Eight core sectors’ production up 8.9% in June

The output of eight core sectors grew 8.9% in June, mainly due to a low base effect and uptick in production of natural gas, steel, coal and electricity.

The eight infrastructure sectors of coal, crude oil, natural gas, refinery products, fertilisers, steel, cement and electricity had contracted by 12.4% in June 2020 due to the lockdown restrictions imposed to control the spread of coronavirus infections.

In May this year, these key sectors had recorded a growth of 16.3%, while it was 60.9% in April.

According to the commerce and industry ministry data, production of coal, natural gas, refinery products, steel, cement and electricity jumped by 7.4%, 20.6%, 2.4%, 25%, 4.3% and 7.2 %, respectively, in June.

The same stood at -15.5%, -12%, -8.9%, -23.2%, -6.8% and -10% in the corresponding month last year. Crude oil output contracted by 1.8% during the month under review as against a negative growth of 6% in June 2020. Fertiliser segment recorded a growth of 2% in June.

During April-June period this fiscal, the eight sectors grew by 25.3% against a contraction of 23.8% in the same period last year. 


India’s nuclear power capacity to touch 22,480 MW by 2031

India's nuclear power generation capacity is expected to touch 22,480 MW by 2031 from the present 6,780 MW with 22 reactors.

According to the central government, one more atomic power plant with 700 MW (Unit 3 at Kakrapar Atomic Power Project, Gujarat) was connected to the grid in January this year.

When the third unit at KAPP starts commercial generation, then the total atomic power generation capacity will go up to 7,480 MW.

The KAPP-3 unit is expected to start commercial generation this September, SK Sharma, chairman & managing director, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd had said.

The government said, currently there are 10 reactors (including 500 MW prototype fast breeder reactor -PFBR- belonging to Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam Ltd Bhavini) totalling 8,000 MW under construction at various stages.

The government has also accorded administrative approval and financial sanction for the construction of 10 indigenous 700 MW Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors to be set up in fleet mode.

On progressive completion of the projects under construction and accorded sanction, the total nuclear capacity is expected to reach 22,480 MW by 2031 (NPCIL's capacity 21,980 MW, Bhavini 500 MW).

"This fiscal we will be spending about Rs 18,000 crore as capital expenditure on our ongoing projects. The funding will be through a mix of internal accruals, central government budgetary support and long-term borrowings. The first two will be about 30 per cent, and the borrowings will be about 70 per cent of the project cost," Sharma had said.

Meanwhile, the commissioning status of the prototype fast breeder reactor remains unknown.

Bhopal Metro: Priority corridor gets new focus

Detailed design construction for Bhopal metro depot is complete, paving the way for more speedy development of priority corridor from AIIMS to Subhash Nagar, according to Madhya Pradesh Metro Rail Corporation Limited sources.

The depot development would cost an estimated Rs 350 crore. It would be constructed at Stud Farms, near Subhash Nagar. It is expected to coincide with the construction of eight elevated Bhopal metro stations from AIIMS to Subhash Nagar. The latter is set into motion with the Urban development ministry setting new guidelines, which are being followed to the tee in Bhopal too. Stringent conditions with requirement of similar works are being looked into as selection of agency for development is at an advanced stage.

According to MPMRCL, civil work is almost 70% complete under Package-01 was in October 2018. The metro elevated section can be along the road connecting MP Nagar to AIIMS Bhopal.

The stretch is about 14.99 km long Purple Line (Karond Circle – AIIMS). Short term and long term urban landscape in the city is set to change after Bhopal metro becomes operational. The operational launch of the first phase of Bhopal metro is expected to be in August 2023, according to MPMRCL estimates.

The current focus is on design and construction of elevated metro rail stations, which includes viaduct portions within the stations and transition spans on either side. The eight stations would be at AIIMS, Alkapuri, Habibganj Naka, Habibganj, MP Nagar Zone-1, Arera Hills intersection, Kendriya Vidyalaya and Subhash Nagar. MPMRCL invited bids for the contract in March this year with an estimated cost of Rs 421 crore and completion target date is 847 days. Technical evaluation is limited to four main bidders. Stringent terms include previous work experiences. For instance, for a single project of the same nature should have been with a cost overlay of Rs 370 crore.

Medicinal plants cultivation gets a boost in Bundelkhand

Cultivation of medicinal and aromatic plants like Lemongrass, Sataver, Ashwagandha, Khas and others can prove to be a boon for farmers in Bundelkhand region as these medicinal plants require less water and can stand in hot and humid weather conditions of the region.

This was said by chief scientist Alok Krishna of the CSIR-Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants during a workshop organized by the institute and GIZ India in Lalitpur on strengthening marketing, processing and cultivation of the medicinal and aromatic plants in the Bundelkhand region.

Krishna highlighted how medicinal plants can adapt to the climatic conditions of the region and bring financial gains to the farmers. “In just eight months a farmer can yield 50 litres of lemongrass oils. Lemongrass cultivation needs no special arrangements to save the plants from extremely hot conditions nor does it need too much water,” he said and added that a road map for the agrarian growth will soon be prepared for the region by the CSIR-CIMAP.

“Bundelkhand can be developed as an ecotourism spot as it has a good forest cover. Also, scientific goat farming in which scientific practices are used for better milk production can help double the income of goat farmers in the region,” Krishna said Lectures on goat farming were delivered by expert Anupam Dixit from the Central Institute of Goat Farming Mathura and senior scientist Ravi Ranjan from Central Institute for Research on Goats, Mathura who highlighted that goat farming can further help in increasing income of the people in Bundelkhand region.

Pench among 14 tiger reserves to get elite tag

Fourteen tiger reserves of India, including three each in Assam and Madhya Pradesh, have attained the globally accepted Conservation Assured |Tiger Standards accreditation, the environment ministry announced on International Tiger Day on Thursday.

Surprisingly, the three most popular tiger reserves in terms of tourist footfalls — Corbett (Uttarakhand), Ranthambore (Rajasthan) and Bandhavgarh (Madhya Pradesh) — did not get the CA|TS tag which is a conservation tool for best practices and standards to manage tigers.

Drawing attention to this fact during a function to share details of the elite tag of tiger conservation areas, environment secretary R P Gupta said, “When I saw the list, I found that the 14 areas (reserves) are such where tourists’ presence is not that much. So, it’s very vital that we just don’t make these tiger reserves a tourist destination as our topmost priority.”

The 14 reserves which figured in the list include Manas, Kaziranga and Orang in Assam; Sundarbans in West Bengal; Valmiki in Bihar; Dudhwa in Uttar Pradesh; Panna, Kanha and Satpura in Madhya; Pradesh; Pench in Maharashtra; Anamalai and Mudumalai in Tamil Nadu; Parambikulam in Kerala; and Bandipur, Karnataka.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while tweeting on International Tiger Day, reiterated India’s commitment to ensuring safe habitats for tigers and nurturing tiger-friendly eco-systems.

As per the last census (2018), India has 2,967 tigers and 12,852 leopards. While the population of tigers recorded an increase of 33% since the last census (2014), leopard numbers recorded a jump of 62% since 2014.

China-Pak corridor in Indian territory: MEA

India rejected the recent “elections” held in PoK, while simultaneously rejecting a reference to the CPEC in a recent Pakistan-China joint statement, saying it lies in India’s territory that has been illegally occupied by Pakistan and which is resolutely opposed by India.

The Indian response also covered the reference to Jammu & Kashmir in the joint statement with the MEA spokesperson saying Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh are an integral and inalienable part of India.

Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said India lodged a “strong protest” with the Pakistan government on a “cosmetic exercise” to hold elections in PoK.

”Such an exercise can neither hide the illegal occupation by Pakistan nor the grave human rights violations, exploitation, and denial of freedom to people in these occupied territories. Pakistan has no locus standi on these Indian territories. We call on Pakistan to vacate all Indian areas under its illegal occupation.”

The election exercise, Bagchi said, is nothing but an attempt by Pakistan to camouflage its illegal occupation and the material changes undertaken by it in these territories.

On the CPEC, which India has opposed on the grounds that it violates its sovereignty, the MEA spokesperson said, “We resolutely oppose any attempts by other countries to change the status quo in areas illegally occupied by Pakistan as also to Pakistan bringing up any material change in Indian territories under its illegal occupation.

“We call upon parties concerned to cease such actions.”

Asked to respond to a meeting between Taliban leader Mullah Baradar and Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, the MEA spokesperson avoided commenting on the meeting as such, but said India “wishes to see an independent, sovereign, democratic and stable Afghanistan, at peace with itself and neighbours.

“Unilateral imposition of will by any party will not be democratic, cannot lead to stability, and cannot provide legitimacy. Gains over the last two decades should be preserved.”

Tatas buy Tejas for ₹2.9k cr

Tata Sons is buying Tejas Networks, a publicly listed company offering data networking products to telecom operators and internet service providers for Rs 2,923 crore, to bolster its enterprise telecom play. According to the contours of the deal, Tata Sons is buying 72% in Tejas by subscribing to preferential shares and warrants besides acquiring shares from founders and public shareholders. It is purchasing Tejas shares at Rs 258 apiece, which is at a premium to its Thursday’s closing price of Rs 246 on the BSE.

After exiting the wireless services space in 2019 by transferring the business to Bharti Airtel, Tata Sons has been focusing on providing telecom services to enterprise customers. Tejas is Tata Sons’s first major deal in telecom after the exit from consumer mobile business. Currently, its telecom and connected interests are spread across Tata Communications, Nelco and Tata Teleservices.

Tejas was founded by three first-generation entrepreneurs — Sanjay Nayak, Arnob Roy and Kumar Sivarajan — in 2000 in Bengaluru. The company, which went public in 2017, posted a profit of Rs 38 crore on sales of Rs 527 crore in fiscal 2021. Tata Sons said Tejas’s existing management team will continue to lead the company even after the change in ownership. The founders own 5.6% in Tejas and their stake will reduce to 2.6% after the deal. The transaction will be done in multiple stages.

Interestingly, in the past, Tata Sons promoter Tata Trusts had partnered with Tejas to roll out public Wi-Fi hotspots in rural and semi-urban India.

Danish Siddiqui was executed by Taliban

Pulitzer Prize-winning Indian photojournalist Danish Siddiqui was not killed in a crossfire in Afghanistan, but was “brutally murdered” by the Taliban after they verified his identity, according to a report in a US-based magazine on Thursday. Siddiqui, 38, was covering clashes between the Taliban and the Afghan forces when he died.

Citing local authorities, the report in Washington Examiner said Siddiqui was travelling with an Afghan national army team to the Spin Boldak region to cover the fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban for the control of the lucrative border crossing with Pakistan. “When they got to within one-third of a mile of the customs post, a Taliban attack split the team, with the commander and a few men separated from Siddiqui, who remained with three other Afghan troops,” it said.

The report said that the photojournalist got hit by a shrapnel during the assault and took refuge in a local mosque where he received first aid. As the word spread that a journalist was in the mosque, the Taliban attacked. A local investigation suggested that the Taliban attacked the mosque only because of Siddiqui’s presence there, the report said. “Siddiqui was alive when the Taliban captured him. The Taliban verified Siddiqui’s identity and then executed him, as well as those with him. The commander and the remainder of his team died as they tried to rescue him,” it said.

“While a widely circulated public photograph shows Siddiqui’s face recognisable, I reviewed other photographs and a video of Siddiqui’s body provided to me by a source in the Indian government that show the Taliban beat Siddiqui around the head and then riddled his body with bullets,” wrote the writer Michael Rubin, who is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. The Taliban’s decision to hunt down, execute Siddiqui, and then mutilate his corpse shows they do not respect the rules of war or conventions that govern behaviour of the global community, the report said. 


RBI opens up payments systems to non-banks

Issuers of prepaid cards and digital wallets can now access the National Electronic Fund Transfer and Real-Time Gross Settlement systems. Opening up the centralised payment systems for nonbanks, the RBI said that white-label ATM operators and card networks can also access the RTGS.

What this means is that these entities will now get separate Indian Financial System Codes and will get to open a current account with the central bank.

The move will bring down the cost of routing payments for non-banks. It will also reduce the risk of failure or delay in the execution of fund transfers as they no longer have to rely on banks.

The RBI said that direct access was being provided so that customers of non-banks do not face the risk of bank failure. “Banks have been providing the services to nonbanks for their payment and settlement needs. However, if the bank, which provides payment services to non-banks, is impacted, it can cause business disruption to the nonbanks also,” the RBI said.

It added that even if the disruption were to be temporary, it could cause and spread instability in the system.

Jhunjhunwala-backed budget airline may take off by year-end

A startup airline funded by billionaire investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala and piloted by aviation veteran Vinay Dube could take to the skies by late this year or early next.

Dube said that an application for a no objection certificate — the precursor to airline licence — has been sought from the aviation ministry for ‘SNV Aviation’, which will be the holding company for the proposed budget airline ‘Akasa Air’. “We are working with the ministry as per the regulations to ensure that we are compliant with all necessary filing requirements and hope that the NOC will be granted to us soon,” Dube said.

While Jhunjhunwala will invest about $35 million (around Rs 260 crore) and hold a stake of 40% approximately, there will be other investors on board too. The ultra-low cost airline plans to have a fleet of 70 aircraft in four years.

“For the culture of a company to be frugal you’ve to start off fresh. I’m very, very bullish on India’s aviation sector in terms of demand. I think some of the increment players may not recover. I’ve got some of the best airline people in the world as my partners,” Jhunjhunwala told Bloomberg.

This twin logic — India being the fastest growing aviation market globally before the pandemic, and weak financials of all airlines here except IndiGo and the ones backed by Tata and Wadia Groups — explains the timing of the new venture. The pandemic has pushed the airline industry into its biggest ever existential crisis.

The Indian airline industry is seeing a big churn with Air India’s divestment process. The Tatas are widely seen as frontrunners to acquire AI and eventually have one mega carrier that merges all three — AI, Vistara and AirAsia India. IndiGo, despite Covid sending its net worth into negative territory, has a strong war chest and hundreds of planes on order waiting to take to the skies again once travel resumes. Other airlines are trying to raise funds to survive.

Bullish on India’s aviation prospects, the Akasa team was doing its groundwork during the entire pandemic in 2020. Jhunjhunwala is himself learnt to have spoken to key aviation professionals to know about the intricacies of starting and running an airline. “He just called sometime last year and introduced himself, while wanting to know about this industry,” said an industry insider. Dube has held senior positions at GoAir, Jet Airways, Delta and American Airlines in an over 30-year-long career. He has prepared the technical blueprint with a team of trusted colleagues that include some names from Jet 1.0. It remains to be seen whether Akasa takes to the skies before Jet 2.0.

Somewhere on the Eastern Front....

A Rafale gets water cannon salute during the induction ceremony at the Hasimara airbase in West Bengal on Wednesday. India has now deployed its latest omni-role Rafale fighter jets close to the Sikkim-Bhutan Tibet tri-junction on the eastern front with China, which constitute a new deterrent just before the next round of top-level military talks between the two countries likely on Saturday, reports Rajat Pandit. Eight new Rafales, armed with decidedly deadly weapons packages, were formally inducted into the 101 ‘Fal cons of Chhamb and Akhnoor’ Squadron at the Hasimara airbase. The deployment of the French-origin Rafales in the eastern sector, along with the Russian-origin Sukhoi-30MKI fighters already operating from air bases like Tezpur and Chabua, will lead to a greater offensive punch against China


Hyundai enters Gurugram

With a Rs 2,000-crore investment plan in tow, Hyundai landed in Gurugram with great fanfare, setting foot into the millennium city, which is known as much for its corporate buzz and urban culture as also for the Korean company’s archrival Maruti Suzuki, the company that set foot in the same city in the ’80s and went on to revolutionise India’s car industry.

As Hyundai formally threw open its swanky and mega corporate office in the heart of Gurugram — built at an investment of Rs 1,000 crore over the past three years — what surprised almost everyone was the presence of Maruti MD Kenichi Ayukawa at the event, which was attended by Haryana chief minister M L Khattar. “I am here as the president of auto industry body Siam, at the invitation of Hyundai. I do not have anything more to add here,” Ayukawa said.

However, for Hyundai, the entry into Gurugram in a bold fashion is no less than a signature statement and one that it is flaunting with aplomb. The company’s India headquarters has a total built-up area of 28,000sqft, perhaps the biggest for an MNC auto company, and has green elements such as 50kw solar panels on the roof top, 14 charging units for electric vehicles, and a 400sqmt ‘green wall’ with plants.

“With a strong commitment towards people and environment, this headquarters will be a focal point of innovation and realise Hyundai India’s vision of ‘Progress for the People, Prosperity for the Planet’,” company MD & CEO S S Kim said. Hyundai’s entry into Haryana’s corporate setup comes at a time when Maruti Suzuki plans investments of up to Rs 18,000 crore in the state for a one-million capacity factory premises.

Maruti is making investments as part of plans to shift its Gurugram plant (the oldest and first car plant of the company) and move over to a new large and modern manufacturing setup, its chairman R C Bhargava said recently.

IMF slashes India’s FY22 growth to 9.5%

The International Monetary Fund cut India’s gross domestic product growth to 9.5% for 2021-22, from its earlier estimate of 12.5%, citing the impact of the second wave on the economy and recovery process.

In its latest update to the World Economic Outlook, the IMF said growth prospects in India have been downgraded, following the severe second Covid wave during March–May and expected slow recovery in confidence from that setback.

“Faster-than-expected vaccination rates and return to normalcy have led to upgrades, while lack of access to vaccines and renewed waves of Covid-19 cases in some countries, notably India, have led to downgrades,” IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath said in a blog.

In countries with high vaccination coverage, such as the UK and Canada, the impact would be mild. Meanwhile, countries lagging in vaccination, such as India and Indonesia, would suffer the most among G20 economies, according to the World Economic outlook update. China is estimated to grow by 8.1% in 2021 and by 5.7% next year, while India is projected to grow by 8.5% in 2022-23. India still retains the tag of the fastest growing major economy.

IMF is the latest in a string of economists, brokerages, multilateral agencies, which have reduced India’s GDP growth estimates against the backdrop of the second wave, which hurt the economy. The RBI now estimates GDP growth at 9.5% for 2021-22, lowering it from its earlier estimate of 10.5%.

The government expects growth to be robust for the current fiscal and experts say impact of the second wave is likely to be limited to the April-June quarter with some possible spillover to July. The global economy is projected to grow 6% in 2021 and 4.9% in 2022. The 2021 global forecast is unchanged from the April 2021 WEO, but with offsetting revisions.

7 inter-state boundary disputes

A day after an inter-state boundary dispute between Assam and Mizoram claimed the lives of six Assam Police personnel, the home ministry informed Lok Sabha that there were seven cases of running disputes between two states arising out of demarcation of boundaries and claims and counter-claims.

These disputes, according to available information, are between Haryana-Himachal Pradesh, UT of Ladakh-Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra-Karnataka, Assam-Arunachal Pradesh, Assam-Nagaland, Assam-Meghalaya and Assam-Mizoram.

In reply to a query in the Lok Sabha, minister of state for home Nityanand Rai said that occasional protests and incidents of violence were reported from some of the disputed border areas.

To a query on the role of the central government in redressing inter-state border disputes in the country, he replied that the approach of the Centre has consistently been that inter-state disputes can be resolved only with the cooperation of the state governments concerned and that the central government acts only as a facilitator for amicable settlement of the dispute in the spirit of mutual understanding.

The chief ministers of Assam and Mizoram had sparred on Twitter on Monday after violent clashes broke out between border residents of both states in Cachar. Though home minister Amit Shah, who was tagged by both the chief ministers in their tweets, did step in to cool tempers and advised them over multiple phone calls to resolve the issue through talks, the situation on the ground turned violent, leading to death of six Assam police personnel in firing.

PM asks BJP MPs to Work with Vision 2047

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has directed BJP MPs to visualise their idea of India in 2047, when the country will complete 100 years of its Independence, and work towards achieving their goal. The process should begin with Amrit Mahotsav in mid-August and each legislator should chalk out his/her own plan for an AatmaNirbhar Bharat.

Addressing the BJP parliamentary party meeting on Tuesday, Modi said each MP should ensure that 75 villages are covered in their constituency to mark the 75th year of Independence on August 15. Two party workers should be assigned to each of these 75 villages in a constituency and they should spend at least 75 hours there to make the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav a success.

“They will spend 75 hrs in each village to collect ideas and noteworthy initiatives which will be collated further for development of the country,” MoS for parliamentary affairs Arjun Ram Meghwal told the media after the meeting. “The PM said in 2047 we will complete 100 years of Independence… we have to collect ideas from people on how we can achieve the best benchmarks and create an action plan for the next 25 years.”

The PM also said that BJP MPs should develop cordial and friendly relations with the opposition MPs.

Unesco tags Dholavira in Kutch world heritage site

Dholavira, a Harappan-era metropolis in the Kutch region of Gujarat, earned the coveted Unesco World Heritage Site tag on Tuesday, ending an eight-year long wait. Dholavira becomes the fourth WHS in Gujarat after Champaner, Rani ki Vav in Patan, and the historic city of Ahmedabad.

This is the second WHS honour for India in less than a week —Ramappa Temple in Telangana’s Warangal was granted the status on July 25.

The first representation for Dholavira’s inscription was made in 2014 by the Government of India.

The ancient town, found in 1967 and excavated in 1989-90 for the first time, is the second biggest Harappan site after Rakhigarhi in India. It was inhabited for about 1,200 years starting 3000 BCE, said experts.

Joy erupted among archaeologists, historians, and academics in Gujarat and India after the formal announcement of Dholavira’s new title was made at about 3.30pm during the ongoing 44th session of Unesco’s World Heritage Committee.

Experts said that after Mohenjodaro in Pakistan, Dholavira is the second Harappan site to get the tag in south Asia and the first from India. “Absolutely delighted by this news. Dholavira was an important urban centre and is one of our most important linkages with our past,” PM Narendra Modi tweeted soon after the news broke. “It is a must visit, especially for those interested in history, culture and archaeology.”

The PM also mentioned that he had visited Dholavira during his student days and was mesmerized by the place. “As CM of Gujarat, I had the opportunity to work on aspects relating to heritage conservation and restoration in Dholavira,” he tweeted.

Dholavira is not your usual tourist destination – located about 213km northeast of Bhuj, it has only one road connecting it to the mainland. Regular days do not witness much hustle-bustle except occasional buses or private vehicles. Add the hot and dry climate to the mix, and you get a site that is about 5,000 years at its oldest but is enticing only to those who are really interested in history and archaeology.

However, once one is amidst the stone walls, a sense of awe descends. It was a bustling city that rose around 3000BC and went into decline around 1800BC, existing for more than 1,200 years, witnessing the rise and fall of the Harappan civilization. It had a drainage system, water reservoirs, obsession-level adherence to ratios and symmetry, trade in some of the finest carnelian and agate with faraway nations, and above all, an all-welcoming ‘sign board’ – literally!

As the Harappan city got the coveted Unesco World Heritage Site tag on Tuesday, many at the Archaeological Survey of India and from the history and archaeology fraternity celebrated. India had presented the site for the first time in 2014 to Unesco, which culminated after seven years of meticulous documentation and representation of the site and its unique features.

Dr Y S Rawat, who was associated with the site’s excavation for 13 years, said the site in a way gave a peek into interconnected cities of Harappa, but also served as a time capsule for the era. “We see one of the first pieces of evidence of pulley block system at the well in the lower town area here. We know that they had trade overseas when the conditions were favourable, in carnelian and ivory, among other things. The drainage system and toilets outside their homes indicate an elevated level of engineering,” he said. “Several traditions – the use of ivory bangles and home design, an open area between the home and the gate – have been carried forward in communities living in the region for a long time.” Experts point out that it’s one of the Harappan-era sites that can give a ‘feel’ of a site due to a large part still being intact. Right from the entrance to elevation of the ‘upper town,’ and boundary wall to water reservoirs, majority of features can be experienced, making it a unique site from the Harappan era.

Basavaraj Bommai: New Karnataka CM

Karnataka home minister Basavaraj Bommai, a close confidant of outgoing chief minister B S Yediyurappa, will be sworn in on Wednesday as the 20th CM of the state.

Bommai’s elevation to the top post keeps two key constituents of the BJP — Lingayat community and Yediyurappa — happy. As a Lingayat himself, Bommai will be acceptable to the politically influential community and by choosing him, the BJP high command seems to have rewarded Yediyurappa for walking graciously and promising to work for the party.

The 61-year-old three-time MLA from Shiggaon in Haveri district is the son of late S R Bommai, former Karnataka CM and ex-Union minister. It makes the Bommais the second father-son duo after H D Deve Gowda and H D Kumaraswamy to become CMs in Karnataka. Senior Bommai was the CM for nine months in 1989.

An engineering graduate, who started out by working for the Tatas in Pune, Bommai’s name was not prominent among those thought to be in the reckoning for the chief minister job until Tuesday.

But Yediyurappa’s support, according to BJP insiders, tilted the balance in favour of Bommai. “It is a masterstroke by Yediyurappa and a putdown to his detractors who raised a banner of revolt against him with an eye on the CM’s chair,” said a BJP MLA. Bommai took the blessings of Yediyurappa by touching his feet immediately after his name was announced.

The duo later called on governor Thaawarchand Gehlot and staked a claim to form the government. Originally from the Janata Parivar, Bommai’s selection for the coveted post also marked a new beginning in the BJP as it came against a popular assumption that outsiders cannot aspire for big posts in the party or its governments. Bommai joined the BJP just before 2008 assembly elections. He served as water resources minister between 2008 and 2013 and home minister from July 2019. For the past two years, Bommai was literally Yediyurappa’s trusted No 2 with the latter depending on him for day-to-day administration. It is being said that BJP central leadership was impressed with Bommai’s administrative acumen. He also built bridges with the central leadership with his constant interaction with them and as Yediyurappa’s representative for the last two years.

His performance at the GST council meetings also received a lot of appreciation by the high command, sources said. The BJP has, in recent days, leaned towards unconventional candidates for key positions from Karnataka, including in the Rajya Sabha and the Union Cabinet. So, there was an expectation that it may spring a surprise. But Bommai’s choice indicated the party’s keenness to protect the Lingayat vote base rather than indulge in experiments.


Byju’s snaps up 2 more companies

Byju’s shopping spree continues. The Bengaluru-based digital learning firm has done two more big acquisitions. It has bought Singapore-based Great Learning, which specialises in online higher and professional education, for $600 million. And it has bought Toppr, which offers online content for schools and competitive exams, for $150 million.

The company has done some 15 acquisitions to date, spending nearly $3 billion. Last week, it acquired US digital reading platform Epic, focused on kids aged 12 and under, for $500 million.

Byju’s is building itself into a digital and online learning powerhouse — focused on everything from K12 to competitive test preparation and professional education. The idea is to create a continuum for lifelong learners. Byju’s said it has earmarked a further $400 million towards accelerating Great Learning’s growth.

Great Learning was founded by Mohan Lakhamraju, former Tiger Global India head, and Hari Krishnan Nair & Arjun Nair. It offers industry-relevant programmes in software engineering, business management, business analytics, data science, machine learning, AI, cybersecurity, digital marketing, and design thinking. Great Learning’s programmes are developed in collaboration with academic institutions like Stanford University, MIT, The University of Texas at Austin, National University Singapore, and several IITs.

Lakhamraju said that Great Learning crossed a revenue run rate of $100 million in the 2020-21 financial year, a 150% growth from the previous fiscal.

“We have 1.6 million learners, and 2,800 mentors on the platform from 170 countries. We have a completion rate of 91%, compared to others who have 70%. About 66% of learners are able to achieve career transitions in 12 months,” he said.

Lakhamraju said that their prices are in the range of Rs 50,000 to Rs 7 lakh, depending on the duration and the nature of the programme. “Those enrolled for our programmes have seen their salary jump by Rs 2 lakh. They recover the fee in 1-2 years,” he said. Great Learning will continue to operate as an independent unit under the larger Byju’s brand.

Byju’s co-founder Byju Raveendran said continuous upskilling and reskilling is essential to stay relevant, and Great Learning would enable Byju’s to offer these options to its learners. “Professional upskilling and higher education will get accelerated in the coming times, and they will be geared towards online,” he said.

Byju’s has been a darling of private investors. It has raised some $2.7 billion from investors to date, much of that in the past year.

Puri : 1st Indian city to get 24x7 piped drinking water

Puri, which attracts two crore tourists every year, has earned the distinction of becoming the first Indian city to get round-the-clock piped pure drinking water.

Launching “Sujal — Drink from Tap Mission” via a virtual platform, Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik said on Monday that Puri has joined international cities like London, New York and Singapore in supplying quality piped drinking water from taps 24x7.

“The launch… in Puri is a new chapter in Odisha’s development. It makes the heritage city the first in India to achieve this milestone, matching the standards of supply of drinking water in many foreign cities. Around 2.5 lakh people of Puri town and two crore tourists visiting the city every year can now get quality drinking water from taps, doing away with the need to store and filter water,” Patnaik said in his address.

Drinking water fountains have been set up at 400 locations in the pilgrim town to ensure that visitors do not carry plastic bottles. The government hopes that the Sujal piped water scheme will eliminate the use of three crore plastic bottles, thereby preventing the formation of 400 metric tonnes of plastic waste in Puri every year.

“Sujal, which is a transformative project under the government’s 5T charter (Transparency, teamwork, technology, time frame and transformation), has been commissioned in only nine months. The project will subsequently be extended to 16 other urban localities with a 40-lakh population,” he said.

Quality drinking water is closely linked with good health, the human development index and the economy, the CM said. To ensure that the state gets safe and hygienic drinking water, the Odisha government has increased its budget from Rs 200 crore to Rs 4,000 crore in the last five years.

The initiative has been launched under the “Jalsathi” programme and involves joining hands with women’s self-help groups (SHGs) under Mission Shakti, a state initiative to empower women, according to the government. Quality check of the drinking water will be conducted by “Jalsathis” picked from the women’s SHGs.

Union ministry of housing and urban affair’s secretary Durga Shanker Mishra, who attended the launch, said it would work as a role model for other states. Chief secretary Suresh Mohapatra, 5T secretary V K Pandian, state housing and urban development secretary G Mathi Vathanan and minister Pratap Jena were among others who attended the launch.

Yediyurappa resigns as CM of Karnataka

Karnataka chief minister, BS Yediyurappa submitted his resignation to governor Thawarchand Gehlot on Monday after tweeting that it was an honour for him to have served the state for two years.

In a tweet in Kannada, he said that he submitted his resignation to the governor, and the latter has asked him to continue as interim chief minister until his successor is announced.

“I have decided to resign as the Chief Minister of Karnataka. I am humbled and sincerely thank the people of the state for giving me the opportunity to serve them. I am grateful to PM Narendra Modi and BJP national president J.P. Nadda and Union Home Minister Amit Shah for their support,” he tweeted.

Soon after his speech at a function celebrating his two-year anniversary where he announced his decision, Yediyurappa, along with his cabinet colleagues, went to Raj Bhavan and submitted his resignation.

To elect the new chief minister of Karnataka, the BJP will appoint central observers by Monday evening. It is learnt that BJP chief JP Nadda, Union home minister Amit Shah and Karnataka in-charge Arun Singh met in parliament house after Yediyurappa’s resignation and discussed the situation in Karnataka.

“Central observer will be appointed by the evening. Till BJP MLAs elect the new leader of Legislative Party, Yediyurappa will work as acting chief minister of Karnataka,” sources said.

A party insider said that the meeting between Nadda, Shah and Singh went for an hour, and a detailed discussion was held to find out the new chief minister of Karnataka.

Sources said that some names have been shortlisted by the central leadership considering the caste equation in the state. “Caste plays an important factor in Karnataka politics, and selection of new chief minister will be considering social equations of the state,” sources said.


Somewhere in Delhi....

The capital will soon get its first peacock garden at Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Combating Climate Change in north Delhi for the conservation of the national bird.

MGICCC will develop the garden in collaboration with the forest and wildlife department. Forest officials will develop artificial ponds and other facilities to lure peafowls into the garden, where they will not be kept in captivity.

A large number of peacocks move freely in the MGICCC campus and neighbouring farmhouses in the area. A five-acre green area on the campus will be developed as the garden. “The garden will not be like a zoo, but birds will not remain in captivity. We will create a perfect habitat for them,” said a forest official.

Saplings of plants consumed by peacocks will also be planted in the garden. Vipul Pandey, director, MGICCC, said, “The garden will be developed on the lines of the one in Chandigarh. The idea is to educate visitors about the national bird of India and ensure conservation of the avian species. We are aiming to create a nature walk for visitors.”

Pandey said there will be no direct feeling of peafowls. “We will create a perfect shelter with food and water that will lure the birds into the garden. Breeding of the birds may also happen,” he said.

Delhi Metro: Grey Line To Stretch Further

This week is likely to see the opening of two important stretches of Delhi Metro — the extension of Grey Line (Dwarka-Najafgarh) to Dhansa Bus Stand and the opening of the “missing link” between Trilokpuri and Mayur Vihar Pocket-1 stations of Pink Line (Majlis Park).

“The approximately 1kmlong Najafgarh-Dhansa Bus Stand corridor is ready for operations after receiving the mandatory approval from the Commissioner of Metro Rail Safety. The exact date of opening shall be intimated shortly,” said Anuj Dayal, executive director (corporate communication), Delhi Metro Rail Corporation.

With the opening of this extension, Delhi Metro network would become 390km long with 286 stations. The Dwarka-Najafgarh section of the 5.4km-long Grey Line opened in 2019 with three stations — Dwarka, Nangli and Najafgarh. Only the1.2kmlong extension to Dhansa Bus Stand remained to be opened.

The “missing link” at Trilokpuri on Pink Line, Delhi Metro’s longest corridor, which led to the line functioning as two separate corridors, is likely to open to the public this week. Two and a half years after the line first opened, DMRC managed to bridge the gap between Trilokpuri and Mayur Vihar Pocket-1 stations last month.

The 58.6km-long Pink Line is one of the most ambitious corridors built by DMRC and also called the “Ring Corridor” as it functions as an arc, connecting all the existing corridors. However, unavailability of land at Trilokpuri had meant that DMRC couldn’t construct the crucial stretch. As a result, while one section of the corridor operated from Majlis Park to Mayur Vihar Pocket-1, with trains reversing from there, trains coming from Shiv Vihar returned from Trilokpuri.

Once operational, this section would connect the two ends of Pink Line and provide seamless connectivity to various localities and connect important transport hubs, such as Nizamuddin Railway Station, Sarai Kale Khan ISBT, Anand Vihar ISBT and railway station, Delhi Cantonment Station, and prominent markets like Sarojini Nagar, Lajpat Nagar and INA.

Dayal said that Dhansa Bus Stand station had been adorned with attractive artworks and photographs, displaying the rich heritage, culture, flora and fauna of the suburban locality.

“The Najafgarh-Dhansa region of southwest Delhi has deep cultural roots. It is rich in historical content and also home to a marshy ecosystem that encourages the visit of migratory birds and flourishing of local wildlife. The artworks and photographic displays have tried to capture these unique characteristics of this area,” said Dayal, adding that photographs on printed glass panels at the station also showcase the rich biodiversity, which is themed “Migratory Birds”.

A hand-painted artwork shows residents coming together to honour the essence of their values and it is themed “Fringes of rural-urban progression”.

“Agriculture and animal husbandry are the main sources of income for the locals, but real estate projects and event venues contribute significantly to economic progression. The colour palette of the station has been kept earthy and bold to show the amalgamation of rural and urban values,” Dayal said.

He added that the station’s decoration had been done in line with DMRC’s efforts to utilise its premises “as a platform to showcase the rich heritage and culture of the nation”. A number of other stations on the DMRC network have also been decorated with eye-catching artworks and displays.

Kolkata Police to buy 500 night vision body cams

The Kolkata Police has decided to procure 500 body cameras with night vision for cops at the police stations for Rs 1 crore. At present, most police stations have one or two such cameras, which are used in limited operations, like major probes or in important law-and-order deployments.

According to Lalbazar sources, the new gadgets will allow inspectors and sub-inspectors — those in charge of investigations — to use them for live feeds and future references. In a wider ramification, Lalbazar also proposed to ask duty officers of various police stations to use these.

“Cops on sentry duty at police stations will also be asked to use these cameras. The special branch — on specific information gathering missions during law-and-order duties — will also be using these cameras,” said an officer, adding that multiple CCTV cameras inside police stations were not enough to read the expressions and reactions of people visiting.

The move to buy this number of the gadgets for police stations comes almost four years after traffic personnel were armed with body cameras and supplied local police stations with at least one or two a year later. The detective department bought 100 such cameras in 2019 to record witness statements during raids.

The cops said the cameras will be introduced to change the perception of common people about police, bring transparency, introduce real-time monitoring and sharing of actual footage for future reference. “The cameras will record the response of the masses. It will go a long way towards addressing the grievances of complainants and witnesses that they were either harassed or not taken seriously by cops,” the officer said.

Officers felt using these cameras will help record not only the scene of crime, but statements of witnesses and suspects. “The advantage is that senior officers can now monitor an operation without actually visiting the site. Since we employ 3D technology in all major cases to map the crime scenes, the recordings can be invaluable,” said an officer.

However, officers — both serving and retired — said the real gain would be the curbing of police “excesses”.

“During raids at certain places, like bars and illegal call centres, we hear allegations of police excesses. With body cameras, we are sure the truth will come forth,” said a former ARS officer.

According to the tender bid, the contractor will have to give three years of comprehensive warranty on all components from the date of acceptance of supplied items. After completion of this period, Kolkata Police may go for fresh AMC with the supplier. “Hence, the bidder should maintain sufficient stock of spares even after the expiry of the warranty period. The contractor is liable for repairing all or any damage detected during the warranty period, free of cost,” the bid stated.

Indian startups rise sans Chinese money

The great Indian tech startup story is being rewritten amid the COVID-19 pandemic as traditional sectors still bear the brunt.

With 16 unicorns (startups with a valuation of over $1 billion) and more than $11 billion in funding, chiefly from the US-based investment firms (till June-end), the year 2021 has proved that Chinese investment is no longer needed in a self-reliant’ India amid the new normal.

The Indian tech startups started to shun Chinese investment in 2020 as desi corporates and wealthy individuals, along with investors from other countries, came onboard to fund the homegrown firms.

In the first half of 2021, investors have pumped in at least $11 billion into the Indian tech startups in over 600 deals, which is growing at an exponential rate.

The US-based investment firm Tiger Global is currently leading when it comes to investing top dollars, overtaking another US-based venture capital firm Sequoia Capital as the top investor in the burgeoning Indian startup/unicorn ecosystem.

IT industry’s apex body Nasscom had forecast that India will have 50 unicorns before the end of 2021. The country has already surpassed that number which now stands at 52.

The $1 billion valuation club now has new unicorns in Digit Insurance, InnovAccer, Cred, Meesho, Gupshup, Pharmeasy, Groww, Urban Company, Mohalla Tech (ShareChat and Moj), Chargebee, Moglix, Infra.Market, Zeta, Five Star Business Finance, BrowserStack and logistics firm BlackBuck, the latest entrant.

The list will only grow in the remaining months in a mobile-first country where digital access is increasing by each passing day.

In 2019, Chinese investors poured $3.9 billion into India, up from $2 billion in 2018. This investment scenario took a turnaround from May last year amid skirmishes between Indian and Chinese troops.

As a result, investment from China in Indian companies fell to $263 million across 15 deals in the first half of 2020. Sensing the atmosphere, homegrown tech startups started to look elsewhere for investments, and their calls have been answered.

Media reports have claimed that nearly 150 investment proposals from China worth more than $2 billion were stuck in the pipeline.

Somewhere in Kashmir....

Residents of Nai Basti, Chowan, Dunaroo, Mir Mohalla, Khari Mohalla and Dangarpura in Keller block of Shopian district in Jammu & Kashmir feasted on more than the traditional Wazwan  on Bakr-Eid this year. For the first time in decades, these isolated tribal settlements high in the mountains got a taste of “bijli, paani aur sadak ”, the three basic necessities of civic life, just a few days before the festival, thanks to the Union Territory administration’s ‘Back to Village’ or ‘B2V’, initiative.

In settlements such as Ferrawad and Shadab Kharewa, more than 50 kms from Srinagar, transformers have been put up and wires are being stringed across undulating mountainous terrains.

Black-topping of a new Chowan-Darbal road has created hope of connectivity with the block and district headquarters during winter when the area gets 10-12 metres of snow.

The rapid progress on the ground under the B2V scheme is no mean feat for the administration of a district that has emerged as the hub of new-age militancy and is surrounded by Pulwama, Kulgam and Anantnag.

“Some hamlets received power supply for the first time. In others ‘usable’ supply resumed after several decades as the defunct power lines – in many cases made up of barbed wires -- and transformers were replaced,” Maqbool Naik, Kashmir Power Distribution Corporation’s executive engineer in charge of the area said.

Power is supplied from 9 a.m to 1 p.m and 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.

1,450 ha of mangroves in MMR to be turned into reserved forest

On World Mangroves Day today, activists and environmentalists in Navi Mumbai have a reason to celebrate. Under pressure from the High Court, various government agencies have initiated the process of notifying over 1,450 hectares of mangroves as reserve forests in Mumbai Metropolitan Region.

To begin with, Cidco will hand over 219 hectares of mangrove stretches in Kamothe and Panvel to the revenue department to be transferred to the forest department for conservation. Virendra Tiwari, additional chief principal conservator of forests, announced this mangrove transfer at an online discussion organized by NGO NatConnect Foundation. MMRDA has also agreed to transfer 300 hectares of mangroves, Tiwari said.

Speaking at the session, Tiwari said JNPT has also agreed in principle to handover the mangroves under it after ascertaining through a high-resolution mapping by Maharashtra Remote Sensing Application Centre. The port has already confirmed in an RTI response to NatConnect that it has over 913 hectares of mangroves under its jurisdiction.

The secretary level meeting of revenue, forest and environment departments, attended by two the urban development secretaries, has met on July 13 to review the mangrove transfer status. In a related development, Cidco vice-chairman and managing director Dr Sanjay Mukherjee has asked his teams to quickly transfer mangroves to the forest department without any further delay. The mangrove stretches at Kharghar, Uran, Ulwe and other planes will be handed over in quick stages.

Delivering the keynote address, BNHS Director Dr Bivash Pandav appreciated the activists’ pressure on the officials to keep them on their toes. “Otherwise, the system tends to relax,” he observed.

Telangana temple gets Unesco heritage tag

The historic Ramappa temple, an architectural fable in stone, became Unesco's first world heritage site in Telangana. Located in Mulugu district, the iconic temple is now India’s 39th world heritage site.

The online extended 44th session of the World Heritage Committee of the Unesco, which is currently underway at Fuzhou in China, voted in favour of Ramappa temple for inclusion in the world heritage sites' list. Altogether, 17 countries backed the resolution, which was strongly supported by Russia, while Norway opposed it. Earlier, the International Council on Monuments and Sites, in its report presented before the World Heritage Committee for the 44th session, favoured that the heritage tag be deferred.

But, as most of the members attending the Fuzhou session backed the 13th century Kakatiyan temple, also called Rudreshwara temple, it got the prized heritage tag.

The Charminar and the Qutub Shahi tombs, which were submitted to Unesco for the heritage tag, are at present in the tentative list.

The temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, and other small temples within the complex were constructed by Kakatiya rulers Rudradeva and Recharla Rudra between the 12th and 13th centuries. Work on the main temple began in 1213 CE and completed 40 years later.

Built with sandstone and a sandbox foundation, the temple has decorated beams and columns made of granite. The temple’s unique feature is its tower or Vimana, which is in the shape of a pyramid. The Vimana has been constructed using porous bricks, which are light in weight.


Zomato market cap crosses Coal India, M&M on debut

Exactly 30 years after IT services major Infosys listed on domestic bourses, food delivery pioneer Zomato enjoyed a successful listing, which is being hailed as a tribute to Indian entrepreneurship.

Zomato had a stellar opening on Friday as the stock jumped over 53% over its IPO price of Rs 76 on debut to quote at Rs 115. After hitting an intra-day high of Rs 138 on the BSE, the stock finally closed at Rs 126, giving it a market valuation of Rs 98,732 crore, ahead of traditional giants like Tata Motors, M&M and Coal India.

Zomato’s strong debut also proved wrong a lot of Dalal Street pundits and doubters who had questioned the new-age company’s pre-IPO valuation of Rs 60,000 crore. Even those who believed in the loss-making company’s valuation, were expecting its listing gain to be limited at 25%-30%. On July 16, the company had closed its IPO bidding process with an over 38 times oversubscription and advanced its listing date by at least four days to Friday. “The strong debut is testimony that investors are willing to bet big on new-age technology with a disruptive business model,” said S Ramesh, MD & CEO, Kotak Mahindra Capital Company.

Ramesh, one of the merchant bankers that took Zomato public, said, “With growing internet penetration and the smartphone user base increasing month after month, the entire private digital ecosystem will enable wealth creation and further deepen our capital market in the coming years.”

Market veterans said in 1993, the IPO of Infosys was on the verge of being withdrawn till a clutch of market veterans recognised its future growth prospects and bailed it out. The rest, as they say, is history. Over the last 30 years, Infosys has ranked among the top wealth creators in India.

Zomato’s success would give confidence to new-age tech companies planning to go public, along with their merchant bankers, to move ahead, industry players said. Digital payment solutions companies Paytm and MobiKwik, online auto classified company Car-Trade and e-commerce logistics startup Delhivery have already filed for IPOs. There are also a host of other such tech-enabled companies in their late stage of PE-driven growth for which Zomato was a test-case. All these are likely to rush to D Street, they added.

In the run-up to Zomato’s IPO, there was a divide between top fund managers and investors. On one side, Nilesh Shah, MD, Kotak Mutual Fund, supported the recent trend of Indian new-age companies going public, and said the trend had the potential to attract global investors who have burnt their hands in China.

With a market valuation of about $13.3 billion, Zomato is among the top 50 most valued companies in India. On a global scale, it’s still a minnow though.

Drone Carrying 5kg IED Shot Down in Jammu

The Jammu and Kashmir police claim to have shot down a hexa-copter drone carrying 5 kg of IED, in the wee hours of Friday in Kanachak border area of Akhnoor in Jammu.

Police were alerted that Jaish-e-Muhammad planned to drop a payload with the help of a drone in Akhnoor area of Jammu. “After receiving specific inputs, we had placed an ambush at a location in Akhnoor area… At around 1 am, a drone was spotted, which lowered the flying height to drop the payload. Our police team fired at it and shot it down…recovering around 5kg of neatly packed IED,” said Mukesh Singh, Additional Director General of Police, Jammu Zone. Police claim that the receiver of the IED didn’t turn up at the spot.

Preliminary analysis revealed that it was a hexa-copter with a flight controller and GPS installed on it. “Interestingly, the serial number of the flight controller was just one digit different from the drone sent to Kathua district of Jammu last year,” said Singh, revealing a link between the drone sorties and the sender. “This shows that the drone has been sent by the same organisation across the border. They have bought flight controllers of the same series and are installing them on different drones to send arms and ammunition across,” Singh said. Police claim that the drone was assembled, as its parts were manufactured in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

According to the police, these drones can travel up to 20 km and carry weight of around13-15 kg. “The range of the drone decreases with the increase in payload,” said Singh.

The IED was neatly packed and just needed to be connected with wires to execute a blast. “We have managed to avert a major attack in Jammu and other attacks that this IED would have been used for,” said Singh.

The string with which the IED payload was attached with this drone was similar to that of the drone recovered at the Air Force station blast site in Jammu in June, police said.

Ever since the Air Force station attack on June 27, several drone activities were reported around sensitive security installation along the Line of Control and the international border in Jammu. The J&K administration has already placed a ban on the sale, purchase, possession of drones or any other flying objects in some districts of J&K including Srinagar, Kathua and Kupwara. The owners of drones have been directed to deposit their drones at the nearest police stations.


It’s time for digital currency to counter crypto, says RBI

The Reserve Bank of India has said that it is working towards a phased implementation strategy for its digital currency and examining use cases where it can be deployed with little disruption. Making a strong argument in favour of a central bank digital currency for India, the RBI has said that it would reduce currency costs for the government and would help offset the threat of virtual currencies.

“Developing our own CBDC could provide the public with uses that any private virtual currency can provide and to that extent might retain the public preference for the rupee. It could also protect the public from the abnormal level of volatility some of these virtual currencies experience,” RBI deputy governor T Rabi Sankar said on Thursday at a webinar organised by the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy. Sankar added that conducting pilots on CBDC in wholesale and retail segments may be a possibility in the near future. “As is said, every idea will have to wait for its time. Perhaps the time for CBDCs is nigh,” he said.

On the consequences of digital currencies on banks, Sankar said that while it could reduce the need for maintaining deposits, the impact would be limited as they cannot pay interest. “Thus, potential costs of disintermediation mean it is important to design and implement CBDC in a way that makes the demand for CBDC, visa-vis bank deposits, manageable,” said Sankar.

In a strong attack against virtual currencies (cryptocurrencies), Sankar said, “Private virtual currencies sit at substantial odds to the historical concept of money. They are not commodities or claims on commodities as they have no intrinsic value, some claims that they are akin to gold clearly seem opportunistic. For the most popular ones now, they do not represent any person’s debt or liabilities. There is no issuer. They are not money.”

The deputy governor said 86% of central banks were actively researching the potential for virtual currencies and 60% were already experimenting with the technology, and 14% are deploying pilot projects. He said that interest had spiked to replace paper and avoid the more damaging consequences of private currencies.

The deputy governor’s statement comes at a time when the RBI has been forced by a Supreme Court order to withdraw a ban on bank services to cryptocurrencies. Although the RBI has earlier spoken about plans to launch a digital currency, this is the first time that the central bank has gone into so much detail. Central banks across the world have drawn up plans to launch their digital currency to battle cryptocurrencies. China has said that its e-CNY has been tested in 70 million transactions.


Pune: Traffic offender? Beware of janta!

Social media users in the city have emerged as the ‘third eye’ for the Pune traffic police. The tech-savvy citizens instantly track rule violators and make them accountable for violations.

After the traffic police resumed their ‘Click and Send’ special drive, their account on micro-blogging site Twitter, the Maharashtra traffic app created by city traffic police, and the WhatsApp number provided for receiving confidential information are all regularly flooded with complaints, capturing live moments of traffic violations through photographs and videos for prompt legal action.

The public vigilantes have sent 4,566 images or videos of traffic rule violations till July this year, and action has been taken against all the violators by issuing an e-challan and recovering a fine.

After receiving the complaints, they are being examined by a team of traffic police personnel for instant action. The details of action taken on each complaint were also made available to complainants.

The traffic police receive an average of 100 to 150 complaints every day. Noticeably, the majority of the complainants are youths who wish to improve the traffic system in the city.

Deputy commissioner of police for traffic Rahul Shrirame said, “Citizens are getting aware of traffic rules, and we are happy that social media platforms have evoked a warm response for a corrective purpose. We get hundreds of complaints daily which we attend to very seriously. Our team visits the spot and initiates action.”

“Our teams are acting tough on public complaints. We also received photos and videos of police personnel violating traffic rules. Traffic laws and rules are equal for all citizens, and we immediately take action against police vehicles, too. The ‘Click and Send’ drive is transparent — we let the complainants know the details of the action taken.”

Traffic rule violations sent by vigilantes include helmetless riders, violation of lane traffic discipline, use of mobile phones while driving, overload, one-way rule violations, and illegal alteration of vehicles. From January 2021 to July 2021, 472 complaints were reported through Twitter, 397 through WhatsApp and 3,697 through the Maharashtra traffic app.

Action is taken only on credible complaints which specify the time of occurrence and place with clear photographs. Citizens can click traffic violation pictures and share them through WhatsApp on 8411800100 or send it to @PuneCityTraffic on Twitter.

New generation missiles tested successfully by DRDO

The indigenous new-generation Akash surface-to-air missile, with an interception range of 25-30 km, and the man-portable anti-tank guided missile, with a 2.5-km strike range, were successfully tested by DRDO on Wednesday.

Both the missiles are still undergoing developmental trials but will boost the firepower of the armed forces once they are fully operational for induction. The earlier version of the Akash missiles, which can intercept hostile aircraft, helicopters, drones and subsonic cruise missiles at a range of 25 km, have already been inducted in large numbers, with orders worth around Rs 24,000 crore being placed.

“The new Akash-NG weapon system, once deployed, will prove to be a force multiplier for the air defence capability of IAF,” said a DRDO scientist. The missile was tested from Integrated Test Range off the Odisha coast at 12.45 pm on Wednesday.

“The flawless performance of the entire weapon system was confirmed by the complete flight data captured by radars, electro-optical tracking and telemetry systems. During the test, the missile demonstrated high manoeuvrability required for neutralising fast and agile aerial threats,” he added.

The low-weight, fire-and-forget MP-ATGM was also successful in hitting the target, which was “mimicking a tank”, in a direct-attack mode and destroying it with precision. The Army at present has a huge shortage of ATGMs.

“The MP-ATGM test validated the minimum range of 200-meter successfully. All the mission objectives were met. The missile has already been successfully flight tested for the maximum range of 2.5-km,” said the scientist.

Non-Kashmiris married to local women can get J&K domicile

The J&K administration has tweaked its domicile rules to enable spouses of native women married outside the Union Territory to apply for and get permanent residency. Until the J&K Grant of Domicile Certificate (Procedure) Rules 2020 were amended, the term “spouse” was applicable in this context only to non-Kashmiri wives of native men.

According to the order issued by commissioner and secretary of general administration Manoj Dwivedi, any outsider married to a native will be eligible to seek a domicile certificate on the basis of the husband or wife’s domicile status. Native women married to non-Kashmiris could so far get only their children to apply for domicile certificates.

The documents required for the issuance of a domicile certificate to either non-native spouse include the partner’s papers and a valid proof of marriage. The designated authority for issuance of a certificate is the tehsildar.

Till Articles 370 and 35A were nullified, there was no provision for issuance of permanent resident certificates to husbands of native women married outside J&K. J&K BJP president Ravinder Raina termed the change “a historic decision to end the injustice meted out to the girls of J&K by previous governments”

Byju’s Bags US EdTech Firm with an Epic Buy

Education technology leader Byju’s has acquired US-based kids learning platform Epic in a $500 million cash-and-stock deal.

This is its second-biggest buyout after brick-and-mortar coaching network Aakash Institute, which it snapped up earlier this year for nearly $1 billion.

The Epic acquisition is part of Byju’s big foray into the overseas market, from where it expects annual revenue of $300 million this financial year, cofounder Byju Raveendran said.

The startup said it aims to invest around $1 billion in North America over the next couple of years.

Epic, founded by Suren Markosian and Kevin Donahue, has 50 million users. Epic had around 20 million users in 2019. Markosian and Donahue will continue to run the business.

Evolution Media and Battery Ventures are among its investors. Neither of these companies disclosed details of the transaction. “It is the largest B2C (business-to-consumer) ed-tech company in the K-12 segment and has a strong product capability that fits well into our overall plan of building an ed-tech ecosystem,” said Raveendran.

Byju’s has been on a fundraising spree since last year, using the capital to finance large-sized acquisitions. After having raised $1 billion in 2020 from global and domestic investors, the decacorn mopped up almost $1.5 billion from investors such as UBS Group, Blackstone, Abu Dhabi’s sovereign fund ADQ and others in the last few months.

Some of its early backers include Lightspeed Venture Partners, Qatar Investment Authority, Owl Ventures, General Atlantic, Tiger Global, Tencent, Verlinvest and Sofina. “In some of the new markets, we will be in a growth phase, and we will invest to build similar brand and sector awareness (like it did India). With strong organic growth and these acquisitions, we will start adding significant numbers in our total revenue and you will see us accelerating over the next many years even on a large base,” Raveendran said.

“India’s growth is getting accelerated with Byju’s growth and Aakash. With Byju’s Future School nicely scaling (abroad), we will have three businesses overseas that will have $100 million revenue,” he added. Its coding-for-kids subsidiary WhiteHat Jr played an important role in building the new platform and Karan Bajaj, who founded WhiteHat Jr, is heading this business.

At a time when many top-tier startups and tech companies like Zomato, Paytm and Mobikwik have either gone public or in the process of doing so later this year, Raveendran said Byju’s is looking at an IPO timeline of 15-18 months. However, that timeline is not set in stone as it still sees strong interest from investors in the private markets to raise capital, he added.

Saankhya Gets Next Gen Trial Broadcast Waves

Homegrown wireless communication and semiconductor chipset company Saankhya Labs has received 5G broadcast trial spectrum from DoT to test in-house products that enable convergence of broadcast and mobile broadband networks before launching them in the US.

“The experimental 5G broadcast spectrum allocation for six months will be used to test the company’s broadcast radio head product and also an internally developed prototype broadcast-enabled mobile handset capable of receiving broadcast signals,” Saankhya Labs CEO Parag Naik said.

Post trials in the 700 MHz and 600 MHz bands in Bengaluru, Saankhya’s BRH product will be deployed by US private broadcaster Sinclair Broadcast Group for offering live television services on mobile phones in the US market, he said. Separately, Saankhya plans to showcase its broadcast-enabled prototype handset to global original equipment manufacturers and offer the chipset reference design for integration in their phones, Naik said. The company has no plans to directly enter the handsets business.

No fruit-bearing trees along the Nagpur e-way

Maharashtra’s upcoming Rs 55,000-crore prosperity corridor, India’s much-touted longest and fastest super communication highway between Mumbai and Nagpur named after Balasaheb Thackeray, will have thick plantation on either side but minus 13 fruit-bearing plant varieties. The first 520km stretch may be commissioned in a few months.

A communique by the office of MSRDC minister Eknath Shinde stated that they will not plant fruit-bearing trees such mango, orange, dates, cashew and jamun along the 700km super expressway. This, sources said, was mainly to avoid attracting animals such as monkeys, and birds that may get crushed under the wheels, and thus disturb their habitat.

Wildlife Institute of India is helping the administration create a highway ecosystem.

The planting of 13 types of fruit trees that attract wildlife has been prohibited. On both sides, 11.3 lakh trees will be planted. Water will be supplied through drip irrigation and other internal sources powered by solar pumps in areas with little rainfall. Tree-planting will help alleviate effects of global warming and climate change. After plantation, they will be looked after for five years, the release said.

The highway is being designed to avoid disturbing animal activity in surrounding areas. There are 96 wildlife structures, which include seven overpass bridges, 89 underpasses, box culverts, and a few bridges, being created to facilitate passage of wildlife around Samruddhi Mahamarg. The cost of safeguarding wildlife is projected to be over Rs 326 crore. The highway will traverse through 10 districts, six talukas, and 392 villages, covering the distance between Nagpur-Mumbai in eight hours, allowing vehicles to travel at a speed of 150kph. The distance is now covered in 16 hours.


Pune: New airport terminal building likely to become operational by 2022 I-Day

The new terminal building of the city airport will become operational by August 15 next year.

The official indicated that the project had been delayed by eight months because of the Covid-19 pandemic-induced restrictions.

An airport official said, 55% of the work have so far been completed. “The project has been partially affected because of the current restrictions, as only workers living at the site were allowed to work,” a senior airport official said.

As per an official of Egis India, the company facilitating the design and construction of the new building, had said work was stopped for around 40 days during the first lockdown last year.

“The second wave of the pandemic and the ensuing restrictions further affected the work. Some workers have left for their homes. However, the work did not stop. The unpredictability of the pandemic is such that it is difficult to commit anything,” another airport official said.

The new building, which is expected to increase the daily flight movements, including international flights, is coming up on the eastern side of the existing terminal building. “We are planning to complete construction of all important aspects of the building, which include the integration with the existing building so that flights can start seamlessly,” the airport official said.

Construction of the building started in December 2018 and a multi-level car parking facility (ground, three-storey and two basement floors) was being simultaneously constructed at ‘parking number-1’ of the airport. An official in-charge of the parking facility’s construction said getting the workers back had become a problem and air tickets were sent to them to return to Pune.

YouTube buys Indian short video based shopping app simsim

Google-owned YouTube has acquired social commerce startup simsim for an undisclosed sum, as the company aims to help viewers discover and buy products from the Indian retailers through video.

By bringing short-video shopping app simsim and YouTube together, the company said that it aims to help small businesses and retailers in India reach new customers in even more powerful ways.

“There will be no immediate changes to simsim; the app will continue operating independently while we work on ways to showcase simsim offers to YouTube viewers,” said Gautam Anand, vice president, YouTube APAC.

To date, simsim has raised nearly $17 million and was recently valued at over $50.1 million. simsim is helping small businesses in India transition to e-commerce by using the power of video and creators.

“We started simsim with the mission of helping users across India shop online with ease, enabled through small sellers and brands showcasing and selling their products using the power of content by trusted influencers,” said simsim cofounders, Amit Bagaria, Kunal Suri and Saurabh Vashishtha.

In the app, creators post video reviews about products from local businesses, and viewers can buy those products directly through the app.


Digging Hastinapur for epic link

In search for the legend of Hastinapur, capital of the Kauravas in the epic ‘Mahabharata’, the Archaeological Survey of India will start excavations at the site, about 40km from Meerut — the first major project there in 70 years. The plan is to look for new evidence to ground the ‘Mahabharata’ in history and preserve earlier finds.

“As of now, the focus is on conserving exposed areas of the mounds and giving a facelift to old temples. A bit of landscaping, too. We will look into excavations after September, when the Monsoon is over,” superintending archaeologist of the newly-created Meerut circle of ASI, Brajsunder Gadnayak said. “Hastinapur is among five sites whose development has been proposed by the Centre.” The 2020 Budget had identified Hastinapur, along with Rakhigarhi (Haryana), Sivasagar (Assam), Dholavira (Gujarat) and Adichallanur (Tamil Nadu), to be revamped as “iconic” sites.

The first excavation at Hastinapur goes back to 1952, when archaeologist Prof BB Lal concluded that the “Mahabharata period” was around 900 BCE and the city was washed away by a flooded Ganga. Lal, known for his “discovery” of 12 temple pillars beneath the Babri Masjid that coincided with the revival of the Ram Janmabhoomi demand in 1990 and provided the interpretive framework for the court-appointed Ayodhya excavation team, was a strong believer in the historicity of religious epics and myths.

“No concrete development took place after that,” KK Sharma, associate professor of history at Multanimal Modi College in Modinagar, said. Then, in 2006, the discovery of an ancient burial ground in Sinauli, about 90km from Hastinapur, and that of a bronze “horse-driven war chariot” in 2018 catalysed the theory that the findings were from the “Mahabharata period” — because the epic mentioned chariots — and pushed back the period itself to 2000 BCE. Sharma was part of the 2006 Sinauli excavation.

In 4 days, Mumbai receives 70% of rain for July

The intense downpour since last Friday has ensured that the city has received more than the entire July average rainfall of 827mm.

The Indian Meteorological Department’s Santacruz observatory recorded 920mm of rainfall for the month till 8.30am on Monday. During the day, it recorded another 36.8mm, taking the monthly total to 956.8mm.

More than 70% of the total rainfall in July was recorded after July 15—once again showing how extreme weather events are getting increasingly common in Mumbai. The IMD data shows over a span of 48 hours between July 15-16 and July 17-18, the city recorded triple-digit rainfall. Meanwhile, since June 1 this year, IMD’s Santacruz observatory has recorded a total of 1,881.4mm, which is also 85% of the season’s average rainfall.

If the rain continues at this rate, Mumbai could record its wettest July ever, considering that 1,468.5mm in 2014 has been the maximum for the month so far. In 2005, when tragic Mumbai floods had followed 944mm of rain in just 24 hours, the month had recorded 1,454.5mm.

On Monday, IMD upgraded its alert for the city from orange to red, indicating extremely heavy rainfall for the entire MMR.

The eastern suburbs of the city and adjoining areas such as Thane and Navi Mumbai, including Panvel and Raigad, recorded “massive rainfall”. Officials said this intense spell is likely to continue. IMD scientist Shubhangi Bhute said, “We expect heavy rain in the coming days as well and a red alert has been especially issued for the Ghat areas.”

IMD has issued an orange alert, indicating heavy to very heavy rain at a few places, from July 20 to 23. It said due to such heavy rain, the expected impact includes localized flooding in low-lying areas, the possibility of flash floods in some localities, minor damage to kutcha roads, landslide, mudslide and rock falls in vulnerable spots, and local disruption of water and electricity.

Meanwhile, the rainfall has brought down maximum and minimum temperatures. The difference between maximum and minimum temperatures has shrunk too. On Monday, IMD’s Santacruz observatory recorded a maximum temperature of 27.9 degree Celsius and Colaba 27.8 degrees while the minimum temperature recorded by IMD’s Colaba and Santacruz observatories was 25.5 degrees and 25 degrees, respectively.


Of Delhi’s Central Ridge Restoration....

Plans to rejuvenate Delhi’s Central Ridge on the same lines as New York’s Central Park have seen some changes in the past few months, with the forest department objecting to commercial activities, including cycling, within the 423-hectare forest area. While earlier plans had incorporated amenities such as cycleways, walkways and even small bridges, these have been scrapped and only animal safaris will now be permitted in the Central Ridge. There will be walking trails, of course, but they would be natural ones, not man-made. To compensate, circuits will be created to enable people to go from the forest area to adjoining parks such as Talkatora Garden or Buddha Jayanti Park.

Professor C R Babu, head, Centre for Environmental Management of Degraded Ecosystems, who is leading the rejuvenation project, including replacement of the invasive vilayati kikar tree with native species, said the ‘sanctity’ of the Ridge would continue and recreational activities would be allowed only in parks fall within the Ridge ‘circuit’.

“We want to revive the Central Ridge and that will always remain the priority,” said Babu. “The entire landscape will be evolved to consist of native tree species that should have been native to the Ridge instead of vilayati kikar. The latter will be systematically replaced. The revival work will take place in seven phases, with the entire rejuvenation area divided into seven zones. We will begin with work on the first zone on Sardar Patel Marg, opposite the ITC Maurya hotel.”

A recent meeting with forest and wildlife department considered some suggestions that had been made, and some amendments were made accordingly in the plans, Babu revealed. “The new plan has largely been approved, but there are a few sticking points. We will sort them out soon and the rejuvenation plan can then commence,” he said.

A forest official confirmed the developments, disclosing that suggestions had been taken from other field experts. “A presentation on the plan was made and some changes were made regarding certain aspects. In the first phase, work will begin on a 100-hectare area,” said the official.

Babu also clarified there would no activities in the forested portions of the Ridge save for wildlife safaris. “There is a lot of fauna within the demarcated area, and more wildlife will return once the region is revived,” the professor explained. “People will be allowed to use the natural trails, but no other disturbance will be permitted in the main forest. Already, smaller parks and gardens have been created outside the forest and these are where park benches, gazebos and butterfly patches can be developed. The forest area will have natural waterbodies. Depressions will be revived to hold water. The parks can also have artificial ponds if required.”

Rain fury kills 33 in Mumbai, cripples air, rail, road traffic

Torrential rains wreaked havoc in Mumbai on Sunday, leaving 32 dead and six injured in five separate incidents of landslides, electrocutions and a house collapse. The downpour began in the early hours of Sunday and continued through the day.

A landslide in Mahul’s Bharat Nagar claimed the most lives, with 19 people reported dead. In Vikhroli’s Surya Nagar, 10 hutment dwellers were killed as five shanties collapsed after a landslide. Elsewhere, three persons were electrocuted and one died in a house collapse.

The Mumbai airport was shut for close to five hours early in the morning and some flights were diverted. Road and rail traffic was also hit.

Both the Centre and state announced relief for the families of those killed in landslides in Mahul and Vikhroli.

One person was reported dead after a house collapse in Bhandup (W). A 26-year old man was electrocuted at an Andheri shop in the morning and another 21-year old man was electrocuted at Kandivli (E) after he came into contact with a submerged electric box. He was trying to move his belongings to a safer place during the downpour. Meanwhile in Nalasopra, a four-year old boy is feared to have fallen into a manhole that was left open to drain out rainwater on Sunday.

“Saddened by the loss of lives due to wall collapses in Chembur and Vikhroli in Mumbai,” PM Narendra Modi tweeted. He announced Rs 2 lakh from the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund to the next of kin of those who died in the landslides and Rs 50,000 to those who were injured.

Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray announced Rs 5 lakh ex gratia each to the families of the deceased and free treatment for the injured. He asked authorities to ensure that medical facilities continue unhampered at jumbo Covid centres.

Power outages were reported in several areas for as long as eight hours. Parts of the city were waterlogged with water entering homes in both the eastern and western suburbs. Some parts of the city did not receive drinking water after flood-water entered the Bhandup water purification complex and operations were shut down.

At 1pm on Sunday, the IMD issued a red alert indicating extremely heavy rains at isolated places for a 24-hour period for Mumbai. For the second time in two days, Mumbai saw intense rain activity overnight with as much as 200mm of rain being recorded in six hours (11.30am-5.30am) on July 18.