UK NRIs commit ₹500cr for clean Ganga plan

NRI billionaire business magnates in London have committed more than Rs.500 crore of investment to the rejuvenation of the polluted Ganga.

Union minister Nitin Gadkari, whose responsibilities include water resources, said that in addition to Ravi Mehrotra and Anil Agarwal’s commitments to the sacred river, the London-based Hinduja brothers have agree to maintain the Haridwar stretch and Prakash Lohia, chairman of Indorama Corporation, has committed to the Kolkata section. Lohia is from Kolkata. In India, Shiv Nadar, chairman of HCL, has taken up the Varanasi part, Gadkari, who is on a trip to London, said.

He explained that whilst the government had sanctioned Rs.20,000 crore towards the clean Ganges programme, the corporates would pay for their stretches themselves as ”total charity cause” and he appealed to “all Indian companies and NRIs across the world” to participate. The costs vary between Rs.100 and Rs.200 crore per project.

Ideal growth rate for India is 8-10%: Subramanian

The growth in gross domestic product dipped to 5.7% in the first quarter of financial year 2017, coming to a three-year-low. However, the ideal growth rate of the economy should be between 8% and 10% according to chief economic advisor, Arvind Subramanian.  According to him, as the economy overcomes certain challenges, exports improve and the implementation of Goods and Services Tax stabilizes, the growth rate will improve.

He prudently didn’t comment on the time-frame within which the growth rate will recover. However, sharing more details on the road map to recovery, Subramanian said, “The economy is facing certain challenges. Once we overcome them, the growth will surely improve. At a time when the growth was around 8%, the growth in exports of both goods and services stood at 25% which was significant.”

When asked if the cascading effect of demonetization and GST implementation decelerated the growth, the chief economic advisor to the Union government said, “The growth had already begun slowing down in the second quarter of 2016. These moves further reinforced this deceleration. Demonetization did restrict cash flow. However, now the cash is back in the system. As far as GST is concerned, it is still stabilizing and SMEs are still coping with the new structure and compliances.”

Talking specifically about credit-offtakes, Subramanian said, “Overall credits have picked up recently, especially with increase in lending to consumers. However, credit to industry is a concern. Firms cannot spend and therefore, cannot borrow and banks cannot lend because they have bad assets. The credit cycle will begin to pick up the once recapitalization of banks takes place.”

On GST, he said, “We are taking the feedback and criticism very seriously, and are very responsive in bringing about necessary changes.”

India and Singapore ink naval pact

India and Singapore inked a naval pact to significantly crank up their maritime security cooperation with access to each other’s bases, while reiterating the need for all to respect freedom of navigation and trade in international waters in the backdrop of China’s aggressive and expansionist behavior in the Asia Pacific region.

The naval cooperation agreement to bolster maritime security, joint exercises, “temporary deployments from each other’s naval facilities” and mutual logistics support was inked after delegation-level talks between defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman and her Singaporean counterpart Dr Ng Eng Hen in the morning.

Easy access to the Singapore port, with refueling and berthing facilities, will serve to enhance the operational reach of Indian warships and aircraft east of the Malacca Strait, which is a critical choke point for China’s ever expanding energy supplies. It fits into India’s overall “Act East” policy to deepen military ties with ASEAN countries like Singapore, Vietnam, Myanmar, Malaysia and Indonesia as a counter to China.

India, in turn, will provide naval practice and logistics facilities to Singapore, which will include live firing drills in the Andaman Sea, to add to similar services already being provided to the army and air force of the city-state for the last 10 years. Appreciating India’s “leading role” in the Indian Ocean Region, Dr Ng said Singapore would “encourage” more Indian warships to come to its shores, help in further securing the sea lanes of communication towards the Andaman Sea and the Strait of Malacca, expand and institutionalise maritime exercises with like-minded regional and ASEAN partners.

“We want to see more participation, cooperation and activity in both the Strait of Malacca and the Andaman Sea,” said Dr Ng.

Sitharaman said the two countries had decided to expand overall defence ties and were “strongly committed” to boosting cooperation in tackling transnational security threats, especially terrorism.

The two countries also decided to renew the bilateral army pact, under which facilities are provided to Singapore for exercises of mechanised forces at Babina and artillery at Deolali ranges, when it ends next year.


GES 2017: Modi meets Ivanka

Prime Minister Narendra Modi called on the world’s entrepreneurs to invest in a resurgent India as the government had made great strides in minimising the regulatory burden for companies, creating a level playing field, evolving transparent policies and overhauling the taxation system, efforts that were recognised by global rating agency Moody’s recent upgrade.

“To my entrepreneur friends from across the globe, I would like to say, come, Make in India, Invest in India, for India and for the world,” he said at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad, citing such initiatives as the goods and services tax, demonetisation and the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code. “I invite each one of you to become a partner in India’s growth story. And once again assure you of our wholehearted support.”

Among those in the audience was Ivanka Trump, US President Donald Trump’s daughter, leading her country’s delegation. She paid tribute to Modi for efforts “to build India as a thriving economy — a beacon of democracy — and a symbol of hope to the world”.

He (PM Modi) had proved that transformational change was possible through his own example — from selling tea as achild to becoming PM — and was now “bringing that promise to hundreds of millions of people across your country”, she said.

Modi said he was not satisfied with the 100th rank that India secured in the World Bank’s ease of doing business list thanks to the various reforms undertaken in the past three years. India needed to work toward breaking into the top 50, he said.

Having doubled the renewable energy capacity under the clean energy programme in just three years to about 60,000 mw, India is now working on developing a national gas grid, he said. “A comprehensive national energy policy is also in the pipeline.”

The government has scrapped more than 1,200 redundant laws, eased 87 rules for foreign direct investment in 21 sectors and taken several government processes online to help companies meet regulatory requirements, improving the business environment and providing support to startups.

“The jump in India’s ranking in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report, from 142 to 100, in three years, is a result of this,” said Modi, adding that his government understood that an environment of transparent policies and rule of law providing a level playing field were necessary for entrepreneurship to flourish. Elaborating on the insolvency code, Modi said it was aimed at ensuring timely resolution for stressed ventures and India had recently improved it further, by preventing wilful defaulters from bidding for stressed assets.

Referring to measures adopted to tackle the parallel economy, check tax evasion and control black money, the prime minister said, “Our efforts have been recognised by Moody’s recent upgrade of India’s government bond ratings. This upgrade comes after a gap of almost 14 years.”

An investment-friendly environment needs to be stable from the macroeconomic perspective, Modi said, adding that India had succeeded in containing the fiscal and current account deficits while curbing inflation. “Our foreign exchange reserves have crossed $400 billion, and we continue to attract large foreign capital flows.”

Elaborating on initiatives such as the MUDRA scheme to provide easy finance to entrepreneurs, the PM said over 90 million loans worth ₹4.28 lakh crore had been sanctioned since its launch in 2015. “Of these, more than 70 million loans have been sanctioned to women entrepreneurs.”

Modi stressed the initiatives such as Aadhaar, saying it was the world’s largest biometric-based digital database, which currently covers over 1.15 billion people and digitally authenticates more than 40 million transactions daily. India now provides monetary benefits of various government schemes to beneficiaries through Direct Benefit Transfer using Aadhaar, he said, minimising the possibility of leakages and corruption.

Modi said his government completed a programme to connect all villages with electricity and launched the Saubhagya scheme that will provide power connections to all families by December 2018. India has also launched a programme to provide high-speed broadband Internet to all rural areas by March 2019.

TRAI on Net neutrality

The telecom regulator has backed an open Internet, and proposed tweaks to licence conditions to bar blocking or slowing down of content, while allowing fast lanes for ‘specialised services’ and keeping ‘content delivery networks’ out of the ambit of net neutrality, as it released its much-awaited recommendations on the controversial subject.

“Internet access services should be governed by a principle that restricts any form of discrimination or interference in the treatment of content, including practices like blocking, degrading, slowing down or granting preferential speeds or treatment to any content,” the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India said in its 54-page recommendation to the telecom department.

Trai has said telecom or Internet service providers should be barred from signing pacts that can lead to discriminatory treatment on the Web, based on content, sender, receiver, protocols or even equipment. It has recommended changes in the licence conditions and other provisions so that the penalties for violating licence norms would be applicable here as well.

The regulator has exempted content delivery networks, which do not use public Internet, from restrictions on nondiscriminatory treatment. Analysts said this will benefit telcos such as Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel, who are trying to create their own content ecosystems.

The regulator has left it to DoT to decide the ‘specialised services’ that can be exempted from the purview of net neutrality. It clarified that this tag should only be applicable to those services where optimisation was necessary to meet specific quality of service needs.

Trai also allowed carriers or Internet access providers to use some traffic management practices on their networks to ensure quality of services, preserve security of networks, providing emergency services and for implementing a court order or government direction, as long as they are transparent and their impact on users is declared.

Net neutrality activists appeared to be satisfied with Trai’s proposals. DoT will take a final view on Trai’s recommendations. The government has so far been vocal about its backing for a free and open Internet, and has opposed the so-called ‘walled garden’ within which certain content is prioritised.

But telcos were upset that while they have to adhere to net neutrality guidelines, these would not apply to over-the-top players such as WhatsApp. They also opposed the proposal to include Internet of Things, expected to be a big revenue generator under 5G technology, within the ambit of net neutrality.

Arunachal river turns black

The crystal clear waters of the Siang river, one of the major constituents of the Brahmaputra and lifeline of northern Arunachal Pradesh for centuries, has suddenly turned black triggering panic in the frontier state. The East Siang district authorities have pressed the alarm bell as the water of the river, containing large volumes of heavy slag, is no longer fit for consumption. “The water can’t be used for any purpose because it contains a cement-like thick material. A lot of fish died one and half months ago,” said East Siang district deputy commissioner Tamyo Tatak.

He added, “In the last monsoon season, the river turned dark and we thought that it was because of mud being carried by the river. The rainy season is long over but the river water is still black. Usually, from November to February, the water is crystal clear and pure.”

Tatak said water samples have been collected and China is the primary suspect. “It seems that some major cement work is on in the upper reaches of the river in China… may be China is carrying out some deep water boring work. What else could be the reason for such a big river remaining black for nearly two months,” Tatak said.

Chabahar port inauguration

After Chabahar port received the first wheat consignment headed for Afghanistan from India in October-end, the Iranian government on Tuesday said it had completed construction of the first phase of the port. Officials said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will inaugurate the first phase on Sunday, in a ceremony attended by “regional beneficiaries and neighbouring countries”.

Shipping and highways minister Nitin Gadkari will represent India at the event. Earlier this year, Iran had asked India to operate the first phase of the port. India wants to spend $235 million on the Chabahar port, but that’s in the second phase. The government has even set up a special purpose vehicle for the project. In addition, India has teamed up with Japan to develop the port as well as a special economic zone near the port.

India shipped 1.1million tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan from the western port of Kandla on October 29. The shipment will be taken by trucks to Afghanistan from Chabahar port.

“I believe this is the starting point of our journey to realise the full spectrum of connectivity — from culture to commerce, from traditions to technology, from investments to IT, from services to strategy and from people to politics,” foreign minister Sushma Swaraj said in a statement on October 29. Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that the launch of the trade route “marks a new chapter in regional cooperation and connectivity”.


Rupee @ 64.50

Showing resistance against early volatility, the rupee surged by a hefty 20 paise to end at a fresh two-month high of 64.50 even as S&P kept India’s credit rating unchanged. The rupee marked its best closing since September 20. The rupee has appreciated 31 paise last week.

Full-fledged Fin Recovery in 2018: Morgan Stanley

Wall Street investment bank Morgan Stanley said that India is all set for a full fledged financial recovery in 2018, undergirded by the first pronounced revival of private-sector capital expenditure in six years in Asia’s third-biggest economy.

With six years of continued deterioration in private capital spending, investors have remained skeptical of a turnaround in the cycle. One of the key drivers for private capex, Morgan Stanley says, is the expected rate of returns from the corporate sector, which had been cyclically depressed and, in turn, held back substantial private investment in assets.

Reflecting improved balance sheet fundamentals, the corporate sector, in aggregate, will be well positioned to enhance capex to meet higher demand.

The global bank also pointed out that the headline inflation gauge seems to be firming, and that there could be a case for raising rates in the second half of FY19.

India Growth to Rebound to 8% in FY19: Goldman Sachs

India’s economic growth will bounce back to 8% in the next fiscal year as one-time hits due to demonetisation and goods and services tax wear off and benefits due to formalisation of the economy, strong global growth and recapitalisation of public sector banks kick in, US-based investment bank Goldman Sachs said in its year-end forecast.

India’s growth will accelerate to 8% in the fiscal year through March 2019 from 6.4% in fiscal 2018, the bank said, making it the fastest growing major economy in the world, like it was in fiscal 2017 with a 7.1% expansion.

GS expects the ₹2.11-lakh-crore bank recapitalisation, announced last month, to boost credit supply and lower borrowing costs as healthier public sector banks push lending. Wage hike for government workers and higher infrastructure spending from the government will also boost growth.

Accelerating inflation, mainly due to higher food prices, could lead to a shift in the Reserve Bank of India’s monetary policy stance by the middle of the next fiscal year, the investment bank said. GS expects consumer price inflation in India to rise to 5.3% in fiscal 2019 from 3.4% this year, as food prices rise from a low base.

Higher inflation will lead the Reserve Bank of India increase its benchmark repo rate by threefourths of a percentage point between October 2018 and June 2019 — from 6% now to 6.75%, it said.  It expects the rupee to rise to 62 a dollar from around 65 currently.

The bank expects the local stock market to yield 14% returns in local currency, which means that the 50-share Nifty index will rise to over 11,600 by December 2018 (vs 10,215 on November 16).

PM Modi to flag off Hyderabad Metro Rail today

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the much-awaited Hyderabad Metro Rail on Tuesday afternoon. The 30 km-long first phase of the metro rail project between Miyapur and Nagole, having 24 stations, would be launched by the Prime Minister at 2:40 pm at Miyapur station. Its commercial operations would start the day after. During its inaugural run, Modi and Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao will travel by the metro from Miyapur to Kukatpally, and back,

ADB sticks to India’s GDP growth estimates

The Asian Development Bank is sticking to its growth forecast for India and is optimistic that growth will pick up on the back of several factors, including an improving global economy.

“We are optimistic of India achieving 7% growth in 2017 and 7.4% in 2018. There has been a front-loading of capital expenditure and consumption trend is being sustained and external environment is turning favourable,” Sabyasachi Mitra, deputy country director at ADB told a news conference.

Growth is expected to slow in the current financial year as the impact of demonetisation and roll-out issues linked to GST hurt expansion. But most economists and multilateral agencies expect growth to accelerate in the years ahead. The Manila-based multilateral agency had lowered India’s growth estimates for 2017 due to the short term impact of demonetisation.

The Central Statistics Office will publish the data for July-September on November 30. Growth slowed to three-year low of 5.7% in the April-June quarter, triggering criticism over the handling of the economy. But since then a string of goods has bolstered the confidence of policymakers. Global rating agency Moody’s Investor Service raised the country’s sovereign rating, while India improved its position significantly in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing business ranking.

ADB country director Kenichi Yokoyama said the agency plans to raise its annual funding to India to $4 billion from existing $2.7 billion next year. He said this would be done to “accelerate inclusive economic transformation of India.

“The other priority pillars include increasing annual funding to low income states and climate change,” he said.


We won’t forget. We won’t forgive.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Sunday urged the people of the nation to join the fight against terrorism, adding it would be the biggest tribute to the brave hearts. Speaking at the ninth anniversary of 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks at an event held at the Bombay Stock Exchange commemorating the martyrs of the attacks, he said, “The way incidents of terrorism are increasing, not only the police and security forces, but all citizens of this country need to be vigilant and alert. Every citizen should cooperate with our police and the army force. We should work together to crush terrorism. This would be the biggest tribute to the martyrs.”

Falaknuma wears a fresh look

Ahead of Ivanka Trump’s epic dinner trip to Falaknuma palace, authorities have cleared roads and decked up pavements, walls and old structures.

The entire route leading to the historical Falaknuma Palace gives a smooth and joyous ride to motorists, courtesy round-the-clock work by the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation workers.

Locals and motorists say that after many years, they are pleased to see such glamorous and attractive lights in their locality. Many attractive and informative paintings have been decorated on the walls and colourful lighting on the trees have added to the beauty of the surrounding during the night.

Modi puts NE at heart of Asean embrace

The north-eastern states will, for the first time, play a big role during the India-Asean summit in January.

Last week, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj called in the governors of all the northeastern states and the lieutenant governor of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands for a unique meeting — to begin the process of integrating domestic and foreign policy.

Sources said all governors came with suggestions and these have been prioritised into short- and medium term deliverables.

Bhutan will be the first country to open a consulate in Guwahati, but India will open the city for select countries like Japan as well, a first. Japan is becoming a major development partner for India’s northeast transformation programme.

At some point, India’s ‘Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal’ Initiative will segue into its ‘Act East’ policy. Within the MEA, the new initiative will be run by several departments — from the ‘states’ division and ICCR, to officials in charge of Bangladesh and Myanmar and the big ‘south’ division that is in charge of the Asean region. Outside the MEA, state governments and the home ministry will be roped in.

It’s not only the Republic Day celebrations that will see action with the presence of all the Asean heads of government. For the first time, Assam will host an ‘Invest Assam’ summit, on the lines of Vibrant Gujarat, which will see several Asean heads of state hoping to create economic linkages.

The leadership push is being given by President Ram Nath Kovind, who travelled to three northeastern states last week. Opening the Northeast Development Summit, he said, “If you consider the hundreds and thousands of years of civilisation, far from being a frontier, the northeast has been at the heart of Indian imagination. And if you take South Asia and Southeast Asia as a continuum — as it has been perceived for most of history — then the northeast is right in the middle of it. Its geographical location makes it the obvious gateway to India...” That is the crux of this new outreach.

On top of the list is connectivity. In the huge effort to integrate India’s domestic and foreign policy, the big constraint has undoubtedly been the lack of land connectivity in the region and with neighbours.

That’s not easy but officials said after several years of missteps, the trilateral highway through Myanmar was in “implementation mode” and should open by 2020. The same goes for the Kaladan multimodal project, which is currently lagging because of the unrest in Rakhine.

With Bangladesh, the aim is to revive the connectivity linkages that existed before 1965. Of the six erstwhile rail links between India and Bangladesh, four connecting West Bengal with Bangladesh have been made operational. In the past few months, two immigration check posts have been cleared along the borders with Myanmar and Bangladesh, and Suterkandi in Assam is being upgraded into an ICP with Bangladesh. This will facilitate legitimate travel. Under the Udaan project, officials said, WWII-era airports are being upgraded to enhance air connectivity.

North-eastern music and dance groups will travel more, particularly to Asean countries. Funds are being earmarked from other departments to upgrade medical colleges and hospitals in Assam and Meghalaya to receive patients from Myanmar and Bangladesh. Central and state governments will reduce the number of areas that need an inner line permit for these states to incentivise tourism. “We used to be a trading and maritime nation, we’re trying to recapture that space,” an official said.


Terrorists kill off-duty soldier

A 23-year-old soldier, who was on vacation, was abducted and killed by terrorists at Shopian in South Kashmir. According to police, the body of Irfan Ahmad Dar, who went missing on Friday, was found with bullet marks.

His car was also found a km away from the spot where he was found dead.

“He was perhaps kidnapped by terrorists. His bullet-riddled body was recovered on Saturday morning,” SSP Shopian, Ambarkar Shriram, said, adding that the soldier was posted with the Engineering Regiment of the Army at Gurez near the LoC.

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who is on a tour to South Kashmir, strongly condemned the killing. This is the third such killing in the recent times.

In May, Lt Umar Fayaz was killed in the same area after terrorists kidnapped him from a marriage party in Kulgam district. His bullet-riddled body was found on May 10 in Harman village of the same district. He belonged to neighbouring Kulgam district. He was posted with 2 Rajputana Rifles in Akhnoor area of Jammu district. The killing of the bright son of a Kashmiri farmer was widely condemned. After Fayaz’s gruesome killing, the state police issued an advisory asking its personnel not to visit their ancestral places in south Kashmir districts for six months.

In September, Mohammad Ramzan, a BSF jawan, was shot dead. Meanwhile, Dineshwar Sharma, The Centre’s Special Representative for Kashmir, met representatives of many outfits and undertook school visits, meeting children and teachers.

Of India’s energy consumption....

It’s hard to say whether we will still be getting by on inverters and diesel generators in 2040, but India certainly will consume a lot more energy than it does today. The International Energy Agency expects world energy demand to increase by about a third over the present level by 2040, but India’s energy consumption will increase the most, by the equivalent of 1,005 million tonnes of oil. It does not mean we will be burning 1 billion tonnes of oil more than we do today, but our extra energy consumption — from solar, nuclear, hydel and all other sources — will be equivalent to that much more oil. By 2040, India will account for 11% of the world’s annual energy consumption, but considering that it will have 18% of the global population, that figure is less than impressive. Energy demand will slow down in Russia, and fall in ageing Japan, USA and Europe.

Mumbai Airport sets a World Record

Creating a new world record for single-runway operations, Mumbai airport handled 969 take-offs and landings in 24 hours on Friday. It broke its own record of 935.

Mega cities such as New York, London, Dubai and Delhi have airports with two or more runways that operate simultaneously. Though Mumbai has two runways, they criss-cross each other, so only one runway is used at a time. Technically this puts Mumbai in the single-runway airport category. So it’s in the league of busy single-runway secondary airports of cities like London (Gatwick, Stansted airports), Istanbul (Sabiha Gokcen airport) and major airports of smaller cities like San Diego (the US), Fukuoka (Japan) and Xiamen in China.

Mumbai handles over 900 airline flights per day. The record high air traffic movement (take-offs and landings) happen on days when the number of unscheduled flights —charter aircraft, private aircraft—go up, like it did on Friday. These flights are banned during the morning and evening peak hours, so when the load goes up during nonpeak hours, new records are set. “We hope to cross 1,000 aircraft movements per day soon,’’ the MIAL official said.

In civil aviation, the norm is to record time in UTC (Coordinated Universal Time, same as GMT) and Indian Standard Time is five-and -a-half hours ahead of UTC. The feat was achieved from 5.30 am on Friday to 5.30 am on Saturday.


The fastest growing airline in the world

A UK-based air travel data company has called Indigo Airlines the ‘fastest growing airline’ in the world.

The report, released by OAG, also ranks the airline 17th in its list of the ‘Top 50 air carriers in the world’. Indigo increased its scheduled capacity from 40,791,420 in 2015 to 52,025,760 in 2016 – an increase of 27.5 per cent.

The report also notes that Indigo has one of the youngest airline fleets among the top 20 airlines with an average aircraft age of 6 years. It had 138 aircraft in its fleet, and had ordered 456 narrow body aircrafts, the report said. “The fastest growing of the Top 20, Indigo is India’s biggest low-cost carrier. Still serving predominantly the Indian domestic market but recording strong growth on international capacity too,” the report noted.

At least three Chinese airlines featured in the top 10 list including Chinese airline Xiamen Airlines (24.5%), Chinese domestic carriers Shandong Airlines (14.5%), and Hainan Airlines (14.4%). Others who registered fastest growth included American low-cost airline Spirit Airlines (20.4%), Hungarian low-cost carrier Wizz Air (18.9%), Qatar Airways (18.0%), Vietnam Airlines (17.2%), Irish low cost carrier Ryanair (13.4%), and Emirates (10.7%).

American Airlines with 25,14,83,734 seats, Delta Air Lines 22,57,96,738 seats, Southwest Airlines 20,15,82,829, United Airlines 18,21,79,745 and Ryanair 13,36,75,731 were ranked as the top five in the top 20 carriers list by OAG.

Indigo, which faced a lot of criticism following an incident of ground crew assaulting a passenger at Delhi airport, continues to dominate the Indian skies with a market share of 39.5 per cent. Jet Airways is a distant second with 15.5 percent.

On November 17, Indigo took delivery of the first of its order of 50 ATR aircrafts at a ceremony in Toulouse, France. The ATRs will add to its existing fleet of A320 aircraft as it aims to touch a target of 1000 daily flights by December 2017.

The airline has placed an order for 50 ATR aircraft.

All Charged Up

Automaker Mahindra and Mahindra has entered into a partnership with Uber India to deploy electric vehicles on the US cab aggregator’s platform, beginning with a few hundred vehicles in Delhi and Hyderabad in February next year before expanding to other cities in the country.

The initial three months will be used to get the infrastructure in place for seamless trips, the two companies announced.  The tie-up comes close on the heels of the tie-up between Tata Group and Jayem Automotives to deploy electric Nano rebadged as Jayem Neo in Delhi through Ola, Uber’s Indian rival.

M&M’s electric vehicles on the Uber platform will include the e2oplus hatch and the e-Verito sedan. M&M managing director Pawan Goenka said that electric vehicle adoption is clearly gaining momentum in India and the industry is at the tipping point since there is an intention of support from all stakeholders including vehicle makers, shared mobility providers and state governments.

Through this partnership, driver partners on the Uber app can avail themselves of a package which will include M-M’s electric vehicles at competitive prices, attractive financing and insurance premiums as well as comprehensive maintenance package.

Out of the 6-7 lakh EVs sold globally at the end of 2016, India’s share was only about 2,000. However, after the execution of 10,000 vehicle orders, the domestic market will almost triple, Goenka said.

The company had last year planned to ramp up capacity tenfold to 5,000 units a month. The company had entered into a tie-up with Ola for a pilot project in Nagpur, where it has deployed several hundred cabs that have clocked more than a million kilometres. Goenka said the project has been very successful and expansion to Delhi and Hyderabad will further accelerate electrification.

To make this model sustainable, both partners plan to work closely with public and private players who are in the process of setting up a common use charging ecosystem at multiple locations in the cities.

S&P keeps India’s rating unchanged

Global ratings agency Standard & Poor’s kept the sovereign rating and outlook for India unchanged, saying its stable outlook reflects that growth in the next two years will remain strong and fiscal deficits will remain broadly in line with the agency’s forecast.

Last week, another ratings agency, Moody’s Investor Service, had upgraded India’s sovereign rating in a major boost for the NDA government, battling slow growth.

S&P kept India’s rating at BBB-, a notch above investment grade. “Ratings are constrained by India’s low wealth levels, measured by GDP per capita, which we estimate at close to $2,000 in 2017, the lowest of all investment-grade sovereigns that we rate,” S&P said.


Kalyan waterfront plan

The twin cities of Kalyan and Dombivli have a 32-km-long waterfront. To prevent sand mining along the creek, KDMC commissioner P Velarasu and Thane collector Mahendra Kalyankar decided to beautify the area, for which the collector has paid the civic body Rs.1 crore.

The civic body said that work will begin before monsoon next year. Authorities have decided to develop an 8-metre-long stretch of the waterfront from Durgadi to Umbarde in the first phase.
“The plan for phase one is ready. We are studying the plan for phase 2, which is the stretch from Durgadi to Dombivli,”said a senior KDMC official.

As part of the project, banks will be set up along the creek and provisions will be made for greenery, jogging tracks, cycle tracks, recreational activities and water sports. However, the civic body has not yet finalised the cost of the project.

Lotte Scoops Up Havmor

South Korean company Lotte Confectionery signed a deal to buy 100% of homegrown ice cream brand Havmor for ₹1,020 crore in an all-cash deal, making a foray into the ₹5,000-crore ice cream market in India.

“Lotte will acquire the plants, machinery and the staff of the company,” said Ankit Chona, managing director at Ahmedabad-based Havmor Ice Cream.

The deal values Havmor Ice Cream at more than 2.5 times its 2016-17 turnover of ₹400 crore. The brand has been growing at compounded annual growth rate of 23-25%, Chona said.

He will continue as CEO-advisor to the brand to see through its merger with the maker of Lotte Choco Pie.

With this deal, Lotte plans to expand its market power from the north west region to all across India, the South Korean company said in statement.

Founded by Satish Chandra Chona in Karachi in 1944, Havmor had to wind up and cross the border within three years following the partition. Chona moved to Ahmedabad and started Havmor in 1951.

Today, Havmor boasts a product portfolio comprising 150 kinds of ice creams retailed through a parlour network operating across 14 states.

It has two plants, in Ahmedabad and Faridabad, manufacturing 2.5 lakh litres of ice cream per day.

The entire deal will be concluded in a week, officials said.

Promoters of Havmor will continue to operate its signature chain of restaurants and eateries across Gujarat as well as its signature brand and concept café Huber & Holly.

“We will have a licensing agreement with Lotte to use Havmor brand for our restaurant business,” Ankit Chona said.

The 100% promoter-run restaurant business has a turnover of ₹75 crore.

The Chonas will also continue to own about 40 Havfunn ice-cream parlours run by Havmor Restaurants, while 115 franchise owned outlets will go to Lotte.

Lotte Confectionery was one of the first Korean food and beverage companies to enter the Indian market in 2004. Since then, the $80-billion multinational has dominated the Indian choco pie market through significant investments and localisation. Last year, market share of Lotte Confectionery, which has choco pie factories in Chennai and Delhi, reached 90%.

Mittal Bros Pledge ₹7,000 Crore to Charity

The Mittal family, promoters of India’s largest telco Bharti Airtel, pledged ₹7,000 crore, or 10% of its wealth, to support the Bharti Foundation, the Bharti Group’s philanthropic arm. Most of this comprises a 3% stake in flagship Bharti Airtel.

A large part of the funding will go toward establishing Satya Bharti University, a technology focused institution that will offer free education to as many as 10,000 students from the economically weaker sections in domains such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and the Internet of things (IoT).

“Bharti’s DNA has always been about creating a deep positive impact on society through our businesses,” Bharti Enterprises chairman Sunil Mittal said, adding that the foundation would shortly seek partnerships with such global giants as Facebook, Google, Soft-Bank, Microsoft and Apple to develop state-of-the-art research labs in the upcoming university.

The Bharti family’s pledge reflects a rise in philanthropic efforts among India’s billionaires.

Infosys chairman Nandan Nilekani and wife Rohini recently signed the Giving Pledge initiative sponsored by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. The other Indians to have signed the Giving Pledge are Wipro chairman Azim Premji, Biocon managing director Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw and Sobha chairman emeritus PNC Menon.

The Nilekanis pledged 50% of their family fortune for philanthropy. Their family fortune is estimated at $1.7 billion. Wipro Chairman Azim Premji has donated ₹63,000 crore since 2001. He has donated more than ₹30,000 crore in the last 5 years alone. Biocon MD Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw reportedly donates 50% of her personal income every year.

Mittal said the idea took hold at the time of his 60th birthday celebration last month, when four generations of the Bharti family, including his mother and grandchildren, had gathered together and wondered aloud on what ought to be done now that he was “on the other side of the timeline of his life.”

“Me and my brothers, Rajan and Rakesh, were pleasantly surprised when the family suggested that we move 10% of the wealth parked in the children’s trust to the Bharti Foundation, which was a remarkable endorsement of our family’s value system, and how our children have been brought up,” Mittal said.

The Bharti Group chairman, however, called for changes in the country’s policies and tax structures to induce more corporates to step up their philanthropic efforts to match such initiatives in the West.

“Giving is still tough in India, something I have also discussed with Bill Gates,” Mittal said.

Elaborating on the challenges, he said the Bharti Foundation as a philanthropic organisation “could not own shares in a company for more than a year… These are some complications which we are hoping get resolved so that India can become bigger in terms of giving and the nation starts to give more,” the Bharti group founder said.

The university, which will be located near Delhi or Chandigarh, will entail an initial investment of ₹1,000 crore and the ground-breaking ceremony may be held early next year. Its first academic session is likely to start in calendar 2021. The Bharti group is looking to acquire 100 acres in Punjab or Haryana and is in talks with the state governments.

Mittal said the institution would strive to be different from its peers.

“Classrooms would be there and yet not there, in that one could be sitting under a tree or in a library, and education could be digitally delivered,” he said.

Some of the funds will go toward widening the scope and reach of the Bharti Foundation’s activities, enabling it to support the aspirations of India’s underprivileged, including Satya Bharti students.

According to Bain & Co.'s India Philanthropy Report 2017, funds contributed by individual philanthropists have been on the rise, growing faster than money from overseas sources and contributions through corporate social responsibility.

Philanthropists, it said, are becoming more sophisticated in how they view giving and are proactively adopting new strategies to move the needle toward high-impact results.

EPS-OPS team gets ‘2 leaves’

The Election Commission awarded the AIADMK’s ‘two leaves’ symbol to the group led by Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami and his deputy O Panneerselvam, citing the overwhelming support it enjoys among members of the legislative and organisational wings of the party.

The order marks a blow to former CM J Jayalalithaa’s aide V K Sasikala, appointed interim general secretary soon after the supremo’s death last year, and her nephew T T V Dhinakaran, who was made deputy general secretary. Sasikala is currently serving a four year prison term in Karnataka after being convicted in a corruption case.

Acknowledging the EPS-OPS group as the ‘real’ AIADMK, the poll panel said it shall be entitled to use the party’s reserved poll symbol in all future elections. As per the affidavits submitted to the EC, the EPS-OPS faction has support of 34 Lok Sabha MPs, eight Rajya Sabha MPs and 115 MLAs, including four from Puducherry.

The EC, however, did not go into the validity of decisions taken in the AIADMK general council meeting on September 12, including Sasikala’s expulsion from the party. “It is for the courts to decide such matters,” an EC official said.

PM launches UMANG app

PM Narendra Modi formally launched UMANG, a Central and state government services app at the inaugural ceremony of the Global Conference for Cyberspace in New Delhi on Thursday morning.

The ministry of electronics and IT has developed the app along with the National e-Governance Division . Its name expands to Unified Mobile Application for New-age Governance.

The app has 162 services from 33 state and central government departments in four states. It can be used to locate CBSE exam centres, view school results, calculate crop insurance premium, access soil health cards, book OPD appointments at government hospitals, view lab reports, register for the PMKY programme, raise EPFO claims and more.

UMANG integrates with core government services like Aadhaar, DigiLocker, Rapid Assessment System, and Bharat Bill Pay and is available in English, Hindi, Assamese, Gujarati, Bengali, Kannada, Odia, Punjabi, Malyalam, Marathi, Tamil, Telegu, and Urdu.

India ‘outraged’ at Pak freeing terrorist

In a strong criticism of Pakistan’s support for cross-border terrorism, the government said that JuD chief and Mumbai attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed’s release appears to be an attempt to “mainstream” proscribed terrorists and shield non-state actors responsible for heinous acts.

A day after a judicial board in Pakistan decided to rescind orders to keep Hafiz Saeed under house arrest, the government said, “It also appears to be an attempt by the Pakistani system to mainstream proscribed terrorists. Pakistan has not changed its policy of shielding and supporting non-state actors and its true face is visible for all to see.”

The ease with which the judicial board in Pakistan rejected the Punjab government’s plea to keep Saeed under house arrest has raised suspicions that the LeT terror chief’s proximity to the Pakistan military worked in his favour. Seen as an “asset” by Pakistan agencies, Saeed immediately described his release as a setback to India.

The LeT chief has repeatedly spoken of his resolve to wage jihad against India and has addressed public meetings despite being designated a global terrorist by the UN and US. The Lashkar chief’s release is a further setback to India-Pakistan ties that are already in a limbo. Talks have been frozen over India’s insistence that they address terrorism and developments in Pakistan such as the exit of PM Nawaz Sharif.

Hafiz Saeed is a “terrorist leader” designated as such by the UN as well as the US, the Trump administration has said, following a Pakistan court’s order for his release from house arrest. Responding to a question, a State Department spokesperson was quick to express its displeasure over Saeed’s potential release. 


Top 10: BRICS Universities’ List

Two Indian institutions have made it to the top 10 of a ranking of universities in the BRICS bloc of nations, compared with just one last year.

IIT-Bombay has moved up to the 9th spot in the QS World University Rankings: BRICS 2018, from 13th last time, making its debut in the top 10. IISc-Bangalore has slipped four positions to the tenth from sixth.

Two more Indian institutions feature among the top 20 — IIT-Delhi, which has fallen to 17th place from 15th, and IIT Madras that climbed a spot to 18th.

As many as 14 institutions from India have made it to the top 100. Apart from the four in the first 20, these are IIT-Kanpur (21st), IIT-Kharagpur (24th), University of Delhi (41st), IIT-Roorkee (51st), IIT-Guwahati (52nd), University of Calcutta (64th), Jadavpur University (74th), University of Mumbai (82nd), Anna University (85th) and IIT-Hyderabad (100th).

As many as 65 Indian universities have been ranked this time — more than Brazil (61) and South Africa (12), but fewer than Russia (68) and China (94). The top four universities in the BRICS ranking are from China: Tsinghua University, Peking University, Fudan University and University of Science and Technology of China.

India’s strength, relative to other BRICS nations, lies in the fact that its universities have high proportions of qualified faculty. Fifteen Indian universities have bagged a perfect 100 out of 100 for QS’s Staff with PhD indicator, said a statement issued by Quacquarelli Symonds, the British company that ranked the universities in the five BRICS nations.

Research productivity of India’s universities is also one of its strengths. Three Indian universities — IISc-Bangalore, Institute of Chemical Technology-Mumbai and IIT-Delhi — have received 100 out of 100 for papers-per-faculty. All of the top seven scores for this indicator are achieved by Indian universities.

Quantity of Indian research, however, is greater than its average quality, the statement added. QS’s Citations per Paper metric measures the impact of a university’s research output. No Indian entrant achieves a top-10 score for this indicator, which is dominated by Chinese universities.

Insolvency Code Tweaked

The government sought to tighten the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code through an ordinance to ensure that willful defaulters and promoters of companies in loan default over an extended period of time won’t be able to get their hands back on assets during the resolution process.

The ordinance comes in the wake of concerns that promoters who had defaulted on loans and caused banks to take deep haircuts were trying to regain control of their companies. The move is aimed at ensuring that such attempts at backdoor entry in the guise of resolution applicants are prevented.

This suggests that promoters of 11of the dozen big loan default cases referred by the Reserve Bank of India for resolution may not be able to bid for their companies during the resolution process.

The government has been worried about the political consequences of such an eventuality — promoters regaining control — as banks are forced to swallow loan losses.

The ordinance bars wilful defaulters, undischarged insolvents and disqualified directors, besides those who have engaged in preferential, undervalued or fraudulent transactions as determined by the adjudicating authority. This also includes those who are promoters, in the management or control of such persons whose accounts are classified as non-performing assets beyond a prescribed duration. It’s not clear what this duration would be.

The ordinance prescribes eligibility criteria for prospective resolution applicants and empowers the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India to specify other norms if required. It also provides a due diligence framework to enable the committee of creditors to make a proper assessment of the creditworthiness and credibility of an applicant before approving a resolution plan.

As many as 400 companies have been referred to the National Company Law Tribunal for resolution.

The 12 big loan default cases referred by the Reserve Bank of India for resolution include Essar Steel, Bhushan Power, Bhushan Steel, Amtek Auto and Lanco Infratech. Resolution professionals in charge of the process have put these companies on the block. A case is taken up for resolution under the code only after receiving NCLT approval.

Wilful defaulters are those who have deliberately avoided repayment of loans despite having the capacity to do so, have diverted funds for other purposes or siphoned off money.

IBBI had earlier amended regulations governing the corporate insolvency resolution process to ensure that — as part of due diligence prior to approval of a resolution plan — antecedents, creditworthiness and credibility of a resolution applicant, including promoters, are taken into account by the committee of creditors.

However, an amendment to the code was needed as curbs on promoters bidding would not have held up in courts otherwise.

The corporate affairs ministry has already set up a 14-member Insolvency Law Committee headed by corporate affairs secretary Injeti Srinivas to take stock of the code’s implementation.

A new finance commission

The Union Cabinet approved setting up of the 15th Finance Commission to decide on the new formula for sharing of resources between the Centre and the states.

The new commission will have a heavier agenda, given major changes following introduction of GST. In addition, the committee on amendments to the fiscal responsibility law, headed by former Planning Commission member N K Singh, had also sought a detailed examination of its proposal by the new finance commission to cap state debt at 20% of GDP, while capping overall government debt at 60% of GDP.

The members of the finance commission and its terms of reference will be notified in due course.Its recommendations will have to be in place before April 1, 2020, he said. “Normally, it takes two years for finance commission to give its recommendations.”

The 14th Finance Commission headed by former RBI governor Y V Reddy had prompted the government to introduce major changes in the way spending took place. From April 2015, the Centre has virtually abolished centrally-sponsored schemes and transfers funds directly to the states, which are free to decide their spending pattern based on their requirements. This change had led to accusations of the Centre slashing spending on key sectors. It also did away with the distinction between plan and non-plan expenditure, prompting the Narendra Modi government to do away with the decades old classification.

In addition, with 42% of the taxes collected by the Centre transferred to the states (as suggested by the 14th Finance Commission), the Union government has less cash at its disposal and limited elbow room in deciding spending priorities, considering that repayment of loans, salary and pension payments eat up a large chunk of the funds. Earlier, 32% of the Centre’s tax revenue, excluding cesses and surcharges, was transferred to the states as recommended by the 13th Finance Commission.

Asked whether the 15th Finance Commission will also allocate more resources to the states, Jaitley said, “I think let us not pre-judge the situation. India is a Union of states, the Union also has to survive.”

A panel to rewrite direct tax law

After an overhaul of indirect taxes, the government has announced a review of direct taxes, a move that may impact your tax rates and exemptions in the coming years. The review came months after PM Narendra Modi observed that the income tax law was drafted 56 years ago and needed to be re-drafted

The task force will be headed by Arbind Modi, currently member-legislation in CBDT, who had helped draft the Direct Taxes Code, eight years ago. The draft law was unveiled by former finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and was significantly watered down by his own team. The DTC Bill, which was introduced in Parliament in 2010, lapsed with the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha. It was eventually junked by the Modi government a few years ago.

Tax officers have, however, said several of the proposals have been incorporated in the existing I-T Act. The DTC was originally proposed by former finance minister P Chidambaram but he had moved to the home ministry by the time the draft was ready. Apart from Modi, the panel will have chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian as a permanent special invitee, along with G C Srivastava, former IRS officer and advocate, Rajiv Memani, chairman and regional MD at consulting firm Ernst & Young, chartered accountant Girish Ahuja, tax lawyer Mukesh Patel, and Mansi Kedia, a consultant at ICRIER, a think tank.

The task force has been given six months to submit its report. It is mandated to draft a law that is in line with tax laws prevalent in other countries and that incorporates international best practices. With the Budget to be presented in February, it is unlikely that the Modi administration will introduce a Bill to rewrite the I-T Act before the 2019 general elections. “This steadfast focus will enhance India’s competitiveness and make the country future ready,” Memani, a member of the panel, said.

Tax experts said the focus should be on ways to reduce litigation by making the tax regime more predictable, while reducing the rates along with exemptions, especially for the corporate sector.

BrahMos test-fired from Sukhoi

Soon, India will have the formidable precision strike capability to take out terror camps, underground nuclear bunkers, aircraft carriers on the high seas and other military targets from long or ‘standoff’ distances by day or night in all weather conditions.

In a big leap towards inducting this deep surgical strike capability, the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, which flies almost three times the speed of sound at Mach 2.8, was successfully tested for the first time from a Sukhoi-30MKI fighter jet in the Bay of Bengal at about 10.40 am yesterday.

The air-breathing missile, after the ‘gravity-drop’ of around 200 metres from the fighter that had taken off from the Kalaikunda airbase, kicked off its booster to attain supersonic speed within seconds and then zoomed ahead to hit the ship or ‘battle practice target’ with pinpoint accuracy to blow it to smithereens at a range of 260 km. The 2.5-tonne BrahMos-ALCM (air-launched cruise missile) “can also easily go over 400 km”, like its 2.9-tonne land and ship-launched variants already inducted into the armed forces. The BrahMos missile combined with the Sukhoi-30MKI fighter, which has a cruising range of 3,200 km or a combat radius of about 1,500 km without mid-air refuelling, constitutes a decidedly deadly weapons package.

The conventional (non-nuclear) weapon, for instance, can target Chinese aircraft carriers and other warships, or block Pakistan’s Gwadar port by sinking a few ships in the harbour for that matter. “The world-class BrahMos is now capable of being launched from the land, sea and air, completing the tactical cruise missile triad for India,” the defence ministry said.

The IAF, on its part, said, “The missile’s capability coupled with the Sukhoi-30MKI’s superlative performance gives IAF strategic reach and allows it to dominate the ocean and the battlefields.” It has already placed orders worth Rs.6,516 crore for the BrahMos-ALCM, which takes the total orders for the missiles to Rs.27,150 crore from the three Services till now. “The deliveries of ALCM can begin in early-2018 after an air-to-ground test. It’s a proven missile,” said a source.

PM Modi, in a tweet, expressed “delight” and congratulated “all those associated with this remarkable feat”. BrahMos Aerospace chief Sudhir Mishra, on being contacted, said his organisation was “committed to continue providing the world’s fastest supersonic cruise missile to the Army, Navy and IAF”. With the IAF having inducted 240 of the 272 twin-seat Sukhois contracted from Russia for over $12 billion, 42 of the fighters are to be eventually armed with BrahMos missiles. As of now, with the help of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, only two Sukhois have undergone the structural, mechanical, electrical and software modifications needed to integrate the heavy missile with the fighter for flight trials.

The government has also approved the deployment of Block-III version of the BrahMos land-launched missile, which has “steep dive, trajectory manoeuvre, and top-attack capabilities” for mountain warfare, in Arunachal Pradesh as a deterrent against China. With India joining the 34-nation Missile Technology Control Regime in 2016, which “removed the caps” on the range of the missile developed jointly with Russia, the armed forces are also testing an extended range BrahMos that can hit targets 450 km away.

Navi Mumbai airport snippets

Imagine a natural formation as high as a 20-storey building, which is 2 km north-south and 1 km east-west, being flattened. This is what is happening at the Navi Mumbai International Airport site as a 90 m hill is being levelled to 8 m to make way for a runway and the project’s core area.

The hill is being blasted in the afternoon and evening everyday in order to raze it. To speed up hill-cutting, City and Industrial Development Corporation, the project’s nodal development authority, is now planning to blast the hill during mornings as well. The work, which began in July, has been delayed due to monsoon, which withdrew only in October, and protests by project-affected persons. In the coming weeks, the hill will be blasted thrice a day—7 am to 8 am, besides the earlier 1 pm to 2 pm and 5 pm to 6 pm. It will take two years to level the hill.

Interestingly, when villagers were refusing to hand over the hill, the Cidco was considering an alternative —reclaim an island in the sea near Panvel creek. In Singapore and Hong Kong, airports have been built on land reclaimed from sea. But villagers in the area agreed and Cidco could go ahead with the hill cutting.

The rocky material obtained from the blasting will be used to raise the level of the land around the hill to 5.5 m. Thereafter, the operator will raise it by another 2.5 m to level it with the hill. The operation also includes diversion of the eponymous river (Ulwe) on the southern end. Three contractors have been engaged for this operation. The Navi Mumbai International airport is being built at a cost of Rs.16,000 crore, of which Rs.5,534 crore is allotted for the first phase. The pre-development work, which is in the first phase, will cost 37% (Rs.2,033 crore) of the cost.


India’s Bhandari re-elected to ICJ

Re-election of Judge Dalveer Bhandari to the International Court of Justice was a big moment for India as it demonstrated the country’s growing clout on the international arena.

An ecstatic Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted “Vande Mataram – India wins to the International Court of Justice. Jai Hind.” India’s permanent representative at the UN Syed Akbaruddin tweeted, “A vote that brings to cheer to a billion.” Bhandari received 183 of the 193 votes in the General Assembly and secured all 15 votes in the Security Council to fill the final vacancy on the Hague-based ICJ after separate but simultaneous elections were held at the UN headquarters.

In a statement later, the MEA said, “The extraordinary support from the UN membership is reflective of the respect for strong constitutional integrity of the Indian polity and the independence of the judiciary in India.”

PM Narendra Modi credited the efforts of Swaraj and MEA officials for the re-election. He also thanked members of the UN General Assembly and the Security Council.

Justice Bhandari won after UK candidate Sir Christopher Greenwood withdrew following a closely-fought contest that seemed loaded against him. It was a recognition of India’s growing clout, honour and prestige at the UN.

Property Deals to be Linked to Aadhaar

Union housing minister Hardeep Puri said property transactions will be linked to Aadhaar soon. Puri said such a move would go a long way in sucking out black money from real estate and also help in crackdown on benami properties.

“Seeding Aadhaar to property transactions is a great idea, but I’m not going to make an announcement on that. We are already linking Aadhaar to bank accounts etc, and we can take some additional steps for property market also,” he said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has indicated several times that the government would crack down on benami property. Aadhaar linkage could be one part of that drive. Puri is the first union minister to confirm that Aadhaar linkage with property transactions would indeed be made mandatory.

When asked if seeding Aadhaar with property is a logical conclusion of the government's drive to push Aadhaar to bring transparency in economy, Puri said, “Absolutely, that’s the way it's heading anyway. I have no doubt that it will happen.”

However, according to Puri, while no one can absolutely enforce that a transaction between two individuals is completely transparent, large-value transactions such as property and air tickets could definitely be monitored.

“There is no economy in the world that is entirely cashless. However, people do not feel the need of carrying large wads of cash around in economies that have stable system. That’s the way we are heading,” he said.

Mandatory Aadhaar linkage to innumerable government schemes and for identification has generated a lot of debate. Several petitions against the Aadhaar linkage are being heard in the court.

Diesel-run trains will soon become history: Piyush Goyal

Diesel-run trains will soon become history in India, railway minister Piyush Goyal has said. Phasing out diesel locomotives and replacing them with electric engines will help the country reduce carbon emissions and help the Railways save ₹10,500 crore annually, he said.

“We don’t want to burden our passengers and freight customers by raising costs. Through bringing efficiency in the existing system, we can reduce operational costs and provide better services to our users,” Goyal said at a Ficci event. “We’ll only use diesel locomotives for back up.”

The Railways has fast-tracked plans to have a 100% electrified rail network. The national transporter is targeting to electrify the remaining 30,000 kilometres of rail lines in the next four years, at an expected cost of ₹30,000-35,000 crore. The government is targeting to build an 11,000-km-long high-speed network, the minister said.

“We’ve identified routes where most of the traffic moves. We’ll work on a plan to convert them into high speed. Because of the large scale of the projects, the cost of construction of bullet-train corridors will also reduce,” he said.

Goyal added that he would like to continue with the proven and accident-free Japanese high-speed train technology, instead of going for Chinese technology.

On using renewable energy for railway operations, Goyal said whatever vacant land the Railways has would soon turn into solar parks. “I’m asking companies to set up solar plants on our land. This will also ensure that no future encroachment happens on the rail land,” while helping provide cheap electricity, he said.

The Railways is planning to generate 4,000 MW of power through renewable sources. The minister said he wanted the Railways to monetise its own assets instead of it depending on budgetary allocations from the finance ministry.

Aadhaar-linked seamless air travel from 2018

Come 2018 and domestic flyers out of Kolkata, Ahmedabad and Vijaywada will whiz through airports if they link their Aadhaar number to air tickets at the time of booking them. Airports Authority of India will implement the government’s ambitious “digi yatra” programme as a pilot project early next year from these three airports and then roll out this Aadhaar-based seamless travel experience at other airports.

Under the Aadhaar-based system, flyers will use stored biometrics to prove identity to enter terminals; their Aadhaar-linked airline database will show what flight they are booked on and similarly linked airport databases will show they have been through security and allowed access to boarding gate closer to flight departure time. These three processes will eventually eliminate the need to show paper ID cards, paper tickets and boarding cards.


Logistics Gets Infra Status

The government has granted infrastructure status to the logistics sector, making it easier for companies operating cold chains, industrial parks and warehousing facilities to raise long-term credit from banks and other financial institutions at low rates, and attract foreign investment.

The department of economic affairs through a notification has expanded the category of infrastructure sub-sectors to include transport and logistics, moving them from earlier sub-head of transport. The definition of logistics, according to the notification, includes industrial parks, warehouses, cold storages and transportation.

High logistics cost has always been a worry for India as it impacts prices of goods in the country and price competitiveness of exporters.

According to the government notification, multimodal logistics parks comprising inland container depot with minimum investment of ₹50 crore and minimum area of 10 acre come under logistics infrastructure. Also, a cold chain facility having an investment of at least ₹15 crore as well as warehousing facility with investment of minimum ₹25 crore would come under logistics infrastructure. In both cases, facilities should have a minimum required area.

The government has planned to set up 34 mega logistics parks across the country at investments of more than ₹1 lakh crore. The Centre will take up projects in partnership with state governments and private companies. Trunk infrastructure and last-mile connectivity would be provided by National Highways Authority of India.

Other than transport and logistics, the list of infrastructure subsectors comprises energy, water and sanitation, roads, shipping, waterways, airports, rail tracks, communication, social and commercial infrastructure.

Leading logistics players have welcomed the government’s decision saying the move will help them raise funds at a lower cost which in turn will help reduce the overall transportation cost.

The industry expects the move to lead to a 50bps gain for logistics players in terms of cost.

Manushi Chhillar crowned Miss World 2017

India’s Manushi Chhillar was crowned as Miss World 2017 at a grand event held in Sanya in China.

The 20-year-old medical student from Haryana had won Femina Miss India World 2017 in May this year.

Manushi had made it to the top 5 along with contestants from England, France, Kenya and Mexico.

The first and the second runners-up were Miss England Stephanie Hill and Miss Mexico Andrea Meza.

The coveted title was last won by Priyanka Chopra for India in 2000, a year after Yukta Mookhey had made the country proud.

In 1997, Diana Hayden had bagged the title, while Aishwarya Rai had the honours in 1994.

Reita Faria was the first Indian to win the crown in the 1966.

Manushi Chhillar, 20, is the sixth Indian winner of the prestigious competition, following in the footsteps of Bollywood actresses Priyanka Chopra and Aishwarya Rai.

Her win means that India is now level with Venezuela as they both hold six victories over the course of the pageant’s 67 years.

Nilekanis to donate half their wealth

Infosys co-founder and tech billionaire Nandan Nilekani and his wife Rohini have joined The Giving Pledge, an elite network of the world’s wealthiest individuals committing half their wealth to philanthropy.

The Giving Pledge website uploaded Nilekanis’ letter signing up for the cause.

The letter said, “We thank Bill and Melinda for creating this unique opportunity to realise a moral aspiration inspired by the Bhagwad Gita.

“We have a right to do our duty, but no automatic right to the fruits from the doing. It is critical that we do not slip into inaction fearing that we may not be able to reap direct reward. It is to this ideal that we pledge,” it added.

Later, Bill Gates tweeted about Nilekanis’ pledge on Monday. “I’m amazed by how @NandanNilekani has lent his entrepreneurial passion to philanthropy. I’m delighted to welcome him and his wife Rohini to The Giving Pledge,” Gates tweeted.

The Giving Pledge was created by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett in August 2010 following a series of conversations with philanthropists around the world about how they could collectively set a new standard of generosity among the ultra-wealthy. It is an effort to help address society’s most pressing problems by inviting the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to commit more than half of their wealth to philanthropy or charitable causes either during their lifetime or in their will.

The Nilekanis are the fourth Indians after Wipro chairman Azim Premji, Biocon chairman Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw and Sobha Developers chairman emeritus P N C Menon to sign up for The Giving Pledge.

Talking about their initiatives as EkStep, Nilekanis’ letter said “We are excited by our initial experimentation with societal platforms in early education and see immense potential for scaling up diverse solutions.

They also said their philanthropic efforts would be directed at societal platforms, which are open, technologyenabled ecosystems or nurturing networks.

“Our philanthropic journey of two decades has been led by Rohini’s passion and commitment!” Nilekani tweeted. Nilekani recently returned to Infosys as non-executive chairman after the exit of Sikka as Infosys CEO.

Sikka quit following a long-standing feud between board and founders, especially N R Narayana Murthy, who had raised concern over falling corporate governance practices at Infosys. Rohini is also founder of Arghyam, an initiative for safe and sustainable water. 

Somewhere in Uttarakhand....

In a bizarre discovery that has baffled experts, a well-preserved skeleton of a ‘dinosaur-like’ creature was found under a pile of junk in a store room at an electric sub-station in Uttarakhand. The room was opened on Sunday for the first time in 35 years by an electrician to clean it

Link Aadhaar to mobile from home

The Unique Identification Authority of India has simplified the process for linking mobile phone numbers with Aadhaar. The move will particularly help senior citizens and the differently abled, who need not go to service providers but will be able to do the linking from home.

The UIDAI has issued fresh directives for generating a one time password either through the service provider’s website or through its Interactive Voice Response services to facilitate the linking, also known as re-verification.

The UIDAI had found the earlier approved system of generating the OTP with a mere SMS unsafe. The only catch in the new method is that a user needs to have the mobile number registered with Aadhaar or would have to first update the mobile number in the Aadhaar records by going to the Aadhaar updation centres — either post offices or government offices. A user can reverify a mobile number on the web portal of the service provider, for which the latter will provide an OTP. Once the OTP is entered, the user will see a consent message displayed on the website. The user can enter the Aadhaar number after checking the consent box.

The UIDAI has also specified that the service providers need to ensure that they have internal robust security measures to protect the Aadhaar information. For the IVR re-verification method, a user has to put in a call through the mobile number that needs to be linked. The interactive voice recorder plays the consent message and the user provides the Aadhaar number, following which an OTP request is sent. The reverification message is finally issued on the IVR.


Of Floating solar panels @ Ujjani Dam....

In order to prevent mass-scale evaporation of water, the Maharashtra state government has given a nod to a proposal that involves setting up floating solar panels on Ujjani Dam that covers a huge area across Pune, Solapur and Ahmednagar districts.

Every year, the dam loses over 1.5 TMC water owing to evaporation. Therefore, the state water resources department and the Department of Energy, New and Renewable Energy have tied up with Chennai-based Tech-Federal to set up an energy plant. The solar panels will be set up on a water surface of 4,640 acres. With this project, the state government aims to generate 1,000 MW electricity. This will be first-of-its-kind plant in India and one of the largest in the world.

The solar plant will be set afloat on water to generate power. These panels will be connected to each other to multiply power generation. The power generated through the floating solar panels will be linked with the state power grid owned by the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Limited. The Ujjani Dam is the one of the largest water reservoirs in the state and it fulfils the need of irrigation and drinking water in Pune, Baramati, Solapur, Ahmednagar, Osmanabad and Beed districts. The dam is also known for export of fresh water fish all over the country.

The officer continued, “Tech-Federal is expected to invest Rs.6,300 crore for the project. The project will run for the next 25 years and generate power as well as save over 1.5 TMC water. This will also generate employment for over 5,000 people. As of now, there is a need to acquire land at the bank of the dam. However, the cost will be borne by the company itself.”

As per the memorandum of understanding signed with the company, it will sell power at the rate of Rs.3.25 per unit.

Vision Tamil Nadu --2023

Tamil Nadu deputy chief minister O Panneerselvam said the government will work towards making the state an attractive investment destination, which would have an infrastructure investment of $250 billion by 2023 in the “Vision Tamil Nadu --2023” document.

TN's per capita income is expected to reach that of upper middle income countries by 2023, said Panneerselvam on the sidelines of the 2nd United Economic Forum’s Trade Summit.

Panneerselvam said the investment commitments of ₹71,750 crore and MoUs to the tune of ₹2,600 crore is proof of the burgeoning investment climate in the state. “It is significant that the UEF is promoting investments through Sovereign Wealth Funds, Private Equity Funds, and Sharia funds. We have established, the Tamil Nadu Infrastructure Fund, which is the first Category Alternative Investment Fund established by any state government under SEBI regulations,” he added.

“Tamil Nadu, which attracts the third highest FDI in the country, will work towards a more inclusive growth pattern, which provides more opportunities for gainful and productive employment for all, and care for the disadvantaged, vulnerable, and destitute. In 1991, the per capita income of the state was lower than the national average, and today, we are more than 80%, above the national average,” said the deputy CM.

On the government's New Industrial Policy, launched in 2014, the deputy CM said, “We are reworking elements of the policy to keep in tune with the latest developments, including the introduction of GST. The effort is to not only retain Tamil Nadu’s lead in the sectors that it is strong in, but also make a breakthrough, in emerging and sunrise sectors.”

ISL gets going

Digital India

MIT Develops Office Rent Index

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has created office realty rent indices for India’s top six cities in collaboration with Propstack in the run-up to opening up of India’s Real Estate Investment Trust market that prompted large investments from global institutional funds.

The development assumes significance as the maiden index for Indian office real estate market is expected to bring greater transparency into this segment and could trigger higher institutional investments from large sovereign wealth and pension funds.

MIT Center of Real Estate has developed these indices, based on data from realty information and analytic firm Propstack, for Mumbai, National Capital Region, Bangalore, Pune, Chennai and Hyderabad. These indices have been developed from data of last 12 years related to rent and its growth on quarterly basis in these six key markets.

“We introduce new methodology for constructing real estate rent indices. Using unique data on contract rents from six Indian metropolitan markets, we pair subsequent rented units in the same building to create over 12,000 pseudo repeat rent pairs,” said the paper released by MIT’s Sheharyar Bokhari, David Geltner, and Alex van de Minne.

Rent indices are an important indicator for tracking the space market and can be used to support asset allocation, performance measurement and attribution, transparency, research and investment product development.

“Indian commercial market has been witnessing steady and robust growth in the last few years owing to improving macro-economic factors leading to business development. This coupled with uptake in office space absorption, rental growth and improving transparency has been attracting global investments. With the upcoming REIT listings, indices tracking rental growth in key markets would help in pushing this further,” said Raja Seetharaman, cofounder, Propstack.

Among the six Indian office markets, Bengaluru has seen the biggest increase in rents since 2010 more than 5% annually. Chennai and Pune grew annually at 2.8% and 2.7%, respectively. Hyderabad and the NCR office market rents have increased 1.9% and 1.8% per year, respectively.

While Mumbai had the slowest annual growth at 0.4%, it had grown tremendously during in 2005-2008, when rents more than doubled. The growth indicates that important emerging markets such as India need to develop sophisticated commercial realty information analytics.