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Legal framework for International Solar Alliance to kick in this week

NEW DELHI: The International Solar Alliance (ISA), conceived as an exclusive group of countries lying fully or partially between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, is likely to extend its footprint beyond the tropics. The alliance, India’s brainchild, which was launched jointly with France in Paris on November 30, 2015, will come into force on Wednesday.

Germany, South Korea, Mongolia and Nepal have approached the ISA for membership with voting rights. The global body will consider the issue in the meeting of its steering committee, which includes India and France, next year.

Indian and French joint diplomatic efforts will see the legal framework of this body come into force on Wednesday. The fast pace has kindled interest among countries which were not originally included in the group of 121 prospective members. Asked whether the ISA would open its doors even for countries which do not fall fully or partially between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, its first director general Upendra Tripathy told TOI that there was no reason why they could not join the global body as a partner country but whether they’ll get voting rights or not was something which would be decided by the ISA steering committee.

If it happens, Pakistan and many other countries outside the tropics will be eligible for entry into the alliance. Though the framework agreement of the ISA has a provision for other nations to join as partner countries, most of them would like to join with voting rights.

“Countries like Germany, Nepal, Korea, Mongolia and others, who are outside the tropics, have shown keen interest to join. The steering committee is open to all countries. The committee with India as its chair and France as its co-chair has agreed to discuss it in the next meeting,” Tripathy said.

The ISA was conceived by India as there was no exclusive body to address the solar technology deployment needs of solar resource-rich countries located fully or partially between the tropics. Most of these countries are geographically located for optimal absorption of the sun’s rays. There is a great amount of sunlight for almost 300 days in a year in these countries which can lead to cost effective solar power. India has contributed around $27 million for the ISA corpus to meet the cost of its Gurugram-based secretariat for the first five years.

In France, Trump-like TV pundit rocks presidential campaign

A survivor of the terrible journey to Auschwitz remembered how the youngest wailed. There were 99 children squeezed among 751 adults gasping for air, crazed by thirst and hunger, aboard convoy No. 63 that departed Paris at 10 minutes past midday on Dec. 17, 1943.

The 828 murdered at the death camp from that trainload alone included 3-year-old Francine Baur, her sister Myriam, 9, their brothers Antoine and Pierre, 6 and 10, and their parents Odette and Andre.

All born in France, their French citizenship proved worthless under France’s wartime Vichy regime that teamed up with the country’s Nazi occupiers and their extermination of Jews.

So when Andre Baur’s great-nephew, a Paris mayor, was catching up on his Twitter feed recently and saw a claim reported in French media that Adolf Hitler’s Vichy collaborators safeguarded France’s Jews from the Holocaust, he was revolted. Worst still in the eyes of Ariel Weil, mayor of the French capital’s city center, was that the debunked assertion came from a pretender for the French presidency who is himself Jewish.

That person is Eric Zemmour, a rabble-rousing television pundit and author with repeated convictions for hate speech who is finding fervent audiences for his anti-Islam, anti-immigration invective in the early stages of France’s presidential race. He is packing auditoriums with paying crowds and filling supporters’ heads with visions of a Trump-like leap from small screen to the presidential Elysee Palace when France votes in April.

Although not yet officially declared as a candidate, Zemmour has so far dictated the course and tenor of the campaign. With climbing poll numbers, now consistently in double digits, and a Trump-like knack for generating buzz – recent video of him pointing a sniper rifle at journalists is racking up millions of views – Zemmour is sucking airtime from declared contenders.

He has also destabilized them by hammering on about immigration and the mortal danger he says it poses to France, making it harder for mainstream rivals to steer campaign conversation back to themes – combating climate change, post-pandemic rebuilding and suchlike – they want to focus on.

Zemmour is acting as a presidential contender in all but name. Supporters are soliciting funds and the backing from elected officials that candidates need to run. Shown the rifle at a security show by an exhibitor who said, “When you are president, Mr. Zemmour,” he interjected, “Yes.”

That is a horrifying scenario for French Jews who are appalled by Zemmour’s sugarcoating of the Vichy regime that was led by World War I hero Marshal Philippe Petain. He was tried and sentenced to death at World War II’s end, subsequently commuted to life imprisonment.

That Zemmour is himself a descendant of Berber Jews from Algeria, a family history he talks about proudly, deepened the hurt for Jews who lost relatives to the Holocaust.

“Just because he is Jewish, he is doing something that nobody else can do, and that is just disgusting,” Weil told The Associated Press in an interview. “History is complicated but this is very simple: Petain did not protect the French Jews.”

The frightened men, women and children herded aboard convoy No. 63 swelled what, by World War II’s end, became a shameful count of 74,182 Jews deported from France. Most were sent to their deaths in Auschwitz, in Nazi Germany-occupied Poland, where more than 1.1 million people perished.

A Paris court in February acquitted Zemmour on a charge of contesting crimes against humanity – illegal in France – for arguing in a 2019 television debate that Petain saved France’s Jews from the Holocaust.

In its verdict, the court said the deportation of foreign and French Jews “was implemented with the active participation of the Vichy government, its officials, and its police.” Zemmour’s comments negated Petain’s role in the extermination, the court added.

But in acquitting Zemmour, it said he’d spoken in the heat of the moment. It also noted that during the trial, Zemmour made a distinction between saying that “some French Jews” were saved (using the word “des” in French), which he maintained was true, and saying “the French Jews” were saved (using the French word “les”), a generality which he said he disavowed.

Yet last month, Zemmour employed “les” when expounding again on Vichy in another broadcast interview, saying: “I say that Vichy protected the French Jews and that it handed over the foreign Jews.”

“It’s abominable, because these poor people died,” he added.

Lawyers who contest his court acquittal plan to cite that interview as evidence when their appeal is heard in January.

Politically, most threatened by Zemmour is French far-right leader Marine Le Pen. Since losing the 2017 presidential runoff to winner Emmanuel Macron, she has watered down some of her policy proposals in hopes of broadening her appeal. But Zemmour is chipping away at her base, seemingly poaching Le Pen voters who suspect she’s gone soft. Some polls suggest they are neck and neck. But both consistently trail Macron, who is expected to stand again.

While both portray immigration as a threat to French identity, Zemmour uses language that Le Pen balks at and which his critics say positions him at the extremes of the far right. In a country that officially regards itself as colorblind and where public discussion of race is sometimes frowned upon, Zemmour is rare among political figures in openly distinguishing between skin colors. At a recent rally in Versailles, he described woke culture as a plot to make “white, heterosexual, Catholic” men feel “so full of guilt” that they willingly abandon their “culture and civilization.”

On Vichy, Zemmour has sought of late to draw a line under that topic. “I am no longer discussing historical points that are discussed by historians,” he said in Versailles.

But for French Jews, the damage is already done. Some fear he has muddied decades of work by Holocaust researchers to indelibly document the horrors.

“He is denying something that was evident, that cannot be denied,” said Eugenie Cayet, 84, whose father was deported from Paris to Auschwitz and killed.

“What’s his goal? To rally all of Le Pen’s votes behind him.”

Paris-based Mediakeys all set to enter India

MUMBAI: Paris-headquartered independent out-of-home media agency Mediakeys is set to enter the Indian market, with its 15th global office in Mumbai.

In India, the company is opening its office in partnership with local independent integrated marketing communications company Laqshya Media Group (LMG).

LMG has signed a long-term strategic alliance with the Comkeys Group, which owns Mediakeys.

Outside France, Mediakeys has presence in New York, Zurich, Cologne, London, Madrid, Milan, Pekin, Hong-Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo.

The partnership will help Mediakeys’ global clients to advertise in the Indian market, while Indian advertisers of LMG will be able to launch outdoor campaigns globally, said David Payne, who recently joined Mediakeys as global head of strategy and operations.

Strategically, India is a very important market for the company and its clients, Payne told ET. “For the last few years, we’ve been considering our options,” Payne said. “But rather than setting up, it made more sense to get into a strategic partnership as that gives us the security of working for our clients in a market with somebody who knows the market inside out. It also gives us a partner that can help us really accelerate our growth in India and we can help them with business outside of India.”

Alok Jalan, managing director of LMG, said the move would allow the company to stay ahead of time in an industry that is ever evolving.

With consumerism and mobility among Indian audiences riding high, outdoor advertising, which includes billboards and transit advertising, is growing.

As per Jalan, Indian advertising spending on outdoor media is more than Rs 3,500 crore a year and is growing at around 15%.

Globally, out-of-home advertising is a $29-billion market, accounting for about 6% of the $500-billion global advertising spending.

No adequate data on changing Covid vaccines between doses: WHO

The WHO said Friday there was “no adequate data” on switching Covid-19 vaccines between doses, as France said under-55s who received an

AstraZeneca

first jab should get their second from a different vaccine.

“There is no adequate data to be able to say whether this is something that could be done, so… interchangeability of vaccine was not something that we could give a recommendation on,” World Health Organization spokeswoman Margaret Harris told reporters.

April steel output up 1.5% YoY in April 2019

KOLKATA: Domestic steel production increased a modest 1.5% year-on-year in April to 8.8 million tonnes (mt) even as global crude steel output went up 6.4% to 156.7 mt, according to the World Steel Association (WSA).

While this was the second time in four months that India reversed the trend of a fall in production seen in January and March 2019, the pace of steel output growth lagged the global average. The global figure is based on the data of 64 countries reporting to the Brussels-based WSA. India’s production figures were more or less in line with those of its Asian peers.

China led the list as its crude steel production went up 12.7% in April to 85 mt. Elsewhere in Asia, South Korea’s crude steel production increased 1.4% to 6 mt while Japan registered a 0.8% decline to 8.6 mt. In the US, crude steel output jumped 7.3% to 7.4 mt.

Crude steel production in Ukraine was 1.9 mt in April, up 12.6% in a year, while Russia’s crude steel output went down 8.3% to 5.6 mt. Brazil’s crude steel production during the month was 2.9 mt, down 1.9%. Turkey’s crude steel production was 3 mt, up 2.6% year-on -year.

Across the EU, major steel producing countries reported decline in crude steel output in April. Italy’s production was 2 mt, down 5.7, while France produced 1.3 mt of crude steel, a decrease of 8.1%, and Spain reported a 4.4% drop in crude steel output to 1.3 mt.

Crompton bags 3.5 mn euros onshore project in France

MUMBAI: Crompton Greaves Ltd, a part of the Avantha Group, today said it has bagged a 3.5 million euros (around Rs 27.3 crore) contract from Nordex and H2air for setting up a wind farm sub-station at the 75 MW Seine Rive Gauche Nord windfarm in France.

The scope of the work includes design, engineering, supply, installation and commissioning of the substation. CG (Crompton Greaves) will also be responsible for upgrading and building the overall electrical system, it said in a statement.

The company will have to supply two 45 MVA step-up power transformers, medium and high voltage air insulated switchgear (AIS), substation automation system (SAS), buildings and ancillaries.

“The substation will help to integrate wind energy and boost power supplies to meet the growing residential demand besides reinforcing the transmission grid and improving reliability, efficiency and power quality,” the company said.

The project is scheduled for completion by mid 2014. “This win demonstrates CG’s local project management strengths and on and offshore track record besides our cost-efficient approach in offering turnkey grid infrastructure solutions,” company’s CEO and Managing Director Laurent Demortier said.

70 per cent of defence machinery imported while Indian defence companies find government a hindrance

When drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, of the US Army fly over enemy territory, they use a technology developed by a little-known Bangalore company to send back crystal clear images to their command centre. This technology is used by armed forces around the world, except in India — the home of its developer Arvind Lakshmikumar, who founded Tonbo Imaging four years ago.

Tonbo developed this technology for Europe’s biggest defence company which, in turn, sold it to various armed forces. Lakshmikumar, 36, had been keen to sell such innovations to the Indian armed forces, but gave up after he realised the futility of trying to convince the authorities here that his products were among the best in the world.

He shifted his headquarters to Singapore, as he felt that he could crack the global market for his technologies better from the Southeast Asian city state. Lakshmikumar’s ordeal is just another example of the difficulties and frustrations that small Indian aerospace and defence companies have to go through, facing a hostile bureaucratic set up on the one side and a colonial mindset on the other.

“There is a serious colonial hangup for foreign products,” says Lakshmikumar. “For an Indian bidder they have millions of questions.” The milieu is skewed so against the local players that while an Indian bidder is asked to pay a security deposit, a foreign bidder is not.

“The system is structured in such a way that even if we need a pin, we prefer to import it rather than make it ourselves,” says Smita Purushottam of the New Delhi-based think tank Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses.

India imports more than 70 per cent of its weapons and technology for its defence needs, making it a sitting duck for security threats during wars. In contrast, even Pakistan has a more proactive policy that encourages domestic manufacturers. China is in a different league altogether. The mindset of those in power is also hurting the economy. India will spend $100-150 billion (about Rs 5.4-8.1 lakh crore) on defence modernisation programmes by 2022, according to consulting firm Frost & Sullivan. It will also become the fourth biggest defence spender in the world by 2020, behind the US, China and Russia, according to IHS, a US-based information and analytics provider.

“The best of our minds are utilised by other countries for their progress,” says A Sivathanu Pillai, a scientist and CEO of BrahMos Aerospace, the maker of BrahMos missile. “Put them on the same level field, and they will compete.” The government said its intention was to promote local companies when it unveiled its offset policy in 2005-2006, requiring foreign firms winning defence contracts to ensure that at least 30 per cent of the contracted value is invested in India. But most of it is still on paper.

 

“As of today not a single offset contract has been fulfilled,” says S Ravinarayanan, chairman of Axis Aerospace & Technologies. He points out that of the 18 offset contracts worth $15 billion that have been signed since 2006, offset commitments were made for deals worth $4.62 billion. “Original equipment manufacturers have repeatedly defaulted in discharging their offset obligations,” he says, suggesting that it is the responsibility of government to ensure that the obligations are met.

The government says it will take more time to see the effects of the new policies. “Rome was not built in a day,” Defence Minister AK Antony told reporters recently at Aero India 2013 in Bangalore. Text messages and phone calls to Jitendra Singh, minister of state for defence, were not answered. Small companies also complain that the government is doing little to encourage them, unlike in the United States or in Israel, where grants are given for companies with promising technologies.

“We are made to compete directly with multinationals for projects. A small entrepreneur cannot beat multinationals,” says Siddharth Amin of Swallow Systems which makes unmanned aerial vehicles. “The government procedure is so long, cumbersome.”

An engineer, Amin, 43, shut down his profitable computer hardware business to pursue his passion for making unmanned aerial vehicles. After more than a decade of research, he launched Swallow. But despite having cutting-edge products, his company is yet to find any takers in the government. On the other hand, Amin’s counterpart, Integrated Dynamics, in Pakistan, started about the same time as he did and has thrived due to government support. “It now makes combat drones,” says Amin, who now earns his living by providing mapping services to mining companies in India and overseas. “We have not lost hope,” he insists.

Tonbo’s Lakshmikumar, an alumnus of BITS Pilani and Carnegie Mellon University, worked at Intelligent Automation and Honeywell in the US before returning home in 2003. There, he built various imaging technologies for major defence contractors such as Lockheed Martin. He was also a part of government-funded programmes like Future Combat Systems intended to prepare the US Army for modern warfare.

Lakshmikumar soon realised that India still does not have an ecosystem like the US or Israel, where government-run organisations fund young companies to develop new technologies. Indian entrepreneurs also face delays in payments. A foreign bidder gets a “letter of credit” before shipping the products, but an Indian bidder’s payment gets delayed for months on end.

Captronic Systems, a Bangalore-based venture that makes test equipment, had to face payment delays of over 120 days more than once. As a result, Vinod Mathews, 44, who runs Captronic, was forced to take a loan of Rs 2.2 crore to pay his vendors. Many small hi-tech companies are also facing intellectual property issues. If they co-develop a product with Defence Research and Development Organisation, they are asked to share their intellectual property. “It is like, if you are making a camera, you are asked to give its design as well,” says an entrepreneur who did not wish to be identified. “It does not happen in other countries like the US.”

Rajiv Chib, associate director of the aerospace and defence practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers, says that Indian entrepreneurs have already overcome challenges on a global scale. “However, doing business is still not easy for them due to certain India-specific practical challenges.” Also, regulatory hurdles are time-consuming and can lead to missed opportunities.

Captronic Systems developed an indigenous in-flight data recorder at one-tenth the cost of imported ones. It offered the equipment to state-run Hindustan Aeronautics. Mathews was shunted between HAL and The Center for Military Airworthiness & Certification before giving up. Mathews, an electronics engineer who founded Captronic almost a decade ago, is finding interest in markets like Israel, Spain and France for his product.

“I applied for funding from Technology Development Board and found myself competing with a firm which makes detergent,” says Mathews.

Indian companies are capable of providing the bulk of the country’s requirements if they find the right environment and bold reforms are initiated. “Look at the talent pool. Many of them have done post-graduation related to this industry, but end up with sub-optimal employment as sales clerks. This needs to be urgently addressed,” says Purushottam of IDSA.

“No country has become a major technological power without nurturing an innovative, fast-growing manufacturing foundation.”

Switzerland-based Ammann Group to buy 70 per cent in Gujarat Apollo business

MUMBAI: Switzerland-based Ammann Group will purchase a 70 per cent stake in road construction equipment business of

Gujarat Apollo Industries

, valued at around Rs 400 crore, signalling a renewed interest by foreign companies in India’s infrastructure growth, despite a slowing economy and delays in receiving government approvals.

The four decade-old Gujarat Apollo will sell its factory — known in industry parlance as slump sale — and own 30 per cent in the unlisted construction equipment business.

On Wednesday, Gujarat Apollo Industries scrip rose 5.69 per cent to close at Rs 135.50 on the Bombay Stock Exchange. “The transaction is a reflection of the long-term growth prospects of India’s road construction sector,” said Rohit Berry, banker at BMR Advisors, which advised Ammann Group’s debut venture in India.

“The proposed investment marks the entry of a prominent global player into the Indian road construction equipment market, which is expected to grow in view of the policy thrust of the government on increasing the road network across the country,” Gujarat Apollo said in a statement to stock exchanges after the trading hours.

“The deal is in the equipment manufacturing space that is somewhat insulated from the challenges faced by the projects under Public Private Participation part of the industry,” said Arvind Mahajan, executive director at global consultant KPMG India. The deal shows good signal and the industry has good potential.

Enabling policy framework and with more capital flowing into it, we expect the deal volumes to go up, he added. “With on the grounds valuation becoming rational, there are many international players who are looking at investing in the infra value chain,” Mahajan said. Ammann is known for its inorganic acquisitions outside its home base.

In 1984, it took over the bankrupt German company of Alfelder Eisenwerke and created its asphalt mixing plants. Later it bought out Duomat, again in Germany, for light compaction. In 1989, Ammann entered into a JV with Yanmar in France for the production of compact excavators. Six years later, again in Germany, it acquired the grave roll manufacturer Rammax.

Indian wine company Soul Tree to begin retail sale in UK

LONDON: An Indian wine company based here is set to begin retail sales of wines, produced in India’s biggest wine district, Nashik Valley, across the UK this year.

Soul Tree, a company founded by two Indian-origin entrepreneurs in 2009 to market wines from the Nashik Valley region globally, has been available at select Indian restaurants and bars and boutique hotels in Britain so far.

“Soul Tree, as the only Indian wine to actually be headquartered in the UK, is focussed primarily on the UK and global markets,” said co-founder Alok Mathur.

“Early research showed that all but a very tiny number of British consumers had never heard of Indian wines, let alone tried them. This is now changing rapidly but in the early days marketing Indian wines has simply been about availability and awareness – less strategy, more hard work, grit and determination,” he added.

Former

Tata Motors

executive Mathur met co-founder Melvin D’Souza during their MBA programme at University of Oxford’s Said Business School and embarked on this project of bringing wines from Maharashtra’s viticulture region to the international market.

Besides the UK, they now have distribution in France and are in talks with Canada as well.

“We spotted a niche during a dinner out that was just begging to be plugged. Everyone was drinking Indian beers with their Indian meals, but there was not a single Indian wine in sight. What got us into this from those initial thoughts was a love to achieve something that had not truly been done before, an ambition to establish a new global consumer brand, and a desire to see a new Indian industry make it big across the world,” Mathur explained.

The duo feels that the Indian Grape Processing Board is a good start to bring the nascent Indian wine industry together but more needs to be done to encourage healthy competition.

“There is a very long way to go before Indian wines can truly be said to have made it globally. History tells us the regions that have made it big in the last few decades have not only done so because of collective quality, but because the industry came together as one entity, with full governmental support,” Mathur said.

Soul Tree has around 15 distributors, ranging from wine specialist distributors to food and drink distributors, and is hoping to hit supermarket shelves in Britain from this year.

Dollar inks pact with top retailers

KOLKATA: The Rs 300-crore

Dollar Industries

, which has Akshay Kumar as brand ambassador for its premium innerwear brand Dollar Club, has forged marketing pacts with top retailers such as Bharti-Wal-Mart, Reliance Retail, France‘s Carrefour and LuLus of Dubai for its hosiery garments.

The company, which has set a target to become a Rs 500-crore outfit within three years, is also in the process of setting up an office in Dubai. The move comes at a time when the country’s hosiery industry is under pressure due to rising yarn prices.

It is also in the process of launching designer innerwear and is in talks with designers such as Rohit Bal and Manish Malhotra. “Yarn prices have gone up significantly in the past few months, thereby hurting margins. But our association with Akshay Kumar for promoting our brand—Dollar Club—has yielded better revenue flows for us. We have entered into a two-year contract with Akshay Kumar. We are hopeful yarn prices may stabilise in the next fortnight, which will further improve our margins,” said Mr Vinod Gupta, MD, Dollar Industries.

Dollar Industries, which has appointed Lowe Lintas as its creative agency, plans to spend Rs 50 crore for promoting its brands. The designer innerwear line from Dollar will be launched shortly, which is aimed at competing with brands like Calvin Klein, Fruit of the Loom, Jockey and Lacoste. In fact, international brands see huge potential for the designer innerwear market in India, thanks to a growing awareness among well-travelled Indian youth clued into global trends.