ISRO sats can map 87% land area of Pakistan

That India’s space capabilities allow its armed forces to be more effective in planning is no secret. But here’s the extent of India’s reach: Information accessed from the Indian Space Research Organisation shows satellites keep a watch over Pakistan and provide high definition mapping of 87% of its land area, providing vital inputs to the armed forces’ operations like the Balakot airstrikes.

Indian satellites are able to map terrains across 7.7 lakh sqkm of Pakistan’s total 8.8 lakh sqkm of land area, giving Indian commanders access to high resolution images of 0.65 metre.

Among the major satellites that have helped the armed forces are the series of Cartosat satellites, GSAT-7 and GSAT-7A, Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System constellation, the Microsat, Risat and the most recently, HysIS. If one counts individual spacecraft, then more than 10 operational satellites are of use to the military.

The first major use of the Cartosat satellites had aided India’s surgical strikes across the LOC in September 2016. Cartosat provides ‘area of interest’ images based on specific requests. According to the National Remote Sensing Centre in Hyderabad, AOI products are of two types — standard and precision-based ortho (where images taken from space are corrected to have a uniform scale) — both of which are useful for the forces. Ortho rectified products are corrected for terrain distortions and camera tilt effects.

While the first Cartosat was launched in 2005, Cartosat-2A launched in 2007 was the first dual-use satellite with capabilities of monitoring missile launches in India’s neighbourhood. Cartosat-2C, launched in June 2016, can record videos of sensitive targets, compress them, and relay to earth. The next in the series, Cartosat-2E, was launched in June 2017. ISRO launched a bevy of other satellites for military use in 2018 too.

India Joins Elite Club of Nations with Chipset-level Innovation

India has entered an elite club of countries which have contributed to chipset-level innovation, telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajan said. She said it was extraordinary that a local company – Bengaluru-based Signalchip – came forward and launched not only a 4G-LTE chip, but also a 5G NR modem.

The company unveiled a dual carrier 4G-LTE and 5G NR standards-based modem that can work on up to 6 GHz frequency range, creating a breakthrough after eight-year long research and development activities in multiple complex domains.

“This is a pioneering innovation. It is something which is huge for India. With the first in-house chip, India is able to break into an elite club of countries,” Sundararajan said.

The telecom secretary said the new development will also have deep implications on data sovereignty and security, and that only eight companies worldwide have capabilities to design semiconductor chips.

With the achievement of the 40-member startup, which unveiled a highly sophisticated system on chip for small cell base stations, the Indian company can now compete with US firms such as Qualcomm, Intel and Broadcom.

“Not only a first 4G-LTE chip coming from India, but also a 5G chip. If India manages to bring in IPR, it would be groundbreaking,” said Sundararajan.

Signalchip chief executive Himamshu Khasnis said, “Semiconductor is at the heart of any technology. Indian companies have no ownership at the silicon core level. Building competencies in semiconductor are key to India’s technology roadmap.”

The telecom secretary said she expects that original equipment makers would take advantage of the technology. She said the new chipset technology may be taken up by a small group of companies and countries initially, and that this could improve performance as it would go along the competitive market.

“When we talk of 5G, we think of foreign original equipment makers coming and setting up infrastructure,” she said.

Tension in the air

An Indian Airforce Pilot was captured by Pakistan after an air combat during which the two sides said they shot down each other’s warplanes that followed an unsuccessful attempt to target Indian military installations in retaliatory strikes that sparked fears of war. The aerial engagement between India and Pakistan for the first time since the 1971 war marked a dramatic escalation of confrontation prompting world leaders to urge the two neighbouring countries to exercise “utmost restraint”.

India said it shot down a F-16 warplane of Pakistan while it lost a MiG 21 during the fierce engagement between the air forces of the two countries along the Line of Control. Initially Pakistan claimed to have captured two IAF pilots, but later the Army claimed that it has only one Indian pilot, who was identified as Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. At least three separate video footages of the IAF pilot in Pakistan army’s custody emerged.

The Ministry of External Affairs also confirmed that an IAF pilot was in Pakistan custody, but didn’t identify him. The MEA summoned the Acting High Commissioner of Pakistan, Syed Haider Shah, to lodge a strong protest at the “unprovoked act of aggression by Pakistan against India”.

In a demarche, the Indian government stated that it would be “well advised to ensure that no harm comes to the Indian defence personnel in its custody” and that India expects his “immediate and safe return”.

“India also strongly objected to Pakistan’s vulgar display of an injured personnel of the Indian Air Force in violation of all norms of International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Convention. It was made clear that Pakistan would be well advised to ensure that no harm comes to the Indian defence personnel in its custody,” the demarche added.

In the evening, Pakistani military spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor said, “There is only one pilot under Pakistan Army’s custody. Wing Comd Abhi Nandan is being treated as per norms of military ethics.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi met the chiefs of Air Force, Navy and the Army along with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. The meeting lasted close to 90 minutes and sources said the preparedness and possible course of action were discussed.

According to official sources, three Pakistani fighter jets entered Indian air space at 9.58 am to target key military installations in Rajouri and Naushera in Jammu and Kashmir, as part of the retaliatory strike. Though three Pakistani jets violated Indian air space, the package of the aircraft deployed by Pakistan Air Force for the operation was “significantly large” as it comprised a fleet of JF-17 and F-16 combat aircraft, the sources said. Sources said the Pakistani jets targeted Indian army’s bases in Krishna Ghati and Nangi Tekri and an ammunition point in Narian. However, the bombs dropped by the Pakistani jets fell in uninhabited areas.

Government Unveils Passenger Rights Charter

If your domestic flight is delayed by six hours or more then the airline should inform you a day in advance and offer you an alternate flight or a full ticket refund. If the airline has cancelled your flight and has failed to inform you or you missed a connecting flight because the airline’s earlier flight wasn’t on time, then you could get a compensation of Rs.5,000-Rs.10,000 depending on travel time or one-way base fare plus fuel charge, whichever is less.

These and other provisions formed the passenger rights charter released by the ministry of civil aviation, after about nine months of consultation with various airlines.

According to the charter, if a flight is delayed by two to six hours, depending on the travel time, the airline needs to only offer passengers waiting at the airport only free meals and refreshments. For delays more than six hours for flights scheduled between 8 pm and 3 am and a delay of over 24 hours for other flights, airlines should inform passengers a day in advance and also offer them free hotel accommodation, the charter said. But that would be of hardly any solace to a passenger who has booked an international holiday.

If the airline has informed passengers about a flight cancellation less than two weeks and more than 24 hours in advance, then it is liable to offer them an alternate flight or a full refund. Here again, passengers who book months in advance stand to lose if the airline informs them over two weeks before departure date about the cancellation. A full refund is hardly a compensation in such a case. If the airline fails to inform passengers about the cancellation or they have a missed the airline’s connecting flight because its earlier flight was delayed, then they will get a compensation amounting to the cost of a one-way basic fare plus fuel charges or Rs.5,000—for flights up to one hour long—to Rs.10,000—for flights over two hours long—whichever is less.

Spotify launches in India

Spotify announced its much-anticipated launch into India, offering Bollywood and regional content as it seeks to attract millions of new users onto the world’s largest music streaming platform.

The Swedish company enters a fast-growing and competitive market. Spotify is offering Indian users a free trial period followed by subscriptions for Rs.119 a month – a fraction of the cost for European and US customers, but just Rs.1 lower than rival Apple Music.

The launch was stalled earlier this week as Warner Music Group filed an injunction in a local court over a licensing dispute.

Streaming has rapidly transformed the music industry around the world by providing unlimited, on demand songs online.

Spotify will offer its music recommendations in four regional languages, new playlists specifically for Indian listeners and trending tracks from the country’s vibrant film scene.

Spotify’s foray into India – where cheap smartphones and data packages are bringing millions online for the first time – excited industry watchers keen to reach new markets.

It is the latest expansion for Spotify, which most recently launched in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and boasts 200 million users in 79 markets.

Spotify, the global leader, will compete against Google, whose online music-app currently dominates in India.

There are also other players searching for their cut, including Reliance Jio, which acquired Indian music streaming platform Saavn in late 2018. Reliance said the integration of Saavn with its own music app, Jio Music, was worth $1 billion.

Saavvn offered a vast catalogue of songs across 15 languages but like many streaming apps, including Spotify, Saavn struggled to turn rapid growth into profit. 

Pune: Chinchwad to Nigdi metro corridor approved

The extension of the Pune metro route corridor from Chinchwad to Nigdi has received principle approval from the Maharashtra state government.

The approval was sanctioned after Maha-Metro prepared a detailed project repor based on the demand made by Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation in December 2018.

Meanwhile, Maha-Metro is yet to file a detailed project report for the Swargate to Katraj route. The extended stretch of the Pune metro from the Pimpri Chinchwad municipal corporation headquarters to Bhakti Shakti Square in Chinchwad, is 4.41 km. According to the comprehensive mobility plan, September 2018, the stretch had been extended for the said area as demanded.

The detailed project report was approved by the PCMC administration and sent to the state government for approval.

The said corridor will have three stations: Chinchwad, Akurdi and Nigdi. Maha-Metro has estimated the commuter strength at 14,450 people on the said stretch, in 2023 on a daily basis.

The route length of Pune Metro rail project is 31.25 km (26.23 km elevated and 5.02 km underground), divided into two corridors, i.e. from Pimpri Chinchwad municipal corporation to Swargate (16.59 km); and from Vanaz to Ramwadi (14.66 km), with 30 stations and two car maintenance depots.


IAF jets smash JeM's largest terror camp

India took down the largest Jaish-e-Mohammad terror training camp in Pakistan in a meticulously planned early morning air raid on Tuesday, terming it a “non-military, preemptive” strike based on credible intelligence that terrorists based in the camp were being trained for another suicide bombing in India.

The strikes — India’s first such air raid into Pakistan since the 1971 war — targeted the Balakot training camp located in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, beyond Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The camp was a busy location with terrorists congregating there after retreating from forward staging areas in anticipation of Indian action after the Pulwama terror attack in which 40 CRPF jawans were killed.

Declaring the strike as necessary to “fight the menace of terrorism”, foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale said a “very large number” of terrorists had been eliminated. Sources in the government estimated the casualties at over 300. “In an intelligence-led operation in the early hours of today (Tuesday), India struck the biggest training camp of JeM in Balakot. In this operation, a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated,” Gokhale said.

While a post-strike assessment is being carried out, the announcement of the air strikes has added a new dynamic to the Indo-Pak conflict in Kashmir that till now had been limited to ground raids, artillery exchanges and sniping across the Line of Control.

A dozen fighter jets were involved in the operation that saw the Dassault Mirage 2000 combat aircraft dropping SPICE-2000 precision bombs from along the LoC to strike targets at a range of over 60 km. The Mirages were backed by Su-30 MKI fighter jets that provided air support.

Those familiar with the details said that the strikes were carried out from just across the LoC, and that the jets did not need to go deep into Pakistan as long-range bombs were used. Pakistan has alleged that Indian fighter jets violated the LoC by “3-4 miles”.

Six buildings at the camp — run by Maulana Yousuf Azhar, also known as Ustad Ghouri, the brother-in-law of JeM chief Masood Azhar — were targeted by the Indian jets.

The Pakistani air force was alerted to the strike, but sources said it had no time to respond given the speed of the operation. They confirmed that while PAF jets did take off, they could not engage the Indian strike formation given its numerical superiority. Incidentally, Balakot is located within 60 km of Abbottabad, where US special forces gunned down Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in a covert operation in 2011.

Two other locations at Chakoti and Muzaffarabad are also believed to have been hit in the strikes, but were not mentioned in the official statement by the Indian government.

By terming the action as ‘non-military’, India has sought to control a possible escalation by signalling that the targets were non-state actors and not the Pakistani armed forces. The Pakistani military has, however, claimed that there was no damage to infrastructure at Balakot and that the bombs fell on a mountainside.

The foreign secretary said the action was on the basis of precise intelligence and that the target was chosen specifically to avoid civilian casualties. “The facility is located in a thick forest on a hilltop, far away from any civilian presence,” Gokhale said.

India has asked Pakistan to dismantle all JeM camps and infrastructure, and to hold terrorists accountable for their acts.

Days after sighting, tiger found dead in Gujarat

The fortnight of excitement over tiger sighting in Gujarat was short-lived as the big cat was found dead in Mahisagar’s forest area.

The tiger’s decomposed body was found near Signali around 5 pm. Vadodara chief conservator of forests S K Shrivastava said the carcass was found 12 km away from where it was spotted on camera last week. Rajeev Gupta, additional chief secretary, forests and environment, said: “As per primary information, the tiger died two or three days ago. However, all four legs and nails were in tact and there were no injury marks”. “The viscera and other body parts have been sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory to ascertain the exact cause of death,” he said.

Even though he ruled out poaching, Gupta said the department was looking into the possibility of death by poisoning. The male tiger was 5-7 years old and had crossed over to Gujarat from Madhya Pradesh. The forest department had installed trap cameras and it was last seen around 2 km from Santrampur, on February 12.

Adani gets Guwahati airport as well

Gautam Adani’s infra group has emerged as the highest bidder for Guwahati Airport also, whose financial bids were opened by Airports Authority of India.

With this, Adani Enterprises has won bids to operate all six airports — Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Mangalore, Trivandrum, Lucknow and Guwahati — that the government plans to run public-private way like the mega hubs at Delhi and Mumbai, for next 50 years.

“Adani’s per passenger, per month revenue share bid of Rs.160 is the highest for Guwahati,” said a senior AAI official.

GMR highest bidder to build airport in AP

GMR Airports has emerged as the highest bidder for building a greenfield international airport at Bhogapuram, near Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. GMR offered a revenue share of Rs.303 per passenger with the government, while Doit Smart Infrastructure India and GVK, offered Rs.261 and Rs.207, respectively.

The state-run Airports Authority of India had won the bid for this airport, which is to be developed in three phases for Rs.4,200 crore, in 2017 by offering a higher revenue share with the state than GMR. But last January, the AP government had cancelled that award and then called for fresh bids for this airport.

AP Airports Development Corporation, had initiated the RFP process for the new airport at Bhogapuram in November 2018. The project involves design, build, finance, construction, development, up-gradation, modernisation, operation and maintenance of the Bhogapuram airport for a period of 40 years. Site of the proposed airport is about 45 kms from Visakhapatnam.

Ensure 24x7 power to all : Centre

The Centre primed states for ensuring 24x7 power, saying they will be held accountable for wilful blackouts from April 1 when all households in the country will have power connections and discoms will be fined for wilful blackouts.

“We need to ensure that we live up to the ‘Power for All’ agreement which we signed. Starting April 1, we expect discoms to supply power 24x7. Agriculture consumers will be exempt,” power minister R K Singh said, kicking off a two-day brainstorming session with counterparts from states. For good measure, Singh added that discoms will be held accountable for 24x7 power to all households, barring agriculture consumers where 8-10 hours of power supply is sufficient “as we also have to conserve ground water”.

Singh’s remark indicates the government’s focus shifting on keeping the lines to homes charged, now that the 100% household electrification scheme is nearly complete. Only 22,691 of the 2.52 unelectrified households remain to be electrified by March 31.

But the poor pace of turnaround in the financial health of discoms remains a worry as it would affect their ability to buy power to ensure 24X7 supply. States are way behind in meeting targets for key parameters, such as reducing distribution losses and improving bill collection, set in Uday — the scheme for restoring financial health of discoms. “The sector will not be sustainable unless we collect money for each unit distributed. We also need to shift to prepaid metering system,” Singh said in an indirect reference to the gap between the discoms’ cost of supply and revenue.

Power minister R K Singh said discoms will be fined for wilful blackouts from April 1, when all households in the country will have power connections


Mumbai: Goyal prevails on railway officials to hand over Dharavi land

The railways has two parcels of land abutting Dharavi. One, of 17 acres, is relatively unencumbered. The second, of 90 acres, has godowns, a scrap yard and encroachments. The state had sought all 107 acres to resettle shanty dwellers in transit camps during the redevelopment of Dharavi.

The railways, after reviewing operational requirements, has agreed to transfer around 45 acres, including portions of both properties.

Dharavi sits on a tri-junction of wards in central Mumbai, overlapping Mahim, Matunga and Sion, crisscrossed by railway lines and arterial roads. The deal was struck in the face of strong resistance from railway officials, some of whom feared it may engender allegations of graft, besides drawing adverse remarks from CAG for conceding prime land. Also, some said surrendering land close to railway tracks in the heart of the city may affect expansion plans. But, sources said, railway minister Piyush Goyal persisted and asked officials to work out the modalities.

A meeting was held on Sunday between chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and Goyal, which was also attended by railway board chairman V K Yadav and chief secretary D K Jain.

The deal was sealed after much bargaining. Railways had sought an upfront payment of Rs.1,200 crore of the total Rs.3,800 crore, while the state was willing to pay Rs.800 crore. It was finally settled at Rs.1,000 crore, of which Rs.800 crore will be paid immediately and the balance in six months. Of the remaining, Rs.2,500 crore will come through profits generated from sale of surplus flats in the Dharavi project and the rest will be adjusted against construction costs of 850 units of railway quarters on the same land.

WR’s chief PRO Ravinder Bhakar said an MoU will soon be signed. Under the Dharavi revamp plan, a special purpose vehicle will be set up by the winning bidder and the state in 80:20 ratio. Global tenders were floated in November, inviting investment from private construction companies. DDA had set Rs.3,150 crore as base price.

Dubai-based Seclink Technology Corporation is the frontrunner as it quoted Rs.7,500 crore; Adani Infrastructure quoted Rs.4,529 crore. Sources said the state cabinet has withheld approval for the successful bidder as it wanted the railway deal to materialise first. On Monday too, railway and SRA officials had a meeting to prepare the draft of the MoU, to call for land measurements, etc.

A state source said, “Existing rail facilities on that land, like quarters, will be reconstructed with modern facilities on another piece of railway land; accommodation will be given to railways’ existing occupants. This will pave the way for speedy progress of the project.”

BSP, SP will ally for LS polls in MP, Uttarakhand

The Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party announced they will fight the upcoming Lok Sabha elections together in Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The two parties are already alliance partners in Uttar Pradesh for the general elections.

A statement signed jointly by Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav and BSP chief Mayawati here said, “Both have together decided to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in alliance in Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand.”

Under this alliance, the Samajwadi Party will contest three seats in Madhya Pradesh —Balaghat, Tikamgarh and Khajraho and one in Uttarakhand- Gadhwal (Pauri), while the BSP will contest on all the remaining seats, the statement released by the BSP said. While Madhya Pradesh sends 29 members to the Lok Sabha, Uttarakhand accounts for 5 seats in the Lower House of Parliament.

Both the parties have joined hands for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh where the BSP will contest 38 seats while the SP will be vying for 37 seats. Uttar Pradesh accounts for 80 Lok Sabha seats

India gets National War Memorial

Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the country’s National War Memorial adjoining the iconic India Gate complex in the heart of the capital, nearly 60 years after it was mooted to honour the fallen soldiers after Independence.

Spread over an area of approximately 40 acres, the memorial comprises four concentric circles, namely— the ‘Amar Chakra’, the ‘Veerta Chakra’, the ‘Tyag Chakra’ and the ‘Rakshak Chakra’ with names of 25,942 soldiers inscribed in golden letters on granite tablets.

It also includes a central obelisk, an eternal flame and six bronze murals depicting famous battles fought by Indian Army, Air Force and Navy in a covered gallery (Veerta Chakra).

The PM dedicated the memorial, built at a cost of ₹176 crore, by lighting the flame positioned at the bottom of the stone-made obelisk. Rose petals were showered by IAF helicopters and a flypast in ‘Missing Man’ formation was also part of the event.

There was no national memorial to commemorate the sacrifice of fallen soldiers after independence.

The National War Memorial pays tribute to soldiers who laid down their lives defending the nation during India-China war in 1962, Indo-Pak wars in 1947, 1965 and 1971, Indian Peace Keeping Force Operations in Srilanka and in the Kargil conflict of 1999.

The sanction for the project was issued on December 18, 2015 and actual work on it started in February 2018.

In the complex, 16 walls have been constructed in the Tyag Chakra for paying homage to the 25,942 battle casualties and their names have been inscribed on granite tablets arranged in a circular pattern, symbolizing the ancient Indian war formation ‘Chakravyuh’.

The outermost circle — the Rakshak Chakra comprises of rows of more than 600 trees with each tree representing many soldiers who guard the territorial integrity of the nation round the clock.

The memorial complex also comprises graphic panels and stone murals.

Busts of the 21 awardees of Param Veer Chakra have been installed at Param Yoddha Sthal which includes three living awardees Sub Maj (Hony Capt) Bana Singh (Retd), Sub Major Yogendra Singh Yadav and Sub Sanjay Kumar.

Officials said the Amar Jawan Jyoti, built in 1972 underneath the India Gate arch in memory of the fallen soldiers of the 1971 war, will remain there but the NWM will be the place to pay tributes to soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the country.

Six murals, made by noted sculptor Ram Sutar, depicting famous battles fought by the Army, Air Force and Navy have been put up in a gallery in the Veerta Chakra zone.

The India Gate itself is a war memorial built during the British Raj as the All India War Memorial Arch to honour the soldiers who died in the First World War (1914-1918) and the Third Anglo-Afghan War (1919). The landmark has the names of soldiers inscribed on its surface.

The proposal to set up a a National War Memorial had been under consideration since early 1970s.

A Group of Ministers in August 2012 recommended “C” Hexagon of India Gate as the appropriate location for the memorial.

Adani emerges highest bidder for five airports

Conglomerate Adani Group has emerged the successful bidder for five of the six airports the government has decided to privatize in its latest round of airport privatization.

Financial bids for five airports, except Guwahati, were opened and Adani Enterprises emerged the winner by quoting the highest revenue per passenger for Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Lucknow, Thiruvananthapuram and Mangaluru airports.

The bids detail how much revenue the new airport developer and operator is willing to share with the government-owned Airports Authority of India

Bids for Guwahati airport are expected to be opened on Tuesday.

The Adani Enterprises’ bids were far more aggressive than those of other bidders.

Adani Group’s experience in aviation is limited to owning an airstrip near its flagship port at Mundra in Gujarat, and an airline licence for Karnavati Aviation. To its advantage, prior experience in running an airport wasn’t a qualifying requirement in this bidding process.

The highest amount quoted by Adani was for the Ahmedabad airport, for which it agreed to give ₹177 per passenger to the AAI while the next highest bidder, a consortium of The National Investment and Infrastructure Fund and Zurich Airport International AG, quoted ₹146.

GMR group, which operates the Delhi and Hyderabad airports, quoted just ₹85 for the Ahmedabad airport. The Ahmedabad airport handled 10.65 million passengers in 2018, up from 8.70 million the previous year. The capacity of the airport is 8.5 million.

All the other airports privatized are also operating beyond capacity.

For Thiruvananthapuram, Adani quoted ₹168, and for Mangaluru, ₹115. GMR quoted just ₹15 for Mangaluru. For Jaipur and Lucknow, Adani quoted ₹174 and ₹139 respectively.

“The Adani Group is delighted on winning the bids that were invited by Airports Authority of India in December 2018 for the management of domestic air, ports under the public-private partnership model. The Indian aviation industry is a growing sector with the government’s continuing focus on creating world class airports,” an Adani spokesperson said in an e-mail.

This person added that the conglomerate would “scale up the infrastructure to bring these facilities on par with global standards.”

According to The International Air Transport Association India’s domestic market posted the fastest full-year domestic growth rate for the fourth consecutive year, with an 18.6% annual demand increase in 2018.

The aviation minister has already said the government will adopt the private model for new airports and also some operational ones.

In November, the cabinet approved the privatization of six operational airports saying the airport sector is the top contender among infrastructure sectors in terms of international interest.

Mumbai: ₹4,678-crore GMLR project gets green light from wildlife board

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s ambitious Goregaon-Mulund Link Road project worth ₹4,678 crore has crossed a major hurdle after it received a nod from the National Board for Wildlife. The only approval pending is from the forest department as the rest of the clearances required for this big ticket project are already in place.

GMLR will connect Film City in Goregaon and Mulund via a 12.7 km six-lane road. It will be the fourth east-west connectivity link road after Santacruz-Chembur Link Road, Andheri-Ghatkopar Link Road, and Jogeshwari-Vikhroli Link Road. As per the BMC’s plan, 4.7 km of the GMLR will be a twin tunnel road with 3+3 lanes running underneath the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. Along with this, a 1.60-km box tunnel in the premises of Film City has also been planned.

A provision of ₹100 crore has been made for the project in the BMC budget 2019-20.

The project had got a nod from the Maharashtra State Board of Wildlife in December and received eco-sensitive zone clearance. Urban planners, however, have expressed concerns.


Assam Hooch Tragedy Toll Rises to 143

The death toll in Golaghat and Jorhat districts rose to 143 in three days as Assam faced its worst hooch tragedy ever, triggering demands for banning the illicit liquor trade. The state has more than 850 big tea estates and hundreds of thousands of small tea gardens that provide livelihood to four million people. Every year tea workers in different areas die after consuming spurious liquor.

On Sunday, an irate mob shouted slogans against the state excise minister saying “Parimal Suklabaidya go back” when he visited a hospital in Upper Assam. After the recent hooch tragedy in Uttar Pradesh, the excise department in Assam asked its officers in districts to dismantle illicit breweries. “We will have to do something drastic, for despite this tragedy, consumption of spurious liquor is still on. I saw this myself on Saturday,” said a senior Assam government minister, who did not wish to be identified.

I’ll be back: PM

Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed off on the last episode of his monthly radio programme ‘Mann ki Baat’ before the Lok Sabha elections, expressing confidence that he would be back to renew the programme in May and looked forward to several years of conversations with the public.

On Sunday, the PM said healthy democratic traditions demanded that he discontinue ‘Mann ki Baat’ till the elections conclude, but made it clear that he expected to be back in office. “With the power of your blessings, once again I shall begin this series of conversations through ‘Mann ki Baat’… and shall keep doing ‘Mann ki Baat’ with you for years,” he said.

“In the next two months, we will be busy in the hurlyburly of the general elections. I myself will also be a candidate during this election. As a respect to healthy democratic traditions, the next episode of ‘Mann ki Baat’ will be broadcast on the last Sunday of the month of May. This means I shall take up our thoughts and ideas accumulated over the three months of March, April and entire May after the elections, with a new confidence,” the PM said. The decision to suspend the radio talk fits in with the expected announcement of Lok Sabha poll dates in the first week of March. In the 2014 election, polls were announced on March 5.

GST on under-construction flats slashed to 5%

In a big relief to home buyers, the GST Council slashed tax rates on under-construction housing properties to 5 per cent without input tax credit, from the existing 12 per cent.

The Council also cut GST rates on affordable housing to 1 per cent from the current 8 per cent and expanded the scope of affordable housing to those costing up to Rs.45 lakh and measuring 60 sq metre in metros and 90 sq metre in non-metro cities.

The new tax rates will come into effect from April 1, 2019.

Currently, the GST is levied at 12 per cent on payments made for under-construction properties or ready-to-move-in flats where completion certificate has not been issued at the time of sale. However, builders will not be able to claim input tax credit under the new GST rates.

However, GST is not levied on real estate properties for which completion certificate has been issued at the time of sale. With regard to lotteries, the GST Council, however, deferred its decision with Jaitley saying that the Group of Ministers will meet again to discuss the proposal.

Currently, state-run lotteries attract 12 per cent GST, while state-authorised ones attract 28 per cent.

PM Modi launches direct cash benefit scheme for farmers

Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Rs.75,000 crore Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi cash transfer scheme for small and marginal cultivators.

The scheme was announced in the interim budget on February 1 ahead of national polls due this summer. Rs.6,000 would annually be transferred in three installments into bank accounts of farmers with less than two-hectare land holdings.

Modi contrasted the scheme with farm loan waivers. He said the waivers, unlike the scheme, benefit a select few as he initiated the electronic transfer of the first installment of Rs.2,000 each into the bank accounts of 10.1 million farmers under PM-KISAN. Modi said the earlier farm loan waiver schemes only benefitted “Congress workers” and added the PM Kishan scheme will benefit all farmers.

“Loan waivers would have been easy and convenient for us too. We could also have distributed lollypops for political and election benefits, but we cannot commit such a sin. Loan waiver benefits only a select few,” said Modi in UP’s Gorakhpur.

Farm loan waiver was among the Congress’s key promises as it wrested power from the BJP in December in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, which account for 65 out of 545 Lok Sabha seats.

Modi insisted PM Kishan was not just an “election promise” and warned the farmers against rumours that the money being given under the scheme will be taken back. “This is your money and it will not be taken back.”

Modi said the first installments under the scheme have been deposited into the bank accounts of farmers directly and those left out will get them soon. “There are no middlemen in this scheme and it is being implemented with complete transparency,” Modi told a gathering after interacting with a select group of farmers from different states via videoconferencing. Modi, who also launched several other projects worth Rs.10,000 crore in Gorakhpur and Eastern Uttar Pradesh, said his government was working to provide all possible resources to help farmers double their incomes by 2022.

The Opposition parties linked the scheme’s launch to the national polls to oppose it.


Our fight is against terror, not Kashmir or Kashmiris: PM

Prime Minister Narendra Modi deplored incidents of harassment of Kashmiris outside Jammu & Kashmir after the Pulwama terror attack and said India’s fight is not against Kashmir or its residents but terrorism and enemies of humanity.

Addressing concerns over Kashmiris, particularly students, being threatened and, in some cases, assaulted, the PM said the issue is not the scale of such incidents but that they had occurred at all. “Incidents were reported and the issue is not what happened and on what scale but that it should not have happened. Children of Kashmir are also suffering because of these terrorists and they are standing in our support to eliminate terrorists and we need their support,” Modi said at a rally.

Modi also referred to a conversation he had with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan to say the onus of taking action against terrorist organisations lies with Islamabad. He said he urged Khan that India and Pakistan wage war against poverty and illiteracy and the leader promised that as a Pathan, he believed in truthfulness. “Today is the time to see if he lives by his words or not,” said the PM. Though he said he wants to see if Khan acts on his words, Modi made it clear that he is intent on action.

“Is baar sabka hisab hoga (Perpetrators will be held to account),” he said. “Peace can’t be restored until these factories of terrorism are shut. If it is the case that I was destined to seal such factories of terrorism, then it will certainly happen.” On the harassment of Kashmiris, he said such actions play into the hands of secessionists.

Asaduddin Owaisi calls Jaish chief Masood Azhar ‘a satan’

The Pulwama terror attack in which 40 CRPF jawans were killed was the biggest failure of the Narendra Modi government, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi said.

Addressing a massive poll rally with Dalit leader and Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh president Prakash Ambedkar, Owaisi also slammed Pakistan and Jaish-e-Mohammed founder Masood Azhar. JeM has owned responsibility for the attack.

“The Pulwama attack is a political, bureaucratic and intelligence failure,” he said.

“Masood Azhar is not a maulana (cleric) but a satan. Pakistan should remember that when it’s the question of our country, we (Indians) are all one,” he said.

Saying that the Pakistan government was responsible for the terror attack, he said the neighbouring country should not worry about Indian Muslims as they chose to remain here ignoring (Pakistan founder) Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

Slamming both the ruling as well as prominent opposition parties in Maharashtra, Owaisi said this was the last chance to ensure the BJP and Congress did not come to power again.

Muslims should not support the Congress as the party has only caused trouble for the community, he said.

India invited to OIC meet as ‘guest of honour’

In a significant first, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj will address the inaugural session of the foreign ministers’ conclave of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation on March 1. She has been invited by the United Arab Emirates as a ‘guest of honour’.

India has never been invited to the OIC before and the latest development, coming at a time when India-Pakistan tension is running high, is being seen as a diplomatic success. The foreign ministry said it was a “welcome recognition of the presence of 185 million Muslims in India, their contribution to its pluralistic ethos, and of India’s contribution to the Islamic world”. The OIC had denied India a seat when the grouping started.

The invitation by UAE foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan over a month ago is a sign of the deepening bilateral relationship as it would have needed diplomatic heavy-lifting, particularly as the decision does not suit Pakistan that looks on OIC as a forum to rake up anti-India issues.

In the last few years, India has improved ties with the Islamic world from Saudi Arabia to Indonesia, while building on good relations with countries like Qatar and Oman. “We see this invitation as the desire of the enlightened leadership of the UAE to go beyond our rapidly growing close bilateral ties and forge a true multifaceted partnership at the multilateral and international level,” said MEA.

While it was Bangladesh that floated the idea of India becoming an observer at the OIC in 2018, the UAE invite offers India an opportunity to address the forum.

While observer status still looks distant, Swaraj’s presence at the OIC plenary is not likely to change the organisation’s stand on Jammu and Kashmir, where they have always supported Pakistan. But India’s presence is a big sign that the OIC may be open to looking at India and — perhaps Kashmir — differently.

In the past week, Pakistan has been at the receiving end from the international community with the Financial Action Task Force rapping Pakistan for failing to curb support to terror and then the UN Security Council issuing a strong statement on Pulwama that named Jaish-e-Mohammad. The OIC invitation is important for India, particularly in the wake of the Pulwama terror attack. Pakistan would be looking to use the OIC forum to lash out at India, maybe to turn OIC against India. As India looks for a response to the terror attack, the OIC platform gives India a unique opportunity to convey its views.

Sushma Swaraj is expected to not only dwell on India’s historical relationship with the Islamic world, but she will talk about terrorism and radicalisation and the importance of countering these force

Preparing plan for $100bn FDI inflow: Prabhu

Commerce and industry minister Suresh Prabhu said the government is working on a blueprint to increase FDI inflows to $100 billion through a targeted approach.

“We have removed almost all sectoral restrictions. I have asked Invest India to identify those who can get that amount. I am getting research done on companies who have the cash, where they will invest, what is the sectoral intent and I am personally talking to Fortune 500 companies and requesting them to come. We will make sure that we will take it to a new level,” he said at the Global Business Summit. In 2017-18, FDI flows into India were estimated at over $61 billion.

Prabhu also said that India’s merchandise exports are expected to close the financial year at a record high and for the first time goods and services exports could top the $500 billion mark.

The minister outlined his strategy to create a win-win partnership with other countries and retain the focus on a collaborative approach to global trade at a time when countries such as the US were seeking to undermine the relevance of the World Trade Organisation.

“We are now working in partnership with Russia to import diamonds, which will give us access to raw material and work together. With the Middle East, we are working on creating a supply chain where we will invest, they will invest and we will export it back to them... We will forge strong ties that will benefit India and the world,” he said, while adding that the collaboration with West Asia was for food products.

Impossible is Now Possible in India : PM

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his address at the Global Business Summit 2019, pitched his government’s work as an effort to align India to the path of becoming a $10 trillion economy, asserting that India today is a country where namumkin ab mumkin hai (the impossible is now possible).

In keeping with his campaign pitch for another term, Modi said that this effort stood out in stark contrast to the sentiment prevalent in the previous Congress-led UPA government where the only competition was over corruption.

The prime minister emphasised that his government had fostered “competition on development” which is finding expression in many spheres. “Since 2014, we’re witnessing various forms of competition. A competition between ministries, a competition between states — a competition on development, a completion on achieving targets.”

Taking a dig at the previous UPA government, Modi said: “Before 2014 also, we heard about a competition, although of a different kind. A competition between ministries, a competition between individuals — a competition on corruption, a competition on who can do the fastest corruption. I’ll leave it to you to decide which form of competition you would prefer.”

The PM reminded the galaxy of business leaders in the audience of the many cases of corruption that surfaced during the terms of the UPA — from coal to spectrum, from Commonwealth Games to defence deals. “We also know who were the main players involved in this competition (of corruption),” he said.

Modi said his term as prime minister has seen the highest rate of average growth and the lowest rate of average inflation in India during the period of any government since the liberalisation of the economy in 1991.

In the 2014-19 period, the PM said, the country would register an average growth of 7.4% and the average inflation would be less than 4.5%. “Post-liberalisation, this will be the highest rate of average growth and the lowest rate of average inflation witnessed during the period of any government.”

In doing so, the prime minister said, his government has challenged the notion that a developing economy cannot grow at high rate for a long period without facing the problem of inflation.

“Post-liberalisation, almost all the governments formed in our country had to face this problem — what many experts call overheating of an economy after a short period of growth. As a result of this, we never had sustainable higher rate of growth,” said Modi, speaking of previous governments.

Even during the 1991-96 government, the PM said, average growth was about 5% but average inflation was more than 10%. “The government just before us — between 2009 and 2014 — had an average growth of about 6.5% with an average inflation again in double digits.”

He went on to claim that his government had reversed the narrative that certain things are just impossible in India. “The progress our nation has achieved since 2014 gives me confidence that nothing is impossible for 130 crore Indians.”

Elaborating on this, Modi said that at one point, it was considered impossible to have a corruption-free government but people of India made it possible.

“It was said that economic reforms in India were impossible but people of India are making it possible. It was said that governments cannot be progrowth and pro-poor at the same time but people of India are making it possible,” the PM said.

Essentially, the PM said, the country had moved away from the “A, B, C mentality — that is A for avoiding, B for burying and C for confusing”. This approach, according to the PM, was turned on its head by his government.

“Instead of avoiding an issue, we dealt with the issue; instead of burying it, we dug it out and communicated it to the people; and instead of confusing the system, we demonstrated that a solution is possible,” he said.

The PM did not pull his punches in an election year as he asked the large business audience to recall the situation prior to 2014.

“Who would know better than all of you present here about the challenges the country was facing during the second half of 2013 and early 2014? Runaway inflation was breaking the back of every household. Increasing current account deficit and higher fiscal deficit were threatening the macroeconomic stability of the country. All these parameters were indicating a gloomy future. The country was facing total policy paralysis. This was preventing the economy from reaching the level which it was worthy of.”

There was a perception of surrender to existing circumstances, Modi said at the summit, adding: “Four years ago, who would have believed that ₹3 lakh crore would be returned by defaulting borrowers to financial and operational creditors? This is the impact of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code.”

He said that after 2014, “hesitations have been replaced by hope; obstacles have been replaced by optimism and issues have been replaced by initiatives.”

The PM pointed to India making significant improvements in almost all international rankings and indices which represent how the world’s perception about the country is changing.

“I’m aware that there are some who cannot appreciate this rapid improvement. They suggest that rankings only improve things on paper, but nothing changes on the ground. I think this is far from the truth. Rankings are mostly lagging indicators. Things change on the ground first but reflect in rankings after a time lag,” the PM said.

He cited the example of the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings where India’s position has improved from 142 to a historic high of 77. “But the change in rankings has been preceded by improvement in the situation on the ground.”

He said the Indian economy has expanded the bouquet of its financing resources and was no more dependent on bank credit for investment needs.

“From 2011-12 to 2013-14, the average amount of fund raised through equity was about ₹14,000 crore per annum. In the last four years, this average is about ₹43,000 crore per annum. This is almost three times,” the PM said.

He also said that the total amount raised by Alternative Investment Funds from 2011 to 2014 was less than ₹4,000 crore but from 2014 to 2018, the AIFs raised more than ₹81,000 crore.

The PM said his government has worked with the ambition of making India a $10 trillion economy and the third largest economy of the world.

“We want to make an India of countless startups. We want to give our people energy security. We want to cut down on import dependence… make India a world leader in electric vehicles and energy storage devices… to create a new India of our dreams,” the PM said.


Ensure safety of Kashmiris: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court on Friday directed 11 states to take immediate action to prevent threats and attacks on Kashmiris, including college and university students.

“The chief secretaries, the DGPs, and the Delhi police commissioner are directed to take prompt and necessary action to prevent all the incidents of threat, assault, social boycott and other coercive acts against Kashmiris and other minorities in the aftermath of the terrorist attack of 14 February,” said a bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and justice Sanjiv Khanna.

Following the 14 February terror strike on personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force in Pulwama, there have been cases of attacks on Kashmiri students in states, including in Punjab, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Following the court directive, the human resource development ministry and the University Grants Commission wrote to 600 colleges and universities to provide adequate safety to the students.

Kashmiri students across India include at least 8,600 who are studying under the Prime Minister’s Special Scholarship scheme in several higher education institutions and all effort will be made to provide them a “congenial atmosphere to study”.

The UGC, in a letter dated 22 February, asked universities to be proactive in the matter. “In the context of reports being received through various media regarding the safety of students from Kashmir studying in various higher educational institutions, all universities and colleges affiliated to them are advised to ensure the safety and protection of the students on the campus,” it said. Institutions may seek the support of the law and order machinery in case of any incident, the UGC said in the letter, a copy of which has been reviewed by Mint.

The apex court also sought responses from the centre and the states where incidents of threat and violence against Kashmiris have taken place.

Top officials of Maharashtra, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Haryana, Meghalaya, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Delhi have also been directed to prevent incidents of “threat, assault and social boycott” of Kashmiris, including students.

The court was hearing a plea by Tariq Adeeb, a lawyer, alleging that students from Kashmir are being attacked at different educational institutions across the country after the Pulwama terror attack and seeking concerned authorities to be directed to stop such assaults. 


Ahmedabad Metro Phase 2 gets Modi Cabinet clearance

Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired Union Cabinet has approved the phase 2 project of Ahmedabad Metro Rail, comprising two corridors. The two corridors of Ahmedabad Metro’s phase 2 project will cover a distance of 28.254 km in total. It will include 22.838 km long corridor 1 from Motera Stadium to Mahatma Mandir and 5.416 km long corridor 2 from GNLU to GIFT City. The entire phase 2 project of Ahmedabad Metro Rail will be completed at a cost of Rs.5384.17 crore.

With the implementation of Ahmedabad Metro’s phase 2 project, Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar in Gujarat will get the much-needed additional public transport facility. The project aims to streamline the urban transportation system in Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar. The system is strained due to an increase in the number of private vehicles, heavy construction and intensive developments. The aim is to provide a comfortable and reliable public transport to the travellers. According to the Cabinet release, the metro project involves integration with other urban transport systems in an effective and efficient manner, which is only possible by adopting innovative methods of designing, technology as well as institutional management.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is all set to inaugurate the phase 1 project of Ahmedabad Metro Rail on March 4, 2019. The Ahmedabad Metro Rail phase 1 project is around 40.03 km in total, out of which 6.5 km is underground and the rest of the stretch is elevated. With the commencement of this project, 4 corners of the Ahmedabad city will be connected with 2 corridors, covering 32 metro stations in total. The two corridors of phase 1 include 18.87 km long North-South corridor, covering 15 elevated stations and 21.16 km long East-West corridor, covering 4 underground and 13 elevated stations.

India to Stop its Water Share from Flowing into Pakistan

India said it will no longer allow its share of river waters to flow into Pakistan, signalling that it was taking a close look at punitive measures it can take as an upper riparian country following the Pulwama terror attack in which 40 soldiers were killed.

Water resources minister Nitin Gadkari made the announcement on social media platform Twitter: “Our government has decided to stop our share of water which used to flow to Pakistan. We will divert water from eastern rivers and supply it to our people in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab.”

This was in line with some of the government’s earlier decision to harness the rivers Ravi and Beas better. According to the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty, the eastern rivers of the water system — Sutlej, Ravi and Beas — were to be with India while Pakistan would get Indus, Jhelum and Chenab. On the main river Indus too, India was given the right to exploit without disturbing the flow or quantum.

However, India has not exploited the waters of Ravi and Beas largely due to inter-state disputes. Gadkari had last month succeeded in bringing chief ministers of six states — Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and Delhi — to sign an MoU to mutually store, divert and exploit India’s share in the Indus river system. J&K’s governor also recently gave the go-ahead to the Ujh (branch of river Ravi) project for the same purpose.

Officials, however, clarified that this move does not violate the Indus Waters Treaty; instead it’s aimed at harnessing the amount of water entitled to India.

“The construction of dam started at Shahpur-Kandi on Ravi river. Moreover, Ujh project will store our share of water for use in J&K and the balance water will flow from the second Ravi-Beas link to provide water to other basin states,” he said in his tweet.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had set the tone for this policy after the Uri attack in 2016 when he said, “Blood and water cannot flow together.” All these projects, Gadkari said, have been declared as ‘national projects’.

Mahindra XUV 300 launched

Mahindra's latest attempt at the sub-4 metre SUV segment in India, the XUV300, is here. Priced between Rs.7.9 lakh and Rs.12 lakh (ex-showroom India), the XUV300 is available with both petrol and diesel engine options, and packs a lot of segment-first features. Although it is more expensive than the Maruti Suzuki Vitara Brezza, Ford EcoSport and the Tata Nexon, the XUV300 does come with a lot of kit right from the base variant. For instance, the base W4 variant gets all-LED tail lamps, rear disc brakes, electric tailgate release, all-four power windows, adjustable headrests for all passengers, and more.

Based on the X100 platform that also underpins the SsangYong Tivoli, the XUV300 is a well designed and robust sub-4 metre SUV. While it is significantly shorter than its South Korean cousin, it sports the longest wheelbase in its segment. However, with a boot space usually seen on hatchbacks these days, the space inside could have been utilised a little better.

The XUV300 packs seven airbags and a host of other safety features like hill start assist, traction control, and electronic stability control too. It also gets front parking sensors, which is usually seen only on premium and luxury SUVs.

Mahindra has loaded the XUV300 with a lot of creature comforts as well. It gets dual-zone climate control (another segment-first feature), an electrically operated sunroof and steering modes.

Powering the XUV300 are the torquiest petrol and diesel engines in the segment. The 1.5-litre diesel engine is from the Marazzo and churns out 115PS of power and 300Nm of peak torque. The 1.2-litre petrol engine, on the other hand, makes 110PS and 200Nm. Both engines come mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox. While there is no automatic option available at the moment, Mahindra could offer the XUV300 with it later.

With the XUV300's pricing, Mahindra has made its best effort yet at cracking the sub-4 metre SUV segment. However, the lack of an automatic variant at launch and a cramped boot space could prove to be deal-breakers for some prospective buyers.

SP to contest 37 seats in UP, BSP gets 38

Stamping out any possibility of Congress being part of the opposition alliance in Uttar Pradesh, Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party jointly released the list of seats from where the two partners will contest. Of 75 seats in the list, SP will be contesting 37, one less than its alliance partner BSP, after it gifted an extra seat from its quota to RLD. At the historic Mayawati-Akhilesh press conference on January 12, the alliance had already reserved two seats for the Jat-dominated party and spared two seats, Amethi and Rae Bareli, for the grand old party.

Samajwadi Party will be challenging Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Rajnath Singh in the key constituencies of Varanasi and Lucknow. It has also retained Gorakhpur and Phulpur, where it defeated BJP in the 2018 byelections. Kairana, too, is in SP’s kitty, where BJP was drubbed in the bypolls by a joint opposition candidate who fought on an RLD ticket.

In the division of seats declared by the two parties, BSP and SP appear to have stuck to their bastions. While the Yadav strongholds will remain largely with SP, Jatav-dominated Bundelkhand has gone to BSP’s share. A chunk of SP’s share comprises over 10 seats, mostly in urban areas, which were won by Congress in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls — Moradabad, Ghaziabad, Ferozabad, Unnao, Kanpur, Jhansi, Barabanki, Faizabad and Kushinagar.

The two parties hammered out the seat-distribution blueprint by taking into account their performance in the 2009 polls rather than using the 2014 results as the yardstick.

BSP has zeroed in on most reserved seats, 10 against six given to SP. Bijnor, considered BSP chief Mayawati’s lucky seat, has been retained by the party. Also, Saharanpur, from where BSP founder Kanshi Ram once contested, is in BSP’s bag. Nagina, Agra, Bulandshahr, Shahjahanpur, Mohanlalganj and Lalganj are some other reserved seats from where BSP will contest.

EPFO hikes interest rate to 8.65%

The Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation approved of an increase in the interest rate on PF deposits to 8.65 per cent for 2018-19 from 8.55 per cent in the previous financial year. This is the first time in three years that it has announced a hike in the interest rate for its subscribers

The proposed interest rate will now require a nod from the Ministry of Finance, said Labour and Employment Minister Santosh Kumar Gangwar, who chaired the central board of trustees meeting of the EPFO. A rise of 10 basis point in the interest rate will lead to an additional benefit of Rs.1,000 to Rs.10,000 for an accumulated saving of Rs.10 lakh to Rs.1 crore by a private sector subscriber. The decision is likely to benefit 170 million subscribers from the private sector.

The rate of interest paid by the EPFO had been declining since 2015-16, from 8.8 per cent to 8.65 per cent in 2016-17 to a five-year low of 8.55 per cent in 2017-18.

The new rate of interest announced by the retirement fund body is higher than the return on investment in small saving schemes and that of provident fund schemes for government employees.

While the public provident fund scheme and the five-year national savings certificate scheme offer an interest rate of 8 per cent at present, various fixed deposit schemes of public sector banks give benefits in the range of 7-7.8 per cent. The general provident fund, meant for government employees, fetches 8 per cent interest rate at present.

The EPFO now will be left with a surplus of Rs.151.67 crore by providing an interest of 8.65 per cent for the current financial year. Had the EPFO further hiked the interest rate to 8.7 per cent, it would have resulted in a deficit of Rs.158 crore, as per its income projections.

The EPFO deferred a proposal to hike the minimum monthly pension for its subscribers to Rs.2,000 from Rs.1,000 currently. According to the proposal, doubling the minimum monthly pension would require an additional outgo of Rs.3,000 crore.

Pakistan bans Hafiz Saeed's JuD, its charity wing FIF

Pakistan banned the 2008 Mumbai attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed-led Jamat-ud-Dawa and its charity wing Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation.

A spokesman of the Interior Ministry said that the decision to ban these groups was taken during a meeting of the National Security Committee held at the Prime Minister's Office on Thursday.
"It was decided during the meeting to accelerate action against proscribed organisations," the spokesperson said in a statement.

"It was further decided that Jamat-ud-Dawa and Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation be notified as proscribed organizations by the Ministry of Interior," he added.

Earlier, the two outfits were kept on the watchlist of the interior ministry.

The meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, reviewed the National Action Plan against terrorism in detail. Services chiefs and key ministers were in attendance.


Saudi crown prince vows ‘all cooperation’ against terror

Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman joined Prime Minister Narendra Modi in condemning the Pulwama attack in the “strongest terms” even as India and Saudi Arabia agreed on the need to put pressure on countries that back terror and called on such states to dismantle terrorism infrastructures.

Apart from the specific reference to Pulwama, the joint statement called on “all states to reject the use of terrorism against other countries, dismantle terrorism infrastructures where they happen to exist and to cut off any kind of support and financing to terrorists perpetrating terrorism from all territories against other states”.

The prince agreed to share intelligence with India on counter-terrorism and, importantly, agreed that terrorists should come under UN sanctions. He also said Saudi Arabia will invest $100 billion in India.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the release of 850 Indian prisoners lodged in his country’s jails on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s request as the two leaders held extensive talks, according to the Ministry of External Affairs. After the talks, it was also announced that India has decided to extend e-Visa facility to Saudi nationals.

Saudi Arabia also joined the International Solar Alliance, a move welcomed by the prime minister, MEA officials said. Both sides noted the potential of cooperation in the renewable energy sector. a joint statement issued after the talks said.

Lockheed offers F-21 fighters to India

US firm Lockheed Martin unveiled the F-21, a multi-role fighter jet, which it claimed will be specifically configured for the IAF. The announcement comes in after India floated a request for information for 114 fighter aircraft. The US firm is eyeing a multi-billion-dollar order.

Lockheed said in a statement that it would partner with Tata Advanced Systems and it will have Make in India opportunities that no other firm has offered. Lockheed is among seven firms that have responded to the IAF’s RFI for fighter aircraft. However, it first offered the F-16. The F-21, the firm said, is designed to address IAF’s unique requirements. The firm said the new plane highlights its commitment to delivering an advanced, scalable fighter aircraft to the IAF, while also providing industrial opportunities locally.

It could not be immediately confirmed whether the IAF has already been consulted on the new aircraft. The IAF is aware of the F-16. Lockheed claimed the Make in India opportunity combines ‘the strength of the world's largest defence contractor with India’s premier industrial house to deliver a win-win situation for India and the US”.

Jaish planning even bigger strike

Emboldened by its success in the Pulwama suicide bombing, Jaish-e-Mohammad plans to carry out another fidayeen attack of a much bigger magnitude, intelligence intercepts of conversations on February 16-17 between JeM leadership in Pakistan and its terrorists in Kashmir have revealed.

As per the intercepts, Jaish terrorists resolved to execute another bombing to cause massive casualty to Indian security forces. On Wednesday, a top intelligence official said various inputs from different quarters indicated that there could be a major attack either in Jammu or outside J&K.

Quoting intel sources, it had been reported that a 21-member JeM squad, including three suicide bombers, had infiltrated into Kashmir in December last year to launch three attacks, including two outside the Valley.

The intercepts picked up by the agencies also revealed that JeM is to release the video of the preparations of the Pulwama suicide bombing preparations. Intelligence analysts said the release of the video is intended to glorify 20-year-old Adil Ahmad Dar, who rammed his explosive-laden Maruti Eeco van into one of the buses of the 78-vehicle CRPF convoy, killing 40 jawans on February 14. The video could help Jaish recruit more gullible and radicalised Kashmiri youth into suicide bombing missions, an analyst said.

JeM has also claimed that it was the terror group’s former operational commander Mohammad Waqas Dar who had planted the IED at Nowshera in Rajouri last week in which Army Major Chitresh Bisht was killed.

However, police officials said the entire communication among Jaish terrorists seemed to be a ‘psychological operation’ targeted at terrorizing India. “But since we have intercepted the communication, we cannot ignore it. We are on high alert and trying to corroborate the threats through other means too,” a senior police officer said.

Govt to infuse ₹48,239 crore in 12 PSU banks for 2018-19

The government approved the infusion of Rs.48,239 crore in 12 public sector banks in the current financial year to ensure that the lenders are able to maintain regulatory capital requirements, step up lending and boost overall growth. Rajeev Kumar, secretary, department of financial services, said with this latest infusion of capital, the government has now provided Rs.1,00,958 crore out of the Rs.1.06-lakh-crore bank recapitalisation plan.

Corporation Bank emerged as the biggest beneficiary of the latest round of capital infusion with Rs.9,086 crore, followed by Allahabad Bank (Rs.6,896 crore).

Kumar said the aim of the recapitalisation plan is to strengthen better performing banks (including Allahabad Bank and Corporation Bank) under prompt corrective action so that they can come out of this restriction. The RBI had unveiled the PCA framework in the aftermath of soaring bad loans and that was meant to serve as a watch list for weak banks on which lending restrictions were imposed.

Last month, the RBI lifted curbs on three out of 11 public sector banks. Eight other PSBs — Allahabad Bank, United Bank of India, Corporation Bank, IDBI Bank, UCO Bank, Central Bank of India, Indian Overseas Bank and Dena Bank — are still under PCA, which also imposes curbs on expansion activities, among a number of other restrictions, to help them get back to fiscal health.

Kumar said the plan is also to ensure that state-run lenders, which have emerged out of the PCA, remain above the triggers and help others such as Indian Overseas Bank, Central Bank, United Bank and UCO Bank meet minimum regulatory capital requirements. He added that the remaining Rs.5,000 crore may be used as a buffer for any contingency or growth capital for Bank of Baroda, which will be merged with Dena Bank and Vijaya Bank.

In December, the government had injected Rs.28,615 crore into seven banks through recapitalisation bonds.

SC bench to begin hearing Ayodhya case on February 26

The much-adjourned hearing on politically and religiously sensitive 70-year-old litigation for ownership of disputed 2.77 acres of land in Ayodhya will commence before a five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court on February 26, if all goes well.

The SC Registry notified the scheduled commencement of hearing for Tuesday. But many might still keep their fingers crossed over whether the court would be able to keep its date with the matter, considering that due to a variety of reasons — from recusal to indisposition of judges — it had to adjourn the much-awaited hearing several times. Even in the last five months, the appeals against the Allahabad HC’s 2010 judgment dividing the 2.77 acres equally among Ram Lalla, Sunni Wakf Board and Nirmohi Akhara, which have been pending for the last nine years in the SC, had a roller-coaster journey.

On September 27 last year, a three-judge bench of then CJI Dipak Misra and Justices Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer by 2-1 majority had rejected the plea of Muslim parties to refer the land dispute to a five-judge bench given its national importance. But CJI Ranjan Gogoi using his administrative powers under the SC rules decided to place the appeals for hearing before a five-judge bench.

When the bench of CJI Gogoi and Justices S A Bobde, N V Ramana, U U Lalit and D Y Chandrachud assembled on January 10, the Muslim parties said Justice Lalit, when he was an advocate, had appeared for a party in a case related to Babri Masjid demolition case. This triggered Justice Lalit’s immediate recusal from hearing of the case. By the time the bench was reconstituted and notified on January 25, Justice Ramana, too, had opted out of hearing. In place of Justices Ramana and Lalit, the CJI drafted in Justices Bhushan and Nazeer into the five-judge Constitution bench and scheduled hearing for January 29. But on January 27, the Supreme Court issued a circular intimating parties about cancellation of scheduled January 29 hearing because of indisposition of Justice Bobde, who had suffered a hair-line fracture in a minor accident at home. On January 29, the Centre moved the Supreme Court seeking permission to return all land surrounding the core disputed Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid structure, which it estimated to be only 0.313 acre, to the original owners. The Centre’s application said it would provide a plan while returning the land to original owners so as to make provision for entry and exit to the core disputed site.

Mumbai Metropolitan Region spreads to Palghar, Vasai, Khalapur and Pen

The Maharashtra state cabinet has cleared the proposal to extend the boundaries of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region to include Palghar taluka, Khalapur, Vasai, and Pen.

The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority, which had mooted the proposal to extend its jurisdiction, plans to build growth centres in Boisar, as the proposed Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train will pass through the region. The extension of boundaries will boost development in the area, a senior urban development department official said.

“MMRDA had come up with the proposal as it planned various projects such as a multi-modal corridor, growth centre, among others, in the region. Now, Palghar taluka, the remaining region of Vasai taluka, Pen and Khalapur will come under MMRDA’s jurisdiction,” said Nitin Kareer, principal secretary, urban development department.

So far, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region was spread over 4,355 sqm, including areas in Mumbai, Thane, Navi Mumbai, Kalyan-Dombivli, Mira-Bhayander, Vasai-Virar, Matheran, Karjat, Uran and Alibaug, with Virar as its northernmost limit. The bullet train has halts at Thane, Virar and Boisar. “Thane and Virar are developed, and there is no chunk of land available for commercial development. Boisar has potential, as it could reduce the travel time to Bandra-Kurla Complex, where the bullet train terminus is planned,” an officer said.

Officials said with Virar-Alibaug Multimodal Corridor coming up, the connectivity between the regions will improve.


India will have 1.1 billion flyers by 2040

By the year 2040, India will have an estimated 1.1 billion airline passengers, of which 837 million will be domestic passengers, said a report released by global aviation consultancy firm, Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation.

To put that in perspective, UN projections estimate that India will have a population of 1.73 billion by 2050. In FY 2018, India with a population of about 1.32 billion had 184 million air passengers (including domestic and international). Twenty years ago, in FY 1998, when India’s population had reached a billion mark, it had only 22 million air passengers.

The 20-year CAPA growth forecast report on the Indian civil aviation industry said that “apart from Bollywood and cricket, aviation is perhaps the only other sector which can contribute to build “Brand India” at a global scale. For, by 2040, India will have an estimated fleet of 3,342 aircraft, with 2,333 aircraft deployed on the domestic routes.

The CAPA report gave an indicative list of the future air routes from/to India. While today a number of flights to the US transit through the Middle East, in the next 20 years, traffic densities and better economics allow for non-stop routes. Among the non-stop routes listed were Ahmedabad-Nairobi, Delhi-Brisbane, Delhi-Auckland, Goa-London, Kochi-London, Chennai-Chicago, Chennai-San Francisco, Bangalore-New York. In terms of investments, Indian aviation industry has attracted cumulative investment of USD 48 billion in last 15 years and by 2040, it could attract an additional USD 250 billion.

“The industry’s economic impact is estimated to have increased from less than 1% of GDP in 2003 to almost 7% of GDP in 2018. It is projected to increase to almost 9% of GDP, or USD 1.1 trillion by 2040,’’ said the CAPA report.

Angel Tax breather

The government announced a series of changes aimed at freeing investors and entrepreneurs from the so-called angel tax that’s roiled India’s startup ecosystem. It raised the exemption threshold and kept investments by listed companies of certain minimum size, venture capital funds and non-residents in startups outside the ambit of the tax. The move is expected to bring relief to 16,000 companies that are registered as startups with the Department of Investment and Internal Trade.

A notification issued by the government also widened the definition of startups to benefit a larger number of innovators and protect them from the tax. An entity that has been in operation for up to 10 years from its date of incorporation or registration will be considered a startup instead of the current seven years. A firm can be a startup if its turnover for any of the financial years since its incorporation hasn’t exceeded ₹100 crore against the existing cap of ₹25 crore.

The investment limit was raised to ₹25 crore from ₹10 crore now for availing of tax exemption.

Under Section 56(2), when a closely held company issues shares at a price more than its fair market value, the difference is treated as income from other sources and taxed accordingly. This section, introduced as an anti-abuse measure by then finance minister Pranab Mukherjee in 2012, came to be dubbed the angel tax due to its impact on such investments in startups.

The ₹25 crore limit will exclude funds from certain sources. These include non-residents, Category 1 registered alternative investment funds and frequently traded listed companies with a net worth of ₹100 crore or turnover of at least ₹250 crore.

The development comes in the wake of startups having been served demands for taxes on angel funds received by them. The commerce and industry ministry had told the finance ministry that the tax was a major impediment to the flow of investments into startups, which is a key element of the government’s employment-generation strategy.

CBDT member Akhilesh Ranjan said that the new norms don’t address cases in which tax demands have already been raised.

However, Ranjan said if the government later finds any case of money laundering, then the exemption would be revoked and tax would be imposed but scrutiny would not be related to Section 56.

Both the increase in investment limit to ₹25 crore and self declaration procedure with DPIIT are game changers for the startup fraternity, said Venture Catalysts cofounder Anuj Golecha.

An entity will also be eligible for exemption if it’s a private limited company recognised by DPIIT and is not investing in specified asset classes. However, for being eligible for exemption under Section 56(2)(vii)(b), a startup should not be investing in immovable property, transport vehicles above ₹10 lakh, loans and advances, capital contribution to other entities and some other assets except in the ordinary course of its business. Startups only need to furnish a self-declaration that they are not involved in any of these activities beyond the ordinary course of business.

To avail of these concessions, eligible startups will have to file a duly signed self-declaration with the DPIIT. The department will then transmit these declarations to CBDT.

The valuation of shares is also no longer a criterion for exemption of investments in eligible startups under Section 56. There is no need to separately apply for exemption under the section and there will be no case-to-case examination of startups.

The department will conduct a round table with stakeholders on March 1 on the next set of reforms, ways to augment investment in startups, incentivise angel investment and explore the concept of accredited investors.

Abhishek said the DPIIT will develop a mechanism so that the self-declarations can be directly sent to the CBDT.

After Maharashtra and Bihar, BJP seals alliance in TN

With the opposition ganging up against BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the saffron party has adopted a pragmatic approach in stitching up alliances with regional parties and even playing second fiddle while doing so in a bid to retain power at the Centre.

Led by party chief Amit Shah, BJP brass has been working on this front for the past few weeks and the results are there to see.

The alliance with AIADMK and PMK in Tamil Nadu is the latest to be announced.

After reports that BJP may contest eight to 15 seats in the state, the agreement was reached that it will put up its candidates in only five of the 39 constituencies. The big catch for AIADMK and BJP is PMK, which was being wooed by DMK as well. PMK will contest in seven seats.

BJP does not have a significant political footprint in Tamil Nadu and won only one seat in 2014 despite the Modi wave. The alliance led by DMK with Congress as an ally is strong and NDA would be working at minimising the damage as AIADMK is not likely to repeat the last performance of 37 seats when the late Jayalalithaa was at the helm.

BJP also bowed to Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and though the agreement is of 25-23 seats, the former will have to accommodate RPI (A) from its share. The saffron party needed Shiv Sena after Congress-NCP finalised their seat sharing.

Tamil Nadu is the third state where BJP has given the regional partner an upper hand. In Bihar, BJP had to accept a 17-17 seat understanding with Nitish Kumar-led JDU and gave six seats (and a Rajya Sabha berth to Ram Vilas Paswan when there is a vacancy) to LJP.

A united opposition, a natural anti-incumbency of five years of NDA rule and an upbeat Congress after recent assembly election victories have all made the upcoming Lok Sabha poll battle a tough one for BJP. BJP is not only adjusting to the whims of regional parties, it is also giving its nod to a deal for the assembly elections where these parties have a higher stake.

Shiv Sena-BJP will fight on equal number of assembly seats in Maharashtra while BJP will support AIADMK in the 21 Assembly seat by-polls in Tamil Nadu.

India calls Imran's bluff

Five days after the Pulwama terror attack by Jaish-e-Mohammad, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan finally broke his silence, saying that he would act against the perpetrators of the deadly bombing if India shares “actionable intelligence” with Islamabad, but warned of retaliation if his country was attacked.

Dismissing Islamabad’s involvement in the attack that left 44 CRPF jawans dead in Kashmir on February 14, the cricketer-turned-politician claimed that he understood it was India’s election year and the narrative of blaming Pakistan would make it easier to get votes from the masses. India rejected the statements, saying that Pakistan disclaiming its link with terrorist attacks is an oft-repeated excuse by the “nerve centre” of terrorism.

Earlier striking a belligerent stand, Khan, in a video message to his nation, said that Delhi holds Pakistan responsible each time an incident happens in Kashmir and makes Pakistan its “whipping boy” again and again. Pakistan wants “stability in the region” and the Kashmir issue like the Afghan issue will be resolved through talks, he said.

“If you have any actionable intelligence that a Pakistani is involved. Give it to us. I guarantee you we will take action - not because we are under pressure, but because they are acting as enemies of Pakistan… I have been hearing and seeing on the Indian media that politicians there are calling for revenge from Pakistan. If India thinks it will attack Pakistan, then we will not just think but retaliate,” Khan warned.

“Starting a war is in our hands, it is easy. But ending a war, that is not in our hands and no one knows what will happen… It’s not in our interests that somebody from here goes out to do terrorism, nor that somebody comes here and does terrorism,” he said. Khan’s statements came a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made it clear that the Pulwama terror attack has shown that time for talks is over. Modi had earlier said that he had given a free hand to the soldiers to choose the time and place to retaliate to the Pulwama attack.

Khan, however, said that Pakistan was ready for talks with India on the issue of terrorism. “I say it clearly this is a Naya (new) Pakistan and a new mindset. India talks about including terrorism in dialogue with Pakistan. Terrorism is a big issue facing this region and we want to eliminate it.” He said he did not immediately respond to India’s allegations as he was busy with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Pakistan.

New Delhi rejected outright Khan’s offer to probe the Pulwama attack, saying it was a “lame excuse” as India’s experience of giving proof to the neighbouring country in the 26/11 and Pathankot air base attacks has been very disappointing.

In a statement, the Union Ministry of External Affairs said, “Promise of guaranteed action rings hollow, given the track record of Pakistan… Pak PM has called for dialogue and expressed his readiness to talk about terrorism. India has repeatedly stated that it is ready to engage in a comprehensive bilateral dialogue in an atmosphere free from terror and violence”.

The ministry further regretted Khan’s insinuation that India’s response to “the terrorist attack is determined by the forthcoming general elections”. The MEA pointed out that the Pakistan PM even refused “to acknowledge the attack on our security forces in Pulwama as an act of terrorism.”

“The Pakistani Prime Minister has ignored claims made by the Jaish-e-Mohammad, as well as by the terrorist, who perpetrated this heinous crime. It is a well-known fact that Jaish-e-Mohammad and its leader Masood Azhar are based in Pakistan. These should be sufficient proof for Pakistan to take action,” the statement says.