Somewhere about Mumbai....

The Raj Thackeray controversy is snowballing with politicians from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar adding fuel to the fire. All this is nothing but just vote bank politics.Two wrongs never make a right.

Remembering Priyadarshini....

Indira Gandhi was assasinated on 31st October 1984.

Telenor picks up stake in Unitech Wireless

Realty major Unitech announced a landmark deal in which it sold a majority 60% stake in its telecom venture Unitech Wireless for Rs 6,120 crore ($1.23 billion) to Norway-based Telenor. Telenor ASA is the largest Nordic phone company with mobile operations in 12 countries and over 150 million wireless subscribers. Outside the Nordic region, Telenor owns units in Ukraine, Russia, Hungary, Serbia, Montenegro, Pakistan, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Thailand. The Norwegian government is Telenor’s biggest owner, with a 54% stake in the company.Goldman Sachs advised Telenor on the transaction while Unitech was advised by UBS AG and Mumbai-based IDFC-SSKI Group.This is the second major deal to be closed by a club of new GSM licensees. Earlier, Swan Telecom, which has telecom licenses in 13 circles, sold 45% stake to UAE-based Etisalat for $900 million.Unitech was awarded pan-India mobile telecom licences for Rs 1,651 crore early this year and has been allocated GSM spectrum in 13 circles so far. The company plans to launch services in the first half of 2009.According to Unitech, the alliance will benefit from Telenor's experience in both high growth and mature telecom markets and Unitech’s reputation as one of India's most respected business groups.Unitech Wireless says it will be investing over $3 billion over the next three years to become a successful pan-India operator. The company says it has recruited over 250 employees and established offices across several cities.Incidentally, Telenor holds $2b equity in Pakistan’s second largest mobile operator Telenor Pakistan. This is the largest FDI from Europe in any sector in Pakistan and represents a significant commitment by the company. Telenor Pakistan, which launched services in March 2005, currently serves more than 18 million subscribers there through a country-wide network.

Serial Bomb blasts in Assam

In the worst-ever terror attack in the North-East, nine high-intensity blasts triggered in a span of 30 minutes killed 66 people and wounded more than 470 in four places in Assam—Guwahati, Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon and Barpeta.In spite of repeated warnings by the army and intelligence agencies, the state administration was caught napping. Timer-equipped explosive devices, packed with RDX, had been planted in two-wheelers and cars which were parked in crowded areas. For the first time, the district magistrate’s court in Guwahati was targeted.Three of the blasts took place in Guwahati, leaving 33 people dead and more than 200 injured. The worst-hit was the crowded market in Ganeshguri, just 200 metres from the high-security Dispur capital complex. The blast lifted a packed bus, hurled it on the pavement and smashed it to pieces. The explosive had been hidden in a motorcycle under a flyover.The second blast took place at Fancy Bazar and another in the district court complex, which was packed with lawyers and litigants, having just reopened after the Diwali recess. In the court, exploding vehicles added to the carnage. Charred bodies lay everywhere and lumps of flesh clung to mangled metal.Almost simultaneously, three blasts occurred in Kokrajhar markets, killing 21 and injuring almost a hundred people. In neighbouring Bongaigaon district, a bomb found in a market blew up when policemen tried to defuse it. An additional SP was injured. In Barpeta Road, 12 people were killed in twin blasts in markets. Scores were injured.Officials said there were striking similarities between the Assam serial blasts and those in Ahmedabad and Bangalore. The blame fell on the extremist United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) and the Bangaldesh-based Harkat ul-Jihadi-e-Islami (HuJI). While Ulfa’s top leadership is based in Bangladesh and needs HuJI for logistics and financial sustenance, the Islamic terror group, in turn, draws on Ulfa footsoldiers for its operations, intelligence officials said. Ulfa-HuJI Suspected Ulfa, a militant group wanting to set up a sovereign Assam through armed struggle, is suspected to be behind the blasts along with Bangladesh-based HuJI. Ulfa was banned in 1990. Peace talks with Ulfa have not yielded results. It remains wedded to killings, kidnappings, economic subversion. Ulfa has denied involvement in the blasts.Ulfa has links with anti-India bodies, including close ties with ISI. Its cadres trained in Pak in use of rocket launchers, explosives & assault weapons. Ulfa camps are in Bangladesh. It has links with HuJI and other groups close to Bin Laden. Ulfa’s leaders have found refuge in Bangladesh where the outfit also has business ops.Ulfa is suspected to have carried out HuJI’s bidding. It is dependent on HuJI as its leaders’ safety depends on it. Over time, its financial, military and logistical support from the ISI and HuJI has grown. Most blasts carried out where Bodos recently clashed with Bangladeshis. Bodos, whose land has virtually been overrun by these illegal immigrants, have been fighting Bangladeshis.Govt taken aback by mass outrage in Assam over blasts. Cabinet met in the evening and was briefed by NSA. Red alert sounded. Assam's borders have been sealed. NSA team, forensic experts rushed there. Decision taken not to reduce security presence during polls.

Anand is the undisputed world champion

Viswanathan Anand is world chess champion without a shadow of a doubt. The Indian overcame a spirited challenge from Vladimir Kramnik of Russia by drawing game 11 of the 12-game series in Bonn on Wednesday to put at rest questions about his ability to perform against quality opposition in matchplay. A 6.5-4.5 win in the series against Kramnik gave him the world title, his first in matchplay. When he won the world crown in Tehran (2000) and Mexico (2007) in tournaments, he had not got the credit he deserved. In 2000, Kasparov was still winning in classical chess. In 2007, Kramnik said he had only “lent” Anand the title, the real test was matchplay.Anand’s retort came over the board and left no doubt that he is the best allround player in the world.Born on Dec 11, 1969 .Taught chess by mother 1987.First Asian to become world junior champion, also the youngest Grand Master (GM) 1998.Won in Linares (then strongest ever tournament) ahead of Gary Kasparov 2007.Formally ranked world No. 1 2008. First non-Russian after Bobby Fischer in 1972 to beat a Russian in matchplay.


Practice as you preach....

A week after Maharashtra Deputy CM R R Patil hurriedly brought in an ordinance to make political parties liable for damage caused to public property during protests, his own party has been slapped with the first case under the legislation.In the wake of widespread violence witnessed in the state after Maharashtra Navnirman Sena activists went on a rampage after Raj Thackeray’s arrest, the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) government last week approved the ordinance making political parties and social organisations accountable for the damage caused during protests.
On October 25, NCP student wing activists attacked the office of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) in Nashik protesting the alleged involvement of Hindu rightwing organisations in the Malegaon and Modasa blasts. According to Nashik police, NCP students ransacked the office, damaged furniture and desecrated photographs of national leaders. The protestors also allegedly blackened the faces of some VHP activists who were present in the office. Nashik officials said the NCP has been asked to cough up Rs 20,000 for the damage.“All the procedures are complete and the parties which need to pay under the new ordinance have been identified. Everything is ready. The legal formalities have to be completed and then the fine will be recovered. It should be done this week,” said Nashik collector and District Magistrate S Chockalingam.
Chockalingam added: “The ordinance modifying the Bombay Police Act was notified on October 23 and this is the first case under the ordinance. Now all the rights have been concentrated with District Magistrate. We are being careful as it is the first case and we want to make sure that there are no legal problems later.” NCP spokesperson Hemraj Shah said: “They have made a demand of Rs 20,000 for damages. One of the leaders was an ex-office bearer, he will have to pay. But I think R R Patil has said that the party will pay for the damages as per the ordinance.”


Adlabs re-branded as Big Cinemas

Adlabs Films Ltd, part of the Reliance-Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (R-ADAG), has re-branded its Adlabs Cinemas across the country as BIG Cinemas, a top official said.
"Adlabs brand has now been replaced with BIG Cinemas. For example, Metro Adlabs will now be known as Metro BIG Cinemas," Adlabs Films chief executive Anil Arjun said.
The re-branding would come into effect from Oct 28, coinciding with Diwali, he said.
The new brand's signages, collaterals and promotional materials, designed by Singapore's Bonsey Design will reflect the vibrancy of BIG Cinemas, Arjun added.
Adlabs Films has 73 properties across the country, totalling 186 screens and 71,000 seats.
"The brand rollout for our 200 properties abroad, including the US and Malaysia, will also start shortly," he said.
He added that Adlabs Films would launch all its next level of cinemas under the brand name of BIG Cinemas in line with R-ADAG's aim to create one consumer entertainment brand, BIG.

Batti Bandh to go national

Last year, three million Mumbaikars made an effort to be part of the Batti Bandh campaign by switching off and avoiding the use of electricity. They managed to save 178.5 megawatts of electricity in just one hour. What started as a Mumbai initiative is now going national with people from across the country volunteering to be part of the movement against global warming. Social networking site Facebook is buzzing with news about Batti Bandh and after Mumbai, teams from Ahmedabad, Pune, Delhi and Bangalore have volunteered to take the initiative forward by spreading awareness about climate change. “We want to make this a national event and more than the event, we really need is to increase awareness about global warming,” says Keith Menon, founder member of the campaign.
With support from Reliance and Tata power, there is no stopping the campaigners. Mumbai consumes over an estimated 2500 MW of energy and a reduction in its use will also help reduce the pollution that is caused by electricity plants. Moreover, the idea is to reduce the carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide released by bulbs, CFCs and other appliances during that one hour.
This year, the campaign will also focus on going green with by using CFLs against bulbs, carpooling, recycling and planting more trees. Street plays will be organised across the city to spread the message to a larger audience.
“178.5 megawatts of electricity is a big chunk that was saved last year. The effort was commendable as people switched off power during peak hours,” says R Engineer, president of Urjavaran Foundation, an NGO.
For those who think Mumbai’s soaring temperatures have become unbearable this winter, Menon has the explanation. “There were cyclones in the north east that continued till September and didn’t allow the cold Himalaya winds to reach the city. Who is to blame? Global warming is responsible in more ways than one.”

New Delhi, Tokyo, Beijing

Snippets from an interesting article by Jyoti Malhotra.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is on a trip to Japan followed by one to China this week, hoping that a strategic partnership with Tokyo will signal to Beijing and the rest of the world that a new Asian economic order is in the offing.
Singh’s visit to these economic powers comes in the wake of India’s success at the Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting in Vienna in September, when Tokyo overcame its aversion to nuclear weapons to back the Indo-US nuclear deal, and the Chinese, cagey about New Delhi’s growing international influence, finally decided not to stand in its way.
It was at the Nippon Keidanren lunch for Singh at Tokyo’s Four Seasons hotel on Wednesday afternoon that it became clear India was coming into its own. The Keidanren is a high-powered chamber of Japanese business leaders, creating its own halo of power wherever it goes. To be invited by the Keidanren, it is said, is an acknowledgement that you’ve arrived.
As an Indian official said of the Keidanren: “So far, we were dealing with the trading wings of Japanese big business, the smaller chambers of commerce and industry pretty low down in the food chain; now we’re dealing with the big businessmen themselves.
These are the movers and shakers of Japan.” In his newly triumphal state, the soft-spoken Prime Minister unusually challenged the Japanese for ignoring In dia. There are more South Korean businessmen in India than there are Japanese, he said, and pointed out that India and China had already done more trade this year than the entire volume of trade ($10 billion) between India and Japan.
Still, the message seems to have gone home. The Japanese, after dilly-dallying for more than a year, have decided to fund two freight corridors in India, beginning with the one between New Delhi and Mumbai. A $4.5 billion (about Rs22,000 crore) soft loan for three years, as a first tranche, has been sealed for the first corridor leg between Rewari, in Haryana, and Vadodara, Gujarat. As work simultaneously proceeds on an industrial corridor alongside, where Japanese companies are said to have agreed to invest in five early-bird projects, much more money will flow in.
The Indian delegation on board the Prime Minister’s aircraft, normally not given to displaying emotion, is clearly excited. Not since the Japanese poured money into China, helping transform the communist state, has Japan taken a strategic decision to invest in another country in this way, members of the delegation said. But as the yen begins to flow, especially in the middle of this global financial crisis, the Indians are hoping that it will help boost industrial growth and perhaps even arrest the slowdown at home.
India’s triumph in Tokyo is also a clear signal to China, the Prime Minister’s next stop, that New Delhi now has firm friends in the region. Indian officials, of course, refuse to be drawn into a public condemnation of Beijing’s behaviour in Vienna, believing that winning is everything. Forgiveness has its own uses, especially when nobody ever really forgets anything in international realpolitik.
Singh flies to China from Tokyo late on Thursday to at tend the sixth Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM). In China, his interactions with President Hu Jintao, on the margins of ASEM, are not expected to produce the same kind of intense cordiality that has been in evidence in Tokyo. Interestingly, New Delhi seems hardly concerned. The border talks are not really going anywhere, and at least until the Lok Sabha elections are out of the way next year, no further progress is likely.
Neither does New Delhi seem unduly concerned that the Chinese are allegedly building two more nuclear reactors for Pakistan, a report that has been put out in the Pakistani press after President Asif Ali Zardari’s recent visit to Beijing. One Indian official pointed out that Chinese media reports on this subject have been attributed to the Pakistani leadership. Meaning, there is no independent verification of the story.
New Delhi knows that the Chinese are never going to vi olate international non-proliferation norms, despite their “all-weather friendship” with Pakistan. More to the point, the rest of the international community is not going to allow China to violate those norms. (The reason India got away, of course, was because the US arm-twisted everyone else, including China, not to come in the way.) Pakistan is seen in the West to be a serial nuclear offender, courtesy the A.Q. Khan network.

The Spirit of Diwali : Snapshotz

Snapshotz from across the country .

The MNS & the Chandrayaan 1 :Cartoonist's delight

This week's top stories through the eyes of cartoonists.

PDP releases "Self-rule" document on Kashmir

While letting suspense linger over its participation in the November Assembly polls and even dropping hints about a boycott, the People’s Democratic Party formally unveiled its “self-rule” document as an opening gambit. It calls for a radical redefinition of Kashmir’s relations with New Delhi against a framework involving Pakistan. At a press conference , PDP’s patron and former J-K chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed deftly manoeuvred his way through the semantics of the standard separatist rhetoric. He talked of former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, self-rule, Constitutional restructuring, dual currency, roll-back of Central laws, an elected Governor, even renaming of the titles of Governor and Chief minister as Sadar-i-riyasat (President) and the Prime Minister respectively.
“Kashmir enjoys a special position in India’s Constitution as per the terms of the state’s accession. We have a separate Constitution and a separate flag,” Sayeed said. “We want this special status to be strengthened. We want that the President of India should have no authority to dissolve Kashmir Assembly.We want an elected governor who is a state subject”.
“Such an arrangement is the remedy for the problems of the state,” he said. He said that Kashmiris were reeling under a siege mentality for the past 60 years and suffering for no fault of theirs.He hailed the re-opening of Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalkote roads as historic steps. “But we want the process not to stop there. We want a phased economic integration of the state that transcends borders,” Sayeed said. He reiterated his call for dual currency, saying Indian and Pakistani rupees should be the medium of exchange in J&K. “This has to be done if we want the Line of Control to flourish”. He also talked in detail on the specifics of cross-border institutions, an overarching regional J-K council in an echo of the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s proposal of joint consultative mechanism between the two Kashmirs. “The centrepiece of the governance structure under self-rule is the cross-border institution of Regional Council of Greater Jammu and Kashmir. This council will replace the existing Upper House of the Legislative Council,” Sayeed said. The regional council, he said, will have members from “J&K and Pakistan-administered Kashmir,” as well as the nominees of the Government of India and Pakistan. Sayeed, in a move fraught with controversy, sought the rollback of Article 356, Article 249, Sixth amendment of the constitution, Article 368 and article 312 as they apply to J-K.

Chandrayaan I update

Inching closer to its final destination, India’s first moon-bound spacecraft Chandrayaan-1 on Saturday became the most successful among all Indian space missions with the furthest point in its current orbit around the earth touching 74,715 km. No Indian spacecraft had gone beyond 36,000 km in space till now.“The second orbitraising manoeuver of Chandrayaan-1 space craft was carried out at 05:48 hrs IST this morning (October 25, 2008) when the spacecraft’s 440 Newton Liquid Engine was fired for about 16 minutes by commanding the spacecraft from Spacecraft Control Centre,” an ISRO statement said. “This is the first time an Indian spacecraft has gone beyond the 36,000 km high geo-stationary orbit and reached an altitude twice that height. In this orbit Chandrayaan 1 takes about 25 hours and 30 minutes to go round the earth once,” ISRO officials said. ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair has called it a ‘record breaking’ day for the mission.
Chandrayaan 1’s initial launch by the PSLV-XL launch vehicle on October 22 placed it in an elliptical orbit around the earth with a perigee (closest point to earth) of 255 km and an apogee (farthest point from earth) of 22,860 km. To reach the moon the spacecraft has to cover a total distance of 3,86,000 km and it is expected to settle into a lunar orbit, 100 km from the Moon on November 8.“When you go further and further, the earth’s influence comes down. The influence of the Moon and Sun becomes pre dominant. Even other planets will have an influence on it,” Nair said. ISRO has reported good conditions for all systems on board Chandrayaan-1.

Diwali snippets

Deepavali or Diwali literally means ‘a row of lights’ and has been celebrated across the country for over 1,000 years. It is also called Kaumudi Deepam or Dipalika. The Festival Of Lights is celebrated with decorative illuminations and fireworks. It is the most popular Hindu festival and is considered a war against the dark forces. The lamp (jyothi) is the base and spirit of life and its light represents wisdom. The shloka ‘tamosoma jyothirgamaya’ means destruction of darkness. Deepavali consists of five-day festivities, with each day having its own religious significance. WATER FESTIVAL: Ashvija Krishna Thrayodasi .In North India, the festival is called Dhanteras and it marks the beginning of the festivities. In the evening, houses are cleaned and decorated with rangoli, haldikumkum, etc. A filled water boiler is worshiped. The day is considered auspicious for purchasing utensils and jewellery.
NARAKA CHATURDASI: Ashvija Krishna Chaturdasi .On this day, Lord Krishna is said to have killed the demon Narakasura, king of Pragjyotispura (present-day Assam) after a long war. The family gets up before sunrise (Brahmi Muhurtha) and everyone has a bath with oil and shikakai, which are then kept in the bathroom for Lord Krishna. Prayers are offered for destruction of sins and evil, followed by bursting of crackers. Pumpkin sweets are offered to God and guests. AMAVASYA: Ashvija Krishna Amavasya .On this darkest day of the year, people have an oil bath and worship goddess Lakshmi for wealth and prosperity. In the evening, lit lamps are placed at all doorways and windows of the house, besides at other properties, business establishments and farms. In some parts of the country, women blow conch and beat drums and winnowing baskets around midnight to get rid of evil. People also remember their ancestors by offering water mixed with sesame. Traders worship goddess Lakshmi, account books and cash boxes.
BALIPADYAMI: Kartika Sukla Pratipad .The most powerful and charitable Asura king Bali was stamped by Vamana (an incarnation of Lord Vishnu) to Sutala Loka (netherworld). Bali is one among the seven chiranjivis and returns to visit his kingdom on this day every year. It is believed that purchases made on this day bring great prosperity. Cattle and agricultural tools are worshiped and prayers offered for rain. Holige (made of jaggery, dal, maida and ghee) is the customary dish prepared on this day. Employers distribute gifts and sweets to employees. YAMADVITIYA: Kartika Sukla Dvitiya .Yamadvitiya or Bhratridvitiya is a day for sisters to meet their brothers. Lord Yama was invited by his sister river goddess Yamuna for dinner and she offered him sweets. Yama, pleased with this, blessed all brothers who eat at their sister’s house on this day.

It's the happiest Diwali ever....

The brightest diyas this Diwali will be lit outside houses of central government employees. For, when the rest of the world is reeling under the fear of losing jobs and a south-bound Sensex touching new lows, the staff of government offices are laughing their way to the bank. The sixth pay commission’s implementation could not have been timelier, they say. So when the world is plunging in recession, central government officers are busy counting their blessings along with the hard cash they received this month as arrears from the year 2006. And this was only the first instalment of 40 per cent of their total arrears due to employees who were awaiting a salary hike since 2006. The second instalment of 60 per cent of the payout would be given in the next financial year.The country has several central government establishments such as the railways, telecom, air force, army, CPWD, CRPF, DRDO, CISF, Income Tax, Survey of India, customs and excise, among others. These would perhaps live up to the ‘happy and prosperous’ Diwali greeting. After all, the payout amounts are ranged from Rs 20,000 for junior employees to Rs 40,000 to Rs 80,000 for mid-level staff to as high as Rs 2 to Rs 3 lakh for senior officials.In addition, there is a bonus component that has come their way which again is anywhere between a modest Rs 2,500 for some organisations to Rs 8,000 in others. The bonus amount depends on the kind of government organisation with service providers such as telecom and railways getting better bonuses than the ‘consumer’ government outfits such as the forces. But the icing on the cake perhaps is the revised salaries that government employees say have brought them almost on par with the private sector employees, who so far flaunted their fat pay cheques.The arrears on bonus component are also expected to come when salaries are credited to employees bank accounts at month end. “The staff here have been paid their arrears last week,’’ says Manoj Pande, chief personnel officer, South Central Railways. With the windfall expected from the implementation of the sixth pay commission, the central government staff are elated lot. Sharing the euphoria an employee said, “Everyone is queuing up outside banks since the payments were made through their bank accounts.’’ “I had been keenly waiting for this arrears. I have received Rs 22,000 and plan to do Diwali shopping in a big way,’’ says a visibly happy official of the General Post Office adding that arrears have been paid to almost 90 per cent employees so far, the payouts ranging from Rs 17,000 to Rs 70,000 depending on the designation and basic salary. He adds that even the part-time workers with a basic salary of Rs 3,000 have been paid nearly Rs 17,000 as arrears. With cash in their pockets, some are headed straight to jewellery stores to buy that cherished diamond set (the fluctuating gold prices not withstanding), others are buying themselves cars using the arrears to make down payments that would make their EMIs smaller, affordable. Others are using this chunk of money to repay mortgage bank loans. “But most people are investing in fixed deposits with some nationalised banks offering a good rate of interest,’’ says a senior government employee. “Seeing this market recession, we are now feeling we are financially secure. This is perhaps the first time we can say we are in a better financial situation at this point of time than private sector employees,’’ says an official. Besides, he says, they have no fear of being retrenched.

And now Agri - tourism....

A group of 25 farmers of Maval taluka have come together to offer their farms as weekend getaways to tourists, by hoping to encash the attraction offered by its dams, caves, forts and scenic beauty.The group has formed the Maval Agri-Tourism Development Co-operative Society Limited (MATCSL) by pooling around 100 acre of land to promote agri-tourism. The Pune District Co-operative Bank would provide loans to upgrade facilities on these farms. Agri-tourism involves visiting a working farm or any agriculture, horticulture or agri-business operation, for the purpose of recreation, education or involvement in farming activities. Farmers serving as hosts, also double up as guides.In the recent past, many actors and industrialists have bought land in Maval taluka. Actor Amitabh Bachchan’s controversial land is located here, as also actor Dharmendra’s farmhouse. Vijay Kalekar, sarpanch of Kale Colony village — which is the headquarters of the farmer’s society, said, “A number of tourists visit the dams, caves, forts in the Maval taluka. Nearby Lonavala and Khandala are also a major attraction. However, most people are unaware of what the interiors of this area have on offer. We want tourists to come to our farms and experience the rural life, something that will also generate additional income for us. One of our members also operates a boating club in the backwaters of the Pavana dam. Agri-tourism will familiarise tourists with agricultural practices like floriculture, harvesting, bee-keeping, sericulture and dairy.” Each member of the society will get a loan of Rs 6 lakh for this project, to develop the necessary infrastructure, he added. He said the Kale Colony gram panchayat would be the entry point, from where tourists would be received by farmers and taken to the respective farms. “Some members have also made residential arrangements, while the others are in the process of upgradation.” He added that farmers’ activity is based on the model of the Pune-based Agri Tourism Development Corporation (ATDC), a private body set up by entrepreneur Pandurang Taware in 2005. Apart from agriculture techniques, tourists get a first hand feel of authentic food, handicraft, dress, culture, music and language of the rural areas.

Medha Patkar slams Raj Thackeray

The anti-MNS agitation in Bihar notwithstanding, Maharashtrians are not anti-Bihari. Many of them, including Narmada Bachao Andolan fame leader Medha Patkar, worked in the five flood-hit districts when the Kosi ran amock Bihar earlier this year. A Maharashtrian doctor, Chandrakant Patil, died due to lightning in flood-hit Supaul district while extending a helping hand to marooned people last month. A large number of relief workers led by National Alliance of Peoples’ Movement (NAPM) chief Medha Patkar and doctors from different medical colleges of Maharashtra visited the flood-ravaged districts to serve the people there. In fact, some of the Maharashtrian relief worker and doctors are still working among the flood victims. Now, some people of Maharastra led by Patkar have decided to oppose MNS on its home turf, Maharashtra. Patkar said that people of Maharashtra have decided to protest against what she called `planned and instigated violence’’ against north Indians in Mumbai, Thane and Kalyan. Patkar and her supporters took out a silent procession on Saturday at Churchgate in Mumbai in protest against misdeeds of Raj Thackeray. She said neither Raj Thackeray nor the MNS has actually done any good for the people of Maharashtra, whose cause they claim to espouse. `Major i ssues o f Maharashtra and its toiling masses like the agrarian crisis, displacement due to SEZ or mill workers in Mumbai have no place on the MNS chief’s agenda,’’ Patkar said. She said repeated inflammatory speeches and statements of Raj Thackeray were ample proof of his violent and unlawful demeanor and there could be absolutely no justification for state government for remaining a silent spectator.

Pakistan faces tough times

Sajid Khan, a computer system engineer in Islamabad, says he foresaw the coming storm. He is personally not much affected by Pakistan’s slide towards the economic abyss, but is nevertheless angry. ‘‘When your country’s industries are closing down and the government is doing precious little to build investor confidence, you know it’s (turmoil) coming,’’ he says.Pakistan’s busiest shopping areas are the best indication of the spreading gloom. They are flooded with imported goods but deserted because foreign cars, mobile phone handsets and electronic goods are suddenly out of reach. Financial analyst Iffat Ara blames the ‘‘massive trade deficit for the current account deficit, which stands at nearly $20.8bn in 2007-08. That’s a 53% increase on 2006-2007.’’ The Karachi stock exchange is also badly hit. Stockbroker Zahid Latif Khan says that after an all-time high of 15750 points on April 17, it plummeted to an abysmal 9144 points. ‘‘I have no income whatsoever but office expenses, salaries and other overheads remain,’’ he laments. Khan has personally lost at least Rs 30 million in the last few months. He fears the worst if the government ‘‘does not buy floating stocks and provide much-needed liquidity’’. He says Pakistan’s government also needs to offer foreign companies sovereign guarantees of a share buyback at a 10% premium.Smaller players in the stock market trade have either shut shop or laid off workers, adding to Pakistan’s rising sense of panic. Meanwhile, property prices are dropping. A combination of circumstances have blown the crisis into the ongoing storm. Inflation is at 25%, foreign exchange reserves are at $ 4.5 billion (according to the PM’s finance advisor Shaukat Tareen), domestic production is down and the cost of doing business is up. China or the newly-formed ‘Friends of Pakistan’ bloc has not offered any money up front and the country would be lost had it not made up its mind to swallow the bitter pill of seeking loans from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Well -known economist and former finance minister Shahid Javed Burki says there may be little hope for a country held fast by the dependency syndrome. Burki recalls visiting Beijing as finance minister in December 1996, when foreign exchange reserves had fallen to $342m and Pakistan would have defaulted on World Bank and IMF repayments without a hand-out. But Burki was well-known to Beijing for helping China during his stint at the World Bank. The result: he came away with a promise from Beijing of $500 million.But the situation is very different today, says Burki. ‘‘I am not confident China will provide a great deal of help. The only way out is to go to a dozen potential donors with a well-developed programme for reform.’’ The crisis that has America in its grip further deepens the economic pall over Pakistan. Burki believes that if the US goes ever deeper into recession, remittances from expatriate Pakistanis may be halved to just $1 billion. The dollar has already touched an all-time high against the Pakistan rupee, which depreciated by 20%.But there are some good news stories too, such as physician Dr Iftikhar Ahmad. He invests in stocks and property but claims to have weathered the crisis because ‘‘when others were investing in property, I was selling.’’ He says the government should learn from the experience of its larger neighbour India, which restricted all, but vital, imports. ‘‘We should learn from Rajiv Gandhi and his mother Indira who put a stamp on all imports. They should be prohibitively taxed,’’ says Ahmad.Perhaps because he is has been luckier than most people in Pakistan, Ahmad insists it is wrong to blame poor economic management for the current crisis. ‘‘There is a war going on, people are dying, businesses are closing down, news of death and destruction are over-played by a hyper-active news TV channels. All this is enough to shatter the confidence of investors, locals and foreigners,’’ he says evenly.It is doubtful, however, if others will see it that way. Pakistan is pinning its hopes on the ‘Friends of Pakistan’ meeting in Abu Dubai in November. But the new grouping of UK, France, Germany, US, China, UAE, Canada, Turkey, Australia and Italy, plus the UN and EU may not deliver. Analysts believe any future loans for Pakistan will come with the toughest of conditions and drastic fiscal management recommendations.Pakistan may be as down and out as it is possible for a country to be.

Kashmir railway snippets

Two weeks after its inauguration by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the first railway line in the Kashmir valley has undergone a major change. Its under-construction route to cross the Himalayan barrier and join the rest of the country has been revised extensively to make it shorter, safer and more cost effective.On October 23, the Railway Board’s member (engineering) S K Vij ordered a slew of modifications, including the shifting of the much touted Chenab bridge 2.5 km upstream and thereby slashing its height by more than half from 350 metres to 160 metres. This follows his September 4 decision,scrapping the fouryear-old project of building the world’s highest bridge on Chenab as the gorge in the landslide prone Himalayas was found to be too unstable to bear the weight of the proposed mega arch.The latest order makes it clear that the mega arch bridge plan has been discarded because the site has “many shortcomings” and a study done by Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, has also brought out “the limitations and difficulties” involved in the project.If the October 23 decision is taken to its logical conclusion, the modified alignment for the entire line between Katra and Banihal in the treacherous high relief region of Jammu will be reduced from 125 km to 69 km as it is based on the latest technology of tunneling through the mountains (in preference to skirting them). Since the modified alignment is going to be straighter, it will cut down on 11 sharp turns, including two hairpin bends, in the single-tube tunnels that were originally planned to be built. In a major safety measure, Vij ordered that the tunnels should have twin tubes, which will not only make construction easier but also help evacuate passengers in the event of a train accident (fire, collision or derailment) inside the mountain. Just the as the Chenab bridge is being shifted out of a gorge, the other bridges on the modified alignment will also be located on more stable slopes in wider valleys. In fact, the number of bridges reduces drastically from 93 to nine and tunnels from 64 to 10. As Vij put it in his order, “There will be savings in the cost of overall project besides improving constructability and survivability.” Despite the benefit of an additional line, the modified alignment is estimated by the board to result in the saving of about Rs 1,000 crores. Since the board will now have to write off collapses and damages to the tune of Rs 700 crores and idling claims from contracts of Rs 1,000 crores, Vij ordered that the new contracts should incorporate clauses regarding “risk sharing for geological surprises.”

No recession in India: RBI guv Subbarao

India would not see recession, even if the international situation remained uncertain, said RBI governor D Subbarao. However, he added that the growth momentum will be more moderate if the global financial crisis continued for sometime.“First if there is a recession (outside India), our exports will be hurt. And the longer the recession, the deeper the hurt,’’ Subbaro said. However, he did not accept the theory of decoupling of Indian economy from the turmoil in the global economy, saying that if at all any large economy could decouple from the advanced countries, it would be India due to its deep domestic demand and consumption base.Pegging GDP growth for 2008-09 at 7.5-8%, he said, this was “our best growth estimate’’, even though there were other estimates ranging from 7.2-8.7%. India had grown at 9% in 2007-08. Justifying RBI’s cautious credit policy announced on Friday that left the key rates unchanged, Subbarao said that as a central bank, it had to balance growth and financial stability with price stability during global market turmoil even though it sees inflation declining to 7% by March from 11% at present. Between October 6 and 20, the RBI injected Rs 1,85,000 crore liquidity into the system and “the one per cent repo rate cut was aimed at getting the financial markets going and giving them confidence’’, he explained.If the situation warranted, RBI would not hesitate to either infuse or withdraw liquidity from the system, he said, adding that at the same time the central bank wanted banks to focus on credit quality and ensure flow to productive and vulnerable sectors. “If there are liquidity constraints or anything needed to be done within RBI’s mandate, we will do it,’’ he said, adding that the RBI would act swiftly and pro-actively to face up to evolving situations. Asked what would be his message to the market which crashed on Friday, Subbarao said RBI was not in the business of reacting to equity markets. “We are the monetary authority, we give monetary policy signals and hope that they get appropriate signals,’’ he said. Turning to inflation, the RBI governor said: “In mathematical terms, it is coming down and should be at around 7 % by end-March.’’But inflation continues to be a matter of concern as the RBI forecast is based on not merely the wholesale price index but also other data. “The RBI makes a deeper study and if one analyses the consumer price index, the CPI for agricultural and rural labour was up by 11% and that for industry was up 9%,’’ he said.Oil prices, though declining, still continued to be volatile and kharif output, though promising, is forecast lower, he said, adding, “a weakening rupee also adds to inflationary pressures’’. The RBI has announced its monetary policy in the light of these concerns and balanced the need for financial and price stability while propping up sagging growth.

Mumbai to be the 2nd largest city in the world by 2025

In less than two decades, Mumbai will be the second most densely populated city in the world behind Tokyo and just ahead of Delhi and Dhaka. Thus, by 2025, the four biggest cities in the world will all be in Asia. Today, only one Asian city, Tokyo, is in the top four. That is the estimate made by UN Habitat in its latest report, ‘State of the World’s Cities 2008/09’. The three South Asian cities leapfrogging into the top four league will replace Mexico City, New York and Sao Paulo in Brazil. Kolkata, currently the 8th biggest city, will retain the same rank though its population will have risen by 40%. Chennai will also join the ranks of mega cities—those with a population of over ten million. By 2025, that list will have 26 cities, up from 19 now. Five of the new entrants are from Asia and two from Africa.The rapid growth of Indian metros, forecast by the UN report ‘State of the World’s Cities 2008/09’, is happening despite the fact that Asian cities also account for the bulk of what it describes as shrinking cities—those whose populations are in decline. Globally, 143 cities experienced a loss of 13 million people from 1990 to 2000. More than half of this loss (6.8 million people) occurred in Chinese cities, while roughly 16% (2.1 million people) was in other Asian countries. Asia, the report noted, accounts for 60% of all shrinking cities in the developing world. While the world’s two most populous countries, India and China, are both witnessing this phenomenon of shrinking cities, the patterns are not the same. In China, most of the cities projected to shrink are intermediate and big cities. In India, which accounts for 20% of the shrinking cities, it’s the smaller urban centres that are shrinking as people migrate to bigger cities or to other newer cities. For instance, local authorities in India, along with the political and economic elites, are transforming their cities into dynamic economic areas as in the case of Salem, Pimpri-Chinchwad and Pune, which are all growing at an annual rate of 3% or more by adopting pro-growth strategies through marketing, promotion and focusing on high-potential economic sectors, the report says.Despite shrinking cities, the urban population keeps growing as a proportion of the total in the developing world, as rural towns and centres grow to become new cities and further migration happens between these cities. Migration has been the primary reason for growth of cities in countries with low levels of urbanisation, as is the case in Asia and Africa. However, in many countries, the largest movements of population are taking place between cities and not from rural to urban areas. This city-to-city movement has been one of the strongest reasons for some cities expanding at the cost of others. Dhaka is the fastest growing meta city—those with populations above 20 million—in the world with a population growth rate of 4.4% per year. But some of the fastest growing cities are in China, with Chongqing, Xiamen and Shenzhen all growing at over 10% per year. It’s no surprise that China is expected to be 70% urban by 2050. In India, on the other hand, urbanisation is likely to be at a slower pace. The report estimates that about 55% of the population or 900 million people would be living in urban areas by 2050.In the case of the developed world, legal and illegal migration account for approximately one-third of the urban growth, the report points out and concludes that without migration, the urban population in the developed world would probably decline or remain the same in the coming decades. In the last 30 years, more cities in the developed world shrank than grew, mostly cities in North America and Europe. This again could be due to people from one city moving to another city and due to migrants choosing to move into certain cities and not others. Many cities in countries of the former Soviet bloc too are losing their populations. Nearly 100 Russian cities experienced negative growth in the 1990s, while in the Ukraine, 40 cities contracted.


Tata Teleservices snippets

Amid unconfirmed reports of a probable foreign investment coming its way, Tata Teleservices is going ahead with its expansion plans. It now plans to roll out services in Jammu and Kashmir and in northeast India. This way the telecom provider aims to increase its number of circle for operations to 21. Earlier reports by news agencies said that Japanese mobile operator NTT DoCoMo Inc was interested in picking up a 26% stake in Tata Teleservices for $2.5 billion. If that comes through Tata Teleservices would be valued at $9.6 billion. The company at present operates in about 6,600 towns across 19 circles in India and has a subscriber base of 29 million.

Trans LoC trade

The Jammu and Kashmir Government says the trade between the divided Kashmir is domestic and not international. So when lorries carried goods across the Line of Control through the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road, it began as “barter” as the Government is yet to formulate necessary modalities for this business.
“It is not an international trade. International trade takes place between two sovereign countries but this trade is between one part of J&K with the other,” J-K Commissioner Secretary (Industries) Pawan Kotwal, who is also the nodal officer for the cross-LoC trade, said. “At present, it is some sort of barter. But with the passage of time, it will develop and will be through cash. Once some sort of an arrangement is reached between the banks (of the two countries), it will be through normal channels.” J-K Government’s Economic Advisor and chairman of Jammu and Kashmir Bank Dr Haseeb Drabu said it was not simply a matter of sending goods across the LoC. “If the trade has to be successful, it needs five enabling networks. We will need financial network, a communication network, a transport network, a regulatory network and a legal network,” he said, adding there were no banking relations between India and Pakistan at present.
Government officials agree that there is a lot of backroom work still to be done to formulate a mechanism for this trade. For example, there is no communication link between the Valley and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as the Government has barred phone calls across the LoC. This is the first major hurdle. Then as there are no Indo-Pak banking relations, normal banking transactions for this trade are impossible.
“We have to work out a way to make these transactions possible. If it was international trade, everything was simple. Once it is domestic trade, the issue of currency comes into play,” a senior official said. “In case the two governments decide that the transactions can happen through foreign banks, this issue can be sorted out.” There is also no clarity as to how the goods will be transported from either side of the LoC. As of now, the J-K Government has set up a trade facilitation centre at Salamabad near Uri while the PoK Government has created a similar facility at Chakoti town, a few miles inside PoK. Vehicles from either side are allowed to carry goods up to these specific trade facilitation centres where the goods are handed over to the respective Chambers of Commerce.
The two governments have not yet evolved a regulatory and legal mechanism for this trade. “It is true that if there is a dispute between the traders, there is no mechanism to resolve it,” an official said. “The reopening of the (Srinagar-Muzaffarabad) road was just a beginning. A lot more work needs to be done before it becomes a viable business relationship

The Crash of 2008

A military term. Capitulation refers to surrendering or giving up. In the stock market, capitulation is associated with "giving up" any previous gains in stock price as investors sell equities in an effort to get out of the market and into less risky investments. True capitulation involves extremely high volume and sharp declines. It usually is indicated by panic selling.
After capitulation selling, it is thought that there are great bargains to be had. The belief is that everyone who wants to get out of a stock, for any reason (including forced selling due to margin calls), has sold. The price should then, theoretically, reverse or bounce off the lows. In other words, some investors believe that true capitulation is the sign of a bottom.

Mumbai Metro Two

Within just three weeks of Anil Ambani’s Reliance Infrastructure announcing financial closure to build the first corridor of Mumbai Metro, the MMRDA has asked its seven shortlisted consortia to submit detailed financial bids for the 38-km second Mumbai Metro line between Charkop and Mankhurd via Bandra. A pre-bid meeting will be called by MMRDA on November 5 to discuss the proposed Rs 7,660-crore project with the seven consortia consisting three players each. The consortia, including two led by the Ambani brothers and Tatas, have been given the pre-qualification documents for the project. They would be asked to submit further details and clarifications within 10 days of the pre-bid meeting, MMRDA officials said. The Metro II line, with 27 stations, is being built on public-private partnership (PPP). It is expected to receive Rs 1,532 crore viability gap funding (VGF) from the Centre. “An empowered committee at the Centre has principally approved the financial estimates of the project,” informed MMRDA spokesperson. Officials said the bidder, which expects the minimum share from the government, will win the bid. If things go fine, the bid could be closed financially by December and the work will begin in January 2009. Around 14,000 people, to get affected by the Metro project on this line, would be rehabilitated on 50 hectares of a car depot plot in Charkop.Bidders in the final round include a consortium of L&T Infrastructure Development Projects, GE India Infrastructure and Construcciones Y Auxiliar De Ferrocarriles; another one having Infratech, Mitsubishi and Tata Power; a consortium of GVK, Yeoh Tiong Lay of Malaysia, and Bombardier Transportation (USA); a syndicate of Reliance Industries (Mukesh Ambani), Siemens, and Gammon India. Another one comprises Essar, Alstom, and Lanco; a consortium of Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services, IL&FS Transportation Networks and Punj Lloyd; and a group of Anil Ambani-led Reliance Energy, Reliance Communication and SNC Lavalin.

It's time for Diwali....

Diwali shopping...traffic..crackers..diyas..kandeels...masks...

The Global Meltdown Snapshot

Hindu terrorism and the BJP

The emergence of a “Hindu” angle to the Modasa and Malegaon blasts has put BJP in a spot given its sustained campaign against jihadi terrorism even though its leadership feels that none of those detained has an active link with any Sangh Parivar organisation. With reports of Indore-based Hindu Jagran Manch being connected with post-September 13 Delhi serial blasts appearing, BJP leadership did a quick check on the backgrounds and affiliations of those suspected to have had a hand in the attacks which took place in Muslim areas.The development was discussed by BJP leaders, including L K Advani and Rajnath Singh and some others, at Parliament House where it was felt that the particular sadhvi were not connected with the Sangh. But the sadhvi’s previous links with ABVP in the late 90’s were definitely cause for discomfort. The BJP leaders were left with little choice but to take the position that all acts of violence had to be condemned and if the role of the Manch was established, it would have to face the consequences.