India & the elephant tag

Elephants...a special sight for most Indians still, these majestic animals appear to have fallen out of favour in more elite circles. Many critics now routinely carp at India being commonly characterized as a ‘lumbering elephant’. This label may be traced to media reports from the late 1970s, when several South East Asian nations began rapidly industrializing, and China began its ascent to economic superstardom. Experts soon began conjuring up an entire menagerie of beast metaphors. Booming East Asian ‘tiger economies’ were contrasted with a ‘slow’ Indian ‘elephant’, hobbled by its infamous ‘Hindu rate of growth’. Thirty years later, much is now made of competition between a roaring Indian economy and the mighty Chinese ‘dragon’. Many feel a tiger would now be a better symbol for a new India. Such angst is misplaced. For a nation vast in every way, the elephant metaphor is apt. Besides, while the elephant is a substantial reality, the dragon is a mythical creature — an appropriate comment on some of China’s economic statistics?
Unlike the larger African elephant, fiercer and notoriously untamable, the Indian elephant (elephas maximus indicus) — distinguished by its smaller ears and prominent forehead — has always been easier to domesticate. That’s largely why it has had a special hold on the subcontinent’s collective imagination. Mythology, religious tradition and history here positively abound with distinctive elephant motifs — usually representing divinity, strength and fortitude. One strain of divinity leads to Ganesha, elephant-headed destroyer of obstacles and lord of good beginnings. Pot-bellied with a taste for sweets, and granted a rat as vahana, Ganesha’s symbolism is as diverse as his many depictions. The elephant and the rat denote the overcoming of opposites — a richly meaningful theme in Hindu tradition. Not surprisingly, Ganapati is one of India’s most popular deities. Elephants are everywhere in other Hindu myths too. Lakshmi is often depicted with elephants, hence Gajalakshmi. Airavat, Indra’s winged white, four-tusked vahana, was one of eight ashtadikpalakas created by Brahma from a ball of mud to guard various celestial realms. In one account, crimes of passion — involving the usual mix of comely apsaras, angry sages and guilty gods — led to a fall and the elephant’s arrival on earthly planes. The Mahabharata, greatest of Indian epics, is stuffed with the elephant motif. Ganesha, legend holds, played scribe to Vyasa — using a pen fashioned from his tusk. Mighty Bheema’s strength is often compared to many elephants. And, in Indian literature’s most infamous instance of distortion of fact, it is the death of an elephant named Ashvathama that enables the slaying of Dronacharya, leaving an indelible blot on Yudhishtira’s legendary truthfulness. Buddhism greatly reveres the elephant too. Tradition has it that the Buddha was conceived in a dream in which his mother was pierced by a white elephant with six tusks. Previous incarnations of the Bodhisattva were also born as elephants — a major reason Buddhist literature and art frequently depict elephants as symbolizing wisdom, steadfastness and strength. Grey elephants are said to symbolize an aspect of the untrained mind, unfocused and quick to anger; focused minds, trained in the dhammic tradition, are akin to white elephants. Worship has also made special place for elephants throughout much recorded history. Temple elephants are an old tradition in South India, where they’ve long been an integral part of everyday life. They may still be spotted on occasion, gently walking down old city lanes, offering blessings and receiving alms. In Kerala, annual displays of gloriously bedecked temple elephants are now a prominent tourist event. Mysore’s famous Dasara procession invokes a lineage that stretches back to the heyday of Vijayanagara. In addition to all the heavy lifting, elephants were also put to more martial work. Suited equally to the hunt and to most forms of warfare, they famously served virtually every major Indian ruler. The Western world first encountered real war elephants, famously, in 326 BC, when Alexander of Macedon waded across the Indus to fight Puru at Hydaspes. Those beasts left quite an impression, even in defeat. The tale goes that the Greek refusal to march on owed much to the prospect of facing more elephants in Magadha. The Greeks duly spread the word in Asia Minor and Europe. Indus Valley seals depict elephants, as do the Vedas, in dazzling verse. Ancient scholars, including Kautilya, wrote about their utility and majesty. A medical treatise, Palakapya’s Hastayayurveda, became a must-have user manual of sorts for ancient operators. Artists accorded the elephant a cherished place in Indian iconography, a tradition that continues till today. In battle they proved influential until, as with all weapons, technology overtook them. One skirmish in particular, at Panipat in 1526, brought about their slow retreat from Indian frontlines. Babur, shrewd general and ambitious conqueror, faced down a few hundred of Ibrahim Lodi’s elephants by scattering them with new artillery — a tactic he would use repeatedly. His descendants would do the same, even as they took to these noble animals and relished sport with them. Akbar so loved one of his pet elephants, Hiran, that he built for it a monument outside Fatehpur Sikri. Legend has it that Shah Jahan shifted Mughal India’s capital back to Delhi because his elaborate elephant processions could not wend their way through Agra’s narrow streets. That motif, of the elephant as a symbol of power in India, was an old and potent one that all invaders cottoned on to pretty quickly. They didn’t all ride elephants just to hunt tigers. It was a fact carefully noted by diligent English empire builders too. As one paladin after another swayed down boulevards in newly-built Indian cities, seated on elephants elaborately caparisoned in the local style, this motif was made amply clear to Indian masses: the British Raj was the new power astride the behemoth that was India. It was to be the last time such symbolism was invoked. Hathi Pull Independent India muted this motif and turned to regarding elephants as merely lovable beasts. The only major state-sponsored processions that take place today are at the Republic Day parade in Delhi. Children honoured for acts of bravery march down Rajpath on elephants, waving away. The 1980s were a good decade. TV brought wildlife programming into our living rooms, even if it was on DD. The IAF inducted the giant IL-76 transport aircraft and named it ‘Gajraj’. And Appu, a Guruvayur temple elephant, was chosen mascot for the 1982 Asian Games. His depiction as a cute dancing figure became a fond memory of that sporting event. Appu died in 2005, recalled in misty-eyed reports. Such elaborate symbolism is now in need of being recalled, since much appears to have been forgotten in western-inspired fussing about ‘slow’ and ‘lumbering’. Praised by Aristotle as “the beast that passeth all others in wit and mind”, a remarkably social animal, and justly venerated for its utility, the elephant is badly in need of an image makeover. Besides, as another Greek pointed out, slow and steady may not be such a bad idea in the long run. Naysayers may also look to this newspaper’s crest, where two elephants gently prop up a shield. The crest, for long, featured a pair of Britannic lions. Independence called for change. Elephants were probably an easy choice. Khalid haathivala couldn’t agree more. Such symbolism is not lost on him. “Sabse solid,” he smiles. His wards keep munching their fodder, their calm, stoic gaze firmly focused on the next bale.

A green revolution in the east?

The government has attempted to give new direction to the failing agriculture sector in a bid to boost productivity. As a pointer to the changed thinking, the FM announced several measures while keeping budgetary allocations for existing schemes static or even lowering them in some cases. Loan waivers, however, continue to be a key intervention in the countryside, proving that Congress recognizes the political and social benefits of the measure. Pranab Mukherjee increased subsidy on short-term farm loans from 1% to 2%, making interest subvention available to farmers who make payments on time, and thus effectively bringing the farm loan rate to 5% for them. The scheme that Congress felt had helped it gain ground in the hinterland has been extended by another six months to June 30. The FM has also promised additional Rs 50,000 crore for farm credit, raising the amount for the next financial year to Rs 3,75,000 crore. The change in thrust was also reflected in the commitment to extending the green revolution to the east — Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, eastern UP, West Bengal and Orissa. An allocation of Rs 400 crore has been made for this. At the same time, the UPA government all but shut down a brainchild of the PM that had fallen through policy cracks — the National Rainfed Area Authority. It reduced budgetary support for development of rainfed areas by 93%. Instead, the government decided to pump Rs 300 crore under Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana to organize 60,000 ‘‘pulses and oil seeds villages'' in rainfed areas and provide integrated intervention for water harvesting, watershed management and soil health enhancement in dry lands.

Black shadow snapshot

How large is the black economy in India and elsewhere....estimated by academics and the World Bank.

Banking buzz

No sooner had the finance minister announced that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) will consider banking licences for applicants from private sector and non-banking finance companies (NBFCs), the market started speculating on probable candidates. The buzz was justified since the RBI will consider applications from private sector players for banking licences after a gap of 10 years. The last time RBI had issued banking licence to private players was in 2000, when Kotak Mahindra Bank and Yes Bank received regulatory nod. Currently, the Tatas, the Anil Ambani group, the Aditya Birla group, IDFC, Indiabulls, Edelweiss Capital, Religare, M&M, L&T, Shriram Finance and the Cholamandalam group are the ones which could join the race to set up banks, a source familiar with the development said. Of these, Reliance Capital that belongs to the ADA group, and AV Birla group have expressed their willingness to enter the lucrative banking space. The response from Religare, however, was guarded and the group is now in a ‘wait-and-watch’ mode till there is greater clarity on the issue. Earlier, top L&T officials had expressed their willingness to enter the banking space. Looking at the prospects in the banking sector, investors bought stocks of the probable applicants. Among those were Reliance Capital, which rallied over 8% and touched Rs 786. Shriram Transport gained nearly 7% to Rs 461, IDFC was up 4.7% to Rs 160 and Aditya Birla Nuvo, which holds most of AV Birla group’s financial services businesses, ended 4.3% higher at Rs 841.

Ahmedabad is 600 !

....and Gujarat and Maharashtra will be 50 !

Of Returns

Across different asset classes for the last 10 years.

Will the Elephant dance?

Random information at the time of Budget 2010.


VW launches the Polo

Volkswagen pulled the trigger for a major price war in the hatchback segment in the country by rolling out the Polo, one of its most popular models in the world, at a starting price of Rs 4.34 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi). By pricing its best bet in the world’s largest compact car market lower than rivals Hyundai i20, Honda Jazz and Skoda Fabia and at par with category leader Maruti Swift, the German carmaker has made a major move in its race to replace Toyota as the world’s largest carmaker. “India is a key market for our overall strategic growth plans and the launch of the Polo affirms our commitment to offer quality products to customers at affordable prices,” said Neeraj Garg, director and board member of Volkswagen Passenger Cars division, Volkswagen Group Sales India. The Polo will sport 1.2 litre engine in both petrol and diesel variants, with petrol version starting at Rs 4.34 lakh and diesel at Rs 5.32 lakh (both ex-showroom, Delhi). By pricing the Polo at a discount to group firm Skoda’s Fabia compact, which failed to notch big numbers mostly due its premium price tag, Volkswagen is clearly eyeing the volume market. The Indian compact car market, which overtook Japan last year to emerge the world’s largest with sales of more than 8.9 lakh vehicles, has been reporting double digit growth for the past several months, making it a hot destination for global carmakers. Toyota, currently the world’s largest carmaker, will get a chance to respond to the Volkswagen move when it rolls out Etios hatchback, a brand new car developed primarily for emerging markets, later this year. While the performance of Polo and Etios in India may go a long way in deciding who becomes the world’s largest carmaker in the coming years, it’s not a dual; the Indian small car market is dominated by Maruti Suzuki, Hyundai Motor and Tata Motors in that order. Former global leader General Motors last month launched its Beat compact at a price range of Rs 3.34-3.94 lakh, while Ford will now be under pressure to price its Figo compact at highly competitive range. Volkswagen will start deliveries of the Polo petrol variant in March and the diesel variant in May. The car, to be built at the Chakan plant with an annual capacity of 1.11 lakh vehicles, will start with a localisation level of 50%. The Polo offers some standard features like the tilt & telescopic steering and the green-tinted heat-blocking glass, while the top models will come with safety features such as dual airbags and ABS.

Somewhere in Delhi....

Food inflation dips a bit

The pace of rise in food inflation showed faint signs of slowing down after four weeks, with the index settling at 17.58% year-on-year period ending on February 13 as prices of pulses and vegetables eased. The index stood at 17.97% in the previous week.Despite the latest figures indicating a cooling trend, the Economic Survey on Thursday warned that the overall prices would go up further in months to come and partially blamed poor food management policies for the double-digit food inflation. In an indication of rising food prices spilling over into the wider economy, the wholesale price - based overall inflation had risen to 8.56% in January compared with 7.31% in December, shooting past the central bank’s forecast of 8.50% for this fiscal end.

3G auction snippets

The government on Thursday invited applications from mobile operators for participating in the 3G auctions and announced that three private players will be allowed to offer services in most of the circles. However, in five states, including Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir, the number will be four. According to the Notice Inviting Applications (NIA), all successful bidders would be allowed to offer 3G services on commercial basis only from September 1. The document further said that the last date for submission of applications is March 19. The mock auction will take place on April 5 and 6, which will be followed by the actual auction on April 9. The auction for BWA spectrum, which will be used to offer broadband services, will start after two days from the day of close of the 3G auction. The document said two players will be allowed to offer broadband services in 22 circles across the country. Chalking out the modes of payment, DoT said the successful bidders for both the 3G and BWA spectrum will have to make the payment within 10 calendar days of the close of the relevant auction. The government has set the base price for 3G spectrum in metros and Class A cities at Rs 320 crore and for Class B cities at Rs 120 crore, while for Class C cities it is Rs 30 crore. Whereas for the BWA spectrum, a base price of Rs 160 crore has been set for the metros. For the rest of the circles, it is ranging between Rs 15-60 crore. The document also made it clear that not more than one block of 3G spectrum and one block of BWA spectrum shall be allocated to any single bidder in a service area.Clearing the air over participation of foreign players, DoT said that interested foreign entities are allowed to participate in the auctions directly and obtain a licence, either through application for a new licence or through acquisition of an existing licensee within the mergers and acquisitions guidelines. About the charges and tenure, the document said the charge for 3G spectrum would be payable on total adjusted gross revenue of 2G and 3G services taken together and the right to use the radiowaves will be valid for 20 years.

Core industries grow 9.4% in Jan

Six core sectors, which act as a bellwether for industrial activity, expanded 9.4% in January riding on the back of a rising demand for cement and steel, strengthening voices that say the time is ripe for the government to start winding down some of the stimulus measures. The core sector growth follows an impressive 16.8% industrial expansion in December but India Inc reacted by urging the government to hold the stimulus withdrawal for at last a year to help industry consolidate these gains. A statement on Thursday said finished steel and cement expanded by 16.2% and 12.4%, respectively, in January against 3.2% and 8.3% last year. Crude output also grew 9.7% in the month under review after contracting 8.1% in January 2009. Petroleum refinery products expanded by 3.8% against a dip of 1.3% in the year-ago period. Similarly, electricity generation rose 5.6% in the month under review against 1.8% a year ago. Coal production, however, grew by 6%, only marginally lower than 6.7% registered in January 2009. Production of crude, cement and finished steel, petroleum refining operations, coal mining as well as electricity generation had grown by a meagre 2.2% in January 2009. In the April 2009-January 2010 period, the growth was 5.4% against 3% in the year-ago period.

Realty index

Revival in housing prices is sharper in Tier 2 cities of India than in the big metros, though the latter have seen appreciation in the value of their housing stock. While the slowdown knocked the stuffing out of the residential housing market in 2007, after a couple of painful years, prices are beginning to look up in most cities, the exceptions being Bangalore, Hyderabad, Jaipur and Kochi. Of the 15 cities covered by the National Housing Banks index to track housing prices in the country ‘RESIDEX’, 11 reported a jump in prices in the first half of 2009 from 2007 (base year). While Kolkata showed a dramatic rise of 59% — albeit from a small base — Delhi and Mumbai also saw appreciation upwards of 20%. However the best story comes from Tier 2 cities. Most of these cities, growing fast on the back of local demand and as feeders to larger cities, clocked some of the highest gains. Cities like Bhopal, Faridabad and Ahmedabad showed jumps of 39%, 36% and 27% respectively. With growth in India getting more inclusive and drawing in regions beyond the big metros, these cities exhibit Bharat’s growing purchasing power. Worst hit, according to the Survey, are cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad whose economies are heavily dependent on their tech industry’s demand power. These cities have been witness to a dramatic re-rating of their real estate market in the last decade and consequent rise in realty prices. They have been the worst hit by the slowdown with housing prices collapsing rather dramatically. In Bangalore’s case the fall is a humungous 42%. For Hyderabad the decline is around 35%. In these cities over-supply exacerbated the matter. Realtors who built towers in the sky in the hope that the tech crowd would buy them as soon as they built them, found themselves caught on the wrong foot as a severe recession in the US and Europe hit their businesses. Big cities with a better business mix like Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi, which have strong manufacturing presence and a robust services industry, fared much better with the market recouping faster and posting positive gains. After Kolkata, the biggest rise in prices has been in Mumbai at 24%, followed by Delhi at 21%. As these prices are for the first half of the last calendar year, it is likely that the upturn has further consolidated. Recent surveys by firms has shown that even in cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad prices are beginning to rise on the back of a dwindling inventory, stability in jobs and pay hikes for the prime consumption class — young, middle income couples. According to the Economic Survey, the share of the realty sector in the GDP continues to rise. From 8.9% in 2005-05, it has risen to 9.2% in 2008-09.

Crucial Maharashtra infrastructure projects get the green signal

The cabinet infrastructure sub-committee headed by chief minister Ashok Chavan on Thursday cleared the Rs 5,000-crore Worli-Haji Ali Sea Link and approved the design for the Rs 6,000-crore Haji Ali-Nariman Point Link as well as the Rs 900-crore 12-laned Sion-Panvel Expressway. Senior officials said that the Worli-Haji Ali Sea Link project was awarded to the Reliance Infrastructure-led consortium with conditional approval. Acting managing director of Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation Sonia Sethi said they would be issuing a letter of acceptance to the consortium which was the front runner for the project. The committee also took a decision to redevelop the Government Colony in Bandra (East) and gave its nod for the Rs 900-crore Talegaon-Chakan-Shirpur-Chakula Expressway. “The Worli-Haji Ali sea link project has been hanging fire for the last eight months awaiting clearance from the state cabinet.After the Bandra-Worli Sea Link was inaugurated last July, the Worli-Haji Ali section of the sealink was expected to take off immediately. However it got delayed,” an officer said “According to the current design, the link will be above the sea from Haji Ali to Priyadarshini Park. From there it will continue as an underground tunnel till Malabar Hill,’’ an official said. There were a number of companies who bought the bid documents for the 4.5-km long link but in the end only two large groups remained in the fray: Reliance Infrastructure-Hyundai and Hindustan Construction Company(HCC) along with John Laing and Samsung. When the tenders were opened on February 4, 2009, the RInfra led consortium was the preferred bidder as its quote for the viability gap funding was the lowest at Rs 1,392 crore. “While NCP ministers have accused the chief minister of delaying the decisions to implement important projects, the clearance of these projects at one shot has put Chavan in the clear and quitened his critics,” a Congress minister said.
The Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority has finally given its consent for the Pedder Road flyover. It took 15 years for the approval to be given to the 4.4 km four-lane flyover. The proposal was approved by the MCZMA and will now be forwarded to the Centre for its consent. A decision to this effect was taken at a MCZMA meeting held in Mantralaya on Thursday. “The flyover’s ramp will be built on CRZ-2 (Wilson College) and not CRZ-1 (Chowpatty). MSRDC will have to use hi-tech methods to control and monitor air as well as noise pollution. They will display air and noise pollution levels on the bridge,’’ said state environment secretary Valsa Nair Singh. The proposal, estimated at around Rs 300 crore, to build a flyover between Haji Ali (Lala Lajpat Rai College) and Nana Nani Park (near Wilson College) will not encroach on a portion of Girgaum Chowpatty and will be built over Marine Drive. Earlier, the state government had held a hearing for the Pedder Road residents who had opposed the flyover because of pollution concerns. The BMC has resolved to acquire around 38 properties to add another small lane to the Pedder Road flyover. The flyover will start at Lala Lajpat Rai College and will pass via Haji Ali square, Cadbury Junction, Kemps Corner, Babulnath Temple, and Tambe Chowk to finally end at Nana Nani park near Wilson College. MSRDC minister J Kshirsagar said that the design of the Marine Drive ramp will ensure that the speed of vehicular traffic is reduced to 10-15 km/hr from a speed of 40 km/hr.

Women’s Reservation Bill

The Union cabinet on Thursday cleared the Women’s Reservation Bill which has been hanging fire for close to 14 years. And this time, the bill might go through in Parliament as the Congress, BJP and the Left have pledged support to it. The three parties put together add up to the necessary two-thirds majority in the Lok Sabha for the constitutional amendment, but fall manageably short in the Rajya Sabha. In short, astute floor management by the Congress in the 15th Lok Sabha could see 33% of all seats in Parliament and state assemblies being reserved for women. Such a large representation of women in the legislatures could not only change the emphasis in policies but also alter the very nature of politics in India. This gender-bender of a move by the Congress leadership has been aided by the absence of parties like Lalu Prasad’s RJD in the UPA and the reduced relevance of Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav. Both OBC chieftains have relentlessly opposed the bill, demanding that one-third of the proposed women’s bill be earmarked for OBCs and minorities. JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav is another opponent, but the BJP, Congress and the Left can help carry the day. They can also bank on the DMK which has come around to the argument that the priority is to get the gender quota introduced, while other details can be negotiated later. If the bill is to become reality, it will require a Constitutional amendment. For that the bill must get the vote of two-thirds of the members present and voting, but not less than the majority mark of the House. The government — having cleared the bill — is not bound by fresh recommendations or dissent notes made by the standing committee on law and justice which submitted its report in December 2009.
The women’s reservation bill can be placed for consideration and passing in the form that it was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in 2008 and for this reason it is likely to be placed for consideration in the Upper House first. The government needs 158 votes to meet the two-thirds mark in the Rajya Sabha. The Congress, BJP and the Left add up to 137 MPs in the House, a little short of the requisite figure. It is here that some clever floor management would be necessary. Once cleared by the Upper House, the bill is as good as through because in the Lok Sabha the three blocs virtually have the requisite numbers. The government also has the option of holding a joint session as the NDA had done to pass the anti-terror POTA bill. The government managers will also be counting on the support of the DMK, some smaller groups and independents as well as on the possibility of the BJD not opposing the bill outright, to get its numbers. DMK spokesman said T K Elangovan said, “Let the bill be passed first, we will see quota within quota later.’’ Even the AIADMK supports women’s reservation “in principle’’, while Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar does not share the intensity of the opposition of his JD-U colleague Sharad Yadav. Other than those of the Congress, BJP and the Left who support the bill, the other MPs in the Rajya Sabha include seven of the AIADMK, 12 of the BSP and four of the DMK—sufficient for a two-thirds majority. In the Lok Sabha, the government can count on the support of 19 Trinamool MPs, 18 from the DMK and nine from the AIADMK. BJP’s Arun Jaitley welcomed the move, saying his party would support the proposed legislation in Parliament. Expressing her party’s backing for the proposed legislation, CPM leader Brinda Karat said, “We are glad the bill has got the cabinet nod.’’ Sources said the bill could be placed in Parliament this session itself as suggested by President Pratibha Patil in her address to the joint sitting of Parliament. The UPA move is powered by the keen interest of Sonia Gandhi in the bill. She has batted strongly for it and has expressed her despair over the aggressive opposition in Parliament. If it does become law, it will be a fitting tribute from the Congress to the year-long centenary celebrations of International Women’s Day this year. Given the huge political point, the BJP and the Left are unlikely to be found wanting. It is not clear if smaller regional parties will oppose it outright as even if parties like Mayawati’s BSP support the bill, it will go through.


Kolkata to get five new Metro routes

Five new spans of the Metro Railway network in Kolkata have been included in the railway budget of 2010-11. This will come as a relief to many who were wondering if Mamata Banerjee would succeed in getting the projects cleared at a time when the Centre is not too keen on the railways getting involved in urban transportation projects. The five extensions that have been included in the budget are: Joka-BBD Bag via Majerhat, Noapara-Barasat via Bimanbandar, Dum Dum-New Garia via Rajarhat, Baranagar-Barrackpore and Baranagar-Dakshineswar. Mamata has already laid the foundation stone for the extension of the metro network up to Dakshineswar. Though Mamata said that the stretch between Garia Bazaar and New Garia ‘is likely’ to be completed soon, she did not commit to any time frame. The railway minister also did not mention any deadline for the arrival of new rakes for the Metro network. The overworked, old rakes are getting too worn out for use. More importantly, the number of rakes are proving inadequate to maintain the schedule, now that the network has been extended up to Garia Bazaar. “The Metro ticketing system has collapsed completely. We had expected the minister to mention her plans for a new system and a date for arrival of new rakes. New projects are important but existing services should also be maintained to provide better services to commuters,” a senior railway official said. Officials pointed out that the Joka-BBD Bag section will run on elevated tracks along the existing Circular Railway tracks. They also hope that the Dum Dum-New Garia stretch via Rajarhat will run along the EM Bypass, providing relief to those living on either side. While Mamata has announced development of the suburban railway systems in Howrah and Sealdah, the much awaited announcement of a rail flyover at Dum Dum did not come. This flyover is extremely crucial for better suburban services. Three suburban sections converge at Dum Dum and commuters fall victim to severe congestion before entering Sealdah. Mamata announced that new services will be introduced in the Sealdah-Canning, Sealdah-Namkhana, Sealdah-Bongaon, Howrah-Tarakeswar, Howrah-Bandel-Budwan, Sealdah-Ranaghat and Sealdah-Kolkata (via Ballygunge-Majerhat-BBD Bag) sections. A survey will also be conducted to link Howrah and Sealdah. The Ballygunge station will get a new building with all amenities including waiting hall, toilets and an approach road. It will be renamed Bahadur Shah Zafar. The budget had no mention of an arc between Dhakuria and Lake Gardens that would enable trains from the Sealdah south section to reach BBD Bag via Majerhat, without touching Ballygunge. Officials, who were expecting a passenger terminal at Dankuni, were also disappointed. They believe that upgrade of services at Howrah station will not be possible till some load is shifted to Dankuni.

Govt set to spend $10bn on e-gov

The government plans to spend $10 billion on the national e-governance programme, a senior government official on Wednesday said. “The government has committed about $10 billion to this programme, of which composite of some investment is coming from private partners and also from the state governments,” ministry of communication & information technology additional secretary S R Rao said. It is a $10 billion kitty currently but everyday more and more investments are coming in, he said.

Mamata proposes PPP for Railways

In order to boost implementation of various projects, railway minister Mamata Bannerjee has proposed a number of schemes under public-private partnership. According to Citi India economist Rohini Malkani, the move could expedite the implementation of projects. She said that special emphasis on PPP and the proposal to set up a special task force to clear investment proposals within 100 days might take care of the administrative and procedural delays. The major projects under PPP are diesel multiple unit factory in Sankrail, refrigerated container factory at Budge Budge, dedicated freight corridor between Sonnagar-Dankuni, six high-speed passenger rail corridor, rail-axle factory in Jalpaiguri, mid-life rehabilitation workshop for old coaches at Anara and multi-level parking complexes at stations in large cities. The Rail Budget proposed to set up a National High Speed Rail Authority for monitoring of implementation of infrastructural projects. Under PPP, companies from steel, cement, engineering and construction will benefit the most, provided the projects are taken up for implementation. Tata Steel MD H M Nerurkar said the budget attempted to lay a roadmap for strengthening infrastructure to meet the growing demand of industry. However, IDFC pointed out that no clear measures have been announced regarding the timeline of investments.

3G auction now hopefully on April 9

After several postponements and indecisiveness over the availability of spectrum and, therefore, the number of slots to be placed for auction, the government has identified April 9 as the latest date for 3G auctions. According to the latest schedule, the notice inviting applications will be issued on February 25 (Thursday) with March 19 given as the last date for submitting applications. On March 26, the ownership details of applicants will be published and mock auctions will be held on April 5 and 6. The auction of Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) spectrum will begin two days after the close of the 3G auctions. Given the frequent back and forth on the dates, it is unlikely that India will see any surprise participation in the auctions. At best, usual suspects like Bharti, Vodafone and the Tatas are likely to be the frontrunners for bagging substantial spectrum, followed by companies like Idea, Reliance and Aircel. Some of the new entrants like Telenor may also bid but their bids could be circle-specific rather than pan-India bids. The estimate of revenue recovery from 3G has varied between Rs 40,000 crore and Rs 30,000 crore over the last year. More than a year ago, telecom minister A Raja had announced that 3G auctions would fetch Rs 40,000 crore for the exchequer. The auctions were subsequently cancelled and postponed indefinitely in January 2009. The revised revenue estimates are closer to Rs 30,000 crore subject to the availability of four slots. So, the current estimates run at roughly Rs 6,000 to 7,000 crore per pan-India slot of 3G spectrum in the 2.1 GHz band. While several reasons have been cited for the postponement of 3G auctions, ranging from Christmas holidays in 2008 to lack of interest by bidders and even the economic downturn of 2009, the real and tangible reason for the delay has been the non-availability of sufficient spectrum, which can be readily be placed for auction. The embarrassment caused due to constant disagreements between the DoT and defence ministries on this issue is the legacy of the UPA in its first innings. This continued in the UPA government’s second innings, resulting in postponement of auctions of 3G spectrum even from January 2010.

Musharraf on Kashmir

Former Pakistan president Gen Pervez Musharraf has reiterated that he “wasn’t far from resolving’’ the Kashmir problem with PM Manmohan Singh on the basis of his formula of demilitarising the region and making boundaries irrelevant. Musharraf said this at a function at the House of Lords on Tuesday night. He maintained that out of the three disputes, the two countries were close to solving the most difficult one—Kashmir. “May I compliment Prime Minister Singh for his vision, flexibility and sincerity,’’ he said.

CIDCO plans an exhibition centre in Navi Mumbai

Global dreams for Thane station

Union Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee added another suburban station Thane to the list of World class stations. Two years ago in his railway budget the then flamboyant Union Railway Minister Lalu Prasad declared CST as a world class station. Besides this suburban station on Central Railway another station on WR Surat has also made it to the list. When a station is slotted under this bracket, am ambitious plan is drawn to upgrade its surroundings so that commuters have safe and comfortable passenger services with all modern amenities to meet ever increasing population. The project also looks at superior road connectivity, parking within the station premises, smooth arrival/ departure and movement of pedestrians, passenger vehicles, modern train maintenance facilities; modern operational offices, residential quarters and other facilities for railway staff; integrated development with the surrounding city, commercial exploitation of the available land and creation under a private public partnership model. Senior Railway officials said that Thane has “rightfully” got this status. “The first train ran between CST and Thane (then called Thana) in 1853. This station has immense historical importance to Indian Railways,” he said. Chief PRO, CR, S C Mudgerikar added that Thane is today the second busiest and the largest hub on CR’s suburban network in terms of number of passengers who use the station. “After the opening of the Thane-Vashi trans harbour line corridor opening there are 10 platforms there. There is continuous effort to upgrade the station,” he said. Railway officials said that the east side of this station can be commercially exploited as there is land there and the remodeling of the existing building on its west side can also be considered. “We can learn from the on-going process at CST,” said the official. Meanwhile at CST, the master plan of the project is nearly ready. Three plans have been finalized and will be shortly sent to the Railway Board for approval. The financial angle and feasibility is also being worked out. “The project at Thane can be a reality if there is political will and funds,” he said. The CST project is likely to take off after 12-18 months.


National highway numbers to change

By the end of this month, all National Highways (NH) across India will be renumbered, which the government claims will more scientific than now. So, the popular NH-8 connecting Delhi and Mumbai will be renumbered as NH-48 and similarly, the Kolkata-Delhi highway, which is presently NH-2, will become NH-19. Moreover, these primary corridors will also be longer. Sources in the road, transport and highways ministry said the final notification could happen any time and that the renumbering has already been vetted by the law ministry. ‘‘We have already circulated the details to the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and the state governments. So, they are in the know of this. Though it will take a couple of years for people to get accustomed to the new numbers, in the long run this will prove as a big help, more so when we are adding more stretches to the NH network,’’ an official said. As per the detailed report, highways starting from north to south will be in even numbers and those running in the east-west direction will be in odd numbers. For example, the East-West corridor starting from Silchar in Assam and terminating in Porbandar in Gujarat will be renamed as NH-27 and the North-South corridor starting from Srinagar and terminating in Kanyakumari will be renumbered NH-44. Officials said that the primary NHs running along the north-south and eastwest directions will be predominantly double digit for better identification by commuters. In case of NHs with even numbers, the number will increase from east to west and similarly in case of the odd number NHs, the numbers will increase from north to south. ‘‘The present numbering is very irrational. You have NH-10 running parallel to NH-1 and NH-58 running parallel to NH-24. The scientific numbering is more important considering the fact that now people are covering over 250 km in their cars, which was not the case earlier. We expect this to cross the 1,000 km mark. So, rational numbering will come in handy for commuters at large,’’ said an official. However, the secondary routes will be in three digits — more than 100. Sources said that though the renumbering is complicated and will take some time for people to get accustomed to, this has been done considering the increasing length of NHs. In fact, the NH network has increased from 21,378 km in 1947 to 70,934 km. Officials said this will cross one lakh km by 2021.

Somewhere in Thane....

A sprawl of forest land, systematically denuded of its green cover over the years, had reached its nadir by 1993, leading to critical environmental problems like a dip in the groundwater table. It was then that the forest department came up with a unique initiative—it actively involved the tribals of villages in the Shahpur zone, like Bhagdal, Dahivali, Baoghar, Kalgaon, Thile, Lenad, Chinchavali and Tembhre, to help turn the forest back into the lush green paradise that it once was. The project, a sterling example of what an administration can do if it gives the people a stake, introduced the concept of a joint forest management committee. The establishment of this committee meant that villagers were entitled to forest produce like gum, dried leaves, flowers, bamboo and mahua oil. “They are also entitled to 50% of the income earned by the forest department from the auction of timber,’’ says an official. The forest, predictably, never looked back after that. Divisional forest officer (planning) S M Gujar says, “Earlier, we would register cases against the villagers for offences like illegal tree-cutting and collection of forest products. But we realised that this was not a solution, and the only way to protect what remained of the forest was to involve the locals in conservation efforts.’’ After some amount of initial resistance, villagers from Bhagdal formed the JFM committee in 1993 and pledged to protect the forest. Residents of the other seven villages soon joined the movement and formed similar committees. “After talking to forest officials, we realised that we had to save the forest for our own well-being,’’ says Bhagdal JFM committee member Bhaskar Tondu. “We spoke to all the 40 families in the village and formulated simple rules to be followed for protecting the forest.’’ The rules included actively preventing outsiders from taking anything from the forest, a ban on felling trees and a ban on hunting. It was decided that a violation of these rules would result in a social boycott of the guilty, with villagers staying away from their social functions like weddings or funerals. The committee would also have the right to impose a monetary penalty on offenders. It was difficult at first, admit the villagers, but soon everything fell into place. “We decided to use only dried branches and leaves to meet our daily needs of firewood,’’ says Bhagdal resident Baban Bhakre. “We had a hard time in the first couple of years, but as the forest revived there was no shortage of dry foliage.’’ The forest department chipped in by bearing half the cost of LPG connections for the villagers. All this has now combined to give back the 1,700-hectare land its green cover. “The forest is now thriving and there is perennial water supply because of the rejuvenated water bodies,’’ says Dahivali JFM committee secretary Subhash Patil. What’s more, tribals have started earning from the sale of forest produce like gum, palash flowers, mahua oil and plates and bowls made from dried leaves. “And animals like leopards, wild boar, barking deer, spotted deer and peacocks have returned to the area,’’ says Narhari Bagrao, a forester from the region, who recently received the Sanctuary RBS Wildlife Service Award. Dahivali . also won the Sant Tukaram Van Gram Yojana Award from the Maharashtra government last year.


Somewhere in Pune....

A candlelight vigil to condole the deaths in the German Bakery bomb blast.

Somewhere in Maharashtra....

A government that does not work it seems.....

M800 drives out of 13 cities

Maruti Suzuki will discontinue sales of the 800 in 13 cities from 1st April 2010

Plan to extend Juhu airport into sea

With air traffic congestion reaching a flashpoint in Mumbai, the government has been forced to fast-track its age-old plan of reviving the Juhu airport to ease pressure on the overburdened Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA). The Airports Authority of India (AAI) has appointed consulting major KPMG to draw up a development plan for Juhu airport. The ultimate plan for extending the runway in phases could see the airstrip protruding into the sea by reclaiming parts of the famous Juhu beach and seafront after getting the environmental nod for doing so. Presently, the Juhu runway is about 4,000-feet-long. In the first phase, it will first be extended to 5,500 feet so that it can accommodate ATRs. The eventual development plan is to extend it to 7,500 feet to allow it to be fit for slightly bigger planes. But this will involve reclaiming the sea—hence the need to clear stiff green clearances. “The plan is to reactivate Juhu so that small planes can be shifted here. This will enhance the capacity of CSIA as it will handle big, fast-moving aircraft. The work is proposed to be done in two phases—on the city side and the airport area. KPMG has been asked to make a master plan,’’ AAI chairman V P Agrawal said. The airport operational area development is likely to cost in the range of Rs 250-300 crore. The government is likely to go the PPP way for this work, with GVK-led MIAL already expressing interest in partnering the AAI. The worry for Mumbai is growing as the Navi Mumbai airport is yet to take off.

Ahmedabad Metro update

A paradigm shift has taken place in the latest Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar metro rail plans. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) has submitted a detailed project report (DPR) to the state government which now wants a portion of the Thaltej- Kalupur metro line in the first phase to go underground. Not only this, the state government has proposed that the 10.9 km East-West metro line be shifted from the Income Tax-Shahpur Darwaza-Delhi Darwaza-Prem Darwaza—Kalupur line towards Relief road. Officials from the DMRC and the state government have been discussing the inclines, gradients, alignments for the purpose. In fact, talks of a special hydraulic platform with a small gradient that would gradually take a stationary metro train to the tunnel level on Relief Road-Kalupur stretch is also being proposed for this line. High commercial activity on Relief road and proximity to Lal Darwaza bus station are the major reasons why planners from the state urban development department have desired this change in the route plans. In fact, in the small stretch from the beginning of Relief road towards Kalupur railway station, the metro rail will go underground. In the 2005 report, DMRC had envisioned a complete elevated system for the city. However, heavy passenger traffic on Relief road, growing traffic concerns and constriction of space in the walled city have led to the urgent need to go underground, like in certain areas in Delhi. “Issues like Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) regulations and guidelines are being looked into while considering construction of metro route, while stability of old structures in the walled city will also be examined. The alignment is being looked into as the state government had demanded the Relief road approach,” said a senior official of the state urban development department. Two months back, the 32.65 km North-South Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar line was proposed to be shifted from Ashram road to the parallel regional rail network line of Western railways as there was no space on Ashram road. Other reasons were that the state government had declared Sabarmati Ashram as a silent zone and there is a lack of space for some of the major metro stations — Usmanpura and three stations planned between RTO circle and Paldi. In fact, DMRC had earlier suggested a Sabarmati Ashram station just opposite the entrance of the Ashram. “The metro route will be unchanged till Sabarmati station but then instead of going towards RTO, the new route is proposed to turn towards Ranip, Naranpura, Gandhigram, Ambawadi, Vejalpur and Sarkhej railway line,” the official added.

Ilyas Kashmiri warns

With Pakistan-based HuJI chief and al-Qaida commander Ilyas Kashmiri reportedly warning foreign players against participating in the forthcoming hockey World Cup in India, the government reviewed its security preparedness and provided additional 1,200 paramilitary personnel — including 200 commandos — to Delhi Police to guard the venue and nearby buildings. Though home ministry officials dismissed such warnings, calling them mere ‘‘rhetoric’’, they said the Centre had provided additional forces to Delhi Police. They said 200 commandos, especially skilled in sharpshooting, will man high-rise buildings around the venue — National Stadium — near India Gate. Besides, as many as 10 companies of central paramilitary forces (nearly 1,000 personnel) will be deployed in the city during the February 28-March 13 tournament. The decision on extra deployment was taken after a meeting of Delhi Police commissioner Y S Dadwal with home secretary G K Pillai. ‘‘We have asked for additional forces and that has been given,’’ Dadwal said. In an email to a Hong Kong-based news website, Kashmiri warned of several attacks like the one in Pune in the near future. ‘‘We warn the international community not to send their people to the 2010 Hockey World Cup, IPL and Commonwealth Games. Nor should their people visit India — if they do, they will be responsible for the consequences,’’ says the threat. ‘‘We, the mujahideen of 313 Brigade, vow to continue attacks across India until the Indian Army leaves Kashmir and gives the Kashmiris their right of self-determination. We assure the Muslims of the subcontinent we will never forget the massacre in Gujarat and the demolition of Babri Masjid,’’ it added. Kashmiri was thought to have died in a drone attack in September 2009 but later contacted journalists to prove he was alive. According to FBI, he met David Headley in Pakistan in January 2008. He was arrested in 2004 for an attempt on Musharraf’s life but Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin convinced Pakistan agencies he was not involved.

Of Lions & Tigers

Facing stiff opposition from Gujarat, the Centre has made an offer to reintroduce tigers in the Dangs region of the state in exchange for Asiatic lions which it plans to relocate in Madhya Pradesh. Environment minister Jairam Ramesh said ,he had made an offer to reintroduce tigers in Dangs where the big cats ruled the jungles about 25 years ago. “I have suggested to Gujarat CM Narendra Modi that the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) will work to reintroduce tigers in the Dangs as an incentive for the state to part with its lions,’’ he said at a function to release a book. Gujarat has been opposing the Centre’s proposal to relocate Asiatic lions from Gir to a 300 sq km forest in MP’s Sheopur district. The matter is before the Supreme Court. Ramesh also said that the Centre had rejected an application by the Adani Group to set up a coal mine at Lohara near the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve to supply coal for its 1980 MW power plant in Gondia district of Maharashtra as it would destroy the flora and fauna. The Parambikulam wildlife sanctuary in Palakkad district of Kerala, home to some of the most endangered species of animals and birds, will be declared a tiger reserve on February 19 by Jairam Ramesh. It will be Kerala’s second tiger reserve after Thekkady and the country’s 39th, Kerala forest minister Binoy Viswam said. The Parambikulam sanctuary is tucked away in the valley between the Anamalai ranges of Tamil Nadu and the Nelliampathy ranges of Palakkad district in the Western Ghats. The reservoir harbours several varieties of aquatic fauna, including mugger crocodiles. The sanctuary, Viswam said, would have a core area of 390.88 square km and a buffer area of 252.77 square km coming under the Chalakkudy, Vazhachal and Nemmara forest divisions. The sanctuary also has some teak plantations, the history of which dates back to 1921. The last teak plantations in the area, according to the forest department, were raised in 1983. The minister said the government had taken steps to ensure that the work of the plantations was not affected on account of it being declared a tiger reserve. The Western Ghats are considered one of the 34 biodiversity hotspots in the world. The place is also popularly called ‘Nature’s own abode’ because of its natural beauty and is home to four indigenous tribal communities —Kadar, Malasar, Muduvar and Malamalasar.

More about the INS Arihant

India’s first-ever indigenous nuclear submarine INS Arihant will live up to its name of being the “destroyer of enemies’’, armed as it will be with 12 nuclear-tipped missiles, once it joins service towards end-2011. While INS Arihant will propel India towards achieving an operational nuclear-weapon triad, or the ability to fire nukes from land, air and sea, the navy also wants its Rs 30,000 crore Project-75 I for the second line of conventional diesel-electric submarines to be swiftly finalised due to its fast-dwindling underwater combat arm. But first about the 6,000-tonne INS Arihant, which many believe will be more of a ‘technology demonstrator’ for the subsequent two follow-on nuclear submarines being constructed under the secretive Rs 30,000 crore Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) project. Dismissing such talk, ATV director-general Vice-Admiral D S P Varma said that INS Arihant will be a full-fledged strategic submarine when it’s commissioned around end-2011. “It jolly well will have the missiles,’’ he said. After the 111-metre-long INS Arihant was launched by flooding the dry dock at the Shipbuilding Centre in Visakhapatnam last July, the next big step now is to ‘fire’ its miniature 83 MW ressurised light-water reactor for the harbour-acceptance and sea-acceptance trials. The testing of 700-km range K-15 SLBMs developed by DRDO to arm the submarine, which has four silos on its hump, will be held thereafter. While the two-stage K-15 is a pygmy compared to the over 5,000-km range SLBMs of the US, Russia and China, work on a 3,500-km variant is now underway to make India’s underwater nuclear deterrent more credible. Incidentally, all the 71 US submarines are nuclear-propelled. China, in turn, has 10 nuclear submarines in its 62-submarine fleet.

What’s A Nuclear Submarine?

It’s an underwater vessel powered by a nuclear reactor. Other submarines need to surface for recharging, but an N-sub can stay submerged for long periods. INS Arihant (Sanskrit for ‘destroyer of enemies’) puts India in elite club of 6 nations (along with the US, Russia, France, the UK and China) that possess N-sub capabilities

Why Is It Important?

Arihant’s induction will complete India’s nuclear weapons triad, ie capability to launch N-missiles from air, land and water. As India has declared ‘no first use’ of N-weapons, its defence systems must survive a first strike. Arihant’s advantage is stealth. It can lurk at ocean depths and fire missiles from under the sea


Length: 111m

Weight: 6,000 tonne

Powered by: Single shaft 83MW N-power plant

Speed: 28kmph (surface); 44kmph (underwater)

Capability: Can fire 700km range K-15 missile, may later fire cruise missiles

Maharashtra's Vision 2015

The state government is working on a plan for Maharashtra called Vision 2015. The bureaucrats in Mantralaya will make a presentation before the cabinet meeting which will be held this week. Chief secretary J P Dange said that the vision document will primarily have items promised by the government in the election manifesto. “We will have many other programmes too, which will be implemented till 2015.’’ Several secretaries have been asked to prepare documents for their departments. “The government had said that it wants all families in the state to be lakhpatis. The per household income is now Rs 45,000 and we want it to be raised to Rs 1 lakh in 2015. Besides, the government has also promised to rid the state of load-shedding,’’ Dange added. According to the chief secretary, the MMRDA has undertaken work of Rs 1.5 lakh crore. “The same projects will be completed.’’ An Urban Development Department (UDD) official said that by 2015, there will be 11 major cities in the state and nearly 50% of the state will stay in cities. “We have proposed that regulations must apply to an area beyond 10 km after the city ends,’’ the official said. Besides, the UDD has a plan to develop a high-speed railway corridor from Virar to Churchgate. It is promoting cluster development of old buildings, MUTP-II and wants to flag off the international airport project. A retired IAS officer said that in 2000, the then chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh had asked his officials to prepare a vision document. It was a well researched document, but many senior IAS officers dumped the plan as it was prepared by an IAS officer who was junior to them. “We have included the government’s manifesto, so no one can dump the vision 2015 plan,’’ he added.


The Golden Quadrilateral snapshot

Aviation 2010

Upper Ganga Canal expressway snippets

Drawing lessons from its repeated failures to attract private investment in big-ticket projects, the Uttar Pradesh government has drawn up a plan for a Rs 6,200-crore expressway which envisages assured land rights. Land rights are property rights that pertain to real estate land.
The project with a concession period of 35 years eyes attractive traffic figures,which are expected to rise as it will provide the shortest possible route for travelling from the national capital to Uttarakhand. Also, the project envisages seven hydropower plants, which the developer can build or lease out, said a state government official.
Assured about the viability of the project, the UP government has decided to ask builders to pay back the state from its revenue stream."The state government will give first preference to bids offering negative grant," said an official,adding the government hopes to hand over the letter of authority (LOA) for the project to the developer. The Upper Ganga Canal Expressway will start from Sanauta Bridge in Greater Noida and end at Purkazi, on the Uttarakhand border. The Greater Noida Authority has been roped in to connect the incoming traffic from the Yamuna Expressway to this expressway and also the Delhi traffic from Parichowk, in Greater Noida to the UGC Expressway through link roads.With this, traffic from Agra can have direct access till Haridwar and the Delhi traffic, too, can have an express corridor to ease its burgeoning traffic.
Most private players such as Jaypee Infratech, IRB Builders, Reliance Infrastructure, Tata Realty and Infrastructure, GVK, Punj Lloyd, Lanco Infratech, Nagarjuna and many others have shown a keen interest in the project. The companies agree that the project has a high degree of possibility of breaking even in the first couple of years or so.
The 150-km long, 8-laned access controlled expressway will incorporate 571 hectare land for right of way (ROW) for the route in addition to another 100 hectare for land parcels free of cost.
As per initial estimates, the seven hydroprojects, having a total capacity of 31.75 mw, would require Rs 336 crore for construction and maintenance and have potential to generate a recurring revenue of Rs 180 crore annually for the entire 35 years of the concession period.
This recurring revenue generation, in addition to the toll collection from seven toll plazas across the expressway , would make the project viable in the first few years itself,feel experts.The power generated from these projects would not only help the developer to supply power to the townships that would be developed on the adjoining land parcels, but it could also sell the excess power in the open market and earn huge profit. The developer will also have rights on the land parcels for 90 years and would be able to sublease the land for development.
While this will result in a better toll income and will be an additional incentive for the developer, he will also fetch good real estate value for the land parcels, which will have the potential to attract hi-tech development,especially in and around the NCR. With the government open to granting the floor area ratio (FAR) of 2.5, the rate of enhancement of property prices for the developer will also be high.

Andhra to start 17 power projects

Andhra Pradesh will put in all efforts to achieve additional power generation of 15,945 mw by taking up 17 new power projects in the next four to five years.This will enable the state to meet the growing power demand in all sectors such as agriculture, industry and domestic, said chief minister of state K Rosaiah. According to a statement, the chief minister will lay foundation stone for two projects which includes the 600-mw Singareni thermal power plant at Pegadapalli village in Adilabad district and the first phase of 700 mw out of 2,100 mw gas-based power project promoted by APGENCO at Thimmapur Mandal in Karimnagar. While the phase I of the Karimnagar project will be operationalised by July 2013, the thermal project at Pegadapalli is expected to be completed by June 2013. Both the projects, the chief minister said, will spur economic growth and help setting up other industries. Industrialisation of the area will also provide vast employment opportunities in the region.
Of the 17 new power projects planned in the next 4-5 years, 10 projects aggregating to 4,063 mw are under construction and seven projects totalling 11,282 mw are under development stage. With these projects, APGENCO is all poised to add 4,110 mw thermal and 653 mw of Hydel capacity by next three years. The chief minister also said fly ash generated in the power projects can be used by the cement industries to enhance their production capacities and it can also be used to set up fly ash based brick units in the local area.

DTH rankings

6 major players battle it out.

Inflation at 8.56%

Inflation spiked to a 13-month high of 8.56% in January from 7.31% in December on the back of a broad-based increase in prices. This, economists said, points to a demand revival and could prompt the Reserve Bank to raise interest rates in its April policy review.
But the rising inflation will force finance minister Pranab Mukherjee to play his cards carefully in the Union Budget on February 26, as any tax hikes to roll back the fiscal stimulus would push prices up. In any case, the wholesale price index (WPI) inflation is expected to go into double-digits by March 2010 and bankers expect any rate hike from RBI to happen only post-Budget.
Economists say data shows revival in demand that could prompt the central bank to go for rate hike. China on Friday raised bank reserve requirements for a second time in two months. Inflation has already surpassed the RBI March-end target of 8.5%. Any increase in fuel prices would only add to rising prices.
But higher-than-expected government borrowing in the Budget might hold off the RBI from aggressively raising rates as it would push up borrowing costs. The government on Monday also revised up the inflation number for November to 5.6% from 4.8% provisional estimate-indicating that prices are rising faster than captured in the provisional data.
Inflation rise was driven by a 17.4% jump in food prices,while expansion in manufacturing prices picked up to 6.55% from about 5% in December, signaling that inflationary pressures were spreading to other sectors of the economy .Manufactured-price inflation has accelerated the most in 13 months.Sugar prices climbed 58.96% in January, while pulses costs rose 45.64%, the data showed. Costs of potatoes jumped 53.39% and the indexof oil increased 6.9%.
The RBI has already increased the cash reserve ratio, the slice of deposits banks need to keep with the RBI, by 75 bps to 5.75% last month-- the first increase since August 2008. Subbarao had said that a reversal of monetary expansion cannot be `effective' unless there is also a `roll back of government borrowing'. The government has projected the fiscal deficit to touch a 16-year high of 6.8% in 2009-10.

Mumbai's gearing up for tall storeys

Mumbai's skyline is set to get two more giant icons, with construction possible this year on two residential buildings, one over six times as tall as the Qutub Minar, the other over five times.
The first, 486 metres tall, has been proposed in Mahalaxmi and the second, at 375 metres, in Worli. The BMC received both proposals in the last fortnight. A special committee that oversees proposals for all structures above 70 metres has visited the sites and is expected to study the proposals and decide within three months. "We have received the building plans of structures at Mahalaxmi and Worli and if they are cleared they will set a new high for residential buildings in Mumbai," said an official of the Development Plan department.
Joyus Housing Ltd, a branch of Akruti Developers, has proposed the 486-metre structure, set to be the city's tallest residential building, opposite Mahalaxmi Racecourse. The plan has 114 floors, to be built over six parking floors and five for void space. Vimal Shah of Akruti Developers confirmed the project but refused to divulge details.
In Worli, behind Century Bazar, a joint venture of Oberoi and Sudhakar Shetty of Sky Lark Buildings, has proposed the 375-metre Sky Lark Heights with 83 floors. It will include a 36-floor, 156-m commercial wing besides a mall, hotel and offices. "The project is part of the saleable component of a slum rehabilitation scheme.Dwellers had encroached on the plot and have been rehabilitated. The structure has been proposed on the saleable part," an official said.
72.5 m: Qutub Minar, Delhi, still the yardstick for height
527 m: Iconic tower, Wadala, still no bidders
486 m: Residential building, 144 floors, proposed opposite Mahalaxmi Racecourse
375 m: Sky Lark Heights, 83 floors, proposed behind Century Bazar, Worli
298 m: Palasis Royale, under construction, on Shree Ram Mills compound at Worli Naka
305 m: Hotel-cum-service apartment, 103 floors, planned at Charni Road

National Transport Development Policy Committee snippets

In a move that also rehabilitates former Reserve Bank of India deputy governor and infrastructure expert Rakesh Mohan, the government has set up a National Transport Development Policy Committee to chalk out a multimodal strategy to meet the country's transport needs for the next 20 years. Mohan, who chairs the committee, has been accorded a Minister of State (MoS) rank and given 18 months to submit his recommendations.
Rakesh Mohan had quit the Reserve Bank in May 2009, almost a year before his five-year term was to end to take up an offer as Distinguished Consulting Professor at the Stanford Centre for International Development in Stanford University.He was in the race for the RBI governorship after Y V Reddy completed his term in September 2008. But the government appointed then finance secretary D Subbarao as the governor.
The committee,approved by the Prime Minister, includes Dinesh Mohan from IIT, Delhi, Infosys director Mohandas Pai, IDFC managing director Rajiv Lall, Great Eastern Shipping MD Bharat Seth, and secretaries in the ministries of coal, petroleum and natural gas, civil aviation, road transport and highways, finance, urban development and power besides the chairman of the Railway Board.
Interestingly, given the mixed experience India has had with public private partnerships, the committee has been asked to assess the investment needs of the sector and identify the roles of state and the private sector in meeting these. It will suggest modifications to PPP norms, if required. Given the economic, demographic and technological trends at local, national and global levels, the committee will compare the cost advantages of various modes of transport.Its terms of reference also include making recommendations to ensure universal rural connectivity, besides addressing the special problems of remote and difficult areas on the one hand and of urban and metropolitan areas on the other.
A government official said it is for the first time that the needs of the transport sector are being studied in a holistic fashion by drawing inputs from user industries such as oil, gas, power and coal. "Pipelines to move oil and gas are a means of transport today just as much as are roadways or shipping. So are transmission lines in the power sector," the official said.
"It is also important that needs of user industries such as coal are taken on board in working out transportation needs for the future decades.Coal is the biggest user of Railways and many thermal power plants in coastal regions will be fired by imported coal," the official said.

Of credit cards & debit cards

The popularity of credit cards has taken a severe beating in India over the past couple of years. The base fell by 16.4 per cent, or over 4 million, to 20.64 million in the nine months ending December 2009. In fact, in the period since April 2008, the base has shrunk by more than a fourth, or 7.67 million, according to the Reserve Bank of India.
On the other hand, the number of outstanding debit cards jumped 21.35 per cent to 170.56 million in the nine months ending December 2009.Debit card payments too increased over 40 per cent to Rs 19,288.83 crore in the first three quarters of the current fiscal against Rs 13,722.44 crore in the year-ago period. Even as the debit card base rose steeply, the decline in number of credit cards has been consistent per month between April and November 2009.
Credit card outstandings too dropped by Rs 7,412 crore, a 24.7 per cent deceleration, to Rs 22,635 crore as against a rise of Rs 6,147 crore (or a 25.7 per cent rise) in the same period of last year. Credit card transactions, in fact, declined by over Rs 4,800 crore to Rs 45,756.47 crore in the first nine months of this fiscal against Rs 50,578.92 crore in the year ago period.

Of exports this January

Indian exports continued to point toward the country's strong presence in the international marketplace with an 11.5 per cent bump in January, the third consecutive month of export growth. Exports rung in at $14.34 billion against $12.9 billion in January 2009, commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma said. Sectors leading the way to Indian export rejuvenation include fruits and vegetables, marine products, tobacco and man-made yarn, Sharma said. Similarly, tea, coffee, drugs and plastics and gems and jewellery turned the corner, positing positive growth in January. "Engineering goods, textiles, jute, carpets, handicrafts and leather, however, continue to do very badly," Sharma said, adding, these sectors are of major concern.
January's strong showing followed a 15 month high in December when exports touched $14.61 billion. Exports are now on a three month run of showing positive growth, dating back to November 2009 when exports reached $13.2 billion.
Although the ministry never set a formal target, expectations for exports were just under $170 billion for fiscal 2010.Including January, total exports stand at $132 billion with two months remaining in the fiscal. If exports maintain an average of $13.2 billion, expectations will be missed while reaching 2011 expectations will require massive growth over the next year. "We should have at least $15 billion every month, if you're targeting $200 billion for 2010-2011," said Ajay Sahai, director general for the Federation of Indian Exports Organisation

NCR infrastructure : Snapshot

Nariman Point and Mantralaya makeover snippets

Nariman Point, one of world's most expensive office markets, is expected to yield the Maha government a windfall of Rs 12,500 crore if it decides to go ahead with a proposal to integrate the makeover of the area with that of Mantralaya. When bids were opened for the Mantralaya project last August, India Bulls had offered the highest, Rs 1,400 crore, for executing the project in return for rights to commercially exploit a four-acre plot.The project, however, was ridden with controversy and was stayed by the Chief Minister on the eve of the Assembly elections. Revised plans show that instead of involving a developer, if the government were to merge the project with its Nariman Point revamp plan, it would reap a profit eight times higher.
The Mantralaya project was drawn up by the PWD while the Nariman Point plan is under the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), the planning agency for the Backbay area.As per the revised plans now awaiting the CM's approval, both are to be carried out by the MMRDA as a composite Rs 3,500-crore project.
MMRDA 's profit would be by way of building commercial and residential space and selling it in the open market. An iconic commercial building would be built on the four-acre plot behind YB Chavan Auditorium, the same plot that was to be given to the developer as per earlier plans. Another 10storey commercial tower is to be built on the seafront after rehabilitating the occupants of the 300 slum structures next to the MLA hostel. The 20 quaint ministerial bungalows would be razed as per the PWD's plans, but instead of building three sixty-storey twin towers for ministers, judges and bureaucrats, there would be two 25-storey towers. Next to it would be an additional 1.25 lakh sq metres of residential space with sprawling apartments that would be sold in the open market.
Even at a conservative estimate of Rs 50,000 per sq ft, the profit from the saleable component works out to a whopping Rs 12,500 crore. "The plans will crystallise only after the government land is transferred for the project," said MMRDA commissioner Ratnakar Gaikwad.The project will have a global floor space index (FSI) of 4, three times the existing 1.33 in the area.
Apart from the saleable part, most elements of the earlier Nariman Point plan remain untouched. The Mantralaya project will involve modernisation of the Mantralaya and New Administrative Building, a new underground tunnel linking the two to Vidhan Bhavan and a building opposite the LIC office for political party offices.
The Nariman Point project would also entail creating a 1.5 km waterfront promenade stretching up to Badhwar Park with food courts, water sports facilities, a children's forum, a helipad, parking, a pedestrian central avenue and a circular Central Park next to the proposed residential towers.The MMRDA in its recent budget allocated Rs 100 crore for the project. "This would be required for peripheral works such as coastal studies, traffic management plans and surveys for upgrade of services like water, sewage and road," said P K Das, the project consultant who has drawn up the revised plans.

Somewhere in Pune....

Security is beefed up at the Osho Ashram after the German Bakery terror attack.

Do's and Don'ts

After the Pune bomb blast....an MHA advertisement.

India, Nepal to ink deal for 5 new rail lines

India and Nepal are set to ink an agreement to provide railway connectivity and augment existing lines between the two countries. Once constructed, these rail lines will provide India better access to the Madhes (Terai) region of the Himalayan country. The agreement is likely to be signed during the ongoing visit of Nepal President Ram Baran Yadav to India. Yadav is slated to meet President Pratibha Patil, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and External Affairs Minister S M Krishna on Tuesday.
While India has been exploring the possibilities of setting up new rail lines through five different routes, two of these routes -- the 17.65-km long stretch between Jogbani (India) and Viratnagar (Nepal) and the 70 km long stretch from Jaynagar (India) to Birdibas (Nepal) via Baijalpura (Nepal) -- are likely to be given top priority and will form the core of the agreement to be signed.
Sources said that the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has already sanctioned a sum of Rs 470 crore for the Jaynagar-Birdibas line and another Rs 210 crore for Jogbani-Viratnagar line. "The Jaynagar-Birdibas route involves gauge conversion of the existing rail line and construction of a new line from Baijalpura to Birdibas," a government official said.
A 12.11 km stretch between Nepalgunj Road (India) and Nepalgunj (Nepal), a 15.30 km stretch between Nautanwa (India) and Bhairawaha (Nepal) and a 46.30 km stretch between New Jalpaiguri (India) and Kakrabitta (Nepal) are the other three rail links that have already been explored as options for setting up rail lines between the two countries.