In Brief

Union government has eased foreign direct investment rules for the construction sector. Under the new rules, foreign investment is now allowed in projects with a minimum built area of 20,000 square metres, down from a previous 50,000 threshold. The minimum capital investment by foreign companies has also been halved to $5 million.

December 3 is observed as International Day of Persons with Disability.

The Union Territory of Chandigarh has received the prestigious National Award for the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities-2014 from the Government of India, under the category of “Best State/Union Territory working for the empowerment of persons with disabilities”.

Karnataka is the first State in India to launch a unified mobile platform, called Karnataka MobileOne, for the delivery of citizens’ services, both from government and the private sector, through an open platform. Over 4500 services will be available 24x7x365 days basis at any location in the State on any mobile device. The services can also be availed with the help of low-end phones, through integrated voice response (IVR), SMS or Mobile Web.

The Union government has decriminalised attempt to commit suicide. Attempt to suicide will no longer be treated as a criminal offence. 18 States and four Union Territory administrations have supported that Section 309 of the IPC may be deleted.

Virat Kohli is the third Indian to score a century on Test captaincy debut after Vijay Hazare and Sunil Gavaskar. He also became second player in history,  after Greg Chappel, to score two centuries in same Test on captaincy debut.

UN General Assembly has adopted an India-led resolution declaring June 21 as “International Day of Yoga”, recognising that “yoga provides a holistic approach to health and well-being.”

India has inked a US $1100 million IBRD Direct Lending pact with the World Bank for phase two of the Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor.

The objective of the EDFC-II Project is to augment rail transport capacity, improve service quality and enhance freight carriage throughout on the 393 km Kanpur-Mughal Sarai section of the Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor; and develop institutional capacity of DFCCIL to build, maintain, and operate the entire DFC network. This project is in continuation to the Phase-I of the EDFC Project presently being implemented by the DFCCIL with the World Bank loan of US $975 million on the Khurja-Kanpur stretch of the Eastern rail corridor (Ludhiana-Delhi-Kolkata).

State Bank of India has launched the SBI Composite Index that will primarily track manufacturing activity to offer forward-looking economic trends. The Index rivals the existing data point from HSBC. The SBI index has been developed on the basis of the bank’s internal loan portfolio, which mirrors the credit demand in the country, and other data sets available in public domain. The bank has created two indices — the SBI Monthly Composite Index and the SBI Yearly Composite Index. Both fulfil complementary purposes such as month-on-month sentiment movement and year-on-year growth forecast, respectively. The index would also take into account other indicators of economic activities such as consumer spending, mining, interest rates, inflation and exchange rates on a monthly basis.

India, according to the World Gold Council, has the 11th largest gold reserves, with 558 tonnes. The US heads the pack with 8,134 tonnes, while Germany and IMF come next (3,384 and 2,814 tonnes, respectively).

A humanoid robot, named Athena, with a head, hands and feet and wearing stylish red sneakers boarded a flight for Germany at Los Angeles International Airport on 15 December 2014, becoming what was billed as the first robot traveling as a paid passenger on an airline.  Built by the Salt Lake City engineering and robotics company Sarcos, Athena has been purchased by Germany’s Max Planck Society, which along with researchers at the University of Southern California are trying to make her perform tasks too dangerous for humans, such as cleanup after a nuclear disaster.

Over five crore provident fund subscribers governed by the EPFO will get 8.75 per cent interest on their deposits for 2014-15.

According to the 2013 data for the Sample Registration Survey (SRS), conducted by the Registrar General of India, India’s official source of birth and death data, the Total Fertility Rate (TFR)—the average number of children that will be born to a woman during her lifetime—of India is declining rapidly, including among the poor and illiterate.  At 2.3 TFR, India is now just 0.2 points away from reaching optimum replacement levels as early as 2020 or 2022. The SRS shows that TFR in eight States has fallen below two children per woman. Just nine States—all of them in the north and east, except for Gujarat—haven’t yet reached replacements levels of 2.1, below which populations begin to decline. West Bengal now has India’s lowest fertility, with the southern States, Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. Among backward States, Odisha too has reduced its fertility to 2.1.

India’s Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) has fallen to 40 deaths per 1,000 live births, and 49 deaths of children under the age of 5 for every 1,000 live births, but at these rates is unlikely to meet its Millenium Development Goals for 2015. IMR has fallen faster in rural areas than in urban areas.

Among the metro cities, Chennai has the lowest IMR (16). Among States, Kerala has by far the best IMR at 12 deaths per 1,000 live births; the next best States, Delhi and Maharashtra, have IMRs that are twice that of Kerala.

The Central government decided to celebrate 25 December, birthday of former Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, as national good governance day.

University of Mumbai’s Kalina Campus will host 102nd Indian Science Congress on 3-7 January 2015.  Started in 1914, the grand event sees interaction among research workers, to promote the cause of science and research.

 “The Interview” is a 2014 American political comedy film directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. The film stars Rogen and James Franco as journalists instructed to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un after booking an interview with him. In June 2014, the North Korean government had threatened “merciless” action against the United States if the film’s distributor, Columbia Pictures, went ahead with the release. Columbia delayed the release and reportedly edited the film to make it more acceptable to North Korea. In November, the computer systems of parent company, Sony Pictures Entertainment, were hacked by the “Guardians of Peace”, a group believed to have ties to North Korea. It demanded that Sony pull “The Interview”, which it referred to as “the movie of terrorism”. On 17 December, after a number of major North American cinema chains cancelled screenings in the interest of safety, Sony canceled the theatrical release, drawing criticism from even US President Barack Obama. After initially stating that it had no plans to release the film, Sony made “The Interview” available for online rental on 24 December and via a limited release at selected cinemas on 25 December.

The direct benefit transfer of LPG (DBTL) scheme—Pratyaksh Hanstantrit Labh (PAHAL)—which was re-launched in 54 districts 15 November 2014, will be started in the rest of the 622 districts of the country from 1 January 2015.

A 5,000 year-old massive city, which might be the biggest city in the world, has been found in Turkey’s Cappadocia underground region. The subterranean settlement was discovered in the Nevsehir province of Turkey’s Central Anatolia region, in the historical area of Cappadocia.

The Planning Commission will be replaced by National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Ayog) as part of a plan to restructure the institution.  The institution will serve as ‘Think Tank’ of the government—a directional and policy dynamo. NITI Aayog will provide governments at the central and State levels with relevant strategic and technical advice across the spectrum of key elements of policy, including matters of national and international import on the economic front, dissemination of best practices from within the country as well as from other nations, the infusion of new policy ideas and specific issue-based support.

As per Government of India resolution announcing replacement of Planning Commission with NITI Ayog,  effective governance in India will rest on the following pillars: (a) Pro-people agenda that fulfils the aspirations of the society as well as individual; (b) Pro-active in anticipating and responding to their needs; (c) Participative, by involvement of citizens; (d) Empowering   women in all aspects; (e) Inclusion of all groups, with special attention to the economically weak (garib), the SC, ST and OBC communities,  the rural sector and farmers (gaon and kisan), youth and all categories of minorities; (f) Equality of opportunity to our country’s youth; (g) Transparency through the use of technology to make government visible and responsive.

Business News in Brief

ONGC Videsh Ltd has made its first foray into New Zealand with one offshore exploration permit in the Taranaki Basin, in the same region as several commercially successful oil and gas fields.

Twelve Indian companies, including Kiran Gems, Asian Star and Rosy Blue India, will buy diamonds worth $2.1 billion in the next three years directly from Russian diamond mining giant ALROSA. These companies signed three-year contracts with ALROSA during the World Diamond Conference. Russia is the world’s largest producer of diamonds, while India is the world’s biggest manufacturing centre for cut and polished diamonds.

Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (ADAG) firm Reliance MediaWorks has signed an agreement with Carnival Cinemas to sell its multiplex business—Big Cinemas.

The tag line of Tata-SIA backed Vistara airline is: Fly the new Feeling.

UltraTech Cement has signed an agreement to buy two cement plants of Jaiprakash Associates in Satna, Madhya Pradesh. The acquisition will help Ultra Tech to consolidate its position as India’s biggest cement-maker. For Delhi-based Jaypee Group, the deal was part of an ongoing exercise to reduce debt, which stood at ₹65,000 crore as on 31 March 2014

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