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Petrol price hiked by 19 paise, diesel by 28 paise

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Petrol price was hiked on Friday by 19 paise per litre and diesel by 28 paise, the second increase in rates in as many days on firming input cost.

Petrol in Delhi now costs Rs 69.07 per litre - the highest this month - up from Rs 68.88 per litre rate of Thursday, according to price notification issued by state-owned oil firms.

A litre of diesel in Delhi is now priced at Rs 62.81 as compared to Rs 62.53 on Thursday.

In Mumbai, petrol now costs Rs 74.72 a litre and diesel is priced at Rs 65.73.

Rates vary from state to state depending on the rate of local sales tax or VAT.

The increase -- third this month -- comes on the back of a 38 paise increase in petrol rates and 29 paise in case of diesel announced on Thursday.

On January 7, the petrol price was hiked by 21 paise and diesel by 8 paise. Rates were unchanged on January 8 and 9.

In three hikes, petrol price has gone up by a total of 78 paise a litre and diesel by 55 paise, according to the price notification.

Prior to these hikes, rates had cooled to a year low of Rs 68.29 for petrol and Rs 62.16 in case of diesel. This followed a decline in rates on almost all days since October 18, 2018.

In all, the petrol price has fallen by Rs 14.54 per litre since October 18, more than negating all of the hikes that were witnessed in the two-month period beginning mid-August. Diesel price has declined by? Rs 13.53 per litre in two and a half months.

Petrol price had touched a record high of Rs 84 per litre in Delhi and Rs 91.34 in Mumbai on October 4. Diesel on that day had peaked to Rs 75.45 a litre in Delhi and Rs 80.10 in Mumbai.

Prices had started to climb from August 16.

Petrol in Delhi was priced at Rs 77.14 and in Mumbai at Rs 84.58 per litre on August 15. Diesel on that day was priced at Rs 68.72 per litre in Delhi and Rs 72.96 in Mumbai.

Between August 16 and October 4, the petrol price was hiked by Rs 6.86 per litre and diesel by Rs 6.73.

On that day, the government decided to cut excise duty on petrol and diesel by Rs 1.50 per litre each and asked state-owned fuel retailers to subsidise the price by another Re 1 a litre by reducing their margins.

Subsequent to this, the petrol price moderated to Rs 81.50 per litre in Delhi and diesel to Rs 72.95 a litre on October 5. In Mumbai, rates fell to Rs 86.97 for petrol and Rs 77.45 in case of diesel.

As the international oil prices continued to rise, the prices of petrol and diesel in Delhi increased to Rs 82.83 and Rs 75.69 respectively, on October 17. In Mumbai, rates touched Rs 88.29 a litre for petrol and Rs 79.35 for diesel.

Sri Lanka banks on RBI swaps to boost its reserves: PM Ranil Wickremesinghe

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Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Thursday said that the SAARC swap arrangement with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is part of the international assistance to boost the island's flagging reserves.

"The Reserve Bank of India has agreed to give our Central Bank USD 400 million under the SAARC currency swap arrangement. They (the Indians) are considering a further large sum," Wickremesinghe told parliament.

His remarks came a day after Sri Lanka's Central Bank on Wednesday said that the RBI has agreed to provide USD 400 million under the SAARC swap arrangement to boost the island nation's reserves. It said that a further request to the RBI for another SWAP arrangement of USD 1 billion is "under consideration".

Wickremesinghe said that Lanka will make its highest ever debt payment in history – USD 2600 million - on January 14.

"Within 2019 we have to pay USD 5900 million by way of interest and capital on foreign loans," he said.

Wickremesinghe said that the nearly two-month long political crisis had an adverse impact on the country's economy.

"During the 51 days, our Rupee fell by 3.8 per cent. When all other currencies were appreciating, the rupee was falling. There were capital outflows from the country," he said.

"We are yet to quantify the losses, but it was a death blow to an economy that was struggling to recover," Wickremesinghe told parliament.

President Maithripala Sirisena's dramatic move on October 26 to sack Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and install former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place following differences over policy issues, left the country without a functioning government for nearly two months. However, a Supreme court verdict forced Sirisena to reinstate Wickremesinghe.

Sri Lanka's reserves dipped from USD 7991 million to USD 6985 million during the crisis, the prime minister said.

Due to the political crisis, the big three credit rating agencies -- Fitch Ratings, Standard & Poor's (S&P) and Moody's -- downgraded Sri Lanka's sovereign rating.

Wickremesinghe said the government is in the process of raising USD 1.9 billion to boost its reserves. One billion dollars are to be raised in international markets while USD 500 million would be raised from Chinese Panda funds and Japanese Samurai Funds in addition to the USD 400 million from India's RBI under SAARC currency swap arrangement.

The government's priority right now is to work for the rupee's stabilisation, Wickremesinghe said. The weaker rupee has caused cost escalation of raw materials and all imports.

Govt should be able to keep fiscal deficit target of 3.2-3.3%: JPMorgan

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Jahangir Aziz of JPMorgan is expecting the government to maintain fiscal deficit target of 3.2-3.3 percent.

"We do expect the government to make it (fiscal deficit) to 3.2 whether it is through finding new sources of revenue in the last few months or through contraction expenditure, most likely you will get 3.3 or slightly higher than 3.3 for the central government," he said.

Indian economy is expected to grow at 7.2 percent in 2018-19 against 6.7 percent in the previous fiscal mainly due to improvement in the performance of agriculture and manufacturing sectors, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) said on January 7.

The CSO estimate is, however, a bit lower than 7.4 percent growth projected by the Reserve Bank for the current fiscal.

"I have stopped focusing on levels of growth numbers given the uncertainty associated with them. So let us just focus on the trajectory of it. We had a decent first half and clearly there is a slowdown in the second half. At least the slowdown in the second half is consistent with what is happening elsewhere in the economy, what is happening to credit numbers, what is happening to credit situation including what has happened to global trade, which has slowed down quite a bit. So at least we have the first half and the second half consistent, which is a relief. The way we are looking at it, this slowdown is probably going to continue till the second calendar quarter of 2019. So the first quarter of next year and then once the impact of the liquidity and the financial conditions tightening fade, we should see some recovery beginning in the second half of calendar 2019," said Aziz.

Govt should be able to keep fiscal deficit target of 3.2-3.3%: JPMorgan

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Jahangir Aziz of JPMorgan is expecting the government to maintain fiscal deficit target of 3.2-3.3 percent.

"We do expect the government to make it (fiscal deficit) to 3.2 whether it is through finding new sources of revenue in the last few months or through contraction expenditure, most likely you will get 3.3 or slightly higher than 3.3 for the central government," he said.

Indian economy is expected to grow at 7.2 percent in 2018-19 against 6.7 percent in the previous fiscal mainly due to improvement in the performance of agriculture and manufacturing sectors, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) said on January 7.

The CSO estimate is, however, a bit lower than 7.4 percent growth projected by the Reserve Bank for the current fiscal.

"I have stopped focusing on levels of growth numbers given the uncertainty associated with them. So let us just focus on the trajectory of it. We had a decent first half and clearly there is a slowdown in the second half. At least the slowdown in the second half is consistent with what is happening elsewhere in the economy, what is happening to credit numbers, what is happening to credit situation including what has happened to global trade, which has slowed down quite a bit. So at least we have the first half and the second half consistent, which is a relief. The way we are looking at it, this slowdown is probably going to continue till the second calendar quarter of 2019. So the first quarter of next year and then once the impact of the liquidity and the financial conditions tightening fade, we should see some recovery beginning in the second half of calendar 2019," said Aziz.

Sugar production rise 7% during October-December 2018 to 110.5 lakh tonnes

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India's sugar production increased by 7 percent to 110.52 lakh tonnes in the first quarter of 2018-19 marketing year that started in October, as mills in Maharashtra and Karnataka started operations early, industry body ISMA said on Friday.

"As on December 31, 2018, 501 sugar mills were in operation in the country and have produced 110.52 lakh tonnes of sugar, as compared to 103.56 lakh tonnes produced by 505 sugar mills as on 31st December 2017," Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA) said in a statement.

Maharashtra and Karnataka sugar mills started their crushing earlier this year and this resulted in rise in output in the first quarter of 2018-19 marketing year (October-December 2018).

"However, due to substantially lower rainfall and white grub infestation, Maharashtra will produce significantly lower quantity this year as compared to last. Overall, the country is expected to produce much less sugar this season as compared to last," ISMA said.

Earlier, the association had estimated that production could fall to 315 lakh tonnes in 2018-19 from 325 lakh tonnes in the previous year. The country's annual domestic demand is 260 lakh tonnes.

As per the data, mills in Uttar Pradesh have produced 31 lakh tonnes during October-December 2018, with an average recovery of 10.84 percent as compared to 33 lakh tonnes with an average recovery of 10.14 percent in the corresponding period of the previous year.

Although average recovery of sugar from cane is higher, the sugar production in UP would be lower as the sugarcane yield per hectare is lower than last season.

In Maharashtra, sugar production rose to 43.98 lakh tonnes from 38.39 lakh tonnes. The average sugar recovery so far is 10.50 percent as against 10.23 percent achieved in the corresponding period of 2017-18.

"Due to lower availability of cane in Maharashtra and an early start (of operation), the mills therein would be closing much earlier than last year," ISMA said.

Sugar production in Karnataka increased to 20.45 lakh tonnes from 16.83 lakh tonnes during the period under review.

Fund raising via equity market routes plunges 60% to Rs 63,744 crore in 2018

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Indian companies have raised Rs 63,744 crore through various equity market routes in 2018, a slump of 60 per cent from the all-time high of Rs 1.6 lakh crore garnered in the preceding year, according to data analytics major Prime Database.

Apart from equity, firms have also mopped up Rs 29,944 crore through public issuance of bonds during the year.

Out of the cumulative Rs 63,744 crore garnered through public equity markets in 2018, a large chunk or Rs 33,244 crore has been mopped up from initial public offers (IPOs).

Besides, qualified institutional placement (QIP) accounted for Rs 16,077 crore, offer-for-sale (OFS) through stock exchange mechanism got Rs 10,678 crore and Infrastructure investment trusts (InvITs) helped raise Rs 3,145 crore.

As per the report, 24 mainboard IPOs collectively raised Rs 30,959 crore. This was a decline from Rs 67,147 crore raised through 36 IPOs in 2017.

However, small and medium enterprise (SME) platform witnessed hectic activities in the IPO space, raising Rs 2,254 crore in 2018, much higher than Rs 1,679 crore collected last year.

According to Prime Database Managing Director Pranav Haldea, the overall response from the public to the mainboard IPOs in 2018 was good.

The largest IPO this year was from Bandhan Bank for Rs 4,473 crore.

Many IPOs received mega response including that of Apollo Micro Systems, which was subscribed by 176 times, followed by Amber Enterprises (115 times), RITES (67 times), HDFC Asset Management (60 times), Galaxy Surfactants (14 times) and Bandhan Bank (11 times).

Of the 24 IPOs which got listed, Apollo Micro Systems gave a return of 65 per cent followed by HDFC Asset Management (65 per cent), Amber Enterprises (44 per cent), Lemon Tree Hotels (28 per cent), Bandhan Bank (27 per cent) and 15 per cent each by RITES and Galaxy Surfactants.

However, given the correction in the markets in the second half of the year, 15 of the 24 IPOs are presently trading below the issue price.

Going into 2019, not too much action is expected in the first half of the year till the conclusion of the general elections, despite the fact that the IPO pipeline is huge, as 59 firms already have Sebi's approval for Rs 63,170 crore-IPO and another 19 companies looking to raise Rs 18,067 crore are awaiting the regulator's go-ahead, Haldea added.

The report said fund raising through OFS fell to Rs 10,678 crore in 2018 from Rs 18,094 crore last year. The largest OFS was that of Coal India in October this year (Rs 5,274 crore) followed by Larsen & Toubro Infotech (Rs 1,846 crore).

A total of 25 companies mobilised Rs 16,677 crore through QIPs. This was 73 per cent lower than Rs 61,148 crore raised in the previous year. The largest QIP of 2018 was from Idea Cellular that raised Rs 3,500 crore.

Western Railway launches heritage train on Patalpani-Kalakund route in MP

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Bringing Christmas cheer for tourists, the Western Railway (WR) on December 25 introduced a special heritage train on the picturesque Patalpani-Kalakund section in Madhya Pradesh's Ratlam district.

Railways ministry had decided to create infrastructure to preserve the British era Patalpani-Kalkund metre gauge rail line, which is part of Western Railway's Ratlam division, a senior WR official said on December In26.

The metre gauge line has since been converted into broad gauge line.

The 9.5-km route passes through several tunnels offering a spectacular view of waterfalls and lush green mountain ranges.

The previous metre-gauge line had been constructed by Britishers about 150 years ago, the official said.

"Stations, rest houses and other service buildings on the Patalpani-Kalkund section are being decorated along with the development of about two dozen tourist spots on WR's first heritage section in Ratlam division between Patalpani and Kalakund stations, to attract tourists around the globe," said WR Chief Spokesperson Ravinder Bhakar.

Four tunnels and 29 sharp curves along the Patalpani-Kalakund route makes it a memorable trip for tourists.

The heritage train will depart from Dr Ambedkar Nagar station at 11.05 AM and will reach Kalakund at 1.25 PM. It starts from Kalakund at 2.55 pm and will arrive at Dr Ambedkar Nagar at 3.40 pm.

The train has two coaches, one reserved and another unreserved one, Bhakar said.

"The fare per passenger for 12 seats in first three rows in the reserved coach is Rs 240 for the entire to and fro journey while the same is Rs 200 per person for the rest of the rows of the coach. The fare will be Rs 20 per passenger in unreserved compartment," Bhakar said.

A statement issued by the WR said Railway Board chairman Ashwani Lohani had directed railway officials to develop the route as a heritage section.

Lohani had directed the officials to run the special heritage train during his last inspection conducted in September this year, it said.

WR General Manager A K Gupta supervised the works on developing the gauge conversion.

More than 25 workers from Lower Parel workshop in Mumbai were deployed in the Bikaner workshop who contributed in refurbishing the heritage train coaches, the statement said.

Bhakar said Patalpani railway station is the first station constructed on Dr Ambedkar Nagar-Khandwa metre gauge section during 1874-1878.

"In 2008, Union cabinet approved the proposal of converting this meter gauge section into a broad gauge section after which railway decided to preserve this section by converting it into a heritage railway section", he added.

FM Jaitley bats for lower taxes, standard GST rate

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India should have three broad tax slabs of zero, 5 percent and a standard rate, which will replace 12 and 18 percent Goods and Services Tax (GST) rate, finance minister Arun Jaitley said today.

As an exception, luxury goods such as big cars and demerit goods such aerated drinks and tobacco products, could be taxed at a higher rate.

“A future roadmap could well be to work towards a single standard rate instead of two standard rates of 12 percent and 18 percent. It could be a rate at some mid-point between the two,” Jaitley said in a blog post.

Currently, 1,216 goods and services fall into four broad tax slabs- 5, 12, 18 and 28 percent. Broadly, 183 items are taxed at zero rate, 308 at 5 percent, 178 at 12 percent and 517 at 18 percent and 27 items at the highest tax bracket.

The 28 percent slab is now a dying slab, Jaitley said, adding that the overhaul of tax slabs will take ‘reasonable time’ when tax collections ‘rise significantly’.

Jaitley’s comments come soon after the GST Council on Saturday slashed rates on 17 goods and six services, such as televisions, movie tickets, video games, among others, restricting only 27 items in the highest tax slab of 28 percent. New rates will be applicable from January 1, 2019.

“Our next priority will be to transfer cement into a lower slab. All other building materials have already been transferred from 28 to 18 and 12 percent. The sun is setting on the 28 percent slab,” he said.

Apart from reducing rates, the Council also rationalized and made clarifications related to certain goods, a move that is expected to boost consumption. Essentially, the 28 percent slab will mainly consist of demerit goods such as aerated drinks, tobacco products and automobile and auto parts, along with other items such as cement, air-conditioners, molasses and dishwashers.

In the last one and half years, the Council has significantly pruned the list of 226 items placed in the highest tax slab of 28 percent.

The revenue impact of the rate rationalisation exercise will be Rs 5,500 crore annually and Rs 1,375 crore for the remaining three months of the financial year 2018-19.

It is also learnt that some states had opposed rate cut in the last Council meeting as they wanted move’s impact on revenues to be fleshed out in greater detail before levies are lowered.

Taking a jibe at Congress, Jaitley said ‘those who oppressed India with a 31 percent indirect tax and consistently belittled the GST must seriously introspect. Irresponsible politics and irresponsible economics is only a race to the bottom’.

He further said that new indirect tax regime has helped in controlling inflation as well as tax evasion, which was rampant in the pre-GST regime, where there was a cascading effect of tax on tax.

“The rate of taxation were exorbitantly high. The standard rate of VAT and excise was 14.5 and 12.5 percent respectively. To this could be added the CST and the cascading effect of tax on tax. The standard rate thus became 31% on a large number of commodities. The assessees had only two options – either to pay a high rate of tax or evade it,” he said.

GST Council to meet on Saturday amid rate cut talk, but some states not fully on board

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The Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council will meet on December 22 amid heightened expectations that the panel will cut rates on several items, although some states want the move’s impact on revenues to be fleshed out in greater detail before levies are lowered.

A discussion on the revenue position of the Centre and states, easing refund-related rules for exporters, is also likely to be on the agenda.

The Council, headed by finance minister Arun Jaitey is the highest decision making body of the new indirect tax system that came into effect from July 1, 2017.

It is also expected to take up the issue of transferring ownership of the IT backbone GST Network in a government owned company, a proposal that was approved by the Cabinet in September, sources said.

In addition, there could be discussions on reducing cess on plug-in hybrid cars, which currently falls in the 28 percent tax slab. However, the overall tax incidence for the green vehicle is 43 percent right now.

Also read: Exclusive | Centre may soon cut tax on hybrid cars to 35 percent

It is learnt that the road ministry has proposed bringing down the tax liability to 35 percent.

Rate cuts have always been a contentious issue as the Centre and states have to come to a consensus. In that light, the meeting assumes all the more significance, coming as it does after the recent elections in five states that saw the Congress wresting power in all the three Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled states.

Days ahead of the meeting, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the government wants to ensure that ‘99 percent things’ attract GST at 18 percent or lower rate.

“Today, the GST system has been established to a large extent and we are working towards a position where 99 per cent things will attract the sub-18 percent GST slab,” Modi said, while also hinting that the highest  tax slab will be restricted to luxury and sin goods.

Also read: Working to bring 99% things in sub-18% GST slab: PM Narendra Modi

A range of goods from air conditioners to dishwashers, from television sets to digital cameras could become cheaper,  if the Council expected to slashes rates to 18 percent on all products in the 28 percent slab, except demerit goods, cement and automobiles.

This could effectively set 18 percent as the highest GST tax slab, except only two broad categories of goods and services.

Over 1,200 goods and services fall into four broad tax slabs- 5, 12, 18 and 28 percent. Currently, there are close to 40 goods and services in the 28 percent slab, which comprises demerit and luxury goods, among other items.

The move comes barely four months ahead of the crucial Lok Sabha elections in April-May, 2019. The cut in rates, however, could affect GST revenues, given that the collections are still short of the budgeted target.

The last major round of rate cut happened in July when the Council decided to cut tax on 80 items. The government, then, had to forego revenue worth of Rs 10,000 crore-Rs 11,000 crore annually.

Gujarat best state in providing strong ecosystem for startups: DIPP ranking

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Gujarat has emerged as the best performer in developing startup ecosystem for budding entrepreneurs, according to the ranking of states done by the department of industrial policy and promotion (DIPP).

Other top performers that followed the western state were Karantaka, Kerala, Odisha and Rajasthan.

"This exercise will help all the states to improve the ecosystem for promoting startups," DIPP Secretary Ramesh Abhishek said Thursday.

The rankings are based on the initiatives taken to develop startup ecosystem for promoting budding entrepreneurs.

A total of 27 states and three union territories participated in the exercise.

The ranking framework covers seven areas of intervention and 38 action points, including policy support, incubation centres, seed funding, angel and venture funding and easier regulations.

The government launched Startup India Action Plan in January to promote budding entrepreneurs in the country. The plan aims to give incentives such as tax holiday and inspector raj-free regime and capital gains tax exemption.

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