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

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

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

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

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

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

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


India's Urban Population

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

Forex Reserves Hit a Record High

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

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

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

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

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

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

G20: PM Modi holds 2 trilaterals and several bilaterals

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maharashtra planted 24 crore trees in 3 years: Fadnavis

Maharashtra planted 24 crore trees across the state in the last three years, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis informed the legislative assembly. Fadnavis stated that Forest Survey of India has declared Maharashtra as the only state which has registered a growth in forest cover in past years.

Not just forests, but trees outside jungles have also seen a spike - 253 square meters rise in trees and 82 square kilometer of mangroves. This all is a result of the collective and focused efforts of Maharashtra government 2015 onwards, Fadnavis stated. He further informed the House that in the past three years - 2016, 2017 and 2018 - the state has planted crores of trees through a planned scheme.

For 2016, the government planned two crore trees, but exceeded the target by 83 lakh saplings. In the following year, more than five crore trees were planted even as the aim was four crore. The year 2018 saw a steep rise in plantation drive with the figure touching almost 16 crore trees. The state government ensured the survival of these trees. In 2016, 72% of total trees planted survived. The next year 80% trees survived and in 2018 the survival rate for plated trees was 85%.

Fadnavis emphasised that focus has been set on the areas of the state with less forest cover including Marathwada, Western Maharashtra and Vidarbha.


Mumbai: Centre clears waterway project linking city to Thane, Navi Mum

The ambitious Rs.717 crore waterway project connecting Thane-Navi Mumbai-Mumbai has got traction after the Union shipping ministry approved the plan and directed Thane Municipal Corporation to prepare a detailed project report for the 93-km project.

Mnister of state for shipping Mansukh Madviya was briefed on the project by civic chief Sanjeev Jaiswal in New Delhi. “The minister showed interest in the project linking Thane with Mumbai and Navi Mumbai, which will provide an alternative route to reach these cities other than saturated road and railways,” said Shiv Sena MP from Kalyan, Dr Shrikant Shinde, who was at the meeting.

The route will have 18 halts at jetties. The halts for Thane-Navi Mumbai will be at Saket, Kalwa, Vitawa, Mith Bunder, Airoli, Vashi, Nerul, Belapur, Taloja, Juigaon, Panvel, JNPT, Mora. The Thane-Mumbai route will be the same between Saket and Vashi, and further be diverted via Trombay, Elephanta, Ferry Wharf and culminate at Gateway of India.

The project will see floating jetties to ensure minimal damage to the creek front, but wherever possible, permanent jetties will be constructed, said a Thane civic official. “There are five jetties along the routes, where we are looking at capacity augmentation,” said an official associated with the project.

Initially, it will be operated only for passenger services. Experts said they are looking at introducing high capacity vessels that can ferry 250 passengers but it could be reworked after a traffic density study.

The Centre could share the project cost, said Sena MP from Thane Rajan Vichare, who was also at the meeting.

Environmental activists expressed concern over the destruction of ecology around the water bodies and said it could cause flooding.

Bombay HC upholds Maratha quota

In a judgment which brings into question the post-Mandal judicial firewall against quotas exceeding a 50% ceiling, the Bombay high court upheld Maharashtra’s Maratha reservation policy, which takes the total quantum of quota in the state to 70%.

A bench of Justices Ranjit More and Bharati Dangre upheld the constitutional validity of the Maratha reservation, a matter of prolonged discord and political debate in the state. The only change the court made to the state government policy was to pare the quota from 16% to 12% in education and to 13% in jobs. It was, however, a minor change as jubilation among Maratha groups and the state government indicates. With this, reservation in Maharashtra stands at 70%, including 10% for economically weaker sections.

The order could change the face of the reservation regime in the country — unless reviewed by the Supreme Court — by removing the upper ceiling laid down by the Indra Sawhney judgment. Thursday’s is a landmark ruling since no caste reservation policy exceeding 50% has passed muster till now with the high courts or the SC. These include the Gujjar quota in Rajasthan, which has been attempted multiple times, and Jat reservation in Haryana.

In a crucial observation, the court ruled, “The 50% ceiling of reservation can be crossed when there exist extraordinary circumstances… We hold that the commission (Justice M B Gaikwad backward class commission) has shown the existence of such extraordinary circumstances.” The order comes as a boost to the BJP-Shiv Sena government as Maharashtra is scheduled for assembly polls later this year and the combine is sure to tout its success in comparison to Congress’s previous failures to push the quota. Marathas form a socially and politically influential community.

It is to be seen if in the interim, other states renew attempts for policies that breach the 50% ceiling. There are demands for reservation from caste groups across states, either by inclusion in the OBC list or by creation of a special group as done by Maharashtra. The impact of this ruling on the EWS quota, currently being heard in the SC, is also another factor that will bear watching.

After the Centre brought about a constitutional amendment in January to enable reservations on economic criteria (10% forward caste quota), it was expected that states would accommodate most of these quota demands from non-OBC, non-SC/ST communities under the new category.

However, the Maharashtra order may prove a paradigm-buster.

Importantly, the bench said, “The state possesses legislative competence to enact the Socially and Educationally Backward Class Act of 2018.”

It listed the “availability of quantifiable and contemporaneous data reflecting backwardness, inadequacy of representation and without affecting the efficiency in administration” as the conditions under which the 50% ceiling can be waived.

The court reasoned that lumping the sections such as Marathas in the 50% forward category will only mean that the more privileged castes continue to enjoy their ageold social and educational dominance.

Dismissing the petitions challenging the Maratha policy, the court ruled that the backward class commission report has conclusively established the social, economic and educational backwardness of the Maratha community and its inadequate representations in public jobs.

1 lakh Off NRC List

A day after one lakh people were excluded from the draft National Register of Citizens in Assam, Union home ministry officials said that all those excluded will get a final chance to prove their nationality within the next 15 days, ahead of the final publication of NRC on July 31.

The draft NRC kept out 40 lakh people in July, 2018. On Wednesday, the NRC state coordinator issued a statement adding 1,02,462 more to the earlier list of 40 lakh. “The latest exclusion of over 1 lakhs from NRC are spread across 31 districts in Assam. They will be eligible to file claims and hearing will start from July 5..,” a senior government official explained.

The NRC is being updated for the first time since 1951 to identify illegal migration into Assam. The Supreme Court is monitoring the process and the final list is scheduled to be released next month. Some 3.29 crore persons had applied for inclusion in the NRC and 2.9 crore were found to be eligible.

“The additional exclusion list (of 1 lakh) includes persons who were found ineligible on grounds of being DF (declared foreigner) or DV (doubtful voter) or PFT (persons with cases pending at foreigners' tribunals),” the official added. Those found ineligible while appearing as witnesses in hearings held for disposals of claims and objections were also a part of the latest exclusion list, he added.

Each district of the 31 districts of the state will have 2,500-3,500 persons. Their hearing will be completed before the final draft is published. "In the past two and half months, the official at NRC Seva Kendras, offices of the Deputy Commissioners, Sub Divisional Officers (Civil) and Circle Officers have held hearings and completed the claims and objections process of nearly 40 lakhs persons who were left out from the draft NRC,” the official added.

On the next step after publication of the final NRC, the official said, “Those who will be excluded from the list than can approach the foreigner’s tribunals”. Last month, the home ministry sanctioned manpower and resources to make at least 200 foreigners’ tribunals operational in the state before July 31. The state government has proposed to set up 1,000 foreigners’ tribunals, all over Assam.

Earlier this month, MHA laid out the rules on setting up foreigner’s tribunal stating, “The appellant may appear either in person or through a legal practitioner or a relation authorised by the appellant in writing subject to the acceptance of such representation by the tribunal. The state government may appoint a pleader to represent the district magistrate (DM) or the deputy commissioner (DC).”

The tribunal shall issue a notice to the DM/DC to produce NRC records within 30 days from the date of receipt of the notice and a copy of the notice shall be sent to the pleader appearing for the government and to the appellant, according to MHA.

Centre announces one nation, one ration card

The Centre announced roll out of ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ to ensure no poor person is deprived of getting subsidised foodgrains under food security scheme when he shifts from one place to another. This will also remove the chance of anyone holding more than one ration card to avail benefits from different states.

The decision to fast track the roll out was taken at a meeting of state food secretaries chaired by Union food minister Ram Vilas Paswan. Claiming that migrant labourers will be the biggest beneficiary of this initiative, Paswan said, “They will have full food security. This will also provide freedom to the beneficiaries as they will not be tied to any one PDS shop. It will curtail instances of corruption.”

In order to achieve this target, the food ministry will create a central depository of all ration cards which will help in eliminating duplication.

The Centre’s plan is to set up a realtime online database of ration cards – Integrated Management of PDS – on the lines of the lines of GSTIN.

The food ministry said the IMPDS is already operational in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Telangana and Tripura wherein a beneficiary can avail his share of foodgrain from any district in the state.

The Centre has urged all other states to implement this for larger benefit of the poor. It said in the next two months beneficiaries of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh will be able to access the PDS shops in either of the states.

Currently, 61.2 million tonnes of foodgrains stored in warehouses of FCI, CWC, SWCs and private godowns are distributed among 81 crore beneficiaries annually. Paswan said there was an urgent need to use the I-T infrstructure right from the time of purchase of food grains till its distribution as it will help increasing the overall efficiency of the entire process, while maintaining transparency and curbing corruption.

Chennai to get 4th desal plant by 2024

In what is sure to be music to the ears of residents, the city’s fourth desalination plant is expected to become operational in five years from now.

The supply from the four facilities will then total 750 million litres a day and ensure there is no water crisis.

The fourth plant, slated to be the city’s largest with a capacity of treating 400 MLD, is set to come up at Perur on East Coast Road (ECR, close to the existing plant at Nemmeli, a senior official of Metrowater said. The agency has appointed a management consultant for the project, the tender process for which is expected to be completed in November.

The work order for the successful bidder is expected to be issued by October 2020 and the project is to be completed within the next three and a half years.

Once the plant in Perur becomes operational in the next five years, it will provide water to a population of 23 lakh people. Water from this plant will cater to the needs of residents in the southwestern part of the city. “We hope within the next five years the Chennai will not face a water crisis, which is prevailing now,” the officer added.

Currently, Metrowater runs desalination plants at Minjur, which was set up in 2010, and at Nemmeli on East Coast Road. The second became operational in 2013. The two facilities, with a capacity of treating 100 MLD each, currently supplying water to a population of 19 lakh in some areas of North and South Chennai. On Thursday, chief minister Edappadi K Palanisamy laid the foundation for the third desalination plant that is to be set up next to the existing plant at Nemmeli on ECR.

This will be able to treat 150 MLD of sea water and once operational will provide piped water to as many as nine lakh residents in areas such as Velachery, Alandur, St Thomas Mount, Medavakkam, Kovilambakkam, Nanmangalam, Kilkattalai, Moovarasanpettai, Sholinganallur, Ullagaram, Puzhudhivakkam, Madippakkam besides the IT companies on OMR.


Jharkhand lynching culprits should get max punishment: PM

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that he was hurt by the lynching of a Muslim man in Jharkhand and the guilty should get maximum punishment, while also stressing that it would be unfair to label the state a hub of mob violence as the law applied equally to incidents in all states.

While condemning the incident, Modi countered the opposition’s suggestion that the BJP-ruled state was prone to such incidents. He said all such violence, whether in Jharkhand, West Bengal or Kerala, must invite uniform condemnation so that perpetrators understand that there is strong political consensus against them.

“The incident (Jharkhand lynching) has pained all of us, including myself. The culprits must get the strictest punishment,” Modi said.

Some people in the Rajya Sabha are calling Jharkhand a hub of mob lynching and mob violence. Is this fair? Is it right to defame the entire state and everyone living there? We have no right to defame the entire state,” Modi said during his reply to the debate on the motion of thanks to the President’s address in the Rajya Sabha.

The victim, Tabrez Ansari, was thrashed by a mob in Jharkhand’s Saraikela Kharsawan district last week for alleged theft. A few days later, he succumbed to injuries. A video of members of the mob asking him to shout “Jai Shri Ram” went viral.

Police have arrested 11 of the attackers. Authorities have also suspended two policemen for dereliction of duty.

The Prime Minister said the law would take care of the incident and the culprits, and the political class must do more to strengthen the system. He said all political parties should stand together against such acts.

Centre sets up team for water harvesting

With nearly 29% of total blocks in the country remaining water-stressed, the Centre has decided to stepped up various water harvesting and conservation efforts from July 1. It has appointed 255 dedicated officers of very senior rank and set up 550 teams for the exercise during monsoon and post-monsoon phases in next five months.

These officers - 255 additional and joint secretary-level officers as ‘central prabhari officers’ and teams of 550 director and deputy secretary-level officers as ‘block nodal officers’ - will look for implementation of water harvesting works on the ground in 1,593 water-stressed blocks, falling under 255 districts.

The campaign - ‘Jal Shakti Abhiyan’ - will begin on July 1 and continue till November 30 in two phases - July 1 to September 15 (monsoon phase) and October 1 to November 30 (retreating monsoon phase). Though the country has a total of nearly 5,500 blocks, the campaign will be restricted to the water-stressed ones where the problem is compounded due to delayed monsoon and depletion of reservoirs.

Underlining water crisis in 226 districts in the country, even Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about his government’s priority to deal with it. Replying to debate in Rajya Sabha on the Motion of Thanks to the President's address, Modi said he was trying to mobilise everyone to tackle this and see how the government could give priority to water in MPLAD funds. “We also have to make society aware on water issues,” he said.

Highest number of waterstressed blocks fall in Tamil Nadu (541) followed by Rajasthan (218), Uttar Pradesh (139), Telangana (137), Punjab (111) and Haryana (81).

The water-stressed blocks were identified by the Central Ground Water Board, taking into account groundwater levels in 2017. Over exploitation of groundwater is cited as reasons for these blocks falling under critical zone.

The government will organise a daylong workshop here to sensitise the officers ahead of the campaign. Activities during the campaign include construction of rooftop rainwater harvesting infrastructure, check dams, trenches, ponds and watershed structures.

Besides, intensive afforestation and renovation of traditional and other water bodies such as tanks will also be done in all water-stressed districts, 23 of which are ‘aspirational districts’. Aspirational districts are those which were identified by the government last year for expeditiously improving their socio-economic status through various interventions.

Maharashtra to launch its own river-linking projects

The Maharashtra state government plans to opt out of joint river-linking projects with the Gujarat government. Instead, the state has planned to develop its Daman Ganga, and Par-Tapi-Narmada-Pinjal river-linking on its own by raising funds and loans from the open market.

This landmark move will help the state get additional 1,642 million cubic litre water for various drought-prone parts of the state. The estimated cost of this mega project is around Rs.15,000 crore. Earlier, under the scheme, these projects were planned under 90:10% Center-state funding principle. The project is pending since 2010.

In 1980, the center government had planned to interlink the 30 major rivers of the country and Daman Ganga Pinjal and Nar Par Girana was the part of the ambitious scheme. Gujarat government had also initially agreed for this joint project.

“Our government tried to pursue them at state chief secretary level for this joint project but they are not keen now,” informed Vijay Shivtare, minister for state (Irrigation) said.

Daman Ganga-Pinjal, Nar Par Girana, Par Godavari, Daman Ganga-Vaitarna-Godavari, and Daman Ganga-Ekadare-Godavari irrigation projects will help get additional 57.91 TMC water, he explained. “Mumbai and its periphery locations will get 31.60 TMC water from Daman Ganga Pinjal project. Increased urbanisation has increased the demand of drinking water. Besides, Par Godavari, Daman Ganga-Vaitarna and Daman Ganga-Ekdare-Godavari will supply 15.60 TMC water to drought-affected Marathwada region and Ahmednagar district. While Nar Par Girana will supply the water to North Maharashtra, it will address the scarcity of drinking water. The remaining water can be used for irrigation and industrial purposes,” added the irrigation minister.

A senior BJP leader confided that diverting water to Gujarat could have had its political impact before the state Assembly elections. “Chief Minister did not want to take this risk. Furthermore, due to the large scale displacement of people in Gujarat, even their government did not show keenness for the river joining project. The move would have helped the Gujarat to bring 2.30 lakh hectares land under irrigation. Regions like Navsari, Surat, Dang, Bharuch, Saurastra, and Kutch would have reaped benefits through this project,” said the leader on the condition of anonymity.

Sources in government said that these project will be approved in the cabinet on June 30. “The detailed report of these projects will be presented and approved by August 15. On the same day, the finance department will fix the source of fund for these projects. We will complete the project on a mission mode. We are also in process of appointing the chief engineer for execution of these projects,” said a senior irrigation department official requesting anonymity.


Government approves new motor bill

The government has approved the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill that proposes hefty penalties for violating traffic norms including Rs 10,000 fine for not giving way to emergency vehicles and an equal penalty for driving despite disqualification, an official source said.

The Bill, which was pending for approval in the Rajya Sabha, lapsed after the term of the 16th Lok Sabha ended.

“The Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approved the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill. It provides steep penalties for violation of various traffic norms,” the source said.

Regarding road safety, stricter provisions have been proposed for offences like juvenile driving, driving without licence, dangerous driving, drunken driving, over-speeding and overloading.

Aggregators violating driving licences will be fined up to Rs.1 lakh, as per the provisions in the Bill.

The proposals are based on the recommendations of transport ministers from 18 states, which were vetted by the standing committee of Parliament. The Bill includes penalties in the range of Rs.1,000-2,000 for overspeeding. As per the Bill, driving without insurance will be punishable with Rs.2,000 fine, while driving without helmets will attract Rs.1,000 fine and three-month suspension of licence.

The provisions also include that guardian/owner will be deemed to be guilty in case of road offence by juveniles while registration of the vehicle will be cancelled.

As per the new provisions “guardian/owner shall be deemed to be guilty and there will be a penalty of Rs.25,000 with three years imprisonment and cancellation of registration of the Motor Vehicle”.

Traffic violations would now attract a penalty of Rs.500 in place of Rs.100 earlier, while disobedience of orders of authorities will attract a minimum penalty of Rs.2,000 in place of Rs.500 earlier.

Penalty for unauthorised use of vehicles without licence has been proposed at Rs.5,000 while those driving without licence will have to shell out the same amount and those found driving despite disqualification would be fined Rs.10,000.

Penalty for dangerous driving would be increased to Rs.5,000 from Rs.1,000, while drunken driving under the proposed new law would attract a fine of Rs.10,000.

"If aggregators are found violating lincensing conditions, they will be charged a sum of up to Rs.1 lakh" while overloading of vehicles would attract a penalty of Rs.20,000.

Those not wearing seat belts would attract Rs.1,000 fine and those not wearing helmets while driving two-wheelers would be charged a penalty of Rs.1,000 while their licences will be disqualified for three months.

For offences committed by enforcing authorities, the fine has been proposed to be double.

Mumbai: MSRDC hires developer for Versova-Bandra Sea Link

Countdown to construction of the Rs.7,000 crore Versova-Bandra Sea Link has finally begun.

Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation formally appointed the Reliance Infrastructure-Astaldi SpA (Italy) consortium as the project developer. The 10 km VBSL project is expected to take five years to complete.

VBSL will span 9.6 km between the Bandra-end of the existing sea link and Versova and will have four 8.1 km long connectors, taking the total construction length to 17.7 km—around three times that of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link.

At Rs.7,000 crore, VBSL is one of the largest engineering and construction projects on a build and transfer basis, said an industry source. “Reliance Infrastructure is fully geared to deliver the project in 60 months from the date of contract,” said a senior RInfra official. The consortium has already completed works related to soil investigation in partnership with Fugro and Renuka Enterprise, and the projects’s engineering design with Dar Al Handasah.

MSRDC said it will soon finalize the casting yard for work to start on the project. It has informed the Supreme Court that it will find another location for a casting yard. In April, Bombay high court had quashed permission granted to MSRDC to set up a casting yard at Juhu, observing that it would adversely affect the coastal stretch.

Punit Garg, CEO, Reliance Infrastructure, said. “We are confident of implementing the project on a fast-track basis to serve all Mumbaikars and remain a committed partner in Mumbai’s infrastructure transformation.”

Niti Aayog's Health Index

Kerala remains at the top of the heap among larger states in terms of various health parameters, followed by Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. Uttar Pradesh, Odisha and Bihar are the worst performers, according to Niti Aayog’s latest health index. Haryana, Rajasthan and Jharkhand top the charts based on incremental performance.

The health index—which took into account 23 health indicators during 2015-16 (base year) to 2017-18 (reference year)—depicts huge disparities across states and UTs.

The report, prepared by Niti Aayog in collaboration with the health ministry and with technical assistance from World Bank, has three categories—larger states, smaller states and Union territories —to ensure comparison among similar entities.

Among the smaller states, Mizoram ranked first in overall performance, while Tripura and Manipur were the top two states in terms of incremental performance.

Sikkim and Arunchal Pradesh registered the biggest decline in overall health index scores.

Among UTs, Chandigarh ranked first in overall performance, while Dadra and Nagar Haveli showed the biggest improvement.

Among the top ten performers, seven states have improved in overall performance scores (Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Karnataka and Telangana). However, among the six least performing states (Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Rajasthan), all saw decline in overall performance scores with the exception of Rajasthan, which improved by 6.3 points.

Among the eight empowered action group states, only three—Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh showed an improvement in their overall performance during the period taken into consideration.

While it is important to identify the challenges faced by EAG states that hinder improvement in performance, impressive improvement in some states provides learning opportunities for the rest to identify effective actions to improve their overall performance scores,” report said.

The decline in the overall health index score of five empowered action group states (states that lag behind in demographic indicators and have high infant mortality rates)—Bihar, UP, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha—is attributed to the deterioration of performances in several indicators.

For instance in Bihar, the deterioration was primarily due to performance related to total fertility rate, low birth weight, sex ratio at birth, tuberculosis treatment success rate, quality accreditation of public health facilities and time taken for National Health Mission fund transfer. In UP, the poor performance related to low birth weight, TB treatment success rate, average tenure of key positions at state and district level and level of birth registration. The report also pointed to a general positive correlation between the health index scores and economic development levels of states and UTs as measured by per-capita net state domestic product


Direct Tax contribution increases

Thirty years ago, less than 20% of the Centre’s tax revenue came from income tax and other direct taxes. More than 80% came from indirect taxes like custom and excise duties that the rich and the poor pay equally on purchase of goods and services. Today, direct taxes that are imposed on the country’s relatively well-off population account for more than half of the Centre’s total tax revenue...

RBI Dy Guv Viral Acharya quits

Viral Acharya, the RBI Deputy Governor who had in October last year brought to light tensions with the government over independence of the central bank, has resigned six months before the scheduled end of his term in the office.

Acharya, 45, who was the only Deputy Governor of Reserve Bank on the six-member interest rate-setting monetary policy committee, resigned from his position ‘a few weeks’ back citing ‘unavoidable personal circumstances’, the Reserve Bank of India said in a brief statement.

In his resignation, he expressed inability to continue beyond July 23, 2019, it said.

The RBI, which had previously not disclosed the resignation and was forced to do so following a media report, said: ‘Consequential action arising from his letter is under consideration of the Competent Authority’.

Acharya had in a hard-hitting speech in October last year brought to light a growing rift between the BJP-led government and the RBI headed by the then Governor Urjit Patel.

A staunch defender of the central bank’s autonomy, he had made public disputes with the government over issues ranging from lending curbs, more cash availability to non-banking finance companies, and who controls the RBI’s reserves.

In his speech, he had warned that undermining the central bank’s independence could be ‘potentially catastrophic’, a possible indication of the RBI being pushed to relax its policies ahead of general elections.

Patel quit in December last year, weeks after the government used hereto unused power to direct the RBI Governor to discuss several contentious issues.

The government replaced Patel with former finance ministry bureaucrat Shaktikanta Das and the RBI has cut interest rates by 25 basis points each in all three monetary policy reviews that have happened subsequently. Acharya had voted against a rate cut in the February and April review but voted for the reduction in this month review but with ‘some hesitation’.

He had also raised red flags over the worsening fiscal picture, according to the minutes of the June monetary policy committee.

The only time that he had voted for a rate cut was in August 2017.

His departure came in the same week in which a joint government-RBI panel was set to study on excess reserves held by the central bank holds and how much of it can be transferred to the state to help finance the budget. Acharya was said to be opposed to any move to undermine the central bank’s reserves.

Acharya, whose three-year term was due to end in January 2020, will reportedly return to New York University in August as an economics professor. He is on leave from NYU’s Stern School of Business.

Opposition Congress party was quick to hit out at the government saying Acharya has added his name to the long list of experts who attempted to show the ‘mirror of truth’ to the BJP regime.

The Congress, on its official Twitter handle, said, ‘could his abrupt decision have anything to do with his stance on reaffirming the RBI’s independence from the current government’.

Maya Ends SP Pact With Tweets

BSP chief Mayawati tweeted her party will contest all elections on its own, signalling the end of the alliance with Samajwadi Party.

The BSP chief claimed her party had adhered to the ‘gathbandhan’ dharma in the interest of the country but was now forced to do a rethink. While reacting to Mayawati’s decision to go solo, a senior SP leader accused her of weakening the fight for social justice.

The RLD, a partner in the grand alliance, said it had nothing to do with Monday's developments and its alliance was with the SP not the BSP.

“Everyone is aware that forgetting everything of the past as also the anti-BSP and anti-Dalit decisions like reservation in promotions and bad law and order during the SP rule in 2012-17, the BSP adhered to the 'gathbandhan dharma' with the SP in the interest of the country,” she tweeted in Hindi. “But the SP's attitude after the elections has forced the BSP to think, will it be possible to defeat the BJP in the future? This is not possible,” she said.

“Therefore, in the interest of the party and the movement, the party will contest all small and big elections on its own strength,” Mayawati added.

Soon afterwards, Samajwadi Party’s national general secretary Ramashankar Vidyarthi said Mayawati was speaking against the SP in haste because of the Dalit support to his party and its leader Akhilesh Yadav.

Akhilesh ‘punished’ by BSP chief as he ‘betrayed’ his father and uncle for power, says BJP

Chip-enabled e-passports on government priority list

Your next passport could be a chip-enabled e-passport with advanced security features. This was announced by S Jaishankar in his first address as foreign minister.

The minister also gave awards for exemplary passport services to a variety of service providers, from the state to individual level, at the seventh Passport Seva Divas.

“The MEA has initiated discussions with India Security Press regarding the project for issue of chip enabled e-passports to citizens. We propose to pursue the manufacture of e-passports on priority so that a new passport booklet with advanced security features can be rolled out in the near future,” he said.

Promising that the MEA and the department of posts would have a Passport Seva Kendra in every Lok Sabha constituency, Jaishankar said the ministry was issuing one crore passports a year. “Both our ministries (MEA and ministry of communications) are completing the necessary formalities for early inauguration of the Post Office PSK already announced. We will also be announcing more locations for setting-up POPSK after completing feasibility studies,” he said. “Together with the 93 Passport Seva Kendras which are already functional, this has taken the total number of PSKs in the country to 505 today. The common man of the country now has a Passport Seva Kendra near his or her residence and is not required to travel too far to submit the passport application,” he added.

Last year, he said, the MEA had launched the m-passportseva mobile app and ‘passport from anywhere’ scheme, as well as made it easier for children of divorced parents to get passports. “Those applying for a passport under the ‘Tatkal’ scheme are no longer required to submit a verification certificate from a gazetted officer,” he added.

Jaishankar gave awards at the function to the best performing passport offices.

The MEA’s new slogan for passports, Jaishankar said, was, “Passport — Sudhaar, Vistaar aur Aap ke Dwar.”

30 tigers died in Maharashtra in 22 months

It’s official. Maharashtra lost 30 tigers in the 22 months between January 2017 and October 2018, said finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar, who also holds the forest portfolio, in the House on Monday.

Though the number is alarming, he said a majority of the deaths registered in Nagpur, Chandrapur, Wardha and Gadchiroli were attributed to natural causes. He, however, admitted that the dead body of a tiger cub was found in a trap in the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve in April 2019.

Replying to Dhananjay Munde, the Opposition leader in the legislative council, the minister said out of the 30 tigers that died, 20 succumbed to natural causes, five were electrocuted, one died in a road accident and the causes of death of four others were unknown.

Mungantiwar didn’t comment on the opposition allegation about hunting in Tadoba, but conceded that an inquiry has been ordered into the death of a cub. “Four persons have been arrested so far in this case and the state has started the process of prosecuting them. During inquiry, an employee was suspended and a showcause notice was issued to a forest guard,” he said.

The minister added that the government is taking measures to curb untimely deaths of wild animals. According to the data provided by the National Tiger Conservation Authority, Maharashtra recorded 20 tiger deaths in 2018, the second highest number in the country.


Work Begins on India’s Next Gen Nuclear-Powered Submarines

Work has started on the ₹1 lakh crore project to produce next generation nuclear-powered submarines for the Indian Navy, with a defence public sector unit working on a special alloy for the hull. A scale model is likely to be tested soon as part of the design process.

The project to build advanced nuclear submarines designed for long range underwater patrols and armed with conventional weapons has been granted over ₹100 crore seed money by the government for the initial phase with officials predicting a development period that is expected to stretch beyond 2025. The plan to build six nuclear-powered attack submarines kicked off in 2015 when the NDA government gave a go ahead to a long-pending project for the Indian Navy. Then Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba confirmed in 2017 that the project is underway.

Sources said considerable progress has been made in the design phase of the new boats with a scale model likely to be fabricated and tested shortly. These scale model tests will be critical to check development, accuracy and quick success would mean that the Directorate of Naval Design (Submarine Design Group) is on the right track.

Defence Public Sector Unit Mishra Dhatu Nigam is also working on indigenising a new material for the hull that will be designed to dive to depths much beyond the Arihant class of indigenous nuclear-powered and armed submarines. Details of the new, more powerful nuclear reactor, which is being designed for the programme are not yet known.

Sources explained that while lessons learnt from the Arihant build are being incorporated, a totally new material will be used for the SSN project given the unique requirements of the Navy for depth and speed.

The INS Arihant and Chakra – on lease from Russia - are the two nuclear-powered submarines currently in service with the Navy. The second of the Arihant class was launched in 2017 and is in advanced stage of completion. The Arihant class is armed with nuclear capable missiles and is critical to India’s second strike capability. It was reported in March that India and Russia signed a $ 3 billion deal to lease an advanced nuclear attack submarine that will be fitted with indigenous communication systems and sensors. The deal for the submarine – being termed as Chakra III after the first two similar vessels India obtained from Russia – would involve an extensive build programme on mothballed hulls at a Russian shipyard that will be supervised by Indian Navy personnel.

The project will build submarines designed for long- range underwater patrols

Kunming Meet Revives BCIM Link Plan

The long-proposed 2,800-km-long Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar corridor, after being dropped by Beijing from its Belt & Road Initiative due to New Delhi's opposition, got a fresh lease of life at a recent meeting held by the four stakeholders in Kunming.

The participants agreed that comprehensive connectivity in roads, railways, waterways, aviation, energy and digital sectors will greatly enhance regional competitiveness, according to a joint statement by the four sides .The participants agreed at the meeting that it was necessary to widen the partnership to build this corridor. The 2,800-km BCIM corridor proposes to link Kunming with Kolkata, via Mandalay and Dhaka.

This is the only trans-regional growth corridor that cuts through the remote north-eastern states of India and connects the region to neighbouring countries. Chinese President Xi Jinping, during his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Bishkek on the sidelines of the SCO Summit on June 13, had referred to the BCIM corridor as a development partnership mechanism.

BCIM has been previously mentioned as part of the BRI when it was launched in 2013, but it did not figure in the list of 35 corridors mentioned during the 2nd Belt and Road Forum held in Beijing in April this year.

India, which is not a party to the BRI, is of the view that BCIM predates the concept of BRI and, therefore, cannot be included in BRI.

Somewhere in Gujarat....

On alert after the theft at a 200-year-old temple in their village, a group of youngsters from Palla in Mahisagar district was keeping vigil on Saturday night.

Hearing some movement inside the temple at around 1.30 am, they thought burglars had struck again. Wanting to nab the thieves redhanded, the boys swooped inside the temple. But for a moment they could not believe their eyes.

A six-foot-long crocodile was resting in front of the idol of Khodiyar Mata. Interestingly, crocodile is the vehicle of this deity.

The group of young men then informed the priest of the temple Shiva Maganlal and other villagers. The news and photos of the crocodile spread in Palla and surrounding villages, triggering an influx of people who believed that this was an auspicious episode.

The devotees who had flocked to the temple in large numbers tried to catch a glimpse of the crocodile through iron grills of the windows and doors as the temple had been locked up by then. However, even through the narrow gaps, devotees threw kanku (vermilion powder) on the crocodile due to which it got agitated.

The crocodile is suspected to have come out of the pond located near the temple. While the crocodile was sighted an hour after the midnight, the forest department was informed only on Sunday noon.

In fact, the locals did not allow the forest team to rescue the crocodile initially.

“We had to explain them that it is a schedule I animal and it has to be taken back to the place from where it had come. It was after a lot of convincing that they agreed and allowed us to rescue the animal,” said R V Patel, incharge range forest officer . He said that the crocodile had come out from a pond which is at a few metres away from the temple.

“The crocodile had become aggressive as it was surrounded by hundreds of people for several hours so we had some difficulty, but eventually released it back in the same pond,” Patel added.


Lift irrigation project to be ‘game changer’

Pumping stations began lifting river water toward parched land in southern India in what is said to be the world’s largest such irrigation project.

Some of the 19 pumping stations on the Godavari River lifted water to a height of 618 meters (2,020 feet) to irrigate about 4 million acres (1.6 million hectares) in Telangana state, instead of allowing the floodwaters to flow to the sea. At its inauguration, the top elected official in Telangana state, Kalvakuntla Chandrasekhar Rao, said the project is the world’s largest using lift irrigation. Experts say the Colorado River in the United States and the “Great Man-Made River” in Libya previously had the world’s largest lift irrigation projects.

The Indian project comprises 20 reservoirs with canals running up to 1,530 kilometers (955 miles) and underground tunnels stretching to 200 kilometers (125 miles). “This project will be a game changer and bring prosperity to the entire state,” Rao said. Thunga Lakshminarayana, an independent expert who writes on irrigation and power issues, said water from the Godavari River had been going to waste by flowing into the sea.

Raise SC strength, retirement age of HC judges: CJI

To tackle the huge backlog of over 43 lakh cases in the Supreme Court and high courts, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, in two letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has requested top priority for passage of two constitutional amendments suitable increase in the strength of SC judges which currently stands at 31 and raising the retirement age of HC judges from 62 to 65 years.

A third letter from the CJI to the PM sought the revival of an old tradition of tenure appointments of retired SC and HC judges, under Articles 128 and 224A of the Constitution respectively, so they can be assigned cases pending for years.

The apex court, which attained its full strength of 31 judges only recently after more than a decade, had a pendency of 58,669 cases and the number was rising due to a higher rate of filing of fresh cases, the CJI said. His letter said there were 26 cases pending for 25 years, 100 cases for 20 years, 593 cases for 15 years and 4,977 cases for 10 years.

He said inadequate judge strength prevented the CJI from constituting the required number of five-judge constitution benches to adjudicate cases involving substantial questions of law or interpretation of constitutional provisions.

“You would recall that way back in 1988, about three decades ago, the judge strength of the SC was increased from 18 to 26, and then again after two decades in 2009, it was increased to 31, including the CJI, to expedite disposal of cases to keep pace with the rate of institution,” CJI Gogoi said.

In 2007, the pendency was 41,078; now, it stands at 58,669.

“I request you to kindly consider, on top priority, to augment the judge-strength in the SC appropriately so that it can function more efficiently and effectively as it will go a long way to attain the ultimate goal of rendering timely justice to the litigant public,” he said.

The CJI also informed the Prime Minister that in March 2007, the then CJI had told the government that if HC judge-strengths were being enhanced triennially, it could definitely be done at least once in a decade for the SC. “Despite this, no norms in this regard have been laid down,” he said.

“Though the size of the feeder cadre of chief justice and judges of the HCs has increased in the last decade from 895 to 1,079, judge-strength in the SC has not been increased proportionally,” CJI Gogoi said. A proportional increase would warrant an increase of SC judges from 31 to 37. In his second letter, the CJI requested the PM to consider bringing a constitutional amendment to increase the retirement age of HC judges from 62 to 65 years.

With more than 43 lakh cases pending in the 24 HCs, CJI Gogoi said, “One of the prime reasons why we are not able to contain the ever-growing pendency is shortage of HC judges. At present, 399 posts, or 37% of sanctioned judge-strength, are vacant... However, despite best efforts put in by all stakeholders, it has not been possible to appoint judges to bring the working judge-strength anywhere close to the sanctioned judge-strength.” The CJI added, “In the present scenario, it is my view that the retirement age of HC judges should be raised by three years, This, in turn, would help in improving the vacancy position and consequently reducing pendency of cases.”

Though the standing committees had recommended increasing retirement age of HC judges from 62 to 65 and that of SC judges from 65 to 67, the law ministry had said in January that there was no such proposal with the government.


Kia unveils Seltos SUV

Hyundai’s sibling Kia Motors unveiled Seltos SUV, its first car for India, and said the company plans to have at least four cars in the market over the next three years. However, a hatchback is not being considered at present, even as the company has begun exploratory work on manufacturing electric vehicles here.

The Seltos, likely to be priced around Rs.10 lakh, will primarily compete with Hyundai’s Creta and also target customers of other brands like Jeep Compass and Nissan Kicks. Kia Motors global president H W Park said the company remains committed to its original target of selling three lakh cars annually by 2022.

The company — which will manufacture cars at its newly set up plant at Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh — has committed cumulative investments of up to $2 billion. Park — who had earlier worked in India as the MD of Hyundai — said multi-purpose vehicles and SUVs will be a key focus area for the company as it works towards expanding offerings here.

Asked whether the company feels nervous to launch its brand here when the market is passing through a severe slowdown, he said Kia expects demand to come back as soon as the economy recovers. Asked about the challenges, he said stiff competition from Maruti Suzuki and Hyundai remains a critical factor. Exports will be a critical part of Kia’s India plans.

Prototype of MEMU train arrives for trials

A Mainline Electric Multiple Unit train prototype, constructed by Integral Coach Factory, Chennai, has arrived in the city for trials.

After successful trials, a similar MEMU train is likely to be introduced on intercity routes including Mumbai-Pune and Mumbai-Nashik, after approval from the ministry of Railways. The ₹26-crore worth train, after completion of the trials, will operate on the Northern railway in accordance with the Railway ministry’s plan.

The prototype MEMU train has features similar to Train18 or Vande Bharat Express. All electrics on the train are situated on the underslung, that would allow accommodation of additional passengers. The train has eight compartments and an emergency talk-back button, emergency push button, closed circuit televisions cameras and global position system based on passenger information system.

The train, which has a maximum attaining speed of 130 kmph, has been parked in Kalwa railway car shed of the Central Railway and will soon undergo trails by the Research Design Standard Organisation. Presently, the operational MEMU trains operate with a maximum speed of 110 kmph.

“The trials, which will be done on Central Railway (CR), is chosen by RDSO as the tracks have curvatures and gradients that can test the train’s brakes,” said a senior central railway official.

Jewar airport may have eight runways

The upcoming Jewar airport in Greater Noida is likely to have eight runways and it will be double the size of Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport, which is likely to reach saturation point by 2024.

The proposal, if approved and once completed, will make the Jewar airport one of the biggest in the world. It will be counted along with O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, US, which is spread over 7,200 acres and has seven active runways, according to the airport’s website.

The Noida International Airport Limited is likely to prepare a proposal that seeks to expand the Noida international greenfield airport project at Jewar from six runways to eight. The proposal will be sent to the state government only after making an assessment of the land being acquired for the project, coming up along the 165 km Yamuna Expressway .

Once land is acquired for phase 1 of the project, NIAL will send the proposal for eight runways to the Uttar Pradesh government for approval. The move comes after UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath directed officials to expand the existing project to eight runways.

The UP government had, on October 30, 2018, notified the acquisition of 1239.14 hectares for the development of the airport under the Section 11 of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.

The administration needs to acquire 1239.94 hectares from 3,000 farmers in the first phase. On the whole, the government requires 5,000 hectares for this project, when the airport will be developed to its full capacity.

“The chief minister has given a green signal for eight runways. But we will prepare our proposal on the additional runways only after 1239.94 acres are acquired for the initial two runways. Once land assessment is done, we will prepare a proposal the additional two runways for requisite approvals from the state government so that we can take this proposal forward,” Arun Vir Singh chief executive officer of the YEIDA.

According to aviation experts, if the land is available, it makes sense to plan for the next 30 to 40 years, since getting land for infrastructure projects will be difficult in the future.

“It is no brainer that cities such as Delhi and Mumbai need three airports to cater to the growing air traffic demand. The Delhi airport cannot be expanded beyond a point and when Jewar is being developed, it makes sense to plan till 2050 at least. The civil aviation ministry, itself, has come out with a Vision 2040 and it has said Delhi will need three airports,” an airport official, requesting anonymity, said.

With passenger traffic expected to double in the next six to seven years, the Delhi airport will undergo major infrastructure changes to handle 109 million passengers every year. In the next five years, apart from a new terminal building and a new runway, a dedicated Metro network to connect the two terminals is also planned. The Delhi airport will soon have four runways and will be able to handle up to 130 million passengers a year.

“The national capital with 66 million passengers in fiscal 2018-19 is now the seventh largest airport in Asia. It will see a significant growth when its fourth runway and fourth terminal are commissioned in three to four years,” aviation ministry had said in its Vision 2040 report.

The estimated budget for the Jewar airport project is between ₹15,000 crore and ₹20,000 crore. The project is expected to be operational by 2022-2023.

“This airport will start operations by 2022-23 with two runways. We have already issued tenders to hire a developer, who will develop the two-runway airport project. After the state government’s green signal, we have directed our consultant PwC to prepare a techno economic feasibility report of the additional two runways. The PwC has started working on the ground for collecting land details and finishing other formalities related to seeking environment clearances,” Singh said.

Initially, the state government wanted to construct a four-runway airport. In May,it decided to make it six runways and, subsequently, PwC started its job on the TEFR.

When Adityanath visited Greater Noida on June 14 to review progress on infrastructure projects, he directed that the project be expanded to eight runways.

“It will become the country’s biggest airport as no other airport in India has eight runways at present. The Jewar airport, once complete, will also become one of the biggest airports in the world,” Singh said.

The government expects the Jewar airport to be operational in the next five to six years and cater to 30-50 million passengers per year over the next 10-15 years.

The Delhi airport is spread over an area of 2,066 hectares and is projected to reach its full capacity by 2023-24. The Delhi airport currently handles around 70 million passengers per annum, which is likely to be doubled by 2025.

MMRDA spreads wings to Palghar, Pen

In a bid to develop Mumbai’s far-flung suburbs, the state legislative assembly approved a resolution to extend the jurisdiction of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority to Palghar, Vasai, Kalyan, Bhiwandi, Ambernath, Karjat, Khalapur, Pen and Alibag. This has increased the jurisdiction of the MMRDA from 4,355 sq km to 6,355 sq km by covering these growth centres on the periphery of Greater Mumbai.

This is expected to boost work on developmental activities and infrastructure projects like the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link, coastal road, capacity addition of the Mumbai-Pune expressway, Navi Mumbai international airport and metro railway projects, and streamline urbanisation in the belt around Mumbai.

Minister of state for urban development Yogesh Sagar tabled the motion to amend the jurisdiction of the MMRDA as defined by the MMRDA Act, 1974. This would boost the development of infrastructure facilities in these areas, including bridge between Vasai and Mira Bhayender, an extension of the suburban railway to Dahanu, Virar-Alibag multi-modal corridor, and new industrial areas at Khalapur, he said. “This will help balanced development of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region,” said Sagar.

The decision to extend MMRDA’s jurisdictions was supported by local elected representatives across party lines, said Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. He also promised to consider BJP legislator from Mubad Kisan Kathore’s demand to bring Murbad and Shahapur under MMRDA.


Of growth in mobile phone connections

The private sector wasn’t allowed in telecom until 1991, and then only for value-added services like mobile calling and paging. In 1994, private companies were allowed to invest in telecom, starting a revolution that has made India the world’s second-biggest wireless market after China. Where only 1 in 10,000 Indians had a mobile phone in 1995, now 8,900 of every 10,000 have them.

HDFC to Buy Apollo Munich

Housing Development Finance Corp agreed to acquire 51.2% of Apollo Munich Health Insurance, paying ₹1,347 crore in cash for the stake held by the Apollo Hospitals Group and a few employees of the insurer.

The nation’s largest mortgage lender, which runs general and life insurance businesses through subsidiaries, will pay ₹1,336 crore to the Apollo Hospitals Group for its entire 50.8% stake and ₹10.84 crore to the employees for their 0.4% holding.

Germany’s Munich Health Holding, which owns nearly 49% of the health insurer, will continue to hold the investment and become a partner in HDFC Ergo. Munich Health will pay ₹294 crore to Apollo Hospitals Enterprise and Apollo Energy for the termination of their joint venture agreement.

After the completion of the deal, HDFC will merge Apollo Munich with HDFC Ergo General Insurance, making it the third-largest private sector general insurer behind ICICI Lombard and Bajaj Allianz General Insurance. The entity will have combined gross direct premium of ₹10,807 crore, a market share of 6.4% of the non-life insurance industry and 308 branches. In the accident and health segment, it will become the second-largest after Star Health, with a 8.2% market share.

A member of the family running the Apollo Group and a top executive at one of its divisions told ET that the deal has a three-year non-compete condition. “We may collaborate with them to jointly bring out products as the case may be, but won’t compete,” said the family member, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The group will deploy the proceeds into its core business, the person said, adding: “We invested ₹300 crore and got back ₹1,600 crore. The JV had unlocked great value and we exited at a great price.”

Health insurance penetration in India is still at a very nascent stage compared to the global average, but is expected to drive growth of the general insurance industry in the times to come,” HDFC chairman Deepak Parekh said in a statement.

“This transaction will strengthen the HDFC group’s commitment to the growing health insurance segment,” Parekh said.

For the year ended March 31, 2019, Apollo Munich had reported gross written premium of ₹2,194.4 crore. The paid-up share capital of Apollo Munich is ₹358.41 crore.

The company in a statement said the proposed merger was expected to result in significant benefits to policyholders and other stakeholders with an enhanced product suite, touch points, technology innovation, as also via scale-based synergies. India’s largest standalone health insurer, Star Health, was earlier acquired by a clutch of private equity funds. There are over half a dozen standalone health insurers. Growing scale and reducing costs to achieve profitability are the challenge for these health companies.


Monsoon makes slowest progress so far in 12 years

Stalled by cyclone Vayu after a much-delayed onset, this year’s monsoon has so far been the slowest progressing in at least 12 years, records show. It has currently reached just about 10-15% of the country, whereas two-thirds of India is normally covered by monsoon by this time.

The snail-paced progress has resulted in a countrywide rainfall deficit of 44% for the season (from June 1). Monsoon now covers Kerala, parts of south Karnataka, 66% of T N and most of the northeast. It is set to advance, but IMD officials said the system might take a week to gain

We expect the monsoon to reach the Konkan coast in two-three days and cover most of Maharashtra by June 25. Nearly all of central India is likely to come under the monsoon system by June-end, which means it is behind schedule by nearly 15 days,” said D Sivananda Pai, lead monsoon forecaster of IMD.

Monsoon’s progress has assumed added urgency this year because of acute water shortages in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and some other parts of central and south India. Water levels in major reservoirs in both the regions are critically low at around 10% of capacity.

A newspaper accessed IMD’s maps of monsoon’s advance since 2007 and found this year’s monsoon had made the least progress (by June 18-19) in all these years. The fastest ever was in 2013, the year of the Kedarnath deluge, when monsoon had covered the entire country by June 16, a month ahead of the normal date.

Central India is the hardest hit by monsoon’s delay. The region has a rain deficit of over 57% in June, which is adding to the drought caused by deficit rainfall in the preceding months. The monsoon shortfall in south India so far is 38% while it is 43% in the northeast and 27% in northwest India.

“Monsoon arrived over Kerala a week later than the normal date. Thereafter, formation of the northward-moving cyclone Vayu in Arabian Sea drew away moisture from the system. While Vayu is bringing much-needed rain in Gujarat and the west coast, it stalled monsoon’s progress,” Pai said.

Monsoon normally enters north India — beginning with parts of east Uttar Pradesh — around min-June. The normal date of monsoon’s arrival in Delhi is June 29. This year, however, the system is likely to enter the region only around the first week of July. One of the conditions that speeds up the movement of the monsoon is formation of low pressure systems over the Bay of Bengal, which then moves into the mainland, bringing rain. Currently, there is no low pressure system in sight.“We are getting some circulation over Bay of Bengal, which should help monsoon, by there’s no indication of a low pressure system forming as yet. If one forms say sometime next week, monsoon’s progress could be much faster. Its movement into north India would also depend on a western disturbance coming in at the right time,” Pai said.

An IMD update said monsoon could advance into Karnataka, some parts of south Konkan & Goa, Andhra Pradesh, remaining parts of Tamil Nadu and northeast India, sub-Himalayan West Bengal & Sikkim and some parts of Odisha in the next three to four days. IMD’s forecast of a normal monsoon this year had taken into account less than normal rains in June due to presence of an El Nino.

Maharashtra: Per capita debt burden soars to ₹39,000 in 2019-20

Maharashtra’s loan burden is set to balloon to Rs.4.7 lakh crore in 2019-20, a 62% jump in five years since 2014-15. In effect, notionally, every citizen in the state will owe Rs.39,000 at the end of the fiscal. Government liabilities stood at Rs.4.14 lakh crore in 2018-19 and are steadily mounting.

A quick check of the financial situation revealed that despite the best efforts of CM Devendra Fadnavis, resource mobilisation has not been impressive and even as debt climbs, huge allocation of funds will be required to implement the recommendations of the seventh pay commission, construction of the Ambedkar and Shivaji memorials and the farmer loan waiver scheme.

Former finance minister Eknath Khadse said there was nothing illegal in raising loan, but it must be utilised for productive work and not for populist schemes and memorials. “Most of the state governments are raising loans, but such funds must be used for enhancing production, creating job opportunities, completing pending infrastructure projects and employment generation. Then only refund of loans is possible in a time-bound period,” Khadse said. If a major part of the state’s resources goes into servicing loans, grossly inadequate funds will be available for development and infrastructure projects, he explained.

The state’s salary and pension bills have jumped by 125% and 109%, respectively, over the past five years. The interest on loans is also up 47%, presenting a challenge to any government. A month after he took over in October 2014, CM Fadnavis had told senior officials at Nashik that he feared that the day was not far off when his government would be compelled to secure loans to pay salaries.

Congress state president Ashok Chavan said that the financial situation was alarming. “When we were in power, Fadnavis and (finance minister Sudhir) Mungantiwar had demanded a White Paper on the state’s economy. Now, the situation is worse, Maharashtra’s debt burden is the highest ever and both the CM and FM are silent,” he said.

A senior bureaucrat said in the current year, there will be an additional burden of Rs.22,000 crore for implementing the recommendations of the seventh pay commission, Rs.34,000 for the loan waiver scheme, as well as huge amounts for the Ambedkar and Shivaji memorials. “We will have to set new targets for enhancing resource mobilisation in view of recession in the real estate industry. Certainly, we will achieve the target for excise duty, but we are doubtful if we will complete the target in the real estate sector,” he said.

In the existing Rs.4.1 lakh crore liabilities, the highest burden is of market borrowings by the government which stand at Rs.2.6 lakh crore, followed by outstanding against special securities issued to the NSSF (National Social Security Fund) which is at Rs.0.6 lakh crore.

Reserved deposits and provident funds are the amounts that are outstanding at the end of 2018-19 budgetary year, besides the borrowings from financial institutions.

Maharashtra : Budget 2019

“We are working towards the aim of making Maharashtra a trillion dollar economy by 2025. The economy is being managed well,” said state finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar while presenting the state budget. Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan, though, said, “The government has only announced populist schemes. This is more an election manifesto than a budget.”

With the state experiencing a drought, the budget has a strong rural focus. The allocation for agriculture and animal husbandry at Rs.10,611 crore is 18.7% higher than in 2018-19. The allocation for water resources is 7.4% higher. The revenue department which handles relief assistance has an outlay of Rs.13,666 crore—up 19.5% from 2018-19. The rural development department has received Rs.19,544 crore, which is 17% higher than last year.

The outlay for farmers includes Rs.6,410 crore as assistance for natural disasters, Rs.210 crore for the Gopinath Munde accident insurance scheme, Rs.100 crore towards encouraging group farming, Rs.100 crore for cashew processing and Rs.390 crore for Bhavantar Yojana.

Perhaps to balance the grant of reservation to the Maratha community, the state has extended largesse to the Dhangar or shepherd community and to OBCs. As much as Rs.1,000 crore has been allocated for Dhangar community, which is demanding inclusion in the scheduled tribes category. The budget has announced Rs.200 crore for OBC corporations, besides a scholarship scheme and hostels.

An allocation of Rs.100 crore is made for employment of women and youth from the minority community and Rs.200 crore for a self-employment scheme for widows, abandoned and divorced women.

The budget has announced recruitment of 4,649 constables and 50% hike in honorarium for kotwals, rural revenue officials. It has made a provision to hike the honorarium of the village sarpanch and allocated Rs.200 crore for it to mark the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. It has allocated Rs.100 crore for houses for differently abled.

Drought kills nearly 60% Vidarbha orange orchards

Changing weather conditions in Vidarbha over the past few years have spelt doom for orange cultivation in the region. In the near seven decade history of orange plantations here, this is the first time that an alarming 60% of orange orchards have gone completely dry and, for all purposes, died this year.

Warud tehsil of Amravati district has seen the maximum loss followed by Katol and Narkhed tehsils of Nagpur district. For the first time, big and rich farmers are talking about selling their lands and switching to other occupations.

Scanty and erratic rains in last two years coupled with prolonged high temperatures throughout May and delayed pre-monsoon showers this year are responsible for this plight of orange farmers. The loss caused to the ambia bahar crop alone, which fruits in September, is being pegged at about Rs.1,620 crore. Mrig bahar, the other crop, fruits from November to April. However, the loss due to orchards dying completely cannot be monetarily pegged.

Shridhar Thakre, one of the Maha Orange directors and a big farmer, said that he had stopped going to the orchards as he could not bear see the condition of the trees. He owns a 20-acre land with 3,500 orange trees in Talegaon village (Ashti) in Wardha district with irrigation facilities. But there is no water in the wells. The water table has gone below 1,000ft. “It is the first time that the temperatures hovered between 44 degrees celsius to 47.5 degrees in May. This year, there has been no pre-monsoon showers either. Neither the agriculture nor the revenue department visited the orchards even once,” said Thakre.

Rajendra Thakre from Benoda Shahid village in Warud tehsil says he has incurred a Rs.1.5 crore loss. “I have never seen such a situation in 30 years of agriculture. I have no option but to sell the land,” he said. All four of Thakre’s wells have gone dry. He tried bringing water from Paknala dam about 11 km from the orchard by spending Rs.18 lakh but the water in the dam too dried out.

Ramhesh Jichkar, who heads the Vidarbha Agriculture and Allied Producers Association and has oranges in 30 acres in Nagziri in Warud tehsil, says that 30% of his orchard have been affected. An orange tree needs about 240 litres per day. Taj Khan, who has orchards in 200 acres and is a trader as well in Shahpur village, says that he deepened a water reservoir using his money “but no rain means storage has been less”. “I have a farm pond too but when there is no rain there is no water to store,” he said.