The largest drug bust

1,500 kg

What is it? The quantity of narcotics seized by the Indian Coast Guard from a merchant vessel off Gujarat on Saturday.

Why is it important? Valued at Rs 3,500 crore, this is the largest single haul of narcotics till date, according to the Defence department. The total quantity of various drugs seized more than threefold from 102,115 kg in 2015 to 350,836 kg in 2016 while the number of people arrested in such cases increased by around 20% from 32,559 in 2015 to 38,929 last year, according to the Narcotics Control Bureau.

Tell me more: The Indian Coast Guard ‘Samudra Pavak’ intercepted the merchant vessel on Saturday noon, which was brought to Porbandar on Sunday morning. A joint investigation by the Indian Coast Guard, Intelligence Bureau, police, Customs department, Indian Navy and other agencies is underway.



What is it? The number of supersonic B-1 bombers the US flew over South Korea on Sunday.

Why is it important? This was done as a show of force in response to North Korea, which conducted its latest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Friday, escalating tensions and threatening regional stability. North Korea’s latest missile launch reportedly appears to have the ability to hit American mainland, which experts say, show that the country has progressed rapidly in its missile programme. It has conducted 12 missile tests since February and its first ICBM test on July 4.

Tell me more: China, which is North Korea’s most important ally, urged North Korea to abide by the UN Security Council resolutions but US President Donald Trump expressed his disappointment in China failing to use its economic clout to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.


Rs 65,000 crore

What is it? The estimated value of BSNL’s one-third of prime land holdings.

Why is it important? The book value of the 15,000-odd land and building assets held by the company was Rs 975 crore, the estimation that was arrived ‘decades ago’. The recent valuation exercise was initiated in April this year as part of company’s business revival programmes, which could help the company monetise its assets by the commercial utilisation of its holdings. BSNL along with Air India and SAIL accounted for over half of the total losses incurred by the top 10 loss-making public sector companies in the country.

Tell me more: The public sector company has, however, narrowed its losses over the years: from Rs 7,019 crore in 2013-14 to Rs 8,234 crore in 2014-15 to Rs 3,880 crore in 2015-16.



What is it? The number of American diplomats expelled by Russia on Sunday.

Why is it important? This is the largest expulsion of diplomats from any country. The expulsion follows after the US congress approved sanctions against Russia for annexing Crimea and also for allegedly interfering in US Presidential elections held last year.

Tell me more: Moscow had insisted US reduce staff at its embassies and consulates in Russia to 450, mirroring the strength of Russia’s staff in the US.



What is it? The Union power ministry has asked states to reduce electricity losses to below 10% in six months.

Why is it important? Capping electricity loss at 10% has the potential to transform the financial conditions of many state-run utilities. In June this year, the all-India average of power loss (both theft and technical) was 23%. Government data shows some 200 towns face loss in the range of 40-90%. Such circumstances make the target an ambitious one, given the timeline.

Tell me more: The government’s Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana (Uday) straightening operational and bill collection efficiency have helped state-run power discoms cut their financial losses. But the target of less than 10% of power loss in six months can only be attained by the simultaneous implementation of Uday for pilferage and theft and the Integrated Power Development System (IPDS) for technical upgrades to avoid faults.

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News in Numbers, May 25, 2016: Non-functional ATMs, world’s first 3D printed office…


What is it? The number of companies that have withdrawn from launching payments banks.

Why is it important? That is three out of 11 payment banks which got the RBI’s approval, and the withdrawal highlights some of its limitations: payments banks cannot lend, there are restrictions on deposit deployment, and, more importantly, might not find a strategic fit with a group’s other businesses. The companies which have said no to payment banks are: Cholamandalam Investment and Finance Co., Sun Pharma promoter Dilip Shanghvi and his partners (IDFC Bank and Telenor Financial Services) and Tech Mahindra.

Tell me more: Reliance Industries, Aditya Birla Nuvo, Vodafone and Airtel are among 11 companies that received in-principle approval from the central bank to set up payment banks last August.



What is it? The pass percentage of Indian students with foreign medical degrees in the screening test that allows them to practice in India in 2015.

Why is it important? Indicates the urgent need to increase number of seats for medical courses in India and the lack of awareness among students about low standards of medical education in some colleges abroad. The pass percentage was 50.12% in 2005, which fell to an all-time low of 4.93% in 2014. With just 52,000 seats for MBBS courses and 25,577 post-graduate medical seats in India, students look to other countries such as China, Ukraine and Russia where medical courses are said to be cheaper.

Tell me more: The screening test called the Foreign Medical Graduates Examination is conducted by the Medical Council of India through the National Board of Examinations, where one needs at least 50% to pass.



What is it? The percentage of automated teller machines (ATMs) that were found to be non-functional, of the 4,000 surveyed by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) recently.

Why is it important? If this is a representative sample, then a whopping 65,000 ATMs (as per February data) in India are out of order. Highlights the high cost of maintaining ATMs where footfalls are low – a likely reason why the banks have failed to keep them in order.

Tell me more: RBI’s deputy governor SS Mundra has warned the banks of penal action for non-compliance of RBI rules with respect to ATMs.



What is it? The number of months by which e-commerce firm Flipkart has deferred the joining date of six Indian Institute of Management (IIM) graduates.

Why is it important? Flipkart has attributed this to corporate restructuring. It signals wider problems the company is facing. It is growing slower than expectations, in the wake of increased competition, especially from Amazon India. It has reportedly slashed its hiring and is cutting down on discounts and advertising.

Tell me more: Flipkart expanded its workforce at a rapid pace earlier: from 14,000 to 35,000 (at the end of December 2015) in 12-18 months.



What is it? The number of days it took to build a 3D-printed office in Dubai, in addition to two days to install it on site.

Why is it important? This is the world’s first functioning 3D-printed office, which cost about $140,000. The technique used to build this structure could cut down building time by 50-70% and labour costs by 50-80% and a quarter of the buildings in Dubai would be printed by 2030, according to a United Arab Emirates Minister. This could well signal the beginning of a revolutionary change the construction industry might undergo.

Tell me more: A 3D printer, which is 20-feet high, 120 feet long and 40-feet wide, was used to print the building with a floorspace of about 2,700 sq.ft. using a special mixture of cement and a set of building material (designed in the UAE and the US). It took 18 people to put up the structure – one to monitor the printer, seven to install the building components and 10 to handle the electrical and mechanical engineering aspects.


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News in numbers, Dec 18, 2015: Doubling of US visa charges, global warming…

$400 million

What is it? The amount Indian IT industry will lose every year if US proposal to impose special fee on temporary work visas goes through, according to estimates by industry body Nasscom.

Why is it important? It will hit profit margins of Indian IT players dependent on H1-B and L-1 visas. In 2014, 86% of H1-B visas and 47% for computer occupations and engineering jobs (respectively) went to Indians, the largest share in both the categories, according to an analysis by Computerworld. Recently, when a couple of US senators wanted to curb the number of temporary work visas given to foreigners, Indian IT stocks took a hit.

Tell me more: US lawmakers have proposed to impose a special fee of $4,000 on certain categories of H1-B visas and $4,500 on L-1 visas. In effect, it doubles the visa charges. They expect it to generate $1 billion annually, which it would use to fund a biometric entry and exit tracking system and funding health screenings and treatments for the first responders after the 9/11 terror attacks on the US. The Indian IT industry has a significant presence in the US where it contributed nearly 411,000 jobs in 2015 and $20 billion in taxes between 2011-15. It gets about 47% of its $98 billion export revenues from the US.


0.97 degree celsius

What is it? The degree by which the average temperature in November across global land and ocean surfaces was higher than the 20th century average, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Why is it important? This makes last month the hottest November (on record) ever . It is also the seventh consecutive month when a monthly global temperature record has been broken. If December 2015 beats the coldest December (on record) in 2016, it has to be “unusually cold” and that is not likely to happen, according to Jake Crouch, climate scientist at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. And, if this doesn’t happen, then 2015 would be the warmest year ever – underlining the need to tackle climate change whose effects include more droughts, heat waves and increase in sea levels.

Tell me more: The globally-averaged sea surface temperature was the highest for November in the 1880-2015 record and the globally-average land surface temperature was the fifth highest for November in the same period.


$434 million

What is it? The payout to businessman Bernard Tapie by the French government in 2008.

Why is it important? It has come back to haunt Christine Lagarde, then France’s finance minister and now managing director of International Monetary Fund (IMF). A French court has ordered Lagarde to face trial over her role (which was, negligence) in this payout. This is likely to end her prospects of seeking a second term as IMF chief. Appointed in 2011, Lagarde is the first woman to head the organisation of 188 countries and her term ends in May 2016. Her predecessor Dominique Strauss-Kahn also faced tough time during his tenure – for a different reason.

Tell me more: In this 20-year old case, Tapie sold his majority stake in the then ailing Adidas to a group of investors and a year later, the company was bought by a businessman who was part of that investment group. Tapie alleged that the company was deliberately undervalued and sued the Crédit Lyonnais bank (was part of the investment group). After going through a series of courts, the case was referred to Lagarde (then France’s finance minister) who referred it to an arbitration panel and Tapie was awarded $434 million compensation. This was paid out of public funds in an out-of-court settlement, which caused a public furore.



What is it? Number of S-400 air defence systems India has proposed to buy from Russia at an expected cost of Rs 30,000 crore.

Why is it important? It’s a sign of strengthening ties between India and Russia. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is visiting Russia next week, and is expected to create a joint innovation fund, among others. The defence deal is also aimed to counterbalance Russia’s relationship with China and Pakistan. China signed a deal with Russia to procure S-400 systems earlier this year, and Pakistan is seen as getting close to Russia. China’s military strength is far superior to India’s by several metrics, with its defence budget nearly four times more than India’s. India has been strengthening its defence shield against both through domestic research and development and imports.  

Tell me more: S-400 is designed to protect key installations such as nuclear reactors and big cities. A surface-to-air missile, which can attack unmanned aerial vehicles, drones, cruise missiles, is completely automated from target acquisition to final engagement and is considered as a fourth-generation system in combat capabilities.


65 basis points

What is it? The difference between the cut in benchmark rate by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the drop in banks’ lending rates in 2015. One basis point is one-hundredth of a percentage point.

Why is it important? The mismatch has led RBI to introduce a new formula (with effect from April 1) to calculate lending rates, and make them more responsive to policy rate changes. For new borrowers, loan rates are likely to be cheaper and for the existing customers, it is likely to take a year to experience the effects of implementing the new formula. Besides transmission in rates, the RBI expects the new measures to bring in increased transparency in calculating loan rates and which are “fair” to both the bankers and the borrowers.

Tell me more: Currently, banks decide their lending rates based on the average cost of funds on deposits outstanding and under the new method, the lending rates would be based on marginal cost of funds based lending rate. An October report by India Ratings said that while the RBI has cut rates by 125 basis points, banks have cut one-year deposits by an average of 130 basis points, thus paying lower to customers and making more money. A study of the last 10 years by India Ratings shows that in most cases when policy rates have been reduced, deposit rates have come down quicker than lending rates and the decrease of the former also has been higher.


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14 things we didn’t see coming in 2014: Some surprising, some shocking

This piece originally appeared on


A $11 billion Flipkart








Flipkart had been redefining how Indians shop for a while. In 2014, a year in which it raised about $1.9 billion, Flipkart redefined valuations in the online retailing space. With a seven-fold growth in its valuation in about a year, Flipkart would have been ranked India’s 30th most valuable company had it been publicly traded. The valuation would also make it the third-most valuable consumer company in India, trailing behind ITC Ltd and Hindustan Unilever Ltd. Flipkart is now worth almost five times the combined valuation of the top four listed retailers.


BJP’s performance in Uttar Pradesh






The road to Delhi, they say, goes through Uttar Pradesh, which elects 80 of the 543 Lok Sabha MPs. That the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would improve significantly on its 2009 tally of 10 seats in this politically fragmented state was expected, but the extent of the sweep by the saffron party—smashing the three-fourth marker of 60 seats—in a way no party had done since the Congress rode a sympathy wave in 1984 was not. Uttar Pradesh delivered a quarter of the BJP’s MPs in the 2014 general elections.


Oil below $60






The last time crude oil fell below $60 a barrel, the world economy was dealing with the effect of a credit contagion that originated in Wall Street. Lower oil prices are an outcome of a weak global economy. Even India, which imports much of its oil, and hence spent the first half of the year fretting about the effect of high prices on its finances, tends to slow down when oil cools off. But this time, it can be different for India if the government can marshal a confluence of domestic factors—inflation, interest rates and government finances—for greater corporate investments.


Trouble in the skies






Air crashes are rare. Statistically, one is more likely to die riding a bicycle than flying in a commercial aircraft. Aircraft going missing is even rarer. A commercial airliner disappearing with 239 passengers on board is off the chart. The fate of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which disappeared on 8 March on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, remains a mystery. In the context of overall airline safety, 2014 wasn’t an outlier in terms of numbers. It was in its manner—one commercial plane missing and another shot down.


NRN’s exit from Infosys





The news in June of N.R. Narayana Murthy stepping down as executive chairman of Infosys came as a bigger surprise than the news of his coming back, a year ago, to the company he co-founded. The reasons were many. Murthy had said he could be around for five years. The task he set out to do (or the task everyone assumed he set out to do) remained unfinished. And in India, promoters are not inclined to let go of the companies they founded. But, in fact, Murthy was busy setting the system right for the long term—cost effectiveness, productivity and such. The news that most observers missed: Murthy was always going to leave Infosys—along with his son, Rohan—after the cleanup and after finding a good successor.


SpiceJet on the ground






At the beginning of the year, SpiceJet was on a typical flight path for airlines in India—battling turbulence. Still, it was competing well for the second spot, even occupying it for three months, amid fleeting promises of a profitable ascent. Its fall in recent months has been swift and it appears only a white knight—co-founder Ajay Singh, who exited the airline in 2010, has shown interest—can now save it from going the way of Kingfisher Airlines.


Apple, Google > Russia




In November, when the market capitalization of Appleovertook the collective value of all companies listed on the Russian stock market, it was only partly seen as a weakness of the world’s ninth-largest economy, for Apple’s own market value had risen 33% during the calendar year. But in December, on the back of a huge drop in oil prices and the weight of economic sanctions imposed as a result of its military misadventures, the Russian economy seemed headed towards a crisis. The value of its stock market had gone even below that of Google, which was worth about half of Apple.


Uber’s contrasting rides






Even as the valuation of Uber, the taxi-hailing app company, went up and up, touching $40 billion based on the latest round of fund-raising, and the term “uberisation” of an industry gained ground, those very attributes seen as its strengths seemed to start troubling the company. Uber was global, and so were its problems. It was pushing boundaries, and existing regulations didn’t know where to place it. It was disruptive, and there was backlash from incumbents. It was scaling up fast, and there were concerns about its processes. As 2014 ends, Uber seems strong enough to tap opportunities, but it’s not clear if it’s strong enough to handle the accompanying risks.


Ebola outbreak






It has been nearly 40 years since the deadly Ebola virus first reared its head in two different regions in Central Africa (one near the Ebola river, from which the virus gets its name). But 2014 witnessed the worst-ever Ebola virus disease outbreak, with about 19,000 cases reported and 7,300 deaths, surpassing the combined figures for the last 40 years. While these were concentrated in three African countries—Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone—the scare extended to other countries, notably US and Spain, as well. The World Health Organization (WHO) says there are no licensed vaccines to combat this virus, but there are two potential candidates that are undergoing evaluation.


Peshawar school massacre






It’s not the first time that a terrorist group has targeted children, or children at a school, or a child because she spoke for education. In the year that Malala Yousafzai andKailash Satyarthi jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education”, the Pakistani Taliban gunning down 132 children in an army school in Peshawar, assaulted our senses.


Women on corporate boards






Boards of Indian companies have been male-dominated, and capital market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) sought to change that. In February, seconding a clause in the revised Companies Act, Sebi instructed all publicly traded companies to appoint at least one woman to their boards by 1 October. Data from companies listed on the National Stock Exchange (NSE) shows that many have, some haven’t. Overall, women’s representation on company boards has increased, but parity and independence in the truest sense remains elusive.


Bandhan Bank






It was after 12 years that India’s central bank was issuing bank licences. And there were many corporate heavyweights who had applied, including Aditya Birla Nuvo, L&T Finance Holdings and Reliance Capital. Yet, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) issued two licences, one of them to Bandhan. It was a case of being at the right place at the right time. The RBI wanted new banks to further financial inclusion and Bandhan had solid credentials in that space. It was the only large microfinance institution to be insulated from the excesses that ravaged the sector in 2010, and catapulted from number four in the sector to number one by 2013.


Jayalalithaa’s arrest






It was partly because the case had meandered on for 18 years. It was partly because she was a chief minister in office and became the first one to be disqualified. On 27 September, a special court in Bangalore sentenced the then-chief minister of Tamil Nadu J. Jayalalithaa to four years in jail and fined her Rs.100 crore in a disproportionate assets case. After spending about 20 days in jail, Jayalalithaa received bail of two months from the Supreme Court.


Sebi’s ban on DLF





In October, in one of its toughest and high-profile punishments, Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) banned property developer DLF Ltd, its chairman K.P. Singhand five other company executives from the capital market for three years. The charge was DLF’s failure to provide key information on subsidiaries and pending legal cases at the time of its initial public offering in 2007. Its 2013-14 annual report points to a sterner capital market regulator: it is prosecuting more, and this is accompanied by fewer requests from market participants for settlement of cases by consent.

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