Kolkata Karnival

Didi goes overboard in celebrating KKR's win in the IPL. For the first time, an IPL team has been felicitated by the state government.

PM meets Suu Kyi

PM Manmohan Singh carried out a major course correction in India’s foreign policy when he reached out to Nobel laureate and Myanmar’s champion of democracy Aung San Suu Kyi at a meeting in Yangon. During the hour-long meeting at the Sedon Hotel, the two leaders discussed at length Myanmar’s ongoing political transformation. Later, Singh handed over to Suu Kyi a letter from Congress president Sonia Gandhi, inviting her to deliver the next Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Lecture. Suu Kyi said she was “gratified” by India’s invitation and expressed hope that she would be able to take it up “before too long”. She added, however, that it was more important that there were more exchanges between the people of the two countries. “As I said to the prime minister, true friendship between the countries can be based only on friendship between our peoples, and this is what I hope we will be able to achieve,” she said. Singh said, “I have learnt a great deal about what empowerment is after meeting her.” He added that India was looking at Suu Kyi playing a defining role in the country’s ongoing national reconciliation. Suu Kyi added , “I am very happy at the prospect of closer ties with India because I think we have much to learn from one another and we have much to contribute to peace and stability in this region…” 
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party swept the recent byelections after which she took over as the leader of opposition. India’s decision to court the junta regime earlier, mainly to tame insurgent groups in the north-east and engage the resource-rich 
country economically, had led her to criticize New Delhi for being driven only by economic considerations in its Myanmar policy. 

Plan panel approves 45k crore for Maharashtra

Maharashtra Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan got a pleasant surprise when the planning commission approved Rs 45,000 crore for 2012-13. After a marathon meeting between Chavan and his battery of bureaucrats led by chief secretary Ratnakar Gaikwad and planning commission officials led by deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the commission agreed to enhance the annual plan size by Rs 3,000 crore from previous year’s Rs 42,000 crore. “The state has been taking effective measures to accelerate growth and make it more inclusive. Performance of the state continues to be appreciable. The percentage population living below poverty line in the state has come down appreciably from 38.2% in 2004 to 24.5% in 2010,” Ahluwalia said. 
The planning commission also appreciated state’s performance in managing malnutrition, skill development and implementation of JNNURM projects. It was pointed out that in the past five years, malnutrition in the state has come down from 56.1% to 15.5%. At
tention was also drawn to problems in education sector, especially number of children out of school and literacy gap in some areas. 
Chavan brought to the notice of the commission that the gross state domestic product of the state increased from Rs 4.14 lakh crore in 2004 to Rs 7.75 lakh crore in 2011. Also, there 
was a steady increase in the per capita net state domestic product, compared to the all India average. The chief minister also told the commission that in the past five years, the state has attracted investments worth Rs 2.7 lakh crore in 324 mega projects, providing employment to 3 lakh persons. He also said that projects worth Rs 1.12 lakh crore have been finalized in the current fiscal year and 75% of the mega projects are in backward areas that helps reduce the regional imbalance in development. 
On infrastructure sector, Chavan said railway is a subject reserved in the Union list, so expecting the states to make large contribution is unrealistic, particularly in view of limitations of finances. The state government has sought intervention for limiting state’s contribution to 25% of construction cost of railway line. The state has decided to improve and strengthen infrastructure for air transport of passenger and cargo for boosting growth of backward areas. “The total requirement for civil aviation projects in the 12th plan is Rs 15,395 crore. We have urged the Centre to provide at least 50% share as special grants,” Chavan said. 
The CM urged the Planning Commission and the Centre to create a separate line of funding for addressing the challenges of mega cities and introduction of the concept of national projects for these cities, which would entitle them to receive 90% funding from the Centre.

Somewhere in Navi Mumbai....

 Flamingoes fly over Palm Beach Road near Nerul .


PURA 2.0

France woos Indian tourists

HC strikes down 4.5% Muslim sub-quota

The Andhra Pradesh high court set aside the Centre’s controversial order to create a sub-quota for minorities, saying there was no rationale in creating religion-based quota.  The Centre had moved to provide 4.5% sub-quota to OBC minorities within the 27% limit in educational institutions and public sector units. The court said that the policy was made based on religious grounds and not on the backwardness of the proposed beneficiaries. 
On December 22, 2011, the Centre issued two memos granting 4.5% subquota to OBC minorities. The move triggered protests from OBCs, who 
feared this would eat into their quota share. An OBC leader R Krishaniah moved the Andhra Pradesh high court on January 2, pleading the move was discriminatory on religious grounds and violates the Constitution. Disposing of the petition on Monday, the special bench comprising Chief Justice Madan B Lokur and Justice Sanjay Kumar, said the government order violates Articles 15(1) and 16(2) of the Constitution. While Article 15(1) prevents discrimination based on religion, race, caste, sex or residence, Article 16(2) states no discrimination on these grounds can be shown by the state in recruitment to government posts.

Kolkata are champions IPL 5

Kolkata Knight Riders beat Chennai Super Kings to claim the first spot in IPL Season 5.

Somewhere in Sangatram....

A wild leopard climbs up a ladder, put in place by wildlife rescue officials, after it fell into a water reservoir tank at a tea estate in Sangatram, near Siliguri.  The animal was rescued by the Sukna Forest rescue team from the Mahananda Wildlife sanctuary by lowering a ladder into the tank. 

Moody's on Rupee's pluge

Rating agency Moody’s has said that the sharp depreciation of the rupee will help in correcting some of the macroeconomic imbalances and will not impact India’s rating. The observation comes at a time when there is widespread concern over the inability of the government and the central bank to support the rupee. 
“Last Tuesday, the rupee dipped to a record low of 56 against the dollar. Some media reports characterized this as a negative credit development for India (Baa3 stable), but it is not,” the rating agency said in a report on credit outlook. “Since the Indian government’s political capacity to implement fiscal and structural reform is 
weak, depreciation is a market response that will help correct macroeconomic imbalances,” said Moody’s. However, it warned that current global growth and capital market environment will limit any credit positive implications of this correction. 
The report comes on a day when the domestic currency firmed up to close at 55.19, up from Friday’s close of 55.38 after touching an intra-day high of 55.05 against the dollar. Dealers said that the rupee firmed up with other Asian currencies after news from Europe that a Greek default might not take place soon. 
According to Moody’s, the 
depreciation will not hit government rating because foreign currency debt comprises only 7% of its total debt and 5% of gross domestic product. “Most of it is owed to multilateral and bilateral creditors and has a maturity profile that keeps annual foreign currency repayments relatively low. Therefore, the direct effect of depreciation on the government’s own debt repayment capacity is limited,” Moody’s said. 

‘Climate killed Harappan civilization’

Climate change may be the main culprit behind the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilization around 4,000 years ago, says a new study, which also claims to have resolved the long-standing debate over the source and fate of the Saraswati, a sacred river in Hindu mythology. The study, combining the latest archaeological data along with state-of-the-art geoscience technologies, suggested that decline in monsoon rains led to weakened river dynamics, and played a critical role both in the development and the fall of the Harappan culture, which relied on river floods to fuel their agricultural surpluses. The international team, which published their findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used satellite photos and topographic data to make and analyse digital maps of landforms constructed by the Indus and other neighbouring rivers, which were then probed in the field by drilling, coring, and even manually dug trenches. Collected samples were used to determine the sediments’ origins, whether brought in by rivers or wind, and their age, in order to develop a chronology of landscape changes. 
 “We reconstructed the dynamic landscape of the plain where the Indus civilization developed 5,200 years ago, built its cities, and disintegrated between 3,900 and 3,000 years ago,” said lead research
er Liviu Giosan, a geologist with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the US. “Our study suggests that the decline in monsoon rains led to weakened river dynamics, and played a key role both in development and the fall of Harappan culture,” he said. 
The research, which was conducted between 2003 and 2008, also claimed that the mythical Saraswati river was actually not fed by glaciers in the Himalayas as believed. Rather, it was a perennial monsoon-supported watercourse and aridification reduced it to short seasonal flows, the researchers said. 

Star TV exits Star News

Mumbai rakes to get paan friendly colours

Mumbai Rail Vikas Corporation’s (MRVC) experiment with white-and-purple rakes has come to an end after they were introduced on the suburban rail network in 2007. The rakes have become an eyesore with paan and gutkha stains on the exteriors as they are difficult to erase or dilute even after an intensive wash at maintenance yards. The railways use around 500 litres of water to wash a rake, and the average cost of cleaning one 12-car rake is Rs 25,000. 
A senior MRVC official said, “We have awarded fresh consultancy to the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, for a new colour scheme for the 72 rakes that are to be delivered next year.” NID will choose a colour scheme keeping in mind the new rakes will have a stainless-steel body, as against corten steel in the earlier ones. 
 MRVC officials said they had told NID to choose colours closest in shade to the old, reddish brown-and-yellow rakes as they camouflaged the stainsto a large extent. Seventy-five white-and- purple 12-car rakes had been procured under the Mumbai Urban Transport Project up to 2011. 

A bridge to ASEAN nations for India

India and Myanmar have set 2016 as the deadline for a trilateral road connectivity plan. This will make it possible to drive down right up to Thailand. India had earlier helped Myanmar build Tamu-Kalewa Friendship Road and now the plan is to link it with a place called Yargyi which will effectively link Moreh in India to Mae Sot in Thailand. “The two leaders decided that India would undertake upgradation of the Kalewa-Yargyi road segment to highway standard, while Myanmar would undertake upgradation of the Yargyi-Monywa stretch to highway standard by 2016,” Mathai said, adding that the two leaders welcomed the revival of the Joint Task Force on the trilateral highway. Indian officials believe that this highway will truly become the bridge between India and Asean countries and place it at the heart of India’s Look East policy. Myanmar is the only Asean country with which India shares land boundary. 
The two leaders decided to constitute a joint working group to determine the technical and commercial feasibility of crossborder rail links and the commercial feasibility of direct shipping links between the two countries.  The two sides also discussed the possibility of Indian participation in development of key infrastructure projects such as the Dawei port in Myanmar. 


India , Pakistan mull new trade corridor

India and Pakistan are now planning to open a new land corridor across the two Punjabs to boost trade between the two countries. The route connecting Hussainiwala in Ferozepur district in Indian Punjab connects Ganda Singh Wala, in Kasur district of West Punjab in Pakistan. Trade between India and Pakistan transits only through the Attari-Wagah border connecting Punjab on both the sides. The two nations are in advanced talks to open Munabao in Rajasthan, India, and Khokharapar in Sindh, Pakistan. The rail line connecting the two towns had fallen into disuse after the 1965 India-Pakistan war, when the town itself was captured by Pakistani troops. However, it re-opened in 2006 with Thar Express running once in a week between the two stations.
Commerce ministry officials confide that the two countries are exploring the option of facilitating trade between India and Pakistan via a third route, connecting Hussainiwala and Ganda Singh Wala on either side, to help a larger number of traders in either country. “However, it will be taken up after the Khokharapar-Munabao route is cleared and would require cabinet approval, besides clearance from home ministry. The idea is to open up as many trade corridors as possible, especially restoring the traditional routes,” the officials said.
Until 1970, Hussainiwala-Ganda Singh Wala was the principal road crossing between India and Pakistan, and was a trade route for trucks, mostly for import of Kandahari angoor (dehydrated grapes) and other fruits and food products from Pakistan and Afghanistan. The border crossing was replaced by the crossing at Wagah, a little further north. In 2005, proposals were made to reopen the border, but it remained closed.
The process of enhancing trade ties between the two countries have gained traction in recent times, after being stalled in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks in 2008. In April last year, commerce secretaries of the two countries met in Islamabad following a meeting of India’s prime minister Manmohan Singh with his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani over a semi-final cricket match between the two nations in Mohali in March 2011.
In the past 12 months, the Pakistan cabinet has approved a proposal to ease trade with India by switching to a negative list-based import regime and following it up with a most favoured nation (MFN) trade status by the year-end. India had given MFN status to Pakistan 16 years ago. Under the negative list regime, notified by Pakistan in March, import of only 1,209 products will be barred from India. Till now, Pakistan traded with India under a positive list regime that allowed import of less than 2,000 items. However, this resulted in higher cost of Indian products imported into Pakistan through other countries.
Bilateral trade between the two countries stood at $2.7 billion in 2010-11 with exports from India at $2.3 billion, while imports from Pakistan at nearly $400 million. Major exports from India include sugar and confectionery items, dairy products and vegetables.

UP mulls going green....

Acting on the directions of the chief minister, the forest department is keen to give a ‘greener’ look to the state this year. Chief minister Akhilesh Yadav in his meeting with the forest department officers in March had issued directions to raise green belts in districts to compensate the colossal loss of trees in the state for various development and construction projects in the last few years. The forest department has identified about 270 sites for raising green belts in various districts. The green belts have to be raised over a minimum of five hectares in rural area and not less than two hectare in cities. About 625 trees will be planted per hectare.  Considering the fact that it will be difficult to find vacant sites in cities, the scheme lays more emphasis on rural plantation. The criterion has also been fixed for roadside plantation. The green belts along roads have to be at least 2-kilometrelong and 10 metre wide on both the sides of the road. “The area can be more than this. This is the minimum that districts have to plant,” said an official of the forest department. 
Every district will have to identify some three to four such sites where plantation could be done for raising green belts. Such a scheme 
has been planned by the department for the first time. And, plantation for raising green belts might begin on June 5, the World Environment Day.The officers at the divisional level are carrying out physical verification of the identified sites to find out if the chosen sites will be fit for plantation. Besides, to ensure the high survival rate of the plantation done, department has issued directions to plant only 8 feet to 12 feet long saplings. The smaller saplings are eaten away by animals, most of the times. There are also specifications issued for the types of species to be planted. Local species have to be planted extensively. Besides, the varieties planted should be decorative, easily found and shade-bearing trees. 
Not only this, at every plantation site, department will have to erect a board reading out the details of the scheme to all and sundry. In order to give the scheme a people-connect, department will encourage plantation in green belts by people, to mark occasions like ‘Van Mahotsav’ on July 1.

Somewhere in Kolkata....

West Bengal CM protesting against the recent hike in petrol prices.

Somewhere in UP....

A tiger was found dead in Kishenpur wildlife sanctuary near Dudhwa in Lakhimpur district on Sunday. A decomposed carcass was found lying in Kishenpur range of the sanctuary during the combing operation in the area. Locals suspect “poisoning” to be the cause of the death.  “The carcass seems to be about three-day old. It was swollen, severely infected with maggots and its rump region was scratched,” said Jaswant Singh Kalair, a wildlife activist. The dead tiger was around 4 years old. Dudhwa officers, however, could not be reached for a comment. 
In a similar incident, two tigers were found dead in Pilibhit, on Friday. The tigers were found dead in Haripur range of the district on UP-Uttarakhand border. “The presence of the tiger in the area was reported by locals for quite some time now,” said Sanjay Narain, secretary, Tiger and Terrain. The forest officers in Pilibhit said they are yet to find out the cause of the death.

Somewhere in Kochi....

Dark clouds hover over the city indicating the onset of monsoon which is expected to lash Kerala in the first week of June. Various places in the state have already started receiving a few showers.

Sam Pitroda's Kerala 2.0

Kerala’s official mentor, and the prime minister’s adviser on public information infrastructure and innovation, Sam Pitroda, wants the state to jettison the Kerala Model and explore a drastically different growth trajectory, one that leverages the knowledge sector and the state’s traditional strengths like nursing. Pitroda's  10 point agenda includes his plans to set up the first-of-its-kind ‘knowledge city’ in the country in the state capital. To come up on around 200 acres, Pitroda said, “It is going to be a citywithin a city. Today techies and entrepreneurs are finding it difficult to commute to their work place. We only have to look at the traffic jam, say, while commuting to Technopark in Bangalore. “But if we could provide all the amenities like affordable accommodation, educational facilities and healthcare within a large campus then this will attract huge talent.’’ 

India’s first knowledge city in Thiruvananthapuram

Huge job opportunities in healthcare sector 
Cater to the global need for innovative ideas 

State needs to bring in sustainable technologies 
Limit usage of fossil fuels 
Provide green environment to work and live 
Set up new ports along Kerala’s 500-km long coastline 
Solid waste disposal system specific to Kerala’s needs 

The knowledge city will have research and service hubs for financial services, media, bio-technology, healthcare and management education that will not only attract local talent but also high-skilled migrants. 
Pitroda pointed out that in the health sector alone there is a shortage of one million nurses in the country and another half a million vacancies abroad.

Pitroda stressed the need to generate innovative ideas globally, which is going to be the cutting edge for growth prospects in the state. 
The state capital is suited for setting up this city as it has a clean eco-system and better access to transportation. “The knowledge city will change the work culture of Kerala and will be active 
24/7,’’ he said. 
The around 500-kilometer coastline of Kerala is also virtually untapped. “We are planning 13 minor ports and three major ports along the coast. This will boost cargo and transportation business in a big way.’’ 
Coming to brass tacks, Pitroda admitted that the greatest challenge Kerala faces today is managing its solid waste disposal system. “The technologies used in other countries and even other states may not work here. We cannot have huge incinerator plants and landfills due lack of space and huge density of population,’’ he said. The Vilappilsala plant agitation is a classic example of Not in My Backyard syndrome. Pitroda 
said even the nature and content of waste is different here. 
On the issue of dwindling growth rate and the rupee’s huge fall, he said India should not compare itself with China.

Sam Pitroda will discuss with state ministers and planning board members on the 10 main projects for the development of the state.  The top projects, which would be taken up for discussion would be the high-speed rail corridor linking the north and south of the state and a coastal waterway. The rail corridor entails an investment of Rs1.18 lakh crore and the waterway is intended to promote feeder services to larger vessels as well as freight and passenger transport. A presentation will be made before the cabinet ministers and planning board members by Sam Pitroda .

PM in Myanmar

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Myanmar — the first by an Indian PM in 25 years. Government sources said India had no expansionist design and its basic interest in developing relations with the neighbour was “peace and prosperity’’. The PM said the two countries had deep civilizational ties and he was looking forward to meet President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

NDA woos Didi

A day after she led a protest march against petrol price hike, Mamata Banerjee was offered a red-carpet welcome by the BJP, which tried to woo the Trinamool Congress chief to break the UPA ranks and shore up the NDA’s numbers in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Sushil Modi, Bihar’s deputy CM, extended the invitation to Mamata on Sunday. “We are ready to welcome Mamata Banerjee to the NDA. She will be welcome with a red carpet. There are no permanent equations in politics and no permanent friends or foes,” he said. Ravi Shankar Prasad and Rajnath Singh had made similar overtures to their former ally recently. 

India's 1st Cloud study lab

India’s first laboratory to study the formation of clouds and their interaction with the environment is taking shape at the popular hill station of Mahabaleshwar in Maharashtra. The location of the research centre, about 1,500m above the mean sea level, will give scientists an opportunity to study the clouds and study their interaction with the environment. Mahabaleshwar offers a unique location as it receives nearly 500 mm of rains every year while the surrounding plains are usually drought prone.  “The laboratory will be equipped with a large number of state-of-the-art equipment to measure all the micro-physical properties of the clouds and rain as well as environmental conditions such as the aerosols, winds, temperature and humidity at high temporal intervals,” an official said. Construction of the laboratory is expected to start after the monsoons in October, and is likely to be completed by June next year.

CBI arrests Jaganmohan Reddy

After three days of intense questioning, the CBI arrested YSR Congress chief Jaganmohan Reddy on charges of conspiring, committing fraud, falsifying books and resorting to corrupt practices. The CBI is investigating what is called the Jagan assets case after it was directed to do so by the Andhra Pradesh high court in July 2011. The court order was in response to a PIL by a Congress MLA. The arrest at 7.20pm came after Jagan was interrogated for almost nine hours by the CBI on the third consecutive day at its makeshift office at Dilkusha Guest House, close to Raj Bhavan. CBI sources said Jagan’s replies on the investments into his companies, including Jagati Publications, were not convincing, and that he was stonewalling queries. 
The other charge that the CBI held against Jagan was 
for possessing assets disproportionate to his known sources of income, said a CBI source. Jagan would be produced before the CBI court on Monday where he was anyway scheduled to appear. The CBI will ask for his custody pleading that Jagan was less than cooperative.

There is an anecdote well known in Andhra Pradesh’s political circles. In the run-up to the 2004 general election, Jaganmohan Reddy, then a callow youth, laid claim to the Congress Lok Sabha ticket from Kadapa. His demand was not met. The ticket went to his father’s younger brother, Vivekananda Reddy. The uncle won the seat, but Jagan tried to put “pressure” on him to resign. In the end, Vivekananda could save his seat only by running to Sonia Gandhi. Jagan, angered that he had not been obliged, took himself off to Bangalore, saying he would have nothing to do with Andhra Pradesh and its politics. He turned up only in 2008, a few months before the 2009 general election. 
With the benefit of hindsight, the move to Bangalore seems to have been a ploy. CBI’s investigations show it was precisely during 2004-08 that Jagan emerged a larger-than-life operator. According to the CBI, the modus operandi of Jagan — fully backed by his now deceased father, chief minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy — was simple: allocate huge tracts of valuable land (taking advantage of the liberal policies of the government of India, which was promoting SEZs as a panacea for rapid industrial growth) to companies of all sizes and pedigrees, and in return get them to invest in his ventures. The quid pro quo was not direct; sometimes it was through numerous channels. For instance, CBI has discovered that Ramalinga Raju of Satyam scam fame had invested in a company called Vanpic whose promoter allegedly channelized the money to Jagan’s ventures. The whole exercise required the co-option of bureaucrats and ministers. Handpicked
pliant officers were detailed for the job. The ministers and the secretaries also made their own deals on the side. The point to note is that in all these dealings, Jagan was nowhere in sight. Neither did he talk to any officer nor did he directly give any instructions. 
The CBI case against Jagan is that he was the beneficiary of all these moves. This was because when he set up media companies to bring out a newspaper (all pages colour, published from 23 centres from Day 1 and having its own 
presses at all the centres) and a TV station, the people who invested in the equity were none other than those who had benefited from these patently unfair deals. 
Jagan began to be seen in Andhra from late 2008 onwards. His channel and paper did well with liberal dollops of government advertisements. In the 2009, he was elected to the Lok Sabha from Kadapa — forcing uncle Vivekananda out, as YSR led the Congress to a second consecutive victory in the state. YSR had been given a free hand in selection of candidates. Many of them had won with funds given by YSR. A few months later, when YSR suddenly died, these MLAs were left orphaned. They rallied around Jagan. 
As for Jagan, he did the unthinkable. Even as his father’s body lay in state he demanded the CM’s “gaddi” from Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, who had come to offer condolences; a signature campaign was organized among MLAs. In the past two and-a-half years, his YSR Congress has gone from strength to strength, helped by the confusion in the Congress leadership about how to deal with him — the opinion swinging alternately between “let’s appease him” and “let’s punish him”. With wheels of fortune spinning quickly in Andhra Pradesh, the party bosses have launched a full-fledged assault on Jagan’s citadel. Whether they will succeed or not remains to be seen. 
They are up against a man who represents two characters: on the one hand, he is the archetype of a post-liberalization politician for whom there is little to separate his politics from his business; on the other, he is cast in a feudal mode, demanding total loyalty of his men. 



The Hike and after

States' adverts

GDP projections cut

Modi speak

There was a conspiracy behind the dramatic fall of the rupee in recent days, Narendra Modi, Gujarat chief minister, said. "Till November, the rupee was stable, and after that it began to slide and has lost 25% of its value,” he said. “What caused this sudden fall? How did it happen?”
Positioning himself as the country's shadow prime minister, Modi blamed Manmohan Singh, prime minister, for the corruption and the economic ills facing the country. "I run a government and I can tell you that it is not possible for the rupee to fall so fast so suddenly. And why hasn't the currencies of Bangladesh, Pakistan or Nepal fallen? Why only India's currency?" Modi was addressing gathering of around 3,000-4,000 people at the BJP's rally in Parel, Mumbai to mark the end of its two-day national conclave. The rally clearly sounded the bugle for the 2014 elections, with him and other leaders urging the people to throw out the "incompetent, inefficient, and corrupt UPA government". Modi's arrival at the venue was greeted with applause and cheers. He began his speech in Marathi before switching to Hindi. He said BJP states had performed far better than Congress-ruled states. "In the 20-point programme, the top five performers were BJP or NDA states, and I pointed this out to the central government," he said. "The UPA responded not by improving the work in Congress states but by stopping to publish the performance of various states." Once Modi's speech was over, about a third of the audience left the venue without waiting to hear BJP president Nitin Gadkari speak.


Airtel's 4G play

The country’s largest mobile phone operator Bharti Airtel has acquired a 49% stake in US-chipmaker Qualcomm’s Indian unit holding 4G broadband wireless licences for $165 million (Rs 924 crore). The Sunil Mittal-led telco, making a big push in the broadband play, is expected to take full ownership of the venture over the next two years. The deal involved Bharti buying a 26% stake equally held by Global Holding Corporation and Tulip Telecom apart from subscribing to fresh equity. Bharti gets access to Qualcomm’s broadband licences in four circles, including the two major regions of Mumbai and Delhi. The telco already had 4G permits in four circles of Kolkata, Karnataka, Punjab and Maharashtra. It recently rolled out 4G services in Kolkata and Bangalore. Barclays Capital advised the San Diego-based Qualcomm on the deal. With this acquisition, Bharti effectively gets a national footprint in broadband through a combination of 4G and 3G networks. The telecom major has 3G licences for 13 circles. Reliance Industries-owned Infotel Broadband which won pan-India licences for 4G services will be a direct competitor to Bharti and is expected to launch its services by end of the year. Qualcomm had forked out a little over Rs 4,900 crore, mostly through debts, for the licences two years ago 
Both Global Holding Corporation and Tulip Telecom exited after investing Rs 140 crore each for a combined 26% stake. Bharti is expected to acquire the remaining 51% stake of Qualcomm by the end 
of 2014 at a valuation based on certain parameters, but at a price not higher than the fair market value. Multiple mobile operators, including Aircel, had initially approached Qualcomm which wanted to sell stake to a telecom biggie. But the rival bidders dropped out after the telecom sector was rocked by scandals and regulatory uncertainties in recent past.

J&K Interlocutors' Report

In a move that drew political fire, interlocutors on J&K have placed fresh emphasis on Article 370, saying its “erosion” be checked by replacing the word “temporary” in its title with “special” so as to reaffirm the state’s “dual character”. The report, made public on Thursday, proposed that J&K’s special status be made a permanent feature of the Constitution. 
Proposing a constitutional panel to review all central acts and articles extended to the state since 1952, the report said such a panel needed to bear in mind that “…J&K enjoys a special status in the Union, that they (residents) are both state subjects and Indian citizens.”Although the interlocutors — journalist Dilip Padgaonkar, academic Radha Kumar and former information commissioner M M Ansari — said J&K was a “constituent unit of the Indian Union”, BJP promptly rejected the recommendations as a dilution of J&K’s accession to India. The mainstream opposition PDP welcomed the move to make J&K’s “special status” a permanent feature but CM Omar Abdullah said he would need a few days to study the report. Stating that the “views ex
pressed in the report are the views of interlocutors”, the home ministry said, “The government has not yet taken any decision on the report.” The interlocutors had submitted the report to home minister P Chidambaram in October last year. Interestingly the group suggested that for internal emergencies, prior consultation with the state government was required. 
WHAT THEY RECOMMENDED Rules out return to pre-1953 position when Centre had authority over only defence, foreign affairs and communications ministries 
Set up a constitutional committee to review all central laws extended to J&K after signing of 1952 agreement (laws like extension of jurisdiction of Supreme Court, Election Commission, CAG, NHRC, AFSPA, All India Services etc.) 
Parliament won’t make laws applicable to the state unless it relates to internal and external security and vital economic interest 
Delete the word ‘temporary’ from the heading of Article 370. Replace it with the word ‘special’ 
On Governor: The state government, after consultations with opposition parties, will give President three names, and then more if asked for 
Article 356: Action of the governor to remain justiciable in the Supreme Court. A proviso that 
the governor will keep the state legislature under suspended animation and hold fresh elections within three months to be added 
Article 312: The proportion of officers from the All India Services should be gradually reduced in favour of officers from the state 
English nomenclatures of governor and CM should continue 
Create three regional Councils, one each for Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. Devolve certain legislative, executive and financial powers to the Regional Councils. 
All opportunities for cross-LoC cooperation should be promoted 
Resume govt-Hurriyat dialogue 
Encourage Pakistan to enter into dialogue (If stakeholders in J&K are willing to enter into a settlement, the door can always be kept open for Pakistan to join) 
Search for solution should not be made contingent on India-Pakistan talks

 Kashmir’s separatist leaders rejected the report submitted by the interlocutors, calling it a futile exercise. Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said interlocutors failed to address the political settlement of the J&K issue and demands of mainstream political parties, including returning to the pre-1953 position, which is one of the demands of the ruling National Conference. “This was simply a tactic to buy time by engaging people in this farcical exercise. Hurriyat’s stand was clear from the beginning. We knew interlocutors would focus on the Centre-state relationship, which is not what affects Kashmiris,” Mirwaiz said. 
Hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani rejected the report totally. “We never recognized the appointment of interlocutors. It was part of a conspiracy of the government of India,” he said. JKLF chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik, too, said the interlocutors ignored the political dimension. Panthers Party chairman Bhim Singh called the report “another fraud by India’s home minister”. 

BJP's National Executive meet

Narendra Modi showed up at the meeting of the BJP’s national executive after the leadership 
and the RSS caved in to his demand for the ouster of his bete noire Sanjay Joshi from the important party body, in a capitulation which solidifies the Hindutva hardliner’s standing as the strongest party leader.  The RSS leadership and BJP chief Nitin Gadkari 
who had resisted Modi’s demand finally blinked on Wednesday after the Gujarat chief minister threatened that all members of the national executive from Gujarat would quit if Joshi was not evicted. 
While a boost for his own stock, Modi’s success 
can diminish Gadkari’s authority at the outset of his second innings as party chief, and can cause uneasiness to allies like Nitish Kumar by fuelling the perception that the Gujarat strongman may soon be playing a bigger role on the national stage. 


TAPI gas pipeline snippets

Kicking off work on the long discussed US-backed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (Tapi) gas pipeline, India and its new energy partners signed agreements that will pave way for laying of the 1,680 km line. Turkmenistan ­­ which holds more than 4 per cent of the world's natural gas reserves ­­ signed agreements to sell gas to India and Pakistan through the $7.6 billion pipeline at the Caspian Sea resort of Avaza.
The 1,680 km Tapi pipeline will have a capacity to carry 90 million cubic metres a day (mmcmd) gas for a 30 year period and will be operational in 2018. India and Pakistan would get 38 mmcmd each, while the remaining 14 mcmd will be supplied to Afghanistan. Besides Reddy, the GSPA, signed by national oil companies of the four nations, was witnessed by Turkmenistan oil minister B Nedirov, Pakistan’s petroleum minister Asim Hussain and Afghanistan’s minister of mines Wahidullah Shahrani.
The US is backing the Tapi pipeline as an alternative to the Iran-Pakistan-India line in its efforts to choke Tehran financially over its suspected nuclear weapon programme. While New Delhi had reached pacts on price and transit clauses for the IPI pipeline, Tapi will be the first transnational line for which it will be signing a GSPA.

The Unending Slide

The Rupee slipped to 56.22 intra-day as euro fell to 20-mth low against dollar on Greek exit fears 
Domestic currency fared worst among Asian losers as traders felt weak macroeconomic indicators made the rupee more vulnerable 
Forward market quotes indicate rupee could slide to 58 in six months, or beyond 59 in a year.
With the rupee breaching the 56-level against the dollar, chief economic advisor Kaushik Basu said on Wednesday the exchange rate problem is a “bit of a bubble” and has nothing to do with domestic policies.    “The current exchange rate problem that you are seeing…the very sharp depreciation that is taking place…I don’t think it really has anything to do with our policy or policy mistakes being made over here, which is causing that,” Basu said.He pointed out that currencies of several emerging economies — like South African rand, Brazilian real and Mexican peso — all are moving very much like the rupee. The CEA also said that the rupee is not the worst performing currency. “The exchange rate problem that you are seeing is probably a bit of a bubble. I do think it’s a bubble but it’s not an India specific bubble. There is something global going on,” he said. 

Trillion dollar market cap

India is on the verge of losing its tag of a trillion dollar market capitalization country because of the weakening rupee and the slide in the stock market.  On Wednesday, as the rupee closed at 56.01 to a dollar and the sensex ended 78 points lower at 15,948, the lowest level in four and a half months, BSE’s market capitalization was at Rs 57.07 lakh crore, a level not seen since January 12. In dollar terms, this translates to $1.02 trillion.    Either a 1.8% dip in BSE’s market cap to Rs 56 lakh crore, a depreciation of the rupee of an equal magnitude, or a combination of the two can now push India out of the trillion dollar m-cap club. 
According to Bloomberg data compiled at the close of trading on May 22, there were 12 countries in the trillion-dollar club. Along with India, Switzerland and Brazil were also the borderline cases in the elite league of countries, the data showed. And among the BRICS countries, while China is at $3.05 trillion, Russia stands at $0.7 trillion and South Africa at half a trillion. 
This is not the first time that India, since entering the trillion-dollar m-cap club for the first time exactly five years 
ago, is threatened with an exit. After its entry into the club in 2007, it reached an all-time high of $1.9 trillion in early January 2008. Thereafter as the global financial crisis unfolded, about 65% of investors’ wealth was wiped out and it fell to a low of just about half a trillion. It rose again to a high of $1.4 trillion on November 4, 2010, the day Coal India was listed after the most successful Indian IPO ever. However, since then it’s almost nearly been a downhill journey. 

Sharpest hike in Petrol prices ever

The price of petrol has gone up by more than Rs 7.50 a litre across the country. The increase, the steepest-ever, came a day after Parliament’s Budget session ended and PM Manmohan Singh talked about the need for “difficult decisions”. After adding state taxes, petrol will cost Rs 73.18 a litre in Delhi, Rs 78.58 in Mumbai, Rs 77.88 in Kolkata and Rs 77.53 a litre in Chennai. This marks an increase of around 10% and puts a squeeze of roughly Rs 6,000 a year on a family that spends an average of Rs 5,000 per month on petrol. This is the first upward revision in petrol price since November 4, 2011. The highest increase till now had been Rs 5 per litre. State-run oil marketers twice raised prices by this amount—on May 15, 2011 and May 24, 2008 when the petrol price crossed the Rs 50 a litre mark for the first time. 
The decision immediately drew 
howls of protest and demands for rollback from parties across the political spectrum, including UPA allies such as Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee. But the West Bengal chief minister also made it clear that she would not rock the UPA boat. Consumers too voiced their anguish even as they thronged petrol pumps for a “cheaper” tank-up one last time. Police had to be called in to control the spiraling queues in many pumps in Delhi and elsewhere. 
The announcement of price revision came while oil minister S Jaipal Reddy is away in Turkmenistan to attend a ceremony for signing a four nation gas pipeline deal. Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee laid the onus of the hike on oil marketers. “The decision has been taken. Petrol is a deregulated commodity,” he said. 

The government seems to be testing the patience of the middle class. But the timing of the shocker of a raise, after seven-and-a-half months, seems political. The next political challenge, elections in BJP-ruled Gujarat and Himachal, are in November and the Congress is hoping the angst will die down by then or better still, the middle class will come to terms with the ‘new normal’ in petrol prices.

The sharp increase in petrol prices will have a marginal impact on inflation but any increase in diesel and cooking gas prices may hurt, experts said. Stubborn inflation for a sustained period has hurt the budget of households and fuelled anger against rising prices. After showing some signs of easing, inflation has once again started inching upwards, while food inflation has touched double digits. Soaring vegetable prices pushed inflation higher in April, while fuel and manufactured product prices sustained their pressure, posing a fresh policy challenge and announcing the return of price pressures in Asia’s third largest economy. Government data showed the annual rate of inflation, based on monthly wholesale price index, stood at 7.23% for April (over April 2011) compared to 6.89% for the previous month. 


OECD Economic Outlook 2012

Budget Session snapshot

Mobile tower radiation

Bill against child abuse passed

The legislation to protect children below 18 years from sexual abuse became a reality with LS passing the bill earlier cleared by RS. Parliament’s nod came with the decision to keep the age of consent at 18 years despite opposition from child rights activists. The Bill provides for special courts for speedy trial of cases and up to life term for the offenders. 

Lok Sabha passes Copyright bill

Parliament gave its nod to the amendments to Copyright Act, with the Lok Sabha unanimously passing the Copyright Act (Amendment) Bill. The Bill designates the authors as the copyright owners which can’t be assigned to producers contrary to the current practice. 
Noting that producers pocketed the royalties while artistes were left in the lurch, HRD minister Kapil Sibal said the new law would help artistes in their old age when they would reap the rewards of work done during their professional life. Sibal drew the attention of the House to the deplorable condition to which shehnai exponent Bismillah Khan and music composer Ravi had sunk in their old age, saying they were unable to even pay their house rent and meet medical expenses. 

The Act makes it mandatory for radio and TV broadcasters to pay royalty to the owners of the copyright each time a work of art is broadcast. The amount of royalty would be decided by the Copyright Board rather than left to 
the whims of companies. The Act bans the bringing out of cover versions of any literary, dramatic or musical work within five years of their original recording. Sibal said the Bill adequately took care of the piracy issue. “We have embraced the wisdom of the standing committee in bringing about various provisions of this Bill,” he said. 
Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj supported the government for bringing forward the legislation and noted that the who’s who of the artiste community, ranging from Pandit Ravi Shankar to A R Rahman had proposed changes in the Copyright Act. 

Saraswati River Research Development project

The roots of ancient and mythical river, Saraswati, are now being dug up. The Saraswati River Research Development project of the Bharatiya Itihas Sanklan Samiti, Gujarat has started digging a bore well in collaboration with Kutch University and the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) to trace the roots of the Saraswati in the state. Former scientist of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), P S Thakkar, said that the digging of the bore well is on in the Great Rann of Kutch. “We are hopeful of finding traces of Saraswati. A study of different layers of soil in Kutch and Rajasthan reveals that they are of the same quality and date back to the same century,’’ he said. He said that the Saraswati was a river which had its origin in the glaciers of Himalaya near Kailash Mansarovar and the Samiti had found five different flows of Saraswati in the state. 
Several palaeo-channels of river have been identified in the region of Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and adjacent areas, some of which are assigned to the Saraswati. The river is considered to have migrated from east to west. But in the past, most discussions have pointed to the river being in north Gujarat. 
During low sea level regime, the Rann of Kutch and Gulf of Cambay played a significant role in sustaining the course of northern rivers and helped human settlements to thrive. Discovery of distinct palaeo-channel with fortified settlement and numerous channels appeared in the Great Rann of Kutch immediately after the 2001 earthquake.

Regional air services

Following the Madhya Pradesh model, the Gujarat government has offered to subsidize the private players who are interested in providing regional air services in the state. Well-placed Sachivalaya sources said, the model was first adopted in the neigbouring state recently, where the government offered to pay for three seats on an average for 16-seater small turbo prop aircrafts taking flights between selected spots, including Bhopal, Gwalior, Indore and Khajuraho. 
“Earlier efforts to rope in private players failed to materialize because the private players found the cost of running short-distance flights too costly. This time, we have decided to subsidize the private players, though slightly changing the formula adopted by the Madhya Pradesh government. Under the formula, the government will be paying for specified seats per flight under 
a complex calculation which includes distance and the flight route”, a senior official said. 
Tenders to run regional air services in Gujarat have been floated. Preliminary discussions ahead of the tenders suggest that the interested parties include Air One, Akash Ganga, SpiceJet, Ventura, Deccan Charter and Luan Airways. “We will select only those who agree to get lowest amount of viability gap funding from the state government”, the official said, adding, “Once finalized, the selected parties will carry out their own feasibility study 
and work out ticket fare.” 
The official said that the state government has set aside a "token amount of Rs 10 crore" as subsidy to the private players wanting to ply aircraft within Gujarat's selected cities. "In Madhya Pradesh, for the six routes they have selected, it is Rs 1.5 crore subsidy per month against three seats. In Gujarat, much would depend on the selection of routes by the private parties. But the subsidy would be about the same on an average for the eight spots that we have offered", the official added. 

There are two types of tenders – offshore and onshore. Offshore tenders require nine-seater amphibian planes which can land in dams, in rivers in lakes and even on runways, and these will be purely tourist ventures. “For this, only foreign parties will be interested, but they will have to come with a foreign partner. These planes can land off Dwarka, in the sea, for instance, or off Somnath, or even in the Narmada dam reservoir”, the official said. 
As for the onshore tender, these can attract businessmen. “The selected spots that have been offered are Surat, Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Bhavnagar, Rajkot, Porbandar, Deesa and Kandla. While the government may subsidize flights between any of these places, the selected parties will be free to extend the flights to, for instance, Diu, Jamnagar, Mandvi, Mundra, Amreli, even Mumbai and Delhi. We expect diamond merchants to use the flights to and from Surat to Saurashtra areas”, the official said.

UPA - II @ 3

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said difficult decisions have to be taken both on spending and revenue mobilization, and called for determined measures to boost the climate for investment. The UPA government has faced stinging criticism for its handling of the economy. Growth in Asia’s third-largest economy has slowed while investors have stayed on the sidelines because of policy uncertainty and stalled economic reforms. Singh, who has faced the brunt of criticism over policy paralysis, reeled out the government’s achievements while releasing the report to the people on the third anniversary of his coalition. But he said despite real and solid achievements, there were uncertainties and a large unfinished agenda and the government would attend to these tasks firmly.  “Difficult decisions have to be taken on both spending and revenue mobilization. Both the Centre and the states have to be fiscally responsible,” he said in his speech. 
“We also have to remove implementation bottlenecks that are preventing large projects from getting off the ground. We have to quicken 
the pace of implementation of our policies of inclusive growth, particularly in the areas of health and education. We need to improve coordination between the Centre and states on important issues that face our country,” Singh said. 
He said he was confident about proving the skeptics wrong but admitted that 
the economy faced some pressure points. “Some people have questioned the sustainability of our growth process. I am confident we will prove the skeptics wrong. I recognize that we face pressures on our balance of payments and that the fiscal situation requires careful management,” Singh said. “Determined measures are needed to boost the climate for industrial investment, both domestic and foreign,” prime minister said. 
Singh said an urgent priority was to resolve issues relating to land acquisition, resettlement and the environment. “We need to strengthen our food security system by building more storage capacity. We must address the scourge of malnutrition through multi-dimensional interventions. We need to scale up our skill development programme,” Singh said but did not outline any specific steps that the government was planning to address these shortcomings. 
In its report, the government said slowdown of economic growth to 6.9% in 2011-12 could be attributed to the global economic slowdown and tight monetary policy to tame inflation. It said price stability remained high on the government agenda. 
The government gave itself a pat for partially insulating consumers from the adverse impact of rising global crude oil prices by keeping the prices of kerosene, cooking gas and diesel under control and only partially passing on the price increase.

Shoot at sight

The Maharashtra government has asked forest guards to‘shoot at sight’ if they see poachers in tiger reserves.    On Tuesday, forest minister Patangrao Kadam said guards have been given the go ahead to ‘shoot at sight’ if they find any poacher hunting for tigers or laying traps. “There have been cases when forest guards were booked for violating human rights. But to save tigers, the department has informed guards that preventive shooting will not be treated as criminal offence. The forest guard’s action will not be considered as crime.The legal provision has been made to protect these guards,” he said. 
The order follows an intelligence input which said that poachers from a neighbouring state have given a contract to kill 25 tigers in Maharashtra. The state is on high alert after the input as Maharashtra has just over 104 tigers in the state. Poachers have already killed one tiger, which died after getting caughtin a metaltrap.Another narrowly survived after being caught in a similar trap. “A probe is on to find out if the tiger died in the trap or was electrocuted,” Kadam said. 
Stating that the poaching came to light because of the department’s vigilance, Pravin 
Pardeshi, principal secretary (forest), said, “We have asked guards to be alert and 523 vacancies will be filled.”  “A fund has been sanctioned for informers providing tips about poachers,” he added. 
The department has deployed 70 more guards for the Tadoba reserve and 90 for Pench. “Guards will be armed. Extra vehicles have been provided to guards for round-the-clock vigil,” Kadam said. 
A four-member expert panel has also been formed to suggest steps to end poaching.