From Budget to Budget....

Of Milk Production....

DoT asks Telcos to stop 3G Roaming

A department of telecommunication (DoT) panel has recommended that mobile phone companies offering 3G services through roaming deals must stop such activity immediately, claiming such pacts are “illegal and violate licence rules”. It has also proposed a Rs.50-crore penalty per service area for such violations of licence conditions.
The committee has recommended “immediate stoppage of selling and provisioning illegal 3G services to existing and new customers, and imposition of Rs.50 crore against each licence,” in an internal departmental  note.

The DoT panel was constituted to examine 3G roaming deals among mobile phone companies. The committee claims that such 3G intra-circle roaming pacts, which pave the way for “thirdparty use/sub-leasing of spectrum, would allow mobile phone companies to launch any kind of service without having the commercial rights to use the spectrum in a particular service area”. The DoT panel adds that “sale/provisioning of 3G services through the network of other operators using intra-circle roaming facility leads not only to licence violations, but also results in undue enrichment of these mobile phone companies which are collecting revenue from 3G customers without specific authorisation”.

Pre-Budget Economic Survey

The pre-budget Economic Survey says GDP growth is going to pick up from this year’s 5% to range between 6.1% and 6.7% in 2013-14. Wholesale price inflation will fall to 6.2-6.6% by March despite hike in diesel prices and higher rail fares and freight rates, and the medium-term price trend is distinctly downward, especially for nonfood manufactures. Even better, the World Bank predicts that global commodity prices (including oil but excluding metals) will keep falling in 2013 and 2014. This should facilitate interest rate cuts by RBI.

The Survey says fiscal deficit is being brought under control, combating both inflation and current account deficit. Recent reforms and fast-track clearances will help revive infrastructure and industrial production. And agricultural output, hit by a bad monsoon last year, should revive with normal rainfall.
The Survey emphasises that India must tackle its twin deficits, fiscal deficit and current account deficit. Dependence on global finance has gone up because of the high current account deficit. But this carries risks of insufficient or even reverse flows. Sputtering growth in rich countries is worsening the risks, and the hung election in Italy raises fresh misgivings about the future of the Euro zone.
Oil prices remain a risk. Export growth will remain muted if the global economy remains muted. To reduce dependence on foreign inflows, India must improve economic management, especially fiscal management.
Fiscal consolidation is the need of the hour. It is the key to restoring investor confidence, improving credit available for the private sector, curbing inflation, improving the savings rate, and improving the trade balance by curbing import demand.

The Survey notes that efforts are finally in place to cap the subsidy on fuel, disinvestment of government stakes in public sector undertakings is proceeding, and targeting of welfare measures will improve with the proposed Direct Benefit Transfers (using Aadhar, biometric identification and universal bank accounts through banking correspondents).
After reaching a peak of 11.9% of GDP in 2007-08, the tax to GDP ratio has fallen and needs to return to the old level. The Survey says this will be better achieved by broadening the tax base than by increasing tax rates.  The Survey is clear that record imports of gold should not be blamed for current account deficit. In our inflationary environment, gold has provided an average annual return of 27% since 2007, against just 7.3% for the Nifty and 8.2% in savings deposits. So, the rising demand for gold is a rational response to economic incentives, not a sign of black money run amuck.
Indeed, rising gold imports are symptoms of more fundamental ailments that have caused high inflation and sluggish growth. The solution lies in curbing inflation and reviving GDP growth, not in quick fixes to try and lower gold imports.
Structural reforms are needed to ensure higher productivity, better returns for savers, and higher investment. This means shrinking wasteful and distortionary subsidies; speeding up clearances of every sort; increasing the access of people to finance and decent infrastructure; improving the quality of regulation, including the reduction of corruption; and reducing barriers to the entry of new business, not just foreign investment but also small and medium enterprises.

In a special chapter on “Seizing the Demographic Dividend”, the Survey highlights both India’s coming advantage in having a high share of the population of working age, as well as the steps needed to maximum this advantage.
The proportion of people studying has risen considerably, and this is welcome although it has delayed an increase in labour-force participation. This phenomenon has also occurred in other countries passing through a demographic transition. Policies must help accelerate the shift of workers from agriculture to industry and services, where productivity is inherently higher. Industry is creating new jobs, but most of these are in the unorganised sector, offering low incomes and little social protection. Service jobs have relatively high productivity, but these are not being created fast enough. The big shift seen so far is out of agriculture into construction.
To harness the demographic dividend, India needs to lower barriers to investment and growth.
Too many firms stay small because they lack access to finance or infrastructure, or because they want to steer clear of the regulatory burden of entering the formal sector. Rigid labour laws discourage employment (although some economists have argued that these are less formidable in practice than they appear at first sight).
Skill development is key to harnessing demographic dividend, implying better education. It also requires rapid growth of formal apprenticeship schemes. This will mean converting industrial enterprises into training grounds — the best training is done on the job.
India has already recorded substantial gains in total factor productivity, more than Korea or Indonesia at a similar stage of development.

Full e-governance in Kerala by 2015

The implementation of the e-governance initiative in 14 districts will be completed by 2015, making Kerala the first fully egoverned state in the country, said chief minister Oommen Chandy.
He was talking to reporters after inaugurating the e-Governance Leadership Meet for Government of Kerala.
“Kerala is always at the forefront in setting up necessary infrastructure and innovative ideas for implementing e-governance. We are the first to set up a data centre exclusively for e-governance and our second data centre is functioning in the Technopark. We have already established connectivity up to block levels and around 3,000 offices have been interconnected,” he said

20 charred in Kolkata blaze

Twenty people were killed and six others injured in a devastating fire on the first two floors of a building housing a market, a godown and offices in Sealdah area in the metropolis in the early hours of Wednesday.
West Bengal disaster management minister Javed Ahmed Khan told reporters here that 20 persons were killed in the blaze and six injured, with the condition of two critical.
The fire was detected at 3.50 am in the 25-year old Surya Sen Market complex when some shopkeepers and labourers working in the market were fast asleep, with the blaze spreading from ground floor to the floor above, vice-chairman of the market Sushanta Ghose said.
The staircase of the market was blocked with goods making it difficult for people trapped inside to escape, Ghose said.

Five Freight Corridors in pipeline

With two ambitious dedicated freight corridors under implementation, Railways is planning to build five new freight corridors to ensure faster transportation of goods. The proposed corridors — East-West Corridor (Kolkata-Mumbai), North-South Corridor (Delhi-Chennai), East Coast Corridor (Kharagpur-Vijayawada) and South Corridor (Goa-Chennai) — are being considered to increase transportation capacity, reduce unit costs of transportation and improve service quality.
The Economic Survey says feasibility study has been undertaken on four future freight corridors and a pre-feasibility study of Chennai-Bangalore Freight Corridor has been proposed. Land has been acquired for the 1,839-km-long Eastern corridor, connecting Dankuni near Kolkata with Ludhiana in Punjab, and 1,499-km-long Western corridor, linking Jawahar Lal Nehru Port in Mumbai with Dadri/Rewari near Delhi.
Out of the 10,703 hectares to be acquired for the project, 7,768 hectares, or 73% have been awarded under the Railway Amendment Act (RAA) 2008. “The Eastern and Western DFC projects are being funded through a mix of bilateral/multilateral loans, gross budgetary support (GBS), and PPP," it said.
The speed of trains will be enhanced to 160-200 km per hour once the freight corridors are completed by 2017.
The project will segregate the passenger traffic from freight that will lead to faster movement of goods, making railways more competitive with road transportation.

JPC to probe Chopper kickbacks

Brushing aside protests from the BJP and other parties, the government has set up a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to probe the AgustaWestland chopper scam after it secured the support of the SP, the BSP and the CPM for the move designed to contain the political fallout from the bribery scandal.
The announcement of the 30-strong panel came after defence minister A K Antony disclosed that he had briefly contemplated resignation as he felt “ashamed’’ of the scam. Responding to opposition MPs who said the defence minister, with his ‘Mr Clean’ image, should have quit because of the scam, Antony said, “I thought of it. But I do not want to run away. I want to punish the guilty and ensure maximum punishment for them.”
The approval of the motion moved by parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath for setting up the JPC was preceded by an intense debate between the government and the BJP, the Trinamool, the JD(U), the TDP and the CPI over the utility of a parliamentary probe.
The government carried the day in the Rajya Sabha after it secured the support of not just the SP and the BSP but also the CPM. The JPC is to submit its report within three months of its first sitting. JPC to have 20 LS and 10 RS members
In a stunning turnaround, perhaps the first featuring the bloc, the Marxists first opposed the JPC only to give their consent to be part of it later, tilting the scales in favour of the government. The CPM explained that it went along with the move because the committee had been set up. Curiously, Congress sources said Kamal Nath had received the name of the CPM nominee for the panel even before the House approved the motion.
The government offered a JPC probe in order to fend off the perception of a cover up: a political imperative because of the BJP’s harping on the mention of “the family” in the Italian investigations into the allegation that Finmeccanica paid 51 million euros to swing the chopper deal in favour of its subsidiary, AgustaWestland. The BJP played on the reference to “the family” in the debate in the Rajya Sabha.
The constitution of the JPC, which will have 20 members from the Lok Sabha and 10 from the Rajya Sabha, also obviates the prospect of the Supreme Court taking over supervision of the probe like in the case of the 2G scam.
During the debate, Kamal Nath accused the BJP of running away from a parliamentary probe even though they had obstructed one full session of Parliament to demand a similar probe into the 2G scam.
Leader of opposition Arun Jaitley argued that a JPC probe could not be a substitute to an impartial investigation that has not started even a year after reports of alleged bribery first surfaced. He reacted to the setting up of the JPC by saying that the panel sans BJP would “actually be Congress Working Committee”.
Responding to opposition’s charge of a cover-up, defence minister A K Antony played on his 'Mr Clean' image to the hilt to forcefully argue that the government was “determined” to get to the bottom of the scam.
But the opposition would have none of it, alleging a “cover-up” to protect the “bribetakers” in the deal, even though it did not question Antony's credentials for probity.
“There is a sense of helplessness in the defence minister's statement... the government is indulging in diversionary tactics,” Jaitley said.

Chennai Monorail snippets

Work on the first phase of the monorail project is likely to begin in June. The state government is set to float technical and financial bids (final request for proposal) in March for 57 km phase I, estimated to cost Rs.8,500 crore.
This comes after months of dilly-dallying over the qualification of the prospective bidders for the project that was announced in 2011. With traffic congestion reaching alarming proportions, the state government wants to get the project, which it believes will be the answer to the city’s traffic woes, off the ground at the earliest. The ongoing metro rail project covers 45 km of arterial roads — Jawaharlal Nehru Salai (100 Feet Road), Anna Salai and EVR Periyar Salai (Poonamallee High Road) — in two corridors.
The plan is to bring the five prospective bidders, including Scomi International, Gammon India and Larson and Toubro, on board. They were selected from the eight consortiums that participated in the qualification bidding last year. A high-level empowered committee led by transport minister V Senthil Balaji is overseeing the tendering process.
While the initial plan was to cover 111 km of the city’s periphery in the first phase, the government later dropped the plan of including the Vandalur-Puzhal (54 km) corridor. This would have been the longest monorail corridor in the world had it been implemented along with the Vandalur-Velachery, Poonamallee-Kathipara and Poonamallee-Vadapalani sections.
Locations for stations have been identified for the project, keeping in mind their access to bus stops, MRTS and metro rail stations. Unlike in the metro rail project, the requirement of private land for mono rail is minimal. The government has formed a team to earmark lands for construction of the stations.

BJP manifesto for Urban Karnataka

Garbage-free towns in Karnataka? That’s one of the tall promises made by the BJP in its manifesto. The party has pledged a complete transformation of the state’s towns and cities if voted to power in the urban local bodies elections on March 7.
Grand promises and vague assurances make up the manifesto released by the Karnataka state BJP chief KS Eshwarappa. It guarantees slum-free, garbage-free towns with good roads, drainage, bus stands, sports complexes, hospitals, flyovers and underpasses. Add to that autonomy to local bodies, transparency and computerization.
The election to the 208 cities and towns in the state, viewed as the semi-finals before the assembly polls, is important for the BJP for various reasons. First, the party's core strength lies in the urban areas, where around 38% of the state's population lives. Second, the results could indicate the trends of the assembly polls. Of the nearly 5,000 wards, the party had won in 1,400 wards in 2007.
The manifesto seeks votes based on the party’s performance and programmes in the last five years.  Urban development minister S Suresh Kumar said the government had given priority to water supply, drainage and construction of roads in the tier-II cities.

Citizen service centres like BangaloreOne in all towns and cities
Better drinking water supply, drainage and water reservoirs
More ring roads, flyovers, underpasses, sports complexes
BRTS, modern bus stations, prepaid auto and taxis stands in all towns
Slum-free and garbage-free towns, door-to-door garbage collection
Hospitals in the name of Dr MR Tanga to treat dialysis, diabetes and heart ailments

CJI pushes for doubling strength of judiciary

Chief Justice of India (CJI) Altamas Kabir has written to all chief justices of high courts, asking them to strongly take up the matter with state governments regarding doubling the strength of the judiciary.
“It is emphasized that the state government must be persuaded to agree to double the existing number of courts in subordinate judiciary, along with the necessary furnished infrastructure and ministerial staff, at the earliest,” the CJI says in his letter.
The letter also asked the chief justices to take urgent steps at high courts to ensure that existing vacancies are filled up.
Earlier, in a meeting of the National Court Management System (NCMS), the CJI proposed to the government to double the strength of judiciary. Sources in the law ministry said the CJI has set a target of taking the strength of the judiciary from the current 18,871 to more than 30,000 in the next five years.
A senior law ministry official said the government has started the process and has called a meeting of all the chief ministers and chief justices of high courts on April 5-7 to formulate a comprehensive strategy and put the targeted recruitment on fast track.
This would be one of the biggest recruitment drives of judges so far. An allocation of Rs.2,800 crore has already been earmarked by the law ministry for this purpose.

Of India's Urban Population....

Maharashtra would have maximum urban population by 2026, followed by Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Quoting the population projection by the Census of India, the Union urban development ministry in a reply in the Lok Sabha stated that country’s urban population will reach 53.48 crore in another 13 years.
It is estimated that over 38% of total projected population will be living in urban areas. As per the projection, India’s total population would reach 140 crore by 2026, minister of state for urban development Deepa Dasmunshi stated in her reply to a written question. According to the Census of India, urban population in Maharashtra would be 8.13 crore, while in UP it would cross 6.75 crore. The other states that make up the top five states are Tamil Nadu (5.37 crore), Gujarat (3.67 crore) and West Bengal (3.53 crore). Lakshadweep will have the least number of urban population at around 24,000.
Among cities, Mumbai would have the highest population of at least 2.63 crore, followed by Delhi (over 2.24 crore). Kolkata would slip to third slot with a little over 2 crore population. In 2001, Kolkata was the second most populated city in India after Mumbai.
In its bid to improve the infrastructure in 65 big cities, the government has been implementing several projects under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), while there is another project to cater to the needs of small and medium towns.


The statewide NCP-MNS clashes point to the escalating tension between deputy chief minister and NCP leader Ajit Pawar and MNS chief Raj Thackeray as they vie for a common vote bank ahead of the 2014 elections, say political observers.
Raj, in a statement, accused Ahmednagar police of “keeping mum” when NCP workers pelted stones at his motorcade on Tuesday. Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray came to his cousin’s rescue, accusing the NCP of trying to “silence” the Opposition using the brute strength of the police.
State NCP chief Madhukar Pichad urged partymen to stay calm and devote their energies to tackle the drought.
Pawar and Thackeray have emerged as GenNext icons of Marathis in recent times.

Sparks were bound to fly as Raj, whose charisma is said to revolve around urban pockets, recently began a tour of rural Maharashtra which Pawar covets as his fiefdom. Significantly, the NCP’s alleged attack on Raj’s cavalcade took place in Ahmednagar, an NCP citadel in western Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar’s political backyard.

A Terminus @ Parel

In a boost for Central Railway (CR) commuters, Parel station will be converted into a terminus and opened for suburban services by 2015. This will allow CR to run additional services and manage any disruption in services.
With Rs.1,650 crore being allocated for Metropolitan Transport Project (MTP) in railway budget 2013-14, work to upgrade infrastructure at stations is set to pick up pace.
This assumes significance as work on the fifth and sixth lines between Kurla and Parel will take at least five years as rehabilitation of project affected persons will take time. With Parel turning into a terminus by 2015, authorities will not only be able to decongest Dadar, but also provide better connectivity to commuters in case of disruption in services between CST and Currey Road.
As of now, reversal facility is available at Kurla, which also has additional platforms and car sheds where empty rakes are stabled. Dadar has an additional platform but no stabling line.


Italy spooks markets

Stock markets hit a three-month low on weak global cues and negative sentiment back home following a sharp fall in small- and mid-cap stocks which has spooked retail and high net worth investors (HNIs). The Rail Budget, which raised freight charges by 4-5%, had a marginal impact. The Sensex slid 316.55 points, or 1.64%, to 19015.14 while the Nifty shed 93.4 points, or 1.6%, to close at 5761.35. Market breadth was negative with 2,072 stocks having declined against 774 advances on BSE. The rupee slipped 21 paise to close at 54.09. Benchmark indices tracked peers in Asia like Straits Times, Hang Seng and Nikkei which shed 1-2.3% and Europe where FTSE, DAX and CAC traded down 1.3-2.3% on fears a hung parliament in Italy could impact the nation’s reform process and reignite eurozone’s broader debt crisis. 

The Railways Budget 2013

The government has raised freight charges while leaving passenger fares untouched in the railway budget for 2013-14, its baby steps in addressing the wanton profligacy of past years and signalling the upcoming main budget will be responsible but perhaps not very bold. Presenting a budget high on promises to improve customer experience and put the world’s third-largest railway network on the track to financial recovery, Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal kept his pledge not to raise passenger fares in 2013-14 after raising them just a month ago. But the 5% hike in freight rates, largely on the back of the move to link tariffs with fuel rates, will raise transport costs of commodities such as coal, cement and fertilisers, although officials played down fears this would lead to higher prices in an inflationary economy, saying the impact on inflation was likely to be a marginal 0.35%. Pointing out that rising diesel prices have already undone all the gains from the January passenger fare increase, Bansal pressed for insulating the railways’ finances in an era of deregulated fuel prices by introducing a fuel adjustment component (FAC) in freight tariffs from April 1, 2013. The FAC will be dynamic and move in tandem with global oil prices.
Bansal, is the first railway minister from the Congress Party in 17 years and whose maiden budget announcement was being keenly watched for clues on the government’s appetite for taking tough decisions before the 2014 elections.
Bansal spared long-distance and local commuters from higher fares, but raised the charges on Tatkal bookings, cancellations and for super-fast trains. These higher charges are expected to bring in Rs.881 crore in 2013-14, although the minister claimed the railways will absorb the Rs.850-crore addition to its fuel bill next year on account of higher diesel prices.
While industry welcomed Bansal’s promise of modernising stations, building rail lines and freight terminals through public private partnerships (PPPs), the freight tariff increase stirred strong reactions from the political fraternity, exporters and companies that use the rail network. The benchmark BSE Sensex, already weak because of global factors, extended losses after the railway budget, ending the day 1.6% down, with stocks of companies that cater to the railways sector falling between 8% and 14%.

But Bansal received praise from his boss, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh calling the railway budget “forward-looking and reformist”. “It presents a realistic picture of railway finances. Bansal has done a commendable job in meeting competing demands of improving services and controlling expenditure,” Singh told reporters.

The chief opposition party, the BJP, was caustic, calling it a ‘Rae Bareli budget’ because of the minister’s announcement of three new projects based in, and three new express trains passing through, Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s Lok Sabha constituency in Uttar Pradesh. By contrast, Bansal only announced one major project in his own constituency Chandigarh, a signalling equipment facility to be built on public-private partnerships (PPP) basis.
Indian Railways, long used by successive ministers to dispense patronage, has been sitting on a mountain of losses, unable to invest in its upkeep and modernisation. This year, it is expected to lose around Rs.24,600 crore largely because of subsidised passenger fares.
As much as 40% of Indian Railways’ goods traffic comprises coal, stoking concerns of a further increase in power tariffs across the country by 3-4%. A shift in traffic from rail to other cheaper modes of transport for commodities could affect the railways’ plan to rake in 9% more freight revenue in 2013-14.
The railways has been consistently losing the freight market to road transporters, who now account for 57% of India’s goods movement while the railways carries just 36%. Indian Railways has joined a select club of global rail systems that ferry over a billion tonnes of freight — in 2012-13, it carried 1,007 million tonnes, a number that is expected to increase by 40 million tonnes in 2013-14.
Bansal unveiled a slew of passenger-friendly initiatives with specific steps to woo the young travellers such as offering Wi-Fi Internet access on trains, ticket booking via mobile phones, and a faster portal to process online bookings. He also committed to improve amenities at stations and in trains for the disabled while promising additional safety for women passengers.
Bansal expects Rs.6,000 crore to flow into the railways’ kitty this year through so-called PPPs to build freight terminals, modern stations, new rail lines and the signalling equipment facility in his constituency, Chandigarh. The minister is betting that the railways will be able to attract Rs.1,00,000 crore of PPP investments over the next five years in projects such as the dedicated freight corridors, Mumbai’s elevated rail corridor, and power plants.


Somewhere in Delhi....

Neral - Matheran Ropeway project snippets

Reaching Matheran from Neral could be a quick 20-minute affair, loaded with breathtaking views of the valley. The public works department has finally cleared the Neral-Matheran ropeway project, paving the way for the project to take off in next few weeks.
Under the Rs.150-crore project, cable cars will ferry tourists from Bhutivali village at Bhivpuri near Neral directly to the hill station. Private firm Matheran Ropeway Private Limited (MRPL) has been awarded the contract to execute the proposal.
Dilip Kothari, project manager for MRPL said that this would be one of the longest ropeways in India and would become a major tourist attraction near Mumbai.
The cable-based transport system will have a length of 4.7 kilometers. The vertical rise of ropeway would be 750 meters from bottom station level.
The project that was first proposed in 2001 but got embroiled in environmental issues after NGOs raised objections.Meanwhile, Matheran was declared an eco sensitive zone by the SC, prompting the state to ask MRPL to get the apex court’s approval.

Spectrum auction set to flop

The Indian government’s attempt to sell telecom airwaves in the 1800 MHz and 900 MHz bands in March has come a cropper as companies found the price fixed by the government too steep.
Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular did not file documents to participate in the March spectrum sale by February 25, the deadline to do so.
In the 800 MHz band, Sistema Shyam, the only applicant, will bag airwaves at the base price. Sistema Shyam, the lone CDMA telco, said that it had submitted its application to participate in the 800 MHz spectrum auctions on March 11.

Kingfisher loses traffic rights

Kingfisher Airlines seems to have reached the end of the road with the government withdrawing all international flying rights and domestic slots from the carrier, terminating all hopes for the loss-laden airline to make a possible comeback.
The government decided to take away these rights to free them up for use by other carriers. In an official statement, the ministry of civil aviation announced the withdrawal of all international bilateral traffic rights allocated to the Vijay Mallya-owned carrier with ‘immediate effect’.
“Kingfisher Airlines was allowed to fly the skies of eight countries, namely Bangladesh (14 services per week), Hong Kong (14 services per week), Nepal (seven services per week), Singapore (seven services per week), Sri Lanka (14 services per week + 21 services per week from unlimited 18 destinations), Thailand (21 services per week), UAE Dubai (21 services per week) and the UK (seven services per week each from Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore),” an official statement said.
These traffic rights were allocated to Kingfisher Airlines between 2008 and 2011 and have been withdrawn from Kingfisher Airlines on account of non-utilisation, the statement added.

Gujarat's new manufacturing policy, sops announced

The much awaited new state manufacturing policy was announced in the state assembly on Monday by energy and petrochemicals minister Saurabh Patel.
He said the policy aims at giving incentives to the existing and potential players in the manufacturing sector. Under the new policy, the government aims to increase the contribution of the state’s manufacturing sector from the present 27% of gross state domestic product (GSDP) to 32% by 2017.
The government has made changes in the industrial policy of 2009 and has come out with a new incentive scheme to boost the manufacturing sector. The industries covered under the scheme include auto and auto components, solar and wind equipment, specialty and fine chemicals, electronic system design and manufacturing along with food and agro business. Incentives to promote manufacturing in these industries will be in various forms.

Interest subsidy incentive
For MSME sector interest subsidy will be 7%. For units having an investment of more than Rs.100 crore, there will be a 2% interest subsidy for five years. For smaller units the maximum benefit will be up to Rs.25 lakh, for bigger units Rs.50 lakh per annum.

Core infrastructure development
For core infrastructure like internal roads, water supply, electrification and communication facilities in the industrial parks, 50% of the cost or Rs.20 crores, whichever is lower, will be offered.

Common facility development
For new technology, process or design development and for developing testing facilities for things like raw material, 80% of the total cost or Rs.10 crores, whichever is lower, will be offered.

Common effluent treatment plant
Including the Government of India’s grants if any, the state government will give a maximum of up to 75% of the total cost. If the Central assistance is not available, the state government will give 40% of the cost.

Incentive for centres of excellence
If the centre of excellence is of national level, 70% of the total cost or a maximum of Rs.20 crore will be offered. If it is of international standards, the assistance will be a maximum of Rs.30 crore.

Of the past few Budgets....

Advantage Vidarbha snippets

The Maharashtra government's two-day ‘Advantage Vidarbha-2013’ conclave notched proposals worth Rs18,800 crore. The government signed a MoU with 25 companies during the event.
Maharashtra Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said the state government was determined to bring industrial development to Vidarbha. Inaugurating the two-day investor conference — Advantage Vidarbha— he said the event would now be an annual feature.
However, refusing to heed the clamour for special sops to attract big-ticket industrial investment, Chavan promised to provide better facilities like smoother clearances and infrastructure for industries. Earlier, R C Bhargava, chairman, Maruti Suzuki Motors said he was happy to know the state was keen on developing Vidarbha as industrial destination. Gautam Singhania of Raymonds said his company had major presence in the state and in Vidarbha with a denim plant at Yavatmal, which was being expanded. He said the company was considering opening a school in the region.

Sethusamudram project

The Centre has informed the Supreme Court that it intends to go ahead with the Rs.25,000 crore Sethusamudram shipping channel project, which raised a political storm after it was revealed that the mythical Ram Sethu would face dredging.
After the controversy over the Centre’s affidavit in 2007 doubting the existence of Ramayana and Ram, PM Manmohan Singh had appointed an expert group led by environmentalist R K Pachauri to study the economic and ecological viability of the planned shipping route and the alternative alignment. The expert panel said that “neither alignment 4A (the alternative one) nor alignment 6 meet the benchmark Internal Rate Return of 12% for the range of scenarios examined”. It said it would be difficult to rule out oil spills, even with stringent measures.
“In conclusion, the Pachauri committee has found the project unviable both from the economic as well as the ecological angles,” the Centre said in its affidavit. But. it said the government approved and commenced implementation of the project based on well researched technical studies. It cited favourable reports of the National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) and Committee of Eminent Persons.

PSLV-C20 launch successful

India’s polar satellite launch vehicle continued with its success streak on Monday, launching Indo-French satellite Saral and six other satellites from Austria, Britain, Canada and Denmark. The 23rd launch of PSLV-C20—the 22nd consecutive success—also marked the second-highest number of satellites being flown in a launch vehicle by the Indian Space Research Organization (Isro).
The launch was delayed by five minutes because of a possible interference of space debris.
President Pranab Mukherjee and Andhra Pradesh chief minister Kiran Kumar Reddy were among those who witnessed the launch at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota, 100 km north of Chennai. The 44.4 m PSLV carrying a payload weighing 668.5 kg lifted off from the launch pad at 6.01 pm, five minutes later than the scheduled time of 5.56 pm.
 Saral, built by Isro, would study the ocean surface and environment using two French devices—ARgos and ALtila, based on the principle of radar.
The other satellites riding piggyback are two microsatellites UniBRITE and BRITE from Austria and AAUSAT3 from Denmark and STRaND from the UK, besides a microsatellite (NEOSSat) and a mini satellite (SAPPHIRE) from Canada. Isro had postponed the Saral launch from December last year after it detected some technical inconsistencies.


Advantage Vidarbha begins today

In a bid to attract investors, the Maharashtra government will hold Advantage Vidarbha on February 25 and 26.
The event will focus on IT, mining, power, logistics and supply chain, textile, automobile, nature and wildlife tourism and heavy industries by showcasing the existing facilities, natural resources and geographical location. The idea is to market Vidarbha, particularly the ambitious multi-model international cargo hub at Nagpur (MIHAN), to attract investors.
Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan will inaugurate the event, while union minister for heavy industries Praful Patel and state industries minister Narayan Rane will be the chief guests.
Shivajirao Moghe, the guardian minister for Nagpur district and the organiser for the event, said, “We want to promote the region and encash on the new industrial policy. The event is an effort by the CM to attract investors from India and abroad for the overall development of the region.”
Patel, who hails from the region, was initially was unhappy with the organisers and had announced that he would not attend the event. However, he has now agreed to attend the function
Tata group chairman Cyrus Mistry, Raymond Group’s Gautam Hari Singhania, Jinda group vice-chairman and MD Sajjan Jindal and Indo-Rama CMD OP Lohia will attend the inaugural session.
Moghe said that a high-level committee headed by chief minister should be formed to follow up on the investment proposals The committee should meet at least once every quarter to review the progress, he added.
“An office of development commissioner, who would have the power to grant clearances should be set up here so that the investors do not have to travel to Mumbai frequently,” Moghe said.
“Attracting investment may be tough. But unless we adopt a positive attitude, we will not be able to ensure economic development,” he said.

Of Uninor Mumbai's refunds & port outs

Another Sarpanch killed in Kashmir

Despite Omar Abdullah government’s assurance of protection to panchayat members, unidentified militants gunned down another sarpanch in Baramulla district of Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday.
According to the police, unidentified militants entered the house of sarpanch Javid Ahmad Khan of Baramulla and shot him dead.
This takes the toll of sarpanchs killed to seven since the polls to local bodies in the rural areas were held in 2011. But the state government refuses to offer security cover to the panchayat members and attribute the killing to personal rivalry.
Nearly 600 odd panchs and sarpanchs have resigned through paid advertisements in the local newspapers. But the officials of rural development department say they haven’t received any resignation from the panchayat members.

Chennai - Bangalore Double decker

It had kept everyone guessing for a year. After the railway budget announced last year that a double decker train would run between Bangalore and Chennai, it did arrive, albeit on a trial run, in the city from the Tamil Nadu capital.
The new train is expected to begin operations as early as in March.
Designed to run at a speed of 160 km per hour, it can travel at a section speed of 105-110 kmph between the two cities. The double decker is expected to take four-and-a-half hours to reach Chennai from Bangalore, down from the five hours taken by other trains.
The double-decker train was tested on tracks for the first time on Sunday.
It will have 11 air-conditioned coaches each with a seating capacity of 120. Every coach will have seats in two decks with food trays attached at the back of each seat. Every row will be provided with bottle holders, push back seats, windscreens and also charging socket, officials said.
The train is expected to go on a second trial next week before obtaining a clearance certificate. The double decker will be in addition to Brindavan Express that shuttles daily between the two state capitals. The train has 70% more seating capacity than Brindavan Express and 30-odd more than that of Bangalore-Chennai Shatabdi Express.
 The train is fitted with German technology chassis provided by Lukwe Holfmann Busch (LHB). The coaches are being readied at the coach factory in Kapurthala, Punjab.

Somewhere in Imphal....

The Army has been rocked by a series of corruption and discipline cases in recent years, with land, liquor, meat, cereal, petrol and other scams involving even general-rank officers. But its reputation sunk to a new low on Sunday when a lieutenant-colonel was arrested with five others for trying to allegedly smuggle illegal drugs into Myanmar.
Lt-Col Ajay Chaudhary (49), posted as the defence public relations officer at Imphal since January 2011, and the five others were detained by police in Pallel area of the Thoubal police district of Manipur around 7 am.
“Their three vehicles, two Boleros and a Tata Safari, were packed to the roof with pseudoephedrine and other tablets estimated to be worth around Rs 24 crore. The Bolero in which the Army officer was travelling had a sticker of ‘PRO Defence’,’’ an official said.

Somewhere in Amritsar....

Of Dynasties in the BJP.....

For a party so vociferously against nepotism and dynastic rules, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s UP state working committee announced is redolent with examples of inheritance. There are a number of promotions given to the next generation of party stalwarts.

Rajnath Singh’s son Pankaj gets the general secretary’s post
Kalyan Singh’s son Rajbir Singh is vice-president
Kalyan’s daughter-in-law Premlata is member, working committee
Lucknow MP Lalji Tandon’s son Gopal Tandon is vice-president
Premlata Katiyar’s daughter Neelima Katiyar is secretary in Bajpayi’s team

Of voting in Meghalaya & Nagaland....

Meghalaya recorded over 85% turnout despite militant calls for the assembly polls boycott on Saturday.
Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council, fighting for a separate Garoland, had called for a 36-hour bandh to prevent people from voting. But a large number of voters queued up for voting as soon as the polling began.
The BSF had sealed off Meghalaya’s borders with Bangladesh to ensure peaceful polling to decide the fate of 345 candidates in 60 constituencies.
Officials said the turnout was low in Garo Hills compared to the Khasi and Jaintia Hills.
In Nagaland, voting for the 60-member assembly was by and large smooth amid reports of stray incidents of violence. Polling was postponed in one constituency due to a Congress candidate’s death. Overall 83% turnout was recorded. Reports said voters had begun arriving at poll stations hours before the balloting.


The Supreme Court with the help of government will recruit more than 12,000 judges across the country to hasten setting up of fast track courts and reduce pendency of cases.
In a meeting of the National Court Management System (NCMS) presided over by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Altamas Kabir last week, the SC proposed to ramp up the strength of judiciary by more than 60% — from the current 18,000 to 30,000 over the next five years.
A senior law ministry official said the government has started the process, and convened a meeting of all chief ministers and chief justices of high courts (HCs) — to be held between April 5 and 7 — to thrash out a strategy and put the targeted recruitment on fast track.
This would be one of the biggest recruitment drives of judges so far. An allocation of Rs.2,800 crore has already been earmarked by the law ministry for both — recruitment of judges and setting up of fast-track courts across the country.
The NCMS was set up by the SC last year, and it was decided to make the judicial system five-plus free, or free of cases more than five years old. SC has estimated that the number of cases will expand to 15 crore over the next three decades requiring at least 75,000 judges.
Currently, there are over 3.20 crore pending cases in various courts. Of this, nearly 2.76 crore are in subordinate courts, while 44 lakh are pending in various HCs and nearly 60,000 in the SC.
Just before the apex court proposed a five-year target of increasing the strength of judiciary, the government had allocated Rs.80 crore for filling up existing vacancies of 2,000 judges. The new appointments were to be used for fast-track courts.
To expedite the appointment of judges, the government has also given final shape to a proposed eight-member Judicial Appointments Commission. This proposed commission will comprise, apart from the existing collegiums, the law minister, a jurist and opposition leader from the Lok Sabha. The April 5th meeting has been convened to ascertain problems faced by states and the HCs in clearing these appointments and for setting up of fast-track courts. Sources said the government will ensure that funds are made available to all states and Union Territories to establish infrastructure required for setting up of these specialized courts.
Currently, a collegium of SC and HC judges are responsible for appointment of judges. Their recommendations are final and binding on the government. To make the proposed judicial commission operational, the government will have to bring the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill in Parliament.

Operation Smiling Buddha

The first nuclear weapon test carried out by India in 1974 was a “near failure”, claimed a secret US assessment made in 1996, but it does not explain the reasons for it to arrive at such a conclusion.
The National Security Archive (NSA), which obtained these documents from the state department under the Freedom of Information Act and made it public on Friday, noted that such an assertion by the US intelligence community may be a reference to the very low explosive yield of the 1974 nuclear tests.
The nuclear tests codenamed ‘Operation Smiling Buddha’, tested a thermonuclear device in the Pokhran firing range in Rajasthan. Though the yield of the device has been debated since then, it is believed that the actual yield was around 8-12 kilotons of TNT.
The intelligence assessment dated January 24, 1996, also revealed that it was the Indian scientific community who was pushing the then Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao, for another nuclear test.
“Rao’s scientists may be pushing for one or more tests of India’s unproven nuclear design, which probably needed significant reworking after the near ‘failure’ of the 1974 test,” the intelligence assessment said
The Federation of American Scientists said the tests conducted by India on May 18, 1974 may have only been partially successful.

Two top Indian nuclear scientists, both former chairmen of atomic energy commission, have poohpoohed a secret US assessment made on January 24, 1996, that the country’s first nuclear weapon test on May 18, 1974, code named Smiling Buddha was a “near failure.’’
The scientists are Anil Kakodkar and R Chidambaram, both of whom were key players of the “Smiling Buddha,’’ programme. Chidambaram is now principal scientific adviser to the government of India.
The assertion was then made by the US intelligence community. The US National Security Archive, which obtained these documents from the State Department under the Freedom Of Information Act, made it public on Friday.
Kakodkar said that after the test in May 1974 there have been a lot of public debates and discussions, and plenty of data has been made available. In addition, there were a lot of simulations. “Considering this, there is absolutely no doubt that the nuclear test was a cent per cent success.’’ Asked if there was any reason behind the US dubbing the test a near failure, he stated: “Man wants to see what he wants to see and hear what he wants to hear.’’


Mobile Subscriber snippets

GSM operators added a modest 0.4 million customers in January 2013, managing to arrest a precipitous slide triggered by 16.6 million customer losses in November-December 2012, as India’s leading mobile phone companies managed to notch up net-adds amidst fewer deactivations and reduced churn.
The pan-India GSM subscriber base last month stood at 657.56 million, a tiny 0.06% rise over the December ’12 level. The country’s top three GSM operators — Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular, who collectively account for nearly 67% of the sector’s revenues — jointly added a shade over 4.96 million subscribers last month, according to latest customer numbers released by the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), the industry lobby representing GSM operators.
Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular and Vodafone added 2.28 million, 2.45 million and 0.22 million customers, respectively, last month, which resulted in all three companies marginally increasing market share from December 2012 levels. But Aircel, Uninor and Videocon jointly lost 4.55 million customers in January, which saw all three telcos lose market share compared to last December levels.

Mumbai - Pune Roadways set to expand

Motorists driving from Mumbai to popular destinations like Khandala, Pune or Bangalore will have better driving conditions soon as a project to expand India's first access-controlled toll highway is likely to take off. The Maharashtra government plans to widen the Mumbai-Pune expressway into an eight-lane highway from the current six. The proposal will be presented before the state Cabinet for approval within a couple of weeks.
The Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) constructed this six-lane highway between 1995 and 2000 and the 94-kilometre highway has six large tunnels and has a concrete road which is weather proof.
This is India’s first access-controlled highway and, on an average, over 43,000 vehicles use it daily. The minister said the expressway needs to be broadened because vehicles going to western Maharashtra and Goa from Mumbai, too, have started using the highway, resulting in congestion.
“We also have a proposal to expand the old Mumbai-Pune highway into a six-lane road. In most places it is already a four-lane, but now it will be expanded further. The Mumbai-Pune highway is India’s most busy road,” said Khsirsagar.

RBI issues Guidelines for new Banks

The Reserve Bank of India has spelt out norms for new bank licences after years of waiting, allowing business houses, state-run enterprises and non banking finance companies to set up banks, in a bid to extend banking services to half of the population that is excluded from them.
The final rules allow companies from any sector to apply for new bank licences, dropping language in earlier drafts that would have kept out brokers and those in the real estate business. Though these changes are in line with the views of the finance ministry, which had batted for brokers and realtors, the new guidelines contain enough subjectivity for RBI to reject applications from those it deems unsuitable for the banking business.
The central bank will issue licences only to persons deemed to be ‘fit and proper’, and will seek feedback on applicants from various investigative agencies such as CBI, ED and I-T Department before granting a licence. Further, RBI has empowered itself to reject those whose “business model” and “culture” are not in line with banking. “Promoter Groups’ business model and business culture should not be misaligned with the banking model, and their business should not potentially put the bank and the banking system at risk on account of group activities such as those which are speculative in nature or subject to high asset price volatility,” the guidelines said.

The central bank tempered expectations on the likely number of new banks by prescribing Rs.500 crore as the starting capital, but drew praise from experts and led to optimism among business houses such as the Mahindras and Shriram Group, which said they would apply for licences.
RBI’s final guidelines on new banks come nearly nine years after the last two private sector bank licences were issued to Kotak and Yes Bank in 2004.
The central bank sought power to supersede boards and access to books of promoter companies to prevent misuse before issuing new licences. The powers have been granted under the Banking Regulation bill passed by Parliament during the winter session.
The finance ministry and the regulator have been arguing over the desirability of permission to real estate companies and those in the brokerage business, but the central bank gave in by removing industry-wise restrictions.
New banks will be permitted under the framework of non-operating financial holding company, which has to be listed on the stock exchange within three years of operation and under which all activities in the financial services sector will be permitted.
The aggregate non-resident shareholding from FDI, NRIs and FIIs in the new private sector banks is being capped at 49% of the bank for the first five years, even though current norms permit as high as 74%.
Applicants will have to furnish business plans when they apply for a licence, which will explain how it plans to achieve financial inclusion that has proved difficult for even state-run banks after more than four decades of nationalisation.  The guidelines drafted by RBI Deputy Governor Anand Sinha require applicants to have run successful business operations for a decade in order to be eligible for a new licence. There are also elaborate rules restricting transactions between banks and promoter group companies.
“The bank shall maintain arm’s length relationship with promoter, promoter group entities, and the major suppliers and major customers of their clients,” the guidelines said. “The bank cannot take any credit and investments, including in equity, debt capital instruments, exposure on the group entities or individuals associated with the promoter group or the holding company.” RBI is clear, as in the past, that banking is a special business and requires special attention and cannot be conducted like any other business where people’s money is not involved. Hence, only a few could make it even if scores of applicants meet the eligibility.
“Banking being a highly leveraged business, licences shall be issued on a very selective basis to those who conform to requirements, who have an impeccable track record and who are likely to conform to the best international and domestic standards of customer service and efficiency,” it said. “Therefore, it may not be possible for RBI to issue licences to all the applicants meeting the eligibility criteria prescribed above.” The applications will first be screened by RBI and will then be referred to a high-level advisory committee.

IAF's Ironfist 2013 : Snapshotz


Azim Premji Foundation : Sharing Wealth

This would be the biggest ever charity gesture shown in India. Azim Premji has transferred Rs.12,300 crore worth of personal shares to his trust that funds his philanthropic activities. This comes on top of the transfer he did in 2010, which was then valued at Rs.8,846 crore.
The Azim Premji Foundation, the vehicle through which the philanthropic activities are conducted, said that Premji had transferred 295.5 million equity shares representing 12% of the total shares of Wipro, held by certain entities controlled by him, to an irrevocable trust. With this transfer, the trust’s shareholding in Wipro will go up to about 19.93%. “This trust will utilize the endowment to fund various social, not-for-profit initiatives of the Foundation, which are expected to scale significantly over the next few years,” the Foundation said.
The “Giving Pledge” campaign, led by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, recently named Premji among billionaires around the world who had committed a majority of their wealth to philanthropy. Premji and his family hold about 75% of the shares in Wipro, which has a revenue of $7 billion.
Recently, some major commitments have also come from other Indian industry bigwigs, including Shiv Nadar, founder of HCL, who gave Rs.580 crore towards education, and G M Rao, chairman of GMR Group, who gave Rs.152.89 crore for educating the underprivileged.
The Azim Premji Foundation, over the last two years, has done a slew of activities in education—established the Azim Premji University in Bangalore and institutes in three states and seven districts. Seven more district-level institutes are in various stages of formation.
The Foundation said it would open 60 district-level institutes and 8 state-level institutes across India by 2016. It will open 60 to 100 schools of its own. Premji University is expected to have 3,500 students in the next four years from 350 students now. “The district institutes will become outreach facilities for the university,” the Foundation said.
Dileep Ranjekar, CEO of the Azim Premji Foundation said: “We are looking at a 10-fold growth of our activities in the next three to four years. We set the momentum when the foundation announced a donation of Rs.8,846 crore in December 2010. Now we have another Rs.12,300 crore. Income from this corpus will generate funds to run our activities. To run our university alone we need Rs.150 crore a year. We have a faculty pool of 60. Also, school education for each student costs Rs.22,000 a year. It’s a long journey and investment will have to be continuous.”
In a recent letter pledging more money to the Foundation, Premji had written, “The developments of the past two years have given me confidence in our scaled-up and institutional strategy. Even as we execute this strategy, I am aware that ensuring stable funding source is critical for its success. I am committed to transferring more of my wealth to scale up the endowment of the foundation.”