Of Rapid Growth Markets forecast

India is expected to record higher growth than China in 2013 and the two Asian powerhouses are expected to be less impacted among the 25 rapid growth markets in case of a deterioration of the Eurozone debt crisis, a report by Ernst & Young said on Monday. The first Rapid Growth Markets (RGMs) forecast released on Monday attributes India and China’s ability to better withstand a likely slowdown to the large size of their domestic markets and the effects of lower oil and commodity prices. The forecast pegs India’s real GDP growth rate at 9.5% in 2013 followed by China at 9%. In 2014, India is expected to grow at 9% and China at 8.6%. In the current fiscal year, the Indian economy is expected to slow down to 7.2% from 8.2% achieved in 2010. A modest recovery to 8% is expected in the 2012 calendar year, the report said. “While the overall outlook for India is positive, the country will need to address rising inflation. Provided India’s inflation does start to fall back by the end of this year, and the US and EU economies do not slip back into recession, the ‘soft patch’ for Indian growth should be relatively shortlived. Once inflation is in check, and interest rates are no longer rising, consumers will be more willing to spend, supporting a general improvement in the business environment, with growth steadily accelerating during 2012,” the report added. India enjoys an advantage in its high savings and investment rates, currently a third of GDP; a relatively low GDP per capita on purchasing power parity giving significant potential for growth and continuing industrialisation and urbanisation, it said. “India’s consumption-led economy continues to make the country a highly attractive investment destination in the short-to-medium term. Its domestic demand-driven growth model has helped the country weather the volatility in the global markets, providing significant growth opportunities to businesses,” said Farokh Balsara, partner at Ernst & Young India.


According to the National Manufacturing Policy okayed by the government, the industrial townships will be self-governing and autonomous bodies. Single window clearance will be provided to improve the regulatory environment, and a job loss policy/sinking fund will be introduced to protect the interests of labourers in the event of a unit’s closure within the zone. “What we got today is a very robust policy framework which will be very attractive to our global partners and investors,” commerce, industry and textiles minister Anand Sharma said. “China has done it, Germany has done it, now India has decided to do it,” he added. Sharma said the policy was based on the principle of industrial growth in partnership with states. The central government will create the enabling policy framework, provide incentives for infrastructure development on a private-public partnership basis through appropriate financing instruments while state governments will identify suitable land and be equity holders in the NIMZs. The share of manufacturing in the country’s gross domestic product has stagnated at about 16% since 1980 while the share in comparable Asian economies such as China, South Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia stands at 25-34%. The first phase of the NIMZ will be set up along the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor and is expected to come on stream in the next few years. The DMIC project covers six states, including Maharashtra, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, which account for 43% of the country’s GDP, 50% of industrial production and exports and 40% of total workforce. The government estimates that the project will offer employment to over three million people. Analysts said the approval of the policy would help dispel doubts about the government’s ability to move ahead with policy reforms besides boosting sentiment and lifting the gloom that had set in after a series of scandals hit the headlines since last year which hobbled progress on economic issues. Industry groups too cheered the government move. “The timing of the approval is important and assumes greater significance given the domestic business environment and current global uncertainties. The announcement of the policy at this critical time will generate momentum, resulting in longterm positive impact on growth aspirations,” Chandrajit Banerjee, director-general of the Confederation of Indian Industry, said. A technology acquisition fund is expected to be set up to acquire global technologies and build a pool for sectors, including manufacturing equipment which seeks to reduce energy consumption. Small and medium enterprises will be given access to this patent pool, up to a maximum of Rs 20 lakh. Water and environment audit, waste water management, rain water harvesting and green buildings have been made mandatory within the NIMZ. Environmental clearances will continue to be given as per existing rules and regulations, but the environment ministry has agreed to give priority to processing cases from the manufacturing zones. The ministry will also designate officials from state pollution control boards to ensure speedy clearances. Small and medium enterprises and individuals will be eligible for relief on long-term capital gains tax if the sale proceeds of a residential property are reinvested in equity of a new start-up company. Tax incentives have been drawn up for venture capital funds if they focus on manufacturing. The special purpose vehicle which will administer the NIMZ will set up skill development centres on a build, own and operate basis. The private sector will be given standard deduction of 150% of the expenditure for skill development institutes.

Omar & the AFSPA

The Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) government on Friday resolved to defer a decision on revoking the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from some areas of the state till there’s a consensus of all stakeholders. The state cabinet discussed the issue on Friday, though it was not the part of the agenda, after chief minister Omar Abdullah raised it. The CM, however, instructed that minutes of the discussion on AFSPA at the cabinet meeting should not be recorded, sources said. The CM had earlier said that AFSPA would be lifted partially from Srinagar, Budgam, Jammu and Samba before the annual darbar (civil secretariat) moves from Srinagar to Jammu on November 12. That stirred a controversy with the Army and state Congress leaders opposing the move. Several Congress leaders said the CM did not discuss the issue with them before making the announcement at a public function last Friday. The state cabinet though approved amendments to the Public Safety Act following which a person detained under the Act can now be kept in the jail for one year. The detention must be confirmed within six weeks. Earlier, confirmation was obtained from the screening committee chairman within eight weeks. Also, PSA cannot be applied to those below 18 years.
Unknown militants on Tuesday launched four attacks on security forces across Kashmir, setting off an unusual war of words between the ruling National Conference and the Army and sharpening the debate over withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Sheikh Mustafa Kamal, general secretary of National Conference, blamed the Army for the attacks targeting security forces. “Of course, it was Army which engineered the attacks on security installations across Kashmir Valley. They carried out the attacks to oppose chief minister Omar Abdullah’s design to lift Armed Forces Special Powers Act from some areas in Jammu and Kashmir,” he said. Inspector general of police, Kashmir Range, S M Sahai said that militants were desperate to strike on the eve of Diwali. “Today’s attacks point towards militants’ desperation. They want to show their presence and they chose Diwali ,” he said. The IGP said they were looking into Tuesday’s attacks. “We are looking whether there was any link between the four attacks and whether it was serial attacks or not,” he said. A police spokesman said three CRPF troopers sustained injuries when unknown militants hurled a grenade on a bunker at Akhara Building, Maisuma. “All the injured were shifted to SMHS Hospital, Srinagar for treatment,” he said. “In another similar incident, a grenade was hurled on a CRPF bunker at Batmaloo. However, there was no loss of life and property,” he added. The blasts triggered panic and tension in the city centre Lal Chowk and at Batmaloo with the authorities ordering a security beef-up. Searches were also conducted by police and CRPF troopers in Budshah Chowk area. Although Kamal has been known for his opposition to the Centre, his frontal attack on Army for the explosions in which CRPF jawans were injured marks a serious turn in the dispute over whether AFSPA should be withdrawn. J&K CM Omar Abdullah had told a TV channel after deliberations with the visiting central team led by cabinet secretary Ajit Seth that he would go ahead with his plan for AFSPA’s withdrawal before the annual Darbar move to Jammu next month.

IAF to buy six more Super Hercules

India is going to soon ink yet another $1.2-billion deal with the US for six more C-130J “Super Hercules” military transport aircraft, even as the IAF gears up for intensive training on the first six of these aircraft for “special operations”. The Obama administration on Thursday notified the US Congress about the impending sale of the additional six C-130Js to India, along with spare engines, missile warning systems, advanced radar warning receivers, counter-measures dispensing systems and special operations suites. “This proposed sale will provide India with a credible special operations airlift capability that will help deter aggression in the region and provide enhanced humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” said the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency. The US has reasons to smile, cornering as it has well over $11 billion worth of sales to India in the military aviation sector alone, despite being ejected out of the $10.4-billion project for 126 MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft). The formal notification for the new contract for six more C-130Js comes at a time, when the IAF is all set to induct the sixth of the first lot of these aircraft — ordered for $1.2 billion in 2008 — at Hindon airbase on the outskirts of national Capital next month. The next six C-130Js will be based at Charbatia in Orissa to cater to the eastern sector. Along with the much-bigger 10 C-17 Globemaster-III strategic airlift aircraft ordered for $4.1 billion — to be inducted between 2013 and 2015 — the dozen C-130Js will boost India’s capabilities to swiftly move troops and equipment to forward areas since the rugged aircraft can even land at makeshift airstrips. This will be crucial in countering China’s massive build-up of military infrastructure all along the 4,057-km Line of Actual Control (LAC), which includes five fully-operational airbases in the Tibet Autonomous Region. Faced with a two-pronged challenge from China and Pakistan, apart from progressively basing Sukhoi-30MKI fighters and missile squadrons in the two theatres, the IAF is upgrading the Nyoma and Kargil airstrips to handle C-130Js and C-17s.

Somewhere in Uttarakhand....

The Uttarakhand cabinet gave the Jan Lokpal Bill a green signal in a meeting chaired by chief minister B C Khanduri on Saturday. The strong Lokayukta would have the chief minister, all ministers, MLAs, top bureaucrats including IAS officers, and all government servants under its ambit. The Uttarakhand Lokayukta Bill, 2011, will now be tabled in the 70-member Uttarakhand assembly during its two-day session commencing on Monday. The bill is a replica of Anna’s Jan Lokpal Bill and Khanduri’s move to act decisively on it is a clear sign of being in line with public sentiments ahead of state elections in February 2012. The lower judiciary is also included in the Lokayukta net but judges of the Uttarakhand high court would fall outside the purview of the Lokayukta. The Lokayukta can also investigate former chief ministers, former ministers and retired officers. Khanduri himself had been made the CM in an attempt to salvage the BJP’s image as his predecessor Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank’s government was mired in corruption cases and was fast losing public trust. “The objective of the bill is not just to eradicate corruption but also to maintain transparency and professional honesty in government functioning,” Khanduri said. Comprising five members under a chairperson, the Lokayukta would have the scope to increase its member strength to seven depending on its needs. The spectrum of punishments is wide and starts with a minimum sentence of six months and goes on to a maximum of life imprisonment.

The Azim Premji Foundation

After chipping in for the country’s education system for a decade, the Azim Premji Foundation (APF), run on the personal money of the third richest Indian, is all set for a generous initiative. The foundation plans to set up 1,300 schools across the country—two per district—which will be free, impart education in the local language and be affiliated to the state board. If the idea succeeds, the network, that will be second only to the government’s, could shame India’s dysfunctional public education system—and perhaps inspire other wealthy tycoons to look beyond their personal status-building. The APF schools will be fashioned almost entirely after the government ones, covering the spectrum of schooling from preschool to class 12. The difference, of course, will be in the quality. “Quality education is fundamental to our becoming a developed nation. And the final crucible of learning is the classroom in school,” says Azim Premji. Karnataka will get the first two Azim Premji Foundation schools—one each for Yadgir and Koppal districts, both with the poorest literacy rates in the state. Work is also on for schools in Tonk and Sirohi in Rajasthan, Uttarkashi and Rudrapur in Uttarakhand and Dhamtari in Chhattisgarh. These are expected in a year and half. 1,300 APF schools by 2025 . The idea for two free schools in every district of India came into being after the Azim Premji Foundation recently reviewed its work from 2001, the year in which it was set up. “We felt the need to graduate from programme interventions to institution-building,” says Dileep Ranjekar, APF’s CEO. “In fact, one of our ideas was to set up a separate educational board like the ICSE/CBSE. But most of us at the foundation felt that change would be better felt and seen by actually setting up schools,” he added. Those associated with the planning of this Rs 9,000-crore project say that the schools will focus on the overall development of their students, including their health and nutrition. “The attempt is to establish schools in corners that are currently educationally under-served and not to compete with existing schools, whether public or private,” says Ranjekar, adding that seven schools will start within a year-and-a-half in Karnataka, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Chhattisgarh. If things go as forecast, all the 1,300 schools should be up and running by 2025. All the districts will have an Azim Premji Centre for Learning and Development as well. The aim behind the schools is two pronged. “One is to build social pressure for other schools to follow suit and provide quality education. Two, we want to test ourselves, understand what it takes to deliver quality teaching and learning. One cannot tell the world to improve unless one actually leads by example,” says Ranjekar. A focal aim of the foundation is to get each school to evolve, over time, as a development centre integrated with the community. Thus, the schools will be staffed with teachers from the rural areas, but appointed after written tests and an interview. “Emphasis will be placed on their expertise in the subject, their understanding of pedagogy and, most importantly, their social orientation. And the parents of the children will be partners in the process of development,” says Ranjekar.

Maruti to set up shop in Gujarat

Gujarat finally bagged Maruti’s new mega factory as the country’s largest carmaker, frustrated by the labour trouble in Haryana, cleared a proposal to build a facility outside its home state to add to its production capacity. It will be the second biggest automobile project for Gujarat after it won Tata Motors’ Nano project in 2008 when the company was forced to move out of Singur due to political unrest. Maruti’s board on Saturday approved the proposal for the new factory in Gujarat which, when commissioned, would be its largest in India. Maruti’s proposed plant in Gujarat, when commissioned, could perhaps be the biggest even for its parent Suzuki. “The board has granted approval to purchase land in Mehsana district in Gujarat for future expansion of manufacturing facilities. This purchase will be subject to final negotiations on price and all legal formalities,” company chairman R C Bhargava said. The company is expected to invest Rs 18,000 crore in its new facility (including Rs 6,000 crore by vendors) that is likely to start production after 2015. The new site is being planned to add 2 million capacity to Maruti’s production, which will touch 1.75 million units from its factory sites in Haryana (Gurgaon and Manesar). The company is looking at 1,400 acres for the new facility,of which 400 acres will be used by its vendors. Sources say the company wants to “hurry up” with work at its Gujarat facility as it battles labour problems at Manesar, which has badly impacted business over the past three months. Three crippling strikes saw Maruti suffer a production lossof nearly 83,000 cars that resulted in a turnover loss of around Rs 2,500 crore. Bhargava, however, did not comment on whether the company was expanding beyond Haryana due to labour issues. He only said Gujarat offered a base in the western part of the country, closer to the port, which will help in reaching export markets faster and more efficiently. Maruti’s expansion out of the state,however, comes as a huge blow for the Haryana government that many privately blame for “inept” handling of labour issues. Two-wheeler major Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India, that also faced a huge labour unrest at its Manesar plant, has already gone beyond the state with new factories in Rajasthan and Karnataka. Gujarat, on the other hand, is on a roll as it emerges as the ‘destination next’ for auto majors in India beyond the traditional hubs in Haryana, Tamil Nadu and the Pune belt. Already, several automakers, ranging from Tata Motors to Ford and Peugeot-Citreon, have started work on setting up facilities in Gujarat.

India's F1 moment

Finally, an international event flawlessly executed and delivered by India. After failing to successfully organize even a concert last week and the stuttering build-up and rather embarrassing wind-down of the Commonwealth Games last year, the stunning success of Indian’s first Formula 1 race brought out not just wide smiles on Sunday but an unmistakable sense of pride in the 95,000 crowd. It was also a proud moment for the country’s private sector, showcasing what it is capable of achieving. The infrastructure was amazing—the new Yamuna Expressway to Agra when fully build will vie to be India’s best highway. Add to that the great management of the huge crowd and thousands of vehicles, precise road signage and 2,500 helpful cops, and it all seconded what champion Sebastian Vettel said: India has a way of doing things right. In many ways, the much maligned Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati, who lent her quiet support to the event, the F1 circuit builder Jaypee Group and the Greater Noida administration not only salvaged some of India’s prestige, but also held out a lesson to the babus of Delhi, Gurgaon and the rest of India where multiple authorities and myriad permissions often throttle attempts to hold international events.


Food Inflation

Another RBI rate hike seems imminent.

Namma Metro snapshotz

Bangalore is the 3rd city in India to have a Metro in operation after Kolkata and Delhi.

Of Delhi & Kathmandu

“The time has come for us to solve the real problems of South Asia. For this, India and Nepal have to unite because our destinies are the same,” Baburam Bhattarai said as he arrived here for his first visit to India as prime minister of Nepal. Delivering an emotional speech, Bhattarai recalled his days as a revolutionary Maoist, saying in a spirit of candour, “We Marxists tend to be dogmatic. We read about Marxism and revolutions in all parts of the world. But the ground reality, we forget to assimilate and learn.” However, reaffirming his commitment to his ideology, Bhattarai told his audience, “We have to turn the state into an instrument for liberation of the people”. As India-educated Bhattarai begins his first summit with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday, India will be signalling that it will be “business as usual” with Kathmandu once again, something that hasn’t happened over the past few years. As the second Maoist PM in Kathmandu, Bhattarai is not nearly as allergic to India as his predecessor Prachanda, and by making India his first port of call after becoming the PM, he is also signalling a new chapter that may be welcome to India. The agreements to be signed during the visit may be modest: an existing credit line of $250 million, agreement with Exim Bank for soft loans in infrastructure sectors in Nepal etc, and a possible investment protection agreement. Primarily, India will want to listen to Bhattarai’s own plans on the peace process and reintegration of Maoist People’s Liberation Army cadre. Bhattarai has very little time in hand, but sources said he may be close to presenting a full package on the peace process. In recent weeks, the Maoists have made some conciliatory gestures. Though Bhattarai has a tough job, this time he apparently has the backing of Prachanda, who has appeared to have mellowed his anti-India rhetoric. Bhattarai’s primary interest will be to get power for the Himalayan nation that is reeling under severe shortages. Nepal could become a superpower in hydro-electricity, if only it could get foreign companies to carry out their investments, most of which are stalled due to Maoist activities and government inaction. Bhattarai wants to change that. Nepal wants to conclude a power trade pact with India, which, the Nepal government believes, will open the door to power investors. Bhattarai is also expected to ask India for an additional 200MW of electricity. While India is agreeable to the demand, there is a shortage of transmission lines that can transport the power.

Exempted from the RTI act

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), National Investigation Agency (NIA) and newly-formed NATGRID have joined the exclusive list of organizations that are exempted from sharing information under the RTI Act except for the matters pertaining to allegations of corruption and human rights violations. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had approved in June that these three organisations would be spared from sharing information under the second schedule of the RTI Act. However, they will have to share information in matters concerning allegations of corruption and human rights violations. Intelligence and security organisations that come under this schedule include Intelligence Bureau, R&AW, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Aviation Research Centre, Narcotics Control Bureau and all the Central paramilitary forces. The schedule, which is part of Section 24 of the RTI Act, says, “Nothing contained in this Act shall apply to the intelligence and security organisations specified in the Second Schedule, being organisations established by the Central government or any information furnished by such organisations to that government provided that the information pertaining to the allegations of corruption and human rights violations shall not be excluded under this sub-section”.


Harassed by corrupt babus demanding bribe or delaying work? Aggrieved persons will soon be able to seek help through a 24X7 toll free number, 1964, to be made functional by the Central Vigilance Commission. According to country’s anti-corruption watchdog officials, the number will act as a one-stop solution for all complaints related to corruption. “The anti-bribery help line will assist complainants in their problems related to unnecessary lingering of work in a concerned government department due to demand of undue favours or gratification by public servants,” a CVC official said. He said that a full-fledged call centre will also be set up to provide services round the clock. “People will be able to register complaints related to bribery being faced by them in all the central government ministries, departments and public sector units, among others,” the official said. The number, 1964, assumes significance as the the Central Vigilance Commission was set up in February 1964 by the government. Presently, the CVC has a toll free number 1800-11-0180 and 011-24651000 which is operational between 9 am and 7 pm from Monday to Friday.

Advani against Right to Recall

Opposing Anna Hazare’s demand for a right to recall elected representatives, BJP leader L K Advani said it would lead to perpetual instability in the country. “I am opposed to this. In a huge country like India, the right to recall will lead to perpetual instability,” Advani told reporters. He said the proposal for right to recall has not been accepted in most countries except for a few small nations. “But I am strongly in favour of electoral reforms, particularly in the issue of use of money power in elections,” he said. Advani said his party has been pursuing electoral reforms since 1970 when he was a member of the Rajya Sabha and A B Vajpayee was in the Lok Sabha. Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi has recenlty held that the right to recall will ‘destabilise’ the country.

Noida land acquisition

In a judgment that sharply questions the UP government’s land acquisition policy but showers relief on at least 50,000 home buyers, the Allahabad High Court on Friday quashed the land acquisition in three villages in Noida but cleared the acquisition of land in 60 other villages on the condition that farmers are paid 64.7% more as compensation for the land acquired from them and given 10% of the developed land (not exceeding 2,500 sq m). Flat buyers can afford a big smile for two reasons. One, no flats or plots had been sold in the three villages of Devla, Yousufpur (Chak Shahberi) and Asadullahpur where land acquisition has been struck down. Two, the amount to be paid on account of the hiked compensation isn’t large; in fact, in many cases, builders like Amrapali, Supertech and Gaursons have assured that existing buyers would not have to pay anything extra. Overall, the verdict brings clarity on scores of residential projects in Noida, Greater Noida and Noida Extension. In future projects, costs would go up, but it won’t be so high as to spike the very notion of affordable housing. Land had been acquired at roughly Rs 32 lakh per acre. A 65% hike on this would mean an additional Rs 19-20 lakh. Distributed over around 100 flats that an acre is likely to have, it works out to about Rs 20,000 more per flat. Farmers in 60 villages to get 64.7% additional compensation — roughly 544 per sq m. The initial rate was 850 per sq m Farmers of these villages to also get developed residential plots, up to 10% of their acquired land, against 6% earlier Acquisition of around 276 hectares in 3 villages — Devla and Chak Shahberi (Gr Noida-Noida Extn) and Asadullahpur (Noida) — quashed. No housing projects were planned in the 3 villages. Farmers to get back land once they return any compensation money already received . Construction halted in 40 villages of Greater Noida until clearance is obtained from an officer of principal secy rank that work is according to NCR Planning Board norms . Buyers who bought small plots directly will have to pay more. Association of real estate developers Credai says there will be no additional cost for existing buyers of apartments. However, some smaller builders may try to pass on cost New buyers will have to pay higher price as builders will pass on costs, though increase may be marginal.

Shed negativity :PM

Warning against a mood of “negativism”, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh suggested India’s business and economic environment is much better than the gloomy sentiment generated by a slew of scandals. Singh said India could be in danger of scoring a selfgoal and buoyant domestic conditions cannot be taken for granted. “It is our collective responsibility to reverse the mood of negativism today... Nothing is ordained or pre-determined. India can rise, but India can also falter.” The PM urged the Opposition to agree on shared objectives. “We can either become victims of negativism, criticising ourselves all the way, or work together to put ourselves firmly in the group of rising economies. Both optimism and pessimism have an infectious quality.” He said the slowing of the economy is temporary and the 12th Plan aimed at a robust 9% growth. Singh said India's long-term prospects were not in doubt but stressed that not catching the tide at full could well becalm the Indian economy. Calling for sustained higher investment in infrastructure, Singh sought to shake off a doomsday scenario about UPA-2, Singh said, “As we in government seek to create the foundations for higher investment, higher employment and growth, we must be particularly mindful of the impact of our policies and politics on public and private investor sentiment.” Pointing to India's advantages at a time when a slowdown threatens both the US and European economies, the PM said the world is witnessing a major realignment of economic power and said, “Industrialised countries are slowing down, emerging market economies are gaining weight and regionally, Asia is gaining weight.” The NDC meeting sought views of assembled chief ministers on a blueprint to power Indian infrastructure which Singh has repeatedly asserted can absorb $300 billion of investment over the next decade. “Much of the growth process is now driven by actors outside the direct control of government...This, however, does not mean government has no role to play in the development process. It has a very large role and I would distinguish four areas in this context,” the PM said, pointing to the policy environment and areas like rural and urban infrastructure.


PM on Diwali gifts

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is receiving heaps of gifts he does not want. Fed up with the Diwali goodies landing up at his office, the PM has made an appeal that instead of gifts, donations to the PM’s National Relief Fund will be much more welcome. “Donations to the PM’s National Relief Fund will benefit thousands of needy people,” an official release said. The gift shower is a yearly occurrence and a predictable part of Delhi’s calendar but the PM is simply not interested in the costly sweets, shawls, woodworks, paintings, crystals and art pieces being sent to him. Besides being an irritant, and possibly achieving the opposite of what their senders hope for, the gifts are a logistical problem for the PM’s security.

Rupee below 50/$

The Indian rupee dipped below the 50 mark on Friday — a 30 month low — as uncertainty about the Eurozone continued. This was also further compounded by the selling pressure in the domestic stock market, including from foreign funds even as demand for dollars rose from oil and gold importers. The rupee, after dipping to a low of 50.32 to a dollar — its lowest level since end-April 2009 — recovered partially to close at 50.03. On Thursday, the Indian currency had closed at 49.81 to the greenback. Market players said the uncertainty about the bailout package for the Eurozone, expected to be finalized on Sunday in Brussels, weighed on the strength of the euro against the dollar with the latter showing strength. As a result, the rupee also weakened against the dollar. This was compounded by the fact that FIIs were sellers in the stock market, which automatically leads to buying of dollars by these investor group, and hence the strength of the greenback. In addition, oil companies that import crude bought dollar, while gold importers bought the same currency anticipating higher demand for the yellow metal during the current festive season, market players said. Looking at the 29-paise intra-day recovery, dealers also suspected some support to the rupee by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). Although time and again the central bank has said that it does not target any level for the rupee but intervenes only to check excessive volatility in the inter-bank forex market. While a weak rupee would add to the bottomline of the companies which are big exporters, like software, gems and jewellery, and pharma companies, importing goods into India will become expensive. In addition, a weak rupee could also neutralize the positive impact of a fall in crude oil, the biggest import item for India. Of late there have been talks about increasing the limit for FIIs in government bonds, a step, which market players said, could help in limiting volatility in the forex market and strengthen the rupee.

Net State Domestic Product

Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, both states have more or less matched the national growth average over the last five years. According to figures released by the RBI, among the six poll-bound states — Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur, Goa, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat — Uttarakhand and Punjab top the growth charts. Uttarakhand has seen its net state domestic product (NSPD) grow by 103% and Punjab has witnessed 86% growth as compared to Gujarat (79%), Goa (77%), UP (76%) and Manipur (51%). The Indian economy grew by 77% during this period. Uttar Pradesh’s NSDP at current prices was pegged at Rs 2,56,000 crore in 2005-06. At the end of 2009-10, it had reached Rs 4,53,000 crore. The Mayawati-ruled state has performed on a par with Narendra Modi’s Gujarat, which saw its economy expand from Rs 2 lakh crore in 2005-06 to Rs 3.70 lakh crore last year. The BSP supremo has been able to keep pace with showpiece UPA-ruled states like Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh as well. The economic expansion in Maharashtra was 78% during this period, while Andhra Pradesh accounted for 79%. Among the bigger states, the top three were all ruled by the opposition. Bihar clocked 110%, Chhattisgarh 104% and Left Front-ruled West Bengal matched Uttarakhand’s 103%. Gujarat was ranked 12th among the the bigger states. UP’s per capita income rose 64% in the five years till last year as against Gujarat’s 69%, Maharashtra 78% and Andhra Pradesh 79%. The growth in per capita income of BJP-ruled Uttarakhand has been the highest among pollbound states at 91%, followed by Punjab 73% and Manipur 40%. Instability in Uttarakhand and change of leadership made little dent in its economic expansion. UP’s per capita income remains at about half the national average of Rs 46,500 in 2010. Punjab at Rs 62,000 and Uttarakhand Rs 55,800 are well above the national average. Ditto for Gujarat where the per capita income is Rs 63,900.


It's D-day !

Bangalore Metro opens today after umpteen delays.

Mobile numbering

The proposal to move to 11-digit mobile numbers has been shelved for good. The telecom department has accepted the short-term solution from Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to create additional capacity in the ‘7’ and ‘8’ series and this will free up 650 million mobile numbers to cater to the industry’s demands for the next 30 months. The Department of Telecom (DoT) has also decided to open up levels ‘5’, ‘6’ and ‘3’ for mobile services. This implies mobile phone numbers of the future will begin with these digits. This will free up an additional 2,750.9 million (2.75 billion) mobile numbers. This is also expected to address the country’s mobile numbering plans for cellular services for about a decade. Currently, the new levels that are slated to be opened up for mobile telephony are used for landline services – ‘3’ is used by Reliance Communications, ‘5’ by Sistema Shyam and ‘6’ by Tata Teleservices. These companies will have to move to move their fixed line customers to the ‘4’ series which has been allotted to Bharti Airtel for its landline customers. This implies that landlines of all private operators will soon begin with ‘4’. State-owned telcos, BSNL and MTNL will continue to use the ‘2’ series of their landline services. The opening up of level ‘5’ will free up 947.5 million mobile numbers, while levels ‘6’ and ‘3’ will generate 1004.5 million and 789.9 million respectively. In 2009, the telecom department had proposed that India move to 11-digit mobile numbers by prefixing ‘9’ to their existing cellphone numbers. The department feared that the country would soon exhaust the ‘9’ series that were then used for mobile services. The ‘9’ series can accommodate about 900 million mobile numbers. While India has only 850 million mobile users at present, it had already exhausted the ‘9’ series nearly two years ago due to churn where customers switch operators, and several other factors such a migration, where existing numbers cannot be used at new destinations due to technological constraints.

Tata Indicom is now Tata Docomo

Tata Teleservices said it had integrated all its service offerings under a single brand - Tata DoCoMo. This brand had so far been used only for its GSM-based mobile services. India’s sixth-largest mobile phone company by customers currently provides services under several different brands — its CDMA-based mobile offerings are under ‘Indicom’, fixed lines under ‘Walky’ and highspeed data services under the ‘Photon’ brand. The company was going in for a technology agnostic structure to leverage emerging market opportunities by merging its CDMA, GSM, 3G and Photon platforms under one brand – DoCoMo. Tata Teleservices is 26% owned by Japanese cellular company NTT DoCoMo. The new brand unveiling also witnessed the company launching a Facebook phone for Rs 2,000. Collapsing all existing brands into DoCoMo would result in significant savings for the company, including that of marketing costs. For instance, its 3,000 plus-strong CDMA retail networks will now be accessible for GSM as well, and vice versa, while the Tata Photon dongle will now be sold across all its outlets. The company also unveiled Photon Max, the latest addition to its Photon family of high-speed data cards. This dongle works on the REV B technology platform, provides wireless broadband speeds up to 14.7 Mbps on the CDMA platform and will be available in five metropolitan cites — Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi, Hyderabad and Chennai. It will be extended to another 22 cities by the year-end.

Maharashtra legislature is 75 !

As per the Government – the Legislative of India Council Act of 1935 and the , two Legislative separate houses Assembly of the of the Bombay Province, came into existence in 1937. The Government of India Act of the year 1935 came into existence with effect from April 1, 1937. The first session of the Bombay legislative assembly took place at the Council Hall in Pune on July 19, 1937. The first session of the Bombay legislative council also took place at the Council Hall on July 20, 1937. A discussion on the draft of the Indian Constitution was held there on October 19, 1948 . Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru addressed the state legislators at Pune’s Council Hall at 10.30 pm on October 6, 1949. Nehru was in Pune for a programme organized by the Army. The legislative session was then in progress. The then chief minister, Bal Gangadhar Kher, requested Nehru to address the session. Nehru accepted the request for which the session was held late in the evening. The last session in Pune was held in 1955, between August 17 and October 1. The sessions of the bilingual Bombay legislative council were held between 1957 and 1960 only in Mumbai. Since the formation of the state on May 1, 1960, the sessions of the state legislature are being held every year only in Mumbai and Nagpur.

Vadodara - Mumbai Expressway

The Union road transport and highways ministry on Wednesday approved building over 1,000 km of expressways under its flagship Rs 16,000-crore road building programme, National Highway Development Programme. This includes the 400-km stretch of Vadodara-Mumbai. NHAI officials say the 400-km expressway will be further connected to the Ahmedabad-Vadodara expressway which is already operational. Effectively, a non-stop drive will bring the travel time between Ahmedabad and Mumbai down to five hours. Similarly, it will take just about four hours to cut the distance between Vadodara and Mumbai. The Vadodara-Mumbai expressway will follow the same alignment fixed by the Gujarat government in 1992. A 600-metre wide corridor has been set aside for the road project. The expressway is likely to be built by 2015 linking Ahmedabad with Dahisar, which is on the outskirts of Mumbai, enabling travellers to bypass Vadodara and Surat. The greenfield project between Vadodara and Dahisar, about 380 km away from each other, will come up on ‘design, build, finance and operate’ model. Officials say the Vadodara-Mumbai section which will cost Rs 7,500 crore is top priority. Between Vadodara and Surat, the speedway will be six lanes. It will be eight lanes between Surat and Dahisar.

Help India win

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee on Wednesday reached out to the Opposition, seeking cooperation to carry forward the reforms process and help usher in faster growth against the backdrop of a gloomy global economic outlook. He also rejected views that a policy paralysis had set in the government and reeled out the legislations pending before Parliament and the decision taken by the UPA coalition to strengthen reforms process. Delay in clearances, slowdown in economy and lack of major policy initiatives in the aftermath of the string of scandals that emerged since last year had worried investors. Several eminent citizens had written to the government expressing concern about the policy paralysis that had set in. “If you cooperate it is to help India. Therefore disruption of Parliament is not an answer. Parliament must function,” Mukherjee said, while seeking approval of Opposition parties for passage of key legislations such as raising the FDI cap on insurance, appointment of a pension fund regulator and the land acquisition bill. “I am aware that journalists will want to win accolades for what they write, sportsmen will want to win prizes and in a democratic system, politicians will try to win elections. But at the same time we must all remember that we all win if India wins. That will happen if the reform process gains momentum and economy surges ahead,” Mukherjee said, while addressing the economic editors. The finance minister listed decisions taken by the government, which include the new draft telecom policy, new rules for infrastructure debt funds, a new manufacturing policy being examined by a panel of ministers and introduction of the land acquisition bill in Parliament. He said the government had taken several measures to develop the banking sector. “GST and DTC can make a crucial difference to economic development,” Mukherjee said, referring to the two key pending reform initiatives — the Direct Tax Code and the Goods and Services Tax. He said the government was closely monitoring the developments on these two fronts. Mukherjee highlighted the lack of numbers in the Rajya Sabha, which was acting as an obstacle to the passage of several key reform legislations. Referring to the move of some Indian industrialists to invest abroad, Mukherjee called for putting in place measures to reverse the trend.


This Diwali

Shahrukh Khan's Ra.One is about to release with world class special effects....and a lot of merchandise.

The Buddh International Circuit

It promised to be spectacular and it has lived up to the billing. The Buddh International Circuit, India’s first Formula One circuit, was unveiled to the world on Tuesday -- just 12 days before the inaugural Airtel Indian Grand Prix on October 30 -- beaming in the mellow October sun. Jaypee Sports International Ltd has pumped in $400 million (Rs 2000 crore) in the construction of the track, which showed in its world-class look and finish. Over 5,000 workers and 300 engineers and officers have worked round-the-clock to get the track –spread over 350 hectares – ready in time. While F1 might be a new concept for India, people are getting ready to grab the opportunity to watch 24 of the world’s best drivers in the country.

Of N-plant safety

In its post-Fukushima review of nuclear safety, India has ramped up safeguards at its atomic power plants with three layers of power back-ups, water pipes drawn from off-site locations, elevated water towers and options for injecting nitrogen to prevent explosions. With public concern over nuclear power spiking after the Japanese disaster and protests threatening flagship projects in Kudankulam and Jaitapur, the government had to move swiftly to beef up plant security. Sources claimed the safety protocols were among the safest worldwide. At the Fukushima plant, overheating of the reactor core, after the March 11 tsunami, knocked out power sources triggering fears of a meltdown. All Indian plants will have diesel generators and battery back up to supplement a nuclear plant’s regular power supply in an emergency shutdown. Keeping in mind that the Japanese tsunami also damaged alternate power sources, back up at plants vulnerable to such damage will be protected from effects of flooding and tidal waves. They will be located at higher points and protection against extreme weather events will be reinforced. Sources said the measures were implemented at most nuclear plants after a study by four expert groups following a review ordered by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Actions prescribed by the expert committees include the stress tests that Department of Atomic Energy secretary Srikumar Banerjee said have been conducted successfully. India’s nuclear installations have passed the structural tests aimed at assessing their capacity to withstand massive seismic shocks. India’s vulnerability to tsunami-like events is assessed to be relatively low. The government hopes that the safety plan will address the “safety debate”.

CST to Navi Mumbai Airport: Railway corridor planned

The Maharashtra government is pushing hard for better rail connectivity via a fast corridor from south Mumbai to the new international airport planned at Navi Mumbai. It has proposed a special purpose vehicle with the Indian Railways to execute and implement this project, which will have fully air-conditioned train services. The project cost has been estimated at Rs 1,500 crore for the 60-odd km line. Lack of a rail link between the airport site and south Mumbai prompted chief minister Prithviraj Chavan to expedite the project. The state government on Tuesday sought World Bank aid to fund the project. T C Benjamin, principal secretary in the urban development department, made a detailed presentation of the conceptual plan before senior World Bank officials, which reportedly got a positive reception. The World Bank is already financing part of the Mumbai Urban Transport Project Part I and II, which involve capacity expansion on the suburban rail system. The fast corridor will originate from Carnac Bunder adjacent to CST on P D’Mello Road, said a senior railway official. The line can either be elevated or go underground between Carnac Bunder and Sewri, from where it will run along the ground parallel to the existing harbour line. “A new bridge will have to be built over Vashi bridge to connect the line to Navi Mumbai,” said the railway official and added the CM has given an assurance that additional FSI will be allowed for commercial use to make the project financially viable. The stations and other finer details are still to be finalised. Railway officials said they have been assured by the government that project-affected persons will be taken care of. Once the project is approved, a feasibility study will ascertain fare and the duration of services.

India tops in Retail theft

Indian retailers reported the highest loss of stocks to theft in the world for the fifth year in a row in 2011, with about half of the loss attributed to shoplifting by customers. India's shrink rate, or loss of stocks because of thefts by customer, employees and suppliers, as a percentage of sales was 2.38%, costing local retailers Rs.3,470 crore, according to the fifth annual edition of the Global Retail Theft Barometer, an annual survey conducted by the Centre for Retail Research in Nottingham, UK, and underwritten through an independent grant from Checkpoint Systems.
The study was conducted across 43 countries between July 2010 and June 2011. In India, it covered 100 retailers, of which 60 were part of modern chains and 40 from the unorganized sector.
The biggest contributor to losses was thefts by customers, accounting for 47.6% of the total, followed by pilfering by employees at 25.5%. The losses have, to be sure, declined 12.5% from a year earlier, according to the study. To reduce thefts, retailers in the nation are spending more money on security solutions. Companies have also minimized their losses by providing more training to employees and assigning responsibilities on team and store managers for losses.


Somewhere in Gujarat....


Maximum Shocker !

Malnutrition in the Maximum City !

Electoral reforms

In a significant step towards state funding of parliamentary and assembly elections, the law ministry has been asked to formulate “concrete proposals“ in this regard despite the Election Commission's reservations. A group of ministers to tackle corruption, headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, has asked the law ministry to formulate “concrete proposals on constitutional and statutory amendments which are required for introducing reforms relating to state funding of elections“, a statement issued by the ministry of personnel said.
“The state will pay only the legal expenses which is not the concern as people spend crores in elections,“ chief election commissioner (CEC) S.Y.Quraishi said when asked for his reaction to the government move.
The issue of state funding of elections has been debated for years but due to a lack of consensus, no decision could be taken. The law ministry plans to hold an all-party meeting on electoral reforms in the coming days in which the issue of state funding of elections could also come up. Quraishi said state funding will “not solve the problem of black money“ which afflicts the process.
The inclusion of right to reject proposal in voting, said Quraishi, could be misused to put out an unintended political message, especially in places such as Kashmir and the north-eastern states where people already feel alienated. “We have to see the implication of everything for the country,“ said the CEC advocating 49-O button in electronic voting machines (EVMs) instead, which helps voters express their unhappiness over the candidates.
He said, “Instead of a negative force of right to reject, why don't you select a good candidate.“ The CEC said the commission had recommended for having 49-O button in EVMs to guard the privacy of voters.“Because if you do not go to vote, one could be intimidated. Secondly, somebody may go in your place to vote instead of you. To guard against this, we have suggested having 49-O button,“ Quraishi said.
He said the button did not imply or mean the right to reject. “It will only mean you will be able to express your opinion against a candidate. It will not count in your votes.“ On the right to recall plan, the CEC said, “It is not possible in India, which is a large country. It is there in smaller countries like Switzerland. It can be there in a panchayat election, but not in bigger elections.“
He said, “Every loser will start the right to reject from the day he loses“, and suggested that voter education as a good solution to it. “We can instead educate the voters to come out in large numbers and vote for a good candidate.

Dr.Rajendra Prasad's watch

Descendents of Dr Rajendra Prasad - the country’s first President - have now pinned their hopes on a 1970 charter of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) to save his wrist watch from being auctioned at Sotheby's in Geneva next month. The wrist watch, a pink gold Rolex Oyster Perpetual, had gone missing from Sadaakat Ashram museum in Patna where the personal belongings of the first president are preserved. In a letter to Indian ambassador in Switzerland Chitra Narayanan, Dr Rajendra Prasad's Gorakhpur-based great grandson Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad has appealed that the embassy should pursue the case under the Unesco charter on Prohibition and Prevention of Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. The sub-section (II) of section B in Article 7 of the charter makes it obligatory for a member country to take “appropriate steps to recover and return any such cultural property on the request of the State of origin and the payment of just compensation”. The provision also states that “requests for such recovery or return shall be made through diplomatic offices and that the parties shall impose no customs duties upon cultural property returned pursuant to this Article”. The Implementation of Standard-Setting Instruments for Application of the 1970 convention was reviewed on September 9, 2011, at the Unesco meet in Paris. “These provisions have certainly come as a ray of hope to see the wrist watch back in India. We just hope that the Indian embassy in Switzerland pursues the case in the right earnest and we are confident that it will,” Ashoka said. The communication concerned was sent on Monday morning. Though Ashoka had sent a letter a week ago seeking the embassy's intervention, he was yet to receive any intimation of its receipt till Monday night. The wrist watch issue surfaced following reports that the item was scheduled to come up for next month's auction at Sotheby's in Geneva. Reports said that the wrist watch has a map of India and date 26 January, 1950, imprinted on it and was probably gifted to the first President of India on the country's first Republic Day celebrations. The auction house is expected to price the watch between US $2,22,000 to $4,44,000. A similar catch-22 situation had emerged in February 2009 after Antiquorum Auctioneers in New York had announced the auction of Mahatma Gandhi's steel rimmed spectacles, leather sandals, a pocket watch, a bowl and a plate. The Indian government had made attempts to stop the auction after a furore over the auction house going ahead to sell the belongings of Mahatma Gandhi - the Father of the Nation. But the auction house went ahead as per its schedule and the entire set was sold to liquor baron Vijay Mallya for 1.27 million pounds who handed them over to the Indian government. The sandals were said to have been made by Gandhiji himself which he had gifted to a British army officer who had taken photographs during his halt in Aden when he was on his way to London to attend the round table conference on India's independence, reports said. The Zenith watch was gifted to him by former prime minister Indira Gandhi.

Advani's Rath Yatra

The BJP has egg on it's face too.

Congress scores a big zero

The Congress has drawn a blank in the four by-elections in four different states. As the results were announced on Monday, the perception of the party reeling under the double sting of corruption and inflation deepened. Congress’s defeat in Hisar, where Team Anna sided with Congress’s opponents, was not unexpected as it was not a Congress seat. But the fact that its candidate Jai Prakash lost his security deposit, and the party actually eroded its share of the popular vote, reinforced popular belief in the “Anna factor” in elections. Pundits said that the outcome of the bypolls was the cumulative impact of a host of local factors and old considerations of caste and community. Almost all analysts said that Anna did not determine the outcome in Hisar, where the poll was caused by the death of Bhajan Lal, and the victor this time was his son Kuldeep Bishnoi. But still, they conceded that the results would reinforce the perception of Congress being on the decline. The Congress’s defeat in the assembly by-elections in Bihar and Andhra Pradesh was hardly surprising, as the two seats were not held by it. What was surprising was the defeat of its ally, NCP, in Khadakvasala in Maharashtra, a stronghold of Sharad Pawar’s. BJP won this seat. There was speculation that it had received support from Raj Thackeray’s MNS. BJP, flush with its successes, was already stoking the perception, while Team Hazare leapt on the Hisar result to warn Congress about the cost of not passing the Jan Lokpal Bill in the Winter Session. The Congress came third here, behind Bishnoi of Haryana Janhit Party (backed by BJP) and Indian National Lok Dal’s Ajay Chautala. Bishnoi brushed aside the talk of the Anna factor in Hisar, emphasizing the “legacy” of his father Bhajan Lal. The synergy between BJP and HJC brought about a strong consolidation of non-Jat voters like Brahmins, Banias, Punjabis and Dalits.

Sanjiv Bhatt out on bail

Seventeen days after he was arrested for trying to prove CM Narendra Modi’s bias during the 2002 Gujarat riots, suspended IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt got bail from an Ahmedabad court on Monday. Bhatt was jailed for allegedly fabricating evidence to show that he was present at the crucial meeting held at Modi’s home on February 27, 2002 during which Modi allegedly told top cops to go easy on rioters. Sessions judge V K Vyas gave Bhatt bail on condition that he would not contact or intimidate witnesses in the case and that he would not leave the country without the court’s permission. K D Pant, a constable, had filed an FIR accusing Bhatt of threatening him and forcing him to file a fake affidavit stating he had taken Bhatt to the CM’s bungalow on February 27, 2002. The cop was arrested on September 30. However, the judge doubted the veracity of the FIR because of Pant’s flip-flops and the fact that the complaint was registered five days after he was allegedly forced to sign the affidavit. The judge demolished many of the allegations against Bhatt, including that of illegally detaining Pant. The judge observed Pant had many opportunities to escape, but did not. The court also rejected Pant’s contention that the affidavit’s draft had been prepared beforehand at advocate V H Kanara’s office and he just had to sign it. Pant has claimed he was with Bhatt from around 12.30am till around 3am on the day the affidavit was prepared. “Pant has studied up to the second year in a bachelor of business administration course in English. He is a senior policeman working with the intelligence branch for a long time. It is prima facie not believable that he signed the affidavit under pressure from a suspended officer,” the judge noted

Of Sufi Islam....

A prominent organization of Sunni clerics has urged Muslims to reject hardline Wahabi Islam, which it said was giving the community a bad name, and called for limiting the influence of Saudi Arabia, which it blamed for meddling in the affairs of Indian Muslims by pumping in petrodollars. At a mahapanchayat in Moradabad, UP, the All India Ulama and Mashaikh Board (AIUMB), which claims the support of a majority of Indian Muslims, rooted for Sufi traditions of Islam propagating tolerance and harmony. Spokesperson Syed Babar Ashraf said 80% of Indian Muslims followed the Sunni Sufi tradition while Wahabis wielded control over just 13-14% of the community. He said Wahabi-inspired outfits like Deoband, Jamiat Ulamae-Hind and Ahl-e-Hadees were importing a “foreign ideology” into India. The board urged the Centre to set up a central madrassa board. The funding of madrassas should be audited to check the influx of Saudi petrodollars, it said. The board’s leaders claimed Wahabi-inspired outfits were feeding on the frustration of Muslims and indoctrinating them in radical Islam. Unlike the Sufis, Wahabis are against praying at dargahs (shrines) and graves.

National Aviation University

A national aviation university to remedy the dearth of skilled human resource in the aviation sector, a civil aviation authority to make the country’s aviation regulator independent administratively and financially, an independent air accident investigation bureau, an ombudsman to handle passenger concerns, a task force for aviation security, and restructuring of the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security to handle security concerns better. These are the top projects that the civil aviation ministry has embarked upon as India expects to see passenger traffic of 30 crore by 2020. In short, the government is going for a near-complete overhaul of the existing system to equip itself for the future. The government has begun working on all these proposals; there are no deadlines though, said minister for civil aviation Vayalar Ravi in a press briefing held on Monday. The press meet was held at the end of day one of the week-long International Civil Aviation Negotiation Conference (ICAN 2011). ICAN,held under the aegis of the Montreal-based UN body International Civil Aviation Organization, provides a platform for aviation negotiators from different countries to conduct bilateral air services negotiations. Indian representatives will be holding negotiations on agreements with 35 countries, including Oman, Saudi Arabia, US, Austria, Switzerland. Roberto Gonzalez, president, council of International Civil Aviation Organization said that by 2030, the number of passengers from Asia-Pacific region will double from 2-6 billion to 5 billion. President Pratibha Patil, in her inaugural speech, said that global comparison of air travel penetrations shows that India, with 0.04 air trips per capita per annum, stands far behind developed countries with more than two air trips per capita per annum.


Analogue cable to be digitised

Ninety million homes in the country that receive television programmes via analogue cable networks will have to switch to digital set-top boxes beginning March 2012, with the government approving complete digitisation of TV transmission over a two year period. The Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act will be amended through an ordinance, said Information and Broadcasting minister Ambika Soni after a meeting of the cabinet committee on economic affairs on Thursday. Consumers in the four metros — Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai — will be the first to switch to the new system. The first phase will require 12-15 million set-top boxes and cost multi-system operators (MSO) about Rs. 3,000 crore. The digital technology will offer improved quality of transmission and greater choice of content, albeit at a higher cost to consumers.

Hyundai Eon

South Korea’s Hyundai has launched its new car directly pitted against Maruti Suzuki’s global top seller Alto, firing a warning shot across the bow of its bleeding arch rival which has been wounded by a strike at one of its plants. Eon, Hyundai’s first car developed from scratch for India and is aimed at the bulging middle of the country’s car market, has a starting price of Rs. 2.7 lakh, making it the first serious threat to the Alto’s seven year-old dominance of the country’s car market. The Alto, with 3.47 lakh cars sold last fiscal year, accounted for around 16% of all cars sold in India and is the top selling car model on the planet, having edged Volkswagen’s Gol & Golf and Fiat’s Punto. Hyundai aims to sell 1.5 lakh units of the Eon in a year, an ambitious target in a tepid car market and also given that the Alto took a few years after launch to reach this level of unit sales. Hyundai's most ambitious launch to date comes at a time Maruti has temporarily stopped Alto’s production because of a longstanding labour issues, now running into its third month, and which has left the country’s biggest carmaker dependent on a slender inventory to drive sales during the bumper festive period. Hyundai, meanwhile, has already filled its dealers with stocks of the new Eon, hoping to capitalise on the vacuum in the segment. Although it launched the new car only on Thursday, it had started producing the cars from mid-September to develop a buffer to meet high festive demand. Although past challengers have barely managed to make a dent on Alto’s sales, industry experts say this time could be different and are expecting a high-pitch battle in the small car segment completely dominated by Maruti. But Maruti Suzuki, which generates a quarter of its India sales from the Alto, was unfazed by the prospect of a new challenger on its turf. The company is working on an answer to Eon and will unveil an allnew small car with a new-age 800cc engine, company sources said. The Alto, launched in September 2000, has sold some 16.7 lakh units. Sales of the model, grew 46% in last fiscal year to 3.47 lakh units. Maruti sells 32,000 units of the Alto every month on average. In contrast, Hyundai managed to sell 34,286 units of its smallest car Santro in the first five months of this year.

Somewhere in Kolkata....

Children admire idols of goddess Kali prepared for the forthcoming Kali Puja and Diwali....

11km of Highways being built daily

Construction of highways, which had dipped to dismal levels over the past few years, has picked up pace. According to official data, 11km of roads are being added every day. If the trend is sustained, the UPA government could well be on track to achieving 20km per day by the time it completes its second term in 2014 as the pace of construction is likely to accelerate about two-fold in the next two years, thanks to a significant increase in the bidding for projects since 2010. Also, meticulous project management over the past two-and-a-half years, transparency in the bidding process and faster awarding of contracts have helped step up road building. Experts say the declining activity in other construction sectors such as real estate have shifted the attention of contractors to road construction. India’s highway construction attracted global attention when the NDA government under then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee built spanking new highways connecting major cities, cutting down travel time and boosting economic activity. When the UPA took over in 2004, road building lost momentum after the frenetic pace at which work was carried out under the NDA. National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) officials said the increase in the number of projects awarded in 2010-11, pegged at about 5,080 km, would help push construction. According to sources, highway construction and project awards saw a revival after Kamal Nath took charge as highways minister in 2009. The ministry’s performance improved after the NHAI awarded a record length of projects over the past two-and-a-half years. In the current fiscal year, the NHAI has awarded 2,591 km of highways, while another 1,700 km are likely to be awarded in the next two months. Experts said C P Joshi, who took charge of the ministry from Nath, has maintained continuity. They say the ministry and the NHAI have ushered in transparency in the bidding process, boosting sentiment.
Against a target of 7,300km of national highways, NHAI has awarded 2,591km; another 2,659 km to be awarded in 4 months
8,917km NH built during NDA rule 17,236 km built during UPA-I tenure; 10,000km under UPA-II


The GST Network

The empowered group of state finance ministers on GST approved the setting up of a special purpose vehicle, called the GST Network, headed by Nandan Nilekani. The SPV will be responsible for implementing the IT infrastructure needed to roll out GST, one of the country’s most ambitious tax reforms. “In today’s meeting, we have approved the SPV and requested Nilekani to go ahead with the IT infrastructure. The SPV would solely be responsible for running of the GST portal,” said Sushil Modi, chairman of the Empowered Group of State finance ministers. The States and Centre along with a technology company will be partners in the SPV. Modi, who is also the finance minister and deputy chief minister of Bihar, said the empowered group has also decided to submit its final report on GST to the standing committee of finance. The standing committee is examining the constitutional amendment bill on the issue. The GST roll out has missed several deadlines due to opposition from states. “In the next 15-20 days we will submit a comprehensive report on GST to the standing committee detailing every issue where we have convergence with the Centre and points of difference,” Modi said. “We are moving ahead on GST but since it is with the standing committee of finance much of the onus remains with the parliamentary panel to take it forward,” the Bihar deputy CM said. The state FMs also decided to write to the RBI requesting it to allow all commercial banks to provide e-payment facility for tax payment. Currently only three-four banks in each state is allowed to provide such facility. He said the state finance ministers discussed the European model of GST. A point presentation was also made at the meeting where members shared their experience from their recent trip to Europe and also how the European model functions.

Ahmedabad's BRTS completes 2 years

When chief minister Narendra Modi flagged off the first Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) bus on Chandranagar-RTO route on October, 14, 2009, there were slight apprehensions about its success. The BRTS experiment in New Delhi had just flopped. But, two years on, Janmarg has beaten all expectations and turned into a lifeline for lakhs of commuters in thecity, ferrying 1.40 lakh daily in a fleet of 77 buses. Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) officials say that 2012 will be a landmark year for the project as 44 kms additional route in and around Ahmedabad will be completed, thus doubling the capacity of current operations. AMC also plans to introduce prepaid smart cards to commuters, a practice that’s globally prevalent. While the original idea was to provide the cards as Diwali gift this year, the scheme will now be materialized in early 2012. Utpal Padia, deputy municipal commissioner and executive director, Janmarg said that the trials carried out on the new corridors have been satisfactory. The barriers used along with the smart cards have been ordered from China and will soon be installed at the existing BRTS stops after educating people about their use, said Padia. Talking about two years of BRTS, the official said, “We got good support from the citizens. BRTS has put Ahmedabad on world map and got us many laurels and awards in these two years. There were many challenges that we overcame and there are various issues on which the work is on.” “We project the revenues from BRTS to go up to almost double to Rs 14-15 lakh and ferry 3 lakh to 4 lakh passengers on daily basis,”said Padia. BRTS has won accolades from international experts. Walter Hook, executive director,Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), who was one of the earliest transportation experts involved in BRTS project, gave thumbsup to the project during his recent visit and said that with some changes, the project can match gold standard of rapid transit systems world over.

Somewhere in UP....

Maya unveils her magnum opus....
Area: 33.43 hectares
15 statues of Mayawati & other Dalit leaders
Dome in Central Plaza houses statues of Mayawati, Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram
24 pink sandstone elephants at park
25,000 stone carvers & masons employed
2,500 masons worked exclusively on central dome
33 sandstone & bronze pillars, some as high as 300 ft

UP Chief minister Mayawati’s dream project – Dalit Prerna Sthal and Green Garden – was inaugurated with much fanfare amidst Buddhist chants, showering of flower petals and cheering by BSP supporters. Dressed in a cream-coloured salwar kameez, her trademark handbag in place, Mayawati arrived in a chopper exactly at 5 p.m. Landing at the helipad constructed specially for the visit at the Apeejay School grounds in sector 16A, she drove up to the park located in Sector 95, followed by a convoy of sports utility vehicles amidst heavy security. She was waving and smiling at the thousands of supporters who had gathered to witness the grand opening. As several camerapersons captured the moment, a beaming Mayawati went around the premises, accompanied by the who’s who of the UP administration. Buddhist monks chanted prayers. Mayawati was accompanied by her parents Ramrati and Prabhu Dass and her niece. The opening ceremony was short and crisp – a red ribbon was cut and a button pressed to formally open the park and 20 other projects in Gautam Budh Nagar district. The chief minister used the inauguration as an opportunity to sound the bugle for the assembly elections scheduled for early next year. In a 40-minute speech that recalled the efforts of the BSP for bringing about development in the state, she lashed out at all opposition parties, terming them anti-Dalit and anti poor. Spread across 33.43 hectacres, the park that’s commonly referred to as Dr Ambedkar Park, was decked up with flowers and elaborate lighting arrangements and guarded by 25,000 policemen. Forty VIPs, including politicians and bureaucrats, 10,000 party supporters and onlookers witnessed the inaugural ceremony. Unmindful of the criticism from several quarters against the construction of the Rs 685-crore mammoth memorial, Mayawati described the inauguration as one that would “be inscribed in golden letters in the history of the nation.” The park, she said, commemorated and honoured the efforts of the Dalit leaders for the upliftment all backward communities, adding that the BSP was the only party to have honoured Dalit leaders like Kanshi Ram,Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar, Narayan Guru and Jyotiba Phule. Apologising for the strict security arrangements that had kept everyone from even taking a peek into the park until today, she said it would now be open for visitors from across the country at a nominal entry fee of Rs 10. As a special treat, the UP chief minister Mayawati invited all spectators to take a look inside ‘Prerna Sthal’, promising that the park would remain open till late in the night for everyone to catch a glimpse of the grandeur. Designed by architects Design Associates Inc, the park has been divided into three parts - Column Plaza, Central Park Plaza and Ambedkar Plaza, separated by two water fountains. Column Plaza is dotted with several 300ft high pillars crowned by four-headed elephants and another iron pillar like structure at the centre, complete with a chakra and four elephants. Ambedkar Plaza houses 12 Dholpur and Mirzapur stone statues, brought from Lucknow. One is of the CM herself and the others of Gautam Buddha, B R Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram. The grander Central Plaza houses the dome that has three more life-size statues of the CM, Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram.