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The ‘neo’ way of banking

Covid-19 pandemic has left no option but to usher in a renaissance in the global banking industry with almost every aspect of life transformed by digital enablers. With the rise in online activities and demand for technologyenabled financial services skyrocketing, banks have the responsibility to offer frictionless services to their customers. This is the right time for banks to use technological expansion and transform their traditional structure.

Kritika Krishnamurthy, Anupam Alok & Akanksha Rathore

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“Banking is necessary, banks are not.

 Bill Gates

 INTRODUCTION

Traditionally, banks have offered a wide range of services from current and savings accounts, money transfer, debit and credit cards, loans, insurances etc. But, technological interventions have brought radical changes in the way these services are being offered to the customers. The technological advancements in the financial sphere resulted in emergence of ‘Fintechs’.

Fintechs are gradually transforming the face of banking by providing novel and customized products to meet the individual needs. Fintechs have overhauled the traditional system by making financial services more accessible, faster, cheaper and efficient.

Remember the 90’s when the only way of transferring money to someone’s bank account was visiting the recipient’s bank and depositing money using deposit slip or by sending money order. However, with changing times and technological advancement the scheme of things took a 180 degree turn. Physical money took shape of plastic money in the form of credit and debit cards, ATMs were introduced in 1987 and finally net banking became a reality in 1996. Though use of debit and credit card for online transaction is still stigmatized and many of our parents are still reluctant to use it. But, India is at the cusp of a transition with 65% population being below 35 years. A large portion of our demography is tech-friendly. The period of demonetization further pushed the use of digital banking by increasing the use of online transactions. And now with the outbreak of Covid-19, the preference for contactless payments via quick response (QR) code has risen, thereby minimizing the chances of contamination or spread of virus.

As per a recent report by Razorpay, digital payment transaction rose to 23% in a month during June 3, 2020 to July 2, 2020. Also, Unified Payments Interface (UPI) continued to be the preferred mode and grew to 43%, while use of cards was up by 40% and net-banking by 10%.

Now, the new era of neobanking is surfacing in the digital banking space. Neobanks refer to complete digitization of the banking structure with 100% virtual operation. The United States (US) is home to some of the oldest neo-banks including Simple, which was set up in 2009, and Moven, which founded in 2011. Neo-banking has also gained prominence in Europe since 2011 with the customer base growing to more than 15 million. However, it is a relatively new concept for India and has started gaining traction only in the past few years.

 NEED FOR DIGITALISATION

With increased mobile and internet penetration along with availability of low cost data plans, customers are shifting from ‘paper only’ offline mode to fully automated online platforms for various services. Recently, Mastercard interviewed 17,000 people from 19 different nationalities. Majority of the respondents (82%) view contactless ‘tap and pay’ method as the cleaner way to pay, enabling the customers to get in and out of stores faster. It appears that the trend towards contactless payments is likely to outlive the virus, with 74% of respondents willing to continue contactless options even when pandemic is over.

The Indian banking sector could be changed dramatically with collaboration of all stakeholders, including regulators, market players and investors. Innovation is no more a luxury; rather it has become a necessity. More importantly there has been a rise in startups, which are gradually digitizing the retail financial services delivered to consumers. It is therefore important for banks to innovate in the retail financial services space in tune with the changing times in order to be relevant.

Customers nowadays enjoy a new world of multichannel banking, where they have access financial services while sitting at their home or offices through mobile based applications. Thus, banks need to have dedicated resources, to form an agile innovation unit, with a view to position themselves at the forefront of digital innovations amidst changing customer expectations and competitive landscape.

Traditional banking practices such as requirement of paper documentation and declaration for wire transfer by visiting the bank, emphasis on physically stamped bank statement for incorporation of company, requirement of tendering a cheque from an existing bank account for high value Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) transaction etc. is a tedious exercise. Further, considering lockdowns, quarantines, curfews and social distancing measures, customers are not able to reach banks while many other are reluctant to visit a bank due to the fear of contacting Covid-19. Additionally, many financial services including opening and making the bank accounts functional were affected. The accounts can be made functional only by servicing a ‘kit’ containing debit card, cheque book, banking passwords and account details, sent to the customers through courier services. Due to lockdown these kits could not reach the customers. All these factors, calls for revamping of the banking sector to enable the banking services being available with remote, nointeraction and contactless operations in order to cater to the evolving demands of the new age tech-savvy customers.

 NEO WAY OF BANKING

 Neo-banks are fully digital financial service providers offering a range of services including payment and money transfer, individual and business loan, overdraft facilities, savings account and tips for saving and budgeting thereby offering an immersive customer experience over a 100% virtual platform.

As per data by Zion Market Research, global neobank market which was valued at USD 18.6 billion (2018), shall be registering a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 46.5% during 2019-2026, generating USD 394.6 billion by 2026. As per PWC India, the substantial growth potential for neo-banks is driven by their low-cost model for end consumers with no or very low monthly fees.

 It is no secret that traditional banking channels are on the fore-front of increased competition from many arcs of the digital environment. Neo-banks are expanding rapidly, using state-of-the-art technology to win over customers. In the recent years, neo-banks have become the next big thing in fintech.

 As the financial landscape is shifting towards customer experience and satisfaction, a gap is created between what the traditional banks offer and what the customers expect. Neo-banks are making an attempt to fill this gap. Since there is absence of physical structure with 100% virtual operation, the customer fee is significantly reduced. Further, neo-banks being customer-centric are capable of providing personalized services related to money transfer, money lending, and other related services.

Case Study: SBI Yono

Yono digital bank by State Bank of India (SBI) is an integrated digital banking platform offering a variety of services like Credit Cards, Loans, Insurance, Investments and other services such as taxi bookings, online shopping and medical bill payments. SBI Yono provides an appbased banking facility with instant account opening. It provides for digital on-boarding of customers through e-KYC and biometric authentication. However, one time branch visit is required to give biometric in case of digital savings account. While insta savings account can be opened within 4 minutes with no requirement of branch visit.

BANK-FINTECH COLLABORATION

 Banks often see fintech as competitors but, a broader outlook reveal that banks and fintechs are not heterogeneous. Therefore, they shall act in consonance to attain larger economic goals. From the standpoint of fintech startups, partnering with banks shall enable them to attract a scalable customer base. Alternatively, legacy banking organizations struggling to keep up with consumer expectations shall be able to reach more customers by using technological support of fintechs. Additionally, fintechs can help the banks harness the power of blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI) and big data analysis and to come up with neo-banking structure with 100% virtual operation.

Recently, speaking at the Global Fintech Fest, SBI chairman, Shri Rajnish Kumar said that only 9 out of every 100 transactions happen in SBI branches, while the rest are done through alternative channels. Besides, transactions on ATMs, which used to comprise 55% of total transactions three years ago, have now declined to 30-32%. All this have been possible through bank-fintech partnership.

Case Study: Kotak 811

Kotak, a private sector banks in India, came up with an innovative product ‘Kotak 811’ addressing the concerns associated with physical branch visit and ‘paper-only’ services. Kotak 811 is a new age banking app with main focus on customer acquisition through digital platform with easy account opening services for customers from every strata of society. Kotak 811 provides for a zero contact, video –KYC facilitated banking solutions and is India’s first downloadable bank account that installs and starts in 5 minutes. It allows people to open a zero-balance digital bank account and comes with a virtual debit card with an option of physical debit card and free online fund transfer using National Electronic Funds Transfer (NEFT), Immediate Payment Service (IMPS) or RTGS. Kotak 811 and Kotak remit are blockchainbased financial products designed in collaboration with fintech platforms.

NEO-BANKS IN INDIA

SBI’s‘Yono’, Kotak’s  ‘Kotak  811’ and Axis Bank’s ‘ASAP’ are the closest model to ‘Neo-Banks’ in India.  Also, ICICI has launched a digital banking platform ‘ICICI Stack’ to provide banking services, including digital account opening, loan solutions, payment solutions, investments, insurance and care solutions. Though virtual banking licenses does not exist in India, foreign banks have managed to offer digital-only products through their Indian subsidiaries.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) remains stern in prioritising a bank’s physical presence in India. Further, RBI mandates the requirement of physical presence for banks to provide mobile payment services to residents of India.

 In order to overcome regulatory hindrances, neo-banks in India are creating strategic partnerships with traditional banks to offer banking services, for example, Niyo solution tied up with Yes Bank. For the end customer, financial and banking services are offered by the neo-bank, but from a regulatory perspective, monetary transactions are managed by the partner banks.

RELOOKING THE REGULATORY FRAMEWORK

 A robust neo-banking infrastructure cannot be created in vacuum. Thus, a specific regulatory framework is required overseeing the entire operations. In light of the same, the regulatory aspects associated with the traditional banking structure need to be relooked and modified. RBI provides for physical inspection of bank branches for different purposes. In terms of neo banking, necessary changes need to be made in RBI regulations to provide for virtual inspection wherein all the information required for the purposes of inspection shall be made available real time over a technological platform. As most of these accounts and data are stored over blockchain, it shall be more convenient for the regulator to trace any discrepancy. As transactions over blockchain are recorded in a chronological order with time stamps, any mutation of data is easily traceable without spending hours in screening through multiple files with bulks of information.

Recently, RBI has introduced amendment to Master Direction (MD) on Know Your Customer (KYC). Ideally, customer shall be able to send their details over a portal used by verifying entity. However, as per MD, the process of digital KYC shall be performed by officials of reporting entity which require more manpower than the earlier method, as now technicians and IT team is required to be on-boarded for the process. Further, the definition suggests that Digital KYC shall be used by banks only when physical KYC cannot be carried out. Thus, even after the MD on KYC being in effect the issue remains unaddressed. But to ensure the success of neo-banks, 100% digital KYC needs to be implemented.

 Additionally, RBI circular on Storage of Payment System Data requires all data of payment systems to be stored only in India. International players usually store data on global servers and this requirement of data localization shall require additional investment. A foreign neo-bank willing to offer world-class facilities to the Indian customers may be inhibited by this pre-condition. The underlying procedural requirement insistent on physical form of banking needs to be revised. For example, physical stamping of bank statement for company incorporation, requirement of making payment via cheque for high value RTGS transaction from an existing bank account or making several branch visits to open business bank account. The mandatory physical presence by banks to provide mobile payment services to residents of India also need to be revised in alignment with the virtual infrastructure.

GLOBAL SCENARIO

After the global financial crisis of 2008, a widespread distrust surfaced for conventional banking system. Traditional banking failed to keep up with financial innovations and the everincreasing complexity of the financial industry. This presented fintechs and neobanks as possible alternative to the archaic banking regime and lead to popularity and adaptability of neobanks worldwide.

 Europe has been a bright spot for neo-banks in the world owing to the relaxed regulatory regime. Payment Services Directive (PSD) Law has helped in the emergence and development of neo-banks in Europe. The PSD regulated payment services provided for rights and obligations of payment service providers and its users. However, soon PSD was realized to be inadequate on some counts, such as not including entities from other countries outside of the EU region within its ambit and loopholes in guaranteeing user safety. Thereafter, the revised PSD2 was passed in 2016 which came into force in 2018. PSD2 made online banking easier and safer, with new provisions for payments and transactions made outside or received from outside the EU economic area. PSD2 has been a revolutionary move in standardizing the digital market and making it more customer-centric. PSD2 has a significant impact on the establishment of open banking in Europe, allowing users to perform variety of financial transactions and processes with greater ease and security. The sense of security and control over data has played key role in increasing acceptance of neo-banks in Europe.

Case Study: Revolut

Revolut is UK-based neobank established in 2015 with over 10 million users. Revolut has been granted a specialized banking license by European Central Bank via the Bank of Lithuania in 2018, allowing it to accept deposits and offer consumer credits. The main difference between a specialized and a full-range bank is that the former is not authorized to provide investment services. It has an internet-only or digital-only interface. Revolut uses cloud computing services of Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure and offers all core functions expected out of a traditional bank including current and savings account facilities, wire transfers, insurance, trading, loans and overdraft and business accounts other than handling cash or cheques or offering phone-based assistance.  Customers can make transactions as small as USD 5 using Revolut. Further, Revolut automates bulk payments, regardless of business size or payment amount and allows customers to obtain the entire transaction data using ‘search’ option. It is an ‘end to end’ application for banking and financial services. The business model of Revolut is based on vertical integration where there is no intermediary either for core service or for adjacent services. For example, Revolut has built a card fraud detection system ‘Sherlock’.

All of its services are run, built, deployed, and managed internally allowing changing or pivoting the products quickly and affordably.

 In Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan are some of the first regions to issue neo-bank licenses to banks operating solely as digital banks. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) issued guidelines for authorization of virtual banks primarily delivering banking services via internet or other electronic delivery channels. These guidelines can act as a blueprint for other jurisdictions planning to grant digital banking license. As an autonomous license, distinct from the physical bank shall help in better regulation and management of neo-banks.

WAY FORWARD

 RBI may have problems regulating these virtual banks that will operate mainly with point-of-sales devices and through business correspondents. But, there is a need for RBI to be more sophisticated and have novel regulatory approach in so far as digital banking is concerned. The financial experts in Hong Kong and Taiwan are of the view that granting licenses to neo-banks shall be a boon for specialized sectors such as micro, small and medium enterprise (MSME) that are continuously seeking expedited credit approval. Hence, with India’s ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ mission, we need to consider the specialized banking needs of MSMEs. Creating regulatory sandboxes is a big step towards enabling the growth of digital financial system. Other leading financial regulators including, Monetary Authority of Singapore, HKMA, and Israeli regulators are already taking progressive steps towards neobanking. It is time that RBI follows the trend and chalks out a scheme for rolling out virtual banking licenses in India.

CONCLUSION

Covid-19 pandemic has left no option but to usher a renaissance in the global banking industry with almost every aspect of life transformed by digital enablers. With the rise in online activities and demand for technology enabled financial services skyrocketing, banks have the responsibility to offer frictionless services to their customers. This is the right time for banks to use technological expansion and transform their traditional structure to discover new opportunities of collaboration with fintechs for transitioning to neo-banking structure.

Neo-banking structure not only hold significance in the current situation of Covid-19 by enabling zero-contact, but shall also prove to be of importance in simplifying and increasing ease of doing business in India. It shall improve the image of India as an investment destination since most jurisdictions are now transitioning to tech enabled banking without the incessant requirement for branch visits. Also, this when backed by specific regulatory norms with adequate measures for data protection shall increase customer confidence and adaptability.

 Kritika Krishnamurthy (Founding Partner, AK & Partners), Anupam Alok (Senior Legal Counsel, Sberbank), Akanksha Rathore (Associate, AK & Partners).

 Assisted by Aashrit Varma (Consultant, Bridge Policy Think Tank).

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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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Policy & Politics

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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