Tuesday 12th April 2016 17:08 EDT

The recently released Panama Letters by a Panama-based law firm, Mossack Fonseca has set the cat among the pigeons in India and a host of other countries, including top leaders in Brazil and Argentina. The big Indian names doing the rounds include Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan and his high profile daughter-in-law Aiswarya Rai. Vinod Adani, elder       brother of Industrialist Gautam Adani and other prominent businessmen have also been named. All these individuals have protested their innocence, but the story promises to run and run, leaving established reputations ruined, perhaps forever. Tax havens for the super rich have been named.

The wealthiest elite whose financial holdings are calculated in trillions of dollars have a penchant for dodging their tax obligations. Wealthy beyond imagining, their insensate greed defies rational explanation. The global financial system was rotten to the core, pronounced Professor Richard Wolff of Massachusetts University. He pointed to the Wall Street crash of 2008, predicting and something similar by the end of this year or in early 2017

Modi gets moving

The Indian government has set up a multi-agency probe into the offshore holdings of about 500 of India’s richest men and women, all in strenuous denial of any wrongdoing. Standard stuff, it would appear. The can of worms should reveal more i8n the fullness of time (Times of India April 5)

RBI rate cut

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI)has cut the benchmark repo rate by 25 bases points to 6.5 per cent, with an assurance from RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan that monetary position will ‘remain accommodating.’ Bankers said that the comment signalled the RBI’s intent to keep the door open for further rate cuts, as and when appropriate.

Easier loans

The rate cut is designed to facilitate ease the cost of borrowing for automobiles and home buyers. The RBI said the easing price pressures had had been key in determining policy and cited ‘government’s effective supply side measures keeping a check on food prices and the government’s commendable commitment to fiscal consolidation.’ Retail inflation slowed to 5.18 in February following an acceleration over the previous six months.

Liquidity boost

To give banks greater comfort, RBI reduced the cash proportion of banks’ reserves requirements that must be deposited with the RBI from 95 per cent to 90 per cent, while also pledging to inject more long-term liquidity. RBI said it would inject more ‘durable’ liquidity over the next 12 months by buying bonds through open market operations or by buying dollars and selling rupees on a monthly basis (Hindu, Mint April 6)

Mobile banking

The value of transactions through smart phones has surged in recent months as banks have encouraged businesses to manage their finances using mobile phones and mobile usage among retail customers. The value of such transactions surged 82 per cent over the September-December quarter. For State Bank of India, the average size of a banking transaction on its mobile platform has jumped five-fold since the bank introduced two applications for its corporate customers. Private sector lender Axis Bank Ltd has about 2.4 million customers who transact the mobile platform, which also includes SME clients (Mint March 28)

South India leads

South Indian institutes top streams across engineering, management, pharmacy. IIT Madras tops the list of engineering colleges, IIM, Bangalore is the best among management institutes, Manipal College of Pharmaceutical Sciences is in first position in the field, while the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore leads in pure sciences (Times of India April 5)

Defence modernization

The Indian Express Defexpo supplement (March 28) covered the full gamut of India’s defence industry. The ‘Make in India’ mantra appears to have taken hold, with the Reliance Group about to set up a world class naval ship-building facility for strategic platforms at Rambili along the east coast near Visakhapatnam. According to the projections by the group, the Indian Navy is estimated to spend Rs 3 lakh crore on acquisitions and fleet modernization of submarines and aircraft carriers over the next 15 years creating opportunities for the Reliance Group.

BrahMos leads

An interview with the CEO and MD of BrahMos Aerospace bulged with information on the world’s only supersonic cruise missile, a joint venture between India and Russia in which scientists and engineers from both countries have worked closely to manufacture a uniquely lethal product with a range of 290 kilometres. Aboard the Sukhoi MKI 30 fighter bomber which can fly for 3000 kilometres, the BrahMos can target any site from the air. Naval and land versions of the missile are already in service with the Navy and Army respectively.

Hypersonic BrahMos

Apart from upgrades, plans are afoot to design and manufacture a hypersonic BrahMos missile with a Mach 7 speed (seven times the speed of sound). A list of countries to whom BrahMos can be exported is to be drawn up by the governments of India and Russia.

Building for the future

India is presently engaged in the construction of two additional aircraft carriers in the Kochi shipyard, plus Delhi class destroyers. Its Project 751 will include features from Russia’s Amur 1650 submarines. If the ‘Make in India’ fructifies in the next five years, with weapons acquisitions reduced to 40 pert cent from the present 70 per cent and domestic production reaching 70 per cent, more than a million new high skilled jobs are likely to be created.

Kolkata flyover collapse

A flyover in north Kolkata collapsed killing 24 people and injuring many more. The contractor for the project was a Hyderabad-based company with a dubious reputation, having been placed on a blacklist by Indian Railways. Despite this, the former CPI (M)-led Left Front government awarded the company the contract seven years ago, when the present Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was in the opposition. A similar disaster occurred on a flyover to the airport. Fortunately, the accident occurred in the early hours of the morning when the volume of traffic was low. Prime Minister Modi’s accusation against the Mamata Benerjee government during election campaign in the State Assembly polls is unlikely to yield the desired dividends for the BJP. Bengal has been hostile territory for the party. Meanwhile, arrests have followed in Hyderabad and in Kolkata from among the firm’s senior management (Times of India March 31, April 9)

Life sentences for Mumbai bombers

A special court in Mumbai has sentenced three jihadis – Muzamull Ansari (mastermind), Wahid Ansari and Farhan Khot - to life terms for the bomb blasts in the city in 2002-03. Ten year prison sentences were handed down to Saquib Nachan, Ateef Mullah, Hasib Mullah and Ghulam Khotal. Noor Malik, Anwar Ali and Muhammed Kamil were sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. Three men were released (Hindu April 7)

Pakistan envoy calls off dialogue

Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India called an abrupt end to the Indo-Pakistan peace talks, leaving the mandarins of the External Affairs Ministry speechless.The wheels of India’s Pakistan policy are coming off. Prime Minister Modi’s stopover at Lahore for a birthday bash at Premier Nawaz Sharif’s home has had what can only be described as a disastrous fallout. Personalized diplomacy without sufficient forethought and planning can only hit the rocks. The Aam Aadmi party of Arvind Kejriwal, bit between its teeth is leading the anti-Modi charge. Others are certain to join the bandwagon. There are dark days ahead for the Indian Prime Minister, (Times of India April 8, Hindu April 8, 9)

Chess move pays off

Russian President Vladimir Putin out-foxed the United States and its EU allies with some audacious diplomacy backed by formidable military muscle – display of grand strategy at the highest level. Syria was where Russia showed its prowess. For two years the United States kept dragging its feet in bombing Islamic Caliphate bases, arms dumps and oil pipelines leading to Turkey. The Russian military intervention was swift and devastating. Russian air sorties in a day exceeded America’s in an entire month. On the ground, the once beleaguered Syrian Army started making headway against Islamic Caliphate and Western-backed Syrian opposition. The Western media lied through their teeth on the changing situation on the ground. When the ancient city of Palmyra was retaken by President Assad’s forces, the truth could no longer be hidden under a mountain of lies. Using Islamist jihadis has long been a ploy of American administrations and the European satraps (Hindu March 28)

Naidu seeks UK investment

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu sought UK investment for the State’s new capital, Amaravati, during a visit to London. The British Museum’s treasure-trove of Buddhist monuments and sculptures from the ancient site of Amaravati floored the visiting Chief Minister. Dazzled by the artchitectural gems superbly preserved by the British Museum, Chief Minister Naidu said that ancient Amaravati would be the inspiration for its modern avatar, which he hoped would take its place among the world’s top ten cities. He said the Amaravati treasures were best kept in London for the benefit of humanity (Hindu March 14).

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