UPA 2.0 : 100 days

As the deadline for the implementation of 100-day action plan nears, the PMO appears to have outshone all other wings of the government in delivering on the promises made in the President Pratibha Patil’s address to the joint sitting of Parliament on June 4. The most important of the initiatives promised — setting up of a delivery monitoring unit within the PMO to oversee and ensure effective delivery of government’s flagship programmes — was up and running within 40 days of installation of the government .The delivery monitoring unit will fast-track implementation of the selected programmes and ensure trouble-shooting through periodic reviews. Not only will the implementing ministry be required to submit a performance report to the PMO every quarter, but the stress would also be on making such information equally accessible to the common man. The Cabinet secretariat has ensured that ministries factor in equity, public accountablity and innovation into all the note and proposals sent for Cabinet’s consideration .In a pioneering step to overhaul medical education, the health ministry has decided to scrap specialisation-based regulatory councils and bring in a single regulator, to be called the NCHRH. Housing and Poverty Alleviation has finalised a draft plan introducing Rajiv Awas Yojana for slum dwellers under JNNURM, on the lines of Indira Awas Yojana for rural poor. Another good performer in the government’s opening 100 days is arguably the panchayti raj ministry, which has introduced gender equality at the grassroots level by introducing 50% reservation for women in panchayats .

Mumbai & other cities

Mumbai flops even against Colombo....

Somewhere in Pune....

The PMC’s anti-encroachment squad continued its drive against illegal constructions in the proposed bio-diversity park areas across the city and demolished 19,850 sq ft of constructions in Hingne Khurd (above) and Katraj.

Mobile connections in Chennai cross 1-cr

One crore and counting. Yes, Chennai has joined the elite list of cities which boast of one crore mobile phone connections. Delhi (comprising Faridabad, Ghaziabad and NCR) tops the list with about 2.4 crore and Mumbai, with 2.08 crore subscribers, comes next. Chennai, which enjoys the highest teledensity in the country at 131% (131 wireless or mobile connections per 100 persons), had 99,99,553 mobile subscribers in July end. In the beginning of August, the city needed to add another 447 subscribers to touch the one crore mark; now it has crossed the milestone. With a population of nearly 70 lakh, the Chennai Metropolitan Area, spanning nearly 1,200sqkm, is a huge market for telecom firms. The city has seven operators and one more will start services soon. Between June and July, the operators added more than 3.47 lakh subscribers, according to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) data. Most people have multiple SIM cards .“Chennai has the highest teledensity in India. This is followed closely by Delhi and Mumbai. Bangalore and Hyderabad are inching closer to the 100% mark. The fact that Chennai has a perfect ecosystem — manufacturing, IT and the services sector — contributes to this factor,” Kumar Ramanathan, head of operations (south), Vodafone, said. The high teledensity rate in the city indicates that an average user here has multiple SIM cards. Total mobile subscriptions here stood at nearly 3.19 crore connections (excluding Chennai) at the end of July 2009, an addition of 15.10 lakh consumers from June. The state has the second highest number of mobile phone subscribers after Maharashtra.

Algae as fuel

Bengal is taking the lead in algae fuel — a third-generation biofuel that has generated tremendous excitement worldwide. A city-based organization is conducting a pilot project at the Kolaghat thermal power plant and is expected to start production next year. What’s unique about this first-of-its-kind project in India is that the technology will eventually not only lead to a cleaner automobile fleet across the country but also help power plants reduce their carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) emission. “Algae yields a very high amount of bio-fuel compared with jatropha or soyabean because almost the entire algal organism uses sunlight to produce lipids or oil. Studies show that algae can produce 60-80% of their biomass in the form of oil,” said professor Sarajit Basu, the mentor of the project and an expert on bio-fuel. Algae fuel leaves no carbon residue. Up to 99% of CO 2 in solution can be converted, which is returned to the air when the bio-fuel is burnt. This can help reduce polluting units’ carbon footprint. “The algae technology can be integrated with a power plant or a sponge iron factory where CO 2 emission is very high. For instance, the 1,260-MW Kolaghat thermal power plant emits 15,000 tonnes of CO 2 every day. We can trap this gas and channelise it into a pond where algae will be farmed. CO 2 and dissolved nutrients will give a major spurt to algal biomass,” Basu said. “The possibilities are immense. Fifty per cent of the CO 2 emitted can be used for algal farming, 25% for farming of spirulina (an edible algae, very high in protein content), and the rest can be compressed in its uncontaminated form to produce dry ice. The oilcakes again are an excellent fuel which can be burnt to generate power to run this entire process. So, it will be a selfsustaining technology,” said S M Ghosh, the head of Bio-Fuel Mission of Sun Plant Agro, which plans to start commercial production of algae bio-fuel by 2010. “We are taking land on lease near Canning for this,” said A K Singh, managing director of Sun Plant Agro. Both West Bengal Power Development Corporation (WBPDCL) and Sun Plant Agro will earn carbon credit for the algae project. “Algae can be the fuel of the future. It can produce nearly 300 times more oil per acre than soybean or jatropha, and has a short harvesting cycle, thereby lowering the production cost,” said Sunil Jha, chief manager (projects) of Sun Plant Agro. “What’s better, we can use wasteland for algal farming as algae can grow in arid and saline conditions. They can be grown in oceans, freshwater ponds or even wastewater, minimizing land acquisition issues and expenses. Moreover, they can grow 20 to 30 times faster than food crops. Regional production of microalgae and processing into biofuels will provide economic benefits to rural communities,” said Dr Basu.


They not affect fresh water resources

Can be produced using ocean and wastewater

Biodegradable and relatively harmless to the environment

Algae can produce up to 80% of their biomass in the form of oil, yielding up to 100,000 gallons of oil per acre per year

They have much faster growth rates than other crops

Algae can produce 100-300 times more oil per acre than conventional crops, such as jatropha, rapeseed, palms or soybeans and they have a harvesting cycle of 1-10 days, which permits several harvests in a very short time frame

Algae can also be grown on arid land, excessively saline soil or even droughtstricken land. During photosynthesis, algae capture carbon dioxide and sunlight and convert it into oxygen and biomass. Up to 99% of CO 2 in solution can be converted, which is returned to the air when the bio-fuel is burnt.

Moreover, by cutting down use of fossil fuel, it will return the balance of CO 2 .

Up to 60% of algal mass can be converted to lipids or oil

Besides replacing petrol/diesel, algal oil can be the future of air travel as well. On January 8, 2009, Continental Airlines ran the world’s first algae-fueled test flight with a 50/50 blend of biofuel and ATF


Algal oil is far too expensive than other commercially available fuels, but with new research and widespread cultivation, the costs can be brought down

Growing algae in a controlled way and harvesting it is also difficult

PM to open Cairn gusher today

India will cross a major milestone on its way to attaining energy security when PM Manmohan Singh on Saturday opens the tap of Cairn’s gusher in Rajasthan, the biggest oil find in India in decades. Coming within months of the country’s biggest gas discovery coming on stream off the Andhra coast, the flow of crude in Andhra will mark a change in the contour of the nation’s energy map. With the start of production from Mangla, the first among a group of three fields — Bhagyam and Aishwarya — India’s crude production will rise by a quarter in phases. At an optimum production level, the acreage is estimated to reduce India’s oil import bill by $6.8 billion, or roughly 7%. The acreage, where ONGC holds 30%, will be the biggest oilfield to come on stream since the state-run company’s Gandhar fields started pumping over two decades ago. Cairn has indicated that production will quickly touch 30,000 bpd (barrels per day) by the end of third quarter this year and reach a plateau of 175,000 bpd (8.75 million tonnes a year) in 2011. Goldman Sachs, however, has pegged the peak output at 190,000 bpd (9.5 million tonnes a year).

Maharashtra unveils new IT policy

Maharashtra's Democratic Front government on Friday unveiled an ambitious policy to develop Nashik, Nagpur and Aurangabad as new IT hubs in a time-bound manner. “Based on a survey conducted by Nasscom, we have formulated a new IT policy. Since there is saturation of IT industries in the Mumbai-Pune region, we will now concentrate on developing Nashik, Nagpur and Auragabad as new IT hubs,’’ said industries minister Narayan Rane. “We have drafted a new policy. We have taken into consideration the regional imbalance, the need to grant more FSI to units in Nashik, Nagpur and Aurangabad as well as districts which have very poor human resource index,’’ Rane said. A few years ago, Nasscom had conducted an intensive survey on the present status of the IT sector. It was found that 90% of the IT units and BPOs were concentrated in seven cities, including Mumbai and Pune. Then Nasscom had recommended to the Centre the need to encourage promotion of IT industries in underdeveloped areas. “We expect our new policy will attract more investments in Nashik, Nagpur and Aurangabad,’’ Rane said. Rane said besides development of the new areas, it has been proposed to give more emphasis on the AVGC (animation, visual effects, gaming and comics) areas. Steps will be taken to ensure that along with the development of the IT sector, there will be no adverse impact on the environment, encouragement for setting up more incubation centres and above all, more efforts will be made to develop Maharashtra as a brand in the IT sector, Rane added. For effective implementation of the IT policy, a 12-member committee headed by the chief secretary has been set up. Besides ex-officio members of the industries, urban development, finance, higher and technical education departments, nominees of Nasscom and manufacturers association will be special invitees. On the infrastructure facilities, a senior industries department official said it has been proposed to grant 100% FSI after charging 10% premium, while in districts of poor human resource index, there will be no premium.


India's new five year Foreign Trade Policy

No big bang ideas to revive exports distinguish the new five-year foreign trade policy (FTP) unveiled by commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma on Thursday. Instead, the accent is on continuity and stability. The minister extended most fiscal incentives by a year, expanded the focused market and product schemes and gave a leg up to labour-intensive areas like textiles, leather, handicrafts, gems & jewellery, particularly diamonds. The measures are for two years, at the end of which the policy will be revisited.
The immediate objective, said the minister, was to arrest and reverse the declining exports and also provide greater support, especially to sectors hit badly by the recession in the developed world. The exporters and trade policy makers are apprehensive about growth in the near future.
A big help will be the extension of the duty entitlement passbook (DEPB) scheme that allows remission of all customs duties paid by exporters on imports that go into the manufacture of export products. The 2 per cent interest subvention on pre-shipment credit to seven sectors stays. Moreover, the policy allows duty-free import of capital goods under the export promotion capital goods (EPCG) scheme for technology upgrades. Duty-free imports equivalent to 1 per cent of exports by `status holders' have been allowed. This benefit is available in the form of duty credit scrips, which can be now traded.The arrangement will come to an end on March 31, 2011. By then, exports are expected to get back on the 25 per cent growth path. In the focused market and product schemes, more products and 26 new markets have been listed. Incentives for exports in the market part of the scheme have been raised from 2 per cent to 3 per cent, and those in the product part from 1.25 per cent to 2 per cent.
Sharma said because of the recession in the developed world, a conscious decision had been taken to expand and diversify India's export markets, "especially in the emerging markets of Africa, Latin America, Oceania and CIS countries".
The minister has set a modest merchandise export target of $200 billion by March 2011, and double that amount by 2014. The aim is also to double India's share in world trade in goods to about 3 per cent by 2020 from 1.45 per cent now. By then, export of services is also targeted to double from a reported level of 2.8 per cent of the global total in 2008.
Exporters have complained of difficulty in getting dollar credit at competitive rates. To look into this an inter-ministerial committee has been set up.
A centralised directorate of trade remedy measures will be set up to ensure that small exporters get their due. The directorate will also deal with dumping, anti-dumping and all trade related disputes. Existing bodies like the anti-dumping directorate may be subsumed into new body.
Among sectors, the diamond industry has received special attention.More diamond bourses like the ones operating in Surat and Mumbai will be set up in the hope of making India a hub of global trade much like Antwerp in Belgium. A flexibility in duty remission and fiscal incentives has been allowed in the marine, agriculture, leather, tea, pharmaceutical and handloom sectors to give a fillip to their exports and stem job losses that they have seen in the global downturn.
For example, leather units have been allowed to re-export unsold imported raw hides, skins, semi-finished leather on payment of half the duty. Value addition norms for tea exports have been halved to 50 per cent.
A similar flexibility has also been allowed in customs duty payments to help meet export obligations. The time limit for re-export of gems and jewellery will now be three months instead of two.
A wider linkage between the customs department and DGFT via electronic message exchange among 70 locations is expected to half the transaction costs incurred by exporters.

3G and WiMax update

After months of back and forth, the government has fixed Rs 3,500 crore as the reserve price for auction of third generation (3G) spectrum. The decision came after a meeting of empowered group of ministers (EGoM), headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, on Thursday.The auction of 3G airwaves had been delayed on the issue of reserve price. The Department of Telecom (DoT) had fixed Rs 2020 crore as the reserve price but Finance ministry had suggested doubling of reserve price to Rs 4040 crore. The decision of the committee would be submitted for cabinet approval.
The EGoM also fixed Rs 1,750 crore a the reserve price for WiMax services and approved auction of three slots in this space. The 3G services would allow mobile users to access high-speed internet and watch videos and movies at a much faster pace. "The government will complete the auction of 3G spectrum within three months and expects to raise Rs 25,000 crore from 3G and Wimax auction," communications and IT minister A Raja said after the EGoM meeting.
The launch of 3G mobile services in India has been delayed twice this year and the talks have been going on for last two years.Five players would get 3G spectrum, including one PSU -- BSNL or MTNL -- in their respective circles.Both the PSUs have already been allotted 3G spectrum and rolled out services.The main bone of contention has been the release of spectrum by defence forces. Recently, DoT had signed an MoU with defence forces for the release of spectrum.
Telecom major BSNL is building an optical fibre network for the Air Force, which is likely to be completed by September this year. Air Force is expected to release about 45 MHz of spectrum, including 25 MHz of 2G spectrum and 20 MHz of 3G spectrum.Defence forces have indicated to release 10 MHz of 3G spectrum as the first step in three months time.


UPA 2.0 off to a slow start

Not a very inspiring start...

Somewhere in Switzerland....

The Zen Estilo is now just Estilo

A new avtaar has been launched by Maruti Suzuki.

Haryana government in poll mode

Haryana goes to the polls along with Maharashtra this October.

Madhya Pradesh makes a pitch

An interactive CM

The impact of drought

We are nearly at the end of August and nearly half of the country has been declared drought hit.

The Gateway of India gets a makeover

The Gateway of India has been spruced up......

Mumbai's Shivaji statue update

The Maharashtra government has selected the concept design submitted by Team One Architect, Mumbai and Bensley Design Studios, Thailand, for the life-size statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji in the Arabian sea. The state had shortlisted the concept designs submitted by 11 firms to choose the three best proposals. At its meeting on Tuesday, the state cabinet decided to accept the design proposed by Team One and Bensley Design Studios. The Rs 350-crore plan proposes a life-size statue of the Maharashtra icon Chhatrapati Shivaji in the stretch of the Arabian sea between Malabar Hill, Girgaum chowpaty and Marine Drive. The 309-feet tall monument will be located around 1 km into the sea from Marine Drive. It will be modelled on the Statue of Liberty in New York. The monument premises will also have a museum showcasing the antique pieces associated with the Maratha king, cafeteria, a sprawling garden, and an open theatre. In the current fiscal, the state government has earmarked a budgetary provision of Rs 50 crore and the remaining Rs 300 crore will be spent during the 11th five-year plan.

Sabarmati Riverfront update

There will be no concept of Floor Space Index (FSI) on Sabarmati Riverfront for now. As the present plan stands, the 20-per cent of land reserved for commercial development has perfect pre-decided geometrical plot shapes that would define the shape of building coming on them and each shape has been assigned the number of floors to go with it. This is the new skyline of the riverfront. Shapes varying from a circle, square, rhombus, quadrilateral and a variety of geometrical forms line the riverfront. These shapes form the building footprint on the riverfront. The saleable built-up area is calculated as a multiple of the area of the footprint and the number of floors assigned to each of the plot shape. The concept of margin space would be completely eliminated from the design as there would be no compound walls encircling the buildings — mainly to save on public space. The owner of a building would have slot for parking within the premises and there would be public parking spaces also. “Our emphasis is on public space. We have reserved 20 per cent of reclaimed land for sale. If costs are recovered by selling building space within 16 per cent of the land, then the rest of the four per cent would be used as public space,” said a senior official of Sabarmati Riverfront Development Corporation Limited (SRFDCL). Once finalised, the shapes and saleable built-up area would be thrown open for investors for discussions and suggestions. A separate development control regulation has been drafted by SRFDCL and is pending approval from the state urban development department. In Wednesday’s SRFDCL board meeting, the committee sanctioned two roads — a sixlane 30-m-wide road which is the ‘East River Drive’, while a four-lane 24-m-wide road, called the ‘West River Drive’. Civil utilities like drainage, electric lines, water and storm water drain utilities would be laid along side road. For now, the roads would extend from Dafnala to Sardar bridge on the east side and from Paldi to Usmanpura on the west side. Pedestrians would have direct access to the river on both banks, while on a small stretch on the eastern side the road will move away from the river because of the unusual topography. Nearly 42.8 hectares of parks and gardens have been envisaged along the river edge to host different recreational functions.

Desperate measures

Priests take part in the ‘Varuna Yajna’ to appease the rain god at the Sankara Mattham in Mumbai. Ten priests stood neck-deep in water for over 4 hours to pray for rain.

7 new IIMs

The Union cabinet on Thursday is likely to approve the setting up of seven new IIMs as well as interest subsidy on educational loans for students belonging to economically weaker sections. The seven IIMs, already announced two years ago with even locations of a few of them having been finalized are coming up in Tamil Nadu. J&K, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. In Jharkhand, the IIM will be situated in Ranchi and in the initial years will function out of a government training institute. The IIM in Chhattisgarh will be in Raipur, the one in Tamil Nadu in Tiruchirapalli, while Haryana’s will be in Rohtak. The location of IIMs in Uttarakhand, J&K and Rajasthan has not been decided yet. Each IIM would need Rs 250 crore for it to be fully functional. The interest subsidy scheme was announced by the finance minister in his budget speech. It will roughly benefit five lakh students and provide a big boost to poor students to pursue higher education. The scheme will cover loans taken by students from scheduled banks to pursue any approved course in technical and professional streams in recognised institutes in the country. Students whose family income is less than Rs 4.5 lakh per annum will be eligible under the scheme. These students will avail the benefit for a moratorium period which is one year from completion of the course or six months from joining a job, whichever is earlier.

SC judges to disclose assets

Bowing to intense public pressure and faced with division in their ranks, Supreme Court judges on Wednesday finally agreed to take a belated step towards transparency and make public their assets and liabilities. Details of judges’ holdings will now be posted on the website of the apex court. However, the landmark decision comes with a caveat: The judges will not entertain any query relating to their assets and liabilities and how their wealth has increased or decreased. The decision to make public personal assets and liabilities as well as those of their spouses and dependents was taken by Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan and the judges at a full court meeting, marking a major climbdown on the part of the higher judiciary. The outcome of the meeting was influenced by the growing pressure from within for disclosure of assets with Justice D V Shylendra Kumar of the Karnataka high court publicly taking issue with the CJI for his stand that judges should not be required to disclose assets. The CJI even described Justice Kumar as ‘publicity crazy’. The two-hour-long full court meeting discussed the fallout of the article written by Justice Kumar, as it came around to letting the details of assets and liabilities being posted on the site www.supremecourtofindia.nic.in. While the view was revised on Wednesday, the meeting did not completely disregard the argument that public disclosure of assets would expose judges to malicious litigation, hence the rider about inquiries. The judges decided that while details would be posted on the website, the registry would not entertain further queries.

Pokhran II was a fizzle

The 1998 Pokhran II nuclear tests might have been far from the success they have been claimed to be. The yield of the thermonuclear explosions was actually much below expectations and the tests were perhaps more a fizzle than a big bang. The controversy over the yield of the tests, previously questioned by foreign agencies, has been given a fresh lease of life with K Santhanam, senior scientist and DRDO representative at Pokhran II, admitting for the first time that the only thermonuclear device tested was a “fizzle’’.In nuclear parlance, a test is described as a fizzle when it fails to meet the desired yield.


Communications & India's GDP

UP's new Township policy

The Uttar Pradesh government has announced the New Township Policy to promote and facilitate private investment in developing new townships with modern amenities all over the state. In accordance with the provisions of the Policy, Awas Bandhu, the Housing and Urban Planning Department of the Uttar Pradesh, has invited offers for pre-qualification from reputed developer companies for the development of new townships in Uttar Pradesh.
The developers would be free to propose new townships anywhere in the state, based on their assessment of the potential of a particular place and the only criteria that has been fixed is that the new townships will only be at least 3 kilometers outside the existing development areas, industrial development areas and other notified/municipal areas.
The New Township Policy comes in the backdrop of the widespread deficiency in housing and infrastructure facilities in the state, especially in the large cities. The total housing demand during the 11th Five Year Plan has been estimated at 15.84 lakh dwelling units, ie 3.16 lakh dwelling units per year in the urban areas of the state against which the annual capacity of government agencies, has been limited to about 1.0 lakhunits.
Realising the resource constraints as well as the limited capacity of the government agencies to meet the ever-increasing demand for strengthening and augmenting the infrastructure services in the existing urban areas, the state government has come up with this innovative urban planning solution, whereby development of new townships can ensure availability of housing and infrastructure services to the urban households.
These new townships are also expected to be equipped with modern amenities, an efficient traffic and transportation system and will be economically and environmentally sustainable, which will be developed as satellite towns around the existing urban areas in the course of time.
A senior official of the housing and urban planning department said the New Township Policy has been kept open-ended so that the developers are free to propose setting up these townships in any city or town of the state as per its potential and the need of itspeople.

Cairn India set to begin production

India's largest onshore oil discovery snippets...

DIAL's clarifications

Stormy weather......

India's Gold import snapshot

High global prices = Low imports

The Recession effect

The first quarter of fiscal 2009-10 ended June 2009 saw the first big impact of recession with a massive drop in fresh investments by almost 73 per cent, the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy has said in its July edition of Monthly Review of Indian Economy. "The quarter ended June 2009 witnessed some stress on the investments front. The announcement of new investment projects fell precipitously and the announcement of projects being stalled increased dramatically during this period,"the report stated. The fall in new investment announcement was sudden and steep. Investments worth Rs 1.37 lakh crore were captured during the quarter. This is Rs 4.99 lakh cr less than investments made in the corresponding quarter last fiscal, a drop of almost 68 per cent."This is also less than a quarter of the average new investments received in the preceding four quarters. New investment announcements had peaked to an exceptionally high of Rs 8.2 lakh cr in the preceding quarter that ended in March 2009," the report observed.
New announcements have averaged between Rs 3.5 and 5.5 lakh cr in the last 10 quarters. Thus, the fall in the June 2009 quarter is as exceptional as the rise in the preceding quarter.
Implementation of 49 projects envisaged an investment of a substantiative Rs 1.2 lakh cr. This includes the Rs 30,000 cr Maha Mumbai SEZ project of Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries Ltd. "The fall in new investments and the rise in projects being stalled raises fears of an abrupt halt of the investment cycle seen in the last five years. It is too early to conclude that this is indeed the case," it stated. Of greater importance is the commissioning of projects that is expected in 2009-10, the report added.


Crude nears $75

Oil prices rallied to a 10-month high near $75 a barrel on Monday, part of a broad global rally in commodities and equities markets propelled by expectations for a recovery. US crude rose 39 cents to $74.28 a barrel after peaking at $74.81, the highest intraday price since October 21.Brent crude gained 6 cents to $74.25. The gains came as world equities markets pushed firmly into positive territory on rising hopes for an economic rebound. Commodities markets have tracked stock indexes closely in recent months as dealers view equities as a lead indicator of economic performance. Oil dealers said many investors were also using commodities as a hedge against the dollar, particularly oil as OPEC producers work to restrain supply.

Bhishma snapshot

Indigenously-built state-of-the-art T-90 main battle tanks, Bhishma, at the rolling out ceremony in Avadi near Chennai .The first batch of 10 tanks, each costing around Rs 14-15 crore, was inducted into the army by minister of state for defence M M Pallam Raju. The Heavy Vehicles Factory plans to produce 100 tanks per year. The tanks have features like capability to fire guided missiles, in addition to the conventional ammunition, using the same main gun barrel and guided weapon system and ballistic computer facilities to ensure accurate firing of both conventional ammunition and guided missiles

China & the world

China and the world....

Underground car parks for SoBo

Security of vital installations will be top priority when the BMC will set up seven underground multi-level parking facilities in South Mumbai in the next year and a half. The project plan, approved by the civic standing committee on Monday, puts special emphasis on sensitive locations in the vicinity—Mumbai Police HQ and Chhatrapti Shivaji Terminus—which may face a security threat because of development of these lots. To cut down the possibility of a terror strike, the BMC has minimised the possibility of any human interface by making the lots fully-automated from the point of entry to exit. No commercial activity will be allowed around these sites. “The project sites are in a sensitive zone. Any increase in commercial activity or human movement will endanger security of vital locations in the vicinity,’’ reads the project’s feasibility report prepared by Urban Mass Transit Company (UMTC). However, it is still unclear which party will take home the parking fee. “We are likely to hike parking charges, and thereafter, ensure that revenue comes into our kitty,’’ reveals a senior BMC official. Members of the standing committee, while unanimously agreeing that these facilities— one each near Crawford Market, JJ flyover and Eros cinema, two at MG Road and the rest at K Dubhash junction Shyama Prasad Chowk—will increase parking capacity to 1,400 from the existing 400, alleged that guidelines were being twisted to favour a certain section of contractors. The revenue model of the project still remains ambiguous, members said. “Offering a firm Rs 444 crore to develop and maintain these lots, along with the right to pocket revenue from them for 30 years somehow does not make sense. Moreover the BMC proposal doesn’t clarify who gets the collection from parking fee,’’ says south Mumbai corporator Vinod Shekhar. As per the UMTC’s PPP model, the company that provides the technology will maintain the lot and the one that constructs will take home revenue from parking fee for 30 years, after which the sites will be handed over to the BMC free of cost. The Rs 444 crore project was awarded to consortium of city-based Venue Infrastructure Ltd and German Woehr Parking Systems under a public private partnership (PPP) model. “Maintenance and electricity charges will be quite high. To make up for that, we will have to pocket revenue from parking fee,’’ says Sandeep Kulkarni of Woehr.

No of underground parking lots planned: 7

Will be ready in 1.5 years

Project firm: Consortium of Venue Infrastructure Ltd & German Woehr Parking Systems Private firms to maintain and develop the lots for 30 years

After 30 years, ownership will shift to the BMC

Total cost: Rs 444 crore

As of now, 400 cars can be parked in these seven spots

After the parkings are built, 1,400 cars will be accommodated

Demand is for over 6,000 parking spaces.

Despite the new parking slots, people will still need to park on the road.

Space freed up on the road: 10,496 sq mts

Fully automated from the point of entry to exit

Equipped with laser screens, display boards & electric markers

To reduce the security risk, there will be minimal human interference once the car drives into the parking lot

The driver will activate parking procedure with a unique transponder chip

A hi-tech system comprising storage and retrieval units will transfer the vehicle to the allotted parking level

Plan for Mumbai: The BMC has identified 150 plots for development of underground or multistoreyed parking facilities in the next three years. Urban Mass Transit Company (UMTC), a company with 25% holding from central ministry of urban development, is the project advisor to BMC Parking rates in the city Rs 5 for an hour at civic pay & parks — is among the lowest in the world. A proposal for four-fold hike has been gathering dust. A new rate chart is being drawn so that sizeable revenue could be gained from the underground lots

Trinamool's ad

The Indian Railways advertises for the Trinamool Congress.....see their election symbol in it.


Ganpati comes home

The 10 day Ganesh festival begins under the shadow of the H1N1 pandemic.

India, Nepal to review 1950 treaty

India and Nepal have agreed to review the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship, which has been the subject of considerable criticism in the Himalayan republic. According to a joint statement issued by the foreign ministry on Saturday on the completion of four-day visit by Nepal PM Madhav Kumar Nepal, the two countries also agreed to review other bilateral agreements “with a view to further strengthening the bilateral relationship’’. Earlier in the day, the two countries completed negotiations and initiated the revised Treaty of Trade and Agreement of Cooperation to Control Unauthorised Trade. The trade treaty, which has been negotiated for the last two years, aims at enlarging the scope of the existing institutional framework, under which India gives duty-free access to its market to goods manufactured in Nepal. Madhav Nepal and PM Manmohan Singh discussed security concerns relating to the open border between the two countries.


It's festival season again....

The Lord returns tomorrow in the shadow of H1N1.

More of J & J

Jaswant and Jinnah that is...

El Nino snapshot

India’s first oceanarium

Come 2011 and Kochi would be beckoning tourists and marine researchers from around the globe. That is when the Kerala Fisheries Department proposes to complete India’s first Oceanarium and Marine Biological Research Institute in Puthuvype on the southern tip of the Vypin Island off the Kochi coast. On Wednesday, the state cabinet approved the formation of a company under public-private partnership for executing the project estimated to cost Rs 400 crore. The private parties would hold not less than 51 percent equity in the company and the state a minimum of 26 percent. Announcing this, chief minister V S Achutanandan said the finer details were still being worked out. According to the concept note, the Oceanarium which is in fact an artificial ocean “will enable people to walk under the water through an acrylic tunnel directly experiencing the unique excitement of the wonders available at the bottom of the oceans without getting wet. “The tunnel shall have a slow moving walkway, as also a fixed platform inside the tunnel for the visitors to step aside if they wish to view a particular species of their interest in detail. The moving walkway shall enable the visitors to have panoramic views of marine life inside the main tank,” says A Gopalakrishnan, executive director of the Fisheries Resource Management Society, which is overseeing the project. “Forty acres of land has already been acquired for the Oceanarium and this is being developed. The MBRI will come up in another 10 acres beside the Oceanarium,” he said. “A consortium chosen by the state government is currently preparing a feasibility report for the formation of the company on PPP basis,” he said.

Kolkata Metro update

On August 22, when the first south-bound Metro chugs out of Tollygunge station for Garia Bazar, it will signal the beginning of a transformation that the city’s southern suburbs have long been waiting for. A quick and easy link with the city proper will almost invariably elevate the suburbs to the status of downtown. If the few swank showrooms, the occasional upmarket restaurant and rising property price set the ball rolling five years ago, the Metro extension now promises to complete the process of integration that didn’t seem likely till even the Nineties. Life will change for tens of thousands across Naktala, Bansdroni, Netaji Nagar, Chanditala, Putiary, Garia and beyond from Saturday. They will no longer have to stand in queue for autorickshaws twice a day or travel all the way to Tollygunge Metro station — a journey that has been getting increasingly tiresome due to an overcrowded NSC Bose Road. With the Metro coming to their doorstep, reaching the nearest station will now be a short walk away. The area has been fast shedding its outskirts look. Multi-storeys have mushroomed and big brands have opened showrooms. Now, you have a Spencer’s at Netaji Nagar, a Nokia showroom at Azadgarh and a Habib’s beauty salon at Ashoknagar — brands that rarely looked beyond Ballygunge. Shabby one-storey houses and cubbyhole shops, typical of the refugee colonies that came up in the Fifties, are fast disappearing. The new look has led to a demographic change. Families have migrated from more expensive areas to Bansdroni, Naktala, Garia, Panchanantala, Narendrapur and even Brahmapur. These far-flung places will now have Metro access that makes life easier for them. The Metro-effect will benefit areas south of the Tolly’s Nullah along which the track runs. These have remained in the shadows — congested, with bad roads and poor civic facilities. The change is already being felt at the grassroots level. It has translated into more business for shop-owners. Those around the new stations at Kudghat and Bansdroni have seen a 20% rise in business, according to locals.

The Mantralaya Makeover

In the largest redevelopment deal Mumbai has ever seen, Indiabulls bagged the four-acre Mantralaya redevelopment project by offering Rs 1,376 crore. The company’s bagging of the project weeks before the election code of conduct comes into effect has set tongues wagging in the construction industry over the timing of the deal. The state government had set a reserve price of Rs 1,100 crore for the mammoth project, which, interestingly, had only two other bidders—IL&FS, in a joint venture with Akruti, which quoted Rs 1,308 crore and DB Realty which offered Rs 1,200 crore. IL&FS, which had earlier been left out of the bidding process on the grounds that its documents were submitted two minutes after the deadline, moved the Bombay high court on Thursday morning, and even tasted a brief victory when the court accepted its plea and directed its inclusion in the bidding process on merit. However, it was Indiabulls that won the bid. Gagan Banga, spokesperson for the group, said the Mantralaya venture was the most expensive project in the country. “At Rs 344.12 crore per acre, it is also the most expensive per acre deal in the country and probably Asia. This will allow us to build a world-class structure for the state —an iconic building of 7-star category which will surely change the skyline of Mumbai,’’ he declared. Some top developers in the city, under condition of anonymity, ‘alleged’ that the state government had not publicised the tender process adequately. “It is surprising that there were only three shortlisted bidders for such a huge contract when many more could have participated,” said one of them. Indiabulls has much to be happy about—the company will get a generous floor space index (FSI) of 4, and could end up getting as much as 44,000 square feet per acre in the free sale component. It plans to construct one high-end residential tower in the area where flats in the nearby NCPA apartment are reportedly being quoted at 80,000 to 85,000 per square foot. PWD minister Chhagan Bhujbal said the proposal was now before a committee headed by chief minister Ashok Chavan for approval. As part of the redevelopment—which has its share of critics—the main Mantralaya building, as well as the new administrative building opposite it, will be completely torn down, as will the 50 charming row bungalows opposite, which currently house judges and ministers. In place of the bungalows, Indiabulls plans to construct four clusters which will include apartments for judges and ministers as well as a new building for the state headquarters. “We will make sure this is the best building in the country and showcase it as such,’’ said Banga. Of the Rs 1,376 crore offered by Indiabulls, Rs 276 crore is for the corpus for upkeep and maintenance of the new buildings. The project is to be completed in three years’ time

Jaipur Metro snippets

Metro rail in Jaipur will start operation from March 2013. The ground level work will begin in March 2010, and the project will be readied by March 2013. This was announced at a high-level meeting between chief minister Ashok Gehlot and general manager of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), E Sreedharan. The proposed route will be a 9-km long elevated track connecting Mansarovar and Chandpole. This will be part of 12 km long East West corridor from Ramganj to Mansarovar via Badi Choupar, Choti Choupar, Chandpole, Ajmer Road, Gopalpura Bypass, New Sanganer Road and Mansarovar. The government has given its consent to the final module. Soon the project will be sent for cabinet clearance following which it will be sent to the Centre for funds. In the first phase, 28.5 km-long Metro corridor will be constructed at a cost of Rs 5,300 crore, including 12 km east west corridor and 16.5 km long North South corridor from the Jawahar Circle to Jal Mahal. To accelerate the work on the project it was also decided that a high-powered coordination committee will be set up under the chairmanship of chief secretary while the principal secretary, urban development, will be made the nodal officer for the project. The nodal officer will forward the proposal to the committee so that a single window system can be adopted for the process. A decision was taken to set up a new company, ‘Jaipur Metro Corporation’ to manage the Metro rail services here. Gehlot has instructed the JDA and JMC to provide assistance for quick initiation of the Metro services. He directed them to mark the areas for acquisition of land to establish the stations. He said 400 buses will be introduced under the Bus Rapid Transport Services (BRTS) to facilitate the project. Of the total 28.5 km proposed route, only 6.5 km will pass through the Walled City area and in order to maintain the heritage look of the old city, the entire stretch will be constructed underground. Outside the Walled City area, the Metro will mainly run on elevated road. The government has nearly finalised the project even as the DMRC is yet to submit its feasibility report.


In the first phase, 28.5 km long metro corridor will be built at a cost of Rs 5,300 crore East West corridor includes 9 km elevated corridor from Mansarovar to Chandpole and 3 km underground stretch from Chandpole to Ramganj.

North South corridor includes 13 km elevated and 3.5 km underground route from Jawahar Circle to Jal Mahal.

Services expected to begin on the 9 km elevated route by March 2013.

Work on North West corridor to be completed by 2014, the corridor will be operational by March 2015.

DMRC to submit DPR by November 2009, ground work expected to begin by March 2010 .

Jaipur Metro Corporation to be constituted for management of Metro Rail Services in city

Star of India snippets

Seventy-five years ago, this beauty glided on the roads of Rajkot, stopping people in their tracks. Soon, she will make heads turn across the world—a custom-built Rolls-Royce that belonged to the Maharaja of Rajkot is set to become the world’s most expensive car when it goes under the hammer in Germany. Known as the Star of India, it is expected to fetch £8.5 million at the auction being conducted by the Rolls-Royce Museum at Muhlheim. Old-timers in Rajkot remember the car moving with its ‘Rajkot State No. 26’ registration number and the emblem of Rajkot state ‘prajadharmi raja’. “Thakorsaheb Dharmendrasinhji ordered this car to Rolls-Royce. He wanted the colour to be saffron, depicting the spirit of Hindutva. It was specially done as this colour was not in vogue,” says Dharmendrasinhji’s grandson Mandhatasinhji Jadeja. “This car has high nostalgic value for us. Our family used this car during marriages and hunting expeditions. It has great heritage value and today it is not just the star of Rajkot but the country,” he adds. The luxury car has a number of features that were considered unique at that time, including head lights controlled by the steering wheel. They could also track the vehicle’s progress on the road. A similar technology, now called “adaptive curve lights”, is featured in a number of models of BMW and Mercedes.

Somewhere in Punjab....

Irony can’t get bigger than this. Neither can it get more tragic. Even as drought and food scarcity loom large, India’s granary, Punjab, is losing a staggering 18 lakh metric tonnes (MT) of wheat to wastage. It’s a quantity that can feed 15 lakh families for 365 days, or the weight of entire wheat produced in Australia in a year. Mountains of wheat are rotting in the fields of Punjab, strewn across soggy land, with government agencies either unable or unwilling to move it out of the state into the mouths of the country’s hungry millions. In Khamanu, about 50 km from Chandigarh, rows of wheat bags are piled carelessly, telling a sorry tale of neglect and callousness. “There are lakhs of bags, each weighing 50 kg, which went bad as it remained out in the open for months and years together,’’ said Gurmeet Singh, a farmer. “I haven’t seen anyone covering it for two years now.’’ In Punjab, which produces a total of over 150 lakh mt of wheat, a whopping 99.92 lakh mt is stored in the open while only 30 lakh mt is covered. Agriculturists have cried themselves hoarse at the lack of government infrastructure in the country’s food basket. “Moisture is wheat’s worst enemy, both in terms of quality and value,’’ said P S Rangi, an expert from Punjab Agriculture University and consultant with North-India Farmers Commission. “That’s why most of the wheat we produce is exported to other countries and is used as cattle feed. Rains seeping into uncovered gunny bags make it unfit for human consumption. About 12% of the total wheat produced gets wasted due to poor and inadequate storage. A S Chabra, deputy general manager, FCI, Punjab region, says some moisture is permitted. “The quality of wheat remains unaffected till 14% of moisture. Attempt is being made to move the wheat out of the state at the earliest,’’ he said, even as 30 lakh more mt of grain from last year waits to be loaded into trucks. Government official Daljit Singh Bhatia, the district food and supply controller, Ropar, pleads helplessness saying the state doesn’t have the infrastructure. “One needs wooden racks to keep the water out to ensure that the wheat stays dry, ‘’ he said. But farmers like Bhupinder Singh aren’t convinced. “It kills me to see so much of food go waste,’’ the 72-year-old said. “I took a loan of Rs 2 lakh to take care of my field this year and my family sweats it off to produce wheat. It’s very sad to see it going to the insects,’’ he added, pointing at wheat grain, bereft of any cover and infested with worms. “There are rats everywhere, as fat as rabbits. They eat it even as our countrymen go hungry.

Doppler Radar snippets

Isro indigenously developed the Doppler radar technology and transferred it it to Bharat Electronics Ltd for production. The system operates in S band and capable of monitoring clouds, precipitation systems and winds over large areas of more than 400 km from radar location. Doppler radar will be in sync with technology used worldwide and customized to Indian climactic conditions . Doppler radars can update information every 5 minutes compared to 15 minutes to 30 minutes needed for satellite reports . A series of deluges since 2006 prompted Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) authorities to choose advanced Doppler radars and the Centre decided to install them at 17 locations, including Mumbai, on the west coast. These systems at Kolkata, Chennai and Visakhapatnam are already operational and the indigenous radar is being used Sriharikota since April 2004. The radar can also forecast hailstorms, thunderstorms, cyclones, cloudbursts and measure the rainfall likely to occur at a particular place.

Some where in Uttar Pradesh....

It’s a virus that has already claimed over 100 lives but Indian and American scientists seem to have no clue about what it is. While the entire country is busy dealing with H1N1 influenza, a mystery virus is causing havoc in Uttar Pradesh. Since January, the state has recorded 665 cases of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES)—a severe neurological condition associated with significant morbidity and mortality. Around 137 people have already succumbed to the viral infection. Lab investigations have revealed that only 34 of the cases and four of the deaths were caused by Japanese Encephalitis—a known scourge in the state. However, scientists have no clue what caused the rest of the 133 encephalitis deaths and 631 cases. According to officials, this mystery virus has been causing brain fever and killing people in UP since last year but no breakthrough has been made regarding the virus’s identity and nature. Experts from Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Atlanta had picked up 150 samples from UP to help identify the virus. But they too have failed to make any headway. Director of National Institute of Virology (Gorakhpur) Dr Milind Gore said, “We are working on identifying the virus and its origin. At present we don’t know what’s causing these cases of AES and deaths. We suspect it could be a type of enterovirus.” Dr Gore added, “It is clear that JE alone isn’t causing AES. We recently checked 450 stool swabs and found that 68% of them were positive for enteroviruses. However, we don’t know exactly which one from this family of viruses is the dominant one behind the deaths. Even CDC experts haven’t figured it out.” “H1N1 has proved to be a setback for the work on encephalitis in UP. Improved methods of diagnosis and new primers were to be tested against the unknown virus,” an official said. A four-member team of the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, is in Gorakhpur to crack the code of the mystery virus. The team has been assigned the job of ascertaining the nature and characteristics of the virus, how it is spreading and eventually to find a way to control it so as to provide guidelines to the state government that will implement them as preventive measures. “Our team is doing a surveillance of the environment and the breed of mosquitoes and trying to understand which family the virus hails from,” NIV director A C Mishra said.


State of affairs

Maharashtra has bounced back to occupy the top position in investment proposals in FY09, according to an RBI study, displacing Gujarat, which has slipped to the second position. However, going forward, new investments could dip given the economic downturn, the central bank said. According to a study published by RBI, in `08-09, investors favoured Maharashtra the most, with the state capturing 20.6% of the total investment proposals followed by Gujarat, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. Investment proposals in Maharashtra increased sharply from Rs 3,856 crore (143 projects) in 2007-08 to Rs 87,081 crore (118 projects) in 2008-09. Gujarat slipped to the second position, accounting for 14.2% of the total investment proposals at 78 projects worth Rs 59,997 crore. It had grabbed the maximum share in FY08 (24.8) with investment intentions for 95 projects worth Rs 60,576 crore. Incidentally, both the states managed to attain lead positions around the Assembly elections, when the administrative machinery typically perks up its operations. While Gujarat went to the polls in late 2007, polls are round the corner in Maharashtra. Commenting on the development, Vaijayanti Pandit, director, western region, Ficci, said, “Our studies have shown that the state has benefited in a big way after large multinational auto companies invested in Chakan, around Pune. This has helped attract investments from a lot of auto ancillary units and other businesses. Also, with more and more IT companies coming up, Pune has helped pull investments into the state. “The strong work culture in the state has helped offset barriers like octroi, multiple taxation and other infrastructure bottlenecks like power shortage. Had politicians been more pro-active, the state would have done even better in attracting investments,” Ms Pandit said. Going forward, the slowdown in capital goods production, decline in import of capital goods, emerging indications of excess capacity in some sectors, and weak corporate earnings, especially in the second half of 2008-09, would impact new investments, RBI said in its study. Investments in new projects for FY10 are estimated at Rs 1,78,364 crore, down 33% over the previous year’s levels. These estimates are based on investment intentions by companies that had approached banks and financial institutions for funds in FY09.