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India-origin former Cisco employee arrested for $9.3 million fraud in US

An Indian-origin former employee of Cisco Systems has been arrested and charged with a criminal complaint alleging he defrauded a technology major of more than USD 9.3 million.

Prithviraj Bhikha, 50 was charged in a criminal complaint with wire fraud, US Attorney David Anderson and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge John Bennett have said.

The criminal complaint was unsealed Monday following Bhikha's arrest on March 1 at the San Francisco International Airport.

Bhikha made his initial appearance Monday morning in federal court before US Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero and has been released on a USD three million bond.

His next court appearance is scheduled for March 18 for arraignment. If convicted on the charge in the criminal complaint, he faces a maximum sentence of 20 years' imprisonment and a fine of USD 250,000 along with restitution.

According to an affidavit filed by a special agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bhikha of San Francisco was employed until mid-2017 by Cisco as a director in its global supply unit in San Jose. That unit was in charge of working with suppliers and vendors to obtain parts for Cisco products.

In around 2013, Bhikha is alleged to have begun advocating within Cisco for the approval of a new project, of which he would be in charge, the goal of which was for Cisco to retain third-party vendors to negotiate savings with manufacturers on small parts used in Cisco products.

The complaint affidavit alleges that Bhikha devised, participated in, and executed a scheme to defraud Cisco by establishing overseas business entities, then directing and approving Cisco contracts to these entities pursuant to the project, and failing to disclose his ownership interest in the overseas entities.

The affidavit alleges that Cisco wired approximately USD 6.5 million to one of these entities and approximately USD 2.8 million to another.

More than USD 8.5 million was wired from bank accounts associated with these two overseas entities to US bank accounts either controlled jointly by Bhikha and his wife or by his wife alone.

The complaint affidavit also alleges that when Cisco employees became suspicious regarding one of Bhikha's overseas entities in 2016, Bhikha and another Cisco employee worked together to create documentation to send to Cisco employees regarding that company.

US plan to remove preferential trade status won't really hurt India; to impact duty reduction worth $190 million

Even as the US has decided to withdraw tariff concessions offered to $5.6 billion worth of Indian exports through its Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) programme, Union Commerce Ministry stated that the concessions only amounted to a duty reduction of $190 million, a year.

Anup Wadhawan, Secretary, Commerce, said that the US decision has come despite the best efforts of India for meaningful negotiation.

"The US had initiated the review on the basis of representations by the US medical devices and dairy industries, but subsequently included numerous other issues on a self-initiated basis. These included issues related to market access for various agriculture and animal husbandry products, relaxation/easing of procedures related to issues like telecom testing/conformity assessment and tariff reduction on ICT products. The Department of Commerce engaged with various Government of India departments concerned with these issues, and India was able to offer a very meaningful way forward on almost all the US requests," a ministry statement said.

Even on the basic complaints that triggered the review-that of medical devices and dairy products-India had agreed to take a balanced approach.

"India was ready to address US concerns regarding medical devices in principle, by putting in place a suitable trade margin approach in a reasonable time frame to balance concerns about fair pricing for the consumers and adequate remuneration for the suppliers. On the issue of dairy market access, India has clarified that while our certification requirement, that the source animal had never been fed animal-derived blood meal, is non-negotiable given the cultural and religious sentiment, the requested simplified dairy certification procedure, without diluting this requirement, could be considered," Wadhawan points out. The Commerce ministry also said that it had conveyed its willingness to provide market access to products like cherries and pork originating from the US. On reduction of our IT duties, India maintained that its duties are moderate and not import stopping and agreed to extend duty concessions on specific items in which there is a clear US interest. The country was also willing to consider discussions for a Mutual Recognition Agreement on telecom testing.  

"India was agreeable to a very meaningful mutually acceptable package on the above lines to be agreed to at this time while keeping remaining issues under discussion in the future," the ministry statement said.   

Meanwhile, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) said that "India's termination from GSP follows its failure to provide the United States with assurances that it will provide equitable and reasonable access to its markets in numerous sectors". The withdrawal of benefits will happen after a two month notice period.

In its submission to USTR last year, the Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO) had said that the GSP has over the years helped India to grow its US exports to $48.63 billion in 2017. India was also the biggest beneficiary of GSP with total GSP imports of $5.6 billion that year. However, it noted that there has been an only moderate increase in imports under GSP from India by $1.15 billion 2012-2017 with the share of GSP imports in the total imports from India coming down from 12.94 percent in 2012 to 11.51 percent in 2017. FIEO wanted US to continue the concessions to India as the scheme helped the US producers to import raw materials, components, parts, machineries and equipments under GSP thus cutting their cost of production to become competitive both at the domestic turf as well as in exports. A quarter of GSP imports being consumer goods also benefitted consumers with lower prices in the US, it pointed out.

While the revenue impact of the US deciding to end the concessions will not be significant, it will certainly increase the cost of local manufacturing that depended on cheap raw material import from India. 

PM Modi in Gujarat: Launch of pension scheme, inauguration of Ahmedabad metro on agenda of his two-day visit

Prime Minister Narendra  Modi to launch pension scheme-Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Maandhan Yojana (PM-SYM) on his two-day visit to Gujarat, starting from Monday. The PM will also inaugurate the first phase of Ahemadad Metro service on March 5.

PM will kickstart his visit from Jamnagar in Saurashtra region on Monday where he would dedicate 750-bed annex of the Guru Gobind Singh Hospital to the nation. Besides, the Prime Minister will also inaugurate its Post-Graduate hostel.

On March 5, PM Modi will also launch SAUNI water schemes- a drinking water and irrigation project, including Und-1 to Ranjit Sagar Lift Irrigation Scheme and Machu-1 to Nyari Lift Irrigation Scheme in Saurashtra.

The PM will also lay the foundation stone of Jodiya Desalination Plant and Und-3 to Venu-2 Lift Irrigation Scheme.

Later in the day, Modi will also launch railway projects including conversion of rail tracks to broad gauge and flag off the Bandra-Jamnagar Humsafar Express in Jamnagar.

The Prime Minister will lay the foundation of 28.28 km second phase of the Ahmedabad Metro as part of metro rail commissioning programmer. Further, the PM will attend a grand function in Umiya Dham temple complex.

 

On Tuesday, Modi will go to Vastral to launch PM-SYM and contributory pension scheme for workers in the unorganized sector with a monthly income up to Rs 15,000.

The pension scheme was announced in the Union Budget of this year. The scheme assures a monthly pension of Rs 3,000 to unorganized workers after attaining the age of 60 years.

A visit to  Annapurna Dham Trust in Adalaj, Gandhinagar is also on Tuesday's schedule where PM Modi will lay foundation stones of Shikshan Bhavan and Vidhyarthi Bhavan.

Ola Electric Mobility Unit Raises Rs. 400 Crores in First Funding Round

Ola Electric Mobility Pvt Ltd, a company backed by Indian ride-hailing platform Ola, said on Friday it raised Rs. 400 crores (roughly $56.4 million) in a funding round led by several of Ola's early investors including Tiger Global and Matrix India.

This is the first round of investment for Ola Electric, which currently runs several pilots to deploy electric vehicles and charging solutions.

The announcement comes a day after India's cabinet approved a scheme to spend $1.4 billion to subsidize sales of electric and hybrid vehicles as part of efforts to curb pollution and reduce dependency on fossil fuels.

Ola last year said it planned to bring 1 million electric vehicles to Indian roads in a few years.

In a press statement, Bhavish Aggarwal, Co-founder & CEO, Ola said, "At Ola Electric, our mission is to enable sustainable mobility for everyone. India can leapfrog problems of pollution and energy security by moving to electric mobility, create millions of new jobs and economic opportunity, and lead the world." He added, "I'm excited to partner with Lee and Avnish again, and look forward to recreating a very successful partnership and a transformative business!"

Lee Fixel, Partner, Tiger Global Management added, "We are excited to invest in Ola Electric Mobility, which we believe is the early front-runner in this space and well-positioned to build the ecosystem for electric mobility. As Ola's first institutional investors, we are excited to begin this new journey with Ola Electric and partner in creating yet another impactful mobility business."

Avnish Bajaj, Founder, and MD, Matrix India also said, "We couldn't be more excited in repeating our successful early partnership with Ola, with our investment in Ola Electric Mobility. Ola's vision about the role of electric mobility, especially in India for sustainable development, and the approach to making it work at scale is unique. We are privileged to be a partner on this journey!"

Anand Shah, Head of Ola Electric Mobility said, "The first problem to solve in electric mobility is charging: users need a dependable, convenient, and affordable replacement for the petrol pump. By making electric easy for commercial vehicles that deliver a disproportionate share of kilometers traveled, we can jumpstart the electric vehicle revolution."

The Government is preparing for another announcement before the Lok Sabha elections

Before the Lok Sabha elections, the Modi government is taking immediate decisions. The government, now planning to raise the interest rates applicable on economically weaker sections (EWS) and some small savings schemes popular in the rural and semi-urban areas of the country.

Preparation for another announcement before the election

The finance ministry is currently evaluating small savings schemes for increasing interest rates. Changes in interest rates may be applicable in the first quarter of the next financial year. After announcing the proposal to increase the rate of interest on the provident fund deposits from 8.55% to 8.65% for the year 2018-19 by the Employees Provident Fund Organization (EPFO), considering the revised interest rates on small savings schemes is.

Pressure on the reduction of interest rates on banks

In the market where the Reserve Bank of India is expected to cut interest rates, the EPFO announced its proposal, in contrast to the market trends. Upon the change in interest rates, it will benefit people dependent on the income received from the pension holders, the elderly, the farmers and mainly the small savings.

The increase in interest rates and which plans will be included in it is still being considered. This change can be done on the date of announcement of the dates of an election because the purpose of this step is to provide benefits to lakhs of small savings in the country.

Due to the announcement of the dates of election, after the implementation of Model Code of Conduct, the government can not announce any welfare scheme. Interest rates on small savings schemes are reviewed from time to time. Last time the government had announced an increase in interest rates for the third quarter (October-December) in September 2018.

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