IAF gets its first ‘fully ops by day’ woman combat pilot

Flight Lieutenant Bhawana Kanth can now go to battle in her MiG-21 ‘Bison’ supersonic jet. She is IAF’s first woman fighter pilot to become “fully ops (operational) by day”. Though Bhawana, who hails from Bihar’s Darbhanga, can be deployed for day-time missions, her gruelling training regime in handling the highly demanding and ageing MiG-21s, which have virtually the highest landing and takeoff speed in the world at 340 kmph, is not yet over.

She will have to now learn night flying during the “moon” and “dark phases” to become a fully operational fighter pilot.

“She is the first woman fighter pilot to qualify to undertake missions by day on a fighter aircraft. Bhawana joined her fighter squadron in November 2017 after initial flying on Pilatus turbo-props and Kiran trainers as well as Hawk advanced jet trainers. She flew her first solo on a MiG-21 Bison in March 2018,” said IAF spokesperson Group Captain Anupam Banerjee.

Bhawana had earlier said it was her “dream to fly like a free bird” when she was growing up in the refinery township of Begusarai, where her father was an engineer in IOCL. Before being commissioned into fighter stream after basic training in June 2016, Bhawana completed her BE (Medical Electronics) from BMS College of Engineering at Bengaluru and is into adventure sports like trekking, rappelling and rafting.

The IAF has so far inducted six women into its fighter flying stream on “an experimental basis” for five years. With it taking around Rs 15 crore to train a single fighter pilot, IAF had for long resisted inducting women because it felt it would disrupt “tight fighter-flying schedules” if they got married and had children.

But women like Bhawana, who learnt tactical flying and manoeuvres after consolidating her general handling of MiG-21s in multiple solo sorties, and the others have shattered the glass ceiling. The IAF didn’t show favouritism to Avani and Bhawana, who were posted to MiG-21squadrons rather than the easier-to-handle modern fighters like Sukhoi-30MKIs or Mirage-2000s. This will ensure they undertake “air defence missions” over Indian territory in the event of war (MiG-21s are meant to intercept incoming enemy aircraft), and not go strike deep into enemy territory.

SC reaches full strength of 31

For the first time since 2008 when Parliament increased the Supreme Court’s strength to 31 judges, the apex court will function at its full strength as President Ram Nath Kovind appointed four new judges — Justices Aniruddha Bose, A S Bopanna, B R Gavai and Surya Kant.

Parliament had increased SC’s sanctioned strength from 26 to 31 in 2008. The collegium headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi on May 8 reiterated its April 12 recommendation for appointment of Jharkhand HC Chief Justice Bose and Gauhati HC CJ Bopanna as SC judges, brushing aside the Centre’s objections on the ground of seniority and equal representation to states.

On May 8, the collegium of CJI Gogoi and Justices S A Bobde, N V Ramana, Arun Mishra and R F Nariman had also recommended the names of Bombay HC’s Justice Gavai and Himachal Pradesh CJ Kant for appointment as SC judges. With this, the CJI Gogoi-headed collegium has succeeded in appointing 10 SC judges in seven months. The other six are Justices Hemant Gupta, R Subhash Reddy, M R Shah and Ajay Rastogi on November 2 and Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna on January 18.

In the recent past, no collegium headed by CJIs R M Lodha, H L Dattu, T S Thakur, J S Khehar and Dipak Misra succeeded in getting so many SC judges appointed. The collegium’s recommendations also have been cleared expeditiously by the Centre, exemplified by 48 hours taken by the Centre to clear the appointment of Justices Gupta, Reddy, Shah and Rastogi.

Among the four new SC judges likely to take oath in the next two days, Justice Gavai will become CJI for a little over six months in 2025.In him, the SC will get a judge from the Scheduled Caste community after nearly a decade. Justice Kant will succeed Justice Gavai as CJI on November 23, 2025, and remain in office till February 9, 2027.

Since Justice Gogoi took oath as CJI on October 3 last year, appointments to the three-tier justice delivery system have picked up pace.

Domestic air traffic falls

Domestic air travel contracted for the first time in nearly five years after the collapse of Jet Airways and drop in capacity, which have led to a sharp hike in air fares. This April saw 1.09 crore domestic flyers — down 4.5% from 1.15 crore in the same month last year. Before suspending operations on April 17, Jet had been barely operating a few flights during the month, which had also seen 13 of SpiceJet Boeing 737 Max planes being grounded due to regulatory orders.

India had seen double-digit growth in domestic air travel for 52 straight months — from September 2014 (over the same month in 2013) to December 2018 (from the same month in 2017). This ranged from a peak of 29.3% growth in July 2015 to 11% in November 2018 (over the year-ago periods).

Grounding of Jet, B737 Max, an overall economic slowdown and sharp rise in fares even as capacity fell saw this dream run waking up to a rude reality. The growth in January and February 2019 fell to single digits and, by March, this was down to 0.14%.

Industry captains, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the negative trend would not last too long as Jet’s slots are being given to other Indian carriers. However, they added that the next government must focus on the aviation sector.

BrahMos successfully test-fired from Sukhoi

The supersonic BrahMos cruise missile, with a strike range of 290-km, was tested from a front-line Sukhoi-30MKI fighter jet in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago, in yet another step towards the country acquiring formidable precision strike capability from long or “standoff ” distances.

This was the second test firing of the air-launched version of the BrahMos missile, which flies almost three times the speed of sound at Mach 2.8, after the first was conducted over the Bay of Bengal in November 2017.

The BrahMos missile, whose range is now being extended, in conjunction with the Sukhoi-30MKI fighter, which has a cruising range of 3,200-km or a combat radius of about 1,500-km without mid-air refuelling, constitutes a deadly weapons package. It can be used to take out terror camps, underground nuclear bunkers, aircraft carriers on the high seas and other military targets from “stand-off” distances by day or night in all weather conditions.

“The launch of the missile, which weighs 2.5 tonne, from the aircraft was smooth. The missile followed the desired trajectory before directly hitting the land target,” said IAF spokesperson Group Captain Anupam Banerjee.

“The integration of BrahMos on the Sukhoi-30MKI was a complex process involving multiple modifications on the aircraft. The capability of the missile coupled with the superlative performance of the Sukhoi-30MKI aircraft gives the IAF the desired strategic reach,” he added.

The Army is now inducting the 4th BrahMos Regiment, which will be the missile’s Block-III version that has steep dive, trajectory manoeuver and top-attack capabilities, while the Navy has deployed the BrahMos missiles on over 10 frontline warships. The IAF, in turn, has inducted two squadrons of the land-launch missiles, even as the force waits for the air launched version.


Mi-17 crash: Friendly Fire

At least one senior IAF officer and three others are likely to face stringent disciplinary action for the grave operational lapses that led to “friendly fire” bringing down the Mi-17 helicopter at Budgam on February 27, around the same time Indian and Pakistani fighter jets were engaged in a dogfight in the Nowshera sector along the Line of Control about 100-km away.

The IAF on Tuesday said the court of inquiry into the Mi-17 crash, which killed six IAF personnel and a civilian on that fateful day at 10.10 am, is still in progress. “We cannot say anything till the CoI reaches a conclusion…it is premature,” said spokesperson Group Captain Anupam Banerjee.

But sources said it has been established that an Israeli SpyDer quick-reaction anti-aircraft missile fired by the air defence unit of the Srinagar airbase brought down the Mi-17 in a matter of just 12 seconds from the launch. “It was a tragic ‘blue on blue’ incident, which are not unusual in the fog of war,” said a source.

“The entire chain of events and the lapses must, however, be conclusively established before any personnel is charged with ‘culpable homicide not amounting to murder’ or something else. With the helicopter’s flight data recorder (black box) missing, the CoI is still minutely examining the available forensic and other evidence,” he added.

The air officer commanding of the Srinagar base, an Air Commodore (equivalent to a Brigadier in Army), has already been transferred out, while the role of the second-in-command, the chief operations officer, is being examined closely. “The COO, a Group Captain, was the terminal weapons director in charge of air defence at that time,” said another source.

The entire air defence network in J&K was on a hair-trigger alert, with guns and missiles on a “weaponsfree status” to fire at “any unauthorized aircraft” in the region, during the retaliatory intrusion across the LoC by Pakistani fighters, a day after IAF conducted the predawn strikes on the JeM training camp at Balakot on February 26.

After the CoI reaches a definitive conclusion, it will be followed by a “summary of evidence” (akin to framing of charges) and finally a court martial or the actual trial, as per the military legal system.

Rural Growth to Push India's GDP to 7.5% by 2020: OECD

India’s economic growth will regain strength and approach 7.5% by 2020, buoyed by rural consumption and subdued inflation, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said in its Economic Outlook even as a United Nations report showed India remaining the fastest-growing major economy.

The UN World Economic Situation and Prospects, in its mid-year update, projected that India will grow 7.1% in fiscal year 2020 on the back of strong domestic consumption and investment, slower than the 7.4% estimated in January. It expects the Indian economy to expand 7% in 2019 compared with its previous estimate of 7.6%. Even after the downward revisions, India remains the fastest-growing major economy in the world, ahead of China.

“Gross domestic product (GDP) growth in India is projected to strengthen to close to 7.25% in FY19 and close to 7.5% in FY20,” the OECD said.

This growth will come from higher domestic demand due to improved financial conditions, new income support measures for farmers and recent structural reforms. Lower oil prices and the recent appreciation of the rupee will reduce pressure on inflation and the current account.

Highlighting that India has the fastest growth among G20 economies with export growth holding up well, it said: “Investment growth will accelerate as capacity utilisation rises, interest rates decline, and geopolitical tensions and political uncertainty are assumed to wane.”

India’s economy grew at a six-quarter low of 6.6% in the October-December period. The statistics office will release the quarterly GDP estimate for January-March and provisional annual estimate for 2018-19 on May 31.

GDP growth for FY19 is seen at 7%.

India’s healthy growth forecast came amidst the OECD cutting the projection for global GDP growth to a sub-par rate of 3.2% this year, before edging up to 3.4% in 2020. Growth was 3.5% in 2018.

“Global growth has slowed abruptly over the past year, with the weakness seen in the latter half of 2018 continuing in the early part of 2019 amidst persisting trade tensions,” the organisation said, urging governments to resolve their trade disputes.

The OECD expects India’s monetary policy to be loosened somewhat as headline inflation remains well below target and inflation expectations are adjusting down.

India’s retail inflation was 2.92% in April. The Reserve Bank of India, which had last month cut interest rates by 0.25%, estimates retail inflation of 2.9-3% during April to September because of lower food and fuel prices and expectations of a normal monsoon.

“Rising public sector borrowing requirements reflect the implementation of new welfare schemes, sluggish tax revenue, and growing financial needs of public enterprises and banks,” the OECD said.

The report suggested that an improved collection of the Goods and Services Tax and a wider base of personal income tax will help reduce the high public debt-to-GDP ratio.

Besides, ensuring a swift resolution of bankruptcy processes would help contain non-performing loans and boost productivity by promoting the reallocation of resources to more productive firms and sectors.

Investment has continued to grow robustly, supported by hefty public sector projects. In contrast, private investment, especially in manufacturing, had been affected by uncertainty ahead of the parliamentary elections, combined with persistent difficulties in financing projects, acquiring land and getting all clearances. Rural consumption and twowheeler and tractor sales have slowed on account of subdued agricultural prices and wages.

RISAT-2B launched

In a pre-dawn launch, Indian space agency ISRO scripted history by successfully launching earth observation satellite RISAT-2B that would enhance the country’s surveillance capabilities among others.

As the 25-hour countdown which began Tuesday concluded, the agency’s trusted workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C46) blasted off at 5.30 am from the first launch pad of the Satish Dhawan Space Centre here on its 48th mission, carrying the 615 kg satellite.

The RISAT-2B (Radar Imaging Satellite-2B), meant for application in fields such as surveillance, agriculture, forestry and disaster management support, was released into the orbit around 15 minutes after the lift-off.

It would replace the RISAT-2, which was successfully launched in 2009.

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman K Sivan had earlier described the mission as a “very, very important” one for the country.  This is a very, very important mission for India. It is an excellent satellite with hi-fi earth observation (capabilities),” he had said.

The RISAT-2B is equipped with a synthetic aperture radar that can take pictures of the earth during day and night, and also under cloudy conditions.

With a mission life of five years, the satellite would also be used for military surveillance, ISRO sources said.

The RISAT-2 has been actively used by India to monitor activities in camps across the border in Pakistan to thwart infiltration bids by terrorists.

The PSLV-C46 was the 14th flight of the PSLV in its core-alone configuration sans the use of the solid strap-on motors.

It was the 72nd launch vehicle mission from Sriharikota and also marked the 36th launch from the first launch pad.

Wednesday’s launch of the PSLV also marked the third launch in 2019.

The other two were the PSLV-C45/EMISAT mission, which successfully injected the EMISAT and 29 international customer satellites into their orbits on April 1, and the PSLV-C44, which successfully placed the Microsat-R and the Kalamsat-V2 satellites in designated orbits on January 24.

ISRO had launched RISAT-1, a microwave remote sensing satellite, on April 26, 2012 from Sriharikota.


LS Polls 2019 turnout: 67.1%

The voter turnout for the just-concluded Lok Sabha polls was the highest ever, at a tentative 67.11% across 542 constituencies, barring Vellore where polls were rescinded, and 1.16% higher than the 65.95% turnout in 2014. The figure could be subject to revision after re-polling is completed.

The final overall turnout for all 543 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 was 66.4%, which too is lower than the polling figure for 542 seats in 2019. Before 2019, the highest ever poll percentage recorded in a parliamentary election was in 2014.

Consolidated voter turnout data for 2019 Lok Sabha sourced from Election Commission is tentative and subject to change, said an EC official.

A look at statewise voter turnouts in the current Lok Sabha poll shows that polling percentage was higher in 18 states/UTs and lower in 16 states/UTs compared with 2014. The comparative figures for Telangana and Andhra were not available as the former came into existence only after the last Lok Sabha poll and the 2014 turnout figures pertain to a pre-bifurcated Andhra.

The highest increase in the turnout between 2014 and 2019 was in Madhya Pradesh (71.2% from 61.6%, a jump of 9.6%), followed by Himachal Pradesh (71.5% from 64.5%). The biggest dip in terms of turnout was in Jammu and Kashmir, with 29.4% polling, down sharply from 49.7% recorded in 2014.

While Lakshadweep recorded the highest turnout at 85% in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the north-eastern states of Tripura (83.2%), Nagaland (83.1%) and Manipur (82.7%) were not too far behind. The overall high turnout in West Bengal at 81.9% was still short of the 2014 figure of 82.2%.

Not surprisingly, the terror-inflicted state of J&K had the lowest polling percentage at 29.4%. Only two states recorded sub-60% turnouts —Bihar 58.1% and UP a slightly higher 59.6%.

Voter turnouts have fluctuated over the past 16 Lok Sabha elections, the lowest being in the first election, held in 1951, with 45.7% voter participation. Thereafter turnouts were 47.7% in 1957, 55.4% in 1962, 61.3% in 1967 (the first elections when Indira Gandhi led Congress), 55.3% in 1971, 60.5% in 1977, 56.9% in 1980, 64% in 1984-85 (held in the wake of assassination of Indira Gandhi), 62% in 1989 (when National Front won under V P Singh).

It was 55.9% in 1991-92 (during which Congress president Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated), 57.9% in 1996, 62% in 1998, 60% in 1999, 58% in 2004, 58.2% in 2009 and 66.4% in 2014.


Exit Polls chant NaMo NaMo.....

Exit polls forecast the return of a BJP-led government at the Centre with a comfortable majority to the National Democratic Alliance. Most polls, barring India Today-Axis and News 18-IPSOS and Today’s Chanakya, showed that BJP on its own may fall shy of the majority mark.

All six major exit polls predicted NDA crossing the majority mark. Times Now-VMR predicted 306 seats for the NDA in which the BJP’s standalone number was pegged at 262. UPA was at 132, as per this poll, with Congress at 78. ABP News-Nielsen, which earlier predicted 267 for NDA, also revised its number later in the evening to 277.

The India Today-Axis survey predicted the highest number for NDA, at 339-365, while UPA could end well below the three-digit number at 77. As per Today’s Chanakya, NDA is slated to get 350. NewsX-Neta App gave the lowest number to NDA at 242.

Further, exit polls gave an edge to the NDA over the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party Mahagathbandhan in Uttar Pradesh. Yet, there were noticeable variations with ABP-Nielsen being the only one which gave the grand alliance a clear win at 56 seats. Most other polls projected between 44 and 68 for the NDA in India’s most populous state. Times Now-VMR gave 58 seats to the NDA. Most polls in the state gave Congress two seats.

A similar variation was also visible in the case of West Bengal. Some of the polls projected a sizeable gain for the BJP while others indicated continuing dominance for the Trinamool Congress. The News18-IPSOS survey forecast 36-38 seats for the TMC and just 3-4 for the BJP. At the other extreme, India Today-Axis has projected a tough contest between the TMC and the BJP with both getting around 19 to 23 seats.

In Odisha, exit polls have indicated considerable gains for the BJP. The lowest for the BJP is 7 by News 18-IPSOS while the highest is at 15-19 by India Today-Axis. The BJP currently has only one seat from the state and was below Congress in the 2014 vote share. Exit polls are also indicating a closer contest in Tamil Nadu.

In Tamil Nadu most political pundits were of the view that the election would be one-sided in favour of the Congress-DMK combine. While the Congress-DMK alliance continues to lead, according to most exit polls, the projection is that the BJP-AIADMK alliance may also bag quite a few seats. Times Now-VMR survey has predicted nine seats for the BJP-AIADMK alliance and 29 for Congress-DMK alliance. News18-IPSOS survey predicts 22-24 seats for Congress-DMK and 14-16 seats for BJP-AIADMK alliance. India Today-Axis poll, however, predicts a clean sweep for Congress-DMK with the alliance getting 34 to 38 seats in the state. The latter survey is predicting only zero to four seats for the BJP-AIADMK alliance.

Overall, the vote share of the BJP, according to most exit polls, stayed above 40%. The Congress too showed some improvement, averaging around 25% but most regional parties seemed to have lost some sheen. Final results will be declared on Thursday.

World’s biggest election is now over

Voting for the sevenphase Lok Sabha elections concluded on Sunday, more than a month after it began on April 11, with over 67% voters exercising their franchise for 542 parliamentary seats (voting for Vellore constituency was rescinded due to the rampant use of money power) spread across the country. Counting of votes will be taken up on Thursday.

The 2014 general elections had recorded a turnout of 66.40%.

Madhya Pradesh stood out with 8-11 percentage point increase in turnout through the three successive phases. Jammu and Kashmir witnessed a slide with every phase — down by 25 percentage points in phase III and 26 percentage points in phase IV.

Turnout for most of the other states were similar to 2014, with voters in West Bengal and Assam turning up in higher numbers as before and Uttar Pradesh and Bihar staying close to their 2014 mark.

Urban centres like Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chandigarh also saw a drop in 2019 turnouts.

Most significantly, the gap between male and female turnout has decreased in these elections compared to 2014, the Election Commission officials have said.

The final phase of the general elections on Sunday witnessed a turnout of over 64% as of 10 pm. The final figure is expected to be higher. Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Punjab voted in the last phase.

These elections also witnessed record money flow and seizures. Seizures close to ₹3,500 crore were made through the seven phases (₹1,206 crore in 2014). The cash component was ₹840 crore in 2019 (₹300 crore in 2014).

Incidentally, instances of paid news came down in 2019 — 640 cases (2019) and 1,297 (2014). Over 900 social media posts were taken down from platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, ShareChat and Google on the grounds of model code violations.

Violent clashes in West Bengal and Punjab marred the seventh and final phase of voting on Sunday in the marathon 17th Lok Sabha elections. Estimates at the end of polling indicated that around 61% of the 101 million people eligible to vote in the last leg turned out to choose their representatives to 59 seats spread across seven states and the Union territory of Chandigarh, the Election Commission said, adding that the turnout figure would be updated later.

Sunday’s polling, which decided the electoral fortunes of 918 candidates including Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Varanasi, was marked by glitches in electronic voting machines that had been a feature of every phase of polling in the world’s largest democratic exercise.

More than 8,000 candidates were in the fray for 542 Lok Sabha seats that were decided in the seven rounds of voting. Election to the Vellore seat in Tamil Nadu was cancelled after the recovery of a vast amount of cash from a building allegedly linked to a Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader.

Counting of votes from the election, following a hard-fought campaign by both Prime Minister Modi and his chief challenger Congress, will be taken up and the results declared on May 23. Voting took place on Sunday in all 13 Lok Sabha constituencies in Punjab and an equal number in Uttar Pradesh, nine in West Bengal, eight each in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, four in Himachal Pradesh, three in Jharkhand, and the lone Chandigarh seat.

Violent clashes erupted during the final phase of the elections in West Bengal -- which recorded a turnout of 73.4% -- despite the deployment of 710 companies of security personnel in the state that elects 42 lawmakers to the Lok Sabha, the most by a state after Uttar Pradesh (80) and Maharashtra (48).

Despite the Election Commission deploying 710 companies of security personnel in the state, reports of clashes poured in from all nine parliamentary and four assembly constituencies that voted.

The poll campaign had to be cut short by a day in West Bengal after BJP and TMC supporters fought a pitched battle in Kolkata on Tuesday at a roadshow by BJP president Amit Shah. Vandals stormed a college and damaged a bust of Bengal Renaissance icon and social reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.

The stakes are high for both parties, with the BJP looking to West Bengal to offset possible reverses in its northern and western strongholds and TMC nursing ambitions of playing a role on the national political stage.

Punjab recorded a polling percentage of 59% in its 13 Lok Sabha constituencies. In the lone Chandigarh seat, 63.57% of the electorate turned out to vote .

Reports of technical glitches in EVMs came in from several places in Punjab, including Ludhiana, Samana and Moga. Punjab’s chief electoral officer S Karuna Raju said eight ballot units, 13 control units, and eight voter-verified paper audit trail machines had been replaced.

Clashes broke out between Congress and Akali-BJP workers in Talwandi Sabo in Bathinda and Gurdaspur. At Talwandi Sabo, the Akalis alleged that gun shots were fired by ruling Congress workers.

In Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous state, the turnout was 55.52%. In Varanasi, the Prime Minister’s constituency, the turnout was 53.38%. Gorakhpur, a seat previously held by chief minister Yogi Adityanath and which the BJP lost in a by-poll last year, recorded a voter turnout of 56.47%.

Violence erupted in the Chandauli Lok Sabha constituency, where state BJP chief Mahendra Nath Pandey is seeking re-election, when supporters of the saffron party and the Samajwadi Party clashed.

Bihar recorded a turnout of 53.36%. In neighbouring Jharkhand, an estimated 70.97 of the electorate exercised their franchise in three Lok Sabha seats. In Madhya Pradesh, a turnout of 69.36% was recorded and in Himachal Pradesh, 66.7% of the voters exercised their franchise.

An average of 66.88% voters exercised their franchise in the last six phases.

Nerul-Uran railway line

Work on phase two of the proposed Nerul-Seawoods-Uran suburban railway line will begin after the monsoon. CR invited tenders for construction of six bridges, one road overbridge (RoB) at Gavan railway station, and one road underbridge (RuB).

Majority of the work in this phase will be carried out on the stretch between Bamandongri and Gavan railway stations. After the construction of the bridges, railway tracks will be laid across 11 km.

“Tenders have been invited and we are planning to start the on-ground work post monsoon. After the construction of the RoB near Gavan railway station, it would be easier to commence with the laying of the railway tracks in the second phase,” said a senior CR official.

Work on phase 2 is expected to be complete within one year and three months.

Other stations that will be part of phase 2 include Ranjanpada, Nhava Sheva, Dronagiri and Uran railway stations.

The railway corridor was first proposed in 1997, but phase 1 – between Belapur and Kharkopar – became operational only in November last year.

The CR runs 40 services on the line daily – 20 between Kharkopar and Nerul, and Belapur and Kharkopar railway stations.


Spencer’s Buys Nature’s Basket

Spencer’s Retail, RP Sanjiv Goenka Group’s retail flagship, has acquired Godrej Group’s premium food retailing venture Nature’s Basket for ₹300 crore in an all-cash deal which will enable it to re-enter the western India market.

In a stock exchange notification, Spencer’s Retail said this deal will enable it to access the western India market where it has no presence, making it a national player and strengthening its omni-channel capabilities.

The company had exited Mumbai in 2013 to move out of loss-making stores at the time. At present, it operates 156 stores in 10 states. On Friday, the company also reported that it clocked its first full-year net profit, of ₹7.94 crore from a revenue of ₹2,187.19 crore, in 2018-19.

Nature’s Basket is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Godrej Industries and operates 36 neighbourhood convenience stores in Mumbai, Pune and Bengaluru. It reported sales of ₹338.28 crore for 2018-19. In a press release, Godrej Group executive director Tanya Dubash said that to further unlock the “immense potential” of the Nature’s Basket brand and to grow it to greater heights, the group decided to “pass on the torch to owners who have prioritised retail in their portfolio strategy and have the relevant ecosystems to take the business to the next level”.

She said Spencer’s Retail is very keen to strengthen the brand and accelerate the growth of the business at a time when the retail industry is consolidating whereby scale has become important. Lodha & Co advised Godrej Industries on the deal.

RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group sector head (retail and FMCG) Shashwat Goenka said Nature’s Basket stores are located in prime residential locations and have high sales throughout per square feet. “Nature’s Basket is positioned as an aspirational brand like ours and hence fits our business. We will continue with the Nature’s Basket brand and may even extend it to other markets where it is not present since it is positioned in the premium segment,” he said.

Goenka said the group will also evaluate this opportunity to relaunch the Spencer’s Retail brand in western India. “The potential is huge for integration. For starters, we would expand the distribution reach of the private brands by immediately launching Nature’s Basket gourmet food private brands in the Spencer’s stores and vice versa,” he said.

In its financial results announced on Friday, Spencer’s Retail said that in the fourth quarter of 2018-19, it clocked sales of ₹523.46 crore and a net profit of ₹2.79 crore. It said the results were not comparable with that of the year-ago period since the retail businesses were demerged from CESC in 2017 and hence the financial result included the operation of such undertaking from October 2017.


Kashmir: Top Jaish commander among 5 terrorists killed

A top Pakistani Jaish-e-Muhammed commander who had masterminded the 2017 fidayeen attack on a CRPF camp in Lethpora that left five jawans dead was among five terrorists killed in two separate encounters in Kashmir’s Pulwama and Shopian districts. Two civilians and two soldiers also lost their lives.

A third encounter was reported from Kandi forest in Kupwara district. Kupwara SSP Ambarkar Shriram Dinkar said the encounter was on in the upper reaches of Kandi when reports last came in.

A police spokesman said the Jaish commander, Khalid Bhai, and two other JeM terrorists — Naseer Pandith of Karmibad Pulwama and Umar Mir of Shopian — were slain at Dalipora village of Pulwama on Thursday. The exchange of fire had started early on Wednesday when the terrorists fired on a joint team of police and Army personnel conducting a cordon-and-search operation in the village.

In the initial phase, three soldiers and two civilians, brothers Younis Dar and Rayees Ahmad Dar, were injured. Rayees died soon after while his brother was rushed to a nearby hospital, from where he was referred to Srinagar. The injured soldiers were airlifted to the Army’s 92 Base hospital at Badami Bagh, Srinagar, where one of them, Sandeep Kumar, died.

Soon after the encounter ended, villagers clashed with security forces at various places in Pulwama district. The authorities then imposed curfew and suspended internet services in the south Kashmir district. Khalid had been active in Kashmir for the last eight years, a police officer said, terming his killing a “major success”. According to police records, Naseer Pandith had a long history of crime before he joined JeM. He was also involved in the 2018 killing of a policeman, Mohammad Yaqoob Shah of Pulwama, on the eve of Eid. Umar Mir was involved in several terror strikes and had been part of groups responsible for attacks on security forces, the police said.

The second encounter, in the Handew area of Shopian, broke out as Army and CRPF personnel were carrying out a cordon-and-search operation on Thursday afternoon. A police officer confirmed that two militants were killed along with a civilian and a soldier.

Pragya hails ‘patriot’ Godse

BJP’s Bhopal candidate Pragya Thakur courted fresh controversy when she declared that Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse was a “deshbhakt (patriot)”, leading to the Election Commission seeking a report from the Madhya Pradesh chief electoral officer.

Dewas district election officer Ajay Gupta sent the report around 10 pm.

Thakur, an accused in the Malegaon bombing case, was responding to the media seeking her reaction to actor-politician Kamal Haasan’s comment that Godse was free India’s first Hindu terrorist. Her comments on Godse immediately set off a political storm with Congress claiming BJP had fostered a culture of violence and was denigrating freedom struggle icons.

Thakur has been in the midst of controversies ever since BJP nominated her against Congress’s Digvijay Singh. She called Mumbai cop and 26/11 martyr Hemant Karkare a traitor and claimed to have “cursed” him a month before he was shot dead by terrorists. She then said she was “very proud” of her role in the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992.

The furore over her latest remarks saw BJP condemning her statement and asking her to apologise and it was late evening when she did so, saying, “The party’s line is my line”.

After her remarks on Karkare, Thakur was banned from campaigning for three days by the Election Commission. BJP leaders warned her to watch her words, and she kept quiet until the Bhopal polls were over.

Now unleashed in Malwa-Nimar region to campaign for BJP, no senior leader was watching over her when a local reporter asked her in Dewas about Kamal Haasan’s remark that Godse was the “first Hindu terrorist”.

“Nathuram Godse was a ‘deshbhakt’ (patriot), is a ‘deshbhakt’ and will remain a ‘deshbhakt’. People calling him a terrorist should instead look within. Such people will be given a befitting reply in this election,” Thakur said.

Severe Drought in North Maharashtra

The drought situation in north Maharashtra is aggravating with the number of affected people increasing by over one lakh in just eight days.

According to the data provided by the Nashik divisional commissionerate, the population affected by the severe water scarcity in the five districts under it stood at 22.35 lakh on May 14, against 21.25 lakh on May 6. The government officials have not ruled out the possibility of the affected population increasing further as the monsoon is at least a month away. “The villages are facing severe water scarcity and the demand for water is constantly soaring, forcing us to increase the number of tankers during these eight days,” officials said. The number of villages facing water crisis has gone up to 4,785 from 4,500 during the period. Nashik, Ahmednagar and Jalgaon continue to be the worst affected districts of north Maharashtra.

“In Ahmednagar, the number of affected population has risen from 11.9 lakh on May 6 to 12.14 lakh on May 14. The local administration is constantly receiving demands for water tankers, especially in the southern parts of the district,” officials said.

The number of affected villages in the district has increased from 3,323 to 3,485. In Nashik, the affected population has soared to 5.58 lakh by May 14 from 5.1 lakh on May 6. And the number of tankers has swelled by 30 during the period.

“In Jalgaon district, the number of villages affected has increased from 172 on May 6 to 193 on May 14, while the number of tankers increased by 21,” officials said.

The status of Dhule and Nandurbar districts has remained unchanged during the period. The least number of affected villages are in Nandurbar. Officials said the local administration of the five districts were keeping a close tab on the drought scenario. “The administration is going all out to ensure that the affected villagers are provided water by tankers.”

National Clean Air Programme

Work related to the National Clean Air Programme will start in Pune by August.

Pune will be one of the four cities in the country, which will receive funding from the Swiss funding agency for the programme. Nashik, Kanpur and Lucknow are the other three cities. The programme, launched by Union government, aims to deal with issues related to air pollution in different parts of the country.

“Normally, vehicular population is considered the main reason for poor air quality. But other factors too play an important role in reducing air quality. The study is important for mitigation of the problem, so we have opted for this research,” mayor Mukta Tilak told reporters on Thursday.

She said that a meeting was held with various stake holders on Thursday. The PMC will work as the monitoring agency. Help will be sought from the Automotive Research Association of India and other agencies as well non-governmental organisations working to fight the problem of air pollution.

In Nashik, Delhi-based The Energy & Resources Institute will be the nodal agency for the project. TERI will study air pollution patterns in the city and suggest measures to improve air quality.

Representatives of various agencies met at Nashik on Wednesday to prepare a blueprint for the project. Sumit Sharma, director, TERI and Anand Shukla, senior thematic advisor from the Swiss embassy in India, held a meeting at Nashik with officials from the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board, Nashik Municipal Corporation and other stake-holders.

The measures suggested to improve the air quality are to be implemented by the NMC in city areas and MPCB in industrial estates in Nashik.

Switzerland-based Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation will provide technical and financial support for the various measures to be taken to improve the air quality.

Other agencies which will participate in the project are Pune-based Automotive Research Association of India, Ecole Polytechnique Federale De Lausanne and International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. The project will be implemented in two phases - first up to August 2023 and second up to 2027. The agencies have started collecting the documents and information regarding air pollution in the city. TERI is expected to submit its first report on the city to the central government by August end.


RBI Releases Payments Systems Roadmap

A four-fold increase in digital payments, reduction in paper-based transactions, improved pricing, better customer grievance redressal mechanisms and establishment of new payment system operators are among the list of twelve objectives the Reserve Bank of India seeks to achieve in the next three years.

The Payments Systems Vision 2022 document published by the central bank has laid out a comprehensive roadmap of initiatives to be undertaken by all stakeholders and governing bodies to ensure the successful completion of these objectives in this time.

“While the pursuit towards a ‘less cash’ society continues, accompanied by the ambition to have a less card India as well, the endeavour is to also ensure increased efficiency, uninterrupted availability of safe, secure, accessible and affordable payment systems as also to serve segments of the population which are hitherto untouched by the payment systems,” the Reserve Bank said. The Reserve Bank has identified four broad areas for targeted policy intervention to improve the existing payments system — competition, cost, convenience and confidence.

The central bank noted that card based transactions will see a sixfold increase in the next three years propelling the Indian economy to a ‘cash-lite’ one.

It also expects the ‘cash-on-delivery’ method, which currently makes for the most significant transaction method by customers, to reduce in this time.

Further, the apex regulator also mulled on increasing the transaction limit and extending the duration window for NEFT and RTGS transactions. A universal payment solution for users without internet and smartphone will also be considered for future development.

“Though mobile internet speed has risen, connectivity issues remain unresolved in large areas. Therefore, providing an option of offline payments through mobile devices for furthering the adoption of digital payments shall be a focus area during this Vision period,” the Reserve Bank said.

The Reserve Bank reiterated that systematic regulatory changes and expected increase in competition would render payment services channels cheaper in the next three years, according to RBI.

“The pricing of such services to customers should, over the vision period, show reduction of at least a 100 bps from current levels…a shift from ad valorem rates to per transaction rates is envisaged, as usage of a system is irrespective of the value of a transaction,” according to the document.

Other initiatives customer protection and fraud management initiatives such as setting up of 24*7 helpline number, a more comprehensive ombudsman scheme and regulation of payment aggregators have been planned by the RBI as well.

India: Second-Biggest M-cap Loser Among EMs

India’s stock market has been one of the top losers among major emerging markets so far in May amid renewed concerns over the US-China trade war. Traders used the opportunity to cut bets ahead of the general election results, resulting in India losing 6.7% or $138 billion in market capitalisation. Brokers said the so-called hot money, which had started flowing into the country since early March, is being pulled out. India’s most valuable company Reliance Industries, which has been among the best performer on the bourses in the last year or so, has been the biggest loser, shedding ₹86,123 crore in market value since May 1. Tata Consultancy Services —the main competitor against RIL for the numero uno position in m-cap — too has lost ₹61,896 crore since May 1.

Navi Mumbai: Vashi bridge gets green nod

The Vashi bridge expansion project, which aims to facilitate smoother connectivity between Mumbai and Navi Mumbai, has received a major environmental clearance. MSRDC, one of the stakeholders, has asked the contractor to mobilise machinery to commence work with the hope that the clearance, given by the Union ministry of environment and forests, is vetted by the Bombay high court.

The MoEF permission is for a 1.4-hectare forest clearance, which is needed to clear mangrove patches on both sides of the bridge towards its Mankhurd and Vashi ends. The patches had become a point of contention among several authorities. The state government notified the Thane Flamingo Sanctuary in May 2018. The Supreme Court in December directed MoEF to declare as eco-sensitive zones 10 km-radius areas around 21 national parks and wildlife sanctuaries across the country, including the Thane Flamingo Sanctuary. This necessitated project clearances from the National Wildlife Board and MoEF.

The last step for the project is a nod from the HC, which in a 2010 order directed that its permission be taken for proposals involving mangrove removal.

MSRDC’s managing director, Radheshyam Mopalwar, said, “L&T can carry out mobilisation work as per a letter of acceptance issued in August 2018. An agreement with L&T will be executed after the HC’s clearance. We will now approach the HC for the final nod.”

The project cost is pegged at Rs.775 crore, with a joint equity participation of Rs.200 crore each from MSRDC and Cidco. The expected deadline for completion is three years. “Soil testing work has already been done,” said Cidco MD Lokesh Chandra.

The bridge is expected to provide smoother connectivity between Mumbai and Navi Mumbai, factoring in future growth of vehicular traffic, also on account of the upcoming Navi Mumbai international airport.

April 2019: Trade Deficit Widens to $15.3 billion

India’s merchandise export growth slowed down to a four month low in April with only 0.64% rise to $26.07 billion, while imports increased at a six-month high of 4.48% to $41.4 billion.

Trade deficit widened to a five month high in April 2019 to $15.33 billion, as against $13.72 billion a year ago, on the back of higher oil imports at $11.38 billion, a jump of 9.26%, and a 53.99% jump in gold imports to $3.9 billion.

Only 14 out of 30 major export product groups were in positive territory during April 2019, including petroleum, organic and inorganic chemicals, drugs and pharma, ready made garments of all textiles, electronic goods and ceramic products.

FIEO is of the view that the global trade scenario may worsen further on the back of rising trade tensions between the US and China, putting more pressure on Indian exports in the months to come.

Services export growth in April is estimated at $17.98 billion, a rise of 2.39%, while services import was up 4.73% at $11.43 billion, resulting in $6.55 billion in net of services. Overall exports, including merchandise and services, went up 1.34% to $44.06 billion, while imports grew 4.53% to $52.83 billion, resulting in an overall trade deficit of $8.78 billion.

Tata puts all its food biz on a single platter

Tata Global Beverages Ltd is acquiring all the branded food businesses from Tata Chemicals Ltd in an all-stock transaction that is aimed at creating a consumer business company with revenues of ₹9,099 crore.

As part of the deal, shareholders of Tata Chemicals will get 1.14 new shares of Tata Global for every share held, the company said in an exchange filing. The transaction values the consumer business of Tata Chemicals at around ₹5,800 crore. Post the acquisition, Tata Chemicals will own a 31.5% stake in Tata Global Beverages.

The carving out of the food business of Tata Chemicals is part of Tata Sons Ltd chairman N. Chandrasekaran’s strategy to simplify group structures with a sharper business focus. With at least 100 companies in its fold, the $103 billion Tata group has business interests ranging from automobiles to steel and software.

The transaction is subject to shareholder and regulatory approvals. EY and JPMorgan advised Tata Chemicals on this deal. Bank of America Merrill Lynch advised Tata Global.

The new business created by the merger of the consumer businesses will be known as Tata Consumer Products Ltd. “Tata Consumer Products consolidates our current presence in food and beverages in the fast-growing consumer sector. Through this combination, we have created a strong growth platform to meet the growing aspirations of Indian consumers,” Chandrasekaran said in a statement.

At present, a sizeable chunk of Tata group’s fast-moving consumer goods business that includes Tetley Tea, Eight O’Clock Coffee and Starbucks India franchise are housed under Tata Global, while Tata Chemicals owns food brands such as Tata Sampann, which sells packaged pulses and spices.

According to R. Mukundan, managing director of Tata Chemicals, the combined entity will have access to 200 million households over about 5 million retail points, making it one of the largest consumer footprints in the country.

The consumer business of Tata Chemicals consists of Tata Salt, an iconic brand, with about 60% market share.

Synergies are expected to arise from the merger, both in terms of revenue and cost, as distribution and media buying would be more efficient, said the management of the Tata group in a telephonic press conference after the announcement of the merger.

The group expects a pretax synergy of 2-3% of combined

India branded business revenue, which will be realized over the next 12-18 months. India branded revenue between the two businesses is 60% of the combined revenue, which is over ₹9,000 crore. This means that synergies worth ₹100-150crore are expected to be added to the combined entity’s Ebitda in the next 12-18 months. Ebitda stands for earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization.

The restructuring underlines Tata group’s growing focus on consumer businesses. While the combined entity will be a leader across multiple categories such as tea and coffee, overall, the Tata group remains a much smaller entity than Hindustan Unilever Ltd, which clocked a profit of ₹6,060 crore in FY19.

Bengal Poll Campaign Cut Short by a Day

The Election Commission, in a first-of-its-kind decision, curtailed all electioneering in West Bengal by a day on grounds that the state government had failed to provide a level playing field to all candidates.

In a six-page order, the commission took the unanimous view that some “special measures are urgently needed to arrest the prevailing situation in these nine parliamentary constituencies” to create a conducive law and order situation to hold free, fair and peaceful elections.

The EC ordered that all campaigning must end by 10 pm on Thursday — a day before schedule. Campaigning for the seventh phase of the general elections was to end at 6 pm on Friday.

While invoking Article 324 of the Constitution for the first time to curtail campaigning for the last phase of voting on May 19, the EC also ordered immediate removal of principal secretary (home) Atri Bhattacharya and Rajiv Kumar, additional director-general, CID, for “having interfered in the process of conducting polls by directing WB chief electoral officer (CEO)”.

West Bengal governor KN Tripathi sent a report to the home ministry on the political violence. The report, according to sources, states that the citizens’ fundamental right to free and fair franchise is being violated.

The decision comes a day after the bust of noted Bengal renaissance scholar Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was desecrated during the roadshow of BJP president Amit Shah on Tuesday. Shah on Wednesday said BJP workers were not involved in the incident and accused agitating Trinamool Congress workers of engineering the episode.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is until now scheduled to hold one rally on Thursday while West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is slated to hold more rallies with one big gathering in North Kolkata.

The nine constituencies set to go to polls in the final phase are: Dum Dum, Barasat, Basirhat, Jaynagar, Mathurapur, Jadavpur, Diamond Harbour, South and North Kolkata.

Earlier in the day, Shah accused the EC of being a “mute spectator” for not taking action against the West Bengal government. Opposition parties and ruling TMC, however, questioned the EC’s decision to allow campaigning till Thursday, alleging that it suited the PM holding rallies in West Bengal.

In its order, however, the EC stated: “During the review with observers (in WB), it clearly came out that while logistics arrangement, including training of polling officials, etc., are mostly on track as per ECI requirements, there is distinct resistance and non-cooperation from the district administration and district police when it comes to providing level playing field to all candidates for campaigning and in providing a fearless and threat-free environment to the voters.”

The Commission also recorded that “growing incidents of disruption and violence during the political campaign in West Bengal during the ongoing general elections to the Lok Sabha” had been brought to its notice.

EC’s observation is based on a report from two special observers, namely Ajay Nayak, a restired IAS officer, and Vivek Dubey, a former IPS officer. In their report submitted to the Commission on May 15, they said that 100 persons were detained for the violent incidents of May 14, of which 58 were arrested in two cases which also name BJP leaders, including Amit Shah.


April 2019: Food inflation soars

Inflation measured by the wholesale price index moderated in April but food inflation soared to a 33-month high of 7.4% led by a surge in prices of vegetables, cereals, wheat and pulses.

The annual rate of inflation, based on the monthly WPI, was 3.1% in April compared with 3.2% for the previous month and 3.6% during the corresponding month of the previous year.

Economists said the sharp spike in food inflation was not alarming but the trajectory of the southwest monsoon rains would be crucial for the final outcome on food prices.

Economists said that food prices have seen a sustained increase in the previous four months after registering a contraction each month from July to December 2018.

Both wholesale and retail inflation are below the Reserve Bank of India’s comfort level and there is an expectation that the central bank will cut interest rates to revive growth when it reviews monetary policy in June. The central bank relies more on the retail inflation data while taking view on rates but it does take into consideration all data linked to prices.

Some other economists said there could be a spillover of the impact of rising wholesale food prices to the retail level and needs a careful watch.

Jet Airways: Top Management exodus

Jet Airways’ Chief Executive Officer Vinay Dube resigned from the company citing “personal reasons”, plunging the grounded airline into further uncertainty, even as a process to revive it is underway. Dube’s resignation came a day after his deputy and Chief Financial Officer Amit Agarwal resigned late on Monday. On Tuesday, Dubey’s resignation was followed by that of Jet’s Chief People Officer Rahul Taneja, and Company Secretary and Compliance Officer Kuldeep Sharma.

On May 9, Jet’s Wholetime Director, Gaurang Shetty, who had served the company in several capacities, also resigned, citing personal reasons. Independent director Rajshree Pathy and non-executive director Nasim Zaidi had resigned in April. “We wish to inform that Vinay Dube, Chief Executive Officer, has resigned from services of the company with immediate effect due to personal reasons,” Jet Airways said in a regulatory filing on Tuesday.

Indian-American Dube had joined the company as CEO in May 2017, after the full-time CEO’s position was vacant for nearly 15 months due to the departure of Crammer Ball.

CFO Amit Agarwal had filled in as acting CEO during this period. 

Somewhere in Kashmir....

A 31-second video showing a CRPF jawan posted in Nawakadal area of downtown Srinagar feeding rice and dal to a paralytic Kashmiri boy has gone viral on social media. Besides wiping the child’s face with his hand, the jawan is seen helping the boy drink water.

On Monday, Iqbal Singh, who was on duty in the area, was about to have his lunch when he spotted this boy sitting on the iron steps of a building. Wearing a black kurta and pyjama, the little boy looked hungry and helpless. Iqbal, who was part of the convoy that was attacked by Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorists in Pulwama on February 14, instantly decided to do something for the boy. Soon, he opened his lunchbox and fed the boy dal-rice, which he had got for himself.

The video of Iqbal’s act was shared by over 1,000 people, including Kashmiris and the J&K Police, in seconds and his humane gesture drew all-round appreciation.

Hailing the gesture of Iqbal, the director general of CRPF awarded him with DG’s Disc and a commendation certificate.

The CRPF handle tweeted: “Humanity is the mother of all religions. HC Driver Iqbal Singh of 49 Bn Srinagar Sector CRPF deployed on LO duty feeds a paralysed Kashmiri kid in Nawakadal area of Srinagar. In the end, asks him ‘Do you need water?’ Valour and compassion are two sides of the same coin.”

Former chief minister and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti tweeted: “Armed forces operating in Kashmir are often tarred with the same brush. But that generalisation can sometimes be grossly unfair. Salute this man’s sense of compassion and humanity.”

Basharath Dar, a Raj Bagh area engineer, who also received the video in his Facebook account, shared the same with hundreds of his social-media friends. “This was really a touching video, which was self-explanatory. This sent out a positive image of the security forces all over. This is the real human face of the forces and we Kashmiris should take note of this as well,” Dar said.

Skymet: Monsoon might hit Kerala late, will be below normal

Monsoon is likely to arrive in Kerala on June 4, three days after its normal onset date, marking the official commencement of the rainy season in the country, private weather forecaster Skymet said.

The normal onset date for monsoon over Kerala is June 1. Skymet said monsoon will be ‘below normal’ in the country with a Long Period Average of 93 per cent and an error margin of five per cent.

“Arrival of monsoon over Andaman and Nicobar Islands will be on May 22, with an error margin of plus/ minus two days. Southwest Monsoon 2019 is likely to make onset over Kerala on June 4, with an error margin of plus/minus two days. “It seems that initial advancement of monsoon over peninsular India is going to be slow,” Skymet CEO Jatin Singh said.

“All the four regions are going to witness lesser than normal rainfall, this season. Rainfall in East and Northeast India and central parts will be poorer than Northwest India and South Peninsula,” Singh said.

According to Skymet, there are 55 per cent chances of a below normal rainfall, which will have an influence of El Nino, a phenomenon linked to the heating of Pacific waters.

East and Northeast India will get 92 per cent of the LPA which falls under the below normal category.

Risk remains high for Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal, while it will be marginal for Northeast India, Skymet said.

Northwest India that comprises all north Indian states will receive 96 per cent rainfall of the LPA, which falls on the border line of normal and below normal rainfall category.

Hilly states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are likely to perform better than the plains of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi-NCR, the Skymet said.

Central India is likely to receive rainfall of 91 per cent of the LPA. Rainfall in Vidarbha, Marathwada, west Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat will be “poorer than normal”.

This is likely to aggravate the situation as Marathwada and several parts of Gujarat been facing farm distress and drought like situation. Conditions will be more or less similar in South peninsula.

“North interior Karnataka and Rayalaseema may see poor rainfall. Kerala and coastal Karnataka are likely to perform better,” Skymet said.

Kolkata: BJP, TMC workers clash

Massive violence marred the mega roadshow of BJP national president Amit Shah in Kolkata after supporters of the BJP and the TMC clashed with each other. Protesters set several vehicles ablaze, vandalised a college campus and even pelted stones following which the police had to resort to lathi charge to bring the situation under control.

Trouble reportedly began as Shah’s rally was passing through College Street on its way to Bidhan Sarani from Esplanade on Tuesday evening.

Several motorcycles parked outside were vandalised and set ablaze. Shards of broken glass littered the lobby of the college where a bust of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, a noted philosopher and a key figure of Bengal Renaissance, was smashed to smithreens. Police personnel were seen trying to douse the fire with buckets filled with water.

Members of the Trinamool Congress Chatra Parishad, TMC’s student wing pelted bricks, stones and the blocked Shah’s rally. They even showed him black flags as he passed in front of Calcutta University, which is located a stone’s throw away from BJP headquarters.

The situation turned tense after BJP supporters retaliated. The police had to lathi charge to make way for the convoy. This allegedly happened right in front of the truck in which Shah was travelling with BJP candidates and other senior leaders.

Eyewitnesses said the TMCP activists used iron rods, glass bottles and bricks to attack.

TMCP supporters claimed that they were attacked with bricks inside the Vidyasagar College campus.

Meanwhile, some students of Vidyasagar College also claimed that BJP workers attacked them, vandalised the campus.

Reacting to the violence, Shah said, “People will give a befitting reply to the attack and violence in the polls. The roadshow has been attacked in two locations.”

Bidhan Sarani was to be the last point of his roadshow.

Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee blamed ‘outsiders’ brought by the BJP for the rally for the violence, “If you do not have people here, why bring them from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar for a roadshow?”

It went at a leisurely pace through roads lined with saffron balloons and BJP flags, artistes dressed as the Lord Ram and Lakshman stood on trucks as others, dressed as Hanumans, milled around or danced to music - a 300-feet column of people that walked along the BJP chief's cavalcade.

Pune: HCMTR snippets

The Pune Municipal Corporation has established a separate cell to ensure faster execution of the 36-km long High Capacity Mass Transit Route project and has allotted additional staff for it.

Besides, the civic body has also extended the deadline for submitting bids for appointing the agency for project execution. The deadline, which was to end on Tuesday, has now been extended by a week. So far, about seven international bidders have shown interest in the project.

The HCMTR is a six-lane elevated inner ring road, which is expected to decentralize traffic movement in the city’s core areas as well as in that of the outskirts. “The separate cell is looking after the demarcation of road alignment and acquisition of land required for the project,” officials from the civic road department said, adding that they were in the process of gathering details pertaining to land acquisition.

The officials said two options were being considered to develop the HCMTR — the hybrid mode and construction by design-build-finance-operate-transfer method. “The bidders can submit their proposals for any of the two options or both. An execution plan will be chalked out after scrutiny of the proposals. Last date for submission of proposals is May 21,” an official said.

The general body of the PMC approved up to 4 FSI along the HCMTR in about 500-metre radius four months ago. There was also a plan to execute the project in two phases. In initial phase, an elevated road would be developed, while the administration will shift service lines and construct ramps in the second phase. The civic administration presently has 50% of the total required land for the project in possession.


April 2019: Car sales fall

Automobile sales in the country fell across categories last month as consumers deferred purchases ahead of the general election results.

Passenger vehicle sales declined 17% to 247,541 units in April from a year earlier as high insurance costs and tight liquidity in the market hurt demand. The drop in passenger vehicle sales was the sharpest since October 2011.

Slowing economic growth, coupled with revised axle load norms, hit sales of commercial vehicles, which fell 6% to 68,680 units.

SIAM data shows retail sales of passenger vehicles declined 1.28% to 264,035 units in April and those of commercial vehicles slid 11% to 78,175 units. Retail demand for two-wheelers dropped 7% to 1.3 million units in April.

Several adverse factors – from high insurance costs, tight liquidity to uncertainty in the minds of buyers – had come together to drag down sales numbers.

Sales of medium and heavy commercial vehicles dropped 13.6% to 24,725 units last month, according to SIAM data. Sales of light commercial vehicles slid 1.1% to 43,955 units.

Sluggish consumption in rural and urban centres affected two-wheeler sales, which fell 16.4% to 1.64 million units. While demand for scooters dropped 26% to 489,852 units, that for motorcycles went down by 11.8% to 1.08 million units.

Industry experts said demand is expected to revive in the middle of the second quarter, after the next government takes over. Counting of votes cast in the general elections is on May 23.

Overall, sales of vehicles across categories declined 15.9% to just over 2 million units in April.

Bengaluru: Byappanahalli to get butterfly-shaped railway terminus

A butterfly-shaped rail terminal at Byappanahalli will offer airport-like facilities to passengers in a few years.

The Indian Railway Stations Development Corporation along with BBMP unveiled the blueprint of the Byappanahalli station development project. Of the 132 acres where the project is envisaged, 30 acres will be given to private builders on lease for 99 years and with the potential to accommodate 26 lakh sqft built-up area.

IRSDC officials said the world-class station, to be built at an estimated Rs.250 crore, is expected to be completed in three years, while the commercial establishments will be ready in eight to 10 years.

The station, officials say, will be a green building and is expected to see nine lakh passengers a day in 20 years. Ashwani Kumar, general manager (works) of IRSDC, said: “We will facilitate a waiting area similar to airports in the station concourse. We will segregate passengers into arrival and departure halls and allow them to board 15 minutes before departure to reduce crowding on platforms.”

The main station building, shaped in the form of a butterfly, will have roof gardens with integrated courtyards aimed at promoting the concept of Garden City. The green building is expected to ensure safe and secure passenger movement, cleanliness and hygiene and ease of access to stations.

Sources said several real estate firms are keen to bid for commercial properties inside the station area and within the complex to establish hotels, hospitals, workplaces and service apartments. The last date for request for proposal for the project is May 30.

A proposal to develop Byappanahalli station into a world-class facility figured in the railway budgets of 2009-10 and 2013-14. In July 2016, Indian Railways decided to develop 400 stations across the country as world-class ones under the public-private partnership model.


Asia is set to dominate 7% growth club

The 2020s are set to be the Asian decade, with the continent dominating an exclusive list of economies expected to sustain growth rates of around 7%.

India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Myanmar and the Philippines should all meet that benchmark, according to a research note on Sunday from Madhur Jha, Standard Chartered’s India-based head of thematic research, and global chief economist David Mann. Ethiopia and Côte d’Ivoire are also likely to reach the 7% growth pace, which typically means a doubling of GDP every 10 years. That’ll be a boon to per capita incomes, with Vietnam’s soaring to $10,400 in 2030 from about $2,500 last year, they estimate.

The South Asian members of the group should be GDP standouts as they’ll together account for about one-fifth of the world’s population by 2030, Standard Chartered reckons. The demographic dividend will be a boon for India, while Bangladesh’s investments in health and education should juice productivity.

The Asian dominance of the list is a change from 2010, when the bank first started tracking the economies it expected to grow by around 7%. Back then, there were 10 members evenly split between Asia and Africa.

China is a notable absence from the latest ranking — reflecting both a slowdown in economic growth and a progression toward higher per capita incomes that makes faster growth rates more difficult to sustain.

Somewhere in Kashmir....

A three-year-old girl was allegedly raped in Sumbal village of north Kashmir’s Bandipora district by a fellow villager on Friday. The crime triggered massive protests across Kashmir Valley on Sunday, with people from all quarters coming together, cutting across political and ideological divides.

Demonstrations were held in several parts of north and central Kashmir. — including Sumbal, Malik Mohalla, and Trehgam — before spilling over to Magam, Budgam Chowk and Khomeni Chowk in Srinagar’s Bemina area. Police had to fire tear gas shells to disperse the crowd. Six agitators sustained minor injuries following clashes with police.

Protesters demanded exemplary punishment for the accused Tahir Ahmad Mir, who was arrested on Saturday. He was booked under sections of the Ranbir Penal Code. A Special Investigation Team is probing the matter.

In view of the security situation, authorities snapped internet services in north Kashmir and parts of central Kashmir. Political and social leaders cut across their beliefs and ideologies in condemning the horrific crime.

Former J&K CM Mehbooba Mufti tweeted, “Mortified to hear about the rape of a 3-year-old girl in Sumbal. What kind of a sick pervert would do this?

In a statement, the MMU an amalgam of all Islamic bodies including Shia, Suni, Barelvi, Ahlihadith and others — said the “shocking” crime has shaken the conscience of every Kashmiri and brought their heads down in shame.

Polls: Phase VI

The penultimate phase of 2019 Lok Sabha election wound up on Sunday with voting for 59 seats across seven states that saw a turnout of a little over 63%, which is expected to touch the 65% mark of 2014 in the final count.

Violence, however, continued to mar elections in West Bengal where a BJP worker was reported killed in poll-related violence in Jhargram. The state again recorded the highest turnout at nearly 80% as of 6 pm.

Bihar and Madhya Pradesh saw an increase of close to 2 percentage points over the 2014 turnout. Delhi, however, saw a slight decline till reports last came in.

In phase six, 14 parliamentary constituencies went to polls in Uttar Pradesh, all 10 in Haryana, eight each in Bihar and West Bengal, four in Jharkhand and seven in Delhi.

Turnout in Bihar was 59.3% at 6 pm, Delhi 59.8%, Haryana 62.9%, Jharkhand 65.1%, Madhya Pradesh 60%, Uttar Pradesh 54.12% and West Bengal 79.9%.

Overall turnout in the six phases completed so far stands at 67.4%, 1.33 percentage points more than the 66.07% voting in 2014.

The results in Haryana and Delhi are being watched closely for the political implications they may hold for the upcoming assembly elections scheduled to be held in these states over the next few months.

In 2014, BJP won all seven seats in Delhi but lost the assembly elections six months later. In Haryana, however, the party doubled its vote share to 34.7% in the assembly polls and registered a convincing win.

Most of the 59 constituencies that went to polls on Sunday were won by the BJP in 2014. But there are many tough contests in 2019.

One of the most watched contests in this phase was in the BJP stronghold of Bhopal, where Congress veteran Digvijaya Singh took on Pragya Singh Thakur of the BJP. Jyotiraditya Scindia’s constituency Guna — one of the only two seats the Congress had won in MP in 2014 — also went to polls on Sunday.

Voting was also held at Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh, from where former chief minister and Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav contested, and Sultanpur, where BJP’s Maneka Gandhi is pitted against Congress’ Sanjay Singh.

Another veteran in the fray is Congress’ Sheila Dikshit, the three-time Delhi chief minister, who is taking on BJP’s Manoj Tiwari in North-East Delhi. The other big fight was between AAP’s Atishi Marlena and cricketer Gautam Gambhir (of BJP) in East Delhi.

In Bihar, Union agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh sought re-election from East Champaran while Siwan saw Hina Shahab, wife of convicted don and four-time MP Mohammad Shahabuddin, taking on JDU’s Kavita Singh, wife of strongman Ajay Singh.

Voting in West Bengal was conducted amid unprecedented security and incidents of clashes between workers of the ruling Trinamool Congress and the BJP.


YC Deveshwar

Yogesh Chander Deveshwar, the visionary chairman of ITC Ltd, who transformed the cigarette maker into a successful conglomerate encompassing hospitality, FMCG, agribusiness, paper and packaging, passed away at a hospital in Gurgaon on Saturday morning. He was 72.

YCD, as he was popularly referred to in corporate circles, remained the face of ITC. He nurtured the company all his professional life, having joined it in 1968, as a young man straight out of IIT-Delhi. His talent was spotted soon after by its celebrated chairman AN Haksar. Deveshwar is a rare example of an executive in India Inc who rose through the ranks of a company and got nominated for a board role in just 16 years. Eventually, he became chief executive and chairman of ITC in 1996 when he was 49.

In 2017, Deveshwar retired from the executive role of the company because of his ill health but remained a mentor to the next leader, considering the complex, multifaceted organisation ITC is. The company appointed Sanjiv Puri as managing director for day-to-day affairs, while Deveshwar was nominated as non-executive chairman till 2022. He remained in the thick of things till his last breath, becoming the longest serving chairman of ITC for 23 years.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi recalled his achievements in a tweet: “His efforts helped ITC become a professionally-run Indian company with a global footprint.”

During YCD’s chairmanship till FY18, ITC’s non-cigarette businesses grew 19-fold, constituting 59% of net segment revenue of the company. ITC now deploys over 80% of operating capital in such businesses where 90% of employees are engaged.

As of March 2018, ITC’s gross sales value expanded to ₹67,081 crore and it posted a net profit of ₹11,223 crore. It has created more than 25 mother brands in FMCG, from Aashirvaad and Sunfeast to Classmate and Bingo. (ITC will declare its FY19 financial result on Monday.) According to Deveshwar, building successful Indian brands has been ITC’s biggest achievement in an FMCG market dominated by multinational companies. He laid down a long-term vision for ITC: to grow the FMCG business revenue to ₹1 lakh crore by 2030 and overtake Hindustan Unilever. In FY18, the business was ₹11,328 crore.

Deveshwar strongly opposed royalty payments to MNCs by their Indian subsidiaries. He argued that it should be subject to the standard rate of corporate tax. Even at last year’s AGM, he said there was a large outflow of value from the country on account of royalty and other payments. SEBI’s recent proposal to cap royalty pay at 2%, although resisted by many, including the Finance Ministry, probably has its genesis in Deveshwar’s stance.

Deveshwar tapped India’s villages: while e- Choupal linked the company with the farmers through the internet, the company also ventured into the FMCG space in rural areas.

The only time Deveshwar took a break from ITC was in 1991-94 — to run Air India. On his return to ITC, he became vice-chairman before taking the top job two years later. These were turbulent times at the company as its largest shareholder, British American Tobacco (BAT), was at loggerheads with the management led by Deveshwar’s predecessor KL Chugh. The company also had to deal with allegations that it violated the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act. Deveshwar worked hard to ensure that SUUTI stake in ITC was not sold to BAT. He believed that BAT was only interested in tobacco and would reverse ITC’s FMCG foray.

YCD’s concerns grew as the surging taxation shrank the cigarette market where ITC has a 70% share. This was squeezing the company’s money spinner.

In his condolence message, ITC MD Puri said Deveshwar had passionately championed the cause for sustainable and inclusive growth and the transformative role businesses could play in creating larger societal value. “Inspired by a patriotic fervour, manifest in his clarion call of Let’s Put India First, he led ITC’s strategic thrust to create an exemplary Indian enterprise dedicated to serving national priorities,” he said.

Deveshwar was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2011 and the ET Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2017.

1st Apache Guardian attack copter handed over to IAF

The first of the 22 Apache Guardian attack helicopters, often called “tanks in the air” as they are armed with deadly missiles and rockets, has been formally handed over to the IAF at the Boeing production facility in Arizona, US.

The first batch of these heavy-duty helicopters will be shipped to India by July, with all of them slated for induction by March 2020 under the Rs.13,952-crore deal inked in September 2015.

This comes shortly after the IAF also began the induction of another iconic US helicopter, the Chinook, in March. The IAF had ordered 15 Chinooks, capable of transporting howitzers and troops to forward and high-altitude areas with China and Pakistan, under another Rs.8,048-crore deal inked in September 2015.

Catering for both the western and eastern fronts, the Chinooks will be based in Chandigarh and Dinjan (Assam), while the Apaches will be based at the Pathankot and Jorhat airbases.

The Army is also on course to get six Apache attack helicopters at a cost of Rs.4,168 crore. At present, the IAF has just two aging squadrons of Russian-origin Mi-25/35 attack helicopters.

IAF spokesperson Group Captain Anupam Banerjee said the Apaches, armed with Stinger air-to-air missiles, Hellfire Longbow air-to-ground missiles, guns and rockets, have been customised to suit IAF’s requirements.

“The helicopters will have significant capability in mountainous terrain. They will have the capability to carry out precision attacks at stand-off ranges and operate in hostile airspace with threats from ground,” he said.

Select air and ground crew members for the Apaches have undergone training at the US Army base Fort Rucker, Alabama.The Navy, incidentally, is also slated to induct 24 multirole MH-60 ‘Romeo’ helicopters from the US.