Horticulture crops: Record Harvest

Court Frames Charges Against Advani, Others

Senior BJP leaders L K Advani, M M Joshi and Uma Bharti were charged with criminal conspiracy in the 1992 Babri mosque demolition case by a special CBI court. The court, which earlier rejected their discharge petition, framed charges against Advani, Joshi, Union minister Bharti and three others under Section 120 (B) of the IPC (criminal conspiracy).

The three others are the BJP's Vinay Katiyar, VHP's Vishnu Hari Dalmiya and one-time Hindutva firebrand Sadhvi Rithambara. The accused had argued against the framing of charges against them, asserting that they had no role in the razing of the mosque and had tried to stop it. Their discharge petitions were rejected by the judge.

The court is hearing two separate cases relating to the demolition of the 16th-century mosque.

Six others accused in the second case -Ramvilas Vedanti, Baikunth Lal Sharma, Champat Rai Bansal, Mahant Nritya Gopaldas, Dharam Das and Satish Pradhan -were also charged with conspiracy and offences such as promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, etc, and defiling a place of worship with the intent to insult a religion.

Vedanti and the other five were, under various IPC sections, also charged with imputations prejudicial to national integration, committing deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings, making statements leading to public mischief, rioting and unlawful assembly.

PM Modi in Berlin

Germany pitched for an early bilateral as well as pan-EU free trade agreement with India for mutual benefit. Germany also extended development assistance of 1 billion to India.

PM Narendra Modi, who was in Berlin for the fourth round of InterGovernmental Consultations, emphasised that Indo-German ties should be outcome-oriented and added that “India and Germany are made for each other“.

PM Modi also appealed that forces of humanity should come together to combat the menace of terrorism as India and Germany vowed to take “strong measures“ against those who encourage, support and finance it.

Warning of growing “protectionist tendencies “ worldwide, German Chancellor Angela Merkel made it clear that her country would push for an FTA between India and the EU in Brussels. “It's important that we make progress on the German-Indian, or rather EU-Indian free trade agreement,“ she said at a Berlin business forum where she consultations on IGC. “We will do a major push in Brussels to ensure that these negotiations progress again.“

Pushing economic envelope was the primary agenda of this round of IGC. The two sides, at the end of IGC, signed 12 pacts across sectors, including cyber security, skills training, heavy industry , health and development.

India-Germany Bilateral Investment Protection Treaty expired this March and Broad-Based Trade and Investment Agreement between India and the EU remains inconclusive despite 16 rounds of negotiations. As per the joint statement issued at the end of issued at the end of IGC, both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to resuming BTIA negotiations at the earliest .“Recognising Germany's key competencies in high technology and India's growing needs, both the leaders welcomed the efforts of the High Technology Partnership Group to identify specific opportunities for high-technology collaboration, including in priority areas of skills development, in manufacturing under the Make in India programme and to enhance cooperation in defence manufacturing and machine tools as well as enhancing cooperation in maritime technology and the development of blue economy ,“ the joint statement said.


Dangal mints Rs.1000 crore in China

Aamir Khan's “Dangal” has created an unrepresented landmark in China by becoming the 33rd film in Chinese cinema history to cross one Billion RMB, which in Indian currency amounts to about Rs.1000 crore. According to Maoyan, a popular ticketing website in China which is connected to most of the theatres in the country, “Dangal’s” gross earnings has crossed one billion RMB, joining the exclusive club of just 32 films in China cinema history.

Cyclone Mora to graze past Kolkata

Tropical cyclone Mora is all set to hit Bangladesh by a little before noon on Tuesday, grazing past Kolkata. Though the cyclone will not hit Kolkata directly, it will leave its impact in the city and other coastal areas in the form of rain. Squally wind with a speed of around 50 kmph will also hit the coastal areas. Met office expects moderate rain on both Tuesday and Wednesday .

Named by Thailand, Mora will make its landfall near East Chittagong a little before 12 noon on Tuesday, some 280 km from Kolkata. Originated as a deep depression over the eastern central Bay of Bengal on Sunday, the system had intensified into a cyclonic storm by Monday .

Fortunately, Mora is unlikely to leave any trail of devastation in Bengal, except for heavy rain in some coastal areas. The worst hit will be the north eastern region of India, particularly Mizoram and Tripura where the impact will be the greatest. After making its landfall, Mora will turn into a deep depression causing heavy to very heavy rainfall in the North East.

As the cyclone inches closer to Kolkata, it will cause wide spread moderate rain in the coastal areas. The sea condition will be rough and the Met department has already issued a warning to fishermen not to venture into the sea for the next few days.

Meteorologists said Mora will ensure that the monsoon will arrive in the city on time. Usually , monsoon hits Kolkata between June 10 and June 15.

Sounds familiar!


Somewhere in Delhi....

Somewhere in Kerala....

Protests in Kerala against the Centre's notification restricting sale of cattle for slaughtering at markets took an ugly turn after Youth Congress cadres slaughtered a calf in public in Kannur city, drawing the ire of almost all parties.

The incident happened on Saturday evening when the protesters, led by Rijil Makutty, brought a calf in a lorry and slaughtered it on board the vehicle, in front of the public. The meat was then distributed free of cost to the people.

The public slaughter, however, snowballed into a controversy on Sunday with BJP state president Kummanam Rajasekharan posting a video on Twitter with the comment, “Cruelty at its peak. Cattle slaughtering by Kerala Youth Congress leader in broad daylight, in front of public gathering.“

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi condemned the incident as well. “What happened in Kerala yesterday is thoughtless, barbaric and completely unacceptable to me and the Congress Party. I strongly condemn the incident,“ he tweeted.


From next year onwards if you ever lose your way in any part of the country or anywhere in the Arabian sea, `NavIC' will come to your rescue and help you find your bearings. Yes, India's very own desi Global Positioning System (GPS) is operational and is set to hit the market for public use in early 2018. “The Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System with an operational name of NavIC is currently being tested for accuracy and is most likely to be available in market for public early next year,“ said Tapan Misra, the director of Ahmedabad-based Space Application Centre.

NavIC (Navigation with Indian Constellation), which means sailor or navigator in Hindi, is designed to provide accurate position information to users within the country .“Though American GPS with 24 satellites in a constellation has wider reach and covers the entire world, NavIC with seven satellites covers only India and its surroundings but is more accurate than the American system. NavIC will provide standard positioning service to all users with a position accuracy of 5 metre. The GPS, on the other hand, has a position accuracy of 20-30 metre,“ the SAC director said.

NavIC has helped India enter the club of select countries which have their own positioning systems. Besides America's GPS, Russia has its GLONASS while European Union has Galileo. China is also in the process of building Beidou Navigation Satellite System.

The indigenous navigation system, which cost Isro Rs.1,420 crore, will aid terrestrial, aerial and marine navigation, vehicle tracking and fleet management, disaster management, mapping and geodetic data capture, visual and voice navigation for drivers. “NavIC will cover the entire country , Indian Ocean and its surroundings,“ Misra said.

GDP FY17: Estimates & Expectations

Here's a look at the estimates for growth in 201617, two days before the official numbers are released.

BSNL Plans Satellite Phone Service For All

State-run BSNL is planning to extend satellite phone services for all citizens in two years that can work at any corner of the country and remain immune to breakdown of mobile services during natural calamities. “We have applied to Inter national Maritime Organisation. It will take some time to complete the process. In 18-24 months, we will be in a position to open satellite phones service for citizens in a phased manner,“ BSNL chairman and managing director Anupam Shrivastava said in an interview.


Health and Hygiene Index 2017

Country standings based on the Health & Hygiene Index 2017, compiled by the World Economic Forum. India is ranked 104.


Aviation snapshot

KPS Gill: 1934-2017

Supercop, the man who wiped out terrorism from Punjab... Kanwar Pal Singh Gill, popularly known as KPS Gill, was a leader among pygmies. The news of his death was heart-breaking, especially because Gill was a true nationalist.

Had Gill not reclaimed Punjab from Khalistani extremists and restored peace within the two years that he headed the state as the director general of police (between 1991and 1993), India would never have been the same again.There were several DGPs in Punjab before Gill took charge, but none could achieve what he did. Remember, Gill came on the scene when the state was going through a massive turmoil of the Khalistan separatist movement.

Sadly, in his lifetime, Gill was never recognised for his policing. On the contrary, he was recipient of denigration with impunity. The Khalistanis, spread over the diaspora, have been running a malicious campaign against his phenomenal work in restoring normalcy in Punjab.

Besides his counter-terror work in Punjab, Gill will be remembered for controlling law-and-order situation in Assam and Meghalaya, where he was posted when he joined the IPS in 1958.

Even in Gujarat in 2002, it was KPS Gill who brought peace to a raging, rioting state within a week of taking charge as advisor to the government. He had relied on the same state police to put down the riots, after his request for a team from the Punjab Police was turned down.

It is surprising that there will be no state funeral for Gill.

Remembering Pandit Jawharlal Nehru

PMRDA ring road DPR to be ready in four months

A detailed project report for the ring road proposed by the PMRDA will be ready in four months and civil work will start by October-November. The eight-lane 128 km ring road will connect places on the periphery of Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad.

Addressing a press conference, PMRDA chief Kiran Gitte said three agencies have been selected to ready the DPR. “We have selected three agencies, including Intelligent Information Conversions Technologies (Hyderabad), Monarch Surveyors and Engineering Consultants Private Limited (Pune) and India International Infrastructure Engineers Ltd (Bangalore) for readying the DPR. We have given them four months to ready the DPR,“ Gitte said.

He said the civil work will start six months after the DPR is ready .The entire project should take about three years for completion after the commencement.

The project to be developed as an economic corridor by integrating tourism, industrial and agri-based activities is expected to ease congestion on the city roads.

Gitte said in addition to this DPR, the Gujarat model of executing town planning schemes along the ring-road route at Satara Road, Solapur Road and Ahmednagar Road stretch too will be executed. “The town planning model will look at acquiring the land and developing these areas by coming up with a corporate hub along with residential facilities. Phase-wise DPR will be done for these town planning schemes that will be implemented along the ring-road route“ he added.

The Rs.17,412 crore ring road has gained momentum with these proposals and Gitte has assured that once the DPRs for the projects are ready, the project will be implemented.“We will initiate the project with our existing funds of Rs.400 crore and the state is expected to allocate the entire amount in phases for this project“ he said, adding that they would want to show the utilisation of funds so that the state government speeds up the allocations for the project. The main aim of the ring road was to provide better connectivity and have a comprehensive development around Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad. In the first year, the government has sanctioned Rs.799.65 crore annual budget for the PMRDA.

Nearly five big companies have shown interest in the bidding process of the Hinjewadi to Shivajinagar elevated metro rail project. The request for quotation that was extended twice has been fixed for June 22.


India retains FDI recipient crown

India retained its `numero uno' position being the world's top most greenfield foreign direct investment destination for the second consecutive year, attracting $62 billion in 2016.

India has remained ahead of China and the US as far as FDI inflows were concerned in the last year, said the fDi Report 2017 compiled by fDi Intelligence. FDI by capital investment saw an increase of 2% to $62 billion in 809 projects during 2016 in India.

The global investment landscape, the report said, has changed considerably in 2016 as FDI gravitated to locations experiencing the strongest economic growth, while locations in recession or facing high levels of uncertainty saw major declines In 2016, greenfield FDI continued to rise worldwide, with capital investment increasing by more than 6% to $776 billion, its highest since 2011, with an increase in job creation by 5% to 2 million. But, the number of FDI projects declined 3% to 12,644.

NDA @ 3

On a day when the Narendra Modi-led BJP government completed three years in office, the sensex rallied 448 points, or 1.5% - its best single-day points gain in over two months -to end at an all time high level of 30,750. The Nifty, too, rallied 1.6% and ended at 9,510 -also a new peak.

Market players said that while upbeat commentary about the US economy from the Federal Reserve had given the initial boost, the strong rally in the last two hours of Thursday's session was on the back of frenetic speculative buying ahead of the expiration of derivatives contracts for the current month.

The day's rally has also instilled confidence among Dalal Street investors after two sessions of volatile trades, dealers said. The current rally is also backed by the relatively strong economic fundamentals like low inflation and fiscal deficits, low rate of interest and continuous flow of foreign funds. The government's resolve to roll out GST on July 1, which is the biggest tax reform in the country in decades, is also adding confidence to investors on the Street.

Data showed that in the last three years, the sensex has gained over 24% while the nifty is up by more than 29%. As a result, investors' wealth, as measured by the BSE's market capitalisation, is now at Rs.124 lakh crore. Translated into US dollar terms, India's current market cap is very close to the $2-trillion mark.


Somewhere in Kerala....

Somewhere in Assam....

UN Red Flags China's OBOR

The United Nations, close on the heels of OBOR Summit, has raised a red flag over economic, financial, social and environmental risks of China's Belt and Road Initiative across a number of countries that are part of the mega connectivity project.

A recently concluded UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific Study has warned of financial risks in countries in south and central Asia where China's announced investment value under BRI is high compared to the relative size of the economy of the recipient country .

The $15-billion China-Uzbekistan investment deal signed in late 2013 is roughly equivalent to a quarter of Uzbekistan's GDP. Similarly, the $37-billion China-Kazakhstan cooperation agreement signed in late 2014 and early 2015 and the $46-billion China-Pakistan agreement in April 2015 each represent over a fifth of GDP level in Kazakhstan and Pakistan, according to the UN study .

China's commitment to Pakistan has now reached $62 billion. Similarly , the $24-billion China-Bangladesh agreement in October 2016 is equivalent to almost 20% of Bangladesh's GDP .

“External account indicators for some of these economies are relatively weak. In Kazakhstan, the current account deficit amounted to about 6% of GDP in 2016, while external debt stood at over 80% of GDP in 2015. In Pakistan, foreign external reserves are rather small at about 4 months of imports in early 2017,“ said the report.

“Relatively easy access to large foreign loans for infrastructure projects, even if most of them tend to be on a concessional basis, can lead to risks through a slight deterioration in trade balance, undermining macroeconomic and balance of payments stability in small economies with underdeveloped financial markets and less effective debt management,“ the study said regarding the nature of the Chinese loans.

It is no secret that Sri Lanka has run into a huge debt trap by welcoming Chinese funded projects. Sri Lankan debt exceeds $60 billion, more than 10 percent of that is owed to the Chinese. To resolve its debt crisis, the Sri Lankan government agreed to convert its debt into equity. This may lead to Chinese ownership of the projects finally.

The report by UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, prepared on the request of China, has made some disturbing predictions for Pakistan. Such as:

The report said CPEC, which will traverse through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir may create “geopolitical tension” in the region by igniting further tensions between India and Pakistan. “The dispute over Kashmir is also of concern since the crossing of the CPEC in the region might create geopolitical tension with India and ignite further political instability,” said the report on China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative.
This problem can be resolved only when China take India on board OBOR but this cannot happen as long as Pakistan continues to claim PoK as its own. Secondly, Pakistan also needs to shun terrorism to start a peaceful relationship with India.

The report says that CPEC could fuel separatist movement in Pakistan’s Balochistan province. While noting that CPEC could serve as the “driver for trade and economic integration” between China, Pakistan, Iran, India, Afghanistan and the Central Asian states, the report said that the project may also cause several problems within Pakistan and reignite separatist movement in the country due to opposition in Balochistan. “However, social and environmental safeguards are a concern. The CPEC could lead to widespread displacement of local communities. In Balochistan, there are concerns that migrants from other regions of Pakistan will render ethnic Baloch a minority in the province,” it said.

The report says that instability in Afghanistan could cast a shadow over the viability of the CPEC. “Afghanistan’s political instability could also limit the potential benefits of transit corridors to population centres near Kabul or Kandahar, as those routes traverse southern and eastern Afghanistan where the Taliban are most active,” it said.

Moreover, the report says that there are concerns over CPEC passing through the already narrow strip of cultivable land in the mountainous western Pakistan, destroying farmland and orchards. The resulting resettlements will reduce local population into an “economically subservient minority”, it said, adding, “In addition, Hazaras are another minority of concern. If the benefits of the proposed CPEC are reaped by large conglomerates, linked to Chinese or purely Punjabi interests, the identity and culture of the local population could be further marginalised,” the report cautioned.
“Marginalisation of local population groups could reignite separatist movements and toughen military response from the Government,” it further said.

Centre Unveils New Public Procurement Policy

The government, in its bid to boost local manufacturing, announced a new public procurement policy that will provide preference to `Made in India' products. “Procurement by the government is substantial in amount and can contribute towards this policy objective. Local content can be increased through partnerships, cooperation with local companies, establishing production units in India or joint ventures with Indian suppliers, increasing the participation of local employees in services and by training them,“ an official release said.

Under the policy, purchases up to Rs.5 lakh are exempted. For those between Rs.5 lakh and Rs.50 lakh, if the ministry concerned assesses that there is sufficient capacity domestically, then only local suppliers will be eligible. Any entity whose products have 50% or more domestic content will be considered a “local supplier“.

Similarly, contracts above Rs.50 lakh -or where there is inadequate supply base or competition in India -will be awarded to the lowest bidder. But if the lowest bidder is not a local supplier, the lowest cost domestic player -who is within a margin of 20% of the lowest bid -will be given the opportunity to match the bid.

If the procurement is such that the order can be divided and given to more than one supplier, the successful foreign bidder will bag half of the order, with the remaining portion going to the local supplier if it matches the lowest bid. In cases where the order cannot be divided, the lowest cost local supplier will be awarded the contract provided it matches the price bid. The policy cleared by the Cabinet said tender specifications should not be restrictive with proof of supply in other countries or exports not mandated.“They must not result in unreasonable exclusion of local suppliers who would otherwise be eligible, beyond what is essential to ensure quality or creditworthiness of the supplier,“ the statement said.

For verification of local content requirement, the government has opted for a system of self-certification with penal conditions prescribed for false declarations.In certain cases, verification by statutory or cost auditors will also be required.


Somewhere in Mumbai....

Lawyer and activist Afroz Shah tweeted a photograph of the Versova beach front. It was captioned: “This is Versova beach an hour back. Week 85 of cleanup. Versova beach is gorgeous and clean now. We have done our bit. We need to maintain it.“ That the photograph instantly drew the attention of the Twitteratti is only a tiny testament to his awe-inspiring efforts.

Shah has made headlines for being responsible for ridding the 2.7 km stretch of Versova beach off 5 million kg of waste over 85 weeks.“That the garbage accumulated belonged to 10 million people residing between Andheri and Borivali is why it took as long to clean up,“ says Shah. When the high court counselor moved to Versova two years ago, he was appalled by the heaps of refuse at the beach. “Almost 5-and-a-half feet of plastic waste was accumulated by the jetty, it was devastating,“ remembers Shah. His professional instinct urged him to file a PIL or a complaint against the BMC ward responsible for its upkeep. “But I chose to do it the hard way,“ says the 33-year-old, who decided to task himself with cleaning the beach, and looked around for like minded people.

The first volunteer happened to be an 84-year-old cancer patient, late Harbansh Mathur. From a core team of six, the cleanup team grew to 30 (today, it has some 200 people).

Shah says keeping the beach clean has to be a collaborative job. “We like to blame the BMC for everything but forget that protecting the environment is our constitutional duty,“ says Shah, who was initially dissuaded by many for “doing BMC's work“.

Shah first reached out to BMC officials in January 2016. “I told them that I was cleaning the beach and they could come and help,“ says Shah, who approached the task systematically and even prepared a tide chart. Today Shah's clean-up extends to the toilets located near the slums of Sagar Kutir, towards the southern end of the beach. He feels that doing so would prevent open defecation at the beach. Shah's approach was appreciated by the then assistant BMC commissioner P R Masurkar. “He said it was first time a citizen had approached the outfit with a proposal to collaborate and not just with a complaint.“

Word of Shah's work reached the United Nations, and Lewis Pugh, the UN Patron of Oceans, flew down from South Africa to pick up the shovel and joined Shah in his efforts. Shah was also honoured by the UN with the Champion on Earth award. On June 5 -World Environment Day -Shah is being roped in by the UN to speak on the importance of preserving the environment. But he feels it's “not a matter to be discussed in board rooms“.

That the refuse discarded at the beach comprised mostly single-use or derivative plastic, mainly plastic bags and milk pouches, prompted Shah to seek assistance from those manufacturing the same. Shah received a tractor and 10 cleaners from the All India Plastic Manufacturer's Association in April this year.

Shah believes that it will be challenging to maintain the beach's present litter-free avatar. So, awareness drives and opening communication channels at the grassroots level are part of his masterplan. “I've shared my plan with local fishermen and have also planted 50 coconut trees. I want to use this as a model to work on all the beaches in the city.“

India's first high-speed Tejas Express flagged off

Railway minister Suresh Prabhu flagged off the country's first high-speed and feature rich train Tejas Express from Chatrapati Shivaji Station, Mumbai. The new premium train will run five days a week between Mumbai and Karmali in Goa. During the monsoon season, it will run three days a week.
The train will depart from Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Mumbai at 5 am on every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from May 24 and arrive at Karmali at 1.30 p.m. on the same day .

It will leave Karmali at 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday , Wednesday, Friday , Saturday and Sunday from May 23 and arrive at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Mumbai at 11 p.m.the same day .

During the monsoon season, the train will depart from Mumbai on every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday and will leave Karmali at 7.30 a.m. on every Tuesday , Thursday and Sunday .

The 20-coach modern train has executive class and chair class with the coaches having tea and coffee vending machines, magazines and snacks tables.

Tejas Express is also equipped with close circuit television cameras for the security of passengers.

The train will run at a speed of 130 kmph and has coaches equipped with automatic doors, Wi-Fi and LCD screens. The coaches have been manufactured at the Indian Coach Factory in Chennai. The train is capable of running at 200 kmph.

The coaches of the new train also include other features like touch-less water taps, water level indicators and hand dryers with all coaches fitted with bio-vacuum toilets.

A one-way trip from Mumbai to Goa would cost Rs.2,740 with food and Rs.2,585 without food, while the fare for the ordinary chair car has been fixed at Rs.1,310 with food and Rs.1,185 without food.

India, Africa can shape world future

Union finance minister Arun Jaitley said that India-Africa partnership could provide limitless opportunities for the future and that the two sides were engaging on a scale not witnessed earlier.
“If India is a bright spot, then Africa is not very far away. India-Africa partnership provides limitless opportunities.India, Africa together can shape future of the world,“ Jaitley said at the opening session of the annual meetings of the African Development Bank (AfDB) Group. He said the “High 5“ agenda of AfDB was not different from Indian policy.

Highlighting India's historical, cultural, economic, educational and technical ties with Africa, PM Narendra Modi underscored that Africa has been made a top priority for India's foreign and economic policy since he assumed office in 2014.

Reiterating India's commitment to support development of Africa, Modi pushed for an “Asia-Africa growth corridor“ supported by Japan and India-a pitch that comes close on the heels of China's multi-billion dollar OBOR initiative.

“India is also working with the US and Japan to support development in Africa. During my visit to Japan and after meeting with PM Abe, I recall that in our joint declaration we mentioned the Asia-Africa growth corridor and proposed further conversation with our brothers and sisters of Africa,“ the PM said while officially opening the African Development Bank's annual meetings, being held in Gandhinagar. The ceremony was attended by presidents of Benin and Senegal, the vice-president of Cote D'Ivoire and many other heads of state of African countries. “Research institutes of India and Japan have come up with vision documents in consultation with African think tanks on how to take forward this growth corridor,“ Modi said, adding that this vision document would be presented at the board meeting later.

The idea is India, Japan and other willing partners would explore joint initiative in development of skills, infrastructure, manufacturing and connectivity .

“Africa-India trade has multiplied in the last 15 years, it has doubled in the last five years to reach near $ 72 billion in 2014-15. India's commodity trade with Africa in 2015-16 was higher than our commodity trade with the US,“ Modi said.

In the sports arena, India cannot compete with Africa in the long distance running. But I can assure you that India will stand with Africa and support the continent in long and difficult race for better future.

Expressing a hope that AfDB event will further cement the relationship between India and the countries of African continent, union finance minister Arun Jaitley stated that the 21st century will not only be Asia's century alone but it will belong equally to both Asia and Africa.

AfDB president Akinwumi Adesina, too, stated that the bank would be looking forward to creation of India-Africa co-financing facility in near future.

Mumbai Indians win IPL 10

SpiceJet @ 12

MODI: Making of Developed India

“Making of Developed India“ will be running theme of the third anniversary celebrations of the Modi government, which will be organised at over 900 places across the country from May 26 to June 15. The acronym based on the surname of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is an apparent bid by BJP to capitalise on his seemingly surging popularity that has given the party a string of electoral successes after its grand victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, Union ministers, MPs, chief ministers and senior office-bearers of the party will lead the celebrations, which will witness “sabka saath, sabka vikas“ festivals in which people will be made aware of the government's welfare schemes and told how to avail the benefits.

The PM is set to launch the celebrations from Guwahati on May 26 with several events, including a public rally in a state, where the party laid the foundation stone for its expansion in north-east by forming the government.

Having reached out to the masses with his `Mann ki Baat' radio programme, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will now get people's feedback on his government's programmes and policies through `Jann ki Baat'. `Jann ki Baat' will form part of the 20-day celebrations that the BJP has planned to mark the Modi government's three years in office, beginning May 26, the day he was sworn-in as Prime Minister in 2014. Through `Jann ki Baat', common people can record their feedback on the performance of the government.

Will block India's NSG entry: China

Weeks before the upcoming meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group in Switzerland next month, China sent out a signal again that it would continue to block India's entry into the elite club. Though the Obama administration had lent its weight behind India's claim, China stood rigid.Now, it wants to make it difficult for the Trump administration to back India.

Beijing continues to stick to its stand that nations like India that have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, can't join the NSG unless rules are changed. “China's position on the non-NPT members' participation in NSG has not changed,“ foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying has said.


We will find permanent solution to Kashmir issue: Rajnath Singh

Home minister Rajnath Singh said the NDA government would find a permanent solution to the Kashmir issue, even as Pakistan was trying to destabilise India. Warning Pakistan, Singh said it would have to change or India would change it. “Kashmir is ours, Kashmiris are ours and Kashmiriyat is also ours. We will find a permanent solution to Kashmir,“ Singh said.
Speaking at a public reception, the minister said Pakistan was trying to destabilise India by fomenting trouble in Kashmir. “But I want to tell all of you that our government will find a permanent solution to the Kashmir issue,“ he said, without elaborating. The statement comes at a time when Kashmir Valley has been witnessing widespread unrest since April 9 when the bypoll to the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat was held. Eight people were killed in firing by security forces that day. The turnout was a mere 7.14%.The April 12 bypoll to Anantnag Lok Sabha seat had to be postponed.

Last year, around 80 people died in the unrest following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. Referring to the 2014 swearing-in ceremony of the Modi government, the minister said leaders of all neighbouring countries, including Pakistan, were invited to show that the new government wanted to have friendly relations with all countries.

However, he said, there was no change in Pakistan's attitude towards India and it wanted to destabilise India.


EC's EVM hack challenge

The Election Commission has challenged national and state parties to demonstrate that electronic voting machines used in recent polls to five state assemblies were tampered with, even with technical and administrative safeguards mandated by the poll watchdog.

Chief election commissioner Nasim Zaidi announced that its EVM challenge' would be conducted at EC headquarters June 3 onwards, with each party free to depute up to three nominees, including technical experts, to show that EVMs used in the recent state polls were tampered with to favour a particular candidate or party by altering the results after the polls; or that such EVMs were tampered before or during the poll. The nominees must be Indians, he insisted, ruling out scrutiny by involving international technical experts.

The EC, which firmly maintains its EVMs are fully tamper-proof, is approaching the challenge with confidence as parties including BSP and AAP that alleged tampering of EVMs in UP and Punjab, have failed to substantiate the charge.

The challenge will be open only to parties that participated in the recent state polls and will be overseen by EC's technical experts panel, comprising IIT experts too.

Rejecting the demand that parties be allowed to change the internal circuit of an EVM to prove their charge, the CEC insisted any such alteration would make it a different machine and hence could not be guaranteed by EC to give correct results.

The EC expects the challenge to last 4-5 days. Asked whether he would take moral responsibility in case a machine is successfully tampered, Zaidi said it would be seen at that moment. He also said the event should not be seen as a “prestige issue“.

Parties must mandatorily confirm their interest in the challenge by sending an e-mail by 5 pm on May 26, furnishing details of nominees. Each party confirming participation will be allowed to choose any four EVMs used in said polls.


Of Retail Space....

Retail space (in square feet per 1,000 people) is far less across global emerging economies than developed markets. According to Credit Suisse data, the US has more retail space than any other country in the world...

GM Goes Off the Road in India

General Motors will stop selling its vehicles in India by the end of this year, after the American automaker failed to find traction in a market it entered more than two decades ago. The Detroit-based automaker will, however, continue to make in India, utilising its Talegaon, Maharashtra, facility to export cars, particularly to Central and South American markets.

The pull-out from the local market will affect about 400 employees at the Talegaon factory, or about 8% of the India workforce, for whom the company said it is working on a severance package. GM said it is also in talks with dealers on a transition plan and assured that it will continue to honour all warranties and provide after-sales support to customers.

The decision is part of a global restructuring exercise to focus capital and resources to more lucrative business opportunities. The company announced exits also from South Africa and East Africa, as chief executive Mary Barra wants to turn focus away from markets where the margins are small. Over the past few months, it has also ceased operations in Venezuela, sold off the money-losing Opel and Vauxhall brands to the PSA Group, opted to drive out of Russia, halted manufacturing in Indonesia and Australia, and restructured operations in Thailand. In India, it stopped production at its Halol factory in Gujarat last month and also scrapped plans to invest $1 billion to introduce a new emerging market platform.

GM makes the Beat hatchback, the Cruze sedan and utility vehicles Tavera, Enjoy and Trailblazer in India and sell them with the Chevrolet tag.

Though it was one of the early overseas automakers to enter India -it introduced the Opel brand in the country in 1996 -GM has never gone beyond being a fringe player here and has been accumulating losses.

It sold just 25,823 passenger vehicles in the fiscal year ended March 31 in India where total sales topped 3 million.

GM has “no plans to review“ its decision or to recommence sales in the local market utilising an alternate brand from its portfolio, its India chief Kaher Kazem said.

The company said the greatest opportunity in India for it to drive shareholder return is in focusing on exports from here. In fact, its export from the Maharashtra facility has more than tripled last fiscal year to 70,969 units.

Meanwhile, negotiations are ongoing for the sale of the Halol plant, where GM ceased operations on April 28. The plant is expected to be taken over by its Chinese partner SAIC. The Competition Commission of India has approved SAIC's plan to acquire the facility , but MG Motor India, a subsidiary of SAIC will move into Halol only if pending labour issues are settled. The Halol factory , which has a manufacturing capacity of 1.1 lakh units a year and employs 1,100, was originally planned to be shut by mid-2016.

GM said it has 150 dealer outlets in India and that a blueprint is being firmed up to maintain after-sales centres to support customers. The GM Technical Centre-India in Bengaluru, which has around 2,500 employees, performs global work for GM. This work is not impacted by this announcement, the company said in a statement.

GST Council Freezes Rates for Goods

The GST, which is set to be rolled out on July 1, is likely to have a benign effect on household budgets with finance minister Arun Jaitley declaring that its impact “will not be inflationary“ and in some instances, prices are even likely to drop.

A host of daily consumption items such as milk, fruit and vegetables, jaggery, foodgrain and cereals have been exempted from tax while others such as sugar, tea, coffee, edible oil, mithai, and newsprint have been placed in the lowest slab of 5%.

Luxury cars will attract 28% GST plus a cess of 15%, while small petrol cars will face 28% plus 1% cess, and diesel small cars 28% tax plus 3% cess. Consumer durables, which face a total tax of about 32% now, will be in the 28% slab.

The GST Council, the apex decision-making body for the new tax, took tangible steps toward finalising the tax framework on day one of its two-day meeting in Srinagar.

The overall tax burden on the average household will decline after implementation of GST. All chemicals and intermediate goods will be in the 18% slab.

The council will decide on fitment of services in tax slabs and taxation of six items on Friday . The issues in the goods category relate to taxation of gold, textiles, bio-diesel and bidis, as also differential taxation of high-priced and low-priced products in the same segments such as packaged cereals, biscuits and footwear.

Some states such as Kerala have demanded a 5% rate on gold, saying luxury items should attract a higher rate. Industry bodies representing footwear and biscuits have demanded that their lower-priced products be taxed at 5% or exempted.

Jobs grow @ 1%

While the economy is growing at just over 7% per year, jobs increased by just 1.1% last year. An earlier report had pegged joblessness at a five-year high of 5% in 2015, and under-employment at a staggering 35% of the over-15 years labour force. Seen in this context, the government is clearly facing a growing employment crisis which its various initiatives are unable to address. Both reports are based on large surveys carried out by the Labour Bureau. Job growth is tracked by a revamped quarterly survey of over 10,000 units while unemployment is recorded in an annual survey of 7.8 lakh persons. The new quarterly survey started in April 2016 and replaced an earlier one which covered certain export-oriented sectors.

Recent reports of several IT and BPO majors shedding jobs has added to the worries of people, especially urban middle-class families which had been riding the IT boom. Global slowdown in IT services and components and new visa restrictions are thought to be the cause behind this.

Several other indicators explain this painful situation. Gross credit given to industry has grown by just 6.7% in the past three years, the index of industrial production has inched up by just 6% and growth in gross fixed capital formation slipped to an alarmingly low 0.6% in January this year compared to 6.1% last year.

A total of 2.3 lakh jobs were added to the eight sectors covered in the quarterly survey including manufacturing, construction, trade, transport, accommodation and restaurants, IT-BPO, education and health.

Interestingly, nearly half of the new jobs added were in education and health. Both these sectors are known for low paying jobs. Construction and the hospitality-food sectors showed loss of jobs, the most serious ones, amounting to a dip of nearly 7%, in construction. One usually neglected aspect of India's unemployment crisis is of under-employment or concealed unemployment. This is of two types ­ not finding work for full year and work at very low wages. The Labour Bureau's 2016 report on unemployment gives a dire picture on both fronts.

Only 61% of people in the workforce were found to have year-round jobs with 34% working only 6-11 months even though they were willing to work for 12 months. The report also revealed that 68% households were earning only Rs.10,000 per month or less.In all, nearly 16 crore persons in the workforce were underemployed in this manner.

ICJ unanimously stays Jadhav's execution till final verdict

Former Indian Navy officer Kulbhushan Jadhav, sentenced to death in Pakistan, got a reprieve as the International Court of Justice, in an order watched keenly in both countries, unanimously stayed his execution.

Delivering an interim order on a plea by India, the highest UN court rejected Pakistan's contention that it lacked jurisdiction in the case and held that India had a “plausible“ right to access to Jadhav. The earliest he could have been executed was May 19, but the ICJ order compels Pakistan to wait for the verdict after the full hearing, which could take many years.  Harish Salve, who argued India's case, said that Pakistan would run into serious trouble with the UN Security Council should it choose to execute Jadhav before the ICJ pronounces its final order. India had rushed to the ICJ on May 8 fearing that Jadhav might be executed any time, and had sought a legal restraint on Pakistan. It argued that the matter came under the purview of the ICJ because Pakistan had violated India's right, provided under the Vienna Convention, to have consular access to Jadhav .

In its provisional order, the ICJ said it had jurisdiction in the matter, and rejected Pakistan's argument that India had agreed to keep matters concerning national security out of the purview of the Vienna Convention. The court said India had the right to seek consular access, and also acknowledged India's contention that Jadhav could be executed any time after Friday which would mark 40 days since a military court sentenced Jadhav to death.


Cabinet clears 10 N-plants

The Union Cabinet on Wednesday cleared the building of 10 nuclear power plants to add 7,000 MW to the country's nuclear power generation capacity. They will be indigenous 700 MW pressurised heavy water reactors. The project is expected to make it easy for the domestic industry to raise supply capacities and bring down costs. The government said the reactors would come up in fleet mode as a fully homegrown initiative.

India will set up 7,000 megawatts of nuclear capacity with 10 units of India's indigenous pressurised heavy water reactor technology. This marks India's biggest expansion in nuclear power capacity, currently at 6,780 mw, and will be a flagship Make in India project. Another 6,700 mw of projects under construction will be ready by 2022.

The decisions are expected to prepare the country for the likely surge in power demand from industries, rural electrification and electric cars. The expansion in nuclear capacity, which will be part of the Make in India initiative, has cheered key players in the sector such as Larsen and Toubro, Kirloskar Brothers and Godrej and Boyce.

The programme will boost India's energy security through clean and carbon-free sources of energy and help transform domestic nuclear industry. The projects will bring about substantial economies of scale and maximise cost and time efficiencies by adopting the fleet mode for execution. They are expected to generate more than 33,400 direct and indirect jobs.

PricewaterhouseCoopers leader Kameswara Rao said delays in India's entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group has inevitably led to the consideration of indigenous reactors as opposed to imported ones. 


Operation Clean Money Portal Launched

In keeping with the twin objective of turning the heat on tax evaders and facilitating those paying their taxes honestly, the Central Board of Direct Taxes unveiled a dedicated portal, Operation Clean Money. This marks the rollout of the second phase of Operation Clean Money.

Besides, the Phase 2 would involve selecting cases for appropriate enforcement action, including verification, search, survey and scrutiny.

The department added 91 lakh new tax payers post demonetisation. The period also saw a substantial jump in applications for permanent account number.

The income tax department will carry out centralised monitoring of the cases selected as part of Operation Clean Money and escalate cases only in case of inadequate response.

It has identified 18 lakh people whose cash deposits or transactions were not found to be in line with their declared income.

It received response from 13.33 lakh accounts involving cash deposits of around Rs.2.89 lakh crore. The department has now identified 5.68 lakh new cases for e-verification besides 3.71 lakh accounts in which it received partial responses.

The portal will now provide a one stop shop for those identified as part of the operation. These people will be informed via SMS and email and will need to access the portal to file their explanation about the transaction in question.

If the department is satisfied by the explanation by the individual, it will close the matter. If it is not satisfied, or there is no response, the case will be selected for further action.

The department will also publish the modus operandi of transactions carried out by the people caught to make an example. Investigation findings of specific sectors, for example jewellery, petrol pumps or real estate, will also be shared.

The department carried out 900 searches and detected undisclosed income of Rs.16,398 crore between November and March 2017, Chandra said, giving details of the actions carried out by authorities during and after demonetisation. Assets sized totalled Rs.900 crore while cash seized was Rs.636 crore.

The Economy At Three

by Arvind Panagariya

Few disagree that when the present government took office three years back, the economy had been in great difficulty.
Going by the new GDP series, growth had fallen to 5.6% in 2012-13 and 6.6% in 2013-14 compared to 8.3% during the preceding nine years. Inflation and the current account deficit were high. There was deep paralysis in decision-making, infrastructure projects were stuck in all areas, corruption scandals had been breaking out all around and investors were terrified of retrospective taxation.

Today the decision making process has been unblocked, infrastructure building has gained momentum, corruption has been reined in and fears associated with retrospective taxation have been assuaged. As a consequence, growth has been restored. The economy grew 7.2% during 2014-15, 7.9% during 2015-16 and 7.1% during 2016-17. Alongside, inflation has dropped from 8% during the first four months of 2014 to below 4% currently. Foreign direct investment during the three financial years of the government has summed to $156 billion with the flow during 2016-17 alone being a record $56 billion.

These indicators do not reflect the full potential of the economy created by the policy initiatives of the government.There are lags between the introduction of new policies and realisation of their full impact. It was many years of reforms, first under Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and then under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, that eventually translated into the 8.3% annual growth for nine years beginning in 2003-04.

On macroeconomic front, the government has steadily brought fiscal deficit down from 4.5% in 2013-14 to 3.5% in 2016-17 and has adopted the target of 3.2% in 2017-18 and 3% subsequently. It has also introduced inflation targeting, which has been central to holding down inflation. The exchange rate has been managed prudently. In 2013, in an episode that has come to be called “taper tantrum“, rupee had massively depreciated just at the possibility of an interest-rate hike by the Federal Reserve of the United States. In contrast, it has been entirely unscathed recently despite substantial actual interest rate increases by the Fed.

A key focus area of the government has been governance. The list of measures includes the end to bureaucratic paralysis, streamlining of environmental clearances, improving the ease of doing business, self-certification of true copies of diplomas and degrees, repeal of 1,175 redundant laws, close monitoring of projects, ranking of states in health, education and water, end of plan and non-plan distinction in the budget, merging of the railway and national budget and advancing of date of budget presentation to cut delays in disbursement of funds to ministries and states. During the three years, there has not been a single allegation of high-level corruption.

Several key reforms have been introduced through new laws. Early legislations in this category included those relating to the auctions of coal and mineral mines. Later on came big-ticket items such as the Aadhaar Act, Insolvency and Bankruptcy Act and various Goods and Services Tax acts. The government has also moved steadily ahead on the foreign direct investment front opening defence to FDI, raising the FDI cap on insurance to 49%, and permitting 100% FDI in marketing food products.

Closure of sick public sector units and privatisation of healthier ones that do not serve a public purpose have returned to the active policy agenda of the government. Surprising many sceptics, Cabinet has already approved the plans for the closure of nearly a dozen sick PSUs. Privatisation has not moved at a commensurate pace but it too has made progress with the Cabinet giving a go ahead on 20 PSUs. The government is also proceeding with the listing of currently unlisted PSUs in a time-bound manner.

Rural development and social spending have acquired new vigour with empowerment replacing entitlement as the underlying philosophy.Rural electrification has greatly accelerated with every village set to receive electricity by May 1, 2018. Per-day rural road construction has accelerated to 133 km during 2016-17 compared with 73 km during 2011-14. Within a short time, two crore below poverty line rural households have received LPG.

Housing for all initiative has received huge impetus with 10 million new rural houses to be constructed by 2019 in rural areas alone. Use of Aadhaar verification has led to the elimination of ghost and multiple accounts in the Public Distribution System, LPG distribution and MGNREGA wage lists.Asset construction under MGNREGA has significantly improved.

Finally , in the true spirit of federalism, states have emerged as equal partners of the Centre in development.Some states have reformed central laws in areas of labour and land acquisition on which the Centre has had difficulty moving ahead. Others have swiftly moved to reform tenancy laws through modern land leasing laws. Yet others have pioneered the spread of digitisation and e-mandis. Nearly all are experimenting with new ways to rejuvenate agriculture and vigorously promoting the Swachh Bharat Mission.

In sum, while many problems remain to be solved in a complex and vast economy such as ours, today, there are good reasons to be optimistic that in the years ahead India will emerge as the third largest economy in the world.When a courageous prime minister and numerous imaginative and hard-working chief ministers work together to take the economy forward, success cannot be far from the country's grasp.

The writer is Vice Chairman, Niti Aayog.


Of India's Green Cover....

Modi Sarkar: 3 years on....

As the Modi government enters the fourth year of its term, its economic report card looks good. The government has many achievements to its credit. In 2013, the economy was in a bad shape: growth had slumped to below 6 percent, rupee crashed to 68.85 to the dollar on August 28, 2013 following the QE taper announcement, the twin deficit problem – high fiscal and current account deficits - rendered Indian economy highly vulnerable and inflation was raging above 10 percent.

Foreign institutional investors put India in the ‘fragile five’ group BIITS (Brazil, India, Indonesia, Turkey and South Africa) and sold heavily, impacting the currency and stock markets.

Further, policy paralysis in the last phase of the UPA government had impacted business confidence and economic growth.

As the Modi government enters the fourth year, the economy is in a much better shape. In the emerging markets, India is in a macro sweet spot. Indian GDP growth in 2017-18 estimated to rise to 7.4 percent is likely to be the highest among large economies in the world.

The IMF last year referred to India as the ‘bright spot in the gloomy global economy’. Thanks to the fiscal consolidation in successive budgets, the fiscal deficit has been brought down to 3.2 percent. Current account deficit at 1 percent is not an issue at all.

The rupee has strengthened to around 64.40 to the dollar. In the last 3 years retail inflation averaged 5.2 percent. Presently, the CPI inflation is below 3 percent. Exports, after three years of lackluster performance, have started picking up and India has emerged as one of the largest recipients of FDI in the world.

The stock market is at record highs and investors, both foreign and domestic, are pouring money into the market. This transition from “fragile five to fabulous few” is an impressive track record.

The economy has quickly recovered from demonetization and now remonetization is contributing substantially to economic growth. On the infrastructure front, road and power sectors can boast of impressive gains. GST is going to be a reality.

Real Estate Regulation Act is a major reform, which will have far-reaching benign economic consequences. While appreciating these achievements, we should also be concerned about the lapses.

It is important to note that private investment is yet to pick up and the banking system is reeling under the heavy burden of stressed assets. Even though the government can claim that the high NPA is a legacy issue, the reality is that it is chocking growth in the economy.

The recent ordinance amending the Banking Regulation Act empowering the RBI is, of course, a bold initiate to address the NPA problem.

A major negative in the Modi government’s report card is that it has nothing to show on the employment front. The ‘Make in India’ initiative and jobs generation have miles to go.

The present global environment is favorable. Global trade is picking up. In India, interest rates are trending down and investment can be expected to pick up soon....

Petrol, Diesel prices cut

Indian Oil Corp, the nation's largest fuel retailer, said the price of petrol is being reduced by Rs.2.16 per litre and that of diesel by Rs.2.10 -both excluding state levies.` Actual reduction in price will be more after taking into account local VAT.

Delhi: 1st state to top Rs.3L per capita income

In 2015-16, Delhi's per capita income crossed Goa's to become the highest in the country. The 2016-17 figures show that it grew 11% in a year to cross Rs.3 lakh a year (over Rs.25,000 per month) -a first for an Indian state. An average person in Delhi now earns over Rs.3 lakh a year, three times the national average. This is because Delhi's GDP has consistently grown faster than India's (8.8% as against country's 7.1% in 2016-17).

Exports rise 20% in April

Strong performance by petroleum, engineering and textiles sectors pushed up India's exports growth by 19.8% to $24.6 billion in April. However, trade deficit also witnessed about threefold increase to $13.2 billion, mainly on account of a sharp jump in gold and crude oil imports during the month.
The country's imports, too, jumped more than 49% to $37.9 billion last month from $25.4 billion in April 2016.

The other sectors that helped boost exports include chemicals, iron ore, marine products, cashew, oil meals, iron ore and plastic.Further, oil imports grew by 30.1% to about $7.4 billion. Non-oil imports, too, rose by 54.5% to $30.5 billion.

For the entire last fiscal, 2016-17, exports saw a growth of 4.7% to $274.6 billion as against $262.3 billion in 2015-16.Imports dipped nearly 0.2% to $380.3 billion, lowering trade deficit at $105.7 billion against $118.7 billion in 2015-16. Further, services exports in March increased by 8.6% to $14.2 billion.

The net export of services for 2016-17 was estimated at $65.2 billion, which is lower than net export of services of $69.4 billion during 2015-16, the commerce ministry said in a statement.


Asia's longest bridge set to open

Asia's longest bridge across the Brahmaputra, which will reduce travel time between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh by four hours, will be opened for public on May 26, coinciding with the Modi government's three years in power. The Dhola-Sadiya bridge, capable of withstanding the weight of a 60-tonne battle tank, will serve the dual purpose of improving movement of civilian and military vehicles to strategic locations up to Anini in Arunachal Pradesh.Anini is barely 100 km from the China border.

While the inauguration of the 9.15 km bridge by Prime Minister Narendra Modi just before the monsoon is being seen as a big gift to the people of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, who either take long detours to cross the river or spend over four hours to cross the mighty Bramhaputra by ferry, it has huge strategic importance as well.

At present, there is no bridge fortified for the passage of tanks around Tinsukia from where troops can cross over to Arunachal Pradesh. Moreover, it will cut time for the armed forces to reach the border in Dibang and Anjaw via Tezpur, which takes two days (about 186 km from Guwahati) now.

The two-lane bridge has been built with a design speed of 100 kmph for fast movement in case of emergency, such as troop movements.

Road ministry sources said the bridge connectivity is also important as Arunachal Pradesh does not have a single operational airport and with China building air strips on its side of the line of actual control, it will come as a shot in the arm for the military . They added that the work of widening the existing national highway stretch between Meka and Anini (NH-13) is being widened to two lanes. Highways minister Nitin Gadkari had brought this stretch and four others in Arunachal Pardesh under the NH network soon after the Modi government came to power.

The construction of the bridge began in June 2011 at a project cost of Rs.950 crore.The aerial distance to the Chinese border is less than 100 km. 


Somewhere in Chennai....

Chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami and Union minister of urban development K Venkaiah Naidu flagged off the first train on the city's first underground metro line between Nehru Park and Thirumangalam on Sunday .

The first train glided smoothly out of the Thirumangalam underground station at 11 am and zipped nonstop to Nehru Park within 10 minutes. Commercial services started at 2 pm and, with stops along the way at Anna Nagar Tower, Anna Nagar East, Shenoy Nagar Pachaiyappa's College and Kilpauk, the rides took 20 minutes in either direction. Metro officials announced a 40% fare discount for a week. In a significant bonus for long-distance commuters, CMRL has also resumed direct services between Nehru Park and Chennai airport -a distance of 23 km, with one train every 30 minutes.

Naidu said the Centre is formulating a new metro rail policy to enable innovative financing through ventures such as land value capture and transit-oriented development for new metro projects, and stressed on the need for metro rail to have in place multi-modal transport integration. The latter includes bus stations, railway stations, other forms of public transport and parking management system to discourage private transport.

Palaniswami said the state government has sanctioned an agreement in principle for Phase-2 of the project, which requires central funding. “We have recommended that the Centre approve and fund the project,“ he said. “Japan International Cooperation Agency has included the project in its rolling plan for the year 2016-2017,“ he said.

The project's ambitious Phase-2 will have three corridors between Madhavaram and Siruseri, Koyambedu and Light House, and Madhavaram and Sholinganallur.

India skips OBOR, China non-chalant

On the eve of China's biggest foreign policy manoeuvre in years, India came out in open opposition against Beijing's One Belt, One Road forum, reminding it that no country could accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity. “No country can accept this,“ the ministry of external affairs said ahead of the Beijing OBOR meet.

India has strong objections to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and attending the meet will be as good as accepting the Pakistani and Chinese positions on Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir being “northern Pakistan“. In a strongly-worded statement on the eve of the event, which will see participation of more than 60 countries and 30 heads of state, India escalated its opposition to OBOR, suggesting the project was little more than a colonial enterprise, leaving debt and broken communities in its wake. India's statement comes as a splash of cold water to Xi Jinping's biggest foreign policy outreach, and puts paid to any prospect of bilateral ties improving during the rest of Modi's tenure. The MEA said, “We are of the firm belief that connectivity initiatives must be based on universally recognised norms, good governance, rule of law, openness, transparency and equality . The initiatives must follow principles of financial responsibility to avoid projects that will create unsustainable debt burden for communities.The projects must be pursued in a way that respects sovereignty and territorial integrity.“ Structural mis-alignments of OBOR have been detailed by observers. Sri Lanka is a big example, where an unviable Hambantota port project has left Colombo reeling under an $8 billion debt burden. Pakistan may be headed in the same direction; Laos is trying to renegotiate a railway project, Myanmar has asked for its own renegotiation; a Belgrade-Budapest railway line to be built by China is under investigation by the EU.

Chinese infrastructure projects in foreign countries are typically executed by the state-owned enterprises, while financing programmes that initially appear attractive sour quickly .

India's savage takedown of OBOR comes even as the US, one of the last holdouts, confirmed its attendance at the forum in the form of Matt Pottinger, a director in the White House. Japan, India's other strategic partner, is sending Toshihiro Nikai, head of ruling LDP and ex-prime minister Yukio Hatoyama. Confirming that India had received an invitation to participate in the 6 separate forums that China was organising as part of the Belt and Road Forum, the MEA said, “We have been urging China to engage in a meaningful dialogue. We are awaiting a positive response from the Chinese side.“ Officials said India had for the past few years repeatedly asked China for consultations on OBOR without any success.

India's statement puts paid to any prospect of bilateral ties improving during the rest of Modi's tenure as it trashes Xi Jinping's biggest foreign policy outreach. Xi has given this summit top billing, almost as a coming out party for himself as the world's latest globalisation guru at a time when the western world appears to be in retreat.

Under the ` Act East' policy, the MEA spokesperson said, “We are pursuing the Trilateral Highway project; under our `Neighbourhood First' policy we are developing multimodal linkages with Myanmar and Bangladesh; under our `Go West' strategy , we are engaged with Iran on Chabahar Port and with Iran and other partners in Central Asia on International North South Transport Corridor. BBIN initiative is aimed at enhancing logistics efficiencies in the South Asian region.“

The Cabinet also gave nod to India's accession to the UNled TIR Convention in March, which will give Indian traders access to “fast, easy , reliable and hassle free international system for movement of goods by road or multimodal means across territories.“

India will stand out with its resolute opposition to China's OBOR by being the significant absentee at the now famous Belt and Road forum which opens in Beijing on Sunday. Despite the Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi's public assertion and virtual threats by its diplomats to "isolate" India, the Modi government has refused to budge, with only a handful of scholars attending the forum.

If India had actually agreed to be present, India believes it would have weakened its own case on sovereignty on Gilgit-Baltistan and PoK, because it would be tantamount to accepting the Chinese and Pakistani position of PoK/Gilgit-Baltistan being "northern Pakistan". More important, it would fly in the face of India's sustained protests against China-Pakistan collaboration on PoK since at least 1963.

As recently as April 2017, India lodged a strong protest when a vocational university in Suzhou signed an agreement with Gilgit-Baltistan to set up a CPEC Centre. Just weeks earlier, in March, India protested when China launched a website called yidaiyilu.gov.cn ('yidaiyilu' is OBOR in Chinese) where Gilgit-Baltistan was shown as part of Pakistan, a position that even Pakistan's constitution does not make. (The website was subsequently taken down). India also protested when the "chief minister" of Gilgit-Baltistan visited Xinjiang, or when Chinese media reported joint patrols in PoK.

The Chinese ambassador Luo Zhaohui addressing a think tank in Delhi last week said, "China and India had successful experience of de-linking sovereignty disputes with bilateral relations before. In history, we have had close cooperation along the Silk Road. Why shouldn't we support this kind of cooperation today?" The Chinese suggestion by diplomats and scholars is the same: India did not object when the Karakoram Highway was built, or when other China-Pakistan projects have happened especially in PoK. Why is India being difficult now?

India has actually been protesting diplomatically against China-Pakistan cooperation since 1961, although India has not yet made its opposition military. The first Indian demarche was served to the then vice foreign minister Geng Biao in July, 1961, where India's ambassador to China G. Parthasarathi, on his last day said sharply, "Pakistan has no borders with China .. We know about your dispatching sentinels to border areas, but if it goes beyond that, if you state that you are willing to consider negotiating borders with Pakistan, there will be sharp reaction on India's part. Under those circumstances, India cannot be blamed for the consequences that occur."

In 1969, India hotly protested Chinese assistance to Pakistan to build the Karakoram Highway in a demarche issued on June 25: "Chinese assistance to Pakistan to construct highways in the portion of Indian territory under the illegal occupation of Pakistan is a fresh step taken by the People's Republic of China to further aggravate Sino-Indian relations. The consequences of such Chinese actions, which can only serve to bring about further worsening in India-China relations, are to be borne entirely by the government of the Peoples Republic of China."

In 1983, India once again protested when the Khunjerab Pass was opened to civilian traffic, saying neither China nor Pakistan had any locus standi on this part of India. These protests continued when the Pass was opened to international tourists in 1986 and in 1993 when Pakistan and Xinjiang signed an MOU on border trade. Former foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee gave an earful to Yang Jiechi in September 2008 about Musharraf's pact with China on building road and communication in PoK, railway line across the Khunjerab Pass, as well as in 2010 when reports surfaced about China sending 11,000 troops to Gilgit-Baltistan.

After 2014, Sushma Swaraj, PM Narendra Modi and NSA Ajit Doval have all raised objections to Chinese activities in PoK, specifically asking China to respect a "one-India" policy. After 2013, India has included CPEC as central to its objections to China.

Two aspects stand out in sharp relief, first, that India has not stopped protesting, and second, that China has not paid the slightest heed to India's objections. China's approach in India's neighborhood is exactly the same as it is in the South China Sea - ignore protests and continue to change the ground reality bit by bit. India should be criticized for not taking its objections beyond diplomatic demarches. But for India to attend the Belt & Road forum would be impossible in the circumstances.