Before the Budget....

Democracy Index: India slips 10 spots

India slipped 10 places to the 51st position in the 2019 Democracy Index’s global ranking, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit. The report cited “erosion of civil liberties” in the country as the primary cause for the downtrend.

India’s overall score fell from 7.23 in 2018 to 6.90 in the index that provides a snapshot of the current state of democracy worldwide for 165 independent states and two territories.

Norway topped the list, followed by Iceland and Sweden. North Korea was at the bottom of the global ranking at 167th place.

The index is based on five categories --electoral process and pluralism; the functioning of government; political participation; political culture; and civil liberties.

Based on their total score, the countries are classified as one of four types of regime: “full democracy” (scores greater than 8); flawed democracy — scores greater than 6 and less than or equal to 8; hybrid regime — scores greater than 4 and less than or equal to 6; authoritarian regime — scores less than or equal to 4”. India was included in the “flawed democracy” category.

China’s score fell to 2.26, and the country is now ranked 153rd, close to the bottom of the global rankings.

Among other emerging economies, Brazil was ranked 52nd with a score of 6.86, Russia stood at 134th with a score of 3.11. Pakistan was ranked 108th on the overall list with a score of 4.25, while Sri Lanka was at 69th place with a score of 6.27, Bangladesh (at 80th with 5.88 score).

Other countries in the top 10 include New Zealand at the fourth place, followed by Finland, Ireland, Denmark, Canada, Australia and Switzerland.

Of Mumbai 24/7....

So it’s official now, Mumbai can remain open 24x7 from January 27. Malls, multiplexes, shops and restaurants can function all night with the state cabinet giving the proposal a go-ahead. However, bars and pubs are not part of this 24x7 plan. They will shut at 1.30 am, as per the existing rules of the state excise department.

Speaking with reporters after the cabinet meeting, Maharashtra Environment and Tourism Minister Aaditya Thackeray said, “London’s night economy is worth 5 billion pounds, Mumbai has similar potential. Mumbai is India’s financial and entertainment capital, and is already a 24x7 functional city.”

He said, “There are people who work in the night shifts, and there are tourists who want to explore the city during the night. Where will these people go if they need food after 11 pm? Now, people can eat, shop or watch movies throughout the night.”

The minister made it clear that no one would be compelled to keep their establishments open in the night, and those who feel that they can do a good business even during late-night hours would be free to keep them open.

In the first phase, shops, restaurants and multiplexes in malls and mill compounds situated in non-residential areas will be allowed to remain open.

In areas such as Nariman Point, Bandra Kurla Complex, Marine Drive, food trucks will be allowed to operate in designated areas. However, these food trucks will have to comply with solid waste management, noise limits and law and order situation.

Thackeray claimed that the plan will reduce the stress the police personnel have to endure every day as they will not have to check whether shops and other establishments are shut after 1.30 am. While the BJP has opposed the decision, associations of hoteliers and builders have welcomed it.

Aaditya Thackeray had in 2015 given a similar proposal to then Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. Fadnavis accepted the proposal in principle, but later the issue was put on backburner after an adverse report from the home department.

No stay on CAA without hearing Centre: SC

Making clear it will not stay the Citizenship (Amendment) Act without hearing the Centre, the Supreme Court gave the government four weeks to respond to petitions challenging the legislation.

It also said that a five-judge Constitution bench will hear the matter.

Hearing a batch of 143 petitions, an SC bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde restrained all high courts from hearing pleas on the CAA till it decides on the petitions. “The matter is uppermost on everybody’s mind,” the court said. “We will pass order on granting any interim relief to petitioner opposing CAA after four weeks.”

The bench, also comprising Justices S Abdul Nazeer and Sanjiv Khanna, said it will hear the petitions pertaining to Assam and Tripura separately as the problem with CAA in these two states is different from the rest of the country.

The bench said it will decide inchamber the modalities of hearing the petitions and may fix them for day-today hearings after four weeks.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for some petitioners, asked that the National Population Register exercise be postponed by a couple of months.

Attorney General KK Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, said the government has been given copies of around 60 of the 143 petitions. He said it wanted time to respond to all the pleas.

Among those who have filed pleas are Indian Union Muslim League, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, RJD leader Manoj Jha, Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi, Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, All Assam Students Union, Peace Party, CPI, NGOs Rihai Manch and Citizens Against Hate, advocate ML Sharma, and law students


Zomato takes over Uber Eats in India

Zomato said it has acquired the Indian business of Uber Eats in an all-stock deal that will give Uber 9.99 per cent stake in the Indian food delivery and restaurant discovery platform.

Uber Eats app in India will discontinue operations and direct restaurants, delivery partners and users of the Uber Eats apps to the Zomato platform, effective Tuesday, Zomato said in a statement.

The deal marks possible consolidation in the highly competitive and price-sensitive online food delivery market where most players are in the red.

In a regulatory filing to the BSE, Info Edge (India) – a shareholder in Zomato – said its shareholding in Zomato will stand reduced to about 22.71 per cent on fully converted and diluted basis upon closing of the transaction. The deal comes days after Zomato had raised $150 million in funding from existing investor Ant Financial, an Alibaba affiliate, at a $3 billion valuation.

Post money valuation of Zomato is $3.55 billion, sources in know of the matter said, adding that this transaction will add to a total of over 50 million orders per month on its platform, giving it around 55 per cent market share. “We are proud to have pioneered restaurant discovery and to have created a leading food delivery business across more than 500 cities in India. This acquisition significantly strengthens our position in the category,” Zomato Founder and CEO Deepinder Goyal said.

Uber Eats, which entered India in 2017, has about 26,000 restaurants listed on its platform from 41 cities.

On accessing Uber Eats app, users were shown a message saying they can still use Uber Eats if they are travelling outside India.

Modi, Nepal PM inaugurate 2nd integrated check-post

India and Nepal opened their second integrated check-post on the Jogbani-Biratnagar border on Tuesday, with both Prime Ministers, Narendra Modi and K P Sharma Oli, jointly inaugurating the facility.

The Rs.140 crore ICP built with Indian assistance and spread over 260 acres is the second after the Raxaul-Birgunj one which was opened in 2018. Officials said it can handle over 500 trucks daily.

Modi promised to visit Nepal in 2020, in response to an invite by Oli. Modi said, “India is committed to smooth traffic with all friendly countries in the neighbourhood, and to further facilitate contacts in business, culture, education, etc. India and Nepal are working on several cross-border connectivity projects such as road, rail and transmission lines.

Integrated check posts at major borders between our countries are greatly facilitating mutual trade and movement.” “Integrated check-posts at... the border between our countries are greatly facilitating mutual trade and movement,” he said. The two leaders also reviewed the progress in Indian-assisted post-2015 earthquake housing reconstruction projects in Nepal. Out of India's commitment to build 50,000 houses in Gorkha and Nuwakot districts, 45,000 have been completed. “We hope the construction of the remaining houses will be completed soon...” he added.

National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale and Nepal's Ambassador to India Nilambar Acharya attended the inauguration in New Delhi and from Kathmandu, Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali, Minister of Commerce, Industry and Supplies Lekhraja Bhatta and Charge d'Affaires, Embassy of India in Nepal Dr Ajay Kumar witnessed the event. In a statement in Kathmandu, the Indian embassy said the ICP puts in place systematically planned, properly interconnected and efficiently managed border checkposts at the authorised Jogbani-Biratnagar border crossing point between the two countries.


Mumbai: BMC plans to build two bridges near Mahalaxmi station

BMC has finalised a contractor for two bridges at Mahalaxmi at a cost of approximately Rs.745 crore. One of them will be cable-stayed. BMC has kept a target of 36 months, excluding monsoon, to complete the bridges.

Civic bridges department officials said that while a rail over-bridge will connect Dr E Moses Road to Jacob Circle, the cable-stayed one will be between Mahalaxmi racecourse and Jacob Circle. The old Mahalaxmi bridge is likely to be reserved for walkers once the ROBs are constructed.

The proposal, to be tabled before the civic standing committee, said they were being constructing as the bridge over Mahalaxmi railway station is 100 years old and its lifespan is almost over. The ROB is overcrowded, an official said. Once the coastal road is operational, the two ROBs can help regulate traffic, especially for motorists wanting to connect to the coastal road, which will pass from Haji Ali in Worli. “One bridge will go from the north side of the existing bridge, from Dhobi Ghat, and land on Dr E Moses Road, while the other will be on the south side, and go past the FOB constructed recently outside Mahalaxmi station, and come out near New Shirin Talkies,” said the official, adding that the north side of the bridge will be a conventional bridge. “The south side will be cable-stayed as there are many railway tracks below, and railways is not in favour of piers being constructed on its property,” added the official.

The railways and BMC, for several months, could not agree on who would construct the ROB portion over the tracks. BMC had sent general arrangement drawings of the proposed ROBs to the railways for approval in March 2018. Railways replied that the portion should be executed by BMC under the supervision of a railway engineer. BMC officials said bridges over railway premises are constructed and maintained by railways. After a meeting with then chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and Union railways minister Piyush Goyal, it was decided that BMC would construct the ROBs.