30.11.12

GMR's Maldives Airport Contract cancelled


The Maldives government has issued notices to GMR terminating its contract to develop the Male airport, where the company has already invested $250 million.
The Ministry of External Affairs called it a negative signal, saying the contract was terminated without consultation with GMR – this, after it was awarded through a global tender.
The Maldives Cabinet had recommended the termination of the contract to GMR for developing the Ibrahim Nassir International Airport in Male.
The $511 million project has been in trouble ever since there was a change of guard in Maldives.
The incumbent government headed by Mohammed Waheed has been against the contract given to GMR by his predecessor Mohamed Nasheed. Even being in the Opposition, Mohammed Waheed was arguing against the privatisation of the airport in Male that too for a term of 25 years and allowing the developer to collect airport development fees.
GMR had set out on developing the airport after winning the project in build-and-operate mode for a period of 25 years with a clause to get the period extended by another 10 years. GMR Male International Airport Ltd (GMIAL) was to have a 77% stake in the project with Malaysia Airports Holding Berhad
(MAHB) keeping the balance 23% stake.

Chennai digitization update


The Tamil Nadu government and local cable television operators failed in their bid to get the deadline for digitization of TV signals extended for Chennai with the Madras high court refusing to give any further relief. The court had already extended the deadline till November 19 though the mandatory digitization regime was to come into force in the four metros – Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai – from October 31.
Based on a petition filed by cable TV operators, the court first extended the deadline to November 5. Since then it was periodically extended till November 19, when the single judge felt the matter should be treated as a PIL and heard by a division bench. On Thursday, a bench comprising Justice Elipe Dharma Rao and Justice S Rajeswaran said it would not extend the deadline further as the interim order had lapsed on November 19 itself.
Senior central government standing counsel Haja Mohideen Gisthi said now that the deadline has not been extended, the Centre would implement the digitization process in Chennai at the earliest.
Earlier, the state-owned Tamil Nadu Arasu Cable TV Corporation Limited filed a counter-affidavit seeking extension of the deadline up to March 31, 2013. The corporation’s general manager N Varadhan submitted that it was taking steps to digitize cable TV services in Chennai, and that it has already floated tenders for the purpose. Noting that the cable operators registered with the corporation have requested for about 9.4 lakh set-top boxes (STBs), he said the supplier has said they would require about 18 weeks to supply 10 lakh STBs.
Assailing the Centre’s assessment that 11.06 lakh homes in Chennai would require STBs, the corporation said the Chennai Metropolitan Area now comprised large chunks of residential colonies in Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur districts as well. The area has an estimated 22 lakh homes that should be covered by the digitization scheme, the court said.
Meanwhile, the Chennai Cable Television Operators Association filed a petition amending its original prayer. Now it has questioned the validity of the central notifications dated November 11, 2011 and June 21, 2012 making digitization of cable TV services mandatory.

Sensex rallies


Expectations that the UPA government will succeed in getting majority support for its move on foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail, combined with global financial powerhouse Goldman Sachs upgrading the Indian economy and the market, lifted investor sentiment on Dalal Street.
With realty, banking and auto stocks leading, the sensex closed 329 points higher at 19,171, a near 19-month high for the index.
Goldman Sachs said that they expect the NSE nifty to rise to 6,600 by the end of 2013, translating into a rise of 13% from the current level of about 5,800. For the sensex, a 13% rise would take it to the 21,700 level — an all-time peak, which is about 700 points above the previous closing peak of 21,005 seen on November 5, 2010. In its report, Goldman Sachs raised its ratings for the Indian market to ‘overweight’ from ‘market-weight’ earlier, saying that economic growth is on the path of recovery and inflation will come down.
The rally could get a further boost on Friday as, after the close of trading on Thursday, RBI announced that it would purchase government securities worth up to Rs 12,000 crore from the market on December 4 — a step that would infuse funds into the system and may help in bringing down interest rates a bit.
The rupee on Thursday sharply appreciated by 63 paise, its biggest gain in two months, to end at 54.83, helped by capital inflows worth nearly $300 million and sustained dollar sales by exporters. Weak dollar overseas and rising hopes of government being able to push through reforms helped rupee rise. Thursday’s 63-paise gain is the highest single-day gain after a rise of 92 paise on September 21, 2012. The dollar index was down by 0.22% against a basket of six major currencies as investors on Wednesday heard optimism from Washington about budget talks that could allow the US economy to avert tax hikes and spending cuts.

Cauvery talks breakdown




Talks between the chief ministers of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka on Cauvery water sharing row, held at the suggestion of the Supreme Court, failed to break ice with both sides sticking to their known hard positions. After more than an hour-long meeting, Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalithaa said she had demanded a “bare minimum” requirement of 30 tmcft of water but Karnataka flatly refused, saying it could not release even a single drop of water.
Expressing the state’s inability, Karnataka chief minister Jagadish Shettar said there was distress in the state and it was not in a position to release water to Tamil Nadu. The meet came as a follow-up to the apex court’s suggestion to both CMs to meet and arrive at an amicable solution to the “sensitive” water dispute, dogging both the states for decades.
This was the second time in 15 years that chief ministers of both the states had bilateral talks on the water row after 1997 when M Karunanidhi and J H Patel met in Chennai.
Shettar said Karnataka had only 37 tmcft of water in its reservoir of which 20 tmcft was required for drinking water supply to Bangalore, other cities and some rural areas. The state also explained the severe drought situation faced by it.
Making a strong pitch for release of water, Jayalalithaa said she told her counterpart that if there was no further release from Karnataka, the “samba” crop would wither and die.

MoEF & Mumbai's Infrastructure


PROJECTS THAT HAVE GOT GREEN LIGHT...

Navi Mumbai International Airport : The proposed Rs.9,000 cr project near Panvel creek has got environmental clearance. Project work is yet to begin though, as it is awaiting civil aviation consent. The project is aimed at decongesting existing Mumbai airport

Mumbai-Trans Harbour Link : The Rs.9,600 cr project, to connect Nhava Sheva and Sewri with a 22 km sea bridge to decongest Mumbai and divert traffic towards Navi Mumbai, has been granted clearance. The environment ministry has asked the state to carry out construction with silencer-fitted machines and special lighting so that migratory birds don’t get disturbed. It has also demanded noise barriers along the bridge

Bandra-Versova sea link : The 10km Rs.4,000 cr link has got clearance with a rider that there won’t be any reclamation of land along the coast. The project will reduce one-and-half hour travel time to 25 minutes The project, though, clashes with CM Prithviraj Chavan’s plan to create cheaper coastal roads than costly links
 
Eastern Freeway between Colaba and Ghatkopar-Mankhurd Link Road : The 22 km link has got environmental clearance for construction near Sewri mudflats. The Rs.600 cr project is party funded by the Centre

AND THOSE THAT ARE YET TO SECURE ENVIRONMENTAL CLEARANCE....

Passenger water transport project : The Rs.1,150 cr project, which will offer catamarans and hovercraft between Nariman Point and Borivli, is not yet cleared

Pedder Road flyover : A Rs.200 cr flyover project proposed between Haji Ali and Marine Drive requires environmental clearance as Pedder Road residents have expressed fears that it will create noise and air pollution. The ministry wants the state to submit a plan to counter pollution threats

Coastal road plan between Malad-Kandivli and Cuffe Parade : The Rs.9,000 cr, 36 km road will stretch from Nariman Point to Malad-Kandivli and will have eight entry and exit points. It has not got environmental clearance as involves huge reclamation

Charkop-Bandra-Mankhurd metro rail : The Rs.8,000 cr, 30 km project requires setting up of car depots at Charkop and Mankhurd near coastal areas for which environmental clearance is awaited. In the absence of clearances, the project will become costlier and thus may not take off

Passenger water transport project for Mumbai
OVER THE YEARS
40 years ago, consultants Louis Berger and LEA Associates first came up with the idea of water transport in Mumbai
2005 : MSRDC finally decided to start the project along the west coast from Nariman Point to Borivli. The project, though, ran into hurdles with Satyagiri Shipping, which was to implement it
2008 : MSRDC cancelled the contract
2009 : It invited fresh tenders. Around 26 companies bid for the project but demanded more time to submit their bids citing economic slowdown
2010: Pratibha Constructions was shortlisted after it outbid Kakade Engineering, but somehow work order was not issued within stated time frame
January 2012 : In addition to creating infrastructure, the project involved operation of services. Experts, though, feared the arrangement would not work if commuter response was poor. Separate contracts were floated
July 2012 : Separate tenders for boat operations and terminal construction were won by J Kumar, Sadbhav-HCC and Supreme-DBM. Only work order was to be issued

29.11.12

Bandra - Versova Sealink snippets


The 10-km-long Bandra-Versova sea link that will help motorists in a hurry avoid the congested SV Road and the Western Expressway, recently got the requisite Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).
The sea link will be built 900 metres from the coast and have 4+4 lanes with traffic dispersal at Otter’s Club in Bandra and at Juhu Koliwada. The project, estimated to cost Rs.4,045 crore, is being implemented by the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC), the nodal agency. MSRDC is likely to now float tenders for this project and the sea bridge is expected to be ready by 2015.
However, given the past track record of MSRDC in implementing sea link projects, it could take longer than two years. The Bandra-Worli sealink took eight years to build.
After a series of flip flops by the government over whether the ambitious Western Freeway project that aims to link the entire west coast should be a coastal road or a sea link, the latter got a push from the Centre recently.
Once the link is complete, traffic on SV Road and the Western Express Highway is likely to ease.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) has cleared the 10-km-long sea bridge that will cut down the distance from Bandra to Versova to less than 20 minutes. The expert appraisal committee on infrastructure, the CRZ and other projects gave the sea link the go-ahead in a meeting on October 18.
The minutes of this meeting were confirmed and released this week. The environment nod for the bridge comes with a few conditions for the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC), the nodal agency for the project. MSRDC has to provide noise barriers, consult fishermen, get clearance from the forest department and the high court as required and not carry out dredging or reclamation.
The agency will also have to replant five times the number of mangroves destroyed for building the road on stilts along the Versova and Carter Road connector. With the green nod in hand, the real challenge for MSRDC will now be to complete the bidding process in time, senior officials said.
However, MSRDC’s poor financial health may pose hurdles for the project as it will have to provide a Viability Gap Funding (VGF) – a grant provided by the public agency to the private partner to make the project commercially viable.
“There is rivalry between MSRDC and MMRDA over infrastructure projects. Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan has been pushing for a coastal road of 35 km as a cost effective option and this plan clashes with the sea link proposed by MSRDC,” said a senior bureaucrat.
MSRDC in under the control of the Nationalist Congress Party and at a board meeting in August last year, it resolved to take up the sea link plan, reasoning that there was no finality on the coastal road project. The sea link has been cleared by a cabinet subcommittee on infrastructure.

Aadhaar - A Game Changer


Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) chairperson, Nandan Nilekani said, Aadhaar, the world’s biggest individual digital identification system would change the “game” of how the government interacts with individuals.
Making the observation at the VM Tarkunde Memorial Lecture, Nilekani defined the system as an “internet space which can be accessed from anywhere and empowers the deprived,” terming it a “gateway” to services.
The three levels through which Aadhaar would work is the unique individual number, the possibility of transferring entitlements directly into one’s bank accounts and enabling beneficiaries to choose their government service provider.
He insisted that privacy is not simply linked to the unique identification (UID) number but also to digital transactions in emails and social media that can be accessed by the government to snoop. Simultaneously, he emphasised the need to have a “legal infrastructure” to deal with concerns on privacy.
He added that the UIDAI, to that effect, was collecting limited amount of personal information such as residential address and age.
“Aadhaar will benefit both people and the government and is a risk worth taking. It will check corruption by eliminating interface with government officials and improve accountability in delivery of services.”

Somewhere in Madhya Pradesh....


Pehchan Kaun


Soon, those entering Haryana will find themselves under a scanner. In a bid to check crime committed by outsiders in the state, Haryana is setting up check-posts at 30 places bordering Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab and cops will stop vehicles at random and ask for fingerprint scanning of the visitors.
Haryana is setting up check-posts at 30 places bordering Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab equipped with fingerprint scanners to check crimes committed by people from other states. All people entering Haryana will have to undergo a fingerprint scan.
These scanners will be loaded with the database of wanted criminals.Christened ‘Pehchan Kaun,’ these check-posts will start functioning from December 10.

Somewhere in Bangalore....


 In a first, the special Lokayukta court sent a Bangalore corporator to four years’ rigorous imprisonment in a bribery case.
Lokayukta police had trapped Ganesh Mandir corporator L Govindaraju accepting a bribe of Rs 2 lakh from a builder at his house in Banashankari III Stage on July 17, 2010.
Sources said a Lokayukta police team headed by DSP HS Manjunath took Govindaraju into custody and sent him to Parappana Agrahara Central Jail soon after the verdict came around 4.30pm on Wednesday.
Judge N K Sudhindra Rao also ordered the corporator to pay a fine of Rs 50,000 or undergo six months’ rigorous imprisonment in case of default for the offence under Section 13(1) (d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1968. The judge also sentenced him to two years of rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs 40,000.
Builder J Udaya Kumar had complained that he was constructing an apartment and the corporator had demanded Rs 8 lakh to let him complete the construction. Kumar said he had already paid an advance of Rs 2 lakh and the corporator was demanding Rs 2 lakh more.

28.11.12

AEPS


As the government is all set to roll out direct cash transfer for its welfare schemes, the National Payment Corporation (NPCI) said seven banks have already implemented the Aadhar-enabled payment system (AEPS) and seven more are in the process of doing so.
As per NPCI, there are two forms of payment systems under the AEPS. One will facilitate crediting
money into the beneficiary accounts, while the other will enable account-holders to withdraw cash.
Seven commercial banks, such as State Bank of India, Syndicate Bank, Union Bank of India, Central Bank of India and ICICI Bank, among others have already implemented the first form of AEPS.
Similarly, another seven banks are in the process of adopting it.Talking about the second form of AEPS, which enabled the withdrawal of money by the beneficiary,around 11 banks have already implemented it.
The government has already announced that it will operationalise a phased shift from subsidy-based system to direct cash transfers for its various welfare schemes from next January in 51 districts to start with through the Aadhar card developed by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI).
The cash transfer will be enabled by the AEPS, a payment system developed by NPCI.
Last week, the finance ministry had held discussions with bank chairman, UIDAI officials and NPCI authorities to assess the preparedness of the whole process for this.
The infrastructure is ready for the whole process and presently pilots are going on in states like Jharkhand, Karnataka and Andhra.
The government wants to shift to direct cash transfers for its various welfare schemes The cash transfer will be enabled by the AEPS, a payment system developed by NPCI. SBI, Central Bank of India and ICICI Bank have implemented the first form of AEPS

Adlabs Imagica


Manmohan Shetty’s Adlabs Entertainment is building a Rs.1,600-crore theme park on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway and the entertainment entrepreneur has secured two-thirds of the total project cost in debt from a consortium of 14 banks led by Union Bank of India.
Called Adlabs Imagica, the project coming up on a 300-acre plot, will redefine the theme park experience in the country, he said.
It will be rolled out in three phases, with the first phase scheduled to open to public by March next year. Spread over 110 acres, the first phase will have about 21 international standard rides, including the country’s largest roller coaster and 4D stimulation rides.
Phases two and three will include a water park and a three-star hotel, Shetty said. The travel time from both Mumbai and Pune will be around one hour.
While entry prices are not yet fixed, it is expected to be around Rs.1,400-1,500 per person. Ticket prices would form 75% of the revenue, with the rest coming from food and beverages as well as merchandise sale.
He said the theme park can accommodate 20,000 visitors at any given time and that the water park will be added in the first year itself. A maverick entertainer, Shetty founded Adlabs Films as an advertising films processing company in 1976. Soon, the firm ventured into feature film processing by setting up a state-of- the-art laboratory in Film City, Mumbai and processed 80% of all films made.

India's GDP may dip to 4.5%


India’s GDP growth could fall to 4.5% in 2012, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said citing euro zone debt crisis as the biggest threat to the world economy even as the member countries of the currency union put out a bailout package for Greece that got a thumbs up from markets.
The forecast for India beats even the 4.9% put out by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) last month. The OECD had pegged India’s growth 1n 2012 at 7.3% in its June 2012 forecast.
In its bi-annual assessment, OECD Economic Outlook, the Paris-based think tank has said the global economic recovery will gain momentum slowly, and lowered the global growth estimate for the current year to 2.9% from 3.4% in its earlier forecast and that of 2013 to 3.4% from 4.2%.
The OECD called for ‘decisive policy action’ ‘to ensure that stalemate over fiscal policy in the United States and continuing euro area instability do not plunge the world back into recession’ listing excessive fiscal tightening in the US as the second biggest risk to the global economy. “The world economy is far from being out of the woods,” OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said during the launch of the report in Paris and raised the concerns that the US ‘fiscal cliff ’, if it materialises, could tip the world’s biggest economy into recession. India will declare its GDP numbers for the July-September quarter on Friday amid concerns that growth could fall to less than 5%. Indian economy grew 5.3% in January-March and 5.5% in April-June quarters.
The OECD expects the recent reforms to yield dividend after a while.

Agra - Jaipur Shatabdi


The much-awaited Jaipur-Agra Shatabdi Express is all set to boost tourism on the most popular tourism circuit - the Golden Triangle. The train that would take its inaugural run between the two major tourist destinations on November 30, would virtually make Agra a day return destination from here.
Set to cover a distance of over 230-kilometre in little than three hours, the train will stop only at Bharatpur for two minutes. Shatabdi Express from Jaipur will leave daily at 7.30 am and reach Agra by 10.30 am. It will leave the Taj city at 4.20 pm and reach Jaipur at 7.50 pm. The train will be taking half-an-hour more on its return journey for Jaipur, according to the time-table.
Since there is no air connectivity between the two destinations, a convenient Shatabdi would make more and more people look at visiting the Taj and returning back the same day to Jaipur as there is not much that they can do in Agra. Besides a days’ trip to Keoladeo National Park from Jaipur also could get more convenient, he said.

Of War Crimes....


Retired scientist N K Kalia will not rest in peace till he gets justice for his martyred son Captain Saurabh Kalia, who was captured, brutally tortured and killed by Pakistani intruders just before the Kargil conflict erupted in the summer of 1999.
Continuing his lonely 13-year-long battle, the senior Kalia is now knocking on the doors of the Supreme Court seeking directions to the Union government to take his son’s case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague, contending the brutal torture of 22-year-old officer constituted a war crime in blatant violation of the Geneva Convention.
The Indian government should mount pressure on Pakistan to apologize as well as identify and punish those soldiers who had indulged in the barbaric torture, said the senior Kalia, who has been forced to move the Supreme Court because his various representations to the government have failed to evoke any response.
“In the past 13 years, I have seized every opportunity suggested by well-wishers but the case kept on rolling down from one ministry or forum to another in the official labyrinth. I am tired of approaching every authority, including the Army, defence ministry, external affairs ministry and the PMO, all of whom never came out with any positive response and passed the buck to each other,’’ he said. “Even the office of President of India has given me a standard reply that his case has been forwarded to the appropriate authority for appropriate action,” said Kalia.
While terming the violations as “unacceptable’’, external affairs minister Salman Khurshid on Tuesday said, “This is an extremely sad story. But having expressed our deep distress and concern, we haven’t got an adequate response from Pakistan...whatever is possible will be done...the matter is before the SC.’’

Sheila undergoes Angioplasty


Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit underwent an angioplasty for blocked artery. The procedure, which involves insertion of metallic mesh tube to clear the blockage, was conducted successfully at Fortis Escorts Heart Institute by Dr Ashok Seth who heads the cardiac sciences department. He added that the procedure lasted for about 45 minutes.
The 74-year-old Congress leader had undergone angioplasty previously in 2006 which was conducted by the same doctor. Two stents were inserted to open up the blocked arteries. In 2001, Dikshit had undergone a bypass surgery. He said Dikshit is not a diabetic. Sources said the chief minister’s immediate family – her son, daughter-in-law and daughter – were present in the hospital when the procedure was being conducted.

Magzter


Magzter, an online magazine store developed by two Chennai-based entrepreneurs Girish Ramdas and Vijayakumar Radhakrishnan, has become the top grosser on the Apple iPad’s app stores across much of Asia.
The newsstand, which was launched just 17 months ago, already has 4.5 million users globally.
India-made apps have previously seen success on the downloading side. Rohit Singal’s NightStand alarm clock app for the iPhone was downloaded three million times in a few days in 2007. But these have been primarily free apps. Magzter is perhaps the first Indian app to feature in the top grosser list across many app stores. The majority of Magzter’s users are in the US, the market that the company is most focused on. Ramdas has never worked in the US. He grew up and has worked throughout in Chennai. He graduated from the College of Engineering, Guindy, in Chennai. In 2000, he founded an IT services company called Dot Com Infoway in the city and later started a magazine called Galatta focused on the south Indian film industry. In 2009, he created an iPhone app for the magazine and followed it up with an iPad app. These apps later inspired him to create the global online magazine newsstand.
Magzter has more than 1,500 magazines in its store. About 400 of them are Indian magazines.  Radhakrishnan did a Bachelor's degree in computer science from Madras University and a Master's degree in management from BITS, Pilani. He later worked with Ramdas in Dot Com Infoway.
Magzter has received massive traction over the past 45 days thanks to the addition of some Facebook sharing features. Sales have risen by 80% in November, compared to October.
Magzter’s popularity is also because of the ease with which publishers can use it to publish replica versions of physical magazines or even to create highly interactive magazines. Magazine prices are also heavily discounted, by as much as 50% in many cases, because of the cost effectiveness of the online medium. Magzter, compared to some of its other online newsstand competitors, has another big advantage. It allows you to buy a magazine on one platform, say Apple’s iOS, and read it on another one of your devices that runs on, say, the Android or Windows 8 platform. Magzter is now trying to quickly build on its success.

Sahara buys NY hotels


Subrata Roy-promoted real estate-to-financial services major Sahara Group has completed the acquisition of two iconic New York hotels—New York Plaza and Dream New York-—both based near Manhattan’s Central Park, a century-old destination for socialites and celebrities, for around $800 million (about Rs 4,400 crore). The Sahara Group, which had acquired Grosvenor House in London in 2010, is said to be now looking at picking up some other landmark properties in New York to build up a portfolio of luxury hotels.
The Sahara Group will acquire a 75% stake in Plaza Hotel for $570 million, while Kingdom, the investment vehicle of Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, will hold a 25% stake after a complex transaction. Similarly, Sahara has bought Dream Downtown, owned by celebrated New York hotelier Vikram Chatwal for $220 million.
Dream Downtown, featuring 315 loft-style rooms and Suites is a prized property of the Chatwals. Dream Downtown is within walking distance of shopping and art galleries and the famous neighborhoods of So-Ho, Chelsea, and the West Village. Both Plaza and Dream Downtown would continue to be looked after by the existing management. It could not be immediately ascertained as to how Sahara would finance the two deals. It may be pointed out that it had earlier pledged the Grosvenor House to raise 250 million pounds, a part of which may be used to fund the New York purchases. The deal comes at a time when Indian Hotels, part of the Tata group, has made a bid for acquiring a controlling stake in the Bermuda-based hospitality firm, Orient Express Hotels for $1.86 billion.
The 105-year-old storied New York Plaza, overlooking New York’s Central Park, is known for its rich legacy and was designed by Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, who also designed the historic Fort Garry Hotel in Winnipeg. Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, heir to the Vanderbilt industrial empire, was understood to have been the first guest of the hotel when it opened to the public in October 1, 1907.
The hotel, struggling in recent years, was accorded a landmark status by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1969 and was designated a National Historic Landmark (NHL) in 1986. It has been the site for famous performers and guests and has also been frequented by US presidents. It also featured in more than two dozen Hollywood movies, including North by Northwest (1959), Scent of a Woman (1991) and Home Alone 2 (1992), besides some TV serials such as Friends, Ugly Betty and Sex and the City. The hotel was also the setting of various literary works.
Sahara’s agreement to purchase the two New York-based hotels come on the back of a Supreme Court order directing it to refund over $3 billion worth of bonds raised by selling optionally fully convertible debentures. Sebi last year said the debt issue didn’t comply with rules. According to the group’s website, it has assets worth $26 billion.
Apart from the two New York hotels and Grosvenor House, Subrata Roy owns Sahara Star, a 223-room five star hotel near the Mumbai domestic airport. Besides, it also owns a resort-cum-township for the uber rich at Amby Valley in Maharashtra.

Moody's on India


Ratings agency Moody’s said its outlook on India’s Baa3 rating was stable, bringing much-needed relief to the government which is fighting hard to avert a ratings downgrade.
Moody’s said its assumption was based on expectations that a high household savings rate and relatively competitive private sector would boost growth which, in turn, would improve the health of public finances and balance of payments metrics. The comments lifted the sentiment in the stock markets, with the sensex soaring 305 points, and comes at a time the UPA is trying to put the economy back on track and improve the mood in domestic businesses.
Another ratings agency, Standard & Poor’s, which had revised the outlook on India’s rating to negative from stable, had earlier said the country had a one-in-three chance of being downgraded in the next two years. Fitch also has a negative outlook on India’s rating.
Any ratings downgrade will make it difficult for Indian companies to raise funds overseas and hurt foreign investment flows. Also, the country’s attraction as an investment destination may take a knock at a time when growth has slowed and business confidence is down.
Moody’s said it expects GDP growth to be around 5.4% in FY 2013 and 6% or higher in FY 2014 as expansion gathers momentum. However, the agency cautioned that unanticipated domestic political turmoil, a further worsening in global growth and financial conditions, or a surge in food and other commodity prices could affect the pace and timing of the recovery.
In its annual credit analysis on India, Moody’s has said that the Baa3 sovereign rating is supported by credit strengths, which include a large, diverse economy, strong GDP growth as well as savings, and investment rates that exceed emerging market averages. “The rating is constrained by the credit challenges posed by India’s poor social and physical infrastructure, high government deficit and debt ratios, recurrent inflationary pressures and an uncertain operating environment,” it said. Moody’s made it clear that the report was an annual update to the markets and does not constitute a rating action. It noted that although India’s growth remains above that of its rating peers, it has slowed from 8.4% in FY 2010 and FY 2011 to 5.3% in the first half of 2012.

Parliament stalemate set to end


The gridlock in Parliament over foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail is set to ease with the Manmohan Singh government—armed with ally DMK’s support—dropping its resistance to a discussion under a rule that necessitates a vote.
The détente over FDI could see fresh discussion between the ruling coalition and the BJP over the winter session’s legislative agenda, with parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath expected to meet leaders of the opposition Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley .
The government is keen to pass reforms-related legislation like insurance, pension, companies and banking bills. These are seen as being vital to the UPA’s bid to improve India’s investment prospects and beat back a threat of a downgrade by rating agencies. The government hopes to limit disruptions during their passing.
The breakthrough in the four day stalemate in Parliament came with DMK chief M Karunanidhi announcing that despite a sense of “bitterness” over supporting FDI in retail, the party would vote with the UPA keeping in mind the consequences of the government falling.
Karunanidhi’s invocation of the danger posed by a “communal” BJP did not surprise UPA circles as the DMK’s alleged antipathy to global retailers is not seen to be as deep rooted as it appears to be. The DMK’s ties with the Congress are fraying but it cannot risk an election.
The UPA’s stand on a vote in Parliament on FDI was sealed at a meeting of the coalition’s coordination committee, with senior ministers saying the precise rule under which a discussion takes place will be left to the presiding officers of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. Rahul Gandhi too attended the meeting in another affirmation of his growing role in Congress and coalition affairs.
The ruling coalition has the support of about 260 MPs in a 543-member-strong Lok Sabha. With the Samajwadi Party’s 22 and BSP’s 21 MPs, its numbers cross 300, comfortably more than the required
272. In the Rajya Sabha, the UPA and its allies have 95 MPs. The ruling alliance needs the BSP’s 15 and Samajwadi Party’s nine MPs in a House with an effective strength of 244. The Upper House arithmetic appears to rule out an abstention by Uttar Pradesh outfits if they are to help the government. Discussion on FDI likely early next week
The shift also means that the BJP-Left combine’s move to team up and insist on a vote on FDI policy paid off. The vote is expected to see parties like AIADMK and BJD opposing the government, deepening the impression of a near vertical split in political opinion over FDI.
Although UPA leaders claim the standoff over the FDI policy was not as grave as it was made out to be, it needed some persistent negotiations to bring all supporters on board. Space had to be created for allies like DMK to retreat from their public opposition to FDI.
The government managers can pat themselves for getting the DMK, SP and BSP—all of whom participated in a nationwide opposition bandh against FDI last December— to back the UPA on a vote in Parliament. The discussion is likely to take place early next week.
In the end getting outside supporters SP and BSP on board proved less challenging than anticipated with Congress sources pointing to the regional parties keeping their distance from recent Opposition sponsored anti-government protests.
Not all the bills are likely to be passed, but the government will like to prioritize some along with taking the advantage of a freshly minted political consensus over the Lokpal bill to ensure its passage at least in Rajya Sabha where it is pending.
Finance minister P Chidambaram has repeatedly told Congress and in UPA meetings that the government needs to pass the important legislation as there are limits to executive action. The passage of important bills can also persuade the Reserve Bank of India to lower rates.
So far, the RBI has pointed to the high deficit and inflation to plead its inability to lower lending rates.

27.11.12

Somewhere in Rajasthan....


Within a span of one year when the pilot project at Kotkasim block in Alwar district on direct cash transfer of kerosene subsidies started in December 2011, the results have surpassed the initial expectations.
Demand for subsidized kerosene has crashed by more than 90% to about 5,000 litres per month from 84,000 litres before the pilot project came into existence. As the consumers got direct cash transfers, there was less room for the middlemen to divert the subsidized commodity. Earlier, the district authorities had expected the offtake will plunge to 40% as the demand would only come from actual users of the commodity.
The pilot project was part of Centre’s ambitious initiative to plug the loopholes in public distribution system and provide directly to the poor rural masses benefits of government’s welfare schemes. Kotkasim in Alwar was the starting point for the Centre, which is now accelerating the drive to roll out the model throughout the country. The government aims to reduce the subsidy burden as weeding out the middlemen in the PDS is expected to cut the subsidy budget.
Alwar district supplies officer R C Meena said the direct cash transfer model will save more than Rs 2 crore in the block and if the strategy is implemented across the district, savings could go up to Rs 60 crore annually.

Somewhere in New Delhi....


A candlelight vigil was organized at India Gate to pay tribute to the victims of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.

Rupee @ over a 2-month low


Demand for dollars by oil companies, muted foreign fund activity as the year-end nears and the continuing political logjam in New Delhi combined to weaken the rupee to a two-and-a-half-month low. The rupee, after touching an intra-day low at 55.89 to a dollar, recovered slightly to close at 55.73, but was still weaker by 21 paise to its Friday close of 55.52. The rupee’s weakness, however, had a positive impact on software and other exporters since this would mean a boost to their revenues in rupee terms.
Monday’s market witnessed the sixth consecutive session of weakness for the rupee. This has left the Indian currency weaker by 3.8% in less than a month.

India & China sign High Speed Train agreement


A year after India and China agreed to cooperate in the rail sector, New Delhi signed its first agreement with Beijing during the second round of bilateral strategic economic dialogue (SED).
India hopes to get Chinese investment to build high-speed passenger trains as well as upgrade and modernize railway stations and import newer technology in the sector, particularly on heavy haulage. India and Japan have signed a similar agreement to introduce high-speed trains in the Mumbai-Ahmedabad sector. But sources said the Japanese project was taking a while, and they hoped the Chinese would be able to deliver a better system faster. The agreement came at a time when railways has cleared six high-speed rail corridors in various parts of the country.

Tough Times


The economic growth of India is likely to have hovered around a three-year-low for the second quarter of the current financial year with finance minister P Chidambaram indicating that Asia’s third-largest economy grew around just 5.5% during July-September.
“When growth declines to 5.5%, as it has in the first quarter (April-June) of this financial year, and when the growth is likely to be around 5.5% in the second quarter, it goes without saying we are facing a difficult situation,” Chidambaram said here.
He sought the support of the Opposition in pushing through economic reforms, saying the economy is not a football that can be kicked around by political parties.
“Economic welfare of the country is bipartisan and must be kept above politics...economics is too important and economic future welfare of this country is too important to become a football to be kicked around by political parties”, the finance minister while releasing a book.
The minister’s statement is the first estimate of GDP growth for the second quarter, for which the official figures are due to be released next Friday. The economy expanded by 6.9% during the corresponding period in 2011. Though Chidambaram had said last week that economic activity was expected to pick in the third and the fourth quarter, he had told earlier this month that growth rate for the full year could be 5.5%, the slowest in a decade.
The government had started the year on a rather bullish note predicting a 6.5-7% growth but has been forced to lower the projection amid few signs of revival in domestic and global demand. Since Chidambaram took over, he has focused on improving the fiscal health, a key deterrent for a rate reduction by the Reserve Bank of India, something that the finance minister has been pushing for. The central bank has also cited high inflation to argue against an immediate rate cut, which the government and industry believe is holding up consumption and stalling investment. The minister’s attempts to revive investment by focusing on stalled projects have also not yielded results with the proposed National Investment Board caught up in inter-ministerial wrangling.
“We have to overcome this difficult situation through innovation, finding new ways of increasing production of goods and services and finding new ways to help the poor of the country,” he said. The scenario on the fiscal front, too, is not rosy because the telecom spectrum auctions have garnered revenues far below expectations and the disinvestment programme has got off to a slow start. Chidambaram, however, appeared confident of meeting the targets and ruled out the possibility of borrowing more funds from the market.
The government finds itself in a tight spot of reviving the economy before it seeks a re-election in 2014. The weak economy has compounded India’s fiscal problems and raised the spectre of a credit rating downgrade. However, Chidambaram expressed hope that once “one or two” issues were resolved, it would become possible for the government to push through key economic reforms bills in the ongoing winter session. The important legislations awaiting approval of Parliament relates to insurance, pension, banking and Companies Bill.
Finance minister P Chidambaram spoke in Pune about the need for bank consolidation, calling it inevitable and drawing attention towards the need to have two or three banks of a global scale. “We must create two-three world-sized banks. China already has them,” said the finance minister, although he added that consolidation would not be thrust upon Indian banks.

Gujarat Poll Survey


An opinion poll by AC Nielsen for a Hindi news channel has claimed that Modi would lead BJP to a tally of 124 seats — up from 117 in 2007..
It would belie claims that opposition has made a dent in the Hindutva strongman’s armour after 10 years and instead show Congress as clueless. The poll claimed Congress would win only 51 seats — a drop of eight seats from its present tally.
The opinion polls have had a mixed record in the past, and are prone to be off the mark. But if Nielsen’s findings are to be interpreted, Brand Modi is holding its own despite a long innings as the CM that usually brings fatigue among voters. More importantly, it implies that saffron veteran Keshubhai Patel’s rebellion would come a cropper. The Nielsen poll predicted the Gujarat Parivartan Party would bag a paltry three seats.
Such a one-sided contest is set to have repercussions for national politics in view of Modi’s prime ministerial ambitions.
The Gujarat strongman is set to show an increase in his tally as evidence of his entrenched appeal among voters and appear a natural claimant for the leadership position in the crowded saffron line-up. Even Nielsen findings show that 53% voters want him to move to national politics.

Kejriwal launches Aam Aadmi Party


With ambitious plans of systemic change while projecting themselves as an alternative to the “corrupt” political establishment, anti-graft crusaders Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan have launched a political party, calling it the Aam Admi Party (AAP).
Although unveiled in the modest setting of a press conference, the AAP is aiming high, promising empowerment of the common man, decentralization of power, lawmaking through referendum, devolution of decision making powers to gram sabhas and an accessible judicial system. Pitching the party as a platform for aam admi, Kejriwal said there would be men and women representatives from the village or college levels up to the national level. The constitution that was adopted by the AAP betrayed an effort to address the concerns of Gandhian Anna Hazare and others.
Aam Admi Party to begin electoral fight in Delhi, where assembly elections are due in 2013-end To set up national council of 320 members, 30-strong national executive, besides state, district councils. Relatives of these members will not be part of any council at any level

Some Signs of Change


An umbrella body of Muslim organizations has acknowledged “some signs of change” in Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s attitude but laid down stiff conditions, including an apology and “expression of sorrow” for the 2002 riots, before extending him support “in rebuilding Gujarat”.
The Joint Committee of Muslim Organizations for Empowerment comprises 10 national Muslim outfits. Its chairman Syed Shahabuddin noted that the BJP and Modi were giving special attention to Muslim voters ahead of the Gujarat assembly polls, but said the community in the state and elsewhere in the country had not forgotten the 2002 massacre. He asked Modi to offer at least 20 tickets to Muslims acceptable to the community in seats where they constitute more than 20% of the electorate instead of repeatedly announcing his faith in secularism.
“This would give the community representation according to its population (10%) in the state. Token nomination of one or two Muslims personally known to you will not do,” Shahabuddin said.
“Alternatively,” the former IFS officer wrote, “the Muslim leadership will advise Muslims not to divide their votes and vote massively and unitedly for one candidate, irrespective of party or religion, who is likely to defeat the BJP.”

Cash Transfers


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is expected to formally kick off cash transfer of subsidies and entitlements, one of the most ambitious policy initiatives of UPA-2. The scheme is visualized as a game-changer for UPA-2, like the NREGA was for UPA-1, and is expected to pay rich dividends during elections.
The plan to transfer cash directly into the bank accounts of the beneficiaries instead of handing over subsidized foodgrain, fertilizers or fuel is aimed at not only checking leakages in the system, but also empowering consumers with choices and ensuring big savings for the cash-strapped government.

WHAT IS CASH TRANSFER?
In lieu of subsidized food, fertilizer & fuel, BPL families would get between Rs.30,000- 40,000 a year in their bank accounts. In all, Rs.4,00,000 cr will be disbursed. APL families too would get money for subsidized cooking gas.

HOW WILL IT WORK?
Families with Aadhar card, entitled to subsidies, pension, scholarships, etc, will get money directly in their bank a/cs For this, they need to give their Aadhar card No. to service provider, say, gas agency & bank Option will be there to claim the cash subsidy at designated bank branch, by using a cash card

WHAT WILL IT COVER?
To begin with, only subsidy transfer for cooking gas Centre has asked states to launch pilots for food subsidy and work on fertilizer just begun Over time, it will cover all subsidies

WHEN WILL IT START?
By Jan 1, 2013, 51 districts with high Aadhar penetration will be covered. By Dec 2013, whole country will be covered

Through its cash transfer programme, the government is planning to transfer over Rs 4 lakh crore annually to the public, with each BPL (below poverty line) family getting over Rs 3,000 a month.
Sources said PM Manmohan Singh is also planning to address the nation on the scheme in the coming days, explaining the ambitious plan that is expected to be bigger than similar programmes around the world.
The government, which accords high importance to the scheme, proposes to appoint a national coordinator to oversee the programme. It will also ensure its rapid scalability.
Singh will address a meeting of the ministers in charge of subsidies, pension and scholarships and disclose the government’s intent to formally launch the programme on January 1. The programme will begin by covering 51 districts where the Aadhar card has a high penetration. By April 1 next year, 18 states will be covered.
A senior official said the Planning Commission has identified seven flagship programmes, including pensions, and 22 scholarship schemes given by nine central ministries for cash transfers, excluding those related to subsidies on food, fertilizer and fuel. Ministries are being asked to digitize their database of beneficiaries and link them with Aadhar so that UID-enabled bank accounts and payment systems can function through what’s being called the Aadhar Payment Bridge—a mechanism for giving cash cards to beneficiaries who don’t have bank accounts.
According to the latest estimates provided by the department of financial services, by March 31, 2012, all banks will migrate to the core banking platform which will facilitate direct cash transfers. The plan is to cover all villages with a population of more than 5,000 with branches, and those with population of more than 2,000 with business correspondents. Seven states have committed to make electronic payments.


Finance minister P Chidambaram and rural development minister Jairam Ramesh chose the Congress platform to announce the launch of the scheme on January 1, dropping more than hints that cash transfers would be among the party’s bragging points during the 2014 Lok Sabha contest. “Aapka paisa, aapke haath”, Jairam introduced the scheme—the punch line echoing the party’s winning “Congress ka haath, aam aadmi ke saath”, the battle theme for two consecutive polls.
The announcement at a press meet, where the line between the government and the party seemed to fade, came a day after PM Manmohan Singh decided to keep food and fertilizer subsidy out of the purview of the ambitious scheme.

The Congress’s cash transfers will cover 42 schemes in the first phase that include LPG, scholarships, old-age pension, and projects of the ministries of health and women and child.
At a meeting of senior ministers, the PM is learned to have spoken about the social costs of including food and fertilizer subsidies in the direct cash transfer scheme, expressing fear that diversion of the transferred money from the intended use to other expenditure would impact a household negatively. Sources said the PM also referred to diversion, putting womenfolk to disadvantage, and about the importance of food security and PDS.
The PM’s apprehensions mean a drastic reduction in the scope of the scheme and can, correspondingly, whittle down the political benefits the Congress hopes to derive from the scheme.
But that did not seem to take away much from the government’s satisfaction over preparing the platform for transfer of cash ahead of the 2014 polls. A beaming Chidambaram complimented the government for a job well done. He rebutted the opposition’s charge that cash transfers were akin to bribes for voters, saying the government was merely trying to ensure that the subsidies reached the beneficiaries in full, rather than launch any new scheme.
Ramesh struck a distinctly political note, saying the scheme was actually a political campaign which got underway 25 years ago with the recognition by then PM Rajiv Gandhi that 85% of the money released from Delhi never reached the beneficiaries. In the same vein, he stressed that the launch of the scheme could not have been possible without the IT revolution conceived and implemented by Rajiv. He also said the government’s endeavour was only to ensure that people got their “haq”, or entitlement, offering a peek into how the party might market the scheme in the leadup to the elections.

India's first Financially Inclusive District


RBI governor D Subbarao declared Ernakulam as the first district in the country to achieve total and meaningful financial inclusion.
“Ernakulam was the first district in the country to achieve 100% family planning in 1970s. In 1990, Ernakulam was declared the first district to have 100% literacy. Today is the third step in the process… Ernakulam is becoming the first district in the country to achieve 100% financially inclusion,” Subbarao announced at a function attended by chief minister Oommen Chandy, finance minister K M Mani and Nandan Nilekani, chairman of Unique Identification Authority of India.
Meaningful financial inclusion project offers operative bank accounts with micro-credit, micro-insurance and remittances facilities to households. Subbarao said the district, with a population of 32 lakh, has 37 lakh savings bank accounts.
In his presidential address, he urged the state government to introduce curriculum on financial literacy in schools and colleges. The RBI has prepared a curriculum that has been translated into regional languages, including Malayalam. It was introduced in Karnataka four years ago on a pilot basis. “As much as we deepen financial inclusion, we also want people to understand what financial inclusion is, so that they must be able to demand services from banks. For this, financial literacy is important. We do have a number of things to deepen financial literacy—one of the most important actions we are taking is to request state governments to introduce curriculum on finance in schools and colleges,” he said.
Acknowledging the importance of education loans, Subbarao said the demand for such loans has been high in certain states. “There were some problems in Kerala, with some special area restrictions, but we have removed all those and I now hope that the flow of educational loans will go up ,” he said.

Pak Taliban threatens Indians


The Pakistani Taliban has pledged to attack Indian targets “anywhere” to avenge the execution of Ajmal Kasab, the lone survivor of the terrorist squad responsible for the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, and demanded that Kasab’s body be returned to Pakistan for an “Islamic burial”.
Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said the TTP would conduct various attacks in India and anywhere to avenge the hanging of Kasab, without elaborating further. The TTP, closely linked to al-Qaida, operates from Pakistan’s ungoverned tribal belt along the country’s border with Afghanistan.
 “TTP demands that Kasab’s body be returned to Pakistan for an Islamic burial,” Ehsan said. “If they don’t return his body to us or his family, we will capture Indians and not return their bodies,” he warned. The Taliban will try to strike Indian targets anywhere, he added.
He also criticised the Pakistan government for failing to ask India to return Kasab’s body after Indian authorities said Wednesday that Kasab was buried on the premises of Pune's Yerawada prison. Indian authorities did not specify what burial rites were performed.

Delhi plans E-Challans


The capital will soon implement electronic challan system for penalizing traffic violators. After running into several delays as it was an “unplanned expenditure”, the e-challan project was given a green signal by the state government.
The tender for the Rs 14-crore project has already been awarded to a telecom giant, which will provide traffic cops with 1,200 handheld devices by the end of this year. With the use of these devices, fines can be paid using credit cards and the device will be connected to a central server for instant digitization of violation data.
The device can access traffic offence history of both the vehicle and the offender and hence repeat offenders will be issued greater penalties as per the Motor Vehicles Act. Currently, all traffic violations are treated as “first offence” as it is not possible to check violators for earlier prosecutions.
Traffic cops will be armed with pocketbook-sized mini computers attached with a camera and a printer. The camera will be able to take pictures of the defaulter, fancy number plates, unauthorized red beacons etc which will act as documentary evidence for reference, said traffic officials. This device will be GPRS and GIS enabled and the location and time of the challan issued will be recorded.
“Transport department has to share data with us so that we can update the information in one central server. At the moment, we have vehicle ownership and stolen vehicle details available with us, as well as a databank on all traffic challans. We just need details of drivers’ licenses,” said a senior traffic police officer.
The device can also function offline and store up to 500 challans in its expandable 16 GB memory and then upload these challans to the server once it connects again.
It can even send a message to the central server once a vehicle has been towed away. The vehicle owner can then contact a helpline number with his vehicle details to get an SMS detailing where the vehicle has been towed away to.

UP does a farm loan waiver on Mulayam's birthday


A cash-strapped Uttar Pradesh government wrote off loans worth Rs.1,650 crore to farmers on Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav’s 74th birthday, fulfilling an election promise that is bound to further deplete the state’s dwindling coffers.
CM Akhilesh Yadav said 7.2 lakh farmers would benefit from the waiver. “Farmers who have taken loans of up to Rs.50,000 and have deposited 10% of the amount by March 31 will not have to pay any further,” he said. The loan waiver would cost the state government Rs.1,650 crore, and Rs.500 crore had already been earmarked from the budget for it.
Akhilesh also said he would shortly announce the state advisory price for sugarcane.
By applying conditions in the farm loan waiver, UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav has whittled down the largesse which otherwise would have cost his state government a staggering Rs 14,000 crore. But in the process, farmers in the state’s endemically backwards regions like Bundelkhand will gain little from the waiver.

26.11.12

Of High Street Rentals....


National Pharma Policy


The Cabinet has approved a long-pending National Pharma Policy, which may result in prices of essential drugs including anti-diabetics, painkillers, anti-infectives and anti-cancer drugs, reducing by around of 20%.
The government did not disclose details of the drug policy, but sources say that it cleared the fresh pricing mechanism which was drawn up by the Group of Ministers led by agriculture minister Sharad Pawar on Wednesday. The GoM drew up a new mechanism which capped prices of 348 essential drugs, following the finance ministry’s strong opposition earlier this month to the draft policy cleared in September. Experts say that an average reduction of around 20% in essential prices is substantial, given the fact that most consumers have to bear out-of-pocket medical expenses. The new pricing mechanism uses “the simple average method” for determining the ceiling price of all the molecules (drugs) under a particular therapeutic area with over 1% market share, while the draft policy had capped the price by taking the “weighted average”.
The government will present the policy before the Supreme Court on November 27, the day it meets to hear the PIL filed in 2003 to bring down prices of essential medicines. The SC had earlier asked the government to continue with the cost-based pricing mechanism to cap prices of essential drugs. It now remains to be seen whether the court will accept the government’s proposal which is a market-based pricing formula.
The Cabinet is believed to have included key riders, including the annual increase, which will be allowed to drug companies to increase prices. Also, when a company changes the original formulation by adding a new ingredient, it would come under price control.
The reactions from pharma companies were, however, mixed. Though the industry was relieved that the existing cost-based formula was not employed to cap prices, it felt that there would be an additional impact as a result of the new formula of arithmetic average, as against the earlier weighted average mechanism. Health activists were, however, not too happy with the Cabinet decision. The 20-30% reduction in prices is not substantial, according to Anant Phadke of Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, a patients’ group, demanding that the government heed the SC’s opinion and impose cost-based price control.
The new pricing mechanism will lead to a price erosion of over Rs 1,400 crore, according to research consultancy IMS, while AIOCD estimated the impact to be around Rs 1,800 crore. Though the tweaked pricing formula would lead to an additional impact on companies, but when calculated on an industry size of over Rs 67,000 crore, it is marginal, around 2-3%, or over Rs 1,500 crore. The scope of the policy is around 17% of the total pharmaceutical market, while coupling it with the existing medicines under price control, the coverage increases to around 30%.

Iron Dome


As Fajr V rockets rained down on Israel from battleground Gaza for a week, many Indian defence planners were keeping a close watch on the performance of Israel’s Iron Dome, which is probably the only deterrent to these homegrown short range missiles.
It was not just out of curiosity regarding one of the most effective systems against rockets, but also because of the possibility of India building an indigenous version of Iron Dome.
Several months ago, military scientists in the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) had suggested that India look at a joint development programme with Israeli firms to develop an Indian version of Iron Dome, touted as the most effective system against short-range missiles. Indian scientists believe Israel’s plight has several parallels to its threat from Pakistan. Pakistani terror groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) could well acquire similar capabilities that could threaten large groups of Indian population.
The Iron Dome, according to reports, intercepted 87% of the rockets fired at Israel by the Hamas. The system is believed to have the capability to shoot down rockets and artillery shells with ranges of up to 70 km. The system has been shown to be effective against rockets or shells that might target populated areas.
Unlike ballistic missiles, against which DRDO claims to have a fairly good shield, there is almost no protection against short-range rockets or artillery fire. DRDO is currently collaborating with Israeli firms to develop medium range surface to air missiles. However, Iron Dome is in a different class altogether, Israeli diplomatic sources argue.
Another reason why some defence planners are pushing for it is the possibility of another conflict with Pakistan. Pakistan has developed a nuclear weapons, like the Nasr, which is a solid fuelled battlefield range ballistic missile.
While Pakistani analysts say this was developed in anticipation of India’s supposed Cold Start doctrine, some Indian sources say the Iron Dome might be an effective deterrent against this weapon.
Sources said there have been some discussions between DRDO and its Israeli counterparts for a possible joint development of Iron Dome for India.

Mumbai Monorail update


The MMRDA has conducted an end-to-end test run of its monorail rakes on the entire 8.3-km alignment from Wadala to Chembur for the first time in four years. Sources said that there were plans to hand over the corridor for safety certification by February end.
The MMRDA has finished all the alignment’s civil work and is now focusing on completing the stations, signalling and telecommunications, which will take two to three months.
For the test, the MMRDA first sent a shuttle down the alignment, followed by full rakes. It plied rakes at different speeds (as fast as 80 kmph). The empty rakes were also loaded with cement sacks to see if the guideway beams can take the weight. It had planned to hand over the corridor for a safety audit by November and open the line by December. This is now being pushed to 2013.
Sources said there were issues related to securing land for linkways to the stations.

Churchgate - Virar Elevated Rail Corridor update



Decks have finally been cleared for the 63-km Churchgate-Virar elevated rail corridor project to move ahead. After months of deliberations, the Maharashtra government and Western Railway have resolved their differences over the project’s implementation.
The wrangle between the two arose because the state government objected to a few clauses in the draft support agreement prepared by the railways for the project. The disagreement caused a delay in the agreement’s execution, which in turn impacted the process of tendering and other technical procedures. Now however, a consensus has emerged on the contentious clauses and the railways have agreed to redraft the agreement.
The earlier draft, officials explained, contained a clause requiring the state to shift underground utilities along the rail corridor within six months. It also granted the railways-appointed concessionaire the right to sue the government if it did not carry out this duty within the stipulated time frame. Furthermore, the previous draft mandated that the state acquire land needed for the project and to resettle project-affected people within 15 months; in this case too, a delay gave the concessionaire the right to sue.
Opposing the clauses, the state contended that the tasks of shifting utilities and land acquisition were too big for the time limits allowed. It also argued that the agreement was a bipartite arrangement and so the concessionaire and his rights should not be a part of it.
Protesting that existing buildings will have to be acquired for the project, the state pushed for finalization of the resettlement model for those displaced by their acquisition. The government, in addition, objected to an arbitration clause in the draft agreement.
The railways, after talks, agreed to consider the state’s demands and redraft the agreement. According to the newly achieved consensus, the time period for shifting utilities and resettlement will be relaxed; for resettlement, the deadline will be 24 months. The railways also consented to withdraw the clauses involving the concessionaire and arbitration.
Both sides are now readying to ink a new agreement next month. The railways meanwhile have awarded work for figuring out the project’s financial feasibility.

Didi's No Confidence Motion fails


Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee faced a major embarrassment in the Lok Sabha when her party’s bid to move a no-confidence motion against the government fell ignominiously due a lack of numbers amid jeers from the ruling coalition benches.
The motion, moved by Trinamool leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay, was rejected by Speaker Meira Kumar as it did not get the required support of 50 MPs. Once the Speaker’s call for members to stand up and signal their support saw just the TMC crowd and three members of the BJD responding, the motion was deemed to have been defeated.
The outcome, along with clear signs that the SP and BSP don’t wish to yank the rug from under the UPA’s feet, underlined that the government continues to have the safety of numbers in the Lok Sabha.
Trinamool’s plight could have been worse had the BJD not offered token support in response to an urgent entreaty conveyed by Bandyopadhyay on Thursday morning.

Of Private Sector Investments in Railways....


Desperate to attract private investment in the cash-strapped railways, the Union cabinet has cleared the state-run transporter’s plan to rope in the private sector to build new railway lines and plants, and
augment capacity, a move that was quickly red-flagged by unions.
With the policy in place, the railways will be able to get the private sector to connect ports, mines and industrial plants with the rail network by allowing them to invest in laying the tracks for last-mile connectivity. The move is expected to lower transportation costs and help move minerals, coal and finished products from the production centres.
Similarly, wherever the private sector thinks that putting up a third or a fourth line is feasible, the government can enter into a build-operate-transfer (BOT) arrangement. According to sources, some of these railway lines can be taken up under competitive bidding through an annuity model for concession periods raging between 15 and 20 years.

LIC allowed to hold higher stake


Hard pressed to meet the Rs 30,000-crore disinvestment target, the finance ministry has permitted the state-owned Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) to invest up to 30% in a company as against the earlier ceiling of 10%.
The notification relaxing investment norms for LIC has been issued. The new norms will enable the cash-rich LIC, which invests around Rs 50,000-60,000 crore in equity annually, to pick up higher stakes in state-owned companies during the disinvestment process.
Insurance regulator IRDA, however, was against LIC picking up more than 10% equity in a company. It wanted LIC to stick to the norms applicable for private insurers.
The government’s decision is apparently aimed at pushing through the disinvestment process which had so far remained a non-starter.
The government in the budget for 2012-13 had proposed to raise Rs 30,000 crore from stake sale in PSUs.
Finance minister P Chidambaram, in a recent interview, had expressed confidence that government would be as near the fiscal deficit target as possible.

Agra International Airport


The UP state tourism department has hired consultants to find a suitable site for international airport in Agra. The department has approved a consortium of experts comprising RITES Limited and KPMG Advisory Services Private Limited for the purpose and a letter of intent has been issued to the companies.
Sources said the consultancy service agreement will be executed within 15 days. But prior to that, the firms have to send the acknowledgement of acceptance within a week of receiving the letter of intent. The international airport in Agra-Mathura circuit will cater to the needs of tourists visiting these two cities.
Chief minister Akhilesh Yadav had mooted the idea of an international airport during his visit to the two cities recently. And within next four days, the tourism department prepared a “concept report” on it. The report termed the idea an international airport in the area as a “hot selling proposition". To back the claim, it cited the number of foreign tourists visiting the city every year. As per the plan, the airport will built on private-public partnership (PPP) model and likely to be completed by 2017.

RBI seeks alternative to the Dollar


The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has joined the effort of chipping away at the dollar’s preeminent position as the world’s currency. The central bank called for inclusion of emerging market currencies as alternative reserve currencies to the dollar.
Delivering the 46th A D Shroff Memorial Lecture in Mumbai, RBI governor D Subbarao said that the dollar’s monopoly as a reserve currency had resulted in many countries facing a liquidity problem as foreign creditors and foreign investors turned risk averse. “Paradoxically, even as the US economy was in a downturn, and its central bank resorted to extraordinary quantitative easing, the dollar strengthened as a result of flight to safety,” Subbarao said.
The governor pointed out that one alternative was to have a menu of reserve currencies. “But this cannot happen by fiat. To be a serious contender as an alternative, a currency has to fulfill some exacting criteria. It has to be fully convertible and its exchange rate should be determined by market fundamentals; It should acquire a significant share in world trade; The currency issuing country should have liquid, open and large financial markets and also the policy credibility to inspire the confidence of potential investors. In short, the ‘exorbitant privilege’ of a reserve currency comes with an ‘exorbitant responsibility’,” he said.
According to the governor, another option of developing special drawing rights (SDRs) — an overdraft facility that countries have with the International Monetary Fund to get credit denominated in dollars, pounds, euro or the yen — is not a feasible option as SDRs would have to be automatically acceptable as a medium of payment in cross-border transactions, it should be freely tradeable and its price has to be determined by forces of demand and supply.

Of Sacrifice of Revenue....



RBI governor D Subbarao — who was finance secretary in UPA-1 — told the special CBI court that he had in 2007 questioned the telecom ministry’s proposal to fix Rs 1,600 crore as the fee for 2G licences.
Subbarao’s appearance in court as a prosecution witness is significant in view of the CBI’s argument that the government sold 2G spectrum cheap by sticking to 2001 rates while granting licences in 2008, which led to a loss of around Rs 31,000 crore.
The RBI governor told the court that any loss figure needs to be seen in the context of a policy decision. There was a sacrifice of revenue but a policy sometimes needs to strike a balance between a welfare objective and revenue maximization, he said.
Subbarao said the finance ministry’s view on spectrum pricing was that the price must be “rediscovered” as it would be inappropriate to give licences at the price fixed in 2001-2002. Sacrifice of revenue on 2G not loss to govt, says Subbarao
Subbararo said the finance ministry’s “endeavour” then was to maximize the government’s revenues but “since DoT had already issued letters of intent (LoIs) on January 10, 2008, the effort of the ministry of finance was to see if the price for spectrum could be enhanced to reflect the current market prices”.
“We also negotiated an increase in spectrum usage charges,” he said. Subbarao had told the JPC much the same recently but his deposition in court has an evidentiary value that can help the CBI make a case of illegal gain.
Subbarao told the court he had written a letter on November 22, 2007 to then telecom secretary D S Mathur. “I wrote this letter to confirm if proper procedure was followed with regard to due financial diligence. I also questioned as to how the rate of Rs 1,600 crore, determined as far back as 2001, could be applied for licence given in 2007 without any indexation, let alone current valuation,” he said.
Subbarao, who was finance secretary from April 2007 to September 2008, told the court that by June 2008, it was agreed between the telecom department and the finance ministry that start-up spectrum would not be charged and only spectrum beyond start-up would be priced.

Lokpal snippets


The prime minister should come under the purview of the proposed anti-graft watchdog Lokpal and the controversial prescription for similar Lokayuktas in states should be dropped from the draft law, the Rajya Sabha select committee has recommended.
The select committee appears to have reached a broad consensus over the draft bill that sharply divided political parties and it now stands a reasonable chance of going through Parliament although it is unlikely to pass muster with civil society groups agitating for a tough law against corruption.
The draft finalized retains the clause placing the office of the PM under the ambit of the Lokpal with the exception of matters relating to national security and foreign affairs. Successive governments have struggled with this clause — the UPA and the previous NDA regime opposed this provision.
However, the agitation by Anna Hazare saw the BJP changing its position and Congress had little choice but to follow suit although initially a Cabinet discussion on Lokpal saw PM Manmohan Singh being overruled by most ministers who felt the proviso could cripple the PMO by making it vulnerable to motivated attacks.
Committee chairman and Congress leader Satyavrat Chaturvedi said the report would be tabled in the Rajya Sabha on November 23.
The prevailing public mood seems to have weighed with the committee on keeping the PM within the Lokpal’s ambit.

RBI bans loans to buy Gold


The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has notified a total ban on banks from advancing any loans to its customers for purchasing gold in any form, which includes primary gold, gold bullion, gold jewellery, gold coins, units of gold Exchange Traded Funds (ETF) and units of gold mutual funds.
In its October 30 policy meet, the central bank had announced this decision. However, the banking regulator said that banks are allowed to give loans for “genuine working capital requirements to jewelers”.
The notification was issued after it was found that there was a significant rise in the import of gold into India in recent years. The step by the central bank came on concerns that direct bank financing for the purchase of gold in any form — that is bullion, primary gold, jewellery, gold coin, etc — could lead to fuelling of demand for gold in the country.
Over the last one year, despite a 10% rise in the price of gold in India, the demand for the yellow metal during the July-September quarter was up 27% on an annual basis, data from World Gold Council showed.
Since India remains one of the biggest importers as well as consumer of gold in the world, the surge in gold imports in turn has been putting pressure on the country’s trade balance.
Primarily this is the reason for the government’s recent push to curb gold demand and import, the decision by RBI is a direct fallout of the government’s decision, market players said.

23.11.12

Of GSM subscribers....


The total number of subscribers using GSM mobile services rose by 2,38,000 in October. The increase in cellphone users comes after two consecutive months of an erosion in subscriber base, the first in many years, for the likes of Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular. Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), the body representing GSM companies in India, said that Bharti Airtel gained nearly half a million customers last month as opposed to a loss of 2.8 million over August and September this year. The case was same with Vodafone and Idea Cellular. Both telcos lost 2.1 million customers each during the two months before October, but gained over 4,80,000 and around 2,40,000 respectively, in October.
However, Uninor pulled down the total subscriber base for GSM telcos as it reported a fall of 1.1 millon in its subscriber base for the month of October. It had gained a marginal 32,000 customers in September. In August, Bharti, Vodafone and Idea — that together account for about 67% of the sector’s revenues — had jointly lost over 5 million customers, the first time in over a decade that these mobile phone companies had seen a fall in numbers. The country’s mobile user base fell for the first time in July when mobile phone companies jointly reported a fall of 20.7 million subscribers for the month.
However, Reliance Communications was responsible for 99% of the movement as it deactivated around 13% of its customer base.

It's the Pepsi IPL now !



Beverage and snacks maker PepsiCo has won the title sponsorship rights of the Indian Premier League (IPL) for the next five seasons for Rs.396.8 crore. PepsiCo’s bid was at almost 25% premium over the minimum bid amount and some 20% higher than the only other bidder, Bharti Airtel.
At Rs.80 crore a year, many industry experts termed the sponsorship of the Twenty20 league too costly.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) marketing committee had fixed a minimum bid price of  Rs.60 crore a year or Rs.300 crore for five years starting 2013. Bharti Airtel had bid Rs.315 crore for the five-year term. Coca-Cola had opted out of the bidding due to the steep asking price.
At almost Rs.400 crore, PepsiCo has committed twice the amount paid by real estate giant DLF for IPL title sponsorship for the first five seasons.
The title sponsor gets access to a series of brand and marketing benefits. The IPL annual event, held in April-May, coincides with the peak summer season when beverage companies spend the biggest chunk of their annual marketing budgets.

Of 26/11 Masterminds & Handlers....


SAJID MIR: LeT’s key commander who was the main handler of the 26/11 terrorists and was present in the control room and the man who chose targets in Mumbai. He remains at large

ABDUR REHMAN HASHIM SYED: Another LeT mastermind of 26/11 attacks who was also plotting future attacks in India. He remains at large

ISI’S MAJOR IQBAL: ISI officer who was present in the control room and played a crucial part in training of the attackers. Was handler of David Coleman Headley. Pakistan denies there is any person by the name of Major Iqbal

ISI’S MAJOR SAMEER ALI: ISI officer involved in training of the 26/11 attackers. Pakistan denies there is any person by this name

ABU HAMZA: Main trainer of 26/11 attackers who had earlier conducted the attack on IISC Bangalore. Was present in the control room; remains at large

ZARAR SHAH: Communications chief of LeT and a senior Lashkar commander. It is unclear whether he is in custody in Pak or at large TAHAWWUR HUSSAIN RANA: A Pakistani national based in Canada who helped David Coleman Headley set up base in Mumbai and provided him funds. Was arrested in USA

HAFIZ SAEED: The LeT chief and the alleged mastermind of the 26/11 attacks who supervised the training of 10 terrorists, including Ajmal Kasab. Remains at large despite an Interpol notice from India and a US bounty of $10 m

ZAKI-UR-REHMAN LAKHVI: Operational commander of LeT who coordinated the 26/11 attacks and was present in the control room in Karachi to guide the attackers. In Pak jail

DAVID COLEMAN HEADLEY: Pak-born US national who did reconnaissance of the 26/11 targets – Taj Hotel, Oberoi Hotel, Leopold café and Nariman House – for the LeT and ISI. Was arrested in US after the attacks and remains in a US prison awaiting a sentence

ABU JUNDAL: The only Indian in the control room who trained the attackers to speak Hindi and guided them on Mumbai. Deported from Saudi Arabia and in custody

Kasab hangs



Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving perpetrator of the 2008 terror strikes that left 166 people dead in Mumbai, has been executed in an operation marked by secrecy and a rare decisiveness on the part of the Congress-led government.
Kasab was hanged and buried in Pune’s Yerwada jail on Wednesday morning, five days before the fourth anniversary of the attack, after the President rejected his mercy petition.
One of the 10 Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives who seized soft targets — including two iconic hotels along with a Jewish centre — and left behind a trail of blood and terror, Kasab had become the face of the 26/11 attacks. With his execution after a fair trial, and burial in accordance with Islamic rites, India has sought to send out a clear message to the international community and pile up pressure on Pakistan to act against the masterminds and handlers of the 26/11 carnage.
Announcing the execution, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan said the event demonstrated that the rule of law exists in India. In New Delhi, Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said the date and timing of the terrorist’s execution were decided by the court.
The decision to hang Kasab to death was shared only with the ministers on the Cabinet Committee on Security and Chavan.  The secrecy over the execution, sources in the government said, was prompted by fears that Lashkar and its associates in India could revert to terrorist acts to avert the inevitable. According to people familiar with the matter, a suggestion to bury Kasab at sea — as the US did in the case of Osama bin Laden — was rejected in favour of Yerwada jail as many leaders were against imitating the US. The government expects the execution will put the spotlight on Pakistan, which is yet to take even baby steps towards starting the trial of the accused currently lodged in Pakistan’s prisons. It also hopes that Western countries, which are in possession of proof of involvement of Pakistan’s semi-rogue spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence, will lean on Islamabad to bring the perpetrators of 26/11 to justice.
Modi, expectedly, used the issue to question the delay in executing Afzal Guru, who led the attack on Parliament a decade ago. Afzal — a Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist convicted of the December 2001 attack — was sentenced to death by the Supreme Court in 2004.


External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, who spoke on the execution of Kasab to the media, said India attempted to inform Pakistan of its decision before the sentence was carried out. “We attempted to convey to Pakistan Foreign Office about the execution, but since the messages were not accepted, we indicated it,” said Khurshid, adding the government had also taken the necessary steps to inform Kasab’s family of the decision. “We now hope the commission in Pakistan would conduct its investigations in the same impartial manner that the legal process was followed in India,” the minister said. The Lashkar-e-Taiba, which orchestrated the attack, proclaimed Kasab as a ‘hero’ and threatened reprisals for hanging him. “He is a hero and will inspire other fighters to follow his path,” a news agency report quoted an unnamed commander of the Pakistani militant group as saying.

Of India & Egg Exports....



A spate of avian flu outbreaks in the last few years has dashed India’s hopes of becoming a major egg exporter. Oman, the largest buyer of Indian eggs, has now imposed second ban on Indian shipments this year following the avian flu incidence in a research farm in Karnataka. The earlier embargo on Indian eggs enforced by Oman in March, was only lifted in September. Oman accounts for over 60% of the Rs.100-crore egg export turnover from India. West Africa and Afganistan are the other major buyers of Indian eggs.
India has been in the egg export business for nearly two decades and the export turnover had swelled to around Rs.450 crore six years ago. The first outbreak of avian flu in India happened in 2006 and ever since egg exports from the country have been showing a downward trend.
Often the ban is imposed not knowing that the places where the avian flu occurred are far away from the exporting centre. Namakkal in Tamil Nadu is the egg export hub of India. Two incidents of avian flu outbreaks happened in Tripura and Karnataka. The second among turkeys in a government research farm.

India & ASEAN on Services


India has decided to scale down its ambitions for the free trade agreement in services with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in a frantic attempt to get the pact rolling after nine years of talks. Officials said Delhi is likely to settle for much narrower market openings for its professionals than what it had initially demanded.
On Monday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei that India is keen to further its relations with Asean and that “the best is yet to come” in the country’s relations with the 10-nation regional grouping. Singh is in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh where the ruler of Brunei will take over the chair of Asean for 2013.
India had initially sought a more liberal visa regime for its professionals in areas like education, health, nursing, information technology, architecture and chartered accountancy compared to what Asean has offered to New Zealand and Australia in its FTA with the two countries.
Asean has offered longer visa permits and other qualification relaxations to professionals from Australia and New Zealand, which go beyond the commitments made at the multilateral trading forum of the World Trade Organisation.
However, India’s top priority after 14 rounds of negotiations is to get the deal sealed.
Asean includes Cambodia, Brunei, Myanmar, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Laos and Indonesia. The commerce department has already got the nod for lowering its ambitions from the Prime Minister's trade and economic relations committee, the body that gives the negotiating mandate for all FTA talks. The main reason why Asean is playing hardball is no secret. Since it managed to convince India to implement the FTA in goods in January 2010 independent of the agreement on services and investments, the 10 member-states do not have any incentive to conclude the latter.
“India is much more competitive than Asean in most services and it is no surprise that the deal is getting delayed,” said a trade expert from a Delhi-based think-tank. “When India agreed to sign the FTA in goods first, it voluntarily sealed the fate of the services deal.”
In fact, Indonesia and the Philippines have told India that they would not improve their services offers beyond what they have committed at the WTO and were ready to get lower openings from India in turn. There is little that India can do about it.
Even in the area of investments, the two sides are expected to sign nothing more than an investment promotion deal as Asean is not ready to agree on India’s suggestions to ensure that an investment pact does not get misused.
Delhi is now banking on diplomatic pressure to get the services and investment deal through, although it would be a much watered-down version. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is expected to do exactly that at the Asean Summit in Cambodia early next week.
“We hope we are successful in applying diplomatic pressure and getting Asean to conclude the services talks and sign the agreement,” the official added.