Prices of rice, wheat, toor dal, sugar, milk, potato, onion and tomato climb; Consumer Affairs Ministry says seasonal factors are responsible; government monitoring prices on a daily basis

A sharp increase in the retail prices of several crucial food items over the past one month — from the essential vegetables of tomato, onion and potato to the basic cereals of rice and wheat, toor dal, the commonest protein source in vegetarian households, and even loose tea — has left households and small eatery operators scrambling to juggle their budgets.

Data from the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution’s Price Monitoring Division show that prices of nine of the 10 key food items sampled by The Hindu — rice, wheat, toor dal, sugar, milk, tea (loose), salt (iodised, packed), potato, onion and tomato — had increased as on Tuesday from a month earlier. The price of salt alone was unchanged.

While the 0.5% month-on-month increase in milk price was the least, the prices of all three essential vegetables had risen, with potato up 8.8%, onion 11.1% higher and tomato almost twice as high as in the last week of May. The national average retail price of tomato on June 27 was ₹46.1 per kilogram, 95% higher than ₹23.6 a month earlier.

“Even a simple rasam has become a costly dish these days,” said Prema K. P., a homemaker at Kunduparamba in Kerala’s Kozhikode, lamenting the sharp surge in tomato prices in the State.

At the Connemara market in Kerala’s capital Thiruvananthapuram, the vegetable cost ₹100 per kg on Wednesday. Only a week ago, tomato was being sold at ₹45-₹50 a kg in the State.

The price of tomato in fact was highest as per government data in Uttar Pradesh’s Gorakhpur, at ₹121 a kg as on Wednesday.

Union Consumer Affairs Ministry Secretary Rohit Kumar Singh said the surge in tomato prices was the result of seasonal factors. “Across the country, tomato is grown and harvested at different points of year,” Mr. Singh told The Hindu.

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) on Wednesday approved the PM-PRANAM (PM Programme for Restoration, Awareness, Generation, Nourishment and Amelioration of Mother Earth) scheme, a promise made in the last Budget.

Union Fertilizer Minister Mansukh Mandaviya told reporters after the meeting that the new scheme would promote use of nutrient-based biofertilizers for sustainable agriculture and it would have a total outlay of ₹3,70,128.7 crore.

Mr. Mandaviya said the scheme was aimed at saving the soil and promoting sustainable, balanced use of fertilizers, and it involved the participation of State governments.

India-U.S. relationship is doing ‘exceptionally well’, says External Affairs Minister; Modi, he says,

is seen by the international community as an ‘authentic Indian’, who ‘actually speaks for India’

Billing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the United States as the “most productive” ever, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on Wednesday said the India-U.S. relationship was doing “exceptionally well”.

Taking questions at a townhall event here, his first public remarks after Mr. Modi returned from his visit to the U.S. and Egypt last week, Mr. Jaishankar said the Prime Minister was seen internationally as a “more authentic Indian”.

However, he declined to comment on the controversy over comments by former U.S. President Barack Obama that were critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and minority rights in the country.

“We have had the most productive prime ministerial visit [to the U.S.] in our history if you look at the outcomes. One part of that is that it was a state visit, and the first time an Indian Prime Minister has addressed the U.S. Congress twice,” Mr. Jaishankar told an audience at the India International Centre (IIC), citing agreements in areas such as defence, trade, people-to-people ties, space, and science.

Referring to the introductory speech by IIC president and former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, who likened Mr. Modi’s visit to the 2005 visit by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, when the India-U.S. civil nuclear deal was launched, Mr. Jaishankar said much had changed in the intervening 18 years.

“I think we were earlier in a state when we were trying really to address the obstacles of the relationship. Today, we have moved into the positive domain,” he said. In 2005, Mr. Jaishankar was the Joint Secretary in the External Affairs Ministry in charge of the Americas, and had worked with Mr. Saran, who was then the Foreign Secretary, on the nuclear deal, which is still regarded a major milestone in India-U.S. ties.

The Minister held the townhall as part of the BJP’s campaign marking nine years of the Modi government. Asked if the emphasis on nine years of government indicated that Mr. Modi intended to hold general elections, due in May 2024, earlier than scheduled, he replied, “Nine years is nine years, not 10 years, so please don’t read any [political] meaning into this programme”.

He said while the Modi government was “nationalistic” it also had an internationalist outlook, and Mr. Modi was seen by the international community as a “more authentic Indian” who “actually speaks for India”.

India and the United States are willing to “deploy” ships in the Pacific and the Indian Oceans, U.S. Ambassador Eric Garcetti said here on Wednesday.

Speaking at the Indian Institute of Technology, Mr. Garcetti said that in the interests of safeguarding peace, prosperity and sovereign borders, India and the U.S. could join hands to resist the “might makes right mentality” in international affairs.

“I hope soon we’ll see the United States and India working together across the Pacific and into the Atlantic, from Central Asia to Southern Africa. We can stand together against those who would upend the common good for their own benefit. We can deploy our ships together in the Pacific and Indian oceans, and even beyond, to ensure maritime security,” Mr. Garcetti said.

He was delivering a speech titled “Peace, prosperity, planet, people: a new chapter in U.S.-India relations”. Mr. Garcetti said that the U.S. is poised to be the suitable partner for India as both sides are tied by bonds of common values, science and technology and people-to-people contact. In 2022, Mr. Garcetti said one out of every five U.S. student visas issued across the world was received by an Indian student. With $191 billion dollars in bilateral trade, the U.S. is India’s largest trading partner.

“Our connection is very personal, based on affinity and friendship. We’re linked by a diaspora community more than four-million strong.”

The U.S. Ambassador avoided naming any country but said that there are states who believe in advancing their interest through aggressive means.

“Working together, the world’s two largest democracies can bolster the security, stability, and prosperity of the entire world,” said Mr. Garcetti.

It aims at incentivising a host of activities such as afforestation, water conservation and waste management by generating ‘green credits’

The Environment Ministry has issued a draft notification detailing a proposed ‘Green Credit Scheme’ that will incentivise a host of activities including afforestation programmes, water conservation, waste management and remedying air pollution by allowing individuals and organisations to generate ‘green credits”. These credits, through a yet-to-be-specified mechanism, can also be traded for money.

“A Green Credit Programme is proposed to be launched at national level to leverage a competitive market-based approach for Green Credits thereby incentivising voluntary environmental actions of various stakeholders. Apart from incentivising individual/community behaviour, the Green Credit Programme will encourage private sector industries and companies as well as other entities to meet their existing obligations, stemming from other legal frameworks, by taking actions which are able to converge with activities relevant for generating or buying Green Credits,” says the notification that is open to public comment for 60 days.

A senior official in the Ministry, told The Hindu that the government’s immediate priority was to “create supply (of green credits)” via voluntary actions and then “create demand by bringing in laws or rules that will incentivise companies and organisations to buy credits that can then be traded.” The official said that unlike carbon markets, where only greenhouse gas emissions were traded, the Green Credit Scheme was “trickier” as it involved accounting for a wide range of actions.

The notification for instance lists out eight sectors, or activities, that can qualify for generating credits. They include tree plantation-based green credit to promote activities for increasing green cover through tree plantation and related activities; water-based green credit to promote water conservation, water harvesting and water use efficiency/savings, including treatment and reuse of wastewater; sustainable agriculture-based green credit to promote natural and regenerative agricultural practices and land restoration to improve productivity, soil health and nutritional value of food produced; and waste management-based green credit to promote sustainable and improved practices.

“There are a few examples globally but nowhere in the world is such a wide range of actions considered,” the official told The Hindu.

The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved the National Research Foundation (NRF) Bill, 2023. The legislation aims to establish the NRF as an apex body to provide “high-level strategic direction” to scientific research in the country under the National Education Policy (NEP) at an estimated cost of ₹50,000 crore between 2023 and 2028, a press statement from the Department of Science and Technology (DST) said.

The DST will be the “administrative” department of the NRF, which will have a governing Board of eminent researchers and professionals. The Prime Minister will be the ex-officio president of the Board and the Union Ministers of Science and Technology and Education ex-officio vice-presidents. The NRF’s functioning will be governed by an executive council chaired by the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India, the statement added.

The new law will repeal the Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB) established by Parliament in 2008 and subsumes it into the NRF.

Union Minister of State for Science Jitendra Singh told presspersons that the NRF was meant to ensure that scientific research was conducted and funded equitably with greater participation from the private sector. “Right now, we have eminent institutions like the IITs and IISc that get a bulk of research funding but State universities get very little... about 10% of the research funds. The NRF will correct this,” he said.

When the NRF starts functioning, close to ₹36,000 crore is expected from the private sector (as investments into research), he said. The NRF will prioritise research funding and the executive council will decide on what areas need support,” Mr. Singh said.

The government will contribute ₹10,000 crore over five years, he added. The DST, the main source of funds for several autonomous research bodies, will continue to get the budget it annually receives. “The DST also funds several scholarships and capacity building programmes. They will continue doing so,” he added.

A senior official in the DST said a Bill was necessary because current laws made it hard for private research organisations to contribute to a funding body such as the NRF.

India’s financial system has been stable and resilient despite significant strains in the West, RBI’s Governor said; non-performing assets of Indian banks fell to a 10-year low of 3.9% in March 2023

Despite the global economy facing heightened uncertainty, the Indian economy and the domestic financial system remain resilient supported by strong macroeconomic fundamentals, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) said in its biannual Financial Stability Report (FSR) on Wednesday.

Scheduled Commercial Banks’ gross non-performing assets ratio continued its downtrend and fell to a 10-year low of 3.9% in March 2023 and the net non-performing assets ratio declined to 1%, it said.

“Macro stress tests for credit risk reveal that SCBs would be able to comply with the minimum capital requirements even under severe stress scenarios,” the RBI said.

“The global financial system has been impacted by significant strains since early March from the banking turmoil in the U.S. and Europe,” Governor Shaktikanta Das wrote. “In contrast, the financial sector in India has been stable and resilient,” he added.

Mr. Das said both banking and corporate sector balance sheets had been strengthened, engendering a ‘twin balance sheet advantage’ for growth.