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Suresh Prabhu inaugurates projects worth Rs 1,000 crore

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Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu on Friday dedicated to the nation projects worth Rs 1,000 crore, including National Institute of Design campus in Jorhat and Bhopal, and two spices parks in Kota and Raebareli.

The projects in seven states and two Union Territories were inaugurated through video conferencing here, the commerce ministry said in a statement.

Prabhu inaugurated skilling Common Facility Centre (CFC) in Udupi, and laid the foundation stone for a CFC in Coimbatore. He also inaugurated two spices parks in Kota and Raebareli.

The minister also inaugurated National Institute of Design campus in Jorhat and Bhopal, IIFT campus at Kolkata and Maidangarhi, and Footwear Design and Development Institute (FDDI) in Banur, Chandigarh, it added.

The CFC in Udupi for traditional jewellery manufacturing in south India will be able to produce world class talent in gem and jewellery business for around 1,200 units in and around Udupi, it said.

Similarly, the centre at Coimbatore has the capacity to train 50,000 people in unique jewellery manufacturing like Kundan, Meenakari, Bidri, temple jewellery, filigree and Jadau jewellery.

The establishment of spice park is a major initiative to help farmers get better returns for their produce and to ensure the quality of spices for exports, it said.

"At present there is a need for improved linkages between spice producers, processes and food processing industry and the spices parks will function as a nodal point for development of the spices industry," it added.

UPI transactions hit a record 672.75 million in January: NPCI

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The Unified Payment Interface (UPI) witnessed a record number of transactions in January and amounted to more than Rs 1 lakh crore in value, according to data released by NPCI (National Payment Corporation of India), the Livemint reports.

The transaction volume grew by 8.5 percent to Rs 1.09 lakh crore in January, up from Rs 1.02 lakh crore in the month of December 2018. December was also the month when UPI recorded over 600 million transactions for the first time ever, the report states.

UPI was introduced by NPCI in 2016 as a platform that powers multiple bank accounts into a single mobile application. UPI got a significant boost when the BHIM app was launched by the Central government on the 30 December 2016. Since then, NPCI has taken steps to cut down fraudulent transactions and introduced many regulatory guidelines.

Out of the total transactions registered in January, 13.98 million transactions were conducted through BHIM app alone, the data shows.

The last one year has witnessed the rise of 350% in UPI transactions.

RBI credit policy: Economists polled differ over rate cut, but see change in stance to neutral

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The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) may not tinker with the policy rate, but will change its stance to neutral. Economists and market experts whom Moneycontrol spoke to were divided on the rate cut but were confident of a change in stance by the banking regulator.

This is the first policy of RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das, who also heads the monetary policy committee.

The change in the stance from ‘calibrated tightening’ to ‘neutral’ is what is being keenly watched by the market. In its December policy, the MPC decided to keep the policy repo rate on hold at 6.5 percent and maintain its 'calibrated tightening' stance.

Shubhada Rao, Chief Economist at Yes Bank, said that while there could be a pause in this policy, the stance may be changed to neutral. However, she sees possibility of a rate cut sometime in 2019.

In its fifth bi-monthly monetary policy in December 2018, while the decision on keeping the policy rate unchanged was unanimous, Ravindra Dholakia voted to change his stance to neutral. The committee members maintained that the central bank’s focus remained focused on taming inflation, even if it came at the cost of higher rates.

A Kotak Economics Research Securities report expects the committee to change its stance to ‘neutral’ in February and 25 basis points repo rate cut in April and June given the benign inflation trajectory.

Deepak Jasani, Head-Retail Research, HDFC Securities, said RBI is likely to change its stance from calibrated tightening to neutral. However, he added that a rate cut at this stage may be a bit premature though there are reasons to back it.

Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation hit an 18-month low, rising 2.19 percent in December as compared with 2.3 percent in November due to cheaper fuel and food items, data released by the government showed. CPI, or retail inflation, is the main price gauge that RBI tracks.

At its last policy, the MPC expected retail inflation to moderate to 2.7-3.2 percent during October-March, before rising to 3.8-4.2 percent in April-September in 2019-20, with ‘risks tilted towards the upside’.

MPC had earlier said that the benign outlook for headline inflation is driven mainly by the unexpected softening of food inflation and collapse in oil prices in a relatively short period.

Consumer food price index had seen a de-growth to 2.51 percent in December from (-) 2.61 percent in November. Among food and beverages, prices of fruits, eggs, vegetables, pulses and sugar fell during December.

Niti Aayog open to have a role in allocating developmental funds to states: Rajiv Kumar

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The Niti Aayog is open to the idea of having a role in fund allocation to states for developmental expenditure and would discuss the matter with the 15th Finance Commission, the think tank's vice chairman Rajiv Kumar said on Monday.

Former chairman of the Finance Commission Vijay Kelkar recently suggested that the Aayog should be given financial powers to help address regional imbalances.

The Aayog, unlike its predecessor Planning Commission, does not have financial powers nor any say in preparing annual plans of the states. "I have always respected Dr Kelkar and his views comes from a very long experience, both as finance secretary as well as chairman of the Finance Commission.

"I having worked as the vice chairman of Niti Aayog for 16-17 months, what I do feel is that there needs to be some independent allocations for states to undertake their developmental expenditure," Kumar told PTI in an interview. He said that if the Aayog would be given some role in allocating development expenditure to states, then that would also "promote co-operative and competitive federalism".

"And I can also say to you that we are going to be discussing this with the 15th Finance Commission...," the Aayog vice chairman said. In a recent research paper, Kelkar suggested setting up of 'Niti Aayog 2.0' that would have financial powers as part of efforts to address regional imbalances.

Kelkar had also suggested that the vice-chairman of the new Aayog be made a permanent invitee of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA). Socialist-era Planning Commission was replaced by the Aayog on January 1, 2015. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the chairman of the Aayog.

While the Aayog is open to the idea having a role in resource allocation to states, Kumar made it clear that he was not seeking revival of the Planning Commission. "But certainly we don't want to return to old days of the Planning Commission and have a huge expansion in the number of centrally sponsored schemes etc...," he noted.

The Planning Commission used to play a key role in deciding the expenditure plans of central ministries as well as that of states. "I think the time has come to achieve a better balance between complete fiscal sovereignty and some allocation for targeted infrastructure in development-oriented expenditure across the states to ensure that there is a better convergence within the states.

"And all those states that are now today have weaker infrastructure (and need to) catch up with the more forward states," Kumar said. Echoing similar views, former Union minister and noted economist Yoginder K Alagh said that in 2014, he had called for the new body to have powers to allocate funds as per transparent rules.

"The government abolished the Planning Commission, started a large number of central schemes but resources (are allocated) by the finance or the ministry concerned. Some chief ministers' say this is arbitrary. Kelkar rightly wants a rule-based system,"Alagh told PTI.

About the interim Budget for 2019-20, Kumar said it has achieved a very good balance between providing a growth stimulus and maintaining the fiscal discipline. On former finance minister P Chidambaram's criticism that the Budget was an 'account for votes' and not a 'vote on account', Kumar said, "you cannot expect a non-election budget in an election year".

"... addressing some of the issues of some of the classes of the people is good political economy and only shows that the government is sensitive to the problems of the particular segments," Kumar said. Regarding the disinvestment target for 2019-20, he said the government when it comes back to the office would pursue the target much more efficiently.

"We will make sure that this Rs 90,000 crore disinvestment target will be achieved through some strategic disinvestment of loss-making PSUs.

The Interim Budget has set a target of Rs 90,000 crore to be mopped up from CPSE disinvestment in 2019-20 higher than Rs 80,000 crore in the current fiscal. Meanwhile, the Aayog vice chairman said there is now a need for re-establishing the quality of the India' statistical system.

The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation should not only come out as a collector of all data but also a quality regulator of all data, he opined. "What we have inherited is a relatively neglected statistical and data system in the country. I think, we now need to reverse that.

"And there was a time when the Department of Statistics was also a part of the Ministry of Planning, and I think that particular co-ordination is required," he said. The Department of Statistics has now rechristened as the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.

Budget 2019: Govt to develop national portal for artificial intelligence, says FM Piyush Goyal

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Finance Minister Piyush Goyal on February 1 said that the government will soon develop a national portal for promoting the development of artificial intelligence, while delivery his budget speech.



"A national artificial intelligence portal will also be developed soon," he said.



With the aim to take the benefits of artificial intelligence and related future technologies to the people, a national programme on artificial intelligence has been envisaged by the government.



"This would be catalysed by the establishment of the National Centre on Artificial Intelligence as a hub along with Centres of Excellence. Nine priority areas have been identified," he said.



The announcement comes at a time when global giants such as Foxconn have expressed their plans to set up advanced industrial artificial intelligence research and development centres in the country.



Many educational institutions are also warming up to the concept of artificial intelligence.



Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Hyderabad for instance recently said it was starting a first full-fledged B.Tech (Bachelors of Technology) programme in artificial intelligence (AI) for the academic year 2019-20.

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