World cranberry leader Ocean Spray eyes Indian market

Apr 23, 2017 0

By Gurmukh Singh

Vancouver–With Indians reporting high rate of urinary tract infections, the world’s top cranberry producer Ocean Spray is eying the huge Indian market for its products.

An egg-shaped dark red fruit native to North America, cranberry is a natural remedy or antibiotic for urinary tract infections and stomach ulcers.

With annual sales of over $2.5 billon last year, Ocean Spray — which is the marketing cooperative of cranberry farmers in the US and Canada — operates in over 90 countries where it sells over 1,000 products that include fresh and dried fruits, juices, snacks, cocktails and sauces.

The move by Ocean Spray to enter India now assumes significance after a recent World Health Organization report that increasing resistance to antibiotics could become a major threat to people’s health.

Peter Povitar Dhillon

Indo-Canadian Peter Povitar Dhillon, the Ocean Spray chairman who recently visited India as part of a seven-member delegation, said: “We went India to explore opportunities of doing business there.”

“As a global company, we recognise the huge potential of the Indian marketplace. India has the fastest growing middle class and it is the world’s youngest country in terms of the age of its people.”

During their 72-hour trip, Dhillon and his team met Food Processing Minister Harsimrat Kaur, the CEO of Invest India, the chairman of Tata Global Beverages and many senior government and business leaders.

According to Dhillon, considering that young people and pregnant women in India report higher incidents of urinary tract infections, cranberry products can be the best natural remedy to prevent bladder problems.

“We went there to understand the marketplace because the culture of doing business in India is very different. It was a very positive trip. Now we are thinking about the best ways to educate Indians about the unique benefits of cranberry,” he said.

“India’s growing middle class is very affluent and they are becoming very health conscious.”

Citing the WHO report about growing resistance of the human body to antibiotics, Dhillon said: “But cranberry is the nature’s way to give you natural antibiotics and prevent infections.”

Dhillon, who also is the biggest cranberry farmer in Canada, said he has personal reasons to see Ocean Spray enter India as early as possible.

“My parents came to Canada from Punjab and they started growing cranberry here. Now I have the unique opportunity to take this fruit to India. So in a way, things are coming full circle.”

As a follow-up to his team’s visit to India, Dhillon said: “We have some people from Ocean Spray going to India next month. It is a marketplace that we must understand first before we take steps to enter it.” (IANS)

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Consider January-December financial year, Modi urges states

Apr 23, 2017 0

New Delhi–Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday asked the states to consider advancing the financial year to January-December, saying that in a country where agricultural income is exceedingly important, budget should be prepared immediately after its receipt for the year.

Making the observation while delivering the closing remarks at the third meeting of the Governing Council of NITI Aayog here, he said there have been suggestions to have the financial year changed to January-to-December — in place of the existing April-to-March — and urged the states to take the initiative in this regard.

The Prime Minister said that because of poor time management, many good initiatives and schemes had failed to deliver the anticipated results.

He also reiterated the idea of holding simultaneous parliamentary and state assembly elections, saying that the country had suffered from economic and political mismanagement for long now, and that a constructive discussion had already begun on the subject.

“The Prime Minister said if the elections are held simultaneously, then political parties could just focus on them once in five years and then use the rest of the period to do serious work,” NITI Vice Chairman Arvind Panagariya told reporters after the meet.

Modi also called upon the state governments to work with the Centre as to build “the India of the dreams of our freedom fighters” by 2022, the 75th anniversary of Independence.

He urged states, local governments and all government and non-government organisations to decide goals for 2022, and work in mission mode towards achieving them.

He called upon the states to use the GeM (Government e-Marketplace) platform to reduce corruption and increase transparency in government procurement, adding that the use of technologies such as BHIM and Aadhaar would result in significant savings for the states.(IANS)

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Three-year action agenda presented at NITI Aayog meet

Apr 23, 2017 0

New Delhi–NITI Aayog Vice Chairman Arvind Panagariya on Sunday presented a draft of the three-year action agenda for the nation’s development at the planning body’s Governing Council meeting here.

The NITI (National Institution for Transforming India) Aayog Vice Chairman said inputs from the states as well as central ministries and subject experts were incorporated in the agenda.

Panagariya invited further inputs and support of the states in taking the vision forward.

“The action agenda is co-terminus with the 14th Finance Commission’s award. This gives stability to the funding estimates of both the Centre and states,” he said.

Panagariya said that apart from the action agenda, there would be a seven-year strategy and a 15-year long-term vision that will replace the erstwhile Five-Year Plans for the nation’s planning framework.

The 12th Five-Year Plan ended on March 31.

During the meeting, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the action agenda was just a draft and that all suggestions by the Chief Ministers of various states would be taken into account before finalising it.

Talking to reporters after the meeting, Panagariya said the 15-year vision document pegs the Indian economy’s growth from Rs 137 lakh crore in 2015-16 to Rs 469 lakh crore by 2031-32 at 2015-16 prices.

This projection is based on growth estimate of 8 per cent per annum, he said.

Panagariya said the three-year agenda has been divided into seven parts, with each part having a number of specific action points.

Over 300 specific action points have been identified covering the whole gamut of sectors, he said.

“In part one, a revenue and expenditure exercise is undertaken to illustrate how we can begin to shift our expenditure based on set priorities within a three-year period — like increasing expenditure on health, infrastructure, agriculture, and rural economy,” he said.

The NITI Vice-Chairman said subsequent parts deal with major sectors, growth enablers, governance, social sectors and sustainable development.

“Part two deals with agriculture, industry and services; part three with transport connectivity, digital connectivity, public private partnership, energy, and science and technology.

“Part four focuses on innovation and entrepreneurship; part five on governance, tax policy and administration, rule of law, and pro-competition policies and regulations.

“Part six deals with health, education and building an inclusive society; and part seven on environment and forests, and sustainable management of water resources,” he added.

Niti Aayog Chief Executive Amitabh Kant

NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant said the major take-away was that the think tank assured there was no vacuum after the 12th Five-Year plan that ended on March 31 as it quickly worked on the three-year plan.

During NITI Aayog Governing Council’s third meeting here, Kant outlined the initiatives taken in areas like agriculture, poverty elimination, health, education, digital payments, disinvestment, coastal zone, and island development.

He said that NITI Aayog will work with states to improve basic services and infrastructure, especially in districts and regions which require specific attention.

Union Revenue Secretary Hasmukh Adhia made a presentation on the Goods and Services Tax (GST), explaining the benefits of the indirect tax collection system and the way forward. He urged the Chief Ministers of states to expedite the legislation of State GST Bills.

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan made a presentation on doubling farmers’ income by focusing on irrigation, technology generation and dissemination, and policy and market reforms.

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Anu Chitrapu and her sisters launch social enterprise “Nyrvaana” to save fabric from landfills

Apr 21, 2017 0

BELMONT, MA—Anu Chitrapu, a senior Bank of America executive and columnist for INDIA New England News, and her two sisters have launched Nyrvaana (pronounced as ‘Nirvana’), a social enterprise to save fabric from landfills.

“It all started when the floods hit Chennai in December of 2015. Many of our friends and family talked about how their old silk sarees were destroyed beyond repair,” says Chitrapu, a resident of Belmont, MA. “When we saw the beautiful, hand woven borders on silk and cotton sarees that could never be worn again that was the moment Nyrvaana came into being as a spark in our eyes. It took us over a year to figure out how exactly we could save hand woven, natural fabric from being lost in landfill.”

Anu Chitrapu

Chitrapu is a Senior Vice-President and Executive at Bank of America. She has won awards at the bank for exceptional performance, and is the executive sponsor for the Boston chapter of the Asian Leadership Network. She is also on the advisory board of Saheli, an organization that empowers South Asian women, and has served as the gala chair for their fundraiser Nirbhaya. She serves as treasurer of DAWN (Direct Action for Women Now), a Boston based non-profit that seeks to end gender based violence. Chitrapu holds an MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

How does it work Nyrvaana work?

“First came the jewelry pouches. We cut the unusable sarees into small pieces and then attached borders from other sarees. The beauty of kancheevaram silk came to life once again, in a new avatar, when we attached the borders to pieces of fabric salvaged from old clothing, kurtas and dupattas,” said Chitrapu. “After perfecting the pouch design, we became more ambitious – why let bedsheets and curtains go to waste? We tried and tested grocery bags made with these. We bought fabric from the surplus market in Chennai and lined it with an old curtain and, lo and behold, that became a strong, reusable shopping bag!”

Chitrapu said that her team did not want to throw away the thin saree fabric that could be used … so they came up with the design for lightweight jholas. These are very similar to the traditional jholas one would see hanging on the shoulders of students in India in the 70s and 80s.

“We wanted to bring them back into the limelight. So we created light jholas and sturdy book jholas and were thrilled to find some professors in India wanting them,” Chitrapu said. “We have come a long way but have a much longer way to go.”

She says her goals are twofold : first, save natural fabric from ending up in a landfill, and second, to provide employment for women by having all the sewing done by women.

“A hundred percent of profits from Nyrvaana are used to support women. Using profits from our first batch of pouches, which completely sold out, we supported various women-focused causes, including buying a cycle for a young girl in Chennai who is now empowered with wheels,” said Chitrapu. “We provided pouches for women undergoing treatment for cancer – the pouches hold a lip balm, mints and aloe cream. In addition, we sponsor bags for fundraisers and any events that support causes for women.”

For more information, visit Nyrvaana online store at www.nyrvaana.com or email at nyrvaana1@gmail.com for any custom orders.

“And whether you shop at Nyrvaana or not, please do save fabric from landfill by following the principle of reduce, reuse, recycle,” Chitrapu advises.

Nyrvaana is a social enterprise founded by Chitrapu and her sisters, Padma Chitrapu and Subbayama Chitrapu. The inspiration for Nyrvaana came from their mother Satyavathi Chitrapu who came up with the idea of making bags with used fabric.

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Mukesh Ambani donates medical equipment to Shirdi temple

Apr 20, 2017 0

Mumbai– Leading industrialist Mukesh Ambani has donated medical and other equipment worth nearly Rs 90 lakh to a hospital run by Shri Saibaba Sansthan Trust in Shirdi in Maharashtra to mark his 60th birthday on April 19, a top official said on Thursday.

Trust Executive Officer and woman IAS officer Rubal Agrawal said the donations have been made through Reliance Foundation, as per an email received from Foundation Vice-President G.T. Vashi on Thursday.

Mukesh Ambani

The donations include an anaesthesia machine worth Rs 10 lakh, LED light source worth Rs 10.50 lakh, shadowless lamp worth Rs 25 lakh, two intensive care unit ventilators worth Rs 20 lakh and a neuro-drill machine worth Rs 20 lakh.

These medical equipments and accessories shall be used at the multi-speciality Shri Sainath Hospital run by the SSST in Shirdi, Ahmednagar district.

An additional Rs 400,000 was received for providing free meals to devotees at the Shri Sai Prasadalaya to mark Ambani’s birthday, she added.

Over 27,000 devotees who visit the Saibaba temple from across India avail of heavily discounted meals at the massive dining hall adjacent to the temple.

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Government may extend central aid to spur private investments in housing: Naidu

Apr 20, 2017 0

New Delhi– Minister of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation M. Venkaiah Naidu on Thursday said that to promote private investments in affordable housing on a large scale, his ministry is considering to extend central assistance.

The assistance would be to the tune of Rs 1.50 lakh per eligible beneficiary belonging to the economically weaker section under the projects taken up even on private lands.

He also said a National Urban Rental Housing Policy (NURHP) would soon be announced to meet the needs of migrant workers, students, single working women etc.

So far, the Ministry has approved construction of 5,83,427 houses under Affordable Housing in partnership component of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban) only with state governments’ partnership.

M. Venkaiah Naidu

Elaborating on the strategy to meet the “Housing for All” target by 2022, Naidu said that 15 states and Union Territories were being focused on to meet the target by 2019.

These include Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura, Andaman & Nicobar Islands,Chandigarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, and Puducherry.

Other large states have been asked to submit housing proposals by end 2018, so that construction of houses can be completed by targeted 2022.

Stressing on the need for promoting rental housing stock to meet the housing needs in the context of urbanisation being a continuous process and driven by migration, Naidu said that the NURHP would be announced soon to meet the needs of migrant workers, students, single working women etc.

The policy outlines measures to be taken to encourage investments in social rental housing with government support and market-driven rental housing without government support.

He said that rental housing would be an effective complement to the Housing for All mission.

The minister also informed that the remaining 32 sections of the Real Estate Act, 2016 had been notified on Wednesday relating to the registration of ongoing projects that had not received completion certificates, penalties for non-compliance etc., which would be effective from first of next month.

He said under the Act, projects and real estate agents would have to be registered with regulatory authorities within three months thereafter.

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Tata’s Taj Mansingh Hotel in Delhi to be auctioned

Apr 20, 2017 0

New Delhi– The Supreme Court on Thursday allowed the New Delhi Municipal Council to go ahead with the e-auction of the property housing the iconic Taj Mansingh Hotel here, currently run by Tata Group’s Indian Hotels Company Ltd. (IHCL).

An apex court bench of Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman said the IHCL will have six months to vacate the building — known as Taj Mansingh — in case the New Delhi MUnicipal Council (NDMC) does not succeed in its e-auction.

The court said the NDMC will keep in mind that the IHCL has an unblemished track record in hotel management.

Appearing for the IHCL, senior counsel Harish Salve told the court that the proposed auction was not right as they have certain contractual rights for lease renewal.

Taj Mansingh Hotel (Photo: Wikipedia)

Pressing for the right of first refusal if the property housing Taj Mansingh was to go under the hammer, Salve told the court that at some point “we must get renewal opportunity as our track record has been unblemished”.

The IHCL had challenged the Delhi High Court’s October 27 order dismissing its plea against the auction of the property by the NDMC.

The apex court had ordered for a status quo on November 21, 2016,

Earlier, a division bench of the Delhi High Court had reiterated the September 25 single-judge order that dismissed an IHCL suit to renew its licence and upheld the NDMC’s decision to auction the property.

The property, owned by the NDMC, was given to IHCL on a 33-year lease that ended in 2011. The IHCL has since been managing the property on several extensions it has got from the municipal council. (IANS)

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Life beyond H-1B: Try L1, EB5 visas, experts suggest

Apr 19, 2017 0

By Aroonim Bhuyan

New Delhi– The cap for US H-1B visas for 2018 may have been reached but immigration experts say that Indian applicants, who form the majority of the recipients of such visas, have other options as well — such as the L1 and EB5 visas.

US missions across the world started accepting H-1B applications for fiscal 2018 from April 3. According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), it received 199,000 H-1B petitions during the filing period.

On April 11, the USCIS used a computer-generated lottery to select enough petitions to meet the 65,000 general category cap and the 20,000 cap for those with advanced US degrees.

The new Donald Trump administration has also sought to make acquiring H-1B visas tougher. The USCIS on March 31 issued a clarification that computer programmers, to be eligible under the H-1B visa norms, must prove that theirs is a specialty occupation. Merely obtaining a computer degree may not be enough.

Meanwhile, a private member’s bill was also introduced in the US Congress by Democrat Zoe Lofgren which seeks to increase the minimum salary of H1-B visa holder to a whopping $130,000 from the current minimum of $60,000.

The bill, if passed, will impact the margins of IT companies, the biggest beneficiaries of the H1-B visa programme, or their clients will face higher charges for the work performed, Mark Davies, Global Chairman of Davies & Associates, LLC, which specialises in US immigration law, told IANS in an email interview.

Abhinav Lohia

According to Abhinav Lohia, Partner and Practice Chair of India and Southeast Asia at Davies & Associates, Indian companies will now have to scout for American talent or opt for alternatives like L1B or L1A visas to send workers to the US.

L1 visas facilitate the temporary transfer of a foreign worker in the managerial, executive or specialised knowledge category to the US to continue employment with an office of the same employer.

The L1 visa can help as “a lot of US companies prefer to deal with a local company or someone on the ground in the United States representing a foreign company instead of dealing directly with the foreign company”, Lohia explained.

“US presence gives the US companies/clients confidence since US courts will most probably have jurisdiction over disputes,” he added. “Also, the companies that establish a presence in the United States also register their intellectual property there, which again is viewed favourably.”

Of course, the H-1B and L1 visas are for employees. If you have enough money, you can opt for the EB5 visa, Lohia said.

For an EB5 visa, the applicant needs to invest $500,000 in a Targeted Employment Area (TEA) or $1,000,000 in a non-TEA and the investment should result in 10 jobs.

In recent times, there has been a sharp hike in the number of Indian applicants for EB5 visas and Lohia attributed multiple reasons for this, including the fact that the US is a better country to retire in and there are more opportunities to expand business operations.

According to Davies, parental gifting of the funds necessary for an EB5 application may now be the only option for Indian students seeking employment after graduation in the US.

Lohia said that EB5 and L1A visas may lead to permanent residence and eventually to US citizenship faster.

“It puts an end to the dependence on the employer for staying in the United States,” he said.

“Upon being fired from his/her job, an H1-B visa holder may have to leave the country along with his/her family, whereas once someone gets permanent residence they are no longer dependent on others for their stay in the US as long as they are law-abiding and renew their Green Card on time.”

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Australian visa policy change: India consulting stakeholders

Apr 18, 2017 0

New Delhi– After Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that he will be abolishing the existing 457 Visa programme, currently used by temporary foreign workers to gain employment in the country, India on Tuesday said it is examining the matter and consulting all stakeholders.

Responding to a query, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Gopal Baglay said that the government was examining consequences of the new policy in consultation with all stakeholders.

“This is also a matter we will be looking at in the context of CECA (Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement) negotiations (with Australia),” Baglay said.

Malcolm Turnbull

The 457 Visa programme is used mainly to hire foreign workers in the restaurant, IT and medical industries and the majority of such visa holders came from India, Britain and China, reported the Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday.

According to government statistics, 95,758 people were living in Australia under 457 Visa programme last year, with the highest proportion coming from India (24.6 per cent), followed by Britain (19.5 per cent) and China (5.8 per cent).

Turnbull used Facebook to announce the policy, which he said would “put jobs first” and “Australians first”, signalling a reduction in the occupations available to skilled foreign workers and raising the threshold to qualify.

“We are putting jobs first, we are putting Australians first,” he said. “We are an immigration nation, but the fact remains that Australian workers must have priority for Australian jobs.”

Stating that Australian workers must have priority for Australian jobs, he said: “We will no longer allow 457 Visa system to be passports to jobs that could and should go to Australians.”

At a press conference in Canberra, Turnbull said the 457 Visa system needed to be replaced because it had “lost its credibility”.

The scheme will be replaced by two temporary visas that will impose tougher English language tests, stricter labour market testing, at least two years of work experience and a mandatory police check.

The numbers of jobs eligible for the two-year and four-year visa streams will be slashed, with 216 occupations ranging from antique dealer to fisheries officer to shoe-maker, axed from a list of 651 professions on the list.

Accounting giant KPMG criticised the decision, saying “there is no evidence the current system is not working”.

However, Turnbull dismissed that claim, arguing the abolition of the 457 Visa regime was “a decision of my government… this has been a careful exercise in policy development”, reported the daily.

People currently on a 457 Visa, which lasts for four years, will be exempt from the new regulations.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said that for the two-year stream, which could be renewed for two years, “there won’t be permanent residency outcomes at the end of that”.

“In relation to the medium-term stream which, as the Prime Minister pointed out, is targeted at higher skills, (there will be) a much shorter skills list.”

He said the government would work with companies to ensure they met labour market testing requirements, and warned “there will be a particular focus on companies that have an unnecessarily high proportion of 457 or foreign workers in jobs as well”.

The 457 Visa programme was introduced by the former John Howard government in 1996-97.

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Finance Minister Jaitley to embark on 5-day visit to US

Apr 18, 2017 0

New Delhi–Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will make a five-day visit to the US to attend the Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, an official said.

Jaitley will also take part in a G-20 meeting on the financial sector, as well as interact with American investors, he added.

The Minister will leave on Wednesday evening and arrive in Washington early morning on April 20, a Finance Ministry statement said here.

Jaitley’s delegation includes, among others, Chief Economic Adviser (CEA) Arvind Subramanian, Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das and Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Urjit Patel, it said.

On April 21, Jaitley, along with the RBI Governor and Economic Affairs Secretary, will participate in the G-20 meeting on financial sector development and regulations and other issues, the statement added.

Arun Jaitley

As per their Washington itinerary, Jaitley, Patel and Das will, on the same afternoon, attend a meeting of the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC) on Global Development and Prospects.

“In the evening (April 21), the Finance Minister along with Secretary Economic Affairs will hold a meeting with the CEOs,” the Ministry said.

On April 22, following two IMFC sessions, Jaitley will meet US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, it added.

Later that day, Jaitley is slated to meet Bangladesh Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, as well as with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.

After the first leg of his tour, Jaitley will, on April 23, reach New York, where he will interact with the Council for Foreign Relations, followed by a meeting with institutional investors.

Thereafter, he will meet long-term investors on April 24, the Indian Finance Ministry said.

“The Finance Minister is supposed to meet the editorial board of the New York Times before leaving for Moscow in the evening on April 24,” it added.

Jaitley, who has additional charge of the Defence portfolio, will hold bilateral discussions in Moscow to boost India-Russia military ties. (IANS)

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