Of traffic woes

It's budget day

The present and the past.....times have changed.


Somewhere in Shimla....

Shimla city draped in snow....a white February.

Kolkata Metro expansion plans

Maximum India

Maximum India, a 20-day cultural extravaganza of Indian soft power, kicks off in Washington on March 1 with scores of artistes set to enthrall a capital where India is now looked on more favorably than ever before. A recent Gallup Poll put India among Canada, Britain, Japan and ahead of China, and even Israel — as countries rated favorably by Americans. Indias strategic partnership with the U.S has much to do with it, but underpinning that is a cultural bonding that has come a long way since 1985 when America got a sustained taste of India. In recent years, Kennedy Center has hosted a China Festival, an African Odyssey and an Arabian extravaganza even as memories of the great Festival of India had begun to fade. Fortunately, New Delhi responded with alacrity to Kennedy Center’s initiative to drum up the India beat again. The result is a fiesta that will be brighten up Washington DC’s cultural calendar in the fading days of winter.

Budget eve snapshotz

Will Pranab da bite the bullet and make bold reforms.....?

Of Mamata's Railway budget

Will she remain the Railway minister or become the West Bengal CM ?

Coffee buzz

Somewhere in Jaitapur....

Scores of locals turned up at the venue where chief minister Prithviraj Chavan met project-affected persons (PAP) of the Jaitapur nuclear power plant (JNPP) project on Saturday. While Chavan got a feel of the anger brewing in the area, even state industries minister Narayan Rane who had accompanied him came in for criticism from locals. The show of strength by locals underlined their objections to the proposed nuclear plant. They demanded the cancellation of the JNPP, which is billed, as the largest nuclear power plant in the country. After being commissioned, the plant is expected to have a power generation capacity of 9900-MW. The state government has acquired over 938 hectares of land from five villages-—namely Madban, Niveli, Karel, Mithgavane and Varilwada—for the project. Most of the 2,335 families, affected by the land acquisition, have opposed the project, many of them were present during the meeting. Fishermen from neighbouring villages like Sagarinate, Musakazi and Tulsunde, who have expressed concerns about loss of livelihood owing to the project, also attended the meeting. The meeting organized by Chavan, to dispel “misconceptions” about the project, became a platform for protestors to display their opposition to the project. Even Rane, who got into an argument with two speakers at the event, was not spared. The minister objected to the language used by activist Dr Milind Desai and local Shiv Sena MLA Rajan Salvi, while criticising the state government’s role in the project. Desai, who remarked that the “government should be ashamed for the use of undemocratic means while acquiring land”, left the dais after he was interrupted. Salvi submitted a memorandum to the chief minister before leaving the dais. These incidents incited the locals and they expressed their displeasure when Rane rose to speak. “For the first time a chief minister has convened a meeting of people affected by a project. This is no way to treat him,” Rane said. Organizations representing the protestors submitted a charter of demands to Chavan. “We are convinced that the JNPP will be harmful for the locals. People will not settle for any amount of compensation that is offered,” Pravin Gavankar, leader of the Janhit Seva Samiti said. Amjad Borkar, representing the Maharashtra Machimaar Kruti Samiti, questioned the government’s claim that the project would not affect fishing in the region. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), which is in-charge of the project, and the state government have cited reports by experts that suggest the nuclear plant will not impact fishing and the region’s biodiversity. Borkar demanded a meeting between experts to discuss the issue, Rane agreed to the demand. Chavan defended the project and said that objections raised against it were based on misinformation spread by vested interests. He even blamed “certain foreign players” for spreading misconceptions. “The project will not harm fishing. Adequate safeguards have been put before granting the environmental clearance,” said Chavan. Chavan added that he would consult the Centre to increase the monetary compensation.


India, Bangladesh to redraw border

India and Bangladesh have agreed to redraw their 4,100km boundary. Straightening of the boundary would include ending the contentious issue of over 200 enclaves located in each other’s territory. High-level sources said the deal would be announced when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits Dhaka immediately after the West Bengal elections. The visit in all likelihood could take place in June. The boundary deal would have been done earlier if it wasn’t for the fact that Congress ally in West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, flatly refused to agree to any transfer of population that could affect voter sentiment in the state. At issue is the demarcation of 6.1 km of boundary, and a final settlement on the enclaves and areas under “adverse possession. The broad contours of the border agreement reflects India’s aversion to disturbing settled populations and exchange of territory. This essentially means Bangladeshi enclaves in Indian territory will remain with India, while Indian enclaves in Bangladesh will remain with them. This might mean a little bit of area transfer mainly from India to Bangladesh. The people would be given a choice to decide, if they want to be Bangladeshi citizens or Indians, sources indicated. “We are working out the modalities, but that is the broad guideline,” a senior official said about the contentious citizenship issue. Enclaves are small areas that are in the middle of another country. The straightening of the boundary would make for easier policing, and if necessary, possible fencing of the border. Many parts of the Indo-Bangla border is already fenced. A headcount is currently underway in the enclaves on both sides — 130 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh and 95 Bangladeshi enclaves within Indian territory. A senior official said they believe “over two lakh people live in these enclaves but only the (ongoing) headcount will tell us the final figure”. India and Bangladesh held their first boundary talks in November, when Bangladeshi foreign minister Dipu Moni visited Tripura. The two sides expect to meet a few more times before the agreement is sealed. By straightening out the 4,100-km boundary, India may end up losing some land because it has more enclaves on the other side that would be absorbed by Bangladesh. “That is not a major issue, given the fact that it would forever settle the issue that has been on for centuries,” the official said. The 130 Indian Chitmahals (enclaves) occupy a land of some 20,000 acres while the Bangladesh Chitmahals in India occupy about 12,000 acres. In effect, India would end up losing some 8,000 acres.

Malkangiri collector freed finally

After hiccups galore, Malkangiri collector R Vineel Krishna was freed by the Maoists on Thursday. The DM’s release caught the state government unawares. Fresh talks were to be held after the rebels raised additional demands, calling for a public swap of the collector with nine of their imprisoned comrades. In the event, the government agreed to release five, refusing to let go two key leaders of their group. “I was surprised when they (Maoists) took me away, you have to ask them why they did that,” Krishna said. Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik said, “We agreed on certain issues. The government will honour its commitment. I am very glad the collector was released. I am sure everybody, especially his family, would be very happy.” Krishna was freed after a four-hour public meeting called by the Maoists in Tentuliguda village with about 1,500 villagers. The Maoists made speeches and discussed issues like mining and underdevelopment during the meeting. The meeting ended at 4.30pm after which the collector crossed the Balimela reservoir. Commenting on the meeting called by the Maoists, Krishna said, "It's good to have development debates. Hope it benefits the poor tribals." “The Maoists kept me well and engaged me in conversation on development issues,” said Krishna after he stepped down from the boat that brought him back from the “cut-off” area. He hugged his driver Shankar Rao, who wept. Consoling his driver, Krishna said in Telugu, "Why are you crying? I am safe and already back.” Shankar Rao had been waiting for Krishna's release for the last eight days by the Balimela reservoir. While Krishna was boarding the boat, amidst the beating of drums, local officials in the headquarters were busy making arrangements for interlocutors, who were reportedly flying down from Bhubaneswar to facilitate the collector's release on Friday morning. The Maoists had called for the release of Srinivasulu, Ashutosh, and Shobha, after Orissa government had already conceded 14 original demands. The government agreed to release Gunti Prasadam whose bail application was heard in a Koraput court on Thursday, apart from Padma, Ishwari, Sarita and Gokul. The key Naxals whose release was sought but rejected by the government are Srinivasulu and Ashutosh. After being released inside forest near Doliambo village, Krishna moved in a motorcycle to Janvai ghat from where he crossed the Balimela reservoir in a motorboat to reach Chitrakonda. From there, he traversed the 60-km stretch between Chitrakonda and Malkangiri town in a four-wheeler, amid cheers from hundreds of people. Asked if he would go back to the area, Krishna said, “I will go wherever my service is required.”

Limit on poll expenditure raised

In an attempt to deal with the use of black money in elections, the maximum poll expenditure for parliamentary constituencies has been increased to Rs 40 lakh and to Rs 16 lakh for assembly constituencies. Expenditure limit varies according to the size of states. On Wednesday, law ministry issued a notification amending the Conduct of Election Rules. At present, in big states, the upper spending limit in parliamentary constituency is Rs 25 lakh and Rs 10 lakh in assembly constituency. Electoral candidates in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand would be able to spend Rs 40 lakh per constituency in parliamentary election and Rs 16 lakh in assembly election. In case of Nagaland, Tripura, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, while the upper limit for expenditure in parliamentary election is Rs 40 lakh, for assembly election there is a variation. In HP and Uttarakhand, acandidate can spend only Rs 11 lakh for assembly constituency while in case of Nagaland and Tripura, it is Rs 8 lakh. In J&K, because of its special status, election expenditure for parliamentary election is Rs 40 lakh while for assembly election the maximum limit has been left to the state election commission. In Goa, the upper limit for expenditure in parliamentary constituency is Rs 22 lakh and Rs 8 lakh for assembly constituency.

Common AI code

Beginning Sunday, the flights operated by the erstwhile Indian Airlines and Alliance Air will cease to operate under the IC or CD flight code. Instead, these flights will have a common code—AI. Only the flights operated by Air India Express will continue to fly under the IX code.

Gujarat budget snippets

As Ahmedabad completes 600 years....An expressway between Ahmedabad and Dholera-SIR, introduction of Roll-On-Roll-Off (RORO) ferry service between Dahej and Ghogha ports, purchase of 3000 new ST buses and widening of roads were some of the initiatives announced in the state budget on Friday.The measures are aimed at strengthening road connectivity and transportation infrastructure in Gujarat. In the budget, provisions of Rs 3,341 crore under roads and buildings department and Rs 600 crore under ports and transport department have been made.The state will also get its first express highway of 117 km (approximately) between Ahmedabad and SIR Dholera. Of the total budgetary allocation of Rs 3,341 crore for the R&B department, Rs 2,200 crore have been allocated for the express highway.The government has also proposed to convert the 151 km-long road between Rajkot-Bhavnagar into a four-lane one. Roads joining major ports and industrial areas will also be taken up on a PPP basis at a cost of Rs 746 crore. Even, villages and suburbs having population of less than 500 will be connected through pucca roads, and for this Rs 100 crore have been allotted. Also, Rs 98 crore have been provided for network of 10m wide roads linking district headquarters.Kisanpath Yojna, Pragati Path and Vikas Path Yojna will also get a total of Rs 248 crore. More engineers will be recruited in the roads and building department. Also, pucca roads will be constructed at a cost of Rs 30 crore to facilitate movement of workers engaged in salt farming.The transport department will buy 3,000 new ST buses at a cost of Rs 425 crore. Also 21 ST bus stations will be modernized.A proposed RORO ferry service from Ghogha to Dahej will also be introduced at a cost of Rs 296 crore.

'Green India Mission'

Jairam Ramesh’s ambitious Rs 46,000-crore 10-year afforestation plan has got the prime minister’s (PM’s) nod, the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) said on Wednesday.
Called 'Green India Mission', the project involves adding 10 million hectares to the nation's 40-42 million hectares of good-quality forests, with the long-term target of increasing the 'good' forest cover from 12% to 33% of the total land.
Apart from the 12%, 8% land -- around 28 million hectares -- is technically classified as forests, but "you can see nothing but the sun if you look up", as Ramesh recently put it.
The programme will require the government to increase spending on forestry by 55% from the current Rs8,500 crore a year.
MoEF said after the completion of the project, Indian forests will absorb around 50 to 60 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year by 2020. Otherwise, Ramesh said, the absorption would fall from 9% to 4.5% in 10 years due to rapid growth.


Somewhere in Jaipur....

Jaipur hops on the Metro bandwagon.

Airwaves in 700 MHz band to be sold in 2012

The government could be in for a windfall from the sale of additional spectrum that will be vacated by state agencies, after raising record amounts from 3G and broadband airwaves auction last year that helped it contain fiscal deficit within the budgeted limit. The telecom department has initiated the process of auctioning airwaves in the 700 MHz band, which, it says is the ‘most efficient and cost-effective’ frequency for delivering wireless broadband. In an internal note, the department says the rollout of services using this band will cost only a third of the expected rollout for companies such as Reliance Industries that won wireless broadband airwaves in the 2.3 GHz band. The ministry has set a target for Doordarshan and other government agencies to vacate these frequencies by the year-end so that the auctions can be held in 2012. The government has in the past failed to enforce deadlines for freeing up airwaves as well as for auctions but spectrum-starved telecom service providers keenly await auctions for the 700 MHz band as it will enable them to offer enhanced data services. In 2008, the US government raised close to $20 billion by auctioning three blocks of spectrum in the 700 MHz band. Two years prior to this, the US House of Representatives approved a new policy that mandated analog television broadcasters to clear the 700 MHz airwaves and switch their operations to the digital mode. The improved spectral efficiency of digital broadcast freed up large chunks of airwaves in 700 MHz band. In the case of 3G spectrum, the defence forces vacated it for the auctions only after the telecom department agreed to build an alternate fibre optic network for them. In this case too, Doordarshan may ask DoT to foot part of the cost to digitise its operations.

Somewhere in Delhi....

Commuters driving through central and New Delhi faced long snarls between 11am and 2.30pm on Wednesday due to a massive rally organized by left trade unions demanding a change in economic and labour policies. Traffic movement was brought down to a crawl and commuters were stuck in jams for several hours. About 55,000 took to the streets and among the worst affected areas were Connaught Place, Minto Road, Jawaharal Nehru Marg, Tilak Marg, Rajghat, Mandi House, Delhi Gate, Asaf Ali Marg, Netaji Subash Marg, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, Mathura Road, Barakhamba and Sikandara Road.

Kochi Smart City off the block

The Smart City project, which has been in limbo for over four years, is finally off the block with the signing of the lease deed between the state government and Tecom, the Dubai-based IT company and promoter of the project, on Wednesday in Kochi. Work on the project, which is expected to generate over 90,000 direct employment opportunities, will begin soon. State fisheries minister S Sarma, who is also the Smart City board chairman, and Abul Lathif Almulla, Tecom CEO, signed the deed at a meeting here. Two separate lease deeds covering the entire 246 acres were signed. The Centre has already approved special economic zone (SEZ) status for 131 acres of land in the project area. Sarma said the official notification on the SEZ status would be issued within two weeks. Almulla said preliminary work on the project would start after the notification was issued. Representatives of the governments of Dubai and Kerala and Tecom had on February 2 agreed to revive the project, which was stalled following disputes between Tecom and the state government. The dispute arose after Tecom demanded that they be given the right to sell the land in the freehold area within the project site. The government had said no to this demand.

Bharatpur tiger shifted to Sariska

A male tiger of Ranthambore National Park, which has been staying in Bharatpur bird sanctuary for the past three months, was relocated to Sariska tiger reserve on Wednesday. The tiger, T-7, will be the second male tiger at Sariska and the fifth one in the reserve after the death of ST-1 last year. The tiger will be rechristened as ST-6. This will now be the second male after ST-4 in the reserve. The animal was tranquillised at Aadhatar in I block near Aghapur village of Keoladeo bird sanctuary in the evening by a team from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, who have been camping there for the past one week. The Sariska tiger reserve currently has four tigers including a male and three females. The first male to be relocated, ST-1, was poisoned by villagers last year.

Karnataka economix

B S Yeddyurappa’s had a bad year politically, but in terms of the state’s economics, this has been his best so far. And he probably needs to thank the global economic recovery for much of that. The Economic Survey released by the state government on the eve of its annual budget, says the gross state domestic product (GSDP), or total value of all production and services in the state (after discounting for inflation), has risen by about 8.2% in 2010-11. That’s up from 5.2% and 3.7% in the previous two years. Much of that increase is on account of a sharp rise in growth in the services sector, which is up at 9.7% this year, from 3.7% last year. The services sector accounts for 55% of the state’s GSDP. The sector’s growth would have been aided by the IT industry’s smart recovery from the global recession. Other important segments, like trade, hotels and restaurants, real estate, ownership of dwellings and business services also rose significantly. Agricultural growth was also the highest in the past three years, at 5.9%. It was 4.3% last year and 0.5% the year before. The Survey says rainfall was good this year, and this probably would account for much of the increase in agricultural growth. Industry’s performance is, however, disappointing. The growth this year is down to 6.9%, from 8.5% last year. Maybe Yeddyurappa recognizes the problem in the sector, which is probably why the Global Investors’ Meet (GIM) was organized last year, and why he wants one again next year. If the government is able to move forward quickly on the manufacturing investments promised at the GIM, Yeddyurappa may be able to end his term with a robust industrial sector. As of now, the feeling is that states like Gujarat are able to do a much better job of attracting investments in manufacturing. It must also be noted that while this year was better than last year, GSDP growth rates remain much lower than what they were in the years preceding recession. Many say poor infrastructure, shortage of power and its high cost, is Karnataka’s biggest issue. There is little in the survey about any new thinking about the problem.

End of the MiG era

Russian-origin MiG-21s were the first truly supersonic fighter jets to be inducted into IAF in 1963, which then was a move by India to counter the F-104 Starfighters provided to Pakistan by US. The MiG-23s, MiG-25s, MiG-27s and MiG-29s, each with their own specific roles, followed in later years. The MiGs, in fact, once constituted over 75% of India’s combat fleet, and still constitute a bulk of it. But now, with IAF going in for modern fighters, the end of the entire MiG era, except for the latest MiG-29s, is in sight. “We have got a clear-cut plan to replace them. By 2017, the entire MiG series will be replaced in a phased manner, that is from 2014 onwards,” said defence minister A K Antony in Rajya Sabha on Wednesday. In the years ahead, India’s frontline combat fighters will have 270 Russian Sukhoi-30MKIs already being inducted for around $12 billion, the 126 new medium multi-role combat aircraft to be acquired in the $10.4 billion MMRCA project and the 250 to 300 fifth-generation fighter aircraft to be built with Russia in the gigantic $35 billion project. Moreover, induction of the first 40 of the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft will also begin towards end-2013, with the first two squadrons becoming fully operational at the Sulur airbase (Tamil Nadu) by 2015 or so, a full three decades after the LCA project was first sanctioned to replace the ageing MiG-21s. Antony, on his part, assured Parliament that large-scale induction of Sukhoi-30MKIs, LCA and MMRCA would take place within the next few years, while acknowledging such an exercise could not take place in the past due to “historical reasons”. While the single-engined, delta-winged MiG-21s did indeed provide yeoman service to India over the decades, the high crash record of these highly-demanding fighters have also scarred the nation. Of the 793 MiG-21s inducted into IAF since 1963, over 350 have been lost in accidents. IAF has recorded 40 crashes in just the last three years, a majority of them being MiGs, which killed 16 pilots, 24 service personnel and five civilians.

India to be largest eco by 2050: Citi

In view of its continuing robust growth, India is expected to be the world’s largest economy by 2050, surpassing China and the US, a Citi report said. “China should overtake the US to become the largest economy in the world by 2020, then be overtaken by India by 2050,” financial services group Citi said the report. The estimates are based on purchasing power parity (PPP), an economic growth indicator that takes into account the purchasing power of each country’s currency, instead of the prevailing exchange rate conversion. Indian economy is expected to be nearly $85.97 trillion on PPP basis by 2050 from $3.92 trillion in 2010, Citi said. Going by the report, India would surpass the US-—currently the world’s largest economy—to become the second largest by 2040. “We expect India to overtake Japan to become the third largest economy by 2015,” it noted. In terms of PPP, Indian economy—valued at $3.78 trillion—was at the fourth place in 2009. The country was behind the US, China and Japan, according to the World Bank. Citi pointed out that North America and Western Europe's share of world's real GDP (in terms of USD calculated on PPP basis) is expected to fall from 41% in 2010 to just 18% in 2050. During the same period, developing Asia’s share is predicted to rise from 27% to 49% in 2050. Citi emphasised that a number of major changes within a relative short time are required for India to meet future challenges.

India aims to double exports by 2014

India aims to double its exports to $450 billion by 2014 and will work on a four-pronged strategy to diversify and boost shipments out of the country. Commerce minister Anand Sharma unveiled a draft strategy paper for doubling exports and said exports will touch $225 billion in 2010-11, higher than the target of $200 billion. Sharma said the ministry’s strategy to boost exports would help keep the trade deficit within manageable limits. “One of the major reasons to take this initiative and put it (a strategy) in place on urgent basis is because of the widening balance of trade,” Sharma said. The ministry has sought comments from stakeholders by March 23. The paper shows that the trade gap, which stood at $89 billion during the first 10 months of 2010-11, may increase to around $115 billion for the entire fiscal and may further escalate to $278 by 2013-14. “With the initiative that we proposed in the strategic paper, we hope to close the (trade) gap and bring the gap to below 10% or may be close to 9% of GDP which in the view of those who manage the economy is perhaps achievable and also manageable,” Sharma said. The strategy paper calls for building on the strengths of engineering and chemicals, gems and jewellery, leather products and textiles. “It shall be our endeavour to ensure diversification of product base and move into high value-added products especially high-end fashion shoes in the developed world and similarly, in textiles, we would like to give focused attention on specialized niche markets which would add to our export potential,” Sharma said. The minister said attention should be focused on marine products and organic products for which new markets are emerging, particularly in the developed world. He said the government would prefer providing incentives for value addition for iron ore exports rather than export of the raw material. The second element of the strategy would be diversification of markets for the country's exports as developed countries are unlikely to witness any significant increase in demand. The focus now would be on penetrating markets in Asia, Africa and Latin America. “Therefore, in the last one-and-a-half years, we have stepped up our engagement with the countries of east Asian region after signing the free trade agreement with Asean, CEPA with Japan, Malaysia and Korea and we have initiated action for similar agreements with New Zealand and Indonesia,” the minister said. “With Europe, I am hopeful that in the next few months, we will see a conclusion of a deal and we would step up our deals with the Mercosur countries and the countries of African region,” he added. The government also intends to increase attention on R&D.

Crude boils

Brent crude futures rallied above $110 a barrel on Wednesday, posting the biggest three-day percentage gain in a year, as the escalating violence in Libya could further reduce its production. Between 300,000 and 400,000 barrels per day of Libyan output—up to 25%—has been shut down, according to Reuters calculations, marking the first cut in oil supplies related to the recent wave of anti-government unrest in North Africa and the Middle East. After Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi vowed in a defiant speech on Tuesday that he would not step down, promising severe punishment to his detractors, analysts fear that long-lasting supply disruptions or even permanent damage lies ahead for the Opec member’s oil industry. Traders were intently watching what top OPEC exporter Saudi Arabia will do, even as its oil minister has reiterated assurances the kingdom and other OPEC members would be ready to act should there be a supply shortfall.

J&K interlocutors' report

Jammu & Kashmir interlocutors have taken Kashmiri separatist leaders’ proposals on confidence building measures into account in their report on a possible political solution to Kashmir issue. The report would be submitted to the Centre within a fortnight. The team was believed to be waiting to meet the separatists, who have so far declined to meet them, before finalizing the report. One of the three interlocutors and academic Radha Kumar said that they have taken Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik’s five-point proposal besides Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s four-point agenda into account. “The proposals, which are essentially confidence building measures, have been taken into account in the initial document to the Centre,” she said. The Mirwaiz’s proposals echo that of Geelani and include the demand for revocation of draconian laws and the state’s demilitarization. Chief interlocutor Dilip Padgaonkar said efforts to reach out to separatists would continue after the report’s submission.

JPC update

The government will announce a 30-member joint parliamentary panel with terms of reference expected to cover the period of the execution of the first come first-served policy for telecom licences, including the NDA’s term in office. The committee is expected to submit a report in six months but official sources were doubtful if this might be sufficient. The announcement on the JPC, its membership and terms is to be made on Thursday afternoon when the Lok Sabha begins discussing the 2G scam. The proportional representation will see 22 Lok Sabha and 10 Rajya Sabha members. The Congress will have eight from the LS and three from the Upper House while the numbers for the BJP will be four and two, respectively. The BSP and the JD(U) will have one member each from both Houses. Larger parties like the BJD, the DMK and the Trinamool will have one member each from the Lok Sabha even though no party apart from the BJP and the Congress has 27 MPs needed to claim a seat in the JPC. Since the AIADMK is to be accommodated, the BJP will give one seat on the panel out of its quota to ally Shiv Sena.

Jaitapur snippets

The Rs 10 lakh per acre compensation offered for the 10,000 MW Jaitapur nuclear power project is an exception rather than the rule, said Ajit Pawar, deputy chief minister who also holds the energy portfolio. Pawar said the government announced the Rs 10 lakh compensation to project affected persons as it was a central government sponsored project. “The state cannot afford to pay such an amount as compensation for every project,” he said. The energy minister said the project was a catalyst to attract other power projects to the state. Despite the huge compensation offered, local opposition to the project continues. Nearly 2,355 villages are affected by the project. Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan is likely to visit Jaitapur on February 26. The state government has organized a lecture by Anil Kakodkar, former chairman, Atomic Energy Commission to garner support for the project.


Chennai metro update

Chennai Metro Rail has decided to give the last big construction contract — that of tunnels and seven underground stations along Anna Salai — to a joint venture company of Gammon India and Mosmetrostroy of Moscow. As part of the deal to be signed on Monday, the joint venture company design and build these stations on the Washermanpet-Airport corridor. The corridor is 18 km long, of which 14.3 km between Washermanpet and Saidapet will be underground. Metro Rail officials confirmed that the contracts worth Rs 1,947 crore have been awarded. “Mosmetrostroy of Moscow will construct the twin-bored tunnels along a 6.4 km stretch, while Gammon will construct underground stations at Govt Estate, LIC Building, Thousand Lights, Gemini, Teynampet, Chamiers Road and Saidapet,” said Vijay Vancheswar, head of corporate communications, Gammon India. The work has been awarded as two contracts worth Rs 932.88 crore and Rs1014.42. “Mosmetrostroy has expertise in tunnelling and is involved in metro development for 80 years in Moscow. They have also constructed 177 stations and laid more than 300 km of railway lines,” Vancheswar said. Following an accident at Delhi Metro Rail construction site, Gammon India was temporarily debarred from applying for work in Delhi Metro Rail. However, the company has cleared its name. “The accident was because of a fault in the design submitted by another company selected by Delhi Metro Rail. We eventually completed the rest of the works for Delhi Metro,” said Vancheswar. Chennai Metro Rail has also awarded the contract for installation of overhead power cables and other equipment required to supply traction power for Metro trains. The Rs 305- crore work has been awarded to a consortium of Siemens AG Germany and Siemens India. The contract includes design, supply, installation, testing and commissioning of all power supply systems. “The contract has been awarded on international bidding to the eligible bidder who has quoted the lowest rate,” a Metro Rail statement said. Metro Rail will receive power from Tamil Nadu Electricity Board for a maximum demand of 60 mva from three 110 kv sub-stations being set up by the board at Koyambedu, Alandur and Chennai Central. 25 kv traction power will be supplied to trains through overhead equipment to be installed along the track. In the elevated corridor, catenary type overhead equipment as used by railways and in tunnels rigid contact system are proposed. CMRL has selected 25kv ac traction (in preference to 750 V DC third rail system), in view of the energy efficiency, safety and reliability.

Reds release captive officials

The week-long hostage drama ended with official sources confirming that Maoists released Malkangiri district collector R Vineel Krishna and junior engineer Pabitra Mohan Majhi late on Tuesday night after the Orissa government conceded to all 14 of rebels’ demands. Eight demands were accepted on Monday and six were agreed to on Tuesday. The officials’ release was confirmed by a senior officer of Andhra Pradesh’s elite Greyhounds. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, he said, “The Maoists have set the district collector and junior engineer free.” Krishna and Majhi were expected to reach Malkangiri late on Tuesday or Wednesday morning from the Maoist stronghold somewhere near Balimela reservoir amid a large gathering of administrative officials, well-wishers, local people. There was strong speculation in Malkangiri throughout the day that the captives would reach their homes safe on Tuesday night itself. Krishna and Majhi were kidnapped by the Maoists on February 16 near Jantapi village in Malkangiri. Among their 14 demands were calling for a halt to anti-Maoist operations by security forces, release of all political prisoners, scrapping of accords with MNCs for land transfer and projects, and compensation for the families of Maoist sympathisers killed in police custody. At the 8 pm briefing on Tuesday, Orissa home secretary U N Behera and Panchayati raj secretary S N Tripathy, after marathon talks with negotiators, Prof H Haragopal, Prof R Someswara Rao and Dandapani Mohanty, said the Maoists will release Krishna and Majhi within the next 48 hours. The rebels sprang a surprise by setting them free much before ther own deadline. The breakthrough occurred after Ganti Prasadam, a key Maoist, was brought to the Jharpada special jail in Bhubaneswar from Koraput, with whom Haragopal, Rao and Mohanty held two rounds of talks spanning over four hours. Ganti was brought under tight security in a special vehicle and he reached Bhubaneswar early Tuesday morning. “Now our common responsibility is to defuse the situation. The impasse should not be allowed to continue for long,” Ganti said. Indications that the kidnapping drama was nearing end came during the day when the home secretary said, “We are close to the solution.” “We agreed on all 14 issues,” Behera told reporters, adding, “Now that all the issues have been resolved, the mediators have given us firm commitment on the safe return of the collector and junior engineer.” Haragopal said, “We are satisfied with the outcome of our mediation,” adding that the mediators will now working on the modalities for the hostages’ release. The demands which the government conceded on Tuesday included not to use force against the Maoists until they engineer violence, examine charges against members of Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS) of Narayanpatna, administrative inquiry into the missing of one Sitanna Hikoka of Narayanpatna area, compensation to affected families in Balmela submerged area. In a related development the Malkangiri fast track court gave bail to another Maoist leader Sriramulu Srinivasulu. His release however is not imminent as he has another case — of a landmine blast at Badigeta village under Kalimela police station in 2005 — pending, which would be taken up in a day or two. Medical teams were ready to receive Krishna and Majhi after their release in Malkangiri.

It's great to see a government official enjoy so much popularity with the tribals and others.Great work R.Vineel Krishna !

Pune land scam

The Bombay high court on Tuesday ordered a CBI probe into the Pune land scam and asked it to register a case against BJP leader Raj Purohit, a former minister of state for urban development. The alleged scam is currently being probed by CID. The case goes back to 2008, when BJP spokesperson Madhav Bhandari filed a public interest litigation (PIL), alleging that between 1976 and 2005, 11,894 returns (statements of property extracts and details of people interested in a land) were filed under the Urban Land Ceiling and Regulation Act (ULCA) in the Pune urban agglomeration. Alleged bogus orders were passed by government officials to exempt land in Pune from being acquired by the state under the now-repealed Act. Earlier under ULCA, an individual could possess only 500 sq-m plot. The excess area had to be declared as surplus and that could be acquired by the state to house the poor. Bhandari alleged that in Pune, hundreds of orders were fabricated to show that the extra land was “not surplus” and that exempted certain owners from surrendering their surplus areas to the state.The irregularities were committed between 1996 and 1999 when Purohit was the minister of state for urban development. Purohit, in his capacity as an appellate authority, passed orders in 20 cases. He abused his powers as a minister in 19 cases, the court said, quoting a state committee report. After considering the affidavit filed by Thane police commissioner and additional director-general of police S P S Yadav as well as the report submitted by former IAS officer Sudhakar Joshi, a division bench of Justice B H Marlapalle and Justice U D Salvi said, “Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary orders. And this case is not only extraordinary, but also unprecedented.” The court directed CBI to register an FIR against Purohit and state officials whose names figured in Joshi’s report. It mentions several revenue officials who abused their power in 1998. Though Purohit claimed that his image was being maligned, the court rejected his intervention application. The bench said they did not have confidence in CID, which is currently probing the case. “...this a reason why we are handing over the investigation to an agency that is not under the state’s control,” said Justice Marlapalle. The CID registered 29 FIRs from December 2010 to January following an earlier court directive. But in spite of prima facie evidence of fake orders, none of the officers was shown accused. The CBI will submit a report in eight weeks.

MMRDA plans to interlink highways

As a stop-gap measure Maharashtra will interlink five national highways—that connect Mumbai to Ahmedabad, Nashik, Ahmednagar, Pune, and Goa—with each other. The project, estimated to cost Rs 350 crore, will be completed in two years. The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) will construct roads that will link NH8 (Mumbai-Ahmedabad), NH3 (Nashik-Agra), NH222, (Ahmednagar), NH4 (Mumbai-Pune), and NH17 (Mumbai-Goa). The link roads promise to ease travel time, fuel expenses, road congestion and pollution in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Thane. “This is an attempt to limit the entry of vehicles into the highly congested Mumbai and Thane regions. It will reduce travel time between Mumbai, Thane, Nashik and Pune, which is an industrial corridor,” said MMRDA spokesman Dilip Kawathkar. In the first part of the project, MMRDA will construct a two-lane road connecting Shirsad on NH8 (Mumbai-Ahmedabad) to Vasind on NH3 (Nashik-Agra). “In some areas on this route, there is a narrow onelane road. Along other stretches between Shirsad and Vasind, no road exists,” said an MMRDA official. Motorists on NH8 have to take a detour via Bhiwandi if they wish to cross over to the Nashik-Agra. The new link will shave off 30 km from an otherwise 73 km long route. Phase-2 involves the construction of a 100 km road connecting Kalyan, which lies at the junction of NH3 and NH222 to Khopoli on the Mumbai-Pune highway. It will also allow easy access to the expressway, which lies parallel to the highway. This road will connect Badlapur, Neral and Karjat up to Khopoli from where motorists can easily access the Mumbai-Goa highway via Pen. “In the absence a link road between Kalyan and Khopoli, traffic flows through the highly congested roads in Mumbra, Kalwa Thane, Shilphata and Belapur,” said an official, adding that the new road will allow for smooth traffic flow to Alibaug and JNPT. MMRDA has proposed a smaller 15 km road between Nallasopara and Nirmal on the west coast. This coastal connectivity is necessary because there is a long stretch along the coast, which does not have a single road connecting the Ahmedabad highway. The second is a 20 km road between Dombivli and Badlapur that will bypass Kalyan. “Once construction work begins, the project can be completed within two years. It is an immediate and cheaper solution to a huge corridor planned between Alibaug and Virar, which will have road, metro and other modes of connection at the cost of Rs 10,000 crore,” said the engineer. Senior official said the proposal has been submitted to the state and that MMRDA has appointed a consultant to carry out a feasibility study. “Tenders will be invited and the project will be executed once we get the feasibility report. We expect to begin with the tendering process in the next couple of months,” said an MMRDA official.

The Godhra verdict

A special court on Tuesday held 31 people guilty of burning the S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express at Godhra railway station on February 27, 2002 and killing 59 passengers, mainly kar sevaks who were returning from Ayodhya. Additional sessions judge P R Patel acquitted 63 of the 94 accused for lack of evidence in Gujarat’s first and biggest Pota case in which 134 accused were booked under terror laws. The court upheld the conspiracy theory but freed Maulvi Hussain Umarji, a 63-year-old accused by the police of plotting the killings. Of those acquitted, 13 were already out on bail; the rest will be freed after nearly nine years in jail. The conspiracy charge almost collapsed when Umarji was declared innocent. The court convicted 31 people for murder and conspiracy, and will announce the sentences on Friday. It described the motive of the attack as the accused’s anger against kar sevaks. Those acquitted cried out in joy while the convicts anxiously listened to the judge who took some 30 minutes after walking into the courtroom. The Godhra train burning had sparked riots across the state in 2002 in which nearly 1,200 people, mostly Muslims, were killed. The riots were seen as revenge for the killing of kar sevaks at Godhra. The 815-page judgment convicts mainly on the basis of confessions before the magistrate, including those who retracted. Forensic evidence combined with 50 eyewitness accounts helped the court conclude that a group forced open the vestibule to get inside the coach, poured petrol and set it ablaze. Haji Bilal, Razak Kurkur, Salim Zarda, Hasan Charkha, Mehboob Latika, Jabir Behra, Irfan Bhobho and Shaukat Pataliya, who lived in Signal Falia of Godhra, were among those convicted based on statements by witnesses and accused under Section 164 of the CrPC.


BRIC trust barometer

Aadhaar snapshot

Airline market share: January 2011

IndiGo, SpiceJet and Go Air make gains.

Budget session snapshotz

The PM has announced the setting up of the JPC into the 2G scam.

Delhi's Airport Express line set to open finally

More lanes for Mumbai - Pune expressway & highway

The state-run Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) will be adding two more lanes to the Mumbai-Pune Expressway and the old Mumbai-Pune Highway in order to make travel between Mumbai and Pune faster. PWD (Public Works Department, Undertakings) Minister Jaidutt Kshirsagar said, “We want to make travel between Mumbai and Pune quicker. At Monday’s board meeting, we have decided to have two more lanes added to the earlier four lanes on the old Mumbai Pune Highway and two more to the earlier six lanes on the Yeshwantrao Chavan Mumbai-Pune Expressway. This will let vehicles speed and yet reduce the number of accidents.” Apart from this, MSRDC is also planning a tunnel from Khopoli to the Sinhagad Educational Institute beyond Lonavala cutting across the ghats. However, due to objections from the Ministry of Environnment and Forests, MSRDC has not yet been able to construct an alternative road in the ghats. In fact, it had to widen the existing road in the Lonavala ghat. Instead, the MSRDC is planning an 11 km long tunnel. This is being designed keeping in mind the amount of traffic that might exist in the year 2025. The MSRDC is planning to execute the project on a Build-Operate-Transfer basis, which is a type of arrangement in which the private sector builds an infrastructure project, operates it and eventually transfers ownership of the project to the government. But, according to some insiders in the MSRDC, this proposal might have been taken up in order to benefit a particular company or a favoured contractor of MSRDC.

Indian Economy : A report card

Reliance sews up a blockbuster deal

Global oil major BP will buy a 30% stake in Reliance Industries’ oil and gas blocks, including its trophy asset—the D-6 block—for $7.2 billion as part of a long-term deal that involves a total investment of $20 billion, making it the biggest-ever foreign investment in India. Reliance and BP will also form an equal joint venture to supply, market and trade natural gas, including LNG, which can deliver the fuel to millions of Indian homes and reduce the demand for subsidised liquefied petroleum gas. Analysts said Reliance would be able to source LNG from BP’s global facilities. A company official, who did not want to be identified, said Reliance would build LNG import facilities and develop a countrywide gas network. Apart from BP, Reliance had also talked to Exxon Mobil and Shell, but the process was put on hold after the unfavourable judgement from the Bombay High Court on its dispute with R-ADAG on pricing of gas, but talks resumed after the Supreme Court ruling set aside the lower court’s verdict. The announcement comes at a time of growing fears that foreign investors may be repelled by corruption scandals and perceived policy drift in the country, as well as the uncertainty over government approval for the $9.6-billion Cairn-Vedanta deal. Former ONGC chairman RS Sharma said the deal would boost investor sentiment at a time India is wooing potential foreign investors for the latest round of the New Exploration Licensing Policy. Reliance Industries Chairman and Managing Director Mukesh Ambani said the deal would create “unprecedented value” for shareholders. Analysts agree. Ambani, who was flanked by his son Akash, Chief Financial Officer Alok Agarwal, and Executive Director PMS Prasad, said the deal with BP would help find more oil and gas, boosting India’s energy security. "BP has one of the best track records of finding new oil and gas globally. This partnership will bring in more investment and tech that can result in more discovery, higher recovery rate and enhance production. This will unlock the huge potential. This also mark's BP's largest ever investment in any single basin anywhere in the world. This partnership will enable Reliance to create unprecedented value for its shareholders and enhance energy security," Ambani said. Reliance, which has seen gas output from its D-6 block dip, will get access to sophisticated technology from the oil major. BP, which sold assets last year to pay for the Gulf of Mexico spill, will get a significant footprint in India, which along with China has fueled the global growth in energy demand and is seen by many analysts as a key factor in crude oil's assent to over $100 per barrel. For the energy-hungry country, BP's turn to its exploration sector is also the first serious investment by a global oil major, which will bring frontier technology and exploration skills to the country and boost prospects of Reliance, which has found vast gas reserves in the past decades but located in technologically challenging deepsea regions off the eastern coast. BP sees enormous opportunities in the Indian market, which has continued to expand even when Western economies slowed down. "India is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. By allying ourselves with Reliance, we will access the most prolific gas basin in India and secure a place in the fast-growing Indian gas market, creating a genuinely distinctive BP position," BP Chief Executive Robert Dudley said in a statement. Reliance will continue to be the operator under the production-sharing contracts, whose blocks lie in water depths ranging from 400 metres to over 3,000 metres, currently produce about 1.8 billion cubic feet of gas per day (bcf/d), over 30% of India's total consumption, and over 40% of India's total production, the joint statement from the companies said. BP will buy 30% in 23 blocks running along almost the entire eastern coast of the country from Tamil Nadu to West Bengal for $7.2 billion. "Future performance payments of up to $1. billion could be paid based on exploration success that results in development of commercial discoveries These payments and combined investment could amount to $20 billion," the companies said in a joint statement. company official said a part of the proceeds from the deal would be used to retire debt and the rest would be used for capex in other sectors. For BP, India is an important market "This partnership meets BP's strategy of forming alliances with strong national partners, taking material positions in significant hydrocarbon basins and increasing our exposure growing energy markets," said Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg. The two companies have already won block off India's southeast coast and hope to discover more hydrocarbons using their partnership. According to BP's Energy Outlook 2030, energy consumption in India has grown by 190% over the past 20 years and is likely to grow by 115% over the next 20 years, a rate of over 4% per an num. Gas is expected to be the fastest growing fossil fuel, with demand growing at nearly 5% a year between 2010 and 2030.

Somewhere in Delhi....

Black money snippets

Kolkata trails only two metros — Delhi and Mumbai — on the roll of infamy. If all the black money in Kolkata were mopped up, it would write off half the state’s debts, say officials. A mere 10 income tax raids in Kolkata have yielded a whopping 800 crore of black money in voluntary disclosures, say sources. It’s an indicator of how much hidden money there is in the state. I-T sources peg it at 80,000 crore, almost 40% of the state’s gross domestic product. “It is enough to pay almost 50% of the total debt of the government,” an official said. Bengal has the highest ratio of black to white money in the country. “It’s the tip of the iceberg. The admitted black money during a raid is usually 10-15% of what a firm or a person actually has. A figure of about 800 crore means the total black money in those cases could be 8,000 crore,” a tax official said. Kolkata accounts for almost 90% of the black money seized in the eastern region in the last two years. In the last six months alone, 786 crore has been unearthed in the city whereas the total amount of black money recovered in the east (excluding Bihar and Chhattisgarh) adds up to 891 crore (up from 866 crore last fiscal). Director general of income tax (investigation) T Rozara confirmed the voluntary disclosure figures but refused to give details. However, sources said the voluntary disclosure figure was 1,733 crore for Delhi and 1,441 crore for Mumbai in 2009-10. The figure was 559 crore, 252 crore and 264 crore for Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad, respectively. Ahmedabad was slightly ahead at 566 crore. “This year, the figures in these cities will be slightly higher but Kolkata will still be third,” an IT official said.

Bombay HC confirms death sentence for Kasab

Aapko dee huyi sazaa-e-maut barkarar rakhi jaati hai (We have upheld your death sentence). With these words, the Bombay high court confirmed on Monday the death sentence awarded last May to gunman Ajmal Amir Kasab for his grotesque and diabolical role in the 26/11 terror attacks. An apparently unfazed, unkempt Kasab was seen grinning through most of the hearing, during which the judges took about 15 minutes to read the highlights of a 1,208-page judgment. The court held Kasab, 23, individually responsible for seven murders and together with his accomplice Abu Ismail responsible for 66 other killings on the night of November 26, 2008 when they went on the rampage from CST to Cama Hospital and Metro Junction to Chowpatty. He was also held guilty for abetting and conspiracy in the murders of the remaining 166 victims of the attacks who died at the Taj, Oberoi and Trident and Nariman House. However, in a continued setback to the state government, the Bombay high court upheld the acquittal of the two Indian co-accused, Faheem Ansari and Sabauddin Ahmed Shaikh. The court said there was no conclusive corroborative evidence. The duo had been charged with facilitating the attack by furnishing a hand-drawn map of prominent targets in Mumbai to the gunmen at the behest of LeT. In an interesting development, the division bench differed with the trial court by accepting the police case that Malabar Hill was indeed the final destination of the terrorists. (The confession statement) will show that these terrorists were proceeding via Chowpatty towards Malabar Hill, which was their final target, said the judges. Last year, the trial court had ruled out the possibility that Kasab and Ismail were proceeding to the upmarket Malabar Hill, where many VIPs stay, when Kasab was nabbed and Ismail was gunned down at Chowpatty. Kasab may have little to worry for a while. It could take years for a death sentence to be executed, even if Kasab moves the supreme court and it upholds the verdict. He can then file a mercy plea with the President. Giving Ansari and Shaikh the benefit of doubt, the HC ensured that it was a mixed bag for the state.