New bank licences

After years of intense lobbying, business houses wanting to set up banks are spotting a ray of hope. The Reserve Bank of India is slowly opening the doors for corporates to enter the highly-regulated industry, but with caution, conditions and caveats. In draft guidelines issued on Monday, the banking regulator laid down the broad rules of the game: finance companies can be converted into banks, and promoter groups with “sound credentials and integrity” and a 10-year record of successfully running their businesses can set up banks. Such banks should have a minimum paid-up capital of Rs 500 crore, run 25% of their branches in rural unbanked regions, list within two years, and be owned by a separate holding company that cannot borrow money to float the bank. Total foreign holding in the bank cannot cross 49% while the operating company must lower its stake to 20% by 10 years. Corporates may find it easy to meet most conditions, but the RBI has spelt out it will be “very selective” and have the last word. “…it may not be possible to issue licences to all the applicants meeting the eligibility criteria…,” said the draft note. A key pre-condition is changes in the Banking Regulation Act to empower the RBI to supersede bank boards and block purchase of 5% or more shares if the investor is not “fit and proper”. India Inc, nonetheless, is excited. Reiterating the Aditya Birla Group’s “strong intent to enter banking”, Chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla said it was a “forward step” while Bajaj Finserve MD Sanjiv Bajaj said the guidelines were “practical” and “Bajaj Auto and Bajaj Finserve are eligible”. A senior Tata Group official said it was a “positive” move.
The Hurdles
No new licence till laws change to give RBI more power
Negative feedback from other regulators can dash chances
Comments from CBI, ED & other govt agencies can backfire
The Race
Tatas, Aditya Birla group, Bajaj, L&T, LIC Housing, M&M, Shriram group, Reliance, ADAG, PFC, IFCI, Religare, Srei may be interested Edelweiss with active broking biz may lose out; IDFC & IndiaBulls said they are not interested in banking
The Rules
Paid-up cap of Rs 500 crore, listing within 2 years
No foreign entity/NRI can hold over 5% shares
Biz groups will have to float a holding co to own bank & other financial services like insurance, broking etc

Somewhere in Hyderabad....

The streets around the Charminar throb with life all through the night as Eid shoppers make a dash to complete their shopping.

India - Pakistan business snippets

Soon, it would be a borderless world for Indian and Pakistan businessmen. The two countries have agreed to consider easing business visa rules — from issuing multicentre documents to longer duration stay and no requirement to report to the police. Pakistan is expected to come up with the contours of the liberalized regime and India will match it, said a senior government official. In addition, the Indian government has agreed to consider lifting the blanket ban on investment from across the border, while it has asked Islamabad to move to “normal trade”. During official-level talks last week, sources said there were indications that Pakistan would grant most favoured nation status to India and also implement its commitments under the South Asian Free Trade Agreement that entails lowering of duties and allowing import of commodities, barring a small negative list. At present, Pakistan follows a system of positive list which means only a handful of products can be imported from India. As a result, a bulk of products is traded through third countries such as the United Arab Emirates. Sources said India has said that there was no point of Pakistan signing Safta if the terms of the agreement were not implemented. Recent talks, at the level of commerce secretary and at official level, have resulted in positive atmosphere being created and this will be followed by talks at the level of trade ministers from the two countries. By mid-October, Pakistan is expected to ease trade curbs and also come up with easier visa rules. In case of investment, officials said there was no specific interest from a company in India or Pakistan but the two sides were of the view that there was need to remove the blanket ban. The industry department, which deals with foreign direct investment, has been asked to look into the policy and see if investment from Pakistan can come through after proper vetting. In case of security concerns the same could be factored in. With security agencies opposing investment by even large multinationals with presence in Pakistan, it is unlikely that they will soften their position even after the legal requirements are lowered. But the move is expected to improve overall sentiment. “We are some distance away from investment actually coming through given that even companies would be worried about reversal of policy. But in case of trade, Pakistan can show the way and we can recipro cate through easier visa norms,” said an analyst.


It's all about TRP !

Mumbai as an IFC

India must unleash a second phase of financial reforms, especially in sectors like insurance and banking, if Mumbai has to develop as an international financial hub, said Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan. Acknowledging that world-class infrastructure too was crucial for the city’s development, Chavan said the government will invest Rs 26,000 crore in the Mumbai metropolitan region over the next few years to build infrastructure. Chavan said the PMO was keen on pushing ahead with the second phase of reforms when he was with it, but could not do so because of the Left’s resistance. “Right now, we don’t know what stage they have reached,” he said. The chief minister said mono rail is expected to run in the city by early 2012 and the metro soon after, making Mumbai comparable to any other big city in the world. Pointing out that the population pattern in Mumbai has changed with manufacturing activities moving out of the island city, Chavan said the government will now design policies to improve the quality of life in the city. The chief minister said about 450 km of metro and mono rail network will come up in the city and its suburbs, reaching as far as Panvel.

Muslims slam Bukhari's comments

Delhi’s Jamia Masjid chief cleric Syed Ahmed Bukhari has drawn flak from community leaders for asking Muslims to stay away from Anna Hazare’s movement. Bukhari described Anna’s slogans as “anti-Islam” and accused him of working at Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and BJP’s behest a day earlier. All India Ulema Council general secretary Maulana Mehmood Daryabadi described Bukhari’s appeal as his “personal view’’. He sarcastically described Bukhari as a royal imam of a mosque that an emperor had built and implied that he did not reflect a common Muslim’s view. Bukhari did not find many supporters even outside Delhi’s Jama Masjid. Hawker Mohammad Irfan said he supports Anna whole heartedly. “At least someone is standing up for the country,” he said. But another hawker Mohammad Rehman dismissed Anna’s movement as a drama. “He wants BJP to rule.” In Mumbai, Muslim NGO representatives and clerics said they would take out a rally from Crawford Market to Azad Maidan on Tuesday. The Maharashtra Urdu Writer’s Guild too condemned Bukhari for his “misleading statement.” It said Vande Matram and Bharat Mata Ki Jai slogans are ways of expressing love for the country. “Muslims may not worship the motherland but their love for it is second to none. Bukhari is needlessly communalizing the movement against corruption,” said Guild president Salam Bin Razzak.

The Cash for votes case update

Over three years after three BJP MPs waved wads of currency notes in the Lok Sabha alleging that they had been offered bribes to support the UPA-I in the crucial trust vote, the Delhi police on Wednesday filed a chargesheet accusing Rajya Sabha member Amar Singh, former L K Advani aide Sudheendra Kulkarni and two ex-BJP MPs Faggan Singh Kulaste and Mahavir Bhagora of conspiracy. Although the BJP MPs had alleged that they were offered money, they have been named as accused while the Congress and the SP have been let off, with police saying it was the opposition members who had contacted the two parties.
Amar Singh: Abetted bribery and criminal conspiracy. Paid Rs 1 cr to three BJP MPs, with Rs 8 cr more to be paid later
Sudheendra Kulkarni: Brain behind bid to entrap Congress and SP leaders
Suhail Hindustani: Accepted and attempted to accept bribe
Sanjeev Saxena: Delivered Singh’s money to BJP MPs
F S Kulaste & Mahavir Bhagora: Accepted bribe from Amar Singh
Along with former Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh, the Delhi police have also made out against his ex-aide Sanjeev Saxena and a gems trader, Suhail Hindustani, in the cash-for-votes scam. The investigation has turned the case from alleged bribe-giving to entrapment. The police are awaiting the Lok Sabha Speaker’s permission to file the chargesheet against a third BJP MP, Ashok Argal. The three BJP MPs had alleged that money was offered to them to vote in favour of the July 22, 2008 confidence vote, which had been prompted by Left parties withdrawing support over the Indo-US nuclear deal. The chargesheet calls Kulkarni the ‘mastermind’ of the operation and Hindustani the ‘initiator’. However, Congress leaders named by the accused, SP MP Reoti Raman Singh and CNN-IBN correspondents have got a clean chit. For evidence against Singh and the others, the police have relied upon the statements of 53 witnesses, including journalists of CNN-IBN, the channel’s audio and video recordings, call details of the accused and circumstantial evidence. The chargesheet said, “Suhail and Sudheendra Kulkarni’s solicitation succeeded with Amar Singh agreeing to pay Rs 3 crore to each BJP MP for abstaining from voting on the motion of confidence,” it said. The chargesheet is silent on whether the motive to provide the cash was linked to the trust vote. It accuses Singh of hatching the conspiracy. “Saxena, along with another person in a yellow shirt, delivered Rs 1 crore at 11am on July 22, 2008, at Ashok Argal’s residence at 4, Feroze Shah Road to three BJP MPs as advance out of total deal of Rs 9 crore for abstaining from voting,” the chargesheet said. Singh has been chargesheeted for abetting bribery under Section 12 of the Prevention of Corruption Act and criminal conspiracy. The circumstantial evidence against Singh includes his order to Saxena to go to Argal’s residence in a white Gypsy; phone details showing Saxena calling Singh from his mobile and facilitation of talks with the three MPs. Hashmat Ali, a driver, confirmed the meeting between Singh and the three MPs. The police also produced a letter written by Singh to the principal of Dayal Singh College in 2008 seeking admission for Saxena’s son to show their proximity. On Saxena, the chargesheet said, “He delivered the money to three BJP MPs.” The two BJP MPs have been charged under section 7 (13) of POC Act (accepting the bribe money) along with criminal conspiracy.

PM speak

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday paid fulsome tribute to anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare, calling him the embodiment of “our people’s disgust and concern about tackling corruption” while defending his own record by inviting the opposition to scrutinize properties he or his family members had acquired in his 40-odd years in public life. The PM said he was “hurt” by charges levelled against him. “In the course of seven years as prime minister, I may have made mistakes. Who is above making mistakes? To err is human but to accuse me of evil intentions, of conniving at corruption is a charge I firmly repudiate,” he said. Making an intervention in Lok Sabha , Singh did not come across as a leader who sticks to prepared texts, as he spoke with passion and a certain sincerity of purpose, admitting, “There is anger in the country. There is anger about the misuse of public offices.” Acknowledging the challenge corruption posed to his government, the PM accorded top priority to combating graft in the remainder of his term. He mounted a spirited defence, countering BJP leader M M Joshi’s allegations that he was unable to check graft. “He made a powerful speech and he turned into a personal attack on me as if I am the fountainhead of corruption and that I have knowingly connived at corruptions of some of my colleagues,” said the PM who added he was more than willing to accept the verdict of a probe by the leader of opposition.

INS Karuva

The indigenouslybuilt fast attack craft (FAC), INS Karuva, was inducted into the Indian Navy at the naval base in Vishakapatnam on Thursday as part of strengthening the coastal surveillance. The vessel was commissioned by commander-in-chief of the Strategic Forces Command, Air Marshal K J Mathews after receiving a guard of honour from the naval officers. The ship was named after the pristine, historic island off Kerala’s Wayanad coast, Karuva, close to a tributary of river Kabani. The vessel was conceived, designed and built indigenously by Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers Limited of Kolkata. The ship, measuring 52 metres in length and displacement of 325 tonnes, could achieve speeds in excess of 30 knots. The ship would be manned by four officers and 39 sailors. Built for extended coastal and offshore surveillance and patrol with advanced engines and latest communication gadgets, INS Karuva would be based at Karwar. It would be deployed for coastal patrol and anti-piracy missions along the Konkan coast and the Lakshadweep group of island. Another FAC, INS Koswari, was commissioned in July this year.

Of powerful women

Congress party president Sonia Gandhi figures as the seventh most powerful woman of the world in the Forbes list which is topped by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. 64-year-old Sonia Gandhi, is ranked just ahead of US First Lady Michell Obama in a list of 100 most powerful women of the world released by the Forbes magazine. Indian-American Indra Nooyi, the head of soft drink giant PepsiCo, has been ranked fourth, followed by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and Melinda Gates co-chair and co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Lauded for overseeing heavy economic growth, she is also criticised for tolerating political corruption and failing to forge connections with India’s fastest-growing demographic—younger voters,” said Forbes about Sonia Gandhi. “Gandhi is an avid scholar of the arts, and holds a degree in oil painting conservation. She recently underwent surgery in the US,” it added.

SC stops mining in 2 Karnataka ditricts

The Supreme Court on Friday ordered suspension of iron ore mining in Chitradurga and Tumkur districts based on the Central Empowered Committee’s finding that rampant illegal mining has caused serious damage to environment there. A bench clarified that the suspension was an interim measure taken to protect environment, which was intrinsically linked to the citizen’s right to life. It said right to mining was a fundamental right under Article 19, but right to life under Article 21 was a higher right. The court said the need of the steel industries in the interim period would be met from the 25 million tonnes of iron ore stocks lying with the mining lease holders. The court also directed that a macro-environment impact assessment of the area be carried out by Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education. Moreover, it directed the joint committee set up by the court and tasked to survey and demarcate mining lease areas in Bellary to do the same job for leases in Chitradurga and Tumkur. The CEC, through amicus curiae ADN Rao, had said the adverse impact on environment in Chitradurga and Tumkur districts was identical to the one witnessed in Bellary.

Rahul's take on the Lokpal bill

Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi on Friday hit out at Anna Hazare’s agitation, saying it was seeking to subvert parliamentary supremacy. The statement invited swift retaliation from anti-graft protesters, who laid siege to his house. “A tactical incursion, divorced from the machinery of an elected government that seeks to undo the checks and balances created to protect the supremacy of Parliament sets a dangerous precedent for a democracy,” Rahul said, breaking his silence on the issue. The Congress heir apparent who has been criticized for keeping quiet on the hot button issue echoed the fears of Dalits and minorities that Anna’s agitation posed a threat to the rights guaranteed to them under the Constitution. “Tomorrow, the target may be something less universally heralded. It may attack the plurality of our society and democracy,” he said. Although Rahul, who had to endure disruptions from the opposition benches, argued for the creation of a Lokpal stronger than the one of the Hazare group’s conception, he appeared to tackle the hard line school in the party. The attack, made during the zero hour, immediately invited the wrath of the Gandhian’s supporters. 'Individual dictates’, however well-intentioned, must not be allowed to weaken democracy A single Bill will not usher in a corruption-free society. A set of effective laws is required Lokpal should be made a constitutional body like EC .The zero hour speech, disrupted by BJP members who protested Speaker Meira Kumar’s decision to allow Rahul to outline his view on Lokpal, was also characterized by the Congress MP underlining his anti-graft commitment. “We speak of a statutory Lokpal, but our discussions cease at the point of its accountability to the people and the risk that it might itself become corrupt. Madam Speaker, why not elevate the debate and fortify the Lokpal by making it a constitutional body accountable to Parliament like the Election Commission of India? I feel the time has come for us to seriously consider the idea,” Rahul said, enduring disruptions from the opposition benches. Later, Rahul said his suggestion could be a “game changer”, a contention that neither the opposition nor the Anna campaign shared. He said his proposal was intended to raise the Lokpal debate to the next level. Rahul, however, said the creation of a Lokpal alone could not eradicate corruption. Emphasizing the importance of a legal framework to end graft, he said alongside Lokpal, legislative remedies were needed to usher in government funding of elections, transparency in public procurement, regulation in sectors like land mining, tax reforms and grievance redressal in delivery of public services. While speaking to the media, Rahul reiterated what he said was a game changer, adding, “I think before I speak.” Rahul’s speech during zero hour saw opposition members protesting vehemently against the Speaker’s decision to allot him time without notice. When the opposition benches, led by Yashwant Sinha, launched their offensive, the treasury benches erupted in reply, with almost every MP — including leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee at one point of time — jumping to their feet. The Congress’s GenNext comprising MPs like Meenakshi Natarajan, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jitin Prasada, Deepender Hooda, Jyoti Mirdha became the party’s “shouting brigade” and Team Rahul looked on from the visitors’ gallery. If Congress MPs were hoping for a political response to either Anna’s attack on the government or the opposition’s charge that the government was incapable of combating corruption, it was not on the cards. Rahul tried to undercut Anna’s appeal by saying no individual could represent or encapsulate the war against corruption. “A representative, inclusive and accessible democracy is central to fighting corruption. Individuals have brought our country great gains. They have galvanized people in the cause of freedom and development. However, individual dictates, no matter how well-intentioned, must not weaken the democratic process. This process is often lengthy and lumbering. But it is so in order to be inclusive and fair,” Rahul said.

Versova link update

The Bandra-Versova sea link received the go-ahead from the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA). The authority also approved the offsite infrastructure for the Navi Mumbai international airport. Both the projects have been approved under the new Coastal Regulation Zone norms of 2011, said T C Benjamin, principal secretary, urban development. The MCZMA will now write to the Union environment ministry to allow the construction of the two projects, said Valsa Nair-Singh, secretary, environment. The go-ahead from the MCZMA is considered a virtual green signal from the Union environment ministry as well. ‘‘It is a 9.6-km sea link with two connectors,’’ said a senior official from the state environment department. The construction of this section, at current prices, is estimated to cost Rs 2,000 crore. The offsite infrastructure for the Navi Mumbai international airport which was approved by the MCZMA includes non-aeronautical infrastructure such as warehouses, railway terminal, official quarters, arterial roads etc. The infrastructure has now been approved to be set up on 450 hectares outside the perimeter of the airport.

In a fresh amendment to the city’s road plans, the proposed 10-km Bandra-Versova coastal road corridor may be extended by 8 km up to Malad, towards the north of the city, and in further phases up to Virar, a distance of about 46 km. The proposal came up based on a draft report of a joint technical committee (JTC) constituted by the state government to study technical, financial and environmental feasibilities of road options along the city’s coast. The report, sources said, enthused administrators as it recommends coastal roads on reclaimed land and stilts, besides a link portion which has a mangrove patch. “We will put up concrete proposals before the next infrastructure sub-committee for extensions up to Malad and Virar. Most road alignments on these sections will help us in the development of the project. Wherever mangroves confront us with an alignment, a stilt road or link can be built,” said Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) managing director Bipin Shrimali. MSRDC has estimated the cost of the 54-km Versova-Virar coastal road to be around Rs 4,000 crore. The JTC concluded that there was a strong case for constructing a coastal freeway between Malad and Versova, and between Versova and Nariman Point via Bandra and Worli. The cost from Bandra to Versova will be around Rs 1,500 crore. The report has pointed to reclamation in Singapore for coastal roads and has recommended it besides the coastal road on stilt and sea link (like the Bandra-Worli sea link) options for the entire stretch. The committee feels the need of the road (coastal) or freeway (sealink or road on stilts) along the coastline from Nariman Point to Malad is not under dispute. Further, there should be a plan to connect the road to the upcoming eastern freeway on P D’Mello Road via Cuffe Parade and Colaba. This portion will then be attached to the Nhava-Sewri link road at Sewri, and will go further up to Ghatkopar via Chembur and Mankhurd. Comprehensive transportation studies by international consultants had recommended roads up to Versova and further up to Virar, but the need for taking up different sections was still under debate among experts and engineers of the state government. The road will reduce congestion and travel time and will be a long-term solution as it will help keep traffic revolving in and around Mumbai.

Government - BJP meet sealed resolution

The unanimous resolution adopted by both Houses of Parliament that finally broke the Anna Hazare logjam fell into place around 4.30 pm on Saturday in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s office in Parliament. The formulation that the House in principle agrees to consider Hazare’s “three points” dealing with lokayuktas in the states, bringing lower bureaucracy within the proposed law and implementation of a citizens’ charter doesn’t sound complicated, but needed some deft behind the scene footwork. After a few hits and misses, a meeting of government and BJP leaders in the PM’s office sealed the text of the resolution. Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley wrote out the agreed text on a piece of paper that became the basis of the resolution adopted by Parliament.
After being reviled for its self-serving ways and incorrigible politicking, the political class delivered when it mattered. Displaying an unerring big-day temperament, political parties surpassed themselves as Parliament gave Anna Hazare a massive victory. Sensing the public mood, political egos were largely in check. MPs drove home the humbling knowledge that politicians were lagging their constituents. The leaders had become the led. Some leaders hit back at civil society, warning that calling politicians names could draw retaliatory action. Others blamed 24/7 media focus for nurturing the stir. But most were quick to accept that public anger was real and needed to be seen as genuine disgust at corruption. Congress and BJP leaders, who usually do not pass up a chance to have a go at each other, seriously addressed the question of accountability in public life. In the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley said Anna Hazare’s campaign had outlined relevant demands and reminded the House that democracy could not be so lethargic as not to pass the Lokpal bill 42 years after it was first proposed. The CPM’s Sitaram Yechury pointed to the need to match intent with practicability. The Congress’s Sandeep Dikshit spoke of the urgent need to end Anna’s fast. “We are all getting calls from our constituents asking why are we not talking about this,” said BJP’s Pilibhit MP Varun Gandhi. Even JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav’s caustic reference to Kiran Bedi’s antics and a description of how relentless media pressure was depriving leaders of sleep, carried more than a degree of self-deprecation. Politicians, he suggested, had asked for it. For a discussion that revolved around deeply contentious matters impacting India’s federal structure, there were not many interruptions or cat calls in Parliament. Even regular disrupters like the Congress’s Lal Singh seemed taken in by the gravity of the occasion. MPs did not slip into unnecessary hyperbole and stuck to the substance of what was at hand. For a class than has been under fire they did not fling the muck back.

The Anna agitation snippets

In a ‘rare gesture’, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) international president Ashok Singhal on Sunday joined chorus with adversaries like Lalu Yadav in criticising the members of Team Anna for ridiculing politicians. He also raised question over the ‘genuineness’ of NGOs which were part of Anna’s anti-corruption movement. However, Singhal praised Anna’s efforts but went on to claim that over 20,000 RSS and VHP volunteers worked without revealing their identity at Ramlila Maidan for the success of the event. Singhal said that it was wrong on the part of the so-called Civil Society members to mock politicians and members of parliament. He also criticised Team Anna for targeting and trying to mount pressure on the parliament. Replying to a query about Sangh Parivar’s support to Anna’s agitation, Singhal said that RSS had officially announced that it was supporting Anna’s movement. “Around 20,000 RSS and VHP volunteers distributed free food to the people who came to support Anna at Ramlila Maidan. The movement reflected people’s anger against rampant corruption under UPA government,” he added.

Anna targets electoral reforms next

Having secured a promise from the political class on setting up a strong Lokpal, Anna Hazare has moved on to his next obsession, electoral reforms. In specific terms, he wants voters to have the right to recall and reject their representatives. Hazare group members said it needed more time to formulate a comprehensive view on electoral reforms. Of course, the right to recall and reject would be an important part of their demand but it would also deal with other issues related to the Indian election system. The Government’s track record in carrying out electoral reforms is as poor as its action on corruption. Since 2001, Election Commission has been pushing for empowering voters with negative/neutral voting. It is different from Hazare’s idea of recall/reject but could still work. In fact, in 2004, the then chief election commissioner T S Krishnamurthy had proposed this to the government. But it has not been acted upon. Apart from negative/ neutral voting, EC had proposed a ban on surrogate advertisements and ban on advertisements by state/central government six months before election, action against candidates for making false declaration in affidavits and restriction on the number of seats from which one may contest. EC has also been working to curb the menace of paid news and political parties using their news channels to advertise. EC had proposed that in the ballot paper or on the ballot unit of the Electronic Voting Machine, there should be a column “none of the above” after the name of the last candidate. EC had said it would enable a voter to reject all candidates, if he chooses so. The proposal does not even require a big legislative intervention. All that is needed is an amendment to rules 22 and 49B of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961. At present, rule 49 O of the Conduct of Election Rules provides that an elector may refuse to vote after he has been identified and necessary entries in the register of elections are made. But EC had argued that this process did not protect the secrecy of voting as polling officials and polling agents get to know the voter’s decision. Advocate Prashant Bhushan said personally he thought the right to recall/reject was a great idea. “It’s in practice in many countries. Five to 10% of electorate can sign up and demand that their representative be recalled as he has to failed to deliver.” Bhushan was equally excited about building a system of referendum for important policy issues and legislations. “It is wrong to say people do not understand these issues. An elected representative is not representative for everything and does not understand all issues,” Bhushan said.

J&K amnesty for stone pelters

Jammu & Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah on Sunday announced an amnesty scheme for youths involved in over 1,200 cases of stone-pelting in the Valley during last summer’s unrest. “We have decided to give the youths a second chance. Cases against all the youths arrested on charges of stonepelting, but not involved in arson, registered during last year’s disturbance will be withdrawn,” the CM told reporters in Srinagar. Hardline Hurriyat Conference leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani had earlier set a deadline of Eid-ul-Fitr for the release of all those involved in last summer’s unrest. The state government’s amnesty comes days ahead of his call. Abdullah said the criminal record of the youths will be cleared and they will get another chance to build a better future. “(However,) the cut off date for amnesty is today. We cannot do it again. Anyone arrested till today on stone-pelting charges can avail this amnesty,” Omar said. The government had, earlier in the week, released 12 political prisoners, including two close aides of Geelani. Omar said the young boys were used by the separatists for stone-pelting and when they were detained, none of the leaders asked for their release. Omar described the withdrawal of cases against the stone pelters as Eidi (Eid gift). For the fourth consecutive Friday this month, stone-pelting incidents were witnessed in the Nowhatta area, in which 73 stone pelters were arrested.

The No Bribe pledge

Minutes before Anna broke his fast, the 85,000-strong crowd at Ramlila Maidan solemnly took a vow with Arvind Kejriwal: “I swear that I will never in my life take a bribe or give a bribe.” They pronounced each and every word with the kind of conviction that only comes after years of suffering. Kejriwal’s oath captured the very essence of Anna’s protest and at the same time outlined the importance of the common man. As Kejriwal put it, this victory would be hollow unless people change their ways. Manoj Soni, a handyman from Jaipur, broke into tears as he vowed not to stray off the path of honesty. “We have been fighting against corruption but Arvindji reminded me of the corruption that is within all of us. It’s easy to take a bribe or give one. It’s a lot harder to refuse,” he said.


Markets meltdown

Markets fizzle while Gold sizzles

Lokpal Bill snapshotz

Solapur to get an ultra thermal power plant

The power deficit state of Maharashtra is all set to get an ultra-thermal power plant, with 1,320 MW power generation capacity and with more eco-friendly facilities than the existing thermal power plants. Located 15 km outside the Solapur city, the power plant will have super critical technology, which will help lower emission of carbon dioxide from the plant, said Solapur district collector Jagdish Patil. Patil said, “About 2,000 acres of land has been acquired within four months and the plant is expected to start functioning in three years. There will be two power generation units with 660 MW generation capacity each. The estimated cost of the project is Rs 10,000 crore.” Patil said, “The National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) is setting up this plant for which global tender is floated for sub-contracts. A verdict of the supreme court is expected in coming days on one of the issues related to the global tender. Once it is done, the erection of power plant will be started.” The NTPC has set up a similar plant in Bilaspur in Chhattisgarh, which has started power generation from June, he added. According to industry experts, the super critical technology is currently used in many developed countries and power plants coming in few years would have the same technology, unlike the conventional power generation plants. The heat energy to electricity conversion rate in the conventional power plants is around 37-38%, which is 39% in this super critical technology. In such huge plants, efficiency of one per cent is very important. It is not clear which international company will set up boilers for the plant, but the turbo generators would be provided by a joint venture between Bharat Forge Ltd and Alstom. Alstom is a global power systems manufacturer and service provider and the BFL is India-based multinational company in manufacturing and metal forming.

Of Pune's DP

Maharashtra Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan has said that a decision on the long-pending development plan (DP) for 23 fringe villages of Pune will be taken within a month. Chavan also said the government would explore the feasibility of having a local civic body tax as an alternative to octroi. Earlier, Chavan inaugurated the Rajiv Gandhi elearning academy, started by the Pune Municipal Corporation, on Sunday. Chavan said, “Approval of the DP has been pending for many days. As requested by the deputy CM, Ajit Pawar, we will try and take a decision by end of August, but a month is a safe period to take such an important decision.” Chavan also said he will look into the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) schemes on plots owned by the PMC. While some corporators demanded that the PMC should set the cut-off time for rehabilitating slum-dwellers under the scheme, others said the state government orders should be followed in this regard. The state government is set to recognise all shanties that have come up till early 2000. The move is being planned with an eye on the civic elections in 2012 since slums form a decisive vote bank. Chavan also said that Maharashtra is among the very few states where the octroi system is still functioning. “When vehicles stop for paying octroi, movement of vehicles is affected resulting in traffic jam. We will study the possibility of local body tax as an alternative to octroi and how feasible it is for Maharashtra.” Earlier, Ajit Pawar said, “there are media reports that the NCP has some other opinion on the DP. But, I want to make it clear right away that we want the DP to be approved by the state government immediately and if possible, before September. Also, other decisions on development of Pune, like metro, ring road, BDP should also be taken for the betterment of the city.” The Rajiv Gandhi e-learning academy is the first CBSE-affiliated PMC school with about 900 students. Students are not required to carry school bags as all subjects are taught with help of computers. Situated at Shivdarshan, the academy has been designed by corporator Aba Bagul with a construction cost of Rs 15 crore. The academy is meant for students from the economically weaker sections of society.

Somewhere in Kashmir....

Admitting the presence of unmarked graves containing over 2,000 bodies at 38 sites in north Kashmir, the State Human Rights Commission’s investigative wing has called for probe by an impartial agency in all disappearance cases in the state. “It is beyond doubt that unmarked graves containing unidentified bodies do exist at various places in north Kashmir... A proper FIR should be registered keeping in view the claims and investigated thoroughly by an impartial agency – not only in north Kashmir but across the state wherever such unmarked graves exist,” the inquiry report filed by the SHRC’s investigative wing said. The inquiry was conducted after SHRC took suo moto cognisance of media reports in April about the presence of unmarked graves and calls from Amnesty International to probe these allegations. “The police, while handing over the unidentified bodies to locals for burial, claimed them to be of unidentified militants. But later on, out of 2,730 unidentified bodies, 574 were identified as those of locals by their kin at these 38 places visited by the investigating team,” it said. The inquiry report, conducted by an 11-member team under the supervision of SSP B A Yatoo of the investigative wing of the SHRC, suggested that DNA profiling should be carried out on the bodies buried in unmarked graves for matching with kin of the missing persons. “The scope of DNA extraction from remains of these unidentified bodies buried in unmarked graves of north Kashmir is still very bright. As the time will go on to elapse, chances will be more and more reduced,” it said.

GIFT gets SEZ status

The languishing Gujarat International Financial Tech-City (GIFT), which is being developed off Gandhinagar, is finally a special economic zone (SEZ). The Centre has given the much-awaited nod for the SEZ status which was critical for the project touted to have the potential to take on not only the economic might of Mumbai but also Asian regional financial hubs like Dubai and Hong Kong. On August 18, there was some relief in Gandhinagar as the Gujarat government was officially informed about SEZ clearance. The go-ahead was given by Union ministries of finance and commerce. This makes GIFT the country’s first multi-service SEZ with special focus on financial services, riding on immense skills that Gujaratis possess in this area. Investors, who were shying away from GIFT so far, are happy over the SEZ status as international players will be able to set up base here without Reserve Bank of India restrictions on capital. Plus, domestic financial players will be able to operate out of here and offer financial services across the world. Only part of GIFT will be a SEZ, giving the option to investors to enjoy freedom from fiscal control or to be bound by Indian regulators. Director for GIFT Ramakant Jha, the man behind many infrastructural projects in Mumbai, said by mid-September GIFT Company Ltd will roll out the red carpet for Indian and global developers for two commercial buildings in the SEZ area, besides one residential and commercial building each in the non-SEZ area. The four buildings will have over two million sq. ft. of office space. While the project got slowed down by the global financial meltdown, it was only in March GIFT Company Ltd became the official owners of a large tract of land in Shahpur, off Gandhinagar. Chief minister Narendra Modi was keen on this land transfer as the government had barely managed six MoUs for investments in GIFT. He may also relax the state’s dry laws for this zone. “Now, many investors will be willing to join us from the banking, insurance, and IT enabled services,” says Jha. The six earlier MoUs are worth Rs 11,700 crore. IL&FS will begin building towers with a total carpet area of 7.77 million square feet. The company shall pump in investments worth Rs 3,000 crore for this purpose. The land for GIFT city is divided into two portions today. Nearly 261 acres will come under the SEZ area and 412 acres outside SEZ limits as on date. The GIFT City project is spread over 886 acres out of which 673 acres have already been transferred by the state government to GIFT Company Ltd. Sources add that the process to acquire the remaining portion of land is under way.Gujarat will get its first 30-floor commercial building and a 22-floor residential building in the next two-and-half years at Gujarat International Financial Tec (GIFT) City, off Gandhinagar. Moreover, a fully functional clubhouse with recreational facilities and 50 rooms will be completed in the next 18 months. In May 2010, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) had cleared the height of 120 metres for GIFT City buildings. GIFT City’s new SEZ status has only catalyzed works of civic and social infrastructure at the project site. Investors, mainly from Dubai’s construction companies, have already started making enquiries. “To facilitate investors, GIFT City will extend concessions to financial regulators so that they can set up shop here,” said a senior official of GIFT Company Ltd. “This means investors won’t have to go to Mumbai to get basic clearances from RBI or other financial regulators in the western region.” The master plan for GIFT City, which covers 886 acres, consists of 67% commercial area; 22% residential; and 11% is set aside for social infrastructure. The city has laid a special emphasis on creating social infrastructure first. A GIFT official pointed out that in the first phase of the project, which covers an area of 10 million square feet, there will be provisions for two schools, up to the senior secondary levels. One will be affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), and the other to International Baccalaureate. IL&FS will dedicate 10 floors for special courses that will be required for professional skill development. This includes two-year vocational courses. Another GIFT Company Limited official said it is wrongly believed that electricity will be costlier in GIFT SEZ. He said the company will actually offer power at a rate lower than what is prevalent in the rest of the state. “We have already commissioned work to a developer to set up power infrastructure at GIFT City,” said vice-president, corporate services and business development, Dipesh Shah. “The Uttar Gujarat Vij Company Limited has given us clearances.” GIFT Company director Ramakant Jha said: “If you do not create basic social it is hard to persuade anyone to move into the city.”


Indian Grand Prix

Tickets have gone on sale.

Rain havoc in Uttarakhand, HP

Torrential rains this week shut down large parts of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh and disrupted life in huge chunks of the two hill states. Massive landslides cut off arterial highways and thousands of tourists who had driven up to escape the muggy heat were left stranded. The NH-108, linking Uttarkashi to Yamunotri and Gangotri, was blocked at several patches with mounds of rubble on the tarmac. Along with this highway, which is the main supply route for Uttarakhand, the same weather system left the Kullu valley crippled, cutting it off from the rest of Himachal. Most towns and villages across Uttarakhand are practically islands with no connectivity between them. People are marooned at several points. Those who have urgent work are left with no option but to walk, sometimes for 30-40 km. Stranded tourists have had to trek for 12 hours to the nearest town to find shelter. With over 50 landslides spread between Chamba in Tehri Garhwal district and Chinyali Saud, 65km further up the highway, residents feared they would remain marooned for a long time. Although the rain had tapered off, there was no visible urgency to reopen the roads. Less than 10 bulldozers and excavators were being used to clear the mess spread in the 95-km stretch from Chamba to Uttarkashi. A handful of Border Roads Organization (BRO) employees, seen working at a few of the several landslide spots, were clueless about the condition of the road afew kilometers beyond.

INS Satpura commissioned

The Indian Navy added to its striking capabilities Saturday by commissioning its second indigenously designed and built warship, INS Satpura, a multi-role combatant stealth frigate that can hoodwink enemy and catch him off-guard. The state of the art 142.5-metre long frigate with a lethal mix of an array of weaponry and sensors was commissioned by naval chief Admiral Nirmal Verma. The second of the Shivalik class frigates - conceived, designed and constructed by an Indian naval team - will be among the frontline warships of the Indian Navy that currently has a fleet of 130 vessels, including an aircraft carrier, 20 landing ships, eight destroyers, 12 frigates and 16 attack submarines. The first vessel of the Shivalik class frigates, INS Shivalik, was commissioned in April last year. The third ship, INS Sahyadri, is likely to be commissioned next year. The Project 17 under which the three stealth vessels were built, has cost over Rs.8,100 crore. India is among very few countries in the world having the capability of building stealth warships. The other countries with this capability are the US, Britain, Russia, France, China, Japan and Italy. INS Satpura with versatile control systems and radar cross-section reduction features and missile capabilities will considerably augment the Indian Navy’s lethal punch. The ship has the capability to outsmart the enemy with its low radar cross-section, less heat radiation and diminished noise vibrations. This makes the detection of the ship more difficult and that ultimately gives it more time to react in case of a strike. However, it does not mean the 6,200-tonne sailing machine would be invisible in the sea. But its features enable it to hit before being hit. This warship is equipped with Israeli Barak surface-to-air missile and Russian Klub cruise missile systems, torpedoes, anti-submarine missile and two helicopters. It was developed by state-run Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL) here and is a part of the Indian Navy’s indigenous design and build project. Navy chief Verma called it a “red letter day for the Indian armed forces.” The stealth frigate was to be inaugurated by Defence Minister A.K. Antony but he cancelled his trip to Mumbai at the last minute. The commissioning was marked by hoisting of the naval flag on the ship by Verma and a naval band playing the national anthem.

Chiru joins Congress

Somewhere on the LoC....

A 26-year-old Army lieutenant and a dozen heavily armed Pakistani terrorists were killed in an encounter triggered after the group was spotted trying to cross a river into the Indian territory in a boat along the Line of Control in North Kashmir’s Bandipora district on Saturday. This was the biggest infiltration bid this year and comes in a season that generally sees an increase in such attempts before terrorists are snowed in for winter months across the LoC in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. There have been eight infiltration attempts this month. Defence spokesman Lt Col J S Brar identified the officer as Lt Navdeep Singh commissioned into the Army Ordnance Corps five months ago. “He was serving in the Maratha Light Infantry’s 15th Battalion,” he said. He said two soldiers were also injured in the encounter. Lt Col Brar said the terrorists were using a boat to infiltrate perhaps for the first time. “This is certainly a new development. The terrorists were also carrying an inflatable five-man dinghy,” he said. The spokesman said six slain terrorists fell into the river while as many were killed near its banks. “Five AK rifles, one pistol, two boats, 50 assorted grenades, two radio sets, two compasses and one Global Positioning System besides a large quantity of war like stores were recovered from the scene till the reports last came in,” he said. “The operation is still on to comb the neighbouring dense forests in the area.” But overall militant violence has dipped to an alltime low along with the cross-LoC infiltration in the last few years. Officials credit fencing and high-tech equipment installed along the LoC for the turnaround.

12th Five Year Plan

In his first acknowledgement of what economists and corporate chiefs have been saying for the past few months, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh warned that achieving 9% growth during the next plan period – April 2012 to March 2017 – may be tough in the absence of difficult decisions. In his opening remarks at the meeting of the full Planning Commission, Singh said the panel settled on the 9% growth target, instead of 9%-9.5% as suggested earlier due to the uncertainty in the global economy and challenges at home. The PM’s statement indicates that the global environment — led by problems in Europe and the US — is expected to be uncertain for a while. The PM said in the best case scenario, the growth rate during the five-year period would grow 9.2%. The PM said that health, education and infrastructure spending would get more funding than other sectors, given the resource crunch and the need for fiscal consolidation. The PM’s observations on taking tough decisions come at a time when several issues such as liberalization of foreign investment regime for retail and defence production are held up due to interministerial wrangling. The proposed national manufacturing policy too is held up as labour and environment ministries are unwilling to show flexibility in reducing undue inspection and clearances that are required. The Centre and the states have also been divided on the rollout of Goods & Services Tax from next April due to lack of political consensus. Singh said a broader national consensus was required to push the next round of reforms that entailed legislative changes. Singh also said the government’s flagship schemes such as the rural employment guarantee programme would continue in the next plan. “We need to ensure that resources provided are spent to achieve maximum efficiency in terms of outcomes. We also need to harness private investment in these areas,” the PM said.

Opinions invited on the Lokpal bill

A Parliamentary committee examining the Lokpal bill on Saturday sought suggestions from public within 15 days, making it clear that the August 30 deadline set by Anna Hazare on passing the anti-corruption legislation would not be met. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice and Personnel issued an advertisement in dailies outlining salient features of the bill and asking people to send their opinions. The time of 15 days is the standard time given by parliamentary panels to people or organizations to send feedback on bills. Reacting to the newspaper advertisement, Hazare’s associate Arvind Kejriwal said it appeared to be an exercise which will waste the time of people and Parliamentarians. “We appeared before the Standing Committee earlier and told them that the present bill is actually for promotion of corruption and save the corrupt people,” he said.


Rajya Sabha impeaches Sen

The Rajya Sabha has passed the impeachment motion against Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court, clearing the first stage for his removal. This is the first time in the country’s history that an impeachment motion against a judge has been passed by either House of Parliament. The impeachment motion was passed with 189 ayes and 17 noes, the latter from members belonging to BSP which opposed the motion. Trinamool Congress MPs were absent during voting. This is significant as Sen’s impeachment is seen as part of the fight between CPM and expelled leader and former Speaker Somnath Chaterjee. The impeachment motion will come up before the Lok Sabha next week. If passed by a twothirds majority in the Lok Sabha, the motion will be referred to the President who will order Justice Sen’s removal as a judge. Replying to the discussion on the impeachment motion, CPM leader Sitaram Yechury said, the entire deliberations, including Justice Sen’s 100-minute defence, had only proved the misbehaviour on his part, both as a court-appointed receiver as well as after his elevation as a judge.

Jagan in trouble

CBI has carried out searches at various premises of Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy following charges that investments made in his companies were “quid-pro-quo” for favours doled out by his father Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, the then chief minister of Andhra Pradesh. CBI registered a case against Jagan on the instructions of Andhra Pradesh High Court under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code pertaining to cheating, criminal conspiracy, criminal breach of trust and under provisions of Prevention of Corruption Act. Agency spokesperson Dharini Mishra said in Delhi that searches have been conducted at Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata, Rajkot, Delhi and Mumbai, in this connection. “The CBI has registered a case-...against a Member of Parliament from Andhra Pradesh, and others, on the orders of High Court of Andhra Pradesh...on the allegation that the investors who invested in the companies owned and promoted by the Member of Parliament at very high premiums were as a quid-pro-quo for the favours doled out by the then Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh,” she said. Acting on the separate petitions filed by textile minister P Shankar Rao and TDP leader Yerran Naidu, the Andhra Pradesh High Court had recently ordered CBI to probe the alleged illegal assets that the Kadapa MP had amassed during his father's regime as chief minister. The agency in a separate case also searched the premises of Principal Secretary (Home) B P Acharya and builder Emaar-MGF in Hyderabad. In the second case, searches were conducted after CBI registered a case against Emaar-MGF, its sister concerns and others on the allegations that favours were granted to it by the state government officials in the execution of a posh real estate project at Manikonda, here. The agency registered the case against the real estate developer on the instructions of the high court under the IPC sections pertaining to cheating, criminal conspiracy and provisions of Prevention of Corruption Act. Reacting to the development, executive president Emaar-MGF Sanjiv Saddy said, “As a corporate policy, the group always cooperates with the investigating agency and adheres by the law. We are providing all the documents sought by the CBI officials and cooperating with them.”

Swiss to share banks info from Sept : Pranab

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee said the agreement signed with Switzerland for sharing banking information on demand is likely to come into force by September. He said during Question Hour in the Lok Sabha that he had signed the agreement with Switzerland for sharing banking information of Indians having accounts there during his earlier tenure as finance minister in UPA-I government. He said the Swiss Parliament had ratified the agreement but as per rules of direct democracy prevalent in that country all cantons (states) have to ratify it. “This process will be completed by September. Information will be shared from April 1, 2011, prospectively not retrospectively. No country has agreed to share information retrospectively,” Mukherjee said, adding once it comes into force, banking information will be exchanged between the two countries on demand. Mukherjee said India’s Tax Information Exchange Agreement (TIEA) with four sovereign entities, namely Bahamas, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands and Isle of Man was already in force. These are famous tax havens where blackmoney of individuals from several countries has been parked. India has also signed TIEA with Cayman Islands but it is yet to come into force. The finance minister said India’s Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) with 80 countries was already in force while DTAA with Columbia, Ethiopia, Lithuania, Taiwan and Tanzania has been signed but is yet to come into force. India has re-negotiated DTAA with Italy, Norway, Singapore and Switzerland.

NCPRI's draft Lokpal bill

The draft of NCPRI's version of the Lokpal bill, made public in July, seeks to include the Prime Minister, just like provisions in the Jan Lokpal bill, as well as all levels of bureaucracy and the judiciary in the Lokpal’s ambit but with specific conditions. The stand taken in the NCPRI's draft bill is that the Prime Minister's inclusion must ensure that no investigation would be launched involving him unless the full bench of the Central Anti-Corruption Lokpal has, based on evidence available, recommend such an investigation. On a subsequent reference made by the Anti-Corruption Lokpal to the Supreme Court of India, a full bench of the Supreme Court has examined the evidence and concurred with the National Anti-Corruption Lokpal. This, the draft bill feels, will protect the PM from false investigations. Further, the bills suggests that after receiving a concurrence of the Supreme Court no investigation should be launched till a notice has been served to the ruling party or coalition that the Anti-Corruption Lokpal proposes to conduct an investigation after 15 days are given to them to make alternative arrangements, if they so wish. However, the draft proposes, during this period the Anti-Corruption Lokpal shall be authorised to safeguard evidence and witnesses, as it would once the investigation starts. The NCPRI version of the Lokpal bill is based on a slew of measures involving multiple institutions rather than one institution for doing everything for everyone. It adopts a two-pronged approach to cover not just complaints under the Prevention of Corruption Act, but also to take cognisance of complaints relating to violations under Chapter IX of the IPC, prevention of money laundering, and other legal instruments that the government may notify from time to time. The bills seeks to address issues of corruption through three parallel Lokpals – the national anti-corruption Lokpal, a stronger Central VigilanceCommission or the Kendriya Satarkta Lokpal, and a stronger Judicial Accountability and Standards Bill or the Nyay Palika Lokpal. On the issue of the investigations against the Prime Minister, the draft bill suggests that the Anti-Corruption Lokpal should not investigate on his role in matters relating to intelligence and security. This suggestion follows arguments since the Prime Minister deals with several sensitive matters, especially those relating to intelligence and security matters, it would be best to keep him out of the purview of the Anti-Corruption Lokpal. The draft bill also suggests that on complaints regarding actions done by others where the Prime Minister is not directly involved but can be held responsible as the head of the government or cabinet should not be entertained. The draft also seeks for creation of a National Law for Public Grievances Redressal for grievances and to back it all up with a strong Whistleblower Protection Bill or the Lokrakshak Kanoon for safeguarding the interests of those who bring issues of corruption to the limelight.

The Aruna Roy-led National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) on Saturday described activist Anna Hazare’s resolve to continue his fast till Parliament passed his version of the Lokpal bill as “dangerous’’ and “undemocratic”. Affirming faith in the parliamentary process, NCPRI members said that while the government draft left much to be desired, significant changes could be made in the pending anti-graft legislation. Arguing that Anna Hazare should not deride democratic institutions, NAC member Aruna Roy said the Gandhian was “ill-advise” adding, “We must assert our rights. But to get rid of these institutions would be a great disaster for all the people in this country. We must make these democratic institutions work for us and they must work for us.’’ Roy said that NCPRI would take their version of the Lokpal bill and the accompanying basket of measures to the Standing Committee and the Hazare group should do the same. In an apparent reference to Hazare setting a deadline to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill, she said, “I think Annaji is ill-advised...anyone who says my view should be the only view is wrong.” Former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court Justice A P Shah said that the deadline on Parliament was “dictatorial and undemocratic”. He added, “What will happen to this country if every group starts insisting on passing their own laws? It a most unreasonable demand and I have serious doubts that they understand the implications of their demand.’’ Another NAC member Harsh Mander said that it was the right of all people to be heard and no one could claim to represent all people.

Somewhere in Chennai....

Ending speculation about the future of the new and modern secretariat complex, TN chief minister J Jayalalithaa on Friday announced that it would be converted into a super speciality hospital that would be on par with the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences. The proposed second block, yet to be constructed, will be converted into a medical college, she told the assembly. After making necessary arrangements, including appointing doctors and nurses besides procuring equipment, the sprawling assembly hall, which cost the previous DMK government about Rs 500 crore to build, would be put to public use. The complex, intended by the earlier DMK regime to be a modern secretariat, housing both the assembly hall and the government offices, could not accommodate all 36 state departments and the government could not function from two places, Jayalalithaa contended. DMK chief M Karunanidhi, who reacted to the decision late in the day at a public meeting in the city, said, “There is nothing wrong in converting the building into a hospital. I myself have donated my house (in Gopalapuram) for building a charitable hospital.” He added that the previous DMK government had spent about Rs 500 crore.


West Bengal will soon be called Paschimbanga — a name harder to pronounce for non-Bengalis and barely a notch higher in alphabetical order. hief minister Mamata Banerjee admitted that the new name might not meet everyone’s aspirations or weed out administrative difficulties that the state was facing because of being last in alphabetical order. “Paschimbanga was the unanimous decision at the all-party meeting,” Mamata said. Her partymen say Mamata favoured Bangabhoomi but gave in to pressure from Congress and Left parties. Once approved in Parliament the new name will help the state crawl up only seven places. Intellectuals like Gautam Ghose, Sunil Ganguly, Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay and Buddhadeb Guha were shocked. The new name has triggered heated discussions on internet.


Of Spring & Summer

Arab spring, Indian summer ?

An article by Rob Jenkins, The Christian Science Monitor on 1st August 2011.
With the world understandably fixated on the Arab Spring, India's own season of discontent has gone largely unnoticed. The globe's largest democracy, India lacks a dictator to topple. But its activists are bringing about regime change anyway. More than six decades after the British departed, India is shedding the last vestiges of the colonial state.
Over the next few months – especially during the "monsoon session" of Parliament that begins Aug. 1 – India will witness major milestones in replacing archaic governance structures with something the British Raj promised but rarely delivered: the rule of law.
For sheer drama, the Arab Spring is a hard act to follow. But as an indicator of democracy's long-term prospects in the developing world, the coming Indian Summer will be every bit as profound.
Two momentous changes to Indian governance are under way, driven by powerful social movements. The more visible of the two seeks to end the impunity with which India's current rulers, like their imperial predecessors, plunder the nation's wealth. Independent India inherited powerful institutions and a Victorian governance culture that places senior officials above the law. The prime minister enjoys de facto control over government investigative agencies.
The coalition government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is drafting legislation to create an independent vigilance body called a "Jan Lokpal," or "people's guardian" – a superombudsman with the authority to investigate and prosecute officials suspected of abusing their public positions for private gain. It would effectively abolish the executive branch's viceregal prerogative.
Hunger strikes and protests
A hunger strike in April by a neo-Gandhian anti-corruption campaigner, Mr.Anna Hazare, forced the government to include representatives from civil society on the bill's drafting committee. This is all taking place amid public outrage over a multi-billion-dollar telecom-licensing scandal. Details have been captured on audio recordings that reveal extensive collusion among lobbyists, politicians, and name-brand journalists.
The activists and politicians drafting the ombudsman bill disagree on several issues, notably whether the prime minister and senior judges should be under the new institution's jurisdiction.
Many voices have emerged to complain about involving "extraconstitutional" actors in the law-drafting process. But involving civic leaders is hardly antidemocratic. It can be a useful counterweight to the influence of corporate lobbyists, who participate intensively in the drafting of much legislation. Others fear creating an institution that can subvert democracy by allowing the electorate's verdict to be overturned by an overzealous people's tribune. Yet, countries such as New Zealand have managed to create powerful, independent oversight institutions without disenfranchising citizens.
A summer of mass protest is planned if the Jan Lokpal ombudsman bill is not to the activists' liking – which the initial draft almost certainly won't be. A hugely popular television yoga guru known as Baba Ramdev, whose rally against corruption was broken up by police in June, has promised another fast unto death if action is not taken to plug loopholes. Expect India's independence day – Aug. 15 – to be marked by civil disobedience.
The second element of regime change is even more explicitly targeted at colonial-era governance. For the first time in independent India, a government is serious about replacing the Land Acquisition Act of 1894, which allows the state to dispossess landowners for almost any "public purpose."
The act's few landowner protections are easily trumped by countervailing emergency provisions. Compensation for landowners is pitiful. The key official who engineers these transactions – the district collector – is an imperial relic of vast authority whose extractive function is unsubtly encoded in his job title.
Activists have long demanded reforms to the Land Acquisition Act. A protracted campaign against the World Bank-funded Narmada Dam in the 1980s and '90s highlighted the callousness with which the Indian state uproots entire communities in the name of development.
The current effort to replace (rather than just tidy up) the act has been set off by popular revulsion at the more recent state practice of gifting forcibly acquired land to corporations, both foreign and domestic, to establish export enclaves known as "special economic zones." Nearly 600 such zones, which often feature luxury housing and other high-end amenities, are in various stages of completion across India. Their alleged economic benefits are widely regarded as an insufficiently "public purpose" to justify such blatant land-grabbing.
The state's forcible acquisition of land for private industry has sparked protests across India. The brutality of the state government in West Bengal – more than 30 people died in clashes between protesters and police in 2007 – contributed to this May's defeat of the Communist-led government that had ruled the state since 1977. A violent standoff is taking place in neighboring Orissa State, where land has been acquired by the government on behalf of a South Korean steel conglomerate.A detailed proposal to overhaul the Land Acquisition Act has been issued by the National Advisory Council, a government think tank chaired by Sonia Gandhi. Widow of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, she is president of the ruling party and the current prime minister's de facto boss. The proposed legislation would vastly increase compensation to landowners and for the first time provide statutory relief to nonlandowners whose livelihoods are nevertheless adversely affected. It would also impose a higher public-purpose standard for compulsory land acquisition and set community-resettlement norms.
Momentum behind the activists
The fate of these two regime-changing reforms is uncertain, but more promising than cynics might imagine. The prime movers of both the Jan Lokpal ombudsman and land acquisition bills are the same activists who in 2005 drove passage of India's Right to Information Act, which superseded the Official Secrets Act of 1923.
Activists have had to prod the various branches of government to dismantle the colonial state. In 2009, in response to public-interest litigation, the Supreme Court struck down anti-gay-rights provisions of the Indian Penal Code enacted in 1860. In 2001, Parliament amended the Indian Divorce Act of 1869 to grant Christian women – each major religion operates under its own "personal law" – the same divorce rights as men.
To advance the agenda of accountable, rights-based governance, several key activists have embedded themselves within the state through appointments to official oversight and policy-guidance bodies. This core of dedicated reformers has pioneered a new model for channeling people's perspectives directly to the heart of policymaking.
India's vibrant social movements have seized on the dissonance between modern expectations of freedom and the provisions of colonial laws to advance the seemingly never-ending process of making subjects into citizens. Indians are consolidating democracy, making it durable by making it their own – a feat that people in the Middle East will soon realize is even trickier than unseating autocrats.
Rob Jenkins, professor of political science at Hunter College and associate director at the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies, City University of New York, is researching how politics influences the realization of rights in India.

Sindh & the National Anthem

The Bombay high court on Wednesday said the use of the word, ‘Sindh’, in the national anthem, Jana gana mana, was probably by mistake and was not done deliberately. A division bench of Justice Ranjana Desai and Justice R G Ketkar were hearing a public interest litigation filed by Shrikant Malushte, a retired professor, challenging the use of ‘Sindh’ in the national anthem. His argument argument was that Sindh is now a part of Pakistan and so, the word should be replaced with ‘Sindhu’, a river in northern India. He pointed out that the word was replaced by the Indian government in January 1950, but the anthem continued to be sung and broadcast with the “incorrect” word. Malushte’s advocate Niranjan Mogre said using the word was a “deliberate attempt” to retain Sindh, which is not in India anymore. “Why should it be deliberate? What is the motive? You are reading something more to this,” said Justice Desai, as the judges questioned the logic of “purposely” retaining the word ‘Sindh’. Mogre replied, “It is an insult to national honour.” Justice Desai riposted, “You cannot say it’s a deliberate act of disrespect. Why would anyone deliberately insult the national anthem?” Justice Desai added, “If it’s a mistake, you (Centre) must correct it immediately.” The bench also said “it was a mistake they probably have been making for years” and “the message must go out”. Advocate for Union government sought time to file a reply saying three ministries, that of home affairs, information & broadcasting and cultural affairs, were involved. The case will be next heard three weeks later.

Mamata to accompany Manmohan to Dhaka

Bengal Chief minister Mamata Banerjee will be accompanying Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Bangladesh on September 6 and 7. The PM’s office sent an invitation to her on Wednesday and Mamata said she would accompany Singh. “A confirmation letter is being sent to the Prime Minister,” Mamata said. Last month, a Bangaldeshi delegation including Bangladesh deputy high commissioner Md Mustafizur Rahaman had met the CM at Writers’ Buildings and invited her to visit Bangaldesh, extending the invitation of Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina. The PM-level talks between Hasina and Singh are slated to resolve many outstanding disputes and intended at increasing cooperation between the two neighbours. Sources said as part of the Indian diplomacy, the Bengal CM is being included in the entourage of the PM, as she is known to be close to Hasina. The Bangladesh PM had sent greetings to Mamata immediately after she became the CM of Bengal in May. So, it is expected that Mamata Banerjee will play a crucial role in the summit between Hasina and Singh, as the two nations are going to discuss about water sharing and Bengal’s interest in water sharing is prime for India. So Mamata can play a lead role in resolving the muchawaited agreement on sharing the waters of Teesta and Bhargirathi. The treaty on Teesta water sharing is on the cards. Some other accords are also likely to be signed. In December 1996, the two nations had signed the water sharing treaty, but now both the nations want to review it. In end-July, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi had been to Bangladesh to receive the ‘Bangladesh Freedom Honor’ conferred to her mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi, for her contribution to the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971. The PM’s trip will give importance to combating terrorism in the Subcontinent and increase trade relations between the two neighbours. The talks will also include foreign direct investment and better road links. The two premiers are also to discuss about maritime trade and settling border disputes other than setting up a co-ordination committee for sharing information between the law enforcing agencies of the two nations to stop terrorism and smuggling. The recent foreign secretary-level talks had also helped improve the relationship between the two neighbours. Officials said Mamata is keen on improving Indo-Bangladesh ties, as it is not at present at the desired level. She wants to improve ties between the two nations by increasing cultural exchange and for that she is in favour of using Tagore and Nazrul as a media. Currently both Bangladesh and India are observing 150th anniversary of Tagore. She wants to remove bureaucratic tangles for implementation of different bilateral initiatives. She is expected to take a key role in the discussion of the Indian enclaves, as she is very much sympathetic to their residents.

India 2020

India will become a $5.6-trillion economy, from $1.73 trillion in FY11, by 2020, according to research firm Dun & Bradstreet, which has predicted a three-fold jump in the country’s GDP from $1.7 trillion last fiscal on the back of rapid investment and growing consumer expenditure. The rate of investment, consumer expenditure and infrastructure spending will be the driving force behind the country’s economic growth over the next 10 years, D&B economist Arun Singh said, adding that these conclusions are part of a report which is scheduled to be released tomorrow. The share of discretionary spending is projected to increase considerably to 72% of private consumption expenditure from around 60% in FY10. Besides, the share of the services sector is expected to surge from 57% of the GDP in FY10 to 61.8% in FY20. Another major contributor to the growth would be rapid investment in the infrastructure area. Infrastructure sector spending is expected to rise to 12% of the GDP by FY20 from around 7% of the GDP in FY11. In terms of regions, eight states—Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh—would contribute 71% of the total GDP in the next 10 years, as compared to 66% in FY10. Further, the report said Maharashtra, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh will be amongst the most developed states in the country by 2020 and would together contribute 32% to the overall GDP.


Of Gold reserves & returns


Politics seen through a cartoonist's eye

Of Maharashtra & private universities

Maharashtra has become the 10th state in the country to allow private entities to set up universities, hoping to attract investments in specialized disciplines. Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat are among the states that have already allowed pri- vate participation to meet a growing demand for higher education.
India wants to add 25 million students to its higher education space and needs 800 more universities by 2020. It has about 530 today. The Union government has admitted this may not be possible without private participation.
Only 13% of the students who pass the Senior Secondary Certificate (SSC) examination in Maharashtra are able to enrol for higher education, the state's higher and technical education minister Rajesh Tope said.
A committee of educational experts, headed by the secretary of higher education, will approve proposals for setting up private universities, under a law passed by the state legislature last week. The law makes it compulsory for private universities to have a campus of at least 4 hectares (ha) in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR); 10 ha in divisional headquarters such as Pune, Nagpur and Aurangabad; 20ha in district headquarters; and 40ha in rural areas.
Universities in MMR must have a minimum endowment fund of `10 crore, while those located outside MMR must have a `5 crore fund.
Private universities are not required to have reservations for scheduled caste, scheduled tribe and other backward class students, but the law asks them to have an affirmative action programme.
RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani, during the company's annual general meeting on 18 June, 2010, announced plans to set up a university through the Reliance Foundation.
“We are looking at Maharashtra and Gujarat for opening the first campus of the university, but nothing has been finalized yet,“ said a senior company executive, asking not to be identified.