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Odd-Even got 5.4 out of 10, majority agrees to implement permanently: PHD Chamber Survey
May 05,2016

Odd-Even rule has got a score of 5.4 out of 10 according to an extensive survey conducted by PHD Chamber of Commerce & Industry to assess the commuters reaction.

Relaxation in traffic and reduction in time taken to reach the destination has got a score of 5.7 each out of 10. The respondents reported that the time taken to reach their destination has come down, though not considerably.

Although some parts of Delhi have seen reduction in traffic, yet some areas suffer from traffic congestion. Some parts of Delhi need proper regulation of traffic and better road networks, said Mr. Saurabh Sanyal, Secretary General of PHD Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

The Odds Even So Far:

Parameters: Score-

Relaxation in traffic congestion: 5.7

Reduction in the time taken to reach destination: 5.7

Odd-even formula to be implemented permanently: 6.2

Preference to buy a second car if the rule is implemented permanently: 4

Facilitation of public transport system: 4.3

Decline in pollution levels with the implementation of odd-even formula: 5.8

Overall travelling experience, tougher or easier: 5.8

Total average: 5.4

The survey aimed at knowing if the odd even formula has really been successful or it still lags behind in drawing commuters satisfaction. An extensive questionnaire was administered on more than 1000 people from a variety of segments across Delhi NCR. The survey gathered a mixed response from the respondents.

The sample size was selected such that responses would be unbiased to enable comparative analysis. Seven parameters were selected to know the benefits of odd-even.

Majority of Respondents want the rule to be implemented on a permanent basis as this parameter has scored 6.2 out of 10, given the fact that government take their suggestions seriously on this issue.

Respondents reported that they will not buy an additional car if the rule is implemented permanently as this has got a low score of 4 out of 10. This calls for efficient cab pooling system and sound public transportation system.

Facilitation of public transport system has got a low score of 4.3 out of 10. Respondents believe that this rule if implemented in true letter and spirit will certainly bring down pollution levels in the city as this parameter has received a good score of 5.8.

Majority of people reported that their overall travelling experience with the advent of odd even rule has been easier. This parameter has managed to get a good score of 5.8 out of 10.

For the success of this rule, the public transport system needs to be strengthened so as to ensure connectivity to far away areas and availability of means of transport at every point. Also the office hours should be made flexible so that traffic is distributed evenly, said Mr. Saurabh Sanyal.

Plantation drives should be actively carried out by the government in all parts of the city to make it greener and cleaner. Also odd-even should include trucks as these do not adhere to the emission norms. People should switch to greener fuel options, going ahead, said Mr. Sanyal

Going ahead, the state government must also strengthen pollution checks for all vehicles. Further, lane driving should be encouraged by the government with strict penalties and fines for lane jumping for all vehicles, he said.

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Ind-Ra Maintains Negative-to-Stable Outlook on Shipping Sector for FY17
May 05,2016

India Ratings and Research (Ind-Ra) has maintained a negative-to-stable outlook for the shipping sector for FY17 on the expectation of varied trends across sub-segments. The tanker segment which accounts for the bulk of the fleet operated by Indian shipping companies (about 60%) is likely to continue performing better than other shipping segments due to its sound fundamentals. However, the dry-bulk, off-shore and container segments will remain under pressure in FY17.

Sub-sector outlooks for FY17 are as follows:

Stable Outlook for Tanker Segment: The agency expects the performance of the tanker segment to remain better than other segments in FY17 owing to healthy demand, manageable supply growth and continuation of the recent increase in long-haul shipments from West Africa to Asia. After the fall in crude oil prices, tanker charter rates had increased rapidly in 2015 owing to a higher crude oil output, strategic reserve stock-piling and floating storage. However, charter rates declined in 4QFY16 as the incentive of storing oil has reduced with oil prices remaining range-bound. The agency expects the charter rates to decline further in FY17; nevertheless the correction will be limited as demand for oil is likely to continue to grow at a healthy pace.

Negative Outlook for Offshore Segment: The agency does not expect a significant recovery in oil prices in FY17 and therefore expects offshore exploration activity to remain muted globally which will result in continued pressure on charter rates. Revenue of Indian companies which have deployed vessels on overseas waters declined during 9MFY16 as a result of the decline in demand for offshore drill ships, jack-up rigs and other support vessels which resulted in lower charter rates. Financial profiles of such companies are likely to weaken further in FY17. The agency expects Indian public sector units to continue offshore capex activities in FY17, however charter rates are likely to be renegotiated at lower levels when vessel contracts come up for renewal. Consequently, the financial profiles of companies catering largely to public sector units are also likely to deteriorate in FY17.

Negative Outlook for Dry Bulk Segment: The agency expects the dry-bulk to be the worst-performing segment among all the shipping segments in FY17. The slowdown in emerging and developing economies particularly in China has exacerbated the demand-supply mismatch in the dry-bulk segment. The agency expects freight rates to remain depressed in FY17 as Chinese demand remains subdued. Furthermore, growth in dry-bulk shipment volumes at Indian ports is also likely to remain limited in FY17 due to lesser imports of both coal and iron ore because of higher domestic production. Dry-bulk volumes at Indian ports (major and non-major) remained sluggish in 1HFY16 owing to the lower shipments of coal (1HFY16: 0.7%, FY15: 20.1%) due to the record domestic production by Coal India Limited. Also, iron ore shipments declined (1HFY16: negative 37.1%, FY15: 1.7%) due to lower imports.

Negative Outlook for Container Segment: The agency expects pressure on container charter rates to continue in FY17 on account of slow growth in global trade volumes coupled with continued capacity additions. Capacity additions in FY16 continued to outpace trade growth with global fleet capacity growing 6.8% yoy (FY15: 6.2%). Furthermore, the global order book as a % of outstanding capacity remained substantial (16.9%) indicating that further capacity is yet to come into the market. The agency does not expect the supply-demand gap to correct in the near term.

Mixed Impact on Credit Metrics: Ind-Ra expects the credit metrics of companies operating solely in the offshore segment to deteriorate further in FY17. Companies which derive a majority of their revenue from the tanker segment saw an improvement in their margins and consequently credit metrics during 9MFY16. Entities having a larger exposure towards the tanker segment are likely to exhibit stable metrics in FY17. Nevertheless, leverage indicators of most shipping companies are expected to remain high in FY17 as performance across most segments will remain subdued.

Outlook Sensitivities

Demand-Supply Change: A higher-than-expected capacity addition in the tanker segment could lead to the outlook for the segment being revised to negative.

Improvement in Trade Activity: An improvement in trade activity leading to an improvement in the demand-supply scenario could lead to a revision in the outlook for the container and dry-bulk segments to stable.

Recovery in Crude Oil Prices: An increase in crude oil prices leading to an improvement in capex activity by exploration and production companies leading to higher charter rates could lead to a revision in the outlook for the offshore segment to stable.

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Govt. preparing framework for hydropower development in India: Additional Secretary, Power Ministry
May 05,2016

The Union Power Ministry is in process of preparing a framework for hydropower development in India and the same would soon be taken to the highest level in the government, a top ministry official said at an ASSOCHAM even.

n++We are preparing a framework for hydro development in this country, very soon we will take it up to the highest level in the government, so the focus is going to be back on hydro,n++ said Mr B.P. Pandey, additional secretary (Hydro), Ministry of Power while inaugurating a conference on Hydropower @Crossroads, organised by The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM).

He said that in totality hydropower comes out a much cleaner, greener and sustainable option while adding that water security is an issue in India and there is a need for storages as well.

Highlighting that reducing the costs is one of the major challenges in hydro sector, he suggested for financial restructuring together with use of innovative financing instruments.

n++How do we bring down costs or tariff of hydro projects, can we overcome and remove some of the long-drawn clearance processes taking into account environmental safety as well and basin studies, can we also devise some innovative financing models in our instruments which may help to restore the investor confidence which as of now has gone down and people are really not investing apart from PSUs,n++ said Mr Pandey.

In his address at the ASSOCHAM conference, Mr Kalikho Pul, chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh which accounts for over one-half of one lakh megawatt (MW) untapped hydropower potential in India will provide single window clearance to all power developers from both central public sector undertakings (CPSUs) and private sector.

n++We will provide all support to private developers for installing and commissioning of hydropower plants with facilities of single-window clearance,n++ said Mr Pul. n++All requirements of local coordination will be fast tracked and we will ensure that there are no barriers to investors.n++

The Arunachal Pradesh chief minister also said that state government was examining various options available for funding the equity participation of state including the option to exit from the same.

n++We wish to create a win-win situation for the country, the people of the state, the state itself along with its ecological system, hydro- power developers, and entrepreneurs in many fields who would be attracted by such growth and change,n++ he added.

Suggesting that both solar and hydropower should simultaneously be promoted, Mr Pul said that projects between 50-100 MW should be promoted and taken up under the Ministry of Non-Renewable Energy and there is need to source subsidy funding for the same.

n++With a view to raise the share of hydropower in electricity-mix of the country, the Ministry of Power may set up a green energy corridor to evacuate hydropower generation from Arunachal Pradesh and north-eastern region,n++ he said further.

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FM: Notwithstanding the global headwinds, India continues to maintain a high growth rate at 7.65% in 2015-16 compared to 7.2% in FY15
May 05,2016

The Union Finance Minister Shri Arun Jaitley said though the Asia-Pacific region remains the growth engine for the world, there appears to be a softening in regions growth rate from 5.9% projected last year to 5.7% each in 2016 and 2017. Notwithstanding, the global headwinds, Shri Jaitley said that India continues to maintain a high growth rate at 7.65 in 2015-16 compared to 7.2% in the previous year. While reiterating Indias commitment to partner in the development and poverty alleviation of the poorest countries of the region, the Finance Minister announced that the Government has increased its contribution under the ADF-12 of the ADB to US$ 40 million. The Finance Minister Shri Jaitley was addressing the Business Session of the 49th Annual General Meeting (AGM) of Asian Development Bank (ADB) held at Frankfurt, Germany.

Outlining the Indias development paradigm, the Finance Minister Shri Jaitley stressed that the Government is following the approach of Reform to Transform through far-reaching structural reforms. The Government has initiated several initiatives to boost investment climate and improve ease of doing business, the Minister added. The Finance Minister Shri Jaitley National Infrastructure Investment Fund (NIIF) has been set-up to stimulate investments in infrastructure. Similarly, several schemes such as Make-in-India, Startup India and Skill India are being implemented to encourage innovations, entrepreneurship and job creation, he added. The Finance Minister Shri Jaitley said that Indias massive financial inclusion program has enabled opening of over 200 million bank accounts for unbanked persons. India is using AADHAAR, a unique identification system, as a backbone for targeted delivery of financial subsidies and benefits, the Finance Minister added.

Speaking on the role of ADB, the Finance Minister Shri Jaitley said n++as the Asia-Pacific region navigates its course amidst shifting tides in the global economic environment, ADBs ability to make timely and valued contribution is also being testedn++. The Finance Minister Shri Jaitley emphasized that ADB needs to become an agent of change through its support for innovative projects which may otherwise not happen through local intervention. He said that reforms such as empowerment of the Resident Missions of ADB, delegation and decentralization in decision-making are some reform imperatives. The Finance Minister called for continued emphasis on reforms to make ADB a bigger and better MDB.

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Indian logistics market to touch US$ 307 billion by 2020: Ram Kripal Yadav
May 05,2016

Logistics market in India is expected to be worth US$ 307 billion by 2020, Mr. Ram Kripal Yadav, Minister of State for Drinking Water & Sanitation said at an ASSOCHAM event.

India spends around 14.4% of its GDP on logistics and transportation as compared to less than 8% spent by the other developing countries, said Mr. Ram Kripal Yadav, Minister of State for Drinking Water & Sanitation while inaugurating a conference on National Summit: Logistics India 2016, organised by The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM).

In his address, Mr. Yadav said, the building of dedicated rail freight corridors will promote efficient haulage of containerized cargo by rail. One key advantage of the dedicated freight corridor is that freight trains could be run on time tables similar to passenger trains, and the frequency can be theoretically increased to one train in 10 minutes. This will reduce time for goods transportation between Mumbai and Delhi to 18 hours from 60 hours now.

Waterways are 50% cheaper than road and nearly 30% cheaper than rail. The coastal leg, apart from being more fuel efficient, can also carry larger parcel sizes and provides a great opportunity for consolidation of loads, said Mr. Yadav.

The Government of Indias ambition to replace the National Maritime Development Program (NMDP) with the more comprehensive Maritime Agenda 2010-2020 is in line with its objective to increase port capacity. It intends to encourage private investment in both major and non-major ports and bring port performance at par with international standards. Through this program, government plans to invest INR 2,870 billion in generating total port capacity of 3,200 MMT and cater to expected cargo traffic of 2,500 MMT by the end of 2020.

Over 160 airports currently fall into this category and following through on this initiative would improve regional connectivity across the nation. It is difficult to say exactly what scale of impact this will have on the logistics sector since most goods are still transported by road or rail. But we can be assured that it would only be an improvement on the existing state of things. The reach of companies operating in the logistics sphere would increase if the logistics sector sees transport by air as a viable option, said Mr. Yadav.

The Cargo and Logistics Industry in India can expect to grow at CAGR of 16% in the coming years with inflow of new investments that in turn will create new opportunities for the logistics sector. The Make in India campaign will see investments connect India to global production networks and would generate significant new business for logistics in India. This will make India an attractive location to do business as compared to others in the region.

However, this can happen only with the help of a sound and efficient infrastructure. Though India is improving on its infrastructure despite the sluggish economic growth in the last decade and emergence of large middle class market with increasing purchasing power, few sectors in India still need to catch up with rest of the world to keep pace with development taking place in rest of the world. This will help in bringing down the costs to a considerable extent, highlighted Mr. Yadav.

Going forward, the evolution of Indias Cargo and Logistics Industry can be realized through uniform progress across all segments. Appropriate policy changes and opening up capacity and increasing speed with which goods are transported in all modes of transportation, especially rail and water transport, are imperative for the growth of the industry. Transportation of bulk commodities from road to appropriate modes such as rail and waterways can free up capacity for fast moving goods. Further, setting benchmarks and standards for the industry will drive uniformity of warehouses, storage and transport equipment.

Access to cheap capital should be made available to Logistics Service Providers for investments in infrastructure, enabling them to extend longer credit periods to their clients and supplementing their working capital. The government should create a uniform tax structure and do away with multiple check points and documentation requirements, which would lead to speedier delivery of cargo.

The growth of the Cargo and Logistics industry will not only contribute to the GDP, but will also generate employment opportunities.

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Amendment in the Mines & Mineral Act to Streamline Consolidation in the Cement Sector
May 05,2016

The amendments to the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act will streamline the consolidation process in the cement and steel industry, as companies will be able to transfer captive mines acquired in the pre-auction era to the acquirer, says India Ratings and Research (Ind-Ra). The Rajya Sabha cleared the amendments to the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act 2016 on 2nd May 2016. The Act allows for transfer of mining lease which were acquired other than by an auction and used for captive purposes. The amendment however has come with a rider of transfer fees, which may lead to higher capital cost for the acquirer. Ind-Ra expects the amendment to the Act to streamline the consolidation process in the cement industry as companies will now be able to transfer captive mines to the acquirer, which were acquired by them in the pre-auction era. Ind-Ra believes that this will clear the way for large merger and acquisition transactions that have been stuck due to the restriction on the transfer of mines as per the amendment of mines and mineral act January 2015. This could also trigger acquisitions in the steel sector, primarily by medium and small players since the larger players are well placed with captive mines.

This Act also defines captive- as the use of the entire quantity of mineral extracted from the mining lease, which will prohibit the sale of excess limestone. Ind-Ra notes the Act empowers the government to charge a transfer fee on such transfers. However, the government has not specified the calculation method which will be used for the transfer fee, and thus clarification for the same is awaited, which will lead to the smoothening of the process of transfer of mines.

Ind-Ra believes that the absence of clear guidelines related to the transfer fee could play spoil sport to the consolidation process in the cement industry.

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Ind-Ra: SC Ban on Petrol and Diesel Run Taxis to Lift CGD Volumes
May 05,2016

The Supreme Court order dated 30 April 2016 to convert taxis run on petrol or diesel to compressed natural gas (CNG), may lead to higher volumes for City Gas Distribution Entities (CGDEs) in Delhi, says India Ratings and Research (Ind-Ra). Ind-Ra notes, CGDEs in Delhi have started to benefit from multiple tailwinds that have aided higher volumes. The monthly car conversion/addition rate has increased to 4400/month over 9MFY16 from 3500/month in FY15 in Delhi. Ind-Ra expects this rate to increase further to around 5000-5500 per month in FY17, subject to the plan which will be submitted by the Delhi Government for the phase out/conversion of taxis run on diesel/petrol.

Ind-Ra believes that the CGDEs volume growth has been aided by a) focus of the Delhi Government on strengthening public transport, through an increase in bus fleet b) reintroduction of the odd-even rule in Delhi c) decline in the prices of domestic natural gas d) change in the priority allocation for domestic gas in favor of CGDEs and e) continued cost advantage of petrol/diesel over CNG in terms of running cost per km.

The CGDEs in Delhi have already witnessed record CNG sales volumes of 2.67mkg/day in April 2016 (FY15: 2.23mkg/day). Ind-Ra believes that given the change in domestic gas pricing formula and the change in domestic gas priority allocation which took place a while back, the volume increase in April 2016 is a reflection of the impact of the odd-even rule in Delhi, wherein odd numbered vehicles would ply on odd days and similar case for even numbered vehicles, however CNG vehicles have been exempt from this rule. Driven by the convenience of using CNG vehicles on all days, there has been a shift in the preference for CNG vehicles. Further, the expectation that the odd-even rule would continue, has led to new buyers in Delhi NCR preferring CNG vehicles over petrol and diesel. The other factor contributing to the volume upswing is the increase in the public transport, wherein additionally around 1850 buses have been added during 9MFY16 in Delhi compared to around 580 buses added over FY13-FY15. Buses account for around 60%-66% of the CNG sales volumes, thus the aggressive addition of fleet will boost CNG volumes. Ind-Ra expects a 9%-11% volume increase in CNG sales volume in Delhi during FY17.

Furthermore, given that the competitive advantage of CNG continues to be high over petrol and diesel in terms of running cost per km, the conversion/new CNG vehicle purchase makes both regulatory and economic sense for buyers. In a declining crude price environment, the prices of petrol and diesel should have ideally declined along with the price of domestic gas; however, the government has kept the price of petrol and diesel high through the increase in taxes, thus leading to the competitive advantage retention for CNG over competing fuels. The price of diesel in April 2016 over April 2015 has increased to INR50.95/litre from INR49.72/litre, while the price of CNG has declined to INR36.6/kg from INR38.15/kg, thus maintaining its competitive advantage.

The Supreme Court had made it mandatory as on 16 December 2015 for diesel/petrol taxis to shift to CNG by 1 March 2016. It doubled the entry tax of trucks entering Delhi and ordered all 10-year-old commercial vehicles powered by diesel to be taken off the citys roads. The deadline was extended to 31 March 2016 for the first time and thereafter, the court extended the deadline for diesel/petrol-powered taxis to move to the green fuel by 30 April 2016. The Delhi Government has to now submit a detailed and workable plan for the phase out/conversion of petrol/diesel run taxis by 5 May 2016.

Due to the alarming levels of pollution in various cities in India, Ind-Ra does not rule out the possibility that a similar regulatory stance may be implemented by other cities to curb pollution.

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PSLCs: Priority Sector Marketplace; Win-win for SCBs and SFBs
May 05,2016

A trading platform for priority sector lending certificates (PSLCs) has the potential to provide the buyers, primarily scheduled commercial banks (SCBs), market-linked tools to cover priority sector shortfalls without facing origination and servicing challenges of priority sector loans, says India Ratings and Research (Ind-Ra). Small finance banks (SFBs) are likely to be the major suppliers of PSLCs (INR90bn-INR190bn; 20%-40% of PSLCs by FY20) and this will increase their returns on managed assets by 0.3%-0.6%. An effectively priced PSLC market could exert downward pressure on the spreads that non-banking financial institutions and other sellers make on the securitised products.

Ind-Ra expects PSLCs to be priced between 1%-3% annually of the amount of the certificates issued, depending on the PSL sub-segment deficit of the buyer and overall demand and supply and historic pricing of traditional instruments used to achieve PSL targets namely securitisation, inter-bank participation certificates and business correspondent arrangements.

The certificates incentivise banks with better origination and risk assessment skills in priority sector categories to sell their excess PSL loans through the market to the banks with limited priority sector loan origination and servicing expertise to meet their PSL targets. Ind-Ra estimates that SFBs may sell PSLCs worth INR90bn-INR190bn (11%-23% of estimated FYE20 assets under management) and off-balance sheet transactions of INR60bn-INR400bn (7%-48% of estimated FYE20 assets under management) by FY20 depending on their deposit mobilisation and assuming they maintain current levels of PSL qualifying loans. Urban co-operative banks can also be important PSLC suppliers of up to INR300bn in Ind-Ras assessment given the PSL norms for urban co-operative banks and that there is no transfer of credit risk to PSLC buyers. However, a significant mark-up over the operating and credit costs associated with direct origination by the seller bank could act as a dampener to the introduction of PSLCs.

SFBs are required to maintain 75% of adjusted net bank credit as their PSL target; the sample of portfolios with Ind-Ra in FY15 indicates that over 90% of the portfolio of most SFBs qualifies under PSL and 34% qualifies as agriculture and small and marginal farmer categories. However, SFBs are also likely to grow their assets under management by about 25% CAGR by FY19-FY20 and based on funding available and deposit mobilisation capability, they will also be important participants in off-balance sheet transactions on PSL, which could limit their participation in PSLC.

Ind-Ra believes most SCBs will be buyers in the PSLC market; as the PSL targets for foreign banks increase by FY20, they will also participate. Some SCBs (Punjab National Bank, City Union Bank) could also be potential suppliers due to their excess PSL on an overall basis and in certain sub-segments, but PSL achievement calculations fluctuations make it difficult to project.

Although some SCBs usually achieve their overall PSL targets, they fall short in agriculture and other sub-segments. Ind-Ra estimates the total direct origination PSL shortfall (including sub-segments) to increase to a minimum of INR3.1trn (3.1% of projected adjusted net bank credit) in FY20 from a minimum of INR1.9trn (around 3%) in FY15. To cover the banking system direct origination PSL shortfall (including sub-segments), the agency expects the share of Rural Infrastructure Development Fund (RIDF) and other such qualifying funds to decline to 53% in FY20 (but still remains important at INR1.5trn-INR1.6trn; also subject to RIDF being called for) from 68% in FY15, the share of PSLCs to constitute 15% while that of securitisation / inter-bank participation certificates and business correspondent arrangements to remain steady at 32%.

Ind-Ra believes that the wide acceptance and demand of PSLCs will lead to the creation of specialised players in the priority sector. The certificates have the potential to develop an active market and allow for the formation of pricing benchmarks for the existing instruments used to meet the priority sector shortfall.

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Signing of MoUs by Ministry of Railways With Foreign Countries For Technical Cooperation In Rail Sector
May 04,2016

Ministry of Railways have signed Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs)/Protocols during the last two years for technical cooperation in the rail sector with the following foreign countries or their Railways : (i) Sweden, (ii) France , (iii) Japan, (iv) Russia (v) United Kingdom (vi) Slovak Republic, (vii) Kazakhstan (viii) Canada, (ix) South Korea, (x) China, (xi) Czech Republic and (xii) Germany. The MoUs /Protocols enable technical visits, exchange of technical experts, reports and documents, training programme, feasibility studies/pilot projects etc.

The ongoing cooperation projects through these MoUs/Protocol are as under:-

(i) China:- (a) High Speed Rail feasibility study for Delhi-Nagpur section, (b) Feasibility study for upgradation of Speeds to 160 kmph on Chennai-Bengaluru-Mysore corridor, (c) Training Programme for Indian Railway Officers on Heavy-haul Technology.

(ii) South Korea: - Feasibility Study for speed raising of Delhi-Mumbai route to 200 km/h.

(iii) Japan: - Mumbai- Ahmedabad High Speed Rail Project- Technical and financial assistance

(iv) France: - (a) Technical and Execution Study for upgrading the speed of passenger trains between Delhi-Chandigarh upto 200 kmph (b) renovation/development study of Ludhiana and Ambala railway stations.

(v) Germany: - Feasibility study for High Speed Rail of one route as mutually agreed.

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Extension of E-Visa to Boost Tourism
May 04,2016

The Government of India has launched e-Tourist Visa on 27.11.2014 with a view to facilitate foreign tourist visiting India. Initially, the scheme was introduced for 43 countries. However, the scheme has since been extended to 150 countries. The visa service under the scheme is being rendered in time bound manner and decision is communicated to applicant via e-mail within 72 hours of making online application.

The e-Tourist Visa has simplified the procedure for seeking India visa for international tourists. The e-Tourist Visa enables the prospective visitor to apply for an Indian Visa from his/her home country online without visiting the Indian Mission and also pay the visa fee online.

As a result, the year 2015 witnessed a growth rate of 4.5% in terms of Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTAs) in India. During 2015, FTAs were 8.03 million as compared to 7.68 million in 2014. FTAs during the period January-March 2016 were 25.08 lakh with a growth of 10.0% as compared to the FTAs of 22.81 lakh in January-March 2015. The foreign exchange earnings during January - December 2015 was Rs.135193 crore as compared to Rs.123320 crore during 2014 thereby registering the growth of 9.6%.

The e-Tourist Visa has been extended to 150 countries w.e.f. 26 February 2016. During January-December 2015 a total of 4,45,300 tourists arrived on e-Tourist Visa as compared to 39,046 during January-December 2014 registering a growth of 1040.4%. During the month of January-March 2016, a total of 3,21,049 tourists arrived on e-Tourist Visa as compared to 75,859 during the month of January-March 2015 registering a growth of 323.2%.

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ISRO Signs MoU with 37 countries for exploration and use of outer space
May 04,2016

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) of Department of Space, Government of India has signed MoU/ Cooperative agreements for exploration and use of outer space with 37 countries viz. Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Hungary, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, Myanmar, Norway, Peru, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Syria, Thailand, The Netherlands, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, United States of America and Venezuela.

The fields to explore newer research activities addressed in these MoUs include - Joint development of advanced scientific instruments to observe earth and universe; joint realization of satellite missions; jointly carrying out calibration and validation experiments; conducting airborne campaign with advanced instruments; deep space navigation and communication support for space science missions; development of advanced technologies for building and launching of spacecrafts for earth observation and space science exploration.

Application possibilities in the field of remote sensing addressed in these MoUs include - natural resource management; vegetation biomass estimation; meteorological & oceanographic applications; atmospheric parameter retrieval & modelling; climate monitoring and weather forecasting; disaster management support.

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Different Rates for Supply of Natural Gas in States
May 04,2016

The delivered price of gas varies from customer to customer depending upon the basic price of gas, transportation cost, local taxes and levies. The natural gas consumed in the country can be categorized into two category viz., domestic gas and imported Regasified Liquefied Natural Gas (RLNG). The price of domestic natural gas is determined in accordance with the New Domestic Natural Gas Pricing Guidelines, 2014. As per the above guidelines, the base price of domestic natural gas supplied is same for all consumers irrespective of their location and sector, except for North East Region where the rate is 60% of the notified rate for certain allocations. The imported RLNG is being supplied at market determined prices by different gas suppliers/importers and Government does not control the prices of imported RLNG.

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Revenue generation from centrally protected monuments is remitted into the Consolidated Fund of the Government of India
May 04,2016

The revenue generation activities from centrally protected monuments, includes entry fee at the ticketed monuments, film operations, cultural events within the vicinity of selected protected monuments, etc. This revenue generated is remitted into the Consolidated Fund of the Government of India in accordance with the Central Government Account (Receipts and Payments) Rules. As Receipts are a part of non-tax revenue of the Government of India the Ministry of Culture proposal for channelising all Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) revenue directly back to ASI was not agreed to by the Ministry of Finance. As such the maintenance of monuments remains dependent on regular budget allotment for the purpose.

During the last five years the rates for film shoot at centrally protected monuments was Rs.5000/- per day per monument. So far as Revenue generated, the information is being collected.

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Private sector activity growth softens in April 2016:Nikkei India Services PMI
May 04,2016

Although PMI data for April showed that economic conditions across India continued to improve, softer increases in output were noted among goods producers and service providers alike. The latter saw a slower expansion in new business inflows, while order books at manufacturers broadly stagnated. Subsequently, companies kept workforce numbers unchanged.

The seasonally adjusted Nikkei India Composite PMI Output Index dropped from 54.3 in March (37-month high) to 52.8 in April, pointing to a softer expansion in private sector activity across the country. Slower increases were seen at both goods producers and service providers.

Down from 54.3 in March to 53.7 in April, the seasonally adjusted Nikkei Services Business Activity Index - which is based on a single question asking respondents to report on the actual change in output at their companies compared with one month ago - pointed to a solid, although softer, expansion in activity. The latest increase in output was supported by growth in the Financial Intermediation, Post & Telecommunication and Transport & Storage sub-sectors.

New business at services firms rose for the tenth straight month in April. Despite easing since March, the rate of expansion was solid overall. Although survey members reported improved demand, there were mentions of competitive pressures. Incoming new work in the private sector as a whole increased at a moderate and weaker rate, weighed on by stagnant order books among manufacturers.

April data highlighted a general lack of pressure on the capacity of Indian service providers, as unfinished business declined. The latest fall was the third in as many months, but the weakest in this sequence and fractional overall. In contrast, manufacturers accumulated backlogs.

Services employment was unchanged in April, with almost all survey members reporting the same staffing levels as in March. Broadly stagnant employment trends have now been registered through the past nine months. Likewise, manufacturing payroll numbers were unchanged.

Amid reports of higher prices paid for fuel, average input costs faced by Indian services companies increased in April. The rate of cost inflation reached a 13-month high, although remained below the long-run series trend. Purchase prices among manufacturers also rose at a quicker rate, one that was the most pronounced since May 2015.

Evidence suggested that part of additional cost burdens were passed on to clients, as both manufacturers and service providers raised their selling prices again in April. In contrast to the trends seen for costs, rates of inflation softened in both cases.

Services firms sentiment weakened slightly in April, with the degree of optimism being modest by historical standards. Those companies that foresee activity growth in the year ahead linked confidence to hopes of a pick-up in demand.

Commenting on the Indian Services PMI survey data, Pollyanna De Lima, economist at Markit, which compiles the survey, said: Having accelerated to the fastest in over three years during March, activity growth across Indias private sector took a step back in April. Manufacturers appear to be still struggling to generate strong upward momentum in a subdued demand environment, while solid increases in activity and new work were sustained among service providers. Nevertheless, a softer expansion in activity, combined with unchanged employment and a dip in business expectations among the latter suggest that companies are not fully convinced about the recovery and that Marchs stronger numbers might have been a one-off.

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Projects worth Rs. 2446 Crore approved under Namami Gange Programme
May 04,2016

Giving a major fillip to Namami Gange programme the Empowered Steering Committee (ESC) of the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) has approved projects for Development of Ghats and crematoria in the stretch from Haridwar to Uttarakhand Border in Uttarakhand, Garhmukteshwar in UP, Buxar, Hajipur and Sonepur of Bihar, Sahibganj, Rajmahal and Kanhaiya Ghat of Jharkhand and Delhi and afforestation along the banks of river Ganga. The total estimated cost of the projects is Rs. 2446 crore. These projects have been carved to improve the facilities of Ghats and crematoria for reduction of pollution load into river Ganga. All the projects will be implemented under centrally sponsored scheme of Namami Gange and Government of India would bear 100% costs.

ESC also appraised the Detailed Project Report on Forestry Intervention in River Ganga. The project will focus on augmenting water flow together with abating the pollutants loads of river Ganga through appropriate forestry intervention along the banks of river Ganga. The major project components are implementation of Forestry Interventions in Five States at the banks of River Ganga; strengthening Knowledge Management and National Capacity for Forestry Interventions and conservation of Rivers and scaling up and replication of successful models of Forestry interventions and Riverscape. The estimated cost of the project is Rs. 2294 crore for the duration of five years.

Appraisals of all the recommended projects was carried out by Third Party Appraisal committee constituted by Consortium of IITs and for Forestry Interventions of Ganga by the committee constituted under the Chairmanship of Director General, Ministry of Environment and Forests.

It may be recalled that Union Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation Uma Bharti has been reviewing the progress of Namami Gange programme on daily basis to ensure that the project moves on the mission mode as envisaged. A new Mission Director has also been appointed in NMCG recently. The post was lying vacant for the past few months.

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