The Modi Interview

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has said that he should be hanged if he is found guilty of complicity in the 2002 Gujarat riots. The BJP leader has been accused of giving tacit support to the riots in which more than 1,000 Muslims were killed following the February 27, 2002, Godhra train burning incident in which 57 kar sewaks returning from Ayodhya were burnt alive. 
In an interview to Urdu newspaper, Nai Duniya, Modi has discussed the riots in which 1,200 people were killed – a majority of them from the minority community. 
The newspaper is edited by Shahid Siddiqui, an MP of the Samajwadi Party from Lucknow. 
The interview is believed to be significant as Modi chose to talk about post-Godhra violence to an Urdu weekly. Earlier, Modi used to walk out of television talk shows when prodded to give his views on the 2002 Gujarat communal riots. 
Siddiqui said that the decision to interview Modi came after a meeting in Mumbai with filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt and script writer Salim Khan. Siddiqui said he was not satisfied with Modi’s reply.

So true !

Leading industrialist Ratan Tata took on the Opposition and tweeted his support for embattled Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the wake of criticism from the media and the people alike.
The Chairman of the USD 100 billion conglomerate also hit out at "some members of ruling party", saying it is "grossly misdirected" to single out the Prime Minister and blame him for the economic woes that the country is facing at present.
Tata wrote on his Twitter page, "Attacks on the architect of '91 reforms which brought us prosperity is sad and unfortunate. It's wrong to single out the PM for inflation, low investment confidence and slow growth."

All eyes are on the PM here and overseas in what could be his finest hour in leading the country to economic prosperity once again.
"Now is the moment in time when our PM must break convention, restore government credibility, place the country on a growth path once again by implementing promised reforms, removing roadblocks to growth and controlling crony capitalism," he added.
Taking on the Opposition, Tata tweeted, "We should also recognise the enormous damage done by political infighting; the single-minded goal of the Opposition to topple the government... the allegations and accusations of corruption and illegal acts have brought almost all government action to standstill."
Turning his ire to the media, Tata said: "We should be concerned about unconfirmed sensationalised stories in the media to sell publications..."
Recently, the 'Time' magazine had termed Singh as an "underachiever", while UK-based 'The Independent' had wondered if he was "India's saviour or Sonia's poodle".
Tata also said the country must be concerned about "the manipulation of policy by power brokers and vested interest groups to meet their self serving desire to continue protection".
Asking Indians to support Singh, Tata said: "He deserves the support of the people of India at this critical time... He will need to act boldly, to be courageous and to do the right thing."
"For the sake of the country, we all hope he will."

Western Freight Corridor snippets

The western leg of the country’s most ambitious railway project, the multi-billion dollar Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC), is finally set to take off in Maharashtra. 
After a week of meetings between the State Urban Development Department and the Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation, officials have managed to overcome the hurdles stalling the project. The State agreed to the alignment of the western leg of DFC where it will pass under the Matheran flyover that connects New Panvel with the older township. 
The Panvel imbroglio was settled after a team of the State Urban Development Department, DFCC and CIDCO, led by principal secretary T C Benjamin visited the Matheran flyover. 
The problem, according to DFC, was that its goods trains would need clearance of 7.7m, whereas the height under the flyover is 6.7m. Under the new plans, the tracks – mostly on elevated structures - will slope downwards about 2 km ahead of Matheran bridge, 
and then go a metre below ground below the bridge. “This way we get the required height of 7.7m below and the heavily-patronised bridge need not be dismantled,” said a senior DFC official. 
DFC, with two alignments – the JNPT to Dadri (near Noida) Western Corridor and the Dankuni (West Bengal) to Ludhiana Eastern Corridor – is what officials believe is the railway’s ‘game changer’. 

With the railways share of freight on the decline due to the advent of multi-axle trucks and better highways, officials say that DFC will bring the freight industry back to railways. 
“DFC trains will be 1500m long against the normal 700m, and will carry 15,000 tons against the current 4,000. They will run at speeds of 70 kmph against the current 26 kmph, thanks to 9000 horsepower locomo
tives from Japan. DFC will also transport freight at one-sixth of today’s rate, which other modes of transport will find impossible to match,” said D S Rana, chief project manager, western corridor, DFCC. 
DFC requires 299 hectares of private land in Maharashtra to lay 150 km of tracks, with officials saying that mapping the first step on acquiring the land has been completed. Within the internal framework of the DFC (Western), works in Maharashtra have been slotted for ‘phase 2’ and those in Gujarat in ‘phase one’. Gujarat, through which 588 km of tracks will run, has cleared all phases and should float bids for construction in a few weeks, officials said. In nine months, both Gujarat and Maharashtra will be at the same level where paperwork is concerned. The deadline to commission DFC (W) is March, 2017. 
Permissions for hurdle number two – 1190m that goes through the Nagla block of Sanjay Gandhi National Park - which was cleared by Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan few weeks ago, will be sent to the union government for formalisation.

Dharavi revamp update

The Maharashtra state government seems to have finally pressed the rewind button for the ambitious over Rs 15,000-crore Dharavi redevelopment project (DRP). 
Eight years after the state housing department appointed his company as project management consultant (PMC) for Dharavi, the government has decided to ter
minate the services of architect Mukesh Mehta-run M M Consultants as PMC for four of the five sectors Dharavi is divided into. A show-cause notice is to be issued to him soon. Government officials said the decision was based on non-compliance of terms laid down in the 2008 contract signed between Mehta and the Dharavi OSD. “When the global bid itself has been cancelled, and the rights to redevelop sector 5 has been awarded to Mhada, the government saw no point in continuing with the PMC,’’ said officers.

The Burning Train

At least 28 people were killed, many in their sleep, and 15 others badly burned and bruised when a blaze broke out on the Tamil Nadu Express near Nellore in Andhra Pradesh at around 4.20am on Monday. 
The fire engulfed the sleeper coach as the train sped at 80km/hour. It spread devas
tatingly fast through the overcrowded S11 coach, giving the 72 reserved passengers and an unknown number of additional travellers in the bogie virtually no chance to escape. 
The train had left New Delhi at 10.30pm on Saturday and was on its way to Chennai when tragedy struck. 
Railway officials said the preliminary probe indicated that a short-circuit had spar
ked the fire. But railway minister Mukul Roy, speaking in Kolkata, said a gateman at the Vedayapalem level crossing had heard a loud sound before the blaze broke out, suggesting an act of sabotage. Some of the survivors echoed the gateman on the sound and blaze engulfing the coach soon after.

Black Monday

It was a black Monday for nearly a quarter of India’s population as the worst power crisis in almost 10 years led to the northern grid, the largest arterial network for power in the country, collapsing early in the morning. 
The crisis began when an interconnecting substation in Agra tripped at 2.35am. Within seconds, all stations in the region connected to the grid shut down, plunging Delhi, eight other states and Chandigarh into darkness. 
The aftermath of the outage crippled normal life. Some 300 trains, including Shatabdis, Rajdhanis and Durontos, either came to a halt, leaving thousands stranded, or had to be cancelled. The Delhi Metro was all but grounded for over an hour. The service was restored in phases, with total normalcy returning only by noon.

Taxing Times

Farm Exports Jump 88%

The export of agricultural items monitored by APEDA, the government-run export promotion body for farm products, rose by 88% to about Rs. 82,000 crore in the last fiscal, a top official said. The growth was achieved on the back of increased export of processed foods, basmati, nonbasmati rice, guar (gum and seed), buffalo meat and groundnut. India's agri exports under APEDA stood at Rs. 43,626.9 crore in FY11. 

RBI paints a grim picture

The Reserve Bank of India has painted a grim picture of the economy with concerns over inflation looming large due to a shortfall in monsoon and rising government spending while reiterating that a rate cut cannot be a booster without prudent governance that accelerates investments. Expectations of price rise are gaining momentum and employment growth is slowing to a two year low, said RBI in its quarterly macroeconomic review. Deteriorating global economic conditions could pull down exports and add to India’s woes if global commodity prices rise in response to printing of currency in the West to revive economies. 

Stubbornly-high inflation and 
the spectre of government borrowings shooting past budgeted estimates will hold back Subbarao from following his peers in South Korea, China and the Philippines who cut interest rates to counter the global slowdown. While it may be true that India is also slowing, its high inflation leaves little scope to lower cost of funds that could boost demand further and make the economy more expensive.   

In its report on macroeconomic and monetary developments, which is published on the eve of the monetary policy, RBI has reported the findings of its poll among professional forecasters on the economy. According to the poll, India's GDP growth rate forecast for 2012-13 has been lowered to 6.5% from the earlier 7.2% on the back of a weak monsoon and high inflation. 


Maharashtra's emergency medical services

A plea against Maharashtra government’s tendering process in procuring 937 ambulances for its statewide emergency medical services (EMS) has been rejected by the apex court. 
The appeal was filed by GVK-Chikitsa, which lost the bid to BVG and its London-based partner. The Bombay high court too had upheld the tendering process. 
The Maharashtra government had appointed the All India Institute of Medical Sciences as consultants to prepare the specifications for the EMS ambulances. Public health minister Suresh Shetty said the EMS will be funded by the Centre and the state government. “Now that the apex court has dismissed the ap
peal we will issue the work order,” Shetty said. 
The EMS is based on the ‘Golden Hour’ concept where a patient is shifted within the first hour to the nearest hospital. This is hoped to be 
achieved through a dedicated toll-free number. Moreover, patients won’t be charged for the round-the-clock service. 
Medical emergencies include road accidents, natural calamities, outbreak of epidemics, situations related to 
pregnant women and newborns. The ambulances will be fitted with equipment certified by European or American government associations and have an ayurvedic doctor. A centre, set up at the government chest hospital in Aundh, Pune, will take distress calls and deploy the vehicles. With 937 ambulances, the EMS will be larger than London’s fleet ambulance service, which has a strength of 700. 
The state will bear the cost of manufacturing ambulances, setting up the call centre and expenses related to training and salaries of personnel. The government will need around 3,000 doctors to man the ambulances. 
Each ambulance is estimated to cost Rs 16 lakh and the recurring cost is estimated at Rs 12 lakh annually.

Air Kerala ?

Chief minister Oommen Chandy has demanded that the centre should permit relaxation in norms for the state’s attempt to launch its own airline so as to provide adequate travel facilities for Keralites in the Gulf countries. 
Answering the submission brought by V D Satheesan based on rule 304 of the rules of business of the assembly, he said that the state was concerned about Air India’s current state of affairs. As an alternative method to provide a systematic service especially aiming at the immigrants from the state to the Gulf countries, the state had come up with the idea of its own airline service. 

“The state has already initiated steps to float the new company titled Air Kerala. The matter has not gone forward due to two norms – that only a company owning a fleet of 20 flights will be allowed to operate international services and a minimum of five years domestic operation was necessary before international operations,” he said. 
He said that Kerala was the only state in the country, which had mooted such an 
idea and it should be given special consideration given the necessity and the motive behind the idea, he said. 
The chief minister said that the state was not aware of a move to shift the headquarters of Air India Express, the low-cost subsidiary of Air India from Kochi. The headquarters of the Air India Express was shifted to Kochi while union minister Vayalar Ravi was holding the civil aviation portfolio. 

Chennai Metro update

Two mammoth tunnel boring machines, each weighing 400 tonnes, began tunneling work for metro rail at Nehru Park in Kilpauk. The machines will bore through 939 metres to reach the Egmore station in five months. The first phase of metro rail will run 24km underground with 19 stations along two corridors. 
Union urban development ministry secretary Sudhir Krishna launched the 
tunnel boring work on Saturday. The Nehru Park–Egmore stretch lies on the Chennai Central- St Thomas Mount corridor. The contract for construction of twin tunnels on the stretch, including three underground stations at Nehru Park, Kilpauk Medical College and Pachiappa’s College, was awarded to Larsen & Toubro, which is in a joint venture with Shanghai Urban Construction Group (SUCG). They have completed 20-metre deep underground shafts to install the machines. The boring machines were lowered into a pit with supporting walls and a one metre-thick basement slab which will bear the machine as it drills forward. 
As the boring machines function mostly on automatic mode, more than 100 engineers and system experts will be monitoring its work progress at a control centre. 
Sophisticated machines are being used on the sidelines to check vibrations in nearby buildings.

Japanese companies plan Gujarat investments

Apart from Suzuki Corporation Ltd — which is setting up its India car manufacturing unit in North Gujarat — at least half-a-dozen top Japanese companies have shown interest in investing in the state.
Members of the delegation that accompanied chief minister Narendra Modi on his four-day visit to Japan interacted with the media. Principal secretary Maheshwar Sahu, who led the delegation, said that companies eyeing Gujarat included IHI, a heavy engineering firm; Mizuho, a value-added financial services player; and Mitsubishi, which manufactures cars and electrical equipment. Other interested companies are Hitachi, which makes a wide range of products from home appliances to electronic devices; and Etochu, a machinery, aerospace, and electronics major. These companies will participate in the Vibrant Gujarat summit in January 2013, Sahu said. 
“The Japanese are particularly interested in building their first industrial township about 15 km from the Maruti-Suzuki plant site near Bhechraji temple, instead of the site proposed earlier in the Dholera Special Investment Region,” Sahu said. 
The Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation plans to acquire 600 hectares of land between Mandal and Bhechraji, on which Japanese industries will set up shop. 
Sudhir Mehta, chairman of Torrent group who was a part of the delegation, said: “Investment for projects comes over a considerable period of time.” Another delegate, Parimal Nathwani, group president of Reliance Industries, said: “There was a difference in the approach of the Japanese this time. While previously they were at an exploratory stage, they now wanted to know where to invest and how.” 

Somewhere on the Western front....

Squadrons of Sukhoi-30MKI “air dominance’’ fighters, now permanently based in Jodhpur (Rajasthan) and Halwara (Punjab), are fully-operational and integrated with the order of battle on the western front. Similarly, the first two nodes of IACCS (integrated air command and control system) have become operational in the western sector to make airspace more impregnable to hostile threats. The nodes integrate older sensors like THD-1955 long-range surveillance radars with newer ones like ATCR-22, Rohini and medium-power radars as well as Aerostats and Phalcon AWACS (airborne warning and control systems) to plug gaps in the country’s air defence cover. India till recently had based its Sukhois — IAF so far has inducted around 160 of the 272 fighters contracted from Russia in deals worth Rs 55,717 crore—only in Pune and Bareilly, which were followed by Tezpur and Chabua in Assam to cater to the threat from China. The decision to base them in Jodhpur and Halwara was taken to meet the Pakistan challenge, especially since older MiG-21s and MiG-23BNs were being progressively phased out. “With Pakistan acquiring American F-16s and Chinese JF-17 ‘Thunder’ jets, the induction of Sukhoisthere will act as a strong deterrent against any misadventure,’’ said a source. 
The Army, too, is strengthening its capabilities on the western front by “optimising offensive and defensive formations with minimum accretions’’ since the proposed raising of the new mountain strike corps and other formations for the northeast are geared towards countering China.Operational synergy and coordination between the Western Air Command, which controls air operations over 400,000 sq km stretching from Ladakh till Bikaner, and three Army commands—Northern (Udhampur), Western (Chandimandir) and South-Western (Jaipur)—has also been stepped up. 

Dholera International Airport snippets

Sensing major complications in getting crucial environmental clearance for the prestigious Dholera international airport, the Gujarat government has decided to prepare a fresh proposal for it for the Government of India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). Part of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), the proposed Greenfield airport has got Airport Authority of India clearance, but is stuck in MoEF, officials said. 
Well-placed Sachivalaya sources said that “a new proposal is now being prepared for environmental clearance”. The Gujarat Infrastructure Development Board (GIDB), responsible for implementing the project, has been given the task of preparing it, as “the earlier 
proposal seemed not to satisfy the MoEF”. 
Headed by a top aide of chief minister Narendra Modi, AK Sharma, GIDB has been toying with the idea of having an inter
national airport about 85 kilometers south of Ahmedabad since 2008. To be outside Dholera special investment region (SIR), seen as a new modern urban conglomeration off Gulf of Khambhat, once established, the airport is being contemplated as Gujarat’s future international airport. 
“The present airport in Ahmedabad will confine to national flights. All international flights will be shifted to the new site”, a senior official said. The site consists of 1,690.22 hectares (ha) of Pipli, Paccham and Valinda villages of Dhanduka taluka. Sources said, high-level discussions between GIDB executives and MoEF officials a few weeks ago revealed that there was “some confusion” in Delhi regarding whether the proposed site, especially its runway, fell under the coastal regulatory zone (CRZ), in which all developmental activity is banned. 
In the new proposal, the runway will be aligned in such a way that all planes land from the sea side, like before. However, it is away from the CRZ boundary.

Black Money detected in France

Undisclosed income of Indians totalling Rs 565 crore has been detected in France, according to income tax authorities, indicating that the double taxation avoidance agreement (DTAA) is showing results. 
The figure was disclosed in the information that India received from France on Indians having bank accounts in the country under the exchange of information clause of the 
DTAA. In 219 cases, the tax authorities have detected undisclosed income totalling Rs 565 crore and taxes amounting to Rs 181 crore have already been realised, the central board of direct taxes told Parliament's public accounts committee (PAC) recently. 
In a presentation on NRI taxation, the CBDT said 30,765 pieces of domestic information about suspicious transactions have been obtained by field intelligence units, which are under investigation by respective agencies. 
The PAC was informed that this year, New Delhi has commenced tax information exchange agreements with 25 new jurisdictions. 

Retail consensus building process

The government is trying to build a wider political consensus on the issue of allowing FDI in the multi-brand retail and will issue a notification after the process is over, commerce, industry and textiles minister Anand Sharma said. Sharma, who is in London, conveyed this view during his meeting with George Osborne, MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer, UK. 
Osborne urged the Indian government to be more ambitious in retail liberalization. The government is keen to re
vive the decision to allow 51% FDI in the multi-brand retail to boost sentiment and attract foreign investment. Protest has been raised by some political parties, including the Samajwadi Party, which provides outside support to the central government. 
Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and senior Communist Party leaders, including CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat, have urged PM Man
mohan Singh not to proceed with the decision to allow FDI in the multi-brand retail. BJP also opposed FDI in multi-brand retail. 
The government has held several rounds of discussions with key stakeholders including state chief ministers to get their support for the controversial decision. A view has emerged that the decision of implement the decision would rest with the states and those states that want to implement the decision can go ahead with. The UPA government had to put on hold its decision to allow FDI in the sector after stiff opposition from political parties, including its ally Trinamool Congress.

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has opposed foreign direct investment in retail, dealing a body blow to the Centre’s hopes of cobbling together a consensus on allowing global giants such as Wal-Mart and Carrefour to set up multi-brand stores in India. 
After the rejection by the SP and Left, the Congress is now isolated on the issue. Kumar’s rebuff will test its willingness to be seen as the sole mover of a reforms measure opposed by traders—a very organized pressure group—besides political parties.

Tit for Tat

The ferocious Indian media strikes back. Ha ha...

India & Bangladesh ties

Stalled since September last year, a constitutional amendment to ratify the India-Bangladesh boundary agreement got the nod from the Cabinet committee on security (CCS) and is likely to be placed before Parliament in the monsoon session. 
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is looking to push through one of his bigticket foreign policy initiatives, a bid to seal the Indian and Bangladeshi posi
tions on enclaves and areas under adverse possession. Singh and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina had signed the land boundary agreement (LBA) in Dhaka last year. 
An updated version of the Indira-Mujib agreement of 1974, the accord’s ratification will require a constitutional amendment of Article 368. While the Teesta water treaty — blocked by West 
Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee — raised a lot of heat, the LBA has greater strategic importance for the neighbours. 
If the LBA makes it through Parliament, it will be a boost for bilateral ties and ease the pressure on the Hasina government as India’s inability to proceed with the Teesta treaty led to considerable heartburn in Bangladesh. 

 The 4,096km India-Bangladesh boundary runs through West Bengal, Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram 
Border enclaves were created during chess games between the kings of Cooch Behar and Rangpur, who used villages as stakes 
Boundary pact will settle the citizenship of 53,000 people in the 102 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh and 71 Bangladeshi ones in India 
For the agreement to pass muster, the BJP has to be on board as without the main opposition, the constitutional amendment may not succeed. Sources said the government has been assiduously working with the BJP to ensure support, and the effort will be intensified in coming days as the government plans to engage with the saffron outfit’s leadership. 
Mamata Banerjee will have to be taken into confidence too, and sources said foreign minister S M Krishna had been assigned the task who is likely to travel to Kolkata. The constitutional amendment will have to be passed by two-thirds of members “present and voting” and ratified by state legislatures. The Parliamentary and legislative processes are subject to disruption, but Singh needs to make some strenuous efforts in the coming months. 
The LBA will not only change contours of India’s map, but will be the first resolved boundary with any neighbour. The agreement will formalize status quo on enclaves and areas under adverse possession, entailing neither transfer of territory nor people.Around 53,000 people residing in the enclaves, who have just been counted in the first ever census in these areas, will get the citizenship of the country they are living in.


Mumbai - Ahmedabad high speed rail update

Putting the ambitious Mumbai-Ahmedabad rail corridor on the fast track, the railways will constitute a project steering group to examine options for executing it. 
The prime minister’s office (PMO) has announced a roadmap for implementation of flagship infrastructure projects, which include high-speed corridors, the elevated rail corridor for the suburban Mumbai section and redevelopment of stations. 
The high-speed rail corridor project between Mumbai and Ahmedabad andother six routes is technologically the most advanced railway project. A pre-feasibility study 
has been conducted by RITES in association with other experts.There are various alternatives for implementing the high-speed corridor project but out of all, only the special purpose vehicle (SPV) or the public–private partnership (PPP) options, seem viable, said a senior railway ministry official. 
The group will examine options for implementing the project and finalizing the feasible ones,suggesting ways of strengthening the capacity of railways to design and execute high-speed train projects and suggest mechanisms for quickly moving forward on chosen options. 
The elevated rail corridor in Mumbai, the other key infrastructure project of the railways, also got the PMO’s nod. According to the official, the project will be implemented in PPP mode and a concessionaire will be finalized by March 15, 2013.


Polls for the President

Rajesh Khanna : 1942 - 2012

Rajesh Khanna, the man hailed as the first superstar of Hindi cinema, passed away at his Bandra residence on Wednesday afternoon. He was 69. His estranged wife Dimple, daughters Twinkle and Rinke, and son-in-law Akshay Kumar were by his side when the end came.
Kaka, as he was fondly called, was battling lung cancer for long now. He was admitted to Lilavati Hospital first after complaining of fatigue on April 1. Though he was discharged three days later, Khanna was readmitted on June 23 and spent two weeks in the hospital. He was hospitalised for the third time on July 14 when his blood pressure dropped alarmingly.
As the news of his demise spread, colleagues from the film industry began arriving at his bungalow 'Aashirwaad' that was shrouded in white. The road leading up to his home was cordoned off and police were deployed to control crowds. A large portrait of Khanna was placed outside Ashirwaad for his fans to pay their last respects. 

Beginning with Aradhana in 1969, Khanna lined up a row of 15 solo-hits up till 1972, which is still an unbroken record in Indian film history
Andaaz , Do Raaste , Bandhan , Doli , Khamoshi ,Ittefaq ,Safar , Kati Patang , The Train , Sachaa Jhutha
Aan Milo Sajna , 
Mehboob Ki Mehndi , Dushman , Anand

Born Jatin Khanna in Amritsar on Dec 29, 1942
A talent hunt find. He was one of eight finalists in the 1965 All India Talent Contest organised by United Producers and Filmfare 
Debut in 1966 in Aakhri Khat, India’s entry for the Oscar’s in 1967. Raaz was first film he signed for.
180 films: Holds record for most number of authorbacked lead hero films – 106 solo hero films and only 22 two hero films
Highest paid Indian actor in 1970-79 and shared the highest paid actor tag with Amitabh Bachchan in the 1980-87 period
Married Dimple Kapadia in March 1973, 6 months before her debut film Bobby. 
They have two daughters, Twinkle & Rinke
Political life : Congress MP representing the New Delhi constituency from 1992 to 1996

Kolkata Metro snippets

Kolkata’s Metro network will be the second widest after Delhi, with the railways already allocating much of the funds for the construction of Metro tentacles across the metropolis and beyond.
The railways have already started simultaneous constructions at a neverseen-before speed at alignments like Joka-BBD Bag, New Garia-Airport and Dum Dum-Barasat via Airport. The Metro railway authority has set a deadline of 2015 by which the entire network is likely to become operative.
For this financial year, the railways have allocated Rs 750 crore for Joka-BBD Bag metro, Rs 1050 crore for Noapara-Barasat via Airport and Rs 1050 crore for New Garia-Airport. This is the highest ever allocation for any railway project in a metropolitan by the railways. 
The railways have also changed the Dum Dum-Airport alignment. Earlier it was thought that the Metro up line from Dum Dum would touch Noapara, Ramkrishna Pally and Shantinagar before reaching Airport and the down line would touch Noapara, Dum Dum Cantonment, Jessore Road and Airport. “However, to bring down the cost, we have changed the alignment. The alignment from Noapara to Airport via Jessore Road will be double-line for both way movements.”
In fact, the airport will also be connected by the 32-km New Garia-Airport via Rajarhat alignment. Both the Dum Dum-Airport and the New Garia-Airport alignments will go underground. There will be direct access from the Airport underground Metro station to the integrated airport terminal though a giant escalator. The Dum Dum-Airport alignment will go underground after reaching Jessore Road and New Garia-Airport alignment will go underground after reaching VIP Road.
The 5.2-km Dum Dum-Dakshineswar alignment will run on an elevated track and will be further extended by 12.5 km till Barrackpore. “The constructions are on real fast-track, as we don’t face land acquisition hurdle. The project sites are mostly on vested land and we have taken utmost care to be less invasive as far as razing properties are concerned,” said Metro Rail spokesman Pratyush Ghosh.
“There will be interchanging facilities for the passengers from one Metro corridor to another and also from suburban train services of Eastern Railway and South Eastern Railway. For instance, the interchange between north-south and east-west Metro would be at Central station. Similarly, the interchange between Joka-BBD Bag and north-south Metro would be at Park Street,” the spokesperson said.
With these ever increasing tentacles of Metro network, a few suburban railway stations would be very important for their interface with Metro rail. For instance, Dum Dum will be an important stations where both north-south Metro, airport alignment and north-suburban railway will have an interface, said a metro spokesperson
“So, we are asking the state government to upgrade the existing dispersal system, otherwise there will be complete chaos outside the station during the peak hours, once the entire operation starts functioning.” Besides, we have plans to introduce the common ticket system for the commuters who need to avail themselves of different modes of rail transport to reach their destinations,” the spokesperson added.
With the introduction of a Rs 56-crore automatic fare collection (AFC) and new ticketing system, the Kolkata Metro is also going snazzy. Three air-conditioned rakes have been introduced, giving much-needed respite to commuters in the sultry weather.  

UP gets 23% hike in outlay

UP’s annual plan size will be Rs 57,800 crore for 2012-13, 23% more than last fiscal, including special assistance of Rs 800 crore for the Kumbh Mela. The plan size was agreed when Planning Commission deputy chairman met chief minister Akhilesh Yadav on Wednesday.
The SP government was expecting a generous central help after it backed UPA nominee Pranab Mukherjee. “This is the first meeting of the year. When we meet regularly, we will put forth our demands. It is a very good start,” Yadav said when asked about the demand for a Rs 90,000-crore package  

Discom' loan recast

The stage is set for a mega loan restructuring package for power distribution companies (discoms) — estimated to be worth close to Rs 1.2 lakh crore — with major states agreeing to the plan suggested by the Centre, including revision of tariffs over the next few months and roping in the private sector.
Half the short-term loans outstanding on March 31, 2012 will be taken over by the state government after discoms issue bonds to lenders. The maturity of these bonds will be 15 years and the issuance calendar will be based on the fiscal space available with states.
The remaining 50% of the liabilities will be rescheduled and serviced by discoms with a three-year moratorium. On their part, state governments will have to ensure that electricity tariffs are revised, release subsidy in advance, metering and audit are undertaken. In addition, they will have to convert the loans given to discoms into equity and ensure that the gap between the average revenue and the average cost of supply is wiped out over a three to five-year period.
Lenders will waive the penal interest on the loans and be given fresh loans to meet the operational need for three years. The Centre will also set up a transitional finance mechanism that will enable the better-performing states to get 25% of the bond amount from the power ministry, and also be eligible for additional grants if they check pilferage.
Sources said several states were initially reluctant to agree to the package as it was against the initial proposal, where the lenders would have taken at least 50% of the burden. But, with the financial services department against any such move, there was no choice for states as the flow of fresh loans from banks has dried up. 

Foreign tourists snippets

Maharashtra has held to its top slot as the state that receives the highest number of foreign tourists in the country with nearly 4.8 million tourist arrivals in 2011.
In the latest report by the Union ministry of tourism, Maharashtra was followed by Tamil Nadu and New Delhi, which welcomed 3.4 million and 2.2 million foreigners respectively in the same period. Mumbai is a popular point of entry into India for foreign tourists.
The data does not make a distinction between the number of tourists who visited only Mumbai and those who went on to travel to other destinations in Maharashtra.
The number of foreign tourist visits to Indian states/ union territories was 19.5 million, compared to 17.9 million in 2010 and 14.4 million in 2009. This year, the number of foreign tourist visits registered a growth of 8.85% over 2010, compared to a growth of 24.6% over 2009.
It is the third consecutive year where the number of foreign tourist visitors has increased.


Kudankulam units 3 & 4

With Kudankulam nuclear project likely to be commissioned next month, Russia has agreed to extend a USD 3.4 billion credit for setting up of two more 1,000 MW nuclear power plants at the same site in Tamil Nadu.
The two nations signed a protocol in Moscow for financing units 3 and 4 of the Kudankulam Power Project under which the Russian Federation will extend export credit amounting up to USD 3.4 billion for 85% of the value of works, supplies and services provided by the Russian organisations for the two units. The protocol also has provisions for state export credit amounting to USD 800 million for financing up to 85% nuclear fuel and control assemblies. The credit carries an interest rate of 4% per annum.
The estimated cost of building units 3 and 4 at Kudankulam will be Rs 32,000 crore, out of which Rs 17,000 crore is expected to be met through the Russian state credit, a Department of Atomic Energy statement said.
The protocol was signed by A P Joshi, special secretary in the DAE, and S A Storchak, deputy minister of finance of the Russian Federation.
After facing seven months of protest, the Kudankulam nuclear power project is at an advanced stage of completion with the first 1,000 MW unit expected to be commissioned next month. The second unit is expected to be commissioned after a gap of seven months from the commissioning of the first unit.

KSRTC's new buses

Six multi-axle Volvo buses will have toilets and two of them will also have in-house pantry services.
The Airavat buses with toilet facilities will now be called Airavat Superia and those with both toilets and inhouse pantry will be named Airavat Bliss. KSRTC had announced such an initiative on April 20 to make long-distance travelling a world-class experience for its passengers, particularly for elderly and those with kids.
KSRTC officials said that the toilets will be cleaned by maintenance staff of KSRTC and the food provided will be outsourced to a private vendor.
Of the six buses to have such facilities are the ones bound for Chennai and Tirupati. Also, two Airavat Bliss buses will have live television sets fixed behind the passenger seats. They will also be Wi-Fi enabled and can be tracked by the Global Positioning System (GPS). 

The Rupee & The Renminbi

Reflecting the growing might of China and India in the global economy, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said it would start supporting deals denominated in rupee and renminbi under its Trade Finance Programme (TFP) in view of the expected rise in inter-regional transactions using the two currencies.
“ADB’s Board of Directors today approved the inclusion of renminbi and Indian rupee in the TFP, which fills private sector market gaps for trade finance by providing guarantees and loans to banks to support trade. Over 50% of TFP’s portfolio has supported intra-regional trade and this move will bolster TFP’s ability to further enhance its support for trade within developing Asia,” the Manila-based multilateral body said in a statement.
Since 2009, the US dollar, the euro and the yen were the currencies in use under the programme that has provided support of over $10.6 billion.  
Government officials said the move is also expected to benefit bilateral trade between the two Asian giants by cutting down on exchange rate fluctuations and transactions costs as traders will not have to use a third currency.
Already, BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) have signed an agreement to provide credit in local currency. There is also discussion on a common Asian currency, although it is at a very early stage and is unlikely to come anytime soon given the concerns over the artificial value of renminbi. By not permitting a free float, China is accused of undervaluing its currency to boost exports.
The developments, however, come at a time where there is growing debate on whether dollar will be the dominant currency in the years ahead given the scar that the financial crisis has left on the US economy. 

Groundwater to be public resource

Groundwater, a precious natural resource, is for all practical purposes a private property in India. With few rules to restrict over-exploitation, anyone can bore and extract water.
But all this could change soon. Plans are afoot to alter laws and regulations to make groundwater a common property as it will ensure better regulation by the government with the involvement
of communities in the management of underground aquifers.
The move will radically rewrite management of groundwater in India—giving community rights over aquifers instead of restricting these to land owners who can simply drill and exploit the resource.
The government, which is planning to make groundwater a public resource, will pass a framework law under Article 252 of the Constitution. This can be done with two states required to pass a similar law before the central initiative.
The particular provision helps the Centre make a law that impinges on federal concerns but does not override state governments’ powers. Once approved by Parliament, it will make it necessary for states to align their regulations in keeping with the principles of the central law.
This, the government believes, will prevent the need to alter the constitutional position of ‘water’ as a state subject while penal provisions will be placed within states’ powers.
Radical changes emerging from the Plan panel envision panchayati raj institutions will become the real-time custodians of the resource and help regulate use of aquifers. Such a practice is in vogue in Andhra Pradesh, but the implementation of a framework law could ensure other states too devolve power.
India is the largest user of groundwater in the world. Almost a third of groundwater aquifers are semi-critical, critical and over-exploited and some estimates suggest that at current rate of extraction, 60% of groundwater blocks could turn critical by 2025. About 60% of irrigated agriculture and over 80% of rural and urban water supply are now being met with groundwater. Bringing water into the concurrent list of the Constitution is seen within government circles as a politically difficult shot with concerns over federalism bound to play a spoiler. The framework law, the Centre hopes, will leave the powers of the state untouched. 

Mobile telephony snippets

“Mobile communication has arguably had a bigger impact on humankind in a shorter period of time than any other invention in human history,”says the ‘Information and Communications for Development 2012: Maximizing Mobile’ report released by the World Bank.
The number of mobile phones in use has skyrocketed from less then one billion in 2000 to six billion in 2012. With the ownership of multiple subscriptions is now common, mobile usage may outnumber the world’s population in future, the report suggests.
India has 70 subscriptions per 100 people, of which 96% are prepaid, while 53% of households own a mobile phone. Cellphone networks currently cover 83% of Indians, a number that is far less than in other countries. Indian mobile users speak for 330 minutes per month on average, or 11 minutes per day, down from 425 minutes per user per month. India’s price per minute use is the lowest possible at $0.01. Just under half of Indians use text messages on a regular basis.
India, however, lags far behind in mobile internet access: just 3.3% use mobile internet. Smartphone penetration is the lowest among middle-income and developed countries. This, despite the fact that the average mobile data speed in India is among the highest of developing countries, and higher than China or the US.  

Didi backs Dada

Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee has declared her support to UPA nominees Pranab Mukherjee and Hamid Ansari for president and vice-president in a stunning climbdown which exposed the limits of her gunboat politics and can boost the UPA’s morale.
The changed stance on Ansari may appear ironical, considering that it was her opposition to the vice-president’s elevation to Rashtrapati Bhawan on grounds of his links to Left which helped Mukherjee’s aspirations.
The U-turn over Mukherjee was brought out by a combination of factors ranging from fear of desertions from Trinamool in Mukherjee’s favour to the fear of annoying Bengali sentiment raring to see the first-ever ‘bhadralok’ occupy Rashrapati Bhawan. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s painstaking diplomacy to bring her around, lingering hopes of financial assistance from the Centre and, perhaps the desire to prevent the Left from exploiting a rift with UPA were other drivers.
Each of these considerations are weighty, but this marked the first instance where she ended up acquiescing in the UPA’s choice.
Her forced somersaults also highlighted how the Trinamool boss, a leader with an undeniable mass base, got trumped in the intrigues of the Delhi Durbar by overplaying her hand.
Talking to reporters, Banerjee made no bones of the fact that she was having to swallow a bitter pill, citing the litany of her grievances against Mukherjee.
The Trinamool chief turned sentimental while saying she hadn’t received a single call from Mukherjee, although the PM and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi had spoken to her on the phone for garnering support for him.
With PM Manmohan Singh’s backstage networking securing TMC’s support for Pranab Mukherjee, the UPA is suddenly looking better than it has in the past few months when it reeled under corruption charges and coalition pressures. A persistent PM ensured Mamata fell in line eventually, turning the tables on the ally that has driven a hard bargain so far on several issues. The assured victory in the presidential and vice-presidential polls has come as a morale-booster to the UPA, while the NDA, after months of govt-bashing, itself looks fragmented now


Motown musings

Air Mantra

Religare group's scheduled regional airline Air Mantra said it will start passenger services from July 23, beginning with daily flights between Amritsar and Chandigarh.

Somewhere in Mumbai....

Living in harmony on the ground floor of the BMC headquarters.

Somewhere in Thrissur....

Anayoottu ceremony being performed in front of the Sree Vadakkunnathan Temple. Anayoottu is held every year on the first day of the month of Karkidakam.

Somewhere in Hyderabad....

 Hundreds of devotees join the main Bonalu procession at Shah Ali Banda in the Old City 

Somewhere in Mumbai....

Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s hospitalization  triggered a family reunion in the Thackeray clan. Cutting short his two-day party conclave in Alibaug, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray drove to Lilavati Hospital in Bandra Reclamation, to be at his cousin’s bedside. Later in the evening, he drove Uddhav home in a silver Mercedes. 
Uddhav was in hospital for a coronary angiography, a procedure to diagnose the extent of heart disease in a person.
Sources in Matoshree, which is Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s home, and Lilavati Hospital claimed that Uddhav had multiple blockages in his heart and would need to either undergo an angioplasty or a bypass surgery at the earliest.
A final decision on whether Uddhav, who turns 52 years old on July 26, will undergo a bypass surgery or opt for angioplasty will be taken by the family. It is learnt that Uddhav had gone to Lilavati Hospital on Thursday for a stress test but the results were not satisfactory. 
The two estranged Thackeray cousins met face to face for the first time in six years. In 2009, Raj Thackeray had walked out of Matoshree and launched the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.
Uddhav’s wife Rashmi, Raj’s wife Sharmila and Raj’s mother were among the close relatives who were with the Sena chief, it is learnt. 

IMF lowers India's growth rate

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Monday cut India’s growth forecast to 6.1% for 2012, citing the slowing global economy. In its update to the World Economic Outlook, the IMF also lowered the growth estimate for India to 6.5% for 2013. In its April outlook, it had forecast growth at 6.8% for 2012 and 7.2% for 2013. 

“In the past three months, the global recovery, which was not strong to start with, has shown signs of further weakness. Financial market and sovereign stress in the euro area periphery have ratcheted up, close to end-2011 levels. Growth in a number of major emerging market economies has been lower than forecast,” the IMF said in its update.
Several global agencies as well economists have slashed India’s growth forecast for FY13, citing lack of reforms and high interest rates. 

Inflation eases to 7.25% in June

Inflation eased marginally in June but pressure on food prices remained which could make it difficult for the central bank to cut interest rates when it reviews policy later this month. “The annual rate of inflation, based on monthly WPI, stood at 7.25% for June, 2012, compared to 7.55% for the previous month and 9.51% during the corresponding month of the previous year,” a government statement said.
“Build up inflation in the financial year so far was 1.99% compared to a build up of 2.41% in the corresponding period of the previous year.” The government revised upwards the April inflation number to 7.50% from the previously reported 7.23% that also signalled the extent of price pressures.
Food inflation remained in double-digits for the fourth consecutive month on the back of higher vegetables and pulses prices. Vegetables prices rose an annual 48.84%, while pulses prices shot up 20.48%. But there was some comfort as prices of fruits, egg, meat, fish and milk softened. The monsoon rains will play a crucial role in influencing the pattern of food prices in the coming weeks.
Expectations of a cut in interest rates mounted due to the lower inflation print but economists said the pattern of monsoon rains in the coming weeks would be crucial and some expect RBI to hold rates when it reviews policy on July 31. RBI has consistently cautioned about the stubborn inflationary pressures.

Maharashtra Housing (Regulation and Development) Bill, 2012

The much-awaited Maharashtra Housing (Regulation and Development) Bill, 2012, was passed by the state legislative assembly on Monday.
The bill, aimed at protecting the interests of flat buyers, contains provisions to set up a regulatory body for the housing sector and facilitate deemed conveyance in layouts involving two or more buildings, among others.
It also makes it mandatory for developers to register themselves with a regulatory authority and provide details of their projects. Any builder failing to keep his word will face a Rs 10 lakh fine and three years in jail. 
The law, once implemented, will replace the Maharashtra Ownership Flats (Regulations of Promotion of Construction, Sale, Management, and Transfer) Act, 1963. Minister of state for housing Sachin Ahir said “implementation of the MOFA Act had left a lot to be desired”.
The minister said while most aspects of the MOFA Act have been retained in the new law, the latter contains additional provisions. The bill has 56 provisions in all,he added.
Only a handful of legislators were present in the House when the bill was approved. A joint select committee of both Houses had submitted a report last week, recommending 26 amendments to the original bill. These were adopted in the final bill draft. The state government is likely to seek approval in the legislative council on Tuesday, following which the bill will be sent for the President’s assent.
Indicating that the government would need a year to implement the provisions, Ahir said “framing of business rules would require six months following the President’s assent”.
Once the act is implemented,developers will have to mandatorily register themselves with a three-member regulatory authority headed by a retired government official of the rankof principal secretary.Developers will have to post complete details of their projects on the authority’s website. Advertisements for the sale or transfer of flats can be issued only after acquiring a registration code from the authority.
In case a developer fails to keep his promise, flat buyers can approach the authority, which can slap a fine of Rs 10 lakh on the builder or the promoter and also prosecute him for an offence attracting three years in jail.
A defect liability period of five years has been set whereby developers will be responsible for correcting any structural or exterior flaws in the building.
The authority will also have powers to deregister the developer and bar him from taking up new projects.The joint committee has, however, suggested that such a step can be taken only after granting the developer a hearing. The panel will have the authority to judge a case if a flat buyer defaults on payments. It orders can be challenged before an appellate tribunal, which will be led by a retired high court judge. 

NDA names Jaswant for VP poll

The BJP-led NDA has decided to field Jaswant Singh for the “token contest” for vice-president after Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal and JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav refused enter the fray that is heavily tilted in favour of the UPA’s Hamid Ansari.
The decision to field Jaswant, a former minister for foreign affairs and finance, was taken for the sheer sake of denying a walkover to Ansari who has an overwhelming advantage in the electoral college consisting of
members of the two Houses of Parliament. With the Left backing Ansari, he has the assured support of 475 of the 790 electors.
The combined tally of the NDA and two potential regional outfits—J Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK and Naveen Patnaik’s BJD— stands at a modest 265. The consolation is that, unlike in the case of the presidential polls where the JD(U) and Shiv Sena are supporting UPA candidate Pranab Mukherjee, all the NDA constituents have stuck together over the vice-presidential contest.
The UPA is hopeful of support from parties like Trinamool Congress, TDP, TRS and YSR Congress who, along with Independents, make up the “undecided” lot with a vote share of 53. However, it will be home and dry even if all the fencesitters break for the NDA.