Monsoon tracker

The southwest monsoon has roared back after an alarmingly weak start in June and delivered above-normal rainfall on most days this month, which gave Mumbai one of the wettest months of July on record, substantially reduced the seasonal rainfall deficit and expanded crop planting to almost last year’s level.

The shortfall in monsoon rainfall since June 1 has shrunk from 35% at end-June to 11%. Rainfall surged in the first 11 days of July and again in the past week with a lean patch in between. But on the whole, rainfall has been about 3% above normal, well in excess of the initial forecast of being 5% lower than average.

So far, more than two-thirds of the country has received normal or excess rain, which is a big improvement from barely 23% of the country getting adequate rainfall in the beginning of July.

The good news is that the current vigorous phase of the monsoon will continue, with favourable weather systems developing in different parts of the country.

Rainfall has revived most significantly in Central India, a region defined by the IMD as the area between the country’s mid-latitudes to include Gujarat, Odisha and Maharashtra, apart from Madhya Pradesh. The region’s seasonal rainfall is just 7% below normal. The deficit is 10% in north and northwest India.

In the eastern and northeastern parts, rainfall has been 12% below average. But the season’s normal rain is so heavy that even after this shortfall, the region has got much more than the rest of the country.

Crop planting had lagged far behind last year’s level in the first few weeks of the monsoon, which arrived late and remained static for many days before a slow advance towards northern India.

However, planting has now gathered pace as rainfall improved substantially in July. Crop planting in the beginning of the month was 26% lower than that a year ago, but the gap contracted to 6.4% last week.

Maharashtra clears river-linking plan for drought-hit parts

The Maharashtra state cabinet agreed to implement the Damanganga-Pinjal river-linking project—originally meant to involve Gujarat as well—on its own. The Rs.10,800-crore project is expected to divert 73 tmc (thousand million cubic feet) of water towards drought-prone Marathwada and North Maharashtra as well as Mumbai. Officials claim 31 tmc will come to Mumbai from the project and could solve the city’s water needs till 2060.

The project has been in cold storage for over two years since Gujarat didn’t agree to a water swap of 15 tmc.

The project will tap excess water from the Damanganga, Pinjal, Nar, Par and Tapi rivers, which would otherwise have flown into the sea. Of the 73 tmc expected in the state, 25 tmc will go to Marathwada, 11 tmc to North Maharashtra’s Girna dam which gives water to Kalwan, Satana and Malegaon, 15 tmc to Jalgaon in the Tapi basin and 21 tmc to Mumbai.

The state hopes to begin tendering on river linkages by December once environmental feasibility is completed. The BMC is expected to contribute Rs.2,754 crore.

Parliament Makes Instant Talaq Criminal

PM Narendra Modi's tweet: An archaic and medieval practice has finally been confined to the dustbin of history! Parliament abolishes triple talaq and corrects a historical wrong done to Muslim women. This is a victory of gender justice and will further equality in society. India rejoices today!

The BJP government scored a major political victory when the Rajya Sabha approved the legislation to ban instant triple talaq, aided by walkout of some parties. Congress, Trinamool, SP and a few other parties voted against the legislation. The bill’s passage came after the Modi government’s two failed attempts to get Parliament nod during its previous tenure.

The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019, passed by the Lok Sabha last week, was cleared by the Rajya Sabha with a margin of 15. Ninety-nine votes were cast in favour and 84 against. Congress, Trinamool, DMK, the Left parties, SP, YSRCP, PDP, RJD and AAP opposed the bill. Since some of the parties, including the Congress, had not issued whips, some MPs were absent in the House during voting.

BSP and TDP opposed the bill during the debate while TRS did not participate. JDU and AIADMK staged a walkout in protest against the bill, helping the government secure the numbers needed by lowering the majority figure. BJD supported the bill and voted in its favour.

Earlier, replying to the debate, law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad expressed concern over the growing number of instant talaq cases despite the SC ban on it and an ordinance to ban it. Saying that people were willing to “support a positive initiative”, he asked the opposition to not be ‘guided by politics’ while deciding on the rights of Muslim women. Prasad said the subsistence allowance to be given to the victim by her husband will be determined by his income. “Our research has shown that 75% victims come from poor families,” he said. Prasad said several Muslim countries have banned instant talaq.

Though the government retained the clause that treats indulgence in instant talaq a crime — one of the major grounds on which some parties opposed the bill — it has been now made a bailable and compoundable offence. The government had withdrawn the clause allowing a third person to file a complaint when it had brought the bill to Parliament the second time.

Leader of the opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said the bill was “politically motivated” and though his party stood for women’s empowerment, it is forced to oppose the bill due to the criminality clause and some other provisions. “We wanted to support the bill with some changes. We had moved a resolution to send the bill to a select committee but it was rejected,” Azad said. The motion to send the bill to a select panel was defeated with 84 voting for and 100 against it.

Azad said the triple talaq law will lead to minorities fighting among themselves and both the husband and wife paying hefty fees to lawyers which will make them bankrupt.


Odisha Rasgulla gets it's own GI tag

The bitter war over the rasgulla appears to have ended in a draw—the geographical indicator was granted to Odisha for the ‘Odisha rasgulla’, more than two years after West Bengal won its own GI tag for the sweet. The Chennai-based GI Registry issued a formal certification for the ‘Odisha rasgulla’. “This mouthwatering culinary delight made of cottage cheese, loved by Odias across the world, is offered to Lord Jagannath as part of bhog since centuries,” Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik tweeted. A GI is a distinctive sign/ name used on a product, generally collectively owned, which can be used to differentiate goods on the basis of its unique characteristics and geographical origin. A GI tag helps in the branding and marketing of a local product and can attract penalties if copied by anybody outside the region.When West Bengal received its GI tag for its variety of rasgulla in November 2017, many people wrongly believed that the GI Registry has recognized that the sweet originated in West Bengal. A bitter fight ensued between the two states over the delicacy. The GI tag for the same product to both the neighbouring states now recognizes two distinct varieties in taste and texture. In its submission before the GI registrar, the Odisha Small Industries Corp Ltd, which has been awarded the GI tag, said: “Odisha rasgulla is very soft to feel, juicy and non-chewy in consistency, and can be swallowed without teeth pressure. The rasgulla prepared in other places is circular in shape, milk white in colour and basically spongy and chewy in consistency.” While Bengal’s claim the sweet was invented by Nobin Chandra Das (Birth: 1845) at his Bagbazar residence in Kolkata, Odias cite the tradition dating back to the 12th century. During the festival of “Niladri Bije”, Lord Jagannath offers rasgulla to his disgruntled consort Goddess Laxmi on his return from a 9-day-long Rath Yatra. That day is now marked by Odias as Rasgulla Dibasa every year.

India, Russia ink Rs.1,500-crore deal for air-to-air missile

Boosting its capabilities in beyond visual range warfare, India signed a deal worth around Rs.1,500 crore to acquire R-27 air-to-air missiles from Russia to be equipped on the Su-30 MKI combat aircraft.

The Russian missiles with an extended range would give an added capability to the Sukhois to take on enemy aircraft at long ranges.

The missiles have been acquired under 10-I projects which mandate the three services to maintain critical weapon systems and spares for a specified minimum period, which is known as War Wastage Reserve.

The R-27 missile is a medium-to-long-range air-to-air missile developed by Russia for its MiG and Sukhoi series of fighter jets.

In the last 50 days, the Indian Air Force has signed deals worth over Rs.7,600 crore for acquiring equipment under emergency requirements approved by the Defence Ministry.

The IAF has spent around Rs.7,600 crore in procuring missiles such as the Spice 2000, Strum Ataka ATGMs and a large number of spares under the emergency procurement route.

After the Pulwama attack, the Central government had given emergency powers to the three services to buy whatever equipment is required by them for safeguarding the borders with Pakistan.

Under the powers given, the security forces can buy the equipment of their choice within three months at the cost of up to Rs.300 crore per case.

The emergency powers were given to the forces within a few weeks after the Pulwama attack.

Tiger population doubles since 2006 to nearly 3,000

Prime Minister Narendra Modi released the All India Tiger Estimation Report 2018, saying the country has emerged as of one of the biggest, safest tiger habitats in the world, with the big cat’s population growing from 1,411 in 2006 to 2,967 in 2019.

Modi lauded all stakeholders involved in the country’s tiger conservation exercise and said, “Nine long years ago, it was decided in St Petersburg (Russia) that the target of doubling the tiger population would be 2022. We in India completed this target four years in advance. This is the finest example of sankalp se siddhi (attainment through resolve).”

Invoking two Bollywood movie titles, he said the story of protecting tigers that started with Ek Tha Tiger (there was once a tiger) and reached Tiger Zinda Hai (the tiger is alive) should not end there, and efforts towards conservation should be expanded and sped up.

The PM said the development versus environment conservation debate will continue with both sides suggesting they are mutually exclusive, but it was possible to strike a healthy balance. He said that while in the last five years, the focus was on to build next generation infrastructure in the country, there has also been an increase in forest cover and protected areas. “In 2014, the number of protected areas was 692; this rose to more than 860 in 2019. Similarly, the number of community reserves were 43 in 2014 and rose to more than 100 in 2019,” he said.

In the study, the state of Madhya Pradesh led the table with 526 tigers and Karnataka followed with 524 of the majestic predators, even as Uttarakhand came in third with 442 tigers, registering an excellent tiger population growth in the past 13 years over a relatively smaller area. 

Karnataka: Yediyurappa wins trust vote easily

The three-day old Bharatiya Janata Party government in Karnataka headed by B S Yediyurappa proved its majority, sailing through the confidence motion smoothly in the truncated Assembly, ending a month long political turbulence in the state.

Yediyurappa won the confidence motion in less than an hour after the House met. With BJP comfortably placed in the numbers game after the disqualification of 17 rebel MLAs, including three earlier, that reduced the effective strength of the House, the opposition Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) did not press for division.

After brief speeches by Yediyurappa while moving the one-line motion expressing confidence in the Ministry headed by him, and by JDS and Congress leaders, the Speaker took up the trust vote and declared it has been carried by voice vote amid thumping of desks by the treasury benches.

On Sunday, the Speaker had disqualified 11 Congress MLAs and three JDS lawmakers till the end of the current term of the House in 2023, bringing down the majority mark to 105, equivalent to the current strength of 105 of the BJP, which also enjoyed the support of an Independent. The Congress has 66 members, JDS 34, the Speaker one (who has a casting vote in case of a tie) and one expelled BSP member who was thrown out of the party for violating its directive to support the HD Kumaraswamy government during the trust vote on July 23.

Yediyurappa was sworn in as Chief Minister for a fourth time on Friday in a sudden twist to the protracted high voltage political drama in the state.

As was also expected on Monday, Assembly Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar announced his resignation after a 14-month long tenure, amid reports that the BJP was mulling moving a no confidence motion against him. “I have decided to relieve myself from this office,” Kumar said and handed over his resignation letter to Deputy Speaker Krishna Reddy. He said that as Speaker, he worked according to his “conscience” and the Constitution. “I upheld the dignity of office to the best of my ability,” he added.


What new amendments mean for Right to Information Act

The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019, was passed in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday amid high drama and an Opposition walkout. The Opposition says the changes put forth in the bill, which had already cleared the Lok Sabha, undermine the independence of the RTI watchdog. The government has argued that the amendments leave the information officials’ powers untouched and are aimed at streamlining the commission. A look at the changes being effected by the amended Act

1. No fixed tenure, or salaries, Centre says it’s a statutory body: The amendments do away with the fixed tenure of five years for the Chief Information Commissioner and the Information Commissioners — instead, they will serve for a tenure determined by the central government.

Also, the Centre can now determine the salary of the CIC and the ICs, which is currently benchmarked with the salary of the Chief Election Commissioner and the Election Commissioners, respectively, which in turn is benchmarked with the salary of a Supreme Court judge, amounts to Rs.2.5 lakh per month, along with a monthly allowance of Rs.34,000 and the usual perks like rent-free furnished housing and 200 litres of fuel every month.

After the amendments, the government has the power to fix the salary, which could be lower — given that the Information Commission is a statutory body unlike the EC, which is a constitutional body. However, the current incumbents’ salaries will not be affected by the amendment.

2. Centre to decide appointments, even for state CIC, ICs: Currently, the CIC and ICs are chosen by a three-member panel of the PM, the Leader of Opposition or leader of the largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha and a Cabinet minister nominated by the PM. Similarly, the State Chief Information Commissioners and State Information Commissioners are chosen by a three-member panel of the CM, the state’s leader of opposition or leader of the largest opposition party in the state assembly and a state Cabinet minister nominated by the CM.

The amendments give the power to appoint and decide the term as well as the salary of SCIC and SICs to the Centre — which nullifies the independence of the state legislatures. Even the CIC and the ICs will serve at the pleasure of the government — raising the possibility that they would be more interested in ensuring the longevity of their tenures rather than serving the citizens’ interests.

3. Extended tenures possible : Current rules stipulate that no CIC, IC, SCIC or SIC can serve more than one term, which is for a maximum period of 5 years or till the age of 65, whichever is earlier. For ICs and SICs, if one of them is nominated to the post of CIC or SCIC, his/her total tenure as both IC and CIC or SIC and SCIC cannot exceed 5 years. Since the amended Act gives the government the power to fix tenures, there’s every likelihood that an incumbent seen as pliable or ‘friendly’ to the Centre may get to serve more than one term.

4. And termination in Centre’s hands? If the tenure of the CIC, IC, SCIC and SIC are to be fixed by the Centre, it may follow that their removal from office may also be dependent on the Centre, whereas in the original bill, the CIC and IC may be removed only by the President — and the state governor in case of SCIC and SIC — after an inquiry by the Supreme Court finds reason for their dismissal from office.

PMRDA to float tenders for Hyperloop in August

The Pune Metropolitan Regional Development Authority will float tenders for the much vaunted Pune-Mumbai Hyperloop project by the middle of next month.

Last week, the project was designated a public infrastructure project by Maharashtra Infrastructure Development Enabling Authority,  The DP World-Virgin Hyperloop consortium will soon be awarded the infrastructure certificate and the Original Project Proponent.

The will then have to prepare a detailed project report, which can then be challenged by other bidders in Swiss Challenge method. “Any bidder can give suggestions for improving or beating the initial proposal once the DPR is out,” PMRDA commissioner Vikram Kumar said.

Whichever bidder submits the best proposal will then be awarded the OPP status and will bear the cost of the project. The state government will provide the land required for the implementation of the test track and the main track.

A Hyperloop is a mode of high-speed transportation, where a pod-like vehicle travels through a tube at a speed which is more than the airline speed. If the government’s plan works out, people will be able to travel from Pune to Mumbai in 25 minutes.

The project will be implemented in two phases — first a test track on an 11.4 km corridor from Gahunje to Ozarde, followed by the final, 117.5 km track.

Experts said the project will improve connectivity for the 26 million residents of both cities, and expect 150 million people to use the service annually.


GST Council Slashes Tax on Electric Vehicles to 5%

India has cut the GST rate on electric vehicles to 5% from 12% as part of government’s big push to cut dependence on fossil fuels and encourage eco-friendly mobility solutions.

The GST Council, the apex decision making body for the tax, also decided to slash the tax rates on electric vehicles’ battery chargers to 5% from 18%.

The new tax rates will be effective from August 1.

Punjab and West Bengal were not in favour of the move and questioned the urgency to push the proposal.

West Bengal Finance Minister Amit Mitra, according to an official, pointed to an increase in consumption of coal generated electricity for charging of EVs that would harm the environment. He had written a letter to the GST Council chairman, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, on July 23, seeking tax cuts on other automobiles in the wake of a demand slump in the sector.


Jio is Numero Uno

Less than three years after making a re-entry into the telecom business, Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio has emerged as the country’s largest mobile operator, edging out Vodafone-Idea from the top position. Jio has also made more revenue than Vodafone-Idea in April-June quarter.

Jio had started operations in September 2016 and finished the quarter ending June 30, 2019 with a subscriber base of 33.1 crore. Compared to this, Vodafone-Idea had 32 crore users in the same period as the company continued to shed low-spending customers as part of a new business strategy.

For the new 4G-only telecom entrant — which had moved ahead of Bharti Airtel in March this year — the growth has been swift and profitable, despite its charge being led by dirt-cheap tariffs and free voice calling.

For Jio’s rivals, going remains tough. Airtel is struggling to get back into profitability. Vodafone-Idea said on Friday that its April-June loss stood at Rs.4,874 crore. The company had reported a loss of Rs.4,882 crore during the fourth quarter of 2018-19.

A Counter statement

Three days after a group of eminent citizens wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the rising incidents of lynching and hate crimes, 62 high-profile personalities from various fields responded with a counter statement against what they termed as “selective outrage and false narratives”.

The July 23 letter by 49 “self-styled guardians and conscience keepers” expressed selective concerns and demonstrated a “clear political bias and motive”, said the statement signed by actor Kangana Ranaut, lyricist Prasoon Joshi, dancer Sonal Mansingh and filmmakers Madhur Bhandarkar and Vivek Agnihotri and others.

“It (the July 23 letter) is aimed at tarnishing India’s international standing and to negatively portray the prime minister’s untiring efforts to effectuate governance on the foundations of positive nationalism and humanism which is the core of Indianess,” the statement read.

The document of selective outrage, it said, comes across as an “attempt to foist a false narrative with the intention of denigrating the democratic ethos and norms of our collective functioning as a nation and people”.

On July 23, 49 personalities, including filmmakers Mani Ratnam, Anurag Kashyap, Shyam Benegal and Aparna Sen expressed concern at the number of “religious identity-based hate crimes” and noted that Jai Shri Ram’ has become a provocative war cry. The 61signatories questioned the silence of the letter writers “when tribals and the marginalised have become victims of Naxal terror”. Terming the letter to the PM agenda-driven, the signatories said their selective outrage “makes us believe that they are working for a certain agenda and are only playing into the hands of those forces that out Balkanise India”. 

Global economy moving into unsettling phase: Das

The global economy seems to be moving into a new and unsettling phase, marked by stressed trade negotiations, rising geopolitical confrontations and limited policy space, besides high debt levels in several economies, said Reserve Bank of India governor Shaktikanta Das.

The RBI governor pointed out that general government debt of advanced economies, as a group, has surpassed 100% of the gross domestic product, along with constrained fiscal space in many of these countries. “It is important in the backdrop of slowing global growth that policies of monetary and fiscal authorities are well-calibrated so that they support growth without further build-up of leverage and asset price bubbles,” said Das.

He added that prudent policies are critical to growth with macroeconomic stability. Das called for a focus on policy and to judiciously use it while simultaneously undertaking structural reforms to improve productivity, innovation and job creation. The coming year, he said, will test the IMF for its policy advice in these areas. “The global order today faces several challenges that will test the skills of the international organizations, as well as those of national monetary and fiscal authorities. International coordination has become somewhat weaker in the very recent years,” he said.

According to Das, many advanced economies have been pursuing low interest rate policies for long, without adequate recognition of their impact. He said that at the global level, the total amount of bonds with negative yields has risen to nearly $13 trillion; implying that nearly onethird of advanced economies’ government bonds trade at negative yields. “Return to lower interest rates in advanced economies poses challenges, as leverage has already built up in the emerging market economies, and the needed deleveraging is not complete in many European economies. Amid low global interest rates, total credit to the non-financial sector in the emerging market economies went up from 107.2% of GDP at the end of 2008 to 194. 4% of GDP by March 2018, before it dropped to 183.2% at the end of 2018,” he added.

Das said net private capital flows to emerging market economies in the form of direct and portfolio investments have also nearly doubled in the post-crisis period, posing risks to some emerging markets. “Some of these risks have surfaced in form of weak bank and non-bank balance sheets, and some remain latent and can surface, especially when the global interest rate cycles turn decisively. The world will be looking to the IMF to suggest dependable solutions,” said Das.

Episode IV: Return of Yedi

Karnataka’s new chief minister, BS Yediyurappa, announced an additional payment of ₹2,000 each in two instalments to the beneficiaries of the PM Kisan Samman scheme, and waiver of outstanding loans taken by weavers.

The first cabinet meeting, which was attended by Yediyurappa and chief secretary TM Vijay Bhaskar, took these decisions soon after the 76-year-old BJP leader took over as the new CM.

Earlier in the evening, governor VR Vala administered the oath of office at an event in the Raj Bhavan, which brought the curtains down on the 20-day political drama that saw the fall of the 14-month Janata Dal(S)-Congress regime in a floor test.

No other BJP member took oath on Friday. The CM will move a trust vote in the assembly on Monday, and on the same day will table the appropriation Bill, a critical necessity to enable the government to draw funds from August 1. The cabinet formation will follow the floor test.

Yediyurappa, who has changed the spelling of his name from Yeddyurappa, participated in the ceremony wearing a green shawl amid slogan-shouting by BJP workers.

Former chief minister HD Kumaraswamy and Congress Legislature Party leader Siddaramaiah did not attend. Karnataka Congress president Dinesh Gundu Rao had asked party leaders and workers to stay away.

Expelled Congress MLA R Roshan Baig and former Congress MLA from Tumakuru district KN Rajanna showed up. BJP national general secretary P Muralidhar Rao, and former CM SM Krishna also attended.

“I assure the opposition parties that I am not going to do politics of vendetta. I will take opposition parties into confidence,” Yediyurappa said in his first media conference as the CM. “I will show the difference between the previous government and our government in three months.”

Number Theory: With Yediyurappa assuming office, the challenge before the BJP now is to ensure the attendance in the Karnataka assembly does not exceed 208 at the time of the floor test. The BJP has 105 MLAs of its own and has the support of an independent MLA, H Nagesh.

After the disqualification of three MLAs, the number of elected members in the assembly has dropped to 221, and the party is still short of five members to have a majority. In view of this predicament, the party has asked rebel Congress and JDS MLAs to stay away from Karnataka until the trust vote was over, said a BJPmember.

The news of BJP staking claim to form the government broke out only on Friday morning, after BJP national president Amit Shah gave the green signal.


Sesquicentennial Gandhi Jayanti

Over 15 ministries and departments will swing into action to implement another raft of ambitious activities the Centre has approved to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

The latest list includes Ayushman Bharat’s free healthcare coverage for all sanitation workers and families, Gandhi busts in 54 countries, leprosy and TB-screening drive for 250 million people, a ‘Main Bhi Gandhi’ campaign, special TV and radio shows and mass activities. This was decided by Committee of Secretaries, chaired by the Cabinet Secretary, at a meeting of on July 11.

PM Modi will launch ‘Shramdaan’ and people’s participation drive on September 11 and this will be followed by mass ‘Shramdaan’ activities. President Kovind is likely to launch Gandhian thought-related activities for all schools on September 20.

Keeping in mind Gandhi’s commitment towards sanitation, Ayushman Bharat will cover all sanitation workers and their families and 150 PMJAY e-cards be distributed in every block of 150 most-backward districts. A national action plan for total elimination of manual cleaning of sewers and septic tanks by 2022 will be unveiled; 15,000 sanitation workers will be given skill development training. The culture ministry — the nodal ministry for the commemoration — will launch a ‘Main Bhi Gandhi campaign’ asking citizens to take a pledge committing themselves to Gandhian ideas. The MEA will coordinate global conference on Gandhi at the UN that will be held on September 24. The MEA will also preside over unveiling of Gandhi busts in 54 countries.

Also, the HRD ministry plans to hold a 10-day value education camp for about 500 tribal children from September 24 to October 3.

Uttar Pradesh: Tigress trapped, beaten to death

In a huge embarrassment to Pilibhit tiger reserve authorities, an adult tigress that had injured nine people in Mataina village in Pilibhit district on Wednesday afternoon was trapped and brutally beaten to death by villagers on Thursday. The incident took place even as a team of forest officials was stationed closeby. The villagers even didn’t let the injured tigress be taken to hospital and it succumbed to severe injuries a few hours later. An FIR has been lodged against 31 identified and 12 unknown people.

The autopsy conducted by a panel of three veterinarians ascertained that the tigress “died of injuries” inflicted upon her by the villagers. Pilibhit district magistrate Vaibhav Shrivastav said, “Some of the attackers have been identified, while efforts are on to identify others.”

The DM has also ordered a magisterial inquiry to probe the role of forest officials in the incident.

According to PTR field director H Rajamohan, “The tigress’ had sustained fractures and injuries by sharpedged weapons on almost every part of its body. The big cat had broken ribs and it was cremated after the autopsy.”

According to eyewitnesses, the tigress had injured nine persons on Wednesday. After it attacked a youth on Thursday, the big cat was surrounded by villagers, armed with lathis and spears, who brutally assaulted it.


Open letter to PM

Voicing their concern at the number of ‘religious identity-based hate crimes’ in India, a group of eminent citizens has written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying ‘Jai Shri Ram has become a provocative war cry’ and that several lynchings were taking place in its name.

The July 23 letter, which also stressed that there is ‘no democracy without dissent’, has been signed by 49 celebrities from various fields, including filmmakers Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Aparna Sen as well as vocalist Shubha Mudgal, historian Ramchandra Guha and sociologist Ashis Nandy.

‘We, as peace loving and proud Indians, are deeply concerned about a number of tragic events that have been happening in recent times in our beloved country,’ the open letter to Modi said.

‘The lynching of Muslims, Dalits and other minorities must be stopped immediately. We were shocked to learn from the NCRB that there have been no less than 840 instances of atrocities against Dalits in the year 2016, and a definite decline in the percentage of convictions,’ it continued.

Others who lent their voice include renowned filmmakers Shyam Benegal, Mani Ratnam, author Amit Chaudhury, social activist Dr Binayak Sen, singer Anupam Roy, social activist Anuradha Kapoor and social worker Aditi Basu, filmmaker Anjan Dutt, Bengal theatre personality Kaushik Sen, Bengali cinema actor Soumitra Chattopadhyay, filmmaker Goutam Ghose, Anurag Kashyap and Ketan Mehta, Mudar Patherya, south Indian filmmaker-actor Revathy.

Responding to the letter, Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi maintained that minorities and Dalits are safe in India and that criminal incidents should not be communalised.

‘About 90 per cent of these attacks were reported after May 2014, when your government assumed power nationally,’ the signatories told the prime minister. They said they regretted that ‘Jai Shri Ram’ has been reduced to a ‘provocative war cry that leads to law and order problems, and many lynchings take place in its name’.

‘These are not the Middle Ages! The name of Ram is sacred to many in the majority community of India. As the highest executive of this country you must put a stop to the name of Ram being defiled,’ the letter stated.

It also underscored the significance of dissent in a democracy.

‘There is no democracy without dissent. People should not be branded anti-national or urban Naxal and incarcerated because of dissent against the government.’ If someone criticises the ruling party, it does not imply they are against the nation, the letter said.

Aparna Sen followed up on the issues raised in the letter with a press conference in Kolkata on Wednesday.

‘This has nothing to do with Bengal, this has to do with lynchings. This is simply something done out of concern for the humanity,’ Aparna said.

Sen, whose upcoming film ‘Ghawre Baire Aaj’ takes off from the killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh and examines lynching, said people are beaten to death either because they are accused of eating beef or trading cows.

Theatre and television actor Kaushik Sen, who also signed the letter, said people have forgotten that there is an option of protest in a democracy. ‘... whoever is protesting is labelled anti-national or you are marked as Pakistani or anti-Indian,’ he told a TV channel.

On Monday, the Lok Sabha passed a bill amending the Right To Information Act, amid objections by the Opposition which alleges that it is an attempt to undermine the law and make the transparency panel a ‘toothless tiger’.

India Moves Up Five Places to 52 on Global Innovation Index

India climbed five places up in a global index of innovation, buoyed by improved productivity growth and exports of services related to information and communication technologies.

India’s jump to the 52nd spot in the 129-nation Global Innovation Index in 2019 is the biggest for any country in the last five years, a report released by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, along with the World Intellectual Property Organization.

“I am happy that significant progress has been made and the culture of innovation is taking centre stage in the country,” commerce and industry Piyush Goyal said at the launch of the report.

He said while India was still a couple of ranks lower than what it was aiming at (rank of 50 or below), the country was well poised to focus on R&D and increase spending there.

India has maintained its top place in the Central and Southern Asia region and from 81 in 2015, its 29-place move up the GII represents the biggest jump by any major economy. The list continues to be topped by Switzerland. Israel has found a place in the top ten for the first time.

“This innovation will help us find sustainable solutions to challenges such as growing pollution, climate change and water crisis. We will do 1,00,000 patents every year from next year and bring down the timelines,” Goyal said.

He said India would not rest on past laurels until it achieved its target of positioning itself among the top 25 countries in the index in the next four years.

India improved its ranking in four out of the seven pillars of the index, such as knowledge and technology outputs (up 11 spots to 32nd), market sophistication (up 3 spots to 33rd), human capital and research (up 3 spots to 53rd) and institutions (up 3 spots to 77th). However, in business sophistication (65th), infrastructure (79th) and creative outputs (78th), it lost one, two and three spots, respectively.

In the “knowledge and technology outputs” criterion, which saw the highest 11-spot jump, India’s ranking improved for IP-related variables. India also lost relative strength to other countries with largest drops in logistics performance (down 9 spots to 43rd), women employed with advanced degrees (down 10 spots to 103rd) and printing and other media (down 12 spots to 88th).

Urging institutions, universities and the private sector to help transform the country into a hub of innovation, the minister suggested the WIPO to factor in India’s rural innovation as part of the innovation index in future. “Innovation does not come new to India … right from establishing hundreds of Atal Innovation Labs to Mangalyaan and Chandrayaan, this new approach and engagement adopted by the government has become the new hallmark of India as we move towards a more prosperous country,” he said.

Developed jointly by Cornell University, Paris-based business school INSEAD and WIPO, the index includes more than 80 indicators exploring a broad vision of innovation, such as political environment, education, infrastructure and business sophistication.

States can Now Use Aadhaar Data for their Schemes

The Union Cabinet approved changes to the Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Bill 2019 on Wednesday, to incorporate a clause that will allow the use of Aadhaar data for state schemes and subsidies. The amendment is via a new section, 5A, inserted into the Act. India’s national biometric ID can now be used by state governments for schemes that are funded through the ‘Consolidated Fund of the State’.

“The states had demanded (this). As per a Supreme Court order, Aadhaar is allowed where the funds are going for beneficiary schemes coming straight from the central government. It will enable the use... the way subsidies to the central schemes are transferred from the central fund, Aadhaar can be used for transferring state subsidies,” Prakash Javadekar, Ministry for Information and Broadcasting, said during a press briefing. Earlier this month, Parliament had approved amendments to the Aadhaar Act to allow voluntary use of the 12-digit unique number as ID proof for obtaining mobile phone SIM cards and opening bank accounts. The government also inserted a new clause allowing the use of Aadhaar data by states for implementation of their schemes.

US magazine ranks FTII among top 10 film schools in the world

Pune-based Film and Television Institute of India has bagged the 10th spot among top film and television schools in the world, according to New York-based CEOWORLD magazine ranking.

Two other Indian institutes — The National School of Drama in Delhi at the 14th place and the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute in Kolkata at 22nd — also figure in the list The magazine ranked the USC School of Cinematic Arts in Los Angeles the top film school in the world for 2019 followed by American Film Institute and UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television at the University of California. US institutes dominated the rankings by securing six of the top ten positions.

A similar list by a US-based entertainment magazine Variety had also placed FTII among the top media schools, although it did not publish any ranking. The CEOWORLD list is dominated by film schools from the United States, along with some illustrious ones from the United Kingdom, Poland, Czech Republic, France, South Korea, Canada, and even Israel. The latter has one of the highest number of film schools per capita in the world, with the Tel Aviv University’s arts faculty, known for its film studies, making it to the CEOWORLD list.

“The FTII is the only Asian film institute to make it to the top 10 of the list. It is a proud moment for us to be featured in such an illustrious list along with those from Czech Republic and Poland,” said Bhupendra Kainthola, FTII director.

Maharashtra to build Nariman Point’s tallest building for legislators

Nariman Point is set to get its tallest residential high-rise – a 40-storey tower – to house legislators.

With the decks cleared for redevelopment of the state government’s Manora MLA hostel, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis laid the foundation stone for two towers in the high-rise – a 25-storey and the 40-storey one. At an estimated cost of ₹350 crore, all 366 legislators will get a two-bedroom apartment each , with a private office here.

The redevelopment of the MLA hostel was on the cards for a few years, with portions of the building falling off and bamboo being used for support. “This will be the tallest tower in Nariman Point. Currently, there are 32-35 storey buildings. Coupled with podium parking, the tower will be 41-42 storey,” said architect Shashi Prabhu, whose firm has prepared the design of the towers.

Other tall buildings in the business district are Air India building (25 floors), a 35-storey fivestar hotel and NCPA Apartments (27 floors).

The CM said the MLA hostel has been witness to many good and bad occasions in Maharashtra’s political history. “The decision to build a new building was taken after many small accidents in the MLA hostel. Aesthetics and utility have been taken into consideration in the design of the new building which is prepared by Shashi Prabhu. The building will have over 800 rooms; it will have space for legislators, former legislators, and delegations,” he said. The two towers will be built with a floor space index (FSI) of 5.38. FSI is a proportion of the total construction to the plot.

According to a senior public works department official, each legislator will have about 1,000 sqft carpet accommodation, which will be divided in a twobedroom apartment, in addition to an office space of about 300-350 sqft. “The buildings will accommodate 288 MLAs and 78 MLCs. Currently, we have got the commencement certificate up to the plinth, with an approved FSI of 5.4. The total construction area of the project is 7.72 lakh sqft,” the official said, requesting anonymity. The building will also have parking space for 500 cars, a business centre, clubhouse, gymnasium,medical centre, multi-functional hall, meeting rooms and podium garden. Parking could be allowed for the public when the Assembly is not in session, an official said.

The state will call for global tenders for the project which is expected to be completed in three years after it is awarded. “We are still to secure all permissions, including CRZ clearance. We expect to get them by year-end,” the official said. The state has roped in Central government owned National Buildings Construction Corporation India as project management consultant.


IMF cuts India’s growth estimates for 2019, 2020

The International Monetary Fund cut India’s growth estimates for 2019 and 2020, citing a weaker than expected outlook for domestic demand.

The multilateral agency also cut China’s growth estimates due to impact of a string of factors, including the trade war with the US. This means that India continues to remain the fastest growing major economy in the world, despite the slowdown that has set in.

“India’s economy is set to grow at 7% in 2019, picking up to 7.2% in 2020. The downward revision of 0.3 percentage point for both years reflects a weaker-than-expected outlook for domestic demand,” the IMF said in its World Economic Outlook update.

The growth estimates for India are in line with other agencies such as the Asian Development Bank and the RBI as well as the Economic Survey for 2018-19, which estimates growth for 2019-20 at 7%. The RBI has cut GDP growth estimates, citing weak domestic demand, investment and sluggish exports due to slowdown in global demand triggered by the US-China trade war. It also said that private consumption has weakened, particularly in rural areas, which could hurt overall growth.

In China, negative effects of escalating tariffs and weakening external demand have added pressure to an economy already in the midst of a structural slowdown, and needed regulatory strengthening to rein in high dependence on debt, IMF said.

“With policy stimulus expected to support activity in the face of the adverse external shock, growth is forecast at 6.2% in 2019 and 6.0% in 2020 — 0.1 percentage point lower each year relative to the April projection,” IMF said.

The agency also reduced growth estimates for the global economy. Global growth is forecast at 3.2% in 2019, picking up to 3.5% in 2020 (0.1 percentage point lower than in the April WEO projections for both years). GDP releases so far this year, together with generally softening inflation, point to weaker-than anticipated global activity,” the agency said. “The projected growth pickup in 2020 is precarious,” the agency said in its update.

Karnataka: Kumaraswamy govt falls

The 14-month-old Congress-JD(S) coalition government in Karnataka fell after it was defeated on the floor of the Karnataka Assembly with about 20 MLAs of the ruling coalition defying their party whips and absenting from voting on the confidence motion moved by Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy.

The political drama was triggered by the resignations of over a dozen rebel MLAs belonging to the coalition who submitted their papers at the Speaker’s office and left for Mumbai where they were holed up in a hotel.

Immediately after the trust vote, Kumaraswamy sought an appointment with Governor, Vajubhai Vala, and went to Raj Bhavan to submit his resignation.

In the 224-member House, only 204 were present and voted in the division pressed by Leader of the Opposition Yeddyurappa after the voice vote. Yeddyurappa and other BJP members showed victory signs in the House while the ruling coalition members quietly walked out.

Senior Congress leader Ramalinga Reddy, who withdrew his resignation last week, voted with the government. Speaker Ramesh Kumar, who belongs to the Congress, said he would vote only in case of a tie.

The defeat marks the end of an uneasy coalition that was formed after the assembly polls in May 2018, which returned a hung verdict after three main parties in the state — Congress, BJP and the JD (S) — fought each other in the polls.

The voting on the trust motion started around 7.25 pm after four days of prolonged debate ignoring repeated directives of the Governor who set three deadlines for the completion of the business on Thursday and Friday, even as the battle over the resignation and disqualification of the dissident MLAs went on in the Supreme Court.

The division process was completed by a physical headcount of members who stood in their rows. 

Opposition Wants RTI Bill be Sent to Select Panel

A day after the Lok Sabha passed Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, the opposition has united in Rajya Sabha to demand the draft bill be referred to a select committee for scrutiny.

Congress, TMC, BJD, Samajwadi Party, BSP, DMK, Left Front, NCP and Indian Union Muslim League have joined hands in the upper house to demand sending the bill to a select committee. The opposition parties met on Tuesday morning and decided to have a common floor strategy and push the government, which is outnumbered in Rajya Sabha.

“The opposition parties have decided to move a motion to refer the bill to a select committee,” Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’ Brien said.

DMK’s Tiruchi Siva said, “The bill cannot be passed without any scrutiny. It will have to go to a select committee.”

Opposition parties are individually moving amendments to the draft, seeking deletion of the three amendments. The government has introduced amendments to Sections 13, 16 and 27 of the RTI Act.

With the amendments, the government has given itself powers to determine before each appointment how long the information commissioner can be in service.

Mumbai: Nod for 3 routes

The Maharashtra cabinet cleared three metro projects that would cost Rs.24,000 crore and add 50 kilometres to the already approved metro network for the Mumbai region.

The three lines include Wadala-GPO, Kalyan-Taloja and Gaimukh-Shivaji Chowk in Mira Road. Infrastructure development has been one of the BJP’s big poll planks.

The Wadala-GPO (Metro 11) corridor will be 14 km long, cost Rs.8,000 crore and have 11 stations. The route will be entirely underground along P D’Mello Road. It will start at Wadala RTO and culminate at CSMT on the GPO side.

The Gaimukh-Shivaji Chowk (Metro 10) corridor will be 11 km long, cost Rs.5,000 crore and have five stations. Gaimukh area along Ghodbunder Road will be transformed into a vital junction for the metro where rail shuttles from Dahisar, Kasarvadavli and Kalyan will converge and terminate.

The Wadala-Ghatkopar-Mulund-Thane-Kasarvadavali metro has been extended till Gaimukh. The corridor, which will used by an estimated 11.6 lakh commuters every day, is expected to be completed by 2031; the Gaimukh-Mira Road route is expected by 2022 and Kalyan-Taloja by 2024.

The Wadala-CSMT corridor will pass through old and heritage parts of south Mumbai. So, the state will push for clearance from Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee in a time-bound manner.

The 25 km Taloja Metro is expected to cost Rs.11,000. There will be over 15 stations on this route and it will be a key connection between central and harbour lines.

By 2022, nearly 119 km metro routes will be added to the city’s transport network. In all, a 323 km metro network has been planned across the state. Officials said as per their study, the density on suburban trains will reduce from 12 persons per square metre to 7.


Of India's Forex Reserve....

The Indian economy has come a long way from the balance of payment crisis that led to economic liberalisation in 1991. Starting 1987, India’s already meagre forex reserve steadily reduced from $11.5 billion to just $5.6 billion in 1990. Three decades later, the country has a healthy forex reserve of about $400 billion — about $100 billion more than Pakistan’s GDP in 2018.

Mumbai Coastal Road: BMC files SLP against HC’s order

Days after Bombay high court halted all work on its ambitious Rs.12,000 crore, 30 km coastal road project, Mumbai’s civic corporation filed a special leave petition against the judgment that has held as illegal the three coastal zone regulation clearances given in 2017.

The challenge is primarily on the grounds that the high court arrived at an “erroneous finding” on July 16 that it is not a “road project” but a “township and area development”. It is a classification that thus independently requires mandatory prior environmental clearance under a 2006 environmental impact assessment notification.

The new EC will require a year-long EIA study and report with variable terms of reference and public hearing.

The road is proposed from Nariman Point to Kandivli, in two phases, on reclaimed land.

On Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the SLP on Thursday after the BMC said its oral plea for a stay was not granted. “Stopping the project work at this stage will cause a significant loss and is not in public interest,” stated the BMC plea. The high court judgment had accepted the challenge raised in five public interest litigation by environmentalists and fishermen to the clearance given to the coastal road project.

Merely 20 hectares of the 90 hectares to be reclaimed is to be used for the coastal road. The rest is meant for “green spaces for parks, cycle tracks, promenade, butterfly parks, bus depot etc—a purpose other than the road,” it said. The "sheer volume of the area—90 hectare—would require the activity to be treated as an area development project,” the court had held, “erronerously”, stated the plea. It added the additional green open spaces are “only because” the coastal road alignment of 19.3 km, including interchanges, must have “gentle curves, not sharp angles’’. It stated it “gave undertakings on affidavit to the high court that this open land will not be utilized for development activities or for any building amenities permissible under Development Control Regulations but will be preserved for use by public as open green spaces.’’

Chandrayaan-2 lifts off

Under an overcast sky at the Sriharikota spaceport, India took a giant leap to Moon.

Indian Space Research Organisation’s GSLV-MkIII carrying Chandrayaan-2 lifted off from Sriharikota at 2.43 pm and, 17 minutes later, injected into a geostationary transfer orbit the lunarcraft comprising an orbiter, a lander and a rover. It is expected to make a soft-landing on Moon at 2.58 am on September 7, making India only the fourth nation – after the US, Russia and China – to achieve such a feat.

It was a better-than-textbook launch as the vehicle took the lunarcraft to an orbit that is 6,000 km higher than planned, thereby saving on fuel and increasing its life span. “We’ve bounced back with flying colours,” Isro chairman K Sivan said soon after the spacecraft was injected into the orbit.

The rocket had been on the launchpad since a technical glitch forced Isro to abort the launch on July 15. “Immediately after the snag was observed, the entire team swung into action. The work done in 24 hours has been mind boggling. The teams forgot about their families, sacrificed their interests and worked non-stop,” he said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who watched the launch live on television, said the event will be etched in the annals of history. “The launch of Chandrayaan-2 illustrates the prowess of our scientists and the determination of 130 crore Indians to scale new frontiers of science. Every Indian is immensely proud today,” he said.

Scientists and thousands of spectators who gathered at Sriharikota cheered every time a critical event of the countdown was announced over the public address system. The biggest applause from the scientists came 132 seconds after lift-off, when the indigenous cryogenic engine (CE-20) – they were worried about it after the July 15 incident – ignited. Chandrayaan-2 is three satellite missions stacked in a single launch. Out of the three, two systems – Vikram (lander) and Pragyan (rover) – are completely new to Isro.

In the past one-and-a-half years, the satellite team has burned the midnight oil reworking on Chandrayaan-2 on the suggestions made by the national committee. They worked without any gap,” Sivan said.

The mission team will perform 15 “very crucial” manoeuvres to take Chandrayaan-2 towards the Moon. “And then, on D-day, we will experience 15 minutes of terror during the final descent of Vikram. We will ensure the Indian flag will fly high,” Sivan said.

The module will remain in Earth’s elliptical orbit for 22 days when five orbit-raising manoeuvres will be carried out to move it away from Earth’s gravitational pull. On the 23rd day, scientists will perform ‘trans-lunar injection’ and Chandrayaan-2 will take the 3,84,000 km path to Moon.

After eight days, project director M Vanitha and mission director Ritu Karidhal will oversee the lunar orbit insertion, the next most challenging manoeuvre. Had it been launched on July 15, Chandrayaan-2 would have reached Moon in 22 days, after which it would have gone around the lunar orbit for 28 days before Vikram’s separation from the orbiter. Now, the module will remain in the 100 km x 100 km lunar orbit for 13 days.

On day 43, lander ‘Vikram’ with rover ‘Pragyan’ will get separated from the orbiter. Vikram will go around the Moon before initiating deboosting procedures on Day 44. On the 48th day, the final descent of Vikram will start.

On landing, Pragyan will come out of Vikram after four hours. During its lifespan of one lunar day (14 Earth days), Pragyan will take images and analyse content on the lunar surface and send back data to Earth within 15 minutes.

The orbiter will continue to circle the Moon for a year. Chandrayaan-2 has on board 14 scientific instruments including Nasa’s ‘laser retroreflector array attached to Vikram. This payload will calculate the distance between Earth and Moon and help detect the exact location of the Moon lander.

The Indian payloads will study the lunar topography, seismography, mineral identification and distribution, surface chemical composition, thermo-physical characteristics of top soil and composition of lunar atmosphere for a new understanding of the origin and evolution of the Moon.

Chandrayaan-2, weighing 3,853 kg, is the heaviest payload to be launched by an Indian rocket, 427 kg more than GSAT-29 launched in November 2018.


Of Migration & Maharashtra....

Fresh census numbers indicate that the Mumbai urban agglomeration is seeing fewer migrants from south Indian states. Generalised as ‘Madrasis’ by the locals, people from Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh would rather go to other parts of Maharashtra than come to Mumbai.

Evading the exorbitant housing cost of the city, migrants from southern India and Gujarat are finding opportunities in Pune, Nagpur, Nashik and other cities. On the other hand, migration from West Bengal has increased.

For labourers and workers, Maharashtra turns to migrants from central India. The count of migrants from UP, Bihar, Rajasthan and MP has increased, but now, instead of thronging Mumbai, they are distributed across the state, largely in its urban pockets.

While the face of Maharashtra is changing because of the 90 lakh migrants who came from other regions of India, 479 lakh moved within the state, a number that went up from 342 lakh a decade ago. “A lot of this is rural-urban migration and people moving for jobs. This puts pressure on cities that need to cope with this influx,” said Neeraj Hatekar, Mumbai University economics professor.

The story of Pune is another interesting one. Migration has increased at a rapid pace. Mostly from Karnataka and UP, Pune has about 32 lakh migrants. “Pune’s development, its affordable housing and educational facilities have been a magnet for migrants from within the state and outside too,” added Singh. Migration into Nagpur from MP and Chhattisgarh has also increased reflecting the development there.

Maharashtra CM seeks unique ID & voter card linking

Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has written to chief election commissioner Sunil Arora giving his view on the idea of linking Aadhaar cards to voter IDs. The letter, written last week, says that if this linkage comes through, it will bring in transparency in the election process.

The letter says that such a decision may have multiple benefits besides cleaning up electoral rolls and preventing bogus voting. Fadnavis says that if Aadhaar details are available in the electoral roll and conversely voter/ electoral roll details are available in Aadhaar, then shifting and duplication of voters can be detected and addressed immediately during the electoral roll purification process. He also said that the move will make biometric identification of voters possible and can replace the use of indelible ink. This will lead to zero errors in the identification of voters, his letter says. It will also help save time and manpower.

Fadnavis said this linkage will help prevent bogus voting and ensure that there is proper identification of voters, especially in the border districts. Aadhaar will identify illegal movements, preventing bogus voting.

India enters 37-year period of demographic dividend

Since 2018, India’s working-age population (people between 15 and 64 years of age) has grown larger than the dependant population — children aged 14 or below as well as people above 65 years of age. This bulge in the working-age population is going to last till 2055, or 37 years from its beginning.

Many Asian economies — Japan, China, South Korea — were able to use this ‘demographic dividend’, defined by the United Nations Population Fund as the growth potential that results from shifts in a population’s age structure. This transition happens largely because of a decrease in the total fertility rate (TFR, which is the number of births per woman) after the increase in life expectancy gets stabilised.

Japan was among the first major economies to experience rapid growth because of changing population structure. The country’s demographic-dividend phase started in 1964 and ended in 2004. An analysis of the first 10 years since this phase shows how such a shift in the population structure can propel growth. In five of these years, Japan grew in double digits; the growth rate was above 8% in two years, and a little less than 6% in one. Growth slid below 5% in only two of these 10 years.

China entered this stage in 1994 — 16 years after Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms that started in December 1978. Although its growth accelerated immediately after the reforms, the years of demographic dividend helped sustain this rate for a very long period. In the 16 years between 1978 and 1994 (post-reform, pre-dividend) China saw eight years of double-digit growth. In the 18 years since 1994 there have been only two years when China could not cross the 8% growth mark.

Analysing the demographic dividend data for two of the four Asian tiger economies shows similar patterns. (Taiwan has been excluded as historical growth rate data is not available).

In Singapore the dividend years started in 1979 and in the next 10 years there were only two years when its economy grew at less than 7%. The island country saw double-digit growth in four of these 10 years. South Korea entered this phase in 1987 and in the next 10 years there were only two years when its growth rate fell below 7%. In Hong Kong, it was 1979 when the dividend years kicked in, and the growth rate dipped below 8% in only two of the next 10 years.

It is, however, important to note that this change in population structure alone cannot push growth. There are many other factors. In the late 20th century demographic dividend in Asia resulted in a seven-fold increase in the GDP of many countries. In Latin America the growth was only two-fold, the UNFPA points out in its explanatory note on demographic dividend. The UN agency further states that countries can only harness the economic potential of the youth bulge if they are able to provide good health, quality education and decent employment to its entire population.

Thousands gather to bid adieu to Sheila Dikshit

The mortal remains of one of the tallest leaders in the capital and three-time CM Sheila Dikshit were consigned to flames on Sunday, with VIPs, workers and admirers bidding her farewell. Sheila (81) died of cardiac arrest on Saturday.

Thousands of people braved heavy rain and gusty winds to reach Nigambodh Ghat to catch the last glimpse of their leader, credited with changing the face of Delhi during her tenure. Family members broke down as the public raised slogans of “Sheila Dikshit Amar Rahe”.

Among the dignitaries who reached Nigambodh Ghat were Union home minister Amit Shah, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and her daughter, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, LG Anil Baijal, CM Arvind Kejriwal, his deputy Manish Sisodia, BJP leaders Vijay Goel and Manoj Tiwari, several former ministers, MLAs and bureaucrats.

Sheila’s mortal remains were kept at Congress headquarters at Akbar Road for almost two hours before being taken for cremation. Former PM Manmohan Singh, senior Congress leaders Ahmad Patel, Mani Shankar Aiyar, and Raj Babbar, CM Kamal Nath, Ashok Gehlot and Bhupesh Baghel, Kapil Sibal and Delhi labour minister Gopal Rai paid their tributes.

Talking to reporters, Sonia Gandhi said Sheila was very close to her. “She was a great support for me. She became almost an elder sister. This is a big loss for Congress. I will always remember her,” she said.


Current LS Session Most Productive in 20 Years

The first session of the 17th Lok Sabha is turning out to be the most productive session so far in the history of the lower house. With the newly elected members of Parliament clocking unprecedented hours, working till 12 midnight on many days, the new session has so far registered record productivity of 128%, as per statistics collated by non-profit organisation PRS Legislative Research.

Productivity here refers to the number of hours the house actually functioned as a percentage of the number of hours officially earmarked for it to work. The Lok Sabha official working hours are from 11 am to 6 pm, with an hou rlong break between 1 and 2 pm.

The ongoing session of Lok Sabha, which started on June 17, has already functioned for 150.2 hours till July 16, according to PRS Legislative Research. The session will end on July 26.

The first session of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2009 had 28.05 productive hours, at 67% productivity, while the first session of the 16th Lok Sabha registered 23.83 hours at a productivity of 66%, data showed.

Budget sessions usually register higher number of hours with MPs discussing demands for grants of different ministries threadbare. But the current session has surpassed all the previous budget sessions. The most Lok Sabha MPs worked before this was during the budget session of 2015 when the house functioned for 246.02 hours, registering productivity of 122%. Budget Session 2016 recorded 198.2 hours at 121% productivity, the data showed.

All those extra hours that the MPs are putting up in the lower house discussing demands for grants of ministries, though, is not going too well with the support staff and security officials.

Special arrangements are made for their meals, but officials rue the long working hours without any over time. 

Sheila Dikshit dies at 81

Sheila Dikshit, the three- time chief minister of Delhi, died at a private hospital in New Delhi on Saturday. She was 81 years old.

In her last big political assignment, she was named the Delhi Congress chief, making a political comeback at the age of 80 to try and revive the party’s fortunes in the battle for the Capital’s seven Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 general elections.

Dikshit, also the former governor of Kerala, contested unsuccessfully from North East Delhi in the just concluded national elections. The Congress, though did not win any seats in the polls, but managed to secure the second position in all seats and pushed the AAP to the third spot.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter to recognise the late leader’s contribution to Delhi’s development. “Deeply saddened by the demise of Sheila Dikshit Ji. Blessed with a warm and affable personality, she made a noteworthy contribution to Delhi’s development. Condolences to her family and supporters. Om Shant,” tweeted Modi.

As the news spread, tributes started pouring in for the Congress leader. “Just now got to know about extremely terrible news about the passing away of Sheila Dikshit ji. It’s a huge loss for Delhi & her contribution will always be remembered. My heartfelt condolences to her family members. May her soul rest in peace,” tweeted Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal.

Dikshit was the longest-reigning chief minister of Delhi, serving for 15 years from 1998 to 2013, when the advent of the Aam Aadmi Party ended Congress’s rule.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said he was “devastated” to hear the passing away of the veteran leader. “I’m devastated to hear about passing away of Shiela Dikshit Ji, beloved daughter of Congress Party,with whom I shared a close personal bond. My condolences to her family&citizens of Delhi, whom she served selflessly as a 3 term CM,in this time of great grief,” Rahul said in his tweet.

Fortis Escorts Heart Institute said in a statement that Dikshit was brought to the hospital in a critical condition with cardiac arrest. “A multi-disciplinary team of doctors, led by Dr Ashok Seth, Chairman, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute, carried out the advanced resuscitative measures. Her condition stabilised temporarily. However, she had another cardiac arrest and despite all the resuscitative efforts, passed away at 3:55 pm.” said the statement.


Somewhere in Assam....

A Royal Bengal Tiger emerged from a flooded Kaziranga National Park on July 18 morning, took refuge in a house on the fringes and found a ‘bed’ to rest on.

Park officials said the animal, possibly a female, was spotted at 8.30 a.m. near the national highway along the southern edge of the KNP. It was moving out of the park about 200 m away and was on its way to the hills of Karbi Anglong district, about 500 m across the highway.

“Probably disturbed, the tiger turned and jumped across the tinned wall of a scrap godown and decided to take rest in an adjoining room,” an official said.

The godown owned by one Motilal, opposite a dhaba, is in Harmoti village, about 1.5 km from the KNP’s Bagori Range office.

KNP Director P. Sivakumar said a rescue team was exploring ways to provide a safe passage for the animal into the forest without capturing it.

Although the 430 sq. km. KNP is known more for its one-horned rhino, it has one of the highest concentration of tigers in the world. A census in March 2017 said the park had an estimated 102 tigers. 


Nearly 30 new car, 20 two-wheeler launches lined up till March 2020

Passenger vehicle and two-wheeler sales in the country have been bleak in the past few months, despite inquiries being good, due to poor consumer sentiment. To create excitement among consumers, especially during festivals, car manufacturers have lined up around 25-30 launches and two-wheeler makers have lined up another 20 between August 2019 and March 2020. The new launches include electric and hybrid vehicles.

Some of them include Maruti Suzuki Ertiga Cross and S-Presso, Hyundai New Grand i10, Tucson Facelift and Hyundai New Elite i20. Honda would be launching Honda HR-V and New City, while Tata would introduce the Buzzard and Altroz. Skoda expects to launch Karoq, and Renault to launch Renault Triber and Kwid Facelift.

Original equipment manufacturers are also betting on electric cars. Of the total new launches, six would be in the electric vehicle space. These include one from Tata, along with the Mahindra e20 NXT, Mahindra eKUV100, Nissan Leaf, MG eZ, Audi e-tron (first luxury SUV at around Rs.1.5 crore) and Jaguar I Pace.

At present, Tata (Tigor EV), Mahindra (E-Verito and E20 Plus) and Hyundai (Kona) are in the market. The prices start from Rs.8.24 lakh (E20) and go up to Rs.25.30 lakh (Kona).

As battery prices, which account for around 50 per cent of an EV's cost, are coming down by 15 per cent year on year, and, on the other hand, internal combustion engine product prices are going up due to regulatory norms, manufacturers are optimistic that EVs will attract customers. The government has also announced various incentives, including tax deduction and reducing goods and services tax, for EVs to attract customers.

Nearly 20 two-wheelers, including one hybrid and two electric products, are expected to hit the roads and they are mostly in the budget and premium categories. Almost seven of these launches would be scooters.

Upcoming launches include the Honda CBR300R, Honda PCX 125, Honda Activa 125 Fi, Bajaj Pulsar 125, KTM 1050 Adventure, Bajaj Pulsar 180NS, Bajaj Urbanite, Hero Hastur, Hero Leap Hybrid SES, Suzuki, TVS Zeppelin and TVS Creon. Of these, TVS Creon and Bajaj Urbanite are electric vehicles.

Suzuki has launched the upgraded Gixxer motorcycle and the brand new Gixxer 250. It will also be adding a naked variant in the coming days.

ADB cuts India's FY20 GDP growth forecast to 7%

Asian Development Bank lowered India's GDP growth forecast to 7 per cent for the current year on the back of fiscal shortfall concerns. 

"India is expected to grow by 7 per cent in 2019 (FY20) and 7.2 per cent in 2020 (FY21), slightly slower than projected in April because the fiscal 2018 outturn fell short," ADB said in its supplement to the Asian Development Outlook 2019.

For the south Asian region, ADB said the outlook remains robust, with growth projected at 6.6 per cent in 2019 and 6.7 per cent in 2020.

Earlier in April this year too, the Manila-based multi-lateral funding agency had lowered India's growth forecast for FY20 to 7.2 per cent from 7.6 per cent estimated previously due to moderation in global demand and likely shortfall in revenue on the domestic front. 

Ebix to buy Yatra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dibang dam gets nod

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


90% of Kaziranga park submerged

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wholesale Inflation Softens to 2.02%

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

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

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

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

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