99.3% of banned notes back in banks :RBI

Almost all the 500 and 1,000 currency notes that were made illegal in November 2016 have returned to the banking system, the RBI said, prompting the Opposition to question the efficacy of demonetisation in curbing black money.

Banks received Rs.15.31lakh crore, or 99.3 per cent, of the Rs.15.41 lakh crore worth Rs.500 and Rs.1,000 notes in circulation on November 8, 2016, when the note ban was announced, it said.

This meant just Rs.10,720 crore of the junked currency did not return to the banking system as against initial estimates of about Rs.3 lakh crore, which was thought to be stashed away illegally to avoid tax.

After the November 8, 2016, decision, the government gave a limited period window to first exchange any old currency in possession and then deposit them in bank accounts. Also, the junked currency was allowed to be used in utilities like buying petrol and diesel at petrol pumps, paying for hospital and electricity bills and fare on state road transport buses. The currency returned is a combination of deposits made in banks, notes exchanged and utility bills.

Rupee hits a new low : 70.59

The government said global crude prices will come down in the coming days and the rupee will stabilise in the 68-70 band against the US dollar even as the Indian currency hit a record low of 70.59, while diesel prices climbed to an all-time high.

The rupee has lost 9.5% so far in 2018, making it the worst performing Asian currency. A weak rupee has resulted in imports, overseas education and foreign travel getting more expensive. The biggest impact is on petrol and diesel prices as India imports nearly 80% of its crude oil requirement. Global crude prices have also risen, making it a double whammy for consumers as well as the government, which is under pressure to pare taxes.

During the first three months of the current fiscal, FPIs withdrew $9 billion, and in July it was “neutral”. But in August they have been net buyers of the order of $1 billion.

Maharashtra CM nod for infrastructure

The Maharashtra government’s cabinet sub-committee gave the final nod to three crucial infrastructure projects: Bandra-Versova sea link, a bypass on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway and a third six-lane bridge on the creek at Vashi on the Sion-Panvel highway. Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who heads the cabinet sub-committee on infrastructure, directed that work on all these projects start within a month.

A consortium of Reliance Infrastructure and Italy’s Astaldi will build the 10 km Bandra-Versova sea link in five years. The government awarded the Rs.6,994-crore project to the consortium though the bid, lowest among the five in the fray, was Rs.1,477 crore higher than the Rs.5,516 crore estimate made by the state in 2016 while inviting bids.

While L&T will build the six-lane Thane Vashi creek bridge at a cost of Rs.560 crore to make it compatible with the recently widened (12-lane) Sion-Panvel highway, Navayuga Engineering and AFCONS Infrastructure will build eight-lane tunnels and bridges respectively for the proposed Mumbai-Pune Expressway bypass between Khopoli and Sinhagad institute to reduce traffic congestion in the Lonavala ghat section.

Construction of the sea link, which is expected to reduce the travel time between Bandra and Versova to around 10 minutes, is likely to begin in October. Connecting the Bandra-Worli sea link with the western suburbs up north, the new sea bridge will have two ramps: At Otter’s Club near Carter Road in Bandra (W) and Juhu-Koliwada, apart from the exit at Versova. However, the smooth drive will come at a premium for motorists as the minimum toll will be Rs.130 when the sealink opens by 2023.

The Rs.4,794-crore 13-km Expressway bypass project will separate traffic on the Expressway and the old Pune highway that presently shares the road on the 10-km Lonavala-Khandala ghat section and gets stuck in snarls, and reduce travel time between the two cities by 25 minutes. It will be built in two phases: Navayuga Engineering will build the 11-km tunnels at a cost of Rs.2,670 crore and AFCONS Infrastructure will build the 2-km-long cable-stay six-lane viaducts for Rs.1,492 crore.

The expansion of the six-lane Vashi creek bridge by adding another six lanes will enhance its capacity and reduce traffic congestion. The maximum capacity of the bridge is 12,500 passenger car units (PCUs) per day, but 17,000 PCUs use it at present. As part of the project, the Vashi toll naka too will be modernized. The cabinet sub-committee also approved the formation of a special purpose vehicle under the MSRDC to help mobilize funds for projects on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, like the missing link between Khopoli and Khandala.


Animal spirits are very much alive

India’s economy is shrugging off global trade wars, relying on domestic consumption to stay on course to becoming the fastest-growing major economy this year.

Demand for bank loans remained solid going into the July quarter despite rising interest rates, and so was the case with services and manufactured goods. Foreign investments slowed, highlighting risks to India’s balance of payments position.

Other risks loom in the form of higher oil prices, tightening global financial conditions and a shortfall in taxes that can put budget targets out of reach. For now, the economy is showing steady expansion, with the International Monetary Fund forecasting growth of 7.3% in the fiscal year through March 2019 and 7.5% in the next as reforms initiated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi pay off.

India’s main services index rose at the fastest pace in 21 months in July, the latest purchasing managers survey showed, while manufacturing continued to expand, but at a slower pace. These together pushed the composite index to its highest level since October 2016. The optimism stems from a rise in new orders, giving confidence to businesses to produce more.

On the price front though there are were mixed signs. Services providers were unable to fully pass on rising costs, while manufacturers increased output charges for the 12th straight month.

Data from the central bank also showed an uptick in capacity utilisation to above 75%. That gain usually drives inflationary pressures and indicates improved pricing power, which eventually provides more incentive to invest.

Exports grew by a relatively strong 14.3% in July from a year earlier, although slower than the 18% pace in the previous month. Economists and policy makers are optimistic that the recent weakness in the rupee will help support the recovery in sectors such as textiles.

Data from the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers show that the industry produced more vehicles in July than a year ago, with the increase led by commercial vehicles and two-wheelers. Total sales were up 8% in the latest indicator, underpinning a view that domestic demand is holding up well.

With more consumption comes more demand for loans. Bank credit rose 12.7% in August from a year ago, with most of the loans being made to the services sector. Commercial paper issuances are also on the rise.

But those numbers aren’t telling the whole story. The rise in bank credit over the past year largely due to favorable base effects. Rising borrowing costs have instead crimped corporate bond issuances, indicating that total credit flowing to the corporate sector is weak.

Foreign direct investments fell to their lowest since January, and that could weigh on India’s balance of payments. Already, the current account deficit is expected to widen due to higher oil prices and slowing inflows into the capital markets.

With a general election due in early 2019, concerns about policy paralysis and whether Modi will manage to repeat his 2014 landslide-win may keep many investors on the sidelines.


UIDAI mandates face recognition

The Unique Identification Authority of India has announced a new measure that seeks to mandate facial recognition—by taking on-the-spot live pictures—for every authentication that requires Aadhaar.

Services that most commonly use Aadhaar authentication include issuance of mobile SIM (new or replacement), those in banks, public distribution system and attendance systems at government offices. The facial recognition will come in as an additional feature, along with the regular authentication process that identifies an individual based on fingerprints or iris (eye) scans.

The measure is being implemented following official circulars sent by UIDAI—on 19 June and 17 August—to Authentication User Agencies, Authentication Service Agencies, and certified biometric device providers. Failure to follow the process will be treated as a criminal offence by authentication agencies, punishable with imprisonment and fine under Section 42 and 43 of the Aadhaar Act, 2016, sources said.

UIDAI confirmed the move and said that the measure will provide an added security layer, while also making the Aadhaar process more inclusive. “There have been numerous instances where people have been excluded from Aadhaar authentication as their fingerprints were worn out due to old age, or since they are involved in manual labour or agriculture. The use of facial recognition will help include such people in the Aadhaar authentication process,” UIDAI CEO Ajay Bhushan Pandey.

Explaining how the new system would work, Pandey said that whenever an individual would seek authentication based on Aadhaar, the authorised machine/device being used for the purpose would also capture a picture of the face of the individual. The photo, along with the fingerprint or iris scan, would be sent to UIDAI, which will verify the details on its database, and send a confirmation of the authenticity of the individual, based on facial and fingerprint/ iris confirmations.


Rahul on being a Gandhi

Congress president Rahul Gandhi said his family has not been in power since his father’s time, stressing that he should be judged on the basis of his capability.

The RSS, he said has “helped” him tremendously in developing as a political leader “by relentlessly attacking” him on every front.

On a question about his privileged background and that Congress is effectively being run by a family, Gandhi said: “First thing, my family has not been in power since my father was the prime minister. This is something that is forgotten.”

“Second, yes I am born in a family..listen to what I am saying, talk to me about issues, talk to me about foreign policy, economics, Indian development, agriculture openly and freely. Come to me with whatever questions you want, and then judge what I am.”

“It is interesting to me that the prime minister of India struggles to have this type of a conversation. He can’t sit here. He has never done it. And a large part of it, frankly is understanding of issues,” he added.

“I have been working for 14-15 years in the political system. I have taken a beating and have learnt a lot. I am person who listens, respects other people’s ideas. The most important thing to me is that I see through hate. And I really think, I am proud of that,” he said.

He further said: “But at the end. it’s your choice. Do you condemn me for the family I come from, or do you judge me based on my capability..that’s your choice. It’s up to you..not up to me.”


Gurgaon-Mumbai expressway off to a quick start

In a record of sorts, the National Highways Authority of India has floated tenders for five sections of Delhi-Vadodara corridor of Mumbai Expressway, barely five months after the plan was first announced. The stretch will be part of the new greenfield expressway.

The entire expressway has been divided into 22 sections so that construction work can start simultaneously for faster execution. Two of the five sections for which tenders have been floated cover the stretch between the Kundli Manesar Palwal expressway intersection near Sohna and the border of Haryana and Rajasthan. The other three sections fall in Rajasthan and cover the stretch up to Dausa. The five sections cover about 118 km of the expressway and the construction cost would be about Rs.4,600 crore.

While announcing the expressway project at a event in April this year, highways minister Nitin Gadkari had said the project will be completed within three years. This new road will reduce the distance between Delhi and Mumbai by 200 km and travel time by 12 hours since it will be a signal-free stretch. The road will be of eight lanes.

Fast tracking the land acquisition process, NHAI has already issued the first notification identifying the land through which the expressway will be built.

Sources said the government has fast-tracked the process so that the work can start before the dates for Lok Sabha elections are announced. NHAI has set two years as target for construction work. Since most stretches of the expressway will pass through backward regions, NHAI expects no major hurdle in getting the land.

Of India’s 1st biofuel flight....

India is all set to witness its first-ever, biofuelpowered flight on Monday with SpiceJet planning to operate a turboprop, Q-400, from Dehradun to Delhi using this sustainable alternative. While some advanced countries, like the US and Australia, have tested commercial flights on biofuel, India is among the first developing nations to make such an attempt.

Sources say the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research and Dehradun-based Indian Institute of Petroleum have prepared 400 kg of bio jet fuel under a pilot project. This fuel is made from vegetable oils, sugar, animal fats, waste biomass and can be used in existing engines without modification. The made-in-India bio jet fuel has secured all statutory clearances, including those from testing labs and DGCA.

It will be filled in the right engine of turboprop for trial, while the left engine will run on normal aviation turbine fuel. The Bombardier Q-400 will take off from Dehradun, fly over the city for 10 minutes and then return. If all goes well, it will take off again and this time head to Delhi. Only officials from regulatory and scientific agencies, including DGCA and SpiceJet, will be on board the flight and not commercial passengers.

A flight completely powered by bio jet fuel has the potential to reduce carbon emissions by up to 80%. Also, cheaper and sustainable jet biofuel could mean lower fares in years to come.


Moody’s Pegs India Growth at 7.5% for 2018, 2019

The Indian economy is largely resilient to external pressures and is expected to grow around 7.5% in 2018 and 2019, Moody's Investors Service said.

In its Global Macro Outlook for 2018-19, Moody’s said growth is supported by strong urban and rural demand and improved industrial activity, pointing to the strong PMI and the index of 8 core industries. “A normal monsoon together with the increase in the minimum support prices for kharif crops, should support rural demand,” the ratings agency said. “Thus, despite external headwinds from higher oil prices and tightening financing conditions, growth prospects for the remainder of the year remain in line with the economy’s potential.”

It said economic activity grew 7.7% in first quarter of 2018 and high frequency indicators suggest a similar outturn for second quarter. India will report its July-September quarter results on August 31.

Moody’s had cut India’s growth forecast for 2018 to 7.3% in May from 7.5%. The graphic presentation of the growth estimates in the latest report still shows India’s growth at 7.3% for 2018 but the commentary pegs growth at around 7.5%.

Moody’s said the run-up in energy prices over the last few months will raise headline inflation temporarily and expects the Reserve Bank of India to continue on a steady tightening path into 2019.
“Two concerns behind the tightening cycle are rising core inflation and vulnerability to tightening external financial conditions,” it said.

The Reserve Bank of India raised the benchmark policy rate by 25 basis points for the second successive increase. “Retail inflation in India has risen as per our expectations since mid-2017, but remains stable around 5%. But core inflation has moved up in recent month to 6.2%,” Moody’s report said.

Moody’s said though global growth remains strong, there are early indications it may have peaked.
“The near-term global outlook for most advanced economies is broadly resilient, in contrast to the weakening of some developing economies in the face of emerging headwinds from rising US trade protectionism, tightening external liquidity conditions and elevated oil prices,” it said.

Moody's sees G-20 growth at 3.3% in 2018 and 3.1% in 2019. The advanced economies are forecast to grow 2.3% in 2018 and 2% in 2019, while G-20 emerging markets will drive growth with 5.1% in 2018 and 2019.

Jaitley Resumes Charge of Finance Ministry

Union minister Arun Jaitley has resumed charge of the ministries of finance and corporate affairs after a hiatus of over 100 days, during which he underwent a surgery for kidney ailment.

Jaitley met key finance ministry officials, finance secretary Hasmukh Adhia, financial services secretary Rajeev Kumar, expenditure secretary A N Jha and corporate affairs secretary Injeti Srinivas, soon after resuming office on Thursday. He also met chairmen of Central Board of Direct Taxes and Central Board of Indirect taxes and Customs.

Earlier in the day, a communique from the Rashtrapati Bhavan said, “The President of India, as advised by the prime minister, has directed to assign the portfolios of the minister of finance and minister of corporate affairs to Shri Arun Jaitley.”

Jaitley had undergone a renal transplant operation on May 14. On that day, the charge of his ministry was given to minister for railways and coal Piyush Goyal on an interim basis.

Jaitley had remained a minister without portfolio in the Narendra Modi government since then.

He has been the finance minister since the Modi government came to power in May 2014. He had also held additional charge of ministry of defence as well as that of ministry of information and broadcasting.

During his over three-monthlong break, Jaitley was working from home, which included meetings with officials on key issues. He wrote on various issues of national importance, such as National Register for Citizens in Assam, emergency of over four decades ago, no-confidence motion in Parliament, Rafale fighter jet deal, and the goods and services tax.

He also participated in a couple of events, including banking conclave and the first anniversary of the launch of GST through video conferencing.

MF Industry AUM to Hit ₹50L cr in 5 Years

India’s mutual fund industry should double in size over the next five years, with assets under management reaching ₹50 lakh crore as savers move money to financial products instead of the traditional stores of value, HDFC Chairman Deepak Parekh said.

An expanding middle class, a bigger working population, and better job opportunities would combine to help increase the pool of investible funds, Parekh told delegates at the 2018 summit of the Association of Mutual Funds of India in Mumbai.

Recently, there is a shift in savings from physical assets such as gold or property to financial products and Parekh said that this trend is unlikely to reverse. Mutual fund AUM as a percentage of GDP is 11% in India, compared with the global average of 62%, pointing to the scope for growth.

Key structural reforms such as formalisation of the economy, financialisation of savings and rising share of EPFO money in equities will play out in strengthening flows to the industry, he said. Parekh, however, cautioned that bad financial decisions are made in good times. AMFI should ensure discipline among all its members.

Asset Management companies will also need to re-look at their cost structures. Parekh expressed concern over how some distributors were being incentivised. There is some mis-selling that hurts investors and if a few AMCs deviate from norms, there is pressure on others to follow, he said. Parekh pointed out that it is even more common while selling insurance and other financial products.

In the long run, AMCs will have to focus on investor awareness and education, Parekh said. Equities have been the flavour of the month and emerging markets are now under pressure. Retail investors should understand different time horizons while making investment decisions. Products should be easy and simple to understand. Investors should judge the performance of fund managers over an entire market cycle, and not just one year, he said.

Retail investors should understand that unless they remain invested for a long time, they should not enter equities, he said.

Finally, Parekh urged AMCs to nurture talent for the future, with the need emerging for different skillsets that would be in short supply.


Telecom tattle

Reliance Jio Infocomm stole a march over older telcos by adding 9.7 million mobile phone users in June, taking its subscriber base past 215 million, while market leader Bharti Airtel’s count increased by the smallest number in recent times.

Amid continuing price wars with Jio, Airtel gained a paltry 10,689 customers in June and No. 2 Vodafone India added about 2,75,000 customers. Idea Cellular, which is merging with Vodafone India to create the country’s largest telco, notched up the strongest gains among the older telcos with 6.4 million new subscribers.

Mukesh Ambani-controlled Jio and Idea widened their market share to 18.8% (18.7%) and 19.2% (18.9%) over the previous month, respectively, while the shares of Airtel and Vodafone India narrowed to 30.1% (30.5%) and 19.4% (19.7%) respectively.

Sunil Mittal-led Airtel retained its position as India’s biggest telco with 344.6 million subscribers, while 4G rival Jio’s customer base swelled to 215.3 million. Idea and Vodafone had 220.6 million and 222.7 million customers, respectively.

Airtel had added almost 36 million customers in May following the integration of its recently acquired Telenor India operations. The company declined to comment on the latest subscriber numbers.

State-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam reported about 2,44,000 customer additions for a market share of 9.9%.

Tata Teleservices and Reliance Communications lost 1 million and 1,00,000 customers, respectively, in June.

Visitor Location Register, a key metric reflecting the number of active subscribers on a mobile network, indicated that 99.8% of the users were active for Airtel, 93.5% for Vodafone India, 92.2% for Idea, 82.5% for Jio and 58.4% for BSNL.

And some more data from the recent past....

States join hands to mount war on drugs

With the drug menace extending its tentacles beyond Punjab in northern India, the four states of Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand along with the Union territory of Chandigarh announced a first-of-its-kind initiative to wage a joint battle against drugs. Among several measures, the drive will see a common secretariat being set up in Panchkula while the group will formulate a joint strategy to tackle the issue.

Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar and his counterparts — Amarinder Singh from Punjab and Trivendra Singh Rawat from Uttarakhand — attended the first ‘Regional Conference on Drugs – Challenges and Strategies’ in Chandigarh along with top police and administration officials of Rajasthan, Delhi and Chandigarh. Himachal CM Jai Ram Thakur participated via video conferencing.

The drug menace was a big issue in the run-up to the assembly polls and despite the Amarinder Singh government’s claims to have launched a crackdown on drug smugglers by setting up a Special Task Force, the recent spurt in deaths due to suspected overdose hint that the menace has not been dealt with effectively.

The fact that Punjab lies on the international drug route compounds its problems. The Punjab CM, nevertheless, was alluding to the widening spread of the epidemic, with a rise in such cases in Haryana and Himachal forcing the two states to follow Punjab in setting up their own STFs.

At the presser, Khattar said the common secretariat would help states share drug-related data and information, one of the most important components in tackling the menace. The group also resolved to appoint nodal officers to coordinate data related to inflow of drugs and other relevant information. Uttar Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir are also slated to be roped into the drive at a later stage.

The Punjab CM proposed representation by central agencies such as BSF, DRI, Narcotics Control Bureau, Railway Protection Force, Central Industrial Security Force and the customs department.

The group will also launch a major awareness campaign in schools, while engaging youth in sports and other activities at village-level. Skill development of youth would also be undertaken on a major scale to prevent the spread of drugs. 


Domestic air traffic grows 13.3% in May

India led the Asia Pacific region in posting the highest growth in air passenger traffic in May at 13.3%. The growth in China in comparison stood at 8.3% and South Korea at 8.1%. Japan posted a more subdued figure of 2.8% and Australia at 2.3%.

The Asia-Pacific market as a whole posted a growth rate of 6.3%, slightly higher than Europe where the figure stood at 6.2%. North America, on the other hand, saw the traffic grow by 5.6%. The report said that the “presence of the low-cost business model among carriers coupled with historically low jet fuel prices”, have certainly acted as catalysts to stimulate air transport demand through lower fare offerings on certain market segments.

Oil prices have, however, shown a steady rise in the succeeding months.

As per the report, in May, the global passenger traffic grew by 5.6% in May on a year-over-year basis.

Remembering Rajiv

On the occasion of the 74th birth anniversary of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, tributes poured in from several quarters, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “Tributes to our former Prime Minister Shri Rajiv Gandhi Ji on his birth anniversary. We remember his efforts towards the nation,” Modi tweeted.

Gandhi’s son, Congress president Rahul Gandhi also took to Twitter to remember his father as “a kind, gentle and affectionate man” whose passing had left a deep void in his life. “I remember the times we had together and the many birthdays we were lucky to celebrate with him when he was alive. He is greatly missed, but his memory lives on,” Rahul tweeted.

Earlier in the day, Rahul accompanied his mother Sonia Gandhi and sister Priyanka Vadra to pay their tributes at Veer Bhumi.

Sonia Gandhi, when conferring the Rajiv Gandhi Sadbhavna Award to former West Bengal governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi, who is also the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, said that though her husband’s tenure in politics was short, he laid the foundation for IT, telecommunications and computers — paving the way for India’s entry into the 21st century.

“He was responsible almost single-handedly for changing the structure of our polity by the Constitutional empowerment of panchayats and nagarpalikas through, among other things, reservation for women. Rajiv Gandhi was an unwavering believer that India’s unity was actually derived from, and strengthened by her incredible diversity,” she said. “Technological capability would have little value in a climate of growing scientific obscurantism and social prejudice. We have seen that the opening of the economy and the closing of the mind is a dangerous and destructive mix.”

Also present in the meeting was former prime minister Manmohan Singh, who said that the values Rajiv Gandhi espoused, which are “a broad secular outlook, the spirit of tolerance, commitment to communal harmony and empathy to others” are those that define India’s nationhood.

Somewhere in Karnataka....

Less than a decade ago, Pavagada was a hotbed of Naxal activities. Two decades earlier, the taluk made news after a number of toddlers went missing, allegedly snatched from the front yards of their houses. The child-lifting was attributed to wolves on the prowl. Securing jobs in Bengaluru was the only viable route out of poverty.

But the solar park has changed all that. Locals have bagged various technical and non-technical jobs — right from installation of panels to monitoring — at the park.

To learn more about the transition one has to visit Thirumani village, about 30 km from Pavagada on the border with Andhra Pradesh. A vast swathe of dryland, the village is dotted with shepherds wandering in search of forage for their herds. As one walks down the kaccha roads of the village, large solar panels suddenly spring up, indicating that one has arrived at Shakti Sthala, the name of the solar park.

Spread over a staggering 12,700 acres across Thirumani, Kyathaganacharlu, Balasamudra, Valluru and Rayacharlu villages, Shakti Sthala’s story began in March 2015 with the creation of Karnataka Solar Power Development Corporation Ltd. The corporation is a joint venture between Karnataka Renewable Energy Development Ltd and Solar Energy Corporation of India. The park also happens to be part of Karnataka’s Solar Policy 2014-2021.

Interestingly, not a single acre has been acquired for the project. Instead, the government has entered into a 28-year lease agreement with farmers. Under the agreement, about 2,300 land owners are paid Rs.21,000 per year per acre they have shared for the park. The amount increases by 5% every two years. The best part is that farmers retain ownership of the land.

The lease model is believed to be the brainchild of G V Balaram, then managing director of KREDL, who also hails from Pavagada. Aware of the plight of farmers, Balaram’s idea of leasing land turned out to be a win-win situation for the project and farmers. Then energy minister D K Shivakumar also interacted with farmers at crucial intervals, bringing the project to fruition.

The solar park is divided into 40 blocks, each spread over 250 acres and capable of generating 50 MW. The blocks have been auctioned to solar power developers. Located on flat terrain which is blessed with excellent solar radiation, the park immediately had six developers on board for the first phase. These include Finnish clean energy firm Fortum Corporation, Adani Power, Tata Power Renewable Energy Ltd, Arrow Solar, ReNewer Power (50MW each) and ACME Solar. The developers have entered into power purchase agreements with electricity supply companies. Rameez Ul Rahman, operations and maintenance engineer with Fortum Corporation, said one of the blocks they have is fitted with over ₹ 5.4 lakh solar modules (plates). “The region is blessed with good radiation and we are happy to be part of the project,” he said.

Shivakumara Swamy, AGM, KSPDCL, said tenders have been awarded for the generation of another 1,250MW and the process of allotting the remaining 150MW is on.

“We would have commissioned the entire 2,000MW by the end of this year, but setbacks such as delayed auctions and legal complications pushed the deadline to next year,” Swamy said.

Currently, Karnataka has the capacity to generate about 24,000 MW of power through all sources including thermal, hydel and nuclear.

KREDL managing director D Nagaraj said, “With the solar park set to operate at full capacity from next year, Karnataka, which suffers from an acute shortage of power, will become a power exporter. From renewable energy alone, we plan to add between 750 MW and 1,000 MW to the state grid by March next year.”


Somewhere in Maharashtra....

The upcoming zilla parishad elections in Maharashtra’s four districts of Washim, Akola , Dhule and Nandurbar and the municipal corporations polls in Dhule and Ahmednagar will perhaps become the first in the country where candidates will be required to disclose their and their family’s sources of income.

The Maharashtra state election commission brought in the new rule on August 13 following a Supreme Court directive that aims at bringing transparency in the election process. Now, a candidate who wishes to contest local body elections in Maharashtra will have to disclose his and his family’s sources of income as part of the election affidavit that he files with SEC.

In February, a Supreme Court bench led by Justice J Chelameswar said that voters have a fundamental right to know all the relevant information about the candidates including their sources of income under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution. The court further added that to enforce a citizen’s fundamental right, no statutory sanction from the government or Parliament is needed. The judgment came after the court heard a petition filed by NGO Lok Prahari, which highlighted the often-seen exponential rise in the assets of politicians in five years—between two successive elections.

“So far, a candidate would only have to mention his and family’s assets and liabilities, besides personal details like qualification and police cases, if any. But now on, information regarding the source of income for the last three years, details of income tax returns and even PAN card number will have to be mentioned in the affidavit,” said a senior SEC official.

Experts said that in the absence of the source of income of the candidate, there is no way to find out how his assets or liabilities have risen or fallen. They said that the new rule will give citizens a complete picture. An affidavit filed by any candidate is put in the public domain so that voters can make an informed choice during elections.

The information will have to given in a prescribed format and all income sources—farming, employment, business or rent generated from properties, among others—will have to be mentioned, said officials.

Citizens welcomed the addition to the affidavit.

During the hearing, the Central Board of Direct Taxes, in an affidavit, had informed the SC that 98 MLAs and seven Lok Sabha MPs are under investigation for prima facie discrepancies in their assets and declared sources of income. “Investigation into the assets of 42 MLAs and 9 Rajya Sabha MPs is still pending. However, no discrepancy was found in the value of assets and the declared/source of income of 117 MLAs, 19 Lok Sabha MPs and two Rajya Sabha MPs,” it had said.

“Their assets and sources of income are required to be continuously monitored to maintain the purity of the electoral process and integrity of the democratic structure of this country,” the SC had told the government in its judgment.


Mumbai City, suburbs finally get new CRZ rules

Coastal zone regulation rules framed in 2011 will finally be implemented in five districts of Maharashtra. Under them, the CRZ has been relaxed to 100 m from the high tide line for bay and creek areas, meaning several hundred plots in Mumbai are now officially out of CRZ.

The coastal zone management plan for Mumbai, its suburbs, and Ratnagiri, Raigad and Sindhudurg districts has been approved, said a letter from the Union ministry of environment forests and climate change. CZMPs for Thane, Palghar, Navi Mumbai, Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust are yet to get the seal.

Ironically, the CZMP for the 2011 notification is being finalised when the Centre is close to wrapping up the draft CRZ Notification 2018. “The first CZMP 1991 was ready in 1999 and implemented from 2000. It is unfortunate that CZMP 2011should take the same time when we have the technology to prepare maps at a faster pace,” said a real estate industry consultant.

The new CZMP will ensure buildings in Khar, Bandra, Ballard Estate, Fort, Girgaum, Mahim, etc in the bay and creek areas seeking redevelopment will no longer need to approach the Coastal Zone Management Authority. Earlier, developers had to obtain certificates from IRS, Chennai, or CESS, Thiruvananthapuram, stating whether the plot fell in CRZ area or not. Every proposal was decided on a case-to-case basis. Now, clearing proposals will become a matter of routine.

Anil Diggikar, principal secretary, state environment department, said the plans are expected early next week and these will be uploaded on the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority website. “Last month, the MoEFCC appointed the MCZMA committee. Given the number of government projects awaiting CRZ clearance, the committee will start holding meetings from next week,” he said. The projects include the Dr B R Ambedkar Memorial at Worli.

The new CZMP will include the hazard line, which will identify areas vulnerable to sea level rises. “It is purely a tool for disaster management. It will not hamper development, rather help identify buildings, constructions prone to flooding. People should not be required to obtain CRZ clearance. It should be left to the planning authority,” he said.

The CZMP was to be prepared within a year of CRZ Notification 2011. But the Centre did not pay heed and kept granting extensions to the 1991 CZMP. The rules are being implemented after D Stalin, director, Vanashakti, went to court.

Nation Bids Farewell

The who’s who of Indian politics, foreign dignitaries and thousands of ordinary people came together to bid an emotional farewell to former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee as flames from the cremation pyre at Smriti Sthal rose to consume the leader’s mortal remains.

Vajpayee’s last journey took place a full 14 years after he retired from politics. But the lag, despite this being an age of fickle memories, did not appear to dim the fondness for the man who loved the big stage and excelled on it, mesmerising with his inimitable oratory.

Led by PM Narendra Modi, the nation mourned the passing of the veteran. At the cremation, Vajpayee’s foster family huddled in grief as a 21-gun salute was fired after several dignitaries had stepped up to place wreaths on a funerary box draped in the tricolour.

Cries of “Bharat mata ki jai” mingled with Vedic chants as priests supervised the last rites while a billboard summed up Vajpayee’s life journey in his own words, “Har chunauti se do haath maine kiye, Aandhiyon mein jalaye hain bhujhte diye (I have grappled with every challenge, I have lit dying lamps in the midst of storms).”

Thousands of mourners shouted “Jab tak suraj chand rahega, Atal tera naam rahega” as soon as the Army gun carriage carrying Vajpayee’s body reached Smriti Sthal from the BJP headquarters. Modi, BJP chief Amit Shah, senior party leaders, including Rajnath Singh and chief ministers, walked with the flower-decked vehicles with crowds gathering strength all along the way.

What stood out was the large number of common citizens who turned up first at Vajpayee’s Krishna Menon Marg residence through Thursday night and on Friday morning. The Metro station at ITO, near the BJP office, saw a steady stream of mourners seeking to catch a glimpse of the former PM lying in state.

Bugles sounded the Last Post just before the former prime minister was placed on the pyre of wooden blocks. Vajpayee’s foster granddaughter, Niharika, broke down as the fire rose.

Vajpayee was cremated a little after 4.30 pm and, once the VIPs had left the seats arranged in the front, hundreds of people walked around the pyre and were seen folding hands in tribute.

The enclosures for leaders and dignitaries were full with chief ministers and several leaders in the second row while President Ram Nath Kovind, vice-president M Venkaiah Naidu, Modi, Shah, BJP stalwart L K Advani, RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat and Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan along with former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Rahul Gandhi occupied the front.

Several foreign dignitaries, including Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, Bangladeshi foreign minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, Pakistani law minister Ali Zafar and former Afghan president Hamid Karzai were present as Vajpayee was cremated with full state honours.

Kerala : Monsoon Mayhem

Rain-battered Kerala remained in a state of siege, with officials saying as many as 106 lives were lost the previous day, taking the death toll in floods and landslides to 173 since August 8.

Around 2.23 lakh people from more than 50,000 families are currently homeless and living in 1,568 relief camps across the state.

After two days of incessant downpour, the rain eased a bit on Friday. The Met office said although the overall rainfall in the state was likely to decrease in the next few days, some pockets could continue to get heavy showers.

Although more than 82,000 people were rescued on Friday, with the NDRF, Army, Navy and Coast Guard coordinating their efforts, emergency helplines and social media were flooded with desperate pleas from individuals and groups marooned without food and water.

Nearly all rivers in the state continued to be in spate. Several areas, particularly in Pathanamthitta district, remained marooned with scores of Navy helicopters conducting repeated sorties to evacuate thousands to safety.

Authorities said 1,084 people were airlifted on Friday. Air rescues were the only option for people stranded in inaccessible areas.

Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan tweeted that 324 people had so far died of weather-related causes since the start of the monsoon season.

In a WhatsApp video that went viral, a stranded woman with her six-yearold child was seen crying for help: “We have no food or water. Please help us,” she kept pleading. Several other moving images were being circulated, like that of a heavily pregnant woman being airlifted on Friday morning by a Navy rescue team from a water-logged place near Aluva, one of the worst-hit towns in the state. She later gave birth to a baby boy and both mother and child are reportedly safe and sound.


Atal Bihari Vajpayee : End of an Era

Former Prime Minister and Bharat Ratna Atal Bihari Vajpayee, hailed as one of India’s most charismatic leaders who led the nation through several crises and helmed a tenuous coalition, breathed his last at 5.05 pm at AIIMS, New Delhi, on Thursday after remaining on life support for 36 hours.

He was 93. The last rites will be held on Friday afternoon at the Rashtriya Smriti, adjacent to Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial Rajghat. “It is with profound grief that we inform about the sad demise of Former Prime Minister of India, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, at 05.05 pm,” the AIIMS said in a statement.

The veteran leader, dubbed as the moderate face of BJP, was rushed to the AIIMS on June 11 with kidney infection, chest congestion and urinary tract infection. His condition deteriorated on Tuesday following which he was placed on ventilator. After Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited him at the AIIMS late on Wednesday evening, the hospital issued a statement, saying that Vajpayee was critical. Since Thursday morning, senior leaders across the political spectrum started flocking to the hospital.

The Prime Minister paid a second visit in the afternoon and spent close to 50 minutes there. BJP president Amit Shah and other members of the Union cabinet were also present.

A string of chief ministers — Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal), Naveen Patnaik (Odisha), Nitish Kumar (Bihar), Vasundhara Raje (Rajasthan), Shivraj Singh Chouhan (Madhya Pradesh) and Devendra Fadnavis (Maharashtra) — also flew into Delhi to visit the former Prime Minister. Raje and Chouhan had called off their rallies to make the visit.

Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, who also paid a visit to AIIMS along with his deputy Manish Sisodia, called off his birthday celebrations on Thursday. Congress president Rahul Gandhi also rushed to AIIMS after addressing a joint rally of the Opposition at Talkatora Stadium.

Much before the news of death came in, the BJP called off its national executive meeting and other engagements involving senior leaders. The Centre has declared seven-day mourning from August 16 to 22 during which the National Flag will fly at half-mast across India. The Tricolour will also fly half-mast on the funeral day in all Indian Missions and the High Commissions abroad. Apart from Delhi, the governments in Rajasthan, Odisha and Jharkhand also declared mourning today. Government schools, colleges and institutions will remain closed.

After embalming the body, Vajpayee’s mortal remains were taken to his residence where he will kept till Friday morning. He will be taken to the BJP office at 9 am. The funeral procession will start at 1 pm, and the last rites will be held at Rashtriya Smriti Sthal around 4 pm.

A bachelor, Vajpayee is survived by his adopted daughter Namita Kaul Bhattacharya.

Vajpayee’s first became prime minister in 1996, leading a shaky coalition whose members were suspicious of the BJP’s right-wing politics. It lasted for 13 days and collapsed after losing a vote of no-confidence. His second stint as prime minister was in 1998 when the NDA came to power but that lasted for just 13 months. Finally, the NDA with Vajpayee as PM returned to power in 1999 and was voted out in 2004.

Of the proposed Pune - Mumbai Hyperloop....

Based on a pre-feasibility report conducted by the Pune Metropolitan Region Development Authority,  the officials have made a rough estimate regarding Pune-Mumbai Hyperloop’s ticket cost. For those with time constrains will have to pay something between Rs.1,000 and Rs.1,500 for a faster travel between the two cities.

The pre-feasibility report has covered some important elements like modes of travel used by commuters of different class. The ticket prices of buses, cabs, airplanes, trains and the response received by the commuters, who daily shuffle between the two cities, were the important parameters that made the rough estimate, which has appealed to the commuters.

A PMRDA official, who did not wish to be identified, said that while they cannot disclose the exact amount, it will be placed somewhere between Rs.1,000 and Rs.1,500. “According to our studies, it shouldn’t cost more than that. We may not be investing any money into the Hyperloop, but we are one of the golden shareholders and are in a position to contribute our inputs and regulate the prices if essential,” he said.

The Mumbai-Pune journey which usually takes over four hours by a cab or bus, over three hours by train, will be successfully replaced by the Hyperloop in a couple of years. It is expected to cover the 180 km in 25 minutes. The Hyperloop will be made at a whooping price of Rs.40,00, 000 crore by the US-based Virgin Hyperloop One.

The construction of Hyperloop’s trial route from Gahunje to Pimpri is expected to commence by December 2018. The project will materialise in 2024 and passengers will finally get to witness the 25 minute Pune-Mumbai journey settled in a vacuum pod.

Another Freight Corridor in the Works

The Indian Railways plans to invest ₹44,000 crore to build a 1,100-km greenfield freight corridor on the east coast connecting Kharagpur in West Bengal with Vijaywada in Andhra Pradesh.

The corridor, which is expected to carry about 200 million tonnes of freight per annum, is likely to be announced in the budget proposal for 2019-20.

The corridor will connect mineral rich areas of the country to industries in the south.

The construction work on the corridor will begin only after the DFCC delivers the 3,300-km long eastern and western freight corridors.

The two corridors, being constructed to connect the mainland with the ports on the western and the eastern coasts of the country, are expected to be fully completed by 2020.

The first phase of the two dedicated freight corridors project, India’s first mega railway project since Independence, being constructed at the cost of ₹81,000 crore, is likely to be completed by the year end.

The 1,500-km long western freight corridor runs from Dadri near Delhi to Jawahar Lal Nehru Port Trust in Mumbai while the 1,800-km eastern corridor is from Ludhiana in Punjab to Dankuni in West Bengal.

DFCC will be making 432 km of the western corridor and 343 km of the eastern corridor operational by the end of the current financial year.

Once open, the stretches on the western and the eastern corridors will significantly reduce the travel time between Delhi and Mumbai and Delhi and Howrah, the two most congested rail routes in the country.

The construction of the western corridor is being fully funded by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency, which has provided around ₹33,000 crore as soft loan. The eastern corridor is being partially funded by the World Bank.

Once operational, the corridors will increase the national transporter freight carrying capacity to over 2,000 million tonnes, up from the existing 1,200 million tonnes.

NPCI Launches New-look UPI

If Unified Payments Interface revolutionised the peer-to-peer digital payments ecosystem in the country, National Payments Corporation of India has now launched an updated version of the payment railroad, mainly to drive merchant payments on UPI.

The updated UPI, commonly referred to as UPI 2.0, was launched by the Reserve Bank of India governor Urjit Patel along with State Bank chairman Rajnish Kumar and Infosys non-executive chairman Nandan Nilekani.

Banks like SBI, ICICI Bank, Axis Bank, HDFC Bank, Yes Bank are the first batch of lenders to be going live on UPI 2.0.

With features such as overdraft facility on UPI, block payments for purchasing stocks during IPO, or bringing in a signed intent, UPI is set to introduce new features, mainly to ease merchant payments on the platform.

UPI 2.0 was announced by the previous managing director of NPCI AP Hota way back in 2016, saying the intent was to launch the update in 2017, but it took a long time for the tech platform to be developed and stabilised, especially with explicit permissions required from the central bank. One of the biggest misses for UPI 2.0 was the feature of recurring payments which could have driven transactions for use cases such as mutual fund payments, loan repayments, etc.

While few features have been missed, the industry is gearing up for a whole set of new features on UPI after the update.


Sleeping Elephant has woken up

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his last speech from the ramparts of Red Fort ahead of the 2019 elections, made a strong political pitch for a second term by projecting himself as a leader who delivered a bold, decisive and efficient government.

In doing so, he contrasted the Indian economy before his term as a “sleeping elephant” which, he said as per experts, had now woken up and is running. He claimed that India’s infamous red tape image has now transformed into a “red carpet for investment”.

He also announced the launch of his signature medical insurance scheme, named Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Abhiyan or Ayushman Bharat, from September 25, which aims to offer ₹5 lakh cover to nearly 10 crore poor families in the country ahead of the 2019 elections.

“There was a time when the world used to call India’s economy risky. However, today, the same people and institutions are saying with confidence that our reform momentum has strengthened our economic fundamentals,” Modi said.

“From being counted among the Fragile Five and concern that India was pulling down the world economy, today the world is saying India has become the destination for multi-trillion dollar investments. There was a time when India meant ‘policy paralysis’ and ‘delayed reforms’. However, today India is discussed for ‘reform, perform and transform’,” Modi said, to stress on the difference he had brought to India as PM in the last four years.

Going by the “2013 speed” under the UPA, he said, it would have taken decades to achieve what his government has done in the past four years. He said the country was constructing twice the highways and four times more houses in the villages under him.

At a time when he’s under criticism from Opposition for letting rupee breach Rs.70 mark against the dollar, the prime minister highlighted that India was now the sixth-largest economy on which the world places considerable hope.

Here, he underlined the bold decision to implement the GST, calling it a “festival of honesty” that’s ensuring efficient tax compliance. “In the past 70 years, 70 lakh enterprises were included in the indirect tax net. However, in the last one year alone after GST, the figure has catapulted to 1.16 crore. The number of direct taxpayers has increased from 4 crore in 2014 to 6.75 crore.”

Modi laid particular emphasis on his ability to “clean up” the corrupt system of power brokers and introduce efficiency, saying he had rooted out nepotism and affiliations. “Such shops are closed. We will never forgive corruption or black money. Whatever the obstacles, I will not leave this path. Corruption did harm India.”

The PM said he was “restless, worked up, agitated and impatient” and that showed in his personal commitment to further re-energise the government machinery. “I am impatient as several countries have gone ahead of us and I am restless and impatient to take my country ahead of these countries. Malnutrition is a big bottleneck in the development of our children and I want to rid the country of the same. I am agitated so that a poor person can get an appropriate health cover to fight diseases. I am restless to ensure that our citizens can have a quality life and an opportunity to love with ease,” he said, while reaffirming the targets fixed by him for India’s 75th anniversary of Independence in 2022.

The PM also cited international reports to claim that 5 crore people had been pulled out of poverty in the last two years.

“We want to move ahead. We cannot accept stagnation, we cannot be standstill and it is not in our nature to bend before anybody. This country will neither come to a standstill, neither will it bend and nor will it get tired. We have to achieve greater heights, we have to keep moving ahead,” Modi said.

SUV sales plateau?

The SUV segment, which was racing ahead on the demand speedway, is suddenly stuck in first gear as the honeymoon period seems to have ended with flat growth, or even falling sales.

Models like the Hyundai Creta, Maruti Vitara Brezza, Mahindra Bolero, Renault Duster, Toyota Innova and Ford EcoSport — which collectively powered much of the SUV run for the past three years — are now nearly losing their new-product excitement and facing volume pressure. Data for July, sales of all these models have fallen, pulling down the segment by 9%.

Market leader Maruti witnessed a 5% drop in SUV sales in July. Maruti’s Brezza was down 7% year-on-year. Hyundai’s Creta went flat, while Ford EcoSport was down. Even Mahindra’s Bolero was flat and Toyota’s Innova Crysta saw a 29% drop.

These top four race horses started losing pace from March 2018. Creta went flat in March at 10,011 units (from 10,001 units in March 2017), while Innova was down at 6,952 units (7,252 units in March 2017). However, Brezza at 13,147 units was up 31% and Bolero was up 5% with 9,104 units. Even EcoSport was nearly 15% higher at 5,344 units.

Dealers say some of this growth is due to aggressive wholesale billing as companies pushed to meet fiscal targets. By April, both Brezza and Creta were flat with growth rates of 1.5% and 2% respectively.

They said that most of these products were already 24-36 months old, if not older, and the incremental volumes will now start tapering off. With a host of new products lined up for the market — including compact SUVs from Hyundai, Mahindra and others — sentiment will lift again, feel marketers.

An auto analyst said, “The big difference is coming from first-time buyers who were purchasing these SUVs in urban markets in big numbers. This segment is now turning away and using app cabs, and rural demand is not big enough to make up for the shortfall,” he explained.


Cosmos Bank’s server hacked

Hackers siphoned off over Rs.94 crore through a malware attack on the server of Pune-based Cosmos Bank, cloning thousands of the bank’s debit cards in two days, a top official said. The fraud was carried out on August 11 and August 13 and the malware attack by the hackers originated in Canada, Cosmos Bank chairman Milind Kale said. “In two days, hackers withdrew a total Rs.78 crore from various ATMs in 28 countries, including Canada, Hong Kong and a few ATMs in India, and another Rs.2.5 crore were taken out within India,” he said.

On August 13, hackers again transferred Rs.13.92 crore in a Hong Kong-based bank. Kale said the bank’s core banking system was not affected and it has appointed a professional forensic agency to investigate the fraud.

While cloning the cards and using a “parallel” switch system, the hackers self-approved the transactions and withdrew over Rs.80.5 crore in 15,000 transactions.

Trade deficit widens

India’s exports rose 14.3% to $25.8 billion in July mainly on account of better performance of gems and jewellery sector as well as petroleum products, even as trade deficit soared to a near five-year high of $18 billion. The merchandise exports had totalled $22.5 billion in July 2017.

Imports during July were valued at $43.8 billion, a growth of 28.8% compared to $33.9 billion in the year ago period. The sharp surge in imports led to worsening of trade deficit to $18 billion in the reporting month as against a deficit of $11.5 billion during July 2017.

Over 57% increase in oil import bill ($12.4 billion) and 41% jump in gold imports to $2.9 billion during July are believed to be main reasons behind high trade deficit. As regards exports, the outward shipments of petroleum products surged from $3 billion in July last year to $3.9 billion, showing a growth of about 30%. Export of gems and jewellery was up 24.6% to $3.2 billion.

Meanwhile, the RBI data on trade in services said exports (receipts) during June 2018 were valued at $16.9 billion or up 4.3% on an annual basis. Services imports were $10.3 billion in June, up by 0.9% over the same month last year. The data on services is released with a lag of one month. 

The rupee for the first time breached the 70-mark against the US dollar before recovering to close at 69.89 — four paise stronger than Monday’s close of 69.93. The milestone, however, did not cause any panic either in government or in the stock markets where the sentiment remained positive with the sensex gaining 207 points to end at 37,852. While opposition parties attacked the government, hitting back at the Prime Minister for his attacks against the UPA government in 2013 for the falling rupee, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi described the weakening to an all-time low of 70.10 as “a vote of no-confidence”.

However, government officials put on a brave face. Economic affairs secretary Subhash Chandra Garg said in New Delhi that India has sufficient foreign exchange reserves. However, because the rupee was weakening due to global factors, any move by the central bank won’t help much. He said that $23 billion of the country’s foreign exchange reserves have been used to defend the rupee.


Somnath Chatterjee (July 25, 1929-August 13, 2018)

Somnath Chatterjee had served as the Lok Sabha Speaker only for a single term from 2004-09, but there were many firsts during these five years, which have left a unique imprint on India’s Parliamentary democracy.

Somnath da, as he was fondly called, was the first Communist leader to be made the Lok Sabha Speaker, though he had been elected to the Lower House 10 times. Soon after his election, Somnath da set a precedent of giving up his CPI (M) membership of 36 years, stating that the Speaker must be non-partisan. In less than a year, the Congress-led UPA government realised he was no pushover. Somnath da objected to the Supreme Court intervening in Jharkhand trust vote in March 2005 and convened a meeting of presiding officers of all legislatures, where a resolution was passed that the judiciary must not interfere in the legislatures’ functioning.

A few months later, Somnath da again refused to respond to a Supreme Court notice on a petition by MPs, who had been expelled for having accepted cash in return for asking questions. He had the last laugh when the SC upheld his decision.

But the greatest “rebellion” came in 2008 when he rose over party lines by refusing to follow the CPI (M)’s diktat of stepping down as the Speaker during the vote of confidence against the Manmohan Singh government over nuclear deal. He also questioned the logic of destabilising the government, prompting the party to expel him.

By 2009, Chatterjee was a lonely man, which was reflected in his two observations during his last session as the Speaker. Angry at disruption in the House, Chatterjee had chided the Opposition MPs “I want all of you to lose”. A few months later, his words turned out to be prophetic.

Secondly, he had said, “Who remembers the retiring members?” That was largely correct, since his only public engagement in Delhi was his book launch a year later, which, of course, no comrade attended.

By Nagendar Sharma, former journalist and current adviser (media) to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal

Equity Fund SIPs : July Inflows at₹7,554 crore

Retail investors continued to pour money in equity mutual funds through monthly installments in July. Equity schemes got ₹7,554 crore through systematic investment plans in July, exactly same as in the previous month.

In the first seven months of the calendar year, mutual funds have mobilised ₹49,290 crore through SIPs, compared to ₹31,024 crore during the same period last year — a rise of 59%.

Mutual funds in India have currently about 2.33 crore SIP accounts through which investors regularly invest in fund schemes. AMFI data show that the MF industry had added about 9.92 lakh SIP accounts every month on an average in FY19, with an average SIP size of about ₹3,250 per account. The contribution of SIPs which stood at a mere 52 lakh mobilising ₹1,206 crore every month in 2014 with an average SIP size of ₹2,322.

SIPs are a monthly contributions toward a chosen mutual fund scheme and offer the power of compounding. They are a disciplined way of investing regularly and help beat volatility.

They offer flexibility, choice of tenure and the ability to start, stop or modify investments at any time post starting.

Retail inflation eases to 4.2%

Retail inflation cooled in July on the back of easing food and vegetable prices, prompting economists to say that the RBI may hold interest rates when it reviews the monetary policy in October.

Inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, rose an annual 4.2%, slower than the previous month’s 4.9%. Rural inflation was at 4.1% in July while urban inflation was at 4.3%.

The sharp uptick in retail and wholesale price inflation in the past few months had raised concerns over sticky price pressures. The RBI had raised interest rates twice to calm inflationary pressures and had flagged inflation as a concern. A household survey of inflationary expectations had also pointed to some pressure on the prices front.

The CPI data showed vegetable prices declined an annual 2.2%, while sugar and confectionary contracted 5.8%. Pressure was visible on housing and fuel segments. Housing rose 8.3% while fuel and light nearly 8% during the month.

Economists said they expect the RBI to pause in its rate-raising cycle, given the easing in some pressure points.

Rupee hits new low : 69.93

The rupee recorded its sharpest single-day fall since September 2013, with the dollar gaining Rs.1.1 on Monday, and closed at 69.93 — a new low. The rupee ended the day as the worst performer in Asia as the contagion from the collapse of the Turkish lira spread to emerging market currencies.

After close of currency markets in Asia on Friday, the lira had crashed over 18%. This year, the Turkish currency has lost over 40% against the dollar due to concerns over geopolitical tensions with the US. Although all Asian currencies have weakened against the greenback this year, the rupee has been the worst — losing 8.7% against the dollar in 2018.

Dealers are at a loss to explain why a rout in the Turkish market would have a disproportionately large impact on the rupee. While the sensex did fall by 224 points to 37,645, the sentiment was not so negative to warrant a 1.5% fall in the currency. Some dealers said that there could have been a sudden demand from some banks who were squaring their positions in the forward market.

With the rupee only a few paise short of 70, analysts are forecasting that the dollar could soon hit 72. A weakening of the rupee would make oil imports more expensive and stoke inflation, prompting the RBI to hike interest rates.

Economists point out that the economy is in a far better shape when compared to August-September 2013.

Ease of Living Index

Cities in Maharashtra have taken the top three positions as well as the sixth rank in the first national survey of the most liveable cities. Pune, Navi Mumbai and Greater Mumbai featured on the podium, while Thane was at number six.

The Ease of Living Index of 111 cities, ranked Rampur in UP at the bottom, with Kohima in Nagaland and Patna in Bihar preceding it. Bengaluru, which has seen congestion become a serious drawback, ranks 58 and Hyderabad 27.

Although Pune did not bag the top rank in any of the 15 parameters the cities were judged on, it finished in the first 10 in nine categories.

Interestingly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency Varanasi ranked 33. West Bengal did not participate in the exercise.

Not everyone is convinced by the rankings. “If Mumbai is considered liveable despite all this (long commutes and high pollution), it is really frightening as it means quality of life is even worse in other cities,” said Subodh Kumar, a former Mumbai municipal commissioner.

The national Ease of Living exercise by the Union home and urban affairs ministry is aimed at helping cities assess their liveability vis-à-vis global and national benchmarks and encourage cities to move towards an outcome-based approach to urban planning and management.

Mumbai scored well on identity and culture (rank 2), public open spaces and mixed land use (1), assured water supply (3) and transportation and mobility (8). Surprisingly, the financial capital ranked 63 in economy and employment, 54 in reduced pollution, 23 in governance and 36 in education.

The rankings are based on the overall scores each city got on a 100-point scale across 15 categories and 78 indicators. The data was made up of what the cities furnished, a third-party survey and feedback from around 60,000 citizens

A BMC official privy to the whole process said they collated the data sought by the state government for the report in April. “There was a live questionnaire. While around 80% of the information sought on open spaces, water supply, road network, transportation facilities like bus stations, security cameras was available with the BMC, for additional details we had to approach authorities like the Mumbai Port Trust, MMRDA, police or Mhada,” he said.

In May, an independent team arrived and audited facilities across random locations. The BMC also had to provide water and noise samples from random locations.

In safety, Pune and Greater Mumbai were ranked at 25 and 35 among all the cities.

What worked in favour of Navi Mumbai was governance (rank 1), education (2), health(3), transportation and mobility(4) and assured water supply (7). It was let down by power supply
(74), reduced pollution (48), housing and inclusiveness (35). Municipal commissioner Ramaswami N said he is happy Navi Mumbai is marginally behind Pune. “We are just 0.09 overall points behind... Navi Mumbai has also been judged best for governance,” said Ramaswami.

Thane scored on power supply, transportation and mobility, ranking first, assured water supply (4) and employment (9). It came up short in safety and security (82), public open spaces (40), reduced pollution (53).

“We have managed to bring Thane a long way from its identity of being a dormitory city or playing younger brother to Mumbai. It is a matter of immense pride for me that I could contribute to help the city secure an admirable place on the national map,” said municipal commissioner Sanjeev Jaiswal.


Industrial growth surges to 7% : June 2018

The country’s industrial output growth rose to a five-month high in June, powered by manufacturing, mining, electricity, capital goods and consumer durables sectors. The surge ignited hopes of a sustained revival in the crucial segment in the coming months.

Industrial output in June grew an annual 7%, accelerating from previous month’s upwardly revised 3.9% and a contraction of 0.3% in the year-earlier month.

The growth in April-June quarter was 5.2% compared with 1.9% expansion in the same period last year.

Economists said they expect the healthy growth to sustain.

Kerala flood situation worsens

The flood situation in Kerala worsened as all the five sluice gates of the Idukki dam were opened and shutters of over two dozen other dams were lifted, submerging vast areas of land in the state which has been reeling under unprecedented downpour in decades.

The death toll in the last 48 hours touched 29 — six deaths were reported in the past 24 hours — and four people are reported missing. Twenty five persons died in landslides, while four drowned.

Twelve deaths were reported from Idukki, six from Malappuram, four from Wayanad, two from Palakkad and one from Kannur. Three drowning deaths were reported from Ernakulam and one from Thiruvananthapuram.

As many as 57 tourists, including 22 foreigners, who were trapped inside a resort at Pallivasal in Idukki were rescued by the Army by constructing a parallel path that led them to the main road. As many as 439 relief camps have been opened, in which 53,502 people from 12,240 families have taken shelter.

The discharge of water from all five shutters of Idukki dam reached eight lakh litres per second on Friday, submerging most parts of Cheruthoniand raising water level at the downstream Bhoothathankettu dam by 1.2 m. Shutters of 25 dams remain open, resulting in considerable rise of water level in most rivers. The authorities are preparing for possible flooding in Aluva and elsewhere in Ernakulam district, which lie in the path of the dam water draining into the Arabian Sea, and have sought the Army’s help to deal with the crisis.

The IMD has forecast heavy rains for the next 48 hours and the government has issued a red alert in Wayanad, Idukki, Alappuzha, Kottayam, Ernakulam, Palakkad, Malappuram and Kozhikode districts.

The red alert will be in force at Wayanad till August 14 and in Idukki till August 13; other districts will be on alert till Sunday morning.

With chances of Cochin International Airport Ltd (CIAL) suspending operations in the event of a flood, the Thiruvananthapuram international airport has been kept ready to handle flights diverted from Kochi.


India : 38th most-visited nation in world

Despite its incredible offerings, India registered only 10.2 million foreign tourist arrivals in 2017, which has placed it at the thirty-eighth spot in the list of most-visited countries in the world, said a study on inbound tourism by global aviation consultancy group, Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation. The number is a jump from 2016, when it stood at 8.8 million.

A reason for this is India’s reliance on long-haul source markets, that is countries that are beyond six to seven hours of flying time away. “The world’s top 10 inbound markets get 56.9% of its tourists from shorthaul source markets,’’ the study said. Short-haul source markets are countries that are less than three hours away. India’s competitors get an average of 32.8% of total FTAs from short-haul markets. In comparison, India gets only 12.8 % inbound tourist traffic from short-haul, with long haul accounting for 60.6 %.

The top three markets for inbound tourists are US, UK and Canada. When it comes to inbound tourism growth in India, it has been largely driven by arrivals from Bangladesh.

“During 2013 to 2017, FTAs from Bangladesh accounted for CAGR of 44.8% in India,’’ the study said. “FTAs, including those from Bangladesh, grew at a CAGR of 7.2% year-on-year during 2007-2017. But if Bangladesh is excluded, it falls to 5.7%. Eighty-five per cent of the FTAs from Bangladesh come by road. FTAs excluding Bangladesh registered a growth of 8.2% year-on-year in 2017, compared to 15.9% including Bangladesh.

Then again, India’s definition of FTA differs from the one used internationally. In most countries, a non-resident’s arrival at international borders is considered an FTA. India’s definition of an FTA is an arrival at international borders by foreign passport holders. This is why some of the leisure traffic into India that came from the top three inbound tourist markets of US, UK and Canada were accounted for by Persons of Indian Origin.

The study recommended a study to ascertain the competitiveness of India in relation to its global peers on metrics such as airfares, availability of seats, ease of access, cost of ground product, quality of hotels, civic infrastructure, safety and comfort, cleanliness etc. “Identification of strengths and weaknesses in proposition to travellers is necessary for an effective strategy,’’ it said.

BPCL Refinery fire put out after 11 hours

The fire that started on Wednesday after an explosion at the hydrocracker plant of Bharat Petroleum’s Mahul refinery was extinguished in the early hours of Thursday after raging for over 11 hours. A total of 43 persons were reported injured, of whom 22 had to be hospitalised. Nine have now been discharged.

BPCL has said it will form a high-level committee to investigate the cause of the explosion and fire, which started around 2.45 pm on Wednesday and was put out at 1.50 am the next day. The committee will also ascertain the extent of damage and losses.

Sources said that though the cause of fire is yet to be ascertained, leakage of gas from the hydrocracker plant cannot be ruled out. Sources said investigators will have to find out if there was a 'vapour cloud ignition'—the vapour cloud being a mixture of hydrogen and hydrogen sulphide gases. "The gas was burning and at high pressure, which was later regulated.”

NDA wins RS dy chair poll

The opposition lost the perception battle over the election of the Rajya Sabha deputy chairman with NDA nominee and JD(U) MP Harivansh winning comfortably with 125 votes in his favour while Congress candidate B K Hariprasad polled 105, less than his full quota of votes.

While all NDA votes along with those of regional parties AIADMK and BJD were in order, with additions of lawyer Ram Jethmalani, representing RJD, and the lone INLD MP R K Kashyap taking the tally to 125, there were as many as 13 absentions and abstensions from the opposition. Three MPs from Congress, two from Trinamool Congress and one from SP did not turn up and DMK ranks were depleted too despite two MPs being brought to the capital by a chartered flight. Out of the effective strength of 244 members, 232 cast their votes as Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSRCP (2) abstained and AAP (3) and PDP (2) were absent.

The result was a setback for Congress, which had forced the showdown after regional parties in the opposition decided not to field a candidate. Congress said the decision to contest should be read in the context of its view that opposition to the Modi government’s policies had to be registered. However, gaps in the opposition benches were a blow to claims of a united front against BJP and the win also helped the party claim that the opposition’s stranglehold over the Upper House had been breached.

PM Narendra Modi congratulated Harivansh, dwelling on his career as a journalist and author, and described him as a “well-read” person who “has written a lot”. “He has served society for years,” the PM said in Rajya Sabha.

This was the second instance in recent weeks that the government has managed to ward off an opposition challenge, having won the no-confidence motion. The Rajya Sabha election hung on the BJD’s stance and the Odisha outfit backed Harivansh with its nine MPs.

While BJP now has its nominees as President, Vice-President and Lok Sabha Speaker, the RS deputy chairman is with an ally.

The successful vote also delivered the benefit of strengthening the political alliance with JD(U) in Bihar where the party has been at odds with BJP on several issues, the most contentious being seat-sharing for the Lok Sabha polls.


Ikea set for first India store launch today

In a milestone that’s been more than a decade in the making, India’s first Ikea store will open today, bringing inexpensive Nordic-inspired furnishings and food to the world’s fastest-growing middle class.

Ikea expects to welcome as many as 6 million visitors a year to its 13-acre complex in Hitec City, on the outskirts of Hyderabad, India’s fourth-biggest city. The 400,000-square-foot showroom contains some 7,500 products, of which about 1,000 will sell for less than Rs.200 apiece. It’s the first of 25 stores Ikea plans to open across the nation by 2025.

Ikea’s launch comes at least 12 years after it started studying India, which is poised to overtake the US to become the world’s second-largest middle-class market by 2022. By then, sales of homewares and home furnishings will probably reach $15.3 billion from $12.9 billion last year, according to researcher Euromonitor International.

The world’s biggest furniture retailer invested more than Rs.1,000 crore on its first foray in India. It’s counting on new customers in industrialising nations bolstering sales growth in the face of brand fatigue and increased competition from online retailers, such as Amazon.com Inc and made.com, in established markets. Ikea added no new outlets last year in Sweden, where domestic sales were flat.

An Ikea is slated to open in early 2019 in Mumbai, followed by stores in urban Bengaluru and metropolitan Delhi. Chennai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Surat and Pune are also targeted for stores. 

India to drive global growth for 30 yrs: IMF

India’s economy is picking up and growth prospects look bright — partly due to the implementation of recent policies, such as the nationwide GST, the International Monetary Fund has said.

The IMF expects economic growth to pick up to about 7.3% for fiscal year 2018-19 and 7.5% in 2019-20 on strengthening investment and robust private consumption.

Over the medium term, the economic outlook is projected to continue to improve and GDP growth is expected to rise to 7.75%, reflecting continued robustness in private consumption and a recovery in investment, supplemented by progress in bank balance sheet repair, improved credit growth, and ongoing structural reforms, most notably the productivity-enhancing effects of GST.

As one of the world’s fastest-growing economies — accounting for about 15% of global growth — India’s economy has helped to lift millions out of poverty and could help power global growth.

Ranil Salgado, the head of the IMF team for India, said the country’s economy can be a long-run source of global growth. “After all, it is a key driver of global economic growth, next only to China and the US,” he said.

“India has three decades before it hits the point where the working-age population starts to decline. So that’s a long time. For the next three decades, it is a source of growth for the global economy and could be even longer. But for three decades India can be almost what China was for the world economy for a while,” Salgado said.

It said economic risks are tilted to the downside. On the external side, risks include a further increase in international oil prices, tighter global financial conditions, a retreat from cross-border integration, including spillover risks from a global trade conflict, and rising regional geopolitical tensions. The IMF supported the recent tightening of interest rates.


Mumbai Metro

The new metropolitan commissioner is running against time: he aims to make the metro Mumbai’s longest public transport network in five years. That would mean surpassing Central Railway’s CST-Karjat line (122 km) and the Western Railway stretch linking Churchgate to Dahanu (123 km). The two add up to nearly 250 km of track length, but short of the 276-km mark that R A Rajeev hopes to conquer.

In scale and conception, the metro is touted as the future of travel. Its potential can be gauged from the fact that the 12 lines, on completion, would provide 250 stations for entry, exit and interchange—as opposed to the 100-odd stops on the suburban railway. Rajeev says, “By 2022, it will change the face of Mumbai.” Indeed, the consensus among planners is the metro will have a transformative effect, shaping development, intra-city commute and life on the street in ways that render the network a key determinant of traffic and the economy. Given that the existing 11.5 km Andheri-Ghatkopar line has a daily ridership of more than 4 lakh, prospects are bright.

The MMRDA has asked the state to appoint it as a Special Planning Authority with jurisdiction for a 500m radius around each of the stations that will dot the grid. “We have learnt from mistakes while constructing Metro One (the Andheri-Ghatkopar line). This area is being sought to ensure seamless travel and ease of movement…there will be pedestrian pathways, cycle tracks, easy movement for buses, autos,” said Rajeev. The financial burden of developing the zone around the metro will be borne by MMRDA and the urban local body. Many stations will be linked via skywalks to office hubs like Bharat Diamond Bourse in BKC, malls, or large facilities like the airport so that commuters do not spill out on the roads.

“We are benchmarking ourselves against Hong Kong and Singapore. We will appoint consultants for creating a separate operation and maintenance division for the metros,” he said.

That brings us to the staggering cost attached to it. Capital expenditure last year was Rs.2,700 crore; in 2018, it’s been budgeted at around Rs.5,000 crore. But that’s small change compared to what’s coming next. Initial civil work accounts for barely one-third of expenses on a metro. The bulk is yet to be spent on rolling stock, telecom, signalling, and electrical systems. “Expenditure will scale up from next year,” said the metropolitan commissioner. That’s putting it mildly—in all, MMRDA will need Rs.88,000 crore for 12 lines, nearly as much as what the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train will cost.

“We have a balance of Rs.20,000 crore and land assets at BKC and Wadala worth Rs.95,000 crore,” said Rajeev. He hastens to add that MMRDA will not liquidate assets immediately; rather it has approached government to provide a steady source of revenue.

The authority has also sounded out multilateral agencies to raise funds. “We are in advanced discussions with Asian Development Bank for loans for lines VII (Dahisar-Andheri East) and IIA (Dahisar west-D N Road),” said Rajeev. MMRDA is also in talks with the New Development Bank for BRICS countries for Metro Lines II and VII.

The loans will have to be repaid over 25 years, which includes a five-year moratorium after the last instalment is received. MMRDA claims it is financially stable, but will need a constant source to supplement revenue from traffic.

As of now, it has been promised 1% of stamp duty earnings from property transactions in the region outside Mumbai. It may get a share of the Mumbai kitty as well but that requires an amendment in the BMC Act. Besides, it has sought a share of development charges levied in the city, including premium for extra floor space in the 500-metre area around metro stops.

Earnings will swell as lines are added—MMRDA expects daily ridership to eventually hit 50 lakh—but will ticketing cover costs? “If Delhi Metro with ridership of 25 lakh daily and minimum fare of less than Rs.10 can be profitable, so can Mumbai’s metro which will have more ridership,” says Rajeev.

Right now, he’s focused on clearing bottlenecks. Tenders for telecom, signalling, electrical works, and rolling stock are out for Metro lines 2A, 2B and VII. Nearly 60% of the civil work is complete on 2A and VII. Metro station work has also started, said Rajeev. “It is very difficult but we are trying to start Metro Line VII and 2A by December 2019,” he said.

Sun Sets On M ‘Kalaignar’ Karunanidhi

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam patriarch and former Tamil Nadu chief minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi is no more. The end came at 6.10 pm on Tuesday. The 94-year-old stalwart had been battling ill health for more than a year, not long after he was elected to the assembly for the 13th time in 2016.

His condition deteriorated on July 28 when his blood pressure dropped and he was hospitalised. Since then, his condition had been fluctuating and he remained in the intensive care unit till the end. Legions of party workers had been camping outside the hospital since he was brought in, raising slogans and praying for their beloved leader’s recovery.

In a chequered and eventful political career spanning over 70 years, Karunanidhi defined the ethos of an era. His political acumen, steadfast Dravidian ideology, writing and oratorical skills, besides his charisma, all in equal measure contributed to his emergence as one of the tallest political leaders of the country.

Karunanidhi had the longest stint as chief minister of the state; he was at the helm for 19 years, though with several breaks. He won every election he contested since 1957. At the helm of the party for nearly half a century, his shrewdness in stitching up alliances and performing tactical manoeuvres ensured that the DMK always had a strategic role in the state and on occasions became a force to reckon with at the national level.

Even when the party was not in office for 13 years (1976-1989), Karunanidhi held the DMK flock together by keeping their spirits alive through a daily dose of letters in the party organ, ‘Murasoli’, and fiery speeches to party workers. It’s only the second time in the DMK’s nearly 70-year history that a leadership change will take place, a testament to the firm control Karunanidhi had over the party after he succeeded C N Annadurai at the helm in 1969.

In 1975, when Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency and hounded every opposition party leader, Karunanidhi was the first chief minister to oppose it. However, his move to uphold democracy led to the dismissal of his government in Tamil Nadu and eventually his arrest along with scores of DMK leaders under the draconian MISA.

Adversity brought out the best in him. Karunanidhi had been jailed and controversies dogged him right through his career. He fought hard for his convictions and always bounced back through sheer grit, determination and hard work. His atheistic outlook and anti-Brahmin stand were not looked upon kindly by the devout.