Rupee snippets

The Rupee depreciating to Rs 56 and more against the dollar may cause medium-to-long term concerns about managing the current account deficit. But it does hearten merchandise exporters who hope to gain from higher margins in the short term.
Economists are unanimous that the rupee’s depreciation will work wonders for the economy. Both exporters and the economists attributed the rupee slide (to Rs 56.17 on Wednesday, the lowest in a year) to the surge in the dollar against most global currencies barring a few in the wake of the quantitative easing in the US.
At the same time, however, they are apprehensive that if the trend continues, there is every possibility that the rupee will drop below Rs 60-62, unless the RBI intervenes.
A cheaper rupee was the best weapon that the government could use silently to curb imports, especially commodities like gold that posed a major macro-economic issue and drained out foreign exchange.
There is also a flipside to this.
The fall in the rupee would mean higher cost of import of fertilisers and raw materials that would make farm nutrients costlier. It would mean a higher fertilisers subsidy burden. The government would also have to spend more rupee funds to import crude oil.
 The prime minister’s economic advisory council has projected a CAD of $100 billion this year, or 4.7 per cent of GDP . It had also projected a trade deficit of $213 billion.
Most economists think the rupee would stabilise in the band of Rs 53.50-to 54.5 in a few weeks. But they are not ruling out the possibility of the rupee going to Rs 57 ­- 58 and RBI intervention when that happens.
On Wednesday, dealers attributed the fall in the rupee to heavy demand from importers and banks. But, the inter-bank call money rates remained flat around its previous close of 7.30 per cent. The rupee has fallen heavily this month amid huge foreign inflows into stocks and debt.

India's passion for Gold

Gold demand in India, the world’s largest buyer, is heading for a quarterly record after prices slumped to a two-year low in April, the World Gold Council said.
India’s gold imports will be 300 to 400 tonne in the second quarter, almost half total shipments for all of last year.
The slump into a bear market last month boosted demand for jewelry from Asia and spurred greater coin purchases. Prices are 27% below the record $1,921.15 an ounce set in September 2011.

Telecom User Base update

India’s total telecom subscriber base increased marginally to 89.80 crore in March 2013 from 89.20 crore at the end of February 2013, according to data released by sector regulator Trai.
“The number of telephone subscribers in India increased to 898.02 million at the end of March, 2013 from 892.02 million at the end of February 2013, thereby showing a monthly growth rate of 0.67%,” Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) said in the monthly subscriber data report. Trai said the overall teledensity in the country increased to 73.32 at the end of March 2013 from 72.90 in the previous month.
Reliance Communications added the maximum of 30.26 lakh subscribers in the month to take its user base to 12.29 crore at the end of March 2013. It is followed by Vodafone, which added 24.66 lakh users to take its base to 15.23 crore. Idea Cellular added 23.17 lakh new subscribers, while market leader Bharti Airtel added 15.73 lakh users in March.
State-run BSNL added 5.36 lakh new subscribers while MTNL lost 86,833 users during the same period.


Japan will provide $174.8 million (around Rs.870 cr) loan as development aid to the Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad (IITH), the biggest-ever foreign aid to an IIT, which experts said will have a leapfrog effect on the standard of higher education in the state and boost infrastructure.
Armed with the financial aid, IIT-H will erect nine state-of-the-art buildings, including a special technology centre, new academic blocks and a research park.
Authorities will also use some portion of the money to acquire lab equipment and officials said they would expand its current capacity and student strength from existing 1000 plus to more than 7,500 by 2018.
Many experts say the biggest hurdle in higher education sector in the country is shortage of trained faculty. IIT-H said the institute will increase the number of teachers to more than 750 by 2018, an increase from the over 100 teachers now.
That is not all, private companies will also get a chance to use the research and development laboratories inside the campus.
IIT Hyderabad is getting a total loan of Rs 1,776 crore over phases, with the Indian government giving 15% of the amount and the rest coming from JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) to be repaid over 30 years.
Experts said the loan from JICA, the first such aid for any IIT from a foreign country, could pave the way for more foreign investments in Hyderabad. The city is home to more than 400 engineering colleges, while the rest of the state has about 300 more, which makes it a favoured destination for foreign agencies, experts said.
IIT officials said they were overjoyed that the deal has been formally announced. The institute has been functioning at a temporary campus in Medak, and further development will happen in the new campus spread across 200 acres.
Other experts said the aid to IIT is very significant and could also help the Congress government convince opposition and allies to pass the Foreign Educational Institutions Bill in Parliament, which has been pending for three years. 

Of Articulated Buses....

Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and other major urban areas, which have dedicated corridors for buses, will soon see the debut of air-conditioned articulated buses (double buses). The Union urban development ministry has proposed introducing these to attract passengers to use public transport.
An articulated bus is usually of single-deck design and comprises two rigid sections linked by a pivoting joint. These buses can carry around 150 people. “This will be a part of our scheme to provide buses to cities and small towns in the second phase of JNNURM,” a ministry official said.
Sources said there was also a proposal to introduce battery operated buses to promote green technology in public transport. These buses can cover about 200 km after being fully charged.

OECD on the Indian Economy

The Indian economy has probably recently surpassed Japan to be the third largest economy globally, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said, bringing some relief for the country’s policy makers battling a sharp economic slowdown.
But, the OECD revised downwards its forecast for growth for India in 2013 to 5.3% from the previous 5.9% and said the recovery would be aided by the efforts being made to speed up approval for large projects as well as partial deregulation of foreign direct investment.
“China will likely pass the US as the world’s largest economy in the next few years and India has probably recently surpassed Japan to be the third largest. By the early 2030, combined GDP of BRIICS (Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia, China and South Africa) should roughly equal that of the OECD (based on current membership), compared with just over half of the OECD at present,” the Paris-based think tank said in its economic outlook. This is based on purchasing power parity terms.

In nominal GDP terms, India ranks as the third largest economy in Asia behind China and Japan and globally it ranks 10th. The Indian economy, which notched up scorching growth until a few years ago has slowed due to the impact of the global economic slowdown, high interest rates, delay in implementation of policies and structural bottlenecks. Growth is estimated to have slowed to a decade low of 5% in 2012-13, while policymakers expect it to revive to be closer to 6% in 2013-14.
The OECD report also said between now and 2060, GDP per capita is seen to increase more than eight-fold in India and six fold in Indonesia and China, whereas GDP in the highest income OECD countries may only roughly double over this period. “In terms of geographical distribution, there will be a big shift in the share of world GDP accounted for by Asia at the expense of both North America and Europe...,” the report said.

Referring to India, the OECD report said inflation is expected to decline further as the effects of poor weather on food prices and hikes in administered prices fade. It said the fiscal tightening and the new fiscal consolidation roadmap are welcome and monetary policy should be eased further. The OECD also called for wide-ranging reforms to remove the structural bottlenecks and raise standard of living.
“Energy subsidies remain high and should be cut. The tax system should also be reformed to raise more revenue in a less distortive way so as to boost private investment and competitiveness,” the report said.
“In particular, the long awaited reform of indirect taxes should be implemented swiftly. However, structural bottlenecks continue to constrain both investment and growth potential and addressing them is the key to boosting growth and raising living standards,” it said. 

Japan aids Mumbai infrastructure

In a double bonanza for Mumbai, Japan has agreed to lend 71 billion yen (Rs 3,943 crore) in soft loan for the development of the underground third line of Mumbai Metro between Colaba and Seepz in Andheri as well as conduct a joint feasibility study for a high speed railway link with Ahmedabad.
This was decided at a meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe in Tokyo.
The Metro route which includes 27 stations is expected to cost around Rs 24,700 crore. Mumbaikars can now expect the third metro line by 2020, four years after the original deadline of 2016.
The two sides have already completed a joint feasibility study on upgrading the speed of passenger trains on the Delhi-Mumbai route to 160-200 kmph.
Japan has also offered 17.7 billion yen (Rs 983 crore) for Phase 2 of the campus development of IIT Hyderabad, and assistance for Indian Institute of Information Technology, Design and Manufacturing in Jabalpur.

The Metro rail network is expected to be extended from Andheri to Colaba by 2020, what with Japan giving a loan of 71 billion yen (Rs3,943 crore) for the third phase of the project. The exchange of notes was signed in Tokyo in the presence of prime ministers Manmohan Singh and Shinzo Abe. The countries have also decided to jointly conduct a feasibility study of a high-speed railway system between Mumbai and Ahmedabad.
The loan for Metro III will be given by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JAICA) at an interest of 1.44%. The overall cost to lay the 33-km underground route between Colaba and SEEPZ in Andheri via Bandra and the airport (27 stations in all) is expected to be Rs.24,700 crore. Though the initial deadline was 2016, work is now expected to be over in seven years. The loan is the first of three instalments that are expected to cover 40% of the project cost.
Regarding the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed rail corridor, Indian Railways and the French National Railway Company (SNCF), too, have decided to carry out an operations and development feasibility study.The project cost is estimated to be Rs.63,000 crore, the route length being 534 km.The project will take 10 years to finish. With trains running at 300 kmph, travel time between the cities will be cut down to two and a half hours, against seven hours taken by Duronto,the fastest train on the route at present.
There is also a plan to introduce trains on the Mumbai-Delhi corridor that can achieve speeds of 200 kmph—double the speed of the Rajdhani Express.

Japan on Wednesday pledged to invest in building high-speed railway systems in India
Prime minister Manmohan Singh, who is on a visit to Japan, expressed appreciation of Japan’s expertise in Shinkansen, or bullet train, systems and said India would plan such projects based on priorities and commercial viability
The countries will co-finance a joint feasibility study of a highspeed railway system between Mumbai and Ahmedabad

Both the French and the Japanese governments are fiercely competing for the bullet train project.
The French national railway SNCF is already working with the Indian Railways on the techno-feasibility report for the 630-km project between Ahmedabad and Pune via Mumbai. The report is likely to be submitted to the Railway Board in mid-June.
At the same time in Tokyo, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe issued a joint statement about conducting another bullet train feasibility study on the same stretch. “The two Prime Ministers decided that the two sides will co-finance a joint feasibility study of high speed railway system on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad route,” the statement said. Singh even appreciated Japan’s high level of expertise in designing and implementing Shinkansen (bullet train) systems.
The Rs 60,000-crore project will be executed along the existing railway track and will be funded jointly by Gujarat and Maharashtra governments on a public-private partnership model. Currently, trains cover the 490 km between Ahmedabad and Mumbai in about seven hours but the bullet trains are expected to travel at 350 km per hour, and cover the distance one hour and 50 minutes. The railway is targeting high-end users.
The French proposal will have stoppages at Vadodara, Bharuch, Surat, Mumbai, Lonavala and Pune. It will have 16 cars with a target of 32 round trips. “The fares will be about 70% of air travel cost,” he said. “A lot of air traffic may divert here. Though air travel time between Ahmedabad and Mumbai is less than an hour, security checks take a lot of time,” says a railways official. Railway officials said the work is to start by November on Delhi-Chandigarh and Ahmedabad-Mumbai-Pune. 


UPA @ 9 : Ad blitz

DBT scheme snippets

Low on the credibility front, thanks to various scams, the Congress led UPA government has got into a tearing hurry to push Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) scheme and keep its hope alive for a comeback in next general elections.
The government wants to rollout DBT scheme in all the 78 target districts of Phase II from July 1 so that it can have enough lead time before general elections to drum up its success in the rest of the country. Top on its target are 13 key districts of UP, Bihar and Gujarat.
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), monitoring the DBT scheme almost on a day-to-day basis, has tasked the Office of Registrar General of India (RGI) and the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) to go cracking and get the list of all the beneficiaries of various DBT schemes of targeted districts directly from the district authorities and registrars first and leave rest of the work of enrolling others and digitalizing their data etc. for a later date.
District commissioner of a target district said that he is witnessing unprecedented scaled up alacrity from Delhi for past 15-20 days and has been asked to provide details of the camps organised, day to day enrolment progress and updated list of beneficiaries in different DBT schemes.
The idea is that a success of “Aap Ka Paisa App Ke Haath” in these key districts can spread the word across the country and change the fortune of Congress party, a Congress party insider said.
So strong is the conviction of succeeding through DBT that the party has belied words of caution from various stakeholders including banks and some government officials. They have raised objections, including security concerns, regarding bulk seeding of beneficiaries’ accounts with Aadhaar numbers.
An example government’s “tearing hurry” could be seen through Petroleum ministry’s recent announcement of launching of DBT for LPG scheme in 20 districts.
Even though the homework of generating Aadhaar numbers and seeding them with bank accounts of the beneficiaries has not been done, an eager ministry has put the onus on LPG consumers to immediately get an Aadhaar number, open a bank account with it and provide the number to LPG distributors.

Aviation snippets

Budget carrier IndiGo was the only Indian carrier to remain profitable even as its peers bled, while Dubai-based Emirates overtook Air India to emerge as the first foreign carrier to fly most international traffic from and to the country.
According to the latest report by Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA), the airline industry lost an estimated $1.65 billion ( Rs.9,235 crore) on revenues of $9.5 billion ( Rs.53,172 crore) “but IndiGo was exceptional with an estimated $100-110 million profit on revenue of $1.5-1.6 billion.”
CAPA also observed that on the international front, an important development was that for the first time a foreign carrier, Emirates, claimed the highest market share (over 12%) for traffic to/from India, overtaking Air India from its historical leadership position.
“While India’s second-largest international carrier, Jet Airways, saw only a marginal increase in traffic as it consolidated its network and dropped services to points such as New York JFK, Milan, Johannesburg and Kuala Lumpur,” the report said. CAPA estimates that India’s airlines posted a combined loss of $1.65 billion ( Rs.9,235 crore) in FY13 ($1.15 billion, if Kingfisher is excluded), down from approximately $2.28 billion ( Rs.12,761 crore) the previous year.
However, FY14 could be profitable for the four private airlines — Jet Airways, IndiGo, SpiceJet and GoAir — which could post combined profits of $250-300 million ( Rs.1,399 crore- Rs.1,679 crore) or more next fiscal, says CAPA.
According to the report “international traffic growth is expected to be more buoyant than domestic and could grow by 10-12% as Indian carriers expand and as more bilateral entitlements are expected to be granted to foreign carriers.”
In contrast, domestic traffic is expected to expand by only 4-6% in FY14, with most of the growth to occur in the second half of the year, the report said, adding that Malaysian budget carrier AirAsia’s possible entry in the second half of this year could spur local demand to some extent.
However, only national carrier Air India may be left behind in seizing the international opportunity as international operations account for 80% of its losses due to key structural viability issues on its overseas routes due to poor alignment between its fleet structure and route network, and weak commercial capability, particularly in offshore markets.
Jet is already profitable on international operations and is expected to further strengthen its performance in the coming year as a result of its increasing cooperation with Etihad. IndiGo and SpiceJet are both nearing breakeven on overseas routes, the report observed.

Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System

The country will start realizing its dream of an indigenous Global Positioning System (GPS) on June 12. The first of seven satellites, which are part of the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System, will be launched from Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh, in the early hours that day.
Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) chief K Radhakrishnan announced the launch programme on Tuesday after inaugurating the navigation centre at the Indian Deep Space Network at Byalalu, about 40 km from Bangalore. The satellite will be launched using the polar satellite launch vehicle, PSLV-C22, he added.
Once all seven satellites are launched to form a constellation in space, India will join China and Europe to create its own version of the American GPS. There will be a continuous flow of information on location and time in all weather conditions for the country. The system is designed to provide position accuracy of better than 10 metres across India and a region extending about 1500 km beyond our borders.
Radhakrishnan said the facility at Byalalu will also play a key role in the country’s maiden satellite launch programme to Mars. 

India , Japan & China

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stepped up defence and security ties with Japan.
Placing Japan at the heart of India’s Look East policy in back-to-back speeches to the Keidanren and the Japan-India Association here, Singh said, “India and the world have a strong economic and strategic interest in Japan’s success.”
He added, “We should intensify our political dialogue and expand our strategic consultations on regions and issues of mutual interest. Our defence and security dialogue, military exercises and defence technology collaboration should grow.”
Taking off from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s coinage of the “confluence of the two seas” — the Pacific and the Indian Oceans — Singh said he would work with Abe “to strengthen our strategic partnership, impart new momentum to our economic cooperation and deepen our dialogue on shared regional and global interests”.
In 2008, Singh signed a security agreement with Japan, which put India, along with the US and Australia as Japan’s top three security partners in the world. That also saw the birth of the term “Indo-Pacific” into India’s discourse, reaffirming that India’s strategic interests stretched to the Pacific Ocean.

Describing India and Japan as “major actors” in this region, the PM said it was the duty of India and Japan to ensure peace, security and prosperity in Asia, turning on its head the China-centric view of Asia. In a thinly veiled reference to disputes with China, Singh said, “Historical differences persist despite our growing inter-dependence, prosperity has not fully eliminated disparities within and between states, and there are continuing threats to stability and security.”
Putting forward a three-step plan for cooperation with Japan, the PM said, “We should strengthen regional mechanisms … reinforce congruence, we should promote wider and deeper regional economic integration and enhance regional connectivity, and we should uphold principles of freedom of navigation and unimpeded lawful commerce in accordance with international law, resolve maritime issues peacefully.”
Singh put India on the side of Japan on the Senkaku-Diaoyu issue, without actually spelling it out. This will doubtless be noticed in Beijing without any pleasure. China and Japan have been ratcheting up tensions over sovereignty of these islands.

As India and Japan warmed up to take bilateral relations to a higher plane, a Communist Party-run newspaper cautioned New Delhi against “petty burglars” among Japanese politicians out to target Sino-Indian ties. The warning in the People’s Daily, which largely reflects the ruling party’s views, coincided with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Tokyo during which the two sides decided to enhance defence cooperation.
China’s own trade with Japan stands at $345 billion — about six times of the India-China bilateral trade. But this finds no mention in the People’s Daily article that advises India to be wary of the “narrow-minded diplomatic thoughts of Japanese government”.
“Not long ago, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called on Japan, India, Australia and the US to jointly form a ‘Democratic Security Diamond’ to compete with the ascendant China… Some politicians just make themselves petty burglars on China-related issues,” the paper said.
China is locked in a maritime dispute with Japan and the two countries are at loggerheads over the disputed islands in the resource-rich East China Sea. The article brings out Beijing’s nervousness about growing Indo-Japanese ties.

Hundreds of Japanese companies may shift factories from China to India, bringing with them big investments and thousands of jobs, and a remilitarising Japan is likely to emerge as an attractive source of technology for India.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that the Indo-Japanese relationship is now more than just exports and imports: It is about how Tokyo can transform India. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in Tokyo: “Greater investment by Japanese companies in India’s large market will be in our economic as well as strategic interest.”
As the Chinese fumed, Japan rolled out the honours for Singh. In a rare gesture, the Japanese emperor hosted a private lunch for the PM and his wife, protocol usually reserved for visiting head of states only. Singh and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe enjoy a strong personal rapport.
Japan wants to build up India as an alternative, economic and military, to China, and Singh signalled strongly that India welcomed the idea. The first phase of this is giving India a modern infrastructure: the Delhi Metro, the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor and now, bullet trains. The second is shifting the thousands of Japanese factories in China to India. And on Wednesday, the two sides stepped up defence ties, with an offer from Tokyo for US2 amphibian aircraft, more bilateral naval exercises and defence technology cooperation.
The backdrop is deteriorating Sino-Japanese ties. Tokyo believes the Chinese regime is whipping up anti-Japanese sentiment to absorb rising middle class nationalism. China’s muscle-flexing over the Senkaku islands and anti- Japanese protests inside China are two sides of the same Beijing policy. Beijing ultimately wants Tokyo to end its defence ties with the US and accept Chinese suzerainty, believe Indian and US diplomats.
One, as Chinese attack their employees and as labour costs keep rising, Japan Inc wants to move elsewhere.
Japan is the second-largest foreign investor in China, with accumulated investment of over $70 billion. But a Japan Export Trading Oraganisation survey last year showed India emerging as the most preferred alternative site for Japanese FDI.
India is seen as a difficult place to invest, but helping India’s rise has a strategic benefit that is becoming increasingly important to Tokyo. In the past decade, says an Ernst and Young study, Japan is already the second largest foreign job creator in India.
This is with only 300 Japanese firms in India. If a fraction of the 14,000 Japanese firms in China were to move, the result would be a job tsunami.
Two, Japan is preparing to re-militarise and India is a perfect partner. Abe will seek to increase defence expenditure and even change Japan’s pacificist constitution this autumn. India, which has begun bilateral naval exercises with Japan, will also be the first country to import military equipment from postwar Japan. Because it has no hangups about Japan’s World War II past, India would also provide legitimacy to Abe’s re-militarisation.
Three, China does not fear its neighbours individually. But it is concerned about them ganging up. Japan is still the third largest economy in the world and technologically far ahead of China. Abe seems to want to use Japan’s capacities to enhance Indian power and make it a genuine geopolitical balancer to the Middle Kingdom.
A close Indo-Japanese relationship would also bring the US into the picture -- a trilateral equation that has Beijing gnashing its teeth.
Singh’s speeches, with their call for deepening Indo-Japanese ties and support for freedom of the seas -- a code word for opposition to Chinese maritime claims -- is music to Tokyo’s ears and geopolitical din to Beijing’s.
Hence the dark warning from the Chinese People’s Daily to Abe that any attempt to make India part of an anti-Chinese alliance were doomed.

Food Services business in India

The hot and sizzling food services business with its high turnover and fragmented players, is surprisingly larger than the Indian telecom sector. The rise of ‘eating out’ economy has propelled the restaurant industry to $48 billion, according to a report by the National Restaurant Association of India.
Urbanizing double-income households, changing lifestyles and food preferences are spurring the organized market within the sector, which is now estimated to be $13 billion but expected to reach $28 billion in five years. Casual dining and quick service restaurants (QSRs) account for 70% of the organized segment, while pubs, bars, clubs and lounges (PBCL) form 12%, cafes take 8% share leaving the rest with fine-dining and frozen dessert outlets.
The market potential is encouraging home-grown and existing players to expand their foot print, while new European and US brands are charting India entry plans. London’s dim sum eatery Ping Pong will make its debut next month in Mumbai, while other global brands like Nobu, Carluccios and Zuma are preparing strategies for the second largest food services market in Asia-Pacific. China is far ahead, leading the pack with a $510-billion industry.
Global food and beverage (F&B) brands have revved up India action after Starbucks’s high-profile entry late last year.
New locations, unique formats, innovative menus and exciting themes are influencing increased consumption.
Private equity investors like New Silk Route and Everstone Capital have chased F&B-specific deals to build a specialized asset platform in the sector. Other investors like Sequoia and TVS Capital Funds have fuelled entrepreneurial ambitions where real estate cost is the biggest deterrent in scaling up business models.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that the much awaited Goods and Services Tax (GST) will become a reality by 2014 regardless of who forms the government after the next Lok Sabha elections, even as he counseled the foreign investors to come to terms with problems that India poses as an investment destination.
Singh was responding to Hiromasa Yonekura, chairman of Japan India Business Leadership Form, who told the PM that differences in tax regimes of each state and the complicated tax structure were big obstacles for investments in India.
While saying that it was India’s objective to move towards a Goods and Services Tax, the PM said: “But India is a federation and in federation there are difficulties of getting all the states to agree and surrender their tax power in favour of the GST. But I am confident that we will overcome that hurdle.”
Singh was also candid in acknowledging that the political context, with many state governments belonging to non-UPA parties wary of GST, was not conducive for early implementation of the ambitious tax reforms reform. “I cannot say that we can deliver the GST tomorrow ... but if you ask me, by the year 2014, I am confident that a GST of appropriate type will be in place.”
He also suggested that the opposition to GST was for political reasons which will melt once the 2014 elections are out of the way.
However, Singh tempered his pitch for Japanese investments by advising potential business partners to adjust to Indian reality. He sympathized with the demand of Japanese and other foreign bankers that they be allowed to open more branches in metropolitan centres.
“I agree with you that this is not going to hurt you but will add net value to the role of banking system and I take note of that”, said the PM even as he claimed that the decision on foreign banks’ plea will be that of the finance ministry and the central bank. “If I may confess to you, the higher we go in public life, the lesser we know.”


DMIC snippets

Rajasthan's urban development & housing department has notified the Master Plan for Shahjahanpur-Neemrana-Behror region under the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), paving way for development of the area by various agencies.
“The Master Plan has been prepared for 555 sq km factoring in future development as the freight corridor will fuel growth of multiple sectors. The plan which was notified last week, covers a wider spectrum of economic activities compared to the plan prepared by DMIC consultant,” said a senior UDH official.
As part of the DMIC project, consultant Kuiper Compagnons BV had finalized its master plan for the Khushkhera-Bhiwadi-Neemrana investment region spread over 165 sq km and submitted to the state government last year. Since the government wanted to extend the area for development in view of the future demand, the UDH prepared a new plan taking into account the requirements of various departments like RIICO and housing.
Khushkhera-Bhiwadi-Neemrana is being developed as the first node for which land acquisition is almost complete.
The $100 billion DMIC project envisages developments within 150 km on both sides of the 1,483 km long freight corridor, 39% of which will pass through Rajasthan. The state will develop industrial clusters and multiple projects on both sides of corridor.
The corridor has been planned to create a strong economic base with internationally competitive environment and advanced infrastructure to boost domestic commerce, attract foreign investments and attain sustainable development. It is designed to reduce travel time between Delhi to Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust in Mumbai significantly facilitating faster turnaround and enhanced exports.
Early bird projects that would come up in the node include aerotropolis at Kot Kasim in Alwar, knowledge city and a road link of 70 km between Neemrana and Bhiwadi

IAF Base @ Thanjavur

Strengthening the country’s presence in the Indian Ocean region, defence minister A K Antony dedicated a new Air Force base in Thanjavur. The ceremony was attended by Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne, Air Marshal Rakesh Kumar Jolly, commanding-in-chief, southern air command and other civilian dignitaries.
“The Thanjavur airbase is going to be another strategically important base in the southern peninsula under the control of southern air command. It’s significant in view of the current geo-political scenario and security perceptions in the oceanic region around the peninsula,” Antony said.
The airbase is equipped and ready to undertake fighter, transport and helicopter operations and detachments of these aircraft will be planned every year.
The Air Force station is also slated to house an array of IAF platforms, including Su-30 “air dominance fighter aircraft”, medium transport aircraft, remotely piloted aircraft, and medium power radar, and the infrastructure would be ready by the year 2017, an official said.
The government decided to increase the country’s air power capabilities in the southern peninsula to provide air defence protection to the high value national installations and the island territories.
There was also a growing need to protect India’s maritime trade, and so the government decided to create a southern air command in Thiruvananthapuram in 1984 when it gave approval for the formation of 47-wing in Thanjavur which the IAF took over in March 1990 from the Airport Authority of India to whom the erstwhile Royal Air Force had been handed over after Independence. During the period 1942-45, the Royal Air Force operated this airport with Hudson, Wellington IC, Hurricane, and Thunderbolt aircraft.
During the interregnum after the airbase was handed over to the AAI, and before IAF took over in 1990, the airbase was used for relief operations when affected by natural calamities.
During heavy flooding in Tamil Nadu in November 2008, IAF helicopters operating from Thanjavur dropped 15,000 kg of relief materials to the affected areas.
Antony landed at the new airbase by an IAF aircraft at 11am and was received by Thanjavur revenue officer Suresh Kumar and superintendent of police Dharmaraj. The defence minister was welcomed with a ceremonial guard of honor and the dedication ceremony was marked by an inaugural flight of two Sukhoi-30 aircraft.
Later, the minister unveiled a dedication plaque marking the event, and visited the photo gallery that captured the history and evolution of Air Force Station in Thanjavur.
Speaking on the occasion, the Chief of Air Staff said in the years ahead, the strategic importance of the Thanjavur airbase is likely to grow exponentially.
He thanked the defence minister for settling issues relating to the relocation of the some of the villagers who had given land for the expansion of the station. Antony also thanked the successive governments of Tamil Nadu for their help and support in creating the airbase.

Ahmedabad BRTS gets more awards

Ahmedabad Janmarg Limited (AJL) which operates Bus Rapid Transit System in Ahmedabad received two awards at 60th L'Union internationale des transports publics (UITP) world Congress held in Geneva. UITP is the international association of public transport.

AJL-AMC and Cept University jointly received an award in the category of “UITP India Political Commitment Award” and “Design Award for BRTS.” Cept University has designed the BRTS in the city.
The award was accepted by Arjav Shah, deputy municipal commissioner and Shivanand Swamy, executive director, Cept University. Shah is also the transport manager of BRTS. The award was given by Peter Hendy, president, UITP.
Ahmedabad Janmarg Ltd has won many accolades for the implementation of a sustainable BRTS operation in the past. AJL has 67 km operational route with 136 buses (including 35 AC buses) and gets about 1.30 lakh passengers on an average per day. The BRTS has so far received several awards. Among those received by the government of India include “Best Mass Transit Rapid System Project - 2009” and an “Award for Excellence in the category of Best ITS Project – 2011” and “Best Innovation Project Towards Improvement in Urban Mobility in the City of Ahmedabad through New Technological Innovations in Janmarg BRTS – 2010.”
Internationally, it has got “Sustainable Transport Award – 2010” at Washington DC, USA and “Outstanding Innovations in Public Transportation – 2010” from UITP, Germany. It has also received the international award for design – “Daring Ambition Award and Knowledge and Research Award – 2011” at 59th UITP World Congress, Dubai and the "Momentum For Change 2012" by United Nations in the ‘light house’ activities conference, held on December 5, 2012 at Doha, Qatar.


Chidu's guesstimate

With India’s GDP estimated to have grown about 5% last year, the lowest since 2003-04, finance minister P Chidambaram said the economy this year would grow faster.
The final GDP numbers for the year 2012-13 will be announced this week. Current full year estimate for 2012-13 is at 5%. For the first three quarters, it grew 5.1%. From 9.3% in 2010-11, the economic growth decelerated to 6.2% in 2011-12.
“The economy has slowed down, business has slowed down. But I expect this year it will grow at least 1% more than last year," Chidambaram said .
He also expressed hope that the growth would be one percentage point higher than the current year in financial year 2014-15 and would soon reach potential growth rate of 8%.
Chidambaram urged banks to invest in human resources and technology and to build capacities to deal with growth.
He also urged banks to distinguish between the willful and business cycle-affected honest defaulters. ”NPAs (non-performing assets) are not unusual and will remain when the economy is not performing well. Banks cannot abandon their clients but should hold their hand,” he said.

Kolkata EW Metro update

The East West Metro project may have been grappling with realignment issues, funds crunch, land acquisition problems and non-cooperation from the Mamata Banerjee government, but it has managed to trundle past the Sealdah crossover on one end and completed 93% of the viaduct (elevated portion) construction. It is now steering ahead with related activity like building stations, repairing roads and the like.
The trans-Hooghly project, supposed to join Salt Lake with Howrah, is expected to reach Sealdah station in October even if there is serious uncertainty beyond this point. But what is most important is that after completing the Subhas Sarovar-Phoolbagan stretch, the tunnel has now reached the Sealdah crossover (this is where the rakes can cross over from one track to another), about 660 metres from Sealdah station. Tunnelling beyond the crossover begins in July so that tracks can be laid up to Sealdah station in another three months. The merging of the elevated tracks with the tunnel is also done and the authorities will soon start restoring Subhas Sarovar, which has gone through massive digging for more than four years now.
On the eastern part of the tunnel (from Sealdah crossover to Phoolbagan), work had started on October 17 last year. It’s almost complete now and the breakthrough at Phoolbagan is expected next week. On the western part, the tunnelling started on November 26, 2012, as minister of state for railways Adhir Chowdhury laid the foundation stone. Now, 850 m out of 1,320 m have been done. The breakthrough is likely next month.
The East-West Metro, with a length of 14.58 km (including 5.74 km viaduct and 8.84 km tunnel), is being developed jointly by the railways and the ministry of urban development through a special purpose vehicle, Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation (KMRC). The ambitious project is the city’s only hope since Kolkata has expanded manifold since the north-south Metro came into being on October 24, 1984. The existing lifeline, undoubtedly, has failed to keep pace with the city’s growth.
More than funding, it is land acquisition issues and the state government’s noncooperation that is posing the biggest challenge for the east-west expansion. After the state handed over its entire stake to railways, it withdrew its application from a Division Bench of the Calcutta high court, leaving the Central and Mahakaran stations in jeopardy. In court, the state was defending the land acquisition executed by it, but suddenly made a U-turn after Mamata Banerjee walked out of UPA-II, saying it was not ready to take on the responsibility. A month ago, the state agreed to be a party to it. But the flip-flop and the realignment, being imposed by the Mamata Banerjee government has made a holistic execution of the project impossible. Therefore, once the tracks are laid down till Sealdah station, the tunnel boring machines (TBMs) will have to be extracted from underground and the work will come to a halt.
Work for the elevated portion (viaduct) — between Salt Lake Sector V and Subhas Sarovar — is almost complete, excepting the point which is engulfed in land dispute (Duttabad), thanks to political interference. The joining of the viaduct at Duttabad now depends on resolving acquisition of 7,300 sq m.
As the authorities slug it out with different parties, those at the execution level continue to slog 24x7, achieving newer deadlines. KMRC has started constructing stations at Phoolbagan and Sealdah, but the future of Central station remains uncertain till the litigation is resolved.


Aadhaar snippets

After the launch, people in need of an Aadhaar number can go to permanent enrolment centres, where they will get not just e-Aadhaar numbers for Rs 10, but can also get a unique identity number to any new addition in the family, besides updating biometric or demographic data by paying Rs 15. Those who could not enrol during the special drives can also visit such centres.
The authority is starting 300 such centres. The plan is to scale this number up to 1,000 by September. The Aadhaar Kendras will be located in Common Service Centres or Government Buildings in block/ mandal/ tehsil/ taluka or municipal ward offices.
Three Aadhaar-enabled services were also launched, including e-KYC, OTP (one-time pin) authentication and Iris authentication. UIDAI Chairman Nandan Nilekani termed all these as a part of ‘Portable Digital Assets’, and said these would act as a single gateway to many services. This will also help to roll out various schemes in a cost-effective manner.
The e-KYC service will enable individuals to authorise service providers to receive electronic copies of their proof of identity and address. This service can be deployed by agencies to verify a resident’s identity and address.
Only demographic information (name, address, date of birth, gender, photograph and mobile number) that is collected during Aadhaar enrolment will be shared, at the request of, and/or with the consent of the number holder. However, the information will be available only for a few seconds to the service provider to avoid misuse.
The OTP service will enable Aadhaar-based authentication of all residents using their mobile telephone anytime, anywhere on self-service mode without having to use the biometric authentication device. This service will enable residents to authenticate identity for availing themselves of Aadhaar-enabled services by providing a combination of the Aadhaar number and iris image of the individual.
Under the OTP service and iris authentication, the authority’s digital platform would not share the demographic details and respond in only in ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to authenticate the identity of an individual.

Statue of Unity update

More than 30 months after CM Narendra Modi announced plans to build a 182-metre tall statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, proposed to be the world’s largest statue, the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL) is set to invite bids for project. The project is estimated to cost Rs. 2,000 crore.
“The bids for Statue of Unity project are planned to be invited very soon, may be as early as the first week of June. The project developer will be selected following an international competitive bidding process,” said a senior government official.
In the run-up to the main tender, SSNNL has organised a meeting with potential bidders to appraise them about the project. The meeting will take place in New Delhi on Tuesday.
“We have invited commercial sections of various consulates and leading construction companies who have experience of designing and constructing such structures for the pre-bid meeting. We are expecting 45 representatives to attend the meeting,” said K Srinivas, SSNNL director.
The project is proposed to be built in the memory of Sardar Patel at Sadhu Island, downstream of Sardar Sarovar Dam at Kevadia. It will be implemented on engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) basis.
The first phase of the project comprises a 182-metre tall statue of Sardar Patel, a bridge connecting Sadhu Island to the mainland, visitors centre, memorial garden, and 3.5 km road to Kevadia. It is planned to be completed in 42 months. The state government has formed Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Rashtriya Ekta Trust for implementing the project.
A consortium comprising Turner Project Management Consultant, Michael Graves & Associates Inc, and Meinhardt India has been appointed as the project management and construction management consultant for the project. 

Somewhere in Chhattisgarh....

Naxals opened fire on a Congress rally led by senior party leaders in Chhattisgarh’s Jagdalpur district on Saturday, killing senior leaders Mahendra Karma and Udya Mudaliyar and injuring several others, including former Union minister VC Shukla, police said.
The Naxals also kidnapped state Congress chief Nand Kumar Patel and his son after attacking their convoy at Darba Gati Valley in Jagdalpur district, according to police officials.
Former Congress chief minister Ajit Jogi told reporters in Delhi that the Naxals parked a truck and blocked the road and opened fire as the convoy slowed down. The attack took place at around 5.30 pm in a dense forest near National Highway 202 (Bhadrachalam district of Andhra Pradesh is adjacent) when the convoy was returning from a “Parivartan” rally in Sukma.
Police say a team has been deployed to the area and more details will be available only after they reach the spot.

Shukla was reported to be at Darba Ghati police station and the nature of his injuries could not be ascertained immediately. Police sources said another former Congress MLA Phulo Devi Netam from Bastar, a prominent tribal leader, was also wounded in the firing by Maoists. Karma, a former state home minister, was a guiding force behind Salwa Judum (anti-Naxal operation by vigilante groups). The burst of gunfire was preceded by a blast.
Chief minister Raman Singh has called an emergency meeting to take stock of the situation.

The toll in the deadly attack by suspected Maoists on a convoy of Congress leaders in Chhattisgarh rose to 27 after the bullet-riddled bodies of state party chief Nand Kumar Patel, his son Dinesh and eight others were found on Sunday.
The bodies were lying in the forested Jiram valley of Bastar region, about a km from the spot where the rebels had ambushed the convoy around 5pm on Saturday, the police said.
Patel and his son were missing after the rebels triggered a landmine explosion and opened indiscriminate fire near Darbha in Jagdalpur district, 340 km south of state capital Raipur.Among others, the dead included state Congress leaders Mahendra Karma and Uday Mudliyar, who were gunned down even as they tried to surrender. Party veteran and former Union minister Vidya Charan Shukla, who was also part of the convoy returning from a pre-election rally, was critically wounded.
He was airlifted to New Delhi late at night and admitted to Gurgaon’s Medanta hospital.
Chhattisgarh DGP Ram Niwas said 32 people were injured in the attack. The police brought 17 bodies to the Maharani hospital in Jagdalpur during the early hours of Sunday. Heavy downpour since morning at Jagdalpur affected rescue operations.
Some missing Congress workers returned to Jagdalpur.
Most of the dead and injured are Congress leaders and workers and four to five of those killed in the attack are personal security officers of the Congress leaders.
Karma, who had been at the forefront of Salwa Judum, an anti-Naxal drive, had been on the rebels' hit list for some time. He had been a home minister in the state and last represented the Congress in the Chhattisgarh assembly as the opposition leader.
The suspected rebels attacked the convoy as it passed through the Darbha valley. The convoy was returning from a rally organised as part of the Congress party's Parivartan Yatra. Chhattisgarh goes to elections later this year.
The rebels triggered a powerful blast to blow up the second vehicle of the convoy and followed up with indiscriminate firing. In the hour-long gunfight that ensued, at least 27 people were killed and several others were wounded, said MA Ganpathy, joint secretary in the Union home ministry in New Delhi.
A PTI report said the attackers, numbering about 100-150, peppered Karma's body with bullets.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described the ambush as a "dastardly attack". The ambush came after more than a year of relative lull in Maoist violence and pointed to possible attempts by the rebels to stage new offensives.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi flew to Chhattisgarh capital Raipur by a special aircraft late in the night to meet the injured.
The prime minister ordered the home ministry to dispatch more than 600 paramilitary personnel, including elite CoBRA anti-Maoist commandos, to sanitise and take control of the site of Saturday's attack.

Another NIMZ granted to Andhra

Andhra Pradesh has been granted another National Investment Manufacturing Zone (NIMZ) near Ongole in Prakasam district. This was announced by Union commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma at a press conference jointly addressed by him and chief minister Kiran Kumar Reddy.
This will be in addition to the two NIMZs already cleared in principle by the central government in Medak and Chittoor districts. The zones will be developed as integrated industrial townships with state-of-the-art infrastructure, clean and energy-efficient technology and skill development facilities. Andhra Pradesh would be the second state after Maharashtra to have more than two NIMZs. The Centre has already given in principal approval for 12 NIMZs, which will get several incentives like exemption from capital gains tax and liberalised labour and environmental norms.
These zones are being set up under the National Manufacturing Policy of 2011, with an aim to increase the share of the manufacturing sector in the GDP from the present 16% to 25%. “Japan, Germany, the UK, Russia and China have shown keen interest in investing in these NIMZs,” the Union minister said. Earlier in the day, he laid the foundation stone for the National Institute of Design (NID) at Gachibowli.
Stressing on more employment opportunities, the minister said the manufacturing sector would provide jobs to 150 million youth who would join the work force by 2025.
Complimenting the state for making good progress in the designing sector, he said the Centre is ready to extend financial help to 46 more handloom clusters in the state. At present, it is providing aid to 52 clusters, he said. Sharma also agreed to provide health insurance to workers in the powerloom industry by designing a special package. At the request of the chief minister, Sharma agreed to sanction 'mega clusters' at Dharmavaram, where 47,000 silk looms are present.
The minister also agreed to establish a ‘World Pharma Trade Centre’ in Hyderabad. Sharma directed the officials to make all efforts to lay the foundation for Footwear Designing and Development Institute (FDDI) at Hyderabad within 30 to 45 days time.
Stating that Visakhapatnam has become a key centre of activities for cargo and trade with foreign countries, the minister agreed to sanction 'Indian Institute of Foreign Trade' (IIFT) at Visakhapatnam.
He also agreed to start one branch of 'Central Cottage Emporium' in the state. The Union minister congratulated Kiran Kumar for his efforts to launch ‘E-Biz Project’ by September-October this year, as AP is the first state to start single-window permissions online in the industrial sector.


Bullet train snippets

Notwithstanding the recent turmoil in the railway ministry following the cash-for- job scam, the government’s ambitious plan to run a high speed rail corridor between Mumbai and Ahmedabad is slowly inching closer to becoming a reality.
Philippe Lorand, vice president, business development, SNCF, the French National Railways which is assisting the Indian Railways to develop the techno-feasibility road map of the over 534-km corridor - one of the six proposed high speed railway lines - said that the exercise is in the final stages of completion.
Considered one of the oldest operators of high speed trains, SNCF has 850 bullet trains - called TGV - that run at an average speed of 320 km per hour.
“We are in the final stages of completing our study and hope to submit our report by October. The railways will take a final call on the specifications recommended by us before inviting bids. We expect that this process would start early next year,” he said.
Building the high speed corridor is expected to cost Rs.60,000 crore at present day prices. And once work starts it will take 10 years to complete it.

Singapore offers a helping hand

Singapore has indicated its willingness to invest in Maharashtra and help develop urban infrastructure in the state. Singapore Deputy Prime Minister T Shanmugaratnam, who was in Mumbai, discussed the same with Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, a senior official said.
“They dwelt on ways to create infrastructure in Mumbai, Pune and other cities, on the lines of that in Singapore,” the official said. “Singapore has assured the Maharashtra government of extending help in developing cities and has expressed its willingness to invest in the state.”
Although Singapore is small compared to India, it has achieved progress by focusing on urban planning and developing cities, Shanmugaratnam told Chavan.
He expressed willingness to help the state in urban and infrastructure development, water supply, sewage and other sectors. Shanmugaratnam was keen on knowing how Maharashtra was tackling the drought situation.
There is opportunity for Singapore industrialists and investors in sectors like airports, expansion of mono rail and metro rail, health, and hospitality sectors, Chavan said.

Somewhere in Mumbai....

Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan inaugurated the Milan Subway Rail Overbridge after a delay of three and a half years.
Authorities anticipate that this flyover will carry more than 35,000 vehicles daily, thereby reducing traffic jams.
Also, the overbridge will give relief to motorists during the monsoon as the area gets flooded frequently.
However, the project is still incomplete as Dayaldas Road, which will connect motorists from Vile Parle East to SV Road, is yet to be widened.

Big strike in KG D-6

Both RIL and BP have separately announced a major discovery of gas and condensate — a low-density mixture of hydrocarbon liquids that come out along with natural gas — in the KG-D6 block that could turn their fortunes by reversing the fall in production.
Official statements issued by the companies said their first exploration well drilled in the block in five years struck a 155-metre-thick gas and condensate zone. But privately, executives of both companies said this could turn out to be the biggest find in the block so far.
The new find would also come in handy for the oil ministry to point out the advantage of granting quick approvals to explorers and counter allegations of being soft on RIL for failing to meet gas production targets. RIL-BP had drilled the MJ-1 well in early March after the government permitted companies to drill exploration wells in areas where exploration period had expired.
Other sources said the discovery could be significantly more than a pre-drill best-case estimate of 819 billion cubic feet of gas and 56 million barrels of liquids for the well.

A mega Education Hub in Hyderabad

A mega ‘educational hub’ to house premier institutions is in the offing on the outskirts of Hyderabad. If the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority (HMDA) has its way, the hub will soon be a reality at Jawaharnagar. Many premier institutes have already approached the state government and sought allotment of land in the 700 acres belonging to HMDA.
The development authority has already roped in the department of higher education to identify the institutions and the Indian School of Business (ISB) to prepare the blueprint for the ambitious project.
Jawaharnagar already houses the Hyderabad campus of Birla Institute of Technology and Sciences (BITS) and Army College of Dental Sciences. HMDA officials said the idea was to develop the land between Shamirpet and Jawaharnagar for educational institutions of national and international repute on the lines of the ‘Institutional Area’ in Delhi as there is a huge chunk of government land available there. Besides, the area is in close proximity to the Outer Ring Road (ORR).
Several institutions have already approached the state government and sought allotment of land at Jawaharnagar. These include XLRI of Jamshedpur, which has sought 100 acres to set up a campus and the National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research (NIPER) that has also asked for 100 acres for its requirements. Currently, NIPER is functioning on the premises of Indian Drugs and Pharmaceutical Limited (IDPL) in Balanagar. Singareni Collieries has asked for about 30 acres for setting up a training institute while some others like All India Management Schools Association have asked for land ranging from 10 to 50 acres.
Officials said the task of preparing blueprint for the educational hub has been entrusted to ISB, Hyderabad. The ISB will give a report by studying various institutional areas around the world and come up with land allotment policy, type of institutions that should be allowed and other modalities for the proposed hub. The blueprint prepared by ISB will have to be cleared by the municipal administration and urban development (MA&UD) and higher education departments.
On its part, HMDA has already prepared a master plan for its 2,300 acres at Jawaharnagar area given by the state government as part of resource mobilization a few years ago. Of this land, about 600 acres was allotted to BITS Pilani. Of the remaining 1,700 acres, 900 acres land is either in litigation or has been encroached upon. Some of the squatters were evicted but in some areas cases are pending with different courts.

Of Dutch farm centres....

The Netherlands will be opening at least one centre of excellence each in Kerala, Gujarat and Punjab this year to impart training to farmers on Dutch farm practices and technologies, an official of the Netherlands embassy said.
Last year, India and The Netherlands had signed an agreement to set up 10 centres of excellence across the country. These centres will impart training to farmers on Dutch farm practices and technologies especially in the field of horticulture, dairy, potato and meat chains.
Agriculture ministry joint secretary Sanjeev Chopra said, “There is a need to raise farm productivity in the country. Dutch technologies will help us increase agricultural productivity of some crops.”
India’s foodgrain production in the 2012-13 crop year (July-June) is estimated to be 255.36 million tonnes.

Rupee touches 56.01

The rupee weakened sharply in the intra-day trade to touch an eight-and-a-half month low of 56.01 before closing at 55.59 in the interbank foreign exchange market on Thursday, down 11 paise from its previous close of 55.48.
The sharp drop took the market completely by surprise. Dealers said that they had been expecting a correction in the rupee after yesterday’s fall as there were no major concerns on the external front. The short term outlook for the rupee continued to be positive as oil and gold prices had softened and multi-billion dollar inflows were expected on account of Unilever’s open offer for Hindustan Lever and Qatari Foundation’s $1.26bn investment in Bharti Airtel.
Dealers said that only explanation for the fall was that there was general panic following the 7% fall in the Nikkei, which was coupled with the release of China’s purchasing manager’s index data which pointed at a slowdown and fears of US Fed withdrawing stimulus.
Given the absence of any strong reasons for the fall, conspiracy theories continued to abound in the market. One of them was that the central bank was following a weak rupee strategy, flexing its muscles only when the rupee gained by buying over a billion dollars in the foreign exchange markets in recent months. A weak rupee, besides discouraging imports, would also encourage capital inflows. There was also speculation that the fall could be triggered by some players arbitraging between the spot and the non-deliverable forward markets overseas where the rupee trades lower than in domestic trades.

Shivaji Memorial update

The state government has decided to seek the public’s view on the proposed Shivaji memorial in the Arabian Sea.
The expert panel chaired by rural development minister Jayant Patil said the “concept plan” for the 309-ft statue will be uploaded on a website, where citizens will be able to key in their observations.
Officials said advertisements would be put out asking people to offer suggestions. The state is also keen to hear the public’s view on whether the statute should be surrounded by a fortified wall or built on stilts. “The government wants people to contribute to the idea. Once we have received all suggestions, a project consultant may be appointed to get a basic concept plan ready,” said a senior official. The panel also decided on including PWD minister Chhagan Bhujbal and parliamentary affairs minister Harshwardhan Patil, among other leaders. The government has zeroed in on an 18-acre islet, four km into the sea from Marine Drive, for the statue, said a senior official.


Delhi Lokayukta on Sheila Dikshit

The Delhi Lokayukta has indicted Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit for ‘misusing’ public money on running an advertisement campaign with a political motive ahead of the assembly elections in 2008.
Lokayukta Justice Manmohan Sarin recommended President Pranab Mukherjee to caution Dikshit against the misuse of public funds. He urged the President to “advise” Delhi CM to reimburse a sum of Rs.11 crore against half the cost of the advertisements in 2008 or any amount the President finds adequate.
The indictment came after an inquiry into a complaint by former Delhi BJP president Vijender Gupta. Gupta had charged Dikshit with abusing her position as chief minister by carrying out an advertisement campaign with a view to gaining political mileage in the 2008 assembly elections.
“Dikshit has betrayed Delhi residents by spending the hard earned taxpayer’s money to serve personal interests. She must step down immediately,” said Delhi BJP president Vijay Goel, in a statement.
Gupta had alleged government machinery, particularly the department of information and publicity, was instructed to make an elaborate plan to project the chief minister in a positive light to gain advantage during election and overcome the anti-incumbency factor.
“The pattern of advertisements published by the government of Delhi and the Congress party clearly establishes a proximate and inextricable nexus between the two,” the Lokayukta observed.
An article authored by Uday Sahay, the then director of information and publicity department, had disclosed the strategy devised by the chief minister, and her department to make an elaborate campaign to overcome anti-incumbency and help her win the assembly election, the Lokayukta said in the order.
Dikshit was holding the charge of the department of information and publicity at that time.
“Besides being Chief Minister and Minister in Charge of Information and Publicity, the respondent kept a strict control over all the advertisements issued by various departments/ ministries of government of Delhi and was thus directly responsible there for,” the Lokayukta said.

Quadricycles get the nod

The government has allowed ‘quadricycles’ to ply on roads as public transport within city limits. Quadricycles are safer than 3-wheelers as they have fully-enclosed body structure with hard top and doors. But their maximum speed limit and engine capacity are lower than that of a small car. As an identification symbol “Q” will be prominently displayed on the body of these quadricyles. The development is seen as good news for auto major Bajaj Auto which last year had unveiled the quadricycle codenamed RE60, which is powered by a 200 cc petrol engine with a top speed of 70 kilometre per hour and with a mileage of 35 kilometre per litre. Quadricycles will be recommended for registration under commercial transport category for intra-city movement within the municipal limits only and these vehicles will be permitted to be driven only by licensed driver after due registration.

UPA @ 9

Sonia Gandhi moved to quell talk about a growing distance between the Congress and the prime minister and ruled out early general elections, seeking to draw a firm line under the two of the biggest uncertainties spooking the UPA.
Addressing a meeting to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the UPA, Gandhi said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been “carrying out his responsibilities with great dignity despite hostilities” and that her party “respects him and stands by him”. “There are calculated efforts, innuendos, misinformation and untruths being spread,” she told the Congress leaders assembled on the lawns of the prime minister’s official residence. Speaking to reporters after the function, her son and leader in waiting, Rahul Gandhi, too, rejected suggestions that two-leader system has become dysfunctional. “It has been a pleasant relationship for the past nine years and that is what it is.” He also amplified the message that Singh would remain very much in control of the government when he said that the party organisation was his priority. Sonia, who spoke after the release of a government report card that sought to highlight its many achievements, asserted that the UPA has a track record to run on. In what was clearly aimed at telling Congress workers that the party’s political narrative was still intact, she said that every section of society had benefitted during UPA’s nine year tenure.
She also used the occasion to dispel the growing impression that the government has lost the stamina to govern and that elections could be round the corner. “We still have time to fulfil our duties to our people,” Gandhi said.

Gandhi laid the blame for parliamentary paralysis solely at the doorstep of the opposition. “I can’t hide at deep sense of disappointment at the way Parliament has been prevented from functioning and fulfilling is role and obligations by principal opposition party. We offered to debate and discuss all issues, but Parliament wasn’t allowed to function due to obstructionist approach,” she said.
At the same time, she sought an across the aisle backing for her pet bills. “We want to make fervent plea to NDA and opposition parties to come together for passing food security, land acquisition and other important bills...”
The PM said the country saw an improved performance of economy and inclusive growth under the UPA. “We are the one of the fastest growing economies in the world, including the years where we saw a slowdown,” he said.
But unlike the last anniversary celebrations where Mulayam Singh’s participation helped Congress to drive home its point that the alliance could grow bigger, Wednesday’s event was only attended by smaller allies. This incidentally ensured a seat for SP discard Amar Singh at the high table occupied by Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Sharad Pawar, Lalu Yadav, Farooq Abdullah and BSP’s SC Mishra.
Amid Congress-JMM negotiations for propping up a government in Jharkhand, Shibu Soren’s nominee Sanjiv Kumar joined Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi at the high table of UPA dinner. A visibly happy Ram Vilas Paswan joined the UPA leaders at the podium itself.

“Sitaron se aage jahaan aur bhi hain; abhi ishq ke imtihan aur bhi hain,” PM remarked, when asked about his tenure. Singh was quoting a couplet of Muhammad Iqbal, meaning ‘beyond stars, there are even more worlds; there are still even more tests of passion’.

ET Editorial :

It is tempting to posit survival as the biggest achievement of the UPA government’s second term. It never had a comfortable majority even in the Lok Sabha and then two of its biggest allies walked out, leaving UPA in a lurch. But it has successfully managed the contradictions among the Opposition to not only stay alive but also push through some sterling reforms, such as liberalising foreign investment in organised retail and airlines and kicking off the long-delayed decontrol of diesel prices, albeit in a kind of slow motion that a tortoise would sneer at. But survival has not been UPA’s sole achievement.
Power lines now connect 5.6 lakh villages. But this does not show up as an achievement because there is no power flowing through these lines — thanks to perennial coal shortages, poor regulation of tariffs and fuel prices and worse management of state electricity board finances. High-speed broadband is being rolled out to 2,50,000 panchayats. The Unique Identity programme has created the backbone for countrywide electronic banking, apart from potentially empowering millions of people to procure valid proof of identity that opens the way to bank accounts and assorted state benefits. These do not register as major achievements because they are not yet complete. But in two years’ time, rural power, rural data connectivity and financial inclusion would change the face of India as few things in India’s long history have.
A series of scams relating to UPA-I have haunted UPAII almost to paralysis for much of its term. Lack of internal cohesion within the government has not helped. The constitutional scheme of things is that different organs of the state would provide mutual checks and balances. During UPA-II, balance has been missing from the equation. An Opposition that has let truculence get the better of responsibility has made matters worse. But the UPA has no one to blame but itself for its failure to initiate the most vital reform India needs: to make political funding and expenditure transparent and accountable. And for its failure to communicate whatever it has achieved.