Goa Budget: 2019-2020

Goa: Domestic arrivals triple in last decade

Though tourism stakeholders have called the current season an unusually poor one in terms of tourist arrivals, the Economic Survey for 2018-19 said there has been an 4.69% increase in the total arrivals compared to last year. The conclusion for this season has been drawn using figures up to October 2018, till which time 54.8 lakh tourists had visited Goa.

Of the 54.8 lakh, six lakh are foreign tourists, while the remaining 48.7 lakh are domestic visitors.

The survey calls the growth of tourist arrivals ‘huge’ with the numbers nearly tripling over the last decade. The number of charter flights and passengers coming into the state, however, did not grow at the same rate. It peaked in 2013-14 and has declined ever since. “In 2013-14, the highest number of charted flights landed (1,128) in the state with highest number of passengers compared to any other year (2,61,452). During 2018-19, up to December 2018, 290 chartered flights arrived with 83,294 passengers,” reads the survey. The figure for 2018-19 is with a few weeks to go for the charter tourist season to end. In comparison, in 2017-18, 981 flights arrived throughout the year with 2,47,365 passengers.

Tourism trade activities continued to grow, with as many as 1,363 new hotels registered from April to December 2018. Another 6,033 new tourist taxis registered, 343 new government shacks and six private ones, 1,002 water-sports operators, and 139 new tour agencies registered.

Horticulture output pegged at record 314.67 MT this yr

India’s bumper horticulture harvest keeps getting bigger with this year’s production expected to touch a new record of 314.67 million tonnes, nearly 1% higher than last year and 8% higher than the five-year average.

Advance estimates released by the agriculture ministry show that overall production of horticultural produce (fruits, vegetables, spices and flowers) in the 2018-19 crop year (July-June) will be better than the 311.7 MT recorded last year.

The glut, however, is also a cause for worry with observers and farm experts questioning whether farmers would actually reap the benefits of such bumper output. High production depresses prices and farmers are left in the lurch.

Production of high-focus TOP (tomato, onion and potato) is estimated to be higher than the output of these crops in 2017-18 with potato at 52.58 MT recording 6% growth, followed by tomato (2% higher) and onion (1.5% higher).

Records show that horticulture production has been consistently rising since 2012-13.

Uber launches speedboat service

From February 1, Mumbaikars will be able to take speedboats between Gateway of India, Elephanta Islands and Mandwa Jetty. Uber launched UberBOAT, which would be available for passengers on the existing Uber mobile application.

A pilot launch, the boat services would be available as UberBOAT and UberBOAT XL. The UberBOAT will have a seating capacity for six-to-eight passengers, whereas UberBOAT XL’s will be for more than 10. Just like for cabs, passengers can book UberBOAT minutes before their journey. A passenger cannot book a single seat and the entire boat will have to be booked.

An UberBOAT will cost ₹5,700 for a single journey and UberBOAT XL will cost ₹9,500. A normal ferry takes 45 minutes to reach Elephanta Islands from Gateway of India, however, speedboats will take 25 minutes. Currently, 15 speed boats will be operated between the three routes.

In order to ensure safety of passengers, the Maharashtra Maritime Board have set up a helpline for emergencies.

“Boats are not the same as taxis and proper inspection and checking of the boats have been undertaken by the Maharashtra Maritime Board,” said Sanjay Bhatia, chairman, Mumbai Port Trust.

Mandwa jetty in Raigad district is frequently used by Mumbaiites when they head to Alibaug, a popular weekend destination.

Indian Davos to roll out in Gulmarg

Jammu and Kashmir’s ski haven, Gulmarg, could soon become a hub for trading of business ideas.

Come February, more than 150 economists, industry captains and leaders from across the nation will attend the Jammu and Kashmir Economic Conclave 2019 held at the hill station on February 27. The two-day conclave  is modelled on the World Economic Forum held at Davos, Switzerland.

“The choice of Gulmarg was guided by the desire to nurture understanding and bonding between the business communities of Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir. It is also steered by the success stories of collaborations and new ideas that emerge out WEF,” said Arjumand Hussain Talib, a development economist and founding editor of Ziraat Times, which is organizing the event.

The idea of turning Gulmarg into an idea incubator was sowed by former state finance minister Haseeb A Drabu. He aimed to provide networking opportunities and a platform to local businesses. “J&K economy’s economy holds major potential and we just need to exploit it in a meaningful manner. If this provides the start, why not?” said Drabu.

The event will comprise panel discussions and workshops, and also host economic thinkers, writers, and academicians. “Sub-sectors of J&K’s industry, services and agriculture will get an opportunity to present their issues, challenges, future growth ideas and vision for policy transformation and practice,” says Talib.


UP plans new e-way to run along Ganga

After presiding over the state cabinet’s first ever meeting at Kumbh, UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath announced an in principle nod to 600-km long Ganga expressway that would connect Meerut in west UP with Allahabad.

Yogi said the expressway would pass through Meerut, Amroha, Bulandshahr, Shahjahanpur, Farukkhabad, Hardoi, Kannauj, Unnao, Rae Bareli, Pratapgarh and Allahabad. “The access-controlled greenfield project will be a four-lane expressway, expandable to six lanes. Its length will be 600 km for which the government will acquire 6,556 hectares. It will have eight rail overbridges and 18 flyovers and the project cost is pegged at Rs.36,000 crore,” Yogi said. In 2007, then chief minister Mayawati had announced Ganga Exressway from Greater Noida in the west to Ballia in the east. The cost of the 1,000 km project was then estimated at Rs.40,000 crore, and it faced its fiercest opposition from Samajwadi Party, the principal opposition then, which has now joined hands with BSP for coming Lok Sabha elections.

Mayawati lost the polls after the announcement and the project was shelved. CM Yogi said with focus on improving connectivity in the state for development, the cabinet also approved six packages of Bundelkhand Expressway, touted as a project that would bring economic development in the most backward region of UP.

The Bundelkhand Expressway will begin at Jhansi-Mirzapur national highway near Bharatkoop in Chitrakoot and pass through Banda, Hamirpur, Mahoba, Jalaun, Auraiya and Etawah before ending at Agra-Lucknow expressway. The 296 km expressway will cost Rs.14,716 crore while Rs.2,415 crore would go into land acquisition for the project. The cabinet also gave approval for engineering, procurement and construction of two packages of Gorakhpur link expressway project.

BJP’s NE allies, JD(U) unite to oppose Citizenship Bill

In a grand show of unity against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 10 northeast-based parties, seven of whom are BJP allies, and JD(U), an NDA constituent at the national level, came together to jointly fight against the Bill “within and outside” the Parliament.

Of the remaining three, Asom Gana Parishad and Naga People’s Front were earlier part of the NDA while Khun Hynniewtrep National Awakening Movement has some influence in NDA-ruled Meghalaya.

At the meeting organized here by AGP and NPF, the parties said they would see that the Centre’s attempt to amend the Citizenship Act is defeated in Rajya Sabha. The Lok Sabha has already cleared the bill that proposes to offer citizenship to non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan on grounds of religious persecution. The NDA constituents that attended the meeting included Mizo National Front from Mizoram, NPP, United Democratic Party, Hill State People’s Democratic Party and People’s Democratic Front from Meghalaya, Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party from Nagaland, and Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura.

Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma, whose cabinet was the first one to oppose the bill.

Government moves SC to release land around Ayodhya site

In a politically significant move ahead of this summer’s Lok Sabha elections and 25 years after the Centre acquired 67.703 acres of land in Ayodhya, including the disputed Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi site, the Narendra Modi government sought the Supreme Court’s permission to hand over most of the “excess” land to its original owners.

That will benefit the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, the trust set up to build a temple at the site, and please the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, both of which have been lobbying the central government to make a temple possible at the disputed site through legislation or an executive order.

The Supreme Court was expected to begin hearings on the long-pending Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute in October last year, but the case was deferred to January and is yet to begin.

A 33-page petition filed by the Centre made a distinction between the disputed site of 0.313 acre, on which the Babri Masjid stood before it was demolished by a mob in 1992, and 67.703 acres, “which includes both the disputed site and surrounding lanes which are not in dispute”.

Forty-two acres of this land was originally owned by the RJN and was taken over by the Centre.

The government petition wants the land to be restored to the owners from whom it was acquired in 1993, as “it is not a subject matter of dispute in the Supreme Court”. “The central government has no objection in principle if the land is restored/reverted/ handed over back to RJN and other original owners claiming superfluous/excess land,” the petition read.

The acquisition, done through the Acquisition of Certain Areas of Ayodhya Act, 1993, was a temporary arrangement, the petition argued, and that “continuous vesting of superfluous land in the central government defeats the very temporary nature of the acquisition under the 1993 Act and would be contrary to the constitution bench judgment of this court in Ismail Faruqui case.”

The Ismail Faruqui case refers to a 1994 judgment by the Supreme Court, which upheld the 1993 law and ordered that the acquired land remain with the central government and not be released in anyone’s favour until the dispute was decided. This arrangement was continued and reasserted by the Supreme Court by a 2003 order in the Aslam Bhure petition. 

Somewhere in Gujarat....

CMO now comes under Lokayukta’s ambit in Maharashtra

The state council of ministers has brought the chief minister’s office under the jurisdiction of the Lokayukta.

Irrigation Minister Girish Mahajan told reporters that apart from the chief minister, state ministers and opposition leaders will also be brought under the ambit of the Lokayukta. “This is a very good initiative to ensure corruption-free governance,” he said.

Amitabh Rajan, retired additional chief secretary (home), said that during his tenure, he had recommended that the CMO be brought under the Lokayukta.

The Lokayukta, headed by a retired HC judge, serves as an ombudsman to help curb corruption in political as well as bureaucratic corridors. Maharashtra was the first state to introduce this institution through the Lokayukta and Upa-Lokayuktas Act in 1971.

Meanwhile, social activist Anna Hazare has announced that he go on a hunger strike from Wednesday over the central and the state government’s failure to fulfil promises on the appointment of a Lokpal and the passage of a new Lokayukta Act in Maharashtra, respectively. He wants the state to accord the Lokayukta in the state more powers, primarily to launch investigations on its own, as well as implementation of the Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations and some electoral reforms.

In his letter to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, dated January 28, he said: “It has been five years since the Lokpal Act was passed. Yet, the Narendra Modi government has not appointed a Lokpal and the Lokayukta Act has not been passed in Maharashtra for four years.”

Hazare said he would launch the agitation in his village, Ralegan Siddhi, in Ahmednagar district. Sources close to him said the agitation would begin around 10 am.

Mahajan, who has been acting as a mediator between the government and Hazare, appealed to him to withdraw the agitation, claiming that almost all his demands have been met. Hazare, however, refused to budge.

Fadnavis himself had to mediate when Hazare launched a similar agitation at Ramlila Maidan in Delhi last March. The activist had then withdrawn his stir after the central government purportedly assured him that it would fulfil his demands.

Chandrayaan-2 set for launch by April-end

The Indian Space Research Organisation chairman, Sivan K, on Tuesday confirmed that Chandrayaan-2, India’s second lunar mission, would be launched by the end of April.

Sivan told reporters on the sidelines of a space symposium on Tuesday that the launch window was between March and April-end and the decision for the April launch had been finalized. He said, “The testing phase of the space mission is under way. We will be ready by April-end to launch the mission.”

The Chandrayaan-2 aims at exploring the south pole of the moon — unexplored by any country in the world. Its launch was delayed, and several dates were being speculated from December 2018.

Sivan said the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft weighed around 3,290kg. It would orbit around the moon and perform its remote sensing. The budget is around Rs800 crore.

Chandrayaan-1, which found traces of water on the lunar surface, brought India laurels and huge global appreciation. Chandrayaan-2 is expected to provide more clarity on water signature on moon.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) expects the map Chandrayaan-2 would provide from its experiment would yield the firmest conclusions on the distribution of water on the moon’s surface.

The director of Physical Research Laboratory, Anil Bhardwaj, gave a presentation on Chandrayaan-2 at the symposium and said, “The second mission involves a lander. It would do a soft landing on the moon’s surface and unload the rover, which would study the lunar.”

The orbiter would circle the moon on a 100-km-high orbit to generate a comprehensive 3D map of the lunar surface. Besides gathering data on the lunar geography, Chandrayaan-2 would test some new technologies and pave the way for future missions, said Bhardwaj.

Bhardwaj said in his presentation that information on the topography, composition of rocks and the elements involved, and the exosphere of the moon would be studied among other scientific points.

Arctic cold blast impacting north India’s winter

The long and chilly winter in north India this year could be linked to cold blasts from the Arctic region that have been spilling southwards since late December due to the breakdown of a wind circulation called the polar vortex, Indian Met officials said.

As north India continues to reel under severe cold, with the temperature dropping to -1.1 degrees Celsius in Churu, Rajasthan, an IMD official said the sustained chill over the region appears to be linked to the polar vortex breaking up — an event that has brought freezing spells in Europe and is unleashing severe snowstorms in the US.

“The cold from the Arctic has been spilling southwards into Europe and US due to the weakening of westerly currents. This seems to pushing western disturbances more southwards than normal towards northern India. In effect, this is transmitting the cold from southern Europe into north India,” said D Sivananda Pai, head of IMD’s long range forecasting.

Western disturbances are pulses of low pressure winds that travel westwards from in and around Mediterranean region, bringing cold, moist winds that either hit the Himalayas — impacting northern India — or blow over to the north. This January, seven WDs have hit north India as opposed to the normal four to six. “These WDs have been impacting the region,” said B P Yadav, head of IMD’s Regional Meteorological Centre here.

Ironically, the disruption in the polar vortex was caused by warm winds entering the upper atmosphere over the Arctic causing “sudden stratospheric warming” that sent temperatures up by tens of degrees. This sent the cold normally trapped in Arctic spilling out.

“Snowfall is expected across the western Himalayan region — J&K, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand — and the northern plains are likely to get rain with hail in some areas,” said Yadav.

State nod for plan to install over 5k more CCTV cams in Mumbai

The Maharashtra state cabinet approved a Rs.323-crore proposal to install an additional 5,625 CCTV cameras in Mumbai.

This will take the total number of CCTV cameras watching over Mumbai to 10,342. There is already an existing network of 4,717 cameras in the city, which are functioning at an optimal level of 96%.

The additional cameras will cover sensitive areas and roads with street and traffic crimes and offences against women. “The additional cameras will be installed in areas where the existing network is falling short. Many internal roads are not covered. All those loopholes will be covered now,” said a senior official.

The Rs.980-crore Mumbai CCTV surveillance project, floated after the 26/11terror attacks, was being executed by L&T and went live in September 2017.

“The cost of this project is less because only additional cameras have to be installed. There is a clause in the existing contract with L&T that in case the project needs to be expanded they will do so,” said the official.

Officials have said the CCTV network in Mumbai has helped them in crime detection and also in instilling traffic discipline. So far, over eight lakh e-challans have been issued to motorists, the official added.

Officials said work to connect the mobile command vans to a satellite network and also add extra features was on.


George Fernandes dies at 88

Former defence minister George Fernandes has died in Delhi. He had been ailing for the past few years. He was 88 years old.

Fernandes, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, had been bed-ridden for more than eight years. He had a cold and cough and was taken to the Max Hospital in Saket by his wife, Liela Fernandes, earlier in the day, when doctors said that the veteran leader was already dead.

His son, who lives in New York, is expected back in a day or two, after which the funeral will take place.

Born on June 3, 1930, George Fernandes was, at the age of 16, sent to train as a priest, but his calling was different. He moved to Bombay in 1949 and got involved in the socialist trade union movement. Known to be a firebrand unionist and a fiery orator, he organized many strikes and bandhs there.

One strike that is remembered even now was the railways strike in 1974, where the entire nation was brought to a halt. Workers from all over the country joined the strike. It was later called off amid reports of ‘divisions’ in the union.

In 1967, he defeated Congress veteran S K Patil in parliamentary elections from the South Bombay and went on to win eight more Lok Sabha elections, last being in 2004.

Fernandes went underground during the Emergency imposed in 1975 during Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s rule and was arrested and tried in Baroda dynamite case, where he and 24 others were charge with smuggling dynamite to blow up government establishments and railway tracks in protest against state of Emergency.

In 1977, after the Emergency was lifted, Fernandes won the Muzaffarpur seat in Bihar while in jail. The Janata Party and its allies came to power, headed by Morarji Desai, who became the first non-Congress Prime Minister of India. Fernandes was appointed as Union Minister for Industries.

During his tenure as union minister, he ordered American multinationals IBM and Coca-Cola to leave the country, due to alleged investment violations. He was the driving force behind the Konkan Railway project during his tenure as railway minister from 1989 to 1990.

He was a defence minister in the National Democratic Alliance Government (1998–2004), when the Kargil War broke out between India and Pakistan, and India conducted its nuclear tests at Pokhran.

Following Kargil war, allegations surfaced about a scam in procurment of coffins, forcing Fernandes, then defence minister, to step down in 2004 . However, two commissions of inquiry absolved him in the case.

Fernandes’ last presence in Parliament was as a Rajya Sabha member in 2009-2010.

Rahul sounds the Poll Bugle

Congress president Rahul Gandhi promised to implement nationwide minimum income for the poor if voted to power in May, in what was seen as the latest populist gambit to woo voters after the party swept to power in three states largely on the back of a promise for farm loan waiver.

“It’s going to be historic. Congress has decided to provide a guaranteed minimum income to the poor in all states. The poor will get a minimum income directly in their bank accounts. This scheme will be the first of its kind in the world as no other country has come up with such a decision so far,” he said at a farmers’ rally to mark the implementation of the loan waiver promise which helped Congress defeat BJP in Chhattisgarh.

“Nobody will remain hungry and nobody will remain poor as all poor people will be entitled to a guaranteed income. We will do this in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and all other states as well. All you have to do is to give us an opportunity,” Rahul said. The Congress chief, however, did not disclose details of the scheme.

Rahul’s announcement was followed by former FM P Chidambaram’s comment that party president’s promise was feasible and resources could be found for the plan: something which pointed to consultations on the issue among the party brass. Rahul’s promise comes against the backdrop of speculation that the Modi government could roll out universal basic income scheme in Friday’s interim budget to calm angry farmers in the lead up to the elections.


India will eventually be bigger than China: Rajan

India will eventually surpass China in economic size and will be in a better position to create the infrastructure being promised by the Chinese side in South Asian countries, former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan said.

Addressing a session on Strategic Outlook for South Asia, Rajan said Indian economy would continue to grow while growth rate is slowing down in China. “Historically, India had a bigger role in the region but China has now grown much bigger than India and has presented itself as a counter balance to India in the region,” Rajan said at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2019.

“India will become bigger than China eventually as China would slow down and India would continue to grow. So India will be in a better position to create the infrastructure in the region which China is promising today. But this competition is good for the region and it will benefit for sure,” he said.

The comments assume significance with China working on a lot of infrastructure projects across the region, including in Nepal and in Pakistan.

In 2017, India became the sixth largest economy with a GDP of $2.59 trillion while China was the second larges with a GDP of $12.23 trillion, as per World Bank data.

Rajan said there is an opportunity to create regional companies, and cited as an example that someone can just study how people in South Asia borrow and that would be great insight for banks.

Besides Free Trade Agreement, there is a lot of scope for work to be done. Apart from business, social sector can be another way and we can have more sharing of students across the region, he added.

While noting that people movement and especially youth going to another country can have a strong impact, Rajan said that India is the largest country in the region and it must play the role it needs to play.

There are many places where India has funded the process, but a lot more can be done, including on trade side, so that tariffs can come down, he noted.

Rajan also asked industries to work towards convincing their governments for taking the necessary steps.

Rajan said he is hopeful of results, if not today, then may be at Davos meetings later.

The former RBI governor also said consumers are benefitting in a big way from the business of scale with several services in the new technology age coming for free or very cheap, but it needs to be seen whether this can continue going ahead.

Rajan said we benefit tremendously from business of scale, there are benefits of efficiency at large corporations and consumers are gaining in a big way from low prices.

For example, Google provides a big amount of free services, said Rajan, who teaches at the Chicago University and is regarded as a global voice on economy.

Rajan said we all know nothing is free, so it needs to be known who is paying for it when consumers get it for free.

He also wondered whether the business of scale is creating “super star firms” and who has the real power—is it large corporations or the governments? “Obviously they are making money somewhere and we need to know whether the two revenue sides of consumers and advertisers are comparable when it comes to data and technology platforms,” he added.

Rajan said we need to think whether competition would continue in the future.

“The concern is not so much about today, but about tomorrow. We need to think whether these benefits from scale would continue for the consumers,” he said and added that “more than being about too big to manage, it is about too big to control. Our corporations are becoming too big to control for our political systems”.

The panellists at the session also discussed big ticket mergers, digital platforms and market uncertainty that are transforming industries across the world.

Drug resistance among top threats: WHO

Antimicrobial Resistance has been identified as one of the 10 threats to global health in 2019 by World Health Organisation. The other threats on this list include HIV, Ebola, dengue, vaccine hesitancy, air pollution and climate change.

The health organisation has warned that if action is not taken to prevent overuse of all forms of antibiotics, we could go back to the time when it was hard to treat infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhoea and salmonellosis.

Indiscriminate use of antibiotics in India, with drugs even entering our food chain and water, means drug-resistant bacteria is already a major concern here. This is why the Union health ministry has formulated the National Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance 2017-21. Officials said government plans to frame guidelines regarding antibiotic use and over-the-counter sales, ban or restrict their use as growth enhancers in livestock, and improve prescription audits in hospitals and the medical community. AIIMS and some other prominent hospitals are coordinating measurement of healthcare-associated infections — infections acquired in hospitals — and sharing protocols to identify and address the gaps.

But doctors say more action is required on the ground to prevent AMR.

The emergence of drug-resistant tuberculosis is another major fallout of antibiotic resistance. According to WHO, in 2017, around 600,000 TB cases globally were resistant to rifampicin – the most effective first-line drug – and 82% of these people had multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis.

Tracking India's Poverty rate

India may have reduced extreme poverty far more effectively than most of us are aware of. The last official data is eight years old. In 2011, 268 million people were surviving on less than $1.90 a day, the World Bank measure for extreme poverty. The next round of data on household consumption is likely to come out in June, and it may well show a drastic drop in the number of poor.

India’s chief statistician Pravin Srivastava said household consumption data will be published in June. Poverty estimates are derived from household consumption data.

According to the World Data Lab — which monitors global poverty using advanced statistical models — less than 50 million Indians may be living on less than $1.90 a day now. “The soon-to-be-largest country in the world has been reducing extreme poverty fast and the world may have underestimated India’s achievements. India’s last household survey of 2017/18 (to be released in 2019) captures household consumption more comprehensively — it will include an adjustment for owner-occupied housing and measure items in accordance with common international practices,” a report by Brookings said.

Economists said that rapid economic growth and the use of technology for social sector programmes have helped make a significant dent in extreme poverty in the country. “As such there has been a decline in poverty for quite some time. Since 2004-05 there is a sustained decline in extreme poverty,” said N R Bhanumurthy, professor at National Institute of Public Finance and Policy.

He said the inclusive growth policies pursued by successive governments and the use of direct benefit transfer schemes for delivery of social sector programmes such as MNREGA, Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana and others have made a difference. Bhanumurthy also backed calls for faster collection and processing of data for better evidence-based policy decisions.

Ex-chief statistician of India, Pronab Sen, said results of World Lab data may prove right if the share of additional resources going to the poor remain constant. “But over the last few years it has been coming down,” he said. “World Data Lab anticipates effects of these methodological adjustments will result in a level of extreme poverty in India today of 50 million people, which will come down to 40 million by 2019 end,” the Brookings report said. In June 2018, it was reported that India no more has largest number of poor.


Miyawaki forests come to Pune

A Japanese foresting technique has inspired the forest department’s Pune division to implement this format in four places under its jurisdiction. Now, the Miyawaki technique to acquire dense afforestation is scheduled to come up at two places in Bhamburda, one in Vadgaon (near Talegaon) and Paud, for which a proposal has been sent and approval is pending, informed assistant conservator of forest (Pune division), Mahesh Bhavsar. “Afforestation will take place over one hectare of forest land at each place that has been identified as a feasible location,” he said, adding that the purpose of their plan is to study how this process works and if it proves useful for forest regeneration. “It has been widely adopted so we decided to check for ourselves if it can create dense forest patches here,” said Bhavsar.

Miyawaki is a famously-adopted afforestation concept developed by Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki, involving the dense plantation of trees in a small area. These closely planted trees must be native to the region concerned and complement each other for successful growth and co-existence.

Deputy conservator of forest (Pune division), A Shrilakshmi, elaborated, “The Miyawaki forest does not necessarily benefit larger animals, but can prove useful to several birds, insects, reptiles and mammals. Additional benefits include increasing biodiversity of area and requiring low maintenance. It is said that mounds of soil, biomass and moisture-retaining materials allow roots of plants to penetrate faster and foster quicker growth. Dense forests allow safe place for birds to nest, and other dependent species.”

Forest officials also visited the plant of Larsen and Toubro (Defence) in Talegaon recently to understand Miyawaki foresting. “Native trees were planted here in a 37x15-metre space within the company premises in 2017,” explained Sainath Yadav, assistant general manager at L&T (Defence), Talegaon, adding that these 1,600 trees include species like tamarind, teak, neem and fruit-bearing varieties like jambhul and Indian gooseberry.

Yadav shared that the initiative was taken as an experiment by the company. “The technique was studied via online media and other consultants, and in one year, the trees showed substantial growth of over three metres in height. The forest looked so thick and green that moving around in it became difficult. The plant saplings also complimented each other’s growth,” he said, adding that thanks to this success, peacocks that roamed outside the campus in degraded forest areas now pay them visits.

“They have become regular visitors to our Miyawaki forest in evening time. This is a positive contribution towards the environment. To our surprise, we once spotted hyenas here, too. The dense patch is a visiting spot for birds and insects never seen around before. We have started taking some photographs and documenting these visits now,” said Yadav.

Interestingly, during routine checks, the company also found oxygen levels higher in the area to have risen after the forest was created. Further, taking inspiration, the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation at Talegaon had also created a Miyawaki forest in its premises thereafter.

SC Upholds Bankruptcy Code

The Supreme Court upheld the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, backing the government’s efforts to deal with the bad-debt burden of banks and rejecting challenges by the promoters of defaulting companies barred by the law from regaining control of their firms. The court said the IBC was working and had led to rising credit flows.

“We are happy to note that in the working of the code, the flow of financial resource to the commercial sector in India has increased exponentially as a result of financial debts being repaid,” said the bench comprising justices RF Nariman and Navin Sinha.

The top court commended the IBC for bolstering the recovery of bad debt, saying a “defaulters’ paradise” had been ended. Several provisions, such as preferential treatment to financial creditors over operational ones (suppliers of goods) had been questioned by the petitioner

They had also disputed the broad sweep of Section 29A, which barred not just promoters but any individual or entity “related” to them from seeking to take over the ailing entity. Among the promoters contesting the IBC were Sanjay Singal of Bhushan Power and Steel, represented by senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi and lawyer Mahesh Agarwal.

The court rejected all challenges, except to clarify that the related entities should have been connected with the business of the promoter to be barred from bidding. Defaulters who repay debt within a year of them being classified as non-performing assets (NPAs) can submit resolution plans for assets as can promoters if they clear debt with interest.

“The provisions of Section 29A are intended to ensure that, among others, persons responsible for insolvency of the corporate debtor do not participate in the resolution process,” said the bench. “Parliament rectified a loophole… which allowed a backdoor entry to erstwhile managements in the resolution process. Section 30 of IBC, as amended, also clarifies that a resolution plan of a person who is ineligible under Section 29A will not be considered by the committee of creditors (CoC).”

The verdict will have an impact on the biggest insolvency cases, such as that of Essar Steel. Following ArcelorMittal’s highest bid for the company, the Essar Group’s Ruia family has sought to regain control by pledging to repay all that is owed. JSW Steel has pledged to support Essar.

The top court made minor tweaks to the law. It directed the government to set up NCLAT circuit benches across India within six months and also gave effect to another judgment that mandated all such tribunals would be under the law ministry rather than the corporate affairs ministry as they are now. The top court said that it would refrain from interfering in economic policy and lean in favour of the presumption that the law was constitutional.

Attorney general KK Venugopal had urged the court not to interfere with the 2016 law, citing executive privilege to take economic policy decisions. The bench agreed, saying the legislature should be allowed leeway because it had to deal with complex problems that don’t have easy solutions, especially with regard to economic matters. Moreover, in the context of the changed economic scenario, the expertise of people dealing with the subject should not be lightly interfered with, it said.

The court noted that previous attempts to address the issue had failed. After the code became operational, about 3,300 cases have been disposed of by the adjudicating authority based on out-of-court settlements between debtors and creditors involving claims amounting to over ₹1.2 lakh crore, the court said. Eighty cases have since been resolved by resolution plans being accepted. Of these, the liquidation value of 63 is ₹29,788.07 crore. However, the amount realised from the resolution process is in the region of ₹60,000 crore, over 202% of the liquidation value, it said, citing the Reserve Bank of India.

As a result, credit given by banks and financial institutions to the commercial sector (other than food) has risen from ₹4,952.24 crore in FY17 to ₹9,161.09 crore in FY18 and to ₹13,195.20 crore in the first six months of FY19, it said.

Indian Airlines Carried 139 m Passengers: 2018

Indian domestic aviation market continued its growth momentum by registering a growth of 18.6% for 2018 calendar year and airlines together flew 138.9 million passengers as compared to 117.1 million during 2017. DGCA data shows that Indian carriers carried 12.7 million passengers during December, up from 11.6 million during the same month in 2017.

Top US Institutions to Help Revamp 10 State Universities

When the first IITs were set up in the 1960s, leading foreign institutions worked with them to mentor, collaborate and build new models of high quality technical education. Several decades on, the Indian government is attempting to replicate the model — this time, however, with the oft-neglected state universities.

Ten top-ranking state universities have been selected to partner with leading US institutions, which will help them set up specialist centres on campus and build an ecosystem of cutting-edge entrepreneurship and innovation in India.

The state universities that have been picked for this global association are Osmania University, University of Jammu, Andhra University, Sri Venkateshwara University, Jadavpur University, Alagappa University, Kurukshetra University, Savitribai Phule University, Utkal University and Guru Nanak Dev University.

Broad agreements and advanced plans have already been drawn up with University of California, Berkeley; University of Pennsylvania; Purdue University; Northeastern University; Drexel University; Cornell University and University of South Florida for the collaboration. Discussions are also going on with Princeton University, Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, sources said.

High-level discussions with all stakeholders were held last week in New Delhi to finalise the modalities ahead of the 2019-20 academic session, when the international partnership will roll out.

It is envisaged that while the University of Pennsylvania will partner with Hyderabad’s Osmania University and University of Jammu will work on education innovation, UC Berkeley will help Jammu University set up a centre on biotechnology and data science and partner with Savitribai Phule University in Pune for a startup accelerator programme besides blockchain and data science. Purdue University will join Vishakhapatnam-based Andhra University for pharmaceutical and manufacturing while University of South Florida is expected to help Amritsar’s Guru Nanak Dev University build a centre on sports sciences and entrepreneurship. Northeastern University, sources said, will associate with Bhubaneshwar’s Utkal University to help establish a development impact lab and technology park and entrepreneurship innovation at Tirupati’s Sri Venkateshwara University.

Drexel University will partner with Alagappa University in Tamil Nadu and Haryana’s Kurukshetra University to set up hubs on biotechnology and environment while Cornell University is expected to work on agriculture with Guru Nanak Dev University and on life sciences at Alagappa University. The government is also loosening the purse strings for this international boost to state universities.

Under the project, which is being shepherded under the human resources development ministry’s Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan, ₹100 crore has been set aside for these ten state universities for use till March 2020

Voice Calls Jump 70% In 2 Years

At a time when users worldwide are getting on the data bandwagon and ditching voice calls for services such as WhatsApp, Indians continue their strong bond with phone calls.

Voice calls have seen a spike of almost 70% in the past two years, according to telecom regulator Trai’s data. The average time spent on voice calls by a subscriber each month has increased steadily the quarter ended September 2016 to the September 2018 quarter. Interestingly, consumers seem to be chatting away at the expense of the telecom operators. The average revenue each minute for telcos from voice calls has dipped in the same period.

Industry watchers say a combination of cost-effectiveness and the Indian penchant for verbal communication has resulted in voice calls holding their ground in the country amid dwindling relevance globally. Further, with data itself not as strong and flawless as is needed for VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) calls, smartphone owners say they often rely on regular calls for a better experience.

With over 500 million feature phones in the Indian market, we cannot write off voice services in India yet. The feature phone market is also growing. According to IDC, vendors in India shipped a total of 56 million feature phones in the fourth quarter of 2017, making it “the highest-ever shipments” in a single quarter, at a time when smartphone sales itself have been either flat or declining. Research firm Counterpoint notes that India accounted for almost 43% of the global feature phone shipments in the quarter on the back of devices by Reliance Industries’ Jio.

The socio-economic situation in India is also driving preference for voice calls. A recent survey by Pew Research Centre found that, despite the push for digital, only 25% of Indian adults use the internet or own a smartphone, compared with 96% in South Korea and 89% in the US.

On the flip side, observers believe low prices of voice calls are also contributing to poor quality of call services and the infamous call drops.

Piyush Goyal gets temporary charge of finmin again

In a clear indication that finance minister Arun Jaitley, on medical leave in the US, will not present the Modi government’s last Budget on February 1, railway and coal minister Piyush Goyal was given temporary charge of the ministry. Jaitley will remain a minister without portfolio during his indisposition. He left for the US a week ago for a medical check-up.

“The President of India, as advised by the Prime Minister, hereby directed that during the period of indisposition of Shri Arun Jaitley, minister; the portfolios of minister of finance and minister of corporate affairs held by him, be temporarily assigned to Shri Piyush Goyal, in addition to his existing portfolios,” a statement from the President’s office said late on Wednesday.

Goyal had previously held the finance portfolio when Jaitley was recovering from a medical procedure for a kidney transplant.

It also said that, as advised by the PM, Jaitley will be designated minister without portfolio during the period of his indisposition or till such time he is able to resume his work as minister for finance and minister for corporate affairs. The Modi government is expected to unveil plans to tackle farm distress as well as sops for the middle class and the small and medium enterprises in the interim budget, which could go beyond a mere vote on account.

Arun Jaitley had taken part in several debates in Parliament and also presided over the 32nd meeting of the GST Council.

Fifty-four-year-old Piyush Goyal, who has been the party’s treasurer, has seen his stature rise within the government after he was sworn in as a minister in May 2014. Goyal was soon handed over the charge of the crucial railway portfolio replacing Suresh Prabhu, who was moved to the commerce & industry ministry.

Goyal, a Mumbai politician, is a trained chartered accountant and the second-rank holder in law from Mumbai University. He was a well-known investment banker and has advised top corporates on management strategy and growth. Goyal also served on the board of India’s largest commercial bank — the State Bank of India — and Bank of Baroda, according to his website. Goyal’s father Ved Prakash Goyal was a veteran BJP leader and party treasurer.

“Good economics makes for good politics. We are today at the cusp of a development explosion,” Goyal says on his website. Analysts are eagerly awaiting the interim Budget to get clues on the government’s stance on fiscal consolidation and plans to unveil a direct benefit transfer to help farmers.

Priyanka enters the arena

Priyanka Gandhi ended years of “will she, won’t she” suspense to finally take up the challenging task of reviving Congress fortunes in the barren turf of eastern Uttar Pradesh.

The formal announcement of her appointment as general secretary (in-charge of east UP) by her brother Rahul Gandhi, caught senior Congress leaders unawares and set off heated speculation
of the trigger behind her long awaited formal plunge into politics and the possible impact in UP, which had looked like a straight fight between BJP and the SP-BSP combine.

The role of poll management of a politically volatile region where caste and religion often shape voting preferences and which also includes PM Narendra Modi’s constituency of Varanasi and UP CM Yogi Adityanath’s home turf of Gorakhpur, seemed intended to project a serious bid to emerge as the third pole in the state.

Rahul Gandhi’s reaction indicated as much when the Congress chief said the party will play on the “front foot” in UP even as he sought to convey that the decision is not a hostile move against SP and BSP. He made it clear that giving Priyanka charge of eastern UP and Jyotiraditya Scindia that of west UP are not temporary moves. “Now, Congress will have its own CM in UP,” he said.

The appointments are a novel experiment by Congress to split UP into two regions, with separate monitors. There is now a likelihood of two state chiefs. The development immediately spurred ongoing speculation whether Priyanka will replace mother Sonia at Rae Bareli or perhaps contest separately from Sultanpur though Rahul left the issue open, saying it will be his sister’s call.

An early read of the fallout of a credible Congress challenge—if it develops—seemed to be that a genuine three cornered contest should aid BJP that was faced with regional biggies SP and BSP joining hands. Congress, like SP and BSP, will compete for Muslim votes. At the same time, a Priyanka-aided revival of Congress would appeal to Brahmins which could hurt saffron prospects. It is also possible that upper castes unhappy with saffron politics, but chary of SP-BSP, now have a third option, one that will weaken BJP’s main challengers.

That this will be baptism by fire for Priyanka, currently in the US and expected to take charge of her assignment in first week of February, is evident from the fact that Congress has declined in its one-time stronghold with 80 Lok Sabha seats post-Mandal and Mandir politics, touching a nadir in 2014. While it could win only two seats in the last LS polls, it won just seven in the 403-member assembly in 2017.

Pitching Priyanka into the UP “dangal”, where regional power houses BSP and SP have left Congress out of an anti-BJP alliance, seems a serious gamble. It shows a willingness to go full throttle, its fallout for the “secular” camp unity notwithstanding. The stakes of moving Priyanka to centrestage are too high for the move to be a feint, it was felt. If the challenge gathers steam, Congress may be able to work out an informal deal with SP-BSP for “friendly” fights in some seats.

For her political debut, the choice of eastern UP is interesting. The sprawling pocket has strong presence of Brahmins and Muslims — demographics that Congress hopes would drift to its fold in a favourable campaign. It appears the party’s best hope in the otherwise bleak landscape.

His decision also marked Rahul’s apparent squeamishness over being seen as a “dynast”: a tag which was so much at odds with his professed aim to democratise Congress, and signalled a resolve to brazen out the probe facing Priyanka’s controversial spouse Robert. The appointment comes when the probes seemed to be closing in on Vadra’s alleged role in scams. She has previously said she will not be “cowed down” by the BJP government and will bank on a charismatic presence that attracts media attention.

At the same time, party insiders conceded, there is a possibility of a dual centre of power emerging over time even though Rahul and Priyanka are seen to enjoy an extraordinary synergy, with the sister seen as a confidante and supporter of her older brother. At the same time, she will be more than just a general secretary and formalise the influence she has wielded from behind the scene. Her debut can also be read as an assertion of her claim to her political legacy. A political role for Priyanka has often been discussed.

As Sonia Gandhi began to mull succession in UPA-2, there was pressure that the legatee be her daughter who bore resemblance to Congress mascot Indira Gandhi and was seen to have her political spark.

After Sonia made it clear that Rahul will hold the baton, the 2014 rout and continuing slide over four years created uncertainty, with repeated demands from sections that Priyanka be brought in. Former AICC general secretary in-charge of organisation, Janardan Dwivedi, had already touched off a furore by claiming that father Rajiv Gandhi had confided in him that Priyanka was a “natural”.

Though Sonia managed to stub the renewed clamour, Priyanka’s entry amid Congress decline would inevitably have drawn comparisons with Rahul, and resulted in confusion in the ranks.

Also, with Congress sensing revival, insiders felt introducing an “X-factor” would add to the momentum nationally and could make a crucial difference. There is a strong possibility that Congress may press her into campaigning in states where it has a direct face off with BJP.

But one thing is clear: Success or failure, there is no going back for her after formally joining politics following nearly a decade of equivocation.

Odisha's KALIA

India tests new missile to take out enemy radars

India has tested a new indigenous air-launched missile called NGARM, which is designed to destroy a variety of surveillance and radar targets on the ground after being fired from a Sukhoi-30MKI fighter. This new generation anti-radiation missile, with a strike range of around 100 km, is the first indigenous air-to-ground missile to be developed by DRDO, after the supersonic BrahMos cruise missile, which was developed jointly with Russia.

“The missile was tested from a Sukhoi-30MKI on January 18 at the integrated test range in Balasore. The missile, with all systems functioning properly, hit the designated target with a high degree of accuracy. The NGARM can be launched from the Sukhois from different altitudes and velocities,” said a source.

In another test, the DRDO-Navy combine also conducted another test of the advanced Barak long range surface-to-air missile system, jointly developed by DRDO with Israeli Aerospace Industries and Rafael, from destroyer INS Chennai on the high seas.

The supersonic Barak-8 missile system, whose interception range is 70 to 100-km, is in the process of being tested from Indian warships. Once fully operational, the LR-SAM will equip all frontline Indian warships as an all-weather ‘defence shield’ against incoming enemy fighters, drones, helicopters, missiles and other munitions.

“It will be the standard LRSAM or area defence weapon for our warships. PSU Bharat Dynamics is already gearing up for producing the LR-SAM systems in bulk,” said an official. The LR-SAM development project was sanctioned for Indian warships in December 2005, with an initial amount of Rs.2,606 crore, but was hit by several delays.

Cos’ profit-to-GDP ratio at 15-year low

The contribution of India Inc’s profitability to the country’s GDP dipped to a 15-year low in fiscal 2018, thanks mainly to the below par performance by public sector banks. From a high of 5.5% in 2008, the ratio of corporate profitability to India’s GDP is currently at 2.8% — the same level it was in 2003.

The other sectors that contributed to this decline significantly were the metals and oil & gas sectors, where prices are dictated mainly by global factors, along with the telecom sector, which saw huge competition in the past few years. On the other hand, the sectors that cushioned the fall were private banks, NBFCs, autos and technology, all of which put up a good show, according to a report by domestic brokerage major Motilal Oswal Securities.

“Over the last decade, the corporate earnings distress in India has translated into corrosion in the Nifty 500 profit-to-GDP ratio from 5.5% to 2.8%,” the report noted. “Sectors that have been most stable and rising to prominence over these 15 years are technology, NBFCs, private financials, autos and metals. Profits of these sectors as a percentage of GDP has increased by three-four times over 2003-18.”

The report pointed out that profit contribution to GDP of NBFCs is at a new high (0.40%), while that of PSU banks is at a new low (-0.44%). Auto has seen a 3.5x jump in profit-to-GDP ratio over 2003-18 to 0.28%. This high level of contribution from this sector was seen in 2013 too.

The good news is that the broking house believes that the recent low could be the bottom and expects the corporate profit-to-GDP trend to improve from fiscal 2019 onward, “even as we do not foresee acceleration like 2003-08”. Banks (both PSU and private) — one of the biggest contributors to the down-trend in corporate profit-to-GDP ratio — are expected to drive the expansion as asset quality bottoms out, fresh slippage generation moderates, provisioning cost normalises and loan growth recovers, the report said.

Analysts at Motilal Oswal Securities noted that in every cycle, new sectors evolve and contribute to the profit-to-GDP metrics.

UDAN 3.0

The government will pump ₹400 crore into its regional air-connectivity scheme ‘UDAN’ (Ude Desh ke Aam Naagrik) to help bridge the gap in subsidy payment.

Under UDAN — announced in October 2016 — the government is offering flights to unserved and underserved parts of the country at a subsidised fare of ₹2,500 for per hour of flight. The scheme is funded by a charge on airlines and contributions from states that provide 20% of the total subsidy cost. States in the northeastern region have to pay only 10%.

Funds were required after the aviation ministry finalised the scheme’s third phase, which almost doubled the total subsidy burden to an estimated ₹1,250 crore per annum, the official cited earlier said, requesting not to be named. The aviation ministry had approached the finance ministry for help in this regard.

“The government has agreed to pay .₹400 crore from the dividend payment that Airports Authority of India makes. This should take care of our subsidy payment in the interim,” the official said. With the funding in place, the ministry will now announce the winners for routes under the third phase.

The total subsidy outlay under the first phase of the scheme was ₹214 crore per annum, which increased to ₹500 crore in the second phase. The aviation ministry had also sought ₹200 crore to fund the second phase of the scheme.

Under phase three, the government has announced international routes and seaplane operations. While the charge on airline earns ₹370 crore annually, states contribute their respective shares to the aviation ministry. For UDAN’s international scheme, Assam is contributing ₹100 crore per annum to fund flights.

In two rounds since March 2017, the ministry has awarded more than 450 domestic routes to various airlines, providing connectivity to about 35 airports across the country. Under the third phase, seaplane operations will start in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Gujarat and Assam.

Nazeer & Bhushan join 5-judge Ayodhya bench

Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi drafted two new judges, Justice S Abdul Nazeer and Justice Ashok Bhushan, to the five-judge bench for the January 29 hearing of the legal battle for ownership of the 2.77-acre Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid disputed land in Ayodhya.

The politically sensitive case relating to the over century-old litigation has been pending in the SC since 2011.

The reconstitution of the bench was necessitated after Justice U U Lalit recused from the case on January 10. This was followed by Justice N V Ramana withdrawing citing personal reasons. The bench is led by the CJI. The other two judges on the five-judge bench are Justice S A Bobde and Justice D Y Chandrachud.

The developments meant that on the last two hearings, the court couldn’t draw up a schedule that could have given an inkling of when a final verdict could be expected.

The CJI sprang a surprise on January 8 by announcing a bench that comprised himself and four future CJIs in Justices Bobde, Ramana, Lalit and Chandrachud. However, on January 10, senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan pointed out that Justice Lalit, when he was an advocate in 1997, had appeared for a party in the criminal case relating to Babri Masjid demolition on December 6, 1992. This led to Justice Lalit immediately announcing his recusal.

On September 29, a bench of then CJI Dipak Misra and Justices Bhushan and Nazeer, by 2 to 1 majority held that appeals against Allahabad HC’s verdict on Ayodhya land dispute would be heard by a three-judge bench. Justice Nazeer had leaned in favour of the Ayodhya dispute being sent to a five judge bench.

There are 16 appeals and petitions by Hindu and Muslim parties challenging the Allahabad HC’s September 30, 2010, verdict, which had divided the 2.77 acres equally between idol Ram Lalla, Sunni Wakf Board and Nirmohi Akhara.

The SC had on May 9, 2011, admitted the appeals and stayed operation of the HC order. The first hearing on the appeals against the 2010 HC verdict took place on December 5, 2017. Senior advocates Kapil Sibal, Dhavan and Dushyant Dave, appearing for Muslim parties, had used politics, religion and even alleged ‘agenda’ and ‘bias’ for the “hurry’ being shown by the CJI Misra-led bench in deciding the 70-year-old litigation and sought its reference to a five or seven-judge bench.

On January 10 this year, CJI Gogoi had explained why he constituted a five-judge constitution bench to adjudicate appeals against Allahabad HC verdict on title suits despite a three-judge bench rejecting the plea for reference of the petitions to a larger bench.


Tata Harrier SUV launched

Tata has launched the Harrier SUV in the Indian market priced at Rs.12.69 lakh. The car first came out in the form of Tata H5X concept at the last year’s Auto Expo and the production version has managed to retain most of its original appeal from the concept.

The car features an untraditional front design with headlights placed on the lower side of the bonnet. The day time running lamps look sleek and sit higher on the front grille giving the car a very promising stance. With Harrier’s launch, the company has debuted its IMPACT Design 2.0 philosophy.

The car packs a 2.0-litre four-cylinder Kryotec turbodiesel engine which delivers close to 140bhp of maximum power and 350Nm of peak torque. The engine comes mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox, while the power is pushed to the front two wheels. Currently, there is no word on the 4WD option or automatic transmission. But Tata could launch the same in the later season updates of the Harrier SUV. The car features an ESP-based 'Terrain Response' mode which allows the vehicle to adjust as per different terrain conditions.

Inside the cabin, the car features a massive 8.8-inch floating touchscreen infotainment system, 8-way adjustable driver seat with a four-way adjustable co-driver seat, leather upholstery, climate control, electric outside rear view mirror, cooled storage box, umbrella holder and more. The top of the line XZ variant also features a 10-speaker JBL audio setup, a 7-inch display in the instrument cluster and xenon projector headlamps. The car is being offered in a total of four variants including XE, XM, XT and XZ.

Kohli clean sweeps ICC Awards

IMF forecasts India’s growth will improve to 7.5%

India will grow at a world beating 7.5% in 2019-20 amid slower global expansion, the International Monetary Fund said, upgrading its October forecast of 7.4%.

“India’s economy is poised to pick up in 2019, benefiting from lower oil prices and a slower pace of monetary tightening than previously expected, as inflation pressures ease,” IMF said in an update to its biannual World Economic Outlook.

The review comes even as trade tensions and a weakening Europe cast a shadow over global growth.

IMF estimates India to grow 7.3% in 2018-19 and 7.7% in 2020-21. India’s contribution to world growth has risen from 7.6% during 2000-08 to 14.5% in 2018, according to IMF.
Without naming India, IMF said that in emerging markets and developing economies, where inflation expectations are well-anchored, monetary policy could provide support to domestic activity as needed.

With retail inflation slowing to an 18-month low of 2.19% in December—though services inflation remains elevated— many analysts believe the Reserve Bank of India’s monetary policy committee will cut policy rates at its review meeting on 7 February.

In early January, crude prices were around $55 a barrel and analysts expect prices to remain broadly at that level over the next 4-5 years. Prices of metals and agricultural commodities have softened slightly since August, in part due to subdued demand from China.

IMF has projected average oil prices to stay just below $60 per barrel in 2019 and 2020 (down from about $69 and $66, respectively, in the last WEO). It has also revised price forecasts for most major agricultural commodities modestly downwards.

The multilateral lending institution said China’s economy would slow due to the combined influence of regulatory tightening and trade tensions with the US, despite fiscal stimulus that offsets some of the impact of higher US tariffs. However, IMF retained its growth projection of 6.2% for China in 2019 as well as 2020, despite growing risks.

IMF’s new chief economist, Gita Gopinath, in a statement said China’s growth slowdown could be sharper than expected, especially if trade tensions continue. “This can trigger abrupt sell-offs in financial and commodity markets as was the case in 2015-16,” she added.

Data released by the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics showed that December quarter GDP grew at the slowest pace since the global financial crisis, easing to 6.4%. That pulled full-year growth down to 6.6% in 2018, the slowest annual pace in 28 years since 1990.

Gopinath said that though downward revisions to growth forecasts are modest, IMF believes that the risks to more significant downward corrections are rising. “Overall, the cyclical forces that propelled broad-based global growth since the second half of 2017 may be weakening somewhat faster than we expected in October. While this does not mean we are staring at a major downturn, it is important to take stock of the many rising risks,” she added.

Risks to global growth tilt to the downside, with IMF cutting 2019 growth projection by 20 basis points to 3.5%.

IMF said a range of triggers beyond escalating trade tensions could spark further deterioration in risk sentiment with adverse growth implications, especially given the high levels of public and private debt. “These potential triggers include a ‘no-deal’ withdrawal of the UK from the EU and a greater-than-envisaged slowdown in China,” it added.

IMF advised that countries resolve quickly their trade disagreements rather than raising harmful barriers. “Across all economies, measures to boost potential output growth, enhance inclusiveness, and strengthen fiscal and financial buffers in an environment of high debt burdens and tighter financial conditions are imperatives,” it said.

ECI rubbishes fresh claims of EVM tampering

The Election Commission of India came out strongly to rubbish the claim that there were attempts to hack or tamper the Electronic Voting Machines by a purported former employee of the Electronics Corporation of India Limited. A political slugfest had kicked off after Syed Shuja, a US-based hacker claimed that in his capacity as a ECIL team member in 2013-2014, they had discovered that though EVMs are standalone devices that cannot be hacked remotely through Bluetooth or WiFi, it is possible to tweak them through their algorithm. The EC refuted these claims via Skype at an event in London.

“Whereas, ECI has been wary of becoming a party to this motivated slugfest, ECI firmly stands by the empirical facts about foolproof nature of ECI EVMs deployed in elections in India,” the EC said in a statement.

It asserted that EVMs are manufactured under strict supervisory and security conditions and rigorous Standard Operating Procedures are meticulously observed at all stages under the supervision of a Committee of eminent technical experts constituted way back in 2010.

The EC said it is separately examining taking legal action in the matter. Shuja had said all one needed was a machine which could transmit at very low frequencies and he did so with the help of a graphite-based transmitter.

At the event that was also broadcast live on Facebook, Shuja made a number of sensational unsubstantiated political claims regarding late BJP minister Gopinath Munde.

Meanwhile, Congress leader Kapil Sibal’s presence as the lone political representative at the event prompted the BJP to attack Congress and describe the event as handiwork of forces that want to end a flourishing Indian democracy.

Rs.100 crore Maharashtra grant for Thackeray Memorial

The Shiv Sena may have threatened to contest the Lok Sabha elections on its own sans an alliance with the BJP, but in a sign of an apparent thaw between the squabbling allies, the Maharashtra state cabinet has approved a Rs.100 crore grant for the memorial of late Sena chief Bal Thackeray.

The ground-breaking ceremony for the Balasaheb Thackeray National Memorial at the 11,551-square-metre site of the Mayor’s bungalow opposite the Shivaji Park in Dadar will be performed on Wednesday, the birth anniversary of the Sena supremo.

BJP leaders claim that measures like these aimed at detente between the two parties and the common agenda of Hindutva may lead to the Shiv Sena finally allying with them for the Lok Sabha.

The public trust formed for the administration of the memorial will have Sena president Uddhav Thackeray and his son and Yuva Sena chief Aaditya as life members. Industries minister and senior Shiv Sena leader Subhash Desai is its general secretary. The BMC has already handed over the heritage structure to the trust on lease with a nominal rent and Mayor Vishwanath Mahadeshwar has moved to a bungalow inside the Byculla Zoo.

On Tuesday, the state cabinet approved Rs.100 crore for the memorial from the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority’s funds.

Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar, who is among those seeking an alliance between the saffron allies, said Thackeray “had a special place in the minds of the people of Maharashtra.”

“He was not just the leader of the Shiv Sena, but of the alliance, The people of Maharashtra want a memorial for him,” stated Mungantiwar, adding that the “alliance (with the Shiv Sena) would happen, there are no worries about it.”

The consultant for the project has prepared a detailed project report which has estimated a cost of Rs.100 crore. The MMRDA will construct the memorial and spend the money for the purpose. The state government will reimburse the cost of the project.


Kumbh to generate ₹1.2 lakh crore in revenue: CII

The mega Kumbh Mela, which began on January 15 and will continue till March 4, is expected to generate a revenue of Rs.1.2 lakh crore for Uttar Pradesh, says apex industry body Confederation of Indian Industry.

Although the Kumbh Mela is spiritual and religious in nature, the economic activities associated with it generate employment for over six lakh workers across various sectors. The Uttar Pradesh government has allocated Rs.4,200 crore for the 50-day Kumbh Mela this time, which is over thrice the budget of the Maha Kumbh in 2013, making the mega pilgrimage perhaps the costliest ever.

“The ‘mela’ is expected to generate a revenue of Rs.1,200 billion for Uttar Pradesh, the state where it is being held, while neighbouring states like Rajasthan, Uttarkhand, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh will also benefit from the enhanced revenue generation with a large number of national and foreign tourists expected to explore other destinations. The government has allocated a hefty amount of Rs.4,200 crore, which has become the costliest pilgrimage till date,” state finance minister Rajesh Agarwal told 

Bharatmala 2.0 will focus on expressways

The next phase of highway development in India will focus on building expressways which allow uninterrupted traffic flow. Under the second phase of Bharatmala, the government has proposed to build nearly 3,000 km of expressways, including Indore-Mumbai, Varanasi-Ranchi-Kolkata, Bengaluru-Pune and Chennai-Trichy.

The National Highways Authority of India, which has been tasked with implementing the flagship programme, has invited bids for undertaking project preparation so that projects are ready as soon as the work for the first phase are bid out. “It took us about two years to prepare detailed project reports for phase one of Bharatmala. Undertaking DPR preparation for the next lot of projects will help save time. The focus is on preparing high quality detailed reports for faster execution,” a highway ministry official said.

Poor DPRs have been one of the reasons behind delay in execution of highway projects and the government often ends up incorporating supplementary works, which pushes the cost.

Barring a couple of identified stretches, all others will have greenfield alignment, which means these will be new roads. This is aimed at reducing distance and travel time as well. The government has notified higher speed limit for cars at a maximum of 120 kmph on expressways. Till now, highway construction has largely seen expansion and widening of existing roads.

Some of the identified greenfield highways include Patna-Rourkela, Jhansi-Raipur, Solapur-Belgaum, Bengaluru-Kadapa-Vijayawada, Gorakhpur-Bareilly and Varanasi-Gorakhpur. Sources said the target date for rolling out these roads under Bharatmala phase-II would be 2024.

Considering that forest and wildlife clearances hold up projects for years, the NHAI has asked the consultants to avoid road alignments through national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, “even if it requires taking a longer route/ bypass”.


TMC’s rally sets the ball rolling for Mahagathbandhan

Leaders of at least 22 non-NDA parties came together in the heart of Kolkata to give shape to what some of them called “a rainbow alliance” and kick off the Lok Sabha election campaign with the single agenda of creating a “BJP-free Bharat” in the New Year.

The mega rally, hosted by Trinamool Congress supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at Brigade Parade ground, turned out to be a unique show of opposition strength aimed at sending a strong message to the ruling BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Among the attendees were former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda, three present chief ministers — Arvind Kejriwal, Chandrababu Naidu and HD Kumaraswamy — and former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, Akhilesh Yadav and Gegong Apang. Also present were rebel BJP leader Shatrughan Sinha, former BJP leaders Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, NCP’s Sharad Pawar and Sharad Yadav, Ajit Singh’s son Jayant Singh, RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav, besides Gujarat leaders Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mevani.

Though Congress chief Rahul Gandhi was absent, he sent senior Parliamentarian Mallikarjun Kharge and Abhishek Manu Singhvi to fill in for him. Rahul’s mother and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, who is said to have cordial ties with Mamata, sent a letter that was read by Kharge at the rally. The United Opposition, as the leaders called the joint front, virtually put the Modi government at the Centre on notice with the slogan “New Year, new Prime Minister”.

While Mamata declared that “the BJP government has crossed its expiry date,” the leaders even agreed to hold a victory rally at Brigade ground itself after winning the Lok Sabha polls.

Chalking out their poll strategy for the coming Lok Sabha polls, the party leaders said that they would largely go with the “one-against-one” formula, wherein one joint opposition candidate will be pitched against the BJP nominee. The idea is Mamata’s brainchild. Arun Shourie said, ‘The alliance should go by 1:1 formula — one opposition against one BJP. People’s trust in Narendra Modi and Amit Shah has eroded. Stick together with a sense of sacrifice for the country.”

He suggested that the alliance should go to every region and organize rallies. “Bengal Sherni Mamata has started this. Now you have to go everywhere to gain people’s trust. Then only you will be successful.”

Calling the Saturday show as a “22 party rainbow alliance”, Congress MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi, “Our aim is to build a new India. Ek naya bharat banaenge, BJP ko bhagaenge.”

Farooq Abdullah, Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha stressed on the need to rise above individualistic interest for the sake of the country. Sinha said, “Why are we here? We are here to remove the Narendra Modi government. We are not against a person, but we are against a way of thinking.”

On the proposed alliance’s PM’s face, Mamata said, “There may be dearth of leaders in the BJP but in our opposition alliance, everyone is a leader and a worker. Do not think about Prime Minister now. Now the question does not arise.”

In a further bid to give a defined shape to the Mahagathbandhan, N Chandrababu Naidu has called the next meeting in Amravati. Arvind Kejriwal announced that New Delhi will be the venue of the third meeting.

The leaders also spoke about coming up with a joint manifesto.

HD Deve Gowda said, “I appeal to all the leaders to prepare our manifesto for the new government. There should not be any differences. I was PM for a very short duration, so win confidence of people so that you can complete five years.”

DMK supremo MK Stalin added, “If we stay united, BJP will be defeated. We will consider this to be the second freedom fight that has started from the land of Bengal.”

Former UP CM Akhilesh Yadav urged the people of Bengal “not to fall in the trap of BJP and vote for them.”

In their speeches, most of the leaders slammed demonetisation and GST and how these economic measures affected the lives of common people.

After the brigade rally, the leaders assembled for tea and formed a committee that will take up the alleged EVM tampering issue.

Investments worth over Rs.4 trillion pledged at Vibrant Gujarat Summit

The ninth edition of the Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit has so far attracted investment commitments worth over Rs.4.62 trillion, across sectors. Of these, while Rs.4.02 trillion were made by global and Indian corporate honchos during the inaugural ceremony on Friday, the remaining came during various sectoral events held as part of the summit, which is set to conclude on Sunday.

In the two days of the biennial event so far, around 22,000 MoUs have been signed across sectors such as port and transport, Dholera special investment region, aerospace and defence, health care, agro industries, renewable energy, and micro, small and medium enterprises, among others.

Among these, the MSME sector saw a whopping 21,000 MoUs and still counting, of which Rs.3,228 crore worth of deals were signed between MSMEs and large companies for ancillary services. In terms of value, the most prominent was the MoU by China-based Tsingshan Group for an investment commitment of Rs.21,000 crore to set up a steel plant in Dholera SIR.

In the port and transport sector, Essar Group announced an intended cumulative investment of Rs.7,485 crore for the development of a port-based smart city and an LNG terminal at Hazira. The port and transport sector also investment intention being made by Adani Group for Rs.3,500 crore across three projects, including development of a captive jetty at Kori Creek, a cargo handling terminal at Mundra, and a Ro-Ro Ferry facility also at Mundra.

Another key MoU was signed by Petronet LNG with the Gujarat government for Rs.2,100 crore, for expansion of its existing LNG Port Terminal at Dahej. Similarly, HPCL Rajasthan Refinery also signed an MoU for Rs.1,400 crore for the development of a single point mooring system and crude oil terminal at Mandvi in Kutch.

Hindustan Petroleum Corporation made an investment intention of Rs.1,350 crore for LPG import facilities, along with a jetty at Dahej Port and LPG cavern and pumping facilities at Ankleshwar.

A tripartite MoU was signed between the Gujarat Maritime Board, J M Baxi & Co, and Port of Amsterdam for Rs.800 crore for the development of cruise terminals at Mandvi, Dwarka, Porbandar and Veraval.

In the aerospace and defence sector, two Rajkot-based firms signed MoUs for setting up artillery factories after mclearance from the Government of India.

As in the previous edition, the summit also held business-to-business and business-to-government meetings. As against 350 B2B and 260 B2G meetings held in the previous edition, the ninth edition this time saw more than 1,000 B2B and over 600 B2G meetings held so far.

In B2G, meetings were held by businesses with government departments like GIDC, environment, education, energy, renewable, petrochemical and ports.