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Aviation will see recovery by early 2021: Hardeep Singh Puri

November 22, 2020 - 2:05am
Minister of Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri tells Prerna Katiyar in an interview the government will do whatever it can to save the sector. Edited excerpts:Is the government planning to take some steps to facilitate a revival in the sector that has been hit hard by the lockdown?The aviation sector was on a steady path before pre-covid. The pandemic did put a break on our growth. But our skies remained abuzz with cargo operations during lockdown. We allowed passenger aircraft to lift not just essential medical equipment but other essential commodities as well. We have taken many major steps to revive the sector. Domestic air services have been restarted in a calibrated manner. Air bubbles have been established with 22 countries (Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Canada, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Iraq, Japan, Kenya, Maldives, Netherlands, Nigeria, Oman, Qatar, Rwanda, Tanzania, UAE, UK, Ukraine and the US). These are temporary arrangements aimed at restarting international passenger services while regular international flights remain suspended due to COVID-19. We have promoted private investments in airports. Adequate care was taken to ensure cargo terminals were operational at major airports. The GST rate was cut to 5% for domestic maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services. We have been encouraging Indian carriers to increase their share in international air cargo traffic. Lastly, we undertook route rationalisation in coordination with the Indian Air Force to reduce fuel consumption.When will the government allow airlines to operate at 100% capacity from 70% now? And when will market-determined fares come back?We had decided to start domestic scheduled operations in a calibrated manner with fare capping in view of the COVID-19 pandemic in the interest of passengers for performing journey for essential purposes as well as interest of airlines. The capacity of scheduled domestic operations has further been increased from time to time based on the COVID situation and traffic demand. The capacity has been increased from 60% to 70% recently, keeping in view the festive season. The COVID situation and passenger data is being closely monitored and a decision to allow 100% capacity would depend on the situation which may arise in near future. We have already crossed 50% of pre-Covid levels as far as the number of daily passengers is concerned. It is expected that we will reach pre-Covid level by the year end.When do you see the sector recovering?As far as domestic civil aviation is concerned, the recovery since we opened on May 25 has been steady and predictable. We started with 30,000 passengers and a limit of 33% (May 25). Today we are at 70% and we have registered 2,25,000 passengers per day. Unless there are unforeseen developments, and the behaviour of the virus stays on predictable lines, domestic aviation could be at pre-Covid level by the end of the year or by early first quarter of next calendar year. There are cynics among us who say these are additional traffic on account of factor X or factor Y and that when that is over the traffic will drop. But that is not happening because the rise has been steady from 30,000 to 2,25,000. A further rise will take place as there is a level of confidence in air travel as a relatively safe mode of travel. What about resumption of international flights?That depends on three factors: Domestic civil aviation crossing the 50% mark, which we have achieved; the behaviour of the virus – some cities in Europe are going through a very pronounced second wave. Lastly, vaccine. Once a vaccine is available, people will get the confidence to fly. A lot also depends on easing of entry restrictions in foreign countries. For e.g. Saudi Arabia has got entry restrictions on Indians going back there. So we are flying to Saudi Arabia empty but we are flying people back. They are not allowing foreigners to enter other than their own people, so how can we start normal international operations in such sectors?Private airlines aren’t very happy with the government’s incentives. Your comments.We have taken a number of steps for them. GST rate on MRO was cut from 18% to 5% with full input tax credit from April 1, 2020. This will attract MRO business to India leading to a lot of savings for airlines. The proposal to bring the ATF under GST is before the GST council which has representation from the states as well. Our ministry has suitably brought this to the notice of the Ministry of Finance. We undertook route rationalization in the Indian airspace. Till now only 60% of airspace was available for civilian aircraft movement; this will save time and money for the passengers and the airlines.We are acutely conscious that civil aviation is a critical driver of economic growth. With 7% penetration we get 17% rates of growth so we will do whatever we can and we are. The fact is we have been able to save the sector through these steps. It’s a work in progress.What about expansion of airports and related infrastructure?There are more than 100 operational airports. We have an ambitious target to add 100 more in five years. We have identified 100 airports/heliports/water aerodromes for development. Today we have more than 100 operational airports in the country. We have an ambitious target to add 100 more in the next five years. We have identified 100 airports/heliports/water aerodromes to be developed under the Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS) -- Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik (UDAN). These 100 RCS airports comprise 59 RCS airports, 31 heliports and 10 water aerodromes. Further, to usher in a new era of air travel in India, we introduced a new mode of transportation i.e. seaplane operations from water aerodromes under UDAN; 10 water aerodromes received successful bids for connecting routes under UDAN 3.0. The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) has approved the proposal of revival of development of unserved and under-served air strips of state government, AAI, civil enclaves & CPSUs at a cost of Rs 4,500 crore with the budgetary support of Government of India. Additionally, AAI has ambitious plans to upgrade the existing airport infrastructure to enhance the capacities. The government has been working on a plan to promote financing and domestic manufacturing of aircraft. What is the progress of this initiative?Aircraft operating, financial and hybrid leases have been notified as financial products under the IFSC Act. Indian insurance companies, pension funds and others have been allowed to participate in such businesses. Global financial institutions and technology companies have started operations at IFSC, which will facilitate aircraft financing. Foreign OEMs have shown interest in enhancing aircraft assembly in India. Rupee-denominated aircraft leasing has taken off domestically.Simultaneously, we are encouraging Indian private sector players to enter global aviation supply chains. Manufacturing is seeing a boost due to the promotion of civil and defence MRO activities. A defence production working group is looking at identifying resources that can be shared for better economies of scale. A unified certification of parts and maintenance processes for specific defence/civil MRO convergence works is being looked at.In August 2020 the Government approved 78 new routes under UDAN 4.0 to enhance connectivity. What are the next expansion plans for UDAN?The ministry has created Regional Air Connectivity Fund Trust (RACFT). The viability Gap Funding (VGF) for the UDAN operations is provided from funds available with the trust. The funds are collected by the trust through levy on domestic departures of the scheduled operations. Thus, availability of funds in the RACFT is directly linked to the domestic scheduled air operations. Due to suspension of air operations from March 25 till May 25, 2020, the funds could not be collected by the trust. Since the domestic air operations have re-commenced with 70% of the pre-covid capacity being allowed to operate, the fund flow to RACFT is still low. Considering the reduced availability of funds in RACFT, RCS Cell has allotted only 78 RCS routes in the first phase of UDAN 4.0 mainly in priority areas and from unserved airports which are ready. However, once the scheduled domestic operations improve further and fund position in RACFT improves, the remaining bids received under RCS – UDAN version 4.0 shall be considered and awarded, as per the scheme document. 79341982
Categories: Business News

After a long gap, can housing sector become the engine of India’s economic revival?

November 22, 2020 - 2:05am
It was on Srikant Patel’s mind for a long time. Ever since the 51-year-old shifted base to Delhi in 2011, the private sector executive wanted to buy a house. “We have one in Hyderabad but we have been living on rent in NCR (National Capital Region),” he says. For one reason or the other, it never seemed like the right time to buy a home in NCR. The last five years were especially so when inflated prices, stuck projects and bankrupt developers scared away many like Patel from buying a flat.Last month, Patel finally booked an apartment — a three-bedroom house with a study in Greater Noida — which will be completed by 2022. “I got a great deal with the builder ATS,” says the father of two. Fully aware that the pandemic has hammered the economy, he did not want to put a big strain on his finances. “Earlier, I was thinking of buying a house for around Rs 1.5 crore in Gurgaon. But the one I have booked costs half of that — Rs 75 lakh,” he says. 79342677 In Gurgaon, Sunil Dhingra, 36, cofounder of the startup Jazzmyride, has just bought three plots in the DLF Valley project in Panchkula, near Chandigarh, along with his brother. Dhingra, who lives in Delhi, is finding the capital city unlivable. “You can’t even get clean air,” he says. He is planning to live and work out of Panchkula; his company’s head office will also be shifted to an IT park there. “It was a hard decision. But we found Panchkula beautiful and serene,” he says.In Mumbai, financial advisor R Vishwanathan, 62, booked a twobedroom flat for Rs 1.13 crore in an upcoming gated project by the Lodha Group. Vishwanathan currently lives in a flat in a standalone building. “I wanted to move to a residential complex with facilities like gym and park,” he says.House ThatThere are reasons why the home-buying decisions of Patel, Dhingra and Vishwanathan are being closely watched. This should have been the worst time to buy a house. In the year of the pandemic, the country is in the middle of an economic downturn. Amid pay cuts and layoffs, people are conserving cash. According to RBI data, India’s household financial savings climbed to 21.4 per cent of GDP in the June quarter from 7.9 per cent the previous year. 79342998Although the festival season has seen tightfisted Indians open their wallets, the big question has been, will it last? Renu Sud Karnad, MD, HDFC Ltd, is hopeful. “In August and September, we thought there was an element of backlog. But now I feel there is some genuine demand,” she says.Hopes are pinned on the revival of the construction sector as it contributes about 8 per cent to the GDP, employs over 35 million people directly (second only to agriculture) and has strong backward and forward linkages to over 250 industries, including cement and steel, says Kumar Gera, chairman, Gera Developments. The housing sector has the power to be the engine of India’s economic revival and could be the key to catalysing consumption. “It has a huge multiplier effect on the economy. It becomes even more critical as the government has limited capacity for a direct fiscal stimulus,” says Sunil K Sinha, principal economist, India Ratings. 79343004Many real estate developers have logged record sales. Mumbai-based Lodha Group did a record Rs 1,000 crore business in October (up from Rs 776 crore in October 2019). “In this financial year our sales till October have crossed the sales for a full year in 2019-20,” says Prashant Bindal, chief sales officer, Lodha Group. In July, working with banks, they offered mortgage rates at a subsidised 5 per cent, with another 2 per cent borne by the developer. “It was only for a month, but it generated a lot of interest,” he says. Ditto for Delhi-based Ashiana Housing. Its joint managing director Ankur Gupta says sales buoyancy is so good that November could be their best month for booking in 2020.India’s tech cities like Bengaluru and Hyderabad are outliers where both demand and pricing remain robust. JC Sharma, vicechairman, Sobha Ltd, says, “Bengaluru, which is creating the maximum number of high-quality jobs, is going to be the best market in India.” In Maharashtra, a sharp cut in stamp duty has sent home sales surging. In Mumbai, housing unit sales went up 35-40 per cent in September-October from the corresponding period last year, says Isha Chaudhary, director, CRISIL Research. In tier-2 and -3 cities in Maharashtra, the sales were even better, going up by 50 per cent. 79343006On the back of this spike in sales, home loan disbursement has risen. “In October, we got a record number of home loan applications and made the second highest monthly disbursement in our history,” says Karnad. During that month, its loan approval rate grew by 58 per cent and disbursements by 35 per cent year-on-year. There is a predictable ripple effect, with companies like Asian Paints and JSW Paints too reporting brisk sales.Since 2013, India’s housing sector has been in a funk. Multiple factors — weak consumer sentiments, oversupply of stocks, unrealistic prices and reckless developers coupled with the twin shocks of demonetisation and GST and the regulatory overhaul by RERA — knocked the wind out of India’s housing market. 79343013It is estimated that of the Rs 6 lakh crore exposure that banks and NBFCs have to the real estate sector, about 25 per cent have turned non-performing assets (NPAs). The shakeout has been traumatic. Industry experts estimate that two years back India had 40,000-odd developers of which just around 5,000 survive now.The current uptick in sales after a long drought has come as a big relief. This has been brought about by a confluence of factors — low interest rates, cooling home prices, great deals and government sops.Decoding DemandET Magazine analysed decadal data on tier-1 cities from Liases Foras — an independent non-broking real estate research firm that tracks primary property sales — to decode patterns in the sector and to understand what has led to this moment. Total sales have had a feeble growth over the past decade — from 2.1 lakh unit sales in FY2010 to 2.7 lakh units in FY2020. But over-enthusiastic developers kept on rolling out new projects due to which the unsold inventory trebled from 3.22 lakh units in FY2010 to 9.33 units as of September 2020. 79343020However, the value of stock being sold grew from Rs 97,957 crore to Rs 200,066 crore during the reference period, signalling that prices continued to rise despite the glut. “Builders had money flowing in from FDI and banks even when sales were not happening,” says Pankaj Kapoor, founder, Liases Foras.However, price correction has been underway in places like NCR and Mumbai, as data on average unit prices in cities show. In NCR, weighted average price peaked at Rs 5,185 per square foot in March 2014 and since then has been softening and now hovers around Rs 4,620. In the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), it peaked at Rs 13,171 in March 2018 and has now come down to Rs 12,057. 79342819 Based on interviews with developers and experts, here is a look at the important trends that are playing out in the sector. The biggest action “is in the affordable and mid segment. Supply too is starting to come back,” says Anshuman Magazine, chairman, CBRE India. Demand is consolidating with the top four-five builders with good track record. Since buyers are wary, “the emphasis is on ready-to-move-in homes,” says Sudhir Pai, CEO, Magicbricks. (Disclaimer: Magicbricks is part of Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd, which publishes ET Magazine.)While demand is mostly driven by Indian buyers and not so much by investors, some experts like CRISIL’s Chaudhary notice demand from NRIs. Thanks to work from home (WFH) and the push by some state governments — like Haryana where restrictions on construction in smaller plots have been eased and the affordable housing policy, Deen Dayal Jan Awas Yojana, has been extended across the state — the uptake of plots has gone up, says Anckur Srivasttava, chairman, GenReal Property Advisors. 79343053Among the factors fuelling demand are mortgage rates, which start from below 7 per cent. “In my 42 years, I have rarely seen interest rates on home loans in the sub-7 per cent zone,” says Karnad. If one factors in income tax benefits etc, the effective rate is 4-4.5 per cent. “That is almost unheard of in India,” she says.There are deals, discounts and attractive payment schemes from developers as well. Desperate builders, stuck with inventory, are offering subvention schemes of 20:80 or 10:90 where a customer pays only 20 per cent or 10 per cent upfront and the remaining at the time of possession. Freebies in the form of modular kitchens, car parks and club memberships are thrown in. With offers and discounts, there has been at least 5 per cent price reduction in the mid-to-luxury housing segment, says Chaudhary of CRISIL. 79343061Adds Mohit Malhotra, MD, Godrej Properties: “Prices have come down or are stagnant. Adjusted against inflation, prices have come down significantly.” According to HDFC, the affordability index (defined as property value divided by annual income) in top 10 cities has improved by up to 35 per cent over the last five years, especially in cities like Mumbai and Delhi with high unsold inventory.Disillusioned with the fickle and volatile stock market, consumers are also reassessing how they view real estate as an asset class — a sector where many have burnt their fingers over the last decade. Credit must go to the government — both at the Centre and in states — as well. Maharashtra has slashed stamp duty from 5 per cent to 2 per cent till December 2020 and to 3 per cent in January-March 2021. On cue, property sales registration in Mumbai jumped from 1,839 in June to 5,597 in September even as stamp duty collection grew from Rs 153 crore to Rs 181 crore. “The sharp cut in stamp duty was more than compensated by the surge in registrations,” says Abhishek Kiran Gupta, CEO, CRE Matrix. Karnataka has reduced stamp duty from 5 per cent to 3 per cent for properties costing Rs 21-35 lakh. 79343073In 2015, the Narendra Modi government rolled out affordable housing for all under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY). In 2017, a credit-linked subsidy scheme (CLSS) that offered 3-4 per cent interest subsidy was introduced on home loans for people in the Rs 6-18 lakh annual income bracket. The scheme, which was due to expire in March 2020, has been extended till March 2021 by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. Ahead of Diwali, she announced two more measures to perk up home demand. The minister allocated Rs 18,000 crore under PMAY CLSS scheme to further boost affordable housing. She also announced that buyers would be allowed to purchase homes at 20 per cent below the circle rate without attracting any tax penalties. Earlier, buyers and developers had to pay tax penalty if they bought/sold property below the circle rates.Some other structural measures like RERA — which imposes stiff penalty on defaulting developers — are also “giving confidence to buyers,” says Pai.Plot AheadThe pandemic has been a catalyst in some ways, triggering a move away from sharing and renting economy — be it cars or homes — and congested living spaces. When Covid-19 spread, many, from doctors to pilots, faced threats of eviction from residential societies and house owners due to their potential exposure to virus. Globally, zoom towns — where workers in overcrowded, big cities move to smaller towns — are becoming a huge trend. This is also visible in India where buyers like Dhingra are leaving metropolises for tier-2 and -3 cities. 79343082WFH is also making people relook at where they live and what purpose their homes serve. Boman Rustom Irani, chairman, Rustomjee Group, says they are tweaking their home designs, adding multipurpose, flexible spaces like “my nook” and “my spaces” that can be used as a music room, a painting studio or a home office.In Mumbai, “demand for units with balconies and terraces has surged. Buyers now understand their importance,” says Malhotra of Godrej Properties. Last month, Lodha sold 230 units, of which 122 were with a sun deck — the highest price segment. “Earlier, we would sell 15-20 such units at best. People were reluctant to spend that extra Rs 5-10 lakh,” says Bindal. Plotted developments are selling like hot cakes, says Aakash Ohri, executive director, DLF Home Developers. Their new project, called Floors, launched in DLF City Phase 3 in Gurgaon, sold 88 apartments worth Rs 300 crore in a day. A few other structural shifts are underway. Amid consolidation, as big developers get bigger, smarter ones are tying up with foreign partners — like Rustomjee with Keppel Corporation, Singapore.Pushed by RERA and helped by technology, developers are striving to complete projects within two years instead of four-five years earlier. Technology deployment is the buzzword, not just in sales and marketing but in construction — right from using precast and prefabricated material to drones for monitoring. For example, Godrej does precast construction of entire bath pods that would otherwise take three-six months to build. 79342861 Smaller developers like Ajay Mangal of MG Housing, which are sitting on landholdings, are exploring strategies to gain credibility with customers. Mangal, who has 28 acres in Dharuhera in Haryana, is building independent-floor homes under the Deen Dayal Jan Awas Yojana. The project, facilitated, supported and subsidised by Maruti for its workers, has 450 units in a gated campus with parks, sports complex and a community centre. “It’s a win-win for everyone. The response is great,” he says.With government’s help, there is action at the bottom end too. DLF’s two projects, supported by the Uttar Pradesh government, for the economically weaker section (EWS) — Unnati and Pragati — had 520 ready-to-move in flats and were oversubscribed 200 times. Mangal is working with the Uttarakhand government to build 25,000 EWS homes. This aligns with the Centre’s pitch of housing for all by 2024. Under PMAY, 1.14 crore homes have been built and the target is to build 2.94 lakh houses by 2022. 79342893 Housing sector has the potential to revive India’s economy. When the government’s capacity to offer direct fiscal stimulus is limited, this can create jobs and boost income — that, too, at a precarious time when boosting consumption seems like an uphill task.Housing is a perfect outlet for responsible consumer spending. Amid job uncertainty, making a big financial commitment like buying a home is tough. Governments — central and state — can make it a little easier with sops like stamp duty cuts, a greater thrust on affordable housing under PMAY and by tackling execution niggles for both buyers and builders.
Categories: Business News

Companies looking to hire employees they had laid off seven months ago

November 22, 2020 - 2:05am
Life seems to have come full circle for Sandeep Saxena, and that too in seven months. On December 1, the 28-year-old will join a Bengaluru-based food tech venture as a data analyst in its Gurgaon office. The last seven months have not been easy. He lost his job in May and was forced to move to a cheaper house in June as he could not afford the rent.He also had to dip into his hard-earned savings to meet all the expenses. That was when his old office called him asking if he would be interested in rejoining. The same people who had handed him a pink slip now wanted to give him an appointment letter. Saxena decided to boomerang.With the economy showing some signs of a revival, companies that had laid off staff to survive the crushing Covid times are now looking to hire again. The first port of call of most of these firms is their old employees. This has led to a rise in boomerang placements — where employees return to their old jobs within a short span of leaving it, usually within two years.Of course, it helps that some automobile, lifestyle, electronic and ecommerce ventures are reporting greater sales, customers are returning, stock markets are hitting new highs and global analysts like Moody’s are changing the country’s growth outlook from negative to positive. All this has led to a positive sentiment in the market, and hence the hiring.The food tech startup that Saxena will rejoin didn’t want to disclose its identity. “We don’t want to raise expectations among others who were asked to go. While we are happy to rehire some, accelerated digitisation across functions has resulted in a need for fewer hands,” says Saxena’s employer.79343994But Makemytrip.com, Vista Homes, and several companies in F&B, retail, financial services and aviation have confirmed they are hiring at least some of the people they had fired after April, when the entire country was under lockdown.Jyoti Bowen Nath, managing partner of headhunter Claricent Partners, says, “These are uncertain times and companies prefer people who are aware of values, culture and are open to hiring employees who left on good terms.” Almost 60% of the companies looking for talent prefer boomerang hiring as businesses reopen, she says.79344001In April-June, Makemytrip.com had to let go of almost 350 employees as it cut back on expenses. Now, as travel is showing signs of revival, the portal has hired back 20 who had to leave due to the pandemic. It also hired 35 others for various functions.The Nasdaq-listed company has two experts in its 45-people HR team to specifically look at boomerang placements. Makemytrip assigns a code to employees who leave the company or are asked to quit: Code 1 are those who can be hired later; code 2 can be considered after due diligence and code 3 cannot be rehired. Boomerang employees are mostly part of the first pool. Yuvaraj Srivastava, chief human resources officer, Makemytrip, says, “The success rate is 100% for boomerang employees. In the case of lateral hires (from other companies), 25% might turn out to be average performers.”That is because former employees are familiar with what to do and hit the ground running. This can be a great asset in Covid times where companies don’t have the resources to train people, or the luxury of waiting for months as fresh hires figure out how the company works. Besides it also saves costs to call up an employee whose details are available in the company’s database rather than going through a lengthy process of searching and hiring fresh talent.79344008Vista Rooms, which manages 400 properties across India, saw 40 employees boomerang after business picked up in the last one month.This has saved them at least 40 months of wages that would have been spent if a headhunter was engaged. Amit Damani, cofounder of Vista Rooms, says, “With the lockdown, business came to almost zilch. Decision to lay off was taken not due to individual performance but because the economy crashed. We opted to hire former staff as they know the core values of the company.”Founded in 2015, Vista Rooms had 200 employees at the beginning of the year and was all set for expansion when Covid hit. This forced the company to lay off half the team. Now it has 140 staff, with 40 boomerangs hired at the earlier salary.79344011TeamLease has seen the trend of hiring boomerang employees pick up in F&B, lifestyle retail, financial services and to some extent in hospitality. Rituparna Chakraborty, a senior vice-president at the staffing company, says, “On resumption of business, the tendency is to reach out to employees who were laid off.”Nath of Claricent Partners says, “It is also a great talent retention tool. Boomerang workers make wonderful brand ambassadors and are a strong endorsement for the organisation they come back to.” They are also likely to stay longer than the lateral hires as they understand the company is willing to open doors.Probably that is why Joel Paul, GM India of RiseSmart, finds that the value of a boomerang employee is much higher these days than that of a lateral recruit. “Boomerangs are ready to deliver within a week of rejoining.”While times are looking up for at least some who were handed pink slips just six months ago, few boomerangs have had to make do with shortened contracts— from at least 11 months earlier to just three months now — as businesses remain uncertain about the outlook.
Categories: Business News

This can help India to become $5 tn economy

November 21, 2020 - 11:04pm
NEW DELHI: Atmanirbhar Bharat provides a vision of India's plans to become a USD 5 trillion economy by promoting 'Make in India - Make for World' and this will happen through an integration with the global economy, a senior official of the Ministry of External Affairs said on Saturday.In his address to the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC) at India e-biz Expo 2020, MEA Secretary (CPV&OIA) Sanjay Bhattacharyya said COVID-19 was an unprecedented disruption, at all levels, across the world."It was not only a health crisis but it also imposed socio-economic challenges. Global economy slumped, social interaction was curtailed and individuals were fearful. It was imperative for the global community to coordinate efforts in the fight against coronavirus," he said in his address on 'Leveraging Business Opportunities in a post-Covid Scenario'.India cooperated on repatriation of stranded citizens, in both directions and facilitated the return of over one lakh foreign citizens to their homes, he said."Vande Bharat Mission, the largest repatriation exercise, which brought back 30 lakhs stranded citizens, was possible because of the active support from partners across the world," he said.India provided emergency medical supplies to several countries and deployed medical teams, emerging as the first provider of humanitarian assistance to COVID, Bhattacharyya said."Thousands of Indian healthcare professionals went overseas to help them address the challenges of COVID. We strengthened cooperation in COVID research and testing. We stand ready to support in vaccine availability from India, as we will be the largest producers, once the vaccine is approved," he said.Bhattacharyya said that as business leaders give shape to India's economic engagement, the key opportunities will lie in, among other things, Atmanirbhar Bharat which provides a vision of India's plans to become a USD 5 trillion economy by promoting 'Make in India - Make for World'."This will happen through our integration with the global economy. The thrust will be on joint ventures in infrastructure and manufacturing, integrating into supply chains and tapping sovereign wealth funds," he said.Bhattacharyya said new emerging technologies, especially in ICT, consultancy, fin-tech, logistics, edutech, healthtech, biotech and others also have enormous potential.High technology cooperation, especially in defence and space has potential to be stepped up, he said.Bhattacharyya asserted that Indian business must venture into less-explored markets, which can yield greater dividends."High-level exchanges between India and our growing circle of partners have promoted deeper understanding and cooperation. This is an opportune moment for the business community to develop deeper links, based on each other's national priorities and development plans," he said."We are engaged in reforms and transformational changes in our economy, there is strong political understanding with foreign partners and traditional goodwill between the peoples gives more wind to the sails. This is the equivalent of a 'sweet spot' to change the nature and scale of our economic engagement, to new heights," the MEA official said.
Categories: Business News

HUL launches mental well-being initiatives

November 21, 2020 - 8:04pm
MUMBAI: Hindustan Unilever, the country’s largest fast moving consumer goods maker, has put in place a well-being plan specifically aimed at its blue collar workforce on factory shop floors.From Covid insurance coverage, awareness generating initiatives, to connecting regularly with individual shop floor members and their families to address issues around physical and mental well-being, the FMCG major has initiated a bunch of programmes that covers its 11,000 shop floor workers and around 30,000 indirect workers. “Our HR teams made sure we reached out to each and every member of the field force…we believe that as people are geographically dispersed we have to make that much more effort to reach out to them and address any issues related to well-being,” said Anuradha Razdan, executive director – HR at HUL. The company has extended Covid-19 insurance coverage to all its employees across factories and distribution centres.“For all our factory employees as well as 30,000 employees in our outer core - that is people who are not our direct employees - we made sure that we offer best in class Covid insurance,” she said.The company is also working at the community level - generating awareness not only among the workers but the local community they live in.“One of the biggest issues while our factories kept running was that how do these people come to work without the fear of social boycott because of the fear that the person who is going out to work may bring back the infection from outside when coming back home,” Razdan told ET in an exclusive interaction. “So we not only focused on generating awareness among the employees but also building awareness and advocacy among the communities where they live,” she added.In addition to this, the entire factory leadership team keeps regular connection with the workers and their families. On a weekly basis, members from the leadership team connect with every employee.“We have 10-15 members in our factory leadership teams and between them they took ownership of every blue collar employee. In some factories there are as many as 2000 blue collar employees. We made sure that someone from the leadership team is doing regular connect with the shop floor employees on the phone talking to them or their families,” said Razdan. The focus of this initiative is to build trust by disseminating awareness about the safety of the site, giving them information on health and hygiene, and building a connection with their families. “This care-to-connect programme we did in more than 30 of our manufacturing sites and in every factory we ensured that the leadership teams mapped themselves to individual employees and covered their families.” The company has also strengthened its medical care processes and infrastructure across sites to ensure readiness and build psychological safety net and wellbeing for blue collar workforce.
Categories: Business News

South Africa's ratings cut deeper into junk

November 21, 2020 - 5:03pm
Credit rating agencies Fitch and Moody's lowered South Africa's sovereign ratings further into junk on Friday on rising debt and more likely weakening in the fiscal strength, while S&P Global affirmed on hopes that credit strength will offset them.Fitch expects the country's GDP to remain below 2019 levels even in 2022 as the debt pile adds pressure to public finances in Africa's most industrialized economy.Moody's as well as Fitch's outlook on the country's sovereign ratings is negative, making further downgrades more likely in the future.Fitch downgraded South Africa to 'BB-' from 'BB', while Moody's lowered it to 'Ba2' from 'Ba1'.In March, Moody's became the last of the big three international ratings firms to downgrade South Africa to sub-investment grade, after S&P Global and Fitch moved there in 2017.With the worsening of the COVID-19 pandemic, South Africa's tax revenue fell as the economy contracted, while spending to contain the spread of the virus and cushion its impact on the poor increased.At last month's mid-term budget, the National Treasury forecast South Africa would record a budget deficit of over 15% of GDP in the fiscal year ending March 2021, the highest in post-apartheid history.However, S&P Global affirmed its ratings, while keeping its outlook on the country stable on the assumption that while the economy faces a sharp COVID-19-related contraction in 2020, it should rebound from 2021.
Categories: Business News

Wall Street Week Ahead: Gap between vaccine hopes and pandemic reality poses market hazard

November 21, 2020 - 5:03pm
By April Joyner NEW YORK: As winter approaches, U.S. equity investors are weighing brightening prospects for a Covid-19 vaccine against a resurgence of the pandemic across the United States. Several market strategists have predicted significant gains in U.S. stocks in 2021, as long as Congress passes further fiscal stimulus and a vaccine becomes widely available in the first half. But the path for stocks could be bumpy while investors await those developments, they said. Over the past few weeks, investors had largely looked past immediate risks from the pandemic. The benchmark S&P 500 index recently soared to record highs on evidence of high efficacy rates in two experimental vaccines - from Moderna Inc and jointly from Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE . Both vaccines could be ready for U.S. authorization and distribution within weeks, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has said. Still, the pandemic remained an immediate threat as the number of U.S. deaths from the disease has climbed to 250,000. The S&P 500 fell more than 1 per cent on Wednesday as New York City announced the closure of public schools. Economic indicators including a rise in jobless claims last week signaled that the recovery may have stalled, reflecting the need for further fiscal stimulus, some investors said. Data from IHS Markit's flash purchasing managers' index and the Conference Board's consumer confidence survey are scheduled for release next week. "We anticipate a vaccine becoming partially available this year, but that still leaves a gap," said Colin Moore, global chief investment officer at Columbia Threadneedle Investments. Further signs the pandemic is growing more severe could stir volatility in U.S. stocks. The Cboe Volatility Index, known as Wall Street's "fear gauge," fell sharply after the U.S. presidential election but has leveled off and remains above its long-term average near 20. VIX futures also reflect elevated expectations for market gyrations throughout the first half of 2021. Questions about more stimulus have fed volatility expectations, investors said. Two U.S. Senate runoff elections in Georgia scheduled for January could decide which political party controls that chamber and hence the scope of further pandemic relief. "The big event risk in 2021 might be that's just completely off the table," said Derek Devens, senior portfolio manager of Neuberger Berman's options group, referring to further stimulus. "That would be a pretty negative event for the market." Some strategists anticipate a bid to haven currencies as a hedge against market declines. TD Securities strategists wrote on Tuesday that they expect the dollar, which has weakened this month, to gain for a brief period in part due to "evolving Covid realities." Societe Generale has recommended options strategies that would benefit from a strengthening in the yen. But overall, investors largely expect any further slide in U.S. stocks to be fleeting. Restrictions on mobility and economic activity in response to rising Covid-19 cases are likely to be more limited than in the spring, they said. New York City, for instance, has kept stores and restaurants open even as schools close. Simply seeing a light at the end of the tunnel has helped limit investor anxiety, said David Lefkowitz, head of Americas equities at UBS Global Wealth Management. Even if a stimulus package does not materialize as expected, optimism about a vaccine could blunt any hit to U.S. stocks, in his view. "There's a pretty clear line of sight to an improvement beginning after the first quarter," he said. "I don't think we're going to see a huge pullback because the market knows that this is a very temporary situation."
Categories: Business News

India to cut carbon footprint by 30-35%: Modi

November 21, 2020 - 2:02pm
GANDHINAGAR: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday said that India has set a target of reducing the carbon footprint by 30 to 35 per cent.He made the statement while addressing the convocation ceremony of Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University (PDPU) here through video conference."Today, our country is moving ahead with the target of reducing the carbon footprint by 30 to 35 per cent. When I told this to the world, it expressed surprise and wondered if India can achieve it," he said."Efforts are on to increase the use of natural gas capacity four times during this decade, and work is also on to nearly double the oil refining capacity in the next five years," he said.Modi also said that work is constantly going on to strengthen the start-ups in the energy sector, and a special fund has been allocated for the purpose."If you have any idea, product or a concept that you want to incubate, then this fund will be a good opportunity for you, and a gift from the government," he said."In the oil and gas sector alone, crores of rupees are going to be invested during this decade, so you have a lot of opportunities in this field," he added.
Categories: Business News

Harley-Davidson says working with partner Hero to ensure smooth transition for customers in India

November 21, 2020 - 2:02pm
New Delhi: American cult-bike maker Harley-Davidson on Saturday said it is working with its new partner Hero MotoCorp to "ensure a smooth transition" for its customers in India, including after-sale services and warranty. Last month, Harley-Davidson and Hero MotoCorp announced their partnership for the Indian market. They have inked a distribution agreement, under which Hero MotoCorp will sell and service Harley-Davidson motorcycles. It will also sell parts and accessories and general merchandise riding gear and apparel through a network of brand-exclusive Harley-Davidson dealers and Hero's existing dealership network in India. Harley-Davidson Managing Director (Asia Emerging Markets and India) Sajeev Rajasekharan said in a statement, "As we change our business model in India, we are pleased to be continuing our journey in the country together with Hero MotoCorp. We are working closely with Hero to ensure a smooth transition for our riders." He further said the company is providing its riders with updates as available. The firm has assured them that Harley-Davidson motorcycle, parts and accessories and general merchandise sales, as well as after-sale services, warranty and H.O.G. (Harley Owners Group) activities will continue from January 2021 onwards, he added. After the company announced its exit from India in September, Harley-Davidson's dealers said they are looking at taking legal action against the US bike manufacturer over measly compensation. The Federation of Automobile Dealers Associations said the exit of the American cult-bike maker would lead to a loss of up to Rs 130 crore for the brand's dealer partners in the country along with job loss of up to 2,000 workers across the bike maker's dealerships.
Categories: Business News

Investors flock back to equity, PE funds on Covid vaccine hopes

November 21, 2020 - 2:02pm
MUMBAI: Some of the large investors who had committed money to the capital market and private equity funds and were holding back due to uncertainty around Covid pandemic are now flocking back. The sudden surge in investment activity is also backed by the hopes that the Covid vaccine is set to boost the Indian investment activity even further.Many investors had triggered a clause whereby they could postpone their investments or opt out of a few investment deals in Foreign Portfolio Investors (FPIs) and PE funds for investing in India.Both in FPIs as well as PE funds, investors tend to give commitments when they raise funds and money or draw down is given at the time of actual investments. For many PE funds the deals have already dried up and only a handful of the remaining are happening. For FPIs on the other hand, the investment commitments matter more as most of them tend to trade on a regular basis.Industry trackers say that several Alternate Investment Funds (AIFs) that have investments from HNIs were also facing this issue.This comes at a time when the FPI investments in India have hit a record high. FPIs have pumped in around Rs 1.4 lakh crore in the Indian equities in the last eight months.This also comes at a time when travel restrictions have been relaxed and many fund managers of foreign funds that were stuck in India could not travel back. Fund managers sitting out of Mauritius or Singapore and had moved to India due to Covid-19 pandemic. Many had also reached out to their tax advisors fearing that the funds may have become taxable in India.The worry is that the regulations dictate that a fund can be taxable in a jurisdiction where the manager or the decision maker is based for 30 days. With extension in lockdown, their stay in India would be more than a month, hence the concerned fund managers want their tax advisors to figure out a workaround.As per the current taxation regime any country where decisions are taken or where a decision maker is located creates a permanent establishment. And that jurisdiction where a permanent jurisdiction is created has a right to tax the global income of the company or a fund.
Categories: Business News

Tesla’s S&P 500 debut may spark $8 billion demand

November 21, 2020 - 2:02pm
By Jan-Patrick BarnertTesla Inc.’s already impressive stock market rally might be on the verge of a further massive boost.The electric carmaker’s scheduled Dec. 21 inclusion in the S&P 500 Index could result in $8 billion of demand from active U.S. large-cap mutual funds, analysts at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. wrote in a note on Friday.“Of the 189 large-cap core funds in our universe, 157 funds that manage around $500 billion in assets under management did not hold Tesla on Sept. 30,” the analysts wrote. Assuming those funds chose to hold the carmaker at benchmark weight, they would need to buy $8 billion of the stock, or about 2 per cent of Tesla’s market value, the analysts said.The shares were 0.5 per cent lower U.S. pre-market trading, but set for a 22 per cent weekly gain after Thursday’s all-time high. Tesla is the best-performing large-cap stock in the U.S. this year, soaring about 500 per cent, as investors show increasing confidence that electric cars, trucks and buses will dominate the future of the auto and transportation industries.79335618As Tesla’s market value burgeons, the Palo Alto-based company is also winning over some long-term skeptics. Morgan Stanley analysts this week gave Tesla an overweight rating for the first time in more than three years, predicting that Elon Musk’s firm is on the verge of a “profound model shift” from selling cars to generating high-margin software and services revenue.
Categories: Business News

In times of social distancing, most Indians stay away from cash purchases this Diwali

November 21, 2020 - 11:00am
Kolkata: Cash transactions this festive season have taken a back seat. The share of cash transactions fell to around 25% on India’s two largest ecommerce marketplaces, Amazon and Flipkart, from 60-65% last year Diwali, with payments made through digital modes like the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) and cards taking the lead.At leading brick-and-mortar retail chains including Reliance Retail, Tata-owned Croma, Vijay Sales and Sangeetha Mobiles, too, debit and credit cards, wallets, UPI and consumer finance together have become the choice for payment by consumers. 79333712The share of cash transactions in neighbourhood cell-phone outlets have also for the first time come down to less than half of total purchases, said Arvinder Khurana, president of the All India Mobile Retailers Association, which represents more than 150,000 small stores.This shift is aided by the pandemic, cashback or instant discount offers on cards, UPI and wallets; increase in smartphone penetration and the government announcement allowing employees to avail of the LTC benefit tax-free by purchasing goods paid through the digital mode.Some consumers prefer to not handle cash, Croma’s marketing head Ritesh Ghosal said. There is a larger number of people now paying via EMI (probably to preserve cash), which in itself is digital. Also, people in the cash economy are probably hit harder by the pandemic and are not spending, which has skewed the share of digital payments, he said.For the ecommerce marketplaces, this is the first time on record non-cash payments have taken the lead during the festive season. On Flipkart, there has been a 68% increase in digital transactions compared with the previous festive season, with UPI, debit card and credit cards being the top payment instruments used on the platform, a spokesperson said. This is despite Flipkart reporting the highest number of first-time Internet and ecommerce users, even from small towns.An Amazon Pay spokesperson said during the festive sale period, it disbursed credit of more than ₹2,700 crore with 140,000 new-to-credit customers, 28% higher than last year. The person said this year two out of every five shoppers on Amazon had access to credit.The rise in digital payment in India comes at a time when cash volume with the public is at the highest on record. As per latest Reserve Bank of India data, currency with public was ₹26.19 lakh crore as on October 23, up 11.5% from March this year and 54% from October 28, 2016, just days before the demonetisation of high-value currency notes.Bankers said people were maintaining liquidity and some of the cash was flowing into transactions in unorganised sectors. They also said the shift to ecommerce transactions was fuelling digital payment adoption. Kotak Mahindra Bank chief digital officer Deepak Sharma said the rise of ecommerce platforms amid the Covid pandemic had led to a surge in UPI transactions, net banking and usage of cards. A surge in QR-scan facility and pay versus traditional card plus point-of-sales usage at small merchant outlets also led to higher adoption of digital payment, he said.Axis Bank digital banking head Sameer Shetty said the share of online spending had moved up from 36% in the pre-Covid period to 41% in recent months. Cards and UPI are driving digital adoption.
Categories: Business News

ReNew Power in talks to sell wind, solar assets to GAIL

November 21, 2020 - 11:00am
New Delhi: ReNew Power is in talks to sell wind and solar assets to GAIL for Rs 3,000 crore, according to people aware of the matter. Both sides have engaged advisers to take the discussions forward.The green energy supplier has carved out a group of wind and solar assets in north and central India for sale. These have a combined capacity to generate 700 MW of power. ReNew Power has a total generation capacity of 8.65 gigawatts (GW).“They have arrived at a high level understanding on the deal. The final closure will depend on satisfactory due diligence and agreement on valuation,” an executive aware of the discussions said.If the talks were to progress into a transaction, this would be the second tranche of asset sale by ReNew Power after it recently divested some of its power assets in Karnataka to UK government-backed Ayana Renewable for ₹1,600 crore as part of its ongoing monetisation drive to deleverage its balance sheet. 79333612GAIL, which was formerly known as Gas Authority of India Ltd, has been targeting renewable energy assets as part of a diversification strategy.“As a part of growth strategy, GAIL is continuously looking for business opportunities including renewables through M&A and/or develop RE (renewable energy) plants through bidding route for both organic as well as inorganic growth,” a spokesperson for GAIL said. “However, GAIL is unable to provide comments on any specific opportunity due to confidentiality of issues.” The state-owned company is the largest transporter of gas in the country with a network of 12,426 km of gas pipelines. The company transports 70% of all gas shipped domestically.ReNew Power declined to comment.ReNew has been looking at asset sales as part of a strategy to ‘churn capital’, as per sources close to the company. The company will sell legacy assets and realize gains from these older investments with an objective to redeploy the proceeds into new projects, these sources said.Industry observers also pointed that cash flows of state-owned power distribution companies or discoms have been adversely impacted due to the pandemic as power demand in the commercial and industrial segment has fallen and recoveries from customers have been hurt due to overall stress.This has led to increased suffering for power generation companies like ReNew Power, which depend on timely payments from the discoms.Discoms’ outstanding dues to power generation companies rose 28% year-on-year in September to Rs 1,38,749 crore, according to power ministry data. This was despite the government announcing a Rs 90,000 crore liquidity infusion package for the electricity distribution companies that has been dispensed through Power Finance Corporation and REC.ReNew’s debt position is also an area of focus for the company, according to sources. The company has a debt burden of Rs 24,000 crore. Almost half of its revenues of Rs 4,790 crore in the financial year 2018-19 went towards meeting finance costs on loans, the company’s balance sheet shows.However, the company is well capitalised with over Rs 7,000 crore of total equity. It also reported a Rs 100 crore profit for the financial year 2018-19.“Your company will be selectively making investments in the renewable energy domain given the future growth potential and also to partner with government in meeting India’s INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) commitments on climate change”, GAIL said in its latest annual report published on its website.GAIL is cash-rich and has low debt levels. It has reserves of Rs 40,000 crore. It reported sales of Rs 74,000 crore in financial year 2019-20 and profits of nearly Rs 10,000 crore.
Categories: Business News

RBI calls up UVARCL to explain flouted norms

November 21, 2020 - 1:57am
MUMBAI: The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has warned UV Asset Reconstruction Company (UVARCL) that its certificate of registration may be cancelled unless it explains by next week why it did not inform the insolvency court that the regulator had rejected its resolution plan for Aircel right at the outset.The banking regulator said in a notice that UVARCL had flouted norms laid down by the Sarfaesi (Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Securities Interest) Act and wilfully violated the RBI's guidelines, people aware of the matter said. According to the Sarfaesi Act, asset reconstruction companies cannot infuse equity into an insolvent company at the resolution stage.UVARCL has been asked to respond to the RBI's notice by the end of next week. However, officials familiar with the issue said UVARCL had informed the RBI about all steps of the resolution plans.A cancellation of UVARCL's registration at this stage would mean the resolution plans of bankrupt telcos Reliance Communications (RCom) and Aircel would stand cancelled and set back State Bank of India's plans to recover Rs 12,000 crore loaned to both telcos. While the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) has approved Aircel's resolution plan, RCom's proposal has been cleared by the committee of creditors and is pending before the tribunal."In the show-cause notice, RBI has said that it had rejected the resolution plan of Aircel in October last year and despite that, UVARCL went ahead with it and did not inform the National Company Law Tribunal of the regulatory body's decision," said one person.RBI and UVARCL did not respond to ET's queries.While clearing UVARCL's resolution plan for Aircel in June 2020, the NCLT asked the ARC to send its plan to RBI for a nod since ARC's are governed by the central bank. UVARCL then sent the NCLT-approved plan to RBI, which rejected the proposal again, citing norms under the Sarfaesi Act, a legislation that allows banks and other financial institutions to auction residential or commercial properties to recover loans.In its notice to UVARCL, the central bank said it had denied permission as early as October 2019, before the NCLT cleared the proposal, the person said. 79329972According to another industry executive, the RBI also observed that if the NCLT had not asked for the central bank's approval, UVARCL would have gone ahead and implemented the Aircel resolution plan.Officials tracking the Aircel and RCom resolution cases said UVARCL sent at least six letters to the central bank between July 2019 and October 2020, informing it of the progress of the resolution plans."They have constantly written to the RBI on this matter, including immediately after the committee of creditors gave a go-ahead to the plan in September last year. But despite approving other resolution plans, the regulator has opposed this because of the equity investment element in the proposal," said an official.An industry executive said that while the RBI's notice has gone only to UVARCL, it has a far and wide-reaching impact for the industry.
Categories: Business News

View: In bullet trains era, Double Decker buses are a testament to design& durability

November 21, 2020 - 1:57am
In early January 1906, Bombay witnessed the ride of the first double-decker bus in India. It had been imported by the Western India Motor Company as a possible public transport solution for the city.Appropriately, given how double-deckers, first horse-drawn, then motor-powered, symbolised British transport innovation, the Times of India (ToI) reported that the driver on this initial run was a Mr England. ToI’s reporter noted the skill with which he drove the towering vehicle through the crowded streets and how, from the top deck “the familiar sights and sounds seemed weird and unreal.”It would still take 30 years before they became a regular part of the city. Opposition came from the tramways that ruled public transport then. In response to the demand for double-deckers, the tramways created double-decker trams and these ran for a while, starting from 1920, but the service never really took off. But when the double-decker buses arrived they quickly became a much loved part of the city.Other cities in India also experimented with double deckers, but Mumbai is the only one with a large fleet in continuous operation. They seemed well suited for the city, taking up less space on its crowded narrow streets, slipping through the canyons created by its continuous blocks of buildings. People loved the unfamiliar view, as that ToI reporter noted, gliding above street level in the modern equivalent of an elephant back ride. (The upper deck front seats, with their relative privacy and unobstructed view, was particularly suited to courting couples).This affection doesn’t seem to have been shared by BEST, which ran the service. As early as 1956, plans were being made to phase out the double-deckers in favour of more regular buses which, it was argued, were easier to maintain and offered more flexibility in planning routes. In most cities around the world these arguments won out and doubledeckers were dropped, but BEST retained them, despite regular threats of dropping them.Which is why the recent news that BEST was planning to acquire new double-deckers was so significant. It represents a real change in official attitudes with a commitment for more than just the token double decker for tourist purposes – as in Kolkata, for example, where chief minister Mamata Banerjee recently launched two which will run on heritage routes only. BEST has said it will acquire enough new double-deckers to keep its full fleet of 120, which should ensure around 100 on the roads on a regular basis.This is a testament to a design, that in an era of bullet trains and hyperloops, has remained remarkably durable. The model that was driven in Bombay in 1906 was designed by Thorneycroft, a British firm later taken over by AEC, the company which built the best known Routemaster model of double-deckers. That division was later taken over by British Leyland, which would produce a model called the Titan, which continued in production by its Indian associate, Ashok Leyland.The Routemaster design has proved so popular that Yutong, a Chinese company that is one of the world’s leading bus manufacturers, with cutting-edge designs for electric buses, was also asked by the Republic of Macedonia to create an equivalent that would meet its needs for a design that would serve both tourist and local public transport needs. Yutong created the City Master, which has a tourist version that has a top that can be removed for good weather, and this is now in use in several Chinese cities as well.Double-deckers have been involved in some remarkable feats, like chase sequences in films (James Bond drives one in Live and Let Die) and a number of driving trips across the world. For example, in 1968 Jan Ward, a young Australian nurse, got onto a double decker named Albert in Sydney and, along with 13 others, drove it to London. This involved an epic crossing of the Australian Outback and then, after shipping Albert to Calcutta, driving it across India and then the rest of Asia and Europe.In the book Ward wrote about the journey, she notes the one advantage of doing this in a double-decker – the upper deck could be converted into a dormitory of sorts. In most other ways though the height of the bus was a problem, with constant changes of routes to avoid bridges that were too low, a hair-raising crossing of a floating bridge in North India (with villagers watching eagerly to see if it would sink) and, at one point near Quetta on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, having to stop five days to dig a trench for the bus to go under a bridge.What is remarkable is that the bus survived all this and duly delivered its crew in London. Feats like this helped build the affection people have for double-deckers, and when Boris Johnson was campaigning to become Mayor of London, he picked their preservation as a populist cause. Johnson pledged that London Transport would never retire the double-deckers, and this may have helped secure his win, which helped build the career that ultimately lead to his becoming Prime Minister. Johnson made sure that double decker played a big role in the London Olympics, starting from Beijing in 2012 when David Beckham rode one into the Olympic stadium to formally take a handover of the Games.The Routemaster had to be substantially redesigned for modern concerns, like accessibility for disabled people. The redesign was led by Thomas Heather wick, who designed the radical cauldron for the London Olympics flame. His three door design was hailed as preserving the spirit of the old design, with greater ease of use for modern travellers. Cost concerns meant that the model ultimately used by London was a modified version but it showed how double-deckers can continue to have a future in modern city transport, and it is to be hoped that BEST can now demonstrate this as well.
Categories: Business News

Law firms ramping up dispute resolution practices after a lull due to Covid

November 21, 2020 - 1:57am
Law firms are ramping up their litigation and dispute resolution practices in anticipation of an increase in business after a lull forced by the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic and partial closure of the courts. Most law firms are looking to hire at partner levels, especially those who can join the team and deliver from day one, said industry executives.Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co (SAM & Co), J Sagar Associates, Samvad Partners, Touchstone Partners, MDP & Partners and IndusLaw LLP are among the law firms that are looking to expand their litigation firepower by way of hiring more lawyers. “We have seen a significant pickup in disputes work in the last few months,” said Nishant Parikh, partner at law firm Trilegal. “Dispute resolution has always been a major focus practice for us and we will accelerate our efforts to make it larger and stronger in the coming years.” 79329766Last month, Nitesh Jain, partner, litigation and dispute resolution practice at SAM & Co joined Trilegal at its Mumbai office, while at the beginning of this month, Gautam Bhatikar moved to mid-sized firm Phoenix Legal’s Mumbai office with a team of five. According to Vivek Chandy, joint managing partner at law firm J Sagar Associates (JSA), the pace of work in the dispute practice was slow till about May. However, litigations and arbitrations slowly picked up after that and are expected to gain further momentum in almost all the sectors.“There will be a lot of movement in the next few months to hire the right talent since most firms will be looking at ramping up their strengths and talent,” said Chandy. He said JSA has a strong dispute practice across locations but it is always looking out for good talent with the right cultural fit.Not just midsized and full-service law firms but even boutique transaction and corporate advisory firms, which may not have had litigation or dispute practice so far, are also looking at building this practice. In one such instance, in September Bengaluru-headquartered boutique mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and PE (private equity) advisory law firm Algo Legal and Delhi-based litigation firm Samvid Legal decided to merge their practices, after which the founder of the latter became a partner and head of Algo's litigation practice. As the courts have opened up, either physically or virtually, litigation is on everyone’s radar again, said Aneesh Patnaik, head of the litigation consulting practice at Vahura.“We are seeing a flurry of activity in the space, with law firms and corporations both looking to hire commercial litigators who can handle a variety of disputes in sectors like banking, infrastructure and PE & VC (venture capital),” said Patnaik. “However, while earlier people used to look at specialist litigators, now they are on the lookout for lawyers who can manage commercial disputes, company cases, arbitrations, insolvency and white collar related matters. Arbitrations have picked up again and regular hearings mean litigators are busy.”Last month, one of the biggest fullservice law firms, Khaitan & Co, hired about 49 law graduates from campuses and inducted them through digital onboarding. Many among these lawyers are expected to join the firm’s dispute resolution practice in various cities.“Law firms are busy advising clients on M&A, PE, capital markets and even general corporate advisory and now they want to ramp up their litigation teams,” said Premal Shah, founding partner of legal placement and consulting firm AFCL. “As the dust is settling from the pandemic and subsequent lockdown, many firms are anticipating major disputes related to contractual obligations, valuations and even certain payment schedules and that will eventually go for either arbitration or litigation.”Legal expenses of listed Indian companies increased about 9% to Rs 38,754 crore ($5.3 billion) in 2019-20 and although the pandemic was a major disruptor, legal expenses including on dispute and transaction are expected to remain stable or may even increase this year, said industry veterans.“The pandemic has caused unprecedented disruptions to commerce and businesses globally, leading to a potential build-up of disputes in various areas. We have seen a huge increase in pre- disputes advisory since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Gaurav Dani, senior partner, IndusLaw LLP. “Once the moratorium on new filings under the IBC (Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code) is lifted, we will see a lot more companies filing for bankruptcy. Therefore, disputes practice will remain a key focus area for the firm and we will continue to strengthen our capabilities in this area to service the increasing needs of our clients.”According to Neha Sharma, founder of legal placement firm Avimukta, both law firms and in-house units in other companies are looking for litigation lawyers, mostly at mid-to-senior level, who can handle international arbitration as well. “Sectors including NBFC (nonbanking financial companies), infrastructure, engineering and even in technology startups, companies are looking to boost in-house hiring,” she said.
Categories: Business News

PM reviews COVID-19 vaccination strategy

November 20, 2020 - 10:57pm
NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday held a meeting to review India's vaccination strategy in which issues like prioritisation of population groups and tech platform for rolling out vaccine for the coronavirus were discussed. Modi tweeted that the meeting discussed important issues related to the progress of vaccine development, regulatory approvals and procurement."Reviewed various issues like prioritisation of population groups, reaching out to HCWs (health care workers), cold-chain Infrastructure augmentation, adding vaccinators and tech platform for vaccine roll-out," he said. A number of COVID-19 vaccine candidates are in advanced phases of trial.
Categories: Business News

Ashok Leyland floats new subsidiary Vishwa Buses and Coaches

November 20, 2020 - 10:57pm
CHENNAI: Heavy commercial vehicles-maker Ashok Leyland on Friday said it has incorporated a wholly owned subsidiary 'Vishwa Buses and Coaches Ltd' (VBCL) with a paid-up share capital of Rs 60 crore.In a BSE filing, the Hinduja Group company said VBCL is a 100 per cent subsidiary and the initial capital of Rs 60 crore was fully infused by the company at par of Rs 10 each per share.VBCL has been incorporated to carry on the business of bus body and coach-building, the filing said.In another notification, Ashok Leyland said its shareholding in Optare PLC, the United Kingdom, has come down to 91.63 per cent from 99.24 per cent following the conversion of loans by Hinduja Automotive Ltd into equity shares in Optare PLC."We wish to inform that consequent to the conversion of loans by Hinduja Automotive Ltd, UK, into equity shares in Optare PLC, the Ashok Leyland Ltd shareholding in Optare PLC, stands reduced from 99.24 per cent to 91.63 per cent," the company said.The consolidated revenue of Optare PLC as on March 31, 2020, was Rs 336.22 crore.Optare PLC is engaged in the business of manufacturing and selling buses in the UK.
Categories: Business News

RCF posts record daily sale of industrial products of Rs 5.44 cr on Nov 18

November 20, 2020 - 10:57pm
NEW DELHI: Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilizers Ltd (RCF) has recorded its highest ever daily sale of industrial products of Rs 5.44 crore on November 18, the government said on Friday.S C Mudgerikar, CMD of RCF, said the RCF apart from manufacturing chemical fertilisers and industrial products is actively engaged in promoting the use of organic fertilisers and non-chemical bio fertilisers.RCF's R&D team has successfully developed and launched 'Organic Growth Stimulant' in the year 2019-20. It is a 'low volume high yield' product containing plant growth promoting substances.
Categories: Business News

Govt's appointment of babus in PSU boards has an unforeseen villain

November 20, 2020 - 10:57pm
Mumbai: This is a dissent note New Delhi clearly hadn’t foreseen: Minority opposition against state nominees to the boards of companies the government owns.And this resistance to board appointments has also put the spotlight on governance practices, the performance of government-nominated directors and stock underperformance that has either delayed or derailed privatization.Data compiled by ET showed that at least half a dozen listed companies, including Container Corporation of India, Mahanagar Gas, Petronet LNG and HUDCO, have witnessed resistance from institutional shareholders while the government was trying to get its candidates appointed or reappointed to the respective boards this AGM season. Even well-established names like Hindustan Petroleum, Indian Oil Corporation and ONGC have seen some resistance from minority shareholders.The development comes as several proxy advisory firms issued notes to investors advising them to vote against the resolutions to ratify these appointments. An independent board, the proxy advisors argue, could help improve the productivity and efficiency of these entities, bringing better valuation for shareholders.To be sure, all these resolutions were passed with the backing of the government, which is the majority shareholder in PSEs. However, data compiled by ET show that on average the number of votes cast against appointment related resolutions by institutional shareholders almost doubled in 2020 compared to 2019, showing increasing shareholder frustration. The data were based on voting trends at the AGMs of Nifty PSE index constituent companies.Low attendance of directors during board meetings was a key reason for advisory firms to counsel against resolutions to re-appoint them. Re-appointment proposals on average witnessed 1.7 times votes against them from institutional investors as compared to fresh appointments.“Many of the ex-bureaucrats nominated to the boards by parent ministries do not have any specific expertise or experience relevant for the company. Any director who is appointed should add value to the board,” said Shriram Subramanian, founder and managing director of proxy advisory firm InGovern.Given the situation, in most PSEs the power is concentrated with the CMD, leaving no other board member to question any decision taken by management, Subramanian said.PSEs also have much lower market valuation as compared to the intrinsic value of the business, institutional advisors told ET. In addition to this, PSE stocks have also underperformed the broader markets by a great margin. In the past one-year, Nifty PSE index has declined by 42.8% as compared to a 7.2% gain in the benchmark Nifty 50 index during the same period. In such a scenario, shareholders are increasingly questioning whether better governance practices could lead to higher valuation.A report by Institutional Investor Advisory Services (IIAS), another proxy advisory firm, found that out of a list of 45 PSEs under review, 30 did not meet Sebi’s guidelines on board composition. The rules say that at least half the board members of listed companies must be independent, including at least one female independent director.Subsequently, 50 out of the 188 resolutions for director reappointment proposed by these PSE’s in 2020 were voted against by over 20% institutional shareholders.“Institutional investors no longer have the patience for the lack of compliance by PSEs on board composition,” the IIAS report concluded. “Providing autonomy on board appointments may help the companies not only to comply with the regulatory requirements but also mark the first step in decentralizing the decision-making process.”
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