PM Modi, Donald Trump agree to enhance peace across Indo-Pacific region

During the phone call, Trump welcomed the first-ever shipment of American crude oil to India, which will begin this month from Texas.

President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have agreed to enhance peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region by establishing a new two-by-two ministerial dialogue, which would elevate their strategic consultations, the White House said.

Trump spoke with Modi last night to greet him on the eve of India’s Independence Day.

During the phone call, Trump welcomed the first-ever shipment of American crude oil to India, which will begin this month from Texas.

He pledged that the US would continue to be a reliable and long-term supplier of energy to India, the White House said in a readout of the phone call between the two leaders.

“The leaders resolved to enhance peace and stability across the Indo-Pacific region by establishing a new two-by- two ministerial dialogue that will elevate their strategic consultations,” the White House said, without giving details of the mechanism.

As the leaders of two of the world’s largest and fastest-growing major economies, Trump and Modi looked forward to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in India this November, the White House said, adding that Trump has asked his daughter and advisor Ivanka Trump to lead the US summit delegation.

“Prime Minister Modi thanked President Trump for his strong leadership uniting the world against the North Korean menace,” it added.

Trump had recently warned North Korea that it would face “fire and fury” if it attacked the United States, while the North threatened to test-fire its missiles over Japan and towards the US Pacific island of Guam.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson extended his best wishes to the people of India on the country’s Independence Day today.

“The US is proud to stand with the people of India, the world’s largest democracy, in the cause for freedom and prosperity around the globe,” he said.

“Prime Minister Modi’s ambitious vision for the US-India relationship holds great promise for advancing our shared interests in the 21st century, and we look forward to the many years of friendship before us,” Tillerson added.

Bollywood, builders & brokers: More ‘shell-shocks’ in store

Several of these firms are also suspected to have indulged in huge cash dealings post-demonetisation.

A ‘black money bonhomie’ has come under the scanner involving builders, brokers and Bollywood entities as a multi-agency probe gets underway to pierce the corporate veil of hundreds of suspected shell companies.

Sebi has begun shooting off show-cause notices to 331 listed entities, suspected to have acted as ‘shell companies’ for those with illicit funds, while action has also begun against more than 100 unlisted entities that could have traded in stocks with laundered money, top regulatory and government sources said. While the capital market regulator Sebi’s decision to restrict share trading has been reversed in case of some firms after they approached the Securities Appellate Tribunal, it has been permitted to go ahead with its probe against them and others who could have violated securities laws.

While many of these companies have gone public to deny any wrongdoing and have said they are not ‘shell companies’, a top official said a wrong perception has got created about this nomenclature and even established and well-known firms can act as ‘shell companies’ by providing a platform for money laundering and converting black money into white. While several small brokers are already in the list of ‘suspected shell firms’, their links to bigger brokerage groups are being probed by Sebi, another official said.

Also under the scanner is the role of some brokers in creating a ‘panic-like situation’ in the stock market after Sebi’s action to restrict trading in shares of 331 firms, he said, while adding that the move would have safeguarded the interest of minority shareholders but the brokers with their ‘skin in the game’ wanted to get their money out.

As Sebi (Securities and Exchange Board of India) continues its probe, affairs of these companies are also being looked into by agencies such as I-T Department, ED and SFIO (Serious Fraud Investigation Office) to unravel what one top regulatory official described as a “big black money bonhomie”.

Several of these firms are also suspected to have indulged in huge cash dealings post-demonetisation.

Marking coordinated efforts on their parts, the regulatory and investigative agencies are sharing their investigation reports with each other, the official said.

Citing official documents and preliminary probe findings, multiple regulatory and government officials said nearly 500 entities (including listed and unlisted ones) are currently being probed but some of the names have not been made public yet due to the sensitivity of the matter and to safeguard the investigation process.

Any action against such ‘big names’ would take place after the investigation has reached some conclusive stage, they added.

A large number of companies having acted as ‘shell firms’ are linked to businesses like real estate, commodities and stock broking, films and television (including those on digital platforms), plantation and non-banking financial services, the officials said.

“Another worrying trend is that several of these companies, including listed ones, could have helped launder money collected illegally by unlawful money-pooling schemes by groups already barred by one or other regulator,” said one of the officials who didn’t want to be named as investigations are underway.

Also under the scanner is funds shown as foreign or domestic ‘private equity investment’ by suspected ‘shell firms’.

The suspected firms are being asked to explain these links and all suspicious dealings.

Some of these firms have shown on their books contracts that are not related to any actual work and could have been mentioned just to inflate turnover, while a few of them are already barred by various authorities across the country.

The last week’s action on suspected 331 listed firms has already been followed up with Sebi asking exchanges and brokers to verify credentials of 107 unlisted entities and bar them from trading if results are found unsatisfactory.

This list also mostly includes entities supposed to be engaged in real estate, plantation, trading and finance related businesses.

These lists were shared with Sebi by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs and are based on ongoing investigations by various agencies including the income tax department and SFIO.

These companies need to provide auditor certificates, annual income tax return filings, status of any pending disputes with the income tax department, and status of compliance with all the requirements of the Companies Act.

Sahara’s Aamby valley up for auction at Rs 37,000 Crore

In a major setback to the Subrata Roy-owned Sahara Group, the Bombay High Court on Monday put up its prestigious Aamby Valley property in Maharashtra for a public auction.

The Official Liquidator (OL) for the Aamby Valley City in Lonavala has put up a reserve price of Rs 37,392 crore, as part of efforts to partially recover the pending dues to various lenders.

The development came three days after the Supreme Court declined to entertain the Sahara Group’s plea to postpone auction of the prime hill station property nestled in the lush green Western Ghats in Pune district.

 

Narendra Modi to include young entrepreneurs’ views in policy-making

The meeting is set to see issues such as private sector job creation, income expansion, innovation, government assistance on ease of doing business and policy and development of innovative technology.

Narendra Modi-led government is keen to include young voices of entrepreneurs, startup founders, and CEOs in the policy making process.

The government’s think tank NITI Aayog has nominated names of 150 young entrepreneurs who will have two meetings with Prime Minister, according to The Economic Times.

The first meeting is scheduled for August 17 and the next one will be on August 22.

The entrepreneurs will discuss issues such as private sector job creation, income expansion, innovation, government assistance on ease of doing business and policy and development of innovative technology.

“For further accelerating the growth process as well as realising the vision of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas, it is imperative that the dynamism, resources and innovative spirit of the leaders in private sector is focused towards the emerging opportunities and challenges in the Indian economy,” NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant said in a letter addressed to the shortlisted candidates, as reported by ET.

The participants have been selected from all over India and across various sectors.

The shortlisted individuals would be divided into six groups based on following themes — New India 2022, Digital India, Emerging a Sustainable Tomorrow, Health and Nutrition, Education and Skill Development, and Soft Power.

The CEOs will also convey their ideas on Cities of Tomorrow, World Class Infrastructure, Doubling Farmers’ Income, Make in India and Financial Sector Reforms.

Each group would try to come up with an action plan on the given theme. This intends to elaborate on desired policy interventions by central and state governments.

Aadhaar may soon be made mandatory for all financial market transactions

The government feels that the Personal Account Number (PAN) may not be enough to plug tax leaks in financial markets, according to The Economic Times.

With an eye on curbing practices such as laundering money through the stock market, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) is planning to link Aadhaar to all financial market transactions, the Economic Times reported.

According to two people familiar with the development, the government feels that the Personal Account Number (PAN) may not be enough to plug tax leaks in financial markets.

An official with a financial services company said that top executives from SEBI have already informally informed market intermediaries about the possibility of linking Aadhaar to financial market transactions. Investors and traders may soon need to provide their Aadhaar details to buy stocks and mutual funds.

However, what is not clear at the moment is when the announcement will be made and whether or not Aadhaar will replace PAN to become the sole identification number. Aadhaar can be used to conduct the compulsory know-your-client (KYC) check for mutual fund transactions online. In a case of online KYC done with Aadhaar, mutual fund investors do not need to go to fund houses to submit their forms and get their signatures verified in person.

The government recently announced that Aadhaar be mandatorily linked to PAN, bank accounts and mobile numbers. The deadline for existing bank account holders to provide their Aadhaar details is December 31.

Some brokerages have already urged SEBI to get the government to extend e-KYC to the stock broking industry as well. “Linking financial market transactions to Aadhaar will be an important step to make India a corruption-free country,” Nirmal Jain, Chairman of the IIFL Group, was quoted as saying.

Numerous market participants said that although PAN is unique to every individual, it has not been successful in weeding out investors using the stock market to launder their money. There are still a lot of cases of multiple PANs and fake demat accounts being used to push money into the market.

“It is important that the government replaces PAN and other identification documents with Aadhaar in financial markets and all other services to make it convenient for people,” Jain said.

‘Make in India’ aimed at making India global manufacturing hub: Indian diplomat in US

‘Make in India’ is one of the flagship programmes of the Government of India which is aimed at transforming the Indian economy towards making it a “global manufacturing hub”, India’s Consul General in Chicago Neeta Bhushan said in her address to a business community from the mid-west region recently, a media release said yesterday.

The ambitious ‘Make in India’ scheme of the Modi government is aimed at making the country a global manufacturing hub and transforming its economy, an Indian diplomat in the US has said.

‘Make in India’ is one of the flagship programmes of the Government of India which is aimed at transforming the Indian economy towards making it a “global manufacturing hub”, India’s Consul General in Chicago Neeta Bhushan said in her address to a business community from the mid-west region recently, a media release said yesterday.

In her key note address at an event organised in partnership with US India Chamber of Commerce Midwest, Bhushan said that there are at least 30 key economic sectors which international companies can consider setting up manufacturing bases in India.

Noting that there is considerable synergy between the Indian states those in the US midwest, Bhushan said this could be effectively utilised to boost the manufacturing sectors in both countries.

She highlighted about the benefits of the Goods and Service Tax (GST) regime and how it has subsumed 17 taxes and over 23 cesses in India.

“The GST is aimed at integrating the tax structure throughout India. The government has taken a series of reforms to improve the ease of doing business,” she said.

In her address, she also talked about other flagship programs of the Indian government such as ‘Skill India’ and ‘Digital India’.

Ajit Pant, president of the US-India Chamber of Commerce Midwest, discussed the ‘Make in India’ initiative and the vast business opportunities that this program presents for the overseas investors at the event.

Lisa Victoria Waller, vice president of BDG International, discussed the GST reforms in details and informed the participants about the impact of the new tax regime on foreign companies functioning in India and how they can benefit from it in the long run.

Banks may deny loans to projects not listed under RERA

Banks now want additional collateral such as private properties of promoters as a guarantee while providing loans to real estate developers.

After consulting with the Reserve Bank of India, some banks have decided not to give loans to projects which have not been listed under Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA), according to The Economic Times.

“We have to look for some security mechanism, and since RERA is designed to weed out fly-by-night operators, we have decided not to extend credit to projects not registered with it,” a bank official was quoted as saying.

Banks now want additional collateral such as private properties of promoters as a guarantee while providing loans to real estate developers.

As per the RERA Act 2016, a real estate developer will be required by the law to maintain 70 percent of the money collected from homebuyers in a different account and 30 percent of the sale proceeds in a separate account, against the 100 percent earlier.

According to RERA, any important changes in the project can be made only after the permission of two-thirds of the buyers in a particular project.

“The spirit of RERA is to ensure that home buyers shouldn’t suffer. While developers are applying for registration, the infrastructure at the authority’s level needs to be beefed up to ensure speedy processing of the same,”  said Jaxay Shah, president of realty developers’ apex body The Confederation of Real Estate Developers’ Association of India (CREDAI), in the same report. “Speed is crucial here because homebuyers are waiting for possession and we cannot further our marketing or financing efforts until we get registered.”

All sections of the RERA Act came into force from May 1 and the builders were given three months to register their ongoing projects under RERA.

All Bihar districts to be made ODF by 2019, says Nitish Kumar

The Bihar government has set a deadline of March, 2019 to make the districts free from open defecation.

The government has also set a target of making 4,555 gram panchayats open defecation free by the end of the current financial year 2017-18.

During the review meeting of ‘Lohia Swachh Bihar Abhiyan’, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar asked officials to speed up the process of achieving the target.

Nitish held a high level meeting late last evening to review the progress of work of Rural Development Department and Panchayati Raj Department.

While revewing the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA), Kumar said the water conservation project, which was implemented in Nalanda district, should be considered as a “role-model” and it should be implemened in all the districts of the state especially in south Bihar.

He also asked officials to take up the matter of aforestation in order to increase the forest coverage area in the state.

During the review of Jeevika, the CM stressed upon the need to speed up the process of creation of 10 lakh Self Help Gropus (SHGs) in the state by the end of December 2018, the release said.

India set for record kharif crop harvest

So far, more than 80 per cent of the sowing of kharif crops — paddy, pulses, oilseeds, cotton, sugarcane and jute — has been completed and the planting will continue in some parts till next month, Pattanayak told PTI in an interview.

Foodgrain output in the ongoing 2017-18 kharif season is likely to surpass last year’s record of 138.04 million tonnes due to higher acreage and good monsoon for the second straight year, Agriculture Secretary Shobhana K Pattanayak said.

So far, more than 80 per cent of the sowing of kharif crops — paddy, pulses, oilseeds, cotton, sugarcane and jute — has been completed and the planting will continue in some parts till next month, Pattanayak told PTI in an interview.

About 19 lakh hectare of crop area has been affected by floods across the country and farmers are likely to take up other kharif crops once the water recedes, he said, expressing concern about poor rains in some parts of Karnataka.

“I am certain overall kharif foodgrain output will be more than last year,” he said. While there were floods in some states, there was drought -like situation in parts of Karnataka, he said, adding that there has still been close to 3 per cent jump in the acreage under kharif crops so far. Pattanayak said farmers in flood-hit areas will replant other crops in 19 lakh hectare once water recedes, but the situation in Karnataka has not yet improved.

“South interior Karnataka continues to be problematic, but some rains had come, let’s see,” he said. Till last week, farmers had sown kharif crops in 878.23 lakh hectare as against 855.85 lakh hectare in the year-ago period, as per the Agriculture Ministry’s latest data.

Paddy – the main kharif (summer) crop – was sown in 280.03 lakh hectare, as against 266.93 lakh hectare, while pulses covered 121.28 lakh hectare as against 116.95 lakh hectare in the said period. However, oilseeds acreage was down at 148.88 lakh hectare till last week of the kharif season from 165.49 lakh hectare in the same period last year. This, Pattanayak said, should not be an issue.

“It is lower so far, but the sowing window is not over. They (farmers) will take up little later on marginal lands. Overall, it is not bad.” He said the overall acreage for all pulses is higher, except tur. With regard to cash crop, he said that the overall area sown to cotton and sugarcane is higher than last year so far and the output is also expected to be better.

“The cotton acreage has gone up substantially, but part of the area is affected in Gujarat due to floods. Farmers may grow other crops like pulses.” As per the data, cotton acreage has increased to 114.34 lakh hectare so far in the 2017-18 kharif season from 96.48 lakh hectare in the year-ago period on account of good rains and better prices.

Similarly, acreage under sugarcane has gone up to 49.71 lakh hectare from 45.64 lakh hectare in the said period because of good monsoon and timely payment of cane arrears by sugar mills. In the 2016-17 kharif season, foodgrain output was record at 138.04 million tonnes while previous record was 128.65 MT achieved during the 2013-14 kharif season.

Production of paddy stood at 96.09 MT, pulses at 9.12 MT, coarse cereals at 32.84 MT, oilseeds at 22.8 MT, cotton at 30.5 million bales in the 2016-17 kharif season, as per the ministry’s data.

Bad loan resolution to start shortly, RBI to take up more cases: Arun Jaitley

Replying to a debate on the Banking Regulation (Amendment) Bill, 2017, Jaitley said the Reserve Bank has already identified top 12 loan defaulters and more cases will be taken up by them for resolution.

The process of resolution of bad loans will start shortly, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said in the Lok Sabha as it passed a bill which gives RBI the power to direct banking companies to resolve the problem of stressed assets.

Replying to a debate on the Banking Regulation (Amendment) Bill, 2017, Jaitley said the Reserve Bank has already identified top 12 loan defaulters and more cases will be taken up by them for resolution.

“No one can claim the right of equality in not paying banks back. RBI has taken up some difficult cases… I am sure they will take up more,” Jaitley said. The Banking Regulation (Amendment) Bill, 2017, seeks to amend the Banking Regulation Act, 1949 and replace the Banking Regulation (Amendment) Ordinance, 2017, which was promulgated in May this year.

The bill was later passed by the Lok Sabha by a voice vote. Winding up the debate on the bill, Jaitley said some laws were outdated and were acting as “impediment” instead of “expediting resolution”. “We will shortly see the process of resolution coming… Any form of resolution is possible… We need to save the companies, the jobs and we need liquid companies to pay the banks,” the finance minister said.

Moving on fast-track, the RBI had in June identified 12 large loan defaulters who account for 25 per cent of the total bad loans in the banking sector. Action under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code has already begun in certain cases, including Essar Steel, Bhushan Steel and Bhushan Power & Steel.

Jaitley said the loans were given during the boom period before the 2008 global financial crises and the present government is trying to find a solution of the non-performing loans. Replying to opposition charge that bad loans are higher in public sector banks, Jaitley said PSU banks are leaders when it comes to lending for economic development and to industry. Private sector banks have safer portfolio and are more into retail banking, he said.

“There is a risk in industrial financing and PSU banks do it,” he said. With stressed assets reaching “unacceptably high level”, the government had brought the Bill replacing the Ordinance.

The measure allows the RBI to initiate insolvency resolution process on specific stressed assets. The RBI would also be empowered to issue other directions for resolution, appoint or approve for appointment, authorities or committees to advise the banking companies for stressed asset resolution.