The PM on FDI in Retail

If the loud chorus of protest and dissent against UPA government's decision to allow 51 per cent foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail was expected to push prime minister Manmohan Singh and his colleagues on to the back foot, then it has failed. The government seems more than resolved and it is convinced of its virtues as well. The opposition cannot hope to browbeat the government through sheer pressure tactics. Speaking at meeting of the Indian Youth Congress (IYC) here, Singh said, " We have not taken this decision (permitting FDI in retail) in haste, but after a lot of consideration. It is our firm conviction that the decision will benefit our country."Singh was firm and combative. He said if some state governments — indirectly referring to BJP-ruled states, AIADMK-ruled Tamil Nadu and TMC-ruled West Bengal, which have all voiced opposition — did not want FDI in retail, then they have the option to opt out.The Centre's decision relates to policy and it is left to state governments to allow the foreign players to set up shop because the laws relating to opening shops and showrooms and buying grain from farmers falls under the purview of the state governments. Addressing the meeting earlier, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee explained the strengths and stresses of the economy and was loud and clear that FDI in retail is both important and beneficial to the country. "FDI in retail will ensure that India's economic growth continues," he said.

Andhra invites Investments

The Lok Pal Bill update

The draft report of the standing committee on the Lokpal Bill has proposed the exclusion of all judiciary from the ambit of Lokpal, but has asked for a new law to ensure transparency in the appointment of judges and policing and prosecuting “corruption” in the judiciary. The report has also recommended exclusion of the lower bureaucracy and citizens’ charter from Lokpal, while asking for a new procedure to investigate and launch prosecution in corruption cases. The 179-page report will be circulated and discussed among members on Wednesday when the committee is expected to decide whether the Prime Ministers’ Office (PMO) should come under Lokpal or not. The parliamentary committee, headed by Abhishek Manu Singhvi, has held 14 meetings aggregating 35 hours to prepare its report – which also proposes setting up of Lokayuktas in states along the lines of the Lokpal. It has pitched for a single Lokpal with Lokayukats in states, while making a case for a uniform law across the country. With this, the report has incorporated only one of the three conditions of the Anna Hazare camp – setting up Lokayuktas in states. It has not met the other two demands – inclusion of lower bureaucracy and citizens’ charter. (Citizens’ charter is fixing the time frame to redress public grievances. This is being tackled under a separate Public Grievances Redressal Bill.)

Public Procurement Bill

The government unveiled the draft public procurement bill which backs the idea of open competitive bidding as the preferred method of procurement. Currently, there is no overarching legislation governing public procurement by the central government and central public sector undertakings. The general financial rules, 2005 govern procurements made by the government while some ministries/departments have specific procedures/ manuals to supplement these rules. Procurements by central public sector undertakings are governed by their own manuals and procedures. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his Independence Day address had promised to introduce a Public Procurement Bill in Parliament to ensure transparency and shut out corruption in government procurement. The UPA government has been on the back foot over a slew of corruption charges involving large government contracts. Investors have also been urging for transparency in public procurement. The bill is intended to regulate public procurement by all ministries and departments of the central government, central public sector enterprises, autonomous and statutory bodies controlled by the central government and other procuring entities. The draft bill has been put on the finance ministry’s website for public comments and it would be open until December 24, 2011. “The objectives of the bill are to ensure transparency and equitable treatment of bidders, promote competition and enhance efficiency in the procurement process. The bill contains broad principles and will be supplemented by rules. The bill also provides for a grievance redressal mechanism and for penalties for offences under the bill,” the draft bill said. It covers the procurement process from the stage of needs assessment up to the award of the procurement contract. Criteria for evaluating bids to be mandatorily published in the complete bidding documents along with relative weights and no change would permitted once it is published. No price negotiations except in circumstances to be prescribed for which reasons to be recorded, the draft bill says. A central public procurement portal would be set up for all matters relating to procurement. The bill refers to e-procurement and e-payment. Corruption, collusion and anti- competitive behaviour by bidders to attract appropriate penalties. Term of imprisonment equal to that prescribed in Prevention of Corruption Act. Automatic debarment on conviction for certain offences and discretionary debarment on conviction for less serious offences. All debarments to be notified on the central public procurement portal, it said.

Shahid Balwa gets bail too

Swan Telecom promoter Shahid Usman Balwa was granted bail by a Delhi court which applied the “principle of parity” by taking cue from the Supreme Court and the high court’s order providing relief to 10 other accused in 2G spectrum allocation scam case. With the release of Shahid Balwa, all corporate executives accused in the case have secured bail and only the three public servants — former telecom minister A Raja, former telecom secretary Siddharth Behura and Raja’s former private secretary R K Chandolia — are in jail.


The Battle for UP

The battle for India's biggest state is on....

Of Indian Aviation

Mumbai Metro Line 3


The Ishrat Jahan case

Idea crosses 100 million subscribers

The Retail ruckus

The main opposition party BJP, which is protesting strongly against the UPA government’s move to allow foreign direct investment in retail, had seven years ago promised to open up the sector to foreign competition. “Organized retail trade on the international pattern will be promoted as a new engine of growth for trade and employment through appropriate legal and fiscal measures. 26% FDI in retailing will be allowed. Sourcing of Indian products by foreign retail chains will be encouraged,” BJP’s manifesto for the 2004 general elections had said in the section on trade and investment. However, the party reversed its stand before the 2009 elections, deciding to oppose FDI in retail and to protect tiny and small vendors. It is sticking to that position, with Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi stating on Monday that he was aligned with the leadership’s decision to oppose FDI in multi-brand retail. “My stand is the same as that of my party BJP and which is in the interest of the nation,” Modi tweeted. The 2004 manifesto came around the time the NDA government commissioned a report from research agency ICRIER on the pros and cons of letting in foreign retailers. However, by the time ICRIER submitted its report, NDA had lost power to UPA. While the Congress-led government restricted itself to allowing FDI in singlebrand retail, it refrained from permitting global chains to set up multi-brand stores in India mainly due to pressure from the Left parties which were part of UPA-1. In the meanwhile, BJP also changed its position and categorically said in its 2009 manifesto that it will not allow foreign investment in the sector. “The BJP understands the critical importance of retail trade in the context of employment and services provided by them, and thus favours a dominant role for the unincorporated sector in retail trade. Towards this end, it will not allow foreign investment in the retail sector. After agriculture, the retail sector is the largest employer of nearly four crore people,” the manifesto said. It then went on to promise safeguards for small and tiny vendors besides loans at 4% and a pension scheme for them. What led to the change of stance is not known. When contacted, a party spokesman denied that the opposition party had ever promised to permit FDI in retail.

Somewhere in Delhi....

In its first step towards partial privatization of water management, Delhi Jal Board (DJB) received clearance for starting a pilot project on public-private partnership model for water distribution in Malviya Nagar, Vasant Kunj and Nangloi. Officials said the project would entail appointment of private companies through a bidding process. This, they hope, would improve efficiency of the water distribution network and reduce non-revenue water. The companies would also be responsible for operation and maintenance of the underground reservoirs in the areas and collect revenue for the board.

India's Icecream market

Somewhere in Karnataka....

Kani gets bail

Heeding the Supreme Court’s order last week granting bail to five corporate honchos accused in the 2G spectrum-allocation scam, the Delhi High Court on Monday granted bail to DMK MP Kanimozhi and four other accused. Justice V K Shali granted bail to Kanimozhi, who has been in jail since May 20, Kalaignar TV MD Sharad Kumar, Bollywood producer Karim Morani and Kusegaon Fruits and Vegetables directors Rajiv Aggarwal and Asif Balwa, saying the HC was “bound” by the order passed by the Supreme Court and it would not be proper to differentiate among the accused when the pleas of those pending before it were similar to those of the five coaccused, who were granted bail by the SC last week. The court, however, reserved its order on the bail plea of former telecom secretary Siddharth Behura, who is in jail along with ex-telecom minister A Raja since February 2, after the CBI refused to concede to him on the ground of parity. Kanimozhi, also shown leniency for being a woman, could not get out of jail on Monday because trial judge OP Saini could not sign the release order owing to the delay in securing the certified copy of the HC order, despite waiting in his chamber till 5.15pm.

The Mullaperiyar Dam

A wave of hysteria and fear has gripped four districts of Kerala as panic has risen along with water levels in the 115-year-old Mullaperiyar dam. To make things worse, some politicians waded in to stir parochial passions over the dam that’s on the border of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. On Monday, water levels in Mullaperiyar, that’s been the concern since the release of the Dam999 movie scripting a hydel disaster, rose to 136.4 feet, crossing the permissible limit of 136 ft fixed by the Supreme Court. There have been torrential downpours in the catchment area for a couple of days and the area has been rocked by mild tremors, ratcheting up anxiety levels among the people and the administration. Kerala has demanded that the old dam be replaced with a new one. “The tremors that hit Idukki over the weekend are a classic example of reservoir-driven seismicity. This will continue for some more time and the data needs to be analyzed as Idukki has become active after being dormant for a long time,” said C P Rajendran, palaeo-seismologist, Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore. “Everyone is in fear. Even if people hear the sound of a vehicle going by, they rush out of their houses onto the road,” said Abdul Rasheed, a leader of Mullaperiyaer Residents Council. “We are unable to sleep due to fear,” he said. TN against building new dam as 5 districts dependent on Mullaperiyar.

Manipur gets relief finally !

In a major relief for the long suffering people of Manipur, the United Naga Council on Monday suspended its economic blockade that had plunged the Northeastern state into a humanitarian crisis by choking off food, medical and fuel supplies. The blockade on NH-2 and NH-37, which entered its 121st day on Monday, will come to an end on Tuesday, ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s proposed visit to the state on December 3. “We have decided to temporarily lift the blockade on the two national highways from 6am Tuesday,” said Loli Adani, UNC president, in Tamenglong, Manipur. Besides facing acute shortage of life-saving drugs, people were forced to pay Rs 2,000 for an LPG cylinder and Rs 200 for a litre of petrol in the grey market. The decision was taken at a meeting of various Naga civic bodies convened by UNC at Tamenglong. The UNC is also seeking an alternative administrative arrangement for Nagas in Manipur. A key reason for suspending the blockade was Union home minister P Chidambaram’s recent assurance that the government, as committed by CM Okram Ibobi Singh, would not take any unilateral decision on the Sadar Hills issue without consulting the Nagas.


Xinhua says so

The ONGC’s move to explore oil in parts of the South China Sea seems to have caused more alarm in China than New Delhi’s other strategic moves recently. An article in state-run Xinhua news agency saying “India is acting out of an inferiority complex” towards China is the latest example of it. “By currying favour with China’s neighbour, in particular, those who have brewed disputes with China, India would assume, it could instigate these smaller nations to engage in a gang fight against China and contain China’s growing clout in the region,” the article said. The obvious target is ONGC’s deal with a Vietnamese oil company to jointly explore oil resources in the South China Sea that Beijing claims to be its own. The Chinese foreign ministry has repeatedly warned India against such moves that amount to “interference in China’s relationship with its neighbours’’. The news agency put aside niceties while proclaiming that India was “beaten by the Chinese army” in the 1960s.

Dr. Verghese Kurien

Dr.Verghese Kurien celebrated his 90th birthday on 26th November 2011. Kurien had stepped down as the founder chairman of GCMMF in 2006. The doyen of cooperatives, who had also laid the foundation of the Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA) in 1979 and remained its chairman till March 2006, has however continued his moral support to the cooperative movement. Kurien’s work has touched the lives of more than 150 lakh milk producer families across 1.4 lakh villages of the country in almost all states. Similarly, the products made from 300 lakh litres of milk procured everyday by all state federations are reaching crores of consumers in the country. Interestingly, this year also marks the completion of 60 years ever since Kurien formally joined Amul Dairy. Born in a Syrian Christian family in Calicut, Kerala, on November 26, 1921, Kurien’s uncle John Mathai was an economist who served as India’s first railway minister and subsequently as the finance minister. Kurien is the architect of Operation Flood — the largest dairy development programme in the world that he had taken up as chairman of National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) where he served for 33 years between 1965 and 1998. Kurien graduated in physics from Loyola College, Madras, in 1940, and then did his BE (mechanical) from University of Madras. After that he joined the Tata Steel Technical Institute in Jamshedpur from where he graduated in 1946. He then went to US on a government scholarship to earn his master of science in mechanical engineering from Michigan State University. On returning to India, he was posted as a dairy engineer at the government creamery, Anand, in May 1949. It was around the same period that Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers Union Limited (KDCMPUL), now famous as Amul Dairy under chairmanship of Tribhuvandas Patel and inspired by India’s Iron Man Sardar Patel, was fighting a battle with privately-owned Polson Dairy. It was on Patel’s insistence that young Kurien volunteered to help KDCMPUL set up a processing plant. This marked the birth of Amul. The Amul pattern of cooperatives later became so successful that in 1965 the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri created NDDB to replicate Amul model across the country with Kurien as its chairman. In July 1970, NDDB officially launched ‘Operation Flood’ — ‘the billion-litre idea’ aimed at taking India’s dairy industry from a drop to a flood. A 1998 World Bank report on the impact of dairy development in India revealed that of the Rs 200 crore that the World Bank invested in three phases of Operation Flood, the net return into India’s rural economy was a massive Rs 24,000 crore each year over a period of 10 years. Kurien is a recipient of the World Food Prize, Merit d’ Agricole from the Government of France, Padma Shree, Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan besides many other awards and honorary degrees.

Long tern Rupee movements

Top Red leader Kishanji shot dead

Kishanji suffered six bullet injuries and at least two shrapnel wounds, the preliminary autopsy report said on Saturday. He died of these combat injuries, it says, ruling out the allegations of torture and custodial death levelled by rights bodies, Maoist sympathizer Varavara Rao and Kishanji’s niece Deepa. The government is going about it cautiously and has ordered a CID inquiry into Kishanji’s death. In an unprecedented move, the administration gave full access to Deepa and Rao to see the body and film it. Deepa later showed the cellphone footage of the body to the media and insisted Kishanji had been tortured and killed in custody. Rao, Deepa and some Maoist sympathizers were heckled by local residents at Midnapore medical college when they gave slogans of ‘Kishanji amar rahe’. “How can you call a mass killer a shaheed?” a local shouted. The situation grew so tense that police had to escort Varavara and Deepa out. The autopsy report said all the injuries to Kishanji were ante-mortem — he was wounded when still alive. But the time of death — crucial evidence that can prove or disprove the allegation of custodial killing —can only be ascertained after a chemical analysis of the viscera, say sources. Kishanji suffered 20 injuries, of which at least four were grievous — a bullet that pierced the left cheek and smashed open his right lower jaw, another that pierced his left armpit and may have ripped into his lungs or other vital organs, a third that hit him in the right chest and finally a splinter injury to the back of the head. The traumatic jaw injury that led to massive blood loss and the bullet to the left armpit could have proved fatal on their own. His left heel and left palm were shattered by bullets. Another bullet pierced his left knee and there was a splinter injury just above it. The preliminary examination showed no signs of torture, say sources.

The Retail story

The UPA-2 kickstarts the second generation of reforms with FDI in Retail facing strong opposition from the Left, the BJP, Mayawati, TMC.....

Three years on....

26/11.....justice has still not been served.

China cancels boundary talks

China demanded that India cancel a Buddhist conference in Delhi which the Dalai Lama was expected to address. The conference coincided with the boundary talks between Dai Bingguo and Shivshankar Menon also to be held here. India refused. China cancelled the talks. This is how things have played out since last week, when China sent a message to India asking that the government prevent the Dalai Lama from speaking at the Buddhist conference in the Capital. A surprised government said Dalai Lama is a spiritual leader and free to speak on spiritual matters and refused China’s request. The Chinese side upped the ante, demanding the Indian government cancel the conference. India refused to comply, saying this was a spiritual conference and the freedom was an essential part of New Delhi. The Indian side even promised full security to the Chinese delegates. Beijing, however, called off the talks. Although later Chinese officials said they wanted to hold the talks “very soon”, India has reacted coolly. The ball, said sources, is in Beijing’s court. For a Chinese communist leadership in the throes of a leadership transition, the optics of Dai Bingguo breathing the same air as Dalai Lama may be difficult to sell at home. Sources said, this could have been the reason behind China calling off the talks. The Chinese approach appears to have hardened after the recent East Asia summit in Bali. In recent months, China has also successfully prevented the Dalai Lama from being present for an event in South Africa. The Buddhist conference, being organized by the Ashoka Mission, will be held from November 27 to 30 to celebrate 2, 600 years of Buddha’s enlightenment and will host scholars and thinkers from 32 countries.

Somewhere in New Delhi....

Will the Parliament get down to work? India is waiting!

Somewhere in Mumbai....

A fire begins around 2.30am and guts Sara-Sahara Market, Yara Shopping Complex, Munim Compound and Green House building near MRA Marg police station. By 6.30, it has ‘jumped’ a narrow lane to engulf Manish Market .At least 500 shops, tin-sheds and stalls reduced to ashes.


The Companies Bill

The Government on Friday said it hopes to clear the new Companies Bill in the ongoing winter session of Parliament. After the bill is made into a law, it will replace the decades-old law passed in 1956. The Union cabinet headed by prime minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday cleared the draft proposal for the bill. The new bill would bring several changes such as giving exemption to a category of Indian companies from detailed quantitative disclosures, which are onerous and may reveal competitive secrets to companies in other countries, which do not require such disclosures, under section 211 of the Companies Act 1956.
The new law will also make it mandatory for companies to spend on corporate social responsibility (CSR). Moily said provisions of the bill on mandatory CSR were crafted after consultation and the clause to spend 2 per cent of profits was finally accepted. The new bill will have better disclosure norms, mandatory rotation of auditors and auditing companies.

Of FDI in Retail

The long-awaited liberalization of overseas investment norms in the retail industry may not have an impact on the business landscape and economic indicators such as inflation for another two-three years, said industry experts and analysts. The most immediate impact will be seen in existing joint ventures such as Bharti Walmart Pvt. Ltd, between Bharti Enterprises Ltd and the world's largest retailer Wal-mart Stores Inc., and Tata's Star Bazaar, which has a tie-up with Tesco Plc. A short-term impact may also be seen at India's largest listed retailer by revenue, Pantaloon Retail (India) Ltd, said industry experts.
The government on Thursday approved 51% foreign direct investment (FDI) in the supermar- ket sector and 100% FDI in single-brand retail with a few riders, paving the way for the entry of global firms such as Wal-mart, Carrefour SA and Tesco into one of the world's largest untapped markets. The decision led to an uproar in Parliament amid protests by the opposition that the move will destroy small, family-run neighbourhood shops.
India's central bank said the move may serve to rein in prices, the key focus of its monetary policy. “We hope it should also contribute to reducing inflation,“ Reserve Bank of India governor D. Subbarao told reporters in Chandigarh.
Trade minister Anand Sharma clarified the 30% sourcing stipulation on proposals involving FDI beyond 51%. This will have to come from “small and medium enterprises, village and cottage industries artisans and craftsmen“, the government has said.
It defined small industries as those with a total investment in plants and machinery of not more than $1 million (around Rs.5 crore). Sharma on Friday said this 30% sourcing will not be restricted to India because of the country's World Trade Organization obligations.
Opening up the retail business will likely lead to the entry of global companies, Aditya Birla Money Ltd said in a report on retail FDI on Friday. “We believe the key beneficiary will be the value-retailing segment of the retail industry,“ it said.
Large retailers Pantaloons, Reliance and Bharti Walmart have plans to open 25-50 stores a year, and others, including Shoppers Stop Ltd, Star Bazaar and Aditya Birla's More, 8-15 stores a year, said Shubhranshu Pani, manag- ing director (retail services) at Jones Lang LaSalle India (JLL), a property consultancy.These retailers are ready to re- draft their plans. The Bharti Walmart 50:50 joint venture has been operating in India for the past four years and has 15 cash-and-carry outlets under the BestPrice Modern Wholesale banner.
Shoppers Stop, which runs the Shoppers Stop department store and hypermarket chain HyperCity, may consider a tie-up for the latter. HyperCity has 12 stores and plans to open another 10 in the next three years.
The Kishore Biyani-led Future Group's retail arm, Pantaloon Retail, has aggressive plans to add 9 million sq. ft over the next three-four years to its existing footprint of 15.5-16 million sq. ft.
For retailers looking at entering India, the road will be tough, said industry experts.
The stipulation of a minimum $100 million in investment may make it difficult for overseas retailers to enter specialty formats such as music, mobile, electronics or even pharmaceuticals. According to a report by Boston Consulting Group, India, and the Confederation of Indian Industry, the size of organized retail in the country is close to $28 billion, or 6-7% of total retail.
The total retail market is estimated to grow to $1,250 billion by 2020, of which 21% will be in the organized sector. With added capital investments from overseas firms, the sector could have a significant impact on India's economy.
The organized retail industry could attract substantial investments by then. “We will get around $8-10 billion of fresh investments coming into the country over the next 5-10 years,“ said Biyani, founder and chairman of Future Group.


It's Cyrus

Tata Sons, the holding company of over $80 billion conglomerate Tata Group, on Wednesday announced that Cyrus P Mistry, the 43-year-old managing director of Shapoorji Pallonji Group, will succeed Ratan Tata. “The Board of Directors of Tata Sons at its meeting today appointed Cyrus P Mistry as the deputy chairman. He will work with Ratan Tata over the next year and take over from him when Tata retires in December 2012,” Tata Sons said in a statement. Shapoorji Pallonji Group holds 18% stake in Tata Sons. Commenting on the appointment, Ratan Tata, chairman of Tata Sons, said: “The appointment of Cyrus P Mistry as deputy chairman of Tata Sons is a good and far-sighted choice. He has been on the Board of Tata Sons since August 2006 and I have been impressed with the quality and calibre of his participation, his astute observations and his humility.” Mistry has been a director of Tata Sons since August 2006. A graduate in civil engineering from Imperial College, London, he also holds a management degree from the London Business School.

India & the UAE

India and the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday signed two key agreements, including one which will facilitate each other’s convicted prisoners to serve the rest of their sentences back home. It will benefit nearly 1,000 Indians languishing in different UAE jails for various crimes. The other agreement relates to security cooperation. It seeks to enhance cooperation on various issues like combating terrorism, organized crime and drug trafficking. The two countries already have an extradition treaty. The two key agreements were signed by UAE deputy prime minister and minister of interior Lt-Gen Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan and home minister P Chidambaram. As per its provisions, any Indian sentenced in the UAE who is to be transferred to India should have a minimum of six months of jail term left and there should not be any pending case against him.

Centre okays MCD split

The suspense is over. The Centre gave the nod to chief minister Sheila Dikshit’s plans to split the Municipal Corporation of Delhi into three entities with 50% reservation for women across 272 municipal wards in the run-up to the local polls, scheduled for April 2012. The chief minister, along with all six Delhi cabinet ministers, met Union home minister P Chidambaram on Wednesday. While the state government’s objective of gaining greater control over municipal bodies, often seen as a separate power centre, has been achieved, the Centre has ensured a foothold for itself as well with the authority to appoint commissioners to the new corporations. The Centre has also got the city government to settle for a director of municipal affairs as coordinator instead of the initial proposal to set up an overarching Delhi municipal authority. This indicates that while the state government has gained powers, it has had to share the pie as well. With politics seen to be the chief driver for the decision, the jury is still out on whether the new arrangement will improve the sluggish MCD’s delivery of services, and reduce inefficiencies and corruption. While the corporation had become a behemoth, the possibility of its successor entities being no better has had critics of the move worried. North-Central and South corporations will cover 26 assembly seats each, East 16 . Each corporation to have a mayor and commissioner, as well as its own house . CM fulfils aim of neutralizing MCD as separate power centre but move may not necessarily bring rewards in civic polls .

2G case update

The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted bail to five corporate executives accused in the 2G scam case — Unitech’s Sanjay Chandra, Swan Telecom’s Vinod Goenka, and Gautam Doshi, Surendra Pipara and Hari Nair of Reliance ADAG — raising hopes of the other accused and resurrecting the principle that bail should be the rule and jail an exception. The verdict of Justices G S Singhvi and H L Dattu, which invoked the constitutional principle of “presumption of innocence”, marks the first time that any of the accused has been released on bail, nine months since the CBI took the case to the trial court. Encouraged by the judgment, which is expected to set the “direction” of how judiciary deals with the bail petitions of the other accused, DMK MP Kanimozhi, former telecom secretary Siddhartha Behura, Bollywood producer Karim Morani, Kalaignar TV MD Sharad Kumar and two other accused — Asif Balwa and Rajeev Agarwal — successfully approached the Delhi high court to fast track hearings on their pleas. The high court, which was scheduled to hear their bail pleas on December 1, has agreed to take them up on Thursday. Making an appeal to Justice V K Shali that her bail petition be heard earlier, Kanimozhi cited the SC order to argue that keeping her in jail for more days would be a violation of her fundamental rights. Five others whose bail applications will be decided by the HC on Thursday said charges against them were milder than those facing those who got relief from the SC on Wednesday. While granting bail, the SC bench faulted the trial court and the Delhi high court rulings, saying it saw little merit in keeping the accused behind bars after investigations had been completed and chargesheet filed. Observing that trial in the case was not going to be completed shortly, Justices Singhvi and Dattu said the accused could not be kept behind bars indefinitely.

MTHL update

Maharashtra state government officials, who are preparing “sweetners” to make the Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link (MTHL) project more attractive to bidders, have agreed to allow a sum of Rs 200 to be levied as a single toll fee for motorists who use the bridge. Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) commissioner Rahul Asthana said the “sweetners” were necessary to ensure that the project, slated to cost Rs 8,800 crore, will go through successfully. Asthana has even held talks with the state government on the issue. Asthana said that they have held preliminary talks with CIDCO for giving 10 hectares of land to the developer in a long lease basis, so that the developer can make up some of the costs of the project. The MMRDA commissioner is pushing hard for the project, with a meeting with potential bidders scheduled on December 14. The shortlisting of the bidders is expected to be done by March next year. Asthana said that the MMRDA would exercise control over the aesthetics and structural stability of the bridge. Civic circles have said that the government’s concern over making the project successful was well-founded, as the project had failed to get off the ground twice in the past. Asthana pointed out that the link was a large and complex project, which would require large firms to join and form cartels in order to compete the bridge, which would be built on a Public-Private Partnership. The bridge is slated to be 22 km long, with a 16.5 km long bridge across the harbour and a 5.5 km long viaduct on the Sewri and Nhava Sheva sides.

Sensex at a 2 year low !

A combination of global and local factors, which include margin calls for speculators, the continuing political impasse at the Centre, weakness of the Indian rupee, lower growth numbers in the US and the lingering weakness in Europe, weighed heavily on Dalal Street investors on Wednesday. They pulled the sensex down by 365 points to 15,700 after dipping to a two-year low of 15,479. Investors’ wealth eroded by Rs 1.1 lakh crore. In the foreign exchange market, the rupee weakened against the dollar to trade at 52.75, an all-time low, but suspected selling of dollars by RBI helped it close at 52.38, weaker by 6 paise from Tuesday’s close.


Mohan Dharia writes to Maha CM

Former union minister Mohan Dharia has written to chief minister Prithviraj Chavan not to permit four per cent construction in the areas reserved for biodiversity parks (BDPs). He said he would approach the court if the decision to allow construction is made. The BDPs are important for preserving the environment around Pune, he said. “If 4 per cent construction is allowed, all amenities such as roads, drainage water supply street lights will have to be provided to support construction. This will consume an additional area of up to 40 per cent and will destroy the hills and the micro planning of the city. This will also mean more vehicular traffic which will add to the ambient pollution and harm the biodiversity,” he added.

Of India & Israel

India and Israel continue to silently expand their already expansive ties in the fields of defence and homeland security, at a time when Tel Aviv is threatening military action to quell Iran’s nuclear ambitions despite New Delhi seeking a diplomatic resolution. Israeli Air Force commander-in-chief, Major-General Ido Nehushtan, is the latest in the series of high-level visits to India, which are kept under the radar due to political sensitivities, to further bolster the “bilateral strategic partnership’’. This comes close after Israeli minister of public safety Yitzhak Aharonovitch held wide-ranging discussions with home minister P Chidambaram on ways to expand ongoing cooperation in counter-terrorism and intelligence-sharing during his low-profile visit to New Delhi. Maj-Gen Nehushtan, on his part, discussed military cooperation with IAF chief Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne on Monday, and is slated to meet his naval and army counterparts and other MoD officials on Tuesday. Interestingly, India is all set to order another two advanced Israeli Phalcon AWACS (airborne warning and control systems), capable of detecting hostile aircraft, cruise missiles and other incoming aerial threats far before ground-based radars, at a cost of over $800 million. Israel is the second-largest defence supplier to India, next only to Russia. From Heron and Searcher UAVs, Harpy and Harop “killer’’ drones to Barak anti-missile defence systems and Green Pine radars, Python and Derby air-to-air missiles, Israel notches up military sales to India roughly worth $1 billion every year.

Of India & Bangladesh

India and Bangladesh on Monday agreed to finalize the much-awaited extradition treaty “at an early date”. India also promised to leave “no stone unturned” to track down, apprehend and hand over killers of the father of the nation of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and sought “additional information” from Dhaka. Draft of the extradition treaty was exchanged during the home secretary-level talks which ended on Monday with both the sides reiterating their commitment to further strengthen security cooperation and reaffirming “not to allow the territory of either country to be used for any activity inimical to each other’s interest”. “The draft (extradition treaty) has been shared and we are going through it. We are scrutinizing it,” home secretary R K Singh said at a joint press meet with his Bangladeshi counterpart Monzur Hossain. Asked about Dhaka’s position on the issue, Hossain said, “The pact will be signed at the earliest. That is our position with utmost sincerity.” The treaty, which has been under consideration for long, will pave the way for handing over each other’s fugitives including ULFA general secretary Anup Chetia. It will also act as a deterrent for criminals/insurgents in India and Bangladesh to cross over after committing crimes. During the talks that began on Saturday, Bangladesh sought India’s assistance to track the killers, including Riasaldar Mosleuddin, of Mujibur Rahman. Hossain said, “We expect that India will do the needful. We are hopeful when more information is available their law enforcement agencies will be able to hand over the culprits. We appreciate India’s efforts.”

NDA to boycott Chidu

In a move to keep the 2G heat on the government and play on its internal fault lines, the National Democratic Alliance on Monday announced it would boycott home minister P Chidambaram in Parliament for his alleged role in allocation of telecom licences. With the Supreme Court considering a petition that Chidambaram be probed for going along with jailed former telecom minister A Raja in “under-pricing” 2G airwaves during UPA-1, the BJP-led NDA demanded that the minister resign immediately. NDA leaders who met at L K Advani’s residence ahead of Parliament meeting for the winter session on Tuesday decided that Chidambaram’s role—as finance minister in UPA-1—was under a cloud and he must quit to allow a fair investigation. The NDA will protest whenever the minister speaks in Parliament and not address questions to him. The opposition’s action is similar to the Congress’s boycott of JD (U) leader George Fernandes when he was reinstated as defence minister in the NDA regime after having had to resign following the Tehelka expose. The BJP’s strategy is also intended to get back at the government for what it feels are “tit-for-tat” cases registered by the CBI for allotment of spectrum when the NDA was in power. The party has alleged that the cases are intended to divert attention from its demand that Chidambaram quit over 2G. But while Fernandes withstood the Congress’s barracking, the NDA is clearly looking to provoke Chidambaram who may find himself under pressure to respond. The NDA tactic makes floor management even tougher for government managers tasked with ensuring passage of key anti-graft, reform and welfare bills.

Rupee at an all-time low !

The rupee hit a low of 52.16 against the US dollar on Monday, making imports, overseas travel and studies at foreign universities more expensive but cheered exporters and families depending on remittances. Based on Monday’s closing price, the rupee has never been cheaper against the dollar, although it had flirted with the 52.20 mark in March 2009 following the global financial crisis. But unlike then, when the slide halted as global markets recovered, this time round, foreign exchange dealers are betting on a further fall. There are projections of the currency falling to 55 against the greenback as economic fundamentals stay weak. If the doomsayers get it right, life isn’t going to be easy. The sharp fall evoked an almost immediate response from edible oil company Adani Wilmar, which raised prices, while those selling palm and other oil that are predominantly imported into India are expected to follow suit. So are white goods and phone makers who are considering a 2-10% increase in prices. A weakening rupee is also eating into the gains of falling international commodity prices with markets staying edgy due to fresh talk of recession and the inability of US lawmakers to push through a $1.2 trillion spending cut. Reflecting the nervousness, the BSE sensex slumped 425 points and fell below the 16,000 mark to close at 15,946. The last time the sensex closed below 16,000 was on October 5, 2011 after Moody’s downgraded SBI’s credit rating. Following Monday’s fall, the rupee has declined more than seven rupees against the dollar since August 1. A weaker rupee adds to inflation by pushing up cost of imports, particularly crude. Every weakening rupee adds Rs 8,000 crore to the crude bill. With the global economic forecast remaining bleak, foreign investors are pulling out of risky and emerging market assets and embracing safe haven options such as the dollar and US Treasury bonds.

Of domestic air travel....

Domestic air passenger traffic continues its enviable growth with the country registering an 18% increase this year as compared to last year despite all the turbulence in the aviation sector. That translates to 77 lakh more domestic passengers flown in the period between January and October this year. India has now turned into an apt example of the well-known industry fact that passenger traffic growth need not have a correlation with financial health of airlines. Even as airlines in the country bleed, globally India continued to hog the top slot as far as percentage passenger traffic growth in the domestic sector is concerned. According to DGCA, domestic airlines in India carried 4.9 crore passengers in the Jan-Oct period as compared to 4.2 crore in 2010, making it an 18.3% growth. Then again, IATA’s comparison of domestic passenger growth in six countries (Australia, Brazil, China, India, Japan, US) for September shows India in the lead with an 18% growth in revenue passenger kms (it is the sum of total number of fare-paying passengers and the kms distance they travelled).

Somewhere in Kerala....

You can now land in jail if you dump garbage on the streets of Kerala. After banning smoking in public places, the Kerala high court on Monday declared dumping waste on roads and other public places a criminal offence. The order comes at a time when the state is being flooded with Sabarimala pilgrims and litter poses a serious challenge to public hygiene. A division bench directed the state government to register criminal cases against those who flout its order. “We want the authorities concerned to implement the order strictly,” the bench observed. The court made the point while hearing a public interest litigation filed by Kerala Federation of Women Lawyers. The bench also directed local self-government institutions to take steps to stop people from disposing waste in public places. The court directed the government to frame appropriate laws to book the offenders.

BJP to stall India?

The government may struggle to push through key legislations in parliament’s winter session with the BJP looking to set the pace and tenor by focusing on price rise and “black money” and knitting alliances with other opposition groups like Left and regional parties. Aware that the government is looking to reverse its negative momentum by focusing on bills like Lokpal, judicial standards and whistleblowers, the BJP is unlikely to give the ruling coalition an easy passage, insisting that discussions on inflation and wealth hidden in foreign accounts be taken up immediately. In a session with 17 working days, the government will be hard pressed to ensure that its agenda gets through and a major bill like Lokpal will need the top leadership like Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to reach out to the BJP to strike a political deal. While the BJP will not want to be seen as delaying the Lokpal law, it is likely to insist on conditions to make it tougher and will be loathe to let Congress end the session on an upbeat note. Sensing the government is under pressure, the saffron party will try and test internal fault lines, keeping the 2G telecom scam in its sights. Government sources said the BJP can be expected to keep its political ends in mind but the government will make a determined effort to ensure passage of the Lokpal bill even if this means cutting things fine as the standing committee report — not yet submitted — may be considered by the Cabinet.


• 31 bills introduced in earlier sessions will come up for consideration and passing during the winter session

• Some are: Lokpal Bill, 2011

• Public Interest Disclosure and Protection to Persons Making the Disclosures Bill, 2010

• Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010

• Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority Bill, 2011

• Life Insurance Corporation (Amendment) Bill, 2009

• Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill, 2011

• Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (Amendment) Bill, 2010

23 new bills to be introduced

• Some are: National Food Security Bill, 2011

• Prevention of Money Laundering (Amendment) Bill, 2011

• Consumer Protection (Amendment) Bill, 2011

• Nuclear Regulatory Authority Bill, 2011

• National Sports Development Bill, 2011