Peugeot Citroen to set up plant in TN

French auto major Peugeot Citroen has firmed up plans to re-enter the Indian market. The company will invest around Rs 4,000 crore in an integrated manufacturing facility, which will make three lakh cars a year. The plant will come up in the Sriperumbudur region near Chennai. Peugeot exited India in the 1990s after poor showing of its model 309 and worker agitations at its factory in Maharashtra. The company has been scouting for locations to set up its plant and had shortlisted sites in Andhra Pradesh (Sri City in Tada) and Tamil Nadu. With this proposed investment, Chennai is set to become one of the largest automobile manufacturing hubs in the world. Gregoire Olivier, CEO (Asian operations), Peugeot, and Frederic Fabre, managing director of PSA Peugeot India project, along with other senior officials met Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa on Wednesday and sought fiscal incentives for the project. The support of the state may include tax benefits and land allocation at subsidised rates. The Peugeot project will provide direct employment to about 5,000 persons and indirect employment to another 15,000 people. The state already is home to automobile biggies like Hyundai, Ford, Nissan, Renault, Daimler, BMW and other global marquee manufacturers. Besides, the eco-system of a range of component manufacturers makes the state an ideal destination for automotive investments. Government officials say that Chennai and its adjoining areas have an installed capacity to make 2.2 million vehicles a year. The upcoming tractor units of Mahindra & Mahindra in Cheyyur and Polysindo group’s plant at Gangaikondan will only strengthen the state’s grip on automotive investments. Not just automobiles, but in tyre manufacturing too, the state is a leader. It has attracted major investments from Michelin, JK Tyres, MRF, ATC and Apollo Tyres. The total capacity in tyre manufacturing in Chennai region exceeds 1,600 tonnes per day, thereby making it the largest tyre manufacturing centre in the country and one of the largest in the world. From an R&D standpoint too, the state already has research hubs for Daimler, Renault-Nissan, Visteon, M&M and Ashok Leyland. “The combination of talent, ecosystem and port location makes Chennai the indisputable location for automotive investment. There are some bottlenecks like poor power situation and congested ports. If these are addressed, there is scope for further fresh investments and also secondary investments from existing players,” an analyst said.

25p coins step into history

It’s time for 25 -paise coins to enter the numismatic collection. With Wednesday being the last day to exchange these coins, they’ll cease to have any value from the day after, June 30. A senior official with Reserve Bank of India (RBI) said all banks are collecting 25-paise coins. The number of coins collected will be known only after it has been consolidated. From June 30, coins of 25 paise and below will cease to have any value. “They will no longer be a legal tender for payment as well as on account,” the official said. Gazette notification by the department of economic affairs, calling off 25-paise coins from circulation, has evoked some nostalgic responses.

Manmohan speak

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday acknowledged that his government was being described as the most corrupt ever, adding that graft had become a big issue and had caught the popular imagination. The stunningly frank remark about the image problem his government faces came during Singh’s interaction with a group of editors. “…in the situation that we are faced today, day in day out I think we are described as the most corrupt government”, Singh told his audience. However, he was quick to add that instances of corruption were just aberrations. Corruption, which has been seized upon by the opposition to torment the government and the Congress, took up a huge chunk of the PM’s inaugural remarks at the session. It figured prominently also in the question-answer session that followed, with Singh admitting that the telecom scam and Commonwealth Games had taken a toll on his government’s reputation. “Some events—the telecom scam, the Commonwealth Games-—have caused genuine concern among large classes of middle class opinion that cannot be wished away,” Singh said. However, he cautioned against radical steps which could turn the country into a police state and lead to the return of the inspector raj. Told that there was a perception that he had “allowed things to happen”, the PM suggested he was betrayed by former telecom minister A Raja.
What surprises me is not that there are corrupt civil servants but that despite all the temptations, so many of our civil servants remain honest and lead frugal lives It (graft) has caught the imagination of the people and we will deal with it. Govt is committed to pursuing whatever is feasible to deal with black money, tax evasion and corruption but it is not a one-shot operation
The general proposition that younger people should take over, is the right sentiment. Whenever the party makes up its mind I will be very happy to step down, but so long as I am here I have a job to do
We have some points of tension but nobody wants an election
Govt will reach out to civil society but no group can insist that their views A-to-Z are the last word. We will find a way out on Lokpal and try for a consensus . I have no hesitation in bringing myself under the purview of Lokpal but many of my Cabinet colleagues feel that bringing the institution of prime minister under it will create instability
Interpreting the question as echoing the view that he had failed to stop A Raja from perpetrating the 2G scam, Singh suggested that he was betrayed by the sacked telecom minister. He said as Prime Minister he had to trust his minister when he had promised to abide by rules. “How can I conduct a post-mortem? I am not an expert in telecom matters. As Prime Minister, it is not that I am very knowledgeable about these matters. Or, that I can spend so much of my time, to look after each and every ministry.” Singh also criticized Raja for wrongly claiming that he had the PM’s endorsement. “One observation that my private secretary recorded, that the PM says that there must be transparency—the minister should have said that it was his responsibility-—rather than saying that the Prime Minister has also endorsed it.” When told that the government failed to take notice of newspaper reports about irregularities in the allocation of 2G licences and spectrum, Singh said he could not have gone by newspaper reports alone. “There were people on both sides writing to me. If I go by the newspapers everyday, I would have to refer everything to CBI, and the CBI would sit in judgment. And if I continued in this vein, our public sector would not be able to perform. It would greatly weaken the (entrepreneurial forces) that have unleashed, and willynilly install a police raj”. The interaction was held against the growing perception that at a time when the government is faced with an image deficit on the issue of corruption and other challenges, the PM has not been communicating enough with his constituency. The PM also stepped out to rebut the perception that he had been reduced to alame duck and could be asked to make room for Rahul Gandhi. He hit out at the Comptroller and Auditor General whose reports on 2G and alleged favors to oil firms had embarrassed the government for overstepping its constitutional mandate. “It has never been in the past that the CAG has held a press conference as the present CAG (Vinod Rai) has done. Never in the past has the CAG decided to comment on a policy issue. It should limit the office to the role defined in the Constitution.” He criticized media for creating the perception his government was under siege and for simultaneously playing the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge.


Haji Ali renovation


Inflation to touch double digits

While growth moves downwards !

Approximately 35 years ago....

Indira Gandhi did not approve of a project that would have been Mumbai's metro three and a half decades ago, just before emergency was declared.

Of Wealth


Both inwards and outwards

Bangalore's BRTS Roadmap

Government explains oil price hike

Jamshedpur Airport snippets

Tata Steel and Tata Realty and Infrastructure (a wholly owned subsidiary of Tata Sons) are entering into a joint venture to set up a greenfield airport at Jamshedpur. The new airport will have the capacity to allow commercial airliners such as the Airbus A320 to land and take off which will pave the way for airlines to connect Jamshedpur with the rest of the country.
Tata Steel is in the process of acquiring 600 acres of land at the outskirts of Jamshedpur to set up the new airport which will replace the small air strip presently being operated by Tata Steel. In 2007, Tata Steel had said it had located land at Adityapur in adjoining Saraikela-Kharswan district for an airport which will have a 7,000feet-long runway. However, the company hasn’t been able to make much progress with setting up the airport in the ensuing four years.
By roping in TRIL, the infrastructure development vehicle of the Tata group, which has a tie-up with Singapore’s Changi Airports International for non-metro airports, Tatas now hope to give the project the required momentum to move ahead.
At present the aerodrome in Sonari spread over 25 acres does not have the ability to accommodate aircraft larger than 60 seater turboprops.
As a result, no scheduled commercial airline can operate flights to Jamshedpur whose airstrip first opened in 1940.
Apart from Tata Steel, Jamshedpur is also home to Tata Motors’ first ever commercial vehicles factory and a number of ancillary units that support the maker of the Nano and the steel maker. Air connectivity is expected to boost the business prospects for all these units.
An airport with a good frequency of commercial flights will allow businessmen, students and relatives of residents to get in and out of Jamshedpur quickly. The Tatas have made an application for an in-principle approval for the new airport to the ministry of civil aviation. The application for the facility estimated to cost about several hundred crore is supported by a detailed project report.Engineering giant Larsen & Toubro carried out the technical feasibility for the proposed project.

Natgrid and NIA out of RTI ambit too

After keeping the CBI out of RTI ambit, the government has now made the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the National Intelligence Grid (Natgrid) inaccessible under the transparency law. The Right to Information Act, 2005 has been amended to include NIA, Natgrid and the CBI in its second schedule that exempts “intelligence and security organization established by the central government” out of the purview of the Act. “In the second schedule... after serial number 22 and the entry relating thereto, the following serial numbers and entries shall be added: 23. CBI, 24. NIA, 25. Natgrid,” a department of personnel and training notification said.

Lokpal Bill opinions

Terming the inclusion of the PMO and the higher judiciary within the ambit of the Lokpal as a “mistake’’, ex-Chief Justice of India J S Verma said the move would play “foul with the basic structure of the Constitution’’. He also termed as “undemocratic” Anna Hazare’s threat to go on a hunger strike on August 16 if the government did not introduce a strong Lokpal bill. “Absolutely not... It would be a mistake. It will foul with the basic structure of the Constitution. Judicial review is a basic feature (of the Constitution)... for which an independent judiciary is essential,’’ Verma said when asked whether the higher judiciary should be brought under the ambit of Lokpal. “I don’t think so. In the parliamentary democracy that we have adopted, there the PM is accountable only to Parliament,” Verma said, adding that the country could not have a “lame duck’’ PM as there was no provision of President’s rule at the Centre.
Representatives of Team Anna and the government have perceived more or less a Lokpal who will investigate, prosecute and then change cloaks to stand as jury and judge. This all-rolled-into-one power centre is abhorrent to any democracy, which gets legitimacy from a fair system of justice.


Being Indian

An interesting article by Aakar Patel : Anatomy of an 'Indian': Answers to FAQs

Q: Are Indians patriots?
Analysis: Patriotism is “love of one’s country and willingness to sacrifice for it”. The second aspect is objective and can be documented. If we observe Indians, do they demonstrate willingness to sacrifice for their country? The answer is no. In his country the Indian is an opportunist—in traffic, in queues, in avoiding process, in littering, in avoiding taxes. Where he can find advantage, he will take it . He doesn’t see this as wrong. This is why he must be constantly policed—because he hasn’t internalized common good.
A: Indians are not patriots.

Q: Are Indians nationalists?
Analysis: Nationalism is the “feeling of superiority of our nation over others”. In India, the word has not yet acquired the menace it has in English. Nationalism (“rashtravad”) is a good word, a warm word in all Indian languages.
A: Indians are nationalists.

Q: Are Indians opportunists?
Analysis: Opportunism is “taking advantage of opportunities without regard for the consequences for others”. This describes accurately the difference between our cities and those in Europe.
A: Indians are opportunists.

Q: Are Indians pious?
Analysis: Piety is “the quality of being religious”. Religiousness is the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power.
A: Indians are religious and pious.

Q: Are Indians taught morals?
Analysis: Morals are “concerned with the principles of right and wrong behaviour”. There is a problem here, and it is the definition of right and wrong behaviour . Good conduct from “morals” in English is different from “dharma” in our languages.
A: The answer is that Indians are taught not morals, but dharma.

Q: Are Indians racist?
Analysis: Racism is the belief in superiority and inferiority based on skin colour. Indians view those fairer than them differently. We discriminate positively against whites and negatively against blacks. Indians aspire to be white. No Indian cosmetic promotes dark skin.
A: Indians are racist

Q: Are Indians secular?
Analysis: The universal meaning of secularism is accepting politics that is independent of religion. Our Prime Minister is not Hindu. Our most powerful leader is not even Indian.
A: Indians are secular.

Q: Are Indians hypocrites?
Analysis: Hypocrisy is “claiming moral standards to which our own behaviour does not conform”. Let’s examine corruption in India. One: The everyday behaviour of Indians is incompatible with our views on corruption. Two: Demonstrably corrupt people are admired and returned to power by us.
A: Indians are hypocrites.

Q: Are Indians communal?
Analysis: The universal definition of communalism is “reliance on cultural and social groupings”. The most important clue—matrimonial advertisements—indicates our discomfort at leaving our social group.
A: Indians are communal.

Q: Are Indians conservative?
Analysis: Conservatives are “averse to change, holding on to traditional values, especially in politics”. Our politics is not based on values, but on group opportunism. Dogma does not win elections in India.
A: Indians are not conservative.

Q: Are Indians liberal?
Analysis: Liberalism is “being open to new behaviour and being willing to discard traditional values”. The collapse of vernacular schooling, the success of Indians in the modern economy shows our ability to easily set aside traditional values in our self-interest.
A: Indians are liberal.

Q: Are Indians tolerant?
Analysis: Tolerance is the “willingness to tolerate beliefs and opinions at variance with ours”. The Indian belief is polytheism (“many gods”) and pantheism (“god is everywhere”). This is mistaken for religious tolerance . Tolerance must exist outside of this belief. Does it? The answer is no. Those who hold views opposed to ours must shut up or face violence. The evidence is in newspapers every day.
A: Indians are not tolerant.

1. Where his countrymen are damaged by his individual action—through illegal immigration—the Indian will choose himself over India. Embassies observe and record national behaviour.
Violations by Indians over decades, not racism, have made visa access restrictive, quite rightly, to all Indians.
In Australia the Indian youth behaves as he does in India, and then complains of racism when society objects and punishes him.
Our patriotic feeling is weak, though our nationalist sentiment is strong.
2. Is Shri Ram’s murder of Vali and his treatment of Sita moral? Is Shri Krishna’s advice to Arjun on Karna moral? Is his action on Jayadrath moral? Is Acharya Drona’s behaviour with Eklavya moral?
Our texts say: “Yes.” They are right according to dharma (if the question is asked in an Indian language). But they are wrong morally.
Dharma is opportunistic, while morals are not.
3. We mustn’t blame faith for this. Our texts repeatedly insist that our favourite gods—Shri Ram, Shri Krishna and Shiv Mahadev—are all black-skinned.
4. Indians think of corruption as something on the outside, which must be “solved” by the government. We are greatly agitated over this. The paradox is that a most honest, unelected man has been imposed by a foreigner over Indians on sufferance. Corruption is actually “inside” us but not apparent to a nation of hypocrites.
5. On the question of religious pluralism in Hinduism, Narendra Modi says Indians show acceptance and not tolerance. He is quite right. Tolerance is confused with pluralism (just as corruption is confused here with bribery).

India studying NSG guidelines

India is studying the new Nuclear Suppliers Group guidelines about tightening of export of enrichment and reprocessing technologies, government officials said. The 46-member nuclear suppliers’ cartel on Friday “agreed to strengthen its guidelines on transfer of sensitive enrichment and reprocessing technologies’’. Sources said they will need greater clarity on the precise nature of the “strengthening” of guidelines. However, officials said they were “reassured” by the US statement reiterating its commitment to “full civil nuclear cooperation’’. The US state department said on Friday, “Nothing about the new enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) transfer restrictions agreed to by NSG members should be construed as detracting from the unique impact and importance of the US-India agreement or our commitment to full civil nuclear cooperation.” Sources said India’s discomfiture with ENR guidelines stems less from the fact that India needs the technology right now. But the guidelines go against the entire spirit of the NSG waiver and the promise of full nuclear commerce.

Amul plans overseas foray

From the cradle of India’s White Revolution, the Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers’ Union Limited, also known as Amul Dairy, will now take the giant step to enter the US and European markets. Amul is all set to take the ‘Taste of India’ to the doorsteps of ethnic South Asians by becoming the country’s first dairy cooperative to set up manufacturing base outside India. The decision was taken during the 65th annual general meeting held on Saturday. Amul will initially manufacture ghee and paneer. The dairy co-operative union will finalise the exact location for the proposed facilities within a month. While California, Virginia and Wisconsin are considered to be milk rich states of US, the concentration of Indian populace, especially Gujaratis, is more in states like New Jersey and New York. The urge for ghee among ethnic Indians is satisfied in US largely by Canada-based players like Nanak and Deep brands as there are not many players present in the space there. The dairy union may use an existing dairy plant to manufacture the products for which it will invest nearly Rs 35 crore. Initially, it has planned to set up facilities to manufacture 10 tonne ghee per day and five tonne paneer per day. Amul Dairy, which clocked a turnover of Rs 2,111 crore — an increase of 25% year-on-year manages six plants across the country.


Somewhere in Shillong....

Somewhere in Pimpri....

The traditional Gol Ringan of the Sant Tukaram Palkhi was observed for the first time ever in Pimpri in the 331 years' tradition of the palkhi.

Verrappa Moily’s National Mission For Justice Delivery

Girding up to clear 2.3 crore pending cases, the Centre has agreed to increase its contribution by Rs 2,000 crore in the next five years to provide trial courts with adequate infrastructure. Identifying lack of court infrastructure as a major bottleneck in clearing the mountain of backlog, the Union Cabinet approved law minister Veerappa Moily's proposal to operationalise the National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reforms. The clearance of the proposal means the Centre will now bear 75% of the cost of infrastructure expansion of trial courts in the next five years. "A preliminary assessment of required infrastructure for subordinate courts from the states had revealed that around Rs 7,000 crore would be needed over five years. The central government outflow would be around Rs 5,500 crore," law ministry sources said. In case of north-eastern states, the Centre will continue to bear 90% of the expansion cost. The national mission 2011-16 will focus on two major goals -- increasing access by reducing delay and arrears and enhancing accountability through structural changes and by setting performance standards and capacities. The mission enlists five strategic initiatives -- policy and legislative changes, re-engineering procedures and alternative methods of dispute resolution, focus on human resource development, leveraging information technology for better justice delivery and improving infrastructure. The mission intends to create All India Judicial Service, Litigation Policy, Judicial Impact Assessment of all new laws, amendment to the Negotiable Instruments Act and Arbitration and Reconciliation Act. Lakhs of cheque bounce cases are pending in trial courts and time and again the Supreme Court has frowned upon subordinate judiciary being used as recovery agents by corporate houses.

Rajkot BRTS update

Are you ready to ride on Mercedes-Benz on Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) corridor on 150 feet Ring Road in Rajkot ? Rajkot Municipal Corporation (RMC) said the trial run of the air-conditioned Mercedes-Benz bus would begin from Tuesday next once the formalities required at the RTO are completed. The 10.7 km pilot project of BRTS from Gondal Road chowkdi to Jamnagar Road chowkdi on the Ring Road is expected to be completed in June. The bus would have 13 stops on the route. The project is being implemented under the Central Government sponsored Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM). At least six Fire Brigade personnel have been trained to run this special bus. RMC officials will decide after the trial run on the suitability of the bus based on various factors including economical. The project will be implemented in a phase manner in three corridors — blue, green and red — to cover an area of 104.86 sq km in the city. The total length of the BRTS project is 63.50 km.

Of India's largest highway project yet

Eleven players are in the fray to construct India’s largest-ever highway project. The 555-km Ahmedabad-Udaipur-Kishangarh stretch is expected to cost nearly Rs 5,400 crore, which is sufficient to build a power project that generates 1,340-megawatt electricity. And, the stretch could also help the government generate revenues of nearly Rs 10,000 crore over 20 years since the stiff competition is expected generate a premium during the bidding process that will now commence. The list of shortlisted developers ranges from domestic giants L&T, GMR and Tata Infrastructure to First Pacific from the West Indies, Australia’s Leighton and Malaysia’s IJM. In addition, players such as GVK have formed a joint venture with Australia’s Belford, while Nagarjuna Construction is bidding in partnership with Malaysian major Plus. Similarly, Hindustan Construction has tied up with Italian infrastructure company Vince as its partner, while local players Reliance Infra and IRB and Isolux and Soma have set up their own joint ventures. This Kishangarh–Udaipur-Ahmedabad section, which is spread over NH -79A, NH-79, NH-76 and NH-8, covers parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat. The stretch that falls under the crucial Golden Quadrilateral (GQ) network is already four-laned and is now being upgraded into a six-lane highway. “This is a lucrative highway sector with over 40,000 tolled vehicles plying on this stretch. The traffic on this corridor will increase manifold since it a crucial link to the Jawaharlal Nehru Port and the Mumbai-Pune expressway,” said a senior NHAI official. Sources said that while the Public Private Partnership Appraisal Committee (PPPAC) has set the benchmark of bidding out this project at not less than Rs 298 crore premium, the NHAI expects to get over Rs 400 crore, considering the competitive bidding by global infrastructure majors. “It’s a big project for us. We will annually get the premium amount with an additional 5% increase every successive year,” said an official. So, if a company bids, say, Rs 400 crore, it has to pay the first installment as and when the deal is signed. The second year, the premium, which is referred to as a positive grant, would rise to Rs 420 crore, after factoring in the 5% increase. In the third year, it will go up further to Rs 441 crore. Typically, the concession period is 20 years, which can be longer in certain cases. NHAI has earned over Rs 800 crore as premium this year from various projects that have been bid out. This could almost double to Rs 1,500 crore by the close of the year.

Oz may sell uranium to India: Report

In a bid to strengthen bilateral ties, the Australian government could review and lift the long-standing ban on uranium export to India later this year, a media report said on Thursday. Earlier this year, Indian foreign minister S M Krishna met Australian resources minister Martin Ferguson, initiating talks on the issue. Australia previously imposed a ban on selling uranium to India as it has a policy of exporting the radioactive element only to the signatories of NPT. However,all major nuclear nations were now offering nuclear trade with India, the report cited . According to The Australian,“Later this year, the Gillard government is likely to adopt a resolution lifting the ban .” The resolution could allow an exception for India, with appropriate safeguards or allow the federal cabinet the authority to make an exception when it wants to.

India - Pakistan talks

After many hiccups, India and Pakistan got a dialogue going at the foreign secretary-level talks, with both nations trying to overcome the accumulated bitterness of years. Though the two sides only repeated their known stands on the vexed issues of Kashmir and terror, there was a discernible attempt to bypass the acrimony and make progress elsewhere — like exchange of views between defence thinktanks, banking, and more travel permits. India reiterated its concerns on terrorism, telling Pakistan there could be no peace under the shadow of extremist violence. Speaking at a joint press conference after two days of talks with her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir, foreign secretary Nirupama Rao said: “The shadow of the gun and the violence it has unleashed has caused untold sufferings on our people in these years past. This needs to end.” Even as the two sides prepared to undertake of confidence building measures in the conventional and nuclear arenas, Rao said: “The ideology of military conflict should have no place in the paradigm of our relationship of the 21st century,” she said.
The J&K session saw a reiteration of the stated positions of both India and Pakistan. Salman Bashir said: “We both have well-known positions… but we would like to take it forward. Indian officials said they repeated their terror concerns to Pakistan — about the disclosures by David Headley during the Tahawwur Rana trial and the links between ISI and terror groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba. “While we understand India’s concerns on terror, this issue of terror requires collaborative approach,” Bashir said. According to sources, India told Pakistan it would hand over information on Samjhauta terror probe after investigations. India also asked Pakistan to check infiltration. India had brought down infiltration numbers on the international boundary, sources said, but on the LoC, there was still a fair bit going on. The task of reducing the “trust deficit” between the two sides is monumental. But certain proposals have been made to start new CBMs — meetings between India’s National Defence College (NDC) and Pakistan’s National Defence University is a first, joint seminars and conferences between defence thinktanks, even meetings between the two Coast Guards. This would be the first time the defence establishments on both sides would even get to know each other. There has been a feeling in India that it has conspicuously ignored engaging Pakistan’s all-powerful defence establishment, which resulted in India getting a somewhat incomplete picture. If this is acceptable to both sides, it would be a start. After the MV Suez incident, where India came off looking inadequate, the government has attempted to resurrect an old agreement to prevent incidents at sea.

Team Anna meets BJP, Left

Taking their fight for the Lokpal Bill to political parties, the Anna Hazare -led civil society on Friday met BJP veteran L K Advani and CPI leader A B Bardhan. India Against Corruption (IAC) members, including Kiran Bedi, Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia, had a brief meeting with the BJP leader regarding their version of the Lokpal Bill. The activists plan to meet members of both the parties again before July 3. “The meeting was very encouraging. Advani told us that the country needs an effective Lokpal. He heard us and requested us that we make a detailed presentation before senior BJP leaders,” Bedi said after the meeting. Kejriwal added that the activists would meet BJP leaders again before July 3 after top party leaders, including Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Nitin Gadkari, are back in the country. IAC members plan to meet national parties to explain their stand and their opposition to the government’s Lokpal draft. The Anna camp said they were not looking for assurances from the BJP at this point as they only wanted to put across their views and brief Advani about it. The meeting was part of the Hazare team’s efforts to reach out to the political parties. They had earlier announced that they would meet all political parties. Raising their pitch on the Lokpal Bill, the Hazare team on Thursday alleged that the government version of the draft was not aimed at fighting corruption but at targeting those who complain against the menace. The Hazare team felt that the exclusion of a large chunk of bureaucracy from the ambit of Lokpal and the provision to hear officials accused of corruption before filing of case and chargesheet were not proper.

Gujarat's annual plan snippets

The Planning Commission on Friday finalised an annual plan of Rs 38,000 crore for Gujarat for 2011-12, higher by nearly 27 per cent over the previous financial year, appreciating the state’s double-digit growth rate for the second consecutive year. Officials participating in the meeting between chief minister Narendra Modi and the commission’s deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia said, the commission allowed a higher plan size as it was appreciative of the fast infrastructure growth achieved in ports, gas-and-oil and energy sectors, which has triggered a much higher industrial growth. Officials said, though some Planning Commission members expressed misgivings on the continued lag in the state’s human development index, its member-secretary Sudha Pillai wanted the Gujarat government to send across to her a complete note on the public-private partnership (PPP) model, especially in health and education sectors. She wanted the state’s PPP model to be emulated elsewhere in India. At the same time, senior economist Abhijit Sen, member, Planning Commission, disputed the state’s claim about high agricultural growth, saying it was erratic and rain-fed. Sen said, the average of the last five years suggested the state’s growth has been less than that of the nation. Another commission member Sayeeda Hamid raised the issue of failure of the state to provide security to the minorities. Hamid cited lack of banks in the minority areas and failure of the banks to provide loans to the minorities. Modi reacted that the critique did not stand reason as the nationalised banks came under the Central government. Hamid also referred to the state’s refusal to allow implementation of the Centre’s pre-matric scholarship to Muslim students. Modi replied back, “We have provided scholarship to 1.5 lakh minority students”. Addressing the meet, the CM said there are growing list of instances of the Centre breaking the ‘federal dharma’. “It seems that UPA’s strategy is clear encroachment on state’s matters and economic freedom and agenda of GoI is of centralisation of powers and interference in state subject matters,” he said, citing the Draft Ports Regulatory Bill which showed the UPA’s intention to undermine the authority of the Gujarat Maritime Board.
Planning Commission finalises 38,000 cr annual plan for 2011-12 as against 37,152 cr proposed by the state government — a rise of 26.67% over the previous annual plan
Extra rise of 848 cr is for urban health care projects in 159 municipal towns, cow breed improvement, tribal area schemes, drip irrigation, drinking water and road network
Panel hails state economy’s growth by 10.23% in 2009-10 and 11.58% in 2010-11
Modi seeks 9,000 cr in next three years for 90,000 teachers’ recruitment and 60,000 classrooms

Diesel, LPG , Kerosene prices hiked

The Government on Friday decided to raise the price of diesel by Rs 3 a litre, kerosene by Rs 2 a litre, while cooking gas will cost Rs 50 more per cylinder. In Mumbai, diesel will now cost Rs 47.25 a litre, LPG a staggering Rs 398 and kerosene Rs 14.38. In states that have higher local taxes, the incremental increase could be Re 1 or even more. The revision in the price of diesel, the main transportation fuel, will immediately push up cost of food items, bus and taxi fares, freight as well as any consumer good that is moved by road. The upward revision comes about a month after state-run oil marketing companies jacked up petrol prices by Rs 5 a litre. It immediately drew a howl of protest from across the opposition spectrum, including the BJP, Left, JD(U) and the AIADMK, who promised to take to the streets against the UPA government’s move, demanding a rollback. Even the government’s ally, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress joined in the protest. Attempting a defence, Union oil minister Jaipal Reddy said: “I am sandwiched between economists and populists. The economists say why aren't you doing it (raising prices) and populists say why are you doing it.”


Bal Thackeray on Anna , Ramdev

Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, who had asked people to hoist black flags against the eviction of Baba Ramdev from Ramlila Maidan, criticised Ramdev and Anna Hazare saying they were funded by corporates. “I don't have evidence for what I am saying. But one needs to check the source behind Anna's brains. I wonder how he spends so much time and money for his campaigns -he travels by cars and planes -who are the corporates behind this?“ he asked.
Thackeray slammed the government for the mushrooming of such campaigns and growing publicity of `such people'.
“The Centre is losing its grip on the country and that is the reason why people like Hazare and Ramdev have come up,“ he said. Taking a potshot at the media, Thackeray said these campaigns were also backed by strong publicity.

No consensus on GST yet

Introduction of indirect tax reforms through the common goods and services tax, or GST, from the next fiscal appears uncertain with fresh opposition pouring in from BJP-ruled states which claim that it would reduce their status to that of municipalities and corporations. “The kind of draft that they (Central government) have presented...I do not think it could be passed. Which state will agree to become a municipality or corporation? To hand over all the powers to the Centre and then beg before it for money is against the spirit of the Sarkaria Commission report,” Madhya Pradesh finance minister Raghavji told reporters in New Delhi. He said states are not inclined to accept the draft Bill, which has been circulated by the Centre, for the introduction of the GST. The Bill needs approval of two-thirds of Parliament and half of India’s 28 states to become law. Hence, BJP support is crucial at the states as well as the central level. The Constitution Amendment Bill introduced by the Centre is reactionary, said Raghavji. “It is absolutely useless and against the interest of the states. It has provisions which will curtail the autonomy of states. The Centre is interfering in the rights of the states,” he added. The Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in the last Budget session. It was the fourth draft prepared by the Centre after the first three were rejected by the states, citing autonomy issues. Raghavji said there have been no changes in the latest draft as against the previous one. “In fact, the previous draft was in some aspects much better. This one is even worse,” he added. Among the objections raised by the BJP-ruled states is the proposal to bring the sales tax in ambit of the GST. “Sales tax is an exclusive state subject. Now the Centre wants to interfere with that. This is unacceptable to us,” Raghavji said, adding that one of the solutions could be having separate GST regimes for the states and the Centre. The GST would subsume most of the indirect taxes like excise duty and service tax at the central level and VAT on the state front, besides local levies. The implementation of GST, considered to be a major tax reform, has been stuck for years due to differences between the Centre and some states over the new structure. The draft is also against the spirit of federalism enshrined in the constitution, he said, adding, “This disturbs the basic structure of the Constitution.” Despite political differences, the UPA government at the Centre is hopeful of being able to introduce new indirect taxes regime from April 1, 2012. To a query on whether West Bengal Finance Minister Amit Mitra would be acceptable as the new chairman of the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers, Raghavji said the post should go to a neutral person. Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi concurred with Raghavji’s views that GST could not become operational by April 2012.“I don’t think the central government will be able to implement it from April 1, 2012,” Modi said. He, however, came out in support of the proposed tax regime and termed it as a “historic reform”. “This is a historic reform and we believe that the entire country should be part of this reform,” Modi said.The Congress-led states, meanwhile, seem to be ready to embrace the GST. “Yes, we are ready (for the GST),” Kerala finance minister K M Mani said. Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has sought, on many occasions, cooperation from all stakeholders, including political parties and industry, for the early implementation of the GST regime.

Of India's Watergate

The Opposition on Wednesday continued to use Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s complaint about eavesdropping on him to drive home their point that differences between Manmohan Singh’s ministerial colleagues have become unbridgeable. The BJP said the complaint of bugging by Mukherjee showed that the “division in the government was more than suspected” and that even the finance minister was not protected from spying. Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj, who termed as a “big joke” the Intelligence Bureau’s “chewing gum theory” regarding the alleged bugging of Mukherjee’s office, demanded effective steps to protect the minister. “The allegation of spying at Pranab Mukherjee’s office is a serious matter. The finance minister himself may try to dismiss it...he may be under some compulsions. But the country wants to know,” Swaraj said. Swaraj said Mukherjee’s complaint to the prime minister in September regarding discovery of “planted adhesives” at 16 places in North Block — including his own office, his adviser Omita Paul’s room, his private secretary Manoj Pant’s office and two conference rooms — should be taken seriously. “As far as the allegations are concerned, two questions can be raised... whether the spying was being carried out by the government itself against its finance minister or some corporate house was doing it. In both the situations, it is a serious issue,” the BJP leader said. Slamming the IB, which concluded that the adhesive may just be chewing gum left behind by maintenance staff, she said “if they give such a childish argument and expect the country to believe that those were chewing gums, people will laugh and ask from where did such an intelligent chewing gum came”. “Even Pranab must be knowing the difference between adhesive and chewing gum. I demand the government should take his letter seriously and conduct a thorough probe.” Swaraj said if anyone in the government had bugged the finance minister’s office, it reflected the “trust deficit” between the ministers. In case some corporate house was involved, it was a serious security breach. “That is why I called it the Watergate of India. There (in the US) it was done against the opposition. Still the American President had to resign. Here it is against their own FM...the country should know the truth,” she said.

West Bengal's annual plan

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s appeal for funds from the Capital for Bengal’s bread and butter had more than a sympathetic ear. The Planning Commission approved a nearly 4000-crore jump in the annual allocation for the state, increasing it to 22,214 crore from 17,985 crore. The allocation was finalized at a meeting Mamata had with Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia. She made the same ‘bread-and-butter’ to Ahluwalia that she had made on Tuesday as she spoke to the media to explain her demand of 47,000 crore to pull the state out of debt. “First, I will work for bread and butter, then move to malls,” she told Ahluwalia. She said Bengal would give India a new development model while protecting the country’s growth story. The state, she vowed, would generate 10 lakh jobs in two years for which a plan of action would be announced soon. The chief minister also said she was committed to creating a a conducive environment for industry in the state. Her government, she added, had proposed to set up 17 industrial clusters of which five or six would be in areas with high minority population. The state will also come up with a new land policy to help create an environment that would see the revival of 5,000 industrial units crucial to job creation, Mamata told the Plan panel. She also said her administration would focus on e-governance to ensure transparency and better delivery of public services. While she revealed plans to set up 300 diagnostic centres for the poor across the state, the chief minister sought the Plan panel’s assistance to ensure supply of safe drinking water, and in facilitating better connectivity with the state. She demanded air links with eight places, including Malda, Santiniketan, Haldia and the Sunderbans. Ahluwalia said the Plan panel shared Mamata’s concerns . “The Planning Commission heard the vision she has for reviving the economy of West Bengal and giving it a thrust over the next five years. She identified many of the critical areas about which we are also concerned. We have approved a Plan size of 22,214 crore,” Ahluwalia told reporters after the meeting. “The Planning Commission stands ready to support the chief minister not only this year but, more importantly, in the 12th Plan period (2012-17).”

Somewhere in Guwahati....

A police officer restrains a member of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti during a demonstration against an eviction drive in Guwahati on Wednesday. Three people, including a child, were killed and nearly 50 injured in the police clash after 500 protesters turned violent and torched over a dozen vehicles. To calm down tempers, the government finally halted the eviction drive till June 28.

Yamuna Expressway update

The six-lane Yamuna Expressway would be open only to traffic going straight to Agra by December. Though the toll charge is likely to be notified a month before the stretch is opened for traffic, sources said it could cost between Rs 210 and Rs 220 per trip for cars. Though crossing the 165-km expressway will take not more than two hours, commuters from Delhi would spend more time to reach the takeoff point of the expressway, which is just before Greater Noida. Similarly, since the expressway joins the NH-2 about 10km before the Taj Mahal, it would take at least half-an-hour for visitors to reach the tourist site. “We have a temporary plan to join the expressway with NH-2 at grid. The interchange work at this spot is under way. This will improve the traffic flow later,” said a senior official associated with this project. He added the UP government has already notified its toll policy for expressways in the state, which is in conformity with the NHAI norms. Officials said the average toll charge per kilometre could come to Rs 1.25, which is less than what car users pay for using the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. There, per kilometer user charge comes close to Rs 1.50. UP government officials said though the private developer of this Rs 11,000 crore project, Jaypee, has the target of making it operational by October this year, in all probability the stretch will be ready for traffic movement by December. “Since the work on interchanges will take more time to complete, but no exits will be allowed during the stretch initially. At a later stage, this road will be used by traffic travelling from point to point,” the official said. He added that 79% of the work was complete and work on five toll plazas and clover-leaves is under progress. Officials said the developer wants to open the road by October-end when Greater Noida hosts the Formula One Championship. “At least 40,000 foreign visitors are expected to be in Greater Noida during the competition and the developer expects most them would like to use the new expressway to visit the Taj Mahal. Initially, the road is likely to be used by 30,000 passenger cars and the developer expects the number to grow subsequently,” said the official. Sources said the expressway has the design speed of 120kmph, but the speed limit would be 100kmph. Interestingly, UP government has not notified the speed limit on any of its roads unlike several other states. And, unlike other expressways, the 165-km expressway allows plying of two-wheelers and all other registered vehicles. However, to address safety concerns, the developer will get CCTV cameras fixed at an interval of every 3-4 kilometres. Sources said the developer has already started procuring about a dozen mobile radars to monitor speeding. “There will be one highway patrol for every 25km, besides exclusive fire brigades. This will be the first road in the country to have video incidental detection system (VIDS) for detection of mishaps and violation of traffic norms,” said a source.

Dholera SIR snippets

A high-level Gujarat Infrastructure Development Board (GIDB) meeting, held under the chairmanship of chief minister Narendra Modi, has decided to convert Dholera Special Investment Region (SIR), proposed on 903 sq km area off Gulf of Khambhat and south of Ahmedabad, into a new age city with world-class infrastructure and high quality of life. A comprehensive assessment of the industrial and commercial potential, undertaken by top international consultants, Walcrow, has determined economic viability of the proposed city, which will seek to provide residence to about 20 lakh people over a 30-year time frame. A recent presentation made at the GIDB meeting suggested that the Dholera SIR will have a wide range of industrial uses, with particular strengths in the electronics and high-tech industries, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, heavy engineering and auto and general manufacturing sectors. The industrial employment is proposed to provide the economic foundation of the SIR and generate “base” jobs to 3.43 lakh people. It would further generate 4.84 lakh jobs in support services. All of it together would support a total population of 25 lakh, including people commuting from urban centres like Ahmedabad and Bhavnagar. However, as majority of the people doing job in the SIR would live in the new city, the SIR itself would construct five lakh dwelling units. Category-wise, 20 per cent of the residential area would be reserved for the development of low income groups, another 57 per cent for medium income groups, and the remaining 13 per cent for higher income groups. All residential areas would be mixed incomes and housing will be developed with comprehensive range of community facilities, including schools, medical facilities, neighbourhood retail and open space. Major hospitals, colleges, government offices and facilities such as post offices, fire stations, libraries, theatres and meeting halls, parks and sports venues and a range of religious building would be located in the central business district and the key commercial centres located in different parts of the city. While most of the work would take place in three phases, each having 10 years’ time space, the development of the city would start at Ambli village in the north side, close to the existing state highway 6, and then proceed southward to Bavariyari village. A 116-km-long expressway for Rs 2,500 crore, starting at Auda Ring Road, would connect Ahmedabad with Dholera SIR. For this, land acquisition, 150 metres wide, starting at Auda Ring Road, passing through Dholka, Vataman, Pipli and Dholera, has begun. The proposed Dholera international airport would be linked to this expressway with a five-km link road. There would be only about half-a-dozen other outlets for the expressway.

Somewhere in Ahmedabad....

The double-decker flyover at CTM crossroads, the first of its kind in the city, is ready for commuters. One of the arms of this flyover leads to the Ahmedabad-Vadodara Expressway.

India is threat # 1 : Pakistanis

Most Pakistanis see India as a bigger threat than the Taliban and the al-Qaida and disapprove of the US military operation that killed Osama bin Laden, according to a new poll. When asked which is the biggest threat to their country, India, the Taliban, or al-Qaida, a majority of Pakistanis (57%) say India, the poll noted. Although al-Qaida leader bin Laden has not been well-liked in recent years, a majority of Pakistanis describe his death as a bad thing. Only 14% say it is a good thing, according to a poll released on Tuesday by the Pew Research Centre. Moreover, many Pakistanis believe the US raid on bin Laden’s hideout will have a negative impact on the already strained relations between the US and their country. The poll also indicates that concerns among Pakistanis about an extremist takeover and support for using military force against extremist groups are slipping, but the groups themselves remain widely unpopular. Just 12% of Pakistanis have a positive view of al-Qaida, down from 18% in 2010. Only 12% give Taliban a favourable rating with both Pakistan based Tehrik-i-Taliban and the Afghan Taliban getting similarly low levels of support. There is somewhat more support for Pakistan based Lashkar-e-Taiba group held responsible for the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Currently, 27% have a positive opinion of the terror outfit. Results of two surveys conducted in Pakistan by Pew’s Global Attitudes Project also show that Pakistani views of traditional rival India have grown increasingly negative in recent years.

Women's reservation bill

Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar’s bid to test waters on women’s reservation in legislatures failed to break fresh ground with known dissenters either staying away or reiterating opposition to a gender specific quota. The Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party did not attend discussions while RJD and Janata Dal (U) expressed reservations over the proposed 33% quota for women. RJD’s Raghuvansh Prasad Singh raised the backward caste demand for a sub-quota. Shiv Sena, on the other hand, wants a percentage of tickets set aside for women. But others like the BJP, Left constituents, AIADMK, DMK, BJD, SAD and TMC supported the bill. Kumar said she would talk to the parties and that “efforts will continue till consensus is achieved”. She said another meeting would be convened before the monsoon session of Parliament. Government sources also said the ruling coalition did not want to repeat strong-arm tactics resorted to in Rajya Sabha where MPs opposed to the bill were physically removed. The hunt for a middle ground may see the government searching for a formula that reduces the quota quantum. Supporting parties said the bill be brought to Lok Sabha in Parliament’s monsoon session beginning on August 1. CPM’s Basudeb Acharia said, “We’ve been asking from the very beginning that the bill in its present form should be introduced. Even if it fails, the bill should be brought in the next session and passed.” Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj also said that opposition to the bill should be expressed by walking out and not by disrupting proceedings.


20 Years to an Economic Miracle


Twenty years ago, on June 21, 1991, Narasimha Rao became head of a weak minority government grappling with a terrible financial crisis. Yet he initiated economic reforms that eventually transformed India, and even the world. India in 1991 was a poor, misgoverned country, derided as a bottomless pit for foreign aid. Today it is called a potential economic superpower, backed for UN Security Council membership by the US, and set to overtake China to become fastest growing country in the world. When economic reforms began, critics warned that India would suffer a “lost development decade” like African and Latin American countries in the 1980s that supposedly followed IMF-World Bank advice. Critics said fiscal austerity would cause mass unemployment and shatter safety nets, while economic opening up would enable multinationals to thrash and oust Indian business. All three criticisms stand exposed today as nonsense. Far from suffering a lost decade India has become a miracle economy: social and welfare spending are at record levels: and Indian businesses have not only held their own but become multinationals themselves. India has averaged over 8% GDP growth in the last decade. Its savings rate has shot up from 22% to 34-36% in two decades. So, with just modest foreign capital inflows, India can sustain an investment rate of 36-38% of GDP, which can sustain 8-9% GDP growth. Per capita income has shot up from $300 to $1,700 in two decades. Fast growth has created a shortage of not just skills but even casual labour. Salaries have gone through the roof, and casual wages have shot up by 40% in the last year in Bihar and Orissa. Fast GDP growth has yielded a tremendous revenue bonanza —central revenues are rising by over one lakh crore per year. This has helped finance record spending on education and health, on welfare schemes (such as NREGA and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan), and on Bharat Nirman. However, these areas are still dogged by massive corruption and waste, and badly need reforms. The Asian tigers (including China) based fast growth on labour-intensive exports. This was impossible in India because the very incomplete reform process excluded any labour reform. To everybody’s surprise, India instead developed skill-intensive exports — computer software, business services, autos and pharmaceuticals. This skill-intensive path was totally novel, unrelated to any IMF-World Bank model, and arose spontaneously when economic reforms allowed Indians to innovate in unanticipated ways. However, this pattern is now threatened by a serious skill shortage which the highly flawed educational system is struggling to solve. India has become world leader in frugal engineering, a concept that didn’t exist a decade ago. Frugal engineering cuts costs by not just 10-15% under western levels but by 50-90%. One example is the Nano, the world’s cheapest car. Indian telecom has the cheapest call rate of one rupee per minute. Narayan Hrudalaya and Aravind Netralaya perform heart and eye operations at a tiny fraction of the cost overseas. Innovation has improved productivity so dramatically that merchandise exports are growing faster than 30% annually despite substantial real appreciation of the rupee. China and some other Asian countries have manipulated exchange rates to create large mercantilist trade surpluses. But the RBI has aimed at a modest current account deficit financed by capital inflows. This is more sustainable than the Chinese approach. Critics claim that fast growth has bypassed poor people and regions. This is simply false. Poverty has declined from 45.3% in 1993-94 to 32% in 2009-10 according to the NSSO. But NSSO consumption data now capture only 43% of consumption measured by the national accounts, so the actual fall in poverty is probably steeper. We now have politicians offering free TV sets and laptops at election time. If poverty were really deep, such ploys would lead to Marie Antoinette-style derision. Cellphone penetration is approaching 70% of households. These are signs of falling poverty. The hunger ratio has fallen from 17.5% in 1983 to just 2.5% in 2004-05. Research by Devesh Kapur and others has demonstrated an astonishing improvement in the living standards and social status of dalits in UP since the reforms began. Literacy has improved by 21.8% in the last two decades, against just 13% in the previous two decades. In 2001-11, female literacy has outpaced overall literacy, and both have grown fastest in the poorest states. Bihar recorded an improvement of over 20% and 16% respectively in female and overall literacy. Nutrition indicators, however, remain terrible. GDP growth has doubled or tripled since 2004 in six large, poor states — Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh. But for this, the national GDP rate could never have risen to 8%. Fast growth has trickled up from the poor states to the national level. These states are affected by Maoism, which is widely held to be evidence of extreme deprivation. In fact, it is more indicative of ethnic tension between tribals and non-tribals, especially over land and mining rights. The unfinished agenda is huge. Crony capitalism rather than free competition prevails in many sectors, especially real estate, natural resources and government contracts, making politicians millionaires on an unprecedented scale. Government services — subsidised food, employment programmes, education, health — are dogged by massive absenteeism, corruption and leakages. The police-judicial system is corrupt and moribund, and simply does not combat crime or redress public grievances. Criminals have entered politics in unprecedented numbers. Much economic reform is still needed. India ranks only 134th of 183 countries in ease of doing business, according to the Doing Business series of the World Bank/IFC. But even more urgent are reforms to improve governance. After all, economic reform has sufficed to create miracle growth. Governance, alas, still needs a miracle.

Below normal monsoons forecast

The crucial southwest monsoon is expected to be a notch below normal this year but is expected to gather momentum by the middle of July, the country’s weather office said. While this may point to some stress for the economy in the months ahead, analysts said it is too early to press the panic button. If the monsoon picks up by mid-July, it would be beneficial for planting of rice, corn and sugar. “Quantitatively, monsoon season rainfall for the country as a whole is likely to be 95% of the long period average with a model error of plus minus 4%. The long period average rainfall over the country as a whole for the period 1951-2000 is 89 cm,” the weather office said in a statement. The latest forecast is marginally below IMD’s June estimate of 98% of the long period average and slightly below the 96-104 range which points to normal monsoon. Minister for earth sciences P K Bansal said the reason for the revision of prediction is the weakening of La Nina conditions and anomalies in the North Atlantic pressure readings. “The April forecast of normal monsoon was based on conditions prevailing in February-March. But there is nothing to be alarmed about. We are issuing separate instructions for agriculture and farm work.” Economists said too much should not be read into the headline numbers and the impact of the monsoon rains would depend on the distribution across key crop growing regions in the months ahead. Monsoon rains still continue to influence the fortunes of Asia’s third-largest economy as large parts of the country lacks irrigation facilities and farmers depend on the June-September rains for crops.

TaMo moves HC against Singur Act

Tata Motors moved Calcutta high court on Tuesday night, challenging the legality of the Singur land return Act, barely an hour after the Hooghly administration pasted reacquisition notices on the main gate of the disputed Singur compound to take back land acquired for both Nano factory and the vendor park. At 9 pm, Samaraditya Pal, counsel for Tata Motors, mentioned the matter at the residence of chief justice J N Patel. It’s rare for a petitioner to approach the chief justice at his residence, but considering the gravity of the case, Justice Patel assigned the matter to Justice Soumitra Pal, who will hear it at 10.30 am on Wednesday. Tata Motors has notified the state government that it is moving the petition and asked the government “not to disturb their possession in Singur”. The gazette notification on the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act was issued in the afternoon. Barely an hour before Pal knocked on the doors of the chief justice, the Hooghly administration pasted notices, signed by Hooghly DM Sripriya Rangarajan, on the compounds gates at 7.45 pm, saying that the reacquisition process will start from Wednesday. In a bid to pre-empt the move, Tata Motors pasted a notice on the gates just minutes before the administration arrived with its notification. The Tata Motors notice, signed by Dilip Sengupta, the firm’s advisor consultant, requests that a lead time of at least five hours be given before the start of any reacquisition process, to allow the company to remove valuable equipment from the site. The company has also requested that any notice for re-acquisition is issued during the day to allow officials to reach the site, as there is nobody based at Singur to take a decision on the matter. It was a day of hectic meetings and paperwork. The state government consulted advocate general Anindya Mitra before issuing the gazette notification. By the time Singur BDO Pulak Sarkar and land acquisition officials arrived on the site, members of Krishi Jami Raksha Committee, led by leader Manik Das and MLAs Becharam Manna and Rabindranath Bhattacharya, had gathered at the spot. “The whole country is watching this landmark development. Those who had said that land once acquired can’t be returned should watch these proceedings. On Wednesday, we shall meet the district magistrate and demand that the land be returned to the farmers soon. There are some rumours that the land will be handed back on lease. This is incorrect. The farmers will get ownership of their plots,’’ Manna said. The DM said the possession notice has been issued under Subsection 123 of Section 4 of the Act. “There are no legal problems. I have informed all vendors about this decision. I have taken possession of the land in question. On Wednesday, we will supervise acquisition,” said the Hooghly DM. There were some who were not so happy with the development, though. Udayan Das, convener of the Singur Shilpasthapan O Unnayan Committee, called it a draconian Act.

India's neighbours

India’s neighbours — Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka — are featured in the list of the “most failed states”, according to the annual ranking prepared by the Foreign Policy magazine. While Pakistan is at number 12, Myanmar is at 18, Bangladesh at 25, Nepal at 27, Sri Lanka at 29 and Bhutan at 50 in a list of 60 countries. The top 10 feature Chad, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Central African Republic and Iraq. On Pakistan, the report said, “Pakistan has long been dubbed the world’s most dangerous country in Washington policy circles” and “yet it isn’t just dangerous for the West — it’s often a danger to its own people.”

Lokpal Bill talks end in deadlock

Marked by distrust, and an element of coercion on the government’s part, the UPA-civil society exercise to jointly draft a Lokpal bill formally ended in failure with the two sides exchanging conflicting drafts. The government is unable to accept civil society’s version of an anti--corruption authority with sweeping jurisdiction over the Prime Minister’s Office, top judiciary and actions of MPs in Parliament along with merging entities like the Central Vigilance Commission and the CBI with the Lokpal. The final meeting of the drafting committee predictably ended in failure. Although the conclusion was foregone, there was no animosity. The government will be relieved that an exercise it had accepted under duress is over, although it does have activist Anna Hazare’s threatened August 16 fast to deal with. In keeping with its strategy, the government took the issue to its UPA allies at a meeting on Tuesday evening where finance minister Pranab Mukherjee explained how the talks with the Hazare group had gone. The next step will be to take the two differing drafts to an all-party meeting. The government is now banking on the distaste of parties and MPs to ceding powers to a new powerful judicial-administrative authority with a mandate to probe graft cases. The Centre has decided to begin the monsoon session of Parliament from August 1, ensuring that Anna Hazare’s protest-fast over Lokpal bill from August 16 puts him face to face with the entire political spectrum and spreads the government’s burden to its rivals too. The all-party meeting on the Lokpal bill is likely on July 3.

With the meetings of the joint Lokpal bill panel failing to provide a breakthrough, the government is hoping the discussions among allies, within Cabinet, political parties and Parliament will expose the “limitations” of the Anna Hazare draft. Not attempting to gloss over the divide, HRD minister Kapil Sibal said “both sides had agreed to disagree”. The joint drafting committee saw the government asserting that it could not allow the creation of a parallel governance structure with overarching power that is “answerable to nobody”. Activists, on the other hand, expressed their “disappointment”, saying the government draft was a “symbolic attempt” to install an authority rather than a “comprehensive, independent, empowered” institution to fight corruption. They agreed that the government’s initial offer had been improved upon, but it was still not enough. The government draft empowers the Lokpal to take cognizance of an act of corruption, gives the body power to investigate cases against officials above deputy secretary rank and waives the need for sanction to prosecute those above joint secretary rank. It can recommend transfer and suspension during the course of a probe and provide for time-bound trial by special courts. Law minister Veerappa Moily said the mandate of the committee was to prepare a Lokpal bill and not rewrite the Constitution, reiterating that the government criticism that the Hazare group’s proposal to oversee higher judiciary and rework parliamentary privileges was simply unviable and would not stand scrutiny of the courts. “The government has no intention of bringing a strong Lokpal bill. It is misleading the people. Now, there is no option but to go on fast from August 16 as announced earlier,” Hazare said. His team said differences persisted as the government had rejected major demands and identified new ones, including the omission of fines if an official does not comply by a citizens’ charter. Hazare associate Arvind Kejriwal said the government draft also allowed for a person accused of corruption to be given a hearing by the Lokpal. “The CBI, in its compromised position, is still a better instrument than the draft that the government has presented. This kind of faulty procedures will make the process ineffective,” he said.

Of changing food habits

India & the NPT

The US has proposed that adherence to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) need not be a “pre-requisite” for India’s membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), but a suggestion, or a “factor to be considered”. If this finds broader acceptance within the NSG, India’s entry could become easier. The 45-nation nuclear club is meeting for its plenary in The Hague this week. In a paper circulated among NSG members, the US, which had committed to supporting India’s quest for membership to international non-proliferation regimes — NSG, Australia Group, Wassenaar Arrangement and Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR)—has put a set of proposals to other members for India’s accession. India has not signed the NPT and is unlikely to do so, because it considers the treaty to be inherently discriminatory and one that has outlived its usefulness.


Gold demand

IndiGo set to fly overseas

IndiGo is all set to fly abroad after completing 5 years of domestic operations.

Monsoon tracker

The RBI's balancing act


The Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) has stirred up a hornet's nest by describing Kashmir as an "Indian Occupied" territory. In an invitation letter sent to moderate Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq for a forthcoming OIC meeting, the secretary-general of the council, Ekmeleddin Thsanoglu, mentioned the latter's address as "Indian Occupied Kashmir".The Hurriyat Conference has an observer status in the 56-member OIC.

UP’s annual plan

The Planning Commission cleared a Rs 47,000 crore annual plan of Uttar Pradesh for the 2011-12 financial year. This year’s allocation is Rs 5,000 crore more than the outlay last year. The state also got an additional central assistance of Rs 1,100 crore. In the absence of chief minister Mayawati, the annual plan for the state was finalised at a meeting between plan panel and state government officials led by chief secretary Anoop Mishra. Most of the chief ministers come for the annual meeting with the deputy chairman of Planning Commission to push for greater allocation for their states and exchange views with the country’s highest planning body.

Project Seabird

India is finally getting ready to spend around Rs 10,000 crore on the proposed major expansion of the strategic Karwar naval base in coastal Karnataka. Aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya (the refurbished Admiral Gorshkov), Scorpene attack submarines and other frontline warships will be based there in the future. This comes at a time when India is faced with the likelihood of Chinese warships using the Gwadar deep-sea port in Pakistan, which it helped build in the last decade, in the years ahead. Apprehensions on this were reinforced recently when Pakistani defence minister Ahmed Mukhtar publicly declared that Islamabad had asked Beijing to build a naval base at Gwadar, which offers direct access to the Gulf region. Though China was quick to deny it had any interest in establishing a naval base of its own at Gwadar, Beijing’s assiduous role in building ports in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka has only served to underline its “string of pearls” strategic construct in the Indian Ocean Region. Pakistan already has five major naval bases and ports at Gwadar, Ormara, Karachi, Pasni and Jiwani, while Karwar is India’s third major naval base after Mumbai and Visakhapatnam on the east coast. “After some delay, the defence ministry has now prepared a “note” for the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) on Phase-IIA of ‘Project Seabird’ at Karwar after fine-tuning a detailed project report,’’ said an official. “The note is being vetted by finance and will soon go to CCS for the final approval. The Navy will be able to base 27 major warships at Karwar after completion of Phase-IIA, at a cost of around Rs 10,000 crore, by 2017-2018,” he added. Project Seabird has been dogged by long delays, fund crunches and truncated clearances since it was first approved in 1985 at an initial cost of Rs 350 crore. Phase-I, completed at a cost of Rs 2,629 crore, has enabled the Navy to base 11 warships and 10 yardcraft at Karwar. Under Phase-II, Karwar will get an airbase, armament depot, dockyard complex and missile silos, apart from additional jetties, berthing and anchorage facilities. The eventual aim is to base 50 major warships at Karwar after Phase-IIB is completed. Karwar will not only decongest the over-crowded Mumbai harbour, though the naval dockyard there will continue to house some warships, but also provide India with much-needed strategic depth and operational flexibility. With Navy moving towards operating two carrier battle groups centered around the 44,570-tonne INS Vikramaditya and the 40,000-tonne indigenous aircraft carrier by 2015, the Karwar base is critical for its blue-water operations in Indian Ocean and beyond.

Somewhere in Gujarat....

Though ground water level was going down at some locations, release of gas has been noticed from a new point in Olpad near Surat. Thus, the mystery behind the phenomenon remained unresolved even after so many days by the district administration and gas companies which operate in the area. Gas release was reported on Monday from a location near Olpad cyanide plant. Villagers said gas was coming out from a new spot which was also oozing water. “Earlier, there was no such activity at the spot. This started at the spot on Monday indicating that the problem has not been resolved,” said Jayesh Patel, a farmer. Meanwhile, the water level in open wells has decreased at a few locations. This is believed due to the attempts to release gas and air from well 1A. The ONGC was carrying out drilling in the well. The water coming out from the ground has been collected at a pond made near the well. “No one has been able to give a specific reason about why the ground was oozing out water. The villagers want to know the reason behind it as life of many of them has got disturbed due to it,” Patel said.

FDI up 43% in April

Following three months of consecutive decline, foreign direct investment (FDI) flows into India grew by about 43%to $3.12 billion in April, 2011.The country received $2.17 billion worth of FDI in April, 2010. Mauritius, Singapore, the United States, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Japan, Germany and the UAE are the major investors in India. In April, the maximum investment came from Singapore ($1.17 billion), followed by Mauritius ($976 million), Japan ($235 million), France $220) and Cyprus ($170 million). During the month, the sectors that attracted the maximum FDI during the period include services ($658 million), construction activities ($311 million), power ($256 million), computers and hardware ($96 million), telecommunications ($46 million) and housing and real estate ($38 million). In January, February and March, 2011, foreign investment inflows dipped by 48 % ($1.2 billion), 30 % ($1.04 billion) and 11% ($1 billion), respectively.

Mamata's wish list

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee met finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and sought a Rs 47,000 crore special package for the state spread over four years in addition to the regular plan allocation. Banerjee is on a three-day trip to Delhi with her finance minister Amit Mitra. She will meet PM Manmohan Singh in two separate meetings on Tuesday. She will also call on President Pratibha Patil. Before leaving on Wednesday, the CM will meet Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia. The Bengal CM sought a special package to “recover from the debts” that the state has accumulated, it is learnt. For the current financial year, she has asked for an extra Rs 14,000 crore. “We have asked for a special package to ensure proper development for the state as Bengal is a special case which has had no development for the last 34 years under Left Front rule,” she told reporters after meeting Mukherjee. “We will request the CAG to do a special audit of expenditure in the state this year,” she said. “During the vote on account this year, the Left Front government borrowed Rs 17,000 crore and in two months withdrew Rs 9,000 crore.”

Samjhauta Express blast case update

The National Investigation Agency on Monday filed a chargesheet in a Panchkula court against five Hindu radicals including Swami Aseemanand in the Samjhauta Express train blast case and mentioned RSS senior leader Indresh Kumar as one of the “suspects”. Though Kumar is not an accused in the case, as NIA has so far not found any corroborative evidence of his direct link, the agency referred to him thrice in the chargesheet. It said that his involvement in the conspiracy is “highly suspected”. The blast in the Pakistan-bound train took place on February 18, 2007 near Panipat in Haryana. Sixty-eight people including 43 Pakistani nationals were killed and 12 others injured in the incident. Samjhauta Express is a bi-weekly train that runs on Wednesdays and Sundays between Delhi-Attari in India and Lahore in Pakistan. Kumar’s name figures as a “suspect” on the basis of his meeting with the perpetrators twice during 2005-06 when they “discussed about jihadi attacks on Hindu places of worships and the need to give befitting replies”. These meetings were followed by similar secret gatherings of select people which finally culminated in terror attacks not only on Samjhauta Express, but also blasts in Ajmer dargah, Mecca Masjid (Hyderabad) and twice in Malegaon under the radicals’ “bomb ka badla bomb” plan. NIA had also referred to Kumar as a “suspect” in the Ajmer blast case. Besides Swami Aseemanand (Naba Kumar Sarkar), the four others chargesheeted include slain RSS activist Sunil Joshi, property dealer Lokesh Sharma, engineer Sandeep Dange and electrician Ramchandra Kalsangra alias Ramji. The 24-page chargesheet claimed that “investigation has brought out strong suspicion about the role of some more persons”. Further probe would continue.