MP topples Bihar in growth

BJP-led Madhya Pradesh has dislodged champion Bihar from its numero uno position in terms of highest growth of gross state domestic product. The provisional data released by the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) for 2012-13 for states shows Bihar’s growth has slowed, slipping from an impressive 13.26% last year to a single digit 9.48% this year as against 10% clocked by MP.
Other backward states have maintained their upward trajectory, with Jharkhand and Odisha growing at 9.12% and 9.14%, respectively, this year.
However, a comprehensive comparison have to wait until growth data from Kerala, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Delhi, all of which have maintained robust growth in the past years, come in. Provisional GDP figures for these states for 2012-13 are still awaited.
In Bihar’s case, the phenomenal economic expansion it had clocked in recent years shows signs of deceleration. It added Rs.13,679 crore to its GDP, taking its economy from Rs.144,278 crore in 2011-12 to Rs.157,957 crore in the current fiscal. In comparison, MP has fared better, adding more than Rs.20,000 crore to its economy during the last one year, and expanding its GDP from Rs.2,01,290 crore last year to Rs.2,21,463 crore this year.
Growth in per capita income has been more disappointing for Bihar. It has added merely Rs.1,090 in 2012-13 to its per capita income, lowest among other states. In comparison, Jharkhand and MP have seen its per capita income rise by more than Rs.2,000. Odisha has also managed to add Rs.1,450 in its per capita income in the last one year — up from Rs.24,134 last year to Rs.25,584 this year.
In contrast, Bihar’s per capita stands at Rs.14,268 in the current year, just marginally up from last year’s Rs. 13,178.
In the past five years, Bihar has been on a high growth path, consistently recording double-digit rate: 12% in 2008-09; 11% (2010-11) and 13% (2011-12). The only exception was 2009-10 when the state’s GDP grew by a modest 7.09%.
MP has been another consistent performer. It grew by 12.47% in 2008-09 .The following year it defied downturn to post a respectable 9.88%. Though it came down to 7.13% the next year, it bounced back to double digit by managing a rate of 11.81% in 2011-12.

CAD shocker!

The country’s current account deficit widened to a record high of 6.7% of gross domestic product in the quarter ended December 2012 on the back of slow exports and high imports of oil and gold. The higher-than-expected deficit number prompted the finance ministry to issue a statement that both the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the government will take additional steps to moderate the deficit whenever warranted and they are monitoring the external situation.
According to data released by RBI, CAD stood at $32.63 billion in the third quarter, up from $20.16 billion in the corresponding period last year. CAD refers to the excess export payments over earnings from imports and remittances from overseas Indians. In the second quarter, CAD stood at $22.3 billion. However, the balance of payments, which includes capital inflows such as investment by foreign institutional investors, foreign direct investors, NRI deposits and foreign loans, was in surplus of $781 million compared to a deficit of $158 million in the previous quarter. The third quarter trade deficit stood at $42.01 billion, down from around $48.3 billion in the second quarter.
A high CAD is a cause for worry as it puts pressure on the exchange rate. However, dealers said that they do not expect any major reaction to the CAD number which pertains to the previous quarter. The rupee ended the year at 54.28 against the dollar as euro concerns abated slightly.

Sensex in FY13

Rising for the second session on the trot, Sensex closed the fiscal at 18,836, up 8.2% on the year while the nifty gained 7.3% to 5,683. However, compared to the gains in frontline stocks, midcap and smallcap stocks were sold heavily by Dalal Street investors with BSE’s midcap index down 3.2% and smallcap index down 10% during the same period.
As a result of the push and pull between frontline stocks and the second rungs, the rise in investors’ wealth during the year was limited to Rs 1.5 lakh crore, or just 2.4% with BSE’s current market cap at Rs 63.6 lakh crore.
Institutional dealers pointed out that a major part of the gains in the frontline stocks could be attributed to the foreign flows with Sebi data showing net inflows in excess of $25 billion (nearly Rs 2 lakh crore). They said that foreign fund managers are concentrating their portfolio with frontline stocks and getting out of those companies in which the promoters have pledged their shares and also those stocks in which speculators are active.
In the currency market during FY13, the rupee fell to a record low against the dollar, to below 57 level, but closed the year at a much better level of 54.28. On an annual basis, it depreciated 6.7% to the greenback.
Call rates hit over 4-yr high of 17%

Shivaji Memorial update

The proposed 312-ft tall memorial of Maratha warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji will not be standing alone in the sea. Recreation amenities, including a museum, a snack bar and a garden, and ancillary facilities such as a jetty will be required to make the project viable.
While there was consensus on the need to develop recreation and ancillary amenities to make the memorial touristfriendly, state officials pointed that obtaining environmental approval for these “commercial activities” will be difficult.
The plan also includes lifts and staircases to allow tourists a view of the city from the top of the monument. The state will seek suggestions from citizens on the memorial’s design.
On Thursday, CM Prithviraj Chavan, his deputy Ajit Pawar, Mumbai (city) guardian minister Jayant Patil and senior state officials inspected the proposed site — a 16.5 hectare rock islet located about 3.5 km from the western coast along Girguam Chowpatty and 1.5 km away from the Raj Bhavan. It is located in the newly introduced CRZ-IV zone, which covers an area from the low tide line to 12 nautical miles into the sea.
Chavan said 25 different studies will have to be conducted before seeking a nod from the environment ministry. He said a presentation will be made before Union minister Jayanti Natarajan when she visits Mumbai on April 2.
While the ministry usually insists on a detailed project report for permissions, the state will push for an in-principle approval on the basis of the concept plan, officials said.
A debate has ensued on which side the memorial must face. A “revolving statue” concept was discussed after it was pointed out that if it faces Chowpatty or Marine Drive, tourists would not make the trip into the sea. The memorial would also not face the other three sides.



Points of view

Maharashtra set to scrap Octroi

Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and some other municipal bodies in Maharashtra are now preparing to scrap the octroi tax collected at various entry points in the city and instead introduce a local body tax (LBT).
Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan announced in the assembly last week that several municipal corporations in the state will stop collecting octroi and shift to LBT, a move that’s likely to considerably ease traffic at all entry points in cities like Mumbai, Thane, Pune and Nagpur as trucks won’t have to halt at check posts for inspection and octroi payment.
Speaking in the state assembly, Chavan had said, “Over 20 municipal corporations have already introduced LBT and it’s working well. In Mumbai, Pune and some other municipal corporations, we will introduce the system so that all problems related to the collection of octroi can be removed. Traders will also find the system friendly.”
Local body tax is a tax that traders will have to pay on goods that they import to the city for trade. The idea behind introducing LBT is to remove the bottlenecks associated with the current method of collection of octroi duty and improving the speed of the goods movement.
Some traders from Pune and Nashik had filed a petition in the Bombay High Court challenging the introduction of LBT. The high court rejected the petition after several hearings and has now given its approval for its implementation in Mumbai, Pune, Thane, Nagpur and some other municipal corporations.
However, some political parties are still opposed to the new system. Shiv Sena and BJP, which rule the BMC, have objected to the change. But the civic administration is confident that barring initial problems of daily cash flow getting affected, LBT will earn more revenue than the current system. The reform will also boost the city’s businessfriendly image.
The state government is supporting the local body tax as it feels that this step will largely remove the rampant corruption of octroi at entry points. In the newly-introduced local body tax, a lump sum amount has to be paid by traders or manufacturers or owner of goods within the specified period.

BRICS Summit - Durban

Leaders from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa approved a $100-billion fund to combat currency crises, while failing to reach an agreement on financing for a development bank.
China may provide the bulk of the funding for the foreign-currency pool, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said in an interview in Durban, South Africa. Negotiators are considering proposals for China to contribute $41 billion, Brazil, Russia and India to provide $18 billion each and South Africa $5 billion, he said. “The establishment of a selfmanaged contingent reserve arrangement would have a positive precautionary effect, help BRICS countries forestall short-term liquidity pressures, provide mutual support and further strengthen financial stability,” South African President Jacob Zuma said after leaders from the five nations met in Durban.
The BRICS countries, which have 43% of the world’s population and total foreign-currency reserves of $4.4 trillion, are seeking greater financial sway to match their rising economic power. Emerging markets from Brazil to Turkey have been hit by currency swings as interest rates near zero in the US, Japan and Europe fuelled foreign investors’ appetite for higher-yielding assets. Brazil’s real has gained 1.9% against the dollar this year, while South Africa’s rand has slumped 8.8%.
Officials didn’t provide details on how the currency fund will operate. In October, Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega said the pool will be modelled on the Chiang Mai Initiative, which gives Japan, China, South Korea and 10 southeast Asian nations access to $240 billion of emergency liquidity to shield the region from global financial shocks.

While leaders agreed that a development bank was “feasible and viable”, they failed to provide detail on how it would be funded. The Brics nations have been studying the viability of the bank for a year. In the run-up to the summit, officials from Brazil and Russia indicated each country could contribute $10 billion. “We have reached broad consensus,” said Chinese President Xi Jinping at the summit closing. The agreement on the banks and currency reserve arrangement “will further unlock potential cooperation”, he said. India proposed the bank a year ago amid criticism from developing nations that the World Bank and International Monetary Fund aren’t doing enough to address underdevelopment and Western nations have too much say over their management.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made five suggestions for BRICS, covering global growth to security, as the influential bloc of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa moves forward after concluding the first cycle of five summits in each of these emerging economies.
“As we look to the future, the progress over the past five years encourages us to set higher ambitions, seek new avenues and set new goals for our cooperation,” the prime minister told the plenary session of the fifth edition of BRICS summit in this coastal city of South Africa.
“However,our roadmap for the future should focus on consolidating and deepening our existing cooperation. We should also carefully prioritise existing and new areas, keeping in view our strengths, our resources and the difference we can make, both for our people and the world,” he said.
Accordingly, he made five suggestions:
Respond to the persisting weakness in the global economy by deploying adequate resources to revive growth.
Look at R&D and related exchanges through the prism of emerging economies rather than focus on the developed world.
Make economic development more broadbased and inclusive, not just as a moral imperative but also as a pragmatic approach.
Work more cohesively at global forums to advance the agenda of sustained economic recovery and balanced outcome on issues related to trade, development and environment.
Work closely for the reform of global institutions of political and economic governance like the UN Security Council and the International Monetary Fund that reflects contemporary realities.
“It is my belief that over the last five summits, our forum has become more cohesive and more relevant. We derive as much value from our diversity as from our synergies — equally, we stand to benefit enormously from our convergence and collective strength,” the prime minister said.
“The world faces uncertainties, turbulence and transition on an unprecedented scale, leading to multiple economic and security challenges for us,” he said.
“It is incumbent upon us to use our collective voice and capacity and make an effective and meaningful contribution to addressing these challenges and fostering global peace, stability and security.”

Amma ups the ante

Ramping up the rhetoric, Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa moved a resolution, calling for a referendum among Sri Lankan Tamils on the formation of a ‘separate Eelam’ (Tamil land) within Sri Lanka. Demanding that India take it up in the UN Security Council, the resolution said the referendum “for the sake of their future welfare” should be held among Tamils in Sri Lanka as well as the Tamil diaspora.
Toughening her government’s stand further, the resolution, which was adopted by the assembly, urged the Centre not only to stop calling Sri Lanka a friendly nation but also to impose economic sanctions on the island nation until it ends repression of Tamils.
The resolution also demanded an impartial, international and independent probe against the Lankan government and army for alleged war crimes and genocide.

However, it was adopted in the assembly without members of the main opposition DMDK, which has boycotted House proceedings, and DMK members, who were evicted.
Political parties in Tamil Nadu have been vying with each other to raise the Lanka pitch. The ruling AIADMK’s latest demand is seen as a move to take centrestage on the Eelam issue. Jayalalithaa had always kept Eelam out of her political campaigns, that is until the 2009 Lok Sabha elections when, with the end of the Sri Lanka war in April, pro-Tamil groups made it a poll issue.


Pepsi IPL 6...a week to go

Of Global Financial Centres....

India's financial capital Mumbai slipped to 66th rank in the list of world’s leading financial centres, but New Delhi failed to make a mark, according to the latest Global Financial Centres Index (GFCI).
GFCI, which provides profiles, ratings and rankings for 79 financial centres worldwide, ranked Mumbai at the 66th place, down three places from last year when it was ranked 63rd on the coveted list.
Mumbai is the only Indian city on the list, which was topped by London.New York was ranked second in the list followed by Hong Kong and Singapore in the third and fourth place, respectively.
Others in the top 10 are Zurich (fifth), Tokyo (sixth), Geneva (seventh), Boston (eighth), Seoul (nineth) and Frankfurt (10th).
Although New Delhi, the country’s political hub, was added to the GFCI questionnaire recently and its progress was being monitored it failed to make it to the list.
Almaty, Baku, Busan, Guangzhou, Liechtenstein, New Delhi, Riga, Santiago, Tel Aviv and Tianjin have been added to the GFCI questionnaire recently and we track their progress with interest GFCI said, adding that they have yet to acquire sufficient assessments to be included in the index.

Somewhere in Rome....

Italian foreign minister Giulio Terzi quit in protest over the return of two Italian marines to India to face murder charges. “I resign in contention with the decision to send the marines back to India. The misgivings I expressed had no effect on the decision taken,” he told parliament.
“I am resigning because for 40 years I have maintained, and still maintain, that the reputation of the country, the armed forces and Italian diplomacy, should be safeguarded,” he said. “I am also standing down in solidarity with our two marines and their families,” the foreign minister added.
Terzi’s colleague, defence minister Giampaolo Di Paola, however, took an almost contradicting stand: “I have always acted for the good of the marines and Italy. If I haven't managed that, I ask forgiveness from everyone, and first of all from both of them,” Paola told parliament.
“It was me who told them about the decision to return them to India, I looked them in the eyes and told them,” he said. Di Paolo said he was not resigning because he had promised the marines he would not abandon them.
Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, accused of shooting dead two fishermen off the coast of Kerala in February last year, were sent back to New Delhi on Friday. The pair, serving as security guards on an Italian oil tanker, Enrica Lexie, off Kochi last year, claim they mistook the fishermen for pirates. They returned to New Delhi after India gave an assurance that they will not face death penalty nor arrested, bringing to an end a raging 11-day diplomatic row between the two countries. The marines were accompanied by Italian deputy foreign minister Steffan de Mistura in a military plane.
Following a lengthy dispute over the case, the Supreme Court had granted the two men bail to fly home to vote in Italy's general election last month on condition they would be sent back to New Delhi within a month. Italy agreed and its ambassador signed an affidavit taking personal responsibility to return them, which led to fury in India, when Rome announced that it was reneging on its commitment.
As the diplomatic crisis escalated, India forbade the ambassador from leaving the country and airports were put on alert. Rome's unexpected decision to return Latorre and Girone sparked anger in Italy, particularly because the men were told they would not be sent back. The two marines were already granted special permission once before to go home to Italy to celebrate Christmas with their families, before returning to India as planned.
The dramatic u-turn by the Italian government, which had earlier said the two marines would not be sent back, enabled the marines to meet the deadline set by the Supreme Court. Italy had said it was important to suspend the diplomatic assurance on sending back its marines as it needed to obtain assurances from India that the soldiers won't face death penalty.
Defending their initial decision not to send back their marines even at the cost of breach of assurance, Mistura had said in New Delhi that death penalty was unacceptable.

Of Surrendering Militants....

New Norms

Policy to ensure there’s no repeat of Liyaqat Shah type incidence and eliminate misunderstandings between police of different states
J&K Police will post men on the Nepal border to ensure every surrendering militant gets a safe passage
There was no official policy on how to handle ex-militants coming via unofficial Nepal route, which lead to huge embarrassment for the govt.
Return of 241 ex-militants since 2010 has been managed largely through an informal understanding between different agencies.

Bengal's Airport City

Elevated roads in West Delhi

Construction of three new elevated roads in west Delhi is expected to start over the next one month. While two of these roads are part of a Rs.2,200-crore project to make Outer Ring Road signal-free, the public works department will also build a 1.6-km elevated road on Ring Road between Azadpur to Prembari Pul.
“Work has been awarded for all three elevated roads and construction will begin simultaneously. Each road will be 60 metres wide with a double carriageway,” said PWD minister Raj Kumar Chauhan. The elevated road at Azadpur will start after the underpass at Prembari Pul and end before the Azadpur railway overbridge. “This will reduce traffic congestion on Ring Road at Shalimar Bagh, Ashok Vihar, Pitampura, Wazirpur Industrial Area and Azadpur,” said a senior PWD official. A foot overbridge as well as bus lanes, a cycle track and rainwater harvesting measures are also part of the project.
The elevated road at Mukarba Chowk will fly over five major T-junctions on Outer Ring Road. Currently, long snarls are reported between the two major junctions, Madhuban Chowk and Mukarba Chowk, and the elevated road will cater to the thoroughfare crossing the stretch everyday. “It will reduce congestion at Pitampura, Prashant Vihar, Rohini Sectors 8, 9, 13, 14 & 19, Badli, Haiderpur and Shalimar Bagh,” said the PWD official. An FOB for pedestrians will also be constructed.
The other elevated road at Madhuban Chowk, which will cross over five major red lights, will also include two FOBs and benefit traffic movement near Mangolpuri.

Chennai & Kolkata Airports update

Government is considering giving the management control of the new Kolkata and Chennai airports, built by the Airports Authority of India, to global operators through a competitive bidding process. Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh said that the AAI could set up joint ventures with major foreign airport operators to carry out operations and management of these two crucial metro airports.
Addressing a CII meet on aviation here, he said, “The AAI could give management control of these airports through a competitive bidding process.”
Earlier, the AAI had suggested to a Planning Commission Task Force that the management and operation of these airports could be undertaken through the public-private partnership mode by setting up joint ventures between it and foreign airport operators.
Maintaining that the Navi Mumbai airport had been delayed, the Minister said the Juhu Airport was being developed to augment the capacity of the Mumbai airport.
Referring to the crucial issue of taxation on jet fuel, he said his Ministry was in consultations with the Petroleum and Finance Ministries for notifying aviation turbine fuel (ATF) under the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board Act to protect the interests of airlines. “We are also trying to convince the state governments to reduce sales tax on ATF.”
AAI Chairman V P Aggarwal said the state-run airports body has proposed to set up joint ventures with private oil companies and airlines to meet the requirement of jet fuel, especially in remote parts of the country.
Observing that aircraft flying to smaller airports in remote parts of the country have to carry fuel for their return journey as well, he said, “Such joint ventures will own the assets and (ATF) distribution network at the airports at these airports.” AAI would own 13 per cent stake in the JVs and the rest would be held by the oil companies and airlines, he said. ATF supply to carriers through the three-way joint ventures is expected to reduce fuel costs of local carriers by at least 10 percent, Aggarwal said.

The new Chennai airport terminals will be run by a foreign operator experienced in managing technology intense operations of a modern airport.
The Airports Authority of India, which owns the airport, plans to float a global tender to select a joint venture partner to ensure the buildings can be managed well without going for privatisation. Civil aviation minister Ajit Singh announced in New Delhi that the AAI was preparing to select a foreign airport operator as a joint venture partner.
AAI feels its staff are ill-equipped to handle the terminals built at Rs.2,015 crore. Though details are still being worked out, sources said the selected firm might be allowed to hire and fire personnel and control operations -- from managing flight information, passenger flow, overseeing check-in counters and boarding gates to baggage handling and house keeping.
The AAI, however, says the terminals will be managed by its own officials who will be trained by the firm. Several other employees may have to be re-deployed at smaller airports or encouraged to opt for voluntary retirement.

Digitization Phase II

Television sets without set top boxes (STBs) would go blank from Monday in 38 cities which are included in the second phase of digitization warned the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) even as government claimed 67% households had installed STBs in these places.
In a statement IBF said that TV broadcasters would switch off analog signals from midnight on Sunday. At its recent meeting held on March 19, the IBF board stressed that such a move was necessary to `smoothen the transition from analogue to digital cable TV.’’
The 38 cities in 14 states include Agra, Ahmedabad, Allahabad, Amritsar, Aurangabad, Bengaluru, Bhopal, Chandigarh, Coimbatore, Faridabad, Ghaziabad, Howrah, Hyderabad, Indore, Jabalpur, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Kalyan-Dombivli, Kanpur, Lucknow, Ludhiana, Meerut, Mysore, Nagpur, Nasik, Navi Mumbai, Patna, PimpriChinchwad, Pune, Rajkot, Ranchi, Sholapur, Srinagar, Surat, Thane, Vadodara, Varanasi and Visakhapatnam.
In a separate statement, the I&B ministry said minister Manish Tewari has been reviewing the progress of phase II on a daily basis and as per the latest data 67% of the target had been achieved in the 38 cities. Direct-to-Home operators and MSOs have installed a total of 108 lakhs STBs in Phase-II cities against the target of 1.60 crore, the ministry said.
Hyderabad, Amritsar, Chandigarh and Allahabad have achieved nearly 100% digitization while 75% digitisation had been achieved in Jodhpur, Thane, Aurangabad, Jaipur, Pune, Faridabad, Nashik, and Ghaziabad. 28 cities had achieved 50% digitization.
IBF president Man Jit Singh said, `IBF and its members are committed to the successful implementation of digitization in India. Our awareness campaign has received a very good response. We are confident that the successful implementation of phase-II will tremendously improve the quality of television content and consequent viewership in the country.’’
The I&B ministry also said it had conducted a second round of meeting with nodal officers of 38 cities on March 8 to ascertain preparedness in these cities.
The ministry has brought out a print advertisement in all 38 cities in the respective regional languages and a SMS campaign and spots on TV channels have also been used to spread awareness.


Of Small Savings....

PNQ stats

Arms & the nation

Somewhere in Kolkata....

Omar slams Centre

With the arrest of alleged Hizbul militant Liyaqat Ali Shah straining his ties with the UPA government, J&K CM Omar Abdullah slammed central leaders while renewing his demand for revocation of AFSPA.
“Those who repeatedly claim that J&K is an integral part of India forget that the accession was only on three subjects of communication-currency, defence and foreign affairs, which was gradually eroded,” Omar said in the assembly.
“Whenever I talk about revoking AFSPA, you do not want to take the risk. If you can hang Afzal Guru taking a security risk, why don’t you dare to revoke AFSPA,” he said while demanding Liyaqat’s release.

Somewhere in Raebareli....


Somewhere in Vrindavan....

Widows celebrate Holi at Vrindavan’s Meera Sahavagini Ashram.. This is for the first time that widows, who are traditionally forbidden from participating in the festival of colours, celebrated with flowers and colours.

Project Varsha

Slowly but steadily, India’s new futuristic naval base is beginning to take concrete shape on the eastern coast.
With an eye firmly on China, the strategic base will also have underground pens or bunkers to protect nuclear submarines both from spy satellites and enemy air attacks. Sources said a flurry of discussions and meetings have been held at the PMO and defence ministry over the last couple of months to firm up the expansion plans for the base near Rambilli on the Andhra coast — just about 50 km from the Eastern Naval Command headquarters at Visakhapatnam — over the next decade.
Though development work on the base under the secretive ‘Project Varsha’ began a few years ago, it is now taking off in a major way. “Further land acquisitions for the sprawling base to be spread over 20 sq km are now underway, with long-term budget allocations being finalized,” said a source.
The project dovetails into the overall policy to bolster force-levels on the eastern seaboard, with new warships, aircraft and spy drones as well as forward-operating and operational turnaround bases, to counter China’s expanding footprint in the entire Indian Ocean Region.
Some even bill Project Varsha as an answer to China’s massive underground nuclear submarine base at Yalong on the Hainan Island, which houses its new Shang-class SSNs (nuclear-powered attack submarines) and the Jinclass SSBNs (nuclear-powered submarines with long range nuclear missiles).
India’s own SSBN programme is also poised to turn the corner with sea trials of the 6,000-tonne INS Arihant slated to begin soon off Visakhapatnam. INS Arihant and its three “follow-on’’ SSBNs, which will complete India’s elusive nuclear weapon triad, as well as other frontline warships will be housed at the new base.
The navy plans to operate at least three SSBNs and six SSNs in the long run for effective nuclear deterrence. Moreover, after inducting the 8,140-tonne INS Chakra submarine on a 10-year lease from Russia last year, India is now negotiating the lease of another such nuclear-powered Akula-II class submarine.

MMRDA's budget snippets

The Rs.4,028-crore budget for the new fiscal year cleared by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) has made it clear that the thrust would be on road infrastructure development in the city’s distant suburbs such as Thane, Navi Mumbai, and Kalyan-Dombivli.
For Mumbai, the budget suggested that the third underground Colaba-Bandra (airport)-Seepz Metro line, fore which Rs.500 crore has been allocated, would be a priority over the non-starter elevated Charkop-Bandra-Mankhurd (CBM) Metro, which is said to be on the verge of getting scrapped. The work for CBM was awarded to Reliance Infrastructure three years ago but people residing in the western suburbs have been demanding to make it underground. There is no major allocation for CBM in the budget.
The next two focus areas of the budget are the Nhava-Sewri sea link and its Sewri-Worli connector at Rs. 200 crore, and the Alibaug-Virar multimodal corridor at Rs.150 crore. Development of road network in Wadala TT area, noise barriers on the newly built flyovers, underpass at Kalanagar junction, BKC-Eastern Express Highway elevated road, flyover at Kherwadi junction on WEH and development of Andheri-Ghatkopar Link Road under the ongoing Metro line work would be the top priority projects in Mumbai.

• Six flyovers: Ranjoli, Mankoli, Mumbra, Shil Phata, Vanjarpatti and Thane city
• Creek bridge at Vasai from Naigaon to Bhayander
• Eight new roads


Of Maharashtra's longest flyover....

With the second half of the 5.71km elevated corridor almost complete, the entire flyover on the Mumbai-Agra national highway passing through Nashik will be thrown open to traffic within a week.
The flyover is the longest in the state and the third largest in the country, a press release issued by guardian minister Chhagan Bhujbal has said.
According to officials of PNG Tollways, the company that has built the flyover, the only work left on the flyover is the finishing touches that are being given to the stretch from Dwarka to K K Wagh College.
The other half of the flyover — from Indiranagar jogging track to Dwarka — has already been opened to traffic.

A National Waterway

In a move that would benefit Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh by facilitating cargo movement, the Union government moved a bill to declare a 121 km stretch of the Barak river as a national waterway. The waterway will provide an alternative link to these states which are presently dependent on the rail and road links through Siliguri.
The National Waterway (Lakhipur-Bhanga Stretch of the Barak River) Bill, 2013, was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday by shipping minister G K Vasan. The project would cost the government Rs.123.30 crore. Besides, an expenditure of Rs.3.6 crore per annum would be incurred for maintenance of navigation aids, terminals and river dredging.

Box TV is here

Somewhere in Mumbai....

Diesel up

State-run fuel retailers on Friday decided to raise diesel price by 45 paise a litre, excluding state tax, from Saturday in line with the government’s January decision to ramp up prices in small doses every month till pump prices align with the market.
This is the third increase in the price of diesel this year and follows a reduction of Rs.2 a litre, excluding VAT, in petrol price announced on March 16. The actual increase in diesel price would be higher by a few paise due to the incremental increase in VAT.
In Mumbai, diesel price would go up by 57 paisa a litre after including local sales tax,or VAT, to Rs.54.83 from Rs.54.26.


Aircraft Acquisition Committee scrapped

The civil aviation ministry has abolished the aircraft acquisition committee (AAC), which used to permit import of planes by airlines and other operators, thus doing away with time consuming procedures that affected the companies.
Airlines will now require just an initial no-objection certificate (NOC) to start operations and will be at liberty to induct planes without seeking approval from the ministry of civil aviation, the government statement said.
Instead of AAC, now on aviation regulator DGCA would carry out the necessary formalities for airlines, private parties and flight training schools to get their fleet of planes or helicopters, an official spokesperson said.
He said the ministry has done away with its control over aircraft acquisition by scheduled and non-scheduled operators, private operators and flying training institutes. “The permission for actual induction of aircraft will no longer be required from the ministry of civil aviation,” he said.
AAC was abolished as it was “no more relevant.” Matters relating to the initial no-objection certificate and in-principle approval for acquisition by scheduled operators would be processed by DGCA, spokesperson said.

1993 Mumbai bomb blasts : SC judgement

The Supreme Court upheld the conviction and sentence of eight Mumbai policemen and five customs department officials and said that but for their complicity in the conspiracy because of greed and corruption, the 1993 serial blasts could have been averted.
A bench of Justices P Sathasivam and B S Chauhan said sub-inspector Vijay Krishani Patil, who was sentenced to life imprisonment, and constables Ramesh D Mali, Ashok N Muneshwar, Shrikrishna Y Pashilkar, Krishna S Mokal, Krishna T Pingle and Manohar M More, posted at Shreevardhan police station and having jurisdiction over Shekhdi and Dighy Jetty, “connived and took active part in smuggling of arms and explosives at Dighy Jetty on January 9, 1993”.
They had let off an intercepted convoy carrying smuggled arms for a bribe of Rs.10 lakh. The bench said, “Police officers are the foundation for the existence of the rule of law; if they collapse, the whole system indeed breaks down.”

The bench was disappointed to find all grades of customs officers, including commissioners, involved in the conspiracy to smuggle in arms and ammunition. “Every kind of smuggling activity is devastating to the economy, but the smuggling of dangerous arms and ammunition causes wreckage not only to the economy, but also to people’s lives,” it said.
Customs officials Jayant K Gurav, Mohd Sultan Sayyed, Ranjitkumar S B Prasad, Somnath Kakaram Thapa (he is sentenced to life imprisonment) and Sudhanwa S Talwandekar, who were at the relevant time posted in Mumbai and Alibaug, had like the policemen taken bribes to allow smuggling of arms and ammunition.
The bench said “corruption among public servants indicates a failure of our system where pursuit of personal gratification subdues public interest” and warned that it could have “frightening ramifications” for the country’s security and lives of citizens.
Justices Sathasivam and Chauhan found the Coast Guard’s three-tier vigilance system ineffective and said, “The occurrence of Bombay bomb blasts on March 12, 1993 discloses the deficient performance of the officials.”

Two decades after serial blasts maimed Mumbai, the Supreme Court commuted to life term the death sentence of 10 persons convicted by the trial court for planting bombs as part of the first-ever coordinated terror attack that left 257 dead and 713 injured. The court upheld the death penalty for Yakub Abdul Razak Memon, the only one among the masterminds of the horrific terrorist crime—one of the deadliest internationally and the first one involving the use of RDX—who could be tried.
Pronouncing its final verdict in the terrorist atrocity, plotted as an extension of the communal violence that broke out in Mumbai in the wake of the Babri demolition in December 1992, the SC blamed Pakistan for encouraging and helping the terrorists.
In a unprecedentedly long judgment running into over 2,000 pages, a bench of Justices P Sathasivam and B S Chauhan said that while Yakub participated in the conspiracy with Tiger Memon and Dawood Ibrahim and deserved no leniency, the other 10, though responsible for placing explosive laden vehicles at several places, needed to be evaluated on a different plane as they belonged to the lower strata of society and were sucked into the conspiracy to be used as “arrows” by the mastermind “archers”.
Of another 19 sentenced to life term by the trial court, the apex court upheld the punishment for 17. Of the remaining two, the life sentence was reduced to 10 years imprisonment in one case, and to the period already served in the other.
Significantly, it allowed appeals of Maharashtra police against acquittal of six accused and imposed life sentence on them. The six are Uttam S Potdar, Issaq Mohd Hajwane, Sharif Abdul Gafoor, Manoj Kumar Bhanwarlal, Farooq Illiyas Motorwala and Mohd Rafiq Usman.
This brought the number of those sentenced to life in the case to 33. The court stressed that they will stay in jail for the rest of their lives.
The bench also confirmed the sentence of customs officials and policemen who facilitated the conspirators in return for bribes, and censured the Coast Guard for not being vigilant enough to block the shipments of arms and explosives that were used in the attack.
Commenting on the enormity of the crime, the judges said, “This was the first-ever terrorist attack in the world where RDX was used.
However, there were doubts that the verdict would bring closure to the victims, considering that the masterminds—underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, his brother Anees Ibrahim and Yakub Memon’s brother Tiger Memon—have not been brought to justice. By all indications, the three are leading comfortable lives in Pakistan.
The bench was quick to add that lesser punishment to the co-accused would not be treated as a precedent. It clarified that life sentence meant the convict has to spend the rest of his life in prison, subject to the pardoning and remission powers of the President or state governor.
Immediately after demolition of Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, Tiger Memon and Dawood Ibrahim, then living in Dubai, planned a terror strike in Mumbai. Dawood sent arms and ammunition from abroad and it was received by Tiger Memon, who also sent some of the accused persons to Dubai and from there to Pakistan for training.

Italy to send Marines back

Italy said two marines on trial for murder in India would return to the country by Friday, after earlier creating a diplomatic furore by saying they would remain in Italy .
The two, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, had been granted a special leave last month by the Supreme Court to return to Italy to vote in elections but had skipped bail.
Italy said on Thursday it had received “ample assurances” from Indian authorities “on the treatment that the marines will receive and the defence of their fundamental rights”.
TV reports said the return was conditional on the two not being given the death sentence. “The government decided, also in the interests of the marines, to maintain the commitment taken when they were granted leave to take part in the elections to return to India by March 22,” the Italian government said. “The marines agreed to this decision,” it added.
PM Mario Monti met with defence minister Giampaolo Di Paola and Steffan de Mistura, a junior foreign minister who has taken a lead on the case, to discuss the issue on Thursday.

Of CBI politics

BJP leader Arun Jaitley accused Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of “blatantly interfering” in CBI’s functioning and “crippling” it from conducting routine probe in the context of CBI searches at DMK leader M K Stalin’s house in Chennai.
“Merely because it has a political fallout, it is improper for any prime minister or finance minister to so blatantly interfere in the functioning of CBI and cripple it from carrying on its routine investigations,” Jaitley said.
Leaders across party lines slammed the Congress-led UPA government for CBI searches at Stalin’s house soon after DMK pulled out of the ruling coalition at the Centre. BSP chief Mayawati slammed the government saying she too has been a victim of “misuse” of the CBI by BJP and Congress to further their political interests.
“I have been a victim of the misuse of CBI. Be it BJP or Congress, both have misused CBI,” she said. She said soon after parting ways with BJP, the NDA government used the agency to target her.
Jaitley said if CBI was carrying out its search in the normal course of investigation, then it should have been allowed to carry out the exercise at Stalin’s residence.
“If this was a search in the normal course of CBI investigation, CBI is entitled to carry out that search. What business does the government have or the political regime have to interfere in CBI and stop search?” asked Jaitley.
He said CBI carries out searches on many people but the PM has never condemned them.
Hitting out at PM and the finance minister for condemning the search, Jaitley said, “They can’t condemn a search because it is the job of CBI in connection with their investigation to search premises.”

Somewhere in Srinagar....

Within a fortnight of the fidayeen attack on CRPF camp at Bemina in which five jawans were shot dead, militants armed with AK-47 rifles struck at BSF vehicles on the busy national highway here killing one jawan and wounding two others. The attack comes a day after a teenager was chased down a mosque in Sopore and killed for organizing cricket matches with the help of Army units.
The deceased BSF man was identified as constable Kalita Kumar, a BSF spokesman said. Police and CRPF men cordoned off the area where the attack took place, which is just five km from Lal Chowk, and launched a search operation in the interiors of Nowgam and Gulshan Nagar.
Internal security sources said that the terrorists likely came in from Budshahi Bagh area to attack Army convoys. The highway is used routinely by the Army and paramilitary forces. The militants disappeared after the shooting.


Nearly one in every six urban Indian residents lives in a slum, newly released Census data shows. The new numbers are significantly lower than the slum growth that had been projected for India.
“Our own projections were that the all-India slum population would be 27.5% by 2011, so the new data comes as a pleasant surprise,” Arun Kumar Misra, secretary in the ministry of housing and urban poverty alleviation, said. The slum populations in individual cities like Mumbai was also lower than expected, Mishra said.
The census defines a slum as “residential areas where dwellings are unfit for human habitation” because they are dilapidated, cramped, poorly ventilated, unclean, or “any combination of these factors which are detrimental to the safety and health”, registrar general of India C Chandramouli said. Roughly 1.37 crore households, or 17.4% of urban Indian households lived in a slum in 2011, data released by the Registrar General and Census Commissioner’s office showed.
With the exception of sanitation, the indicators on housing amenities for slum and non-slum households in most of India are more similar than most would expect. Over 77% are permanent and 70% are owned, and not rented. Close to half are made up of just one room and most are home to one married couple. Over 70% of slum households get their water from a tap but just half get water inside their homes.
More than one in five urban households in AP, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal and Maharashtra lives in a slum.

In absolute terms, Maharashtra has the highest number of slum blocks of any state – over 21,000 out of a total of just over 1 lakh for the whole country.Over a third of India’s slum population lives in its 46 million-plus cities. Of the metros, Mumbai has the highest proportion of slum-dwelling households (41.3% of its population).

SC indicts Pakistan on terrorism

In the first ever indictment of Pakistan as a promoter of terrorism, the Supreme Court said the neighbouring country had breached the United Nations’ mandate for every member country to prevent terrorists from using its territory to harm other countries. The court had in the past handled several cases relating to terrorism, including the Mumbai 26/11 attacks in which it noticed the Pakistani hand while awarding the death penalty to the sole surviving gunman Ajmal Kasab. But never before had the court been so categorical and severe on Pakistan.
The SC said some of the accused, upon arrival in Pakistan for arms training, were received by ISI operatives who took them out of the airport without observing immigration formalities. “Pakistan thus took precautions not to bring its involvement on record,” it said.
There was no entry in their passports when they left Islamabad for Dubai, “meaning thereby, they (the accused) had a green channel entry and exit in Pakistan”, the court said.
“The events unveil the tolerance and encouragement shown by Pakistan towards terrorism,” the bench said, referring to confessional statements admitting that some of the accused received training directly from ISI officials on occasion.
Pointing to the Pakistani imprint on the Mumbai serial blasts, the bench said, “It is devastating to state that Pakistan being a member of the United Nations, whose primary object is to maintain international peace and security, has infringed the recognized principles under international law which obligate all states to prevent terrorist attacks emanating from their territory and inflicting injuries to other states.
“A host state that has the capability to prevent a terrorist attack but fails to do so will inherently fail in fulfilling its duty under Article 2(4) since terrorism amounts to force by definition.” The bench drew its conclusion from Article 2(4) of UN Charter which “prohibits states from using or threatening to use force against another state”. The bench said an effective anti-terrorism campaign would require substantial strengthening of the international regime of state responsibility.
“A careful reading of confessional statements of convicted accused exposes that large number of accused including absconders receiving training in making of bombs by using RDX and other explosives, handling of sophisticated weapons like AK-56 rifles and handling of hand grenades in Pakistan which was organized and methodically carried out by Dawood Ibrahim, Anees Ibrahim, Mohd Dossa and Salim Bismillah Khan (since deceased),” it said.

TN budget snippets

Better roads, more flyovers and no new taxes — these are the happy highlights of TN budget 2013, which set apart a lion’s share for school education on Thursday.
In the backdrop of a failed monsoon and severe drought, coupled with an economic slowdown and waning investor confidence, finance minister O Panneerselvam on Thursday presented a budget that seeks not to burden the people. School education got the maximum allocation of Rs.16,965 crore.
Chennai is set to get four more flyovers, based on the recommendation of the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority’s traffic-transportation study. Panneerselvam, however, did not spell out their locations. He has earmarked Rs.500 crore for the Chennai mega city development programme and Rs.750 crore for the urban development mission.
The government also proposes to take up restoration of waterways and rivers in the city under the aegis of the Chennai Rivers Restoration Trust, by raising funds from external sources.
Four-laning of the East Coast Road from Chennai to Mamallapuram will begin this year, he said. A world class oceanarium has been announced for Mamallapuram at a cost of Rs.250 crore under public-private partnership. While the tourism department will implement the project, the fisheries department will provide technical assistance.

India votes against Lanka

The UPA government played out a farce at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), whereby India moved seven amendments to a US-sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka, and all of which were duly rejected by the US. In the end, India voted in favour of the final draft resolution that had been watered down, largely due to New Delhi’s own efforts.
Pakistan voted against the resolution. Supporting Sri Lanka, the Pakistani envoy said they sympathized with Colombo which had “faced terrorism, funded and armed from abroad”. It was a thinly-veiled attack on India, which frequently accuses Pakistan of cross-border terrorism.
On Wednesday, as the government struggled to keep the DMK back and save the UPA, it ordered MEA to move seven amendments against Lanka along with the US and other sponsors. This came out of a meeting between the PM, foreign minister Salman Khurshid, finance minister P Chidambaram, national security adviser (NSA) Shivshankar Menon, foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai and India’s permanent representative to the UN, Dilip Sinha. These amendments were tough enough to have ensured a serious downturn in Indo-Lanka ties.
These written amendments were rejected by the US and other sponsors, on the ground that a tighter resolution would reduce the number of supporters for the resolution. Incidentally, the initial draft took a tough line. It needed a lot of quiet negotiations by India to be watered down. For India to attempt to amend the resolution yet again is a new low in foreign policy.
Not content with the US rejection, the government then ordered that India move an oral amendment at the UNHRC on Thursday morning. On Wednesday night, Opposition parties had refused to accede to a government move to pass a parliamentary resolution against Lanka. That reduced the need for an oral amendment, particularly since India risked getting isolated in the Council. In the end, India voted for the resolution that had been revised only a couple of days earlier. The resolution went through with 25 votes in favour (one more than last year), 13 against, eight abstentions and Gabon, which was absent.
In a swift reaction, the Lankan government announced that it would take back some of the tanks from IndianOil Corporation’s strategic reserve facility in Trincomalee. Lankan information minister Keheliya Rambukwella on Thursday announced plans to retake unutilized tanks from Lanka IOC.
Through its actions on Thursday, India risked close ties with a next-door neighbour, and may have pushed Colombo further into the arms of China.