Union Territories of J-K and Ladakh come into existence

Jammu and Kashmir ceased to be a state and became two union territories - Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh - on midnight Wednesday, 86 days after the Parliament revoked the special status enjoyed by it under Article 370.

RK Mathur was sworn in as first lieutenant governor of Union Territory of Ladakh on Thursday.

The home ministry in a late night notification, replaced the state of Jammu and Kashmir with the “union territory of Jammu and Kashmir” and announced omission of “permanent residents or hereditary state subjects”.

The UT of Jammu and Kashmir will have a legislature like Puducherry with an elected legislative assembly and a chief minister. Ladakh, on the other hand, will be a UT without legislature like Chandigarh. It will have two hill development councils.

Both UTs will be headed by lieutenant governors (L-G), under the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019.

GC Murmu will be the lieutenant governor of Jammu and Kashmir Murmu, will be sworn in by chief justice of the Srinagar high court Gita Mittal in a ceremony around 12.30 pm at the Raj Bhavan.

Following the home ministry notification, the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir and the Ranbir Penal Code has ceased to exist.

The notification also announced several measures including application of central laws in the erstwhile state.

“... there are references in the state laws that have been applied to the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, and the Union Territory of Ladakh to the expressions ‘permanent residents’ or ‘hereditary state subjects’..., wherever they occur, shall be omitted,” it said.

The references, by whatever form of words, to the “state of Jammu and Kashmir” or “Jammu and Kashmir” or “state” shall from October 31 be construed as “Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir” or “Union Territory of Ladakh”, as the case may be, it said.

It said any reference in any existing law to the “legislature of the state or any House or Houses” shall be construed as references to the legislative assembly or legislature of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

No lawsuit will be maintained for any action taken, including any notification issued or order, rule or appointment made during the period between August 5 and October 31 as these shall be deemed to be valid and operative as if such things had been done or actions taken in accordance with law, according to the notification.

It said any person who has taken an oath or made an affirmation before holding office or position as such under the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution or other laws in force in the existing state of J-K immediately before the appointed day shall be deemed to have taken oath or affirmation under the Indian Constitution or law applicable to the two union territories, and shall continue to hold office or position as such till October 31.

India’s 1st data centre park to come up in Navi Mumbai

The country’s first data centre park will come up on a 600-acre of land next to Taloja industrial estate in Navi Mumbai, owned by the MIDC. “Mumbai has the first mover advantage [over Chennai] and an opportunity to establish itself as yet another global data centre capital, similar to Singapore or Virginia in the US,” MIDC CEO P Anbalagan said.

Based on the 2018 data centre cost index released by Turner & Townsend (2019), Chennai and Mumbai are the two top locations for core data centres with a significant cost advantage. While Chennai comes at number one poition with a mere $3.8 per watt, Mumbai is a close second with $4.0 per watt. But Mumbai has several advantages including better connectivity with 10 submarine telecom cables landings as compared to the six to Chennai.

The number of internet subscribers in India is increasing rapidly because of a combination of factors including drop in cost of mobile broadband and proliferation of inexpensive smartphones. This data is currently carried through sub-sea cables and stored in data centers around the world. But India’s footprint in data centres is miniscule—less than 2% of the global capacity. Also, no core data centre has been installed in India due to a lack in quality infrastructure with reliable power though edge data centres, that are small-scale and located close to business units, are already operational here.

Anbalagan said the first phase involves an investment of Rs.30,000 crore, half of which is FDI. The park will be built on 150 acres of land and the plot allotment is expected to start in January 2020. Phase-II of the park at Khalapur, where MIDC also owns land, will be even bigger, Anbalagan said. It will be on 500 of the total 2,000 acres of land.

A recent Parliament bill makes it necessary to have data originating in India to be stored within the country.

An assessment paper study by MIDC stated: “Global trends in data localization and privacy are also being reflected in India through the new incountry data residency regulations wherein the Supreme Court declared privacy as a fundamental right and the Justice BN Srikrishna Committee released its first draft of the Personal Data Protection Bill on July 27, 2018. Once the Personal Data Protection Bill 2018 gets enacted, the entire data storage volume generated in India will reside within Indian shores and will also be processed and analysed within Indian precincts.”

Two States: The Rise of NOTA

Six years after it was introduced, the ‘none of the above’ or NOTA option is beginning to increasingly count in elections in the country.

In the recent assembly election in Maharashtra, the number of voters choosing NOTA in Latur (Rural) and Palus-Kadegaon constituencies was second only to those who backed the winning candidates. In Haryana, there was one assembly seat, Thanesar, where the victory margin was less than the votes cast for NOTA.

Similarly, in Samastipur Lok Sabha bypoll, NOTA got 25,694 votes.

Perhaps contrary to the general perception, NOTA found more takers in rural India than in urban areas. Latur (Rural) and Palus-Kadegaon are both rural seats. In Latur (Rural), the Congress candidate Dhiraj Deshmukh won the seat by securing around 133,000 votes. His main rival, from the Shiv Sena, got 13,335 votes while as many as 27,287 voters pressed the button for NOTA.

In Palus-Kadegaon, the Congress candidate Vishwajeet Kadam secured victory with around 171,000 votes while his nearest rival, from the Shiv Sena, got only 8,976 votes. Here, too, NOTA got 20,631 votes to occupy the second position. Apart from these two seats, in Akkalkuwa, KC Padavi of the Congress defeated the Shiv Sena by 2,096 votes while NOTA registered 4,856 votes.

In Haryana, where many seats were decided with low margins, NOTA became a factor in a few seats. In Thanesar, BJP candidate Subhash Sudha defeated Ashok Kumar of the Congress by 842 votes while NOTA secured 951 votes in the constituency.

In the Jalalpur assembly by-election in Uttar Pradesh, SP candidate Subhash Rai defeated the BSP candidate Chhaya Verma by 790 votes, a margin which was lower than the 1,055 votes secured by NOTA.

NOTA was introduced in the 2013 assembly elections of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Delhi and Mizoram. Since then it has been used in two Lok Sabha elections and all the assembly elections.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Bihar led with the highest number of votes for NOTA. Out of the 40 seats in Bihar, 27 had more than 10,000 votes apiece for NOTA.

RuPay to be accepted in Saudi

India’s plan to take the domestic RuPay card network global has received a big boost with Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Saudi Arabia. One of the agreements signed with the Saudi administration this week was a memorandum of understanding between National Payments Corporation of India and Saudi Payments for acceptance of RuPay.

The agreement was signed by NPCI chief digital officer Arif Khan and Saudi Payments MD Ziyad Al Yusuf. The MoU comes soon after the launch of RuPay in the UAE during Modi’s visit to Abu Dhabi in August. The objective of launching the card in the region was to enable Indian visitors to use their RuPay cards in popular tourist destinations like Dubai. Currently, there are nearly half a billion RuPay cards in circulation. There are also plans to have UAE banks and Indian banks in the region issue RuPay cards locally. The domestic payment network was launched in 2012 to counter the dominance of global networks MasterCard and Visa.


Bobde Named 47th CJI

President Ram Nath Kovind appointed Justice SA Bobde, the second senior-most judge in the Supreme court after CJI Ranjan Gogoi, as the next Chief Justice of India. Bobde will be the 47th Chief Justice of India. He will hold office till April 23, 2021.

A notification issued by the Law Ministry under Article 124(2) said that the President was pleased to appoint Justice Bobde as the next CJI with effect from Nov 18, 2019. Justice Bobde will be sworn in at the Rashtrapati Bhavan the same day in a low-key ceremony.

CJI designate Bobde will take over at a crucial time when the country would still be coming to grips over the Ayodhya ruling of outgoing CJI Gogoi. Justice Bobde is part of the five judge bench which has reserved its order in the case.

He has spoken up repeatedly during the 40-day hearings in court on the need to bring the bitter acrimony between the two communities to an end.

“We cannot undo what has already happened. But we can put an end to the acrimony, heal the relationship between the two communities,” he had observed during the hearing.

Justice Bobde was also part of the internal committee which gave a clean chit to CJI Gogoi in the alleged sexual harassment case.

Bobde will also get a host of contentious issues such as the NRC, the BCCI and the Sahara case as a worrisome legacy from his predecessor.

CJI Ranjan Gogoi is expected to deliver a series of key rulings in the next week ahead of demitting office. These include the Ayodhya ruling, the Rafale and the Sabarimala reviews.

Gogoi will also rule on contempt petitions filed against Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi in connection with his chowkidar chor hai remarks in the Rafale case.

Though Rahul Gandhi had apologised to the court insisting that he had never attributed these remarks to it and that it was made in the rough and tumble of politics, the court is yet to formally give him a clean chit on the issue.

In Sabarimala, many individuals and cultural outfits have sought a review of a court ruling allowing women in their reproductive phases (from 10 to 50 years) to enter the temple of the bachelor god Ayappa. CJI Gogoi will also rule on that.

India will be the third largest economy by 2039

India presents the same economic opportunity as China did at the beginning of its boom phase, and will the third largest economy by 2039, according to Bloomberg. However, the country faces challenges in terms of disruptive forces such as automation, digitisation, climate change, protectionism, and populism.

According to a report released with Bloomberg’s New Economy Drivers & Disrupters Index, while India has favourable demographics and a far-reaching reforms agenda, which has the potential to supercharge growth, there is a barrier to rapid development. “The country is even more exposed to disruptive forces than China, as it is ranked 80th,” the report said.

The report highlights the complex challenges that come with this shift in power from the West to the East. It concludes that new economies are poorly positioned for the disruptive forces. “The ‘catch-up’ process — which has defined the global economy for the last 50 years, with low-income economies narrowing the gap with high income — isn’t over. It will become more complicated,” the report said.


Lutyens’ Delhi Revamp

The Centre has awarded the multi-crore project for development and redevelopment of Parliament building, Common Central Secretariat and Central Vista to Ahmedabad-based HCP Design, headed by Bimal Patel.

Patel is the mastermind behind Sabarmati river front development project, which was awarded and implemented when Narendra Modi was Gujarat’s chief minister. An alumnus of CEPT Ahmedabad, Patel is currently the president and acting director of his alma mater. His work and projects have been conferred with numerous awards. He was bestowed with the Padma Shri Award in 2019.

Announcing the award of consultancy work, minister of housing and urban affairs Hardeep Puri assured that no heritage structure would be demolished in Delhi. Ï assure you that North Block, South Block and Parliament House would remain as they are but their use may change,” he said, adding that new buildings are required to address lack of space for government offices and parliamentarians.

The government has set stringent deadlines for the consultant. HPC would now begin stakeholder consultations. Following this, the tender for Central Vista project would be awarded by May next year. The iconic Central Vista would be redeveloped by November 2021. The next project would be a new Parliament building, which has a deadline of August 2022.

When pointed out that Patel’s HPC had not handled a single heritage project of the scale required in these three ventures, Puri said, “Heritage experts would be brought in when the project is implemented. Domain experts and architects would be hired as associates to implement this project.” The minister said there was no question of touching real heritage of the national capital. “But I would like to take everybody on a guided tour of Shastri Bhawan and Lok Nayak Bhawan and if somebody finds even an inch of old heritage in these buildings, we would give up the redevelopment project,” Puri said. The government pays ₹1,000 crore as rent every year to accommodate its offices and ministries in the limited spaces available.

The government would make the final plan for redevelopment public.


Maharashtra: Eight ministers lose elections

In a major loss of face to chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, eight of his ministers were defeated in the polls. While it was expected that some would lose, the defeat of agriculture minister Anil Bonde was a big surprise as was that of high-profile rural development minister Pankaja Munde.

Daughter of veteran BJP leader, the late Gopinath Munde, she lost to her cousin and arch political rival Dhananjay Munde by a large margin of 31,000 votes.

Ever since Pankaja was inducted into the state cabinet five years ago she was at loggerheads with Dhananjay, the leader of opposition in the council, who had levelled charges of corruption against her. Another notable to bite the dust was Parinay Fuke, the minister of state for forest, and a trusted aide to the ex-chief minister. He lost to Congress candidate Nana Patole from Sakola district by a margin of 15,000 votes.

Employment guarantee minister Jaidutta Kshirsagar, who joined the Shiv Sena on the eve of the assembly elections, was defeated by his nephew Sandeep Kshirsagar from Beed. There was bad blood between the two for a long time. In fact, Sandeep had publicly abused Jaidutta at a public function in Beed district. Senior Shiv Sena leader and minister of state for textiles, Arjun Khotkar, was defeated from Jalna city by Congress’ Kailash Gorantiyal. According to reports, Khotkar’s defeat owed much to the local BJP leaders, who were unhappy that he had taken on the party’s leadership.

Minister for marketing Ram Shinde was defeated by Rohit Pawar, grand-nephew of Sharad Pawar, from Karjat Jamkhed constituency in Ahmednagar district. Though Shinde was confident of victory, Rohit was able to defeat him, as he had established a connect with his constituents in the last three years. Shinde had banked on Rohit losing due to his outsider status.

More shocking was the defeat of agriculture minister Anil Bonde by Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana leader Devendra Bhuyar from Morshi in Amravati district. Bhuyar polled 96,152 votes while Bonde secured 86,361 votes.

Minister of state for labour Bala Bhegade was defeated by NCP’s Sunil Shelke by a huge margin, while minister of state for water resources Vijay Shivtare lost to Congress’ Anil Jagtap.

Two States : Verdict decoded

This was not supposed to be a competitive round. After the big BJP wins in Maharashtra and Haryana in the Lok Sabha elections only 5 months ago and the widely perceived support for decisions on J&K, the party’s win was a given. However, voters sprang a surprise by denying BJP a majority in Haryana and restricting its mandate in Maharashtra. The outcome will disappoint BJP and could trigger introspection about the adequacy of its “nationalist” plank in local leagues, especially amid an economic slowdown. It does not undercut its political pre-eminence but sharply underscores the challenges to its bid for countrywide dominance that Congress once enjoyed.

The less-than-impressive saffron show just when it had seemed “unreachable” by a big distance is a tribute to the tenacity of the “local” — short-hand for personalities and factors that influence choices at the grassroots. They may be pushed to the background in an LS poll, yielding an overarching theme or a popular national leader like Narendra Modi, but return with vengeance in state elections. Results of by-elections and, in many cases, success of rebels are also a testimony to the resilience of the rooted. The Indian experience provides validation for former US Speaker Tip O’ Neill, who famously said all politics is local.

A slowing economy, unemployment and rural distress were issues and the jury is out on whether and to what degree they hurt BJP. Opposition parties predictably brought them up and pointed to a sullen mood. But to what ‘extent’ remains unresolved, considering that BJP picked up over 300 seats in the LS election against what some considered a very adverse setting. Also, BJP faced incumbency in both Haryana and Maharashtra and couldn’t have returned the numbers they did if they had faced large-scale resentment. Possibly, the discontent over kitchen table themes kept BJP from fully leveraging its assets

Caste solidarity which yielded to Modi’s personal popularity and the strength of his plank, proved its salience yet again.

The dominant castes of Marathas and Jats, who were feeling downsized, demonstrated their relevance.

The performance of Pawar and Hooda owe a lot to caste support which also boosted new regional satrap Dushyant Chautala. The staunch support from their kin allowed their leaders to forge formidable social constituencies at the local level

Difficult to say to what extent the seemingly popular move to do away with the special status for J&K helped or hindered BJP. For, finding a reliable answer would require complete clarity on how the party would have performed if the ‘nationalist’ issue had not been in play. Also, Congress leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda broke ranks with Rahul Gandhi to back the decision, while NCP’s Sharad Pawar and JJP’s Dushyant Chautala refrained from opposing it. But the slim win in Maharashtra and failure to score an outright win in Haryana will reinforce the view that local can trump national in regional arenas. Opposition parties may feel encouraged to resist BJP’s aggressive posture on the matter

From Arvind Kejriwal to Mamata Banerjee, regional satraps must be relieved.

For, an emphatic performance by BJP would have left it thirsting for similar feats on their turfs. It could also have lent impetus to JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar’s scarcely concealed plan to keep BJP as his junior partner in Bihar for the coming state elections had he not fared so poorly in the by-polls

Whether allegations of corruption influence polls has been debated endlessly with people voting out the allegedly corrupt only to bring them back the next time. This time too, graft charges failed to dent Pawar or Hooda. Pawar, in fact, shrewdly turned a courtdirected ED inquiry to fend off BJP’s aggressive designs


Ease of Doing Business: India rises 14 places

India has risen 14 places to the 63rd spot in the World Bank's latest ease-of-doing-business global rankings in 2019, after jumping ahead by 23 and 30 places in the past two years, respectively.

The World Bank’s ‘Doing Business 2020’ report, showed India's rank in ease of doing business jump from the 77 place among 190 countries. India had broken into the club of 100 nations easiest to conduct business two years ago when it managed to jump 30 spots from the 130th position.

The World Bank has named India as 'one of the economies with the most notable improvement' for the third year in a row, along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and neighboring Pakistan and China. "Given the size of India’s economy, these reform efforts are particularly commendable," the report said. In 2015 the government’s goal was to join the 50 top economies on the ease of doing business ranking by 2020.

India has been adjudged the ninth-best performing nation in reforming the business environment. The country improved its rankings in 7 of the 10 sub-categories used by the World Bank to judge business climate, as compared to 6 last year.

Among categories, the country had the best performance in 'Resolving Insolvency' where it jumped by 56 places to become the 52nd easiest place to address bankruptcy. Streamlined procedures allowed by the implementation of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code are largely to thank for this.

"Since its implementation, more than 2,000 companies have used the new law. Of these, about 470 have commenced liquidation and more than 120 have approved reorganization plans, with the remaining cases still pending.

As a result, reorganization has become the most likely procedure for viable companies as measured by Doing Business, increasing the overall recovery rate from 27 to 72 cents on the dollar," the World Bank said.

In the past, foreclosure was the most common procedure reported by legal practitioners in both Delhi and Mumbai with an approximate duration of 4.3 years.

In 'Dealing with Construction Permits', where it jumped by a massive 129 places in the previous year, India has managed to continue improving. It is now the 27th easiest place to construct a business unit. Improved transparency and streamlined procedures were behind India cleaning up its notoriously corrupt land sector and the financial transactions that come with it.

The country's third best improvement was in 'Trading across borders', where it rose 12 places to come in at the 68th spot. India also remained among the top-30 nations in the same three categories as last year — getting electricity, securing credit and protecting minority investors.

However, the World Bank noted that the country needed to do more in areas such as enforcing contracts and registering property where India ranks a dismal 163rd and 154th globally. Also, in the most fundamental of them all -- ease of starting a business -- India's rank rose by just a single place in the latest report.

The report quotes studies that have found that restrictive labour regulation in India is associated with a 35 per cent increase in firms’ unit labour costs while a 10 per cent increase in judicial quality increases firm sales by 1–2 per cent.

The report ranked India top among the South Asian nations. In the neighborhood, China has moved up to 31st position from the 46th rank while Pakistan rose from 136th place to become the 108th easiest to do business in nation.

India is among 11 major economies for which the World Bank took into account two specific metropolitan areas, in this case, Delhi and Mumbai. Other cities may be added in the assessment, from next year on, government officials have hinted.

Government opens fuel retail to non-oil firms

The government opened up fuel retailing norms, allowing non-oil companies to set up petrol pumps to increase competition.

I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar said the opening up of fuel retailing will increase investment and competition. At present, to obtain a fuel retailing licence in India, a company needs to invest Rs.2,000 crore in either hydrocarbon exploration and production, refining, pipelines or liquefied natural gas  terminals.

“The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs has approved review of guidelines for giving authorisation for marketing of transportation fuel,” he said. Companies with Rs.250 crore turnover can enter fuel retailing, subject to condition that 5% of the outlets will be in rural areas.

BSNL, MTNL to be merged

Bringing good news ahead of Diwali for employees of BSNL and MTNL, the Union Cabinet approved revival of the two Public Sector Undertakings with in-principle approval of their merger, allotment of 4G spectrum services, debt restructuring by raising of bonds with sovereign guarantee, and reducing employee costs and monetisation of assets.

Union Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, “There would be administrative allotment of spectrum for 4G services to BSNL and MTNL so as to enable these PSUs to provide broadband and other data services.”

He said the spectrum will be funded by Government of India by capital infusion in these PSUs at a value of Rs.20,140 crore in addition. The GST amount of Rs.3,674 crore to this spectrum value will also be borne by the government through budgetary resources. By using this spectrum allotment, BSNL and MTNL will be able to deliver 4G services, compete in the market and provide high speed data using their vast network including in rural areas.

Both BSNL and MTNL will also raise long-term bonds of Rs.15,000 crore for which sovereign guarantee will be provided by the Centre.

Also on offer is a Voluntary Retirement scheme for employees of the PSUs who have reached the age of 50 years. The cost of VRS – about Rs.17,169 crore – will be met through budgetary support. Operational cost of the PSUs will be met through monetising the assets.

“The VRS package approved by the Cabinet will give eligible employees 125 per cent of income that they would have earned by serving the company till the age of 60 years. With this decision, we have taken care of the interest of lakhs of employees of these PSUs,” Prasad said.

BSNL has around 1.68 lakh employees and MTNL around 22,000.


Bring govt stake in PSBs below 51%: Banerjee

Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee called for reducing the government equity in public sector banks to below 51 per cent to remove the fear psychosis among bankers.

Addressing a press conference , Banerjee said fear of investigation by the Central Vigilance Commission in default cases has paralysed the banking system and bankers are scared to lend. Reducing government equity in public sector banks under 51 per cent takes them out of the CVC’s purview.

The fear of a CVC probe, he said, in case of loan defaults has paralysed bankers and the banking system and this power should be taken away.

"It leads to hiding of defaults, which creates problems. So, I want the government to have less equity in banks so that the fear psychosis in banking sector is eliminated," he said. There are enough checks and balances in the banking system and the CVC has been very heavy-handed in its approach, he added. Asked about the crisis in the banking system, Banerjee said it is “frightening”.


Pakistan firm on $20 Kartarpur fee

With Pakistan refusing to budge on charging Sikh pilgrims $20 to visit Kartarpur Sahib, India gave in and agreed to sign the Kartarpur Corridor agreement on October 23.

Expressing “disappointment”, MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said the government had conveyed to Pakistan that it would sign the deal. The Indian concession came even as Indian and Pakistani forces are ranged along the LoC in a heavy exchange of fire.

“It is a matter of disappointment that while understanding has been reached on most of the elements for facilitating the visit of pilgrims from India, Pakistan continues to insist on levying a service fee of $20 per pilgrim per visit,” Kumar said.

“In view of the long-pending demand of pilgrims to have visa free access to Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib and in the interest of operationalisation of the corridor in time before Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary on November 12, the government conveyed that India would be ready to sign the agreement on Wednesday,” the MEA said. The government added that it had taken the initiative to put in place “state-of-the-art infrastructure” for the passenger terminal, roads and associated facilities.

Islamabad has refused to accede to India’s request not to charge pilgrims for visiting Kartarpur Sahib. Some estimates say Pakistan could earn as much as $100,000 a day from around 5,000 pilgrims. Earlier this week, the MEA had taken a tougher stand and said the government may not sign the agreement unless Pakistan reversed the fee. Pakistan is actually well within its rights to charge a fee. It is in recognition of that the government decided to climb down.

The corridor will connect the Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Punjab with the gurdwara in Kartarpur, just 4 km from the International Border, located in Narowal district of Pakistan’s Punjab province.

What delays justice in lower courts?

The reason for judicial delay is not so much the high pendency of cases but issues such as judges’ absence, repeated adjournments and the courts refusing to simplify processes, a recent study has found. More than 60% of court time is spent on reasons other than court functioning.

A study by Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, found that on an average, it took over 122 weeks, or around two-and-a-half years, for a litigant to get a judgment. Only 41% of this time, or 36 weeks, was spent in court functioning, the remaining period was spent in awaiting orders/instructions from the high court (22 weeks) and adjournments for absence of judges because the presiding officer was either busy or on leave or on transfer order (17 weeks).

“There is a huge delay due to the processes of court functioning during the trial stage for reasons namely non-attendance of witnesses, non-appearance of lawyers, lengthy oral arguments, arbitrary adjournments and delayed judgments,” the study said.

Adjournment for even passing judgment took an average nine weeks, while court holidays and strikes consumed about five weeks. Then there were other causes of delay such as the absence of lawyers of both plaintiff and the defendant and quite often, court entertaining requests for postponement due to delay in producing required information.

To understand court processes and re-engineering opportunities to improve court efficiency for justice delivery, the law ministry had last year assigned the study to IIM-Calcutta. Three professors of the institute — R Rajesh Babu, Sumanta Basu and Indranil Bose — analysed 40 randomly picked civil cases of different types from the jurisdiction of 24 South Parganas district court to understand the reasons for delays.

On repeated adjournments, the study found absence of lawyers was often a common factor. “Since advocates have to deal with multiple cases at the same time, they can’t be present everywhere, hence some cases have to be delayed. Lawyers also continue to take long dates so as to cover the tenure of the current judge (the tenure of a judge is for a period of 2-3 years) and present the case afresh to new judge,” it said.

The IIM professors said, “Judicial delay and the access to justice issues have led to affirm the belief that law is the convenience of the powerful. Law and the judicial system must work equally for all sections of society, yet it runs parallel between two different sections of society — one for the rich and the resourceful, and the rest with no or limited resources.”

Delay reduction programmes, however, needed to be checked at micro level rather than providing general prescriptions for major causes of delay, they added. To understand sources of delays, study interviewed litigants and lawyers and found a case usually got only 5-6 dates in a year.

Pakistan slammed for stopping postal mail service to India

India slammed Pakistan for unilaterally stopping postal mail service between the two nations, saying the move was in contravention of international norms.

Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said Pakistan resorted to the move without giving any prior notice to India. “Pakistan’s decision is directly in contravention of international postal union norms. But Pakistan is Pakistan,” Prasad, who is the Minister for Communications and IT, said.

The minister added that Pakistan “without any prior notice or information has stopped sending postal department’s letter to India”.

With Pakistan refusing to accept and send mails through the post, from and to India, Indian postal authorities have been compelled to put mail addressed to the country on hold.

The latest move is unprecedented as the postal mail service had continued in the past even through the partition, wars, and cross-border tensions.

Niti Aayog Kick-Starts Work on 2035 Vision Document

The NITI Aayog has kick-started the exercise for drafting the Vision Document 2035, a 15-year vision for India starting from 2020, with a mandate for a paradigm shift in policy thinking and formulation.

The Prime Minister’s Office has directed the Aayog to engage the best Indian and overseas subject experts for consultation while preparing the document, saying business-as-usual approach will not work..

The directive from above is to think globally and act locally, whereby we are identifying best experts and practices worldwide across a dozen sectors to draft an outcome oriented document with policy prescriptions that can bring about a shift in approach to addressing India’s key problems of unemployment, lower exports and stagnation in the agricultural sector.

While the key chapters in the vision document have yet to be finalised, the government’s think tank is holding deliberations on important issues such as using data for improving governance, ways to push rural income, measures to boost Industry 4.0, making India a preferred manufacturing destination.

Exit Polls Hand BJP Big Wins

Exit polls have predicted a resounding victory for the Bharatiya Janata Party in both Maharashtra and Haryana. Most polls have given nearly three-fourths majority to the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena combine in Maharashtra, and a similar margin to the BJP in Haryana.

By this count, incumbents Devendra Fadnavis and Manohar Lal are on course for second terms as chief ministers in their respective states.

In Maharashtra, the range for BJP-Shiv Sena oscillated from a maximum of 243 seats to a minimum of 180, comfortably above the halfway mark of 144. In Haryana, most polls gave the BJP more than 70 seats in a House of 90.

The Times NOW exit poll gave 230 out of the 288 seats in Maharashtra to the BJP-Sena alliance, and 71 seats in the 90-seat Haryana assembly to the BJP. The CNN-ISPOS poll gave 243 seats to the ruling alliance in Maharashtra and 75 seats to the BJP in Haryana, while the ABP-CVoter exit poll gave 204 seats to BJP-Sena in Maharashtra and 72 seats to the BJP in Haryana. The prediction by India Today-Axis was on the lower side — giving 180 seats to BJP-Sena.

The BJP would see these projections as a big public endorsement of key decisions such as the withdrawal of Article 370 from J&K and the aggressive approach towards Pakistan.

Going by the exit poll projections for Maharashtra, the BJP-Sena strategy to campaign on the twin planks of nationalism and the administrative record of its state seems to have paid off. Besides Article 370, this would include raising the emotive issue of promising Bharat Ratna to VD Savarkar.

Some opinion polls showed Sharad Pawarled NCP overtaking the Congress. It was evident during campaigning — which saw Pawar launching an all-out charge given his high stakes in the polls — that the listless canvassing by ally Congress was proving to be a drag on NCP’s efforts. Exit polls appear to be indicating that possibility.

In Haryana, the exit polls indicate the BJP may have succeeded in making an impact through its campaign on Article 370 and a corruption-free government in the state. Manohar Lal getting a second term would signal a major shift in Haryana politics, making him the first non-Jat to be elected chief minister for consecutive terms.

At least three exit polls predicted three-fourths majority for the BJP in Haryana, with Congress finishing a poor second. Jatcentric parties — INLD and Jannayak Janta Party — appear to have been decimated.

The exit polls indicate the BJP has come close to replicating its performance in the 2019 general elections. Results for the elections will be declared on Thursday.


Army Destroys Pak Posts, PoK Terrorist Camps

The Indian Army has said that it caused heavy damage to Pakistan Army posts, gun positions and terrorist launch pads in Pakistan occupied Kashmir in cross-border firing . Six to 10 Pakistani soldiers are estimated to have been killed and several injured in Neelam Valley and near Leepa in PoK in the firing.

The retaliation follows Pakistan Army’s ‘unprovoked’ firing, including use of artillery guns, along the LoC in J&K’s Tangdhar sector to assist the infiltration of terrorists around midnight, officials said. Two Indian soldiers and a civilian were killed and three other civilians injured in the Pak firing.

“Last night, the Pakistan Army initiated unprovoked ceasefire violation to assist infiltration by terrorists into Indian territories. As a result, calibrated escalation of area weapons was undertaken by the Indian side in which terrorist launch pads, Pakistan Army posts giving incidental protection to these launch pads and certain gun positions, were hit,” the Army said.

Northern Army Commander Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh said that the counter-infiltration system along the LoC has been strengthened this year by deploying new surveillance systems and additional troops.

“We have put in a systematic and robust counter infiltration grid and foiled most of the infiltration attempts close to LoC. This year, we have further refined and deployed additional tiers of the CI grid so that if a terrorist gets past one tier, he can get caught in another tier. There are several tiers for the CI grid between the LoC and the hinterland,” he said.

Officials said the system will be automated. “Our surveillance equipment will identify an infiltrator and troops respond to the threat. It is work in progress. This year, we refined it,” an official said.

About 500 terrorists are undergoing training and preparing to infiltrate from 16 to 18 camps in PoK, despite the threat of the Financial Action Task Force sanctions on Pakistan, officials claim. Singh added that Pakistan is now trying to infiltrate terrorists through India’s international borders with it and other countries.

Mumbai: Versova-Ghatkopar Metro One crosses 60 cr ridership in 5 years

Over five years after it began operations in June 2014, Metro One (Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar) crossed the 60-crore ridership landmark.

The 12-km-long corridor is an important east-west connector as it connects Western Railway in Andheri to Ghatkopar on the Central Railway via Andheri-Kurla Road, which has emerged as an important business district.

R-Infra-promoted Metro One Pvt Ltd, which operates this corridor, stated every additional 10 crore is noteworthy as the number of days it takes to reach the milestone has been consistently decreasing.

Mumbai Metro One operates 422 daily trips on weekdays. It operated 1,35,248 trips between October 2018 and September 2019 with punctuality performance of 99.9% and train availability of 100%.

An MMOPL spokesperson said, “The impressive growth in commuters is attributed to our persistent efforts to provide safety, security, cleanliness, reliability and comfort to our commuters.”

One of the major reasons for people switching to Metro is the average road travel time from Ghatkopar to Versova is drastically cut from 120 minutes to a little over 20 minutes.


IMF Lowers Growth Estimate to 6.1%

The International Monetary Fund cut its estimate for India’s growth this year to 6.1% from 7% projected in July, calling on the country to use monetary policy and broad-based structural reforms to address cyclical weakness and strengthen confidence.

“India’s economy is set to grow at 6.1% in 2019, picking up to 7% in 2020,” the IMF said in its latest World Economic Outlook, adding that the downward revision reflected a weaker-than-expected outlook for domestic demand.

Forecast for next fiscal has been cut to 7% from 7.2% estimated earlier.

India suffered the sharpest cut, next only to Saudi Arabia, which saw a reduction of 1.7 percentage points to its growth forecast to 0.2% for 2019. China’s growth forecast was cut 0.1 percentage point to 6.1% for 2019. The world economy is expected to grow by 3%, marginally lower than 3.2% projected in July.

In India, growth has softened on the back of corporate and environmental regulatory uncertainty with concerns about the health of the nonbank financial sector further weighing in, the IMF said in World Economic Outlook: Global Manufacturing Downturn, Rising Trade Barriers.

Most agencies have cut growth estimates for India in view of the slowdown. RBI lowered its growth projection for the fiscal year to 6.1% from 6.9%. The World Bank on Sunday lowered its forecast for the current fiscal year to 6%, down from 7.5% in April, and said the main policy challenge for the country is to address the sources of softening private consumption and the structural factors behind weak investment. The Asian Development Bank has lowered its India growth forecast from 7.2% to 6.5%. Ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service last week lowered its growth forecast for India to 5.8% for the current fiscal year from 6.2%.

The economy grew at its slowest pace in six years at 5% in the June quarter. Industrial production contracted 1.1% in August, the worst performance in almost seven years.

Apart from using monetary policy and structural reforms to address cyclical weakness and strengthen confidence, a credible fiscal consolidation path is needed to lower India’s elevated public debt over the medium term, the IMF said.

This should be supported by subsidy rationalisation and tax-base enhancing measures, along with land and labour reforms.

“Governance of public sector banks and the efficiency of their credit allocation needs strengthening, and the public sector’s role in the financial system needs to be reduced,” it said, adding that reforms to hiring and dismissal regulations would help incentivise job creation and absorb the country’s large demographic dividend. Land reforms should also be enhanced to encourage and expedite infrastructure development, it added.

“Growth will be supported by the lagged effects of monetary policy easing, a reduction in corporate income tax rates, recent measures to address corporate and environmental regulatory uncertainty, and government programmes to support rural consumption,” it said.

To help revive the economy, the central bank has cut rates five times this year and the government has unveiled several measures including a reduction in corporate tax.

Global growth is projected to improve modestly to 3.4% in 2020, a downward revision of 0.1 percentage point from July projections, according to the IMF. Growth in advanced economies is projected to slow to 1.7% in 2019 and 2020, while emerging market and developing economies are projected to experience a growth pickup from 3.9% in 2019 to 4.6% in 2020.

“About half of this is driven by recoveries or shallower recessions in stressed emerging markets, such as Turkey, Argentina, and Iran, and the rest by recoveries in countries where growth slowed significantly in 2019 relative to 2018, such as Brazil, Mexico, India, Russia, and Saudi Arabia,” the IMF said.

FASTags must for NH toll from 1st December

Planning to drive to Goa for Christmas? Better get a FASTag, a reloadable RFID tag linked to a pre-paid account that enables automatic deduction of toll charges as you pass the gate, since they will be mandatory at national highway toll posts from December 1.

According to a Union road transport circular earlier this year, all lanes at the NH toll plazas will turn FASTag lanes, and anybody without one has to pay double the fee. There is such a provision under the National Highways Fee (Determination of Rates and Collection) Rules, 2008, and the ministry now wants to “strictly implement” the rule.

For the citizens of Mumbai, FASTags will be a must beyond the city limits. The RFID tags will become mandatory at the Mumbai entry point toll booths (Vashi, Airoli, Mulund, LBS, Dahisar), the Banda-Worli Sea Link and the Pune Expressway only in March 2020.

State government officials explained it will take time for the state highway toll booths to join the National Highway Authority of India in making FASTag mandatory. “Though we have signed an informal agreement with NHAI to go ahead with FASTag, we need to prepare certain agreements and enable contractors with the new modalities of toll collection. Since contract terms are different at different locations and we have multiple agencies (such as MSRDC, PWD and local corporations), such a procedure for state-run toll booths will take time to evolve. We hope that two-three months after the Centre starts its system, we will be in a position to join it,” said a Mantralaya official.

This is transport minister Nitin Gadkari’s latest attempt to implement the technology for seamless travel through toll plazas. It is presently operational at 407 toll plazas across national and state highways. On Monday, the minister met with state officials to push the technology.

At the Mumbai entry points, it was started but after an initial response, interest has petered off. So, the toll booths are usually triggers for traffic jams and contribute to higher consumption of fuel and more pollution.

The MSRDC and PWD have signed an in-principle agreement with the Indian Highways Management Company, the highway traffic management arm of the surface transport ministry, to adopt the FASTag system. Preparations are underway for PWD and MSRDC to start FASTags at 73 toll booths across the state

Maharashtra: BJP's manifesto

The BJP released its manifesto, promising to propose the names of Veer Savarkar, Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, Savitribai Phule and Annabhau Sathe for the Bharat Ratna. It also said it would create a crore jobs in the state over the next five years and spend Rs.5 lakh crore on infrastructure.

The manifesto also said all proposed memorials, including the ones for Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in the Arabian Sea, Babasaheb Ambedkar in Worli and Balasaheb Thackeray at Shivaji Park in Dadar, would be completed.

A memorial to A B Vajpayee would also be built.

The Savarkar announcement triggered sharp reactions from the opposition, which accused the saffron party of showing its “true colours” of hardline Hindutva.

For the BJP, the focus on Savarkar sits well with the assertion by its president Amit Shah that nationalism and defanging of Article 370 were relevant in the state election.

While Hindu nationalists hail Savarkar as a freedom fighter, the Congress, especially Rahul Gandhi, maintains he kowtowed to the British.

The BJP looks up to Savarkar as a national icon, as does the Sangh Parivar, as he formulated the theory of Hindutva in the early 1920s. Savarkar was never a part of the RSS but was president of the Hindu Mahasabha for five years starting 1937.

The promise comes at a time when BJP ally Shiv Sena has been pushing for a Bharat Ratna for Savarkar. The move is seen by a section of political observers as part of the BJP attempt to take an emotive issue away from its now-junior ally in the state. The inclusion of social reformers Sathe and the Phules, all of whom fought for elimination of the caste system, in the Bharat Ratna wish-list is expected to roundoff the BJP proposal with an inclusive touch.

The manifesto also said a crore families would be connected to self-help groups and internet connectivity would be provided across the state. “The manifesto has been prepared keeping future needs and challenges in mind,” CM Devendra Fadnavis said.

Housing for all by 2022, the flagship scheme of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, will be accomplished along with drinking water connectivity and basic civic infrastructure, said the manifesto.

The state along with the Centre will spend Rs.5 lakh crore on infrastructure, besides a separate fund for road infrastructure, said the manifesto. Fadnavis said that given the fact that road construction agencies were overburdened, a separate agency would be set for maintenance of roads. The party also promised it would complete 30,000 km of village roads in the next five years and provide timely rehabilitation to project-affected persons.

Nadda, who was former Union health minister, said 40 lakh people would be covered for healthcare and health check-up at the age of 30, which would be compulsory and provided free of cost. Education will be another focus area with institutes like IIT, IIM and AIIMS being set up in the state and the scope of scholarships will also be increased.

While the BJP in government will provide social security for labourers it will provide financial aid to settle families of deceased army and police personnel, said the manifesto. Released only in Marathi, the manifesto promises a drought-free state in the next five years, 11 dams to create a water grid for drought-hit Marathwada and water harvesting for the Konkan region so that its excess rainwater does not drain into the sea. “It is a multi-dimensional document which focuses on connectivity, agriculture, youth, education, health,” said Nadda.

At the press conference to release the manifesto, Fadnavis defended the decision to make Article 370 an issue for the assembly election, saying the Congress and NCP were criticising it as they had no issues for the polls. “Their 15-year rule in the state was unsuccessful. The entire country is for Article 370 and the Congress and NCP are against it. We need to take this to the people and so we will talk about it,” he said.

On the ongoing crisis at the PMC Bank, Fadnavis said once the government is sworn in he would meet the union finance minister and ensure the depositors get relief.

FATF: Malaysia, Turkey & China help Pak stay out of blacklist

Paris-based international terror financing watchdog, Financial Action Task Force kept Pakistan on the Grey List and warned that the country would be blacklisted if it failed to take action against terror funding and money laundering by February, when the next plenary is due.

A statement issued by the global body said, “Strongly urge(d) Pakistan to swiftly complete its full action plan by February 2020. Otherwise, should significant and sustainable progress not be made across the full range of its action plan by next Plenary, the FATF will take action.”

At the end of the plenary, FATF voiced concern over Pakistan’s failure to act on its 27-point action plan with Islamabad showing compliance only in five of them. Pakistan has consistently underperformed on all the parameters that had been set for it, particularly on the 27-point action plan, going past 15-month deadline.

Islamabad needed three votes to stay out of the blacklist, which it secured from Malaysia, Turkey and China. However, in the discussions, there was a general consensus on a few things — first that Pakistan was not in compliance on most of the action items; second, China would lead the brigade to keep Pakistan out of the blacklist. Sources present at the discussions said China, US, Germany, France, UK, Turkey and Malaysia, among others, agreed to this enhanced warning to Pakistan, creating a consensus.

The FATF statement said global financial institutions would be instructed to pay “special attention to business relations and transactions with Pakistan”. This is the same language which has been used for Iran, already on the Black List.


India democracy-loving, capitalist-respecting: FM

Investors can find no better place in the world than India that has a democracy-loving and capitalist-respecting environment, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has said.

She also assured international investors at an interaction session at the IMF’s headquarters that the government was continuously working to bring reforms.
“It (India) is one of the fastest growing (economies) even today. It has the best skilled manpower and a government that is continuously doing what is required in the name of reforms, above all democracy and rule of law,” Sitharaman said.

Responding to a question on why investors should allocate funds for India, she said that even if the court system is a bit delayed, India is a transparent and open society.

The rule of law works and there are a lot of reforms happening, even those to cut down delays, she said.

“So you will not have anything better... democracy-loving, capitalist-respecting environment... in India,” Sitharaman said at the event hosted by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry in association with the US India Strategic and Partnership Forum. Responding to questions from major insurance companies, who urged her to remove the cap on investment in this sector, she said the government needs to understand what the expectations of the sector are other than removing of the cap.

Sitharaman said she would be quite open to it and they could send her the details. The Union finance minister, however, said she will not be able to give them an assurance at this point of time, but will work on the matter.

Asserting that the government is engaging with everyone on a weekly basis and there is no trust deficit with the corporate sector and investors, she said there is a greater understanding that this government is willing to hear and wanting to respond.

The government is committed to maintaining fiscal deficit in India, she said. To a question on the slowdown in the Indian economy, the finance minister said the government is taking steps to address problems in the “stressed” sectors.

Earlier in the day in New York, US-India Strategic Partnership Forum in partnership with FICCI, Bank of America and Citibank hosted an interaction with institutional investors. Senior members of the New York financial services industry were present for this round table that included insurance companies, debt restructuring companies, private equity, equity investors and banks. 

Of Innovative states....

Karnataka has emerged as the most innovative major state in India. Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Telangana, Haryana, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh round off the top 10 major states, according to Niti Aayog’s India Innovation Index 2019.

The top 10 major states are largely concentrated in southern and western India. Sikkim and Delhi take the top spots among north-eastern and hill states, and Union Territories / city states /small states respectively. Delhi, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Uttar Pradesh are the most efficient states in translating inputs into output, according to the report.

The index shows that the innovation ecosystem of the country is strong in the southern and western parts of India. In fact, three of the top five major states are from south India.

Delhi and Haryana seem to be exceptions to this trend and did well on the index. Thus, there seems to be a west-south and north-east divide across the country.

The states were divided into three categories — major states, north-east and hill states, and UTs /city states / small states. Karnataka is the leader in the overall rankings in the category of states. Karnataka’s position in the overall ranking is partly attributed to its top rank in the performance dimension, the report said.

It is also among the top performers in infrastructure, knowledge workers, knowledge output and business environment. Among major states, Maharashtra performs the best in dimension of enablers. This implies that it has the best enabling environment for innovation, even though the state comes in at the third position in the overall innovation index.

The broad level learnings and some policy imperatives at the national level include increasing spending on research and development, and improving the capability of top rung educational institutions in the country to produce greater innovation outputs.

The Innovation Index is calculated as the average of the scores of its two dimensions — enablers and performance. Enablers are factors that underpin innovative capacities, grouped in five pillars: human capital, investment, knowledge workers, business environment, and safety and legal environment. Performance dimension captures benefits that a nation derives from inputs, divided into two pillars: knowledge output and knowledge diffusion.

India’s flight to Jaffna

Sri Lanka President M Sirisena inaugurated the Jaffna international airport, which was redeveloped at Rs.1,950 million (Sri Lankan rupee) of which India funded Rs.300 million (Sri Lankan rupee). An Alliance Air flight from Chennai touched down to mark commencing of commercial operations at the airport after 40 years following the LTTE-led civil war in the island nation.

Sri Lanka is looking at further collaboration with India, especially South India, to develop northern province.

At the inauguration Sri Lanka PM Ranil Wickremesinghe said that India-Sri Lanka collaboration has potential for economic development of Jaffna region. “India has shown willingness to develop Jaffna. India has invested Sri Lankan Rs.300 million to develop Jaffna airport. We should settle all issues by internal discussions.”

Northern province governor Suren Raghavan said the development of Jaffna airport was a step to improve the area. Talking about the significance of Alliance Air flight landing, he said, “This is not a mere opening of an airport but to rebuild relations with international destinations.” However, he pointed out the need to hand over land to around 2,000 families staying near Jaffna airport. “They are still like refugees.”

High commissioner of India to Sri Lanka Taranjit Singh Sandhu said bilateral relations have now truly touched the sky!


Trade deficit hits 7-month low

India’s exports contracted 6.57% in September as shipments of petroleum, engineering, gems & jewellery and chemicals fell. Imports declined 13.85% to a three-year low of $36.89 billion, indicating weak domestic demand in a slowing economy.

The drop in shipments of petroleum, engineering, leather, chemicals and gems & jewellery made India's exports shrink to $26.03 billion. The trade deficit narrowed to a seven-month low of $10.86 billion from $14.95 billion a year earlier and $13.45 billion in August.

Only eight out of 30 key export sectors showed growth in September. Electronic exports rose 33%.

China’s exports dropped 8.5% last month while imports decreased 3.2% from a year earlier.

India’s exports of gems & jewellery, engineering goods and petroleum products contracted 5.56%, 6.2% and 18.6%, respectively.

Gold imports plunged 50.82% to $1.27 billion. Non-oil and non-gold imports fell 8.8% in September, indicating weak domestic demand.


World Bank cuts India's growth forecast to 6%

The World Bank sharply lowered India’s economic growth projection for the financial year to 6%, against the original estimate of 7.5%, joining a host of agencies that have downgraded the forecast since the RBI pared its estimate at the start of the month.

India’s growth rate, which was faster than China’s until a few quarters ago, is now expected to be slower than Bangladesh and Nepal, the World Bank said in its report on South Asia, while linking the slowdown in the region to global factors.

In what was a reference to GST, the multilateral agency warned that the challenges with indirect tax reforms, weakness in rural economy and high rate of urban unemployment may also impact the poverty reduction initiative.

The report identified softening consumption due to slow growth in rural incomes, domestic demand and credit from NBFCs as a key challenge. Structural factors behind weak investment was the other concern flagged by the World Bank.

“The remarkable weakness of Indian economic activity during the first half of 2019 is largely driven by external and cyclical factors. However, during this downturn several structural problems have come to the surface. One of these problems is related to vulnerabilities in the financial markets that have constrained credit supply. Financial sector reforms are needed to bring India back to a rapid growth path,” it said. The international agency, however, expected a pick up from the next financial year and estimated that GDP growth would accelerate to 6.9%.

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon to Back NavIC

Qualcomm Technologies said its new snapdragon chipsets for mobile phones would support location tracking using NavIC, the satellite navigation system developed by India as a local alternative to the US Global Positioning System.

Snapdragon chipsets are used in most mobile phones sold in India. The American chipmaker said it built the NavIC support with the help of its India team.

“The initiative will help accelerate the adoption of NavIC and enhance the geolocation capabilities of mobile, automotive and the Internet of Things solutions in the region — with the backing of engineering talent in India,” Qualcomm said in a statement.

Snapdragon chipsets power the midrange smartphones that run on the Android platform. Qualcomm said it would launch commercial products with NavIC support from the first half of 2020. “NavIC is a critical step forward in our pursuit of harnessing space technology for national development and we are eager to make it accessible to everyone for their day to day use. Qualcomm technologies’ leadership and support for NavIC on their mobile platforms will bring the benefits of this indigenous solution to every Indian,” Isro chairman K Sivan was quoted as saying in the statement.

India-born Abhijit Banerjee Wins 2019 Economics Nobel

Indian-American Abhijit Banerjee, along with Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer, won the 2019 economics Nobel for their work on finding new ways to tackle poverty. Duflo, a French-American, and Banerjee have been married for four years. They teach in Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They are the first couple to win the economics Nobel, and the sixth Nobel-winning couple. Kremer is with Harvard University.

The Nobel citation said the work of the three economists has “…improved efforts to … fight global poverty” by breaking down a complex problem into “smaller, more manageable questions”.

Congratulatory tweets to Banerjee from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, external affairs minister S Jaishankar as well as CMs Arvind Kejriwal and Mamata Banerjee, were among many such messages from India and globally.

Banerjee is the second India-born to get the economics Nobel — the formal award is called the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. Duflo is the second woman to receive the prize.

Amartya Sen, winner of the economics Nobel in 1998, also congratulated Banerjee. Born in Calcutta (as Kolkata was called then) in 1961, Banerjee’s early education was in the city’s South Point School and his college was Presidency. After a masters in economics from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Banerjee got his PhD from Harvard.

Banerjee and Duflo’s work on poverty first drew global attention with the publication of their 2011 book, Poor Economics. In that widely acclaimed volume, the two Nobel Laureates had written: “…we have to abandon the habit of reducing the poor to cartoon characters and take the time to really understand their lives, in all their complexity and richness.”

The authors’ insights included why poor families often invest in the education of only one of several children or why small farmers are often reluctant to use better farming methods. Their central thesis was that small changes, including tweaks in existing structures, often produced lasting and big outcomes in reducing poverty. That book also brought attention to the usefulness of a new field research method for economics: the randomised controlled trial — used in pharmaceutical drug testing.

Banerjee has spoken on some of India’s current public policy debates. Speaking to CNBC-TV 18 after the announcement of the Nobel prize, Banerjee said India’s economy is “on shaky ground”, and that hope for growth revival is uncertain.

During the 2019 general election campaign, Congress said he was one of three economists the party had consulted while framing its universal basic income scheme — NYAY. Banerjee had told the media later than for NYAY to be funded, extra resources will have to be found. He was also one of the 108 academics who signed a letter that criticised government data analyses.

Banerjee and Duflo’s second book, Good Economics for Hard Times, is set for publication, and it draws on many current debates globally on public policy.

His work on development economics got Banerjee the Nobel, but his early approach to economics was heavily mathematical, people who knew him well during his college and post-graduate years said. Batchmates describe him as a “quant”, an oft-used term in academia for the mathematically gifted. His Harvard PhD was mathematics-heavy analyses of herd behaviour in stock markets under information asymmetry.

Those who know him said Banerjee was never a “nerd”, he read widely and was academically brilliant. He was a “fun guy” with a keen interest in Indian classical music that he inherited from his economist father, late Dipak Banerjee. But like his wide-ranging intellectual interests, Banerjee’s taste in music is also eclectic, said his friends.

Total to Buy 37.4% Stake in Adani Gas

French energy giant Total will buy 37.4% stake in Adani Gas, marking another big-ticket entry of a global major in India’s energy market after Shell and BP which are already in India, and Reliance Industries Ltd’s talks for a possible sale of 20% of its core oil-to-chemicals division to Saudi Aramco.

Total will acquire the stake with an open offer to buy up to 25.2% at ₹149.63 a share, but the share closed at ₹150.60 on Monday, after rising 9.4%. The French oil & gas firm will top up its stake in Adani Gas to 37.4% by buying the required number of shares from the promotors after the outcome of the open offer is known. It has a market value of ₹16,563 crore based on Monday’s closing price.

The Adani family and Total will ultimately hold 37.4% each, while public shareholders will own the remaining 25.2% in the firm that has set up city gas networks and won licences for many more.

Adani operates networks in Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Faridabad, Palwal and Khurja, and has started operations in many cities including Prayagraj, Chandigarh, Ernakulam and Bulandshahar, apart from winning many new licences, which makes it attractive for firms like Total.

Adani Group chairman Gautam Adani said that Total’s investment was a game changer for the company and that it was aligned with the vision of the government and the sector regulator. “It would transform Adani Gas as a world-class integrated gas distribution and fuel retailing company, catering to 8% of India’s population across 15 states with reliable and environment-friendly piped natural gas to over 6 million homes,” he said.

Total’s partnership with Adani includes regasification terminals in Dhamra in Odisha and also potentially in Mundra, Gujarat. Total is also looking at extending its partnership with Adani to the solar energy space, said Pouyanne.

Adani Gas aims to expand its distribution of gas in the next 10 years through its 38 concessions and market natural gas to industrial, commercial and domestic customers, as well as through 1,500 retail outlets of natural gas for vehicles, said Total.

International energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie said Adani Gas was attractive to Total for many reasons including having LNG terminals on the east coast, where there is less competition from other terminals.

India plans to raise the share of natural gas in the primary energy mix to 15% by 2030 from 6% now. The country imports half of its gas requirement.

The downstream regulator has recently awarded city gas licences for about 186 geographical areas, in which Adani Gas was one of the biggest winners of licences.

Adani and Total already have a joint venture that aims to build 1,500 petrol pumps across the country.

Maharashtra’s per-capita health spend at bottom of pile

Fewer children die at birth in Maharashtra now than a decade ago. The number of mothers dying during childbirth, too, has reduced to levels lower than what WHO and United Nations have set as a sustainable development goal: 70 deaths per 1 lakh births.

At first glance, Maharashtra — one of the most prosperous states of the country — seems to be healthy. Its free ambulance service almost doubled its output — from ferrying seven lakh patients to hospitals in 2016-17 to 13.45 lakh patients in 2018-19. But health economists and activists say the picture is deceptive, insisting that the state’s performance in the health sector has been lacklustre.

“The last five years tell the story of lost opportunities as far as the health sector is concerned,” said Dr Abhijit More of Jan Swasthya Abhiyan. When the Devendra Fadnavis government announced the appointment of Deepak Sawant as health minister, there was a lot of hope as he is a doctor. “But Dr Sawant did nothing to revive the ailing healthcare system,” said More.

A close look of the state health budget over the years shows that expenditure on health has always been significantly lower than the glowing estimates given during the budget speech. “Health expenditure has been stagnant or even lower than before,” said health economist Ravi Duggal.

The BJP-led state government did little to improve the health infrastructure, which has increasingly been privatised over the years.

“There was no leadership. There has been no appreciable budget increase. They has been no expansion of healthcare infrastructure or human resources. There has been no significant legislation in this five-year period,” said Dr More.

In fact, Maharashtra is at the bottom of the list along with Uttar Pradesh and Bihar as far as per-capita health expenditure in 2017-2018 is concerned. Compared to Maharashtra’s spend of Rs.975, UP’s figure is Rs.892 and Bihar’s Rs.898. The national per capita health expenditure is Rs.1,538, while states such as Sikkim and Mizoram spend Rs.5,575 and Rs.4,304, respectively.

“Maharashtra spends only 0.5% of the state income on health, while other states spend much more,” said Duggal. There are other blips as well. Despite being a progressive state with higher urbanization and education as compared to many others, Maharashtra doesn’t have 100% immunization for children. The second level of immunization for children hovers around 90%.

Healthcare provided at state hospitals and dispensaries is another matter of concern. “Seventy to eighty percent of posts for super-specialists are vacant and there is a 50% vacancy for doctors,” said Duggal. “Vacancies exist in teaching hospitals as well; so, one wonders what kind of education are they imparting to our budding doctors.”

Even at primary healthcare centres  and at the sub-centre level, there is poor healthcare delivery, say activists. Each sub-centre gets a budget of Rs.7 lakh per year, but it needs Rs.20 lakh at least. “Maharashtra has one PHC per 30,000,” Duggal said. “But this means that there is a building, but no staff.”

September 2019: Retail Inflation rises

Retail inflation rose to a 14-month high in September on the back of rising food prices, while wholesale inflation dipped to a 39-month low during the same month providing a tough policy challenge.

Retail inflation as measured by the consumer price index rose an annual 4%, higher than the 3.3% in August. It is still below the RBI’s comfort level. Separate data released by the commerce and industry ministry showed inflation as measured by the wholesale price index slowed to 0.3% in September, lower than the 1.1% recorded in August.

Economists said that there has been a divergence between the wholesale and retail inflation with the wholesale price index steadily declining and the consumer price index inflation inching upwards since the last five months (barring July 2019). In September, the divergence between both the indices was over 360 basis points, much higher than the 220 bps in the previous month.

Inflation in wholesale food articles (7.5%) was higher than the inflation in retail food prices (4.7%) during the month.


August 2019: Industrial output tumbles

India's industrial output slumped the most in nearly seven years and contracted for the first time in over two years. The slump, led by a sharp decline in the crucial manufacturing, capital goods and consumer durables sectors, poses a fresh challenge for policymakers already battling an economic slowdown.

The index of industrial production fell an annual 1.1% in August, compared with growth of 4.6% in the previous month and 4.8% in the year-earlier month. This was the sharpest contraction since the 1.7% decline recorded in November 2012.

The latest factory data adds to the string of other numbers, such as slumping vehicles sales, which are testimony to the slowdown that has gripped Asia’s third-largest economy, leading to a rash of growth downgrades by several economists, rating agencies and the central bank.

The RBI has cut its growth estimate to 6.1% for 2019-20 from the earlier 6.8%. The government has unveiled a series of measures including a sharp cut in corporate tax rates to revive growth and has promised to do more.

The manufacturing sector declined 1.2% during the month compared with growth of 5.2% in the previous year ago period. This was the first contraction in the sector in the past six months.

The capital goods sector, seen as a key gauge of industrial activity, contracted 21% in August compared with 10.3% growth in the same month a year earlier.

The consumer durables sector declined 9.1% in August compared with growth of 5.5% in August 2018. The infrastructure and construction goods sector contracted 4.5% during the month, against growth of 8% in the same year-earlier month.

In terms of industries, 15 out of the 23 industry groups in the manufacturing sector contracted during August compared with the corresponding month of the previous year.

The industry group ‘manufacture of motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers’ contracted 23.1% followed by 21.7% in ‘manufacture of machinery and equipment 18.0% in ‘other manufacturing’.

Economists said they expect the sector to witness a rebound on the back of revival in the rural economy and an upswing in demand due to the measures unveiled by the government.

They also said the dismal factory data may prompt the RBI to go for another interest rate cut when it reviews monetary policy in December. The central bank has unveiled five consecutive rate cuts to revive growth.

Valley’s post-paid mobiles to come alive

Seventy days after a communication lockdown was imposed in the Valley following the annulment of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, Kashmir will move closer to restoration of normal life with the state government announcing the resumption of postpaid mobile services in all 10 districts from Monday.

While voice calls and SMS will be enabled, mobile internet will remain barred for now. The move is set to benefit around 40 lakh post-paid mobile subscribers in J&K who are in the Valley. Around 20 lakh pre-paid connections which work only in the state and lack roaming facility remain non-functional. In normal course, pre-paid SIM cards bought outside J&K too do not function in J&K.

The lifting of the ban on mobile communication in the Valley comes days after the J&K government withdrew its advisory, issued in early August, asking tourists to leave the state as a precautionary step and is part of calibrated steps to ease restrictions after the special status was abrogated and a decision was taken to create two UTs of J&K and Ladakh. The ban was intended to prevent Pakistan-based terror outfits organising violent protests and inciting violence.

So far, the mobile ban in the Valley was intended to prevent Pakistan-based and aided elements and terror organisations to organise violent protests and incite violence through provocative, and in many cases, manipulated videos.

The continued ban on internet will mean use of WhatsApp, often a tool for mobilisation, will not be functional. Sources indicated the next step in efforts to end curbs imposed in J&K after Article 370 was turned into a dead letter, shall be phased release of detained political leaders in coming days. While some middle level leaders were freed earlier this week, a call is awaited on more prominent figures.

Asked about the timing for lifting the mobile ban in Kashmir Valley, a senior intelligence functionary said: “The main focus of militants and Pakistan was to display a total shutdown when the UN General Assembly session was held in September. After Pakistan’s efforts to internationalise the issue failed, people are now willing and waiting to open up shops/establishments and resume normal life. So it was a good time to take the initiative”.

J&K principal secretary Rohit Kansal told a news conference in Srinagar that the initiative will help tourists visit the state without being handicapped by lack of phone connectivity. “Students can be in touch with parents, businessmen can be in touch with customers, transporters can contact clients, and contractors can be in touch with staff,” he stated. Sources in central security said J&K police and other forces are gearing up to tackle any eventuality.

The Chennai Connect

After the Wuhan Spirit, it was the Chennai Connect as Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping wrapped up the second informal summit which ensured that both sides had a much deeper idea of each other’s priorities and tried to resolve some of the bottlenecks that constrain the relationship.

In all, the two leaders spent about six hours together in direct discussions with an additional delegation level talks thrown in. Chinese ambassador to India Sun Weidong tweeted: “Dragon and Elephant have a tango.”

Xi arrived at Fishermen’s Cove in Mamallapuram on Saturday morning for a 50-minute tete-a-tete with Modi, continuing discussions last night. The two leaders took a stroll along the beach front. An MEA statement later said the leaders “had an in-depth exchange of views in a friendly atmosphere on overarching, long-term and strategic issues of global and regional importance.”

Terrorism as a global threat came up for discussion in terms of a shared challenge. “As countries that are large and diverse, they recognised the importance of continuing to make joint efforts to ensure that the international community strengthens the framework against training, financing and supporting terrorist groups throughout the world and on a nondiscriminatory basis.”

The two sides will set up a high-level mechanism headed by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Chinese vice-premier Hu Chunhua. Foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale said it will look at trade, investment and services. Post-Doklam, the Wuhan summit resulted in Modi and Xi issuing “strategic guidance” to respective militaries to maintain peace and this time there was a pledge to deepen economic cooperation and tackle differences over trade.

A Chinese foreign ministry statement stated: “Under the current international situation, China and India are shouldering more and more important responsibilities in maintaining global stability and promoting development. The next few years will be a critical period for China and India to achieve national rejuvenation, as well as for the development of China-India relations.”

According to the Chinese statement, Xi suggested that India and China “should take a correct view of each other’s development and enhance strategic mutual trust. We should correctly look at the differences between the two countries and not let them dilute the overall situation of cooperation between the two countries”.

The statement said the two countries “should carry out strategic communication in a timely and effective manner” and look for a “fair and reasonable solution to the border issue that is acceptable to both sides”.

Xi, said the statement, called for “careful handling of issues involving each other’s core interests; improve the level of military security exchanges and cooperation”.

The establishment of the high-level economic and trade dialogue mechanism, he felt, offers the opportunity to strengthen convergence on economic development, and Indian pharma and technology companies were “welcome” to invest in China.

The last two suggestions were to “enrich” cultural exchanges and “strengthen” cooperation in international and regional affairs.


Mumbai 12th richest city in the world

New York City, one with the highest number of wealthiest people in the world, has 65 billionaires and over 380,000 millionaires, a report by New World Wealth has said. It is also home to two largest stock exchanges in the world. Mumbai is the only Indian city to feature in the top 20 list. Delhi, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad have been named in the ‘cities to watch’ category.

Note: Total wealth refers to the private wealth held by all the individuals living in each city. It includes all their assets (property, cash, equities, business interests less any liabilities)

Figures pertain to June 2019 Source: The wealthiest cities worldwide in 2019 — NWWealth

Maharashtra’s first marina coming up in Belapur

After several years of delay, the state environment department has cleared the construction of a marina at Belapur in Navi Mumbai. This will be the first in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region.

The one planned at Gateway of India was opposed by the Western Naval Command for being a threat to its base. Another marina was planned between Gateway of India and Apollo Bunder, but it never took off.

The City Industrial Development Corporation planned to build its own marina at Belapur in 2011-12. The land for the project is being developed by CIDCO and Maharashtra Maritime Board, who have entrusted a private firm, SHO Marina, with its implementation. The firm built a similar facility in Kochi some years ago.

According to sources, the marina will have parking facility for boats and vessels and also workshops for their maintenance. CIDCO and MMB have also planned a small garden with play area for children. A floating pontoon has also been proposed, but no construction is allowed in the water area, according to the minutes of the meeting recently released by Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority, the body that gives permissions to build such facilities. The body has also transferred seven acres of land to MMB for the purpose.

The MCZMA has also asked for e-toilets and collection of solid waste to be made part of the plan. The body has given strict instructions that no construction material or debris be thrown into the sea. Both MMB and CIDCO have insisted that there must be hotels and restaurants at the marina. They also wanted it to be one of the best in the world, but MCZMA clearly stated that no hotels or restaurants will be allowed as it’s a CRZ 1 (coastal regulation zone) area. The security cabin, storage room, waiting room will be permitted at a distance in the CRZ II area. Though MCZMA has allowed building of a garden, it said that no mangroves must be disturbed.

The project will be implemented in two phases – marina and non-marina activities. While clearances have been given for some, the others are yet to be acquired from the environment ministry. A CIDCO officer, on condition of anonymity, said the project will take at least two years and MMB has agreed to give a 25 per cent revenue share to the development body.