Moody’s Cuts India’s 2018 Growth Forecast

International rating company Moody’s Investors Service has cut India’s growth forecast to 7.3% for 2018 from 7.5%, projected earlier, on the back of higher oil prices, although it expects the country to benefit from acceleration in rural consumption due to a normal monsoon and higher support prices.

A re-escalation of trade tensions between the US and China is another risk factor to global growth, according to the company.

Moody’s expects China’s growth to decelerate to 6.6% in 2018 and further to 6.4% in 2019. India’s economy is projected to grow by 7.5% in 2019.

Moody’s expects growth to get an upside from an acceleration in rural consumption, supported by higher minimum support prices and a normal monsoon.

It cautioned, “Ongoing transition to the new Goods and Service Tax regime could also weigh on growth somewhat over the next few quarters, which poses some downside risk to our forecast.”

“However, we expect these issues to moderate over the course of the year.”

Moody’s expects strong global growth in 2018 similar to 2017, but expects some moderation by the end of 2018 and in 2019 as a number of advanced economies reach full employment, borrowing costs rise.

India, Indonesia will develop strategic port

India and Indonesia will develop a naval port in Sabang, a strategic location on the tip of Sumatra island and at the entrance of the vital Malacca Straits. The move, which comes at a time when China is expanding its maritime footprint in the region, was the most significant decision among a series of other pacts the two sides signed after talks between PM Narendra Modi and President Joko Widodo during the PM’s first visit to Indonesia.

The two nations also agreed to step up defence and maritime cooperation, with both countries agreeing to align their national maritime policies — India’s Indo-Pacific policy with Indonesia’s policy of ‘global maritime fulcrum’. Modi announced a 30-day free visa for Indonesian citizens and invited the diaspora to travel to their country of origin to experience the ‘New India’. “Many of you may never have been to India. I invite you all to come to India for the Kumbh Mela in Prayag next year,” Modi said. Both countries are finding convergence on the maritime front, largely due to fears of China’s expansionism.

The joint statement also said they would negotiate the resolution of delimitation of maritime boundaries, which they said “should be based on the principles of international law including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.” China has encroached on Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone with its ‘nine-dash-line’, to the extent that Indonesia has now renamed its sea the Natuna Sea.


Bypolls Generate Heat Over EVMs, VVPATs

Opposition parties and BJP demanded repolling claiming hundreds of EVMs and paper trail machines deployed in Kairana, Bhandara-Gondia and Palghar Lok Sabha and Noorpur assembly bypolls developed snags and were not replaced for hours. The Election Commission blamed improper handling of VVPAT machines by officials and excess heat but said there were enough spare machines to replace the malfunctioning ones.

The EC’s technical expert committee had red flagged the VVPAT failures in recent elections and had informed EC of the problem even before Monday’s bypolls, where VVPAT failures were seen in constituencies that went to polls in scorching heat. An official said those who skipped training programmes and “spent time on their phones during training sessions” placed the machines at places where ‘heat sensitive’ nature of the device created problems. Earlier in the day, EC termed as “exaggerated projection of reality” reports of “large scale” failure of EVMs.

Petrol prices cross 86 in Mumbai, Pune

Petrol prices in Pune and Mumbai breached the Rs.86-a-litre mark as fuel prices across the country increased for the 15th day in a row after resumption of the dynamic pricing system on May 14.

Petrol will cost Rs.86.07 per litre in Pune, against Rs.85.76 on Sunday, according to the All India Petrol Dealer’s Association. Diesel will cost Rs.72.51. In Mumbai, petrol was sold at Rs.86.08 per litre, up from Rs.85.93 on Sunday, data from the Indian Oil Corporation’s wesbite showed. In Delhi petrol is Rs.81.26 a litre.

Tuesday’s petrol price will not only be an all-time high for Mumbai and in India,but also among countries in the subcontinent.

Shimla goes Thirsty

The last place you want to get your drinking water from is the cremation ground. But with the water crisis in Shimla worsening, residents of Chalaunthi area in the suburbs were forced to fetch water from local cremation ground on bypass road on Sunday. They had not got water for the sixth day and many felt that it was better to get it from the dead rather than dying of thirst.

Hundreds of agitated residents even blocked the national highway at Kanlog bypass for around two and half hours from 4 pm on Monday as they wanted the authorities to know about their desperation. In the evening, they blocked the Chandigarh – Shimla highway at the Chakkar checkpost.

“We are extremely upset at having to drink water from a place meant for the dead. But the situation is acute and we have no option,” says Satish Kumar, vice-president of Sanjivani Jan Kalyan Society. He adds that after their protest, a water tanker was sent to their area but that was not sufficient to meet the needs of 5,000-odd residents.

The water crisis has been created because of little snowfall in the region. This has led to many channels that feed water to the city drying up.


Golden Chapter in Indo-Bangladesh Ties: Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina spoke of a “golden chapter” being written in Indo-Bangladesh bilateral relationship, seemingly brushing aside the issues that persist between the two nations.

Bangladesh is seeking India’s support in mounting pressure on Myanmar to take back the Rohingyas refugees. The unsolved Teesta water sharing agreement is also a pain point for India’s eastern neighbour.

At the 49th convocation of the Visva-Bharati University in Shantiniketan, Bengal, Hasina mentioned the Rohingya crisis as a “humanitarian” issue and said her government seeks India’s help to build pressure on Myanmar so that they take back their people.

She said, “There can be problems between two neighbours, but I do not want to raise those pending issues here. I do not want to spoil the wonderful programme.”

Her Indian counterpart, however, asserted that his government has brought resolution to some complex issues which earlier used to be believed as “impossible to resolve”, and assured her of resolving the remaining issues soon.

“In these years, we have been writing the golden chapter of India-Bangladesh relationship. There are certain issues which earlier used to be believed as impossible to resolve. But we have jointly brought resolution to these issues,” said Modi at the Bangladesh Bhawan, which was inaugurated the same day. “The connectivity issue was almost shut for a long time. But now we are working on these issues and increasing all sorts of connectivity between two countries. We have already started Kolkata-Khulna AC Bandhan express.”

Hasina invoked Indira Gandhi and narrated how she and her sister were taken care of by India after the massacre of her family in Bangladesh. Calling India her “biggest friend”, she said her country has always got support from India when needed.

Modi reciprocated saying, “India will always be there for Bangladesh. The friendly relationship between India and Bangladesh is now a subject of study. I believe that the key to progress for both the countries lies in mutual peace.” Congratulating Bangladesh for its successful launch of its first satellite, Bangabandhu 1, Modi said the countries will have cooperation in using space technology.

Modi and Hasina addressed a gathering at the Bhawan and then had a one-on-one meeting. According to sources, the leaders discussed bilateral issues including security concerns, trade deficit and connectivity.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was also present during the programme. She is scheduled to meet Hasina in Kolkata on Saturday.


Somewhere in Chennai....

Indians tune into large-screen TVs

When it comes to televisions, it is the big screen that Indians are going for. Increased content consumption on platforms such as Netflix, Amazon, YouTube and Hotstar — buoyed by a crash in data prices — has fuelled the demand for 55-inch and larger category of ‘smart’ internet TVs, outpacing the growth witnessed by smaller screens.

The trend has gathered pace over the past two years or so, prompting companies to launch more and more TVs with larger screens compared to the massive focus they earlier had on screens such as 24- and 32-inch. These include Ultra HD (high-definition) TVs, OLEDs and new-age 4K screens.

Top officials from companies such as Sony, LG, Panasonic and even homegrown Vu TV say the trend is only going to get stronger as prices of panels come down and popularity of larger screens picks pace.

Netherlands Joins International Solar Alliance

As Netherlands joined the International Solar Alliance, PM Modi greeted his Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte by enhancing bilateral relations in the fields of energy, agriculture, water and technology during the latter’s second visit to India.

Both PMs began the day with welcoming messages on Twitter, Modi tweeting in Dutch and Rutte in Hindi. After delegation level talks, Modi said, “I had called upon the Netherlands to join the International Solar Alliance and I am happy to tell you that the country has become a member of it today,” Modi said. In his comments, Rutte said there was a huge scope for the two countries to deepen cooperation in areas of trade and investment, clean energy, agriculture and smart cities.

Both leaders addressed business leaders, with Rutte holding a separate meeting with the Tata group, which has run into trouble in the Netherlands as a result of US tariffs on steel and local union problems. Addressing a select group later, Rutte said, “I pledge here today that I will make a personal investment in the EU-India relationship. I believe we can pave the way for the rest of Europe.”

Promising that the Netherlands would be more attractive post-Brexit, he said, “We are a small maritime nation, so free trade is in our DNA. Thanks to our strategic position, we are also a key gateway to Europe for Indian products. Even now, 20% of India’s exports to Europe pass through Schiphol Airport and the ports of Amsterdam and Rotterdam. And our position as India’s European hub will only be bolstered by Brexit.” The two countries also agreed on cooperation in areas of agriculture and food processing. “The areas of agriculture and food processing are important to us, and the Netherlands has expertise in both the fields. I am happy to share that Indo-Dutch Centre of Excellence for Vegetables has started in Pune’s Baramati,” PM Modi said.

The Dutch PM in his comments said there was a huge scope for the two countries to deepen cooperation in areas of trade and investment, clean energy, agriculture and smart cities. Looking forward to holding further deliberations, Rutte said, “Many Indian companies, which are active in the Netherlands, are helping us to build a more successful and more resilient society.

In his remarks, Rutte said, “If we work together we can achieve so much more in areas like security, the economy and sustainability.”


The Sochi Summit

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin went into an informal summit reiterating the “special privileged strategic partnership” between the two countries that are seen as growing distant, with India’s warming ties with the US and Russia reaching out to Pakistan and growing closer to China.

The two leaders met in the Black Sea city of Sochi, a few hours after Modi flew in. They met for “agenda less” talks.

“Productive discussions with President Putin during the informal summit in Sochi,” a post on Modi’s official Twitter account said.

In his opening remarks, Modi said: “I am grateful to President Putin who invited me for an informal meeting and hence, in the long friendship of ours, this is a new aspect that has been attached to our relationship,”. He recalled that the foundation of the India-Russia “strategic partnership” was laid by then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Putin in 2000 and ties had now grown into a “special privileged strategic partnership” which is a “very big achievement” in itself.

Modi thanked Russia for playing a major role in helping India get permanent membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation —an eight nation bloc which aims at military and economic cooperation between the member states.

“We are working together on International North-South Transport Corridor and BRICS,” Modi said.

Welcoming Modi, Putin said the visit would give a fresh impetus to bilateral ties.

“Our defence ministries maintain very close contacts and cooperation. It speaks about a very high strategic level of our partnership,” Putin said. He also hailed joint activities of the two countries in the area of multilateral diplomacy especially at international fora. “All that points to a very high and strategic level of interaction,” Putin said through a translator.

Putin also said that last year there was a considerable increase in mutual trade, with a more than 17% increase this year in the first several months.

According to two people familiar with the development, the aim of the informal summit was to use the friendship and trust between the two countries to create convergence on key global and regional issues. The issues on the table are expected to include the economic impact on India and Russia of the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, the situation in Afghanistan and Syria, the threat of terrorism and matters relating to upcoming Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and BRICS summits.

There has been apprehension that the US decision on the Iran deal may adversely impact New Delhi’s oil import from the Persian Gulf nation as well as on the Chabahar port project. Iran is the third largest supplier of crude oil to India after Saudi Arabia and Iraq. The possible consequences of US sanctions against Russia under the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act on India-Russia defence cooperation was also expected to figure during the talks between the two leaders.

Somewhere in Bengaluru....

JD(S) leader HD Kumaraswamy took oath as Karnataka chief minister at a grand ceremony attended by a galaxy of top politicians and regional satraps in a rare public show of unity perceived as a possible harbinger of a broad-based anti-BJP alliance ahead of the Lok Sabha polls next year.

Calling himself a “child of circumstances,” the third son of JD(S) supremo and former prime minister HD Deve Gowda said he decided to join hands with the Congress on the advice of several political leaders in the “national interest.”

Kumaraswamy, 58, was administered the oath of office and secrecy by Governor Vajubhai Vala. G Parameshwara, the state Congress chief and the party’s Dalit face, was sworn in as Kumaraswamy’s deputy.

Kumaraswamy will expand his council of ministers after the trust vote on Friday which he is expected to win without any hiccups.

The ceremony was attended by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, NCP’s Sharad Pawar, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her arch rival CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury. Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav and BSP supremo Mayawati, who have sewn up an alliance in Uttar Pradesh, were among the first to arrive on stage.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, who recently walked out of the NDA, his Kerala counterpart Pinarayi Vijayan, RJD supremo Lalu Prasad’s son Tejashwi Yadav, former Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren of JMM, DMK chief M Karunanidhi’s MP daughter Kanimozhi, and RLD leader Ajit Singh were among those present. Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao had flown to Bengaluru on Tuesday to congratulate Kumaraswamy.

Chandrababu Naidu and Mamata Banerjee called upon all regional parties to come together on a common platform.

The BJP boycotted the oath-taking ceremony and observed a “black day” across the state. It slammed the Congress-JD(S) coalition in Karnataka as an “opportunistic alliance”.

India Billionaire Count to Increase 3 Times by 2027

India has the third largest number of billionaires in the world, and in the next decade, as many as 238 additional ultra high net worth individuals will join this elite club, says a report. According to AfrAsia Bank Global Wealth Migration Review, India currently has 119 billionaires, and this number is expected to swell to 357 by 2027.

Over the next 10 years, while India is expected to create 238 additional billionaires, its neighbour China is likely to add 448 such individuals. By 2027, the United States is likely to have the maximum number of billionaires at 884, followed by China (697), and India (357) in the second and third positions, respectively.

Billionaires refer to individuals with net assets of $1 billion or more.

Other countries that are expected to create significant number of billionaires over the next decade include Russian Federation (142), United Kingdom (113), Germany (90) and Hong Kong (78). Globally, there are 2,252 billionaires at present, and this number is expected to increase to 3,444 by 2027.

In terms of “total wealth” — the private wealth held by all the individuals living in each country — India is the sixth wealthiest country in the world with a total wealth of $8,230 billion. The US is the wealthiest country in the world with a total wealth of $62,584 billion, followed by China ($24,803 billion) and Japan ($19,522 billion). Factors that will help in wealth creation in India include, large number of entrepreneurs and good educational system.

Rohingya ultras butchered 105 in 2 days

Rohingya Muslim militants brandishing guns and swords massacred 105 Hindu men, women and children over two days in Myanmar in 2017, Amnesty International has revealed.

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, a Rohingya rebel group, terrorised, murdered and abducted Hindus in northern Rakhine state just before a disproportionate campaign of violence was carried out by Myanmar’s security forces against the Rohingya, forcing some 700,000 of them to flee to Bangladesh.

On August 25, 2017, the same day that ARSA staged coordinated attacks on 30 police outposts and border guards, killing a dozen government forces and sparking the government crackdown, ARSA militants and Rohingya villagers captured scores of Hindus and slaughtered them outside their own villages.

Twenty Hindu men, 10 women, and 23 children were killed by ASRA in the village of Ah Nauk Kha Maung Seik, according to Amnesty International. The same day all 46 Hindus in the neighbouring village of Ye Bauk Kyar disappeared.

Based on dozens of interviews with survivors, as well as forensic pathologists’ analyses of photographic evidence, Amnesty has revealed how at 8 am on August 25, 2017, the ARSA attacked the Hindu community in the village of Ah Nauk Kha Maung Seik in northern Maungdaw township. Armed men dressed in black and Rohingya villagers, who are predominantly Muslim, rounded up their Hindu neighbours, robbed, bound, and blindfolded them, before marching them to the outskirts of the village where ARSA fighters killed 53 of them.

Eight Hindu women and eight Hindu children were abducted and spared after the Rohingya rebels forced the women to agree to “convert” to Islam. The survivors were forced to flee with the Rohingya fighters to Bangladesh, before being repatriated to Myanmar in October 2017. Amnesty is calling for independent investigators and a UN fact-finding mission to be given full access to Rakhine State.


Nipah virus: Panic grips Kerala

A deadly and contagious virus is suspected to have killed 12 people in Kozhikode in north Kerala, leading to hundreds of people with symptoms of fever into rushing to hospitals in panic, and forcing the central government to send a team of experts to monitor and control the spread of infection.

The Pune-based National Institute of Virology on Sunday confirmed three deaths, and a fourth illness from the same family, as caused by the Nipah virus. The surviving member of the family is critical and on ventilator support.

Humans get infected by consuming fruit- or date-palm sap contaminated by infected bats but while human-to-human transmission through body fluids is rare, it was recorded in Siliguri district in West Bengal in 2001 and is being suspected in Kerala. Four deaths were reported on Monday, including of a nurse who treated the three initial infections at the EMS Cooperative Hospital in Perambra . At least six persons are in critical condition and another 20 are under observation, state health officials said.

The death of the nurse triggered panic among hospital staff who have had their leaves cancelled to treat the sick. Three more nurses from the EMS Co-operative Hospital in Perambra are under observation at Kozhikode Medical College Hospital after they developed fever and headache, but whether they are suffering from Nipah is yet unconfirmed. All three had looked after the sick from the Moosa family, who have since then been identified as the first human cases of the virus in the state.


Of Saturated Airports....

At least 25 of the 50 busiest airports in India are already operating beyond their capacity, while almost all the others will reach optimal capacity in 2018-19, with the aviation industry growing at an unanticipated 18-20% every year.

This holds true for both government and privately-run airports. Key airports such as Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and Pune are already saturated, while Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Goa and Lucknow are among important aviation hubs that will reach full capacity by the end of the year. Experts say the figures only show overall capacity, but in peak hours, all these airports operate beyond capacity — leading to long queues at check-in counters, security risks because of compromised frisking, and clogging of gates leading to flight delays.

According to the civil aviation ministry, India has witnessed a phenomenal growth — the highest in the world — in the sector in the past four years and is already the world’s third-largest domestic aviation market. Smaller airports such as Leh, Surat, Tirupati, Jodhpur and Silchar are also operating beyond capacity.


Karnataka fiasco sullies BJP image

The failure of the BJP to cobble up the numbers and B S Yeddyurappa deciding to resign before the floor test in the Karnataka assembly has come as a major setback to the party, and this would give a boost to the Congress-led Opposition to take a united stand against the NDA in the coming elections.

Some BJP leaders said Yeddyurappa had taken the moral high ground and compared it to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s decision to resign in 1996 after 13 days as he could not muster a majority. But the comparison appeared misplaced. Yeddyurappa himself has been caught in an alleged phone conversation — as have been Janaradhan Reddy, Sriramulu and other senior leaders — trying to get Congress and JD(S) MLAs on their side by promising posts and money. Apart from charges of horse trading that will dent Modi’s anti-corruption plank and his claim “na khaunga, na khaane dunga”, the BJP will also have to counter charges of misusing the office of the governor not just in Karnataka but in other states too.

The luck of the Gowdas

In 1996, Deve Gowda became PM with just 16 MPs from Karnataka. In 2004, with just 58 MLAs, JD(S) formed the government in the state with Congress. The coalition lasted two years. In 2006, JD(S) ditched Congress and aligned with BJP, with HD Kumaraswamy as chief minister.

Now, again, with just 38 seats, Kumaraswamy will take over as CM and call the shots in the government. He has another notable achievement this time – he is the only candidate to have won from both constituencies he contested from – Ramanagara and Chennapatna. Former CM Siddaramaiah and BJP’s Sreeramulu lost from one constituency each.

PM Modi in Kashmir

In a passionate appeal to “misguided” Kashmiri youth, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged them to shun violence and return to their homes to live a life of dignity and peace.

“Every stone or weapon picked up by the youth of J&K is only meant to destabilise this state and the country. My appeal to these misguided youth is to return to the national mainstream, which is their own family, and participate in the development of the state,” he said after inaugurating the 330-MW Kishenganga hydel power project and pledging development initiatives worth Rs.25,000 crore for the state.

Three days after his government announced a unilateral suspension of combat operations against terrorists in Kashmir, the PM, at an official function in Srinagar, said the initiative had been taken to provide relief to the people of Kashmir during the holy month of Ramzan. “This will also help expose those who have been spreading terrorism in the name of Islam,” he said, adding that there were vested interests that did not want to see a prosperous J&K.

Without naming Pakistan, the PM said, “Friends, we need to respond to these foreign powers by keeping our march towards prosperity going.” The state government and the Centre, he said, were striving hard to bring into the mainstream “the youth influenced by false propaganda of a foreign power”. People who have been engaging in creating a wedge between J&K and the rest of India were “on the verge of extinction”, the PM said.

Modi asserted that like former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, he too believed in the idea of Kashmiriyat. “I have said it earlier, neither abuses nor bullets will solve the Kashmir problem. I believe the only solution is to embrace all Kashmiris,” he said, iterating his Independence Day address at Red Fort. Last year, he recalled, he had spent his Diwali with soldiers in north Kashmir’s Gurez. “Today I am among you during Ramzan,” he said.

Earlier, chief minister Mehbooba Mufti thanked and praised Modi for the unilateral ceasefire, saying that the move had raised hopes and strengthened people’s faith in him in Kashmir. “It was a huge decision which needed courage, and you amply displayed it,” she said, adding that “not just the political parties, but every person in the state is grateful to you for applying balm on their wounds”. “The people of the state,” she said, “were ready to walk 10 steps in response to the Prime Minister’s one step to peace.”

The Prime Minister also laid the foundation stone for the 42.1-km four-lane Srinagar Ring Road which will link Galandar in west Srinagar to Sumbal in Bandipora district. Earlier in Leh, he launched the construction of 14-km Zojila tunnel to provide all-weather connectivity to Ladakh region.


Dholavira’s water conservation secret

As modern Gujarat struggles to find ideas to manage its water resources, it may have uncovered an engineering marvel that helped the Harappan civilization harvest water. A team of geo-technical engineers from IIT-Gandhinagar and an archaeologist from the Archaeological Survey of India have been scanning an area of around 12,276 square metres in Dholavira for over a year using Ground Penetrating Radar.

The team may have discovered a Harappan water-harvesting system. The structures is buried 2.5 metres beneath the ground and located along Manhar river in Khadirbet in Bhachau taluka of Kutch district. This Indus Valley Harappan city flourished from about 3000 BCE to 1700 BCE. The city is sloped westwards, with 48 hectares under fortification and spread over 100 hectares.

The invisible radar signals bouncing off underground structures have revealed an intricate system of interconnected water reservoirs, bunds, channels, drains, and checkdams. The system, the experts surmise, was used for diverting waters from the Manhar river to the eastern reservoir at Dholavira’s Harappan site.

Two striking theories about ancient hydraulic engineering of the Indus Valley Civilization have emerged from the GPR data, according to the lead researcher, professor Amit Prashant . “The Harappans possibly knew how to reduce the turbidity of flood flow in the Manhar river by diverting its silt-laden water and letting it pass through a number of interconnected small reservoirs to allow sediments to settle,” he said. “Then the water reached the large eastern reservoir for consumption.”

Prashant said the other theory was that the Harappans also knew how to control the floodwater thrust by building a system of checkdams along the river, oriented in such a way that it caused minimal damage. “And specially designed water channels reduced the velocity of water before it drained into the main eastern reservoir,” Prashant said. He said that the GPR method can help reduce both costs and time involved in such massive excavation operation because it can pinpoint the exact area and depth of excavation.

The IIT-Gn research team consisted of professor Prashant, Silky Agrawal, and Mantu Majumder. The team included a former joint director general the ASI, Ravindra Singh Bisht, who had carried out several excavations since the 1990s at the site. The research was technically supported by Michel Danino and ancient Indian history scholar Dr V N Prabhakar. “The GPR method can provide a major breakthrough in all future excavations for the ASI,” Prashant said. “We now need to excavate the site to ratify our theories derived from GPR data.”

Justice J Chelameswar's last day at work

After leading a virtual revolt against Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, Justice J Chelameswar shared a dais with him on the last working day of the most senior judge of the apex court and the two heard 11 cases.

Chelameswar, who retires on June 22, sat on a bench headed by the CJI along with Justice D Y Chandrachud before the court went into summer vacation.

It is customary for a retiring judge to sit with the CJI on his last working day, but there was speculation Chelameswar may skip it in view of his strained ties with Misra, which came out in the public on January 12 when he and three other senior judges held an unprecedented press conference and accused the CJI of allocating sensitive cases to benches of his preference, ignoring seniority. It set off a chain reaction leading to even a petition by some opposition parties for removal of the CJI, which was rejected by the Rajya Sabha chairman.

Speaking at a public function recently, Chelameswar had admitted his differences with the CJI remained but they were “working together” for the sake of the institution.

On Friday, they set aside their differences and showed camaraderie while sitting together with Chandrachud in court number one. Misra was seen consulting Chelameswar before passing orders.

The CJI-led bench, which normally hears nearly 50 cases in a day till 4 PM, had a truncated list for Friday and the bench decided the cases within 30 minutes.

Although it is also a convention for President of the SC Bar Association to be present in court to bid farewell to a retiring judge, the office-bearers were conspicuously absent and the task was performed by advocate Prashant Bhushan and Rajiv Dutta. Chelameswar had earlier said he would not participate in a farewell function organised by the Bar.

Praising Chelameswar, Bhushan said future generations would remember him for his role in upholding the rule of law and protecting the judiciary. Echoing Bhushan’s sentiments, Dutta said the judge had been instrumental in upholding some of the most cherished principles and the bar would be always grateful to him.

In response, Chelameswar said with folded hands “this can be my only response” and left the courtroom with Misra, with whom he had entered the SC as judge on the same day on October 11, 2011.

Justice Chelameswar delivered many landmark verdicts, including his dissenting judgment in NJAC case, in which he favoured the scrapping of the collegium system. He will, however, go down in history as a judge who dared to revolt against the CJI.


Cumulative FDI Inflows : States

Most Populous Cities

Double Whammy

Investors are bracing for testing times ahead as a heady concoction of surging oil prices and a weak rupee is feared to wreak havoc on the economy. The stock market fell on Thursday in a late sell-off after Brent crude crossed $80 a barrel for the first time since November 2014, intensifying worries about the impact of higher oil prices on the twin deficits—current account and fiscal. The rupee, however, strengthened on suspected intervention by the Reserve Bank of India.

BSE’s Sensex fell 238.76 points or 0.67% to close at 35,149.12. NSE’s Nifty dropped 58.40 points or 0.54% to close at 10,682.70.

The rupee gained 10 paisa or 0.15% against the dollar to close at 67.70 on Thursday. Some stateowned banks were seen selling the dollars on behalf of the central bank, dealers said.

Oil prices have been driven up in recent weeks by the possibility of a drop in Iranian exports due to renewed sanctions by the US. India, which meets 80% of its oil requirement through imports, is affected by rising crude prices. Investors are uncertain whether the government will bear the burden of higher oil prices, which could damage the country’s finances.

A sharp fall in the rupee in the near term is unlikely, said analysts.

The rupee hit nearly 16-month low at 68.11 against the greenback on Tuesday.


LeT rejects Ramzan peace offer

The Centre’s ceasefire Confidence Building Measure received a jolt after Lashkar-e-Taiba rejected the truce call saying observing it will be a “treachery with the martyrs”. The terror group said they would rather continue the armed struggle.

“Calling truce is no option. We deem it as sin. We are the heirs of martyrs; opting for such a choice will be treachery to their sacrifice,” said Dr Abdullah Ghazanwi, spokesperson of LeT, quoting its Kashmir chief Mahmood Shah, in a statement to news agencies.

“We have been active in our resistance and we will continue to be so. The truce in ops is a desire of India and its few sympathisers. It has never happened before, nor will it happen now,” he said.

Shah’s statement, however, added that they are in favour of talks but not in presence of the armed forces. “We are in favour of negotiations. But negotiations in presence of armed forces in the region are nothing but a lie,” he said.

The LeT chief also said that they would never betray the people’s trust and their immense sacrifices. “We will fight to the last drop of our blood in our struggle against illegal occupation. India shall soon witness the wrath of the people,” he said.

Meanwhile, the security forces are bracing themselves for observing the ceasefire on ground during the holy month of Ramzan.

State Director General of Police Dr Shesh Paul Vaid said that the Centre’s orders will be followed in letter and spirit. “Whatever orders the central government gives, we have to follow,” he said.

Directions have been passed to the field commanders and the units to observe truce in ops on ground during Ramzan.

Jammu and Kashmir Police, the Army and CRPF are engaged in the counter-terror operations in the state. All these forces are working under the unified headquarters headed by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.

Singapore to draw up DP for PMRDA

Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis called Pune the next growth engine after signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Singapore government on Wednesday to draw up a development plan for Pune Metropolitan Region Development Authority.

Fadnavis said the agreement is a milestone in bilateral relations. “In the last 50 years, Mumbai was the growth engine of Maharashtra. In the next 20-30 years, Pune will don this role. So, we have entrusted the Master Plan work of Pune Metropolitan Region to Surbana Jurong, who are global experts in this sector,” he said.

On Wednesday, the MoU was signed by the state government with International Enterprise Singapore for the development plan of the region that covers 7,357 sq km.

Singapore’s minister incharge of trade relations S Iswaran in Mumbai and PMRDA’s metropolitan commissioner Kiran Gitte and other officials from the urban development department, and guardian minister Girish Bapat were present for the signing of the MoU. The draft will be prepared in 10 months and approved in two years.

Iswaran said, “We will start with the master plan for Pune Metropolitan Region but expand to the airport and housing sectors.”

Singapore will nominate an entity to prepare the draft plan and detailed land-use in the Pune Metropolitan Region, and develop centres as models for future development. A joint working group would be set up with members from both governments to make sure that the projects are implemented in a time-bound manner.

The master plan for 50 years will include residential areas for a projected population of 20 million, industrial areas need support like logistics park and container depot, water supply and solid waste management issues, connectivity to Purandar airport, boost to tourism and increasing employment generation.


Railways Plans ₹40,000 crore projects to improve connectivity in NE

Indian Railways has lined up several projects worth at least ₹40,000 crore to connect capital cities of five North Eastern states and areas bordering China, Myanmar and Bangladesh with the rest of the country.

The national transporter is planning to construct the rail links to the capital cities of Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Sikkim and Nagaland in the next two years.

The projects include laying over 1,500 km of rail lines and several engineering marvels such as India’s longest double decker rail-cum-road bridge, one of the longest tunnels in the country and the world’s tallest pillar-based rail bridge.

India will also set up new rail links with Myanmar and Bangladesh in the coming years through these rail lines in the border states of north east.

Railways has also planned a 180-km railway line in Arunachal Pradesh that will provide accessibility right up to the China border in Tawang, and another rail line from Imphal in Manipur to Moreh at the Myanmar border. A rail link connecting Agartala in Tripura and Bangladesh is under construction.

While Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura are already connected by rail, the capitals of Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Sikkim and Nagaland are not.

Railways is also constructing a 111-km rail line from Jiribam in Manipur, located at the Assam border, to connect Imphal in Manipur.

Railways is also connecting Agartala in Tripura to Bangladesh which will reduce the travel time between Tripura and Kolkata to less than 10 hours from the existing 24 hours.

April 2018 trade deficit : $13.72 billion

A sharp decline in gold imports helped keep trade deficit in check in April, even as exports rose at a modest pace in the first month of the new fiscal year.

Exports rose 5.2% to $25.91 billion in April. Imports greq 4.6% on year at $39.63 billion, leaving a trade deficit of $13.72 billion, almost the same level as in March.

However, India’s outbound shipments of leather, gems and jewellery, textiles and carpets declined, setting off alarm bells in industry on employment grounds even though global demand looked healthy.

Exports in 16 out of 30 sectors grew and the major commodity groups of export showing positive growth year-on-year were engineering goods (17.63%), organic & inorganic chemicals (38.48%), drugs & pharmaceuticals (13.56%), cotton yarn / handloom products (15.66%) and plastics (30.03%).

Gold imports declined 33% last month to $2.6 billion. Oil imports at $10.41 billion, were 41.5% higher than the same month of previous year. Non-oil imports, however, dipped 4.3% to $29.21 billion. Shift in consumption pattern and a recent rally in gold prices in India were seen as other factors that led to a slump in gold demand.

Domestic consumption of gold in the first quarter of 2018 dropped 12% from a year earlier to 115.6 tonnes, while jewellery demand came down by 12% to 87.7 tonnes, according to the World Gold Council. During the quarter, demand for gold as an investment avenue dropped 13% from a year earlier to 27.9 tonnes. After crude oil, gold is the second-highest imported commodity in India. The country is also the second-largest consumer of the metal.

Though trade deficit expanded marginally, a contraction in imports of gold and precious and semi-precious stones, and electronic goods, mitigated the impact of higher crude oil prices.

Current account deficit is estimated at 1.8% of GDP in FY18, up from 0.7% the year before. With crude prices rising, the deficit could worsen, putting pressure on the rupee and inflation. Services exports rose 7.16% in March at $16.83 billion, as per the RBI, while imports were valued at $10.28 billion.


Inflation rises in April on food, fuel prices

Retail and wholesale inflation climbed up in April on the back of higher food and fuel prices, dashing hopes for any interest rate cut for now as the Reserve Bank of India is expected to remain cautious about the build-up in inflationary pressures.

Retail inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, rose for the first time in four months to 4.6% in April,faster than the previous month’s 4.3%. Rural inflation stood at 4.7%, while urban inflation was at 4.4%. Fruit prices rose an annual 9.7% during April, while housing shot up 8.5%. Fuel and light rose 5.2%,while food and beverages grew 3%.

Separate data released by the Commerce and Industry ministry showed inflation, measured by the Wholesale Price Index, rising to a 4-month high of 3.2% in April, higher than the previous month’s 2.5%. Potato prices rose an annual 67.9%, while fruit prices shot up 19.5% during the month. Fuel and power prices rose 7.8%, a result of the hardening of global crude oil prices.

Jaitley’s got a new kidney

Union finance minister Arun Jaitley underwent a successful kidney transplant at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. Both the donor and the recipient are stable and recovering well, an official said.

Jaitley, 65, was admitted to the hospital on Saturday and taken to the operation theatre at 8.30am on Monday. It took about four hours to harvest the donor kidney and transplant it into the recipient, said sources.

The finance minister had confirmed his illness in a tweet on April 6, when he was previously admitted to AIIMS for kidney transplant. The life-saving surgery could not be conducted then as the minister’s sugar level and other vitals weren’t in control. A team of experts in medicine and endocrinology worked on them to make sure Jaitley was stable enough to undergo the surgery.

PMRDA MoU for DP with Singapore government

The Pune Metropolitan Regional Development Authority will sign a memorandum of understanding with the Singapore government for drawing up a development plan for the region spread over 7,246 sqkm.

PMRDA commissioner Kiran Gitte said that the MoU will be signed on May 16 in Mumbai with officials from the Singapore government. Consultants from Singapore will be appointed for drawing up the DP of the region.

The government decided to appoint Singaporean town planners after doubts were raised over the efficacy of state town planners. Union road transport minister Nitin Gadkari, in an interaction with PMRDA officials, had said that urban planners in the state lacked expertise.

According to Gitte, officials from Singapore will work closely with PMRDA authorities for 10 months and ready the development plan, which will be an economic development plan unlike the land use plan developed by town planners in the state. “A 50-year development plan for the region will be drawn up by consultants from the Singapore government and all aspects will be looked into,’’ said Gitte.

Earlier, the Singapore consultants had worked in Andhra Pradesh capital Amravati on similar lines.

The chief minister had earlier visited Singapore and met Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to draw investment for Pune’s development. For this project, 60% of the cost will be borne by PMRDA and the rest by the Singapore government. The DP project is estimated to cost between Rs.10-15 crore.

Decriminalise homosexuality: IITians

Days after Keshav Suri, who runs the Lalit group of hotels, approached the Supreme Court seeking that gay sex be decriminalised, a batch of 20 current and former students of IITs has filed a petition in the court saying criminalisation of their sexual orientation has resulted in a sense of shame, loss of self-esteem, and stigma.

The petitioners included scientists, teachers, entrepreneurs and researchers belonging to different age groups. The youngest is a 19-year-old IIT-Delhi student while the oldest graduated in 1982. “Despite being amongst the brightest minds in the country, having graduated from top institutions with the best possible opportunities available in terms of career, they are nevertheless criminalised by the archaic colonial provision in Section 377 and deprived of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution,” the plea said.

The petition was filed on behalf of the LGBT alumni association of IITs, comprising more than 350 members. Most of the petitioners, including two women and a transwoman, are recent passouts from IITs.

Ruling that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is “deeply offensive to the dignity and self-worth of an individual”, the apex court had earlier agreed to examine the constitutional validity of Section 377 of CrPC criminalising gay sex.

Claiming that they face a harrowing time in society due to their sexual orientation, the IITians, in their petition, said, “As a result, several of the petitioners have had to grapple with depression, self-harm and other mental health issues, including even suicidal thoughts and attempts, all of which have had a very deleterious effect on their academic and career prospects.” They said unlike heterosexuals, they had been deprived of opportunities to freely seek love and companionship with partners of their choice, denying them “an essential and immutable aspect” of their right to life. “The stigma, silence and violence that Section 377 brings in its wake deeply hurts their professional promise and personal fulfilment. It has subject many of them to mental trauma and illness that they continue to grapple with. Section 377 has contributed to the brain drain of LGBT alumni, including some petitioners, from IITs,” the petition said.

“The silence of our legislative wing and its ineffectiveness to even consider debating the need for the existence of this law is shameful to say the least,” the plea said.


Karnataka heads to the polls

All eyes are on Karnataka as it heads to the polls on Saturday in an election that could define the fortunes of the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of Lok Sabha elections in 2019.

So fierce was the campaign in the run-up to the polls that the state turned into a battleground which saw money, might and manipulation used in full force to win a favourable verdict in the 224 assembly seats in the state.

According to state election officials, there have been 1,229 violations of the Model Code of Conduct, ranging from alleged attempts to clear backdated files, distribute cash and liquor, gold, household appliances and even printing of thousands of fake voter cards, in order to influence the outcome of the polls.

After a sombre start, polls in Karnataka saw a high-pitched campaign in which national leaders from both Congress and BJP—including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi—used the state as a platform to target each other (at times, personally) on issues such as corruption, divisive tactics and alleged attempts to create communal tension.

Modi and Gandhi have held 17 rallies each since 1 May, while other senior leaders conducted hundreds of public meetings in the last two months.

Once considered a bastion of the Congress, Karnataka is crucial not just to the two national parties but also to the Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S), a regional outfit led by former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda.

The Congress, after it was decimated in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, is hoping to salvage the party nationally through the Karnataka election, while for the JD (S), the election has become a matter of survival. For the BJP, Karnataka is a priority as it stands in the way of its ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ agenda and could become the gateway to other southern states.

The stock markets are also keeping a close watch on the polls in Karnataka, home to some of the biggest industries and a hub for start-ups and firms in sectors such as IT, aerospace and biotechnology.

The Election Commission on Friday postponed polling at the Rajarajeshwari Nagar constituency in Bengaluru to 28 May and counting to 31 May.