Maharashtra: Uddhav Thackeray Takes Charge

Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray, 59, was sworn in as the 19th chief minister of Maharashtra at a glittering ceremony at Mumbai’s Shivaji Park in the presence of several leading politicians from the national opposition. Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari administered the oath of office and secrecy to Thackeray and six others, two each from the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress. Six out of 18 former CMs were present on the occasion.

Addressing his first news conference as chief minister after the first Cabinet meeting, Thackeray said he would not allow a feeling of terror to prevail in the state. He said his government had cleared ₹20 crore for conservation of Shivaji’s forts in Raigad. He said major sops for farmers were being readied. “We don’t want to give some meagre sop. We want to give a package that would make the farmer happy. Till date, whatever schemes have been rolled out farmers have been only cheated,” he said.

The ministers sworn in with Thackeray were Eknath Shinde and Subhash Desai from Sena, Jayant Patil and Chhagan Bhujbal from NCP and Balasaheb Thorat and Nitin Raut from Congress. There were indications that portfolios of the new ministers may be announced in a couple of days as the three parties finalise their powersharing talks. Ajit Pawar was not sworn in. He had said earlier in the day that the issue of deputy CM was not settled yet and he would not take oath on Thursday.

Those who attended the ceremony included NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Congress leaders Ahmed Patel and Kapil Sibal, Madhya Pradesh CM Kamal Nath, Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel, former Maharashtra CMs Devendra Fadnavis, Ashok Chavan, Prithviraj Chavan, Sushil Shinde and Manohar Joshi, DMK chief MK Stalin, MNS chief Raj Thackeray, former Gujarat CM Shankarsinh Vaghela and NCP leaders Ajit Pawar, Supriya Sule and Praful Patel. Industrialist Mukesh Ambani and family too were present.

Farmers from drought hit regions, the Koli community, considered original inhabitants of Mumbai, the Warkari community (worshippers of Vithoba, believed to be a reincarnation of Lord Vishnu) and Naypadma Sagar Maharaj, a Jain Muni, along with Jain sadhvis were also present. The presence of so many figures from the opposition signified the coming together of parties with diverse ideologies against BJP.

RIL: First Indian Firm to Cross ₹10Lcr M-Cap

Reliance Industries became the first Indian company with a market cap of over ₹10 lakh crore, as its shares continued the record-breaking run that has made it the world’s top-performing major energy stock in 2019.

RIL, India’s most valuable company, has overtaken PetroChina to enter the top five club of global energy giants (by M-cap). It is now the world’s 67th most valuable stock and has risen 41% this year. At the end of trade Thursday, RIL’s market cap stood at $139.69 billion compared with PetroChina’s $139.32 billion.

RIL’s contribution to India’s total M-cap is now at a decade high of 6.5%. In May 2009, the figure had touched 8.62%. The Mukesh Ambani company has contributed one-third of the total Nifty gains so far in 2019, and outperformed the benchmark index by 30%.

RIL shares ended the day 0.77% higher at ₹1,582, off the intra-day peak of ₹1,584.

n a note released in October, Bank of America Merrill Lynch had said that RIL could be the first Indian company to touch $200-billion M-cap in 24 months owing to its business transformation plans.

The weight of ‘oil and gas’ in the portfolio of domestic mutual funds has been rising consistently in the past five months and currently stands at a record high, thanks to RIL. The share of energy stocks in mutual fund portfolios rose 8.7% in October 2019, compared with an average of 7.2% in the past two years.

The rally in RIL has been boosted by the re-rating of telecom stocks after the announcement of two tariff hikes that has ended the tariff war in the segment. So far, the basic premise for telecom valuations had been a higher subscriber base driving up profits despite static prices. The higher tariffs could increase average revenue per user, improving cash flows. This would also help RIL achieve its target of becoming a zero net debt company by FY21.

The consumer business accounts for about two-thirds of the fair value of RIL, while the contribution of operating profit is about 33% in the September quarter. The stock is trading at 17.3 times next 12 months earnings, according to Bloomberg data.

Buzz back in Srinagar schools after 116 days

Students flocked to over a dozen private schools in Srinagar for the first time in 116 days even as at least one prominent institution closed for winter ahead of its normal schedule.

The buzz was back at Presentation Convent, Tyndale-Biscoe, Mallinson Girls’ School and the missionary run Burn Hall Boys’ School, albeit with some self-imposed restrictions for the safety of the students. According to some parents, they have been advised not to send their wards dressed in the school uniform.

Commuting to and from uptown campuses also remains a challenge in the absence of school and city buses. The unofficial word is that parents should send their children to school only if they can arrange private transport.

DPS Srinagar has declared an early winter vacation, taking many parents by surprise. “I don’t know why DPS has chosen to remain closed from now till March when classes have just resumed in most of the private schools,” said Basharat Wani, whose son hasn’t been to the picturesque Athwajan campus since August.

All schools and other educational institutions have lost almost four months of classes, although they have been officially open since September. The forced closure had started on August 5, when J&K went into lockdown ahead of the nullification of Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution.

While teaching staff have been reporting for duty for more than two months, it wasn’t until Thursday that the classrooms came alive.

A few institutions have opted to hold classes for two days a week and see how it goes. A principal who did not want to be named said Thursday was a test case and that a decision would soon be taken on whether to reopen full time.


Air India will have to be shut if not privatised

Loss-making Air India will have to be closed if not privatised, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri informed Rajya Sabha and said the government is committed to secure a favourable deal for all employees of the state-owned carrier.

The government is in the process of finalising invitation of bids, he said, adding interests of employees of the state-owned carrier Air India would be protected and there would be no job loss till its privatisation.

“... The process of disinvestment is underway. The issue of getting bids will arise only after we complete the processing. So far, the alternative mechanism, under the chairmanship of the Home Minister, has been made,” he said.

Talking about employees’ concern, he said, “Issues being related to current employees, their health cover, how many would remain and what would happen, we are committed to secure a favourable deal for all employees.”

Puri said there is a decline in global freight traffic but there might not be any impact in India.

“If you look at the Indian scenario, I think that transportation by air is taking off and I don’t see too much of a decline there.”

The minister highlighted that earlier it used to take 116 hours to import a particular product and now it has come down to 39 hours.

On November 17, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said that the government is looking to wrap up the sale of state-run companies Air India by March 2020. Earlier, the plan to sell Air India did not go through for lack of investors and the lukewarm response to its sale. The ailing national carrier has a debt of around Rs.58,000 crore. 

Somewhere in Maharashtra....

PSLV-C47 places 13 US nano satellites, Cartosat-3 in orbit

Two months after months after lunar lander Vikram’s failure to softland on Moon, cheer was back at Indian Space Research Organisation when it successfully launched PSLV-C47 that placed Earth observation satellite Cartosat-3 and 13 US nanosatellites. It marked Isro’s milestone of launching more than 300 satellites from 33 countries in two decades.

“I heartily congratulate the entire @isro team on yet another successful launch of PSLV-C47 carrying indigenous Cartosat-3 satellite and over a dozen nano satellites of USA. The advanced Cartosat-3 will augment our high resolution imaging capability. ISRO has once again made the nation proud!,” tweeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

On Wednesday, around 17 minutes after the rocket lifted off from the second launch pad at Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota, the launcher injected Cartosat-3 into a 509 km polar sun-synchronous orbit. In the next 10 minutes, 13 nano satellites from the US were placed in their respective orbits.

The 1625 kg Cartosat-3 is the first in the third-generation Earth observation satellite with a high-resolution imaging capability and the ninth in the Cartosat series. Isro chairman K Sivan said, “Cartosat-3 is the most complex and advanced earth observation satellite developed by Isro so far.”

The camera on board the satellite is expected to capture images with a spatial resolution of less than 30cm (which means from space it can see objects as small as 30 cm). Cartosat-1 had 2.5 m resolution and the Cartosat-2 series had 1 m resolution. Isro said Cartosat-3 would help large-scale urban planning, rural resource management and infrastructure development, besides providing information for coastal land use and land cover.

For Isro, this is the 47th ssuccessful PSLV flight since its first success on October 15, 1994, when the vehicle, in its second development flight placed 804 kg remote sensing satellite IRS-P2 in orbit. So far, PSLV has placed 48 satellites including Chandrayaan, Mars Orbiter Mission and micro, nano and experimental satellites.

It was the fifth launch of the year that comes after GSLV-MkIII successfully launched Chandrayaan-2 in July 22. In September, Vikram lander crashed when it attempted to soft land on Moon. Isro has so far placed 310 satellites from 33 countries since May 26, 1999 when PSLV, on its second operational flight, carried three satellites in a single vehicle for the first time which included those from Korea and Germany.

Sivan said the agency has planned 13 missions in the next four months which includes six launch vehicle missions and seven satellite missions. 

Bengaluru to become India’s 2nd busiest airport next winter

Mumbai’s constrained Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport is likely to further slip a position lower to become India’s third busiest aviation hub by next winter in terms of daily flight movement. Bengaluru, which will have an independent second runway operational from December 5, is set to handle more flights per day than Mumbai by next winter, top air traffic control officials say.

With its two cross runways, Mumbai is handling its peak capacity of 960 flights a day — a figure that has on a few occasions touched the 1,000-mark. But it has no capacity to handle more flights with its air traffic controllers putting in a superhuman effort to make it the world’s busiest single runway airport. In the current winter schedule Bengaluru will be handling 731 flights per day. “Once the second runway becomes operational on December 5, Bengaluru’s Kempegowda International Airport will see its flight handling capacity rise significantly. While Mumbai can’t go beyond existing 960/970-mark, KIA will overtake this figure by next winter,” said a senior ATC official.

India: Still highest overseas remittance receiver

India continues to retain its position as the world’s top recipient of remittances, with its diaspora sending back $78.6 billion in 2018. Considering that India’s diaspora is the largest in the world, at 17.5 million (as of mid-2019), this ranking in terms of remittances is not surprising. India’s remittances were 14% of the global remittance figure of $689 billion. China was next in line, with remittances of $67.41 billion (which is 5.4% of the global remittance figure).

Even in 2010 and 2015, for which data is available, India was the top recipient of remittances. Remittances during 2010 were $53.48 billion, rising to $68.91 in 2015 — an increase of nearly 29%. The increase in remittance between 2015 and 2018 is 14%. As compared with the remittances in 2010, the latest figure of $78.61 billion shows a rise of nearly 47%. These statistics were disclosed in the World Migration Report 2020, which was released on Wednesday by International Organisation for Migration, which is United Nation’s migration unit.

High income countries are almost always the main source of remittances. For decades, the US has consistently been the top remittance-sending country, with a total outflow of $68 billion, followed by UAE ($44.4 billion) and Saudi Arabia ($36.1 billion), the report states.

At 17.5 million, India’s diaspora was the largest in the world during 2019, with majority of Indians in UAE (3.4 million), US (2.7 million) and Saudi Arabia (2.4 million). Mexico’s diaspora of 11.8 million was the second largest, followed by China at 10.7 million.


Ayodhya: Sunni Waqf won’t file review petition

The Sunni Central Waqf Board decided that it would not file a review petition against the Supreme Court verdict in the Ayodhya case, but was yet to take a call on whether to accept a five-acre alternative plot for a mosque, its chairman Zufar Farooqi said.

“The Board has considered the judgment of the Supreme Court passed in the Babri Masjid case. The Board has reiterated its stand that it will not file any review petition in the Supreme Court,” Farooqi said in a press release issued after a meeting of the board attended by seven of its eight members.

Six members present at the meeting were of the view that the review petition should not be filed, he said, adding, “advocate Abdur Razaaq Khan has put in his dissent as he was in favour of filing review petition.”

The Sunni board was the main litigant in the Ayodhya case.

The meeting also considered whether to accept the five-acre alternative land given by the apex court for building a mosque in Ayodhya, Farooqi said, adding that the members felt they needed more time to decide on the matter so as to ensure that it was appropriate as per the Shariat.

“All further action in compliance with the order of the Supreme Court, including the issue of five-acre land in Ayodhya, are still in consideration of the board and no decision has yet been taken....” the release said.

Supreme Court floors Fadnavis government

While asking Governor BS Koshyari to conduct a floor test within a day, the Supreme Court referred to a nine-judge Constitution bench judgment in 1994 and a few other similar verdicts where it had ordered floor tests within a short deadline. However, just five hours after Tuesday’s ruling, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis resigned.

Interestingly, of the various precedents mentioned in the three-judge SC bench order, one is from Uttarakhand – Koshyari’s home state – in 2016. The last precedent is from Karnataka where in May, 2018, the SC ordered a floor test resulting in the then Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa conceding defeat on the floor of the house.

Justices NV Ramanna, Ashok Bhushan and Sanjiv Khanna, in their 19-page order, observed, “We may note that in the present case, oath has not been administered to the elected members even though a month has elapsed since the declaration of election results. In such emergent facts and circumstances, to curtail unlawful practices such as horse trading, to avoid uncertainty and to effectuate smooth running of democracy by ensuring a stable Government, we are of the considered opinion that it is necessary to pass certain interim directions in this case.”

Before arriving at that conclusion, the bench observed that it was incumbent upon the Court to protect democratic values, and a floor test was the best way to do so. It cited the 1994 judgment in the SR Bommai case where the SC had overturned the proclamation of President’s rule in Karnataka.

In that judgment, the SC had ruled that it was the legislative assembly which represented the will of the people and not the office of the Governor. “There could be no question of the Governor making an assessment of his own. The loss of confidence of the House was an objective fact, which could have been demonstrated, one way or the other, on the floor of the House. In our opinion, wherever a doubt arises whether the Council of Ministers has lost the confidence of the House, the only way of testing it is on the floor of the House except in an extraordinary situation where because of all-pervasive violence, the Governor comes to the conclusion — and records the same in his report — that for the reasons mentioned by him, a free vote is not possible in the House,” the court had then ruled.

The SC’s Tuesday order also cited past decisions on Uttar Pradesh (1999), Jharkhand (2005), Uttarakhand (2016), Goa (2017) and Karnataka (2018).

Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi

Shiv Sena head Uddhav Thackeray will lead a Maha Vikas Aghadi government in Maharashtra after Devendra Fadnavis resigned as chief minister conceding that the BJP does not have the requisite majority, barely three days after taking oath in a dramatic early morning closed-door ceremony in the Raj Bhavan.

Thackeray is likely to be sworn in as the CM on Thursday at Shivaji Park, Mumbai.

Fadnavis’ resignation came within hours of the Supreme Court ordering that his government must submit itself to a floor test on Wednesday to be conducted by a pro tem Speaker.

“In a situation wherein, if the floor test is delayed, there is a possibility of horse trading, it becomes incumbent upon the Court to act to protect democratic values. An immediate floor test, in such a case, might be the most effective mechanism to do so,” said a bench comprising Justices NV Ramana, Ashok Bhushan and Sanjiv Khanna. It did so while citing the apex court’s Karnataka order.

BJP’s ally Ajit Pawar, who took oath as deputy CM along with Fadnavis last Saturday, resigned soon after the order. This left Fadnavis with no choice as Pawar was to bring in a clutch of MLAs from the Nationalist Congress Party to prove majority of the alliance. The BJP brass in New Delhi had also reached the same conclusion after the SC order and instructed Fadnavis accordingly.

Fadnavis later claimed that Ajit Pawar had resigned for “personal reasons”, while announcing his own resignation. “Since we have decided that we will not form a government by breaking any party and do any horse trading, and since Ajit has resigned, I too have decided to submit my resignation to the governor,” he said.

The move paved the way for the MVA — a diverse coalition of Shiv Sena, NCP, the Congress and smaller parties such as the Samajwadi Party — to form the next government. The MVA on Monday had in a show of strength paraded what it claimed were 162 MLAs. The hallway mark in the 288-member Maharashtra Assembly is 145. The BJP is the largest party with 105 members while Shiv Sena and NCP have 56 and 54 MLAs, respectively.

The alliance has already agreed that Uddhav Thackeray will be their chief minister. The remaining details were being worked out through consultations.

The key figure holding the alliance together is NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, who has been in constatnt touch with both Shiv Sena and the Congress to keep them on the same page besides ensuring there is no split within his own party.

The Congress, Shiv Sena and the NCP are expected to prove their majority soon. With the BJP having withdrawn from the contest, the floor test could now happen after the swearingin of the MLAs.

The decision, people in the know said, will be taken by the governor as the Supreme Court order was specifically meant for the Fadnavis government. These details were still being looked into, they added.

Somewhere in Uttarakhand....

After Himachal Pradesh, the forest department of Uttarakhand has decided to declare monkeys “vermin” in the state, allowing the local authorities to cull the animal. The decision has been given in-principle go-ahead by CM Trivendra Singh Rawat who headed the 14th State Wildlife Board meeting in Dehradun.

The officials claimed monkeys are becoming a nuisance for farmers as they are ruining their crops and attacks by monkeys have gone up in urban areas. Specifically the monkeys are the rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) — in Red List of IUCN’s threatened species. “We are yet to finalise the proposal which will be sent to the Centre for final clearance,” Rajiv Bhartari, chief wildlife warden said.


RBI Takes Control of DHFL Board

The Reserve Bank of India superseded the board of troubled mortgage lender Dewan Housing Finance Corp Ltd, citing “governance concerns and defaults” and said it will start insolvency proceedings against the nonbanking finance company.

The central bank appointed R Subramaniakumar, former managing director of Indian Overseas Bank, as administrator and said it will ask the National Company Law Tribunal to appoint him as the resolution professional in charge of the insolvency process.

DHFL has become the first nonbank lender to be sent to the NCLT under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, following a November 15 notification by the corporate affairs ministry. This said that the IBC would cover NBFCs with assets of ₹500 crore or more under Section 227. An interim moratorium will go into force on the date of the application being filed and until it’s admitted.

DHFL is among the most prominent of the nonbank lenders that got swept up in the liquidity crisis that was sparked by the defaults at Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services in September last year. The central bank was forced to take action after repeated attempts at a rescue by the promoters and lenders have failed. DHFL promoter Dheeraj Wadhawan is also embroiled in a separate case related to terror financing.

After company enters the process and a resolution plan is drawn up, it will have to be approved by the committee of creditors.

DHFL has a diverse set of creditors governed by multiple regulatory authorities, experts pointed out. The inter-creditor agreement that was being negotiated before this latest development had been put on hold as mutual funds were not willing to get on board with that plan.

An advisory committee of three or more experts will be formed within 45 days of admission of the case into the NCLT process. DHFL has total debt of ₹85,000 crore and banks’ exposure is ₹38,000 crore. The committee of creditors that will oversee the process will have 180 days to draw up a resolution plan. If the CoC fails to formulate a plan within 180 days, lenders will have to make additional provision of 20%. The provisioning would rise to 35% if the matter remains unresolved for up to 365 days.

DHFL promoter Dheeraj Wadhawan is being probed by Enforcement Directorate, which has found a web of transactions between real estate firms linked to him and Sunblink, to which his DHFL gave loans worth .₹2,186 crore. Sunblink is being investigated for its property dealings with late gangster Iqbal Memon, alias Iqbal Mirchi, who died in London in 2013.

Wadhawan was named in a case of alleged terror financing against Mirchi. A close aide of Mirchi — Humayun Suleman Merchant — told a special court that he had received ₹5 crore from Wadhawan for facilitating a deal with Sunblink Real Estate, the company at the centre of the probe. Wadhawan was also questioned by the ED on November 5 at the agency’s Ballard Pier office in south Mumbai.

Telecom: Two-year Moratorium on Spectrum Payments

The Cabinet cleared a two-year moratorium on spectrum payments, which will give immediate relief of more than ₹42,000 crore to India’s three mobile phone companies, two of which — Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea — have been struggling with high debt and huge losses amid brutal competition.

“In view of the current financial stress faced by major telecom service providers and in pursuant of the recommendations by the Committee of Secretaries, it is decided to defer receipts of spectrum auction instalments due from the TSPs (telecom service providers) for the years 2020-21 and 2021-2022,” finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said at a press briefing after a Cabinet meeting.

Thus, Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio would need to make the next spectrum payment to the government only in fiscal 2022-23.

Besides the spectrum payments on which they got relief, Vodafone Idea and Airtel also need to pay a combined ₹89,000 crore in licence fees, spectrum usage charge, penalties and interest to the government after a recent Supreme Court ruling expanded the definition of adjusted gross revenue. The AGR dues have to be paid in less than three months and the government has said that it was not currently considering any changes to this.

While the industry was upbeat about Wednesday’s decision, it hoped that the government would also consider its other requests, including reduction in levies and taxes, besides waiving the interest and penalties which form a bulk of the ₹1.47 lakh crore AGR dues that the companies face. Of this, Vodafone Idea owes ₹53,039 crore to the government and Airtel, Rs 35,585 crore.

Earlier in the day, telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told the Lok Sabha that the government was currently not considering a waiver on penalties and interest on unpaid licence fees or extending the three-month deadline for paying those.

In her briefing, Sitharaman said the deferred amounts would need to be equally spread over the remaining instalments to be paid by the carriers, without any increase in any existing time period specified for making the payments.

Cabinet Okays Strategic Divestment of 5 PSUs

The government kicked off a blockbuster disinvestment plan, lining up the sale of five public sector units, including majority stakes in bluechip oil company Bharat Petroleum Corp Ltd and Shipping Corporation of India. Also on sale will be a 31% stake in Container Corporation of India along with management control.

Based on current market prices, the sale of stakes in these three companies will fetch the government about ₹78,400 crore, taking it close to the disinvestment target for the fiscal year.

The cabinet committee on economic affairs, which met under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, also cleared the sale of its entire stake in Tehri Hydro Development Corp of India and North Eastern Electric Power Corporation to NTPC.

The CCEA also gave in-principle clearance to the reduction of the government’s stake in select public sector units to 51%, “while retaining management control on case-to-case basis, taking into account the government shareholding, and the shareholding of government-controlled institution,” according to a release.

The government proposes to raise ₹1.05 lakh crore from disinvestment in the current financial year. It had exceeded asset-sale targets of ₹1 lakh crore in FY18 and ₹80,000 crore in FY19. In the current fiscal year, by the end of September, the government had only raised ₹12,359 crore through disinvestment.

At current market value, the government can raise about ₹63,000 crore from selling its entire 53.3% stake in BPCL, ₹2,000 crore by offloading 63.7% in Shipping Corporation of India and ₹13,400 crore from selling 30.8% of Concor.

The actual realisation from BPCL could be much higher on account of the control premium the government will seek from any strategic investor. Big international oil companies including Saudi Aramco are said to be keen on investing in BPCL, given the refiner’s strong presence in fuel retailing among other things.

The BPCL strategic sale will not include the 61.7% stake the company holds in Numaligarh Refinery. This will be offered to a public sector entity in the oil and gas sector.

The government will retain a 24% stake in Concor given that it is “integrally linked” with Indian Railways.

Achieving $5-trn GDP target simply out of question: Ex-RBI Guv Rangarajan

Stating that the economy is in bad shape, former Reserve Bank governor C Rangarajan has said at the current growth rate, reaching the USD 5-trillion GDP target by 2025 is "simply out of question".

The Modi government soon after assuming office for the second term has set a target of taking the economy to USD 5 trillion over the next five years. But since there have been dark clouds gathering all over the economy leading many to question the maintainability of the target.

The economy has been on steady decline with growth rate slowing from 8.2 percent in FY16 to 6.8 percent FY19.

While the first quarter growth slipped to a six-year low of 5 percent, the best forecast for the second quarter is 4.3 percent now. Even RBI has lowered its growth full year forecast by a full 9o bps in two months to 6.1 percent in its October policy review.

"Today our economy is about USD 2.7 trillion and we are talking about doubling this over the next five years at USD 5 trillion. The required rate of growth to achieve that level is in excess of 9 percent per annum. Reaching USD 5 trillion by 2025 is simply out of question," Rangarajan said.

"You have lost two years. This year it is going to be under-6 percent growth and next year it may be about 7 percent. Thereafter the economy may pick up," he said.

He also if at all the GDP becomes a USD 5-trillion gorilla, our per capita income will grow still USD 3,600 up from the present USD 1,800, leaving us still in the low-middle income country bracket.

"The definition of a developed country is the one whose per capita income is USD 12,000. It will take 22 years for us to reach that level provided we grow at 9 percent per annum," the former central banker said.


Somewhere in Kolkata....

In a scene out of the movies, it rained money on a Kolkata street, triggering a scramble for the Rs.2,000 and Rs.500 notes that were thrown from the sixth floor of a highrise in the middle of a raid by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence. The shower of notes, which police sources estimated to be in excess of Rs.3.74 lakh, apparently originated from a private establishment at MK Point Building on Bentinck Street. Ajmal Khan, whose works in one of the many offices in the area, said he heard a commotion and stepped out around 3 pm to find “currency notes floating down” from the nearby building. “These were all Rs.2,000 and Rs.500 notes,” he said.

By then, many people had stuffed their pockets with as many notes as they could. The sceptical ones in the crowd seemed to believe recording the sight on their mobile phones was a more valuable proposition. There was no official statement from DRI or police on the authenticity of the notes.


October 2019: Motown snippets

This year India’s two major festivals, Diwali and Dussehra, were in October and they added an extra fillip to retail sales of automobiles in an otherwise particularly bad year for the sector. Sales traditionally taper off in December as most buyers postpone their purchases till after the New Year’s day.

Vehicle registration numbers at regional transport offices, which are a proxy for sales, improved 4% over October last year, as per a report by the Federation of Automobile Dealers Associations, a retailers' lobby body. The Indian automobile industry has been in a tailspin for over a year now with sales consistently falling amidst poor consumer sentiment in the country.

“The festival days saw very good footfalls at dealerships across most of the geographies and the consumer sentiment was positive and purchase decisions were concluded as used to be during the growth years,” said FADA president Ashish Kale.

Registration numbers of passenger vehicles improved 11% during October, while those of two-wheelers improved 5%. Commercial vehicles continued to decline, shrinking 23% in registration during October from the year-ago period.

Inventory build-up at vehicle dealers eased across board, as manufacturers continued to curtail production. At the end of October, inventory with PV dealers averaged between 25 and 30 days’ equivalent, while the figure for two-wheeler and CV dealers was at 35-40 and 40-45 days, respectively. The industry norm is to hold 30 days’ worth of inventory.

However, October was an exceptional month and sales may taper in the remaining two months of this year, experts said. December is usually a month of low sales as many customers delay purchase to January to get newer model-year vehicles.

“FADA remains cautious for the near and mid-term post the festive seasons as BS-VI transition approaches and rural demand is yet to pick up due to extended and excessive monsoon,” the dealers’ body said in a release.

The latest report from FADA showed a trend similar to that of a report released last week by the SIAM, a manufacturers’ lobby group.


Niti Aayog mulls health cover for middle class families

Government thinktank Niti Aayog has suggested “consolidation” of healthcare services and providers to reduce health expenditure and improve access.

In a new report on building a 21st century health system for India, the Aayog proposed “strategic purchasing” of services, “risk-pooling”, and digitisation of health records for transformation of the healthcare sector.

The report identifies four focus areas for future systems: delivering on unfinished public health agenda, empowering citizens to become better buyers of health services, integration of services to reduce out-of-pocket spend, and digitisation of healthcare.

“Imagine a billion transactions every year where individual patients seek care from a million healthcare providers dominated by the private sector negotiating their own prices for the procedures they undergo,” the report titled ‘Health Systems for a New India: Building Blocks—Potential Pathways to Reforms’ says .

“Even among the organised players, there are multiple schemes,” the report said, highlighting multiplicity of purchasing platforms along with a highly fragmented pool of services which prevents standardisation and the best economic results.

The report was released on Monday by Aayog vice-chairman Rajiv Kumar in the presence of cofounder of Microsoft and co-chairman of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates.

The Aayog is mulling building up a healthcare system for the middle class which is still not covered under any public healthcare system.

The Aayog’s health adviser Alok Kumar said middle-class people would not worry about paying a nominal Rs.200 or Rs.300 towards building a good public health system and the plan looks feasible.

The public health expenditure in India (by the Centre and states combined) has stayed constant over the years at approximately 1.4% of GDP. On the other hand, out-of-pocket payments remain common and high, with only around 20% of the population covered by health insurance. Though Ayushman Bharat aims to expand the coverage significantly, it will take time and funding to ramp it up.

“Successful health sector transformation in India will require simultaneously reducing funding and provision fragmentation. This will facilitate the necessary leverage for effective strategic purchasing to occur, which in turn will determine the incentives for consolidating service providers and improving India’s capacity to enforce much needed patient protection, fair competition, as well as quality and efficiency regulations,” the report said.

Somewhere in Tamil Nadu....

For E Dhamodharan of Esur village in Kancheepuram district, the past three summers have been too harsh. Without enough water, the 39-year-old could not raise any crops on his land and was forced to work for daily wages at a sugar mill in the neighbouring village.

“It is difficult for a farmer to see his land barren,” he says, recollecting the drought that followed Cyclone Thane in 2016. Farmers used to raise paddy in the monsoon and the less water-intensive watermelon in summer. “We used to tap water from the river by sinking a borewell, but that goes dry in May,” he says.

Today, standing on the newly constructed check dam at Esur-Vallipuram, his parched land is a distant memory. The check dam which stores water for nearly 2 km has boosted the groundwater level by at least three metres in the surrounding villages.

Farmers like Dhamodharan, who has been able to resume agriculture full time, see the check dam as a promise of the future.

At another check dam downstream at Vayalur, children hold on to the structure and learn to swim and the river front is the newest hangout spot. Apart from the transformation of the local area, where through irrigation 4,000 people are expected to benefit, the stored water can also be an alternative source of supply for Chennai and its suburbs. Nearly 350 million litres a day of water will be drawn, says an official.

Though only two of the nine check dams planned by the state have been built, the results are already showing, say farmers. These check dams are the first such structures to be constructed across the Palar in 160 years after the Palar Anaicut came up.

The state government proposed to construct nine check dams across Palar river from Avarankuppam till Vayalur, the tail-end of the river in Kancheepuram district, to store water during flash floods in the otherwise bone-dry river. It is aimed at preventing seawater intrusion and to resolve water issues in the drought-prone district. The structures are part of the riverine reservoir system, being created as part of the comprehensive flood mitigation programme.

Annually, around 6 thousand million cubic feet of water drains into the Bay of Bengal from the Palar. “By constructing a series of riverine reservoirs, we can store 3.2 tmcft of water. The stored water will last more than six months and rejuvenate the aquifers,” says G R Radhakrishna, assistant executive engineer of Chengalpet sub-division of the public works department.

The groundwater gauging facility at the PWD’s hydro-geological unit at Panakattucheri, 4 km upstream from the Vayalur check dam, shows a promising sign. The groundwater level is now at a depth of 9 m, about 3 metres higher than in November last year. “After considering various factors including rainfall last year and this year in the catchment area of the river, we found that the groundwater level has shot up by three metres in the past 10 days. It is because of the storage of water at the check dam constructed in the end of October. It is expected to further improve in the coming days,” said another official.

In nearby Parameswarmangalam, the groundwater level has increased by 20 ft to 30 ft in the past two weeks along the riverbed, says N Sakthivel, a local resident and president of the area’s farmers’ association. “We have never seen water in the river for a stretch of a kilometre or more in all these years. Even when it rains heavily, the water would drain into the sea within a few weeks. It is amazing to see the check dam holding so much water following showers during Diwali,” he says.

Small measures like this go a long way, say experts. Former professor of Madras Institute of Development Studies S Janakarajan says flash floods in Palar occur every once in three to four years and most of the water is wasted in the absence of storage structures. “The construction of check dams across Palar is a welcome move but the Palar is polluted from Vaniyambadi to Walajah due to the discharge of industrial effluents. So, steps should be taken to stop the pollutants draining downstream,” he says, stressing on how the government should give equal importance to effectively store rainwater as it does to inter-state water disputes.

Remembering Priyadarshini

Somewhere in Kashmir....

For the first time since the defanging of Article 370 on August 5, complete normalcy was restored in Kashmir Valley with shops remaining opened for the entire day and J&K State Roadways Transport Corporation buses plying across districts of the Valley. Sources said broadband services were likely to be restored in the Valley by the end of this week. This would completely restore communication links.

For the first time in 105 days, shops in the Valley remained opened in the afternoon hours as well. Till a day ago, traders were opening their shops from 7 to 11 in the morning and from 5 to 8 in the evening following diktats from militants.

People of the Valley had also altered their shopping timings accordingly, turning up to buy items only in the morning and evening hours. For the first time in 105 days, unauthorised hawkers in busy areas like Lal Chowk — who used spaces outside closed shops to put up their stalls — could not do business as the commercial establishments were opened through the day.

Justice Bobde takes oath as 47th Chief Justice

Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde, who was part of the historic Ayodhya verdict earlier this month, was administered oath as the 47th Chief Justice of India by President Ram Nath Kovind and started holding court at 11:30 am.

Bobde, 63, succeeds Justice Ranjan Gogoi who demitted office on Sunday. He took oath in English in the name of God at a brief ceremony held at the Durbar Hall of the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Justice Bobde will have a tenure of over 17 months as the CJI and is due to retire on April 23, 2021.

Soon after taking the oath, he sought the blessings of his mother by touching her feet. She was brought to the president house on a stretcher.

Justice Bobde was chosen following the rule of seniority and his name was recommended by Justice Gogoi in a letter to the Centre.

Hailing from a family of lawyers from Maharashtra, he is the son of eminent senior advocate Arvind Shriniwas Bobde.


Ayodhya: AIMPLB wants review of SC order

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board favoured seeking a review of the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Ayodhya issue, and said it was against accepting the five-acre alternative land given for a mosque.

“The land of the mosque belongs to Allah and under the Sharia, it cannot be given to anybody,” AIMPLB secretary Zafaryab Jilani said after a meeting of the board here. “The board has also categorically stated that it was against taking five-acre land in Ayodhya in lieu of the mosque. The board is of the view that there cannot be any alternative to the mosque,” he said.

The installation of a statue of Lord Ram inside the Babri Masjid in the night of December 23, 1949, “was unconstitutional”, Jilani said, adding, “So, how did the Supreme Court consider them as ‘araadhya’ (eligible for worshipping). They (idols) cannot be considered as ‘araadhya’ even as per Hindu religion.”

The Board said the five-acre alternative land for a mosque awarded by the Supreme Court “will neither balance equity nor repair the damage caused”, and declined to accept it. “We feel that Sunni Wakf Board will give respect to this view of the community at large,” it said. Earlier in the day, the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind also decided to file a review petition challenging the Supreme Court’s Ayodhya verdict.

Jamiat chief Maulana Arshad Madani said they took the decision following extensive deliberations involving lawyers and experts.

The Supreme Court, in its verdict in the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi title case on November 9, said the entire 2.77 acres of disputed land should be handed over to the deity Ram Lalla, who was one of the three litigants.

The five-judge Constitution bench also directed the Centre to allot a five acre plot to the Sunni Waqf Board in Ayodhya to build a mosque.

After the AIMPLB decided to go for a review petition against the Supreme Court’s Ayodhya verdict, the Sunni Central Waqf Board is seeking legal opinion on weather to accept the five-acre plot offer for a mosque in Ayodhya. According to Zufar Farooqui, Chairman of Sunni Waqf Board, “As of now, it has to be seen whether the board can refuse to take the five-acre land for the construction of a mosque as ruled by the Supreme Court. Will it amount to contempt of court? The board has started taking legal opinion on the matter.”

Farooqui said there were divergent views within the Board on the matter and a final decision will be taken at the Board's meeting on November 26.


October 2019: Imports decline for 5th straight month

India's exports fell by 1.1% to $26.4 billion in October as shipments of petroleum and leather goods contracted, the third consecutive month of decline for exports while imports dropped sharply indicating demand slowdown.

While the contraction was narrower than the previous month, the latest data adds to the raft of economic indicators which have pointed to a slowdown in the economy. Imports contracted by 16.3% to $37.4 billion, declining for fifth straight month, which helped narrow the trade deficit to $11 billion during the month. The trade deficit in October was $18 billion. The dip in imports was the sharpest in nearly three years.

Oil imports in October dropped 31.7% to $9.6 billion compared to the same period last year, highlighting the slowdown in demand. Exports in the April-October period of the current fiscal year fell by 2.2% to $186 billion, while imports fell by 8.4% to $280.7 billion, a trade deficit of $94.7 billion. Exports have been hit by the slowdown in the global economy, while imports have been hurt due to a demand slowdown in the country. Last month, the WTO said trade tensions and a slowing global economy led its economists to downgrade their forecasts for trade growth in 2019 and 2020.


WPI inflation at over 3-year low

Wholesale price inflation moderated to a nearly three-and half-year low in October, dragged down by a contraction in manufactured product, fuel and power prices, but the fall was limited by an increase in food prices to near double-digit levels.

Inflation as measured by the wholesale price index eased to 0.2% in October, slower than 0.3% recorded in the previous month and 5.5% in the year earlier period.

Inflation in the manufactured goods segment fell by 0.8% in October, its lowest level since April 2016. The WPI in manufactured goods was 4.6% in the same month a year-ago. Food price inflation shot up to a 63-month high during the month.

Inflation in the fuel and power group contracted for the fifth straight month and stood at (-8.3%), a 39-month low. This is largely due to soft global crude oil prices.

Divergence between WPI and retail inflation also increased. Consumer price inflation rose to a 16-month high of 4.6% in October, largely led by food and vegetable prices.

RBI largely looks at the retail inflation for its monetary policy review, although it also takes into account other inflation numbers, while deciding on rates. Economists said they expect the central bank to cut interest rates in December as several other data prints have pointed to a slowing economy.

SC rules out Rafale probe, warns Rahul

The Supreme Court refused to re-examine the aspects of pricing, decision making process and selection of the offset partner in India’s deal for purchase of Rafale jet fighters from French company Dassault Aviation.

In the review petition, there were allegations of irregularities on pricing and doubts were raised on decision making in giving priority to Rafale. Aspersions were also cast on choosing Anil Ambani’s company as an offset partner.

A bench headed by the Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said such a submission was not fair as the apex court in its December 14, 2018, judgment had addressed all these issues in detail. “We do not consider this to be a fair submission for the reason that all counsels, including counsel representing the petitioners in this matter addressed elaborate submissions on all the aforesaid three aspects.

“No doubt that there was a prayer made for registration of FIR and further investigation but then once we had examined the three aspects on merits we did not consider it appropriate to issue any directions, as prayed for by the petitioners which automatically covered the direction for registration of FIR, prayed for,” said the bench, also comprising Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph. While dealing with the allegation of irregularities on the pricing of the jets, the top court said that it satisfied itself with the material made available and it is not the function of this court to determine the prices and act on mere “suspicion” of certain persons.

The Supreme Court rebuked Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for wrongly attributing to the apex court his “chowkidar chor hai” remark against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in connection with the Rafale case, but closed the contempt proceedings against him with a “word of caution” that he must be more careful in future. It took into account the additional affidavit filed by him in which he had tendered an unconditional apology and said that the attributions were entirely unintentional, nonwillful and inadvertent.

SC refers Sabari case to larger bench

The uncertainty over the entry of women of all ages to the hilltop shrine of Sabarimala in Pathanamthitta district of Kerala is likely to continue this season as the Supreme Court referred the Sabarimala review petitions to a 7-judge bench by 3:2 majority.

The apex court said the seven-judge bench will also look into similar pending questions like Muslim women's right to enter a mosque and permission to Parsi women who marry outside the community to enter its fire temple and the practice of female genital mutilation in the Dawoodi Bohra community.

CJI Ranjan Gogoi, Justices Khanwilkar and Indu Malhotra noted that the issue whether the court can interfere in essential practices of religion needed examination by a larger bench. Justices Chandrachud and Nariman dissented, sources said.

The court in its majority judgment concurred that the right to worship by an individual in a temple “cannot outweigh the rights of a section of the religious group to which one may belong”.

It is understood that there is no stay of the September 28, 2018 judgment which allowed entry of women of all ages in the temple. Which would apparently mean that there is no bar on young women entering the temple this season.

Leaders of opposition parties including Ramesh Chennithala (Congress) and Kummanam Rajasekharan (BJP) urged the LDF government to respect the sentiments of the devotees.


The Squeeze

India's reliance on Saudi oil....

In a state of shock....

Of State GDP and Data Consumption....

Court Report

India’s oil demand to double: IEA

India’s oil demand will double to more than 9 million barrels a day, marking the largest absolute consumption growth for any country, and its dependence on imports will rise to 90% by 2040, according to the International Energy Agency’s latest World Energy Outlook.

This means the Indian economy will continue to depend in the near term on oil or fossil fuels in spite of the government’s stress on renewable energy and electric vehicles. This does not augur well as the suggested price trends in business as usual or stated policy environment scenarios do not offer any relief on the price front in spite of subdued demand growth from other economies and rising exports from new players such as the US and Brazil.

Oil is one of the key elements of the government's fiscal math. Costlier fuel cramps government's fiscal room for social spending or stimulus as it disturbs macro-economic parameters by raising costs for consumers, farmers, transporters and manufacturers. The report says a third of the growth in India’s oil will come from trucks. Another quarter will come from passenger cars, with the Indian car fleet growing by a factor of seven between now and 2040. Use of oil as a petrochemical feedstock will contribute the remaining 15% demand. On the global stage, the Outlook sees the oil trade becoming increasingly centred on Asia, with China soon overtaking the European Union as the world’s largest oil importer and holding that position to 2040, despite the flattening of its oil demand in the 2030s.

The Outlook also sees the influence of traditional players in the oil market waning.

Retail inflation at 16-month high

Retail inflation accelerated to a 16-month high in October and breached the Reserve Bank of India’s medium-term target of 4% for the first time since July 2018 as food prices increased.

Inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index was 4.62% last month compared with 3.99% in September as food prices rose 7.89% from 5.11% in September on pricier vegetables. The sharp uptick in consumer inflation dampened expectations of a big cut in interest rates by the RBI in December, although most experts expect monetary easing to continue, given the deepening economic slowdown.

Core inflation — excluding volatile energy and food items — declined to a 94-month low of 3.47% in October and will provide comfort to the monetary policy committee, which sets interest rates. Core inflation is seen as a measure of demand and its decline suggests weak consumer sentiment.

Industrial production contracted 4.3% in September.

The lender expects RBI to cut rates by 25 basis points in December to support growth, looking through the volatile food inflation spikes. The RBI has cut rates by 135 basis points this year to 5.15%. One basis point is one-hundredth of a percentage point. The monetary policy committee will announce the next round of monetary action on December 5.

The RBI’s medium-term inflation target for CPI is 4%, with a band of +/- 2% for the period from August 2016 to March 2021.

CJI office falls under RTI

The Supreme Court held that the office of the Chief Justice of India is a public authority and falls within the ambit of the Right to Information Act. A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi upheld the 2010 Delhi High Court verdict and dismissed three appeals filed by Secretary General of the Supreme Court and the Central Public Information officer of the apex court.

Cautioning that RTI cannot be used as a tool of surveillance, the top court in its judgment held that judicial independence has to be kept in mind while dealing with transparency.

The bench, also comprising Justices N V Ramana, D Y Chandrachud, Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna, said that only the names of judges recommended by the Collegium for appointment can be disclosed, not the reasons.

While the CJI and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna have penned one judgment, Justices Ramana and Chandrachud have written separate verdicts.

It said that the Right to Privacy is an important aspect and it has to be balanced with transparency while deciding to give out information from the office of the Chief Justice.

Justice Chandrachud, who wrote a separate judgment, said the judiciary cannot function in total insulation as judges enjoy constitutional post and discharge public duty.

Justice Sanjiv Khanna said independence of judiciary and transparency go hand in hand.

Justice Ramana, who concurred with Justice Khanna, said there should be balancing formula for Right to Privacy and Right to transparency and independence of judiciary should be protected from breach.

The High Court on January 10, 2010 had held that the CJI office comes within the ambit of the RTI law, saying judicial independence was not a judge’s privilege, but a responsibility cast upon him.

The 88-page judgment was seen as a personal setback to the then CJI K G Balakrishnan, who has been opposed to disclosure of information relating to judges under the RTI Act.

The move to bring the office of the CJI under the transparency law was initiated by RTI activist S C Agrawal. His lawyer Prashant Bhushan had submitted in the top court that though the apex court should not have been judging its own cause, it is hearing the appeals due to “doctrine of necessity”.

The lawyer had described the reluctance of the judiciary in parting information under the Right To Information Act as “unfortunate” and “disturbing”, asking: “Do judges inhabit different universe?”

He had submitted that the apex court has always stood for transparency in functioning of other organs of State, but it develops cold feet when its own issues require attention.

Referring to the RTI provisions, Bhushan had said they also deal with exemptions and information that cannot be given to applicants, but the public interest should always “outweigh” personal interests if the person concerned is holding or about to hold a public office.

Dealing with “judicial independence”, he said the National Judicial Accountability Commission Act was struck down for protecting the judiciary against interference from the executive, but this did not mean that judiciary is free from “public scrutiny”.


Somewhere in Rajasthan....

Carcasses of 1,622 more migratory birds were found strewn across Rajasthan’s Sambhar Salt Lake amid fears that the mystery illness behind the deaths might have taken a bigger toll on the wintering visitors than initially estimated.

Since Monday, forest department teams have buried 2,338 carcasses of birds from more than 25 species, including trans-Himalayan migrants.

“As suggested by veterinarians, we have dug a pit measuring 10x10 to bury the birds after sprinkling lime and salt. We will continue to look for more carcasses that might be floating or lying along the 5 km span of the salt lake,” forest range officer Rajendra Singh Jakhar said.

Veterinarians suspect water contamination or algae poisoning to be the cause of the deaths. The forest department has collected water samples from the lake and sent it to the state pollution control board for tests. “We will know from the test results whether toxicity of water or a bacterial or viral infection is killing the birds,”he said.

Viscera samples had been sent to the forensic science laboratory in Bhopal to find out if an infection was responsible for birds falling dead. Jaipur-based veterinarian Ashok Kumar ruled out the possibility of bird flu, saying water contamination and algae were the prime suspects.

The bird species struck by this mystery illness include Pallas’s gull, knob-billed duck, mallard, ferruginous duck, northern shoveler, common teal, pied avocet, ruff, common redshank, marsh sandpiper, wood sandpiper, common sandpiper, lesser sand plover, little ringed plover, Kentish plover, common coot, green bee-eater, blackwinged kite, ruddy shelduck, black-winged stilt, Temminck’s stint, gadwall, black and brown-headed gulls, gullbilled tern, greater flamingo, lesser whistling duck, silverbill and northern pintail.


Car, SUV sales snap 11 months of declines

Sales of cars and SUVs broke an 11-month string of declines as numbers turned positive, although by a minuscule 0.3%, on festive spirits, deep discounts and new models.

According to numbers released by the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers, the turn in sentiments may be sustained through November and December on lower base advantage.

Sales of passenger vehicles, a mix of cars, SUVs and vans, stood at 2.85 lakh against 2.84 lakh units sold in the same month last year. While Siam brings out wholesale numbers that the companies dispatch to dealers, company officials say that healthy retail sales in the month (customer purchases) led to lowering of inventory levels.

While Kia sold nearly 13,000 units of Seltos SUV in October, MG Motors sold over 3,500 units of Hector off-roader.

However, demand-generation continues to remain tough in categories such as commercial vehicles and two-wheelers.

Two-wheeler sales in October declined 14% to 17.6 lakh units compared to 20.5 lakh units in the year-ago month. Motorcycle sales declined by 16% to 11.2 lakh units as against 13.3 lakh units a year earlier.  Scooter sales last month declined by 10% to 5.8 lakh units as against 6.4 lakh units in the year-ago period. Commercial vehicle sales were down 23% at 66,773 units in October, Siam said.

Somewhere in Hyderabad....

Seventeen people, including a loco pilot, suffered injuries when a local city train leaving Kacheguda railway station collided with inbound Hundry Intercity Express. Six coaches of the MMTS (multi-modal transport system) service derailed due to the impact. After an eight-hour rescue effort, MMTS loco-pilot was extricated alive from the mangled cabin. Had MMTS driver not applied brake, it could have been a bigger tragedy.

As a result of the accident, train services on the Kacheguda–Falaknuma section were affected, resulting in cancellation of at least 26 trains.

MMTS loco pilot D Chandrashekar, 35, who got stuck in the mangled cabin, was extricated around 6.30 pm by a team of NDRF, GHMC’s DRF and railway medical relief van staff after an eight hour non-stop effort. Railway officials said “his condition is stable” and he was rushed to a local hospital for treatment.

Around 10.35 am, an MMTS (Lingampalli-Falakunma) service started from platform number 2 of the Kacheguda station towards its destination, Falaknuma. Seconds later, it crashed into the inbound Hundry Express (Kurnool-Secunderabad) at the track interchange. The Hundry Express, which was waiting at the outer signal, was heading for platform number three, when the mishap occurred. Several passengers also fell out of the coaches due to the impact of the collision.

A look of the accident spot reveals that both loco pilots could see each other as their cabins collided. Due to the impact of the collision, MMTS loco pilot Chandrashekar got stuck in his cabin. Apart from his cabin, vendor coaches too suffered damages. A coach of the differently-abled persons was among the bogies derailed.

Of the 16 passengers rushed to Osmania General Hospital, five persons—Shekhar, Rajkumar, Raheemuddin, Anuradhamma, Ibrahim— were grievously injured. “They have been admitted with serious injuries and fractures. Shekhar’s condition is very critical. He has suffered multiple fractures,” OGH superintendent Dr B Nagender said.

Senior South Central Railway officials reached the spot and started relief measures. SCR additional general manager B B Singh who visited the spot, said, “Preliminary investigation revealed that the accident took place due to human error. We have ordered a high level inquiry by the commissioner of railway safety, Secunderabad, into the accident. We are yet to get all details of the accident.”

Supreme Court Relied On ASI’s Evidences, Travellers’ Tales

The presence of symbols of Hindu religious significance inside and outside the Babri Masjid, which were acknowledged by Muslim witnesses, suggested actual worship took place down the centuries and large congregations visited the disputed site during festivals, the Supreme Court has said.

The SC’s observations in its verdict on the Ayodhya case, bolster the argument that the Hindu community persisted with its claim to worship and the evidences gathered by the Archaeological Survey of India pointed to a religious structure of Hindu origin.

“The oral testimony of Hindu devotees establishes the pattern of worship and prayer at Sita Rasoi, Ramchabutra and towards the ‘garb grih’, while standing at the railing of the structure of the brick wall,” the court has said. The argument that the Ayodhya site’s significance went beyond faith alone, is important even as the court held that the ASI report could not be used to settle a title suit.

The judgement evaluates faith-tradition, ASI evidences, traveller accounts and witnesses to state that the presence of a masjid did not deter Hindus from continuing their worship at the disputed site and within the precincts of the structure prior to the incidents of 1856-57 (when riots broke out over access to the plot).

“The physical structure of an Islamic mosque did not shake the faith and belief of Hindus that Lord Ram was born at the disputed site. On the other hand, learned counsel fairly stated that the evidence relied on by the Sunni Wakf Board to establish the offering of namaz by the Muslim residents commences from around 1856-57,” the SC ruled.

The accounts mentioned by the court have often been part of BJP’s political campaign where the party has argued that the site is of much more significance to the Hindus than a mosque at Ayodhya was to Muslims. Records of travellers indicate, said the court, that there was “historical presence of worshippers and the existence of worship at the disputed site even prior to the annexation of Oudh by the British and the construction of a brick-grill wall in 1857.” The wall was built by the British colonial administration to separate the inner and outer courtyards and restrict access of Hindu devotees.

While the ruling notes that the ASI report does not conclude that remnants of the pre-existing structure were used for the purpose of constructing the mosque or there was an act of razing, it notes a reasonable inference can be drawn that foundations of the mosque is based on the walls of a pre-existing structure. This underlying structure was suggestive of Hindu religious origin.

VHP eyes crowdfunding to build Ayodhya temple

The VHP has decided to seek contributions for the proposed Ram temple and has also decided to explore ways to enlist the involvement of Ram bhakts in its construction, potentially setting the stage for yet another mass mobilisation for the Ayodhya temple.

“Ram bhakts from across the country will be approached for contributions to construct the temple. The Ayodhya movement was associated with the faith and sentiments of scores of Hindus and they will have to do their bit, including ‘kar seva’, whenever the project begins,” said Vinod Bansal, national spokesperson of the VHP, the Sangh-affiliate which spearheaded the campaign for the construction of temple.

Besides, the VHP has decided to suggest that the trust which is to be formed within three months to supervise the temple construction work, should facilitate symbolic participation of “ bhakts” in the construction of what has been touted as a “grand Ram temple”. Devotees from all 718 districts of the country will be invited in delegations to stay for at least a week and help in the construction work, the VHP functionary said, in an indication that another round of “kar seva” could be in works.

“Kar seva”, or voluntary work, formed an important part of the VHP-led ‘mandir’ movement, with lakhs reaching Ayodhya in 1990, and again in 1992, the second round resulting in the demolition of Babri masjid. VHP functionaries in Delhi confirmed the crowd-funding plan.

“There is no ambiguity about the plan that funds will be pooled in directly from Hindu devotees of Lord Ram spread across the globe. The process to seek contributions will start soon for which teams will be constituted to ensure that it is done smoothly,” VHP working president Alok Kumar said.

The VHP’s statements come amid reinforced indications that it will have a significant representation on the temple trust. The Supreme Court had, in its verdict on Saturday, denied any role for the VHP-promoted Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas in the construction.

However, sources said the government, which will have the final say in the matter, appears inclined to include in the trust Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, who headed the Nyas, as well as some of the key Hindu seers aligned with the VHP.

The decision to pool funds is in sync with what Mahatma Gandhi had suggested when he offered his support for the reconstruction of Somnath temple. Gandhiji gave his consent to the move to revive Somnath temple which had been attacked and plundered by invaders, but told the prime movers— Sardar Patel and K M Munshi—that they should not take money from the government.

“For a temple dedicated to Lord Ram, funds must come from the public. Tax-payers’ money should not have any role in the project,” Kumar said. “Some people may contribute ‘shilas’ (sandstone), while others may donate money. We leave everything to people.” he added.

VHP functionaries said enlistment of popular support for the construction of the temple will be a respectful gesture to the devotees, who have waited for generations to see it happen.

Industrial production posts steepest fall in 8 years

In signs of continuing weakness in the economy, India’s factory output shrank to the lowest level in eight years as all three broad-based sectors of capital goods production, consumer durables, and infrastructure and construction goods contracted.

The Index of Industrial Production fell 4.3 per cent in September as compared to a contraction by 1.4 per cent in August 2019 and a growth of 4.6 per cent in factory output in the same month a year back, data released by the Ministry of Statistics showed on Monday.

The second straight month of contraction has taken the IIP to its lowest level since it shrank by 5 per cent in October 2011.

On a quarterly basis, the second quarter of 2019-20 fiscal (July-September) saw IIP contracting by 0.4 per cent (Q1 3 per cent expansion and 5.3 per cent growth in Q2 FY19).

In September 2019, capital goods output dropped 20.7 per cent from a year ago, while consumer durables fell 9.9 per cent. Infrastructure and construction goods output fell 6.4 per cent. Intermediate goods was the only usebased classification that grew 7 per cent in September.

The contraction in IIP in September has dampened prospects of a quick recovery in economic growth after it slipped to a six-year low of 5 per cent in the April-June quarter this year.

Gross Domestic Product data for July-September is due on November 29.

Low agricultural growth is feeding into low agricultural and non-agricultural wage growth in rural areas, which is impacting rural demand adversely, he said, hoping of a cut in the interest rate in December.

During April to September, the IIP growth remained almost flat at 1.3 per cent compared to 5.2 per cent in same period last fiscal.

A slowdown was witnessed in the manufacturing sector, which declined by 3.9 per cent in September as compared to 4.8 per cent growth a year ago.

The power generation sector output dipped 2.6 per cent in September, compared to 8.2 per cent rise a year ago. Mining output too fell by 8.5 per cent in September as against 0.1 per cent climb in the corresponding month last fiscal.

Capital goods production, which is a barometer of investment, declined by 20.7 per cent in September compared to a 6.9 per cent hike in the yearago month.

Consumer durables and consumer non-durables have recorded growth of (-) 9.9 per cent and (-) 0.4 per cent, respectively.

Massive protest at JNU

Hundreds of students of Jawaharlal Nehru University staged massive protests right outside the university premises demanding a rollback of the proposed fee hike and changes in the hostel manual that imposes curfew hours, dress code and other restrictions on students.

The agitating students waited all day demanding a meeting with the University’s Vice-Chancellor Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar, who refused any discussion on fee hike and other issues raised by the students.

The students clashed with policemen deployed to control the situation as the protest turned unruly. They upturned barricades and hurled shoes at the cops. The police in turn resorted to water cannons and batons to control the crowd that finally dispersed in the evening after an assurance from the Ministry of Human Resources to look into their grievances. They were backed by the JNU Teachers Association that held a Teachers’ Assembly on Monday where the police action was condemned and a strong demand for the VC to step down was made.

“The police action was clearly only to defend the obstinate refusal of the VC to engage in any dialogue with students on their concerns….The Assembly was an expression of the collective view of the JNU faculty that the changes in the hostel manual and the steep increase in hostel charges are unacceptable. It is the university’s responsibility to provide residential and mess facilities to students at reasonable cost and hostels cannot be run on a self-financing principle as the new Hostel Manual proposes,” an official statement of JNUTA read.

Students claimed that the fee hike was three-fold to 999 per cent in varying cases that would drive out 40 per cent of the students since a large number come from economically weaker sections of society. The varsity has increased fees for a single-occupancy room from Rs.20 to Rs.600 per month and from Rs.10 to Rs.3,000 for a double-occupancy room. A new service charge of Rs.1,700 per month has been levied, taking up the monthly hostel fee from Rs.2,000 to Rs.2,300. The onetime mess security deposit has also been raised from Rs.5,500 to Rs.12,000.

The JNU administration explained that this was the first fee revision in 19 years and that the previous fee structure was outdated and extremely low. The authorities have previously stated that an annual expenditure of Rs.10 crore on electricity, water and service charges is incurred. This, they said, has to be borne from the general fund given by the University Grants Commission that could have otherwise been used for maintenance and giving the university a facelift.

The students demanded the resignation of the VC.


The US Food and Drug Administration’s Centre for Devices and Radiological Health has designated a medical invention by a Bengaluru-based scientist as a “breakthrough device” in liver, pancreatic and breast cancer treatment.

Cytotron, developed by Rajah Vijay Kumar, aids in tissue engineering of cancer cells, altering how specific proteins are regulated to stop these cells from multiplying and spreading.

“We are pleased to inform you that your device and proposed indication for use meet the criteria and have been granted designation as a breakthrough device,” states a communique from the FDA wing to Shreis Scalene Sciences, the company that had taken the device to the US.

Cytotron is intended to cause degeneration of uncontrolled growth of tissues. “It is indicated for treating protein-linked, abnormally regenerating disorders such as neoplastic disease, and allowing extended progression free survival, with pain relief, palliation, improved quality and dignity of life,” says the letter.

Kumar had developed Cytotron at the Centre for Advanced Research and Development, which is headquartered in Bhopal, after nearly 30 years of research into cellular pathways and interactions with specifically modulated fast radio bursts.

“It is a great feeling that after so many years of hard work, against all odds, an institution like the USFDA is designating our work as a breakthrough in the treatment of three types of cancers,” Kumar said.

New technologies in the battle against cancer have generally been hard to come by. It’s even rarer for an Indian device to get breakthrough status in the US. The Centre for Devices and Radiological Health is responsible for pre-market approval of medical devices in the US, ensuring they are safe to use and effective. “The devices will all be made in India, given that there are hardly any imported components. And our American partner will take the device to the US. Cytotron is already an approved medical device and is in use in the UAE, Mexico, Malaysia and Hong Kong, among others,” Kumar said.

How it works: Generically known as rotational field quantum magnetic resonance, Cytotron uses fast radio bursts, high energy and powerful short radio bursts in which both electric and magnetic components of the electromagnetic signals are “circularly” polarised.

FRBs are produced when a radio signal travels through a powerful instantaneous magnetic field on its path to the target. “FRBs can be used to communicate with the cellular command and control, to up or down regulate a specific protein or gene,” Kumar said in a statement.

He added: “In cancer cells, Cytotron does two things: First, it alters the protein pathways of a pro-apoptosis protein called p53 via p21 inducing programmed cell death in the cancer cells. Second, exposure to Cytotron stops metastasis by inhibiting the epithelial mesenchymal transition cells, responsible for spread of cancer; 90% cancer patients die due to metastasis.”

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Maharashtra: BJP expresses inability to form the government

The political crisis in Maharashtra deepened with the BJP announcing that it would not form the government in view of ally Shiv Sena’s stand to not join them.

After several rounds of discussion with party leaders and ministers, caretaker Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis called on Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari and declared the BJP’s inability to form the government in the state.

After a short break in the afternoon, the BJP leaders again met for talks. It was conveyed to them that the central leadership was also opposed to the idea of sharing the chief minister’s post with Sena. Fadnavis, state BJP president Chandrakant Patil, senior state leaders Girish Mahajan, Pankaja Munde and Vinod Tawde and the party’s national general secretary V Satish were part of the meeting. It ended around 5.30 pm after which a few leaders, including Fadnavis, met the Governor. Later Patil addressed the media. “The BJP will not form the government even though the Governor invited us. People have given a mandate to our grand alliance with Shiv Sena, BJP, RPI, RSP and Shiv Sangram,” Patil said.

The Sena and the BJP had some informal exchanges regarding government formation, but the former remained fixated on sharing the chief ministership as promised during the Lok Sabha elections.

“The Sena is not interested to form the government with us and at this point we can’t form the government. We have conveyed this message to the Governor. Sena has insulted the mandate. If the Sena wants to form the government with support from the NCP and Congress, our best wishes are with them,” he added.

Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray had a meeting with his legislators at Hotel Retreat on Madh island in which he reportedly said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had called him several times but he refused to respond. At the same time he said that he had not broken the alliance with the BJP and also praised the PM for doing a good job, said a Sena MLA who was present at the meeting.

Since the BJP expressed inability, the Governor invited the Sena, the second-largest party, to form the government by 7.30 pm tomorrow. The Sena will have to get support from the NCP and the Congress. “We know it will be an uphill task for the Sena to get the required numbers by Monday evening. After tasting failure, they will fall in line,’’ said a BJP minister.

A senior NCP leader said that so far BJP president Amit Shah and PM Modi have not revealed their cards.