A game of diplomacy

India & Pakistan's not so successful tryst with diplomacy.

The Digital Inclusion Index

India is trailing the Bric nations of Brazil, Russia and China in the drive to get its population connected to digital technologies such as the Internet and mobile phones, a new report shows.The Digital Inclusion Index, provided by risk analysis firm Maplecroft, said India fell into the category of "extreme risk", meaning its population and economy was being stifled by a lack of "digital inclusion".Maplecroft used 10 indicators to judge the level of access to information communication technologies across 186 countries, including mobile and broadband subscriptions, fixed telephone lines and households with a computer and television.India was ranked at 39, behind Russia on 134, Brazil on 110, and China on 103, which were all ranked as "medium risk".Like the other Bric nations, Indians have embraced the use of modern technologies and there is rampant demand particularly for mobile phones but much of that has come from the wealthier segment of the population based in urban areas.India had 771 million mobile subscribers as of January, and with monthly additions averaging 19 million in the past year, it is the world's fastest growing market.But the disparity between urban and rural areas mean the roll out of third-generation phone services, which allow access to the Internet, will be of huge importance for rural areas as that is the most likely way that users will access the Internet there.Maplecroft said the main barriers so far to a wider take-up were the cost, poor education and the lack of connectivity to many areas of the country.The report said this trend had also been witnessed in the other Bric nations but to a lesser degree. The Netherlands was at the top of the index, with Denmark at 185, Luxembourg at 184, Sweden at 183 and Britain at 182.Maplecroft said China had the highest total number of Internet users in the world, at 420 million, and is set to become the world's largest ICT market, but it warned that Internet freedom was still a serious issue."Despite the Chinese government's efforts to expand Internet connectivity across the nation having seen how it can aid economic growth, the Internet remains heavily controlled," it said.Sub-Saharan Africa was the worst performing region for the availability of digital services.

Mohali & after

City after city emptied out and followed the ups and downs of the match, finally erupting in joy as India won against Pakistan.

Off the field....


Sikkim backs Gorkhaland

The Sikkim assembly on Tuesday passed a resolution supporting the formation of a separate Gorkhaland state. The resolution, moved in the House by chief minister Pawan Chamling, was a “token of thanks” to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) for keeping NH 31A open during prolonged bandhs in the Hills, and a message to the West Bengal government that it hadn’t shown enough interest in preserving Sikkim’s lifeline. Chamling said he would send copies of the resolution to the Centre and the Bengal government. The formation of Gorkhaland, the resolution said, was “the ultimate and permanent solution” to ensure “peace, security and development of Sikkim”.

It's Rajasthan Diwas

Noida gets 5,000 crore for infra development

Noida, Greater Noida and Yamuna Expressway Authorities tabled their annual budget — a total of Rs 17,000 crore for the financial year 2011-12. Mohinder Singh, chairperson of the three authorities, earmarked Rs 4,997.65 crore as the budgetary allocation for the Noida authority. With an aim to develop Noida as a major infrastructural hub, on a par with all the major cities in the country, the authority announced its decision to allocate almost 40% of the total amount for various development projects. The authority will spend about Rs 2,000 crore on projects like construction of elevated roads, flyovers and five underpasses at all major traffic bottlenecks in Noida as well as on the construction of major link roads between Noida and Delhi. The sum will also be used for providing basic services like healthcare, transport and water supply. Beginning next month, the authority will begin work on two major road corridors proposed under the Master Plan 2031 for Noida — a 45km corridor from Kalindi Kunj through sector 37 to Jevar airport in Greater Noida and another 30km link that will connect Hapur in Ghaziabad to Greater Noida. This will help in easing traffic congestion on NH24. The Noida, Greater Noida and Yamuna Expressway Authorities have come up with a joint roadmap for these corridors. Work on the four bridges over Yamuna proposed last year and on the Delhi-Mumbai freight corridor will begin soon. The authority has fixed a deadline of three years for the completion of these projects. The focus is also on creation and upgrade of services such as a bus rapid transit system (BRTS), Metro rail, water, electricity, drainage and solid waste management. Other focus areas of the CEO’s budget speech included the proposed Greater Noida Metro project, the need to expand the Ganga water scheme and the development of the 41 villages in Noida. In addition, the authority in its board meeting also approved the plan to extend the Delhi Metro line from Kalindi Kunj to Botanical Garden. A 3.76-km-long Metro line will be constructed at a cost of Rs 786 crore, which will be borne by the Noida authority.

A voluntary Bharat Bandh !

India will come to a halt as the men in blue meet arch rivals Pakistan at Mohali for the second semi-finals of the ICC World Cup 2011....the cup that counts !

Core sector grows 6.8% in February

India’s infrastructure sector output grew 6.8% in February, slower than January’s upwardly revised 7.2% and economists said strength in the sector was being sustained despite problems in coal output. Data released by the commerce and industry department showed output in February 2010 stood at 4.2%. Growth in the April-February period in the six core industries spanning steel, petroleum refinery, crude oil, coal, cement and electricity stood at 5.7% compared to 5.4% in the same year ago period. Economists said February data showed that the infrastructure sector, which accounts for 27% of overall industrial output, remained robust. But they said overall industrial output in February would be around 3%. The industrial sector, hit by rising input costs, has been passing through a sluggish phase. Tuesday’s data showed that the coal sector remained a laggard, declining 5.7% in February compared to a growth of 6.7% in the same month a year ago. During April-February, coal production grew 0.1% compared to an increase of 7.9% during the same period in 2009-10. Crude oil production registered a growth of 12.2% in February 2011 compared to 4% in February 2010. Petroleum refinery production grew 3.2% in February 2011 compared to growth of 0.7% in February 2010.

MMR snippets

A decade ago, most people may have viewed towns like Panvel and Pen as the boondocks, but today, satellite cities are having the last laugh. In the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) towns like Kharghar, Thane, Badlapur, Belapur, Panvel, Kharghar and Kalyan-Dombivli, to name a few have registered a huge growth in population over a 10-year period. On the other hand, the island city’s population is down by 5%, while Mumbai’s suburban population has increased by only 8%. Data collected for the 2011 census drive shows that Kharghar tops the growth list —between 2001 and 2011, the town’s population has increased from a mere 6,000 to 73,000. That’s a 1,117% jump. Other top performers are Vasai-Virar, which has recorded a rise of 221%, followed by New Panvel (113%). The overall increase in population in MMR, with the exception of Mumbai, is 54% . The main reason for this growth, say experts, is the rise and rise of Mumbai’s real estate, which has prompted people to look beyond the city for affordable housing. Demographers and social scientists also attribute this trend to a combination of factors including the release of Sixth Pay Commission funds and nominal real estate prices in these regions. According to civic officials and town planners this is a positive trend. R Parasuraman, director of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) said this shift has decongested Mumbai city. New industries and white-collar jobs are attracting people to satellite towns, he added. The population in Thane has risen by 43% from 12.62 lakh in 2001 to 18 lakh people in 2011. In KDMC and Mira-Bhayander, percentage growth is 50, while Navi Mumbai recorded a 48% growth. Development in the form of better infrastructure, connectivity, etc goes hand-inhand with a booming population. At Kharghar, CIDCO is planning to build affordable housing for an anticipated 4.5 lakh population in the coming decade. In Khopoli and Karjat, population has risen by 21% and 20% respectively. Uran recorded a 30% growth, Ambernath 28% and in Pen, it is 33%. The island city’s population has decreased by 5%, and there’s a marginal 8% growth in suburban Mumbai. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), which is the planning agency for the census, has attributed the drop to redevelopment of old buildings in the island city. “Not only have people moved out of south Mumbai because of the redevelopment of homes, many residential premises have been converted into commercial establishments,” said a BMC official.


India 2030

40% of Indians would be living in urban clusters by 2030

GI status for spices

The Spices Board, under the ministry of commerce, has registered pepper, cardamom, chilli, ginger and turmeric as products that have unique flavour and attributes because they are grown in a specific geographical region of India. This geographical indication (GI) status will help branding these spices as premium products that cannot be matched by similar crops grown in other parts of the world. The board has obtained GI status for Malabar pepper, Alleppey green cardamom, Coorg green cardamom and Byadgi chilli. The applications for Guntur sannam chilli, Cochin ginger and Alleppey finger turmeric are pending. These spices have a specific colour, flavour or other characteristics that distinguish them from other similar spices grown elsewhere. For instance, the Byadgi chilli from Karnataka is known for its colour while the Guntur variety from Andhra Pradesh is popular for its sharp pungency. The Cochin ginger has less fibre and lends itself well for powdering. “The GI mark will help in preserving the uniqueness of the product and prevent other countries from taking advantage of it. Several countries are importing pepper from here and re-exporting it as Malabar pepper,” said Philip Kuruvilla, MD of Indian Products, a leading spices exporting firm. The practice is not limited to pepper. Alleppey green cardamom and Cochin ginger are the two varieties which the competing countries Guatemala and Nigeria are trying to cash in on. “The spices grown in a particular region will have special qualities, which can be exploited for increasing the exports. This is why we have prepared a list of spices for GI registration. We have got the approval for some and for the others the process is on,” said Spices Board chairman VJ Kurien. Often the name refers to the trademark and may not always indicate the exact place of origin. This is the case with Alleppey finger turmeric, Alleppey green cardamom and Cochin ginger. These types of turmeric and ginger are grown in the Idukki district but the name Alleppey has stuck on because the latter used to be the main port for shipments till the emergence of the Kochi port. In the case of Cochin ginger, the cultivation is happening more in the suburbs now. Growers are also enthusiastic about the prospects of GI status for spices. Two varieties of chilli have been considered for GI status because chilli has become an important constituent of the spice export basket accounting for 25% of the total spice export.

The SC says....

The Supreme Court has said that political parties supporting an agitation should be derecognised if public property is destroyed during the stir. "Destruction of public property and disrupting train services cannot be allowed in the name of agitation. Political parties behind such agitation must be derecognised and people must be sent behind bars for such acts. Such activities are not acceptable as those promote lawlessness," a bench comprising Justice GS Singhvi and Justice AK Ganguly said . The court indicated that it would frame guidelines fixing responsibility on state governments for their failure to deal with agitationists destroying public property. It asked the Haryana government to explain why it should not pay the loss incurred by Railways during the course of 11-day stir organised by 12 'khap' panchayats against booking of some ‘upper caste’ people in connection with the Mirchpur Dalit killings case. "You must make some payment to Railways for its losses. You pay the money according to your own estimates," the bench said. The Centre had told the court that Railways had suffered a loss of . 33.95 crore due to the agitation. The court also sought the responses of all parties to suggest guidelines and on fixing responsibility for damage done to public property during agitation. The state submitted that a loss of . 45.92 lakh was caused to the Transport Department due to agitation and . 90,000 spent by the Forest Department in removing 3,130 trees uprooted by protesters. Villagers had been protesting the booking of 98 members of their community in a case relating to the killing of 70-year-old Tara Chand and his physically-challenged teenaged daughter Suman at Mirchpur village in Hisar on April 21 last year. Demanding a fresh probe into the Dalit killings, the ‘upper caste’ people of Mirchpur and other adjoining villages in Hisar district had brought rail and road traffic to Delhi via Jind to a grinding halt earlier this month. Members of the pre-dominant Jat community squatted on the railway tracks at Julani village, near Jind railway station in December last year, disrupting railway traffic on the Jind-Jakhal section of the Delhi-Ferozepur route. Protesters also blocked road traffic in Jind and other places, besides locking up the Haryana Roadways bus depot in many places.

Of Uttar Pradesh & Bihar....


State-run companies came to the rescue of the government’s ninth round of acreage auction that was shunned by global majors of consequence, except UK’s BG (formerly British Gas) and Australian mining giant BHP-Billiton. In all, 74 bids —mostly from small companies—were received for 33 out of the 34 blocks that were on offer under the New Exploration Licensing Policy (NELPIX). This is lower than in the previous rounds. Oil minister S Jaipal Reddy rejected suggestions that the long time being taken by the government in deciding on Vedanta Resources’ $10.6 billion acquisition of Cairn India has dampened investor sentiment. Flagship explorer ONGC bagged 10 of the 33 exploration acreages that received bids at the close on Monday. ONGC bid with sister companies such as Oil India for 29 blocks and won 10. The company had won almost two-thirds of the blocks offered in the previous rounds. Reliance Industries bid for two deepsea blocks in the Andaman Basin and four onshore blocks in Rajasthan and Gujarat. It was declared provisional winner for the two deepsea concessions. The company had stayed away from the auction in 2009 and bid for just one area in the seventh round. BG teamed up with BHP Billiton to win a deepwater block in the Mumbai basin, off the West Coast. This was the only block for which the combine had put in its bid. Essar Oil bid for and won an onshore block in the Cambay basin, the most-contested acreage that received the highest number of six bids. Cairn India submitted offers for one onland and one offshore block, both of which it lost. Cairn did not bid for the blocks in Rajasthan where it discovered India’s biggest oil reserve. ONGC and its partners won five out of the eight deepwater blocks on offer. Reliance won two and BG-BHP one. Small companies jostled for the 19 onland blocks, with OIL managing to win just two. Essar was the only other notable winner, while the rest went to lesser-known companies. Other state-run firms in the fray included gas utility GAIL and the upstream arm of Bharat Petroleum, which bid for four blocks.

Maharashtra auctions taxi permits in Mumbai

A cash-starved transport department has fetched a whopping Rs 105 crore when it auctioned nearly 4,000 lapsed taxi permits. Against the reserved price of Rs 1 lakh, a Nagpur infrastructure firm had offered the highest bid of Rs 2.61 lakh for each permit. It is probably for the first time that taxi permits were auctioned in the country. “There were quite many firms in the race. As the Nagpur firm’s bid was the highest, the department is allotting it 4,000 taxi permits. The firm will operate the taxis in a phased manner, over one-and-a half years. They will be six- to seven seater taxis,’’ a senior official said. In September 2010, then transport minister Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil and transport secretary C S Sangeetrao had moved a proposal for the auction of the lapsed taxi permits. “In Mumbai, there are well over 16,000 taxi permits, which have not been renewed for more than a decade. The transport department has declared them as lapsed permits,’’ he said. The department had proposed that instead of renewing the permits against the annual renewal fee of Rs 100, it would be appropriate if the lapsed permits were auctioned on an experimental basis and offered to a firm with the highest bid. It was proposed that the bidder would have to submit a bank guarantee of Rs 50 crore and provide a performance guarantee of Rs 5 crore. The air-conditioned taxis will have a GPS system as well as a radio phone facility. Once the exercise is over, the official said, Mumbai will have 4,000 high-end taxis, with a sitting capacity ranging between five and seven. "We have proposed a new colour combination for the new taxis,” he said.

Somewhere in Mumbai....

Inviting Pakistan President Asif Zardari and PM Yousuf Gilani for the World Cup semi-final at Mohali is an insult to those who died in the 26/11 attacks, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray said. In an editorial in the party’s mouthpiece, Saamna, Thackeray said the Indian Prime Minister should now send two tickets to Afzal Guru and Ajmal Kasab. Ridiculing the claim that Gilani’s and Zardari’s presence would strengthen the peace process, the Sena chief said such past gestures have proved futile.

The Tiger census

The striped predator, whose population touched a low of 1,411 in the last census, has shown a 16% rise in numbers with the latest count showing an estimated 1,706 tigers in the country—including 70 found in Sunderbans, which was not part of the 2006 count. The census report, the second counting exercise to use scientific sampling methods, shows India’s tiger population is stabilizing and even thriving in many big tiger reserves. The most impressive surge in numbers comes from the Nagarhole-Wayanad-Madumalai belt (across Karnataka, TN and Kerala), which with an estimated population of 382 tigers has shown a 36% rise from the previous count. Huge rise in tiger population in Western Ghats. Number estimated at 534, up 122 from previous count Tiger population also up in Himalayan terai-Gangetic plains and Northeast Losses reported from MP, Andhra Pradesh


The Japanese aftershocks

Aftershocks of the Earthquake , Tsunami and Fukushima Nuclear Reactor meltdown are clearly seen in Maharashtra with protests against the Jaitapur N-plant growing louder and the Navi Mumbai airport going back on the drawing board.

Of highways development....

Promises are meant to be broken

Promises made by political parties to entice the voters in the state elections April - May 2011.