India's top tourist destinations

Lavasa invites IT Companies

World Ultra Wealth Report

The good news is India is home to 109 billionaires with an average net worth of $1.7 billion each. The bad news, however, is that compared to last year, India has seen the largest fall in super rich population in the world.
Compared to last year, India has 485 fewer super wealthy individuals, followed by China which lost 265 and Japan which lost 210.
The country’s super-rich club — those worth at least $30 million — has 7,730 members with a combined worth of $925 billion. Among them, the largest chunk is of the ultra high-net worth individuals (UHNWIs) who are worth $30 million to $49 million.
They make up 45.7% of the total UHNW population in India with a combined fortune of $125 billion or 13.5% of the total wealth of the India’s ultra affluent.
This is significantly higher than most of its immediate neighbours — Pakistan (310 super-rich), Bangladesh (85) and Sri Lanka (60), or most other Asian countries like Singapore (1,305), Indonesia (785), Thailand (625) and Malaysia (780). Only Japan (12,830) and China (11,245) have more super-rich people than India.
Wealth-X’s “World Ultra Wealth Report” shows the world’s UHNW population grew by 0.6%.

Reactions to the attack on Sarabjit

The spiritual head of revered Sufi saint Moinudin Chishti’s shrine in Ajmer has condemned the attack on Sarabjit Singh as an “un-Islamic act in an Islamic republic”.
“Pakistan is constitutionally an Islamic republic but the attack on a foreign prisoner is against the Islamic law,’’ said Syed Zainul Abedin Ali Khan, who was in news recently for opposing then Pakistan prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf ’s visit to Ajmer to protest killing of Indian soldiers.
He quoted the Islamic law and said it underlines that prisoners of war and foreign prisoners should not be ill-treated and must be fed and clothed. Khan said the attack on Sarabjit warrants a strong reaction from the Indian government. “Such incidents can create a negative atmosphere in India which the right-wing groups may use against the minorities.’’
He accused right wing groups in Pakistan and Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) of carrying out the attack to avenge the hanging of Afzal Guru in February 2013.
Khan asked the UN to take note of the incident.
A section of Muslim community leaders have condemned the brutal attack on Indian national Sarabjit Singh in Pakistani jail. The leaders have demanded that India should strongly lodge its protest at the international forums against the gross violation of the rights of a prisoner and efforts should be made to bring him to India for better treatment.
“After the lone terrorist of Mumbai attack, Kasab, was captured alive, India ensured that he was not harmed in jail. He was hanged after the completion of the due process of law. Why this policy has not been followed in the case of Sarabjit?”asked Syed Moin Ashraf, head of Madrasa Jamia Ashrafia.
Ashraf added that Pakistan had lost the moral to be called a civilized country. “It is shameful that even prisoners are not safe,” he said.

Of time bound services in Gujarat....

Gujarat governor Dr Kamla has approved ‘The Gujarat (Right of Citizens to Public Services) Bill 2013’ to ensure time bound public services to citizens.
The bill was passed by the state assembly on April 1 during the budget session. The general administration department (GAD) of the government has initiated the process of drafting the rules and regulations for implementing the act.
Under the new act, time bound delivery of numerous public services will be provided to the citizens. Clause 3 of the act ensures that every individual citizen shall have the right to time bound delivery of services and redressal of grievances. The government will notify various public services and prescribe the maximum time limit for providing the services. All government offices will be liable to give the receipt of the application and deadline for clearing the applications.
There will be a grievance redressal officer in every government office. A state-level authority for addressing complaints related to failure in providing the services will be created under the said law. The government officials will be liable to a pay fine for missing the deadlines. The citizens will also get compensation for delayed services.
Every public authority will, within two months of the notification of the act, designate as many officers as may be necessary as grievance redressal officers in all the administrative units at the state, district and taluka levels, municipal corporations, municipalities, notified areas, panchayats and such other offices where services are rendered to receive, enquire into and redress any complaints from citizens.


Campaign for Karnataka

“If you start writing the 2G scam amount, the amount of 1 lakh 76 thousand crores, is as big as the distance between 7 Race Course Road (Prime minister’s residence) and 10 Janpath (Sonia Gandhi’s residence). The last zero will end at 10 Janpath.”
That’s how Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi chose to size up the performance of the Congress-led UPA government at an election rally in Bangalore on Sunday.
In his only and much awaited election campaign in the state, Modi launched a blistering attack on the Congress and took the battle to the rival camp. He refrained from naming Rahul Gandhi but at least eight times referred to him as “the boy born with the golden spoon”.
Rahul had on Friday spoken of the BJP government in Karnataka having set a world record in corruption.
Stating that it is the Congress which should lay claim to the dubious title of being the mother of all corruption, Modi said: “No son disobeys his mother but in the Congress, the mother is continuously saying ‘Power is Poison’ and the son is campaigning in Karnataka saying ‘Give us power’. Whom do we believe?”
Every word Modi spoke during his hour-long speech was lapped up by the crowd that clapped and cheered him. “BJP ruled states are no 1 in every sector in the country. But the Congressmen are raising a hue and cry against them. Only Italian made locks can make them shut their mouths,” he said.
Questioning Congress as who is their chief ministerial candidate in the May 5 Karnataka assembly election, Modi thundered, “Why are you showing only your hand (party symbol), instead show your face. By just showing the hand people will not know whether Congress will save or drown the state.”

Goa plans to refund VAT to tourists

Goa government will refund Value Added Tax (VAT) to foreign tourists on goods bought in the state while they return to the airport, from November this year onwards, chief minister Manohar Parrikar said.
That’s the incentive that the government in this tourism-oriented state is offering to foreign tourists in a bid to make Goa a premium shopping destination like Dubai.
Parrikar-led cabinet cleared the amendment to the Goa Value Added Act, 2005, giving rights to the government to formulate a scheme to provide VAT refunds to foreign tourists visiting the state.
Parrikar told reporters that from November this year onwards, the facility would also be available to foreign tourists and later it could be extended to domestic tourists, once it is tried and tested with foreign guests.
Goa annually receives 2.5 million tourists annually out of which half a million are tourists mostly from Russia and Britain.

Baba Ramdev backs NaMo

From Baba Ramdev's point of view, it was clear that he was backing Modi as PM because he wanted a friendly government — not one which hounds him if he questions the corrupt system. He declared that ‘Gujarat ka sher’ will soon become ‘Bharat ka sher’. Baba Ramdev and Modi clearly empathized with each other as victims of the government in New Delhi which Modi once addressed as ‘Shahenshah’. While Modi bowed before the saints again and again, he recalled the filthy language that had been used against the yoga guru. To highlight he and Baba Ramdev went back a long way, Modi said he had known the yoga guru since the time he used to ride a bicycle and distribute pieces of cashew.
Modi said he had come to Haridwar for the event straight from Narayan Guru's abode in Kerala. Earlier, he had gone to the temple of Goddess Kali in Kolkata. He said his regret at not attending the Mahakumbh this year had got washed away on Friday in the midst of so many saints. He clarified that he didn't want blessings for getting some coveted position. As a 'bachha' of 'Bharat Mata' he only needed blessings to make his motherland proud. He remarked that people were always trying to read some ulterior design in his plans. He said he had observed Navratri by fasting recently and people were saying his visits to temples were a part of a grand political design. There is no such design, Modi asserted. Sounding a true patriot, he said the problems were in the minds of the people who believed 'Bharat' was born on 15th August, 1947, and not those who know this is a civilisation that was born thousands of years back and documented by our scriptures written by saints.


AirAsia India seeks nod to fly

AirAsia India, the newly formed no frills airline by the Tata group, Malaysia-based AirAsia and another Indian investor, is understood to have filed an application with the Civil Aviation Ministry seeking permission to formally start operations later this year.
The joint venture company is likely to have at least six members on its board, comprising two nominees each from AirAsia and Tata Sons and one representative from Telestra Tradeplace, the third partner. There would be an independent director on the board, who would also be the non-executive Chairman.
Tata Sons has nominated R. Venkatraman, former executive assistant to Ratan Tata, and Bharat Vasani, chief legal counsel of the Tata group, on the board. AirAsia would be represented by Tony Fernandes and Kamarudin Bin Meranun, who are among the largest shareholders in AirAsia Bhd, while Arun Bhatia would represent Telstra Tradeplace. The joint venture received a formal approval from the Foreign Investment Promotion Board earlier this month to set up the company.
The airline has a fleet of Airbus A320 planes. It has even started hiring of cabin and cockpit crew.

Swindler's List

At least 60 fraudulent firms like Saradha Group, which is embroiled in the West Bengal chit fund scandal, are actively operating in the state and may have amassed around Rs10 lakh crore from unsuspecting depositors, say people in the know.
Further, there are ‘countless’ small and unregistered shady money laundering firms operating in the state, especially in North and South 24 Parganas, Malda and Birbhum districts, according to experts.
Shamik Dasgupta, former general manager of the Calcutta Stock Exchange, said that most of the fraudulent companies like Saradha are violating provisions of the Companies act to misuse public money. “These companies are not chit funds. They are formed under Companies Act, 1956, and are registered with the ministry of corporate affairs,” said Dasgupta. He said over 60 firms like Saradha were actively operating in Bengal.
On the total amount of depositors’ money which they might have siphoned off, he said, “We came to know that Saradha Group alone could have mopped up over Rs17,000 crore. So, the total amount amassed by such companies could be about Rs.10 lakh crore.”

Pepsi Atom

PepsiCo has expanded its cola portfolio with the launch of Pepsi Atom and has roped in Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput as its brand ambassador.
Pepsi Atom is the second mainstream cola from PepsiCo India portfolio, after the company's flagship brand, Pepsi, PepsiCo India said in a statement.
“Created for the Indian market, in collaboration with PepsiCo's global innovation team, it is a result of extensive flavour development and consumer testing in the country,“ it added.
Commenting on the development, PepsiCo India CEO, (beverages) Gautham Mukkavilli said that it is of great significance that a second mainstream cola from the PepsiCo portfolio has been developed for the Indian consumer.
“India centric innovation or `indovation' is a key growth driver for our business. It is our biggest launch in the recent years and we are committed to invest behind the brand and make it a key player in the carbonated beverage segment,“ he added.
Pepsi Atom is available across the country in various packaging.
PepsiCo India vice-president (beverage marketing) Deepika Warrier said Pepsi Atom addresses the consumer need for a stronger, fizzier cola with a sharp taste hit.

Of Super Rich Alumini....

The University of Mumbai has more multi-millionaires as alumni than the University of Cambridge or Brown University. And if universities from the US are excluded, it is second only to Oxford in the number of students who have gone on to become super-rich.
Mumbai University is the only Indian entry in a top 20 graduate 'rich list' that has ranked universities that will make you a millionaire. With 372 multi-millionaires (net worth: $37 billion) as alumni, it is ranked 18th in the list. Delhi University also finds mention: though it does not figure in the top 20 list, it has 229 super-rich alumni.
According to research by wealth analyst Wealth-X, Harvard boasts of the highest number of rich alumni globally: 2,964 multi-millionaires worth a total of $622 billion. Harvard is also the alma mater of 52 billionaires, the largest number of billionaire alumni.
The list was compiled by counting the number of former students from each university who are believed to be worth at least £20 million, taking into account their earnings, properties and other assets.
Oxford tops the list from the UK with 401 super-rich graduates, but Cambridge has more billionaires. The list, which is dominated by American universities, has Oxford at No. 16 and Cambridge at No. 19.
"University of Mumbai has the highest percentage of ultra high net worth (UHNW) alumni who have inherited their wealth at 27% as well as the highest percentage of UHNW alumni who have inherited wealth and proceeded to create fortunes of their own at 29%," the study says. So, 44% of multi-millionaire alumni from Mumbai University are "self-made."
One of India's oldest universities, it was established in 1857 and boasts of alumni such as Reliance Industries Ltd chairman Mukesh Ambani and cricket icon Sunil Gavaskar.

Civil Aviation : March 2013

March has sprung up surprises for the airline industry as full service carrier Jet Airways lost passenger share in spite of offering heavily discounted air tickets aimed at garnering more air traffic, while arch-rival Air India was able to bounce back and regain lost market share.
Official data from the aviation regulator DGCA shows that while budget carrier IndiGo continued to be the largest airline by number of passengers flown garnering 27.4% of the domestic flier base, Jet Airways’ marketshare dropped to 23.8% in March compared with 25.4% in February. Budget carrier SpiceJet continued to hold on to the No.3 spot it gained in February with 20.4% of the domestic market pie, while national carrier Air India bounced back from 18.9% market share in February to come neck-to-neck with SpiceJet at 20.2% market share in March.
GoAir, too, increased its market share to 8.1% in March. Last month was also significant in domestic aviation business as air travel demand picked up (after 11 continuous months of decline) by 1.58% to 51.81 lakh in comparison with February.
However, compared with last year, the overall decline in demand continued and air traffic showed a de-growth of almost 3% to 152.12 lakh passengers compared with March 2012. Air India remained an outperformer in the month of March as the airline reported the highest aircraft occupancy (or passenger load factor), even ahead of market leader IndiGo, filling 81% of its seats. IndiGo's load factor remained at 79%.
Meanwhile, Jet Airways had the lowest aircraft occupancy in the industry at 71.3%, meaning that a third of their total capacity was empty. Following in the footsteps of SpiceJet, the country’s second largest carrier Jet Airways had announced a bigger sale of 20 lakh seats at Rs.2,250 for travel up to anytime till December 31 this year in February.
What has perhaps worked in favour of Air India was a slew of discounted tickets through 30- and 60-day advance purchase schemes like 'jaldi jaldi', which don’t have price points as low as Jet and SpiceJet’s offers. However, AI might be improving its performance but not service standards as DGCA data show that AI had to pay over Rs.80 lakh in compensation in March alone for delayed or cancelled flights.

Kerala's High - Speed Rail project

The high-speed rail corridor project, the transport infrastructure project mooted by the state, after the Kochi metro and monorail projects, is gaining momentum with the detailed project report (DPR) expected to be submitted by September.
The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, which is conducting the survey and soil investigation for the project, will submit the DPR by September, said T Balakrishnan, chairman and managing director of Kerala High-Speed Rail Corporation Limited.
The state had sanctioned Rs 10 crore for the pre-feasibility study and Rs 50 crore for preparing the DPR. Balakrishnan said almost 50% of the survey has been completed.
The second all-party meeting regarding the implementation of the rail corridor was convened by chief minister Oommen Chandy on Wednesday. The chief minister announced a compensation package for those who will have to vacate their land for the project. He assured that the project will be started only after allaying the fears and concerns of the people.
It is estimated that 6,300 families will be affected by the project. The chief minister said the propaganda that land will be acquired in 110 metre width was baseless as the expected width was just 20 metres.

Of Delhi's ORR....

Three new flyovers on a 7.7 km stretch on Outer Ring Road got the go-ahead in a PWD meeting on Thursday. The Rs 542-crore flyovers between Mukarba Chowk and Wazirabad Chowk are part of the Rs 2,200 crore project that seeks to make Outer Ring Road signal-free between Vikaspuri and Wazirabad.
The project will also include widening of the eight-lane National Highway 1 to 12 lanes.
Two additional loops will be built at Mukundpur Chowk for a right turn while four foot overbridges along the stretch are also part of the plan.
Work has already begun in most other parts of the overall project, which is expected to bring relief to endless traffic snarls on the stretch. PWD officials said construction of these flyovers will not lead to traffic bottlenecks as they will also increase the width of the existing road. All the flyovers will be built on single piers to minimize the road space to be taken up by foundation pillars, added officials.
PWD has planned seven flyovers and one underpass along the 17 km stretch from the Janakpuri district centre to Chandgiram Akhara. In a bid to ease traffic congestion on the stretch, the project hopes to let vehicles zip past in a highway-like ride and cater largely to thoroughfare.

Somewhere in Amritsar....

The Damdami Taksal, a Sikh seminary, announced that the Operation Bluestar memorial –- built in memory of Sikh militants killed in the 1984 army operation inside the Golden Temple –- was ready and would be opened for public on April 27.
Chief of Damdami Taksal Harnam Singh Khalsa said that the Taksal would hand over the memorial to the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee on Saturday. The memorial has been built by the Taksal.
On Thursday, the SGPC began the Akhand Path (continuous recitation of Guru Granth Sahib), which would conclude with a bhog on Saturday when the memorial will be inaugurated. The memorial is inside the Golden Temple complex and looks like a gurdwara with round-the-clock ‘Parkash’ (installation) of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Golden Temple head Granthi said, “The memorial has been built in memory of martyrs like Jarnail Singh Bhinderanwala, Amrik Singh and all those who had died while fighting the army during Operation Bluestar in 1984.”

NH-17 to be widened

The lane expansion of Mumbai-Goa highway’s 366-km stretch from Indapur to Zarap has inched ahead. The Centre has given in-principle approval to expand the highway from two to four lanes to eliminate head-on collisions. But ministers and officials involved in the project say that because of factors like seeking clearances, land acquisition and the tendering process, work is unlikely to start before 2015.
The project will take three-four years to be finished as it involves long-drawn tasks such as digging tunnels through ghats, widening bridges and eliminating hairpin bends.

Length:  475 km
Phases: 6
Cost: Rs.4,500 cr

Of the project cost of Rs.3600 crore, nearly Rs.800 crore will be required for land acquisition—a time-consuming job
Submissions for environmental clearance have been made, but formal approvals will take time
Tendering process involves selection of developers and arranging finances as the project will be implemented through public-private partnership
Experts say the actual expansion work will start only in 2015, that too if all goes according to plan
The project will take three to four years to complete as it involves work such as digging tunnels through ghats, widening bridges, eliminating hairpin bends, and creating bypasses, flyovers, service roads, and vehicular and pedestrian underpasses



Pune has Monorail plans

Even as the Metro railway project in the city keeps getting delayed, the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) has got Monorail on its mind. The civic body claims that the project will take two years to complete. Following an initiative taken by Union Cabinet Minister Sharad Pawar, PMC’s top officials met Union Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath in January. During this meeting, Nath had suggested that PMC should prepare a detailed project report (DPR) for a Monorail project. Accordingly, PMC officials held a meeting with state officials to brainstorm on the proposed project.
Now, PMC has appointed private agency Monarch to prepare the DPR. The civic body had proposed a High Capacity Mass Transit Route (HCMTR) in the Development Plan (DP) of 1987. Till January this year, there was no substantial provision for this project. But now, the corporation is treating the HCMTR on a priority basis and Monorail will be executed on this route. The total length of the Monorail route will be 34 kms. Around 7.60 lakh square metres of land is required for HCMTR. Land owned by private parties, forest department, state government and the Pune and Khadki cantonment boards is to be acquired for this purpose. In the General Body meeting held on Tuesday, Municipal Commissioner Mahesh Pathak said, “We have given out a contract for compiling a DPR and acquisition of properties for HCMTR to a private agency. The agency is making plan based on the proposed Delhi Monorail project. The process of land acquisition for HCMTR will take two years. If everything goes as per plan, the Monorail project will also take two years.”
Madhav Jagtap, in charge of the land acquisition department, said, “We have divided Monorail routes in three phases for land acquisition. Each phase is about 11 kilometres long. We have sent a report to the State government about land acquisition. Most of the land belongs to the government. Almost 40 per cent of the targeted land belongs to private owners.We will give compensation in the term of Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) and cash compensation.”
HADAPSAR ROAD: Mohammadwadi, Kalepadal, Bibvewadi, Kondhwa, Undri, Sasanenagar, Race course, Manjri, Saswad, B T Kavade Road, Ramtekdi
NAGAR ROAD: Mundhwa, Viman Nagar, Lohegaon, Kalayninagar, Koregaon Park, Kalas, Wadgaonsheri, Airport, Vishrantwadi, Yerwada, Alandi Road
SINHAGAD ROAD: Dhayari, Vadgaon, Kothrud, Paud Road, Karve Road
BANER ROAD: Balewadi, Baner, Pashan, Warje, NDA Road, Bavdhan
AUNDH ROAD: Khadki, Sangvi, Aundh, Parihar Chowk

Etihad to take 24% stake in Jet

Two decades after his aircraft took to the Indian skies demolishing a government monopoly and paving the way for private sector dominance in aviation, Jet Airways’ Naresh Goyal is back to refashioning the domestic airline industry, concluding what experts says is a game-changing transaction with Etihad Airways.
Jet has agreed to sell a 24% stake to Abu Dhabi-based Etihad for $369 million (Rs.2,061 crore), valuing the Indian company at Rs.8,545 crore, a 72% premium to its market capitalisation of Rs.4,954 crore. If one includes the $150 million that Etihad is investing in Jet’s privilege programme and the $70 million that it paid for the Indian carrier’s Heathrow slots, the investment from Etihad rises to $599 million.
The Middle-East carrier will pay one of the steepest premiums among recent aviation deals, a significant fact considering that it is buying a minority stake. Etihad, which competes with Emirates for flying more passengers out of India, wants a bigger share of the local market and plans to use the expanded quota of weekly seats from India to Abu Dhabi to become one of the largest passenger carriers from India to overseas destinations. The deal was always contingent upon the government liberalising the weekly seat quota, and Wednesday’s announcement of 36,670 extra seats (Jet had asked for 41,000) means that India-Abu Dhabi will become one of the busiest routes for airline companies.
Jet and Etihad can plan routes better, do code-sharing, and route flights to target passengers in select cities through the deal. But it could be hugely disruptive for certain segments of the aviation industry. Struggling national carrier Air India, which received a government bailout amounting to Rs.30,000 crore, and low-fare carriers IndiGo and SpiceJet may have to strike similar alliances or risk losing share to Jet-Etihad on international routes. Private airport operators such as GVK and GMR, which own the four airports in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad, could find their dreams of becoming national hubs fading, and may have to think of innovative means to stay competitive.

Emirates, which competes with Etihad, could face increased competition from the rival combine and may have to look for a local partner. It has already exhausted its quota of seats from India.
The Indian aviation industry’s troubles may also worsen if airlines start another fare war due to the transaction. Competition from the yet-to-be launched AirAsia, which could launch operations next year, could mean the recent upswing in financial fortunes may not last long.
Investment appetite in Indian aviation could, however, increase if domestic airlines try and strike more deals with foreign partners. Passengers, especially in tier-II cities such as Coimbatore and Thiruvananthapuram, could benefit as they would be able to fly directly to American and European destinations without stopping over to take an international flight in one of the metros. For example, a businessman travelling to the US from Trichy would not have to travel to Chennai, the nearest international airport. Under the Jet-Etihad plan, he would be able to board a Jet flight to Abu Dhabi from his hometown and transfer to a connecting flight to the US. Jet has retained some freedom under the deal to operate its own flights to select destinations from Abu Dhabi. The Airports Authority of India (AAI), which has already supported the increase in quota, could benefit from the higher traffic at its smaller airports.
Jet will use the money from the deal to pare its $2.1-billion debt, easing concerns of investors who had driven down its shares to a 52-week low of Rs 275 in May last year. Etihad’s 31.7% premium for Jet is higher than the 5% premium Singapore Airlines paid to raise its stake in Virgin Australia to 19.9% in a separate deal announced on Wednesday. “The Indian market is fundamental to our business model of organic growth partnerships and equity investments. This deal will allow us to compete more effectively in one of the largest and fastest-growing markets in the world,” said James Hogan, chief executive officer of Etihad.

Etihad is not a stranger to Jet Airways or Goyal. In 2003, when Etihad was set up with funding from Abu Dhabi’s sovereign fund, the promoters of the Middle-East carrier had approached Goyal for help in setting up systems for the fledgling airline. Goyal had responded enthusiastically then, leading to a chemistry that some believe could have helped consummate the deal.
Goyal started Jet in 1991, and it started flying in 1993. The period since then has coincided with the collapse of Indian Airlines (which was merged into Air India) and expanded flying opportunities for a number of Indians. But Jet’s recent troubles meant that it could not hold on to its No. 1 position, losing it to newcomer IndiGo. Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Credit Suisse advised Jet on the deal while HSBC was the advisor for Etihad.

70% chance of GST getting approval

There is a 70% possibility of the indirect tax legislations being approved in Parliament to pave the way for implementation of the proposed goods and services tax (GST), finance minister P Chidambaram said.
“GST is possible, but it's possible only if the central government and all the state governments, which are now ruled by eight-nine different political parties, work together,” Chidambaram said, while answering questions at the India summit of The Economist. He said he was able to build consensus on VAT when he was the finance minister and detailed efforts being made to roll out the country’s most ambitious tax reform.
“The most reluctant states then are today the strongest supporters of VAT. So VAT was done. I am trying to forge a similar consensus on GST...Now we reached a stage where the empowered council (of state finance ministers) has authorized us to draft a constitution amendment Bill, (and) a normal bill for introducing GST,” he said.
He said the bills are being drafted. “We are moving ahead. Once the two draft bills are ready, I expect the next step can be taken...to get it endorsed by the council and then go to Parliament,” he said.

BJP, SP, NC seek tough stand on China intrusion

As the standoff with China continues over intrusions in Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir CM Omar Abdullah and other parties, including main opposition BJP, took a tough stand on the issue and demanded that government should deal with it at the ministerial level with China and not just through flag marches.
While BJP has termed the intrusion by Chinese troops as “very serious” it pledged support to the government asking it deal with the matter “fearlessly,” SP also took a hard stand on it and said that it would raise the matter in Parliament.
Abdullah has conveyed to the Centre his concern at the frequent intrusions into Indian territory in Ladakh. BJP, while promising to stand by the government, suggested that the issue should not be dealt with through flag meetings but requires handling at the level of the PM, external affairs ministers and other ministers.

Congress' Manifesto in Karnataka

The Congress is trying to make terror an election issue, with an obvious eye on the minority votes.
In its manifesto the Congress has promised a state-level committee under the chairmanship of a retired high court judge to look into the cases of detention and implicating of innocent individuals in terrorism. It has also promised to establish fast-track courts to try terrorism-related cases and heinous crimes against women and children.
Promise of 30 kg of rice at Re 1 is targeted at 98 lakh families. The rice bill will work out to over Rs 1,500 crore, while laptops would cost around Rs 2,500 crore for 10 lakh PUC students (at Rs 25,000 per laptop).
“These are not mere assurances, but our commitment,” KPCC president G Parameshwara said. Defence minister A K Antony, who released the manifesto, maintained that a committee would be constituted to implement the manifesto in a time-bound manner.
The only difference between the BJP and Congress in terms of freebies, is the quantity and volume. The BJP, too, has offered free laptops and rice at Re 1 per kg. The difference is the BJP has offered laptops to PU and degree students, while Congress has limited the offer to only PU students. And when it comes to rice, BJP plans to give 25 kg, but the Congress has assured 30 kg of rice to the poor.
True to its character, the party has something for all sections of society — from student to farmer to the poor. However, while trying to please all, the Congress has ended up aping other parties. Assurances like houses for all, clean drinking water for all villages and towns, and establishment of industrial parks remain vague.
To end the woes of the farming community, which bears the brunt of fluctuating prices, the party has promised to set up a commission -- State Agricultural Prices Commission -- to fix competitive prices with a revolving fund of Rs 1,500 crore. For the farmers, other assurances include round-the-clock power for lighting and quality, three-phase power for irrigation pump sets, 100% subsidy for drip irrigation, interest-free loan of up to Rs 2 lakh, increase in milk subsidy from Rs 2 to Rs 4 per litre and waiver of loans of areca farmers affected by yellow leaf disease.
Construction of 8-lane road from Bidar to Chamarajnagar and establishment of industrial parks
Make Kannada the compulsory medium of instruction and teach English from Class 1
Develop Mangalore and Hubli as industrial city hubs
Waive housing loans, and other loans availed by Dalits, OBCs, women and fishermen
Introduce agriculture, horticulture and allied subjects at the high school and PU level
The Congress promises to make Bangalore slum-free in five years. It intends to construct apartments in places where the slums stand now.
For better coordination and service delivery, the party promises to bring all service providers under one roof, besides splitting the structure of the BBMP to make it administratively viable.
Circular railway, construction of North-South, South-East elevated flyovers
100% effluent treatment and reuse of water for non-drinking purpose
Four botanical gardens in four BBMP zones
Five auditoriums on the lines of Ravindra Kalakshetra and five multipurpose high-tech stadiums

Of Political Untouchability....

Apparently alluding to the protest by CPM and resentment by Congress over his visit to the Sivagiri Mutt, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday regretted “untouchability” was increasing in politics.
“Political untouchability is increasing in society though this great evil had been eradicated in social life to a great extent by works of spiritual leaders and reformers,” Modi said, inaugurating the golden jubilee of Sree Narayana Dharma Meemamsa Parishad at Sivagiri Mutt at Varkala, 30 km from Thiruvananthapuram.
Though he did not mention any party or leader, Modi apparently had in mind attacks by the Left on the Mutt for inviting him to the function and eyebrows raised by Congress leaders over labour minister Shibu Baby John of its partner RSP(B) meeting him recently.
In an apparent reference to discussions John held with him on skill development for youth, Modi said Gujarat had been recognized as the most advanced state in this area by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

H7N9 reaches Taiwan

The new strain of bird flu which hit several parts of China has spread to Taiwan as it reported the first case while the WHO on Wednesday said the deadly H7N9 virus is far “more lethal” because of its ability to spread easily from birds to humans.
A 53-year-old man in Taiwan was confirmed to be infected with the new type of bird flu, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency reported quoting a Taiwanese official statement. The patient is believed to have been infected after he visited Suzhou City in China’s Jiangsu Province which has reported several cases of H7N9. China has reported 108 H7N9 cases and 22 deaths since the first infections were confirmed on March 31.
The patient said he did not have any contact with birds or eat undercooked poultry or eggs during his stay in Suzhou. He also tested Hepatitis-B-positive and suffers from high blood pressure and his condition was stated to be serious, the statement said.
China has already provided samples of the human H7N9 avian flu strain to Taiwan for joint research.

Chidu reaches out to the BJP, others

Finance minister P Chidambaram reached out to the main opposition BJP and other political parties seeking their support to get crucial legislations approved in the ongoing budget session in an effort aimed at shielding the reform process from any parliamentary logjam.
The UPA is keen to get the insurance, food security and land acquisition legislations approved by Parliament. “We have listed the things we intend to do. We want the land bill passed; insurance bill passed with FDI at 49% and I sincerely seek cooperation of the principal opposition party and other political parties,” Chidambaram said.
“Some of these are legislative actions which require the support of the principal opposition party and other political parties,” he added.

MTHL update

The much-delayed Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL) seems to be on the road to reality. The state government has written to the City and Industrial Development Corporation of Maharashtra Ltd. (Cidco), asking it to transfer 91.77 hectares of land in Navi Mumbai to the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), which is implementing the project.
The state government’s letter directs Cidco to transfer the land to the MMRDA, which is in-charge of the project – on a 99-year lease. The MMRDA will not have to pay for this land.
The link, which connects Navi Mumbai to the island city and will benefit thousands of motorists who shuttle between the two cities daily, was proposed in the 1970s. But lack of permissions and failed bids have delayed the project significantly. Now, with the transfer of land, the MMRDA will finally be able to start work on the project by year-end.
Of the total land, 65.30 hectares will be used for Right of Way (the actual route) for the MTHL while 18.97 hectares will be used for building casting yard. The remaining 7.5 hectares will be given to the contractor as an incentive, as he can use it for commercial activity and raise revenue. This is because the project will start generating revenue only about five years after the construction begins, when the road is operational.
“Since the contractor will have to raise a substantial sum through loans for constructing the link, the commercial land will be given to him to raise revenue. Initially, the land will be given to the contractor on a 35 year lease. The contractor can build commercial or residential units on the land, with a Floor Space Index of 1.5,” said a senior MMRDA official.
The MMRDA, however, still has some hurdles ahead as it needs to acquire 27 more hectares of land from Jasai, Chirle and Gavan villages. In addition, it has not yet got land from the Mumbai Port trust (MbPT), through which the MTHL will pass.
The MMRDA will have to provide compensation to Project Affected Persons for the remaining 27.8 hectares. The link is being built at a cost of Rs.9,630 crore and is expected to be operational by 2018-19.

Mahim - Santacruz 5th line update

The much- delayed fifth line between Mahim and Santacruz stations on the Western Railway (WR) is likely to be commissioned next month.
The new line will run parallel to the existing suburban lines. Once it becomes operational, outstation and goods trains can run directly between Mumbai Central and Borivli stations without hampering suburban services.
Fifth lines have already been in place on the Mumbai Central-Mahim stretch and the Santacruz-Borivli stretch since 1993 and 2002 respectively. However, the link between Mahim and Santacruz was missing, affecting suburban local train movement.
Except for a few unfinished works, this three-kilometre line is almost complete and is waiting only for a safety certificate.
The project is part of the World Bank-funded phase-I of the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP), undertaken to strengthen suburban rail transport and road transport in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region.
Currently, about 100 longdistance and goods train ply on the WR every day.
The estimated cost of the project is Rs.59 crore and it was supposed to be completed by the end of 2010, but got delayed because of changes in the original alignment, acquisition of land and the rehabilitation of the affected people.
Railway officials said the fifth line will also improve train movement to the Bandra yard. Instead of passing via platform number one of Bandra terminus, the fifth line will help trains enter the railway yard near the harbour line bridge.
However, WR officials said a sixth line between Mumbai Central and Borivli could still take some time to become a reality. This was planned to completely segregate suburban and outstation train operations.


Of Integrated Textile Parks....

 The 61 textile parks approved under the Scheme for Integrated Textile Parks (SITP) are expected to generate over 10 lakh jobs. These parks will have total estimated investment of Rs 27,562 crore.
Commerce, Industry and Textiles Minister Anand Sharma launched 21 new Textile Parks on Tuesday. With these the total number parks go up to 61.
This scheme has been instrumental in development of wide range of models for greenfield clusters, including 1,000-acre FDI driven integrated clusters, 100-acre powerloom clusters and 20-acre handloom clusters.
Of the 61 parks sanctioned – 40 projects were started in the 11th Plan and another 21 projects are to be implemented in the 12th Plan.
Out of the 40 parks sanctioned earlier, 25 are operational. The others are expected to be completed during this financial year.
Out of 21 new parks, six are in Maharashtra, four in Rajasthan, two each in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu and one each in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Tripura, Karnataka, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir.
In this year’s Budget speech, the Finance Minister announced an additional amount of up to Rs 10 crore per park for setting up apparel manufacturing units for the projects under the SITP.

India's Food Services market

India's organised food services market is expected to grow by 16 per cent over the next five years and touch $28 billion on the back of changing consumption habits of consumers and emergence of new players in the sector, a report said on Tuesday.
The National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) in its report said that the size of the total market (organised and unorganised) is $13 billion in 2013 and is expected to grow to $78 billion by 2018. Within this, the unorganised market holds a 70 per cent share with an estimated market size of $33.7 billion.
The organised market (chain and licenced standalone outlets) is currently estimated at $13 billion and is expected to touch “$28 billion by 2018”, the report, which was released by commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma here, said. “The organised food services market is slated to witness a double-digit growth of 16 per cent over the next five years, spurred by the changing consumption habits of consumers and the emergence of new players in the space,” it said.
It said that the sector has a vast untapped potential with eating out becoming a regular form of entertainment for consumers today. Pointing out several issues and challenges the industry is facing, it asked the government to address those matters in order to catalyse growth to optimum levels.

Coalgate update

The Parliamentary standing committee on coal and steel, headed by Trinamool Congress member Kalyan Banerjee, has recommended a comprehensive probe into allotment of all coal blocks since 1993.
The committee has asked the government to scrap the allocation of 188 blocks where mining has not yet begun. The allocations were made to private companies during the 17 years, covering both UPA and NDA rule at the centre.
Coming down heavily on the government for “distribution of national resources“ in an arbitrary and unauthorised way, the multi-party parliamentary panel has pointed to serious lapses in the allocation of coal blocks.
Among those who have held the coal ministry for some time during these 17 years are Manmohan Singh and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee.
Though it is not mandatory for the government to accept the recommendations, it cannot ignore the standing committee's unanimous report. In the past, standing committee recommendations have been accepted and coal block allocations have been cancelled also.
As per coal ministry data shared with the committee, at least 13 coal blocks allotted to private companies were withdrawn. Similarly, in 58 others, notices were served last year seeking explanation as to why the allocation should not be withdrawn.
Slamming the allotment as private fiefdom of a few in the government, the panel has recommended investigation of all officials responsible for allotments and who joined power companies on retirement.
Kalyan Banerjee tabled the report on Tuesday amid a furore in Parliament. Neither House could to transact any substantial business. Besides coal, the government and the opposition locked horns also on the issue of the vetting by the law ministry of the CBI report on the 2G scam and former telecom minister A Raja's assertion that prime minister Manmohan Singh was kept in the loop over all decisions he had taken.
The 84-page standing committee report pointed out that coal was being produced only in 30 of 218 allocated in the 17 years arbitrarily and without auction. Mostly steel and power companies have benefited from these allotments that did not get the government any revenue. The panel pointed out that there was no estimate of revenue loss as the government failed to provide data on coal that was mined, actual reserves and projections along with timelines made by companies before the allotments were made.
Both the NDA and UPA governments allotted coal mines with reserves of 44.23 billion tonnes but earned no revenue from them.
The committee asked the government to ensure that private companies passed on the benefit of getting coal at “no cost“ to people at large through cheap power.

Bharti Airtel set to buy Warid Telecom Uganda

Bharti Airtel, the country’s largest telco by revenue and customers signed an agreement to buy rival Warid Telecom Uganda for an undisclosed sum, reinforcing its position as the second-largest mobile phone firm in Uganda with a 39% market share, just behind market leader MTN, which controls 49%.
Though the deal size wasn’t disclosed, top executives aware of the matter said Bharti Airtel bought 100% stake from the Abu Dhabi Group, owner of the Warid Telecom, in an all-cash deal..
Financial circles close to the development, however, peg the deal size at roughly $100 million or Rs.550 crore, but Airtel declined to confirm this. Bharti Airtel’s MD & CEO (International) Manoj Kohli claimed the Warid Uganda deal “is the first in-market acquisition” in the telco’s history. “We believe this market consolidation offers great synergies by bringing together the best of Airtel and Warid to better serve customers in Uganda,” he said.
Warid Uganda board member Mohammed Nahayan claimed the deal with Airtel would offer Warid consumers added benefits “like wider network coverage, access to the most extensive 3G network and world class products and services”.
The deal with Warid will increase Bharti Airtel’s customer base in Uganda by nearly 61% to 7.4 million from the present 4.6 million. The country has over 16 million mobile customers and the other key operators are Uganda Telecom and Orange.
The world’s fourth-largest telco by customers, Bharti Airtel, said it had entered into a definitive agreement with the Warid Group to “fully acquire” its Uganda unit. “The pact is subject to regulatory and statutory approvals,” both companies said.
Warid’s 2.8 million customers in Uganda will join Airtel’s global network that reaches out to over 269 million subscribers. “They will enjoy benefits of the ‘One Airtel’ network with lower roaming rates across Africa and South Asia and also experience benefits of higher 3G speeds and Airtel Money services,” Bharti Airtel said in a statement. Bharti Airtel is currently organised into two separate units — India and South Asia, which accounts for 75% of revenues, and Africa, where it has operations in 17 countries. Last August, Bharti concluded executing the ‘One Airtel structure’ in India and South Asia.

PMEAC sees Green shoots

The economic advisory council to the prime minister has called a bottom to the economic slowdown even as it outlined a detailed plan for the government to implement, and hinted there was room for the Reserve Bank of India to cut rates.
The council, headed by former central banker C Rangarajan, said the economy could expand 6.4% for the year ending March 31, 2014, on the back of better manufacturing and farm sector growth.
The council’s assessment of the economy is more optimistic than the forecasts by private economists, who estimate that growth will be between 5.8% and 6%. The PMEAC’s sunnier view is predicated on a revival in investments driven by the Cabinet Committee on Investment — a panel of ministers that clears large projects stuck due to uncertainty caused by government policies — as well as the positive sentiment created by recent reforms and fiscal consolidation.
The government’s Economic Survey, released before the budget, had forecast 6.1-6.7% growth in 2013-14. “The very high level of investment rate that we have even now gives us the hope that if we take action for speedy implementation of projects, we can achieve the higher rate of growth quickly even in the short term,” Rangarajan said, releasing the Review of the Economy 2012-13. “I believe we have reached the bottom. The economy will now continue to grow at a faster rate,” he said, pegging farm sector growth at 3.5% if the monsoon is normal. Agricultural output grew 1.8% last year. Private forecasters have said monsoon rains will be normal this year.

The PMEAC expects industrial growth to rebound to 4.9% from 3.1% in 2012-13 while the services sector is projected to grow at 7.7% against 6.6% last year. The CCI has so far cleared a number of projects in the petroleum, gas and coal sectors to speed up investments that grew at a tepid pace of 2.5% last year, as measured by gross fixed capital formation. As per preliminary estimates, the economy expanded 5% in 2012-13, the slowest since 2002-03, but the council feels the number could be revised upwards. The PMEAC had projected a growth rate of 6.7% for the previous fiscal in August 2012. “If the corporate numbers are a better guide of manufacturing, the GDP estimates by CSO (Central Statistical Organisation) for both 2011-12 and 2012-13 could be revised upwards,” it said. Rangarajan said current account deficit was the main concern for policymakers right now, and called for measures to reduce energy imports and greater encouragement to financial savings to discourage purchase of gold. In the short term, the government should encourage capital flows to meet the deficit, said the veteran policymaker. The council expects current account deficit to moderate to 4.7% in the current year from a likely 5.1% last year because of double-digit growth in exports and lower gold imports.
It said wholesale inflation is likely to remain around 6% in the current year because of high food and fuel prices, but felt the recent decline has created room for the RBI to reduce rates.
Wholesale inflation dropped to 5.96% in March, the lowest level since November 2009, raising expectation that the central bank will again cut rates in its May 3 policy review. “I would say the decline in WPI is higher than what was expected. It gives greater space for monetary authority to act,” Rangarajan said, when asked if the RBI should cut rates. The council has listed seven action points for the government, including speedy project clearance, reducing current account deficit, improving net energy availability, containing inflation, reforms in agriculture marketing and supply chain, and making savings products more attractive to curb the fascination for gold.
“We have also indicated that there are several actions which need to be taken to ensure we achieve this higher rate of growth,” Rangarajan said, adding the council had not taken into account political considerations or timing of elections in its assessment.

Competitive collaboration

Bharti Airtel will share part of its submarine cable network with Reliance Industries’ telecom arm, a rare partnership between two firms not known for their camaraderie.
The country’s largest telco will provide Reliance Jio Infocomm data capacity on its undersea cable that links India and Singapore, enabling the Mukesh Ambani-owned venture to connect its proposed 4G network to the Asia-Pacific region.
The old rivals also held out the intriguing possibility of greater cooperation in the future. “Bharti and Reliance Jio will continue to build on this strategic framework and consider other mutual areas of cooperation and development to leverage their respective assets towards offering their customers a much richer experience,” said a statement issued by both the companies, without specifying what these areas could be.
Tuesday’s pact marks a break in a narrative of rivalry between the two companies dating back to the early 2000s.
In the early 2000s, Bharti and Reliance Industries fought a lengthy battle over allowing CDMA operators to offer fullfledged mobile services. This was followed by a period of truce as the ownership of RIL’s telecom business was transferred to Anil Ambani as part of the family settlement of 2005.
But RIL’s ambitious re-entry into the telecom sector has reignited the old rivalry, with analysts anticipating a dramatic confrontation both within and outside the marketplace between the country’s largest private company and the largest telecom company.
The two groups also compete against each other in retail. RIL’s retail business crossed the Rs.10,000-crore revenue mark in 2012-13. While Bharti is a much smaller player in this business, the group is expected to grow it aggressively along with partner Walmart, now that the government has allowed foreign investments in the sector.
Executives close to Bharti said the company had a history of sharing infrastructure with competitors. They point out the company had taken the initiative to merge its towers with those of Vodafone and Idea to form Indus Towers. Reliance Jio Infocomm and Reliance Communications had earlier announced their intention to work closely in telecom after the optic fibre-sharing deal, and the RIL spokesman did not provide reasons as to why the company chose Bharti over FLAG Telecom, the undersea cable network owned by an Anil Ambani-promoted company.
According to the pact, Reliance Jio will use a dedicated fibre pair on i2i cable that connects Chennai with Tuas in Singapore. “The high-speed link will enable Reliance Jio to extend its network and service reach to customers across the Asia-Pacific region. It will connect Reliance Jio directly to the world’s major business hubs and Internet service providers, thereby helping the operator meet bandwidth demand and provide ultra-fast data experience to its customers,” said the statement from both companies.

Sebi orders Saradha to wind up

As the Mamata Banerjee government quibbles over legislations, capital market regulator Sebi has come out with an order asking the state government and local police to register both civil and criminal cases against Saradha Realty and its directors.
Issued late on Tuesday, the Sebi order also instructs Saradha Realty India Ltd to wind up its existing collective investment schemes (CIS) and refund the money collected by it within a period of three months from the date of this order and submit a winding-up and repayment report to the regulator in accordance with the CIS regulations. “Failing which, Sebi would initiate prosecution proceedings under Section 24 and adjudication proceedings under Chapter VI of the Securities and Exchange Board of India Act, 1992, against M/s Saradha Realty India Ltd and its directors,” the order says.
Sebi has also barred Saradha chief Sudipta Sen from accessing the capital market and restrained him from buying and selling stocks.
A reference of the order will also be made to the state government and police to register civil and criminal cases against Saradha Realty and its directors and managers — persons in charge of the business of its scheme(s) — for apparent offences of fraud, cheating, criminal breach of trust and misappropriation of public funds.

The capital market regulator, which functions under the Union finance ministry, will also ask the ministry of corporate affairs to initiate the process of winding up of Saradha Realty.
Sebi had first issued a notice to Saradha Group on June 3, 2010 followed by four subsequent notices in July, August, October and November advising it to furnish documents related to mobilization of funds. After receiving the explanations, Sebi had issued a show-cause notice to the group on December 15, 2011. There was a hearing at the Sebi Kolkata office on May 15, 2012, but the regulator was not convinced with its explanation. Subsequently in September 2012, Saradha Group had filed some documents to Sebi but the regulator observed that the group was not submitting relevant information. The last hearing was slotted for April 2, 2013 but nobody from the group appeared for that.
The market regulator observed that the company had mostly mobilized money showing land parcel. “The Saradha investors do not have any day-to-day control over the scheme and the property and not many of the investors have opted for allotment of land, rather more investors have opted for the pre-determined returns as promised by it.”

Goa bans drinking on beaches

The Goa government has banned drinking on beaches to curb rising crime against women. Tourists would now be allowed to consume alcohol only at licensed outlets, including shacks and hotels.
An official said that the move was also aimed at keeping beaches clean. The source added that the Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB), deployed on the beaches for round-the-clock security, has been asked to ensure that people do not carry liquor bottles to beaches and consume alcohol only in licensed premises.
“If people refuse to comply, the IRB personnel have been asked to confiscate the bottles,’’ he said.
The decision to impose the ban was taken at a recent fortnightly meeting of the tourism department and the IRB.
“The implementation of the order has already begun,” the official pointed out. The tourism department had also received complaints of tourists injuring themselves after stepping on broken liquor bottles on beaches, he added.

Choppergate: Tyagi bank a/cs frozen

The CBI has frozen bank accounts of former IAF chief S P Tyagi and other Indians named as accused for allegedly receiving kickbacks in the Rs.3,600 crore VVIP helicopter deal. Agency sources said on Tuesday “certain bank accounts of all the Indian accused” named in the FIR had been frozen.
Bank accounts of Indian companies named in the alleged scam — Aeromatrix Info Solutions Private Limited and IDS Infotech — were already frozen by the investigating agency.
Sources said that bank accounts of Tyagi’s cousins — Sanjeev alias Julie, Rajeev alias Docsa and Sandeep — were frozen.
Other Indians named in the FIR whose accounts were frozen include former Union minister Santosh Bagrodia’s brother Satish Bagrodia, who is chairman of IDS Infotech, the company’s managing director Pratap Aggarwal, Aeromatrix CEO Praveen Bakshi and legal adviser Gautam Khaitan, sources said.

Pakistan Elections & the India Connection

Leading Pakistani political parties have pledged to promote peace with New Delhi in their manifestos ahead of the elections next month with the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) even proposing to do so by linking India with Afghanistan besides energy- rich Iran and Central Asian Republics (CAR) via its territory.
The proposal of PML (N), whose leader and two-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif is among the front-runners for the country’s top post, is significant as Islamabad has long resisted allowing transit trade between India and Afghanistan fearing New Delhi is using Kabul to encircle it strategically. India is a leading regional donor having invested $2 billion, primarily in Afghan infrastructure development.
“Pakistan can also develop a flourishing transit economy because it provides the shortest land routes from Western China to the Arabian Sea, through the Gwadar Port, while linking India with Afghanistan and CAR and providing land route from Iran to India and access to the Central Asian Republics to the Arabian sea and India for oil/gas pipelines,’’ the PML (N) said in its manifesto.
The manifesto of Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), widely expected to give the PML(N) a tough fight, echoes its rival party in part. “Progressive detente with India will benefit both countries if centred on conflict resolution and cooperation, especially in the field of energy.’’

The votes may be cast in Pakistan but prayers are being shot off from India. As rich and powerful politicians face general elections in Pakistan’s wobbly politics where winning and staying alive in a violence prone land are equally the objectives, they are reaching out in droves for the “benefactor of the poor” or Gharib Nawaz, Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti of Ajmer, for blessings.
    The khadims (priests) at Ajmer’s 12th century shrine are busy sending special prayers for Pakistani candidates cutting across party lines, which just might overwork the Sufi saint. The contestants, including, ironically, some backed by extremist groups, are not only seeking prayers at the dargah but also statements and appeals from khadims to vote for them in the May 11 elections.
    Pleas have been placed for president Asif Ali Zardari and prime minister Raja Parvez Ashraf. A Pakistan People’s Party candidate Aziz-ur-Rehman Chan, fighting from Lahore federal, said, “Khwaja Sahab is the spiritual head of our people. They (priests) back only those candidates who have faith in the holy shrine.”
    Others like Pakistan Muslim League leader Farid Chishty Sahab, are making ‘mannat’ – pledging that the first thing they will do after winning is visit Ajmer. Farid Chishty is contesting from Pak Pattan.
    Former cricket icon and chief of Tehreek-e-Insaaf, Imran Khan’s massive political rally on Sunday ended at the shrine of Hazrat Data Ganj Baksh Shrine in Lahore.

RaGa campaigns in Karnataka

Two days after BJP’s heavy artillery in shape of LK Advani, Rajnath Singh and Sushma Swaraj touched down in different places in Karnataka, the Congress’s main draw, party vice-president Rahul Gandhi,whistle-stopped through three places in north Karnataka, touching a raw nerve with the people: the state’s lost prestige.
“Karnataka was shining under Congress rule. Everyone spoke proudly about Karnataka in Delhi,in Japan and in America. Bangalore became famous for job opportunities, and people from far-away places came here for work. But in five years of BJP rule,the state has lost its shine,” Rahul told people in Sindhanur in Raichur on Tuesday, in sweltering heat at the Government College grounds. “The BJP made tall promises of giving jobs, non-stop electricity and water for irrigation,but forgot those promises and robbed the state,” Rahul said. Not far into the speech, though, he pretty much made the same promises, and chose not to take on the BJP for its promise of free laptops to students and subsidized rice — perhaps realising that doing so might backfire.
Reflecting the upbeat mood in Karnataka Congress, Rahul said, “It’s clear that Congress will form the government in Karnataka and it will be the government of aam aadmi, unlike the BJP which allowed two brothers to rule the state,” — an obvious reference to Reddy brothers, mired in corruption charges.
“When I last visited this place, I promised only one thing, Article 371 (J), to give Hyderabad-Karnataka special status. And we fulfilled that promise,” he added.


Most crowded cities in the world

Somewhere in Chennai....

Raising speculation about the formation of a third front for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Singh Yadav  made a surprise call on his Tamil Nadu counterpart and senior political leader J. Jayalalithaa.
The sudden meeting at the TN Secretariat here that was finalised only on Sunday night gains importance in the light of Jayalalithaa’s open criticism of the BJP for not helping Tamil Nadu’s cause in getting its due share of water from the BJP-governed Karnataka and her allegation that the Centre stifled the Opposition-ruled states.
The SP leader held discussions with the AIADMK supremo at Fort St George for 23 minutes. Despite his promise in the morning that he would brief the media on their meeting, Yadav did not utter a word after the meeting. Jayalalithaa, who left within a few minutes, also did not speak to the media.
Sources said they had discussed the Centre’s “adamant” and “non-friendly” attitude towards non-Congress Chief Ministers. This could, perhaps, bring them under one umbrella in the run-up to the general polls.
Sources said Yadav had conveyed on Sunday night his keenness to meet Jayalalithaa ahead of his scheduled participation at a function organised by Pattali Makkal Katchi in the city on Monday.

Protests again.... over another rape in Delhi....

Police arrested a second man on Monday in connection with the rape and torture of a five-year-old girl in New Delhi, but that was not enough to halt protests at perceived police incompetence and corruption.
Neighbours say the child was abducted on Monday last week in an alley outside her home in a cramped lower middle-class neighbourhood and kept captive by two men in the basement of the same building. They say they found her two days later after hearing her cries.
A video showing a senior police officer slapping a young woman protester has fuelled outrage, along with an allegation by the family that the officers offered them a Rs 2,000 bribe to hush up the case delaying the search for the girl by several hours.
In his first news conference about the rape, Delhi police chief Neeraj Kumar resisted growing demands for his resignation. He said he had suspended the policeman caught on camera, along with two senior officers at the police station in question. He also offered to take the entire staff of the police station to the hospital for an ID parade in relation to the bribe allegations.
He defended his record, saying rape was hard to prevent because it was commonly committed by family members. Is it humanly possible for a policeman to prevent a case like this in which a neighbour lures a girl who is playing to his room and commits a crime he said. “Is it possible to prevent it?“ The five-year-old girl's name has not been revealed, but media have nicknamed her Gudiya, or doll. She has undergone surgery and was in stable condition on Monday, a doctor at the hospital where she is being treated told reporters.
The public anger echoes the response to the gang rape of a 23-year-old trainee physiotherapist on a bus on December 16, who later scuccumbed to her injuries.
That attack brought thousands on to the streets in protest and put the issue of gender violence firmly on the national political agenda a year before elections.
Protests, now in their fourth day, have been smaller this time and spearheaded by the populist Aam Aadmi Party. Demonstrators, who scaled barricades near parliament on Monday, say they are angry authorities failed to prevent the attack. “They are helping the culprits to get away with the crime. A simple, speedy investigation would have found her quickly,” said Pratap Samal, a socialist politician protesting outside Delhi police headquarters.
A man was arrested on Saturday for the attack on the five-year-old and is due to appear in a Delhi court this week. The second suspect, aged 19, was arrested at 1 am on Monday at a relative's house in Bihar, police said.

Wadala - Thane Metro planned

If all goes according to plan, in four years’ time, the journey from south Mumbai to interior regions of the Thane city may entail just a comfortable metro ride
With the state’s in-principle nod to the proposed metro corridor from Wadala to Kasarvadvali on Ghorbunder road in Thane, the project has inched closer to reality. The planning agency, Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) has prepared a detail project report (DPR) for the metro line.
Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan announced in the lower house of the state Assembly that the government was ready to take up the project. The proposal will now be sent to state and central departments for approval.
The Wadala- Kasarvadvali line will stretch across 30 km. There will be 10 metro stations in Thane itself and 28 in all. It stands to benefit thousands of commuters who shuffle between Thane and Mumbai daily.
Sources said that the MMRDA has decided to develop the corridor on a cash-contract scheme, after consultation with the state urban development department. So while the state, the central government and the Thane Municipal Corporation will fund a part of the project, a chunk of the amount would be raised through loans.
The MMRDA will approach the union urban development ministry and the public investment board (PIB) to get loans from international agencies such as the World Bank and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The MMRDA will have to get state cabinet committee’s approval to seek TMC’s contribution for the project.
MMRDA commissioner UPS Madan said, “We expect the project to be ready in three years from when actual work begins.” Sources said the construction is likely to begin in one-and-a-half years.

Navi Mumbai Airport update

Work on the proposed international airport at Navi Mumbai will have to wait for a while with the statutory green panel, the Forest Advisory Committee, seeking more details about the forest diversion required for the project. The first phase of the airport was slated to be operational by 2014.
Delay in taking up the proposal for diverting 250 hectares of forests for the project is on account of the developer, City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO), failing to provide all the requisite information. The proposal will be taken up once all the requisite details have been provided.
The Forest Advisory Committee has asked CIDCO to submit a detailed compensatory afforestation plan, and clarify whether the proposed afforestation will be undertaken separately from the proposed regeneration of mangroves mandated by the environmental clearance.
The project developer has also been asked to submit an approved rehabilitation and resettlement plan, an undertaking to pay the net present value of 250 hectares of forest land and the requisite maps. The forest panel also noted that the status of ownership of the project was not spelt out in the application.
The statutory panel has asked details about clearance from the Standing Committee of the National Board of Wildlife. The proposed airport is within a 10-km radius of the Karnala Bird Sanctuary. The Supreme Court has made it mandatory for projects located within the 10-km radius of a protected wildlife area to get clearance from the national wildlife panel.
Separately, the committee has recommended that the Maharashtra state government provide details on the implications of the Bombay High Court order, which requires that all projects in the mangrove forest area be cleared by it. In January, the high court said it would consider giving permission only after statutory bodies had cleared the project. The state government will also need to take into account the implications of the Supreme Court’s forest-related rulings on the project.
The committee’s decision to hold off its recommendation comes just days after Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan admitted to the state legislative council that there had been a three-fold cost escalation. The Navi Mumbai Airport was initially estimated to cost Rs.4,766 crore. However, land acquisition needs and various other factors have pushed up the project cost to Rs.14,573 crore. Chavan said the first phase would require an expenditure of Rs.9,000 crore. This latest delay could to push up costs even further.

GST snippets

The proposed Goods and Service Tax (GST) is designed in a way that it will not hamper the financial autonomy of states, rather it will incentivise them, says the chairman of the empowered committee of state finance ministers. The committee has been tasked with building a consensus on this major indirect tax reform.
“We have sorted out 80% of the issues raised by various state governments,” said Sushil Kumar Modi, the chairman of the committee. He said the committee was also looking at incentivising states that agree to implement GST, in line with international practices.
“Canada and Singapore have similar structures where they have incentivized states who implemented GST.”
Goods and Service Tax (GST) is a reform that seeks to create a common market for all goods and services in India. Many states have been reluctant to join the initiative as they fear they may lose the revenue to the central government post the implementation. “For such a big reform, we need time and we can’t blame central or state governments for the same.”
Sushil Modi ,who is the deputy chief minister of Bihar, praised the efforts of finance minister P Chidambaram in rolling out GST at the earliest. “Ever since P Chidambaram has taken over as finance minister, things are moving fast in favour of rolling out GST,” he said, adding, “This is (GST) his (Chidambaram’s) baby and since 2007 he is trying to get it implemented.”
The government believes that GST will make imports cheaper and make exports more competitive. It will add around 1.5% to 2% to gross domestic product. As of now, there is no national market in India and the introduction of GST will make interstate trade more efficient, is the logic. Hence, the consensus building exercise.
Modi said that states were seeking clarity on revenue neutral rate, threshold revenue limit and dual control. Three subcommittees have been set up in this regard. “We want to make sure there is no loss of revenue for states even when they are making transition to GST,” he said.