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Concept of Patent Pooling during Covid-19

Preeti Ahluwalia

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The World Intellectual Property Day is celebrated on the 26th day of April every year to learn about the role that Intellectual Property (IP) rights play in encouraging innovation and creativity. However, this year, it was not a day for celebration; rather it was one for reflection and commitment. It provided us with an opportunity to reflect upon the role of IP in the ongoing health crisis and commit IP to finding a solution. The COVID-19 pandemic and its exceptional reach have focused public heath authorities and research innovators on pursuit of diagnostic, treatment and vaccine innovations. For human life to become normal again, vaccines or medicines are the only permanent solutions. However, even by conservative means, it will take at least 6-10 months for any vaccines/drug to be available. Even when the approval is granted, it will be impossible for it to be made immediately available across the world – since approvals will be required in each and every country. The entire process will require massive efforts by private players, government officials, and international organizations. One response has been a worldwide initiative to create a World Health Organization (WHO) led voluntary patent pool of rights related to patented COVID-19 technologies. For a general drug manufacturing hub like India, such a move can turn out to have a twofold benefit: firstly, to battle against this life-threatening pandemic and secondly, to give an impetus to the economy.

Patent Pool: A Solution?

With the outbreak of COVID-19, each country has participated in the race of making the vaccine. All this may be the subject matter of patent applications around the world. For instance, an approval for commercial production is granted, say, in one country, attempts will be made to obtain exclusive rights to a vaccine being developed. On the other hand, there are also collaborations taking place between countries. However, the spirit of collaborative solutions is only on the anvil. COVID-19 pandemic need disruptive solutions. All the stakeholders (government officials, international organizations, private players) need to arrive at a consensus in advance to ensure that the system is ready. Procrastination in this matter would be disastrous. Creating interruptions through exclusivity claims, in the wake of a pandemic, will result in dividing countries, corporations and international organizations. This will not benefit patients and the world as a whole. Therefore, solutions should be created.

Creating a Patent Pool

One such solution by which aggregation and distribution of vaccine developed can be ensured is by creating patent pool. According to World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), patent pools can be described as voluntary agreements made between two or more patent holders to acquire non-exclusive rights and for licensing their patents to one another or to any third-party for the purpose of sharing their IPRs. Patent pools are usually effective in aggregating, administrating and licensing patents related to specific areas of technology, such as digital technologies. However, they are a relatively new concept in the public health sector. Such pools are managed by a central agency and the patents, which become part of the pool, are readily made available for licensing. Some pools also publish the royalty rates payable for such license. Anyone who wishes to obtain a license will be able to approach the pool, agree to the terms and conditions, and begin to manufacture and sell the products. At the moment, individual efforts are being made by research organizations to create their own pools. A more fruitful attempt would be to create a global pool of COVID-19 related innovations, in respect of vaccines and medicines, which can be managed by a trustworthy international organization. Creating a patent pool and immediate licensing will ensure that there are hundreds of manufacturers across the world. As a result, vaccines and medicines will be quickly available and some part of royalty could be distributed to patent holders on a periodic basis and some part could be retained to fund further research to deal with such pandemics in future. Benefits of Patent Pool

The foremost benefit of patent pools is that it speeds up the production process due to better access to information and technological knowhows. This gives motivation to innovation and productivity also gets increased. Moreover, the members of patent pools do not have to go through the hassle of seeking permissions, licenses, approvals, etc. over and over, which helps in saving time and money.

Medicine Patent Pool (MPP)

Patent pools have not been very active in the medicine sector as compared to other field; however, since few years it is been used in the public health sector to reduce the cost of manufacturing drugs, especially for the treatment of low-income and middle-income countries. An example of this is the MPP whose mandate includes increasing accessibility of drugs and other essential medicines. MPP is a United Nations backed international organization established in July 2010, based in Geneva, Switzerland. It was established by Unitaid, a global health enterprise that collaborates with potential partners to make medical innovations to treat major diseases in low- and middle-income countries, to sell patent agreements with pharmaceutical companies that can accelerate access for generic manufacturers. Recently, MPP has thrown its support behind the initiative and announced an extension of their mandate to include any health technology that could contribute to the worldwide response to COVID-19.

In the past few years, MPP has sold voluntary licensing agreements that have made it accessible for low-income countries to purchase affordable treatments for HIV, TB, and Hepatitis C. In 2019, licensing agreements negotiated by MPP have saved various countries nearly about $210 million and helped avail two billion (approx.) doses of such medications.

MPP is based on the model that patents are intended to reward innovations, and a patent, if not licensed, can prevent the production or sale of affordable generic medicines and the development of novel innovations. The MPP negotiates with patent holders for licenses on HIV, hepatitis C and tuberculosis medicines. Such licenses allow general drug manufacturers to distribute patented medicines in lowand middle-income countries and also, provide the freedom to develop new treatments.

Contribution during COVID-19

The innovative minds of scientists and industry researchers have led to the development of several COVID-19 health technologies such as diagnostic testing devices and drug treatments undergoing clinical trials. Currently, the MPP is helping by gathering patent information for products already being tested in clinical trials, for example antiviral remdesivir and the biologic tocilizumab, in few countries. MPP also stated that they have made available the mentioned drugs via their online database, MedsPaL. It is a repository of patent intelligence established to allow countries and pharmaceutical companies to identify patents that could hinder access to new innovations, if unlicensed.

MPP, on 3rd April, 2020, Geneva made a statement: “The Board of the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) has decided to temporarily expand its mandate to include any health technology that could contribute to the global response to COVID-19 and where licensing could facilitate innovation and access. With the support of Unitaid, this will allow MPP to offer its IP and licensing expertise to the World Health Organization (WHO) to assist the global effort in any way it can”.

 Marie-Paule Kieny, Chair of the MPP Governance Board, said, “In these difficult times, the MPP Board recognizes the important role that MPP can play to increase access to life-saving products for those who need them most. And importantly, with time of the essence, to ensure that we make use of the expertise and mechanisms that already exist.”

Marisol Touraine, Chair of the Unitaid Executive Board and former French Minister of Health and Social Affairs, said, “Unitaid is fully engaged in the global response to COVID-19 and supports the call by the President of Costa Rica for voluntary pooling of intellectual property rights for medicines and diagnostics to promote the global fight against COVID-19” at a very minimal, affordable licensing to ensure the outcomes of efforts can be used by countries with limited economic resources. At least 37 countries have signed up to support this initiative aimed at making vaccines, tests, treatments, and other health technologies to fight coronavirus and to make it accessible to all. Known as the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP), it was first proposed by Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado in the month of March. There are several other nations that have not signed up yet including some economic power nations like, China, Germany, Japan, United States, United Kingdom, and Turkey. The MPP set up and funded by Unitaid a decade ago, has a proven track record and is immediately available to the WHO to begin this urgent work.

 Further, the Unitaid announced to commit an initial $30 million of investment to innovative treatment, diagnostics and respiratory triage tools as part of the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 MPP is regularly updating its patent intelligence database, MedsPaL, with the status of candidate products during COVID-19 and will continue to update as and when the new patented candidates emerge to find the cure during the COVID-19 pandemic. If implemented properly, a COVID-19 patent pool could encourage innovation and improve accessibility to life-saving medications, encourage further innovation, as well as streamline and accelerate the adoption of diagnostic standards.

Outlook and Way Forward

 Patent pooling can guarantee fast-tracking the development of a medicine for COVID-19 while being transparent about all the legalities, patent rights and teaming big pharma companies with generics companies around the world to create the required medicine(s) for the low- and middle-income countries. It will be a win-win situation as the patent owners will receive royalties for their novelties, thereby maintaining their income inflow while the low- and middle-income countries would get the access to the much needed medications at affordable prices.

Another advantage of the patent pooling is that general drug manufacturing companies can combine different medications into single/fixed doses to create better medicines. For example, in 2014 ViiV Healthcare contributed to MPP by providing dolutegravir, an antiretroviral drug for HIV to its pool resource, thereby allowing generic drug manufacturing companies to create an affordable version of the anti-HIV drug.

Patent pool needs the collaboration of not just the countries and organizations but also thousands of researchers, innovators, companies and universities involved. Concern relating to the profits to be earned therefrom is a matter that should be kept aside. The world has to come out of this pandemic quickly as possible and patents ought to fast track rather than hinder the path. Fighting the crisis and earning together is the need of the hour and the way forward. Let us not wait any longer.

Adv. Preeti Ahluwalia practises at the Delhi High Court

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Policy & Politics

PIYUSH GOYAL CALLS UPON STARTUPS TO LEVERAGE ‘DEEP TECH’

Goyal says start ups to build solutions for local & global markets: AI, IoT, Big Data, etc.

Tarun Nangia

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Piyush Goyal

The Minister of Commerce and Industry, Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Piyush Goyal today called upon the Indian industry to aim for raising 75 unicorns in the 75 weeks to the 75th anniversary of Independence next year.

“We have added 43 unicorns added in 45 weeks, since the start of ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ on 12th March, 2021. Let us aim for atleast 75 unicorns in this 75 week period to 75thAnniversary of Independence,” he said, while releasing the NASSCOM Tech Start-up Report 2022.

Goyal said Startup India started a revolution six years ago and today ‘Startup’ has become a common household term. Indian Startups are fast becoming the champions of India Inc’s growth story, he added.

“India has now become the hallmark of a trailblazer & is leaving its mark on global startup landscape. Investments received by Indian startups overshadowed pre-pandemic highs. 2021 will be remembered as the year Indian start-ups delivered on their promise, – fearlessly chasing opportunities across verticals – Edtech, HealthTech & AgriTech amongst others,” he said.

Goyal lauded the ITES (Information Technology Enabled Services) industry including the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector for the record Services exports during the last year. “Services Export for Apr-Dec 2021 reached more than $178 bn despite the Covid19 pandemic when the Travel, Hospitality & Tourism sectors were significantly down,” he said.

• “Let us aim for at least 75 unicorns in the 75 weeks to the 75th Anniversary of Independence”: Piyush Goyal

• Goyal lauds the ITES industry including the BPO sector for the record Services exports during the last year despite the pandemic

•  Piyush Goyal says the PM’s interaction with Startups a week ago has supercharged our innovators

• The next “UPI moment” will be the ONDC (Open Network for Digital Commerce) – Goyal

• New India is today being led by new troika of Innovation, Technology & Entrepreneurship (ITE), ‘India at 100’ will be renowned as a Startup nation: Goyal

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Subhas Chandra Bose statue to be installed in India Gate, announced PM Modi

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Friday that a grand statue of iconic freedom fighter Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose will be installed at India Gate. This announcement came ahead of the 125th anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that his statue will be installed at India Gate to honor his contribution to the independence movement.

The Prime Minister further said that Bose’s grand statue will be made of granite and will be a symbol of India’s indebtedness to him. “Till the grand statue of Netaji Bose is completed, a hologram statue of his would be present at the same place. I will unveil the hologram statue on 23rd January, Netaji’s birth anniversary” PM Modi tweeted

“At a time when the entire nation is marking the 125th birth anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, I am glad to share that his grand statue, made of granite, will be installed at India Gate,” PM Modi tweeted on Friday. “This would be a symbol of India’s indebtedness to him.”

The statue will be installed under the grand canopy near which the Amar Jawan Jyothi flickers in remembrance of India’s martyrs. The eternal flame, which has not been extinguished for 50 years, will be put off on Friday, as it will be merged with the flame at the National War Memorial.

The canopy, which was built along with the rest of the grand monument in the 1930s by Sir Edwin Lutyens, once housed a statue of the former king of England George V. The statue was later moved to Coronation Park in Central Delhi in the mid-1960s.

The announcement was hailed by many Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, Union ministers and civil society members.

“Great news for the entire nation as PM @narendramodi Ji has today announced that a grand statue of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, will be installed at the iconic India Gate, New Delhi. This is a befitting tribute to the legendary Netaji, who gave everything for India’s freedom.” Amit Shah tweeted.

“Netaji is an epitome of India’s true strength & resolve. Congress has left no stone unturned to forget the immortal contributions of India’s brave son. PM @narendramodi’s decision to install Netaji’s statue at India Gate on his 125th Jayanti will inspire our generations to come.” Amit Shah added in his tweet.

The Prime Minister Narendra Modi will unveil a 216-foot statue of Ramanujacharya, a 11th century saint and a social reformer, in Hyderabad on February 5. The statue described as the ‘Statue of Equality is located in a 45-acre complex at Shamshabad on the outskirts of the city.

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‘US, India should set bold goals to attain $500bn target’, said Keshap

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Having achieved a huge success in their bilateral relations, two of the world’s greatest democracies – India and the United States of America should opt in favour of setting bold goals in order to take their relationship to a new high thereby achieving the ambitious target of $500 billion in bilateral trade echoes retired American Diplomat Atul Keshap, who recently became the new president of the US India Business Council (USIBC).

“I think it’s vitally important that we show that democracies can deliver; that the United States and India can be a driver of global growth and a model for prosperity and development in the 21st century,” Keshap said.

During his illustrious career, the veteran diplomat has served in various capacities with the US State Department. He has been the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives and has also served as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State.

In 2021, he took over as the Chargé d’affaires of the United States mission to India and has been instrumental in shaping the US-India ties under the Joe Biden administration.

“I feel it’s critically important that we show that open societies powered by a free enterprise can be relevant for their people and can help power the world out of this pandemic. I tend to agree entirely with President Biden and PM Narendra Modi that the US India Partnership is a force for global good and it’s going to have a huge impact on economic growth,” he said.

Keshap feels that USIBC is the podium where he can give his best and help the people from both countries. “We need to move forward on the global trade agenda. We need to ensure the prosperity of the future, especially after this pandemic,” he said.

The 50-year-old diplomat reflected on the vision set by Biden, about potentially having a $500 billion trade in goods and services between the US and India. “That’s a very ambitious number and I believe in it. It is a great idea to try to have ambitious targets, else we are on a standstill” he said.

Having donned the new role recently, Keshap said he wants to help meet that $500 billion bilateral trade goal. “This is where the government and the private sector have to work together hand-in-hand,” he said.

“We have to articulate the benefits and have to convince all our stakeholders that there is value in lowering trade barriers, in creating strong standards and in creating positive ecosystems. There is value in dealing with small technical issues that might be creating a blockage to greater prosperity between our countries,” Keshap said.

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Coal crisis: How private sector can power India’s growth

Tarun Nangia

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India has been reeling under a coal shortage crisis and the situation got aggravated in October 2021 leading to a lot of concern amongst various stakeholders including government bodies, thermal power plants, industry and investors. The shortages, triggered by global factors, of course with Indian peculiarities, threatened supplies to thermal-based power plants, leading to an alarm.

Recovering from Covid-19-induced reverses, the global economy has rebounded and gathered steam. This was one of the prime reasons why there was an acute shortage of coal and sources of energy, worldwide. Global coal prices have risen by 40 per cent.

Port based Indian power plants normally rely on imports. Given the global conditions, and the sharp rise in coal prices internationally, the power plants are now almost solely dependent on Indian coal. It’s in this context that the coal crisis has been amplified by various stakeholders.

While global factors did contribute, did we fail to take necessary action, over a period of time? To highlight one prominent factor: Why should the Coal India Limited have monopoly over coal mining / supplies? Consider the CIL performance in the last few years: Its output was 606 MT in 2018-2019, 602 MT in 2019-2020, and 596 MT in 2020-2021. Contrast this with various governments’ efforts to ramp up Coal production in the 1992-2010 period.

So, why did Coal India Limited fail to expand capacity? This is one big question that must be debated. It can therefore be argued that CIL’s monopoly on coal extraction and supplies (till very recently) is one of the prime reasons why India’s thermal power plants faced a coal crisis.

India has the world’s fourth-largest coal reserve, with around 300 billion tonnes of coal. But it is also true that it imports approximately 250 million tonnes of coal. This is because we don’t mine enough and use our resources optimally.

CIL supplies 80 per cent of India’s coal needs. The demand for coal in India is nearly a billion tonnes a year, and the supply is below 800 million tonnes.

Unfortunately, based on then CAG Vinod Rai’s miscalculations and the Notional Loss theory, the Supreme Court cancelled 214 coal blocks in September 2014. Private players were not given a patient hearing on the issue. Rather than encouraging them, the private sector got punished unfairly for its efforts to strengthen the economy through coal mining. If 100 out of 214 of those mines were functional and each one was producing, say, 4 mtpa of Coal, India today would be a net exporter, not importer, of Coal.

Rai’s theory and the Supreme Court judgment had devastating consequences. The coal production in the country took a hit. The country’s GDP declined by almost 1 per cent. Millions of jobs were lost. NPAs of banks with exposure to power, steel and mining sector rose exponentially. Such is Rai’s credibility that he recently tendered an apology to a Congress leader, who, Rai claimed in his book, “requested him to remove then PM Manmohan Singh’s name from the coal scam”. Taking a cue, if someone sues Rai for his Coal Scam theory and numbers, would he be able to defend his report in court?

Against the recommendations of CAG of incentivizing good performers who produce coal, the Supreme Court imposed an additional levy of 295 rupees per ton on the coal extracted from operational mines retrospectively from 1993. The private miners were directed to deposit more than Rs. 9000 crore as penalty.

The stagnating CIL coal output should be seen in this background. Being a monopoly, CIL could have been a saviour for the nation. CIL however neither ramped up production nor invested in technology or expansion of new mines.

In 2020, in a bold and much welcome development, the Union Government opened up commercial coal mining, thus ending Coal India’s monopoly. PM Modi said that he wanted India to be a net exporter of coal, as he set ambitious targets.

A lesson from the recent crisis is this – the CIL monopoly, along with the no-entry sign for the private sector, harmed the country.

There are lessons to be drawn from the opening up of the aviation sector for the recent coal crisis episode. With a series of measures, the aviation sector was opened up, with the Air India privatisation being the latest example. The economy, the nation and consumer benefitted. When sectors as diverse as Steel, Infrastructure and Healthcare were unshackled, the end consumer, the economy and the nation benefitted.

Similarly, if the private sector in coal mining would have been encouraged consistently, and ill-advised measures like cancellation of coal blocks not taken, the coal situation would not have come to such a pass. In 2014, the private sector was said to be accounting for 90 million tons of coal – a substantial figure. Instead of getting encouraged, the private sector had to fight protracted court cases and spend its time wastefully.

There’s a consensus that Coal would continue to power economic growth for a country like India for the next two decades. It’s important that this abundantly-available natural resource is used optimally. The Private Sector can play a key role here.

The Government has shown intent and commitment. It’s time for all the stakeholders to ensure that the country faces no shortage of Coal hereafter. It’s time we all learnt our lessons and ensure that Coal and Mining booms and fires India’s growth march.

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eGrocers seize the day as orders rise 40% amid third wave

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In the ongoing third wave of Covid-19 one industry tops it all with high revenue generation based on more than enough orders to double their size of operation. eGrocers are riding the Corona wave high with record number of orders rising in the third wave and inevitably increasing the rate of their operations. Since December the online grocer Blinkit has added 200 “dark stores” that are designed only for deliveries in ten minutes.The company now plans to take the number to 1000 by March. Reliance owned MilkBasket is more than doubling its warehousing capacity to almost 350,000 sq ft in NCR to cater to 1,50,000 orders a day, double the current order size. In the midst of the growing Covid-19 cases while the brick and mortar retailers and dine-in restaurants are holding out on their expansion plans, online grocers like Blinkit and MilkBasket are going all out on aggressively pushing to take advantage of the growing demand for quick online deliveries. Even at the time of the first and second wave the online grocers had been in the works to expand their operations as millions of Indians gravitated to digital commerce. However the ongoing third wave has made the push on market capitalisation more aggressive and ambitious. “One thing has changed in this wave that our pace of expansion has doubled,” said Rohit Sharma head of supply chain at Blinkit.

The main rival of Blinkit, Tata owned BigBasket is planning to launch BB Now, its express delivery service of delivering products in 10-20 minutes, joining the growing space of quick commerce. Currently Blinkit, Swiggy’s Instamart, Dunzo and Zepto are active in that space. T K Balakumar, chief operating officer at Big Basket said his company is planning to increase its existing warehousing capacity by 40%. They are also planning to open more than 300 dark stores in the coming financial year starting April.

During the ongoing Covid wave the orders in various cities have gone up by 30-40%, said the online grocers. Milkbasket is currently catering to about 70,000 orders per day in the NCR. Its new 150,000 sq ft warehouse in the region will be ready by next month. “There is excess demand. They are already running 110% of capacity,” said a person familiar with MilkBaskets’ plans. MilkBasket operates in Delhi-NCR, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Chennai and is set to enter Jaipur later this month.

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India-assisted projects launched for Mauritius by PMs Modi and Jugnauth

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During a virtual event on January 20, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Mauritius counterpart Pravind Kumar Jugnauth jointly opened an India-assisted social housing project in Mauritius. The two leaders also opened a civil service college and an 8-MW solar power project in Mauritius, both of which are being funded by India, as per the external affairs ministry. According to the ministry, a bilateral agreement for the implementation of modest development projects was exchanged, as well as an agreement to grant a $190 million line of credit from India to Mauritius for the Metro Express Project and other infrastructure projects. The news follows Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s tour to Indian Ocean countries like Sri Lanka, Comoros, and the Maldives, during which the Chinese side disclosed a number of business initiatives. Mauritius is an important aspect of India’s “Neighbourhood First” strategy, with New Delhi supporting a variety of projects in the African island nation. India supplied immunizations and medical supplies to Mauritius during the initial stages of the Covid-19 outbreak.. Last February, India, and Mauritius signed a free trade agreement aimed at making the island nation a regional center for Indian investments, and New Delhi offered a $100 million line of credit to cover defense gear purchases. Both governments decided to lease a Dornier plane and a Dhruv advanced light chopper to monitor Mauritius’ exclusive economic zone at the time.The Comprehensive Economic Cooperation and Partnership Pact (CECPA) between India and Mauritius was the country’s first free trade agreement with an African nation.

METRO EXPRESS PROJECT

PM Modi and his Mauritian counterpart Jugnauth jointly launched phase-I of the rail transportation line between India and Mauritius in 2019. The Light Rail Transit System Project represents a watershed moment in Indo-Mauritian ties, delivering significant economic benefits to both countries. In addition, the project provided engineering and technical skill development possibilities for the island nation. According to Rajeev Jyoti, Chief Executive of L&T, the construction company that won the contract from the Government of Mauritius, the large-scale investment also established India’s credibility in the international railway market. The first phase comprised the construction of a 26-kilometer railway with 19 stations connecting Curepipe and Immigration Square in Port Louis. Two of the stations were described as cutting-edge. Three major bus interchanges are included in the alignment, making it a multi-modal urban transit system. The bilateral flagship program was expanded in June 2021 with the start of phase-II, which runs from Rose Hill to the Quatre Bornes sector. PM Modi and PM Jugnauth jointly inaugurated the Metro Express corridor, “providing a safe, secure, dependable, and efficient method of transit in Mauritius,” according to the Indian embassy in Mauritius. Three major bus interchanges are included in the alignment, making it a multi-modal urban transit system. The bilateral flagship program was expanded in June 2021 with the start of phase-II, which runs from Rose Hill to the Quatre Bornes sector. PM Modi and PM Jugnauth jointly inaugurated the Metro Express corridor, “providing a safe, secure, dependable, and efficient method of transit in Mauritius,” according to the Indian embassy in Mauritius.

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