Business & Economy

New Facebook app to be available on JioPhone from Wednesday

Starting tomorrow, Facebook will be available on the JioPhone, India ka smartphone, telecom services provider Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited (RJIL) said here today.
"This new version of the Facebook app is built specially for Jio KaiOS, a web based operating system designed for JioPhone, so that its users get the best experience of Facebook. This will open up Facebook for potential 50 crore feature phone users in India," a press release from Reliance Jio said.
The release said the new Facebook app for JioPhone offers a comprehensive Facebook experience, allowing people to connect with the people who matter most. 
"It supports push notifications, video, and links to external content. The app is also optimized to successfully accommodate the cursor function on JioPhone and delivers a best-in-class performance for Facebook’s most popular features, such as News Feed and Photos," it said.
“JioPhone is the world’s most affordable smartphone built with transformational technology especially for Indians to migrate from a feature phone to a smartphone. As promised, JioPhone will be home to the world’s leading applications, starting with Facebook. Jio, the world’s largest mobile data network, is built to empower every Indian with the power of data and JioPhone is an integral part of this Jio movement,” said Mr. Akash Ambani, Director, Jio.
“We are excited about our partnership with Jio and the opportunity to provide the best possible Facebook experience for millions of people using JioPhone,” said Francisco Varela, Vice President of Mobile Partnerships, Facebook. “Working with partners like Jio, we want to make sure everyone, everywhere has the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of being connected.”
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Kovind hosts "LPG Panchayat" at Rashtrapati Bhavan

President Ram Nath Kovind today hosted an "LPG Panchayat" at Rashtrapati Bhavan, which was organised by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas to provide a platform for LPG consumers to interact with each other, promote mutual learning and share experiences. 
Each LPG Panchayat has about 100 LPG customers coming together, near their living areas,to discuss safe and sustainable usage of LPG, its benefits and the link between clean fuel for cooking and women’s empowerment. 
The Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas intends to conduct one lakh such Panchayats across India before March 31, 2019.
Speaking on the occasion, the President said that the Ujjawala Yojana is strengthening women’s empowerment. He congratulated the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas for efforts to advance social justice through the health, welfare and empowerment of women. He was confident that the taking place of LPG Panchayats, as part of the Ujjwala Yojana process, will prove very useful.
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India and Bangladesh hold Commerce Secretary-level talks in Dhaka

India and Bangladesh held bilateral talks at the level of Commerce Secretary in Dhaka on February 7-8.
The Indian delegation was led by Ms. Rita Teaotia, Commerce Secretary and the Bangladesh delegation was headed by Mr. Shubhashish Bose, Secretary, Ministry of Commerce, Government of Bangladesh.
An official press release said the two sides held extensive and productive discussions on a variety of issues concerning bilateral trade and economic relations, including development and upgradation of infrastructure at border trading points, further expansion of the Border Haats of the two countries, identification and resolution of non-tariff issues affecting bilateral trade, regional connectivity under BBIN MVA and ease of investment.
Both sides agreed to explore the possibilities to further enhance bilateral trade relations and cooperation in fields such as export promotion and capacity building on trade related matters. 
The Commerce Secretaries also discussed the of establishment of an institutional B2B mechanism to provide policy level inputs on trade and investment.  
The next bilateral meeting will be held in New Delhi at a mutually convenient date, the release added.
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Economic Advisory Council to PM discusses National Health Scheme

The Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (EAC), at its fourth meeting here yesterday, discussed the possible modalities of implementinng the National Health Scheme announced by the Government in the Budget for 2018-19 presented to Parliament on February 1.
The meeting was chaired by Dr. Bibek Debroy, Chairman, EAC-PM and Member, NITI Aayog.
Dr. Shamika Ravi, Part-Time Member of the EAC-PM, made a presentation on “Health Reforms”. Another Part-Time Member of the EAC-PM, Dr Ashima Goyal made a presentation on the draft “The Indian Fiscal - Monetary Framework: Dominance or Coordination?”. Ms Poonam Gupta, Lead Economist - India, World Bank made a presentation on “World Bank Report on Indian Economy”, an official press release added.
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Dun & Bradstreet releases report on Port Logistics: Issues & Challenges in India

Dun & Bradstreet, a global leader in commercial data and insights on businesses, presented its report on "Port Logistics: Issues & Challenges in India" to Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu here yesterday.
The study looks into various roadblocks and suggests policy recommendations to resolve the challenges across ports in India, an official press release said.
According to it, to achieve a target of 5% share in world exports, India’s exports need to grow at an average rate of over 26% for the next five years. This would require increasing its product competitiveness. Enhancing product competitiveness in the global market needs infrastructure for trade to improve, and ports are a critical part of trade infrastructure, it pointed out.
The study encapsulates key issues and challenges and also proposes 60 policy measures to strengthen the ports sector, which represents the bulk of India’s merchandise trade. The study introduces a ‘Port Performance Index’ as an attempt to benchmark performance of various ports by combining qualitative perception of stakeholders with quantitative outcome based data.
The study covered 13 ports which handle around 67% of India’s maritime trade, and engaged with 700 respondents pan India, comprising government officials, trade associations, exporter/importers, cargo handling agents and freight forwarders. Feedback was collected from these stakeholders on both qualitative and quantitative aspects of business transactions at ports.
The scope of this study is limited only to container and bulk cargo handled at these ports and does not cover liquid cargo, the release said.
Looking at 13 major ports, 3 ports (JNPT, Kamarajar, Vizag) have received ‘Good’ score; 7 ports (Cochin, Kandla, Paradip, Chennai, Mormugao, New Mangalore and VOC) have received ‘Average’ score and  3 ports (Haldia, Kolkata and MbPT) have received ‘Poor’ score.
Five issues, namely port congestion, customs clearance (including scanning & ICEGATE), shipping line issues & charges, documentation & paperwork, and regulatory clearance are the most common problems across ports and out of these just four issues, constitute 80% of total issues causing detention and demurrage.
The release said the three major findings of the report are - Processes and operations across the ports are not standardized or uniform; Costs and time for key processes are unpredictable and there is an unacceptable level of variation across ports as well as within port; Several government initiatives taken need to be followed through to completion.
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India’s retail inflation eases to 5.07% in January, 2018

January CPI inflation at 5.07%, IIP sees 7.1% surge
India’s annual retail inflation rate, as tracked through the Consumer Price Index (CPI), eased to 5.07 percent in January, 2018 after accelerating to a 17-month high of 5.21 percent in the previous month.
An official press release said the inflation rates based on the CPI in January, 2018 were 5.21% in rural areas and 4.93% in urban areas, adding up to a combined rate of 5.07%, as compared to 3.17% in the same month of the previous year.
The inflation rates in January, 2018 based on the Consumer Food Price Index (CFPI)  were 5.05% in rural areas and 4.06% in urban areas, making for a combined rate of 4.70% as compared to 0.61% in the same month of the previous year and 4.71% in the previous month.
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Gadkari releases India’s first-ever Highway Capacity Manual

Minister of Road Transport & Highways Nitin Gadkari released India’s first-ever Highway Capacity Manual (HCM) here today that will guide road engineers and policymakers about road expansion.
The manual, known as Indo-HCM, has been developed by CSIR–CRRI on the basis of an extensive, country-wide study of the traffic characteristics on different categories of roads like the single lane, two-lane, multi-lane urban roads, inter-urban highways and expressways and the associated intersections on these roads.
The study involved seven academic institutions including IITs at Roorkee, Mumbai and Guwahati, School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi, Indian Institute of Engineering and Science and Technology, Shibpur, Sardar Vallabhai Patel National Institute of Technology, Surat and Anna University, Chennai.
The manual lays down guidelines for when and how to expand or manage different types of roads and their intersections and the level of services to be put in place. It is designed to be a useful tool for guiding road engineers and policymakers in the country.
It has been developed based on the unique nature and diversity of traffic on Indian roads. While countries like the USA, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan developed their own Highway Capacity Manuals long time back, this is the first time that the manual has been introduced in India.
Speaking on the occasion, Mr Gadkari expressed the hope that the long-awaited manual would help in the scientific planning and expansion of road infrastructure in the country.
He told the scientific fraternity, as well as the designers, policymakers and executioners of highways projects, that India urgently needs to catch up with the world’s best technology and practices being used in the sector to build world-class infrastructure that is safe, cost-effective and environment friendly.
He also underscored the need to popularize the use of new material like fly-ash, plastic, oil slag and municipal waste in road construction, saying that scientists and the media should also play an active role in this regard.
He called upon researchers and engineers to expedite formulation of a good design for safe and effective speed breakers for Indian roads.
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India's industrial output grows by 7.1% in December 2017

India's industrial output grew by 7.1 percent in December, 2017, as compared to the level in the same month  of the previous year, an official statement said here today.
The Quick Estimates of Index of Industrial Production and Use-Based Index for the month of December, 2017 (base 2011-12=100) released here by the Central Statistics Office of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, said the General Index for the month of December, 2017 stood at 130.3.
The cumulative growth for the period April-December, 2017 over the corresponding period of the previous year stood at 3.7%, it said.
According to the statement, the Indices of IndustrialProduction for the Mining, ManufacturingandElectricity sectors for December, 2017 stand at 115.5, 131.6 and 143.9, respectively, with the corresponding growth rates of 1.2%, 8.4%, and 4.4% as compared to December, 2016. The cumulative growth in these three sectors during April-December, 2017 over the corresponding period of 2016 was 2.8%, 3.8% and 5.1%, respectively.
The statement said 16 of the 23 industry groups in the manufacturing sector had shown growth during December, 2017 as compared to the corresponding month of the previous year.
The industry group ‘Manufacture of other transport equipment’ showed the highest growth of 38.3%, followed by 33.6% in ‘Manufacture of pharmaceuticals, medicinal chemical and botanical products’ and 29.8% in ‘Manufacture of computer, electronic and optical products’. 
On the other hand, the industry group ‘Manufacture of tobacco products’ showed the highest negative growth of (-) 28.2%, followed by (-) 22.3% in ‘Other manufacturing’ and (-) 14.9% in ‘Manufacture of electrical equipment’.
The growth rates in December, 2017 over December, 2016 were 3.7% in Primary goods, 16.4% in Capital goods, 6.2% in Intermediate goods and 6.7% in Infrastructure/ Construction Goods. Consumer durables and Consumer non-durables recorded growth of 0.9% and 16.5%, respectively.
Important item groups which showed high growth during December, 2017 over the same month in previous year include ‘Bodies of trucks, lorries and trailers’ (254.1%), ‘API & formulations of hypo-lipidemic agents incl. anti-hyper-triglyceridemics (e.g. simvastatin, atorvastatin, etc); anti-hypertensive’ (250.4%), ‘Ship building and parts thereof’ (144.1%),‘Digestive enzymes and antacids (incl. PPI drugs)’ (88.4%), ‘Meters (electric and non-electric)’ (77.1%),‘Separators including decanter centrifuge’ (67.8%), ‘Axle’ (48.7%), ‘Commercial Vehicles’ (40.6%), ‘Two-wheelers (motorcycles/ scooters)’ (36.0%) and ‘Cement- all types’ (20.4%).
Important item groups that registered high negative growth include ‘Electric heaters’ [(-) 91.8%], ‘Jewellery of gold (studded with stones or not)’ [(-) 72.1%], ‘Hand Tools incl. interchangeable tools, not mechanised’ [(-) 63.2%], ‘Other tobacco products’ [(-) 50.0%], ‘Plastic jars, bottles and containers’ [(-)38.1%],‘Bags/ pouches of HDPE/ LDPE (plastic)’ [(-) 35.6%], ‘Medical/ surgical accessories’ [(-) 34.3%], Plastic components of packing/ closing/ bottling articles & of electrical fittings’ [(-) 28.3%], ‘Material handling, lifting and hoisting equipment’ [(-) 27.7%], ‘Paper of all kinds excluding newsprint’ [(-) 26.8%], ‘Telephones and mobile instruments’ [(-) 25.7%] and ‘Readymade Garments, knitted’ [(-) 22.5%], the statement added.
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L&T Hydrocarbon Engineering secures order worth more than Rs. 2,200 crore from UAE

Infrastructure major Larsen & Toubro (L&T) today said its wholly-owned subsidiary L&T Hydrocarbon Engineering Limited (LTHE), had signed a major field development EPC contract with Al Dhafra Petroleum Operations Company Limited, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), with a value in excess of Rs. 2,200 crore.
Al Dhafra Petroleum is a joint venture between Abu Dhabi National Oil Company  (ADNOC), Korea National Oil Corporation (KNOC) and GS Energy, which is represented by Korean Abu Dhabi Oil Consortium (KADOC).
The scope of the contract includes engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning of flow lines, gathering facilities and pipelines to transfer crude oil and gas from Haliba fields to processing facility at Asab and installation of 132 kV and 33 kV overhead electrical transmission lines to supply power, a press release from the company said.
"The order reinforces LTHE’s unique capability to deliver 'design to build' engineering and construction solutions across the hydrocarbon spectrum," the release added.
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ONGC-led Indian consortium to acquire 10% stake in Lower Zakum Concession in offshore Abu Dhabi

An Indian consortium led by ONGC Videsh, wholly owned subsidiary and overseas arm of Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC), Bharat PetroResources Limited (BPRL) and Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL) will acquire 10% participating interest in Abu Dhabi National Oil Company's offshore Lower Zakum Concession for a participation fee of AED 2.2 billion.
The agreement in this regard was signed by the two sides in Abu Dhabi yesterday in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan after the two leaders bilateral talks.
This is the first time that Indian oil and gas companies have been given a stake in the development of Abu Dhabi’s hydrocarbon resources.
The concession, which has a term of 40 years from 2018 to 2057, was sgined by Mr. Shashi Shanker, Chairman, ONGC Group of companies and Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, Chief Executive Officer, ADNOC Group and member of Abu Dhabi’s Supreme Petroleum Council.
A press release from ONGC said 60% of the participating interest will be retained by ADNOC and the rest will be awarded to other international oil companies. Lower Zakum is one of three separate offshore concession areas that were formerly part of the ADMA offshore concession. 
Mr. Modi said, “The ADNOC offshore concession in favor of the Indian consortium has taken our bilateral engagement in the oil and gas sector to a new level, which befits the comprehensive strategic partnership between India and the UAE.”
Dr Sultan Ahmed stated that this strategic partnership with ONGC and other members of the consortium would  help India meet its growing demand for energy and refined products, and create opportunities for ADNOC Group to increase its market share in a key growth market. 
Mr. Shanker said, “This agreement with ADNOC Group will bring a plethora of opportunities in the times to come.”
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Pradhan inaugurates PNG supply in BSF campus at Chhawla

Union Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas  Dharmendra Pradhan inaugurated the supply of piped natural gas (PNG) to kitchens in the campus of Border Security Force (BSF), located at Chhwala in South West Delhi today.
Amongst those present on the occasion were Mr. K.K. Sharma, Director General, BSF and Mr. E.S. Ranganathan, Managing Director, Indraprastha Gas Limited (IGL).
Mr. Pradhan assured full support from his ministry towards all endeavours of BSF and added that the supply of PNG to the BSF campus in Chhawla is a step towards making lives of BSF personnel easier so that they do not have to depend on refill of LPG cylinders. 
Mr. Ranganathan said IGL planned to roll out PNG networks in campuses of various defence establishments across the country.
All houses inside BSF Chhawla camp have been provided PNG connections. The connections would subsequently also be provided to the flats under final stages of construction and renovation. Apart from the residential households, IGL is planning to provide PNG connections to 19 Community Kitchens (Samuhik Bhojanalayas) at BSF Chhawla campus. IGL has already laid around 4.5 km MDPE pipeline for the project and another 1.5 kms pipeline is planned to be laid for providing PNG to upcoming flats.
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India Post Payments Bank to enable digital payments in post offices by April 2018

India Post Payments Bank (IPPB) will enable acceptance of digital payments in post offices across the country from April 1 in line with the digital payments initiative of the government, an official press release said.
The release said the IPPB Expansion Programme continued to make brisk progress and a nationwide roll-out is scheduled beginning April 2018.
"No decision has been taken to revise the timelines as reported in some sections of the media on Tuesday, 6th February 2018," it clarified. 
"Once the proposed expansion is completed, IPPB will be providing the largest financial inclusion network in the country, covering both urban as well as rural hinterland with ability to provide digital payment services at the doorstep with the help of Postmen and GraminDakSewaks (GDS).  IPPB will also enable more than 17 crore active account-holders of Post Office Savings Bank to make interoperable digital payments including the benefit of NEFT, RTGS, UPI and bill payment services," the release added.
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ONGC reports 15.2% rise in net profit to Rs. 5,015 crore in Q3

The public sector Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) today reported a 15.2% rise in its net profit to Rs. 5,015 crore in the third quarter (Q3) of financial year 2017-18 ended December 2018 from Rs. 4,352 crore in the same quarter of the previous year.
Releasing its Q3 financial results here, the company said that its gross revenues increased to Rs. 22,996 crore in Q3 this year, up 14.9% from Rs. 20,014 crore in the corresponding period of 2016-17.
At a meeting of its Board of Directors here today, a decision on the second interim dividend, if any, was deferred to its next meeting.
The company said total crude oil production was 6.340 MMT in the quarter as compared to 6.406 MMT in the same quarter of the previous year, a decline of 1 percent. 
Total gas production went up to 6.277 BCM in the quarter as against 6.025 BCM in the corresponding quarter of the previous year, a press release from the company  said.
The company said it had notified a total of 10 discoveries so far in this financial year. In the latest discovery, the exploratory well Mattur West-1 in the Cauvery Basin (onland) was drilled to a deth of 1292 metres. Two objects were tested in the well and both proved to be oil bearing.
The success in this well has helped in establishing the Nannilam Play (Sand) to be of commercial interests at a very shallow depth for further exploration in addition to the known Basement play in the Mattur-Pundi area and declared as a New Prospect Discovery. 
Commercial oil & gas flow in the well will facilitate the conversion of the L-II PML (7 year PML) into long term/regular PML, the release added.
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Direct Tax collections for FY 2017-2018 grow by 19.3% up to January

Provisional figures of Direct Tax collections up to January, 2018 show that net collections are at Rs.6.95 lakh crore, which is 19.3% higher than the net collections for the corresponding period of last year, an official press release said here today.
The release said the net Direct Tax collections represent 69.2% of the Revised Estimates of Direct Taxes for F.Y. 2017-18 (Rs. 10.05 lakh crore). Gross collections (before adjusting for refunds) have increased by 13.3% to Rs. 8.21 lakh crore during April 2017 to January 2018.
Refunds amounting to Rs. 1.26 lakh crore have been issued during April 2017 to January 2018, it said.
The growth rate for net collections for Corporate Income Tax (CIT) is 19.2% and for Personal Income Tax (PIT) is 18.6%, the release added.
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India’s forex reserves soar by $ 4.125 billion to $421.915 billion

Continuing their uptrend for the  eight consecutive week, India’s foreign  exchange reserves soared by a whopping $ 4.125 billion to a new high of $ 421. 915 billion during the week ended February 2, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) said here today.
The country’s forex reserves had risen by $ 3.004 billlion to $ 417.789 billion in the previous week.
In its weekly statistical supplement issued here today, the central bank said that foreign currency assets, which constitute a major chunk of the forex reserves, had gone up by $ 3.025 billion to $ 396.769 billion during the week.
Foreign currency assets expressed in US dollar terms include the effect of appreciation or depreciation of non-US currencies such as the euro, pound and yen held in the reserves.
According to the bulletin, the country’s gold reserves increased by $ 1.093 billion to $ 21.514 billion, while its special drawing rights (SDRs) went up by $ 3.2 million to $ 1.547 billion.
India’s reserve position in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) rose by $ 4.3 million to $ 2.084 billion during the week, the bulletin added.
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Tata Trusts launches nationwide hunt for innovators and entrepreneurs

In a first-of-its-kind nationwide search, Tata Trusts’ Foundation for Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship (FISE) – which supports technology-based solutions for social impact through their lab-to-market journey – has announced the “Social Alpha Energy Challenge” to find high impact innovations that could catalyze system change in the field of energy.
With a focus on clean tech, sustainability and energy efficiency, the Challenge aims to discover next-gen technology innovations that promise to unlock new solutions to India’s energy challenges or make existing energy networks smarter, cleaner and more affordable, a press release from the Foundation said.
In this ambitious hunt, the Challenge is inviting entries from innovators across various stages of the energy lifecycle - generation, transmission and distribution, storage, and consumption, in multiple sectors such as households, farm, industry, infrastructure, building, utility and transport.
The release said the winners would be assessed on select parameters such as the breakthrough nature of the innovation, business viability, environmental sustainability, social impact, and scalability potential. 
The winners of the Energy Challenge will form the first cohort of enterprises for Tata Smart Energy Incubation Centre (TSEIC) - an incubator and start up accelerator being built in partnership between Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited and Tata Trusts.
A maximum of 10 winners will be selected to receive complete incubation support that will include: 6-18 months of access to the upcoming Tata Smart Energy Incubation Centre in New Delhi; access to state-of-the-art lab facilities and world class-infrastructure; access to test beds on the ground for trials and field testing; strategy and go-to-market (GTM) support; mentorship by experts, specialists, and sector leaders; and gateway to a diverse and large investor ecosystem.
Mr. Manoj Kumar,  Head of Innovation, Tata Trusts and CEO, Social Alpha, said,  “Two years back we created FISE as a key component of our Social Alpha architecture with a charter to catalyse innovation and entrepreneurship for impact. Tata Trusts’ continued commitment to sustainability and climate challenges has sharpened our focus further on creating a pipeline of high impact cleantech solutions that address the challenges of affordable energy access in complete convergence with our livelihoods and sustainability initiatives at the grassroots level. TSEIC is our dedicated incubation centre with a charter to solve various riddles of energy challenges using state of the art technology infrastructure and domain expertise.”
Mr. Praveer Sinha, CEO & Managing Director, Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited, said, “Tata Smart Energy Incubation Centre aims to bring innovation, domain and business expertise across the entire energy value chain to support scalable and sustainable solutions that helps to create new opportunities and nurtures societal value. T-SEIC will facilitate the vision to support and provide ecosystem for the start-up enterprises working to provide cost effective solutions. I believe, the TSEIC will go a long way for the development of Innovative and Cost Effective Technologies in India”.
The last date to submit applications is 7 April, 2018. Entrants for the energy challenge can register here.
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Cabinet okays MoU with UK on Skill Development, Vocational Education

The Union Cabinet yesterday approved the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the United Kingdom on Cooperation in the Field of Skill Development, Vocational Education and Training.
The MoU would pave the way for closer bilateral cooperation between the two countries in the field of vocational education and training and skill development, an official press release said.
The release said the collaboration with foreign countries would help to strengthen the India skill eco-system, thereby skilling youth for better employment prospects. The MoU will create the framework for innovative partnership between India and the UK industry and training institutes and will help to scale up skill training efforts in India and enhance their quality.
Funding of projects related to the execution of the MoU will be structured in separate individual arrangements, mutually agreed by both parties.
Skill Development is a national priority for India and the UK and a key part of the bilateral partnership. In November 2016, the Prime Ministers of the two countries had endorsed Skill Development and Entrepreneurship as one of the priority areas for collaboration.
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CCEA approves hike in MSP for Copra for 2018 season

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) yesterday approved an increase in the minimum support price (MSP) for Fair Average Quality (FAQ) of "Milling Copra" to Rs.7500 per quintal for the 2018 season from Rs. 6500 per quintal in 2017. 
The MSP for FAQ of "Ball Copra" has been increased to Rs.7750 per quintal for 2018 season from Rs. 6785 per quintal in 2017, an official press release said.
"The MSP of copra is expected to ensure appropriate minimum prices to the farmers and step up investment in coconut cultivation and thereby production and productivity in the country," it said.
According to the release, the approval is based on recommendations of Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP). 
CACP is an expert body which takes into account the cost of production, trends in the domestic and international prices of edible oils, overall demand and supply of copra and coconut oil, cost of processing of copra into coconut oil and the likely impact of the recommended MSPs on consumers while recommending the MSPs.
The National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Limited (NAFED) and National Cooperative Consumer Federation of India Limited (NCCF) would continue to act as Central Nodal Agencies to undertake price support operations at the Minimum Support Prices in the coconut growing states, the release added.
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NHAI to launch pilot project for “Pay as You Use” toll on Delhi-Mumbai Highway

Paving the way for the implementation of the Budget announcement regarding “Pay as you use” toll in India, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) is executing a pilot project to study the implementation of the system in the country.
The pilot project involves implementing a satellite-based electronic toll collection system running on GPS/GSM technology for around 500 commercial vehicles on the Delhi Mumbai national highway. The project will run for one year, an official press release said.
Working on a combination of mobile telecommunications technology and the satellite-based Global Positioning System, the proposed toll system would be able to deduct money from a vehicle account, credit the money to the concessionaire within one day and open the toll gate. In case of a failed transaction, it would be able to alert the toll operator to collect payment manually and not open the gate.
The pilot project will look at ways to integrate the new solution with the existing pre-paid wallet account offered by NHAI under the FASTag programme. It will also draw a comparison between distance-based tolling and the existing tolling system, as also virtual tolling Vs normal tolling.
The request for proposal (RFP) for the project was floated on January 25. The pre-bid meeting is on February 9 and the Bid Due Date is February 26, the release added.
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RBI keeps key policy repo rate unchanged at 6.0%

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Stating that the inflation outlook is clouded by several uncertainties on the upside, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) today kept its key policy repo rate under the liquidity adjustment facility (LAF) unchanged at 6.0 percent.
Consequently, the reverse repo rate under the LAF remains at 5.75%, and the marginal standing facility (MSF) rate and the Bank Rate at 6.25%,
"The decision ... is consistent with the neutral stance of monetary policy in consonance with the objective of achieving the medium-term target for consumer price index (CPI) inflation of 4 per cent within a band of +/- 2 per cent, while supporting growth," the central bank said in its Sixth Bi-monthly Monetary Policy Statement, 2017-18 on the basis of the resolution of its Monetary Policy Committee (MPC), which held a two-day meeting here yesterday and today.
The RBI had on August 2, 2017 reduced the repo rate by 25 basis points (bps) from 6.25% to 6.0%, saying that some space had opened up for monetary policy accommodation, but kept in unchanged in October and December.
In its resolution, the MPC noted that the December bi-monthly resolution projected inflation in the range of 4.3-4.7% in the second half of 2017-18, including the impact of increase in HRA. 
"In terms of actual outcomes, headline inflation averaged 4.6 per cent in Q3, driven primarily by an unusual pick-up in food prices in November. Though prices eased in December, the winter seasonal food price moderation was less than usual. Domestic pump prices of petrol and diesel rose sharply in January, reflecting lagged pass-through of the past increases in international crude oil prices. Considering these factors, inflation is now estimated at 5.1 per cent in Q4, including the HRA impact," it said.
"The inflation outlook beyond the current year is likely to be shaped by several factors. First, international crude oil prices have firmed up sharply since August 2017, driven by both demand and supply side factors. Second, non-oil industrial raw material prices have also witnessed a global uptick. Firms polled in the Reserve Bank’s IOS expect input prices to harden in Q4. In a scenario of improving economic activity, rising input costs are likely to be passed on to consumers. Third, the inflation outlook will depend on the monsoon, which is assumed to be normal. 
"Taking these factors into consideration, CPI inflation for 2018-19 is estimated in the range of 5.1-5.6 per cent in H1, including diminishing statistical HRA impact of central government employees, and 4.5-4.6 per cent in H2, with risks tilted to the upside. The projected moderation in inflation in the second half is on account of strong favourable base effects, including unwinding of the 7th CPC’s HRA impact, and a softer food inflation forecast, given the assumption of normal monsoon and effective supply management by the Government," the resolution said.
Turning to the growth outlook, the MPC said GVA growth for 2017-18 is projected at 6.6%. 
"Beyond the current year, the growth outlook will be influenced by several factors. First, GST implementation is stabilising, which augurs well for economic activity. Second, there are early signs of revival in investment activity as reflected in improving credit offtake, large resource mobilisation from the primary capital market, and improving capital goods production and imports. Third, the process of recapitalisation of public sector banks has got underway. Large distressed borrowers are being referenced for resolution under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC). This should improve credit flows further and create demand for fresh investment. Fourth, although export growth is expected to improve further on account of improving global demand, elevated commodity prices, especially of oil, may act as a drag on aggregate demand. Taking into consideration the above factors, GVA growth for 2018-19 is projected at 7.2 per cent overall – in the range of 7.3-7.4 per cent in H1 and 7.1-7.2 per cent in H2 – with risks evenly balanced," the statement said.
The MPC noted that the inflation outlook is clouded by several uncertainties on the upside. 
"First, the staggered impact of HRA increases by various state governments may push up headline inflation further over the baseline in 2018-19, and potentially induce second-round effects. Second, a pick-up in global growth may exert further pressure on crude oil and commodity prices with implications for domestic inflation. Third, the Union Budget 2018-19 has proposed revised guidelines for arriving at the minimum support prices (MSPs) for kharif crops, although the exact magnitude of its impact on inflation cannot be fully assessed at this stage. Fourth, the Union Budget has also proposed an increase in customs duty on a number of items. Fifth, fiscal slippage as indicated in the Union Budget could impinge on the inflation outlook. Apart from the direct impact on inflation, fiscal slippage has broader macro-financial implications, notably on economy-wide costs of borrowing which have already started to rise. This may feed into inflation. Sixth, the confluence of domestic fiscal developments and normalisation of monetary policy by major advanced economies could further adversely impact financing conditions and undermine the confidence of external investors. There is, therefore, need for vigilance around the evolving inflation scenario in the coming months," it said.
"There are also mitigating factors. First, capacity utilisation remains subdued. Second, oil prices have moved both ways in the recent period and can potentially soften from current levels based on production response. Third, rural real wage growth is moderate.
"Accordingly, the MPC decided to keep the policy repo rate on hold and continue with the neutral stance. The MPC reiterates its commitment to keep headline inflation close to 4 per cent on a durable basis," it said.
"The MPC notes that the economy is on a recovery path, including early signs of a revival of investment activity. Global demand is improving, which should help strengthen domestic investment activity. The focus of the Union Budget on the rural and infrastructure sectors is also a welcome development as it would support rural incomes and investment, and in turn provide a further push to aggregate demand and economic activity. On the downside, the deterioration in public finances risks crowding out of private financing and investment. The Committee is of the view that the nascent recovery needs to be carefully nurtured and growth put on a sustainably higher path through conducive and stable macro-financial management," it said.
Dr. Chetan Ghate, Dr. Pami Dua, Dr. Ravindra H. Dholakia, Dr. Viral V. Acharya and Dr. Urjit R. Patel voted in favour of the monetary policy decision. Dr. Michael Debabrata Patra voted for an increase in the policy rate of 25 basis points. 
The minutes of the MPC’s meeting will be published by February 21, 2018.
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Gold demand in India grows to 726.9 tonnes in 2017, world demand falls to 4,071 tonnes

Gold demand in India for the full year 2017 was estimated at 726.9 tonnes (t) as compared to 661.6t in 2016, even as overall world demand fell by 7 percent to 4,071t during the year, according to the latest Gold Demand Trends report from the World Gold Council.
The report said total jewellery demand in India for 2017 was up by 12% at 562.7t as compared to 504.5t in 2016. The value of jewellery demand in 2017 was Rs. 148,100 crore, up by 9% from 2016 (Rs. 136,290 crore).
Total investment demand in India for 2017 was up 2% at 164.2t in comparison to 161.6t in 2016. In value terms, gold investment demand was Rs. 43,220 crore, a fall of 1% from 2016 (Rs. 43,650 crore). Total gold recycled in India in 2017 was 88.4t as compared to 79.5t in 2016.
The report forecast that gold demand in India would be between 700-800t.
Mr. Somasundaram PR, Managing Director, India, World Gold Council said: In 2017, India’s gold demand grew by 9.1% to 727t from 666t in the previous year. In the fourth quarter demand was up 2% to 249t, and within that jewellery demand reached the highest fourth quarter level that we have seen in our 17-year series.
He said the increase in demand was driven by a number of events, including lower gold prices coinciding with Dhanteras, a positive economic backdrop and improved consumer sentiment, particularly in the rural areas, as the effect of demonetisation wore off. The exemption of gold from the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) in the second half of 2017 also revived consumer purchases, helped by the transition to GST progressing along the expected lines, he said.
"Looking ahead, the 2018 Budget confirmed various positive initiatives for gold including the development of a comprehensive policy and the creation of a gold exchange. As policy measures unfold, we are optimistic that demand for 2018 will stabilise at 700-800 tonnes," he said.
According to the report, during the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2017, demand  for gold in India for Q4 2017 was at 249.3t up by 2% as compared to overall Q4 demand for 2016 (244t). India’s Q4 2017 gold demand value was Rs 66,220 crore, a rise of 3% in comparison with Q4 2016 (Rs. 64,530 crore).
Total jewellery demand in India for Q4 2017 was up by 4% at 189.6t tonnes as compared to Q4 2016 (182.2 t). The value of jewellery demand was Rs. 50,370 crore, a rise of 5% from Q4 2016 (Rs. 48,190 crore). 
Total investment demand for Q4 2017 was down by 3% at 59.6t in comparison with Q4 2016 (61.8t), the report said. In value terms, gold investment demand was Rs. 15,850 crore, a drop of 3% from Q4 2016 (Rs. 16,340 crore).
Total gold recycled in India in Q4 2017 was 17.6t, as compared to 16t in Q4 2016, the report said.
The report said that overall world gold demand rallied in the closing months of 2017 to gain 6% year-on-year (y-o-y) in Q4 to reach 1095.8t. Overall demand for FY 2017 was 4,072t, a fall of 7% compared with 4,362t in 2016.
According to it, inflows into exchange-traded funds (ETFs) continued steadily throughout the year, totalling 202.8t, but lagged behind the exceptional levels seen in 2016. Similarly, although central banks continued to add to reserves, purchasing 371t in 2017, buying was down 5% y-o-y.
Full-year bar and coin demand fell 2% as US retail investment dropped sharply. However, the year saw a recovery in both jewellery and technology demand, each making modest gains compared with 2016, as improving economic conditions lifted consumer sentiment in India and China, and an increase in gold-containing technology, such as smartphones and tablets, boosted demand, the report said.
Positive annual ETF inflows add 202.8t to demand in 2017, however this was around one-third of 2016’s inflows. European-listed gold-backed ETFs accounted for 73% of net inflows, with investors keenly attuned to geopolitics and negative interest rates.
Bar investment was broadly stable, while coin investment slid 10%. Weakness in the sector, down 2% to 1,029t compared with 2016, was largely explained by a sharp drop in US demand to a 10-year low of 39t, which exceeded strong gains in both China and Turkey.
The report said 2017 saw the first annual increase in jewellery demand since 2013, but the sector remains weak in a historical context. 
"Relatively stable prices and improving economic conditions paved the way for growth, but demand remains soft compared with long-term average levels. India and China eclipsed other markets, together accounting for 75t of the 82t (4%) increase in global full-year demand," it said.
Official gold reserves swelled by 371t in 2017, 5% down on 2016 levels. Turkey joined Russia as the most prominent of the central bank buyers.
The technology sector recovered in 2017, up 3% to 333t compared with 2016, ending a 6-year downtrend. The volume of gold used in electronics and other industrial applications grew steadily throughout the year, thanks to the increasing prevalence of new-generation features in smartphones, vehicles and laptops.
Mr. Alistair Hewitt, Head of Market Intelligence at the World Gold Council, commented: “It’s not surprising to see overall gold demand down given the backdrop of monetary policy tightening and strong equity markets in 2017, but the market is not in bad shape. The US dollar gold price was up 13% and institutional investors, especially in Europe, continued to add gold to their portfolios as a hedge against frothy asset prices and geopolitical uncertainty. Jewellery demand picked up as economic conditions improved in China and a policy change in India removed a barrier to demand, while next-generation smartphones boosted gold demand from technology companies.”
Mine production inched to a record high of 3,269t in 2017, while recycling fell 10%, leading to total supply dipping 4% to 4,398t. The introduction of stringent environmental controls in China saw a 10% fall in mine production in the region, whilst the ongoing concentrate exports ban continued to impact output in Tanzania. Total net de-hedging in 2017 reached 30t, bringing to an end three consecutive years of modest net hedging.
Some of the trends highlighted in the report include:
--Total consumer demand in FY 2017 rose by 2% to 3,165t, from 3,102t in 2016
--Total investment demand fell 23% to 1,232t in FY 2017 from 1,595t in 2016
--Global jewellery demand grew 4% to 2,136t, from 2,054t in the same period last year
--Central bank demand was 371t, down 5% compared with 390t in 2016
--Demand in the technology sector increased by 3% to 333t from 323t in 2016
--Total supply was down 4% to 4,398t, from 4,591t during 2016
--Recycling fell 10% to 1,160t compared with 1,295t in 2016
In the fourth quarter, overall world demand was 1,096t, an increase of 6% compared with 1,036t in Q4 2016. Total consumer demand fell by 10% to 906t, from 1,006t in the same period last year. Total investment demand was up 41% to 286t compared with 202t in Q4 2016. Global jewellery demand grew 3% to 649t, from 630t in the same period in 2016. Central bank demand slowed 38% to 73t compared with 118t in Q4 2016. Demand in the technology sector increased 5% to 88t compared with 84t in Q4 2016.
Total supply was up 1% to 1,095t, from 1,080t in the same period last year. Recycling grew 8% to 277t compared with 257t in Q4 2016.
The Gold Demand Trends report can be seen  here.
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Infra status to affordable housing to ensure lower borrowing rates, tax concessions

The infrastructure status granted to affordable housing will enable these projects to avail associated benefits such as lower borrowing rates, tax concessions and increase the flow of foreign and private capital, Minister of State of Housing & Urban Affairs Hardeep S Puri said today.
Addressing participants of an exclusive institutional investor event, Mr Puri said additional measures, such as the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016 (RERA), Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Amendment Act 2016, had been introduced.
Other steps include higher tax breaks on home loans, the Goods and Services Tax (GST), land-related reforms, optimizing development control rules, rationalizing of the stamp duty and registration charges, digitalization, and so on, he said.
“These will be effective in spurring the housing and construction activities, providing huge relief to real estate developers. Also, these would attract private and foreign investments in the housing sector, having a positive multiplier effect on GDP and labour market.
“We are aware that availability of encumbrance free land within existing municipal areas for urban housing schemes is not an easy task. Therefore, provision has been made to include rural areas falling within the notified Planning/Development areas, under the ambit of PMAY (U). It would leverage the availability of additional land at a cheaper cost for construction of affordable houses,” he added.
Responding to the demand and supply gap in affordable housing, the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY)-Urban was launched in 2015. The larger goal is to fulfil the housing need of homeless urban poor and enable them to own decent pucca houses with basic infrastructure facilities by 2022.
Based on demand assessment at the state level, the nation has the mammoth task of constructing about 12 million houses under EWS/LIG segment of the society in order to achieve the goal of Housing for All, he added.
The Global Housing Construction Technology Challenge (GHCTC), a mega global event, has been initiated to attract innovative construction technologies which are adaptable, sustainable, low cost and can be used for creating Large Scale Affordable Housing at a rapid pace. 
“Over the next five years until 2022, we will see affordable housing action on the ground unfolding at an increasingly rapid pace - and everyone, not least of all the country's economy and most importantly the long-neglected end-user of affordable housing, stands to benefit,” Mr Puri added.
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Jaitley stresses importance of procedural fairness in public procurement and award of contracts

Union Minister of Finance and Corporate Affairs Arun Jaitley today stressed the importance of procedural fairness in public procurement and award of contracts.
Inaugurating the 5th South Asia Region Public Procurement Conference, Mr Jaitley said transparency and fairness would enable the State to act in the best interest of its citizens in terms of price, quality and service delivery. It would also get rid of elements of nepotism and corruption.
He highlighted the special measures taken by the Government to bring in greater transparency, fairness and efficiency in public procurement through a series of measures, including the launch of the Government e-Marketplace (GeM) for online purchases of common use items.
In addition to having its own rules and regulations relating to public procurement in the Government, the layers of accountability at various levels in the Government have also been tightened, he added.
Referring to the evolution of public procurement in the last century, he emphasized its significance in the delivery of public services in democratic societies in the larger interest of the citizens.
As South Asia is the fastest growing region, the relevance of public procurement is of key importance to all, Mr Jaitley said. He expressed the hope that the best practices would emerge from the deliberations. He congratulated the World Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other partners for organising such an event.
The conference is being attended by senior government officials of South Asian countries in addition to the World Bank (WB), Asian Development Bank (ADB), Islamic Development Bank(IDB) and other agencies.
The Public Procurement Division (PPD) of the Ministry of Finance and All India Management Association (AIMA) are hosting the conference.
The objective of the conference is to enable the Heads of Public Procurement and other key stakeholders in the eight South Asian countries to meet and learn from one another and from experts in the field of public procurement.
The knowledge thus acquired would help various South Asian Governments to consider enhancements and innovations in their public procurement systems, enabling efficient utilization of public resources, ensuring quality and timeliness in delivery of services.
The conference is held under the auspices of the South Asia Region Public Procurement Network (SARPPN), which is sponsored and facilitated by the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and Islamic Development Bank.
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Railways adopt new system to ease registration process for bidders, promote competitiveness

The Indian Railways has introduced new General Conditions or Contracts (GCC) for Services to ease the registration process for bidders, promote competitiveness and help save on costs.
The GCC defines the terms and conditions for contractors engaged in service contracts for non-operational areas such as Housekeeping, Facilities Management, Consultancy and so on, as distinct from Works.
The new policy introduces for the first time the concepts of Digital Labour Management System, stepped Performance Guarantee in place of Security Deposit, access to liquidity as qualifying criteria and specific provisions violation of which will lead to disqualification of bidders.
Pointing out the advantages of the new method, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal said, “the new contract system will ease the registration process for bidders, promote competitiveness and help Railways to save more on cost.”
The Railways had recently issued Standard Bid Document (SBD) for Housekeeping. During the development of SBD, given the diverse nature of Works and Services, and the problems in managing service contracts using a GCC for Works, a need was felt to formulate a simplified, outcome focused GCC catering specifically to Services to improve contract management, delivery of services and to reduce government litigation.
The digital management labour system mandates contractor to maintain a database of all workers including their attendance data and salary details.  It also states that a contractor bidding for a service will be disqualified if a penalty has been levied three times in last two years for violation of labour laws.
The concept of stepped performance guarantee, while reducing the financial burden on the contractor due to the security deposit, puts a premium on service delivery by having a provision of confiscation of part of performance guarantee in case of unsatisfactory delivery of outcome during the contract.
Service contracts are characterized by a regular requirement of funds. Therefore, access to liquidity has been included as a qualifying criterion.
Apart from labour laws, non-performance in previous contracts will also lead to bidders being disqualified in future.  This is expected to put a premium on good performance.
A committee of Executive Directors of Railway Board was formed with a mandate for simplification and improvement of service contracts with a view to improving the quality of services and service contract management. 
The recommendation of the Committee after approval of concerned directorates and approval of Railway Board was adopted as “The general conditions of contract for services" on February 2.
Railways are expecting a quantum improvement in outcomes of the Service contracts, particularly Housekeeping, once SBD and GCC get implemented along with enhanced empowering of the field organisation, an official press release added.
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Singtel to invest Rs. 2649 crore in Bharti Telecom

Telecom services provider Bharti Airtel Limited today announced that Singapore Telecommunications Limited, Asia's leading communications and ICT solutions group and a long term partner of Airtel, will invest Rs. 2649 crore in Bharti Telecom Limited, the promoter company of Airtel, through preferential allotment of shares. 
The transaction is subject to the shareholders’ approval of Bharti Telecom. The funds raised will be used towards debt reduction, a press release from the company said.
With this investment, Singtel’s total stake (along with its affiliates) in Bharti Telecom will increase to 48.90%. Singtel currently holds 47.17% stake in Bharti Telecom. Bharti Enterprises continues to hold over 50% stake in Bharti Telecom, it said.
"The fresh round of investment highlights the confidence of Singtel in Airtel, and the increased attractiveness of the Indian telecoms sector following the recent consolidation. The investment comes within 23 months of Singtel's participation in Bharti Telecom’s Right Issue of Rs. 2500 crores, which was completed in February 2016," the release added.
Mr. Deven Khanna, Managing Director, Bharti Telecom, said, “Airtel shares a nearly two decade-long relationship with Singtel, which has only become stronger over the years. The fresh round of investment highlights the confidence of Singtel in Airtel, and the increased attractiveness of the Indian telecoms sector following the recent consolidation.”
Bharti Airtel Limited, headquartered in Delhi, has operations in 16 countries across Asia and Africa. It ranks amongst the top three mobile service providers globally in terms of subscribers. In India, the company's product offerings include 2G, 3G and 4G wireless services, mobile commerce, fixed line services, high speed home broadband, DTH, enterprise services including national & international long distance services to carriers. In the rest of the geographies, it offers 2G, 3G, 4G wireless services and mobile commerce. Bharti Airtel had over 394 million customers across its operations at the end of December 2017. 
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