Trade protectionist measures serious, need to promote exports: Prabhu

Mar 23, 2018 0

New Delhi– Amidst fears of an escalation in global trade protectionist measures, India should find out ways to promote its exports, Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu said on Friday.

While addressing the CII northern region annual conference on ‘New India: Translating Aspirations into Reality’, Prabhu spoke about the challenges posed by the strong trade protectionism measures imposed by the US.

“The world is facing serious crisis. The US is taking strong measures against all its trading partners,” said Prabhu, who also holds the charge for Ministry of Civil Aviation.

“Japan, Korea — long-time partners of the US are having lots of issues with them, and in this context we have to increase our exports… All of you (corporates) must come forward and need to think that how do we promote exports,” he said.

The minister’s comments assume significance after the US imposed new levies and tariffs on imports from China triggered a massive global-equities sell-off and spooked investors over a retaliatory actions by other major world economies.

On last Tuesday, Prabhu had said India will bilaterally take up the issue of recent trade protectionism measures with the US. He spoke after New Delhi hosted the largest Informal WTO Ministerial Meeting.

The minister had said India is a strong supporter and believer in the WTO framework and is strongly committed to see the organisation being strengthened.

After the meet, WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo said that the recent trade protectionist measures by the US have major potential for escalation.

“I have said very publicly that I am very concerned and I think the institution itself could say the same, because these measures, for whatever reason, have a very major potential for escalation because of the possibility of responses from other partners with trade restrictive measures as well and that, I think, is something we should avoid,” Azevedo had said.

The minister had earlier said that India is a strong supporter and believer in the WTO framework and is strongly committed to see the organisation being strengthened. (IANS)

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India to have 10 mn iPhone users in 2018

Mar 23, 2018 0

New Delhi– Apple is set to be the 11th brand in smartphones in India to have more than 10 million users in the country, according to a new report on Friday.

As of end 2017, there were 8.9 mn iPhone users in India and with an addition of estimated three million units in 2018, the company would surpass the 10 million mark, according to data provided by Mobilytiks, a big data analytics programme in India for mobile handsets introduced by market research firm CyberMedia Research (CMR).

However, if Apple decides to go aggressive with its assembly plans in India, the milestone would be achieved sooner through the year as that would give Apple entry into mid premium smartphone market through SE and other earlier versions of iPhone, the report said.

There are already 10 brands having surpassed this milestone. Established brands like Samsung have even surpassed the 100 million mark by having more than 120 million smartphone users as of 2017 end.

At the same time, emerging brands like Xiaomi had over 28 million smartphone users.

However, in a price sensitive market like India where 56 per cent of the smartphones sold are still sub Rs 10,000, achieving a 10 million active users milestone is a remarkable accomplishment, the report said.

Apple will shall achieve this feat irrespective of its “Make in India” strategy with the average level of three million shipments it does in a year, it added. (IANS)

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20% Jan Dhan accounts lying dormant: Minister

Mar 22, 2018 0

New Delhi– Almost 20 per cent of the total 31 crore Jan Dhan accounts are lying dormant, the government said on Thursday.

An estimated 31.20 crore Jan Dhan accounts with an aggregate deposit balance of over Rs 75,000 crore were opened till February, out of which 25.18 crore (or 81 per cent) were operative, Minister of State for Finance Shiv Pratap Shukla told the Rajya Sabha in a written reply to a question.

This means that over 6 crore accounts — or 19.29 per cent — opened under the Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) are lying dormant.

The Minister added that till February, about 59 lakh (1.9 per cent) Jan Dhan accounts had been closed since the launch of the scheme.

“Jan Dhan accounts are closed as per the request of account holder. Some of the Jan Dhan accounts are closed due to conversion into normal savings account as per request of the account holder.

“In some cases, accounts are closed due to account holders having multiple accounts in their name in the same bank,” he added. (IANS)


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Modicare to be ready for launch by July end

Mar 22, 2018 0

New Delhi– The Ayushman Bharat National Health Protection Mission (NHPM), hailed as the world’s largest public funded health insurance scheme, would be ready for launch by July end, informed Union Health and Family Welfare Minister J.P. Nadda said on Thursday.

“All activities related to launching of Ayushman Bharat will be done by the end of July,” he told reporters a day after the Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi approved the health programme will cover 40 per cent of India’s population.

About the timeline, Nadda said the operational guidelines being drafted by the seven working groups will be shared with the states along with the model of the tender and the contract in April. Preparation of 1,347 packages that lists down diseases and related procedures is in the final stage. Registration and operationalization of national health agency led by an independent CEO will be done in April.

An important aspect of the paperless, cashless, portable and IT-based health insurance scheme is the validation of the target audience who can avail the benefit. The scheme aims to provide Rs 5 lakh per family per year medical coverage to 10 crore poor and vulnerable households.

On April 14, the Health Ministry would join the Gram Swaraj Abhiyan of the Rural Development Ministry to carry out an exhaustive exercise of updating and validating the data of Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) with all gram panchayats in every state. The 10.74 crore eligible families have been identified from various deprivation categories based on SECC data.

Nadda, along with his two Ministers of State Ashwini Kumar Choubey and Anupriya Singh Patel, would hold zonal meetings with the states to fine-tune the system. Design of IT system along with NITI Ayog would be done by May 30 and testing of IT systems and finalization will be done in June.

State and district officials would complete their training and award of tenders by the states would happen in June.

“By June end, hospital empanellment and all testing would be done so that the system is robust and reaches the last man,” said Nadda.

While the Central government has kept Rs 10,000 crore for the programme, shared by the Centre and the states in the ratio of 60:40, for 2017-18 and 2018-19, the Health Minister said that there is no lack of funds and their only concern was to ensure the entitled person gets the benefit in time.

Considered as “a major step towards Universal Health Coverage”, the NHPM will lead to increased access to quality health and medication. In addition, the unmet needs of the population which remained hidden due to lack of financial resources will be catered to, said the minister.

“This will lead to timely treatments, improvements in health outcomes, patient satisfaction, improvement in productivity and efficiency, job creation thus leading to improvement in quality of life,” Nadda added. (IANS)

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Need fiber network to raise bandwith, internet speed: TRAI Chairman

Mar 22, 2018 0

New Delhi– India requires more of fiber network to increase bandwith delivery and better internet speed to the people, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Chairman R.S. Sharma said on Thursday.

In his address at the ET Telecom Mobile Conclave 2018, he said: “93 per cent of our demand is catered by wireless broadband. We have to figure out a way of how to create a fibered or a wired network.”

The TRAI has suggested the government to implement the BharatNet project – a government iniatiative to provide high-speed broadband connections to all panchayats by the end of 2019 – in the public-private partnership model, which is currently funded through the Universal service Obligation Fund, he said.

“We should use the existing cable tv infrastructure to provide broadband services,” Sharma said.

As around 100 million homes have cable network for television, it would be easy to replace the current cables with fibre and get people connected to broadband, he said, adding that conversion of cables to fibre network would not require high investments.

To enhance wired broadband services, he said that the National Building Code should be reviewed and city developers and builders should be mandated to have specially demarcated zones for suitable housing communication infrastructure.

On the 5G network, he said that operationalising 5G technologies would require significant infrastructure development, as current wireless networks will not be adequate. (IANS)

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Paperless air travel may soon become reality in India

Mar 22, 2018 0

Jaipur– In a move aimed to fructify the government’s concept of “Digiyatra” at Indian airports, air transport IT and communications service provider SITA is all set to help India lead the way in fully biometric air travels.

“Leveraging India’s national Aadhaar biometric identity system with our Smart Path technology, SITA will deliver a seamless biometric experience across all airlines and airports — both domestic and international — in India,” said Maneesh Jaikrishna, SITA Vice President – Indian Subcontinent, Eastern and Southern Africa.

“This will allow passengers to use their biometric identity, no matter where they travel,” Jaikrishna said speaking at the “Air Transport IT Summit” in Jaipur.

The paperless travel experience for passengers will be delivered across India leveraging Aadhaar to create the world’s most efficient travel system, he added.

Elaborating on the concept, he said that citizens’ national biometric identification cards and foreigners’ passports would be linked with the databases of airlines, airports and other stakeholders, promising a seamless and secure travel experience at every step in the journey.

According to a research appearing in SITA’s “2017 Passenger IT Trends Survey”, Indian passengers show greater willingness to use biometrics to speed up their journey through the airport.

In another innovative move, the company has also provided a solution for smart and secure handling of passengers’ baggage.

“Soon, 15 airports in India will start getting real-time information on the status of passengers’ baggage, which will significantly reduce the chances of baggage mishandling,” Jaikrishna said.

The Airports Authority of India (AAI), which manages 126 airports across India, has expanded SITA’s baggage management solution “BagManager” to 15 airports in India to improve the baggage handling operations there.

These 15 airports — Thiruvananthapuram, Calicut, Mangalore, Tirupati, Chennai, Madurai, Kolkata, Goa, Lucknow, Jaipur, Amritsar, Leh, Chandigarh, Trichy and Ahmedabad — are in addition to the Kolkata and Chennai airports, where BagManager was implemented in 2015, he informed.

Batting for the solution, AAI Chairman Guruprasad Mohapatra said: “As the passenger traffic increases, we need to be smarter in the way we manage our airports and smart technology is the answer in this perspective.”(IANS)

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Amidst ‘fraudulent transactions’ charges Binani, seeks termination of insolvency proceedings against subsidiary

Mar 22, 2018 0

Kolkata– Amidst charges of “fraudulent transactions” Binani Industries Limited on Thursday sought the termination of the corporate insolvency proceedings against its subsidiary Binani Cement.

The development comes after Binani Industries submitted an application before the Kolkata bench of National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) seeking termination of the corporate insolvency proceedings against its subsidiary, company’s counsel said.

The company, in its application which was made on Thursday, also claimed that it can “pay-off all its creditors”.

The move came after it concluded a commercial understanding with Aditya Birla Group firm UltraTech Cement to sell its entire 98.43 per cent stake in its cement manufacturing subsidiary at a consideration of Rs 7,266 crore.

However, the Resolution Professional (RP) submitted the resolution plan of Dalmia Bharat Controlled Rajputana Properties before the NCLT as the “highest bidder” to take over the debt laden company.

Meanwhile, the RP had alleged that the “fraudulent transactions” were made by the Binani group on the basis of a forensic audit report.

“We have filed an application before the Tribunal seeking termination of insolvency proceedings commenced against the Binani Cement and we also said Binani Industries can pay off all the creditors. This application is likely to be heard on next Tuesday,” said advocate Ratnanko Banerjee representing Directors of Binani Industries.

He also said the directors of the company (Binani Industries) also challenged the process of conducting the insolvency proceedings and “expensive charges” made by the Resolution Professional.

Citing a forensic audit report, before the court, RP’s counsel Abhrajit Mitra on Thursday said a loan of about Rs 1,100 crore was given by the corporate debtor, Binani Cement, to its holding company Binani Industries Limited.

“The loan was given to Binani Industries to buy back shares of its subsidiary. As per the balance sheet, Rs 1,100 crore was payable to the company (Binani Cement) by its holding company. What is the fraudulent transaction was that the interest chargeable was fully waived,” he asked.

According to Mitra, the RP has filed an application based on the forensic audit report of the “fraudulent transaction of the previous management”.

Mitra, however, said the matter of fraudulent transaction was a separate one and it was incumbent on the RP to bring this to the notice of NCLT bench.

The discovery of fraudulent transaction and its outcome should not impact the resolution process and the finalisation of the resolution plan,” Mitra claimed.

Meanwhile, Binani’s industries, denying such allegations, said any application filed by the Resolution Professional was an “afterthought”.

“We have not been served a copy of the application…No sooner the application i.e. served upon us we shall deal with the same,” Binani Industries said in a regulatory filing.

In fact, one of its Senior counsel on Thursday also said: “The RP made certain allegations of dubious transactions but there is no document support of that. As an afterthought, he has made these allegations. One of Directors of Binani filed an application alleging that the fraudulent transactions were made by the RP.”

The Resolution Professionals has been directed by Justice Jinan KR to reply to applications and allegations raised by the company.

“There are some allegations against the RP. He has to deal with that and make a reply. He was also directed to submit a progress report,” Binani Industries’ counsel said. (IANS)

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Indian companies most concerned about rising protectionism

Mar 21, 2018 0

New Delhi– Indian companies are most concerned about increasing protectionism around the world, a report said on Wednesday.

“The survey data shows that almost nine of 10 businesses in India feel that governments are turning increasingly protectionist, leading to a rise in the cost of doing international business, altering trade routes and raising hurdles to obtaining trade finance,” said the HSBC report “Navigator: Now, next and how for business”.

Concern in India is significantly higher than the global average, as among the 6,000 firms surveyed across 26 countries, three in five (61 per cent) firms globally are concerned regarding rising protectionism, it added.

Other regions where the sentiment is strongest among companies are the Middle East and North Africa (70 per cent) and Asia-Pacific (68 per cent).

In the US, 61 per cent are concerned while in Europe the number is half the total number of companies there, according to the survey.

Commenting on the survey, Rajat Verma, Head of Commercial Banking – HSBC India, said: “An increase in protectionist sentiment is causing concern about the cost of doing cross-border trade and international business. Companies are adopting business plans and relationships to participate in shifting supply chains.”

Strategies by companies include increasing regional trade, establishing joint ventures or local subsidiaries in more markets and capitalising on trends in consumer demands and digital technologies, he pointed out.

In India, trade initiatives that are likely to lower trade barriers are viewed positively, according to the survey.

However, “globally, majority of firms are looking to regional partners to develop trade opportunities, with almost three quarters (74 per cent) of overseas trade in Europe and Asia-Pacific being conducted within their ‘home’ region”, it said.

The trend is set to continue with regional ties being prioritised in firms’ expansion plans for the next three to five years, the report noted.

Companies around the world are focused on growth, with more than three in four (77 per cent) businesses optimistic about their international business prospects, and they expect the volume of trade to increase over the next 12 months, it said.

The report attributes the confidence among the companies to increase in demand for their products from consumers and businesses (33 per cent), favourable economic conditions (31 per cent) and the greater use of technology (22 per cent) in driving growth, among others. (IANS)

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Another bank fraud of Rs 824 crore involving Chennai jeweller

Mar 21, 2018 0

New Delhi– In yet another fraud played on banks, a Chennai-based jeweller Kanishk Gold Pvt Ltd (KGPL) has been accused of defrauding a consortium of 14 banks led by the State Bank of India (SBI) to the tune of Rs 824 crore in the form of loans that have now been declared as non-performing asset (NPA).

It is apprehended that the Directors of the KGPL, Bhoopesh Kumar Jain, and his wife Neeta Jain may have fled the country.

Unlike the scam involving diamond jeweller Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi of the Gitanjali Group worth Rs 13,540 crore, in which Letters of Undertaking (LoUs) were used, the KGPL allegedly resorted to falsifying records and financial statements to get loans from the banks over a 10 year period beginning 2008.

The SBI tops the list with Rs 240 crore of loans followed by Punjab National Bank (PNB) (Rs 128 crore), Bank of India (Rs 46 crore), IDBI (Rs 49 crore), Syndicate Bank (Rs 54 crore), Union Bank (Rs 53 crore), Uco Bank (Rs 45 crore), Central Bank (Rs 22 crore), Corporation Bank (Rs 23 crore), Bank of Baroda (Rs 32 crore), Tamil Nadu Mercantile Bank (Rs 27 crore), HDFC (Rs 27 crore), ICICI Bank (Rs 27 crore) and Andhra Bank (Rs 32 crore).

In a complaint to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in January this year, the SBI cited a forensic audit conducted into the acounts of the company and found that the KGPL and its directors including Bhoopesh Kumar Jain and his wife Neeta Jain in collusion with the statuatory auditors had been misrepresenting and falsifying records with a clear criminal and malafide intent to cheat and defraud the banks.

The KGPL was accused of showing a rosy picture since 2009 for the purpose of availing credit facilities from the bank and thereby committed criminal breach of trust and cheated the lenders.

“The facts and circumstances and the admission by the Managing Director of the company also confirms the removal of the stocks secured to the lenders without the knowledge of the lenders and thereby committed criminal misappropriation of secured assets and cheated the lenders.

“It is also revealed that the KGPL and its Directors have diverted the funds detrimental to the rights and interests of the banks. The account has been classified as the NPA as per the extant guidelines of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) by all the lenders of the consortium,” said the complaint by G.D. Chandrasekhar, General Manager, SBI Mid Corporate Regional Office, Chennai.

The forensic audit revealed that the statutory auditors and stock audiotors had failed to record the deficiencies in the financial records and asset registers of the company which have adversaly affected the banks interests.

The forensic audit also revealed various discrepancies in the form of over valuation of the stocks and incorrect quantity of stock in the stock valuation workings records maintained by the company. The company had not maintained proper records for the movement of goods among other things.

The total loss to the banks due to the fraud is to the tune of Rs 824.15 crore (outstanding as on December 12, 2017) plus accrued interest from January this year. The security available with the bank to cover the loss is to the tune of around Rs 158.65 crore being the realisable value of the immovable properties, plant and machinery charged to the lenders.

The SBI complaint said in the joint lenders forum meeting on November 8 last year it was decided to proceed with the filing of complaint with the CBI after declaring the loan account as fraud.

The bank urged the investigating agency to proceed against the KGPL, its directors Bhoopesh Kumar Jain and his wife, its auditors Tejraj Achha, Ajay Kumar Jain, Sumit Kedia and other unknown persons.

It also said the role of the public servants if any may be looked into during the course of investigation.

The complaint said sign of sickness was noticed in the company delayed servicing interest for March 2017 in respect of eight members banks.

Further, the complaint said, interest was not paid for all the member banks for April 2017. The promoter was unavailable for follow-up. When the stock audit was initiated in April 2017 for the proceeding quarter, the KGPL did not facilitate stocks and receivables audit process.

Subsequently, in May last year, consortium members visited the corporate office, factory and showrooms and found that there was no activity.

On the same day, Bhoopesh Kumar Jain gave a letter admitting falsification of records since 2009 and removal of the stocks secured to the lenders.

Joint inspection was again conducted and it was observed that there was no activity and no stock in the factory. The showrooms at the other centres were also found locked during visits by consortium members. (IANS)

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India warns Facebook, Zuckerberg of action over data breach

Mar 21, 2018 0

New Delhi– India on Wednesday warned social media giant Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg of “stringent action” including summoning him over “misuse” of data to allegedly influence electoral process.

“As Law Minister of India let me make it very, very clear. We fully support freedom of press, freedom of speech and expression and free exchange of ideas on social media.

“But any attempt to covert or overt by the social media including Facebook of trying to influence India’s electoral process through undesirable means will neither be appreciated nor tolerated,” Union Law and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told the media.

“Let Facebook note it very clearly. And if need be stringent action shall be undertaken.”

The warning comes amid reports that a data analytics firm that worked with US President Donald Trump’s election team allegedly harvested millions of Facebook profiles of US voters to influence their choice at the ballot box.

Prasad, a senior BJP leader, reminded Zuckerberg of powers of India’s IT Act, saying “you better note the observation of IT Minister of India.

“If any data theft of Indians is done with the collusion of Facebook systems, it will not be tolerated. We have got stringent powers in the IT Act including summoning you in India.”

Prasad said the government was in touch with the US Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice to assess the privacy violations of Indian users.

“We will also summon the company and Facebook to assess the data theft of Indian users and will take strictest action,” he warned.

Cambridge Analytica, a British consulting company, was accused of harvesting data of up to 50 million Facebook users without permission and using the data to help politicians, including Trump and the Brexit (Britain’s exit from the EU) campaign.

The European Union (EU) and British lawmakers have demanded that Facebook should clarify data breach following revelations that personal data was massively misused for political purposes.

British lawmakers have also summoned Zuckerberg to give oral evidence after “misleading to the Committee” occurred at a previous hearing.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has expressed her concern over the allegations that Cambridge Analytica exploited data of millions of Facebook users without their authorisation in election campaigns.

Facebook has already suspended Cambridge Analytica from its platform.

The social media giant admitted that an estimated 270,000 people had downloaded the app and shared their personal information with it.

However, the firm denied all wrongdoing and insisted it followed the correct procedures in obtaining and using data. (IANS)

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