Mumbai Coastal Road deadline now July 2023

The 10-km Mumbai Coastal Road project between Marine Drive and Worli has been delayed due to the lockdown and will be completed by July 2023 instead of December 2022, said urban development minister Eknath Shinde. He, along with CM Uddhav Thackeray, on Sunday visited three sites—Priyadarshini Park, Amarsons garden and Worli Seaface. Shinde said so far 21% of the physical work has been completed and Rs.1,400 crore spent on the Rs.12,800-crore project. He added that India’s largest tunnel boring machine, which is 12.1m in diameter, will start boring at the Priyadarshini Park site from next month.

FDI inflow up 15%

Foreign direct inflows went up by almost 15% during the first half of the current financial year. Mauritius slipped to the fourth spot as the preferred source to route funds into India, with the US and tax haven Cayman Islands overtaking it.

Latest data from the department for promotion of industry and internal trade showed FDI inflows topped $30 billion during April-September, compared to $26 billion the corresponding period last year.

While company-wise break-up was unavailable, investments into Mukesh Ambani’s two outfits— Reliance Jio and Reliance Retail—by a host of investors are seen to be the main reason for the spurt in the inflows.

Among the states, it was Gujarat, which cornered over half the FDI with inflows pegged at $16 billion with traditional leader Maharashtra slipping to the third place behind Karnataka. In fact, bulk of the flows came during the September quarter resulting in some celebrations in the government, especially as it comes a day after latest numbers showed that the economy shrank by 7.5% during the second quarter of the fiscal year.

“Despite COVID, FDI doubles year-on-year… Indicating global investors' preference for India's enabling environment under PM Narendra Modi ji, FDI increased from $14.1 billion to $28.1 billion in the July-September quarter,” commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal tweeted.


Core sector output falls 2.5% in October 2020

Core sector output contracted by a higher than expected 2.5% during October, due to a sharper fall in refinery output and lower steel production, although coal and electricity reported a double-digit rise after a resumption in economic activity. With the September reading revised to a 0.1% decline, compared to the earlier estimated 0.8% decrease, this is the eighth straight month of falling output. Core sector has a bearing on the overall industrial production data as it carries a weight of 40%.

“Despite a low base and improvement in business activities amid unlocking of the economy, the fall in core sector output in October does show some volatility on the production side. Further unlocking of the economy could push this growth into positive territory in the next month. However, certain localised curfews imposed in a few states could weigh on production activity to some extent. IIP growth for this month may be expected to be between -1to 0%,” CARE Ratings said in a report.

While ICRA appeared more optimistic on industrial production, projecting a 4-7% rise due to stocking up across several sectors in anticipation of festival demand, it was cautious going forward.

It’s a Sweet November for FPI Inflows

Economic indicators are still flashing red and share valuations are pricey, but they haven’t stopped global fund managers from pumping record money into Indian equities.

Net purchases of shares by foreign investors were worth almost ₹69,500 crore in November — the highest in a month — as breakthroughs in Covid-19 vaccines, an increase in India’s weight on MSCI indices and Joe Biden’s victory in the US elections reinforced their appetite for riskier emerging market assets. Fund managers and strategists expect flows into emerging markets to continue in December, although at a relatively moderate pace, with the dollar and other developed market currencies expected to remain under pressure.

This is on account of easy monetary policies followed by the US Federal Reserve and other central banks.

Indian stocks received the highest foreign portfolio investor flows among major Asian markets, excluding China, which does not publish the data, in November, helping the Nifty index sprint from the 12,000 mark to 13,000 in only 14 trading sessions during the month.

At 21.4 times, the Nifty’s 12-month forward PE is trading at an all-time high and at a 39% premium to its 15-year average.

The addition of Indian stocks to MSCI indices partly sparked fresh flows from global funds. FPIs bought shares worth ₹7,713 crore on Friday as against the daily average of ₹3,600 crore in November.

The National Stock Exchange’s cash segment hit a lifetime high turnover of ₹1.47 lakh crore in a single day on Friday.

Net flows into emerging markets so far this year are still a negative $28 billion. India has received $15 billion so far this year.

MMR: Work on third Vashi creek bridge to start soon

The construction of the third bridge on Vashi creek is all set to begin, with the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation issuing orders for the project costing Rs.775 crore. The deadline for the bridge is 2023 and L&T will build most of it.

The bridge has been proposed to reduce the load on the existing bridge between Mumbai and Navi Mumbai, especially with the proposed international airport coming up in Panvel. The project couldn’t start earlier because of the litigation in the Bombay High Court over cutting of mangroves for it. The matter was settled in December 2019, but work couldn’t start; first because of the pending land-handover issue and then the pandemic.

It has now been decided that afforestation of mangroves is mandatory and will be done at Erangal in Borivali. The MSRDC will cut 430 mangroves on a land parcel of 1.4 acres, which has been handed over to MSRDC by the forest department.

There are already two bridges on Vashi creek. The earlier, smaller bridge was built in 1973 and declared unsafe for heavy vehicles over 20 years ago: it’s now used only by light vehicles. The second six-lane bridge was built in 1994. It was recently widened, but the Sion-Panvel highway still faces massive traffic jams at Vashi toll naka and in Mankhurd. The proposed new bridge, called the northern carriageway, will come up on the eastern side of the second bridge.

India in 1st technical recession

India’s economy recovered faster than expected in the September quarter as a pick-up in manufacturing helped GDP clock a lower contraction of 7.5 per cent as compared to the record 23.9 per cent in the first quarter of the 2020-21 fiscal (April 2020 to March 2021). However, the second consecutive downward graph has pushed India into its first technical recession since the government began releasing quarterly estimates in 1996.

An economy is said to be in recession after it contracts for two consecutive quarters.

As the coronavirus lockdown pummelled economic activity in the first quarter, the gradual opening up from June helped the economy pick up.

Manufacturing clocked a surprise 0.6 per cent growth in July-September after it had shrunk by a massive 39 per cent in the preceding quarter.

Continuing its good showing, the agriculture sector grew by 3.4 per cent, while the trade and services sector showed lower-than-expected contraction at 15.6 per cent.

Public spending was down 12 per cent.

The GDP contraction of 7.5 per cent in July-September compares with a growth of 4.4 per cent in the same quarter last year.

China’s economy grew by 4.9 per cent in July-September this year, faster than the 3.2 per cent growth in April-June 2020.

The improvement in the economy came ahead of next week’s interest rate decision by the RBI and coincides with a drop in India’s daily virus cases, which have tapered off to half of its peak of more than 97,000 infections a day in mid-September.

Most rating agencies had projected that the fall in India's GDP for the second quarter of 2020-21 would be arrested to single digits.


Ahmed Patel: 1949-2020

Ahmed Patel’s passing has robbed the Congress leadership of an invaluable friend and ally. As political secretary to the party president, he was involved in every decision that Sonia Gandhi took from 1998. He systematically cultivated people across the spectrum. Yet despite the tremendous power and influence he wielded, he remained the quintessential backroom politician. He scrupulously shied away from the limelight, and that made him indispensable to both Sonia and, later, Rahul, albeit grudgingly.

Sonia took shine to Patel’s style of functioning, which was closer to her heart. She admired the way Patel managed contradictions. 

Contrary to perception, Patel did not have it easy in the Congress.

It is said that the Gandhis are the glue that hold the Congress together. Yet party insiders know that it was Patel who really held the party together. Unless the Congress quickly recovers and puts in place effective alternatives, Patel’s demise may prove to be a body-blow to an already tottering Congress.

Mumbai: Sewri-Worli connector by 2023

Work on the long-delayed Sewri-Worli connector is expected to start soon as the MMRDA has finalised the contractor for the Rs.1,276-crore project. The 4.5km flyover will connect the under-construction Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link with the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, cutting down an hour’s travel time between the two points to just 10 minutes.

“The flyover’s section above the Parel-Prabhadevi tracks will have a double-decker design similar to a section of the Santacruz-Chembur Link Road,” said an MMRDA official. “The contractor, J Kumar Infra Projects Ltd, has been given a deadline of 2023.” To cross the Parel-Prabhadevi tracks section, MMRDA had earlier toyed with the idea of an underground stretch, but dropped it.

India has highest bribery rate in all of Asia

Only 47% of people surveyed in India believe that corruption has increased over the past 12 months and 63% believe that the government is doing a good job in tackling corruption. Perhaps, the ‘feel good’ factor ends here.

India has emerged as having the highest bribery rate of 39% in the Asian region. It also has the highest rate of people (46%) who used personal connections to access public services, according to a recent survey-report released by Transparency International, a global civil society. Nearly 50% of those who paid bribes were asked to, while 32% of those who used personal connections said they would not receive the service otherwise.

Cambodia had the second highest bribery rate of 37%, followed by Indonesia at 30%. The Maldives and Japan maintained the lowest overall bribery rate (2% each), followed by South Korea (10%) and Nepal (12%). However, even in these countries, governments could do more to stop bribes for public services, pointed out Transparency International.

In Japan, only 4% of those who accessed public services had to rely on personal connections. While the percentage figure in India was significant at 46%, it was also relatively high at 36% in Indonesia.

In an earlier report, issued by Transparency International, which was released in January at Davos at the World Economic Forum, India had been ranked at 80th position among 180 countries in the Corruption Perception Index.

For this newly released survey report, ‘Global Corruption Barometer–Asia’, Transparency International surveyed 20,000 people across 17 Asian countries—largely between June-September this year, seeking their perception of and experiences with corruption in the past twelve months. Six key public services were covered in the report, viz: police, courts, public hospitals, procurement of identity documents and utilities.

Bribery in public services continues to plague India. Slow and complicated bureaucratic process, unnecessary red tape and unclear regulatory frameworks force citizens to seek out alternate solutions to access basic services through networks of familiarity and petty corruption, cites the report.

An issue of concern, reflected in the report is that while reporting of corruption is critical to curbing the spread, as many as 63% of those in India were particularly concerned about retaliation.

While vote-buying was the highest in Thailand and the Philippines where 28% were offered a bribe in return for a vote, followed by Indonesia at 26%, India came fourth in the line with a rate of 18%.

Over 1 lakh evacuated as cyclone Nivar makes landfall

Heavy rain wreaked havoc in parts of northern Tamil Nadu and Puducherry as cyclone Nivar made landfall on the coast of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry late on Wednesday.

Over one lakh people have been evacuated and the National Disaster Response Force has earmarked a total of 50 teams for rescue efforts.

Bus, rail and flight services remain suspended in Chennai, Cuddalore, Villupuram, Chengalpattu, Puducherry and Karaikal. Chennai airport suspended operations till 7 am today. The suspension is likely to be extended based on the ground situation. The Chennai Metro was halted after 7 pm yesterday.


Government bans 43 more apps

The government blocked access to 43 more mobile applications for being ‘prejudicial to the sovereignty, integrity and defence of the nation’.

Most of these apps are said to have Chinese links, including four from China’s retail giant, the Alibaba Group - Alibaba Workbench, AliExpress, Alipay Cashier, and AliSuppliers.

The Ministry of Electronics and IT has issued the order for blocking the access of these apps by users in India based on the comprehensive reports received from Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre, Ministry of Home Affairs, an official release said.

Earlier on June 29, the government had blocked access to 59 mobile apps and on September 2, another 118 apps were banned under section 69A of the Information Technology Act. Big among these were TikTok and PUBG mobile apps.

“Government of India today issued an order under section 69A of the Information Technology Act blocking access to 43 mobile apps. This action was taken based on the inputs regarding these apps for engaging in activities which are prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order,” the release said.

The blocked apps also include CamCard, WeDate, Chinese Social, Date in Asia, Adore App, TrulyChinese, TrulyAsian, ChinaLove, Tubit and WeWorkChina, among others.

The border feud between India and China reached its flashpoint after 20 Indian soldiers were killed during deadly clashes with PLA troops in eastern Ladakh’s Galwan Valley in June. And although the two sides have held multiple high-level talks to draw up an agreement to disengage from disputed areas, no consensus has been successfully reached yet.

Maharashtra: Government okays uniform development rules across Maharashtra

The Maharashtra government approved the Unified Development Control and Promotion Regulations, which will govern construction and development projects in municipal corporations, municipal councils and nagar panchayats across Maharashtra, excluding Mumbai, hill stations, eco-sensitive zones and specified corporation areas.

This uniform set of regulations will specify everything from height of buildings to the width of roads and size of amenity spaces, and will apply across the key municipal corporations of Thane, Navi Mumbai, Pune, Aurangabad, Nashik, Nagpur, Solapur and Kolhapur. Exceptions include the Navi Mumbai Airport Notified Area, areas under the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation, Maharashtra Airport Development Corporation, Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation, the Multi-modal International Cargo Hub and Airport at Nagpur, the Pimpri-Chinchwad New Town Development Authority, and the Lonavala Municipal Council.

An official said, “The government has internally approved the regulations but a formal notification will be issued after the graduate constituency elections are over.” The regulations will come into force once the notification is published in the official gazette.

The 375-page blueprint demarcates various zones and specifies what kind development is allowed in each. It prohibits construction in areas between the river bank and blue flood line and within 100 metres of the high flood line of natural lakes. In the case of dams, it says, the distance will be specified by the irrigation department. It also restricts development in areas governed by the Works of Defence Act.

On recreational spaces, the regulations state that 10 per cent of any layout or any development of 0.2 hectares or more of land for any use in municipal corporation areas should be earmarked for recreational open space. The blueprint states that the minimum width of internal roads in any layout for residential development should range from nine to 15 metres. It also proposes that 5 per cent of layouts up to 10,000 sq metres and 10 per cent of layouts above10,000 sq metres be reserved for amenities.

In addition, it allows for the development of pedestrian pathways, jogging and cycling tracks, swimming pools and other recreational facilities 15 metres away from river banks and nine metres away from nallas in green belt zones.

The regulations also propose a minimum road width of 12 metres for buildings that are more than 24 metres tall, and 15 metres for buildings that are at least 50 metres tall. It also proposes that buildings that are more than 70 metres tall be referred to the High-rise Committee for clearance by the concerned planning authority.

They propose a higher floor space index for certain uses in congested and non-congested areas, and say that premiums will be shared 50:50 between the state government and the planning authority. They propose a base FSI of 1.10 for roads that are less than nine metres wide, and 1.20 for roads that are more than 30 metres wide. In addition, developers can purchase 0.40 additional FSI by paying premiums.

The premiums on higher FSI for educational buildings, including primary schools, hostels etc, will range from 10 per cent to 30 per cent in A, B, C category corporations. No premiums have been proposed for medical institutions, hospitals, maternity homes, health clubs and other buildings such as shelter homes, retirement homes, housing schemes for the poor. However, hotels that are two-star and above will have to pay premiums of up to 40 per cent.

The regulations allow a maximum FSI of 4 for road widths of 18 metres and above and a minimum 4,000 sq m plot area for development or redevelopment of staff quarters for government departments, statutory bodies and planning authorities.

Prefix ‘0’ to call mobiles from landlines from January 1st

From January 1, you will need to prefix a ‘0’ before dialling any mobile number from your landline. In order to open up fresh number series for mobile callers, the telecom department has cleared the proposal, accepting sectoral regulator Trai's recommendation for having the '0' prefix for calls to mobiles when the calling is from landline. The Department of Telecom in a circular on ‘modification of dialling pattern from fixed line numbers to cellular mobile numbers’ said in order to ensure adequate numbering resources for fixed line and mobile services, Trai’s recommendations dated May 29 this year has been accepted. “Following may be implemented... Fixed-to-mobile calls shall be dialled with prefix ‘0’. Suitable announcement may be fed in the fixed line switches to apprise the fixed line subscribers about the requirement of dialling the prefix ‘0’ for all fixed-to-mobile calls,” DoT said in a circular dated November 20. This announcement should be played whenever a subscriber dials a fixed-to-mobile call without prefixing ‘0’, it said.

Nifty tops 13k, sensex 44.5k for the first time

A global rally on positive news about Covid vaccines, which was further boosted by reports of former US Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen possibly being confirmed as the next US Treasury secretary, lifted investor sentiment on Dalal Street on Tuesday.

As a result, the Nifty on the NSE scaled the 13k mark for the first time and closed at 13,055 points — up 129 points on the day. On the BSE, the sensex rallied past the 44,500-point mark for the first time and closed at 44,523 points, a gain of 446 points.

A day earlier on Monday, after the AstraZeneca-Oxford combine released its primary data on its vaccine trials with over 70% efficacy, there were reports that US President-elect Joe Biden has decided to select Yellen as the next Treasury secretary. Market players believe Yellen will work to revive the economy, irrespective of political push & pull.

Wall Street, which was rallying on vaccine news, finally settled nearly 400 points up on the Yellen news on Monday night. Even on Tuesday, US stocks reached a historic milestone as hurdles were removed from Biden’s path to the White House in January. The Dow surged past 30,000 points for the first time as receding US political uncertainty and hopes for coronavirus vaccines offset worries over spiking Covid-19 cases.

The gains in the leading domestic indices on Tuesday came on the back of a Rs 4,563-crore net buying by foreign funds, BSE data showed. With this inflow, the total net FPI buying in November went past the Rs 55,000-crore mark — an all-time monthly high, official data showed. The rally in the market also made investors richer by Rs.84,000 crore with the BSE’s market capitalisation now at Rs.173.1 lakh crore, another record.

Tuesday’s session was supported by strong buying in financial stocks, along with Reliance Industries and ITC. On the other hand, selling in HDFC limited the gains in the index, BSE data showed.

Cars24 vrooms to $1bn valuation

Global technology investment firm DST Global, which has backed Indian startups like Swiggy, Udaan, Ola and Byju’s, is leading a $200-million funding in Cars24. This would make the online platform for selling used cars the latest entrant to the much coveted unicorn club — those with a valuation of over $1 billion. The move has helped Cars24 double its valuation in about a year since it last raised $100 million at a valuation of $500 million.

Cars24 is the fifth startup to emerge as a unicorn during the pandemic. The total number of unicorns created this year now stands at eight. In 2019, India saw nine new unicorns. Cars24 cofounder and CEO Vikram Chopra said the company has surpassed pre-Covid sales. Compared with February, sales are now 20% higher. It will use the new capital to enter the two-wheeler arena and provide after-sales services.

The new funding round saw participation from Cars24’s existing investors including Exor Seeds, Moore Strategic Ventures, and Unbound. Started in 2015, it is currently clocking annualised sales of $600 million, compared with around $480 million in February, said Chopra. “We are now at around 4% market share in the used car space in India, while it’s about 12% in New Delhi. Our agenda is to grow our overall market share to double digits,” he said.

Because of massive tailwinds, he said this is a great time to get into other categories that will complete the value chain. “Most obvious one is two-wheelers. We launched it a few months ago and are seeing better traction than cars. Then we would like to get into servicing,” Chopra said.

The Gurgaon-based firm also offers financing through its NBFC arm and is aiming to scale up its financing programmes further, for both dealers and consumers. For new cars, financing penetration is around 80%, while for used cars it’s only about 15%. “It’s because the market is unorganised,” Chopra said. Its competitors include firms like Olx, CarDekho, and Spinny. It buys cars from sellers in about 130 cities but sells those vehicles in around 400 cities.


Rajasthan: Historic low tariffs for solar power

The solar power sector in India witnessed a new history as tariffs in an auction conducted by Solar Energy Corporation of India’s for 1070 megawatt projects in Rajasthan attracted lowest ever rates of Rs.2 per unit.

The tariff is over 15% lower than the previous lowest rate of Rs.2.36 discovered in another auction SECI for 2000MW in June this year.

Prior to that, solar power developer ACME had won a project in Rajasthan offering Rs.2.44 per unit.

The historic low tariff was quoted by Aljomaiah Energy and Water Company and Green Infra Wind Energy Ltd, a subsidiary of Sembcorp for 200 MW and 400 MW of solar projects, respectively, while central PSU NTPC quoted the second-lowest rate of Rs.2.01 for 600 MW of projects.

Explaining the possible reasons for the lowest tariff, Sunil Bansal, general secretary of Rajasthan Solar Association, said, "Solar module prices have come down by 10-12% in the past few months. Secondly, solar technology is becoming more and more efficient in raising productivity. These are the two main drivers responsible for record lower tariffs. Besides, we are of late witnessing interest of foreign companies in Indian solar sector. That could be another reason."

The winning bidders will sign power purchase agreements with Rajasthan and the sell the power to discoms. The discoms have annual targets to get certain portion of its lower requirement from renewable energy. The 1070MW project will meet the discoms' renewable purchase obligations.

Jammu & Kashmir: Roshni land scam

Over a month after the J&K HC nullified the Roshni Act of 2001, the J&K administration has begun publishing the list of beneficiaries on its website — including top politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen etc — who influenced illegal vesting of state lands to regularise the plots they had encroached upon or illegally occupied.

The first set of beneficiaries of the Rs.25,000 crore Roshni scam in Srinagar “exposed” by the J&K administration include former finance minister and ex-PDP leader Haseeb Drabu and three of his family members (each got one kanal of land), Congress leader and owner of Broadway Hotel in Srinagar K K Amla (over 11 kanal went to Amla and around one canal each to his three family members), retired IAS officer Mohd Shafi Pandit and his wife, and hotelier Mushtaq Ahmad Chaya and his son.

Given that the beneficiaries of land allocation under Roshni Act include the rich and famous of J&K, implementation of the HC order will mark arguably the biggest drive to reclaim prize public real estate from the elite. A source indicated that names of some political heavyweights may soon be uploaded as part of the list of beneficiaries.

In Jammu, the Roshni Act cases cited on the J&K administration website are that of ex-legislator Satpal Lakhotra and his three relatives, and government employees and businessmen Naru Ram, Beli Ram, Shallo Ram, Ram Dass and Ram Lal. Those who were vested ownership of encroached state land in Jammu other than under Roshni Act (physically encroached but not shown in revenue records) are National Conference leader Syed Akhoon and Haroon Choudhary and ex-minister from NC Sujjad Kichloo, J&K Bank ex-chairman M Y Khan and ex-NC leader Aslam Goni.

A 2014 CAG report found that only Rs.76 crore had been realised from transfer of encroached land between 2007 and 2013, as against the target of Rs.25,000 crore.

Tarun Gogoi : Assam’s longest-serving chief minister, dies at 84

 “I am a Congressman and will be one till my last breath,” Tarun Gogoi, Assam’s former chief minister and arguably one of the most popular, had once said. He remained true to his words till the very end.

The 84-year old veteran Congressman, who died from post-Covid complications on Monday, was a Nehru-Gandhi family loyalist.

He strode like a colossus in the political arena, leading Assam from the front with his sharp intellect and a blunt demeanour.

The veteran Congress leader was first admitted to the hospital on August 26 after testing positive for Covid-19 and was discharged for a brief period before being admitted again on November 2.

His condition deteriorated on November 21, following multi-organ failure and was put on invasive ventilation.

Gogoi was given dialysis on Sunday. His condition deteriorated further over the past few hours and the hospital where he was admitted said he was “very, very critical”. He breathed his last at the Gauhati Medical College and Hospital at 5.34 pm, state Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said.

He was 84 and is survived by wife Dolly, daughter Chandrima and son Gaurav, a Lok Sabha member.

On assuming the reins of Assam for the first time in 2001, the Congress leader had said he was confident of holding office for five years but never imagined his popularity will ensure he occupied the position for three successive terms.

Credited with bringing the various militant outfits, including the dreaded ULFA, to the negotiation table, pulling out Assam from the brink of bankruptcy and putting it back on the track of development, Gogoi’s three terms in office were marked by many highs and a few lows.

During his third stint, however, he had to face dissidence within the party, which finally resulted in the ouster of the Congress from power in the 2016 assembly elections.

The rebellion was led by his former blue-eyed protege and powerful politician Himanta Biswa Sarma, who was said to harbour chief ministerial ambitions, but the veteran Congress leader steered past all stumbling blocks and continued to hold office by effecting a reshuffle in the ministry.

Shortly thereafter, Sarma resigned from the party and the assembly, and joined the BJP, taking along nine MLAs who were close to him. This dealt a body blow to both Gogoi and the Assam Congress.

Undaunted, the six-time MP stood tall as an opposition leader, raising his voice against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act and issues related to the implementation of National Register of Citizens an exercise that left a large number of people of Assam, particularly Muslims, traumatised.

Days before he was diagnosed with Covid-19, Gogoi was actively holding parleys with opposition parties to form a grand alliance to take on the ruling BJP in the next assembly elections.

Barring sporadic incidents of violence, mostly perpetrated by the NDFB(S), and the Bodo-Muslim conflict, Gogoi’s third term in office was relatively peaceful.

Gogoi took over the reins of Assam for the first time on May 17, 2001 from Asom Gana Parishad and was faced with the onerous task of bringing the state out of the morass of militancy and financial instability caused by a huge debt burden with even government employees not receiving their salaries on time.

He had mentioned in his memoir “Turnaround”, published in 2016, that he knew “in taking oath and signing the register, my first signature as the chief minister, I would be signing a pledge of responsibility. In carrying out my duties, I would be shaping Assam’ss future”.

The Congress stalwart’s initiatives in this direction paid dividends with the party returning to power for the second consecutive term, albeit with fewer seats, and forming a government in alliance with its coalition partner Bodoland Peoples’ Front.

During the 2016 assembly polls, Gogoi addressed the highest number of public rallies and meetings, without batting an eyelid, despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi pointing out on several occasions that he (Gogoi) was “too old and must go”.

A pragmatic politician, who took both achievements and failure in his stride, had said, “When the history of Assam is penned, my three terms will show up both positives as well as negatives. There will be bouquets and brickbats, criticism and acclaim. But I will leave history to judge these years. I, as a son of the soil, am only content and gratified that I could take centre stage in the turn-around story”. 


India will exceed Paris pact targets: PM

India has set itself an ambitious target of generating 450 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030. Addressing G-20 leaders on a ‘circular carbon economy approach’ Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “We will meet our goal of 175 gigawatts of renewable energy well before the target of 2022. Now, we are taking a big step ahead by seeking to achieve 450 gigawatts by 2030.”

India, he said, would not only meet its Paris Accord targets but exceed them.

Climate change, Modi said, “must be fought not in silos but in an integrated, comprehensive and holistic way.” India he said, was adopting low carbon and climate-resilient development practices.

Highlighting two big initiatives spearheaded by India, the International Solar Alliance and Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, Modi said, “we are encouraging a circular economy. India is making next-generation infrastructure such as metro networks, water-ways and more. In addition to convenience and efficiency, they will also contribute to a cleaner environment.”

The ISA is the fastest-growing international alliance with 88 countries having signed up so far. “With plans to mobilise billions of dollars to train thousands of stake-holders, and promote research and development in renewable energy, the ISA will contribute to reducing carbon footprint.”

The Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure has 18 countries and four international organisations as members. “Infrastructure damage during natural disasters is a subject that has not got the attention it deserves. The poorer nations are especially impacted by this. Therefore, this coalition is important,” Modi said.

India, he said, has “made LED lights popular. This saves 38 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. Smokefree kitchens have been provided to 80 million houses through our Ujjwala scheme.” India was attempting to eliminate the use of single-use plastics, expanding forest cover and encouraging a circular economy.

RBI Twitter Handle Joins Million Followers Club

The Reserve Bank of India has beaten the US Federal Reserve and European Central Bank on Twitter by emerging as the most popular central bank on the microblogging site with one million followers. As per the latest information available on the RBI's twitter handle ‘@RBI’, the number of followers has increased from 9.66 lakh on September 27, 2020, to one million, or 10 lakh. "RBI Twitter account reaches one million followers today. A new milestone. Congratulations to all my colleagues in RBI," governor Shaktikanta Das said in a tweet on Sunday.


Bullet Train Running Late to Mumbai

India’s first and much-vaunted bullet train project, which is expected to streak between Mumbai and Ahmedabad in just about two hours, has lost steam in Maharashtra. All the while, it is picking up pace in neighbouring Gujarat. Five years after the Government of India sanctioned the 508-km long Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail Corridor, only 22% land has been acquired in Maharashtra, with no contract awarded in the state as yet. Even the stretch connecting Thane and Virar that requires zero land acquisition — since it is a 21-km tunnel, part of which is under sea — is stuck due to a legal battle over the chopping of mangrove forests.

The high-speed rail — which will cover 348 km in Gujarat, 156 km in Maharashtra and a short 4-km stretch in Dadra & Nagar Haveli — is believed to be a pet project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who laid the foundation stone in Ahmedabad in September 2017 with the then prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe. The project was expected to be completed by December 2023 — but that looks impossible now.

While negotiations to acquire land, particularly in the tribal belt of Palghar in Maharashtra, have been difficult from day one in the face of mounting protests from political parties and civil society organisations, a new government in the state has only exacerbated the situation, slamming the brakes on the project.

The Shiv Sena, which wrested power in Maharashtra in alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress in 2019, was clear from the beginning that the bullet train was not its priority even though it has not opposed the rail corridor. The Maharashtra government has not contributed a single rupee so far to the National High Speed Rail Corporation Ltd, the special purpose vehicle, which is executing the project with a ₹20,000 crore equity fund (50% of which will come from the Railways and 25% each from the Maharashtra and Gujarat governments). Another ₹88,000 crore is given as soft loan by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), with a repayment schedule of 50 years, a moratorium on repayment for 15 years and a meagre interest rate of 0.1%.

The Shiv Sena’s anxieties are understandable. It fears that its ally-turned opponent, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which rules both the Centre and Gujarat, may usurp the entire credit for the iconic rail project and get political mileage out of it ahead of the 2024 general elections.

“We need to understand what should be the priority for the country versus what’s turning out to be a vanity project for the PM. In a Covid scenario where we have been cutting down on expenses, should the bullet train be the most important project?” asks Priyanka Chaturvedi, Shiv Sena’s deputy leader in Rajya Sabha, adding that the farmers who have given up their land are not getting adequate compensation.

Chaturvedi’s comment sums up the Sena’s stand on the issue — a lack of enthusiasm for the project but not an open opposition to it. The problem is Sena rules the state through which 30% of the project is intended to pass. More significantly, it houses India’s commercial capital, Mumbai, which happens to be the big reason for the project’s viability.

Former Maharashtra CM and BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis alleges that the Sena is delaying the project, depriving the state of mammoth investments. “High speed rail corridor will bring in an investment of about ₹50,000 crore to Maharashtra alone. Despite this, the present (state) government has intentionally slowed down the land acquisition process for petty political reasons. If they behave like this, why will the Centre sanction another corridor, say, from Mumbai to Nagpur?” asks Fadnavis.

Look at the contrasting progress report from Gujarat. As much as 85% land (820 of 965 hectares) has been acquired. With a ₹24,985 crore contract for the design and construction of a 237 km line between Vapi and Vadodara already awarded to Larsen and Toubro, the Gujarat section could well be ready in three years’ time. The state has also started contributing to the equity fund by paying ₹105 crore to the kitty, something that symbolises the state owning the project.

The question is simple, although the answer is complex: what happens if the Gujarat portion gets ready and Maharashtra continues to be several years behind schedule? Keeping aside politics and bottlenecks associated with land acquisition, there is one more problem in completing the Maharashtra section even in the next five years. The technical challenges of building an undersea tunnel — the contract for which has yet to be awarded — are such that it could take five and a half years or more to complete, say two railway ministry officials who do not wish to be named.

Does this mean the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train will end up running between Ahmedabad and Surat in Gujarat, at least for a few years, till the issues are sorted out in Maharashtra? If the project is looked at through a political lens, it makes immense sense for the BJP to run the bullet train ahead of the 2024 general elections, showcasing the party’s achievement of a key goal.

Achal Khare, MD of NHSRCL, clarifies: “We have not taken a call as yet on whether we should operate the high-speed rail in phases (for instance, Surat-Ahmedabad). The project is Mumbai-Ahmedabad, and we would like to build the entire portion from Mumbai to Ahmedabad. It’s still not out of control. It can be done.” He, however, concedes that Gujarat has moved much faster than Maharashtra, adding that tenders in Maharashtra will be floated only after 70% of land is acquired, up from the current 22%. A total of 432 hectares need to be acquired in the state.

While the troubles related to land acquisition may persist, there is some relief for the NHSRCL and the Railway Board working on the project. The National Board of Wildlife has approved proposals to divert land in and around the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary and the Thane Creek Flamingo Sanctuary — all located in Maharashtra — for the project.

According to the Railways, the ₹1,08,000 crore project will build infrastructure to run trains with a maximum speed of 350 kmph (operating speed will be 320 kmph), facilitating commute between Mumbai and Ahmedabad in just two hours. The journey at present takes six-seven hours. Initially, 10-car trains with 750 seats each will be introduced though the blueprint has a provision to acquire 16-car trains with 1,250 seats each at a later stage. The precise time-line of the project will be clear only after the tender for rolling stock or railway vehicles is invited.

It’s an irony that a high-speed project is losing speed. Unless some loose ends in Maharashtra are tied up urgently, the bullet train may end up arriving very late in Mumbai.


India is only G20 country to meet climate change goal

India is the only country among G20 nations which is on track to meet what it had promised in 2015 under the Paris Agreement on climate change unlike the top three emitters — China, the US and the European Union.

India’s track record of being the only “2-degree Celsius compatible” country was flagged in a report, released on Wednesday, by a coalition of 14 global think-tanks, including TERI, which showed that the other 19 leading and emerging economies were far from achieving their goals. Though China has declared that it will be carbon neutral by 2060, it is in the ‘highly insufficient’ category according to the climate action tracker while India is ‘compatible’ with the 2-degree warming goal.

Of course, India is not on track for a 1.5-degree Celsius pathway — a target which gained momentum only in 2018 when the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  came out with a report showing how the 2-degree Celsius goal (keeping the global average temperature rise within 2 degree Celsius by 2100 from the pre-industrial level) would be devastating for the globe. It was assessed that drought and heavy rainfall risks would be much higher at the 2-degree Celsius mark than at 1.5 degree Celsius.

In fact, no country has 1.5-degree Celsius aligned renewable energy targets. India’s renewable energy targets have, however, become an example. “India is the only G20 country which is on a track consistent to move the world to a 2-degree Celsius warming future, though not a 1.5-degree warming future,” TERI director general Ajay Mathur said. He added that the country was able to “move the needle of its carbon emissions trajectory through the largescale adoption of renewable electricity”. The Climate Transparency Report 2020 of the coalition, released ahead of the G20 summit, showed the G20 countries had lost around 2.20 lakh lives and suffered economic losses of $2.6 trillion due to extreme weather events in 20 years during 1999-2018.


Lakshmi Vilas Bank withdrawals capped at Rs.25,000 for a month

The central government placed Lakshmi Vilas Bank under a one-month moratorium till December 16, superseded its board and capped withdrawals at Rs.25,000 per depositor.

If the RBI issues special orders, the bank could exceed the withdrawal limit for medical treatments, education and wedding expenses, as well as unavoidable emergencies.

The Union finance ministry took the action based on a request from the RBI in view of the declining financial health of the Tamil Nadu-based private sector lender. In a statement, the RBI said in the absence of a credible revival plan, with a view to protect depositors’ interest and in the interest of financial and banking stability, there was no alternative but to ask the central government to impose a moratorium under Section 45 of the Banking Regulation Act, 1949.

TN Manoharan, former non-executive chairman of Canara Bank, has been appointed the bank’s administrator.

The RBI has also placed in the public domain a draft scheme for LVB’s amalgamation with DBS Bank India, the Indian subsidiary of the Singapore-based DBS Bank.

The moratorium comes 14 months after the RBI placed it under a prompt corrective action framework following a sharp rise in non-performing assets, insufficient capital to manage risks and negative returns on assets for two consecutive years. The PCA is meant to improve the performance of weak banks without affecting their daily operations. The bank had at the time maintained that it would comply with the directives of the RBI and update it on a monthly basis. It also claimed in September last year that the PCA would not adversely affect its routine operations.

In September this year, shareholders voted out seven board members, including the managing director and CEO S Sundar, at the annual general meeting. Subsequently, the RBI appointed a three-member committee of directors comprising independent directors Meeta Makhan, Shakti Sinha and Satish Kumar Kalra.

An official at the bank’s Mumbai office said an official response will be made available on Wednesday. The LVB has around a dozen branches in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, which includes two branches in Thane and one in Navi Mumbai. Started by a group of businessmen from Karur in Tamil Nadu in 1926, the bank has expanded with 566 branches and 918 ATMs in 19 states and a Union Territory.

On March 5 this year, RBI imposed a moratorium on another private lender, the capital- starved Yes Bank, and capped withdrawals at Rs.50,000 per account. The following day, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman laid out a restructuring plan to save the bank, allowing the SBI to pick up a 49 per cent stake in it. The moratorium was withdrawn on March 18, and normal banking activities were restored the next day.

Bihar: Nitish assigns portfolios, retains home

Portfolios were allocated among members of the Nitish Kumar cabinet in Bihar, with the CM retaining key departments like home which he had held in the previous government.

Other portfolios still with him are general administration, cabinet secretariat and election, besides “any other department not allocated among other members of the council of ministers”.

Deputy CM Tarkishore Prasad was given finance, commercial tax, environment and IT, all of which were previously held by his predecessor Sushil Kumar Modi. He also holds the disaster management and urban development portfolios. Renu Devi, the second deputy CM, will handle panchayati raj, other backward classes, extremely backward classes and industries.

Mobile users shrunk by 1.7cr during lockdown

The number of wireless (mobile) subscribers in India shrank by 1.7 crore to 114 crore in April-June — when a national lockdown was in force — and was yet to reach the pre-April level even by August-end, despite additions reported in the two months after June.

The decline in the June quarter is largely because of a dip in urban subscribers; rural subscriptions actually increased. While urban users increased in July and August, rural subscriptions increased in July and dipped in August.

According to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, the number of total wireless subscribers decreased to 114 crore in end-June from 115.7 crore (1,157.7 million) at the end of March.

The quarterly decline rate was 1.47%, and the net decline recorded during the quarter was 1.7 crore (17.04 million) subscribers. Wireless teledensity — number of connections per 100 people — in the country decreased to 84.38 at the end of June from 85.87 at end-March.

Over the next two months, the number of subscribers marginally increased to 114.4 crore (1,144.18 million) in July and further jumped to 114.7 crore (1,147.92 million) in August. However, the number is still not comparable with pre-April levels.

Household Savings More Than Double in Q1: RBI

Restricted consumption during the Covid-19 lockdown and uncertainty about the future drove Indian households to save more in Q1, with savings more than doubling in the three months to June.

Preliminary estimates by RBI indicate that household financial savings jumped to 21.4% of GDP in the first quarter (April-June) of 2020-21, up from 7.9% in the same period a year ago and 10% in the previous quarter (January-March) of 2019-20.

The uncertainty regarding future income and in particular the risk of future unemployment caused by the sudden outbreak of the pandemic led to the rise in precautionary savings.

The propensity of households to save may likely have risen markedly during the pandemic on two counts, according to RBI’s analysis.

First, the households would have been forced to save more, being unable to consume up to their normal levels. The household consumption basket would have comprised a limited number of items relative to the pre-Covid period. Second, they may have raised their precautionary savings due to uncertainty about their future incomes, in large part flowing from cautious responses to reports of actual and potential job losses.

The central bank in its assessment in June this year had said: “a spike in net financial assets of households is likely in the first quarter of 2020-21 on account of a sharp drop in lockdown induced consumption”.

The central bank also revised the preliminary estimates of household financial savings for 2019-20 from 7.7% of GDP to 8.3% of GDP.


Delhi: Cheaper Metro Neo Replaces MetroLite

Delhi is likely to become one of the first major cities in the country to have a “Metro Neo” corridor, which is a rail-guided urban transport system with rubber-tyred electric coaches powered by an overhead traction system running on elevated or at-grade sections.

The light transit system, which costs about 20-25% of a Metro and also has lower maintenance costs, is likely to come up between Kirti Nagar and Bamnoli near Dwarka, where a MetroLite corridor was proposed last year.

While MetroLite also has a lower carrying capacity compared with Delhi Metro, it is a rail-based system and costs 40% of a Metro system. Delhi Metro Rail Corporation had not only prepared a detailed project report (DPR), but also floated tenders for procuring MetroLite coaches.

“For the Kirti Nagar-Bamnoli corridor, a decision was taken by DMRC’s board of directors to explore the possibility of implementing the Metro Neo technology and get a DPR prepared for it,” said Anuj Dayal, executive director (corporate communications), DMRC.

Dayal said the standard specifications for Metro Neo were issued by Union ministry of housing and urban affairs last week. “Further modifications may be made to the technical specifications of the rolling stock as well as other allied requirements for this corridor. Therefore, the tender for procurement of 29 MetroLite trains has been cancelled. The tender may be floated again based on changes in technical specifications in the future,” he added.

While the 19km Kirti Nagar-Bamnoli MetroLite project was pegged at Rs.2,673 crore, the cost of a Metro Neo corridor would be around Rs.2,000 crore. The standalone corridor would connect Kirti Nagar interchange station, where Blue (Dwarka-Noida City Centre) and Green (Inder Lok-Brig Hoshiar Singh) lines of Delhi Metro meet with the high-speed Airport Express Line, which is also being extended from Dwarka Sector 21 to Dwarka ECC near Bamnoli.

The Metro Neo system would have three-coach sets, with each being 12 metres long and 2.5 metres wide and a floor height of 300-350mm. Made of stainless steel or aluminium, the coaches would not only be smaller, but also lighter than Delhi Metro rakes. The average axle load would be around 10 tonnes instead of the usual 17 tonnes of Metro coaches.

The rubber-tyred Metro Neo coaches would run on road slabs, which could be elevated or at-grade. When running at-grade, Metro Neo would have a dedicated lane separating it from road traffic with the help of a plinth, fencing or kerbs. There would be an Automatic Train Protection system with anti-collision feature and predefined speed limit.

The stations, both at-grade and elevated, would be simple structures with no Automatic Fare Collection gates, X-Ray baggage screening, door frame metal detectors or other features associated with Delhi Metro. Metro Neo platforms would be simple, open and serve the functional requirement of exchange of passengers between the platform and the vehicle. Only bare minimum facilities like lighting, CCTV, public information system, etc would be provided.

Karnataka to get tallest statue of Hanuman

The tallest statue of Lord Hanuman will be installed at Pampapur Kishkingha in Karnataka. This was announced by Swami Govind Anand Saraswati, president of the Hanumad Janmbhoomi Teertha Kshetra Trust, in Ayodhya on Monday. The seer made the announcement after meeting Acharya Satyendra Das, the chief priest of Ram Janambhoomi Mandir, in Ayodhya.

The statue will be 215 meters high and will cost Rs.1,200 crore.

Pampapur Kishkindha in Bellary district of Karnataka is said to be the birthplace of Lord Hanuman.

Saraswati said that the Trust will take out a nationwide Rath Yatra to collect donations from general public for the statue. The Hanumad Teertha Khestra Trust will donate a Grand Rath to Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust.

The Hampi-based Hanumad Trust, a private trust, plans to build the statue over the next six years The UP government will also install Lord Ram’s 221 meters tall statue in Ayodhya. Since Hanuman’s statue cannot be higher than his deity Ram, the statue in Karnataka will be 6 meters shorter than that of Lord Ram, said Saraswati Kishkindha is located on the outskirts of Hampi and is a Unesco Heritage Site.


Soumitra Chatterjee dies at 85

Virtuoso actor Soumitra Chatterjee, who delivered a cache of unforgettable performances in auteur Satyajit Ray’s classics such as Apur Sansar, Ashani Sanket and Joi Baba Felunath, passed away on Sunday. He was 85.

“He was admitted to Belle Vue on October 6 and was suffering from Covid-induced encephalopathy that had been affecting his consciousness and led to a multi-organ failure,” said the hospital.

A multi-spectrum artist, he was also a theatre personality, poet, essayist and painter. He edited the noted literary magazine Ekshon and his first-rate recitation of Rabindranath Tagore’s Sesher Kobita and Jibanananda Das’ Banalata Sen earned him plaudits. He was a recipient of the Dadasaheb Phalke award. PM Narendra Modi termed his death “a colossal loss to the world of cinema, cultural life of West Bengal and India”, and said, “Anguished by his demise...”

15 nations seal RCEP deal, India stays out

Fifteen Asia-Pacific nations, including China signed the world’s biggest trade agreement, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, sans India with hopes that it will help recover from the shocks of Covid-19. The RCEP was signed after eight years of negotiations at the conclusion of annual summit of Southeast Asian leaders and their regional partners.

The agreement, which covers almost a third of the world economy, will progressively lower tariffs across many areas in the coming years, according to reports. After the signing, all countries would have to ratify the RCEP within two years before it becomes effective. India, one of the leading consumer-driven market in the region, pulled out of talks last year, concerned that the elimination of tariffs would open its markets to a flood of imports that could harm local producers.

But other nations have said in the past that the door remains open for India’s participation in the RCEP, influenced by China.

The RCEP was first proposed in 2012 and loops in 10 Asean economies — Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia — along with China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia. Host country Vietnam’s PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc said the Covid-19 pandemic has harmed global and regional trade and investment flows, including the countries participating in the RCEP talks.

The global and regional economies are facing huge obstacles and challenges caused by not only Covid-19 but also decreased global trade, he was quoted as saying by the Vietnam News Agency . “The conclusion of the negotiations of the RCEP, the largest free trade agreement in the world, will send a strong message of Asean’s leading role in supporting the multilateral trade system, helping to create a new trading structure in the region,” VNA quoted Phuc as saying. Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong said he joins fellow RCEP countries “in hoping that India too, will be able to come on board at some point so that the participation in the RCEP will fully reflect the emerging patterns of integration and regional cooperation in Asia.”

India makes up nearly a third of the world’s population and account for 29% of global gross domestic product, he said.

Lee, who led Singapore’s delegation, hailed the signing of the RCEP as a “major milestone” and congratulated the 15 participating countries.

“We have reached a major milestone of signing this agreement today. It has taken us eight years, 46 negotiating meetings and 19 ministerial meetings to get here. I am very grateful for the tireless efforts of ministers and negotiators from all participating countries who have worked so hard during the process.

“The RCEP is a major step forward for the world, at a time when multilateralism is losing ground and global growth is slowing,” said the Singapore premier. Now, “the hard work of implementing the agreement and encouraging our businesses to take full advantage of it begins,” he added.

India tops 75cr Net connections

Internet connections in India breached the 75-crore milestone as of August 31, 25 years after public service was launched on August 15, 1995.

The number more than doubled from 34 crore in March 2016, coinciding with Digital India programme launched in 2015. India hit the 50-crore mark in September 2018 and since then, on average, added 86 lakh connections a month.

As per Trai, most connections are in urban areas and availed of through mobile phones and dongles. There were 74.9 crore connections by June-end—narrowband (5 crore) and broadband (69.8 crore). The number of broadband connections rose to 71.6 crore by August-end, taking the total connections to 76.7 crore.

However, this doesn’t mean the same number of people have access to the internet. When India touched the 56-cr mark in 2018, for instance, the subscriber base was only 35 crore. The data on the number of users is not immediately available for this year's figures.

While the overall subscriber data is available up to August, the breakups are available only up to June 30, 2020. As per that information, 61% of all connections were in urban areas and 97% were wireless.

The COAI has proposed to Trai to introduce a minimum floor price for data on a trial basis, which the latter has said would be considered for an open-house discussion. The association has also asked the government to reconsider spectrum charges and revisit other fees and charges causing distress to the sector.

Five states — Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh (including Telangana), Gujarat and Maharashtra — account for 26 crore (or 35% of all) internet connections. Separate data shows that as of June 30, 2020, Reliance Jio had the most market share, followed by Airtel and Vodafone.


Samvat 2077 starts with sensex at a new life high

Samvat year 2077 started on a strong note with the sensex scaling a new life-high at near 43,850 mark and closed with a 195-point gain at 43,638 points, also a new closing high. Continuing with the recent euphoric trend, the special hour long trading session on Saturday evening started on a high with the sensex at 43,815 points, up 372 points with HDFC Bank, Infosys and Reliance Industries leading.

On the NSE too, the nifty closed at a life-high at 12,771 points, up 51 points on the day.

Samvat, also called Vikram Samvat, is the year according to one of the Hindu calendars that is followed mainly by the Gujarati trading community who dominate Dalal Street. Every year BSE conducts a special trading session on the first day of the Samvat year, which also happens to be the Diwali day. This trading period is called the Muhurat session. Before the start of the hourlong Muhurat session, every year BSE has a Lakshmi Puja at the exchange’s Convention Hall, usually attended by most brokers, their families, friends and other people. This year, however, due to the ensuing Covid-19 pandemic, attendance at the exchange was restricted.

Dalal Street veterans say that on this day, those who follow the Samvat year should always buy some shares, even if in small lots and should never sell any. With a large number of individual traders and traditional brokers resorting to only buying stocks while most of the institutions are closed for Diwali, the sensex usually shows an uptick during the Muhurat trading session. Historically, on most of the Muhurat sessions the sensex had closed higher. In the last five years, the sensex closed higher on three occasions but had closed deep in the red during Samvat year 2074 and only marginally lower during Samvat 2073.

Brokers remain optimistic about the market for the next one year, despite the unprecedented damage done to the economy by the pandemic. The main reason for such optimism is the steps taken by the government in the last seven-eight months. 

Market players also feel that with India Inc taking every step to revive their businesses with cost-cutting being one of the main strategies, investors have responded well. These measures have taken the stock market to a new high while the economy is still languishing. They also feel that the government’s recent policy initiatives would now help the revival in the economy in the medium to long term.

Expansionism is a mental disorder: PM

Today the whole world is troubled by expansionist forces, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday, adding that expansionism is a mental disorder in a way and reflects 18th Century thinking. Delivering an unambiguous message to India's enemies, he said that the country would give a fierce reply if provoked. He had flown to Longewala Post to celebrate Diwali with soldiers, a custom he has been observing since assuming office in 2014.

He did not take the name of any country, but his indication was almost clear towards China, whose People Liberation Army indulged in a deadly clash in June with Indian soldiers in the Ladakh region. Terming expansionism a reflection of a "distorted mindset", Modi said that India is also becoming a strong voice against this thinking.

"No force in the world can stop our brave soldiers from protecting the country's border," the Prime Minister said. “The world now understands that this nation won't compromise with its interests, not at any cost. This repute and stature of India is all due to your strength and valour. India is clearly presenting its opinions on international fora today because you have secured the nation," said PM Modi. "Today the strategy of India is clear. Today's India believes in the policy of understanding and making others understand. But if attempts are made to test us, the reply they receive is intense," he added.

The Prime Minister further stated, today India kills terrorists and their leaders by entering their homes. The prime minister also underlined the importance of having strong capability, saying despite advanced international cooperation and equations, vigilance is the path to security, alertness leads to happiness and peace is the prize of having strength.

Earlier, on June 15-16, 20 Indian soldiers had lost their lives in the violent face-off with troops of People’s Liberation Army of China in Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh. It happened as a result of an attempt by the Chinese troops to unilaterally change the status quo during the de-escalation in eastern Ladakh.


October 2020: Trade Deficit Highest in FY21

India’s trade deficit in October widened to the most in this financial year as exports declined 5.12% on-year to $24.89 billion after growing in September, led by a drop in outbound shipments of petroleum products, gems and jewellery, leather and engineering goods.

The contraction in exports was lower than the preliminary estimate of a 5.4% decline as shown by the commerce and industry ministry earlier this month.

The trade deficit was $8.71 billion, compared with $8.78 billion in the preliminary estimates and $11.75 billion in October 2019, as imports shrank 11.53% to $33.61 billion. Gold imports rose 35.88% while those of electronics were up 16.12%.

After contracting for six straight months, India’s exports had grown in September. In October, 20 of the major 30 export sectors grew.

During April-October 2020, exports declined 19.02% to $150.14 billion, while imports fell 36.28% over the same period last year to $182.29 billion.

Sur Sarovar & Lonar Lake Now Ramsar Sites

The number of protected wetlands in India under the Ramsar Convention increased by 50% in one year, taking the number of such sites of international importance from 27 in 2019 to 41 this year. The 49-year-old convention is an inter-governmental global treaty meant to preserve the ecological character of selected wetlands across the globe.

A day after environment minister Prakash Javadekar announced Kabartal in Begusarai (Bihar) getting the Ramsar tag, his ministry on Friday said two more sites were added to the list — Sur Sarovar in Agra and Lonar Lake on the Deccan plateau in Maharashtra. Getting Ramsar tag assumes significance for conservation of wetlands in a dedicated manner. Besides playing a key role in hydrological cycle and flood control, wetlands provide water, food, fibre and raw materials. Wetlands — land areas covered by water, either seasonally or permanently — support lakhs of migratory birds from colder regions of the world in summers.

Sur Sarovar, also known as Keetham Lake, is a man-made reservoir. Created to supply water to Agra city in the summer, the wetland soon became an important ecological site that provides refuge to migratory birds and more than 60 species of fish. “Over 30,000 waterbirds are known to visit the reservoir annually,” the Ramsar Sites Information Service said on its website. Lonar Lake in Maharashtra was formed by a meteorite impact on the basalt bedrock. The site includes the lake as well as escarpments, which form the crater walls, and forested zones.

“Outside the lake, there is considerable diversity of plant and animal life, as springs which help feed the lake provide a source of fresh water. Inhabiting the site are 160 species of birds, including the vulnerable Asian woolly neck and common pochard, 46 species of reptiles and 12 species of mammals including the iconic grey wolf,” the RSIS said.

Forex Kitty Surges to $568.4 b

India’s foreign exchange reserves surged by $7.7 billion in the week ended November 6 to $568.494 billion, the highest on record.

In the previous week, the forex kitty had expanded $183 million to $560.715 billion.

The surge in the forex kitty in the reporting week was mainly on the back of an increase in foreign currency assets, which constitute a major component of the overall reserves. The FCA rose by $6.403 billion to $524.742 billion.

The FCA reflects appreciation or depreciation of currencies like the euro, pound and yen held in the foreign exchange reserves, expressed in dollar terms. According to experts, the surge in the FCA was largely on the back of the RBI’s intervention in the currency market to arrest the slide of the rupee.

Gold reserves rose $1.328 billion to $37.587 billion, as per the central bank data.

The special drawing rights with the International Monetary Fund — another component of the forex kitty — rose by $7 million to $1.488 billion. The reserve position with the IMF climbed by $40 million to $4.676 billion.

The rise in forex reserves is typically a factor of an increase in portfolio investments from offshore investors and also growth in foreign direct investments during the period.

A fall in crude oil prices over the previous weeks has helped save import bills, thereby giving a boost to the forex reserves. The prime objective of the RBI's reserve management policy is liquidity and safety of reserves.

A strong kitty allows the central bank to timely intervene in forwards and spot currency markets to arrest any slide in the rupee’s valuation. India’s central bank has been shoring up its forex reserves for over a year and, in the process, has leapfrogged Russia and South Korea to become the third-biggest holder of forex reserves, only behind China and Japan.

Somewhere in Ayodhya....

People light lamps on the banks of river Saryu as celebrations kicked off on the eve of Diwali in Ayodhya on Friday. The Friday evening event is set to make it to the Guinness World Records for a second year in a row by lighting 606,569 oil lamps and keeping them burning for at least 45 minutes on the banks of the river, according to state officials


28 states, UTs usher in ‘One Nation One Ration Card’

In the past 14 months, 28 states and Union Territories have joined the ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ platform, enabling 68.8 crore beneficiaries to get subsidised foodgrains from their place of work or residence under the National Food Security Act.

Under this scheme, the distribution of subsidised foodgrains is possible through nationwide portability of ration cards and the beneficiary can get foodgrains from any fair price shop across the country.

This has become possible by collating all details of beneficiaries in a central database, seeding the Addhaar number of beneficiaries and by installation of ePoS devices at FPS. Subsidised foodgrains were provided after biometric authentication using the ePoS devices.

Though the scheme was launched by then food minister Ram Vilas Paswan in August last year, the scheme came as a huge cushion for the poor during the nationwide lockdown. Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said currently intra-state portability is also enabled in the 28 states and UTs that have joined the platform.

The government has set the March 2021 deadline for nationwide portability of ration cards covering 81 crore beneficiaries. Earlier, a ration card holder could buy foodgrains only from an FPS that was assigned to his/ her in the locality in which the beneficiary lives.

India launches fifth Scorpene sub

The country’s fifth Scorpene submarine ‘Vagir’ was `launched’ at the Mazagon Docks. The diesel-electric 1,565-tonne vessel, which will now undergo extensive tests, harbour and sea trials, is likely to be delivered to the Navy in 2022. Under the over Rs.23,000 crore ‘Project-75’ under way at MDL for construction of six French-origin Scorpene submarines, the Navy has commissioned two vessels, INS Kalvari and INS Khanderi, till now.

The third submarine ‘Karanj’ is now in the last phase of sea trials, while the fourth ‘Vela’ has just begun them. The sixth named ‘Vagsheer’ is likely to be ready for commissioning by 2023, said officials.

Though the Scorpene project has faced huge time and cost overruns, it is critical for the Navy since it currently has just 13 other ageing diesel-electric submarines, with just half of them operational at any given time.

India also has two nuclear-powered submarines, INS Arihant and INS Chakra, but the latter does not have nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles because it has been acquired on lease from Russia. India needs at least 18 conventional submarines, six nuclear-powered attack submarines and four nuclear-powered submarines with nuclear-tipped missiles.


Bihar Elections: MGB got just 0.03% votes less than NDA

For Lalu Yadav’s son Tejashwi, who turned 31 a day before the results, it was a case of so near, yet so far. In terms of vote-share, the difference between NDA and the RJD-led Mahagathbandhan was literally wafer-thin. At the end of a cliffhanger unlike any that India has been witness to in recent times, what separated NDA and MGB in terms of the total votes they got was a mere 12,768 (out of about 3.14 crore). NDA polled 1,57,01,226 votes and MGB 1,56,88,458 votes.

That’s just 0.03% of the total votes polled in the state, with NDA’s share being 37.26% and MGB’s 37.23%.

It’s also considerably less than the average victory margin of 16,825 in these polls; incidentally, 130 of the state’s 243 seats were won by margins in excess of 12,768 votes. So, if MGB had got as little as 53 more votes in each of the state’s constituencies or NDA had got that many fewer, MGB’s vote share would have been higher.

The neck and neck fight between the two alliances is in stark contrast to the one-sided contest five years ago when the Mahagathbandhan of RJD, JD(U) and Congress got 1,59,52,188 votes and the NDA of BJP, LJP, HAM (S) and RLSP got 1,29,90,645 votes, a difference of over 29.6 lakh votes or about 7.8% of the total votes polled.

Cabinet approval to PLIs in 10 sectors

The Cabinet gave in principle approval to Production-Linked Incentives worth ₹1.45 lakh crore for 10 sectors including white goods, automobiles, pharmaceuticals and textiles, seeking to attract big-ticket investment. Of this, the most is for automobiles and auto components at ₹57,042 crore, followed by battery manufacturing at ₹18,100 crore, in order to boost electric vehicle manufacturing. The incentives are in the form of a percentage of incremental sales linked to certain minimum investment and incremental sales milestones.

“Cabinet decision of PLI scheme for 10 sectors will boost manufacturing, give opportunities to youth while making India a preferred investment destination,” PM Narendra Modi tweeted. “This is an important step towards improving our competitiveness & realising an Aatmanirbhar Bharat.”

Niti Aayog chief executive officer Amitabh Kant said that the think tank will prepare notes for sector specific schemes for the Expenditure Finance Committee and thereafter take them to Cabinet over the next 45 days.

Under the scheme, cash subsidy is provided to companies as a percentage of incremental sales from the base year, which is the year the scheme comes into effect from. Percentage of incentive is worked out in accordance with the disadvantage faced by the sector and varies sector to sector.

The PLI scheme is already operational for mobile phone manufacturing, active pharmaceutical ingredients and medical devices with an outlay of ₹51,000 crore. The latest announcement will take the total amount of incentives under the PLI programme to nearly ₹2 lakh crore. In the case of mobiles, the starting incentive rate is 6%, going down to 4% in the fifth and final year.

“Aatmanirbhar is not inward looking,” said finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, while announcing the scheme’s extension. “The policy that we are taking in the PLI, through which we want the manufacturers to come into India, is clearly to say we want to build our strength but yet link with the global value chains.” Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan is aimed at building a self-reliant economy.

She said critical sunrise sectors, those that can be part of global value chains and are labour intensive, have been selected for support.

The scheme “will make Indian manufacturers globally competitive, attract investment in the areas of core competency and cutting-edge technology; ensure efficiencies; create economies of scale; enhance exports and make India an integral part of the global supply chain,” the government said in a statement.

Under the scheme, ₹15,000 crore has been earmarked for pharmaceuticals and ₹12,195 crore for telecom and networking products. Other sectors covered are textiles (₹10,800 crore), food (₹10,900 crore), high efficiency solar PV modules (₹4,500 crore), specialty steel (₹6,322 crore), air conditioners and LEDs (₹6,238 crore), and electronic/technology products (₹5,000 crore).

Details of the scheme will be worked out by the respective ministries and departments. These will then be sent to the Cabinet for approval.

The government has not fixed a cap on the number of companies that can apply for incentives, Sitharaman said. Savings, if any, from one approved sector can be utilised to fund another approved sector by the empowered group of secretaries. Any new sector for PLI will require fresh Cabinet approval.

The PLI programme is part of the government’s plan to make India an attractive manufacturing destination and promote self-reliance besides helping the country emerge as a viable alternative to China. Other elements of this strategy include the reduction in corporate tax rate to 25% and the phased manufacturing plan, aimed at increased indigenisation.

The government has identified 24 focus sectors as part of its manufacturing push via the PLI and PMP schemes. These include footwear, ceramics and glass, ethanol, ready-to-eat food, aluminium, gym equipment, toys and sporting goods, drones, robotics and electric vehicle equipment. Of these, a few sectors have been identified as priorities with potential for domestic manufacturing and import substitution through import restrictions and quality control orders such as toys and footwear.

FASTag usage in country touches 2 crores

The number of FASTag users in the country has reached two crore, registering a growth of 400% in a year. This has resulted in the increase in the total toll collection on NHs.

The highway authority said the current toll collection is nearly Rs.92 crores per day which is a substantial increase from Rs.70 crore a year back. Nearly, 75% of the total toll revenue is being collected through FASTag.

The NHAI, in the past one year, has given a big push to FASTag to reduce congestion at toll plazas and reduce pollution on account of queuing of vehicles at these locations.

FASTag uses radio-frequency Identification technology that provides users a smooth and effortless passage at toll plazas without waiting/ halting. The payment is made digitally through the FASTag linked to the bank wallet.

As social distancing has become the new norm, commuters are increasingly looking at FASTag as a toll payment option as it nullifies the chances of any human contact between the drivers and the toll operators.

₹100 LAKH CR : Nifty M-Cap

The market value of all Nifty companies topped ₹100 lakh crore for the first time on Wednesday as stocks closed at an all-time high. Foreign investors bought shares worth ₹6,027 crore, the highest single-day purchase in nearly three months. The Nifty is already the fourth most expensive global index on a trailing 12-month basis after Germany, US and France.

Strong foreign fund buying amid hopes of a quicker recovery from the economic crisis caused by the pandemic have driven stocks to all-time highs in recent days. The Nifty rose 0.93% to 12,749 on Wednesday while the Sensex jumped 0.73% to 43,593. The 50-share index has climbed 67% since the lows of March when its value was ₹58.91 lakh crore but its closing market cap on a dollar basis of $1.33 trillion is still lower than its peers in East Asian countries — South Korea’s Kospi is valued at $1.46 trillion while Taiwan’s TSEC is worth $1.38 trillion.

Nifty’s market cap is 60% of all listed companies which together are valued at ₹167 lakh crore.

The Nifty’s journey to ₹100 lakh crore since March has been led by heavyweights like Reliance Industries — which added ₹8 lakh crore — as well as TCS, HDFC Bank and Infosys, which together contributed nearly ₹9.8 lakh crore.

HDFC Bank on Wednesday became a $100 billion market cap company after an 11-month gap. It became the third Indian firm to achieve this milestone after Reliance and Tata Consultancy Services.

I&B Ministry to Regulate Video-streaming Platforms, Digital Media Now

In a major development that may have far-reaching impact on video-streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and others as well as digital news sites, the government has brought content on these platforms under the purview of the ministry of information and broadcasting.

In an executive order, the government amended the Allocation of Business Rules and said “films and audio-visual programmes made available by online content providers” and “news and current affairs content on online platforms” will be brought under the I&B ministry.

This is the first time the ministry is getting into the digital space.

A ministry official said that it was to ensure a “level playing field” for all media facilitating an appropriate regulatory mechanism, including self-regulation by the news portals and OTT platforms. At present, the entertainment channels on television are regulated under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 and films by the Cinematograph Act, 1952. OTT content is completely unregulated, he said.

“Some shows on certain platforms with their obscenity have caused a lot of problems to the citizens who don’t even have a grievance redressal platform. There have been at least 40 court cases where the government had to make an appearance,” a top official in the ministry said. “Courts have also urged the ministry to have a regulatory mechanism. We have been working on that with stakeholders,” the official said.

Industry experts feel that the move will curb freedom of expression. 

However, industry sources cited above said that self-regulation mandated by the government made little sense.


Azim Premji: India’s most generous philanthropist

Azim Premji is India’s biggest, most generous giver. He donated Rs.7,904 crore last year – or approximately Rs.22 crore a day – to top the EdelGive Hurun Philanthropy List 2020. Premji is followed by Shiv Nadar (with Rs.795 crore) and Mukesh Ambani (Rs.458 crore). Mumbai, it seems, is home to the largest number of philanthropists in the country (36), followed by Delhi and Bangalore. Education remained the cause of choice to donate to, followed by healthcare.

India Inc has also opened its purse strings more than usual this year, by giving Rs.12,050 crore – an increase of 175 per cent from last year.

The report, which reaches out to individual rather than company givers, features 112 philanthropists, up about 12 per cent since last year.

This year, the list tracks donations in cash or equivalent amounts of Rs.5 crore and above over the last financial year, and does not include any Covid-related giving.

Mumbai couple Archana and Amit Chandra, with their donations of Rs.27 crore through their ATE Foundation, were the first professionals (rather than promotors) to make the list, while former Flipkart co-founder Binny Bansal, at 37, was the youngest philanthropist, giving Rs.5.3 crore. The list also included seven women, led by Rohini Nilekani, who gave Rs.47 crore.

Two Mumbai-based philanthropists debuted this time in the Top 10, including Kumar Mangalam Birla and the Hinduja brothers.

“Data for individual philanthropy is not readily available,” says Vidya Shah, chairperson and CEO of EdelGive Foundation.

“We have to triangulate a lot to get a reasonable sense of giving in the country. As India moves towards becoming a middle-income country, the evolving patterns of giving provide clues to what are the issues that need tackling. This encourages more strategic giving by philanthropists.” Shah adds that the list is also aspirational.

“I believe that the people on this list truly want to participate in the making of a more just and equal society. Th report acknowledges strategic giving that is already happening, and can be a guiding light for those who want to give.”

Anas Rahman Junaid, MD and Chief Researcher of Hurun India, says: “In India, where philanthropy is kept a secret, this recognises donations and gets future generations active. It also helps philanthropists align their causes and start discussions about giving.” He adds: IT shows the more responsible side of wealth creation.” Indeed, he believes that if every high networth individual in India who is engaged in giving agreed to be a part of the list, it would have “at least 300 to 500 people”.