In The Onion World: India’s Loss Could Be Another’s Gain


Philanthropy is in the air. After Infosys’ chairman Nandan Nilekani, its Sunil Bharti Mittal pledging a tenth of his total wealth. Onion prices have shot up. They have some strange connection with elections. Indian railways has saved a ton of money on its power bills. HUL will cut down prices on several of its offerings post GST cuts on them. 


Rs 7,000 crore

What is it? The amount founder and chairman of Bharti Enterprises Sunil Bharti Mittal and his family have pledged for philanthropic activities, which is a tenth of their total wealth.

Why is it important? Mittal is among the growing list of billionaires in India who are committing a significant share of their wealth towards philanthropy. Recently, Infosys chairman Nandan Nilekani and Rohini Nilekani signed the Giving Pledge initiative, sponsored by American investor Warren Buffett and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, to give away half their wealth for charity. Other Indians who have signed this pledge include Wipro chairman Azim Premji, Biocon MD Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw and Founder Chairman of Sobha Group PNC Menon.

Tell me more: Most of Bharti family’s wealth would go towards setting up a university in an effort to offer free education to youth from economically weaker sections of society.


$850 per tonne

What is it? The price at which Indian exporters can sell onions in international markets until the end of the year.

Why is it important? The Indian government has applied this restriction as onion prices in domestic markets shot up. At Lasalgaon, the country’s largest wholesale onion market, prices increased to Rs 3,211 per 100 kg last week, which is its highest in two years. On Thursday, the modal price went up even higher to Rs 3,600 per quintal, according to government data. Onions are said to have a curious connection with Indian elections, where a rise in their prices is a politically sensitive topic.

Tell me more: Some traders say onion exports are not possible at $850 a tonne, and that this might result in an increase in key importing countries such as Bangladesh, UAE and Sri Lanka.


Rs 5,636 crore

What is it? The amount the Indian Railways says it has saved in power bills between April 2015 and October 2017.

Why is it important? This has been possible due to the Open Access Policy under the Electricity Act, 2003, which allows consumers with an electricity load of above 1 MW to procure power directly from markets. Over half of the total requirement of 2,000 MW for electric traction power has been accessed through this route. This has resulted in the decrease in the average cost of power to Rs 5 from Rs 7 in states from where electricity is procured via the open access route. The Indian Railways has seen a decline in passenger and freight traffic revenues in the last few years even as the central government’s financial support has largely remained at similar levels.

Tell me more: The Indian Railways says the cumulative figure can go up to Rs 6,927 crore, about Rs 1,000 crore higher than the stipulated target, and has projected total savings of Rs 41,000 crore over the next decade.



What is it? The average cut in product prices across categories that Hindustan Unilever will effect in about 600 stock keeping units (SKUs), post the recent rationalisation of tax rates under the goods and services tax (GST).

Why is it important? This Hindustan Unilever action follows similar announcements by FMCG majors like Dabur, Godrej Consumer and ITC, and comes in the backdrop of the scathing critique from the government that it had done its bit to lower tax rates for many items of everyday use, but companies and service providers had not extended these tax cuts to consumers. It even threatened companies with action, and asked them to take corrective and informative steps.

Tell me more: On November 10, the government took out 178 item headings from the 28% category, leaving 50 items in that GST bracket.



What is it? The points margin that Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes needs over Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari in the last race of the 2017 Formula 1 season this weekend to finish second in the driver’s championship. Effectively, Bottas would have to win and Vettel would have to score no points.

Why is it important? If Bottas does manage to overtake Vettel, this will be the 4th consecutive season in which Mercedes would have finished one and two in the F1 driver’s championship. It would also be a blow to Ferrari, who were leading the driver’s title race till seven races ago, but saw their prospects implode after a series of driver and team errors.

Tell me more: Lewis Hamilton clinched the championship two races ago, in Mexico, for the fourth title of his career. The last time a Ferrari driver finished in the top two was Fernando Alonso in the 2013 season.

Read More

Test not the licence to kill ⚠


What is it? The number of bills listed for introduction, consideration and passing in the Monsoon session of the Parliament to be held between July 17 and August 11.

Why is it important? Important and controversial bills like Whistle Blower Protection (Amendment) Bill that exempts 10 categories of information including cabinet proceedings, and Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill that makes giving a bribe an offence will be introduced during the current session.

Tell me more: The productivity in the Lok Sabha during the Budget session was 108% (a third of it spent on legislative business) while that in the Rajya Sabha was 86% (a fifth of it spent on legislative matters).



What is it? The percentage of people who did not take a test to get a driving licence across 10 cities, according to a survey by road safety advocacy group, SaveLife Foundation.

Why is it important? The high share of people obtaining licences by illegal means highlights the extent of corruption in the licensing system and how this issue is likely a major reason for road accidents and injuries in the country. On an average, 17 people were killed every hour in 2015 and nearly three-fourths of the road accidents were caused due to overspeeding (41%) and dangerous/careless driving (32.2%) in the same year.

Tell me more: About 88% of the respondents did not take the driving test in Agra and the corresponding numbers for Jaipur, Guwahati, Delhi and Mumbai are 72%, 64%, 54% and 50% respectively.



What is it? The number of Wimbledon titles won by Roger Federer so far.

Why is it important? The Swiss player has created a record by winning the most number of Wimbledon titles, surpassing Pete Sampras and William Renshaw who won their seventh Wimbledon titles in 2000 and 1889 respectively. As Croatia’s Marin Cilic struggled with an injury, this was the most one-sided Wimbledon final in 15 years and Federer just took 1 hour and 41 minutes to defeat his opponent.

Tell me more: With his first Wimbledon final victory since 2012, he extended his record 19 Grand Slam titles and at 35 years 342 days, he became the oldest man to win a Wimbledon title in the modern era.



What is it? The number of votes with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), headed by the BJP for the presidential election.

Why is it important? This is around 12,000 votes short of majority in the electoral college for the presidential vote, where total votes number 1,098,882. But the expected support of regional parties such as the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and the YSR Congress could shore up the numbers for a majority for NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind. Votes would be counted on July 20.

Tell me more: The incumbent president, Pranab Mukherjee, had secured 713,763 in the 2012 elections.



What is it? The number of pending cases in courts where the Indian Railways (IR) is a party to, according to records in the Legal Information Management and Briefing System.

Why is it important? The railways account for the majority of the 135,060 court cases of the government. Of these cases, 10,464 cases are pending for over 10 years. The cases involve service matters, disputes with private parties, other government departments or public sector units. IR’s cases increased by 13.5% from 2016’s records of 58,735 cases.

Tell me more: The finance ministry comes second in number of litigations with 15,646 cases. The railways also lead in contempt cases, including flouting of judicial directions, failure to file affidavits or appear before the court, with 241 cases (out of 369 contempt cases).

Read More

Jio: Short-lived low costs?


What is it? The number of terrorists killed in Jammu & Kashmir till June 12 this year, as compared to 54 in corresponding period last year.

Why is it important? This could be due to more locals joining the terrorist groups, and also higher success of counter-terrorism activities underway in the valley.

Tell me more: Today is the first death anniversary of Burhan Wani, a self-styled commander of Hizbul Mujahideen. His death sparked huge protests with 820 incidents of stone-pelting reported in July last year.



Rs 1,680 crore

What is it? The fresh investment by Amazon, the largest online retailer in the world, in its Indian business, Amazon Seller Services.

Why is it important? The investment takes Amazon’s total India capital to over Rs 13,800 crore or over $2 billion since launch in June, 2013. It is not only a part of Amazon’s commitment to spend $5 billion in India, but also makes it the second largest global investor to put money on India’s digital economy. The Japanese SoftBank leads with around $4 billion in various investments.

Tell me more: The last infusion by Amazon was in December, 2016 of Rs 2,010 crore.



Rs 44,800 crore

What is it? The revenue Reliance Industries’ Jio, the telecom venture, needs to earn to break even in earnings with profit before tax (PBT), according to Kotak Institutional Equities.

Why is it important? The requirement, based on FY17 expenditure, debt and asset base, is not much lower than established competition, belying its reported low-cost model. Much larger competition in subscribers and revenues, Bharti Airtel, needs around Rs 49,000 crore while Idea Cellular needs Rs 37,000 crore, based on FY17 spending and regulatory fees.

Tell me more: The revenue required to break even at the Ebitda level is, however, lower than competition. While Bharti Airtel needs around Rs 31,000 crore and Idea Cellular Rs 24,000 crore to break even at the Ebitda level, Jio needs Rs 22,400 crore.



Rs 43,000 crore

What is it? The total revenue earned by the Indian Railways in April-June, this year.

Why is it important? This is 11% higher when compared to corresponding revenue numbers last year. Both passenger and freight earnings increased. While passenger earnings rose from Rs 12,000 crore to Rs 14,000 crore in this period due to the dynamic pricing in premium trains, freight income rose from Rs 25,000 crore to Rs 28,000 crore.

Tell me more: The IR has set Rs 1.89 lakh-crore as its FY18 revenue target..




What is it? June’s Nikkei India Services Purchasing Managers’ Index, a private survey.

Why is it important? Unlike the manufacturing index, services sectors fared better as the index rose to an eight-month high. New business, recruiting and higher selling prices led to the uplift.

Tell me more: The index rose from 52.2 in May. A value of 50 and above means expansion signalling an increase in services activity.

Read More

Pre-trump trouble


What is it? The drop in approved new petitions of India-based companies for HIB visas in 2016.

Why is it important? The number represents a drop of 37% at 9,356 new petitions for the top seven India-based companies seeking approval in fiscal 2016, says a report by National Foundation for American Policy. It’s an indicator that the opportunities for Indian technology workers in the US started narrowing even before Trump administration took charge. The companies affected in 2016 include TCS, Infosys, Cognizant, Wipro.

Tell me more: Indian companies have been accused of flooding the visa lottery system earlier.


Rs 11,000 crore

What is it? The amount State Bank of India (SBI) is looking to raise in a share sale to qualified institutional investors (or a private placement).

Why is it important? The move to raise its capital base could bring in 73% of the equity capital (Rs 15,000 crore) that was approved to be raised in FY18 at SBI’s central board meeting in March. Meeting with Basel III norms and provisioning for bad loans have necessitated raising of fresh capital by Indian banks.

Tell me more: SBI had last sold shares in 2014.


Rs 100 crore

What is it? The cost of redeveloping a railway station in Bhopal, Habibganj, by Bansal Group. The work will commence on June 9.

Why is it important? This is the first redevelopment of an Indian Railways (IR) station through a public-private partnership. The project marks a major step to modernise and privatise IR. Not only upgrading passenger facilities at stations, this would boost IR’s non-fare revenues, for example, through land monetisation. The Bansal Group will invest Rs 350 crore for commercial development of land parcels around the station, on a 45-year lease, according to an agreement in 2016.

Tell me more: The Bhopal-based Bansal Group will be operating and maintaining the station for a period of eight years.



What is it? The number of countries which have cut ties with Qatar, the West Asian country, accusing it of supporting Islamist terrorism. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain were the first to cut diplomatic and transport ties, followed by Yemen, Libya and Maldives.

Why is it important? The geopolitical rift among the Arab neighbours would have ripple effects on the globe, including oil prices, which dropped 1%. While both Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been accused earlier of funding Islamists and terrorists, Qatar has drawn the ire of others due to its supposed support of Iran. The boycott is being seen as a move to target Iran as well.

Tell me more: Qatar will bear the brunt of the ban as transport links with neighbours have been severed and will make food imports (40% of the nation’s supplies) and travel out of the country dearer. The Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has raised his concerns for the650,000-strong Indian population in Qatar, by writing to the Centre.



What is it? The number of students whose admissions got rescinded at Harvard for posting obscene memes in a private Facebook group chat.

Why is it important? It’s an indicator of the worrying trend of social media being used to spread content which is obscene, hateful, abusive and even illegal; and how organisations are trying to tackle it. Last year, prospective students at Harvard who posted similar messages were let go with a strongly worded, but generic statement..

Tell me more: Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have been making some attempts to clean up such content, but it has proven to be a difficult task. It might also be hurting these firms. Salesforce might have walked away from a Twitter acquisition deal last year because of Twitter’s inability to tackle abusive content.

Read More