Metro Services in Over 25 Cities by 2025: PM Modi

Metro rail network will be expanded to over 25 cities by 2025, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said after flagging off India's first driverless train.

“The first metro in the country was started with the efforts of Atal ji. When our government was formed in 2014, only five cities had metro services, and today 18 cities have metro rail service. By 2025, we will take this service to more than 25 cities,” Modi said after flagging off the driverless train on Delhi Metro’s Magenta Line through video link.

Modi said that till 2014 only 248 km of metro network was operational, but it has grown three times to 700 km. “It will increase to 1,700 km by 2025,” he said, adding that the number of people using metro rail service in the country has grown to 8.5 million from about 1.7 million in 2014. He attributed this to taking urbanisation not as a “challenge” but as an opportunity.

“How was this change possible? After all it is the same bureaucracy, the same people. So how was the pace of work increased. The main reason is that we took urbanisation as an opportunity and not as a challenge. We have never had a policy on Metro in our country,” Modi said.

The prime minister also launched the national common mobility card on Delhi Metro's Airport Express Line. Modi emphasised on ‘Make in India’ and said it “is very important for the expansion of metro services. It reduces cost, saves foreign currency and provides more employment to people”.


Mumbai - Hyderabad bullet train snippets

The terminal for the Mumbai-Hyderabad bullet train corridor may come up in Navi Mumbai, which will have an integration with the under-construction international airport, besides connectivity to the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link, work on which is going on.

“Integration is also planned with the Navi Mumbai Metro,” a senior railway official said.

With the average speed of the proposed bullet train estimated at 320 km per hour, the 711-km distance between Hyderabad and Mumbai can be traversed in less than three-and-a-half hours.

This distance now takes over 15 hours by existing trains, that run at speeds between 80 km per hour and 120 km per hour, with many stops in between the two cities. A fast train between Mumbai and Hyderabad is Hussain Sagar Express that takes under 14 hours.

This will be the third highspeed rail project involving Mumbai. At present, the implementing agency, National High Speed Rail Corporation is tasked with the 508 km Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail Link project. The other Mumbai project is the proposed 753 Km Mumbai-Nashik-Nagpur corridor.

NHSRC has proposed six corridors spanning 4,109 km, the remaining being Chennai-Bengaluru-Mysuru (435 km), Delhi-Varanasi (865), Delhi-Ahmedabad (886 km) and Delhi-Amritsar (459 km).

A senior railway official said, “Space is a problem in Mumbai and hence we are looking at Navi Mumbai for the terminal station for the Mumbai-Hyderabad corridor. Even there land may not be a problem as we can plan an underground station on airport land. A final decision is yet to be taken.”

But a problem is that the state government has not shown any zeal in acquiring land for the section of the corridor which falls in Maharashtra.

An official said, “What one needs to understand is that the Mumbai-Hyderabad project may not face much of a hurdle as it offers connectivity to important stations in Maharashtra like Lonavla, Pune, Pandharpur and even Solapur. The main grouse of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train corridor is that it offers connectivity between the major cities of Gujarat compared to Maharashtra.” A major portion of the corridor, 349 km of the total 508 km, falls in Gujarat.


India to become 3rd largest economy by 2030: CEBR

India, which appears to have been pushed back to being the world's sixth biggest economy in 2020, will again overtake the UK to become the fifth largest in 2025 and race to the third spot by 2030, a think tank said on Saturday.

India had overtaken the UK in 2019 to become the fifth largest economy in the world but has been relegated to 6th spot in 2020.

"India has been knocked off course somewhat through the impact of the pandemic. As a result, after overtaking the UK in 2019, the UK overtakes India again in this year's forecasts and stays ahead till 2024 before India takes over again," the Centre for Economics and Business Research said in an annual report published on Saturday.

The UK appears to have overtaken India again during 2020 as a result of the weakness of the rupee, it said.

The CEBR forecasts that the Indian economy will expand by 9 per cent in 2021 and by 7 per cent in 2022.

"Growth will naturally slow as India becomes more economically developed, with the annual GDP growth expected to sink to 5.8 per cent in 2035."

"This growth trajectory will see India become the world's third largest economy by 2030, overtaking the UK in 2025, Germany in 2027 and Japan in 2030," it said.

The UK-based think tank forecast that China will in 2028 overtake the US to become the world's biggest economy, five years earlier than previously estimated due to the contrasting recoveries of the two countries from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Japan would remain the world's third-biggest economy, in dollar terms, until the early 2030s when it would be overtaken by India, pushing Germany down from fourth to fifth.

The CEBR said India's economy had been losing momentum even ahead of the shock delivered by the COVID-19 crisis.

The rate of GDP growth sank to a more than ten-year low of 4.2 per cent in 2019, down from6.1 per cent the previous year and around half the 8.3 per cent growth rate recorded in 2016.

"Slowing growth has been a consequence of a confluence of factors including fragility in the banking system, adjustment to reforms and a deceleration of global trade," it said.

The COVID-19 pandemic, the think tank said, has been a human and an economic catastrophe for India, with more than 140,000 deaths recorded as of the middle of December.

While this is the highest death toll outside of the US in absolute terms, it equates to around 10 deaths per 100,000, which is a significantly lower figure than has been seen in much of Europe and the Americas.

"GDP in Q2 (April-June) 2020 was 23.9 per cent below its 2019 level, indicating that nearly a quarter of the country's economic activity was wiped out by the drying up of global demand and the collapse of domestic demand that accompanied the series of strict national lockdowns," it said.

As restrictions were gradually lifted, many parts of the economy were able to spring back into action, although output remains well below pre-pandemic levels.

An important driver of India's economic recovery thus far has been the agricultural sector, which has been buoyed by a bountiful harvest.

"The pace of the economic recovery will be inextricably linked to the development of the COVID-19 pandemic, both domestically and internationally," it said.

As the manufacturer of the majority of the world's vaccines and with a 42-year-old vaccination programme that targets 55 million people each year, India is better placed than many other developing countries to roll out the vaccines successfully and efficiently next year.

"In the medium to long term, reforms such as the 2016 demonetisation and more recently the controversial efforts to liberalise the agricultural sector can deliver economic benefits," the think tank said.

However, with the majority of the Indian workforce employed in the agricultural sector, the reform process requires a delicate and gradual approach that balances the need for longer-term efficiency gains with the need to support incomes in the short-term.

The government's stimulus spending in response to the COVID-19 crisis has been significantly more restrained than most other large economies, although the debt to GDP ratio did rise to 89 per cent in 2020.

"The infrastructure bottlenecks that exist in India mean that investment in this area has the potential to unlock significant productivity gains. Therefore, the outlook for the economy going forwards will be closely related to the government's approach to infrastructure spending," it added.

Kerala’s capital set for 21-yr-old woman mayor

Arya Rajendran, 21, a BSc mathematics student who faced her first local body polls as a voter and as a candidate in the Thiruvananthapuram municipal elections, is set to become the youngest mayor in Kerala and among the youngest in India.

The mayoral election is slated for December 28. Arya was chosen as the mayoral candidate for the Thiruvananthapuram civic body at the CPM district secretariat meeting on Friday. A formal announcement of the decison is expected on Saturday. She is certain to be voted mayor in the council where the LDF has an absolute majority with 53 seats.

The BJP and the UDF have 35 and 10 seats, respectively. Arya’s father, Rajendran, an electrician by profession, is an active CPM worker. Her mother, Sreelatha, is a homemaker and LIC agent.

Arya told reporters she was yet to be officially informed about her candidature, but was willing to take up any assignment entrusted to her.

She was elected to the corporation council in the recent civic body polls from Mudavanmugal ward with a majority of 549 votes and sworn in as a councillor on December 21.

The CPM’s choice of a young mayor in 2015 had paid rich dividends after V K Prasanth (34) became hugely popular due to his administrative initiatives and proactive role during the floods and Cyclone Ockhi. Suman Koli had become mayor of Bharatpur municipal corporation in Rajasthan at the age of 21in 2009.

Nuthan Rathore was elected as the first mayor of Firozabad municipal corporation, UP, in 2017 when she was 31. The country has had other young mayors as well. Sanjeev Naik had become mayor of Navi Mumbai at 23 in 1995.


Maharashtra signs MoUs worth over ₹61k cr with 25 companies

Maharashtra State industry department on Tuesday signed Memoranda of Understanding with 25 Indian companies from various sectors, including textiles, steel, renewable energy, chemicals etc, for investments totalling over Rs.61,000 crore and promising over 2.5 lakh jobs.

With an investment of Rs.3,500 crore, Kirtikumar Steel Industry has promised to create 60,000 jobs in the state. It is the highest number of jobs that will be created if the investment comes through. Three IT industries with a cumulative investment of Rs.10,000 crore will create around 39,000 jobs. Since June, under the aegis of Magnetic Maharashtra 2.0, the state industry department has signed MoUs that will bring in over Rs.1.13 lakh crore. In June, the state signed MoUs worth Rs.16,000 crore. In November, the government signed MoUs worth Rs.30,000 crore. Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray was happy to note the department had crossed the Rs.1lakh crore investment target, and set a fresh target of Rs.2 lakh crore.

Two new unicorns born

India has seen a record number of unicorns (startups valued at $1 billion or more) being created in 2020. On Tuesday, two companies Glance and Dailyhunt turned unicorns, taking the year’s total to 11. In 2019, nine ventures became unicorns, and in the year before, it was eight.

The year began on a cautionary note, with marquee venture capital firm Sequoia Capital warning of the possibility of a ‘black swan’ like event due to the pandemic. But the large amounts of money that central banks globally have been releasing to revive their economies have ensured the opposite.

InMobi Group’s Glance, which provides dynamic content on the lock screens of Android phones, on Tuesday announced it has raised $145 million from Google and existing investor Mithril Capital, an investment fund of Peter Thiel, who co-founded PayPal and Palantir Technologies. A source close to the company said that the funding values Glance at over $1 billion. This also puts Naveen Tewari, who founded InMobi in 2007 and Glance in 2019, among the few who have created more than one unicorn. InMobi, a mobile advertising platform, turned a unicorn when SoftBank invested $200 million in the company in 2011.

Dailyhunt, a local language-based news and content platform, on Tuesday said it has raised $100 million in new capital from Microsoft, Google, Falcon Edge’s investment unit Alpha Wave, and other investors, at a valuation of over $1 billion.

Mohan Kumar, founder and managing partner at software focused Avatar Ventures, said companies that have managed to capture the positive side of the pandemic have seen good investor interest and raised capital at a high valuation.

“Companies that are enabling digitisation of business operations and have captured (market) and grown this year are the ones which investors are pleasantly surprised by, and they are rewarding those companies,” said Kumar.

“Glance is on a tear,” Tewari said. “We own the lock screen content place, just as Facebook, WhatsApp and others own their spaces. There’s no one in the rear-view mirror for us.”

Dailyhunt’s parent firm Verse Innovation said it will use the new capital to scale up its recently launched short-video app Josh, implement AI and ML solutions, and grow its content creator ecosystem. 

PM Modi at AMU

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said political and ideological differences should be set aside for the sake of national goals, asserting that politics can wait but development cannot.

Addressing the centenary celebrations of Aligarh Muslim University, he said development should not be seen through the political prism. Without elaborating, he said some elements driven by self-interest and negativity are bound to feel uneasy when everyone comes together to achieve common goals.

“We have to understand that politics is an important aspect of society. But in society there are also issues other than politics,” Modi said in the speech delivered through video conference to a university he called a “mini-India”.

He said there is space beyond ‘siyasat' (politics) and ‘satta' (power), which should be explored by campuses like AMU.

“It is natural to have differences in society,” he said. “But when the issue is securing national goals, these differences should be set aside.”

He listed economic development, education, standard of living and nationalism (rastravaad) among the common goals. “These are some of the issues on which we cannot differ in the name of our political or ideological (vaicharik) compulsions.”

This was the first time in over five decades that a prime minister participated in an AMU event, after Lal Bahadur Shastri attended one in 1964.

The PM's address also comes against the backdrop of sporadic protest by AMU students in past months over issues like the new Citizenship Amendment Act, and the targeting of the campus by some BJP leaders.

Modi stressed on development and said it should not be seen through the prism of politics.

“When we come together for this goal, it is possible that some elements feel uneasy. Such elements are found in every society in the world. These are people who have self-interests and to fulfil them they can adopt any device and all types of negativity,” the PM said.

But the space occupied by such people will shrink when the goal is to make a new India, he said.

“Politics can wait, society can wait. But the country' development cannot wait,” he said.

Modi said the poor, the poor, the deprived and the youth do not want to wait any longer. “We should not waste time in ‘matbhed’ (differences) and move forward on a common ground to build a new India, that is ‘Atmanirbar Bharat’,” he said, stressing on “self reliance”.

Modi lauded the AMU's 100-yearold heritage, recalling the contribution of its alumni.

“We have to unitedly work to ensure that the feeling of 'Ek Bharat, Shresth Bharat' (One India, Great India) gets strengthened day by day on the AMU campus,” he said. 


US President Trump presents Legion of Merit to Prime Minister Narendra Modi

US President Donald Trump presented the prestigious Legion of Merit to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his leadership in elevating strategic partnership of the two countries and emergence of India as a global power.

India's Ambassador to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, accepted the award on behalf of the prime minister from the US National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien at the White House.

President Trump "presented the Legion of Merit to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his leadership in elevating the US-India strategic partnership," O'Brien said in a tweet.

Modi was presented with the highest degree Chief Commander of the Legion of Merit which is given only to the Head of State or Government.

He was given the award in recognition of his steadfast leadership and vision that has accelerated India's emergence as a global power and elevated the strategic partnership between the United States and India to address global challenges.

O'Brien in another tweet said that Trump also presented the Legion of Merit to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The awards were received by their respective ambassadors in Washington DC.

President Trump "awarded the Legion of Merit to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for his leadership and vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific," he said.

Trump awarded the Legion of Merit to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison for his leadership in addressing global challenges and promoting collective security, O'Brien tweeted.

The United States is the latest country to confer its highest award to the Indian prime minister.

Other awards include Order of Abdulaziz Al Saud by Saudi Arabia in 2016, State Order of Ghazi Amir Amanullah Khan (2016), Grand Collar of the State of Palestine Award (2018), Order of Zayed Award by United Arab Emirates (2019), Order of St Andrew by Russia (2019), Order of the Distinguished Rule of Nishan Izzuddin by Maldives (2019).

6 international, 9 domestic locations to get ferry connectivity

The shipping and waterways ministry has identified nine domestic locations and six international routes, connecting four international destinations, including Chattogram in Bangladesh, Seychelles and Madagascar in Africa and Jaffna in Sri Lanka, from Indian major coastal port towns with ferry services.

The nine domestic locations are Hazira, Okha, Somnath Temple, Diu, Pipavav, Dahej, Mumbai/ JNPT, Jamnagar, Kochi, Ghogha, Goa, Mundra and Mandvi for ferry and RO-RO (Roll-on Roll-Off) services.

These routes have been identified under the Sagarmala project, a flagship programme of the ministry, which aims to promote port-led development through harnessing India’s 7,500 km long coastline and potentially navigable waterways.

The ministry recent launched one of such services by deploying RO-PAX vessel ferry service between Hazira and Ghogha. This ferry service has reduced the distance between Ghogha and Hazira from 370 km to 90 km and travel time from 10-12 hours to about five hours. This will result in huge savings of fuel to the tune of about 9,000 litres per day, it said.

Officials said now there is greater focus on developing inland waterways and using them for passenger and freight movement, which is aimed at reducing transport cost. Waterway is the cheapest mode for transportation.

Soon, Compensation for Long Power Cuts

Electricity consumers will get compensation from power distribution companies for long power cuts, delay in granting electricity connections and other related services.

The government has promulgated rules for rights of electricity consumers, which provide for penalties up to ₹1 lakh on power distribution companies, Union power minister R K Singh said.

The rules provide for compensation for no supply to a consumer beyond a particular duration, to be specified by the electricity commission and for interruptions in supply beyond limits specified by the commission.

They provide for stringent timelines for connection, disconnection, reconnection and shifting. Delay in change in consumer category or load; change in consumer details; replacement of defective meters; period within which bills are to be served and bill-related complaints will attract penalties. Singh said consumers will get electricity connection within seven days in metro cities, 15 days in other cities and 30 days in rural areas.

Singh said power distribution companies across the country are monopolies—whether government or private—and the consumer has no alternative. Therefore it was necessary that the consumers’ rights be laid down in rules and a system for enforcement of these rights be put in place.

“These rules emanate from the conviction that the power systems exist to serve the consumers and the consumers have rights to get the services and reliable, quality electricity,” he said.

On being asked about concerns about compliance from states, Singh said electricity is in the Concurrent List and the central government has the authority to lay down rules. “These rules are not optional and violations would result in penalties,” he said.

The rules provide that the details of scheduled power outages shall be informed to the consumers. In case of unplanned outage or fault, immediate intimation shall be given to the consumers through SMS or by any other electronic mode along with estimated time for restoration.

Also, the distribution licensee, within six months from the date of notification of the regulations by the commission, shall create an online facility on which consumers may register and claim the compensation amount. The information in this regard shall be widely circulated among consumers through appropriate means including mass media, bills, SMS, e-mails or by uploading on licensee’s website.

In all cases, the payment of compensation shall be made by adjustment against current or future bills for supply of electricity, within stipulated time as specified by the commission.

Kamal unveils 7-point agenda for TN to become ₹1 trillion economy

 Actor and MNM president Kamal Haasan unveiled a seven-point governance and economic agenda to make Tamil Nadu a Rs 1 trillion (Rs 1 lakh crore) economy, if his party is voted to power in the state.

The paper has the signature of former IAS officer Santhosh Babu, who took voluntary retirement from government service to join Makkal Needhi Maiam, as its headquarters general secretary, recently.

The vision note talks about a paperless green channel governance, online homes connected through PCs and broadband service to be provided by the government to all households, enabling villages to become self-sufficient to promote enterprise economy and green plus revolution to increase farmers’ income through value-added services and cold chains, recognizing women (homemakers) for their work at home by ensuring payments and laying thrust on “prosperity line” instead of “poverty line”. If voted to power, the party would ensure all these, the paper said.

“If we abolish corruption, we can make two states the size of Tamil Nadu to prosper. Those who have worked in the government and with us now (former IAS official Santhosh Babu) have told us that there are enough resources available to implement the seven-point agenda and make Tamil Nadu a Rs 1 trillion economy, four times the present level,” Kamal Haasan told reporters in Kancheepuram.

MNM plans to offer “green channel governance” by abolishing physical files and making the entire governance process paperless from the panchayats to the chief minister’s office, the vision note says.

“The Right to Government Services Act will be introduced in Tamil Nadu to ensure time-bound clearance and approval. It is already there in 19 states, but Tamil Nadu did not implement it, citing the existence of the Citizen’s Charter. The charter is there, but hardly effective,” Santhosh Babu said.

Gujarat inks MoU to set up G-SER at Dholera

The Gujarat government signed an MoU (memorandum of understanding) with Cerestra to set up Gujarat-Special Education Region at Dholera Special Investment Region.

G-SER - incepted as a 1,000-acre education hub with a development potential of more than 5,000 acres - will consist of university district, school district, discovery district, and innovation district. This will be supported by common infrastructure such as student housing, sports complex, etc. in Dholera Special Investment Region. GSER is set to compete with other top education clusters around the world.

As a part of this endeavour, the state government has established an MoU with M/s Cerestra Managers Private Limited. Cerestra Ventures, India’s largest education infrastructure fund, in association with the state government, will develop the Special Education Region at Dholera. The Hyderabad-based private equity firm is engaged in investment, development and management of real assets in the field of education and life sciences. Under its education vertical, Cerestra is focused on setting up “First in Class” quality-centric education hubs which includes schools and student housing and has implemented projects in Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Bangalore.

CM Vijay Rupani said that Dholera is the first modern greenfield industrial city developed for supporting industrial 4.0 manufacturing. The SER will further boost overall development of the region and will support in achieving the aim of Gujarat being a knowledge-driven economy, the CM said.

M K Das (IAS), chairman, Dholera Industrial City Development Limited, said, “Gujarat has a track record of implementing many innovative socio-economic and dynamic models of inclusive growth and development .”

“Cerestra is an end-to-end integrated education investment platform, with student housing edu-infra and school operations. Cerestra aims to create a sustainable and well diversified portfolio of edu-infra and plans India’s maiden eduinfra InvIT (Infrastructure Investment Trust). G-SER MoU is another milestone in that direction” said Jasmeet Chhabra, managing partner of Cerestra.

Palghar: 6-12 AD sculptures unearthed from lake

Three stone sculptures dating back to the 6th to 12th century were found while desilting the ancient Jamsar lake in Jawhar taluka, Palghar district, on Friday. The lake was declared a wetland by the village panchayat recently, and work of desilting the 6.6-hectare water body has been underway for a month.

On Friday, workers stumbled upon the sculptures that had images of war heroes and a five-headed cow, said villager Balu Dhakne. Work was halted and villagers informed Jawhar tehsildar Santosh Shinde, who visited the lake on Monday. Shinde said officials from the Archaeological Survey of India were informed. The ASI will be able to throw light on the artefacts, he said, adding that similar sculptures were found in 1986 in the same lake.

Last year, the district administration identified Jamsar as one of the 86 potential wetlands. Jamsar is included in the National Wetland Inventory Atlas, Maharashtra, prepared by Indian Space Research Organisation. The village has urged the state to help conserve the lake as they are not able to restore it themselves. The Mukne dynasty ruled the Jawhar state in the 14th century. It went through several transitions and lasted for over 600 years, till its accession into the Union of India in 1947.

Mumbai: 17% work on coastal road done during lockdown

Municipal commissioner Iqbal Chahal said BMC had completed 17% work on the coastal road during Covid lockdown. “The 400-metre long tunnel boring machine, which is 40 feet wide and the longest to be used in India, is now fully assembled on reclaimed land, and boring will commence from January 7,” he said.

Work on the 10.58 km road from Princess Street flyover at Marine Drive to Bandra-Worli Sea Link is proceeding at a steady pace. Girders are being cast, piling work is under way along the entire length of the road, said a civic official.

Chahal said BMC had reclaimed 70 hectares (ha) from Arabian Sea so far for the coastal road. Maximum reclamation was between Amarsons and Mahalaxmi temple at Haji Ali (40ha) and another 25ha between Worli Dairy and Bandra-Worli sea link. Another 5ha have been reclaimed near Priyadarshini Park at Nepean Sea Road.

“As per the first CRZ clearance we can reclaim 90ha, so around 20ha remains to be reclaimed.We are awaiting the CRZ nod from the Centre to reclaim 21ha more,” said the official. In all, BMC plans to reclaim 111ha. Reclamation is being done with boulders brought from hillocks being knocked down for Navi Mumbai airport.

Centre to develop a winter town in J&K

The highways ministry kicked off consultation with stakeholders on Monday to develop a satellite township along the 18-km stretch between Z-Morh and Zojila tunnels on Srinagar-Leh highway. It would be be developed as a winter destination with modern facilities for winter sports, luxury accommodation and other necessary infrastructure in collaboration with the administration of Ladakh and J&K, sources said.

Union road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari chaired a preparatory meeting on Monday with the representatives of Ladakh and J&K administration including J&K lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha and senior officials from the ministry and BRO. “Now all stakeholders would work together for conceptualisation of the projects. The minister said developing the township will boost tourism and create employment for the locals,” said a source.

Last week Gadkari had said the plan was to develop a township more beautiful than Davos in Switzerland. Sources said tourists taking this route to reach Leh usually halt at Drass and Kargil and the proposed township can be the best option. “

Covid-19: Night curfew imposed in Maharashtra

In light of an alarming new strain of COVID emerging in the UK and end-of-year festivities, the Maharashtra government will impose a night curfew for the next 15 days, between 11 pm and 6 am from December 21 to January 5. Travellers from Europe and the Middle East will remain under institutional quarantine for 14 days; returnees from some other countries will be strictly home-quarantined.

On Sunday, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray had addressed the state and announced that wearing masks would be mandatory for the next six months. He had organised a meeting on measures to be imposed with chief secretary Sanjay Kumar and other officials. After this, a decision to impose night curfew in city limits was announced. Thackeray stated, “The new strain of COVID-19 is spreading fast. It is likely to be more dangerous. This will become clear over the next few days. We have decided to take precautions in the state starting from Monday onwards.”

Orders were also issued for stringent check-ups of international travellers. Those incoming from Europe and the Middle East will undergo an RT-PCR test on the seventh day of institutional quarantine, and can go home only after completing it. All municipal commissioners have been asked to make arrangements for quarantine near airports, and for separate hospitals for Europe returnees showing viral symptoms.

A meeting is likely to be held with all collectors and municipal commissioners over the next few days.

Small-scale industries rued that the night curfew will hamper business again. Abhay Bhor, president of the Forum for Small Scale Industries Association, said, “The state has not given enough clarity on night curfew. Workers travel and transport vehicles ply in the night. We have already faced huge losses in the lockdown. We hope the government issues clearer guidelines for industries.”


Congress: Tete a tete

The social distancing between sofas on the lawns of 10, Janpath on Saturday was just about perfect at around 8-10 feet, and while the conversation was polite and tempered, the chasm between the dissenters and the Gandhis might take more effort to bridge.

The day was sunny, setting the ambience for the 19 participants who reflected a subtle balance. There were seven “letter writers”, an equal number of “loyalists”, the three Gandhis and Kamal Nath and P Chidambaram who did not fit in either camps. They were not “dissenters” but did voice some of the G-23’s concerns.

The five-hour discussions followed an unstated agenda with some meandering conversation as well. There were self-exculpatory comments from one of the G-23 and other small asides but barring the odd loo break, the Congress seniors sat through, with alternate speakers from each “camp”. Priyanka Gandhi suggested Sonia would leave the meet for about half an hour but the party chief sat through the deliberations. There was no lunch break, as the fare was circulated at the sofas where leaders sat spaced out in the lawn.

It was a rare face-to-face discussion for Sonia who has not met many visitors. It was also an opportunity for the letter writers to meet Rahul Gandhi, with whom most of them share strained ties. How far his assurance that he values seniors — something he has said earlier too — will go in easing tensions is not clear as the suspense over his plans continues. For the letter writers, the question remains whether he will be back full time as president, or a “compromise” candidate will be offered to the party. The latter may open the field to more than a few, who would however need to pass the loyalty test. It may also lead to an unexpected contest.

The next rounds of the tussle within the party may be played out as the electoral college for party president firms up. Will it be just AICC, as can be the case in the event of a mid-term vacancy being filled, or a wider exercise, is a key variable.

There were no clear conclusions but the discussion is seen as a recognition on part of the leadership that business as usual may not be possible. Priyanka’s outreach with some of the G-23 prior to the meeting, might acknowledge this.

Somewhere in Kolkata....


People of Bengal want change: HM Amit Shah

People of West Bengal are yearning for change as they want to get rid of political violence, corruption, extortion and Bangladeshi infiltration, Union home minister Amit Shah said on Sunday, attacking the Mamata Banerjee government.

Addressing people during a roadshow in this town associated with Bengali cultural and literary icon Rabindranath Tagore, Shah vowed to restore the state to its old glory when it was called ‘sonar Bangla’ (Bengal of gold) if the Bharatiya Janata Party is voted to power.

“I have attended and organised several roadshows in my life but have never seen one like this. This roadshow is a reflection of people’s anger against the Mamata Banerjee-led All India Trinamool Congress rule. This crowd reflects people’s faith in the agenda of development of Narendra Modi Ji,” Shah told the massive gathering at the roadshow.

He said the yearning was not about changing a political leader but “getting rid of corruption, political violence, extortion and Bangladeshi infiltration”.

During his visit to the Visva-Bharati on Sunday, Shah paid homage to Rabindranath Tagore, crediting the Nobel laureate for turning Santiniketan into a centre for cultural exchanges.

He said that as the Visva-Bharati nears its centenary year, Tagore’s teachings should spread across the world, helping Indian knowledge and culture achieve international acclaim through his works.

“Tagore has not only enriched the philosophy and literature of India, but also made Santiniketan a base for connecting Indian culture with that of many other countries,” Shah told reporters at the end of his two-hour-long visit to the central university.

Golden Somnath

The golden era seems to be finally returning for the revered Somnath temple in coastal Saurashtra. After golden pillars, now an ambitious feat of gold plating 1,450 kalash or stone spires atop Somnath temple will be undertaken by the trust, temple administration said.

The Somnath temple trust has already received donations from 500-odd families who are sponsoring the gold plating of 500 spires. More are expected to join this initiative. “The work of turning the entire spires golden will be accomplished by 2021 end,” claimed trustee of Somnath temple trust P K Laheri. The work had begun after lockdown. Temple manager Vijaysinh Chavda said gold-plating of 10 more spires will be undertaken from Monday onwards.

Temple administrators said that a little above 129 kg of gold has already been used to goldplate the sanctum sanctorum, pillars and the door leading to the sanctum sanctorum in the Somnath temple.

Temple manager Vijaysinh Chavda says, “The new project will ensure an overall golden look for the shikhara of the Somnath temple. There are large, medium and small spires and each set of these spires have unique and fixed donations for gold plating.”

To gold-plate large spires a sum of Rs.1.51 lakh has been arrived at for each. Similarly, Rs.1.21 lakh and Rs.1.11 lakh donation has been fixed for gold plating medium and small sized spires respectively.

Each family or individual can donate for one spire.

Each of these families will be called for a small ritual before the gold plate is installed. Chavda reveals that they have received 80 confirmations from donors for large spires. Similarly some 200 donors for medium and 138 donors for large spires have come forward for donations.

“The whole project will be completed by 2021 end. We have installed 60 gold-plated spires till now.

The process had slowed down owing to the lockdown and Covid precautions. We have now evolved a method to complete the task early,” says trustee of Somnath temple trust P K Laheri.


India Scores its Lowest in Test

The Indian cricket team under Virat Kohli faced its worst hour of embarrassment while collapsing to its lowest Test score of 36, as a rampaging Australia cruised to an emphatic eight wicket victory in two and half days at the opening day and night Test on Saturday. The scorecard sequence was 4, 9, 2, 0, 4, 0, 8, 4, 0, 4 and 1. “Very hard to put those feelings into words. We had a lead of 60-odd coming and just collapsed,” said Kohli, who would be heading home on paternity leave now. India’s earliest lowest score was 42 at the Lord’s in 1974 against England, known in Indian cricket parlance as the “Summer of 42”. Saturday’s total was also the lowest score in the brief history of day-night Tests and the joint fifth lowest overall. The easy target of 90 runs was achieved by the home side in only 21 overs without much fuss.

Ayodhya Mosque: First look

The Indo-Islamic Cultural Foundation Trust released an artist’s impression of the proposed masjid at Ayodhya’s Dhannipur, with no ‘design element’ from the past. Work may start from January 26 or August 15 next year


Covid-19 vaccine voluntary

Getting vaccinated for Covid-19 will be voluntary, the Union Health Ministry has said while underlining that the vaccine introduced in India will be as effective as any vaccine developed by other countries.

The ministry listed a series of frequently asked questions on Covid-19 vaccine and responded to questions like if taking a vaccine was mandatory, how long does it take for the antibodies to develop and if it was necessary for a Covid recovered person to take the vaccine.

Six vaccines - one developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with ICMR, second one developed by Zydus Cadila, third one by Gennova, Oxford vaccine, trial of which is conducted by Serum Institute of India, Sputnik V vaccine which is being manufactured by Dr Reddy’s Lab, Hyderabad, in collaboration with Russia’s Gamaleya National Centre and the sixth one manufactured by Biological E Ltd, Hyderabad, in collaboration with MIT, USA are undergoing clinical trials in India.

Is it safe?

The ministry said that the vaccines will be introduced only after the regulatory bodies clear it based on its safety and efficacy. As is true for other vaccines, the common side effects in some individuals could be mild fever, pain, etc. at the site of injection, it added.

Can an infected person be vaccinated?

People with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 infection may increase the risk of spreading the virus at the vaccination site. However, those infected must defer vaccination for 14 days after symptoms resolution.

How many doses required?

Two doses, 28 days apart, need to be taken by an individual to complete the vaccination schedule, it stated.

Who is on priority?

People taking medicines for illnesses like cancer, diabetes, hypertension etc, can take the Covid-19 vaccine as persons with one or more of these comorbid conditions are considered high-risk category and they need to get vaccinated.

Will everyone get vaccinated simultaneously?

In the initial phase, the Covid-19 vaccine will be provided to the priority group - healthcare and frontline workers. The 50-plus age group may also begin early based on vaccine availability.

Is registration with health dept necessary?

Registration of a beneficiary is mandatory. Only after registration the information on the session site to visit and time will be shared.

Documents required?

Photo ID such as driving license, MGNREGA job card, PAN card, bank passbooks, passport, pension documents, service identity card issued by central/state govt/public companies and voter ID.

Covid-19: India cases cross 1cr

India on Friday became the second country after the US to log 1 crore (10 million) Covid cases even as the pandemic keeps receding in the country.

It took 29 days for cases in India to go from 9 million to 10 million, making it the slowest rise since the first million cases. Even average daily deaths in these 29 days were the lowest after the first one million.

India’s Covid numbers have been falling for three months now, ever since the caseload crossed five million on September 15. The total caseload crossed the grim 1 crore milestone after 27,022 fresh infections took the tally to 1,00,04,893 on Friday night.

Deaths per million in India stand at 104, the second lowest among the world’s 20 worst-hit countries. Only Indonesia, which is currently at number 20 in total caseload, has had fewer deaths per million at 71. In terms of daily cases, India hit its peak almost exactly three months ago on September 17, when 98,795 fresh infections were recorded in a single day. In these three months, cases have surged for a few weeks at a stretch in some states like Delhi but the overall trend has been of a steady decline despite the festive season and further relaxations in restrictions across states.

Some of the most dramatic decreases in cases were seen in the southern states. When India’s caseload hit nine million on November 19, the southern cases had a 37% share in the total tally. In the last one million cases, the south’s share had dropped to 27% despite numbers in Kerala continuing to remain relatively high. India remains one of only two nations among the 10 worst-hit countries of the world which is yet to see a second surge in cases. The other country is Argentina. The reason(s) why the country’s numbers have been consistently falling for three months now remain in the realm of speculation.

OneWeb Launches 36 Satellites for High-speed Net Services

OneWeb, a Low Earth Orbit satellite communications operator co-owned by Bharti Global and the UK government, launched 36 satellites on Friday from the Vostochny cosmodrome in Russia, paving the way for launching highspeed internet services in key global markets from late-2021, and in India by mid-2022.

“Today’s launch is one of many steps we have taken to operationalise one of the world’s first LEO constellations,” Bharti Enterprises chairman Sunil Mittal, who was recently named One-Web’s executive chairman, said.

World Bank corrects ease of doing business rankings

Coming out with corrected Doing Business rankings following review of data irregularities, the World Bank has said that China’s ranking would have been lower by seven notches in the index for 2018. India maintained its spot on the list.

Besides China’s, the World Bank has corrected the Doing Business rankings of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Azerbaijan.

In August, the World Bank had decided to pause the publication of its Doing Business report following a number of irregularities regarding changes to data in previous reports.

The review details the irregularities and required corrections affecting the data for four countries --China, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Azerbaijan, World Bank said in a statement dated December 16.

The review kept the ranking of UAE unchanged at 16 in Doing Business 2020, while it marginally lowered the ranking of Saudi Arabia to 63 from 62.

The ranking of Azerbaijan has been improved to 28 from 34.

As per the ‘Doing Business’ 2020 report, India had jumped 14 places to the 63rd position on the ease of doing business ranking. India has improved its rank by 79 positions in five years (2014-19).


GPS could make NHs toll plaza free in 2 years

Toll plazas on NHs would be a thing of the past in the next 2-3 years with the National Highways Authority of India preparing to roll out GPS-based tolling across the network. This will allow people to travel non-stop as there will be no physical barrier, Union highways minister Nitin Gadkari said. Addressing a webinar at the ASSOCHAM Foundation Week Programme, the minister said this would enable deduction of the toll charge based on the movement of vehicles directly from the bank accounts of the users. Gadkari said this would make India a “toll-booth free” nation in the next two years. Sources said initially, this will be the default mode of toll collection for all commercial vehicles as all commercial passenger vehicles registered after January 2019 have got the vehicle tracking systems embedded in them. This can be easily installed in all other commercial vehicles including the older ones. In the second phase, private vehicles can also be brought under this ambit.

An NHAI official said this “free flow satellite-based electronic toll collection system” using GPS technology will also ensure that the users pay only for the distance covered.

Haldibari rail route from Bangladesh opens after 55 years

A goods train with 33 bogeys flagged off from Bangladesh on Thursday revived the Chilahati-Haldibari rail route after 55 years amid thunderous cheers on both sides of the border. The train, flagged off by Bangladesh railway minister Nurul Islam Sujon, was greeted by thousands as it reached Zero Point from Chilahati station. It chugged into India at Haldibari around 2pm.

“It’s like a dream come true. We are now looking forward to passenger trains on this route. We have heard stories of how Darjeeling Mail, pulled by a steam engine, used to run from Sealdah to Siliguri along this route,” said Haldibari resident Sajal Chakraborty.

Darjeeling Mail, one of the oldest trains between Kolkata and north Bengal, could be among the first passenger trains to operate on the revived route three months later. It will save nearly five hours between Sealdah and New Jalpaiguri Station.

While flagging off the goods train, Sujon reportedly announced that a passenger train would ply from Dhaka to Siliguri three times a week from March 26, and trains from NJP would go to Sealdah via Bangladesh’s Chilahati, Domar, Toronbari, Nilfamari, Sayeedpur, Darshana and Parbatipur before entering India through the Gede border.

Loco master Amal Sarkar said: “This is a prestigious moment for us as we have been entrusted the job of taking the engine from Chilahati to Haldibari. We are honoured.”

Noida International Airport

NCR’s second airport, coming up at Jewar in Greater Noida, will officially be known as Noida international Airport and will have as its constant companion a logo depicting a flying sarus crane, Uttar Pradesh’s state bird that has one of its richest habitats in the wetlands around Noida.

The decision was taken on Thursday after senior executives of Yamuna International Airport Private Limited, the subsidiary of concessionaire Zurich AG that has been formed to build and operate the new airport, and officials of the civil aviation department met chief minister Yogi Adityanath in Lucknow.

The design of the terminal building was also presented to the chief minister.

While the project has made significant headway with land acquisition complete and the handover of land to Zurich AG for the first phase likely by mid-2021, the airport came to be referred to in different ways in the absence of an official name. It was commonly referred to as Jewar airport.

In the design sketches of the terminal buildings that were recently released, the project was referred to as Delhi Noida International Airport. Officials of Noida International Airport Ltd, the special purpose vehicle formed by the state government to oversee the airport project, objected to this and asked YIAPL to refrain from using a title till both sides had finalised a name.

NIAL CEO Arun Vir Singh said, “The final name Noida International Airport will be updated in the concession agreement and in all subsequent documents.”

The concept of the logo germinated from discussions on themes centred around the state bird. The designers arrived at the final logo by merging the motifs of a sarus (stork) in flight, technology and a connected world. The wings of the sarus in the logo, officials said, are meant to connote the idea of remaining connected with the rest of the world. “The logo also signifies a flight that is about to take off from the runway. The creative team deployed for the job by Zurich AG has done a splendid job by including all the elements in a simple design,” said Singh.

YIAPL CEO Christoph Schnellmann, COO Kiran Jain and senior executive Sunil Joshi were at the meeting with the CM. From the UP government, chief secretary RK Tiwari, additional chief secretary to the CM SP Goyal and director of civil aviation Surendra Singh were present. NIAL was represented by Arun Vir Singh and nodal officer Shailendra Bhatia.

The airport’s master plan, building design and airside activity are being scrutinised by the civil aviation regulator and approval is expected in January next year. According to conditions in the concession agreement, the UP government will execute the support agreement by April 5, 2021. For this, a letter has been sent to the concessionaire. Singh, the civil aviation director, said the department would complete the formalities by the end of this month.

Noida International Airport is also proposed to be linked to the high-speed rail project connecting Delhi with Varanasi. At the same time, RITES has conducted a study to connect it with IGI airport in Delhi. Plans are also afoot to link the airport with the proposed Delhi-Mumbai expressway.

Yogi said the Noida International Airport will give a boost to industrial development and lead to creation of jobs, promotion of exports, streamlining of air traffic, and more tourism activity. Terming the aviation sector as a medium of multi-dimensional growth, Yogi said it would also bolster the economic development of the state.

India and Bangladesh seal seven agreements

India and Bangladesh sealed seven agreements to expand cooperation in diverse areas including energy, development projects and agriculture, at a virtual summit on Thursday, and restored a cross-border rail link that had not been operational since 1965.

The railway line from Haldibari in Cooch Behar to Chilahati in northern Bangladesh had been defunct after rail links between India and the then East Pakistan were snapped in 1965.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina also jointly inaugurated a digital exhibition on Mahatma Gandhi and Bangladesh's founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. At the summit, Hasina expressed gratitude to the Indian Army for liberating the country from Pakistani forces in 1971. “I pay deep homage to the three million martyrs who laid down their lives. I pay tribute to the members of the Indian armed forces martyred in the war and to their families. I pay my gratitude to the government and the people of India who extended their wholehearted support for the cause of our nation,” she said. “India is our true friend,” the Bangladesh PM emphasised. In his remarks, Modi said Bangladesh was a "key pillar" of India's "Neighbourhood First" policy.

"We feel proud to celebrate "Bijoy Dibosh" with you to mark Bangladesh's victory over anti-liberation forces," he said. “It has been key priority for me to strengthen ties with Bangladesh," Modi added.

Bijoy Dibosh or Victory Day is celebrated on December 16 to commemorate the victory of the Bangladeshi forces over the Pakistan army in the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971.

Highlighting the restoration of Bangladesh's rail links to India's north-eastern states, Hasina said, "Our ongoing connectivity initiatives are catalysts in this regard (integration of the two economies). A prime example is the resumption of Chilahati-Haldibari rail link which we will inaugurate today."

"Throughout 2020 we have witnessed a number of initiatives such as trade through rail routes, high level visits and meetings, capacity-building initiatives, the first trial run of Indian cargo from Kolkata to North-East India and of course, cooperation on Covid-19," she said.

Somewhere in Bengaluru....


The BS Yediyurappa government rolled out Bengaluru Mission 2022 that aims to revamp city infrastructure over the next two years. “It’s the vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to see Bengaluru as one of the best cities in the world. We’ll work to fulfil his wish,’’ he said after launching the blueprint.

The roadmap will focus on five broad areas: easing traffic bottlenecks, making public transport more accessible and affordable, improving lung spaces, connecting people with the city’s art and culture, and providing digitally enabled services.

The government plans to create two new lung spaces on the lines of Cubbon Park by repurposing lands of public sector undertakings NGEF and Mysuru Lamps. The government will establish a culture, heritage and crafts museum at NGEF to showcase the state’s culture. An interactive digital show of the city’s journey into a premier innovation hubs — Itihaas-Bengaluru’s technology history — will be set up at Mysore Lamps Factory.

Two mega tree parks, each of 400 acres, will be developed on the outskirts of the city and turn existing mini-parks at JP Nagar, Turahalli, Kadugodi and Mattikere into popular destinations. The government plans to set up a unified citizens’ connect portal to make services easily accessible. The BBMP’s Sahaya portal will be redesigned as a one-stop platform for grievance redressal.

To reduce traffic bottlenecks, the government plans to develop 12 high-density corridors, stretching up to 190 km, in coordination with the Karnataka Road Development Corporation. An annual maintenance contract would be given for 400km of arterial roads and it will promote shared electric vehicles and ensure operations of suburban rail within the next two years.

The government will refurbish existing waste-processing plants and implement GPS-based monitoring of waste collection and rehabilitate legacy dump sites to ensure efficient waste management. Yediyurappa said funds have been set aside for all the works and they will be completed in a time-bound manner. He asserted that financial distress due to Covid-19 would not get in the way of development.

However, the opposition dubbed it as “old wine in an old bottle”. “The roadmap seems to be a compilation of ongoing works and those in the pipeline. It clearly suggests the government is making attempts to lure urban voters ahead of the BBMP elections,’’ said a Congress functionary.


India slips one place in Human Development Index

India ranked 131 out of 189 countries in the UNDP’s Human Development Index for 2019, down one step from rank 130 in the previous year. The just released Human Development Report 2020 showed that while India’s HDI score of 0.645 had inched up marginally from 0.642 in 2018, it was still lower than the average for developing countries of 0.689.

The HDI, which completes 30 years, seeks to present a composite measure of where countries stand on three broad fronts — health, education and economic well-being — using life expectancy, expected and mean years of schooling and per capita gross national income as proxies for these three.

In 2019, India ranked 133rd on life expectancy at birth, 125th on expected years of schooling, 162nd on mean years of schooling and 126th on GNI per capita, suggesting that its human development indicators are worse than mere economic factors would warrant.

The data in the report also shows that the improvement in India’s HDI score has been slowing down of late. Between 1990, when the HDI was first compiled, and 2000, India’s score improved by 1.44% a year on average. In the next decade, from 2000 to 2010, it did even better with an annual average improvement of 1.58%. Against this, the average rise of 1.21% a year between 2010 and 2019 was a clear slowdown.

Over the last couple of years, the improvement has been even slower, by 0.3% in 2018 and 0.5% in 2019. While improvements in scores are likely to slow down as the scores increase, India is hardly at a level where that should be happening, still being classified in the “medium human development category”. Norway continues to be at the top of the HDI rankings with Ireland, Switzerland, Hong Kong and Iceland rounding off the top 5. Germany, Sweden, Australia, the Netherlands and Denmark are the others in the top 10, an illustration of the extent to which Western Europe dominates the top of the list.

India looks to indigenously develop 6 AWACS aircraft

India plans to launch a major Rs.10,500 crore project to indigenously develop six airborne warning and control system aircraft, which act as powerful “eyes in the sky” to look deep into enemy territory in modern-day warfare.

Defence sources said the project, which entails mounting indigenous 360-degree coverage AESA (active electronically scanned array) radars on six aircraft acquired from Air India, is set to get the initial approval or “acceptance of necessity” by the Rajnath Singh-led Defence Acquisitions Council.

The project, which will involve cost-sharing between the IAF and DRDO, is actually a recast of an earlier plan to mount the indigenous AESA radar on two new Airbus A-330 wide-body jets, which was hanging fire for the last five years. Under the project, DRDO will acquire six smaller A-320 variants from the existing AI fleet, get the airframes modified, and then mount the radars on them.

“This project for six AWACS or advanced AEW&C (airborne early-warning and control) aircraft will be more cost-effective than the earlier one of acquiring two new A-330s from the European MNC. DRDO has promised to deliver the six AWACS in a 4-7 year timeframe,” said a source. IAF currently has just three Israeli Phalcon AWACS, with a 400-km range and 360-degree radar coverage, and two indigenous “Netra” AEW&C aircraft. The latter have indigenous 240-degree coverage radars, with a 250-km range, fitted on Brazilian Embraer-145 jets.

Mumbai: 10 AC local services for CSMT-Kalyan commuters

Central Railway is introducing 10 air-conditioned local train services between Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus and Kalyan, starting today. The services will run on six days a week, barring Sunday. Currently, only passengers permitted by the Railway Ministry and state government will be allowed to travel.

The first AC local will run at 5.42 am from Kurla and reach CSMT station at 6.12 am. The last local from CSMT is scheduled at 11.25 pm and will reach Kurla at 11.53 pm. Out of the 10 services, one will run in the morning rush hour and two in the evening rush hours.

In the morning, one AC local service will leave from Dombivali at 7.47 am and reached CSMT at 9.08 am. In the evening, an AC local will depart from CSMT at 5.12 pm and reach Kalyan at 6.42 pm. Another AC local will depart from CSMT at 8.22 pm and reach Dombivali at 9.40 pm. The AC rakes will halt at all stations. The passengers have been advised to adhere to all guidelines and norms laid out in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, the decision has not gone down well with all passengers. 

Some passenger associations demanded that regular passengers be allowed to board the AC local. 

Mumbai: MMRDA uses lockdown to bring Monorail rakes back from the dead

Two Monorail rakes that were taken apart two years ago to reuse their components for an ageing fleet have finally been reassembled. On December 16, one of them was reintroduced on the Chembur-Wadala-Jacob Circle route. Another one, with improved and cushioned seating, will join in the coming months. The engineers from Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority have been reviving these two rakes for more than a year. Currently, the fleet comprises four functional rakes with one on standby at the depot.

Sources said the contractors took a hasty decision of cannibalising old rakes to save money on spare parts for the functional fleet, but then MMRDA ended up struggling to get new parts for the revival of old rakes. While some were imported from Germany and Korea, others were sourced from Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Pune. Officials said local procurement has helped MMRDA save 74 per cent of its estimated cost.

An official said, “We procured specialised springs and auxiliary power supply cables from German companies, while gear boxes and shafts were sourced from Korean companies. Materials for power supply and tyres were sourced from local firms.” He said special tyres for the seventh rake are being manufactured by a Hyderabad-based company. “They are made of hard and not synthetic rubber as in the existing fleet,” he said, adding that procurement and work during the lockdown was not easy. Non-payment by vendors made the repair work more difficult.

Owing to the pandemic, the Monorail operations have been suspended since March 22. However, the maintenance activities have continued during this period.


India, Vietnam look to boost energy ties

Despite China’s objections to Indian investment in Vietnam’s oil and gas sector, India and Vietnam are looking to scale up energy ties, while also strengthening defence and security cooperation. Ahead of PM Narendra Modi’s virtual meeting with his counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc next week, Vietnam has said it’s looking forward to oil and gas exploration company Essar Exploration ramping up its investment in the southeast Asian country to $11 billion. The summit next week, in a sign of deepening defence ties, is also likely to coincide with the launch of the first high-speed patrol boat which L&T has built for Vietnam using the $100 million defence line of credit India announced earlier for the ASEAN country that remains locked in a territorial dispute with Beijing in South China Sea.

“Essar has expressed interest in scaling up their investment project in Vietnam to $11 billion. If that happens, the project will be the single biggest investment by an Indian company in Vietnam. We are looking forward to their decision and are very optimistic about it,” said Vietnam ambassador to India Pham Sanh Chau. Essar and ONGC Videsh are the two major oil companies active in Vietnam at the moment. Claiming sovereignty over almost the entire SCS with its controversial 9-dash claim line, China has repeatedly in the past expressed reservations about Vietnam’s invitation to Indian companies for offshore oil exploration, saying that development of bilateral relations should not be used as an excuse to infringe upon China’s “legitimate rights and interests” in the SCS. Both India and Vietnam look at defence and security ties as one of the main pillars of their comprehensive strategic partnership.

Exports Decline 8.74% in November

India’s exports fell 8.74% in November, steeper than 5.12% in October at $23.52 billion, dragged by petroleum goods, engineering, chemicals and gems and jewellery.

However, the decline was lower than 9.07% as shown by preliminary data released by the commerce and industry ministry earlier this month.

India’s trade deficit touching a 10-month high of $9.87 billion in November though it narrowed from $12.75 billion in November 2019.

Ceramics, pharmaceuticals, carpet and handicrafts were a few sectors that witnessed rise in exports. Exports have been seeing signs of revival as order booking position has continuously improved and more new orders are in the offing, according to FIEO.

Total imports declined 13.32% to $33.39 billion. However, inward shipments of gold and electronics rose last month.

Nayar attributed the slide in non-oil export growth to renewed restrictions in trading partners, that outweighed the optimism related to an early availability of Covid-19 vaccines.

Non-oil and non-gold imports, an indicator of the strength of domestic demand, shrank 1.67% in November.

Imports of machine tools, machinery, transport equipment and project goods declined last month.

Icra expects the size of the merchandise trade deficit to nearly double in the December quarter of FY21 from the September quarter, with imports recovering on the back of an improvement in economic activity, a rise in commodity prices and pick-up in demand for gold during the festive and marriage season but fresh restrictions imposed in India’s major trading partners to ward off rising Covid-19 infections, are likely to arrest the improvement in exports.


Covid cluster at IIT-Madras

Over 100 students and staffers at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras have tested positive for Covid-19 forcing authorities to shut down the premier institute temporarily.

There are 774 students on campus currently. The students who have been infected are all hostel inmates. A total of 444 people had undergone Covid-19 tests.

The infected have been shifted to an exclusive Covid-care facility at the King Institute of Preventive Medicine and Research.

The cause of infection is yet to be identified although overcrowding at the only operational mess for students staying in hostels is suspected to be the reason for the spread.

A circular from the IIT-M registrar directed faculty members, staff, and research scholars to work from home. Students, staff and scholars staying on campus were advised to go into quarantine. Those with flu-like symptoms have been asked to approach the campus hospital.

IIT-M Director Bhaskar Ramamurthi said that following a spike in cases, the management consulted civic authorities and arranged for all students residing in hostels to be tested.

Of the 444 samples tested till date, 104 have tested positive for Covid-19, he said, adding that from December 1 to 12, samples from the infection within the institute steadily increased from a few to 33 specimens just yesterday.

The institute has been functioning on limited capacity with 10 per cent students in the hostels.

All districts have been sensitised to keep a watch on public places especially educational institutions and hostels and also fever surveillance has been intensified, Health Secretary J Radhakrishnan noted.

Somewhere in Gujarat....


Retail inflation eases

Retail inflation eased to a three-month low in November on the back of moderating food prices but still remained above the RBI’s comfort level, prompting economists to say that a cut in interest rate is ruled out for now. Separate data showed inflation measured by the wholesale price index rose to a nine-month high of 1.6% in November as manufactured product prices hardened.

Retail inflation rose an annual 6.9% in November, slower than the 7.6% in October. Food inflation eased to 9.4% in November, from 11% in the previous month. Rural inflation during the month was at 7.2%, while urban inflation was measured at 6.7%. This is the 12th month in a row that retail inflation has remained above the central bank’s tolerance level. Price pressures in rural areas have remained firm and the gap between rural and urban inflation has widened to its highest level since March.

Economists expect the RBI to continue to hold interest rates for now.


Tatas bid for Air India

Tata Group filed an Expression of Interest for Air India to the Disinvestment Ministry and will now be expected to submit its financial bid within the next 15 days. This is just an expression of interest and not a financial bid and it has been submitted as the deadline ends today, Tatas said. An expression of interest indicates a buyer's interest in acquiring a company. The deadline for filing expression of interest ends at 5 pm. It is still not known whether Tatas plan to acquire Air India with their existing partners, i.e. Air Asia or Vistara, or go it alone.

The shortlisted bidder will be expected to pick up ₹ 23,286 crores of the ₹ 60,000 crore total debt of the airline. The remaining debt will be transferred by the government into a special purpose vehicle called Air India Assets Holding.

The disinvestment of Air India will be based on its enterprise value, i.e. calculation of its market capitalisation, short-term and long-term debt and any cash on its balance sheet.

The government had failed to sell a majority stake in Air India in 2018 due to absence of any suitors.


Mumbai - Pune Expressway: Zero fatality corridor

Working with the Maharashtra Highway Police, SaveLife Foundation NGO has introduced its zero-fatality corridor initiative on Mumbai-Pune Expressway, installing a three-lane vehicle-activated speed sign system, making it the first highway with such a vigil.

VASS detects speeds of oncoming vehicles and flashes it back to the driver on their mobile phone, so they correct their behaviour. The offenders immediately receive a picture of themselves along with an alerting message, on their registered mobile phone. The system, which has been introduced on the 95-km Mumbai-Pune Expressway, also works with artificial intelligence to identify the mobile phone usage by drivers.

Piyush Tewari, who helms Save-Life Foundation said, “This is a first for the country and our contribution to making the e-way safer. Going ahead, we will extend the system to other roads in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and NCR where our ZFC initiative is operational. It is a potent tool which will work as our arsenal in controlling speeding on highways.”

According to data procured by his NGO, distracted driving has been a major cause for deaths on highways with nearly 5,000 people losing their lives in 2019 due to mobile phone use. In fact, two images taken earlier this month, of which one was of a police/ VIP vehicle, wherein the vehicle was being driven at 91 kmph and both the hands of the driver were off the steering wheel.

“One of the major reasons for accidents on the e-way continues to be distracted driving, when people are usually on their phone and not focused on the steering wheel. While action is being taken against these practices, such a system was not in place before. These images, which have been captured by the system installed, make it easy for us to nab the offenders,” accepted Sanjay Jadhav, inspector with the highway police.


Maharashtra Tourism: MTDC woos industry to develop 7 major spots

Indicative of positive economic trends ahead, Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation’s move to develop facilities at seven major destinations on 90 years’ lease saw almost all industry players, including top hospitality majors, at a preliminary interactive session with government on Friday.

MTDC and its advisors hosted the session with hoteliers across the country on its upcoming project. Resorts and vacant land owned by MTDC at Mahabaleshwar, Matheran, Harihareshwar, Ganpatipule, Mithbav, Tadoba and Fardapur (near Ajanta Caves) were selected for the first phase. MTDC has appointed Auctus Advisors to support the endeavor. Tourism minister Aaditya Thackeray explained the government’s vision to aspiring developers.

Twenty-five senior executives and over 45 through video-conference, including representatives from Taj Group, Mahindra Group, Chalet Hotels, Sterling Holidays and ITC Hotels, attended the meet.

Minister of state for tourism Aditi Tatkare, Dhananjay Sawalkar, joint director, department of tourism, Ashutosh Salil, managing director, MTDC, and Ajay Saxena, public-private partnership advisor to MTDC were present.

The session was to lay out the tourism minister’s vision-.Participants shared views on modes of collaboration.

At 3.6%, industrial production rises to eight-month high in October

Registering growth for the second straight month, industrial production rose to a eight-month high of 3.6 per cent in October on the back of recovery in manufacturing, consumer goods and power sectors.

The manufacturing sector, which has a weightage of 77.6 per cent in the IIP, recorded a growth of 3.5 per cent in October. In the year-ago period, the sector had a contraction of 5.7 per cent, according to data released by National Statistical Office.

As per the use-based classification, the consumer durables segment, which mainly includes white goods, posted an impressive growth of 17.6 per cent in October whereas it was a contraction of 18.9 per cent in the same period a year ago.

Electricity generation sector recorded an impressive growth of 11.2 per cent in October while output of mining sector contracted by 1.5 per cent during the same period.

The IIP had contracted by 6.6 per cent in October 2019. The industrial production witnessed a 5.2 per cent growth in February. Thereafter, it entered the negative territory in March and remained in the contraction zone till August. In September, there was a marginal growth of 0.5 per cent.

On March 25, the government had imposed a lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19 infections and that had also disrupted economic activities. However, with the gradual relaxation of restrictions, there has been relative improvement in the economic activities. Rating agency Icra's Principal Economist Aditi Nayar said that while the IIP growth stood at an eight month-high and displayed its best performance since the pandemic struck, the pace of the improvement in October 2020 was feebler than expected.


Of India’s fastest land acquisition....

Dnyaneshwar Digambar Kolte of Tuljapur village, Aurangabad district, recalls the exact time—5.58pm on March 12, 2018—he received a text message showing money deposited into his father’s bank account.

It was a momentous day for the Koltes, comprising three brothers and their families. They were the recipients of the largest payout from the state government—about Rs.23.4 crore—for surrendering 9.5 acres of their 16-acre ancestral agricultural land for the upcoming Mumbai-Nagpur Samruddhi Expressway.

“Our annual income from farming was Rs.3 lakh to Rs.5 lakh a year. The family was emotionally attached to the property but when we started calculating the compensation being offered, we changed our minds,” said Dnyaneshwar (37), a state government employee.

When the 701km road project between the two cities was initiated in 2016-17, largescale protests broke out across the 10 districts on the route. Thousands of farmers objected to the land acquisition and chased away officials in many areas, especially in Nashik and Aurangabad districts. “Samruddhi Murdabad” became a battle cry for the protesters.

However, when the government amended its land acquisition policy by dangling a humungous carrot —five times the market value of the land—the agitation dissipated. “We paid Rs.8,000 crore to acquire 25,000 acres from 34,000 families,” said Radheshyam Mopalwar, vice-chairman and managing director, MSRDC.

“This was the fastest land acquisition in India,” said H V Argunde, deputy collector and administrator for MSRDC in Aurangabad. It was completed within a year and a half. “Any delay would have cost us an additional Rs.5,600 crore a year. Offering a huge compensation package to farmers was the best option,” he said. The project cost is currently pegged at Rs.55,335 crore.

Bhausaheb, one of the three Kolte brothers, spearheaded the agitation in Aurangabad district. “From age15, I have been staying on and living off my land,” the rugged farmer told this correspondent.

“I sat under a mango tree for two hours with Bhausaheb and other villagers to convince them to accept the compensation package. They finally relented,” said Argunde. The Koltes’ land was considered a prime property as it touched the existing Aurangabad-Jalgaon highway.

Bhausaheb, the only cultivator in the Kolte family, grew cotton, bajra, tur, wheat, sugarcane and various vegetables on the land. After he received his share of the hefty compensation (over Rs.7 crore), Bhausaheb did what any son-of-the-soil would do. He purchased an additional three acres of a nearby plot to continue farming. He said he is also building a large bungalow for his family. Raj, his son, is not sitting idle either. He is pursuing an MBA degree.

Ravindra, Bhausaheb’s brother, said the family did not want to impede development. “There were serious differences within the family initially. But everyone relented,” he said. The compensation money has been invested mainly in fixed deposits and building new homes. “Fortunately, there is no income tax on compensation received for surrendering agriculture land for a public project,” said Ravindra Kolte.

Chandrakant Pulkundwar, MSRDC’s joint MD, said the corporation hired 320 communicators to guide and counsel farmers how to reinvest their money. “We also started a skill development programme for their children to make them employable,” he said.

“An entire generation of farmers suffered because of the previous land acquisition policies. Compensation was meagre and they spent decades in litigation. This had to end,” said Argunde. “The new land acquisition law in 2013 was a paradigm shift, offering farmers four times the market value of the land. However, in the case of the Samruddhi Expressway, the state government went even further and hiked it to five times in order to speed up the project,” he added.

Meanwhile, the 502km stretch of the expressway between Nagpur and Shirdi is expected to be completed by mid-2021. “We want to inaugurate this stretch on May 1,’’ said Mopalwar.

Last week, chief minister Uddhav Thackeray said the entire highway would be ready for traffic from Nagpur to Mumbai by next year. “Efforts are being made to complete the other road works in the state expeditiously,” said Thackeray. More than 28,000 workers are employed on site to complete the project.

New Parliament building will last 150 years

The new parliament building will have a life of more than 150 years with more than 150% increase in seating capacity. While the interior of the new Lok Sabha will have the theme of peacock, the national bird, Rajya Sabha will have national flower lotus as its theme.

Besides the two Houses, the triangular building will have a Constitution Hall that will exhibit an original Constitution and a digital form for people to read page-by-page. This will be the only portion of the building that will have no storeys. The rest of the complex will have four floors. Each floor will have offices of ministers and committee rooms.

The first floor will have dining space for member of Parliament, VVIPs and visitors. It will also have a central lounge.

Besides being earthquake proof, the new building will be eco-friendly and consume significantly less power. “The project will be completed in time in 2022 and the winter session will be held here,” housing and urban affairs minister Hardeep Singh Puri said.

The government said the new parliament building is a necessity in the 21st century. The statue of Govind Ballabh Pant, currently located between Raisina Road and Red Cross Road, will be shifted to GB Pant Marg as the new building will require more space.

Union housing and urban affairs secretary Durga Shankar Mishra said that all minute details were worked out while planning the building. “The four national symbols will find a place in the building. The National Emblem will be the crown of the building. In the courtyard, we will have a peepal (banyan), which is our national tree,” he added. Officials said the building will have the most modern security and surveillance system. “The security check will be mostly non-intrusive,” said Bimal Patel, the designer of Central Vista redevelopment project. Dholpur and red stone from Rajasthan will be largely used. The digital audio visual system placed in front of every seat will have ‘programmable rules-based microphones’, which will put the Speaker in control of who gets to speak and who doesn’t.

Every MP, minister and political party will get office space here. These buildings will be connected to the parliament complex with a tunnel. “Reports of Sardar Patel Bhavan being demolished are speculative,” said another official.

Walmart to triple Indian exports to $10bn by 2027

US retailer Walmart said it will triple its exports of India-made goods to $10 billion each year by 2027 up from $3 billion at present. India is already one of the top sourcing hubs for Walmart, which is the world’s biggest retailer by sales.

Earlier this year, Walmart’s arch rival Jeff Bezos’s Amazon said the e-commerce giant will use its global footprint to export $10-billion worth of made-in-India goods by 2025. The online retailer, which is fighting a pitched battle with Walmart-backed Flipkart in India, said in July that it had already exported goods worth $2 billion with the last billion happening in less than 18 months.

“We see huge potential for Indian suppliers to grow their businesses by leveraging the unique scale and global distribution opportunity Walmart provides,” Doug McMillon, president and CEO of Walmart said. Walmart’s revised sourcing commitment is expected to provide opportunities to new suppliers in India across several categories, including food, pharmaceuticals, consumables and health and wellness. Walmart has sourced goods from India for more than 20 years, leading to increased business for companies, including Welspun, LT Foods and Aniket Metals and Global Green Company.

The company, which spent around $16 billion in 2018 to acquire 77% stake in Flipkart, currently exports India-made apparel, homeware and jewellery to 14 markets, including the US, Canada, Mexico, Central America, and the UK, through Walmart’s global sourcing office in Bengaluru that opened in 2002.


Public WiFi Plan for Wider Broadband Reach Cleared

Millions of data-hungry consumers across India may soon enjoy top download speeds and a quality video experience anywhere in the country — even in places without mobile coverage — and at all times. This, after the Union Cabinet cleared a proposal to boost national broadband penetration through the public WiFi route using unlicensed entities — something like the PCO model of yore.

The Cabinet cleared the aggregator-model suggested by the telecom regulator, paving the way for new categories of public data offices, public data office aggregators and app providers to deliver public WiFi services without a licence.

“The Cabinet has cleared the setting up of public WiFi networks by PDOAs that will unleash a broadband revolution in India and empower the lives of ordinary Indians, much like the PCO model did in the past decades in driving mass proliferation of basic telephone services,” telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said at a briefing on Friday.

A village boy without access to expensive books, he said, would soon be able to pursue his studies by downloading ebooks using public WiFi services. Pricing of such services, though, would be left to market forces. Critics of this policy say public Wifi may have lost its relevance in India now, given the dirt cheap mobile data rates.

Cabinet approval for the public Wi-Fi project comes a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi underlined the government’s resolve to boost countrywide internet penetration by widening the spread of fixed line broadband connectivity and public WiFi hotspots.

Back in March 2017, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India had recommended that a new category of PDOAs deliver public WiFi services without a licence. It had also suggested that such aggregators work with small entrepreneurs, who would provide the venues or ‘public data offices’ to drive such mass WiFi deployments. The app providers, in turn, would register consumers keen to avail of the public WiFi service and locate hotspots, and offer the information to the end consumer to facilitate internet access.

But even though public WiFi became a buzzword of sorts nearly four years ago, countrywide public WiFi networks have not seen the light of day. This is since broadband service providers and telcos have been at loggerheads over utility of the tech.

Telcos have repeatedly said there is no business case for public WiFi, on grounds that mobile data rates in India are already amongst the lowest. But broadband service providers have countered, saying mobile data rates are actually set to rise with the Big 3 telcos clamouring for a floor and that with data consumption also surging, access to back-up public Wi-Fi networks would only complement stretched mobile networks in ensuring a quality, video-grade broadband experience to consumers.