India launches portal for e-auction of power transmission projects

Aug 17, 2016 0

New Delhi– Power Minister Piyush Goyal on Wednesday launched the process of tariff-based reverse auction in the transmission sector, simultaneously inaugurating a portal for electronic bidding for transmission projects.

He launched here the “Tarang” mobile App, “e-Trans” and “DEEP” (Discovery of Efficient Electricity Price) e-bidding web portals developed by Rural Electrification Corp, saying that reverse auction is being introduced in transmission sector on the lines of coal sector in order to facilitate better price discovery in such projects.

Power Minister Piyush Goyal

Power Minister Piyush Goyal

The web portal marks a shift from the current manual auction process to the electronic mode for determining the lowest bidder for the projects.

“Tarang is a powerful monitoring tool that tracks upcoming transmission projects and monitors the progress of inter-state and intra-state transmission systems in the country, being developed through regulated tariff mechanism as well as Tariff Based Competitive Bidding route,” Goyal said.

The Tarang (Transmission App for Real Time Monitoring and Growth) mobile app will also give information on delayed transmission projects and issues halting them, the power ministry said in a release here.

The DEEP e-Bidding portal allows for medium term (1-5 years) purchase of power.

The government had earlier launched the facility to buy power for short term (one day to one year). The portal is expected to extend the facility for long term power purchase beyond five years.

Goyal said that by introducing e-bidding and e-reverse auction for medium term of 1 to 5 years, the time span of the complete bidding process and the cost of procurement of power is expected to be reduced substantially, thereby significantly benefiting the ultimate consumers. (IANS)

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Indian Finance Ministry rejects greening highways initiative

Aug 17, 2016 0

New Delhi–In a blow to the Green Highways Policy of Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari, the Finance Ministry has rejected his proposal which mandates that developers invest 1 per cent of their total project cost in a corpus fund for roadside plantations.

The fund was expected to hold up to Rs.1,000 crore per year to provide a green canopy along highways.

“Social forestry stands allocated to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change and not to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways,” the Finance Ministry said in a communication to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways while clarifying its decision to reject the proposal.

“Also, that a Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) is in place at present which has accumulated funds of Rs 38,000 crore already,” it said.

“As the activities of CAMPA are very closely related to what is being proposed by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, establishment of a separate fund may result in overlap of responsibilities, besides unnecessary parking of funds when a large corpus is already available with CAMPA,” it added.

Besides, CAMPA is administered by the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change.

The Finance Ministry noted that the government has already introduced a bill in parliament to create a fund in the Public Account and transfer the accumulated funds in this regard.

The “Green Highways (plantation, transplantation, beautification and maintenance) Policy, 2015” was released by Gadkari in September last year.

“This policy will generate employment opportunities for about five lakh people from rural areas,” Gadkari said at the release ceremony here.

The Road Transport and Highways Ministry had said the policy envisages greening of highway corridors with participation of farmers, private sector, non government organisations and government institutions.

The minister had elaborated that under the policy 1,200 roadside amenities will also be established. (IANS)

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IBM, IIT-Bombay to launch a platform to link top research institutions for collaborations

Aug 17, 2016 0

Mumbai– To facilitate knowledge-sharing and promote joint innovation, a high-speed data communications network is being launched on Thursday by IIT-Bombay and IBM to connect all institutions of higher learning and research in the country, officials here said.

At the core of this initiative will be the OpenPOWER Research Facility (OPRF).

It is being spearheaded by OpenPOWER Foundation of IBM, NVIDIA and Mellanox to establish the OPRF, which will provide India’s research and development community with technical assistance and infrastructure to boost indigenous research.

“With OPRF, scientists, students, developers and enterprises who are part of the National Knowledge Network initiative can tap into the latest and best available OpenPOWER-based infrastructure and other solutions,” said an IIT-B spokesperson.

It will start with doctoral scholars, MTech and engineering students who will tap into OPRF and develop new-age applications and solutions around eGovernance, healthcare, education, agriculture and high-performance computing, the spokesperson added.

“OPRF supports an open technology ecosystem for high-performance computing and its applications and give students, faculty and researchers opportunity to gain familiarity with its system features,” said P.S.V. Nataraj, Professor and Principal Investigator, IIT-B.

Its objectives and activities align well with the recently launched National Supercomputing Mission of the government of India, Nataraj added.

IBM’s Vice-President for India Systems Development Lab Monica Aggarwal said open collaboration is delivering the next wave of innovation across the entire system stack, allowing clients and organisations to develop customised solutions to capitalise on today’s emerging workloads.

“The OPRF will enable Indian companies, universities and government organisations to build technologies indigenously using the high-performance POWER processor, helping to drive the national IT agenda of India,” she added.

OPRF is a global, open development membership organisation formed to facilitate and inspire collaborative innovation where members share expertise, investment and server-class intellectual property to develop solutions for the evolving needs of technology customers.

Member innovations delivered and under development include custom systems for large-scale data centres, workload acceleration and platform optimisation for software appliances and advanced hardware technology exploitation.

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730 million internet users in India by 2020

Aug 17, 2016 0

New Delhi– There will be 730 million internet users in India by 2020 and the usage will grow in verticals such as hospitality, e-Commerce and financial technologies, among others, a new report revealed on Wednesday.

“Globally, the number of internet users is expected to touch 4,170 million by 2020. The growth of the internet has successfully created a strong ecosystem for new businesses to tap into growing markets and create solutions to address their demands,” said the report released by IT industry apex body Nasscom and content delivery network service Akamai Technologies here.

Nasscom president R. Chandrashekhar

Nasscom president R. Chandrashekhar

India’s internet user base is the second largest after China, added the report titled “The Future of Internet in India.”

“India’s internet consumption has already exceeded the US to become No. 2 globally. Internet has become the greatest disruptor of our age by changing the way we work, interact socially and live life in general,” said R Chandrashekhar, Nasscom President.

The report said that 70 per cent of e-commerce transactions would occur via mobile phones.

“Seventy five per cent of new internet users will consume data in local languages and India will remain the fastest growing internet market,” it added.

By 2020, the internet is expected to penetrate deeper in the hinterlands of the country, helping to create more opportunities for everyone, Chandrashekhar added.

“The rapid growth of the internet and its expansion into verticals including e-Commerce, travel and hospitality, public sector, financial technology and media is a clear indication of the state of things to come,” Chandrashekhar noted.

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Oracle partners with Telangana Academy for Skill and Knowledge

Aug 17, 2016 0

New Delhi–With the aim to bring computer science education to 2,000 students and 150 faculty members over the next three years, Oracle Academy on Wednesday signed an agreement with the Telangana Academy for Skill and Knowledge (TASK).

As part of the initiative, Oracle Academy resources, including software, academic curriculum, hosted technology, educator training, support and certification resources will be made available to students and faculty.

“Our goal is to prepare our students on emerging technologies and enhance their employability quotient and Oracle’s resources, including certification discounts will help our students equip themselves to meet the increasing demands of the IT industry,” Sujiv Naid, TASK CEO, said in a statement.

Oracle Academy will facilitate a “train-the-trainer” course to ramp up engineering college faculty members as instructors for five Oracle Academy courses including database foundations, database design and programming with SQL, among others.

After completing their training with Oracle Academy, the faculty members will leverage the Oracle Academy infrastructure and materials to train other faculty members and students.

“Today’s collaboration showcases how the technology sector can work together with state government initiatives like TASK to provide a practical solution to the skills gap challenge,” Shailender Kumar, Managing Director, Oracle India, added.

Each year, Oracle Academy reaches more than 3.1 million students in 110 countries, the company said.

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Regional officers to be given more powers: Indian Transport Minister Gadkari

Aug 16, 2016 0

New Delhi– The government on Tuesday said the regional officers of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) will be entrusted with the power to approve plans for improvement of road accident black spots in the country.

Nitin Gadkari

Nitin Gadkari

Road Transport and Highways and Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari, while emphasising on the alarmingly high number of road accidents in the country and the resultant fatalities, stated that the process of rectifying engineering defects that lead to accidents should be done at a much faster pace than it is being done at present.

The Minister was addressing a video conference of regional officers of the ministry and NHAI for monitoring and preparing a preliminary proposal for removal of black spots.

He further assured the regional officers that funds would be made available for this work, and that they should assign utmost urgency to rectification of black spots.

The Minister also reviewed the progress of land acquisition for various road projects.

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Empower state-run bank boards, cut government control: Rajan

Aug 16, 2016 0

Mumbai–Outgoing Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Raghuram Rajan on Tuesday suggested empowering of boards of state-run banks while making the case for a major reduction in government and regulatory oversight, including by the RBI itself.

“Today, a variety of authorities — parliament, the Department of Financial Services, the Bank Board Bureau, the board of the bank, the vigilance authorities, and of course various regulators and supervisors, including the RBI — monitor the performance of the public sector banks,” Rajan said in his address here at the FICCI-IBA Annual Global Banking Conference.

Raghuram Ranjan

Raghuram Ranjan

“With so many overlapping constituencies to satisfy, it is a wonder that bank management has time to devote to the management of the bank,” he said.

Proposing withdrawal of RBI nominees from the boards of public sector banks, Rajan stressed the need to reduce the overlaps between the jurisdictions of the authorities, while specifying “clear triggers or situations” where one authority’s oversight is invoked.

He said agencies like the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) should only get involved in extraordinary situations where there is evidence of malfeasance, and not when legitimate business judgment has gone wrong.

“It is important that bank boards be freed to determine their strategies. Too much coaching by central authorities will lead to a sameness in public sector banks,” the Governor said.

“Over time, RBI should also empower boards more, for instance, offering broad guidelines on compensation to boards but not requiring every top compensation package be approved,” he said.

“Though the most pressing task for public sector banks is to clean up their balance sheets, a process which is well underway, a parallel task is to improve their governance and management.”

“Over time, as the bank boards are professionalised, executive appointment decisions should devolve from the Bank Board Bureau (BBB) to the boards themselves, while the BBB, as it transforms into the Bank Investment Company (BIC), which is the custodian for the government’s stake in banks, should focus only on appointing directors to represent the government stake on the bank boards,” he added.

Rajan, whose tenure ends in early September, also voiced concern over state-run banks shunning project loans, saying they should tap their large low-cost deposits from “casa” or current account saving accounts deposits to finance infrastructure projects.

He said that since the crisis in the infrastructure space, banks are shunning project loans and are aggressively targeting retail borrowers.

“There are inputs to making profitable project loans such as the availability of casa deposits that will be accrued to the banks that build out their IT to access and serve the broader saver cheaply and effectively,” Rajan said.

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India to import chana and masoor dal

Aug 16, 2016 0

New Delhi– In view of the high prices of pulses both in the wholesale and retail markets in the country, the Centre on Tuesday decided to import about 20,000 tonnes of ‘chana dal’ and 80,000 tonnes of ‘masoor’ dal to strengthen its buffer stock.

A decision to import these dals was taken at a meeting of an inter-ministerial committee, headed by Consumer Affairs Secretary Hem Pande here, an official source said.

“The government has decided to import further 20,000 tonnes of chana and 80,000 tonnes of masoor to strengthen buffer stock,” a Food Ministry statement said after the committee meeting.

The meeting discussed about an “alternate mechanism” for the release of pulses from the buffer stock at an appropriate time for effective market intervention if sufficient quantity is not lifted by the states, official sources said here.

Senior officials from the ministries of agriculture, food, commerce and finance, besides representatives from state-run trading firm Metals and Minerals Trading Corporation of India and cooperative major Nafed were also present.

The Centre has been importing pulses through the MMTC, which has so far contracted about 86,000 tonnes of pulses.

Lentils from the buffer stock are given to states for retail sale at a subsidised rate but not many states are lifting the commodities allocated to them.

Meanwhile, the state governments have been requested to expedite lifting of ‘tur’ and ‘urad’ from the buffer stock. Tur is given at a rate of Rs 67/kg and urad at 82/kg, sources said.

Pulses production is estimated to be lower at 17.06 million tonnes in 2015-16 crop year (July-June) as against the annual expected demand of 23.5 million tonnes.

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Reserve Bank of India penalizes four co-operative banks for norms violations

Aug 16, 2016 0

Mumbai– The Reserve Bank on India (RBI) on Tuesday said it has imposed penalties of up to Rs 5 lakh on four co-operative banks for violation of norms.

The central bank said it has imposed a monetary penalty of Rs 5 lakh on The Co-operative City Bank, Guwahati, for flouting know-your-customer (KYC) norms and non-adherence to requirements relating to identification and reporting of suspicious transactions.

A penalty of Rs 2 lakh has been imposed on Indapur Urban Co-operative Bank, in Pune dsitrict of Maharashtra for violations of norms related to KYC and anti-money laundering and credit exposure norms on loans.

RBI has also imposed a penalty of Rs 1 lakh on Shri Dadasaheb Gajmal Co-operative Bank in Pachora of Maharashtra’s district of Jalgaon for violation of norms relating to creation of floating charge on its assets without prior permission.

In a separate statement, RBI said it has imposed a penalty of Rs 1 lakh on the Model Co-operative Urban Bank, Hyderabad, Telangana for violation of directives and guidelines on loans and advances to directors and their relatives. (IANS)

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Space war between India, Devas Multimedia takes another turn

Aug 16, 2016 0

By Venkatachari Jagannathan and Sanu George

Chennai/Thiruvananthapuram– Five years on, a raging battle between the Government of India, the privately-owned Devas Multimedia, and former senior officials of the Department of Space (DOS), the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and Antrix Corp refuses to die down.

While Devas seems have won cases filed overseas against the Indian government for cancelling its transponder leasing contract, the latter is also adopting legal recourse in India against the alleged corruption in the deal.

The latest development is a chargesheet filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) a few days ago, placing the loss to the exchequer on account of the deal at Rs 578 crore. Those named are former ISRO Chairman and DOS Secretary G. Madhavan Nair, then Executive Director of Antrix K.R. Sridhara Murthi, and others.

Antrix, the commercial arm of ISRO, had entered into an agreement with Devas in 2005 for the long-term lease of two ISRO satellites operating in the S-band. With the leased transponders, Devas planned to offer digital multimedia services using the S-band wavelength (spectrum), reserved for strategic purpose.

The deal was cancelled in 2011 following the Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) estimate of Rs 2 trillion crore loss to the government and the subsequent uproar.

The then United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government invoked sovereignty for cancelling the deal and decided to use the advanced satellite for the country’s strategic use.

However the CAG’s loss estimates were contested by a two-member high powered review committee which also ruled out cheap selling of spectrum to Devas. The panel comprised former Cabinet Secretary B.K. Chaturvedi and noted aerospace scientist Roddam Narasimha.

But a five-member team, chaired by former Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) Pratyush Sinha, concluded that there have been serious lapses of judgment on part of various officials, and in some cases the actions verged on the point of breach of public trust in the deal.

Reacting to the chargesheet, Nair said that there was nothing wrong in the deal. The CBI action comes after India lost an arbitration case in an international tribunal against Devas for cancelling the contract.

Last month, Devas said: “A Permanent Court of Arbitration tribunal has found that the government of India’s actions in annulling a contract between Devas and Antrix Corporation Ltd. and denying Devas commercial use of S-band spectrum constituted an expropriation.”

Devas said the unanimous decision included the arbitrator appointed by India.

However, the Department of Space said that in the award — issued on “jurisdiction and merits on July 25, 2016” — the tribunal has said the Indian government’s essential security interest provisions “do apply in this case to an extent” and the “limited liability of compensation shall be limited to 40 per cent of the value of the investment”, but the precise quantum has not been determined as yet.

In an earlier decision, an International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) tribunal in 2015 found unanimously that Antrix’s repudiation of the contract was unlawful, and awarded Devas damages and pre-award interest of approximately $672 million, plus post-award annual interest accruing at 18 per cent until the award is paid in full.

According to Devas, a mutually agreeable resolution of this matter is preferred and until that occurs, the company and its investors will continue to press their claims before international tribunals and in courts around the world.

In June this year, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) had issued a notice to Devas for alleged violation of foreign exchange laws.

According to a government statement, Devas is suspected to have received FDI of Rs 578.54 crore between May 2006 and June 2010 from various overseas investors, but the share subscription agreements it entered with them contained clauses contrary to the conditions specified in the approvals granted by Foreign Investment Promotion Board.

Devas was also charged with contravening the FDI regulations under FEMA for assuring foreign investors an annual eight per cent priority dividend in addition to other dividends on cumulative basis, and for one tranche of receipt of funds, issuing a security akin to an External Commercial Borrowing (ECB) promising higher returns than the ceiling fixed by the Reserve Bank of India.

The Antrix-Devas deal is the second major controversy in which senior ISRO officials were figuring.

The first one was popularly known as the ISRO Spy Scandal in which S. Nambi Narayanan, a senior space scientist was wrongly implicated and arrested on espionage charges along with another top official, two Maldivian women and a businessman.

In 1996, a year later after the case surfaced, things changed drastically with the CBI and the apex court clearing Narayanan and gave him a clean chit. He got back his job.

Narayanan has approached the Supreme Court seeking criminal and disciplinary action against the senior police officers for implicating him in the espionage case in which he was discharged. (IANS)

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