National Crime Records Bureau releases “Citizen Services” Mobile App

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) has released a “Citizen Services” mobile app, that is a bouquet of nine police-related services for citizens.
These services will provide a smooth interface between the citizens and the police, an  official press release said.
States and Union Territories (UTs) upon customization can host the app on their CCTNS platform through which citizens can register police complaints and can check the status of their complaint. Another feature of the app also enables a complainant to download FIR (except those categorized as "sensitive"), the release said.
Clicking SOS button on the app automatically sends an emergency SMS to friends and family with user’s current location. Locate Police Station feature helps a citizen to locate nearby police station details and route to approach, using GPS technology.
Emergency Contact List provides helpline numbers, which are useful during an emergency or regular services like Fire Brigade, Ambulance, Medical Emergency, Women Helpline, Railway Helpline and Child Helpline. Any citizen can anonymously inform police about any suspicious/anti-social activities using Citizen Tip feature.
Using Telephone Directory feature, citizens can view detail of any police station in a district for particular State. Vahan Samanvay stolen vehicle Registration feature is helpful to the public, road transport authorities, and insurance agencies, to verify the status of stolen/recovered vehicles, before purchase, re-registration, claim settlement, and so on.
Talash/ Missing Person (Lost person Registration), a web link in the app, provides a link to NCRB website displaying details of missing persons/ unidentified dead bodies and unidentified persons.
The app is developed by an in-house team of NCRB and as per the compliance of MeitY directions, the mobile app was tested and certified by CERT-In empanelled company. The app is being released to States and UTs for utilization at field levels, the release added.
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Rajnath for united efforts to identity and neutralise global terror modules

Describing radicalization of the populace, particularly the youth, as one of the most challenging problems being faced the world over, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has called for a sustained and united effort to identity and neutralise global terror modules.
Addressing the Fourth Counter Terrorism Conference on the “Changing Contours of  Global Terror” in Gurugram, Haryana yesterday, the Minister said terrorism has become a global phenomenon posing a major threat to international peace, security and stability. 
“Access to advanced technology, including cyberspace, sophisticated communications, global funding and military grade weapons have given such groups enormous strength. It is no wonder; therefore, that terrorism constitutes one of the principal challenges at the global, regional and national levels and has become a key factor in national security planning,” he added.
The Minister pointed out that several countries have taken measures to check and control the process of radicalization. “I am happy to state that India has timely busted some modules that were planning to orchestrate terrorist attacks on her soil,” he said.
States providing sponsorship and safe havens have further played a major role in the phenomenal growth of global terrorism. Such support has granted terrorist groups access to resources, guidance and logistics, which would normally be beyond their capabilities. Any effort to counter the activities of terrorist groups carries the danger of placing the victim nation in direct confrontation with the host nation and its resources, Mr Rajnath Singh said.
In the recent few years, the perception of ‘global terrorism’ has undergone a massive makeover with the rise of violent armed terror groups especially in the Middle East, South Asia and the African continent. This phenomenon could be attributed to the diminishing control in the terror space of the Al-Qaeda leadership, which just a decade ago was the face of terrorism. The shift of AQ Network from the Middle East to South Asia is a phenomenon, which is of serious concern to India, he added.
The Boko-Haram-IS alliance primarily seeks to enhance the idea of global jihad with an aggressive brand of terror and footprint of Caliphate into Africa, through innovative measures. The new face of global terrorism can be most vividly seen in the dramatic change and growth in its infrastructure.
The terrorist movement has come a long way from selective recruitment of secret cells to mass recruitment.  In addition, the source of recruitment and training is no longer confined to the affected areas but spans the entire globe, with a phenomenal up gradation of weaponry. Funds and finance channels are no longer confined to resources locally mobilized through individual contributions, extortion and crime, the Minister said.
“State-of-the-art communication systems are available to the terrorist which is at times better than the ones being used by the counter-terrorist agencies. Access to advanced technology including cyber-space, Internet, electronic mail, etc. has provided terrorist groups with a global communication system.
“It has also provided such groups with an immensely destructive tool which can be potentially crippling for technology-based economies,” he added.
Another relatively new dimension is the networking of terrorist groups with the criminal underworld including organized crime gangs, gunrunners, smugglers, drug peddlers, with hawala and parallel banking channels being used for ensuring global flows of finance. It has enabled global terrorist groups to use the infrastructure and terrain knowledge of local outfits for launching attacks in countries, despite having no presence in the area.
“We have kept a keen watch on the growth of ISIS and their ways of using social media as a key tool for ideological indoctrination, recruitment and networking by targeting young generation and intellectual Muslims. The potential threat posed by IS are a large-scale radicalization of Muslim youth throughout the world, the rise in “Lone-Wolf” and terror attacks by returnee foreign fighters to their home countries. The terror attacks in Australia and France are telling examples of such threat,” he said.
"The on-going propaganda by IS has significantly altered jihadi discourse in India, which so far was rooted in grievances against the Indian state/society. I am, however, happy that Indian social fabric has not been affected by the emergence of Islamic State and I am sure this will not have any further impact in our country.
"The events of September 11, 2001, marked a watershed in the march of International action against global terrorism. India has consistently taken steps to intensify and strengthen international co-operation through a variety of means. Terrorism, in all forms, including, Left Wing Extremism, Insurgency, etc., poses a challenge on the national sovereignty of India and it already faces a serious challenge due to relentless efforts of Pak sponsored anti-India Islamist groups like LeT, JeM, HUJI and HM.
“Emergence of India at the global level is also being challenged by the terrorist groups, due to its vibrant economy and plural character. Devising a strategy to counter these diverse trends is an extremely complex task, which I expect this Conference to debate,” he said.
Mr. Rajnath Singh  said India had taken steps for setting up of Joint Working Groups (JWGs) on counter-terrorism annd security matters with key countries. Bilateral treaties on Mutual Legal Assistance (MLATs) in Criminal matters to facilitate the investigation, collection of evidence, transfer of witnesses, location & action against proceeds of crime etc. have been signed with other countries.
“This Government has placed security and safety as its top priority. We have identified several key areas and allocated enough budgetary resources to address this issue.  We have boosted the security-related infrastructure at the border management by launching new schemes, and have been able to successfully minimize cross-border-infiltration. 
“Similarly, we have allocated substantial funds to the police modernisation programmes all over the country with a view to ensuring quick and better response mechanisms. We have raised Regional Hubs of NSG battalions in important strategic locations, to meet any unforeseen challenges. Having realized the importance of funds and the necessity to curb its flow, this Government introduced Demonetization, to choke the funding patterns of various terrorist outfits and effectively curbed the expansionist designs of these outfits,” Mr Rajnath Singh said. 
 “We have created a new Division in the Home Ministry exclusively to deal with counter-terrorism. Having realized the importance of funds for the growth of terrorist organizations and the necessity to curb its flow, this Government introduced Demonetization and got raids conducted by Security Agencies, to choke the funding patterns of various terrorist outfits and effectively curbed the expansionist designs of these outfits. 
“The Union Government, in tandem with the State Governments, has adopted a multi-pronged approach to deal with the emerging situation.  What we need is a sustained united effort, to identify the terror modules operating in the Globe and neutralise them.  Only then, our dream of a new India can be realised, which aims to eliminate terrorism completely.
“Besides, we have taken a slew of developmental agenda to further, curb the spread of terrorism. I believe this Government has successfully delivered on this front, in the form of special projects such as Road Requirement Plan, improvement of Rail Connectivity, installation of Mobile Towers, improvement of education and health infrastructure, financial inclusion, among others. The success is visible in the sharp decline of violence, be it in J&K, North East or LWE affected areas,” he said.
“What we need is cooperation and coordination from member countries, to make this Globe safer and secure, where every citizen is free and is able to walk with head held high,” he added.
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LaQshya will benefit pregnant women, deliveries in public health institutions: Govt.

The Government today said the launch of the LaQshya programme, aimed at improving quality of care in labour room and maternity operation theatre (OT), would benefit pregnant women and deliveries in public health institutions.
An official press release said the programme, announced recently, would improve quality of care for pregnant women in labour room, maternity Operation Theatre and Obstetrics Intensive Care Units (ICUs) and High Dependency Units (HDUs).
The release said the programme is being implemented at all Medical College Hospitals, District Hospitals and First Referral Unit (FRU), and Community Health Centres (CHCs). It will reduce maternal and newborn morbidity and mortality, improve quality of care during delivery and immediate post-partum period and enhance the satisfaction of beneficiaries and provide Respectful Maternity Care (RMC) to all pregnant women attending public health facilities.
The programme aims at implementing ‘fast-track’ interventions for achieving tangible results within 18 months. Under the initiative, a multi-pronged strategy has been adopted such as improving infrastructure up-gradation, ensuring availability of essential equipment, providing adequate human resources, capacity building of health care workers and improving quality processes in the labour room.
To strengthen critical care in Obstetrics, dedicated Obstetric ICUs at Medical College Hospital level and Obstetric HDUs at District Hospital will be set up.
The quality improvement in the labour room and maternity OT will be assessed through NQAS (National Quality Assurance Standards). Every facility achieving 70% score on NQAS will be certified as LaQshya certified facility, the release said.
Furthermore, branding of LaQshya certified facilities will be done as per the NQAS score. Facilities scoring more than 90%, 80% and 70% will be given Platinum, Gold and Silver badge, accordingly. Facilities achieving NQAS certification, defined quality indicators and 80% satisfied beneficiaries will be provided with an incentive of Rs 6 lakh, Rs 3 lakh and Rs 2 lakh for Medical College Hospital, District Hospital and FRUs, respectively.
India has come a long way in improving maternal survival as Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) has reduced from 301 maternal deaths in 2001-03 to 167 in the year 2011-13, an impressive decline of 45% in a decade. India is further committed to ensuring safe motherhood to every pregnant woman in the country, the release added.
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India, Madagascar must work together for the sake of their youth: Kovind

Visiting Indian President Ram Nath Kovind today said young people in India and Madagascar needed to work together to realise their dreams and help their countries progress faster.
"Madagascar and India both have a young population, 60% of the people below the age of 25 in the case of the African island nation and 65% below the age of 35 in India," he said in an address to students at the University of Antananarivo.
“Young people in both our countries see the same dreams. We need to work together to make them – to make all of you – realise those dreams. We need to work together for India to help Madagascar in its developmental process – as per your country’s priorities," he said.
“It is fitting that at the base of the Madagascar-India relationship is education cooperation. India offers higher-education scholarships to Malagasy students under various heads – including the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation programme, the India Africa Forum Summit initiative, and the C.V. Raman Fellowship, named after the first Indian scientist to win a Nobel Prize. So far 355 Malagasy boys and girls have availed these scholarships. We look forward to welcoming many, many more,” he added.
“The youth of Madagascar are the future of this country. And along with the youth of India they will help build a better world for the 21st century. I would like to emphasise that you will always enjoy a warm welcome in India, whether you come as students or tourists or for business. India is teeming with opportunities but those opportunities are not for us alone. We would want to make you a part of those opportunities.
“I am glad to note that hundreds of students from here have used the Pan-African e-Network Project, which started in 2010.The Government is in the process of upgrading this network so that more and more students, in Madagascar and across Africa, can benefit from online courses,” he said.
Mr. Kovind said the Madagascar-India relationship drew from a history of shared experiences. “The distance between Madagascar and India may seem wide, but in many senses we are neighbours. The waters of the Indian Ocean wash both our shores. The hopes and opportunities, concerns and challenges of this mighty ocean make us obvious partners. As per the International Seabed Authority, the undersea exploration zones of our countries are closest to each other,” he said.
“Our common goal of a prosperous, inclusive and sustainable world has led to our countries supporting each other in bilateral and multilateral forums. Madagascar was a distinguished participant at the first summit of the recent International Solar Alliance in New Delhi. As an island nation, Madagascar understands better than most the risks of climate change and the need to move away from fossil fuels towards renewable and particularly solar energy. As an ISA member state Madagascar will be accessing a solar grant pilot project to be commissioned by India’s National Institute of Solar Energy,” he added.
“Our primary shared resource,” the President said, “is of course, the ocean – a vast expanse of water that holds within it many riches, much hope and sometimes hidden challenges as well. We need to explore the sea and we need to help fishing communities here in Madagascar.
“In parallel, we need to ensure maritime security and guard against environmental degradation. Above all, we need to be prepared for humanitarian disasters and the unpredictable moods of the ocean. Malagasy and Indian Navies are close partners and Indian ships have made several friendly visits to Madagascar,” he added.
Earlier this morning, the President interacted with members of the India-Madagascar Business Forum and urged them to further trade and business opportunities. Following the delegation-level talks led by the Presidents of the two countries yesterday, India offered Madagascar a $ 80.7 million line  of credit (LoC) for agriculture and mechanisation.
In the evening, the President also attended an Indian community reception in Antananarivo. Addressing the Indian community, the heritage of which dates back over two centuries, the President said the Indian community has an important role to play in enhancing and building ties with the Malagasy people. Both India and Madagascar have gone through similar political and socio-economic trajectories and have much to share and learn from each other, he added.
The President said India is proud of its diaspora and their achievements. They are true ambassadors of India as they nurture and maintain their Indian-ness among the traditions of their adopted home. 
The Government has taken several initiatives for engaging the diaspora around the world. He called upon members of the Indian community to plug into the changes happening in India. These would help create new opportunities not just for them but also for India-Madagascar relations, he added.
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India's exports rise by 4.48% to $ 25.834 billion in February, 2018

Remaining in positive territory for the fourth consecutive month, India's merchandise exports grew by 4.48 percent to $ 25.834 billion from $ 24.727 billion in the same month of the previous year.
In  rupee terms, the exports rose by 0.27% to Rs. 166305.72 crore in February, 2018 as compared to Rs. 165855.64 crore during February, 2017, an official press release said, quoting the data.
The country's exports have been on a positive trajectory since August, 2016, barring a blip in October, 2017 when they dipped by 1.1%.
The release said that the major commodity groups of export which showed growth over the corresponding month of last year are Petroleum Products (27.44%), Organic & Inorganic Chemicals (30.41%), Drugs & Pharmaceuticals (13.92%), Rice (21.29%) & Electronic Goods (29.71%).
The cumulative value of exports for the period April-February, 2017-18 was $273.731 billion (Rs. 1762897.63 crore) as against $246.550 billion (Rs. 1656399.85 crore), registering a growth of 11.02% in dollar terms and 6.43% in rupee terms over the same period of last year.
Non-petroleum and non-gems & jewellery exports in February, 2018 were valued at $ 18.793 billion as against $ 18.176 billion in February, 2017, an increase of 3.39%. Non-petroleum and non-gems and jewellery exports during April-February, 2017-18 were valued at $ 200.031 billion as compared to $ 179.458 billion for the corresponding period in 2016-17, an increase of 11.46%.
Imports during February, 2018 were valued at $ 37.813 billion (Rs. 243420.48 crore), which was 10.41% higher in dollar terms and 5.96%  higher in rupee terms over the level of imports valued at $ 34.248 billion (Rs. 229723.10 crore) in February, 2017. Cumulative value of imports for the period April-February 2017-18 was $ 416.865 billion (Rs. 2684600.75 crore) as against $ 344.409 billion (Rs. 2314510.09 crore), registering a positive growth of 21.04% in dollar terms and 15.99% in rupee terms over the same period last year.
Major commodity groups of import which showed high growth in February, 2018 over the corresponding month of last year are Petroleum, Crude & products (32.05%), Electronic goods (18.95%), Machinery, electrical & non-electrical (23.04%), Pearls, Precious & Semi-precious stones (15.86%) and Coal, Coke & Briquettes, etc. (17.73%).
Oil imports during February, 2018 were valued at $ 10.194 billion which was 32.05% higher than oil imports valued at $ 7.720 billion in February 2017.Oil imports during April-February 2017-18 were valued at $ 98.002 billion, which was 26.92% higher than the oil imports of $ 77.213 billion in the corresponding period last year.
The release mentioned, in this context, that the global Brent prices ($/bbl) had increased by 17.90% in February, 2018 vis-à-vis February, 2017 as per World Bank commodity price data.
Non-oil imports during February, 2018 were estimated at $ 27.619 billion which was 4.11% higher than non-oil imports of $ 26.528 billion in February, 2017. Non-oil imports during April-February 2017-18 were valued at $ 318.863 billion which was 19.34% higher than the level of such imports valued at $ 267.195 billion in April-February, 2016-17.
As far as services were concerned, exports during January, 2018, the latest month for which data was available, were valued at $ 16.337 billion (Rs. 103963.60 crore), registering a growth of 2.07% in dollar terms as compared to 3.98% during December, 2017.
Imports of services during January, 2018 were valued at $ 9.847 billion (Rs. 62663.25 crore), registering a decline of 0.12% in dollar terms as compared to growth of 2.20% during December, 2017.
The trade deficit for February, 2018 was estimated at $ 11.  979 billion as against the deficit of $ 9.522 billion during February, 2017.
The trade balance in services for January, 2018 was estimated at $ 6.490 billion.
Taking merchandise and services together, the overall trade deficit for April-February, 2017-18 is estimated at $ 85.705 billion as compared to $ 44.382 billion during April-February, 2016-17. 
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SpiceJet to shift 22 domestic flights serving seven sectors to IGI’s Terminal 2 from March 25

Low-cost carrier SpiceJet will shift 22 flights serving seven domestic sectors from Terminal 1 (T1) of the Indira Gandhi International airport to Terminal 2 (T2) with effect from March 25.
All remaining domestic flights will continue to operate from Terminal 1, a press release from the airline said.
The changeover has been scheduled for flights serving the sectors of Cochin, Ahmedabad, Patna, Pune, Goa, Surat, and Gorakhpur, it said.
To facilitate smooth, uninterrupted operations and easier identification for passengers, the airline has programmed all the new flights operating to and from T2 to have a four digit flight number starting with number ‘8’, for instance SG 8913, the release said.
"SpiceJet has taken all possible measures to ensure smooth and seamless operations and minimal inconvenience to its customers. Arrangements for regular bus service between the terminals for passengers for use by transit flyers as well as those who might come to the wrong terminal for their flight have also been made. All communication media have been activated to keep the passengers traveling from T2 informed about the change of terminal," the release added.
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Infosys to open Technology and Innovation Hub in Connecticut, create 1,000 jobs by 2022

IT services major today said that it would open its next Technology and Innovation Hub at Hartford, Connecticut in the United States and hire 1,000 American workers in the state by 2022.
The Connecticut Technology and Innovation Hub will have a special focus on insurance, healthcare and manufacturing, a press release from the company said.
"It will bring Infosys closer to its Connecticut clients and serve as the global hub for Infosys’ InsurTech and HealthTech efforts. Infosys’ investment in Connecticut is a continuation of the company’s commitment to accelerate innovation for American enterprise by amplifying top local talent with the best global talent and shrink the IT skills gap in the marketplace," it said.
“Today marks yet another landmark day in Connecticut’s economic development efforts, at a time when our investments are bringing new life and vigour to our Capital City,” Governor Dannel P. Malloy said. “I am thrilled to welcome Infosys to Connecticut and congratulate them on their decision to establish a Technology and Innovation Hub in Hartford. Connecticut’s tremendous assets and talent pipeline continue to attract high caliber companies to the state, and I look forward to the value that Infosys will bring to our business community.”
“We are excited to announce the expansion of our presence in Connecticut and to create 1,000 technology jobs in the state,” said Ravi Kumar, President, Infosys. “This investment will further strengthen our ability to serve clients’ needs throughout the New England region and expand the local workforce to help our clients compete in the rapidly digitizing insurance, healthcare and manufacturing sectors. Hartford’s position as the insurance capital of the World, paired with Connecticut’s world-renowned academic institutions, will place Infosys in close proximity to valued clients and accelerate the recruitment of highly-skilled local talent.”
“Connecticut is a hub for health care innovation, and these capabilities are a key part of Cigna's global growth strategy,” said Mark Boxer, EVP and Global Chief Information Officer at Cigna. “We are continuously looking at technology-led innovation to simplify the healthcare experience for consumers and improve our engagement and alignment with healthcare providers, employers, and other stakeholders. We are pleased that Infosys has chosen to plant a flag here in Connecticut, and proud that we had a role in advancing employment in the region. We look forward to working with them as part of our technology journey.”
“Stanley Black & Decker is excited to welcome Infosys to Hartford and Connecticut,” said Jim Loree, Stanley Black & Decker’s President and CEO. “This is a great win for the state. With Infosys’ expanded presence and focus on attracting and training top local talent, Infosys will strengthen Connecticut’s innovation ecosystem and help to develop the technology workforce of the future.”
The release said the Hub would include insurance and healthcare labs that focus on smart underwriting, claims fraud, IoT and Cloud, and employ cutting-edge data security and data-sharing features to help Infosys clients comply with all applicable privacy laws while promoting innovation. Infosys will also leverage the Hub to train its employees and develop pioneering techniques with agile, development operations, cloud and information security projects.
Infosys inaugurated its first Technology and Innovation Hub in Indianapolis, Indiana and has already announced a Technology and Innovation Hub in Raleigh, North Carolina and a Design and Innovation Hub in Providence, Rhode Island.
As part of Infosys’ commitment to boosting American innovation and helping to create the workforce of the future, Infosys Foundation USA has provided multiple grants for classroom technology and computer science training to teachers and schools. To date, more than 4.7 million students; 13,000 teachers and 21,000 schools across America, including over 3,500 students, 35 teachers and 24 schools in Connecticut, have benefited from computer science training and classroom equipment funded by Infosys Foundation USA. This includes grants for professional development for teachers, hands on workshops for students, and new technology and teaching aids for classrooms, with an emphasis placed on serving underrepresented groups such as women, African-American, Latino, urban, rural and autistic groups that will gain greater access to computer science and maker education, the release added.
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CBSE denies leakage of Class XII Accountancy question paper

The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) today denied that the Class XII Accountancy  question paper had leaked.
"There has been no leakage of the question paper.  All the seals have been found intact at all the examination centres," the spokesperson for CBSE said.
"During the process of examination, however, at local level, some miscreants have tried to play mischief by circulating messages through Whatsapp and other social media to disturb the sanctity of examinations," she said.
"CBSE has decided to take strict action against such activities. FIR is being lodged by CBSE today," the spokesperson added.
Earlier in the day, some media reports had suggested that the question paper had leaked and quoted students as alleging that a Whatsapp message doing the rounds had details which matched Set II of the paper.
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Indian tea exports touch record high of 240.68 million kg. in 2017

Indian tea exports touched a record high in 36 years at 240.68 million kg in the year 2017, Minister of State of Commerce and Industry C R Chaudhary informed the Rajya Sabha yesterday.
“The previous high of 241.3 million kg was achieved in the year 1981. It has been a continuous endeavour of Tea Board and the tea industry to strategize ways and means to increase export and enhance the share of Indian tea in the international market," he said in a written reply to a question.
“Focused and sustained initiatives like arranging buyer-seller meets, exchange of delegations, participating in international trade fairs and undertaking generic promotion of Indian brands in key markets are showing results,” he added.
The domestic market of tea has also been growing over the years and has been seen to directly affect the exportable surplus, Mr Chaudhary said.
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Cabinet apprised of India-Sri Lanka MoU for cooperation in IT & Electronics

The Union Cabinet was apprised yesterday of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between India and Sri Lanka for promoting cooperation in the field of Information Technology and Electronics. 
The MoU was signed on January 15 this year during the visit of Minister of Electronics & Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad to Sri Lanka.
The MoU intends to promote closer co-operation in the areas of e-Governance, m-Governance, e-Public Services Delivery, cyber security, software technology parks, start-ups ecosystem, and so on, an official press release said.
The MoU will be implemented by establishing a Working Group on IT&E composed of representatives of the two parties. Bilateral cooperation in ICT domain both B2B and G2G will be enhanced, it said.
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has been mandated to promote international cooperation in the emerging and frontier areas of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) under the bilateral and regional framework of cooperation.
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Cabinet approves India-Iran MoU on cooperation in Health and Medicine

The Union Cabinet yesterday gave its ex-post facto approval for a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between India and Iran on cooperation in the field of Health and Medicine.
The MoU, signed on February 17 during the visit of the President of Iran to India, is expected to strengthen bilateral ties, an official press release said.
It enables the exchange of experience in training of medical doctors and other health professionals, and assistance in development of human resources and setting up of healthcare facilities.
Other areas of cooperation include regulation of pharmaceuticals, medical devices and cosmetics, besides exchange of information; medical research, new technologies and knowledge-based initiatives; public health and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
A Working Group will be set up to further elaborate the details of cooperation and to oversee the implementation of the MoU, the release added.
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Cabinet okays India-Iran MoU for cooperation in agriculture, allied sectors

The Union Cabinet yesterday gave its ex-post-facto approval for a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between India and Iran for cooperation in the field of agriculture and allied sectors.
The MoU was signed on February 17 during the visit of the President of Iran to India. It provides for cooperation in the areas of agricultural crops, agricultural extension, horticulture, machinery, post-harvest technology, plant quarantine measures, credit and cooperation, an official press release said. 
It also provides for cooperation in soil conservation and water management, integrated nutrients management, seed technology and agricultural marketing. Livestock improvement, dairy development, animal health and other fields as mutually agreed upon fall within the scope of the MoU, it said 
Cooperation will also be effected through an exchange of experts, materials and information, exchange of trainees and scientists on study visits/training programmes, facilitation of relevant conferences and workshops and any other means as may be mutually agreed upon.
A Joint Working Group (JWG) will be formed to monitor the activities carried out in fulfilment of the MoU. The JWG will hold its meeting alternately in India and Iran once in every two years. The MoU will be valid initially for a period of five years and will be automatically extended for a subsequent period of five years unless either party notifies the other party of its intention of terminating it.
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Cabinet approves MoU on cooperation between India and Iran in Traditional Systems of Medicine

The Union Cabinet yesterday approved a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between India and Iran in the field of Traditional Systems of Medicine.
The MoU will enhance bilateral cooperation between the two countries in the area. This will be of immense importance to both countries considering their shared cultural heritage, an official press release said.
India has well-developed systems of traditional medicine including medicinal plants, which hold tremendous potential in the global health scenario, it said.
According to it, India and Iran share several common features in their language, culture and traditions and also a common legacy of using herbal medicines. Both countries have huge biodiversity and are home for rare medicinal plants which are frequently used in Traditional Systems of Medicine, it said.
Moreover, Iran has endorsed the status of India as a true leader in the field of Traditional Systems of Medicine backed by huge and strong infrastructure and “State of the Art" production units.
The Ministry of AYUSH, having the mandate to promote, propagate and globalize the Traditional Systems of Medicine including Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa-Rigpa and Homoeopathy, has taken effective steps by entering into MoU with China, Malaysia, Trinidad & Tobago, Hungary, Bangladesh, Nepal, Mauritius and Mongolia for cooperation in Traditional Medicine. Another MoU is proposed to be signed with Sri Lanka, the release added.
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Smart Cities Mission: 753 projects worth Rs 24,511 crore completed

Since the launch of the Smart Cities Mission, 753 projects worth Rs 24,511 crore have been completed or on-ground work started, an official press release said here yesterday.
Further, about 287 projects worth Rs 14,296 crore are in tendering stage and the works on-ground are expected to start soon. This is one of the fastest progress demonstrated in the urban sector considering the scale and novelty of the Mission, it said.
Utilization certificate for the second instalment of the funds is submitted by the cities after utilization of a substantive amount of funds from the first instalment. While a number of cities have started project implementation on the ground, their utilization certificates are awaited. Hence, utilization certificate may not be an appropriate yardstick for assessing the progress of the Mission, the release said.
Moreover, the progress depends on the date of the selection of the Smart City. After selection, it takes around 18 months in setting up Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), procuring Project Management Consultant (PMC) firm, hiring Human Resources, preparing Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) and then call for tenders, it said.
For cities selected in Round 1 (January 2016), where 18 months have lapsed, about 51% of the projects have either been tendered or are under implementation. In Round 2 & 3, nearly all the cities have set up SPVs.
Since the launch of the Smart Cities Mission, Rs 9,939 crore has been released by the Centre. In addition, the Smart Cities are also generating funds by mobilizing internal revenue sources, public-private partnerships, value capture financing, convergence, etc. These additional funds are also helping the cities to meet the requirement for project financing, the release added.
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15th Finance Commission holds first interaction with Members of Parliament

Fifteenth Finance Commission Chairman N. K. Singh and Members held their first interaction with Members of Parliament (MPs) here yesterday at which the formercalled for a relook at the processes and methods of looking at the backwardness of States.
The meeting was part of the Commission's endeavour to increase interaction with various stakeholders, an official press release said. The process will be continued with further dialogue at the State level.
Yesterday's meeting was meant to convey the proposed schedule of the Commission’s work as well as its Terms of Reference (TOR) and also to seek their suggestions on these. 
Parliamentarians appreciated the inclusion of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Disaster Management, Climate Change, progress made in Sanitation, Solid Waste Management and bringing in Behavioural Change to end open defecation, among others, the release said.
It said the MPs gave their views and suggestions on further enhancing the consultative process in Delhi as well as in different States.
The meeting assumed significance as 15th Finance Commission has to work in a very different economic scenario in the light of the fact that the Planning Commission is no more there and the distinction between Plan and Non-Plan grants has been done away with, the release said.
The MPs made wide-ranging suggestions, including on the status of implementation of the Recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission, having a relook at the processes and methods to consider the backwardness of a State including the needs of ‘Aspirational Districts’, providing a road map to tackle the overall finances and to provide a Compensation Roadmap for losses to States due to implementation of the Goods and Service Tax (GST).
The release said the Commission would start its state-level visits with Arunachal Pradesh in April, 2018 and intended to finish them by the end of the fiscal year. During State visits, the Commission, apart from meeting State leadership and Government officials, will also meet various political parties, local bodies and other bodies, it said.
Mr. Singh outlined at the meeting the Commission's responsibility and terms of reference and solicited the views of MPs. He encouraged them to also send any letters and written comments in this regard.
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CCEA approves continuation of ongoing urea subsidy scheme beyond 12th Five Year Plan

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) today approved the proposal of Department of Fertilizers to continue the Urea Subsidy Scheme upto 2019-20 at a total estimated cost of Rs. 1,64,935 crore and for disbursement of fertilizer subsidy. 
This decision implies that there will be no increase in price of urea, till 2020, an official press release said.
Urea Subsidy is a part of Central Sector Scheme of Department of Fertilizers with effect from April 1, 2017 and is wholly financed by the Government of India through budgetary support.
"The continuation of Urea Subsidy Scheme will ensure the timely payment of subsidy to the urea manufacturers resulting in timely availability of urea to farmers. Urea subsidy also includes imported urea subsidy which is directed towards import to bridge the gap between assessed demand and indigenous production of urea in the country. It also includes freight subsidy for movement of urea across the country," the release said.
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Cabinet okays agreement for Avoidance of Double Taxation and Prevention of Fiscal Evasion between India and Iran

The Union Cabinet today approved an Agreement for the Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with respect to taxes on income between India and Iran.
An official press release said the agreement would stimulate flow of investment, technology and personnel from India to Iran and vice versa, and will prevent double taxation. 
The agreement will provide for exchange of information between the two Contracting Parties as per latest international standards. It will thus improve transparency in tax matters and will help curb tax evasion and tax avoidance, it said.
The release said the agreement is similar to the ones entered into by India with other countries. The proposed agreement also meets treaty related minimum standards under G-20 OECD Base Erosion & Profit Shifting (BEPS) Project, in which India participated on an equal footing.
In so far as India is concerned, the Central Government is authorized under Section 90 of the Income Tax Act, 1961 to enter into an agreement with a foreign country or specified territory for avoidance of double taxation of income for exchange  of information  for the  prevention  of evasion  or avoidance of income-tax chargeable under the Income-tax Act, 1961.
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Kovind reaches Madagascar, witnesses signing of bilateral defence agreement

India and Madagascar signed two bilateral agreements on cooperation in the areas of defence and civil aviation here today as Indian President Ram Nath Kovind reached Antananarivo on the second leg of a two-nation visit that had earlier taken him to Mauritius.
This is the first ever visit by a President or Prime Minister of India to this African country.
Mr. Kovind was received on his arrival at the Ivato International Airport here by Madagascar Prime Minister Olivier Solonandrasan and accorded a ceremonial welcome. 
He drove from the airport to lead delegation-level talks with the President of Madagascar, Mr Hery Rajaonarimampianina, and witnessed the exchange of the two agreements.
After the delegation-level talks, Mr. Kovind was conferred the Grand Cross of the Second Class by the President of Madagascar. This is the highest honour Madagascar bestows on a non-citizen. 
The President thanked the Government of Madagascar for the honour. He said this special gesture would go a long way in strengthening their warm and friendly relations. 
Mr. Kovind said he had come to Madagascar with a message of goodwill. India is keen to enhance and strengthen its partnership with Madagascar. India has been sharing its developmental experience with Madagascar and happy to cooperate in fields of human development such as health, education and sanitation, he said.
He expressed hope that ongoing talks on health and traditional medicine collaboration would lead to fruitful outcomes. He stated that India was glad to gift the “Bhabha-tron”, a cancer therapy machine, to Madagascar for improving healthcare facilities.
The President said that India is ready to help in building infrastructure projects in energy, roads and port development, all of which are crucial to Madagascar’s development. 
"We are keen to bring in expertise and replicate infrastructural success stories in other African countries through India’s LoC financing," he said.  To facilitate its financial assistance programme, India has decided to offer Madagascar a $ 80.7 million line of credit (LoC) for agriculture and mechanisation.
The defence agreement between the two countries focuses on friendly visits by Indian ships to Madagascar, and capacity building and training of Madagascar’s personnel.
Mr. Kovind also attended a luncheon banquet hosted in his honour by the President of Madagascar. Speaking on the occasion, the President thanked the Government and people of Madagascar for the warm welcome and hospitality. He was confident that the first ever state visit from India would open a new chapter in our bilateral relations.
In the afternoon, the President inaugurated the Centre for Geo-informatics Applications in Rural Development. This Centre will support communities in Madagascar in using geospatial technologies for a host of applications in rural development, and will strengthen bilateral cooperation in agriculture and related areas.
The President will address an Indian community reception later in the evening. Tomorrow the President will interact with members of the India-Madagascar Business Forum, and then address students and the academic community at the University of Antananarivo before leaving for Delhi. 
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Cyber-dependency has increased vulnerability to attacks: Rajnath Singh

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh today said cyber-dependency has increased vulnerability to attacks against civilian and military infrastructures and called upon the police forces and security agencies of various countries to collaborate and defeat the threats posed by cybercriminals.
Inaugurating the two-day Asia-Pacific Regional Conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), Mr Rajnath Singh said the Indian Government has taken digitalization to a new level by providing digital-based services in several sectors.
Across the world, cyber-dependency has become widespread today. This has increased vulnerability to attacks against both civilian and military infrastructures, he added.
Noting that the theme of the conference was “Challenges to Policing in 2020: How is Cyber Space shaping our approach to Cybercrime & Terrorism, How do we perform with it and take advantage of it,” he said he has identified a few essential key drivers, such as threats through the internet, cyber security issues, cyber crimes, and so on.
“The Internet today has become a favoured mode of communication. It has evolved as a backbone for financial transactions, social activities and is a bridge between the people and government. Internet's potential mass reach has driven many Governments across the world to evolve Digital programmes. Indian Government has taken digitalization to a new level by providing digital-based services in many sectors to its countrymen.
“In the fast-changing technology world, computer-based technologies are being increasingly used in various activities ranging from the simple home security system to complex nuclear power plants or space programmes. The cyber-dependency has become widespread today. This has increased vulnerability to attacks against both civilian and military infrastructures,” he added.
“Network outages, data compromised by hackers, computer malware and other cyber-related incidents and crimes have affected our lives. As the number of computers, mobile users, digital applications and data-networks are increasing day by day, so do the opportunities for exploitation,” the Home Minister said.
“The Governments, defence forces, corporations, financial institutions, utility services, hospitals and other businesses collect, process and store a great deal of sensitive information on systems and transmit data across networks. With the growing volume and sophistication of cyber attacks, each one of us is required to protect sensitive information, as well as safeguard national security,” he added.
"There are many risks, some more serious than others, like viruses, computer hacking, pilferage of data, stealing of credit card information, and so on. Unfortunately, there is no 100% guarantee that even with the best precautions some of these things won't happen to you, but there are steps you can take to minimize the chances," the Minister said.
“I am afraid cyber attack would occur very often. Tools already exist to mount cyber attacks and they will be improving over the next decade. We have already witnessed an increase in the number and severity of such attacks.
“Cybercrime has become an industry and many cyber crimes related tools and techniques are being offered as services. Even novice criminal with limited investments of money can afford to have such services at his disposal. The increase in digitization of the financial services with inadequate attention to setting up of a robust process, controls and monitoring mechanisms has given new age fraudsters the opportunity to exploit these gaps leading to new types of financial crimes,” he pointed out.
“With cashless transactions on the rise and increased use of online by the citizens, this is another new area that has opened the eyes of the adversaries. We have to develop fool-proof software, particularly in the Banking Sector and effectively address the loopholes that have recently come,” the Home Minister said
"New technologies like the Internet of Things, Virtual Currencies, Advanced Malware, Artificial Intelligence, etc. are fast spreading its tentacles. The Police are now expected to cope with such rapidly changing technologies, as well. Across many countries, many cybercriminals use technologies like darknet, proxy servers,
 "The Onion Router (TOR) services to hide their identity. Extensive use of VoIP, caller ID spoofing, use of cryptocurrencies, encrypted channel for communication, use of social media have virtually created syndicates of criminals irrespective of their nationality.
"Online radicalisation, self-radicalisation, etc. have further added to the woes of Law Enforcement Agencies. Online radicalisation is just not a law and order or extremism problem. Continuance of availability of such radicalised materials on the Internet is likely to have a drastic change in society and subsequently to humanity.
"On the other hand, social media has also posed a serious challenge to policing. The three main issues are Law & Order; Cyber crimes, fake/imitating accounts, financial frauds, malware delivery, drug and other illegal article sales, victimisation of women & children and terrorism.
"We are making giant strides and improving business-connectivity with the outer world. We need an environment to instil confidence and create a congenial climate for this. The police have to make a paradigm shift to make this happen. Serious crime develops because the police and citizens do not work together to prevent decay of social norms and social disorder.
“The community policing faces a huge trust deficit. Level of trust is particularly very low amongst socially weaker section, economically poor, minority groups, women, elderly and children. Police forces need to be more democratised,” he added.
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Union Home Secretary convenes meeting of Assam, Mizoram Chief Secretaries on March 20 on border issue

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has stated that a meeting of the Chief Secretaries of Assam and Mizoram will be held here next week to discuss the inter-State border issue.
The meeting of Chief Secretaries of the two States has been convened by the Union Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba on March 20.
Mr. Rajnath Singh also wrote a letter to Mizoram Chief Minister Lalthanhawla, in response to a communication from him regarding the Bairabi incident of March 9. 
The State Governments of Mizoram and Assam must take all possible measures to maintain peace and public order. The outstanding issues between both the States need to be resolved mutually and amicably, he added.
The Union Home Minister has expressed the hope that the State Governments of Mizoram and Assam will take all steps to defuse the situation and prevent assembly of people at Bairabi.
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INSV Tarini leaves Cape Town for Goa on final leg of circumnavigation voyage

Indian Naval Sailing Vessel (INSV) Tarini, with an all-women crew, left Cape Town in South Africa for Goa today on the final leg of its maiden voyage to circumnavigate the globe.
This is the first ever attempt to circumnavigate the globe by an Indian all-women crew.
The vessel was flagged off by Ms Ruchira Kamboj, High Commissioner of India to South Africa,  Mr Abhishek Shukla, Counsul General of India in Cape Town, Ms Auroux Marais, Minister of Cultural Affairs & Sports, Western Cape Government, members of the Indian diaspora and the South African Sailing Association.
Tarini is skippered by Lieutenant Commander Vartika Joshi, and the crew comprises Lieutenant Commanders Pratibha Jamwal, P Swathi, and Lieutenants S Vijaya Devi, B Aishwarya and Payal Gupta.
The vessel had arrived at Cape Town on March 2 after completion of the fourth leg of her voyage. 
The crew had several engagements during their stay in Cape Town, including formal calls on Ms. Kambog, HE Ms Ruchika Kamboj, High Commissioner of India, Ms Patrica De Lille, Mayor of Cape Town and Helen Zille, Premier of Western Cape. A photo exhibition event and press interaction was also organised. The crew also participated in a radio talk show with well known RJ Pippa Hudson.
As part of their stay in harbour, Team Tarini interacted with students from University of Western Cape, St. Paul’s Primary School and Lawhill Maritime Academy. INSV Tarini crew had an opportunity to interact with a wide range of stakeholders during the welcome reception hosted by the High Commissioner, which was attended by numerous distinguished guests, including state officials, businessmen, academicians, leaders from Indian community and mediapersons.
Several outstanding sportspersons and local populace also visited the vessel while she was open for onboard visits. Lieutenant Commander Vartika Joshi along with crew gave a talk and presentation at the Royal Cape Yacht Club and Maritime Academy. The crew also interacted with the sailing community of Western Cape.
The visit of INSV Tarini to Cape Town was covered widely in the international social media and print and electronic media. 
The vessel is scheduled to reach Goa by the end of April, an official press release added.
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Indian economy set to revert to trend growth of 7.5%: World Bank report

The Indian economy is set to revert to its trend growth rate of 7.5 percent in the coming years as it bottoms out from the impact of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and demonetization, a new World Bank report has said.
The India Development Update, released today, is a biannual flagship publication of the World Bank which takes stock of the Indian economy. 
The current issue (March 2018), titled “India’s Growth Story” describes the state of the Indian economy, shares India’s growth experience and trajectory over the past several decades and provides a long-term perspective on India’s growth outlook. 
The report noted that, over the last 50 years, India’s average growth has accelerated slowly but steadily across sectors – agriculture, industry and services – and become more stable. This is reflected in increasing labour productivity and total factor productivity. 
After growing far more rapidly before the global financial crisis, the economy has grown at an average rate of about 7 percent since 2008–09, a press release from the World Bank said.
The update centres around an assessment of what it will take for India to return to growth rates of 8 percent and higher on a sustained basis. To sustain its growth path, India will need to keep a close eye on several factors to make the country more resilient to shocks: the changing landscape of open trade, reforms in the banking sector, strengthening financial institutions, and regulatory supervision of the financial sector, it said.
Deepening its structural reforms in the areas of health, education and service delivery will be critical for development of human capital required to sustain growth, it said.
The report said India’s GDP growth saw a temporary dip in the last two quarters of 2016-17 and the first quarter of 2017-18 due to demonetization and disruptions surrounding the initial implementation of GST. 
"Economic activity has begun to stabilize since August 2017. India’s GDP growth is projected to reach 6.7 percent in 2017-18 and accelerate to 7.3 percent and 7.5 percent in 2018-19 and 2019-20 respectively. While services will continue to remain the main driver of economic growth; industrial activity is poised to grow, with manufacturing expected to accelerate following the implementation of the GST, and agriculture will likely grow at its long-term average growth rate," the release said.
"India’s growth in recent years has been supported by prudent macroeconomic policy: a new inflation targeting framework, energy subsidy reforms, fiscal consolidation, higher quality of public expenditure and a stable balance of payment situation. In addition, recent policy reforms have helped India improve the business environment, ease inflows of foreign direct investment (FDI) and improve credit behaviour," it said.
The update points to the positive impulse expected from India’s novel GST system which, while remaining more complex than comparable systems in other countries, is likely to improve the domestic flow of goods and services, contribute to the formalization of the economy and sustainably enhance growth.
“India’s long-term growth has become more steady, stable, diversified and resilient. In the long-run, for higher growth to be sustainable and inclusive, India needs to use land and water, which are increasingly becoming scarce resources, more productively, make growth more inclusive, and strengthen its public sector to meet the challenges of a fast growing, globalizing and increasingly middle-class economy,” said Junaid Ahmad, World Bank Country Director in India.  
"Despite the recent momentum, attaining a growth rate of 8 percent and higher on a sustained basis will require addressing several structural challenges. India needs to durably recover its two lagging engines of growth – private investments and exports - while maintaining its hard-won macroeconomic stability. Crucial steps in this process include cleaning up banks’ balance sheets, realizing the expected growth and fiscal dividend from the GST, and continuing the integration into the global economy," the release said.
“Durable revival in private investments and exports would be crucial for India achieving a sustained high growth of 8 percent and above,” said Poonam Gupta, Lead Economist and the main author of the report. “This will require continued impetus for structural reforms. Resorting to countercyclical policies will not help spur sustained growth and India should not compromise its hard-earned fiscal discipline in order to accelerate growth,” she added.
The report said  India's rate of investment needs to accelerate. Private investment in India is constrained by several factors including issues related to past leverages, credit availability, market demand, and policy uncertainty. Understanding and relieving the generic, spatial, or sector-specific constraints to investment growth is important. Further policy measures should aim at assuring an efficient mix of public and private resources to effectively use scarce public funds and crowd-in private investment. Private sector investment in particular needs to be enhanced, through measures that assure a favorable investment climate while reducing policy uncertainty, it said.
"Reviving bank credit to support growth is important. The banking sector is experiencing high balance sheet stress. The genesis of the problem can be traced to the period of exuberant bank credit growth during 2004–08, and to the response to the global financial crisis, which entailed evergreening of loans. Decisive reforms will be needed to enable the Indian banking sector to help finance India’s growth aspirations. The implementation of the new Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code is an important step towards improving the credit behavior; and the recent efforts towards recapitalization have the potential to ease stress on the banking sector and reinvigorate bank credit. However, they need to be followed by wider reforms. Additional measures could include a consolidation of public-sector banks, revising their incentive structure to align more closely with their commercial performance, ensuring a level playing field for private banks, and opening the space for greater competition," the release said.
"Export growth rate remains well below the levels registered during the boom years of 2004-2008. The Update points out that India’s export growth has lagged global growth in recent years. Among the many preconditions for India to reverse this pattern are an infrastructural boost to bring it on par with the world’s current manufacturing hubs. In addition, reforms to land, labor and financial markets would be needed to assure the continued competitive supply and use of key production inputs. Finally, building on recent improvements to its doing business ranking, India can benefit from further strengthening its competitive business environment," it said.
"As India has increased the level of integration with the rest of the world in recent years, it could benefit from the revival in the global economy and trade volumes, both of which are poised to grow at healthy rates in the near-term. Leveraging the global recovery will be key for India to elevate its growth rates. While oil prices pose less of a risk for the Indian economy, the expected normalization of monetary policy by the US and other advanced economies are likely to tighten financing conditions," the release added.
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India's wholesale inflation rate declines to 2.48% in February, 2018

India's headline annual rate of inflation, based on the revised monthly wholesale price index (WPI), with base 2011-12=100, declined to 2.48% in February, 2018 as compared to 2.84% in the previous month and 5.51% during the corresponding month of the previous year.
An official statement, quoting provisional data, said here today that the official WPI for All Commodities for February, 2018 remained unchanged at its previous month's level of 115.8.
According to it, the build-up inflation rate in the financial year so far was 2.30% compared to a build up rate of 4.92% in the corresponding period of the previous year.
The statement said the rate of inflation based on WPI Food Index consisting of ‘Food Articles’ from Primary Articles group and ‘Food Product’ from Manufactured Products group decreased from 1.65% in January, 2018 to 0.07% in February, 2018.
The statement said that, for the month of December, 2017, the final WPI for All Commodites remained unchanged at its provisional level of 115.7, reported on January 15. Accordingly, the annual rate of inflation also remained unchanged at 3.58% as reported on that date, it added.
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20 Opposition parties attend dinner hosted by Sonia Gandhi

Congress President Rahul Gandhi with Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar and Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge at a dinner for Opposition leaders hosted by United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Chairperson Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi on March 31, 2018.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi with Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar and Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge at a dinner for Opposition leaders hosted by United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Chairperson Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi on March 31, 2018.
Leaders of the Congress and 19 other Opposition parties met here last night over a dinner hosted by United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Chairperson Sonia Gandhi to discuss ways of ensuring more effective coordination in Parliament and explore a broad alliance of like-minded secular parties ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Those who attended the dinner included Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar, Ram Gopal Yadav of the Samajwadi Party (SP), Satish Chandra Mishra of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Ajit Singh of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), Omar Abdullah of the National Conference (NC), Sharad Yadav, former president of the Janata Dal (United), and former Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav and Rajya Sabha member Misa Bharti, children of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad Yadav.
Others who attended the dinner included Sudip Bandyopadhyay of Trinamool Congress (TMC), Left leaders D Raja (CPI) and Mohammad Salim (CPI-M), K Kanimozhi of the DMK, AIUDF's Baddrauddin Ajman, D. Kupender Reddy of the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S), Babulal Marandi of Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik), Hemant Soren of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and Jitan Ram Manjhi of Hindustan Awami Morcha, Kerala Congress (Mani) leader Jose K Mani, N K Premachandran of Revolutionary Socialist Party and Induan Union Muslim League's P K Kunhalikutty.
Apart from Ms. Gandhi, party president Rahul Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the other Congress leaders present at the dinner, held at Ms. Gandhi's 10, Janpath residence, included A. K. Antony, Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Mallikarjun Kharge.
"Fabulous dinner tonight, hosted by UPA Chairperson, Sonia Gandhi Ji. An opportunity for leaders from different political parties to meet and bond, informally," Mr. Rahul Gandhi said on micro-blogging site Twitter last night.
"Much political talk but much more important - tremendous positive energy, warmth and genuine affection," he said.
Yesterday's gathering took place against the backdrop of the continuing stand-off between the Government and the Opposition in Parliament.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala, who was also present at the meeting, said the dinner should not be seen as an effort to build an electoral alliance. It was an effort to discuss issues facing the nation and to build "unity of purpose", he said.
"It is natural that the leaders will discuss the government's disinterest in ensuring Parliament functions, the agrarian crisis and joblessness of youth," he said.
Mr. Tejashwi Yadav told journalists later that the dinner meeting was the first step towards a comprehensive alliance for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections at a time when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was "breaking apart" -- a reference to the Telugu Desam Party's (TDP) recent decision to withdraw its two Ministers from the Union Council of Ministers over the question of special status for Andhra Pradesh.
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Kovind inaugurates World Hindi Secretariat, addresses Indian diaspora in Mauritius

Visiting Indian President Ram Nath Kovind inaugurated the World Hindi Secretariat building, launched the World Hindi Secretariat’s logo and an Early Digital Learning Programme on the third day of his visit to Mauritius yesterday.
Mr Kovind also unveiled the foundation stones of a social housing project and a large ENT hospital being built with Indian assistance.
Addressing the gathering, the President said Hindi has played an important role in society and culture in both India and Mauritius. It is a global language and the Indian community, spread across the world, has preserved its culture and traditions – and passed it to the next generation – through its linguistic traditions, including Hindi. Hindi is being taught in about 175 universities in various countries, he said.
He noted that the 11th World Hindi Conference is scheduled to be held in Mauritius in August this year. Apart from India, Mauritius is the only country where this conference is being hosted for the third time. This is evidence of the affection of the people of Mauritius for Hindi, he said.
Later in the day, the President addressed the Indian diaspora at a reception hosted by the High Commissioner of India in Mauritius.
“In India, we rejoice at the remarkable success of our brothers and sisters who left Indian shores many generations ago and have achieved great material success while cherishing their spiritual values. Since time immemorial, Indian life and society have been defined by 'Vasudhaiva Kutumbakum', meaning the whole world is our family. This is even more so for Mauritius, with whom we are linked by blood and sweat,” Mr Kovind said.
The President said that today, more than ever, India wants to connect with its diaspora. To this end, a special provision has been made for Mauritius in the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) scheme, he said.
He invited members of the Indian diaspora to visit and participate in programmes of the Pravasi Bharatiya Kendra in Delhi. He was happy to note that young Mauritians have already started to connect with the Kendra.
“We must use our diaspora networks and platforms for connecting with India and for engaging with others in different parts of the world,” he added.
Earlier in the morning, two former Prime Ministers of Mauritius, Mr Paul Berenger and Mr Navin Ramgoolam, called on the President in separate meetings.
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