28.12.11

Jana Gana Mana turns 100

‘Jana Gana Mana’, the country’s national anthem penned by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, turned 100 on Tuesday as it was first sung on this day a century ago at the 1911 Calcutta Session of the Indian National Congress. Written in highly Sanskritised Bengali in 1911 by one of the greatest poets of the 21st century, the song has fired patriotism in every Indian during the Independence movement. The song was adopted as the country’s national anthem by the Constituent Assembly on January 24, 1950. The anthem was first performed on December 27, 1911 at the Indian National Congress session in Calcutta when the outfit was associated with the country’s independence movement. Rabindranath Tagore translated ‘Jana Gana Mana’ from Bengali to English in 1911 and also set it to music in Madanapalle, a small town in Rayalaseema region of Andhra Pradesh. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army adopted Jana Gana Mana as the National Anthem, while Father of Nation Mahatma Gandhi had in 1946 said the “the song has found a place in our national life.” The song was selected as the national anthem of India in 1950

PM's statement on Lokpal

“There are some very special moments in the life of a nation. This is one such moment. The nation awaits with bated breath how the collective wisdom of this House will be reflected in the vote at the end of the debate on the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011.
The broad provisions of this Bill have been vigorously debated both in the public domain and by political parties. It is my honest belief that the Bill that is now before the House lives up to the promise that members of this House collectively made to the people of this country by way of the sense of the House at the end of the debate on 27th August, 2011. The task of legislation is very serious business and must eventually be performed by all of us who have been constitutionally assigned this duty. Others can persuade and have their voices heard. But the decision must rest with us. At the same time we must keep in mind the fact that corruption and its consequences eat into the body politic. We have seen how public anger has manifested itself in the last one year. Let us, therefore, endorse this Bill as proposed. In drafting this legislation we have had a wide range of consultations. We have been enriched by the wisdom of political parties and all shades of opinion have been taken into account.I wish to state that when my government was elected, we wanted our policies to be people-centric. We believe in transparent, open governance and the well-being of the aam aadmi is central to all our policy prescriptions. Our ideological commitment to ‘open governance’ led us to bring the Right to Information Act in 2005. To further our people-centric policies, we enacted the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, is evidence of our desire to empower the disadvantaged and marginalized. The National Rural Health Mission addresses the health concerns of the poor in the rural areas. We have attempted to rejuvenate our cities through the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). The Rajiv Awas Yojana aims to provide housing to the poor and homeless in cities. The introduction of the National Food Security Bill, 2011, is yet another step to secure the poor and malnourished from the consequences of hunger and deprivation. The Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011 seeks equity for the farmer and those deprived of livelihoods. We have tried to create a more egalitarian and inclusive India delivering the fruits of growth to the less privileged. That is and shall continue to be my government’s mission.
On corruption, our government like none before has taken decisive steps. In the last one year, we have been working on certain landmark legislations. The Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011, is before this House. The Public Interest Disclosure and Protection to Persons Making the Disclosures Bill, 2011, and the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011, awaits your approval. The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010, has already been cleared by the Standing Committee and awaits government’s consideration. The Electronic Delivery of Services Bill, 2011, is being introduced which will ensure that essential public services are electronically delivered at the doorstep of the citizen. These are landmark and unprecedented legislations. On the administrative side, our government seeks to streamline decision making consistent with the principles of transparency and accountability. We are formulating public policy measures on procurement. A Group of Ministers has recommended elimination of discretion in administrative matters where possible. This is work in progress. We began with the Right to Information Act. We will not end the fight against corruption with the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill.
We must embrace a holistic approach in our fight against corruption. Our laws must be all pervasive if we are genuine in our endeavour. Legal sophistry cannot be used to argue that State Legislatures must not adopt the model law proposed or delay its enforcement. Corruption is corruption whether in the Union or in the States. It has no legislative colour. I urge leaders of all parties to rise above partisan politics to demonstrate to the people of India that this House means business in its effort to combat corruption. All of us are party to the resolution reflecting the sense of the House in which we committed to establish Lokayuktas in the States along with the Lokpal. We would be in breach of the promise that this House made to the nation if we do not provide for the mechanism of the Lokayuktas by taking recourse to citing articles of the Constitution as impediments. Such a course of action should not derail the sense of the House. I urge my colleagues in Parliament to rise to the occasion and look beyond politics to pass this law.
The Central Government is responsible for providing a limited number of public services directly to the citizen. The real problem lies in the domain of State Governments where theaam aadmi feels the pinch of petty corruption on a daily basis. It is for this reason that Group C and Group D employees have been brought within the ambit of Lokayuktas in States. Local as well as State authorities are charged with providing essential services to the common man. It is here that the bane of corruption needs to be combated. Water, electricity, municipal services, land records, policing, transport, ration shops are but a few examples of essential services provided by State and Local authorities that affect the life of the aam aadmi. Setting up of Lokayuktas in States will go a long way in addressing the sense of frustration that is reflected in the anger that we see around us.
Even the major flagship schemes of the Central government are implemented by public functionaries working under the state government. Everyday in this and the other House, Members express their disillusionment with the way our Central schemes are implemented by States. We need to remedy this. Unless Lokayuktas are put in place, the cancer of corruption will spread. Let us not delay the issue any further. Federalism cannot be an impediment in the war against corruption.
We believe that the CBI should function without interference through any government dictat. But no institution and no individual, howsoever high he may be, should be free from accountability. All institutional structures must be consistent with our Constitution. Today we are given to believe that a Government that is directly elected by the people and accountable to it cannot be trusted but a body that will not derive its legitimacy from the people directly or be accountable to it could be trusted to wield its immense powers with honour and trust. No entity should be created inconsistent with our constitutional framework and charged with onerous executive responsibilities without any accountability. In the ultimate analysis, all institutions within the framework of the Constitution are accountable to Parliament and Parliament alone. In our enthusiasm to enact this law we must not falter. I believe that the CBI should function independently of the Lokpal. I also believe that the CBI should function independently of the Government. But independence does not mean absence of accountability. We have, therefore, proposed a process of appointment of the CBI Director which involves the prime minister, the Chief Justice of India or his nominee and the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha. None should have doubts about the integrity of this process. As far as the issue of CBI functioning under the Lokpal is concerned, my Government believes that this would create an executive structure outside Parliament which is accountable to none. This is anathema to sound constitutional principles. I believe that the Bill which is now before the House contains a judicious blend of functional autonomy and accountability of the CBI. I am sure that the wisdom of this House will rise to support my government’s proposal as reflected in this Bill.
In the course of this debate, the bureaucracy has been at the receiving end. While I agree that public functionaries must be above board and that delinquents must be dealt with expeditiously and decisively, I must express my deep appreciation for many a public servant who have shown exemplary integrity in discharging their functions in an environment of distrust. I don’t think all public functionaries need to be painted with the same brush just as all politicians should not be presumed to be corrupt. We must not throw the baby out with the bath water. Without a functional, efficient administrative system, no government can deliver for its people. Let us not supplant the system with one in which the public servants will hesitate to fearlessly record what they think and in that process endanger the very soul of good governance. In judging the conduct of public servants, we must not lose sight of the need to distinguish genuine and honest mistakes in the discharge of their duties from patently illegal acts. Very often our public servants have to take decisions under conditions of uncertainty. The future being inherently uncertain, it is possible that an action which ex ante appears to be rational may ex post turn out to be faulty. Our systems of reward and punishment must not lose sight of this fact.
All systems of governance must be based on trust. It is the people’s trust that we in government reflect and protect. Rampant distrust of all authority imperils the foundations of democracy. Our polity with its enormous size and diversity can only be held together when we put our faith and trust in institutions that we have carefully built over the years. The power of the electorate is the ultimate authority which brings accountability to our democratic institutions. In endangering democracy, we will only be unleashing the forces of chaos where reason will give way to emotion.
We are creating something for the future in response to the inadequacies of the present. We have to be mindful of the pitfalls when we look into the future. Let us not create something that will destroy all that we cherish – all in the name of combating corruption. Let us remember that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
We, as the representatives of the people, must act now to start yet another journey to rebuild the trust that is essential for a strong and vibrant India.”

Lok Sabha passes Lokpal bill

After a wait of 43 years and an intense 11 hour debate that lasted almost till the stroke of the midnight hour, the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill was passed by Lok Sabha by a voice vote after government agreed to 10 amendments. It also secured passage of the Whistleblowers Bill. But a legislation designed to confer constitutional status on the anti- corruption watchdog fell through, as the government failed to secure two-thirds support for it – prompting finance minister Pranab Mukheree to lament “a sad day for India, a sad day for democracy”. At least 15 Congress members and close to a dozen belonging to UPA allies were not present at the time of voting, contributing to the defeat of the idea first proposed by Rahul Gandhi—who had termed it a “game-changer”—in August. The government needed an aye vote from 288 out of the 432 members present in the House. It could manage only 249, though there were 275 members present in the Lok Sabha in the morning. The defeat led BJP leader Yashwant Sinha to demand that the government quit as it had lost moral authority. “Say bye, not aye,’’ he quipped. The government was able to get the bill itself through thanks to its accommodative stance and the surprise decision of BSP, Samajwadi Party and RJD not to participate in voting: something which brought down the effective strength of the House and eased the task of the government’s managers to rustle up the necessary numbers. The Constitution (116th Amendment ) Bill, 2011 was crafted to give effect to Rahul Gandhi’s proposal that the proposed ombudsman should have a constitutional status. The Congress general secretary’s suggestion had led Parliament’s standing committee to recommend it although the issue was not on Team Anna’s “wish list”.
KEY AMENDMENTS
Lokayuktas in states will not be notified without the consent of state assemblies
Instead of three-fourths of the nine-member Lokpal needing to approve an inquiry against PM, the approval of twothirds will now be required.
Approval made less stringent
Armed Forces excluded from purview of Lokpal. They are covered under specific statutes as also civilian and criminal laws
Parts of Section 24 giving presiding officers of legislatures power to act against members on the basis of a Lokpal or Lokayukta report for corruption deleted. This means action cannot be taken before trial

27.12.11

Core grows 6.8% in November



The infrastructure sector has provided a rare sonorous note in a cacophony of mostly grim recent official data releases, expanding by a higher-than-expected 6.8% in November and boosting hopes that industrial production may bounce back from the sharp contraction in October. The combined output rise of eight core industries — coal, crude oil, natural gas, refinery products, fertilisers, steel, cement and electricity — was the highest in four months, and also sharply higher than the annual growth of 3.7% in November last year, data released on Monday showed. Industrial production growth in October fell 5.1%, the lowest in 31 months, and triggered a raft of GDP downgrades, with some forecasters going as far as lowering their growth estimates for fiscal year 2011-12 to less than 7%.

India & Japan

India remains uncertain about the resumption of its own negotiations for civil nuclear cooperation with Tokyo. Ahead of Japanese PM Yoshihiko Noda’s visit to India on Tuesday for the 6th annual India-Japan summit, officials said the issue would be taken up in Noda’s meeting with his counterpart Manmohan Singh. India had held three rounds of negotiations with Japan for civil nuclear cooperation but these were suspended after the Fukushima disaster. The last time India and Japan held discussions for civil nuclear agreement was in November, 2010. India-Japan civil nuclear cooperation is important also for the US as it would lift nuclear and high-tech export controls and enable major US suppliers like GE and Westinghouse, who have either Japanese owners or partners, to carry out nuclear commerce with India. In December, Diet approved bilateral agreements for civil nuclear cooperation with four countries – Russia,South Korea, China and Vietnam. While this is being looked upon a positive sign, there are still doubts over whether this would translate into renewal of negotiations with India, a non-NPT signatory. The Japanese would critically examine whether India had fulfilled all its commitments made before NSG in September, 2008, that helped it acquire a waiver for carrying out nuclear commerce. Indian officials are hoping that Noda’s enthusiasm, despite public criticism, in overturning his predecessor Naoto Kan's policy to discourage nuclear exports after Fukushima would also translate into renewal of civil nuclear talks with New Delhi. Japanese foreign minister Koichiro Gemba said in a statement before the foreign affairs committee of Diet’s House of Representatives that Japan was also looking at finalizing similar agreements with India and four other countries — Brazil, South Africa, Turkey and UAE.

Somewhere in Chennai....



Family members of the victims of December 26, 2004 tsunami pay homage on its seventh anniversary at Marina beach in Chennai on Sunday.

Somewhere in Ahmedabad....


The newly designed lights were switched on at the Sabarmati riverfront on Saturday. The project is expected to attract a large number of tourists and visitors both from Gujarat and other parts of India and abroad.

26.12.11

Kolkata Metro snippets

The New Year is all set to infuse a fresh lease of life into the East-West Metro project. Work on the underground section of the Metro, which will run from Salt Lake to Howrah Maidan and back, will finally begin in January. A major part — from Subhas Sarobar to Howrah Maidan — of the Metro corridor will be underground and significantly, it will also run below the Ganga river bed. Tunnel boring machine (TBM) will be used for implementation of the underground transportation system. In fact, this is the first time this mechanism will be used in this part of the country. While the 5.77-km stretch from Sector V to Salt Lake Stadium would be over ground, the TBM will be lowered at Subhas Sarobar from where an 8-km tunnel will be bored till Subhas Sarobar. Another TBM will be lowered at Howrah Maidan to move below Howrah Station complex and the river bed. It would continue to BBD Bag via Brabourne Road, and then to Bowbazar via BB Ganguly Street to Sealdah. From Sealdah, the tunnel will move further to Phoolbagan via Narkeldanga Main Road. Near Swabhumi at Subhas Sarovar, the Metro will come onto surface and it will move along the elevated track on Eastern Metropolitan Bypass. It will then run to Central Park Bikash Bhawan, Karunamoyee and terminate at Salt Lake Sector V. It is expected that commuters won’t have to go through the nightmarish experience they suffered during the construction of the north-south corridor. There would be hardly any trouble on the surface while work on the underground portion is underway. Tunnel boring machines ensure there’s no trouble on the surface. Traffic on the surface would not be disturbed, claimed a senior Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation (KMRC) official. However, the official conceded that construction of the tunnel, especially the stretch below the river bed, is going to be a technological challenge. In case of the East-West Metro corridor, the soil will initially be dumped at Howrah Maidan. Later, it will be transported to fill up the low-lying areas of Rajarhat Township. Depending on rock strata and tunnel requirement, the tunnel will be cased or lined. The precast concrete sections will be jacked into places as the TBM moves forward. In case of East-West Metro, the diameter of each tunnel will be 5.2 meter (internal). The stations will be around 13 meter below the road surface. However, KMRC will construct the elevated portion (5.77 km) first since this portion will be constructed mainly on government land, said another engineer.

25.12.11

Vizag's tourism development plan

After having lived in Hyderabad’s shadow for long, the coastal city of Visakhapatnam is all set to make waves on the global map as a tourism hotspot, if the AP government has its way. The AP tourism department has, along with infrastructure giant IL&FS, drawn up a Rs 500-crore Vizag tourism development plan to develop the city as a world class leisure and business tourism destination with a mix of public and private funding. As part of this, a 30-km stretch of Vizag’s beachfront starting from RK Beach to Bheemili will get a major infrastructure facelift, with a host of tourist attractions dotting the city’s beaches. On the itinerary are blockbuster tourist attractions like an underwater world project, to be developed by Haw Par Corporation, the architect of the Singapore project. Also on the cards are development of Rushikonda beach as an adventure tourism hub, cruises from Vizag to destinations like Andaman and Nicobar Islands, upgradation of the narrow gauge train from Vizag to Araku Valley into a tourist train on the lines of trains plying in Darjeeling and Ooty, sea plane facilities, among other things. To ensure that tourists spend more time in Vizag, plans are also afoot to develop the entire Vizag region, including nearby tourist attractions like Aaraku valley, backwater cruises at Rajahmundry and the Simhachalam temple. The peaceful shores of Vizag are already emerging as a popular business destination, thanks to the upcoming PCPIR, pharma and IT SEZs, and the T-trouble that has plagued Hyderabad for the better part of the past two years. Tourism industry sources feel that with the influx of capital, the rising business tourist traffic is already making the city an attractive MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) destination and hospitality giants are already scrambling to cash in on this potential.

Food inflation at a 4-year low

Food inflation eased to a four-year low in mid-December due to improved supplies and lower prices of vegetables, potato, onion and wheat, bringing huge relief for the government which has been battling stubborn price pressures for more than a year. Data released by the commerce and industry ministry on Thursday showed food inflation stood at 1.81% in the week to December 10, lower than the previous week’s 4.35%. It stood at 13.22% in the same year-ago period. Food inflation had touched 2.26% in the week to February 9, 2008. Stubbornly high food inflation has remained a huge policy challenge for the UPA government for the past few years and has contributed to higher overall inflation. RBI has raised interest rates 13 times since March 2010 to tame price pressures. Policymakers have been wrong-footed several times while predicting the trend of food prices.

Mumbai's coastal road plan

Nearly six months after it was formed amid widespread fears of damage to the city’s fragile ecology, the technical committee appointed by the state government to look into the feasibility of building coastal roads in Mumbai has completed its report. The 12-member panel headed by municipal commissioner Subodh Kumar has zeroed in on an alignment for the 29-km stretch–which will begin at the Marine Drive Gymkhana and end at the L&T unit in Madh–in the process creating 57.5 hectares of open spaces as a bonus. The project, officials said, could be completed in three years if permission comes on time and will cost the state exchequer about Rs 6,000 crore. To be constructed part on stilts, part on bridges, tunnels, existing roads and new roads on reclaimed land, it will create on most patches an extension of at least 100 m from the sea line. Of the total 29-km, about 7 km will be constructed by building new roads or widening the existing roads on reclaimed land. Ten km will come up on stilts to protect mangroves, 6.4 km will be constructed in the from of a tunnel, 3.4 km in widening roads, 1.2 km in bridges and a kilometre of elevated road on existing stretches. Committee members said wherever possible they have made crucial changes on the alignment to protect old fishing villages of Bandra and Khar, and mangroves in Juhu, Andheri and Malad. The 29-km stretch is part of an ambitious 320-km ring road, estimated to cost Rs 34,000 crore, around Mumbai. The extension for the eastern front and other viable components will be pursued later. The project has been criticized by the Koli community, original inhabitants of Mumbai, and experts who feel it is a violation of a 2011 CRZ notification that permits roads on stilts and not coastal roads by way of reclaiming land. The committee comprises representatives from the Union ministry of environment and forests, National Institute of Oceanography, Indian Institute of Technology (Bombay), J J School of Architecture, MMRDA’s transport division as well as architects Chandrashekhar Prabhu, Hafeez Contractor and P K Das.

Atal's health



Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who turns 88 on Christmas Day, remains one of India’s most popular and charismatic political leaders whose name continues to be invoked by party campaigners. But his health remains a cause of concern and those in the know say he is often confined to a wheelchair and fails to recognise people. No one, not even BJP leaders are willing to talk publicly about Vajpayee’s health. But those who have access to him are unanimous that he is seriously unwell. The assessments, however, vary. Besides dementia, the veteran leader, who was three-time prime minister, is known to be a longterm diabetic. He also has agerelated illness. When he was prime minister, Vajpayee underwent knee replacement surgery at Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai in 2001. A relative said doctors are against too many people calling on him . Informed sources said only close relatives and senior party leaders are permitted to call on him and that too only occasionally.

NTC dons a new look



Mobile Funds transfer

The Reserve Bank of India has removed the ceiling of Rs 50,000 per customer per day limit on mobile banking. Henceforth banks are now free to place per transaction limits based on their own risk perception with the approval of its Board. The move will facilitate banks to come out with innovative mobile banking solutions for business. Even with the existing limit, Citibank had this month launched a cash-to-mobile service which enabled companies with a wide retail network like Coca-Cola collect mobile payments from retailers on delivery. Bankers say that the move was inevitable as increased convergence would make it difficult to distinguish between mobile banking and internet banking. For instance, a customer could access his internet banking account through a tablet using mobile networks. RBI said that the earlier limit was imposed in 2008 as the mobile technology at that time was relatively new.

New Terminal @ Lucknow airport

The new terminal is still in the finishing stage and may require few more days before it is actually made fully operational. In fact, some of the services like parking and connectivity are yet to be put in place and made operational. The first floor too is in the finishing stages. The airport director maintained that the terminal will be made fully operational in another 15 to 20 days time, if every thing went as per the plans. For the records, named after former prime minister Chawdhary Charan Singh, the two floored terminal spreading over an area of 20,000 sq mts will be big enough to house at least 750 passengers at any given point of time. Its construction started in 2008 and was repeatedly delayed, at times because of the labor problems. The new terminal building will have both domestic and international flights operations. Plans are afoot to renovate the old terminal building which would later be allocated for international operations, while the new terminal will handle domestic flights.

Poll bugle sounded

The Election Commission on Saturday announced the dates for assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur, setting the stage for a mini-general election which will mark a serious political test for Rahul Gandhi and may potentially provide a window of opportunity to Congress to reverse a pervasive perception of corruption and policy paralysis. The polls, which include seven-phase voting in UP, will begin on January 28 and end on March 3, with results coming a day later. Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi announced single-phase polls in Goa (March 3), Manipur (January 28), Punjab and Uttarakhand (January 30) while UP will see polling on February 4, 8, 11, 15, 19, 23 and 28. Two states each are ruled by NDA and Congress at present while the BSP commands UP. Saturday’s announcement ended the suspense over the poll schedule on which ride the fortunes of an embattled Congress. A favourable scoreline, minimum 3-2 with evidence of revival in its fallen fort of UP, would help reverse the Anna Hazare-induced inaction at the Centre while silencing the BJP, which is on the right side of the septuagenarian campaigner. It is a challenge for Rahul Gandhi who isleading the charge in UP. A successful outcome in UP will ensure that he is hailed as the party’s new mascot. It will also put him under pressure to lead the government, something he is averse to. Congress chief Sonia Gandhi recently spelt out the significance of the polls when she told the party’s poll managers that Team Anna must be countered electorally. The pollscape seems favourable for the Congress, with BJP on the backfoot in Uttarakhand and in Punjab. In UP, the party will be more than satisfied if it overtakes BJP’s tally, thus besting the saffron challenger once again after the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. That will dispel the perception of a slide, and help the party keep in good stead for the 2014 general elections. The bar for the party is set low in UP; a good jump on its 2007 score of 22 seats which will make it indispensable for SP to form a government. This would earn Congress the support of 23 SP MPs at the Centre, buffering UPA-2 from a whimsical Mamata Banerjee, and set it on course for revival in UP.

24.12.11

Ahmedabad Metro snippets

Companies from across the globe have shown interest in building infrastructure for the proposed Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar metro rail project. Metrolink Express for Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad (Mega) Co Ltd, a special purpose vehicle which is executing the project, has received proposals from 28 national and international construction giants for the ambitious rail project. These include firms from Turkey, China, Malaysia, Spain and Russia. Leading companies like Gammon India, Hindustan Construction Company, Lanco Infratech, IL&FS, L&T, China’s Continental Engineering Corporation, Turkey's Alsim Alarko San Tes, Transstroy-OJSC – an Indo-Russian joint venture, Isolux Corsan-C&C Constructions – an Indo-Spain joint venture are among those in the fray after having submitted expression of interest to build sub-structures. These include the piling foundation and columns and the super-structure on which the train runs. “The size of the contract will be worth Rs 2,000 crore for the civil and rail part. However, if the government decides to phase it over a four-year period, the cost will be lower. Considering the development stage that Gujarat is in, we may decide to go for the whole stretch of 60 km at one go, which will require multiple contractors,” said a Mega official. Earlier this year, the Gujarat government touted it as a ‘zero land acquisition project', as most of the metrorail network will be erected on an elevated corridor constructed on public roads.

22.12.11

Emerging Markets' Indices



World Giving Index 2011



Somewhere in Jaipur....



The machinery was mobilized and work on the much-awaited ring road project finally began on Wedneday in Dadiya and Nevta villages.

Moody’s upgrades Indian government bonds

Global ratings agency Moody’s Investor Service upgraded its local currency rating for Indian government bonds to Baa3, which is investment grade as compared to the earlier Ba1 which is junk or speculative grade. Moody’s last upgraded an Indian long-term sovereign debt to investment grade in 2004.

The Lokpal Debate









Four of the Lokpal’s eight members will have a judicial background while “public order” is among the considerations on which the prime minister enjoys immunity from prosecution under the Lokpal bill that also does away with the need for sanction for prosecution of public servants. The Lokpal and Lokayukta bill 2011—cleared by the Cabinet on Tuesday night and to be introduced in the Lok Sabha on Thursday—proposes a seven-year deadline for complaints. This means the antigraft ombudsman will not entertain a complaint after seven years of the alleged offence of corruption. The bill also seeks to confer constitutional status on the Lokpal and Lokayuktas in states for which a separate constitutional amendment bill will be introduced in Parliament. As a wide section of political opinion feels the provision for creating Lokayuktas in states by a central legislation is inconsistent with the Constitution, officials said the government has proposed a model law that the states need not adopt. Besides public order, the prime minister has been provided immunity with respect to external and internal security, defence, atomic energy and space. The draft of the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill 2011 says the “new constitutional initiative” in creating the Lokpal and Lokayuktas is aimed at making ministers, MPs, MLAs and government servants “responsible and accountable in their affairs”. It also says this will help eradicate corruption at the “central and state level”. The bill says the initiative displays government’s zero tolerance towards corruption by empowering the Lokpal and Lokayuktas to receive complaints against ministers. The Lokpal will have supervisory powers, along with Central Vigilance Commission, over the CBI’s anti-corruption wing. Importantly, the bill proposes that no prior sanction of the competent authority—which was till now used as a shield against prosecution-—would be required for launching prosecution in cases inquired by the Lokpal, or initiated on its direction or with its approval. This means that the infamous “single line directive” that protects senior public servants from prosecution will be done away with after the enactment of the Lokpal Act. All non-governmental organizations (NGOs) receiving over Rs 10 lakh as donation from foreign sources, in terms and context of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), are proposed to be brought under the Lokpal’s jurisidiction. The Lokpal shall also function as the final appellate authority for grievances relating to delivery of all public services. It will also act as the appellate authority for redressal grievances relating to finding of public authority in any case falling under the Prevention of Corruption Act. Any complaint against the PM will be taken up for preliminary inquiry only by a full bench of Lokpal comprising not less than 75% of the members and all such proceedings would be held in camera. The bill proposes that the Lokpal, with a chairperson and eight members, will have independent preliminary inquiry and prosecution wings under its belt. The government retained a slender control over the process of selection of the chairperson of Lokpal by proposing that the panel which would choose the head of anti-corruption body would comprise the PM, Speaker of Lok Sabha, leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, Chief Justice of India or his nominee—a Supreme Court judge, and an eminent jurist to be nominated by the President. The chairperson and members will have identical qualification but 50% of the eight members, that is four, “shall be from amongst SC, ST, OBC, minorities and women”. And this reservation would also be applicable in case of four judicial members. The 50% reservation clause would apply to the composition of the search committee too. The bill also provides a removal mechanism for chairperson and members of the Lokpal.

21.12.11

Cellular subcriber additions

GSM operators added 6.68 million new subscribers in November, taking the total GSM subscriber base in the country to 632.08 million. The additions have increased the GSM subscriber base by 1.07 per cent from October. During that month, GSM operators had added 7.12 million new users taking the total to about 625.40 million.
The growth in November was led by Idea Cellular, which added 2.17 million new users, taking its total user-base to 103.99 million, according to the data released on Tuesday by the Cellular Operators Association of India. Bharti Airtel, the largest GSM player, added 0.96 million subscribers, taking its total to 174.69 million users. It had a market share of 27.64 per cent. Vodafone Essar, with a 23.23 per cent market share, added 0.92 million new subscribers during the month, taking its subscriber base to 146.84 million at the end of November 2011. Stateowned BSNL and MTNL added 0.55 million and 33,666 new users, taking their total to 92.14 million and 5.39 million, respectively. Aircel added 0.67 million customers taking its subscriber base to 60.95 million, while Uninor added 1.86 million new users to take its subscriber base to 34.18 million at the end of last month.

Skyscraper Capital ?





Vertical growth on the cards....

Markets slide



Fears of a further economic slowdown and policy paralysis at the Centre prompted foreign funds to sell aggressively on Tuesday, sparking a 204-point fall in the sensex to 15,175, a28-month closing low. Selling by FIIs also had its impact on the rupee, which again dipped below the 53-level against the US dollar in intra-day trade but settled at Monday’s level of 52.89. The combined effect pushed India out of the elite club of countries with a trillion dollar in market capitalization after being in this group for about three-and-a-half years. It was on May 28, 2007, at a time when the rupee was showing unusual strength against the dollar and hovered around the 40 mark that India had first entered the $1-trillion market cap league. Lately, the twin effect of rupee’s weakness and the slide of the market combined to drag it below the trillion dollar mark. According to Bloomberg data, so far this year India’s market cap has gone down by 38%, making it the worst performing market among the 12 countries that were in the trillion dollar club.

20.12.11

Delhi Metro update

Delhi Metro’s Japanese connection will be getting a boost, come January. As work on the third phase of the network gathers steam, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) will be releasing the first instalment of its loan for the Delhi Metro network next month. Pegged at 53 per cent, the loan from JICA for the Rs 35,242 crore project will form the bulk of funding for Phase III, said sources. It will be used to bankroll the civil work, source rolling stock as well as for acquiring the brand-new signaling system for this phase. The good news for the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) is that with the Central and Delhi governments pitching in with another 21.27%, the onus for getting the rest of the project cost, which is with the DMRC, is not very much. On ground, the coming through of the loan is the signal for Delhi Metro to ramp up its tendering process. The tenders, which are built on JICA funds, need to be vetted by the Japanese agency before they can be awarded. This process has already gotten off the ground, said sources. JICA has so far paid over Rs 16,000 crore for phases I and II. DMRC has paid back a part of the loan for Phase I amounting to Rs 129.55 crore. The interest for the loan amount for both phases have been repaid to the tune of Rs 696.95 crore.

Pension Scheme update

The government has secured the support of BJP on the bill to reform the pension sector by agreeing to the main opposition’s demand that the scheme offer a minimum assured return and foreign investment be capped at 26%. The new pension scheme will offer an option for an assured return of 8.6% for investments in government bonds, while subscribers willing to take a higher degree of risk can look at other choices, where their contributions are invested in a mix of private and government placements. An understanding over the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) Bill was arrived at a meeting on Monday between finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and BJP leaders in Parliament. However, no consensus was possible with regard to the Companies Bill. The bill was introduced in Parliament in the face of Left resistance with BJP’s backing and now its prospects of passage seem bright and it may be moved on Wednesday. The terms of the deal are on the lines of the recommendations of the parliamentary finance standing committee that did not agree with the Centre’s proposal that foreign investment in pension funds be raised to 49%, and also called for an assured rate of return, arguing that senior citizens should be given security on their investment.

AIADMK rumblings



Tamil Nadu chief minister and AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa on Monday expelled her close associate, Sasikalaa Natarajan, and 13 others, mostly Sasikalaa’s relatives, from the party’s primary membership. Long regarded as an important member of the CM’s household, Sasikalaa also left Jayalalithaa’s Poes Garden bungalow with her brood. A terse AIADMK press release said Sasikalaa and 11 of her family members “are expelled from the primary membership of the party and relieved of their posts with immediate effect” without giving any reason for their expulsion. Sasikalaa’s banishment comes in the wake of a series of resignations and sackings of key officials, apparently appointed at Sasikalaa’s behest. This is the second time in their long association that Jaya has distanced herself from Sasikalaa. In May 1996, soon after her party’s disastrous assembly elections, she announced her estrangement with Sasikalaa, saying she was snapping ties out of respect for the sentiments of the people and partymen.

Sensex hits a 28 month low !



Fears over a slowing economy led Dalal Street investors to dump shares at the start of the week, resulting in a 112-point slide in the sensex to 15,379 on Monday —its lowest close in about 28 months. As foreign funds led the day’s selling, capital goods, banking and real estate stocks led the slide and investors were left poorer by about Rs 60,000 crore with the BSE’s market capitalization now at Rs 52.4 lakh crore, also a 27-month low.

19.12.11

Goa's Golden Jubilee



Swamy & the NDA

BJP is considering including Subramanian Swamy’s Janata Party into the NDA. While the final decision on this has not yet been taken, BJP chief Nitin Gadkari is looking at the option seriously and has also spoken to senior BJP leaders, including L K Advani. Swamy is learnt to be keen to join the NDA and has already spoken to Gadkari about it, but the decision is still pending. While many senior leaders in the party are not averse to the idea of Swamy joining the NDA squad, the only hitch is with regard to apprehensions among some of the party seniors about whether Swamy’s “maverick” ways will work well for the NDA.

Madhurapudi Airport

The new year is likely to see the long-pending demand of air passengers of Andhra's coastal districts turn into reality with the commissioning of the Madhurapudi airport near Rajahmundry. The construction of a control tower and the terminal building of international standards have been completed. The new structures would be inaugurated in the beginning of the new year. Sources said the night landing facility at the airport too would become operational very soon. Apart from catering to the needs of the passengers, the airport will also check the Maoist activities in north Telangana and the Andhra-Orissa border as the state government’s proposed Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) would be based here. The new terminal building, control tower and other constructions were completed at an estimated cost of Rs 38 crore. The authorities are planning to extend the existing runway from 1,749 metres to 3,000 metres so that bigger aircraft can land.

Ajit Singh sworn in

Ahead of the crucial electoral battle in Uttar Pradesh, Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Ajit Singh was on Sunday sworn in as cabinet minister in a brief ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan. Singh’s induction as civil aviation minister is seen as UPA’s strategy to mobilize Jat voters in western UP in its favour as it comes days after he struck an electoral deal with Congress. The move is also aimed at strengthening UPA’s tally as the government is finding difficult to push through several important legislations in Parliament. UPA managers cannot trust BSP and SP for their support in Parliament as Congress general secretary Rahul has launched an offensive campaign against both the parties in the fight for UP. RLD has five members in Lok Sabha, including Singh and his son Jayant Chaudhary. Singh, son of former PM Charan Singh and a six-time member of the Lok Sabha, was the only minister to take oath administered by President Pratibha Patil. Soon after his swearing in, Singh attacked the Mayawati government, saying people were disenchanted with the “oppressive” BSP regime in UP. Singh washopeful his party’s alliance with the Congress would provide a “clear-cut alternative” to the BSP in UP and said the “wave” generated in UP due to the Congress-RLD alliance would be felt across India. While attendance was thin on Sunday, PM Manmohan Singh, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi were present. Senior ministers, including finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and foreign minister S M Krishna, stayed away due to prior engagements.

Food Security Bill gets Cabinet nod

After a prod by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, the Cabinet on Sunday cleared the National Food Security Bill at a specially-convened meeting to table it in Parliament this week. The bill, meant to provide subsidized foodgrains to people, brought to the Cabinet by food and public distribution minister K V Thomas, was approved without a hitch in a meeting that lasted under an hour. The bill, which the UPA will table in Parliament in the hope of gaining some political dividend in the crucial Uttar Pradesh elections, seeks to cover 75% of the rural population and 50% of urban population in the country. Initial estimates suggest that the food subsidy bill could be upwards of Rs 1 lakh crore. A minimum of 46% of the rural population and a minimum of 28% urban population will get 7 kg of foodgrains per month per person. Rice would be provided at Rs 3 a kg, wheat at Rs 2 and coarse grains at Rs 1 a kg. The rest of the targeted population would get 3 kg of grains per person per month at half the minimum support price offered to farmers by government during procurement. Existing nutrition and select social security schemes would also be brought under the legislation as an entitlement. After the last Cabinet meeting on Tuesday deferred the decision on the food security bill, the Congress leadership and managers had gone into overdrive to ensure that it got the nod in time to be tabled in the on-going session of Parliament. Although some important members such as NCP’s Sharad Pawar had expressed reservations over some of the proposals, sources said, given the political significance, the Cabinet went ahead with the bill. The total number of beneficiaries to be covered by the bill would depend upon the results of the delayed Socio-Economic and Caste Census currently underway. While the government had moved closer to the recommendations of Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council, it has left the door open to play with the absolute numbers through the use of ‘deprivation parameters’ in the census data. The real financial outlay required for the bill would also become clear only once the government freezes the beneficiary list through the census overseen by the rural development ministry.

Urban hubs

Worried about the swelling urban population and lack of infrastructure, the government plans to develop new urban hubs along transport and industrial corridors to accommodate the ever-growing influx to cities and towns. It plans to develop ‘ring towns’ and connect them to major growing cities with fast transport options. It also plans to develop twincities by ensuring high speed commuter rail connectivity between large ‘primate cities’ and growing secondary cities. The ambitious proposal came from the Planning Commission’s working group on urban strategic planning and aims to arrest the deteriorating living conditions in cities while also tackling future urbanization challenges in a planned manner as India moves from 31% urbanization to over 50% in the next few decades. The aim is to form a national spatial grid structure by setting up new cities along the industrial and high-tech growth corridors and transportation grid like the golden quadrilateral and other corridors to accommodate the projected 700 million urban population by the 2040s. The group also talked of strategic densification of cities to address future growth, arguing that density regulations in cities were archaic and didn’t address the needs of present day urban society. “Indian cities have the lowest Floor Space Index (FSI) in the world,” it said. The working group said the Centre should encourage states and cities to pursue this strategy for future urban development and this should go hand in hand with infrastructure development within the city, facilitated by flexible zoning. There was an urgent need to address the lack of consistent and coherent urban development policy, faulty urban planning, coupled with poor implementation that has transformed many cities into chaotic entities, the group said. A Unified Metropolitan Transit Authority for Metropolitan Areas, as a technical agency, will be established to help all planning bodies in the area, and work with the local bodies to prepare integrated transport plans.

India & China

The proposed February launch of India’s Agni-V missile has ruffled feathers among Chinese policymakers with Communist Party organ People’s Daily saying it reflects India’s “intention of seeking regional balance of power”. It quoted Indian officials describing Agni-V as a “killer” for a “certain country” without naming it. India “cannot tolerate” internal and external security environment constraints that come in the way of its developing military clout, the article said. But it made no mention of China’s massive missile build-up and development of air strike capabilities, including the launch of an aircraft carrier that has caused concern among its sea neighbours and the US. “It is the Indian goal to continue to strengthen the military and possess a military clout that matches its status as a major power,” it said. The article comes in the wake of Chinese experts’ concern about the strengthening India-US military ties. They have voiced concerns about India joining the American game plan of “encircling China” by playing on the grouse of its sea neighbours—Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan. Beijing has vehemently opposed an ONGC deal for oil exploration in South China Sea. It said India should stop putting too much faith in the new US policy on the Asia Pacific region as “thinking this move will have its imaginary enemy would be na├»ve”. It also said, “India should cooperate with the neighbours instead of being hostile... There is no real winner in wars and peace opportunities must not be wasted.”

17.12.11

RBI pauses







The Reserve Bank of India Governor Duvvuri Subbarao promised to cut interest rates in the months ahead to revive faltering economic growth when price pressures ease convincingly, but freed rates on non-resident deposits in yet another measure to lift the rupee. The central bank maintained status quo on policy measures, but said it was reversing its policy stance of raising interest rates to tame inflation without indicating a time frame for lowering rates. It will keep buying government bonds, popularly known as open market operations, to ensure adequate liquidity. This assurance of future easing was not enough for investors and companies, but is a giant leap from a monetary perspective especially with key manufacturing inflation still rising. The governor, who has so far stuck to economic text books by raising rates to curb inflation, has once again sent a signal that it takes two to tango — that monetary policy alone cannot lift the economy out of the rubble, the government should also act. For the first time in nearly two years, the governor has committed to reversing the rate increase cycle after going back once on a pause in the third quarter of the last fiscal. Repo rate, the rate at which the RBI lends to banks, is unchanged at 8.5%, after 13 increases. Reverse repo, the rate it pays banks for depositing excess funds, is at 7.5%. The rate on the marginal standing facility, the emergency window to borrow, is at 9.5%. Cash reserve requirement is at 6%.

Somewhere in Srinagar....



Businesses in Srinagar’s old city remained shuttered on Thursday to protest the death of a 25-year old shopkeeper badly battered for defying a group enforcing a shutdown earlier this month. The police said the attackers stoned Tariq Ahmad Bhat’s shop before beating him with a cricket bat on December 3. He had suffered severe head injuries and died in a Srinagar hospital on Wednesday. Reports said Bhat’s attackers were enforcing a strike against the arrest of people demonstrating against the police use of pepper guns on December 2. Several protesters were also injured when police fired tear-gas shells. Some protesters, trying to enforce a shutdown the following day, asked Bhat to close his shop. He refused to do so, leading to a scuffle. Bhat suffered a skull fracture and slipped into coma. Thousands of mourners joined Bhat’s funeral and sought strict action against his attackers on Wednesday. “We are in deep shock and want to express our solidarity with the Bhat family. We have decided to observe a complete two-day shutdown in the Nowhatta area and a daylong bandh in adjoining areas,” said Mushtaq Ahmad Dariyal of a local traders’ body. On Tuesday, police had arrested four people allegedly involved in beating Bhat to death at Gojwara in old Srinagar. Chief minister Omar Abdullah blamed separatists for the death and said “a peaceful and youthful person’’ had become the “latest victim of your outlook”. Terming the incident “ghastly”, Omar criticized separatists for not “uttering even a word against this heinous act of hooligans”. Challenging separatists to fight the government politically, he said, “Lies cannot live long and people cannot be hoodwinked by slogans and fear. One day, you will have to apologize.’’

Somewhere in Moscow....



The Russian-built unit I of the Kudankulam nuclear plant in Tamil Nadu will be operationalized “in a couple of weeks”, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in Moscow on Friday, expressing confidence that the Indian government will convince the locals protesting against the facility. He said that unit II of the plant will be operational “within six months” of unit I going critical, apart from announcing that India and Russia had finalised the text of the protocol for grant of Russian credit and that their negotiations on the techno-commercial offer on the construction of units III and IV were at an advanced stage. Manmohan Singh made the announcement at a joint press conference with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow soon after the 12th India-Russia summit even as Indian authorities are still struggling to convince local villagers that the nuclear plant is safe. Alluding to the villagers’ protests against the nuclear plant, he said there were “temporary problems” in view of “some agitations” due to their concerns over the safety of the plant and its impact on their livelihood.

Nagpur Metro

When it comes to granting infrastructure projects, Nagpur and Vidarbha has always been given the short end of the stick. But, for the metro rail, the Maharashtra state government has reacted with alacrity by approving the ambitious project. Nagpur, the second capital of Maharashtra, will finally join the big league of cities in the country, which have the urban necessity of a metro rail network. Work on the project is expected to begin in January 2013. With not many hurdles in the way unlike other cities, Nagpurians may be able to make their first trip by December 2016. Sources in Mantralaya said that the metro link will be 25km long from Sitabuldi to Butibori via Mihan. The cost of the project is Rs 1,250 crore. It will run partly on an elevated corridor and the remaining will be on-ground. On November 17, Union minister of road transport announced that all cities with a population of more than 20 lakhs will get metro rail. In Nagpur on December 10, Nath asked the state government to put the project on the fast track. State chief minister Prithviraj Chavan is expected to make a formal announcement before the state legislature’s winter session ends on December 23.

Rahul backs FDI in Retail



Rahul Gandhi has come out in full-throated support of foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail. Turning the government’s FDI setback into a poll weapon, Rahul asserted that the Centre would implement the suspended investment policy in retail. He slammed the opposition for sabotaging a move that would give farmers a higher return on their produce. Rahul dubbed the anti-FDI position of the Congress’s political rivals —ranging from the SP, BSP to the BJP—a betrayal of farmers, while aggressively marketing FDI in retail as a panacea to farmers of this region, known as the ‘potato belt’ of Uttar Pradesh, where prices of the vegetable have hit rock bottom. On his way to Kannauj, Rahul visited potato fields where he saw the produce rotting and “pigs gorging on them”. At Ismailpur, he stopped at a roadside dhaba and asked a gathering of locals if they knew about FDI. The stridency contrasted with they way the Manmohan Singh government agreed to suspend the decision to appease rebellious allies and the BJP-led opposition after they refused to allow Parliament to function over the issue.

15.12.11

Sensex returns



Advani's adjournment motion on Black Money



BJP leader LK Advani on Wednesday moved an adjournment motion in the Lok Sabha on “situation arising out of money deposited illegally in foreign banks and the action being taken”. The motion fell through at the end of the day.When Speaker Meira Kumar put it to vote, the treasury benches shouted ‘ayes’ when they should have said ‘nays’, which they did after the amusement all round. Samajawadi Party members led by Mulayam Singh staged a walk out. Advani admitted that earlier black money was generated due to higher rates of taxation, going up as high as 97.5 per cent. He said credit was due to former prime minister PV Narasimha Rao who opened up the economy in 1991 and ended the licence-permit-quota raj. He also said prime minister Manmohan Singh, who was finance minister with Rao, helped in changing the system. Advani, however, went on to say that tax evasion had increased many fold after liberalisation. He said that with Switzerland and some western banks ready to disclose information on illegal accounts, the government should turn pro-active and retrieve the illegal money stashed away by Indians amounting to a few hundred billion dollars, which could then be invested in the six lakh Indian villages. In his reply, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee said the figures cited by Advani and other opposition leaders were not based on reliable sources, and that he has tasked three institutions to arrive at an accurate figure. He told the House that the agreement with Switzerland on sharing information tax evaders would come into effect only from 2012, and that it will be prospective and not retrospective. That is, it will only apply to tax evaders in the future, and it will not be possible to get information from the past. He also said that name of no member of parliament was in the list of those holding illegal accounts in foreign banks, and that India does not even figure in the top 10 countries on the list of ‘dirty money’ which is what ‘black money’ is known as in the west. Mukherjee also pooh-poohed the idea that black money in foreign banks should be declared a national asset. He said it will not be possible to invade another country to retrieve the national asset. The finance minister emphasised that India will have to work with other countries within the international legal framework. He reminded the House that prime minister Singh had emphasised in the G20 meeting that there should be an automatic exchange of tax information among this group which will encourage other countries to fall in line as well, and that it is wrong to say that the government is not doing anything in the matter. He said that tax evasion is not a criminal offence which is to be dealt under the Criminal Procedure Code, and that the norms of pursuing the tax evaders have to be different. He also told the House that Indian entrepreneurs are investing abroad, and India is the largest investor in the European Union and second largest in the United Kingdom. He revealed that black money is neither new nor urgent which is what an adjournment motion should be about, but he said he conceded to the demand because he wanted the House to run.

Shivaji statue plan dumped ?

Over two years after finalising two consultant firms to build the Shivaji statue in the Arabian Sea off Marine Drive, Maharashtra has failed to sign an agreement with the companies. The project is thus languishing in cold storage. In August 2009, the state cabinet approved TeamOne, Mum bai, and Besel Design Stu dio, Thailand, as consultants for the project. But the government is yet to sign on the dotted line. A revised notification, issued by the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) this January, may create more hurdles since it lays down stricter conditions for construction in coastal areas.The plan is to build a 309-ft-tall statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji — 3ft taller than the Statue of Liberty in New York — and an entertainment complex in the Arabian Sea, south of the financial capital. Initially pegged at Rs200 crore, the project’s cost has now escalated to Rs400 crore. The government had made a budgetary provision of Rs50 crore in 2009-10. No prog ress has been made since then.Sources alleged that the consultants have heard nothing from the government after the first announcement.“We are about to finalise the draft of the agreement to be signed with the consultants,” said Nandkumar Jantre, secretary, general administration department.An officer from the public works department said an environmental expert will be appointed to study the project’s feasibility, once the agreement is signed.

Road & Rail blockades

States affected by road and rail blockades may soon get some respite with solicitor general R F Nariman on Wednesday saying official forces would clear traffic in 24 hours. At a time when a bench of Justices G S Singhvi and S J Mukhopadhaya was analyzing the situation arising from fortnight-long rail blockades in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, advocate Prashant Bhushan told the court that Manipur faced a road blockade for 121 days which threw normal life out of gear and seriously damaged the land-locked state’s economy. Nariman, whose assistance was sought by the bench during the last hearing, said once intelligence reports or information received otherwise indicates possible road or rail blockade agitation, the home secretary concerned must take immediate steps to clear traffic within 12 hours. “If the said blockade is not removed within 12 hours for any reason, whatsoever, then under such circumstances, the home secretary of the state shall immediately request the Union home secretary to direct central forces or any other paramilitary force available at the command of the Centre to initiate desired preventive steps immediately to maintain or restore public order within 24 hours,” Nariman said. “The home secretary of the state shall personally supervise the situation under the direct supervision and control of the home secretary to the government of India,” he added. Nariman further said the district magistrate concerned should assess the damage caused to public and private property by the agitators and “undertake appropriate legal proceedings to recover the quantified loss in a manner as if the same were arrears of the land revenue against the delinquent individually”.

PM Manmohan Singh on FDI in Retail



Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said India’s economy will return to a long-term growth pace of 9% as inflation slows and the government extends a record of market-opening policies. “We will stay the course,” Singh said in an interview in his office in Parliament House in New Delhi on Wednesday. “We will make India an eminently bankable and creditworthy economy.” Gross domestic product will increase 7.5% in the fiscal year that ends March 31, while inflation will cool to between 6% and 7%, Singh said. The slide in the rupee won’t diminish investor confidence, he said. The prime minister said he expects to succeed in his push to open India’s retail market to foreign companies after regional elections conclude by the end of March 2012.

Lokpal Bill update





The majority in the political class on Wednesday endorsed Team Anna’s stand on putting the prime minister and lower bureaucracy within the purview of the proposed Lokpal, but cautioned the government against acting in a hurry to meet the winter session deadline set by the anti-graft pressure group to putin place the country’s first independent anti-corruption watchdog. At the all-party meeting, the majority also did not seem to agree with Team Anna on reducing the CBI to an adjunct of the Lokpal in anti-corruption investigations, holding that the agency should be able to carry out investigations without having to constantly look over its shoulders to either the government or the Lokpal. An overwhelming majority, however, favoured eliminating the role of the government in deciding who heads the premier anti-corruption agency. It was strongly argued that the process for the appointment of the CBI chief should be the same as laid down for the CVC or the one proposed for the Lokpal itself. Many participants spoke about the “misuse” of the CBI. The consensus seemed to be that administrative control over the investigating agency should be exercised by the proposed Lokpal rather than the Centre. However, few agreed that the Lokpal should be empowered to monitor the CBI’s investigations, barring those it is asked to undertake by the watchdog itself. Neither the government nor the key UPA partners—Trinamool, DMK and NC—revealed their hand.
WHERE THEY STAND
On PM : Left and right united on bringing PM’s office within Lokpal ambit
On Lower Bureaucracy : BJP and CPM want Group C & D employees included; CPI says Lokpal can’t handle crores of employees
On CBI : Majority against making CBI adjunct of Lokpal. Argue for administrative control of CBI by Lokpal, but reject suggestion that Lokpal should monitor CBI probes. All agree that govt must have no role in appointing CBI chief .
Barring BJP and CPM to some extent, all parties — even NDA allies — against rigid winter session deadline for passage of bill. Say while Lokpal is necessary, it shouldn’t be hurried.
"I am personally keen this momentous legislation should be passed on the basis of consensus among all parties as far as possible and that this should not be subjected to party politics in any way", Manmohan Singh.