CAGs report on Maharashtra

Of food inflation and poverty

Of tele - density and GDP growth rate

2011 Monsoon forecast

Car Sales Lose Steam

The car market is losing pace. Fewer people visit car showrooms now and companies expect sales growth to slip below 10% this fiscal, after two years of high-speed run. Maruti Suzuki, Hyundai Motor, Tata Motors, Honda Siel Cars and Toyota Kirloskar Motors have all confirmed a drop in customer inquiries and a steeper fall in sales over the past two months when cost of ownership has increased on all counts — from sticker price and loan interest rate to tax and fuel prices. India beat China as the fastest-growing car market in 2010-11 with a 30% rise in sales when a slew of new cars and rising incomes lured people into showrooms in hordes. And most carmakers — from Mercedes Benz and BMW to Volkswagen and Toyota to Maruti Suzuki and Tata Motors — have been increasing production, portfolio and market reach to keep up with racing demand. But the mood has become less buoyant. The interest rate on auto loans is now 11-15% after six rounds of rate increases in the past one year. Earlier, interest rates were 8-12%. Bankers say consumer sentiment changes once interest rates touches 15% mark. Another concern is the fear of a sharp increase in fuel prices. Many people expect oil marketers to increase petrol and diesel prices immediately after assembly elections in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Kerala and Puducherry next month due to increasing crude prices. But many others’ inventories are at their highest levels in two years. The industry has about 40-50 days inventory now, compared with the earlier 10-15 days. This means around three lakh cars are in warehouses and dealership networks. But nobody plans to halt their expansion.

Of FIIs and infra bonds....

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Friday allowed foreign institutional investors(FIIs)to invest in infrastructure bonds with a maximum limit of $25 billion, including in those issued by unlisted companies. Earlier, on March 31, Sebi, too, had allowed FIIs to invest in these bonds and had given them a limited trading window within which these entities were allowed to trade these bonds among themselves. The move by the central bank is expected to pave the way for foreign funds to be invested in the country’s infrastructure sector that is estimated to need over $500 billion over the next few years. In this year’s budget, the finance minister had proposed to raise FII investment limit in infra bonds issued by corporates. “It has now been decided, in consultation with the government, to enhance the FII investment limit in listed non-convertible debentures/ bonds, with a residual maturity of five years and above, and issued by Indian companies in the infrastructure sector, where ‘infrastructure’ is defined in terms of the extant ECB guidelines, by an additional limit of $20 billion taking this limit from $5 billion to $25 billion,” an RBI notification said. RBI also said that FIIs would be allowed to invest in such listed non-convertible debentures or bonds that have a minimum lock-in period of three years. However, as notified earlier,FIIs are allowed to trade in these instruments only among themselves during the lock-in period and cannot be transferred to any other types of investors. The central bank further said “it has also been decided to allow Sebi-registered FIIs to invest in unlisted non-convertible debentures/bonds issued by corporates in the infrastructure sector, provided that such investment is as per the (prescribed rules and regulations).”

1,676-cr car unit planned near Pune

Chinese automobile giant Beiqi Foton Motors will set up a Rs 1,676 crore automobile manufacturing facility in Maharashtra. On Friday, the firm’s chairman Xu Heyi signed a memorandum of understanding. The plant will be set up on a 200-acre plot in Khed taluka, near Pune. State officials said that deals with a few more automobile firms are in the offing.


Pakistan talks trade

India and Pakistan announced a path-breaking blueprint to spur trade between the two nations at the end of a two-day meeting of the commerce secretaries of the two countries in Islamabad. Pakistan agreed that extending the most favoured nation, or MFN, status to India will spur trade, giving up its long-held stance of linking the issue to the resolution of the Kashmir problem. The two countries will also set up groups of experts for expanding trade in petroleum products and to enable trade in electricity. The joint declaration issued at the end of the fifth round of talks on commercial and economic cooperation put firm timeline to every proposal and set up a mechanism to review the progress through biannual secretary level consultations. "This can be viewed as a breakthrough in the mind set,” said Sunil Sinha, senior economist, Crisil. Exporters’ body FIEO is positive that the initiatives mark a new beginning in bilateral economic relations. "The biggest achievement for us is recognition by Pakistan that grant of MFN status would expand bilateral trade," Fieo president Ramu Deora said. The Pakistan side, led by its commerce secretary Zafar Mehmood, said it would take immediate steps to ensure that non-discriminatory trade regime is operationalised at the earliest. The Indian contingent was headed by commerce secretary Rahul Khullar. The trade secretary level talks were held after a gap of more than two years following the break in all interaction in the wake of Mumbai terror attacks. An ongoing study by the think tank ICRIER pegs the potential of India-Pakistan trade at $14.3 billion with India exporting about $11 billion worth of goods to Pakistan and importing $3 billion. The current level of bilateral trade between the two countries is about $2 billion. Indirect trade between the two routed through third countries is estimated at another $2 billion. "This is a significant development that will increase normal trade and curb trade through third-countries. Over a period of time, this could provide momentum to the political side as people from both sides begin to benefit," Biswajit Dhar, director general, RIS said. India has been seeking MFN status from Pakistan for a long time, which would lead to the country getting the same treatment as other countries in terms of allowing exports. Pakistan so far has been allowing exports from India on the basis of a small positive list of items instead of trading the normal way using a negative list of excluded items. Pakistan said it will move to a system of trade-based on negative list as opposed to the current positive list. India has already given the MFN status to Pakistan, allowing trade to be done on the basis of a negative list. Pakistan said consultations with business chambers have already begun on replacing the positive list with a negative list and the process would be concluded by October 2011. Agreeing to work out ways to expand trade in petroleum, both sides decided to set up an expert group before June 15 to discuss trade arrangements, building of crossborder pipelines, and use of road and rail route, including the Monabao-Khokrapar route.

US Ambassador to India quits

US Ambassador to India Timothy J Roemer stepped down on Thursday citing “personal, professional and family considerations”, a day after India eliminated American companies from the race for a $10-billion contract to supply 126 fighter jets for the Indian Air Force. While there was speculation that he would departure if the US companies were eliminated from the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) bid, Roemer had recently indicated to colleagues that he would be stepping down after two years as envoy to India. Roemer said US companies losing out in the MMRCA deal was “deeply disappointing”. Rafale, built by France's Dassault, and the Eurofighter Typhoon, built by a pan-European consortium, were shortlisted by the Defence Ministry to supply fighter aircraft for the Indian Air Force. The two companies were told to keep their commercial bids open till December 31, while America's Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Sweden's Saab, and Russia's Migoyan, the makers of MIG, were told that their aircraft were no longer in contention. The contract was seen as a major reciprocal plank in the Indo-US relations that have strengthened in recent years beyond most expectations. President Barack Obama's celebrated November visit to India had the unmistakable undercurrent of expectation that the fighter jet deal, the biggest such open contract in 15 years, would go to one of the two American companies — Lockheed Martin and Boeing — in the fray. Obama had written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after the visit, underlining the importance of the contract to the strategic relationship between the two countries. “In the spirit of this friendship, I want to underscore the strategic importance the United States attaches to the selection of a US proposal in India's Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft competition… The selection of a US proposal for the MMRCA tender will strengthen our partnership, launch our defence cooperation on an ambitious and rewarding trajectory, and provide strategic continuity to our growing relationship,” he had written. Back from the successful visit to India, which saw deals worth some $10 billion being signed, Obama had talked up the number of jobs that would be created in the US thanks to the deals with India. The massive fighter jet deal was surely part of this calculation. “When I accepted this job two years ago, I told President Obama that I would serve for two years but that family considerations would be front and centre after that,” Roemer said in a statement announcing his departure. Roemer, 55, succeeded David Mulford as US ambassador in New Delhi on July 10, 2009. In his departing statement, Roemer mentioned the sale of C130J aircraft and the pending sale of C-17s to India as an achievement of his tenure, but did not comment about the MMRCA race, which originally had six contenders.

The TAPI gas pipeline

India and three other countries, planning a $10-billion energy lifeline across Central and South Asia, on Thursday broadly agreed on the parameters of pricing gas that is to be wheeled from Turkmenistan even though certain issues still need to be resolved. The energy ministers of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan met to discuss issues regarding sale and purchase of gas through TAPI — the acronym for the pipeline — that will link the four countries. Jaipal Reddy sidestepped a question on the security of pipeline stretch passing through Pakistan and Afghanistan. “Let’s not raise our domestic debate,” he said when asked why India’s views on the security issue was different for the pipeline from Turkmenistan and a similar project from Iran. For the TAPI pipeline, India has agreed to take responsibility of gas at the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan border. But, it insists Teheran take responsibility for delivering gas through Pakistan to the Indian border in the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline. Besides the security issue, there are essentially two commercial issues that need to be sorted out – transit fee to be charged by Afghanistan and Pakistan and the final price of gas. Turkmenistan has proposed that supplies be benchmarked to LNG ( gas in ships) that costs more than natural gas. India and Pakistan are opposed to this and have suggested a common price. The ministers will meet in Kabul next month to iron out the issue of transit and other fees after which a price will be discussed in June at Ashkabat, capital of Turkmenistan. The four countries have set a deadline of July 31 for signing the GSPA. India and Pakistan are expected to import 38 mcmd (million cubic metres per day) of gas each from Turkmenistan’s South Yoloten-Osman field through the 1,700-km-long pipeline, while Afghanistan is to consume 14 mcmd. TAPI is a key part of Washington's Afghan policy and also a strategy to break the Russian infrastructure’s monopoly on transportation of Central Asian gas by opening alternative routes. It is also being promoted as an alternative to the Iran pipeline as a source of energy for both India and Pakistan.

The NAC on graft

The split in the civil society over the Lokpal Bill is out in the open. Amid the clamour for Lokpal as a magic pill against corruption, the National Advisory Council (NAC) argued that a bouquet of systemic reforms with a clutch of laws is required to curb graft. Pushing for the need of several new laws and reforms, the Sonia Gandhi-led panel cautioned that system need not look at one place to stem corruption or look for a silver bullet, in an oblique reference to Anna Hazare’s campaign for Lokpal Bill. NAC members Harsh Mander and Aruna Roy presented the roadmap to control corruption. Presenting an exhaustive homework for UPAII, it listed out an array of reforms and a long legislative agenda. In what could be construed as a pot shot at Hazare’s campaign on Lokpal bill, it was pointed out that for both the middle class and the rich corruption is only a selective issue. It was suggested that the NAC should address corruption from the poor’s viewpoint. The proposed reforms entail bringing in changes to incorporate social audits, Lokpal Bill, Judicial Accountability Bill, Protection of Whistleblowers Bill, grievance redressal, Rights to Services Bill and rules for transparency in government appointments. These measures will clean up administration to reduce margin for discretion, boost transparency, expedite delivery of services and reform police and judiciary. It was pointed out that almost no action had been taken on the recommendations of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission or the suggestions of the CVC. On police reforms, too, it was noted that only 11 states have passed the new Police Acts till date. In keeping with its pro-poor agenda, it was suggested that the NAC focus on issues of transparency, social audits, public appointments and prelegislative consultations, besides other issues.

Mumbai's Eastern Freeway update

The last great hurdle facing the builders of the Eastern Freeway, the 22-km long roadway from Colaba to Ghatkopar, has been overcome. The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) has obtained clearance to build a road on stilts across 700 metres of salt pan land. This is part of the Anik Panjrapol Link Road and will connect the Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) toll gate to Wadala Truck terminal Road. Additional commissioner, MMRDA, Ashwini Bhide said that they have started work on the missing link of the road, which is part of the larger freeway. “We had obtained the CRZ and the environmental clearances. The salt pan issue was the only hurdle left. The Group of Ministers (GoM) in Delhi, in charge of salt pan land, had approved of the road three months ago and asked the Salt Commissioner to issue a No-Objection Certificate (NOC), which took some time,” she added. MMRDA officials said that the roadway will cost Rs 531 crore. The Colaba to Anik stretch will run through the MbPT and will be 11-km long. The remaining part up to Ghatkopar, too, is 11 km. Public transport and intercity buses to Pune, Goa, Bangalore and areas in Konkan will use the Eastern Freeway and the trans-harbour link to avoid the congested roads of Mumbai and Navi Mumbai. This would save an hour of commute as well as costs in terms of fuel. BEST’s express services for the eastern suburbs and Navi Mumbai will also use the freeway. MMRDA officials said that getting permissions was not easy. “The MMRDA had to approached the Salt Department, Jaipur, department of industrial policy and promotion, and the GoM for the clearance,” said an official.

A helping hand

Of stiff competition


Laid to rest

Personnel of Andhra Pradesh police place the national Tricolour on the casket bearing Sathya Sai Baba’s body before he was buried at Sai Kulwant Hall in Prashanti Nilayam in Puttaparthi on Wednesday. The casket was lowered into a grave during the two-hour ceremony, attended by hundreds of people and watched live on TV by millions. Baba’s nephew RJ Ratnakar sprinkled holy water brought from seven rivers on the mortal remains. He also performed ‘dasha danam’, or donation of 10 items including a cow, land and clothes as per Hindu custom

The PAC report on the 2G scam

Despite being consistently misled by the telecom ministry under A Raja, the Prime Minister gave an “overriding preference” to the DMK leader’s plea to reject the law ministry’s strong recommendation that allocation of spectrum be examined by an empowered group of ministers. The decision not to refer allocation of 2G airwaves to the group of ministers was crucial in facilitating the scam as it permitted Raja to bend the first come, first served policy to award licences to a set of telecom players for alleged bribes and pull wool over the PMO’s eyes. It is ironic that the public accounts committee paints the PM and his office in poor light as this was the very committee Singh had volunteered to present himself before to thwart the opposition demand for a joint parliamentary committee. While PAC chairperson M M Joshi was then seen as a towering opposition leader capable of probing the 2G scam in a fair and balanced manner, the BJP MP is now being pilloried for being biased and accused of working on a “hidden agenda”. The account of Raja’s audacious disregard for any attempt to prevent him from under pricing spectrum and making the award of licences more transparent bordered on “open defiance”. It projects the PM as a victim of coalition compulsions – a theme Singh has referred to himself – while the PMO is reduced to a mute spectator. The draft report dismisses PMO’s response that no suggestion from the law ministry seeking an e-gom was received pointing out that Raja himself apprised the PM of the law department’s view. “But the counter view of the communications minister got overriding preference for unknown reasons and no effort was made by PMO to initiate an e-gom,” the report says. So while there are instances where Raja might have pulled a fast one, in some cases Singh sided with the ex-minister. There was also a reluctance to restrain the DMK MP, the report notes. Even though Raja made no secret in a letter of December 26, 2008, of being a man in a hurry to deliver telecom licences, the file was not put up to Singh till 12 days later. Once licences were awarded, the PM sought to distance himself from what was a shady decision with his office noting that his views on the issue be communicated “informally” to telecom ministry. This “arm’s length” approach failed to save the telecom fire from reaching Singh in the long run. The report notes that PMO failed to treat the difference of opinion between law and telecom ministries in a proper manner. According to government business rules, it should have been referred to the cabinet but this did not happen. While the PM’s inaction just ahead of licences being awarded and his acknowledgement of Raja’s letter is seen as a green signal by the PAC, the report says that the tone of the DMK leader’s December 26, 2008 communication demonstrated a sense of one upmanship and arrogance bordering on defiance.

Recommends stringent punitive action against those responsible for furnishing wrong information to Parliament, suppressing facts and deliberately misleading the Prime Minister The 2G scam should be an eyeopener for Cabinet secretariat and PMO to at least now start vigorously monitoring effective compliance of cabinet decisions
Suggests cleansing of bureaucracy, proposes cooling-disconnect of three years for secretary level officers after retirement
Whistleblowers be given statutory protection from the harassment, demotion, physical & financial harm
Government must evolve procedures to recover unlawful gains made by those responsible for the staggering national loss
Calls for stringent anti-corruption laws to deter public servants and provide speedy trial
Calls for CBI to be governed by new legislation to safeguard autonomy and independence
Calls for a panel comprising Prime Minister, home minister, Supreme Court judge and leader of opposition for appointment of CAG, CVC & director CBI

Public Accounts Committee is the oldest committee of Parliament It is strictly a committee of the Lok Sabha with associate members from Rajya Sabha, but they have equal rights It has no more than 22 members, on a representative basis from the government and opposition. By tradition its chairman is a nominee of the opposition PAC usually looks at C&AG reports, but it can also take suo motu notice of other aspects of government expenditure

The PAC report would be placed before the committee for its final approval.
Then it would be send to the Lok Sabha Speaker .
The speaker would send it to the government for action.
The govt would consider the recommendations and report back with an action taken report. Normally, wherever government cannot act on a PAC recommendation, it explains why Traditionally, when the House assembles PAC reports are not discussed in full
But a discussion is possible through a motion demanding a discussion on the report
Members can discuss aspects of its findings through questions and other instrumentalities of House proceedings

India - the Super Antagonist

India, the “super antagonist”, may resume nuclear testing taking advantage of the unrest in the Middle East to counter China, which it considers “a slumbering threat at its bedside”, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece People’s Daily said on Wednesday. “Perhaps, once the Middle East situation further exacerbates, the US would risk helping India become a nuclearweapon state... Considering this, India is likely to resume its nuclear tests. For this, China and all the neighbours should sharpen their vigilance on India’s every manoeuvre,” it said. Titled as Possible, India resumes nuclear test?, the article by a columnist said “there exists a super antagonist in the US-produced nuclear soap opera, and it is India”. The provocative article after a cordial meeting between PM Manmohan Singh and Chinese President Hu Jintao surprised many.

Kolkata turns out in force

The campaign cacophony of the third phase of polls, most crucial to government formation in West Bengal, quietened into the silence of a bandh day in Kolkata and its suburbs on Wednesday as voters lined up in thousands to decide the fate of heavyweights like CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Trinamool’s Manish Gupta, a former chief secretary, and Amit Mitra, who headed FICCI. The average polling in Kolkata was 63% at 5 pm. Election officials expected that the turnout would go up in the final count, much higher than the 62% in the last assembly and Lok Sabha polls. Polling stood at 80% in the evening in North 24-Parganas, and 82% in South 24-Parganas, higher than the polling average (78%) in the three districts. Fearing violence, bandobast was tight. There were armed paramilitary jawans guiding voters to the booths. Outside the booths, most shops downed the shutters and the city roads were deserted. Party managers in the war rooms were trying to interpret the quiet turnout. While Mamata Banerjee would like to see this seriousness as indicative of change in government, CPM mandarins were reading it as a sign of a lastminute change of mood.

MTHL update

The Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has expressed interest in financing the Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link (MTHL) planned between Sewri and Nhava. MMRDA commissioner Rahul Asthana said that JICA has held discussions with his officials and expressed interest in financing the trans-harbour link as well as the second line of the Mumbai Metro on the Charkop-Bandra-Mankhurd line. Meanwhile, Asthana said that 16 parties have asked for the tender documents for the work of consultant for the initial technofeasibility studies on the link on the first day of the tenders being floated. The MMRDA was debating using the public-private partnership (PPP) model instead of the cash and contract model for the 22-km long bridge, slated to cost Rs 8,000 crore. Officials said that the Centre was interested in the PPP model and would give a grant of up to 20% for the Viability Gap Funding. The consultants who will carry out the feasibility studies will decide on which model to use. “We hope to have the tender documents for the building of the link ready by January,” said Asthana.


Of decicated freight corridors

12th Plan

The Planning Commission is likely to set a realistic average growth target of 9% for the 12th plan, despite some early enthusiasm that made its chairman, prime minister Manmohan Singh, suggest a target of 10% for the five-year period beginning April 2012. The commission could stick to a 9-9.5% growth target instead of 10% due to continuing global uncertainties, spiraling energy prices and persistently high inflation. The commission had set 9% growth target for the 11th plan also, but scaled it down to 8.2% in the wake of a global economic downturn that slowed growth from 9.3% in 2007-08 to 6.8% and 8% in the next two years. The commission will brief the prime minister and other ministerial members on the approach to the 12th Plan. The approach paper will incorporate the suggestions of the prime minister and is expected to be ready by the end of next month. Economists endorsed the Plan Panel’s decision to set a moderate growth target for the 12th Plan. The government needs to address the infrastructure deficit in the next five years to achieve a sustained 9-9.5% growth, suggested many economists. Ahluwalia expressed optimism on achieving the scaleddown target of 8.2% for the 11th Plan period ending March next year. Despite having missed the initial target we will achieve a robust growth of 8.2%. The inclusive growth agenda of the 11th Plan has been somewhat successful as available data shows that poverty has gone down during the period. Using the Suresh Tendulkar method for calculating poverty, levels of poverty fell from 37% in 2004-05 to 32% in 2009-10. The poverty ratio for 2009-10 has been estimated by Planning Commission member Abhijit Sen and will be used by the commission while drafting the 12th plan document.

The Shiv Nadar University

Jaitapur nuke project is on

The Jaitapur nuclear plant will come up, and at the proposed location. This was revealed by Maharashtra CM Prithviraj Chavan after his meeting with the PM and environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh. Chavan said, “The Centre is determined to implement the project in a time-bound manner.” But with the Japan crisis leading to fears, each Jaitapur reactor will have its own safety and operation system. Meanwhile, the Centre has decided to introduce a bill in the next session of Parliament to create an independent and autonomous nuclear regulatory body.

About 300 km from the proposed Jaitapur nuclear power plant, Indian scientists are all set to drill an 8-km hole in the earth’s crust for prediction of earthquakes. Announcing this, minister of state for earth sciences Ashwani Kumar on Tuesday, however, denied that the choice of location had anything to do either with the proposed plant or the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The study costing Rs 300 crore will be carried out in the quake-prone Koyna region in association with the International Continental Drilling Programme. “One of the reasons that make prediction of earthquakes difficult is that both the origin and the timing have to be calculated to perfection. By drilling the hole, scientists will be able to monitor disturbances in the subsoil and thus predict both,” a senior official of the ministry said. The entire project will take two-five years but the first findings will start to come in within eight months of commencement of work. The Koyna region, home to a large hydel project, is a highly active seismic zone and would provide scientists an opportunity to study earthquakes real time and also help in identifying its early signs. Provisions for the project will be made in the 12 th five year plan. Explaining the reasons for the choice of Koyna, scientists described the region as unique as very severe earthquakes continue to occur there four decades after the initial spurt in activity.


Honda , Toyota cut output in India

The devastating March quake and tsunami in Japan are seriously impacting the Indian auto industry. Just days after Toyota India announced a 70% drop in production due to supply constraints from Japan, fellow Japanese maker Honda has said it will cut production by 50% on shortage of supplies from Japan. The company will reduce the capacity at its Greater Noida plant, where it produces models like the Honda City sedan and Jazz hatchback.Honda said the situation of parts supply in Japan remains fluid as production of component parts and vehicles at Honda plants is at approximately 50% of the original production plan. It said that most of the Japan-based suppliers were making progress to restart production, and many either have or are ready to resume parts production. Toyota said last week that supply constraints from Japan had forced it to reduce production by up to 70% between April 25 and June. The move will lead to a production loss of about 7,000 units a month, Toyota said, translating into a revenue deficit of Rs 490 crore for its Indian entity-Toyota Kirloskar Motor.

Silver breaches 75k mark

Extending its unprecedented rally, silver zoomed to scale the Rs 75,000 a kg mark at the domestic bullion market here on hectic speculative activity on the back of frantic investment buying spree. Gold, however, eased on subdued buying from stockists and jewellers. The white metal is witnessing a global rally amid speculation of supply shortage.

MTHL techno study

The 22-km long Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link (MTHL) between Sewri and Nhava got a boost with the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) deciding to go ahead with a techno-feasibility study which will be ready in five months. MMRDA officials said that they would also reapply for the environmental clearance for the mammoth project as the earlier one would not be valid. Chief engineer for MMRDA, S Nandgirkar, said that the techno-economic feasibility contract tenders would be out shortly, the agency appointed by June and the report ready in three months. The project has been in a limbo for years. The Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) was initially supposed to be responsible for building the link. However, the state government recently decided that MMRDA would undertake the project. The link will have six road lanes and space would be left for a metro link which would be built later.

US brands ISI a terror group

One of the world’s worst kept secrets is now out in the open. American authorities listed Pakistan’s spy outfit, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate, as a terrorist organization alongside 36 groups including al-Qaida, Hamas, Hezbollah and Iranian intelligence, according to a new set of WikiLeaks cables pertaining to detainees held at the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The disclosure, which comes soon after the highest ranking US military official Mike Mullen openly accused the ISI of ties with terror outfits like the Haqqani group in Islamabad last week, confirms what has long been the scuttlebutt in the world: Pakistan’s spy agency has earned a terror tag in all but formal designation. According to the cables, US interrogators were told to regard detainees’ links to 36 organizations, including the ISI, as a sign of terror activity. Recently, David Headley and Tahawwur Rana, Pakistani expats who helped scout targets for the 26/11 carnage, admitted they undertook the mission at the behest of the ISI. The US mainstream media largely ignored the revelation, but it was highlighted by the UK newspaper Guardian. “The inclusion of association with the ISI as a ‘threat indicator’ is likely to pour fuel on the flames of Washington’s already strained relationship with its key regional ally,” the paper observed, adding that “a number of the detainee files contain references... to the ISI supporting, coordinating and protecting insurgents fighting coalition forces in Afghanistan, or even assisting al-Qaida.”


Japan wants review of N-deal with India

India’s civil nuclear cooperation with Japan is likely to be delayed because of Fukushima. Indian government officials have confirmed that the Japanese want to carry out a review of safety standards in the light of the explosions in Fukushima reactors and that this will delay the process of finalizing the agreement before the visit of Japanese PM Naoto Kan by the end of this year. The Japanese have said that they are not driven only by commercial reasons in executing civil nuclear cooperation with India. “Japan wants to do a safety review after what has happened in Fukushima and that can take some time. They are clear that they don’t want to rush into the deal,’’ said an official. Both the countries, however, have agreed that there is no alternative to nuclear energy and that Fukushima will not have any negative impact on the proposed civil nuclear cooperation in the longer run.

Sena gives Maha CM bypoll walkover

Despite the heated atmosphere in the Maharashtra legislature over the Jaitapur nuclear power plant issue, the Shiv Sena has decided not to field a candidate against chief minister Prithviraj Chavan in the forthcoming byelection to the legislative council. Sena MP Sanjay Raut announced on Friday evening that party supremo Bal Thackeray made the decision keeping in view the fact that the election was a matter of technicality: the Congress-NCP combine has a clear majority in the legislature, with no chance for the opposition to put up even a symbolic fight. The CM filed his nomination papers on Friday; Sunday is the last day for the filing of nomination. Since the seat is in the Sena’s quota, the BJP left it up to its saffron ally to take a call on the issue. BJP spokesperson Madhav Bhandari said that the Sena leadership was in touch with state BJP president Sudhir Mungantiwar and consulted him before announcing its decision. As things stand now, the CM is all set to get elected unopposed, unless an Independent enters the fray unexpectedly. While the Congress thanked the opposition for allowing the CM unanimous election to the legislative council, the latter took a dig at Chavan for opting for a backdoor entry to the legislature. Senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde said: “The CM should have opted for direct election (to the legislative assembly), thus testing his and his party's popularity. Anyway, the Congress has an advantage in the legislature; so, the CM should not feel elated .” Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray said: “The CM will get elected unopposed, but he has no concern for the people who have died or have been injured in Jaitapur. He is a puppet of the Congress high command and does not have the guts to face voters in Maharashtra. The Congress has lost support in the state.” MPCC general secretary Sanjay Dutt, who resigned from the House to facilitate the CM’s election, said the Sena announcement was a victory for Chavan and his policy to take everyone into confidence before finalizing people-oriented policies. He hoped for similar cooperation from the opposition in getting development projects for the state cleared.

Dhaka seeks restoration of ’65 rail links

Bangladesh has pitched for restoration of two rail links, destroyed in the 1965 war, to improve people-to-people ties. It has demanded India provide duty and quota-free access to 61 products, mainly textiles, as part of a plan to improve trade with its neighbour. Bangaldeshi PM Sheikh Hasina made the rail link suggestion during a meeting with commerce & industry minister Anand Sharma in Dhaka on Sunday. India has already provided $1 billion assistance to improve rail and road links.

100 months of the Delhi Metro

From six trains with a frequency of 15 minutes to 160 trains with a frequency of 2.5 minutes — for those travelling on Delhi Metro, the 100 months of its operation is a celebration indeed. On Sunday,Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) marked 100 months of operations as iti s awaiting the green signal from the Centre for work to start on the third phase. A DMRC spokesperson said: “When we started, we had six trains and made 70 trips. Today, there are 160 trains and 2,400 trips are made every day.” Beginning the journey on December 24, 2002, with 8.5 km, Delhi Metro today has 183 km of network and connects the capital with its satellite cities of Noida and Gurgaon. Currently, Delhi Metro has 135 stations. It hasn’t only ramped up services but also the workforce — earlier, only 1,000 employees worked with the DMRC, the number has now touched 8,000. From three women drivers in 2002, Delhi Metro now employs 25 women drivers. The number of drivers has also gone up from 20 in 2002 to 800 now. “This centenary month of Metro train operations also saw a considerable rise in the average ridership figures — from 82,179 in December 2002 to 14,16,420 in March 2011,” said a Delhi Metro spokesperson. The rise in ridership is mainly attributed to a number of inaugurations on different corridors during the last nine years of its existence since 2002, he said. Between 2002 and August 22, 2010, Delhi Metro had carried over 1.25 billion commuters — which is even more than the projected total population of India in 2011:1.20billion. Currently, 160 Metro trains make over 2,400 trips every day traversing about 70,000 km and carrying about 15 lakh passengers on working days. With phase III expected to cover about 108 km, the network will become 295 km by 2015, making it one of the fastest expanding Metro networks in the world, said the spokesperson. Work on the third phase is expected to take off soon. It has been approved by the state government. Partial funds have also been approved by both the Centre and the state government,said officials.

PMO denies secret talks with Pak army

The PMO’s denial of a British newspaper report that claimed Manmohan Singh has initiated secret talks with Gen Ashfaq Kayani, came along with the opposition BJP issuing a cautionary note on starting unofficial talks with the Pakistan army, which it said was the institution most hostile to India. Nevertheless, the media report raises many questions. First, there has been a longstanding feeling within the government and outside that India should open talks with the Pakistan army, which is the real centre of authority, much more than the civilian government which India deals with. There is a strong concern in India about the “inequality” of the interlocutors, which has prevented them from bringing the Pakistan army into the dialogue process. Second, what would the talks be about? If Pakistan’s civilian government doesn’t have his go-ahead, they wouldn’t be engaging in dialogue with India anyway. So that’s out. The Pakistan army is under pressure on the western border, which means it might make sense for them to open up a channel of communication on the eastern border. A more important subject of conversation with the Pakistan army would be Afghanistan, where both Pakistan and India have deep interests. And third, India has an unfortunate history of backchannel talks. In the Vajpayee years, the government had used R K Mishra of Observer Research Foundation to start talks with Pakistan before Kargil, which, according to sources then, was an unhappy experience. Later, it was national security adviser Brajesh Mishra who started unofficial talks with Pervez Musharraf’s adviser, the late Niaz Naik, and Tariq Aziz.

Somewhere in Puttaparthi....

One of India’s tallest spiritual leaders with a following of kings and commoners alike, Bhagwan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, passed away on Sunday morning at 7.40 am of cardio-respiratory failure at the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences here. He was 85.


Gurgaon gets The Oberoi

BIA will now become Kempegowda airport

Bengaluru International Airport will go by the name of Kempegowda International Airport. During the 500th birth centenary celebrations of Bangalore’s chieftain, chief minister B S Yeddyurappa announced that the government had decided to rename the airport. He was speaking after giving away the Kempegowda awards to 234 persons from various fields. “The decision, however, needs the Centre’s nod. An allparty delegation will go to the Prime Minister with a plea to rename BIA,’’ the CM said. Bangalore South MP Ananth Kumar gave examples of airports like O’Hare Airport at Chicago, Charles De Gaulle Airport at Paris, the Chhattrapati Shivaji Airport at Mumbai and Subhash Chandra Bose Airport in Kolkata, that are all named after leaders and prominent people from these cities. “BIA should get the name of ‘Nada Prabhu’ Kempegowda. The Union cabinet’s nod is also required for the new name,” he said.


March inflation surges to 8.98%

Inflation based on wholesale price index accelerated to 8.98% in March, above the government and RBI estimates, as fuel and manufactured goods prices rose. The provisional estimates released were higher than the previous month’s 8.31%. It also showed that the government’s estimate of 7.5% was off the mark and was also higher than the RBI’s year-end projection of 8%. That policymakers failed to assess the inflation dynamics can be gauged from the fact that RBI had projected March-end inflation at 5.5% last April, while the government was trying to paint an even more favourable picture. The government has sought to justify high inflation on the grounds that a rapid rise in prices accompanies high growth. At its present level, among developing countries, inflation in India is next only to Russia. Of course, there is Pakistan that can boast of beating India on this count. If trends from recent months are anything to go by, the provisional estimates would be revised upwards. For instance, for January 2011, the government revised the number of 9.35% from 8.23% estimated earlier. Besides, economists and government officials said the inflation number did not present the true picture in the absence of oil marketing companies being permitted to raise prices of cooking and auto fuels. With oil prices remaining high and high growth stoking inflation in an economy where the manufacturing sector is facing capacity constraints, economists predict that high inflation is here to stay. Earlier this week, the International Monetary Fund too warned of high inflation and said India was seeing historically high inflation rates. With inflation remaining high, there is every chance that RBI will increase interest rates when it unveils its annual policy statement next month. According to the data released by the commerce & industry ministry on Friday, primary articles, led by food, saw a moderation to 12.96% in March from 22.16% a year ago. Within this, inflation rate for food articles was estimated at 9.47%, compared to 20.65% in March 2010. There was, however, an acceleration in the non-food group from 20.43% to 25.88% as prices of fibres shot up by nearly 84%.

Gujarat is top investment destination :ASSOCHAM

With 1,445 live investment projects worth Rs 13.4 lakh crore, Gujarat has emerged among the top preferred investment destination in recent years, says a study by The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM). The power sector has got the major share of 40.2 per cent followed by manufacturing (24.9 per cent), services (16.8 per cent) and real estate (11.4 per cent). The study titled ‘Sustained Balanced Growth in Gujarat said that close to 70 per cent of these investments were in districts of Kutch, Jamnagar, Ahmedabad, Bharuch, Surat and Bhavnagar. However, projects involving 63 per cent of total investments were in the announcement stages and the value of projects actually implemented account for 35.2 per cent of total investments. As a majority of new investments involve high-cost projects, cost and time over-runs can throw their management haywire and make completion unpredictable, the study says. The study also says that adequate long-term finance is not being made available to small and medium industries by banks. The Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI) and state finance corporations are lending to small firms for projects involving up to Rs 10 crore outlay on plant and machinery. Large firms are raising money from the bond market. In this backdrop, ASSOCHAM suggests that state-level development finance institutes be revived to help small and medium enterprises. The study has identified engineering, biotechnology, food processing, agriculture, gems and jewellery that can make Gujarat a hub for research and development. While metro trains are now being made near Vadodara, the state is yet to create metro and rail transport services system, the study says. The state’s economy grew at a compounded rate of 10.2 per cent between 2000-01 and 2009-10. This is exceptional and much higher than what other progressive states in the country achieved during the same period, the study says. The study also mentions the state’s inability to make proper cost recoveries from public services provided and to generate adequate returns from public investments. In agriculture sector – which accounts for 11.7 per cent of the GSDP – investments in irrigation need a further boost. The services sector’s contribution to the GSDP is to the tune of 47 per cent while that of the industrial sector is a little over 40 per cent. Manufacturing is the dominant industrial activity.

Nirmohi Akhara severs VHP ties

Breaking its 21-year-old ties with the VHP, Nirmohi Akhara, the main Hindu party in the Ayodhya case, has rejected VHP’s claims over Ram Janmabhoomi. Nirmohi Akhara, the oldest litigant from the Hindu side in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suit, has alleged that VHP was trying to overpower the site. Rejecting VHP’s claim of being Ram Lalla’s ‘fast friend’, Akhara mahant Jagannath Das said, “VHP does not have any claim over Ram Janmabhoomi. It just incited riots and disturbed peace.”

Binayak Sen

May 14, 2007 : Chhattisgarh police arrest Binayak Sen on charges of carrying messages between Piyush Guha, a businessman, and Narayan Sanyal, a Maoist ideologue May 25 : Chhattisgarh govt claims he is a threat to state Aug 3 : Police file chargesheets Dec 10 : Two-judge SC bench denies bail to Sen Mar 15-Apr 11, 2008 :Sen kept in solitary confinement Apr 21 : Sen awarded Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights by the Global Health Council May 30 : Trial begins in Raipur Dec 3 : Supplementary chargesheet filed May 4, 2009 : SC issues notice to Chhattisgarh govt questioning Sen’s detention May 25 : Sen released on bail Nov 23-26 : Trial resumes in Raipur sessions court Sep 28, 2010 : Prosecution finishes presenting evidence Dec 24 : Raipur sessions court delivers verdict, finding Sen, Narayan Sanyal and Piyush Guha guilty of sedition and conspiracy. Sen sentenced to life term Feb 10 : Sen challenges HC order rejecting his bail plea April 15 : SC says no case of sedition is made out against Sen, grants him bail

Skills for India

Battle for Bengal begins

Winds of change ?

Mumbai's coastal roads update

Maharashtra’s ambitious plan to interconnect the Mumbai region with coastal roads, sea-links, bridges and tunnels, running mainly along the financial capital’s shores, received a boost when Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh announced that a committee would look into the possibility of allowing coastal roads to be built on reclaimed land. At the same press conference attended by Ramesh, chief minister Prithviraj Chavan announced that plans for the Worli-Haji Ali Sea-Link were on track and Reliance Infrastructure would begin the Rs 2,900-crore project in three months. As of now, the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 2011, which was announced three months ago, does not allow coastal roads to be built on reclaimed land.

Somewhere in New Delhi....

India-Kazakh N-deal inked

Cementing their strategic partnership, India and Kazakhstan on Saturday signed an inter-governmental framework agreement on civil nuclear cooperation and some other key pacts, including a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty. The pacts were inked following talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev here. The inter-governmental framework agreement on civil nuclear cooperation signed between the two countries is expected to cover aspects like research, technology transfer and exploration of uranium in Kazakhstan. India and Kazakhstan already have civil nuclear cooperation since January 2009.

BRTS set to expand in Ahmedabad

The Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) will soon add one more route in its existing network. And this time, the BRTS will ride into the walled city, with the first route connecting Akhbarnagar to Dilli Darwaza to be launched within a month. The Ahmedabad Janmarg Limited (AJL) is all set to open this route taking the BRTS closer to Kalupur railway station. Municipal commissioner I P Gautam said that with the opening of Dudheshwar bridge, the operation of the BRTS to Dilli Darwaza will begin soon. He said that the bus stations were under construction and would be handed over to AJL. Within a month the BRTS will enter Delhi Darwaza area, he averred. A senior officer of the AJL said that this is the first time that the BRTS will enter the walled city. The officer said that the delay was not in completing the track or setting up the bus stands, but it was caused by late delivery of buses by Tata. “The corporation has placed an order for 35 buses, but there is a delay in delivery as usual. The corporation was planning to extend the service to Kalupur station. And this would mean that the BRTS would move in the traffic from Dilli Dawaza to Kalupur station,” he said. Gautam said that as the elevated corridor will take its own time to cater to this segment, the AJL will decide to move with the traffic. “We will carry out a survey by taking the buses on trail trips to Kalupur, Prem Darwaza or fruit market in the Kalupur area,” he said, adding that based on the traffic data, the final destination will be decided. He said that fabricated bus stands will be set up along this route from Dilli Darwaza to Kalupur station.

It's World Heritage Day

Somewhere in Mumbai....

The city’s most famous winged visitor, the flamingo ....

Chennai Metro update

The first train of Metro may start running only in 2013, but Chennai Metro Rail has already chalked out a comprehensive traffic plan. According to the plan, Metro will operate four-car trains during peak hours at 6 minute intervals in the Koyambedu-St Thomas Mount stretch in 2013, and the Washermenpet-Little Mount-Chennai airport stretch and the Chennai Central-Koyambedu-St Thomas Mount stretch in 2014. The deadlines have been set for receiving the coaches, conducting trial runs, commencement of services on the elevated line and underground lines. The four-car metro will have a capacity to carry 1,276 commuters, including seating and standing. The frequency of the trains will be reduced to four minutes in the Washermenpet-Little Mount-airport stretch and the Chennai Central-Koyambedu-St Thomas Mount in 2016. Metro hopes that the patronage for services would increase by 2026. So, six-car trains would be operated in both the corridors, which would be ready by 2015 as per current estimates, said an official. Works are progressing briskly to build elevated stations and viaducts between Koyambedu and St Thomas Mount while metro is planning to award tender for the elevated line from airport to Officer’s Training Academy. The Koyambedu-St Thomas Mount stretch is 9 km long, while the Little Mount-Chennai airport stretch is 7 km. Metro rail would receive nine rakes in the beginning of 2013 while the rest of the 33 rakes will arrive by the end of 2014. Services would commence on the elevated stretch and the underground stretch only after conducting three levels of tests — dynamic test, a twomonth service trial and a month-long blank operation. Metro rail is in the process of identifying a contractor to carry out operations and maintenance of stations and lines. The contractor is expected develop the stations, carry out interior decorations, install passenger amenities like self-service kiosks, toilets, telecommunication services and others immediately after the stations are ready.

Tatas plan major investment in the country

Diversified business house Tata Group will invest up to Rs 1.2 lakh crore across sectors in the domestic market in the next five years as it looks to more than double its revenues to $150 billion (about Rs 6.64 lakh crore) by then. The Tata Group, which has over 90 operating companies, will put in half of the planned investment in the power sector, while the other significant portions will be in steel and automobile sectors. “We have become a significant player globally in each of the sectors that we are present in. In the next five years, the pace of growth of the group will continue... The current investment assessment for the next five years is around Rs 1.1 lakh crore to Rs 1.2 lakh crore,” Tata Industries managing director Kishor A Chaukar said. Tata Industries is one of the investment arms of Tata Group. This investment has been planned essentially for the Indian market and it will be pumped in across various sectors like power, steel, automobiles, telecommunications and chemicals, he said while announcing the ambitious roadmap for doubling the turnover of the group in less than five years from now.

Panchayat polls in Kashmir

Kashmiris defied targeted killings, lashing rains and boycott calls to vote in droves in the second phase of the staggered panchayat polls on Sunday. An unprecendented 82% of them turned up a day after a 40-year-old woman candidate was killed by terrorists in central Kashmir, an improvement on the 78% turnout in the first phase on Wednesday. The turnout was a huge jump even on the 2008 assembly election when the average was 70%. Hundreds of voters queued up to vote at Lar in Ganderbal despite the morning chill. CM Omar Abdullah represents Ganderbal. The constituency has been Abdullahs’ pocketborough since Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s time. Progress is visible in Ganderbal. The roads may be unimpressive but the inauguration of the local secretariat here this month made people take note of the fruit of development. The debate now is on how the Panchayat system can improve grassroots growth. Voters said they have seen enough violence in the last 20 years; the woman candidate’s killing would not deter them. The lines outside Lar’s polling booth at a government school grew longer and the mood was optimistic. A voter said people no longer scurry back home after voting; they linger around in sheds drinking tea. This mood seems to have swept villages across Jammu & Kashmir. Kupwara, Baramulla, Ganderbal, Budgam and Kulgam in the Valley recorded a turnout of 85%, 87%, 85%, 77%, 81%. Udhampur, Samba and Jammu in Jammu division recored a turnout of 77%, 84% and 83%, said officials.


NPCIL orders more safety steps

Even while maintaining that India’s atomic plants are capable of handling extended power loss situation as witnessed during Japan’s nuclear crisis, the staterun Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) has announced additional safety measures at all nuclear power plants. The move followed after four task forces completed an internal safety assessment of all nuclear reactors in the country. The task forces were set up in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan triggered by an earthquake and a tsunami. The results of the study were reviewed and discussed by experts and the NPCIL top management. The studies have indicated that all Indian nuclear plants have the capability to handle severe natural events, NPCIL CMD Shreyans Kumar Jain said. The NPCIL task forces want plants to incorporate automatic reactor shutdown initiation if seismic activity is sensed . They want provisions for hook-up arrangements for adding cooling water inventory through external sources to all reactor cooling systems . The plants must have mobile-diesel driven pumping units and and arrangement for transfer of water from nearby sources, if required . The task forces suggested incorporation of additional shore protection measures at Madras and Tarapur atomic power stations, which are located in the coastal regions .The task force at Tarapur has recommended advanced alert mechanism for tsunami

Voter turnout

The two southern states and one Union Territory that went to the polls on Wednesday registered impressive voter turnouts. While Tamil Nadu notched up an unprecedented 80%, Kerala recorded 74.6% and Puducherry 83.59%. Tamil Nadu’s Karur district recorded the highest turnout with 86% and Chennai the lowest with 66.38%. Polling across these states was peaceful.

Ahmedabad BRTS gets global acclaim

The Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) of Ahmedabad received two international awards for design - Daring Ambition Award and Knowledge and Research Award at the 59th Union Internationale des Transports Public award (UITP) World Congress in Dubai on Thursday. The UITP was launched for doubling the public transport market share worldwide and is known as PT X 2. The PT X 2 Knowledge and Research award were conferred to the Centre of Excellence in Urban Transport (CoE), Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (Cept) University for ‘Best Design’. The university was short listed from the regional award category to the final round as one of the five institutes from across the world. The jury appreciated the fresh and original principles of identifying key nodes in the city and connecting these through a comprehensive network. The emphasis was on connecting busy areas, but avoiding busy roads. In all, there were 155 entries from 43 countries. UITP is an international network for public transport authorities and operators, policy decision makers, scientific institutes and the public transport supply and service industry.

China vaguely backs India's UNSC bid

China on Thursday joined Russia in vaguely backing India’s quest for a permanent Security Council seat but there was no promise that Beijing would vote for New Delhi’s inclusion. The joint statement issued after the summit of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) at Sanya also spoke of a growing desire among developing nations, including India, to play a bigger role in the UN. But the Foreign ministry was not yet prepared to say that the move could be regarded as a wholehearted endorsement of the 5-nation club. In a sense, India’s push for the permanent seat has been diluted by the inclusion of South Africa as one of the claimants being backed by BRICS. The joint statement of the BRIC summit last year backed India’s and Brazil’s case as South Africa was not a member then. “China and Russia reiterate the importance they attach to the status of India, Brazil and South Africa in international affairs, and understand and support their aspiration to play a greater role in the UN,” the joint statement said. The BRICS joint statement clubbed India with Brazil as two players deserving a greater role in the world body.


CWG : Shunglu Committee report

Controversial NDM-1

Motown FY 2011

A new telecom policy in the making

In what could lead to a redrawing of the Indian telecom sector in three years, minister for communications and information technology Kapil Sibal said that an operator would have to apply 30 months in advance of the expiry of its licence for renewal. The renewed licence will only be valid for 10 years, half the lifespan of existing ones. On the occasion of his 100-day agenda coming to an end, Sibal also announced at the press briefing that the present licensing system itself will be recast into four categories of licences, including a unified licence and a broadcasting licence. Sibal also promised to liberalize the existing mergers and acquisitions norms that govern telecom operators on the lines of what was proposed by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) in May last year.Trai had suggested that there be a minimum of six telcos in every circle, including one government-run operator. Presently, one telco cannot hold more than 10% of another operator in the same circle, while new licensees are not allowed to sell their equity within three years of getting the licence. Trai also suggested there be a 25% limit on the quantum of spectrum held by an operator in a circle. Most of the new proposals will be part of the New Telecom Policy 2011 (NTP 2011) that will replace the NTP 99 that's currently followed. The NTP document is essentially a framework document based on which telecom policy is determined in the country. The policy will be ready by the end of the year, Sibal said. A panel has been constituted with additional secretary (telecom) and adviser (technology) as co-chairmen and deputy director generals as members to put together NTP 2011. Two rounds of meetings have already taken place since then and eight teams have been constituted to work on specific areas. As was suggested by Trai, Sibal also proposed to delink spectrum from the licence as is the case in most developed telecom markets globally. He also said that spectrum sharing would be allowed, but in a conditional manner. In a bid to bring one of the more controversial aspects of the telecom sector-spectrum-under greater control, the minister said that there would be a National Spectrum Act. The drafting committee, headed by retired Supreme Court judge Shivraj V. Patil, will be set up soon, he added. Sibal also said that the draft National Frequency Allocation Plan (NFAP) has been finalized.NFAP is a document showing clear demarcations for every megahertz (MHz) of spectrum in the country and what it is meant to be used for and by whom. The ministry is in dis- cussions with various arms of the government, including the ministry of defence, space department, ministry of information and broadcasting and some public sector enterprises to get them to vacate spectrum needed for mobile and other essential services. DoT is also in discussions with Power Grid Corp. of India to free up around 10-12 MHz of spectrum in vari- ous circles. Sibal said DoT was still looking into pricing mechanisms for the spectrum. He also said that there would be regular audits of spectrum to check whether telcos are using it efficiently and not misusing what is a scarce national resource. On security issues, he said the “proposal for establishing a central monitoring system has been put up for approval of the competent authority“, adding that Research in Motion, maker of the BlackBerry device offered a solution on “the issues pertaining to messenger services“, which is being examined. Amendments to be made to telecom licences regarding security were sent to the home ministry for approval on 24 March, while security concerns over third-generation services and telecom equipment will be sorted out soon, Sibal said. One key element of the minister's 100-day agenda had been the filling of vacant posts in government-run telcos Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd. Sibal said that these are almost complete and some posts have been finalized. The National Broadband Plan that will look at installing optical fibre across the country is being looked into by a committee headed by Sam Pitroda, adviser to the Prime Minister. The Wireless Broadband Scheme to provide wireless broadband coverage to about 500,000 villages--leveraging the existing passive infrastructure created for mobile telephony in rural and remote areas--funded by the Universal Service Obliga tion Fund, has been approved and will be launched soon.

The Garland freeway

Mumbai has always been identified with the Queen’s Necklace; now it will have a Garland Freeway as well. The State Government is making a big push for a network of roads, cablestayed bridges and flyovers to connect Churchgate and Cuffe Parade in south Mumbai with Virar in the west, and Navi Mumbai and Kalyan in the east. The project is called Garland Freeway for obvious reasons — once finished, the connecting roads will resemble a garland encircling the island city. The plan involves joining the dots between current infrastructure projects — such as the Eastern Freeway on the Central side or the Sea-Link along the Western coast — to create an inter-linked road network. “Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh will arrive in Mumbai on April 15 to study the coastal road project. We will brief him about the freeway project during this visit,” a senior government official said. He said that Bandra was connected with Worli by a sea link, and now the plan was to build a coastal road from Worli to Mahalaxmi, and then from Chowpatty to Marine Drive. “There is another proposal for a sea link from Bandra to Versova. In future, we plan to extend the Link Road in western suburbs, and construct a cable-stayed bridge from Marve to Manori,” the official said. The existing single-lane road will be turned into a four-lane stretch up to Uttan. Vasai and Uttan will be connected through another cable-stayed bridge. “This will reduce travel time from Virar to Churchgate from three hours to one and a half hours,” he said. In the east, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) is constructing a freeway with a tunnel connecting Panjrapole with Wadi Bunder. The state government wants this freeway to be extended to Cuffe Parade. There are also plans to increase the number of lanes on Mumbai-Pune Expressway to 10.

Pune gets Fire & Ice on a day

It hailed in parts of Pimpri-Chinchwad and a tree caught fire after being struck by lightning in Shivajinagar.

Delhi Metro snippets

The Delhi government gave the approval for Phase III of the Delhi Metro network on Monday, paving the way for the Centre to give its sanction to the project plan. The third phase, which covers 108km, including the extension of the Dwarka line to Najafgarh, will cost Rs 30,000 crore with taxes, said Delhi government. The alignment of Phase III will be from Mukundpur to Yamuna Vihar and Janakpuri (west) to Noida Botanical Garden, the alignment covers a large part of the city, much along the same route as the Ring Road. This is expected to ease the traffic situation with easy connectivity between the Metro network and the surface-level Ring Road. The cabinet approval came in on Monday. The plan will now be sent to the empowered committee in the ministry of urban development for approval, to be sent thereafter to the group of ministers (GoM) for final sanction. Said CM Sheila Dikshit, “Delhi is lagging behind in terms of having an adequate coverage by Metro network. The two new lines and extension of the existing three lines will go a long way in addressing the issue.” The two new lines commissioned are the Mukundpur-Yamuna Vihar and Janakpuri West-Noida Botanical Garden, while the three lines being extended include Badarpur-Central Secretariat line going up to Kashmere Gate, the HUDA City Centre-Jehangirpuri going till Badli and the Dwarka line getting extended up to Najafgarh. Added the official, “Incidentally, under Phase II, route length of 108km has almost been commissioned except a section of 3.32km from Kirti Nagar to Ashok Park, which is likely to be commissioned in the next two months.” The cabinet decided to get the DPR (detailed project report) prepared on a priority basis for extension of the existing Dilshad Garden-Rithala line up to Bawana.

Government to issue biometric PAN card

The government has decided to issue biometric PAN cards to taxpayers across the country to weed out the problem of duplicate and fake ones. The decision comes in the wake of a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report that asked the Income Tax department to ensure that a single tax payer is not issued multiple cards. The proposed new biometric Permanent Account Number (PAN) cards will bear the I-T assessee’s fingerprints (two from each hand) and the face. Biometric cards are not likely to become mandatory, a senior official in the I-T department said.While PAN is a 10-digit alphanumeric number allotted by the I-T department to taxpayers, biometrics uses biological method to identify physical features of an individual.

Somewhere in Tamil Nadu....

Campaigning reaches a crescendo as the state heads for polls in a couple of days. AIADMK cadres at a rally in Srirangam last week.

A dry Yamuna threatens the Taj

When Shah Jahan decided to build the Taj Mahal on a wooden base on the banks of the Yamuna, he got everything right from design to science. Except for one thing — he never factored in the Yamuna going dry. In the Mughal era, wood was used to lay solid foundations. And Shah Jahan did not stint on the ebony, which props the Taj up. But even the finest ebony in the world needs a steady stream of moisture to ensure it does not expand or contract, posing a grave threat to the structure. That is where, experts say, a dry Yamuna could play havoc with the Taj’s foundation, making a solid love story in marble wobbly at the base. In the past decade or so, the ‘perennial’ river has been completely drying up in the summer months in Agra, posing a potent threat to India’s most famous monument.

Somewhere in Bangalore....

Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), in collaboration with BBMP, will set up 16 biomethanation plants that convert garbage into gaseous fuel which can be converted into electricity. BARC scientist Sharad P Kale met BBMP officials on Monday to take the project forward. Unlike conventional biogas plants that can process only human waste and cow dung, Nisargruna plants can process all biodegradable waste. Nisargruna is a biogas system developed by BARC for treating urban domestic waste. The city generates about 3,200 tonnes of garbage every day. The first project will be started at Mathikere on April 25. “With this project, we can process waste generated in markets and reduce the load to the landfill. Its successful implementation can make the city cleaner and self-sufficient,” mayor S K Nataraj said. But Kale said the project can be successful only if garbage segregation begins at household level. “We want to make it a dumping yard-free society. We have no rights to call something as waste,” he said. Nataraj has his own arguments. “Segregation at source cannot happen so easily. It takes at least 10-15 years for our society to be sensitive and start segregating at home,” he said. Segregated waste will be put into a mixer and stored in a tank. Microbes will be introduced to the slurry and will be treated with hot water which will be supplied through solar heater. The mixture enters the main tank where it will be treated in anaerobic conditions. The methane that comes out will be stored and the byproduct generated is rich slurry which can be used as odourless organic manure. One tonne of waste can generate 60 cubic metres of gas and 50 kg of manure. Further, the gaseous fuel can be converted into electricity with the help of generator and can be used to light 250 streetlights for 10 hours. Methane gas can be used as kitchen fuel to run a canteen. BARC has implemented this project on its campus. The cost of the plant is Rs 5 lakh. Mathikere in Aramanenagar ward, SKR Market in Chamarajpet, Nagapura, Gandhinagar, Rajarajeshwari Nagar, Devarachikkanahalli in Bommanahalli, Jayanagar, Pattabhiramnagar, Koramangala, Domlur, Sankey Road, KR Road, Kaverinagar, KR Puram market, Kenchenahalli village, Kuvempu Nagar are the sites chosen to set up these plants.

Garudeshwar weir project gets go-ahead

The powerful inter-state body, Sardar Sarovar Construction Advisory Committee (SSCAC) gave final clearance to the construction of Garudeshwar Weir, to be built 12 kilometres downstream of the Narmada dam. Tenders are expected to be floated soon for building the weir. Senior officials of the Gujarat government, who took part at a high-level meeting of the SSCAC under the chairmanship of Union irrigation secretary DV Singh at Kevadia Colony off Narmada Dam, said the weir would “enable production of power during peak hours with the help of reversible turbines, put up at the dam”. The cost of the weir would be Rs 400 crore, and all three beneficiary states present in the meeting in Kevadia — Gujarat, Maharahstra and Madhya Pradesh — agreed to bear the cost. “The Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd was asked to float tenders to start construction of the weir immediately,” a senior state official who was present at the meeting, said. Under the Narmada award, Gujarat gets 16 per cent of power produced at the dam, as against Madhya Pradesh’s 57 per cent and Maharashtra’s 27 per cent. The proposed weir would store one million acre feet (MAF) of water, one-fourth of the current dam capacity. Water from the weir would be pumped back into the dam, and then again sent through the turbines to generate power. “Pump-back generation is economical only during peak hours, when cost of power available from the Central grid is much higher than the cost of generating power by using the pumpback technology”, the official said. During the meeting, the Union government representative said, he expected the dam’s height would start being raised from the present 121.92 metres to 138.64 metres within two months from now. “We hope that Maharashtra completes its resettlement and rehabilitation plan for its Narmada oustees with the appointment of new chairman for its grievances redressal authority,” Singh was quoted as saying. An official added, “Maharashtra, the only state which has not given its action taken report, agreed to comply.”

Industrial growth slows to 3.6%

Industrial growth moderated to 3.6% in February, compared to 15.1% a year ago on account of a slowdown in manufacturing and mining sectors. Within manufacturing, the real culprit was capital goods, with production falling over 18% this February along with a slower pace of expansion in basic and intermediate goods. Consumption-driven sectors such as consumer goods, including automobiles and white goods, consumer goods and non-durables, however, reported a more rapid growth in February 2011 compared to the year-ago period. “Our expectation is that the next month (March) will not be a good month. So, there is one more difficult month ahead for us which is the month of March... we will see no growth in the industrial sector. But I do expect a big turnaround in the month of April,” chief economic advisor Kaushik Basu told reporters. This is the fourth straight month when growth has remained below 4%. Though economists had expected growth to remain in low single digits, the numbers released by the Central Statistics Office were lower than their projections. Economists said part of the reason for the moderation was the base effect. Even in good times, industrial growth is 9-10% but with industrial output expanding 15% in February 2010, the base effect was a huge factor, economists said. In addition, higher interest rates are affecting capacity addition decisions. Economists also said that companies were waiting to gauge if the consumption boom would last and were doing so by using every bit of capacity available with them. The moment they face an even more severe crunch, they would automatically start expanding capacity even if interest cost remained high.


Assam Polls Phase 2 today

Hospitality snapshot

Currently, India has around 66,000 branded hotel rooms.The domestic and global hotel brands will add 60,000 rooms in the next five years, investing an estimated $10.3 billion.

India yet to ratify UN pact against graft

India stands out as one of the few countries in the world that have not acceded to the United Nations convention against corruption. This convention, which came into force in 2005, has 140 countries on its list. India, which regularly battles corruption of mammoth proportions and now faces a groundswell of protests against governmental inaction, is not. India signed the convention in 2005 but the UPA government, particularly the department of personnel and training (DoPT), has steadfastly refused to ratify it. Over the years, the external affairs ministry (which is the nodal ministry for international treaties), has been pushing the government to ratify the convention. The official reason is that India has not yet brought its domestic laws in line with the international convention. But it has been six years and the government has shown little interest in making India less prone to corruption. India’s stand is particularly strange since many Indian diplomats helped pilot the convention through the UN. Acceding to the convention could have made it easier for India to bring back the billions of dollars in illgotten wealth that are stashed overseas. Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has found himself in complex negotiations with Leichtenstein, Switzerland and Germany to bring back stolen assets. Under the convention, asset recovery is a fundamental principle, Article 51 provides for return of assets to countries of origin as a fundamental principle of this convention.

Of old men & Amul babies

Hitting back at AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi for commenting on his advancing age, Kerala chief minister V S Achuthanandan called the Gandhi scion “Amul baby”. “Everyone knows that Rahul Gandhi is an Amul Baby and he has fielded Amul babies in some constituencies. His comments are only for these infants,” said Achuthanandan in Palakkad. Speaking to reporters in Palakkad, an emotionally charged VS recited a couplet from a Malayalam poem which went, “Grey hair was not the sign of my growing age, neither the young age proof of my youth. Not bowing my head before the bourgeoise is my youth.” Replying to reporters who referred to Rahul’s statement, VS sought to know how he could be blamed for his age. Narrating the struggles of his life, Achuthanandan said, “I am 87 now. I lost my father at seven and had to stop going to school. Since then I have been amid struggles against the British and the monarchy. I was onkly 16 then,” VS said, and taunted the Congress youth icon, wondering where he is at age 40. Speaking at an election rally in Kochi on Saturday, Rahul took a swipe at VS saying if the Left returned to power, the people of Kerala would have a 93-year-old chief minister by 2016.

Jamiat calls for all party meet in Kashmir

The Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith has called for an all-party meeting on Wednesday to discuss the assassination of its head, Maulvi Showkat Shah, two days earlier. Maulvi Showkat was killed in a pinpoint strike by an improvised explosive device as he was entering the mosque to lead Friday prayers. If the call is answered by the major political parties, it will be the first time in two decades of violence that Kashmir’s political class will have collectively responded to the issue of targeted killings by militants. “This business has gone on too long. Even Maulvi Showkat had survived two earlier attempts on his life. Who is behind all this? What is this hidden hand that targets people at will? We want to discuss this with everyone,” said Abdul Rehman Bhat, general secretary of the Ahl-e-Hadith. The invitation is not confined to separatist groups; even mainstream political parties are invited.


India is quietly going ahead with an ambitious programme to develop its own stealth UCAVs (unmanned combat aerial vehicles) or ‘smart’ drones capable of firing missiles and bombs at enemy targets with precision. Talking about the secretive AURA (autonomous unmanned research aircraft) programme for the first time, the DRDO said that the aim is to develop the UCAVs for the IAF in seven to eight years. “With Rs 50 crore as seed money, a full-fledged project team with 15-18 scientists has already begun work on the UCAV’s preliminary design and technology. With onboard mission computers, data links, fire control radars, identification of friend or foe, and traffic collision avoidance systems, they will be highly intelligent drones,” DRDO’s chief controller R&D (aeronautics) Prahlada said. “Capable of flying at altitudes of 30,000 feet and weighing less than 15 tonnes, the UCAVs will have raillaunching for the missiles, bombs and PGMs (precision-guided munitions) they will carry,” he added. The realization that UCAVs are “game-changers in modern-day warfare” has been reinforced by the successful use of American Predator and Reaper drones, armed with Hellfire and other missiles, against the Taliban in the Af-Pak region. “But unlike Predators, which are like aircraft, our UCAVs will be more of ‘a flying-wing’ in design. This will ensure they have a low radar cross-section to evade enemy sensors,” said Prahlada. The DRDO is confident of developing the UCAVs on its own, with “some foreign consultancy or collaboration” in fields like stealth and autonomous short-run take-off and landing.

Navi Mumbai Metro update

A meeting of the board of directors of Cidco will be held next week when the officials will choose the firms that will construct the elevated viaducts for Navi Mumbai’s first Metro rail corridor. Bids have been submitted by 15 firms for the construction of over 11.1 km from Belapur to Pendhar in Taloje. The first phase of construction is scheduled to be completed in three years and by then, the second international airport near Panvel is also expected to get operational. The elevated viaduct of the first corridor will be constructed in two parts. The first part would be 4.34-km long and the second one 4.91 km and that would include the lengths of stations as well, a senior official said. The cost of raising the pillars is pegged at Rs 167 crore for the first section and Rs 184 crore for the second one. The estimated cost for this route is Rs 2,000 crore and Cidco, which has undertaken the project, plans to raise the funds by selling its land that falls along the Metro route, much of it in Kharghar. A senior officer from Cidco informed that work on the construction of the stations would be tendered soon. Each station measures around 140 metre and in the revised plan, the metro would be connected with the Belapur suburban railway station while Kharghar station via the skywalk to the upcoming metro and similarly at Panchanand in Taloje where the metro would be connected to Diva Panvel railway track for the convenience of commuters. Each station is expected to cost between Rs 20 to Rs 25 crore.


IPL Season 4

The brand value and match schedule of IPL 4.Kochi Tuskers Kerala and Pune Warriors India make their debut.

Coffee Export Jumps 60%

Indian coffee export is on a high. Exports increased nearly 60% to touch 3,25,116 tonne in 2010-11. This is the highest quantity ever exported by the country. The value in dollar terms touched $811.09 million, up 83%, while in terms of rupee the value was 3,789 crore , a 75 % rise. According to a senior official of Coffee Board, besides the surge in quantity, the earnings have gone up due to a higher unit value. The unit value stood at 116 per kg compared with 106 per kg in the previous year. If you take the last six months of the year, the unit value is still higher at 131 per kg. Italy continues to be the largest buyer of Indian coffee, accounting for 24% of the total exports from the country. It is followed by Germany at 14% and Belgium at 10%. A lower price last year had perked up the demand for Indian coffee, said Ramesh Rajah, president of Coffee Exporters Association of India. “The coffee crop was also good last year. As a result of the high demand, over 30,000 tonne of carryover stock was shipped during the year. Even the coffee harvested between December 2010 and February 2011 was also exported. Normally, it is included in the current year’s crop,’’ Rajah said. Coffee production for 2010-11 has been estimated at 2.99 lakh tonne, 3.2% higher than that of the previous year. Though the Arabica crop was estimated at 90,000 tonne, it was found to be slightly lower after the harvest. The robusta harvest is yet to be over. But Karnataka Planters Association chairman Sahdev Balakrishna said so far it has been close to the Coffee Board estimate of 2.04 lakh tonne. Rajah added that the high export trend may not continue in the current year. The carryover stock has been almost exhausted and the global demand is sluggish. ``The shipments in the first quarter may not be affected but the exports in the second quarter could be hit,’’ he said. Around 80% of the total coffee production in the country is exported.