The rail link between Kashmir valley and the rest of the country will be completed by December 2012 once India’s longest tunnel at 11 km — connecting Qazigund with Banihal — is constructed within a year. The tunnel, one of the world’s largest and deepest, will pierce through the Pir Panjal range below snowline, which stands like a wall between the Valley and Jammu. The engineering marvel, named T80, is strategically important for the country since the only road link via the Jawahar Tunnel, which connects both the regions in the border state, is often blocked due to heavy snowfall. Hitesh Khanna, director (works) of IRCON, which is executing the project, said of the 11-km stretch, work has been completed in 10.40km. The distance between Banihal and Qazigund will be reduced to only 16km once the tunnel becomes operational, said R V Anand of IRCON. Railways is also building an eight-feet wide service road along the T80 for any exigency. The Banihal-Qazigund project is part of the Katra-Qazigund (129 km) venture, passing through hostile terrain of young Himalayas that are routinely posing geological surprises to the engineers. The inhospitable terrain has forced IRCON to construct 67.5km of access road to reach the project site, which has also helped in providing connectivity to around 35 villages. Railways is using state-ofthe-art Austrian tunnelling method to construct T80 that involves integration of surrounding soil formations into a ring-like support structure. In 2002, then NDA government had announced a 345-km Jammu-Udhampur-Katra-Qazigund-Baramulla railway line, the biggest mountain rail project since the Independence. The 53-km Jammu-Udhampur section was opened to the public in 2005, and the 119-km Qazigund-Baramulla route has been operational since 2009. At present, the 6.5km Karbude tunnel of the Konkan Railway is the longest tunnel in India.

Govt panel for FDI in multi-product retail

An inter-ministerial group (IMG) on inflation has recommended allowing foreign direct investment in multi- product retail as one of the two steps to tame rising prices and cut down the margin between farm gate and retail prices. It is the first formal recommendation by a government panel to allow FDI in the tightly-policed and sensitive retail sector. “It is time for India to allow FDI in multi-product retail, and the IMG recommends that the government consider this at the earliest. Reform in this sector can be an effective inflation-busting measure,” Kaushik Basu, chief economic adviser to the finance ministry, said. The proposals will be sent to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the finance minister. Basu said he was hopeful that the government would consider the proposal soon. The suggestion will be discussed by the Centre and sent to the Cabinet for approval. But experts say it may face opposition from political parties and traders.
The government allows 51% FDI in single brand retail and 100% in the wholesale cash and carry segment. It has, however, shied away from opening up the multi-product segment to foreign participation fearing opposition from small shop owners and political parties. Stubbornly high inflation has forced the government to focus on revamping the supply chain, particularly distribution of food grains, fruits and vegetables. But the inter-ministerial group (IMG) also cautioned that the entry of FDI in multiproduct sector should be properly regulated and steps should be taken against these new corporations becoming monopolistic and charging high prices. The Centre has taken a series of steps to ease the pain of high food prices while the Reserve Bank of India has raised interest rates nine times since March 2010 to calm inflation, which currently stands at 8.66%, much above the comfort level of policymakers. Several foreign retail giants such as Wal-Mart and Carrefour are present in the wholesale trading segment and other top retailers have been eyeing an entry into India’s multi-product retail sector for the past several years. Some estimates say that the country’s retail sector could be nearly $260 billion by 2020. “Modern retail is capable of bringing down prices by as much as 20% on various products if the distribution system is revamped. What is needed at this point is a new supply chain system which will directly source from farmers and, therefore, help lower costs along with minimizing damages done to goods,” Kishore Biyani, promoter of the Future Group which runs stores like Big Bazaar and Food Bazaar, said. “Only new retail can meet the demand of the growing needs of the Indian consumer,” he added. The IMG also recommended revamping the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act to enable farmers to bring their products to retail outlets and also allow retailers to directly purchase from farmers without facing blockade by incumbent traders. It said the APMC system had abetted monopolistic behaviour and reduced the choices available to small farmers. Spiralling prices forced the government to set up the IMG in early February, and the group was entrusted with the task of recommending policies to calm food inflation and demand management. In India, the share of organized retail in the total retail trade is just over 4% as against 66% in Japan, 20% in China and 55% in Malaysia.

Special Low Cost Carrier terminal planned @ IGI

Come autumn and Delhi will become the first Indian city to have an integrated domestic-cum-international terminal exclusively for low-cost carriers (LCC), like London’s Stanstead. The GMR-backed Delhi airport management has decided to have customs and immigration facilities at terminal 1D in the next four to five months. While the aim is to make Terminal 1D fit for international operations in time for the biggest Indian LCC, IndiGo, to launch international flights from here by September or October, the terminal is all set to grow bigger by 2013. “At the current rate of traffic growth, we estimate that the 1D-1C (arrival) combine will be able to handle budget fliers for the next two years. Beyond that we will restart terminal 1A by integrating 1A-D-C and create a big LCC hub,” said a senior airport official. Interestingly, the decision to allow LCCs to operate international and domestic flights from the budget terminal 1 hub is causing heartburn to full service airlines. “People flying in and out of T3 feel they have to walk long distances at the new terminal. While the fare difference between LCCs and us is not significant, many people choose budget fliers simply because they can fly out of 1D where they don’t need to walk long. Now, we will face a similar disadvantage for foreign destinations too where LCCs will start flying,” said a senior official of a full service airline. At present, SpiceJet operates its Kathmandu flight from T3. IndiGo will start international flights to places like Singapore, Dubai, Bangkok and Muscat later this year, with Delhi being it’s defacto hub. The list of destinations LCCs will fly to is set to grow in the coming years. So, even as full service carriers lose their sleep, the airport has realized that growth will come from LCC side and it requires an integrated terminal. The combined annual passenger handling capacity of terminals 1A-D-C is 18 million, about half of T3’s 34 million. Importantly, Terminal 1 airside has about 100 parking bays for commercial and charter planes, apart from the Rs 100-crore 1D. Hence, shifting all international traffic to T3 would have meant creation of more bays at T3 side at a huge expense while underutilizing existing infrastructure. Terminal 1A was mothballed last November when domestic flights of the erstwhile Indian Airlines and Kingfisher it used to handle were shifted to Terminal 3. Along with the disused old international terminal 2, it gives the management excess infrastructure that can be put into use as and when required with just some modifications.

LNG terminals to dot Gujarat coastline

In an important move to make Gujarat independent in meeting its gas requirements, the state government is all set to dot its coastline with liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals. Given rapid industrialiation and projects like Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), the state plans to double the capacity to import gas. If two LNG terminals at Hazira and Dahej are the only ones operational in India today and a third one is being implemented at Mundra, talks have begun between Larsen and Toubro (L&T) and state-owned Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation (GSPC) to set a fourth terminal on a 50:50 partnership near Okha. “Pipavav also remains a preferred location for a fifth LNG terminal,” a senior official said, adding, “While price of the imported gas is linked with international oil prices, on the plus side, there are no central controls over its supply.” “L&T has proposed to the GSPC to set up a terminal with 5 million standard cubic metre (MSCM) handling capacity off Okha in Saurashtra with investment of Rs 4,000 crore,” he said adding, “This will be apart from the Adanis’ terminal at Mundra port and special economic zone in Kutch district. Being set up in partnership with GSPC on 50:50 basis, the front-end engineering design (FEED) of the Adani-GSPC joint venture is already complete. It would also have the capacity of 5 MSCM.” The two existing LNG terminals have gone ahead with expanding their gas terminals. Petronet LNG Ltd (PLL), which has a capacity of 10 MSCM is expanding it to 15 MSCM, while Shell Hazira, which set up the LNG terminal at Hazira in South Gujarat, is increasing its present capacity from 3.5 MSCM to 5. “Taken together, in the coming years, Gujarat, whose current capacity of imported LNG received through the terminals at Hazira and Dahej is 13.5 MSCM, will increase to 35 MSCM,” a senior state bureaucrat said. Significance of imported gas cannot be underestimated as it will help feed Gujarat’s own industry through the existing gas grid across the state. Then, the expectation is, with fresh LNG terminals, Gujarat would become the gateway for the supply of gas to north India. GSPC subsidiary Gujarat State Petronet Ltd (GSPL) has just bagged the contract to lay down nearly 4,000 km long gas pipelines. One of them, which starts at Mehsana and proposes to take gas up to Jammu and Srinagar via Bhatinda, will carry imported gas processed at these LNG terminals. The officials say, at present the Centre’s control over LNG produced at home is already proving to be counterproductive for a state which wants to depend heavily on gas for industrial and domestic purposes. “Gujarat accounts for nearly 40 per cent of all gas being used in India, and its demand, whether it is ceramic industry, power plants or households for domestic use, is increasing. The DMIC will further increase gas demand, which cannot be available if there is heavy dependence on gas being produced in India,” the official said.

Dawood now a top global terrorist

Dawood Ibrahim has evolved from a Mumbai bomber to a full-blown global terrorist. Intelligence agencies in New Delhi believe in the complete radicalization of the D-company boss, as he finds ways to further his terror network, aided by the ISI, and emerge truly as a global threat. Dawood’s relations with ISI date back to 1993 when he executed the blasts in Mumbai but until a few years ago he was viewed as a logistics man for ISI by Indian agencies. LeT, the other arm of ISI, played the role of the main aggressor. The first Mumbai attack appeared to be one-off terrorist crime by a man focused on his smuggling and extortion operations. ‘‘In the past he was looked upon mainly as a mercenary. LeT was more ideology driven but Dawood and his gang now seem to have merged into LeT,’’ said an official, adding that Dawood now presents as much a danger to India as to the US or any other target country of the jihadis. The transformation has happened because of his dependence on ISI for his own security as well as his desire for respectability as a jehadi as a protection mechanism. Initially ISI is said to have used him for pumping fake currency into India but as his links with LeT grew, he helped LeT find new recruits in India, mainly in Gujarat and Maharashtra. His well-documented links with LeT have taken on a menacing proportion because of the growing collaboration between LeT and al-Qaida. LeT, so far focused on J&K and India, has grown in ambition and reach, with evidence piling of its attempts to attack targets in the West. It was his growing link with al-Qaida which led finally, in 2003, to the US Treasury Department declaring him a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGP). As late as January 2010, a US Congressional report warned that Dawood and his gang posed a direct threat to US interests in South Asia. Post-Osama bin Laden’s killing, al-Qaida’s dependence on LeT may increase, leading Dawood to use his vast network stretching from South Asia to Middle East to Africa for terror activities. ‘‘That is something the Americans need to factor in,’’ said an intel officer. While calling him a global terrorist, the US said in a press release that Dawood’s smuggling routes from South Asia, the Middle East and Africa are shared with bin Laden and his terrorist network. ‘‘Successful routes established over recent years by (Dawood) Ibrahim’s syndicate have been subsequently utilised by bin Laden. A financial arrangement was brokered to facilitate the latter’s usage of these routes. In the late 1990s, Ibrahim travelled in Afghanistan under the protection of the Taliban,’’ it said. Dawood’s international infamy grew further in 2010 when it was reported by Germany’s ‘Der Spiegel’ magazine that he had helped efforts to smuggle a group of terrorists linked to al-Qaida into Europe for Mumbai-sytle attacks in Germany. The report said al-Qaida and associated groups were planning to attack Germany’s Parliament, Reichstag. An intelligence source recalls a report from a UN official a few years ago sent to Indian agencies saying that it was Dawood who helped al-Qaida make a huge amount of money through diamond trade. Dawood as a key player in narcotitcs smuggling can also be an asset for the terrorist groups like Taliban who have used the proceeds of opium cultivation to finance their operations. It is well known that after the US froze al-Qaida related bank accounts in 1999, the terror group bought up diamonds in Africa and used them to launder terror funds. The UN official informed Indian agencies that many of these diamonds were sent to Dawood who got them polished before sending them back to al-Qaida operatives. Experts don’t deny that some of the money generated through this trade could have been used to finance 9/11. Dawood’s gang was caught taking arms to Mombasa at the behest of ISI. In India, apart from LeT, Dawood is also said to have financed terror group SIMI. In 2008, it was revealed by government agencies that Dawood had been routing funds to SIMI through an aeronautical engineer, CAM Basheer, from Kerala. While Dawood is not a named accused in 26/11, the fact that the explosives used during the Mumbai attacks were similar to that of 1993 blasts did not go unnoticed among investigating agencies. Some of the SIM cards seized from the perpetrators were also said to have been traced to the posh Karachi locality where he is said to have lived for many years. Dawood has shown unflinching loyalty for Pakistan since he escaped to that country in 1993. So much so that many believe he helped finance Pakistan’s nuclear programme by working closely with scientist A Q Khan. It is believed by Indian agencies that he helped Pakistan in the procurement of military nuclear material abroad and its passage to Pakistan. He is also said to have set up a factory in Malaysia for manufacturing centrifuges needed for uranium enrichment.

SC's view on land acquisition

The Supreme Court has suggested the government negotiate compensation with farmers before acquiring land for development purposes because paying a “pittance” causes heart burn. The court told additional solicitor general P P Malhotra to “advise the government to set up a panel to negotiate and fix a settled price for land because at a time when land prices are increasing, the government cannot pay a pittance.” Governments have been compulsorily acquiring land by resorting to ‘public purpose’ clause, leaving the farmers and land owners to either litigate or protest, sometimes violently as happened in Singur, West Bengal, and Bhatta-Parsaul, Uttar Pradesh. A vacation bench comprising Justices G S Singhvi and C K Prasad said: “In large number of cases, the anguish and dispute is over the compensation. If the governments would have formulated a reasonable compensation, then litigation could be avoided”. “Instead of resorting to public purpose for acquiring land and prolonging litigation, the government can negotiate the compensation. We know, we’ve travelled beyond the legal arguments, but you need to think it over,” SC said. The case in hand related to acquisition of 80 bighas of land in east Delhi’s Mandoli area opposite Loni Road for setting up of a 220 KV substation to meet the uninterrupted power supply for 2010 CWG. A proposal was initiated in 2005 and land was acquired after three years. Senior advocate Dhruv Mehta said the urgency clause invoked by the government to dispense with adjudication of objections raised by his clients, who were the land owners, did not get any support from the official records which only indicated a delay of more than 3 years.

Denuclearise Pakistan : BJP

The BJP said that the spate of attacks on military installations in Pakistan points to a threat that nuclear facilities there may fall into wrong hands and demanded de-nuclearisation of the country in the global interest. “BJP believes that the internal security situation in Pakistan is alarming. The Mehran naval base in Karachi was attacked despite being well-protected. In the last two years, several military installations there, which are highly guarded locations, have been attacked,” spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy said. About 15-20 Taliban gunmen had attacked the Mehran naval base on Saturday night. Fourteen people were killed and two surveillance planes destroyed in the attack. Giving an illustrative list of defence installations that have been attacked in Pakistan in the past two years in cities like Faislabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Islamabad, among others, Rudy said: “We are aware Pakistan today has the fourth largest arsenal of nuclear weapons in the world. We know rogues of Taliban who have been targeting military facilities will try to lay their hands on nuclear weapons in an attempt to make a dirty bomb.”


Of stealth frigates

The Navy continues to hone its war-fighting capabilities despite being stretched in coastal security and anti-piracy operations. The force is now on course to soon induct two more deadly stealth frigates to bolster its growing ‘blue-water’ warfare capabilities. Sources say the 6,200-tonne indigenous stealth frigate INS Satpura is likely to be commissioned in June-July, while the Russian-built 4,900-tonne INS Teg should finally be ready for induction by September-October. INS Satpura and INS Teg will boost combat capabilities, being packed with sensors, weapons and missile systems, coupled with their stealthy nature due to “vastly-reduced” radar, infra-red, noise, frequency and magnetic “signatures” to beat enemy detection systems. That’s not all. INS Satpura, the second of three indigenous stealth frigates built under the Rs 8,101-crore Project-17 at Mazagon Docks, will be followed by INS Sahyadri after six months. The first, INS Shivalik, was commissioned in April last year. Similarly, INS Teg is to be followed by its sister frigates, INS Tarkash and INS Trikhand, built under a Rs 5,514-crore project inked with Russia in July 2006, after gaps of six months each. Both the Indian and Russian projects, of course, have been dogged by huge time and cost overruns. The three warships from Russia are actually “a follow-on order” to the first three frigates, INS Talwar, INS Trishul and INS Tabar, inducted by India in 2003-04 for over Rs 3,000 crore. Though their induction was also delayed, the Navy is happy with the power the Talwar-class frigates pack.

The Statue of Unity

The proposed 182-metre high statue of Sardar Patel downstream of the Narmada dam will cost Rs 2,000 crore as against earlier estimates of Rs 1,000 crore. The Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL) has invited expressions of interest from reputed consultants for the project. Already, state government officials are in talks with builders of Burj Khalifa — Samsung Construction & Technology (C&T) — to take up the project. The state government proposes to rope in Gujarati diaspora, top business houses and general public to collect money for the project. While officials in the SSNNL claimed money may not be a problem, a top aide of chief minister Narendra Modi said, “One has to take into account cost escalation while building such kind of a statue. It is possible that by the time the state government floats tenders, the cost of the project would have escalated to Rs 2,500 crore”. The Gujarat government has collected Rs 55 crore for the high-profile project. Of this, Rs 50 crore has been collected from different state public sector undertakings, while Rs 5 crore has been contributed by Adani group. The PSUs have provided money from their corporate social responsibility funds. Called Statue of Unity, to be built on Sadhu island which is about 3.5 km downstream of Narmada dam, the state government has formed Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Rashtriya Ekta Trust to implement the project. As per the official note, the consultant will be required to do overall area planning, including spaces for hospitality, health, education, convention and training centres, development and formulation of tourism plan and provide technical and managerial assistance for bids to invite EPC contract.

Indian consumers most optimistic

India’s consumer confidence has remained consistent over the last five quarters, despite high inflation and rising fuel prices. The country has topped the global consumer confidence level for the fifth straight quarter, according to a global online survey by The Nielsen Company. Justin Sargent, managing director (consumer), Nielsen India, told reporters that India’s consumer confidence was driven by strong economic growth and an optimistic job market. Nielsen conducted its global survey through an online poll of 28,000 people from 51 countries, out of which 500 people were from India. According to the survey, Indian consumers continue to remain the most optimistic globally, but their confidence levels have not risen from the last quarter of 2010 and remains at 131 index points. Saudi Arabia jumps up eight notches to come in at second place and Indonesia holds third spot. Seven out of the top ten optimistic countries hailed from Asia Pacific, while European markets dominated nine out of the top ten most pessimistic nations. The survey said Indian consumers have seen no moderation in inflation during the start of the year, while adding that rising food and fuel prices are likely to alter household expenditures. “If confidence levels among consumers have remained flat over the last quarter, it is largely due to global factors of weaker equity markets, higher commodity prices and overall weaker global recovery, compounded by rising domestic inflation,” said Sargent. Indians were more concerned about rising food prices than job security, employment prospects or the state of their finances in the first quarter of the 2011 calendar year. However, when it comes to job prospects in the next twelve months, Indians continue to be the most optimistic globally. Indians have maintained their optimism about employment opportunities at 91%, followed by Singapore (76%) and Saudi Arabia (74%)which rank number two and three respectively as nations most optimistic about their job prospects in the next twelve months. The overall optimism pervading the country finds Indians open to spending a little more than they did in the past two quarters. Of the Indians surveyed, 61% believed that it was a good time to buy the things that they felt they wanted, compared to 56 % in the previous quarter. The survey noted that consumers are spending their spare cash on new technology products, new clothes and holidays and vacations with these categories seeing significant increase in spends compared to the last quarter. Indians intending to spend on new technology products has gone up from 38% to 44%, while spend on new clothes has risen by 11% points to touch 42% this quarter compared to the previous round of the survey, and spend on holidays and vacations has gone up from 35% in the previous quarter to 40% this quarter. Indians list savings as a top priority with 65% Indians intending to save spare cash after meeting their essential living expenses. India ranks fourth globally for a country that puts its spare cash into savings, behind Singapore (73%), Indonesia (72%), and Hong Kong (66%). “And while savings remains central to their money management, they now seem eager to spend on themselves, their families and their homes, while keeping away from making volatile investments related to the stock market,” said Sargent. The biggest drop on the spare cash spending list this quarter isseen in investing in the stock market or in mutual funds, down 36% from 45% in the previous quarter.

India & Africa

Hosting the second Africa-India Forum summit in Addis Ababa, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday said, “We will offer $5 billion for the next three years under lines of credit to help Africa achieve its development goals.” To put the figure in perspective, India’s healthcare budget is around $ 5.9 billion. This credit would be apart from $700 million pledged for new institutions in Africa. And for all those who said only China builds infrastructure for Africa, India announced a railway line between Ethiopia and Djibouti at a cost of $300 million. The initial plan by the African Union was for a line running across the breadth of Africa, but the task of coordinating land acquisition through so many sovereign states was a challenge they weren’t willing to take just yet. China has the biggest presence in Africa, churning out airport terminals and football stadiums at a breathtaking pace, in return for access to resources and minerals. Its bilateral trade with Africa in 2010 was $126.9 billion, as compared to just over $40 billion India-Africa trade. Earlier this week, India declared a target of $70 billion by 2015. India has had a long-standing relationship with African countries, particularly on the eastern seaboard, but it took a backseat when China strode into Africa . Since then, India has been playing catch-up. At the India-Africa summit in 2008, India signalled its seriousness about Africa. But this week, India announced that it will be playing in the big league here. India’s interests in Africa are not very different from China’s – with the added lure of 53 votes pushing for a reform of the UN Security Council. But India prides itself on doing things differently from China. It sees itself as less extractive in its engagements and more inclined towards helping African countries improve their capacity. As a senior African diplomat observed, “China invests in our today, India in our tomorrow.” African nations are not unhappy at being the centre of attention and largesse by India and China. Although China is more efficient in the way it processes aid in Africa, India has been actively invited by African leaders.

Somewhere in Mumbai....

The six-lane Lalbaug flyover is expected to be thrown open to the mad rush of Mumbai’s traffic in the first week of June. Built at Rs 145 crore, the 2.2-km Parel-Byculla bridge promises to cut down peak-hour travel time between Sion and CST by 15-20 minutes .


Gujarat's GSDP growth in double digits

Gujarat’s gross state domestic product (GSDP) grew by 11.58 per cent during 2010-11, with all three sectors — agriculture, industry and services — demonstrating an impressive double digit growth rate for the first time since 2005-06. Latest official figures, prepared by the directorate of economics and statistics, show that agriculture, which had stagnated in the preceding two years, performed the best with 16.73 per cent. The service sector came next, growing by 12.24 per cent, while the industrial sector grew by exactly 10 per cent. What is particularly significant is that, for the first time in the last one decade, Gujarat managed to achieve a double-digit rate of growth in two consecutive years. In 2009-10, Gujarat’s economy grew by 10.23 per cent. The state has finished the decade on a buoyant note, after the initial setbacks because of the earthquake in 2001 and the communal riots in 2002. On an average, Gujarat’s economy grew by a remarkable 10.3 per cent over the last one decade, from 2001-02 to 2010-11, something that chief minister Narendra Modi would almost certainly like to highlight as he ruled right through this period. The decadal growth of all three sectors was in double digits — 10.7 per cent for agriculture, 10.3 per cent for industry and 10.9 per cent for services. Officials said the figures showed a very healthy trend of overall robustness in the state, helped by good rainfall during the 2000s and the extension of the Narmada canal network. The successive Vibrant Gujarat summits, which brought in heavy investments, had put Gujarat on a growth trajectory that would lift India’s GDP as well.

Bagru art and Venkatagiri saris get GI tag

Venkatagiri saris from Andhra Pradesh and Bagru, an ancient art and craft form from Rajasthan, were given the geographical indication tag by the Geographical Indications office . A geographical indication (GI) tag is a sign used to denote products with a specific geographical location or origin. The use of a GI tag may act as a certification that the product possesses certain qualities or enjoys a certain reputation, due to its geographical origin, thus enhancing its marketability. Taking the name from a village in Rajasthan, Bagru is a form of block printing. Officials at the GI office in Chennai, who handled the registration, said Bagru is an otherwise sleepy and desolate village on the Jaipur-Ajmer Road in Rajasthan, which has become the cynosure of many fashion houses and boutiques. Bagru boasts of a handful of crafts persons who still use traditional vegetable dyes for printing. First, the cloth is treated with Fuller’s earth, soaked in turmeric and then stamped using natural dyes made of alum, turmeric, pomegranate, dried flowers, indigo and so on. With the GI tag, the Venkatagiri sari has become the 18th Indian saree to get a GI tag. Henceforth, the Venkatagiri sari, made of pure cotton with gold and silver zari work, will sport the GI tag in Chennai’s textile shops. Besides being suitable for the summers, these hand-woven saris remain soft and do not run colour when washed. Special care is taken to use soft water while dyeing and treating the yarn. Last year, the registry accorded geographical status to 11 new products. The items were Champagne from France, Napa Valley Wine from the US, Central Travancore Jaggery, Wayanad Gandhakasala Rice and Jeerakasala Rice from Kerala, Champa Silk Saree and fabrics from Chhattisgarh, Kota Doria (Logo) Handicraft from Rajasthan, Nashik Grapes from Maharashtra, Surat Zari Craft from Gujarat, Cheriyal Painting and Pembarthi Metal Craft from Andhra Pradesh.

Modern retail makes a big splash

Modern retail has doubled its share to 10% of the Indian retail landscape in just three years. Its contribution has gone up from 5% in 2007 to 10% in 2010, according to internal estimates by the country’s largest consumer products company, Hindustan Unilever (HUL). While this reduces the general trade pie to 90%, experts said general trade would continue to remain large. In a presentation of investors, HUL said modern trade’s presence in major cities like Hyderabad, Gurgaon, Bangalore and Chennai, is even higher, at an average of approximately 30% of the total retail pie. This, said marketers, is a pointer to a change in consumption pattern. “The contribution of modern trade to the overall retail pie especially in tier-1 towns has become extremely significant in the last couple of years. New categories like juices and mouthwashes are being discovered at a modern trade outlet, but that does not mean a family is not purchasing anything from its nearby general trade store,” said Damodar Mall, president, integrated food strategy, Future Group, which runs the country’s biggest modern retail store Big Bazaar. Modern trade, said Mall, exists more like a first port of call for consumers where they experiment with new products. As demand increases, it positively impacts general trade as well. The platform is being used by FMCG companies for demand creation, especially for new categories. “Earlier a consumer would switch from Lux soap to Dove in a longer period of time. Today, such a transition takes place in six months with the help of television and modern trade and it helps the company, modern trade and general trade all at the same time,” said Mall. FMCG companies are assiduously devising strategies for modern retail. HUL has begun to measure the health of its brands based on the market shares they have in modern retail, even though it continues to enjoy strong leadership positions in most of the categories in general trade as well. “It is heartening that our modern trade market shares are even higher than our shares in general trade across categories. We have grown share in 85% of our categories in modern trade in 2010 and also grown in aggregate share in modern trade over 2009,” said Hemant Bakshi, executive director, sales and customer development, HUL. HUL was one of the first FMCG companies to set up a dedicated modern trade account management team in 2003. It also ensures that its plans are aligned with customers’ needs, besides investing in building people capabilities. “We have leveraged Unilever’s learnings from across markets and deployed the best-in-class practices that we use globally. Our ambition is not only to be the largest supplier for modern trade but also to be the most preferred,” said Bakshi. Studies suggest that while a majority of consumers in metropolitan India are as global in orientation as those at the higher end of the consumption cycle, consumers residing in towns beyond metros are also increasingly opening up to spend for a better lifestyle. “As far as tier-2 and tier-3 towns go we have had strong acceptance through Big Bazaar even for value added products. In fact, modern trade helps bring about distribution in small places for products which did not exist there before,” said Mall. A PricewaterhouseCoopers survey estimates the size of the Indian retailing industry at $350 billion. “The Indian retailing industry is at an inflection point. It is set to enter a new growth trajectory owing to rising household consumption and the entry of corporate entities and global retailers,” the report said. With the sector growing at 30-40% per annum, most global brands/retailers have evinced an interest in entering the market. While the retail sector is yet to be liberalized, the government has taken a step in this direction by allowing a maximum of 51% equity participation by foreign companies in a joint venture with an Indian company.

Maharashtra plan size fixed @ 42,000 Crores

The annual plan outlay for Maharashtra for 2011-12 was fixed at Rs 42,000 crore at a meeting between the Planning Commission and a state delegation led by chief minister Prithviraj Chavan in Delhi . The plan size, approved by the Planning Commission, is Rs 500 crore more than the original plan layout prepared for the current fiscal. It is also Rs 4,084 crore higher than the plan size in 2010-11. The commission agreed to sanction an additional Rs 200 crore for supplementary nutrition and Rs 300 crore towards upgrading basic civic amenities. The development is being seen as another feather in the cap of the Chavan-led government. Deputy CM Ajit Pawar, who holds the finance and planning portfolio, and other senior state ministers were also part of the delegation. Central assistance was sought to overcome financial and technical hurdles in various sectors including irrigation, power, transport, road development and infrastructure among others. Even as he pitched for more central grants, Chavan insisted that fiscal discipline would be his government’s priority. The state also sought central assistance towards viability gap funding for various Metro and monorail projects. Chavan said that upgrading the transport facilities in Mumbai and bringing them to world-class standards is on his agenda. The state government also demanded a significant increase in the export quota for sugar to 20 lakh tonnes this year, arguing the state does not have enough storage facility for the bumper production. Presently, the government only allows export of five lakh tonnes. Analysts say that the state government’s move is aimed at pacifying the strong sugar lobby in Maharashtra. Chavan expressed confidence that the state will continue to lead the country in foreign investments. “An investment of Rs 2,50,000 crore with an employment of around 5 lakh persons is expected in the next four years,” he said.

Didi @ Writers'

Mamata Banerjee, who ended the uninterrupted 34-year reign of the Left in West Bengal, made history on Friday when she was sworn in as the first woman chief minister of the state at the head of a 38-member Trinamool Congress-Congress coalition government. Banerjee, 56, was sworn in by governor M K Narayanan as the 11th chief minister of the state. “I will work day and night at least for the next seven days without taking any off,” Banerjee said, ahead of holding a cabinet meeting at Writers’ Buildings, known for long as the Left’s citadel of power. “I will have to work now. I can’t take a holiday”

Kani checks into Tihar

The high and mighty are falling one by one in the 2G scam case. Kanimozhi, daughter of DMK chief M Karunanidhi, was sent to Tihar Jail when a special CBI court rejected her bail plea citing the “magnitude of the crime”. Kalaignar TV managing director Sharad Kumar was also sent to jail. The “crime” is one of the most celebrated political bribery cases in the country’s history, and has already snared top politicians like ex-telecom minister A Raja, top bureaucrats like ex-telecom secretary Siddharth Behura, real estate magnates like Unitech’s Sanjay Chandra and DB Realty’s Shahid Balwa and Vinod Goenka. Coming on the heels of its humiliating defeat in the Tamil Nadu assembly elections, this is a big blow for the DMK, However, it is not likely to have any immediate impact on DMK-Congress ties. The history of vendetta politics in Tamil Nadu has enhanced the DMK’s need to put up with the Congress. Unlike in the past, when it almost trumpeted each high-profile arrest as an achievement, the Congress was muted in its reaction. Kanimozhi, who is a Rajya Sabha member, made a plea in vain for bail citing her lack of involvement in the affairs of Kalaignar TV, where she is a director and holds with her stepmother Dayalu Ammal 80% stake, and through which a Rs 200-crore kickback from the DB Group was allegedly routed in return for the 2G telecom licence. She broke down as she was led out of court by a woman constable to a lock-up room, from where she was taken to jail. “It was expected,” she said while on her way to the lock-up. She is being kept in a single-person, 15-ft by 10ft cell in Jail No. 6 in Tihar, which has attached bathroom space, a fan, and a 6 feet by 2 feet cement bed. In his order, special CBI judge O P Saini rejected Kanimozhi’s bail plea, saying, “The magnitude of the crime and apprehension that witnesses may be influenced by the accused if they are given bail.”


Jubilant scenes as Amma and Didi celebrate their electoral wins with friends....

DMIC's 7 cities

The industry ministry has sought Rs 18,500 crore to develop seven cities around the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), that will criss-cross six states. The US $90 billion DMIC project, planned in 2006 comprising — Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh — is being developed in collaboration with Japan as a manufacturing and trading hub. The cities would come up along Delhi-Mumbai Dedicated Rail Freight Corridor, which is under implementation. The department of industrial policy and promotion (DIPP) has obtained views of most of the the concerned ministries “Soon we will prepare the Cabinet note seeking funds,” a source said. Out of the total amount, Rs 17,500 crore would be used to create infrastructure like internal roads, solid waste disposal, flood management, storm water and sewerage system, bus and rail-based public transportation system and landscaping. For preliminary work of the project (as a Project Development Fund), DIPP has sought Rs 1,000 crore. New cities and sub-cities will be developed around the industrial nodes of Khushkhera-Bhiwadi-Neemrana in Rajasthan, Dadri-Noida- Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh, Bharuch-Dahej in Gujarat, Igatpuri-Nashik-Sinnar in Maharashtra and Pithampura-Dhar-Mhow in Madhya Pradesh. Later, 17 more cities are planned to be developed on a similar pattern. The money from the Centre would be both in the form of debt and equity which would be ploughed into the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation Limited (DMICDC), which is a joint venture between the government, IL&FS and IDFC. “This investment is necessary to create basic infrastructure so that industrial and trading activities can come up,” the source said. This money has to be put in by the government even before public-private-partnership (PPP) business model can be developed, the source added. About Rs 2,500 crore would be spent on each city to develop basic infrastructure.

A bridge @ Basohli , J&K

Remembering Rajiv

Nod for 2 Maha solar plants

The Maharashtra government gave energy generation from renewable sources a major boost. The state cabinet approved setting up of two solar power projects with a capacity to generate 154 MW power. Approval was given for setting up two units—one of 125 MW and another 25 MW—at Shivajinagar in Dhule. Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said that the project would be among the biggest of its kind in the world. Approval was also granted for another 5MW solar power project at Chandrapur. Chavan announced that the projects will be taken up by the state-owned Mahagenco. The cabinet also agreed to fund 20 % (Rs 397.40 crore) of the collective project cost for the two projects, which was estimated at Rs1,987 crore. Of the financial grant, Rs 200 crore will be disbursed in the current financial year, while the remaining would be given in the next fiscal. The government will tie up with German firm KFW for the Dhule plant. Some of the power generated at this plant is likely to be routed to Mumbai. Chavan announced that the government had entered into an agreement with the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) for tapping the power generated. An agreement had also been inked with MahaDiscom, the state-run energy distribution agency. The Chandrapur plant is expected to be in place before July 1, 2011, while the Dhule plant would be operational from March 31, 2012. Both the projects will be based on photovoltaic technology.

GSat - 8

India launched an indigenous 3,100 kg communication satellite —GSat-8 with a 12-year mission life—on Saturday at 2.08 am. The satellite promises to enhance air safety standards in Indian airspace. The India-made satellite, which was ferried to its initial geo stationary transfer orbit with the apogee (the point furthest away from the earth), at 35,861 km, and the perigee (the point closest to the earth) at 258 km by Arianespace’s hi-tech Ariane 5 rocket from the European spaceport of Kourou in French Guyana, carries the Gagan navigation payload which will strengthen air safety levels. Space experts said the goal of the Rs 774-crore Gagan (GPS Aided Geo Augmented Navigation) payload on board GSat-8 is to provide navigation system for all phases of an aircraft’s flight over the Indian air space. They said that with the experience of Gagan, the government will set up an autonomous regional air navigation system called the Indian Regional Navigational Satellite System. To strengthen air safety standards, codes for certain frequencies were obtained from the US Air Force and the US Department of Defence. The Gagan-based flight management system will save the airline operators’ time and money by managing climb, descent and aircraft engine performance profiles. It will also improve airport and airspace access in all-weather conditions.

Mumbai's metamorphosis

With a few days left before the monsoon arrives, chief minister Prithviraj Chavan finally gave impetus to two major redevelopment projects that promise to significantly alter the face of the island city. One is the redevelopment of old and dilapidated cessed buildings and the other is the Dharavi revamp, a project that has been stuck for long. Old and dilapidated cessed buildings can now be redeveloped with a floor space index (FSI) of 3 and not just 2.5. The 3 FSI is for all new projects and can also be availed of in around 400 existing projects where work has not gone beyond the plinth level. The hike was first proposed in September 2009 following the state government’s decision to increase the minimum tenement size from 225 sq ft to 300 sq ft. There are 14,995 cessed buildings from Colaba to Mahim, with many in a dilapidated state. Sachin Ahir, minister of state for housing said, “The decision is expected to benefit 5 lakh families.” Chavan had earlier expressed concern about the mushrooming of pencil-thin structures on narrow, cessed plots because of the usage of higher FSI. The state has decided to introduce new norms for redevelopment to control heights. It has been decided that in cases where the height of the redeveloped building is more than nine times the width of the smaller side of the plot, clearance from the state’s high-rise panel will have to be sought. The panel will examine the structural safety of the building. T C Benjamin, principal secretary, urban development, said the panel would evaluate the building’s stability by taking into account the possibility of earthquake or fire. The ratio between the width of the plot’s smaller dimension and the building’s height is referred to as slenderness ratio. According to the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), a slenderness ratio of 1:9 (with height being 9) is desirable, Benjamin said. Until now, the state’s highrise panel reviewed only proposals for buildings over 70 m in height. The new norms for cessed buildings will add to the workload of the high-rise panel, which has already been accused by the developer lobby of delaying clearances. The FSI hike will be applicable to 14,995 cessed buildings, all of which were constructed prior to 1969. With the new Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification already in force, even the 5,500-odd cessed buildings that fall in CRZ areas can now be redeveloped with 3 FSI. The chief minister has made the provision that developers will have to surrender a corpus for free maintenance of the redeveloped buildings for at least 10 years. He added that non-cessed buildings occupying 25% or less area on cessed plots can be included in the 3 FSI redevelopment plans. But these buildings too will have to have been built before 1969.

The stalled, multi-crore Dharavi makeover was put back on track with the CM allowing Mhada to redevelop one of the five sectors in the 212-hectare slum area. Mhada will develop Sector 5, which has 23 hectares and involves rehabilitating 9,387 families. Gautam Chatterjee, principal secretary, housing, said that based on Chavan’s instructions, a meeting will be held with Satish Gawai, officer on special duty, Dharavi Redevelopment Project Authority, and other officials for preparation of a detailed roadmap for redevelopment. Gavai is also vice-president and CEO of Mhada. Sachin Ahir, minister of state for housing, said a decision on the redevelopment of the remaining sectors was likely to be taken next week. Housing department sources said Mhada plans to use an FSI of 4 to redevelop the sector, which is located close to the Bandra-Kurla Complex. The authority plans to use 4.5 lakh sq m of built-up area from the total available 10.5 sq m for rehabilitation of slum dwellers, while the remaining will be available for Mhada’s consumption. With almost no land at its disposal currently for building affordable houses in Mumbai, the authority plans to use 50% of the land available for generating affordable houses. The remaining area could be sold as commercial space. Revenue from such sales would be used to cross-subsidize affordable housing across the city, officials said. Amarjit Manhas, chairman of Mhada’s Mumbai board, welcomed the move. He added that this would lead to the creation of 5,000 additional affordable homes.

The Hooghly riverfront

Neglected and misused. No two words can better define the Kolkata riverfront today. No wonder, Mamata Banerjee plans to begin her new innings as the chief minister of West Bengal by beautifying this part of the city. Next week, the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC), the Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT), the Indian Railways and the state government will peruse the plan prepared by RITES for the stretch between Prinsep Ghat and Rabindra Setu (Howrah Bridge). On July 9, 2010, RITES was entrusted with preparing the project’s masterplan. A memorandum of understanding was signed by the KMC, the KoPT and the railways in the presence of Mamata Banerjee, Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, Union minister of state for shipping Mukul Roy and Kolkata mayor Sovan Chatterjee. The School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi, helped RITES. Those travelling along the Strand Road can enjoy a clear view of the river. A wall that now blocks the view on the stretch between Chandpal Ghat and the Howrah Bridgeapproach will be replaced with a fence. Illegal structures will be razed and vehicle parking barred. The bus stand at Babughat will also be shifted. This will restore the Eden Gardens to its former status. “A Nature Retreat has been planned in the space between Prinsep Memorial and Outram Ghat. Next to this, a structure called Kolkata Square will be erected. It will house the city mayor’s chamber. A Literary Square will come up across Eden Gardens (the park). An underpass will connect the Eden Gardens to the riverfront,” an official says. “A three-tier walkway will be planned along the riverfront for people to take a stroll. But joggers will be forbidden from using the lowest tier during high-tide as a safety measure,” he asserts. The entire stretch will be greened with the forest department’s assistance. This will attract birds and also provide cool shade to those who want to spend a few leisure moments here. The drab jetties will be modernized with ticket houses. There will be gangways protruding out into the water, beyond which the launches will moor. An open-air theatre between the Millennium Park and the Fairlie Place Ghat will also be constructed. To the north, near the abandoned warehouses, a ‘Water shrine’ and a ‘Cultural Node’ will be designed. Stressing that funds will not be a problem, an official concerned say, “Millennium Park came up on garbage dumps. Private agencies will want to be part of any good endeavour, so long as they get adequate returns. The railways have planned to develop the space around the Circular Railway stations and put these to commercial use. Once the stretch turns into a favourite hangout, more investments are expected to flow in.” “This project is close to Mamata’s heart. Once the changes in Kolkata become visible, the confidence of people — particularly investors — will grow. They will participate in the state’s development. For a state like West Bengal, where little development has taken place in the last three decades, one needs to showcase Kolkata before moving to the districts,” the official adds.

Somewhere in Bhopal....

Two upper floors of an illegal unauthorised building are demolished in Bhopal as part of the demolition drive by the authorities which resulted in a clash between the locals and the police on Saturday.

IAF's $10.4bn jet deal

India is going full throttle to ink the “mother of all defence deals” by December. The aim is to ensure that deliveries of the 126 fighters begin from December 2014 onwards to stem IAF’s fast-eroding combat edge. Top defence sources, in fact, said plans were afoot to base the first MMRCA squadron in the western sector, most probably at Ambala, by the end of 2015. The first 18 jets will come in “fly-away condition” from the aviation major finally selected for the project. Only Eurofighter Typhoon (EADS) and French Rafale (Dassault) are now left in contention. Subsequent batches of the 108 fighters, to be manufactured in India by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) after transfer of technology, will progressively be based in other operationally relevant locations, with special focus on China. “The first fighter built in HAL should roll out in December 2016. Thereafter, HAL will deliver six jets per year, which will go up to 20 per year later. HAL will achieve 85% technology absorption by the end,” said a source. With only Typhoon and Rafale left in the reckoning after the “gruelling and transparent” technical and flying evaluation, defence ministry’s Technical Oversight Committee and Technical Offsets Evaluation Committee are now working to submit their reports soon. “We should be ready to open the Typhoon and Rafale commercial bids in July,” said the source. Thereafter, it will take another month to determine the lowest bidder (L-1) because of “huge mathematical and data verification” of the lifecycle costs of operating the jets over a 40-year period. Commercial negotiations with the L-1 vendor will then begin before the final contract is ready for signing by December. Asked about “points” being raised by eliminated vendors, sources said only Rafale and Typhoon were found “compliant” on all the 643-660 technical attributes laid down to meet IAF’s specific operational requirements, adding that “test pilots flew over 270 hours in different weather conditions... so they have no reason to complain”.

Somewhere in Kashmir....

Moderate Hurriyat leader Abdul Gani Bhat said his faction of the separatist amalgam is ready to talk to India and Pakistan to solve the Kashmir issue. “We offer talks to both India and Pakistan. We are willing to talk. What is the other option to solve the Kashmir issue? India and Pakistan are nuclear powers and can not go to war,” Bhat said while addressing a rally in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district. He said the Kashmir dispute can not be settled without a dialogue process. “We intended to announce this decision on Saturday in Srinagar, but it seems the Jammu & Kashmir government is afraid of dialogue as they put us under house arrest and imposed curfew in the city.” Bhat invited the ruling National Conference and opposition Peoples Democratic Party to join hands with Hurriyat for a final settlement of the issue. “They should come forward and talk about aspirations of Kashmiris if NC and PDP say that Kashmir is a dispute and needs a solution,” Bhat said. Hurriyat constituent People’s Conference had organised the rally to commemorate its founder Abdul Ghani Lone death anniversary. Moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq earlier called for a joint India, Pakistan and Kashmiri effort to solve the Kashmir dispute, saying separatists were willing to “walk two steps if New Delhi walks one”. “There is need for a joint effort and a round table conference should be called in which leadership of India, Pakistan and Kashmiris can sit and solve the dispute,” he said. But the Mirwaiz regretted New Delhi’s insincerity in its dialogue offer. “New Delhi has not taken any concrete steps to solve the dispute. Kashmir can not be solved at the level of interlocutors, but at the leadership level of India, Pakistan and Kashmiris.”

Land acquisiton

In the past three years, protests by farmers against land acquisition have roiled over 40 districts spread over 17 states. Nearly 10 crore people reside in these troubled districts. What is at stake is nearly 4 lakh acres of land, most of it fertile and under cultivation. In all these hotspots, farmers have taken to the streets, or fields, in large numbers, often clashing with the police. Dozens have lost their lives and hundreds injured, as shown recently in Bhatta Parsaul in Greater Noida. In many places, projects are stalled or inching ahead under heavy armed guard. There is a persistent disconnect between the government, and the companies that want land on the one hand, and the land-owning farmers on the other. And, there is no end in sight. In several states, gigantic plans have been drawn up to acquire more land, although current protests have slowed things a bit. In Andhra for e.g, 12 lakh acres of land is proposed to be acquired according to reports. Karnataka too reportedly has grand plans of acquiring 2 lakh acres in the coming years. Orissa and Jharkhand have respectively signed 49 and 60 MoUs with mining companies and an unspecified amount of land acquisition is on the cards. Till three years ago, the main thrust of land acquisition was for setting up SEZs and some mining hubs. In 2008, 92,000 acres was mired in protests and disputes, affecting over 5 lakh people. An estimated Rs 2.4 lakh crore worth projects were affected, mainly in steel, aluminium, power and mining. The economic recession and widespread outrage at the heavy-handed attempts to buy land at paltry prices led to a slowdown. Many cases of de-notification of SEZ lands are now turning up as firms fail to find buyers. In the current round, infrastructure appears to be the thrust, although the mining boom continues. Power plants of all three kinds — thermal, hydel and nuclear — dominate land acquisition moves in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh (with downstream protests in Assam). Expressways and freight corridors are the cause of land protests in UP. In Orissa and Jharkhand land is being demanded for industrial parks. In most states, but especially close to metropolitan hubs like Delhi, land acquisition for whatever purpose includes lucrative residential zones, as recently seen in Greater Noida. Why can’t this incendiary situation be resolved? In 2007, the Centre attempted to replace the obsolete land acquisition law, which allows the government to acquire land for “public purpose” at cheaper rates and which was the cause of much anger among duped farmers who would see their land being further sold by the government at 8 to 10 times the price. But the new law never got through Rajya Sabha. In 2009, President Pratibha Patil in her address to the new Lok Sabha announced that it would be reintroduced. The amendment to the existing land acquisition law was accompanied by a rehabilitation and resettlement policy. The package proposed only 30% of land would be acquired by the government while the balance would have to be negotiated by buyers directly with the farmers. It was suggested farmers should be given the option of getting 20% of the compensation in the form of debentures in the company. Meanwhile several new ‘models’ of sweetening the deal for angry farmers have emerged. The SC, which has been petitioned in several cases, suggested that gram sabhas should be involved failing which no land should be acquired. Haryana announced a new deal in which higher compensation rates, a minimum floor rate, a 33-year inflation linked royalty, and a job were offered. In West Bengal, after the bitter experience of Singur and Nandigram, the erstwhile Left government had offered a new deal for Sunderbans farmers which included compensation for both registered and unregistered sharecroppers. Plus, work for 340 days under the employment guarantee scheme and houses under the Indira Awas Yojana would be given to them. The bottomline is even today, after nearly a decade of land protests, there is no clear policy either in law or in practice. As a result, farmers, already weighed down by unremunerative agriculture, are torn between losing their land and making ends meet.

The Corruption Chart

India to be fastest growing economy soon : PM

PM Manmohan Singh raised the bar for policymakers saying India’s status on the economic high table might go up from being the fastest growing democracy to the fastest growing economy in the world. “If each one of us continues to work hard with dedication, commitment and honesty, I am sure India will soon emerge as the fastest growing economy in the world. We already are the world’s fastest growing democracy,” he said at the second anniversary celebrations of UPA-2. While it was more in the nature of a mission statement, releasing his government’s report card, Singh sought to showcase the growth story seen in the 8.5% expansion over the last seven years. At the same time, the PM and Congress president Sonia Gandhi seemed acutely aware of the perception that the government was weak in tackling inflation. Sonia said keeping prices of essential commodities at affordable levels while ensuring high economic growth were the government’s priorities.

Centre dumps Karnataka Governor's report

In a snub to Karnataka governor H R Bhardwaj, the Centre rejected his recommendation for imposition of President’s rule in the state. The decision was taken by the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs(CCPA) presided over by PM Manmohan Singh, shortly after the conclusion of the second anniversary celebrations of the UPA-II government. “The CCPA today met to discuss the Karnataka Governor’s report and after careful consideration decided not to accept his recommendations,” said home minister P Chidambaram. Even as it rejected his report, the CCPA has asked the home ministry to write to the Karnataka government bringing to its notice the issues mentioned by the Governor. An advisory will be issued, Chidambaram said and hoped that the state government will take note of it. This may be one of the rare instances when the Centre has rejected the recommendations of a governor for imposition of President’s rule. The BJP had pressed the UPA government to reject by Monday Bhardwaj’s recommendation failing which the party warned it wosuld go on a nation-wide agitation.

Navi Mumbai turns 40


CIDCO set up, Vashi creek bridge opened

Development starts in Vashi, CBD-Belapur and New Panvel

44 units set up at TTC industrial area generating 15,732 jobs

Nodal population reaches 16,000 by decade-end

Fund paucity hampers growth


Intensive development occurs in major nodes like Vashi, CBD Belapur, New Panvel, Nerul, Airoli, Sanpada, Koparkhairane, and Kalamboli

Bus transport (BEST and ST) and telecom network established

APMC markets commissioned in Vashi, steel market in Kalamboli

Commercial complexes built at Vashi and CBD Belapur railway stations

Offices developed in CBD Belapur

JNPT commissioned at decade-end

72,658 houses constructed

Industrial jobs increase by 4% per annum, taking employment in Navi Mumbai to 175,000 Nodal population reaches 209,676


Mankurd-Vashi-Nerul-Belapur-Panvel commuter links established

Vashi-Gateway hovercraft service started, but later stopped

2.0 million sq mt commercial space added in Vashi, CBD Belapur, Sanpada, Jui Nagar and Nerul IT parks started at Vashi and CBD Belapur railway commercial complexes

NRI housing complex commissioned

Airoli bridge linking Navi Mumbai and Mulund commissioned

Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation established

700 industrial units closed.

Employment declines


Population reaches 1.1 million

Employment reaches 510,000

IT park in Vashi and MIDC Mahape brings growth revolution

550 hectares at TTC MIDC converted for IT-ITES use

Knowledge city and biotech park replace old industries

Thane-Vashi commuter railway service starts

SEZ and airport projects put on fast track

Demand increases for residential and commercial spaces

Housing stock increases by 103,201

Area: 344 sq km

Population : 2 million, projected at 4 million after 15 years

Slum population : 20%

Net District Domestic Product : Rs 150 billion

The UPA II is two....

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and PM Manmohan Singh promised to take corrective action against corruption, acknowledging that graft in public life was a legitimate concern and UPA-2’s actions will demonstrate its will to take the malaise head on. “We will take corruption head on and demonstrate through actions, not words, that we mean what we say,” Sonia said at Sunday’s function at the prime minister’s residence to mark two years of UPA-2. She said the specific message of recent assembly elections was that people wanted and rewarded “good, effective and accountable governance”. “Transparency, accountability and probity are at the very heart of our governance, our actions and we demonstrate this,” the Congress chief said, strongly putting anti-corruption measures at the centre of her agenda as she had during the Burari party meet in November last year. While releasing UPA-2’s report to the people, the PM said there was concern over the “pervasiveness of corruption”.


What the Left left behind in West Bengal

Glorious ?!

Scania drives in

Heavy trucks and bus maker Scania Commercial Vehicles, a subsidiary of Germany-based Volkswagen AG, will set up an assembly plant in India, its second largest outside Sweden in terms of volume. The firm will set up the facility in Bangalore with an initial capacity of 2,000 trucks, 1,000 buses and 1,500 engines. The engines will be made for industrial and marine applications and can be used in escalators and generator sets, among other things. Scania has six such centres in Taiwan, Malaysia, Dubai, South Africa, South Korea and Russia. It has two engine plants in Stockholm and Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Scania is present in India in partnership with the engineering company Larsen and Toubro Ltd (L&T), which has been selling its mining trucks since 2007-08. The company has sold around 600 mining trucks in this period.
Scania will test-run some heavy haulage trucks and luxury buses for city and inter-city routes in India by September. Its heavy trucks are in the range of 220-730 horse power; the company will decide which ones to bring to India after the tests. The Indian market in the category of vehicles with a load capacity of 25 tonnes and above - was 35,000 in 2009, according to Scania.


Jagan's Jai Telangana ?

Political parties and organisations fighting for Telangana are rattled not by the huge victory margin of Y S Jaganmohan Reddy in the Kadapa Lok Sabha bypoll, but by indications emanating from his camp that the YSR Congress president is all set to sing the ‘Jai Telangana’ tune very soon. Top sources in the Jagan camp said that Jagan had got a survey conducted in the Seema-Andhra region before the notification for the Kadapa bypoll was issued. “The indepth survey sought to know from the people of the two regions whether Jagan’s popularity and image in Seema-Andhra would get dented in case he supports Telangana. And the results were very encouraging,” the sources said. Enthused by the findings of the survey, Jagan is planning to initiate a debate in the Seema-Andhra region on the issue of amicable separation. “In about two to three weeks, Jagan will himself address several meetings in the two regions asking the people’s opinion on the Telangana issue. After this, he will take a concrete step on the separate state issue,” the sources added. After preparing the Seema-Andhra region on the T issue, Jagan is slated to enter Telangana with the slogan: “We will separate amicably”. His aides are confident that unlike the last time when his presence triggered violence in Mahbubabad town in Warangal district, he would be welcomed with open arms this time around as he would support the division of the state. That Jagan could alter the political equations in Telangana was admitted to by TRS and Telangana Congress leaders. The issue figured in a meeting which Telangana JAC convener and TRS Sircilla MLA K Taraka Rama Rao had with Rajya Sabha Congress MP K Keshava Rao at the latter’s residence on Thursday. On Friday, soon after it became clear that Jagan and his mother Vijayalakshmi had registered record victory margins in Kadapa and Pulivendula bypolls, TRS and Telangana JAC leaders expressed apprehension. “Jagan has proved that he is a leader of the Seema-Andhra region. He should confine himself to these two regions. If he does enter the Telangana region supporting the division of the state, he can throw a big challenge to us,” a T Congress leader said. The TRS leaders are apprehensive that given the caste polarisation taking place in Telangana, the Reddy MLAs from various parties and youth in the 10 districts will flock to Jagan in case he champions the separate state cause. “Since the Congress is non-committal on Telangana, Jagan can wean away the Congress leaders from the region if he takes a pro-T stance first,” said the Telangana Congress leader. As a result of Jagan’s perceived stand on the separate state issue, the TRS and Telangana JAC have decided to step up their agitations scheduled to begin with a rasta roko in the region on Saturday.

Mumbai musings

Snapshotz of the various infrastructure projects planned in Maximum City.

How Jaya stormed the DMK fortress

In February this year, J Jayalalithaa reached out to actor-politician Vijayakanth and ceded 41 out of the 234 assembly seats to DMDK, a gesture uncharacteristic of the AIADMK chief. The seat offer took place a few days after the two leaders had engaged in a verbal duel. That marked the beginning of AIADMK’s efforts to cobble together a coalition to match the formidable alliance that the DMK headed. Jayalalithaa’s action to rope in DMDK and many smaller parties proved to be a masterstroke. The 13-party strong alliance comprehensively won even in the northern districts of Tamil Nadu, where the DMK had banked on the combined strength of the Vanniyar-based PMK and Thol Thirumavalavan’s Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi to make substantial gains. Clearly, successive defeats in elections since 2004 had taught Jayalalithaa the importance of a strong alliance. In 2006, she went almost on her own against a formidable front of DMK-Congress-PMK-Left and had to settle with just 60 seats. This time, she showed an uncharacteristic willingness to negotiate and conceded seats from the AIADMK’s share to Vijayakanth’s DMDK and the Left. ‘‘In fact, in the last elections itself, the AIADMK would have won but for the DMDK. In 50-odd assembly segments, DMDK’s votes were higher than the winning margin of DMK candidates,’’ said political observer Gnani. What the AIADMK-DMDK alliance did was to prevent a split in the anti-DMK votes. Many seasoned AIADMK leaders pitched for an alliance with the DMDK, which has a 10% vote spread across the state. They knew the damage the actor-politician could do to the party’s prospects, if he chose to project DMDK as an alternative to both the DMK and the AIADMK. The alliance, of course, faced numerous hurdles, especially after Jayalalithaa unilaterally released her party’s list of candidates for 160 constituencies. This led to the Vaiko’s MDMK snapping ties with the AIADMK. The Left parties and the Puthiya Thamilagam held a meeting with Vijayakanth sparking rumours that they intended to float a third front. But the differences were ironed out and seats sharing talks concluded. Again, when Vijayakanth kept away from the AIADMK front’s mega rally in Coimbatore, there was talk of the alliance collapsing over the egos of the two leaders. AIADMK cadres say that although the alliance played a role in shaping the victory, there were several other factors that contributed, key among them, of course, Amma herself. ‘‘The landslide victory is an indication of people’s trust in Amma,’’ said V Senthil Balaji, an AIADMK candidate. ‘‘People trust that Amma could give a corruptionfree rule,’’ he says. Yes, the anti-incumbency wave that arose over the 2G scam added wind to her sails.

Ma, maati, poribartan & Didi

It was Rajiv Gandhi and Arun Nehru who threw a challenge to the aggressive young woman demanding a ticket to fight parliamentary polls in the post-Indira election of 1984. They gave her an impossible Jadavpur — a constituency so decisively red that a non-Communist would not even dream of contesting from there. Astonishingly enough, she gladly accepted. Her mentors in the West Bengal Congress thought her insane not to have politely turned down the proposal. Who wanted to face the humiliating prospect of forfeiting one’s deposit against an unassailable Somnath Chatterjee? A plucky Mamata Banerjee returned to Kolkata, preparing to wage a war against the CPM stalwart with her shrill voice, her rubber sandals and her jhola in which she carried her world. There are three dates which stand out in the life of the new chief minister of West Bengal. She can never forget December 29, 1984, the day Rajiv Gandhi won his landslide riding an unprecedented sympathy wave. Somewhere in that list of Congress winners was the name of a gutsy woman, a raw street-fighter, who was not going to be unnerved by the mammoth election machinery of an organized CPM. Mamata had announced her arrival as a politician. Perseverance and courage were going to distinguish her from her fellow-travellers. In those early years, Mamata impressed Congressmen with her sheer enthusiasm, her ability to take on the Left without inhibition. Then came the second unforgettable day. It was August 16, 1990. She was bludgeoned and brought down by a CPM thug at the Hazra crossing in south Kolkata. When she returned to active politics a few months later, she had been elevated to the status of a distinct political force. Through the 90s, she toyed with charting a separate path of her own, pushed to the brink by a host of Congress leaders, most of them rudderless and devoid of new ideas. When even the high command in Delhi refused to let her assume the state unit’s leadership, she adopted the mantra of ekla cholo re. In 1998, she broke away and launched the Trinamool Congress. Her party won seven seats. It was CPM patriarch Jyoti Basu’s retirement in 2000 that prompted Mamata to assume that she was on the threshhold of causing a major upset. She was convinced that the CPM, shepherded by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, was no longer invincible.In 2001,she was trounced. Soon, she was back in the NDA fold.In 2006,Bhattacharjee sold his idea of a changed CPM and won a three-fourths majority. That is why the third important date — September 25, 2006 — is so crucial to understand the remarkable turnaround of Mamata. It was on this day that the government began paying compensation to the Singur land-losers. Singur was the beginning of the Mamata magic. Rizwanur Rahman’s mysterious death took her closer to the Muslims who had earlier disregarded her because of her ties with the BJP. Her slogan ma, maati, maanush (mother, land and the human being) suddenly gained volume. Now that she is going to be sworn in as the first non-CPM CM after 34 years, Mamata will be expected to put into practice lessons she has learnt in the past five years.

Binayak goes from prison to Plan panel

Rights activist and paediatrician Binayak Sen has accepted an offer by the Planning Commission to be a member of its steering committee on health that will provide inputs for the 12th Plan (2012-2017). Sen, a recipient of the Jonathan Mann award for global health in 2008, said he would strive to bring “equity” in health-related issues for deprived communities. The doctor was granted bail by the Supreme Court last month after the Chhattisgarh high court convicted him of sedition for Maoist links and sentenced him to life imprisonment. “I’ll do whatever I can... I will surely attend the first meeting of the committee. I would like to bring on board and work for ensuring further equity in health-related issues for deprived communities,” Sen told agencies over phone from Chhattisgarh. His mother Anasuya hailed the “good news”. “I’m happy. He has been accused by the state of being anti-national, but the Centre has given him a prestigious post on the Plan panel.” The 40-member steering committee on health is expected to hold its first meeting on May 25 or 26. Sen’s appointment was announced by Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia. “We have appointed Binayak Sen as member of the steering committee on health to advice for 12th Plan. It was the Planning Commission’s proposal to appoint him,” Ahluwalia said.
Main opposition BJP took exception to the inclusion of Dr Binayak Sen in the Planning Commission’s steering panel on health. It asked a pointed question to the government: whether the Centre has made it a habit of rewarding those who allege victimization by a BJP-led state government. BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad drew a parallel between Sen’s new role and that of Kuldeep Sharma, a Gujarat cadre IPS officer, who is involved in a legal tussle with Narendra Modi’s government. Sharma was recently appointed additional DGP in Bureau of Police Research and Development. “Sen is entitled to legal redress, but we want to ask the government if this is symptomatic of a pattern. Whosoever alleges victimization by a BJP state government will be almost immediately rewarded by the Centre. If this indeed is the case, the situation is worrisome,” Prasad said. “The government must ask itself what is the tradition it is trying to establish by Sen’s appointment and whether it is good for democracy and the whole federal structure,” he added. The Chhattisgarh HC charged him with sedition for allegedly harbouring Left-wing extremism in the state.

Assembly polls recorded highest voter turnout

Giving details of the assembly elections in five states, Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi said on Wednesday that in all states there was an all-time higher voter turnout. In fact, in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, it was the highest in the past 60 years, he said. In Tamil Nadu, there was an 11% increase from the last election while it was 3.04% in West Bengal. Women came out in large numbers to exercise their franchise in Kerala, Puducherry, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, he added. Quraishi said the Election Commission’s drive against use of black money intensified during the elections resulting in seizure of Rs 74.27 crore in cash. The maximum seizure — Rs 60.10 crore — was reported from TN, followed by Rs 8.35 crore in West Bengal and Rs 5.20 crore in Assam. The CEC said for the first time 8,820 overseas voters registered, out of whom 4,639 voted in Kerala, and one of them even contested from Thodupuzha in Idukki district in the state. Regarding the counting of votes on Friday, the CEC said the commission has set up 839 halls in 294 locations in the five states which went to the polls, in which 14.16 crore people — 20% of the country’s total electorate — voted in West Bengal, TN, Kerala, Puducherry and Assam. Quraishi said on Wednesday during the entire election process, vote was not sought on communal and caste lines. He listed “inducement of voters through distribution of money and in kind,”paid news, voter apathy, specially among youth and urban educated, and security arrangements in Naxal-hit areas as the major challenges that the EC encountered. He also said in some states most of the TV channels were owned by political parties that denied a level playing-field to others. He said the EC would come with a policy on this issue before the next election. On home minister P Chidambaram’s statement during the campaign that West Bengal was the “worst governed” state in terms of law and order, Quraishi said the home minister was expressing an opinion which was a widely held view in the country. “Probably, he was referring to that. We did not find anything noteworthy from the election point of view,” he said. Quraishi said the EC deployed security and held election in six phases, which pointed to law and order problem. The Left had complained to the EC about the home minister’s statement. As for results, Quraishi said the first one would be out by noon on Friday. An elaborate three-tier security arrangement had been put in place for the exercise, which would start at 8am, involving 43,982 officials and nearly 17,700 central security personnel, he added.

The Globemaster deal

The decks have now been cleared for the biggest-ever Indo-US defence deal: the $4.1 billion contract for 10 C-17 Globemaster-III giant strategic airlift aircraft. Defence ministry sources said the Globemaster deal, a direct government-to-government contract under the American FMS (foreign military sales) programme, should get the ‘‘final nod’’ from the Cabinet Committee on Security ‘‘within this month’’. ‘‘All issues connected to costing and offsets (under which Globemaster-manufacturer Boeing will plough back 30% of the contract value into India) have been resolved,’’ said a source. While India needs to augment its strategic airlift capability to swiftly move combat systems and troops over large national and international distances, the decision is seen to be imbued with strategic significance. The Americans were said to be unhappy that they were denied the MMRCA deal and indicated their unhappiness by making a relatively junior officer call New Delhi and inform it about Osama Bin Laden’s death, whereas high government functionaries had informed other countries. As for India’s current airlift capabilities, it is dependent on just over a dozen Russian-origin IL-76 ‘Gajraj’ aircraft. In contrast, Globemaster-III is capable of carrying a payload of almost 170,000 pounds and landing even at small forward airbases with semi-prepared runways. The four-engine rugged C-17s can transport tanks and troops over 2,400 nautical miles. With mid-air refueling, C-17s can go even longer distances. Along with the C-130J ‘Super Hercules’ aircraft already being inducted, the C-17s will play a significant role in countering China’s massive build-up of military infrastructure all along the 4,057-km Line of Actual Control,which includes five fully-operational airbases in Tibet. That’s not all on the US arms deals front. India is already conducting commercial negotiations for the around $1 billion ‘‘follow-on contract’’ for four more P-8I Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, eight of which were earlier ordered for $2.1 billion in 2009. Negotiations for six more C-130J Super Hercules heavy-lift aircraft are also expected to begin soon. IAF has already inducted two of the earlier six C-130Js ordered for $1.2 billion in 2008. Two more will come around July, with the last two in September-October,’’ said the MoD source. So, if all this is taken into account, US has notched up sales worth around $9 billion to India in the arena of military transport and reconnaissance aircraft alone. If one adds other military aviation deals, like the $822 million for 99 GE F-414 engines for Mark-II version of the indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft and the $170 million for Harpoon Block-II anti-ship missiles, as well as the proposed ones for attack and heavy-lift helicopters, the overall figure would jump to well over $11 billion. Consequently, all the brouhaha over India choosing a fighter over ‘‘a strategic partnership’’ in the MMRCA project has not gone down well with the military establishment. ‘‘We went purely by IAF’s technical and flight evaluation in the MMRCA project,’’ said the MoD source.

A new Delhi - Jaipur highway

Traffic woes on the Delhi-Jaipur highway could end sooner than expected. The Union highways ministry and Planning Commission are fast-tracking a proposal to construct a new 261km expressway linking the two cities that will take the load off the existing road. Though road transport and highways minister C P Joshi had last month announced a plan to build two new highspeed links from the capital to Jaipur and Chandigarh, the Pink City stretch has been prioritized. This new alignment road will be 4 to 6-laned and is estimated to cost Rs 10,000 crore. The tender document says the road must connect with the Manesar-Bawal and Kushkhera-Bhiwadi-Nimrana nodes on the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor, and other highway networks. Among the possible alignments being discussed is starting the expressway at Delhi’s outskirts and terminating it on the Jaipur bypass. Sources said the road could also start from the Kundli-Manesar-Palwal expressway. At present, NH-8 is the only speed link between Delhi and Jaipur and the increasing congestion on the stretch has become a cause for concern.
Officials said the new expressway alignment will be fixed by studying satellite images and digital terrain models, and not through actual ground reconnaissance and survey. Last week, highways minister C P Joshi had said satellite images will be used for all future highway alignments to avoid allegations of favouritism. “We have often heard how poor man’s lands are acquired after altering the alignment to protect properties of the rich and influential people,” Joshi had said. However, several observers have been stumped by the interest shown in the project by the Planning Commission. Contrary to past experience when the panel took its time clearing projects, in this case a meeting was promptly convened at Yojna Bhawan . It was attended by officials from the Rajasthan PWD, NHAI and highways ministry. Sources said the commission has asked NHAI and ministry to prioritize the alignment of the road rather than looking into funding of this high-cost project. But officials who attended the meeting said despite the ministry and Plan panel pushing the project, getting finance will be a crucial step. “The project will come up for discussion during Joshi’s meeting with the prime minister scheduled on May 19. The issue of land acquisition could also come up for discussion,” said a senior NHAI official.