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Current Affairs- 15 November 2017

General Affairs 

At ASEAN-India summit, PM Narendra Modi calls for end of terror, makes veiled China reference
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi today called for intensifying regional cooperation to effectively deal with terrorism and pitched for a rules-based security architecture for the resource-rich region, seen as a veiled reference to China's expansionist posturing in the Indo-Pacific.
    In an address at the ASEAN-India summit in Manila, Modi identified terrorism and extremism as the major challenge facing the region and said that time had come for the countries of the region to join hands to collectively deal with it. "We have individually strived very hard to fight terrorism and violent extremism. It is time that we jointly address this challenge by intensifying cooperation in this crucial area", he said.
    The 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is considered one of the most influential groupings in the region and India and several other countries including the United States, China, Japan and Australia are its dialogue partners.
    In a clear reference to the South China Sea (SCS) dispute which has cast a shadow over the summit talks, Modi said India would continue its support to the ASEAN for establishing a rules-based security architecture in the region. "India assures the ASEAN of its steady support towards achieving a rules-based regional security architecture that best attests to the region's interests and its peaceful development", he said.
    China's aggressive military build-up in the SCS was one of the focus areas of the deliberations at the ASEAN summit. China claims sovereignty over all of SCS, a huge source of hydrocarbons. However, several ASEAN member countries including Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei have counter claims.
    INDIA BACKS FREEDOM OF NAVIGATION IN SOUTH CHINA SEA 
    India has been supporting freedom of navigation and access to resources in the SCS in accordance with principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The ASEAN has been pushing for a legally binding code of conduct for all stakeholders in the SCS but Beijing has been opposing such a framework, asserting that it will resolve the dispute with respective countries under bilateral mechanism.
    Prime Minister Modi also talked about shared values and common destiny between India and ASEAN, adding that 1.25 billion people in India were eagerly waiting to receive leaders of the ASEAN at the Republic Day celebrations in January next year. He said India was also holding a commemorative summit with ASEAN on January 25 next year.
    The ties between India and ASEAN have been on an upswing. The ASEAN region, along with India together, comprises a combined population of 1.85 billion people, which is one-fourth of the global population and their combined GDP has been estimated at over USD 3.8 trillion.
    Investment from ASEAN to India has been over USD 70 billion in the last 17 years, accounting for more than 17 per cent of India's total FDI. India's investment in ASEAN during the same period has been more than USD 40 billion.
    Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Brunei are the members of the ASEAN. Prime Minister Modi also participated in a meeting of leaders of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). The RCEP, comprising a 10-member ASEAN bloc and six other countries - India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, is engaged in negotiations for a free trade pact.

Gadkari: 9-km stretch of 14-lane NH-24 project to be complete by Dec in record 14 months
  • The first package of the NH-24 (National Highway) project stretching from Akshardham Temple to the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border will be ready by December this year. The 9-km, 14-lane highway is being completed in a record time of 14 months as against the earlier expected construction period of 30 months.
    These announcements were made by Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari here today. The minister made an on-the-spot inspection of NH-24, briefing mediapersons near Akshardham Temple.
    Gadkari reiterated the Modi government's commitment for speedy completion of highway projects in Delhi-NCR in order to decongest the region and cut down vehicular pollution levels by nearly 50 per cent.
    NH-24 is the first national highway in the country with 14 lanes. It has several features that would help reduce pollution. These include a 2.5-metre wide cycle track on either side of the highway, a vertical garden on the Yamuna Bridge, solar lighting system and watering of plants through drip irrigation only.
    Gadkari said that this highway will be developed further up to Lucknow, and will be a lifeline for the people of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. The highway will also reduce traffic congestion on the Delhi-Meerut route, which in turn will lower the pollution levels in the region, he added.
    'WORK ON EXPRESSWAYS AROUND DELHI AT FULL SPEED'
    The minister further said that work on the Eastern and Western Peripheral Expressways around Delhi was also going on at full speed. The former is likely to be ready before January 26 next year.
    Once NH-24 and two peripheral expressways are ready, vehicles destined for neighbouring states will be able to bypass Delhi and that will reduce pollution by 50 per cent.
    The minister also said that projects worth Rs 40,000 crore were being undertaken to decongest Delhi. These include plans for the Dhaula Kuan stretch, Dwarka Expressway and a Ring Road for Delhi, the cost for which will be borne jointly by the Centre and the Delhi government.
    MINISTRY TAKING STEPS TO CHECK POLLUTION FROM HIGHWAYS SECTOR 
    Apartfrom speedy construction of highways, the ministry is also taking other steps to check pollution arising from the highways sector. These include actively promoting the use of bio-fuel driven vehicles and electric vehicles, greening of highways, covering construction sites to contain dust and promoting the use of waterways.
    Gadkari said that tenders had been issued for dredging of river Yamuna and linking Delhi and Agra through waterways.

    Emphasising that ecology, economy and development should go side by side, the minister said that these projects would pave the way for development, employment generation, cleaner atmosphere and hassle-free travel for people.

Opposition parties demand UP municipal elections be held with ballot papers, not EVMs
  • With the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) under suspicion following reported failures of some machines to register votes correctly and the subsequent political furore raised by Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and other opposition leaders, the demand for Municipal elections in Agra to be held in the traditional way has picked up.
    A group of local opposition leaders met with the Agra District Magistrate today, raising this demand before him, although the DM, who is also the Electoral Officer in these elections, declined to make any recommendations to the Election Commission in this regard, claiming that it was a policy matter and preparations have already been done for the elections which will be held on 22nd November.
    Talking to India Today, a senior administrative official said that the EVMs to be used in the elections in Agra have been thoroughly checked and found to be working perfectly.
    The ballot papers are being pasted on these machines right now and for the first time, the candidate's photo will also be printed on the ballot paper along with the electoral symbol.
    He said that a total of 12,52,397 voters will choose their representatives in Agra on 22nd November on 1091 polling booths in 288 polling stations. The training of the state government employees to be deputed in the various electoral parties has also been completed.
    However, the Samajwadi Party Minority Wing Ex-President Mohd. Yaseen claimed that these elections will also be 'managed' by the BJP as it has managed other elections.
    He said that it is still not clear if the election commission will deploy VVPAT machines in the elections or not. It is quite possible that the election commission again reneges on its assurances to ensure the installation of VVPATs on all polling booths to make sure that the elections are held impartially.
    He said that there have been several instances of EVMs recording votes in the BJP's account irrespective of the button pressed, which clearly indicates that a large number of machines have been pre-programmed to receive votes only in the BJP's account.
    Even in Kanpur, scientists have proved this theory and this could be the reason why the BJP was able to sweep the elections in 2014 and 2017. He said that it was quite possible that the party plays the same dirty game in the municipal elections in UP as well, to obtain a majority in all municipalities. He appealed to the election commission to either install VVPATs on all polling booths or allow polling using ballot papers.
    Criticizing the detractors of EVMs, BJP City President Vijay Shivhare said that the Congress and other parties had been embroiled in corruption throughout their terms and now they are not able to tolerate the BJP which has brought back rule of law in the country.
    He said that only the BJP can ensure that the people get what they deserve, while the Congress snatched away the rightful share of the people and mired the country in corruption.
    Shivhare said no matter what the other parties may claim about the EVMs, it was a fact that these machines were fool-proof and there was no way they could be tampered with.
    The reason why the BJP is winning all the elections with a complete majority is because the people are fed-up of the corruption rampant in every walk of life and now want the BJP to come and eradicate this corruption from the veins of the country.
    He expressed his confidence at the party winning the municipal elections in all UP cities and said that the opposition parties will have to bite dust again, as the people have not stopped believing in PM Modi and his vision of a new India.

Supreme Court says damage done by judges bribery pleas; reprimands Bhushan, Jaiswal but spares contempt notices
  • After days of high drama, the Supreme Court today decided to restore the glory of the institution even as it reprimanded lawyers Kamini Jaiswal and Prashant Bhushan for the petition seeking SIT probe in the medical college bribery case.
    A three-judge bench, comprising Justices A K Agarwal, A M Khanwilkar and Arun Mishra, dismissed the plea filed by Kamini Jaiswal and held that there cannot be an FIR against a judge.
    "We are not above law but due process must be followed. No FIR can be lodged against a judge by judicial order," the Supreme Court said. The "petition brings disrepute to this court, and it was a contemptuous act", the court observed.
    Making caustic observations on Prashant Bhushan, the court said that the lawyer's conduct was unethical and amounted to "forum shopping" but did not initiate contempt proceedings against him.
    The Supreme Court said that allegations against the Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra, were baseless and there was no need to seek his recusal. It observed that the CJI was competent to assign the matter to this Bench and said that seeking recusal of Justice A M Khanwilkar was an attempt at "forum shopping".
    The Supreme Court said that damage has been done to the institution and unnecessary doubts raised on the institution for no reason. It observed that proper verification of facts was not done.
    The court said that it was not initiating contempt proceedings against Bhushan or Kamini Jaiswal in the hope and expectation that the bar and bench shall stand united. The court ruled that no one was above law, not even the judges or the Supreme Court.
    Jaiswal's petition had claimed that allegations of bribery were levelled for securing settlement of cases relating to medical colleges in which a retired Orissa High Court judge, Ishrat Masroor Quddusi, is also an accused.
    JUDGE VS JUDGE
    A bench of Justices J Chelameswar and S Abdul Nazeer ordered on November 9 that the plea be heard by a five-judge Constitution bench of the senior-most judges of the apex court.
    However, on November 10, in an unprecedented hearing, a five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra ruled that "no judge can take up a matter on his own, unless allocated by the Chief Justice of India, as he is the master of the roster".
    The CJI-led bench over-ruled the order of Justice Chelameswar directing a Constitution bench hearing, saying, "If any such order has been passed by any bench that cannot hold the field as that will be running counter to the order passed by the Constitution bench."
    The hearing on November 10 brought the tussle within top judiciary to the fore with the Constitution bench overturning the order of a two-judge bench to set up a larger bench to hear the graft case allegedly involving judges.

Jammu and Kashmir: Soldier, militant killed in gunfight in Kulgam
  • An Army jawan and a militant were today killed in an encounter in Kulgam district of Jammu and Kashmir even as security forces were engaged in a counter insurgency operation in Pulwama district.
    One soldier was critically injured in the gun battle with militants at Nowbug Kund in Kulgam district, Army sources said.
    They said the injured soldier later succumbed to injuries.
    A militant was also killed in the operation, the sources said.
    A police spokesman said security forces had launched a cordon and search operation in Nowbug Kund village this morning after receiving specific information about the presence of militants in the area.
    As the forces were conducting the searches, the militants fired upon them, triggering an encounter, he said.
    The operation was going on when last reports came in.
    Another encounter broke out in Laam village of Tral area in Pulwama after the militants fired upon a search party of security forces.
    A senior police official said a militant hideout has been unearthed while the search operations in the area were still in progress.

Business Affairs

Crackdown on benami properties: I-T officials scanning profiles of those with assets above Rs 30 lakh
  • In its drive against the benami property holders and shell companies, the Income Tax Department is checking the "tax profiles" of all property registrations above Rs 30 lakh. The inquiry is being done under the provisions of the Anti-Benami Act, the CBDT chief said on Tuesday. Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) Chairman Sushil Chandra confirmed the department was also probing the shell companies - along with their directors - debarred by the government.
    The top taxman said this while interacting with reporters after inaugurating the Income Tax Department pavilion at the India International Trade Fair (IITF), which began at Pragati Maidan here on Tuesday.
    Sources in the I-T department said so far the taxman has attached around 621 properties , including some bank accounts. The total amount involved in these cases that is being probed under the Benami Transactions Act is about Rs 1,800 crore. "We will destroy all instruments that are used to convert black money into white. This also includes shell companies. Also, the department is checking the income tax profiles of all properties which have a registry value of over Rs 30 lakh. We get this information under the law. If these profiles are found suspicious or incorrect, action will be taken (under the Benami Act)," Chandra said.
    Chandra added the issue was "very serious" and that the tax officials had done a lot of work on this front. "We have opened 24 units (of the I-T to implement the anti-benami Act) all over the country. We are getting information from different sources," he said. "Our efforts in this direction are being intensified further," he said.
    Chandra said that the taxman is also matching the data "of shell companies which have been debarred recently". If anyone of these companies are found have benami property or any other financial transaction that the I-T department has received and that is not matching, action will be taken, he said. After Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the withdrawal of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes in November 2016, the two highest value banknotes of the time, the I-T department had warned people against depositing their unaccounted banknotes in accounts maintained by someone else.
    Such an act, it had said, would attract criminal charges under the Benami Property Transactions Act, 1988, applicable on both movable and immovable properties. The I-T department is the nodal department to enforce the Benami Act in the country. The department started initiating actions under the new Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Amendment Act, 2016, from November 1 last year. The law provides for a maximum punishment of seven years in jail and a fine.

India Inc's nuclear energy dreams get a fillip
  • After almost a decade of lull, there's renewed enthusiasm and hype among the Indian corporate sector owing to the huge capacity additions in nuclear energy. Global nuclear specialists such as the Russian nuclear major Rosatom, France's EDF and India's sole commercial nuclear company, the public sector Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL), have started negotiations to rope in joint venture partners and vendors for the huge capacity addition, say sources.
    Besides, the government would soon resolve issues related to progress of the 9,900-MW Jaitapur nuclear power plant, the largest nuclear power park to come up in coastal Maharashtra. "We are in discussions with the French on the same, and you may hear some positive announcements soon," R.B. Grover, Homi Bhabha Chair and member Atomic Energy Commission, told Business Today on the sidelines of UBM India's ninth edition of India Nuclear Energy (INE) summit held last week.
    In May, the Union Cabinet had approved fast-tracking India's domestic nuclear power programme by giving approval for construction of 10 units of India's indigenous Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors (PHWR) with a total installed capacity of 7,000 MW. These Indian made reactors are likely to translate to manufacturing orders of close to Rs 70,000 crore and generate more than 33,400 jobs in direct and indirect employment. India has a current installed nuclear power capacity of 6,780 MW from 22 operational plants. Another 6,700 MWs of nuclear power is expected to come on-stream by 2021-22 through projects currently under construction. India's plan is to have 63,000 MW of nuclear capacity by 2032.
    Sources say that the 10 PHWRs of 700-MW each are likely to come up at Chutka in Madhya Pradesh (2), Mahi Banswara in Rajasthan (4), Gorakhpur in UP (2) and Kaiga in Karnataka (2). These PHWRs are estimated to cost around Rs 1,05,000 crore. Construction at Chutka, the first of these ten, is expected to start within two years.
    "Now fuel availability is not an issue for our capacity addition plans," Grover said, while commenting on the huge capacity addition plans.
    Between 2005 and 2012, many Indian corporates like L&T, Reliance Power and Godrej had invested in creating manpower and infrastructure capacities eyeing the nuclear opportunity. Then the Indian government was planning to have four to five large nuclear parks in coastal areas. Since Japan's Fukushima nuclear tragedy in 2011, which was followed by an earthquake and tsunami, the country has been witnessing stiff opposition against nuclear power plants. Local resistance against land acquisition, like at Jaitapur, was also delaying projects. Meanwhile, Areva, entrusted with setting up the Jaitapur plant, got into near bankruptcy, and the French energy major EDF took over the reactor unit. Following that, EDF was forced to make a fresh proposal to NPCIL last year; negotiations are still going on.
    "We hope to resolve the liability and cost issues soon. It is natural to have such issues for any project of this gigantic size," said Alexandre Zielgler, Ambassador of France to India, at the nuclear conference.   
    EDF is to build six reactors, each with a capacity of 1,650 MW, using European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) technology, which is yet to be commissioned anywhere in the world. NPCIL and EDF are expected to sign the General Framework Agreement (GFA) by the end of the year, say sources.
    Following the Indo-US nuclear deal in 2008, the US-based Westinghouse was supposed to get a $20 billion contract for six Westinghouse Electric AP-1000 nuclear reactors to be built in Andhra Pradesh. However, Westinghouse, a unit of Japan's Toshiba Corp, filed for bankruptcy in March. Now the Indian government is re-negotiating the deal with Westinghouse as it will remain as a design and consultant partner. Plans are to entrust manufacturing to Indian companies, which will be a huge business opportunity for them.
    Apart from this, the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu, with two 1,000-MW units commissioned, is likely to see one 1,000-MW nuclear power unit each getting commissioned every year between 2023 and 2026. Last week, NPCIL opened bids for the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) order for the third and fourth units and Reliance Infra was the lowest bidder for the Rs 1,000-crore order, beating L&T and Tata Projects.
    Nikita Mazien, Vice President of Rosatom, says his company is open for joint ventures with Indian partners and the JVs can look at projects in surrounding countries as well.
    Kaustubh Shukla, COO, Industrial Products division of Godrej & Boyce, urges the industry to tread with caution. "It is true that many of us have invested a lot in nuclear, and were waiting for many years, but we need to be cautious while bidding," he says.

Bharti Airtel offloads Rs 3,325 crore stake in Bharti Infratel to pare debt
  • Bharti Airtel on Tuesday divested 83 million shares of its subsidiary Bharti Infratel for Rs 3,325 crore through secondary share sale in the stock market. The sale was executed at a price of Rs 400.6 per share, offering a discount of 3.6 per cent to the previous day's closing price. Bharti Airtel, country's largest telecom operator, will primarily use the proceeds from this sale to pare its debt, the company said in a BSE filling.
    Following the closure of this transaction, Bharti Airtel and its wholly owned subsidiaries together have an equity holding of 53.51 per cent in Bharti Infratel. Airtel's consolidated debt stood at Rs 91,480 crore as on September 2017.
    The sale was carried out by Airtel via its wholly-owned subsidiary, Nettle Infrastructure Investments. Announcing the "successful divestment" of 83 million shares of subsidiary Bharti Infratel, the company said: "The sale was for a total consideration of over Rs 3,325 crore ($510 million) and was executed at a price of Rs 400.6 per share, representing a discount of 3.6 per cent to the previous day's closing price." The allocation was done to global investors, fund managers and long-only funds, including many repeat investors, it said, adding that the deal was upsized by over 25 per cent.
    Meanwhile, Bharti Airtel's net profit for the July-September quarter plunged by a whopping 77 per cent from a year earlier, as it struggled with the fierce price war unleashed by Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Jio. Airtel net profit for the second quarter was whittled down to a mere Rs 343 crore from a robust Rs 1,461 crore in the July - September quarter of 2016-17.
    Airtel's second quarter net profit is its smallest in 19 quarters and its sixth consecutive drop in quarterly profit. Indian telecom operators have been hit by the entry of Reliance Jio, which has been offering free voice calls and data at dirt-cheap prices. The sector faces further price pressure after Trai recently cut the fee operators pay each other for calls made from one network to another.

Bharat 22 ETF opens for subscription tomorrow, aims to raise Rs 8,000 crore: Five things to know
  • The Bharat-22 exchange traded fund (ETF), which is expected to fetch around Rs 8,000 crore for the government, is opening for anchor investors today, a day before public investors will get access to the fund till November 17. We take a look at the fund which is part of the government's divestment programme.

    • This ETF comprises leading companies from the private sector having an exposure of 39 per cent to the fund while the rest are public sector firms.
    • The fund comprises leading blue-chips such as ITC (through SUUTI) with 15.2 percent weightage, State Bank of India with 8.6 percent weightage, and Axis Bank (through SUUTI) with 7.7 percent weightage. Bank of Baroda, Bharat Electronics,     Bharat Petroleum Corp, Coal India, Engineers India Gail India, Indian Bank, Indian Oil Corp, Larsen & Toubro, National Aluminium Co, NBCC (India), NHPC, NLC India, NTPC, Oil & Natural Gas Corp, Power Finance Corp, Power Grid Corp of India, Rural Electrification Corp and SJVN are the other constituents of the fund. The fund consists of stocks from six sectors such as capital goods, finance, oil & gas, power, FMCG and metal, metal products and mining.
    • A discount of 3 per cent has been offered to all categories of investors. ICICI Prudential Asset Management Company is the fund manager for the ETF.
    • "Bharat 22 ETF aims to bring broad-based ownership pattern to public sector enterprises. The disinvestment programme now forms the core of the government's investment strategy,"  Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM) Joint Secretary Anuradha Thakur said. While the initial issue size for the ETF is Rs 8,000 crore, we can also consider going beyond looking at the response," she added.
    • Bombay Stock Exchange launched S&P BSE Bharat 22 index on 10 August 2017. The fund had a combined market capitalisation of Rs 22.25 lakh crore, a P/E multiple of 19.72 and a dividend yield ratio of 2.24 as on 13 November 2017.

    The Narendra Modi government has set a disinvestment target of Rs 72,500 crore for the current fiscal, of which Rs 46,500 crore is to be raised through disinvestment mode, while Rs 15,000 crore is the target in the case of strategic disinvestment that involves the surrender of government's majority control of the company.

    An ETF is a traded security that tracks an underlying asset like a group of companies or commodity. The government had earlier approved the alternative mechanism through the ETF route to divest its stake in CPSEs.

    India's export drops; trade deficit widens to $14 billion in October
    • After witnessing a considerable fall in the shipments of pharmaceuticals, leather, textiles, gems, and jewellery, the commerce ministry data released on Tuesday reported a 1.12 per cent decline in the overall export to $23 billion. The data shows 7.6 per cent growth in the trade deficit, which amounts to $37.11 billion in October from $34.5 billion in the year-ago period.
      After attaining six-month high growth in September, the trade deficit - difference between exports and imports - widened to $14 billion during the month under review as against $11.13 billion in October 2016. Due to less the demand of gold, 16 per cent drop - which amounted to $2.94 billion - was seen in October. The data shows oil and non-oil imports grew by 27.89 per cent and 2.19 per cent to $9.28 billion and $27.83 billion, respectively in October.
      Cumulative exports during April-October 2017-18 increased by 9.62 per cent to $170.28 billion, while imports grew by 22.21 per cent to $256.43 billion, leaving a trade deficit of $86.14 billion.
      In October, petroleum, engineering and chemicals exports grew by 14.74 per cent, 11.77 per cent and 22.29 per cent, respectively. India's export had soared by 25.67 per cent to $28.61 billion in September, logging its highest growth in last six months on the back of expansion in shipments of chemicals, petroleum and engineering products.

    General Awareness

    Crisil, Sidbi tie up to launch MSME sentiment index – CriSidEx

    • Ratings firm Crisil and Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI)have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to launch CriSidEx, a sentiment Index for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME).
      More Information about CriSidEx:
      This index will provide insights into employment, business environment and foreign trade trends in the MSME sector.
      • It is to be noted that currently, relevant and actionable data on Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) in India comes with a significant lag, which cannot be used effectively to assess the ground situation in MSME ecosystem.
      • CriSidEx will fill this lag as it will be compiled on basis of real-time, ground-level information procured directly from the MSMEs.
      • Information gathering for compiling CriSidEx will be done through a sample survey which will cover over 1,000 MSMEs. A structured questionnaire will be used to ensure consistency in methodology and capture information without significant deviations.
      • The sample of the survey will have representation based on size, geography and nature of business.
      • The results of the survey and the index levels will be published at quarterly interval. The first of these will be published in January 2018.
      CriSidEx – Utility:
      CriSidEx will not only be useful for government and MSMEs, but also for regulators, trade bodies, banks as well as financial analysts. 
      • As it will capture sentiment on various business parameters such as the business situation, capacity utilisation, order book and margins, it will also prove to be useful in forecasting the business environment.
      • The index will also highlight potential challenges and changes in production cycles and will thereby help in improving market efficiencies.
      Quick Facts about CRISIL and SIDBI:


      CRISILSIDBI
      Founded in19871990
      HeadquartersMumbai, MaharashtraLucknow, Uttar Pradesh

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