World Bank to Draw Up Railways' Makeover Plan

The World Bank will help draw up a granular makeover blueprint for the Indian Railways, which is investing Rs.5 lakh crore to transform itself from a colonial-era mass transporter into a strategic platform underpinning growth in Asia's third-biggest economy.

The multilateral lending agency would partner the 164-year-old railroad network, the world's fourth longest, to help the state transporter with investment and planning, digitisation and technology development, besides establishing a Railway University and the Rail Tariff Authority .

The bank, which has earlier worked with the Railways for financing the Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor Project, will provide advisory services and programme management consultancy for this transformation exercise for 2-3 years.

Rail minister Suresh Prabhu has drawn up an ambitious plan to transform Railways with an investment of  Rs.5 lakh crore in the next four years. For this year, the Railways would spend Rs.1.31 lakh crore to augment capacity.

On the planning front, the World Bank has proposed to set up an organisation for creating detailed forecasting models, traffic optimization and planning.

“Further, an infrastructure plan for the next 10-15 years, after a detailed analysis on freight and passenger growth expected in India, is also envisaged to be created. The bank would be drawing that up as well,“ the official said.

In line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Digital India programme, the Railways wants to roll out a `digital enterprise' for which the bank will help integrate architecture and database management across its IT applications.

PM takes on Gau Rakshaks

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the central government has sent a strong advisory to all states to ensure strict action against communal violence in the name of cow protection and sought the support of all political parties on this issue.

In an unusually lengthy intervention at a meeting of all political parties ahead of the monsoon session of Parliament, the PM also sought their support for measures to combat corruption and said the issue must not be viewed in political terms.

Opposition leaders were struck by Modi's outreach as he spoke for close to 25 minutes, a departure from his usual practice of making a few brief comments.

Even after the meeting concluded, the PM went around the back benches and greeted party leaders.

The PM has condemned cow vigilantism in the past too, most recently on June 29 at a speech in Ahmedabad where he invoked Mahatma Gandhi in opposing violence, but on Sunday he further sharpened his reference by referring to “communal violence“ in the name of gau raksha.

“PM urged all parties to extend support to the government in fighting corruption and the issue of communal violence in the name of cow protection. The PM said state governments must ensure maintenance of law and order and strict action must be taken against those who break the law,“ said an official release.

His remarks reflect the top BJP leadership's concern over extreme and fringe right-wing elements reading the emphasis of various BJP state governments on cow protection as a carte blanche to indulge in private policing and violence against cow traffickers.

The targets of these attacks have often been Muslims and on occasion Dalits, leading to cases of mob lynching. Most recently a Muslim BJP worker was beaten up for carrying beef in Nagpur.

The PM's categorical condemnation of violence in the name of cow protection makes it clear that he is keen to draw a firm line on the issue, despite some saffron organisations seeing cow protection in the light of cattle-smuggling and as a religious taboo. The action against cow vigilantism is, however, not likely to imply any dilution of efforts to ban illegal slaughter that was a major BJP plank in the UP polls. Modi also asserted that all political parties should stand united to ensure national security in the light of concerns raised by opposition leaders with regard to China's intrusion on Bhutanese territory near the Sikkim-Tibet-Bhutan tri-junction and the attack on Amarnath pilgrims that resulted in the death of eight persons.

Prez poll sees over 99% voting

Over 99% of elected representatives -MPs and MLAs -across the country cast their votes on Monday to elect the next President in a direct contest between NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind and the opposition's Meira Kumar. Counting of votes will take place on Thursday.

Voting was held in 32 polling stations, including one in Parliament House (Room No.62) and one each in every state assembly. Ballot boxes from the states will be brought to Delhi for counting.

Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Assam, Gujarat, Bihar, Haryana, Himachal, Jharkhand, Nagaland, Uttarakhand and Puducherry recorded 100% voting while in Parliament House, the voting percentage was 99%.

The voting percentage for MPs was 99.61% while it was 99.37% for MLAs.

While the sanctioned strength of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha was 776, a total of 771 MPs were eligible to cast their votes. There are two vacancies each in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, while BJP MP Chedi Paswan does not have voting rights as there is a petition on his disqualification pending in Supreme Court.

Naidu files VP nomination

Leaving the BJP as becoming the next vice-president will require is not an easy task for Naidu who has been an ideologically committed warrior in the saffron cause. The leader stressed as much when at the meeting of the BJP parliamentary board, he turned emotional and could not continue after a point.

The meeting, however, ended on a lighter and celebratory note as Naidu's colleagues gently ribbed him on his penchant for alliterative speeches and how this might have to give way for more gravitas. Modi noted that Naidu would become chairperson of Rajya Sabha after four unbroken terms.

Naidu received more advice from RSS chief Mohan Bhag wat who pointed out that the VP nominee would look to a new innings in public life and work for national good along with BJP's President pick Ram Nath Kovind. The underlying message was clear enough: for the first time, two Sangh nominees were set to occupy the highest constitutional posts.

Mumbai Metro I sets highest ridership record

Mumbai Metro I broke new ground on Monday as 3.8 lakh commuters travelled on the 11.4 km Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar corridor--the highest ever weekday ridership since it began operations in 2014. The average weekday ridership is 3.6 lakh.

“The previous highest weekday ridership was recorded on June 28 when it carried 3.7 lakh commuters,“ said a spokesperson. The stations that witnessed the highest footfall were Chakala JB Nagar and Western Express Highway with 10% increase followed by Azad Nagar station with 8% rise and Airport road station with 6% increase.

Officials said the maximum surge of commuters was observed during evening peak hours.“Between 6 pm and 8 pm, over one lakh commuters used the Metro,“ said the spokesperson.

Metro One operates 370 daily trips on weekdays with a train frequency of around 3.5 minutes during peak hours.

On July 4, Mumbai Metro One crossed the landmark of carrying 300 million commuters in around three years.


BKC- IFSC snippets

The MMRDA board  has formally approved 50.31 hectares of land at Bandra Kurla Complex, to set up the International Financial Services Centre. By next month, the planning agency will table a master plan for the entire 50 hectares to Union minister Jayant Sinha-led IFSC Taskforce for a go-ahead.

The master plan will include a layout, land reservations and land use and all urban design guidelines for the proposed financial hub. It is expected to be a car-free zone.

The 50 hectare land has been earmarked to meet the requirements of a finance Special Economic Zone within the parameters laid down by the Centre. Getting a finance SEZ tag is essential for BKC if it has to get the tax sops and other benefits offered to an IFSC. Currently, Gujarat International Finance Tech city is the only approved IFSC in the country.

The land approved for IFSC is an irregular U-shaped plot that includes the entire G Tech block of BKC of around 30 hectares and the entire recreation ground of around 20 hectares close to it, adjoining the Mithi river.

Last year, the Centre had sent back the state’s proposal to consider 20 hectares plot in BKC and the rest in built-up area to meet the requirement of 50 hectares given the land crunch in the city. Following the Centre’s refusal to consider Mumbai a special case, the state government had sent a proposal to earmark 50 hectares of land in BKC for the project.

Lavasa: A `city for all'

In a bid to change the `gated city' status of Lavasa to a `city for all', the PMRDA will now allow easy access to the general public, so as to develop tourism in the area. Earlier, entry was restricted to invitees, as the entire control of the city rested with Lavasa Corporation; visitors were also levied parking and entry fees in areas that didn't belong to Lavasa.

In a meeting on Thursday, PMRDA officially took over Lavasa affairs. The state urban development department had earlier in July issued an order to give PMRDA the status of special planning authority ,after which all permissions and sanctions issued from December 4, 2015, onwards would have to be reviewed by this body, not by Lavasa.

PMRDA commissioner Kiran Gitte said, “We took the charge from senior vicepresident of Lavasa, David Amalraj. PMRDA will develop the hill station and make sure there is access for all. We will develop land in 18 villages that come under Lavasa Corporation, but exclude the land owned by Lavasa.“ Gitte added, “We hope that the new status of Lavasa city will invite more people to visit it. We also plan to try and set up a permanent local government body for long-term management.“

Of the 23,000 acres of land in question, 10,500 acres belong to Lavasa Corporation. PMRDA plans to develop the rest of 12,500 acres for tourists; as per the government order, the environment clearances, permissions and sanctions for this purpose will be checked by PMRDA.

The Lavasa Hill City Project currently faces restrictions from the Union environment ministry.

In 2008, the plan to create Lavasa Corporation had been finalised by then chief minister, Vilasrao Deshmukh, as per instructions by Nationalist Congress Party supremo Sharad Pawar at a special Cabinet meeting. The township, planned on the lines of Portofino in Italy, is near Varasgaon dam.