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MTHL update

The Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link project has got a coastal regulation zone clearance from the ministry of environment and forest (MoEF). The state will now make another attempt to build the bridge. The MoEF cleared MMRDA’s MTHL proposal on July 19, 2013. The clearance is crucial, given the wetland between the two MTHL points - Sewri and Nhava that annually witnesses huge flocks of migratory birds.
Last year, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) had applied for a fresh clearance from MoEF after the validity of the certificate obtained by the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) expired. In 2005, MSRDC had received a nod for the 22 km sea link. As the validity is for five years, the development authority had to apply afresh.
Earlier this month, the MMRDA had saw a no-show from private firms to erect the bridge on a public-private partnership basis. MMRDA authorities then announced that they will start the process to get it constructed on a cash-contact basis and plan to push for the project to be declared as a ‘national project’.
An MMRDA official said, “The Centre could approve the proposal. So, at least half the cost will come from the Centre.” The MTHL is estimated to cost Rs.9,630 crore.


Of languages....

Subbarao bids adieu

In his swansong, Reserve Bank of India Governor Duvvuri Subbarao laid bare his differences with Finance Minister P Chidambaram, but predicted that one day the lawyer-turned-politician will thank the bureaucrat. Government meddling in the affairs of the central bank should be avoided and the RBI governor should appear before a parliamentary panel twice a year, as is the case in advanced nations, to ensure the autonomy comes with accountability, Subbarao said. “I do hope Finance Minister Chidambaram will one day say, ‘I am often frustrated by the Reserve Bank, so frustrated that I want to go for a walk, even if I have to walk alone. But thank God, the Reserve Bank exists’,” Subbarao told the audience at the Nani Palkhivala Memorial Lecture.
The recent rupee fall, the governor said, was more because of the high current account deficit (CAD) — the excess of spending overseas than earnings — for three years. As a nation, India failed to utilise the excess liquidity to set its house in order, and blaming the Fed Reserve now would not help.
Last October, Chidambaram had famously said, “If the government has to walk alone to face the challenge of growth, then we will walk alone”. The FM made these remarks in the context of RBI’s seeming reluctance to cut rates. Although the governor and the minister have spoken in conflicting language when it comes to economic policies, Subbarao is for the first time publicly naming the minister to assert that his frustration with monetary policies may well turn out to be wrong in the eyes of history. 

Somewhere in Chennai....

When onions were selling for 80 a kg, the government-run Farm Fresh consumer outlets were selling them for 30/kg.Now,the corporation will request the department of cooperation, food and consumer protection to open such outlets in each of the city’s 200 wards. The outlets procure farm products directly from farmers, eliminating middlemen and ensuring farmers get a good price.

6 more Airports to be privatized

With the next general elections months away, UPA-II has decided to fast-track the privatization of six more AAI airports — Chennai, Kolkata, Lucknow, Ahmedabad, Jodhpur and Guwahati — like the four metro airports that are now running under PPP (public-private-partnership) model.
The aviation ministry will start issuing request for qualification (RFQ) from next week to private bidders to “operate, maintain and develop” these airports on a revenue-share model with AAI for a concession period of 30 years.
However unlike the PPP airports in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore, AAI will not be asked to invest anything in the private companies that will bid to run the six airports as the ministry has decided to allow the private players to have 100% stake. AAI has a 26% stake in Delhi and Mumbai and 13% in Hyderabad and Bangalore airports.
Also, in departure from the practice at the four metros, aviation authorities may decide the aeronautical tariff structure for the entire 30 years with inbuilt clauses for escalation when costs go up to give the bidders a clear idea of revenue generation. And, bidders for these six airports may have to retain the entire staff there as after privatization AAI is unlikely to absorb them.
AAI had recently modernized Kolkata and Chennai airports at a cost of Rs 2,325 crore and Rs 2,015 crore, respectively. It has also upgraded both the passenger terminal and operational facilities at the other four airports, which are now being sought to be privatized.
Apart from unions and political parties, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) had also opposed privatization of more airports in India after seeing how the private metro airports have hiked their charges. Delhi, for instance, is now rated among the most expensive airports in the world. 

Iran's ship detention is a tit for tat

In a clear tit-for-tat, suggesting worsening of the diplomatic standoff between the two nations, Iran summoned Indian ambassador D P Shrivastava in Tehran and protested detention of an Iranian cargo vessel for “unknown reasons” by the Indian authorities.
The envoy was called in by the Iranian foreign ministry within 24 hours of India registering a strong protest with the Iranian envoy here for the “illegal detention” of an oil tanker, Desh Shanti, that was carrying Iraqi crude when it was boarded by Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) in international waters.
The summoning of the Indian ambassador has largely confirmed New Delhi’s fears that Iran’s allegations about Desh Shanti polluting Iranian waters may be a mere smokescreen for illegally taking possession of the vessel. According to reports in the Iranian media on Thursday, an Iranian merchant vessel, Diyanat, was detained by Indian authorities around 18 months ago and it has remained stationed at Mundra port in Gulf of Kutch. Iran’s deputy foreign minister Seyyed Abbas Araqchi is reported to have demanded immediate release of the vessel and also asked the Indian envoy to ensure that its crew members are not subjected to any “mistreatment”.
Indian authorities, however, countered this saying the Iranian ship had remained at Mundra because it had fallen foul of international admiralty and maritime laws. The ship owners are said to be locked in a dispute with a firm based in a south-east Asian country and needs to pay a certain amount of money to the company before it is released.
“This has hardly got anything to do with India,” said a source, adding that Indian authorities have also allowed replacement of Diyanat crew several times since the ship docked at Mundra.

NaMo tweets in 15 languages

With an eye on a bigger national role, Modi has been tweeting in 13 languages, including Urdu, English and Hindi.
His information technology (IT) team would soon be tweeting in Punjabi and northeastern dialects.
Besides speaking Telugu at a rally in Hyderabad on August 11, Modi attempted addressing people at Puri in Odiya. Apart from Gujarati, Hindi and English, he can speak Marathi fluently. His IT machinery is working hard to launch websites on Gujarat in over 50 languages — both national and international. The state information department is planning to outsource publicity content writing jobs in other languages. 

Lok Sabha passes Land Bill

With an eye on oncoming elections, political parties joined hands to pass the land acquisition bill in Lok Sabha. The key features of the bill, such as consent of landowners for acquiring land for private and PPP projects and compensation norms set at four and two times the market rate for rural and urban land respectively, were hailed by all quarters.
The Left and the AIADMK walked out, the Trinamool Congress and the Revolutionary Socialist Party opposed and the bill was passed by 216 votes to 19. Leader of opposition Sushma Swaraj’s amendments on deterring land sharks were incorporated in the bill. The bill, with 158 amendments of which 28 are substantive, did not face any significant obstacle given the convergence between UPA and principal opposition BJP which set the tone by criticizing the bill for not being sufficiently profarmer. The Lok Sabha nod following a detailed response from rural development minister Jairam Ramesh to criticisms and suggestions makes the law virtually a done deal with its passage assured in the upper House.

The bill, framed in 2007, has had a chequered career. Its introduction in Lok Sabha was withdrawn at the last moment in August 2009, with the TMC demanding a complete ban on “forcible acquisition”. Thereafter, it has been through a standing committee and more changes and consultations that have placed a social impact assessment at the centre of any land acquisition in a bid to evaluate if a project is worth the environmental and social cost. The consensus among parties appears dictated by political correctness, aggravated ahead of elections, while the government’s presentation of the bill as a panacea against coercive acquisition is sure to veto any serious political costs.

Yasin Bhatkal held

Yasin Bhatkal, one of India’s most wanted terrorists responsible for several bombings that have claimed over 200 lives, has been arrested.
The 30-year-old, whose real name is Ahmed Siddibappa, was picked up from Pokhara in Nepal where he was living in the guise of a Unani doctor. The successful operation of the Intelligence Bureau, which was facilitated by Nepal, also yielded a bonus in the form of Asadullah Akhtar alias Haddi, an absconding front-ranking member of the Azamgarh module of the Indian Mujahideen (IM) who had played a crucial role in the 2011 serial blasts in Mumbai.
With the police of different states on his trail, Yasin had made Nepal his base. He would come to India only for plotting and perpetrating terror attacks. The vast network of associates he had created in the nearby Darbhanga district helped him stay away from India and yet operate efficiently. In the event, it was the success of IB in tracking one of his assets which led to the high-ranking fugitive.
The arrest of Yasin, who carried a reward of Rs.10 lakh, is a major breakthrough for the Indian security establishment’s efforts to neutralize IM which overcame setbacks inflicted by security agencies to resume its terror campaign against India.

Coming on the heels of the arrest of Abdul Karim Tunda, who orchestrated a series of blasts across Delhi and elsewhere in the 90s, the arrest was also reflective of the Indian security establishment’s growing cooperation with Nepal whose approach facilitated the hijack of Indian Airlines aircraft, IC- 814, in 1999. 


Of increase in Per Capita Income....

The per capita income in the country increased by 6.7 per cent per annum during 2004-05 to 201112, while the percentage of poor declined by 2.2 per cent over the period.
The growth in employment and GDP is expected to raise the levels of income and consumption and hence results in decreasing the percentage of poor in the country, according to official sources.
The per capita income measured by net national income (NNI) has increased by 6.7 per cent per annum between 2004-05 and 2011-12 and poverty reduced by 2.2 per cent per annum during the same period, according to sources.
For 2011-12, the Planning Commission has estimated percentage of people living below the poverty line at 21.9 per cent. The poverty line in 2011-12 in terms of monthly per capita consumption expenditure was estimated at Rs 816 in rural areas and Rs 1,000 in urban areas.
State-wise, Uttar Pradesh witnessed highest number of people living below poverty line during 2011-12 at 598.19 people below poverty line out of every lakh. It was followed by Bihar at 358.15 people (per lakh), Madhya Pradesh 234.04 people, Maharashtra 197.92 people and West Bengal at 184.98 people living below the poverty line.
The 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17) emphasises the need to build upon the achievements of the 11th Five Year Plan and strive for faster, sustainable and more inclusive growth in order to reduce economic disparities, the sources said.

Monsoon Session extended

India has extended the monsoon session of parliament by seven days until September 6, government officials said, giving the Congress party-led ruling coalition more time to pass economic reforms after weeks of disruptions in the house.
Asia's third largest economy is growing at its slowest pace in a decade and the government is keen to pass several bills economists say will help reverse the malaise.
Protests by members on issues as wide-ranging as sex crimes, corruption and the creation of a new state had until Monday virtually paralysed parliament, but a debate on a $20 billion populist food bill broadly supported across the benches raised hopes the logjam had been cleared.
The decision was due to be formalised after a cabinet meeting later on Monday. The government will try to pass a bill to allow foreign investment in the pension sector during the extended session, a law seen as a first step to building a viable private pension industry in India.
Also up for debate is a bill setting rules for compensation for land acquired for infrastructure projects and industry, a move seen as raising costs but potentially reducing protests that have plagued India's industrialization drive.
In 2012, parliament passed just 22 of the 94 bills listed for consideration. The government aimed to pass 43 bills in the current session.

Rupee sinks to record low

The rupee slumped to a record low near 69 to the dollar on growing worries that foreign investors will continue to sell out of a country facing stiff economic challenges and volatile global markets.
The pummelling in markets sent the rupee reeling 3.7 percent to an all-time low of 68.85 with the unit closing just a touch off that, at 68.80/81 per dollar, its biggest single-day fall since October 1995.
In absolute terms too, the 256-basis-point fall in the rupee was the biggest ever. An assault on the psychologically key 70 level now appears imminent, as intervention from the central bank seen mid-morning only gave the rupee a brief respite.
In the stock market, state-run Life Insurance Corp allowed the domestic benchmark index to erase steep early losses and end the day stronger.
Foreign investors have sold almost $1 billion of Indian shares in the eight sessions through Tuesday -a worrisome prospect given stocks had been India's one sturdy source of capital inflows in the first half of 2013. If more foreign investors throw in the towel, traders fear it will put the country in a vicious cycle in which the hit to confidence in turn slams shares and the currency even harder.
Policymakers have been consistently struggling to come up with steps that can convince markets they can stabilise the rupee and attract funds into the country.

IndiGo 10th biggest LCC

IndiGo, India’s biggest carrier by passenger market-share, is also the world’s tenth biggest low-cost carrier (LCC) by seats offered, according to a recent report by CAPA-Centre for Aviation. The Gurgaon-based airline follows Malaysian carrier and soon-to-be local rival AirAsia, which is on the 9th spot in a list led by Southwest Airlines, Ryanair and Easyjet, according to date compiled by the Sydney-based consultant. The airline currently has a fleet of 69 planes and offers 533,700 seats. AirAsia has a smaller fleet of 67 planes, but has 537,840 seats on offer, the report said. Southwest Airlines has a total fleet of 584 planes and 3.3 million seats to sell. IndiGo’s Indian rivals SpiceJet and Go Air are in spots 16 and 36 respectively in a list of 50 budget carriers. The inclusion of India’s budget carriers in the list shows their growing prominence in the global aviation industry.
The LCC segment exploded in India in 2003 with the advent of GR Gopinath’s Air Deccan that introduced unprecedented fares of 1 and 99, and led to an aviation boom, with passenger numbers shooting upwards of 30%.
While Air Deccan couldn’t sustain its balance sheet and sold stake to Vijay Mallya-owned Kingfisher Airlines, other LCCs came in and rapidly grew in the Indian market nibbling away share from their full service rivals. India’s three LCCs together currently control close to 59% of the passenger market although about 40% of India’s total scheduled passenger fleet, according to May data from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation.
The LCC space in India is now set to grow even further with AirAsia planning to set up a local carrier in India in a tie-up with the Tata Group and Arun Bhatia of Telestra Tradeplace. The airline plans to start operations by end of this year or early next year. Jet, India’s second-biggest carrier, also runs low fare flights under a brand called Jet Konnect, while Air India is planning to operate all economy flights on some routes.
IndiGo, owned partly by InterGlobe Enterprises and US-based Caelum Investments, started operations in August 2006, after placing a mammoth order of 100 Airbus A320 planes.
The carrier followed it with an order of 180 planes in 2011, then the biggest passenger aircraft deal by volume in aviation history. It currently has an order of 158 planes. Over the years, the airline has, with its lean business model and operational efficiency, been estimated to be the only profit-making carrier in recent times.

A Rocky Road ahead

Standard and Poor’s cautioned that large deficit economies including India could face more economic problems in the near term. “The road may be rocky in the near term, particularly for the largest deficit countries — India and Indonesia — but we don’t think this is the Asian crisis all over again,” said S&P report titled ‘South And Southeast Asian Economies Grapple With Growth And External Financing Risks’.
Observing that in normal times the countries with high Current Account Deficit (CAD) and high savings might not find it difficult to borrow in the international market, it said, “when markets become risk averse, economies with current account deficits (CADs) often find themselves facing external financing pressure”. India’s CAD rose to an all time high of $88.2 billion or 4.8% of the GDP in 2012-13. For the current fiscal, the government plans to bring it down to $70 billion or 3.7% of GDP. High CAD is impacting the value of rupee, which slipped to an all time low of 68.75 to a dollar in the intra-day trade. The S&P said domestically driven economies like China, India, Indonesia face lower growth risks than trade dependent nations like Singapore.


India’s first dedicated military satellite GSAT-7 or “Rukmini”, which will be launched by Arianespace from French Guiana on Friday, will provide the Navy with an almost 2,000 nautical mile footprint over the critical Indian Ocean region (IOR).
Essentially a geo-stationary communication satellite to enable real-time networking of all Indian warships, submarines and aircraft with operational centres ashore, the 2,625 kg Rukmini will also help the Navy keep a hawk-eye over both Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal. “From Persian Gulf to Malacca Strait, it will help cover almost 70% of the IOR,” said asource.
The “over-the-sea use” Rukmini, with UHF, S, Ku and C-band transponders, is to be followed by GSAT-7A with the IAF and Army sharing its “over-the-land use” bandwidth. The Navy has been clamouring for such a satellite for close to a decade now to shorten its “sensor-to-shooter loop” — the ability to swiftly detect and tackle a threat — but the delay in the indigenous GSLV rocket to carry satellites and other factors have been the stumbling blocks.
India, of course, has been a late entrant into the military space arena despite having a robust civilian programme for decades. Without dedicated satellites of their own, the Armed forces were relegated to using “dual use” Cartosat satellites or the Technology Experimental Satellite launched in 2001, apart from leasing foreign satellite transponders for surveillance, navigation and communication purposes.
China, in sharp contrast, has taken huge strides in the military space arena, testing even ASAT (anti-satellite) weapons against “low-earth orbit” satellites since January 2007. “With counter-space being a top priority, China has been testing its ‘direct-ascent kinetic kill’ capabilities. It also has programmes for kinetic and directed-energy laser weapons as well as nano-satellites. By 2020, it hopes to have a space station with military applications,” said a source.
Incidentally, around 300 dedicated or dual-use military satellites are orbiting around the earth, with the US owning 50% of them, followed by Russia and China. But India has lagged far behind in utilisation of the final frontier of space for military purposes.
Dedicated military satellites like Rukmini will help India keep real-time tabs over the rapidly-militarizing IOR, where China is increasingly expanding its strategic footprint across land borders. 

India vs. Iran standoff continues

India registered a strong protest with Iran for having detained an Indian ship earlier this month as foreign secretary Sujatha Singh summoned Iranian ambassador Gholamreza Ansari. India was hoping until now that the ship would be released without having to make its displeasure public but the Iranians have not relented.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) took custody of the vessel on August 13 in international waters and forcibly took it to Bandar Abbas port. India’s patience is fast running out since the vessel has been in Iranian custody for 15 days without any justification or provocation.
The two countries have been on the verge of a diplomatic standoff. “Foreign secretary has conveyed government’s strong concern at the continued detention of our ship in Port Bandar Abbas and India’s expectation that the ship would be released at an early date and that crew members would be treated with due consideration and courtesy in keeping with international norms,” said foreign ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin in an official reaction.
The foreign ministry revealed that Singh had met Ansari over the issue also on August 16 — three days after the tanker was detained.
Indian officials maintain that United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) should have guaranteed safe passage for the ship. Iran has signed, but yet to ratify UNCLOS.
Meanwhile, Iran has refused to listen to both SCI, the company that owns the ship, and MEA and continues to insist that it needs to be compensated for pollution. Sources said initially it asked for an anti-pollution undertaking from the captain but later sought $ 1 million as compensation. The Iranian Embassy here issued a statement saying that the issue was “purely technical” and not political. 

Dholera SIR snippets

The government plans to put in place a Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS) and a Rapid Rail Transit System (RRTS) between Ahmedabad and Dholera Special Investment Region (DSIR) to give impetus to the development of DSIR. These systems are to be set up at a cost of Rs.18,000 crore by the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation (DMICDC).
Amitabh Kant, chief executive officer and managing director of DMICDC, said, “We have invited global tenders to prepare a development plan of MRTS and RRTS. We have appointed Rail India Technical and Economic Service (RITES) as the consultant. We expect the project to kick off in six months.”
He said that a public transport model will be used to connect Dholera with Ahmedabad within the proposed DSIR. “The travel time between Ahmedabad and Dholera will come down to just 50 minutes. The project will be funded by Government of India,” added Kant.
He said that a key reason for delay in the development of Dholera is lack of quality internal transport and connectivity.
RITES will undertake various surveys and decide on route alignment besides checking designs of existing bridges and structures along the corridor. The DMICDC has started preparing an interim report on various technical aspects of MRTS and RRTS system that is proposed to be developed along an expressway road corridor from Ahmedabad to DSIR.
RITES will establish broad technical feasibility of MRTS and RRTS route to connect Ahmedabad with Dholera based on atgrade and elevated options. It will determine the sections requiring land acquisition, shifting of alignment, crossovers and recommend most appropriate alignment, including rerouting required, if found, necessary. It will also identify relocation of over-ground and underground utilities and works required for diversion and list of obstructions to be dismantled.
Sources said that land for MRTS and RRTS is being acquired along with that for a six-lane expressway.

RS allows tainted netas to contest polls

The Rajya Sabha unanimously passed a bill amending the Representation of the People (RP) Act, 1951, which will overturn the Supreme Court order banning those in jail and police custody from contesting elections. The amendment — once approved by the Lok Sabha — will maintain the right of those in jail to contest polls.
The RS approved it following a debate which saw all members, across party lines, pointing out how courts through such an order sought to go by the popular notion of terming the politicians as criminals.
Moving amendments to the Act, law minister Kapil Sibal said the SC judgment was “erroneous” and advised the judiciary to be “extremely careful” in giving rulings that have an impact on the country’s polity.
The Representation of the People (Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2013, which was passed by the House, seeks to add a proviso to sub-section (2) of section 62 of the RP Act to state that a person cannot cease to be a voter while in detention as h/his right is only temporarily suspended. The SC had ruled that only an “elector” can contest the polls and he/she ceases the right to cast vote due to confinement in prison or being in custody of police.

Somewhere in Maharashtra....

The Maharashtra state transport department has released a list of people who can officially use VIP lights and sirens and has also proposed to the Centre that fines be increased 50 times by amending the Motor Vehicle Rules.
The previous list was trimmed by 40% and a new category created to restrict the use of flashing red lights.Sources said the government has also sent a proposal to Centre, suggesting a hike in fines from Rs 100 to Rs 5,000 for misuse of beacons, and Rs 10,000 for a habitual offender.

1 Flashing red light : Governor, chief minister, ministers, high court chief justice, Assembly speaker, legislative council chairman, leader of the Opposition
2 Non-flashing red light : HC judges, dy chairman/ dy speaker of legislative council/Assembly, state election commissioner, advocate general, Lokayukta/ Up-Lokayukta, mayor and commissioner of ‘A’ class civic corporation, DGP, others
3 Non-flashing amber light : Divisional commissioners, district collectors, district magistrates, mayor and commissioners of ‘B’ class corporations, sub-divisional magistrate, executive magistrate, enforcement vehicles of transport/ excise, vehicles used to maintain law and order, fire-control vehicles of government/local-self bodies
4 Blinker-type red light with purple glass (ambulance), flashing blue light (to escort dignitaries), multi-coloured red/blue/white light on vehicles designated for “emergency duties”

Somewhere in Gujarat....

With perhaps an eye on the 2014 polls, the government of BJP’s PM hopeful Narendra Modi told the Supreme Court that it would draw up a plan by October 1 to pay for the damage caused to mosques in Gujarat in the 2002 riots. The U-turn came after the state had for over 10 years refused to own up any responsibility for the repairs to the shrines despite strong words from the Gujarat HC. The petitioner in the case, the Islamic Relief Committee-Gujarat, dubbed the move a bid to remove the taint on the Modi government. 


Of 1991 & 2013....

The WagonR Stingray

Of Wasted Food....

Poor storage infrastructure results in wastage of fruits, grains and vegetables worth Rs.44,000 crore across the country every year, Food Processing Industries Minister Sharad Pawar informed the Rajya Sabha on Friday.
Pawar said during Question Hour that the value of annual wastage of fruits and vegetables was estimated at Rs.13,309 crore. However, if the wastage value of rice, wheat, cereals and others are taken into account, it would go up to Rs.44,000 crore a year.
He said the government has already initiated various steps to encourage creation of additional storage capacity and complimented certain states, without naming them, for showing “lot of interests”.
Pawar said the Saumitra Chaudhuri Committee, constituted by the Planning Commission in 2012, has indicated 61.3 million tonnes of cold storage requirement in the country against the present capacity of around 29 million tonnes.
“The present gap is around 32 million tonnes,” Pawar said. Government provides financial assistance in the form of grant-in-aid at the rate of 50 per cent of the total cost of plant and machinery and technical civil works in general areas and at the rate of 75 percent in difficult areas,including northeastern states, for creation of cold chain infrastructure. The ceiling is, however, at Rs.10 crore.
Pawar said investment of FDI in retail was expected to help in development of back-end cold storage infrastructure. In its latest bid to woo global chains such as Wal-Mart and Carrefour, the government early this month relaxed norms for FDI in multi-brand retail stores. Foreign retailers will now be allowed to open stores in cities that have a population of less than one million. Earlier, supermarkets could only come up in 53 cities. 

Somewhere in Kolkata....

A 12-km tall cloud, stretching from north to south, is waiting to burst on a city that is still soggy from last week’s four-day drencher.
Darkness descended on Kolkata suddenly on Monday afternoon. Streetlights and headlights came on at 2 pm. As people wondered what was happening, lightning streaked across the city and killed at least four people, including three schoolchildren.
For about 45 minutes, the menacing shroud hung over Kolkata but just as the city braced for a deluge, the rain petered off. But the cloud isn’t gone and Tuesday is going to be wet, says the weatherman.
The last time such a huge cloud formed over the city was 10 years ago, said regional meteorological director G C Debnath. Monsoon clouds often stand 8-9 km tall but Monday’s cloud was unusual, he said, adding, “Rarely do we witness such tall columns.”
The weatherman has forecast heavy showers in the city on Tuesday.

Lok Sabha passes Food Security Bill

The Lok Sabha passed the food security bill, barely eight months ahead of the 2014 election, amid fierce competition between the Congress and the opposition to daub themselves in populist colours.
Termed a “game-changer” by UPA-II, the food security bill went through a protracted passage in the Lok Sabha as opposition parties ranging from the BJP, AIADMK, CPI and BJD to the Akali Dal insisted on a vote on amendments such as further reducing the rack rates for cheap foodgrain and making the law’s coverage universal.
All concerns about a burgeoning current account deficit and falling growth were kept in abeyance as the Manmohan Singh government and the opposition wrestled to walk away with maximum brownie points after the vote on the bill was concluded.

What’s the food security scheme?
It provides for 5 kg per person, per month, of rice, wheat or coarse grain. Proposes to cover 67% of India’s population or 82 crore people, 75% rural & 50% urban. The rates at which it will be given are 3 for rice, 2 for wheat & 1 for bajra, jowar. Cost of scheme approximately 1.3 lakh crore, up from current food subsidy bill of 75,000 crore in 2012-13. States to get one year for rollout

What about existing schemes?
Some schemes subsumed: Antodaya Anna Yojana (for poorest of poor), midday meals, meals for children aged 6 months-2 years with their mothers, ICDS (for kids below 6). As of now, apart from state schemes, Centre provided cheap food to around 32 crore people under BPL. This jumps to 82 crore. Govt will need to procure 62 million tonnes of grain

When will the scheme roll out?
There are some grey areas and missing links. States have to identify beneficiaries. This can be a problem as exclusion criteria not clear. Centre is to share transport and commission costs, which need to be worked out. Also govt admits to 20-35% leakage in PDS, which needs to be plugged. Ration cards reduced from 22 crore to 16 crore, but more needs to be done. Storage capacity needs to be augmented

What’s the impact on the economy?
There will be a push on govt spending which will increase current account deficit – not desirable in present situation. There are also concerns that India’s procurement for the scheme could push up world food prices in case of drought and under-procurement

Does it make for great politics?
So far states have cornered political benefits for cheap food grain. Now central govt will seek to gain the upper hand in this populist game. On election eve, this could help Congress Govt wary of oppn amendment in RS

The Congress and the opposition battled for brownie points while passing the food security bill in the Lok Sabha on Monday. The government said it stopped short of considering universal coverage as it was hemmed in by constraints of production and procurement but justified a long delay in the legislation by arguing that the law has been vastly improved.
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi defied the discomfort of a nagging viral fever to set the tone for the ruling party, saying the question whether resources could be mustered for the bill was best answered by stressing, “Ye karna hi hai.” She admitted that the bill would provide succour to those who have not benefited from growth and are battling the curse of hunger and malnutrition.
Her speech is the first time she has intervened in a debate in the current Lok Sabha apart from a speech during the special session of Parliament held to commemorate its 60 years. She spoke once earlier when proposing Meira Kumar for Speaker.
Sonia made it plain that the food bill—seen to have her strong backing—is the Congress’s latest rights-based entitlement and a cornerstone of the ruling party’s political agenda for the next Lok Sabha election.
There was considerable skirmishing over the amendments moved by the opposition with the ruling party benches on one occasion voting against a clause in the bill, mistaking it to be a change proposed by leader of opposition Sushma Swaraj.
The matter was settled with Swaraj agreeing to a revote, a rare occurrence in the House. The bill will now be considered by the Rajya Sabha where the government needs to be more careful of its numbers although the BJP has indicated that it is not keen to stall the law.
The concern for the government in the Rajya Sabha is that an opposition amendment may end up being part of the bill rather than a clause being struck down.
The amendments moved by the opposition in Lok Sabha touched minute aspects of the law like inclusion or exclusion of taxpayers as beneficiaries. The government had to go through a testing time before the bill cleared the Lok Sabha after 10 pm.
BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi led the opposition arguments, saying the bill is not a significant improvement over existing benefits and has been brought to Parliament with the objective of “luring voters” ahead of the next election. “This is not a food security bill, this is vote securing bill,” he said.

Of a Storm in a T cup....

United Andhra protagonists can take heart as the Bharatiya Janata Party will not support the Telangana bill unless concerns of Seemandhra people are addressed, a move that could delay the process of forming the new state.
In the next step towards forming the new state, the ruling Congress is supposed to place a comprehensive cabinet note, containing substantive and procedural issues for formation of Telangana, but with BJP lately voicing Seemandhra concerns openly, the Congress is suddenly unsure of unstinted support from the main opposition party on this issue and is therefore delaying the process, sources said.
“There are certain issues which need to be urgently tackled. As a national party, we have to take care of interests of the people of all regions. Still we demand the government to move the Telangana bill in Parliament,” RS member M Venkaiah Naidu said, while accusing the Congress of mishandling the whole issue.
The BJP has openly criticized the government for failing to quell the increasing resentment in Seemandhra region, and they say it is the duty of the government to address the concerns of people from the roiled region and see if their fears are real or perceived. “The BJP has taken a principled stand on Telangana. But at the same we cannot be insensitive to the issues raised by the people of other regions,” he said, while denying that the BJP has diluted its stand on Telangana.
Earlier this week, opposition leader in Parliament Sushma Swaraj mentioned that people in bifurcated states under the NDA regime in 2000 were all distributing sweets, highlighting the failure of the Congress to gauge the anger among people in coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema.
A subtle change in the BJP stand came after the recent tour of Hyderabad by Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, said some analysts, after learning that it would be the K Chandrasekhar Rao-led TRS and the Congress, which would sweep Telangana region in the upcoming polls. 

Top VHP leaders held

The Samajwadi Party government in Uttar Pradesh flexed its entire might and ordered the arrest of top Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders including Ashok Singhal and Praveen Togadia, apart from scores of VHP-backed saints, on Sunday.
It foiled the VHP’s “guerrilla” tactic of starting the controversial 84-Kosi Yatra despite an administrative ban while containing the potentially explosive fallouts of the arrests.
Togadia was arrested from Gola Ghat in Ayodhya where the VHP claimed it had performed a symbolic puja, while Singhal was taken into custody at Lucknow airport. Over 600 VHP workers were put under house arrest in Ayodhya alone. In all, nearly 2,100 VHP workers have been arrested across UP in the past three days.
These include former BJP MP Ram Vilas Vedanti, president of Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas Mahant Nrityagopal Das and BJP MLA Ram Chandra.

Mumbai rapists caught

After fleeing Mumbai, Salim Ansari went to a relative’s place in a slum, Bharat Nagar, on the Haryana border with northwest Delhi. He was caught while taking a walk in the area. He was brought to Mumbai late on Sunday night.
The police team that picked up Salim was led by inspectors Gulabrao Gore of Mumbai and Dinesh Kumar of Delhi. The suspect was produced in a Delhi court, which sanctioned a transit remand to the Mumbai police till August 27.
The first three arrests were made on Friday and Saturday. Chand Shaikh (19), Vijay Jadhav (19) and Siraj Khan (24), along with Qasim, have been remanded in police custody till August 30. Siraj and Qasim were medically examined and produced before the Quila Court on Sunday. Chand and Vijay went through the routine the previous day.
The final arrests in the case came within 65 hours from the complaint being registered (around 8.30 pm on Thursday). Teamwork by cops helped in cracking the case quickly, said Mumbai police commissioner Satyapal Singh.
On Thursday evening, a photojournalist with a lifestyle magazine was brutalized, allegedly by the five men, in Shakti Mills, near railway tracks in Mahalaxmi.
The 22-year-old survivor and a male colleague had entered the deserted mill compound, which is near Mahalaxmi railway station, around 6 pm to take pictures for a magazine feature. Inside, the two were accosted by two of the suspects, who, pretending to be policemen, asked them if they had permission to shoot.
The two took the woman and her colleague to another spot, where, after tying the colleague to a tree, they and the three other suspects brutalized her.

Congress wins Karnataka bypolls

The Congress registered thumping wins in Lok Sabha bypolls in Bangalore (Rural) and Mandya, both JD (S) strongholds, giving the party and the four-month-old Siddaramaiah government a big boost in the run-up to the parliamentary polls.
Both the winners- Kannada actress Ramya (Mandya) and D K Suresh (Bangalore Rural), brother of Congress legislator D K Shivakumar – are political greenhorns. Suresh trounced Karnataka JD(S) president and former chief minister H D Kumaraswamy’s wife Anitha by 1,37,008 votes while Ramya defeated C S Puttaraju of the JD (S) by a margin of 67,610 votes.
The shock defeat of his wife prompted Kumaraswamy to offer to resign as state party chief and Leader of the Opposition. Virtually breaking down before the reporters, the former CM said, “Perhaps voters wanted me to take some rest.’’
The bypolls were crucial to both Congress and JD(S). For the first time, opposition parties dropped their ideological differences to fight the Congress and the results reflected that the majority of voters didn’t approve of the JD(S) teaming up with the BJP. The JD(S) had won both seats in the 2009 parliamentary elections. The seats fell vacant after Kumaraswamy (Bangalore-Rural) and N Cheluvarayaswamy (Mandya) were elected to the assembly in May.
The results came as a bigger blow to the Deve Gowda family, more so to the senior Deve Gowda. The 81-year-old former Prime Minister got emotional at almost every meeting while seeking votes for his daughter-in-law. It was also a double whammy for Anitha, a reluctant politician, who had still not recovered from the shock of her defeat in Channapatna assembly election
Ramya, 30, who was a surprise candidate, brought feuding Congress leaders in Mandya together at least for the bypoll. Former chief minister S M Krishna and housing minister M H Ambareesh, who don’t see eye to eye, campaigned for Ramya from different platforms.
A relieved Siddaramaiah, who had a bitter verbal duel with the Deve Gowda family during the campaign said: “There was unity in the Congress which is why the party won both seats.’’
After his brother’s victory in Bangalore (Rural), Shiva Kumar - a second-rung Vokkaliga leader – has emerged as a strong contender for a ministerial berth. He was kept out of the cabinet in view of cases of his alleged involvement in illegal mining. Siddaramaiah is under tremendous pressure to fill the four vacancies in his ministry. 

Jaipur Metro trial run

The much-awaited and already delayed Metro train project will conduct its trial run before September 15. This was announced by UDH minister Shanti Dhariwal.
Officials of the Delhi Metro rail Corporation (DMRC) and the Jaipur Metro Rail Corporation (JMRC) are burning the midnight oil to prepare the track of around 3.4 km stretch between Mansarovar and Vivek Vihar railway station for the trial run. “Chief minister Ashok Gehlot will flag off the train for trial run on any one of the days in the first half September,” Dhariwal said.
Gehlot has decided to inspect the Metro sites on Sunday before he flags off trial run in September.
A day before Gehlot’s scheduled inspection, Dhariwal visited Mansarovar, Vivek Vihar, Ram Nagar and Chand Pole Metro stations on Saturday with senior officials of DMRC and JMRC to ensure that the progress of work is satisfactory. “I think that work between the two stations for the trial run is almost completed. The officials are giving final touches and it is expected that they will complete it before the trial run,” Dhariwal said.
The construction work of the stations also looked almost completed. The escalators were working and lifts were also made functional. Work for electrification of one track out of two has also been completed.
At Vivek Vihar station, the workers were busy placing sheets adjacent to each other to form curved-shape roof over the tracks at the station. The stations are almost identical to each other, which have two floors – one for ticketing and other for platform of the station, where trains would arrive and depart.
Three Metro trains with four bogies each have already arrived in the city and the fourth is expected to reach in September. The state government has spent almost Rs 500 crore to buy 10 Metro trains.
Dhariwal looked positive with the progress of the work and he claimed that by the end of 2013, the Metro train would start running between Mansarovar and Chand Pole stations. Moreover, he pointed out that the work for laying underground track between Chand Pole and Bari Chaupar will soon start as the Centre has approved Rs 630 crore for the project.
JMRC managing director Nihal Chand Goyal said, “The tender process has been started for the work between Chand Pole and Bari Chaupar. Soon, it will be decided which firm will do the work between Chand Pole and Bari Chaupar.” 

Somewhere in Maharashtra....

Governor K Sankaranarayanan has signed the ordinance on the anti-black magic legislation after the government pushed for it following the killing of activist Dr Narendra Dabholkar. The governor’s office said the ordinance was promulgated without making any changes to the draft that was forwarded by the state cabinet two days ago.
The ordinance has been sent back to the government, which will now record it in the state gazette before issuing a final notification. “All formalities will be completed by Monday, and then we’ll be on course to implement this. The ordinance has retained the essence of the initial draft bill,” said a senior official of the social justice department.
The state cabinet had decided to push for the ordinance in the wake of mounting pressure and protests following the murder of Dr Dabholkar in Pune.

The draft ordinance proposal was signed by chief minister Prithviraj Chavan and sent to the governor for approval. It replaces the draft Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Act, 2011, pending before the Assembly.
The passage of the bill, first introduced a decade ago and altered at least 24 times so far, had been stuck because of opposition from certain groups.

Myanmar army enters Manipur

After China, it is Myanmar’s turn to give India the blushes. Myanmarese troops crossed the border in Moreh on Thursday and are now prepared to set up a temporary camp at Holenphai in Chandel district, claiming the area is within their country.
The Assam Rifles guarding the India-Myanmar border is yet to issue a statement on the development, but its jawans are said to have intensified patrolling in the area.
The intrusion comes at a time when the Manipur government has decided to set up a committee to review the border fencing work in Chandel, considering the public furore over it.
The Myanmarese army has initiated the ground work for setting up a temporary platoon base camp at Holenphai, 3 km south of Moreh police station close to international border pillar number 76, said village authorities. The Myanmarese CO told the Moreh ADC that Holenphai falls within Myanmar territory, for which they are setting up a camp. He said unless instructed otherwise by his higher authorities, he will not halt work.

Somewhere in New Delhi....

RIL-BP strike gas

Energy conglomerate Reliance Industries and its partner BP Plc said that they have made a second deep-water gas condensate discovery in the Cauvery basin, off the east coast.
The discovery in the Block CY-DWN-201/2, which lies 62 km from the coast, is being termed as significant as about 1 million standard cubic metres per day of gas has been flowing out of the well since August 17, when the discovery was made.
This is the second discovery RIL, which holds 70% interest in the block, has made. In 2007, it had made the Dhirubhai-35 (D-35) gas discovery, which the oil ministry’s technical adviser, the DGH had termed as not viable at the current gas price of $4.2 per million British thermal unit.
The block CYDWN-2001/2 is situated in the Cauvery basin, which is located on the eastern flank of peninsular India, in Tamil Nadu, along the Palk Strait and Coromandel coast.
According to the companies, the well flowed gas at the rate of 35.2 million standard cubic feet per day. 

PM's Envoy for Japan

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has nominated former law minister Ashwani Kumar as his special envoy for Japan, where he can visit up to seven days, “to maintain the momentum of high level exchanges with Japan and in connection with preparations for the visit to India of their Majesties, the Emperor and Empress of Japan — the first since Independence”.
Singh recently had a highly successful visit to Japan whose leader Shinzo Abe has consistently spoken about the importance of strengthening ties with India.
Government sources said Kumar’s appointment was important as the royal visit signals a special partnership between India and Japan and the resolve of the two countries to further reinforce their global and strategic partnership — the cornerstone of the PM’s “Look East Policy”. Kumar will have the rank and privileges of a Cabinet minister. 

India tops Film Production

Indian cinema is celebrating its centenary year and it has all the reasons to do so since in 2012, India produced the most number of films in the world.
According to the latest official statistics, as many as 1,602 films were produced in the country in 2012, a sizeable increase from the 1,255 films made in 2011. The figures by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) reveal that with 262 films, Tamil film industry has nudged out Bollywood from the number one position. Telugu film industry stood second with 256 films while Bollywood was relegated to the third slot with 221 films.
A large number of films are made, several of them do not get released. This means that even though the CBFC certified 1,602 films in 35 languages, many of them may not have seen theatrical releases. 

Somewhere in Uttar Pradesh....

Chinese troops intrude into Arunachal

People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops intruded over 20 km into the Chaglagam sector of eastern Arunachal Pradesh, pitched tents there and finally withdrew after spending three to four days in the area last week.
This latest incursion seemed similar to the 21-day standoff between the rival armies in the Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) sector of eastern Ladakh after PLA troops had intruded 19-km into Depsang valley in April.
However, the defence ministry and Army downplayed the incident. “There was no standoff between the troops. Both armies patrol up to their perception of where the Line of Actual Control lies. There’s nothing unusual in this,” said an officer. 

Maharashtra clears Tourism Hub in Gorai - Uttan

Maharashtra has cleared the decks to promote the Manori-Gorai-Uttan belt as a tourism zone. After the idea was first mooted, MMRDA was appointed as a special planning authority (SPA) in 2004, replaced by the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation in 2007 and redesignated as SPA in 2008. It will continue to sanction all building plans in the region.
What this means is the seafront of this sleepy, predominantly East Indian Christian, 18 km-long enclave will be made accessible to the public by a 5 km coastal road restricted to the beach area. It will give an impetus to tourism by allowing resorts and tourist activities in green zones as well.
“The road will be on the lines of Marine Drive—the sea, road and then habitation. This is to ensure that the public has an unrestricted access to the seafront,’’ said Uma Adusumalli, MMRDA officer in charge of the area’s development plan.
For this road, the government will acquire land from private land owners by offering transfer of development rights, which can be used only in the notified area. There is no mention of casinos or a special economic zone in the development plan, she said.
Notwithstanding protests from locals, the bridge connecting Madh-Marve to Manori will be constructed along with another bridge near the now closed Gorai dumping ground to the other side of Gorai.
“There is only one arterial road from Bhayander to Essel World, Manori, which allows road access to the area. In the event of a crisis, people will have to be taken north and then south to Mumbai, which would mean loss of valuable time. Hence, planners felt an entry-exit on the south side must be allowed,” said an official. With a large number of tourists expected to visit the region, planners said the livelihood of those who organize ferries will not be affected. The 20-metre arterial road will be widened to 30 metres and will connect to the Manori bridge as also the coastal road.
The area has more than 60 water bodies. Seven large water bodies have been identified for recreation purpose. An area of five metres around the water bodies will be developed as gardens and no construction will be allowed in this range.
Under the new DP, a minimum floor space index (FSI) of 0.1 to a maximum FSI of 1 will be permitted in the region. An FSI of 1 will be allowed in the gaothans and in the expansion areas. Resorts will be allowed an FSI of 0.3. In the new development areas, along with an FSI of 0.3, an additional 0.2 will be allowed. This is largely for the benefit of locals, said Adusumalli.
In the green zone, the FSI will be 0.1 and an additional FSI will be allowed by way of TDR or by paying a premium. Only ground plus one structures will be allowed in the area where the FSI is low. For gaothans, it will be two-storey structures.
Earlier the MMRDA had divided the area into tourism development zone I and II. These have been merged into a single tourism development zone. The preservation zone that included peaks and hill slopes has been merged into the green zone. Here, the MMRDA will allow paragliding, camps, treks, shacks and so on. Residential and commercial activities, too, will be allowed.
Around 65% of the area is under CRZ I and III. All CRZ I areas, including mangroves, are to be preserved as per CRZ 2011 notification. The No Development Zones will be maintained as such and activities permitted by the Union government such as construction of a jetty or laying of pipelines. Only fishing and allied activities will be allowed along the coast. Advocate Godfrey Pimenta, vice-president of Bombay East-Indian Association, said on the face of it, the DP would encourage tourism and livelihoods.
Adusumalli said the DP would be applicable only for 10 years. “The infrastructure of the region will be developed jointly by the BMC, the Mira-Bhayandar Municipal Corporation and MMRDA.’’ Gorai and Manori are under the BMC while the other villages are under MBMC.
The reason for not allowing the plan for 20 years is that the region is currently low development. 


Somewhere in Rajasthan....

RTI Online

Somewhere in Ladakh....

An IAF C-130J 'Super Hercules’ aircraft lands at the Daulat Beg Oldi airstrip in eastern Ladakh, the highest such landing ground in the world at 16,614 feet, on Tuesday morning. Regular face-offs between Indian and Chinese troops, which included the 21-day standoff in Depsang Valley in April-May, have been taking place in this region. Capable of landing at makeshift airstrips, the C-130J aircraft is configured for “special operations” and can rapidly transport 128 combat-ready troops or 92 paratroopers to forward areas. Acquisition of the C-130Js and the even bigger C-17 Globemaster-III aircraft are part of India’s plan to counter China’s massive build-up of military infrastructure all along the 4,057-km Line of Actual Control, which includes new airfields in Tibet.

Didi nixes Bangladesh policy

West Bengal Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has stepped in at the eleventh hour to nix Manmohan Singh’s Bangladesh policy yet again.
She scuttled the UPA government’s second attempt to introduce a constitutional amendment to formalize a land boundary agreement, asserting the Centre could not take the decision without the consent of state governments. The failure to introduce the bill is likely to have an adverse effect on Indo-Bangla relations as well as on the fate of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who has invested a lot to shore up ties with New Delhi.
With the government coming under combined fire from the Tamil parties on Sri Lanka, Manmohan Singh’s foreign policy in the neighbourhood is under increasing threat.
The Trinamool Congress was working in tandem with the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), as well as the BJP. For the second time in six months, AGP members prevented foreign minister Salman Khurshid from introducing the bill that seeks to amend the constitution to legitimize the LBA the Prime Mimister had signed with Sheikh Hasina.
AGP has been objecting to the supposed loss of territory with Bangladesh, even though the “exchange” is purely “notional”. MEA and PMO’s bill outreach falls short
BJP leaders had already informed Salman Khurshid they were not comfortable with the bill. Mamata had earlier prevented the signing of the Teesta water-sharing pact with Bangladesh a day before the PM travelled to that country. 

Delhi launches Food Security

The UPA government’s “game-changing” food security programme, while still awaiting a vote in parliament, was on Tuesday rolled out in Congress ruled Delhi, Haryana, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh on former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s 69th birth anniversary.
Other Congress states like Maharashtra and Rajasthan are yet to complete the logistical processes whereas in Karnataka, the model code of conduct in face of two Lok Sabha byelections prevented implementation.
The food security programme when implemented all over the country will be the biggest of its kind in the world with the government spending roughly Rs 1,25,000 crore per year on supply of about 62 million tonnes of rice, wheat and coarse cereals to around 67% of the population.
In Haryana, the government estimates the food programme would benefit more than 1.26 crore people in the state. Chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda began with distributing foodgrains to scores of beneficiaries from Panipat. Half of Haryana’s population would benefit directly from the scheme which would fetch them rice, wheat and coarse grains at subsidized rates of Rs 3, Rs 2, and Re 1 per kg. Besides, 12.84 lakh BPL families would get two kg sugar per month at Rs 13.5 per kg per family. In Guwahati, CM Tarun Gogoi said all families with annual income of less than Rs 1 lakh in Assam will gain from the scheme. Government officials said a population of 2.25 crore will get subsidized food in Assam.
In Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Nabam Tuki said the Centre had earmarked 66.3% of rural and 51.55% of urban population in the state to be covered. In Kerala, the programme wasn’t implemented since the government wants the Centre to assure that the allotment of food grains and its price at which it is now distributed will be protected. “PDS covers whole of Kerala. If the scheme is strictly implemented, only 46.50% will be covered. This is not acceptable to us,” said Anoop Jacob, Kerala food and civil supplies minister. The state has been providing rice at Rs 1 a kg for 15 lakh families and at Rs 2 a kg for 40 lakh households, lower than Rs 3/kg envisaged under the act.
Maharashtra, a larger state, too, faces problems in immediate implementation as the groundwork isn’t complete, as does Rajasthan, where the survey to identify the beneficiaries is yet to begin. In Karnataka, 88 lakh beneficieries have been identified so far with the implementation of the scheme having to await the completion of Lok Sabha byelections in Bengaluru (rural) and Mandya. 

Mumbai Monorail update

It has been several months that trials of the monorail on the 9.8 km section of the 20-km route between Wadala and Chembur are underway. From September 1, mock commercial runs will be conducted.
The difference between the two is that people involved in monorail construction will gather at eight stations on the route and board trains like normal commuters. The existing trials are aimed at checking technical issues whereas the mock commercial runs will check the commuter interface. “Such runs are necessary ahead of its certification by the Singapore Mass Rapid Transit. This exercise might continue for a month to ensure smooth start of normal operations for Mumbaikars,” said a senior MMRDA official.
Of the total 20-km route between Chembur and Jacob Circle via Wadala, only half of the route is getting commissioned this year. The remaining section will be complete only by next year-end.

Key Coalgate files missing

The Coalgate scandal stormed back into the spotlight with the coal ministry acknowledging that crucial files relating to the controversial allocation of coal blocks may have been lost for good and the opposition attacking the government.
The missing documents include the report of Coal India Ltd’s financial experts on the 35th screening committee’s meeting on allocations made in 2007 when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held charge of the coal portfolio.
It dealt with the financial aspects of the projects for which blocks were allocated and could throw light on whether the mines were given to the deserving. 


Somewhere in Rajasthan....

Infra Projects get a Blockbuster Push

Big-ticket investment projects worth Rs.1.1 lakh crore, stuck for years for want of myriad government clearances, have finally got the green signal to start operations.
The Centre has unravelled lastmile hurdles holding up 28 such projects at a time Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has identified the government’s primary task as reinvigorating confidence in the Indian economy, with domestic players having virtually abandoned fresh investments.
The clearances would come as a relief for investors in 18 power projects with a generation capacity of 15,500 mw, four highway projects worth Rs.4,400 crore, and a Rs.1,200-crore steel plant in Odisha. Further, the coal ministry has agreed to sign fuel supply agreements for all these projects by August 31. Three critical railway lines in poorly connected states such as Chhattisgarh, Mizoram and Assam, with an investment outlay of over Rs.7,100 crore, have secured the requisite clearances to finish construction.
Petroleum distillation units worth Rs.1,419 crore, being set up by Bharat Petroleum, have also got the go-ahead.
Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth, who has led the drive, has managed to secure these clearances after intensive project-wise discussions with ministries through a special project monitoring group set up by the prime minister in June.
This special cell was set up at the insistence of Finance Minister P Chidambaram, who recognised the imperative to revive investor sentiment by getting some long held-up projects, where banks have significant exposure, off the ground. Chidambaram had said the cell would examine 215 major projects worth Rs.7 lakh crore. These 215 projects comprise a sub-set of the total 341 stalled projects amounting to over Rs. 10.5 lakh crore identified by the minister. “We have managed to facilitate the last-mile clearances pending with various departments such as the ministries of coal, home affairs and railways for 28 projects,” said a senior government official. “This shows that it is possible to fix many of the problems facing delayed projects if we apply our minds to it,” he said.
Though the government had set up a Cabinet Committee on Investments (CCI) led by the prime minister to fast-track clearances for projects over Rs 1,000 crore, some of which have been delayed for decades, industry had pointed out the committee met just once a month and didn’t have the bandwidth to resolve ground-level issues holding up private sector investments. The Ajit Seth-helmed special cell is meant to supplement CCI’s efforts in cases where the problem can be involved by way of discussions between ministries. In case a policy decision is needed, CCI steps in.

Of Skill Development....

Finance minister P Chidambaram unveiled the National Skill Certification and Monetary Reward scheme that hopes to encourage youths to acquire skills and make them employable. “This will help the country reap demographic dividend...Young men must come forward to take the advantage of the scheme to upgrade their skills,” Chidambaram said while launching the scheme. The minister said that during 2004-05 and 2009-10, 20 million jobs were created in the country and the unemployment rate had declined to 6.6% from 8.3%.
The National Skilling Mission envisages adding 500 million skilled Indians by the year 2022. While 150 million are expected to be contributed by the private sector working under National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), 350 million will be contributed by 18-odd ministries at the Centre.
Speaking on the occasion, minister for rural development Jairam Ramesh said the government will provide skills training to at least one youth from each family that had availed of 100 day employment under the under MNREGA scheme. Ramesh said the scheme will also provide employment as well as post-placement handholding for 1-2 years.
Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia the scheme has been created as an inclusive mechanism to benefit people in all walks of life.