Kerala ‘best governed’ among big states, UP worst : Study

Kerala emerged as the best governed state in the country while Uttar Pradesh ended at the bottom of the heap in the large states category in the Public Affairs Index-2020 released by the Public Affairs Centre on Friday. Among the UTs, Chandigarh emerged as the best. Commenting on the report, former Indian Space Research Organisation chairman and PAC chief, K Kasturirangan, said the states were ranked based on a composite index in the context of sustainable development.

The governance performance has been analysed in the context of sustainable development defined by three pillars of equity, growth and sustainability. The analysis used data from Central government sources.

Four southern states — Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka—topped the list of 18 large states with the population of more than two crore. UP, Odisha and Bihar were at the bottom of the ranking, scoring negative points.

In the small states category with less than two crore population, Goa ranked first, followed by Meghalaya and Himachal Pradesh. The worst performers were Manipur, Delhi and Uttarakhand. A new aspect in PAI 2020 is the chapter on Delta Analysis — the results on state performance and ranking measured as the Delta value over last five years from 2015- 16 when the first PAI was released, to 2019-20, covered by PAI 2020.

The report also said in the large states’ category, in terms of equity, Bihar followed by West Bengal and Odisha, who feature at the bottom of PAI-2020, are the top performers, while Kerala, Punjab and Maharashtra feature at the bottom.


September 2020: Contraction in Core Sector Shrinks

The contraction in eight core industries moderated sharply to 0.8% in September, compared to 7.3% in August, on the back of a robust rebound in coal production, which was aided by a turnaround in electricity and steel. The low base — with a 5% contraction seen in September 2019 — also helped, economists said.

Coal production jumped over 21%, signalling demand from power and other industries using the fuel to blast their furnaces. And, the evidence was there in power generation, which grew 3.7% in September, after falling for six straight months. Similarly, steel output rose 0.9% as most part of the manufacturing sector seemed to be getting back on rail.

Fertiliser, which had been the sole segment reporting growth during the gloomy period since the March-end nationwide lockdown, saw a 0.3% fall in production, while cement, crude oil, refinery products and natural gas remained in the red. Cement has seen lower output for seven straight months, indicating that construction activity — from real estate to highways — hasn’t come back to pre-Covid levels. In case of crude and natural gas, output has been down for at least 13 months, pointing to systemic issues with the two crucial sectors, where India imports bulk of its requirements.

Maharashtra Scraps Tender for Dharavi Redevelopment

The government of Maharashtra has scrapped the earlier tender to redevelop Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum in the heart of the country’s financial capital, and is now planning to invite fresh bids for the project that has been in the making for the last 16 years.

The move is likely to result in further delays, given the likely legal entanglement as Seclink Technologies, funded by the royal families of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which had emerged as the highest bidder, is planning to seek legal recourse.

Dharavi Redevelopment Committee, a federation of 52 associations of residents, is also planning to move the court against the decision.

Seclink had emerged as the highest bidder with its bid of over $1 billion for the project to redevelop the slum spread over 600 acres, following the global bids invited by the government in 2018. However, the project has not taken off.

Following the delay in awarding the project, Seclink had written to the state government seeking compensation in January. Seclink is now looking at seeking international arbitration in this matter.

“Despite requesting repeatedly, no official meetings have been held with us to understand our project vision which clearly meant that the government's intent was to sabotage the bid process. We will have no option but to take legal recourse including international arbitration as per Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement between the UAE and India,” said Nilang Shah, CMD, Seclink Group.

The new bids are likely to be invited by combining the 45-acre railway land parcel in central Mumbai adjoining the slum pocket. The addition of this plot to the project had resulted in delay in awarding the project and now the retendering.

According to Seclink Technologies, the pact for the railway land was signed on March 3, before the LoI was issued to it as the highest bidder, and that means there was no parameter change.

DRC had also separately written to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray earlier opposing the plan to invite fresh bids for the long-pending redevelopment project.

“It has been too long that we have been waiting for the redevelopment and the plan to re-tender the project will delay it further. We are moving the court against this decision,” said Rajendra Korde, president of DRC.

The Dharavi redevelopment will not only be a game changer for Mumbai but will also transform the political landscape for years to come. According to experts, the project will be a big opportunity for slum-dwellers and will also help urban planners, human rights activists and the state government to transform the face of Mumbai city altogether.

The earlier plan, prior to 2018 global tenders, was to divide Dharavi into five sectors, one to be redeveloped by the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority and the other four by private entities. However, the plan did not progress beyond a few buildings constructed by the MHADA.

In 2018, the state government had approved the plan to redevelop Dharavi as a single project and went ahead with a single global tender. The area was being promoted as a residential cluster and Mumbai’s new business district, given its central location and proximity to the Bandra-Kurla Complex.

Active Covid cases in India fall below 6 lakh

Active Covid-19 cases in the country fell below the 6 lakh mark on Thursday, with the number dropping by more than a lakh in just eight days as the slowdown in the pandemic continued. Meanwhile, for the first time since the pandemic spread across the country in April, Maharashtra has been displaced as the state recording the highest number of daily cases over any seven-day period. Kerala has emerged as the state posting the highest number of fresh cases over the past 10 days, with the seven-day rolling average of the state overtaking Maharashtra’s this Sunday.

No state had crossed Maharashtra’s seven-day count of fresh cases till now. Andhra Pradesh came close in the first week of August but did not overtake Maharashtra. That Kerala has taken over the dubious mantle of the No. 1 state in new Covid cases is as much due to the consistent fall in infections in Maharashtra as the rise in numbers in the southern state. In Maharashtra, the seven-day average has fallen by more than two-third from a peak of 22,149 on September 17 to 6,158 on October 28.

Kerala’s graph peaked at 8,440 on October 15, and has shown a marginal decline since then to 7,089 on October 28. Meanwhile, active cases in the country stood at 5,98,946 on Thursday, as per TOI’s database collated from state government figures. Active cases had peaked at 10,26,945 on September 17 and have been falling since then in sync with the slowdown in the pandemic. This is now the lowest count of active cases since August 5.

India reported 49,070 new cases on Thursday, taking the total caseload to 80,88,182. This was a slight drop from Wednesday’s tally of 50,224 new cases. The day’s death toll was 554, the highest in the past five days. The slight spike in fatalities, which had touched a low of 489 on Sunday, was due to higher numbers reported from Maharashtra (156) and Chhattisgarh. Delhi registered 5,739 new cases on Thursday, its highest single-day tally so far, amid a third surge in the pandemic in the capital. Maharashtra's coronavirus tally on Thursday increased to 16,66,668 with 5,902 new cases, a health official said.


Central Vista makeover

The defence establishments will have a big share in the new central secretariat comprising 10 buildings and a massive conference centre, providing a Pentagon-like salience to the new complex. Three of the 10 building blocks coming up where Vigyan Bhavan and the vice-president’s residence currently stand will be earmarked for the defence establishments, sources said.

“Three blocks have been proposed for defence establishments and these will require a separate set of security arrangements,” said a source. The size of the defence ministry and other military offices, including that of the chief of defence staff, is considerable in terms of personnel.

It has been learnt that no other ministry will have a specific building earmarked for it because the new structures will each have space to accommodate nearly 5,000 employees. Though there is a proposal to redevelop Jawaharlal Nehru Bhavan housing the external affairs ministry, sources said the ministry has reservations about this and a final decision is yet to be taken. It is the youngest building in the Central Vista area, having come up a few years ago.

The 10 buildings coming up along Rajpath will provide enough space for all central ministries and their subordinate organisations.

The government plans to start construction for the new central secretariat by June 2021 at an estimated cost of Rs.11,000 crore. The project is scheduled for completion in 2024.

The building will have a maximum height of 39 metres, according to the details submitted by Central Public Works Department to the environment ministry for obtaining statutory clearances.

The proposal says while 3.9 lakh square metres of existing built-up area will be demolished, 17.5 lakh square metres will be created. Each building will have two basements parking lots, with none of them providing surface parking. “These buildings will be identical and will have modern facilities,” claimed a source.

Three new buildings will come up on the 25-acre land that is currently occupied by Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts, which will eventually be shifted to Jamnagar House area after operating from Janpath Hotel as a stop-gap arrangement. Transport Bhavan and Shram Shakti Bhavan will be redeveloped to be used as chambers for MPs and for parking.

As per the plan, during the construction phase of the central secretariat, a maximum of 1,500 permanent workers and 15,000 temporary labourers will be employed at any one time.

Sources said CPWD will also take up the task of repurposing North and South Blocks into national museums.

While North Block will be redesignated as National Museum “India Since 1984”, South Block will be redesigned as National Museum “India Up To 1857”. CPWD will also carry out construction of the new vice president’s block close to North Block and Prime Minister’s House near South Block.

The government has already contracted the work for the construction of the new parliament building. A monitoring committee involving various government agencies will oversee the day-to-day construction of the complex, which will start in December and will be completed by October 2022.

At a meeting chaired by Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla in the presence of Union urban affairs minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Friday, it was decided that the monitoring committee would include officials of, among others, the Lok Sabha secretariat, housing and urban affairs ministry, CPWD, NDMC and the project architect/designer.

Monsoon 2020 exits from India

The southwest monsoon withdrew fully from the country on Wednesday, marking its most delayed exit in the past four years. This was also the second most delayed monsoon exit since 1975. The monsoon simultaneously exited parts of Maharashtra, including Pune and Mumbai, India Meteorological Department officials said.

Private forecaster Skymet said the withdrawal of the southwest monsoon was halted by more than two weeks due to weather systems moving across states like Odisha, AP, Telangana, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Gujarat, causing inclement rains.

Covid tally crosses 8m

India crossed the eight million-mark in Covid cases on Wednesday even as the spread of the virus showed distinct signs of slowing down with the last one million infections coming in 18 days as against the previous milestone when case tally rose from six million to seven million in just 13 days.

Significantly, with the drop in fresh cases, casualties too have slowed down. Among the eight milestones at the end of each million, casualties were the lowest when the eight-million mark was breached. Compared to 25,572 deaths that were recorded when cases went from one to one million, only 12,216 fatalities were recorded when infections rose from seven million to eight million.

After a gap of three days, the daily tally breached the 50,000-mark on Wednesday once again. With 50,224 fresh cases on Wednesday, India’s cumulative caseload reached 80,39,524, second in the world only to the US which has 87,84,005 patients (according to the Covid dashboard by Johns Hopkins University’s Centre for Systems Science and Engineering).

With 516 fresh fatalities, India’s cumulative toll reached 1,20,521. Active cases continued to fall and stood at 6,08,779.

For the sixth consecutive day, Maharashtra — which had remained the number one state for the most part of the pandemic in daily cases – did not top the Covid chart. On Wednesday, Kerala topped the chart with 8,790 cases.

Maharashtra saw a marginal rise in fresh cases, from 5,363 on Tuesday to 6,738 on Wednesday. However, casualties once again dropped from three-digit figures to double digits as 91 deaths were reported against 115 the previous day. After two consecutive days of reporting 800-odd cases, daily infections in Mumbai once again breached the 1,000-mark, with 1,354 patients testing positive. Maharashtra’s caseload now is 16,60,766 while the cumulative toll 43,554.

While daily cases have dropped substantially in the last few days in most states, infections rose in Delhi to a record 5,673, the national capital crossing the 5,000-mark for the first time. While almost all states are seeing a slide in active cases, Delhi is the only state where fresh infections have surpassed daily recoveries in the last few days.

Isro to launch 1st satellite of 2020

Indian Space Research Organisation will launch the first satellite of this year from Sriharikota at 3.02pm on November 7 when its PSLV-C49 rocket will lift off with an earth observation (surveillance) satellite of Risat series codenamed ‘EOS-01’ and nine foreign commercial satellites from the first launchpad, subject to weather conditions. This will be Isro’s first satellite launch amid the Covid-19 pandemic, which has slowed down all space activities since March. The agency is also gearing up for the much awaited first demonstration test of its new rocket Small Satellite Launch Vehicle or mini-PSLV by December.

In view of the strict Covid-19 norms in place at the launch centre, Isro will keep the launch viewing gallery closed this time and will not allow gathering of media personnel either.

EOS-01 is an advanced series of the earth observation Risat satellite whose synthetic aperture radar has an all-weather and day-and-night observation capability. It can also see through clouds. This new ‘eye in the sky’ will boost the military’s surveillance capability from space and help the security forces keep a hawk eye on the borders amid the LAC troop stand-off with China. Besides its surveillance role, EOS-01 will also be used for civil applications like in agriculture, forestry, soil moisture, geology, coastal monitoring and flood monitoring.

Soon after the PSLV-C49 mission, Isro is targeting to launch PSLV-C50 mission carrying GSAT-12R communication satellite in December.

However, the much-awaited launch of the first SSLV by December will generate a lot of interests among space enthusiasts as this is a vehicle-on-demand made especially for satellite customers. Post-PSLV-C49 launch, the first launchpad set-up has to be reconfigured to suit the shorter SSLV launch. The test on the SSLV motor is scheduled for November.

An SSLV will have a three stage engine rocket all powered by solid fuel.

The mini-launcher can be assembled in just 3-5 days as compared to 30-40 days for a normal-size rocket.


SC favours serving summons through text messages, email

The Supreme Court favoured serving court summons through SMS, WhatsApp and email in contrast to the present system of physical delivery to the accused and sought response from high courts and state DGPs on adopting such means.

A bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde and L Nageswara Rao, which is examining various measures to remove deficiencies in criminal trial and to ensure expeditious trial in criminal cases, directed the high courts and DGPs to give suggestions within four weeks on a report of senior advocate Siddharth Luthra and lawyer K Parameshwar, who as amicus curiae, recommended serving summons through digital platforms in cases of bounced cheques.

Luthra and Parameshwar, in their report, suggested that magistrates should be empowered to order attachment of bank accounts of an accused to the extent of the cheque amount if he refuses to appear before the court for trial.

“The high courts must also be directed to formulate a scheme for online mediation of pending cases at the trial/appeal/ revisional stages so that pending cases could be effectively disposed of.”

Bids called for Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad high-speed rail corridor

The National High-Speed Rail Corporation Ltd has invited bids for the preparation of a detailed project report for the 711-km-long Mumbai-Pune-Hyderabad high-speed rail corridor.

NHSRCL spokesperson Sushma Gaur said the agency has invited the first tender and a pre-bid meeting is scheduled on November 5, with the starting date for submissions of tender being November 11. The last date for submissions is November 17 and tenders are to be opened on November 18.

The development comes days after the NHSRCL invited detailed project reports for the 459-km-long Delhi-Amritsar-Chandigarh rail corridor, 865-km-long Delhi-Varanasi rail corridor, 753-km-long Mumbai-Nagpur corridor, the 886-km-long Delhi-Ahmedabad stretches as well as the 711-km-long Mumbai-Hyderabad bullet train corridor.

The NHSRCL is in the process of collecting data on these new proposed corridors for the preparation of the detailed project reports. It is currently constructing the 508-km Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed rail project, popularly known as the Bullet Train Project.

The NHSRCL is yet to invite tenders for the 435-km-long Chennai-Mysore and 760-km-long Varanasi-Howrah high speed rail corridors.

Harley to Start a New Journey with Hero

Harley-Davidson, the iconic American bike maker, is hitching a ride with local market leader Hero MotoCorp in a renewed attempt to capture the premium end of India’s 17-millionplus two-wheeler market – now the world’s largest.

Harley was evaluating options to retain its presence in India, where increasing affordability and rising incomes promise significant growth potential for more premium bikes.

As part of the partnership, Hero will develop and sell a range of premium Harley-Davidson motorcycles in India, the arrangement neatly dovetailing into Hero’s strategy to climb the value chain – and register its presence in the performance-bike segment.

“This arrangement is mutually beneficial for both companies and riders in India, as it brings together the iconic Harley-Davidson brand with the strong distribution network and customer service of Hero MotoCorp,” the Indian partner said in a statement.

The tie-up comes after several months of industry speculation. Harley had decided to shut down its India operations in September this year as part of its global ‘Rewire’ strategy.

Hero will provide the sales and service backbone to Harley’s stuttering India operations. As part of the distribution deal, Hero will sell Harley products in India through its dealer network. These products will be imported as completely built-up units.

Hero will also sell parts, accessories and general merchandise riding gear and apparel through the network of brand-exclusive Harley-Davidson dealers, although it may not retain all of the existing Harley outlets.

The American company has 22 dealer partners across 33 touchpoints in the country. In its 10-year play in India, the company has sold more than 25,000 units so far.

Harley-Davidson had said in September that it was “evaluating options to continue to serve its customers” in India. The company had informed dealers that it would not be renewing contracts after December 31.

This partnership with Harley-Davidson is in keeping with Hero’s mission to ‘Create, Collaborate & Inspire’.

Hero MotoCorp has been actively looking for new partners to expand its product portfolio and geographic reach.

India, US sign key pact

India and the US signed the landmark defence pact, BECA, that will allow sharing of high-end military technology, geospatial maps and classified satellite data between their militaries. The two countries also vowed to ramp up security ties and boost strategic cooperation in the Indo-Pacific amidst China’s growing economic and military clout in the region.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh held the third edition of the 2+2 talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark T Esper.

Addressing a joint media event along with Jaishankar, Pompeo and Esper, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said, “Our military-to-military cooperation with the US is moving forward very well.”

During his visit to the war memorial to honour soldiers, including the 20 that were killed by China’s PLA forces in the Galwan Valley in June.

“The US will stand with people of India as they confront threats to their sovereignty and to their liberty”, Pompeo asserted.

Slamming the Chinese Communist Party, Pompeo said the US leaders and citizens see with increasing clarity that the “CCP is no friend to democracy, the rule of law and transparency”.

The inking of the BECA completes finalisation of four key pacts between the two countries which were identified as crucial to significantly expand the strategic ties.

A pact called General Security of Military Information Agreement was signed by the two countries in 2002. The GSOMIA provides for specific measures to ensure security standards for safeguarding critical information shared by the US with India.

In a major move in 2016, the US had designated India a “Major Defence Partner” intending to elevate defence trade and technology sharing to a level commensurate with that of its closest allies and partners.

The two countries inked the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement in 2016 that allows their militaries use each other’s bases for repair and replenishment of supplies as well as provide for deeper cooperation.

India and the US signed another pact called COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement) in 2018 that provides for interoperability between the two militaries and provides for sale of high end technology from the US to India.


Government Extends Deadlines for Filing I-T, GST Returns

The government has extended the due date to file income tax returns till January 31, 2021, for taxpayers who have to get their accounts audited and those that are required to furnish reports of international or specified domestic transactions. The due date for payment of self-assessment tax in case where the liability is below ₹1 lakh has also been extended by two months to January 31, 2021.

The deadline for tax audit report and report in respect of international or specified domestic transactions has also been extended by two months till December 31, the Central Board of Direct Taxes said on Saturday. For others, the due date of filing income tax returns and payment of self-assessment tax has been extended by one month till December 31. The earlier date for filing returns was July 31, which was extended to November 30.

Experts said the extension would provide some headroom for taxpayers facing issues due to the pandemic. 

The Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs extended the due dates for filing annual return and reconciliation statements under GST for 2018-19 by two months to December 31, 2020.


New Parliament building to be ready by 2022

A monitoring committee involving various government agencies will oversee day-to-day construction of the new Parliament building, which will start in December and will be completed by October 2022.

During a meeting chaired by Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla in the presence of Union minister Hardeep Singh Puri, it was decided that the monitoring committee will include, among others, officers of Lok Sabha secretariat, ministry of housing and urban affairs, CPWD, NDMC and architect/designer of the project.

“While reviewing various aspects and progress of the project, Birla stressed on smooth coordination and resolving issues between various agencies involved on a regular basis. He emphasised that there should be no compromise in ensuring quality control and timely completion of the work,” an official said.

During the meeting, Birla was briefed about the progress in shifting of facilities and other infrastructure from the area proposed for construction of the new building. The barricading plan and various mitigating measures to control air and noise pollution during the construction process were discussed.


2 couples lead fight to legalise gay marriage

At the end of September, Dr Kavita Arora, a psychiatrist, and Ankita Khanna, a psychologist, who have been in a relationship and living together for eight years, approached a marriage officer in Delhi’s Kalkaji to formalise their bond under the Special Marriage Act, 1954. Their request was turned down. Earlier this month, they filed a petition in a Delhi court on the grounds that the rejection was discriminatory and that the right to choose a marriage partner was enshrined under Article 21.

The petition, to them, is an affirmation of the faith that they are equal Indian citizens. “Different (in that we are both women), but not less than any other couple. Equal, free to choose our partner in love and marriage, and live with dignity.” They’re hopeful for what is to come, as firm believers in the transformative power of the Indian constitution.

The couple met at work as part of a child & adolescent mental health team in Delhi-NCR. “In January 2012, Ankita entered Kavita’s office with a cup of tea saying, one of my New Year resolutions is for us to have a ‘better working relationship’. The conversation that started that day just never ended,” say the couple in an email interview.

Also filing a petition, but in the context of the Foreign Marriage Act, are Vaibhav Jain and Parag Mehta, who did a court marriage in Washington DC in 2017 and, last year, a Jain ceremony with a sangeet and reception. However, they were not allowed to register the marriage in India by the Indian consulate. “We completed all the paperwork, went to the Indian consulate and asked them to register our US marriage. They denied us that option,” says Jain.

“As a bi-national couple, we recognised that there are certain rights we enjoy in the US that we don’t have in India. For example, if Vaibhav were to fall ill and be hospitalised while we are visiting home, I would have no rights to make decisions about his health — even though I am his spouse and an overseas citizen of India,” Mehta argues. “It was necessary to get our marriage legally recognised in India. Marriage isn’t just a ceremony we perform, it confers rights and responsibilities.”

Arora and Khanna say the pandemic has only made them more certain that they want to get married. “We realise how important it is to have a legitimate structure and ‘name’ to our relationship vis-à-vis the legal, as well as social sanction. For us, what has been very challenging is being able to get an address proof and other related documents for Ankita for this house that we have shared for the last eight years,” says Dr Arora, 47.

Each time they tried to approach authorities for some joint paperwork, they hit a wall. “Even the thought of approaching yet another authority has often prevented us from looking at the possibility of doing things together, for example taking a joint loan, or smaller everyday things like requesting family memberships to our local swimming pool.”

Entertainment, media in India will be worth $55bn by 2024

A report on the prospects of growth in the media and entertainment industry by Pricewaterhouse-Coopers said Indian entertainment and media segments will grow at 10.1% and would be worth $55 billion by 2024.

The PwC Global Entertainment and Media Outlook 2020-2024 predicted a K-shaped bifurcated recovery for the sector in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic and said the upward curve would be led by strong growth in OTT platforms, internet advertising, videos, games and e-sports segment, music and podcasts. It also said digital revenue, globally, was expected to contribute 60% to the total entertainment and media revenues by 2020.

“OTT video in India is expected to see the largest gain and reach 5.2% by 2024, closely followed by internet advertising,” the report said, adding that while India would remain the world’s biggest cinema market in admission terms, cinema revenue in the country will contract at -2.6% to $1.5 billion over the next five years.

“The pandemic has accelerated ongoing shifts in consumers’ behaviour, pulling forward digital disruption and reaching industry tipping points that wouldn’t otherwise have been reached in the next few years. Our research shows that India will be the fastest growing entertainment and media market globally in terms of pure consumer revenue,” Rajib Basu, partner and leader, entertainment and media, PwC India, said.

The PwC outlook also said companies must build and maintain direct-to-consumer relationships, offer enough differentiation or scale to compete, and unlock greater value using the right technologies.

In the post-pandemic world, India holds the most potential of any market in the world in the OTT video segment and its rate of growth is expected to see total OTT video revenue overtake South Korea, Germany and Australia to jump to being the sixth-largest market in 2024, the report said.

Nag clears final user trial

The final user trial of the long-delayed indigenous anti-tank guided missile ‘Nag’, which has a strike range of 4 km, was successfully conducted at Pokhran on Thursday morning.

The third generation ATGM, with ‘fire and forget’ capabilities, can now be produced by defence PSU Bharat Dynamics before its eventual induction into the Army, a DRDO scientist said.

The Nag, which was fired with a live warhead from an infantry combat vehicle based missile carrier called ‘Namica’ during the test, can engage highly-fortified enemy tanks in day and night conditions. “The missile also has ‘top attack’ capabilities with passive homing guidance to defeat all main-battle tanks equipped with composite and reactive armour,” he added.

With it taking over 20 years for Nag to be finally ready, the Army is currently equipped with second generation Milan-2T (2 km range) and Konkurs (4 km) ATGMs, produced by BDL under licence from French and Russian companies.


PM will meet 15 global fund houses in investment push

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pope Francis voices support for same-sex civil unions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


April -August Clocks Highest FDI Flows at $35.4b

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maharashtra is first state to cap mask rates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assam seizes locomotive for ‘murdering’ elephants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Punjab passes bills against farm laws

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Covid cases dip below 50,000

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

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

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

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

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

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


Goa to develop India’s first sand dune parks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Bengaluru: Metro set to enter 10th year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Naval version of BrahMos successfully test-fired

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

India can check pandemic by Feb-end: Expert panel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Passenger vehicle sales rise 17% in Q2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samsung Reclaims Top Spot from Xiaomi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kashmir: Abdullah, Mufti to fight for Article 370 together

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

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

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

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

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


24 states, UTs to implement affordable rental housing scheme

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

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

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

Clear your stand on same-sex marriage: Delhi HC

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

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

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

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

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


Mehbooba Mufti released from detention, PSA revoked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 2020: Retail inflation hits 7.3%

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

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

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

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

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


Loan repayment moratorium can’t be extended: RBI

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

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

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

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

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

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

India set to be 3rd largest economy by 2050

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

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

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

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