26 February 2021

India's RBI Says Cryptocurrencies Can Cause ‘Financial Instability’

 The country’s central bank is taking a hard-hitting approach to the crypto sector while mulling its own CBDC.

By Shaurya Malwa

Bitcoin and Indian rupee. Image: ShutterstockThe Reserve Bank of India, the country’s central bank, says cryptocurrencies may impact the region’s financial stability, as per a report this morning on financial publication Bloomberg.

RBI governor Shaktikanta Das said cryptocurrencies were a “major” concern, adding the bank had highlighted the points to the country’s central government. The statements marked the second instance issued by the RBI with regards to the crypto market in two weeks.

Last week, the Indian administration proposed a blanket ban on all private cryptocurrencies and called for the creation of a framework for an official digital currency issued by the RBI instead. Das confirmed that development today, stating the bank RBI was “very much in the game” in that regard.

He added the project was “receiving our full attention” and that both the technical and regulatory aspects were currently being worked on.

Despite the negative comments, crypto proponents are continuing to fight for the cause. Local crypto exchanges and crypto lawyers have formed a legal coalition in the past years to work with the government to help create a regulated, safe framework for the use of cryptocurrencies in the country.

Any technology can be misused

Some high-ranking officials have joined in on the movement as well. “It can be a true game-changer for India. Indeed, Bitcoin can be misused but so can Google Maps! Don’t ban it, regulate it smartly,” said Dr. Srivatsa Krishna, an official of the country’s premier civil services agency, the Indian Administrative Service, in a report published earlier this week.

Krishna questioned the government’s pessimist approach to cryptocurrencies and warned that citizens could lose out on a “wealth creation” opportunity. He further added that the government simply did not understand the potential of cryptocurrencies and was instead taking the safer route of banning the sector outright.

The country had previously barred all state-owned and private banks to transact with crypto exchanges in 2018, but the Supreme Court later overturned that dictum in May 2020. While this served as a brief respite, the anti-crypto narrative has swiftly returned.

Infra.Market becomes India's latest unicorn after $100-million fundraising


The company seeks to offer an enhanced procurement experience to players in the construction ecosystem.

Aaditya Sharda (left) and Souvik Sengupta founded Infra.Market in 2016

Infra.Market has joined the unicorn club after raising $100 million in a Series C round. This round was led by Tiger Global, with participation from other existing investors Accel Partners, Nexus Venture Partners, Evolvence India Fund, Sistema Asia Fund and Foundamental Gmbh.

Avendus Capital was the exclusive financial advisor to Infra.Market on the transaction.

The company had raised a seed round from Accel in June 2019, and has achieved the unicorn status in less than 20 months. Following the $100-million round, the company has raised $150 million so far.

Founded by Souvik Sengupta and Aaditya Sharda in 2016, the Mumbai-headquartered technology firm is a one-stop marketplace for construction material.

The company seeks to offer an enhanced procurement experience to players in the construction ecosystem.

It is digitally transforming the construction material supply chain by aggregating the capacity of small manufacturers and adding a technology and services stack. The start-up is targeting the $140-billion construction material market, with a focus on the infrastructure sector.

The company, which has been profitable for the past four years, currently has gross merchandise value (GMV) of $400 million, and is targeting a GMV of $1 billion this year.


“We will focus on geographic and product expansion to achieve this target. Further, the focus on higher spend in infrastructure, as mentioned in the Budget, will help us expand further,” said Sengupta.

The company is expected to benefit from the 34 per cent increase in allocation for infrastructure projects, announced in the Union Budget.

“We are seeing rapid acceleration in demand, given that infrastructure and real estate companies are looking to shift their procurement in order to get consistent quality and minimise delays,” said Sengupta.

“With pioneering technology innovation and the ability to stitch together private label brands, Infra.Market is positioned for strong growth, healthy economics, and profitability,” said Scott Shleifer, partner at Tiger Global Management.

Infra.Market focuses on construction products under its own brands and aims to solve existing issues such as a lack of price transparency, unreliable quality, fragmented vendor base, and inefficient logistics.

More than two-thirds of its sales are contributed by the company’s own brands, which include concrete, stone material, chemicals, and cement.

The firm is about to launch in-house brands in paints and plywood soon.

The company caters to both institutional customers and retail outlets in the construction material sector, and supplies across 10 states. In addition, it exports to markets such as the UAE, Singapore, and Bangladesh.

Indian Govt Opposes same-sex marriage in High Court

The government also said that the marriage in India is not just a matter between two individuals but “a solemn institution” between "a biological man and a biological woman”.

By Sofi Ahsan

Romania parliament against same-sex marriage, votes in favour of man-woman union onlyThe Centre told the Delhi High Court that living together as partners and having sexual relationship by same sex individuals is not comparable with the “Indian family unit concept”. (Representational image/File)

SEEKING DISMISSAL of petitions praying for recognition of same-sex marriages under existing laws, the Centre Thursday told the Delhi High Court that a marriage in India necessarily depends upon “age-old customs, rituals, practices, cultural ethos and societal values”, and that in reading down the provision of Section 377 of the IPC covering homosexuality, the Supreme Court had only decriminalised “a particular human behaviour” but “neither intended to, nor did in fact, legitimise the human conduct in question”.

In response to three petitions seeking legalisation of same-sex marriages, the government said there exists a “legitimate State interest” in limiting the recognition of marriage to persons of opposite sex. The considerations of “societal morality” are relevant in considering the validity of a law and it is for the Legislature to enforce such societal morality and public acceptance based upon Indian ethos, a reply by the Ministry of Law and Justice says.

“The fundamental right under Article 21 is subject to the procedure established by law and the same cannot be expanded to… include the fundamental right for same sex marriage to be recognised under the laws… which in fact mandate the contrary,” the Centre’s reply says.

Living together as partners or in a relationship with a same-sex individual is “not comparable” with the “Indian family unit concept” of a husband, wife and children, the government said, arguing that the institution of marriage has a “sanctity”. “In our country, despite statutory recognition of the relationship of marriage between a biological man and a biological woman, marriage necessarily depends upon age-old customs… societal values.”

The government also argued that while marriage happens between two private individuals, it “cannot be relegated” to merely a concept within the domain of privacy of an individual. On the other hand, the Centre told the Delhi High Court, marriage is recognised as public recognition of a relationship, with which several statutory rights and obligations are attached. It also said that the Supreme Court judgment in the Navtej Singh Johar case “does not extend the right to privacy to include a fundamental right in the nature of a right to marry by two individuals of same gender”.

The government also said that while the court can analyse existing rights for this, it cannot create a new right. It is not “permissible” for the court to override the legislative intent with regard to limiting the legal recognition of marriage to heterosexual couples, the Centre said. Marriage between two individuals of the same gender is “neither recognised nor accepted in any uncodified personal law or any codified statutory law”, the Centre said.

“Any interference with the existing marriage laws would cause complete havoc with the delicate balance of personal laws in the country,” the government concluded, adding that it may lead to further anomalies with laws governing marriages of persons belonging to the Christian or Muslim faith.

The reply was in response to three petitions filed last year. In one of the petitions, Dr Kavita Arora, a psychiatrist, and Ankita Khanna, a therapist, sought enforcement of fundamental right to choice of partner, after their application for solemnisation of marriage under the Special Marriage Act was rejected by a Marriage Officer in Delhi on the ground that they are a same-sex couple.

The second petition was filed by Parag Vijay Mehta, an Overseas Citizen of India card holder, and Vaibhav Jain, an Indian citizen, who got married in Washington DC in 2017 and whose application for registration of marriage under the Foreign Marriage Act was rejected by the Consulate General of India at New York.

The third PIL, for recognition of same-sex marriages under the Hindu Marriage Act, was filed by defence analyst Abhijit Iyer Mitra and three others.

On Thursday, a lawyer working with a leading international law firm in the US, an artificial intelligence scientist in California, an economics consultant and a business development manager also approached the High Court seeking “non-discriminatory access” to the Special Marriage Act for LGBTQ+ individuals.

The Division Bench of Justices Rajiv Sahai Endlaw and Amit Bansal has listed the cases for next hearing on April 20.

Cape Clean - India's Top Facade and Window Cleaning Company
25 February 2021

US Army Building World's Most Powerful Laser To Kill Drones


The US Army appears to be developing a laser weapon that is a "million times stronger" than anything ever used before - instead of concentrating a beam of light to destroy a target, the new weapon will fire short pulses, sort of like laser beam weapons from science-fiction movies, according to New Scientist.

The Tactical Ultrashort Pulsed Laser (UPSL) for Army Platforms will be designed to fire pulse-like bursts for a brief 200 femtoseconds or one quadrillionth of a second. The laser, firing bullet-like pulses of light would be enough to vaporize a drone, cruise missile, mortar, and or any other threat in its vicinity. UPSL can also function as an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapon. 

"The sheer amount of intensity in a terawatt pulse laser is able to cause a non-linear effect in the air resulting in a self-focusing filament," according to the Small Business Innovation Research (or SBIR) posting titled Tactical Ultrashort Pulsed Laser for Army Platforms. 

Laser weapons are beneficial when combating enemy drones and missiles. The cost per round depends on the amount of energy available, which is far cheaper than launching costly interceptor missiles. 

A UPSL prototype model could be ready by 2022. Under the Trump administration, funding dramatically increased for laser weapon development. Multiple types of continuous-wave laser weapons have been fielded in the past couple of years. 

We've outlined some of those laser systems that have been fielded, including the high-energy laser (HEL) weapon with various energy output levels measured in kilowatts

The Navy is expected to install the High Energy Laser and Integrated Optical-dazzler (HELIOS) with surveillance sensors aboard an unspecified Arleigh Burke-class Flight IIA destroyer in the early 2020s.

The Air Force has mentioned a roadmap to laser weapons for this decade. It plans to mount lasers on stealth jets. 

Instead of continuous-wave lasers already in deployment among various services, the Army is preparing to test laser, firing bullet-like pulses as early as 2022.

Lasers, hypersonics, fifth-generation fighters, and autonomous war machines are some of the new technologies already entering some modern battlefields. 

Bank of America's equity strategist Haim Israel recently told clients that the next frontier between major superpowers could outer space.

Why Citi’s $500M Mistake Is Really A Design Debt Interest Payment

 Bad user interface design just cost Citi $500M. Three employees using poorly designed software accidentally sent $900 million to one of its client’s creditors instead of $7.8 million — then when creditors refused to return most of the money, a judge ruled in favor of the creditors. 

The judge blamed “human error” in his decision, pointing out that: 

  • The instruction manual for the banking software, Flexcube, explained how to perform this kind of transaction. 
  • Citi uses a “six eyes process” — meaning that three Citi employees reviewed Flexcube’s transfer screen, to approve the transaction. 
  • Flexcube warned that funds would be sent out of the bank, but not the amount. 

However, that explanation misses the bigger picture: If three experienced employees agree on what they expect the software will do, but it does something else, that indicates an interaction design defect that caused the human error. 

Avoiding mistakes is one of the six ways better employee user experience (UX) drives better business results. It’s rarely as dramatic as a single $500 million incident — at most companies, it’s a steady drumbeat of avoidable mistakes that cost time and money and could have been prevented through better UX design. This is a design debt interest payment that almost every business is paying day after day, year after year. 

The Design For Work Opportunity 

Businesses are waking up to the upside opportunity in improving UX design for employees. Already, about half of design teams work on employee-facing software. And based on Forrester’s analysis of the $150 billion-plus design industry, that number is going to grow. 

Citi has many dedicated professionals working on UX for its consumer app and site, both of which are much better designed than that screen in Flexcube, based on Forrester’s UX reviews of apps and sites for banking customers. Citi probably even has a team dedicated to employee-facing software as most large firms do. However, that team is probably overstretched and wishes they’d had the chance to improve this interaction in Flexcube. If you were Citi, wouldn’t you invest in fixing that defect right now? How many other UX issues lurk inside of businesses waiting to cause major or minor mistakes? And how many other companies are in the same boat? Again, this is interest paid on Citi’s design debt — and it’s likely to come due again. 

It’s not just internal teams either — software vendors are being forced to improve UX or face dire consequences. How would you like to be Flexcube right now, knowing that your product caused a customer to lose $500M, and that your competitors are telling all your prospects about it? And consider just how much frustrating software employees interact with every day. Every single one of the vendors of those tools is at risk of being abandoned in favor of a better designed replacement. Just look at commerce suites, for one example among many. 

There have been plenty of major mistakes caused by bad UX before, of course: The tragic accident of the USS John McCain in 2017 that was caused by confusing controls; the Hawaii nuclear missile test warning gone awry in 2018; Three Mile Island’s 1979 meltdown exacerbated by a convoluted control room. And there are minor ones every day that affect us. These issues are everywhere and at every scale. 

Making It Better Requires Effort And Expertise — And Pays Off 

So what’s the first step to improving this situation? Recognizing there’s a problem: Our research has found that most organizations assume employees will use whatever tool they’re asked to, so most companies put minimal effort into design as long as the functionality exists, even if it’s unnecessarily convoluted and obscure. They may have been able to get away with that in the past — but less and less so, now. 

More important, though, is recognizing that UX quality directly affects business results. When UX quality is higher:  Employees try harder and feel invested in their jobs; they’re easier to hire and train quickly; better UX tends to increase market share; digital transformations are more successful because employees adopt required tools and processes; organizations avoid tragic and costly mistakes; and they do better at regulatory compliance.

19 February 2021

Over 50,000 People In Delhi Died Due To Air Pollution Last Year: Study

 PM 2.5 refers to fine particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. Exposure to PM 2.5 is considered the most important environmental risk factor for deaths globally, and was attributed to 4.2 million premature deaths in 2015, the study said.

Over 50,000 People In Delhi Died Due To Air Pollution Last Year: Study

54,000 people died in Delhi due to air pollution caused by hazardous PM2.5 particulate matter

According to a Greenpeace Southeast Asia analysis of IQAir data, 1800 deaths per million were estimated due to PM2.5 air pollution in Delhi.

"The PM2.5 air pollution claimed approximately 54,000 lives in India's national capital in 2020," the study said.

PM2.5 refers to fine particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. Exposure to PM2.5 is considered the most important environmental risk factor for deaths globally, and was attributed to 4.2 million premature deaths in 2015, the study said.

The study noted that the damage is equally worrying in other Indian cities.

"An estimated 25,000 avoidable deaths in Mumbai in 2020 have been attributed to air pollution. Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and Lucknow estimated an approximate 12000, 11000, 11000, and 6700 avoidable deaths respectively due to polluted air," it said

Noting that the air pollutant levels in Delhi remained almost six times above the prescribed WHO limits of 10 g/m3 annual mean, the study said the estimated air pollution-related economic losses were USD 8.1 billion (Rs 58,895 crore), which amounts to 13 per cent of Delhi's annual GDP.

"Despite a temporary reprieve in air quality owing to the lockdown, the latest figures from the report underscore the need to act immediately. The need of the hour is to rapidly scale up renewable energy, bring an end to fossil fuel emissions and boost sustainable and accessible transport systems," the study said.

Globally, approximate 160,000 deaths have been attributed to PM2.5 air pollution in the five most populous cities of Delhi (30 million), Mexico City (22 million), Sao Paulo (22 million), Shanghai (26 million) and Tokyo (37 million), it said.

Despite recording relatively better air quality this year due to strict lockdown, air pollution continues to be a serious public health issue which also drastically impacts our economy. For the governments of the day, it is crucial that investments are made towards green and sustainable solutions. When we choose fossil fuel over clean energy, our health is put at stake. Polluted air increases the likelihood of deaths due to cancer & stroke, spike in asthma attacks and worsens severity of COVID-19 symptoms, said Avinash Chanchal, Climate Campaigner, Greenpeace India.

"We need to ensure our growth demand is fuelled by sustainable and cleaner sources of energy and cities should promote low cost , active and carbon-neutral transport options that prioritises walking, cycling, and public transport, the increased use of clean energy and clean transport will not only improve the public health but it will also strengthen the economy and public money" added Chanchal.

Commenting on the revelations made by cost estimator CEO of IQAir, Frank Hammes says, Breathing should not be deadly. The fact that poor air quality claimed an estimated 160,000 lives in the five largest cities alone should give us pause, especially in a year when many cities were seeing lower air pollution levels due to less economic activity. Governments, corporations and individuals must do more to eliminate the sources of air pollution and make our cities better places to live.

To show the impact of air pollution related deaths on the economy, Greenpeace said it used the approach called willingness-to-pay which means a lost life year or a year lived with disability is converted to money by the amount that people are willing to pay in order to avoid this negative outcome.

Indonesia Moves To Punish Citizens Who Refuse COVID Vaccine

In a uniquely heavy-handed move, the Indonesian government is threatening to punish citizens who refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine, as the massive island nation, one of the world's most populous, pushes one of the most aggressive vaccination campaigns in the world.

According to Reuters, Indonesia's capital Jakarta is threatening residents with fines of up to 5 million rupiah - about $360 - for anyone refusing a jab, an unusually stiff penalty aimed at guaranteeing compliance with new regulations calling for compulsory vaccinations. In addition to the fines, the government is threatening to withhold social aid.

Deputy Jakarta governor Ahmad Riza Patria said city authorities were merely following rules and such sanctions were a last resort in Jakarta, which accounts for about a quarter of the archipelago nation's more than 1.2 million coronavirus infections.

"If you reject it, there are two things, social aid will not be given, (and a) fine," Riza told reporters.

For those who haven't been following it, Indonesia is fighting one of Asia's largest and most stubborn COVID outbreaks. The country aims to inoculate 181.5MM of its 270MM population within 15 months under a vaccination program that started last month.

New cases have actually inched higher in Indonesia over the past week, while most of the world has seen a continued decline.

Some 34K Indonesians have also died of the virus, and deaths have also ticked higher lately.

Indonesia announced a presidential order earlier this month stipulating anyone who refuses vaccines could be denied social assistance or government services or made to pay a fine. The penalty would be determined by regional health agencies or by local governments.

In a December survey, pollster Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting found that only 37% of 1.2K respondents were willing to be vaccinated, 40% were undecided and 17% would refuse across Indonesia. Though we imagine these new requirements might change that.

16 February 2021

Railways to Connect Mizoram Capital by 2023

Bairabi – Sairang new railway line project in Mizoram
Bairabi – Sairang new railway line project in Mizoram
By March 2023, Aizawl shall be linked to India’s railway grid, making Mizoram the fourth of the eight north-eastern States to get railway connectivity.

A press release issued by the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) stated ₹1,000-crore has been allotted for the 2021-22 fiscal to be spent on the Bairabi-Sairang railway challenge that the Railway Ministry needs accomplished inside the subsequent two years. State capital Aizawl is eighteen km uphill of Sairang.

The space between Bairabi, a railhead in Mizoram’s Kolasib district near the border with Assam, and Sairang uphill is about 51 km.

“The Bairabi-Sairang challenge was sanctioned in 2008-09. The anticipated value of the 51.38 km challenge is about ₹5521.45-crore. Until final yr, ₹3763.6-core has been spent on the challenge,” an NFR assertion stated.

“There shall be 55 main and 87 minor bridges in your complete challenge. It is going to even have 5 street over bridges and 6 street underneath bridges. There shall be a number of tunnels with a complete size of 12,639.20 metres,” the assertion added.

Northeast Frontier Railway has been engaged on a challenge to hyperlink all State capitals within the area. Thus far, the capitals of three north-eastern States have railway connectivity. These are Dispur (Assam), Agartala (Tripura) and Itanagar (Arunachal).