Kerala Silverline project: Government set to begin land acquisition

Even as the state government awaits the final clearance from the Centre for the much anticipated semi-high speed rail project, the state has begun the procedures for acquiring land for the project.

Of the 1,383 hectares (3417.46 acres) of land required for the project, 1,198ha (2960.32 acres) of land is private land. Since 86.6% of total land required for the project is private land, the heavy cost required for land acquisition, social impact assessment and the rehabilitation and resettlement has been estimated to cost Rs 11,837 crore, which is to be borne by the state government.

The government has already given the administrative sanction for availing a loan of Rs 2,100 crore from Kerala infrastructure investment fund board for meeting a portion of the cost of land acquisition for the project as part of the state share. The transport department had last week issued an order designating the Kerala Rail Development Corporation Ltd as the special purpose vehicle for the project, which will now execute a tripartite agreement with KIIFB and the transport department.

Though the final clearance is yet to be accorded by the ministry of railways and the department of economic affairs, the state is moving ahead with the “in-principle approval” for the project which has also permitted pre-investment activities up to Rs 100 crore. The government has taken a call that since the pre-investment activities have been approved, the land acquisition activities can be initiated based on the “in-principle approval”.

Further, the government has also decided to set up an exclusive land acquisition unit in the revenue department and also under the KRDCL with staff on contract basis. It has also been proposed to use the Bhoomi Rashi software used by the national highways authority of India for land acquisition.

The semi high-speed rail project, known as the Silverline project, is yet to overcome two barriers — clearances from the ministry of railways before which the detailed project report is pending, and the department of economic affairs under the ministry of finance, where the application for external funding is pending.

While the DPR is yet to be cleared by the railway ministry, the funding part for the Rs 62,941-crore project is yet to get a final shape as the proposal for external funding is pending before the department of economic affairs, which needs to clear it for external funding. The state government had submitted a proposal for availing foreign funds to the tune of Rs 33,700 crore for the project.

The state’s proposal to the DEA had said that the state is looking for funds from JICA, ADB, AIIB and KFW. The DEA had sought an undertaking from the state government that in case SPV fails in debt servicing, the liability will be borne by the state government, without any budgetary support from the ministry of railways. The matter is under the consideration of the state government.

Lucknow: Tech to infuse life into Eldeco’s dead lake

Over two decades back, Eldeco-II was developed near Rae Bareli Road with a vision to provide better quality of living to citizens. Neglect of civic and development authorities over the years, however, has made the residential colony uninhabitable.

The 36,026 sq m lake has turned into a solid waste dumping ground, while filth from the broken sewerage finds its way into it, polluting the water and killing aquatic life. The condition has deteriorated to such an extent that scores of homes in the low-lying area are flooded every monsoon.

Taking cognizance of the problem, Lucknow Development Authority is all set to introduce bio-engineered water cleaning technology to cleanse the lake. It would be for the first time when bioengineered cleaning technology is being used in UP . Officials said certain microbes would be added and specific plants and vetiver grass will be sown to remove the toxicity of the water and the lake would be beautified. The project is estimated to cost around ₹ 5 crore.

LDA chief engineer Indushekhar Singh said, “Over the years, the water of Eldeco lake has been contaminated by surrounding untreated water sources, leakage from damaged sewerage and dumping of solid waste. LDA aims to rejuvenate the perennial lake by using bio-remediation, phytoremediation and bio-engineering components.” “It would be the first such effort in the state and would be a pilot project for other water bodies in the city and state,” he added. Assistant engineer Alok Singh, said, “In bioremediation, microbe colonies break down or remove toxins and harmful substances from water and soil, while phyto-remediation involves growing vetiver plants for containment of contaminants in soil, sludge, sediments, surface water, and groundwater.” “We expect that the rejuvenation project will start showing results in nine to 12 months,” he added.

Insurance for exporters gets ₹6k cr support

The Cabinet has allowed the listing of Export Credit Guarantee Corporation, while clearing an investment of up to Rs 6,000 crore in the company that offers insurance cover to exporters and the National Export Insurance Account Trust.

While Rs 500-crore equity will be immediately provided to ECGC, a matching amount is to be given next year, along with its listing. The remaining funds, commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal said, will be provided depending on requirement. He said part of equity requirement can also be met through the issue of fresh shares at the time of the IPO, which is likely next year.

For nearly a year, the government has been weighing options to strengthen ECGC, while joining the league of listed public sector companies. The Cabinet’s decision to provide the equity support can be spread over five years, officials added. The government is hoping that the corpus will come handy in doubling its maximum liabilities to over Rs 2 lakh crore.

Similarly, the Rs 1,650 crore allocated to the National Export Insurance Account Trust is meant to boost project exports. These exports are typically targeted in West Asian and African countries and also help Indian content. Goyal said that the latest moves are part of an overall exercise to boost exports, with the government setting an ambitious target of $400 billion this year.

Pakistani Ultra squeals

A Pakistani terrorist captured alive by the Indian Army during a live encounter in Jammu & Kashmir’s Uri sector has asked his handlers in the neighbouring country to take him back to his mother.

“I appeal to the Lashkare-Toiba area commander, the ISI and the Pakistan Army to take me back to my mother just like they sent me here (India),” Ali Babar Patra, the teenage terrorist from Pakistan, said in a video message released by the Army here on Wednesday.

Patra was nabbed by the Army during a live encounter in the Uri sector on September 26, when he asked for his life to be spared. Another Pakistani infiltrator was killed in the nine-day operation that began on September 18.

In the video message, Patra said the Pakistan Army, the ISI and the LeT were spreading lies about the situation in Kashmir.

“We were told that the Indian Army is carrying out a bloodbath, but everything is peaceful here. I want to tell my mother that the Indian Army has taken good care of me,” he said.

OK for plan to build city around Shirdi airport

Maharashtra Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray cleared a proposal to develop the region around the Shirdi airport into a planned city— Area around Shirdi Hub Airpor. The decision was taken at a meeting of the Maharashtra Airport Development Corporation. It was decided to develop this area with all the required amenities.

“Shirdi is one of the most famous religious-tourist destination in the country. Millions of tourists, both domestic as well as international, visit Shirdi every year. The creation of facilities will further boost tourism and business,”said Thackeray. According to senior officials, nearly 1600 hectares of land will be acquired for this project and it will be built on the lines of the NAINA, a smart city planned around the upcoming Navi Mumbai International Airport.

Goa: Faleiro Speaks About ‘United Cong Family’

Former Goa CM Luizinho Faleiro joined the All India Trinamool Congress on Wednesday, calling the West Bengal-based party a “credible alternative” in Goa in the run-up to next year’s assembly election, even as he spoke about formation of “a united Congress family” with the YSR Congress, NCP and AITC coming together to defeat the BJP.

“I have lived as a Congressman for the last 40 years and have the same ideology and principles. Today, when I am joining Trinamool Congress, it is like bringing the Congress family together,” he said.

Calling AITC chief Mamata Banerjee the only leader who has taken on the BJP over its divisive agenda, the seven-time MLA from Goa said that his state needs fighters like her. “I have urged Didi (Banerjee) to come to Goa to achieve our aims and preserve the culture,” he said.

“I am starting my journey with Didi. Goa needs a credible alternative and Trinamool Congress is that credible alternative. Bringing the Congress family together is a movement and we need all the family members. Mamataji can fight against the BJP,” said Faleiro. “I will ensure that the Congress family is consolidated. My mission to join Trinamool is to defeat the BJP’s culture of hatred and intolerance. Today India and my little Goa are in an economic meltdown. Overall administration has collapsed.”

Faleiro joined the AITC in Kolkata with nine other leaders. Former MLA from MGP Lavoo Mamledar, Congress general secretaries Yatish Naik and Vijay Poi, and Congress secretaries Mario Pinto De Santana and Anand Naik were among those who joined the AITC with Faleiro.

Maharashtra: 3 dozen dams overflow

As Cyclone Gulab swept through the state and had the worst-ever impact on the drought-prone Marathwada and Vidarbha regions, standing crops on an estimated 11 lakh hectare of land were completely washed away. On the other hand, following heavy rainfall, water stock in more than three dozen dams in the state has crossed the 100% mark. It is for the first time in the state’s recent history that water stock in such a large number of dams has crossed 100% capacity. Significantly, considering the record stock in the dams, the number of water tankers now has reduced to a single digit, to only six, in the entire state.

According to the water resources department website, water stock in the 3,267 dams across the state stood at 83% on September 29 compared with 84% on the same day last year. In the Amravati region, the total water stock was 97% (98% last year), Aurangabad 89% (91%), Kokan 99% (87%), Nagpur 89% (88%), Nashik 92% (96%) and Pune 93% (94%). Significantly, most dams in Marathwada have more than 95% water stock.

A senior bureaucrat said although the high water level in dams will help tide over the summer of 2022, Cyclone Gulab will result in a huge burden on the cash-strapped state.

Mumbai: 15-acre Worli Dairy to make way for marine research centre & aquarium

The Maharashtra state government will soon convert the sprawling 14.5-acre Worli Dairy land into a marine research centre, a world-class aquarium and an exhibition centre.

CM Uddhav Thackeray is believed to have directed the urban development department to change the land reservation. “In the next few days, the state will issue a public notification under MRTP Act 37 (1), inviting objections and suggestions,” highly placed Mantralaya sources said.

The proposal seeks to carve out 11 acres of the complex for these new public facilities including an aquarium. The remaining area will be retained by the dairy commissioner’s office while the dairy itself will be shifted to Kurla. “The land has been under-utilised for many years and only a small quantity of milk is processed here,” an officer said.

The government feels the land is not being appropriately used considering the dairy activities have reduced,” said a senior officer.

The state animal husbandry department, controlled by the Congress, had resisted the move to shift the dairy operations. “However, the CM convinced them about the new facilities on the plot and they have agreed to it,” said the officer. The land falls within the assembly constituency of Aditya Thackeray.

The state government will hand over the land either to the BMC or the tourism department once a formal decision is taken to change the land reservation.

In March 2020, just before the pandemic lockdown began, state finance minister Ajit Pawar had announced the project on the Worli Dairy land in his budget speech. He said the objective was to attract domestic and international tourists.

Over the years, the property has been eyed by several builders because of its prime location on Worli Sea face. The real estate is worth thousands of crores because of its size and location.

At one time, government is believed to have considered monetizing the land to raise funds for metro projects. The dairy department also has large tracts of land in Kurla and Goregaon.

Last year, a 25-acre plot in Kurla, which once housed a Mother Dairy complex, was to be taken over by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority for commercial exploitation. MMRDA was planning to monetise the land to fund metro projects. The land is under the state government's department of animal husbandry, dairy and fisheries.

About 10,000 sqm of the dairy land (2.5 acres) was surrendered to MMRDA for a viaduct and station of the upcoming Metro 2B line.

The dairy, shut down a few decades back, will be revived and revamped by MMRDA. A residential building for dairy staff will be built by MMRDA.

The Worli Dairy was established in 1961 at a project cost of over Rs four crore, of which Rs 80 lakh was provided by UNICEF. The dairy was inaugurated by Vijayalaxmi Pandit, then governor of Maharashtra.


Punjab: Congress Crisis Continues

Appointment of a new Chief Minister in Punjab was termed as a masterstroke by the Congress but the party affairs in the state is in a big mess with resignation of Navjot Singh Sidhu from the post of state party chief and former CM Amarinder Singh in Delhi. The Congress quarters were wary as news flashed about Amarinder Singh heading towards Delhi to meet BJP leaders. The party heaved a sigh of relief when Amarinder Singh announced after reaching Delhi that he is here to vacate Kapurthala house and is not going to meet any ‘politician’.

In the last ditch effort to pacify Amarinder Singh, the Congress was mulling a strategy to send an emissary but the Congress leadership got blessing in disguise with Punjab president Navjot Singh Sidhu quitting the party president’s post.

Though Congress was surprised with the move, party spokesperson Pawan Khera said, the party made him the president with much confidence, he can give explanation on the resignation.

The Congress affairs in the state is getting messy after the change of the Chief Minister but things did not change as Navjot Sidhu threw his tantrums in the party. The Congress aimed to save its fort in Punjab and desperately needed a united party but ultimately Congress insiders say it’s a self goal.

Amarinder Singh took potshots minutes after Sindhu’s resignation, “I told you so... he is not a stable man and not fit for the border state of Punjab.”

The Congress is in double jeopardy, how to go about the Punjab Affairs which are getting messy, as the party had called the appointment of Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi as masterstroke of Rahul Gandhi.

Sidhu announced his resignation on his Twitter handle in just an hour after Channi announced allocation of portfolios to his Cabinet colleagues.

In a letter to party President Sonia Gandhi, he wrote, “The collapse of a man’s character stems from the compromise corner, I can never compromise on Punjab’s future and the agenda for the welfare of Punjab.”

“Therefore, I hereby resign as the President of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee. Will continue to serve the Congress,” he added.

It is learnt that Sidhu was upset over the non-inclusion of the MLAs of his choice in the expanded Cabinet and the appointment of new Advocate General, APS Deol. 

Chennai Metro Phase 2 snippets

In about six years, when the metro rail line from Madhavaram to Sholinganallur opens, trains will criss-cross the city from a depth of 21 metres in Villivakkam to 38 metres above the road at Kathipara in a virtual roller coaster ride. But building the corridor will put the skills of engineers to test. From tunnelling through tough soil, to laying elevated lines crossing busy flyovers and MRTS lines, nearly half of the 47km corridor-5 will pose a stiff challenge.

At least nine locations, say officials, have been identified as being difficult for construction in terms of planned design and management of traffic.

“The most challenging will be Kathipara where we will be crossing above the phase-1 alignment,” a Chennai Metro Rail Ltd official said. “It requires a well thought-out design as there are many existing structures and it is a challenge to identify their foundation. We must also bypass all underground utilities including huge pipelines. We cannot disrupt the traffic below. So, there are very few spots in that location which we can use for construction,” he said.

The hard rock soil along the 5km between Retteri and Nadhamuni is considered tough for tunnelling, while at Thirumangalam, Koyambedu, CMBT and Medavakkam, elevated lines will rise above existing flyovers. “Stations in Medavakkam have been planned above the existing flyover. But we are redesigning them now,” he said. “After CMBT, we will face one of the narrowest roads where Kaliamman Koil Street merges with Arcot Road. We have acquired huge amounts of land and will demolish buildings.”

Between Alwarthirunagar and Porur, elevated lines will be on two levels (double decker) for 5.6km with five interchange stations linking corridors 4 and 5. A grade separator is planned between Mugalivakkam and MIOT Hospital above which an elevated line will be built, while an underpass will come up at Vanuvampet. At Adambakkam, the metro line will be above the MRTS track.

Construction contracts have either been awarded for some stretches or the tender process is in the final stages, with almost all having a deadline of around three years.

To complete the project on time, construction for stretches identified as tough across the entire phase will be taken up first. Lines planned on wider roads will also begin in at least 2-3 locations simultaneously. Different types of girders and construction methodology will be adopted according to the span of the distance between two support structures.

Three layers of protection will be installed to ensure nothing falls on the road during construction.

“We cannot ensure zero inconvenience for people, but it will be minimised by thoughtful process by using minimum road width and minimum time duration for construction,” the official said.

S&P Retains India’s 9.5% Growth Forecast for FY22

S&P Global Ratings said there were indications of a strong rebound in economic activity in India after the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic waned, but it retained the country’s FY22 growth forecast at 9.5%.

The April-June period saw a steep contraction in activity on the back of a severe Covid-19 wave but high-frequency indicators suggest a strong rebound over July-September, S&P said on India in its Asia-Pacific economic outlook.

As per the report, India’s households and micro and small enterprises were most affected in the latest downturn and will slow the recovery while they repair their balance sheets. Inflation remains relatively high, and public debt worries persist. It said that core price inflation has picked up in some economies, including in China, Australia, New Zealand and India.

S&P said that struck by Covid-19 variants and slow vaccination, consumption could be hit again following stricter virus control measures. “Discretionary goods sales in China, Japan, Australia and Korea may face new setbacks, while India and Indonesia won't likely return to pre-Covid levels until 2023,” it said.

In its report, the agency also pared China’s growth forecast by 30 basis points to 8% for 2021, citing rising near-term uncertainty due to policy actions of Asia’s largest economy and imminent default fears of the real estate firm Evergrande.

For Asia-Pacific as a whole, S&P now projects growth at 6.7% in 2021, down from 7.1% previously. For India, the ratings agency said faster-than-expected tapering could cause capital flow risks as monetary policy in India remains highly accommodative with real interest rates in negative territory.

“Other fundamentals such as the reserve buffers and current account shortfalls are better than in 2013, when India was one of the ‘Fragile Five’ economies caught in the crosswinds of Federal Reserve tapering," it added.

The finances of Indian local and regional governments remain stretched and are handicapped by limited financial flexibility.

PM launches 35 crop varieties with special features

Seeking to address the twin challenges of climate change and malnutrition, PM Modi released 35 new indigenously-developed crop varieties with special traits like drought tolerance, disease resistance and biofortified food crops with higher nutrient content such as protein, iron and zinc.

“When science, government and society work together, results are better. Such an alliance of farmers and scientists will strengthen India in dealing with new challenges,” Modi said, appealing to farmers to adopt climate resilient tech to raise their income, conserve water and save the natural ecosystem. 

Releasing the new crop varieties through a virtual function attended by agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar and Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel, PM Modi said, “More than 1,300 seed varieties have been developed over the years. In this series, the 35 new varieties are being dedicated to farmers. It will address the challenge of climate change and malnutrition.”

The varieties, developed by various institutions of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, include eight new varieties of rice, six of wheat, three each of maize and soybean, two each of mustard, pigeon pea, pearl millet, sorghum and chickpea, among others. These varieties also include those that address the anti-nutritional factors found in some crops that adversely affect human and animal health.

The PM emphasised on the need to opt for both traditional and new agriculture practices. “It’s time when we have to make a balance between ‘back to basics’ (traditional farming) and ‘march for future’ (use of new technology),” he said, underlining the need to go back to the practice of ‘multi-culture’ (cultivation of different crops) farming instead of simply banking on ‘monoculture’ (single crop farming).

Modi also inaugurated the newly-constructed campus of the National Institute of Biotic Stress Tolerance, Raipur, distributed ‘Green Campus Award’ to four agricultural universities and interacted with five farmers who use innovative methods of farming. Referring to different biotic stress caused by climate change, the PM said the NIBST would conduct research on ways to address this. “We are aware of crop damage caused due to pest attacks. We had faced locust attacks last year. We took several steps to address the problem and saved farmers from incurring huge damage,” he said.

100 Chinese soldiers crossed into Uttarakhand last month

Close to 100 soldiers of China’s People’s Liberation Army transgressed the Line of Actual Control in the Barahoti sector in Uttarakhand last month, people familiar with the development said on Tuesday.

The transgression took place on August 30, and the Chinese troops returned from the area after spending few hours, they said. The Indo-Tibetan Border Police personnel are deployed in the area.

The people cited above said as part of a tit-for-tat strategy, Indian troops carried out patrolling. There was no official comment on the Chinese transgression.

The incident comes amid a continuing standoff between Indian and Chinese troops in eastern Ladakh though both sides completed disengagement in two sensitive locations.

However, what surprised the Indian officials was the number of PLA personnel who transgressed on August 30. The Chinese side has also ramped up infrastructure development along the LAC in the sector.


2,000-yr-old Meerut find

For years, the remains lay unnoticed in the midst of the bustling city of Meerut. At first glance, there was nothing distinctive about it — so much so that a part of it was destroyed when a power house came up over it. Now, after the Meerut circle of the Archaeological Survey of India was created just last year, the remains have been identified as those of a Mauryan-period brick platform going back over 2,000 years. And it could hold the key to a “lost” Ashoka Pillar site from the 3rd century BCE.

“A large part of the structure is in the form of a 30m by 35m platform at Vikas Puri . The ancient site is undoubtedly one from the Mauryan period because the bricks are typical of the era,” Meerut circle superintending archaeologist Brajsundar Gadnayak said. The dimensions of the bricks are unique to the Mauryan period — 42cm x 26cm x 8cm. “We have also found pottery and ceramics belonging to those times,” Gadnayak added. An ancient canal route here that, most likely, connects to the Kali river has also been found.

The finding has rekindled hopes that it could lead historians to a pillar installed in Meerut around 3rd century BCE by Ashoka, the third emperor of the Mauryan dynasty. Historian Dr KK Sharma said, “The Gazetteer (of 1904) mentions the reinstallation of Meerut’s pillar at the Delhi Ridge but we have not been able to find the original site here.”

The Meerut Gazetteer he referred to said, “The earliest historical connection which can be made with the (Meerut) district is the erection of an Asoka pillar near Meerut … On the ridge at Dehli (Delhi) now stands a pillar which, according to Shams-i-Siraj, was removed from near the town of Meerut and set up in the Kushak Shikar or hunting palace. The site occupied by the pillar has not been identified.”

Gujarat’s tele-density crosses 100% mark

With the number of subscribers rising due to the need for more than one mobile connection amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Gujarat’s tele-density has crossed 100% mark for the first time. The tele-density — measured by the number of mobile connections per hundred population—in the state touched 100.17% as it added some 3.73 lakh new mobile subscribers in July. With this, Gujarat is now among the eight Indian states with a tele-density above 100%.

Fresh additions have increased the mobile subscriber base of Gujarat to 7.03 crore in July from around 7 crore in June, according to TRAI. Industry players have attributed the surge to the post-pandemic digital boom, online education and work from home requirements.

“There was a need for multiple mobile connections as people sought consistent mobile network and internet connectivity to ensure their remote working or their wards’ online education remained unhindered. Consequently, the overall number of subscribers grew up, pushing up the overall tele-density in the state,” a telecom industry source said.

Telecom operators also attribute the adding of new mobile connections to tariff revision and network issues. “Recently, tariff revision was announced by one of the telcos, which propelled customers to opt for newer connections. Mobile users are also plagued with poor or discrete mobile network, due to which people keep operate more than mobile numbers in a bid to stay connected at all times,” said a source.

The tele-density is 74.42% in rural Gujarat whereas in urban areas it is 121.83% as on December 31, 2020.

“Post pandemic, the number of mobile subscribers dramatically increased in rural Gujarat too, besides urban areas. This was primarily fuelled post pandemic, as the need for online education and connectivity was high,” the source further added.

In July, state-owned carrier, BSNL lost some 25,542 subscribers against June. Similarly, Bharti Airtel lost some 30,071 subscribers and Vi (Vodafone Idea) lost some 1.54 lakh subscribers. The only gainer was Reliance Jio which gained some 5.83 lakh new subscribers.

Akash Prime takes to the skies

A new version of the Akash missile – ‘Akash Prime’ – was successfully flight-tested on Monday from the integrated test range at Chandipur in Odisha. The missile intercepted and destroyed an unmanned aerial target mimicking an enemy aircraft in its maiden flight test. Defence minister Rajnath Singh and DRDO chairman G Satheesh Reddy congratulated the team involved in the successful trial

Health ID, med records for all in new digital system

PM Modi launched the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission, envisaged as a complete digital health ecosystem with a ‘health ID’ for every citizen, digitised personal health records as well as a registry of doctors and health facilities across the country.

Highlighting the Centre’s digital initiatives, Modi also praised CoWin which has played a “big role” in the administration of over 86 crore doses of Covid vaccines. The strong vindication comes against the backdrop of reports that UK has raised doubts over reliability of India’s vaccine certification.

Today is a very important day. The drive to strengthen health facilities of the country, in the last seven years, is entering a new phase. This is not an ordinary phase. This is an extraordinary phase,” Modi said.

The PM said the digital mission will play a big role in eliminating problems in providing medical treatment to the poor and the middle class. The pilot project of the mission was announced by the PM from the Red Fort on August 15, 2020 and has been implemented in six union territories.

Underlining that the Mission will enable access and exchange of health records of citizens with their consent, the PM said the digital ecosystem will also ensure ease of doing business for doctors, hospitals and healthcare service providers. Under the mission, a unique digital health ID will be provided to people, which will contain health records of the person and enable interoperability within the digital health system. Any public hospital, community health centre or health and wellness centre across the country, or any healthcare provider included in the health infrastructure registry, will be able to support an individual in obtaining a health ID.

Patients can also obtain a health ID by self-registration from a mobile or a web application. To create the ID, the individual will need to provide their basic individual, demographic and contact information to the consent manager at the concerned health facility.

Uddhav writes to PM to rejig Mum-Hyd bullet train route

In a marked change from its stilted attitude towards the country’s first bullet train line between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, the MVA government has proactively offered to cooperate on the Mumbai-Nagpur highspeed rail corridor, requested the Centre to realign the Mumbai-Pune-Hyderabad high-speed corridor via Jalna-Nanded and proposed another one between Pune and Aurangabad.

“MSRDC is of the view that the proposed Nagpur-Nasik-Mumbai high-speed rail corridor may be accommodated within right of way of the Samruddhi Mahamarg for approximately 80% of its length,” CM Uddhav Thackeray has written to PM Narendra Modi. “It is felt that if Government of India and Government of Maharashtra collaborate along the Samruddhi Mahamarg, the execution of the Mumbai-Nashik-Nagpur HSR can be started at the earliest,” the letter said.

The rail corridor was planned alongside the Mahamarg from inception, but the MVA government’s eagerness to go ahead with the plan is what stands out.

The CM went on to suggest that since the Mumbai-Nagpur HSR will be within the Samruddhi Mahamarg ROW up to Jalna, it can be extended to Hyderabad. “If the same logic of accommodating the HSR within the RoW of an expressway, as is proposed between Nagpur and Mumbai, is applied, the Mumbai-Hyderabad HSR can be planned along the Mumbai-Nanded expressway via Jalna and further within the RoW of the proposed expressway between Nanded and Hyderabad,” Thackeray said in his two-page letter early this month.

Thackeray also suggested an HSR route between Pune and Aurangabad. “It should be noted that Mumbai-Nagpur connects Mumbai-Nashik-Aurangabad. The Mumbai-Hyderabad alignment connects Mumbai to Pune on HSR route. Maharashtra has planned a semi-HSR between Pune and Nashik. HSR connectivity between Pune and Aurangabad will complete a quadrilateral in the most important industrial corridor. The Pune-Nashik-Aurangabad triangle is already an anchor of auto industry in the state,” he said further in his two-page letter.

However, on Monday, officials of the National High-Speed Rail Corporation told villagers in Thane district that feasibility for a proposed Mumbai-Pune-Hyderabad project is being studied. A total of 1,200 hectares will be required in Thane district. The 649.76km route, if given the nod, will have 11 stations and cut travel time to Hyderabad from 14 hours to three hours, an official said.

India’s Covid cases fall below 20k

India recorded its lowest number of daily Covid-19 cases in over 200 days with Monday’s tally falling below 20,000 for the first time since March this year as Kerala logged 11,699 fresh infections, the lowest in nearly five weeks.

Deaths from the virus also fell to 178, the lowest daily toll since March 22—again, thanks to a sharp drop in fatalities reported in Kerala. The state recorded 58 deaths on Monday, down from 165 the previous day.

India logged 19,859 fresh cases of the coronavirus, with Jharkhand’s data yet to come in till after midnight, the lowest daily case-count since March 9 this year, 202 days ago. Cases dip every Monday on account of lower testing and staff shortages over the weekend. However, this Monday’s count comes at a time when infections in Kerala have been falling after the massive post-Onam surge. In recent weeks, Kerala has been accounting for 60% and more of all cases in the country. Monday’s tally in Kerala was the lowest for a single day since August 22. At 2,432, Maharashtra reported the fewest count of fresh cases since February 8. Karnataka (504 new cases), Andhra (618), Bengal (472) and Odisha (444) too registered a fall.

Cyclone Gulab batters Andhra

Three people were reported killed in Andhra Pradesh as cyclone Gulab barrelled through the state after making landfall late on Sunday near Kalingapatnam, leaving in its wake a trail of destruction across the two worst-hit districts of Srikakulam and Vizianagaram. Neighbouring Odisha was spared the worst of the cyclone, barring a tapering storm that caused subsidence in parts of the state, along with power supply and telecom disruptions.

In AP, the damage was widespread, with the fury of the cyclone throwing power supply and communication networks haywire and flattening crops spread across thousands of acres.

A 37-year-old woman, D Bhavani, was killed at Pendurthi in Visakhapatnam when the wall of her house collapsed. In West Godavari, a road transport corporation employee, P Nageswara Rao, was swept away in a flash flood caused by heavy rain. The third casualty was reported in Srikakulam district. Chief minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy announced an ex gratia of 5 lakh to the kin of those killed, and 1,000 each to families shifted to relief camps.

In Odisha, the Naveen Patnaik government had evacuated over 46,075 people, including1,533 pregnant women, to safer places before the cyclone hit. Though water levels of Rushikulya, Vansadhara and Mahendratanaya rivers are increasing, the government has ruled out the possibility of a major flood-like situation.

In a rare weather event, Cyclone Gulab that came across the Bay of Bengal to hit the eastern coast on Sunday, could be reborn as cyclone Shaheen by Thursday evening as it moves across the Arabian Sea after having petered off into a depression while traversing the Indian land mass through Chhattisgarh, Telangana, Maharashtra and Gujarat. Over the next 24 hours, the system could gather steam and move towards Oman on October 1. If the new cyclone is formed, it would be called Shaheen, the name given by Qatar which is one of the member-countries for naming of tropical cyclones over north Indian Ocean including Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea. “The system is likely to emerge into northeast Arabian Sea and adjoining Gujarat coast around September 30 and there is a likelihood for the system to further intensify over northeast Arabian Sea during the subsequent 24 hours,” said the IMD. The new cyclone won’t affect India’s western coast. But it will, on its way from east to west, continue to bring isolated heavy rains over Maharashtra and Gujarat during the coming three-four days. Indian coast-lines had experienced such cyclonic phenomena nearly three years ago when cyclonic storm Gaja crossed TN and Puducherry coast on November 15, 2018, weakened into a depression over land and re-emerged as a fresh depression over south-east Arabian Sea the next day.


Deepen Bank Network in Rural India: FM

Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman appealed to banks to deepen their branch network, especially in the interiors which have high level of economic activity but continue to lack banking services.

“Even today many panchayats don’t have a bank branch. I am not saying that you need to have a physical presence everywhere, digitisation has saved a lot of costs without compromising the service banks provide,” the minister told banking industry lobby grouping Indian Banks Association.

“The banks and IBA among themselves can decide where you need to be physically present and where digital services can be extended,” Sitharaman said. “A good rationalised approach will help the government’s financial inclusion agenda.”

Sitharaman said the IBA should digitalise and map banking presence in each districts and identify gaps, adding that she is not against digitalisation.

On the setting up of the National Asset Reconstruction Company, Sitharaman said banks’ books are much cleaner now and this will help the government as the recapitalisation requirements go down.

“The burden on government will be far lesser as your books will be cleaner,” she said.

The minister also praised banks that have joined the account aggregator framework, and said financial inclusion cannot happen if credit doesn’t reach far and wide.

“The future of credit outreach can happen throughout the year, through the system, and there need not be separate credit outreach programmes,” she said. “If account aggregator model is put to use in the right way, credit will be available on tap, without worry, to even small customers who reach you.”

Yogi Sarkar adds new faces

The seven new entrants to Yogi government were sworn in by Governor Anandiben Patel at Raj Bhawan on Sunday evening in the presence of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.

While Jitin Prasada is the only cabinet minister, the other six have been given the rank of minister of state. The appointment of Prasada, a member of Rahul Gandhi’s team before he crossed over, reflects the intent to assuage the concerns of Brahmins who are being wooed by BSP and SP.

The social profile of the newly inducted ministers is the same as it was of the seven ministers inducted in the Modi cabinet from Uttar Pradesh just over two months back, signalling the intent to consolidate communities other than Muslims, Yadavs and Jatavs who are either hostile to the party or have staunchly aligned with its rivals.

The inductions follow the party’s move to strengthen ties with the Kurmis-aligned Apna Dal and Nishad Party who represent a group of riverine communities, and giving Union HRD minister Dharmendra Pradhan, an OBC, the charge of UP elections. Both the representatives of the Dalits are Khatiks or Sonkars: Paltu Ram from Balrampur and Dinesh Khatik from Hastinapur in Western UP, a region which has a good presence of his community. Khatiks have traditionally been well-disposed towards BJP. Sanjay Gond represents STs.

The OBC nominees include Dharmveer Prajapati (Kumhar or potter), Chhatrapal Gangwar (Kurmi) and Sangeeta Balwant Bind. Binds are part of the larger Nishad category, a group of riverine communities.

An MLA from Baheri constituency, the elevation of Gangwar, a Kurmi, is being seen as a replacement for Santosh Gangwar, an MP from Bareilly, who was dropped from Modi cabinet recently. Kurmis form a sizable chunk among OBCs. The induction of Bind, a first-time MLA from Ghazipur is also being seen as BJP’s bid to create its own Nishad leadership at a time when the BJP has forged an alliance with NISHAD party led by Dr Sanjay Nishad.

Nishads have a huge presence, mostly in eastern UP.. In a way, the additions in Lucknow on Sunday mirror the inclusions in the Union council of ministers from the state earlier this year. The exercise saw PM Narendra Modi bringing in one Brahmin Ajay Mishra, three OBCs including Anupriya Patel, Pankaj Choudhary (both Kurmis), BL Verma (Lodh) and three SCs including Bhanu Pratap Singh (Kori), SP Baghel (Baghel) and Kaushal Kishor (Pasi).

With only a few months before UP polls, the BJP think tank has tried to give representation to most backwards among the OBCs in a bid to wrap up vote share as less as even 2%, a formula first time applied by former CM late Kalyan Singh and then by Union home minister Amit Shah in 2014, when he was the state in charge. “A message of social harmony and regional balance has been conveyed through the cabinet expansion. By reaching out to the last man standing, Yogi fulfilled and complied with Pandit Deendayal Ji’s philosophy,” said a senior BJP leader.

SpiceJet to Resume Boeing 737 MAX Flights

Boeing’s 737 MAX jetliner is set to fly again in India after two-and-a-half years, with SpiceJet planning to resume operations of the aircraft from October 5.

The no-frills airline’s pilots are currently being retrained on these planes, which were banned for flying by several countries including India in 2019 after two crashes blamed on computer glitches. Regulators have now started allowing resumption of operations with the narrowbody aircraft.

“The first batch of 20 SpiceJet pilots are doing their training now and will complete it by 30 September 2021. The training was held at the SpiceJet Training Academy in Gurgaon and at the Boeing Simulator facility in Noida in Uttar Pradesh,” said a senior airline executive, who did not want to be identified. The executive explained these pilots have undergone “requalification syllabus”, just like pilots of other MAX operating airlines have across the globe. “More pilots will continuously be trained over the coming weeks,” the executive said.

SpiceJet had more than 350 pilots who were trained or qualified on the MAX at the time when the aircraft was grounded. The pilots are being retrained at a full flight simulator set by Boeing for the 737 MAX in Noida and at a MAX Fixed Base Simulator at the SpiceJet Training Academy.

India had grounded these planes in March 2019 after a second Boeing 737 MAX, operated by Ethiopian Airlines, crashed due to a faulty computer system, but gave go-ahead last month to fly these planes. American and European authorities have already allowed airlines to operate these planes after the computer systems were rectified and after fresh training of pilots. SpiceJet is the only Indian carrier which has Boeing MAX in its fleet.

Centre places Srinagar on international aviation map

Jammu & Kashmir is set to get onto the international aviation map with the civil aviation ministry okaying the launch of the first commercial flight between Srinagar and Sharjah in the UAE in about a month.

“This is a historic step both for J&K and its people. Foreign travellers will soon be able to arrive directly in Srinagar,” civil aviation minister Jyotiraditya Scindia said at a joint press conference with J&K lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha. The media interaction followed a detailed review of all aviation matters related to the J&K, by Sinha and Scindia.

Sources said Sharjah was chosen as the first destination in view of the heavy volume of business between traders from J&K, particularly those dealing in horticulture produce, and retail outlets in Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The immigration infrastructure is already in place in J&K, said an officer.

“More than 77 stores in Sharjah — mostly owned by Lulu hypermarket chain — source their supplies of dry fruits etc largely from J&K. Similarly, over 60 such stores in Abu Dhabi get supplies from J&K. So there is a high demand of business-related travel between Srinagar and Sharjah, which is also a convenient transit point to reach Dubai and Abu Dhabi,” a source said.

Earlier too, Srinagar handled international flights but they were only for Hajj pilgrims. Meanwhile, among the other outcomes of Saturday’s review meeting by Sinha and Scindia was the former’s assurance to hand over 122 acre land in Jammu by October 10, 2022, for the Airports Authority of India to start work on a new 25,000 sq metre terminal at a cost of Rs 600 crore.

Srinagar airport too is being expanded from 22,000 sq metre to 63,000 sq metre with an investment of Rs 1500 crore, said Scindia. The cargo terminal at Srinagar airport will open for business by October 1, he added. A paid premium lounge has also been approved for Srinagar airport and the bidding process may begin by September 30.

PM vax pitch hailed by African nations

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vaccine pitch during his UNGA address on Saturday went down well with several heads of African and South American countries with many delegates thanking him for offering to make India the hub of the global production of the anti-corona shots and restoring supplies.

The rate of vaccination has been poor in these regions with Latin America and Caribbean recording a meagre 28% vaccination till the current month. The most affected in Africa, South Africa, has been able to vaccinate only 26% of its population and India’s pledge was seen as significant, said official sources.

The Quad leaders, in a joint statement, agreed to donate more than 1.2 million doses of Covid vaccine globally and welcomed India’s move to resume export of the vaccines. Modi drew a good attendance when he addressed the UN general assembly and officials accompanying him said the hall was filled, specially with delegates from African and South American nations.

After PM Modi concluded his UNGA address, several African delegates and foreign ministers came up to him backstage and appreciated his speech.

The PM also utilised his visit to showcase India’s soft power as he gave unique gifts to the foreign dignitaries.

Sources said the Prime Minister’s gift to President Joe Biden was a painted Lord Buddha in Kadam wood (white wood). Kadam wood is a popular choice for handicrafts, with the Kadam tree having a special association with Lord Krishna. The figure of Lord Buddha was crafted in Rajasthan and depicts him seated in a meditative posture showing blessings with his right hand.

On return, the PM was greeted by BJP president J P Nadda while hundreds of people had reached the airport as well.

Defence minister Rajnath Singh said, “I welcome PM Narendra Modi on his return to India from an extremely successful and fruitful visit to the United States.”


Pakistan: An arsonist in fire-fighter’s guise

India’s diplomat Sneha Dubey delivered a fiery rebuttal to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan raking up the J&K issue in his UNGA address, saying Pakistan has nurtured terrorists for long and is an “arsonist disguising itself as a fire-fighter”.

Khan’s comments seeking to paint his country as a victim of terrorism, saw young Indian diplomat and first secretary Sneha Dubey responding, “Our region, and in fact the entire world, has suffered because of their policies. On the other hand, they are trying to cover up sectarian violence in their country as acts of terror.” Dubey, an IFS officer of 2012 batch, was exercising India’s right of reply, and added that Pakistan held the record of hosting the largest number of terrorists proscribed by the UN Security Council.

In his nearly 25-minute virtual address, Khan had spoken about the August 5, 2019, decision of the Indian government to revoke the special status of the erstwhile J&K state and also the death of pro-Pakistan separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

Dubey said it was regrettable that this was not the first time that the leader of Pakistan had misused platforms provided by the UN to propagate false and malicious propaganda against India, and sought in vain to divert the world’s attention from “the sad state of his country where terrorists enjoy free pass while the lives of ordinary people, especially those belonging to the minority communities, are turned upside down”. In the past too, junior Indian diplomats, usually women, have countered such statements by Pakistan.

“We exercise our right of reply to one more attempt by the leader of Pakistan to tarnish the image of this august forum by bringing in matters internal to my country, and going so far as to spew falsehoods on the world stage,” said Dubey, the third Indian woman diplomat at the UN to rebut Pakistan’s claims on J&K. Another blistering response was delivered by 2005-batch IFS officer Eenam Gambhir in 2016. This was followed by a similar right of reply by Vidisha Mishra in 2019. A post-graduate from JNU, Dubey was schooled in Goa and later graduated from a college in Pune.

“While such statements deserve our collective contempt and sympathy for the mindset of the person who utters falsehood repeatedly, I am taking the floor to set the record straight,” she said. Dubey strongly reiterated that the entire Union Territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh “were, are and will always be an integral and inalienable part of India’’.


India holds China responsible for Galwan clash

Hours before the first in-person Quad summit, India strongly rebutted Beijing’s renewed claim that the Galwan clashes took place because of India violating agreements in “encroaching” Chinese territory.

After Beijing claimed yet again that the Galwan valley incident took place because India violated all agreements and encroached upon China’s territory, India hit back saying it was China’s provocative behaviour, including unilateral attempts to change the LAC status quo, that disturbed border peace. The Galwan clashes in Ladakh last year left 20 Indian soldiers dead. China too suffered several casualties.

“We reject such statements. Our position with regard to developments last year along the LAC in eastern Ladakh has been clear and consistent. It was the provocative behaviour and unilateral attempts of the Chinese side to alter status quo in contravention of all our bilateral agreements that resulted in serious disturbance of peace and tranquility,” said MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi in a statement.

External affairs minister S Jaishankar had discussed the situation with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in a meeting in Dushanbe earlier this month. The MEA recalled that Jaishankar had conveyed to Wang in the meeting that India expected China to work towards early resolution of the remaining issues along the LAC in eastern Ladakh “while fully abiding by bilateral agreements and protocols”.

While this wasn’t the first time that China blamed India for Galwan, the timing on this occasion is significant as it came just before the Quad summit in the US. Beijing and Moscow see Quad as an exercise meant to undermine and contain China.

Responding to a question on the Quad summit, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on Friday “a closed, exclusive clique targeting other countries runs counter to the trend of the times and the aspirations of regional countries”. He added it will find no support and was doomed to fail.

The spokesperson said “relevant countries” should view China's development in correct light and do more to promote solidarity and cooperation among countries in the region.

Nitin Gadkari in Pune


Union road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari said the Centre’s infrastructure committee would soon approve a proposal to sanction 13 acres of defence land for the expansion of the city airport.

Gadkari, speaking on the sidelines of an event in the city, said the committee — which he chairs — was likely to approve the proposal in its next meeting. “The Air Force requires some land in Chandigarh. We told the airport authorities to submit a proposal suggesting that land in Chandigarh be handed over to the IAF in exchange for land in Pune. The proposal has been sanctioned and will come before the infrastructure committee. I will see it gets through,” Gadkari said after breaking ground for a flyover project on Sinhagad Road.

Gadkari expressed his satisfaction with the pace of work on the city’s three vital projects — Metro, airport and Mula-Mutha pollution reduction. Further, Gadkari said toll has been abolished on the Pune-Satara Road. “The stretch had become problematic as many accidents were occurring. We have terminated the toll on this route. The pending work on this road is likely to finish by December, February at the latest. We will allot Rs 50 crore,” he said.

Gadkari also said that a safety audit of the road will be carried out with the help of an expert agency.

He said a multi-layered road network, with a provision for Metro service, could be developed on the Talegaon-Shikrapur-Shirur-Ahmednagar-Wagholi road circuit at a cost of Rs.50,000 crore. The Union government can develop the project if the state government waives GST and provides concession in royalty over use of sand and other material, Gadkari said.

Gadkari also said his ministry was ready to develop the proposed ring road around the city if the state government acquires and hands over land. 

Gadkari said his ministry has undertaken ring road projects in Hyderabad and Bengaluru and if the Maharashtra government agrees, the Pune Ring Road project too can be taken over. “If the state government acquires the required land and hands it over to us, we will construct the Pune Ring Road. It’s an important project for the city. The rates of land along the proposed projects are very high and if Dada (Pawar) takes personal interest he can resolve the issues being faced by the project in land acquisition,” said Gadkari.

He further said that his ministry was working on a new expressway between Pune and Bengaluru, via Phaltan-Satara-outer Belgaum, at an estimated cost of Rs.40,000 crore. Try to develop a new Pune on this road to reduce the congestion in Pune.

“About 70% of the work on the Delhi-Mumbai expressway is complete, but the work on three packages in Maharashtra is left,” Gadkari said.

MSRDC to renovate eight ancient temples in Maharashtra

The Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation has decided to take up renovation and restoration of eight ancient temples in Maharashtra.

For this, four consulting firms, which have experience in archaeological restorations, have already been appointed. Five of these come under the jurisdiction of the Archaeological Survey of India.

The temples that will be restored as per the archaeological specifications as mandated in ASI guidelines include Gondeshwar temple in Nashik, Ekvira Mandir in Karla, Khandoba temple in Aurangabad, Markanda Shiv Mandir in Gadchiroli, Purushottam Mandir in Beed, Kopeshwar temple, Kolhapur, Anandeshwar shiv temple in Amravati and Dhootpapeshwar temple in Ratnagiri.

A Rs 101-crore fund has already been set aside for the project, an MSRDC release revealed. The decision to take up these conservation and rejuvenation works of the temples was announced by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray in the last budget session of the state legislature. A committee was constituted under the leadership of additional chief secretary Manoj Saunik, and presentations were made before it recently.

Other than restoration of the temple structures as per their original architecture, the wrong paver blocking, oil painting and tiling made on the structures and their pathways, artificial sheds built in and around the temples, and haphazard shopping lanes, electricity and water supply networks will be streamlined.


Mumbai - Pune Expressway: Cameras for instant challan on phone soon

Around 250 high-end CCTV cameras will be set up along the 94km stretch of the Mumbai-Pune Expressway as part of a system to instantly issue challans to motorists for various traffic offences, said officials of the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation recently.

An intelligent traffic management system is being developed for the Expressway, which sees frequent accidents and traffic violations.

An MSRDC official said there will be collaboration with the road transport ministry to synchronise with the Sarathi portal, which contains the details of the vehicle, including the owner and contact number. “This will allow the challan to be immediately sent to the vehicle owner’s mobile number once a camera catches a traffic violation,” said the official.

“The cameras will be of state-of-the-art quality and will be able to record the offence as well as the registration number of the vehicle in all kinds weather, be it rain or fog,” the official said.

The total cost of the project has been pegged at Rs120 crore. “Putting the system in place will take a year’s time and the tenders will be finalised soon. The project was on hold for the past two years, but funds will now be available in phases for the project,” an MSRDC official said.

Different RTOs undertook a special drive on the Expressway between July 5 and 10 this year after an accident resulted in the death of three people in the first week of June. It was found that lane-cutting and speeding accounted for the maximum offences.

Key user trial of 5,000-km ICBM Agni-V in October

India will soon conduct another test of its most formidable strategic missile, the over 5,000-km Agni-V, even as work is still in progress to develop multiple-warhead capability for ballistic missiles.

The “user-trial in full operational configuration” of Agni-V missile, which carries a single1.5-tonne warhead, will be conducted by the tri-Service Strategic Forces Command in October.

It will be the first user-trial of the three-stage intercontinental ballistic missile, which is gradually being inducted into SFC, since the military confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh erupted in April-May last year. The operational deployment of the over 50-tonne Agni-V will enhance the deterrence posture against China, which has missiles like the Dong Feng-41 (12,000-15,000-km) that can hit any Indian city. China has also recently gone in for a huge expansion in new missile silo fields for launching nuclear-tipped ICBMs.

Agni-V, which will bring even the northernmost part of China within its strike envelope, is operationally better than the earlier Agni variants because it is a canister-launch missile to ensure lesser maintenance as well as swifter transportation and firing. The Agni-V test will come soon after a new-generation two-stage missile called Agni-Prime, with a strike range of 1,500-km, was tested on June 28.

The Agni-Prime, also a canister-launch missile, will eventually replace the Agni-I (700-km) missiles in the arsenal of the SFC, which also has the Prithvi-II (350-km), Agni-II (2,000-km) and Agni-III (3,000-km) missile units.

PM Modi Meets Top US CEOs Across Key Sectors

Prime Minister Narendra Modi met top US CEOs across sectors in Washington DC on Thursday and pitched for investments in areas such as telecommunications, electronics and solar manufacturing in the country.

Modi met each of the five CEOs — Cristiano E Amon from Qualcomm, Mark Widmar from First Solar, Stephen A Schwarzman from Blackstone, Shantanu Narayen from Adobe and Vivek Lall from General Atomics individually.

In his meeting with Cristiano Amon, CEO of Qualcomm, Modi discussed investment opportunities offered in India’s telecommunications and electronics sector. This included the recently launched Production Linked Incentive Scheme for Electronics System Design and Manufacturing as well as developments in the semiconductor supply chain in India. Strategies for building the local innovation ecosystem in India were also discussed, officials said.

Amon expressed interest in Qualcomm’s participation in India’s ambitious digital transformation programmes including in building 5G networks, PM WANI and others. Amon also expressed interest in partnering with India to work in the field of semi-conductors.

The PM stressed that India has the scale for ambitious projects. He said that India has prepared 5G standards & urged Qualcomm to actively participate as they did in the case of supporting NavIC, where its chips support the country’s navigation signals.

Sources informed that the PM also spoke about the new liberalised drone policy and said that Qualcomm could take part in new opportunities.

Stephen Schwarzman informed Modi that India has been the firm’s best market for investment in the world. He explained about Blackstone’s investment in India and plans to further ramp it up. Modi said that there is huge scope for further expansion of Blackstone’s partnership in India and elaborated on the reforms done in India. He specifically spoke about asset monetisation and bad bank, sources said.

"Blackstone had invested $60 billion in assets in India. Over the next five years, we are planning another $40 billion in assets. We are one of the ten largest companies in India. He expressed appreciation and talked about the new programmes that are going on, including selling assets for the country, which I told him was a very good idea. Because you can take money from those sales of assets and reinvest in the country to create jobs in India," Schwarzman said.

The Blackstone CEO said he is very optimistic about India’s potential and added that it is one of the fastest growing countries in the world. He also appreciated the reforms undertaken by India.

Shantanu Narayen, president and CEO of Adobe, informed Modi about Adobe’s ongoing collaboration and future investment plans in India. Discussions also focused on India’s flagship programme Digital India, and use of emerging technologies in sectors like health, education and R&D.

"Among the key topics we talked about were the need for continued investment in innovation, Artificial Intelligence, the importance of creativity and the changing media (landscape), the online world and the importance of startups," said Narayen. "In addition, we talked about how companies like Adobe can do more in India."

Narayen is understood to have appreciated the efforts of India in fighting Covid and particularly in the rapid vaccination. He is also understood to have expressed a desire to bring video, animation to every child in India.

With Mark Widmar, CEO of First Solar, the PM talked about India’s renewable energy landscape, particularly solar energy potential, and its target of 450 GW electricity generation from renewable sources by 2030, officials informed.

Discussions also took place about First Solar’s interest in setting up manufacturing facilities in India using their unique thin-film technology by availing the recently launched PLI Scheme, as well as integrating India into global supply chains, officials added.

"We want to support the domestic market, but also want to be a technology leader leveraging capabilities that India provides but also compete on the global platform to participate in export to international markets," Widmar said.

Lall of General Atomics said India’s drone policy would attract investments from US companies.

"Many of my colleagues in US companies see India as a promising destination from a two-way standpoint. Not only technology and investments in (India) but coming back to the US. The policies and reforms that have been put in place by both countries benefit both countries, that is why it is a sustainable model," he said.

Delhi's Pedal Power Project

Delhi Development Authority is all set to start work on its ambitious CycleWalk project meant for pedestrians and cyclists. The tender for construction of the 20.5-km first leg of the project between Sangam Vihar and Malviya Nagar Metro Station, named Nilgai Line, has been awarded.

Delhi CycleWalk Project was conceptualised as a dedicated corridor for pedestrians and cyclists, which would loop around the city like a ring and connect Metro stations, bus stands, high density residential areas, business, industrial, recreational and educational districts and master plan greens. The plan is to make Delhi a “city of connected forests and lakes”, reduce the use of personal vehicles and allow people to walk and cycle safely to work, study, shop and stay fit.

“DDA has planned to develop about 200km of dedicated cycle-walk tracks to provide pollution-free green commuting. It was conceived to take a few million car rides out of the roads and allow people to walk and cycle safely and joyfully,” said an official.

The entire route is divided into five phases. Phase-I has an approximate length of 36km and is further divided into three legs. Work is expected to begin soon on Leg A, Nilgai Line, between Sangam Vihar and Malviya Nagar Metro Station. While the 8.5km Leg B, called Peacock Line, connects Malviya Nagar Metro Station with Vasant Kunj, the 7km Leg C, Bulbul Line, would be from Chirag Dilli to Sant Nagar. There would be a separate branch from Chirag Dilli to Asiad Games Village complex.

“Apart from cycle and pedestrian tracks, the corridor will boast of features like universal accessibility track, origin destination plazas, intermediate stations, land bridges and other ancillary development work,” said the official.

The origin and destination points are proposed to be interlinked with each other by cycling and walking tracks. Both on-grade and elevated tracks shall have greens all along the length to soften the edges, according to DDA.

Conceptualised in 2019, the project’s foundation stone was laid by Union home minister Amit Shah on January 6, 2020. “The tender for construction of Phase-I Leg A has been awarded. Tenders for B and C legs will be awarded in due course. The process of approval from various departments, such as Ridge Management Board, forest department, National Wildlife Board and National Monument Authority, and other stakeholders has been initiated and is at different stages. Construction will commence after all approvals are received,” the official said.

The corridor would be a safer and greener alternative to mobility, which would reduce the vehicular load in the city, provide last-mile connectivity and connect residential areas with Metro stations and bus stands. It would also allow citizens to save money on the last-mile commute, which is currently the most expensive per km charge of the journey.


Hyderabad in top emerging startup ecosystems

Hi-tech Hyderabad has made it to the list of ‘Top 100 Emerging Startup Ecosystems’ globally. The rating given by the latest Global Startup Ecosystem Report has also put Telangana among the ‘Top 20 Asian Ecosystems’ in funding and among ‘Top 15 Regional Ecosystems’ when it comes to affordable talent.

Not surprisingly, Bengaluru continued its dominance in India’s startup space as it was the sole Indian city to make it to the ‘Top 30 Global Startup Ecosystem’ at 23rd rank. While Mumbai raced to numero uno spot in the ‘Top 100 Emerging Startup Ecosystems’ list this year, Hyderabad shared its rank with Pune and Chennai.

The three cities – Hyderabad, Chennai and Pune -- were designated between 61-70 ranks without any specific rank being mentioned for each city. Last year, Hyderabad was placed among the 71-80 rank band.

This year, Hyderabad scored higher than Pune and Chennai in funding, but it trailed behind these two cities in the areas of performance and talent.

When it comes to Asia, the report cited Telangana government’s recruitment assistance and performance grants as the key reasons why a startup should move to Telangana.

As per the report, the Telangana government offers a recruitment assistance of Rs 10,000 per employee for the first year of operation.

Besides, Telangana-based startups that record a Yo-Y growth rate of 15%, as per their audited accounts, during their first three years since incorporation are eligible for a grant of 5% on turnover, subject to a limit of $13,600.

Telangana was also deemed strong in the life sciences sector as well as emerging technologies like AI, Big Data and Analytics.

The report evaluated over 280 ecosystems globally and ranked leading 140 ecosystems.

Overall, despite a turbulent year, the same five global startup ecosystems that stood among the top 5 in 2020 remained at the top of GSER rankings this year as well.

Silicon Valley, followed by New York City and London (tied at second rank for two consecutive years), Beijing and Boston held the top ranks in the top ‘30 Global Startup Ecosystem’.

North America continued to dominate the global rankings with 50% of the top 30 ecosystems in this region. Asia accounted for 27%, whereas Europe had 17% of the top 30 ecosystems.

Assam sets over 2,400 rhino horns on fire

On World Rhino Day, Assam set on fire a large stockpile of over 2,400 rhino horns — which were extracted from naturally or accidentally dead rhinos as well as those confiscated from arrested poachers and stored for over four decades in government treasuries — to stop their illegal trade.

Chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who personally supervised the event at Bokakhat, about 23km from the Kaziranga National Park, amid the chanting of Vedic mantras and blowing of conches, said they wanted to prove that the common belief that rhino horns have miraculous medicinal properties is a myth.

The horns, extracted by poachers after killing the animals, have a huge illegal market in several countries, especially Vietnam, where they are prized for their aphrodisiac qualities and command a high price.

Sarma said: “The horns have been destroyed to send a strong message against poaching and smuggling of rhino horns. We want to tell the world that the rhino alive with the horn on its head is precious to us and not a dead animal with its pride removed by poachers or those kept in government treasuries.”

He added: “Selling these horns would propagate the myth that rhino horns have medicinal values, which the state government wants to bust. As trade in human organs cannot be allowed, the state government is also committed to not encouraging trade in wildlife animal parts.”

Acting on a cabinet decision, 2,479 horns were consigned to flames.

“The destruction of the horns in a state with 71% of the world’s population of the one-horned rhino will send a strong message to poachers that the horn has no medicinal value and its trade is completely illegal and based on myths. The horn is used in traditional Chinese medicine. A persistent demand for rhino horns in some countries acts as an incentive for poachers,” said state principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) Amit Sahai.

Tamil Nadu: Plan for $1tn economy by 2030 laid out

Unveiling Tamil Nadu’s export promotion strategy, chief minister M K Stalin reiterated his government’s resolve to make the state a $1 trillion economy by 2030, from around $265 billion now. Stalin also set a target of $100 billion in exports by 2030 from the present $26 billion.

“We literally need to quadruple growth on all fronts to achieve the $1 trillion target. The state needs to grow at around 14% y-o-y to make it a reality,” a senior state government official said.

Besides the thrust on exports for which a state export promotion committee will soon be formed, TN is focusing on emerging sectors as well as core strengths. “Services sector will be a major focus area. Everything connected with FinTech (financial technology), including a FinTech policy and a FinTech city, will receive our focus. On the IT and ITeS front, we will push it in a much bigger way in Tier 2 & Tier 3 as well as rural areas,” the official said.

Emerging sectors such as aerospace and defence, e-vehicles, electronic manufacturing and petrochemicals, and traditional sectors such as textiles and leather will get a thrust. Non-leather footwear is another emerging area for the state.

“The MoU we signed with Mohib group, which has tied up with a Taiwanese group, alone will generate employment for 23,000 people, mostly women, with an investment of just Rs 225 crore. Women employment will get a boost through textiles and footwear sectors. We have to do a lot more on the training front, besides polytechnics and ITIs,” the official added.

MSMEs contribute about 30% of the country’s GDP, and could do the same, if not more, in the state. “MSMEs can grow better only through cluster approach. We have recently announced five mega industrial clusters for MSMEs in select sectors such as aerospace & defence, pharmaceutical, petrochemical, precision manufacturing and e-vehicle manufacturing. Each cluster will be developed with an investment of Rs 100 crore and will surely emerge as growth centres in a few years,” state MSME secretary Arun Roy said.

Depositors of PMC Bk, 20 coops to get up to ₹5L

Customers of 21 failed cooperative banks, including the infamous Punjab & Maharashtra Cooperative  Bank, will get back up to Rs 5 lakh of their deposits. The Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation of India has said that, following the amendment of the DICGC Act, it will make payments to depositors within 90 days.

Besides PMC, the large banks include Rupee Coop Bank, Kapol Cooperative Bank, Maratha Coop Bank, and City Coop Bank — all from Maharashtra. Depositors in these banks have been waiting for years for their money. Traditionally the RBI placed troubled banks under an ‘all-inclusive direction’, meaning they could not deal with any of their assets or liabilities without the central bank’s permission. This was done after the bank turned unviable. In the normal course, depositors would have been paid if all options failed and the bank was liquidated.

The payout will pave the way for the resolution plan of PMC Bank submitted by Centrum and Bharat Pe. With bulk of the retail deposits out of the way, the new promoters can get a better idea of the balance liabilities on larger deposits and submit their plan. With bulk of the liabilities out of the way, rival cooperatives might find it easier to merge some of the failed banks.

The DICGC (Amendment) Act — which was notified on August 27 and came into force on September 1 — allowed the deposit insurance money to be paid upfront. Depositors have to submit their willingness to claim insurance.

The banks have to submit a claim list by October 15 and update the position as of November 29 with principal and interest in a final updated list. Only those depositors who have expressed their willingness to claim insurance will get their money.

Depositors in Maharashtra will be the biggest beneficiaries with 11 of the failed banks based here. The eight other banks are Hindu Coop Bank, Needs of Life Coop Bank, Padmashree Vithal Rao Vikhe Patil Coop Bank, Shri Anand Coop Bank, Mantha Urban Coop Bank, Sarjeraodada Naik Shirala Coop Bank and Independence Coop Bank.

Want to be Preferred Investment Destination: Goyal

The government rolled out an online single-window platform that will offer investors end-to-end support, facilitate clearances at the Centre as well as state level and provide information about land banks.

The National Single Window System will also allow investors to monitor on a real-time basis the approvals needed via its Know Your Approval service. They will also be able to avail a common registration for Centre and state and access the document repository.

"This will usher in freedom from the legacy of running to government offices for approvals and registrations," commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal said.

Launching the portal, Goyal said the platform will provide “end-to-end” facilitation with all information on a single dashboard, bringing transparency, accountability and responsiveness in the ecosystem. The dashboard can be used to put in applications and also track and respond to queries. “We don't want our new startups to face the issues that businesses used to face earlier. We want India to become the most preferred investment destination,” Goyal added.

The portal currently hosts approvals across 18 central departments and nine states. Another 14 central departments and five states will be onboarded by December 2021 (under phase II), the commerce and industry ministry said in a statement.

“It’s a soft launch. We will learn as we go along. This is a test phase. We didn’t rush into the finalisation of the modules,” Goyal said.

Goyal said India is getting back at significant economic growth and foreign direct investment is at an all-time high. “With a rapid recovery despite the pandemic, we are back on track to become one of the fastest growing large economies,” he said.

On the World Bank’s decision to discontinue its annual ‘Doing Business’ report due to data collection irregularities, Goyal said that India will continue with its state rankings on ease of doing business.

“We have confidence in our processes and have healthy competition among our states,” he said.

Zee: It's a Sony!

Zee Entertainment Enterprises hammered out a surprise merger deal with Sony Pictures Networks India in a bid to thwart an attempt by its largest investor Invesco to oust Punit Goenka as managing director of the company.

If the deal goes through it will create India’s second-largest entertainment network by revenue and spawn an entity with 75 television channels, two video streaming services (ZEE5 and Sony LIV), two film studios (Zee Studios and Sony Pictures Films India) and a digital content studio (Studio NXT).

The deal will be the largest such transaction in the Indian media and entertainment space.

The Wednesday morning announcement saw shares of the Subhash Chandra-founded company spike as much as 40% before ending at ₹337.10, up 32%, on the BSE, for a market value of about ₹32,340 crore.

Under the terms of the non-binding agreement, SPN will infuse growth capital of $1.575 billion (₹11,615 crore) and end up with a 52.93% stake in the merged entity, while ZEE shareholders will own the remaining 47.07% Given that ZEE’s founders have just a 3.99% stake, the success of the deal hinges on shareholder backing. A three-fourth majority will be required to approve the merger, the ZEE management said in a conference call with analysts on Wednesday evening. The promoter stake will remain at about 4% after the merger, inclusive of a 2% stake that will be transferred from Sony in return for a non-compete clause. It will take six-eight months for the merger to conclude, they said.

The merger proposal proposes that Goenka stay as MD and CEO of the merged entity for at least five years after completion of the deal. The majority of the board will be nominated by Sony Group and NP Singh, MD and CEO of SPN, is likely to be on the board.

“I am pleased to announce that Sony Pictures Networks India has entered into an exclusive, nonbinding term sheet with Zee Entertainment Enterprises to combine both companies’ linear networks, digital assets, production operations, and programme libraries,” Ravi Ahuja, chairman of Global Television Studios and Sony Pictures Entertainment Corporate Development, wrote in an internal mail to employees.

“The board of directors at ZEE has conducted a strategic review of the merger proposal between SPN and ZEE,” ZEE chairman R Gopalan said in a company release. “We have unanimously provided in-principle approval to the proposal and have advised the management to initiate the due diligence process.”

The merged entity will remain a listed entity in India. The final terms will need to be arrived at over the next 90 days, after which they will sign a binding agreement and seek requisite regulatory, corporate and shareholder approvals.

“Sony Pictures Entertainment will have a majority stake in the combined company, and we expect that NP (Singh) will hold a leadership role on its board of directors,” Ahuja said in his note. “The combination… will create a combined content platform that can compete with domestic and global platforms and accelerate that region’s transition to digital.”

As per the last available financial details, the two put together have over ₹13,600 crore in revenue and an employee count of more than 4,200.


Adani unveils $20bn green energy plan

Gautam Adani, India’s second-richest man who heads the Ahmedabad-based edible oils, infrastructure and energy conglomerate announced a $20-billion renewable energy play, with the promise to produce the world’s cheapest “green electron”.

At the current exchange rate, the investment amounts to Rs 1,50,000 crore and will be spent on building capacities for renewable energy generation and component manufacturing as well as transmission and distribution, Adani told the JPMorgan India Investor Summit. Adani’s outlay is double that of the $10-billion green energy foray Ambani had recently announced for his Reliance Industries, with the promise to produce green hydrogen — seen as the fuel of the future — for less than $1 per kg in a decade’s time.

Adani also hinted at getting into the green hydrogen space by saying his group’s “integrated value chain, scale and experience” places it well to become the “producer of the least-expensive green electron anywhere in the world”.

“Our actions clearly indicate that we are putting our money where our mouth is: Over 75% of our planned capex until 2025 will be in green technologies. Today, of our ebitda from utilities, 43% is already from the green business,” he added.


3 weather systems merge to sink Kolkata

An unexpected movement of a cyclonic circulation from northwest Bay of Bengal and the adjoining areas of the Bengal-Bangladesh coast towards Kolkata and south Bengal triggered an incessant deluge early Monday that lasted more than eight hours, leaving most areas of the city and its surrounding districts waterlogged and paralyzing life across south Bengal, even as the Met office predicted the rain to continue till Tuesday.

With the city recording 142mm rain on Monday, it turned out to be the rainiest September day in Kolkata since September 25, 2007, when the city received 174.4mm rain.

The circulation that had resulted from the merger of two such systems — one over south Bangladesh and another over northwest Bay — gained strength and moved into south Bengal around Sunday midnight. It then started moving towards Kolkata and stood right over the city at around 3am that launched an intense spell of rain which continued till Monday noon.

It was aided by the monsoon trough, that, too, passed through the city and added to the rain intensity. Several areas experienced traffic snarls and power cuts as CESC switched off supply when the water level breached the danger mark. The high tide in the Hooghly river further complicated the situation.

At least 19 flights were delayed for anything between 45 minutes and 4.5 hours and several others were delayed by 15 to 30 minutes at the Kolkata airport owing to heavy rainfall.

Won’t allow Konkan E-way until Goa highway work is over: Bombay HC

Bombay high court frowned at the state government on its plans to construct the Greenfield Konkan Expressway from Mumbai to Sindhudurg when the four-laning work on Mumbai-Goa (NH66) is incomplete after over a decade.

“Without completing this, you are going for another highway to Sindhudurg... Unless you complete this work, we will not allow you to go ahead with any other project. Let the public reap the benefits of this project,’’ said Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and justice Girish Kulkarni while hearing a PIL by advocate Owais Pechkar, that the work that began in 2010 is delayed and potholes are back.

Pechkar said while main highway work is pending, they are diverting the issue by announcing construction of the Rs 70,000 crore Expressway. “They don’t even respect court orders,’’ he said, adding that this is a second public interest litigation. The judges said the state must have a concrete policy for potholes. “We wonder why the state government does not think of a concrete policy to be implemented all over for potholes, given the number of deaths and traffic jams. Why can’t there be continuous maintenance to identify potholes?” asked justice Kulkarni.

He recalled being on a two-judge committee, in a PIL on potholes in Mumbai, before which a solution was given to repair potholes with a mix of old plastic bottles and had proved to be very effective. “Why this kind of technology is not used? ” he asked.

The bench pointed out that the first order on potholes was passed by justice (retired) R M Lodha in 1996. “We are in 2021. There is no improvement. We wonder if there is any will. Thanks to him, (justice Lodha) at least there are some places in Mumbai we can peacefully travel,” said justice Kulkarni.

According to the PIL, the contracts are given on an 84km stretch from Panvel to Indapur over which National Highway Authority of India has jurisdiction and on a 366km stretch from Indapur to Dharap in Sindhudurg which comes under the state Public Works Department.

Pechkar said that Nhai’s reply states that the contractor will complete the work on March 31, 2022 after receiving Rs 267 crore from lenders. The judges took note from a chart submitted by advocate general  Ashutosh Kumbhakoni most work has been completed, but for a portion where a contractor lagged and has been terminated. The AG said potholes are on diversion areas, not on the completed portions of the highway.

“We want to know what you will do regarding potholes,” said justice Kulkarni. The judges granted the state three weeks for pothole repairs. They said they will grant it time till December to complete the pending work.

We wonder why the state government does not think of a concrete policy to be implemented all over for potholes, given the number of deaths and traffic jams...

Mumbai: BEST issues tenders for 1,900 electric buses

The BEST has issued tenders for procuring 1,900 fully electric buses, signalling one of the biggest electric bus fleet expansions in the country. It will issue tenders in the next few days for procuring 200 double deckers, which will also be fully electric, sources said.

“We want to make nearly 50% of our fleet electric by 2023,” BEST general manager Lokesh Chandra said on Monday evening. “We have floated the tender for 1,900 buses which will include 1,400 full-length buses of 12 metres, 100 Mini buses and 400 Midi buses,” he said.

The maximum period, as per the tender notice, for procuring the 1,900 buses is one-and-a-half years, with 25% new electric bus procurement (475 buses) for Mumbai in six months, 25% in the next six months and 50% thereafter.

The state government’s Electric Vehicle policy calls for the public transport undertaking maintaining a 15% fleet as ‘electric’ by 2025. Chandra said that the BEST has taken this target seriously. At present, the BEST has charging stations at four bus depots, but it will soon increase this facility to all 27 depots.


Punjab: Channi ticked all right boxes for Congress

Congress leader Charanjit Singh Channi will be the next Chief Minister of Punjab, the party said today after a meeting with its MLAs following the resignation of Captain Amarinder Singh, just months away from the assembly election.

Mr Channi, who will be the first Chief Minister of Punjab from the Scheduled Caste community, now holds the position of Technical Education Minister of Punjab. He is a three-time MLA from Chamkaur Sahib constituency.

"Heartfelt gratitude and thanks to the top leadership for appointing me Chief Minister of Punjab...I will always work for the welfare of the people and to give new energy and momentum to the sustainable development journey of the state," the 58-year-old tweeted today following the announcement.

Mr Channi was among the section of Punjab Congress MLAs who put pressure on the party high command for a change in leadership. Mr Singh resigned eventually.

Previously, Mr Channi was the leader of opposition in the Punjab assembly from 2015 to 2016. He was made a minister in the Captain Amarinder Singh government in March 2017.

A #MeToo case is also pending against Mr Channi for allegedly sending an inappropriate text to a woman Indian Administrative Service officer in 2018. The woman never filed a complaint and Mr Singh had then said the issue was "resolved". But the case resurfaced in May this year when the Punjab Women's Commission sent notice to the state government asking for its response to the allegation.