Taliban aiding JeM, LeT in Afghanistan: UN panel

Despite repeated denials by the Taliban, foreign terror groups, including Pakistan-based and India-focused Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammed continue to maintain significant presence in Afghanistan, according to a report by the monitoring team of the Taliban sanctions committee of the UN, formally known as the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1988 (2011).

According to the report, which the MT has submitted to the UNSC member states, the Taliban are directly controlling three of the eight terror camps JeM is running in Nangarhar, Afghanistan. LeT, says the report, maintains three such camps are in Kunar and Nangarhar.

This is the 13th report by the MT and the first since the Taliban took control of Kabul in August last year. The conclusions drawn are based on consultations with member states. The Taliban sanctions committee is currently chaired by India’s permanent representative to UN TS Tirumurti.

Last week, the head of Taliban’s political office in Doha, Suhail Shaheen, had said that the government in Kabul is not allowing anyone to use Afghan soil against “any neighbouring and regional country”. India, however, remains concerned about the activities of Pakistan-based groups in Afghanistan and their links with Taliban.

The latest report by the MT has “reintroduced” text on the activities of LeT and JeM in Afghanistan and also named the UN-proscribed leaders of these organisations. In its earlier reports, the MT had highlighted how LeT had provided financial help and also training to Taliban fighters. The latest report also says a Taliban delegation visited a Lashkar training camp in the Haska Mina district of Nangarhar, as recently as January 2022 and that LeT leader Mawlawi Assadullah met Taliban deputy interior minister Noor Jalil in October 2021.

NSA Ajit Doval had raised the issue of cross-border terrorism in the Dushanbe security dialogue on Afghanistan and called upon all to enhance the capability of Afghanistan to fight terror groups that pose a threat to regional security. The joint statement issued after the meeting saw India, Russia,China, Iran and central Asian countries calling for dismantling of terror camps in Afghanistan and the region.

The MT report admits though that the team was unable to visit Afghanistan during the period under review and that it wasn’t briefed by any Afghan official. One member-state is also quoted as saying there’s no evidence of LeT and JeM activities in Afghanistan because of “effective security operations” against them.

The report also says member-states had expressed concern that weapons and ammunition supplied to the former Afghan government by the US may find their way out of Afghanistan and into the hands of non-state actors, though there has been no evidence of this so far. “Small arms are believed to have moved inside and outside Afghanistan and may have found their way to foreign terrorist groups,” it says. Similar concerns had been expressed by Doval recently in a meeting with his Iranian counterpart Ali Shamkhani.

The report further says the Taliban victory has inspired terrorists around the world, although the relocation of foreign terrorist fighters to Afghanistan has not materialised in significant numbers.

“Taliban have continued to insist publicly that there are no foreign terrorist fighters in Afghanistan, even though member-states are clear that many fought alongside the Taliban in 2021. Central Asian embassies based in Afghanistan reported with concern the appearance of several leaders of foreign  terrorist groups apparently moving freely around Kabul from August onwards,” it says.

TaMo, Ford ink pact with Gujarat for Sanand plant buy

Tata Motors announced the signing of a tripartite pact with Ford and the Gujarat government to acquire the American auto major’s vehicle manufacturing plant at Sanand.

A memorandum of understanding was signed between Tata Passenger Electric Mobility, a subsidiary of Tata Motors, and Ford India with the Gujarat government for the potential acquisition of FIPL’s Sanand facility, including land, buildings, vehicle manufacturing plant, machinery and equipment, Tata Motors said in a filing.

The MoU also includes the transfer of all eligible employees of FIPL Sanand’s vehicle manufacturing operations, subject to the signing of definitive agreements and receipt of relevant approvals, it added.


Routes via Myanmar, Bangladesh could transform Asia: EAM

India can overcome geography and rewrite history “if only we get the policies and the economics right”, foreign minister S Jaishankar said, highlighting how land and sea connectivity through Myanmar and Bangladesh respectively on a commercial scale could open up “a world all the way to Vietnam and Philippines, from Haiphong to Hazira, and Manila to Mundra”.

If this works out, it would “create an east-west lateral with sweeping benefits for the continent”, Jaishankar said at the Nadi 3 Asian Confluence River Conclave. “This will not only build on the partnerships we have with Asean countries and Japan, but make a difference to the IndoPacific Economic Framework. ”

At the Nadi 3 Asian Confluence River Conclave, foreign minister S Jaishankar said starting point would be enhancing connectivity with Bangladesh, especially with the neighbouring northeast, and the restoration of six historical cross-border rail links, dormant since 1965. “Once operational, the Shahabazpur (Bangladesh) to Mahishasan (Assam) link will be extended within Bangladesh and connected to the Kuluara-Shahbazpur rail line that is currently being modernised.”

Inaugurated in December 2020, the Chilahati-Haldibari (West Bengal) line will further enhance Assam’s connectivity to Bangladesh through New Jalpaiguri, including passenger traffic, foreign minister said.

A rail link between Akhaura (Bangladesh) to Agartala (Tripura) is being developed, which Jaishankar said had already resulted in increased trade between the two countries of India and Bangladesh.

The minister pinned high hopes on negotiations to operationalise the BBIN Motor Vehicle Agreement to ensure seamless vehicular movement between the neighbours. “Inside Bangladesh, India is collaborating on a series of road projects, including improving the Ashuganj River Port-Akhaura Land Port Road under a line of credit worth more than $400 million. A road project connecting Baruerhat to Ramgarh on the India-Bangladesh border in Tripura is also being implemented under another an LoC of $80.06 million,” he said.

Jaishankar said that the cross-border geography was being synergised by agreements on movement of goods from Indian ports.

In 8 years, no reason to hang head in shame : PM Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi summed up his eight years in office so far as a relentless pursuit of the India envisioned by Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, without once allowing or doing— even if inadvertently— anything that would “make citizens of the country hang their heads in shame”.

“Mahatma Gandhi wanted an India in which the poor, Dalits, Adivasis and women are empowered; cleanliness and health are a way of life, and the economy is based on swadeshi (local) solutions,” he told a gathering at the inauguration of the KD Paravadiya Multispeciality Hospital at Atkot, about 55km from Rajkot.

“In the past eight years, I have spared no effort to serve the nation. . . My government has provided over three crore pucca houses to the poor, toilets to more than 10 crore families, cooking gas cylinders to over nine crore women, electricity connection to over 2.5 crore poor families, piped water (Nal Se Jal) to more than six crore families, free medical treatment up to Rs 5 lakh to over 50 crore Indians,” he said.

Global companies look to ramp up India ops in next few years

Investors ranging from Goldman Sachs to IBM, DHL, Brookfield and some of the semiconductor giants have told the government that they are looking to significantly ramp up their Indian operations over the next two-three years amid signals from the US that several companies are looking to further reduce their dependence on China.

Last week, Goldman Sachs representatives told finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman that they are looking to double, if not treble, the share of Indian engineers, who already are in significant numbers in the American financial services giant’s global operations.

Similarly, DHL, which recently set up two large logistics facilities in the country, is looking to further ramp up its operations, a government official said.

In Davos, commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal also got the same message from CEOs of multinationals, ranging from IBM and Brookfield to Standard Chartered Bank.

“This time, there were very few demands in terms of opening up or change in rules for facilitating investment. India is a favoured investment destination at the moment, and it is for us to take this forward,” said an officer who was in Davos last week.

The Rs 2-lakh-crore PLI scheme is already seeing several large manufacturers put up facilities in India, some of which have been relocated to India. Besides, some of the asset monetisation schemes are drawing interest from several global investors, especially on the REIT and InvIT front.

Further, a burst of free trade agreements by India has made the climate more favourable as trade partners from Australia and the UAE to Canada see the country in a more positive light, following its decision to shed the decade-old reluctance to enter into such treaties.

In any case, the decision of several companies from the US and Europe to reduce their dependence on China in the post-Covid world has helped India. “While Vietnam has seen a large FDI inflow and companies have set up base, they are realising that India itself has a large market to offer in addition to being a very strong base of meeting the global manpower requirement, be it engineers or other professionals,” a senior government official said.

US pips China as India’s biggest trading partner

The US surpassed China to become India’s top trading partner in 2021-22, reflecting strengthening economic ties. According to commerce ministry data, in 2021-22, the trade between the US and India stood at $119.42 billion as against $80.51 billion in 2020-21. Exports to the US rose to $76.11 billion in 2021-22 from $51.62 billion in previous fiscal, while imports rose to $43.31 billion as compared to $29 billion in 2020-21. During 2021-22, India’s two-way commerce with China aggregated at $115 billion as compared to $86 billion in the previous year, data showed.


Kashmiri Separatist Yasin Malik gets Life Term in Terror Funding Case

A special NIA court awarded life imprisonment to Kashmiri separatist leader and Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front chief Yasin Malik, a week after he pleaded guilty and was convicted of terror funding, spreading terrorism and secessionist activities in the Valley in 2017.

Special judge Praveen Singh also awarded varying jail terms for various offences under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and the Indian Penal Code. The court also imposed a fine of around ₹10 lakh on Malik.

The life term was awarded for two offences — Section 121 (waging war against the government of India) of the IPC and section 17 (raising funds for a terrorist act) of the UAPA. All the sentences will run concurrently.

The case pertains to the conspiracy of LeT chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed and members of the Hurriyat Conference, who acted in connivance to raise, receive and collect funds domestically for funding terrorist activities in J&K to cause disruption in the Kashmir by way of pelting stones on security forces, systematically burning schools, damaging public property and waging war against India.

The NIA court observed that the crime committed by Malik was of serious nature. These crimes were intended to strike at the heart of India with the assistance of foreign powers and a designated terrorist, the court stated.

On Wednesday, the NIA sought death penalty for the Kashmiri separatist leader, who had earlier pleaded guilty to all the charges, including those under the stringent UAPA.

The PAGD, led by the former J&K CM and National Conference MP Farooq Abdullah, said Malik’s conviction was unfortunate and a setback to the efforts for peace. “PAGD is afraid that this will further compound the uncertainties in the region and will only fuel more alienation and separatist feelings… NIA Court has delivered its verdict but not justice,” said PAGD spokesman Muhammad Yousuf Tarigami.

Maharashtra signs ₹50k-cr MoU for renewable energy

The Maharashtra energy department signed an MoU of Rs 50,000 crore at Davos for investments in renewable energy in the state for the next six to seven years.

It was signed in the presence of Maharashtra tourism and environment minister Aaditya Thackeray in Davos, where he is attending the World Economic Forum along with state industries minister Subhash Desai and energy minister Nitin Raut. MSEDCL managing director Vijay Singhal, who signed the MoU, said that this was one of the biggest investments for the state in the energy sector. He further said that the MoU has been signed for renewable energy generation in the state through solar and wind. Sources said that the state is all set to go green by switching to a target of 17,360 MW from solar projects in five years.

Sources said that various other MoUs were being signed at Davos for investments to be made in Maharashtra in different districts. A MSEDCL official said, “This will create 30,000 employment. The investment will also be done in renewable energy projects. ”

Published paper based on insurance claims pegs excess deaths in 2020 & 2021 at 4.7m

A new paper based on insurance policy claims data estimates 0.56 million excess deaths in India in 2020 and 4.15 million excess deaths in 2021, or a total of 4.71 million excess deaths in the pandemic years.

The calculations in the paper are based on death claims settled by all life insurers as reported by the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority till March 2021, death claims settled by Life Insurance Corporation of India in April-December 2021, and civil registration system data on death registration in India during 2017-20.

The paper, published in the latest issue of the Economic and Political Weekly, is authored by Mihir Mahajan, public policy researcher at the Takshashila Institution, and Shekhar Sathe, a banking and finance professional.

In its global excess deaths estimates released on May 5 — which the government has categorically rejected —the World Health Organization  estimated 0.83 million excess deaths in 2020 and 3.91 million excess deaths for 2021.

“Based on an entirely different data source (life insurance claims), we show that death registrations in 2020 were likely short by 0.56 million. We also contend that there were likely 4.15 million additional deaths in 2021 than the government’s estimated total for pre-pandemic 2019. Taken together, these numbers significantly exceed the government’s official number of 4,81,000 (0.481 million) Covid-19 deaths in 2020 and 2021,” stated the paper.

Their method is based on the assumption that the ratio of death claims settled to the number of deaths registered in 2020 and 2021 is similar to that during 2016-19, since the ratio has remained quite steady — 24.53% in 2017, 24.12% in 2018, and 23.68% in 2019.

For 2020, the authors used the actual death claims settled to estimate the missing death registrations.

“This is hard data, not an estimate,” stated the authors. Based on partially available data, the authors state they have conservatively estimated that the number of death claims likely to be settled in 2021 would be about 3.003 million. “There is a process that connects ‘claims settled’ and ‘deaths registered’. The chain of events leading to a death claim being settled is: (i) an insured person dies; (ii) the death is registered and documentation obtained; (iii) a death claim is filed with a life insurer and is settled by the insurer based on the evidence of death (for example, death certificate produced through the registration process),” explained the authors.

They give a disclaimer that they did not find data to estimate the proportion of death claims settled to the actual number of lives lost to account for a person with multiple life insurance policies.

The paper argued that death claims settled are a good proxy for death registrations given how steady the ratio between claims and registered deaths has been. Then, using data on new individual policies sold in 2019 and 2020, they conclude that through- out 2020 and 2021, the number of policies in effect is likely not very different from the number of policies in effect in earlier periods.

Using the data, they calculated the estimated number of deaths during 2020 at 86.81 lakh.

However, the actual deaths registered in 2020 were just 81.5 lakh. Thus they estimate that 5.6 lakh or 0.56 million deaths are missing from 2020 death registration data.

For 2021, the government has not released official data of death registrations or estimated total deaths. However, using the same methodology as for 2020, the authors calculated from the insurance data that the total expected death registrations for 2021 is roughly 1. 25 crore. This exceeded the total estimated deaths in preceding pre-pandemic year 2019 by 41.54 lakh or 4.15 million.

Scores of SpiceJet passengers set to take Wednesday morning flights had to wait for a long time.

The airline said a ransomware attack on the airline’s systems on Tuesday night caused the delay, which was resolved in a few hours.

A SpiceJet spokesperson said: “Certain SpiceJet systems faced an attempted ransomware attack [on Tuesday] night that impacted and slowed down morning flight departures [on Wednesday]. Our IT team has contained and rectified the situation and flights are operating normally now. ”

Passengers were upset at the flight delays. “All SpiceJet flights delayed because of a so-called ‘server’ issue…no update given… passengers sitting in the flight for the past 2 hours,” passenger Raghav Jhunjhunwala tweeted.

Ransomware is a type of malware attack in which the attacker locks and encrypts the victim’s data and important files and then demands payment to unlock and decrypt the data. 


Record Bookings Pour in for Luxury Cars in India

Inflation seems to have a disproportionate impact on mere mortals — not the swish set from SoBo, for instance. A cursory glance at the sales charts of luxury carmakers amply demonstrates that prices are rarely a deterrent for those loaded with cash. The Indian market is firing on all cylinders for the likes of Mercedes to Lamborghini.

Mercedes expects record sales this year, while Volkswagen-owned Italian super-luxury car brand Lamborghini has almost sold out its entire 2022 allocation for India. BMW is eyeing double-digit growth and JLR, owned by the Tata Group, has reported record bookings for the year globally. To be sure, local bookings are already worth about half-a-billion dollars, totalling up to 10,000 units. And what's more surprising is that the booking momentum remains strong despite the long waiting period — and multiple rounds of price increases. Vehicle prices have risen by at least ₹1 lakh to as high as ₹20 lakh.

The picture isn’t very different overseas even as prices of food, petrol, airfares, and hotel rooms are soaring at the fastest pace in decades. US inflation has reached its highest in 40 years and inflation in Germany climbed to its highest since the formation of the EU. Vikram Pawah, president, BMW Group India, said in the Q1 of 2022, BMW Group India registered growth of 25% and the order pipeline for the next three months is heavy. It is sitting on an order book of 2,000 units for BMW cars, 200 units for MINI brand and there are 1,500 waiting customers for BMW Motorrad bikes.

"One thing is clear. Since the pandemic, there is also a greater realization among people to live life to the fullest and enjoy the best things. Personal mobility is on the rise,” said Pawah. The head of BMW Group India believes that the luxury segment to a certain extent is not severely impacted by mild inflation changes.

However, the unpredictable socio-economic environment, the pandemic and high taxation may have an impact on consumer sentiment. More than demand, supply-side constraints stand in the way of even faster growth. “Things like lockdowns, logistical hurdles or semiconductor shortages present operational hurdles that have an impact on sales despite the high market demand,” added Pawah. 

India Joins IPEF

Ahead of a crucial Quad meeting, India joined the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework that seeks an open, inclusive, interconnected and secure Indo-Pacific for sustainable growth of the region, in a message to an aggressively expanding China that has been accused of unfair trade practices and economic coercion.

Speaking at the launch ceremony that included 13 major economies of the region like Japan, South Korea and Australia, besides the US, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that it reflects a collective desire to make the region a powerhouse to boost the global economy.

“The IPEF is a declaration of our collective to make the region an engine of global economic growth,” the PM said, thanking US President Joe Biden for steering the initiative. He also called on the participating nations to find common and creative solutions to tackle economic challenges of the region.

Besides India and the US, the IPEF consists of Japan, Australia, Brunei, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

“The IPEF seeks to strengthen economic partnership among participating countries with the objective of enhancing resilience, sustainability, inclusiveness, economic growth, fairness, and competitiveness in the Indo-Pacific region,” a statement by the Indian external affairs ministry after the launch read.

India reaffirmed its commitment for a free, open, and inclusive IndoPacific region that will depend on deepening economic engagement among partners for growth, peace, and prosperity. “India is keen to collaborate with countries under the IPEF and work towards advancing regional economic connectivity, integration and boosting trade and investment within the region,” it said.

Following the launch, partner countries will begin discussions focusing on strengthening economic cooperation that are based on four broad identified pillars of trade, supply chains, clean energy and taxation and anti-corruption.

In a joint declaration, the nations have resolved to build high-standard, inclusive, free, and fair trade commitments that will fuel economic activity and investment and promote sustainable and inclusive economic growth. This will include cooperation in the digital economy.

On supply chains, the nations resolved to make them more resilient and integrated, with measures to mitigate the impact of disruptions and minerals.

On Clean Energy, Decarbonisation and Infrastructure, the nations are looking at technology sharing and ways for easy access to finance to meet goals outlined in the Paris Agreement. On anti-corruption measures, the participating nations committed to enforcing effective regimes against money laundering and bribery.


Construction of wider NHs up by 300% in 7 years

The pace of annual construction of four, six and eight lane national highways has increased by more than 300% during the past seven years -from merely 1,289 km in 2015-16 to 3,963 km during 2021-22, government data show.

This is set to increase further as the agencies under the road transport and highways ministry, particularly, NHAI, are now more focused on construction of economic corridors and expressways, officials said.

The lane-wise highway construction data shows that while the construction and widening of NHs to four-lane has been steady since 2017-18, the construction of six and eight lane highways has witnessed a quantum jump in the past two years. While in 2019-20, only 616 km NH stretches were developed as six and eight lane highways, this annual increase touched 1,165 km in 2021-22. An official said though building wider highways is the need of the hour, the government is equally focused to provide some NH connectivity to areas where traffic is lesser. “So, we are also widening single-lane highways to two lanes with paved shoulder and are also strengthening the existing stretches. In many areas, two lane highways also meet the local requirement and accelerate economic activities,” said a highway ministry official.

Another official said the achievement in four lane and above category will touch a record by 2026-27 when most of the 22 expressway and economic corridor projects with cumulative length of 5,600 km gets completed. Even the next phase of the government’s flagship highway development programme, Bharatmala-II comprising 8,500 km, will be mostly “Greenfield corridors”, meaning these will be of at least four lanes. The government is likely to approve this Rs 3.5 lakh crore NHAI officials said the focus on wider highways is primarily aimed at faster movement of goods and to reduce the cost of logistics.

Pune: Study of proposed Metro extensions in final stage

The ongoing study of various proposed Metro extensions in Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad is in the advanced stage, and the MahaMetro is eyeing completion of a detailed project report by July.

There are six major routes under the assessment, besides a study to introduce Metro-neo services on high capacity mass transit route.

MahaMetro officials said their teams were working simultaneously on all the routes and the studies will get over in phases. The MahaMetro will either submit the reports to PMC in a phased manner or produce the entire document of all the routes through a single DPR in July.

“We are yet to decide whether to submit a single DPR with inclusion of dedicated chapters for each route or to go ahead with submission of details of each route separately. A decision will be finalised by mid-June,” said Hemant Sonawane, the general manager (PR) at MahaMetro.

Sonawane said various aspects are being considered in the ongoing studies, including the estimated increase in passenger volume, demands of the commuters, estimated growth of the areas and technical aspects such as availability of space, existing use of land, existing available mode of transportation and status of public transport.

“We have also sought feedback from people of different age groups, professions, students, entrepreneurs to get an idea of the commute on all the routes,” another official with the MahaMetro said.

The proposed extensions will cover over 80.5km. It has been observed that some stretches are common in the proposed Metro extensions being studied by the MahaMetro and PMRDA. The officials with the civic administration said it has been decided that both studies will be taken into consideration while finalising the execution plan. One such common stretch has been identified from Pulgate to Hadapsar.

“Since the extensions are proposed on various routes, possibility of common stretches cannot be denied. We are putting an effort to avoid confusions, while executing the projects and work out the best suitable option,” the official said.


Amit Shah outlines 3 steps to turn NE into ‘most developed’ area

The Centre has adopted a three-pronged approach to rid the northeast of interstate disputes, insurgency and illegal weapons, thereby laying the platform for the region to reclaim its sense of belonging and become the “most-developed” part of the country, Union home minister Amit Shah said in Arunachal Pradesh’s Tirap on Saturday.

“PM Modi started transforming northeast from 2014. Between then and 2022, he bridged the differences between the northeast and Delhi. Nobody used to care about the indigenous cultures and languages of the northeast, but he accorded importance to these,” Shah said at the golden jubilee celebration of Ramakrishna Mission School in Narottam Nagar.

“The whole country loves the northeast as much as they love their own states, and the northeast is also proudly saying today that, yes, we are part of a great India. . . We are India. ”

The Union home minister said prioritising the resolution of boundary issues within the region had resulted in Assam and Meghalaya settling disputes at 60% of the flashpoints. “I am optimistic that the boundary issue between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, too, will be resolved by the end of 2023. ”

On the Centre’s ongoing initiative to make the northeast insurgency-free, Shah said 9,000 militants had surrendered over the past eight years of the Modi government. ”The youths of the northeast no longer carry guns and petrol bombs. They are now carrying laptops and launching startups. This is the path to development that the Centre has envisaged for the region. ”

Centre slashes excise duty on petrol, diesel

The Centre slashed excise duty by Rs 8 on petrol and Rs 6 on diesel to bring down fuel prices and ease inflation by reducing transportation charges for the common man’s daily staples.

The government also announced a Rs 200 subsidy on each LPG cylinder for over 9 crore consumers who were given connection free of cost under the Ujjwala programme, one of the Modi government’s flagship social welfare schemes launched in 2016.

The Centre will forego Rs 1 lakh crore in tax revenue in this fiscal as a result of the excise duty cut. The subsidy for Ujjwala consumers will entail an expenditure of Rs 6,100 crore, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said while announcing the decisions.

This is the second duty cut by the Centre in a little more than six months.

The Centre announced a raft of duty cuts to cool down prices of iron and steel, coal and plastic. To
cushion the impact of the Ukraine war, it will provide an extra Rs 1.10 lakh crore in addition to the
existing fertiliser subsidy of Rs 1.05 lakh crore. Along with a reduction in import duty on iron and
steel, the Centre imposed import duty on a host of steel products. These will benefit user industries
and small-scale players that have been hit by a jump in prices. Measures are also afoot to improve
availability and price of cement.


Come Sept, Jet 2.0 to take off after 3 years

Grounded since April 2019, Jet Airways is all set to become the first Indian carrier to resume flying under the country’s bankruptcy law by this September. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation revalidated Jet’s air operator permit certificate after it successfully conducted two proving flights earlier this week and the winning Jalan-Kalrock consortia fulfilled all condition of the NCLT-approved resolution plan. The renewed AOC was handed to a Jet 1.0 veteran pilot, Captain P P Singh, who is now Jet 2.0’s accountable manager.

Jet 2.0 plans to resume operations in a hybrid mode (having features of both a budget and full-service carrier, or FSC) using brand new planes, say people in the know. The proving flight was conducted on a Boeing 737 that was used by Jet 1.0, then taken over by SpiceJet and is now back with the former. Jet was launched in 1993 as an FSC and later acquired Air Sahara in 2007 — a financial burden from which it never recovered and eventually collapsed over three years ago.

“Till a few months back, there was a long waiting period to get a new Airbus 320 Neo or Boeing 737 Max. After the Ukraine crisis, delivery slots for Russian carriers have been cancelled and also some Indian carriers have deferred their deliveries. Now new planes will be available for Jet 2.0 and which aircraft we choose will be announced shortly. Now that Jet 2.0 has an AOC, leasing aircraft becomes possible,” said sources.

The consortia has put together a team of seasoned aviation personnel in key positions for the re-launch. However, Jet 2.0’s revival rests on Jalan-Kalrock’s willingness and ability to infuse significant amount of funds regularly and bear losses for the first few years.

Consider this: India’s two newest big airlines — Tata Group’s AirAsia India that started operations in 2014 and Vistara that started flying a year later — are yet to see their first profitable year.

Murari Lal Jalan, lead member of the consortium, said, “We are now at the brink of creating history by bringing India’s most-loved airline back to the skies. We will not only live up to the great expectations from brand Jet Airways, but also exceed them in many ways for today’s discerning flyers. ” Jet 2. 0 CEO Sanjiv Kapoor said, “We will combine the best of what Jet Airways was known for 25 years, with exciting new ideas to set the bar even higher. ”

ULPIN project rollout likely in Maharashtra in end of June

The state is likely to roll out the Unique Land Parcel Identification Number project by the end of June. Commonly called the Aadhaar for land, an 11-digit number would be attributed to all the land parcels in urban and rural areas in the state. It would help in identifying every surveyed land parcel and preventing fraud related to land. The state has given an “in principle” approval to the project and the final clearance is awaited. “We are waiting for the technical fine-tuning of the software at the National Informatics Centre. The approval of the proposal is under consideration of the government,” said state settlement commissioner NK Sudhanshu on Friday.

Nearly 3.26 crore land parcels in the state would have this unique number, which would include 2.56 crore 7x12 extracts and 70 lakh city survey property cards.

Sarita Narke, the state coordinator of the Digital India Land Records Modernisation Programme of the revenue department, said the department had generated the requisite numbers for both urban and rural land parcels. She said around 4,000 crore numbers were reserved for rural areas and another 6,000 crore for urban areas for transactions in future.

Narke said these numbers would be displayed on the right side of the document. They would also have QR codes comprising all details of land parcels.

The state initially wants to issue the unique numbers and then add the remaining details like the longitudinal and latitudinal data.

“The digits will be unique to an existing property. If the property changes either through subdivision or amalgamation, the ULPIN will change. The trail of the changes would be maintained,” Narke added. The state is taking into consideration all future usage of connecting government departments for information related to land. Citizen facilitation and ease of access was at the core of this concept development, said a source in the government.

Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her budget speech mentioned ULPIN and encouraged all states to roll it out. Pilot projects were carried out in Maharashtra as well as in Haryana, Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Sikkim, Goa, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka.


FDI inflows at record despite slower growth

After two years of double-digit rise, foreign direct investment grew 2% during the last financial year to a new high of $83.6 billion.

The latest numbers showed that Singapore had overtaken Mauritius to emerge as the top source of FDI into the county, with the US at the second spot and Mauritius, which topped the rankings last year, slipping to the third place, an official statement said. With around 27% of FDI into India, inflows from Singapore are estimated at about $22. 5 billion, compared to the US’s $15 billion and around $13 billion from Mauritius, an all-time favourite for global investors given the tax benefit that it enjoyed for years.

Among the sectors, manufacturing saw a 76% jump with inflows during 2021-22 estimated at $21. 3 billion, ‘Computer software and hardware’ was the most attractive sector cornering around a quarter of the pie, followed by services and automobiles (12% each).

The Modi government sought to claim credit for the rise. “The steps taken during the last eight years have borne fruit as is evident from the ever-increasing volumes of FDI inflow being received into the country, setting new records,” the commerce and industry ministry said.

Cannot relax, plan for next 25 yrs: PM to BJP

Prime Minister Narendra Modi exhorted BJP workers not to be complacent over recent electoral successes and suggested the party set its agenda for the next 25 years to retain its pre-eminence on India’s political landscape.

In his virtual address to BJP’s national office-bearers’ meeting in Jaipur, Modi said, “We should make a plan for the next 25 years during which we should live by the soaring expectations and aspirations of the people of the country. As the party has governments in 18 states, it has more than 400 MPs and 1,300 MLAs, one might tend to think it’s enough, let’s relax. . . we ought not to be complacent as our founding fathers have taught to continue working hard for people and their welfare. ”

In order to retain BJP’s pre-eminence for the next 25 years, Modi asked party workers to take a pledge to ensure that every citizen avails the benefits of the welfare schemes. The Prime Minister floated the slogan of “Har Ghar Bhajpa, Har Garib Ka Kalyan” and suggested that party workers should reach out to every household just as they do during the elections.

Modi asked BJP leaders not to “fall in the trap” of some political parties which have an “ecosystem” to divert the country's attention from main matters. “For own benefits, these political parties try to poison the society on issues. . .they try to instigate in the name of caste and religion. We should never fall in their trap,” he said.

Modi also used the occasion to speak indirectly about the recent controversies over language issues, saying, “Prioritising local languages in the new National Education Policy reflects our commitment to each regional language.


Hyderabad races to top in office space leasing

Low rents coupled with a steady influx of businesses has pushed Hyderabad’s office space market to the top of the charts. According to Anarock Research’s report, the city clocked maximum leasing activity —across seven metros in India — during 2021-22, with the net office absorption touching 7.85 million sft.

“To its advantage, Hyderabad offers the lowest office rentals in comparison to top markets in south India including Chennai and Bengaluru. The average rentals in the city, in 2021-22, stood at ₹58 per sft. It is the second lowest price among all top seven cities in the country,” said Anuj Puri, chairman of Anarock Group.

Apart from A grade offices, the demand for coworking too is witnessing a rise among corporates and businesses in Hyderabad, the report indicates. “Breaking all conventional norms, even big daddies of the corporate world are now scouting for more flexible and cost-effective workspaces. They prefer small teams on specific projects that are cost-effective and more viable in today’s uncertainties,” Puri added.

But while the city, driven by the current rate of absorption, also witnessed a slew of new launches — it has 11.8 million sft of new office space enter the market, second highest after Bengaluru —the rush has created more vacancies. From 12.8% in 2020-21 it jumped to 15.7% in 2021-22.

While one section of experts see this as no reason for concern, some others fear that the gap might widen further

Brics must live up to vows of territorial integrity: India

Addressing a virtual meeting of the Brics foreign ministers that was chaired by his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, external affairs minister S Jaishankar said the group had repeatedly affirmed respect for sovereign equality, territorial integrity and international law and that it must live up to these commitments. Even as the military standoff with China continues, Jaishankar participated in the Brics meeting that saw the leaders supporting talks between Russia and Ukraine and expressing concern at the energy and food security implications of the conflict.

The mention of sovereignty and territorial integrity is significant in the context of both China, with which India is locked in a standoff in eastern Ladakh, and Russia which is accused of undermining the same in Ukraine.

According to an Indian statement, the ministers also expressed strong condemnation of terrorism whenever, wherever, and by whom-so-ever and also expressed commitment to combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, including the “cross-border movement of terrorists”. Jaishankar also said that the grouping must display “zero tolerance for terrorism, especially cross-border terrorism”, without naming Pakistan. “The knockon effects of the Ukraine conflict have led to sharp increases in the costs of energy, food and commodities. This must be mitigated for the sake of the developing world,” Jaishankar said.

“Brics has repeatedly affirmed respect for sovereign equality, territorial integrity and international law. We must live up to these commitments,” he added.

“The Brics should unanimously and specifically support UNSC reform. Together, we should press for credible commitment of resources by developed nations for climate action and climate justice,” Jaishankar said.

Withdraw cash from ATMs with QR code

Account holders can soon withdraw money from ATMs without any card by using their mobile phones and scanning a QR code. The Reserve Bank of India has asked banks and ATM operators to provide an option of interoperable cardless withdrawal at ATMs.

In a circular, the RBI said that the National Payments Corporation of India will facilitate integration of the Unified Payments Interface platform with all banks and ATM networks. While the UPI would be the mode of customer authentication, the settlement would continue to be through the National Financial Switch, which forms the backbone of ATM networks.

Most of the other rules, including those pertaining to withdrawal limits on third-party ATMs, would be similar to regular card withdrawals on ATMs. Several banks are already providing a facility for cardless withdrawal to their customers using the bank’s mobile app. The new framework puts a common standard, allowing customers to withdraw from any bank.

The RBI does not see the cardless withdrawal facility doing away with the need for cards. RBI officials said this was an additional option and a security feature. There have been many phishing cases of fraudsters either cloning cards from data or placing devices over the card slot in the ATM to read the card information. UPI would eliminate such skimming frauds.

Another advantage would be the customers would not be inconvenienced even if their card issuance was delayed.

Currently, banks face some issues with card supply because of a global chip shortage. This QR code withdrawal would be helpful if there is some large-scale re-carding to be done in the case of a data breach, as it happened in the past with some banks.

The chief executive of an ATM company said that the rollout would not require any hardware changes and only a software upgrade would be needed. “It is not going to be like an app upgrade on a mobile phone, while the application can be pushed through remotely, there will have to be some testing on the client side,” he said.

According to ATM operators, while customers would not face any additional charges, the new facility would marginally increase the cost of ATM transactions for banks. “Earlier, when an account holder withdrew cash from his own bank’s ATM, the transaction happened within the bank’s network. Now, even for own-bank transactions, there will have to be one leg of the transaction which travels to the UPI platform,” he said. Bankers said that debit cards would remain relevant as they are used for more than just cash withdrawals. While QR code payments are picking up for in-store payments as well, there are many transactions for which cards are used. A senior banker said that as a security feature, they would allow QR code withdrawals from their banking app. This would boost usage of their digital platforms. The bulk of UPI transactions currently takes place through PhonePe, Google Pay, and Paytm.

Vaishnaw successfully tests 5G call on desi tech

Telecom and IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw visited the 5G testbed at IIT-Madras and successfully tested a 5G call on an indigenously-developed network. The test-bed had been inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday.

“This is the first step towards making the solution feasible commercially. Over the next few months, ‘Made-in-India’ solution has the potential of going from local to global. It also meets India’s needs indigenously and securely,” the minister said. At a time when concerns around cyber security are at their peak, India has been developing its local 5G network solution that it promises will be more efficient in cost as well as productivity.

Vaishnaw has said that the government will be deploying the solution, once its ready for commercialisation, on the network of state-owned BSNL, and thereafter it will also be pitched to other private operators.

“We are confident that a more efficient solution which is also cost-effective will appeal to companies not only in India, but even those who are abroad. We feel that the India-made 5G stack will have a huge export potential. ”

For BSNL, the 4G and 5G stack is being developed by a consortium that has C-Dot working on the core, while the Tata Group comes in with TCS and Tejas. The government will deploy this solution for BSNL’s upgradation to 4G and thereafter to 5G.


Delhi: From May 22, city to get a unified corporation again

Starting May 22, the three civic bodies will cease to exist as south, north and east Delhi municipal corporations and will be merged and named Municipal Corporation of Delhi. The ministry of home affairs finally issued a notification for unification of the three civic bodies into a single entity on Wednesday. “In exercise of the powers conferred by sub-section (1) of Section 3 of Delhi Municipal Corporation (Amendment) Act, 2022, the central government hereby appoints the 22nd day of May 2022 on which Municipal Corporation of Delhi shall be constituted,” stated the notification. Sources said the appointment of a special officer to discharge powers of the unified MCD until its first meeting was held would follow soon. An official said, “According to the DMC (Amendment) Act, 2022, the central government needs to appoint a special officer who will implement the task of unification of the civic bodies and supervise operations until the first meeting of MCD is held. The task will include preparing a fresh list of employees in each department, liabilities, assets, etc. ” The notification also did not mention issuing of a special/bailout package to clear the liabilities of the corporations. The three civic bodies currently have liabilities of around Rs 16,500 crore, including loans, pending payment of contractors, arrears, salaries, pension, etc.

“The annual income of SDMC is Rs 3,000 crore, Rs 2,400 crore for north corporation and Rs 800 crore for EDMC. Of this, a major part comprises salaries. Besides, loans, contractor payments and pensions stand in thousands of crores. The only solution to streamline their financial condition is the provision of a special package,” said the official.

Financial crisis and non-payment of salaries has resulted in frequent strikes by doctors, teachers and sanitation staff many times in the past five years. As of now, east corporation has not paid salaries for five months and north corporation for two months.

The last election for the trifurcated corporations occurred on April 23, 2017. On March 9, 2022, the central government had expressed its intention to unify the three corporations. The move had triggered a political blame-game with Aam Aadmi Party terming it a “tactic to delay the elections”.

India’s first test of anti-ship desi naval missile is successful

The Defence Research and Development Organisation and Indian Navy successfully conducted the maiden flight-test of indigenously-developed Naval anti-ship missile launched from a Naval helicopter from Integrated Test Range, Chandipur off the coast of Odisha, DRDO sources said.

The mission met all its objectives. It is the first indigenous air launched anti-ship missile system developed for the Navy, they said. The missile followed the desired sea skimming trajectory and reached the designated target with high degree of accuracy, validating the control, guidance and mission algorithms, they said.

75 years on, Pak woman reunited with Indian brothers

Seventy-five years after she was separated from her family during the violence at the time of the Partition, a woman born in a Sikh family who was adopted and raised by a Muslim couple met her brothers from India at Kartarpur in Pakistan's Punjab province, according to a media report on Wednesday.

At the time of the Partition, Mumtaz Bibi, who was born in a Sikh family, was an infant who was lying on the dead body of her mother killed by a violent mob, the Dawn newspaper reported. A couple named Muhammad Iqbal and Allah Rakhi adopted the baby girl and raised her as their own daughter, naming her Mumtaz Bibi. After the Partition, Iqbal settled at Varika Tian village in Sheikhupura district of Pakistan's Punjab province. Iqbal and his wife did not tell Mumtaz that she was not their daughter. Two years ago, Iqbal's health suddenly deteriorated and he told Mumtaz that she was not his real daughter and she belonged to a Sikh family.

After Iqbal's death, Mumtaz and her son Shahbaz started searching for her family through social media. They knew the name of Mumtaz's real father and the village (Sidrana) in Patiala district of Punjab (India) where they settled after being forced to leave their native home.

Both the families got connected through social media. Subsequently, Mumtaz's brothers Gurumeet Singh, Narendra Singh and Amrinder Singh, accompanied by other family members, reached Gurdwara Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur. Mumtaz along with her family members also reached there and met her lost brothers after 75 years, the report said.

The Kartarpur corridor links Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan, the final resting place of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak Dev, with the Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Gurdaspur district in India's Punjab state. The 4 km-long corridor provides visa free access to Indian Sikh pilgrims to visit the Darbar Sahib.

Adani targets health biz

After chalking out a foray into the cement sector through the acquisition of Holcim’s India assets, Gautam Adani, head of the eponymous Adani Group, is gearing up for a larger play in healthcare. Flagship entity Adani Enterprises has set up a100% subsidiary, Adani Health Ventures, to run medical and diagnostic laboratories, research centres and other healthcare related activities in the country.

The move pits Adani Group, India’s third-largest conglomerate in terms of market cap, against the Tata Group and Reliance Industries that have made significant investments in the healthcare space.

In 2020, Tata Group, India’s largest conglomerate in terms of mcap, had set up Tata Medical & Diagnostics. It had launched Covid test kits, introduced Tata Health (offers consultation service through a network of physicians) and had acquired online pharmacy 1MG. In the same year, Reliance Industries had acquired pharma distributor and online drug retailer Netmeds. To be sure, all the three conglomerates have a presence in healthcare through their foundations that run hospitals. In a regulatory filing, Adani Enterprises, which incubates new businesses for the group, said the May 17 incorporated healthcare entity will commence its business operations in due course. It has already taken baby steps in this area by acquiring a minority stake in an Israeli startup, Forsight Robotics, for $20 million, in April this year. Forsight is a platform designed for eyesurgeries.

Adani observers expect the Ahmedabad-based conglomerate to acquire diagnostic laboratories and pharmacy retail chains — a strategy it has followed to enter new areas — to propel its healthcare play. The group has made more than 30 acquisitions, valued at over $17 billion, in the past year.

India rolls out red carpet for foreign filmmakers

Foreign filmmakers who shoot in India or coproduce films with Indian partners will get incentives, Union information & broadcasting minister Anurag Thakur announced during his visit to the 75th Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday.

Thakur, who led the Indian delegation to the annual film gala where India is the Country of Honour, said for official co-productions, international film production companies can claim a reimbursement of up to 30% (up to Rs 2 crore) on qualifying expenditure in India.

Foreign films that are shot in India will also be permitted to claim an additional 5% bonus of up to Rs 50 lakh if they employ 15% or more manpower locally. The schemes, Thakur said, will incentivise global collaborations and attract foreign filmmakers to invest in India. Film projects that have been granted ‘coproduction’ status by the I&B ministry and the country signatory to the bilateral co-production treaties will be eligible for the incentives.

Making a pitch for India as the go-to film destination, Thakur said the government aims to make India a favourite among filmmakers. He highlighted that India has begun the world’s largest film restoration project under National Film Heritage Mission, where 2,200 films across Indian languages and genres will be digitally remastered.

“We have a strong intellectual property regime, and the digital medium now complements the other more established modes of consumption and dissemination such as theatres and movies. This has brought about a democratisation of consumer choice like never before, and our government is intent on preserving this via support to the creative industries,” Thakur said.

He also said Indian cinema is undergoing a paradigm shift with the streaming revolution taking the country by storm. “The popularity of digital and OTT platforms has changed how films are created, distributed and consumed. Consumers of global and Indian cinema have more choices than ever before. ”


Melting Tipra glacier triggers early blooming

Blossoming of alpine flowers in the Valley of Flowers is always a welcome sight but this year, flowers which usually bloom in June, when the UNESCO site is opened for tourists, have started appearing in May. The valley is already blanketed in lavender, pink and yellow. This is because the Tipra glacier, which usually starts to melt only in May and feeds the Pushpawati stream that replenishes groundwater table and causes the blooming, started melting as early as in March-end due to rising temperatures this year.

Experts are worried. They said the phenomenon could end in harsh consequences, from extinction of plants due to overheating and flourishing of weeds like polygonum and golden ferns, which are already ravaging the valley. India recorded the hottest March in 122 years this year and Uttarakhand saw exceptionally warm March and April.

The erratic weather, with intense heat waves and intermittent and sparse rainfall (in March and April, the hill state recorded a massive 75% rain deficit), led to humid conditions and warmed up the alpine zone. As a result, Himalayan plants that are dormant for much longer bloomed early. Dr SK Singh, head of northern regional centre of Botanical Survey of India, said, “In the alpine zone, plants remain in a dormant state until they get warm, temperate and humid conditions to flower. Due to excessive heat in March and April, the flowering of these plants must have ‘shifted’, so to say.

Detailed scientific studies are required to understand the long-term implications of climate change on the valley. ” The forest team currently patrolling the valley said they saw glaciers melting and rivers rapidly streaming down the valley well ahead of time. “Tipra glacier started melting by March-end this year. If anyone were to visit the valley now, they would be awestruck by the lavender beauty of primula denticulata (drumstick primrose) and the magical pink of morina longifolia (Himalayan whorl flower). But it’s a premature bloom and in the long run may lead to flowers dying from the heat and weeds growing in the valley,” said Brijmohan Bharti, range officer, Valley of Flowers. Other high-altitude plants also bloomed prematurely in the Himalayas this year. The flaming-red rododendron flowered in March instead of April while the white Brahma kamal, Uttarakhand’s state flower, which usually flowers in August, bloomed months earlier.

PM invites global filmmakers

Prime Minister Narendra Modion said India has many stories to be told and the country has the potential to become the “content hub of the world”. Expressing happiness over India’s participation as the ‘Country of Honour’ at the 75th Cannes Film Festival, the PM asked international filmmakers to benefit from the possibilities to make movies in the country.

In a message, the PM said he is happy the honour not only coincides with 75 years of Indian Independence, but also marks 75 years of diplomatic relations between India and France.

He said this edition of the Cannes Film Festival is special because several Indian start-ups will have the opportunity to showcase their strengths to the world of cinema. He expressed happiness over the screening of the digitally remastered Satyajit Ray film, ‘Pratidwandi’, in the Cannes Classic Section.

The PM positioned India as the largest film producing country in the world, and said Indian films are remarkable for mirroring society and for reflecting the rich heritage and cultural diversity of India. “We have a lot of stories to be explored. India truly possesses immense potential to become the content hub of the world,” Modi said.

He asserted the government’s commitment to enhancing the ‘ease of doing business’ in the film sector. “From facilitating international film co-productions, to ensuring a single window clearance mechanism for permissions for filming ac ross the country, India offers seamless possibilities to filmmakers of the world,” Modi said.

“Our spellbinding locations, technological prowess in film-making and talent of young men and women provide a perfect back drop for film makers,” he said.

5G can Help India’s Economy Grow by $450 Billion: Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called for a rapid rollout of 5G services and underlined the criticality of the collective roles of government and industry for this to happen. Speaking at the silver jubilee celebrations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on Tuesday, Modi said that 5G technology would boost India’s economic fortunes by a whopping $450 billion in the next 15 years. He added that the country is poised to roll out futuristic 6G broadband services by the end of the decade. “…it (5G) won’t merely boost internet speeds, but also rapidly ring in economic progress and boost jobs creation,” he said. He added that the next generation technology will bring positive change in the governance of the country, ease of living and ease of doing business. It will also boost growth in agriculture, health, education, infrastructure, and logistics.

The PM’s comments come at a time when the government plans to auction 5G airwaves in June-July and is targeting the first 5G call by the August-September time frame.

Modi also sought the active participation of tech startups in the upcoming 5G blitz, saying the government would streamline policies around R&D infrastructure to develop a vibrant 5G ecosystem. He said “connectivity” would determine the pace of India’s progress, noting that “a task force had started work on rolling out 6G services by the end of the decade”. 6G tech is expected to bring in data speeds 50 times faster than 5G.

Over the years, he said, the government had won the confidence of the global investor community, after “it swiftly addressed big challenges faced by the telecom sector, such as the AGR (adjusted gross revenue) and the retrospective tax cases,” and even pushed through reforms to settle the latter.

The PM was alluding to a Bill that the Centre had introduced a few years ago to scrap the retrospective tax amendment that had been introduced back in 2012, a move that helped UK's Vodafone settle its protracted tax dispute.

Modi said the combination of “trust and confidence” had been reflected in a surge in foreign direct investments in the telecom sector in recent years. 

LIC Shares List at A Discount

Shares of Life Insurance Corporation listed at ₹865 on the BSE, an 8.62% discount to the initial public offer price of ₹949 per share. The stock hit a high of ₹920, before closing at ₹875. 45 on the BSE, which was around 7.8% lower than the price at which bids were accepted in the country’s largest ever IPO. Market participants said investors could buy LIC shares on further weakness.

At a market value of ₹5.53 lakh crore, LIC is India’s fifth most valuable company, after Reliance Industries, TCS, Infosys, and HDFC Bank.

Over 5.15 crore LIC shares were traded on Tuesday as against the free float of 16.24 crore shares, excluding shares allotted to anchor investors. Retail investors were allotted shares at ₹904 apiece, a discount of ₹45, or 4.7%, on the issue price.

Policyholders were given the shares at ₹889, a discount of ₹60, or 6.3%, on the issue price.

LIC's IPO was subscribed nearly 3 times led by strong demand from the insurer’s policyholders and employees.

Modi open to radical ideas, says Nilekani

Sometimes, those coming to power undertake cumbersome legislative action or inaction to suppress previous regimes’ policies and achievements. ‘To the victor belong the spoils,’ goes the saying. This, however, was not so after Nandan Nilekani, contesting on a Congress ticket, lost the 2014 parliamentary election from South Bengaluru to BJP’s Ananth Kumar.

The ‘Modi wave’ had delivered a monumental win for BJP, placing PM Narendra Modi at the helm of Indian politics. Nilekani was worried about speculations around the future of Aadhaar and its related schemes. He wanted to discuss the matter with Modi.

In his essay for the newly released book, Modi@20:Dreams Meet Delivery, Nandan Nilekani writes, ‘Towards the end of June 2014, I was in New Delhi wrapping up my home to return permanently to Bengaluru. I sought a meeting with the Prime Minister. To my utter astonishment, I got an appointment within 24 hours at a time convenient to me. I went with some trepidation, as I had such stood for elections on a rival party’s ticket. Modi was gracious and listened to me intently. This time, his questions were about issuing the cards to residents and not citizens and how India’s fiscal situation could benefit from direct transfers and its role in reducing corruption. He was well-informed on all issues, including the privacy case in Supreme Court’,” Nilekani writes and added, “What struck me was his openness to listen and to do what was right for the country. ”

Somewhere in Mumbai....


India plans own ‘Channel’ tunnel

The road and railway ministries, and BRO have come on board for construction of the country’s first underwater road-cum-rail tunnels across the Brahmaputra in Assam.

As per the plan, there will be three parallel tunnels—one for road, another for rail and the third for emergency use. The tunnels will be 9.8 km long each and this will be the first project where integrated tunnel construction will be undertaken. These tunnels will be inter-connected with cross passage for evacuation in case of any emergency.

The strategic multi-modal transportation system aims to integrate the rail and highway network through the Jamurihat-Silghat axis towards North Assam, Tawang and the rest of Arunachal Pradesh. This can be used for both civilian and strategic purposes.

According to the estimate, the government would spend around Rs 7,000 crore for these tunnels. Earlier NHIDCL, a company under the road transport ministry, had proposed twin tunnels only for vehicles and had estimated an expenditure of Rs 12,800 crore.

The tunnel will take off from about 9km upstream of the existing Kaliabomara (Tezpur) road bridge and it will connect with Jakhlabandha railway station on the south bank and at Dhaliabil railway station on the north bank of Brahmaputra.

At a recent meeting chaired by the CEO and chairman of the railway board, BRO submitted that these rail-cum-road tunnels are required from the strategic point of view. It also suggested that the project may be funded by the defence ministry. “After discussion on the issue, it was decided that since rail-cum-road under water tunnel alignment is an essential requirement of the ministry of defence, the same may be considered further by the Northeast Frontier Railway subject to technical suitability.

However, the cost estimate needs to be revisited by BRO and should be done carefully. The BRO/ MoRTH was also advised to confirm about funding of the project,” the minutes of the meeting said.

PM Narendra Modi has asked the road and railway ministries to plan and work together for laying the road and rail tunnels simultaneously to save cost. The underwater tunnel project will also be an engineering marvel and will benefit the country strategically by reducing travel time between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. The proposed tunnels will be constructed using tunnel boring machines and completion may take around two to two-and-a-half years.

India gets its 52nd tiger reserve, in Rajasthan

The Ramgarh Vishdhari sanctuary in Bundi, covering the tiger habitat between Ranthambore in the northeast and Mukundra Hills on the southern side, in Rajasthan was on Monday notified as the country’s 52nd tiger reserve. The Ramgarh Vishdhari is the fourth tiger reserve of the state after Ranthambore, Sariska and Mukundra. The National Tiger Conservation Authority) had given in principle approval to make this sanctuary and adjoining areas as tiger reserves on July 5 last year.

“The 52nd Reserve of India will conserve biodiversity and bring in ecotourism and development to the area. . . The newly notified tiger reserve includes the tiger habitat between Ranthambore Tiger Reserve in the northeast and Mukundra Hills Tiger Reserve on the southern side and facilitates dispersal of tigers from Ranthambore Tiger Reserve,” tweeted environment minister Bhupender Yadav.

He said, “The floristic diversity of this new tiger reserve makes it an important area for research and education. Historic and cultural sites like Bhimlat, Ramgarh palace would encourage eco-tourism and provide employment to local communities. ” 

Indo-Nepal ties ‘unshakeable like Himalayas’: PM Modi

India and Nepal’s “ever-strengthening” friendship and closeness will benefit the entire humanity amid the kind of global conditions that are emerging, PM Modi said in a special 20-minute address in Lumbini on the sidelines of the 2566th Buddha Jayanti celebrations. He added that ties between the two countries are unshakeable like the Himalayas.

Modi, who was in Lumbini on Buddha Purnima at the invitation of his counterpart Sher Bahadur Deuba, made the remarks while addressing an international conference on Buddhism.

The PM’s visit also saw a bilateral meeting between the two leaders following which India and Nepal signed six agreements.

Forex kitty will cover 10 months’ imports: RBI

The Reserve Bank of India has said in its ‘State of the economy’ report that forex reserves of $596 billion, as on May 6 this year, were equivalent to about 10 months of projected imports for FY23. The central bank also released data showing it sold $20 billion of its reserves in March 2022.

The report, released by the RBI on Tuesday, said that the global growth outlook was grim as geopolitical tensions lingered, and commodity prices remained elevated, even as withdrawal of monetary accommodation gathers speed worldwide. “Emerging economies face risks of capital outflows and higher commodity prices feeding into inflation prints. Meanwhile, the pandemic impinges on nearterm economic prospects,” the RBI said in its report.

Since the RBI announced its policy in April, inflation risks have become more accentuated in recent months. The increase in international commodity prices also imparts net terms of trade shock that is widening the trade and current account deficits.

“To achieve a higher growth path on a sustainable basis, private investment needs to be encouraged through higher capital expenditure by government, which crowds in private investment,” the report said. It added that impro- ving infrastructure, ensuring low and stable inflation and maintaining macroeconomic stability is critical for reviving animal spirits and spurring growth.

The RBI, which had maintained a status quo position in its April policy, said that inflation pressures became increasingly generalised across commodity groups in the April print of the consumer price index, resulting in asharp spike in headline inflation to 7. 8% — well above the upper tolerance band. 


India win first-ever Thomas Cup crown

It's as big as it can get for Indian badminton as the men's team won their first-ever Thomas Cup title, beating 14-time champions Indonesia 3-0 in a heroic effort in the final of the prestigious team championship in Bangkok, Thailand on Sunday, May 15.

India had never reached the final of the Thomas and Uber Cup in the tournament's 73-year-long history, but the Indian men not only broke the drought but went a step ahead and became only the 6th nation after China, Indonesia, Japan, Denmark, and Malaysia to win the Thomas Cup title.

Chants of "Bharat Mata Ki Jai" and the sound of Dhol were reverberating at the Impact Arena as the young Indian shuttlers came out all guns firing on the big day. The celebrations after the historic victory told how much it meant to the Indian badminton contingent as they flaunted the enviable team spirit that has been dominating headlines this week.

India did not need the second doubles match and the third singles match as Lakshya Sen, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy/Chirag Shetty and Kidambi Srikanth made it 3-0 for the historic victory.

India were not the overwhelming favourites at the start of the team tournament but the young shuttlers from India had the firepower in them to take out the giants and they did exactly that over the last 7 days in Bangkok even as the women crashed out in the quarter-finals of the Uber Cup.

India won the gold medal while Indonesia finished with the silver. Denmark and Japan finished with the bronze at the prestigious team championship.

Adani to buy Holcim's Cement assets

The Adani Group led by billionaire Gautam Adani has entered into definitive agreements to take over Switzerland-based Holcim’s listed cement assets in India, ACC and Ambuja, for $10.5 billion to become the second-largest cement maker in the country in one shot — with a combined pan-India capacity of 70 million tonnes per annum in the highly competitive, fragmented and price sensitive market. The transaction is India’s largest M&A deal in the infrastructure and materials space.

Aditya Birla Group’s UltraTech is the largest cement company in India with a capacity of 117 mtpa. Adani has pipped Sajjan Jindal-led JSW Cement, believed to be the other serious contender.

The deal to acquire a 63.19% stake in Ambuja Cements will give the Indian conglomerate control over ACC, another listed cement company, a subsidiary of Ambuja Cements. Agencies reported that Adani's $10.5 billion acquisition would mean its purchase price is pegged at ₹385 per share for Ambuja Cements, a 7.2% premium to Friday’s closing price. The acquirer will pay ₹2,300 per share for ACC.

Adani will use a family-owned entity based in Dubai, as the principal vehicle for the transaction. This entity will float a special purpose vehicle where the Adani family, as promoters, will infuse $1.25- 1.5 billion as equity. A similar amount, likely in the form of structured equity, is expected from the Middle East investor group the Adani family is engaged with. Together, this vehicle will be capitalised to the tune of $3 billion. This approximately $3 billion in turn will become the equity of another dropdown SPV in which global banks, such Deutsche Bank, Barclays and Standard Chartered Bank, are expected to lead the funding of another $4.5 billion as acquisition financing. Adani is expected to provide letter of comfort to the banks as well if the need arises. Besides the three, other banks will join the financing consortium subsequently for share financing.

Adani is betting on India’s consumption increasing manifold in the coming years. China’s cement consumption is over 7x that of India. "When these factors are combined with the several adjacencies of our existing businesses that include the Adani Group's ports and logistics business, energy business, and real estate business, we believe that we will be able to build a uniquely integrated and differentiated business model and set ourselves up for significant capacity expansion," Adani said in a statement.

Adani is being financed by Deutsche Bank, Barclays and Standard Chartered Bank. Deutsche Bank is also
advising the Adani Group.

Highest-ever temp of 49.2°C in Delhi

An intense heatwave scorched parts of north India on Sunday, with the mercury at two weather stations in Delhi crossing 49°C—likely the highest ever recorded at any IMD station in the national capital.

Mungeshpur in northwest Delhi reported a scorching maximum of 49.2°C, nine notches above normal, while Najafgarh recorded 49.1°C (eight above normal). The reading at the two automatic weather stations were the highest recorded in the country this season, ahead of Sunday’s maximum of 49°C at Banda, UP.

Churu and Pilani in Rajasthan reported maximum temperatures of 47.9°C and 47.7°C, respectively, followed by Sri Ganganagar and Jhansi (47.6°C), Narnaul (47.5°C), Khajuraho and Nowgong (47.4°C) and Hissar (47.2°C), the IMD said.

The weather office said the maximum temperature was markedly above normal (5.1° or more) at several places in Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh, Gilgit-Baltistan, Uttarakhand, Punjab and Bihar. The mercury was 3.1°C-5°C above normal in parts of western and eastern Uttar Pradesh and eastern Madhya Pradesh. 


Blackbuck poachers kill three cops in MP

Poachers have allegedly killed three police personnel in Madhya Pradesh’s Guna district, authorities said on Saturday.

According to the police, at around 2.45 am on Saturday six poachers on four bikes were trying to flee from the Aron area after poaching blackbucks and peacocks. The area falls under the Gwalior-Chambal region and shared a border with Rajasthan. Three police teams were sent to the area on specific inputs about the presence of the armed poachers.

“A tip of suspected poachers was received based on which three teams were deployed for the operation. Sensing that they were cordoned off by the police, the poachers opened fire. The poachers managed to flee, despite attempts by other police teams to nab them,” Superintendent of Police (Guna) Rajeev Mishra said.

Mishra said that a police service rifle was missing and the empty cartridges recovered from the spot suggest that country made firearms were used by the poachers.

“Remains of three to four poached blackbucks and peacocks in sacks have been recovered.” 

India Bans Wheat Exports

The government banned wheat exports late Friday citing food security risks for India and its neighbours and other vulnerable countries, even as it promised to meet already committed contracts.

Exports will be allowed to vulnerable countries for their food security needs through government-to government agreements. The government expects these steps to tame domestic wheat and atta prices that have risen sharply following demand for exports and likely lower output in the current year.

Export of all wheat, including high-protein durum and normal soft bread varieties, have been moved from “free” to the “prohibited” category with effect from May 13, the commerce department said in a notification late Friday.

“One primary goal is to put a check on inflation,” said commerce secretary, BVR Subrahmanyam. “During a global shortage or a perceived shortage there is a tendency to hoard. This will ensure that does not happen,” he said, adding that “the order is not for perpetuity” and the government will take a look at it sometime.

Wheat traders and exporters said move will help stabilise wheat prices. “There are traders and farmers who are holding onto their wheat stock and waiting for prices to go higher. This is to encourage them to release their stocks,” Siraj Chaudhry, MD & CEO, National Commodities Management Service Limited, a post-harvest service provider 

According to official data, the average price of wheat flour in retail markets was about ₹33 per kilogram on May 8, nearly 13% up from a year ago.

The move to ban wheat exports came after the ministry of consumer affairs, food and public
distribution raised concerns over prices and food grain availability for food security needs, sources
in the trade and industry said. The commerce ministry was of the view that India should export

New Delhi: 47°C breached

Buffeted by searing “loo” winds and a fiery sun, temperatures in the capital region breached the 47 degrees Celsius mark at two stations on Saturday, making it the hottest day of this summer that has already seen record heat since March. All city weather stations witnessed heat wave to severe heatwave conditions, with Mungeshpur in northwest Delhi recording 47.2 degrees Celsius and Najafgarh reporting 47 degrees. An “orange alert” is in place and Sunday could get even hotter while Monday may see some relief, the met office said.

The mercury rose sharply in the morning itself. “By 10.30am, most weather stations in Delhi had touched 40 degrees Celsius on Saturday. It remained above 40 degrees for many hours,” said R K Jenamani, senior scientist at IMD.

Safdarjung, the city’s base station, recorded 44.2 degrees Celsius, five degrees above normal, the highest of the season so far, even as three city stations — Mungeshpur, Najafgarh and Pitampura (46.4 degrees) — reporting severe heat wave conditions. Neighbouring Gurgaon was among the hottest spots in the region with the maximum climbing to 46.8 degrees C on Saturday.

At 48.8 degrees Celsius, Banda in Uttar Pradesh was the hottest station in the country.


Rajnath to ‘launch’ 2 indigenous stealth warships next week

Two indigenous frontline stealth warships, a destroyer and a frigate, will be “launched” into water at Mazagon Docks in Mumbai by defence minister Rajnath Singh on May 17.

The guided-missile destroyer will be named ‘INS Surat’ and the multi-purpose frigate ‘INS Udaygiri’ once they are commissioned three to four years down the line. Overall, the Navy has 41 warships on order, 39 being built in Indian shipyards and two in Russia.

The first of the four destroyers constructed under the overall Rs 35,000 crore Project-15B at MDL, the 7,400 tonne INS Visakhapatnam, was commissioned in November 2021.

The second, Mormugao, is slated for commissioning later this year, while Imphal and Surat will follow thereafter.

Udaygiri, in turn, is the third of the seven frigates being constructed under Project-17A, four in MDL and three at GRSE in Kolkata, at an overall cost of around Rs 45,000 crore.

The first two, Nilgiri and Himgiri, were launched in 2019 and 2020.

‘12,000-year-old’ rock art site discovered in Telangana

A rock art site said to be from the Mesolithic Age (also known as Middle Stone Age) has been discovered at Kasipur, Bommalaramaram in Telangana’s Yadadri Bhuvanagiri district. A group of history enthusiasts who came across the site also found a prehistoric iron melting point near the rockart shelter.

According to archaeologist E Sivanagi Reddy who examined the site, it is around 12,000 years old.

Of the 70 rock art sites found so far, 35 have been identified by the group, Kotta Telangana Charitra Brundam, after the formation of Telangana.

Sriramoju Haragopal, who led the group, climbed up on the 30-ft hillock, where he identified many red ochre paintings on the inner side of a rock shelter.

However, human intervention damaged some of the paintings in another cave. “At a nearby cave, villagers were worshipping the paintings, and it became a temple of Lord Venkateswara,” said Haragopal, adding: “As villagers had superimposed a lime coat, many rock paintings were lost. ”

“Pictures of four bison, two men, and an animal resembling a horse are visible at another place now. The figure of a man standing behind the four bison is drawn using the X pattern. The other human standing near the bison is similar to the petroglyph (rock carving) of a man with a weapon at a site in Regonda mandal of Jayashankar Bhupalpally district,” Haragopal said. The team also found microlith rock tools downstream.

Further, a cairn cyst and a menhir were also identified in the vicinity. The team identified evidence of pre-historic iron melting in the form of iron slag and iron pieces at a nearby cave.

The tools, rock art style, items and bison in the paintings indicate that the rock art site belongs to the microlithic age.

Maruti plans new Sonipat facility

Maruti Suzuki will spend Rs 11,000 crore to set up a new manufacturing facility in Haryana, its third in the state and spread over an 800-acre area, as the country’s largest carmaker looks to add a fresh 10 lakh units to its capacity from the location over the coming years.

The company, which currently has an annual installed capacity of 22.5 lakh units across its existing two plants in Haryana (Gurgaon and Manesar) and one in Gujarat (owned by parent Suzuki), will start with an initial capacity of 2.5 lakh units at the new location at IMT Kharkhoda in Sonipat district from 2025. This will thereafter be scaled up to 10 lakh units progressively, as the market expands.

“The first plant with a manufacturing capacity of 2.  lakh vehicles per annum is expected to be commissioned in 2025, subject to administrative approvals. In the first phase, the investment will be over Rs 11,000 crore. The site will have space for capacity expansion to include more manufacturing plants in the future,” the company said.

The company, controlled by Japanese Suzuki Motor Corp, said the area of 800 acres will be its biggest ever manufacturing location so far, and added that it has completed the process of allotment with Haryana State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited Maruti and parent Suzuki expect healthy growth in the Indian car market over the coming years, and the fresh investments factor in their bullishness on personal mobility. Rahul Bharti, director (corporate affairs), Maruti Suzuki, said the company hopes to provide direct employment to about 15,000 workers by the time it reaches peak production capacity of 10 lakh units at the new site.

Mumbai, Pune to be hotter by 5°C

The spate of alarming news related to climate change continues. The mean temperature in Mumbai and Pune will be 5°Celsius more than now and the maximum the mercury will hit will be 4.2°C higher is the last quarter of this century, said a study.

In some extreme years in the 2080-2099 period, the maximum temperature can go up to 45.4°C, revealed the latest analysis done by Greenpeace India in which heat wave projections have been assessed based on distinctive scenarios of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change AR6 report. According to it, inland cities are at a significantly higher risk of heat waves in the absence of regulation by oceans and a higher temperature range than coastal areas.

The projections for Mumbai and Pune are based on emissions of carbon dioxide doubling by 2050. “Coastal cities like Mumbai benefit from the regulating effect of the sea. However, the humidity from the sea will create muggy weather conditions. ” The study highlighted that Pune has a relatively different pattern despite being inland due to its topography. The coastal cities have an average temperature range less than 5 degrees, in comparison with the inland cities with a temperature range of 20 degrees, it added.

The hottest days for India have increased from 40 per year in the 1950s to 100 per year in the 2020s. “The heat waves are fatal for public health and the economy. It also puts ecosystems at risk. We have enough science to link such extreme weather events to climate change. Unfortunately, if we do not act now, the threat is only going to increase in frequency, duration and magnitude,” said Avinash Chanchal, campaign manager at Greenpeace India.

The study showed Delhi’s maximum temperature will be 4°C higher than average in the 2080-2099 period. Temperature rise is also expected to severely impact Lucknow, Patna, Jaipur and Kolkata.

The analysis highlighted that the vulnerable communities will face the crisis at its worst form. “The urban poor, outdoor workers, women, children, senior citizens, sexual minorities are at a significantly greater risk, as they lack adequate access to protective measures. Governments must fortify the resilience of such vulnerable populations,” it added.

The focus has to be on reducing emissions and maintaining adequate green cover. “Rooftop gardening, community nutritional gardens, parks, mini forests, roadside tree cover and water bodies are the need of the hour. Phasing out fossil fuels, particularly for energy and transportation systems, is the most practical and immediate solution to tackling climate change and protecting public health,” added Chanchal.


Somewhere in Madhya Pradesh....


Tata Sons Names SIA’s Campbell Wilson as Air India’s New CEO

Tata Sons said it has appointed Campbell Wilson, a veteran at its partner Singapore Airlines, as the new chief executive of Air India.

“The Air India board approved the appointment of Wilson subject to requisite regulatory approvals. Wilson, 50, has 26 years of aviation industry expertise across both full-service and low-cost airlines,” Tata Sons said in a statement.

“Air India is at the cusp of an exciting journey to become one of the best airlines in the world, offering world class products and services with a distinct customer experience that reflects Indian warmth and hospitality. I am excited to join Air India and Tata colleagues in the mission of realising that ambition,” said Wilson. Wilson is currently the CEO of Scoot, Singapore Airlines’ low-cost, medium-to-long haul subsidiary airline. Former Vistara chief Leslie Thng will replace Wilson at Scoot.

As the new chief of Air India, Wilson will helm the aviation-to-automobile conglomerate’s ambitious mission of turning around the beleaguered airline, implementing a much-needed rev up of its service standards and integrating operations with its AirAsia India and possibly Vistara, Tata’s jointly owned airline with SIA. Air India recently made AirAsia India its wholly owned subsidiary. It will likely be merged with its low-cost international unit Air India Express. Wilson started off as a management trainee with Singapore Airlines in New Zealand in 1996.

Kashmiri Pandit Shot Dead in Budgam

Unidentified gunmen on Thursday afternoon shot dead a government employee in his office premises in Chadoora area of Budgam in central Kashmir. The victim was identified as Rahul Bhat, a Kashmiri Pandit who worked at Tehsil office under the prime minister's employment package for the community.

Eyewitness accounts said two suspected militants entered the office premises, fired at Bhat and fled from the spot. Officials said that assailants used pistols to shoot Bhat. He was immediately rushed to sub-district hospital in the area and later referred to SMHS in Srinagar, where he died.

Bhat lived in a protected Pandit colony in Sheikhpora area of Budgam. Kashmiri Pandits living in colonies in Budgam, Baramullah and Anantnag districts took out protest marches condemning the killing and demanded justice.

They blocked the highway in Wessu area near Qazigund and raised slogans against the J&K administration and the BJP for ‘failing to protect’ minorities in the Valley.

“We are doing our jobs here and have nothing to do with politics. Why was our brother killed inside his office today? What was his offence? Where is the BJP govt and the J&K administration,” asked a Kashmiri Pandit protestor in Wessu. Political parties across the spectrum condemned the killing and lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha said that the perpetrators won’t be spared. “I strongly condemn the barbaric killing of Rahul Bhat by terrorists at Budgam. Those behind this despicable terror attack will not go unpunished. J&K government stands in solidarity with the bereaved family in this hour of grief,” Sinha tweeted.

Former CM J&K Omar Abdullah condemned the murderous attack saying that targeted killings continued in Kashmir unchecked. “Targeted killings continue, and a sense of fear grows unchecked. My heartfelt condolences to Rahul’s family. . . This young man had his entire life ahead of him and to know that his life was so cruelly extinguished today is tragic," said Abdullah.

“Despite deployment of security forces in every nook and corner of the Valley, even government offices aren't safe. Our thoughts, prayers are with the family in this hour of grief,” PDP said in a statement issued here.