S&P Slashes FY21 Growth Forecast to 3.5%

S&P Global Ratings has slashed its forecast on India’s economic growth to 3.5% for the coming fiscal year from 5.2%, the second downgrade in as many weeks, even as it likened the Covid-19 impact to the 1997-98 Asian Financial Crisis.

In a report, ‘Credit Conditions Asia-Pacific: As Bad As 1997’, S&P warned of higher defaults resulting from a demand slump due to the Covid-19 outbreak in many countries and a recession across the Asia-Pacific region.

“We now expect the hit to output for Asia-Pacific to be as large as the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-1998,” the report said.

On March 17, before the 21-day lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, S&P had lowered its growth forecast on India to 5.2% from the 5.7% expansion projected in February, while citing a global recession affecting the Asia-Pacific region.

S&P expects a sharp uptick in the Indian economy to 7.3% in FY22, according to the latest report.

Although China is gradually returning to normalcy, the worsening impact of the virus outbreak in other economies of the region is weighing on the aggregate growth, the global ratings firm said, terming the environment as “at least as challenging as the 1997-1998 Asian Financial Crisis for borrowers”.

While maintaining its China 2020 growth forecast at 2.9%, S&P has cut its Asia-Pacific estimate to 2.2% from the 2.7% expansion projected in a March 20 report.

Acknowledging the high degree of uncertainty, the report said downside risks to its estimates remained. “Top risks include Covid-19 containment failing, riskaversion affecting financing, commodity price volatility increasing, and US-China dispute reigniting,” it said.

In its March 20 report, the ratings firm had estimated a total and permanent income loss of $620 billion for the region resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.

India Ratings & Research also cut its fiscal 2021 fore- cast on India’s growth to 3.6% from 5.5%. “The key reasons are the spread of Covid-19 and the resultant nationwide lockdown imposed till 14 April 2020, crippling most economic and commercial activities,” it said in a report released on Monday.

The local ratings firm projected the economy to grow 4.7% in the current fiscal, lower than the National Statistical Office’s advance estimate of 5%, because of the disruptions in March. On Friday, Moody’s Investors Service halved its GDP forecast for India’s growth in 2020 to 2.5%.

Migrant workers given ‘chemical bath’ in UP

A group of migrants heading home after the lockdown was hosed down with a chlorine solution in Bareilly, triggering criticism and then an admission from the local authorities that the act was ‘overzealous’.

A state government official, however, argued that such spraying of people is permitted internationally. But the authorities did not follow the right procedure, he said.

A fire brigade official said the migrants were sprayed with a solution containing sodium hypochlorite which is often used to keep swimming pools sanitised.

The incident, caught on video and shared on social media, took place at Bareilly’s Satellite bus station on Sunday. The clip showed several migrants squatting on the ground as men in protective suits hosed them down. Someone is heard telling people to shut their eyes as the spraying begins.

Several people in the group, which included women and children, complained of a burning sensation in the eyes. Chief Fire Officer C M Sharma said spraying the group with sodium hypochlorite was necessary for “disinfecting”.

He said there is a burning sensation for “two or three seconds” in the eyes when it gets into them, “but it doesn't harm them”.

As a row erupted over the incident, District magistrate Nitish Kumar blamed it on “overzealous” civic body personnel and said action is being taken against them.

Somewhere in Sariska....

Wildlife lovers have a reason to rejoice. After a two-year wait, a tigress has given birth to a cub at Sariska Tiger Reserve.

The first photo of ST-10 and her cub was captured in Talvriksh range on Monday. With the newborn, number of big cats at STR rose to 16. The park has seven females, three males and six cubs.

Dinesh Verma Durani, founder and general secretary of Sariska Tiger Foundation, said the news has come as a respite for the STR after the death few tigers in park in past two years. “It will give fresh lease of life to the reserve. Sariska has a tremendous potential and I congratulate forest adminstration for their efforts,” he said.

According to sources, the tigers gave birth to three cubs in same range in December 2018, but they disappeared mysteriously. Tigress ST-10 also gave births to two cubs earlier named ST-11 and ST-12 in Sariska. Tiger ST-11 was killed by wire snare.


Mega merger of state-run banks in force on April 1: RBI

The schemes for the merger of ten state-run banks into four lenders are coming into force from April 1, according to the Reserve Bank of India.

The banking regulator in separate releases announced that branches of merging banks will operate as of banks in which these are amalgamated.

The government on March 4 had notified the amalgamation schemes for 10 state owned banks into four as part of its consolidation plan to create bigger size stronger banks in the public sector. But bank officers' unions earlier this week wrote to the prime minister seeking to defer the merger schemes of lenders due to the lockdown triggered by coronavirus outbreak.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday had clarified that the mega bank consolidation plan was very much on track and would take effect from April 1 despite the onslaught of coronavirus pandemic throwing the country out of gear.

As per the scheme, Oriental Bank of Commerce and United Bank of India will be merged into Punjab National Bank; Syndicate Bank into Canara Bank; Allahabad Bank into Indian Bank; and Andhra and Corporation banks into Union Bank of India.

Under this, the branches of Oriental Bank of Commerce and United Bank of India will operate as branches of Punjab National Bank from April 1, 2020, and branches of Syndicate Bank as that of Canara Bank, the RBI said in separate releases.

Allahabad Bank branches will operate as those of Indian Bank while the branches of Andhra Bank and Corporation Bank will function as the branches of Union Bank of India from the beginning of next fiscal year 2020-21, the RBI said.

"The Amalgamation of Oriental Bank of Commerce and United Bank of India into Punjab National Bank Scheme, 2020 dated March 4, 2020, issued by the Government of India... The scheme comes into force on the 1st day of April 2020," RBI said.

Customers, including depositors of merging banks will be treated as customers of the banks in which these banks have been merged with effect from April 1, 2020, the RBO noted.

Banking services across the country are impacted due to the effect of COVID-19 as a near shut down is being observed across the country.

In a letter written to the Prime Minister on March 25, the All India Bank Officers' Confederation said, "The finance minister yesterday announced a slew of measures in view of the deleterious effect of the contagion. We are also expecting an extension of closing related activities and the revision of the closing date itself from March 31 to June 30, which is the need of the hour."

Lockdown: PM seeks forgiveness over ‘tough decisions’

Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought the nation's forgiveness for imposing a monumental lockdown on the country, saying it was a question of life and death and expressed confidence that "we will definitely win the battle" against the coronavirus menace that has claimed 25 lives in India so far.

In his monthly Mann ki Baat radio address to the nation, Modi also praised the front-line workers in the fight against the virus as well as countless workers in the essential services who are ensuring the country doesn't come to a complete standstill in the 21-day lockdown announced on March 24.

"I seek forgiveness ... I strongly feel, you will forgive me. When I see my poor brothers and sisters, then I definitely feel that they would say what kind of prime minister is this who has put us in this trouble. I specially seek their forgiveness. You had to undergo problems. I understand but there is no other way out to fight the coronavirus for a country with a population of 130 crore," he said. "But this is a battle for life and death."

According to the Health Ministry Update released an hour before Modi's address, India has recorded a total of 979 cases and 25 deaths so far.

The prime minister said looking at what the world is going through, this (lockdown) was the "only way left." "After all, the safety of you and your families has to be ensured. Once again, I apologise for any inconvenience, any hardship caused to you," he said.

He also described as "unfortunate" incidents where some of those suspected coronavirus carriers under home quarantine are being ill-treated or ostracised by others.

Modi also referred to "daily life heroes" who are helping people run their daily lives smoothly. These include plumbers, electricians, grocery shop owners, e commerce delivery personnel and those maintaining telecom and internet services. He said India has been able to fight a battle on such a massive scale, only due to the zeal and grit of front-line warriors such as doctor, nurses, para-medic personnel, Aasha and Anganwadi workers and sanitation staff.


RBI's Bazooka: Interest rates cut, EMIs frozen, liquidity boosted

As a large section of society is grappling with the crippling impact of the nationwide lockdown, the RBI allowed banks to put on hold EMI payments on all term loans for three months, slashed the cost of fresh borrowing by cutting policy interest rate by steepest in more than 11 years and infused a massive Rs.3.74 lakh crore liquidity as it joined the efforts of the government to counter the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

Recognising the urgency of initiating a monetary policy response to the Covid-19’s economic shock to the economy, the Reserve Bank of India brought forward by a week the key meeting of the monetary policy committee and said it will retain its accommodative stance as long as it is necessary to revive growth and mitigate the impact of coronavirus on the economy.

The benchmark repurchase or repo rate was slashed by 75 basis points, bringing it down to 4.4 per cent, lower than the 4.75 per cent in April 2009 which the RBI had implemented in response to the 2008 global economic and financial crisis.

Alongside, it cut the Cash Reserve Ratio - the amount of deposits banks must set aside as reserves - by 100 basis points to 3 per cent, releasing Rs.1.37 lakh crore across the banking system.

The biggest rate cut since January 2009 takes interest rate to the lowest in more than one-and-a-half decade (lowest since October 2004). The reverse repo rate was reduced 90 basis points to 4 per cent, creating an asymmetrical corridor, RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das said.

The RBI supplemented this by permitting all banks to give a three-month moratorium on EMIs on all outstanding loans, providing relief to home and auto buyers as well as real estate sector where construction activities are already at a standstill.

This moratorium was also on interest on working capital.

The reduction in CRR as also other measures such as five long-term repo operations, would lead to additional liquidity of Rs.3.74 lakh crore, amounting to nearly 2 per cent of FY20 GDP, Das said, adding that along with measures taken by the RBI in recent days, the liquidity infused worth 3.2 per cent of the gross domestic product. The central bank, which had cut interest rates by 135 bps in five installments in 2019 last year before hitting pause since December citing high inflation, however, did not give an outlook on India’s economic growth as well as inflation saying it “would be contingent on intensity, spread, and duration of COVID-19”.

The RBI measures come a day after the government unveiled a Rs.1.7 lakh crore package of free foodgrains and cash doles to the poor.

However, even before the pandemic the Indian economy was struggling with problems like lack of demand for credit from both consumers and investors and it won’t be taken care by these measures, he added.

India GDP growth in 2020 slashed to 2.5%: Moody’s

Moody's Investors Service slashed its estimate of India's GDP growth during 2020 calendar year to 2.5 per cent, from an earlier estimate of 5.3 per cent and said the coronavirus pandemic will cause unprecedented shock to the global economy.

The estimate for 2020 compares to 5 per cent economic growth in 2019.

In its Global Macro Outlook 2020-21, Moody's said India is likely to see a sharp fall in incomes at the estimated 2.5 per cent growth rate, further weighing on domestic demand and the pace of recovery in 2021.

"In India, credit flow to the economy already remains severely hampered because of severe liquidity constraints in the bank and non-bank financial sectors," it said.

Earlier this week, India imposed a three-week long nationwide lockdown, the most far-reaching measure undertaken by any government to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic that has killed at least 17 people in the country so far.

Moody's said the global economy will contract in 2020, followed by a pickup in 2021.

"We have revised our global growth forecasts downward for 2020 as the rising economic costs of the coronavirus shock, particularly in advanced economies, and the policy responses to combat the downturn are becoming clearer," it said.

Moody's now expects real GDP in the global economy to contract by 0.5 per cent in 2020, followed by a pickup to 3.2 per cent in 2021.

In November last year, before the emergence of the coronavirus, the rating agency was expecting the global economy to grow by 2.6 per cent this year.

Stating that it expects policy measures to continue to grow and deepen, as the consequences of the shock in terms of depth and duration become clearer, the rating agency said it is impossible to accurately estimate the economic toll of this crisis.

"There are significant unknowns, such as how long the virus will take to be fully contained and, by extension, how long economic activity will remain disrupted," it said.

The severe compression in demand over the next two to four months will likely be unprecedented. Moreover, the widespread loss of income for businesses and individuals across countries will have a multiplier effect throughout the global economy.

"Over the next few months, job losses will likely rise across countries," Moody's said adding "the speed of the recovery will depend on to what extent job losses and loss of revenue to businesses is permanent or temporary."

Even in countries where governments are in a position to provide support through large and targeted measures, some small businesses and vulnerable individuals in less-stable jobs will likely experience severe financial distress, it said adding fiscal and monetary authorities are increasingly stepping up the level of support to their respective economies.

Fiscal measures include immediate support to households in the form of tax relief and transfers, credit lines and subsidies to businesses, and explicit government guarantees on bank loans.

Forex reserves fall

India's foreign exchange reserves had the steepest ever weekly fall since the global financial crisis of 2008 as the central bank sold greenback to stem the rupee’s slide as portfolio investors dumped equities and bonds in their flight to safe haven assets even as Covid 19 virus made future of economies uncertain.

Reserves fell $11.98 billion in the week ended March 20 as the central bank prevented an accelerated slide of the Indian rupee which was falling to record lows as the demand for US dollars surged. The reserves fell to $470 billion, data from RBI shows.

The central bank is expected to ensure that there is no steep fall amid volatility in the currency though it would not stand against the market forces. The rupee touched all-time low of ₹76.32 to the US dollar. Unlike in the 2013 crisis when India had a twin deficit problem, this time round the low crude oil prices is cushioning the external sector imbalances.

The last time when India’s reserves witnessed such a sharp fall was in 2008 when portfolio investors fled the Indian shores after the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings. Reserves had dipped by $ 15 billion during the week ended October 24, 2008. This time foreign investors are pulling out due to Covid 19’s likely squeeze on economy.

It is estimated that they have pulled out close to $15 billion from the Indian markets in three weeks of March and nearly $6 billion during the week ended March 20 as the stock plunged.

Animal Sightings Up Across Country With Humans Locked Down

It is said that the East Delhi colony of Mayur Vihar got its name because of the number of peacocks in the area before it became so densely inhabited. A week into the lockdown, the mayur has returned to Mayur Vihar. It’s not just in the capital. With humans out of the picture, animals are coming out to reclaim the streets. A nilgai strutted outside a usually bustling shopping mall in Noida while Chandigarh and Mumbai residents did some deer and dolphin spotting.

A couple of days ago, residents of Kerala’s Meppayur city were amazed to see an Indian civet on the road, that too one obeying traffic rules by using the zebra to cross. There are no forests in the vicinity so many wondered how the animal turned up.

Mohammed Jafer Palot, scientist at the Zoological Survey of India, Western Ghats Regional Centre, Kozhikode, said that the Small Indian Civet was normally found in the rural areas of the state where there is tree cover. “It is a nocturnal animal and that is why normally it doesn’t get spotted much. The one captured in the video seems to be unwell going by the way it is walking,” he added.

Even the mammals seemed to be enjoying the clear skies and tranquil shores. Wildlife conservationist Darshan Khatau shot a video of dolphins splashing around Marine Drive waters though experts later said that it wasn’t very unusual as there had been some sightings earlier as well.

Conservation biologist Latika Nath said that it was a heartening sign that pollution levels in the air and water had come down enough for rare birds and animals to be seen in urban habitats. “The water near Marine Drive is cleaner and there is little disturbance because of the boats, which is why we are seeing dolphins near Marine Drive,” she said.

Other parts of the country also reported wildlife action. Four Asian Palm Civets and two sloth bears were spotted close to human habitation near Telangana’s Siddipet. In Kamareddy district, villagers spotted a Rusty-spotted cat cub — one of the smallest wild cat species in the world — in a tree trunk at Bhavanipet village.

In Tamil Nadu’s Coonoor area, residents have seen sloth bears and even the reclusive black panther in the past two-three days. “With no vehicle and human movement too, the wild animals have started coming out of the forest area. Last evening we saw a pair of sloth bears roaming in our area,” said residents of Drummulla.

The lockdown has also been a boon for birders. Bird Count India has launched a lockdown birding challenge. Suhel Quader from the Bengaluru chapter said this was an attempt to document birds in the neighbourhood.


Telecom Snapshot

RBI goes all guns blazing

The Reserve Bank of India announced a huge 75 basis points rate cut on March 27, bringing it to 4.40 percent from 5.15 percent.

Announcing a series of measures to ensure liquidity and stability in the country’s financial system as India battles coronavirus, the Reserve Bank of India governor Shaktikanta Das said the monetary policy committee met almost a week ahead of the scheduled date.

The RBI slashed repo rate by 75 bps to 4.40 percent while the reverse repo rate, which sets the floor of the liquidity adjustment facility, was reduced by 90 bps to 4 percent.

The RBI said that the coronavirus pandemic will affect the growth of most sectors.

There is a rising probability that a large part of the global economy will slip into recession. Turning to growth in India, the 5 percent growth expectation is at risk, the RBI governor said.

The RBI said that despite ample liquidity in the system, its distribution was highly asymmetrical.

The RBI also reduced the minimum daily CRR balance from 90 percent to 80 percent, effective March 28. This is a one-time dispensation available up to June 26, 2020.

The RBI increased the accommodation under the marginal standing facility from 2 percent of the statutory liquidity ratio to 3 percent with immediate effect. This measure will be applicable up to June 30, 2020 and it should provide comfort to the banking system by allowing it to avail an additional Rs.1.37 lakh crore of liquidity under the LAF window.

These measures will inject a liquidity of 3.74 lakh crore in the system.

The  RBI also decided to widen the monetary policy rate corridor.

All lending institutions have been permitted a three-month moratorium on payments of instalments of all term loans outstanding as of March 1, 2020.

Lending institutions can defer by three months payment of interest outstanding as on March 1 on working capital facilities sanctioned in the form of cash-credit and overdraft and such. The accumulated interest for the period will be paid at the end of the deferment period.

The moratorium on term loans and the deferment of interest on working capital will not result in asset classification downgrade, the RBI governor said.

In respect of working capital facilities sanctioned in the form of cash credit, overdraft, lending institutions are allowed to recalculate drawing power by reducing margins or by reassessing the working capital cycle for borrowers.

The RBI governor said the central bank was closely monitoring the situation and will step in whenever required.

Maharashtra : About 50% of Covid-19 patients are aged 31-50 years

Almost half of the patients who tested positive for the novel coronavirus in Maharashtra are in the 31-50 age group, shows an analysis of the first 122 patients prepared by the state department of medical education.

The Covid-19 outbreak – which started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 – is still an “imported” disease in Maharashtra, with 66% of the patients having an international travel history. Most of them had traveled from the UAE and the US, followed by Saudi Arabia, and the UK. Another 29% of the patients came in contact with the affected travelers. The contact and travel history of seven people couldn’t be conclusively established,according to the analysis. Among travellers, a big chunk of cases have come from the UAE. In fact, the state’s index patients were from a group of 40 who had travelled to Dubai and Abu Dhabi on a six-day trip. At least 15 of the group members have tested positive so far.

This is the first such analysis done by the state and it shows that 16 patients are over 60, including three who are over 70. The positive patients also include 10 who are under 20 years (two of them are under 10). The state has registered 130 positive cases and five deaths as of Thursday.

Senior state officials said the analysis held no surprises and reflects the trend across the world. “People in the 30-50 age group are the ones who travel abroad for work, and are predictably the largest group in Maharashtra’s Covid-19 patient pool so far. So mobility is clearly the big factor here,’’ said Dr TP Lahane, who heads the Directorate of Medical Education and Research.

Dr Shashank Joshi, dean of the Indian College of Physicians, said the 31-50 age group have emerged as the “superspreaders” across the world. “They get infected and spread it within the community. It is the senior citizen group we need to focus on as they suffer high mortality,” he said.

Studies emerging from China, Italy and the US — some of the countries worst affected by the pandemic — have shown that the majority of patients are men. In Maharashtra, too, only 31% of the patients are women.

“The week-wise graph of the number of cases shows that India has entered the crucial phase. Into the eighth week of the epidemic, we have 600 cases but the experience in other countries shows that this is where the exponential rise occurs,” said a senior state health official. Mumbai, expectedly, has emerged as the district with the highest number of cases. “That was bound to happen. The city is a hub of travellers. That's all the reason why testing should be ramped up in a big way here,” said a senior infectious disease expert, appreciating the state government’s efforts to announce the lockdown even before the Centre took that decision.

Corona Pandemic: FY21 GDP growth may crash to 3-decade low

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the consequent 21-day countrywide lockdown will slow India’s GDP growth to 2.6% for FY21, the lowest in nearly three decades, according to an estimate released by SBI group chief economic adviser Soumya Kanti Ghosh. Moreover, ratings agency Crisil has also slashed its forecast for next fiscal to 3.5% from the earlier 5.2%.

The total cost of the ongoing lockdown will be at least Rs.8 lakh crore in nominal terms — an income loss of Rs.1.77 lakh crore and a loss in capital income of Rs.1.7 lakh crore, said Ghosh. Estimates showed that, over a 60-year period, global GDP declined only once annually in 2009 by 1.7%. Assuming that global GDP declines at nearly a similar rate in 2020 and, given India’s share in global GDP at 3.5%, it implies a contraction of 2% of real GDP in FY21. This is due to India’s integration with the global economy through trade and social consumption channels, research by the country’s largest lender showed.

“We estimate another 1.7% impact on real GDP because of the 21-day lockdown in FY21, resulting in at least 70% of the economy at a standstill. We thus peg our FY21 GDP estimate at 2.6%, with a clear downward bias, with Q1FY21 GDP numbers witnessing a contraction. FY20 GDP estimates could also see a downward revision from 5% to 4.5% with Q4GDP growth at 2.5%,” the SBI note said.

Crisil said the adverse effects that will follow can dwarf the gains from the sharp drop in crude oil prices. Crisil chief economist Dharmakirti Joshi said, “We have slashed our base-case GDP growth forecast for fiscal 2021 to 3.5% from 5.2% expected earlier. This assumes two things: A normal monsoon, and effect of the pandemic subsiding materially, if not wearing out, in the April-June quarter. The slump in growth will be concentrated in the first half of next fiscal, while the second half should see a mild recovery.”

Several research houses, economists and brokerages have slashed the country’s GDP growth estimates against the backdrop of the Covid-19 outbreak as several sectors of the economy have been hit hard and businesses have come to a grinding halt due to the current 21-day lockdown.

Media & Entertainment Sector Grows 9% in 2019

The Indian media and entertainment industry grew by a modest 9% in 2019 to reach ₹1.82 lakh crore, the latest FICCI-EY report on the sector showed.

While the economy felt effects of a slowdown in the second half of 2019, the M&E sector continued to outpace India. Interestingly, advertising grew at just 5.3%, despite sector growth of 9%, demonstrating the relative power of subscription-based business models and India.

Advertising growth was muted due to overall economic slowdown in the second half of calendar 2019 which also impacted festive ad spending and that resulted in a polarisation of spends towards high-impact properties including the Indian Premier League, ICC World Cup and the general elections.

Traditional media like television (6.35%), filmed entertainment (9.14%), Out of home media (5.41%) and music (7.14%) witnessed single digit growth, reflecting the overall sluggishness in the economy, whereas online gaming continued to be the fastest growing segment (41%) on the back of transaction-based games (mainly fantasy sports), and a 31% growth in overall online gamers during the year.

Print and radio were the only two sectors which saw a drop in overall revenues.

Print readership fell marginally in 2019 witnessing a 3% revenue de-growth, with advertising revenues falling 5% but subscription revenues increased by 2%.

Radio segment clocked a 7.5% decline in revenues on sluggish ad spends from retail advertisers in the second half of 2019.

Digital advertising aggregated the largest share of marketers.

Interestingly, digital subscription also grew over 100% in 2019 as sports and quality video content went behind pay wall and telcos paid more to bundle content with their data packs.

Last year, EY had forecast that Indian M&E industry will reach ₹2 trillion by 2021. However, due to Coronavirus outbreak, EY said that it will update the 2020 estimates once it is in a position to quantify the impact of the pandemic.

Maharashtra : Shops selling essentials can stay open 24x7

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray announced that shops supplying essential commodities and medical stores will be permitted to remain open round-the-clock.

Thackeray made the announcement a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared a complete lockdown to tackle coronavirus.

“In view of the lockdown, people are facing difficulties procuring essential commodities, groceries and medicines. Massive crowds are seen at most of these shops, which may adversely affect people’s health. Under such circumstances, it has been decided that these establishments be granted permission to carry out their businesses for 24 hours a day,’’ Thackeray said.

At a meeting attended by chief secretary Ajoy Mehta and bureaucrats, Thackeray reviewed the state’s preparedness to fight the virus. The state government also appointed three senior IAS officers to ensure that essential supplies arrive uninterrupted. Principal secretary Anoop Kumar has been assigned to ensure smooth despatch of vegetables and fruit from APMCs. Principal secretary Mahesh Pathak will oversee supply of foodgrains to fair price shops and his peer Abha Shukla will monitor food supply to daily wage labourers rendered jobless.

A senior bureaucrat said several citizens had brought to the CM’s notice difficulties faced in procuring essential commodities and medicines. The bureaucrat added now that permission is granted to keep shops open 24/7, it will be their responsibility to ensure safe distance between customers, and fumigation and cleanliness of the premises.

Government announces ₹1.7 lakh crores corona package

The government has announced a Rs.1.7 lakh crore stimulus that included free food grain and cooking gas to the poor for three months, and cash doles to women and poor senior citizens as it looked to ease the economic impact of the nationwide lockdown.

While over 80 crore poor ration card holders will each get 5 kg of wheat or rice and one kg of preferred pulses free of cost every month for the next three months, 20.4 crore women having Jan Dhan bank accounts would get one-time cash help of Rs.1,500 spread over three months.

Over 8.3 crore poor women, who were handed out free cooking gas connections since 2016, will get free LPG refills for the next three months, while poor senior citizens, widows and disabled will get an ex-gratia cash of Rs.1,000.

The package is being announced within 36 hours of the 21-day nationwide lockdown announced by the Prime Minister to protect the nation’s 130 crore people from the fast spreading coronavirus.

The package included advancing the payment of one-third of the Rs.6,000 a year pre-2019 general election cash dole scheme for farmers, government contributions to retirement funds for the next three months of small companies with 90 per cent of staff earning less than Rs.15,000, and a Rs.50 lakh insurance cover to healthcare workers.

For rural workers, the daily wage under the MNREGA employment guarantee programme has been increased to Rs.202 from Rs.182, benefiting 5 crore workers of about Rs.2,000 in all. India joins countries -- from the US to Singapore -- that have pledged spending to contain the economic fallout of the pandemic that has infected almost 5 lakh people globally and left over 21,000 dead.

The pandemic has infected 649 persons in India and has killed 13 so far. While the free food grains and pulses would cost Rs.45,000 crore, Rs.2,000 payment to 8.7 crore farmers under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana will cost Rs.16,000 crore. The cash to women Jan Dhan account holders will cost Rs.31,000 crore and another Rs.13,000 crore is estimated to be the expenditure for providing free cooking gas.

The revised fiscal deficit - the gap between revenue and expenditure - has been put at 3.8 per cent of the GDP in the current fiscal. For the fiscal starting April, the government is targeting a 3.5 per cent fiscal deficit.

With businesses closed during the lockdown, the government will contribute employees as well as employer’s contribution to the provident fund for the next three months of companies with up to 100 employees with 90 per cent earning not more than Rs.15,000. The contribution will be a total of 24 per cent of eligible wages. Also, workers will be allowed to draw a non-refundable advance of 75 per cent from credit in provident fund account or three months salary, whichever is lower.

Flights grounded till April 14

With over 650 aircraft now on the ground as both international and domestic flights face extended curbs, regular maintenance and upkeep of the aircraft to keep them serviceable has become one of the main concerns for airlines.

All international commercial passenger flights will remain suspended till April 14, aviation regulator DGCA announced on Thursday. The government had suspended domestic passenger flight operations from midnight on March 24.

Air India has asked its subsidiary Air India Engineering Services ltd to undertake regular maintenance of its entire fleet of 147 aircraft including that of Air India Express and Alliance Air. “Presently, all 147 aircraft are in India. Many of them are at Delhi, while another big chunk is at Mumbai airport. Some A320s are at Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Nagpur,” said HR Jagannath, CEO of AIESL.

The airline plans to use the lockdown period to carry out the maintenance upgrades of its Boeing 787s and 777s.

Due to AIESL’s engineering standards and experienced staff, American engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney roped it in to carry out the repairs on its A320 engines. The technical snags led to several safety incidents involving A320 aircraft in the fleets of IndiGo and GoAir. Maintenance of aircraft involves several checks: daily checks, transit checks, weekly checks, checks for night halt, A and C checks, weekly, and yearly check.


Omar released from detention

Former Chief Minister and top National Conference leader Omar Abdullah on Tuesday walked in the footsteps of his father, Dr Farooq Abdullah, stating that the Government of India must release all prisoners detained on August 5, 2019, irrespective of their party affiliations. He also demanded that 4G internet services should be restored, especially so that J&K’s people learn how to fight COVID-19.

Omar’s mom and sister met him at a makeshift detention centre in Srinagar, as the administration revoked his detention under the Public Safety Act after almost eight months. At his Gupkar residence, Omar spoke to reporters saying that as far as Article 370 and 35 A are concerned, he will speak on the issues openly and in detail later. “At present, I will speak about how we can get rid of COVID-19. We are fighting a big fight against this coronavirus. Today, we were asked to maintain social distancing, but here we are together violating the same orders,” he said.

Omar, who has grown his beard out long, like his father did not speak about the revocation of Article 370, instead demanding the release of all political leaders, including PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti.

“All those arrested or detained prior to August 5 last year should be released. Those who don’t even belong to any party should also be released. The Centre must also restore 4G services forthwith so that people access sites and learn how to fight COVID-19,” he said.

The leader further said, “During these months, students were left without schools. Our businesses, shopkeepers, hotels and all other establishments bore the brunt. I was locked at only one place but the problems faced by the people of J&K during that period can’t be compensated.”

The order of revocation for him came less than a week after the Supreme Court asked the GoI to inform if it is planning to release Omar from detention. It was on February 10 that Omar’s sister Sara Abdullah Pilot had moved the top court, challenging his detention under PSA.

NC provincial president Devender Singh Rana welcomed the release and described it a step in right direction. “It is a defining moment that will go a long way in further strengthening democracy and initiating genuine political activities in J&K,” he said.

Rana also expressed the hope that this would lead to the release of all other political leaders, against whom there are no criminal charges. “This is imperative for generating an atmosphere of trust and creating conducive conditions to resume healthy political discourse in the larger interest of the people,” he added.

Hailing Abdullah’s release, the National Conference leadership has asked for immediate release of party general secretary Ali Mohammad Sagar, who is also detained under the PSA. They also demanded the release of all political leaders, who are under house detention, including provincial president Nasir Aslam Wani, Chowdhary Ramzaan, Mohammad Shafi Uri, AR Rather, Aga Syed Ruhullah, Shameema Firdous and others.

In his first tweet since August 5 last year, Omar wrote: “232 days after my detention today, I finally left Hari Niwas. It’s a very different world today to the one that existed on August 5, 2019.”

Apart from this, he also struck a humorous cord with his tweet on surviving quarantine and lockdown, saying: “On a lighter note if anyone wants tips on surviving quarantine or a lock down, I have months of experience at my disposal, perhaps a blog is in order.”

The tweet was an instant hit on the social media platform, collecting 5,000 likes and over 1,000 retweets in the first 15 minutes.

While PDP president Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter Iltija Mufti on Tuesday welcomed Abdullah’s release, she pointed out that her mother is still under detention under PSA, and said for all its talk of women power and women emancipation, the Centre seems to fear women the most.

“Glad he will be released. For all their talk of nari Shakti & women emancipation, seems like this regime fears women the most (sic),” Iltija wrote on Mehbooba Mufti’s Twitter handle. She has been tweeting from her mother’s handle ever since the PDP president and former CM was detained in August 2019.

PM declares 21-day national lockdown

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced a complete lockdown across the country for 21 days from Tuesday midnight, asserting that social distancing is the only way out for the country in its decisive battle against the coronavirus.

In his second address to the nation on the pandemic raging across much of the world with the number of infections rising in India, Modi made a fervent appeal to the countrymen not to cross the 'lakshman rekha' of their homes in the next three weeks.

The experience of countries, which have been able to contain the virus to some extent and experts' views have made it clear that social distancing caused by a lockdown is the only way to break the cycle of the infection, he said.

"To save India, to save every Indian, there will be a complete ban on people from stepping outside their houses from 12 midnight today," he said, "Lockdown is being imposed on every state, union territory, district, village, mohalla and street."

A lockdown in most of the country was already in place till March 31, and Modi's announcement extended it everywhere and for two more weeks after this month.

Modi folded his hands a few times to emphasise his request to citizens to adhere to his call, saying it is applicable to everyone from the prime minister to a citizen in a village.

Even countries like Italy, France and the US with world class infrastructure have been left helpless due to the spread of the disease despite their relentless efforts, he said, emphasising the gravity of the situation.

Allaying apprehensions, Modi said people need not panic about availability of essential commodities and medicines during the 21-day nationwide lockdown, as Centre and various state governments will work together to ensure this. Amid reports of panic buying at various places following his announcement, Modi requested people to refrain from "panic buying." "My fellow citizens, there is absolutely no need to panic," Modi tweeted.

He said by converging around shops, people are risking the spread of COVID-19, while asserting that Centre and state governments will ensure all essentials are available. "Essential commodities, medicines etc. would be available," he said. 


Shivraj Singh Chouhan takes oath as MP CM

BJP vice-president and MLA from Budhni Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Monday took oath as the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh for a fourth term. The oath was administered by Governor Lalji Tandon at 9 p.m.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Chouhan was elected unopposed as the leader of the BJP Legislature Party paving the way for his appointment as Chief Minister.

Mr. Chouhan’s election marks the culmination of a bitter political battle over 22 rebel Congress MLAs, owing allegiance of former Congress MP Jyotiraditya Scindia, whose resignation and move to the BJP pulled the rug from under the 15-month-old Kamal Nath government.

Congratulating him, Mr. Scindia said on Twitter: “I stand by you at all times in the State’s progress and development. I have full faith that under your leadership, Madhya Pradesh will establish new dimensions of progress.”

No domestic air travel

No domestic commercial passenger flight will be allowed to operate in the country from Wednesday onward, the Union Civil Aviation Ministry said in a statement to restrict travel amid the coronavirus pandemic. India has already banned international flights for a week from Sunday.

“The operations of domestic schedule commercial airlines shall cease with effect from the midnight, that is 23.59 hours IST on March 24,” a ministry spokesperson said. “Airlines have to plan operations so as to land at their destinations before 23.59 hours on March 24,” the spokesperson added.

He clarified that the restrictions would not apply to cargo flights.

Earlier during the day, aviation regulator DGCA had clarified on Twitter that all cargo flights -- domestic and international -- can operate as usual.

India has banned all international flights from Sunday for a period of one week. Moreover, the Indian government on Monday stated that no domestic flight would be flying in its airspace from Wednesday onward.

Corona Carnage: Sensex tumbles 4000 points

The stock market suffered its worst-ever single-day crash on Monday, with the benchmark indices plunging as much as 13.15 per cent, as panicked investors remained in sell-off mode amid lockdowns in several states in the country due to mounting coronavirus cases.

The BSE benchmark Sensex plummeted 3,935 points or 13. 15 per cent to close at 25,981.24; while the NSE barometer Nifty cracked 1,135.20 points or 12.98 per cent to settle at 7,610.25.

Investor wealth took a massive beating of Rs.14.22 lakh crore on Monday as markets went into a tailspin.

As the benchmark indices posted their worst ever one-day crash, the market capitalisation of BSE-listed companies too plunged Rs.14,22,207.01crore to Rs.1,01,86,936.28 crore. On the currency front, the rupee plunged below the 76-level (intra-day) for the first time.

In the very first hour of trade on Monday, trading on the BSE and the NSE had to be halted after the benchmark indices – Sensex and Nifty – hit the 10 per cent lower circuit breaker.

As trading resumed after a 45-minute freeze, losses widened on bourses due to unabated sell-offs across sectors. Global stocks too roiled after nations across the world announced lockdowns in an effort to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 pandemic, spiking fears of a mammoth global recession.

On the Sensex chart, Axis Bank was the top loser, tanking over 28 per cent, followed by Bajaj Finance, IndusInd Bank, ICICI Bank, Maruti and L&T.

All sectoral indices ended significantly lower, with BSE bankex, finance, capital goods, basic materials, industrials and auto indices plunging up to 16.82 per cent.

Broader midcap and smallcap indices tanked over 12 per cent each.

Mumbai - Pune Expressway : Restricted access

The escalation of the coronavirus pandemic has now called for minimum vehicular movement on Mumbai-Pune Expressway from Tuesday. While there has been a complete embargo on state transport and luxury buses, private car owners have been asked to pack not more than five people. This decision was rolled out on Sunday as a part of larger precautionary measures.

Milind Mohite, highway superintendent (Pune division), said, “We cannot impose complete ban for all vehicles as we understand the possibility of emergencies. However, it is best for people to avoid travelling at all costs.” He added that those with a strong reason to commute between the two cities will be permitted on the stretch.

The decision provoked long queues on the expressway over two days. Pavan Chorghe, who was on the stretch on Saturday, said, “There was quite some traffic we experienced. We were checked thoroughly and asked if we had any travel history.”

Most of country under lockdown

India reported two COVID-19 deaths on Monday, taking the toll to nine. The number of cases climbed to 468 after 95 people tested positive, the highest jump in one day. Maharashtra and Punjab were put under statewide curfews and most of the other states under lockdown.

The Union health ministry said West Bengal and Himachal Pradesh reported a casualty each on Monday. Seven deaths were earlier reported from Gujarat, Bihar and Maharashtra, Karnataka, Delhi, and Punjab.

There are currently 424 active cases. There were 329 on Sunday evening.

The extreme lockdown measures by the central and state governments were taken in light of the continued upward trajectory of the virus, amid warning of legal action against those violating the restrictions imposed during the lockdown.

Punjab became the first in the country to impose curfew in the entire state with no relaxations, and only exempted essential services to prevent the infection.

Delhi, Jharkhand, and Nagaland declared a statewide lockdown while similar curbs were announced in a number of districts in Bihar, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Several states, including Kerala, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand, had earlier imposed a partial or complete lockdown. The UT administration in Chandigarh also announced imposition of curfew from midnight.

Those living in 80 districts across the country, including in the national capital Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai have been placed under travel and movement restrictions with authorities suspending all passenger train and interstate bus services till March 31.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi also asked state governments to ensure that rules and regulations of the coronavirus lockdown are enforced as he noted that many people are not taking the measure seriously. “Many people are still not taking the lockdown seriously. Please save yourself, save your family, follow the instructions seriously. I request state governments to ensure rules and laws are followed,” he tweeted.

Dubbing COVID-19 as a “lifetime challenge”, he said while speaking to representatives of television news channels through a video-conference that it needed to be tackled through new and innovative solutions.

The Centre has issued directions to state governments, asking them to take legal action against those who are found violating the lockdown orders. “States have been asked to strictly enforce the lockdown in the areas where it has been announced. Legal action will be taken against violators,” tweeted the Press Information Bureau, the Centre’s communication wing.


Government to lock down 75 districts across country

The Centre and state governments have decided to completely lock down 75 districts across the country where coronavirus cases have been reported.

It has also been decided to suspend the interstate bus services till March 31.

The decisions have been taken at a high-level meeting attended by chief secretaries of all states and the cabinet secretary and the principal secretary to the prime minister.

In view of the need to contain the spread of the deadly COVID-19, it was agreed that there was an urgent need to extend the restrictions on the movement of non-essential passenger transport, including interstate transport buses till March 31.

State governments will issue orders allowing only essential services to operate in about 75 districts with confirmed COVID-19 cases or casualties.

The districts where lockdown was announced are from states that include Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

It was noted that several state governments have already issued orders in this regard. All the chief secretaries informed that there was overwhelming and spontaneous response to the call for Janata Curfew given by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The state governments may expand the list depending on their assessment of the situation.

The total number of novel coronavirus cases in India rose to 341 on Sunday after fresh cases were reported from various parts of the country.

Chhattisgarh Maoist Ambush

All the 17 bodies of the missing security personnel following a gun battle with Maoists in forests of Chhattisgarh’s insurgency-hit Sukma district were recovered on Sunday, police said.

Of the 17 bodies, 12 are of District Reserve Guard personnel and five of Special Task Force.

As per the police, the bodies were recovered during a search operation conducted by a joint team of DRG, STF and Commando Battalion for Resolute Action, an elite unit of Central Reserve Police Force. The search operation was conducted in Sukma’s forested area around 12 noon on Sunday.

The slain security personnel were among a group of nearly 600 personnel belonging to a joint team of DRG, STF and CoBRA unit of CRPF that had launched an anti-Maoist operation from three sides towards Elmagunda in Sukma on Saturday.

The operation was conducted by the security personnel based on inputs about a huge gathering of Maoists there. The encounter took place around 2.30 pm near Korajguda hills in Chintagufa area when the joint team of security forces was out on the operation.

When the team was advancing through Korajguda hills, located around 450 km from the state capital Raipur, the exchange of fire broke out between the two sides near Minpa village by a group of around 250 heavily armed ultras, leaving 15 personnel injured.

The gun battle lasted about two-and-a-half hours following which 17 personnel were found to be missing.

Earlier, the police in a statement said 14 police personnel were injured and 13 were missing after the gunfight.

The injured personnel were airlifted to Raipur and admitted to a private hospital where the condition of two of them is stated to be critical.


Rupee breaches 75 against dollar first time ever

The Indian Rupee fell to a record low joining other currencies as investors fled to the safety of US dollar, but the slide is at a slower pace than peers reflecting the strength of the reserves buffer and likely reversal in India’s fortunes as rock bottom oil prices cushion the external shock unlike in the past.

The currency fell 1.02% to 74.99, recovering from its worst ever levels of Rs 75.31 during the day as portfolio investors sold both stocks and bonds amid fears that the Coronovirus spread could lead to even a depression in the US. The British Pound fell to its lowest since 1985. Bank of America economists forecast the US second-quarter gross domestic product to shrink 12%.

But this time appears to be different for India.

Usually, the Rupee falls as India is vulnerable to oil price shocks as it imports more than two-thirds of its requirements. In 2020, crude prices have more than halved as Russia and Saudi Arabia flood the market amid collapse in demand.

All the G-10 currencies tumbled with even the Japanese Yen falling 1.4% to the dollar. The Bloomberg Dollar Spot index gained 1.1% to record highs.

In 2017, when crude prices rose by nearly 50% in 2017, the rupee weakened by over 3% despite capital flows. Conversely, the rupee is expected to strengthen when oil prices fall.

India’s foreign exchange reserves are at a record $487 billion and the Reserve Bank of India has ensured sufficient liquidity in the market by conducting USD – INR swap. It has pledged to do as much as the market requires.

Global financial markets dislocation often led to a sharp fall in the currency in previous occasions – either during the taper tantrum of 2013 or the Global Financial Crisis in 2008.

During those times India’s external position was weak with the current account deficit at more than 3% of the gross domestic product. For the December quarter it was at 0.2%. In the March quarter, India may even turn current account surplus signaling a strong balance sheet.

But given the extent of turmoil in the markets with foreign portfolio investors pulling out close to $9 billion so far, the rupee has performed much better than many other global currencies, according to IFA Global Research.

Ex-CJI Gogoi takes oath as RS member amid ‘shame’ slogans

Former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi took oath as a nominated member of Rajya Sabha amidst unprecedented scenes of opposition members shouting slogans and walking out of the House.

This is the first time ever that the House has witnessed slogan shouting and walkout during oath taking.

Gogoi, 65, who retired as the Chief Justice of India in November last year after a tenure of 13 months, took oath in English in the name of God.

As his name was called for oath taking, Congress and Left members started shouting slogans like “Shame on You” and “Deal”.

Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu ordered that the slogan shouting will not go on record.

As Gogoi took oath, Congress, Left and their allies shouted slogans and staged a walkout from the House.

Naidu said it was not fair to shout slogans. “It is very unbecoming of members of Parliament,”

After taking oath, Gogoi walked up to the chair to greet Naidu, who responded to his greetings with folded hands.

Naidu said members have the liberty to express their views outside the House on the issue.

“You know the Constitutional provision, you know the precedent, you know the power of the President (to nominate a member to Rajya Sabha),” he said.

Gogoi was nominated to Rajya Sabha by President Ram Nath Kovind.

He was nominated in the vacancy created after the retirement of KTS Tulsi.

The Congress has argued that Gogoi’s nomination to Rajya Sabha “within four months” of his retirement will shake the confidence and faith people have in the independence of the judiciary.

No international flights allowed in India after March 22

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation has issued an advisory stating that no international commercial flights will be allowed to enter Indian airports from March 22. The advisory was issued after the Centre announced that no international flight would be allowed to land in India from March 22 for a period of one week.

The order is effective from 5.30 am on March 22 till 5.30 am on March 29.

Another DGCA circular reiterated that no scheduled international airline is allowed to carry or disembark passengers who have visited China, Iran, European Union, European Union Free Trade countries, Turkey, United Kingdom, Afghanistan, Philippines and Malaysia at airports in India.

These are temporary measures to restrict the spread of novel coronavirus, and are subject to review by the government, the regulator said. A separate government advisory asked the state government to direct citizens above 65 years of age (except public representatives, government servants, and medical professionals) to stay home. “Similarly all children below 10 years of age should be advised to stay home and not venture out,” the advisory said. It asked railways and civil aviation to cancel all concessional travel except for students, patients and differently-abled.

Nirbhaya : The hanging

Six people, including a juvenile, had gang-raped and fatally assaulted a 23-year-old paramedical student on a moving bus on a cold night of December 16, 2012, in Delhi.

Four of the men were hanged this morning in Tihar Jail at 5:30 am for the crime that had sparked widespread protests across the country and led to toughening of laws against sex offenders in India.

The men, mostly school dropouts were neighbours at a slum cluster in south Delhi’s RK Puram area.

Here is a look at who they were:

Mukesh Singh (33): He was the cleaner of the bus and had hit the woman and her friend with an iron rod on board the bus.

Mukesh Singh had said in an interview from jail for a BBC documentary aired in 2015 that women who went out at night had only themselves to blame if they attracted the attention of molesters.

Akshay Thakur (33): Thakur was a school dropout from Aurangabad district of Bihar. He was married and has a young son. The youngest of three brothers, his wife had sought a divorce so she does not have to live with the “stigma” of being the widow of a rapist.

Vinay Sharma (27): Sharma, a gym instructor, drove the bus when the other four men and a juvenile raped the woman. He then gave the wheel to Mukesh Singh to take turn to rape her.

Of the five convicted, he was the only one who had a school education and spoke English.

Pawan Gupta (25): Gupta, a fruit-seller, took turns to rape the woman and assault her friend. Youngest of the four convicts, he pursued graduation from inside Tihar Jail.

Ram Singh (33): The elder brother of Mukesh, Ram Singh was the driver of the bus and known to be notorious for caring little for law. He had attacked the woman with an iron rod causing her intestines to spill out.

Ram Singh was the first one to be caught on December 17, 2012. He was sitting on the same bus where the men had raped the woman and where his bloodstained clothes were also found when the police nabbed him.

He was found hanging in his cell at Tihar Jail in March 2013.

The juvenile : The juvenile was tried by the Juvenile Justice Board for raping and assaulting the woman. He was found guilty on charges of rape and murder and sentenced to three years in a reform facility, the maximum sentence available to a juvenile, in August 2013.

He was released after he completed his term in December 2015. He worked as a cook at a roadside eatery in somewhere in south India and then at a prominent restaurant.

He was 11 when he fled home, 240 km from Delhi, and had a family of an elder sister, an ailing mother, younger siblings and a bedridden father. The family still lives in the same village.


February 2020: Exports rise for first time in seven months

India’s exports grew for the first time in seven months, while imports returned to positive territory after falling for eight months, although traders are bracing for a fresh bout of slowdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Exports went up 2.9% to $37.5 billion in February, led by shipments of oil seeds, electronic goods and iron. But there were signs of a slowdown in segments such as iron ore, where China is a key market, with the growth rate moderating to 38% in February compared to an over 105% jump in the previous month.

Several industries are fearing massive slowdown in coming months due to Covid-19. The impact of factory shutdowns in China and other parts of the world is yet to reflect in the data.

Imports too rose 2.5%, with project imports, pulses and fruits and vegetables leading the pace of increase. With supply lines for products ranging from pharma ingredients and plastics to electronics drying up, economic activity and imports are expected to be impacted. Besides, a massive fall in crude oil prices will shrink the import bill. In February, oil shipments were up 14% at around $10.8 billion, while gold imports fell 8.5% to $2.4 billion.

Trade deficit was pegged at a little under $9.9 billion in February, compared to $9.7 billion a year ago and $15 billion in January. “Despite global challenges, Indian exports once again enter into growth trajectory in February after a gap of 6 months. Exports of electronic goods and chemicals grow at 37% and 16% respectively,” commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal tweeted.

Telangana passes anti-CAA resolution

The Telangana Legislative Assembly adopted a resolution opposing the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, National Register of Citizens and National Population Register, amid protests by the lone Bharatiya Janata Party member Raja Singh Lodh, who vehemently opposed the rest.

The state joins several others, like West Bengal, Kerala, Rajasthan, Punjab, Bihar and Delhi, in opposing the laws.

Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao or KCR introduced the resolution. Terming CAA as divisive, he appealed to the Centre to abrogate the contentious Act, saying it would take the country in the wrong direction in coming years.

Saying that it is not an issue of Hindu-Muslim but the very future of the country and its prestige in the international community, KCR voiced concern over the growing trend of dubbing anybody as “a Pakistani agent” or “traitor”. “Can you call the Telangana Assembly a traitor for passing this resolution?” he asked, adding, “Intolerant thinking is not good for the country and this country can’t accept this. The Act is not only against the principles of the Constitution of India but had created a sense of insecurity among crores of people.” He further rued widespread protests across the country and reiterated that crores like him don’t have birth certificates and can’t produce certificates of their parents. So, he also opposed the move to carry out the NPR with a new questionnaire.

KCR pointed out that Union ministry of home affairs in its report for 2018-19 stated that NPR is the first step for preparation of NRC. “Nobody is ready to believe that there will be no NRC. Who is speaking the truth? The Union home minister or this report?” he questioned.

The CM also made it clear that his Telangana Rashtra Samithi party and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen would not have the same ideology on every issue. “For instance, we supported revoking Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir,” he reminded the Centre.

Ferry service launched between Mumbai and Mandwa

A roll on-roll/roll-off-cum passenger ferry service between Mumbai and Mandwa near Alibaug, was launched on Sunday in the presence of Union Minister of State for Shipping Mansukh Mandaviya and Maharashtra port and maritime board officials. The vessel, built in Greece, can carry 200 cars and 1,000 passengers, and is capable of plying even during monsoon, officials said. “It can reach speeds of 14 knots and will complete the 18-kilometre sea journey between 45 minutes and an hour. The road distance between Mumbai and Mandwa is 110 kilometres and can take anything between three to four hours,” an official said. While Mumbai Port Trust built the jetty facilities at Ferry Wharf at a cost of Rs.31 crore, the RO-RO jetty and terminal at Mandwa have been built by Maharashtra Maritime Board at a cost of Rs.135 crore.


Former J&K CM Farooq Abdullah's detention revoked

The Jammu and Kashmir government issued orders revoking the detention of former Chief Minister, Farooq Abdullah with immediate effect, Rohit Kansal, Principal Secretary Planning, Jammu and Kashmir, said in a tweet.

Abdullah, a former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir has been in detention for over seven months. He was earlier detained under the J&K Public Safety Act.

Farooq Abdullah was placed under detention along with other leaders including his son and former J&K CM, Omar Abdullah on August 5, when the government ended special status to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 and imposed massive restrictions.

He was charged with "disturbing public order" under the law, which means shorter detention of three months.

This was the first time that the PSA, used against terrorists, separatists or stone-throwers, was used on a mainstream politician, especially an MP and a three-time Chief Minister.

Days ago, eight opposition parties sent a joint resolution to the BJP-led government, demanding the immediate release of all political detainees in Kashmir, especially the three former Chief Ministers -- Farooq and Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti.

Uttar Pradesh: Noida tops state GDP & per capita income

The state’s latest district gross domestic product figures released by UP government reveal massive economic disparities among various districts in the state, calling for swift corrective action at a time when the aim is to make UP a one trillion dollar economy.

Noida retains first position among all districts, accounting for 10.12% of the state’s GDP, despite registering a slight drop of 0.17% since 2017-18. Lucknow, which is second behind Noida, contributes 3.85% of state GDP, even though it lags at less than 40% of Noida’s figures.

Shravasti with a GDP of Rs.2,793.87 crore translating to 0.25% of the state trails at the bottom of the list.

Noida is first in terms of per capita income too, with an average of Rs.6.71 lakh per annum, while Balrampur is at the end of list with average per capita income of just Rs.32,305 per annum.

Chief minister Yogi Adityanath blamed previous governments for the wide economic disparity while adding that UP’s per capita income was highest in the country after independence, but had fallen much below the national average when he became CM.

“When we came to power, UP’s per capita income was less than half of the national average. We have been working vigorously to generate employment in the state and per capital income has risen above the national average,” he said.

Two districts — Chitrakoot and Mahoba — cry for attention while registering a fall both in GDP and per capita income.

Chitrakoot’s share of state GDP went down from 0.50% in 2017-18 to 0.32%, while its per capita income dipped from Rs.56,402 to Rs.38,751 per annum. Mahoba, the second district witnessing a decline in both parameters, saw its GDP share slip from 0.68% to 0.51% and per capita income fall steeply from Rs.89,035 to Rs.75,573.

The share of various regions to state GDP has remained almost constant, once again emphasizing a wide chasm between the developed and underdeveloped expanses of the state. While west UP accounts for 51.71% of state GDP, the lagging Bundelkhand accounts for just 5.22%, though it has risen from 4.95% bringing some solace to the government.

Arvind Kumar Pandey, director finance and statistics, in his introduction to the report, said limited statistics available with the government made it difficult to assess the actual economic condition of a district, though computing per capita income was possible.

Consequently, the state also started a detailed exercise to compute credible districtwise GDP figures.

A senior official in planning department said states like Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra have also been calculating district GDP and UP would have to collect more data in a more systematic way for more accurate information.

“Uttar Pradesh is going to use sustainable development goals to identify the indicators on which to calculate GDP, and not restrict itself to just economic factors,” the official said.

Retail inflation eases a bit, IIP sees mild rise

Retail inflation eased to a three-month low in February on the back of moderating vegetable and food prices, while industrial output growth rebounded to its highest since July in January led by mining and electricity sectors, but the overall numbers remained sluggish.

Economists said the RBI is likely to cut rates in line with other global central banks to lift growth against the relentless onslaught of the coronavirus outbreak, which has heaped misery on global financial markets and economies across the world.

Inflation, as measured by the consumer price index, rose an annual 6.6% in February, slower than the previous month’s 7.6%. But it still remained above the central bank’s comfort level. Food inflation also remained in double digits at 10.8% but moderated from the previous month’s 13.6%.

Separate data released by the NSO showed the index of industrial production rose an annual 2% in January, higher than the upwardly revised 0.1% in December and above the 1.6% recorded in the same month in the previous year. While there were some signs of improvement, the overall numbers displayed weakness in the sector with the capital goods segment, seen as gauge of investment, contracting 4.3% during the month compared to a decline of 3.6% in the year earlier period.

Of 23 industry groups in the manufacturing sector, 11 grew in January compared to the corresponding month of the previous year.

Scindia changes colours

A day after quitting the Congress, Jyotiraditya Scindia jumped ship to the BJP in the presence of president JP Nadda on Wednesday as he slammed his former party for “denying reality” and “not acknowledging” new thoughts and new leadership. The four-time parliamentarian also lavished praise on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, exalting him for his leadership skills merely days after he had criticised the BJP for the violence in Delhi.

Scindia was also named as the BJP’s Rajya Sabha candidate from Madhya Pradesh – a promise that perhaps sealed the deal for the Gwalior royal who had been fighting a losing identity battle within the Congress as old warhorses like Digvijay Singh and Kamal Nath tried to sideline him in a bid to push their children’s political careers.

He vented his anguish with the national leadership of the Congress, where he started his electoral career in 2002 and occupied key positions, and also the party-run Madhya Pradesh government, saying the dream when it was formed in 2018 now lay “shattered” with farmers and youths living in distress and corruption rampant.

The Congress is no longer the party it was, he told reporters, adding that his heart was “anguished and pained” as his goal to serve people through the party was no longer possible.

Breaking his silence, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi dismissed reports that Scindia had unsuccessfully tried to reach out Sonia Gandhi and him before leaving the party.

“He was the only chap in the Congress who could walk into my house anytime,” Gandhi said.

As he welcomed Scindia into the ‘family’, Nadda recalled Vijaya Raje Scindia, one of the BJP’s founders and grandmother of Jyotiraditya, and his father Madhavrao Scindia who had also started his politics with Jana Sangh.

Scindia’s aunt and former Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje welcomed him to the BJP.

“Jyotiraditya has followed the high ideals of the legacy of Vijaya Raje Scindia and took the decision in the interest of the country. I welcome this decision personally and politically,” said Raje, who is also the BJP’s national vice president.

She also tweeted that it was good to be on the same team.

“If Rajmata Sahab was here today, she would be elated to see you put the nation first. I admire your strengthen of character and courage. It’s good to be on the same team. Welcome to the BJP,” she wrote on Twitter.

The saffron party is confident of toppling the Kamal Nath government and capturing power with the help of MLAs loyal to Scindia.

As many as 22 Congress MLAs, most of them supporters of Scindia, are camping in Bengaluru and have resigned from the Madhya Pradesh assembly, reducing the Congress government to a minority.

Peeved with his marginalisation in the Congress, Scindia had met Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah on Tuesday and quit the party.

“The Congress of today is no longer the party it was. The party is denying reality. It is not acknowledging the reality. New thoughts, new ideology and new leadership are not being acknowledged. While this is the condition at national level, the dream we had formed for Madhya Pradesh has been shattered in 18 months,” he said after joining the BJP.

Hailing Modi, he said the prime minister has received mandates that that no government probably got.

“He has enhanced India’s prestige globally. The ability he has to execute schemes and comprehend future challenge; his competence and full dedication... India’s future is fully secure in his hands,” he said, adding that he was grateful to the top BJP brass to give him a chance to serve people.

Scindia asserted that his goal is to serve people in “Bharat mata” and remembered his father Madhavrao Scindia, who left the Jana Sangh to join the Congress later to become one of its leading figures before meeting an untimely death in a plane crash in 2001.

He noted that his father would have turned 75 on Tuesday, the day he quit the Congress.

A number of senior BJP leaders, including Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan and its general secretaries Anil Jain and Arun Singh sat beside Scindia on the dias when he spoke.

He said in Madhya Pradesh, the Congress’s promise to waive loans of farmers was not fulfilled and thousands of them continued to face criminal cases lodged during Mandsaur violence, where several farmers had died in police firing in 2017 during the BJP’s reign.

There are few employment opportunities in the state and only “transfer industry” is growing with corruption being rampant, he said.

He made no comment on the fluid political developments in the state and did not take any question from reporters.

A four-time MP, Scindia first got elected from his family pocket borough of Guna in Madhya Pradesh in 2002 after winning a by-election necessitated by his father’s death. He was only 31 years old at that time.

He gradually made his way up the Congress ladder becoming Minister of State for Communications and IT in 2007 during the Congress-led UPA-1. In 2009, he became Minister of State for Commerce and Industry and in 2012 was appointed Minister of State for Power during UPA-2.

After the Congress lost the 2014 General Election, Sonia Gandhi named him the party’s chief whip in the Lok Sabha.

His ties with the party soured after Kamal Nath became the state’s chief minister following its returned to power after a gap of 15 years.


Sensex tanks 894 points

It was another manic Friday on Dalal Street, weighed down by the twin impacts of the fast-spreading coronavirus to more countries, and the central bank’s restrictions on Yes Bank. Investors sold heavily to bring the sensex down by nearly 900 points after it had dived over 1,400 points in opening trade. Banking stocks were at the receiving end as investors were disappointed by reports that State bank of India, the country’s largest lender, was leading a rescue plan to save the troubled private sector lender.

As a result, the sensex opened over 800 points lower at 37,614 and soon dived to an intra-day low of 37,011. But value buying at lower levels helped the index close at 37,577, down 894 on the day. The Nifty on the NSE lost 280 points to close at 10,989. Both the indices are around their five month low levels. Of the 30 sensex stocks, only three closed with gains, while 27 were in the red.

In the forex market, the rupee was also under pressure with the Indian currency closing at 73.78 per dollar, down 46 paise from 73.32 on Thursday. It had hit 74.08 during the day.

Since February 19, the day the coronavirus-related scare gripped the world, the sensex has lost almost 3,750 points or 9%. And investors are poorer by Rs 14.5 lakh crore since then with BSE’s market capitalisation now at Rs.143.6 lakh crore.

Banks led the fall on Friday with SBI down over 6% as DStreet feels leading a rescue package for the troubled private sector lender is a huge negative for the country’s largest bank. The banking index on the BSE closed 3.5% lower.

The Yes Bank stock on Friday crashed a record 85% in early trade to Rs.5.6, from its Thursday close of Rs.37. The drop came after the RBI imposed restrictions on the private lender. The stock on the BSE closed at Rs.16.2, down 56% on the day and with a market capitalisation of Rs.4,132 crore.

According to Motilal Oswal Financial Services head (retail research) Siddhartha Khemka, the rapid increase in coronavirus cases outside of China is worrying investors about future global growth.

Maharashtra: ₹3,500cr for 500 km coastal road till Goa

If all goes as planned, by 2025, Mumbaikars will be able to ride on a 500 km scenic marine highway between Revas port towards Alibaug up to Redi port near Goa along the Konkan’s beaches and forts.

The MVA government in its maiden budget allocated Rs.3,500 crore to develop the existing single-lane state highway into a concrete two-lane marine highway on the lines of the US pacific coast highway. The widening work includes the addition of 30 km of bridges over creeks and rivers.

Justifying the project, which has been in the planning stage for about seven years now, deputy CM Ajit Pawar said while presenting the budget that the economy of the Konkan region depends on orchard development, tourism and fisheries, and hence a marine highway assumes significance to facilitate effective transportation.

The current single-lane road runs parallel to the coast along residences and markets. The proposed development will increase the road’s width from 18-20 metres to 45 metres.