One District One Product

If you want to start a business in food products, it would serve you well to look at the farm/animal/ marine product-specific map with insights into the speciality of that district and the support which you may get from the government as a food processing entrepreneur.

The agriculture ministry under ‘One District One Product’ approach has finalised 135 district specific unique products for 728 districts across the country, identifying each of them with certain agricultural, horticultural, animal, poultry, milk or marine products.

Though there are some familiar names of district-product combo in the list such as oranges of Nagpur, grapes of Sangli, litchis of Muzaffarpur, the comprehensive list dedicates 60% of total 728 districts to fruits (226 districts), vegetables (107) and spices (105). In contrast, foodgrains such as paddy (40), pulses (16) and wheat (5) found place in quite a small number of districts across the country even as they are produced widely.

It can be attributed to the need for processing and support which the listed products may require for value addition, keeping in view brand building and export promotion of local produce. The list of products has been finalised after taking inputs from the states/UTs and Indian Council of Agricultural Research, focussing on existing clusters and availability of raw materials. “These products will be promoted in a cluster approach through convergence of the central government schemes to increase the value of the products with the ultimate aim of increasing the income of the farmers,” said Shubha Thakur, joint secretary in agriculture ministry, in a note to chief secretaries/administrators of States/UTs. These district-wise identified products will be supported under the PM Formalisation of Micro food processing Enterprises scheme which provides incentives to promoters and micro-enterprises. The Scheme adopts ODOP approach to reap benefits of scale in terms of procurement of inputs, availing common services and marketing of products.

“The state governments are accordingly requesting a plan for implementation of the programme which can benefit farmers and provide support for realizing the expectations of value addition and subsequently enhancing agri export,” said Thakur.


Five assembly polls to begin from March 27

As many as 824 assembly constituencies shall be going for polls in four states — Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam — and Puducherry (Union Territory), said Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) of India Sunil Arora on Friday.

Tamil Nadu assembly elections to be held in a single phase on April 6, Kerala also goes to polls on April 6; Assam assembly elections to be held in three phases — first phase of polling March 27, second phase on April 1 and third phase on April 6; Puducherry elections are to be held on April 6.

Counting of all votes will be held on May 2. “Nearly 18.68 crore electors will vote at 2.7 lakh polling stations for 824 seats in four assembly elections,” Sunil Arora said addressing media persons here today.

He also said the Bihar Assembly polls last year in November amid the COVID-19 pandemic was a watershed moment and proved to be a litmus test for the Election Commission of India.

India out of recession

Growth returned to the economy in the October-December quarter of 2020 -21, helping it to move out of the recession that had gripped following one of the strictest lockdowns imposed last year to ward off the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The economy grew 0.4% in the three months ended December powered by manufacturing, farm, electricity, construction, financial, real estate and professional services. The numbers showed the contraction in the June quarter was sharper at 24.4% than the previous estimate of 23.9%, while the decline in the September quarter was revised to 7.3% from the earlier 7.5%. An economy is said to be in recession after posting two consecutive quarters of contraction.

The second advance estimate for the full year showed the economy is forecast to contract by 8%, higher than the 7.7% projected before and mostly in line with other estimates.

The December quarter data also showed that India had joined China, Vietnam and Taiwan, a select group of economies, which have posted growth during the three-month period against the backdrop of sharp declines in major economies of the world hit hard by the pandemic. The RBI had earlier estimated that growth would return in the third and fourth quarters of the current fiscal year that ends in March.

Recent estimates by multilateral agencies and economists have pointed to a rebound in the Indian economy. The IMF has also forecast India to be one of the fastest growing major economies in the world in 2021-22 as growth momentum gathers pace. The rollout of the vaccination programme has added to the optimism, but the resurgence of the virus in some parts of the country has emerged as a risk factor. The finance ministry said the October-December quarter data was also a reflection of a further strengthening of the V-shaped recovery that began in Q2 of 2020-21 after a large GDP contraction in the April-June quarter, which followed one of the strictest lockdowns imposed by the government relative to other economies.


No fundamental right of same-sex marriage: Centre

The Centre told the Delhi High Court that there is no fundamental right to seek recognition for same-sex marriage. The government stated this in an affidavit filed in reply to a petition by same-sex couples seeking enforcement of fundamental right of choice of partner.

“Despite the decriminalisation of Section 377 of the IPC, the petitioners cannot claim a fundamental right for same-sex marriage being recognised under the laws of the country,” the affidavit stated.

It said that the fundamental right under Article 21 cannot be expanded to include the fundamental right for same sex marriage. “In India, marriage is not just a matter of union of two individuals but a solemn institution between a biological man and a biological woman,” the affidavit read.

The Centre further stated that living together as partners and having sexual relationship with same-sex individuals, which is decriminalised now, is not comparable with the Indian family unit concept of a husband, wife and children.

It submitted that any interference with the marriage laws framed by the Parliament in the country would cause complete havoc with the delicate balance of personal laws in the country.

The Centre submitted that marriage in India is regarded as a sacrament and depends on age-old customs, rituals and cultural ethos and societal values.

Marriage of same-sex persons would violate the existing personal as well as codified laws, the Centre claimed, while seeking dismissal of the petition.

India, Pak to follow all ceasefire pacts

India and Pakistan have agreed to strictly observe all agreements on ceasefire along the Line of Control and other sectors, according to a joint statement on Thursday.

The decision on ceasefire, effective since Wednesday midnight, was taken at a meeting between the Director Generals of Military Operations of India and Pakistan. India and Pakistan signed a ceasefire agreement in 2003, but it has hardly been followed in letter and spirit over past several years with more violations than observance of the pact.

The DGMOs held discussions over the established mechanism of hotline contact and reviewed the situation along the Line of Control and all other sectors in a “free, frank and cordial atmosphere”.

“In the interest of achieving mutually beneficial and sustainable peace along the borders, the two DGMOs agreed to address each other’s core issues and concerns which have propensity to disturb peace and lead to violence. Both sides agreed for strict observance of all agreements, understandings and cease firing along the Line of Control and all other sectors with effect from midnight of February 24/25,” the joint statement said.

They also reiterated that existing mechanisms of hotline contact and border flag meetings will be utilised to resolve any unforeseen situation or misunderstanding, it added.

In written response to a question in Lok Sabha earlier this month, Union Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy said a total of 10,752 cases of ceasefire violations have taken place along India’s border with Pakistan in the last three years, in which 72 security personnel and 70 civilians were killed.

He said 364 security personnel and 341 civilians were injured in cross-border firings along the International Border and the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir in 2018, 2019 and 2020.


Mumbai: Water taxis to Navi Mum, more ro-ro ferries, harbour cruises likely in a year

Water taxis to Navi Mumbai and a few other destinations to the city’s southeast, roll on-roll off ferry services to JNPT, Mandwa and Kashid, and harbour cruises for tourists could start in a year, the Mumbai Port Trust has said.

MbPT has signed as many as 13 MoUs worth Rs 7,500 crore on developing water transport ahead of the three-day Virtual Maritime India Summit slated to be addressed by PM Narendra Modi on March 2. JNPT has signed over 30 Mo-Us worth Rs 27,000 crore for its SEZ as well as port expansion. With MbPT expecting to ink deals on infrastructure worth another Rs 12,000 crore, around Rs 47,000 crore of the Rs 1.3 lakh crore investments being sought for ports across India could be coming Mumbai’s way.

The water taxis, with a capacity of 20-50 passengers, will ply most likely from Ferry Wharf to Vashi, Nerul, Belapur, Nhava, Karanja, Rewas and Dharamtar at an average tariff of Rs 200-500 per person. The harbour cruises will offer facilities like food and games. MbPT chairman Rajeev Jalota said these projects can be running in a year’s time. One of the MoUs was with Cordelia Cruises run by Waterways Leisure Tourism, which plans to invest Rs 3,000 crore to buy ships and ferry tourists around the country and even outside, he added.

The Ro-Ro services planned, on the lines of the successful service to Alibaug, include one from the port on the Mumbai mainland to JNPT, the country’s largest container port, located across the harbour. It will ease movement of heavy vehicles between the two, said Jalota, and cut traffic and pollution in the city.

The summit, held every five years, will include Afghanistan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Iran and Armenia and also discuss opportunities on the strategic Chabahar port that India is helping develop in Iran.

JNPT chairman Sanjay Sethi said prominent companies have signed MoUs to set up facilities ranging from manufacturing, IT, warehousing/cold storage, free trade warehousing zone, pharma, engineering to confectionary and food processing in the JNPT SEZ. There will be special emphasis in the summit on developing deep-draft ports that can take in big vessels for more trade.

For MbPT, besides citizen facing projects like the ferry services, a 300-yacht marina, a ropeway to Elephanta, and floating restaurants, Jalota said a bulk of the investments will be coming from oil companies looking to set up crude landing, bunkering, pipelines and other allied infrastructure. HPCL and BPCL, which are next month commissioning the largest berth for oil carriers in the country, have signed a pact to invest an additional Rs 1,500 crore to set up oil tanks, he pointed out.

Oil Companies Venturing into Green Hydrogen

State-run fossil fuel companies IndianOil, GAIL, HPCL and BPCL are venturing into green hydrogen space as part of the government’s push to adopt the environment-friendly fuel to help accelerate the energy transition.

These companies, spurred by the oil ministry, plan to undertake pilot projects for green hydrogen in 2021-22, said Dr SSV Ramakumar, director at IndianOil, who has been guiding the company’s hydrogen fuel development projects and helping the government evolve a strategy on the green fuel.

IndianOil, the nation’s largest fossil fuel retailer, aims to build a hydrogen distribution network in the future and is already testing the technology and economics of the fuel in multiple projects. It is the largest producer of hydrogen in the country, mostly using natural gas and naphtha and utilising it to reduce sulphur content in motor fuels at its refineries.

The new push is about green hydrogen, which is produced using renewable energy. IndianOil and other state oil companies plan to partner with renewable energy firms for their green hydrogen pilots.

Government is ready to talk with farmers on 3 laws: Tomar

The government is ready to resume talks with protesting farmers if they respond to its offer to put the three contentious farm laws on hold for one-and-a-half year and work out the difference during that time through a joint committee, Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar said.

The government and unions representing farmers, who have been camping at Delhi’s border for about three months in protest against the three laws that they see will end state procurement of crops at MSP, have held 11 rounds of talks, the last being on January 22. Talks broke after widespread violence during a tractor rally by protesting farmers on January 26.

Speaking on the sidelines of an event in the capital, Tomar said the government is committed towards the interest of farmers and agriculture, and under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it is making efforts to double farmers’ income and strengthen the Indian agriculture sector.

The minister was replying to a query on Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait threatening to march to the Parliament on 40 lakh tractors if laws are not repealed.

Tomar said, “Bharat sarkar kisano se puri samvedana ke saath charcha karti rahi hai. Aaj bhi jab unka koi mat aayega, toh Bharat sarkar hamesha kisano ke saath charcha karne ko taiyaar hai (The government has been holding discussions with farmers sympathetically. Even today, whenever their response comes, the government is always ready to hold talks).”


Delhi court grants bail to Disha

A Delhi court has granted bail to climate activist Disha Ravi, arrested in connection with allegedly being involved in sharing a toolkit on social media related to the farmers’ protest, terming evidence produced by police “scanty and sketchy”.

Additional sessions judge Dharmender Rana, who granted relief to Ravi on a personal bond of Rs 1 lakh and two sureties of like amount, noted that the accused had “absolutely no criminal antecedents”.

“Considering the scanty and sketchy evidence, I do not find any palpable reason to breach the rule of bail for a 22-year-old girl who have absolutely no criminal antecedent,” the judge said.

Ravi was arrested by a cyber cell team of the Delhi Police from Bengaluru and brought to Delhi. Her police custody ended on Tuesday. Disha was sent to custody as part of the police probe into violence on January 26 in the national capital during the tractor march called by farmers protesting against three new farm laws.

Shantanu Muluk, a suspect in the ongoing toolkit document case related to the farmers’ protest, moved a bail plea in a Delhi court on Tuesday. The court is set to hear Shantanu Muluk’s plea tomorrow. Muluk joined Ravi at the Delhi police cyber cell office in the national capital for further probe in the ongoing case.

BJP sweeps elections to all six Gujarat municipal bodies

BJP has swept elections to all the six municipal corporations in Gujarat by winning 483 out of 576 seats. The party retained office in Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara, Rajkot, Jamnagar and Bhavnagar. The polls had been held on February 21.

Congress got a drubbing as it won only 55 seats and failed even to open its account in Surat. On the other hand, AAP put up an impressive show by winning 27 seats, all in Surat, emerging as the main opposition in Surat Municipal Corporation.

BJP won 159 out of 192 seats in Ahmedabad, 68 out of 72 in Rajkot, 50 out of 64 in Jamnagar, 44 out of 52 in Bhavnagar, 69 out of 76 in Vadodara and 93 out of 120 in Surat.

Congress, on the other hand, won seats in single digit in three corporations, and drew a blank in Surat. The party won 25 seats in Ahmedabad, four in Rajkot, 11 in Jamnagar, eight in Bhavnagar and seven in Vadodara.

Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM, also contesting in Gujarat for the first time, won seven seats in Ahmedabad’s Muslim-dominated Jamalpur and Maktampura wards. Three BSP candidates won in Jamnagar, while an Independent won only in Ahmedabad.

BJP had won 389 seats and Congress 176 across these six municipal corporations in the 2016 elections, the saffron party therefore gaining 94 seats and Congress losing 121 this year.


340-km RRR around Hyderabad to be longest bypass in India

The road transport and highways ministry gave ‘in principle’ nod for the 340 km ‘Regional Ring Road’  around Hyderabad, which will connect all districts of Telangana with the state capital. The RRR, a four-lane access-controlled highway will cost Rs.16,000 crore. This will be the longest bypass in India.

Announcing the decision at Union minister Nitin Gadkari’s home, junior home minister G Kishan Reddy said, “Gadkariji has assured us the road will be built in three years once state acquires land. We are urging state government to take proactive steps to fast track it for development of Telangana.”

In November 2016, the highways ministry had given ‘in principle’ nod for declaring the two parts of RRR - northern and southern — as national highway. Monday’s decision has now paved the way for land acquisition and preparatory work.

The RRR is to be taken up in two parts. The northern part of 158 km, connecting Sangareddy, Narasapur, Toopran, Gajwel, Yadadri, Pragnapur, Bhongir and Choutuppal will be taken up at a tentative cost of Rs 7,560 crore. It will be totally funded by the Centre and another Rs 1,961 crore will be spent for land acquisition. The state government has agreed to bear 50% of the land acquisition and pre-construction cost.

“We sought Gadkariji’s help to approve the second arm of the RRR (182 km) covering the southern part connecting Choutuppal, Ibrahimpatnam, Kandukur, Amangal, Chevella, Shankarpally and Sangareddy. He has immediately given his consent for the project expected to cost Rs 4,322 crore and Rs 1,748 crore for land acquisition,” Reddy said.

Once the RRR is operational, highway traffic heading towards Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, Bengaluru, Delhi can get diverted onto this access-controlled road and hence will reduce congestion and pollution in Hyderabad and Cyberabad.

Delhi: Sewage treatment plants to supply treated water to 14 SDMC parks

South Delhi Municipal Corporation has launched a project to supply treated water from sewage treatment plants to 14 parks.

SDMC has received around Rs.7 crore from the Union urban development ministry for installing the STP system at parks located next to drains and reviving a pond. The fund forms 80% of the total cost of the project while SDMC will finance the rest.

Each of these STPs will have the capacity to recharge 50 kilo litre of water per day and help in resolving the problem of short or no supply of water in certain parks.

“After disconnecting tubewells at many places following the National Green Tribunal’s order for not withdrawing groundwater, short supply at parks has become an issue. While we are looking for alternative solutions such as connecting some parks with the nearby STPs of Delhi Jal Board through supply lines, it is a time-taking and costly affair. These STPs will at least help in proper irrigation of 14-15 parks of minimum one acre area,” said an SDMC official.

The sites include Bhim Basti at Aya Nagar, three places at Dwarka, Green Park and Chhatarpur. The work has started in Dwarka while the project was inaugurated at Aya Nagar on Monday.

“Two STPs will be installed because besides irrigation of the 1.5-acre park, these will also be used for revival of a pond located next to the park,” said councillor Ved Pal. The park has been using storm water getting collected in the pond. “Now water will be treated before entering the pond.”

The park was redeveloped from barren land in 2018. “Residents have been uncomfortable due to the foul smell emitting due to direct use of drain water,” said Pal.

SDMC aims to complete work at all sites by the end of March and will use a biological process for wastewater treatment that consumes less energy.

India inks free trade pact with Mauritius

India signed a free trade and investment agreement with Mauritius, the first with any country in Africa. It was also the first time since 2011 that India was signing a free trade pact with any country.

Announcing this in Port Louis, foreign minister S Jaishankar said the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation and Partnership Agreement “will provide a boost for revival of our post-Covid economies and also enable Indian investors to use Mauritius as a launch-pad for expansion into continental Africa helping the prospect of Mauritius emerging as a ‘hub of Africa’.”

In his first visit there as foreign minister Jaishankar also handed over another 100,000 doses of Covid vaccines to PM Pravind Jugnauth. He said, “A special $100 million Defence Line of Credit has also been signed today.”

Puducherry: Congress government falls after CM resigns

The Congress government in Puducherry fell after Chief Minister V Narayanasamy resigned ahead of the confidence vote in the Assembly with the coalition ministry reduced to a minority due to a spate of resignations of party MLAs and a DMK legislator recently.

Narayanasamy met Lt Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan and submitted the resignation of his fourmember cabinet, ahead of the Assembly elections due in April-May. With the exit of the Congress government here, Punjab, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh are the only three states in the country ruled by the party on its own.

Holding that Speaker V P Sivakolundhu did not put to vote the motion moved by him for a confidence vote, the Congress veteran said the former’s ruling that it stood defeated was “incorrect and invalid.”

Legal experts would be consulted on the matter, he said while dubbing the turn of events, surrounding the issue of voting rights of nominated members, BJP in this case, as a “murder of democracy.” 


Delhi-Bareilly flight from March 8

The civil aviation sector of Uttar Pradesh is set to get more wings with the commencement of flight operations from the newly constructed Bareilly airport.

Under the Centre’s flagship regional connectivity scheme, flights are scheduled to be operated by Alliance Air between Bareilly and Delhi from March 8, every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The airline will also begin two flights from Prayagraj connecting Delhi and Bilaspur, from March 1 under RCS. The flights would operate on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. In both cases, the airline would be using ATR 72 aircraft.

Bareilly’s would be the eight airport in the state to get functional after the ones in Lucknow, Varanasi, Gorakhpur, Kanpur, Hindon, Agra and Prayagraj.

Confirming the development, civil aviation secretary Surendra Singh said that the state government has spent around Rs.83 crore on construction of a civil enclave in Bareilly. This is apart from the around 35 acres of land which has been made available to Airports Authority of India free of cost and Rs.9.8 crore for ensuring dedicated power supply, he said.

Top sources in the civil aviation department said that IndiGo Airlines has also sent a team to Bareilly to conduct an assessment to operate flights.

“The area is largely unserved despite having many tourist places nearby,” a senior official in the department said. The area also has several industrialists who seek flights to reach business centres like Delhi and Mumbai.

Sources said that the demand for these facilities had been pending for long but neither the district administration nor the previous state governments had paid heed. Now, Singh said, the state government was regularly interacting with the Union civil aviation ministry and AAI for it.

Since air connectivity is being provided under RCS, the state government would give a number of sops to the airline including viability gap funding, free electricity up to 4,000 units, waiver on VAT on aviation turbine fuel for 10 years and security and fire services.

The state government would also provide road connectivity, bus services and ambulance services.

Maharashtra: Covid-19 surge

After a surge in cases, the government has imposed September-like curbs in Amravati division—almost everything except essential services will be shut in cities, shops and establishments to remain open only from 9am to 5pm and restaurants to accept only parcel orders. In Pune district, where positivity rate is inching towards 10%, all schools, colleges and private coaching centres would remain closed till February 28 and only “limited movement” would be allowed on streets from11pm to 6am.

The other four districts in Amravati division will have restrictions like the ones during the mid-September Covid-19 peak

Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray warned that the state would impose a strict lockdown if people did not follow Covid-appropriate norms for the next eight days.

On a day the state saw 6,971 new Covid-19 cases, Thackeray announced a complete ban for a few days on all political, social and religious gatherings, processions, morchas and public protests to check the spread of the disease.

In a 30-minute talk on social media, the chief minister told the people that it was in their hands to prevent another lockdown.

“Now, my question to you is, should we impose a lockdown? I will seek this answer from you in the coming eight days. Those who do not want a lockdown will observe protocols like using masks, washing hands and keeping physical distance. People who want a lockdown again will flout these rules. Let us see who wants a lockdown, and who doesn’t. I am very clear about this. Wear a mask, prevent a lockdown. Observe discipline, prevent a lockdown,” he said.

Thackeray urged citizens to be more responsible. “We should implement an ‘I am responsible’ drive for self-discipline,” he said.

Referring to the increasing Covid-19 cases in the city and Pune, Thackeray warned about a second wave.

“The second wave has not yet come but it has been knocking at our door. It will be clear in the next one or two weeks,” he said.

Noting the spike in Covid-19 in Amravati, where a lockdown is to kick in again from Monday, he said the number of cases was as high as during the peak of the pandemic. “We have imposed a lockdown in Amravati and other districts from Monday evening,” he said. While it was said that the gram panchayat polls held last month were one of the reasons behind the increase in cases in rural parts, Thackeray appealed to all political parties, including his own Shiv Sena, to cooperate in the battle against Covid-19.

TN: CM lays foundation stone for river-linking project

Chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami and his deputy O Panneerselvam laid the foundation stone for the Cauvery-South Vellar – Vaigai– Gundar river linking project, describing it as a 100-year-old dream of the people of Pudukottai district to prevent excess water from Cauvery river getting wasted in the sea.

A visibly emotional CM said at the function organized at Kunnathur in Pudukottai that it was a golden moment in his life and he felt that the very purpose of his birth has been realised. The ₹14,400 crore project, which will benefit seven districts, envisages diverting excess water in Cauvery from Mayanur dam in Karur district to south Vellar river, to Vaigai and subsequently to Gundar river through 23-metre-wide and six-metre-deep canals. A 262-km-long canal will be laid to benefit 4 lakh acres of agricultural land across the seven districts. There will be provision for road transport on either side. The first phase to lay a 118.45-km-long canal from Kattalai in Mayanur dam till south Vellar river will be carried out at a cost of Rs.6,491 crore.

The CM said the project will feed 342 tanks in Karur, Trichy and Pudukottai districts alone benefiting 42,170 acres of agriculture land. Recalling the constructive role played by former chief secretary K Shanmugam in bringing up the project, the CM said, “It was he who gave us hope that the project can be implemented with state funds if funds could not be augmented from World Bank or any other source.” He also thanked PWD secretary K Manivasagam for his support in shaping the project.

Palaniswami said it was the AIADMK government that announced Cauvery delta as protected agriculture zone to scrap the hydrocarbon projects brought by DMK. “M K Stalin has made it a practice to criticise AIADMK government in his campaigns, but he never listed out schemes implemented during the DMK period. But we meet people to list out welfare schemes that benefited people,” he said. Thanking the people who gave their land for the project, he said this was the biggest project ever taken up by PWD in the state. Mettur dam was not desilted ever since its inception, but it was not just Mettur but many tanks which were not desilted for a long period were taken up by this government. Around 6,211 tanks were desilted so far at a cost of ₹1,417 crore, he said.

PM Pushes for Better Centre-State Coordination

Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a strong case for repealing archaic laws and making it easier to do business in India, stating that the Centre and states need to work closely to boost economic growth.

Addressing the sixth Governing Council meeting of the NITI Aayog, the PM said the private sector should be given full opportunity to become a part of the government’s Aatmanirbhar Bharat programme. The whole country succeeded when states and the Centre worked together during the pandemic, he said. “The basis of the country’s progress is cooperative federalism and today’s meeting is to brainstorm to make it more meaningful and move towards competitive cooperative federalism.” He asked states to form committees to reduce regulations that are no longer relevant in the wake of technology growth.

Observing that the positive response received on the Union Budget for 2021-22 expressed the mood of the nation, he said, “the country has made up its mind, wants to move fast and does not want to waste time.” Modi said the private sector is coming forward with more enthusiasm in this development journey. “As a government, we also have to honour this enthusiasm, the energy of the private sector, and give it as much opportunity in the Aatmanirbhar Bharat campaign,” he added.

Ayodhya to get major facelift

A proposed facelift of Ayodhya alongside construction of Ram temple will bring about major landscape and river-front development with a greenfield city across1,200 acres studded with special features and a distinct colour scheme for buildings that will come up as part of the new project.

The plans outlined by Delhi-based CP Kukreja Architects along with LEA Associates South Asia and infrastructure major L&T present an integrated infrastructure plan. “City of Ayodhya has deep significance and sentiments attached with it. We intend to transform Ayodhya into a world class city amplifying its historic and religious values while preserving the tranquillity and spirituality aspect,” Dikshu C Kukreja, managing principal of the architecture firm said.

The detailed plan for the city, including the existing one covering 875 sq km and the greenfield city, is to be ready in the next six months but its vision and certain features have been identified.

The city will not have regular zoning. The planners will refer to case studies of best “experiential” international cities such as Vatican City and Venice, and Indian examples such as Amritsar, Varanasi, Madurai and Tirupati. “There will be a huge focus on heritage assets, which will include retrofitting and redevelopment of the core city area and temple influence zone. There will be special attention to the Shri Ram Mandir area of 108 acres for seamless integration,” the planner said.


FASTags drive toll collections to record ₹102cr

The toll fee collections through FASTags across the National Highway network have jumped by 23% in the past four days and the amount touched Rs.102 crore on Friday, the highest ever toll collection in the NHAI’s history.

Sources said the total toll collection via FASTags was around Rs.85 crore before the NHAI designated all toll lanes as FASTag lanes. Officials said that while cash transactions have fallen below 10% during this week, another reason for good revenue is plugging of leakages. “It takes a couple of days to collate all details of cash transactions. We are hopeful of record collection of user fee as now there is no avenue for anyone to under-report the actual toll collection,” said an official. Sources said the government has also stepped up monitoring of toll plazas to see that commuters are not caught in queue even with FASTags.


Uttarakhand gives wife co-ownership of man’s ancestral property

The Uttarakhand government has brought an ordinance that will give co-ownership rights to women in their husband’s ancestral property. The landmark decision has been made keeping in mind the largescale migration of male members from the Himalayan state in search of work. Through this, the government aims to provide economic independence to the women who are left behind in the hills and are solely dependent on agriculture to meet their financial needs.

CM Trivendra Singh Rawat said Uttarakhand is the first state to do so. The amendment made to the Uttarakhand Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act is likely to benefit around 35 lakh women in the state. In revenue records, the name of the wife will now be mentioned as co-owner.

“This is the biggest reform of our government. I am confident that this reform will not be limited to Uttarakhand and other states will also follow it. We talk of equal partnership ...this ordinance provides that to women.”

According to the ordinance, in case a woman files for divorce and marries someone else, she will not be regarded as co-owner of the land owned by her first husband. But, if her divorced husband is unable to bear her financial expenses, she would be allowed co-ownership. Besides, if a woman divorces and does not have a child or her husband has been missing for over seven years, she can also become co-owner of land her father owns.

“It was unfair, despite performing the agricultural work, women could not take decisions or apply for loans” Rawat said.

Large-scale migration has remained a problem in Uttarakhand. In the past 10 years, close to 5 lakh people moved out – 50% in search of work. Several villages are left only with elderly couples and women. In such a scenario, the women are involved in household chores and working in the fields without any ownership rights.

Indian monsoon 27m years old

For decades, the evolution of the Indian monsoon has not been entirely understood. Nor have scientists decoded how it intensified and how it has varied with time, leaving gaps in how they understand a recurring climate phenomena on such a large scale. By analysing sediment from the Bay of Bengal, researchers have found that the present Indian monsoon system, as we have it now, goes back at least 27 million years.

“Previous studies only went as far back as 12 million years. They used wind and vegetation data, but that would not paint a clear picture of monsoon intensity,” corresponding author Sajid Ali from the Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeontology in Lucknow said. “We analysed sediment from the Bay of Bengal. Change in sediment is directly linked to change in monsoon … The presence of minerals depends on the intensity of monsoon. Different minerals are formed when the monsoon is strong and others when it is weak.”

For the study, to be published in Wiley journal ‘Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology’, they collected 38 sediment samples under Japan’s International Ocean Discovery Program. Over four years, the study was conducted with resident researchers in Germany.

When they studied nano fossils (plankton which are one thousand millionth of a metre) from the bottom of the sediment deposits, "those were found to be 27 million years old, the age we conclude for the present Indian Monsoon system,” Ali explained.

Terrorist guns down two cops in Srinagar

A terrorist gunned down two unarmed policemen in broad daylight in an upmarket Srinagar area, an incident witnessed by several people and captured on CCTV cameras, two days after a similar shooting targeting the son of the owner of a city eatery.

The two policemen were on duty at Baghat on the high-security airport road when they were attacked. The terrorist, identified as Saqib, can be seen pulling out an assault rifle hidden inside his ‘pheran’, a loose over-garment worn during winters, and pumping bullets at them at close range.

The attacker can be seen fleeing from the spot as people scatter around in horror. “We have identified the terrorist and we will soon catch hold of him,” director general of Jammu and Kashmir Police Dilbagh Singh said. The two policemen were rushed to SMHS hospital. Constable Suhail was the first one to succumb while his colleague, constable Mohammed Yusuf, lost the battle of life as he was being wheeled into the operation theatre, police said. Immediately after the incident, police teams rushed to the area and took into their possession recordings from CCTVs installed by shops and houses. This led them to identify the terrorist as Saquib from Barzulla area in the city. His affiliations were not immediately known. This is the second attack in the city in three days.

Just a day earlier, a 24-member delegation of envoys from various countries visited J&K on Wednesday to assess the ground situation in the union territory.

KIA to be first airport in south to have operational parallel runways

Kempegowda International Airport will soon make history by becoming the first airport in south India to have operational parallel runways, enabling planes to take off and land simultaneously when its northern runway re-opens on March 25. The refurbished runway, which includes an LED centre line and edge lights, is expected to reduce aircraft taxiing time by at least 15 minutes.

Also known as the old runway, it was closed for maintenance in mid-June 2020 and aircraft operations were completely shifted to the southern/second runway which runs parallelly.

Sources with Bangalore International Airport Limited said the old runway has received new life with a fresh asphalt top layer along with strengthening of the surface. It has now been equipped with two more entry taxiways and additional transmissometers for runway visibility. When operational from March-end, the runways are likely to be used simultaneously for landings and takeoffs. This will make KIA the first airport in south India to have parallel runways that are independent and operational. Delhi airport already boasts of parallel runways that are functional, sources said.

According to experts, the revamped runway will reduce the taxiing time of aircraft before take-off and landing. However, it will not be CAT IIIB-compliant, which allows pilots to land aircraft at a visual range as low as 50 metres and take off at 125 metres.

KIA’s southern runway made history on January 21, 2021 by becoming the first CAT IIIB-compliant airport in south India.

India-China disengagement in Pangong Tso completed

India and China have completed troop disengagement on both sides of Pangong Tso in eastern Ladakh, setting the stage for talks on the remaining ‘friction points’ at Hot Springs, Gogra and Demchok as well as the strategically-located Depsang Plains in the next corps commander-level meeting on Saturday.

The two armies verified through physical and electronic surveillance that the four-step disengagement process in the Pangong Tso-Kailash range area, which kicked off on February 10 after over nine months of eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation, was completed to “mutual satisfaction” by Thursday evening.

They then decided to hold the 10th round of military talks, led by 14 Corps commander Lt-General P G K Menon and South Xinjiang Military District chief Major General Liu Lin, on the Chinese side of the Chushul-Moldo border meeting point from 10 am on Saturday, officials said.

India, however, is keeping an “adequate” number of troops “suitably poised” to react to any contingency, while having also deployed requisite ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) platforms to closely monitor the activities of the People’s Liberation Army.

In military talks, the friction at patrolling points 15 and 17A near Hot Springs and Gogra will be relatively easier to resolve since most rival troops there had earlier disengaged, leaving only a small number in close proximity to each other. Similar is expected to be the case with the trouble-spot at the Charding Ninglung Nallah track junction in the Demchok sector.

But the Depsang Plains or ‘Bulge’ area, the tabletop plateau at 16,000 feet that provides India access to the Daulat Beg Oldie airstrip and the critical Karakoram Pass in the north, will be a much harder nut to crack.

The PLA has been consistently blocking Indian soldiers from going beyond the ‘Bottleneck’ or ‘Y-junction’ area in Depsang, which is around 18 km inside what India perceives to be its territory, to their traditional PPs 10, 11, 11A, 12, and 13. “Depsang has been a problem since 2013, and will require sustained negotiations,” an officer said.


Kolkata ATC filled in for Myanmar ATC

For eight extremely tense days this month, air traffic controllers in Kolkata guided over 1,000 flights ferrying more than 2.5 lakh passengers headed to China, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and beyond through the skies of Myanmar that had fallen eerily silent following a military coup there.

“From the evening of February 8, there was not a soul at Yangon ATC due to the internal disturbance in the city. Two controllers had tried to keep the ATC operational but had to ultimately switch off after issuing a Notice To Airmen warning pilots that air traffic services would not be available after 7.20pm that evening,” recounted a controller.

With around 140 aircraft entering Myanmar airspace after flying through Kolkata flight information region daily at different heights from 29,000 feet to 41,000 feet, some in close proximity, there was palpable tension over the fate of flights with hundreds of passengers navigating a vast airspace in the dark without guidance from the Yangon ATC. That very evening, ATC officers in Kolkata decided to put in place a Yangon contingency plan that had been charted out barely two years ago. This involved opening only a few routes with just one or two altitudes for all flights. Many busy routes were shut down and flights diverted to other routes, sometimes avoiding Myanmar airspace altogether.

HELINA missile ready for induction

In a boost to the government’s Aatmanirbhar Bharat campaign, the helicopter launched Nag anti-tank guided missile or HELINA is ready for induction into the armed forces with the infra-red missile striking 100 per cent success at test-firing trials at Pokhran ranges in Rajasthan.

According to South Block sources, the solid propelled anti-tank weapon with a range of over seven kilometres was tested for the past five days. It hit the target five out of five times at the range and now is ready for induction on HAL Rudra and light combat helicopters. The final test was conducted on Friday morning.

The HELINA missile is a third-generation anti-tank weapon with infra-red seeker, fire-and-forget features. It is comparable with the wire-guided HJ-8 or Hongjian-8 system with the People’s Liberation Army and BARQ laser-guided missile developed by Pakistan.

While the Indian Apache Longbow helicopters are fitted with Hellfire missiles with over 10 kilometres range, the Helina is the Indian answer to a helicopter launched anti-armour missile. The significance of helicopter launched missile has assumed significance after the stand-off with the People's Liberation Army in east Ladakh with the China deploying a large number of armour and rocket regiments in the battle theatre. HELINA provides an option of taking down enemy tank beyond its range by using the fire and forget mode.


Kolkata: Metro ride from Kavi Subhas to Dakshineswar in 62 mins

It will take 62 minutes to cover the 32km length between Dakshineswar and Kavi Subhas Metro stations. Currently, the time needed to cover the 28km Noapara-Kavi Subhas stretch of the existing north-south corridor is 59 minutes. So, the calculated time for travelling the 4.1km extension from Noapara to Dakshineswar is only three minutes.

The railways officially announced that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be inaugurating the much-awaited Rs.464-crore Noapara-Dakshineswar Metro on Monday along with other railway projects.

“The average speed is around 50kmph from Kavi Subhas to Noapara. But the train will zip faster between Noapara and Dakshineswar,” said an official.It had been reported that the new section’s tracks were laid in such a way so as to equip them to accommodate speed higher than the existing north-south line.

The railways’ statement said that around 50,000 commuters coming from Howrah, Hooghly and North 24 Parganas will be benefitted when the Dakshineswar stretch is added to the north-south Metro. Many suburban train travellers of Eastern Railway will be able to avail of Metro services by crossing the Bally Bridge.

“Students, professors and scholars of ISI’s Baranagar campus, RBU and CU’s economics department will also be benefited,” said the railways’ statement, adding that the Baranagar and Dakshineswar Metro stations are close to the suburban railway stations and Belghoria Expressway, the gateway to North 24 Parganas.

Modi will unveil a host of railway projects on Monday, according to the statement. These projects include South-Eastern Railway’s 30km third line between Kalaikunda and Jhargram. “The PM will also dedicate the doubling of Azimganj to Khargraghat Road section, which is a part of Howrah – Bandel-Azimganj section of ER at a cost of Rs 239.3crore and the fourth line between Dankuni and Baruipara of Howrah-Bardhaman chord line and the third line between Rasulpur and Magra of Howrah-Bardhaman main line,” said the statement.

Pune: State okays Pimpri-Nigdi Metro extension plan

The state cabinet has approved the Metro’s extension up to Nigdi. The route between Pimpri and Nigdi will be 4.41km long and will have three stations at Chinchwad, Akurdi and Nigdi.

The project will be executed by MahaMetro which is constructing the Swagate-Pimpri corridor.

The extension proposal was under consideration. The MahaMetro has prepared a detailed project report which was tabled before the state government.

The plan will now go to the Union ministry of housing and urban affairs. The extension will be part of the metro’s ongoing phase-I.

The total cost of the project is pegged at Rs.946.73 crore. The state government on Wednesday said it will contribute Rs.170.3 crore of which Rs.90.6 crore will come through loans.

The Union government will give a 10% of the total expenses while some amount of the project cost will be raised through loans in addition to Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation’s share.

The extension will be completely elevated up to Nigdi and will be aligned with the old Pune-Mumbai route.

The MahaMetro has already done adequate provisioning at Pimpri to the existing metro viaduct to carry out the extension.

Officials said the extension work can begin after all permissions are received.

India to be Among Fastest Growing in 2021: S&P

India is likely to be among the fastest-growing emerging markets this year, Standard & Poor’s predicted, even as the US rating company said new variants of the Covid-19 virus could lead to a much larger second wave and pose a risk to economic recovery.

The steep contraction in the current financial year will be followed by a bounce back to 10% growth in FY22, putting India among the fastest-growing economies in 2021, said Andrew Wood, S&P director of sovereign and international public finance ratings.

“We see the Indian economy growing at 6% over the medium term, may be slightly higher, and that compares very well to emerging markets all around,” he said at a webinar on S&P’s India 2021 Outlook on Wednesday.

A much larger second wave that could emanate from the new strains of the Covid-19 virus would be a major risk to India’s economy, based on the significant impact similar events have had on the recovery paths of other countries, Wood said.

“We are also watching India’s vaccination campaign very closely to see how well India can mitigate the lurking risks associated with the pandemic as well as new, more transmissible and potentially resistant strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” Wood said.

S&P expects India to vaccinate a significant portion of its population only by the end of 2022, against about 9 million currently, which represents less than 1% of the population.

Wood counted the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest producer of vaccines, as an ace up the country’s sleeve because “it’s not going to have to rely upon foreign-manufactured shots, which is a major asset and differentiates India from economies around the world.”

This would be a critical component of sustaining India’s economic recovery over the medium term as keeping up growth rates would be tricky, he said.

Fiscal deficit Wood said S&P will be closely watching India’s medium-term growth with regard to the country’s sovereign rating, currently at BBB- with a stable outlook.

“Higher growth rates over the next few years are going to be critical to maintain and finance the government’s higher fiscal deficits and debt stock,” he said.

S&P has pegged India’s combined Centre and state fiscal deficit at 14.5% of GDP – which is expected to drop to 11.6% in FY22 and further to below 10% in FY23.

“This is gradual and relatively slow fiscal consolidation, given how high that fiscal deficit is,” Wood said, adding that S&P would be more concerned over the country’s finances if the deficit remained in double digits over the medium term.

NSIL to launch satellite for DTH services this year

India’s only space public sector unit, New Space India Limited, will launch a communication satellite dedicated to augment direct-to-home services later this year using a foreign launch service. NSIL, established under the department of space as part of India’s reforms to liberalise the sector, got Rs 700 crore equity from the government.

K Sivan, secretary, DoS said: “This will eventually be paid back. NSILS’s role is to own and sell assets and the first satellite acquired will be GSAT-24 for TataSky’s DTH business. So far, Isro owned all satellites and its services were sold through its Antrix. NSIL will usher in a new era in India’s commercial space activity.” GSAT-24 will be a 4.1 tonne communication satellite with 24 Ku-band transponders for DTH services. “The satellite costs Rs 400 crore and NSIL will launch it through Arianespace in September,” Sivan said.

The PSU is also negotiating to acquire GSAT-20 which will also be launched commercially. “DishTV has held preliminary talks with NSIL for another satellite,”

Sivan added. “With Atmanirbhar Bharat and space reforms, NSIL is expected to carry out capital intensive projects to enable a demand-driven ecosystem. We’re finalising deals for two satellites with DoS,” G Narayanan, CMD, NSIL, said. Sivan said in future NSIL will also buy from the private sector, including startups. Narayanan said: “We’ll source from whoever has the strength and capability.”

While NSIL’s first commercial project will be the PSLV launch later this month, its role is limited to connecting Amazonia-1 of Brazil with Isro. “GSAT-24 and 20 will be completely NSIL’s. Isro will only be a vendor and the satellite will be owned by NSIL,” Sivan said.

Caravan tourism policy: Maharashtra third after MP, Karnataka

You will now be able to explore picturesque locations across Maharashtra from the comforts of a home-on-wheels as the state cabinet cleared the caravan tourism policy.

Maharashtra is now the third state in the country after Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka to unveil a caravan tourism policy.

As part of the policy, private players can procure caravans for tourism and as supportive infrastructure for the vehicles, the government will allow setting up of caravan parks. “Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, caravan tourism is gaining popularity as it is a safer way to travel. We want to set up infrastructure with basic amenities where these caravans can be parked,” said an official. “The private players who will run the parks will generate revenue through parking fees and services provided.”

The caravans will have to be registered with the transport department. Caravan parks are places where recreational vehicles can be parked and all the facilities, including water refill, battery charging and disposal of sewage, will be made available, along with food courts and information regarding local sights. The investors can either set up the caravan parks on private land or seek government concessions like providing help in getting government land on lease and reduction in stamp duty, refund of state GST and rebate in electricity bills.

“Maharashtra has immense tourism potential and with this policy, we want to promote the scenic beaches, forts, hill stations, and dams here. We want caravan parks to be set up in the buffer zone of a forest, near a dam, or foot of a fort. These are places where you will not find conventional resorts or accommodation facilities as rules don’t allow for permanent construction,” said the official.

Rajasthan Town: Regular petrol tops ₹100/litre for 1st time

The price of regular petrol consumed by the masses shot up to Rs.100.13 a litre in Sriganganagar on Wednesday, the first time an automotive fuel has crossed the Rs 100-mark anywhere in the country.

But that’s not all. Consumers in the district will have to pay more from Thursday as petrol price was again hiked by 26 paise taking its cost to Rs.100.39.

With the latest hike, petrol and diesel prices in Jaipur climbed to record highs of Rs.96.37 and Rs.88.69 per litre, respectively.

In other states, the prices mostly ruled above Rs.90 a litre mark as high central and state taxes bumped up the impact of rising crude prices.

Diesel prices too made a record at Rs.92.1 a litre in Sriganganagar, while generally raging well above Rs. 80 per litre in other states.

Unmoved by these record prices, the Centre has ruled out any tax cut and is blaming oil exporters for jacking up crude prices.

This is unlike in October 2018, when, after petrol price rose to Rs.84 a litre and diesel Rs.75.45 in Delhi, the Centre had reduced excise duty by Rs.2 per litre on October 4 and again by Rs.1.5 the next day. Some 18 states also reduced VAT at the Centre’s behest.

Consumers in Rajasthan currently pay more than others because the state has the highest tax on petrol and diesel in the country. After reducing VAT by 2% last month, the state now charges 36% VAT and road cess of Rs 1,500 per kilolitre on petrol. Diesel attracts 26% VAT and road cess of Rs.1,750 per kilolitre. Since VAT is charged as per cent of the basic price, there is a proportionate increase every time pump prices are raised. Higher freight charges for Sriganganagar further push up retail rates in the district than, say, Jaipur.


TN : New industrial policy aims at ₹10L cr investment, 20L jobs

In an attempt to further reinforce Tamil Nadu’s position as an attractive investment destination for global industries, the state government unveiled a New Industrial Policy, 2021, which aims to attract ₹10 lakh crore in new investments and create 20 lakh jobs by 2025.

The policy seeks to achieve an annual growth rate of 15% in the manufacturing sector and increase the contribution of the sector to the state’s economy to 30% by 2030, a government release said.

“I am happy to be in your midst as I complete four years of my term as chief minister and enter the fifth year and to see the vast progress the state is making on the industrial front and to unveil a new industrial policy that will help the state leap into its next phase of growth,” chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami said after unveiling the policy. He also inaugurated eight completed projects involving an investment of ₹3,377 crore and offering employment to more than 7,000 people.

The state government also signed 28 MoUs that will pave way for new investments of more than ₹28,000 crore in TN across sectors, including smartphones, electric vehicles, wind energy and auto components, city gas distribution and textiles. These investments will result in employment generation to nearly 69,000 people, a government statement said.

“The policy has given a special thrust to sunrise sectors, including aerospace and defence, renewable energy components, electronics, medical devices, electric vehicles, pharmaceuticals, technical textiles and medical textiles (biotechnology)” a senior official said.

Among the key investors are Tata Electronics, which will invest ₹4,684 crore and employ more than 18,000 people in its unit in Krishnagiri district, and Pegatron Corporation, Taiwan, investing ₹1,100 crore and employing more than 14,000 people at Mahindra World City. Both the companies will make Apple products and join Foxconn and Salcomp to make Tamil Nadu the new hub in Apple products manufacturing.

“I appreciate the swiftness with which the Tamil Nadu government, especially the IAS officials, helped the group to locate the new unit in the state. It showed the state’s hunger to attract large scale industrial investments and create employment generation opportunities to the people,” N Chandrasekaran, chairman, Tata Sons said, addressing the gathering virtually.

“Tamil Nadu is poised for greater growth not just in manufacturing, but also in the emerging sunrise sectors, especially electronics, as the Centre is giving a lot of thrust for this segment under Atma Nirbhar,” said Venu Srinivasan, CMD, TVS Motor Company, in his address at the event. Another key focus of the new industrial policy is to ensure that industrial clusters emerge across the state and not just restricted around Chennai and a couple of other regions. The policy has expanded the number of industrially backward districts in the state to 22, from the earlier 12, to enable industries to avail of special incentives to establish industrial units in the backward districts.

“New industrial units being established in all these backward districts will now get 50% subsidy on land cost and subsidy in registration fee. In addition, unlike earlier where a minimum of ₹300 crore investment was needed to avail of the state-level incentive push, it has now been scaled down to enable even ₹50 crore investment to avail of these benefits,” the senior government official said.

Further, the criteria for offering capital subsidy has been made flexible and freedom has been given to the industries to structure it themselves. Unlike earlier, where capital subsidy was offered based on investment size, the new policy structures the capital subsidy based on investment as well as employment potential. “While capital intensive industries like automotive may require larger investment but with lower employment potential, emerging sectors like electronics offer high employment with lower investments,” the official explained.

Tatas to Buy Majority Stake in BigBasket

The Tata Group and Big Basket have formally signed on the dotted line, finalising a $1.2 billion deal giving the former 60-63% stake in the e-grocer.

The transaction, which is a mix of a primary and secondary sale of shares, will provide a full exit to two of BigBasket’s biggest investors, Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba and scandal-hit private equity firm Abraaj Group. The transaction will see a $200-250 million primary cash infusion in BigBasket by Tata Group, as part of its larger deal to acquire a majority stake in the country’s largest online grocery company.

Both sides are awaiting regulatory clearances, especially from the Competition Commission of India, officials said.

Tata Group plans to take BigBasket public by 2022 as part of the deal terms.

“A formal announcement will take some time,” a group official said. Both sides have refrained from commenting on the closure of the deal.

The transaction is seen as one of the largest merger and acquisition deals in the digital economy. BigBasket’s last-round valuation was $1.2 billion.

While Alibaba holds a 27.58% stake in the company, Abraaj owns about 18.05%, according to data from business intelligence platform Paper.vc. Acquiring the stakes of just these two investors will give Tata Group close to the majority stake it’s seeking in BigBasket.

The transaction may provide partial exits to smaller investors.

The Tata Group will hold the right of first refusal on any such stake sale by other investors. BigBasket CEO Hari Menon said recently that an IPO would help investors exit, without elaborating.

In September last year, Big-Basket said that the number of new customers on its platform had increased by 84% from pre-Covid levels and that retention rates had risen to 50% from 30-45% earlier. The company also said it was processing more than 20 million orders per month and had hit a run-rate of $1 billion in annual revenue.

Tata Group is also close to finalising a secondary transaction of $200-250 million to acquire a 55% stake in online pharmacy 1mg.

Adani company seals Dighi Port buy

Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone said it will invest ₹10,000 crore in the recently-acquired Dighi Port to develop it into a multi-cargo facility that will give the Gautam Adani-led company a beach head in Maharashtra.

APSEZ announced the completion of the acquisition of the Dighi Port for ₹705 crore, in line with the corporate insolvency resolution plan. This is the 12th port in the company’s portfolio.

“The successful acquisition of DPL adds another milestone in Adani Port’s target of creating a string of ports to increase service coverage to the entire economic hinterland of India. With our growth focus, experience, and expertise in turning around acquisitions, we are confident of making DPL value accretive for all our stakeholders,” said Karan Adani, chief executive officer of APSEZ.

The company said it will invest in upgrading and repairing the existing infrastructure and on rail and road attached to the port for easy evacuation of cargo.

“DPL will evolve as an alternative gateway to JNPT and will invite and support the development of port-based industries on the port land,” the company said.

APSEZ said the transfer of concession rights has also been approved by the Maharashtra Maritime Board and it has settled the dues of financial creditors, MMB, and other admitted costs and claims.

Adani’s takeover price means the lenders of Dighi Port will have to take a massive haircut on their dues.

Dighi Port was admitted into NCLT in 2018. Subsequently, Adani Ports, Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust  and a consortium of Veritas (India) and UV Asset Reconstruction Company had submitted bids to acquire Dighi Port.

The port’s promoter Vijay Kalantri and his son owed more than ₹3,000 crore to a consortium of 18 lenders led by Bank of Baroda which later declared Kalantri a wilful defaulter.

Early last year, a tribunal gave its nod to the Adani ports resolution plan.

Adani is India’s largest port developer and operator with 12 ports and terminals — Mundra, Dahej, Tuna and Hazira in Gujarat, Dhamra in Odisha, Mormugao in Goa, Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, and Kattupalli and Ennore in Chennai and Krishnapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. It represents 24% of the country’s total port capacity.

Amazon Set to Make Fire TV Streaming Device in India

Amazon is setting up its first device manufacturing line in the country in partnership with Cloud Network Technology, a subsidiary of Foxconn, to make Fire TV Stick at the latter’s Chennai plant starting later this year.

The ecommerce giant said the production line will have an annual capacity of “hundreds of thousands” of Fire TV Stick devices, and that it will continuously evaluate manufacturing capacity based on domestic demand for its devices.

“This further reiterates our commitment to the Government of India’s ‘Make in India’ initiative,” said Amit Agarwal, global senior vice president and country leader at Amazon India.

The company said the move is in line with its plan to partner with the government’s vision of a self-reliant India, or Atmanirbhar Bharat.

Amazon also reiterated its commitment to invest $1 billion into the country to digitise 10 million small and medium businesses by 2025 and create one million additional jobs by then.

“We welcome Amazon’s decision to set up a manufacturing line in Chennai as it will enhance domestic production capacities and create jobs as well,” said Ravi Shankar Prasad, communications, electronics and information technology minister.

“India is an attractive investment destination and is poised to become a major player in the global supply chain in the electronics and IT products industry.”

The minister also mentioned that it was only the beginning of Amazon's efforts to manufacture electronics products in India for the domestic market and for exports. People privy of the discussions said that Prasad told Amazon that while doing business in India they must also provide international exposure to Indian artisans and their products such as Madhubani paintings from Bihar, Benarasi sarees and wooden toys from Varanasi.

47 drown as bus plunges into canal in MP

At least 47 people were killed when a packed passenger bus veered off the road and plunged into a canal in MP’s Sidhi district on Tuesday morning. Most of the victims were found dead in their seats.

The suddenness of the crash left a slim window of survival — only six passengers could get out alive; four are reported missing. This is the worst accident in MP in terms of toll. Twenty of those killed are women — most of them were going to attend an ANM (auxiliary-nurse-midwife) exam in Satna town. The other half of the victims were their companions, mostly brothers and fathers. Two children are among the dead.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, home minister Amit Shah, chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and former CM Kamal Nath have expressed grief over the tragedy. Chouhan announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh to the families of each of the dead. They will also get Rs 2 lakh each from PM Relief Fund.

The private bus had left Sidhi, on the edge of western Madhya Pradesh, around 5.30am, with 38-40 passengers. Some more boarded at way stops. It’s believed there were at least 57 passengers when the bus crashed.

The normal route is via NH39, which passes through Chhuhiya Ghati. The driver, who is yet to be found, took an alternate route along Banganga canal because the ghat roads lead to daily bottlenecks. It’s not yet known why he lost control because the bus crashed on a straight stretch of canalside road. Some say he tried to give way to another vehicle and had miscalculated his distance from the edge.


Sensex Goes Beyond 52k Mark

The stock market soared to all-time closing highs with the Sensex crossing 52,000 for the first time ever, mirroring the continued strength in global equities. Banks led market upsides after consumer inflation in January softened to 4.06%, the lowest since September 2019, raising hopes that the Reserve Bank of India will continue its easy monetary policy for the time being.

The BSE Sensex rose 609.83 points, or 1.18%, to close at 52,154.13 after touching a record high of 52,235.97. The NSE Nifty gained 151.40 points, or 1%, to end at 15,314.70. The index had hit an all-time high of 15,340.15 earlier during the day.

Fund managers said the record breaking run had raised concerns over an overheated market but surprise profit growth by companies in the December quarter has partially doused such worries.

The better-than-expected profit growth has eased fears that the run-up in the stock market is entirely fuelled by strong flows from foreign investors armed with cheap money thanks to near-zero interest rates in developed markets.

Elsewhere in the world, Asian and European markets rose on Monday with Japan’s Nikkei 225 surging past the 30,000 level for the first time in over 30 years. The Euro Stoxx 600 index was up 1% in afternoon trade. South Korea’s Kospi jumped 1.5%. Markets in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the US were closed on Monday for holidays.

Bengal: Ambassador land to host ₹10k-crore IT park

The land at Hindustan Motor that once used to house the manufacturing facility of Ambassador, once called the wheels of India, is all set to get a new lease of life.

The Hiranandani Group, a Mumbai-based diversified conglomerate, has entered into an MoU to set up a logistics and hyper-scale data centre park in the region. The group has signed the agreement to acquire 100 acres in Uttarpara from Hindustan Motors to set up the data centre park by Hiranandani group companies GreenBase and Yotta. The combined investment is estimated to cross Rs.10,000 crore. The project was announced by chief minister Mamata Banerjee, along with a host of other IT and power projects, at Nabanna.

Darshan Hiranandani, CEO of the group, said that it had bought the land directly from the C K Birla group that owns the now defunct Hind Motor factory and Hindustan Motors. There will be a data centre on 20 acres and the rest — 80 acres — would be utilized for warehousing and logistics facilities. “Kicking off this project would not have been possible without the support of the Bengal government under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee. West Bengal is the gateway to the east. It is an ideal hub for logistics and industrial development with excellent road, rail and riverine connectivity,” said Darshan Hiranandani. According to him, the first facility of the industrial and logistics park will be ready by June 2022 and the first data centre building by 2023.

Incidentally, in 2008-09, Chennai-based Shriram Group had bought over 300 acres at Hind Motor factory for real estate and IT park.

GreenBase will deliver a modern and self-sustainable ecosystem on 3-million sq ft of industrial and warehousing space, along with essential utilities and support infrastructure of international standards. Yotta will develop six hyper-connected data centre buildings, bringing in 250MW of cutting-edge data centre capacity over the next several years to the state.

“The data centre business will benefit from the digitization revolution, the upcoming Silicon Valley at New Town in Rajarhat and excellent fibre connectivity on land and the new submarine cable coming up at Tajpur. By setting up a data centre park in Kolkata, we will not only serve the customers of the state but the entire eastern region, including neighbouring countries,” Hiranandani said.

Meanwhile, along with the announcement of the Hiranandani project, Banerjee inaugurated four IT parks and three power sub-stations in the state. While two IT parks were inaugurated in Salt Lake Sector V, Rajarhat and Kalyani got one each. The total builtup space in these IT parks is 2.8 lakh sq ft. Sources in IT department said these IT parks would have a plug-and-play approach. There will be both rental as well as ownership space. “Online booking for space in these IT parks would start from March1 and possession would start from the Bengali New Year. There are 18 IT parks in the state and over 70% space in these parks are already occupied.

17k trees face axe for Chennai - Bengaluru Expressway

Around 17,000 trees and plantations will be cut down and 5.4 hectares of reserve forest will be taken over in Kancheepuram, Vellore and Ranipet for laying the Chennai-Bengaluru Expressway.

While the said reserved forest in Mahimandalam contains another 2,000-odd trees, 26 water reservoirs or lakes in the three districts will also be affected, show National Highways Authority of India documents. Around 13% of people residing here were engaged in agriculture.

The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board will seek feedback from the public and other stakeholders regarding the project on March 13 and 16 at Kancheepuram and Vellore district environmental engineer’s offices.

Of the ₹3,472 crore sanctioned in the this year’s Union budget for the third and final phases of the project, ₹66 crore is to be used by the NHAI for compensatory afforestation and environmental monitoring.

A senior NHAI official said the government’s compensatory afforestation guideline will be strictly followed. “Ten trees will be planted for every tree felled,” he said. But Gokul Raj of Voice of Nature Trust, a not-for-profit organisation which has filed several cases in the past against NHAI for false afforestation claims, said authorities take up such drivers for namesake and respond only when National Green Tribunal or courts pull them up. “A classic example is Chennai-Tirupati NH205,” he said. NH48 is currently the most preferred route for commuting between Chennai and Bengaluru, but the NHAI’s new four-lane road project is expected to reduce travel time by 45 to 60 minutes.

While the total length of the new project is 278 km, the final phase will involve laying a 106 km stretch from Irungattukottai in Sriperumbudur on Chennai’s outskirts to Chittoor in Andhra Pradesh. The project will also involve construction of 57 bridges, 50 pedestrian underpasses, three truck rest areas and more importantly six toll plazas.

In the pre-construction phase, trees will be felled and 150-odd residential and commercial structures and religious institutions razed.

Haryana plans ₹800cr projects for Saraswati rejuvenation

Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar said that the state government has made a provision for projects worth Rs.800 crore for rejuvenation of Saraswati river.

Khattar was speaking virtually from Chandigarh as chief guest while addressing the 5th international conference on the topic, “Saraswati River - New Possibility and its Heritage,” held under International Saraswati Mahotsava 2021 at Vidya Bharti Sanskriti Sikshan Sansthan in Kurukshetra on Monday.

“A budget of Rs.800 crore has been provided by the government for the construction of dam, barrage and Saraswati sarovar (reservoir) at this site. Under this project, water will be managed on about 894 hectares of land affected by floodwater during the rainy season. Not only this, the work of connecting the holy river Saraswati with the river Markanda has also been started,” he said.

According to Khattar, there are five agreements for the project. “The 23 channels attached to this river are also known as Saraswati. This river is also given importance as a pilgrimage site and this scheme will promote tourism and get rid of the problem of dark zones. Young scholars are also looking forward to this project,” he said.

Expressing gratitude to the guests, Dhumman Singh Kiramch, vice-president, Haryana Saraswati Heritage Development Board, said, “Scientists from 7 countries, including USA and Europe and more than1 lakh people have joined this seminar online.”

NHAI Plans to Monetise Projects Worth ₹3 Lakh Cr

The National Highways Authority of India is looking to monetise around 7,500 kilometres of road projects worth ₹3 lakh crore, a senior NHAI official has said.

“If we were to look at our monetisation plans, all the greenfield projects we are making could be potentially monetised,” the official said.

These projects, which are mostly greenfield expressways and access-controlled highways, will be completed by 2024-25, and are likely to be monetised through different models.

The authority plans to raise ₹20,000-25,000 crore through the SPV model, and ₹10,000 crore through the toll-operate-transfer model in 2021-22, the official said.

A second infrastructure investment trust (InvIT) worth around ₹6,000 crore is also in the pipeline for the next financial year.

“In terms of the model of monetisation, we are open. Depending on the mode which gets better response from the market, we will take a call on how we monetise the majority of our projects,” the official said.

A second official said the national highways building authority is ready with a pipeline of projects to be monetised in FY22, but the exercise will depend largely on market response to certain models.

NHAI has been keen on special purpose vehicle as a model for monetisation. The SPV shall raise debt on its balance sheet, while NHAI will retain the operational control during construction and operation and maintenance periods.

The toll on the projects housed in SPV shall be collected by NHAI and SPV shall get the annuity payments without any construction and tolling risks.

The authority had last year formed an SPV for financing the Delhi-Mumbai Expressway. “We are also planning to form an SPV for financing the Delhi-Katra expressway,” said the first official.

January 2021: Exports Up

India’s merchandise exports rose for the second consecutive month in January and at a faster pace than seen in preliminary estimates released earlier this month. In an indicator of the recovery in domestic demand, imports increased and the country’s trade deficit narrowed to $14.54 billion.

The trade gap was $15.3 billion in January 2020 and 15.44 billion in December.

Merchandise exports rose 6.16% on-year in January to $27.45 billion while imports grew 2.03% to $41.99 billion in the month with gold imports rising a sharp 154.7% to $4.03 billion.

Exports had grown 0.14% year on year in December.

Of the 30 major export sectors, growth was seen in 22. Non-oil, non-gold, silver and precious metals imports — an indicator of the strength of domestic demand — were $26.35 billion in January, recording a growth of 7.5%.

However, cumulative exports during April-January 2020-21 contracted 13.58% to $228.25 billion as against $264.13 billion during the same period last year.

Imports growth in January was led by gold, electronics goods, and pearls, precious and semi-precious stones.

“The trade deficit has sustained at a high level for the second consecutive month, which is a testament to the recovery in domestic demand, as well as the impact of higher commodity prices following the resurgence in global confidence,” said Aditi Nayar, principal economist at ICRA.

As per the data, oil imports rose 27.7% at $9.40 billion while non-oil imports rose 15.8% at $32.58 billion.

Mumbai: In 10 months, diesel hiked by ₹20, petrol by ₹19

Diesel price here has gone up by a record Rs.20 a litre in 10 months, while petrol escalated by Rs.19, leaving motorists and transporters fuming. Mumbai witnessed hikes for the seventh consecutive day on Monday as petrol touched a new all time high of Rs.95.46 a litre, while diesel went up to Rs.86.34.

Parbhani’s petrol price broke records to retail at Rs.97.63 a litre — Rs.2.37 shy of the Rs.100-mark. The rate of premium petrol (with additives) at pumps in Parbhani crossed Rs.100 on Monday.

The price of fuel in neighbouring Thane and Navi Mumbai was higher than Mumbai. Petrol was hiked on Monday to Rs.95.58, while diesel was revised to Rs.86.46. The highest price of diesel in the state was in Amravati (Rs.87.73).

CNG was hiked by Rs.1.50 to Rs.49.40 a kg at over 200 city pumps. The rate for a 14.2kg domestic LPG cylinder was hiked few days back by Rs.25 to Rs.719.

Government to set up 10 biotech clusters to boost research

Seeking to establish India as a bio-manufacturing hub and create a strong research ecosystem in the country, the Centre has announced multiple initiatives including setting up of 10 biotech URJIT (University Research Joint Industry Translational) clusters to synergise resources between research labs and industries, forming umbrella structures in nine cities for better coordination among R&D institutions and focusing on identified national priority thrust areas under National Research Foundation.

The NRF, which got a budget allocation of Rs.50,000 crore for five years, will be governed by a board appointed by the PM, and consist of accomplished and eminent researchers and professionals. It will build on existing national strengths in research and innovation, and fill gaps in the current research and education ecosystem.

“The NRF as an autonomous body envisaged to support researchers working across several streams of science & technology with special focus on universities,” said Union minister Harsh Vardhan.

Each URJIT cluster will be established in a way that they will serve one of the sustainable development goals through frontier research. Collaboration among university, national research labs, industry, incubators and start-ups, the clusters will promote and ensure seamless translation of knowledge from “laboratory to market”.

Wholesale inflation at 2%

Inflation, measured by the wholesale price index, rose to 2% in January from the previous month’s 1.2% on the back of rising manufactured product prices. Economists said they do not see any interest rate cuts from the Reserve Bank of India for now, despite retail inflation showing signs of cooling.

Data released earlier had shown retail inflation cooling to a 16-month low of 4.1% in January as some food and vegetable prices eased. Retail and the WPI inflation have shown signs of diverging.

The WPI numbers released by the commerce and industry ministry on Monday showed prices in the manufactured products category rose to an eight month high, which economists said was an encouraging sign as it displayed the return of pricing power for companies.

The food segment displayed sharp deflation and inflation in food articles contracted to a 26-month low of 2.8% in January. Prices of vegetables fell 20.8% for the second consecutive month. Inflation in onions fell for the third month by 32.6%.

Inflation in primary articles, which accounts for 22.62% of WPI, registered the sharpest decline in 43 months, according to a note by Care Ratings.

Wholesale prices is likely to register an up-tick in the coming months, with sustained surge in manufacturing. Core inflation (minus food and fuel) rose to a 27-month high of 5.1% in January and experts said the strengthening of pricing power could push it to 7-7.5% range in the first quarter of fiscal year 2022.

Navy gets 3rd diesel-electric scorpene submarine

The country’s third diesel-electric Scorpene submarine, which will be commissioned as INS Karanj next month, was delivered to the Navy by Mazagon Docks on Monday.

Under the over Rs.23,000 crore ‘Project-75’ under way at MDL for construction of six French-origin Scorpene submarines, the Navy has commissioned two vessels, INS Kalvari and INS Khanderi, till now.

The fourth submarine called Vela, which was launched in May 2019, has now commenced its sea trials, while the fifth, Vagir, was launched last November. The sixth, Vagsheer, in turn, is currently in an advanced stage of construction. 

Geospatial data : Deregulation

The Centre has eased regulations governing the acquisition and application of geospatial data — including maps — by Indian entities, in a far-reaching move that is expected to spur local innovation and level the playing field for both public and private Indian companies. The liberalised mapping policy allows private Indian firms to use high precision satellite imagery — of 1 metre and below — on both land and in Indian territorial waters. This was hitherto reserved for strategic purposes only.

Private firms and startups can now leverage data to build applications including more efficient and accurate delivery of online purchases to consumers’ doorsteps, industry executives said.

The policy also makes it clear that foreign companies can only source such data — including land-based mobile mapping surveys and street views — from Indian firms where data is hosted on servers locally. Overseas firms cannot own such data. Internationally, companies such as Google and Apple offer products that give consumers a 360-degree view of a street. Google’s street view was banned in India in 2016.

Officials said revised regulations will have no impact on satellite-based mapping services currently offered by companies like Google and Apple in India.

Ashutosh Sharma, secretary in the Department of Science and Technology, said “the liberalised policy will allow mapping data that has been restricted to a few departments, such as the Survey of India and National Remote Sensing Centre,” to now be “freely shared with other government departments and, for a nominal fee, with private Indian firms.”

“With 1 metre resolution, more accurate mapping can be done for homes and in multi-storied buildings,” said Rohan Verma, chief executive of MapmyIndia, an Indian map-based services provider. “Last-mile delivery will be more precise, without any hassle for customers, and ecommerce and mobility customers will see more efficiency and productivity.”

Experts are of the view that the new rules will allow local entrepreneurs to build applications employing mapping for use cases that are unique to India, and “unlock billions of dollars” of value in the country.

“This will help India have a little foot in the door in the global mapping ecosystem,” said Lalitesh Katragadda, who built Google’s map maker and Google Maps in India. He said the time and cost taken to build large scale infrastructure projects could reduce significantly, as satellite data can be used to monitor progress more effectively than physical presence.

Union minister of state for space Jitendra Singh said the government has previously used space technology for laying railway tracks, monitoring unmanned crossings, in housing, agriculture, construction of bridges and telemedicine. He estimates that India’s geospatial sector could contribute as much as ₹99,000 crore to the Indian economy by 2029. “We (are in) a phase where space technology has entered Indian households in one way or the other,” said Singh. “Similarly, by making mapping accessible to other stakeholders, we would be incentivising them to become partners in the development of new India.”

Last year, India opened up its space sector, allowing private firms and startups to build rockets and satellites and launch them from Indian soil. It will also open up the earth observation data from its dozen-plus satellites in easy formats, so companies can build applications for use in areas such as infrastructure, traffic management and agriculture.

The country’s first private earth observation satellite, Anand-1, built by Bengaluru startup Pixxel, will be launched on an Indian Space Research Organisation rocket on February 28.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that India’s farmers will also benefit by leveraging the potential of geospatial and remote sensing data. “Democratising data will enable the rise of new technologies and platforms that will drive efficiencies in agriculture and allied sectors,” he said.

Infosys cofounder Nandan Nilekani, who is a champion of open use of data to enable economic progress, said on Twitter, “The new map policy is another strategic step in India’s journey of data empowerment!”


India may have Turned Recession Corner in Q3

The Indian economy is likely to post modest growth in the December quarter, reversing the technical recession caused by Covid-19, following a strong recovery towards the end of calendar 2020. An ET survey of economists estimated a median of 0.32% growth in the third quarter of FY21, marking a bounceback from the previous two quarters of contraction in gross domestic product. The National Statistical Office will release official GDP estimates for the third quarter of FY21 at the end of the month.

India’s GDP contracted 23.9% in the June quarter following what was regarded as the strictest lockdown in the world that was imposed on March 25 to contain the coronavirus spread. In the September quarter, GDP shrank 7.5%.

“In our view, the recession has ended in the last quarter,” said Aditi Nayar, principal economist at ICRA, pegging December quarter growth at 0.5-0.8%.

The October-December period had seen a festive season demand boost, with automobile and consumer durables posting strong sales. Data released last week showed industrial production expanded 1% in December. Manufacturing grew 1.6% in the month.

“India will most likely see a positive growth return in Q3FY21, as the inventory trade cycle pushed up manufacturing, and services also saw a gradual return to normalcy,” said Rahul Bajoria, chief India economist at Barclays, putting growth at 0.4% for the quarter.

SBI Research recently raised its estimate for third-quarter performance to 0.3% growth with an upward bias.

Global brokerage Nomura took a more optimistic view, estimating India’s third quarter growth at 1.5%, according to Sonal Varma, its chief India economist. These projections point to a faster recovery than anticipated earlier-–most economists had expected negative growth in Q3, followed by a small positive rise in GDP in the March quarter.

The statistics office has estimated a 7.7% contraction in FY21, which implies a small decline in the second half of the fiscal year after a15.7% drop in the first half.

“The corporate results so far also reinstate the fact that Q3 growth would be much better than the Q2 growth. The corporate GVA (gross value added) of 1,129 companies has expanded by 14.7% in Q3 as compared to 8.6% growth in Q2 (of 3,758 companies ex-telecom),” said an SBI Research report.

FASTag: Drivers can now be fined even within the city limits

Getting a FASTag for your vehicle may buy you peace of mind. While starting from Monday midnight, vehicles without the RFID tag on their windshield will have to cough up twice the normal toll in case they pay cash at a toll plaza on a national highway, even those not venturing onto highways would face a challan for violating provisions of the Central Motor Vehicles Rules.

State transport departments have started sending text messages to vehicle owners pointing to the violation — which most car owners are unaware of — and also mentioning that they are liable to be penalised for this offence. The penalty would be Rs.300 for first offence and Rs.500 for repeat offence.

And things are only going to get worse from here. The government has amended the Motor Vehicle Rules making it mandatory for all vehicles (four-wheelers and above) to fix FASTag from January 1 and from April, it is mandatory for renewing your vehicle insurance policy.

It’s a different matter that the tag is useless on city roads and most state highways, leave alone using it to pay your parking fees. For those not planning to drive down a national highway, it will only result in coughing up Rs.200 to buy a FASTag from a bank or a wallet operator.

While new cars sold since December 2017 are coming with FASTags, nearly 75 lakh tags fixed prior to this date by vehicle manufacturers had become duds.

Even now, nearly 20% of highway commuters don’t have FASTags on their vehicles, which has prompted the road transport ministry to “seek cooperation” from states for enforcement of the new rule. Estimates suggested that nearly two crore four-wheeler and bigger vehicles are yet to buy FASTag.

Though some states have signed MoUs with the NHAI to extend FASTag-based transaction for toll collection, there has been very little impact on the ground. For example, while FASTag is accepted on the UP government-owned and tolled expressways, it is not accepted on Yamuna Expressway since it’s not under government control. Moreover, different municipal corporations including Delhi have issued their own RFID tags for commercial vehicles, resulting in commercial vehicles using multiple tags.

The government is banking on the new cashless mechanism to check leakage at toll booths, as highway developers were often found to be under-reporting collections, apart from smoother traffic flow at the plazas.


J&K’s development Modi govt’s top priority

Home minister Amit Shah asserted in the Lok Sabha on Saturday that the Narendra Modi government has done more for Jammu and Kashmir since Article 370 was scrapped in August 2019 than those who ruled it for generations, as he reeled out statistics to assert that its development has been the government’s top priority.

Replying to a discussion on the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Amendment) Bill, he also slammed some opposition members for their claim that the proposed law negates the hopes of the region getting back its erstwhile statehood. This legislation has nothing to do with statehood, and Jammu and Kashmir will be accorded the status at an appropriate time, Shah said.

He said the region’s Union Territory status is temporary and then took a swipe at the Congress and other parties -- which had backed Article 370 of the Constitution that gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir -- saying this was a temporary provision but they continued with it for over 70 years before the Modi government annulled it in August 2019.

Jammu and Kashmir has been a top priority for the current government since it took power in 2014, he said.

Decentralisation and devolution of power have taken place in the union territory following the revocation of Article 370, Shah said, noting that panchayat elections saw over 51 per cent voting. Panchayats have been given administrative and financial powers for local development, something they lacked earlier, he added.

Now people chosen by the masses will rule Jammu and Kashmir, not those born to “kings and queens”, he said, attacking dynastic parties in the region.

Even our rivals could not allege any wrongdoing in these polls which were conducted fairly and peacefully, he said.