Core industries grow 5.3% in November

The six core industries grew at a three-month high annual rate of 5.3% in November, suggesting a possibly higher overall industrial growth for the month as these key infrastructure industries have a significant weight in the index for industrial production (IIP). The growth is, however, partly overstated because of the base effect. Core sector, comprising six infrastructure industries crude oil, refining, coal, electricity, cement, and steel had grown at 0.8% in November 2008. According to D K Joshi, principal economist at credit ratings agency CRISIL, the strength of the turn around could not be assessed now. “There is too much of noise in the system and I will wait for the third quarter economic growth figure before taking a call on the strength of the recovery,” said Mr Joshi. Out of the six-core industries crude oil production was the only segment that clocked a negative growth in the month. Analysts attributed this fall in crude oil production to steady fall in productivity of oil wells due to aging. Petroleum refining showed a spurt in production as the domestic refineries stepped up production to meet the rising demand in local and overseas markets. The International Energy Agency has already raised its oil demand growth forecast for next calendar year saying that there will be an increase in fuel consumption driven by countries such as India and China and also by the developed economies of the West. Cement production and finished steel production also posted high growth rates suggesting that the government stimulus measures are showing effect. Some analysts, however, are of the opinion that if the stimulus measures are withdrawn, the growth rate will falter. “The deceleration in GDP growth excluding government consumption and continued deceleration in investment growth clearly indicate it is the stimulus which is propping up growth,” Mumbai-based brokerage house Anand Rathi Financial Services pointed out in a recent research note. The coal production in the country has been falling steadily for three straight months. The standing committee on coal and steel recently said that it is “shocked” to find that inordinate delays in forest and environmental clearances besides land acquisition are hindering the country’s coal production target and about 100 coal projects have failed to take off. Analysts are of opinion that the fall in coal production is getting reflected in the electricity generation. Coal based electricity generation account for more than 50% of country’s electricity generation.

Somewhere in Mumbai....

The faithful gather for Midnight Mass near Mount Mary Church in Bandra on Christmas eve.

Somewhere in Chennai....

A seized luxury vehicle currently parked at the Choolaimedu police station has become the resting place for goats wandering about in the area

Somewhere in Kolkata....

Winter sets in with the temperature to around 10 degrees.


Virar to Alibaug in 75 mins :Snapshot

Hope this does not remain on paper like so many other plans.

India retains largest milk producer tag

India which retained its numero uno position in world milk production this year as well, is estimated to have produced 110 million tonnes of milk in 2008-09. Milk procurement of the world is estimated to be around 688 million tonnes in 2008, which was up by 1.7% compared to the previous year. With the success of Amul model of cooperative dairy in India, some of the developing and underdeveloped countries, too, are considering replicating the same. During 2008-09, milk procurement by the dairy co-operatives increased by 9.7% to 9.2 million tonnes in India. Dairy cooperatives procured about 14% of the national marketable surplus, covering around 21% of the country’s villages and 18% of the rural milkproducing households. India’s milk production was 104.8 million tonnes in 2007-08 and it is estimated to be 110 million tonnes in 2008-09. The National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) published recent statistics in its annual report for the fiscal 2008-09. In February 2009, NDDB deputed a team to Uganda and Tanzania under ‘South South Experience Exchange Programme’ at the request of the World Bank. The apex marketing body for Amul brand of dairy products, the Rs 6,711-crore Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd, too, is closely working with World Bank to replicate its successful model in the African countries. Despite the growth in milk procurement in the country, it was observed that producer (farmer) and consumer prices of milk increased by 5-6%. Ghee prices also increased significantly.

A National Memorial at Dandi

Mobile telephony : 2009

Unlike 2008, when market leader Bharti Airtel topped the charts for monthly customer additions for all 12 months, this year has witnessed a topsy-turvy battle for the first place. In the first 11 months of 2009, three telcos — Reliance Communications, Bharti Airtel and Tata Teleservices — have all occupied the top slot with each having a minimum three month reign at the helm, a clear indicator that customers go in for the lowest tariffs, even if the difference were to be only a few paise. Such has been the competition that even in the GSM space alone, Vodafone Essar had displaced Bharti Airtel in March and October to take the top slot in customer additions among operators using this technology platform. Ever since it launched its per second billing scheme and per call pricing for its CDMA customers, Tata Teleservices has occupied the top slot for the last four months. This is also the first year that multiple companies have occupied the number one slot. The slugfest between thirteen mobile phone firms has also seen India add a record 140 million customers in the first 11 months of 2009. In fact, data released by telecom regulator Trai on Tuesday reveal that India’s cellular base crossed the 500-million mark in November 2009 and its operators added 17.65 million new cellular users during this month, the highest ever since mobile services have been launched in India. This has also taken the country’s teledensity to over 46%. At current growth rates, India is set to register over 155 million new cellular connections in 2009, the highest ever globally during a calendar year. The biggest turnaround story in 2009 has been that of Tata Teleservices which did not register a presence in the top three players in terms of monthly growth during the fist half of 2009. The telco, which offers services on both GSM and CDMA platforms, has since August become a runaway leader, also forcing the industry to respond and replicate its price cuts and billing strategy. Industry executives point out that while Reliance Communications was a leader by a huge margin in subscriber additions in January-March ’09 period on the basis of their free minutes launch offer for its GSM operations, its additions fell substantially during April-October after this scheme was over, compelling the Anil Ambani-promoted telco to launch another tariff-initiative around October-November.

Bihar hops on the tourism bandwagon

Total ban on use of plastic bags in Pune

Use of plastic bags of all sizes and shapes will soon be banned in the city. The general body (GB) meeting of the Pune Municipal Corporation on Wednesday approved a resolution enforcing a complete ban on use of plastic bags. The decision, taken to prevent further degradation of environment due to plastic, will come into force once the state government gives it a final approval. At the GB, standing committee chairman Nilesh Nikam congratulated all corporators for unanimously supporting the decision. He said the decision assumes significance as it comes a few days after the Copenhagen summit. The proposal banning use of plastic bags was first moved by corporators Ashok Yenpure and Dilip Umbarkar in May this year. The standing committee had approved the proposal in the wake of the solid waste mangement imbroglio the city had to face following agitations by residents of Urali and Phursungi, where city’s waste is dumped. While the civic administration made no statement on how the ban on use of plastic bags will be implemented, corporators demanded that action should be taken against all traders, shopkeepers, hawkers and vendors who keep such bags.

Somewhere in Bangalore....

Jharkhand results

A horribly hung assembly !

MTS in Mumbai

MTS...a CDMA player enters the Mumbai circle

Somewhere on Dalal Street....

Christmas cheer ....

Somewhere in Jhansi....

Rahul Gandhi continues his Discovery of India.He has dinner with members of a dalit family, at their house in Goawali village of Jhansi district

Prez on INS Viraat

After flying a Sukhoi fighter aircraft, President Pratibha Patil arrived on board INS Viraat on Wednesday to witness a steampast by naval ships, submarines and a demonstration by helicopters and Sea Harriers. India’s only aircraft carrier is celebrating its golden jubilee year.

Nano is Car of the year

PM may mull freeing auto fuel prices

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may deliberate on freeing auto fuel prices when he reviews the financial health of state-run oil firms with finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and oil minister Murli Deora on January 13. Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia and former Planning Commission member Kirit S Parikh, who heads an expert committee on fuel pricing, may join the deliberations. Officially, the meeting has been called to take stock of the financial position of PSU oil retailers, they said. The issue of freeing petrol and diesel prices from government control may come up for discussion as Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum are projected to lose Rs 45,000 crore on selling the two auto fuel and domestic LPG and kerosene at rates below cost during the current fiscal. Sources said the government had failed to provide the promised oil bonds to make up for the revenue loss on LPG and kerosene, in the absence of which HPCL and BPCL reported losses in the second quarter while IOC barely scrapped through. Freeing of auto fuel prices would result in petrol prices being raised by Rs 3.49 a litre and diesel by Rs 2.38 per litre.

Mantralaya makeover back on track

The Maharashtra government has decided to go ahead with its plan for the redevelopment of Mantralaya and its precincts. Chief minister Ashok Chavan had stayed the project following a controversy which broke out on the eve of the assembly elections. It is learnt that the stay has been lifted and the massive project will be implemented by Indiabulls Real Estate Ltd (IBREL) at a cost of Rs 1,382.75 crore. The PWD, under deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal, had taken the initiative to redevelop government buildings in Mantralaya precinct in partnership with private builders. The project involves modernisation and upgrade of Mantralaya’s main building and construction of residential quarters for ministers, judges and senior officials, a new MLA hostel, a government rest house, auditorium and offices for political parties in the area, which has ministers’ cottages at present. The project involves renovation of 13.76 lakh sq ft of the existing Mantralaya building and converting it into a “modern, secure, aesthetic and IT-enabled building and construction of 17.99-lakh sq ft residential apartments and other facilities’’. The new administrative building and the Vidhan Bhavan will also be renovated. The estimated cost of renovation and construction is Rs 813.13 crore. IBREL will have to pay Rs 293.11 crore towards a corpus fund for maintenance and an up front premium of Rs 276.51 crore. In lieu of these costs, IBREL will get a prime 4.4-acre plot near Mantralaya. The price at which IBREL has bid for the project translates into Rs 314 crore per acre. As many as 17 real estate and infrastructure firms had purchased the tender documents. This included IBREL, L&T, IL&FS, Tata Housing Development Company, Unity Infrastructure and D B Reality. The technocommercial bid was submitted by IL&FS, IBREL and D B Realty. There was a move to keep IL&FS out on the grounds that it was late in making its submission.

The tricolour can be flown at night too

Indian citizens can now fly the national flag even at night. This is subject to the condition that the flagpole is over 100 feet and the flag itself well-illuminated. The home ministry took the decision following a proposal by industrialist Naveen Jindal, who had earlier won a court battle in the 1990s to fly the tricolour as a fundamental right of every citizen. In a communication to the Congress MP from Kurukshetra, the ministry said it had no objection to the installation of “giant flagpoles for flying the national flag day and night at various places’’. Jindal had said that the flag was to be flown in “as far as possible between sunrise and sunset’’ as per the flag code of India, but it was a common practice worldwide for massive national flags to be flown day and night on monumental flagpoles of 100 feet and above in height. To bolster his case, he had cited the examples of Malaysia, Jordon, Abu Dhabi, North Korea, Brazil, Mexico and Turkmenistan where monumental flags are flown at night.


Mumbai Trans Harbour Metro planned

Parallel to the Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link, MMRDA plans to have a Metro corridor to bridge the distance between Navi Mumbai’s residential nodes and south Mumbai. Officials say the addition of Metro tracks would bring travel time along the 22-km route down to 35 minutes. “We are planning a Metro over the sea, along the road corridor, and the project cost will now exceed Rs 8,000 crore instead of the earlier estimated cost of Rs 6,000 crore,’’ a MMRDA official said. According to the officials, the new design and the proposal would later be forwarded to the state cabinet for approval; once the plan gets the go ahead, the tendering process would start. The MMRDA had earlier planned a suburban railway track along the corridor but synchronisation was a difficult task as the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) was implementing the sea-link part of the Eastern Freeway, an official said. “However now, that we are handling the sea-link part as well, it will be easier for us to deal with the project,’’ the MMRDA official said. Earlier, the project, which was estimated to cost over Rs 6,000 crore, had been bid for twice. Initially, it was marred by a clash between two Ambani brothers followed by no response to the second bid due to global economic slowdown. The new Metro corridor will reach Belapur where it would meet the proposed Mankhurd-Panvel Metro Corridor. On Sewri side, the Metro would be attached to third Colaba-Bandra-Airport Metro line at Prabhadevi. The MMRDA also plans to implement this project on a public-private partnership (PPP) model, like it is being done in case of the ongoing work of the first line of the Metro, between Versova and Ghatkopar via Andheri. Similar work is poised to start between Charkop and Mankhurd via Bandra, for which Reliance Infrastructure has been appointed as the implementing agency. The tendering of the third Metro line (Colaba to Airport via Bandra) is yet to begin as the consultant’s report on its financial feasibility is still awaited. The sea link will be synchronized with the upcoming Eastern and Western Freeways and the existing Western and Eastern Express Highways. “We felt the need of this planning due to upcoming the special economic zones and the Navi Mumbai airport. The line will be futuristic and can be extended up to Thane, Alibaug and Virar in future,’’ said the source. The project was first envisaged and recommended by then leading business tycoons like, JRD Tata and Dhirubhai Ambani.


Somewhere in Pune....

It's Christmas time.....

The Dragon & The Elephant

China is way ahead of us. All numbers in red are for China and black for India.

The Case for smaller states

An article by Abheek Barman

The din and violence surrounding the government’s announcement that it’ll finally push to carve out the state of Telangana from Andhra Pradesh, has claimed a major victim: reason. Most arguments against carving out Telangana are emotive, charged with hysteria, coloured with political posturing. The only remotely sensible argument against creating Telangana is that it could set off an avalanche of competing demands for more new states. But even that argument, as we shall see, holds little water and can be dealt with reasonably. Let’s not kid ourselves. Over the last 60-odd years, successive governments have tinkered with state boundaries and carved out new states from older ones. The last three — Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarkhand — were created less than 10 years ago, in November 2000. India today has 28 states, compared to 14 shortly after it became a republic. So let’s stop behaving as if this is an unprecedented calamity that we’re suddenly faced with. Folks who argue in favour of Telangana say that the region is backward, something that’s hard to refute. Districts like Nalgonda, Medak and Warangal are among the poorest in India. Glittering Hyderabad is located in Telangana, surrounded by these districts. Drive out from the city and it’ll take you less than an hour to reach some of India’s most backward areas. Yet, this is also the place where a lot of India’s mineral wealth is concentrated. Miners like the Reddy brothers from the neighbouring state of Karnataka have huge operations in Telangana. One of their mining companies is now being investigated for — this is hard to believe — changing the border between Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh to benefit their mining interests. Lots of resources, yet very few benefits coming to people on the ground: that’s what proponents of Telangana argue. As a new state, they say, the government of Telangana will have the political and administrative drive to do better for voters. Instead of trying to refute this argument logically, people in coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema, both wealthier than Telangana, are on a rampage. Burning state buses is no answer to an economic argument; it only leaves you with fewer buses. For many years, Jawaharlal Nehru refused to pay heed to any claim for statehood based on linguistic or ethnic factors. His sole criterion was economic: would a new state be better off after independence? Would it be able to support itself better than before? Though Nehru’s blindness to language or ethnicity was, well, a handicap the economic arguments he so loved are very important. And most arguments for Telangana’s statehood are economic. But are the assumptions of folks who want Telangana state realistic? Do people who live in newly carved out states do better than before? Nine years after the creation of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand, there’s some reason to believe that, indeed, they do. Among all the newly created states, Uttarkhand is probably an anomaly; it wanted to peel off from Uttar Pradesh because it felt that its parent was more backward than it was. So, it’s probably no surprise to know that by 2006-07, the average person in the hill state made Rs 27,800, nearly double the Rs 14,663 made by the average UP-wallah. Most of the stories coming out of Jharkhand are about Naxalism and the fabulous wealth allegedly salted away by former chief minister Madhu Koda. Yet some of Koda’s prosperity seems to have rubbed off on Jharkhand, where the average person’s income two years ago was Rs 20,177 again, nearly double the average Bihari’s Rs 10,570. It’s the same story in Chhattisgarh, where the average income was nearly Rs 29,000, much more than the average Madhya Pradesh income of Rs 18,051 two years ago. People in smaller, newer states are better off than counterparts in their parent states. Another argument against splitting existing states is that the new ones are slow to mobilise their own funds from taxes or cesses and depend heavily on central handouts. Ergo, to control New Delhi’s finances, it’s better to go slow on new states. Sure, a state like Chhattisgarh might take time to get its taxation systems in place and need central handouts. But even a state like Haryana, carved out of Punjab in 1966, needs funds from New Delhi. Bengal, which has been partitioned several times, and therefore got smaller, is hardly self sufficient. Indeed many ‘established’ states like Bengal and Bihar are still so slow to collect local revenues that matching funds from New Delhi often go unused. All states, big or small, old or new have similar powers to collect revenues. Their ability to do so doesn’t depend on when they were created or their size, but by the efficiency of their administration and the buoyancy of their economies. The creation of Telangana might trigger cries to make more new states like Vidarbha and Gorkhaland, or split Uttar Pradesh into three. The best way to figure out what’s feasible, which demand merits attention and which doesn’t, is to set up a group, like the States’ Reorganisation Commission and have it thrash things out with everyone, and then take a call. Finally, the Congress party which dominates this government, needs to be internally consistent in what it stands for. As long ago as 2001, the Congress Working Committee accepted the report of one of its study teams and decided that it was in favour of creating two new states: Telangana and Vidarbha. Then, the BJPled NDA government was in power and it mattered little what the Congress thought. But in 2004 after its election victory, the common minimum programme adopted by the first UPA coalition also agreed to work towards statehood for Telangana. In the hurly burly of coalition politics, it soon forgot this promise and lost an ally, the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti (TRS) two years later. Today, instead of dithering, the government should signal clearly that it will work to create Telangana. And set up a group to examine the demands for other new states. Remember, the United Sates, with about one third our population, has 50 states, a number that’s only grown over time.

JNNURM snippets

The UPA government’s flagship programme Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) may have to depend on private funds as the government may find it difficult to spare more resources. The Planning Commission has said it will be difficult to spare additional government funds for the “very successful” scheme that has run out of its initial corpus and there is a need for private money to flow in. “There is a risk that the scheme may lose its momentum for want of adequate funds. There is a need for private money to come into city development,” Planning Commission member Arun Maira said. Launched in December 2005, the scheme has generated a lot of interest from state governments, leading to the utilisation of the Rs 1,00,000 crore earmarked for seven years in the first four years of its implementation. Mr Maira pointed out that the scheme was enthusiastically received by most state governments as it also meant some additional Central funds coming their way. “It proved to be a very successful initiative. It made the country pay attention to the condition of our cities,” he said. With funds running out, the urban development ministry had sought Rs 50,000 crore more for the scheme from the Planning Commission. While a World Bank loan of $1 billion is likely to be sanctioned for the scheme, the need for funds is several times more. The Planning Commission member, who is also a management consultant earlier working with Boston Consulting Group, said there was a lot of scope for private money to come into urban infrastructure. “It (flow of private money) is already happening. The Mumbai metro is an initiative totally funded with private money,” he said. According to infrastructure consultant and chairman of Feedback Ventures, Vinayak Chatterjee, private investors will indeed be interested in investing in JNNURM provided the government creates bankable public-private partnership (PPP) projects and gets private players to bid for them. “This can work out provided users pay charges and there is a regulatory environment to enforce it,” he added. Mr Maira said that with the money from the World Bank coming in, the stress in JNNURM will now shift to soft infrastructure. “The emphasis will now be on soft infrastructure like management of local bodies, water management, transport management, water distribution, housing and land management,” he said. Around 40 projects have been completed so far under the flagship scheme. Some of the projects completed are construction of a six lane flyover on Memnagar junction at Ahmedabad, a sea water desalination plant at Minjur in Chennai and a flyover at Rajiv Gandhi Circle-Volume II in Hyderabad. Under the scheme, more than 460 projects were sanctioned in 63 mission cities with to improve the civic infrastructure and make it sustainable for the identified urban cities. Around 28 new cities may also be added to the list.


The aviation industry is headed towards its busiest three months ever with the number of passengers jumping over 25% during October-November 2009 over the year-ago period, indicating clear revival in demand for air traffic. Airlines’ executives said that while flights to metro cities saw a surge in passenger traffic, leisure travel to destinations in Goa and Kerala came as an added bonus. As per the data available with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), in November an estimated 40 lakh passengers travelled compared with 30.48 lakh in the same month last year. In October 2009, too, 40 lakh passengers had travelled on airlines compared with 32 lakh passenger in the year-ago period. This has lifted the overall passenger traffic, which has been lagging since 2008. During January-November 2009, 400 lakh passengers travelled, an increase of 5.45% over same period 2008. Airline companies said the sharp pick-up in air traffic over the past two months is due to increase in both business and leisure travel, and would allow them to improve their financial performance, as fuel cost has not swung too sharply during the past one quarter.This should bring some cheer to airline operators, who have been laden with losses, as falling demand due to the economic slowdown and rise in fuel cost over the past few years cut into margins. Sanjay Aggarwal, CEO, SpiceJet, said October and November this year were even bigger than the two months in 2007 when the economy was still growing at a fast clip. Mr Aggarwal added that if fuel prices remain stable and there are no sharp swing in currency exchange rates, SpiceJet may post profits for the fiscal ending March 2010. The spokesperson for another low-cost airline GoAir said: “It seems to be the best quarter the aviation industry has witnessed in a long time. The demand for October-December has been good and we are now looking forward to the January-March quarter 2010.”

Doppler radar near Pamban

The entire east coast will soon be covered by meteorological mapping, as a state-of-the-art weather station, complete with a Doppler Weather Radar (DWR), will soon be installed close to Pamban near Rameswaram in Ramanathapuram district. Currently, DWRs are available in Kolkata, Paradeep, Visakhapatnam, Machilipatnam, Chennai and Karaikal. “Continuous monitoring of weather is now possible at Ramanathapuram,” said YEA Raj, deputy director general, Regional Meteorological Centre (RMC), Chennai. Last week, the department formally took over eight acres at Pamban from the state government at a nominal price. The 24-hour DWR will provide a near accurate picture of impending rainfall and cyclones. The mechanism of a radar is basic science. Radars (Radio Deduction and ranging) emit radio signals, which are transmitted to the atmosphere. Rain-bearing clouds are either ice or water particles, and when the radio signals encounter them, they are reflected back to the station.Unlike in the past when analog radars could track rain-bearing clouds only three times a day, and data crunching was a laborious exercise requiring shutting down of the radar, the new DWR will work uninterrupted, provide there is continuous power supply. “The data will be uploaded every 10 minutes and users anywhere can log on to the website for current information,” said S B Thampi, director, DWR, Chennai. The upgraded technology will help in dissemination of crucial information to farmers and fishermen in the locality. Ramanathapuram receives 85 cm of rainfall annually, while Pamban, where the DWR will be located, receives nearly 100 cm. The DWR will continuously monitor the cloud formation on land and over the sea area within a 100-km radius, since rain-bearing north-east monsoon clouds are visible at a three to four kilometre distance in the atmosphere. South-west monsoon cloud formation can be tracked by the DWR even at a six km distance, while cyclonic clouds can be tracked even at a 15 km distance in the atmosphere, said Raj. The new DWR and office complex will replace the existing weather station at Pamban which is nearly 100 years old. Work on the 30-metre (100 feet) tall office will commence soon and the radar will be mounted atop the building. The radar has a 10-metre diameter and weighs 10 tonnes along with the antenna. Located 15 km north and west of Ramanathapuram at Pullangudi village, the station also hopes to introduce wind profilers at a later stage. “Within two years, the station will become functional,” said Raj about the Rs 20 crore project.

3G auction update

The government said that the auction for 3G mobile spectrum would commence as per schedule from January 14 next year and allotment would be made to four private players simultaneously by August. "The Empowered Group of Ministers (eGoM) has decided to auction 3G spectrum for four slots as per original schedule," telecom minister A Raja said after an hour-long meeting of the eGoM headed by FM Pranab Mukherjee. Asked whether the defence ministry would vacate the required spectrum, the minister said, "There is a consensus in eGoM on vacation of spectrum and it would be alloted simultaneously to all four winners by August 2010." The government is estimating to generate Rs 25,000 crore from sale of 3G spectrum, allowing five operators, including state-run BSNL/MTNL which have already been given airwaves. Earlier the Department of Telecom (DoT) had expressed concern over delay in vacation of spectrum by the defence ministry and had suggested, in its note for eGoM meeting, that only three slots should be auctioned. The government has fixed a reserve price of Rs 3,500 crore for 3G spectrum and Rs 1,750 crore for the Wimax (wireless broadband) services. Raja said that it has been decided to allot spectrum simultaneously in August, 2010, to all the winners in order to maintain a level-playing field.

Somewhere in Jammu....

A man rides a camel, loaded with fodder.

Global Restrictions on Religion

For India, international recognition of its free and pluralistic society has always been hard to come by and while things are changing, they are clearly changing slowly. A study carried out by Washington-based Pew Research Centre, the highly respected US thinktank, India is next only to Iraq when it comes to social hostility and religious discrimination perpetrated by individuals and groups. The study titled ‘Global Restrictions on Religion’ took into account the situation in as many as 198 countries, North Korea being the only notable exception, to derive the conclusion. India was just below Iraq and well above countries like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan when it came to social hostility in the country. Pakistan is at the third place right below India. The study, which claims to cover 99.5% of the world population, deals with restrictions imposed on religion not just by social groups and individuals but also by the government. Even in the case of government induced restrictions, India fares badly with its position in the top 40 countries out of the 198 mentioned. Even though the report says that “the highest overall levels of restrictions are found in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran, where both the government and society at large impose numerous limits on religious beliefs and practices’’ India is ranked well above them in the social hostility index. While India has fared badly on both, China has done remarkably well when it comes to social hostility even though it has done badly in the government imposed restrictions section. “Vietnam and China, for instance, have high government restrictions on religion but are in the moderate or low range when it comes to social hostilities. Nigeria and Bangladesh follow the opposite pattern: high in social hostilities but moderate in terms of government actions,’’ it says. The report clubs India with Sri Lanka, Ethiopia and Bangladesh as countries where large segments of the population want to protect the special place of one particular religion. This is how it explains the high social hostility index for these countries. “Many of the restrictions imposed in these countries are driven by groups pressing for the enshrinement of their interpretation of the majority faith, including through Shariah law in Muslim societies and Hindutva movement in India that seeks to define India as a Hindu nation,’’ says the report. In preparing this study, the Pew Forum devised a battery of measures, phrased as questions, to gauge the levels of government and social restrictions on religion in each country.


Somewhere near Pune....

A power generation unit, using solar thermal technology, will soon come up at Shive, a village in Khed taluka, some 45 km from Pune. If the experimental project succeeds, the village will be the first in the country to have its own electricity generation plant. What’s more, the Shive model will likely be replicated across the country with publicprivate partnership. The project is being set up as a joint venture by the Union government and Pune-based Thermax Ltd. Unlike the conventional system of power generation, this plant will use solar energy to heat water and the steam will rotate the turbine to generate 250 kW power for the village. The power generation plant will not be connected to the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Ltd grid. Of the total project cost of Rs 15 crore, the Union government will invest Rs 13 crore and the rest will be borne by Thermax. According to Prithviraj Chavan, Union minister of state for science and technology, who laid the foundation stone of the project along with Meher Pudumjee, chairperson, Thermax, on Sunday, this project could soon be a model for other such projects in the country.
Shive is located on the backwaters of the Bhama-Askhed dam, now under construction, It has a population of 1,000 and receives power only for few hours in a day. The village is a few kilometres from the Talegaon MIDC where multinational companies have their huge set-ups. Although many farmers use diesel engines to pump water to their farms, it is not feasible for every farmer to follow such a costly way of farming. Chavan said, “Of the total number of families in the country, 56 per cent of them are deprived of an electricity connection. The Union government wants to explore all the available ways of power generation and the solar thermal power generation project is a first step towards this.” The project will begin in the next 18 months, during which time Thermax will set up aluminium mirrors that will track the sunlight for higher heat generation. Of the three acres of land donated by the villagers, 80 per cent of it will be utilised to set up aluminium mirrors. Thermax will also set up a boiler, which will use biowaste sourced from the village to produce electricity for a maximum two hours. It will work as a power back-up for the village. The total project will supply a minimum of 10 hours of electricity to the village, company officials said. After commencement of the project, Thermax will maintain and run the project for five years. The government will bear the maintenance cost. A team of 20 people from the company will be deployed at the village for completion of the project.

Somewhere in Chennai....

After a Rs 25.92-crore beautification project, Marina beach was formally thrown open to the public by chief minister M Karunanidhi on Sunday. The stretch from Labour Statue to the Light House now sports a new look with 14 galleries, a four-metre internal walkway and fountains

Maoists go crazy

Maoists launched a brutal assault on a zoo in West Midnapore’s Jhargram town on Saturday night, firing indiscriminately into deer and black buck enclosures, setting fire to animal cages, burning hundreds of birds and beating up the beat officer and forest guards. The toll is being assessed, but two black bucks are confirmed dead and hundreds of birds burnt to ashes. Forest department officials are now scrambling to save an elephant herd that is headed in the direction. The attack on the zoo, just 2 km from Jhargram, could be a strategic move because it connects the town with Jharkhand via Banstala and Manikpara. Once Maoists have access to it, they can easily reach Jharkhand. Jhargram is now surrounded by rebel strongholds. The attack, which took everyone by shock, is indicative of the lawlessness in Maoist-affected Jangalmahal. It was followed by the murder of two CPM leaders at Laudhiadham, just 6 km away, and two more at Sabardanga. They were all shot execution style, with a bullet to the back of the head. The mindless massacre of animals indicates that the Maoists and PCPA may not have control over elements within the organisation. The tribal upsurge is rapidly turning into an uncontrolled reign of terror in Jangalmahal. PCPA president Santosh Patra could not explain the attack on Jhargram Mini Zoo. He admitted that the mob which stormed into the sanctuary “was not under their control”. The zoo in West Midnapore, some 220 km from Kolkata, houses many endangered species, among them the gharial, sloth bear, and crocodiles. The only two black bucks were riddled with bullets and the carcasses taken away. A huge aquarium was smashed to bits. When reporters reached the zoo at 10 pm, just half an hour after the attack, a huge bonfire was raging in front of the gate. Several trees could be seen blazing inside. Charred foliage, burnt branches and heaps of concrete — remains of the boundary wall that was pulled down by the rebels — were strewn over a 300-metre area. Even 12 hours after the attack, wisps of smoke curled up from the ravaged cages. Bloodstains were seen on the floor of the small black buck enclosure. Bird carcasses are being pulled from the ash and cinder, say sources.

Gurgaon-Faridabad road widening on fast track

Come 2011, the drive on Faridabad-Gurgaon and Ballabhgarh-Sohna roads is set to become smoother. The Haryana government — which has awarded the work to widen and upgrade these two stretches — claims the project would be completed before the scheduled deadline of May 2011. Infrastructure major Reliance-Infra, which has been executing the two crucial road projects besides upgrading two link roads in the Faridabad municipal area, said it has already achieved financial closure for the work. A company spokesperson said, ‘‘It’s a design, engineering, finance, construction, operation and maintenance project. And designs for more than 60% of these roads are already complete.’’ After the project is complete, it would be easier to reach Faridabad from Gurgaon and the connectivity to Badkhal Lake, Surajkund Craft Fair, Damdama Lake, Sohna tourist complex and Sultanpur bird sanctuary will also improve. Haryana PWD has awarded the project on BOT-Toll basis at an estimated investment of Rs 180 crore. The project includes 4-laning of the 24.3km Gurgaon-Faridabad road — which has two lanes at present. Similarly, the 3km road along the crusher zone will be widened to four lanes. The existing Ballabhgarh-Sohna road, which has been in a dilapidated condition will be upgraded. The scope of work includes construction of 10 minor bridges and improvement of five major junctions. Commuters using Gurgaon-Faridabad, Ballabhgarh-Sohna and the crusher zone road will pay the toll. While the first stretch will have one toll plaza, the second stretch will have two. The crusher zone will have one plaza for toll collection. The stone crushers’ zone has about 140 stone crushers and heavily-loaded trucks carrying quarry material from these crushers have damaged the road severely. The project also includes four truck laybyes for parking of trucks. At present, the illegal parking of trucks on the narrow road sides makes the stretch accident-prone.

BJP's change of guard

Sushma replaces Advani and Rajnath makes way for Gadkari as RSS takes control of the BJP.

Mutual Funds snapshot

Mumbai Trans Harbour Link update

While we continue to dilly dally on the trans harbour link, China has started construction of the longest bridge in the sea (Pic above).
Even before the Cabinet subcommittee for infrastructure has taken a decision on the financial model for the Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link project, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) is preparing a fresh model. "We've roped in KPMG to prepare a new financial model that is expected to be ready within three weeks. We'll then submit the report to the cabinet for approval," said Ratnakar Gaikwad, metropolitan commissioner, MMRDA.
The Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) had submitted a proposal to the Cabinet in July.The two state government agencies are in a battle to implement the ambitious project.According to senior state government officials, MMRDA wants to execute the project financially, without involving MSRDC, due to MSRDC's financial condition.
The financial model submitted by MSRDC involves a PPP model, with the government deciding the concession period: how many years the concessionaire would collect the toll on the bridge. If the government decides a concession period of 40 years, the bidder will quote for a government grant if it feels 40 years is not enough to recover the construction cost, a state government official said.
The 22.5-km link between Sewri and Nhava on the hinterland has been in the government files since the 1970s.Lately, the state government had invited bids to develop the sea link on a public-private partnership model but failed to attract bidders amid the economic slowdown. Earlier the government scrapped two bids from the Ambani brothers, terming them unrealistic.
Under the proposal, the eight-lane sea link, which is estimated to cost around Rs 6,000 crore, will run from Messant Road on the eastern side of Sewri railway station on Harbour Line, traverse through the creek waters and meet the mainland near Shivaji Nagar, and end on National Highway 4B at Chirle in Navi Mumbai.
The proposed sea link offers to cut the distance between the two locations by 15 km and reduce travel time from more than two hours to about 30 minutes. According to MSRDC sources, like the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, the proposed MTHL could also be a cable-stayed bridge.

The new Direct Tax Code snippets

On July 6, 2009, the Finance Minister informed that he would soon present a newly drafted Direct Tax Code (DTC) to replace the existing direct tax laws, particularly the Income Tax Act,1961.True to his word,the draft DTC 2009 has been put up on the official website and official printed versions have also been released. Suggestions from enlightened citizens and professional bodies have been pouring in. The Finance Minister has promised that the government will take into account all the representations before it comes out with the final draft.
DTC 2009 is slated to become law from April 1, 2011.
STT to be abolished. Securities Transaction Tax will be abolished because the exemption for longterm capital gains will be withdrawn altogether. Similarly, the distinction between short-term and long-term capital gains will also be abolished.Mutual fund dividends to be taxed.While dividends paid by companies will continue to be exempt from income tax, dividends paid by mutual funds will be taxable.Hence the tedious tax deducted at source (TDS) on such income will also come back.
EET for all savings products. DTC also proposes to introduce the `Exempt- Exempt-Taxation' (EET) method of taxation of savings.Thus all saving products will be taxed only at the time of on withdrawal.The good news here is that only new contributions made on or after the commencement of this code will be hit. All savings made in EPF, PPF, NSC and other products till March 31, 2011 will be fully protected and will not attract any tax on withdrawal even after April 1, 2011. Similarly, all accretions (capital gains) to that corpus will also be protected from taxation in future.
Capital gains subject to marginal income tax rate. All capital assets will be classified into investment assets and business assets. Any grains made on investment assets will be treated as capital gain. Such capital gain will be taxed as if it is normal income instead of being taxed at a concessional rate, as is the case at present. Indexation benefit. However, if you hold the investment asset for more than one year, you will be entitled to indexation benefit. The index (of market value) will be advanced from April 1, 1981 to April 1, 2001. Appreciation up to April 1, 2001 will be exempt. After adjusting for the rise in the index, the balance amount will be included in thetotal income and will be taxed at the marginal rate of taxation.
Set off your capital losses. If there is any unabsorbed capital loss, it will be deducted from capital gain and only the balance will get taxed. If capital loss exceeds capital gain, the investor will be allowed to carry forward such unabsorbed amount to the next year where it will again be set off against capital gain. No limit will exist on how many years you will be allowed to carry forward your losses.
Deduction for homebuyers. Under DTC investors will be able to lower their tax liability on capital gains by availing of a deduction.The deduction will be available to you if you invest in a residential house,provided you have no otherhouse.New capital gains saving scheme. Alternatively, you can, within 60 days of sale, deposit your capital gains in a capital gains savings scheme (which is yet to be formulated).
By and large, DTC has evoked negative reactions because of the abolition of exemption on longterm capital gains on equities and the possibility of tax on withdrawal on all savings instruments.
Income tax burden to diminish. Finally, here is the good news from DTC. Your personal tax outgo will come down because of the recalibration of tax slabs. Income up to Rs 10 lakh will be taxed at the rate of 10 per cent. On income ranging from Rs10 lakh to Rs25 lakh the rate of tax will be only 20 per cent; and only on income over Rs 25 lakh will the rate of tax be 30 per cent. Effectively, the income tax that a person with an income of Rs 25 lakh will be required to pay will be Rs 3,84,000.
Wealth tax burden to ease up. Similarly, the exemption on wealth tax will be raised to Rs 50 crore and the rate of wealth tax will be 0.25 per cent on excess (above the aforementioned amount). In effect, wealth tax on Rs 51 crore will be Rs 25,000 only!

Paperless Newspapers

E-books,E-papers....Next is what ?

More on Mayawati's UP division proposal

What looks like Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati's wild card might turn out be her trump card.The Telangana heat has enabled her to grab a chance to score political points against her main political adversaries in UP. In one stroke she has countered AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and RLD president Ajit Singh by supporting the demands of separate states in UP. The situation that emerged out of her vocal demands for the separate states has left rival parties in a quandary -while the Congress has few options than reiterating its stand in favour of the creation of smaller states, SP chief Mulayam Singh cannot go beyond a certain limit to oppose Mayawati's demands despite his party's clear stand against the division of UP. The BJP is apparently in a state of confusion over her demands for the separate states in UP because of the party's stand against further division of Madhya Pradesh to pave the way for Bundelkhand.
What is important is that Mayawati's name never prominently figured with the demands for the creation of smaller states before her victory in the 2007 Assembly elections. "But she never opposed such demands and remained a silent supporter of smaller states," recalled RLD MLA Kokab Hamid who had moved a resolution in the Assembly seeking the creation of Harit Pradesh about six years ago. After the formation of her current government, Mayawati spoke in favour of the division of UP into smaller states. In October 2007, she had publicly supported the demand for the creation of Purvanchal and even tried to make it an election plank during her campaign in the last Lok Sabha elections.
BSP leaders have several justifications for Mayawati's support for the creation of smaller states. "She is known for creating small districts and tehsils. So one can understand her sentiment for the creation of smaller states," felt one BSP MLA. As things stand today, Mayawati has nothing to lose in this political game. "Her actual stand over the division of the state would be known in the coming Assembly session," said an MLA representing an Assembly constituency in eastern UP.According to him, if Mayawati allows debate over the creation of new states in the House, it means she is serious about the issue.
Incidentally, it's not the BSP that took the initiative in raising the issue of separate states in the Assembly. "I, along with Union minister Pradeep Aditya Jain who was then MLA from Jhansi had requested the Speaker to take up the matter of the creation of Bundelkhand under Rule 109. The debate over this issue is still pending. If the CM really wants to see a separate Bundelkhand, she should get the resolution passed in both Houses of the state," said Congress MLA Vivek Singh, who represents Banda Assembly seat.
Similarly, it was Congress MLA from Naugarh, Ishwar Chandra Shukla, who moved a resolution seeking creation of a separate Purvanchal."Her support for Purvanchal is nothing but a political stunt. I had moved the resolution in the last session of the Assembly in 2007. I had included 27 districts of eastern UP for creating Purvanchal," said Shukla. UPCC spokesperson Subodh Srivastava also rejected Mayawati's demands for carving out smaller states in UP. "Had she seriously taken up the issue in 2007, the resolution for the division of the state would have been passed in the House," he said.
Sources in the BSP said Mayawati stands a good chance to woo the traditional SP voters of eastern UP in the name of a separate Purvanchal. "If the Samajwadi Party's base shrinks in eastern UP, it would be a benefit of the BSP. The Congress is gradually restoring its base in this area. In the last Lok Sabha election, major success came for the Congress from eastern UP," reasoned one BSP source. As per the BSP's assessment, the SP has no base in Jat-dominated western UP. "So she would love to see polarisation of votes between her and Ajit Singh's RLD in western UP by supporting the demands for the Harit Pradesh," the BSP source further explained.

PURVANCHAL Although the demand for the creation of a separate Purvanchal state is more than four decade old, it has never been a people's campaign. Reason: different organisations that raised the voice for Purvanchal could not join a single platform to polarise people in support of the separate state.Leaders & organisations UP's former planning minister Shatrudra Prasad, former Union minister Kalpnath Roy, Shyamdhra Mishra, Satya Prakash Malviya and Shyam Lal Yadav demanded the separate state under the banner of Purvanchal Banao Manch (PBM), which was formed on November 3, 1996 and is active in Varanasi region. Another organisation, Purvanchal Rajya Sthapana Samitee (PRSS), has been active in Gorakhpur region. P K Lahiri, PRSS convener, said the organisation had approached Gandhian leader Subba Rao to support the demand. A political party, Purvanchal Banao Dal, was launched in 1994. "It fields candidates during elections," said Lahiri.

BUNDELKHAND The struggle for a separate Bundelkhand is more than two decade old. Although there are smaller organisations in favour of the demand, it is the Bundelkhand Mukti Morcha (BMM), headed by the actor Raja Bundela, that has been raising the voice of the separate state for 20 years.Leaders & organisations "Shankar Lal Mehrotra of Jhansi founded the BMM in 1989," recalled a source in Jhansi. After Mehrotra's death, it was politician Viral Bhai Patel who took the command of the BMM. Raja Bundela is associated with the BMM for more than one decade.After the Telanagana heat, Bundela revived the movement by taking out a 300-km padyatra from Kamnath temple in Chitrakoot district, UP , to Khajuraho in MP . At a recent press conference, he claimed that in 1948, princely states had signed a treaty with the Government of India which had agreed that they would constitute a single state, governed by the common legislature, executive and judiciary, and that he had obtained a copy of the treaty.Besides BMM, Bundelkhand Ekikrit Party, Bundeli Party, Bundelkhand Gana Parishad and Bundelkhand Rajya Sangharsh Samitee have been demanding a separate state.

HARIT PRADESH OR PASCHIMANCHAL The demand for Harit Pradesh is more than a decade old. Sources in the BSP said Mayawati had supported the demand 12 years back at a public meeting in Mathura.Leaders & organisations Rashtriya Lok Dal, headed by Ajit Singh, has been raising the demand for the state both among the people and inside the Assembly. According to RLD MLA Kokab Hamid: "It was former PM Charan Singh who had demanded the creation of separate Harit Pradesh before the State Reorganisation Committee in 1953. He was accompanied by nine MLAs. In 1955, the State Reorganisation Committee had nodded for the division of UP into two parts. So, we won't take rest before getting our demand fulfilled."
SONANCHAL There is also a demand for the creation of Sonanchal comprising Mirzapur, Sonbhadra and Chandauli.Leaders & organisations: In 2005, Sonanchal Sangharsh Samiti had organized meetings in support of the demand. This organisation is headed by Hariram Chero.

Talks begin on Gorkhaland too.I frankly think smaller states if better governed make a lot of sense.


Slum-free Bangalore in 4 years

Bangalore will be slumfree in four years, according to chief minister B S Yeddyurappa. At an event to mark building of 1,500 houses for residents of Ragigudda slum on Saturday, Yeddyurappa said 245 places have been identified as slum areas in Bangalore. The project is under JNNURM. “At least 10 lakh people live in these places. Under the BSUP programme of JNNURM, 18,180 houses will be built at Rs 522 crore in 58 slum areas. Construction work on 7,106 houses are under way and will be completed by December 2010,” Yeddyurappa added. He asked officials not to compromise on quality. “Emphasis should be given on cleanliness, potable water and other basic amenities,” he said. Slum Clearance Board chairman J Narasimha Swamy said 1,500 houses for 1,456 families at Ragigudda slum are being built at Rs 32.55 crore. He asked Yeddyurapa to earmark Rs 300 crore for slum development in the next budget.

Voting made mandatory in Gujarat

Gujarat assembly on Saturday passed a bill making voting to municipal corporations, municipalities, and district, taluka and village panchayats compulsory. The Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2009, also ratifies Centre’s suggestion to reserve 50% seats in all local bodies for women. Majority of them, including Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, will go to polls next year. BJP MLAs participating in the debate suggested those who do not vote should be penalised with denials of driving license or passport, or concessional bank loan, or government jobs.
The Election Commission of India has said it would not be "practical" to extend Gujarat's move on compulsory voting to all of India, but it is watching the situation "with interest". "The issue of compulsory voting has multiple dimensions, and it's for Parliament to legislate on this. As for the Election Commission, we think it's not practical to enforce 815 million-odd voters in a country as large as ours to compulsorily vote. Having said that, we would watch the Gujarat initiative with interest," Chief Election Commissioner Navin B Chawla said.
After getting the Gujarat Local Authorities Law (Amendment) Bill 2009 passed in the Assembly on Saturday, Chief Minister Narendra Modi had said the objective was to "bring the voter, rather than the political party, centrestage", and to "strengthen democracy". K J Rao, former adviser to the Election Commission, said compulsory voting "is a welcome idea, but it remains to be seen how it is implemented". On Saturday, Modi had said that "similar legislations had been adopted in as many as 32 countries". Rao, however, said "it is only in 19 out of these 32 countries that it was actually enforced, and only some of them like Belgium had provisions for punitive action for a voter's failure to cast his vote."
"There's a view that voting is a civic right, rather than a civic duty. Voter awareness drives are far more desirable," Rao said. EC officials said turnouts like 60 per cent in Naxal-hit Jharkhand and over 70 per cent in Arunachal Pradesh were "pointers to healthy democracy in India".
On Sunday, Modi's idea found qualified support in BJP-ruled Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka. Non-BJP parties like the Congress, and CPM have argued that forcible voting is antidemocratic.
The voters choice to reject all candidates -the so-called `none-of the-above option' -may, however, be a reality soon. An EC proposal to include this option in electronic voting machines is before the Parliamentary Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice. Gujarat too has emphasised on this option in its new law.

Capital gets its first world-class station

Delhi got its first railway terminal with Union railway minister Mamata Banerjee flagging off the Lucknow Winter Special from the swanky Anand Vihar station on Saturday. Rakesh Chopra, railway board (engineering), said the terminal was the railways’ first attempt to create a world-class facility. With a separate parcel loading facility, two escalators and six lifts, the station will have a special heritage gallery and custom-made subways which can be used by physically-challenged passengers. Banerjee stressed on the need to decongest stations.‘‘A huge number of trains enter Delhi and this terminal will help in easing traffic,’’ she said. The minister said the terminal was ‘‘a New Year gift’’ to Delhiites and designed keeping in mind the Games. ‘‘For all those who reside on this side of the Yamuna, it is time to proclaim that you too own a modern railway station. Anand Vihar, being strategically located, will serve the needs of NCR,’’ Banerjee said. ‘‘The Vision 2020 plan for Delhi includes completion of two dedicated freight corridors and construction of an auto hub on a railway land near the capital.‘‘Delhi has seen only 10% of our work. The remaining 90% will be completed before the Commonwealth Games,’’ Banerjee said. The Rs 85-crore terminal project was originally scheduled for inauguration in 2007, but skipped many deadlines. “The new terminal will cater to over three lakh people in full capacity and handle over 250-odd trains,” said an official. Northern Railway also plans to develop two other railway terminals at Holambi Kalan, Shakurbasti and Bijwasan.‘‘For all those who reside on this side of the Yamuna, it is time to say that you too own a modern railway station. Anand Vihar, being strategically located, will serve the needs of NCR,’’ Banerjee said

Of climate change and the Copenhagen summit

The Copenhagen summit comes to an end.....not too much achieved.