India Reports First Confirmed Case of the Virus from Kerala

India reported its first case of Novel Coronavirus (nCoV) from Kerala on Thursday.

A student studying in Wuhan University tested positive for nCoV. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said in a statement, “The patient has tested positive for Novel Coronavirus and is in isolation in the hospital. The patient is stable and is being closely monitored.”

After this report, the government has decided to test everyone who returned from China after January 15. The health ministry issued a detailed advisory for people who have travelled from China to India over the last two weeks. The people have been advised home isolation for 14 days after the return and to limit contact with family members, avoid visitors and maintain hand hygiene. “In case you develop fever, cough or difficulty in breathing any time within 28 days of return from China, wear a mask immediately and report to nearest medical facility,” the advisory says.

According to the Indian Council of Medical Research, 49 samples have been tested so far and only this patient has tested positive. Now, another test would be conducted and the final result would be declared on Friday evening. “A next test known as ‘next gen sequencing test’ will be done on her sample and the final result will be declared till tomorrow (Friday) evening,” said Dr Priya Abraham, director of ICMR-NIV Pune.

Meanwhile, China assured Indian government of all support and communication regarding Indian nationals and its fight against the virus. Ji Rong, spokesperson of Chinese embassy in India, said, “The Chinese side pays close attention to the report of the emergence of one confirmed case of pneumonia caused by the novel Coronavirus in India and will cooperate with the Indian side to jointly strengthen the epidemic prevention and control. The Chinese government attaches great importance to safeguarding the safety and health of every foreign national in China.”

Somewhere in Nagpur....

Andhra OKs resolution to scrap state Upper House

The Andhra Pradesh assembly passed a statutory resolution to abolish the legislative council. With the opposition TDP boycotting the session, the resolution was passed 133-0.

The move comes after the council, which has TDP in majority, refused to pass the YSRC government’s bill to have three capitals in the state and referred it to the select committee. The upper house has 58 seats with TDP having 26 councillors and YSRC nine.

After a day-long debate in the assembly, speaker Tammineni Sitharam put the resolution for division and declared it has been passed unopposed. The council will cease to exist only after both houses of Parliament approve the bill under Article 169 and the President gives final nod. If President Kovind gives his assent, this will be second time in 35 years that the council will be abolished.

CM Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy said the government was proud to abolish the council as it was subverting people’s welfare.

Gay couple in Kerala moves HC to register their marriage

Unable to get their marriage registered, a gay couple have filed a petition in the Kerala high court challenging a clause in the Special Marriage Act, 1954, that recognises marriage only between a man and a woman.

“It is submitted that the petitioners had turned to this country’s secular law and its Constitution after being discriminated by religion and culture, and stereotypical homophobia. To the petitioners’ utter shock, the Special Marriage Act, 1954, and its provisions are found to be discriminatory as well because the Act recognizes only marriages between persons belonging to the opposite sex,” their petition states.

Nikesh P P and Sonu M S had got married at a private ceremony last September after failing to organise a traditional wedding because no priest or religious organisation was willing to conduct the rituals.

After hearing the couple’s petition, Justice Anu Sivaraman sought the views of the central and state governments on the contention that the Act is discriminatory and should be declared unconstitutional.

Section 4 of the Act describes marriage as a relationship between “male and female” or “bride and bridegroom”.

The forms appended to schedule numbers 2 and 4 of the Act carry heterosexual nomenclature, as pointed out by the petitioners.

According to Nikesh and Sonu, preventing a same-sex couple from registering their marriage violates a right granted to them two years ago. The petitioners have cited the SC’s 2018 judgment in the Navtej Singh Johar vs Union of India case, which recognises a person’s right to sexual identity and to be treated with dignity.

Any law that contradicts this disrespects individual choice, the apex court said. In their petition, Nikesh and Sonu have mentioned the humiliation they suffered after coming out as a gay couple in love. The insult and indignity they felt was even greater when the law refused to recognise their union, the couple said.

According to them, exclusion from the institution of marriage also constitutes denial of ordinary rights and privileges granted to a married couple such as maintenance, inheritance, joint bank accounts, lockers and the right to nominate each other for insurance, pension and gratuity.

According to the couple, exclusion from the institution of marriage constitutes a denial of ordinary rights such as joint bank accounts, inheritance, and others

Bodo pact is historic for peace, development: PM MOdi

Terming the Bodo agreement a historic chapter for peace, development and unity in Assam, PM Narendra Modi said the accord sent a clear message that non-violence and adherence to democracy and the Constitution could help resolve issues.

“Bodo friends joining us on the path of peace sends a clear message that solution to issues is possible when we leave the path of violence and repose faith in democracy and Constitution. I welcome my Bodo friends to the mainstream. We are committed to ensuring the development of Bodo areas,” he said in a series of tweets.

“As India remembers pujya Bapu on his punya tithi, Assam is witnessing a historic chapter for peace and development. After a wait of 50 years, agreement with our Bodo friends heralds a new beginning.,” Modi said.

As per the agreement, all Bodo outfits have decided to give up their militant campaign for a separate homeland. This was the second time in a week when the PM emphasised that peaceful means were better suited for resolution of problems. On Sunday, he had stressed on the importance of non-violence in his ‘Mann ki Baat’ address on Sunday.

Modi also said work has begun on a comprehensive Rs.1,500 crore development package for Bodo areas.

Mumbai: CR’s 1st AC local flagged off

The launch of Central Railway’s first AC train started with a political spat as Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant criticised the Union railway ministry for not mentioning the name of Mumbai mayor Kishori Pednekar and a few guardian ministers and MPs like him in event ads and also on the stage banner.

Sawant, invited to speak first after the flagging off of the Panvel-Thane AC local, said, “Do not take us (Sena) for granted. If somebody does good work, we appreciate, but this is uncalled for.” Sawant said this was not the first time the mayor or MP were not being respected.

Sawant criticised railways for having “multiple inaugurations” of 12 FOBs, wifi, toilets, etc at a single event at CSMT (with a video launch). “Why can’t you ask MPs or MLAs to launch these in their areas?” he said. In his reply, Angadi apologised and directed railway officials to ensure protocol next time. “Be it MP, minister or mayor, everybody is people’s representative and should be respected and mentioned at such events,” he said. Angadi said railways will invest Rs.50 lakh crore in ten years and added the bullet train was the PM’s dream and will come true. “We expect the Maharashtra government to cooperate in this,” he said.


Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Fernandes conferred Padma Vibhushan

Eminent personalities, including former union ministers Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and George Fernandes, Olympian boxer Mary Kom, former Mauritius prime minister Anerood Jugnauth have been honoured with the Padma Vibhushan - the highest civilian award - on the eve of Republic Day.

President Ram Nath Kovind has approved the conferment of 141 Padma awards. The list comprises seven Padma Vibhushan, 16 Padma Bhushan and 118 Padma Shri awards.

Former Defence minister Manohar Parrikar, Industrialists Anand Mahindra and Venu Shrinivasan, Olympian badminton player P V Sindhu, former Nagaland chief minister S C Jamir and Jammu and Kashmir politician Muzaffar Hussain Baig have been awarded the Padma Bhushan.

Jaitley, Swaraj, Fernandes and Parrikar have been given the award posthumously.

The Padma Vibhushan for this year has been awarded to a total of seven prominent personalities, while 16 have been given the Padma Bhushan, 118 have been given the Padma Shri on the 71st Republic Day this year.

Rajasthan passes resolution against CAA

The Rajasthan Assembly passed a resolution urging the Centre to repeal the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act amid opposition by BJP, which accused the Congress government in the state of pursuing appeasement politics. Rajasthan is the third state to pass a resolution against CAA after Kerala and Punjab.

Meanwhile, Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao said the state assembly may pass a resolution against the CAA like some other states did recently. “The TRS is secular by its policy and nature and it had opposed the CAA,” he said in Hyderabad.

Meanwhile, passing the resolution, CM Ashok Gehlot said, “We have urged the central government to repeal the law as it discriminates people on religious grounds, which violates the secular principles of our Constitution. This is the first time in the history of the nation that a law has been enacted which discriminates people on religious grounds.”

“A number of states have been opposing NRC and CAA keeping in mind public opinion at large. It is the duty of the Centre to keep the federal structure intact n strong. I urge the NDA govt to come forward and withdraw the Act. Govt should not make it a prestige issue (sic),” he tweeted.

The resolution, which was passed by a voice vote, also asked the Centre to withdraw the new questionnaire framed for preparation of National Population Register because providing the additional information “would cause huge inconvenience” to the people.

The resolution has incorporated several objections against the National Register of Citizens and NPR. It has also urged the Centre to start nationwide Census only after dropping new fields of information. Leader of Opposition Gulab Chand Kataria questioned the state’s right to challenge the Act in the assembly.


Raj Thackeray indicates shift to vocal Hindutva

MNS chief Raj Thackeray indicated that he was set to appropriate his late uncle Bal Thackeray's Hindutva cause, unveiling his party's new saffron flag and declaring support to the NDA government for evicting Pakistani and Bangladeshi “infiltrators”.

Thackeray, who ran a vigorous campaign against the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the Lok Sabha polls last year, also defended the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and National Register of Citizens.

He also announced that the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena would take out a protest march on February 9 seeking eviction of illegal migrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Earlier in the day, the MNS chief unveiled his party's new flag which is completely saffron and bears King Shivaji's 'rajmudra' (royal seal).

"I am a Marathi and a Hindu too. I have not changed my religion....If you try to mess with the Marathi in me, I will go after that person as a Marathi, and I will go after him as a Hindu if one messes with the Hindu in me," Raj said at the valedictory session of the party's plenary meeting here.

Downplaying speculation about his ideological shift towards Hindutva from his earlier `Marathi manoos' and son- of-the-soil agenda, he said he had this flag design in mind since the launch of the MNS. Its unveiling amid the current political situation was a "pure coincidence", he said.

The Shiv Sena, from which Raj carved out his own party, is known for its Hindutva ideology. But the Uddhav Thackeray-led party did a radical about-turn last year when it ditched the BJP and formed government in Maharashtra with the Congress and the NCP.

In a veiled dig at Uddhav, his estranged cousin, Raj said, "I don't change the colour of my party to form the government."

Raj also said in his speech that the Muslims who are "honest" towards the country "are ours". The country cannot "reject" personalities like former President APJ Abdul Kalam, former Indian pacer Zaheer Khan and lyricist Javed Akhtar, he said.

India sends 30,000 doses of measles shots to Maldives

Responding to an emergency requirement in the Maldives, India supplied 30,000 doses of measles/rubella vaccine to Male. While measles has been eliminated from the Maldives, four cases have tested positive in the last week and the local government suspects an outbreak.

Male had initially approached Denmark and Unicef for the vaccine, but both apparently said they would require at least four weeks to arrange and supply it. It was then that the Maldives government approached the Indian embassy on January 20.

“The MEA, working closely with the ministry of health, procured supply of 30,000 doses of measles/rubella vaccine from Serum Institute of India, Pune, and delivered the consignment on January 23. This will meet the immediate requirement,’’ an official source said here, adding that India again proved to be the first responder in an emergency for Maldives.

The government later said that India’s swift response underlined that health remained one of the strongest pillars of bilateral cooperation. “This gesture also emphasises the mutually supportive roles of India’s Neighbourhood First policy and the Maldives’s India First policy, acting for the benefit of our people,’’ it said.


Before the Budget....

Democracy Index: India slips 10 spots

India slipped 10 places to the 51st position in the 2019 Democracy Index’s global ranking, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit. The report cited “erosion of civil liberties” in the country as the primary cause for the downtrend.

India’s overall score fell from 7.23 in 2018 to 6.90 in the index that provides a snapshot of the current state of democracy worldwide for 165 independent states and two territories.

Norway topped the list, followed by Iceland and Sweden. North Korea was at the bottom of the global ranking at 167th place.

The index is based on five categories --electoral process and pluralism; the functioning of government; political participation; political culture; and civil liberties.

Based on their total score, the countries are classified as one of four types of regime: “full democracy” (scores greater than 8); flawed democracy — scores greater than 6 and less than or equal to 8; hybrid regime — scores greater than 4 and less than or equal to 6; authoritarian regime — scores less than or equal to 4”. India was included in the “flawed democracy” category.

China’s score fell to 2.26, and the country is now ranked 153rd, close to the bottom of the global rankings.

Among other emerging economies, Brazil was ranked 52nd with a score of 6.86, Russia stood at 134th with a score of 3.11. Pakistan was ranked 108th on the overall list with a score of 4.25, while Sri Lanka was at 69th place with a score of 6.27, Bangladesh (at 80th with 5.88 score).

Other countries in the top 10 include New Zealand at the fourth place, followed by Finland, Ireland, Denmark, Canada, Australia and Switzerland.

Of Mumbai 24/7....

So it’s official now, Mumbai can remain open 24x7 from January 27. Malls, multiplexes, shops and restaurants can function all night with the state cabinet giving the proposal a go-ahead. However, bars and pubs are not part of this 24x7 plan. They will shut at 1.30 am, as per the existing rules of the state excise department.

Speaking with reporters after the cabinet meeting, Maharashtra Environment and Tourism Minister Aaditya Thackeray said, “London’s night economy is worth 5 billion pounds, Mumbai has similar potential. Mumbai is India’s financial and entertainment capital, and is already a 24x7 functional city.”

He said, “There are people who work in the night shifts, and there are tourists who want to explore the city during the night. Where will these people go if they need food after 11 pm? Now, people can eat, shop or watch movies throughout the night.”

The minister made it clear that no one would be compelled to keep their establishments open in the night, and those who feel that they can do a good business even during late-night hours would be free to keep them open.

In the first phase, shops, restaurants and multiplexes in malls and mill compounds situated in non-residential areas will be allowed to remain open.

In areas such as Nariman Point, Bandra Kurla Complex, Marine Drive, food trucks will be allowed to operate in designated areas. However, these food trucks will have to comply with solid waste management, noise limits and law and order situation.

Thackeray claimed that the plan will reduce the stress the police personnel have to endure every day as they will not have to check whether shops and other establishments are shut after 1.30 am. While the BJP has opposed the decision, associations of hoteliers and builders have welcomed it.

Aaditya Thackeray had in 2015 given a similar proposal to then Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. Fadnavis accepted the proposal in principle, but later the issue was put on backburner after an adverse report from the home department.

No stay on CAA without hearing Centre: SC

Making clear it will not stay the Citizenship (Amendment) Act without hearing the Centre, the Supreme Court gave the government four weeks to respond to petitions challenging the legislation.

It also said that a five-judge Constitution bench will hear the matter.

Hearing a batch of 143 petitions, an SC bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde restrained all high courts from hearing pleas on the CAA till it decides on the petitions. “The matter is uppermost on everybody’s mind,” the court said. “We will pass order on granting any interim relief to petitioner opposing CAA after four weeks.”

The bench, also comprising Justices S Abdul Nazeer and Sanjiv Khanna, said it will hear the petitions pertaining to Assam and Tripura separately as the problem with CAA in these two states is different from the rest of the country.

The bench said it will decide inchamber the modalities of hearing the petitions and may fix them for day-today hearings after four weeks.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for some petitioners, asked that the National Population Register exercise be postponed by a couple of months.

Attorney General KK Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, said the government has been given copies of around 60 of the 143 petitions. He said it wanted time to respond to all the pleas.

Among those who have filed pleas are Indian Union Muslim League, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, RJD leader Manoj Jha, Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi, Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, All Assam Students Union, Peace Party, CPI, NGOs Rihai Manch and Citizens Against Hate, advocate ML Sharma, and law students


Zomato takes over Uber Eats in India

Zomato said it has acquired the Indian business of Uber Eats in an all-stock deal that will give Uber 9.99 per cent stake in the Indian food delivery and restaurant discovery platform.

Uber Eats app in India will discontinue operations and direct restaurants, delivery partners and users of the Uber Eats apps to the Zomato platform, effective Tuesday, Zomato said in a statement.

The deal marks possible consolidation in the highly competitive and price-sensitive online food delivery market where most players are in the red.

In a regulatory filing to the BSE, Info Edge (India) – a shareholder in Zomato – said its shareholding in Zomato will stand reduced to about 22.71 per cent on fully converted and diluted basis upon closing of the transaction. The deal comes days after Zomato had raised $150 million in funding from existing investor Ant Financial, an Alibaba affiliate, at a $3 billion valuation.

Post money valuation of Zomato is $3.55 billion, sources in know of the matter said, adding that this transaction will add to a total of over 50 million orders per month on its platform, giving it around 55 per cent market share. “We are proud to have pioneered restaurant discovery and to have created a leading food delivery business across more than 500 cities in India. This acquisition significantly strengthens our position in the category,” Zomato Founder and CEO Deepinder Goyal said.

Uber Eats, which entered India in 2017, has about 26,000 restaurants listed on its platform from 41 cities.

On accessing Uber Eats app, users were shown a message saying they can still use Uber Eats if they are travelling outside India.

Modi, Nepal PM inaugurate 2nd integrated check-post

India and Nepal opened their second integrated check-post on the Jogbani-Biratnagar border on Tuesday, with both Prime Ministers, Narendra Modi and K P Sharma Oli, jointly inaugurating the facility.

The Rs.140 crore ICP built with Indian assistance and spread over 260 acres is the second after the Raxaul-Birgunj one which was opened in 2018. Officials said it can handle over 500 trucks daily.

Modi promised to visit Nepal in 2020, in response to an invite by Oli. Modi said, “India is committed to smooth traffic with all friendly countries in the neighbourhood, and to further facilitate contacts in business, culture, education, etc. India and Nepal are working on several cross-border connectivity projects such as road, rail and transmission lines.

Integrated check posts at major borders between our countries are greatly facilitating mutual trade and movement.” “Integrated check-posts at... the border between our countries are greatly facilitating mutual trade and movement,” he said. The two leaders also reviewed the progress in Indian-assisted post-2015 earthquake housing reconstruction projects in Nepal. Out of India's commitment to build 50,000 houses in Gorkha and Nuwakot districts, 45,000 have been completed. “We hope the construction of the remaining houses will be completed soon...” he added.

National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale and Nepal's Ambassador to India Nilambar Acharya attended the inauguration in New Delhi and from Kathmandu, Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali, Minister of Commerce, Industry and Supplies Lekhraja Bhatta and Charge d'Affaires, Embassy of India in Nepal Dr Ajay Kumar witnessed the event. In a statement in Kathmandu, the Indian embassy said the ICP puts in place systematically planned, properly interconnected and efficiently managed border checkposts at the authorised Jogbani-Biratnagar border crossing point between the two countries.


Mumbai: BMC plans to build two bridges near Mahalaxmi station

BMC has finalised a contractor for two bridges at Mahalaxmi at a cost of approximately Rs.745 crore. One of them will be cable-stayed. BMC has kept a target of 36 months, excluding monsoon, to complete the bridges.

Civic bridges department officials said that while a rail over-bridge will connect Dr E Moses Road to Jacob Circle, the cable-stayed one will be between Mahalaxmi racecourse and Jacob Circle. The old Mahalaxmi bridge is likely to be reserved for walkers once the ROBs are constructed.

The proposal, to be tabled before the civic standing committee, said they were being constructing as the bridge over Mahalaxmi railway station is 100 years old and its lifespan is almost over. The ROB is overcrowded, an official said. Once the coastal road is operational, the two ROBs can help regulate traffic, especially for motorists wanting to connect to the coastal road, which will pass from Haji Ali in Worli. “One bridge will go from the north side of the existing bridge, from Dhobi Ghat, and land on Dr E Moses Road, while the other will be on the south side, and go past the FOB constructed recently outside Mahalaxmi station, and come out near New Shirin Talkies,” said the official, adding that the north side of the bridge will be a conventional bridge. “The south side will be cable-stayed as there are many railway tracks below, and railways is not in favour of piers being constructed on its property,” added the official.

The railways and BMC, for several months, could not agree on who would construct the ROB portion over the tracks. BMC had sent general arrangement drawings of the proposed ROBs to the railways for approval in March 2018. Railways replied that the portion should be executed by BMC under the supervision of a railway engineer. BMC officials said bridges over railway premises are constructed and maintained by railways. After a meeting with then chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and Union railways minister Piyush Goyal, it was decided that BMC would construct the ROBs.

RBI to do away with billion

The RBI will henceforth adopt ‘crore’ instead of ‘billion’ while presenting numbers in its balance sheets, income statements and weekly statements of affairs.

A decision to change the units was taken in the RBI’s meeting of central board of directors held on October 11, 2019 at Chandigarh. The central bank has decided to make public the minutes of the meeting of the central board within two weeks from the date of its confirmation in the next meeting of the central board and on being signed by the chairman in the same meeting.

To effect this, the central government will need to approve a change in regulations.

Goodbye Zalim!

Ranthambore tiger T-25 named Zalim, which came into limelight for its unusual behaviour of rearing two motherless cubs, died in a territorial fight.

The carcass of the tiger was found near Jarkhala nalla in Sanwata area of Ranthambore Tiger Reserve. After the post-mortem, the forest department has concluded that the death occurred in a territorial fight.

Mukesh Saini, divisional forest officer, Ranthambore National Park (RNP) said, “The tiger had two injuries on its head. It was found to have two canine marks above the eyes. The big cat died in the territorial fight with 10-year-old tiger T-66 whose movement was recorded with tigress T-54 in the same area.”

“Tiger T-25’s behaviour of taking care and raising cubs to adulthood was unique and it has never been seen or filmed before this incident,” the official said.

Chief minister Ashok Gehlot expressed grief over the death of T-25, reportedly the first documented tiger to play “father figure”.

“Sad news for wildlife that Ranthambore’s famous tiger T-25 is no more. It was a magnanimous tiger which took care of two orphan cubs, displaying fatherly instincts to raise and protect them to the surprise of conservationists. T-25 will be missed,” Gehlot tweeted.

In 2012, the tiger took care of the twin orphan cubs of tigress T-5. This was one of the first instances when experts found a male tiger, known to abandon cubs after birth, playing the role of a ‘mother’, something unheard of about tigers.

The tiger was often spotted with the orphaned cubs, looking after them since they were four-months old.

In the past four months, this is the second death of a big cat in the park from territorial fights. Three-year-old T-109 named Veeru was found with 35 wounds in October last year.

Cramped in an area of 392 sq km of core area with a 1,342 sq km buffer zone, it has been extremely difficult for big cats to find adequate space in the reserve, which is bursting at its seams due to increasing population.

Pushed to the periphery of the reserve, it’s a tough choice for them to either fight with dominants, create space for themselves or stray into human habitation.

Dinesh Verma Durani, founder and general secretary of Sariska Tiger Foundation and a member of the advisory committee, said, “The forest department claims that no new male tigers can be relocated to Sariska Tiger Reserve ss the National Tiger Conservation Authority has refused to approve proposals of fresh relocation after a male tiger died in April. It was a natural death. Since then, two tigers have died in Ranthambore. The department should strongly present their case at NTCA to save tigers by moving them to Sariska.”

Air travel growth slips to 3.7% in 2019

The double-digit growth of domestic air travel seen in past few years crashed to 3.7% with 14.4 crore people flying within the country in 2019, against 13.9 crore in the previous year. The fall in growth, though still in positive territory, happened due to the collapse of Jet Airways last April that led to a sharp hike in air fares, amid an overall economic slowdown.

Aviation ministry’s quick grant of Jet’s slots to other airlines, with SpiceJet and Vistara taking ex-Jet Boeing 737s, and IndiGo growing at its one-plane-a-week pace, ensured that 2019 over 2018 did not see a fall in domestic air carriage.

The collapse of Jet saw full service airlines’ share in domestic air travel at 20.6% for the whole year with Air India at 12.7%, Vistara at 5.2% and Jet at 2.7% till it had its last flight on April 17, 2019. Low-cost airlines now account for over 80% of domestic air travel. IndiGo at 47.1% remained the market leader by a huge margin, followed by SpiceJet at 14.9%.

Industry insiders are keeping their fingers crossed. “The operating cost of running an airline in India is prohibitive due to high tax on jet fuel and a serious infra crunch at airports. The Kingfisher-Deccan combine shut down in 2012 and then there was a gap of seven year with Jet-Sahara combine collapsing in 2019. So the industry had some time to recover. But at the moment, Air India is in a precarious state financially. Its divestment must proceed successfully. We cannot afford two big airlines shutting down within a space of about a year,” said a senior official.

Jet had shut down in April and this month saw 4.5% less domestic flyers than same month in previous year. As Jet’s slots and aircraft were taken by other airlines, November 2019 saw 11.2% more domestic passengers than same month previous year.

However, this growth momentum lost pace in December with growth down to 2.5% (Dec 2019 over Dec 2018).

Andhra Cabinet Okays Three Capitals

Chief minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy’s cabinet approved a proposal to have three capitals for Andhra Pradesh, amid protests by thousands of farmers of the Amaravati region and by Telugu Desam Party.

Hundreds of farmers were taken into custody by the police in Amaravati when they attempted to lay siege on the assembly where a special session was convened to pass the Bills on capitals. The government has proposed to retain Amaravati as the legislative capital, while making Visakhapatnam the home for executive and Kurnool the judicial capital.

Farmers of Amaravati had pooled around 34,000 acres for the capital city following a call by Reddy’s predecessor, N Chandrababu Naidu.

TDP Lok Sabha member Jayadev Galla was among those who were arrested in Amaravati along with the farmers. The police also took into preventive custody several opposition leaders including another TDP MP, Kesineni Nani.

Earlier in the day, the cabinet chaired by Reddy approved the proposal on three capital cities aimed at “decentralised and inclusive development of all regions of the state”. It also approved repealing the Capital Region Development Authority Act and establish the Amaravati Metropolitan Development Authority.

“The logical solution would be to lay emphasis on distributed development and decentralised administration to ensure that the fruits of the socioeconomic progress are enjoyed equally by people of various regions,” said the Bill placed before the assembly for its approval.

The YSR Congress government has decided to offer financial packages to the farmers of the Amaravati region who had pooled the land for the capital city construction.

The ruling YSR Congress has 151 MLAs in the 175-member assembly, while the TDP has 23. But TDP has a majority with 28 members in the 58-member legislative council, where the YSR Congress has just 9 members with the balance being distributed among other parties.

On the advice of speaker Thammineni Sitaram, the assembly decided on a probe into alleged large-scale irregularities and insider trading over land transactions in Amaravati, before the then TDP government selected it for the capital city.

The TDP countered the allegation and demanded a judicial probe, not just into land deals in the Amaravati but also in Visakhapatnam during the past eight months of the YSR Congress regime.

IMF slashes India’s 2019-20 growth projection to 4.8%

The International Monetary Fund lowered growth estimate for India to 4.8 per cent for 2019, citing stress in the non-bank financial sector and weak rural income growth as the major factors for the downward revision.

While providing an update on the global economy ahead of the start of the World Economic Forum annual summit, the IMF cut its India growth forecast to 4.8 per cent for 2019. It expects growth to be 5.8 per cent in 2020 and rise to 6.5 per cent in 2021.

India-born IMF Chief Economist Gita Gopinath said growth in India slowed sharply owing to stress in the non-bank financial sector and weak rural income growth.

China's growth has been revised upward by 0.2 per cent to 6 per cent for 2020, reflecting the trade deal with the United States, she added.

In India, the IMF said domestic demand has slowed more sharply than expected amid stress in the non-bank financial sector and a decline in credit growth.

India's growth is estimated at 4.8 per cent in 2019, projected to improve to 5.8 per cent in 2020 and 6.5 percent in 2021 (1.2 and 0.9 percentage point lower than in the October WEO), supported by monetary and fiscal stimulus as well as subdued oil prices, it added.

Gopinath also said the pickup in global growth for 2020 remains highly uncertain as it relies on improved growth outcomes for stressed economies like Argentina, Iran, and Turkey and for underperforming emerging and developing economies such as Brazil, India, and Mexico.

JP Nadda elected BJP prez unopposed

Seven months after being appointed the working president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Jagat Prakash Nadda was elected unopposed the party president and assumed charge soon after. Nadda’s candidature was backed by three former BJP chiefs — Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari — and no other candidate filed nominations for the top post.

As per the party’s constitution, no candidate has hold the top post for more than two terms, each lasting three years and there is a convention of ‘one person, one post.’ Outgoing chief Amit Shah had completed his term in January 2019, but the internal polls were deferred due to the parliamentary elections. Shah was later inducted into Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet as home minister and former health minister Nadda had been brought in as the working president.

Nadda remains a trusted lieutenant of the BJP’s top duo Modi and Shah and has risen through the ranks by delivering several crucial polls. Last year in the Lok Sabha polls, he was the party in-charge of the election campaign in Uttar Pradesh, where he manoeuvred against the grand alliance and helped win 62 out of the 80 parliamentary seats. He is credited for his contribution to the Ayushman Bharat scheme that is one of the pet projects of the PM.

In a grand felicitation programme at the BJP headquarters, PM Modi recalled his days of working with Nadda on a ‘scooter’ and during their time together in Himachal Pradesh, from where Nadda originally belongs.

“ Nadda Ji’s leadership will give us new energy, hope, and inspiration. We must ensure that he is successful.”


India test-fires nuclear missile from undersea pad

India tested its nuclear-capable K-4 submarine launched ballistic missile, designed to have a strike range of 3,500 km, from an undersea platform in the shape of a submersible pontoon off the coast of Andhra Pradesh on Sunday.

Though there was no official word on the test of the ‘strategic missile’, which will equip the country’s nuclear-powered submarines, sources said the solid-fuelled K-4 was test-fired for a range of around 2,200 km “successfully” in the Bay of Bengal on Sunday. “Though K-4 has been tested a few times, this was the first time it was fired for a long range. The problem of the missile tilting after emerging from under water has been resolved,” said a source.

South gets 1st Sukhoi squad with Brahmos

India now has a new lethal weapons platform to keep a ‘strategic eye’ over the Indian Ocean Region, especially the Bay of Bengal, as well as carry out ‘long-range precision strikes’ against hostile aircraft carriers or other high-value targets by day and night in all-weather conditions in the region.

The IAF will commission a squadron of Sukhoi-30MKI fighter jets, especially modified to carry the 2.5-tonne airlaunched supersonic BrahMos cruise missiles, at its Thanjavur airbase in Tamil Nadu on Monday. Primarily tasked with a maritime strike role, these Sukhois will be “a huge addition to IAF’s operational capabilities”, Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria said.

BrahMos director-general Sudhir Mishra said, “It’s the realisation of our dream to provide IAF with a formidable and much-desired capability to strike from long stand-off distances on any target at sea or on land with pinpoint accuracy.”

The new Sukhoi squadron, nicknamed ‘Tiger Sharks’, will be commissioned with four to six fighters at Thanjavur on Monday, and will induct its full complement of 18 fighters by the end of the year. With a combat radius of almost 1,500 km without midair refuelling, the Sukhoi will combine with the 290-km range BrahMos missile to constitute a formidable weapons package.

Tiger Sharks is the 12th squadron of the 4th-generation ‘air dominance’ Sukhois but the first one to be based in south India after the first 11 were deployed on the western and eastern fronts, from Halwara, Pune, Jodhpur and Sirsa to Bareilly, Tezpur and Chabua, to cater for Pakistan and China.

The deployment at Thanjavur is clearly in response to China’s fast-expanding strategic footprint in the IOR, with Beijing now also looking to establish additional logistics facilities in the IOR after setting up its first overseas military base in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa in August 2017, while also using Karachi as a regular naval turnaround facility.

The Navy already operates its Poseidon-8I long range maritime patrol aircraft, which are packed with sensors and weapons to detect, track and destroy enemy submarines, from its INS Rajali base at Arakkonam in TN. Armed with BrahMos missiles, the Sukhois will further add to this deterrence over the high seas right up to the Malacca Strait.

“The capability of the missile, coupled with the high performance of the Sukhois, will give IAF strategic reach and allow it to dominate over land and sea. The Sukhoi-BrahMos package can also be used in surgical strikes to destroy terror camps across the Line of Control with Pakistan,” said an official.

J&K: Calls, SMS restored on prepaid mobiles

Voice calls and SMS facilities were restored on prepaid mobile networks in Jammu and Kashmir on Saturday after remaining suspended for over five months. The administration also restored 2G mobile data services, but only for access to a set of 153 “white-listed” websites, in all districts of Jammu division and two districts of Kashmir division – Kupwara and Bandipora.

Mobile internet services will remain suspended in the districts of Budgam, Ganderbal, Baramulla, Srinagar, Kulgam, Anantnag, Shopian and Pulwama.

The administration had restored broadband services in institutions dealing with “essential services” on Tuesday night. The administration had asked internet service providers to install firewalls and carry out “white-listing” of websites before resuming services. Social media websites continue to be banned in the region.

Last week, the Supreme Court had ordered the Jammu and Kashmir administration to review within a week all restrictive orders imposed in the Union Territory. The bench of Justices NV Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and BR Gavai said suspending internet indefinitely violated telecom rules.

The court had noted that the restrictions on internet have to follow the “principles of proportionality” and complete curbs must be considered by the state only as an extraordinary measure. The judges had also instructed the government to publish in the public domain all the orders imposing restrictions so that they can be challenged in courts.

On August 5 last year, the Centre had amended Article 370 of the Constitution to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional status, imposed a curfew, detained political leaders, and banned all communication services.

The lockdown is still in place but some curbs have been lifted. On the midnight of January 1, SMS services were restored. The Ladakh administration had restored 4G mobile internet connectivity in Kargil on December 27, after a gap of 145 days. Postpaid mobile phone services had been restored across all networks in the Kashmir Valley on October 14.

Delhi: Kejriwal releases ‘guarantee card’

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal released a “guarantee card” listing 10 promises, including free bus rides for students and deployment of “mohalla marshals” for women’s safety, that his AAP will fulfil if it is re-elected in Delhi.

The card, “10 guarantees of Kejriwal”, also promises to continue the scheme for free electricity up to 200 units, free health facilities, to plant two crore saplings, clean Yamuna river and reduce pollution in Delhi over the next five years.

“I am giving 10 guarantees to the people of Delhi. This is not a manifesto. We will launch a comprehensive manifesto in 7-10 days. The manifesto will have more things specifically for students, teachers, among others. This will be for everyone,” Kejriwal said.

“The Opposition is saying that many of our schemes will only last till March 31, so this is our guarantee that these schemes will continue for the next five years. Twenty-four hours electricity will continue and 200 units of free electricity will continue,” he said, adding, “The city will be freed from the web of wires and electricity will reach each household through underground cables.”

The “guarantee card” also promises more than 11,000 buses and to increase the length of the Delhi Metro network to over 500 km. The AAP chief also announced that ‘pucca’ houses will be provided to people living in slums under the ‘Jahan Jhuggi Wahin Makan’ scheme, and said his government would continue the existing 20,000 litres free water, while promising to provide 24-hour clean water in the five-year period. Further, he that his government will make the national capital garbage-free in the next five years and promised road, water supply, sewer, CCTV and mohalla clinics for unauthorised colonies.

Kejriwal released the card by signing it.

Polling on 70 Assembly seats of Delhi will be held on February 8 and the counting of votes will take place on February 11.

Of 30 years in exile....

To mark the completion of their 30 years in exile, hundreds of Kashmiri Pandits gathered at Jantar Mantar on Sunday evening. The protest was part of “Holocaust Day”, being observed by the displaced community who were forced to flee from Kashmir to Jammu and other states in the early 90s soon after the outbreak of militancy.

“The government should immediately come out with a blueprint for the return of the community to Kashmir with honour and safety. The community should be declared internally displaced,” a 50-year old man, who didn’t want to be named, said. He said his house was burned down in front of his eyes and the women in his family were kidnapped and raped.

Talking of his trauma, he said his family had an ancestral bungalow in Kashmir and ever since they moved to Delhi in 1995, they had no option but to stay in a one room rented accommodation. There are six remaining members in his family.

There were others in the gathering who said they had been scarred for life.

“We are educated people. Yet, we have jobs that pay us nothing more than Rs.20,000 a month,” said another protester, Ankur Kaul. “I was 13 when I saw my house being set on fire. We were told to leave Kashmir or face a worse fate. We were left with nothing,” he said, adding: “When my family realised that the women’s lives and dignity were at stake, we decided to move to Delhi. There is nothing worse than being a refugee in your own country.”

Anil Bhat was in his thirties when he came to Delhi. “Most of us are still in depression. We want to return to Kashmir, but that’s possible only if the government promises us security and rehabilitation,” he said. “We were asked to either convert or leave. We chose the latter,” he added.

Among those who were shouting slogans seeking their rehabilitation was Ritik Jotshi, whose family migrated from their ancestral Brahman Mohalla village in Anantnag district of south Kashmir. Jotshi said he was hopeful of making it back to his village to lead a life of dignity.

“This is the first time that I am joining a protest. We want the government to come out with a road map for our return and rehabilitation in the Valley without further delay,” Jotshi said. “I had visited my ancestral village for a few days after birth, but the desire in my heart to live on my land remains alive,” he added.

The protest was organised by All State Kashmiri Pandit Conference. A delegation, led by its president Ravinder Raina, later submitted a memorandum to LG of J&K, G C Murmu.

Several other organisations, including All Party Migrant Coordination Committee, Panun Kashmir, All India Pandit Conference and All Displaced KP United Forum, organised separate functions to commemorate the day.

Meanwhile, to show solidarity with Kashmiri Pandits, anti-CAA activists — on protest for over a month — observed two-minute silence at Shaheen Bagh on Sunday, an agency report stated.

Somewhere in Bihar....

Over 5.16 crore people formed an 18,034-km long human chain in Bihar to create awareness about conservation of water and increasing green cover, prohibition and the adverse impact of social evils like dowry and child marriage.

The human chain, the third of its kind in the state, was formed by the state government under its ‘Jal-Jeevan-Hariyali’ campaign. A little over 57.76 lakh schoolchildren from Class I to IV also took part in the human chain but on their respective campuses. Besides, 43,445 prisoners also formed a human chain inside the jail premises, he said.

Chief minister Nitish Kumar, who joined the human chain along with deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi, assembly speaker Vijay Kumar Choudhary and ‘Water Man’ Rajendra Singh at Gandhi Maidan, thanked people for their record participation. Though the human chain was officially formed from 11.30 am to 12 pm across the state, people had lined up on the streets much before the event started.

Seven choppers and over 100 drones were used to cover the event. The representatives of Limca Book of Records and Indian Book of Records were present to assess the length of the human chain, which was claimed to be the longest so far across the globe. Anjani Kumar Singh, the adviser to the CM, said the representatives of Guinness World Records were also invited but they expressed their inability to come due to some technical reasons.

The chief secretary said two human chains were earlier formed in 2017 and 2018. Over 3.5 crore people had participated in an 11,292 km-long human chain in 2017 while the 2018 human chain was over 14,000 km long.


Sensex Tops 42000 for First Time

Benchmark equity indices hit fresh records with the Sensex touching 42000 for the first time ever but gains were modest as investors were focussed on mid- and small-cap stocks. Analysts said bluechips, which form the main indices, were unable to maintain the momentum because of a slowdown in foreign portfolio inflows.

BSE’s Sensex added 59.83 points, or 0.14%, to close at 41932.56 after touching a high of 42059.45. NSE’s Nifty moved up 12.20 points, or 0.1%, to end at 12355.50, off the high of 12389.05. Mid- and small-cap indices rose almost 0.8% each.

Foreign portfolio investors net sold shares worth ₹395 crore on Thursday, extending their selling to the third straight session. Though their selling so far this week has been modest, the absence of fresh flows is hindering the recent record-breaking rally in Sensex and Nifty. So far in January, they have pumped ₹2,059 crore into Indian equities.

The break in inflows triggered by an eruption of tensions between Washington and Tehran after a US air strike killed a top Iranian commander, Qassem Soleimani, cut short the run-up in stock indices boosted by a riskon trade in emerging markets that has resulted in Rs 55,000 crore flowing into domestic stocks since mid-September.

CLSA said the Nifty is currently consolidating after the initial breakout with the move above 12,070-12,118.

Elsewhere in Asia, stock markets ended mixed on Thursday as investors digested the fine points of the phase one trade deal between the US and China the previous night.

ATK buys 80% stake in Mohun Bagan

And thus it was decided. A century-old club – a club with one of the richest heritages in Indian football will be completing a merger with Indian Super League club ATK. The two Kolkata clubs merging may not come as a surprise anymore but the founding stones of the alliance were laid at a landmark meeting between Asian Football Confederation, ISL and I-League clubs Kuala Lumpur on October 14 last year.

The AFC in this meeting recognised ISL as the top league of Indian football and effectively demoted the I-League. AFC also recommended All India Football Federation to open entry to two I-League clubs into ISL by the end of 2020-21 season. Whether the merger signifies or follows those directives are murky at best considering the Bagan-ATK alliance is still one entity, rather than a fresh club entering the ISL.

Yesterday the RPSG group – which owns the two-time ISL champions ATK bought an 80% stake in the Kolkata legacy club, thus ending a will-they-won’t-they that has been going on for more than two years.

With Mohun Bagan now a part of the ISL from next year, East Bengal remains the last legacy club to be with the I-League. The rivalry that has been the lifeline of the I-League over the years might have come to an end, but the larger ramification of this move would have to be the decimation of the I-League as a premier competition. Once East Bengal finds a way to jump ship, the rest of the diverse clubs from all across India, and their futures, stand on shaky ground after the moves made today.

Ahmedabad-Mumbai Tejas Exp to be flagged off today

The second Ahmedabad-Mumbai Tejas express will be flagged off by the Union railway and commerce minister Piyush Goyal and Gujarat chief minister, Vijay Rupani from Ahmedabad today. It will run simultaneously in the opposite direction to Shatabdi express. The commercial run of the train will start from Sunday from Ahmedabad, the railways said.

There will be no tatkal quota or premium tatkal quota in the train. There will be only general quota and foreign tourist quota. Foreign tourist quota of 6 seats in EC and 12 seats in CC will be available for foreign tourists. Besides travel insurance, IRCTC will pay each passenger a compensation of Rs.100 in case the train is delayed by more than one hour and Rs.250 in case of delay of more than two hours.

The Tejas Express will be operated by the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation.  The air-conditioned train will run six days a week, except on Thursdays. According to schedule, the train will leave Ahmedabad at 6.40 am and reach Mumbai Central railway station at 1.10 pm., covering the entire distance of 533 km in 6 hours and 30 minutes.

The train will have six halts including Nadiad, Vadodara, Bharuch, Surat, Vapi and Borivali. On its return journey, the train will leave Mumbai Central at 3.40 pm and reach Ahmedabad at 9.55 pm. In October, the IRCTC started the first Tejas Express between Lucknow and New Delhi.

Tejas will have an executive class air-conditioned chair car with 56 seats and nine air-conditioned coaches. The train will have tea and coffee vending machines along with CCTV cameras, LED TV, and automatic doors.

Th train fare will be dynamic keeping in consideration the prevailing bus, taxi, rail and airfares. Train fares will be on point-to-point basis. Current bookings will be available after preparation of first chart, which will normally be between four hours before and up to five minutes before the scheduled departure of the train.

All passengers travelling on the IRCTC train will get rail travel insurance of up to Rs.25 lakh free of extra cost. This complimentary travel insurance also includes an exclusive coverage of Rs. 1 lakh against theft or robbery during the travel period of the passengers.

Amazon’s $1 billion push for India’s small businesses

Amazon.com Inc chief Jeff Bezos announced $1 billion (over Rs.7,000 crore) investment in India to help bring small and medium businesses online and committed to exporting $10 billion worth of India-made goods by 2025.

Before this, the online retail giant had committed $5.5 billion investments in India — Amazon’s most important market outside of the US and a key growth driver.

“We are committed to being a long-term partner of India. And actions speak louder than words,” Bezos said.

“Over the next five years, Amazon will invest an incremental $1 billion to digitise micro and small businesses... across India, helping them reach more customers than ever before. This initiative will use Amazon’s global footprint to create $10 billion in India exports by 2025,” he said.

He added that part of this goal is to ensure that more people can participate in the prosperity of India. “We are making this announcement now because it is working... When something works you should double down on it. And that is why we are doing it.”

Amazon hopes that this investment will “bring millions of more people into the future prosperity of India and at the same time expose the world to the ‘Make in India’ products that represent India’s rich, diverse culture”.

The $1 billion investment would be to digitise 10 million micro, small, and medium enterprises and traders across India, including manufacturers, resellers, local offline shops, and brands.

The company had previously said it expected e-commerce exports from India to reach $5 billion by 2023 under its global selling programme.

Bezos, who began a three-day visit to India on Tuesday by visiting Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial at Rajghat, was speaking at the SMBhav summit — an Amazon India gathering for small and medium businesses.

“The 21st century is going to be the Indian century,” the Amazon founder said, adding: “This country has something special: its dynamism. I also predict that the most important alliance in the 21st century will be between India and the United States.”

Bezos is expected to meet top government functionaries and business leaders during the trip. His visit has been marked by Competition Commission of India initiating a formal investigation into alleged deep discounts, preferential listing and exclusionary tactics adopted by Amazon and Flipkart, and small store owners demonstrating against online retailers driving them out of business by offering sharply discounted products.

Protests erupt

Over five lakh traders, across 300 cities, came together under the umbrella of Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) on Wednesday to protest against Bezos’ visit.

CAIT Secretary General Praveen Khandelwal said the business model of e-commerce giant Amazon and its subsidiary Flipkart has created distortionary effects. He said they have indulged in unethical and monopolistic business practices. 


NPR Data

Sharing details of Aadhaar, passport number, voter ID and driving licence during the planned National Population Register exercise will be mandatory if you possess these documents, home ministry sources clarified.

A senior official explained “voluntary” or “optional” sharing of identification documents only meant respondents would not be required to provide details of Aadhaar, driving licence, voter ID or passport number if these have not been issued to them in the first place. But if one has the documents, the information is to be provided even though no document needs to be shown as proof.

While announcing the cabinet’s approval of funding for Census 2021 and NPR 2020 on December 24 last year, commerce minister Piyush Goyal had said sharing Aadhaar number during NPR would be “optional”. However, information & broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar said NPR will involve self-certification or self-declaration while home minister Amit Shah said “voluntary” would mean it is okay if some information is not there.

The official explanation cleared a prevailing impression that a respondent can choose not to provide information relating to the documents. While the effort will be to persuade respondents to provide information, explaining its utility, a rarely invoked provision entails a fine of up to Rs.1,000 on the head of the family for not sharing correct particulars of household members.

An official explained the legal implications of “optional” and “compulsory”, saying, “It is indeed optional as the fields can be left blank if you don’t possess Aadhaar number, passport, driving licence or voter ID.”

An official said, “Compulsory’ would mean that you would be required to procure these documents to enter the said details in the NPR form.” According to sources, during the Census pre-test last year, more than 80% of respondents had willingly shared Aadhaar details. “The only field that got adverse response was PAN, which has been dropped,” said an officer. During NPR updation in 2015, around 50 crore respondents had furnished Aadhaar details.

Rule 17 of the Citizenship Rules, 2003, does provide for a fine of up to Rs.1,000, though officials said the focus will be on getting the enumerator to motivate people to share the correct data by explaining how NPR data shapes development initiatives and ensures their inclusion as beneficiaries. Even for Census, the provision of a fine of up to Rs 1,000 and jail up to three years for intentionally giving false answers has never been invoked. Instead, participation is ensured by the enumerator doubling as motivator.

“Most enumerators are local school teachers or government staff and are known to the respondents. The confidentiality clause relating to the Census data gives confidence to respondents to share correct details,” said an officer.

Asked if the NPR exercise would be affected by the opposition of some states, home ministry sources said the process had already been re-notified by all the states following the Centre’s 2019 notification. While the Registrar General of India has been informed of West Bengal and Kerala’s decision to put the NPR process on hold, an officer said the two states have not announced doing way with NPR.

Exports Contract for 5th Month in Row

India’s exports declined 1.8% in December to $27.36 billion, on the back of currency volatility and fluctuation in commodities prices coupled with the sluggish global economy.

Exports had declined 0.34% in November.

Echoing the general economic sluggishness and weak domestic demand, imports witnessed a sharper decline of 8.83% at $38.61 billion in December.

This helped narrow down the trade deficit to $11.25 billion last month from $12.12 billion in November.

Non-oil non-gold imports, an indicator of the strength of domestic demand, contracted more steeply at 12.2%.

The decline was driven by industrial inputs such as iron and steel, coal, minerals and ores, and metals, transport equipment, electronic goods and silver.

Oil imports contracted 0.83% to $10.69 billion, while gold imports dipped 3.93% to $2.46 billion.

As for exports, it was the fifth straight month of contraction. It is in line with the slowing Indian economy that is expected to grow at a 11-year low of 5% in 2019-20.

As many as 19 of the 30 exporting sectors reported a decline in outbound shipments last month. Electronic goods, drugs & pharmaceuticals, marine products, readymade garments and cotton yarn were the major commodity groups that showed growth, the commerce and industry ministry said.

In April-December 2019-20, India’s exports shrank 1.96% on year to $239.29 billion while imports fell 8.9% to $357.39 billion, leaving a trade deficit of $118.1 billion.

The trade deficit in December 2018 was $14.49 billion.

Ambedkar statue: Height to be raised by 100 feet

The Maharashtra Cabinet approved a proposal to raise the height of the proposed statue of B R Ambedkar at the Indu Mills compound by 100 feet and cleared the revised expenditure of Rs.1,089.95 crore for the project.

While the height of the pedestal of the upcoming memorial will remain the same at 100 feet, the height of the statue will be raised to 350 feet from the initially decided 250 feet, Deputy CM Ajit Pawar said. “The Cabinet has approved the proposal to increase the height of the bronze statue and pedestal from 350 feet to 450 feet. The cabinet also gave a go-ahead to the revised expenditure of Rs.1089.95 crore for the project from the current Rs.700 crore,” he said.

Pawar, who holds the Finance portfolio, said the project will be completed in the next two years. The proposed structure includes a library, a research centre and an auditorium with the total capacity of 1000. Other decisions taken by the Cabinet included naming the Eastern Freeway after late chief minister and Congress leader Vilasrao Deshmukh, and a proposed rural transformation project after Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray. 

MTHL: First girder launched

Maharashtra Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray launched the first girder of the 22 km-long Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link at Sewri. It will be the country’s longest bridge over the sea.

The launch took place 60 days ahead of its planned schedule as the region’s development agency, MMRDA, said it has completed 25% of work. “Work on the project is on in full swing... I’m told that the project could be completed before its scheduled date.”

About concerns of migratory birds, avoiding the Sewri mud pan-flats, he said, “I did find flamingos around.”

Urban development minister Eknath Shinde said, the 6-lane-bridge will link Sewri and Nhava Sheva. “It will reduce travel time up to 3 hours,” he said.

MMRDA chief R A Rajeev said the bridge is an engineering marvel and a milestone in construction.


Kerala govt challenges CAA IN SC

The Kerala government moved the Supreme Court to challenge the Citizenship Amendment Act and sought to declare it as violative of the principles of equality, freedom and secularism enshrined in the Constitution.

The CPI(M)-led Kerala government is the first state to do so. The Kerala assembly was also the first in the country to pass a resolution against the act on December 31.

In its suit, the Kerala government has sought to declare that the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 is violative of Articles 14 (Equality before law), 21 (Right to life and personal liberty) and 25 (Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice, and propagation of religion). It said the CAA is also violative of the basic principle of secularism enshrined in the Constitution.

“Such grouping is not founded on any rational principle justifying a separate special treatment for the irrationally chosen class of religious minorities facing persecution on the basis of religion therein,” it said. Besides, the plea states that the Passport (Entry to India) Amendment Rules, 2015 and Foreigners (Amendment) Order are in violation of the Constitution and should be declared void.

It said the CAA, the amended Passport Rules and Foreign Order are class legislations harping on the religious identity of an individual, thereby contravening the principles of secularism, which has been recognised by the court as a basic structure of the Constitution.

The suit claimed that these amendments make religion and a person's country of origin a criteria for citizenship and result in classifications based on religion and country, which are discriminatory, arbitrary, unreasonable and have no rational nexus with the object sought to be achieved.

On December 18, 2019, the top court had issued a notice to the Centre and sought its response by the second week of January on a batch of pleas challenging the CAA's legality.

The apex court fixed January 22 for hearing 59 anti-CAA petitions, including those filed by the Indian Union Muslim League and Congress leader Jairam Ramesh. RJD leader Manoj Jha, Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra and AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi have also filed pleas against the act. Other anti-CAA petitioners include the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, All Assam Students Union, Peace Party, CPI, NGOs ‘Rihai Manch’ and Citizens Against Hate. Several law students have also approached the apex court.


Retail inflation rises to 5-year high of 7.35%

Retail inflation rose to about five-and-half year high of 7.35 per cent in December 2019, surpassing the RBI's comfort level, mainly due to spiralling prices of vegetables as onions were selling costlier.

The spike in inflation in the vegetable segment was 60.5 per cent during the month compared to December 2018.

The overall retail inflation based on Consumer Price Index (CPI) was 2.11 per cent in December 2018 and 5.54 per cent in November 2019.

As per the data released by the NSO, the overall food inflation rose to 14.12 per cent in December as against (-) 2.65 per cent in the same month of 2018. The food inflation was 10.01 per cent in November 2019.

The previous high in retail inflation was witnessed at 7.39 per cent in July 2014, the year Narendra Modi-led government assumed office for the first term.

The inflation in 'pulses and products' was recorded at 15.44 per cent, while in case of 'meat and fish' it was nearly 10 per cent.

The central government has mandated the Reserve Bank of India to keep inflation in the range of 4 per cent with a margin of 2 per cent on the either side.

The RBI, which mainly factors in the CPI based inflation, is scheduled to announce its next bi-monthly monetary policy on February 6. In its December policy, the central bank, which had been reducing rates, had kept the repo rate unchanged citing inflationary concerns.

Last month, RBI in its monetary policy review statement had predicted the CPI-based inflation to rise in the coming quarters.

Sabari first: SC

A nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court indicated that adjudication of the faith vs fundamental rights issue arising from women’s entry into the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple and mosques would take precedence over hearing of petitions challenging the validity of Citizenship (Amendment) Act and scrapping of J&K ’s special status under Article 370.

The bench, headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde, said, “Sabarimala is a older problem and it will be decided first. CAA and Article 370 issue pending before other benches will be decided later.”

The CJI’s observation came when senior advocates Indira Jaising and Rajeev Dhavan said deferring the hearing on faith vs fundamental rights issue could clash with the hearing on petitions challenging CAA and scrapping of J&K’s special status, both pending before different benches, and make it difficult for advocates who are also engaged to argue the latter two issues.

A bench headed by the CJI had entertained a large number of petitions challenging the validity of CAA and had asked the Centre to file its response by January 22, the next date of hearing. A fivejudge bench headed by Justice N V Ramana was scheduled to resume hearing on January 21 on a bunch of petitions challenging the validity of the Centre’s August 5 decision to strip J&K of its special status under Article 370 and divide it into two UTs.

The nine-judge bench hearing the faith vs fundamental rights issue has many judges who are part of the other two benches scheduled to hear the CAA and Kashmir issues.


Modi on CAA

PM Narendra Modi said in Kolkata on Sunday that it was because of the Citizenship Amendment Act that the whole world knew about Pakistan’s “persecution” of minorities. “Had we not brought the amendment, there would not have been any controversy,” he said.

Modi chose the Belur headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission, associated with Swami Vivekananda’s life and work, to launch a full-throated defence of CAA. “CAA is not about taking away citizenship, it is about giving citizenship,” he told a crowd.

The focus of his speech was “youth”. While this was because the birth anniversary of Vivekananda is celebrated as National Youth Day. The PM said a section of youth was being “misguided”. “We should tell them the truth... We’ve only done what Mahatma Gandhi had said decades ago. Should we send these refugees back to die? Are they our responsibility or not? Should we make them our citizens or not? Shouldn’t we give them equal rights as citizens of India? I am only doing what Mahatma Gandhi wanted us to do,” he said.

The Ramakrishna Math and Mission on Sunday distanced itself from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, contending that it was a strictly apolitical body which did not respond to “ephemeral” calls.

Addressing a press meet, Swami Suvirananda, the Ramakrishna Math and Mission general secretary, said, “The organisation will not comment on the prime minister’s speech on CAA. We are a strictly apolitical body. We have come here after leaving our homes to answer eternal calls. We do not respond to ephemeral calls.” He said Modi was a guest and the onus was on him on what he had spoken at the Math.

All illegal Kochi flats demolished

The demolition of four illegal waterfront apartment complexes, ordered by the Supreme Court for being constructed in violation of environmental norms, was completed with the razing of the last two high rises. The controlled implosion method was used to demolish the buildings.

The four concrete complexes housing nearly 350 flats were reduced to piles of rubble in seconds over the last two days. Ernakulam District Collector S Suhas and Kochi Police Commissioner Vijay Sakhare said the demolition drive was successful..

The drive was completed around 2.30 pm on Sunday with the demolition of the 55-m-high Golden Kayaloram building, the smallest among the four complexes, after an about half-an-hour delay due to some technical reasons, official sources said. Earlier in the day, Jain Coral Cove, also 55 m high, was brought down at 11.03 am.

The Supreme Court had in September 2019 ordered the demolition of the apartment complexes within 138 days after the Kerala government submitted the time line for carrying out the operation.

Mumbai lost 23% of green cover in millennium’s 1st decade

Mumbai lost 22.6% of its green cover in the decade spanning 2001-2011, with losses crossing 60% in parts of the western suburbs, according to a new study from IIT Bombay. Some neighbourhoods “witnessed extreme levels of ungreening”, the study said.

Sixty-eight of the city’s 88 census wards lost green cover in 2001-2011, found doctoral student V Sathyakumar and professors R.A.A.J. Ramsankaran and Ronta Bardhan, who analysed satellite imagery along with census data to map neighbourhood-level shifts in green cover. Per capita greenery also reduced by a median of 2.8 square metres per person, they found. The decline was not only in quantity, but also quality: most neighbourhoods saw fragmentation of their green spaces.

The high losses in the western suburbs reflect the pace of commercial and residential development in the 2000s, said Sathyakumar. These areas are also relatively verdant, he notes, with its proximity to mangroves, the forested Aarey Colony, and Sanjay Gandhi National Park.

The worst hit were: Goregaon, which had 62.5% of green space in 2001, but only 17.4% in 2011; Andheri (West), where the percent of green space fell from 63% to 20%; and Malad (West), which went from 62% of green space in 2001 to 19.5% in 2011.

Kandivli and Vile Parle saw similarly steep falls in green cover, while eastern suburbs like Mulund and Ghatkopar also saw significant declines.

By contrast, the historically densely-populated island city saw smaller reductions in green cover in the same period—Dadar, Sion, and Matunga even saw gains—but also did not have as much green cover to begin with, researchers noted. (In this study, green cover refers to any kind of vegetation, whether trees, roadside shrubs, or parks.) “These findings show the need for targeted greening programmes for different neighbourhoods, specifically to develop more spaces in the island city and conserve and improve those in the suburbs,” said Ramsankaran, an associate professor of civil engineering at IIT Bombay.

Fragmentation emerged as a key issue. In most parts of the city, the mean area or size of green space shrank in that decade—the median decrease was 3.21 hectares—while the number of patches per square kilometre increased. Distance between green spaces also fell.

Taken together, said researchers, these findings indicate that larger green spaces splintered into smaller ones. The trend was especially intense in suburban areas like Andheri (West), Jogeshwari (West), Goregaon, and Malad (West), where satellite imagery showed “large and aggregated green space patches had turned into isolated single-pixel patches”.

Fragmentation indicates deterioration of ecological quality, said Bardhan, who is a lecturer on sustainability of built environment at Cambridge University. “Contiguous green spaces support more biodiversity, provide a larger habitat, and facilitate species dispersal,” she said. “Further, fragmentation makes green spaces more vulnerable to the ‘un-greening’ phenomenon.”

Although a few areas in the island city saw per capita green cover rise—in Walkeshwar, for instance—these areas were also depopulating in that period. “Wherever per capita green cover went up, it is primarily because of population decrease,” said Sathyakumar. “But where it went down, it is mainly due to decrease in green space, not population increase.”

Indeed, 23 census wards saw a reduction in per capita green cover despite a decline in inhabitants. In 2011, only 47 census wards had more than 9 square metres of green cover per person—an often cited standard compared to 56 census sections in 2001.

Surprisingly, some island city neighbourhoods like Matunga, Dadar, and Sion saw increases in green cover. Researchers attributed the improvement in these areas to increased greening along roads and railway lines and the emergence of small green patches in a few residential pockets, as well as relatively stable traditional green spaces. Matunga also a saw a decline in population, Bardhan noted.

However, further investigation of these areas is needed, researchers said. In addition, the green cover scenario in the island city areas may have changed in recent years as redevelopment stepped up.

Researchers hope their work will help with urban green-space planning. “Traditionally urban green space standards focus only on quantity, specifically green space per inhabitant,” added Bardhan. “Yet, these standards do not reckon the level of fragmentation or accessibility, which have overarching influences on the benefits received by urban dwellers.”


PMRDA: Seal on draft DP for four town planning schemes

The draft development plan for four town planning schemes in the Pune Metropolitan Region were cleared on January 9, pushing forward the projects along the proposed 128 km ring road and paving the way for development work on nearly 500 hectares.

One scheme each will come up at Vadachiwadi and Autande Handewadi. Two projects would be developed in Holkarwadi.

The commissioner of the Pune Metropolitan Region Development Authority cleared the town planning schemes according to the powers granted to him by the state government. All the four schemes would be along the 32 km-long first stretch of the proposed ring road — from Satara road to Nagar road, a PMRDA official said.

The scheme at Vadachiwadi would come up on 134.79 hectares. The project at Autande Handewadi would be on 94.44 hectares. One of the two projects at Holkarwadi would be on 158.19 hectares and the other on 130.78 hectares.

A total of five town planning schemes, including the four cleared on January 9, would come up along the proposed ring road. The Manjari-Kalewadi town planning scheme along the ring road was cleared earlier.

The Pune Metropolitan Region would see a total of six town planning schemes — the five along the proposed ring road and the Mann-Mhalunge town planning scheme — coming up in this year, said the PMRDA commissioner, Vikram Kumar.

He said the recent clearance to the draft development project of the four town planning schemes would help speed up the work to appoint the arbitrator and initiate talks with the landowners.

After the draft DP of a town planning scheme is cleared, the arbitrator is appointed to talk to landowners. Thereafter, clearance is sought from the town planning department. Finally, the proposal is submitted to the state government for the final approval for rolling out the project.

The PMR authorities were successful in completing the process for the Mann-Mhalunge scheme. The remaining schemes, too, would be carried out in the same process, said an official.


Auto Sales Plunge 14% in 2019

Automobile sales in India last year fell the most in more than two decades, as slowing economic activity, high vehicle prices and stricter lending rules dampened demand.

In passenger vehicles, an easing in the pace of decline in December, though on a low base, and an improvement in the rolling average in the last three months of the year led the industry to suggest that the worst may be over.

Sales across the automobile sector, from passenger vehicles and commercial vehicles to two- and three-wheelers, fell 13.8% to 23.07 million units in 2019, as per data released by the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers. Passenger vehicle and two-wheeler sales fell the most since the industry started reporting the numbers, by 12.75% to 2.96 million and 14.19% to 18.57 million units, respectively, last year. The fall in commercial vehicles was the most in six years at 15%, to 854,759 units.

In December, sales of passenger vehicles such as cars, utility vehicles and vans fell 1.24% to 235,786 units. Sales of commercial vehicles and two-wheelers declined by 12.23% to 66,622 and 16.6% to 1.05 million, respectively, while overall, sales dropped 13.08% to 1.41 million.

Slowdown in the broader economy and weak consumer sentiment continue to impact fundamental demand, he added.

New launches in the utility vehicle segment did help draw some buyers. For the year, while sales of passenger cars fell 18.91%, those of utility vehicles rose 4.78%. Utility vehicles accounted for 34% of sales of passenger vehicles during April-December, the first nine months of the ongoing fiscal year, compared with 13% in fiscal 2011.

A sharp increase in acquisition costs due to higher insurance premium and implementation of stringent safety rules hit two-wheeler sales. While sales of scooters dropped 16.03%, those of motorcycles fell 12.92%.