for the eighth month in a row, retail inflation climbed to 3.2% in June though remaining well within the RBI’s comfort zone, leaving scope for a rate cut by the central bank to boost industrial production which has yet to gain traction.

Factory output growth based on Index of Industrial Production slipped to 3.1% in May as against 4.3% in the previous month, mainly on account of subdued performance of mining and manufacturing sectors.

Retail inflation based on Consumer Price Index inched up to 3.2% in June, from 3.1% in May, primarily due to firming prices in the food basket.

However, the data revealed that inflation in vegetables and fruits segments eased over the previous month. 

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India connects Bangladesh to Bhutan

Now it will be easier and cheaper for Bangladesh to get construction material like stone chips from land-locked Bhutan after India opened its river route (Brahmaputra) to transport raw materials between the two countries.

The first ship carrying nearly 70 truckload of crushed stones from Bhutan started its journey from Dhubri riverport in Assam to Narayanganj in Bangladesh on Friday. “This is the first time an Indian waterway is being used as a channel for transport of cargo between two countries, using India for transit,” shipping minister Mansukh Mandaviya said while flagging off the ship.

Inland Waterways Authority of India chairman Pravir Pandey said the stone aggregates were transported by trucks from Phuentshiling in Bhutan which is 160 km from IWAI’s Dhubri jetty in Assam. The ship will cover 600 km in six days to reach Narayanganj, he said.

Bangladesh has been getting construction material from Bhutan by road. Till now, Bhutanese trucks carrying construction material would stop at Bangladesh border and the material had to be shifted to Bangladeshi trucks. Sometimes, it would take days to shift material at the border. “Transporting construction material through waterway will help save about 10 days and transportation cost is likely to be 30% less. So, there will be operation of vessels to transport this cargo,” said an official. Mandaviya said the initiative will also strengthen ties between India and its two neighbouring nations.

IWAI, which is responsible for developing and maintaining national waterways, has carried out dredging on Brahmaputra to maintain an assured draft in navigation channel. Brahmaputra has been declared as NW-2.


Monsoon tracker

After a dry June, monsoon has made a great start in July. Average countrywide rainfall in the first 11 days of the month has been 24% above normal, which has helped reduce the overall monsoon deficit to almost a third, from 33% at the end of June to 12%.

In what should boost sowing of kharif crops, all regions of the country, except the south, have received surplus rainfall in this 11-day period, with central India getting the maximum share. Till last week area under kharif crops was 27% less than the corresponding period last week, mainly on account of poor rainfall in June. The gap is expected to reduce when the figures are updated on Friday.

India Meteorological Department officials said although the monsoon is likely to go into a weak phase after July 14, some parts of India will continue to get rains.

“The seasonal trough across north India is expected to move close to the Himalayas around July 13. Rainfall over central and north India is expected to decrease thereafter. But it wouldn’t be a total break in monsoon as south India, where rains haven’t been very good so far, is expected to get some wet weather during this period,” said D Sivananda Pai, IMD’s lead monsoon forecaster.

In association with the trough’s movement, IMD has issued red alerts over the likelihood of very heavy showers at a few places in east UP, Bihar and Assam over the next two days.

Pai said the weak phase may not last very long as a low pressure system is likely to form over Bay of Bengal around July 17-18. “If that happens, rains will resume in central India and parts of the north,” he said.

Centre issues draft tenancy act

The Centre issued the draft of a Model Tenancy Act aimed increasing the renting of property, ensuring security for both the landlord and tenants and setting up an independent authority in every state for the registration of all tenancy agreements, along with a separate court for resolving tenancy related disputes.

Union minister for housing and urban affairs Hardeep Puri had said that the National Democratic Alliance government would put in place a contractual framework between tenants and landlords.

“This is one of the low-hanging fruits of the first 100 days of this ministry. It has already been through the Cabinet. By and large. this is an idea to leave to the states to unlock the large inventory of homes which stand constructed and we will allow the states to determine what they want to do with them. The idea is to slowly move in the direction of utilizing contracts between the landlord and the tenant,” he said.

According to officials aware of the development, home minister Amit Shah, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, minister for road transport and highways Nitin Gadkari, railways minister Piyush Goyal and housing minister Hardeep Puri took part in a meeting to give in-principle approval to the draft policy.

Sitharaman, presenting the 2019 Union budget, had said India’s current tenancy laws were “archaic” as they do not address the relationship between the lessor and the lessee fairly.

The draft policy, placed in the public domain, has invited public feedback until August 1. It proposes to set up a robust grievance redressal mechanism comprising the Rent Authority, Rent Court and Rent Tribunal.

Somewhere in Madhya Pradesh....

As per a report by Niti Aayog, by 2020, as many as 21 major cities of India will run out of water and face ‘Day Zero’- a term which means turning off the entire city’s tap for a day.

Such is the story of a village in Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh, which has been hit by severe drought over the past few years.

Jitender Chawdhary, belonging to a family of farmers, witnessed the acute water scarcity in his village Dengamal in Ratlam district.

After finishing his engineering from MIT Ujjain, Jitender sought to find a solution to the jarring water crisis as “water could only be reused or recycled, but not manufactured”.

As a solution, Jitender invented a low-cost water purifier named ‘Shuddham’ that could purify up to 500 litres of dirty water per day and make it suitable for all household purposes other than drinking or cooking and consumed no electricity.

‘Shuddham’ is operated manually and can recycle up to 90,000 litres of water in six months, after which the filtering granules need to be replaced for better efficiency. The water purifier is built at a cost of Rs.7,000, and has the maintenance cost as low as Rs.500-700 per year.

Vistara to fly international from August

Vistara is set to begin operating international flights from next month, filling a crucial gap created in the services of Indian full-service carriers flying abroad after Jet’s shutdown. It will start its maiden international journey with a daily Delhi-Singapore flight from August 6 and a daily Mumbai-Singapore flight from August 7.

Other than Jet, Air India remains the only Indian FSC to operate international flights.

Vistara, a Tata-Singapore Airlines full-service joint venture has announced introductory economy class return fares of Rs.21,877 from Delhi and Rs.20,778 from Mumbai.

The Tata Group JV will be the first Indian airline to fly overseas after the 5/20 rule was relaxed in 2016. The controversial 5/20 rule required an Indian carrier to operate for five years and have a fleet of 20 aircraft before doing so. The relaxed 0/20 does away with the five-year requirement. Vistara CEO Leslie Thng said: “We’re excited to start with Singapore as our first international destination.”


June 2019: Automobile Sales Continue to Slide

Automobile sales crashed across categories last month as slowing economic activity, finance unavailability due to the non-banking lending crisis, high vehicle prices and waning rural demand affected consumer sentiment.

According to data released by industry body Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers, passenger vehicle sales last month fell 17.54% to 225,732 units while sales of commercial vehicles declined 12.27% to 70,771 units. Those of two-wheelers and three-wheelers dropped 11.69% (to 1,649,477 units) and 8.79% (to 51,885 units), respectively. While sales of motorcycles declined 9.57% to 1,084,598 units, those of scooters decreased 14.81% to 512,626 units in June.

Passenger vehicle production during the month under review stood at 267,600 units, the lowest in 71 months.

SIAM president Rajan Wadhera said the industry is going through a prolonged slowdown, the worst in nearly two decades.

Passenger vehicle sales last quarter fell the sharpest since Q3FY01 when wholesale volumes had dropped by 23%. Ditto with commercial vehicles where quarterly volumes declined the most in five years by 9.53% to 208,298 units.

Given the slowing sales, over 300 dealerships across the country has downed shutter over the past two years. Wadhera said that vehicle manufacturers have not initiated job cuts yet, but added “we cannot survive this for long”. The automobile industry employs 37 million people, directly and indirectly.

Apart from a reduction in producer tax rates, the industry body has also recommended that the government come out with a scrappage scheme to take off old polluting vehicles to trigger sales of new ones.

SIAM said while most automakers have undertaken production cuts to rationalise inventory in the past few months which dragged down wholesale numbers, there should be some recovery in the market festive season onwards. “The last quarter should be good. We are hopeful demand will pick around the festive season. There should also be some pre-buying ahead of the implementation of BS VI emission norms from April 1, 2020,” said Wadhera.

“The government’s push to recapitalize banks and improve liquidity in NBFCs is positive for the economy, benefits of which will start reflecting in the next few quarters,” said Ashish Modani, vice-president, corporate ratings at ICRA.

Congress splits in Goa

The storm engulfing Congress in Karnataka expanded to Goa with 10 of their MLAs, led by opposition leader Chandrakant Kavalekar, joining BJP ahead of the assembly’s monsoon session beginning on July 15. BJP’s strength in the 40-member house has now gone up to 27, while Congress has been reduced to five.

Chief minister Pramod Sawant is expected to carry out a cabinet reshuffle on Thursday inducting three former Congress MLAs, including Kavalekar as the deputy CM, and deputy speaker Michael Lobo into his ministry after governor Mridula Sinha returns to the state.

Sources said Atanasio Monserrate, who wrested the Panaji seat from BJP represented by the late Manohar Parrikar for 25 years, would also be inducted into the cabinet. Velim MLA Filipe Neri is the other former Congress MLA who would be inducted.

BJP ally Goa Forward Party, which had all its three MLAs as ministers, including the deputy CM’s post that was held by its party president Vijai Sardesai, would be dropped along with Independent MLA and IT and revenue minister Rohan Khaunte. There will be no bypolls as the 10 MLAs constitute two-thirds of the legislative wing as per the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution.

Those who are not part of Wednesday’s split in Congress are four former CMs — Pratapsingh Rane, Digambar Kamat, Ravi Naik and Luizinho Faleiro — while Curtorim MLA Aleixo Reginaldo Lourenco has also remained with the party.

All 10 former Congress MLAs left for Delhi late night to meet BJP chief and Union home minister Amit Shah and will return on Thursday.

On March 28, BJP had split ally Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party’s legislature wing by inducting two of its members into the party and had dropped then deputy CM Ramkrishna Dhavalikar. Congress, which had emerged as the single largest party with 17 MLAs in the 2017 assembly polls, is now left with only five MLAs. BJP’s original strength in 2017 was 13.

Speaker Rajesh Patnekar said the 10 Congress MLAs merged their group with BJP and Sawant gave him a letter of change in BJP’s strength in the assembly. “I have accepted both the applications,” he said.

Sawant said the decision to take the Congress MLAs into BJP was to strengthen the party. Kavalekar said they decided to join BJP for the development of their constituencies. “We don’t want to remain in the opposition forever,” he said. The entire drama to merge the group of 10 Congress MLAs took shape on Tuesday. Sources said the decision by these MLAs to join BJP was taken after they were slighted by GFP president and deputy CM Vijai Sardesai, who refused to leave the BJP coalition and join hands with Congress.

Sources said Congress even offered Sardesai the chief minister’s post after the May 23 bypoll results. Congress said the entire episode reflected the utter misuse of power adopted by BJP.

Of Personal Remittances....

Last year, Indians living abroad sent $78.6 billion (Rs.5.4 lakh crore) home to their families and other households. This was not only a record for personal remittances to India but also exceeded remittances by people of other countries. Forty years ago, personal remittances by Indians amounted to just over a billion dollars.


‘False narrative’ over J&K: India slams UN office

India lodged a strong protest with the UN rights office over its report on Jammu and Kashmir and asserted that it is merely a continuation of the earlier “false and motivated” narrative and ignores the core issue of cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan.

Last year, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released its first-ever report on Kashmir and in an update of that, claimed that “neither India nor Pakistan have taken any concrete steps to address the numerous concerns raised”.

Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said: “This merely a continuation of the earlier false and motivated narrative on the situation in the Indian state.” The assertions are in violation of India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and ignore the core issue of cross-border terrorism, he said.

“A situation created by years of cross-border terrorist attacks emanating from Pakistan has been ‘analysed’ without any reference to its causality. The update seems to be a contrived effort to create an artificial parity between the world’s largest and the most vibrant democracy and a country that openly practices state-sponsored terrorism,” Kumar said.

“We have registered our strong protest regarding the update with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights,” he said. 

Sensex suffers biggest single-day loss of 2019

Market benchmark BSE Sensex plummeted by 793 points or 2 per cent, its biggest single-day loss this year so far, due to heavy selling in financial, auto and oil stocks as investors turned edgy after the twin impact of budget tax proposals and a global selloff.

The 30-share Sensex tanked 907 points in the intra-day trade before settling at 38,720.57 points, showing a sharp loss of 792.82 points or 2.01 per cent. The broader Nifty of the NSE tanked 252.55 points, or 2.14 per cent, to close at 11,558.60 points.

After the budget presentation on Friday, the market capitalisation of BSE-listed firms dived Rs.5,61,772.64 crore. Sensex had dropped 394.67 points on Friday.

The Union Budget proposal to raise the public shareholding threshold to 35 per cent from the current 25 per cent and higher tax incidence for foreign portfolio investors and high networth individuals continued to spook domestic investors, traders said. Other tax proposals like charge on share buyback also piled on the investor sentiment.

A heavy selloff in global markets after the positive US job data hit expectations of a rate cut by the Federal Reserve weighed on the investors. Asian markets ended significantly lower with the Shanghai Composite Index ending down by 2.58 per cent, Hang Seng by 1.54 per cent, Nikkei by 0.98 per cent and Kospi 2.20 per cent. Equities in Europe were also trading lower in their respective early sessions.

Maharashtra: 7 tiger deaths in 12 days

With three tigers including two cubs killed in Chimur range of Brahmapuri forest division , Maharashtra has recorded loss of seven tigers in the last 12 days.

The Chimur tigers, a mother (5 years) and two cubs (10 months), died of poisoning. Of the seven dead, seizure of body parts of three tigers has been officially reported from Nakadongri range in Bhandara forest division while four died in Chandrapur district since June 26.

NTCA official database has so far not included loss of three tigers whose body parts were seized from poachers by Bhandara forest officials in last eight days. Two of the tigers were killed in last two months while one was killed last year. With these deaths, nationally the tiger toll has reached 63. Madhya Pradesh tops the chart with 18 deaths followed by 14 in Maharashtra. Forest minister Sudhir Mungantiwar has ordered probe.

The tigress and her cubs (a male and a female) were found dead at 7.45 am by Laxman Sarsakde, on the outskirts of Metepaar. Wildlife lover and founder of Tarun Paryavanwadi Mandal, Amod Gaurkar from Shankarpur was also informed and he called the forest officials. Sources said tigress and her cubs had consumed a calf owned by Metepaar’s Pandurang Choudhary (62). They said the calf was killed by village dogs and the owner had poured pesticide Thimet on carcass to kill the dogs.

Brahmapuri deputy conservator (DyCF) Kulraj Singh said, “We have arrested Choudhary who has confessed to poisoning the calf carcass to kill the dogs. All the tigers’ body parts have been found intact.”

Pramod Nagre of ZEP, a NGO working to save wildlife in the area, said, “Brahmapuri division is known for severe man-tiger conflict. Tigers here mostly depend on cattle. Who will believe the accused poisoned the calf to kill dogs?”

Brahmapuri division paid Rs.8.64 crore in 2018-19 towards compensation for cattle kills, human deaths, and crop damage. NTCA representative Gaurkar claimed tigers had been rarely seen near Metepaar village as forest is 7km away. The year 2019 has turned out to be deadly for tigers in the region. This is the second case of poisoning in six months.


Of professional pessimists....

A day after the Union Budget, PM Narendra Modi attacked his critics who have questioned his government’s plans to turn the country into a $5-trillion economy by 2024 by terming them ‘professional pessimists’.

“I am confident that as a nation, with our collective efforts, we will become a $5-trillion economy in the next five years. But some people are questioning the need for this. These are the people whom we can call ‘peshevar nirashawadi’ (professional pessimists),” Modi said after launching BJP’s membership drive on the 118th birth anniversary of ideologue Shyama Prasad Mookerjee.

“These professional pessimists are different from common people. If you approach a common man with a problem, he will offer you a solution. But if you go to these people with a solution, they will convert it into a problem,” he added. The PM said making India a $5-trillion economy was not the aim of every Indian.

“Nobody can stop us from achieving this target if every family, tehsil and district move in the right direction. The rich and the poor are the two arms of India. The nation moved ahead in the past too, but now ‘new India’ is ready to sprint.”

Urging detractors to think how to make achieving the target possible, Modi referred to the popular saying, “the size of the pie matters”, to explain how a bigger economy with high per capita income brings prosperity to all. Higher per capita income means more purchasing capacity, demand, production, employment generation and savings, he said and exhorted people to change the mindset of ‘less income, less expenses’ as it has made poverty a virtue.

“History of developed countries proves how jump in per capita income changed them from developing to developed nation. India can no longer wait to join the club,” he said.

Dharavi to be the next BKC in 10 yrs: CM Fadnavis

Maharashtra Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said that 10 lakh houses will be built in the Mumbai metropolitan region. Stating that Dharavi would be transformed into the new BKC in the next 10 years, he added that every slumdweller would get a home.

Fadnavis also said that at least 50% of voters from Mumbai and the state should stand behind the BJP in the upcoming assembly polls and the BMC polls in future. He also clarified that the 50% vote share includes its alliance partners too.

Fadnavis pointed out that in the last membership drive, BJP had enrolled 1 crore members in the state and if 50% of 5.5 crore voters in the state who cast their vote in the recent LS polls, they could reach their target of 2.5 crore membership in the state.

He said that the party must have at least 30 lakh verified voters in Mumbai to get more than a 50% share of votes in the next BMC polls.

Jaipur walled city gets Unesco heritage seal

The walled city of Jaipur, known globally as Pink City, has finally become a Unesco world heritage site. It is India’s first planned city founded by Sawai Jai Singh II in 1727, and is only the second Indian city to feature on the prestigious list.

The decision was taken on Saturday in Azerbaijan’s Baku at the 43rd session of the World Heritage Committee that will conclude on July 10.

In 2017, old Ahmedabad was India’s first city to win the heritage’ tag. In 2018, the Victorian and Art Deco Ensembles around Oval Maidan and Marine Drive in Mumbai were chosen.

The campaign for the 292-year-old Jaipur, designed by Bengali architect Vidyadhar Bhattacharya, had started in 2015 when it was first nominated. Its planning shows an “interchange of ancient Hindu, Mughal and contemporary Western ideas” that resulted in the form of the city, a Unesco statement has said.

The city houses various architectural styles, an example of the amalgamation of cultures. The statement noted that Jaipur was “also an exceptional example of a late medieval trade town in South Asia and defined new concepts for a thriving trade and commercial hub. In addition, the city is associated with living traditions in the form of crafts that have national and international recognition.”

The India representative at Baku handed the win to Rajasthan’s people. “It’s a proud moment for a proud land and proud people — the men and women of Rajasthan. The credit is rightly theirs for having nurtured and protected this heritage for generations,” he said.

The achievement is especially well-earned for Jaipur, as the International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos) had recently put the proposal on “deferral”.

“It’s a proud moment for the state government to bag this tag. ICOMOS had recommended a deferral. However, keen on the title, the state took a series of management related steps which were appreciated and helped us gain the title,” an official of the Local Self Government department said.

PM Modi tweeted his happiness on the development. “The city of Jaipur today has been given the honour, privilege and responsibility of being inscribed on the list of world heritage.”


Economic Survey 2019-20

Even as the country grapples with a five-year slump in economy, the government has projected a 7 per cent growth in the current financial year as opposed to the 6.8 per cent recorded in the last financial year. The pre-Budget Economic Survey 2019-20, authored by the new chief economic advisor Krishnamurthy V Subramanian and presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in the Parliament a day ahead of the Union Budget, calls for a huge boost in spending and reforms to accelerate higher rate of expansion to double the economy’s size to USD 5 trillion by 2024-25 – target set by Modi 2.0.

The real gross domestic product growth, which slowed to a five year low of 5.8 per cent in the first three months of 2019 - well below China’s 6.4 per cent, is expected to rise to 7 per cent in the fiscal year 2019-20 that started in April, it said.

GDP growth was 6.8 per cent in 2018-19, down from 7.2 per cent in 2017-18. India is currently the sixth largest economy in the world with a size of USD 2.7 trillion. It is expected to overtake Britain to become the fifth largest next year.

Subramanian said investment (especially private), is the “key driver” that boosts demand, creates capacity, increases labour productivity, introduces new technology, allows creative destruction and generates jobs.

At a media briefing, he said structural reforms such as ones in the labour sector are needed to bring in the muchneeded private investment.

Also, micro, small and medium enterprises sector needs focus as the bulk of the job creation and growth support would come from this segment.

While the survey has retained the fiscal deficit estimate for 2018-19 at 3.4 per cent, the general fiscal deficit --Centre and states combined -- has been pegged at 5.8 per cent in 2018-19, down from 6.4 per cent in the previous fiscal.

But for India to become a USD 5 trillion economy (more than double the current size) by 2024-25, it needs to sustain a real GDP growth rate of 8 per cent, which international experience suggests is possible only through a sustained “virtuous cycle” of savings, investment and exports, said the survey.

“The political stability in the country should push the animal spirits of the economy, while the higher capacity utilisation and an uptick in business expectations should increase investment activity in 2019-20,” the survey said.

It said oil prices will decline in current fiscal, pushing consumption. Consumption accounts for about 60 per cent of the GDP.

“ The extent of recovery in the farm sector and farm prices will decide the push to rural consumption, which is also dependent on the situation of monsoon,” it said adding some regions are expected to receive less than normal rains, which could prove to be detrimental for crop production.

The survey suggested policies to unshackle MSMEs to grow, create jobs and enhance productivity. It also called for reorienting policies to promote young firms which have the potential to become big, rather than MSME firms which remain small.

The survey flagged the need to prepare for the ageing of the population, necessitating more healthcare investment and raising the retirement age in a phased manner.

Stating that low pay and wage inequality remain serious obstacles towards achieving inclusive growth, it called for legal reforms, policy consistency, efficient labour markets and use of technology focus areas.

Contract enforcement, it said, remains the biggest constraint to improving Ease of Doing Business ranking. 


Rahul Quits

Rahul Gandhi formally quit as Congress president, more than a month after he offered his resignation to a Congress Working Committee meeting after the party’s rout in the Lok Sabha elections. Gandhi posted on Twitter his four page resignation letter, in which he thanked party workers for their love and support, exhorted Congress to radically transform to take on the might of the BJP and assured the party that he would always be available for inputs or advice. Gandhi changed his designation from president to “member of Congress and member of Parliament” within minutes of posting the letter.

“Accountability is critical for the growth of our party. It is for this reason that I have resigned as Congress president,” said his letter, not addressed to anyone but released as a statement later. “Rebuilding the party requires hard decisions and numerous people will have to be made accountable for the failure of 2019. It would be unjust to hold others accountable but ignore my own responsibility as president of the party,” he wrote.

Reiterating his stand at the May 25 CWC meeting, Gandhi said that he had taken on Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and Mohan Bhagwat alone and party seniors did not support him in raising vital issues. “I personally fought the prime minister, the RSS and the institutions they have captured with all my being… at times, I stood completely alone and am extremely proud of it. I have learned so much from the spirit and dedication of our workers and party members, men and women who have taught me about love and decency,” the letter said.

“Immediately after resigning, I suggested to my colleagues in CWC that the way forward would be to entrust a group of people with the task of beginning the search for a new president. I have empowered them to do so and committed my full support to this process and a smooth transition.” Though there were reports of Congress entrusting the responsibilities of president to the senior-most general secretary, the party did not announce such an arrangement.

Gandhi attacked BJP for ‘weakening’ democracy. “I have no hatred or anger towards BJP but every living cell in my body instinctively resists their idea of India.” He also questioned the fairness of the Lok Sabha elections. “A free and fair election requires the neutrality of a country’s institutions; an election cannot be fair without arbiters — a free press, an independent judiciary and a transparent election commission that is objective and neutral. Nor can an election be free if one party has a complete monopoly on financial resources,” the letter said.

Government to induct 40 private sector experts

The government told Rajya Sabha that it had decided, in principle, to appoint outside domain experts to 40 positions at the deputy secretary and director levels in various Union ministries and departments.

In a written reply to a question in the upper House, minister of state for personnel Jitendra Singh said while the proposal had been cleared in principle, “no final decision has been taken in the matter”. In fact, asked if reservation was provided to officers recruited through lateral entry, he said this issue “does not arise” in view of the purpose of such lateral recruitment being infusing fresh talent and augmentation of manpower availability.

The proposal to appoint domain experts at the middle management level of central government is based on recommendations contained in Niti Aayog’s three-year action agenda and report of a group of secretaries submitted in February 2017 for lateral induction of personnel at the middle and senior management level in the government with the twin objectives of bringing in fresh talent as well as augmenting the availability of manpower.

Earlier, UPSC had recommended nine candidates for appointment as joint secretaries in the central government on lateral entry. Last June, the government had invited applications for 10 posts of joint secretaries in different ministries under its ‘lateral entry’ scheme in a bid to attract talent from public and private sectors.

The lateral entry mode, which relates to appointment of specialists from private sector in government organisations, is seen as an ambitious step of the Modi government to bring in fresh talent and ideas in the bureaucracy.

Government think-tank Niti Aayog had in a report highlighted that it was essential that specialists be inducted into the system through lateral entry on a fixed-term contract.

BK Birla: End of an Era

Basant Kumar Birla, the grand old man of Indian industry, passed away at his Mumbai residence. He was 98 and is survived by his grandson, Kumar Mangalam Birla, daughters Manjushree Khaitan and Jayshree Mohta, and an extended family of nephews, nieces, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

‘B K Babu’ or ‘Basant Babu’ as he was fondly called by his peers and juniors, was the last surviving member of a generation of industry greats, who included JRD Tata (the two pre-eminent business families also lent their surnames to the ‘Tata-Birla’ duopoly in the pre-Ambani and pre-liberalisation days).

Besides being among post-Independence India’s first generation of industrialists who helped shape India Inc’s growth, the Birla family patriarch also enjoyed close relationships with national leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Sardar Patel, in fact, was said to have played a part in his marriage (in 1941) to Sarala.

Birla’s cremation will take place in Kolkata on Thursday in accordance with his “express wishes”, family members said.

President Ramnath Kovind, Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee and Tata Trusts chairman Ratan N Tata were among the first to condole the death. “Sorry to hear about the passing away of veteran industrialist Shri B K Birla. He made crucial contributions to business, education and several social causes,” Kovind said. Birla’s death creates a void that cannot be filled, the Bengal CM said, recalling the 2013 Banga Bibhushan honour the state conferred on him.

Son of the illustrious Ghanshyam Das Birla, B K Birla started his career at the bottom of the rung — as a junior employee in Kesoram Industries. He diversified the business from textile and jute and entered sectors like cement, tyre, chemicals and engineering, turning the B K Birla Group into a Rs.16,000-crore business empire, of which he was the chairman till he breathed his last. The group now comprises five major companies — Kesoram Industries, Century Textiles & Industries, Century Enka, Mangalam Cement and ECE Industries — and several smaller, unlisted entities.

What marked him out, his juniors said, was his enthusiasm to take risks. Birla Tyres (a part of Kesoram) entered the radial segment, considered to be the tyre industry’s future, with an investment of over Rs.800 crore — setting up two facilities in Haridwar and Balasore in 2013-14 — when Birla was 93. The group also kept investing in two cement units — Kesoram Cement and Vasavdatta Cement — to increase combined production capacity to over 7 million tonnes.

Like Kesoram, he also transformed another family business — Century Textiles and Industries — into a diversified company with interests in cement, paper and textiles. Entities like Century Enka, Mangalam Cement, ECE Industries, Mangalam Timber and Jayshree Tea & Industries were all set up, one after the other, under his close watch.

He was considered a pioneer in another area: setting up joint ventures with global majors. He roped in Akzo Noble for Century Enka, now a leading manufacturer of nylon tyre cords, back in 1969. Family, friends and colleagues remember him as a visionary who guided Indian industry through its infancy.

He was also a keen photographer, who saw the transformation from analogue to digital photography (just as he saw the transformation of Indian industry to its post-liberalisation days under Manmohan Singh). He kept a camera, gifted by his dad, till well into the 21st century — its replacement was a Leica digital, which he cherished till his last vacation to Europe a few years ago (London and Switzerland remained his favourite destinations till he could travel).

Another favourite destination — closer home — was the group headquarters, Birla Building, in the heart of old Kolkata. He spent most of his time at the 15th-floor office on R N Mukherjee Road, discussing with nephew, S K Birla, till four years ago.

Birla was also one of the oldest members of the Calcutta Club, one of his favourite haunts in the city along with Sangeet Kala Academy and Birla Academy (which has a collection of more than 2,000 paintings). His hometown’s gradual decline was an abiding pain though he never lost hope in “his city”. 

Services sector activity contracts

Activity in the country’s key services sector contracted in June for the first time in over a year, dragged down by stagnant sales, while job creation was at a 22-month low.

At 49.6 in June, down from 50.2 in May, the IHS Markit India services business activity index contracted for the first time since May 2018. The 50-point mark separates expansion from contraction. Survey participants attributed the decline to weak sales, competitive pressures and unfavourable taxation.

The latest data comes two days ahead of the budget, which is expected to unveil measures to boost growth. Several data points have pointed to a slowdown in the economy and all eyes are on FM Nirmala Sitharaman for steps to revive growth.

A sister survey had shown manufacturing activity in India losing momentum in June due to a softer increase in orders with the Nikkei India Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index falling to 52.1 in June from 52.7 in May. Put together, the Nikkei India Composite PMI Output Index fell to 50.8 from 51.7 in May. As per the survey, hopes of an improvement in demand conditions and marketing efforts underpinned optimism among Indian service providers.

“That said, the overall level of positive sentiment weakened to a four-month low,” it said.

Sector-wise, real estate and business services firms witnessed a marked drop in new work in June, which led to a great decline in output and no growth in employment while finance and insurance businesses were the best performers, which saw strong job creation on the back of the fastest growth in output in the service sector.

Consumer services saw drop in business activity for the first time in 12 months, according to the report.

Life Expectancy

Access to better healthcare and sanitation has increased average life expectancy everywhere in the world. In India, it has increased by 32 years since Independence. Better sanitation, housing and availability of medical facilities, as well as the development of vaccines, have significantly reduced early- and mid-age deaths.

Adani Group to run three airports

Airports in Ahmedabad, Lucknow and Mangaluru will now be run by the Adani Group in public-private partnership, like the Metro ones in Mumbai and Delhi, for the next 50 years, a government statement said.

The Modi-I government had decided to lease out six airports — Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Mangaluru, Trivandrum, Lucknow and Guwahati — for 50 years to run them in PPP mode. AAI had invited bids for them in December 2018 and Gautam Adani’s Adani Group had emerged as the highest bidder for all the six. Asked why only a decision on three airports was taken when bidding had been completed for six, Union minister Prakash Javadekarsaid: “Process is complete (for these three places). Wait for next (meaning Cabinet will consider them when their process is complete).”

Speaking about the approval for leasing out of the three airports, the statement said, “These projects will bring efficiency in delivery, expertise,enterprise and professionalism, apart from harnessing needed investments in public sector. This will also result in enhanced revenues to the AAI, which may lead to further investment by AAI in Tier-II and Tier-III cities, and economic development in these areas in terms of job creation and related infrastructure.”

The move to lease out the six was the second big round for privatising airports after Delhi and Mumbai were handed out to private players, over a decade ago.

Ratnagiri Dam breaches

A dam in Chiplun tehsil of Ratnagiri district, around 300 km from Mumbai, that had developed cracks a month ago breached late on Tuesday during heavy rainfall, sweeping away 23 residents. Twelve bodies were recovered; 11 others were still missing at the time of going to press. Eleven houses, too, were washed away.

Those who managed to escape in the nick of time were given shelter at a nearby school.

Tiware is located on hill surrounded by lush, green mountains from three sides. The dam helps restrict the flow of water coming down the mountains.

Villagers of Bhendwadi said temporary repairs were carried out at the dam—built in 2004 by a company owned by local Shiv Sena MLA Sadanand Chavan—a month ago, but fresh cracks had cropped up. They said they had warned local authorities just the day before tragedy struck.

Two boys said they watched the water level of the dam rise as rain pounded the village—but the authorities allegedly issued no warning—and that the structure breached around 9.30 pm. It was the villagers themselves who raised an alarm, they said.

Water Resources Minister Girish Mahajan visited the site on Wednesday and ordered up an inquiry through a special investigation team led by a senior government official. The team will also question Chavan, the minister said. Mahajan announced compensation of Rs.5 lakh for the deceased and reconstruction of houses in four months.


PM wields the bat against ‘arrogance’

Prime Narendra Modi warned his party MPs that “arrogance” and “misbehaviour” will not be tolerated. During BJP’s first parliamentary party meeting after government formation, he said in Hindi: “Manmaani nahi chalegi” (one cannot get away doing what one wishes to).

Though he did not take names, it was clear that he was referring to BJP MLA Akash Vijayvargiya’s thrashing of a municipal officer with a cricket bat last week in Indore. Akash is the son of BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya who was present at the meeting when Modi deplored the incident. According to sources, Modi told the gathering, “Whoever’s son he may be... such arrogance, misbehaviour cannot be tolerated.”

It is significant that the PM’s warnings came just a day after the father defended the action of his son, calling him kacche khiladi (a novice player).

“The Prime Minister said any kind of misbehaviour that brings down the party’s name is unacceptable. He said that action should be taken if someone has done something wrong. He also said that it is applicable to everyone,” BJP MP and spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy quoted Modi while speaking to reporters on Tuesday.

Party sources said Modi also disapproved of the fanfare with which BJP leaders received Akash after he was released from jail and suggested that the party will take action. Days after being arrested Akash was released on bail on June 30. After coming out he had said: “I am not guilty or embarrassed about what I did as it was in public interest. A woman was being dragged brutally in front of the police and I couldn’t think of doing anything else. “He hoped he would not have to pick up the cricket bat again.

Current A/c Deficit at a Six-Year High

India’ current account deficit — the excess of imports over exports — for FY’19 touched a six-year high of 2.1% of GDP. Experts say even at current levels, the CAD is not alarming as it is considered prudent to have CAD of up to 2.5% of GDP. India’s CAD is largely dependent on three major drivers, namely, crude oil imports which determine the extent of forex outflows, software services income, and inward remittances by the Indian diaspora, which determine the forex inflows. Of these three, since crude accounts for a little over one fourth (27%) of India’s merchandise imports. Hence the trend in crude prices tend to influence CAD. While crude prices have been volatile with some element of cyclicality, software exports and remittances have remained more or less steady sources of forex inflows. The future trend in CAD is largely going to be dependent on way crude prices move or if we lower our dependence on crude.

Mumbai Goes Under Water Once Again

Twenty three people have been killed in rain-related incidents in Mumbai since Monday when the financial capital recorded the second highest rainfall in 45 years.

Torrential rains relented only in patches and brought the city to a halt by submerging roads and railway tracks. In suburban Malad’s Kurar village, a wall adjoining slums collapsed at midnight, leading to death of 21 people and injuries to 50 others.

Two more men were reported to be killed in Malad after their SUV got stuck in a subway. Trapped at around 11.30 pm on Monday night, the youth kept calling for help from the car and their cell phones but no one could rescue them. The bodies were taken out from the car on Tuesday morning. With more rains forecast for the day the state government declared a public holiday and the BMC shut down schools and colleges. Both the government and the BMC need not have bothered simply because there was so much water on the roads that no travel was possible.

In fact, many who had gone to work on Monday were not able to reach home till Tuesday evening. Trains too bore the brunt of it as the Central Railway announced on Monday night that it had decided to shut its services due to the huge amount of water on the tracks. By Tuesday evening the services are still to be on track. Western Railway services was delayed but running on Tuesday.

The National Disaster Response Force and even the Indian Navy had to be pressed into action to help rescue people in Kurla.

The BJP-led Maharashtra government and specifically its parter Shiv Sena, which has run BMC for many decades, came in for had to face the brunt of criticism.

Mumbai receiving heavy downpour in two days points towards an irregular pattern of rainfall that is now becoming regular, according to a climate study expert, who compared it with last year's Kerala rains.

“Winds from Arabian sea were coming towards the city and an upper level circulation was active. During such times, the cyclonic circulation formed shifts north to south but sometimes because of favourable wind condition the cyclonic circulation stays at one position for a long time. This gives rise to very heavy rains,” said Sridhar Balasubramanian, associate professor, department of mechanical engineering, and associate faculty IDP Climate Studies, IIT Bombay. He further said, “Last year Kerala too received heavy rains owing to a similar kind of situation. There was a low pressure system forming in the Bay of Bengal and then there was a cyclonic circulation which stationed itself for an entire day.”

According to meteorologists, an array of weather systems are working in tandem. Anupam Kashyapi, head of weather, IMD, Pune, said, “The westerly wind flow is ensuring that the cloud cover hovers over this region. Most of these clouds are ‘stratocumulus’ clouds, which are large dark and rounded masses. With the lightning and thunder activity in Mumbai on Monday, we have also observed hints of ‘cumulonimbus’ or thunder clouds in this setup. The presence of both these types of clouds is also playing a role in the current heavy rains in Mumbai.” Kashyapi said the last few days have seen development of several weather conditions, like the mid-tropospheric cyclonic circulation that has increased rainfall activity. “This system persisted three to four days ago causing heavy rains over north Konkan. It gradually dissipated but has now formed again over the same region. As compared to July 1, the system’s height has increased, causing it to strengthen further. In fact, the system is the strongest currently in comparison to the last few days,” he said.

According to K S Hosalikar, IMD deputy director-general (western region), there was a cloud patch right stationed over Mumbai. “Owing to this, Santacruz recorded over 200 mm rains in six hour,” he said, adding that another reason for the extremely heavy rain spell was a cyclonic circulation over South Gujarat and adjoining sea. "So when you have a circulation and a low pressure in the bay, this gives vigorous monsoon conditions," he added.

Nod for phase 1 of Delhi-Gurugram-Alwar transit corridor

The Rajasthan government approved the detailed project report for the first phase of the Delhi-Gurugram-Alwar Regional Rapid Transit System corridor that will reduce travel time between Sarai Kale Khan in Delhi and Alwar to 117 minutes. Right now, it takes three hours to cover the distance.

The Regional Rapid Transit System is a central government project aimed at providing faster connectivity in the National Capital Region besides checking the rising air pollution and decongesting road traffic.

In the first phase, the RRTS corridor will be developed from Sarai Kale Khan in Delhi to SNB (Shahjahanpur-Neemrana-Behror Urban Complex) in Rajasthan, said Sudhir Sharma, chief public relations officer of National Capital Region Transport Corporation. The Haryana government approved the corridor in February.

The NCRTC Board, the implementing agency for the project, approved the Delhi-Gurguram-SNB corridor (106 km) DPR in December 2018, the official said.

In the second phase, the corridor will be extended to Sotanala. It will reach Alwar in the third phase, covering a total distance of 164 km. There will be 22 stations on the corridor in three phases.

In the first phase (Delhi-Gurugram-SNB), the corridor will have 11 stations on the elevated 71 km, and the remaining 35 km will have 5 underground stations, mostly in Delhi and Gurugram.

After the approval from the NCRTC Board and the Haryana government, pre-construction work such as geo-technical investigation and mapping of underground utilities are in progress, NCRTC CPRO said. NCRTC has also commissioned its site office in Gurugram to expedite the work on the corridor. The pile load test is expected to begin soon.

The RRTS trains will be air-conditioned and have an average speed of 100 kmph. The trains will be available at a frequency of every 5-10 minutes. There would be priority seating arrangements

for people with special needs and a business class and ladies coach in every train, the DPR says. This RRTS line will pass through the urbanized and industrialized areas of Haryana and Rajasthan and connect Delhi airport through Aerocity, increasing the connectivity in entire NCR.

The corridor will strengthen the regional transport infrastructure

by providing a fast, safe, comfortable and reliable mobility option to the residents of Delhi, Gurugram, Rewari, Manesar, Daruheda, Bawal and nearby areas. This will help in decongesting Delhi and its roads, providing citizens the choice to live and work in different regional nodes.

All the corridors will be integrated with the Delhi Metro.

US to provide India NATO ally-like status

The US Senate has passed a legislative provision that brings India on par with America’s NATO allies and countries like Israel and South Korea for increasing defence cooperation. The National Defense Authorisation Act or NDAA for 2020, that contained such a proposal was passed by the US Senate last week.

Introduced by Senate India Caucus Co-Chair Senator John Cornyn with the support of Senate India Caucus Co-Chair Senator Mark Warner, the amendment provides for increased US-India defence cooperation in the Indian Ocean in the areas of humanitarian assistance, counter terrorism, counter-piracy and maritime security.

Last week, House India Caucus Co-Chair Brad Sherman, along with Congressmen Joe Wilson, Ami Bera, Ted Yoho, George Holding, Ed Case and Raja Krishnamoorthi introduced a similar legislative proposal to the House

FY2020 NDAA that would greatly enhance the US-India relationship. The bill would be signed into law after both the chambers of the US Congress – the House of Representatives and the Senate – passes it. The House is expected to take up its version of the NDAA sometime in July before legislators adjourn for the month-long August recess on July 29.

In a statement, the Hindu American Foundation commended Senators Cornyn and Warner for their efforts in advancing the US-India strategic partnership. “Elevating India to non-NATO status is vital, now more than ever, for the US, for India, and for the entire region,” said HAF managing director Samir Kalra.

“Whether we do that with free standing legislation or whether we do that with an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act matters, I think, very little. What matters is that we recognise the importance, in a tangible way, of the US-India alliance,” Congressman Sherman said at the HAF Capitol Hill Reception last week.

The US recognised India as a “Major Defence Partner” in 2016, a designation that allows India to buy more advanced and sensitive technologies from America at par with that of the US’ closest allies and partners, and ensures enduring cooperation into the future.


Rahul's resignation saga continues

Chief Ministers of five Congress-ruled states met Rahul Gandhi in a bid to convince him to continue as Congress president. Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot, Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh, Madhya Pradesh CM Kamal Nath, Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel and Puducherry CM V Narayanasamy met Rahul at his residence to ‘convey the sentiments’ of party workers. Sources said that Gehlot and Nath yet again offered to step down in the wake of Rahul’s displeasure over them prioritising their sons’ campaigns. Though sources said the meeting was highly confidential, it is learnt that Nath, Gehlot and Baghel were specifically pulled up for ‘poor’ performance in their states.

Meanwhile, mass resignations by Congress functionaries opposing Rahul’s stand to quit reached 300 and a massive sit-in from across the country is planned today. Leaders from the party’s Delhi unit sat on an indefinite hunger strike at the party headquarters (24, Akbar Road) from Monday morning and more leaders are set to join the agitation, said Delhi unit’s working president Rajesh Lilothia, who was the first to begin the resignation drive. Sources said it is likely that party workers and leaders from state units across the country might join in, forcing Rahul to make an appearance before the agitating workers.

After the two-hour closed-door meeting, Gehlot came out of Rahul’s residence and told reporters that it was a ‘good meeting’ and added, “Rahul ji listened to us intently and we expect him to take a positive decision.” He said, “The other side misled the country in the name of patriotism. BJP did its politics hiding behind the Army… did not once talk of development, economy, jobs. They ignored all these issues and fought the elections on caste, religion and army, whereas Rahul Gandhi campaigned actively and the entire country took note of it.”

Asked if he and Nath submitted his resignations, he maintained, “Resignations are given the day the results come in… CMs naturally have to put in their resignations. The entire CWC has authorised Rahul ji to make changes, reshuffle, remove…”

Baghel had held yet another meeting with Rahul last week following which he vacated the position of Chhattisgarh state Congress chief and was replaced by Mohan Markam. Amarinder Singh had won a word of praise from the Congress Working Committee during its first meeting after the election results came in and sources said that even on Monday he was not specifically asked any tough questions by the Congress chief.

June 2018: Motown in low spirits

Passenger car sales shrank by double digits for the third straight month in June as buyers continued to be put off by higher interest costs following the non-bank lending crisis and by rising automobile prices.

The end of election uncertainty in May did not revive Motown’s spirits and the numbers could increase pressure on the Narendra Modi-led NDA government to open the purse strings in this week’s budget to spur lending and growth. Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman will present her first budget and the Modi government’s seventh on Friday amid a sharp consumption slowdown.

The motor industry estimates that passenger vehicle sales fell by about 19% to 222,000 units in June, the third straight month of double-digit declines. Vehicle sales had fallen 17% in April and 20.5% in May.

Market leaders Maruti Suzuki and Hyundai Motor India led the drop, with wholesale volumes declining by 17% to 111,014 units and by 7.3% to 42,007 units, respectively.

“The elections got over towards the end of May. Demand cannot revive overnight. The budget, new policies are yet to be announced by the government,” Maruti Suzuki chairman RC Bhargava told ET. “That said, wholesale numbers do not reflect the demand on ground. If we look at retail data on a month-on-month basis, it will give a better picture of consumer sentiments.”

Data with the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers shows retail sales of passenger vehicles declined by 1.28% to 264,035 units in April and by 1.46% to 270,048 units in May. The retail data for June is yet to be announced.


CR: Thane To Diva 5th & 6th Line Plan In Last Leg

The fifth and sixth railway lines between Thane and Diva, which have been in the making for nearly a decade, has got a boost with the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority allowing construction of an 1.4 km elevated section near the Mumbra creek. The railway bridge will be constructed over the Mumbra bypass road, which connects Thane to Navi Mumbai, and a 500 m portion of it will run along the Ulhas river.

The two Central Railway lines when completed will help segregate outstation and suburban train operations between Kurla and Kalyan. Six lines exist from Kurla-Thane and Diva-Kalyan.

The MCZMA clearance was required as 37 mangrove trees need to be cut and also because of the flyover’s proximity to Ulhas river. The Bombay high court has already approved cutting of mangroves “in public interest”. The MCZMA, while forwarding the project proposal to the State Environment Impact Appraisal Authority, has placed conditions on the bridge construction such as no debris dumping in Coastal Regulation Zone and on the beach. Also, no chemical manufacturing or processing will be allowed on the spot and five times the destroyed mangroves need to be replanted.

The plan to add the two lines—fifth and sixth—on Central Railway was proposed in 2000 but work finally started only in 2009. The work was chiefly obstructed due to encroachments and squatters refusing to vacate. Also, according to the initial plans, a tunnel was to be constructed through Parsik Hills near Mumbra to make way for these lines. However, it was observed that the boring work could harm an existing 150-year-old railway tunnel and hence, the plan was dropped.

The project is a joint venture between Indian Railways and the state while it is being executed by Mumbai Rail Vikas Corporation.

Officials said that the elevated line is already under construction and would be completed by December 2019. “Thereafter, it would be connected to the railway yards at Thane and Diva. While the target is to commission the fifth and sixth lines by March 2020, it may actually happen in December 2020,” said an MRVC official. The project has been delayed by 12 years and its cost has shot up from Rs.130 crore to over Rs.400 crore.

June sees 33% rain shortfall

June has ended with a huge countrywide rainfall deficit of 33% of normal, making it the fifth driest month of June in the past 100 years. While monsoon’s performance has so far been way below expectations, met officials say there are indications of good rains in the first half of July.

Rainfall across India in June was recorded to be 112.1 mm, as against the long period average (normal) of 166.9 mm, according to the India Meteorological Department. In the past 100 years, June rainfall has been less than this in just four years — 2009 (85.7 mm), 2014 (95.4), 1926 (98.7 mm) and 1923 (102 mm).

As many as 30 out of India’s 36 meteorological sub-divisions registered deficient (lower than 20% below normal) or large deficient (60% or less below normal) rainfall during the month. With a huge deficit opening up in June, monsoon will now have to perform at over 102% of average over the next three months in order to finish at 96%, the lower end of the normal range, which was IMD’s forecast for this year’s monsoon.

Monsoon’s failure in June, mainly because of late onset and tardy progress till June 19, comes on the back of weak pre-monsoon rainfall. As per the Central Water Commission’s update late last week, reservoirs in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra were at critically low levels of 84% and 77%, respectively, below normal for this time of the year.

Reservoir levels across south India are running very low. However, better news could be in store for the next couple of weeks, with all eyes on a low-pressure system that has formed in the Bay of Bengal and which could intensify into a depression over the next two days. “This system is set to move inland and bring good rainfall over central India as well as some parts of east and north. Monsoon will very likely cover entire central in the next few days and move further into north India,” said D Sivananda Pai, IMD’s lead monsoon forecaster.

IMD has issued red alerts for very heavy falls at several sub-divisions, including Odisha, Chhattisgarh, east MP, Vidarbha and Telangana over the next three-four days.

Private forecaster Skymet has predicted a monsoon surge in the first half of July. “Mumbai is at serious risk of flooding between July 3 and July 5. Close to 200 mm or more rain per day is going to batter the city during this period,” said Skymet MD Jatin Singh.

Jal Shakti scheme launch today

The government is set to launch the ambitious Jal Shakti Abhiyan, which aims to put in place measures for rainwater harvesting, water conservation and replenishing water bodies, at time when the Narendra Modi government is turning its attention towards water shortage in various parts of the country.

Officials familiar with the matter said high-level teams have been constituted in 254 districts before the launch of the programme, and engineers and technical staff have been placed in 1,539 blocks across the country to take stock of the ground water levels, the state of acquifers, and ponds and water bodies that may have been encroached upon over the last two decades.

“As of today, India only conserves 8% of all rainfall, which is among the lowest in the world,” said a senior official of the Jal Shakti ministry who asked not to be named. “We need to change this.” With only 4% of the world’s water resources and 16% of the global population, India’s water crisis is headed towards an inflection point.

According to a paper released in 2018 by the Niti Ayog, the state-run policy think-tank, India’s ground water in 21 cities is set to plunge to bare-minimum levels by 2020. The real problems are irregular supply, widespread contamination and growing demand in the face of declining available sources.

At a meeting at South Block last week attended by officials several ministries, including Jal Shakti and rural development, Modi said that the way the government owned the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan for sanitation and turned it into a success, it’s time to take ownership of the Jal Shakti Abhiyan and make it successful, said a second official on condition of anonymity. The first phase of the scheme will run till mid-September, he added.

The Modi government, in its second term, merged the water resources and drinking water and sanitation ministries to form a new ministry called Jal Shakti. Its scope and mandate stretches across international and interstate water disputes, the Clean Ganga project, and making drinking water accessible for all.

On June 22, the Prime Minister wrote letters to all village panchayat heads, urging them to undertake rainwater harvesting and water conservation activities in rural India. The government is likely to announce a major national water conservation policy soon. A separate high-priority conservation programme is also likely to implemented in 226 identified water-stressed districts of the country, said a third official in the know.

In addition, the government will ask all MPs to give priority to water storage works under their local area development fund.

“In the last four years, nearly 50,000 villages have used MGNREGA [rural income guarantee act] and other state funds to successfully conserve rain water in a big way,” said rural development secretary Amarjeet Sinha.

The government also plans to award civil society and community leaders who have worked on water conservation, according to the official.

Recycle and reuse will be the focus of Jal Shakti Abhiyan in urban areas where much of the used water is dumped into rivers and other water bodies while in rural areas the target will be to promote conservation and harvesting rainwater. 


G20 Summit: Modi’s Visit Ends with 6 Bilateral Meets on Last Day

Prime Minister Narendra Modi held bilateral meetings with leaders of Indonesia, Brazil, Turkey, Australia, Singapore and Chile, and discussed a host of key issues including trade, counter-terrorism, defence, maritime security and sports.

Modi, who was in Osaka, Japan, for the two-day G20 Summit, held his first official engagement on the last day of the summit with Indonesian President Joko Widodo. The two leaders discussed ways to deepen bilateral cooperation in trade and investment, defence and maritime fronts. In a tweet, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said, “Discussed expanding cooperation in trade & investment, defence, maritime, space & exchanged views on Indo-Pacific vision”.

Soon after, Modi met Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro and held wide-ranging discussions on bilateral relationship, especially cooperation in trade and investment, agriculture and biofuels in the context of climate change. He then met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Kumar said their discussion focused on trade and investment, defence, counter terrorism, IT and civil aviation.

In his meeting with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Prime Minister Modi had “good discussions on enhancing cooperation in sports, mining technology, defence and maritime cooperation and Indo-Pacific”.

The prime minister then had pull-aside meetings with his Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsien Loong and Chilean President Sebastian Pinera and exchanged views on strengthening bilateral relations.

Overall, Modi held nine bilateral meetings, eight pull-aside meetings and two plurilateral meetings.


India's Urban Population

If India’s cities were a country, their population would be the third largest after China and India. Although every third Indian lives in a city today, 60 years ago only 1-in-5 did. Back in 1960, about 8 crore Indians — less than the population of Japan at the time — lived in cities. Today, Indian cities house 45 crore people, which is equal to the combined current population of the US and Japan. Though many migrants struggle to make a good life in cities, they feel they are better off as urban dwellers.

Forex Reserves Hit a Record High

India’s foreign exchange reserves hit an all-time high in the week to June 21, led by aggressive dollar purchases by the Reserve Bank of India over the last couple of weeks. The reserves now stand at $426.4 billion, up $4 billion from $422 billion in the week to June 14.

Foreign exchange reserves are held by the RBI as a tool to maintain stability of the currency and control inflation. This is done through periodic buying and selling of foreign currency assets in the spot and forward currency markets.

The reserves are primarily held in dollars, but other foreign currencies such as the yen, pound and euro also constitute these assets. India’s forex kitty is the sixth-largest in the world behind China, Japan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Apart from foreign currency assets, the reserves also comprise gold, special drawing rights and reserve position in the IMF.

Experts said that with the end of political uncertainty in the country after the general elections, India has become a favourable market for foreign investments, leading the RBI to purchase dollar assets in the forward premium market. This may likely cause the reserves to swell further in the coming weeks.

The forex kitty had touched the previous high of $426 billion in the week to April 13, 2018, but owing to a slew of factors such as emerging markets’ currency crisis in August post the crash of Turkey’s lira, rising crude oil prices and the US-China trade war, the central bank had to cut down its reserves to keep the rupee from depreciating against the dollar.

Forex reserves fell through most of the second half of 2018 to a year’s low of $392 billion in the week to October 26, 2018, after the rupee depreciated against dollar to an all-time high of 74.3 on October 8.

G20: PM Modi holds 2 trilaterals and several bilaterals

Even by diplomatic standards, the first day of the G20 Summit was not only hectic but showed how India was a sought-after country at the summit in Osaka.

While the two trilateral meetings — RIC (Russia, India an China) and JAI (Japan America and India) along with the informal BRICS meet dominated the day, key bilaterals with countries such as Saudi Arabia were important elements of the day too.

Other than PM Narendra Modi’s much-touted Bilateral with US President Donald Trump, he met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, South Korean President Moon Jae In, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.

With the Saudi Crown prince, PM discussed the current gulf situation. Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said, “They discussed the situation in the gulf and the prime minister said that this could impact oil prices which is important for India. PM appreciated the efforts by Saudi Arabia in ensuring oil supplies remain stable and oil prices remaining predictable in the last few months.”

“Iran wasn’t discussed,” the foreign secretary added.

The crown prince has invited PM Modi for a conference in his country which will happen later this year. The Haj quota has also been increased for Indian Muslims, from 170,000 to 200,000.