India records its wettest July-August in 25 years

July and August this year, the main monsoon months, were the wettest India has seen in 25 years. Countrywide rainfall in the two months has been 10% above normal, the highest since 1994, met records reveal. The current month, with 16% above-normal rainfall across the country in 30 days so far, is set to be the wettest August in 23 years. July had ended with a 5% monsoon surplus.

This is also the first time since 2010 that both July and August have received surplus all-India rainfall — just the second time in the past 25 years — Indian Meteorological Department data reveals. The surplus rainfall in July-August was a dramatic change from the monsoon’s performance in June, which had a 33% rainfall deficit, the worst for the month in five years. “Both large scale and regional factors became favourable for the monsoon since July. First, El Nino, which normally disrupts the Indian monsoon, weakened considerably in July (and later dissipated). Meanwhile, conditions in the Indian Ocean became good for monsoon with the oceanic dipole turning positive,” said Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, director general of meteorology of IMD.

At the regional level, low pressure systems started forming over the Bay of Bengal and moving inland. “Four such systems formed in August alone. But it wasn’t the number alone. The systems remained active over the land for a large number of days, leading to vigorous monsoon conditions, particularly over central and peninsular India,” Mohapatra said.

However, at many places, the rainfall proved to be too much, too soon, and not much beneficial for kharif crops. While July got off to a wet start, the monsoon went into a 12-day hiatus from July 13, which delayed sowing in several states.

By July 25, the monsoon was nearly 20% below normal across the country, leading to concerns over another failed monsoon year. That’s when a 26-day period of intense rainfall began which not just wiped out the deficit but pulled the seasonal rainfall (since June 1) to a 2% surplus. Countrywide daily rainfall during this period remained higher than normal on all but three days.

That spell, fed by a number of low-pressure systems and one deep depression (much more intense than a low pressure), brought flood havoc to south, central and parts of north India, which again adversely hit agriculture. Overall, seasonal rainfall across the currently shows a zero deficit/surplus.

Somewhere in Manipur....

At a time when global warming and climate change are dictating geopolitics, 45-year-old Moirangthem Loiya from Manipur comes across as a leading light. For the last 18 years, Loiya, a resident of Uripok Khaidem Leikai in Imphal West, has been protecting nature and fighting deforestation. He is responsible for replanting a forest that he aptly named Punshilok, meaning ‘spring of life’.

As a child, Loiya often visited the lush green Koubru peak in the Maru Langol hill range, 35 km outside Imphal. But in 2000, he went back and couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw that the once green forest had been burnt down. There wasn’t a single tree and locals were cultivating rice there for a living.

Determined to bring greenery back, Loiya, sometime in 2002, started looking for land to plant trees. His search took him to Maru Langol hill range. Loiya soon left his job as a medical representative, packed some clothes and food and started living in Punshilok in a small hut he built himself. Moirangthem lived there for six years, toiling alone and planting bamboo, oak, ficus, magnolia, teak.

Initially Loiya purchased seeds of only three tree varieties. With the help of a few friends and volunteers, he cleared the weeds and started planting them. The vegetative growth was quick because of a natural spring in the area — one that has historically been revered by local residents.

How did the government react to Loiya’s efforts, since he was working on forest land that comes under state reserve? Nandeibam Mobi Singh, range forest officer, said, “Any sort of construction inside the forest reserve would be considered illegal encroachment. But because Loiya was acting as a helping hand in preservation, the initiative was not considered illegal.” Singh added, “Article 51-A(g) of the Indian Constitution clearly imposes a duty on every citizen to protect the environment, and to have compassion for living creatures.

Loiya and his organisation are adhering to this article by being responsible citizens of the country.” In 2003, Loiya and his friends established the Wildlife And Habitat Protection Society which, along with volunteers, looks after the natural wealth of Punshilok.

Today, the Punshilok forest covers around 300 acres. It is rich in flora and fauna, with varieties of trees, shrubs and medicinal plants getting a new home on hilltops. Around 250 species of plants and 25 species of bamboo grow there. The green cover is home to birds, snakes and wild animals like barking deer, pangolin, porcupine, mongoose, leopard cat, among others.

Locals too can feel the difference the forest has made in the past decade. “Temperature has gone down considerably and chirping of birds can be heard all year round,” said Kunjen, a native of Imphal. “The place has caught people’s attention, a large number of visitors including foreign nationals have visited the forest,” Loiya beamed.

Q1: GDP growth slumps to over 6-year low

India's GDP growth slowed to an over six-year low of 5% in the April-June quarter, dragged down by manufacturing sector expansion of just 0.6%, sluggish financial services, farm and construction sectors and a slowdown in consumption.

GDP growth in April-June, the first quarter of the fiscal year, had slowed to 5%, lower than the 5.8% in the previous quarter and below the 8% in the first quarter of the previous year. The June quarter growth was the slowest since the March quarter of 2012-13, when the UPA was in office, making this the worst quarterly performance under the Modi government’s watch. The latest number is a 25-quarter low.

The data came on a day when finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman unveiled a mega bank merger plan, following up on the measures announced last week to give a boost to the economy.

Several key sectors such as automobiles have faced the brunt of the slowdown leading to job losses and a cutback on production by companies. The RBI has cut interest rates for four consecutive times to counter the slowdown in the economy and there are hopes that growth may pick up in the coming quarters.

The latest data showed manufacturing sector growth slowed to a two-year low of 0.6%, sharply below the 12.1% growth in the first quarter of the last fiscal year, which indicates muted demand and slowdown faced by the corporate sector.

The farm sector grew by 2% in the June quarter, below the 5.1% recorded in the previous year’s first quarter and economists attributed it to floods in some parts of the country, the high base of last year and impact of uneven rainfall on the segment.

Some economists advocated more fiscal measures to boost growth and tame the slowdown as interest rate cut may not be enough to revive growth.

Several economists pared their expectations for GDP growth for the current fiscal year which will end in March 2020, and estimated the economy to grow at 6.7%-6.8%, although they expect a growth pick up on the back of the government’s reform measures.


Article 370: 5-judge SC bench to hear petitions

The Supreme Court has referred a clutch of petitions to a five judge bench, regarding challenging the constitutional validity of diluting Article 370, and trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into Union Territories.

The Central government, represented by Attorney General KK Venugopal and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, pleaded with a three-member bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi to exercise restraint as far as orders and oral observations on J&K were concerned. “The issue has international and cross-border implications. Whatever statements made here are sent to the United Nations,” Venugopal told the court.

Senior advocate Ashwani Kumar, who represented one of the petitioners, responded, “Does this mean the SC can’t do its duty?” Cutting both lawyers short, the CJI said, “We know our duties,” adding that the constitution bench may start hearing the matter from October.

On Wednesday, the three-judge bench held a special session to examine close to a dozen writ petitions dealing with the various issues related to Article 370 , including curbs on media, detention of local politicos, and curfew imposed by the Centre. The National Conference party challenged the Centre’s ‘unilateral’ move to impose curfew and unravel the unique federal structure of India by dividing J&K ‘sans the consent of the people’; the same was done by detained political leaders Shah Faesal and Shehla Rashid, who also challenged proclamation of President’s Rule in the state in December 2018.

A young law student, Mohammed Aleem Sayed, sought SC intervention to meet his aged parents in the Valley, while Communist Party of India-Marxist general secretary Sitaram Yechury had a petition on habeas corpus to produce CPM leader and four-time Member of Legislative Assembly Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami, whose “whereabouts are not known” since August 5. The petition of Kashmir Times editor Anuradha Bhasin’s on press freedom in the Valley was part of the same hearing.

The CPM general secretary is set to fly to Srinagar on Thursday following the apex court go-ahead to meet Tarigami.

Yechury’s lawyer told the court that Tarigami’s whereabouts have been unknown for weeks and that Yechury had travelled to Kashmir earlier, but was not allowed to leave the airport.

Solicitor General Mehta countered that Tarigami’s health is monitored daily and “he is hale and hearty”. “What can happen to him? He has been provided Z-category security,” said Mehta.

CJI Gogoi said, “Whether he has Z or Z-Plus category security, if a citizen wants to meet him, you must let him.”

When Mehta offered to make arrangements to escort Yechury, the CJI said he would go on his own, but pointed out that it has to be a personal trip without political comments. Yechury was also asked to file an affidavit on his return. Yechury has written to J&K Governor Satyapal Malik to facilitate his meeting, and citing his own poor health, requested that an attendant be allowed to travel with him on Thursday.

Meanwhile, petitioner Mohammad Aleem Sayed was granted permission by the SC to visit his parents in Anantnag, and was asked to file an affidavit after his return. The apex court ordered the government to facilitate his travel and give him adequate protection. Sayed, a law student from Jamia Millia Islamia University, had petitioned the SC that he had not been able to travel to Srinagar and had no idea how his parents were. He was apprehensive that his parents are detained as he couldn’t contact them.

Red Carpet for FDI

India opened its doors further to foreign direct investment, diluting the stringent condition of local sourcing for single-brand retail, in continuation of measures aimed at reviving growth.

It also allowed 100% FDI in commercial coal mining and allowed as much in contract manufacturing through the automatic route, hoping to attract global vendors looking to diversify supply chains as the US and China battle it out in a trade war. Earlier, the government had issued a notification allowing 100% FDI in insurance intermediaries.

In other decisions, the Cabinet also approved a ₹6,268-crore subsidy for sugar exports, besides 75 new medical colleges.

The decisions came after the stimulus package unveiled by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman on August 23 to help turn around the economy.

The government also allowed up to 26% FDI in digital news and current affairs media on a prior approval basis.

Single-brand retailers will now be able to start online sales before they set up brick-and-mortar stores, but will need to open these within two years. That could see the likes of Apple selling iPhones online, ahead of fully owned offline stores.

Single-brand retailers with over 51% FDI have to locally source 30% of the value of goods sold. As part of the relaxation, the target can be averaged out during the first five years, and thereafter met annually, Goyal said. All procurements made from India will be counted toward local sourcing, irrespective of whether the goods are sold in India or exported.

Sourcing of goods from India for global operations can be done directly by the entity undertaking single-brand retail or group companies — resident or non-resident — or indirectly through a third party under a legally tenable agreement.

The liberalisation in single brand retail will help generate more FDI.

Before the latest change, 100% FDI was permitted only in captive coal mining.

Maharashtra: State cabinet clears 25 proposals worth ₹20,000cr in one go

With just weeks to go before assembly elections are announced in Maharashtra, the Devendra Fadnavis government made no less than 25 policy announcements, resulting in a financial burden of nearly Rs.20,000 crore.

The decisions were taken at one of the last cabinet meetings under this regime. Since poll dates are expected before the second half of September and the model code of conduct will come into force then, the chief minister will likely preside over the cabinet for one or two meetings more before his government assumes a caretaker role.

The projects green lighted by the BJP-Sena cabinet range from a Rs.13,874 crore irrigation scheme in Buldhana to a Rs.1,531 crore allocation for solar agriculture pumps to a Rs.2,100 crore grant for the Nashik metro rail, Rs.992 crore for expansion of Nagpur’s Mihan project, to an enhanced honorarium for artistes and doubling of stipends for medical college interns and Rs.320 crore as aid for unaided schools. In addition, the government will stand guarantee for loans worth Rs.150 crore sanctioned for four cooperative sugar factories by the National Cooperative Development Corporation.


MMS Security Downgraded to Z+ Category

The Special Protection Group protection given to former prime minister Manmohan Singh has been withdrawn following a review by multiple security agencies but he will continue to get Z plus security.

The former prime minister's Z plus security cover -- one of the highest -- will be given by one of the Central Armed Police Forces, preferably the Central Reserve Police Force. The government's decision had been conveyed to Singh, who was India's prime minister from 2004 and 2014, and the SPG contingent will be withdrawn from his New Delhi residence after one of the CAPFs takes over the responsibility, a home ministry official said.

“The current security cover review is a periodical and professional exercise based on threat perception that is purely based on professional assessment by security agencies. Dr. Manmohan Singh continues to have Z+ security cover,” a home ministry spokesperson said.


The Corporate Story: 2013-14 to 2017-18 (both inclusive)

The period from 2013-14 to 2017-18 (both inclusive) has been the worst five year period for corporate India in the last 25 years. This is true for sales growth as well as profit after taxes. Not surprisingly, employee compensation too grew slowest in this period. This was true for both government-owned and private-owned domestic companies, though the pattern was slightly different for foreign-owned firms.

Analysing data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, an independent agency that tracks economic and business data, it was found that the average annual increase in sales revenue was 6% for the five years ending 2017-18 (the latest for which the relevant data is available). This was by far the lowest for any of the five-year blocks starting 1993-94.

Corporate sales in the five years between 2002-03 and 2007-08 saw an average annual increase of 21.2%, the highest for these blocks. Government owned firms saw the lowest annual increase in sales (2.6%) in the latest five-year period. In this period, the domestic private sector increased its sales revenues by 6.5% annually, while the corresponding figures for foreign-owned firms was 13.6%.

The five years till 2017-18 actually saw profit after taxes falling on average by 4.7% each year. Even the period between 2007-08 and 2012-13 had seen profits after tax rising by an average of 1.1% a year despite the initial years of this period being impacted by the global financial meltdown, which is an indication of just how bad the last five-year period has been.

Further slicing of the data shows that once again, the foreign private sector bucked the trend, its profits growing by a healthy 12.2% annually during this period. Government-owned firms were the worst sufferers.

The latest five-year block also saw the lowest annual increase in employee compensation paid by corporates. The annual increase of 12.2% was the lowest since 1992-93. The five years between 1992-93 and 1997-98 that immediately followed economic liberalisation saw the highest increase when compensation increased by 18.4% annually.

Ownership-wise analysis for the most recent years shows that the increase was lowest in government-owned corporates (5.5%). At 14.3%, the increase was more than double in domestic private sector while it was highest in the foreign private sector at 19.5%. The increase in employee compensation could be either due to higher wages or more manpower.

Moody’s cuts India’s 2019 growth forecast to 6.2%

Rating agency Moody’s has lowered India’s growth forecast for 2019 & 2020 by 60 basis points to 6.2% and 6.7% respectively.

India is among the 16 economies in Asia-Pacific region whose GDP growth forecast has been revised downward by Moody’s. Following the revision, Vietnam, with an expected growth of 6.7%, will be the fastest growing economy this year. India will be sharing the second place with China, which is also expected to grow at 6.2%. Moody’s said, “India’s economy remains sluggish on account of factors including weak hiring, financial distress among rural households, and tighter financing conditions.” 

Maharashtra CM sets up panel to attract $1 tn investments by 2025

Six months after the ambitious industrial policy was unveiled, CM Devendra Fadnavis set up a high level Global Investment Promotion Council to achieve the goal of one trillion dollar investment in the state by 2025.

As per a notification issued by the industries department, while the council will be led by Fadnavis, cabinet members; secretaries of the departments of industries, finance and planning, urban development, public works, skill development, tourism; the chief secretary; and development commissioner as well as FICCI and CII nominees will be its members.

An industries department official said the council will act as one window and coordinate with all central and state departments, as well as leading industrial houses and foreign investors. “The council will organize conferences, exhibitions, road shows and follow-up proposals of entrepreneurs in India as well as abroad,” he said.

He said the council will analyze current investment trends, draft a comprehensive policy and advise the government on strategic planning to attract foreign direct and domestic investment. “We expect the council to examine the status of proposals received during Magnetic Maharashtra conference. We were promised massive investment; it will be the responsibility of the council to ensure the proposals are implemented in a time bound period,” he added.

In addition to the GIPC, another committee headed by the chief secretary has been set up to draft an action plan for effective coordination between different departments, exhibitions and road shows across the world, to study and evaluate investment proposals, coordinate between entrepreneurs and concerned departments, and ensure that all the proposals are leading to the logical end.

The official said the chief secretary,-led committee has been asked to draft a targeted approach for attracting foreign direct and domestic investment, coordinate with foreign investors, tackle the difficulties faced by investors, ensure all permissions are received in a time-bound period, set up a special purpose vehicle for projects on PPP basis and create an industrial corridor, capital and smart city, villages, science and research centres. “We expect the chief secretary’s committee to coordinate with nominees of different countries for foreign direct investment,” he said.

UAE, Bahrain honour PM with top awards

Cementing growing ties with UAE, PM Modi was honoured with the “Order of Zayed”, the Gulf nation’s highest civilian award, even as he told a local newspaper that revoking Jammu & Kashmir’s special status will end its isolation that led to radicalisation of the youth in the state.

Later in the day, Modi arrived in Bahrain, which honoured him with “The King Hamad Order of the Renaissance” as he held talks with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa on various bilateral and regional issues. “This is a symbol of the close and friendly relations between the Kingdom of Bahrain and India,” the PM said.

The Order of Zayed award has earlier been bestowed on several world leaders. It was conferred by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan at the presidential palace.

India and the UAE have emerged key partners, with the Emirates backing India on the world stage on crucial occasions. UAE and Saudi Arabia have been important breakthroughs, particularly in the context of Pakistan which has lost clout with these nations. Modi’s visit to Bahrain, the first by an Indian PM, after UAE engagements is seen in a similar context, given the kingdom’s ties with the Saudis.

Welcoming Modi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan expressed gratitude to his “brother” for visiting “his second home”.

In his interview, the PM, referring to separatism and radicalism, said, “We cannot afford to let these tendencies get any foothold in our harmonious society and distract us from primary tasks of growth and development of the entire country. I appreciate the understanding UAE and its leadership have shown for our steps and our reasons for taking them.”

Modi also launched the RuPay card here, making the UAE the first country in the middle east to initiate the Indian indigenous system of electronic payment.

Modi reached Manama to hold extensive talks with King of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, on various bilateral and regional issues.

On J&K, Modi in an interview said that the Centre’s move will end the isolation that kept J&K underdeveloped “to serve the vested interests of a few.” He asked NRI businessmen in Bahrain to direct their investments to J&K and Ladakh. 

Opposition Delegation To Kashmir Sent Back from Srinagar Airport

A delegation of parties, including Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, was not allowed to go out of Srinagar airport and was sent back to Delhi. The delegation retuned to Delhi in the evening.

The delegation of opposition parties such as Congress, CPI, DMK, RJD, TMC, NCP and JD(S) was visiting the city in Jammu and Kashmir to see the ground reality days after the Centre abrogated Article 370. Senior leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad Congress, Anand Sharma, Sitaram Yechury, Sharad Yadav, Manoj Jha, Majeed Memon, Tiruchi Shiva and D Raja were part of the delegation.

After not being allowed to visit Srinagar, the Congress tweeted, “If the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is “normal” as the government claims, why has the delegation of Opposition leaders led by Rahul Gandhi been sent back from Srinagar airport? What is the Modi govt trying to hide?”

Authorities lifted restrictions from most of Kashmir on Saturday, a day after they had imposed strict curbs on movement of people in the Valley in view of the Friday prayers and the proposed march of separatists to the local UN office.


5 IAF Officers Held Guilty of Shooting Down Own Chopper

An IAF court of inquiry has found five officers of the Indian Air Force guilty of shooting down its Mi-17 V5 helicopter, which was flying over Srinagar with 6 IAF personnel on February 27, a day after the Balakot strikes.

The inquiry found that the chopper was brought down by friendly fire from the Spyder air defence missile system. The IAF court found a Group Captain, two Wing Commanders and two Flight Lieutenants guilty of negligence and not following correct procedure while shooting down the helicopter, a source said. The inquiry found that the officers who handled the air defence system at the Srinagar air base mistook the helicopter, returning midway from a mission, for an incoming missile.

The helicopter belonging to the Srinagar based 154 Helicopter Unit crashed within 10 minutes after takeoff, even as a dogfight took place at the J&K border air corridor between the IAF and Pakistan Air Force. The Indian air defence systems were on high alert since the Balakot air strikes.

The court of inquiry was delayed as the helicopter’s black box had to be retrieved from villagers in Budgam. Besides the six IAF personnel, a civilian too died when the helicopter crashed.

Economy: A slew of big announcements

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman made a slew of big announcements to boost the economy including rate cuts on home, vehicle and retail loans, simplification of the GST regime and major incentives to the automobile industry that has been witnessing a particularly bad slump. Sitharaman, however, maintained that the measures were being rolled out in response to repeated demands made by industry, just so that ‘everyone should know this is a responsive government.’ In a special media briefing, Sitharaman flanked by top Finance Ministry officials, put forward six sector-based reforms through a power-point presentation and added that two more such briefings will be done in the following two weeks once more decisions are firmed up. With home buyers in the National Capital Region and Mumbai hit badly as their advance payments remain stuck with builders and developers for years, Sitharaman said that an inter-ministerial committee is in talks with them and some positive news could be in the offing next week.

On Friday, the government announced that it will withdraw enhanced surcharge on long-term/ short-term capital gains arising from the transfer of equity shares/units for foreign and domestic investors. The GST regime is also set to be simplified further and the government will release Rs.70,000 crore capital upfront to public sector banks to boost credit to different sectors of the economy.

In the 2019-20 Budget, the government had increased surcharge from 15 per cent to 25 per cent on taxable income between Rs.2 crore and Rs.5 crore, and from 15 per cent to 37 per cent for income above Rs.5 crore. It was also applicable for FPIs operating as trusts or as an association of persons. These will be withdrawn, Sitharaman said.

“The current global GDP is projected at 3.2 per cent and will probably be revised downwards. The United States and Germany have seen inverse growth and that is the story of not only the emerging economies but also advanced. As a result of the US-China trade war and currency devaluation of China a very volatile situation in the world has developed. Among the ten major economies, we stand high up,” Sitharaman said. “The Prime Minister keeps repeating that we respect wealth creators and that is the spirit with which budget was presented. We had immediately invited different sectors of the economy to come and say if they had anything to share. There were in-depth consultations which ran for hours. This is only a start. I do not want worries to remain. We have come up with a set of responses and two more sets of announcements can be expected shortly to take care of other issues.”

Assuring ‘ease of life’ for taxpayers, Sitharaman announced a list of reforms such as pre-filling of IT returns, faceless scrutiny from Vijaya Dashami this year, reduction in GST returns and simplification of forms, simplification and automatic refund process of GST. Issue of IT orders, notices, summons, letters, etc to go through a centralised system to address complaints of harassment. All notices, summons, by IT authorities issued on or before October 1 shall be re-issued through a centralised computer system and will contain a computer-generated unique Document Identification Number.

“Tax revenue target given to the authorities is not unrealistic. I have finished three consultations with tax authorities and I didn’t get the feeling that they will have to stretch themselves too far to meet targets. With the monsoon in our favour, the collection is sure to meet the target without any kind of overreach by authorities, which can be construed as harassment by an assessee,” Sitharaman clarified.

The government has also decided to withdraw Angel Tax provisions for start-ups and their investors to mitigate genuine difficulties of start-ups and their investors. It has been decided that section 56
(2)(viib) of the income tax act shall not apply to a start-up registered with DPIIT. It has also been decided to set up a dedicated cell under the member of CBDT for addressing the problems of start-ups.

With an upfront release of Rs.70,000 crores to Public Sector Banks, the government hopes to ease all corporates, retail borrowers, MSMEs and small traders. Sitharaman said there were grievances across the board that rate cuts were not reaching customers and even if they did they were only in trickles. “Banks will launch the repo rate/external benchmark linked loan products… Today’s environment demands that banks become more reasonable,” she added.

“The automobile sector representatives have been meeting us individually. To boost demand, the government will consider various measures including a scrappage policy that should come soon… old and unworthy vehicles will be scrapped and owners to be paid in coupons to buy new vehicles,” Sitharam announced.

Clearing the air over the confusion on Bharat stage Emission Standards of vehicles up to March 31, 2020, she said such vehicles will remain operational till their registration is on and will not have to go off the roads. Among other measures are the revision of one-time registration fees deferred till June 2020 and higher depreciation for all vehicles.

“We are moving from prosecution to a more humane route. The intention of the government is not to pursue prosecution,” Sitharaman maintained. CSR violations will not to be treated as a criminal offence and would instead be a civil liability. The ministry of corporate affairs will review the sections under the Companies Act.

Some measures to encourage corporates include easy incorporation in a single day, integrated incorporation form, shifting of 16 offence sections to monetary penalty only, faster and easier approvals for mergers and acquisitions, modifications in provisions for differential voting rights, withdrawal of over 14,000 prosecutions under Companies Act, Robust IBC framework with amendments supporting MSMEs and home buyers.


Banks to make home, vehicle, retail loans cheaper

UK Sinha committee has come up with a lot of suggestions, some have already been included in the reforms announced on Friday and several others are being worked upon

Mandated return of loan documents within 15 days of loan closure to all those customers who have mortgaged documents with the bank

Online tracking of loan applications by customers of retails, MSME, housing, vehicle, working capital, limit enhancements, renewals etc

Banks to issue transparent one time settlement policy.

More credit support for purchase of houses, vehicles, consumption goods

NBFCs to be permitted to use the AADHAAR authenticated bank KYC to avoid repeated processes, necessary changes shall be made in PMLA rules and Aadhaar regulations, easier and fast tracked onboarding of customers

The Prime Minister keeps repeating that we respect wealth creators and that is the spirit with which the budget was presented. We had immediately invited different sectors of the economy to come and say if they had anything to share

— Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman

Arun Jaitley dies at 66

Former Union finance minister Arun Jaitley died at Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences on Saturday afternoon. He was 66.

A stalwart of the BJP, Jaitley was admitted to AIIMS on August 9, after he complained of uneasiness.

A press release by AIIMS’ Media and Protocol Division said Jaitley died at 12:07 pm on Saturday, Aug. 24. “It is with profound grief that we inform about the sad demise of Shri Arun Jaitley, Hon’ble Member of Parliament & Former Finance Minister, Government of India at 12:07 pm on 24th August, 2019. Shri Arun Jaitley was admitted in AIIMS, New Delhi on 09/08/2019 and was treated by a multidisciplinary team of senior Doctors,” the press release signed by the Chairperson of Media and Protocol Division said.

Arun Jaitley was admitted into AIIMS’ intensive care unit and was treated by a multi-disciplinary team of doctors after he complained of uneasiness; he was put on life-support system after his condition deteriorated.

Jaitley had opted out of the government citing poor health when the second National Democratic Alliance government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi took oath.

Jaitley has had a history of medical conditions, including diabetes and kidney failure. He underwent a kidney transplant last year in May, and a bariatric surgery in September 2014.

His opting out of the cabinet, deprived the Modi government of a man known for his versatility, intelligence, and brilliant communication skills.

Jaitley was among the first to realise the potential of Narendra Modi in the BJP, and the two stayed together through thick and thin. After becoming the PM in 2014, Modi handed over the finance, defence and corporate affairs portfolios to Jaitley, a clear sign of the trust on him.


Kashmir: 51 Personnel Injured in Over 200 Stone-Pelting Incidents

Over 200 stone-pelting incidents have been recorded in the Kashmir Valley since August 5, resulting in injuries to about 51 CRPF and police personnel.

According to the reports available with the home ministry’s control room, miscreants on Tuesday evening hurled two petrol bombs — first at a CRPF camp in Khanyar and second at Nowhatta — when troops were withdrawing from their posts. MHA officials, however, said no major injuries were reported in the incidents.

“The number of incidents and injuries are less than the 2016 agitation. Protesting and stone-pelting crowds have dispersed after a few hours. Tear gas shells have been used to control the situation at a few places. But no major incidents have been reported,” a senior official said.

The official said governor Satya Pal Malik has nominated his advisors for public redressal, both in Jammu and Kashmir, from Monday to Friday. The first redressal will be held this Friday by KK Sharma from 10 am-12 noon at the governor’s grievance cell in Srinagar, according to a J&K government statement.

Meanwhile, the attendance at primary and middle schools that reopened on Wednesday was dismal, officials said, adding that most landline connections have been restored but there are no immediate plans to allow Internet and mobile connectivity.

On Wednesday, a suspected LeT militant was gunned down in an encounter with security forces in Baramullah district. A special officer of J&K Police, Bilal Ahmad, also died during the encounter. This was the first operation by Army, J&K Police and CRPF after the abrogation of Article 370. Officials said security forces faced heavy stone-pelting during the encounter. Police later identified the killed terrorist as Momin Gojri (22), a resident of Baramullah. Later in a tweet, Kashmir police said: “Situation in the Valley remained peaceful today. No untoward incident was reported.”

The district commissioners have also reviewed arrangements for the upcoming Muharram-ul-Harram starting September 1.

Hyderabad gets Amazon’s biggest campus

E-commerce behemoth Amazon opened its largest campus building in the world in Hyderabad at a time when it is taking on Walmart-owned Flipkart for supremacy in India. The campus is spread over 9.5 acres with a builtup space of 3 million sqft that can house 15,000 people.

This the US giant’s first owned office building outside the US and has the capacity to house three times the number of people that its largest building in the US does.

With this, Hyderabad will be home to not only a third of Amazon’s 62,000-plus headcount in India but also its largest employee base outside the US and the largest tech base outside Seattle.

“Spread over nearly 10 acres, this facility is also the largest office building in Amazon’s global portfolio. With the addition of this building in Hyderabad, we will have 4 million square feet of office space across 8 buildings in the city,” said John Schoettler, vice-president of global real estate and facilities, Amazon.

CBI gets Chidambaram’s custody

A day after the dramatic arrest of former Finance Minister P Chidambaram by the Central Bureau of Investigation in connection with the INX Media case, intense courtroom scenes dominated the better part of Thursday but brought no relief for him. The CBI was granted five-day custody till August 26 of the former minister for further interrogation, allowing him home food and medicines and a 30-minute window for interaction with his family on a daily basis.

Solicitor general Tushar Mehta, on behalf of the CBI, told the CBI special court that Chidambaram was being “non-cooperative” and “evasive” in the interrogation and that the agency needs more time to question him. The CBI sought five-day custody citing “enormity of evidence” against Chidambaram.

Chidambaram, despite having a strong team of senior advocates such as Kapil Sibal, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Salman Khurshid and Vivek Tankha, failed to get a bail. His petition seeking protection from arrest by the CBI, which is slated for hearing in Supreme Court on Friday stands infructuous, while his other petition against the Enforcement Directorate is up for hearing on August 27. If the ED moves to arrest him after the five-day CBI custody gets over on August 26 and before the Supreme Court hearing on August 27, Chidambaram is likely to spend a longer time in custody.

As top legal eagles, who are also Chidambaram’s party colleagues from the Congress party, pressed for his bail in the CBI special court, Chidambaram too pitched in on his case and clarified that out of the 12 questions put to him by the CBI, one was on foreign accounts held by him and his son Karti Chidambaram on which the alleged financial transaction with Indrani and Peter Mukerjea took place. Chidambaram maintained that while he does not hold any such account, his son does have one foreign account that he holds with due permission from the Reserve Bank of India.

While presenting the facts, Sibal said that Karti, who is an accused in the case is out on bail, while Chidambaram senior is not even an accused. He also pointed out that no other Foreign Investment Promotion Board member has been arrested. Pressing for bail, Sibal said that Chidambaram had so far never missed any summons or avoided any interrogation, whereas it was the CBI that delayed the questioning in the case.

Opposition leaders, including those from the Congress, came out in support of former Union minister P Chidambaram, claiming the manner in which he was treated was depressing and insulting, and termed his arrest the “murder” of democracy.

Party chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said at a press conference, “The vindictive, selective and malicious manner in which former finance and home minister Chidambaram has been persecuted and prosecuted is nothing short of a brazen personal and political vendetta.”

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said the arrest of Chidambaram was “depressing” and alleged that the judiciary was not coming to the help of a “crying” democratic system.

In her first reaction after Chidambaram’s arrest on Wednesday evening, Banerjee quoted Rabindranath Tagore and said the “message of justice is crying silently in isolation”. She also alleged that media outlets have become spokespersons of the ruling BJP.

Backing the former finance minister, DMK chief M K Stalin termed it a “political vendetta”, while the RJD attacked the BJP, claiming that all will be forgiven if you are with the saffron party. Stalin lashed out at CBI officials for scaling the walls of the Congress leader’s house on Wedesday to gain entry and said that he considered it an “insult to India”.

Meanwhile, Union Minister DV Sadananda Gowda rejected the Congress charge of “witch hunt” and abuse of investigating agencies over the arrest of P Chidambaram, saying there was no need for the BJP-led Government to resort to such things.


₹891cr solution for Mumbai’s traffic woes

The Maharashtra cabinet has approved a Rs.891-crore Integrated Traffic Management System for Mumbai. One of the key highlights of the system is that motorists won’t have to unnecessarily wait at traffic signals on empty roads. Traffic signals will be refurbished in such a way that they re-time themselves depending on the congestion on the corridor. The software will use artificial intelligence to set signal durations and put an end to manual traffic management, said officials.

“At present, signal timings are fixed and that leads to unnecessary wastage of time and fuel. There was a need to upgrade the system,” said an official. Also, pedestrians often complain that green signal duration dedicated for walking is very short at key junctions and they end up waiting for a long time. “ITMS will equip signals to take intelligent decisions. The system will maximise safety and minimise congestion,” said a traffic police official.

Data shows that for every 1,000 people, there are 216 vehicles in the city; and there are a total of 34 lakh vehicles in Mumbai. According to a NITI aayog report, in Mumbai commuting time is at least 1.5 times more time than what it should be on a congestion-free road.

Officials said the existing system for traffic signal programming is obsolete. “The new system will use multiple technologies like 4D radars, CCTV cameras, sensors for better traffic management. The system will also help collate data on traffic density and detect violations,” said a senior official from the home department.

The ITMS will also be able to handle traffic during VIP movement or for green corridor. “The software will pass a message to all traffic signals on the route needed for VIP movement or green corridors for medical emergencies and disaster relief. The time and the route can be fed and the signals will re-time to free the stretch of traffic,” added the official.

“This is a total solution for traffic management. We have floated an expression of interest to call for bidders. The current network of CCTV cameras will be merged with ITMS,” said Amitabh Gupta, principal secretary, home department. A high-powered panel under the chief secretary will decide on the technology to be used and other details.

Once the ITMS is functional, the city traffic police plan to link it to the existing e-challan system as it will detect violations like speeding and signal-jumping.


Chandrayaan 2 enters lunar orbit

India's Chandrayaan 2 has been successfully manoeuvred into lunar orbit today, after nearly 30 days of space travel. This was one of the trickiest operations in the mission. A higher-than-expected approach velocity would have bounced off the spacecraft into deep space, while a slow approach would have led to the moon's gravity to pull Chandrayaan 2 and crash it on the lunar surface. The approach velocity had to be just right and the altitude over the moon rather precise. Even a small error would have killed the mission. The process of setting down Chandrayaan 2 on the moon is very complex since it blasted off at a velocity of 39,240 kilometres per hour, which is almost 30 times the speed at which sound travels through air. India's most ambitious space mission to date, Chandrayaan 2 had lifted off from India's spaceport at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh on July 22.

The lift-off was successful in its second attempt, a week after it was aborted just under an hour from its launch due to a technical glitch. The mission stands out because of its low cost, with just about Rs. 1,000 crore spent - a much smaller price tag compared to similar missions by other countries.

Manmohan elected to RS

Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was elected unopposed to the Rajya Sabha from Rajasthan.
The BJP did not field a candidate, as it did not have the requisite numbers in the assembly.

Thus, the former prime minister was declared elected unopposed as the deadline for withdrawal of nominations for the by-election to the Rajya Sabha ended at 3 pm on Monday.

Singh garnered support from the Congress party, the BSP, the Bharatiya Tribal Party, and independent MLAs, taking their strength to over 120 MLAs out of the current assembly strength of 198.

The government’s chief whip, Mahesh Joshi, received the election certificate on behalf of Singh from the returning officer and assembly secretary, PK Mathur, who declared Manmohan Singh elected unopposed.

The seat became vacant after the death of Madan Lal Saini, BJP state president and Rajya Sabha member, in June.

Rajasthan has 10 Rajya Sabha seats and currently nine are with the BJP. Manmohan Singh was a Rajya Sabha member for five consecutive terms from Assam — 1991 to 2019. His tenure in the Rajya Sabha ended on June 14.

Ashok Gehlot, chief minister of the state, Sachin Pilot, deputy chief minister, and CP Joshi, speaker of the state assembly, congratulated Manmohan Singh upon his election to the Rajya Sabha unopposed from Rajasthan.


Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand bear brunt of rain fury

Rains continued to lash several places in Punjab and other states after at least 30 people were killed and dozens reported missing or feared dead over the weekend across north India.

Authorities in Uttarakhand and Punjab launched rescue operations in several places to move people stranded after flood and cloudbursts as the weather department forecast more rains in the region.

Flood alerts have been sounded in Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh as rivers, including the Yamuna, swelled to dangerous levels. The Delhi government has asked people living in low-lying areas to move to safer places as the water level in the Yamuna is expected to cross the danger mark.

Majority of the damage was reported from the two worst-hit states — Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand — as heavy rains remained unabated through the Himalayan belt. Hundreds were stranded after incessant rainfall triggered landslides, snapped road links, led to shutting down of hydropower projects and release of excess water from dams in the region.

As of Sunday evening, rain-related incidents had claimed at least 23 lives in Himachal Pradesh, four in Uttarakhand while dozens were reported injured.

At least 10 people were reported missing as cloudbursts wreaked havoc in several villages, damaging several houses in Arakot, Makuri and Tikochi villages in Uttarkashi district, the worst-hit region in the state.

Hundreds have been evacuated to higher reaches, state officials said adding that roads were damaged at many places, hampering rescue efforts.

Indian Army and National Disaster Relief Force personnel launched a rescue operation in Punjab’s Jalandhar district on Monday after major breaches were reported on the Satluj River at four places in Bholewal, Meowal and other villages under Philluar sub-division.

Hundreds of tourists were also left stranded in Himachal Pradesh’s tribal Lahaul and Spiti district after a freak snowfall on Sunday cut off roads in the region, officials said. They said rescuers were on their way to Chandratal situated at an altitude of about 4,300metres or 14,100ft in the Himalayas.

The India Meteorological Department’s office in Himachal Pradesh said on Sunday that the state received the highest ever rainfall for a 24-hour period since records began almost 70 years ago.

In Uttar Pradesh, several rivers, including Ganga, Yamuna and Ghaghra, are in spate. The Ganga is flowing above the danger mark in Badaun, Garhmukteshwar, Naraura and Farrukhabad.

Of the 15 wettest places in the world in the past 24 hours, 13 were in India, according to global weather monitoring website El Dorado Weather. The world’s wettest place was Diamond Harbour in West Bengal, which received 220 mm of rainfall in the past 24 hours. Vellore with 188 mm rain was ranked second, Jamshedpur third with 172 mm, Shimla seventh with 146 mm and Chandigarh was 11th in the global ranking with 121 mm of rain.

As of August 15, a total of 1,058 persons have died due to rain-related incidents during the monsoon season that started on June 1 with one-fourth of the deaths reported from Maharashtra.


India can become $5 trillion economy at 10% growth rate: KV Kamath

The Indian economy is resilient enough to withstand any global headwinds and become a $5 trillion economy in five years by posting an annual average growth rate of 10%, propelled by key growth drivers such as infrastructure, manufacturing and technology-driven services transformation, New Development Bank president K.V. Kamath said.

The current downturn in the automobile sector is not specific to India and it is a global phenomenon in which people are increasingly opting for alternative modes of transport, said Kamath, former chief of ICICI Bank Limited who in 2015 took over as the first president of the Shanghai-based NDB, established by the BRICS group that consists of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Car sales in India have declined for nine straight months, with demand for new automobiles in July declining around 30% from a year ago.

“Will India’s growth aspirations be throttled because of this global uncertainty? Answer is very simply no. Reason is -- there is such a lot of developmental work that can be done in India, and I will cite examples of what and how, that will keep us engaged and keep us driving,” Kamath told visiting journalists in Shanghai on Friday.

Kamath was replying to a query about India’s aspiration of becoming a $5 trillion economy at a time of global geo-political uncertainties, a tariff war triggered by the United States under the Trump administration and signs of a slowdown in major European economies. The economy is expected to grow to $3 trillion this fiscal year from $2.7 trillion, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman has said.

Citing the example of rapid, double-digit growth achieved by China for more than two decades, Kamath said India can leverage the potential of the four-five key drivers to achieve its ambitious target.

India is yet to harness the potential of water and animal husbandry, he said, while infrastructure is an area that requires huge investments.

Kamath said manufacturing is one of the key growth drivers that has received government incentives.

“Still there’s a lot to be done [in that area],” he said, adding that services transformation driven by digitization and technology was another potential growth driver. He said this model can be “scalable and replicable” in other member-countries of the NDB as well.

In his Independence Day speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the government was determined to make India a $5 trillion economy in the next five years through several initiatives, including Rs 100 lakh crore of investment in infrastructure.

“In the last 70 years we became a $2 trillion economy, but in the last five years, we added $1 trillion to the economy. This gives me the confidence of becoming a $5 trillion economy in the coming years,” he said.

Forex kitty hits new high of $431bn

India's foreign exchange reserves surged by $1.6 billion to a record $430.6 billion in the week to August 9 over rise in foreign currency assets. In the previous reporting week ended August 2, the reserves had declined by $697.2 million to $429 billion. In the reporting week, foreign currency assets, a major component of the overall reserves, increased by $15.2 million to $398.7 billion, the apex bank said on Friday.

Expressed in dollar terms, foreign currency assets include the effect of appreciation/ depreciation of non-US units like the euro, pound and yen held in the reserves. 

Some Kashmir landlines come alive

The authorities lifted restrictions on the movement of people in 35 police station areas of the Valley and made landline phones operational by resuming services at 17 out of 96 telephone exchanges. More than 23,000 landlines in the Valley were functional by the evening.

Shops and business establishments in Kashmir, however, remained closed on Saturday. The authorities also restored mobile internet services, but at 2G speed, in five districts of Jammu region on Saturday while restrictions on movement were eased in Rajouri district during the day but would remain in force under CrPC Section 144 between 9 pm and 5 am.

The net-savvy started wishing each other on WhatsApp and Facebook as soon as the service was restored. “Mobile internet service was restored at (Friday) midnight but with 2G speed,” an official said. The districts where mobile internet services have been restored are Jammu, Samba, Kathua, Udhampur and Reasi, but they remain suspended in Poonch, Rajouri, Kishtwar, Doda and Ramban districts, official sources said.

Government spokesman Rohit Kansal said no untoward incident was reported from the Valley areas where restrictions were relaxed and process of easing would continue on Sunday in these areas after the local authorities had assessed the situation. He said authorities were working on opening remaining landlines by Sunday evening.

Kansal, who is principal secretary (planning and development), said the easing of restrictions resulted in people emerging from their homes and private vehicles plying on the roads. He reiterated that the government was planning to reopen primary schools in the Valley for which the necessary arrangements were being made. “Public transport is plying and we have encouraging reports of a lot of public movement,” Kansal said. Restrictions on movement under CrPC Section 144 were also lifted from parts of old Srinagar city and restoration of exchanges enabled landline services in Budgam, Sonamarg and Manigam areas. In north Kashmir, landline services were restored in Gurez, Tangmarg, Uri, Keran, Karnah and Tangdhar areas; in south Kashmir, services were made operational in Qazigund and Pahalgam areas, the spokesman said.

Kashmir divisional commissioner Baseer Ahmad Khan said a plan was in place to take the Hajis to their homes. He said two flights carrying over 300 Hajis are scheduled to land in Srinagar on Sunday morning .

Monsoon Rebounds

The rebound in monsoon rainfall has created ideal conditions for agriculture for the rest of the year with accelerated planting and much more water in reservoirs, which officials said would lead to record food production this year.

Rainfall in August has been 35% above normal so far, which has further improved crop planting and filled up major reservoirs with 25% more water than the 10-year average.

This completes the turnaround of the farm situation that looked grim in June when authorities were planning drought-relief measures as rainfall was one-third less than normal and reservoirs were depleting at a time they normally fill up to meet post-monsoon requirement of drinking, irrigation and power generation.

Now the conditions are ripe for a good harvest of the kharif, or summer-sown, crop and higher farm incomes, which in turn should boost festive season demand and to some extent revive sales of vehicles, gold and consumer goods in an economy where companies have been nervous about weak demand.

Data issued by the agriculture ministry shows that planting of oilseeds is almost the same as last year, cotton is 5.6% higher, while pulses and coarse grains are 3.5% lower. Rice planting is 11% lower, making total crop sowing 4% less than last year, which is a vast improvement over the 12.5% deficit in June.

The rains will not only help summer crops but also recharge the water table and fill reservoirs, which will help in the winter sowing also. Good monsoon rainfall, particularly towards the end of the season, are a boon for the winter-sown crops also as they improve soil moisture.

Officials said the improvement in oilseed planting, following heavy rains in Gujarat, Maharashtra and MP, was encouraging. It is now barely 0.7% lower than last year, but yields are expected to be better.

Seoul Peace Prize

The finance ministry has withdrawn the tax exemption it had granted to the cash prize of ₹1.3 crore received through the Seoul Peace Prize by Prime Minister Narendra Modi after he wrote to finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman on August 11, saying he wished to pay income tax on the amount like all other tax payers in the country.

PM Narendra Modi was conferred the prestigious Seoul Peace Prize for 2018 this February and the award came with a prize money of ₹1.3 crore. On March 6, the Central Bureau of Direct Taxes had granted exemption under section 10 (17A) (i) of the I-T Act to the Seoul Peace Prize for the assessment year 2019-20.

The PM wrote to Sitharaman on August 11, saying the exemption should be reconsidered.“I have learnt that the finance ministry passed an order waiving off income tax from the prize money. Due to Lok Sabha elections and other commitments, I could not write to you earlier. I wish to request you that this prize money should be subjected to the same income tax provisions that are applicable to crores of other tax payers in the country. The income tax proceeds go into the exercise of nation-building. Hence, I request you to reconsider the earlier order of giving the tax exemption and withdraw it,” the PM wrote to Sitharaman on August 11.

He added that whenever India wins an award at the international level like Seoul Peace Prize, every Indian’s heart swells with pride.

The CBDT, through an order on August 14, has now withdrawn its earlier order. “In exercise of powers granted by the Income Tax Act, the Central government withdraws the exemption granted to ‘Seoul Peace Prize’ (vide order issued on March 6) and the said order shall be considered to have been never issued. The award, so received, will be subject to the Income Tax Act, 1961 for all taxation purposes,” the CBDT order says.


Mumbai: Gorai mangrove park to be ready by 2021

Mumbai will get its first eight-hectare, solar-powered mangrove park in Gorai by July 2021, said the state mangrove cell. Union minister Nitin Gadkari laid the foundation stone (bhoomi poojan) for the ₹25-crore project at Atal Smriti Udyan, Borivli.

Located near Gorai jetty, the park will have a 500 square metre Nature Interpretation Centre with an information about mangroves, coastal and marine biodiversity along with a wooden mangrove trail across one kilometre, kayak trails and observatory towers for bird watching. The state mangrove cell said all environmental clearances and administrative approvals for the project were in place and construction is likely to be completed by July 2021.

“The park will help maintain the ecological balance of the mangrove ecosystem and is an ideal project highlighting environment conservation for the entire country,” said Gadkari.

N Vasudevan, additional principal chief conservator of forest, state mangrove cell, said, “Since Mumbai lacks open spaces, this will be a destination for citizens to visit and understand the biodiversity of the mangrove ecosystem.” He added that the tendering process for the park is underway.

Along with being a carbon sink, mangroves act as buffer during storms and protect the coast from inundation. Mumbai has over 60 sq km of mangrove forests with almost 40 sq km present in the suburbs.

Connected by a 10-minute boat ride from Gorai, the state mangrove cell has also planned the 50-hectare Dahisar Mangrove Park at a cost of ₹40 crore near Dahisar creek. The park will be ready by December 2021 as final administrative permissions are still pending.

The NIC for this park will span 5,100 square metre and include a mangrove museum; a virtual aquarium to provide information on coastal and marine biodiversity; a glass board walk; and a 400-metre mangrove trail overlooking mangrove forests.

“While the parks have a similar agenda to spread awareness about mangroves, the entire experience of moving from one park to the other through the creek will be unique. The basic purpose for both these parks is to create an affinity towards mangroves so that conservation efforts are strengthened,” said Vasudevan.

Being solar-powered, both parks will generate 90% of their required electricity and send the unutilised units back to the grid when the centres are nonoperational.

Experts said such parks are useful. “People will understand how and why to protect mangroves. This will boost citizen led conservation for different age groups. Only time-bound maintenance needs to be done,” said Baban Ingole, former chief scientist, National Institute of Oceanography.


Population Explosion Can Create Trouble for Future Generations: PM

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day advice on population control is being seen by some BJP leaders as cue that the Centre will move towards framing a policy on the subject.

“Till now the debate on population was always seen from a religious point of view, and was limited in a section of demography. But today PM Modi has taken this debate to all section of the society,” said BJP parliamentarian Rakesh Sinha. “Also, it was a philanthropic debate and PM now has indicated a movement towards policy-making.” Sinha has introduced a private member’s Bill on population control in the Rajya Sabha in the concluding parliament session. He expressed hope that before the next population census in 2021, the country will have a policy on population control.

In his address from the Red Fort on Thursday, Modi said, “Population explosion can create new problems, especially for the future generations. But there is also an enlightened section of society which is aware of this challenge. The people who have played a positive role in population control, there is a need to appreciate them for their efforts. We have to ponder on this issue, taking along all the sections of the society.”

Union minister Giriraj Singh of the BJP, who has, on several occasions, expressed concern over population growth, said, “I have been raising the issue of population explosion for a decade now. Today, when (the) PM mentioned it from Red Fort, my efforts bore fruits,” Singh wrote on Twitter. “Population has reached a dangerous level and now I have full faith that it will be dealt with.” The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, too, has been voicing concern over the rise in population. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, during his annual Dussehra address in 2015, had stressed on the need for a holistic discussion on population. “Our present and future are getting impacted by the same. We need to rise above vote bank politics to formulate a holistic approach, equally applicable to all citizens, towards the population policy.” India has National Population Policy 2000, which is uniformly applicable to the whole country and the policy focuses on better implementation and awareness of family-planning schemes. In December 2015, then health minister JP Nadda, in a written reply to the Lok Sabha, had said that no proposal is under consideration of the government to formulate a new policy on population.

Chandrayaan-2 enters lunar trajectory

India’s second lunar mission, Chandrayaan-2, is now just six days away from reaching Moon’s orbit on August 20 as Indian Space Research Organisation early on Wednesday morning conducted an important manoeuvre to put the spacecraft on the lunar trajectory.

At exactly 2.21 am, Isro conducted the crucial ‘trans lunar injection’ manoeuvre of Chandrayaan-2 after the spacecraft’s engine was fired between 2 am and 2.20 am to make it enter a straight path to the lunar orbit. Chandrayaan-2 left Earth’s elliptical orbit after spending 22 days there post its launch from Sriharikota on July 22.

Isro said, “The health of the spacecraft is being continuously monitored from the Mission Operations Complex at Isro Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network in Bengaluru with support from Indian Deep Space Network antennas at Byalalu. Since its launch on July 22, all systems onboard Chandrayaan-2 are performing normal.”

INR is Asia’s worst performer: Auguat 2019

The rupee has emerged as the worst performing Asian currency in August, largely due to the decline witnessed on August 5 and August 13. The domestic currency has slipped by 222 paise, or 3.2%, since August 1. After closing at a six-month low of 71.4 on Tuesday, the rupee recovered 12 paise to close at 71.28 against the US dollar on Wednesday amid easing oil prices and gains in the domestic equity market.

Among the factors to be watched are firming up of inflation and any change in the tax laws for foreign portfolio investors, which could influence forex flows. FPIs have so far sold $1.6 billion in equities and net-bought $300 million in debt in August.

The rupee has come under pressure largely due to external factors. On August 5, it was triggered by a sharp weakening of the Chinese renminbi. On Tuesday, the rupee fell 61 paise on the back of an Argentine currency crash creating a scare among emerging market investors.

One positive development on the macro side was the improvement in trade deficit, which moderated to $13.4 billion in July since exports improved while imports fell further.

Modi’s Independence Day address

Amid a deepening economic gloom, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the nation on 73rd Independence Day from the ramparts of the Red Fort, focussed on his government’s recent moves to abrogate special status to Jammu and Kashmir and to bring in a law banning instant triple talaq. “Within two weeks of assuming power, we have dedicated ourselves in fulfilling the aspirations of people on all fronts,” he said. “From the Red Fort, I can say with pride that every Indian can say ‘One Nation, One Constitution’. Sardar Patel’s dream of one Bharat has been realised,” Modi said.

At 92 minutes, it was also the second-longest I-Day address to be delivered by any PM, only four-minutes short of the longest ever PM speech on August 15 that he had delivered in 2016.

PM Modi chose the occasion to dwell upon a host of issues, including a five-year road-map of his government’s ongoing term. He urged people to weed out corruption while highlighting the fact that the Union government, with the continuous help of technology, is taking various steps to get rid of it. “My dear countrymen, you know it very well that corruption and nepotism have hurt our country beyond imagination and they have infiltrated our lives like termites. We are trying continuously to throw them out,” Modi said.

In a clear message to Pakistan, the PM said, “India will keep on fighting decisively against those spreading terrorism. Any incident of terrorism in any part of the world is a war against humanity.” He greeted the people of Afghanistan on the eve of their Independence Day. “Four days later, our neighbour Afghanistan will celebrate its Independence and it will be its 100th anniversary of freedom. I am greeting Afghanistan on this occasion,” he said from Red Fort.

Reaffirming his commitment to get piped water to all households, the PM said all efforts will be made to conserve water and rejuvenate water sources.

In an effort to shore up the confidence of entrepreneurs, he described them as wealth creators and an asset to the country. “Those who are making efforts to create wealth, according to me, they themselves are an asset to the nation and must be empowered,” he said, adding that “those who create wealth for the country, those who contribute in the nation’s wealth creation are all serving the country. We should not doubt our wealth creators.”

During his speech, Modi also announced that the country will now have a Chief Of Defence Staff to bring synergy in functioning of the Army, Navy and Air Force, a proposal which was first mooted after the Kargil conflict in 1999.

As head of the three services, the CDS will ensure synergy and provide effective leadership to the armed forces in dealing with security challenges, PM said.

Apart from increasing coordination between the Army, Navy or Air Force, the CDS will also act as a single-point military adviser to the prime minister and defence minister on key defence and strategic issues. A number of western countries have tri-services chiefs.

Imran Khan Resorts to Warmongering

Pakistan premier Imran Khan has warned India against venturing into Pakistan occupied Kashmir. Khan who visited PoK’s Muzaffarabad to show ‘solidarity with Kashmiris’ on Pakistan’s independence day, after India recently made Article 370 ineffective, addressed a special session of the PoK legislature on Wednesday.

“On the day of Pakistan’s independence, I am with my Kashmiri brothers and sisters,” he said and claimed he had ‘unveiled’ the ‘real face’ of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP in a series of tweets.

“This card (revoking Article 370) played by Narendra Modi was the final solution. We are all fearful about what we will find out once the curfew is lifted... What are they attempting to do? Narendra Modi has made a strategic blunder. He has played his final card. They have internationalised Kashmir. It used to be very hard to speak about Kashmir. Now the world’s eye is on Kashmir and on Pakistan... I will be the ambassador who raises Kashmir’s voice,” Khan said.

India did not react to Khan’s rhetoric.

Agreeing with PoK ‘prime minister’, who spoke before him, Khan said “this will not stop in Kashmir — this will come towards Pakistan. We have information and we have had two national security committee meetings. The Pakistan Army has full knowledge… India has made a plan to take action” in occupied Kashmir, he alleged. “We will respond to whatever you do, we will go till the end. Modi, you can’t enslave Kashmiris and as for your plan in AJK to teach Pakistan a lesson, be ready. I repeat, we will counter your brick with a stone and the time has come that we will teach you a lesson,” Khan said.

July 2019: Trade deficit narrows to $13.43 b

India’s merchandise exports rebounded and grew 2.25% in July, aided by higher shipments of organic goods, drugs and pharmaceuticals, while imports shrank, narrowing the trade deficit.

Exports had slumped 9.71% in June on the back of intensifying trade tensions between the US and China. The government has started work on measures to boost exports, including a new export promotion scheme.

Sluggish global demand and uncertainties emanating from the tariff war are clearly visible in the slowdown of exports globally.

India’s exports increased to $26.3 billion in July from $25.75 billion a year earlier. Imports declined 10.4% to $39.76 billion last month from $$44.39 billion in July 2018. This resulted in the trade deficit narrowing to $13.43 billion from $18.63 billion a year earlier.

Merchandise exports for April-July registered a marginal dip of 0.37% to $107.41 billion, while imports during these four months dropped 3.63% to $166.80 billion.

Export growth is likely to be in double digits this year despite the challenging situation on both the external and internal fronts.

Non-petroleum and non-gems and jewellery exports in July grew 5.3% to $19.70 billion. Oil imports fell 22.15% to $9.06 billion from $12.33 billion a year earlier, mainly on the back of 14% drop in global crude oil prices.

The depreciation of China’s yuan would not only help reduce the impact of higher tariffs imposed by the US but would also make that country’s exports more competitive, aggravating problems for Indian exporters.

The World Bank had projected a weakening of global trade in 2019 in its Global Economic Prospects released in June.

Abhinandan Varthaman gets Vir Chakra

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who downed an enemy jet during an aerial combat with Pakistan in February and was held captive for three days, has been conferred the Vir Chakra, India’s third-highest war time gallantry medal.

The defence ministry announced the military awards on the eve of Independence Day celebrations.

From the Army, Sapper Prakash Jadhav of Rashtriya Rifles will be posthumously awarded Kirti Chakra, the second highest peacetime gallantry award. Jadhav died in a gunfight with terrorists in Kulgam district of Jammu and Kashmir in November 2018.

Squadron Leader Minty Agarwal, who played a key role as flight controller during the aerial combat between India and Pakistan on February 27, has been awarded Yudh Seva medal.

The IAF received a total of 13 awards including five Yudh Seva Medals and seven Vayu Sena Medal.

At least five Mirage fighter pilots, part of the operation to strike a Jaish-e-Mohmamed terrorist training camp inside Pakistan’s Balakot on February 27, were among awardees.

The Army also got eight Shaurya Chakra awards and 98 Sena medals. The Navy got one Shaurya Chakra.

IAF fighter jets bombed a JeM terrorist training camp in Balakot on February 26, nearly two weeks after the Pulwama terror attack. It is reported that Pakistan retaliated on February 27 by attempting to target Indian military installations.


World turns to renewables

Just 20 years ago, wind and solar power were considered economically unviable, but today, Germany and the UK get about a quarter of their electricity from renewables. Although coal is still the main source of energy worldwide, the share of renewables is growing in other major economies like Brazil, India and China as well.

Poorer states score big in GST mop-up

Consuming states such as Bihar, Odisha, UP and Madhya Pradesh — many of whom may be poorer but have large populations — are faring better in GST collections than their industrialised peers such as Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Data accessed showed that West Bengal is among a handful of non-industrialised consuming states, which has not fared well during the first four months of the current financial year, when overall GST collections rose 9% to Rs.3.56 lakh crore. Among the major laggards was Delhi, which saw a 2% decline in mop-up, which was estimated at Rs.12,700 crore during April-July 2019, compared to a little under Rs.13,000 crore a year ago.

At the top of the heap are the states in the North East, led by Nagaland (39%), Arunachal Pradesh (35%), Sikkim (32%) and Meghalaya. But the overall collections for these states are between Rs.370 crore and Rs.680 crore.

Government officials and tax experts said the data showed the expected shift in balance towards the consuming states has started, a fear that had prompted Gujarat, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu to demand compensation when the Narendra Modi government began negotiations for implementing GST. Later, the Centre got the BJP-ruled states to drop the demand.

Under the compensation mechanism, states with less than 14% annual growth are to be compensated by the Centre for five years and, going by the current trend, some of the poorer states do not need support. To compensate states, a cess on items such as soft drinks, tobacco and automobiles is levied.

Government officials said full impact is visible this year as the settlement of Integrated GST is happening regularly, unlike last year when it was delayed. “The distribution of the kitty is much better now and is benefiting the poorer states,” said an officer.

Experts, however, warned that those like Haryana and Punjab with lower populations may not do too well. In fact, Punjab could be adversely hit due to purchase tax and other cesses that it levied before they were subsumed into GST. Industry sources said Delhi has been adversely hit as the tax arbitrage on CST has ended. In the past, Delhi imposed a lower CST of 1%, resulting in many companies shipping goods from the Union territory by locating their offices here. CST is now history.

July Retail Inflation Dips Marginally to 3.15%

Retail inflation eased marginally to 3.15% in July following a sharp decline for fuel and light group, creating room for more interest rate cuts by the Reserve Bank going ahead.

Retail inflation, as measured by the consumer price index, was 3.18% in June. Inflation is likely to remain below the Reserve Bank of India’s target of 4% for the current fiscal, according to experts.

The RBI had cut rates by 35 basis points last week for a cumulative 110 bps this calendar year. One basis point is 0.01 percentage point.

There has been demand for a sharp cut in interest rates in view of low inflation to revive sharply falling consumer demand. Data released on Tuesday showed auto sales declined 31% in July.

Data released on Friday showed industrial growth at a tepid 2% in June.

Inflation in rural areas fell from 2.21% in June to 2.19% in July, while urban inflation rose from 4.22% to 4.33% in the same period.

Core inflation, which is inflation minus the volatile food and fuel components that is also seen as a measure of demand, inched up marginally to 4.4% in July from 4.3% in June.

Inflation in food articles, which has a near-50% weight in the CPI basket, rose by a tad to 2.36% in July from 2.25% in June, as vegetables inflation was at 2.82% and retail fuel and light inflation stood at -0.36% in July.

CBI Should’ve Statutory Status Like CAG: CJI

To ensure “administrative autonomy” for the Central Bureau of Investigation and for its investigations to remain unaffected by any political interference, the premier agency should be given “statutory status through a legislation equivalent to that provided to the Comptroller & Auditor General”, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi has said.

This is to ensure that the CBI is “delinked” from the “overall administrative control” of the government, he said, while delivering the keynote address at the 18th edition of the DP Kohli Memorial lecture, which was attended by the Air Chief Marshal, Chief of Army Staff, Supreme Court and High Court judges, current and former directors of the CBI, among many other personalities.

Although the CBI has managed to carve out a special place for itself, Gogoi said it “has not been able to meet the standards of judicial scrutiny in a number of high-profile and politically sensitive cases”. “Equally true it is that such lapses may not have happened infrequently. Such instances reflect systemic issues and indicate a deep mismatch between institutional aspirations, organisational design, working culture, and governing politics”.

To address increasing incidence of interstate crimes, the CJI said, “An argument could be made for including ‘public order’ in the concurrent list, for the limited purposes of investigating such crimes”.

Citing “political and administrative interference” as a key concern, the CJI said, “Why is that whenever there are no political overtones to the case, the CBI does a good job. A reverse situation led to the celebrated case of Vineet Narain vs UOI, wherein the SC expressing concern at the state of affairs, laid down explicit guidelines for protecting the integrity of the force”.

Quoting the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act 1946, Gogoi said the “possibility of it being used as a political instrument remains ever present”.

Justice Gogoi said “lack of adequately qualified and competent workforce” was another concern with 15% posts in the executive rank, 28.37% in the law officer rank and 56.17% in the technical officer rank lying vacant.

Gogoi further said that the recent “operationalisation of the Lokpal, is indeed promising” and that the current “challenge is to ascertain how to make the CBI functional as an efficient and impartial investigative agency fully motivated and guided by the objectives of service to the public at large, upholding the constitutional rights and liberty of the people, and capable of performing in an increasingly complex time”.

Defections: BJP becomes main opposition in Sikkim

BJP made more gains in the northeast as 10 of 13 MLAs of the Sikkim Democratic Front joined the saffron party making it the main opposition in a state where it had failed to win a single seat in the recent polls.

After the defections that left SDF chief Pawan Kumar Chamling with just three MLAs in his fold, the ten lawmakers met BJP working president J P Nadda and joined the party in the presence of its general secretary Ram Madhav, who is in charge of the party’s affairs in the region.

Madhav told reporters that the SDF had a strength of 13 MLAs and its legislature party decided to merge with the BJP.

Two-third or more lawmakers of a party can change sides without violating the anti-defection law.

BJP will play the role of a constructive opposition in the state, Madhav said. Chamling-led SDF ruled the state for over 25 years before he lost power in the recent elections.

SDF won 15 seats while its rival Sikkim Krantikari Morcha won 17 in the 32-member assembly in the recent polls. Since two of the SDF MLAs had won from two seats, the party's actual strength in the House was reduced to 13. The 10 MLAs who joined BJP include former SDF ministers Dorjee Tshering Lepcha, Ugen Gyatso Bhutia and Narendra Kumar Subba. They had been camping in Delhi since past several weeks and had met Ram Madhav a week ago.

Lepcha said they were impressed with the “look east” policy of the Narendra Modi government. “Sikkim is a small State with three international borders. We want BJP to win in Sikkim. The youths from the state are with the BJP. We want the BJP leaders should take reformative steps in Sikkim too like in rest of the country,” Lepcha said. This is the first time that MLAs of a regional party in Sikkim joined a national party “en masse”, he said. “We want the lotus to bloom in Sikkim,” he said. BJP's immediate challenge in the state will be byelections to three seats.

Meanwhile in Gangtok, the SDF refused to comment on the developments.