PM invites Swiss business leaders to invest in India


Modi in Switzerland

Seeking to create two or three Switzerlands within India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi courted Swiss business leaders to boost domestic manufacturing and skill development.


Prime Minister Modi held wide-ranging talks with prominent business leaders from Switzerland including officials of ABB, Lafarge, Novartis, Nestle, Rieter and Roche. Addressing a business-roundtable, he told the Swiss watch industry that the diamonds on their watches come from Gujarat and “so I am fully sensitive to your concerns.

“Within my country I need to create 2 or 3 Switzerlands.So scope for partnership is immense,” he told the business leaders. “We want to have manufacturing of global standards.Hence Swiss model of skill development very relevant for us.

India, he said, is not just a market of 1.25 billion. “We have skills and a government open to business.

Their discussion focused on ways to enhance trade cooperation between the two countries.

He also talked about government’s commitment towards easing business environment in the country.

The Prime Minister urged the Swiss business leaders to explore the Investment opportunities in India.


India Overpass Collapses, Killing at Least 24 People

MUMBAI—At least 24 people were killed and 80 others injured when an under-construction overpass collapsed in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata, officials said.

We have recovered 18 dead bodies,” Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of the state of West Bengal, of which Kolkata is the capital, told reporters Thursday. At least 78 people were known to be trapped under the debris, while 16 more had been hospitalized, she added. Some 5,000 personnel were engaged in rescue work, Ms. Banerjee said.

Vehicles are trapped under the partially collapsed overpass, which was being built over a congested road in a northern part of Kolkata.

Vehicles are trapped under the partially collapsed overpass, which was being built over a congested road in a northern part of Kolkata.

The number of casualties could rise as officials try to lift a large metal truss that fell onto people and passing cars, a police official said. Some police personnel were also suspected to be trapped under the debris, an official at the Kolkata police control room said by telephone.

The overpass was being built in the city’s densely populated Bara Bazar neighborhood.

Maj. Gen. Anurag Gupta, an adviser for operations at India’s federal rescue agency, the National Disaster Management Authority, said five teams had reached the site. Rescue operations were continuing, with 63 people pulled from the debris, he said. The Indian Army is assisting, Gen. Gupta said.

Footage on local TV channels showed the bridge collapsing, with people and cars on the busy road beneath it disappearing beneath the rubble.

It is an act of God,” K. Panduranga Rao, head of human resources and administration at contractor IVRCL Ltd., the company that was building the overpass, told reporters. “We are shocked to know how this instance has happened.

India’s efforts to rapidly build critical infrastructure, including overpasses over existing, crowded roads, means construction is often undertaken without adequate precautions to isolate sites.

The overpass was being built by the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority, a government agency tasked with building infrastructure in the city, said Soumitra Bhattacharya, director general of Kolkata’s Roads Department, a separate government agency. The road underneath the overpass was always densely crowded, he said. He declined to comment on whether regulations were followed. Officials at the development authority weren’t immediately available for comment.

The project’s construction was checked by third-party consultants as well as the government commissioning agency, the KMDA, Mr. Rao said. Some 40 employees of the firm were working on the project at the time of collapse, and two were still missing, he said.

Late Thursday, Ms. Banerjee said Kolkata police had filed a complaint against IVRCL. The police also raided and sealed three company in the city offices but didn’t find any employees there. An inquiry has been set up under the state’s top bureaucrat to investigate the accident, Ms. Banerjee said.

IVRCL grieves the loss of precious lives and injuries to people and will cooperate with the authorities in investigating this accident,” the company said in a filing to local stock exchanges. In the filing, the company said it is awaiting details on the cause of the accident and it will do “its utmost to find the causes.”

The bridge construction was the toughest of all projects undertaken by the KMDA under a federal grants program, according to information about the project on the website of contractor IVRCL. The website of the engineering and construction company, based in the southern city of Hyderabad, said construction took place in a “very congested area” that hampered the movement of heavy equipment.

Shocked & saddened by collapse of under construction flyover in Kolkata. Took stock of the situation & rescue operations,” a tweet on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s account said.

Monumental tragedy. Rescue ops on. Many feared dead,” said a tweet from the verified account of local lawmaker Derek O’Brien, a member of Parliament for West Bengal.

Make in India only a first step, say CEOs

Although the week-long Make in India event managed to create a buzz to boost manufacturing in India, a lot is still to be done to take the share of manufacturing from the current 17 per cent to 25 per cent of the gross domestic product, say chief executive officers (CEOs).

On Thursday, the last day of the Make in India week held in Mumbai, the central government announced it received investment commitments worth Rs 15.2 lakh crore or $222 billion during the week, But, a quick perusal of investment commitments shows many of these had been announced earlier.

Make in India only a first step, say CEOs Take, for instance, the Digital India conference held by the Narendra Modi government held in July last year. During the event, Anil Agarwal-owned Sterlite had announced Rs 40,000 crore of investments in liquid crystal display (LCD) unit in India. This week, Vedanta announced an Rs 68,000-crore LCD unit in Maharashtra. Similarly, many companies only reiterated their capital expenditure plans as fresh investments during the Make in India week.

The week was held in the backdrop of falling stock markets, rising bad loans of banks, and record low capacity utilisation of Indian factories.

CEOs say even though the investment commitments will take at least two years to fructify, the event has showed the commitment of Modi’s government to take the country forward. “Make in India is a step in the right direction and all the measures are to stimulate the demand for goods and services in the economy. That means, the government must invest in infrastructure that is the prime move forward,” said Ravi Uppal, CEO and managing director of Jindal Steel & Power.

Apart from Modi, finance minister Arun Jaitley, defence minister Manohar Parrikar, power minister Piyush Goyal, road and transport minister Nitin Gadkari, and Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis made a plea to investors to start investing in the country – taking into account India’s huge potential. Goyal said the country offers investment potential worth $1 trillion (Rs 68 lakh crore) in power sector by 2030, while Gadkari asked investors to take advantage of $250 billion to construct 50,000 km of roads.

Indian industry has always complained of creaky infrastructure in the country, which has stalled growth. “Infrastructure has not been able to match the pace of growth in the country. What we lacked is thinking big enough for the growth that we could achieve,” said Ratan Tata, former chairman of Tata group.

The good news from the event was that Maharashtra government would award contracts to build the trans-harbour sea link between Mumbai and Navi Mumbai by October this year. The project will cost Rs 17,750 crore and, of this, almost Rs 15,000 crore will be lent by Japan government at very low interest. But, the entire positive atmosphere created by the Modi government was sullied by an income-tax notice to Vodafone — which is fighting a battle with the Indian government over retrospective tax. “The timing of the notice shows the Modi government is not getting support from its own officials,” said a tax advisor.

No wonder that Vodafone reacted angrily saying the government and the tax department are not in sync with each other.

Global defence companies promised to set up units in India if the government gives them orders for defence equipment. The Modi government wants defence imports to fall to 40 per cent from the current 65 per cent and has asked Indian companies including the Tatas, Mahindras, Bharat Forge to set up units in India so that it can pass on the orders to local firms. This, the government says, will help in local job creation and save precious foreign exchange.

Corporate India expects the Budget to be presented by Jaitley on February 29 will include tax and banking reforms, which would help local manufacturing. Says Banmali Agrawala, GE south Asia president and CEO: “The economy needs faster reforms, which would make the entire Make in India initiative more impactful. However, India will have to balance the economic development and social and political side of that.”

Aditya Birla group chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla said: “There is no secret sauce of manufacturing that we are not aware of… It is just like making an elephant dance. It just cannot happen in a few months.”

Modi in US: What scares CEOs about doing business with India

Indian taxes are not so much administered by laws as by the rules these officers take it upon themselves to write when the political masters have completed drafting the broad strokes.

Narendra Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivering a speech during his US visit.

Just hours before Prime Minister Narendra Modi sat down to a dinner with a group of CEOs in New York, back home the finance ministry issued a release clarifying that a zero tax regime will continue for foreign companies that do business with India but have not set up base on its shores.

The timing was obviously not coincidental. However, the contents of the release had a lot to do with those CEOs’ concerns about India, more specifically about the bureaucracy and even more particularly, the tax officers.
Indian taxes are not so much administered by laws as by the rules these officers take it upon themselves to write when the political masters have completed drafting the broad strokes.
In 2006, the Indian Parliament wrote an act to promote special economic zones. That act is still on the books but investments in the zones have dried up. That’s because, over the years, the revenue department has written in clauses often as rules in other acts that defeat most of the benefits to investors promised in the SEZ act.
In contrast, there’s the Benami Transactions (prohibition) bill that has been introduced in the Lok Sabha in May this year. The bill had to be brought in primarily because since 1988 the older act sat like a dummy without the rules being framed. Unless prodded vigorously this act too could go the way of the former. So while the SEZ act that promised investment sops galore turned sterile by rules, the act to extend the Executive’s powers to curb black money became a dead letter through the same means. This is what concerns the CEOs. The commitment made by the political executive in India is often nullified by the rule-making powers of the bureaucracy. While these rules are supposed to operate only under the umbrella of the act, they have often gone beyond, thwarting the very causes espoused by the economic legislation. For instance Thursday’s release was undoing a plan to levy minimum alternate tax (MAT) on all companies that did business in India irrespective of their country of origin. Those plans had killed promises made by a succession of finance ministers of a predictable and a reasonably low tax rate regime. As the Partha Shome Committee has pointed out, it should be made mandatory from now on for the tax department to spell out through press releases the reasons why they have made changes in rules when they make them. That will go a long way towards checking the capriciousness of the bureaucracy and to make international investors commit funds to India. It is an announcement that will help the Prime Minister in his meetings abroad.


Niti Aayog: PM Narendra Modi urged states to ‘bury differences’, focus on job creation

Describing “poverty alleviation” as the biggest challenge before the country, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday asked chief ministers of various states to “bury differences” and focus on investment cycle, job creation, growth and prosperity.
Chairing the first meeting of the Governing Council of the newly-created NITI Aayog, Modi said, “The Aayog would forge a model of cooperative and competitive federalism in eradication of poverty.”

He also asked the Aayog to ascertain how many of the 66 centrally sponsored schemes (CSSs) should be shelved or transferred to states. While West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee skipped the meeting, Bihar CM Jitan Ram Majhi, who may be on his way out, was among those present.
Emphasising that it was imperative to have greater financial devolution and allow flexibility to states to decide their welfare schemes, the PM asked the Aayog to constitute a sub-group of CMs to decide on continuation of the 66 CSSs. Two other such sub-groups will look at skill development and ways to make Swachh Bharat Abhiyan a continuous programme.

“We will move away from one-size-fits-all schemes and forge a better match between schemes and the needs of states,” Modi said.

According to a note circulated for the meeting, given that the next two years would be a period of transition towards “fast-tracking growth and faster development”, the state governments may have to continue with annual plans, but the focus would be on more intensive outcomes.
Noting that projects were often held up for want of timely decisions, Modi sought “personal attention” of CMs to eliminate hurdles.

NITI Aayog Replaces Planning Commission, Prime Minister Modi Bids Farewell To ‘One Size Fits All’ Approach
Emerging from the meeting, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the states had also been asked to form two task forces on development of the farm sector and poverty alleviation.
“It was an extremely useful meeting, where there was a large consensus on the need to empower states,” he said, adding that the PM had pointed out that the Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana had been successful because of everyone’s cooperation.

The PM acknowledged that the CMs had given valuable inputs on area specific development, and tweeted that “the spirit of cooperative federalism will enhance India’s progress and prosperity”.
Chief ministers of Tamil Nadu and Uttar Padesh are learnt to have pressed for more financial autonomy in deciding welfare schemes.

Arguing that India would not progress without all its states advancing in tandem, Modi stressed the spirit of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ . Growth was needed to create jobs as well as alleviate poverty, he said.

India’s economic growth revised up by almost 50%

India's economic growth

Modi’s campaign succeeded partly because of the widespread feeling that his predecessors from the Congress party had plunged the economy into the country’s longest deceleration in growth in a generation.

India’s economy grew almost 50 per cent faster in 2013/14 than earlier thought, the government said on Friday after changing a formula, a reminder of the challenges that unreliable statistics present to Indian policymakers.

In the year leading up to the elections that brought Prime Minister Narendra Modi to power last May, the economy grew 6.9 per cent, not the 4.7 per cent reported earlier, chief statistician TCA Anant told reporters.

Modi’s campaign succeeded partly because of the widespread feeling that his predecessors from the Congress party had plunged the economy into the country’s longest deceleration in growth in a generation.

The revised formula, showing a faster recovery, includes under-represented and informal sectors as well as items such as smartphones and LED television sets in gross domestic product.

That could boost India’s growth figure in the year ending in March 2015, which the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has projected to be around 5.5 per cent.

Some in government predict the change will help bring down the fiscal deficit as a share of gross domestic product, making it easier for Modi to trim the gap to a seven year low of 4.1 per cent in the year to March despite a shortfall in revenue.

However, Anant said the overall size of India’s $1.8 trillion economy had not changed enough to shift the ratio significantly, adding, “Our ranking in GDP terms will not change as the size of economy has almost remained the same.”

The new methodology moves India more in line with global standards by measuring the economy at market prices, and by tracking consumer rather than wholesale inflation.

“This will help lower market distortions and give better representation to the manufacturing sector,” said Soumya Kanti Ghosh, chief economic adviser at State Bank of India.

But the frequent GDP revisions and other deficient data are a headache for economic planners.

Among the worst offenders are the volatile index for industrial production and the jobless numbers, seen as very unrepresentative. The latest GDP revision is part of a change to the method of calculating national accounts that happens every five years.

“It is a problem for the government and economists who are trying to understand the exact situation,” said DH Pai Panandiker, president of RPG Foundation, an economic policy group in New Delhi. “It is even a problem for the RBI, that doesn’t have a full view about how the economy is performing.”

India, US envision a new business climate

Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi

US President Barack Obama shakes hands with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) at the conclusion of a CEO Roundtable and Forum at the India U.S. Business Summit in New Delhi

Visiting US president Barack Obama and American business leaders on Monday raised concern over a lax intellectual property rights (IPR) regime and unpredictable tax system in India, prompting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to offer an open business climate and stable tax polices.

Obama also announced $4 billion worth of investment in India, including $1 billion for financing exports of made-in-US products. Both Obama and Modi pitched for the ‘make-in’ programmes of their respective countries.

At the India-US CEO Forum, the US president said exporters of his country were “very concerned” about issues like IPR as the US was increasingly becoming a knowledge-based economy.

He said the “absence of effective IP protection” in India was affecting business.

“We tend to operate at the higher ends of the global value chain,” he said at the meeting, which included Honeywell CEO Dave Cote, Indira Nooyi of Pepsico, Harold McGraw, chairman of McGraw Hill Financial, Ajay Banga, CEO of Mastercard, and Bob Iger, CEO of Walt Disney Company.

The Indian side included Tata Sons chairman Cyrus Mistry, who along with Cote was co-chair of the CEOs’ forum. Others who attended included HDFC chairman Deepak Parekh, RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani, ADA group chairman Anil Ambani, Adani group chairman Gautam Adani, ONGC CMD Dinesh K Saraf, SBI chairman Arundhati Bhattacharya, Jubilant group head Hari S Bhartia, BHEL head B Prasada Rao, Biocon CMD Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw and Sunil Mittal of Bharti Enterprises.

Mazumdar-Shaw later said US companies complained about counterfeiting and piracy in India, which she hoped would be resolved through a bilateral mechanism.

Parekh said Iger raised the issue of film piracy. Even Modi acknowledged that there was piracy in IT software and films. Finance minister Arun Jaitley, also incharge of information and broadcasting, said the issue would be looked into.

After the US Trade Representative (USTR) last year had said in its much-awaited annual special 301 report that India’s IPR laws and enforcement would be closely monitored by initiating an out-of-cycle review, the two countries tried to narrow down their differences through the trade policy forum. The department of industrial policy and promotion has put a draft on IPR policy in the public domain to revise the policy in general.

Indian companies expressed their worries over visa restrictions and restrictions on gas exports from the US to India.

Obama sought “consistency” and “simplicity” in the regulatory and tax environment in India to significantly increase trade and business between the world’s two largest democracies.

Seeking more US investment into India, Modi said at the India-US Business Summit, organised just after the CEOs’ meet by the US India Business Council, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci), that his government had removed some of the “excesses of the past” and promised the visiting US dignitaries “we will now soon address the remaining uncertainties”.

The Modi government has repeatedly said retrospective amendment of the Income Tax Act had scared investors away and declared in this financial year’s Budget that all fresh cases arising out of the amendment would be scrutinised by a high-level committee of the Central Board of Direct Taxes before any action was initiated.

Pledging $4 billion in lending by US banks, Obama said his country was ready to help India grow by working with it in development of infrastructure such as railways, ports, roads and clean energy power plants. The $4-billion programme includes $1 billion for financing exports from the US, the same amount for small and medium industries and $2 billion for renewable energy projects.

At the meeting with CEOs, Modi said he would personally take charge of implementation of big projects and monitor them.

“You will find an environment that is not only open, but also welcoming. We will guide you and walk with you in projects. You will find a climate that encourages investment and rewards enterprise. It will nurture innovation and protect your intellectual property,” he said.

“There are still barriers,” said Obama, adding there was a need to streamline regulations, cut the red tape and jump through bureaucracy.

Appreciating Modi’s reform initiatives to bring investments, he said, “We need to incentivise trade rather than stifle. We need to be transparent, consistent and protective of intellectual property rights.”

“We can work together to develop new technologies to help India leap forward and partner in next-generation clean energy projects and upgrade railways, roads, ports, airports and broadband connectivity to provide the best connectivity to the world,” he said.

He also referred to the three smart cities –Allahabad, Ajmer and Visakhapatnam — that the US would help in upgrading infrastructure.

Reviewing his visit, Obama said the two countries had “a number of concrete” steps for more investments and referred to the breakthrough in civil nuclear agreement, defence cooperation, renewable energy and bilateral investment protection treaty (Bipa).

“When leaders make agreements, our agencies and bureaucracy will follow through,” he said. “We can grow and we can prosper together.”

Obama referred to the current bilateral trade of $100 billion and compared it to the US-China trade of $560 billion, saying, “It can give you an idea of what potential India can unleash.”

India only accounts for two per cent of US imports and 1 per cent of its exports, Obama said, expressing wonder that 1.2 billion people consumed such a small proportion of US exports. Notably, merchandise trade between India and the US was much less at $61.6 billion in 2013-14.

Listing the achievements of his government, Modi said the business sentiment in India was one of the strongest among major Asian markets and consumer confidence had turned positive after three years.

“Growth in eight core sectors of economy has increased sharply. Inflation is at a five-year low; 110 million new bank accounts have been opened in the last four months. Investments from the US have jumped by 50 per cent in the first six months of my government,” he said.

Obama said US companies could help India digitise the accounts opened under the Prime Minister’s financial inclusion programme.

Referring to the 50 per cent jump in investments from the US in India, Modi said, “I know that some of the pledges made in September in Washington have begun to flow in. Yes, I do keep track of these things.” The audience cheered his remarks.