Source: IBEF News Letter

Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Package – Progress So Far

Hon’ble Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi on May 12, 2020 announced the Special economic and comprehensive package of Rs 20 lakh crore (US$ 283.73 billion) – equivalent to 10 per cent of India’s GDP – to fight COVID-19 pandemic in India. He gave a clarion call for Aatma Nirbhar Bharat or Self-Reliant India Movement. He also outlined five pillars of Aatma Nirbhar Bharat – Economy, Infrastructure, System, Vibrant Demography and Demand.

Following the call of the Hon’ble Prime Minister, Minister for Finance and Corporate Affairs Ms Nirmala Sitharaman laid down the details of the Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Package in a string of press conferences from 13th May to 17th May 2020.

The Ministries of Finance and Corporate Affairs have immediately started implementation of the announcements related to the Economic Package under Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan. Regular reviews and monitoring of the implementation of economic package is being overseen by the Finance Minister personally.

In the latest review taken by Ms Nirmala Sitharaman the following progress has been reported so far:

  • Global tenders will be disallowed in Government procurement tenders up to Rs 200 crore (US$ 28.37 million)

Giving a major relief to the local MSMEs, Department of Expenditure has amended present Rule 161 (iv) of General Financial Rules, 2017 and GFR Rules relating to Global Tenders. Now, no Global Tender Enquiry (GTE) shall be invited for tenders up to Rs 200 crore (US$ 28.37 million), unless prior approval is obtained from Cabinet Secretariat.

  • Relief to Contractors

It was announced by the Finance Minister that all central agencies like Railways, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and CPWD will give extension of up to 6 months for completion of contractual obligations, including in respect of EPC and concession agreements.

In this regard, Department of Expenditure has issued instructions that (due to COVID-19 pandemic) on the invocation of Force Majeure Clause (FMC), contract period may be extended for a period not less than three months and not more than six months without imposition of any cost or penalty on the contractor/concessionaire. Instructions were also issued to return the value of performance security to the contractor/ suppliers proportional to the supplies made/ contract work completed to the total contract value. The same is being implemented by various Departments/Ministries.

  • Supporting State Governments

The Finance Minister announced that the Centre has decided to accede to the request and increase borrowing limits of States from 3 per cent to 5 per cent, for 2020-21 only in view of the unprecedented situation. This will give States extra resources of Rs 4.28 lakh crore (US$ 60.72 billion).

In an effort to support the financial position of the State Governments presently suffering from stress on account of revenue losses due to lock down, Department of Expenditure issued a communication to all the State Governments for additional Borrowing of 2 per cent of projected GSDP to the States in 2020-21 subject to implementation of specific State Level Reforms.

  • Rs 3 lakh crore (US$ 42.56 billion) Collateral-free Automatic Loans for Businesses, including MSMEs

To provide relief to the business, additional working capital finance of 20 per cent of the outstanding credit as on 29th February 2020, in the form of a Term Loan at a concessional rate of interest will be provided. This will be available to units with up to Rs 25 crore (US$ 3.55 million) outstanding and turnover of up to Rs 100 crore (US$ 14.9 million) whose accounts are standard. The units will not have to provide any guarantee or collateral of their own. The amount will be 100 per cent guaranteed by the Government of India providing a total liquidity of Rs 3 lakh crore (US$ 42.56 billion) to more than 45 lakh MSMEs.

After taking Cabinet approval on 20.05.2020, Department of Financial Services issued Operational Guidelines for the Scheme on 23.05.2020 and Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme (ECLGS) Fund was registered on 26.05.2020. In a short period of about one and half months, noticeable progress has been achieved in identifying units, sanctioning as well as disbursing of loans to MSMEs. Following is the progress as on 9th July 2020:

  • Rs 45,000 crore (US$ 6.38 billion) Partial Credit Guarantee Scheme 2.0 for NBFCs

Existing Partial Credit Guarantee Scheme (PCGS) will be revamped and extended to cover the borrowings of lower rated NBFCs, HFCs and other Micro Finance Institutions (MFIs). Government of India will provide 20 per cent first loss sovereign guarantee to Public Sector Banks.

After the Cabinet approval on PCGS on 20.05.2020, Operational Guidelines for the Scheme were issued on 20.05.2020 itself. Banks have approved purchase of portfolio of Rs 14,000 crore (US$ 1.99 billion) and are currently in process of approval/negotiations for Rs 6,000 crore (US$ 851.18 million) as on 3rd July 2020.

  • Rs 30,000 crore (US$ 4.26 billion) Additional Emergency Working Capital Funding for farmers through NABARD

New front-loaded special refinance facility of Rs 30,000 crore (US$ 4.26 billion) sanctioned by NABARD during COVID-19 to RRBs and Cooperative Banks. This special facility to benefit 3 crore farmers, consisting mostly small and marginal farmers in meeting their credit needs for post-harvest and kharif sowing requirements. When kharif sowing is already on its full swing Rs 24,876.87 crore (US$ 3.53 billion) out of Rs 30,000 crore (US$ 4.26 billion) has been disbursed as on 06.07.2020, out of this special facility.

  • Rs 50,000 crore (US$ 7.09 billion) liquidity through TDS/TCS rate reduction

The Department of Revenue, vide its Press Release dated 13.05.2020, announced the reduction in TDS rates for specified payments to residents and specified TCS rates by 25 per cent for transactions made from 14th May 2020 to 31st March 2021.

  • Other Direct Tax Measures

Between April 8 and June 30, the Central Board of Direct taxes (CBDT) has issued refunds in more than 20.44 lakh cases amounting to more than Rs 62,361 crore (US$ 8.85 billion), as stated in press release dated July 3, 2020. Remaining refunds are under process. The Department also issued Notification dated 24.6.2020, the due date for income-tax return for FY 2019-20 (Assessment Year 2020-21) has been extended from 31st July 2020 (for individuals, etc.) and 31st October,2020 (for companies etc.) to 30th November 2020. Further, the due date for furnishing of tax audit report has also been extended from existing 30th September 2020 to 31st October 2020.

The Department of Revenue has extended the time barring date for assessments getting barred by limitation on 30th September 2020 to 31st March 2021. In this regard, through the Press Release dated 24.6.2020, it has been already been communicated that making payment without additional amount under the ‘Vivad se Vishwas’ Scheme will be extended to 31st December, 2020 and the legislative amendments for the same in the Vivad Se Vishwas Act, 2020 (VsV Act) shall be moved in due course to time. Further, through the Notifications, compliance dates mentioned under the VsV Act falling during period 20th March 2020 to 30th December 2020 have been extended to 31st December 2020.

  • Further enhancement of Ease of Doing business through IBC related measures

The Ministry of Corporate Affairs has raised the threshold of default under Section 4 of the IBC, 2016 to Rs 1 crore (US$ 0.14 million) (from the existing threshold of Rs 1 lakh (US$ 1,418.64 million)) i.e. “in exercise of powers conferred under Section 4 of Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (31 of 2016), the Central Government hereby specified Rs 1 crore (US$ 0.14 million) as the minimum amount of default for the purposes of the said section” vide Notification dated 24.6.2020.

The Ministry of Corporate Affairs is finalising a special insolvency resolution under section 240A of the Code, to provide relief to the MSMEs and the same would be notified soon.

Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 has been promulgated on 5th June, 2020 thereby provided for insertion of Section 10A in the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code 2016 to temporarily suspend initiation of Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process (CIRP) under Section 7, 9 & 10 of the Code for a period of six months or such further period, not exceeding one year from such date.

  • Rs 30,000 crore (US$ 4.26 billion) Special Liquidity Scheme for NBFCs/HFCs/MFIs

After the Cabinet approval of the Special Liquidity Scheme for NBFCs/HFCs, the Scheme has been launched. RBI has also issued a circular to NBFCs and HFCs on 1st July 2020 itself on the Scheme. SBICAP has received 24 applications requesting about Rs 9,875 crore (US$ 1.40 billion) of financing as on 7th July 2020 which are being processed. The first application in this regard has received its approval and the remaining are also being considered.

For the first time Indian Railways loads Special Parcel Train to Bangladesh

For the first time the Indian Railways, loaded special Parcel train beyond the country borders to Benapole in Bangladesh with Dry Chillies from Reddipalem in Guntur District of Andhra Pradesh state.

Guntur and its surrounding areas in the state of Andhra Pradesh are well known for Chillies cultivation. The quality of this farm produce is internationally renewed for its uniqueness in taste and brand. Earlier, the farmers and merchants in and around Guntur area have been transporting Dry Chillies by road to Bangladesh in small quantities and that was costing around Rs 7,000 (US$ 99.30) per tonne. During the lockdown period, they could not move this essential commodity by Road. Then Railway staff and Officials approached the consignors and explained the facilities to transport by Rail. Accordingly, they have moved the Dry Chillies by Rail in bulk through goods trains. But for moving the consignment by Goods trains, it is mandatory for the farmers and merchants to mobilise the quantity in bulk i.e. at least more than 1,500 tonnes in each trip.

To mitigate this problem and to facilitate the Rail users to move their quantities in smalls i.e., up to a maximum of 500 tonnes in each trip, Guntur Division of South Central Railway took the initiative and moved the Special Parcel Express to Bangladesh. This has helped the farmers and merchants of Guntur to market their farm produce beyond the country border by transporting the Dry Chillies in small quantities through Special Parcel Express.

Accordingly, one Special Parcel Express train consisting of 16 Parcel Van moved to Benapole in Bangladesh. Each Parcel Van was loaded with 466 Dry Chillies bags, weighing around 19.9 Tonnes and the total weight carried by the Special Parcel Express is around 384 Tonnes. The cost per tonne for carrying by Special Parcel Express is Rs 4,608 (US$ 65.37) and which is very cheap and economical as compared to Road transport which is amounting to Rs 7,000 (US$ 99.30) per tonne.

It may be noted that Indian Railways has taken a series of steps to boost parcel train traffic during the COVID period.

Transportation of essential items like medical supplies, medical equipment, food, etc in small parcel sizes are a very important items that needed for business as well as consumption purposes. In order to fill in this vital need, Indian Railways has made railway parcel vans available for quick mass transportation by E-Commerce entities and other customers including State governments. Railways has been running time-tabled Parcel Special trains on select routes, to ensure uninterrupted supply of essential items.

The total of 4,434 parcel trains have run 22.03.2020 till 11.07.2020, out of which 4,304 have been time-tabled trains.

JNCASR spinoff launched molecular probes used in COVID-19 test kits

VNIR Biotechnologies Private Limited, a spinoff by Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), an autonomous institute of the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, launched indigenous fluorescence probes and Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) mix for Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) detection which are molecular probes used in COVID-19 test kits. VNIR Biotechnologies Private Limited is incubated at Bangalore Bio-innovation Centre (BBC) of Government of Karnataka.

Prof T. Govindaraju and Dr Meher Prakash co-founders of VNIR have developed the Florescence probes and PCR mix for RTPCR detection. These molecular probes are used in COVID-19 test kits. A typical, PCR based test kit has three critical components (oligos, enzymes, molecular probes). The first two are partly available in India and partly imported while molecular probes used in COVID 19 tests, however, are only imported. The molecular probes are used to track the amplification in PCR. Their immediate application is for COVID-19 testing, but they are general-purpose molecular tools for molecular diagnostic tests of several diseases.

VNIR has innovated synthesis protocols for a suite of molecular probes, which will be useful for PCR based COVID-19 testing. VNIR will be filing for the protection of its process innovation.

Molecular diagnostic tests used to be limited to research laboratories or for limited applications. COVID-19 has presented a unique problem that the finest level of molecular diagnostic test has to be performed almost at a complete population level if needed. Given the scale of tests required for COVID-19, it is very important to become self-reliant with the critical test kit components. Enzyme and oligo needs are partly met from Indian manufacturers, and VNIR envisions to address the third critical component, which is the molecular probes.

“The probes for RT-PCR based COVID–19 tests is an excellent example of leveraging our basic science knowledge for development of critical new products that are until now being imported. Nor is this knowledge limited to one particular virus but would help us rapidly develop molecular diagnosis in the future for other viruses as well,” said Prof Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary, DST.

Molecular probe development is a consequence of synthetic organic chemistry, by understanding several aspects of it – the molecule, its target, the availability of chemicals, and optimizing the yields at each step of the synthesis by a judicious choice of protocols. VNIR used its core strengths in molecular probe development to develop the molecular probes using novel synthetic routes.

In March 2020, with the rest of the world, VNIR also came to a halt briefly. VNIR team used the opportunity of staying at home to contribute to address the problem of COVID-19.

“Investing on newer R&D, in addition to those ongoing, was overwhelming for us as a start-up. However, we took up the risk and the challenge. Our team went back to the drawing board and planned the synthesis of these much-required probes for the COVID-19 tests. VNIR’s R&D effort in line with the Make-In-India and Aatmanirbhar Bharat missions of the Government of India are meant to contribute to self-reliance in COVID-19 testing. To the best of our knowledge, there is no Indian company making these molecular probes.” said Prof T. Govindaraju.

Qualcomm Ventures to invest Rs 730 crore in Jio Platforms for 0.15 per cent stake

Qualcomm Ventures, the investment arm of Qualcomm Inc., plans to invest Rs 730 crore (US$ 103.56 million) for a 0.15 per cent stake in Jio Platforms Ltd, becoming the 12th entity to invest in the digital services subsidiary of Reliance Industries (RIL) in over three months.

According to RIL’s statement, the deal values Jio Platforms at an equity value of Rs 4.91 trillion (US$ 69.66 billion) and an enterprise value of Rs 5.16 trillion (US$ 73.20 billion).

“Qualcomm has been a valued partner for several years and we have a shared vision of connecting everything by building a robust and secure wireless and digital network in India. Qualcomm offers deep technology know-how and insights that will help us deliver on our 5G vision and the digital transformation of India for both people and enterprises,” said Mr Mukesh Ambani, chairman and managing director, RIL.

So far, RIL has sold a total of 25.24 per cent stake in Jio Platforms to Facebook, General Atlantic, TPG, KKR, Silver Lake, L Catterton, Vista Equity Partners, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Mubadala Investment Company, and Public Investment Fund (PIF), Intel Capital and Qualcomm Ventures, raising Rs 118,318.45 crore. (US$ 16.79 billion).

The platform has around 388 million subscribers and has significant investments across its digital ecosystem.

It operates a host of digital apps and services, including music streaming service JioSaavn, on-demand live television service JioTV and payments app JioMoney, and smartphones and broadband business.

“With our shared goal of extending the benefits of digital connectivity to everyone and everything, we anticipate Jio Platforms will deliver a new set of services and experiences to Indian consumers. With unmatched speeds and emerging use cases, 5G is expected to transform every industry in the coming years,” said Mr Steve Mollenkopf, CEO of Qualcomm Inc.

Qualcomm is a wireless technology innovator and is considered as a driving force behind the development, launch and expansion of 5G. The company has spent over US$ 62 billion in cumulative research and development and has over 140,000 patents and patent applications under its belt.

Qualcomm Ventures is a global fund that invests in pioneering companies across the wireless ecosystem in areas like 5G, AI, IoT, automotive, networking and enterprise. In India, Qualcomm Ventures has made investments in companies related to domestic issues from dairy, transportation, and defence, and build products for India and the world market.

This investment is subject to customary conditions precedent, RIL said.

Financial advisor to Reliance Industries was Morgan Stanley, whereas AZB & Partners and Davis Polk & Wardwell acted as legal counsels. Trilegal acted as legal counsel for Qualcomm Ventures.

Apple supplier Foxconn plans to invest US$ 1 billion in India: Sources

Foxconn plans to invest up to US$ 1 billion to expand a factory in southern India where the Taiwanese contract manufacturer assembles Apple iPhones.

This is can be considered as a move by the company to shift its base because of the disruptions from a trade war between Beijing and Washington and the coronavirus crisis.

“There’s a strong request from Apple to its clients to move part of the iPhone production out of China,” according to one of the sources with direct knowledge of the matter.

Though, there was no official statement by Foxconn or Apple regarding the matters.

The investment is planned over the course of next three years in the Sriperumbur plant, where Apple’s iPhone XR is made some 50 km west of Chennai. It is expected to manufacture other iPhones models at the plant.

Foxconn is headquartered in Taipei and will add some 6,000 jobs at the Sriperumbur plant in Tamil Nadu state under the plan. The company also operates a separate plant in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, where it makes smartphones for China’s Xiaomi Corp, among others.

Last month, Foxconn Chairman Mr Liu Young-way has said it would ramp up its investment in India, without giving details.

In India, the world’s second-biggest smartphone market, Apple holds about 1 per cent of smartphone sales here. iPhones is status symbol in India because of its pricey nature.

This move is also expected to help Apple save on import taxes that further push up its prices.

Apple assembles a few models through Taiwan’s Wistron Corp in the southern tech hub of Bengaluru. Wistron is also set to open a new plant, where it plans to make more Apple devices.

“With India’s labour cheaper compared with China, and the gradual expansion of its supplier base here, Apple will be able to use the country as an export hub,” Mr Neil Shah of Hong Kong-based tech researcher Counterpoint said.

The government of India has been working to boost electronics manufacturing by firms such as Foxconn and launched a US$ 6.65 billion plan last month, offering five global smartphone makers incentives to establish or expand domestic production.

This is move of manufacturing locally is expected to be a boost for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flagship “Make in India” drive, aimed at creating new jobs.

Turning Crisis into opportunity- Dr Harsh Vardhan discusses bilateral Health Co-operation including management of COVID-19 with Australian Health Minister

Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare had a digital interaction with his Australian counterpart Mr Gregory Andrew Hunt to discuss bilateral Health co-operation, here today.

India and Australia have signed an MoU on co-operation in the field of Health and Medicine on 10th April, 2017. The MoU covers areas of mutual interest like the management of communicable diseases like Malaria and Tuberculosis, mental health and non-communicable diseases, antimicrobial resistance, regulation of pharmaceuticals, vaccines and medical devices and digitization of health infrastructure. The MoU also covers response to public health emergencies like the present COVID pandemic.

At the outset, Dr Harsh Vardhan expressed deep admiration for Mr Gregory Hunt for his organization of charity events like a 5 km run for children suffering for autism and raising awareness on juvenile diabetes. Speaking on the need for working together, Dr Harsh Vardhan outlined that “while Australia has one of the best healthcare systems of the developed world, healthcare in India is one of the fastest growing sectors expected to hit US$ 275 billion mark in the next 10 years. India’s domestic demand is expected to engine the growth regardless of any turbulence in the global economy. India also offers vast opportunities in R&D and medical tourism”. India’s traditional holistic medical systems like Ayurveda and Yoga can help Australia curb obesity and related diseases, he further added.

Dr Harsh Vardhan elaborated on ‘health as a social movement’ approach of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi “India’s Universal Healthcare Coverage (under Ayushman Bharat) covers a massive 100 million families; 10 million individuals have benefitted in the last year alone; India is committed to eliminating TB by the year 2025; India has also undertaken efforts for mass screening of non-communicable diseases like hypertension, cancer of breast, lung, throat and mouth, etc; India has also made strides in implementing the Digital Health Blueprint to modernize the health sector and enable streamlined delivery of services to the last citizen; affordable medicines that treat cancer and cardio-vascular ailments and cardiac implants are made available to the poorest of the poor under the (Affordable Medicines and Reliable Implants for Treatment (AMRIT) program.” He also added that the Prime Minister’s “Whole of Government” perspective enabled financial inclusion of 400 million people and transformed their access to healthcare.

Mr Hunt spoke of the trust Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi espouses in the international community. Australia’s Universal Telemedicine has helped tackle 19 million cases, so far, he stated. Its focus on health infrastructure through public and private hospitals and approach on mental health issues are models worth emulating, he stated. Acknowledging India’s huge role in supplying inexpensive generic drugs supplying 60 per cent of the world’s medicine, he expanded on how India could help Australia in researching new medicines for rare diseases using Genomics and Stem Cell Technology.

Elaborating upon the role of India’s medical community in containment and management of the pandemic, Dr Harsh Vardhan noted that India’s medical professionals, paramedics and scientists have played a pivotal role in containing COVID-19.  He stated that they are helping in drug discovery and in repurposing of existing drugs. They have also isolated the virus in the early onset of diseases and are engaged in studying the virus using Genome sequencing. “From just one lab to test the virus in January 2020, India now has more than 1200 labs across the country facilitating the people in widespread testing, he further added. India’s drug manufacturers have also enabled India to supply Hydroxychloroquine to 140 countries.”

The Health Ministers agreed to continue to jointly work in the area of health and other common interests.

Shri Gadkari inaugurates and lays foundation stones of new economic corridor projects worth about Rs 20,000 crore in Haryana

Union Minister for Road Transport, Highways and MSMEs Shri Nitin Gadkari inaugurated and laid the foundation stones of various Highway projects as part of a new economic corridor worth about Rs 20 thousand crore (US$ 2.84 billion) in Haryana today through webcast. The function was presided over by the Chief Minister of Haryana Shri Manohar Lal. Union Minister of State for Road Transport and Highways Gen (Retd) V K Singh, Deputy Chief Minister of Haryana Shri Dushyant Chautala, Union Ministers Shri Rao Inderjit Singh, Shri Krishnapal Gurjar, Shri Rattan Lal Kataria, NHAI Chairman Shri S S Sandhu, senior officers of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and officers from Haryana State Government participated in the virtual function.

The projects inaugurated include the 35.45 km 4-lane Rohna/Hasangarh to Jhajjar section of NH 334B costing Rs 1,183 crore (US$ 167.83 million), the 70 km 4-laning of Punjab-Haryana Border to Jind section of NH 71 costing Rs 857 crore (US$ 121.58 million), and the 85.36 km 2-lane with paved shoulders Jind-Karnal Highway on NH 709 costing Rs 200 crore (US$ 28.37 million).

Foundation stones were laid for projects including the 227 km 6-lane access controlled Greenfield expressway from Ismailpur to Narnaul on NH 152D in 8 packages costing Rs 8,650 crore (US$ 1.23 billion), the 46 km 4-lane Gurugram Pataudi-Rewari section of NH 352W costing Rs 1,524 crore (US$ 216.20 million), the 14.4 km 4-lane Rewari Byepass costing Rs 928 crore (US$ 131.65 million), the 30.45 km 4-lane Rewari-Ateli Mandi section of NH 11 costing Rs 1,057 crore (US$ 149.95 million), the 40.8 km 6-lane Narnaul Byepass on NH 148B, NH 11 and Narnaul to Ateli Mandi section of NH 11 costing Rs 1,380 crore (US$ 195.77 million), the 40.6 km 4-lane Jind-Gohana (Pkg 1, Greenfield alignment) of NH 352A costing Rs 1,207 crore (US$ 171.23 million), the 38.23 km 4-lane Gohana-Sonipat section of NH 352A costing Rs 1,502 crore (US$ 213.08 million), and the 40.47 km 4-lane UP-Haryana Border to Roha on NH 334B costing Rs 1,509 crore (US$ 214.07 million).

Speaking on the occasion, Shri Gadkari said, these projects will benefit people of Haryana in big way by providing smooth connectivity within the State, as well as to other States like Punjab, Rajasthan, Delhi, and Uttar Pradesh. The Minister also said that these important projects will decongest big cities reducing travel time. It will take about 2 hrs to reach Delhi Airport from Chandigarh against 4 hrs now.  The projects will also save on time, fuels, and cost, as also boost development in backward areas of the State. He said, the Government is committed to progress and prosperity of the country, and Rupees two lakh crore worth of works will be completed in the first two years of this government. He recalled that the Prime Minister has conceived Rs 100 lakh crore (US$ 1.41 trillion) worth of infrastructure development towards achieving the five trillion economy. The Minister said, people in the State should consider adopting crops for biofuels, which has the capacity to improve their all-round life.  This will ensure employment opportunities within the villages, which will also stop mass migration in search of employment. The Minister said, the proposed Delhi-Mumbai Expressway, Trans Haryana Economic Corridor and the Gurugram-Rewari-Ateli-Narnaul are the highways of a new emerging India, which will bring development in all corners of Haryana.

Shri Gadkari requested the Chief Minister to expedite land acquisition for National Highway Projects in the State. For this purpose, the issues may soon be discussed and sorted out with the Minister of State for RTH Gen (Retd) V. K. Singh.

The Minister also called upon Haryana CM to join in the efforts for developing industrial clusters including MSMEs, smart cities and smart villages as also to develop Khadi and Village industries alongside the express way projects particularly the new Delhi-Mumbai Expressway.  He assured the Chief Minister of all assistances in this regard. The Minister informed about his goal for providing 5 crore jobs through MSMEs in next 5 years and enhancing KVIC turn over manifold from present level of Rs 88,000 crore (US$ 12.48 billion) per annum.

Haryana Chief Minister Shri Manohar Lal thanked Shri Gadkari for honouring the State’s requests for roads. He said, these projects will have positive impact on both the industry and the business in the State. He attributed the State’s development to its vast road network and transport facilities. The CM informed that 29406-kilometre-long roads were developed/improved in the State during the last five years. Further, budget allocations have been made for construction of ROBs/RUBs at all railway crossings to prevent accidents.

Speaking on the occasion Gen (Retd.) V.K. Singh said that implementation of the NH projects will lead to all round development of Haryana. He requested Haryana CM to consider developing Rwewary bypass project into a ring road of the city of Rewari to help its decongestion.  NHAI Chairman Shri S S Sandhu informed NHAI with these projects NHAI is implementing projects work over Rs 37,000 crore (US$ 5.25 billion) in Haryna. He requested CM, Haryana to develop expeditiously and land acquisition for NH projects.

In 2014, total NH length in Haryana was 2050 kilometre, which has now been brought up to 3237 kms. The NH density of 75 km per 1000 sq km is the highest among the major States of the country. Four major corridors are being developed in Haryana, which include two brownfield projects of Jind-Gohana-Sonipat and UP/Haryana Border-Rohna-Jhajjar. The other two are greenfield projects – Ambala-Kotputli 304 km and Gurugram Rewari-Narnaul-Rajasthan Border 132 km. Apart from these, several important projects have been taken up in the Delhi NCR areas around Haryana. These include: the 1350 km Delhi-Mumbai Expressway costing about Rs one lakh crore, the 600 km Delhi-Amritsar-Katra Expressway costing Rs 30,000 crore (US$ 4.26 billion), the 30 km Dwarka Expressway costing over  Rs 8,000 crore (US$ 1.13 billion), the 21 km Gurugram-Sohna Road costing Rs 1630 crore (US$ 213.24 million), the 28 km Ambala Ring Road, and the 30 km Karnal Ring Road. In addition, other NH projects of 410 km are proposed, which will be awarded by next year.  In the next 2-3 years, 1550 km long Highways and Expressways will be developed at an investment of Rs 60,000 crore (US$ 8.51 billion). Out of this, about Rs 12,000 crore (US$ 1.70 billion) is being distributed as compensation amount to land holders in Haryana.

Flipkart raises US$ 1.2 billion in Walmart-led funding at near US$ 25 billion valuation

Indian e-commerce major, Flipkart Group, has raised an additional US$ 1.2 billion equity from Walmart-led investor group.

The valuation of the company has reached US$ 24.9 billion post equity round. This latest equity will be funded in two tranches over the remainder of the fiscal year.

The investment is led by Walmart, Flipkart’s majority owner, along with a group of existing shareholders, the company said.

In FY20, Flipkart has seen an increase of 45 per cent in monthly active customers and witnessed 30 per cent growth in transactions per customer. It has recently surpassed 1.5 billion visits per month.

“We’re grateful for the strong backing of our shareholders as we continue to build our platform and serve the growing needs of Indian consumers during these challenging times,” Flipkart CEO Mr Kalyan Krishnamurthy said.

“Since Walmart’s initial investment in Flipkart, we have greatly expanded our offer through technology, partnerships and new services. Today, we lead in electronics and fashion, and are rapidly accelerating share in other general merchandise categories and grocery, all while providing increasingly seamless payment and delivery options for our customers. We will continue innovating to bring the next 200 million Indian shoppers online,” he added.

The company was founded in 2007 and includes Flipkart, digital payments platform PhonePe, fashion specialty site Myntra and eKart, a logistics and delivery service focused on solving the last mile in India’s Tier II and Tier III cities. In 2018, company received an investment of US$ 16 billion from Walmart Inc. for a majority stake in the group.

“Flipkart continues to leverage its culture of innovation to accelerate growth and enable millions of customers, sellers, merchants and small businesses to prosper and be a part of India’s digital transformation,” said Mr Judith McKenna, President and CEO of Walmart International.

Toppr to raise US$ 50 million in Series D to expand, launch two products

Toppr, an edtech start-up, plans to raise US$ 50 million in a Series D round from existing and new investors to scale up operations and launch two products, Toppr Codr and a learning platform for schools.

Mr Zishaan Hayath, CEO and co-founder Toppr, said that the company is in talks with new investors and will close the round before the end of the September quarter. Existing investors will contribute about 10-30 per cent of the funding, he added.

The company is backed by Saif Partners and Helion Ventures and joined bigger edtech players that have successfully raised capital despite the COVID crisis. Byju’s raised about US$ 100 million from US technology investor Bond in May, while Unacademy raised US$ 110 million from Facebook and General Atlantic in February 2020.

“The funding will fuel development and distribution of all three products, the Toppr learning app that is our core app, Toppr Codr and an online platform for schools which will be launched in about six weeks’ time,” said Mr Hayath.

In December 2018, Toppr had raised US$ 60 million as part of its Series C led by Kaizen PE, along with existing investors Eight Roads Ventures, Helion Ventures and SAIF Partners.

Since then, the startup has been putting in more efforts to reach new students. Its entry into coding by launching Toppr Codr is one such initiative.

“Coding is an essential skill for the 21st century and helps kids with logical thinking, concentration, creativity and even maths. There is a clear gap in demand and supply and this starting point should fit in nicely with the start of a school year,” said Mr Hayath.

Toppr Codr offer specially designed curriculum for children between 6-18 years of age, on-demand and self-paced modules, adaptive paths, and personalised live classes. It will be working along 100 plus experts as coding tutors – including those from IIT Bombay, IIT Madras, IIT Delhi and IIT Kanpur.

“So far the learning apps have been focused on children, with this platform for schools we will close the gap and children will be able to learn what is taught in schools,” he added.

The work of teachers will be reduced by the help of automatic assignments and tests among other things.

The company has seen an increase like other ed tech platforms because of the lockdown when the coronavirus outbreak had forced educational institutions to suspend classroom teaching in March.

Mr Hayath claims that there has been a 150 per cent growth in paid users after the lockdown was imposed, with revenue growing 2.5 times. Subscribers of Live Classes grew by 125 per cent while there was a 100 per cent growth in Free user engagement overall. Daily active users spent 110 minutes per day on the Toppr app, the highest user-engagement in the segment.

Currently, Toppr has 1,500 employees and 60,000 educators on its platform and is not worried about competition from the big players. “With 300 million school children in India, the ed tech space is not crowded,” added Mr Hayath.

It is expected that edtech adoption in India is being driven by the COVID-19 outbreak and even after the crisis is contained, it will be one of the key technology themes to look out for in the country’s education sector, said Mr Nidhi Gupta, technology analyst at data firm GlobalData.

RP Sanjiv Goenka group acquires 51 per cent stake in Editorji

Kolkata-based RP Sanjiv Goenka Group (RPSG) acquired a 51 per cent stake in AI-powered news app Editorji for an undisclosed sum.

Editorji Technologies Pvt. Ltd was launched in 2018 by former chief executive officer of NDTV Ltd and news anchor Mr Vikram Chandra. The company’s estimated value is around US$ 10 million. Mr Sanjiv Goenka, chairman of RPSG, said that his company has acquired a majority stake in the online news platform.

“We had been working independently to start our own digital news venture. But Editorji came as a readymade opportunity. The way it is structured is very interesting as it is an AI-driven model. It gives simple news without judgement,” he said. Mr Chandra will continue to be managing director and run the business. “We built the back-end technology and we needed scale. We have finally found a home in RPSG,” Mr Chandra said, “The primary infusion will give us a runway of up to two years. We have big plans including launching an AI driven product for advertisers.”

Editorji has received early investment from HT Media Ltd and Bharti Airtel Ltd with close to 5 per cent and 8 per cent stake in the company, respectively. It’s curated news playlists are available to Airtel mobile subscribers. There has been increase in the news consumption through smartphones, especially in people under 35 age. “This is something I thought would be a good fit for this age. We have plans to grow it significantly, but we do believe it is a very good place to start,” Mr Goenka said.

As per the latest report by Broadcast Audience Research Council and Nielsen, consumers currently spend an average of 3 hours and 42 minutes each week, watching videos online. With growth in video consumption coming from regional language markets, Mr Goenka said he is keen to turn Editorji into a multilingual product, starting with Bengali.

“We will go vernacular. We cannot go to every regional market immediately, but we will look at India 2, in a manner of speaking. We may start with Kolkata where we have a distribution network. There are 35 lakh homes and 70 lakh consumers. Even if 10 per cent download the app, that is 7-8 lakh people,” he added.

Mr Goenka added that the issue of monetization of digital properties cannot be resolved in the short term. “Our horizon is not 3 to 6 months. It is a longer-term horizon. We want to scale the subscriber base.”

Mr Goenka, who also runs the general news magazine Open, recently acquired rights to publish the business magazine Fortune in India.

Prime Minister, on the occasion of World Youth Skills Day, exhorts Youth to Skill, Reskill and Upskill

In his message to the Digital Skills Conclave held today on the occasion of the World Youth Skills Day and the fifth anniversary of ‘Skill India’ mission, the Prime Minister exhorted the youth to skill, reskill and upskill in order to remain relevant in the rapidly changing business environment and market conditions. He congratulated the youth of the country on the occasion and said the world belongs to the youth due to their ability to acquire new skills all the time.

He stated that the Skill India Mission launched five years back on the same day has led to creation of a vast infrastructure for skilling, reskilling and upskilling and enhancing opportunities to access employment both locally and globally. It has led to hundreds of PM Kaushal Kendras being set up across the country and increase in the capacity of the ITI ecosystem. Due to these concerted efforts, more than five crore youth have been skilled in the last five years. Referring to  the portal launched recently for mapping the skilled employees and employers, he stated that this would help the skilled workers, including the migrant workers who have returned to their homes, to access jobs easily and the employers to contact skilled employees at the click of a mouse. He emphasized that the skills of migrant workers would also help in changing the local economy.

He described skills as a gift which we can give to ourselves and added that skills are timeless, unique, a treasure trove and a means by which one can not only become employable but also help in leading a satisfying life. He said that a natural attraction to acquire new skills provides new energy and encouragement in one’s life. Skills are not only a means to a livelihood but also a reason to feel lively and energetic in our daily routine.

The Prime Minster also brought out the distinction between ‘knowledge’ and ‘skills’ in his address. He illustrated this with an example – that knowing how a cycle runs is ‘knowledge’ while actually being able to ride a cycle was a ‘skill’. It is important for the youth to realize the difference between the two and their different contexts and implications. With an example from carpentry, he explained the nuances between skilling, reskilling, and upskilling.

He further highlighted the potential of the country to capitalize on the skilling opportunities available in the country. He gave the example of the healthcare sector where Indian skilled manpower can supplement the global demand. He stressed the need to map this demand and align Indian standards with those of other countries. Similarly, he suggested that the Indian youth with a long maritime tradition can contribute as expert sailors to merchant navies across the world due to the growing demand in this sector.

The World Youth Skills Day, which is celebrated every year on 15th of July, was celebrated in virtual mode this year. Minister of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship, Dr Mahendra Nath Pandey, Minister of State of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship, Shri R.K.Singh, and Group Chairman, Larsen & Toubro Ltd., Shri A.M.Naik addressed the conclave. All stakeholders of the system, including the extensive network of trainees going into lakhs, participated in the conclave.

India turns net exporter for first time in almost two decades; records trade surplus in June.อินเดียเปลี่ยนผู้ส่งออกสุทธิเป็

India has managed a trade surplus for the first time in almost 18 years as imports declined faster than exports. There was decease in demand for crude oil, gold, and other goods, indicating a slowing economy.

Since March 2020, India has seen a decrease in both imports and exports because of decline in global demand, India-China tensions, and disruption of global trade due to the pandemic.

For June 2020, the trade surplus was estimated at US$ 790 million as against the deficit of US$ 15.28 billion in June 2019.

Merchandise exports in June 2020 stood at US$ 21.91 billion, as compared to US$ 25.01 billion in June 2019, a decline of 12.41 per cent year-on-year.

However, imports in the month were recorded at US$ 21.11 billion, down by 47.59 per cent as compared to the imports of US$ 40.29 billion in June last year.

In June 2020, Oil imports were US$ 4.93 billion, which was 55.29 percent lower, as compared to June last year, as per the data released by the Ministry of Commerce.

“Rapid Turnaround of Exports: Realising PM @NarendraModi ji’s vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat, for the first time in 18 years, India records a monthly goods trade surplus in June!” Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal tweeted.

India’s current account balance saw a small uptick at 0.1 per cent of GDP in the March quarter of the financial year 2019-20. It shrank to 0.9 per cent in FY20 from 2.1 per cent in FY19 due to lowering trade deficit.

It is estimated that the Indian economy will shrink by 5 per cent in the current financial year 2020-21.

Whereas IMF expects the Indian economy to contract by 4.5 per cent following a longer period of lockdown and slower recovery, the World Bank says it India’s GDP to contract 3.2 per cent.

Market approval for Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Conjugate Vaccine given by DCGI

Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) has given approval to the first fully indigenously developed Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Conjugate Vaccine. This vaccine has been developed by M/s. Serum Institute of India Pvt. Ltd, Pune. Serum Institute first obtained the approval of DCGI to conduct Phase I, Phase II and Phase III clinical trials of Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Conjugate Vaccine in India. These trials have since been concluded within the country. The said Company has also conducted these clinical trials in another country i.e. Gambia.

Thereafter, the said Company applied for approval and permission to manufacture this vaccine. The application along with the clinical trial data has been reviewed by the Office of Drug Controller General of India with the help of Special Expert Committee (SEC) for vaccines.The Committee recommended for grant of permission of market authorization to the said vaccine. On 14/07/2020, M/s. Serum Institute of India Pvt. Ltd, Pune has been granted permission to manufacture domestically developed first Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Conjugate Vaccine. This is the first indigenously developed vaccine in the field of pneumonia. Earlier the demand of such vaccine was substantially met by licensed importers in the country since the manufacturers were all vaccine companies based outside India.

This vaccine is used for active immunization against invasive disease and pneumonia caused by “Streptococcus pneumonia” in infants.The vaccine is administered in an intramuscular manner.

Union HRD Minister Shri Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ Launches World’s Most Affordable COVID-19 Diagnostic Kit Corosure Developed by IIT Delhi

Union Human Resource Development Minister, Shri Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ e-launched the World’s most affordable RT-PCR based COVID-19 diagnostic kit developed by IIT Delhi and approved by the ICMR and DCGI in New Delhi today. MoS for HRD Shri Sanjay Dhotre was also present on the occasion. Secretary, Higher Education, Shri Amit Khare and senior officials of the Ministry were present during the launch.

Speaking on the occasion, Shri Pokhriyal said that Corosure, COVID-19 Diagnostic Kit developed by Indian Institute of Technology Delhi is a step towards Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi’s vision of a self-reliant India. He said that the country requires cheap and reliable testing for the country which can help to control the pandemic. The Corosure Kit has been developed indigenously and is much cheaper than other kits. The HRD Minister said that our Prime Minister has always been encouraging the youth of the country to come forward and ensure a healthier India especially in the times of COVID 19 pandemic with their innovative research. The kit has received ICMR approval with the highest score and DCGI approved with a very high sensitivity and specificity.

Shri Pokhriyal lauded the work done by the IIT Delhi researchers and congratulated everyone involved in the development and manufacturing of the kit. The Minister appreciated Prof Vivekanandan Perumal and his research team of IIT Delhi for developing of COVID 19 diagnostic kit. The team includes Prashant Pradhan (PhD Scholar), Ashutosh Pandey (PhD Scholar), Praveen Tripathi (PhD Scholar), Dr Akhilesh Mishra, Dr Parul Gupta, Dr Sonam Dhamija, Prof Manoj B. Menon, Prof Bishwajit Kundu and Prof James Gomes.

He said that this affordable detection kit will help the country amid the ongoing crisis. Shri Pokhriyal informed that Corosure, the probe-free diagnostic kit has been manufactured by Delhi NCR-based New tech Medical Devices. The Minister appreciated that a leading educational institution under MHRD and a private company have joined hands during this epidemic in the interest of the nation. Shri Pokhriyal  informed that the diagnostic kit developed by IIT Delhi, which will be now available for use by the authorised testing labs with this launch, will significantly bring down the cost of COVID-19 RT-PCR testing. The base price of the RT-PCR assay is Rs 399. Even after adding the RNA isolation and laboratory charges, the cost per test will be considerably cheaper compared to currently available kits in the market.  The Minister further informed that IIT Delhi has given license to 10 companies to manufacture COVID-19 diagnostic kit using the technology developed by its researchers.

While addressing the participants, Shri Dhotre said that amid the coronavirus crisis, when widespread testing is most needed, this very low-cost diagnostic kit is a great feat that the IIT Delhi has achieved in such a short period. He added that Innovation and entrepreneurship are complimentary to each other and are also most crucial for an Atmanirbhar Bharat. IITs have very robustly nurtured these two. Even in schools across the country, climate for innovation and new technology is being created very actively.

Shri Dhotre further said that IIT Delhi’s 40-year old Centre for Rural Development and Technology has been playing a crucial role in application of new technology in the uplift of rural life so that benefit of technology could reach the last man. He added that country’s youth have a lot of passion and potential for innovation and entrepreneurship. They only need to be provided right climate, resources, and motivation. IITs have done a great job in this sphere.

Speaking on the occasion Shri Khare informed that IIT Delhi became the first academic institution to obtain the ICMR’s approval for a real-time PCR-based diagnostic assay. It was also the first probe-free as say for COVID-19 approved by the ICMR. He added that the assay was validated at the government’s medical research body with a sensitivity and specificity of 100 per cent. Shri Khare appreciated the efforts of IIT Delhi towards the betterment of society and wished them success in their endeavours.

Prof V. Ramgopal Rao, Director, IIT Delhi said that IIT Delhi is thankful to the support it has received from the Indian government, HRD ministry, Health Ministry and the ICMR for the development and manufacturing of the affordable kit. Our researchers will continue to focus on COVID-19 related research and development to help the country as well as the World in the fight against Coronavirus.

Google to invest Rs 33,737 crore in Reliance Jio Platforms

Reliance Industries announced a new stakeholder in Jio Platforms. It has added Google as a new strategic partner. Google plans to invest Rs 33,737 crore (US$ 4.79 billion) with a stake of 7.7 per cent. So far, the company has received an investment of Rs 1,52,056 crore (US$ 21.57 billion) from stakeholders.

Reliance Industries had sold stakes worth Rs 1,18,318.45 crore (US$ 16.79 billion), before the Google deal to other investors like Facebook, etc. Even in the time, when most companies are facing trouble because of the lockdown, Reliance Industries has managed to soar through by an increment of over 120 per cent since the lockdown began in mid-March. The company has attracted major investors and collaborators from the tech world including chipset makers Intel and Qualcomm.

It has managed to make space for itself in the list of top 50 most valuable publicly traded firms globally.

Mr Mukesh Ambani, Chairman and Managing Director of Reliance Industries, said, “Google has empowered millions of Indians to access helpful information and, like Jio, is a force for change and innovation. We welcome Google onboard and are excited about our partnership for what it can deliver to Indians, from universalising Internet usage to deepening the new digital economy and providing a prime mover to India’s economic growth. Together, we hope to play a strong facilitative role in the transformative journey of building a new, Digital India.”

Google CEO Mr Sundar Pichai also spoke at the Reliance AGM, confirming the tech company’s strategic partnership in India with Jio Platforms.

Mr Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Alphabet, said, “Reliance Industries, and Jio Platforms in particular, deserve a good deal of credit for India’s digital transformation. The pace and scale of digital transformation in India is hugely inspiring for us and reinforces our view that building products for India first helps us build better products for users everywhere. Google is proud to invest Rs 33,737 crore (US$ 4.79 billion) into Jio. I am excited that our joint collaboration will focus on increasing access for hundreds of millions of Indians who don’t currently own a smartphone while improving the mobile experience for all.”

43rd annual general meeting (AGM) was conducted by Reliance Industries for the first time through a virtual medium, given the current COVID crisis.

Union HRD Minister and Minister of State for HRD jointly launch the first on-line NISHTHA programme for 1200 Key Resources Persons of Andhra Pradesh

The first on-line NISHTHA programme for 1200 Key Resources Persons of Andhra Pradesh was launched by Union HRD Minister Shri Ramesh Pokhriya ‘Nishank’ and Minister of State for HRD Shri Sanjay Dhotre virtually in New Delhi today.

While addressing the participants the HRD Minister said that NISHTHA is a National Initiative for School Heads’ and Teachers’ Holistic Advancement at the elementary stage under Samagra Shiksha -a flagship programme of MHRD to improve learning outcomes. The Minister added that NISHTHA in face-to-face mode was launched on 21st August, 2019. Thereafter, 33 states/UTs have launched this programme in their states/UTs in collaboration under Samagra Shiksha, a Centrally Sponsored Scheme. In 29 States/UTs, the NISHTHA training programme has been completed by the NCERT at the state level. In 4 States/UTs (Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, J&K and Bihar), the training at the state level is still in progress. In two states, it is yet to be launched.  District level teacher training programme has been initiated in 23 States/UTs.

Shri Pokhriyal highlighted that around 23,000 Key Resource Persons and 17.5 lakh teachers and school heads have been covered under this NISHTHA face to face mode till date.

The Minister informed that due to COVID-19 pandemic situation, sudden lockdown has affected the conduct of this programme in face-to-face mode. Therefore, for providing training to remaining 24 lakh teachers and school heads, NISHTHA has been customized for online mode to be conducted through DIKSHA and NISHTHA portals by the NCERT. He further informed that Andhra Pradesh is the first state for which we are launching on-line NISHTHA programme for 1200 Key Resources Persons through NISHTHA portal. These resource persons will help in the mentoring of teachers of Andhra Pradesh, who will take on-line NISHTHA training on DIKSHA later on.

Shri Pokhriyal informed that the modules developed under NISHTHA focus on holistic development of children and hence include curriculum and inclusive education health and well-being, personal social qualities, art integrated learning, initiatives in school education, subject-specific pedagogies, ICT in teaching-learning, leadership, pre-school education, pre-vocational education, etc.  All the modules are centred around learning outcomes and, learner-centred pedagogy. He added that these modules are made interactive with reflective and engaging activities for teachers providing space to educational games, quizzes, etc. for joyful learning by the teachers and school heads, which in turn will motivate teachers to implement this in their classroom for enhancing students’ learning outcomes.

Shri Pokhriyal appreciated the efforts of MHRD and NCERT for building capacities of teachers and school heads at the elementary level across the country through NISHTHA. This will not only help in enhancing learning outcomes of students but also in their all-round development.

Speaking on the occasion Shri Dhotre said that the world has been developing at a rapid pace. In order to be in sync with this fast-evolving world, our teachers also need to constantly upgrade their world view, understanding, and methods of teaching.It is imperative on us to enable this as an ever-continuing process across the country in the most effective manner.

He added that our in-service teacher education system must be sensitive to the feedback from the teachers and the teachers’ individual innovations must be recognised for their pedagogic values and should become part of our standard teaching methods. It is also important for us that our teachers must be very actively sensitized towards diversities of our country. Then only our children can become sensitive to the huge and different diversities is of this vast nation. With these efforts only, our children can grow up with the spirit of Ek Bharat Shreshth Bharat, as envisaged by our honourable Prime Minister.

He further added that technology can’t replace good teachers, but good teachers assisted by technology can do wonders in transforming education. Under the visionary leadership of our prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi we are committed to ensure value-based quality education assisted by technology for realising Atmanirbhar Bharat.

NISHTHA- online includes multiple approaches for interaction. While there are text modules alongwith videos, there will also be live sessions by the National level Resource persons on DTH Swayam Prabha TV Channel. Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) will also be utilized for interaction with teachers. Shri Dhotre congratulated the officials of NCER and MHRD for the initiative.

In NISHTHA-face-to-face, first level training had been provided by the National Resource Group (NRG) to the Key Resource Persons (KRPs) and State Resource Persons-Leadership (SRPs-L) identified by the states/UTs. The NRG had been constituted and oriented by the NCERT drawing members from the NCERT, NIEPA and KVS. KRPs and SRPs-L had provided training directly to teachers at block level reducing the cascading effect of training. In NISHTHA –online also, Key Resource Persons will play a role of mentors for the teachers.

KVIC opens state-of-the-art Footwear Training Center for Leather Artisans in Delhi

The first-of-its-kind footwear training center in Delhi to train the marginalized community of leather artisans was inaugurated by Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC). The center has been established with the technical knowhow of Central Footwear Training Institute (CFTI), Agra, a unit of the Ministry of MSME. The “KVIC-CFTI Footwear Training Cum Production Center” located at Gandhi Darshan, Rajghat, will provide a comprehensive 2-months training program to leather artisans for making high-quality footwear.

KVIC Chairman Shri VK Saxena while inaugurating the centre termed the leather artisans as “Charm Chikitsak” (leather doctors). The training center will also provide logistical support to the trained artisans in starting their own shoe-making business once their two-months training is successfully completed. The artisans will also be provided a tool kit worth Rs 5,000 (US$ 70.93) for carrying out their activities in future.

The KVIC-CFTI Footwear Training Cum Production Center equipped with advanced tool kits and machinery has been set up in a record time of less than two months. The inauguration was, however, delayed due to lockdown. Initially the training programs was designed for a batch of 40 leather artisans but keeping in view the social distancing norms in wake of Corona disease, the number has been reduced to a batch of 20 artisans. KVIC is setting up a similar footwear training center in Varanasi also.

The KVIC Chairman said the training of leather artisans or the ‘charm chikitsak’ is aligned with the Prime Minister’s vision of “Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas”.

He said footwear has become an integral part of fashion and shoe-making no longer remains a menial job. “Through this training center, we are trying to rope in maximum people with shoe-making activities. The program has been so designed that in just two months’ time, the artisans will be able to manufacture all kinds of footwear. This will increase their income by manifold,” the KVIC Chairman said.

Department of Biotechnology supported COVID 19 Vaccine -ZyCoV-D, designed and developed by Zydus, begins Adaptive Phase I/II clinical trials

Vaccine Discovery Programme supported by the Department of Biotechnology, Govt. of India under the National Biopharma Mission, implemented by BIRAC moves into clinical trials

BIRAC has announced that ZyCoV-D, the plasmid DNA vaccine designed and developed by Zydus and partially funded by the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India has initiated Phase I/ II clinical trials in healthy subjects, making it the first indigenously developed vaccine for COVID-19 to be administered in humans in India.

The adaptive Phase I/II dose escalation, multi-centric study will assess the safety, tolerability, and immunogenicity of the vaccine. The human dosing of the vaccine marks a key milestone since the launching of the accelerated vaccine development programme for COVID-19 in February 2020.

Dr Renu Swarup, Secretary, DBT and Chairperson, BIRAC said, “The Department of Biotechnology Government of India has partnered with Zydus to address rapid development of an indigenous vaccine for COVID-19 under the National Biopharma Mission. This partnership with Zydus is to serve the country’s need for a vaccine to fight the dreaded pandemic which has put a billion people at risk. Such research endeavours will help the country to develop preventive strategies for future disease outbreaks as well and exemplifies the government’s focus on creating an ecosystem that nurtures and encourages new product innovation to make real and measurable changes to issues most relevant to our society.”

She also mentioned that “This is an important milestone for AtmaNirbhar Bharat as Zydus begins human clinical trials for the indigenously developed vaccine. We hope that the vaccine continues to show positive outcomes as it has done so far in the pre-clinical phase where it was found to be safe, immunogenic, and well tolerated. This will be a big leap forward for Indian scientific research.”

Speaking on the development, Chairman of Zydus Cadila, Mr Pankaj R. Patel said, “This is a very important step in our fight against this pandemic and one that will help the nation combat this healthcare challenge. We are thankful to BIRAC and the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India for their support in our quest to provide a safe and efficacious vaccine to prevent COVID 19.”

About ZyCoV-D

In the pre-clinical phase, the vaccine was found to elicit a strong immune response in multiple animal species like mice, rats, guinea pigs and rabbits. The antibodies produced by the vaccine were able to neutralize the wild type virus in virus neutralization assay indicating the protective potential of the vaccine candidate. No safety concerns were observed for the vaccine candidate in repeat dose toxicology studies by both intramuscular and intradermal routes of administration. In rabbits, up to three times the intended human dose was found to be safe, well tolerated, and immunogenic.

With ZyCoV-D, the Company has successfully established the DNA vaccine platform in the country using non-replicating and non-integrating plasmid carrying the gene of interest making it very safe. Further, no vector response and with absence of any infectious agent, the platform provides ease of manufacturing the vaccine with minimal biosafety requirements (BSL-1). The platform is also known to show much improved vaccine stability and lower cold chain requirements making it easy for transportation to remotest regions of the country. Furthermore, the platform can be rapidly used to modify the vaccine in couple of weeks in case thevirus mutates to ensure that the vaccine still elicits protection.

About National Biopharma Mission, DBT:

The Industry-Academia Collaborative Mission of Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Govt of India for accelerating discovery research to early development for Biopharmaceuticals approved by the Cabinet for a total cost US$ 250 million and 50 per cent co-funded by the World Bank is being implemented at Biotechnology Research Assistance Council (BIRAC). This program is dedicated to deliver affordable products to the nation with an aim to improve the health standards of India’s population. Vaccines, medical devices, and diagnostics and biotherapeutics are few of its most important domains, besides, strengthening the clinical trial capacity and building technology transfer capabilities in the country.

About BIRAC:

Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) is a not-for-profit Section 8, Schedule B, Public Sector Enterprise, set up by Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India as an Interface Agency to strengthen and empower the emerging Biotech enterprise to undertake strategic research and innovation, addressing nationally relevant product development needs. To find out more visit

About Zydus

Zydus Cadila is an innovative, global pharmaceutical company that discovers, develops, manufactures, and markets a broad range of healthcare therapies, including small molecule drugs, biologic therapeutics, and vaccines.

Mobile game developer Nazara buys 51 per cent stake in Paper Boat Apps

Mobile game developer Nazara Technologies acquired a 51 per cent stake in Paper Boat Apps, which offers ‘Kiddopia’ learning app for pre-schoolers.

Under the transaction, Nazara invested a total of Rs 83 crore (US$ 11.77 million) in Paper Boat Apps in multiple tranches, valuing the company more than Rs 150 crore (US$ 21.28 million).

Under the deal, Paper Boat Apps has issued shares worth Rs 43 crore (US$ 6.10 million) as part of the final tranche, said Nazara founder and Managing Director Mr Nitish Mittersain.

He said, “Gamified edu-tech is the only way to deliver high-quality learning to such young kids on digital devices. Kiddopia is a perfect example of this overlap between gaming and learning, and their popularity amongst parents and kids speaks for itself”.

He added that about 20 million children are already part of its ecosystem and Kiddopia will help further strengthen Nazara’s position in the kid’s edutainment vertical.

There has been strong growth in edu-tech start-ups across markets amid the COVID-19 pandemic as schools and educational institutions are going online to conduct classes.

“Kiddopia is fast becoming one of the most successful ‘Made in India’ apps globally and is seeing strong usage in the North America market apart from India. The company is also looking at rapidly expanding into other geographies such as Europe and the Far East,” Mr Mittersain said.

Kiddopia was launched in 2017 by husband and wife Mr Anupam and Ms Anshu Dhanuka, who own Paper Boat Apps. So far, the app has been downloaded by more than 5 million users globally and has over 300,000 active subscribers.

“This investment has helped us focus on product enhancement and marketing, thereby leading to a 3X growth in subscriber base. We have just finished our best month and we expect our topline to grow 2X in annual revenues by March 2021,” Mr Anupam Dhanuka said.

It is expected that Kiddopoa will leverage Nazara’s network of 100 million monthly active users to grow its subscriber base.

“As a leading preschool app in the US, we will now use the funding to replicate our success in countries across Europe, Latin America and Asia,” he added.

Nazara Technologies has been investing in the gaming ecosystem and so far, invested in many gaming firms like Nextwave Multimedia, Halaplay Technologies, Nodwin Gaming, Qunami, and Bakbuck. It has consummated transactions worth US$ 50 million in the last three years.

It holds the licensed mobile gaming rights for popular Indian IP characters like Chhota Bheem, Motu Patlu, Mighty Raju, Shikari Shambhu, Roll #21, Eena Meena Deeka, Oggy and the Cockroaches and Shin Chan in the kids’ category.

Nazara is backed by investors, including West Bridge Capital, IIFL Special Opportunities Fund; Rakesh Jhunjhunwala and Turtle Entertainment GmbH, the IP owner of the world’s largest esports franchise (ESL).

Vedantu raises US$ 100 million from Coatue, valuation doubles to US$ 600 million

Vedantu raised US$ 100 million, as part of its Series D round, which has doubled its valuation to US$ 600 million, making it the second-most valued edtech start-up in India, after Byju’s.

This fund raise was led by New York-based hedge fund Coatue, which has backed Uber, Spotify, Bytedance globally, and has invested in Swiggy and Rebel Foods in India. Other participants in the round included that existing investors such as Tiger Global and GGV Capital. Mr Rahul Kishore, managing director of Coatue will join Vedantu’s board.

As the country was facing crisis due to the lockdown imposed by Government as a precautionary step to handle COVID-19, edtech platforms have been benefitted as the classromm teaching was suspended. To fill the gap and help students, Edtech startups stepped in with online classes.

Thus, the investors have also shown an increased interest because of the rise in digitisation of education amidst the pandemic.

In June 2020, Byju’s has raised US$ 100 million from US-based technology investor Bond, at a valuation of US$ 10.5 billion. Earlier, in February, another edtech start-up, Unacademy had raised US$ 110 million from Facebook and General Atlantic valuing it at US$ 510 million.

Venture capital firms (VCs) have shown a clear preference for ed-tech start-ups with US$ 795 million raised compared in first six months of 2020, to US$ 108 million in the year ago period, according to data from Venture Intelligence research.

“Our investment in Vedantu marks our entry into the Indian edtech market. This move underlines our strategy to partner with companies that are strategically positioned for high growth and scale. Online learning adoption in India is at an all-time high setting a new benchmark for the rest of the world,” said Coatue’s Mr Kishore.

Vedantu offers live interactive classes to students across grades K1-12, for all major boards and competitive exams like JEE and NEET. In the last few month, Vedantu has added the early learner segment with the launch of its coding program for 6-12 years called Vedantu SuperKids. It also launched a reading programme and plans to add more programmes in this category.

“During lockdown, everyone is talking about live classes and this is the best time for us to drive more adoption and strengthen our brand as the best destination for Live classes,” Mr Vamsi Krishna, CEO and co-founder of Vedantu said.

“On top of adding new categories, we will use the funds to invest into content and technology to create the world’s best Live teaching-learning experience,” added Mr Krishna.

The company recorded an increase of 220 per cent during lockdown with more than a million students attending 3.8 million live hours of classes every month.

The shift has been seen in consumer behaviour from offline to online, Mr Krishna said that the company plans to invest in scaling impact, expanding into new categories, and firmly establishing itself in the online live tutoring space.

This is Vedantu`s third round of funding in the last 12 months. It raised US$ 42 million from Tiger Global and others in August 2019 and another US$ 24 million from GGV Capital and Tiger in February 2020. So far, company has raised about US$ 200 million.

Other start-ups in the edtech sector are also capitalising as students go online for learning across cities. In July, Toppr raised US$ 50 million in a Series D round as it plans to scale up operations. Facebook-backed Unacademy too has been on an acquisition spree to grow organically, having acquired learning platforms PrepLadder and Mastree recently. The start-up is reportedly in talks with potential investors to raise between US$ 100 million and US$ 150 million of fresh funding at a valuation that could help it achieve unicorn status.

Best Regards,

Manoranjan Sahu
Attache(Economic & Commerce)
Embassy of India, Bangkok
46 Soi Sukhumvit 23, Bangkok – 10110 (Thailand)
T: +66 2 2580029 (Direct), +66 2 2580300-06 (Extn. 162)
F: +66 2 2584627