PM will meet 15 global fund houses in investment push

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will soon meet representatives of 15 leading global fund houses. The move is aimed at attracting long-term capital to help revive the economy.

“You actually have these fund houses from all over the world getting in touch with us and saying if you can provide some good assets which require patient capital and gives not very high returns but stable returns. So that is another area we are looking at,” economic affairs secretary Tarun Bajaj said at a virtual event conducted by the Confederation of Indian Industry, while announcing the PM’s meeting with the fund houses to get a better view from them.

He said pension funds from Canada, Australia and Europe have been talking to the government and are eyeing investment opportunities in India and strongly backed the widening and deepening of the bond market. Bajaj also called on other regulatory agencies, such as those in the pension and insurance sectors, to help deepen the market.

Earlier finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman had also indicated that she had not closed the option of another stimulus to revive the economy. The government and the Reserve Bank of India have taken a series of steps for this.

The DEA secretary also said that recent data on Covid-19 infections showed a downward trend, which should provide confidence to the private sector to come back but urged caution given the fact that the virus was still around. “We still have to be cautious. We can’t let our guard down,” he said.

“I am seeing positive signs. We had a flight of capital in the month of March and in fact March to May we had a massive outflow of funds but over the last few months we have had positive signs. FPI as also AUMs of the mutual funds have been looking up. I think this is a good sign.”

He urged market participants to look at the opportunities provided by IFSC at Gandhi Nagar and talked about the Bullion Exchange being set up there and indicated that there would be deals in the next few months. “We are the second-largest consumer in the world and we should set up that market and create that market.”

The DEA secretary also said more funds were coming through the InvITs and REITs after the government tinkered regulations a bit He said DEA had made suggestions that assets can be monetised by other departments similar to the setting up of Inveits by two public sector entities

Pope Francis voices support for same-sex civil unions

Pope Francis, who since the beginning of his pontificate has taken a more tolerant tone toward homosexuality, appeared to break with the position of the Roman Catholic Church by supporting civil unions for same-sex couples, according to remarks Francis made in a new documentary that debuted in Rome on Wednesday.

Speaking about pastoral outreach and care for people who identified as LGBT, Francis directly addresses the issue of civil unions in the film. “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered,” Francis said amid remarks in which he otherwise reiterated his support for gay people as children of God. “I stood up for that.”

The pope appeared to be referring to when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires and opposed legislation to approve same sex marriages but supported legal protection for the rights of gay couples. It was not immediately clear when Francis made those remarks, but Evgeny Afineevsky, the director of the documentary, ‘‘Francesco,’’ said that Francis made the remarks directly to him for the film.

Church teaching considers homosexual acts “intrinsically disordered” and the church is opposed to gay marriage. Matteo Bruni, a spokesman for the Vatican, declined to comment immediately.

Mumbai: Plan for 4 Metros to converge at 2-deck Kanjurmarg depot

From an unviable proposition until recently, the Kanjurmarg site for the Metro depot is set to become perhaps the city’s biggest Metro hub. After the recent announcement that the car shed will be common to both Metro Line 3 (Colaba-Seepz) and Line 6 (Samarth Nagar-Vikrohli), MMRDA is now considering shifting the car shed for Line 4 (Wadala-Kasarvadavali) also to Kanjurmarg. Besides this, the terminal station for Line 14 (Badlapur-Kanjurmarg) will be located at the site.

On Wednesday, MMRDA held a meeting to discuss the transit-oriented development model for Kanjurmarg. “We have 102 acres and it is absolutely feasible to have multiple car depots on this land. The proposal is to have a double-decker car shed so that we can have more stabling lines for the various Metro routes,” said a senior MMRDA official.

Sources said MMRDA is facing issues in acquiring the land at Kasarvadavli, Thane, for the Line 4 car depot. “The cost of land alone is Rs.2,000 crore. If we were to develop it at Kanjurmarg, it would cost us Rs.500 crore. Besides, there are no issues of land acquisition,” said sources.

“In 5-6 years, Kanjurmarg will become the interchange zone for Metro lines and if you look at the routes, then commuters from the distant suburbs of MMR like Badlapur and Ambernath can come here and board another Metro, either to south Mumbai or to the western suburbs and this holds true for residents of south Mumbai and the western suburbs as well. Through one site, we shall be able to provide easy connectivity to different parts of the city,” said an official.

Sources said that apart from connectivity, the site will also be commercially developed, providing for offices and shopping malls. “The consultants for the Garibaldi Metro station in Milan are also consultants to the MMRDA for the Metro projects. MMRDA has sought their help on creating a metro hub at Kanjurmarg,” said an official.

Supporting the plan, activist and architect Nitin Killawala said MMRDA could achieve full connectivity for the entire city if Line 7 (Dahisar-Andheri) is extended and the airport’s international terminal is connected to Line 3 at Seepz. “People can then travel to Dahisar from anywhere by Metro.”

River ran in Thar desert 1,72,000 years ago

An international team of researchers has found a “lost” river that ran through the central Thar desert, near Bikaner, 1,72,000 years ago. The river was likely a lifeline for Stone Age populations, helping them thrive in what is now an arid region, while also serving as an important corridor for human migration, according to the research which represents the oldest directly dated phase of river activity in the Thar region.

The new findings — published online in the Quaternary Science Reviews journal ahead of its print publication — push back the previous evidence for river activity in Thar by up to 80,000 years.

Researchers from Germany’s Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human Histor, Anna University (Chennai) and the Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research in Kolkata studied deposits of river sands and gravels exposed by quarrying activity near the village of Nal, outside of Bikaner, in 2014 and 2019. “The key method we used in the study is luminescence dating — this is a dating technique that enables us to calculate the age at which grains of quartz in river sands were last exposed to light,” James Blinkhorn at the MPI-SHH said. “The previously oldest, well dated evidence for river activity in the Thar comes from the Luni Valley, which was certainly active 80,000-90,000 years ago, with comparable evidence from further south in the Mahi, Sabarmati and Orsang valleys, where similar evidence for fluvial activity stretches back to 100 thousand years ago,” said Blinkhorn.

The timeframe over which this river was active also overlaps with the migration of Homo sapiens out of Africa.


April -August Clocks Highest FDI Flows at $35.4b

India received $35.37 billion foreign direct investment during April-August 2020, the highest so far for the first five months of a financial year.

The FDI flows, which include equity, reinvested earnings and other capital, for the period was 13% higher than $31.6 billion received in the first five months of 2019-20.

Total equity flows in the first five months was at a record $27.1billion, 16% higher than $23.35 billion inflows in the year-earlier period.

“India is preferred destination for foreign direct investment under Prime Minister @NarendraModi ji's leadership,” tweeted commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal. “In last six years, FDI inflow (increased) 55%. During April-August 2020, despite Covid-19, FDI inflow (increased) 13%, highest ever for first five months of a financial year.”

More than $20 billion FDI inflows came in July and August alone as, according to data released by the department for promotion of industry and internal trade last month, total FDI into India in the first quarter ended June had plunged by 60% year on year at $6.5 billion.

The flows may have got a substantial boost from equity sales in Jio Platforms, a subsidiary of Reliance Industries, that received ₹1.5 lakh crore (about $20 billion) investment in the current fiscal. It is not clear how much of this investment had already come in by the end of August as the government does not maintain company-level data.

“Measures taken by the government on the fronts of FDI policy reforms, investment facilitation and ease of doing business have resulted in increased FDI inflows into the country,” the commerce and industry ministry said in a statement.

Fresh equity flows are the dominant component of FDI, followed by reinvested earnings on earlier FDI. Other capital makes up a smaller percentage of the total flows.

Investment in Reliance Retail is expected to boost inflows in the coming months. The company has raised Rs 37,710 crore from foreign investors such as Silver Lake, KKR, General Atlantic, Mubadala, GIC, TPG and ADIA over September and October.

These trends are an endorsement of India’s status as a preferred investment destination amongst global investors, the government said.

“The intent all this while has been to make the FDI policy more investor friendly and remove the policy bottlenecks that have been hindering the investment inflows into the country,” the statement said.

Total FDI inflow grew 55% from $231.37 billion in 2008-14 to $358.29 billion in 2014-20.

Maharashtra is first state to cap mask rates

Maharashtra has become the first state in the country to cap prices of all kinds of masks based on the recommendations of a state-appointed committee set up to determine maximum rates for the critical Covid care item.

While a two-ply surgical mask will now be available for just Rs.3, a three-ply one will be sold for Rs.4 and an N-95 V-shaped one for Rs.19. Till now, the cheapest N-95 mask was sold for around Rs.70.

The state issued a government resolution on Tuesday to cap the rates till the Epidemic Diseases Act is in force.

The state GR has also made it mandatory for manufacturers and distributors to print the quality and MRP on the masks. Besides, masks cannot be sold at more than 70% of the MRP to healthcare providers such as hospitals and nursing homes.

Maharashtra health minister Rajesh Tope said, “To prevent the spread of coronavirus, the state has been appealing to citizens to wear masks and are also penalizing those not wearing them. Therefore, masks had to be made affordable for the common man. The chief minister and the deputy chief minister have approved the initiative to cap the prices of masks.”

The GR has pointed out that the prices had increased “enormously”. Besides, the Central government’s cap on mask rates had ended in June and the prices subsequently increased with citizens bearing the burden of the spike. Therefore, it had become essential to bring the prices of masks under control to prevent the spread of the virus.

The state committee set up under the chairmanship of Sudhakar Shinde, chief executive officer of the State Health Assurance Society, recommended drastically reduced MRP for various kinds of masks.

The prices set by the committee are four to six times lower than those fixed after the Centre’s National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority advisory. For instance, the price of an N-95 V-shaped mask priced at Rs.135 as per the NPPA advisory, has been brought down to Rs.19 by the state.

The prices were arrived at by the committee after GST officials visited mask manufacturing facilities and examined their books. They then arrived at the cost of manufacturing and profit margins required for the masks with the help of cost auditors.

Assam seizes locomotive for ‘murdering’ elephants

Assam forest officials “seized” the engine of a goods train that had mowed down a mother elephant and her calf inside Lumding Reserve Forest through which the tracks pass, the first time such action has been taken by the authorities.

“The department shall not fail to take a tough stand against the Railways. The killing of elephants on tracks must stop forthwith,” Assam environment and forests minister Parimal Suklabaidya said.

Assam chief wildlife warden Mahendra Kumar Yadava said, “The killing of a female elephant and her calf by a goods train engine in Lumding RF on September 27 has been very vigorously pursued under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 against the railway authorities. The department instituted an inquiry under the act. Accordingly, a team of forest officials proceeded to Bamunimaidan Loco Shed on October 20 and seized the diesel loco engine (No. 12440). Earlier, the loco pilot and his assistant were suspended by the railways after an internal inquiry.”

Yadava added, “The Indian wild elephant (Elephas maximus) is a Schedule-I animal under the entry 12-B of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Therefore, a forest offence has been listed against railway officers and employees of the railway authority under Lumding division of NF Railway for the killing of the two wild elephants, which is an offence under Section 9 of the said act and punishable under Sec 51 of the act, for onward necessary action.”

Yadava said the railway authorities have been informed through written instructions to restrict the speed of trains in areas of wild elephant movement inside Lumding Reserve Forest. He added that several decisions have already been taken to run trains at 30 kmph through the elephant corridor in Lumding Elephant Reserve.

Northeast Frontier Railway chief PRO Subhanan Chanda said, “The Assam forest department wrote to us that it needs to inspect the engine, which was at Bamunimaidan railway yard (in Guwahati). After half an hour, the engine was released and we have put it back in service.”

An FIR has been lodged at Lumding Police Station against the people responsible for killing the two elephants.

Punjab passes bills against farm laws

Punjab became the first state in the country to legislatively counter Centre’s contentious farm laws when its assembly unanimously passed on Tuesday three agriculture bills, along with another bill protecting the state’s farmers from attachment of their land holding up to 2.5 acres in any recovery proceeding by any court in the state.

The assembly also passed a unanimous resolution seeking immediate annulment of the Centre’s three agri-marketing laws and promulgation of a new law to protect minimum support price and ensure continuance of procurement of foodgrains by the Centre through FCI and other agencies. The four bills, tabled by CM Captain Amarinder Singh, were passed by a voice vote.

Punjab’s bills essentially seek to amend the provisions of the three central laws and, among other things, provide for imprisonment of not less than three years and fine for a person who “harasses/ compels a farmer to sell his agricultural produce below MSP”.

Seeking to protect the interest of farmers, farm labourers and those engaged in ancillary and incidental activities related to production, sale and marketing of agricultural produce, the amendments ensure that no sale or purchase of wheat or paddy shall be valid unless the price paid for it is equal to or greater than the MSP.

Punjab’s bills also restore the primacy of Agriculture Produce Market Committee Act over the central legislations. They also protect consumers from hoarding and black marketing of agricultural produce.

The four bills, tabled by chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, were passed by a voice vote with the two BJP MLAs skipping the special session.

“If the constitutional head fails to sign the four amendment bills passed in the assembly for the welfare of farmers, the Punjab government is ready to take legal recourse,” the CM said after the meeting, adding that he was not afraid of being dismissed by the Centre.

New Covid cases dip below 50,000

For the first time in three months, the single day spike in new Covid-19 cases fell below 50,000 giving the government much respite ahead of the festival season and the winter months when a new surge is feared.

As many as 46,790 cases were reported over the last 24 hours on Tuesday, a few hundred lower than July 28 when for the last time less than 50,000 (47,703) new positive cases were recorded. The daily increase in cases thereafter saw a sharp increase and in the recent weeks touched close to even a lakh per day causing much alarm. In more good news, the percentage of active cases have fallen below 10 and on Tuesday the total positive cases in the country were less than 7.5 lakh (7,48,538), comprising comprise merely 9.85 percent of the total cases, the Health Ministry said in its daily bulletin.

“The slide in active cases is supplemented by an exponential rise in recoveries. The total recovered cases have crossed 67 lakh (67,33,328). The difference between active cases and recovered cases is consistently increasing. The national recovery rate has further grown to 88.63 percent,” the ministry in its statement.

Almost 78 percent of the new recovered cases are concentrated in 10 states with Maharashtra leading with more than 15,000 single day recoveries followed by Karnataka with more than 8,000 recoveries. Around 75 percent of the new confirmed cases continue to come from 10 with Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala contributing more than 5000 to the new confirmed cases.

Even as plasma therapy continues to be used as part of the Covid-19 treatment protocol, the Indian Council of Medical Research that has in the past raised doubts over the efficacy of the treatment said on Tuesday that the treatment protocol is likely to be taken off the existing guidelines. “We have had discussions in the national task force. We are now discussing it with the joint monitoring group for the deletion of plasma therapy from the national guidelines,” ICMR director general Dr Balram Bhargava said.

In his seventh address to the nation since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the imposition of a strict nationwide lockdown in March, Prime Minister Narendra Modi cautioned people to be careful ahead of the festival season. “This is not the time to be careless. This is not the time to think that corona is gone and the danger is over. You are risking your family, your children and your elders by doing so… We must keep in mind that lockdown may have ended, but the virus is still there,” Modi said in his brief address. “Dawai nahin to dhilai nahin (no laxity without cure).”


Goa to develop India’s first sand dune parks

It is not uncommon to find videos online of tourists or locals driving their vehicles on the state’s beaches. Many beach stretches are suddenly devoid of vegetation. In places where there is some greenery, visitors are often seen trampling it or discarding trash there.

This sand dune ecosystem, so far neglected, is set to get a new lease of life in Goa. World Bank has approved a project proposed by the Goa state biodiversity board that will see India’s first sand dune parks and interpretation centres developed along select stretches.

Around Rs.3 crore has been sanctioned to the state under the programme, and will see interventions like interpretation centres to educate locals and tourists on the importance of the sand dune ecosystem.

Bridges made of nature friendly material will also be constructed to reduce trampling on sand dune vegetation. This is not all — even nurseries of sand dune vegetation will be set up, which will enable its replantation on beach stretches where vegetation has gone extinct.

Board member secretary Pradip Sarmokadam said that the Morjim and Galgibaga beaches, known for their turtle-nesting sites, are among the stretches that will get sand dune parks.

The idea of parks to preserve sand dunes was first mooted by former NIO scientist and ex-member of the GSBB Antonio Mascarenhas, who will now act as principal investigator for the project, with Sarmokadam as co-investigator.

“Preserving sand dunes is important because they are the first line of defense from phenom ena like tsunami, tall waves, storms or high winds, which hit the coast first,” said Sarmokadam. “The vegetation on sand dunes is an important part of this ecosystem, which few are aware about. The project will also see us regularly monitoring flora and fauna on sand dunes.” He added that the project is part of the effort to create Goa’s integrated coastal zone management plan.

He also said that consultations between the Morjim biodiversity management committee with stakeholders has already begun on the project.

“We observed in Morjim that there was trash thrown in the vegetation, besides uncontrolled footfalls on it,” Sarmokadam said.

“Visitors were unnecessarily stepping on areas they could avoid. Under the programme, interpretation and thematic centres will be developed where visitors will be educated and sensitised about the importance of the sand dune ecosystem,” he added.

He also said that BMCs would act as nodal agencies to help restore degraded sand dunes, and this will ensure the involvement of local stakeholders so that the projects’ benefits continue much after the World Bankfunded programme ends.

L&T set to build 47% of bullet train corridor

Larsen & Toubro has emerged as the lowest bidder for the design and construction of the largest segment of the high speed rail line between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. The company bid Rs.24,985 crore to build 237.1 km of the 508.17-km corridor, beating two other bids led by Tata Projects and Afcons Infrastructure Ltd.

L&T’s segment starts at the Maharashtra-Gujarat boundary, extends till Vadodara station, and includes four stations at Vapi, Bilimora, Surat and Bharuch in Gujarat. The work includes design and construction of civil works, including viaducts, bridges, maintenance depots, tunnels and stations.

The National High Speed Rail Corporation had invited bids for the bullet train project on March 15 last year. Technical bids were opened on September 23 this year, in which three bidders qualified. The other two bidders were consortiums of Tata Projects Ltd-J Kumar Infraprojects Ltd-NCC Ltd JV, and Afcons Infrastructure Ltd-Ircon International Ltd-JMC Projects India Ltd JV. The NHSRCL opened financial bids on Monday.

A spokesperson for the National High Speed Rail Corporation Ltd said the three bidders The project, which will cover Mumbai-Ahmedabad in just two hours, is estimated to cost Rs.1.08 lakh-crore. The Japan International Cooperation Agency is providing 80 per cent of the funding through a soft loan. The remaining cost has to be borne by Maharashtra and Gujarat in the form of land acquisitions. The project is developed through the Japanese E5 Shinkansen technology, which has a zero-fatality record.

Pune: CCT project prevent flooding across Baner-Balewadi-Aundh

Successful application of a key technique used in agriculture to store water in arid areas has prevented recurrence of last year’s massive flood in Baner-Balewadi-Aundh on Wednesday.

For years, the system — construction of continuous contour trench  — has been used in several countries, including India, for watershed management that also prevents soil erosion. Replicating the model was not easy, but several members of a non-governmental organisation took it up on themselves since the floods of September 25, 2019.

When last week, most city areas were pounded by heavy rains, hundreds of Baner-Balewadi-Aundh residents heaved a sigh of relief, as there was hardly any prolonged waterlogging, unlike previous years.

Panduraj Bhujbal, a member of NGO Vasundhara Abhiyana, said, “Last year, the damage in our area has been massive and we realised something must be done to prevent recurrence. We started digging up deep CCTs to block flow of water and lakhs of litres of water were stored. We are 100 per cent sure the prevention of floods happened majorly because of the work we have done. We have dug several CCTs that are two-feet deep, through which water easily percolates. This also helps in preventing soil erosion. Little to no work has been done by the government authorities to control damage after heavy rains.”

Around 800 members of Vasundhara Abhiyan have been toiling on the hills of Baner every day in the last year. They had started work on CCTs to stop flow of water from the tekdi, which is spread over 40 acres.

Another volunteer, Chandu Dighe, added, “The prevention of floods is the fruit of our efforts. It’s advance planning that has helped us this year and we have not taken help of any government body in doing the same — be it manpower or money. The hills are entirely looked after by us.”

Environmentalists and officials from Pune Municipal Corporation have lauded their efforts, saying this can be the reason that many areas remained unaffected last week. Mangesh Dighe, head of the environment department at PMC, said, “It is true that the Baner-Balewadi area this year didn’t face any trouble and a lot of credit can be given to the organisation for carrying out the CCT activity. This certainly helps to a certain extent to prevent the water flow.”

Gurudas Nulkar, the trustee of Ecological Society and professor at Symbiosis Centre for Management Studies, added, “A further study about this will help understand the issue in-depth. But it’s true CCTs help in percolation and control soil erosion. These also prevent flooding.”


Bengaluru: Metro set to enter 10th year

On October 20, 2011, South India’s first Metro train chugged out of MG Road station to Byappanahalli for a 6.7km run. Set to enter its 10th year of operations on Tuesday, Namma Metro network now traverses 42km and all trains have been converted from three coaches to six.

For a traffic-congested city like Bengaluru which has no mass rail transport system in place, Namma Metro was a godsend. Though it has slowly evolved from its ‘toytrain’ status to the city’s lifeline, experts say BMRCL has failed to expand its network over the years.

Though Metro rail systems in Hyderabad and Chennai started much later, they have now overtaken Bengaluru. While Hyderabad Metro, which started in 2017, operates over 69km, Chennai Metro that began in June 2015 has 45-km network. Delhi Metro, which started in 2002, now has 384-km network, with an average of 21 km added every year. Mumbai Metro started in 2014 and is also expanding at a faster pace than Namma Metro.

Namma Metro’s 72-km Phase 2 corridors are under construction, a majority of which is promised to be operational by 2022. “The Silk Board-KR Puram (18km) and KR Puram-Kempegowda International Airport (36km) sections are also in the tendering stage,” said a BMRCL official. The Centre is yet to approve the Outer Ring Road-KIA airport Metro corridor.

The Centre approved the 72-km Phase 2 in 2014 with a five-year deadline. “Phase 2 should have been completed by 2019, but not a single corridor is ready. BMRCL must focus on multi-modal integration, especially in places like Yeshwantpur,” said Sanjeev Dyamannavar, an activist.

BMRCL plans to open the first section of Yelachenahalli-Anjanapura (6.2km) by November. Work on 3.7km of the elevated Nagasandra-Bangalore International Exhibition Centre corridor started in 2017 and was slated to be over by mid-2019. The deadline was first extended to 2020 and later to 2022.

BMRCL blamed land acquisition issues and PILs for the delay. It has been facing challenges in acquiring land from individuals, NICE, forest department and defence ministry. “We’ve taken up several plantation drives, but people continue to approach courts against BMRCL for tree felling,” said an official.

An official said though Phase 2 was approved in 2014, work started only in 2015-16. Funding and land acquisition for the project were completed only recently. Generally, it takes five years to commission a line once the work starts, the official added.

While NICE dragged BMRCL to court over acquiring its land, there was also a delay in getting permission from the forest department to set up depots in Kadugodi and Anjanapura. Residents of Anchepalya village near BIEC stalled work for months demanding a new station. Later, BMRCL agreed to construct two new roads.

While a section of members of All Saints Church opposed land acquisition for Vellara station, there were protests against shifting the location of the Cantonment station to a playground at Bamboo Bazaar. Officials said several PILs were filed for cutting trees, so the work was halted especially in places like Tin Factory. Another PIL was filed to stop construction of the elevated Metro line near Jakkur aerodrome.

The financial crisis of IL&FS and Simplex Infra was also another worry. Though the Metro had a ridership of 4.5 lakh before the lockdown, it has now reduced to 50,000.

Naval version of BrahMos successfully test-fired

A naval version of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile was successfully test-fired from an indigenously built stealth destroyer of the Indian Navy in the Arabian Sea on Sunday, officials said.

The missile was fired from INS Chennai, a stealth destroyer, and it hit the target with pinpoint accuracy after performing “extremely complex” manoeuvres, they said.

“BrahMos as prime strike weapon’ will ensure the warship’s invincibility by engaging naval surface targets at long ranges, thus making the destroyer another lethal platform of Indian Navy,” the defence ministry said in a statement.

BrahMos Aerospace, an India-Russia joint venture, produces the supersonic cruise missile that can be launched from submarines, ships, aircraft, or from land platforms.

Defence minister Rajnath Singh congratulated the Defence Research and Development Organisation , the Brah-Mos Aerospace and the Indian Navy for the “successful” test-firing of the missile.

DRDO Chairman G Satheesh Reddy too congratulated the scientists and all personnel involved in the test-firing of the missile which he said will add to the capabilities of the Indian Armed Forces in many ways.

In the last few weeks, India has test fired a number of missiles including a new version of the surface-to-surface supersonic cruise missile BrahMos and anti-radiation missile Rudram-1. India also carried out successful test firing of a laser guided anti-tank guided missile and nuclear capable hypersonic missile ‘Shaurya’. 

India can check pandemic by Feb-end: Expert panel

The number of active, symptomatic Covid-19 cases in India has already peaked at around 10 lakh on September 17, a government expert committee’s report said on Sunday. The cumulative caseload may reach 1.06 crore, with negligible growth by February-end, signalling a consistent downturn, the panel, comprising scientists from IITs, IISc Bengaluru, ISI Kolkata and CMC Vellore, added.

This means the pandemic can be controlled by early 2021with “minimal active symptomatic infections” in February.

Releasing the report based on a mathematical model, the panel, appointed by the ministry of science and technology, said the projections wouldn’t hold if practices like wearing masks, disinfecting places, contact tracing and quarantine rules are not followed.

The Covid-19 curve would depend on these factors apart from states testing and implementing containment protocols, it said. India has reported around 75 lakh cases and the report’s findings would indicate an addition of around 26 lakh cases. The active cases add up to around 7.8 lakh, well below the 9-10 lakh cases in mid-September. India’s cumulative positivity rate is 7.95% and it stood at 6.37% on Saturday.

The panel found 30% of India’s population projected to have antibodies as against 14% in August-end. This is at variance with the ICMR sero survey that indicated 7% antibody prevalence in August-end. Which of the two estimates is more correct may have a bearing on how far the committee’s findings pan out.

“This number being at 30% of the population with antibodies at the moment is good news as that is the explanation for the downturn in this pandemic. The other point is that cumulative mortality is projected to be less than 0.04% of total infected,” said Prof M Vidyasagar of IIT Hyderabad who headed the panel.

“We can’t relax because this nice downward trend will continue only if we continue with the protective measures,” he said. As per the panel, India reached its peak four days earlier than the projection (September 21) made by this ‘Covid-19 India National Supermodel’. But without preventive measures, cases can rise by 26 lakh in a month, it said.

“If there was no lockdown, we would have had a peak that was 15 times higher in the middle of June, which would have been overwhelming for the country to cope with. By enforcing the lockdown in March, we not only reduced the load on our system but also pushed the peak to September from the projected May-end,” he said.


Maharashtra Government to turn 700 acres of mangrove land in Manori into ‘reserved forest’

The Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation wrote to the state forest department’s mangrove cell earlier this week, asking it to earmark mangroves on a massive plot in Manori, which belongs to MTDC, so that it could be handed over to the department and declared a reserved forest. With this the state’s tourism agency, headed by environment minister Aaditya Thackeray, has begun the process of handing close to 700 acres of land with mangroves to the forest department and creating the city’s first ‘mangrove forest’. Even after giving up the 700 acres, MTDC will still have around 150-200 acres of land to develop for tourism-related activities in Manori and Gorai.

Ashutosh Salil, joint managing director, MTDC, said, “This was being discussed for quite some time. Now we have written to the mangrove cell, asking them to survey the plot and earmark the land that has mangroves. Our preliminary survey shows that [the mangroves] could be spread over around 700 acres. We can’t develop this land anyway, so it was decided to hand it over to the forest department.”

An official said the decision was taken by Thackeray, who directed officials to fast-track the process. “We can’t build anything on this land, and it would not be advisable to allow people to go to these areas. So it would be best to give this land back to the forest department and reserve them as a forest. Some part of the mangrove area will still remain with the MTDC,” the official added.

According to tourism department officials, around 1,000 acres across Manori and Gorai, 75 acres in Manori, and around 130 acres in Gorai have been reserved for playgrounds, tourist amenities and parking, while around 850 acres in the Manori-Gorai belt are mangrove lands.

A senior forest department official said that some of the mangrove areas in the Manori-Gorai belt have already been designated as forests. “We will carry out a detailed site verification of along creek edges both at Gorai and Manori to demarcate the area that the MTDC can hand over. This will ensure that the mangroves are free from encroachments and debris,” the official said.

Officials said that in September 2018, the Bombay High Court had directed that all mangroves, including those on land belonging to the state government, be declared as protected or reserved forests.

D Stalin, of Vanshakti, an environmental NGO, said, “After Aarey this is another welcome move by the state government. This will have a big impact on improving the mangrove footprint of the city. However, the mangroves must actually be protected. This must not end with a mere handover. Severe action must be taken against those who destroy mangroves.”

Last week, the state’s revenue and forest Department issued a notification under Section 4 of the Indian Forest Act, 1927, announcing its intention to declare 820 acres of Aarey Colony a reserved forest. The notification stated that 102.5 acres of land owned by the state forest department in Aarey Colony is proposed to be declared a reserved forest. While this land had been handed over to the department to build a zoo, that plan now stands scrapped. The other parcel of land, 717.5 acres spread over three revenue villages of Borivali, Goregaon and Marol-Maroshi in Aarey Milk Colony and owned by the Dairy Development Department, are also proposed to be declared a reserved forest.

According to environmentalists, mangroves are found in tropical swampy marshland, with roots that grow above the ground. Thousands of acres of velvety green mangroves line the coast of Mumbai. They act as natural buffers against coastal erosion and flooding, and store up to four times as much carbon as other forests.


Passenger vehicle sales rise 17% in Q2

As the festive season kicks in, car companies reported higher deliveries to dealerships in view of the anticipated demand rise. Passenger vehicle deliveries to dealers increased by 26% to 2.7 lakh units in September as against 2.1 lakh units in the same month last year, according to numbers released by industry body Siam.

Two-wheeler deliveries also rose 12% to 18.5 lakh units, compared with 16.6 lakh units in September last year. While motorcycle sales were at 12.2 lakh units (10.4 lakh in September 2019) at a growth of 17%, scooter sales were also up marginally at 5.6 lakh units against 5.5 lakh units in the same month last year.

In the July-September 2020 quarter, passenger vehicles sales increased 17% to 7.3 lakh units from 6.2 lakh units in the same period of last fiscal. Two-wheeler sales during the September quarter this fiscal rose marginally to 46.9 lakh units as compared with 46.8 lakh units in the same period last fiscal.

However, commercial vehicles sales saw a dip of 20% at 1.3 lakh units in the quarter under review as compared with 1.7 lakh units in July-September 2019. Vehicle sales across categories during the second quarter declined marginally to 55.9 lakh units as against 56.5 lakh units in the same period of the previous fiscal. Companies are pinning their hopes on the festive push. Demand has been challenging this year as factors like economic slowdown and job losses in metro towns have kept a large number of buyers away.

Companies say some signs of positivity are being noticed. Toyota was the only notable company to have witnessed a decline in year-on-year sales in September (-20%), while others such as Maruti Suzuki, Hyundai and Honda Cars grew by double digits. For Tata Motors and Kia, the numbers grew by162% and 147% respectively on the back of new models. On the two-wheeler side, Hero Moto, Honda and Royal Enfield reported growth.

Maruti, however, cautioned that the growth needs to be seen with the context that last September was a “low base” period. Companies say that any credible recovery will only be confirmed once the festive demand and trends are clearer.

Samsung Reclaims Top Spot from Xiaomi

Samsung has recaptured the top position in the Indian smartphone market for July and August, driven by the Korean company’s aggressive online sales strategy to leverage the opportunities provided by anti-China sentiment in certain sections in the country.

As per Counterpoint Research data, Samsung had a 24% market share in July and 25% in August. Xiaomi, which held the top position in the Indian market for about two years, had a 22% share in July, which slid to 21% in August.

Samsung’s market share in July-August was its highest since 2018, when China-based Xiaomi displaced it as the country’s top smartphone brand. The company was pushed to No. 3 by Vivo, another Chinese brand, in the two quarters through March 2020, before it started to recapture the lost ground in the April-June period when the Chinese brands suffered mainly due to supply issues.

Samsung, which is present across all price points, has leveraged the anti-China sentiment starting June, said industry watchers.

Soon after the lockdown eased, Samsung ramped up the production quicker than rivals and was able to maintain a stable supply in the market.

India-China relations ‘profoundly disturbed’ by Galwan Valley clashes: Jaishankar

India-China relations have been “profoundly disturbed” by the Galwan Valley clashes in June in eastern Ladakh, foreign minister S Jaishankar said on Friday. Speaking at an Asia Society event on a virtual platform, Jaishankar said the Galwan clashes, which saw casualties on both sides, had a huge impact on political and popular perceptions of China in India. Over the past three decades, he said, India and China had built a relationship “and a basis for building that relationship has been peace and tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control”.

“To underline the enormity of that, It was the first military casualty we had after 1975. So what it has done is, it has obviously had a very deep public impact, very major political impact and it has left the relationship profoundly disturbed,” he said.


Kashmir: Abdullah, Mufti to fight for Article 370 together

Mainstream political parties in Jammu and Kashmir forged an alliance to fight for the restoration of the special status of the erstwhile state as it existed before August 5 last year.

In a meeting held at the residence of National Conference president Farooq Abdullah, PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, who was released recently after 14 months in preventive detention, Peoples Conference chairman Sajad Lone, Peoples Movement leader Javaid Mir and CPI(M) leader Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami decided to formalise the alliance, that has been named ‘Peoples’ Alliance for Gupkar Declaration’.

The National Conference president said, “We shall struggle for restoration of what was snatched from Jammu Kashmir and Ladakh. Ours is a constitutional battle ... we would strive for restoration of the constitution (with regard to J&K) as it existed on August 5, 2019.”

National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah and other senior leaders of the party were also present at the meeting. JKPCC chief Ghulam Ahmad Mir could not attend the meeting “due to medical reasons”

On August 4 last year, all major political parties in Kashmir, except BJP, had met at the residence of Farooq Abdullah in Gupkar amidst uncertainty and tension in the erstwhile state as the Centre had rushed additional paramilitary forces there while asking all tourists including Amarnath pilgrims to leave the Valley as soon as possible. Their joint statement expressing concern over the situation came to be known as the Gupkar Declaration. In a follow up, the political parties had met again in August this year and vowed to continue the fight.


24 states, UTs to implement affordable rental housing scheme

Two dozen states and UTs have come on board to implement the scheme for Affordable Rental Housing Complexes, aimed at providing affordable rental accommodation to the working class in cities and towns. The housing and urban affairs ministry on Wednesday launched a portal for implementation and getting updated progress of the scheme.

Officials said that now the municipal bodies can float Expression of Interest from private players who are keen to maintain and manage the vacant housing complexes built with the government and rent them out at a rate to be fixed by the respective authorities.

Launching the portal, Union minister Hardeep Singh Puri said that the government is extending many incentives, including 50% free floor space index, concessional project finance and free-ofcost trunk infrastructure facilities to push participation in scheme for urban poor and migrants. He said, “I’ll personally write to CMs of states that are yet to sign it.”

Clear your stand on same-sex marriage: Delhi HC

Laws are gender neutral and government should try and interpret them in a beneficial way, Delhi High Court remarked on Wednesday, while hearing separate petitions by two same sex couples unable to get legal recognition to their union.

A bench of justices RS Endlaw and Asha Menon sought the stand of the Centre and Delhi government on a petition by two women seeking to get married under the Special Marriage Act, which does not provide for same sex marriages.

On the second plea, the court issued notice to the Centre and the Consulate General of India in New York where two gay men married in the US but were denied registration of their marriage under the Foreign Marriage Act and are unable to fly down to India.

Hearing both petitions together, the bench raised doubts over maintainability, pointing out that in the Indian context, the concept of marriage emanates from the customary laws that do not recognise same sex marriages.

It also said that marriage is not defined under the SMA and FMA, and everyone interprets what a marriage is according to the customary laws, adding that if same sex marriages get recognised under customary laws, it would be followed by other statutes. The court also highlighted that statutes such as SMA were enacted as there were no customs for inter-faith and inter-caste marriages.


Mehbooba Mufti released from detention, PSA revoked

PDP president and former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti was released on Tuesday night as the Union Territory administration revoked the Public Safety Act charges against her, more than a year after she was detained following the abrogation of special status of the erstwhile state.

The development came barely two days before the Supreme Court was to hear the matter related to her detention.

The Deputy Commissioner ordered that the PSA has been revoked with immediate effect. Her detention period had been extended for a period of three months on July 31 this year.

Mehbooba, 60, who was initially put under preventive custody on August 5 last year and later booked under the stringent PSA on February 6, was shifted to her official residence on April 7 after it was declared a subsidiary jail by the authorities.

Her elated daughter Iltija expressed happiness that her mother was finally released from detention, which she alleged was “illegal, unlawful and a complete traversity of justice”.

“I now hope that other youths who have been detained for over a year in various jails in and outside the state are also released soon,” Iltija said. She also signed off from her mother’s Twitter handle with a tweet: “As Ms Mufti’s illegal detention finally comes to an end, I’d like to thank everybody who supported me in these tough times. I owe a debt of gratitude to you all. This is Iltija signing off....”

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah also tweeted that he was pleased to hear that Mehooba had been released after more than a year in detention.

“Her continued detention was a travesty and was against the basic tenets of democracy. Welcome out Mehbooba,” he tweeted.

Mehbooba, president of People’s Democratic Party, was arrested on the eve of abrogation of special status to Jammu and Kashmir and its bifurcation into two Union Territories on August 5 last year. 

India set to slip below Bangladesh in 2020 per capita GDP: IMF

Bangladesh is set to beat India in terms of per capita gross domestic product this calendar year, thanks to a sharp contraction in the Indian economy due to Covid-19 and the economic lockdown.

According to International Monetary Fund -World Economic Outlook, Bangladesh’s per capita GDP in dollar terms is expected to grow 4 per cent in 2020 to $1,888. India’s per capita GDP, on the other hand, is expected to decline 10.5 per cent to $1,877 – the lowest in the last four years. The GDP figure for both countries is at current prices. This makes India the third poorest country in South Asia, with only Pakistan and Nepal reporting lower per capita GDP, while Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Maldives would be ahead of India.

The WEO database suggests that the Indian economy will be the worst hit from the pandemic in South Asia after Sri Lanka, whose per capita GDP is expected to shrink 4 per cent in the current calendar year.

In comparison, Nepal and Bhutan are expected to grow their economies this year, while the IMF has not divulged Pakistan’s data for 2020 and beyond.

IMF predicts a sharp economic recovery in India next year, which is likely to push per capita GDP ahead of Bangladesh in 2021 by a small margin.

India’s per capita GDP in dollar terms is expected to grow 8.2 per cent in 2021, against an expected 5.4 per cent growth for Bangladesh. This will grow India’s per capita GDP to $2,030 next year, against Bangladesh’s $1,990.

Till five years ago, India’s per capita GDP was nearly 40 per cent higher than Bangladesh’s. In the last five years, Bangladesh’s per capita GDP has grown at a compound annual growth rate of 9.1 per cent, against 3.2 per cent growth reported by India during the period. This has allowed Bangladesh to close the economy gap with its giant neighbour. According to economists, Bangladesh’s economic growth has been underpinned by its fast-growing export sector and a steady rise in rate of savings and investment in the country. In contrast, India’s exports have stagnated in recent years, while savings and investment have declined.

According to the WEO database, India’s economic contraction in 2020 will be its worst since the 1990-91 economic crisis when the per capita GDP had contracted 17.5 per cent in 1991. India’s GDP per capita in dollar terms had last contracted 1 per cent year-on-year in 2012 due to currency depreciation. In all, India’s per capita GDP in dollar terms contracted on eight occasions in 40 years, five of which occurred prior to 2000.


Mumbai Metro 3: City’s first underground Metro to be elevated as well

The Colaba-Bandra-Seepz Metro 3 will now not only be underground but also on-ground and elevated. The government agencies – Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority and Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation  – are chalking out plans to merge Metro 3 with Swami Samarth Nagar-Jogeshwari-Vikhroli-Kanjurmarg Metro 6.

Senior officials in the government said that they are looking at integrating the two metro lines for which Metro 3 will take the elevated route after Seepz over Jogeshwari-Vikhroli Link Road. It will also briefly go on-ground before taking the elevated route of up to 1.5 km. This would mean that these two metro lines will connect south Mumbai, central Mumbai, western and eastern suburbs.

“From here, it will connect the proposed Metro 6. There is no need for constructing another line,” said a senior official.

Usually it takes around Rs.150 crore per kilometre for creating a metro line, including its signalling, overhead power cables and tracks. This will require change in detailed project report as other changes like number of coaches in Metro 6 is also being thought of. The DPR will help in adapting to the system and specifications of underground metro line with an elevated one to avoid future troubles, the official said.

On Monday the MMRDA which is looking after the execution work Metro line 6 held a meeting and asked officials to prepare a new detailed project report so that both lines do not have glitches of signalling, system and track.

The length of the platform will be increased for line six. Apart from that the signalling system and integration of both lines will cost about Rs.425 crore, according to the official.

September 2020: Retail inflation hits 7.3%

Retail inflation accelerated to an 8-month high in September and crossed the 7%-mark as food prices hardened, dashing hopes of any interest rate cut by the RBI to bolster a faltering economy. Separate data showed industrial output contracted for the sixth month in a row in August but the pace of decline narrowed, indicating the pick-up in activity as the economy opened for business after the strict coronavirus-induced lockdown.

But the inflation numbers remained worrisome with food inflation hitting the double-digit mark in September.

Inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, rose an annual 7.3% in September, compared to the 6.7% increase in August. Rural inflation was at 7.4%, while the rate in the urban areas was 7.3%. The Food Price Index rose to 10.7% in September, higher than August’s 9.1%, the data showed.

While the pace of contraction has narrowed in the factory output data, it still remains in the grip of a slowdown with all the three key sectors — manufacturing, mining and electricity — contracting. The data showed the Index of Industrial Production contracted 8% in August, compared to the 10.8% decline in July and 1.4% fall registered in the year earlier period.

The contraction during the April-August period was at 25%, compared with a 2.4% expansion in the year earlier period. 


Loan repayment moratorium can’t be extended: RBI

The Reserve Bank of India filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court rejecting the demand of various sectors, including real estate, for extension of loan repayment moratorium that was granted from March 1 till August 31 citing pandemic-caused depressed economic activity.

It also requested the SC to vacate its earlier order putting a blanket ban on lenders from declaring defaulting loan accounts as NPA, thus freezing initiation of recovery proceedings. “If the stay is not lifted immediately, it shall have huge implications for the banking system, apart from undermining the regulatory mandate of the RBI,” it said.

RBI’s move came hours after the Centre said it would not be possible to add to the already announced financial relief packages and urged the court against getting into sector-specific financial assistance.

The regulator for banks and non-bank finance companies told the apex court that the moratorium was an immediate regulatory measure to tackle an urgent situation and provide reprieve to borrowers affected by the pandemic, but without compromising the vitals of the financial system. “It entails significant costs to the lenders and a balance needs to be maintained in the overall consideration,” it said.

Objecting to any extension of the six-month moratorium, the banking regulator said, “A long moratorium exceeding six months can also impact credit behaviour of borrowers and increase the risks of delinquencies post resumption of scheduled payments. It may result in vitiating the overall credit discipline which will have a debilitating impact on the process of credit creation in the economy. It will be the small borrowers which may end up bearing the brunt of the impact as their access to formal lending channels is critically dependent on the credit culture.”

Referring to its August 6 Resolution Framework, RBI said it was meant to help those non-defaulting borrowers who faced difficulty in repayment only because the pandemic caused financial stress and not aimed at helping chronic defaulters.

India set to be 3rd largest economy by 2050

India is likely to overtake Japan as the third largest economy in the world by 2050 and continue in that position till 2100, according to a study published in the medical journal Lancet.

The study constructed scenarios for GDP using the working age population of countries. It also assessed potential economic and geopolitical effects of future demographic shifts. The study based 2017 as the reference when India was the seventh largest economy in the world, and forecast that India will emerge as the fourth largest economy by 2030 behind USA, China, Japan and by 2050 it will go onto the third spot and retain it till 2100. The study published in July plotted the forecasted number of working-age individuals (aged 20–64 years) for the ten largest countries in 2017, in the reference scenario. It said that huge declines in the number of workers were forecasted in China and India, alongside steady increases in Nigeria. By 2100, India was forecasted to still have the largest working-age population in the world, followed by Nigeria, China, and the USA.

The study showed that China would rise to the top in 2035 in the reference scenario for GDP, but would be superseded by the USA again in 2098 as population decline curtailed economic growth. Other countries bolstered by immigration that rose up in the global rankings by GDP were Australia and Israel. Despite huge declines in population forecasted this century, Japan remained the fourth-largest economy in 2100, according to the study on fertility, mortality, migration and population scenarios for 195 countries from 2017 to 2100. It said that understanding potential patterns in future population levels is crucial for anticipating and planning for changing age structures, resource and health-care needs, and environmental and economic landscapes. India, Asia’s third-largest economy, had set itself a target of being a $5 trillion economy by 2024-25 but the pandemic has stalled the march towards that target as growth has plunged.

Experts say that India needs to grow at a faster clip to help it reduce poverty and raise the living standards. The study suggested that continued trends in female educational attainment and access to contraception will hasten declines in fertility and slow population growth.

Covid-19: Maharashtra deaths go past 40k

Continuing with high Covid-19 fatalities, Maharashtra added 308 deaths, taking the toll to 40,040. Over 37% of the Covid-19 deaths reported nationally were from the state, which added the last 10,000 deaths in merely 25 days. The state had 30,409 deaths on September 15.

The state case fatality rate was 2.6%, higher than the national rate of 1.5%. The state added 11,416 cases, taking the total caseload to 15,17,434.

The rise in cases in Mumbai on Saturday was 2,203, a dip from the the sharp increase to 2,800-plus on Wednesday and Thursday. The Covid-19 tally stood at 2.27 lakh. There were 48 deaths, taking the toll to 9,391. “The number of cases had risen for a couple of days, but it could be due to some special collection drives we organise from time to time,” additional municipal commissioner Suresh Kakani said.

For over a week now, the state has reported more daily discharges than daily additions, and the trend continued on Saturday as 26,440 people were discharged, taking the total discharges to 12.5 lakh and the rate of recovery to 82.7%.

Active cases in the state were on the decline. There was a total of 2.2 lakh active cases in the state.


Banks’ RTGS Facility to Go 24x7 from December

In a move set to benefit businesses that transfer high value payments, the RTGS channels operated by banks will be functional 24X7 around the calendar from later this year.

“In order to facilitate swift and seamless payments in real time for domestic businesses and institutions, it has been decided to make available the RTGS system round the clock on all days from December 2020,” central bank Governor Shaktikanta Das said during his Monetary Policy Committee address.

“In December 2019, the RBI made available the NEFT system on a 24x7x365 basis and the system has been operating smoothly since then,” he said. India will be among the few countries globally that have enabled large ticket payments round the clock.

Currently, there are two major channels for large ticket transactions: National Electronic Fund Transfer  and Real Time Gross Settlement. Both are controlled interoperable payment channels used for fund transfer by entities between different accounts.

While NEFT transactions are done in time batches, which cause slight delays in payments, RTGS transactions are instantaneous.

However, while NEFT doesn’t have any minimum transaction limit, RTGS can only be used for high value transactions with a minimum limit of ₹2 lakh.

The RTGS system is currently available for customers from 7 am to 6 pm on all working days of a week.

India successfully tests indigenous anti-radiation missile Rudram-1

India successfully tested a new, indigenous air-launched missile called ‘Rudram-1’, which is designed to destroy a variety of enemy surveillance, communication and radar targets on the ground after being fired from Sukhoi-30MKI fighters.

The new generation antiradiation missile Rudram-1, which will take some time to become operational, has a strike range from 100-200 km depending on the altitude from which it is fired.

The missile, with a launch speed from Mach 0.6 to 2 (twice the speed of sound), was tested from a Sukhoi jet against a ‘radiating target’ on the Long Wheeler Island off the Odisha coast around 11.15 am.

“The Rudram-1 missile, which has INS-GPS navigation with a passive homing head for the final attack, manoeuvred towards the target based on direction detected by the seeker and hit it with pinpoint accuracy. All mission objectives were successfully met,” a DRDO scientist said.

DRDO has conducted a series of tests of different weapon systems in recent days amid the ongoing military confrontation in eastern Ladakh with China. They include the indigenously-developed hypersonic technology demonstrator vehicle, extended range BrahMos supersonic cruise missile (400-km range), among others.


Free media here: India taunts China on Taiwan

In a dig at China, India said Thursday there’s a free media here that reports “as it sees fit”. The remark by the spokesperson followed China’s appeal to the Indian media this week to follow One-China policy.

“There is a free media in India that reports on issues as it sees fit,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said at a media briefing.

The Chinese embassy spokesperson on Thursday tweeted that Taiwan was an inalienable part of China’s territory. India does not have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan. “One-China policy is int’l universal consensus & longstanding position of #Indian govt, which China appreciates. It’s wishful thinking to seek any ‘Taiwan independence’,” tweeted the spokesperson.

“All countries that have diplomatic relations with China should firmly honor their commitment to the One-China policy, which is also the long-standing official position of the Indian government,” said the spokesperson in a letter to the Indian media. This was after advertisements by Taiwan government in a couple of Indian papers.

Meanwhile, Taiwan foreign minister Joseph Wu scoffed at Beijing’s advice. “India is the largest democracy on Earth with a vibrant press & freedom-loving people. But it looks like communist #China is hoping to march into the subcontinent by imposing censorship. #Taiwan’s Indian friends will have one reply: GET LOST!” he said in a tweet.

Risky to permit Huawei in India: Ex-R&AW boss Sood

Former R&AW chief Vikram Sood says there are powerful strategic, technological, geopolitical and legal reasons to suggest it could be risky to permit Chinese telecom major Huawei, with its state-structured backing, to launch operations in India’s critical infrastructure. The Centre is yet to take a call on allocating radiowaves despite telecom operators applying for spectrum to start 5G trials. In his book “The Ultimate Goal: A Former R&AW Chief Deconstructs How Nations Construct Narratives”, Sood says “the Chinese government financed Huawei and had moral compunctions in helping intellectual property theft in the US”.

Maharashtra: Shirdi-Nagpur super e-way stretch by May

From May 2021, motorists will be able to drive on a major portion of Maharashtra’s Balasaheb Thackeray Mumbai-Nagpur super expressway, also known as prosperity corridor, to cut short travel time between the state’s first and second capital in record time, MSRDC, the state’s infrastructure arm, announced on Thursday.

A 520 km Shirdi-Nagpur stretch of the upcoming 701 km super-communication highway will be operational from May 2021, MSRDC MD Radheshyam Mopalwar told the media. A 153 km stretch between Amravati-Aurangabad out of 520 km is ready, he added, pointing out that a 50 km stretch on the route between Washim-Buldhana may be delayed a bit.

Over 20,000 labourers are working, as against 18,000 in pre-Covid times, on the Rs.55,000 crore project.

Mopalwar said by December 2021, the stretch up to Igatpuri (total 623 km between Nagpur-Igatpuri) will be operational. By May 2022, the entire corridor will be operational, cutting short 16-hour travel time to eight hours. He said though Covid had delayed the project by three months, there was no cost escalation as it was being built on a fixed-cost basis.

Joint MDs Anilkumar Gaikwad and Dr Chandrakant Pulkundwar said of the proposed 19 planned townships along the corridor, development plans for eight were ready and land acquisition for six will be completed by June 2021. The industrial and logistical townships will accommodate one lakh people each.

MSRDC will seek its board’s approval to lease out land parcels at Bandra, Nepean Sea Road, Pune Expressway in Pune city and Kolhapur to earn around Rs.15,000 crore. The earnings will help MSRDC reduce the financial burden for its multi-crore projects.

RBI keeps policy rates unchanged

The monetary policy committee of the Reserve Bank of India kept policy rates unchanged, and the governor assured that the worst was possibly over for the economy and it can now hope for steady recovery towards pre-pandemic growth rates.

The newly-appointed six member MPC voted unanimously to keep the policy repo rate at 4 per cent, and said the real gross domestic product growth rate in 2020-21 could be a negative 9.5 per cent, with “risks tilted to the downside.”

The stance of the policy would remain “accommodative,” for “as long as necessary – at least during the current financial year and into the next year – to revive growth on a durable basis and mitigate the impact of Covid-19, while ensuring that inflation remains within the target going forward,” RBI governor Shaktikanta Das in his streamed monetary policy address on Friday morning.

The RBI governor also assured adequate liquidity support for the bond market, including promise of more open market operations through which the central bank buys and sells bonds from the market. For the first time, the RBI will also conduct OMO on state development loans, or bonds issued by states, to contain their spreads over equivalent maturity government securities. The RBI governor urged to cooperate with the central bank on conducting the centre’s and states’ borrowing programme, and said the RBI and the bond market can be “competitive without being combative.”

The shorter and longer tenure bonds rallied. The 10-year bond yield fell 8 basis points to 5.937 per cent, while the three-year bond yield fell 16 basis points.

The breakup given was the GDP of negative 9.8 per cent in the second quarter ended September, negative 5.6 per cent for the third quarter ended December, and a positive 0.5 per cent in the fourth quarter ended March. The economy contracted by a record 23.9 per cent in the first quarter ended June.

GDP to fall 9.6%: World Bank

The World Bank said that India’s GDP is expected to contract by 9.6 per cent this fiscal which is reflective of the national lockdown and the income shock experienced by households and firms due to the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that the country’s economic situation is “much worse” than ever seen before.

The Washington-based global lender, in its latest South Asia Economic Focus report ahead of the annual meeting of the World bank and International Monetary Fund, forecasts a sharper than expected economic slump across the region, with regional growth expected to contract by 7.7 per cent in 2020, after topping six per cent annually in the past five years.

“India’s GDP is expected to contract by 9.6 per cent in the fiscal year that started in March,” the World Bank said in the report.

Regional growth is projected to rebound to 4.5 per cent in 2021, it said.

Factoring in population growth, however, income-per-capita in the region will remain 6 per cent below 2019 estimates, indicating that the expected rebound will not offset the lasting economic damage caused by the pandemic, it said.

“The situation is much worse in India than we have ever seen before,” Hans Timmer, World Bank Chief Economist for South Asia told reporters during a conference call.

“It is an exceptional situation in India. A very dire outlook,” he said.

There was a 25 per cent decline in GDP in the second quarter of the year, which is the first quarter of the current fiscal year in India.

In the report, the World bank said that the spread of the coronavirus and containment measures have severely disrupted supply and demand conditions in India.

With the intent to contain the spread of Covid-19, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with effect from March 25, announced a nationwide complete lockdown that brought as much as 70 per cent of economic activity, investment, exports and discretionary consumption to a standstill. Only essential goods and services such as agriculture, mining, utility services, some financial and IT services and public services were allowed to operate.

According to the World Bank, monetary policy has been deployed aggressively and fiscal resources have been channelled to public health and social protection, but additional counter-cyclical measures will be needed, within a revised medium-term fiscal framework.

Despite measures to shield vulnerable households and firms, the trajectory of poverty reduction has slowed, if not reversed, it said.

“We have seen from the rapid survey that many people have lost their jobs,” Timmer said, adding that this is happening against a background when India’s economy was already slowing down before the pandemic.

Timmer, however, also praised the Indian government.

“We have seen a loosening of monetary policy. You have seen attempts to increase credit to the private sector to help a company survive,” he said, adding that there have been big efforts in the health sector and expansion of a social safety net. 

Pune: 1st district to cross 3L-mark in India

With 2,039 new COVID cases on Thursday, Pune has become the first district in the country to cross the 3-lakh-mark. So far, 3,01,392 people have tested positive.

Also, 58 COVID-related deaths were reported on Thursday; the death crossed the 7,000-mark with the total standing at 7,028. Apart from these, 1,518 patients were discharged on Thursday, from various hospitals. The number of recoveries stands at 2,61,565.

The active cases in Pune city have come down to 14,032 of which 869 are critical — 496 are on ventilator and 373 are without. The number of patients on oxygen support in the city has come down to 2,771. On Thursday, 4,932 tests were conducted, said Dr Ashish Bharti, PMC health chief.

Among the 52 deaths, an 81-year-old man from Kothrud was the oldest fatality. The cause of death is said to be type-1 respiratory failure and acute respiratory distress syndrome. The patient was suffering hypertension and diabetes. On Thursday, Maharashtra reported 13,395 fresh cases, taking the cumulative number to 14,93,884. Also, 358 patients succumbed to the virus, taking the toll to 39,430 in the state.

Apart from these, 15,575 patients were discharged after full recovery. The cumulative total now stands at 11,96,441 said the officials. The recovery rate is at 81.13 per cent and the case fatality rate is at 2.64 per cent, said the officials.

The public health experts from the central health team warned the district administration and local bodies of Pune about a forecast of expected surge in COVID cases from January 2021.

The local bodies have been informed that the present situation is just a mere breather and that, they should prepare for the surge. PMC, Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation and Pune rural have been asked to make adequate arrangement for oxygen beds, ventilator beds and medicines and health care staff and doctors.


September 2020: Services Activity Moves Towards Expansion

India’s service sector approached expansion in September as the country eased Covid-19 restrictions.

The Services Business Activity Index compiled by IHS Markit climbed sharply to 49.8 in September from 41.8 in August, rising for the fifth straight month. A reading above 50 indicates expansion, while a lower figure signals contraction.

A sister survey last week showed India’s Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index rising to the highest level in eight-and-half years in September.

As per the survey, while participants were upbeat about the year-ahead outlook for business activity for the first time since April, there were further reductions in new work and employment.

Incoming new business fell moderately, however, and at the slowest rate since March. Input costs rose at a quicker pace, while the rate of charge inflation was broadly similar to August.

Firms that reported a contraction mentioned the damaging impact of the pandemic on demand, while new orders from abroad contracted at the slowest pace in six months.

As per the survey, several firms reported that attempts to take on extra workers were hampered by the lack of available labour.

In line with hopes that a vaccine for Covid-19 will be rolled out, companies were optimistic about the year ahead for business activity. For the first time since April, service providers were confident about growth prospects, according to the survey.

Taken together, the Composite PMI Output Index rose to 54.6 in September from 46 in August, signalling a marked rate of activity growth across the private sector economy.

The trend for employment was similar among goods producers and service providers, with companies in both sectors linking a further contraction in headcounts to labour shortages.

Negative views of China rise sharply across countries

Negative perceptions of China have risen sharply in many countries, especially in Australia and UK, according to a new survey from Pew Research Center. The poll comes as China is engaged in multiple trade and diplomatic disputes, driven in part by a more aggressive diplomatic approach.

The survey conducted across 14 countries showed a majority of people had an unfavourable view of China. It was conducted from June 10 to August 3 among 14,276 adults across the 14 countries. In Australia, 81% said they have an unfavourable view of China, a rise of 24 percentage points from last year.

The rise corresponds with higher tensions in ties after Australia called for an international probe into the origins of coronavirus as well as the implementation of a new national security law in Hong Kong. The poll showed those with negative attitudes hit 74% in Britain, a rise of 19 percentage points compared to last year; 71% in Germany, a rise of 15 points; and 73% in the US, a rise of 13 points.

People also do not trust China’s President Xi Jinping, with 78% saying they don’t have confidence in him to do the right thing in world affairs.

Public places cannot be occupied indefinitely: SC

Occupying public places for protests is not acceptable and areas like Shaheen Bagh – which had seen prolonged anti-CAA demonstrations for months starting December last year – cannot be occupied “indefinitely”, the Supreme Court held on Wednesday.

It said protests should be at a designated place and any occupation of public places or roads by demonstrators, which cause inconvenience to a large number of people and violate their rights, is not permissible under law.

The apex court also said that the authorities concerned should not hide behind courts and act on their own in such situations.

A bench headed by Justice S K Kaul said balance has to be struck between the right to protest and other public rights like the right to movement.

“Democracy and dissent go hand in hand,” said the bench, also comprising Justices Aniruddha Bose and Krishna Murari.

It does not mean that the agitating people should adopt means and modes of protest that were used against colonial rulers, it said, adding that public places cannot be occupied “indefinitely” for protests like in the Shaheen Bagh case.

The verdict came on a plea of lawyer Amit Sahni against the blockade of a road in Shaheen Bagh area by persons protesting against the CAA which aimed to provide Indian citizenship to persecuted minorities of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

Sahni had initially approached the Delhi High Court seeking directions to Delhi Police to ensure smooth traffic flow on the Kalindi Kunj-Shaheen Bagh stretch, which was blocked by anti-CAA protesters on December 15.

The high court had urged local authorities to deal with the situation keeping in mind law and order.

Sahni then filed a special leave petition in the apex court against the high court’s order.

Restrictions were imposed on the Kaindi Kunj-Shaheen Bagh stretch and the Okhla underpass, which were closed on December 15 last year due to the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA)and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

However, later due to the Covid-19 pandemic and consequent protocol to deal with it, the protest area got cleared.

Sensex hits 7-month high

With a 304-point gain, sensex closed at 39,879 points — an over seven-month high — as Reliance Industries, IT and financial stocks gained despite a last-minute sell-off in the US on Tuesday night.

The sensex has gained over 3,300 points or 9% since its recent closing low of 36,554 on September 24. These gains have come on the back of stimulus hopes in India and expectations of a favourable Supreme Court order on how bank customers will pay interest on loans for the six-month moratorium period.

In the last few weeks, software stocks have rallied on hopes that the worst phase for these companies in terms of business downturn is over. The upturn was led by the industry leaders like TCS, Infosys and Wipro. Financial and banking stocks have rallied on expectations of a positive judgment from the apex court. Reliance has been notching up gains on the back of it offloading stakes in its retail arm, market players said.

Restaurants to open 24x7 in Delhi

Delhi's restaurant industry, which was keeling over because of the lockdown due to the pandemic and restrictions on number of guests with social distancing curbs, got a burst of oxygen with the Delhi government announcing major reforms. In the process, the industry saw its long-pending wish list being addressed.

CM Arvind Kejriwal set in motion plans to allow restaurants to operate 24x7, abolish the need for a tourism licence and multiple other licences issued by the local bodies. It has been conveyed that the health licence issued by the civic bodies must be abolished within 10 days. The state will also amend excise rules to allow service in open areas without any additional fee and permit licences for all types of music


NCP first party to start cell for LGBT persons

The Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party is the courntry’s first political party to set up an independent cell for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.

“We have set up an independent cell for LGBTs. To be headed by activist Priya Patil, the cell will ensure justice to LGBTs,” state NCP president Jayant Patil said in a statement. He said as per the party’s manifesto, declared during Lok Sabha and assembly polls, NCP is committed to bring LGBTs into the mainstream. The NCP will also set up a board for LGBTs in the social justice department. 

India successfully tests new SMART torpedo system

India tested a new weapon for anti-submarine warfare that involves a supersonic missile assisted release of torpedo, which has a far greater range than conventional torpedoes. The SMART was “successfully” flight-tested from Wheeler Island off the coast of Odisha at 11.45am. “It is a game changing technology demonstration in anti-submarine warfare,” said DRDO chief Dr G Satheesh Reddy.

“All mission objectives, including missile flight up to the range and altitude, separation of the nose cone, release of torpedo and deployment of velocity reduction mechanism , were met perfectly,” DRDO said.


September 2020: Factory Activity Hits Over 8-Year High

Buoyed by accelerated increases in new orders and production, India’s factory activity expanded to its highest level in eight and a half years and led to the strongest degree of overall optimism in over four years.

The IHS Markit India Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index increased to 56.8 in September from 52 in August, signalling back-to-back improvements in the health of the sector since the easing of lockdown restrictions in June. A reading above 50 indicates expansion, while below that signals contraction.

As per the survey, manufacturers lifted output for the second straight month in September amid loosened restrictions and higher demand. ‘The increase was sharp and the third-quickest in the history of the survey,” it said.

Similarly, there were back-to-back increases in new business inflows. The rate of expansion picked up to the fastest since early-2012. Moreover, exports also bounced back, following six successive months of contraction, while inputs were purchased at a sharper rate and business confidence strengthened.

Despite strong growth of order book volumes, Indian goods producers signalled another reduction in payroll numbers, according to the survey report. In many cases, this was attributed to efforts to observe social distancing guidelines. Employment has now decreased for six consecutive months.

Q1: Current A/c Surplus Hits Record $19.8 b

India’s current account balance, the value of exports and imports of both goods and services, ended in a record surplus of $19.8 billion, or 3.9% of GDP, during the quarter ended June, exceeding the expectations of economists, as merchandise trade contracted with a slump in crude oil consumption due to the lockdown, and income from services stayed stable.

The surplus compares with a deficit of $15 billion, or 2.1% of GDP, a year earlier, according to preliminary figures released by the Reserve Bank of India.

“The surplus in the current account in Q1 of 2020-21 was on account of a sharp contraction in the trade deficit to $10 billion due to steeper decline in merchandise imports relative to exports on a year-on-year basis,” the RBI said in a statement.

Net services receipts remained stable, primarily on the back of net earnings from computer services. Private transfer receipts, mainly remittances sent home by Indians employed overseas, were $18.2 billion, a fall of 8.7% from their level a year ago, better than market expectations.

A current account surplus when an economy is contracting is not perceived to be healthy because it points to a sharp slowdown in domestic consumption.

August 2020: Core Sector Shrinks for 6th Straight Month

India’s core infrastructure sector shrank for the sixth straight month in August with slightly bigger contraction than the month before, confirming flattening of recovery in the month.

Output of eight core infrastructure sectors – coal, crude oil, natural gas, refinery products, fertiliser, steel, cement and electricity – dropped 8.5% in August compared to 8% contraction in July. The July number has been revised upward from 9.6% contraction estimated earlier.

During the April-August, the core sector contracted 17.8%.

The eight core industries together have a 40% weight in the Index of Industrial Production, suggesting somewhat comparable contraction in industrial production.

Subsequent high frequency data, though, have shown that economy has picked up pace in September.

Fertiliser production grew 7.3%, faster than 6.9% in July and coal output rose 3.6% after four months of contraction, benefitting from a mild improvement in the offtake levels as well as the favourable base effect. Pace of contraction deepened in electricity.

Cement and steel displayed contrasting trends in August with heavy rains arresting construction activity, even as inventory restocking in the auto sector boosted steel demand. Steel output shrank 6.3% while cement production was down 14.6%.

The production of eight core sectors had declined 0.2% in August 2019.

The government has also revised contraction in May output to 21.4% from 22% estimated earlier.

Indian companies plan alliance against US tech giants

India’s leading internet firms and startups from across sectors are coming together to form an alliance with “Indian companies only” as they take on US tech giants like Google, which has faced the heat from the local entrepreneurial ecosystem over its recent billing policy. This development comes after the government held a meeting with the country’s top entrepreuners on Saturday evening with the latter accusing Google of having monopolistic policies in India.

Last week, Google had “clarified” that education, gaming, dating and other content apps must use its billing system in India for in-app purchases as long as the apps are distributed through its Play Store. This triggered another debate over Google’s influence, whose Android operating system controls over 95% of smartphones in the country, after it took down the Paytm app for several hours last month for violation of its policies.

The entrepreuners are preparing a draft of recommendations to be sent to the government within two weeks.

Business-to-business e-commerce platform Indiamart’s co-founder Dinesh Agarwal confirmed to TOI that an alliance, in the form of an association or an organisation, is in the works as many existing internet associations have overseas companies like Google and Amazon as their members, with their executives as key office bearers. Founders of Paytm, GOQii and Indiamart, among others, were present at the meeting. Several of them, later in the evening, spoke to IT ministry officials, where the government wanted to hear out the current concerns.

Meanwhile, Paytm on Sunday said it is starting a service where other apps can be listed on its payments app and one can use them within Paytm, similar to a super app. It said it has been testing the mini-app store with select users and it will be free of charge. Decathlon, Ola, Park+, Rapido, Netmeds, 1mg, Domino’s Pizza, FreshMenu and NoBroker are among the 300 companies that have joined its app-in-app programme.

LJP walks out of NDA in Bihar

The Lok Janshakti Party has walked out of the ruling National Democratic Alliance in Bihar ahead of the state assembly polls, as it attacked Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and announced that it would fight JD(U) candidates in the elections.

While making its resentment with the JD(U) president Kumar clear, the LJP also went to great lengths to highlight its strong ties with the BJP, asserting in a statement that it wants the saffron party to head the future government in the state and its MLAs will work towards this goal. LJP president Chirag Paswan chaired the party's parliamentary board meeting in which a decision was taken to not fight the assembly election, which begins from October 28 in three phases, under Kumar's leadership of the NDA in the state. The BJP, which heads the NDA, has already announced that the alliance will fight the polls under Kumar's leadership, and he will be chief minister again if people vote it back to power.

"Due to ideological differences with the JD(U), a member of the alliance at the national level and in the assembly polls, the Lok Janshakti Party has decided to fight the elections in Bihar separately from the alliance," a party statement said. "We will triumph," was the brief comment of Chirag Paswan as he sported a victory sign after the meeting.

However, the LJP is likely to continue as the member of the NDA at the Centre as of now, more so as its patron and the only member in the Modi government, Ram Vilas Paswan, has undergone a heart surgery in the national capital and will remain hospitalised for a few weeks. The BJP's relations with the regional party have remained cordial, and the LJP has maintained that it will not contest against candidates of the saffron party.

The LJP also said that it has no "bitterness" with the BJP and has often lauded Prime Minister Narendra Modi's leadership.

However, the LJP's decision has thrown open new possibilities in the Bihar polls as the party may end up damaging the JD(U)'s prospects at several seats. The opposition alliance of the RJD, Congress and the Left may receive a boost with the development.

Delhi-Mum e-way to have India’s 1st animal overpasses

India will see the first five animal overpasses on the under construction Delhi-Mumbai Expressway, which will be on the lines of “animal bridges” in Netherlands for safe passage of wildlife. These have been planned to ensure there are no disturbances caused to the Ranthambore Wildlife Corridor connecting Ranthambhore and Mukundra (Darrah) wildlife sanctuaries in Rajasthan.

Sources said the plan has been approved and forwarded by the Rajasthan government to the central wildlife board and is likely to be taken up next week. The NHAI has given the work to an infrastructure major and the agreement would be signed next week.

These will be natural-looking structures over the corridor and will provide safe passage for wildlife across the expressway. “There will be no chance of any conflict as the wild animals will get such passage at every 500 metres interval. The passages will be developed as part of a forest corridor with trees so that animals find it natural,” said a source.

As per the plan, there will be five underground stretches with combined length of 2.5 km. Officials said a boundary wall of 8 metre with noise barriers will also be installed for the safety of animals in the wildlife section. They said the work would start in the next two months and would take two years to complete.

Sources said the NHAI is keen to complete this project and showcase it as a sustainable model of development and for mitigation of the wildlife-traffic conflict where it’s absolutely necessary to build a road through such corridors.

According to literature, the first wildlife crossings were constructed in France during the 1950s. Countries including the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and France have been adopting different types of crossing structures to mitigate the conflict between wildlife and roads running through their habitats.