Committee recommends discounted fare in trains with low occupancy: Gohain

Feb 7, 2018 0

New Delhi– The government on Wednesday said that the eight-member committee formed to review the ‘flexi fare’ scheme in the railways has recommended offering discounted fares in trains with low occupancy.

“The committee has submitted its report on January 16, 2018. Important recommendations are to rationalise the ‘flexi fare’ scheme based on the occupancy of the train,” Minister of State for Railways Rajen Gohain said in a written reply to a question in the Lok Sabha.

He said that the committee also recommended to “offer discounted fare in trains having low occupancy”.

“The report along with recommendations have been put up for consideration of the Railways Board,” the Minister said.

The eight-member committee comprising Railway Board officials along with Ravinder Goyal, Adviser Niti Ayog, Meenakshi Malik, Executive Director, Revenue Management, Air India, S Sriram, Professor of transport economics and Iti Mani, Director, Revenue, Le Meridien, Delhi on December 11, 2017.

Railways introduced ‘flexi fare’ for premier trains — Rajdhani, Duronto and Shatabdi — on September 9, 2016. Under this scheme, the base fare increases by 10 per cent with every 10 per cent of berths sold, subject to a prescribed limit. There was no change in the existing fare for 1AC and EC class of travel.

But on December 19, 2016, Railways started to provide 10 per cent rebate on any seat left vacant after the preparation of the chart.

Gohain said that the committee was formed to examine the impact of implementation of ‘flexi fare’ in its current form with respect to revenue generated for the railways, impact on passenger in terms of their choice of railways as a means of transport and competitiveness of flexi fare viz-a-viz other means of transport. (IANS)

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Draft NTP 2018 to be in public domain in 2-3 weeks: Sundararajan

Feb 7, 2018 0

New Delhi–Telecom Secretary Aruna Sundararajan on Wednesday said the draft National Telecom Policy (NTP) 2018 is likely to be in the public domain in the next two to three weeks.

“A draft National Telecom Policy 2018 that is liberal and non-prescriptive in its licensing approach in machine to machine (M2M) communication is being given final touches,” Sundararajan said at the launch of a FICCI-EY report on “M2M — Changing lives of 130 crore Indians”.

“The policy should be in the public domain in the next two to three weeks for discussion and responses from stakeholders,” she said.

The Telecom Secretary, while launching the report — which provides inputs to the government on M2M communications to help formulate the M2M policy framework — said NTP 2018 would be transformative in harnessing the full benefits of M2M communications.

Last week, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India released the recommendations for the NTP 2018 in which it has set a target to attract an investment of $100 billion in communication by 2022 and planned to leapfrog the country into the top-50 nations in the ICT Development Index released by the International Telecommunication Union every year.

It also aims to create 2 million additional jobs in the ICT sector by 2022. (IANS)

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Indian professionals feel less strategic but more skilled

Jan 30, 2018 0

New Delhi– Words like “strategic”, “excellent” and “certified” have dropped off the chart for Indian professionals and “skilled” has entered the “2017 Top 10 Buzzwords” list for the first time, professional networking platform LinkedIn said on Tuesday.

LinkedIn analysed the most popular words across 45 million member profiles in India and found that professionals are highlighting skills over personal strengths in describing themselves this year.

“Our Buzzwords data corroborates that Indian professionals are keen on highlighting their experiences and skills over personal qualities to gain a competitive advantage over other candidates,” Deepa Sapatnekar, Head of Communications for India, LinkedIn, said in a statement.

Words “oriented” and “innovative” are also new entries to the list.

“Interestingly, recruiters are also using keywords to identify candidates so professionals should use the right words to bring them closer to the right job,” Sapatnekar added.

The word ‘experienced’ moved from the ninth spot to the first spot in comparison to last year’s list.

“The emphasis on the words ‘experienced’ and ‘skilled’ over ‘certified’ also highlights that recruiters are looking for talent with years of practical experience within a role, and not necessarily only for talent that is academically certified,” the data showed.

The word “passionate” also gradually dropped down the ranks, from No 2 (in 2015) to No 5 (in 2016) to No 6 this year and “excellent” has dropped off this year’s list completely — alluding to the fact that your personal qualities may not be enough to land your dream job.

The change in vocabulary shows that Indian professionals are keen on using specific and simple words to describe what they are good at and are deploying ways to quantify the use of broader terms, the data revealed. (IANS)

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India, ADB sign $250 mn loan agreement for rural roads

Jan 30, 2018 0

New Delhi– The Indian government and the Asian Development Bank on Tuesday signed a $250 million loan agreement to finance construction of roads in Assam, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal, an official statement said.

The loan would be utilised to construct 6,254 km of “all-weather roads” in the five states under the Prime Minister’s Rural Roads Programme, said the Finance Ministry release.

“The first tranche loan is part of the $500 million Second Rural Connectivity Investment Programme for India approved by the ADB Board in December 2017.

“In view of increased rainfall and storm surges in the project states, the road designs will take into account these climate risks with measures such as greater elevation of road embankments, slope protection, and better drainage in flood-prone areas,” the ministry said. (IANS)


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After Economic Survey, much now depends on Budget 2018-19

Jan 30, 2018 0

By Amit Kapoor

In its own #MeToo moment, the Economic Survey this year was released with a symbolic pink cover and a dedicated chapter on India’s notorious gender issues.

The Survey, over the last few years under Arvind Subramanian, has provided a refreshing take on resolving the challenges facing the Indian economy. In the past, he has given quite a few out-of-the-box policy recommendations like the establishment of a bad bank for resolution of the problem of bad loans and implementation of a universal basic income to do away with the inefficiency of subsidies. The document this year is no less insightful.

The Survey places the GDP growth estimate for the current fiscal at 6.75 per cent. This figure is a tad higher than the Central Statistics Office’s projection at 6.5 percent, as in its own estimates, it has not incorporated the pick-up in growth in the latter half of the year. Moreover, the Survey estimates that, as a result of the reforms undertaken this year, real GDP growth will rise by 7 to 7.5 percent in the next fiscal. This would reinstate India’s position as the fastest-growing major economy in the world.

On India’s economic growth in the recent past, the Survey highlights an interesting aspect. Over the last 4-6 quarters, India’s growth has temporarily decoupled with that of the world economy. Until early 2016, economic growth in India was accelerating while that of other countries was decelerating. Since then the opposite has been true.

This was due to a combination of five factors. First, until mid-2016, real interest rates were following the downward global trend after which India’s rates deviated and started shifting upwards. This affected investment activity negatively and resulted in an appreciation of the rupee, which subdued export activity.
The second and third factors were the twin effects of demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax (GST). The fourth was the twin balance sheet (TBS) challenge of banks and corporates while the final factor was the uptick in oil prices over the first three quarters of 2017-18.

However, of late, India is displaying a robust revival in growth along with the world economy, signalling an end of the temporary decoupling it witnessed. The story of revival in the Survey is also punctuated with warnings of risk factors within the economy. The biggest challenge in the upcoming fiscal arises from the rise in oil prices. The Indian economy always finds its growth story challenged by twin deficits within its fiscal and current accounts owing to variability in the global oil prices. The economy needs to find a sustainable solution to this historical macro-economic vulnerability by rapidly ramping up its strength on the export front, preferably in manufactured goods.

The second risk factor highlighted by the Survey, which could impact India’s growth in the near future, is a possible correction in the stock markets. As this column has previously highlighted, Indian stock markets have displayed a puzzling trend over the last few years. Since December 2015, the Sensex has risen 46 percent in rupee terms while economic growth and corporate profits have decelerated. This trend has largely been driven by expectations of a revival in growth and a sudden change in the savings pattern of households after demonetisation. However, as the Survey points out, a sharp correction cannot be ruled out in case future growth of the economy and corporate earnings do not remain in line with current expectations.

Such a correction in stock markets could trigger the classic emerging market “stall” in capital flows and force further hikes in interest rates, which will be quite inimical to economic growth. Hence the duality of growth and risk is the current saga of the India story.

So, what do the findings of the Economic Survey tell us about the focus of the upcoming Budget?

First, as expected, the agriculture sector will be in deserving focus on February 1. The Survey stresses on giving adequate support to the sector. However, in a major setback to Modi’s aim of doubling agricultural income, the Survey provides a key finding that, due to climate change, annual agricultural incomes could reduce by 15-18 percent on an average. In unirrigated areas, this figure could climb up as high as 20-25 percent.

This provides some crucial Budget recommendations. Higher investment needs to be made towards expanding irrigation with the implementation of efficient drip and sprinkler technologies. Moreover, a plan to provide direct income support to farmers can be put in motion to replace inefficient agricultural subsidies.

Second, the Budget needs to address the perpetual problem of employment. Although India’s unemployment rate is around 3.5 percent, the unemployment rate in the 15-24 age group stands at 10.5 percent, as per recent International Labour Organisation estimates. Therefore, India has an abysmally low capacity to provide jobs to first-time workers. The only solution for India is to strengthen its manufacturing sector.

Providing incentives to labour-intensive export sectors in the Budget can kill two birds with one stone. Apart from providing jobs, growth in the export sector will imply higher current account surplus for the Indian economy which can provide a cushion against swings in the global oil prices. Therefore, it would go a long way in reducing India’s historical macro-economic vulnerability that the Survey highlights.

There are various other aspects of the economy that will hopefully be addressed when Finance Minister Arun Jaitley stands up in Parliament on the fateful day. Reviving investment activity, stabilising the GST and, most importantly, the question of sticking to the fiscal deficit targets; quite a lot hangs in balance on the upcoming Budget. It will be interesting to see the course that the government decides to take. (IANS)

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From healthcare to manufacturing, 3D printing set to grow big in India

Jan 30, 2018 0

By Nishant Arora

New Delhi– A team of surgeons from Medanta: The Medicity, Gurugram, last year successfully implanted a 3D-printed vertebra in a 32-year-old woman — helping her walk again after a bout of disabling spinal tuberculosis.

The 10-hour-long surgery was the first-of-its-kind for reconstruction with a 3D-printed titanium implant in India, and third in the world.

Not just healthcare, 3D printing, or Additive Manufacturing (AM), has the potential to transform many industries in the years to come and sensing the mammoth opportunities, key players are now arriving in India with their 3D solutions and technologies.

Although in a nascent stage, market intelligence solutions firm 6Wresearch predicts that India’s 3D printer prototyping and materials market will hit $79 million by 2021.

In a bid to take industrial manufacturing in India to a new level, printing and PC major HP Inc this month brought its acclaimed Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) 3D Printers to India.

“While verticals like automotive, defence and manufacturing in general will be the key focus for us, healthcare is a promising area for HP Inc in the long term in India,” Sumeer Chandra, Managing Director, HP Inc India, told IANS.

Starting from Rs 2.5 crore, the HP printing solution includes pre- and post-processing unit, the 3D printer and initial consumables.

According to Alexandre Lalumiere, Director, Asia Pacific & Japan (APJ) 3D Printing, 3D printing is the building block when it comes to transforming healthcare.

“Industry is yet to fully understand what this technology can achieve — but beyond prototyping, the firms are now looking at building customised implants, prosthetics and fixtures that will transform regenerative medicine globally, including in India,” Lalumiere told IANS.

Global spending in 3D healthcare printing has grown exponentially in the last couple of years.

Riding on growing R&D investments and improved healthcare infrastructure associated with the development of 3D printing products, the healthcare 3D printing market globally is forecast to hit $2.2 billion by 2024, says Global Market Insights Inc.

According to Samson Khaou, Managing Director, Dassault Systemes India Pvt Ltd, in today’s complex and competitive global marketplace, Indian companies are striving to be a recognisable force that can offer the best “price-to-performance” offering.

“3D Printing takes companies a step ahead in this competitive journey. For example, an automobile component manufacturer was able to reduce materials requirements by approximately 35 per cent when virtual testing revealed routes to a better, stronger, light-weighted design,” Khaou told IANS.

In another case, a waste treatment provider cut design cycles and development costs by 40 per cent while reducing the time to market by 50 per cent, he added.

Dassault Systemes is hearing a lot about 3D printing — whether it is to print a prosthetic arm, or designing the favourite chocolate toppings, manufacturing a bridge on-site, or even printing an entire car.

“This technology is effectively used in manufacturing process in the aviation and automotive industry and can enhance production times as well as product performance in terms of strength, weight and environmental impact — improvements that are impossible to obtain with traditional methods,” the Dassault Systemes executive emphasised.

Imaginarium, an Indian 3D printing and prototyping company, is catering to a number of industries like healthcare, jewellery, and automotive and consumer products.

“We are working with medical specialists to bring personalised healthcare solutions. Using MRI scan, we can recreate internal organs like heart or kidney in 3D so that a doctor has a tangible organ to test on before the surgery,” said Tanmay Shah, Head of innovations at Imaginarium.

The technology can be used to create implants and prosthetics and with growing consumer demand, there will soon be mass scale customisation in India when it comes to 3D printing.

“In India, there is a certain level of technology R&D happening in academic institutions as well as start-ups, who are working on building their own machines. But compared to the world, we are still some distance away from making industrial-grade 3D printing machines,” Shah noted.

Meanwhile, Dassault Systemes is planning to roll out a “Marketplace” on Additive Manufacturing.

“The Marketplace will enable 3D printing of the product that can be delivered to a customer’s location with the click of a button. The solution will be (useful) for all businesses: Small and mid-sized, entrepreneurs, and also large enterprises that want to improve their marketplace mechanisms to improve training in their departments,” Khaou told IANS. (IANS)

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Inflation under control for 4th year as government takes measures: Economic Survey

Jan 29, 2018 0

New Delhi– Headline inflation measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) has remained under control for the fourth successive year which “has been possible due to good agricultural production coupled with regular price monitoring by the government”, the Economic Survey 2017-18 said here on Monday.

“In fact the decline in the inflation in the first half of the current fiscal year was indicative of a benign food inflation which ranged between (-) 2.1 to 1.5 per cent,” the Survey placed in Parliament by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley revealed.

According to the Survey, inflation in the country continued to moderate during 2017-18 with the CPI based headline inflation averaging 3.3 per cent during the period — the lowest in the last six financial years.

The Survey pointed out that the decline in the inflation was broad-based across major commodity groups except housing and fuel and light.

“The headline inflation has been below 4 per cent for twelve straight months, from November 2016 to October, 2017 and CPI food inflation averaged around one per cent during April-December in the current financial year,” said the Survey.

However, the rise in food inflation in recent months is mainly due to factors driving prices of vegetables and fruits, it said.

“In rural areas while food was main driver of CPI inflation during 2016-17, in urban areas housing sector has contributed the most to inflation in the current financial year,” the Survey highlighted.

State-wise inflation data during the fiscal showed that many states witnessed sharp fall in CPI inflation with 17 states’ inflation below 4 per cent.

This has been possible due to various efforts made to contain inflation at various level by the government, said the Survey.

The Survey also highlighted the measures taken by the government for controlling inflation like issuing advisories as and when required to state governments to take strict action against hoarding and black marketing for commodities in short supply, and holding regular review meetings at the highest level on price and availability situation.

“Higher MSP (minimum support price) has been announced so as to incentivise production and thereby enhance availability of food items which may help moderate prices. A scheme titled Price Stabilisation Fund (PSF) is being implemented to control price volatility of agricultural commodities like pulses and onions,” the Survey pointed out.

“The government approved enhancement in buffer stock of pulses from 1.5 lakh MT (million tonne) to 20 lakh MT to enable effective market intervention for moderation of retail prices. Accordingly, a dynamic buffer stock of pulses of upto 20 lakh tonne has been built,” it added.

In its control measures, the government imposed 20 per cent duty on export of sugar for promoting availability and moderating price rise, and permitted import of 5 lakh tonne of raw sugar at zero duty along with additional 3 lakh tonne at 25 per cent duty.

“Export of all varieties of onion will be allowed only on letter of credit subject to a minimum export price (MEWP) of $850 per MT till December 31, 2017. States/union territories have been advised to impose stock limit on onions,” the Survey added. (IANS)

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Climate change can cause 15-25% slump in farm incomes: Report

Jan 29, 2018 0

New Delhi– The impact of climate change could reduce annual agricultural incomes from 15 to 25 per cent, which translates into loss of over Rs 3,600 for the median farm household, says the Economic Survey 2018, which was tabled in Parliament on Monday.

It said the susceptibility to climate change can be minimised by extending irrigation facilities and replacing untargated subsidies in power and fertiliser by direct income support.

“Applying IPCC-predicted temperatures and projecting India’s recent trends in precipitation, and assuming no policy responses, give rise to estimates for farm income losses of 15 percent to 18 percent on average, rising to 20 percent-25 percent for unirrigated areas,” it said.

“At current levels of farm income, that translates into more than Rs 3,600 per year for the median farm household”.

Agriculture accounted for 16 per cent of the GDP and 49 per cent of employment, thus poor performance “can lead to inflation, farmer distress and unrest, and larger political and social disaffection –all of which can hold back the economy”.

As per the report, about 73.2 million hectares area of 141.4 million hectares net sown area (52 per cent) was still unirrigated and rainfed making Indian agriculture vulnerable to the vagaries of weather.

Fully irrigating Indian agriculture, especially in the wake of water scarcity and limited efficiency in existing irrigation schemes, posed “a defining challenge for the future”, it said.

It also underlined the need to embrace agriculture science and technology “with renewed ardor”. (IANS)


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GDP to be closer to 7.5% in 2018-19: Debroy

Jan 29, 2018 0

New Delhi– The real GDP growth in 2018-19 is likely to be closer to 7.5 per cent rather than 7 per cent, Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council Chairman (EAC-PM) Bibek Debroy said on Monday.

Endorsing the pick-up in growth highlighted in the Economic Survey 2017-18, he said the Survey was a reflection of government’s commitment to growth and development.

The Economic Survey for 2018-19 estimated a real GDP growth rate of 6.75 per cent for the full year in the current fiscal. For 2018-19 it projected a real GDP growth between 7 to 7.5 per cent.

“…The real GDP growth rate is likely to be closer to 7.5 per cent rather than 7 per cent,” a statement quoting Debroy said.

The EAC-PM said the Survey was optimistic in its tone because of government’s commitment to carry forward structural reforms like Goods and Services Tax, deregulation measures, bank re-capitalization and resolution through the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code process.

“The government is committed to fiscal consolidation and prudent public expenditure. It would be in order if public expenditure is also financed through off-Budget instruments.

“It is rightly mentioned that growth drivers will have to fundamentally emerge through exports, private investments and consumption. The Survey has already noted the likely pick-up in both exports and private investments,” Debroy said.

He said while a lot of general statements were made about the impact of demonetisation on GDP growth, the Survey stressed that demonetisation was only a blip that did not last beyond mid-2017.

“One of the objectives of demonetisation and GST was an increase in the tax payer base. Correcting for trends, the Survey has figures to show that the number of tax payers has actually increased because of these policy measures, though many of these tax payers declared incomes that are close to the minimum threshold levels,” he said.

“There has also been lot of debate about job growth, despite the lack of credible data. The Survey has specific numbers to show that formal sector employment is much higher than what is commonly suggested.” (IANS)

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Pegged at 7-7.5%, India to regain world’s fastest GDP growth next year: Economic Survey

Jan 29, 2018 0

New Delhi– Analysing all facets of development and reform, India’s Economic Survey for 2017-18 has pegged the country’s growth at 6.75 per cent for the current fiscal and 7 to 7.5 per cent for 2018-19 while cautioning that increase in crude oil prices in international market may dampen the spirit.

“A series of major reforms undertaken over the past year will allow real GDP growth to reach 6.75 per cent this fiscal and will rise to 7 to 7.5 per cent in 2018-19, thereby re-instating India as the world’s fastest growing major economy,” the Survey said here on Monday.

The Survey, tabled in parliament by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Monday, also said the reform measures undertaken in 2017-18 can be strengthened further in 2018-19.

The Survey underlined that the economy began to accelerate in the second half of the year and can clock 6.75 per cent growth this fiscal due to the launch of transformational Goods and Services Tax (GST) reform on July 1, 2017 and resolution of the long-festering Twin Balance Sheet (TBS) problem by sending the major stressed companies for resolution under the new Indian Bankruptcy Code.

It also said implementing a major recapitalisation package to strengthen the public sector banks, further liberalisation of foreign direct investment (FDI) and the export uplift from the global recovery had played a major role in boosting the growth.

“Looking at the achievements of the past year, the launch of the transformational GST was certainly the major one,” Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian told reporters here referring to the single national tax that replaced the earlier multiple central and state taxes from July 1.

“There were bound to be teething challenges with such a major reform and mid course corrections were taken,” he said.

“If you look at the last four quarters, you will see that manufacturing export growth is about 11.3 per cent, which is very healthy and broadly in line with where the world economy is going,” the CEA added.

“The economy will start reaping benefits of these reforms in the next fiscal year and we look forward to continuity in the reforms process displayed by the”government,” said Rashesh Shah, President, FICCI.

The Survey numbers boosted the Indian equity indices — Sensex and Nifty — which touched record highs on Monday.

The Survey pointed out that as per of the quarterly estimates there was a reversal of the declining trend of GDP growth in the second quarter of 2017-18, led by the industry sector.

“The Gross Value Added at constant basic prices is expected to grow at the rate of 6.1 per cent in 2017-18 as compared to 6.6 per cent in 2016-17. Similarly, agriculture, industry and services sectors are expected to grow at the rate of 2.1 per cent, 4.4 per cent, and 8.3 per cent respectively in 2017-18.”

It said that India can be rated as among the best performing economies in the world as the average growth during last three years is around 4 percentage points higher than global growth and nearly 3 percentage points higher than that of emerging market and developing economies.

The Survey said headline inflation measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) has remained under control for the fourth successive year which “has been possible due to good agricultural production coupled with regular price monitoring by the government”.

The Survey cautioned some of the factors could have dampening effect on GDP growth in the coming year like the possibility of an increase in crude oil prices in the international market.

“In the last three fiscal years, India experienced a positive terms of trade shock. But in the first three quarters of 2017-18, oil prices have been about 16 per cent greater in dollar terms than in the previous year. It is estimated that a $10 per barrel increase in the price of oil reduces growth by 0.2-0.3 percentage points, increases WPI inflation by about 1.7 percentage points and worsens the CAD (current account deficit) by about $9-10 billion dollars,” the Survey said.

Subramanian added: “If oil prices remain at current levels, I think there will be challenges. So I think we need to watch oil prices very carefully. That’s a risk. Also, sharp corrections to elevated stock prices is another risk we should be watchful of.”

It highlighted that against the emerging macroeconomic concerns, policy vigilance will be necessary in the coming year, especially if high international oil prices persist or elevated stock prices correct sharply provoking a “sudden stall” in capital flows.

“The agenda for the next year consequently remains full: stabilising the GST, completing the TBS actions, privatising Air India, and staving off threats to macro-economic stability.”

The CEA added that if the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code process progresses well and expeditiously — and if actions happen on time and are accepted without glitches — then there is a chance that private investment picking up “after so many years of languishing”.

The Survey said that there was an increase in the number of taxpayers post-demonetisation.

“… Taking seasonality into account it is found that there is a 0.8 per cent monthly trend increase in new tax filers (annual growth of 10 per cent),” the survey report said.

“The level of tax filers by November 2017 was 31 per cent greater than what this trend would suggest, a statistically significant difference. This translates roughly into about 1.8 million additional tax payers due to demonetisation-cum-GST, representing 3 per cent of existing taxpayers.”

It said India’s foreign exchange reserves reached $409.4 billion at end-December 2017. Foreign exchange reserves grew by 14.1 percent on a year-on-year basis from end December 2016 ($358.9 billion) to end December 2017 and it grew by 10.7 percent from end-March, 2017 ($370.0 billion) to end December 2017. Foreign exchange reserves increased further to $413.8 billion on January 12, 2018.

The import cover of India’s foreign exchange reserves was 11.1 months at end September 2017 as compared with 11.3 months at end-March 2017, revealed the survey.

“Within the major economies running current account deficit, India is among the largest foreign exchange reserve holders and sixth largest among all countries of the world,” it added.

The Economic Survey 2017-18 has emphasised that apart from usual geo-political and geo-economic risks, the main risks lying on the macrofinance front in advanced economies stem from three inter-related sources like asset valuations, interest rates and bond and equity prices.

The Survey said the outlook for 2018-19 will be determined by economic policy in the run-up the next national election. “If macro-economic stability is kept under control, the ongoing reforms are stabilised, and the world economy remains buoyant as today, growth could start recovering towards its medium term economic potential of at least 8 per cent.”

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