Tata’s Charging Up

Tata Motors will continue to lead electrification in India’s automobile industry and aim to take its electric vehicles to global markets, leveraging the strength of a conglomerate that is getting also into local manufacturing of battery cells and semiconductors, Tata Sons chairman N Chandrasekaran said.

Tata Motors, which has committed to investing $2 billion in the EV sector, will use its new Gen-3 platform to make electric vehicles for the global markets.

On Friday, Chandrasekaran unveiled a concept electric car, Avinya, based on the Gen-3 platform.

The company is working on enhancing vertical integration within the group to drive the electrification of vehicles. Under the ‘One Tata’ approach, already group companies like Tata Power, Tata AutoComp, Tata Elxsi and Tata Technologies contribute significantly towards Tata Motors’ EV plans. Very soon, the group will announce a battery and cell localisation plan.

“We have pivoted towards e-mobility; we truly believe that the world needs smart solutions. We brought the power of the group to launch our first EV — since then we have made tremendous progress in Gen 1 and Gen 2; today we are very proud to present the Gen 3 platform,” the chairman said.

“We are very much interested in the battery; we have finalised the plans. We will be launching our initiatives to produce batteries very soon,” Chandrasekaran added.

The Gen-3 platform will exclusively be for electric vehicles, and these products will be for both global and Indian markets. The first vehicle on the new platform is likely to be launched after 2025. “We are designing this car with a global benchmark; I see enormous possibilities to go global. We produce the best software, if we produce the best software, if we can focus on the best electrical and electronic platform, we can deliver a very good car,” the chairman said.

With emission standards getting stricter around the world, getting investment in internal combustion engines would be very difficult, so “EVs will be a right alternative (to expand globally)”,Chandrasekaran said.

Speaking to media persons on the sidelines of the unveiling of the concept vehicle, the chairman of the salt-to-software conglomerate expressed respect towards Maruti Suzuki and, on the global presence, he admitted that Tata Motors was “not yet there”.

While Maruti is the market leader, the manufacturer of the Tata Safari and Tata Nexon is the third largest. Tata Motors has captured market share by outpacing the industry in the past couple of years in sales growth. EVs have been a significant contributor to its sales volume.

“We are very conscious. We have an important job on hand. We are very happy with the progress over the last few years,” Chandrasekaran said. “We can see the possibility of being global. We have an aspiration, but we have to take a couple of right steps beforehand. ”

The company will try to achieve the target of EVs accounting for 30% of its sales volume much faster than the end of the decade, he said.

Chandrasekaran said when the EV plan was made, the company had a small market share and it had to make a big leap.“To be very frank, we had to pivot, we had gone down to 4-5% market share. My view was we should not play a catch-up game; we said we will go all in,” he said. “We have made all the strategic investments that are necessary, not only to accelerate the (EV) adoption but to lead this whole movement,” he added.

Apart from EVs, the chairman said there was a significant amount of work going on in the autonomous car technology, fuel cell vehicles for the commercial vehicle segment and connected car solutions, which would drive the future EV adoption.

A Power Crisis


Mumbai: Commuters welcome AC fare cut

Junior railways minister Raosaheb Patil Danve announced a 50% reduction in single fares in airconditioned suburban trains.

An in-principle decision to reduce AC train fares was taken last October after a presentation was made to the railway minister but a formal decision was awaited. “The decision was taken at a meeting held with Ashwini Vaishnav (railways minister) on Thursday,” said Danve.

Comfortable air-conditioned rides in the city debuted between Churchgate and Virar on the Western Railway corridor on December 25, 2017. Years later, the suburban service infamous for its “super dense crush load” is yet to see good crowds in the AC trains. In March, the average daily ridership was 15,354 for WR’s 20 AC services.

CR began running AC locals on its main line between CSMT and Kalyan from March 16, 2020, and on the trans-harbour route in Navi Mumbai 15 days later. Due to poor response, the trans-harbour AC rakes were withdrawn and pressed into main line service two years later. The 44 AC services on the main line enjoys a daily ridership of 17,000, and 16 on the Harbour line about 2,400 daily. High fares were not the only reason for the poor response to AC trains: poor frequency came a close second.

Commuters welcomed the fare cut but want the railways to create more awareness about the AC train timetable. 

The fare cut has come at the right time for commuters. 


Google’s largest campus after US gets off the ground in Hyderabad

Tech giant Google’s largest campus outside the US, slated to come up in Hyderabad, is getting bigger.

The project, which was first announced in 2015, finally got off the ground on Thursday, with the internet major breaking ground for the project that was originally planned at an investment of ₹1,000 crore. What’s more, the campus, which will be coming up on a 7.3-acre parcel of land at Gachibowli with a built-up area of 3.3 million sq ft, will be larger than neighbour Amazon’s 3 million sq ft campus that is the Jeff Bezos-run ecommerce giant’s largest owned building globally with a capacity to house 15,000 people.

The Google-owned campus will more than double Google’s footprint in Hyderabad to over 6 million sq ft, Sanjay Gupta, country head & vice president, Google India said on Thursday.

Currently, the Mountain View, California, headquartered player has 10 offices in and around Hyderabad’s HiTec City area with a total footprint of around 3 million sq ft, he added.

While Google officials were tight-lipped over the company’s total headcount in Hyderabad and the expected seating capacity of the upcoming campus, all Gupta said was it would be the company’s largest campus outside the US and would house thousands of employees.

“Hyderabad has been home to one of our largest employee bases since we started our operations in India in 2005,” Gupta said.

However, sources said it could be big enough to accommodate about 30,000-35,000 people and was expected to be ready in about 2-3 years time.

In 2015, Google had announced that it would be setting up a 2 million sq ft facility, its largest outside the US, in Hyderabad at an invesment around ₹1,000 crore with a capacity to house about 13,000 employees by 2019.

But Google was able to acquire the 7.3-acre Gachibowli site only in 2019.

On the occasion, Google also inked a memorandum of understanding with the Telangana government to collaborate on bringing the benefits of the digital economy to youth and women entrepreneurs. 

Chip demand may hit $110bn by 2030

India will be the fastest-growing semiconductor consumption market in the world with annual domestic demand expected in excess of $110 billion by the end of the decade, minister of state for IT & electronics Rajeev Chandrasekhar has said, adding that top global chipmakers have evinced “serious interest” in bringing in large-scale investments into the category.

Chandrasekhar — who recently met Intel global CEO Pat Gelsinger and top functionaries of other semiconductor giants — said that “advanced discussions” are on to attract investments for India. “We are in advanced discussions, but please remember that this is not like instant coffee. The companies have been positive in their conversations around semiconductor investments in India, but will carry out their own feasibility and due diligence before committing confirmed investments,” Chandrasekhar said. The minister’s comments come a day before the first Semicon India conference that will be inaugurated by PM Narendra Modi and will be held in Bangalore from Friday. India had in December last year announced a $10-billion (Rs 76,000-crore) incentive package for kick-starting semiconductor production in the country. The move came at a time when shortages of chips have hit industrial production across automobiles, electronics and other technology-led sectors.

Chandrasekhar said that demand for semiconductors will come from sectors such as consumer electronics & mobile phones, automobiles, computers & data centres, IoT devices and the upcoming 5G ecosystem. “India will provide a massive captive consumption market for semiconductor companies, and against the current $24 billion, local demand will be to the tune of $80 billion by 2025, and over $110 billion by 2030. Apart from the domestic needs, the companies can also target exports, giving them huge economies of scale and strong business opportunities. ” It is understood that apart from Intel, the government is in talks with top global companies such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, Samsung, Globalfoundries, AMD, United Microelectronics Corp, and Fujitsu.

Solved: Mystery of 160-year-old Punjab mass grave dug up in 2014

The shroud of mystery surrounding a mass grave of nearly 160-year-old human skeletons dug up at Ajnala in Punjab appears to be lifting, eight years after the discovery left scientists and anthropologists divided about their identity. The latest study reveals that the skeletons were of 246 soldiers from the Gangetic plains executed by the British for killing an officer during the 1857 uprising.

These soldiers were possibly attached to the 26th Native Bengal Infantry Battalion posted at Mian-Meer, now in Pakistan, according to CSIR's Centre For Cellular and Molecular Biology. The new thesis contradicts what some historians have claimed — that the skeletons excavated from a well in Ajnala town in 2014 could be of people killed in the Partition riots.

While the identity and geographic origins of these skeletons were debated for want of scientific evidence, the study published on Thursday in the scientific journal "Frontiers in Genetics" cites 50 samples sent for DNA analysis and 85 specimens for isotope analysis.

"DNA analysis helps understand the ancestry of people and isotope analysis sheds light on food habits. Both research methods support the theory that the skeletons found in the well were not of people living in Punjab or Pakistan. Rather, DNA sequences matched those from UP, Bihar and West Bengal," said Dr K Thangaraj, chief scientist at CCMB. Dr J S Sehrawat, an anthropologist from Panjab University, said the findings were "consistent with historical evidence that the 26th Native Bengal Infantry Battalion comprised people from the eastern parts of Bengal, Odisha, Bihar and UP".

CCMB director Dr Vinay Nandicoori said DNA study was a powerful tool not only to understand the past but also find a historical perspective. He said CCMB planned to take up a largescale "ancient DNA study to help unravel several historical and prehistoric details".

PM Promises to Withdraw Afspa from NE

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised to withdraw the Armed Forces Special Powers Act from all northeastern states in the future. Addressing a public rally in Assam’s Karbi Anglong on Thursday, Modi said that violence in northeast came down by 75% in the last eight years, which led to improvement in law and order.

“Afspa was in force in Assam for the last three decades. The Centre extended the Act as there was no improvement in law and order. However, the situation has improved in the last eight years and we have withdrawn the Act in 23 districts. We have also withdrawn it from Tripura and Meghalaya following improvement in law and order. We have been working to improve law and order in Nagaland and Manipur, so that we could withdraw Afspa from the two states too,” Modi said

“Today, when one visits tribal areas of Assam or other states of northeast, one is able to appreciate the change in the social environment,” Modi said. He recalled inclusion of many organisations from Karbi Anglong in the peace and development process last year. The Bodo Accord also opened doors for permanent peace. Bru-Reang issue of 25 years too was solved, he claimed. A solution for border problems was sought in the spirit of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’. “The agreement reached between Assam and Meghalaya will create impetus for development aspirations of the region,” he said.

Modi laid the foundation stone for a veterinary college in Diphu, degree college in west Karbi Anglong and agricultural college in Kolonga. The projects, estimated to cost ₹500 crore, is expected to bring new opportunities for skilling and employment in the region. Modi also inaugurated seven cancer hospitals and laid the foundation stones for seven more across Assam. He laid the foundation stone for more than 2,950 Amrit Sarovar pro-jects too. The state will develop the Amrit Sarovars at a cumulative cost of around ₹1,150 crore.

Addressing a rally in Dibrugarh later, Modi said digitisation of health service was on to provide quick and effective medical care. “16 new AIIMS and one medical college in each district would be set up to give best medical treatment to the people of the country. Efforts to teach students medicine in local languages are on. ”

India 1st in Asia-Pacific to use satnav to land aircraft

Satellites have been helping motorists navigate their way to destinations for decades now, but on Thursday, for the first time in Asia-Pacific, the very same constellation of satellites that offers GPS teamed up with three ISRO satellites to provide navigation guidance to pilots who landed their aircraft safely on to the Ajmer airport runway in a successful trial flight.

The Airports Authority of India said the successful trial was a major “air navigation services” milestone in India’s civil aviation history. Currently, air navigation services are provided by ground-based systems.

IndiGo airline carried out the test flight with its ATR aircraft that departed from Delhi for Ajmer’s Kishangarh airport, piloted by Captain Sandip Sud and Capt Satish Veera.

The satellite-based navigation system, evocatively called GAGAN (GPS Aided GEO Augmented Navigation) offers almost the same accuracy as a ground-based landing system. The one difference though was that the said ground-based system called CAT-I ILS has a “decision height” of 200 feet. It’s the height at which pilots should discontinue the descent to land if they have not yet spotted the runway. But the decision height for the trial flight was set higher, at 250 feet.

The Indigo pilots used the ‘Localiser Performance with Vertical Guidance’ approach— essentially carrying out a descent and landing with vertical and lateral navigational guidance from GAGAN satellites, that is.

IndiGo said: “The tests at Kishangarh Airport were performed as part of initial GAGAN LPV flight trials. After the final approval by DGCA, the procedure will be available for usage of commercial flights”.


Yamuna Revamp On Track

With the first phase of two out of 10 projects now complete and most of the remaining initiated, the redevelopment of the Yamuna riverfront is on the right track.

Lieutenant governor Anil Baijal reviewed the progress of the project with Delhi Development Authority vice chairman, senior officials, experts and other stakeholders and stressed upon completing the project on time. By rejuvenating and ecologically restoring the river, DDA is meticulously working to connect and bring people closer to it.

DDA has completed phase-I of the project “Asita East” — located on 90 hectares on the eastern bank of the river between Old Railway Bridge and ITO barrage, and Kalindi Aviral, located on 100 hectares land on the western bank between Nizamuddin Bridge and DND Flyway — and opened it to the public.

Being done on 1,476 hectares on the eastern and western banks at a cost of nearly Rs 800 crore, the rejuvenation project involves creation of new wetlands and waterbodies, restoration of old ones, construction of walkways, cycle tracks and eco trails, floodplain forests and grasslands, open congregational spaces and play area, redevelopment of ghats and construction of viewing platforms at several locations.

“The rejuvenation project has been on priority and is being closely monitored by the LG. “Many cities now have well-developed riverfronts and Delhi will also have one very soon. Since the project has started, several encroachments have been removed, garbage dumping has been stopped at various locations and groundwater has also started recharging,” said a senior official.

While appreciating the progress of the rejuvenation works undertaken so far, Baijal, in a series of tweets after the meeting, emphasised upon time-bound completion of landscaping and plantation in the area to restore wetlands and the riverine ecosystem.

The LG tweeted: “Advised VC DDA to take adequate steps for surveillance and security of the area besides provision of public facilities for the convenience of visitors. Necessary coordination should be effected with the education department to organise field visits of children to these areas to educate them about the significance of environment conservation and urban forestry. ”

An official said the project would go a long way in not only achieving the much-needed rejuvenation of the river, but also provide the city with citizen friendly green and aesthetic landscape. “For the restoration and rejuvenation of the Yamuna floodplain under the jurisdiction of UP irrigation department, the LG has advised the DDA VC to work in close coordination with the authorities concerned to ensure smooth execution of the project,” added the official.

Baijal also directed DDA to take necessary steps for adequate surveillance and security of the area to protect the land from encroachments in future.

Must be confident about who we are : EAM

Following his strong pushback against Europe on India’s ties with Russia, foreign minister S Jaishankar once again justified India’s position on the Ukraine crisis, saying India’s choices and positions are best placed to advance the goal of ending the conflict and returning to the dialogue table.

In a message again aimed at the West, Jaishankar said at the Raisina Dialogue 2022 in Delhi that it’s better to engage the world on the basis of “who we are” rather than try and please the world as a “pale imitation of what they are”.

“We have to be confident about who we are. This idea that others define us, somehow we need to get the approval of other quarters, I think that is an era we need to put behind us,” he said. His remarks are significant also in the context of PM Modi’s visit to Europe next week.

Government raises fertiliser subsidy by ₹40,000 cr

The Union Cabinet approved an additional subsidy of Rs 40,000 crore for  phosphate-based fertilisers for the upcoming kharif season (April-September), seeking to shield farmers from any additional burden due to a sharp increase in input costs globally. This means farmers will continue to get the Diammonium Phosphate at the current rate and the government will bear the entire burden of the price impact due to global conditions.

Against the allocation of Rs 21,000 crore for the first half of the year, the government will now spend Rs 61,000 crore towards subsidy on phosphate-based fertilisers. The hike in Nutrient Based Subsidy is likely to push the government's fertiliser subsidy bill to around Rs 2 lakh crore, based on current price trends. Government officials said in several segments there is a possibility of a further increase in international prices due to the war in Russia.

Bodhi Tree to Investb₹ 13,500 Cr in Viacom18

Bodhi Tree Systems, backed by James Murdoch and former Star and Disney India head Uday Shankar, is set to raise and invest ₹13,500 crore in Viacom18, a 51:49 joint venture between Reliance Industries Ltd-owned TV18 and Paramount Global (formerly known as ViacomCBS). Reliance Projects & Property Management Services Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of Reliance Industries, will also invest ₹1,645 crore in Viacom18. Additionally, RIL will transfer its JioCinema OTT app to Viacom18, the companies said in a statement on Wednesday.

The partnership aims to “lead India’s transition to a streaming first media market,” RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani said in the statement.

Bodhi Tree Systems will lead a fundraising exercise with a consortium of investors, which will help Viacom18 bid aggressively for the upcoming media rights of the Indian Premier League, insiders said.

The statement confirmed that Paramount will continue as a shareholder of Viacom18.

Air India plans to buy low-cost AirAsia India

In what will be its first M&A under new owner Tata Sons, Air India has proposed to buy low-cost carrier AirAsia India, according to an application with the Competition Commission of India. The move will see Malaysia’s AirAsia exiting the airline venture nine years after it entered India with high hopes.

AirAsia owns 16.3% in the India unit and, according to the shareholders’ agreement between the company and Tata Sons, the latter can acquire the former’s stake directly or through an affiliate. Since Air India is now an affiliate of Tatas, the purchase of AirAsia’s stake has been routed through it.

Air India will buy AirAsia’s 16.3% in the airline venture for Rs 139 crore. The remaining stake of 83.7% in AirAsia India is held by Tata Sons. This too will be purchased by Air India. Tata Sons had acquired Air India through its 100% arm Talace in a Rs 18,000-crore equity and debt deal on January 27 this year.

The CCI application is the first step by Tata Sons to integrate its aviation business, which also includeslow-cost carrier Air India Express. The proposed acquisition of AirAsia India by Air India “will not lead to any change in the competitive landscape or cause any appreciable adverse effect on competition in India”, read the CCI application.

The Tata Sons’s airline brands — including Air India, AirAsia India and Vistara (which is a joint venture with Singapore Airlines) — have a domestic market share of 25%, while IndiGo remains the market leader with a share of almost 54%. Air India Express is primarily an international budget carrier connecting south India to the Gulf and southeast Asia. Though AirAsia India started flying in 2014, a year before Vistara started operations, it still does not have rights to fly abroad. On the other hand, Vistara flies to several foreign locations such as the UK, Europe, Gulf and southeast Asia. With AirAsia set to exit AirAsia India, Tata Sons will have to bring that business under one brand.

Meanwhile, Tata Sons is bringing its aviation units personnel under one roof in Gurgaon, where it will take on lease an office space of 70,000 square feet

Of Passenger Traffic Growth....

The Mumbai airport registered the highest passenger traffic growth of 97% year-on-year in the country as 2 crore domestic and international flyers passed through it between April 2021 and March 2022.

The airport was the worst performer among major Indian airports in FY2021, and therefore on rebound managed to register a higher quantum of year-on-year percentage growth in FY2022.

In rankings, Bengaluru and Mumbai airports were neck and neck in 2020-21, handling 1.09 crore and 1.10 crore flyers, respectively. But the gap between India’s second and third busiest airports widened the following year, with Bengaluru handling only 1.6 crore passengers against the 2.2 crore handled by Mumbai.

India’s top three airports — Delhi (No.1 by a mile), Mumbai and Bengaluru — handled 7.7 crore domestic and international flyers in FY22, almost half of the 14.5 crore that passed through in 2019-20, the last pre-Covid year.

“FY22 saw two Covid waves. Domestic passenger traffic started picking up after September last year, only to fall again in January with the third wave. We expect international traffic to short and medium-haul destinations to recover this year,” said an airline official.

The biggest swing among the three has been in Mumbai, which registered a drop of 76% in passenger volumes in 2020-21. The other two recorded 66% decline each. The next year, Mumbai bounced back big time, recording over 2 crore flyers and a 97% growth. In comparison, Delhi airport handled 3.9 crore passengers in 2021-22, notching up a growth of 74%, while Bengaluru’s flyer load jumped 49%.

When all airports were taken into account, India’s domestic passenger traffic registered a year-on-year growth of 58.5% in 2021-22.


Sitharaman asks US chip industry to invest in India

FM Nirmala Sitharaman made a special pitch to Silicon Valley and the semiconductor industry to invest in India, while seek a collaboration with the US in financial services and emerging technologies.

Sithraraman also met Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, and he highlighted how the ride-sharing outfit is looking to quadruple the number of drivers on the platform to two million.

At a round table organised by industry chambers, she said financial technology (fintech) represents a unique opportunity for sustainable and inclusive growth.

“With a growth forecast of almost 8% in FY 2023, India is likely to remain the world’s fastest growing major economy over the next few years, driven by the continued expansion of its technology and startup ecosystems,” she told a group CEOs in Silicon Valley.

Sitharaman also met representatives of the semiconductor industry and highlighted opportunities in India as well as the government’s commitment to be a reliable player in the entire value chain with dedicated incentive for thensector in mission mode through the Indian Semiconductor Mission.

Last year, the government had cleared a Rs.76,000crore scheme to boost semiconductor and display manufacturing in the country, in a bid to position India as a global hub for hi-tech production, and attract large chip makers.

During the round table with industry leaders from the semiconductor ecosystem, including design,manufacturing, equipment, technology and systems in San Francisco, the participants informed theFM that they have substantially scaled their capabilities in India in the last few years and are alsocollaborating with academia for R&D.

“The participants also mentioned that in view of global supply chain disruptions, they need to review over-reliance of supply chain in certain jurisdictions and with the right policies and talent in place, next decade will belong to India,” the finance ministry said in a tweet.

Bagdogra airport springs back to life

Bagdogra airport buzzed back to life on Tuesday, providing the much needed relief for tourists, traders, tour operators and cab operators, as 26 flights — packed with tourists rushing to the north Bengal or Sikkim hills — operated through the day. Celebrating the occasion, the airport organised a water cannon salute for passengers reaching the airport in the day’s first flight — an A320 operated by Air Asia from Bangalore — that touched down at 8.02am. 

Operational between 8am and 5pm, there were 26 flights on Tuesday, seven from Kolkata, eight from Delhi and three each from Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad as 4,297 passengers reached the airport and 3,509 departed on the first day of reopening. 

Tamil Nadu: ₹41,623cr power projects in 5 years

The Tamil Nadu government unveiled its ambitious TNEB 2.0 to augment the power infrastructure to meet the state’s growing demand. Given the forecast of 24,000MW power demand in the next 10 years, Tangedco has set a deadline to add 6,220 MW to the grid in the next five years by commissioning seven projects at a cost of ₹41,623 crore.

They include North Chennai TPP Stage III, Ennore SEZ TPP and Udangudi TPP Stage I, Uppur TPP, ETPS Expansion power project, Kundah Hydro Electric Project, and Kollimalai HydroElectric Project.

Electric vehicle charging stations would be set up at substations located on state and national highways.

Replying to the demand for grants for the energy department, electricity minister V Senthil Balaji said plans were afoot to increase installed capacity from 32,592MW to 65,184MW in the next decade.

“We plan to increase the electricity board’s capacity from 25% to 50%. In stark contrast to the idea of privatizing the power sector, the chief minister's main objective is that it should continue to remain a public-sector entity, increase productivity and serve the people better. Steps will be taken to implement new projects, purchase sick power plants at a low cost and strengthen the distribution network,” the minister said. Conversion of overhead lines into underground cables in Greater Chennai will be completed by September, and work is in progress in the coastal districts.

The focus is on renewable energy and solar power parks of 2000MW would be installed across the state. “The 1,686 rural power transmission lines will be segregated, and agricultural feeders will be solarised. Tangedco will turn all its 110 old and inefficient windmills that have the capacity of 17. 5MW into wind solar hybrid systems. The agency will set up 100 new sub-stations at a cost of  ₹1,649 crore,” the minister said.

Earlier, pointing to the government’s argument that the shortage of coal and reduction of 796MW from the central grid was the reason for the power outage recently, former electricity minister P Thangamani drew the attention of the House to the government’s policy note tabled in the assembly that said Tamil Nadu recorded the highest receipt of 1. 72 crore tonne of coal last year. The Tangedco also receives 694MW from the Centre additionally.

Two vaccines now approved for children

In a major boost to efforts to protect children against Covid-19 infection, the national drugs regulator approved two vaccines — Biological E’s Corbevax and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin — for emergency use in children aged 5-12 and 6-12 respectively. The regulator also approved Zydus Cadila’s two-dose ZyCov-D vaccine for those above 12 years.

The approvals are significant as they expand the basket of vaccines available for almost all age groups and are likely to allow the government to lower the eligible age for vaccination, as many school-going children remain unvaccinated amid rising Covid-19 cases in some parts of the country. Currently, only those aged 12 and above are eligible for Covid vaccination.

However, the final decision to roll out vaccine for under-12 group will be taken by the government only after such a recommendation from its scientific expert body – National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation for Covid-19, officials said.

PK refuses to join Congress

After much publicised deliberations spanning over a week, talks between Congress and pollster Prashant Kishor for a political partnership fell through, second time in less than one year, amid heightened anticipation in political circles.

A day after Congress chief Sonia Gandhi set up an “empowered action group 2024” to address the political challenges ahead, AICC and Kishor mutually announced on Twitter that they had failed to agree on terms of engagement. Congress invited Kishor to join the empowered group, which was turned down.

AICC spokesman Randeep Surjewala early evening tweeted, “Following a presentation & discussions with Prashant Kishor, Congress President has constituted an Empowered Action Group 2024 & invited him to join the party as part of the group with defined responsibility. He declined. We appreciate his efforts & suggestion given to the party.”

India’s highest space observatory planned

After the world’s tallest statue – the Statue of Unity – near the Narmada dam, yet another modern world class wonder will soon take shape at the Dharoi dam in north Gujarat. Following a suggestion by Prime Minister Modi, the government of Gujarat has drawn up a detailed plan to set up a space observatory-cum-recreational facility at Dharoi, a few kilometres from PM Modi’s hometown Vadnagar.

Initial estimates suggest the project, which has been sent to the Prime Minister’s Office for approval, will cost Rs. 1,041 crore and will be completed in three years.

The Gujarat government has given in-principle approval to the ‘Development of Dharoi dam region as a world class sustainable tourist/pilgrimage destination’ project. The Dharoi dam project, together with Vadnagar’s heritage and cultural tourism and Ambaji temple’s religious tourism, will serve as an integrated tourism circuit for national and overseas tourists.

The 140-metre tower will be India’s highest observatory for astro-tourism with a telescope gallery, viewing points and an astronomical observatory. Besides, the tower will have an open-to-sky viewing deck and also a semi-covered seating zone and a semi-covered interpretation zone towards the top end of the tower.

The project will have a visitor centre, an amphitheatre with laser show, a water sports zone, an island adventure zone, and other activities.

A part from the iconic observatory, the Dharoi dam region project will have a visitor centre, an amphitheatre with laser show, a water sports zone, an island adventure zone, a wellness and naturopathy retreat, a polo club and resort and a convention centre with an events ground.

A key source close to the development said, “After clearance from the CMO (chief minister’s office), the project master plan has now been sent for the PMO’s consideration. Once approved, the state government will launch the process of implementing the project which has been envisioned by PM Modi himself.”

Sources said that the state government is already developing Vadnagar as a heritage city with a museum and other attractions and the Ambaji temple is a world famous religious pilgrimage site. “Dharoi will serve as the anchor tourism site for all other attractions located in the vicinity,” sources said. The seaplane terminal at the Dharoi dam will also be set up under the project. Sources said a fixed and floating jetty will be set up with several amenities.

Government’s 3.5% Stake Sale Plan in LIC Gets Sebi Approval

The capital markets regulator has relaxed certain requirements for the initial public offering of Life Insurance Corp of India. The Securities and Exchange Board of India has allowed the government to divest 3.5 % in the insurer, exempting it from the mandatory 5% stake sale for large issues.

Anchor investors in LIC’s listing have been exempted from the recently introduced tighter lock-in requirement for the shares allotted to them, said two people with the direct knowledge of the matter.

Separately, the Reserve Bank of India has, however, rejected LIC’s request to allow non-banking finance companies to lend more than ₹1 crore to investors wanting to put their money in the IPO. From April 1, finance companies cannot lend more than ₹1 crore per borrower for IPO.


3.4cr saplings to be planted along banks of Chennai rivers

As many as 3.4 crore saplings will be planted along the banks of the Adyar, Cooum and Buckingham canal to promote urban forestry under the ₹920.5 crore Tamil Nadu Biodiversity Conservation and Greening Project for Climate Change Response, minister for forests K Ramachandran told the assembly on Monday.

“Several encroachments were removed along the Cooum and Adyar. We plan to create a green belt that will strengthen the bunds, enhance water table, reduce the heat island effect and also create recreation facilities for people. While this will be done in coordination with Chennai river restoration trust, this is a separate project and ₹237 crore has been allocated for this separately,” environment secretary Supriya Sahu said later.

Chennai will also get a turtle conservation and rehabilitation centre at ₹6.3 crore.

Karnataka's share of green energy rockets in past fiscal

Despite an acute shortage of coal in the country, Karnataka has largely been insulated from the crisis thanks to an increase in green energy generation. In the past fiscal, Karnataka saw a huge spike in green energy – from solar, wind, and mini-hydel power plants – which has ensured minimal disruption of supply.

While other states with a high dependency on the fossil fuel have struggled, Karnataka has augmented supply from thermal power plants with loads of renewable energy. In fact, officials say Karnataka could have ensured 24/7 uninterrupted power supply but for serious issues with transmission largely stemming from poor maintenance and lack of adequate infrastructure.

“The system put in place to utilize as much green energy as possible has helped the state fare better than others in maintaining supply,” said Kumar Naik, additional chief secretary for energy. About 51% or 15,833 megawatts of the state’s installed capacity of power generation is from green sources.

As per data from the energy department, from meeting 41% of demand in April 2021, the increase in green energy use climbed to 76% in July 2021, before ending March 2022 at 52%, an average of 58.6% for the fiscal. For example, in July last year, of the average daily consumption of 5400MW, only 1,250MW came from conventional sources. The remaining came from green sources. The state even raked in Rs 2,836 crore last year alone from selling excess power.

So why then are there power cuts? Officials point to creaking infrastructure. One energy department official said the state could have supplied more than the 6,578 million units it did last year in Karnataka but could not simply because the grids cannot handle a higher load. The lack of storage capacity for renewable energy is another hurdle.

Officials say there are two reasons for the spike. First, Karnataka has a ‘must use’ clause, which means renewable energy power purchase agreement conditions must be exhausted before using conventional resources. Second, the impact of pandemic-induced lockdowns drove demand for power down.

However, the department insists it can deal with rising demand now that the economy is emerging from a Covid-induced slowdown.

The department has set up a separate renewable energy maintenance cell that keeps track and even forecasts weather to assess availability of power from green resources. “We are now trying to build storage infrastructure to meet futuristic demands,” said Naik, adding that pumped storage facilities  are being given priority

Of India & the EU....

EU’s partnership with India on solar power and green hydrogen is critical as it accelerates efforts to diversify away from fossil fuels and invest heavily in clean renewable energy because of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen told Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday.

EU has paid Russia 35 billion Euros for energy since Russia launched its special military operation in Ukraine as several countries remain reluctant to cut down imports from Russia in a jiffy. Under pressure to not accelerate its “minuscule” oil imports from Russia, India has repeatedly said that it is Europe’s energy imports from Russia that’s still increasing.

The two leaders agreed that as large and vibrant democratic societies, India and Europe share “similar values and a commonality of perspectives on many global issues”. “They reviewed the progress in the India-EU strategic partnership, including the forthcoming recommencement of negotiations on a free trade agreement and investment agreement,” said the government in a statement, adding they discussed possibilities of collaboration between India and the EU in areas like green hydrogen.

While she publicly at least didn’t ask India to review its position on Russia, addressing the Raisina Dialogue later, where she was the chief guest, von der Leyen urged all members of the international community to support EU’s efforts for lasting peace in the form of sanctions.

Like the US and others in the West, von der Leyen sought to play on India’s fears of a Russia-China axis as she spoke about the two countries forging a seemingly unrestrained pact. She said what happens in Ukraine will have an impact on Indo-Pacific region.

Adani : 5th richest

Adani Group chief Gautam Adani has become the 5th richest person in world by surpassing Berkshire Hathway CEO Warren Buffett.

According to the Forbes rich list, Adani has reached the 5th position with a total net worth of $123.7 billion, about $2 billion higher than Buffett’s $121.7 billion. Adani entered the $100-billion wealth club on April 4 and now holds a place among the top 5 richest people in the world.

He is also the richest Asian, ahead of Mukesh Ambani ($105 billion).

The business tycoon is now behind Tesla chief Elon Musk — who continues to hold the top spot with a total net worth of $269. 7 billion, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Louis Vuitton CEO Bernard Arnault and Microsoft founder Bill Gates. Shares of Adani Group companies have shown stellar performance in the past 2 years. Adani added the most wealth in 2021, about $49 billion, at the rate of Rs 6,000 crore per weak, a report by the latest Hurun rich list had showed.

India: No. 3 military spender in world

India remains ahead of Russia and the UK as the third largest military spender in the world, but far behind China that spends four times and the US which spends 10 times its defence budget.

The total global military expenditure rose to $2,113 billion in 2021, surpassing the two trillion US dollar mark for the first time despite the economic shocks of the Covid-19 pandemic, as per the latest data released by global think-tank Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

The five largest spenders were the US ($801 billion), which accounted for 38% of the world military spending, China (estimated $293 billion), India ($77 billion), UK ($68 billion) and Russia ($66 billion). Pakistan was placed at the 23rd spot with $11 billion.

While China’s actual military expenditure remains shrouded in secrecy, SIPRI noted it has steadily grown for 27 consecutive years, the longest uninterrupted sequence of hikes by any country in its database. “India’s spending was up by 0. 9% from 2020 and by 33% from 2012. Amid ongoing tensions and border disputes with China and Pakistan that occasionally spill over into armed clashes, India has prioritised the modernisation of its armed forces and self-reliance in arms production,” said SIPRI. While SIPRI does not go into details, India certainly does not get the requisite bang for its buck. The country’s military modernisation continues to be hampered by a ballooning revenue expenditure for day-to-day running costs and salaries for the 15-lakh strong armed forces as well as a massive pension bill.

India’s Rs 5. 2 lakh crore defence budget for 2022-2023, for instance, includes the huge Rs 1.2 lakh crore pension bill for the over 33 lakh retired military and defence civilians. Moreover, the Rs 2.3 lakh crore revenue expenditure dwarfs the Rs 1. 5 lakh crore capital allocation for overall modernisation and new weapon systems. Then, the lack of concrete long-term plans to systematically build military capabilities with proper inter-Service prioritisation as well as the weak domestic defence-industrial base compounds the problem.

Consequently, the forces continue to grapple with critical shortages on several fronts, ranging from fighters, submarines and helicopters to drones, anti-tank guided missiles and night-fighting capabilities.

The two-year-long military confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh, as with other border crises in the past, has led to a flurry of emergency procurement by the Army, Navy and IAF from abroad.

The government has taken some steps to get India out of its strategically-vulnerable position as the world’s largest arms importer, accounting for 11% of the global weapons imports, but they are yet to take off in any substantial manner.


Only 4 Female Great Indian Bustards Left In Gujarat

The last of the Great Indian Bustards in Gujarat, four females to be precise, survive in the Kutch region today. However, the Gujarat government is running out of patience when it comes to conservation of the species.

In its latest affidavit before the Supreme Court, the department of energy of the state has suggested that the four GIBs be translocated to a different region so that high tension power lines can be laid and renewable energy infrastructure set up across Kutch.

The only option available with the Gujarat government is to translocate the last of the GIBs to the breeding centre at Sam, in Jaisalmer, or the upcoming centre in Sorsan, Rajasthan.

The affidavit was filed on April 20 by undersecretary Dipesh Raj of the state government’s energy and petrochemical department. The second paragraph of clause 14 of his affidavit reads, “As per the information available, there are four female GIBs left in Kutch Area, therefore the option of re-locating the remaining GIBs may be explored. ”

According to an affidavit filed in the SC, between 2017 and 2020, six GIBs were killed after they collided with power lines in the two states. Gujarat had reported one GIB death each in 2014 and 2017 in Naliya of Kutch district. But senior experts of Wildlife Institute of India said that they had been warning Gujarat since 2013 when four male GIBs were present, but no remedial action was taken. None of the males survive now.

Raj further stated that the underground cables beneath the agricultural land may be unsafe for farmers as digging activities put them at risk of electrocution. The affidavit adds that magnetic field from the electric lines would expose many animals, plants and insects to these emissions.

Besides, the state government says that since the supply of bird diverters were limited, the rates would be high due to less competition. “The addition of bird diverter could be problematic for the phase wires in the long run as its weight would affect the strength of the conductor and may damage it,” according to the affidavit

While quoting Solar Power Developers Association, the SC was informed that 38,818 bird diverters were already installed on power lines near GIB habitats in the twin states and the process to install 33,453 more were on.

The Gujarat Energy Transmission Corporation Limited has already floated a tender for procuring 18,000 diverters.

IAF prefers ‘Buy Global, Make in India’ route

Buoyed by the success of the Tata-Airbus partnership to manufacture transport aircraft in India, the air force is keen that the upcoming procurement of new fighter jets follows a similar model, enabling quick delivery of combat aircraft that are required urgently to retain a combat edge in the region.

The estimated $20 billion procurement for 114 multi role fighter aircraft was initially being processed under the Strategic Partnership model, in which an Indian company ties up with a foreign supplier to manufacture major platforms in India. This model however had not met with success yet, with two projects initiated by the navy failing to move forward. On the other hand, the ‘Buy Global, Make in India’ has proved itself to be successful with the signing of a deal to manufacture C 295 transport aircraft by a Tata-Airbus combine. This model is less complicated and involves a simpler shortlisting process, leaving more flexibility with the Indian partner to choose a technology collaborator. The air force evaluated at least four different procurement options on moving ahead with its MRFA requirement, finally concluding that Buy Global, Make in India would be the ideal model to ensure that the project proceeds smoothly and on time.

The Strategic Partnership model has proven to have several complications, with the first ever project under it to procure Naval Utility Helicopters at the verge of collapse. The deal has been stuck for over two years now and unlikely to move ahead after state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) was initially debarred from entering the contest.

The defence ministry has now placed naval utility helicopters under an import ban list and a naval version of HAL’s Advanced Light Helicopter is now seen as the lead contender for the contract. Similarly, the plan to acquire conventional submarines under Project 75I has also hit rough seas, with foreign technology providers expressing their inability to meet what they describe as unreasonable “joint and severe liabilities” for a product that will be manufactured by the Indian partner. While orders have been placed for 83 of the LCA Mk 1A aircraft from HAL, India faces an acute shortage of fighter jets as several legacy Russian platforms have retired or are on the verge of being phased out. The entire MiG 21 fleet is on its last legs and earlier plans to procure 123 fighter jets was shelved to procure 36 Rafale fighter jets.

₹10,000 crore e-way to link Pune with Aurangabad

In a major announcement, Union minister for road transport and highways Nitin Gadkari said that an access-controlled expressway connecting Aurangabad and Pune would be built.

Stating that the project will have a financial outlay of Rs.10,000 crore, he said the mega road project would considerably reduce the travel time between the two cities. “The access-controlled expressway between Aurangabad and Pune will pass through Beed and Ahmednagar districts via Paithan. The expressway will have a speed limit up to 140 km per hour to the vehicles using it,” he said. The Union minister, who inaugurated and laid foundation stone of seven national highways passing through Aurangabad district, also announced a double-decker bridge on Jalna Road as part of upcoming Metro rail project to decongest the traffic among other road projects for the benefit of Aurangabad city.

J&K to script a new success chapter in next 25 years: PM Modi

Defending the abrogation of J&K’s special status under Article 370 and 35-A, PM Narendra Modi said his government has implemented almost 200 central laws and the panchayati raj system for the people who were “deprived” of these benefits before. Speaking in Palli village in Samba, he pointed out that people in J&K’s villages, women, the poor and deprived sections of society are the biggest beneficiaries of central schemes for LPG, toilets, electricity, cheap or free healthcare, land rights and water connections.

Modi said J&K will write a new chapter of success in the next 25 years, which will be the “amrit kaal” of Indian independence. The youth of the region will get employment with the rapid pace of development, he said. “Local youth of Palli will get jobs,” he said. “I met panchayat representatives, heard them out, their dreams and mission.They showed me what ‘sab ka prayas’ actually means. ” The meeting marked Modi’s first public function here after the abrogation of special status. Before this, the PM visited army camps in Rajouri and Nowshera in October 2019 and November 2021 to celebrate Diwali with soldiers stationed on the border.

The PM said the celebration of Panchayati Raj Day in J&K “marks a big change” as it is proof “that democracy has reached the grassroots”. He expressed satisfaction that panchayat and district body elections were conducted peacefully for the first time in J&K in 2020.

The PM referred to his interaction with a UAE delegation just before the public meeting for investments in J&K. He said private investment of only Rs 17,000 crore reached J&K in seven decades, but investment proposals amounting to Rs 38,000 crore were “cleared” for the region over the past two years. Tourism is thriving once again too, he said. 

Advanced Israeli ‘tank killers’ inducted

The Army and IAF have now begun to induct advanced Israeli anti-tank guided missiles with longer ranges and greater armour-penetration capabilities, amid the two-year long military confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh. The Israeli ‘tank killers’ were ordered under emergency procurements last year due to the troop stand-off with China, which is yet to show any signs of de-escalation. The sheer utility of such weapons has been demonstrated during the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict. Ukrainian troops armed with US-origin Javelin ATGMs and western next-generation light anti-tank light missiles have destroyed hundreds of Russian tanks and other armoured vehicles since the conflict began. The Israeli family of Spike ATGMs is equally lethal and versatile. The Army is inducting the Spike LR-2 launchers and missiles, which have a ground strike range of 5.5-km, while IAF is integrating its Russian-origin Mi-17 V5 armed helicopters with Spike missiles that can destroy ground targets around 30-km away.

“Both the fifth-generation ATGMs are being inducted in limited numbers under emergency procurements to plug operational gaps. ” a defence source said.

Top Navy commanders will this week review India’s maritime security and preparedness, including the operational situation in the Indian Ocean Region with an eye on China as well as the fallout of the Russia--Ukraine conflict. The four-day naval commanders’ conference, which will start from Monday, and will be chaired by Admiral R Hari Kumar, will be addressed by defence minister Rajnath Singh and external affairs minister S Jaishankar. 


40% work on Mumbai-Pune E-way missing link project completed

The MSRDC claims to have completed 40 per cent of the work on the ongoing missing link project on the Mumbai-Pune expressway, which is being carried out in two packages.

The first package includes tunnel-1 (1680 metres) and tunnel-2 (8870 metres), thus covering a total distance of 10.55 kms, apart from cross passage every 300 metres. The second package comprises two viaducts of 900 metres and 650 metres, including a cable-stayed bridge, covering a distance of 1.55 kms.

MSRDC is carrying out augmentation of Mumbai-Pune expressway from Khalapur toll plaza till Khopoli exit in the Bhor ghat section covering 5.86 kms, by widening the road from six to eight lanes.

The missing link tunnel stretch commences after the Khopoli exit. Also, an exit ramp over a 1.88 km stretch is being constructed at Kusgaon.

The length of the existing Mumbai Pune Expressway from Khopoli exit to Sinhgad Institute is presently 19 kms. This distance will be reduced to 13.3 kms after construction of the proposed missing link and the travel time will be reduced by 20-25 mins, claims MSRDC authorities.

An MSRDC official at Pune office said, “The package-1 length being 12.43 kms, as per the current status, the 2.5 km length of the Tunnel II passes below Lonavala Lake at the depth varying from 75m to 175m from the bottom of the lake. The proposed level of Viaduct I is about 30 to 35 meters above ground level and proposed level of Viaduct II is about 130 to 140 mtrs from the ground level. ”

The official further said, “In February 2019, MSRDC has appointed Navayuga Engineering Company Ltd for starting the missing link project’s package-I for an estimated cost of Rs 2,697.39 crore. Whereas, for package 2, MSRDC has appointed Afcons Infrastructure Ltd in March 2018 for an estimated amount of Rs. 1,491. 42 crore. ”

The official added, “While the deadline for completing the missing link project was March 2023, due to the delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the project work was affected. Hence, the deadline has been extended to March 2024. ”

PM to visit J&K today

Thousands of elected rural representatives from across J&K made their way to Palli panchayat in the frontier district of Jammu’s Samba, where PM Narendra Modi is scheduled to address the nation on Panchayati Raj Diwas on Sunday and launch development projects amounting to more than Rs 20,000 crore for the Union territory.

Security along the routes and at the venue is tight and travellers passed through several checkpoints as authorities ring-fenced the area to thwart any attempt by terrorists to sabotage the event, which will be the PM’s first general public function in J&K after the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019.

Over 30,000 members of J&K’s rural bodies are expected to attend the event and hear PM Modi’s address to gram sabhas. The PMO said in a statement that Modi will launch Amrit Sarovar — a new initiative to develop and rejuvenate 75 water bodies in every district of India.

Among projects in J&K, the PM will inaugurate the Rs 3,100 crore Banihal-Qazigund twin-tube road tunnel — all of 8. 45km — that will cut the distance between Srinagar and Jammu by 16 km and travel time by 90 minutes. He will also lay the foundation of three road projects of the Rs 7,500 crore Delhi-Amritsar-Katra Expressway. The PM is scheduled to participate in a groundbreaking ceremony for multicrore industrial projects and lay the foundation of several more public welfare schemes. He will interact with a delegation of one dozen investors from UAE, who have arrived in Srinagar and are likely to attend the event.

Modi’s visit, according to the PMO, would focus on bringing wide-ranging reforms to improve governance and enhance ease of living for the people of the region.

Ahead of the PM’s visit, authorities arranged transport to ferry the public representatives to Samba.

Members are excited, said J&K Panchayat Conference chairman Shafiq Mir, because panchayats pivot “our democracy and connect the common people with the higher echelons of power”.

Mir said J&K’s rural representatives would request the PM to consider building a memorial for panchayat members killed by terrorists since 2011.

A day before PM Narendra Modi’s visit to J&K, lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha on Saturday approved raise in minimum wages of daily wagers, including casual labourers, in all government departments, from existing Rs 225 per day to Rs 300 per day, reports Sanjay Khajuria. The administration clarified it was being done as an interim measure till the minimum wage rates are revised by the labour and employment department, which may take around three months.


Nagpur E-way 1st phase to open on May 2

The 210 km stretch of Mumbai-Nagpur super communication expressway between Nagpur and Shelu Bazaar in Washim district will be opened for motorists on May 2, while the 310 km stretch from Shelu Bazaar to Shirdi will be opened on August 15.

Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray will commission this portion of the first phase of the 701 km project, officially called Hindu Hridaysamrat Balasaheb Thackeray Maharashtra Samruddhi Mahamarg.

Once fully operational, the Mumbai-Nagpur expressway, which is being executed by Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation, will cut travel time between the two cities from 14-15 hours to nearly eight hours.

Pointing out that the 210 km section cuts the wildlife corridor between Bor Tiger Reserve and Umred Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary tiger reserves and through the ecosensitive zone of sanctuaries like Karanja Sohl and Katepurna Wildlife Sanctuary, officials said tigers are expected to use the animal overpasses and underpasses designed along the route.

Overall, there are 76 underpasses on this Eway. Around Rs 350 crore has been spent on creating facilities for the wildlife. Greens had wanted the expressway to be thrown open only after the underpasses and overpasses were ready—the plantations are still young—as incomplete ones could cause danger to tigers and other wild animals. The E-way will host a 250MW solar power project, while the decision to build a high-speed railway along the route will be taken by Centre, said urban development minister Eknath Shinde. Also, 12 lakh trees will be planted along the entire median.

As it will take 40 years to recover the Rs 55,335 crore cost, initial toll will be around Rs 1,200 for cars, MSRDC MD Radheshyam Mopalwar said. The toll amount will rise by 16% every three years.

An estimated 35,000 vehicles are expected to use the E-way soon after its full commissioning, which is expected in 2023 as work on the Mumbai-Shirdi section is ongoing, said Mopalwar.

UK PM sets Diwali deadline for FTA to double India trade

Indicating his keenness for a trade agreement with India, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson set an ambitious target of clinching a deal by Diwali, minutes after PM Narendra Modi spoke of a year-end deadline for negotiators from both countries.

“Teams from both countries are working on an FTA (free trade agreement) and there is good progress. We have decided to attempt to finalise the FTA by the year-end. In the last few months, India has signed FTAs with UAE and Australia. We would want to move with the same pace and commitment with the UK too,” Modi said at a joint press conference, as he pitched for investments in infrastructure.

India had finalised a trade pact with the UAE in less than 90 days, and it just took six months for New Delhi and Canberra to seal a deal.

Pointing to the talks, Johnson said: “. . . perhaps most significantly for the long term, we are making full use of the freedom that we now have to reach a free trade agreement, a deal where you can lift those tariffs—you can, India, Narendra, on our machinery and apples—actually you’ve already done it on apples, so thank you for the apples, and we in turn, we can lift the tariffs on your rice and textiles. ”

With the next round of discussions slated to begin next week, he said, four of the 16 chapters have been finalised and new measures to make it easier to export UK-made medical devices to India and ensure mutual recognition of UK higher education qualifications were finalised on Thursday.

Referring to the proposed FTA, Johnson said: “This could double our trade and investment by the end of the decade widening that living bridge into a multi-lane motorway—with beautiful jointly made electric vehicles and creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs in both our countries. ”

Currently, the UK is India’s 17th largest trading partner with bilateral trade estimated at over $16 billion (during April-February 2021-22). The UK is the sixth largest overseas investor, with FDI inflows between 2000 and 2021 being pegged at a little under $32 billion.

With several ticklish issues, settled in the FTA with Australia, the central government is hoping that it would be easier to finalise an agreement with the UK, which also finalised a deal with Canberra recently.

Besides, with the UK, India has also agreed to tread into areas such as intellectual property rights, sustainability, competition, women and MSMEs and anti-corruption, apart from goods, services and investment, where it was reluctant to engage in the past.


BoJo’s tryst with the Mahatma in Gujarat

History came full circle when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson started his two-day India tour by offering his respects to Mahatma Gandhi at Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad. It was the same ashram from where Bapu had embarked on the historic Dandi March, one of the biggest landmarks in India's freedom struggle against British rule.

Incidentally, April 21 also marked the century of the great trial of 1922 in which the Father of the Nation was tried in an Ahmedabad court under sedition charge for causing disaffection against the colonial government.

Johnson landed at the Ahmedabad international airport in the morning and went straight to the ashram.

The Sabarmati Ashram authorities requested UK PM Boris Johnson to give access to information on Mahatma Gandhi amassed by British authorities during India's freedom struggle in terms of official documents and newspaper clippings for Gandhi Heritage Portal, the biggest repository on Bapu’s works. 

The British PM garlanded the idol of Mahatma Gandhi in the compound, and paid a floral tribute. He also tried his hand at the charkha at Hriday Kunj, the hut where Gandhi lived.

“It is an immense privilege to come to the ashram of this extraordinary man, and to understand how he mobilized such simple principles of truth and non-violence to change the world for the better,” Johnson wrote in the visitors’ book.

Upon arrival in Ahmedabad, Johnson was given a rousing welcome in Indian PM Narendra Modi's home state.

Locals lined the roads to greet the VVIP guest. Johnson was received by Gujarat chief minister Bhupendra Patel, governor Acharya Devvrat and senior state government officials.

The British PM then spared half an hour of his time at the Gujarat Biotechnology University near GIFT City campus in Gandhinagar. GBU had collaborated with the University of Edinburgh in the UK last year. PM Johnson also interacted with researchers at the GBU laboratory.

Speaking about his Gujarat visit, the British PM said: “It is great to be in Gujarat, which is an extraordinary place. As you know, we have a huge Gujarati community in the UK which incarnates a living bridge between India and the UK.”

There are an estimated 6 lakh Gujaratis settled in the UK. Later, Johnson visited the BAPS Akshardham Temple in Gandhinagar before departing for Delhi late evening.

One Web signs pact with Isro to build global network

In what could boost satellite-based internet service, Bharti Group-backed satcom company OneWeb inked a deal with Isro's commercial arm New Space India Limited to complete its satellite launch programme to provide global internet connectivity.

The first launch with NSIL is anticipated this year from the Sriharikota launch centre.

The launches thereafter will add to OneWeb’s total in-orbit constellation of 428 satellites, 66% of the planned total fleet, to build a global network that will deliver high-speed, low-latency connectivity to “everyone, everywhere”.

OneWeb plans to have a constellation of 650 satellites in low earth orbit to offer communication services. In a statement, OneWeb, which is owned in part by the UK government, said it remains on track for developing its satellite constellation network, delivering industry-grade secure connectivity. OneWeb had earlier decided to suspend all launches from Russia-operated Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in March.


Uttar Pradesh: MNREGS to drive tree plantation & rainwater harvesting

After turning out to be the biggest job spinner during Covid-induced lockdown in 2020-21, Centre’s flagship Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Scheme is poised to drive UP government’s ambitious tree plantation drive during monsoon. On Wednesday, CM Yogi Adityanath directed the rural development department to develop in each district at least two nurseries, each producing at least 15 lakh saplings. This way 75 districts will produce nearly 23 crore saplings — in what will be equivalent to the population size of the state. Yogi was chairing a meeting along with his council of ministers during a presentation made by the rural department.

A decision was also taken to rope in MNREGS workers to push rainwater harvesting in villages, besides deploying the MNREGS force in desilting drains for a better drainage support system. The move comes just over a fortnight after the Centre raised MNREGS wages from Rs 204 to Rs 213, a raise of around 7%.

The fresh impetus to MNREGS attains significance in the backdrop of the BJP government’s bid to ramp up job opportunities and augment its resources after returning to power for the second consecutive time. During 2019-20 and 2021-22, MNREGS engineered the highest employment growth of 213% in the country.

Plantations will be carried out along with revival of rivers — another project to be covered by MNREGS in next 100 days. The rural development department has also been tasked to construct 15,000 sports grounds and rejuvenate 30,000 ponds in next two years, that is by 2024 when next Lok Sabha elections are due. The CM further directed the department to carry out a survey in next six months to track medium of livelihood of households and the extent to which they are getting benefited from various government schemes. The spokesperson said, based on the survey, special efforts may be made for ‘aspirational’ families. At the same time, as many as 30,0000 women mates will be selected, trained and associated under MNREGS. The state government also plans to lend a push to banking correspondent, Sakhis, to bolster rural banking in 58,000 gram panchayats. In 2021-22, BC Sakhis enabled a financial transaction of Rs 2200 crore, while earning a commission of Rs 5.36 crores. Likewise, loans should be made available in coordination with banks by providing women self-help groups with credit cards. Employment or self-employment opportunities should be provided to at least one person in families of women belonging to self-help groups, the CM noted.

Yogi also pressed for efforts to cover 13 lakh families under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Rural) and 1.5 lakh families under Mukhyamantri Awas Yojana (Rural). Under Avanti Bai Lodhi Self Help Group Scheme, one lakh new self-help groups should be formed in next six months. The rural development department has also been directed to establish 200 take-home ration plants and supply nutritious food in 600 development blocks in next 100 days. The spokesperson said, functioning of village secretariat be made online and an anganbadi centre be set up in each village. Also, at least 1.5 lakh toilets be constructed and waste management be ensured at the development block level.

PLI Scheme draws Investment of ₹2.34 Lakh Cr

India’s production linked incentive scheme to encourage domestic manufacturing has generated investment commitments of ₹2.34 lakh crore across 14 sectors, according to data collated from various ministries.

Automobile and auto components, advanced chemistry cell batteries, specialty steel and high-efficiency solar panels have attracted the maximum interest.

The government expects the scheme to generate additional output worth Rs 28.15 lakh crore and 6.45 million new jobs over the next five years. There has been a tremendous response across all the sectors for which the scheme has been implemented. Total outlay for the scheme across the 14 sectors is Rs 16 97 lakh crore.

The programme, launched two years ago, offers a cash incentive for three to five years on the incremental sale of goods made in India over the determined base-year sales.

Additionally, the identified beneficiaries are required to commit to a certain minimum investment in India.

“The PLI scheme is an initiative that has the potential to significantly enhance the scale of manufacturing in India — it has started off quite well,” said Pawan Goenka, chairman of SCALE Committee and former managing director of Mahindra & Mahindra.

“Going forward, we will need to have flexibility to make changes, wherever necessary, in terms of adapting to emerging requirements,” Goenka said. The Steering Committee for Advancing Local Value-Add and Exports has been formed by the ministry of commerce and industry and works with the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade.

“In the next few years, PLI units will have additional production to sustain exports on a sustainable basis,” said Ajay Sahai, director general of the Federation of Indian Export Organisations. “Companies will procure more from domestic sources, which will help our ancillaries to grow and maintain necessary standards to eventually become suppliers to the world.”

According to Sahai, while the scheme has picked up well across sectors, there is some apprehension among textile manufacturers. “We have to give a little more time to the scheme to see if any changes are required,” he said. The programme seeks to enhance India’s manufacturing capabilities and exports.

Advanced chemistry cells manufacturing has seen proposals worth Rs 45,000 crore, with specialty steel at Rs 39,625 crore, textiles and apparel at Rs 19,000 crore and an estimated Rs 5,000 crore expected for drones and drone components. Committed investments in automobiles and auto components stood at Rs 45,000 crore and that in solar or renewable energy at Rs 30,000 crore.

Applications for textiles and apparel, advanced chemistry cell batteries and specialty steel are still being examined, while the government is yet to invite applications for drone and drone components.

India to woo visitors for traditional therapy

In a bid to attract medical tourism in the country, PM Modi announced a special Ayush visa category for foreign nationals who want to come to India to take advantage of traditional medicine. The initiative is part of the government’s ‘Heal In India’ campaign to promote medical tourism in India. The government will soon launch ‘Ayush mark’, which will provide authenticity to locally-made Ayush products.

“With this visa, it will make travel easier for accessing Ayush therapies (in India),” said Modi while speaking at the inaugural session of the Global Ayush Investment and Innovation Summit 2022 in Gandhinagar.

The PM added that the Centre has a plethora of initiatives to encourage and promote the Ayush sector, including establishment of a digital portal to connect medicinal plant farmers with Ayush product manufacturers. Mauritius PM Pravind Kumar Jugnauth and WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus were present as guests for the event. “From a turnover of less than $3 billion in 2014, the Ayush sector is now worth more than $18 billion,” the PM stated.

The PM said the idea for an Ayush summit came to him during the Covid-19 pandemic. “We saw how ayurvedic medicines, Ayush kada and many such other products were aiding people to increase immunity. During the times of Covid-19, turmeric export from India increased manifold,” he said.


Delhi: Malcha restoration work may begin in 4-5 months

If the Delhi government’s Malcha Mahal restoration project goes to plan, work should begin in 4-5 months and it may take a few years to restore the hunting lodge to its old glory.

There is a lot of work that needs to be done, the official said, as only the main hall and a wall-like structure is currently visible now. The floors and the pavilions at the four corners, brackets and parapets are broken and need to be fixed.

The thick foliage around the structure has caused a lot of damage too. It will have to be removed while the trees around it require pruning to expose the hidden edifices.

Set in the midst of a teeming city, Malcha Mahal has largely remained off-limits for close to four decades. In May 1985, the central government offered the structure to a woman who called herself Begum Wilayat Mahal, royalty from Awadh, and camped in the first-class waiting room at New Delhi railway station for nearly a decade.

She shifted to the lodge, which had no electricity or running water, along with her son and daughter who called themselves prince Ali Raza and princess Sakina. With them came a few servants and 11 dogs.

While Wilayat Mahal died in 1992, allegedly after swallowing crushed diamonds, Sakina passed away a few years later. Raza, the last royal occupant who lived as a recluse and rarely met anyone, died a pauper in September 2017.

Officials said there was a plan initially to carry out excavation at the site, as it was believed that there could be other structures too in the vicinity. “It will be up to the agency that we hire to carry out a detailed study and suggest what is required to be done,” said an official.

Delhi-Doon e-way gets SC approval with eco caveats

The Supreme Court cleared the NHAI’s Delhi-Dehradun expressway project but recast the green tribunal-appointed expert panel for scrupulous implementation of mitigation of damages to environment as well as compensatory afforestation.

A bench of justices DY Chandrachud and Aniruddha Bose ordered that the expert panel would be headed by director general (forest) CP Goyal in the Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change instead of the chief secretary of Uttarakhand, as was ordered by the National Green Tribunal on December 13 last year.

The bench asked the reconstituted expert panel to scrupulously implement all environment protection measures recommended and especially the height of the underpass/flyovers as well as compensatory afforestation.


Over 4L fly within country on Sunday

For the first time since Covid hit air travel two years ago, over four lakh passengers boarded domestic flights in a single day across India, setting a new record for trips taken during the pandemic. The April 17 Super Sunday passenger volume was about 96 % of pre-pandemic daily average.

Sunday’s figures improved on the previous pandemic-time record of 3.9 lakh passengers flying within the country on 2,866 flights on Thursday, April 14.

The past two summers were consumed by the Covid first wave and second wave, making this the first summer after two years that could see the return of the conventional peak travel season. But it was a combination of long weekend, festivals and summer vacations that had Sunday, which is the most popular day of the week to board a flight, register the magical number. Though per day passenger volumes are expected to dip to below four lakh this week, the next seven weeks of summer are likely to see higher passenger volumes than in December, said airline sources.

But these factors were not enough to see a similar record breaking moment at the Mumbai airport. It handled about 96,500 domestic passengers on Sunday, said a Mumbai International Airport Ltd spokesperson. The city airport’s current record for pandemic travel is a lakh passengers per day, achieved in December.

“The Super Sunday also marked the end of Covid third wave effect. Domestic passenger traffic is back to what was seen in December last year,” an airline official, who requested anonymity, said.

Passenger traffic was on a steady rise in the second half of 2021, recovering from the effects of the Covid second wave that hit in summer 2021. In September, the government had eased capacity restrictions, allowing airlines to add flights. That coupled with long weekends brought on by festivals saw domestic passenger traffic on an upswing, right up to Diwali and year-end when airports across India registered record volumes of travellers.

Data shared by the ministry of civil aviation showed that India’s per day domestic flyer traffic crossed 3.8 lakh on 11 days between November 14 and December 26. Then the Covid third wave hit and travel slumped, falling to about 1.4 lakh domestic flyers per day (January 19) in a matter of weeks. After February 4, though, domestic passenger traffic stayed over two lakh per day, making a slow and steady climb to cross four lakh passengers per day on April 17

Lt Gen Manoj Pande to be next Army chief

Lt General Manoj Pande will take over as the next Army chief from General M M Naravane on April 30, becoming the first ever officer commissioned in the Corps of Engineers to head the 12lakh strong force.

The government has gone by the seniority principle in announcing the next Army chief, with Lt-Gen Pande being the senior most Lt-Gen in the force. The country’s next chief of defence staff, however, is yet to be announced well over four months after Gen Bipin Rawat’s untimely death in a helicopter crash, though Gen Naravane is considered to be the frontrunner.

A CDS can serve till the age of 65, while the Army, Navy and IAF chiefs serve till 62 or for three years,whichever is earlier.

Lt Gen Pande, who turns 60 on May 6, will take over as the Army chief at a time when there are still no signs of any de-escalation in the almost two-year long military confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh.

He is well-versed with China, having first served as the 4 ‘Gajraj’ Corps commander in the north-east, which looks after both the Line of Actual Control as well as counterinsurgency operations, and then later as the general officer commanding-in-chief of the Eastern Command from June 2021 to Jan 2022 before he became the Army vice-chief.

“Lt Gen Pande will have to take forward the transformation of the manpower-intensive Army into a lean, mean and future-ready fighting machine, with a much better teeth-to-tail ratio,” a senior officer said.

Commissioned in the Corps of Engineers (The Bombay Sappers) in December 1982, Lt Gen Pande opted for the ‘general cadre’, which includes the ‘combat arms’ of infantry, armoured corps and mechanized infantry, on his promotion to the rank of Brigadier from Colonel.

As a ‘general cadre’ Brigadier, Lt Gen Pande went on to command an infantry brigade along the Line of Control with Pakistan in J&K with Pakistan, and then a mountain division in the high-altitude area of western Ladakh as a Major General.


J&K got investment offers of over ₹52,000cr last year

Food processing, textiles and readymade garments, and hotels and hospitality sector have emerged as the biggest investment catchers in Jammu and Kashmir that received investment proposals worth Rs 52,155 crore in the last one year alone. This is in sharp contrast to an overall investment of Rs 14,000 crore that had trickled into the erstwhile state in the 70-year period from 1947 to 2018.

Of the total 4,444 investment proposals worth Rs 52,155 crore received by J&K government since the New Industrial Policy was notified last year, those worth Rs 36,244 crore, spread over Jammu region (21,553 crore) and Kashmir (Rs 14,691 crore), already have the necessary approvals. Almost 17,970 kanals of land, as against a total 39,022 kanals sought for setting up these units, has already been allotted across both Jammu and Kashmir divisions.

While the investment applications received up to April 11, 2022, seek to create 2.4 lakh employment opportunities in J&K, the proposals already cleared shall generate around 1.36 lakh jobs, including 71,603 in Jammu and 65,376 in Kashmir.

Sector-wise, food processing and organic-based industry lead with total approved investment worth Rs 8,890 crore, including Rs 5,852 crore in the Kashmir region and Rs 3,038 crore in Jammu.

The total 1,017 food processing units being set up in J&K have a land requirement of 2,396 kanals in Jammu, while 1,877 kanals have already been allotted in Kashmir.

Hotel and restaurants, health and social work sectors have raked in total investments worth Rs 5,193 crore in Kashmir alone. Other sectors like automobile, steel fabrication, recreation, warehousing and cold storage, sports, ecotourism and handicrafts have had proposals totalling Rs 5,416 crore approved for Jam-mu division and Rs 2,157 crore in Kashmir.

Other sectors in J&K where investments have poured in over the last one year are pharmaceuticals and chemical-based industries (Rs 3045 crore), paper mills (Rs 3267 crore), textiles and readymade garments (Rs 1769 crore), and electric and electronic products (Rs 1,898 crore).

Other activities including sports, poultry, warehousing and cold storage have received a total investment worth Rs 7,573 crore, of which Rs 5416 crore is in Jammu alone, and shall together generate around 33,779 jobs. The biggest chunk of the land that has been allotted in Kashmir so far has been for food processing and hotels sector (3164 kanals). 


Russia Delivers New Systems for S-400

Russia has delivered additional systems of the S-400 air defence systems to India, even as its military offensive in Ukraine continues, meeting commitments made when the contract was signed. Sources said that the additional units have arrived recently and more are on the way as per the contract schedule.

The first squadron of the S-400 has already been inducted by the air force and a total of five regiments are on order. Russia had earlier specifically stated that scheduled deliveries of all ongoing contracts would be done on time, despite the severe financial sanctions imposed by the western world. The Covid-19 pandemic also did not have any impact on the delivery schedule.

The first deliveries of the system took place last year, with Russian developers promising that it would give ‘100% air cover’ even in high altitude areas like Ladakh, where border tensions have simmered with China since 2020.

The Russian system is capable of taking down targets from a distance of over 400 km and is technically able to cover most major Chinese airbases in Tibet that are directed towards Eastern Ladakh. China too has got deliveries of the S 400 system and is believed to have deployed some elements in Tibet as well.

The S-400 delivery will add a strong air defence layer for India but is also being closely tracked globally and faces potential US financial sanctions for purchasing Russian equipment. Turkey had faced sanctions by the US for taking delivery of the S 400. US officials have repeatedly said that India has not been given a blanket waiver from such sanctions either.

The S-400 was the biggest defence deal signed between India and Russia in over two decades. The $ 5. 43 billion was inked in 2018, with deliveries scheduled from 2021.

India plans standalone renewable battery power bank

India is setting up a first-of-its-kind standalone renewable battery power bank envisaging investment of Rs 2,000 crore to make green energy available on tap for discoms and grid operators during peak demand, but spike in prices of lithium — a key ingredient for making batteries — and supply chain disruptions due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict may weigh on industry response.

According to the tender floated earlier this week by SECI (formerly Solar Energy Corporation of India Ltd), the government entity implementing India’s solar and wind energy plans, the project will have storage capacity to supply 500MW for two hours, or 1,000MWh (mega watt hour). Discoms can hire storage capacity, which will be charged using renewable energy, and draw power to manage peak demand.

The power bank project is to be located in the vicinity of the Fatehgarh-III substation of the interstate transmission system in Rajasthan, the renewable energy ministry said on Saturday.

It will be set up on a build-own-operate basis, with the developer being responsible for securing connectivity and necessary permissions. Land will be provided by the central transmission utility on a right-to-use basis. The developer has to make storage capacity available for two operational cycles per day, or two complete charge-discharge cycles a day.

SECI will offtake 60% capacity for third-party leasing, while 30% will be earmarked by northern and national grid operators for their ancillary services.

But industry representatives said the project’s success will depend on viability gap funding from the Centre, especially since 500% increase in lithium prices has made batteries expensive and will push up the power tariff.

The ministry statement said the project is aimed at providing support for developing a market in the energy storage domain. Currently, India is considered a low-priority market by global battery makers, who are focusing on the US and Europe that are focused on storage-based renewable energy projects. 

However, industry representatives said the timing may not be ideal because of the uncertain geopolitical situation in east Europe, which has effected global trade and jacked up commodity prices. The government has set a target of 4,000MWh of battery storage capacity as part of the plan to increase penetration of renewable energy in the national grid. A report by the Central Electricity Authority on optimal generation capacity mix envisages a battery storage capacity of 27,000MW, or 108,000MWh essentially four-hour storage — by 2029-30.