Assam’s low per capita income is a concern: Finmin

Apr 24, 2018 0

New Delhi– The low per capita income of Assam is a concern and structural reforms are needed to improve the state’s health, education and economic indicators, the Union Finance Ministry said on Tuesday.

“It is a matter of concern that per capita income of Assam is significantly lower than all India average which itself is lower than other emerging markets,” the ministry said a day before the three-day visit of 15th Finance Commission to the state begins.

The per capita income of Assam is Rs 67,620, much lower than the all India average of Rs 1,03,870, said the Ministry statement, adding that the Commission recognizes the special characteristics of Assam, which, “notwithstanding acceleration in growth momentum”, will have to make enormous development strides to catch up with national averages particularly with respect to per capita income.

Despite its recent strides in growth and socio-economic development, the state has a lot to catch up on health, educational and economic outcomes, it said, adding that half of the population depends on agriculture with limited urbanisation and industrialisation, both infant and maternal mortality rate (IMR and MMR) are much higher than the national average and life expectancy and literacy rate are lower than the national average.

“Demographic diversities give rise to myriad socio-cultural conditions and contingencies offering developmental challenges of various forms. Notwithstanding recent growth spurt, endemic structural issues need to be addressed in a time bound manner,” the statement said.

The Finance Commission led by Chairman N.K. Singh will assess the state of the finances of Assam, its socio-economic challenges and understand the efforts of the state government to tackle these, the ministry said.

The Commission will meet leaders of various political parties, representatives of autonomous councils, trade and industry, urban local bodies and panchayati raj institutions.

“Commission, therefore, would seek to explore opportunity of what structural, administrative and other changes are necessary by way of augmenting resources of state and also its proper utilization,” it said.

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Crude at $75 per barrel lifts petrol price to Rs 74.63 in Delhi

Apr 24, 2018 0

New Delhi– A rise in global crude oil cost to around $75 per barrel lifted the domestic retail petrol price higher for the sixth consecutive day in New Delhi on Tuesday.

Consequently, the widely-consumed transportation fuel became dearer by 13 paise to Rs 74.63 per litre from Monday’s cost of Rs 74.50 per litre.

As per data available on IndianOil’s website, Tuesday’s motor spirit price level in New Delhi was the highest since September 14, 2013 when it had touched Rs 76.06 a litre.

Besides New Delhi, petrol prices climbed to new multi-year highs in other major metro cities — Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai — at Rs 77.32, Rs 82.48 and Rs 77.43 per litre respectively on Tuesday.

The previous highs in these cities were Rs 78.03 (Kolkata, August 2014), Rs 83.62 (Mumbai, September 2013) and Rs 77.48 (Chennai, September 2013).

Apart from petrol, diesel prices, too, touched record high levels on Tuesday in Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai. They rose to Rs 65.93, Rs 68.63, Rs 70.20 and Rs 69.56 per litre respectively.

According to analysts, the recent upsurge in the costs of transportation fuel have been triggered due to a rise in global crude oil prices.

On Tuesday, Brent crude price rose to $75 per barrel due to geo-political tensions in the Middle East, whereas it cost over $100 a barrel in 2013.

Currently, prices of transport fuels are changed on a daily basis unlike the previous norm of fortnightly revisions.

In addition, the high rate of excise duty has contributed to the rise of transportation fuel prices.

In the Union Budget 2018-19, the government had reduced the basic excise duty on petrol and diesel by Rs 2. The government also abolished additional excise duty on fuel. But to compensate the move on the fiscal front, it increased the road cess to Rs 8 per litre. (IANS)

 

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At $69 bn India highest recipient of remittances in 2017: World Bank

Apr 23, 2018 0

Washington/New Delhi– India topped as the highest recipient of remittances globally in 2017, with its diaspora sending back $69 billion, a World Bank statement said here on Monday.

“Remittance inflows improved in all regions and the top remittance recipients were India with $69 billion, followed by China ($64 billion), the Philippines ($33 billion), Mexico ($31 billion), Nigeria ($22 billion), and Egypt ($20 billion),” the statement said.

Remittances to India rose sharply by 9.9 percent in 2017, reversing the previous year’s sharp decline, the report added.

Global remittances are expected grow 4.6 percent to $642 billion in 2018, it said.

Remittances to low and middle-income countries rebounded to a record level in 2017 after two consecutive years of decline, says the World Bank’s latest Migration and Development Brief.

“The overall recovery in remittances is better than we expected. It is driven by stronger growth in the European Union, the Russian Federation, and the United States. The rebound in remittances, when valued in US dollars, was helped by higher oil prices and a strengthening of the euro and ruble,” said Dilip Ratha, lead economist at the World Bank in his blog.

“The global average cost of sending $200 was 7.1 percent in the first quarter of 2018. The cost ranges from the most expensive average cost of 9.4 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa, to the lowest average cost of 5.2 percent in South Asia. The average cost is higher than the Sustainable Development Goal target of 3 percent in all regions,” he said.

“While remittances are growing, countries, institutions, and development agencies must continue to chip away at high costs of remitting so that families receive more of the money. Eliminating exclusivity contracts to improve market competition and introducing more efficient technology are high-priority issues,” Ratha added.

The Bank estimates that officially recorded remittances to low and middle-income countries reached $466 billion in 2017, an increase of 8.5 percent over $429 billion in 2016.

Global remittances, which include flows to high-income countries, grew 7 percent to $613 billion in 2017, from $573 billion in 2016.

Remittances to South Asia grew a moderate 5.8 percent to $117 billion in 2017. Remittances to many countries appear to be picking up after the slowdown in 2016.

Remittances to the East Asia and Pacific region rebounded 5.8 percent to $130 billion in 2017, reversing a decline of 2.6 percent in 2016.

It said remittances to countries in Europe and Central Asia grew a rapid 21 percent to $48 billion in 2017, after three consecutive years of decline. (IANS)

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India leads digital transformation race in APJ region: Report

Apr 23, 2018 0

Mumbai– India is set to lead the wave of digital disruption across the Asia Pacific and Japan (APJ) region with 94 per cent of the organisations in the country ready to tackle this transformation in the next five years, a new report said on Monday.

According to “Digital Impact and Readiness Study” by software major CA Technologies, 73 per cent of Indian business and IT leaders surveyed believe that the digital order has already impacted their firms and the same number agree that their markets have been directly affected due to it.

“India is set to go through a drastic change in the next five years with more organisations embracing digital disruption,” Sunil Manglore, Managing Director (India) at CA Technologies, said in a statement.

“Businesses need to display stronger leadership in planning, organising and executing the digital transformation strategies of their firms,” he said.

The study showed that only 17 per cent of organisations across APJ have fully formed digital transformation strategies.

In India, while this figure is higher at 22 percent but it shows that 78 per cent of them do not have fully formed digital transformation strategies today.

According to the findings, 88 per cent consider that they are equipped to tackle the digital disruption in the ensuing three years while indicating strong leadership as a crucial element in contributing to the success of digital transformation.

The survey findings also revealed that improving workforce productivity and collaboration, enhancing customer experience and optimising operational efficiency are the top three priorities for Indian businesses during this period.

Indian businesses are placing greater focus on improving customer experience, which is contrasting when compared to the APJ respondents who are likely to concentrate on operational elements.

“Software is now the centre of all businesses. Ensuring organisations are working in an agile and collaborative environment sets them up for success today and into the future,” Manglore added. (IANS)

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Kerala’s KASE to boost blue-collar job acceptability

Apr 23, 2018 0

By Sanu George

Thiruvananthapuram– Many in Kerala look down upon blue-collar jobs even though thousands of Keralites do such jobs abroad and elsewhere in India. To get rid of this perception is the primary objective of state-owned Kerala Academy for Skills Excellence (KASE), said a top official.

Blue-collar jobs primarily include electricians, plumbers, carpenters, traditional craftsmen, refrigeration and air-conditioning mechanics, those involved in wall and floor tiling, bakery and restaurant services, florists and others.

Aiming to skill the young workforce of Kerala, as also elevate their skills to global standards, KASE promotes, establishes, sets up, monitors, governs and regulates institutions and academies.

Talking to IANS, KASE Director Sriram Venkitaraman, a young doctor-turned-bureaucrat, pointed out “the day the perception towards blue-collar jobs in our state changes, Kerala will have no reason to look back”.

“If one goes to the Middle East, we can see Keralites happily working at such jobs; but that’s not the case here.

“Our aim is to see that we change this perception and for that we have already started equipping all such people with additional skills. If things go as planned, all such workers will soon be making a beeline not just to Middle East but to other parts of the world as we have a huge population of the youth seeking jobs,” said Venkitaraman.

He said they have started to tap into the industrial training institutes — 91 in the government sector and 450 in the private sector — where more than 60,000 youth who have completed school education join annually.

“We had been to Singapore, which currently is the world leader in training students in these trades.

“We will soon enter into an agreement with the Singapore government which will be our knowledge partner to turn our ITIs (Industrial Training Institutes) into state-of-the-art institutes. For this, the state government has worked out a budget of Rs 800 crore, of which, in the first phase, Rs 228 crore would be allocated,” he said.

Venkitaraman, who has travelled all over the world, pointed out that in the West, blue-collars workers are respected and this attitude is what he plans to bring to India.

As part of its strategy, KASE has, in the past few months, been conducting zonal and district-level competitions aimed at identifying and training the youth to participate and win medals at the World Skills Competition that is scheduled to be held in the city of Kazan in south-western Russian in 2019.

“We ran a competition where we had just one condition — that all participants should be younger than 21. A total of 7,500 participants competed to showcase their vocational skills in 20 trades — 120 of whom have been selected for the state finals to be held at Kochi over three days from April 28.

“Of these, 40 will be selected to represent their state at the national level after which the final selection for Russia would be made,” said Venkitaraman.

He said taking part in the state-level finals are electricians, plumbers, carpenters and traditional craftsmen, and the three-day event will be a held on a “massive scale” and will also be open to the public.

“Basically, we want to showcase this event as we feel this could be one way to change the perception that prevails here,” he said. (IANS)

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Twitter co-founder invests in Indian AI-powered health chatbot

Apr 23, 2018 0

New Delhi– Twitter co-founder Biz Stone has invested in a Delhi-based Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered chatbot “Visit” which is the brainchild of students from Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani in Rajasthan.

Stared in 2016 by Anurag Prasad, Vaibhav Singh, Shashvat Tripathi and Chetan Anand, “Visit” is an AI-powered chatbot for health advice learning from, and assisting, existing doctors.

“People interact with the ‘Visit’ chatbot by sharing some symptoms. The bot follows up with relevant questions to collect more symptoms and risk factors (is the person hypertensive, diabetic, a smoker). This triaging is conversational and low stress,” Stone wrote in a blog post on Medium on Sunday.

“Visit” plans to democratise healthcare by shrinking the shortage of doctors using AI.

“In India, for every doctor there are 2,000 patients lined up in-clinics — waiting for hours.

“Accessibility to quality health advice is an overwhelming problem in a country with over 200 million people affected by lifestyle problems like stress, chronic conditions, obesity, skin conditions, and more. This is where the technology approach by aVisit’ comes in,” Stone informed.

“Visit” chats conclude with patients being more educated about possible conditions, symptoms, and treatments.

The chatbot is trained using over 20,000 probabilistic relationships between variables such as conditions, symptoms, risk factors, past history and more.

Once a probable medical condition is determined, “Visit” connects the patient to one of over 2,000 health specialists all across India via video, phone or chat so the right treatment can be put into place.

“But it doesn’t end there. People can stay in touch with their practitioner over chat for follow-up. The objective is not to replace the doctor but to help practitioners in an assistive way by regular patient check-ins and reminders related to their care plan,” Stone noted.

“Investing in Visit is my small way of contributing to a future where AI is seen as a positive enhancement of humanity that really does improve lives,” he added (IANS)

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Petrol price in Delhi touches Rs 74.08, highest since September 2013

Apr 20, 2018 0

New Delhi– Petrol prices in Delhi touched a fresh high of Rs 74.08 per litre on Friday, the highest in nearly five years.

In September 2013 the price had touched Rs 74.10 a litre.

In Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai too, prices climbed to new multi-year highs at Rs 76.78, Rs 81.93 and Rs 76.85 per litre respectively, the Indian Oil website said.

The previous highs in these cities were Rs 78.03 (Kolkata, August 2014), Rs 82.07 (Mumbai, March 2014) and Rs 76.93 (Chennai, July 2014).

Diesel prices also touched new record levels on Friday.

Diesel prices in Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai were Rs 65.31, Rs 68.01, Rs 69.54 and Rs 68.90 per litre respectively.

Petrol prices firmed up on Friday along with surge in crude oil prices due to the ongoing supply cut by the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries coupled with strong demand for crude oil.

On Friday, Brent crude oil was priced around $73.56 per barrel, whereas in 2013 it was priced at over $100 a barrel.

Prices of transport fuels are now changed on a daily basis unlike the previous norm of fortnightly revision of prices. (IANS)

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Reliance Infra debuts in railway space, bags EPC contract

Apr 19, 2018 0

Mumbai– Reliance Infrastructure Limited EPC has received the Letter of Award (LOA) from Rail Vikas Nigam Limited (RVNL) for its maiden railway project worth Rs 774 crore for the construction of third rail line between Jimidipeta and Gotlam on East Coast Railway on Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) basis, the company said on Thursday.

The 105 km-long line will run in Andhra Pradesh and Odisha. The scope of work includes civil, track, electrification, signalling and telecom works of the rail line. The work also includes construction of 13 railway stations and staff quarters.

“RInfra has strong credential in successful execution of complex EPC projects in various sectors including railway and metro space. This order marks our foray into Railway EPC segment and further strengthens Reliance Infrastructure Limited’s bona fide to lead in construction of rail transportation systems. The company is well positioned in the emerging railway market and poised to capture a sizable share,” said Arun Gupta, CEO, Reliance Infrastructure EPC.

The railway line between Jimidipeta to Gotlam is part of Titlagarh-Vizianagaram section. At present, Titlagarh-Vizianagaram is a double line (electrified) track section of Jharsuguda- Visakhapatnam line.

It is an important rail link between Jharsuguda and Visakhapatnam, and serves as a bypass rail link to Howrah-Mumbai trunk route and Howrah-Chennai main line of East Coast region.

It also caters to the goods and passenger traffic from Bhubaneswar, Sambalpur and Raygada with Koraput on the Kottavalsa-Kirandaul line. The line traverses through western Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. This line will lead to development around the entire area, the statement said.

Indian Railways has a plan outlay of more than Rs 7 lakh crores in the coming five years towards decongestion of railway line (doubling), new railway line, high speed railway, station development and others.

Reliance Infrastructure Limited is keenly pursuing project opportunities worth around Rs 2 lakh crore to increase its EPC order book to Rs 50,000 crore by FY19. (IANS)

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Fortis Healthcare sets up advisory panel to evaluate proposals

Apr 19, 2018 0

Mumbai– Fortis Healthcare on Thursday decided to constitute an “expert advisory committee” to evaluate all binding proposals for fund infusion.

The company’s Board in a regulatory filing with the BSE said while evaluating all the offers from suitors such as Hero Enterprise-Burman Family, Fosun Health Holdings, IHH Healthcare Berhad and Manipal Hospital Enterprises approved the constitution of the panel to “oversee the evaluation process and function as an advisor”.

As per the filing, the committee has “been requested to provide a report of its recommendation to the Board, by April 26, 2018, and will be chaired by Deepak Kapoor, Former Chairman and CEO of Price Waterhouse Coopers, India”.

The panel is likley to meet by April 25 to decide on the merger or buy offers, Brian Tempest, Director of Board, Fortis Healthcare, said in a conference call following the Board meet.

“The Board is scheduled to meet on April 26, 2018 to decide the further course of action. Standard Chartered Bank, the company’s financial advisors has been directed to assist the expert advisory committee and the Board,” the BSE filing said.

Tempest also clarified that there was no proposal from KKR-backed hospital chain Radiant Lifecare as was widely speculated.

Earlier in the day, Fortis Healthcare informed the BSE in two separate filings, that its Board has received two improved binding offer to invest in the company from Hero Enterprise Investment Office and the Burman Family Office as well as IHH Healthcare Berhad.

The new binding offer from Hero Enterprise Investment Office and the Burman Family Office entails an investment of Rs 1,500 crore directly in the company and will replace the original offer made to the Board on April 12, 2018.

On April 12, 2018 Hero Enterprise promoted by Sunil Munjal and the Burman family offered to invest Rs 1,250 crore directly in Fortis Healthcare.

After the board meet Sunil Kant Munjal, Chairman, Hero Enterprise said: “We are pleased to note that the Board of Fortis Healthcare has found merit in our offer, which is simple, binding and is the quickest to implement. We believe that our offer is the most compelling, and is significantly better than any other options being explored by the company. We believe that this is the only offer which is in the best interest of all stakeholders of Fortis.”

In a separate stock exchange filing to the BSE, Fortis said that it has received a “supplemental proposal” from IHH.

On April 14, the company reported that it has received EoI from IHH Healthcare Berhad for possible due diligence and participation with the company.

The IHH in its letter to the company’s Board on April 11, 2018 made an offer of Rs 160 per Fortis share.

On Thursday, Fortis Healthcare’s shares closed trading at Rs 148.45 per share, up 2.66 per cent at the BSE.

Besides IHH, Fortis Healthcare has received “an unsolicited non-binding expression of interest (EoI)” from Fosun Health Holdings for a possible due diligence.

Fosun Health Holdings, in its letter to the company’s Board, made an offer of a “primary infusion at a price up to Rs 156 per share, subject to due diligence to be completed within three weeks, up to a total investment of $350 million” including a preliminary investment of up to Rs 100 crore.

However, Fortis Healthcare on March 27 had announced plans to demerge its hospitals business (Fortis Hospitals) into Manipal Hospital Enterprises Private Ltd (Manipal Hospitals).

The company at that time said the proposed transaction is subject to shareholders’ approval, creditors’ approval, applicable regulatory approvals (including Competition Commission of India, SEBI, stock exchanges and National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT)) and other customary conditions precedent.

The company’s board has also approved the sale of its 20 per cent stake in SRL Ltd to Manipal Hospitals. (IANS)

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Defence Ministry website hacked, nine more sites affected

Apr 6, 2018 0

New Delhi– The Defence Ministry’s official website was hacked on Friday while nine other government sites, including that of the Home Ministry, also crashed in no time. But the government said it was all due to a “process of technical upgradation”.

The trouble began with the Defence Ministry website where a Chinese character appeared on top of its home page when www.mod.gov.in was opened. Later, the words “the site cannot be reached” and “please try again” appeared.

Minutes later, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman took to Twitter to say: “Action is initiated after the hacking of MoD website.

“The website shall be restored shortly. Needless to say, every possible step required to prevent any such eventuality in the future will be taken,” she said.

The National Information Centre (NIC), however, refuted the Defence Ministry website had been hacked.

“https://mod.gov.in is not hacked. There is some technical issue since 2.30 p.m. today (Friday). Drupal theme https://www.drupal.org/project/zen framework. The site displayed the default logo,” NIC tweeted.

Soon after the Defence Ministry website episode, other government sites — including those of the Union Home Ministry, Water Resources Ministry, Labour Ministry and Law Ministry — crashed on Friday.

When opened, the home pages of all these sites displayed error messages “the requested service is temporarily unavailable. Sorry for Inconvenience. It would be available soon.”

A Home Ministry spokesperson said its departmental website was not hacked and that “it was a process of technical upgradation as security features were being upgraded”.

Gulshan Rai, head of the Computer Emergency Response Team or CERT, said there had been no cyber attack on any government website or any sabotage.

“It is a hardware failure, affecting around 10 government websites. Drupal is a content management software used by the affected websites. The websites will be restored soon,” Rai said.

CERT-In is the national nodal agency for responding to computer security incidents when they occur. (IANS)

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