SC raps Government on flip-flop

Contradicting its earlier stand, the government on Tuesday came out in support of decriminalisation of gay sex, drawing the ire of the Supreme Court which asked it not to make a “mockery” of the system. As the proceedings began in the controversial case, additional solicitor general Mohan Jain told the bench that there is “no legal error” in the Delhi high court verdict which had decriminalised gay sex in 2009. The stand taken by Jain, appearing for the Union health ministry, was contrary to the argument by additional solicitor general P P Malhotra, who had appeared for the home ministry and opposed decriminalisation of gay sex. The home ministry had, however,quickly distanced itself from Malhotra's submission. Taking a strong exception to the change in government's stand, the bench of Justices G S Singhvi and S J Mukhopadhaya pulled up the Centre and asked it to file affidavit within three days explaining the decision taken by the Cabinet on the issue.


Revamping Indian Railways

Dharavi Revamp snapshot

Godhra - 10 years on

Somewhere in Mumbai....

Dead mangroves at the Sewri Bay....

Sensex dives 478 points

A host of local and global factors combined to pull the sensex down by 478 points to 17,446 on Monday, its biggest single-day fall in over five months, on a day when most global markets also remained weak. Rising oil prices with the NYMEX crude near $110 per barrel level, uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the ensuing state elections in India and profit taking by local investors after a twomonth rally, led the market’s slide that wiped out nearly Rs 1.7 lakh crore worth of investors’ wealth. The day’s sharp slide came despite continuing buying by foreign investors with the day’s turnover showing a net inflow of about Rs 330 crore, BSE data showed.

Interlinking of rivers

The Supreme Court has directed the Centre to implement the ambitious interlinking of rivers project in a time-bound manner and appointed a high-powered committee for its planning and implementation. Observing that the project has already been delayed resulting in an increase in its cost, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice S H Kapadia said the Centre and the state governments concerned should participate for its “effective” implementation “in a time bound manner”. The bench appointed a high-powered committee comprising of representatives of various government departments, ministries, experts and social activists to chart out and execute the project. The committee will comprise Union minister of water resources, the ministry’ secretary, secretary of ministry of environment and forest and four expert members appointed by the water resources ministry, finance ministry, planning commission and MoEF. Representatives from state governments, two social activists and senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, who has been assisting the court in the case, will also be its members. “We direct the Union of India to forthwith constitute a committee for interlinking of rivers,” the bench said, adding “we direct the committee to implement the project”. The river interlinking project was the brainchild of the NDA government and in October, 2002, the then PM AB Vajpayee had formed a task force to get the project going against the backdrop of the acute drought that year.

Mumbai Metro III

Senior officials of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) have got a positive response from the Central government for the financial plan for the Rs 21,000 crore third Metro rail line. Government officials said the meeting in Delhi on Monday went smoothly, though the MMRDA was asked to think of ways to increase commuter traffic on the fully underground line which will stretch from Colaba-Bandra to Seepz. According to the plan, the Japanese International Cooperation Agency will help out with 50% of the debt. The Central and state governments will have an equity stake of 30%, with the Centre taking 14% equity. The rest will be subordinate debt from other sources. The third line of the Metro will be the most important of the total nine lines due to come up in the city. The third Metro line has been under discussion for the last few years, but it was only during the last six months that the plans got some definite shape, with a decision being taken to make it fully underground.


Agni V update

India has begun final preparations for the first test of its most-ambitious strategic missile, the 5,000-km Agni-V, which will prove to be a technical as well as logistical challenge. The Agni-V, which will bring the whole of Asia, 70% of Europe and other regions under its strike envelope, will be tested from Wheeler Island off the Orissa coast towards end-March to early-April, defence sources said. The nuclear-capable Agni-V, about 50-tonne in weight and 17.5-m tall, is bound to generate waves. Once the three-stage missile becomes operational by 2014-15 after “four to five repeatable tests”, as promised by DRDO, India will break into the exclusive ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) club that counts just US, Russia, China, France and UK as its members. India could have gone for a higher strike range but believes the solid-fuelled Agni-V is “more than adequate’’ to meet current threat perceptions and security concerns. The missile can, after all, even hit the northernmost parts of China. With a canister-launch system to impart higher road mobility, the missile will give the armed forces much greater operational flexibility than the earlier-generation of Agni missiles. “The accuracy levels of Agni-V and the 3,500-km Agni-IV (first tested in November 2011), with their better guidance and navigation systems, are far higher than Agni-I (700-km), Agni-II (2,000-km) and Agni-III (3,000-km),’’ said the source.

India's struck off the Polio list

India’s name has been struck off a shame list that the country hopes will not include it in the future. The World Health Organization (WHO) has taken India, which in 2009 had more polio cases than any other nation in the world, off its polio endemic list after not a single case of the crippling disease was reported for over ayear. Health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad made the announcement on Saturday at a function where Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh was also present. Now, only Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan are on the list as India has achieved a hard-fought success after years of sustained effort by the government, international agencies and dedicated medical professionals. For the next two years, if India does not report any polio cases, it will be officially called “polio free” and Azad said that “WHO has taken India’s name off the list of polio endemic countries in view of the remarkable progress that we have made during the past one year. Let us today resolve to make India polio free by 2014.” India’s last case of polio was reported on January 13, 2011, from West Bengal. Working to eradicate polio, thousands of volunteers have slogged in densely populated areas with poor hygiene and battled social and religious prejudice. It has meant working under difficult conditions and convincing local leaders, including religious figures, to support the anti-polio campaign. According to the PM, the real credit for this major achievement goes to the 23 lakh volunteers who repeatedly vaccinated children “even in the most remote areas, often in very bad weather conditions. I commend each one of them for their dedication, for their commitment and for their selfless service.” India recorded 741 cases of polio in 2009 — nearly half the number of global cases. But in a remarkable turn of events, India reported one case of the crippling disease last year and recorded zero cases in over 12 months since then. Globally, the fight against polio received a major impetus last year with India’s successful containment of the virus. India’s polio success led to a 34% decline in cases of paralytic polio in 2011 globally compared with the same period in 2010 (505 cases compared with 767 cases). Also, cases due to the P1 strain of the virus – the more dangerous strain — declined by 35% (444 cases compared with 692), while cases due to the P3 strain dipped by 18% (61 cases compared with 75 cases).

Kudankulum N-plant nearly ready

The Kudankulam nuclear power plant is set to be operationalized, with its first 1,000mw unit to kickstart operations as soon as the project’s safety audits are completed, with local resistance now reduced to a few hundred protesters. While the report of the expert group set up by Tamil Nadu is awaited, the state government is more supportive of the project being commissioned. Also, the Centre’s action against NGOs alleged to have diverted foreign funds to fuel the stir is seen a precursor to the plant being activated. Srikumar Banerjee, secretary, Department of Atomic Energy, said it would not be easy to outline a timeframe, but the process of loading fuel could get underway once the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board was consulted. According to the Nuclear Power Corporation of India, the two units are “99% and 94%” ready, and the first unit can be up and running in six to eight weeks.

Shoor Veer

The Army is getting set to launch another major combat exercise, “Shoor Veer’’, on the western front from March to May. Over 60,000 soldiers with T-90S, T-72 M1 main-battle tanks and infantry combat vehicles, backed by Sukhoi-30MKI fighters, aircraft, helicopters, drones, satellites and other force-multipliers, will take part in the exercise to practice the “proactive” strategy of multiple rapid thrusts across the border. This comes after the major ‘Sudarshan Shakti’’ war games late last year, which also practised swift mobilization and armoured attacks across the border. Since last year, Pakistan has taken to projecting its new 60-km Nasr (Hatf-IX) missile as a deadly game-changer against what is loosely called India’s ‘Cold Start’ doctrine. “While Sudarshan Shakti was held in desert terrain, this exercise will be held in semi-desert/semi-developed area spread between Bikaner and Suratgarh. The exercise is being conducted by the South-Western Command at Jaipur, with 1 Corps (strike formation) and 10 Corps (pivot) taking part,’’ an official said. “Validating doctrines in a joint service environment, the exercise will be based on the integrated theatre battle concept. It will be one of largest maneuvers conducted so far and will enable the Army to validate its war-fighting concepts,’’ the official added. Even as the Army “transforms” itself by consolidating its strike capabilities, the 1.13-million force is also focusing on streamlining operational logistics to ensure it can rapidly mobilize and sustain multiple armoured thrusts.

Nod for MRMR aircraft

The government has finally approved the proposal from the Navy to acquire nine advanced medium range maritime reconnaissance (MRMR) aircraft, which will cost upwards of $1 billion. These MRMR planes will be in addition to the 12 longrange (LRMR) aircraft already being acquired for the Navy at a $3.1 billion price tag. After first inking the $2.1 billion contract in 2009 for eight Boeing-manufactured P-8I LRMR aircraft, to be inducted in the 2013-2015 timeframe, the defence ministry is now finalizing the follow-on deal for four more such planes. The MRMR project got the “acceptance of necessity’’ from the Defence Acquisitions Council, chaired by A K Antony, last week, sources said. Several global aviation majors, ranging from American Boeing and Lockheed Martin to Swedish SAAB, French Dassault Aviation, Brazilian Embraer and European EADS are in contention for this big contract. The radar-packed MRMR planes, much like the LRMR ones, will be armed with missiles, rockets and torpedoes for potent anti-warship and anti-submarine warfare. With an operating range of over 350 nautical miles, the multi-mission MRMR planes will be Navy’s “intelligent eyes and ears’’ over Indian Ocean in the medium range.

Kejriwal's comments

Team Anna member Arvind Kejriwal has courted a fresh controversy by saying that “rapists, murderers and looters” were sitting in Parliament, prompting a backlash from political parties across the board, which described the comments as disgusting and an insult to democracy. The RJD has even said it would bring a privilege motion against him in the budget session. Kejriwal, however, stood his ground. “In this Parliament, 163 members have cases of heinous offences against them,” he said on Sunday. Naming 2G scam accused Kanimozhi and A Raja, besides Suresh Kalmadi, Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh Yadav, as being embroiled in corruption cases, Kejriwal said a Parliament with such members would not bring a strong Lokpal. He didn’t spare Union home minister P Chidambaram either, saying if CBI were independent, Chidambaram too would face a court case for corruption. While addressing an election rally in UP’s Ghaziabad on Saturday, Kejriwal had said: “In this Parliament, rapists are sitting, murderers and looters are sitting. How can you expect Jan Lokpal Bill to be passed by the Parliament? How can you expect that you can get reprieve from poverty and corruption.

Somewhere in Maharashtra....

Several NGOs and the Shiv Sena, opposing the proposed 9,900-MW Jaitapur nuclear power plant on Sunday forced the cancellation of a meeting to be addressed by eminent nuclear scientist Anil Kakodkar on the benefits of nuclear power, an official said. Kakodkar was scheduled to deliver the keynote address at a conference on sustainable energy at the A M College in Hativale, according to anti- Jaitapur activist Vaishali Patil. However, the programme was cancelled at the last minute on Sunday afternoon by the organisers after threats by anti-plant groups to disrupt the proceedings, even as all the invited groups also boycotted the function, she said. Now, the programme is scheduled to be held at a college in Pune for two days starting Monday, but the Shiv Sena and other NGOs have vowed to disrupt it since Kakodkar is a known proponent of the plant. “We feel that government-sponsored officials are attempting to mislead the people here and other parts of the country,” Patil said. She added that all the anti-plant groups have taken umbrage at the PM’s statement on foreign support to NGOs trying to derail mega-developmental projects in the country.


PMEAC snapshotz

Battleground Uttar Pradesh


Sensex slips

Sensex closes below 18k

Kingfisher faces turbulence

Somewhere off Vizag....

Aircraft carrier INS Virat returns to Vizag coast after completing the maritime exercise, Tropex-12, in the Bay of Bengal.

Chidambaram on NCTC

Union home minister P Chidambaram reached out to 10 chief ministers, saying the government would not operationalize the National Counter-Terrorism Centre before consulting the directors general of police and heads of anti-terror wings in the states. Chidambaram argued that the NCTC would have “bare minimum powers” essential for any counter-terror body to have “operational capability” in “certain circumstances”. The states, however, appeared unmoved. There are also indications that chief ministers are not impressed by the idea of being kept out of consultations on an issue which concerned the division of responsibilities between the Centre and states as laid down in the Constitution. Chidambaram also enclosed a three-page note with his letter to the non-Congress chief ministers, explaining finer points of the existing law-Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act - from which the NCTC draws its power to make arrest and conduct search and seizure. Requesting the chief ministers “to carefully consider the note”, he said, “Before we take the next steps, I have asked the home secretary to call a meeting of directors general of police and the headsof anti-terror organizations/forces of the state governments and discuss in detail the scope and functions of the NCTC.” The home minister, at the same time, reminded the chief ministers that the matter (countering terror) was of national importance and should be kept above “parties and politics”. “All of us are agreed that terrorism is a grave threat to our country and our way to life. Countering terrorism is, therefore, a shared responsibility,” he said in his letters to the chief ministers including West Bengal (Mamata Banerjee), Gujarat (Narendra Modi) and Tamil Nadu (J Jayalalitha). Though he has not specified any date for this meeting, indications are that the ministry will try to do the consultation before March 1-the day when NCTC is scheduled to get operational.

Kudankulum agitation update

A day after the PM’s remarks blaming US-based activists for the anti-nuclear protests in Kudankulam, the Centre cancelled the licences of three south Tamil Nadu-based NGOs allegedly involved in the agitation against the nuclear power project. The action follows an inquiry conducted by the Union home ministry on funding for the agitation which has stalled work on the Russian-aided project. MoS in the Prime Minister’s Office V Narayanasamy confirmed the action but said the names of the three NGOs have not yet been released by the home ministry. There were indications of tough action against some NGOs after PM Manmohan Singh, in an interview to a science journal, accused US-based NGOs of fanning the protests. Once the licences are cancelled, the NGOs cannot source funds, an official said. “These NGOs have violated the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act and therefore their licences have been cancelled. The three NGOs did not maintain proper accounts and also did not utilize the funds for the purpose they were meant for,” said Narayanasamy. He said the government probed their activities on information that some NGOs, which were receiving funds from the US and Scandinavian countries, were spending huge amounts on the anti-Kudankulam agitation. “In fact, people have been agitating near the plant for the past three months. They are being brought in trucks from various villages. They are even provided food,” he said. The home ministry had sent a team in January to probe the accounts of the three NGOs. S P Udayakumar, convener of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy, which is spearheading the protests, said, “It’s unfortunate that the PM has made the allegations without any documentary proof. We strongly deny his observation.”


The eastern region of the country, which occasionally hits the headlines for starvation deaths, has turned into a food surplus zone, thanks to a special programme launched last year to boost productivity in the area. The government said that “bringing green revolution in eastern India programme (BGREI)”, launched in 2010-11, has resulted in a robust increase in foodgrain production. Rice production from the region is estimated at 562.6 lakh tonnes, an increase of 19.8% over last year. The increase across the country is estimated at 7%. Overall foodgrain production from the region is estimated at 1,032 lakh tonnes, an increase of 11.9% against an all-India increaseof 2.2%, an official statement said. This is good news for policymakers who have been battling high food inflation for nearly two years. Food inflation has turned negative after hovering near double-digits while vegetable prices have fallen consistently for the past few months. The improvement in supply is expected to ease the pressure on the food inflation front. The programme launched in 2010-11 was an initiative taken by the Prime Minster based on the Inter Ministerial Task Force. The BGREI is a part of the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojna (RKVYJ ) programme with an outlay of Rs 400 crore. This scheme was implemented in the eastern region, including Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, eastern Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. The programme gained momentum in 2011-12 with the focus on rice and wheat and strategic interventions relating to crop production, water harvesting and recycling, asset building and site specific activities. This was needed for improving the agronomy-adopting cluster approach aimed at enhancing the productivity per unit area and the income of the farmers, the statement said. According to the government, the increased production was due to focused resource allocation and utilization. The significant increase in production of foodgrain in the region not only offset the decline in production in central and peninsular India but also contributed significantly to the highest-ever production of foodgrain. The growth in foodgrain, rice and wheat, provides an opportunity to procure and create foodgrain reserves locally, reducing the pressure on Punjab and Haryana, and cutting costs on transport and other logistics, the government said. It said the focus will now be to consolidate the gains with continued emphasis during the 12th Five Year Plan which begins in April. Further steps would be taken to improve the infrastructure for procurement and storage of the produce and to ensure a reasonable price for the farmers, the statement said.

New tunnel planned on Mumbai - Pune Expressway

Maharashtra has decided to take up the road tunnel project to tackle growing traffic congestion on the expressway — especially on the 21-km ghat section between its Khopoli exit towards Mumbai and the Khandala exit near Sinhagad Institute towards Pune. A traffic study indicates that by 2019, the expressway will see heavy congestion, especially on the 21-km stretch. The proposed 12-km tunnel would not only offer decongestion and safety — provided vehicles control their speed — but also reduce travel time by half an hour, thus speeding up Panvel-Pune connectivity by road to just an hour. The 95-km expressway starts from Panvel and ends near Kiwale on the fringes of Pune. Vehicles currently cover this stretch in an hour and a half, to two hours. “The Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation has planned to carve out a 12-km tunnel in the Sahyadri mountain range between the Khopoli and Khandala ends, to facilitate another eight-lane straight road to Pune. The present zigzag six-lane stretch falls short of handling the huge traffic on the expressway as well as the National Highway 4 (NH4) as both the roads merge in this section, leading to congestion,” said a senior state official. “Once built, the new eightlane tunnel route will become a part of the expressway while the existing six-lane expressway track will be made a part of the old Mumbai-Pune National Highway 4; thus traffic would be bifurcated to achieve decongestion. Accidents mostly occur on this stretch as it also gets several traffic exits and entries from Lonavala, Khandala and Khopoli; it sees heavy movement of cross-traffic as well,” said a source. Estimated project cost: Between 2,500 crore and 3,000 crore .Tunnel construction would take a minimum of four to five years .Preliminary technical and environmental feasibility study has been done; detailed study’s underway. Project has been submitted to state environment committee for clearance .No extra toll for tunnel, but toll recovery period is likely to be extended by 10 years


DMIC & Maharashtra

Maharashtra is all set to restore its fading industrial status.Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan has embarked on an ambitious Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) project worth Rs 18,500 crore. The project will be a joint venture of the Centre and the state.Adopting the public-private partnership model, the project will give a major boost to Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Raigad, Nashik, Aurangabad, Ahmednagar, Dhule and Nandurbar.The DMIC has plans to upgrade two-tier cities in the state and give it an overall growth. While Nashik and Dhule will become the new industrial centres of state, Dighi will have international status port and Pune a world-class cargo hub. The Dighi port and Shendra (Aurangabad) will emerge as industrial townships complete with world-class infrastructure. The DMIC project was approved at a meeting between Chavan and Union commerce minister Anand Sharma. The top bureaucracy of the state and the Centre was present in the meeting. “We will construct a world-class industrial township in Dighi and Aurangabad in the first phase of the DMIC project. The projects will start immediately will be completed in 2019,” said Chavan.Two major power projects will also be undertaken with the projects to meet the demand and supply which will rise with the industrial growth. The development in Shendra (Aurangabad) will require Rs2,790 crore for industrial development and Dighi international port and infrastructure development will require Rs5,967 crore. The Shendra township will cover 8,340 hectares and Dighi port will take up 25,000 hectares. Roads, drinking water, power, schools, hospitals, market centres, gardens, sewerage, storm water drainage will be built.The state-Centre joint project will be one of the biggest in Asian countries. The state chief secretary will monitor the project’s progress to ensure it meets the deadline. The chief minister said the DMIC is part of the national development policy with a specific objective to attract major investments and growth in manufacturing sector. Apart from restoring the leading industrial status of Maharashtra, the project will also spill over its benefits to six states passing through the corridors. It will generate employment opportunities to 225 million people in the country.

SC slams Delhi Police & Ramdev baba

The Supreme Court has held the Union government-controlled Delhi Police guilty of using excess force against Baba Ramdev’s supporters on June 4 in the Capital when the yoga guru sat on a protest demonstration. It said the police action against anti-graft protestors was a “glaring example of trust deficit” A bench of justices BS Chauhan and Swatanter Kumar said that incident showed the might of the state, which struck at the foundation of democracy. The bench also observed that the police and the state could have avoided that tragic incident in which one person died and several were injured. Police action was meant to bring peace but in this case they breached the peace itself, the court said. The apex court blamed both Ramdev and the Delhi Police for the midnight crackdown at the Ramlila Maidan last year and directed criminal prosecution of police personnel and Ramdev’s supporters who had behaved violently during the incident. However, the bench noted that the cops had assaulted sleeping victims and the police and the state could have avoided the incident. There was abuse of power by the Delhi Police and the Fundamental Rights of people were violated, the bench said. The court awarded a compensation of Rs. 5 lakh for the family members of Rajbala, a woman who died in the incident. The bench also awarded a compensation of Rs. 50,000 for those who suffered grievous injuries in the incident and Rs. 25,000 for those with simple injuries. The apex court had taken suo motu cognisance of media reports showing brutality of police action against the sleeping followers of Ramdev, including women and children at Ramlila Maidan on the midnight of June 4-5 last year during his anti-corruption agitation. Ramdev had alleged that the police action was carried out on the instructions of their political masters and demanded action against crackdown. Baba Ramdev had gone on an indefinite fast in early June last year at the Ramlila Maidan to pressure the Centre to root out corruption and bring back black money stashed away in tax havens. His fast came after a similar one by activist Anna Hazare, whose April campaign struck a chord with large sections and forced the government to make concessions on an anti-corruption bill. After talks broke down between the Centre and the yoga guru, the police swooped down on Baba Ramdev, a little past midnight, and detained him after firing tear gas shells and resorting to lathi-charge to end his day-old indefinite hunger strike on the black money issue.


Sheila as CM

Dharavi revamp snippets

The Dharavi redevelopment -one of Mumbai's ambitious slum revamp project worth Rs15,000 crore -is all set to take off in May with its first phase of construction of 344 houses for the slumdwellers. The Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (Mhada), which will be responsible for redeveloping sector 5, would begin the construction of the vacant plots on the land it owns. According to a senior Mhada official, who is overseeing the project, the contractors would be appointed within a month. “The work will start in the next three months and it will take at least two years to complete the construction,“ he said.
In the first phase, of the 62 hectares in sector 5, work will be carried out on the 7 hectares of land owned by Mhada. “We will not displace anyone. We want people to see the kind of buildings we are constructing, so that they get the confidence to move here,“ he said.
All the buildings will have rooms admeasuring 300 sqft for the residents. As part of the project, 23 hectares of land in sector 5 will be developed leading to rehabilitation of 9,300 hutments.The revamp would begin from Sion station heading towards Sant Rohidas Marg, Rajiv Gandhi Nagar, and then at the areas along the Mahim creek and Mahim Nature Park, Prem Nagar and LBS Road.
Currently, the seed money for the project is Rs50 crore and there are indications that Rs250 crore would be added to Mhada's kitty. According to experts, the total cost for sector 5 may approximately come to Rs 2,500 crore. The revamp plan, mooted in 2004, has been facing a host of problems over the years. The global tenders to select the developers were scrapped recently.The state government, last year, decided to hand over sector 5 to Mhada with an aim of creating affordable houses.
The development authority will undertake phase II simultaneously and plans to float a tender to appoint its own project management consultant (PMC).The PMC would be required to undertake social survey, development plan and land analysis and study the financial viability of the project. “We will give him one year to prepare a roadmap to implement the project,“ said the official.


India will soon roll out an IT platform to integrate central and state indirect taxes regime, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has said. “We are working with the state governments for an early implementation of goods and services tax. Towards this end, an IT network called GSTN is being created to ensure integration of the tax systems of the centre and the states,” Mukherjee said. States had given their in-principle nod to launch the IT framework in August and the finance ministry is expected to soon take the proposal to the cabinet for its nod. A common IT framework will allow traders all over the country to use their permanent account number, or PAN, as the tax identification number for payment of all direct and indirect taxes. The move will not only benefit taxpayers but also tax authorities to keep a tab on transactions more effectively by linking it with other tax payments. Mukherjee said GST will bring about a paradigm shift in the arena of indirect taxation in the country and will give a boost to the tax revenues of the centre and the states. IT infrastructure is crucial for the success of the proposed GST, which will replace a plethora of indirect taxes including excise duty, service tax, value-added tax. Speaking on tax collections, Mukherjee said the indirect tax collection target of Rs. 3.93 lakh crore will be met in the current fiscal despite moderation in economic growth. “I am confident that the department (Central Board of Excise and Customs) would not spare any effort in meeting the indirect tax collection target. In fact, already indications are there,” he said. Total collection of indirect taxes in the first 10 months of the current fiscal was Rs. 3.17 lakh crore.

Air Costa

The Vijayawada-based Lingamaneni group, which has interests in the realty and infrastructure business announced the launch of a new airline, Air Costa. Lingamaneni Estates Private Ltd, popularly known as LEPL, said that it had secured the go-ahead from the Union civil aviation ministry to operate flights in the southern part of the country. Air Costa could be the first airliner in the country to operate on the regional routes, particularly in tier-II cities like Vijayawada, Visakhapatnam and Tirupati. The new airlines will be headquartered at Vijayawada with the corporate offices located in Hyderabad. According to company chief executive Captain NB Kakarala, the upcoming airline will begin with five flights initially He said that the company had plans to link most tier-II cities in south India through their airline. The first aircraft will take off some time in May or June. He, however, did not reveal the volume of investment nor whether it was a joint venture.

Mumbai Congress Chief quits

Kripashankar Singh resigned as Mumbai Congress chief, an announcement that was made by the party hours after the Bombay high court ordered his prosecution under the Prevention of Corruption Act and attachment of his immovable properties. The former minister of state for home in Maharashtra had sent in his resignation last week after the party’s poor showing in civic elections. The resignation has been accepted and the party is looking for a “new face” to succeed him. The AICC had already hinted that Singh could be on his way out in the wake of the defeat of the Congress-NCP alliance at the hands of the Shiv Sena-BJP-RPI combine in the Mumbai municipal corporation polls. Earlier in the day, the high court asked Mumbai police to seek sanction for prosecution of Singh under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

Etisalat quits India

UAE-based telecom major Etisalat has decided to exit from India and will shut the operation of its Indian arm Etisalat DB—a joint venture with Mumbai-based real estate firm DB Realty—following the Supreme court judgment to cancel 121 licenses. The company said the decision to revoke all 122 UAS licenses issued by the government in January 2008 “has removed EDB’s ability to operate from June 2, 2012.” The company, in a statement said, “As unanimously resolved by the Board this evening, Etisalat DB will be taking steps to reduce operating costs, including the suspension of its network and services, pursuant to the terms of its UAS licenses.” The decision has been taken to protect the interests of all stakeholders and to avoid incurring further costs at a time of when the Indian telecom sector was witnessing rapid change and facing uncertainty. The company will decide on its future participation in the Indian market, when there is clarity on the auction process and telecommunications policy and greater legal and regulatory certainty and stability, the statement said. Etisalat is the second company after Bahrain Telecom, to exit India. Bahrain Telecom, which had 43% stake in S-Tel sold its stake for $ 175 million on February 8. Etisalat has around 1.6 million customers and it has licenses to operate in 15 circles.

SC & homosexuality

The Supreme Court on Wednesday said its final decision on the Delhi HC judgment decriminalizing a sexual act in private between consenting adults could have a far reaching impact on several sexual offences listed under IPC. The observation was made by an SC bench, requesting the counsel for both parties to keep in mind the evolving social ethos, as the key words in the HC judgment—“consenting adults committing a sexual act in private” could have a bearing on several other sexual offences enumerated under the IPC. “Though the focus of our judgment would remain on Section 377, but keep in mind that it could have bearing on provisions relating to other sexual offences. Obscenity could be one such provision,” a Supreme Court bench of Justices G S Singhvi and S J Mukhopadhaya told senior advocate Amarendra Saran, who was arguing against the HC verdict on behalf of the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR). The SC bench was possibly hinting at offences such as adultery and obscenity in public, often misused by police to harass couples in parks. Section 497 defines adultery. According to it, “Whoever has sexual intercourse with a person who is and whom he knows or has reason to believe to be the wife of another man, without the consent or connivance of that man, such sexual intercourse, not amounting to the offence of rape, is guilty of the offence of adultery, and shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine, or with both. In such case the wife shall not be punishable as an abettor.” In this case, the consent of the woman is immaterial and the sexual act still would constitute an offence if the consent of her husband was not taken. Advocate Saran said NGOs had challenged the legality of Section 377 before the HC on the ground that it targeted homosexuals as a class and hence violated the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender group’s right to equality and the constitutional guarantee prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation of such persons. He argued that right to privacy did not confer right to commit an act in private which was illegal. He said Section 377 did not suffer from class bias and faulted the Delhi HC judgment for basing its reasoning on foreign court rulings.


Sensex musings

Indian stocks, the best performers in Asia so far in 2012, may extend their gains as a revival in policy decisions and stability in corporate earnings aid foreign fund inflows, CLSA has said. The possibility of further upsides are higher as domestic investors return to the stock market, it said on Tuesday, setting the Sensex target at 20,800, 13% higher than Tuesday’s close at 18429. The Sensex has gained about 18% so far this year, boosted by foreign institutional flows of $4.98 billion. Last year, the index had fallen 25%. The sudden gush of FII flows into Indian stocks comes amid easing liquidity conditions in the Eurozone and speculation over the likelihood of a third round of Quantitative Easing by the US Fed. Analysts said Indian stocks’ underperformance in comparison with US equities in 2011 also prompted foreign funds to start buying here. The prime minister’s office’s direction to Coal India to firm up supply agreements with power generators also contributed to the upbeat mood.

Namma Metro update

The Karnataka government on Tuesday gave inprinciple approval for Phase II of the Metro, with four extension lines of Phase 1 and two new ones. This will be implemented at the cost of Rs 26,405.14 crore over five years; the project is expected to be completed by 2017-18. The project report for Phase II has been prepared by Delhi Metro Rail Corporation and updated by BMRC. The government has approved the proposition of exploring PPP models for raising funds. The four extensions of Phase I include that of the eastern corridor from Byappanahalli to Whitefield via ITPL, covering 15.5km with 14 stations at an estimated cost of Rs 4,845crore; western corridor from Mysore Road to Kengeri covering 6.465km with five stations. Extension of the northern corridor of Phase I, which is part of Phase II, starts from Hessarghatta Cross to BIEC on Tumkur Road, covering 3.77km. It will have three stations and Southern corridor will extend from Puttenahalli Cross to Anjanapura Township, covering 6.29km with five stations. The two new lines are on the arterial routes — first, from Gottigere to Nagawara via IIM-B, Dairy Circle, MG Road and Shivajinagar, and the second from RV Road to Bommasandra, having an interchange station at RV Road, which is on the southern corridor of Phase I. The Gottigere-Nagavara stretch covers 21.25km and 18 stations with six elevated and 12 underground stations. The elevated stations include Gottigere, Hulimavu, IIM-B, JP Nagar IV Phase, Jayadeva Hospital and Swagath Road Cross. The 12 underground stations will be constructed near Dairy Circle, Mico Bosch, Langford Town, Vellara Junction, MG Road, Shivajinagar, Cantonment railway station, Pottery Town, Tannery Road, Venkateshpura, Arabic College and Nagavara. The estimated cost of this corridor is Rs 11,014 crore.

Consumer Price inflation

The combined consumer price inflation in January stood at an annual 7.65%, while food and beverages inflation was 4.11%, data released by the Central Statistics office (CSO) showed. This was the first consumer price inflation (CPI) data released by the CSO. There has been a demand to release CPI data as it reflects price pressures better than the numbers based on the wholesale price inflation (WPI) data. The government so far has been relying on the WPI data which economists say does not capture the inflation situation fully. They say that globally, central banks and policymakers rely on CPI data to measure inflation. CPI in rural areas stood at 7.38%, while in urban areas it was higher at 8.25%. The annual rate of inflation, as measured by WPI in January, eased to 6.55% from the previous month’s 7.47%. The CPI data captures price movements at the retail level and has wider basket of goods, while the WPI data measures movements at the wholesale level. The CPI data showed that prices of oils and fat, eggs, meat, fish, milk and milk products, fruits, condiments and prices, clothing and bedding, fuel and light and prepared meals continued to remain stubborn across the three segments — rural, urban and combined. The trends in both data are nearly similar. Vegetable prices across rural, urban and combined sectors showed significant declines due to improved supplies, mirroring the WPI data. The data showed vegetable prices declined an annual 30.15% in urban areas in January, while it was down 22.31% year-on-year in rural areas. The combined data showed vegetables prices fell an annual 24.87%. Economists said it was difficult to draw any conclusion from the CPI data. They said policymakers would have to rely on a variety of data for measuring price pressures and the CPI data series need to stabilize before making any definitive conclusion. Stubborn inflation has remained a policy challenge for the central bank and the finance ministry for a significant period. RBI has raised interest rates 13 times since March 2010 to tame price pressures but has indicated in its latest policy review that it may reduce interest rates if inflation declines to comfort levels. Some economists said the CPI data showed that inflation continues to remain firm.

Telecom tangle : Telenor v. Unitech

The fight between Norway-based telecom major Telenor and its domestic partner Unitech Ltd is going to flare up as Telenor announced its intention to form a new entity in India to continue its operation. It said the new company will participate in the auctions of fresh licences as mandated by the Supreme Court. However, a senior official in Unitech clarified that such a move by Telenor is not tenable as it requires “no objection” from them as per the bilateral agreement between the two companies to form the JV company Uninor. “In our view this action of Telenor is nothing but an attempt to circumvent the non-compete provisions of the agreement,” Unitech said in a statement. Telenor countered the Unitech’s view, saying that considering the fraud and misrepresentation on the part of Unitech, as established by the Supreme Court judgment, Telenor can unilaterally declare the shareholder agreement void. So, shelter of the bilateral agreement can not be taken. Unitech argued that the Supreme Court has cancelled all the UAS (universal access services) licences and spectrum granted on and after January 10, 2008, while questioning the government policy. “Unitech cannot be held responsible for this in any manner,” it said. Telenor said all the existing business in the Uninor will be transferred to the new company at a fair market value. It expected that Uninor board will give approval towards this end. However, Unitech has no such intention. Terming such a move an “oppression to minority shareholders”, Unitech said, “Telenor cannot transfer any assets of Uninor without the consent of Unitech because we have veto right in the shareholders’ agreement as well as in the articles of association for such matters.’’ Unitech holds 33% and Telenor 67% stake in the JV. To secure approval of transfer of business, Telenor will require a minimum of 75% votes. However, Telenor clarified that the 75% votes of shareholders are not needed since Uninor is a private company. But, Unitech is ready to challenge the Telenor’s contention in the court. Unitech said the company will take all possible legal measures to protect its investments and rights under the shareholders’ agreement. As legal battle is a time consuming process, it will frustrate Telenor’s effort to participate in the auction of spectrum, which is scheduled to take place in the next four months as directed by the apex court.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sought to placate state governments over their strenuous opposition to the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) by writing to seven chief ministers and assuring them that home minister P Chidambaram will consult them over the agency’s functioning. With state governments unrelenting over what they see as intrusive provisions to arm the NCTC with police powers—and UPA partner Trinamool Congress even asking a parliamentary panel to recommend putting the Centre on hold—the PM stepped into the frame to try and douse the row. “I have…noted your concerns about the manner in which the NCTC will function and am asking the home minister to address them suitably, in consultation with you and other chief ministers,” Singh wrote to CMs of Tripura, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Bengal, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. The Prime Minister said the NCTC’s primary purpose was to coordinate nationwide counter-terrorism efforts. “It is for this reason that NCTC has been located within the IB,” he said. The rationale for the NCTC not being an independent body is intended to answer criticism that it enjoyed powers of arrest and seizure, which the IB does not have. The government does not want to affect the “provisions and allocation of powers between the states and the Union”, Manmohan Singh has told the chief ministers. Sources said the NCTC will operate under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) that was amended after the 26/11 attacks just as some other designated bodies like the National Investigation Agency, while IB works under this law as well as with the help of state governments. Powers of arrest and seizure can also be delegated. The home minister is also exploring an option to call a meeting of Director Generals of Police and chief secretaries of all states and Union Territories to clarify ‘objectionable’ issues concerning the anti-terror body before March 1 when the agency becomes functional. The fusillade the government and Chidambaram are facing has seen powerful CMs like Mamata Banerjee, Biju Patnaik and J Jayalalithaa act in a coordinated manner with others like Nitish Kumar and Omar Abdullah also joining in.

Mumbai Monorail update

While commuters can expect to ride the monorail between Chembur and Wadala in the next six to eight months, they will have to wait till June next year for the route to be extended to Jacob Circle. Work on extending the corridor up to Jacob Circle has slowed down owing to the relocation of a temple, said officials associated with the project. The first monorail line was originally planned from Jacob Circle to Chembur via Wadala. However, work on the 20-km corridor was divided into two parts due to obstacles in the development of the route up to Jacob Circle. The first part was the 10-km corridor between Chembur and Wadala and the second the route from Wadala to Jacob Circle. Work on the Wadala-Jacob Circle corridor had run into trouble as there were many closely-packed residential buildings. The presence of a few heritage sites and the Arthur Road jail also proved to be stumbling blocks. In the next six months, steel view-cutters (metal screen) will be installed on the monorail route along Arthur Road jail for security proposes. A 15-m high watchtower will also be erected. The view-cutters and the tower are expected to cost Rs 1.86 crore. The view cutters will be 13-m high and block commuters’ view of the prison, which houses 26/11 gunman Ajmal Kasab.


NCTC controversy update

Persisting with their opposition to the jurisdiction conferred on the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), chief ministers of Odisha and Bihar, Navin Patnaik and Nitish Kumar, respectively, on Monday told the Centre not to go ahead with the launch of the anti-terror agency on March 1 without holding consultations with states. In his second letter to the PM on the issue, Patnaik said that the Centre should urgently hold consultations with states. “I request you to urgently initiate the process of consultation with the states. The order (for NCTC’s launch), with modifications as necessary, should come into force only after due consultation with us,” he wrote. According to agency reports, Kumar took a tougher line. Referring to the objections raised by CMs that the provision empowering the NCTC to make arrests, carry out searches and seizures, and ask for information from any agency infringed the rights of states, the Bihar CM said, “Won’t you agree the suggestion that the government of India must re-examine the whole issue and ensure that the order is suitably modified to take care of the states’ genuine concerns.” Patnaik emphasized that his primary grouse was against the unilateral manner in which the NCTC was set up. It was interpreted that the Odisha CM, who played a key role in rallying other CMs around the resistance to the NCTC, may not be hostile to the concept of having a central body that is billed to be the nation’s chief anti-terror agency. Although Patnaik seemed to lament that the PM had not yet responded to his first letter and slipped in a reference to the suspension of democratic rights during the Emergency, the tone of his second letter appeared conciliatory and focused on emphasizing the commonalities. “Let me make it clear that terrorism and extremism are scourges which need to be fought by the nation in a united manner. I strongly oppose terrorism and extremism in any form and have always been with the Central government in fighting against them. My primary objection to the NCTC is the high-handed manner in which government of India has tried to address such an important issue. Prior consultation with the states would have greatly strengthened the process of national security in which our aims are identical,” said Patnaik. Odhisa CM also rebutted the charge that CMs by opposing NCTC had “politicized the campaign against terror”. “As the chief minister of Odisha and a citizen of India, the security of the nation is my prime concern as I am sure it is of all the CMs in our country,” he wrote. He also said that the contentious provisions vested in the NCTC “does not have legitimacy in the absence of consultations with the state governments for incorporating their views on such a critical subject”. Although Kumar also called for consultations, his letter to the PM was marked by the insistence that there ought to be a change in the notification of setting up the NCTC since it marked an encroachment on the power of states. He questioned the rationale of NCTC. “We all are together in the fight against terrorism. The states have always cooperated with the Centre. What has then warranted the setting up of such centres,” he argued.

Blackberry allows India access to BBM

Acceding to India’s security concerns, Canada-based Research in Motion (RIM)—the maker of BlackBerry smart phones—has finally set up a ‘server’ in Mumbai to provide a mechanism for lawful interception of its messenger services. By setting up the server in India, RIM has dropped its reluctance to make an exception to its policy of securing communication from any real-time interception. The department of telecommunication has asked Nokia to follow suit so that its push mails can be legally tracked as and when required by security agencies. For the last couple of years, the Manmohan Singh government has been pressing RIM to provide a mechanism to intercept its messenger and enterprise services as security agencies had pointed to the use of such means by terror groups plotting attacks in India.


Delhi Metro snippets

The extension of the Airport Metro Express to Gurgaon will now have a station near the Delhi-Haryana border. The 12km alignment, which is expected to cut travelling time down to 14 minutes, will start from the underground station at Dwarka Sector 21 and have four elevated stations at Bijwasan, Sector 23, Sector 18 and IFFCO chowk. Reliance Infrastructure, the concessionaire for the Airport Metro Express, has already submitted an expression of interest (EOI) for the project, said sources. The civil construction of the alignment, including the stations, will be done by Delhi Metro, said officials. The same format was used for the Airport Metro Express line. The extension to Gurgaon will have connectivity to the R-Infra Airport Metro Express at the Dwarka Sector 21 station. The corridor, which is being labelled as the Express Metro link, will allow commuters to travel from Delhi to Gurgaon in just 14 minutes. It will also cut down considerably on the travel time from the heart of Delhi, the Rajiv Chowk station, to Gurgaon by half hour. At present, the Airport Metro Express is till Dwarka Sector 21, and takes around 20 minutes to reach New Delhi Metro station, the originating station on the corridor. Gurgaon is connected to Delhi through the Jehangirpuri-HUDA city centre alignment, which is one of the longest corridors on the Delhi Metro network. Sources at R-Infra admitted that Delhi Metro’s intimation to the company to submit an EOI was being seen as a positive sign. Incidentally, the same high-speed alignment built for the Airport Metro Express is going to be built for the extension to Gurgaon.


Motown musings

Lots of ups and downs for the automobile industry in India.

Battle for UP continues

Random information on the elections underway in Uttar Pradesh.