NHAI servers down for 24 hours after virus attack

The systems of India’s highway authority were hit by a severe ransomware attack on Sunday resulting in all servers, email and IP phone systems, which use internet protocol, going dead for nearly 24 hours. Sources said the virus attack could have compromised the NHAI’s data and information and a detailed diagnosis is being conducted to find out what happened, the source of attack and the consequences.

Several officials of the National Highway Authority of India said the system was down till Monday evening and the authority had also alerted the NIC about the problem.

In a late night statement the highway authority said, “A ransomware attack on NHAI email server took place yesterday (Sunday) night. The attack was foiled by the security system and email servers were shut down from safety point of view. The system is restored now. No data loss took place. NHAI datalake and other systems remained unaffected from this attack.” Datalake is the central depository of all information related to projects.

However, some of the IT experts said that a detailed forensic investigation into this would bring out the exact details of the source of attack and whether there is any data loss or stealing of the data from NHAI servers.

NHAI sources said the details of the diagnosis would be out on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, some IT experts said once there is a virus attack, there is every probability of the information stored in servers getting compromised.

India lost 11 tigers in 2 weeks

Tiger deaths have gone up in the past 15 days, with at least 11 big cats perishing during the period, as per the official directory of National Tiger Conservation Authority. Nearly half of these deaths (5) have happened in Maharashtra and three each occurred in Madhya Pradesh and Kerala.

A six-monthly review of the official data for the first six months of 2020 — from January 1 to June 28 — shows that at least 56 big cats have died so far.

However, the data from Wildlife Protection Society of Indi, a national NGO working for wildlife law enforcement, pegs the deaths for the period at 58, two more than the NTCA count. It says 68 tiger deaths were reported during the same six-month period in 2019.

WPSI’s central India director Nitin Desai said, “While the mortalities in 2020 are fewer when compared to 2019, some cases should be a matter of concern. The case of a tigress and her two cubs poisoned in Tadoba buffer on June 11 is one such. Not only did it wipe out an entire tiger family, but also deprived a forest of its big cat population, as this tigress would have delivered more litters in her lifetime,” he added.

While the NTCA data says that most of the tiger deaths are still under investigation, the WPSI statistics says that of the 58 deaths this year, 15 were due to poaching and seizures and 23 perished due to infighting.

TN custodial deaths case

The Madras High Court ordered the Tuticorin Collector to take over the Sattankulam police station over allegations that the police officials were not cooperating in the judicial inquiry into the alleged custodial deaths of P Jayaraj and J Bennicks.

The court has also initiated criminal contempt proceedings against three police officers - the additional superintendent of police, a deputy superintendent of police and a constable – after the judicial magistrate deputed to enquire into the deaths sent a mail stating that the police were not cooperating. The three cops reportedly refused to hand over records to the magistrate and filmed him while he was at the station.

Tuticorin District Collector Sandeep Nanduri has been directed to depute revenue officials at the station to facilitate the magistraterial probe.

Jayaraj, 60 and his son Bennicks, 31, were arrested on June 19 for allegedly violating lockdown norms by keeping their mobile accessories shop in the main bazaar open beyond the regulated hours.

In her report to the National Human Rights Commission, Tuticorin MP Kanimozhi Karunanidhi gave details of the torture the father-son due was allegedly subjected to while in custody. She informed the rights panel that they were sexually abused. Cops had allegedly inserted sticks into their rectum which left them bleeding for days before they succumbed to injuries on June 23.

Maha lockdown extended till July 31

A day after issuing a stern warning to citizens against making a picnic out of lockdown relaxations, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray extended the lockdown till July 31. No new loosening of curbs will be announced, but the relaxations granted earlier under ‘Mission Begin Again’ will continue, an order issued by Chief Secretary Ajoy Mehta states.

The order further states that wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and other measures will continue to prevail. Inter-district movement of people as well as long-distance travelling without any emergency is prohibited.

The guidelines also give powers to collectors and municipal commissioners to curtail movement if cases rise. While Navi Mumbai has already imposed a complete lockdown in its 10 containment zones until July 5, Thane announced a 10-day lockdown for its containment zones from July 2.

Mehta said, “It is directed that the movement of persons for the purposes of non-essential activities like shopping and outdoor exercises, shall be restricted within the neighbourhood area limits with all prescribed mandatory precautions.” Here’s a look at what’s allowed and what’s not in the state.


All essential shops, which were allowed to remain open before the Monday’s order.

All non-essential shops will continue to operate as per relaxations issued vide orders May 31 and June 4.

All non-essential markets, market areas and shops, except malls and market complexes, will remain open from 9 am to 5 pm. Earlier, they were permitted to stay open from 9 am to 9 pm.

Private offices can operate with up to 10 per cent strength or 10 people, whichever is more.

State government offices can operate with 15 per cent strength or 15 people, whichever is higher.

As per an order issued on June 23, weddings with 50 people in non-AC halls and in open air venues will be allowed across the state.

Liquor shops will continue to operate and provide home delivery wherever permitted.

E-commerce activity for essential as well as non- essential items and materials.

Food home delivery.

Activities related to self-employed people like plumbers, carpenters and technicians with social distancing norms.

Garages from 9 am to 5 pm.

Petrol pumps from 7 am to 7 pm.

All industrial units which are currently open will continue to operate.

Work at all public and private construction sites, which has already commenced.

All pre-monsoon works.

Movement of people in: Taxis: Only essential (2 passengers) Autos: Only essential (2 passengers) Private four-wheelers: Only essential (2 persons) Two-wheelers: Only essential (1 rider)


Inter-state road movement.

Inter-district plying of buses.

All visits outdoors, barring for essentials or for specified employment purposes.

Schools, colleges, coaching centres.

Shopping malls and market complexes.

Hospitality businesses like hotels.

Places of worship.

Cinema halls, gymnasiums, swimming pools, entertainment parks, theatres, bars and auditoriums and assembly halls.

India to get first batch of Rafales

India is set to get the first batch of four to six Rafale fighters, armed with the Meteor air-to-air missiles and Scalp cruise missiles, towards the end of July. Amid the ongoing troop confrontation in eastern Ladakh with China, India has requested France to speed up the delivery schedule of the 36 Rafales to be delivered under the Rs.59,000 crore deal inked in September 2016.

Sources said the first four to six Rafales, flown by IAF pilots who have been trained in France, are likely to touch down at the Ambala airbase on July 27 after an overnight stopover at the Al Dhafra air base near Abu Dhabi. “Four Rafales are definitely coming, but the number is likely go up to six,” said a source.

On their way from UAE to India, the omni-role fighters, also capable of delivering nuclear weapons, are likely to undergo mid-air refueling through IL-78 tanker aircraft of IAF. Initial deliveries of the Meteor missiles, which with a strike range of 120 to 150-km can outgun any missile that can be unleashed by Pakistani or Chinese jets, and the over 300-km range Scalp air-to-ground cruise missiles have already begun, said sources. The first four Rafales were to reach Ambala by May this year, with all the 36 jets arriving by April 2022. Though the arrival of the first batch got delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, India has now asked France to compress the entire delivery schedule of the 36 jets, said sources.

The Rafales will significantly add to the edge the IAF already enjoys over the PLA-Air Force along the 3,488-km LAC.

Separatist leader Geelani quits Hurriyat Conference

Syed Ali Shah Geelani, one of the most prominent pro-Pakistan separatist leaders in Kashmir, announced that he was completely disassociating from the Hurriyat Conference – a 16-party amalgam that he helped setup in 1993.

The 90-year-old leader, who had been facing criticism from Pakistan-based groups for months, attributed his decision to the lack of accountability and brewing rebellion in party ranks.

In a short audio message, Geelani, who is under house arrest since the abrogation of Article 370 in erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir in August last year, said, “Keeping in view the present situation in the Hurriyat Conference, I announce to part ways from the Hurriyat forum. The decision has been conveyed to all the constituents of Hurriyat through official letters.”

In his letter to the amalgam, Geelani spoke about the reasons behind his decision to leave the Hurriyat Conference, as he accused separatist leaders based in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir of being opportunistic and using the platform of Kashmir for their personal gains.

“Geelani was peeved with his associate Abdullah Geelani for his influence to get close to the power corridors,” a source said.

Geelani, who has been a three-time member of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, said, “The activities of these representatives were limited now to seeking access to assemblies and ministries for joining the government there (PoK). Some members were expelled while others started holding their own meetings. These activities were endorsed by you (constituents) by holding a meeting here to ratify their decisions,” he said in his letter.

He referred to inaction by the Hurriyat members post the abrogation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, and the division of the erstwhile state into two Union territories.

Geelani, who was a founding member of the undivided Hurriyat Conference, broke away in 2003 after he faced opposition from other factions for adopting a moderate approach.

Geelani joined the socio-religious Jamaat-e-Islami as a young boy and contested assembly elections from his native Sopore in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district in the 1970s. He founded a separatist movement two decades later in the 1990s.

India bans 59 China-linked apps

Amid tension brewing since the violent clashes between Indian and Chinese forces in the Galwan Valley, India banned 59 apps with Chinese links including popular short video platform TikTok.

Other popular apps in one of the biggest sweeps against Chinese tech companies include SHAREIt, Cam Scanner, Helo, Likee, UC Browser, and WeChat, as well as apps from Xiaomi, India’s number one smartphone brand in terms of market share.

In its order, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technolgy stated that the 59 apps to be banned “engaged in activities which is prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order.” And despite the ban being aimed squarely at China, the official press release mentions no particular country. The announcement cites reports from various sources” that the apps were “stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data” to unauthorised servers outside India. The ministry expressed concern over the compilation, mining and profiling of this data by “elements hostile to national security”.

The decision to ban these apps comes amid a strong anti-China sentiment in the country as social media and WhatsApp groups are flooded with campaigns encouraging Indians to boycott Chinese products, and specifically, to uninstall Chinese apps.

The biggest impact of the ban will be felt by the social media app, Tik-Tok, which has over 100 million active users in the country. It’s parent company ByteDance has over 500 employees in India – one of its biggest markets – with plans to double that head count this year. Being at the receiving end of bans isn’t new for the popular app, however. Last year Tik-Tok was banned for three weeks by the Madras High Court following a petition alleging that the app, which is popular among teenagers, was being used to spread pornographic content. TikTok was the number one trending topic on Twitter on Monday night shortly after the ban was announced.

Another trending app was PUBG Mobile (PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds), but for different reasons. Also developed in China by Tencent, the popular mobile game has been spared the ban, at least for now. 


Befitting reply given to those who cast evil eye on Ladakh: Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi asserted that India has given a befitting reply to those who cast an evil eye on its territory in Ladakh. Modi said that while the country honours the spirit of friendship, it is also capable of giving an appropriate response to any adversary.

Paying tributes to the 20 army men killed in the violent standoff with China's People’s Liberation Army earlier this month, Modi also said that India’s brave soldiers have shown that they will not allow the nation’s pride to be hurt.

The prime minister’s strong words on his monthly ‘Mann ki Baat’ broadcast came amid a standoff between Indian and Chinese armies in eastern Ladakh, with the opposition Congress constantly attacking the central government over the issue.

“Those who cast an evil eye on Indian soil in Ladakh have got a befitting response. India honours the spirit of friendship. It is also capable of giving an appropriate response to any adversary, without shying away,” he said in his address without mentioning China.

The prime minister also made a vigorous push for the use of locally-made products. He said “vocal for local” is also a way to strengthen the country and to serve it.

Modi also referred to a woman from Assam who wrote that she has resolved to buy only local products after watching what happened in east Ladakh. “I am receiving messages on these lines from every corner of the country,” he said.

There have been calls for boycotting Chinese products in the wake of the Ladakh incident.


South Asia: India has worst case fatality ratio

South Asia has emerged as one of two regions, the other being South America, in which the Covid pandemic is growing fastest, making them the new epicentres. Both within South Asia and within countries on the top 20 global lists of cases and deaths, India is among those in which the disease is gaining ground most rapidly.

Among the countries that are in the global top 20 lists by cases and deaths, India has the second highest daily growth rate of deaths (4.2%) and of cases (3.6%) over the last 15 days. Deaths are growing faster only in Chile at 4.4% a day while cases are increasing more rapidly in South Africa at 5.2% a day.

Within South Asia, India already has the highest case fatality rate of 3.1% and it has added to the toll faster than any other country over this period. In Europe, which was the epicentre earlier, the daily growth in cases and deaths since June 12 is less than 1%, except in Sweden where cases have risen by 2% a day, and in some cases like Italy as low as 0.1%.

Even in the US, which was seeing a huge surge earlier, the daily growth in deaths has fallen to 0.6% while cases increased by 1.3% a day over the 15-day period up to June 27. India’s much higher growth rates mean that it has added over 71% to cases and about 85% to deaths in the period since June 12.

Within South Asia, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan, in that order, have the highest daily growth in deaths and the highest percentage increase in deaths in the region since June 12. Cases have grown fastest in Nepal, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan in that order. While India is somewhere near the middle of the South Asian charts when it comes to deaths or cases per million, it’s case fatality rate of 3.1 is the highest in the region, much above second and third placed Afghanistan and Pakistan with CFRs of 2.2 and 2 respectively.

Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Bhutan seem to be the countries in the region least besieged by the pandemic. The Maldives, given their tiny population, have the highest cases per million despite having less than 2,000 cases and a deaths per million figure of 15 compared to the region’s average of 12 though there have been only eight deaths.


Maharashtra expands MMR

The Urban Development Department has extended the area of Mumbai Metropolitan Region to include parts of Palghar, Vasai, Bhiwandi, Kalyan, Ambernath, Karjat, Khalapaur, Pen and Alibaug. This will bring a population of 12 lakh under the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority.

The Maharashtra legislature had passed the proposal to extend the limits of MMR to include nearly 2,000 sq km area in June 2019 when the BJP-led government was in power.

The UDD’s joint secretary SD Landge said the decision was taken by former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis for unified development of multiple projects in a larger area, and will help use natural resources optimally.

The MMR comprises eight municipalities – Greater Mumbai, Thane, Kalyan-Dombivali, Navi Mumbai, Ulhasnagar, Bhiwandi-Nizamapur, Vasai-Virar and Mira-Bhayandar – and nine municipal councils, with more than 1,000 villages in Thane and Raigad districts.

According to the June 25 notification, the area up to the eastern limits of Palghar tehsil, Vasai tehsil up to Tansa river, Bhiwandi, Kalyan and Ambernath tehsils will now be part of MMR. The villages along the foothills of Sahyadri in Karjat tehsil – from Shelu to Kalamboli Tarf Waredi, Takwe, Banjarwadi, Sawale, Hedawali, Mandawane, Bhivpuri (camp), Humgaon, Saidongar, Dhak, Salpe, Kharwandi up to village Chochi – will also be included.

India’s Covid tally crosses 5L

India raced past the 5 lakh mark in Covid-19 cases on Friday, just six days after the country’s caseload crossed 4 lakh, even as the day’s fresh infections touched another new peak —surging past 18,000 for the first time.

There were 381 deaths from the virus on Friday, the first time in four days that the toll had dipped below 400. The country has so far recorded 5,09,377 Covid-19 cases and 15,681 deaths, while over 2.95 lakh patients have recovered, according to the data collated from state governments.

The pandemic continued its surge in the country, with 18,572 new cases being reported on Friday, easily surpassing the previous day’s record of 17,870. This was the seventh new peak in daily cases reported in the past eight days.

Tamil Nadu's Covid-19 infections spiked for the third day running on Friday. Chennai had 1,956 of the 3,645 fresh cases in Tamil Nadu, which now has 32,305 people still under treatment, while 41,357 have been cured. The official toll in the state rose to 957 with 46 more deaths. A total of 32,317 people were tested across the state.

Chennai, which accounted for 63.20% of the state’s new cases on June 16, had 53.66% of them on Friday. Over the 10 days, Chennai added 15,000 cases, an increase of 1.5 times.

Delhi recorded 3,460 fresh coronavirus cases on Friday, taking the tally in the city to over 77,000, while the death toll from the disease mounted to 2,492. On Tuesday, the national capital had reported the highest single-day spike of 3,947 cases. On Wednesday, Delhi had eclipsed Mumbai as the city worst-hit by the pandemic in the country.

Sixty-three fatalities have been recorded in the last 24 hours, a Delhi health department bulletin said on Friday.

The big surge in cases in the twin states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh still continues.

Monsoon Covers Entire Country: IMD

The southwest monsoon covered the entire country on Friday, completing its journey from Kerala to Kashmir well before the usual date of July 8 with unusually heavy rainfall this season.

Total rainfall across India since June 1 has been 22% above normal, laying a strong foundation for strong harvest and higher rural income. This is expected to boost rural demand for products such as consumer goods, cars, two-wheelers, gold, tractors, cooking oil and fertilisers.

Barring some parts of southern India, onset of rainfall started well before expected dates.

“The rapid development of low pressure areas and cyclonic circulations has helped the monsoon to make quick progress in most parts of the country,” M Mohapatra, director general of the India Meteorological Department said.

Cyclone Amphan accelerated monsoon winds which reached Andaman Islands, the first major milestone in the progress of the monsoon towards the country, five days before the usual date. Although this was expected to slow the onset over mainland India by a few days, the cyclone recharged the monsoon and brought it to Kerala on its normal date of June 1.

Central India has led the charge, with 44% above normal rainfall till June 26. All other subdivisions have shown an above normal monsoon rainfall as well.

Prospects of La Nina, associated with cooling of water in parts of the Pacific, is also expected to form in the latter half of the monsoon season this year. This phenomenon is associated with an above normal rainfall for the Indian subcontinent.

The next two weeks are likely to bring heavy rainfall over eastern, north-eastern, central and southern India. Rainfall over northern India is expected to strengthen after that, as the circulation of the monsoon winds improves, as per the IMD.

Last year, monsoon winds were delayed by up to two weeks over most regions, with rainfall in June ending with a record 33% deficit. This prompted the IMD to revise its normal onset and withdrawal dates for most parts of the country.


Lightning claims 107 lives in Bihar & UP in one day

A fusillade of lightning strikes spread across 31 districts of two states killed 107 people — 83 in Bihar and 24 in UP — amid warnings from meteorologists for people in both states to stay indoors as more thunderstorms are on the radar over the next 72 hours.

In Bihar, a total of 23 districts reported fatalities, with Gopalganj in the northern part of the state accounting for the highest number of 13 deaths, followed by Madhubani with eight. Siwan and Bhagalpur had six deaths each while East Champaran, Darbhanga, Bhagalpur and Banka reported five each.

In UP, bolts of lightning killed nine in Deoria, followed by six in Prayagraj, three in Ambedkarnagar and two in Barabanki.

Bihar’s Nawada, Khagaria, Aurangabad, West Champaran, Kishanganj, Jehanabad, Buxar, Kaimur, Jamui, Purnia, Supaul, Samastipur, Sheohar, Saran, Sitamarhi and Madhepura had fewer deaths.

Many of the victims in Gopalganj and some other districts were at work in their fields when they were struck by lightning, a perennial threat during the monsoon months. The UP relief commissioner’s office said 24 people were injured in the state. Bihar CM Nitish Kumar and his UP counterpart Yogi Adityanath announced ex gratia of Rs.4 lakh each to the families of those killed. Nitish appealed to people to take all necessary precautions as more turbulent weather had been forecast for the next two days.

“Follow all advisories and stay indoors and safe during bad weather,” he said. The regional meteorological centre in Patna issued a warning for heavy rainfall, accompanied by lightning, over the next 72 hours.

Maharashtra mulls ₹25k crore six-lane e-way parallel to Goa highway

Maha Vikas Aghadi government’s decision to study feasibility of a Rs.25,000-crore greenfield six-lane Konkan expressway parallel to the Goa highway and coastal road was criticised as existing roads are awaiting expansion for decades.

It’s nine years since the Rs.10,000-crore Mumbai-Goa highway four-lane expansion began and it’s nowhere near completion. So is the marine highway, which was to be expanded between Rewas (Alibaug) and Redi (Sindhudurg) ports in March by adding 20-25 bridges over the creeks. Its initial planning was proposed four years back.

MSRDC said the expressway, proposed in 1991, will have few tunnels and will bring speedy progress for the region as it can be quickly developed due to lesser efforts in acquisition. “Widening highways having properties along the way and their acquisition is a major task. Pune and Nashik expressways changed the economy of the region after getting developed fast,” said MSRDC joint MD Radheshyam Mopalwar.

S M Deshmukh, president, Mumbai-Goa Highway Action Committee, said the decision to study feasibility was not needed when the highway and coastal road were enough, if developed properly and efficiently. “The highway is not 50% complete even after beginning work in 2011,” he added.

Inordinate delays in completing four lanes of the narrow highway on its 460 km stretch between Panvel and Goa border, which has seen most accidents in the state, is still a matter of concern for lakhs living along Konkan belt. So is the delayed recarpeting and reconnecting of missing links on the coastal road, now proposed to be a marine highway.

Maharashtra permits shacks on 8 Konkan beaches

Maharashtra cabinet cleared a policy to allow temporary shacks on some beaches across Konkan coast, like in Goa.

As per the cabinet decision, a pilot project on eight beaches will be undertaken and depending on demand it will be extended. Two popular beaches from four districts, including Bordi and Kelwe in Palghar, Varsoli and Diveagar in Raigad, Guhagar and Araware in Ratnagiri, and Kundkeshwar and Tarkali in Sindhudurg have been finalised. The policy has been under discussion since 2017.

Officials said since the beaches fall under coastal regulation zone, shacks can be set up on some beaches after Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority clearance. Application forms will be available online.

Only 10 shacks will be allowed per beach. “We will give preference to applications made by locals. The idea is to boost tourism and open up an alternative economy for locals,” said Shiv Sena leader and cabinet minister Anil Parab.

Eighty percent of the jobs generated by the shacks will be held by locals, Parab asserted.

Each shack will be 15ft x 15ft and 12 ft high, and will allotted for three years with a non-refundable charge of Rs.15,000. The applicant will have to pay Rs.45,000 in the first year, Rs.50,000 in the second and Rs.55,000 in the third. A refundable deposit of Rs.30,000 will be taken.

The shacks can be open from 7.am to 7.pm and CCTV cameras for each one will be mandatory. “Charges that tourists will pay and other guidelines will be issued by MTDC soon,” said an official.

Tourism minister Aaditya Thackeray tweeted that eight beaches in Maharashtra were approved for eco-friendly shacks, which will be a major tourist facility, but that 80% employment for locals was a must.

Another decision taken by the cabinet was to give seven properties of MTDC to private players on lease or through a joint venture for up to 90 years. Thackeray said this will help the state increase revenue and build world-class tourism. The seven properties include five resorts in Mahableshwar, Matheran, Ganpatipule, Harihareshwar and Mithbab and two plots at Tadoba and Farbapur in Aurangabad will be put up for lease. Officials said the lease rent and period lease will be decided by a high-powered committee under the chief secretary.

“The two land parcels are nearly five hectares and how much will be given will depend on interest of the private player and requirement of the project,” said an official.

Goa’s shacks are synonymous with its beaches, which are an integral part of the tourism experience. While they offer locals employment, the shacks are temporary and are disbanded with the onset of monsoon. Also, before commencement of the tourism season in March, the state tourism ministry conducts a lottery to allot the shacks.

Last October, a Bombay high court bench permitted the Goa government to go ahead with its shack policy and vacated a stay by National Green Tribunal in September.

China amassing troops, arms along LAC since early May: MEA

Dismissing its attempts to once again put the onus of the violent Galwan Valley on India, the Ministry of External Affairs, said that China has been amassing a large contingent of troops and armaments along the Line of Actual Control since early May, which escalated the tension between the two countries manifold and eventually led to the deadly clash.

Holding Beijing squarely responsible for the standoff in eastern Ladakh on June 15 in which 20 Indian soldiers died, India also asserted that the conduct of Chinese forces has been in complete disregard of all mutually agreed norms.

Giving a rundown of the incidents since May that eventually led to the deadliest Sino-India face-off in 45 years, MEA official spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said the Chinese side took action to hinder India’s “normal, traditional” patrolling pattern in the Galwan Valley area while it sought to change the status quo in other areas of the Western Sector in mid-May.

“This is not in accordance with the provisions of our various bilateral agreements, especially the key 1993 Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas. This notes in particular that ‘each side will keep its military forces in the areas along the line of actual control to a minimum level compatible with friendly and good neighbourly relations between the two countries’. Obviously, the Indian side had to undertake counter deployments and the resulting tension has thereafter expressed itself.”

Srivastava maintained that ‘respecting and strictly observing the LAC is the basis for peace and tranquillity in the border areas’ and that ‘Indian troops are fully familiar with the alignment of the LAC in all sectors of the India-China border areas and abide scrupulously by it.’

While military and diplomatic engagements between the two countries are currently on through commander level talks, the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs and Foreign Ministers of both countries continue to engage, India on Thursday warned that ‘a continuation of the current situation would only vitiate the atmosphere for the development of the relationship.’

Government sources said that the tension along the LAC continues with both sides building up its deployment. Even as talks are underway, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Wednesday said, “The merits of what happened are very clear. None of the responsibility lies with China.” He went on to blame India for ‘building roads and bridges at and across the LAC in the Galwan Valley, unilaterally changing the status quo’ and claimed that ‘the Galwan Valley lies on the Chinese side of the LAC.’ “On the early morning of May 6, Indian border troops crossed the LAC under the cover of night, trespassed into China’s territory and deliberately made provocations. The Chinese border troops were compelled to take necessary measures to respond to the situation on the ground and strengthen management and control along the border,” Lijian alleged in a press briefing.

Maha Parwana

All Foreign Direct Investments and investments above Rs.50 crore will be granted a MahaLicence within 48 hours of an application being submitted. All approvals and NOCs will be provided through a single window within the prescribed timeline and if NOCs are not issued in time, these will be deemed to have been granted.

Industries requiring an environmental clearance will have to obtain that before they apply for a licence.

The Maha Vikas Aghadi government pursuing investments for the state approved a slew of measures for ease of doing business, as announced during the recent Magnetic Maharashtra 2.0 investor meet. The meet garnered Rs.16,000 crore worth of investments, of which Rs.5,000 crore from Chinese companies have been put on hold in light of India-China tensions. The state has already promised 40,000 acres for setting up of industries in the state owned by the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation. Any industry providing 1,000 jobs will be provided land to construct hostels for workers. Besides, MIDC in light of pandemic will construct hostels for other industries.

Thus industries which are in the green or orange category (non-hazardous) as prescribed by the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board will be eligible for the MahaLicence. However, for permissions to be granted, the industry must first obtain land either from MIDC or a private entity. The government will develop industrial estates with plug and play infrastructure and even offer such land/units on rent.

The government will provide legal aid to small, micro and medium enterprises hit by the lockdown. A portal will be launched to provide information to investors and another for workforce facilitation that will enable sons of soil to be hired by industries. The cabinet approved purchase of power from the Tata group Coastal Gujarat Power Company. The company has offered power at Rs.2 per unit. But the agreement will come into play when a similar proposal is approved by the Gujarat and Rajasthan government, energy minister Nitin Raut said.


IMF downgrades GDP forecast by 4.5%

The IMF projected a sharp contraction of 4.5 per cent for the Indian economy in 2020, a “historic low,” citing the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic that has nearly stalled all economic activities, but said the country is expected to bounce back in 2021 with a robust six per cent growth rate.

The International Monetary Fund projected the global growth at –4.9 per cent in 2020, 1.9 percentage points below the April 2020 World Economic Outlook forecast.

“We are projecting a sharp contraction in 2020 of -4.5 per cent. Given the unprecedented nature of this crisis, as is the case for almost all countries, this projected contraction is a historic low,” Indian-American Gita Gopinath, IMF’s Chief Economist, told PTI as she released the World Economic Outlook Update in Washington.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a more negative impact on activity in the first half of 2020 than anticipated, and the recovery is projected to be more gradual than previously forecast. In 2021, global growth is projected at 5.4 per cent, the report said.

For the first time, all regions are projected to experience negative growth in 2020. In China, where the recovery from the sharp contraction in the first quarter is underway, growth is projected at 1.0 per cent in 2020, supported in part by policy stimulus.

“India’s economy is projected to contract by 4.5 per cent following a longer period of lockdown and slower recovery than anticipated in April,” the IMF said.

The IMF’s record reveals that this is the lowest ever for India since 1961. The IMF does not have the data beyond that year. However, India’s economy is expected to bounce back in 2021 with a robust six per cent growth, it said.

In 2019, India’s growth rate was 4.2 per cent.

The latest 2020 projection for India is a massive -6.4 per cent less than it’s the April forecast of the IMF. The projected growth rate of 6 per cent in 2021 is -1.4 per cent less than its April forecast.

“Geopolitical and trade tensions could damage fragile global relationships at a time when trade is projected to collapse by around 12 per cent,” Gopinath said.

Diesel Costs More Than Petrol in Delhi

Diesel prices exceeded that of petrol in Delhi on Wednesday, a first for the country, following 18 consecutive days of price hikes. Diesel, which has traditionally been cheaper than petrol in India due to lower taxes and the now abandoned price regulation, sprinted past petrol on Wednesday in Delhi though in other states it is still cheaper. In Delhi, diesel sold for ₹79.88 a litre and petrol for ₹79.76 on Wednesday. In Mumbai, diesel sold for ₹78.22 a litre and petrol for ₹86.54.

In the last 18 days, state oil companies have raised rates of diesel by ₹10.49 a litre and of petrol by ₹8.5 a litre to align them with international rates.

The advantage of relatively lower taxes that kept diesel cheaper than petrol in the country has almost disappeared in Delhi after recent tax hikes by both the Centre and the state. At 30%, the state’s value added tax is now equal on petrol and diesel in Delhi.

China warns India of ‘severe consequences’

Even as India and China held another round of diplomatic talks on the border issue, Beijing on Wednesday stepped up its offensive by reiterating its claims over the Galwan Valley and holding Indian troops responsible for the June 15 clashes, which resulted in casualties on both sides.

Accusing Indian troops of breaching basic norms “governing international relations”, China said their adventurous acts were of a “vile nature” and will have “severe consequences”. Both the Chinese defence and foreign ministries said the Galwan Valley was on the Chinese side. The foreign ministry also accused India’s ministry of external affairs and Indian media of issuing “false reports” about recent developments in Galwan Valley.

The Indian side didn’t officially respond to the allegations which came a day after the countries agreed to a gradual and “verifiable” disengagement of troops following a top-level military commanders’ meeting. Official sources said India had already made its position clear on Chinese claims which have never extended up to the Galwan estuary.

Responding to China’s “step-by-step” account last week of developments at the border, MEA had asked Beijing not to make untenable claims and not to misrepresent understanding forged at June 6 meeting of senior commanders.


Moody’s Expects Economy to Contract by 3.1% in 2020

Moody’s Investors Service expects India’s economy to contract by 3.1% in 2020 compared with 0.2% growth it projected in April. The rating company expects a stronger economic rebound for India at 6.9% in 2021, as opposed to 6.2% estimated in April, according to the June update of its Global Macro Outlook released Monday.

China is among the few G20 countries expected to register growth in 2020, according to Moody’s, which maintained its earlier forecast of 1% for the country.

Global economic recovery will likely be prolonged and the second quarter of 2020 “will go down in history as the worst quarter for the global economy since at least World War II,” it said.

Growth estimates for almost all major economies were lowered. For the G20 advanced economies, the report projected a contraction of 6.4% in 2020 followed by a 4.8% recovery next year. In April, Moody’s had projected a 5.8% contraction for G20 this year.

For G20 emerging economies, it projected a contraction of 1.6%. Excluding China, the estimate would have been -4.7%, it said.

Growth projections for most major western economies were lowered further. The effect of lockdowns on activity in the second quarter would be larger than previously thought, Moody’s said.

“We have revised our 2020 growth forecast down from our previous projections in April for a number of countries, including Germany, France, Italy, the UK, Canada, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Argentina… The downward revisions for 2020 mostly reflect a reassessment of the effects of the pandemic in the first half of the year, based on incoming data,” the report said. The report includes a second wave of Covid-19 infections in its baseline scenario.

SC allows Puri Rath Yatra, but without devotees

Four days after staying the historic Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra at Puri, the Supreme Court indicated it would allow the event, which is scheduled to start tomorrow, saying the court cannot “micro-manage” the rituals and left it to the state government, the Centre and the temple management to deal with that issue.

A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde was informed by the Odisha government that it will coordinate with the temple management and the Centre to make things smooth during Rath Yatra, which is attended by lakhs to people from around the world, and ensure compliance with health guidelines in view of the coronavirus pandemic.

While hearing a PIL filed by NGO ‘Odisha Vikash Parishad’ the apex court on June18 had said that in the interest of public health and safety of citizens, this year’s Puri Rath Yatra cannot be allowed and that “Lord Jagannath won’t forgive us if we allow” it.

The bench, also comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and A S Bopanna, said that each Rath would be pulled by not more than 500 people and all of them have to test negative for coronavirus.

It directed that those engaged in pulling the chariot shall maintain social distancing before, during and after the Rath Yatra.

“All entry points into the city of Puri, i.e., airports, railway stations, bus stands, etc., shall be closed during the period of Rath Yatra festival,” the bench said in its order.

“During the period of curfew no one would be allowed to come out of their houses or their places of residence, such as, hotels, lodging houses, etc. To start with, the curfew shall begin tonight at 8 pm,” the bench said.

The top court said these 500 persons who will pull the chariot will include officials and police personnel and there shall be an interval of one hour between two chariots.

“Each of those who is engaged in pulling the chariot shall maintain social distancing before, during and after the Rath Yatra,” the bench said while directing that only such persons shall be associated with the rituals who have been found to tested negative for COVID-19 and shall maintain social distancing.

While the Rath Yatra festival, held over 10-12 days and attended by lakhs of people participating, is scheduled from June 23, the 'Bahuda Jatra' (return car festival) is fixed for July 1.

Three heavily-built wooden chariots of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra are traditionally pulled by thousands of devotees over a distance of three kilometres twice during the nine-day festival of the Trinity at Puri.

"Indeed, if it is possible to ensure that there is no public attendance, we see no reason why the Rath Yatra cannot be conducted safely along its usual route from temple to temple,” the bench said in its order.

32 road projects along China border to be expedited

The Centre expedited 32 road projects along the Sino-Indian border even as top officers of the Indian and Chinese militaries held second round of talks to ease tensions after the violent clashes in Galwan Valley last week that left 20 Indian Army personnel dead.

The talks that reportedly lasted for hours were held at Moldo on the Chinese side of Chushul sector in eastern Ladakh. The two sides are said to have to deliberated on a set of confidence building measures including implementation of an agreement arrived at the first round of the Lt Gen talks on June 6, sources said.

Meanwhile, the decision to expedite the projects was taken at a highlevel meeting convened by the Ministry of Home Affairs, and attended by the Central Public Works Department, Border Roads Organisation and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police among others.

A total of 73 roads are being constructed along the Sino-Indian border. Of these, the CPWD is working on 12 and the BRO on 61, under the direct supervision of the MHA, which is the nodal authority for all border infrastructure-related projects.

At least three vital roads are being constructed by the BRO in Ladakh, another official said.

The move comes amidst the ongoing row between the Indian Army and China’s People’s Liberation Army in Ladakh sector.

Twenty Indian Army personnel were killed in a clash with the PLA in the night of June 15-16 in the Galwan Valley in Ladakh.

At least three vital roads are being constructed by the BRO in Ladakh, another official said


Maharashtra freezes 3 Chinese projects worth ₹5,000 cr

The Maha Vikas Aghadi government has put the three agreements signed with Chinese companies at the recent Magnetic Maharashtra 2.0 investor meet on hold. The proposed investments total over Rs.5,000 crore.

“The decision has been taken in consultation with the Union government. These were signed prior (to the killing of 20 Indian soldiers on the Indo-China border). The ministry of external affairs has advised not to sign any further agreements with Chinese companies,” said industry minister Subhash Desai.

The online conference held last Monday was attended by Chinese ambassador Sun Weidong. The three agreements included a Rs.3,770-crore MoU with Great Wall Motors to set up an automobile plant in Talegaon near Pune.

Also, PMI Electro Mobility in a joint venture with Foton (China) had announced a Rs.1,000-crore unit that would create 1,500 jobs, said a government press release.

Among the Chinese companies that made commitments was Hengli Engineering, for a Rs.250-crore investment as part of its phase II expansion at Talegaon, which will bring 150 jobs.

Magnetic Maharashtra 2.0 was an attempt by the government to kick-start the economy after the Covid lockdown. In all, 12 agreements were signed, which included companies from Singapore, South Korea, the US, besides several Indian companies. Desai said the state government is actively processing the other nine MoUs.

In January, Great Wall Motors signed an agreement to acquire the Talegaon plant from the US-based General Motors. GWM planned to produce its electric vehicles and SUV models at the unit.

“This would be a highly automated plant in Talegaon (near Pune) with advanced robotics technology integrated in many of the production processes,” Parker Shi, MD of the Indian subsidiary of GWM, was quoted as saying in a statement.

“Overall we are committed to USD 1 billion (Rs.7,600 crore) of investment in India in a phased manner, which is directed towards manufacturing world class intelligent and premium products, R&D centre, building supply chain and providing jobs to over 3,000 people in a phased manner,” he added.

The decision to stall the Chinese projects comes in the wake of the border clashes.

At the all-party meet called by PM Narendra Modi on Friday, chief minister Uddhav Thackeray said, “India wants peace but that doesn’t mean we are weak. China’s nature is betrayal. India is mazboot,not majboor (India is strong, not helpless).”

Forces get ‘full freedom’ to use firearms on LAC

The armed forces deployed along the 3,500-km de-facto border with China have been given “full freedom” to give a “befitting” response to any Chinese misadventure, government sources said after Defence Minister Rajnath Singh reviewed the situation in eastern Ladakh at a meeting with the top military brass on Sunday.

At the meeting, Singh told top military officers to maintain a strict vigil on Chinese activities around the land border, the airspace and in strategic sea lanes, sources said.

Following the Galwan incident, military sources said, Indian troops will no longer be bound by the long held practice of not using firearms in face-offs. The two armies had mutually decided not to resort to use firearms during face-offs in sync with provisions of two agreements on border management. The agreements were signed in 1996 and 2005.

“Henceforth, our approach will be different. The ground commanders have been given full freedom to take decisions depending on the situation,” a top military official said on the condition of anonymity.

Sunday’s meeting was attended by Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat, Army Chief Gen MM Naravane, Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh and Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria.

India has sent thousands of additional Army troops to forward locations along the border with China after 20 Indian Army personnel were killed in a brutal attack by Chinese troops in eastern Ladakh’s Galwan valley on June 15. The IAF has moved a sizeable number of its frontline Sukhoi 30 MKI, Jaguar, Mirage 2000 aircraft and Apache attack helicopters to several key air bases, including Leh and Srinagar in the last five days. 

India’s Covid-19 tally crosses 4-lakh mark

Eight days after recording 3 lakh Covid-19 cases, India went past the 4-lakh mark on Sunday with the biggest single-day spike of 15,413 new infections, while the toll rose to 13,254, according to the Union health ministry.

India has registered record single day spikes in the past four days. It took 64 days to cross the 1 lakh-mark from 100 cases, another fortnight to reach the grim milestone of 2 lakh and then in another 10 days, it went past 3 lakh.

A total of 2,27,755 patients have been cured so far.


RIL First Indian Co to Cross the ₹11 L-crore M-cap Mark

Reliance Industries became the first Indian company to cross ₹11 lakh crore in market value. The stock soared 6% to ₹1,759.50 as investors cheered the telecom-to-oil conglomerate’s steps to become debt free. The company’s market capitalisation touched $150 billion in dollar terms. Analysts expect the stock to gain 10-13% from current levels in 2020.

Analysts said the market is willing to offer higher valuations to co because of a shift in business focus.

Reliance has turned net debt-free by raising ₹168,818 crore in two months through the country’s largest ever rights issue and a series of stake sale deals in its arm Jio Platforms.

Reliance shares have doubled from their March lows. While the Sensex is down 16% from the start of 2020, Reliance is up 17.66%.

LAC Clash: All Party Meet

There has been no intrusion into our borders by the Chinese troops, nor have they occupied any of our forward posts, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in response to questions raised by the Opposition on the deadly clash in Galwan Valley in which 20 Indian soldiers lost their lives.

PM Modi, while addressing an all party meeting convened to discuss the tense border situation with China, maintained that ‘not an inch of land has been occupied by anyone.’ Instead, he attributed the incident to robust patrolling of the Line of Actual Control during which ‘our jawans constantly stop them at every point.’ Even as the four-hour long marathon virtual meet largely saw the Opposition parties rally behind the prime minister and his handling of the situation in eastern Ladakh, Modi chose to respond to the allegations raised by the Congress party, particularly its former chief Rahul Gandhi over the government’s lapses.

“Though 20 of our bravehearts lost their lives, those who tried to look into our eyes have been taught a befitting lesson. China’s actions at the LAC has hurt and agitated the entire country…our defence forces are leaving no stone unturned to protect the country. Be it our deployment, action, counter-action, our air force, navy and army are doing what needs to be done. Today, our capability is such that no one can eye an inch of our land. Our forces in every sector are equipped to move together,” Modi told political party chiefs, who attended the meet.

“Our capacity for patrolling has gone up especially along the LAC because of which we get regular updates of the movements even in areas that could not be tracked earlier. Our jawans are able to track and respond now. So far, no one stopped them (Chinese). Our jawans now stop them at every point. Unhe rokte hain,tokte hain.”

Modi reiterated the defence minister’s earlier statement that the armed forces have been given full freedom to take due action at the border. “Apart from that, through diplomatic channels also we have made it clear to China that India wants peace and friendship but our priority remains to protect our sovereignty,” Modi added.

He claimed that in the last five years his government has prioritised ramping up defence infrastructure and has invested heavily in fighter planes, modern helicopters, missile systems and other equipment. “The nation’s best interest is our priority. Be it in trade, connectivity, counter-terrorism, India has never accepted external influence. Whatever is needed for nation-building will continue at a fast pace. I want to reassure all of you that our forces are fully capable to secure our borders,” Modi added in a bid to allay apprehensions over the economic implications of the tension with China.

At the beginning of the meet that was attended by Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Home Minister Amit Shah, presentations explaining the ground situation at Galwan Valley and the diplomatic and military engagements with China were shared with the Opposition leaders through presentations.

The opening speaker from the Opposition, Congress president Sonia Gandhi was the sole leader to raise questions on the ‘delay and laxities’ in the government’s response to the ongoing tension in eastern Ladakh since May. Gandhi said that the all-party meet ‘should have come sooner and immediately after the government had been reportedly informed about the Chinese intrusion on May 5.’ “As always, the entire nation would have stood together like a rock and fully supported the government of the day in the steps required to defend the territorial integrity of the country. Alas, that was not to be. In fact, even at this late stage, we are still in the dark about many crucial aspects of the crisis,” Gandhi hit out at the Centre.

She sought answers to a range of questions such as ‘on which date did the Chinese troops intrude into our territory in Ladakh? When did the government find out about the Chinese transgressions? Was it on May 5, as reported, or earlier? Does the government not receive, on a regular basis, satellite pictures of the borders of our country? Did our external intelligence agencies not report any unusual activity along the LAC? Did the Military Intelligence not alert the government about the intrusion and the build-up of massive forces along the LAC, whether on the Chinese side or on the Indian side? In the government’s considered view, was there a failure of intelligence?’ She asked the government to share the sequence of events beginning April this year till date on what panned out at the LAC.

Most other leaders including NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackarey, DMK leader MK Stalin, Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati, Samajwadi Party leader Ramgopal Yadav, Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, Telangana Rashtra Samiti chief K Chandrashekar Rao, Janata Dal (United) chief Nitish Kumar, Biju Janata Dal head Naveen Patnaik and even Modi-baiter Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee expressed solidarity with the Modi government and backed the PM’s decisions on the ongoing tension with China.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Thackeray said that it was ‘China’s nature to betray’ but ‘India is mazboot (strong), not majboor (helpless).’ In what seemed to be a jibe at Rahul Gandhi’s questions to the government whether Indian soldiers were armed or not during the clash, NCP chief Sharad Pawar commented that such protocols are decided by international agreements and that ‘we should respect such sensitive matters.’ Several prominent parties such as the Aam Aadmi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal, AIMIM were not invited to join the virtual meet drawing sharp reactions from their leaders. They were informally informed that parties with more than five MPs were being extended an invite to which the RJD countered that it did have as many MPs in the Upper House.

Pandemic is accelerating, warns WHO

The head of the WHO said the coronavirus pandemic is “accelerating” and that more than 150,000 cases were reported on Thursday — the “highest single-day number” so far.

In a media briefing on Friday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said nearly half of the newly reported cases were from the Americas, with significant numbers from South Asia and the Middle East.

“We are in a new and dangerous phase,” he said, warning that restrictive measures are still needed. “Many people are understandably fed up with being at home (and) countries are understandably eager to open up their societies.” But Tedros warned that the virus is still “spreading fast” and that measures like social distancing, mask wearing and hand-washing are still critical. He noted the toll would be especially great on refugees in particular, of whom more than 80% live in mostly developing nations. 


India enters UNSC for eighth time

India is back in the UN Security Council for the eighth time when global politics is witnessing several inflection points—growing US disinterest in multi-lateralism, Chinese determination to dominate global multilateral institutions and especially when India-China ties are at a historic low in the backdrop of Ladakh clashes.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his gratitude on India’s election to the UNSCunopposed by 184 votes. “Deeply grateful for the overwhelming support shown by the global community for India’s membership of the @UN Security Council. India will work with all membercountries to promote global peace, security, resilience and equity.”

Briefing journalists, Vikas Swaroop, secretary (west), MEA, said, “We will act as a voice of reason and moderation and a firm believer in respect for international law and peaceful settlement of disputes.” He said India would want to “reform” the multilateral system based on the following principles — samman, samvad, sahyog, shanti and samriddhi (respect, dialogue, cooperation, peace and develpment).

The call for “reformed multi-lateralism” by both Modi and external affairs minister S Jaishankar will not involve the UNSC itself which is a larger battle. For the next couple of years though, India will be “in the room” to push back against Chinese mischief targeting New Delhi.

“China cannot use this forum against India,” said a source. That will be a big gain. In addition, China’s actions in Ladakh have now completely eroded its position as a supposed “impartial” interlocutor on Kashmir. India can use that to neutralise China’s needling on Pakistan’s behalf.

The position will give India some useful leverage to push some key objectives, especially of playing a role in global governance which heading a UN body entails.

IRB pays Maharashtra government ₹6,500 crore for Mumbai - Pune expressway

Maharashtra State infrastructure arm MSRDC received a cheque of Rs.6,500 crore from IRB on Thursday as advance payment for toll collection on the Mumbai-Pune expressway for the next 10.2 years. The revenue-sharing deal, first since the lockdown, is being seen as a morale-booster for Maharashtra’s efforts to boost the economy.

The handing over of the cheque took place in the presence of deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, PWD minister Eknath Shinde, chief secretary Ajoy Mehta, additional chief secretary Manoj Saunik, MSRDC MD Radheshyam Mopalwar, IRB CMD Virendra Mhaiskar and senior bank officials. Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray was present through video conferencing.

IRB won the toll operation and maintenance contract for the highway when bids opened in February. It took over operations on March 1. The expressway carries over 45,000 vehicles daily. and toll goes up to Rs.270. The bid required the firm to pay Rs.6,500 crore of the total Rs.8,262 crore before June 19 as a first instalment towards the concession contract.

The contract includes the new expressway as well as the old Mumbai-Pune highway taking total length of maintenance to 205.4 kms. IRB managed the same project for 15 years till their concession period ended in August last year.

This is India’s single largest concession-based toll operation, maintenance and transfer deal. Further payments of Rs.850 crore in the second and third year of the contract followed by Rs.62 crore in the fourth year will have to be made. IRB concluded the deal with help from State Bank of India and Union Bank of India, besides raising equity of Rs.1,438 crore. Mhaiskar of IRB said, “Achieving financial closure… in these difficult times was a massive ordeal...”

Fitch lowers India’s outlook to negative

Fitch Ratings lowered India’s outlook to negative from stable for the first time in eight years, saying the coronavirus pandemic had significantly weakened the country’s growth outlook for the year and exposed the challenges associated with a high public-debt burden.

The international rating agency, however, retained India’s rating at ‘BBB-’, which is the lowest investment grade and a notch above junk, and said that there are considerable risks to growth.

Fitch expects economic activity to contract by 5 per cent in the fiscal year ending March 2021 (FY21) from the strict lockdown measures imposed since March 25, before rebounding by 9.5 per cent in 2021-22.

“The coronavirus pandemic has significantly weakened India’s growth outlook for this year and exposed the challenges associated with a high public-debt burden. The rebound will mainly be driven by a lowbase effect,” it said, while revising the outlook on India’s long-term foreign currency issuer default rating (IDR) to negative from stable.

Fitch had last in 2012 cut India’s outlook to negative, from stable. In 2013, the agency had again upped the outlook to stable.

It projected general government debt to jump to 84.5 per cent of the gross domestic product in FY21 from an estimated 71 per cent of GDP in FY20.

Fitch said the geopolitical risk related to longstanding border issues with India’s neighbours was highlighted again by recently intensified tensions with China.

Relations with Pakistan are, moreover, negatively affected by the repeal of the special status for Kashmir and recent changes to the status of illegal immigrants based on their religion.

“A stronger focus by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party on its Hindu-nationalist agenda since the government’s re-election in May 2019 risks becoming a distraction for economic reform implementation and could further raise social tensions,” Fitch added.

The rating agency said the government has announced structural reforms as part of its response to the pandemic to strengthen GDP growth over the medium term, which, if successful, could improve India’s fiscal position.

The reforms to improve the efficiency of agricultural supply chains could help reduce food prices and swings in inflation, while intention to privatise state-owned enterprises (SOE) could prove to be transformative, it added.

Fitch, however, said its growth forecasts are subject to considerable risks due to the continued acceleration in the number of new COVID-19 cases as the lockdown is eased gradually.

“It remains to be seen whether India can return to sustained growth rates of 6 to 7 per cent as we previously estimated, depending on the lasting impact of the pandemic, particularly in the financial sector,” Fitch said.

Fitch’s rating action comes after another rating agency Moody’s earlier this month downgraded India’s sovereign rating by a notch to lowest investment grade of ‘BAA2’ for the first time in 22 years.

IAF to Urgently Procure 21 MiG 29s, 12 Su 30s

The Indian Air Force is going ahead with plans to order 33 additional fighter jets from Russia, with the proposal expected to be taken up for clearances by the Ministry of Defence shortly. The government-to-government procurement has been in the works for more than a year and would add to the force’s depleting squadron strength.

The IAF is seeking to urgently procure 21 additional MiG 29 fighter jets from Russia to add to its three squadrons of the type already in service. These fighters, which include two trainers, are expected to be procured at a reasonable price as they have already been partially manufactured in Russia for a previous order that got cancelled.

Sources said additional MiGs would cost around ₹5,000 crore and deliveries could start in a couple of years after the order is placed. These fighters, if ordered, would come handy to replace the ageing MiG 21squadrons that are to retire within the next five years. Commercial negotiations have been on since last year to take the contract ahead and the offer would now need to be cleared by the defence ministry’s procurement body.

Besides the MiGs, the Air Force is also set to go ahead with an order for additional Su 30 MKI fighter jets, to add to the current order book of 272 fighters. The 12 additional fighters likely to be ordered could be manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), which has a production facility at Nasik that will run out of orders by next year.

The Sukhoi’s form the backbone of the IAF and are due for an upgrade that is being negotiated separately with HAL. These 33 fighters would be the first jets to be ordered after the Rafale deal inked in 2017 and would add to the combat capabilities of the air force.

In addition, the Air Force is also likely to place an order for 83 Tejas Light Combat Aircraft Mk 1A this year with HAL that is valued at over ₹38,000 crore — the biggest ever Make in India project of its kind.

Diesel Prices Hit Record High

Diesel prices have soared to a record after daily increase in rates for the past 12 days after remaining unchanged for a long time.

Diesel rose to ₹76.43 a litre in Delhi while petrol sold for ₹77.81 a litre on Thursday, the highest since November 10, 2018. In Mumbai, diesel and petrol sold for ₹74.93 and ₹84.66 per litre, respectively.

State oil companies raised prices of diesel and petrol by 64 paise and 53 paise per litre, respectively, on Thursday. With 12 straight hikes, the rates of diesel and petrol have gone up by a total of ₹7.04 and ₹6.55 per litre, respectively.

Domestic fuel prices are setting new records at a time international rates of fuels are subdued. Crude oil is trading around $40 a barrel, up from $20 a barrel in late April, but much lower than $66 a barrel at the beginning of the year.

Increased taxes by the central and state governments have contributed to recent fuel price inflation.

Companies are expected to follow the international market trend to determine domestic fuel prices, but they often deviate.

SC refuses to allow Rath Yatra in Puri

The Supreme Court stayed this year’s Puri Rath Yatra, which is attended by lakhs of people from across the world and was to start from June 23, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and said “Lord Jagannath won’t forgive us if we allow” it.

A bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justices Dineesh Maheshwari and A S Bopanna said that in the interest of public health and safety of citizens, this year’s Rath Yatra at Puri in Odisha can’t be allowed.

The bench asked the Odisha government not to allow the yatra or pilgrimage procession and the related activities anywhere in the state to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

While the Rath Yatra festival, held over 10-12 days with lakhs of people participating, was scheduled for June 23, the 'Bahuda Jatra' (return car festival) was fixed for July 1.

Three heavily-built wooden chariots of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra are traditionally pulled by thousands of devotees over a distance of three kilometres twice during the nine-day festival of the Trinity at Puri.

A counsel appearing for an intervenor said the Odisha government has issued a notification that there shall be no public gathering till June 30. However, the bench said that it is staying the festival starting from June 23. The top court’s order came on a PIL filed by the Odishabased NGO seeking cancellation or postponement of this yea’'s Rath Yatra.

The top court noted in its order that it is not disputed that the number of people, likely to gather for the annual Rath Yatra scheduled to be held from June 23, 2020, is going to be about 10 to 12 lakhs and the festivities normally continue for a period of 10 to 12 days.


LAC Clash: It was premeditated and planned action

Day after 20 Indian soldiers died in a violent clash with Chinese troops in Galwan Valley, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar registered a strong protest with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and called the incident a result of ‘pre-meditated and planned action’ by the Chinese side that led to violence and casualties. “It reflected an intent to change the facts on ground in violation of all our agreements to not change the status quo,” the minister told his Chinese counterpart in the first diplomatic engagement since the incident on Monday night.

Media reports emerging from China quoted Wang Yi as seeking an investigation by India into the clashes and demanding action against those responsible, squarely putting the onus on Indian troops. However, the Ministry of External Affairs maintained that through the phone call on Wednesday afternoon Jaishankar conveyed a ‘protest of the Government of India in the strongest terms’. Jaishankar recalled the agreement of June 6 on de-escalation and disengagement and how ground commanders were meeting regularly to implement this consensus throughout last week.

“While there was some progress, the Chinese side sought to erect a structure in Galwan valley on our side of the Line of Actual Control. While this became a source of dispute, the Chinese side took pre-meditated and planned action…” he told the Chinese minister and added that ‘unprecedented development will have a serious impact on the bilateral relationship.’ India has also told China that ‘the need of the hour was for the Chinese side to reassess its actions and take corrective steps.’ He insisted that ‘troops of both sides should abide by the bilateral agreements and protocols and strictly respect and observe the line of actual control and not take any unilateral action to alter it.’ The State Councillor and Foreign Minister of China, on his part, conveyed the Chinese position on recent developments.

MEA officials said that the discussion concluded on the agreement that the ‘overall situation would be handled in a responsible manner’ and ‘both sides would implement the disengagement understanding of June 6 sincerely.’ “Neither side would take any action to escalate matters and instead, ensure peace and tranquillity as per bilateral agreements and protocols,” an official statement read.

The PM is slated to address the nation on June 21, next Sunday, when apart from the Covid-19 situation, he is expected to make a comment on the border issue too.


China kills 20 Indian soldiers

The clash on the Galwan river, that claimed the life of the commanding officer of the 16 Bihar regiment Colonel Santosh Babu and 19 other soldiers on Monday night, was the outcome of a local situation getting out of hand, rather than any deliberate attempt to provoke a conflict. But the sheer scale of the carnage is bound to drive the situation, just as it did in the case of the Uri attack in 2016.

Recall that on Saturday, speaking to the media at the passing-out parade of the Indian Military Academy in Dehra Dun, Army Chief Gen MM Naravane had said that the situation was under control along the entire border with China, and “both sides are disengaging in a phased manner. We have started from the north, from the area of the Galwan river where a lot of disengagement has taken place.”

According to reports, the clash of Monday night took place at a point in the Indian side of the LAC, where troops sought to move a Chinese tent set up at a point where the Galwan enters the Shyok river. The Chinese side has been seeking to block an Indian effort to build a road from that point up the river Galwan, to patrol its side of the Line of Actual Control. However, for some reason, this road, which could not be more than 10-15 km long, is making the Chinese side nervous. So, they occupied positions on the Indian side of the unmarked LAC to prevent the road construction. This looks like a reverse replay of what the Indians did in Doklam in 2017 when the Chinese tried to build a road to the Jampheri ridge.

The LAC, that marks the border between India and China, has not been delimited on any map, leave alone demarcated on the ground. It is a notional line, of which the Chinese have their version and the Indians their own. This has enabled both sides to make overlapping claims in some14-18 points along its 4,000-km length. Since both sides patrol to the limit of the line as they see it, there are frequent faceoffs, which have been managed through a series of confidence building measures and standard operating procedures.

But there had never been any issue about the Galwan area and, in that sense, by challenging the Indian notion of the LAC there, the Chinese appear to be throwing out the baby with the bathwater—in other words, rejecting the entire 27-year effort to resolve the border dispute by narrowing the area of differences along the LAC and eventually working towards a political deal to arrive at a mutually acceptable border line.

Just why the Chinese are doing so is not clear. Perhaps, they are genuinely worried that India is assuming a deployment which can be of some danger to Aksai Chin and western Tibet. Or, Beijing is sending a message to Delhi that its policy of getting close to the US is a risky one because it has significant vulnerabilities along its common border with China. US President Donald Trump is trying to use China-bashing as a means of winning the November presidential elections and is keen to rope in India into his strategy.

Or simply, China is killing two birds with one stone. But this could be a risky strategy. The sheer scale of the casualties that the Indian side has suffered is going to shape decision making in Delhi. The Indian side is holding the LAC strongly. Given its poorer infrastructure and the greater difficulty of movement because of the terrain, India keeps its forces well up on the LAC. On the other hand, China keeps a relatively thin force in Tibet, but has the capacity of quickly augmenting it. But if India is forced to act, it will, and it can give the PLA a run for its money.

Wars often begin inadvertently when things spiral out of control. The incident of last night is the kind of event that can often make that happen. There is no reason to believe that either side wants to escalate things. If so, they should move decisively to defuse the situation. So far, we have had meetings at the level of Corps commanders. But India and China have a denser relationship with regular ministerial-level meetings, as well as informal summits between Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi in Wuhan in 2018 and Chennai in 2019. Maybe the time has come for the issue to be taken up at a higher, political level for resolution.


May 2020: Trade snapshot

The pace of contraction of India’s exports slowed in May as relaxations in the lockdown to contain the Covid-19 pandemic led to some pick up in economic activity.

The government expects the trend to improve in June on the back of some early indications.

Exports in May shrank 36.47% to $19.05 billion against a 60% contraction in April, which was largely due to overseas orders’ cancellation.

Trade deficit narrowed to $3.15 billion in May as the contraction in imports was sharper. The previous low for trade deficit was March 2016 when it was $2.18 billion.

Merchandise exports recovered faster than imports but among major items of export, only rice, spices, iron ore, drugs and pharmaceuticals recorded positive growth in May.

Rating agency ICRA said in a note that merchandise exports recovered faster than imports, recording a sharp month-onmonth expansion of 84% as compared to 30% for the latter, suggesting that the easing of logistical issues may have accelerated shipments of inventory even as labour availability remained an issue in some areas.

India had announced a three-week nationwide lockdown on March 25, which was extended four times with some relaxations and finally lifted from June 1.

Commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal has said that exports in the first week of June are at a par with what they were in June 1-7, 2019 and that he expects the contraction to narrow to 8-10% in June. Exports in June 1-7 stood at $4.94 billion as against $5.03 billion in the year-ago period, a marginal dip of about 0.76%.

Wholesale prices in deflationary zone

Wholesale price inflation entered the deflationary zone for the first time in over four years, reflecting sharp dip in demand due to the lockdown enforced to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Inflation, as measured by the wholesale price index, contracted 3.2% in May compared to 2.8% growth in the same period in the previous year. This was the sharpest level of deflation witnessed since November 2015, economists said. The government had released some data only for April WPI and did not release the headline number due to the paucity of data, as several units were closed due to the lockdown and could not send responses.

The inflation based on WPI food index slowed from 5.2% in March to 2.3% in May, the lowest level in 16 months. The National Statistical Office too did not release the headline CPI inflation data and only provided some sectoral numbers, as there was no response from several units due to the lockdown.

The inflation in food articles moderated from 2.6% in April to 1.1% in May (7.3% in May 2019), largely led by a decline in vegetables (-12.5% to a 17-month low), onions (6.3% vis-a-vis 73.5% in April 2020) and food grains and pulses.

“Although the deflationary trend in wholesale prices is expected to persist even in the month of June, it would be above the May level. Inflation in the fuel and power segment will see an uptick as the government has increased LPG prices and rates of petrol and diesel have also gone up in domestic markets. We may see food prices continue to be pressurised as more than supplies, there have been distortions in supply chains across the country,” said Madan Sabnavis, chief economist at Care Ratings.

Some economists said the RBI will continue with its interest rate cuts. They said the extent of deflation in WPI in May was deeper than expected.

Pakistan & China ahead in nukes

Pakistan continues to be slightly ahead of India in the number of nuclear warheads, while China has more than double the quantity, but the Indian defence establishment remains confident of its growing strategic deterrence capability.

China now possesses 320 nuclear warheads, while Pakistan has 160 as compared to 150 of India, says the latest assessment of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute released on Monday. The SIPRI report on “world nuclear forces” comes at a time when India is grappling with a major troop confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh. The 778-km Line of Control, in turn, remains volatile with daily exchanges of heavy shelling between India and Pakistan.

But Indian defence sources say “simplistic bean counting of warheads” is of little relevance. India is continuing to progressively modernise its nuclear arsenal, with the emphasis being on “assured, effective and swift second-strike capability” for robust deterrence, they said.

Towards this end, after the long-standing “land vectors” (700-km Agni-I to the over 5,000-km Agni-V ballistic missiles) and “air vectors” (Mirage-2000 and Jaguar fighters jury-rigged to deliver nuclear gravity bombs), India is now slowly but steadily strengthening the third leg of its nuclear triad (N-triad). The country’s second nuclear-powered submarine with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, INS Arighat, is on course to becoming operational after the first one, INS Arihant, undertook its first deterrence patrol in late-2018.

The SIPRI report, on its part, said the US and Russia with 5,800 and 6,375 nuclear warheads respectively, together account for over 90% of the estimated 13,400 nuclear weapons at the beginning of 2020.

Arsenals of the other nuclear-armed states – France (290), UK (215), Israel (90) and North Korea (30-40), apart from China, Pakistan and India — are considerably smaller. “But all these states are either developing or deploying new weapon systems or have announced their intention to do so,” said SIPRI.

Acknowledging that there were low or varying levels of transparency about the status of nuclear arsenals, SIPRI said, “The governments of India and Pakistan make statements about some of their missile tests but provide little information about the status or size of their arsenals.”

Maharashtra inks 12 MoUs

In a strong signal to the industry that Maharashtra is ready for business, the government signed 12 memorandums of understanding promising investment of Rs.16,100 crore in the state under its Magnetic Maharashtra 2.0 initiative. Another Rs.8,000 crore has been committed and will see fruition in the coming months, said chief minister Uddhav Thackeray.

Besides Indian firms, companies from China, the US, South Korea, Singapore and Japan have committed to invest in Maharashtra. The government has offered 40,000 acres, ease of doing business and automatic permissions within 48 hours as it seeks to attract industries to kickstart its economy in a post-pandemic world.

The online conference was attended by Thackeray and Chinese ambassador to India Weidong Sun. “We support Chinese enterprises investing in Maharashtra. We expect a fair, transparent open business environment,” said Sun.

Among the Chinese companies investing in Maharashtra are Hengli, Great Wall Motors Rs.3,770 crore in Pune, PMI Electro Mobility Solutions, a joint venture with Foton, China Rs.1,000 crore.

Among those who have communicated their willingness to invest in the near future are APP Sinarmas, Indonesia, NLMK Russia and Mitsubishi Electronics, Japan. The government also signed two bilateral agreements with US-based industry body US-India Strategic Partnership Forum and Geneva-based World Association of Investment Promotion Agencies.

Industry minister Subhash Desai said while the government’s first priority is to protect the health of the people, it is also keen to kickstart the economy. “We are expecting a reverse exodus of migrants in the next two months. We are setting up an industry employment bureau that will enable industries to employ skilled/unskilled sons of the soil.” 


Maharashtra: Primary health centre a must in SRA projects

Housing Minister Jitendra Awhad said that all Slum Rehabilitation Authority projects will have a primary health centre from now on as an intrinsic part of the approved project layout.

Awhad, who recovered from Covid, announced the decision on Twitter. “Henceforth, all Slum Rehabilitation Projects will have a primary health care centre admeasuring 1,000-5,000 sq ft. It will be free of FSI basis,” he wrote, adding that the orders had already been issued.

This is in line with Awhad’s assurance on May 27 to Brihanmumbai Developers Association comprising builders specialising in SRA and MHADA redevelopment projects. At a BDA webinar, Awhad had spoken about the social inequalities and the need to urgently upgrade the health infrastructure in slum clusters like Dharavi.

He had said that the pandemic has come as an opportunity to initiate change. “76 per cent of Mumbai’s land is utilised by 60 lakh people, and another 60 lakh live in the remaining 24 per cent. This discrepancy, inequality needs to be removed,” he said.

Awhad said the Maha Vikas Aghadi has set up a nine-member expert committee, led by Dr Shashank Joshi, to make recommendations on upgrading the health infrastructure.

Industrialist Ratan Tata had also described COVID-19 as a “wake-up call” to re-examine what are acceptable standards of quality of life. He had also called for a change in the slum redevelopment paradigm.

Retail Food Inflation Rises 9.28% in May

The government withheld the headline retail inflation figures for May, as it did for the prior month as well due to the lack of data owing to lockdown restrictions.

However, retail food inflation saw a year-on-year rise to 9.28%. Retail inflation was at 3.05% in May 2019.

As per the previous month’s release, price movement data from the National Statistical Office found that food inflation was 8.76% in March while headline retail inflation was recorded at 5.84% for that month.

“The truncated index showed that price pressures in food components softened in May, as fresh crop hit the market for cereals and pulses. While normalisation in vegetables continued, inflation in oils and fats and non-alcoholic beverages notched a tad higher,” said Rahul Bajoria, Chief India Economist, Barclays.

As per Aditi Nayar, principal economist at ICRA, the double-digit inflation levels for pulses, meat and fish, and oils and fats in May were a cause of concern, while prices of other subgroups moderated month-on-month.

“In particular, vegetable prices corrected appreciably in May 2020 relative to the previous month, suggesting an easing of supply disruptions, amid low demand from the restaurants and hotels segment,” Nayar said.

Food and beverages inflation eased in May from April. Data for certain groups and sub-groups in the basket of items of the consumer price and consumer food price indices (CPI and CPFI) were unavailable, the release said. These included ‘prepared meals, snacks, sweets etc.’ and ‘clothing and footwear’.

Continuing the trend from the previous month, the NSO released only limited data where it had received enough inputs to be able to draw inferences.

Whereas it collects price data from selected 1114 urban markets and selected 1181 villages through personal visits by field staff, it only received data from 987 urban markets and 836 villages, for commodities which were available and being transacted during the month of May.

“It is, however, observed that transactions were largely focused on essential purchases,” the office said.

Nayar expected higher inflation in June on account of rising crude oil prices, even as they were below yearago levels. Barclays expects retail inflation to average 4% in FY21.

April 2020: Factory output sees sharpest contraction of 55.5%

India's industrial production posted its sharpest ever contraction in April, declining 55.5%, dragged down by a fall across sectors, with manufacturing plunging 64.3% as the impact of the national lockdown to stem the spread of the deadly coronavirus halted economic activity.

The National Statistical Office did not release the headline numbers for any of the sectors and provided only the index numbers. It said that several units had reported nil production.

“Consequently, it is not appropriate to compare the index of industrial production (IIP) of April, 2020 with earlier months and users may like to observe the changes in IIP in the following months. These quick estimates will undergo revision in subsequent releases as per the revision policy of IIP,” the NSO said in its release. The agency also revised downwards the number for March, to a contraction of 18.3% from the earlier decline of 16.7%.

The April data showed that all the sectors were hit hard by the stalling of economic activity. The Indian economy is expected to contract sharply in 2020-21 due to the impact of the lockdown and the latest forecast from the World Bank is a 3.2% fall with a rebound expected next fiscal year.

The country’s chief statistician Pravin Srivastava cautioned against comparing the April IIP numbers with the previous months. “It should not be compared because we had a peculiar situation due to the lockdown and therefore any comparison would be meaningless. If any comparison needs to be done it should be done from April 2021onwards,” Srivastava said.

Former chief statistician Pronab Sen agreed but said the IIP statement should have been more open. “I was expecting this to happen as, due to lockdown, offices were closed and there was no data coming in. It is bad to compare and I expect this situation to continue for May as well,” said Sen.

The NSO also released partial data for May retail inflation. The price of only those items were included which have been reported from at least 25% of markets, separately for rural and urban sector and constituted more than 70% weight of the respective sub-groups/groups, the NSO said. The food and beverages inflation moderated in May 2020 to 7.4% compared with 8.6% a month ago, while the food inflation based on the consumer food price index moderated from 10.5% in April to 9.3% in May, largely led by dip in vegetable prices.