Viraat to start last journey today

Decommissioned aircraft carrier of the Indian Navy, Viraat will be towed to the Alang Shipbreaking Yard in Gujarat on Saturday morning where she will be dismantled. Viraat was India’s second aircraft carrier.

The earlier plan was to tow her away on Friday, but it was shelved due to bad weather.

Officers of the western naval command said that the ship will be first pulled out from the western command’s pier with the help of Mumbai Port Trust tugs. Thereafter, the two tugs brought to tow her away will take over. She will be escorted by naval helicopters till she is moved to the western coast. Thereafter, naval dornier planes will monitor her movement. “It will take at least three days for her to reach Alang,” a naval officer said.

The carrier was sold for Rs.38.5 crore and was bought by Shri Ram Green Company and the auction was done by Metal Scrap Trading Corporation. The navy had offered Viraat to many states. The Maharashtra government was to station her at Nivti and make her into a convention centre-cum-hotel along with a private partner. Andhra Pradesh had also shown keen interest in it. Viraat, the second Centaur-class aircraft carrier, was in service for 30 years before being decommissioned in March 2017. There were proposals in the past to preserve it as a maritime museum. But later every state that had earlier shown interest backed out. Viraat was occupying an important space in the naval dockyard and as a result, other ships had to be kept away.

Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha (retired), who had flown on all three aircraft carriers, Vikrant, Viraat and Vikramaditya, said, “It is sad that we have not been able to preserve even one of the two aircraft carriers which represented full one service of Sea Harrier (straight takeoff and vertical landing) aircraft.

Kashmir: Army indicts troops in encounter that killed 3 men

The Army has found “prima facie” evidence that its troops “exceeded” their powers under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act during an encounter in Kashmir’s Shopian district in which three men were killed in July this year and has initiated disciplinary proceedings.

On July 18, the Army claimed three militants were killed in Amshipura village in the higher reaches of south Kashmir’s Shopian district.

Following complaints from families of the deceased persons’ and social media reports that the three men were from Rajouri district in Jammu and had gone missing at Amshipura, the Army initiated an inquiry, said Col Rajesh Kalia, the defence spokesperson in Srinagar.

“The inquiry has brought out certain prima facie evidence indicating that during the operation, powers vested under the AFSPA1990 were exceeded and the Do’s and Don’ts of Chief of Army Staff as approved by the Supreme Court have been contravened. Consequently, the competent disciplinary authority has directed to initiate disciplinary proceedings under the Army Act against those found prima-facie answerable,” the statement said.

It is not immediately clear how many Army men are being proceeded against. The evidence collected indicates the three unidentified terrorists killed in Amshipura were Imtiyaz Ahmed, Abrar Ahmed and Mohammed Ibrar who hailed from Rajouri. Their DNA report is awaited. “Their involvement with terrorism or related activities is under investigation by the police,” the statement said.

Relatives of the three youths had lodged a written missing persons report after they lost contact with them on July 17.

According to the rules, a Summary of Evidence will now be initiated against the erring Army personnel after which Court Martial proceedings will begin.


Exports drop in August 2020

India's exports contracted for the sixth consecutive month in August, dragged down by a decline in shipments of petroleum, leather, engineering goods, and gems & jewellery, while imports tumbled by 26% during the month.

Exports in August were $22.7 billion, compared to nearly $26 billion a year ago, which was a decline of 12.7%. Imports fell by 26% to almost $30 billion in August, resulting in a trade deficit of $6.8 billion. Oil imports declined by about 42% to $6.4 billion during August.

Gold imports shot up to $3.7 billion in August compared to $1.4 billion in the same month last year. During April to August, exports contracted by nearly 27% to around $98 billion, while imports fell almost 44% to $118 billion.

Centre: Can’t legalise same-sex marriage

Two years after the Supreme Court de-criminalised Section 377 IPC, four LGTBQ community members requested the Delhi high court to legalise same-sex marriage under the Hindu Marriage Act, but ran into stout opposition from the Centre, which said this fell foul of several criminal and civil laws recognising marriage only between a “biological man and woman”.

The petitioners—Delhi-based Abhijit Iyer Mitra and Gita Thadani along with Madurai-based Gopi Shankar M and G Oorvasi — told a bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan that Section 5 of Hindu Marriage Act, 1956, provides that “a marriage may be solemnised between any two Hindus” and hence there could be no objection to same-sex marriage between two Hindus of the LGTBQ community.

The petitioners sought a declaration that since Section 5 of Hindu Marriage Act, 1956, does not distinguish between homosexual and heterosexual couples, the right of same-sex couples to marry should be recognised under the Act.

But the Centre, through solicitor general Tushar Mehta, registered its opposition to the petitioners’ plea. He said he had no instructions from the government on the specific issues raised by the petitioners. However, he said he could off-hand argue that same-sex marriage ran counter to several criminal and civil laws recognising marriage between “biological men and women” only. He said India’s social norms and cultural ethos were codified in statutory laws, like prohibited degrees of relationships and ‘sapinda’ marriages, and added both conditions had varying criteria for a man and woman entering into a matrimonial alliance.

In a same-sex marriage, who will be the man and who will be the woman to fasten this statutory condition, he asked.

The SG said there were different age criteria for men and women in a marriage and asked how that was going to be enforced. In case of domestic violence in a same-sex marriage, who will be the woman for enforcement of her rights under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, he asked. Mehta also cited Section 498A of IPC, which punishes a husband and his relatives for inflicting mental and physical torture on the wife for a jail term of up to three years.

Doval Leaves SCO Meet

National Security Advisor Ajit Doval left a virtual meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation after Islamabad’s representative showcased a fake map that claimed Jammu and Kashmir and Junagadh as part of Pakistan.

“This was in blatant disregard to the advisory by the host against it and in violation of the norms of the meeting. After consultation with the host, the Indian side left the meeting in protest,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said in New Delhi. The virtual meeting was chaired by Russia.

“As was to be expected, Pakistan then went on to present a misleading view of this meeting,” Srivastava said responding to a query on the issue. A government source said the Pakistani action violated the SCO charter and all established norms of safeguarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of SCO member states. The Indian team issued its strong objection to the use of the illegal map by Pakistan and even host Russia tried very hard to persuade the Pakistani representative not to do so. Pakistan was represented at the meet by Moeed W Yusuf, special assistant to the prime minister on national security.

China violated mutual agreements, militarised border: Rajnath tells LS

Amidst a barrage of questions from the Opposition on the handling of the border situation along the Line of Actual Control with China, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh told the Lok Sabha that China continues to be in illegal occupation of approximately 38,000 sq. kms in the Union Territory of Ladakh as ‘China does not accept the customary and traditional alignment of the boundary’ between the two countries.

Singh gave a chronological account of the worsening relations with China over transgressions along the LAC in Eastern Ladakh and maintained that ‘while our armed forces abide scrupulously’ by the mutually-agreed norms, ‘this has not been reciprocated by the Chinese side.’ Singh said that in addition to the 38,000 sq km in Ladakh illegally occupied by China, ‘under the so-called Sino-Pakistan‘Boundary Agreement of 1963, Pakistan illegally ceded 5,180 sq km of Indian territory in PoK to China.’ “China also claims about 90,000 sq km of Indian territory in the Eastern Sector of the India-China boundary in Arunachal Pradesh,” he added.

The Opposition had put in several notices to the Speaker to allow a discussion or an intervention to raise questions on the issue but were turned away leading to a walkout by the Congress.


Navi Mumbai: Cidco Metro back on track

Two mega infrastructure projects— the Rs.16,000-crore Navi Mumbai international airport and the Cidco Navi Mumbai Metro Rail project worth Rs.7,633 crore— are back on track albeit with new deadlines.

While the airport deadline is pegged post-2024, the Metro run for all three lines connecting various residential areas and the industrial hub of Taloja MIDC is scheduled for end-2024.

Line IV of the Metro, the last point connectivity with the airport, has been kept in abeyance as it has to be synchronised with the proposed CST-Panvel elevated Metro track and entry/exit to the airport by proposed sky bus.

Cidco is executing work on Line I, which is expected to be commissioned in 2021, while Line III, which is a short distance, will get commissioned after that. Line II will follow thereafter. The entire 22.09-km Metro project providing connectivity in Cidco-Panvel city municipal corporation area will be completed by 2024. Cidco has awarded the contract for Lines II and III to Delhi Metro Rail Corporation.

Line III, described a loop (line), will connect Line I from Belapur railway station to Pendhar with Taloja. 

August retail inflation above RBI’s comfort level

Retail inflation remained above the central bank’s comfort level for the fifth consecutive month in August, and held near the previous month’s level as prices of some food items remained stubborn, prompting economists to rule out any interest rate cut for now.

Retail inflation, as measured by the consumer price index, rose an annual 6.7%, nearly the same level recorded in the previous month. Inflation for the food and beverages segments was at 8.3% in August, marginally lower than the 8.5% in the previous month. Double digit inflation in meat and fish (16.5%), eggs (10.1%), milk and milk products (12.5%), vegetables (11.4%), pulses and products 14.4% and spices (12.3%) sustained the pressure on the overall numbers. The RBI had flagged the building of inflationary pressure and had pressed the pause button in its interest-rate-cutting cycle.

The data showed inflation in the fuel segment shot up to a 5-month high of 3.1% in August compared with 2.7% in July.

Inflation in urban areas was at 6.8% in August, higher than the rate in rural areas, which stood at 6.7%.

Separate data showed inflation, as measured by the wholesale price index, rose an annual 0.2% in August, moving into positive territory after four months of contraction. The gap between the two indices has also narrowed.


Maharashtra: Ready Reckoner rate revised

The Maharashtra state government announced an average hike of 1.74% in the ready reckoner rate for properties across the state, except for Mumbai where it reduced by 0.6%. The rates will come into effect from Saturday.

Pune district registered the highest hike of 3.91%, followed by Raigad and Nandurbar at 3% in the revision announced for 2020-21.

The increase for Pune Municipal Corporation areas is 1.56% and 3.41% in Pimpri Chinchwad limits.

The rate for the rural areas in Pune district was a high 8.62%, while it was 2.92% in the influence areas where infrastructure projects have been announced and 5.4% in municipal council areas.

At 3.91%, ready reckoner rate hike highest in Pune district

Revenue minister Balasaheb Thorat said that the rates had to be corrected, and for the first time after a revision in the rules, it was reduced in some areas.

“We decided on a realistic rate. The RR rates were reviewed after 2017, and we found that in many areas, the rates were consistently high, and hence we rationalised them,” he said.

Developers had requested that the rates be reduced as they were very high in some areas, he added.

The average hike for rural areas in the state is 2.81%, for influence areas 1.89%, municipal council areas 1.29% and municipal corporation areas 1.02%.

Ready reckoner rate is the standard value of an immovable property assessed and regulated by the state. New rates come into effect from April 1. But this year, the announcement was deferred to September for the first time by the revenue department due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The fall in the rate for Mumbai is also a first. It was done as per the revised order in 2018 where RR rates could be reduced.

The ready reckoner rates were announced after recommendations from district collectors, interactions with people’s representatives, and realtors.

Thorat said the department had been working on the rates for the last six months. “We reduced stamp duty. The RR rates in most areas have been marginally increased or reduced,” he said.

The state government had reduced the stamp duty by 3% for the September-December period, and by 2% for the January-March 2021 period to boost sales.

Developers have been demanding a reduction in the RR rates. Credai national vice-president Shantilal Kataria said their members were taken aback by the increase in rates for Pune.

“It is surprising that the government announced a hike in the RR rates especially for Pune which is the most affected. They are the highest whereas we were expecting it to decrease. This system of deciding ready reckoner rates is not scientific,” he said.

Forex reserves reach record $ 542 bn

India’s foreign exchange reserves rose by USD 582 million to reach a lifetime high of USD 542.013 billion in the week ended September 4, RBI data showed.

In the previous week ended August 28, the reserves had surged by USD 3.883 billion to USD 541.431 billion.

In the reporting week, the foreign currency assets, a major component of the overall reserves, increased by USD 269 million to USD 498.362 billion, the data showed. Expressed in dollar terms, the foreign currency assets include the effect of appreciation or depreciation of non-US units like the euro, pound and yen held in the foreign exchange reserves.

The gold reserves rose by USD 321 million in the reporting week to USD 37.521 billion, as per the central bank data.

Government plans 5,300 km of bullet train network

Would you prefer a high-speed train from Delhi to Ahmedabad, which would take just a little over three hours to cover the 886-km distance, to going by air, road or a regular train?

This is the second bullet train project being planned in India and it would connect into the high-speed rail corridor from Ahmedabad to Mumbai, on which work is underway, thereby offering a fast train option from Delhi all the way to Mumbai.

The National High Speed Rail Corporation has started inviting tenders for preparing feasibility studies for seven new HSR corridors which, along with the Ahmedabad-Mumbai corridor could offer a network of 5,377 km of high-speed rail tracks in India if they are given the green signal.

HSR corridors could connect urban tourism and economic hubs such as Delhi, Amritsar, Bengaluru, Varanasi, Lucknow, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Nashik, Nagpur, Chennai, Mysuru, Pune, Hyderabad, Nagpur, Kolkata, Udaipur, Agra and Jaipur. Religious sites such as Shirdi, Ajmer, Mathura, Bodhgaya and Prayagraj are being planned as HSR stations as well.

“The contours of these projects will be known only once the detailed project reports are prepared. If we have a corridor from Delhi to Ahmedabad, which then links into Ahmedabad to Mumbai, lots of benefit will come to the people. We will definitely try for such continuity,” Achal Khare, managing director of NHSRCL said.

The key to the feasibility of these routes is a ridership survey, since the bullet train is expected to cost much more than regular trains. One such ‘willingness to pay survey’ is set to be conducted by NHSCRL for the Delhi-Ahmedabad route. This would involve interviewing about 6,000 air, road and normal rail travellers on the Delhi-Ahmedabad route to estimate the expected shift from the existing modes to HSR.

Such a survey, which is expected to be done for all the seven new corridors, will also study the traffic demand potential, traffic data for the past five years from the toll plaza operating on the national highways and expressways, and data for rail travel and air travel for the past five years. Economic indicators such as the gross domestic product of the country, the state GDP and district domestic product for previous years since 2011-12 will be studied too as part of these ridership surveys.

The planned routes have been selected in anticipation of high passenger traffic and because they will offer onward connections to similar high-speed trains. The 886-km Delhi-Ahmedabad route, for instance, is proposed to have 16 stations en route.

“We are very optimistic about this project as not only will it connect the national capital with Ahmedabad through Jaipur, Ajmer, Chittorgarh and Udaipur, which get a lot of foreign tourists, but also connect further into the ongoing Ahmedabad-Mumbai corridor, offering one an option to reach Mumbai from Delhi through a fast-train connection,” said a senior government official, who did not wish to be identified.

The 865-km Delhi-Varanasi route is proposed to have 12 stations including at the Jewar International Airport, Agra, Lucknow and Prayagraj. “Uttar Pradesh is a heavy footfall route. There will be tourists keen to hop onto a bullet train from Jewar International Airport to Agra and Varanasi. The same is the case with Punjab on Delhi-Amritsar route,” said the official.

Twelve stations are proposed on the 753-km Mumbai-Nagpur route, including at Nashik, Shirdi and Aurangabad while the 760-km Varanasi-Howrah route may pass through Bodhgaya. The 435-km Chennai-Mysore route may pass through the IT hub of Bengaluru while the 711-km Mumbai-Hyderabad route would connect the city of Pune.

Existing challenges on the ongoing 508-km Ahmedabad-Vadodara-Surat-Mumbai corridor, however, put a question mark on the future of the new corridors and their cost, especially at a time when the economy has taken a beating following the Covid-19 pandemic. The government said last week that the pandemic had delayed the land acquisition process and tenders for the corridor, and that though the project should meet its 2023-end deadline, the real time frame for the completion has to be reassessed after six months. Only 63% of the land has been acquired so far and 81% of the Rs.1.08 lakh crore cost of the project is to be funded through a 20-year loan from Japan International Cooperation Agency.

“Land acquisition is a challenge in any linear project. To minimise that, we are trying to plan the HSR corridors along the new expressways and national highways,” said Khare.

The government believes that the benefits would outrun the costs. “NHSRCL would be ushering India into the category of a few countries (about 15) using the high-speed railway system,” says the bid document. “Apart from being a technological marvel, HSR corridors would afford many quantifiable benefits like saving in travel time, vehicle operation cost, reduction in pollution, job creation, reduction in accidents and enhanced safety, imported fuel substitution, and reduction in pollutants. The project would also boost the infrastructure and add to the growth of the economy.”

India may’ve had 65L Covid cases by May: Sero survey

A total of 64,68,388 adult Covid infections were estimated in India by early May, even though the adjusted all-India seroprevalence was a low 0.73%, according to the results of a serological survey conducted by the ICMR released on Friday.

While the survey indicated that less than 1% of the adult population was exposed to coronavirus by mid-May, the official tally at the time was even lower at only 85,940 cases detected till May 15. This would indicate most cases may have been missed during the first few months of the outbreak.

This could be because the testing strategy was tailored by limited test kits and lab capacity and also because cases may have been asymptomatic.

A sero survey estimates the percentage of population exposed to a virus by finding the presence of antibodies. Antibodies indicate that a person had been infected but is no longer so.

Though the ICMR had shared some findings of the study in June, the final study was published in the ‘Indian Journal of Medical Research’ on Friday. A total of 30,283 households were visited and 28,000 individuals enrolled for the sero survey across the country. In June, too, ICMR had estimated prevalence of infection at 0.7%. It had said risk of the spread was 1.09 times higher in urban areas. While in urban slums, it was 1.89 times higher than rural areas.

“Males in urban slums and occupation with high risk of exposure to potentially infected persons were associated with seropositivity,” it said. Of the 157 people found positive in the survey, 43.3% were in the age group 18-45, 39.5% were aged 46-60 and the remaining 17.2% were over the age of 60. Seropositivity was, however, highest in the 46-60 age group, with 62 out of 9,525, or 0.6%, testing positive and lowest in the youngest age group at 0.5% (68 out of 13,552).

Swami Agnivesh Passes Away

Social activist Swami Agnivesh, who was suffering from liver cirrhosis for a long time, died of multi-organ failure at a Delhi hospital on Friday, doctors said. He was 80.

Union minister Hardeep Singh Puri, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot were among those who condoled his demise.

Gandhi called his demise an “irreparable loss” to the country. “Swami Agnivesh, the founder of Bandhua Mukti Morcha and revolutionary leader of Arya Samaj, passed away today. His demise is an irreparable loss to the country and Arya Samaj. My humble tribute to him,” he posted on Twitter in Hindi.


Moscow: Jaishankar-Yi meet

India and China have agreed on a five-point plan for resolving the prolonged border face-off in eastern Ladakh that included abiding by all existing agreements and protocol on management of the frontier, maintaining peace and tranquility and avoiding any action that could escalate matters.

The two countries agreed to the plan during talks between External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Moscow on Thursday evening on the sidelines of a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meet.

The Indian Army and the Chinese People's Liberation Army have been locked in a tense standoff in multiple areas along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh since early May.

The Ministry of External Affairs issued a joint press statement early on Friday featuring five points which were agreed by both the sides at the "frank and constructive" discussions by the two ministers.

"The two foreign ministers agreed that the current situation in the border areas is not in the interest of either side. They agreed, therefore, that the border troops of both sides should continue their dialogue, quickly disengage, maintain proper distance and ease tensions," it said.

The joint statement said Jaishankar and Wang agreed that both sides should take guidance from the series of consensus reached between leaders of the two countries on developing India-China relations, including not allowing differences to become disputes.

This assessment was a clear reference to decisions taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping at their two informal summits in 2018 and 2019.

The Indian delegation conveyed to the Chinese side that the provocative behavior of the PLA at friction points on the LAC showed its disregard for bilateral agreements and protocols. "The Indian side clearly conveyed that it expected full adherence to all agreements on management of border areas and would not countenance any attempt to change the status quo unilaterally. It was also emphasized that the Indian troops had scrupulously followed all agreements and protocols pertaining to the management of the border areas," said a source.

Jaishankar told Wang that maintenance of peace and tranquility on the border areas was essential to the forward development of ties, the government sources said.

The external affairs minister also conveyed to his Chinese counterpart that the recent incidents in eastern Ladakh inevitably impacted the development of the bilateral relationship.

Canada think tank: Khalistan is a Pak geopolitical project

Khalistan is a geopolitical project nurtured by Pakistan, concludes a top Canadian think tank in its report which has adverse implications for the national security of both Canada and India. Coming weeks before the so-called Referendum 2020 by the Khalistani group Sikhs for Justice, the report highlights how the Khalistan movement owes its energy to Pakistan.

The report by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, ‘Khalistan: A Project of Pakistan’ authored by Canadian journalist Terry Milewski says: “It does not fit the Khalistani narrative that Pakistan’s treatment of its shrinking Sikh minority has brought demonstrations to the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi. Rather, it makes it all the more bizarre that undying solidarity with Pakistan has become a kind of theme song for the American lawyer, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, who leads Sikhs For Justice, the driving force in the campaign for a referendum on Sikh independence.”

Pannun, the report observes, has sided with China in its dispute with India and recently wrote to Pakistan PM Imran Khan, swearing that “if India ever attacked Pakistan, the pro-Khalistan Sikhs will extend full support to Pakistan”. The report marks, as a turning point, a 2018 event when Canada’s national security report had to omit a reference to Sikh Khalistanis. The 2018 Public Report on the Terrorism Threat to Canada replaced “Sikh (Khalistani) extremist ideologies and movements” with the more generic “Extremists who support violent means to establish an independent state within India.”

RIL becomes 1st Indian co to hit $200bn mcap

Reliance Industries became the first Indian company to cross the $200-billion market capitalisation mark after its stock surged over 8% on the back of reports that global retailing giant Amazon has been offered a $20-billion worth of stake in its retail venture.

From being an entity with a market cap of nearly $43 billion a little over five years ago and a pure-play business-to-business entity, RIL’s market value has risen almost five times as it scaled up its two consumer-focused businesses — telecom and organised retail — during the intervening period. In the process, it has leap frogged to become one of the 10 most valued companies in Asia and also among the top 40 globally. RIL is the only Indian company in these exclusive clubs, Bloomberg data showed.

In the last two years, while the BSE’s market cap has remained stagnant at around Rs.155 lakh crore, RIL’s market cap has almost doubled from close to Rs.8 lakh crore to Rs.15.3 lakh crore. So if RIL is taken out from India’s total market cap, the fall in value is about Rs.7.5 lakh crore. Seen another way, while RIL’s market cap has grown about 92% since September 2018, the combined market cap of all other Indian companies has shrunk by 5%.

The phenomenal rise in RIL’s market cap came during the past five years as it again transformed itself from being a major B2B focused company to a business-to-consumer entity, in a country with over 1.3 billion people.

As its refining business grew at a fast clip, RIL tried its hands at petro-product refining, but that didn’t take off as was expected. 

Golden Temple can get foreign donations

The home ministry has granted a licence to Amritsar’s Sachkhand Sri Harmandir Sahib-Darbar Sahib — popularly known as the Golden Temple — to receive foreign donations.

The association has, since its creation in 1925, offered free ‘langar’ to devotees and public; extended financial assistance to the poor, needy, students and medical patients; and assisted with disaster relief with the domestic donations received by it. Now, with its registration under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 2010, it can also receive contributions from Sikh devotees and others across the world for these objectives.

Home minister Amit Shah termed the registration of Sri Harmandir Sahib under FCRA as a “pathbreaking” decision. “Sri Darbar Sahib’s divinity gives strength to us. For decades, the Sangat worldwide was unable to serve there. Modi government’s decision to allow FCRA (licence) to the Sri Harmandir Sahib deepens the connect of Seva between the Sangat globally and the Sri Darbar Sahib. A blessed moment!”, he tweeted.

He added: “Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi ji is blessed that Wahe Guru ji has taken Seva from him. The decision on FCRA at the Sri Harmandir Sahib is a pathbreaking one...”

A home ministry release said Sachkhand Sri Harmandir Sahib, Sri Darbar Sahib, Punjab, had applied for registration under FCRA on May 27, 2020. On Thursday, the decision to register it as an association of "religious nature" under FCRA, was communicated by MHA. The registration shall remain valid for five years, after which it can be renewed.

India inks military pact with Japan

India is working to enhance its strategic reach in the Indian Ocean and beyond by clinching reciprocal military logistics pacts with friendly countries to counter China’s expanding footprint across the Indo-Pacific.

Japan has now become the sixth country, after US, France, Australia, South Korea and Singapore, with which India has such an agreement to enable military forces to share logistics to support each other’s warships and aircraft as well as bolster overall interoperability and defence cooperation.

“India is negotiating similar pacts with UK and Russia. The Russian one should be inked later this year. We don’t have the intention or the wherewithal to establish overseas bases like China is doing far and wide,” a senior official said .

Defence secretary Ajay Kumar and Japanese ambassador Suzuki Satoshi signed the agreement on “reciprocal provision of supplies and services” between the Indian armed forces and the Japanese self-defence forces.

With an eye on an expansionist and rule-flouting China, the ‘Quad’ grouping of India, US, Australia and Japan is also set to gain more heft now.

China, which now has the world’s largest Navy, is looking to set up more logistics bases


Ladakh on the boil again

The situation along the Line of Actual Control remained extremely tense after Chinese troops reportedly closed in on Indian positions on the South Bank of Pangong Tso on Monday and fired shots in the air while both sides were in close range. The Indian Army on Tuesday morning said that despite the ‘grave provocation by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, ‘our troops exercised great restraint and behaved in a mature and responsible manner.’ The Western Theatre Command, one of the five regional commands of the Chinese army, however, alleged that shots were fired by the Indian side and sought an investigation into the incident and strict action against those who fired the shots. India has since denied the charge and called it ‘an attempt to mislead their domestic and international audience’.

The Army said that PLA troops on Monday attempted to ‘close-in with one of our forward positions along the LAC and when dissuaded by our own troops, they fired a few rounds in the air in an attempt to intimidate our troops.’ On Monday, Chinese and Indian soldiers came within shooting distance in key hills occupied by India between Rechin La-Rezangla-Mukhpari and Magar Hill in South Pangong. Indian soldiers shouted at Chinese soldiers when they saw them coming up to a position near Mukhpari. Officials said there were no physical skirmishes or any provocation from the Indian side but the Chinese fired a burst of warning shots.

Unconfirmed and undated photos, allegedly released by the army, show Chinese soldiers at Mukhpari armed with spears and rifles, pointing to the use of mass weapons that was initially denied by China after the deadly clashes on June 15 at Galwan Valley in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed.

Sources said that since Indian troops recently occupied tactical positions on some of the heights in the region, thwarting Chinese attempts to ‘unilaterally alter the LAC’, there has been increased Chinese movement to push back the Indian side.

PM Narendra Modi chaired a meet of the Cabinet Committee on Security on Tuesday evening to discuss the stand-off with China that has shown no signs of abatement despite several rounds of diplomatic and military engagements. Home Minister Amit Shah, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, who is also a member of the Special Representatives engaged in high-level discussions with China were a part of the meet.


Literacy rates

Which state has a higher literacy rate: Andhra Pradesh or Bihar, Telangana or Assam, Karnataka or Uttarakhand? If you picked the southern state each time, you were wrong and by a considerable margin.

AP’s rate of 66.4% is the lowest among states and UTs and lower than Bihar’s 70.9%. Telangana’s 72.8% is well below the national average of 77.7% while Assam is well above it at 85.9% and Karnataka’s 77.2% pales in comparison to Uttarakhand’s 87.6%, which is bettered only by Kerala and Delhi. Maharashtra is sixth with 84.8%.

Data from a 2017-18 National Statistical Office report on education reveals these counter-intuitive truths and shows that, at least when it comes to literacy, notions of “developed states” can be misleading.

Not all preconceptions are wrong though. Kerala remains by some distance the best among the major states with a literacy rate of 96.2%. More impressively, the gap between male and female literacy is the smallest in Kerala at just 2.2 percentage points. To put that in context, the gap at the all-India level is 14.4 percentage points with male literacy at 84.7% and female literacy at 70.3%.

Typically, states with relatively low literacy rates also tend to have the highest gender skews, but that is not always true. Andhra Pradesh, for instance, has a gap between male and female literacy rates of only 13.9 percentage points, while Rajasthan (23.2), Bihar (19.2) and UP (18.4) have pronounced gaps despite better overall literacy rates.

The gap between urban and rural literacy rates is of the same order of magnitude as that between males and females. Once again, Kerala has the lowest gap of a mere 1.9 percentage points. At the other end of the spectrum on this count are Telangana, where urban literacy is 23.4 percentage points higher than rural literacy, and Andhra Pradesh, where the difference is 19.2 percentage points.

Combined effect of gender and urban-rural skews means the difference between urban male literacy and rural female literacy is an alarming 27.2 percentage points at national level. In individual states it can be much worse.


Ease of biz rankings

Uttar Pradesh has made a strong comeback rising to the second position in 2019 from 12th place in 2018 in the ease of doing business rankings. Himachal Pradesh moved up to the seventh place in 2019 from 16 in 2018. In the overall ranking, Delhi moved to the12th spot in 2019 from the 23rd place in 2018. The rankings for 2019 were to be released in March this year but had to be postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The government had launched the ease of doing ranking for states to trigger a competition among states to reform their business and approval processes to attract investment. The sustained progress of India’s rankings in the World Bank’s ease of doing business had also had an impact on states to shore up their approval and regulatory processes and increase their potential to attract investors.

“India is seen taking the reform process seriously which showed when foreign direct investment in the country increased even during the Covid-19 pandemic, amid what was called the world’s strictest lockdown. Some states have shown extraordinary energy in putting together action plans and making sure that reforms happen. States have embraced the true spirit behind the State Business Reforms Action Plan," said Sitharaman while releasing the rankings.

The larger objective of attracting investments and increasing ease of doing business in each state was sought to be achieved by introducing an element of healthy competition through a system of ranking states based on their performance in the implementation of business reform action plan.


Japan offers perks to its companies moving to India as well

A week before an India-Japan summit, Japan’s ministry of economy, trade and industry announced it would add India and Bangladesh to a list of Asean countries to qualify for subsidies for Japanese manufacturers moving out of China. The METI announcement comes days after India, Japan and Australia decided to advance cooperation on building trusted, resilient supply chains.

PM Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe, the outgoing Japanese prime minister, will hold their last virtual summit on September 10. The two countries are expected to sign the ACSA (Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement) which will allow military services of both countries to share logistics. (India signed a similar pact with Australia in June). It will be a fitting note to Modi’s last meeting with Abe before the Japanese leader steps down given their rapport and the big steps in bilateral cooperation taken during their tenures.

The summit comes when India and Japan are locked in separate tensions with China.

The SCRI (Supply Chains Resilience Initiative) is intended to build alternative supply chains. At a trilateral meeting with trade ministers of Australia and Japan, commerce minister Piyush Goyal said, “Diversification of supply chain is critical for managing risks associated with supply of inputs, including disciplining price volatility. We could provide the core pathway for linking value chains in the region .”

The announcement by the Japanese government will shift the onus on India to attract Japanese companies seeking alternatives to China.

Covid-19: India’s cases hit 4m

Covid-19 cases in India raced past 4 million, just 13 days after hitting the 3 million mark, even as fresh cases in the past 24 hours surged to a new high of over 87,800. This was the third consecutive day of highest rise in new infections.

India is the third country after the US and Brazil to record 4 million cases. While India took the longest time for cases to increase from one to 1 million (168 days), its subsequent growth in infections has been the fastest.

Cases in India have grown from 1 million to 4 million in 50 days, while it took 75 days in Brazil and 86 days in the US. The last million was in just 13 days—the fastest million so far— with previous being 16 days, recorded in both India and the US. However, India’s fatality rate remains the lowest among the three worst hit countries, less than half the mortality rate in the US.

At the 4 million mark, India has recorded 69,551 fatalities from the virus.

At the same stage, the US had reported more than 1.4 lakh deaths and Brazil over 1.2 lakh.

On Friday, India recorded a rise of 87,852 fresh cases, as per the last 24-hour data. Deaths from the infections numbered 1,062, the fourth straight day of 1,000-plus casualties in the country. Active cases rose by 17,000, the biggest single-day rise in quite some time, to nearly 8.5 lakh. Recoveries from the infection totalled nearly 31 lakh.

Besides Maharashtra, four other states reported their highest single-day surge in cases — Chhattisgarh (3,203 cases, including 1,515 from Thursday midnight), Haryana (1,884), Rajasthan (1,570) and Arunachal Pradesh (214).

Andhra Pradesh reported 10,776 Covid-19 cases on Friday, taking the cumulative caseload to 4,76,506, even as 76 more people died in the last 24 hours. While the overall toll jumped to 4,276, as many as 12,334 Covid-19 patients were declared cured on Friday, making it the highest single-day recoveries so far in the state.


IMF confirms India’s GDP worst-hit among G20

A tweet put out by the International Monetary Fund's chief economist Gita Gopinath confirmed that the Indian economy saw the steepest contraction in the first quarter among G20 countries.

“In #GreatLockdown Q2 2020 GDP growth at historical lows. Graph puts G20 growth numbers on a comparable scale, quarteron-quarter non-annualized. Should expect rebounds in Q3 but 2020 overall will see major contractions. China recovers strongly in Q2 after collapse in Q1,” the tweet read.

FASTags will be a must for TPI from April

From April next year, you won’t be able to renew the third party insurance of your vehicle, except for two and three-wheelers, if it doesn’t have a valid FASTag. Moreover, all vehicles with four or more wheels would need to have FASTag from January 1, 2021and violation would attract a penalty of Rs.300-500.

The road transport ministry has published a draft notification proposing these changes in the Central Motor Vehicle Rules in order to increase penetration of FASTags. Though all cars and other bigger vehicles sold after December 1, 2017 have got FASTags since this was made mandatory for registration, a huge number of old vehicles don’t have the smart tags.

“The move will ensure greater coverage of FASTag used for paying toll charges digitally,” said a source. However, there are concerns whether insurance companies and the insurance regulator would find it possible to ensure that only vehicles with FASTags can renew the third party insurance. Currently, nearly 50% of the vehicles have this insurance coverage and the regulator has been trying to increase the coverage.

Services Activity Shrinks: August 2020

Services activity in India contracted for the sixth consecutive month in August, but the pace of decline slowed as some firms gradually resumed operations with lockdown restrictions easing. The IHS Markit Services Purchasing Managers' Index moved up to 41.8 in August from July's 34.2, but remained below the 50-mark that separates growth from contraction.

India’s services sector including construction shrank 26.8% on-year in the quarter ended June, when the economy contracted 23.9%, the first contraction in four decades.

CDS Rawat: Must plan for two-pronged conflict

The Indian armed forces are capable of suitably dealing with China’s aggressive actions along the LAC, chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat said, while warning Pakistan against trying to take advantage of the ongoing confrontation in eastern Ladakh.

Speaking at a webinar organised by an American think-tank, Gen Rawat said India faced the “threat of coordinated action along the northern and western fronts” with China and Pakistan. This collusive threat needed to be factored into defence planning, he said. “If any threat develops around our northern borders, Pakistan could take advantage of that and create some trouble for us. Therefore, we have taken adequate precautions to ensure that any such misadventure by Pakistan is thwarted. In fact, Pakistan may suffer heavy losses should it attempt any misadventure,” Gen Rawat said.

Noting that the Indian armed forces will have to be prepared to meet the immediate crisis and concurrently prepare for the future, the CDS said, “Our policy of engagement, if not backed by credible military power and regional influence, would imply acknowledging China’s pre-eminence.” China’s continuing infrastructure development in Tibet, development of strategic railway lines and reforms in PLA are being closely studied by India, he said. On the other hand, Pakistan has been conducting a proxy war, sponsoring and equipping terrorists from its soil to create trouble in J&K for years.


August PV Sales Accelerate

Monthly passenger vehicle sales shot up in strong double digits for the first time in nearly two years, as steady retail demand coupled with easing of constraints in supply chain after the lockdown helped produce and dispatch more vehicles in August.

The industry estimates around 234,000 passenger vehicles were dispatched from factories last month, about 20% increase compared with 195,800 units a year earlier. In August last year, the wholesale number had fallen almost 32% and that low base aided year-on-year comparison for last month. The estimated sales for last month were 18% more than in July.

Commercial vehicle companies continued to report lower sales from a year earlier, but numbers increased sequentially.

Automakers in India report wholesale dispatches from factories to dealers and not retail sales made to customers. Industry numbers were buoyed by the performance of the country’s top two carmakers, Maruti Suzuki and Hyundai Motor India — sales for both grew by a fifth in the local market.

Maruti Suzuki reported growth of 21.3%, dispatching 113,033 passenger vehicles to dealerships in India. While sales of mini cars Alto and S-Presso nearly doubled at 19,709 units, those of compact cars (Swift, DZire, Tour S, Baleno, Celerio, Ignis and WagonR) rose over 14% to 61,956 units. The midsize sedan Ciaz though saw a 23% fall in sales at 1,223 units. Wholesale volumes in utility vehicle segment (Ertiga, XL6, Vitara Brezza, S-Cross) grew 13.5% to 21,030 units.

Hyundai Motor India’s sales rose 20% to 45,809 units. Tarun Garg, its director of sales, marketing & service, said good response to the new Creta, Verna, Tucson, Nios, Aura and recently launched Venue had helped performance. “We would like to carry on with cautious optimism as uncertainty still surrounds the pandemic,” he said.

At homegrown Mahindra & Mahindra, wholesale volumes grew marginally to 13,651 units. Chief executive (automotive division) Veejay Nakra said: “At Mahindra, we continue to see good recovery in demand for SUVs and pick-ups in the small commercial vehicles segment … We have been able to meet the uplift in demand by managing supply chain challenges and, going forward, will continue to keep focus on it.”

Toyota Kirloskar Motor reported a 48% plunge in sales to 5,555 units. Volumes, however, grew sequentially. Retail sales were 25% higher than wholesales. “August witnessed an increase in demand for most of our models akin to pre-Covid times, including customer enquiries and orders. However, supplying vehicles from our end (to dealers) posed a challenge due to rising number of Covid cases in Bengaluru (its factory is located nearby) and surrounding areas, where most of our workforce resides,” said Naveen Soni, senior vice president (sales & service)

Covid-19: Pune district now worst-hit in India

Pune district has become the epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic with maximum reported cases in India. With 1.82 lakh confirmed cases, it has surpassed the top five affected districts across India, including Mumbai (1.48 lakh), Chennai (1.37 lakh), Thane (1.35 lakh) and Bengaluru urban (1.35 lakh) by a good margin. Pune district had also crossed Delhi, which had 1.79 lakh cases.

Maharashtra’s first two confirmed cases were reported from Pune on March 9, with the return of a travel group of 40 from Dubai. However, Mumbai soon surpassed Pune and added cases in big volumes in May, June and July.

Pune saw a major surge in July and had the highest number of active cases in the country. Between July 14 and 27, it added the highest number of new cases in the country. Of the total 5,74,858 cases added in these two weeks, 37,950 were from Pune. Data shows while Pune city is the biggest contributor in the district, rural areas and even Pimpri-Chinchwad have been adding cases in bulk.

As on Wednesday, Pune city had 1.04 lakh cases and 2,607 deaths, while Pune rural had 27,863 cases and 745 deaths. The adjoining Pimpri-Chinchwad too 49,794 cases and 808 deaths. “Pune has the highest active cases in the country because we are conducting the maximum tests, 11,000 a day,” said Vikram Kumar, commissioner, Pune Municipal Corporation. Pune divisional commissioner Saurabh Rao had earlier said that the district had been conducting the maximum number of tests in the country. On Tuesday, the tests per million in Pune were 74,254 as against the state’s 31,757 and India’s 31,116.

The Indian Medical Association’s Hospital Board of India, Pune chapter, said that in addition to increased testing, the influx of patients from adjoining districts to hospitals in Pune was adding to the number. “Patients from Satara, Sangli, Solapur, Kolhapur and even Dhule are opting to get themselves admitted to hospitals in Pune owing to our evolved treatment strategies and well-equipped facilities,” they said. Pune is now building jumbo facilities on the lines of Mumbai to handle patient load. BMC’s additional municipal commissioner Suresh Kakani said they were providing technical knowhow to Pune for construction of jumbo centres.


August 2020: IHS Markit India Manufacturing PMI

Activity in the country’s manufacturing sector rebounded in August after four months of contraction, led by an increase in new orders. The data provided some relief from the grim economic numbers in recent months that showed the economy contracting by a record 23.9% in the June quarter.

The survey showed that output and new orders expanded at the fastest pace since February. But job cuts continued into August, extending the current sequence of decline to five months.

The IHS Markit India Manufacturing PMI rose to 52 in August from 46 in July, signalling some improvement across the manufacturing sector. The 50-point mark separates expansion from contraction. The strict national lockdown imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus has hurt the overall economy and led to job losses, heaping misery on businesses and workers. The survey is compiled from responses to questionnaires sent to purchasing managers in a panel of around 400 manufacturers and serves as an advance indicator of manufacturing conditions.

Data released on Monday showed the country’s GDP contracted 23.9% in the April-June quarter — the period when the lockdown was in place — with the manufacturing sector declining 39.3%. The key sector has been in the midst of a sharp slowdown and has been contracting for four consecutive quarters. Separate data showed the eight core sectors contracting for the fifth consecutive month in July although the pace of contraction narrowed.

Chinese Duplicity

China’s attempted assault on the southern banks of the Pangong Tso on Saturday night has raised alarm on several fronts and, more disconcertingly, exposed a wide gap between what Beijing says through diplomatic channels and what the PLA actually does on the ground.

For weeks now, China has been reposing faith in the disengagement process through its statements, conveying a sense of progress and expressing intent to resolve. India has gone along with the hope that the slight pullback — meant to create distance between agitated troops — will eventually translate into de-escalation through a withdrawal of additional troops from eastern Ladakh.

But the truth is after the pullback from Galwan and some adjoining areas, the process has hit a wall. In Pangong Tso itself, Chinese troops withdrew only a bit and then stalled. And instead, the PLA has made preparations to sit out the winter. All military-to-military conversations in the past month have been quite rough and hostile, at times plain rude.

The chill has also set in on the regular hotline conversations between local commanders. It’s believed that even the initial pleasantries are not being exchanged these days. The tone and tenor, by all accounts, have begun to reflect the aggressive posture of PLA on the ground.

Doubts over PLA’s intent arose when the Pangong Tso disengagement conversation started to derail after the Chinese side proposed equidistant withdrawal. It was always understood that time taken to reach back current positions would determine the distance each side will pullback.

China has motorable roads and its forces can reach faster than Indian troops who have to walk large parts of the territory. So, PLA goes back more distance than India, knowing well that both sides will take equal time to reach back. Now, this fact based formula has informed India-China boundary management conversations for decades. Yet, the Chinese insistence to press ahead with the proposal raised doubts over the sincerity of the current negotiation.

The disengagement talks would run into hours without result but provoked a lot of heated exchange. India knew the discussions were stumbling but China kept conveying hope diplomatically, be it through statements of its ambassador in India as well as the Chinese foreign office, or for that matter its state-sponsored media. The problem was PLA was doing just the opposite, being aggressive and intransigent.

PLA’s Saturday night action needs to be understood against this backdrop. While exact numbers are not known, it’s believed that China breached the disengagement pact and started moving hundreds of troops to occupy tactically important hill features around the southern bank of the lake. India picked up the movement and preempted China by sending its troops to occupy some of the heights.

In the end, the disengagement truce was broken. No significant physical harm has been done so far but we have tensions running high as troops are now face-to-face with each other. All of this again raises the issue of trust. China started talking pullback before the June 15 incident and yet put up a tent at Galwan that became a source of contest, leading to a deadly combat. And now too, while talking disengagement, it has chosen to provoke.

In the absence of trust, motives come under doubt. Indian forces will have to assume that PLA’s actions are either unrestrained or, even worse, part of a well-orchestrated script where diplomacy is being used to provide cover to something more sinister.

In any which way, it’s clear now that disengagement has little shelf life without larger de-escalation. India has to test China’s intent by pressing for the latter and until then, be aware as well as prepared for the script to change dramatically overnight.

Rumblings in the Congress

Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma said none of the issues raised by the group of 23 in the letter to party president Sonia Gandhi calling for reforms were discussed in the CWC meeting last week and there has not been any outreach from the leadership since the stormy session.

About the CWC meeting itself, Sharma said, “The issues we raised were never discussed, not one issue was discussed … It was said we had attacked the leadership of Sonia Gandhi. That was not true at all. I said in the meeting that the letter should be given to all the CWC members so that they know the contents. But that did not happen and people in the session were permitted to say things that cannot be allowed in a civilised meeting.”

Asked if there was a dialogue between the two factions, Sharma said, “Nobody has reached out to me. Only one leader called me but no call from the Congress president. There has also not been any outreach to Ghulam Nabi Azad. Rahul Gandhi called Kapil Sibal on the limited point (to clarify that he did not accuse them of being in collusion with BJP) and he also called Azad on that limited issue.”

“Having built the party, we did not deserve it. We had done nothing to warrant such uncharitable comments,” he said. Seen as one of the leading lights of the letter writer group Sharma, however, expressed optimism that there will be a discussion. “I do believe that with Sonia Gandhi as president, we have the collective wisdom to address these issues,” he said.

According to Sharma, they expect that they will be called for a discussion so that “there is no breakdown of communication”. “Had there been a meeting for five months …. But nobody met,” he stated.

Meanwhile, a group of young Congress leaders, seen as close to Rahul Gandhi, took to Twitter to term a news report as a “lie” that named them as having attended a virtual meeting with the former Congress president. The report alleged that Rahul told the meeting that he would retire the senior leaders in the party. Among those who slammed the report were MPs Rajeev Satav, Manickam Tagore and Ravneet Bittu, and Mahila Congress chief Sushmita Dev.

Chinese Dragon bares its fangs

If India would like a military showdown, the People’s Liberation Army is bound to make the Indian Army suffer much more severe losses than it did in 1962, hollered the hawkish Global Times in an editorial on the latest military flareup in Pangong Tso.

This followed a rare ‘survey’ by the Chinese government mouthpiece last week claiming 90% people were in favour of retaliatory action against India. Taking off from there, it said in the editorial that Chinese people had shown support for their government which “won’t seek to provoke India, but does not (sic) allow it to encroach on China’s territory”.

Global Times seemed to be itching for action as it urged the government to take military action “when necessary”. “China is several times stronger than India, and India is no match for China. We must smash any Indian illusion that it can deal with China by colluding with other powers, such as the US. The history of Asia and the world has told us that any force keen on opportunism tends to bully the weak while fear the strong. India is a typical opportunist when it comes to the China-India border issue,” it said.

It also said India should not have any illusions of Washington’s support and that India shouldn’t embolden itself by strengthening cooperation under the Quad framework.

China has been using coercive tactics in pursuit of territorial and maritime claims in the South and East China Seas, as well as along its border with India and Bhutan, the Pentagon added.

China is engaged in hotly contested territorial disputes in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea. Beijing has built up and militarised many of the islands and reefs it controls in the region. Both areas are stated to be rich in natural resources and are vital to global trade.

“China’s leaders use tactics short of armed conflict to pursue China’s objectives. China calibrates its coercive activities to fall below the threshold of provoking armed conflict with the United States, its allies and partners, or others in the Indo-Pacific region,” the Pentagon said in its annual report on China to the Congress.


Army thwarts China’s invasion bid in Ladakh

In a clear indication that the festering trouble in Eastern Ladakh is far from over, the Centre said that Chinese troops had tried ‘to change the status quo’ on the southern bank of Pangong Tso Lake on Saturday night but were stopped by Indian troops as the activity was ‘pre-empted.’ Sources said the incident is a cause of serious concern as this is a new conflict area. Even as China denied any such move, a Brigade Commander-level flag meeting was held in Chushul to resolve the issues.

An official statement by the Defence Ministry maintained that ‘PLA troops violated the previous consensus arrived at during military and diplomatic engagements during the ongoing standoff in Eastern Ladakh and carried out provocative military movements to change the status quo’ on the intervening night of August 29-30. “Indian troops pre-empted this PLA activity on the Southern Bank of Pangong Tso Lake, undertook measures to strengthen our positions and thwart Chinese intentions to unilaterally change facts on ground. The Indian Army is committed to maintaining peace and tranquility through dialogue, but is also equally determined to protect its territorial integrity,” the statement issued on Monday morning read.

Top sources said that a sizeable number of Chinese troops, some put the number at close to 200, arrived in a vehicular convoy and ran into an Indian post. The Indian Army that had prior intel about the Chinese movement and had mobilised forces was already present in the area thereby pushing them back. Sources said there were no physical altercations and no injuries or casualties on either side.

China, however, denied the development and claimed that their border troops ‘never cross the line of actual control.’ “Both sides are in communication regarding the situation on the ground,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a press briefing.

A Chinese military spokesperson, Colonel Zhang Shuili, also claimed that it was India that had violated China’s sovereignty. “The Chinese military is taking necessary countermeasures and will pay close attention to developments and resolutely safeguard China's territorial sovereignty and peace and stability in border areas,” he said.

Despite several rounds of diplomatic and military engagements between the two countries, the situation in Eastern Ladakh has been far from normal since the bloody clashes on June 20 in which 20 soldiers were killed at the Galwan Valley. Though Chinese troops pulled back from some of the conflict areas, Indian authorities have repeatedly raised the issue of their continuing presence and highlighted that the withdrawal of troops is not complete. Satellite images show Chinese presence on slopes along Finger 5 and on those extending towards Finger 8.

Ladakh LG Radha Krisha Mathur met MoS Home G Kishan Reddy in New Delhi to apprise him of the situation at the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh. The Ladakh-Srinagar highway was closed to civilian traffic reportedly for troop movement.

Adani acquires 74% stake in Mumbai airport

 The Adani Group is all set to become the country’s biggest private airport operator. Its flagship holding company, Adani Airport Holdings Ltd, will acquire 74 per cent controlling stake in the Mumbai International Airport and the proposed Navi Mumbai International Airport. The group had entered the aviation sector last year by acquiring 50-year operational rights for six newly privatised airports in Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Mangaluru, Thiruvananthapuram, Guwahati and Jaipur.

In an agreement signed on Monday, AAHL has agreed to acquire the entire 50.5 per cent stake of GVK Airport Developers Ltd in Mumbai International Airport Ltd. It will also acquire 23.5 per cent stake of minority partners – Airports Company South Africa and Bidvest Group, which hold 10 per cent and 13.5 per cent, respectively. The state-run Airport Authority of India holds the remaining 26 per cent stake.

The Adani group had been eyeing a controlling stake in GVK’s airport business for some time. The agreement comes within weeks of the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate opening investigations against GVK promoters over the alleged irregularities to the tune of Rs.705 crore in operating the Mumbai airport.

As per a disclosure to the Bombay Stock Exchange on Monday morning, the Adani group said it will take steps to obtain the necessary customary and regulatory approvals, as may be required. The group will also infuse funds into MIAL for liquidity support and achieve financial closure of the Navi Mumbai project to commence construction.

For its part, the Hyderabad-based GVK group has agreed to “cooperate” with the Adani group. The terms of cooperation include GVK’s release from all obligations and corporate guarantees in respect to the debt it owes to lenders such as Goldman Sachs and HDFC, and the conversion of this debt into equity on mutually agreed terms with the Adani group.

Commenting on the development, GVK chairman, Dr GVK Reddy said, “The aviation industry has been severely impacted by Covid-19, setting it back by many years, and has impacted the financials of MIAL. It was therefore important that we bring in a financially strong investor in the shortest possible time.”

In a separate disclosure, GVK said it has notified its investors – the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, the National Investment and Infrastructure Fund and Canada’s Public Sector Pension Investment – that the transaction documents stand terminated, as it is no longer effective and implementable.

GDP collapses 23.9% in Q1

India’s economy posted its steepest contraction on record in the April-June quarter of the current fiscal year as the strict lockdowns imposed to arrest the spread of Covid infection stalled economic activity, shut out consumption and investment, and led to job and income losses. Asia’s third largest economy was already faltering when the pandemic struck.

GDP in April-June of 2020-21 slumped 23.9% compared with a growth of 3.1% in the previous (Jan-March) quarter. Among major economies, India’s contraction was the sharpest. China, after posting a contraction in the Jan-March quarter has recovered with a 3.2% growth in April-June. Globally, India is close to UK’s contraction of 20.4% in the second quarter.

Agriculture was the only bright spot in India. The sector, which has benefited from a robust monsoon, rose an annual 3.4% in April-June compared to a growth of 3% in the corresponding quarter of 2019-20.

Recession deepened in the manufacturing sector as it posted four consecutive quarters of contraction while construction declined for the third quarter in a row. Economists define recession as two consecutive quarters of negative growth. Manufacturing and construction shrank 39.3% and 50.3% respectively during April-June. Trade, hotels, transport and communications -- part of the services sector -- posted the second highest contraction of 47%.

As a whole, services, which accounts for nearly 60% of the economy, slumped 20.6% in April-June compared to 4.4% growth in the previous quarter. Hotels, restaurants, hospitality and airlines, have borne the maximum brunt of the slowdown. Private consumption, a key driver of the economy, witnessed a sharp decline of 24.5% in the first quarter from a 8.5% increase in the year-ago period. However, government consumption saw a 20.2% increase in the June quarter compared with a 9.5% growth in the same period of the previous year. This highlights the role of government spending in supporting the economy.

According to a Care Ratings analysis Investment growth witnessed a sharp decrease of 47.9% in the June quarter. As a percentage of GDP, investments (as measured by the Gross Fixed Capital Formation) at 19.5% during the quarter was the lowest under the new series (2011-12). Chief economic adviser Krishnamurthy Subramanian said the contraction was expected given the lockdown that happened globally. “India is definitely experiencing a V-shaped recovery.  Economists said the sharp contraction will prompt the RBI to go in for rates cuts to lift growth. Inflationary pressures have prompted the RBI to press the pause button in its rate cutting cycle.

Pranab Mukherjee: 1935 - 2020

Pranab Mukherjee, whose career on the national political stage began as a Rajya Sabha MP in 1969 and ended as President in 2017, passed away Monday evening at the age of 84 – 22 days after he was admitted to the Army Hospital (Research and Referral) in New Delhi following an emergency operation for a clot in the brain from which he never recovered. It was a rare defeat for a public figure who'd managed to defy the vicissitudes of politics and fickleness of personal equations to rise to the highest constitutional post in the land.

He had slipped into a deep coma, and his medical condition was further complicated as he tested positive for Covid-19 and finally succumbed to septic shock caused by a lung infection. The government has announced a seven-day period of mourning till September 6. Mukherjee was one of only three ministers in Independent India to have held three CCS (cabinet committee on security) positions: finance, defence and external affairs. He was also leader of the House in Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha.

A Congressman all his political life, barring a brief period when he fell out with Rajiv Gandhi, Mukherjee worked with three PMs: Indira Gandhi, whose attention he first caught, P V Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh. After his return to Congress, his career was revived by Rao who appointed him deputy chairman of the Planning Commission. However, he was passed over for the PM’s job in 2004 when Sonia Gandhi chose Manmohan Singh.

Mukherjee received the Bharat Ratna, the nation’s highest honour, last year, a recognition that stood out because it was conferred at the behest of a government belonging to a party he had consistently opposed. Earlier, BJP’s allies JD(U) and Shiv Sena had broken ranks from their NDA partners to support his presidential bid.

Though not a mass leader — he won only one Lok Sabha election, in 2004 and never made a mark in state politics — he was the go-to man in successive governments for troubleshooting assignments.

President Ram Nath Kovind, PM Narendra Modi, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi led the nation in paying tribute to Mukherjee. A man of many hues, he was a voracious reader whose knowledge of history and politics was embellished by a ringside view of events of national importance.

He was a key negotiator with the Left on the India-US nuclear deal till the communists parted ways with the UPA. He also spearheaded the UPA government’s unsuccessful effort to defang the anti-corruption movement that launched Aam Aadmi Party and help clear the way for Narendra Modi’s win in the 2014 LS elections.

A government reply to a Parliament question in 2010 (UPA-2) said Mukherjee was heading all empowered GoMs expect one and was head of 15 of 34 other GoMs. Seen as ‘Mr Fixit’ in UPA-1 and 2, he headed eGoMs on 3G spectrum, procurement and management of foodgrain, drought management, gas pricing, price band of PSU shares, mega power projects and mass transit systems. In all, he headed 95 GoMs during his time in the two UPA governments.

Mukherjee is survived by two sons and a daughter. Abhijit Mukherjee, a former MP, broke the news of his father’s death. His daughter Sharmistha has been active in politics and was spokesperson for the Delhi Congress.


Covid-19: August surge

India’s Covid-19 tally zoomed past 35 lakh, just a week after it crossed the 30-lakh mark, with a record single-day spike of 78,761 cases, while recoveries surged to 27,13,933 on Sunday, according to the Union Health Ministry data.

The total coronavirus cases rose to 35,42,733, while the death toll climbed to 63,498 with 948 people succumbing to the diseases in a span of 24 hours, the data updated at 8 am on Saturday showed.

The recovery rate has increased to 76.61 per cent while the Covid-19 case fatality rate has further declined to 1.79 per cent. There are 7,65,302 active cases of coronavirus infection in the country which comprises 21.60 per cent of the total caseload, the data stated. India’s Covid-19 cases rose from 20 lakh to 30 lakh in 16 days and 10 lakh to 20 lakh in 21 days.

It took 110 days for Covid-19 cases in the country to reach one, while just 59 days more to go past the 10-lakh post. India’s Covid-19 tally had crossed the 20-lakh mark on August 7 and went past 30 lakh on August 23.

According to the ICMR, a cumulative total of 4,14,61,636 samples have been tested up to August 29 with 10,55,027 samples being tested on Saturday. Of the 948 fresh deaths, 328 are from Maharashtra,115 from Karnataka, 87 from Tamil Nadu, 82 from Andhra Pradesh, 62 from Uttar Pradesh, 53 from West Bengal, 41 from Punjab, 22 from Madhya Pradesh, 16 from Jharkhand,15 from Delhi,14 from Odisha,13 each from Gujarat and Rajasthan, 12 from Puducherry, 11 each from Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand.

Of the total 63,498 deaths, Maharashtra has reported the maximum at 24,103 followed by 7,137 in Tamil Nadu, 5,483 in Karnataka, 4,404 in Delhi, and 3,796 in Andhra .

Monsoon tracker: This August could be Wettest Since 1901

The monsoon has roared back in August with excess rain of 26%, and is likely to be among the wettest since 1901, when the weather office started recording official data.

Rainfall is already at a record in India’s mid-latitude states including Mahrashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Odisha. This region, which the weather office categorises as ‘central India’, has received an all-time high 482.8 mm rainfall this month.

The surge in rainfall, following a weak July, has raised hopes of a record harvest of summer-sown, or kharif, crops, although there are concerns about floods, particularly in Madhya Pradesh, which is an important area for oilseeds and pulses.

Good monsoon rain has cheered farmers. This is expected to boost rural demand for consumer goods, cars, two-wheelers, fertilizers, tractors, gold, and several other products.

From a shortage of 2% at the start of the month, monsoon rainfall since June 1 now stands at 10% above normal, spearheaded by the southwest monsoon remaining active in western India throughout the month. Rains in north India were also normal, after a disastrous July that saw the region suffer a 26% rain deficit.

East and northeastern states were the only regions that saw deficient rain in August, but rain clouds over these states regained momentum last week. Cumulatively, they remain healthy for the season.

Most days in August have seen surplus rainfall. Since the monsoon season started on June 1, nearly 90% of India has seen normal or above normal rain, said the IMD. The first two weeks of September are likely to continue seeing normal or above normal rain, according to the weather office.

Ikea, H&M set up tech bases in Bengaluru

Swedish retailers Ikea and H&M have set up global technology centres in Bengaluru. Each plans to hire about 1,000 employees initially. A host of US retailers including Target, Saks Fifth Avenue, JCPenney and Lowe’s already have tech centres in the city. The UK-based Tesco has had a big centre here for many years. Continental European retailers are now treading the same path.

Interestingly, both the Swedish retailers are neighbours in the Karle Town Centre SEZ in the city. Ikea’s centre in Bengaluru is expected to become bigger than its three other global business operations in Poland, China, and the US that together employ about 1,000 employees. These other centres are largely regional hubs for shared services, focused on finance, procurement and HR operations. The India centre will handle shared services, but it will also be a digital hub for Ikea. It will do work around data and analytics and it will support SAP implementation across the 30 countries Ikea has operations in.

Ikea, which designs and sells ready-to-assemble furniture, kitchen appliances and home accessories, has appointed former Cargill Business Services India MD Lalitha Indrakanti as head of global operations at Ingka Group, the holding company of Ikea.

Ingka Group consists of three businesses — the core Ikea retail business, the Ingka Centres, which create spaces for people to meet and which are anchored by an Ikea store, and Ikea Investments, which partners with firms to grow the retail business. Indrakanti will have responsibility for the Bengaluru centre too.


Unlock 4.0

 The Union Home Ministry issued the Unlock 4 guidelines under which metro trains will be allowed to resume services from September 7 in a graded manner, while political, social and religious congregations of up to 100 people will be permitted from September 21.

However, schools, colleges, educational and coaching institutions will remain closed for students till September 30, with some relaxations for students of classes 9 to 12.

In a significant directive, the Home Ministry said state governments shall not impose any local lockdown outside the containment zones without prior consultation with the central government.

The ministry said that states and Union Territory governments may permit up to 50% of teaching and non-teaching staff to be called to the schools at a time for online teaching or tele-counselling and related work.

Students of Classes IX to XII may be permitted to visit their schools in areas outside the containment zones only on a voluntary basis for taking guidance from their teachers. This will be subject to the written consent of their parents or guardians, according to the guidelines.

Metro rail will be allowed to operate with effect from September 7 in a graded manner, by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, the Ministry of Railways, in consultation with the MHA.

RIL Buys Future Group

Reliance Industries has agreed to buy Future Group’s retail business across apparel, lifestyle and grocery segment, a deal that will help Mukesh Ambani’s oil-to-media conglomerate control more than a third of India’s organised retail market.

The acquisition, valued at ₹27,513 crore, includes a take over of retail stores and a minority stake in Future’s consumer business, apart from assumption of all debts and liabilities.

The deal will see the merger of five listed entities of the Future Group — including Future Retail, Future Lifestyle and Future Consumer — into Future Enterprises, which currently houses the group’s retail back-end infrastructure.

In turn, FEL will then sell the retail, wholesale business, logistics and warehouse business as a slump sale to Reliance Retail and Fashion Lifestyle Limited. RRFLL, a wholly owned subsidiary of Reliance Retail Ventures, will also take over borrowings and current liabilities related to the business in an all-cash deal worth ₹24,713 crore.

Post the transaction, FEL will retain the manufacturing and distribution of consumer products, fashion sourcing and manufacturing business, the insurance joint venture with Generali and the textile partnership with NTC Mills.

Reliance will also invest ₹2,800 crore in FEL, which includes ₹1,200 crore in the preferential issue of equity shares for a 6.09% stake, and another ₹400 crore in warrants, which when converted upon payment of balance 75% consideration of ₹1,200 crore, will result in an additional 7.05% stake.

“With this transaction, we are pleased to provide a home to the renowned formats and brands of Future Group as well as preserve its business ecosystem, which have played an important role in the evolution of modern retail in India,” Isha Ambani, Director, Reliance Retail Ventures Limited, said.

For Kishore Biyani, who is often called the father of India’s organised retail, this deal effectively means his exit from the segment he built over the past three decades.

Founded in 1987 as the erstwhile Manz Wear and later Pantaloon Retail, Biyani used aggressive pricing to attract middle-class Indian consumers to his stores — Big Bazaar, Central and Brand Factory — and become a retail juggernaut.

But it also led to his companies being burdened with a net debt of ₹12,989 crore with the entire shareholding of the promoters being pledged with lenders.

“As a result of this re-organisation and transaction, Future Group will achieve a holistic solution to the challenges that have been caused by Covid and the macro economic environment. This transaction takes into account the interest of all its stakeholders including lenders, shareholders, creditors, suppliers and employees, giving continuity to all its businesses,” Kishore Biyani, Group CEO, Future Group, said in a statement.


New Delhi station to get ₹6,200 cr revamp

New Delhi railway station will get a swanky look and the surrounding railway land will get a couple of high-rises of up to 40 floors on the Ajmeri Gate side for commercial, office, hotels and other uses by the middle of 2025. The proposed station terminal project is projected to have a built-up area of approximately 33 lakh square feet, which is nearly 60% the size of T-3 of IGI Airport.

Moreover, the proposed station will also have a retail-cum-amenity area of approximately 550,000 square feet. The Rail Land Development Authority has invited bids for this development in the heart of the city at an estimated cost of around Rs.6,200 crore.

Sources said one of the key focuses of the project is to de-congest Connaught Place. The plan includes building four flyovers to connect the surrounding roads that will make the travel to and from stations seamless. There would be a wide pedestrian boulevard from the station to Connaught Place. Officials said there will be total integration all modes of transport at the station. This would feature more than 5,000 parking bays across one or more multi-level car parking.

The RLDA is hopeful of good response considering that the New Delhi railway station is the largest and second busiest station in the country, which handled approximately 4.5 lakh passengers daily before Covid. “Since such contracts are for longer duration, these will attract investors,” said a railway ministry source.

Re-development of railway stations at par with international ones on PPP mode has been one of the main thrusts of the Narendra Modi government.

The bid document for redevelopment of the New Delhi station mentions that the project will involve relocation of railway offices and buildings, commercial developments for retail, hotels, offices and serviced apartments on designated locations.

The government has been trying to redevelop the station for more than a decade.


Maharashtra Slashes Stamp Duty on Properties Till March end

In a bid to boost the sluggish real estate market hit by Covid-19, the Maharashtra government has decided to reduce stamp duty on property registrations to 2% from 5% for transactions between September 1 and December 31, 2020.

Stamp duty will be 3% for agreements to be registered between January 1, 2021, and March 31, 2021.

Realty developers expect the reduction in stamp duty charges, coupled with festive offers and other incentives, to give a fillip to sales activity. Mumbai is the most expensive property market in the country.

Following the lockdown in March, the Maharashtra government had decided to keep readyreckoner rates unchanged for the current financial year.

In Mumbai, property registrations had picked up in July, compared to what was witnessed in the April-June quarter. While stamp duty collections from real estate activities were seen improving, they remained below the pre-Covid-19 level.

Stamp duty collections stood at ₹242 crore in July against ₹169 crore in June and ₹470 crore in February prior to the virus outbreak, and subsequent lockdowns, according to government data.

India to order 2 more Israeli ‘eyes in the sky’

India is now finally going to seal the long-pending around $1-billion deal to acquire two more “Phalcon” airborne warning and control system aircraft from Israel, which has been derailed at least a couple of times in the past due to the high costs involved.

The acquisition of the two Awacs, with the Israeli Phalcon early-warning radar system mounted on Russian Ilyushin-76 heavy-lift aircraft, is all set to get the final nod from the Cabinet Committee on Security after extensive inter-ministerial consultations.

The two new Phalcon Awacs, which will add to the three such aircraft inducted by IAF in 2009-2011 under a $1.1 billion contract, will be delivered in three to four years. “They will be more advanced than the first three Phalcon Awacs, with the latest upgrades,” said a source.

The need for additional Awacs, which are powerful “eyes in the sky”, was acutely felt during the pre-dawn strikes at Balakot and the subsequent aerial skirmish with Pakistani fighters in February last year. The ongoing military confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh has further reinforced the operational requirement.

Awacs or AEW&C (airborne early-warning and control) aircraft are critical in modern warfare because they can detect and track incoming fighters, cruise missiles and drones much before ground-based radars, direct friendly fighters during air combat with enemy jets, and keep tabs on enemy troop build-ups and movement of warships.

But Pakistan is ahead of India in this crucial area, which struck home much to IAF’s disquiet during the skirmish last year. Pakistan has 8-10 Chinese Karakoram Eagle ZDK-03 Awacs and Swedish Saab-2000 AEW&C. China, in turn, has well over 30, including Kong Jing-2000 ‘Mainring’, KJ-200 “Moth” and KJ-500.


Mumbai Urban Transport Project 3 snippets

Financial hurdles in several crucial railway projects of Mumbai, including third and fourth lines between Virar and Dahanu, new suburban corridor between Panvel and Karjat, new suburban link between Airoli and Kalwa and trespass control on mid-section were cleared.

The central and state governments, Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank signed a loan agreement for a $500 million Mumbai Urban Transport Project 3 to improve the network capacity, service quality and safety of the suburban railway system in the metropolis.

The loan from the AIIB has a five-year grace period and a maturity of 30 years.

The total estimated cost of the MUTP 3 is Rs.10,947 crore, out of which Rs.3,500 crore will be financed by the AIIB. This project was given cabinet approval in December 2016.

MRVC started talks with banks and financial institutions after negotiations with the World Bank had reached an impasse over the funding of MUTP 3 in November 2018.

Around 58 hectares of land needs to be acquired for the Virar-Dahanu project, which has a completion cost of Rs.3,578 crore, while 33 hectares of land needs to be acquired for the Panvel-Karjat corridor which is expected to cost Rs.2,782 crore.

Before the lockdown, 19 pairs of local services running were running between Virar and Dahanu, but after completion of this project the frequency will be improved and commuters will able to get trains service at every 15 to 20 minutes.

Similarly, Airoli-Kalwa line will not only help decongest the Thane railway station, but also provide direct connectivity between Kalyan and Navi Mumbai.

These project swill also help in controlling the deaths on tracks. In the suburban section of the city, on average, eight deaths occurred daily before the lockdown. Out of this, around 60 per cent are related to trespassing.

The loan agreement was signed by Sameer Kumar Khare, additional secretary, department of economic affairs, ministry of finance on behalf of the Government of India, Sanjay Kumar, chief secretary, on behalf of the Government of Maharashtra, RS Khurana, chairman and managing director on behalf of the Mumbai Rail Vikas Corporation and Rajat Misra, director general (acting), investment operations on behalf of the AIIB.

AIIB vice president DJ Pandian said that this project represents another major step in supporting member countries in their efforts to provide transport capacity while removing transport bottlenecks, and thus improving the daily commuting experience of millions of Mumbaikars.

Rawat: India keeping its ‘military options’ open if China talks fail

India is keeping its “military options” open if the ongoing talks at the diplomatic and military levels with China do not lead to a breakthrough in the stalled troop disengagement and de-escalation in eastern Ladakh.

In a clear signal of intent to China, chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat said the Indian armed forces “remain prepared for military actions” if “peaceful efforts” through talks did not succeed in restoring status quo along the Line of Actual Control as it existed in April. The statement appears aimed at conveying that a prolonged stand off with Chinese troops camping in certain areas like Pangong and Depsang will not be acceptable.

“Military options to deal with transgressions by the Chinese Army in Ladakh are there, but they will be exercised only if talks fail,” Gen Rawat told a news agency on Monday.