30.6.21

DCGI gives emergency use nod for Moderna’s vaccine

Indian pharma major Cipla will “facilitate’’ the import of Covid vaccines donated by US biotech major Moderna, possibly in the near future, under licence for restricted use by India’s drugs regulator DCGI.

Cipla is also pursuing a separate tie-up with the US firm to undertake large-scale fill-and-finish, distribution and commercialisation of Moderna’s messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines. Moderna’s vaccine becomes the fourth to get emergency authorisation in the country after Serum Institute’s Covishield, Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin and Russia’s Sputnik-V.

Niti Aayog member (health) V K Paul told reporters that the regulatory clearance potentially opens up a clear possibility of the vaccine being imported to India in the near future. “An application received from Moderna through their Indian partner Cipla has been granted new drug permission for restricted use which is commonly known as emergency use authorisation,” Paul said.

Paul added, “Our efforts to invite and to have other internationally developed vaccines, specifically Pfizer and J&J also continue. Those processes are on.”

Elaborating on the development, Cipla’s global CEO Umang Vohra said, “This is not a commercial or supply deal, and we do not distribute this consignment either.’’ The company does not have “a definitive agreement on commercial supplies”, it said in a late filing with the BSE.

It is supporting Moderna Inc with the regulatory approval and importation of vaccines to be donated to India. It is understood that the imported jabs are part of the donation which the US government promised earlier.

In May, the Biden administration announced the donation of Coronavirus vaccines through the COVAX scheme for distribution in low-income and developing countries, including India.

The US is expected to send a total of 20 million doses of Moderna. Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are expected to be given by month-end to these countries besides over 60 million AstraZeneca vaccines.

There will be no need to conduct bridging studies on local subjects prior to import as per the Centre’s tweaked policy in April to fast-track foreign-made vaccines. The company will have to submit safety assessment data of the first 100 beneficiaries before mass rollout, sources said.

The exact quantity of the Moderna doses being donated were not available, but sources added that the doses will be available in the country soon.

Moderna CEO St├ęphane Bancel said, “I want to thank the government of India for this authorization, which marks an important step forward in the global fight against the pandemic. We are committed to making our Covid-19 vaccine available around the world.”

The vaccine was found to be neutralizing antibodies against emerging variants, including the Delta variant first identified in India, in a lab study, the drugmaker said.

SC: Start 1 nation-1 ration card by July 31

Slamming the Centre for its “unpardonable” lethargy in implementing a 2018 direction to register all unorganised sector workers, the Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Union and state governments to complete registration of all workers by July 31, which will also be the deadline for implementing the one nation-one ration card scheme.

Quoting the 2017-18 National Statistical Organisation survey to peg the number of workers in the unorganised sector at 38 crore, or one-fourth of the country’s population, a bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and M R Shah said since they were the hardest hit by the pandemic induced economic slowdown, it was the duty of the Centre and states to provide them with dry ration and run community kitchens to ensure that no one went hungry as long as the pandemic continued.

“When unorganised workers are waiting for registration to reap the benefits of various welfare schemes of the Centre and states, the lackadaisical attitude by the ministry of labour and employment is unpardonable. There was urgency in the National Database for Unorganised Workers portal to be finalised looking at the pandemic and dire need of unorganised workers to receive the benefits,” the bench said. “The attitude of the ministry in not completing the module even though directed (by the SC) as early as on August 21, 2018, shows that the ministry is not alive to the plight of migrant workers and the non-action of the ministry is strongly disapproved. We further direct the secretary, ministry of labour and employment, to ensure that the NDUW portal is finalised and implementation of the portal commences on or before July 31,” it ordered. It directed the government to run community kitchens in at as many places as possible.

Indians say they’re free to practise any faith: Pew poll

Indians generally feel they live in a society where followers of many religions can live and practice freely, according to the latest survey of the US-based think-tank Pew. Based on the face-to-face interviews of adults conducted in 17 languages between late 2019 and early 2020 (before the Covid-19 pandemic), the Pew survey on 30,000 Indians found that Indians of all religious backgrounds overwhelmingly say they are very free to practise their faiths.

“Indians see religious tolerance as a central part of who they are as a nation. Across the major religious groups, most people say it is very important to respect all religions to be ‘truly Indian’.”

“And tolerance is a religious as well as civic value: Indians are united in the view that respecting other religions is a very important part of what it means to be a member of their own religious community,” it said. According to Pew, despite sharing certain values and religious beliefs – as well as living in the same country, under the same constitution – members of India’s major religious communities often do not feel they have much in common with one another.

The majority of Hindus see themselves as very different from Muslims (66%), and most Muslims return the sentiment, saying they are very different from Hindus (64% cent). There are a few exceptions: Two-thirds of Jains and about half of Sikhs say they have a lot in common with Hindus. But generally, people in India’s major religious communities tend to see themselves as very different from others, it said. The survey also found Hindus tend to see their religious identity and Indian national identity as closely intertwined: Nearly two-thirds of Hindus (64%) say it is very important to be Hindu to be “truly” Indian.

Most Hindus (59%) also link Indian identity with being able to speak Hindi – one of dozens of languages that are widely spoken in India. And these two dimensions of national identity – being able to speak Hindi and being a Hindu – are closely connected. 

Tamil Nadu: 5th Kudankulam unit’s construction begins

The construction work on unit-5 of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant began on Tuesday with the first concrete pouring into the foundation plate of the reactor building, said state-run Russian atomic energy corporation Rosatom, which is tasked with building India’s atomic reactors in Tamil Nadu.

Rosatom and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd, a PSU under the department of atomic energy, have been building six power reactors of 1,000 MW each at Kudankulam, which is the country’s largest nuclear power generation park. Units 1 and 2 have already been commissioned while work on unit 3 and 4 is in the advanced stage and is scheduled to be completed by 2026-27. “On June 29, an official ceremony was held that was dedicated to the first concrete pouring into the foundation plate of the reactor building for Kudankulam NPP unit-5. The concrete pouring commemorated the official commencement of the main stage of the nuclear power plant stage-3 construction. Due to anti-epidemiological restrictions, the ceremony was held via videoconference,” the Russian company said in a statement.

Russian enterprises are already manufacturing equipment required for the first priority installation, the equipment for reactor facilities and turbine hall for unit 5.

Gujarat’s pride: Lion count officially crosses 700-mark


The lion number in Gujarat has officially crossed 700 this year, registering a 6-8% rise in the population, top sources in the state forest department said. The increase was noted in the ‘Poonam Avlokan’ (population observation exercise during full moon). The exercise was first held last year in June in place of Lion Census 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Gujarat forest department officials said that the lion population could be between 710 and 730. The officials said that the counting exercise will be made an annual affair so that the lion numbers are published every year instead of every five years.

The 2020 Poonam Avlokan in the lion landscape had recorded 674 royal beasts with an increase rate of 28.9% over the 2019 figure. The previous high in the growth rate was 27% in 2015 over the 2010 figures. The 2015 count was 523 lions.

The officials said that the 2020 count had revealed the adult male to adult female ratio to be 1:1.61 and the adult female to cub ratio to be 1:0.53. These ratios have not drastically changed.

The officials said that a count of lactating lionesses (adult females with cubs less than one year of age) was also undertaken. This data is being studied. Of the 260 adult females, 23% were recorded to be lactating in June 2020.

The officials said that the count in 2021 has revealed that the lions’ range spanned 30,000 sq km and they annexed no new territory over the past year.

The distribution of the lions had increased from an area of about 22,000 sq km in 2015 to about 30,000 sq km in 2020, representing a 36% expansion in the range.

The officials in Gandhinagar said that the lion population remains the same in Gir, Mitiyala, Girnar, and Pania sanctuaries. The population growth has been mainly in zones outside the sanctuaries.

Tamil Nadu: 15 burial urns found at Sivagalai excavation site


Fifteen burial urns have been unearthed from two adjacent clusters at Sivagalai in Tuticorin district. The state archaeology department is undertaking the second phase of excavations at Sivagalai.

Excavation director M Prabhakaran said that Sivagalai was suspected to be the burial site of a Sivagalai cluster, just like Konthagai in Keeladi cluster. The ASI had given its nod to excavate six places in the cluster. The second phase of excavation was being carried out at Sivagalai at a cost of ₹34 lakh. So far 40 burial urns had been found. Some of the urns were big measuring about two to four feet in height. Two quadrants that they had started excavating recently have turned exciting, as 15 burial urns have been found close to one another in a small area. The urns started surfacing from a depth of 50cm from the surface and went to a depth of 240cm.

Five urns were intact with lids and are expected to hold interesting details. Ten of them are in a good condition but without lids. The rest were damaged. The urns are to be opened soon in the presence of faculty members of Madurai Kamaraj University. The samples would be taken for DNA testing. While excavating the neighbouring villages, several of potsherds, a smoking pipe, bone point, spindle hole among other interesting artefacts were found.

Drone threat: Centre to fast-track policy

Two days after the first-ever terror drone strike in the country at the Jammu air force station, PM Narendra Modi chaired a top level meeting to discuss a policy on the use of civil drones, ‘futuristic challenges’ in the defence sector and the need to suitably equip the military with modern equipment to tackle such threats.

The two-hour meeting with defence minister Rajnath Singh, home minister Amit Shah, national security advisor Ajit Doval and others, including civil aviation ministry officials, decided to fast-track a “comprehensive policy” on the use of drones by civilian operators in the country.

“There was a discussion on futuristic challenges in the defence sector and equipping our forces with modern equipment. Aspects relating to involving more youth, start-ups and the strategic community in this were also discussed,” a government source said.

With small drones now being increasingly used for commercial operations, the civil aviation ministry has issued guidelines on their use under the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2021. The military and police forces, however, are against a “very liberal opening up of the skies” for civilian drone operations in the final policy.

“There should be stringent restrictions on the heights at which these drones can be operated. Moreover, there should be clearly demarcated no-fly zones, with 80-100 km buffer zones around vital installations, military areas and the like,” a source said.

This has hit home after the explosive-laden drone attack on the Jammu air force station, which was in all probability aimed at the airport’s Air Traffic Control tower and the Mi-17 V5 helicopter hangar at the base, on Sunday.

Fortunately, the IEDs missed their targets, while two IAF personnel were injured after being hit by splinters. But there have been other drone sightings in the Jammu region over the last couple of days, which has led all military bases in J&K to go on high alert with jammers and snipers being deployed.

Ahead of the meeting called by the PM, Rajanth Singh was briefed on the Jammu attack as well as the draft policy on civilian drone operations by IAF chief Air Chief Marshal R K S Bhadauria.

29.6.21

Rajasthan: Gharials find a safe haven to breed


With its distinctively long thin snout, a baby gharial (Gavialis Gangeticus) broke through its shell on the banks of the Chambal river in Karauli district on May 23. This was part of the state forest department initiative to protect the egg laying sites of these river dwelling reptiles in the National Chambal Sanctuary.

Since then, some 6,300 gharial hatchlings have made their way to the river safely, proving that the conservation effort of the critically endangered species has borne fruit.

“In Rajasthan, efforts were made this year to protect the nesting sites. Surveys conducted covered 26 such sites of gharials with a total of 224 nests. Approximately 6,300 hatchlings were counted in 191 nests,” a senior forest official said.

As the mortality rate is extremely high because of predators and seasonal floods, intense patrolling and other conservation efforts were made to assist in natural breeding. “It was, in fact, a challenge to protect the gharial and turtle nests (both species lay eggs in March-April) from stray dogs, jackals, feral pigs and crows. Wherever possible, the nesting sites were fenced, often using thorny bushes to prevent predators. In Palighat, angle iron and wire mesh fences were used to guard the gharial nesting sites,” added the official.

For regular monitoring, the sites were marked using handheld GPS. For the first time, adjoining river depth of these sites was also recorded using handheld depth sounders. The staff conducted patrols and boat trips along the river banks to identify known and new nesting sites.

Sreya Guha, principal secretary, environment and forest department, said, “Ecotourism has immense possibilities in Rajasthan, given the huge variety. The chief minister had announced that NCS would be developed in the 2021-22 Budget and tourism infrastructure upgraded. We are now working on a plan to showcase the sanctuary in a sustainable and responsible manner so that not only the sanctuary is protected, but wildlife enthusiasts can also experience the beauty and thrill of exploring a hitherto unexplored destination.”

The NCS comprises 625km of the river in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and UP.

In Rajasthan, the NCS was notified in 1979 – the stretches between Jawahar Sagar Dam to Kota Barrage and Keshoraipatan to Gadi Tidawali. The easiest access points to the river are at Kota, Palighat in Sawai Madhopur and Dholpur.

An official claimed that Chambal has huge potential to be the most preferred destination for wildlife tourists. “Rajasthan has more to offer than its tigers. The gharial is among the largest of crocodiles and can grow up to more than four metres in length. It has an unmistakable elongated snout and its unique characteristics can attract thousands of wildlife tourists.”

In the 2021 Budget, chief minister Ashok Gehlot announced augmentation of tourism facilities in the NCS. As part of this announcement, infrastructure like floating jetty, camping facilities, nature trails, and boating are being planned. A centre for tourist guides is also in the works. The river section between Palighat and Rameshwarghat in Sawai Madhopur can become the natural hotspot for development given the good connectivity from Sawaimadhopur and the established tourist traffic to Ranthambore.

To boost tourism, govt announces 5L free visas

The first 5 lakh tourist visas issued once international travel restarts will be issued free of charge and government-recognised travel agents and tour guides can avail loans without processing fee or additional collateral, the government announced on Monday as part of measures to resuscitate the pandemic-hit travel and tourism sector in India.

Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the government will extend federal guarantees on bank loans to help revive the tourism sector and the loan guarantee scheme stands to benefit 10,700 Regional Level Tourist Guides recognised by the tourism ministry and state governments.

While nearly 1,000 Travel and Tourism Stakeholders recognised by the ministry will be eligible for loans up to Rs 10 lakh each, tourist guides can avail loans up to Rs 1 lakh each, she said.

Tourism secretary Arvind Singh also confirmed that the finance ministry has approved the travel industry’s long-standing demand for credit of Service Export Incentive Scheme dues for 2019-20 to meet their liquidity requirements. “The finance ministry has lifted the hold on credit of dues under SEIS for 2019-20. Accordingly, the money will be released to beneficiaries soon,” Singh said.

Referring to the waiver of fee on five lakh tourist visas, sector head of ICRA Limited’s Corporate Sector Ratings, Vinutaa S, said, “While it would incentivise Foreign Tourist Arrivals to an extent, the recovery in foreign tourists coming into India would primarily depend on the Covid-19 containment and the pace of vaccine rollout.”

Industry bodies pushing for relief on statutory obligations of the travel industry stakeholders said Monday’s announcements will have limited impact. ASSOCHAM reiterated its demand that people employed in travel sector, including part-time workers, cab drivers, tourist guides, hotel staff and third-party service providers should be vaccinated on priority and that India should resume scheduled international flights with countries with which it has ‘air bubble’ agreements.

Hotel Association of India secretary-general M P Bezbaruah said the free tourist visa announcement has a “strong message that we have the confidence to welcome visitors and that tourism is a strong pillar of post-Covid economic recovery strategy”. He added that HAI hopes this will be followed by measures “like liquidity support and exemption from statutory taxes”.

Mumbai: BMC, Israeli co ink pact for state’s first desalination plant

The plan to set up a water de-salination plant for the city just moved a step further. The BMC has signed a memorandum of understanding with a water technology company in Israel to prepare a detailed project report.

Such a plant makes sea water usable for non-drinking purposes after its salinity is tempered. So, sea water, when processed by the plant, will make it usable for industrial use, gardening and such purposes.

The BMC will set up the state’s first desalination plant at Manori in Malad (west) to help increase Mumbai’s water supply. The project is estimated to cost Rs 1,600 crore and is slated to be operational by 2025.

Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray who was present at the event said that the 200 million litres desalination project is a “revolutionary step” and that it was his “dream for several years”. “There are some countries in the world that have already started using seawater on a large scale by desalinating it. Every technology has a price, but human life is more valuable than that and we all have a responsibility to make drinking water available 24 hours in Mumbai,”said Thackeray.

According to the MoU signed with MS IDE Water Technologies Ltd, whose appointment was cleared by BMC’s standing committee last month, the detailed project report will be ready by May next year. BMC officials said that once work to prepare the report is taken up, various studies for the project — like measurement of tides, waves and currents, analysis of the quality of sea water besides ecology and bio-diversity studies, preparaing coastal regulation zone map and related clearances — will be pursued.

BMC had plans to set up a plant after a severe water crisis in 2009, but it was shelved.

State environment minister Aaditya Thackeray suggested that more such smaller plants be set up along the state’s coastline.

T20 WC shifted out of India to UAE and Oman

The T20 World Cup, scheduled to be played in October-November, has been officially moved from India to UAE and Oman. The Indian cricket board, however, will remain the hosting board.

BCCI took the decision on Monday after evaluating the threat posed by Covid-19 in India. BCCI will now work with ICC to finalise the tournament schedule an eye on the remainder of this year’s IPL which precedes the cup. The IPL was stopped midway this summer amidst the devastating second wave of the pandemic.

The T20 World Cup is likely to start in Oman in the third week of October after the IPL final, which is slated to be played in mid-October.

The tentative plan is to play the IPL final on Oct 15 and begin the T20 World Cup qualifiers as early as Oct 17.

Sources said BCCI is flexible with the IPL plan and is even contemplating finishing the IPL on Oct 10, which is Sunday. The idea is to start the T20 World Cup within a week after the IPL finishes. ICC and BCCI are looking to have the T20 WC final on Nov 14.

“The dates haven’t been finalised. Even if the tournament starts on the heels of the IPL, it will not be much of a problem because the first 12 matches of the tournament will be played between the eight teams as qualifiers. Those matches will be played in Oman,” BCCI president Sourav Ganguly said.

The main leg of the T20 World Cup to be played between 12 teams — eight highest ranked T20I teams and four coming from the qualifiers — will start in the last week of Oct. That would leave the Indian players around 14 days between the two tournaments as mandated in the Justice Lodha committee recommendations.

Shifting the T20 World Cup to UAE means that the BCCI will not have to seek any tax exemption from the Indian government as demanded by the ICC. 

BCCI now will not have to fret about the Rs 905 crore (approx US $120 million) on which it had failed to get the full tax exemption from the government.

The BCCI is in touch with all other boards and is confident that it will be able to have a strong field of overseas players in the IPL. The board is trying to assure that every player will be looked after very well and all arrangements will be made by the board.

With the remainder of the IPL scheduled to be played in September-October, there have been reports that other boards may not allow their players to participate in the tournament.

India test-fires N-capable Agni Prime


In a step towards bolstering strategic deterrence capabilities, India successfully tested a new-generation nuclear-capable Agni ballistic missile from the test range on the Abdul Kalam island off the coast of Odisha.

The advanced two-stage missile called `Agni-Prime’ has a strike range from 1,000 to 2,000-km. “Test-fired at 10.55 am, the missile was tracked by various telemetry and radar stations positioned along the eastern coast. It met all mission objectives with a high-level of accuracy,” said a DRDO official.

Congratulating defence scientists for the successful mission, defence minister Rajnath Singh said, “The Agni-P missile would further strengthen India’s credible deterrence capabilities.”

The Agni-P missile has been developed with new propulsion systems and composite rocket motor casings as well as advanced navigation and guidance systems. “It’s a completely new missile, the smallest and lightest among the entire Agni series of ballistic missiles,” a scientist said.

Significantly, Agni-P is also a canister-launch missile like the country’s first intercontinental ballistic missile, the over 5,000-km Agni-V, which is now in the process of being inducted by the Strategic Forces Command.

“Canisterisation” of missiles gives the armed forces the requisite operational flexibility to store it for long periods, swiftly transport it through rail or road when required, and fire it from anywhere they want.

“The hermetically-sealed canister protects the missile from the environment. It also serves as a launch platform since the missile is stored in it in a ready-to-fire configuration. It reduces the response time as well as ensures higher reliability with less maintenance,” the scientist added.

The Agni-P missile will require at least a couple of more “developmental trials”, followed by “user trials”, before it is ready for induction. The missile will gradually replace the Agni-I (700-km) missiles in the arsenal of the tri-Service SFC, which also has the Prithvi-II (350-km), Agni-II (2,000-km) and Agni-III (3,000-km) missile units.

While India has also for long modified some Sukhoi-30MKI, Mirage-2000 and Jaguar fighters to make them capable of delivering nuclear gravity bombs, the third leg of the “nuclear triad” is represented only by the solitary nuclear ballistic missile submarine INS Arihant at present.

Broadband growth jumps 4x on Covid

The pandemic has given the fixed-line broadband industry a boost as ‘everything from home’ and mobile data limitations makes people opt for reliability and speed offered by such internet connections.

Data from telecom regulator Trai shows that the number of new wired broadband connections grew 2% on average every month since July 2020, compared to just 0.5% before the pandemic. As of March 2021, there were 22.8 million wired broadband connections in India and growth rate was about 2.2%.

Analysts said in a hybrid work future, wired internet connections are going to be on a par with basic utility services. An average urban household has 5-6 smart devices running concurrently making fixed broadband essential, they said. Apart from metro cities, broadband providers have all also made inroads into tier-2 locations like Jaipur, Varanasi, Vijayawada, Mangalore and Coimbatore.

Airtel Xstream Fiber’s customer base grew 27% during fiscal year 2021 to cross three-million mark, the company said. Airtel’s fibre connection is available in over 200 cities.

Reliance chairman Mukesh Ambani noted in the company’s AGM last week that despite the pace of deployment slowing due to the lockdowns, JioFiber acquired more than two million new premises last year, and data consumption on the network has grown to more than 3.5 times compared to a year ago. However, industry estimates peg the teledensity of wired broadband in India at only 1.5% compared to Japan (50%), China (14%) and the US (30%).

Bhopal : Metro phase 1 work 70% complete


Existing metro area under construction of 6.4 km is about 70% complete, say sources. The challenge for Madhya Pradesh Metro Rail Corporation Limited, a joint venture of union government and MP, is to meet the target of launch date of first phase by 2023.

The metro project underway is on the proposed purple line. New phase, with an investment of Rs 421 crore, calls for construction of 8 elevated metro rail stations including viaduct portion within the stations and transition spans on either side of the stations. Route length of purple line is 14.99 km. Construction of line from Karond Square passing through Bhopal Talkies, Railway Station, Bharat Talkies and Bogda Pul would require underground railway construction. Other line is Red Line for Bhopal metro. Any metro would require a depot to start functioning. Proposed depot at Arera Hills (Stud Farm) was estimated to be wide enough in area. However, recent proposals to the state government have requested for more land acquisition. The land is government owned and proposal is expected to be cleared soon. Turn out area for connecting to about dozen lines requires a large turning radius for metro to be serviced at a depot.

28.6.21

Delhi: Metro’s Grey Line set to reach Haryana border


Delhi Metro’s Grey Line (Dwarka-Najafgarh) is all set to reach the Delhi-Haryana border at Dhansa next month. The 4.3-km Dwarka-Najafgarh section of Grey Line, connecting the rural parts of Najafgarh with the rest of the city through the Metro network, had opened to the public in October 2019. However, a small section of the corridor, which would extend it to the Delhi-Haryana border, remained to be open.

Transport minister Kailash Gahlot visited the upcoming station at Dhansa for an inspection. “I am happy to inform that the work of Dhansa Stand Metro station at Najafgarh has been completed. Soon it will be opened to the public. Inspected the station with DMRC officials today. This metro station also has a covered parking facility for about 150 vehicles,” Gahlot tweeted post his visit.

“We are making all efforts to try and open the Najafgarh-Dhansa section sometime later next month after complying with all statutory requirements,” said Anuj Dayal executive director (corporate communication), Delhi Metro Rail Corporation.

The 5.4-km Grey Line was not part of the original Phase-III project of DMRC and was instead added much later. Inaugurated in October last year, the Dwarka to Najafgarh section, which has a 2.7-km elevated stretch and 1.5-km underground section, has three stations — the elevated Dwarka and Nangli stations and the underground Najafgarh station.

The extension to Dhansa Bus Stand on Delhi-Haryana border was scheduled to open by December 2020 but due to the Covid-19 outbreak, work came to a halt and only resumed as part of the unlock guidelines. The 1.2-km stretch with one station was later slated to be completed by May 2021, but some work remained to be completed. According to sources, the final safety inspection of the section is likely to take place on July 10.

The Najafgarh-Dhansa Bus Stand section will be an extension to the presently operational Dwarka-Najafgarh Grey Line corridor. For the construction of the underground corridor from Najafgarh to Dhansa, two methods were used. While 700 metres of tunnelling was done using the Tunnel Boring Machine, another 290 metres of underground work is being done completed by the cut-and-cover method.

The heavy traffic on the stretch between Najafgarh and Dhansa stand was a major challenge faced by DMRC, while carrying out construction work.

Grey Line, Delhi Metro’s smallest corridor, connects Najafgarh with the rest of the capital, thanks to the interchange facility with the Blue Line (Dwarka-Vaishali/Noida Electronic City) at Dwarka. There are three trains deployed on the corridor and total travel time on this section will be six minutes and 20 seconds.

Delhi: Hope Floats In Dwarka


The recent creation of a seven-acre pond in Dwarka by Delhi government using treated water from Pappankalan sewage treatment plant may have paved the way for constructing four more waterbodies, which are planned to be completed in less than a year.

Delhi Jal Board would be using treated water to create two more waterbodies inside the Pappankalan STP in Sector 16, one inside the Dwarka water treatment plant and another inside the Najafgarh STP. All projects would utilise in situ measures, such as aeration, floating wetlands and ozonation to remove excess nutrients.

Dwarka has seen several citizen-oriented efforts in the past few years to revive waterbodies, which has resulted in rejuvenation of ponds and lakes in sectors 5, 20, 23 and 24. The focus is now on two waterbodies in sectors 8 and 25.

A DJB official said the waterbody in Sector 16, which was created in March, had resulted in recharging two million gallons of water daily and the groundwater level had increased by 0.5 metres. Measurement of the groundwater table 400 metres away from the lake also showed a recharge rate of 30 centimetres per day.

Under the “City of Lakes” project, 155 more waterbodies would be created or revived. The first phase would finish in June. Phase-II would be completed by June 2022 and Phase-III by December 2022. An official said while there were two STPs at Pappankalan, they would be using the Phase-II STP as it was designed to remove nutrients.

Locals who have revived waterbodies in Dwarka, meanwhile, have gone for a more traditional approach by diverting excess water from storm water drains and increasing the catchment area nearby. Plants have been used to absorb excess nitrates and phosphates. Diwan Singh, an activist, worked with several locals and the group Sukh Dukh Ke Saathi to revive waterbodies in sectors 20 and 23 and, recently, Sector 24’s Dhool Siras.

Singh said they were against using STP water, adding that the revived waterbodies would be able to sustain themselves throughout the year by natural means. “Dwarka has adequate stormwater drains. If they are simply cleared out and diverted to a depression, a waterbody can easily be revived or created,” he said.

The group also worked on reviving a waterbody in Sector 5, which was now being maintained by Delhi Development Authority. Singh said two more waterbodies, in sectors 8 and 25, required attention and could be rejuvenated in the future. “The government can look at these. The one in Sector 8 has dried up completely. Efforts to create more waterbodies will help Dwarka and its groundwater table return to normal once again,” he added.

Chennai: Capacity up in 2 ecologically restored lakes in Siruseri


Three years ago, the Periya eri and Sitheri in Siruseri, spread over 100 acres behind the SIPCOT industrial area, were bone dry and were used to dump garbage. Now, ecologically restored by Auroville-based Pichandikulam Forest Consultants, the two lakes are clean and have more than12 feet of water.

The Periya eri, which before the restoration had the capacity to store 27.287 million cubic feet of water, now has the capacity to store 50.74mcft. Similarly, the Sitheri’s capacity has risen from 14.01mcft to 21.43mcft.

Joss Brooks, founder of the consultancy said that after a study done by an IIT-M team suggested ₹5 crore would be needed, Tata Consultancy Services provided the funds and the restoration began in December 2018.

Silt was cleared from both lakes and sand used for creating and strengthening of bunds, laying pathways, forming half a dozen small islands in the bigger lake and for forming platforms. Nearly 5,000 saplings of native species of trees were planted around the lakes.

After the work was completed, Brooks and his team also managed to mobilise funds for protecting and maintaining the lakes including implementing erosion control measures on nearby hills, islands and some parts of the bunds. Eroded areas were stabilised with rocks, boulders and sandbags, he said.

The team managed to ensure that 90% of planted saplings and shrubs survived. “In the last year, most of the saplings have grown to a height of 4.5 metres,” Brooks said.

Recently, the public works department transferred ownership of the lakes to the SIPCOT authorities and the next step is to restore reserved forests around the lake that have eucalyptus plantations and acacia.

The wild growth of acacia can lead to soil erosion that will in turn settle down as silt in the lakes, the IIT-M study, taken up as part of a master plan, had warned.

Steps are being taken to involve the local community, PWD and SIPCOT authorities to ensure protection of the lakes and there is a proposal to set up a modern and efficient waste treatment plant in the area, he added.

Mumbai: Railways to Hire Realtors to Redevelop CST, Other Big Stations

The Indian Railways will rope in realty firms to redevelop multiple railway junctions in and around Mumbai, including Andheri, Dadar, Kalyan, Bandra, Borivali and Thane.

The Indian Railway Stations Development Corporation, the nodal agency for station redevelopment in the country, has already shortlisted nine bidders for the proposed redevelopment of the iconic Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus Railway Station in South Mumbai. It is now seeking to redevelop Andheri station in Mumbai in phases.

The project cost for the first phase is estimated at ₹218 crore, and it will be borne by the selected realty developer. The request for qualification for the first phase redevelopment of the Andheri railway station will be issued soon after required approvals are given.

The Western Railways gave in-principle approval for the Andheri project’s master plan along with floor plans on May 21.

“In addition to Andheri, IRSDC will be redeveloping Dadar, Kalyan, Thakurli, Bandra, CSMT, Thane and Borivali stations in Mumbai. The work across these projects is in different stages and is expected to be completed within the stipulated time frame,” said SK Lohia, managing director and chief executive, IRSDC.

“The redevelopment of these stations will boost realty prospects and usher in a socio-economic transformation,” Lohia added. The Andheri project will be a mixed-use development offering a 60-year lease to the selected developer.

The authority is looking to redevelop Andheri railway station through the design, build, finance, operate and transfer model. The overall area of redevelopment at Andheri railway station is 4.31 acres, of which 2.1 acres will be redeveloped in the first phase, and the rest in the second phase.

One of the busiest stations on the Western Railway network, Andheri serves two major railway lines including the harbour line that runs from Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus to Panvel, and the western line connecting Churchgate and Dahanu.

The Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar metro line station is also situated next to the station on the east side.

India Will Have To Fast Induct Anti-Drone Tech


Weaponisation of commercially-available small drones and quadcopters for low-cost, high-impact strikes, which was in a way pioneered by the Islamic State or Daesh in Iraq and Syria, has now jolted India for the first time.

Fortunately, the explosive-laden drone attack on the IAF station at Jammu did not cause much damage or inflict casualties. But with small drones being regularly used since mid-2019 to courier weapons, explosives and drugs to Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir from across the border in Pakistan, it was only a matter of time before terrorists moved to the next level of using them for aerial strikes from the safety of stand-off distances.

With terror outfits rapidly adapting to technological advances, such attacks will only get deadlier in the future. “Other military bases and critical civilian infrastructure like oil refineries could be targeted. There is also the danger of terrorists using drones to deliver biological or chemical agents,” a senior officer said.

Indian military and police forces will have to gear up fast for such unconventional aerial warfare with induction of effective anti-drone technologies. These range from jamming and spoofing systems to disrupt the satellite or video command-and-control links of such drones for ‘soft kills’ to laser-based directed energy weapons for ‘hard kills’. DRDO has developed two anti-drone DEW systems, with a 10-KW laser to engage aerial targets at 2 km range and a compact tripod-mounted one with a 2-KW laser for a1 km range. But they are yet to be produced in large numbers.

The armed forces are now also importing a limited number of other systems like Israeli ‘Smash-2000 Plus’ computerised fire control and electro-optic sights, which can be mounted on guns and rifles to tackle the threat from small hostile drones in both day and night conditions. But Indian security forces are currently not equipped to tackle such threats. The military’s air defence systems, with advanced radars and missiles, are meant to counter large drones or unmanned aerial vehicles. “Small drones, which can even be launched from a balcony and have a flying range of 4-5 km, have a very low radar cross-section and cannot be tracked like larger UAVs,” another officer said. “It is virtually impossible to defend against such drones with conventional anti-aircraft guns or missiles. They are best countered by effective jamming and laser systems,” he added.

India's First Terror Drone Attack

Two low-intensity explosives-laden drones crashed in the Indian Air Force station in Jammu within a gap of a few minutes around 1:40 am on Sunday, injuring two IAF personnel and marking the first time suspected Pakistan-based terrorists using drones to strike vital installations, said officials.

Jammu and Kashmir police chief Dilbag Singh said the drones were used to drop explosives inside the air force station and that a first information report was registered under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. “There was use of drone with payload in both the blasts at Jammu airfield suspected to have dropped the explosive material. Police have registered an FIR and investigation is on,” Singh told media persons.

Police officials said such low-flying drones may have been operated from an area near the site of the attack. They said at least two suspects have been detained from Satwari area of Jammu in this connection but no damage to equipment or machines in the station was reported due to the blast. The two injured IAF personnel were out of danger.

The IAF’s official Twitter handle said: “Two low-intensity explosions were reported early Sunday morning in the technical area of Jammu Air Force Station. One caused minor damage to the roof of a building while the other exploded in an open area. There was no damage to any equipment. Investigation is in progress along with civil agencies.”

Officials said the likely targets of the attacks could have been the helicopters parked near the site of the blast. Teams from the National Investigation Agency, National Security Guards and Special Forces reached the spot to assess the situation and collect evidence for further investigation.

Airports across J&K in Jammu, Srinagar and Awantipora, and the IAF stations of Ambala and Pathankot were put on high alert. However, flight operations at Jammu airport, near which the attack took place, remained normal.

27.6.21

Ayodhya’s development should manifest country’s finest traditions: PM Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a big push to redevelopment of Ayodhya as a pilgrim city and one of the principal sites of Hindu faith by saying that it, being the birthplace of Lord Rama, needs to be reimagined as an attraction for the country’s youth.

Addressing a virtual meeting, the PM exhorted UP CM Yogi Adityanath and his team to suggest that development of Ayodhya, which is etched in the cultural consciousness of every Indian, should manifest the finest of the county’s traditions and the best of developmental transformations by leveraging skills of the talented youngsters.

“Ayodhya is both spiritual and sublime. The human ethos of this city must be matched by futuristic infrastructure, which is beneficial for everyone including tourists and pilgrims,” Modi said in the meeting to redevelop the city which is being developed as a major tourist destination with a new airport, convention centre and a cultural complex besides hotels to lodge tourists who are expected to flock once the construction of Ram Temple is completed.

While Ayodhya has always been revered for centuries, the PM focused on spreading its appeal to the younger generation who, in many cases, tend to move away from tradition, privileging their temporal passions over the spiritual.

Significantly, the meeting took place against the backdrop of allegations levelled by BJP’s political opponents— mainly, Congress, SP and AAP— in the purchase of land for expansion of the temple area. The allegations, which have been refuted by VHP and the UP government, have failed to get much traction, with the temple project continuing apace.


Mumbai Metro III: 96% of tunneling work has been completed


The 33.5-km long Colaba-Bandra-SEEPZ Metro-3 Corridor has completed 96 per cent of tunnelling work. “Total six out of seven contract packages have completed 100 per cent tunnelling,” said a spokesperson of Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation, the nodal agency appointed by the state government.

The metro line will connect the Cuffe Parade business district in the extreme south of the city to SEEPZ in the north-central with more than two dozens of stations.

Although the controversy over the metro depot is yet to be resolved, the underground Metro work is underway in full swing.

Six of the seven contract packages have completed 100 per cent tunnelling. A hundred per cent tunnelling work is completed on the Cuffe Parade-Vidhan Bhavan-Churchgate-Hutatma Chowk section. According to the MMRC, TBM Surya-1 has completed its final upline drive of 557 metres from Hutatma Chowk to CSMT Metro Station in 149 days using 405 concrete rings.

Similarly, tunnelling work of CSMT-Kalbadevi, Girgaon- Grant Road section, Siddhivinayak- Dadar- Shitladevi section, Dharavi- BKC- Vidyanagari-Santacruz section, CSMIA T1- Sahar- CSMIA T2 section and Marol- MIDC- SEEPZ section also completed.

The line between Bandra Kurla Complex and Dharavi stations includes a 170-metre long twin-tunnel passing under the Mithi river.

“Apart from that, 74 per cent tunnelling work of Mumbai Central -Mahalaxmi-Science Museum- Acharya Atre Chowk- Worli section of this Metro corridor is also finished,” said an official of MMRC, adding that production of prototype rake for this Corridor also in full swing. “Progress of manufacturing and testing of the first prototype Train (8 cars) at the manufacturing plant at Sri City is 82 per cent complete, which will be fully completed by the end of this year,” said officials.

The underground Metro 3 is planned to be operationalised in two phases. The stretch from Aarey Colony to Bandra Kurla Complex was supposed to be opened by December 2021, and the stretch from Bandra Kurla Complex to Cuffe Parade by mid-2022. However, the pandemic-induced lockdown and delay over depot land have eventually extended the project’s timeline.

26.6.21

Kochi: CPT aims to get world-class facilities

The Cochin Port Trust has signed 27 MoUs, recently, with various organizations aimed at transforming the port into a truly world-class one, increasing its competitiveness and offering more services to its stakeholders.

“What we are doing is to identify the potential of the port and exploit those opportunities to the maximum. For example, our Mo-Us with Indian Oil Corporation Ltd and Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd, realized from the fact that one of our strengths is liquid cargo. So, when we initially identify the potential areas, we focus on those areas which have a growth potential and discuss with the stakeholders in those areas, finally reaching the MoU stage,” said CPT chairman M Beena. According to her, the projects will be completed within a two-year period. “We are progressing with the target of bringing a visible change and hence we are aspiring to finish the projects by 2024,” Beena added.

Manufacturing industries usually serve as the main source of inward or outward cargo movement for any port, but in Kerala, the story is different. CPT’s hinterland so lacks a healthy manufacturing industry. Further, there is Tuticorin Port which is a competitor as it is equidistant to the Cochin Port, for those industries in southern Kerala.

With this background, CPT is coming up with the new projects with an overall project cost of Rs 3,108 crore. The port is providing the land and the entities concerned are investing there to set up the necessary infrastructure.

For development of the port, four MoUs with a total project cost of Rs 989 crore were signed. Establishment of a multispecialty hospital at a cost of Rs 175 core, connecting Cochin Port with minor ports in the state and establishing a multi-modal logistics hub, seaplane connectivity between Kochi and Lakshadweep, deepening and broadening of channels, building a cryogenic warehouse, cement import-cum-bagging terminal, aviation fuel terminal, port-based edible oil refining unit at Muvattupuzha, petrochemical terminal, coir product consolidation centre are some of the projects CPT is pursuing now.

A container freight station for coastal cargo — facility for de-stuffing of containers, storage and warehousing is also part of the new projects.

Cochin Port has signed a MoU with Kottayam Port and ICD Services for offering inland container depot services for exim (export import) as well as coastal cargo, linked through national waterway. Also, BPCL will develop HSD export facility at MULT (multi-user liquid terminal) at Puthuvype, as part of the various projects envisioned by the Cochin Port.

Surat, Indore are top smart cities, UP tagged best state


Surat and Indore have bagged the best award for their overall performance among 100 smart cities in 2020 while Uttar Pradesh won the best award in the category of states, followed by Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. This is for the third consecutive time that Surat has won the award since it was rolled out in 2018.

This is the first time the housing and urban affairs ministry has given awards to states for overall performance of their smart cities and for their proactive role. UP bagged the first award for taking up development of seven more cities on its own as smart cities in addition to the 10 selected by the Centre. The seven cities are Meerut, Ghaziabad, Ayodhya, Firozabad Gorakhpur, Mathura-Vrindavan and Saharanpur.

The third edition of the awards was announced by housing and urban affairs minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Friday. The awards were given across the themes of social aspects, governance, culture, urban environment, sanitation, economy, built environment, water and urban mobility among others. New themes were also added this year for sustainable business model of Integrated Command and Control Centres and innovation in Covid management. The joint winners under Covid innovation category were Kalyan-Dombivali in Maharashtra and Varanasi in UP.

According to the ministry, out of the total proposed projects under the mission, 5,924 projects worth Rs 1.78 lakh crore have been tendered so far and work orders have been issued for 5,236 of them costing around Rs 1.46 crore. It said 2,665 projects of Rs 45,080 crore have also been fully completed and are operational.

The ministry said 70 smart cities have set up and operationalised their Integrated Command and Control Centres, which are also functioning as war-rooms for Covid management, along with other infrastructure developed under the mission. These are being developed across all 100 smart cities.

It said that 310 “Smart Road” projects have been completed and another 459 are at tender or implementation stage. The ministry also said 1.12 crore houses under PM Awas Yojna have been sanctioned and over 83 lakh houses grounded. So far 105 lakh household water tap connections and 78 lakh sewer and septage connections have been provided under Amrut Mission.

Indigenous aircraft carrier to be commissioned next year


India’s indigenous aircraft carrier will become fully operational, with supersonic fighter jets and multi-role helicopters operating from its deck, only by mid-2023 at the earliest.

But once deployed, the 40,000-tonne carrier to be christened INS Vikrant will pack quite an offensive punch and project raw military power on the high seas.

“The combat capability, reach and versatility of the aircraft carrier will add formidable capabilities in the defence of our country and help secure India’s interests in the maritime domain,” said defence minister Rajnath Singh on Friday.

Reviewing the ongoing construction of the IAC at Cochin Shipyard at a cost of around Rs 23,000 crore, along with Admiral Karambir Singh, the minister said the government is “fully committed” to a strong Navy with operational reach and prowess to protect the country’s huge maritime interests.

“The Navy remains poised and combat ready to tackle any challenge. The Navy’s proactive forward deployment during the Galwan stand-off (with China last year) signalled our intent that we seek peace but are ready for any eventuality,” he added.

The commissioning of IAC, the most complex warship ever to be built in India with “nearly 75% indigenous content”, will take place next year. “It will be a befitting tribute to 75 years of India’s independence,” said Singh.

The sea trials of the IAC, which was first sanctioned by the government way back in January 2003, will begin in another couple of months.

India currently has only one aircraft carrier, the 44,500-tonne INS Vikramaditya.

Online company PharmEasy to buy Thyrocare

In a deal worth nearly $1 billion, online pharma startup PharmEasy is buying out leading pathology laboratory chain Thyrocare Technologies to bolster its e-commerce play. Under the contours of the deal, API Holdings, the parent of PharmEasy is acquiring a 66% stake in Thyrocare from its main promoter A Velumani and his family for Rs 4,550 crore.

At the same time, the pharma retailer’s parent is also making an open offer to acquire an additional 26% from public shareholders for Rs 1,788 crore, a release from the two companies said.

As part of the deal, Velumani, who had started the company with an initial capital of just Rs 2 lakh, will now acquire a minority stake of less than 5% in API Holdings. Under the current valuations, the deal is worth about $925 million or around Rs 6,900 crore.

This is the second high-value deal in India in which a startup is buying out an established brick-and-mortar company, and the first where a unicorn (valued at over $1 billion) is buying a listed firm. Earlier this year, edtech major Byju’s had announced the acquisition of unlisted Aakash coaching classes for about $950 million.

API Holdings and its associates are making an open offer to Thyrocare’s shareholders at Rs.1,300 per share. This is the second acquisition for PharmEasy this year. In April the company acquired its smaller e-pharma competitor Medlife for an undisclosed amount.

Velumani, CMD of Thyrocare, said that Covid fast-tracked growth for both the company and the industry. In the last one year or so, Thyrocare’s turnover grew 20% and its ebitda (gross profit) went up around 40%. “From ordering medicines online to tele-consultations and now diagnostic services, there is a shift not only in consumer preferences but also the business approach and modus operandi by doctors, hospitals, pharmacies and clinics across the country. This (Thyrocare-PharmEasy) unified model will soon be followed by others,” Velumani said, adding I wanted to retain some part (of our share), but the acquirers were keen to buy out completely.

In this deal, Nomura was the adviser to the promoters of Thyrocare, while JM Financial and Kotak Mahindra Capital Company were the advisers to API Holdings.

Give Nagaland-like spl status to Kashmir: Ex-dy CM Baig


Ex-deputy CM of J&K and former PDP leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig had a piece of advice for the Centre during the all-party interaction on J&K which ruffled a few feathers. He suggested introducing a clause in Article 371 of the Constitution to give land rights and job security to Kashmiris, a concern in the Valley post nullification of Article 370.

Under Article 371 (A to J), several states have been given special status, including most of the north-eastern states. For instance, Article 371A gives special status to Nagaland where no Act of Parliament will be applicable with regard to religious or social practices of Nagas, their customary law and procedure, and ownership and transfer of land and its resources. “The governor of Nagaland shall have special responsibility with respect to law and order in the state of Nagaland,” the Constitution says.

A former advocate general who went to Harvard Law School, Baig suggested the Centre could sidestep Article 370 and 35A and yet fulfil the aspirations of Kashmiris within the framework of the Constitution by addressing their primary concern of securing land rights and jobs. This was earlier ensured under Article 35A which stands abrogated along with Article 370 after the Centre introduced an enabling legislation in Parliament on August 5, 2019.

At the meeting, Baig also stressed on the “sub-judice” rule to caution against any “discussion” on restoration of Article 370 in the UT since the matter is pending before the Supreme Court. This dissuaded participants from persisting with the debate on Article 370, resulting in issues like elections and restoration of statehood taking precedence.

According to a source, Baig spoke after former PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti made an emotional pitch against nullification of Article 370 and declared PDP’s intention to continue its “struggle” on the issue. He referred to the challenge pending in the SC to insist that a discussion on the issue could not be held in public space as it may influence the case. He said the sub-judice rule was adopted by the House of Lords in the UK, barring cases in which proceedings are active in courts from being referred to in any motion, debate or question, subject to the discretion of the Lord Speaker. This applied to the Indian Parliament as well, as its rules of business follow the Westminster style, he added.

Though Mufti disagreed with Baig, she did not push the issue further. Incidentally, even Farooq Abdullah, who spoke before Mufti, did not make restoration of Article 370 a sticking point.

While the Centre might have its reservations over any sort of ‘special status’, the suggestion was not well received by Baig’s former party either. He was awarded a Padma Bhushan last year by the Modi government for his contributions to public affairs. His ‘closeness’ to the Modi regime was not appreciated within his own outfit and which later contributed to his departure. His rift with Mufti was once again apparent when she interrupted Baig during his brief submission at the PM’s meeting.

Baig downplayed the incident and said, “She is like my sister,” referring to Mufti and her interjection at the meeting.

Maharashtra: 1st state to administer 3 crore jabs

With Maharashtra becoming the first state in the country on Friday to administer three crore vaccine doses, the state government said it can cover the entire eligible population within the next three months if the Centre keeps up the supply.

“Availability of vaccine doses is no longer an issue,” state health minister Rajesh Tope said. “Maharashtra has the capacity to administer 10 lakh doses per day. If the Union government increases its supply to match the state’s capacity, we can vaccinate the entire population in three months,” he said.

Tope also said he has requested CM Uddhav Thackeray and deputy CM Ajit Pawar to increase the budgetary allocation for the health department. “Niti Aayog has recommended an expenditure of 5% of the GDP for the health sector. In reality, it is only 0.9 to 1%,” he said.

There is scope to increase the number of primary healthcare centres, rural hospitals and sub-centres, the health minister said.

25.6.21

RIL Unveils Plans to Inject ₹75k cr into Clean Energy

Reliance Industries announced major initiatives in renewable energy, marking a significant shift from its roots as a producer of fossil fuels, by unveiling plans to invest ₹75,000 crore over the next three years, principally in building four world-scale factories to supply to the solar and green hydrogen ecosystem.

Chairman Mukesh Ambani detailed the proposed investments in green energy at the company’s 44th Annual General Meeting, which was held virtually for the second year due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

RIL said ₹60,000 crore would be spent to set up four “giga plants” over the next three years, while another ₹15,000 crore would be invested in value chain, partnerships and future technologies to complement this investment.

“New Energy is the most exciting, most challenging and most purpose-driven mission I will be pursuing in my life,” Ambani told shareholders.

Yasir Al-Rumayyan, chairman of Saudi Aramco, will also join the RIL board as an independent director, Ambani said.

He assured shareholders that previously announced plans to induct Saudi Aramco as a strategic partner in its core oil-to-chemicals (O2C) business were on track and (the deal) will be closed this year.

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet, also addressed the meeting as Ambani announced Reliance Jio will launch an ‘ultra-affordable’ 4G smartphone in partnership with Google on September 10. The company also outlined various initiatives with other tech majors, Facebook-owned WhatsApp and Microsoft.

RIL’s share closed 2.35% down on BSE at ₹2,153.35 on a day the Sensex rose 0.75%.

The Dhirubhai Ambani Green Energy Giga Complex will be set up over 5,000 acres in Jamnagar to house the four mega factories.

These factories would make integrated solar photovoltaic modules, advanced energy storage batteries, electrolysers for green hydrogen, and fuel cells for converting hydrogen into motive and stationary power. RIL aims to establish and enable 100 GW of solar energy capacity as part of India’s plan to achieve 450 GW of operational assets by 2030.

"We will target to achieve costs that are lowest in the world to ensure affordability of our solar modules," Ambani said.

RIL also plans to use raw silica to manufacture ingot and wafers, components for which India primarily depends on China for imports.

"Backward integration from the polysilicon stage can build true competencies and reduce India's dependence on China in this sector," said Hetal Gandhi, director, CRISIL Research.

Ambani said the company will soon reveal its plans for new material and green chemicals.

Bengaluru: PM to lay foundation stone for suburban rail in 3 months


Chief minister BS Yediyurappa announced the foundation stone for the first phase of suburban rail project will be laid by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in three months.

Yediyurappa took a ride along the Bengaluru Cantonment-Heelalige stretch to inspect the doubling work. The same stretch will be used for the first phase work from Heelalige (Chandapura) to Rajanukunte. The CM told reporters: “The Bengaluru suburban rail project is one of the most prominent projects announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. We have no doubt that the PM will lay the foundation stone for the project in three months when we have finalised tenders for the first phase.”

According to government officials, Karnataka has already written to the PMO seeking his consent for laying of the foundation stone. “In fact, we wanted the PM to lay it earlier last month itself, but due to Covid-19 we could not complete the tendering process. With the tenders likely to be finalised in three months, we have approached PMO,” said a government official.

Yediyurappa said the Centre has given its nod for Rs 7,400 crore external borrowings as part of the Rs 15,767 crore project. The project is being funded in the ratio of 20:20:60, with the state and Centre sharing the fiscal responsibility equally and the remaining 60% of the funding to be generated from loans. Sources say external borrowings will be from foreign agencies, for which ministry of finance has given in principle approval.

The project, which is being executed by K-RIDE, the JV of Karnataka government and Union railways ministry, will have four corridors with route length of 148km. The corridors are: KSR Bengaluru City – Devanahalli via Kempegowda International Airport (41.4km), Byappanahalli – Chikkabanavara (25km), Kengeri – Whitefield (35.5km) and Heelalige (Chandapura)– Rajankunte (46.2km). “Work on Byappanahalli-Chikkabanavara and Heelalige-Rajankunte will be taken up initially,” said a release from CM’s office.

PM pushes for early polls to form elected J&K government



Prime Minister Narendra Modi outlined the Centre’s commitment to the installation of a duly elected government in Jam-mu & Kashmir and urged political leaders from the region to fully support quick delimitation of constituencies so that elections could take place soon in the Union Territory.

After his first meeting with leaders from Kashmir since August 2019 when his government ended the special status assured to it through Article 370 and approved its reorganisation into a Union Territory, the PM tweeted, “Our priority is to strengthen grassroots democracy in J&K. Delimitation has to happen at a quick pace so that polls can happen and J&K gets an elected government that gives strength to J&K’s development trajectory.”

In the meeting, he made a pointed reference that corruption-free governance was increasing the faith of people in the administration.

PM Narendra Modi, home minister Amit Shah, J&K LG Manoj Sinha, Congress’s Ghulam Nabi Azad, NC’s Farooq Abdullah and PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti were among those present at Thursday’s meeting

The J&K meeting was held against the backdrop of rampant expectations in certain quarters that the government might commit itself to early redemption of its promise to restore the UT to a state. But while home minister Amit Shah, in response to insistence from the NC, PDP and Congress, did reiterate the Centre’s commitment to upgrade the UT, he made it clear that the immediate priority was early holding of polls after the delimitation commission had wrapped up the exercise to redraw the boundaries of assembly constituencies.

The commission is scheduled to hold a meeting with representatives of political parties and MPs shortly.

The attendees included National Conference leaders Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah, PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti, Congress’s Ghulam Nabi Azad, Apni Party’s Altaf Hussain, CPM’s Yousuf Tarigami, Muzaffar Baig and Sajad Lone of People’s Conference besides BJP leaders from the UT.

The discussions were without acrimony or finger pointing, with the PM setting the tone by saying there was no time limit for speakers to present their views. Modi, while appreciating the cordiality, expressed satisfaction that the deliberations reflected commitment to India’s territorial integrity and strength of its democracy. He told the attendees about his personal sorrow over each death in the trouble-torn state, be it of an “innocent civilian, the youth who has picked up the gun or a member of the security forces”.

Expressing his wish to remove “Dilli ki doori” (distance between Centre and J&K) as well as “Dil ki doori” (distrust ), PM Modi said his government was fully committed to taking forward the democratic process in J&K against the backdrop of a three-tier panchayati raj system which is in place for the first time in the UT. Conduct of assembly polls, just like the DDC polls, was a priority, he added.

Though the Centre’s action to nullify Article 370 was criticised, it was not a sticking point or a faultine in the discussions. Most leaders called for restoration of statehood, but did not insist on it being a prerequisite for holding polls or their participation in it. It was felt that the decision to do away with J&K’s special status was before the Supreme Court and should be settled there.

Mufti, the Abdullahs and Azad, all former CMs, articulated the need for restoration of democracy in J&K and the need to free political detenues. They said a bureaucratic arrangement under the lieutenant governor could not be a substitute for an assembly and an elected government. Baig said domicile rights under Article 35A could be placed under Article 371, and responded to an interjection by Mufti, explaining how this could be done.

The government said elections could happen soon after delimitation, and reiterated its assurance on the floor of Parliament regarding restoration of statehood.

Later, Mufti told the media, “We told the PM that Article 370 should be restored as it was given to us by India and not Pakistan. It was PM Nehru who had given special status to J&K. This secures our identity, the security of land and jobs and this has to be restored.” But she added this would be a constitutional and peaceful struggle. Apni Party’s Hussain said, “We demanded statehood and the PM assured that as soon as the delimitation exercise is over, elections will be announced. The home minister assured all for restoration of statehood.”

While 14 political leaders from J&K attended the meeting, others present included J&K LG Manoj Sinha, home minister Amit Shah, MoS (PMO) Jitendra Singh and NSA Ajit Doval. Azad saying it was the right time to grant “full statehood” as the security situation in J&K had improved and a border ceasefire was in place.

However, indicating that statehood may follow only after installation of an elected government in J&K, home minister Amit Shah tweeted after the meeting, “Delimitation exercise and peaceful elections are important milestones in restoring statehood as promised in Parliament.”

‘Aim to make Karwar Asia’s largest navy base’: Rajnath Singh

The aim is to make the strategic naval base at Karwar in coastal Karnataka as the largest such base in Asia, said defence minister Rajnath Singh, promising that additional funds will be provided for it if required.

Reviewing the progress of infrastructure development at Karwar under Project Seabird, along with Navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh, the minister said the base will not only further bolster the country’s operational military readiness, but also help in augmenting trade, economy and humanitarian aid operations in the region.

Already the home base for several frontline warships, including aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, the completion of the ongoing Phase-IIA of Project Seabird will enable Karwar to berth 32 major warships and submarines. Project Seabird involves construction of a naval base over an area of 11,169 acres. Phase I comprises construction of deep-sea harbour, breakwaters, dredging, a township, a naval hospital, a dockyard uplift centre and a ship lift. An airstrip, with an air station and a naval research centre are coming up in the second phase.

The base provides the Navy with both strategic depth and operational flexibility on the western seaboard, especially against Pakistan, while also helping in the endeavour to decongest Mumbai.

The Navy has played a key role in enhancing India’s ties with its maritime neighbours as well as ensuring stability and security in the Indian Ocean Region in accordance with PM Modi’s vision of `Sagar’ (security and growth for all in the region), said Rajnath Singh. The minister interacted with the contractors and engineers working on the project at the Karwar naval base. In his address, he said that the Kawar naval base would further bolster the operational readiness of the armed forces and help in augmenting trade, economy and humanitarian aid operations.

Accompanied by chief of the naval staff Admiral Karambir Singh, the defence minister undertook an aerial survey of the project area and sites before arriving at the INS Kadamba helipad.

A statement from the Indian Navy said that Singh inspected the ongoing works at Karwar and received on-site briefings, including capability demonstration, at the shiplift tower.

The defence minister’s visit to Karwar is part of a two-day itinerary which culminates in Kochi, where Singh will be briefed about the construction of India’s first indigenously built aircraft carrier Vikrant.

24.6.21

Of EU & India....

China is a “selective partner,” “competitor” and “systemic rival”, Portuguese foreign minister Augusto Santos Silva said while addressing a webinar with foreign minister S Jaishankar on Wednesday.

“The way we see institutions, the way we see political fundamentals, the way we see human rights, the way we see the role of civil society is very different when you see from the point of view of Brussels or when you speak from the view of Beijing,” Silva said at a webinar organised by the Observer Research Foundation think tank. “That is why in these crucial areas, our partner in Asia is not China, our partner in Asia is India,” he added. Jaishankar took a more restrained approach and said, “In the past 25 years, the rise of China has been one of the defining transformational trends.”

Jaishankar emphasised the importance of open supply chains, specially in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. He said that to scale up vaccine production to meet the challenge of inoculating the world, Europe needed to keep open supply chains as well as consider a waiver of patents as proposed by India and South Africa at the WTO. The minister said without “dramatically” scaling up production, the world would not be able to deal with the challenges of today.

This has been a recurring message that India has put out in the world.

23.6.21

NCLT Okays Kalrock-Jalan Resolution Plan for Jet Airways

The bankruptcy court approved the resolution plan of Kalrock Capital and entrepreneur Murari Lal Jalan for reviving Jet Airways, almost two years after the defunct airline was admitted under the Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process.

The Mumbai bench of the National Company Law Tribunal, while allowing the resolution plan in an oral order, directed the successful bidders to get required approvals and licences from relevant authorities within 90 days.

The tribunal presided by judicial members Janab Mohammed Ajmal and V Nallasenapathy clarified that determination of landing slots to Jet Airways will be done by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation only, and the plan’s approval is subject to getting licences from the relevant departments.

This means the airline will not have historic rights over the landing slots available to Jet Airways before it was grounded in April 2019.

The Kalrock-Jalan consortium had sought the tribunal’s intervention to direct DGCA and the civil aviation ministry to approve the company historical rights on those landing slots.

Lawyers of Kalrock Capital and Jalan declined to comment on the matter immediately after the open court session, citing that the order was not uploaded yet.

“Our hard work over the last two years has paid off, and today’s order will pave the way for the revival of Jet Airways 2.0,” said Jet Airways’ resolution professional Ashish Chhawchharia who is a recovery and reorganisation partner at Grant Thornton Bharat.

“We will now work together with the Jalan-Kalrock consortium to facilitate a smooth implementation of the plan in the coming weeks,” he said. “The airline has been a national icon, and flyers have been eagerly waiting to see it in the skies again.”

The revival plan envisages starting operation with 30 aircraft within six months from the approval of the plan by NCLT.

The company had received claims of about ₹2,48,879 crore, out of which ₹8,462 crore were admitted by the resolution professional.

As per the plan, workers and employees will get ₹113 crore against their claim of over ₹1,200 crore in 180 days, while financial creditors will get ₹1,010 crore against their claims of ₹7,454 crore in tranches in five years.

Founded in 1992 by Naresh Goyal, Jet Airways had stopped flying on April 17, 2019, as it failed to raise money to keep itself afloat and was admitted for the resolution process in June 2019.

While the bankruptcy court was hearing the revival plan, the Kalrock-Jalan consortium had sought clarification from the civil aviation ministry and DGCA about availability of slots to the company based on historicity.

India’s Covid tally tops 3cr


India has become the second country in the world after the US to record more than 3 crore Covid-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic. The country’s caseload went past the sombre milestone on Tuesday, just 50 days after crossing the 2-crore mark, making it the fastest addition of 1 crore cases by any country.

The fastest rise of 1 crore cases in the US was 54 days, when the country’s Covid count rose from1 crore (November 5) to 2 crore (December 29), as per worldometers.info.

India’s caseload had touched 2 crore on May 3, when the second wave in the country was about to peak. The last 50 lakh cases were recorded in 36 days (from May 17 to June 22), indicating a distinct slowdown in the second wave. The previous 50 lakh recorded infections had come in 15 days, and the 50 lakh before that in just 14 days.

In just over three and a half months, the second wave accounts for two-third (63%) of all Covid cases recorded in India (taking March 1 as the start of this wave), with close to 1.9 crore cases so far. With 2,33,402 deaths out of a total toll of 3,90,600, 60% of all officially recognised Covid fatalities in the country have taken place during the second wave.

India’s total caseload stands at 30,027,364. The US has so far recorded 3.44 crore cases, the highest count in the world. Brazil is the only other country where cases have exceeded 1 crore.

On Tuesday, India reported 50,497 fresh cases and 1,047 deaths (not counting 294 “backlog” deaths reported by Maharashtra). On Monday, the case count had dropped below 50,000 (42,667) and the toll had dipped under 1,000 (908).

Sensex hits 53,000 intraday for first time

The sensex ended on a flat note after scaling the 53,000-mark for the first time on Tuesday as investors booked profits at higher levels. A depreciating trend in the rupee, which closed 26 paise lower at 74.37, also weighed on sentiment, traders said.

After touching an intraday peak of 53,057, the sensex settled 14 points higher at 52,589, marking its third straight session of gains. Similarly, the broader Nifty rose 26 points to close at 15,773. Markets opened strong on the back of global cues and pick-up in the pace of vaccination. 

Nearing Mount 53k, however, the sensex witnessed profit-taking across the board in afternoon trade, he noted.


SEC OKs Covaxin phase-3 data, 77.8% efficacy

A day ahead of Bharat Biotech’s pre-submission meeting with the World Health Organisation for emergency use listing for Covaxin, the subject expert committee has given its nod to the vaccine’s phase-3 efficacy trials data.

The inactivated SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, developed by Bharat Biotech and Indian Council of Medical Research, is learnt to have shown an efficacy of 77.8% as per the data submitted to the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation. The SEC, which advises the Drugs Controller General of India, is reported to have given its approval to the efficacy data after a marathon meeting on Tuesday. This followed the submission of the efficacy trials data to the drug regulator over the weekend.

The next step would be an approval from the DCGI, following which the company would be applying for a full licensure for the vaccine, as Bharat Biotech had indicated earlier this month.

22.6.21

India’s Vaccination Record

 







India’s vaccination record till date has been middling among the world’s 30 most populous countries with a rank 16 among them in terms of doses per100 population.

At 19.6 as of June 19, India’s level is less than a fifth of what the UK has achieved but several times what several Asian and African countries have.

The rank remains16 among these 30 countries even if we were to consider the proportion of the population fully vaccinated, but in this case the gulf between the UK (45.8%) and India (3.6%) is considerably wider. What is more a matter of concern is that the countries ranking below India on this chart — all barring Ukraine from Asia or Africa — have been significantly less badly hit by the pandemic as their cases and deaths per million show.

The only countries among these 30 with lower vaccination levels that have been hit harder are Iran and Ukraine.

Conversely, among those with higher vaccination levels, almost all have seen a much higher level of cases and deaths per million than India, China, South Korea and Japan being the exceptions.

The data from ourworldindata.org tracks both the number of people given the first dose and those that have been fully vaccinated. In the case of China, this break-up is not available, but with over a billion or 100 crore doses administered in that country, at least half that number, that is almost equaling 500 million people or roughly 36% of their population, would have received their first shot of the vaccine.

Those above India on this chart are not all developed countries. From the developing world, China, Turkey, Brazil, Mexico and Columbia, all have provided a larger proportion of their populations shots.

Each of them has also fully vaccinated a bigger chunk of its population than India. Vaccination is India has been constrained by supplies but is expected to improve, particularly from August. Whether that will be in time to prevent or minimise a third wave of Covid-19 is another matter.

TN forms an economic advisory council


Within minutes after governor Banwarilal Purohit announced in his address to the state assembly about the formation of a five member economic advisory council for chief minister M K Stalin, the hashtag Tamil Nadu started trending on twitter. Accolades poured in for the state’s move to draft in Nobel laureate Esther Duflo, Prof Jean Dreze, Raghuram Rajan, Arvind Subramanian and S Narayan and the collective “bandwidth” of these economic experts.

An order constituting the advisory council said, at present the government is in the midst of a serious economic crisis induced by the Covid-19 pandemic. The fiscal situation of the government is also precarious with persistent high revenue and fiscal deficits and a large overhang of debt. The people’s expectations are high that the government would deliver on faster economic growth, social justice and equity through enhanced service delivery.

“The council comprises two macro economists and two development economists. The idea is nobody will doubt their credentials and they are among the best in the world. We want to identify specific issues and ask their advice and based on their inputs formalise what we want to do to enhance the capacity and capability of the state. It will be more action oriented, rather than report oriented and there is enough diversity of opinion there for us to get the right feedback,” a senior state government official said, while adding that the members of the council will not receive any “remuneration”.

Fundamentally it is a superb and great thought process, says S Chandrakumar, chairman, CII Tamil Nadu.

Bharti Airtel to Deploy 5G Network Solutions Developed by Tata Group

Bharti Airtel will pilot and deploy 5G network solutions locally developed by Tata Group as part of its fifth-generation mobile service rollout plans for the country.

The partnership to implement 5G solutions will allow Airtel to reduce the cost of 5G deployment as the Tata solution is based on Open RAN (radio access network), analysts said.

Open RAN as a concept enables hardware and software to be disaggregated, unlike conventional radio gears, allowing technology products from different suppliers to coexist with various software providers.

Tata Group’s Open RAN-based 5G solutions will be available for commercial development starting January 2022. Airtel’s pilot will start in the same month.

“We are delighted to join forces with the Tata Group to make India a global hub for 5G and allied technologies,”

Gopal Vittal, managing director (India and South Asia) of Bharti Airtel, said in the joint statement.

He said the partnership will provide a big boost to India becoming an innovation and manufacturing destination. “With its world-class technology ecosystem and talent pool, India is well positioned to build cutting-edge solutions and applications for the world.”

The 5G solutions, once commercially proven in Airtel’s brownfield network, will open export opportunities for India, which is now the second largest telecom market in the world, the statement said. N Ganapathy Subramaniam, chairman of Tata Elxsi and chief operating officer of Tata Consultancy Services, said, “As a group, we are excited about the opportunity presented by 5G and adjacent possibilities. We are committed to building a world-class networking equipment and solutions business to address these opportunities in networking space.”

Ashwinder Sethi, principal at management consultancy Analysys Mason, said, “Airtel’s strategic partnership with Tata could allow it to reduce its cost of 5G deployment and thus help support the business case for 5G rollout, which has been challenging for operator’s globally.”

With Open RAN architecture, companies can get hardware such as radio made from contract manufacturers. Bharti Enterprises, parent of Airtel, has already inked a pact to form a joint venture with Dixon to manufacture telecom and networking products.

Airtel’s rival Reliance Jio, meanwhile, is pursuing in-house 5G solutions through a mix of organic and inorganic approaches.

Jio said it has developed its own end-to-end telecom stack comprising radios and core technologies, which it is currently piloting in Mumbai and intends to commercially deploy once 5G spectrum is available commercially.

21.6.21

IAF set to deploy Rafales on eastern front

The IAF has raised the second Rafale squadron, the 101 ‘Falcons of Chhamb and Akhnoor’, in Ambala with a few fighters ahead of their formal induction at the Hasimara airbase in West Bengal for the eastern front with China.

With the first Rafale squadron, the 17 ‘Golden Arrows’ squadron, fully operational at the Ambala airbase with its full complement of 18 fighters, the 101 squadron has been resurrected with five jets that have touched down in India, IAF sources said.

The remaining 13 of the 36 twin-engine Rafales, contracted under the Rs 59,000 crore deal inked with France in September 2016, are slated to arrive in batches before April next year. The IAF is “absolutely on target” on the Rafale induction plan, Air Chief Marshal R K S Bhadauria said on Saturday.

“The formal ceremony for the 101 Squadron, which had earlier been ‘number-plated’ with the retirement of its old MiG-21 fighters, in Hasimara has been slightly delayed due to the Covid pandemic. But it will happen within a month or so,” a source said.

While Group Captain Rohit Kataria is the commanding officer of the 17 squadron, Group Captain Neeraj Jhamb ‘Jammy’ is heading the 101 squadron, he added.

Ambala and Hasimara were selected as the ‘main operating home bases’ for the 4.5-generation Rafales, though the omni-role fighters can operate from anywhere in the country as and when required.

Hangars, shelters, maintenance facilities and infrastructure for the Rafales have come up at both the airbases. The Hasimara airbase, close to the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction, was established with Toofani aircraft after the 1962 war with China.

Along with the Russian-origin Sukhoi-30MKIs already deployed at air bases like Tezpur and Chabua, the Rafales will now add a greater combat punch against China in the eastern sector.

Goa, which has 0.1% of India’s area, has 37% of its listed birds

During the last winter season, when birders set out on their annual birding expedition across Goa, they were delighted to have spotted four new species in the state. This has taken the number of listed birds found in Goa to 481, which is almost 37% of the tally of birds listed across India, though it is the smallest state in terms of geographical area.

Malabar starling, chestnut winged cuckoo, great bittern and white browed fantail are the newest bird presence recorded in the state.

The Malabar starling is generally found in southwest India, while chestnut winged cuckoo in South-East Asia. The presence of great bittern or Eurasian bittern is a sub-family of the heron, whereas white browed fantail breeds across tropical regions of Indian sub-continent and South-East Asia. But these birds have been spotted and added to the list of recorded birds found in Goa for the first time.

“With the addition of four species of birds, the richness of Goa’s landscape in supporting avifauna has been highlighted,” Aranya Environment and Research Organisation president Harshada Gawas said.

The recorded bird numbers in Goa stood at 477 at last count, with the last two additions being of the migratory greater flamingo and lesser flamingo.

Goa’s recorded bird species roughly constitute 5% of the total 10,000-odd bird species listed globally.

Goa has around 481 of 1,300 bird species recorded in India

Compare the geographically tiny state’s 481 to the 525 bird species listed in the vast state of Karnataka. This has helped make Goa a popular destination with birdwatchers from India and abroad.

Peru has the largest number of birds listed for any country in the world with its count standing at 2,000, while the recorded bird species in India are between 1,200 and 1,300, of which Goa has nearly 481. “Goa is blessed with a wide variety of habitats and this has made Goa a bird watcher’s paradise. The habitats are very easily accessible and one can travel from the coast to the dense forests within a matter of hours. One is able to sight many of the Western Ghats endemics quite easily here,” Goa Bird Conservation Network’s Omkar Dharwadkar said.

Goa offers a diverse habitat within a small area — the coast, the mid-elevation plateaus and the Western Ghats, which as one of the eight biodiversity hotspots in the world, comparable to the habitats of the Amazon, Congo and Borneo.

The Western Ghats, the coastal plains and mid highlands with creeks, islands, estuaries, rocky headlands, grasslands, marshy land, paddy fields and the hilly forest cover has been offering refuge to varied species of bird, while also attracting many migratory species, largely from eastern Europe, who come here to escape the harsh winter.

The first comprehensive checklist of birds of Goa was meticulously prepared by Heinz Lainer, listing 382 species of birds in 1999. As per the current checklist of birds of Goa, there are 481 species in which 120 are rare, 3 are critically endangered and 13 are vulnerable. The Western Ghats that has four wildlife sanctuaries and one national park is home to 16 species of endemic birds.

In 2018, based on robust rules for verification of all records from Goa, 473 species were published in Indian Birds, authored by Pronoy Baidya and Mandar Bhagat. On November 13, 2020, with the new additions the total species count reached 477.