Current Account Deficit in Q3 Jumps to 2.5% of GDP

India’s current account deficit widened to 2.5% of gross domestic product in the third quarter, paced by an increase in oil import bills in the period under review.

In the year-ago period, the deficit, or excess of imports over exports, was 2.1% of GDP. It widened to $16.9 billion in Q3 of FY19, from $13.7 billion in the same quarter a year ago.

A detailed analysis of the trade data indicates that deficit in crude imports at $24.5 billion during the latest quarter was 30% higher than the deficit of $18.8 billion in the same period a year ago. The deficit is likely to narrow to below 2% of the GDP in the second half of FY19, taking full-year CAD to 2.3% or $60 billion, Singapore-based DBS said.

Net services receipts increased by 2.8%, mainly on the back of a rise in net earnings from telecommunications, computer and information services and financial services. Besides, private transfer receipts, mainly representing remittances by overseas Indians, amounted to $18.7 billion, up 6.3%.

In the capital account, foreign investments, including foreign direct investments and portfolio investments, were the largest sources of inflows at $5.4 billion during the quarter, compared with $9.6 billion in the same period a year ago.

The overall surplus in the capital account totalled $13.6 billion, compared with a surplus of $22 billion in the same period a year ago. The overall balance of payments ended in a deficit of $4.3 billion, compared with a surplus of $9.4 billion in the same period a year ago.


Coffee trade goes live on blockchain platform

The Coffee Board launched the pilot of the country’s first blockchain-based marketplace app for trading in Indian coffee, aimed at getting growers better returns by removing myriad middlemen.

Known as the Coffee Blockchain initiative, the pilot was activated simultaneously by Jose Dauster Sette, executive director of the International Coffee Organisation from Nairobi and Anup Wadhawan, India’s commerce secretary from New Delhi.

The project was announced by Suresh Prabhu, minister for commerce and industry, in Delhi last September. So, why did it take six months for the project to go live?

“There were more than 20 stakeholders from three different countries. We had to get all of them on board, and then test the platform. We believe this is perhaps only the third attempt at a coffee blockchain after France and Ethiopia,” said Srivatsa Krishna, chief executive officer and secretary of the Coffee Board, a government organisation tasked with promoting Indian coffee.

The blockchain platform will allow a coffee producer to directly transact with multiple buyers.

In India, coffee is cultivated in about 454,000 hectares by 366,000 coffee farmers -- 98% of them small farmers -- whose returns are meagre. Krishna said the aim of using blockchain is to “premiumise” coffee, add “bean-to-cup traceability” and cut the role of middlemen.

The blockchain-based solution was developed in coordination with Eka Software Solutions. Manav Garg, the company’s CEO and founder, said the idea of using blockchain is to “record the first smart contract on a blockchain with the 20-odd stakeholders, and establish trust in the marketplace”.

“With this activation, we are confident that the Coffee Board of India will help the Indian coffee trade make more inroads into the premium market internationally and make India one of the top three coffee producers in the world,” Garg added.

Krishna said the Coffee Board is also “testing” blockchain-based solutions from a couple of other vendors but added that “the one from Eka Software was the most suitable at this moment”.

Blockchain is no longer a technology that is just about powering cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ether. A distributed digital ledger technology, it is also being used by manufacturing companies to improve their supply chains; by healthcare and electricity companies; and by the financial sector to make transactions more transparent.


Goa: BJP splits its ally MGP

Midnight dramas are fast becoming a norm rather than an exception in Goan politics. If chief minister Pramod Sawant was administered oath in the early hours of the morning last week, Goa woke up on Wednesday to another midnight drama as BJP engineered a split in ally MGP with two of its three MLAs joining the saffron party. Sawant also sacked MGP leader Ramkrishna Dhavalikar, who served as deputy CM for less than a week.

Tourism minister Manohar Azgaonkar and Sanvordem MLA Deepak Pauskar joined BJP by announcing their decision in a letter to deputy speaker Michael Lobo at 1.45 am, thereby circumventing the anti-defection law that needs two-third of the legislative wing to break away.

Following the death of then CM Manohar Parrikar, when BJP got down to the business of government formation, there were talks that MGP would split and break away. With Dhavalikar eventually finding a place in the cabinet and getting the post of deputy CM, there appeared to be normalcy, until BJP stunned everyone with its post-midnight coup.

BJP now has 14 MLAs in the 40-member assembly, the same as opposition Congress. After Parrikar’s death, Congress had staked claim to form the government on the grounds that it was the single largest party.

Sources said Azgaonkar, who is likely to be appointed deputy CM, will retain his portfolios of tourism and sports, besides being given transport, previously held by Dhavalikar, who is now the lone MGP MLA in the House. His prime portfolio of PWD would be given to first-time minister Pauskar, who was sworn in late at night, sources said.

MGP reacted with anger, saying it would field candidates in all constituencies where bypolls are scheduled to be held along with Lok Sabha elections on April 23.

Goa Forward Party, which is now BJP’s lone ally, called into question the “credibility” of the government in the eyes of the public if BJP continues to engineer such defections.

The divorce was inevitable ever since MGP insisted on contesting from Shiroda despite giving an assurance to Union minister Nitin Gadkari that they would step aside from the fray.

In Shiroda, BJP has handed the ticket to Subhash Shirodkar, who quit Congress to join the party. MGP president Pandurang 'Deepak' Dhavalikar has been campaigning in Shiroda for almost six months now, and told BJP leaders that it was “too late” for him to withdraw from the fray. 

Tatas foray into airports

After airlines, the Tata Group is making a foray into airports. The conglomerate will invest Rs.3,555 crore for a 20% stake in GMR Airports, which runs the Delhi International Airport, the country’s biggest and Asia’s sixth-largest.

The proposed stake purchase has been routed through Tata Sons, which also owns majority stakes in two carriers — AirAsia India and Vistara. Tatas’ interest in the aviation business also includes charter services through Taj Air.

The Tatas follow billionaire Gautam Adani’s bet on the sector after his company won bids to operate six airports in the country last month. In the past, the Tatas had made attempts to enter this space and tied up with Singapore’s Changi and Heathrow airport operators to participate in the privatisation of airports in the country. However, the bids did not materialise due to multiple factors like rules that prohibit a company with interest in an airline from owning more than 26% stake in certain greenfield airports.

The Tatas are entering the space at a time when the country is facing a severe shortage of airport infrastructure and in the coming years, the sector is set for a massive expansion. Also, the Tatas have expansion plans for its airlines; the salt-to-software conglomerate will be the first to have a presence in both airlines and airports.

The deal, valued at nearly Rs.18,000 crore, will bring the total debt of the GMR Group down by 40% to Rs.12,000 crore. After the sale, GMR, which also operates airports in Hyderabad and Cebu in the Philippines, will hold a 54% stake in the airport business. GMR is also in the process of developing greenfield airports in Goa and Crete in Greece.

GMR competes with GVK Power & Infrastructure, which operates the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport in Mumbai. Adani is reportedly looking to buy a stake in the Mumbai airport as part of his ambitious plans in the space that is expected to benefit from the rising travel demand.

EC opposes electoral bonds in SC

Opposing the Centre’s decision to introduce electoral bonds to fund political parties, the Election Commission has told the Supreme Court it will have serious repercussions for transparency of political funding, terming it a retrograde step.

In an affidavit filed in the SC, which is examining the constitutional validity of amendments brought in through various laws to pave the way for electoral bonds, and to keep such donations out of the ambit of mandatory reporting to the EC, the poll panel said the scheme to allow parties to accept funds from government companies and foreign sources is in violation of law. It said the EC had in 2017 expressed concern over it and had asked the Centre to re-examine it.

In its letter to the Centre, in 2017, the EC had termed it “a retrograde step as far as transparency of donations is concerned and this proviso need to be withdrawn”.

The respondent informed the ministry of law and justice that in a situation where contributions received through electoral bonds are not reported, on perusal of the contribution report of the political parties, it cannot be ascertained whether the political party has taken any donation in violation of provisions under Section 29B of the Representation of the People Act, which prohibits political parties from taking donations from government companies and foreign sources,” the EC’s affidavit filed in the Supreme Court has said. The commission has also annexed to the affidavit, the letter written to the Centre in 2017.

Claiming that the scheme will clean up political funding in India, the NDA government had in 2017 budget decided to bring electoral bonds despite stiff opposition from political opposition and EC’s reservations.

According to the provisions of scheme, the bonds will be issued in multiples of Rs.1,000, Rs.10,000, Rs.1 lakh, Rs.10 lakh and Rs.1 crore and will be available at specified branches of State Bank of India. Donors can donate the bonds to their party of choice, which can then be cashed via the party's verified account within 15 days. Every party that is registered under section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and has secured at least 1 per cent of the votes polled in the most recent Lok Sabha or assembly election will be allotted a verified account by the Election Commission. Electoral bond transactions can be made only via that account.

Challenging the scheme, a bunch of petitions, including one from CPM, were filed in the apex court. The petitioners alleged that bonds would encourage political corruption. They alleged that the system of corporate donations has been made correspondingly secretive by removing the requirement to disclose the names of political parties to whom contributions have been made by amendment to the Company Act, 2013.

“In effect, at both ends of the transaction, neither the contributor nor the recipient of the funds is required to disclose the identity of the other. The inevitable consequences of these amendments is the destruction of the principle underlying Article 19(1)(a) and the concept of democratic institutions,” the petition said.

Referring to the amendment in Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act by which political parties were allowed to receive donations from foreign companies which are having majority stake in Indian companies, the Commission said, “This would allow unchecked foreign funding of political parties in India which could lead to Indian policies being influenced by foreign companies.”


Aviation: Turbulence

Naresh Goyal-founded Jet Airways is possibly only the second private airline after SpiceJet to get a shot at reincarnation. The low-cost carrier owes its origin to ModiLuft, which flew from 1993 to 1996. While Indian skies have seen tremendous passenger growth, the country has had its share of airlines that ran out of fuel — 12 in 21years. The most prominent failure was Kingfisher. Vijay Mallya, the flamboyant founder of this airline, has sent a series of angry tweets after Jet minus Goyal was taken over by lender banks. Mallya did manage to get a fair share of Kingfisher’s debt restructured to equity and banks took a big haircut. He desperately tried in 2011-12 to get the then Congress-led coalition to allow foreign airlines to invest in Indian ones, but failed.

This policy was approved after Kingfisher was shut down in October 2012. That change led to Etihad picking up a 24% stake in Jet, and Tata Group starting two JV airlines — one each with Singapore Airlines and AirAsia.

So, what are the reasons behind so many airlines having been grounded despite steady rise in traffic? Indian airlines operate in a cost-hostile environment. Jet fuel for domestic flights is among the priciest here globally, due to steep taxation. A crippling shortage of infrastructure adds to problems as busiest airports like Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru and even smaller ones have choked terminals and find it hard to accommodate more flights. Also, the race for market share have led to airlines offering below cost fares, which has led to a situation of profit-less growth.

India successfully tests anti-satellite weapon

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India shot down a Low Earth Orbit satellite, which was a pre-determined target. He said India has become a “space superpower” with the successful testing of anti-satellite weapon.

PM Modi said India is only the fourth nation after the US, Russia and China.

“A short while ago, India has shot down an LEO satellite by anti-satellite missile. It was conducted under Mission Shakti, which was completed in three minutes,” PM Modi said in a special address.

“India has entered its name as an elite space power. An anti-satellite weapon, A-SAT, successfully targeted a live satellite on a low earth orbit,” the prime minister said in a televised address.

A Low Earth Orbit refers to an Earth-centred orbit at an altitude of 2,000 km. A-SAT is a weapon system that is designed to destroy or incapacitate satellites.

PM Modi said Mission Shakti is an important step towards securing India’s safety, economic growth and technological advancement.

The prime minister said, “A-SAT missile will give new strength to India’s space programme. I assure the international community that our capability won’t be used against anyone. It is purely India’s defence initiative for its security. We are against arms race in space. This test does not breach any international law or treaties.”

PM Modi described Mission Shakti special for two reasons -
1. India is only the 4th country to acquire such a specialised and modern capability, and
2. Entire effort is indigenous. “India stands tall as a space power,” he said.


There’s Optimism In The Air, But Dissatisfaction Too

In the run-up to the 2019 elections, most Indians seem optimistic about the direction in which the country is going, despite persistent concerns about unemployment, according to a newly released sampling of public opinion in India by the US-based Pew Research Centre. However, a majority of Indians express growing concern about terror and the threat posed by Pakistan.

The Pew survey was conducted among 2,521 respondents in India from May 23 to July 23, 2018. Roughly two-thirds (65%) say the financial situation of the average Indian is better today than it was 20 years ago. Only 15% say things are worse. But there are signs of public dissatisfaction — 66% believe their children would be better off than them, down a full 10% since 2017. Even the number of people satisfied about the trajectory of the country (55%) is down 15% from 2017.

Most Indians think Pakistan is a threat to the country. “When asked how serious of a danger Pakistan poses for India, about three-quarters in India (76%) say Pakistan is a threat, including 63% who say it is a very serious threat.” A majority of Indians (55%) currently see the situation in Kashmir as a “very big” problem. Asked how this issue has changed over the past five years, more than half (53%) say circumstances in Kashmir have become worse.

The study says: “Lack of employment opportunities is seen by the public as India’s biggest challenge, with 76% of adults saying it is a very big problem — little changed over the past year. About 73% believed that rising prices is a very big problem (despite inflation being largely under control in the past few years).

“About two-thirds of the public says corrupt officials (66%), terrorism (65%) and crime (64%) are very big problems. In each case, such concern is down significantly from 2017 — by 20 percentage points in the case of crime, 11 points for terrorism and 8 points regarding officials’ corruption.”

Indians continue to feel personally unsafe. More than half (54%) of Indians say the statement “most people live in areas where it is dangerous to walk around at night” describes India well. Inequality, pollution and poor healthcare remain concerns but the study notes these are down since 2017. Despite official data pointing to higher incidence of communal violence since 2014, “only about a third of Indians (34%) see this as a very big problem facing the country”.

The study shows that when asked whether India has done better or worse on the various challenges facing it in the past five years, a time frame that largely encompasses the Modi government’s term, few voice a positive judgment. “Just one-in-five (21%) say job opportunities have gotten better, while 67% think things have gotten worse (including 47% who say much worse),” says the study.

Rahul’s poll pitch to poor: Nyay

Congress president Rahul Gandhi promised that his party would, if it comes to power, guarantee an income of at least ₹12,000 a month for India’s poorest families by giving them ₹6,000 a month. The head of the party’s data analytics department Praveen Chakravarty explained the provenance of the ₹12,000 number by pointing out that data shows that India’s poorest earn between ₹5,000 and ₹6,000 a month.

Gandhi said the minimum income guarantee scheme, named Nyay (justice) by the party, would cover 50 million families, or 250 million individuals, that constitute the poorest 20% of Indian households.

It will cost ₹3.6 lakh crore, around 2% of India’s GDP, but Gandhi insisted that it was fiscally prudent.

“Remember the number… Congress guarantees 20% of India’s poor will make at least ₹72,000 annually,” Gandhi said after a CWC meeting that approved the party’s draft manifesto, to be released on April 2.

IAF inducts 4 Chinooks

The Indian Air Force inducted the first four Chinook helicopters capable of transporting artillery guns and combat-ready troops to forward and high-altitude areas, especially along India’s borders with Pakistan and China.

The acquisition not only boosts India’s defence preparedness vis-avis Pakistan and China through the swift deployment of men and machines, but also places the India-US defence partnership on a firmer footing.

The first of the iconic machines, with their unmistakable twin tandem rotors, became part of the IAF’s 126 Helicopter Flight squadron at an official ceremony in Chandigarh presided over by IAF chief B.S. Dhanoa. The helicopters are a “national asset” and a “game changer” for the IAF, Dhanoa said at the induction ceremony. Given its all-weather and day-and-night operation capabilities, the Chinooks would “redefine” the IAF’s heli-lift capacity, said the IAF chief.

“Our country faces a multitude of security challenges. We require vertical lift capability across a very diversified terrain—places from the sea level to high-altitude landing grounds. We have procured the Chinooks with India specific enhancements to increase the flexibility of the platform across the entire spectrum of heavy-lift operations, including search and rescue and air ambulance roles,” he said.

India and the US signed a government-to-government deal in September 2015 for 15 Chinooks with an option of buying seven more platforms. The Chinook is considered one of the most modern heavy-lift choppers in the world. It can carry goods and cargo of up to 10 tonnes, including men and machines, such as heavy machinery, artillery guns and even light armoured vehicles, to high altitudes.

The first Chinooks arrived in India from the US in a semi knocked down condition last month. The first Chinook airframe manufactured for the IAF was tested in the US in July 2018, followed by training of the pilots and engineers.


Mumbai: India’s most ‘car-congested’ city

Mumbai is the most car-congested city in India. The density of private cars in Mumbai soared 18% in just two years to 510 cars for every kilometre of road. This has resulted in huge traffic jams, pollution and unauthorised parking.

Pune follows Mumbai with 359 cars per km, compared with 319 in Kolkata, 297 in Chennai, 149 in Bangalore and 108 in Delhi, reveal statistics from state transport departments.

In mid-2016, the car density in Mumbai was 430 cars per km, a figure that has gone up to 510 cars/km (road length of 2,000 km).

This has taken the total number of registered private cars on city roads as of date to 10.2 lakh—around 28% of Mumbai’s total vehicular population of 36 lakh.

RTO officials said maximum car registrations were in western suburbs which has over 5 lakh registered cars, followed by 3.3 lakh in the island city and 1.7 lakh private cars in the eastern suburbs.

Officials said upmarket areas in eastern suburbs like Powai had the maximum registrations for high-end cars and SUVs in recent years. Chembur was the next big suburb on the eastern side to have car registrations in almost every middle class household. The Eastern Freeway is a preferred route for those in Chembur as it provides a high-speed connect to SoBo and saves over half an hour in commuting time.

RTO records also showed that Colaba-Cuffe Parade had a huge vehicular population, including many commercial vehicles, compared with tony areas of Malabar Hill, Nepean Sea Road and Pedder Road. In the western suburbs, Andheri and Goregaon had several residential and commercial hubs where car population has swelled over the years. The next three car-congested western suburbs were Kandivli, Bandra and Borivli, with a large number of households going in for bigger cars that occupy more road space, an official said.

A recent study by Mumbai Environmental Social Network, a think tank, showed that among private vehicles, 49% of road space is occupied by private cars—all types, including SUVs. This is a key reason for increasing traffic congestion, with average speed on Western Express highway dropping to 10 kmph during peak hours, and on LBS Marg to less than 8 kmph.


Kashmir: Terrorists use 12-year-old in J&K as shield, get him killed

A 12-year-old boy who was used as a human shield by two terrorists, even as emotional family members made several appeals to them to release him, during a gunfight with security forces was killed at Hajin in J&K’s Bandipora.

The two Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives from Pakistan were among eight terrorists killed in four different operations across the Valley in the last 24 hours.

The hostage, Atif Mir, a student of Class 6, was charred to death along with the two terrorists, police sources said. In a video which went viral, a neighbour of the child’s family, Ghulam Md Dar, was heard pleading on a loudspeaker, “Is this the jihad you claim to follow? It is not jihad but jaahiliyat (ignorance). Jihad doesn’t allow you to use a child as a shield. You have chosen the path of armed struggle, so fight it on your own. Don’t use innocent children as a shield.”

While Atif’s mother Atiqa went to the house to beg the terrorists to spare her son, his aunt Sharifa Begum made an appeal on loudspeaker. But the terrorists were not moved by their emotional pleas.

Police sources said the two terrorists, Ali Bhai and Hubaib Bhai, had forcibly taken shelter in the house of brothers Mohammad Shafi Mir and Abdul Hamid Mir on Thursday evening and even eaten their food. However, soon after, security forces cordoned off the house and evacuated the family along with two daughters. The terrorists, however, took the boy hostage and used him as a shield.

SSP Bandipora Rahul Malik said that Ali Bhai wanted to forcibly marry a girl of the Mir family but the family didn’t allow the terrorists to meet her. They were adamant to meet the girl and as a result held Atif and his uncle Abdul Hamid hostage. While Hamid managed to escape, Atif was used as a human shield.

He said security forces adopted various methods to rescue the boy. “We made announcements through microphones. We also used local Auqaf committees and family members for their release,” the SSP said. In three other counter-insurgency operations in the last 24 hours, six terrorists were killed while seven jawans were injured.

GVK hikes MIAL stake to 74%

The GVK group has acquired the entire 10% stake of Airports Co. South Africa Global Ltd in Mumbai International Airport Ltd for ₹924 crore, increasing its total holding in the airport to 74%.

MIAL runs the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai, one of the busiest in India, as a special purpose joint venture company in which GVK initially owned a 50.5% stake, while two South African companies, Bidvest Group and ACSA Gobal Ltd, held 13.5% and 10%, respectively. The remaining 26% is held by state-run Airports Authority of India.

On February 25, GVK Airport Holdings Ltd, a subsidiary of GVK Power & Infrastructure Ltd, signed a definitive agreement with Bidvest Group, exercising its “right of first refusal” to acquire its 13.5%.

The GVK group did not specify the reason for doing so. However, the move followed reports that the Adani group was interested in picking up Bidvest and ACSA’s stakes in MIAL.

The Adani Group is among the latest entrants into India’s airport sector. In February, Adani Enterprises Ltd won the rights to run five of the six domestic airports that are being privatized, beating rival bidders by a steep margin and overnight turning into India’s largest private airport operator.

GVK has, with the acquisition of the ACSA stake announced on Friday, bought out the remaining consortium member.

Government exceeds ₹80,000 crore FY19 disinvestment target

For the second year in a row, the government exceeded the disinvestment target of Rs.80,000 crore set for the current financial year, which ends in March, with completion of the acquisition of Rural Electrification Corporation by Power Finance Corporation for Rs.14,500 crore.

The public sector ETF was oversubscribed by about eight times against the base issue size of Rs.3,500 crore and the government decided to retain Rs.10,000 crore. The two transactions helped the government to exceed the target, which included 26 other deals.

“As against a target of Rs.80,000 crore for disinvestment for the current year, the divestment receipts have touched Rs.85,000 crore today,” finance minister Arun Jaitley said on Twitter. In December, the Union Cabinet had approved the strategic sale of REC’s 52.6% holding to PFC, along with the transfer of management control.

The government had set a target of raising Rs.80,000 crore from stake sales in state run companies for the current financial, lower than the Rs.1 lakh crore set for the previous year. The target has been achieved using a number of methods, including the PFC-REC transaction.

Earlier, officials had raised concerns about the ability to meet the target, given that the process slowed down in the middle of the financial year and the volatility in the stock market also had an impact on the planned follow-on offer.

“The acquisition would enable increased efficiencies in lending processes and policies across both the institutions and would create public value by offering better loan products to the power sector,” PFC said in a statement announcing the completion of the transaction to acquire REC’s holding.

“The convergence of the entities would help the power sector reap benefits from a de-centralised outreach of REC and a professional project finance expertise of PFC. Further, the ensuing diversification of assets of the group, as well as portfolio risk would help in resolution of stressed power sector assets of the group in a better and coordinated manner,” it said.

The ability to exceed the disinvestment target comes as a good news for the government struggling to meet the fiscal deficit target for the current fiscal year. Revenues from both direct and indirect taxes have been sluggish and disinvestment receipts will help plug some of that gap.

Fitch Cuts India’s FY20 GDP Growth Forecast to 6.8%

Global credit ratings firm Fitch has trimmed India’s growth forecast for the financial year beginning April 1 to 6.8%, citing slow momentum in the manufacturing and agriculture sectors.

The assessment differs from that of its peer S&P, which expects growth to pick up in the quarters ahead. “While we have cut our growth forecasts for the next fiscal year (FY20, ending in March 2020) on weaker-than-expected momentum, we still see Indian GDP growth to hold up reasonably well, at 6.8%, followed by 7.1% in FY21,” Fitch said in its global economic outlook issued Friday.

In a forecast issued in December last year, the rating agency had pegged India’s growth rate in FY 19-20 at 7%, which was yet a downgrade from its previous forecast of 7.5% for the same fiscal.

India’s GDP growth softened for the second consecutive quarter in the fourth quarter of 2018, with the economy growing by 6.6% year on year, after increases of 7% and 8% in the third and second quarters, respectively.

Weaker growth momentum has largely been domestically driven, with tightening of credit availability in sectors dependent on non banking financial company credit, the report said.

The Indian economy is expected to do better in FY 21, with growth rate expected at 7.1%.

“Banks have been increasing credit to the private sector in recent months, filling the void left by the NBFCs,” the Fitch report said. “Further capital injections and a looser regulatory stance of the Reserve Bank of India have eased (though not removed) the state banks’ capital constraints.”

The report said another rate cut may be on cards after the RBI adopted a more dovish stance and cut interest rates by 25 basis points in its February monetary policy review.

“We have changed our rate outlook and we now expect another 25 bp cut in 2019, amid protracted below target inflation and easier global monetary conditions than previously envisaged,” Fitch said.

The increase in cash transfers to farmers as part of the budget for FY20 is a growth-friendly move on the fiscal side.

“Our benign oil price outlook and our expectations of accelerating food prices in the coming months should support rural households’ income and consumption,” the report said.

The Fitch report differs from that of S&P, which expects India’s economic growth to pick up in the next fiscal at 7.6%.

In its monthly Asia-Pacific report, S&P said activity was mixed with divergence between hard and soft data – the decline in GDP growth and slowing industrial output against improvement in manufacturing PMI and RBI’s survey of manufacturers.

It expects a pick-up in both investments and consumption. “As policies have tilted toward growth, the prospect of a pickup in private consumption and investment have improved since late 2018,” said the report.

In a forecast issued in December, the rating co had pegged India’s growth rate in FY 19-20 at 7%, which was yet a downgrade from its previous forecast of 7.5% for same fiscal

Yasin Malik-led JKLF Banned

The Yasin Malik-led Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front was banned for “promoting” secession of the militancy-hit state from the Union of India.

Banning the outfit under various provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act after a high-level meeting on security chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, officials said the Centre is of the opinion that the JKLF is “in close touch with militant outfits” and is supporting extremism and militancy in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere.

They said the outfit claims “secession of a part of the Indian territory from the union” and supports terrorist and separatist groups fighting for this purpose.


Goa: Sawant Govt Wins Trust Vote

The Pramod Sawant government won the trust vote in the Goa assembly, a day after he was sworn in.

Twenty MLAs in the 36-member assembly voted in favour of the motion and 15 against it. Those who voted in favour of the government included 11 BJP MLAs, and three each of MGP, GFP and Independents.

All 14 Congress MLAs and the lone NCP MLA voted against the motion. The House has four vacancies. The deputy Speaker belonging to the BJP, who conducted the House proceedings after Sawant quit as Speaker to take over as CM, did not vote.

Addressing the media outside the state assembly after the trust vote, Sawant said he was confident BJP would win both the Lok Sabha seats from the state and the assembly by-polls necessitated by the death of legislators including Manohar Parrikar and resignation of two Congress MLAs engineered by the BJP to secure a majority.

“We will win both the upcoming elections”. When asked if alliance partners were demanding, Sawant said, “We are here to serve the people of Goa and will continue for the next three years.” Goa assembly polls are scheduled for 2022. Sawant took his oath at 1:48 am on Tuesday, after the BJP staked claim to form the government with the support of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, Goa Forward Party and independents.

There was much drama before Sawant notched up the numbers, with MGP keeping the BJP guessing till the final minute. Its leader Sudin Dhavalikar insisted on a deputy CM post, which was offered to the GFP leader Vijai Sardesai.

Then there were reports that his two men ditched him to side with the BJP. Finally, after Dhavalikar's dinner with Gadkari, the entire MGP was onboard.

According to a source, Dhavalikar’s Manohar Azgaonkar has been promised a cabinet berth. A two-time MLA who started as a party worker, Sawant steadily rose in rank and profile in BJP. While he has no political lineage, he is considered to have the backing of the RSS.

Samjhauta Blast Case: All Accused Acquitted

A special court acquitted Swami Aseemanand and three others in the Samjhauta train blast case, saying the National Investigative Agency failed miserably to establish their guilt. NIA special judge Jagdeep Singh also dismissed the plea of a Pakistani woman for examining eyewitnesses from her country, saying the plea was “devoid of merit.”

Later in the day, Islamabad summoned high commissioner Ajay Bisaria to lodge a protest against the acquittal. The terrorist attack on the train to Pakistan had killed 68 people, mostly Pakistanis, near Panipat on February 18, 2007. NIA counsel Rajan Malhotra said all four accused, Naba Kumar Sarkar, alias Swami Aseemanand, Lokesh Sharma, Kamal Chauhan and Rajinder Chaudhary were acquitted. As soon as the verdict was delivered, RSS pracharak Aseemanand chanted ‘Jai Sri Ram’.

“I was falsely implicated. I said so from day one. I always had full faith in the judiciary,” Aseemanand said before leaving the court. He has been acquitted in the Mecca Masjid and Ajmer Sharif blast cases too, in which NIA had alleged he was the ‘mastermind’. He is already out on bail. Chauhan will walk free now but Lokesh Sharma and Rajendra Chaudhary are accused in other cases.

NIA had named Lokesh Sharma, Kamal Chauhan and Rajendra Chaudhary as those who planted the bombs on the Samjhauta Express. Aseemanand’s lawyer JP Sharma said: “a confession was recorded forcibly before a judge and used against him in all 3 cases. This court has thrown out the so-called confessions.”

Of Poll Slogans.....

During the third Lok Sabha elections, a Poona-based newspaper reported that one of the Hindi slogans raised at a Jana Sangh procession was “Death to Pandit Nehru (Nehru ki maut)”. Members of Jana Sangh, the previous avatar of BJP, emphatically denied this, pointing out that the slogan was “Wah re Nehru teri mauj/ghar mein hamla bahar fauj”, which “pointed out the paradox of Nehru’s policy of sending the Indian army abroad when Indian frontiers were threatened”.

The 1962 incident mentioned in VM Sirsikar’s book, “Political Behaviour in India” (1965), shows how a poll slogan or its alleged misinterpretation could create a stir even in early 1960s India. After all, slogans encapsulate the distilled vision of a political party. They crisply communicate a party’s core stance. For instance, a photograph of the 1951-52 elections published in ECI’s book, “Unfolding Indian Elections”, shows a Congress poster with the face of Nehru and the phrase “Sthayi, asampradiyik pragatisheel rashtra ke liye (For a stable, secular and progressive nation)”, underlining what the party stood for.

India enjoys a rich history of fruitful political watchwords. The best among them are pithy, crisp and prompted high recall: Congress’ “Garibi Hatao” (1971) and BJP’s “Ab Ki Baar, Modi Sarkar” (2014), to name just two. In recent times, the job of coining slogans is often outsourced to overpaid media planners and smart speech writers. This wasn’t the case in the early post-Independence years, says political scientist C P Bhambri.

A college student in 1951, Bhambri attended an election meeting addressed by Nehru in Kanpur’s Phool Bagh. “In his speech, he said, ‘Naya bharat banayenge (We will build a new India)’, and ‘Sampradayikta ko jadh se ukhadh phekna hai (We have to uproot communalism)’. The next day the Congress workers were shouting these lines in their processions,” says Bhambri, who taught at JNU.

In the 1950s, India’s literacy was 18%. Hence, the spoken word was more important than the printed word. In 1957, as a lecturer at a Meerut college, Bhambri again heard Nehru during the 2nd Lok Sabha polls. “Nehru said, ‘Humein chhalang marni hai (We must take a leap)’. We must end poverty and backwardness,” recalls Bhambri.

Unsurprisingly, the “Garibi Hatao” slogan had the maximum resonance among 36 slogans used by Congress in Delhi in the 1971 polls. The full slogan, translated from the Hindi, goes: “They say Indira hatao, Indira says, Garibi Hatao.” Twenty-four out of 81 prospective voters recalled this slogan in a poll carried out by Prayag Mehta for his book, “Election Campaign” (1975). Another 22 recalled the catchline “Vote for Socialism, Vote Congress”.

Slogans are also tweaked to capture the mood of the times. When the public turned against Indira post-Emergency, the Opposition reworked her 1971 slogan and produced the hugely popular exhortation “Indira Hatao, Desh Bachao”. When the Janata government imploded after infighting, Congress came up with the 1980 slogan, “Sarkar woh chune jo chal sakey” (Elect a government that functions).

The early 1990s saw the arrival of the coalition era. After National Front’s coalition government, which lasted from December 1989 to November 1990, parties felt that the people would like to vote for a stable regime. Consequently, there was an emphasis on stability in the campaign slogans.

Meenu Roy’s book, “Battle of the Ballot”, which examined the 1991 campaign, lists a bunch of slogans that Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress came out with. One, “Vote stability, Vote Congress”; and two, “Na jaat par, na paat par, sthrirta ki baat par, mohar lagegi haat par (Don’t vote for caste or community but for the Hand that brings stability).”

For the same campaign, BJP had the line “Subko parkha, Humko parkho (You tried everyone, now try us)”. Another catchline went, “Ram, roti aur sthirta”, which underlined the party’s involvement with the Ramjanambhoomi movement.

Now, as the 2019 LS polls loom, parties are emerging with fresh slogans. BJP already has two: “Modi hai to mumkin hai” and “Phir ek baar, Modi Sarkar”. Reports say Congress is crowdsourcing catchlines from party workers and has received about 15 lakh slogans. Whose “achche din” they will usher in remains to be seen.

Jet Airways flies into turbulence

From being the second largest domestic airline for years, Jet Airways officially slipped to the fourth slot in February due to its cash problems, with SpiceJet and Air India overtaking it.

Now, one in nine Indian passengers flies Jet that ruled the skies until private sector rival Indigo and the now defunct Kingfisher appeared on the scene in 2005-06. At its peak, it accounted for lion’s share of the domestic market with founder and chairman Naresh Goyal being the king of the aviation sector. But his inability to bring money on the table has resulted in a steep descent of Jet in the aviation sweepstakes.

With bank accounts running empty, Jet’s fleet is now down to 41 from 119 as unpaid aircraft lessors started repossessing their planes. With the fleet size expected to drop to 35 in next few days, market players expect the airline to close the financial year with a single digit market share.

Airlines with lower domestic market share in February — GoAir and Vistara — have firm orders for planes and AirAsia India is also expected to do the same. Jet, on the other hand, faces an uncertain future.

While IndiGo became the domestic market leader by a huge margin, Jet in last few years — especially after its tie-up with Etihad in 2013 — focused on international expansion. The Jet-Etihad combine was the market leader in terms of flying people in and out of India. But Jet’s financial crunch since February has led to grounding of both narrow and wide body planes, impacting its international traffic too.

The government is now looking at giving Jet’s unutilised slots to other airlines, which have been asked to add up to 25 planes by next month to tide over the sudden crunch caused by Jet. The DGCA is finalising summer schedule, which will be effective month-end, without considering the schedule given by Jet.


India Builds Port in Indonesia

India is developing its maiden deep-sea port in Indonesia's Sabang close to Andaman and Nicobar Islands making its entry in the Southeast Asian amid China’s slew of connectivity plans for ASEAN under BRI.

The Sabang port is being developed in partnership with neighbour and strategic partner Indonesia. An Indian Coast Guard ship Vijit, is currently on a visit to Sabang, Indonesia, from March 17-20. The deep sea portwill give India wide access to Southeast Asia as a counter-balancing force. The port will be a key element in India's Indo-Pacific strategy.

A joint initiative to develop deep-sea port in Sabang in Indonesia’s Aceh province to enhance maritime connectivity as part of respective Indo-Pacific strategies was launched last year. India and Indonesia are trying to complement each other with proposed connectivity and infrastructure projects in the region.

During the visit of Prime Minister of India to Indonesia in May 2018, both sides had arrived at a “Shared Vision of Maritime Cooperation in the Indo Pacific” under which deepening economic and people-to-people exchanges, including connectivity with port of Sabang was identified as a key priority area.

India gets its first Lokpal

Former Supreme Court judge Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose was appointed as the country’s first Lokpal, the anti-corruption ombudsman.

Former Sashastra Seema Bal chief Archana Ramasundaram, ex-Maharashtra chief secretary Dinesh Kumar Jain, Mahender Singh and Indrajeet Prasad Gautam have been appointed as non-judicial members of Lokpal.

Justices Dilip B Bhosale, Pradip Kumar Mohanty, Abhilasha Kumari and Ajay Kumar Tripathi have been appointed as judicial members in the anti-corruption ombudsman, the communique issued by Rashtrapati Bhavan said. “The above appointments will take effect from the dates they assume charge of their respective offices,” it said.

The Lokpal and Lokayukta Act, which envisages appointment of a Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayuktas in states to look into cases of corruption against certain categories of public servants, was passed on 2013. 


Manohar Parrikar succumbs to illness

Goa chief minister Manohar Gopalakrishna Prabhu Parrikar died on Sunday in the midst of his fourth term in office. The 63-year-old widower, also former defence minister of India, is survived by two sons and a grandchild. His death leaves India’s smallest state with a coalition government under considerable strain.

Parrikar had quit as Union defence minister in March 2017 to return as chief minister of India’s smallest state to hold together the ruling coalition after its constituents refused to accept anyone else as its leader. That he stayed on in the job despite his deteriorating health, reflected his indispensability to the Bharatiya Janata Party.

In the past two decades, as far as Goa was concerned, Parrikar was the BJP and vice versa. But while the state saw a degree of political stability when he was at the helm, Parrikar was destined never to complete a full term as chief minister. His first term, which began in October 2000, lasted 16 months and the second, from June 2002, was for two years and eight months. He began his third in 2012, having led the BJP to its biggest ever victory, giving it a majority on its own for the first time.

Parrikar even declared that it would be his last term as chief minister and as an elected representative.

In another two years, he would however be drafted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to become the country’s defence minister, forcing Parrikar to leave his beloved Goa.

Born to a Goud Saraswat Brahmin family in Mapusa, Parrikar was introduced to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh at an early age. After graduating with a degree in metallurgy from the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay, he set up a pneumatic pump making unit in Goa.

It was in the 1980s that the BJP got serious about establishing itself in Goa, which had mostly been governed since liberation from the Portuguese in 1961 by the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party,  which represented the interests of the majority Bahujan community. The BJP asked the RSS to lend it the services of some of its cadres. Among them were Parrikar and Laxmikant Parsekar, the latter defying his MGP-loyal family.

When the BJP decided to contest assembly elections in 1989, Parrikar was still splitting his time between business and party work. The BJP got 0.8% of the vote. Parrikar’s political acumen and organisational skills are credited with taking the party to power in about a decade.

He began his first term as chief minister in 2000 just months after losing his wife to leukaemia, making him a single parent as well. He sought to bring about a change in Goa’s governance. His reputation as an honest politician and the rigour with which he applied himself to issues, encouraged greater accountability from the administration. His short-sleeved, untucked shirt and sandals — eschewing the sartorial style of most Indian politicians — was noted, as was his no-fuss style of work.

Meanwhile, roads got built, water and power supply improved and some of his pet social welfare schemes were launched during these early years.

In opposition, he brought the same zeal to campaigns against the Digambar Kamath-led Congress government for allowing casinos on the Mandovi river, for extending government grants to English-medium schools, on illegal mining that wrought heavy environmental damage, leading to the 2012 victory. The illegal mining controversy that he’d fanned as opposition leader would soon lead to a court-imposed ban.

Parrikar would fume against the Congress-led coalition government at the Centre and the Supreme Court for “interfering,” chafing at the limitations of his position.

Parrikar considered himself a nerd at finding solutions to problems, particularly economic and accounting ones. While he’d listen to people, his word would be final.

Meanwhile, the casinos stayed afloat, the government continued to fund convent schools, and nothing much happened to Kamat, who he’d vowed to send to jail. This would prompt one-time friend and mentor in the RSS, Subhash Vellingkar, to accuse him of appeasing the church, of being a “U-Turn” chief minister. There were other criticisms too — applicable to most politicians — that he didn’t delegate and didn’t foster a second rung of leadership, leading to a vacuum. His colleagues, however, point out that expansive infrastructure projects got the green light during this period.

In 2013, as host of a party conclave, Parrikar would step up and force an indecisive national executive to name Modi, then Gujarat chief minister, as campaign chief, helping pave his way eventually to the Prime Minister’s post.

Midway through his third term, in November 2014, Parrikar would be summoned and entrusted with the defence ministry. There was a desperate need for a credible face, quick and transparent decision making in this ministry straight jacketed by long unresolved issues. Parrikar, a fierce nationalist, fit the bill. It was the first time that a son of Goa had occupied such a high office. But as Parrikar headed to Delhi it wasn’t without doubts, complaining about the “Roman culture” that meant having to watch one’s back.

As defence minister, he sought to free defence procurement from being sabotaged by rival manufacturers, pursue realistic ambitions and prioritise operational readiness of the armed forces. The armed forces also conducted surgical strikes across both frontiers during his tenure.

But he missed his fish curry and rice, and whenever he got the chance he would head back to Goa. This would cast a shadow on Parsekar, who had replaced him as chief minister, and end up costing the BJP. The mandate against the Parrikar-Parsekar government would reduce the BJP to 13 seats in the 2017 assembly polls. Without Parrikar, the BJP just couldn’t drum up enough public support.

Parrikar would return, “taking moral responsibility,” leading an odd coalition of divergent interests to form the government. The only thing holding them together, since March last year, was Parrikar.

Ever since February, when he had to be rushed to hospital, the government, the party and Goans in general had been wondering who could fill his shoes. While he was alive, it was clear that no one could.


HDFC Bank Joins $100-B MCap Club: ADR Market

HDFC Bank crossed the $100-billion market capitalisation  based on the price of its American Depositary Receipts, is valued at more than the combined market value of Japan’s No.1 financial banking group, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial, and the top German lender, Deutsche Bank. Only banks in the US, China, the UK and Canada are now valued more than India’s largest private sector lender.

The premium between HDFC Bank’s ADRs and its locally listed shares has widened to 15% currently from 10-11% early this year. The rise in premium comes despite the rupee strengthening against the dollar. The local shares of HDFC Bank have gained 20% in the last one year, as against a 16% gain in Bank Nifty in the same period. According to Bloomberg data, 50 of the 54 analysts tracking the stock have a ‘buy’ rating on it, while three have a ‘hold’. One analyst recommends selling the stock.

However, HDFC Bank, which is currently trading at 5.33 times its latest annual book value against a global average valuation of 1.3 times, is an expensive stock among top 100 bank stocks in the world.

Trade Deficit at 17-month Low: February2019

India’s trade deficit shrank to a 17-month low in February on a sharp fall in import of oil, gold and electronics, the items that form the bulk of the country’s import bill.

Exports rose 2.4% from a year ago to $26.7 billion, while a 5.4% contraction in imports led to a decline in the trade deficit to $9.6 billion, data released by the government on Friday showed. The previous low for the trade gap was $9.4 billion in September 2017.

The trade deficit was $14.7 billion in January and $12.3 billion in February of the previous year.

In February, import of oil, gold and electronic items declined by 8%, 10.8% and 6.5%, respectively.

In the April-February period, the trade deficit widened to $165.5 billion from $148.6 billion in the yearago period.

The major commodity groups of export showing positive growth in February were organic and inorganic chemicals (4.1%), drugs and pharmaceuticals (16.1%), and ready-made textiles (7.1%), the ministry said.

In rupee terms, exports growth was 13.3% in February, with currency depreciation contributing to the rise. Imports denominated in rupee were up 9.8% in the month.

18 out of 30 sectors showed a decline in exports in December. Non-oil and non-gold imports fell 3.7% in the month, indicating weakness in domestic demand.

Exports in the April-February period were up 8.8% to $298.5 billion. Imports totalled $464 billion over this period, a rise of 9.8%.

Exports in 2018-19 set to finally scale 2013-14 level

Exports appear on course to finally cross the 2013-14 level during the current financial year despite the sluggishness seen in recent months.

Exports inched up by 2.5% to $26.7 billion in February as several key sectors, such as engineering goods, chemicals, rice and cotton yarn and fabrics reported tepid growth, while oil product exports fell by 7.7%. And, with gold, electronics and crude imports shrinking in February, the overall import bill fell by over 5.4% to $36.3 billion, narrowing the trade deficit to $9.6 billion, compared to $12.3 billion in February last year. In fact, during February, 12 of the 30 closely watched segments showed a decline in the value of shipments.

During April-February, India’s exports are estimated to be 8.8% higher at $298.5 billion, while imports are up a shade under 10% at $464 billion.

Policymakers and trade experts are keeping close tabs on the export numbers, as the Modi government has so far fallen short of scaling the level of exports that it had inherited. Government officials blame it on the global export slowdown as well as growing protectionism across the world, especially in the US, which had been an advocate of free trade.

With March expected to see a year-end rush of shipments, the Modi administration expects to close the year with exports of around $330 billion, helping it scale the record $314 billion reached during UPA’s last year in office.

Rebel camps along India-Myanmar border ‘smashed’

Around a dozen insurgent bases and camps have been “smashed” along the India-Myanmar border, with the countries’ armies working in close coordination to eliminate threats in the region, especially to the ongoing Kaladan multi-modal transit project to boost connectivity in the northeast.

Even as the Myanmar army has stepped up operations against insurgent groups operating in its territory since January, Indian forces have reinforced their positions with an additional 15 infantry and Assam Rifles battalions, Special Forces and drones along the entire 1,643-km-long border in a major operation, code-named “Operation Sunrise”, to prevent any “spill-over”.

“Myanmar Army, in its latest operation conducted in its Chin state opposite South Mizoram from February 17 onwards, has destroyed 10-12 camps of the Arakan Army, an insurgent group based in Myanmar that is closely associated with the Kachin Independence Army, which has links with China,” said a source.

Earlier, towards the end of January, the Myanmar Army had undertaken “flushing out” operations at Taga area in its Sagaing division, where the general headquarters of Indian insurgent group NSCN (Khaplang) and camps of ULFA (I), NDFB (S) and Manipuri-origin outfits are located. “The Myanmar Army has established a base at Taga to get all militants to vacate their camps,” said the source.

“This shows the enhanced level of bilateral military cooperation to clear camps of insurgent groups – whether from India or Myanmar – from the border areas through joint operations and intelligence-sharing. Though NSCN (K) has a regional ceasefire in Myanmar, the two countries have agreed not to let insurgent camps thrive in the border areas,” he added.

The latest operation across Borders Pillars 1 to 9 in south Mizoram was conducted because it was assessed Arakan Army insurgents were posing a threat to the Kaladan project, which envisages connectivity between the Kolkata port and Sittwe Port in Myanmar and then through riverine transport and by road to Mizoram.


Maharashtra: RR rates to remain unchanged this year

For the second consecutive fiscal, the Ready Reckoner rates in Maharashtra will remain unchanged in 2019-20.

Revenue department officials said the decision to keep the rates unchanged was taken at a meeting ahead of the announcement of the Lok Sabha election schedule on March 10 and implementation of the model code of conduct.

They said the decision was a regular procedure and would not come under the purview of the model code of conduct norms.

The meeting was attended by some key ministers and necessary instructions would be issued to the Inspectorate General of Registration and Stamps and the town planning department.

The RR rates are used by the government to assess market value of properties. Stamp duty and registration charges are also paid on the basis of the RR rates, which are revised on April 1 every year.

In 2017, the RR rates were increased by 3.9%. The authorities had cited the slowdown in the real estate sector for not increasing the rates in 2018-19.

WPI jumps on higher food, fuel prices

Surging food and fuel prices pushed wholesale prices higher in February but it still remained below the Reserve Bank of India’s comfort level, sustaining hopes of an interest rate cut when the central bank reviews monetary policy in April.

Inflation, measured by the wholesale price index, rose an annual 2.9% in February, marginally higher than previous month’s 2.8%. WPI inflation was 2.7% in the same month last year.

But rising food prices posed some worries. Food prices rose 4.3% in February, faster than the previous month’s 2.3%. Prices of wheat and pulses hit double digits during the month, while vegetable prices rose nearly 7% in Feb, with potato prices rising 23.4% during the month.

Economists said inflation in food items was inching up and finding its reflection at the retail level. They said though prices of vegetables and pulses at the retail level are still displaying deflation, they will also start witnessing higher inflation soon.

Data released earlier this week showed retail inflation rose to a four month high of 2.6% in February but remained below the RBI’s comfort zone, which led to hopes for a rate cut in April.

Pokhran: Trial of new anti-tank guided missile held

India’s Defence Research and Development Organization conducted successful trial of the newly designed and developed, Man Portable Anti-Tank Guided Missile at Pokhran field firing range in Jaisalmer district.

The MP-ATGM is being developed for infantry troops of the Indian Army. The DRDO carried out the trial of the missile with 2-3 km strike range.

MP-ATGM is incorporated with advanced features including state-of-the-art Imaging Infra-red Radar Seeker with integrated avionics. The first test was conducted on March 13, 2019. In both the missions, the missiles hit the designated targets precisely, at different ranges. All the mission objectives have been met. MP-ATGM is the third generation anti-tank guided missile developed by DRDO. It is considered best in class and is likely to replace Milan, second-generation French origin anti-tank and Konkur, Soviet semi-automatic wire-guided missile,which is currently in service with Indian Army.

DRDO along with a private company, has developed this anti-tank missile. It is 14.5 kg and can be shot by keeping on the shoulder, whether in day or night. It has been developed on the basis of fire and forget and is capable of hitting stationary or moving target. DRDO plans manufacturing of this missile on a huge scale by 2021.

Mumbai: CST Bridge Collapse Kills 5

Six people were killed and over 30 injured after a foot overbridge leading to Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus railway station collapsed on Thursday evening.

The collapse of the overbridge at one of the busiest railway stations in Mumbai took place during peak hours, when several thousand commuters return home from work. Police officials as well as rescue workers rushed to the spot within minutes, and the injured were taken to the nearby St George and GT Hospital.

The municipal corporation headquarters is about 100 metres away from the bridge. Strangely, the bridge was not part of a safety audit ordered after another foot overbridge collapsed last year in Andheri. About 400 such bridges were assessed in that audit.

Modi hai to Mumkin Hai

The Bharatiya Janata Party has chosen “Modi Hai to Mumkin Hai” as its slogan for the summer’s Lok Sabha election on the back of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image as a doer, finance minister Arun Jaitley said.

In a Facebook post, Jaitley added that Modi has demonstrated his indefatigability by working round the clock over the past five years, achieving results that wouldn’t otherwise have been possible.

Modi has proved to be a quick learner, adapting easily to foreign policy, economic and strategic issues, Jaitley said in the Facebook post. The Prime Minister’s clarity and determination have facilitated quick decisions making even in complicated matters, he added.

“Many India observers across the world have marvelled at India’s pace of taking decisions and implementing them. The BJP, therefore, has chosen an effective slogan for the forthcoming elections “Modi Hai to Mumkin Hai” – ‘Modi makes it possible’,” the finance minister said.

Jaitley listed out a number of steps undertaken by the Modi government, and said that for the first time in history, for five years in a row, India has been the fastest growing major economy in the world.

Among other things, Jaitley also said that under Modi’s premiership, India demonstrated through the surgical strike of 2016 and air strike of 2019 against Pakistan that it was willing to adopt unconventional methods of attacking terror at the point of its origin.

Jaitley referred to the Swachh Bharat programme, the housing-for-all scheme, the income support for farmers and other such schemes to underscore his government’s focus on the underprivileged.

“Has any Government done more?” Jaitly asked, emphasising that motivation and leadership have made the vital difference.

Hyderabad, Pune most liveable for expats

Hyderabad and Pune continue to be the most liveable cities in India for expatriates, a Mercer survey found, even though their overall global ranking remains a lowly 143.

According to Mercer’s 21st annual Quality of Living Rankings, the two cities are followed by Bengaluru (149), Mumbai (154) and New Delhi (162), whose rankings remained unchanged from last year. Mercer’s survey provides assessment for more than 450 cities; this ranking is for 231 of these cities.

Vienna retained the top rank for the 10th year running, followed by Zurich at second spot. In joint third place are Auckland, Munich and Vancouver. Luxembourg was the safest city in the world. In 105th place, Chennai ranks as the Asia-Pacific region’s safest city, while Karachi (226) is the least safe.

Premji: The Most Philanthropic Indian

Azim Premji, India’s second-richest man, gave away 34% of his shares in Wipro Ltd to charitable causes, confirming his status as the most philanthropic Indian.

The shares given away by Premji—a man known for his frugal ways—are valued at about $7.5 billion.

With the latest contribution, the total value of funds committed by the billionaire to Azim Premji Foundation’s philanthropic activities is ₹1.45 trillion ($21 billion). This includes a 67% economic ownership of Wipro, the foundation said.

Premji inherited his father’s vegetable oil company and transformed it into a global software powerhouse. One of the world’s richest men, Premji still flies economy class, avoids costly cars and ostentatious displays of wealth.

In terms of philanthropic contributions in the country, Premji is ahead of others by a distance. Although India has seen a rise in individual donations of late, contributions of ₹10 crore or more account for more than half of individual philanthropy and Premji’s donations alone account for more than 80% of this.

The Premji foundation, set up in 2010, works to improve access to primary education in India, including some of its most disadvantaged parts. Premji’s philanthropic initiatives also help in improving the lives of street children and the disabled. The foundation also runs the Azim Premji University in Bengaluru.

India’s super wealthy households, or those with a net worth of over $50 million in India, are expected to double in both volume and wealth from 160,600 households with a total net worth of ₹1.53 trillion in 2017, to 330,400 households with a combined net worth of ₹3.52 trillion in 2022. But a vast majority of them inherit their wealth and prefer to leave their money to family.

India & US commit to ‘establishing’ 6 N-plants

India and US committed to “establish” six nuclear power plants in India after day long talks on strategic and security affairs.

A statement issued at the end of the talks said, “They committed to strengthen bilateral security and civil nuclear cooperation, including the establishment of six US nuclear power plants in India,” without giving details of the sites. The joint statement was issued at the conclusion of the 9th round of India-US Strategic Security Dialogue, co-chaired by foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale and Andrea Thompson, the US under secretary of state for arms control and international security.

Pittsburgh-based Westinghouse was supposed to build six 1,000 nuclear reactors in Andhra Pradesh. The plan first ran into rough weather with India’s nuclear liability law, which scared away foreign nuclear companies.

In 2017, Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy which stalled the entire project. A year later Westinghouse was acquired by Canadian private equity firm Brookfield.

Westinghouse has now restarted talks to revive the project — but this time they are exploring the possibility of being suppliers of technology and services, rather than build full turnkey power reactors.

Officials were unwilling to comment whether the new announcement was a reaffirmation of the old agreement or whether it was new. The US reiterated its support for India’s membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group. That has stalled because China has refused to allow India in, without Pakistan.

According to the statement, the two sides exchanged views on a wide range of global security and non-proliferation challenges and reaffirmed their commitment to work together to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems and to deny access to such weapons by terrorists and non-state actors.

The occasion also saw an India-US Space Dialogue. The Indian side was led by Indra Mani Pandey, India’s additional secretary for disarmament and international security affairs, and Yleem DS Poblete, US assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification and compliance.


Media & Entertainment Sector’s on a Good Wicket

India’s media and entertainment industry grew 13.4% year-on-year in 2018 to ₹1.67 lakh crore, according to a joint report by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (Ficci) and consultancy EY.

Increasing disposable incomes and economic growth, along with the second highest number of internet users after China, at 570 million subscribers, worked in favour of the industry and would propel it further to ₹2.35 lakh crore by 2021.

Digital and online gaming saw the fastest growth during the year, followed by live events and animation, as per the report. Traditional media including television, music and films continued to show double-digit growth, it said.

As per the report, online gaming saw maximum growth but real money was in real money games including fantasy and e-Sports. While gaming sector grew 52%, the number of online gamers reached 278 million in 2018.

The report noted that advertising budgets continued to shift towards digital media despite fears of advertising fraud. While the sector commanded 21% of total advertising, digital subscription witnessed a massive growth on a smaller base.

TMC gives 40% of its LS tickets to women

Trinamool Congress gave tickets to 17 women in its list for all 42 Lok Sabha seats in Bengal. By giving 40% of the seats to women candidates, Mamata Banerjee outdid her Odisha counterpart, Naveen Patnaik, who had announced 33% seats for women. In 2014, TMC kept 34% seats for women.

“I am happy. While other parties are talking about 33% reservation for women, Trinamool has implemented and raised the bar higher. Today, we are declaring 40% women candidates,” said the CM.

Mamata said BJP was her main opponent as she declared her willingness to campaign against the party in PM Narendra Modi’s constituency, Varanasi, “if invited by Mayawati or Akhilesh”.

Mamata’s move to nominate such a large number of women was praised by Patnaik. Among the 17 women candidates, six are first-timers and 11 have been renominated.

The surprise elements came in the form of nominations to Mimi Chakraborty and Nusrat Jahan, Bengali film actors. While Chakraborty was nominated from Jadavpur constituency, Jahan will contest from Basirhat, where Trinamool is facing a tough fight from BJP. Chakraborty replaced MP Sugata Bose, who, according to Mamata, had already made himself unavailable for the election this year.

Vistara gets approval to fly abroad

The Tata Group-Singapore Airlines JV Vistara has got the government’s nod to fly abroad, making it the first private airline being allowed to do so under recently amended rules.

The Modi government had in 2016 changed the 5/20 rule — which required an airline to complete five years of operations and have 20 planes in its fleet — to fly abroad to 0/20. Since Vistara — which started flying on January 9, 2015 — has over 20 planes, the government set up a group of ministers to examine its request to fly abroad and has now cleared it to do so.

At present, Air India, AI Express, Jet, IndiGo, SpiceJet and GoAir fly abroad, with GoAir starting these flights only last October.

So, Vistara will be the seventh Indian carrier to fly overseas. The other Tata JV airline AirAsia India completes five years this summer and will then fly abroad as it was not considered under the amended 0/20 due to a number of cases filed against the airline.

Vistara is likely to start international flights with service to Colombo. Bilaterals to other nearby places, where any Indian carrier wants to fly like Dubai, China, Qatar and Singapore are almost exhausted, and India did not hike them.

#BoycottChina starts trending

China yet again put on hold a proposal at the UN for a ban on Jaish-e-Muhammed chief Masood Azhar, bringing to a halt a renewed push by France, the US and the UK to blacklist the Pakistan-based terrorist after the Pulwama attack.

China has thrice earlier put the same proposal on a “technical hold” before finally terminating it. The hold can last up to a maximum of nine months, after which China can again use its veto power to formally block, or terminate, the proposal.

The government reacted to the development late on Wednesday within minutes, saying it was disappointed.

China was the only UNSC member to object to the proposal. India said it was grateful to Member States who moved the proposal and the unprecedented number of UNSC members as well as non-members who joined as co-sponsors.

“We will continue to pursue all available avenues to ensure that terrorist leaders who are involved in heinous attacks on our citizens are brought to justice,” it said.

China had in the past blocked the same proposal in 2011, 2016 and again in 2017. Government sources here said the latest ‘hold’ was another sign of China’s “double standards” on terrorism.

This was the first time that the proposal for a UN ban on Masood Azhar came within weeks of a major terror strike. China’s decision on this occasion will rankle with India a lot more as it comes within a year of the Xi-Modi summit in Wuhan which was said to have taken the bilateral relationship to another level altogether. Both countries had cited the “Wuhan spirit” to repeatedly claim that ties had been completely transformed since the Doklam standoff. Chinese ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui said last year that the relationship was passing through one of the best phases in history.

There was no proposal for a UN ban on Azhar last year as India sought to improve ties with China in the aftermath of the Doklam standoff. The Pulwama attack by JeM though changed all that, bringing ties under strain as Azhar continues to head the terror organisation and inspire attacks on India. With the US not sure of support from China, France took the lead in introducing another proposal for proscribing Azhar. The US and UK too backed the proposal and worked to mobilise support for it.

Within an hour of the outcome, the hashtags #China-BacksTerror and #Boycott-China were trending on Twitter. Calls to boycott Chinese goods have periodically surfaced on social media, and Beijing’s intransigence in backing Pakistani terrorists is expected to further fire up this demand. India imports about $ 55 billion worth of goods and products from China.


100% VVPAT Deployment, Trail Matching In 1 Booth Per Segment

The Election Commission announced seven-phase polls to the Lok Sabha and four state assemblies, to be held from April 11 to May 19. Counting for all the constituencies will be held on May 23.

Assembly polls will be held in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. Jammu and Kashmir, which will complete six months of dissolution of the assembly in May, was left out. Chief election commissioner Sunil Arora attributed the delayed assembly poll in J&K to the security situation in the state in view of which the J&K government and home ministry had expressed their inability to hold simultaneous polls. Other factors included limited availability of central forces and the difficulty in arranging security for a large number of candidates in simultaneous polls.

As per the schedule announced by Arora, who was flanked by election commissioners Ashok Lavasa and Sushil Chandra at Sunday’s press conference, polling will be spread across seven phases on April 11, 18, 23, 29, May 6, 12 and 19. While 21 states and Union Territories will vote in a single phase, Karnataka, Manipur, Rajasthan and Tripura will have two-phase polls. Assam and Chhattisgarh will poll in three phases; Jharkhand, MP, Maharashtra and Odisha in four phases; J&K in five phases and UP, Bihar and West Bengal in all seven phases.

The model code of conduct kicked in with declaration of polls. General election 2019 will have 100% deployment of VVPATs. It will continue with the practice of matching EVM count with paper trail in one polling station each in every assembly segment, though the CEC did not rule out raising the tally if the Indian Statistical Institute, which is looking into the possibility, recommends the same ahead of counting day.

As many as 89.88 crore electors, including 1.59 crore new voters aged 18-19 years, are registered to vote though this number is likely to go up since additions to the electoral rolls can be made till the last day of filing of nomination, even though only applications. In addition, nearly 16.62 lakh have enrolled as service voters. In the 2014 polls, 81.45 crore voters were enrolled. As per EC sources, there will be 10,35,932 polling stations spread over 4.36 lakh locations across the country this time.

The poll announcement has set in motion a highly-anticipated contest which is shaping up to be a ‘Modi versus Rest’ showdown. The recent Pulwama attack and IAF air strikes on a Jaish camp in Pakistan have added a new dimension to the polls as the military action is seen to boost the Modi government’s credentials, though the challenge for BJP is to sustain the high till voting day and factor in possible escalation.

Declaration of polls is expected to spur the opposition to look for up any possible alliances to take on Modi and BJP. The key alliances in UP and Karnataka are a major challenge for BJP as are strong regional leaders like Mamata Banerjee, Naveen Patnaik, K Chandrasekhar Rao, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav. A key determinant will also be ‘BJP versus Congress’ battles in states like Rajasthan, MP, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Gujarat and Maharashtra. Congress scored victories in some of these states recently and it remains to be seen if a national election fought on ‘for-or-against-Modi’ lines will allow BJP to regain the advantage.

In a first, BJD to keep 33% of seats for women

Odisha CM and BJD president Naveen Patnaik put his promise of giving greater representation to women in electoral politics into practice, announcing hours before the Election Commission declared the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections schedules, that his party will reserve 33% of its LS poll tickets for women.

This is the first time any political party in the country has done so; the move is likely to further endear him and his party to women voters. Naveen’s announcement means BJD will field at least seven women candidates from the 21 parliamentary seats on offer in Odisha.

Women voters are considered to be the key behind BJD’s electoral success in the past two decades. Of the 3.18 crore voters, over 1.54 crore are women. In 2014, the party had fielded two women candidates — from Jajpur and Keonjhar Lok Sabha seats — while another was elected to the Lower House of Parliament later in the Kandhamal by-election.

Naveen said the announcement would create history in the journey of women’s empowerment in India and the women of Odisha would show the way. With this decision, Naveen follows in the footsteps of his father, former Odisha CM Biju Patnaik, who had announced 33% reservation for women in panchayat raj institutions and government jobs in the early 1990s. “If India is to lead the world, if India is to be an advanced nation like America and China, women’s empowerment is the only answer,” Naveen said.

The BJD president was instrumental for the Odisha assembly passing a resolution on ensuring 33% reservation for women in Parliament and state assemblies. He had written to PM Narendra Modi seeking his intervention on clearing the Women’s Reservation Bill in Parliament. But the announcement was met with derision. 

Reformatting Retail in India: Nielsen India

The switch to GST, acceptance of digital payments, and a consumer shift to convenience have helped push the sale of cheese, biscuits, hair conditioners, and packaged rice in modern retail stores in India for the year ended 31 August 2018. This has helped the country’s organized grocery stores register a strong 22% growth in sales, according to a report titled Reformatting Retail in India by insights firm Nielsen India released in March.

The market for fast-moving consumer goods sold through modern retail stores in India stood at ₹41,416 crore as of August 2018, Nielsen said.

The report measured the growth of such stores from August 2017 to August 2018, factoring in the impact of events such as demonetization and the transition to GST in 2017. “Demonetization and the introduction of GST became tailwinds for the sector by triggering the mass adoption of digital modes of payment by consumers,” the report said.

However, the overall contribution of supermarkets and organized grocery stores still remains 10% of overall FMCG sales “with a greater concentration in urban areas, particularly the top 17 metro cities”.

The last two years have been beneficial for large retail chains, as traditional retail dominated by small mom-pop or kirana stores were affected by policy changes. In 2017, the government’s move to implement the GST impacted small and medium wholesalers, which were already reeling under the impact of the government’s move to ban high currency notes in November 2016. These stores struggled to keep up with the lengthy compliance procedure required under the new tax system. As a result, supermarkets and grocery stores saw higher footfalls and reported better sales.

“Advance setting of systems, across both buying and selling, helped modern trade gain sizeable growth advantage over general trade during the implementation of GST,” the report said. In the same period, the number of organized grocery stores that Nielsen defines as “shops enabled with shopping a shopping cart, and have at least two such shops” stood at 18,197. In 2018, supermarkets grew 25%, while hypermarkets grew by 15%. Nielsen defines supermarkets as chain and stand-alone stores that have an area of less than 15,000 sq. ft and not more than nine point-of-sale counters. The rest, Nielsen defines as hypermarkets.

“In modern trade, per say, we’ve been seeing growth, be it in store count, be it in penetration, be it in footfall, as well as, what’s happening with the consumer,” said Ajay Macaden, head, retail, Nielsen India.

Such stores in smaller markets grew at a faster clip, Nielaisles, sen data suggests. Small and large organized stores in cities with a population of 100,000 to 500,000 grew three times compared with those in metros. “In smaller towns, it is more the case of small mom-pop stores trying to reinvent themselves,” Macaden said.

For large FMCG firms, the modern retail stores have been steadily improving and helping them sell more premium and valued-added products.