Anna 2.0

Anna Hazare launched a new outfit, Jantantra Morcha, at a rally in Patna. “Our aim now is to change the system. This can be brought about by passing the Jan Lokpal Bill and decentralizing power to gram sabhas and ward sabhas,” he said.
The activist said the outfit would not join politics and that he now plans to tour the country. “I wish to awaken only six crore of the country’s 120-crore population,” he said. With six crore people with him, the government would be forced to pass the bill, he added.
Hazare said they would next make Parliament introduce the right to reject and recall unworthy candidates. In his 45-minute speech, he did not refer at all to former Team Anna member Arvind Kejriwal.

Congress favours creation of Telangana

Congress declared that it favours the creation of Telangana in a definitive statement which can dispel the uncertainty about the party’s stand on the vexed issue just when the region has been roiled by turmoil over the Centre’s failure to keep its pledge to close the issue by January 28.
AICC spokesman P C Chacko said, “Congress is for Telangana. It is only an issue of time. A decision has to be taken… it has to have a constitutional basis. That (process) has to be completed now.”
This was Congress’s most categorical pro-Telangana statement since former home minister P Chidambaram’s announcement on December 9, 2009 where he said that the Centre would soon initiate the process for creation of a separate state of Telangana. Although Chidambaram’s announcement was widely interpreted as a commitment to make Telangana a reality, government subsequently reversed itself, citing lack of political consensus.
Chacko’s comment tied in with indications that the Congress leadership has veered around to carving Telangana out of Andhra and that the ongoing discussions on the tangled matter may just be about timing the decision to suit the political ends of Congress. According to sources, it only confirmed what the leadership may have decided informally.
In fact, the party had appeared to be on the verge of announcing a decision favouring Telangana last week before it paused, essentially to have a closer look at the matter.
Congress is looking at two windows to announce statehood. It could either make public its stance in February or after the budget session of Parliament in April. Sources said the party has tied up loose ends and the only lingering concern is the repercussion that statehood could have on a sensitive pocket like Gorkhaland. Congress’s new-found decisiveness on an issue it was wary of touching for the fear of political backlash springs from its desire to recover the ground it has lost in Andhra Pradesh, the state which played a crucial role in its consecutive wins in two Lok Sabha elections. The party’s fortunes have been hurtling southwards since the death of its CM Y S Rajasekhara Reddy in 2009.
The U-turn after the December 9, 2009 “commitment” on Telangana turned the region against Congress with TRS leading the charge even as Jaganmohan Reddy’s rebellion cornered the party in Coastal-Rayalaseema.

Chennai's new Airport Terminal inauguration

The Airports Authority of India is gearing up to make Chennai airport a hub for air travel in south India.
The two new terminals at the airport will be inaugurated by vice-president Hamid Ansari on Thursday, but it will take more than a month to make them ready for passengers.
The existing terminals will be re-modelled to increase the total passenger-handling capacity to 40 million passengers a year. Now, more than 12.4 million passengers a year use the airport. The new terminals and upgrading of air side infrastructure cost Rs.2,012 crore.
“We commissioned the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation to conduct a study and recommend suggestions to make Chennai a hub. It gave a few suggestions to augment passenger capacity of the airport to 40 million. We will get more space when old terminals are demolished and rebuilt to match the size of the new buildings and then there are plans to make better use of available land,” said Agrawal.
AAI would be redesigning its master plan to include these changes, he added.

“The new terminals will be thrown open to passengers in a month. They will be operationalised in a phased manner. There are some issues that need to be sorted out with airlines,” said Agrawal.
Airlines had earlier complained that there was no inline baggage scanning system and steep ramps made it impossible to handle baggage at the basement. A senior AAI official said “airlines should use better powered vehicles to transport baggage rather than use farm tractors.”


Mumbai Metro One : Status report

Consumption Matrix : Snapshot

India - Pakistan resume trade on LoC

Trade between India and Pakistan resumed over the de facto border in Kashmir yesterday after a 20-day halt sparked by deadly army clashes, with traders grumbling about their losses.
Six Pakistani trucks crossed into Indian-administered Kashmir, an official said, ending the halt in trade sparked by the killing of five soldiers earlier this month.
The convoy, carrying onions, dates and dried fruits, crossed the Line of Control (LoC) that divides the two parts of the disputed Himalayan territory, shortly before midday.
A similar number also crossed over from Poonch on the Indian side of the LoC to Rawalakot on the Pakistan side; with dozens more trucks waiting to make the same journey.
Cross-border trade has been encouraged in recent years as a means of improving relations between the nuclear-armed rivals, who have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir.
Kishan Singh, an Indian member of a joint chamber of commerce formed by traders on both sides of the LoC, welcomed the resumption but said it was not enough to dispel the uncertainty.

Sewri - Worli corridor on fast track

With the Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link (MTHL) finally hitting its stride the past couple of weeks, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) has begun to fast-track the elevated Sewri-Worli corridor that will act as a feeder for the MTHL.
The Sewri-Worli corridor — a proposed four-lane 4.25-kilometre stretch expected to cost Rs.616 crore at the current rates — will be the east-west connector that would allow motorists from the western parts of the city to make their way to the MTHL at Sewri.
According to MMRDA officials, the connector needs to be ready by the time the MTHL gets built — which is expected around November 2018 — to make the Rs9,320 crore sea bridge project viable in terms of traffic estimates.
One of the biggest hurdles that the project was facing, that of the corridor crossing the ten tracks at Elphinstone and Parel stations, has now been overcome, the officials said.
Additional metropolitan commissioner (MMRDA) Ashwini Bhide said, “Because of the Western Railway’s elevated railway corridor between Churchgate and Virar, the Sewri-Worli link was supposed to have gone over these 10 tracks at a height of nearly 20 metres. Constructing an elevated road at that height is a very difficult task. So we have decided to have the connector at the same level as the Elphinstone bridge.”
According to Bhide, the general agreement drawing of the road overbridge at the point where it crosses the tracks at the two stations has been submitted to railway authorities.
The elevated road would need to cross the flyovers at Senapati Bapat and Ambedkar roads and go over the monorail viaduct as well as the Harbour line and Mumbai Port Trust set of tracks closer to Sewri. It will also have ramps to connect it to the under-construction Eastern Freeway.

GST update

The Centre and state governments have reached a broad understanding on the structure of the proposed goods and services tax (GST), raising hopes of an early rollout of the UPA government’s ambitious indirect tax reform.
The central government has agreed to drop the contentious dispute settlement body in the Constitutional Amendment Bill and also decided on a partial rollout of GST, giving states the flexibility to join or exit the framework.
The key BJP-ruled states, however, continue to have some issues.
“There is broad consensus on the design of GST...Certain issues require more discussion,” Sushil Modi, Bihar’s Deputy Chief Minister and Chairman of the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers said.
A day earlier, differences over the issue of compensation for reduction in central sales tax rates had been ironed out.
The GST proposes to replace the plethora of indirect taxes with one single levy, a system that will help all stakeholder governments, business and consumers by preventing leakage, cascading of taxes and lowering the incidence of tax.
On the second day of the meeting, the panel of state finance ministers approved the report of a sub-committee set up by Finance Minister P Chidambaram on GST design, and decided to set up panels to look into three aspects of the tax regime: revenue-neutral rate and place of supply rules, exempted list of items, threshold for the tax and issues regarding dual control for small traders, and integrated GST that would be levied on inter-state sales and imposition of value-added tax on imports.
The panel also decided to bring petroleum products within the ambit of GST while keeping alcohol out of the proposed regime.
On Monday, the panel had agreed on a new compensation formula for phasing out central sales tax.
“There is 90%-95% consensus on all key issues...the groups have been set up as everybody wants to know the mechanics of how the structure would actually work,” said a senior official who was present at the meeting.
However, some BJP-ruled states continue to have reservations.
“There is no consensus... Most states have concerns on all key issues,” said Raghavji, finance minister of Madhya Pradesh.
The Centre will now approach the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance for changes in the Constitutional Amendment Bill, including dropping the dispute settlement body and a new mechanism to describe consensus in the proposed GST council.
As per the agreed proposal, the Centre’s vote will carry one-third weightage while the strength required to pass a proposal would be three-fourth of the members in the council. States will also have the power to raise tax rates in times of calamity.
The Constitutional Amendment Bill, tabled in March 2011, will allow the Centre to tax goods at the retail level and states to tax services. At present, the Centre can tax goods at the factory gate and the latter cannot tax services.
The Bill has been opposed by some states as they see the dispute settlement body and GST Council as encroachment on their autonomy.

A day after resolving the contentious CST issue, state finance ministers formed three subcommittees to look into other matters like IT infrastructure for smooth rollout of the goods and service tax regime.
“The deadlock over GST issue is now over. It is historic as there was a general consensus for introduction of GST,” Sushil Kumar Modi, the chairman of empowered committee of finance ministers, told reporters.
Though there was broad consensus over many features of the GST Bill, the empowered committee decided to set up three subcommittees to resolve issues, which could not be agreed upon by the finance ministers of different states, he said at the conclusion of the two-day meeting of state finance ministers.
While one sub-committee will deal with integrated GST (IGST), another subcommittee to address issues relating to revenue neutral rates (RNR) and Place of Supply Rules (PSR). The second subcommittee will deliberate mostly on service tax rules, said Modi, who is also the finance minister of Bihar.
As state finance ministers sought complete withdrawal or reduction of dual control system to protect interest of small and medium traders, the empowered committee also decided to put the issue for verification of a sub-committee.
“The three sub-committees will give their reports within three months,” Modi said adding the sub-committee on dual control will have to deliberate on the issues relating to exempted items and threshold for imposition of GST. The empowered committee also resolved to suggest to the finance ministry to incorporate provision of allowing the states to opt out of the GST fold if they desired. “In the present GST Constitution Amendment Bill there is no such provision. We cannot force states to accept GST,” Modi said.
Modi said the states demanded the centre should not hold rights to impose tax on declared goods like coal and LPG.

RBI cuts rates at last

RBI Governor Duvvuri Subbarao met markets more than half way by lowering the benchmark interest rate and banks’ cash reserve ratio, but declined to say if the move heralded the beginning of a lower interest rate cycle. The reduction in two key variables could lead to lower borrowing costs, although bankers caution it may not be too much given the fight among banks for deposits that is raising their cost of funds. The lower rates may ease the pinch for corporates, but again not significantly enough for them to dust off their investment plans or build new factories.
Subbarao’s rate and reserve decisions were overshadowed by the red flags he raised on the record high current account deficit and stubbornly high food inflation, which could force him to reverse his stance in the coming months.
Subbarao cut the repo rate — the rate at which RBI lends to banks — by 25 basis points to 7.75% as expected. It threw in a bonus 25-basis point cut in cash reserve ratio to 4%, which left markets pleasantly surprised and will ease the pressure on the central bank from industry and the government for a supportive monetary policy to aid faltering growth.
The CRR cut will release Rs 18,000 crore into the banking system, and ultimately help the cause of lower interest rates.

Industry reactions to RBI’s moves were mildly positive, even though in the markets, which had penciled in a 25-basis-point rate cut, the initial enthusiasm did not last long. The benchmark BSE Sensex handed back early gains to end the day 0.6%, or 112 points, lower at 19,990. Ten-year government bond yields fell 4 basis points to 7.84% as Subbarao signalled CRR cuts and more bond purchases to improve liquidity. The rupee rose 14 paise to 53.77 per dollar.

RBI lowered its estimate for GDP growth for this fiscal year to 5.5% from 5.8% and that for wholesale price inflation to 6.8% from 7.5%. But the governor, throwing enough hints at the prospect of more troubles for an economy that has been living beyond its means, appeared to suggest that further rate cuts were not a given.
Even as inflation for December fell to a three-year low of 7.18%, with the price rise for manufactured products less than 5%, food prices are climbing. The increase in consumer prices for December got back into double digits, fuelling inflationary expectations. Furthermore, proposed periodic increases in diesel prices and those of items such as coal and power in the months ahead could stoke further price increases.
For RBI, which has long been concerned about high fiscal deficit and runaway inflation, there is now a new demon to slay — the current account deficit, which is the excess of spending overseas than earnings that hit a record high of 5.4% in September and, according to some experts, may have hit 6% in December.

Amma's vote bank politics?

The AIADMK government’s backing of Muslim groups and their objections to actor Kamal Haasan’s trilingual film ‘Vishwaroopam’ is perceived by political observers as a move to consolidate the Muslim vote bank in Tamil Nadu. With the 2014 Lok Sabha elections barely a year away, the ruling AIADMK hopes to shed the last tinges of saffron and retain a chunk of the 7% Muslim votes it had gained in the 2011 assembly election, for the first time in many years.
In the past, Muslim voters in the state have leaned heavily on the DMK. But, with her recent announcement that her party would neither align with the Congress nor the BJP for the Lok Sabha polls, chief minister and AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa appears to have achieved some success in winning over the community. Sizeable Muslim votes could help swing the fortunes of political parties in at least six Lok Sabha constituencies in the state. While the DMK too issued a statement in support of Kamal Haasan, three days after the controversy broke out, the party significantly toned down its criticism of the stand of the Muslim groups on the film.
Political observers point out a that the AIADMK government adopted a similar approach towards Muslim protests against another Tamil film, ‘Thuppakki’. “She heard our objections and asked the home secretary to sort out the issue. We were impressed by her approach,” said a Muslim leader, who was part of a delegation which met Jayalalithaa.
Said Tamil writer Manushyaputhiran, “The AIADMK leader has been trying to woo minority voters as they can help in a few constituencies.” The DMK, he pointed out, always tried to woo minority votes from a secular plank. “Now Jayalalithaa appears determined to take it away from the DMK-Congress alliance by distancing herself from the BJP. The recent appreciation from leaders of Muslim groups indicates her success in this attempt,” he said, adding that the arguments of state advocate general A Navaneethakrishnan in the Madras high court in the Vishwaroopam case clearly reflected Muslim sentiments.
Of the 39 Lok Sabha constituencies in Tamil Nadu, Muslim presence is sizeable in six, including Vellore, Ramanathapuram, Nagapattinam, Central Madras, Tenkasi and Tirunelveli. The AIADMK’s alliance with Manithaneya Makkal Katchi (the political avatar of the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam) proved a success during the 2011 assembly elections. Observed professor and political commentator Bernard D Samy, “Jayalalithaa is trying hard to change her right wing image by maintaining a distance from both the Congress and the BJP.” Her participation in Ramzan and Christmas celebrations with community leaders and her government’s ban on Vishwaroopam clearly show her efforts to appease the minorities, especially the Muslims, he said.

CSIA makeover

Around December, international passengers will move to T2, a brand new terminal that has been in the making for the last six-seven years at the foreground of the Sahar international terminal.
Described as the “most iconic development in recent times” by the airport operator, it will be far more spacious, aesthetic and convenient to use, what with more check-in, immigration and security counters that promise to shorten queues and cut stress. For one: currently only nine aircraft can dock at a time at the international terminal. The partially completed new terminal will have a capacity to handle 18.
“After the operations are moved, the existing international terminals will be demolished to make way for the southeast tier of the new terminal,’’ said a Mumbai International Airport Pvt Ltd (MIAL) spokesperson. By the end of 2014, the integrated terminal will be completed and will handle both international and domestic flights.
The new terminal will eventually have two arms or tiers — the southwest tier and the southeast tier — with aerobridges. Almost all flights will get an aerobridge and so the practice of using of coaches to transfer passengers will be over.

On the flip side is capacity constraint. Space-starved Mumbai can afford an airport that can handle only up to 40 million passengers every year. Even by domestic standards, it’s not an impressive number. Delhi airport can already handle 46 million passengers a year; when fully ready, it can manage 100 million. Even Hyderabad airport, which handled only 8 million passengers in 2011-2012 as compared to Mumbai’s 30 million (for 2012), will have the capacity for 40 million passengers when its final phase is complete.
In the global arena, Mumbai airport is petite when compared to say Al Maktoum, the behemoth coming up in Dubai. When complete, it will be able to handle 160 million passengers/year, four times the handling capacity of Mumbai.
Dubai’s present airport saw a 13.2% increase in passenger traffic last year, making it the world’s third busiest airport for international traffic. The largest chunk of its passengers came from India — 7.34 million, marking a 7.4% increase — mainly because Indians largely took a transit halt in Dubai when flying to different parts of the world.

Once it settles down, the existing tower will make way for a new parallel taxiway next to the secondary runway to enhance its efficiency
The new tower coming up on 1,200 sq m in the forecourt of the domestic terminal in Vile Parle is 83 m high, ie equivalent to a 30-storey building. It is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2013. The tower will be operational within 6 months of handover by the Mumbai airport authorities to the Airports Authority of India
The new tower, much taller than the old one and with a cabin that will give the traffic controllers a clear line of sight, will afford views extending beyond 5 miles from each of the runway start and end points


India & Bangladesh

India and Bangladesh have signed a liberalised visa agreement and a landmark extradition treaty that would pave the way for the deportation of jailed Ulfa ‘general secretary’ Anup Chetia and other wanted “criminals”.
Home minister Sushilkumar Shinde signed the agreement with his Bangladeshi counterpart Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir at the end of their bilateral talks, which also yielded a “revised travel arrangement” under which New Delhi as well as Dhaka eased their visa regimes under several categories.
“These contracts will enhance ties in areas of security... and people to people contacts,” Sindhe told a joint press conference after signing the deals.
Earlier on the day, cabinet secretary Mohammad Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan had said the treaty will allow transfer of the convicted and under-trial criminals.
But he said that the treaty would not be applicable for persons accused of offenses of political nature and only those with charges like murders, culpable homicide and other serious offenses would come under the purview of the deal.
He said the offenders of small crimes awarded with less than one year jail will also not be wanted under the treaty.
Shinde arrived in Dhaka as a follow up of his Bangladesh counterpart's New Delhi tour last month.

IGI clocks 73 flights in an hour

IGI Airport handled a record number of flight movement in one hour on January 24. Between 2 pm and 3 pm, 73 flights landed and took off from the airport. The average number of flights that usually operate from the airport in one hour is 55-60.
“Between 2 and 2.30 pm, the new runway 29/11 and main runway 28/10 were used in mixed mode. Both were handling an equal number of arrivals and departures. From 2.30 pm to 3 pm, all three runways were put in use. The new runway was under mixed mode, handling both arrivals and departures, the main runway was being used for departures and the secondary one for arrivals,” said airport sources.
Air traffic control sources said another six to seven operations could have taken place if only there were more arrivals during that hour. The day saw a total of 814 movements.
The hourly capacity at the airport if two runways are used is 75 while around 85 are easily possible if the three runways are used together. “The reason why we are unable to use the entire capacity is that the traffic is not as much right now. With Kingfisher operations now closed, traffic has fallen significantly. In fact it was down to 760-780 till a few months back,” said airport sources.
Another problem is the shortage of air traffic controllers. “Despite a shortage, the ATCOs have managed to put in extra hours and since June 2012 have been frequently using all three runways. However, they have been pushed beyond their capability and to cater to more traffic, additional ATCOs are required,” said an airport official.

Embarassment for Chidu , Shinde

In an embarrassment for the Congress, a court in Ranga Reddy district of Greater Hyderabad directed police to investigate whether the former and current Union home ministers P Chidambaram and Sushilkumar Shinde had cheated the people of Telangana by giving assurances on the separate state demand and then backtracking on it.
Based on a petition filed by the Telangana Junior Advocates Association, the court asked police to probe the matter and submit a status report by February 14.
Petitioner Naresh Kumar, president of the advocates association, said that statements of Chidambaram and Shinde on Telangana had both raised and dashed hopes of the people, and sought the court’s directions to refer the matter to police for probe under section 420 of IPC.
Accordingly, the second metropolitan magistrate court directed the L B Nagar police to investigate the matter and file a status report before it by February 14. “To investigate the matter, the police will have to first register a cheating case against the two Congress leaders,” Naresh Kumar said.
Chidambaram was called to account for his statement on December 9, 2009 as Union home minister, when he had announced that the Centre was initiating the process for the creation of Telangana.
However, on December 23, 2009 Chidambaram took back his statement following an agitation in coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions against the division. The petitioner said this was an uncalled for volte-face aimed at cheating the people.
Shinde was charged with cheating for assuring the Telangana people after the all-party meeting on December 28, 2012 that a decision on the separate state demand would be taken within a month, only for the Congress to annul the deadline on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Cyberabad police commissioner Ch Dwaraka Tirumala Rao said they have yet to receive the court orders in this regard. Asked if the police would lodge any case against the Union ministers, the senior police officer said, “We have to first go through the order copy and act accordingly.”

Hyderabad and the other Telangana districts continued to reverberate with protests and preventive arrests even as the Samara Deeksha held by the pro-Telangana outfits vowed to step up the agitation in view of the Congress-led UPA government opting to keep on dithering on the issue.
The Telangana leaders, including TRS supremo K Chandrasekhar Rao said the agitations would include blocking the national and state highways linking Telangana to the other two regions and issued an ultimatum to the Congress elected representatives from the region, including ministers to immediately quit their posts and the party or face the wrath of the Telangana people.
The T-JAC called upon people to boycott Congress leaders from the region. However, the T Congress MPs and ministers took divergent views with the former threatening to send their resignation letters to party president Sonia Gandhi and the latter reposing their faith on the Congress chief and refusing to quit.

Think out of the box on Cauvery : SC

The Supreme Court directed Karnataka to furnish all information on the amount of Cauvery water it shared with Tamil Nadu since 1992 and said out-of-the-box thinking would be required from both states to sort out the dispute. A bench of Justices R M Lodha and J Chelameswar asked Karnataka to submit its report on Tuesday when it will hear the plea on passing interim direction on sharing of water by the two states.
The bench also observed that requirement of drinking water for Karnataka should be given priority over water needed by Tamil Nadu for irrigation purposes. “Some equitable sharing has to be done. Some out-of-the-box thinking is required. There has to be some interim solution,” the bench said, while pulling up Karnataka for not adhering to the formula of water sharing.
Earlier on December 5, the Supreme Court had directed Karnataka to release 10,000 cusecs of Cauvery water daily to its neighbouring state and asked the Cauvery Monitoring Committee (CMC) to hold a meeting to decide the amount of water required by each state. The committee had then directed Karnataka to provide Tamil Nadu with 12 tmcft of Cauvery water during December and did not pass any order for the month of January as the Centre had assured the Supreme Court that it would notify the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal award by December 31. During the earlier hearing on November 26, the court had asked the chief ministers of the two states to meet and arrive at an amicable solution to the “sensitive” dispute.
The talks between the chief ministers, however, failed to break the deadlock on the water-sharing row and the matter again reached the Supreme Court.
Once a gazette notification is issued, the Cauvery River Authority (CRA) chaired by the Prime Minister and the CMC will cease to exist. The tribunal, comprising chairman Justice N P Singh and members N S Rao and Sudhir Narain, in an unanimous award in February 2007 had determined the total availability of water in the Cauvery basin.
The proceedings of the tribunal, set up in June 1990, went on for more than 16 years. In what was then described as a balancing act, the tribunal gave Tamil Nadu 419 tmcft of water (as against the demand of 562 tmcft); Karnataka 270 tmcft (as against its demand of 465 tmcft); Kerala 30 tmcft and Puducherry 7 tmcft. For environmental protection, it had reserved 10 tmcft.
The tribunal’s award will come into effect within 90 days of its notification by the Centre. As per law, the award comes into being after being notified by the Centre through its publication in a gazette.

Vaiko moves Court on LTTE ban

The Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader, Vaiko, has moved the Madras high court opposing Central and state notifications banning the LTTE in India.
The first bench comprising Acting Chief Justice Elipe Dharma Rao and Justice Aruna Jagadeesan issued notices to the union of India and the Tamil Nadu government. While the Centre issued a notification on November 7,2012 invoking the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the Tamil Nadu government issued a gazette notification on January 4, 2013.
Since 1992, when the LTTE was first banned in India, the governments had been extending the ban periodically. On June 6,2012 the centre constituted Justice V K Jain committee and on July 17, 2012 and made the reference to the tribunal to adjudicate whether or not there was sufficient cause for declaring LTTE as unlawful association.
Vaiko, who argued the matter in person said in the petition that the activities or pro-LTTE organisation, individuals, sympathisers, who are members of the LTTE cannot be reason to declare the LTTE as an unlawful association.

SC reopens Taj case

Nearly a decade after asking the CBI to register an FIR against former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati in the Taj heritage corridor scam, the Supreme Court sounded fresh warning bells by deciding to examine whether the trial proceedings against her and the others were closed in a legally correct manner.
A bench, comprising Justice H L Dattu and Justice Ranjan Gogoi, decided to entertain four petitions challenging an Allahabad high court judgment, which upheld a trial court’s decision to close prosecution of Mayawati, her former cabinet colleague Naseemuddin Siddiqui and government officials R K Sharma and Rajendra Prasad on the ground that the governor had refused to grant sanction for their prosecution.
When the bench said, “We will examine the issue” and issued notices to the respondents, Mayawati’s counsel K K Venugopal argued that these petitions were not maintainable.
The petitions were filed by Kamlesh Verma, Anupma Singh, Kashi Prasad Yadav and Mamta Singh. Appearing for Verma, senior advocate Shanti Bhushan argued that the offences under Section 420 (cheating), 467, 468 and 471 (all related to forgery) of the IPC and corrupt acts could never be said to have been done by these officials in their official capacity and hence sanction was not a requirement for the court to carry on with the trial proceedings. Senior advocate Shanti Bhushan said the high court did not adjudicate the law point “whether sanction at all was needed for proceeding with the trial”. Instead, it “carved out a new case that sanction having been refused by the competent authority, the designated court did not have any jurisdiction to proceed with the matter; whereas, the order refusing sanction by the competent authority was not an issue at all.”
In July 6, 2012, the apex court had quashed a disproportionate assets (DA) case, allegedly linked to the Taj heritage corridor scam, saying the court had never desired the CBI to register a FIR against Mayawati in the case. But three months later, it entertained a review petition.

Yashwant pitches for Modi as PM

A day after Narendra Modi expressed a larger role for himself in the BJP in the run-up to next year’s parliamentary polls, senior party leader Yashwant Sinha fired the first salvo, openly pitching for declaring the Gujarat chief minister as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, saying it would hugely benefit the party.
Contending that he was reflecting the mood of the country and BJP workers, he advised ally Janata Dal (United), which has reservations on Modi because of the 2002 riots, not to target the CM but take a decision after careful consideration.
The former external affairs minister, who had once claimed to be qualified for the top job, said the decision on the prime ministerial candidate was the party’s to take but that he was reflecting the sentiment of workers and the people.
Sinha became the first senior BJP leader to openly pitch for declaring Modi as the prime ministerial candidate; although the party and its leaders have been evasive on the issue.
Reacting to Sinha’s statement, the JD(U) on Monday bluntly told the opposition party to realize that alliances are formed with “great difficulty”.

CST issue resolved

The Centre and states have resolved the contentious issue of CST compensation with the states agreeing for a lower payment of Rs 34,000 crore for phasing out the Central Sales Tax, a precondition for rollout of the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
“The amount of compensation for three years— 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13—was about Rs 34,000 crore. The Centre has agreed to pay this compensation amount to states,” Bihar deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi.
According to the resolution at the meeting on CST issue, the Centre would bear 100% of the loss accrued to states in 2010-11 fiscal on account of lowering of CST. However, for 2011-12 and 2012-13 fiscal, the Centre would give 75% and 50% of the losses to the states. CST, a tax imposed on the interstate movement of goods, was reduced from 4% to 3% in 2007-08 and further to 2% in 2008-09 after the introduction of value-added tax (VAT). The centre had then promised the states that it would bear losses due to reduction of CST. “However, the promises were not kept,” Modi said, adding the Empowered Committee accepted a central proposal to reduce the rate of compensation for early payment. The committee set up by finance minister P Chidambaram to resolve the CST issue had suggested that the payment of Rs 34,000 crore be made to the states towards losses on account of phasing out of CST.
The CST was to be phased out totally after the introduction of GST, which was originally scheduled to be launched from April 2010. Chidambaram recently said that even as GST Bill is unlikely to be passed by April 2013, he hopes to introduce it in the Monsoon session.
The GST rollout has missed several deadlines on account of differences over contentious issue of CST compensation and design of the GST structure between the states and the Centre. Introduced in the Lok Sabha in March 2011, GST Constitution Amendment Bill is with the standing committee on finance. Modi said that the states desire that the GST should be rolled out in next fiscal, failing which they would revert to the CST levy of 4%.
Finance ministers of 13 states—Gujarat, Assam, Jammu and Kashmir, Chhattishgarh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Punjab, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Delhi and Haryana attended the meeting while other states were represented by senior finance department officers. The Empowered Committee would deliberate on the GST issue on Tuesday, Modi said.
Chidambaram had earlier said he would outline amendments to the Constitution on GST in his Budget speech if there was consensus among states on the issue.


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Green Revolution 2.0

A string of previously laggard states are poised to overtake Punjab and Haryana, India’s traditional grain bowl, as the new powerhouses of food production, driven largely by — surprise — state support.
While privatisation is often thought desirable for key sectors of the economy, second-generation “green revolutions” across several states demonstrate that government initiatives can still turn things around.
India had raised the annual funding for a "green revolution in eastern India" from Rs.400 crore to Rs.1,000 crore for 2012-13. The results are showing.
Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Bihar have posted over 10 million tonnes of food output for the first time, with Madhya Pradesh picking a top central award recently.
Each of these states were awarded Rs.2 crore for highest overall foodgrain output, while they were also given Rs.1 crore in the individual crop category.
With the gradual weakening of the 60s green revolution, which had transformed India into a nation that could feed itself, planners knew it was time to turn the foot-dragging eastern part into the next food bowl.
Rising consumption and flattening yields in the country's breadbasket (Punjab and Haryana) has necessitated a renewed “green revolution”, especially in newer states. Northeast, with its fertile soil and abundant rainfall, could be the country's next agricultural powerhouse, trends show.
Nagaland and Manipur achieved farm output of nearly 1 million tonne this year.
Under individual crop category for rice, Bihar outperformed even big states. In wheat, pulses and coarse cereals, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh have nearly matched Haryana’s production.
Roughly two years of work has paid off for Bihar, which has doubled its rice output from 3 million tonnes to about 6 million tonnes, while Jharkhand has trebled production from 1.1 million tonnes to 3.3 million tonnes.
Overall, the eastern states have produced 7 million more tonnes of rice, an official said.

Namma Metro Phase I & II : Snapshot

Mahindra's new logo

Somewhere near Pune....

Khandoba - Mhalasa Vivaah , a festival organised at Pal - a small village approximately 140 km from Pune saw devotion and fervour. More than 9,00,000 people attended the festival.

Congress defers decision on Telangana again

The Congress finally displayed some firmness on the Telangana imbroglio by categorically deciding to procrastinate on the issue. After a meeting of the party core committee, the second since Saturday night, AICC general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad told the media that more time was needed to resolve the issue and that further consultations with the state leaders was necessary.
However, he did not specify the time when the next round of consultations would begin. When pressed, he simply said “in the coming days.”
Apart from Azad, those who took part in the Congress core committee meeting that was held at the Prime Minister’s residence were Manmohan Singh, party president Sonia Gandhi, home minister Sushilkumar Shinde, finance minister P Chidambaram, Sonia’s political secretary Ahmed Patel and party functionary Vayalar Ravi. The meeting lasted about half an hour.
It was Shinde’s statement at the end of the third all-party meeting in Delhi on December 28, 2012, that a decision on Telangana would be announced within a month that precipitated the latest crisis and triggered massive unrest in both the regions of the state.

K-15 Missile test

India’s elusive nuclear weapon triad – the capability to fire nukes from the land, air and sea – has taken another leap closer to becoming an operational reality. Even as the indigenous nuclear submarine INS Arihant gets ready for sea trials, the country’s first underwater ballistic missile “successfully’’ completed its developmental trials.
With this twelfth test of the K-15 missile conducted from a submerged platform or pontoon in the Bay of Bengal, DRDO officials said the 750-km range submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) was now ready for induction.
“The two-stage missile, which rapidly climbed to a 20-km altitude after being launched from the pontoon, was tested for its full range over 700-km. This was its last developmental test, in which all mission objectives were met,’’ said a senior official.
“Now, the 10-metre tall missile, which can carry a one-tonne nuclear warhead, will undergo a user-trial within a month before it’s integrated into the submarine. Only the US, Russia, France and China have successfully developed SLBMs till now,’’ he added.

There is reason to cheer but the bubbly can only be popped once the K-15 missiles are successfully tested from the 6,000-tonne INS Arihant, the country’s first indigenous nuclear-powered submarine, which is now all set to undergo “sea-acceptance trials’’ after its miniature 83 MW pressurized light-water reactor goes “critical’’ at Visakhapatnam soon.
Navy chief Admiral D K Joshi last month had alluded to this, holding that the nation would get ``good news’’ on this front ``very soon’’. INS Arihant has been undergoing extensive ``harbor-acceptance trials’’, with all its pipelines being `cleared and tested’’ on shore-based steam for several months now, before its reactor is ``fired’’ for the sea-trials.
Built with four silos to carry 12 K-15s, or four of the 3,500-km range K-4 missiles under-development at present, INS Arihant will of course have to test-fire the 10-tonne missile during the sea trials before it can be said that India’s long-awaited nuclear triad has finally become operational.
The first two legs of the triad, already in place with the armed forces, are the Agni series of missiles and fighters like Sukhoi-30MKIs and Mirage-2000s configured to deliver nuclear warheads.


Bhendi Bazaar makeover update

After several delays and stiff opposition from residents, the ambitious 16.5-acre Bhendi Bazaar cluster redevelopment scheme seems to be back on track, with developers Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust (SBUT) set to start work on three out of the 9 clusters.
Addressing a press conference, Abbas Master, chief executive officer, SBUT clarified the various apprehensions regarding the project and said construction would begin shortly. “Final permissions are awaited and work on the three clusters, covering five acres, will begin soon,” he said.
The trust also cleared the air on apprehensions that the redevelopment would give rise to a gated community — where the Bohra community would be segregated from others and their redevelopment prioritised. “We want all residents to live with their neighbours as before. This project is for the community at large and not exclusively for Bohras,” he said.
Refuting claims that residents had not been kept in the loop about the revamp plan, Master said: “We have explained the project in detail to every resident and we even have a help desk in place to clear doubts.”
He also trashed rumours that the existing places of worship would be shifted and assured that residents would be rehabilitated in the vicinity of their original accommodation itself. “Not a single religious place will be touched.”
Congress legislator Amin Patel, who was present at the media briefing, said he would ensure residents’ concerns are addressed. “I will convene a joint meeting of all disgruntled residents along with the trust members and government officials,” said Patel.
The largest cluster project in the city — the redevelopment of 16.5-acre Bhendi Bazaar in south Mumbai — had run into trouble over the last few months, with residents raising several apprehensions that they would be given a raw deal. Residents apart from those belonging to the Dawoodi Bohra community fear that the SBUT will create an exclusive enclave for the Bohras. In addition, they had alleged that the SBUT was planning to create an exclusive Bohra enclave.
“We are not shown any concrete plans and just fancy models. How can we just give our consent?,” asked Juber Khan, a resident.
T he SBUT meanwhile claimed that 77 % of the tenants —from a total of 3,200 residential and 1,250 commercial premises—have signed the consent agreement forms for revamp.

Black Money snippets

Finance minister P Chidambaram is likely to reveal a new estimate of India’s unaccounted “black money” — most of it stashed abroad — in the budget session and follow it up with a plan to hold it to account.
The new estimates, the first since 1985, have been compiled at the government’s behest by three think-tanks, the National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER), National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP), and National Institute of Financial Management (NIFM).
This report, submitted to the government in December, is speculated to have pegged the size of black economy at about 30% of India’s gross domestic product (GDP) or about Rs.25 lakh crore.
About a third of India’s black money transactions are believed to be in real estate, followed by manufacturing and shopping for gold and consumer goods.
The Centre has tracked Rs.50,000 crore in undisclosed incomes over three years, while tax evasion worth more than Rs.1,000 crore has been detected from inputs from foreign countries. The revenue department is pursuing 50,000 pieces of information on suspicious transactions received from overseas and domestic agencies.

NHAI hopes to build 2900 km in 2012-13

National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) expects to build at least 2,800-2,900 km highways under the NH Development Programme during 2012-13, which will be the highest ever completion in the authority’s history. The maximum NH construction record so far has been 2,693 km in 2009-10.
According to officials, the highways minister C P Joshi has asked the authority to achieve its internal target of 3,000 km by March-end and to expedite construction on small pending stretches so that large corridors can be brought under “completion” category.
Till December, NHAI has constructed around 1,650 km. Officials claimed that the pace of construction usually increase during this period and the fresh target can be achieved.
This could be a little compensation for the authority, which has failed to meet the target for awarding projects due to poor response from bidders. The ministry and NHAI will also work out a plan to ensure that concessionaires have a long stretch available to undertake construction instead of getting lands in small patches. “If we get 60-70% contiguous land without any pending clearance or problem, the construction will be faster,” said a private concessionaire.

SC on Power Plants & Bijli....

Seeking to draw the line on litigation against power projects, the Supreme Court expressed unhappiness over resulting delays and cost escalations while dismissing a plea challenging a hydro-electric project on the Alaknanda river in Uttarakhand.
The court observed that it is ironical that while power projects face opposition from the moment they appear on the drawing board, every citizen wants uninterrupted power supply.
The court’s views will come as a relief to the government which has been facing sustained protests from activists and a section of environmentalists, who have used legal devices and organized agitations against projects like the Kudankulam nuclear power plant.
Dismissing a petition challenging the Vishnugad-Pipalkoti hydro-electric project, a bench of Justices H L Dattu and Ranjan Gogoi said: “The moment a power project is to start, litigation is filed in court. If initially the project cost is Rs 1,000 crore, it escalates to Rs 10,000 crore over the years and tax-payers money is wasted.”
Environmentalist Vimal Bhai had challenged the validity of the clearance for Vishnugad-Pipalkoti project. In September 2, 2009, the state government approved diversion of 80.507 hectares of government forest land for the project and on June 3, 2011, stage-I clearance under the forest (conservation) act was granted project by the Union ministry of environment and forest.
Petitioner’s counsel Anitha Shenoy based her arguments on the sustainable development principle oft-cited by the court itself and said when guidelines are not followed properly, stage-I clearance should be quashed.
The bench, however, found no force behind the argument that the project lacks a cumulative impact assessment. “We really wonder what people in this country say. They say we don’t want hydroelectric plant or a nuclear power plant, but everybody wants bijli (electricity),” the bench said,

Somewhere in Tamil Nadu....

It is neither a waste nor a decision in haste. With this comment, the Madras high court upheld the AIADMK government’s decision to convert the previous DMK regime’s dream project — the 551-crore new assembly-cum-secretariat complex — into a multi-super specialty hospital and medical college.
Putting an end to the high-voltage controversy over the Jayalalithaa government’s plans to spend an additional 26.92 crore and convert it into a hospital-cum-medical college, a division bench, comprising Justice KN Basha and Justice N Paul Vasanthakumar, said: “The decision cannot be stated to be arbitrary and whimsical. On the contrary, the policy would promote and protect the interest of the public at large, more particularly, weaker sections of society. It is made clear that the government shall take all necessary steps for giving treatment to the poor and deserving people free of cost.”
Wasting no time, the government began work on the project hours after the court cleared the decks. Workers were seen bringing in construction material till late in the evening.
The decision to construct the new secretariat complex was announced by the DMK government on May 12, 2007, and the foundation was laid in June 2008. While it was still half-complete, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh “officially” inaugurated it on March 13, 2010, and during April-May 2010, the first session of the state assembly was held there. Three more sessions were held till February 2011.


Of FDI in Retail....

Foreign retailers Walmart and Tesco have indicated that they will not rush into opening stores in India despite the government aggressively courting them to set up multi-brand outlets. During a meeting with commerce & industry minister Anand Sharma in Davos, British retail giant Tesco sought clarifications on sourcing from small scale units and rolling out of back-end infrastructure for foreign players entering the retail space.
The move is seen as a precursor to the supermarket chain deciding on entering the Indian market after the government allowed 51% foreign direct investment in the multi-brand retail segment.
Similarly, Doug McMillon, president and chief executive of the international operations of Walmart, told the minister that the global giant is studying the conditions before making a final announcement on its India plans.
Tesco has a tie-up with the Tatas, while Walmart has opened cash-and-carry outlets, in partnership with Bharti, that cater to wholesale buyers such as restaurants, canteens and kirana shops. The clause stipulating at least 30% sourcing from local small and medium enterprises is being cited by retailers as a major hurdle to investment into India, although most of them will end up procuring from the domestic market.
In fact, the government had dropped the clause for single-brand retail after intense lobbying by IKEA, the Swedish furniture firm, which has now sought government approval for investing over Rs 10,000 in India.
There is also the requirement on foreign retailers to invest at least $100 million with 50% meant for creation of back-end infrastructure. Consultants, however, said the lack of political acceptability and the move to leave it to states to decide on allowing foreign retailers has not comforted foreign players as they fear that they may have to shut shop after a change of regime. Several political parties ranging from BJP to the Left, Trinamool Congress and the Samajwadi Party have said they will not permit foreign supermarkets in states ruled by them, leaving only the Congress ruled states as potential locations for opening store.
As a result, only single brand retail aspirants, where 100% FDI is permitted, have evinced interest in setting up shop. But the Centre is keen that some of the international players make use of the opening up and is rolling out the red carpet. During his meeting with Tesco chairman Richard Broadbent Sharma said foreign investors will be provided hand holding and invited a team of company executives for consultations with his officers.

The government appointed a one-man panel to probe Walmart’s recent disclosures regarding lobbying activities. The investigation, which is expected to be completed within three months, will probe if the retail giant undertook any activities that were in violation of Indian laws. The government was forced to launch an investigation following demand from opposition.

Starbucks in Delhi

Expanding its reach to new markets, coffee chain Tata Starbucks has announced opening of two outlets at the Indira Gandhi International Airport.
While one outlet will be opened at the domestic terminal, another one will be started at the international terminal of the airport, Tata Starbucks said. “With this launch, Starbucks forays into a new market segment and expands the number of stores, reaching more customers in the market,” it added.

India opens up three N-E states to foreigners

In a significant decision aimed at boosting tourism revenues and opening up the northeast, the government has done away with permits required by foreign nationals to visit Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland.
The home ministry has relaxed a more than 50-year-old rule to allow free movement of foreign tourists in the northeast, with the exception of nationals from Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and Myanmar. The permit regime is being dismantled for a year to begin with. The move to amend the “inner line’’ or protected and restricted area permit has been in the works for a few months following the PMO pushing for the changes, which have been discussed with the tourism and home ministries.
While travel in these northeastern states will become easier, tourists will still have to register themselves with the Foreigners Registration Officer (FRO) of the district within 24 hours of arrival.
The much-needed move to liberalize tourism in a region rich in natural diversity and adventure tourism comes just as the curtain came down on the first-ever international travel mart in Guwahati, organized to promote tourism in the northeast.
The government and states are eyeing a substantial market with about 58,000 foreign tourists visiting the region last year, up by 18% from 2011. Estimates are that tourist arrivals can increase by 25% within a year following relaxation of rules.
Under the foreigners (protected areas) order 1958, all areas in the states of Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim and parts of Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand are declared “protected areas’’ for which foreign nationals need permissions.
This has long been a bone of contention for the travel industry, which feels the permits discourage tourist traffic to northeastern destinations while states have taken the view that the red tape does not serve any significant purpose.

Gadkari spews venom

A day after the BJP’s parliamentary board replaced him with UP leader Rajnath Singh as the next party chief following income tax action against firms linked to the Purti Group, an unfazed Nitin Gadkari threatened tax officials.
Far from being chastened by his sudden exit as BJP chief, Gadkari took on I-T officials, the CBI, media and the Congress as he hit out in all directions. “When the BJP comes to power at the Centre, we will not spare any of them,” he said, referring to I-T officials.
Back on home turf, Gadkari warned officials that “there will be no Sonia and Chidambaram to help you when the BJP wins the next election in 2014”. He accused the UPA government of using the I-T department to fabricate cases against him.
Holding the Centre responsible for the I-T action against Purti that triggered a last-minute revolt against him just as a second term as BJP president was in his grasp, he said officials should remember that the Congress is a sinking boat. “There’s only one ruler in the Congress and others are her servants,” said Gadkari.
A modest crowd of party workers,local MLAs and functionaries braved showers the Orange City received on Thursday to try and boost the sagging spirits of their leader. Gadkari was addressing the gathering unmindful of a huge traffic jam the rally caused close to the airport approach road. For about 90 minutes, not a single vehicle could move on the road.

Pokhran secrets

According to A P J Abdul Kalam, the father of India’s missile programme who later went on to become the President, ex-PM P V Narasimha Rao told him to be ready for a nuclear test in 1996. “Kalam, be ready with the Department of Atomic Energy and your team for the N-test. I am going to Tirupati. You wait for my authorization to go ahead with the test. DRDO-DAE teams must be ready for action”.
But Rao’s plans were not meant to be as “the election result was different from what he anticipated”. Kalam said he received yet another call from the then PM asking him to meet him along with Prime Minister designate A B Vajpayee. This was “so that the smooth takeover of such a very important programme can take place,” he elaborated. However, the nuke test plans could not be carried out as the Vajpayee government lasted barely 13 days.
Noting that Rao’s act of ensuring continuity of the nuclear programme “reveals the maturity and professional excellence of a patriotic statesman who believed that the nation is bigger than the political system,” Kalam revealed that the first task he was assigned after Vajpayee embarked on his second stint as the PM in 1998 was to conduct the nuclear test at the earliest.
The Pokhran tests were finally carried out in May, 1998.

Of a No to Negative Politics....

On a day a confident Rahul Gandhi sought to put his best foot forward, saying he wanted to take political debates away from acrimony, Congressmen felt he should use the momentum from the Jaipur convention to revamp the organization in line with his inauguration promise.
Rahul visited the AICC headquarters at 24, Akbar Road and  met office-bearers as their new boss — party vice-president.
In a brief interaction with reporters, Rahul regretted the political environment was “extremely acrimonious”.
“We are always fighting with each other. Often, I feel for small reasons… I don’t want to get into negative politics. I don't want to be critical of everybody. I want to get into positive politics because that is what is going to take this country forward. Negative politics is not going to take this country forward,” he said.Rahul looked relaxed and in charge, dressed in casual blue denims and a white kurta, walking across from 10, Janpath, to the AICC office next door, flanked by senior leaders.  

Vishwaroopam saga continues off screen

Kamal has released his statement on the Ban calling this kind of Cultural terrorism has to stop.

NOV 28 : Release of 'Vishwaroopam' set for January 11
DEC 8 : Theatre owners oppose film premiere on DTH, approach government to sort out issue
DEC 9 : Kamal Haasan defends DTH release on same day as theatrical release. On the protest by Muslims, he says, “If they watch the film, my brothers in the Muslim community will feel bad for finding fault with me, since it will make them proud”
JAN 3 : 24 organisations under the banner Federation of Islamic Movements and Political Parties want to see Vishwaroopam prior to release
JAN 6 : Kamal Haasan calls on ADGP T K Rajendran and home secretary R Rajagopal, seeks protection for theatres
JAN 9 : 'Vishwaroopam' theatrical release postponed to January 25
JAN 21 & 22 : Muslim groups watch preview, meet Chennai commissioner and demand a ban on movie
JAN 23 : Representatives of Federation of Islamic Movements meet home secretary and demand ban on the movie; govt decides not to permit release for 15 days

India to grow at 5.9% in 2013: IMF

IMF has pegged India’s economic growth rate in 2013 at 5.9% and projected a higher growth of 6.4% next year in line with the gradual strengthening of global expansion.
IMF in its update to the World Economic Outlook said the global growth is expected to reach 3.5% this year, higher than the estimated 3.2%. For China, the IMF report has projected a growth rate of 7.8% in 2012, 8.2% in 2013 and 8.5% in 2014.

Change of Guard

BJP’s sudden move to bring back Rajnath Singh as party president to replace Nitin Gadkari may provide some reprieve to the main opposition but the decision is likely to pose fresh challenges in the run-up to the next general elections. Analysts say Singh’s return, coinciding as it does with the ascent of Nehru-Gandhi scion Rahul Gandhi in the ruling Congress, may necessitate a swift call on the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.
The critical changes in the two national parties come at a time when both Congress and BJP have lost traction and there is palpable anxiety among their cadres over the need to arrest the downslide. Gadkari’s ouster followed an acknowledgement in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh that the income-tax department probe into his links with the investors in the Purti group could prove damning to BJP in its campaign against the corruption scandals under the Congress regime.
The selection of the new president, however, showed that it was only a lack of agreement over his peers that eventually made him the compromise choice. “Sushma Swaraj was not acceptable to Arun Jaitley and vice versa; Venkaiah Naidu was not acceptable to RSS; and Narendra Modi was not interested in the job. So the job went to Rajnath Singh,” said a senior BJP leader close to the development. Singh, a former chief minister of UP, had earlier served as the party president for four years from 2005. BJP leaders concede that Modi will be the party’s best bet in the next elections.

The Shiv Sena’s national executive unanimously elected Uddhav Thackeray as president of the party. A resolution to this effect was passed at a meeting at Sena Bhavan in Mumbai on the occasion of party founder Bal Thackeray’s 86th birth anniversary.
Uddhav has been invested with all rights to make or cancel the appointments of Sena office-bearers. It is Uddhav’s wish not to be called ‘pramukh’, a title his father held.
In his maiden speech as Sena chief, Uddhav came down heavily on party rebels. “Those who want to quit the Sena are free to do so. But they should remember that rebels who left the Sena soon faded into oblivion,” he stated. Slamming Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde for his recent statement on Hindu ‘terror’ camps, Uddhav said, “Shinde’s irresponsible remark shows that the Hindus will have to fight for their legitimate rights in their own country.”
The Sena national executive passed a resolution equating Hindutva with nationalism. In another resolution, the party reiterated its commitment to the ‘sons-of-the-soil’ issue. The party also said it was committeed to women’s issues.
The national executive resolved to ‘freeze’ the post of Shiv Sena pramukh, which the late Thackeray Senior had held.
Sena leader Sanjay Raut, MP, said Aditya Thackeray, Uddhav’s son, would strengthen the party because of his youth-friendly image. Aditya’s Yuva Sena has been made one of the party’s affiliate wings.


Expect two more cities akin to Navi Mumbai along the Pune-Mumbai corridor over the next 50 years.
In a significant move towards long-term plan to build a knowledge corridor, the Maharashtra state government has appointed the City and Industrial Development Corporation (Cidco) as the special planning authority (SPA) for around 10 to 25 km peripheral area of the proposed Navi Mumbai International Airport at Panvel. This means that for any development or construction in the area, one has to take Cidco’s permission. The development has stretched Cidco’s Navi Mumbai territory up to Karjat, Khopoli, Khalapur, Khopta, Nitalas and Pen which include over 270 villages and an area of over 600 square km. The new territory of Cidco has been declared as Navi Mumbai Airport Influence Notified Area (NAINA).
“At present, our Navi Mumbai territory is 344 sq km. The development has brought a long-term assignment for Cidco to regulate urban, industrial and other developments in this region mostly along the Mumbai-Pune old highway, Goa highway and the expressway,” said Cidco MD Tanaji Satre. He said the permission has come after minute planning by Cidco officials over the last one year.
The ministry of environment and forest, while granting environment and CRZ nod to the proposed Navi Mumbai airport, had put forward a condition to revise and recast the development plan of Navi Mumbai to avoid unplanned growth around the airport region.
“As per the provisions prescribed by Airport Authority of India (AAI), no structure shall be constructed or erected within the periphery of ARP of NMIA without obtaining NOC from AAI. So, Cidco had submitted a proposal to the government for its appointment as SPA for the area around the proposed airport,” said Cidco spokesperson Mohan Ninave. The area excludes eco-sensitive zones such as the Matheran Eco Sensitive Zone. With Cidco’s appointment as SPA, it has been declared that any other Special Planning Authority functioning in NAINA shall cease to function. “The UD department has told Cidco to prepare development proposals and development control regulation for the NAINA as per the MRTP Act,” said Satre.

Justice Verma panel snippets

The Justice J S Verma committee has raised the bar of punishment for a wide range of existing and proposed sexual offences even as it rejected the demand for introducing death for rape.
The report has proposed codification of a stringent alternative to the life sentence, evolved through judicial activism in the last five years. Unlike the existing life sentence in which the convict is likely to be released after 14 years, at the discretion of the government, the Verma committee’s alternative would statutorily bar him from being released for 20 years or for “the rest of that person’s natural life”.
This new variety of ‘long life’ or ‘whole life’ sentence has been recommended for aggravated forms of sexual assault: rape causing death or persistent vegetative state, gangrape, repeat offenders of rape, rape of an underage person followed by death or coma, trafficking by a public servant or of a minor.

Justice Verma panel rejects death penalty for rape, retains existing punishment of 7 yrs to life sentence (in which convict may be released after 14 yrs at govt’s discretion)
But if rape causes death or leaves victim in vegetative state, imprisonment should be 20 yrs to rest of convict’s life. Same punishment for gang-rape
If gang-rape causes death or leaves victim in vegetative state, convicts should be jailed for the rest of their lives. Same punishment for repeat offenders
If victim is a minor, panel recommends minimum 10 yrs’ jail, going up to life sentence. If minor dies during rape or is reduced to a vegetative state, sentence should range from 20 years to the rest of convict’s life
Marital rape to be recognized as an offence for women of all ages
Panel for recognizing new offences such as disrobing a woman, trafficking & stalking
Introduces offence of ‘breach of command responsibility’, making a senior officer of security forces liable to jail of 7-10 yrs if subordinates commit rape
‘Intentional touching’ to constitute offence of sexual assault with maximum punishment of 5 yrs
Panel doesn’t recommend lowering juvenile age but wants juvenile justice system strengthened Compensation to victims mooted
In another innovation, the Verma committee has proposed that for several sexual offences, besides being awarded imprisonment, the convict should be rendered “liable to pay compensation to the victim, adequate to meet atleast the medical expenses incurred by the victim”.
The offences introduced by the committee include voyeurism, stalking, acid attack and, most significantly, “breach of command responsibility”, which makes senior officers of the police and security forces accountable for the sexual crimes committed by their subordinates.
The committee has also attacked some of the patriarchal features of the existing statute. It has suggested, what is effectively introduction of marital rape in India.
For, the existing law penalizes marital rape only if the wife is below 15 years of age. While enlarging the current provision of molestation, the committee has also asked for the removal of the archaic expression: “outraging the modesty” of a woman.
Radical as they are, the committee’s proposals constitute a big leap forward from the sexual assault bill introduced by the government just before the Delhi gangrape incident. It debunked the government’s approach of replacing rape with the generic, gender-neutral crime of ‘sexual assault’.
The committee feared that in the current context such a change might “signal a dilution of the political and social commitment to respecting, protecting and promoting women’s right to integrity, agency and autonomy.”
Arguing for the retention of rape as a distinct offence, the committee said, “This is a widely understood term which also expresses society’s strong moral condemnation.”
The committee also rejected the demand for introducing death for rape and retained the existing punishment


Gadkari crashes out, Rajnath to be BJP President

The Bharatiya Janata Party dumped its scam-tainted president Nitin Gadkari on Tuesday, turning to the safe choice of veteran Rajnath Singh and underlining rifts within the party ahead of a crucial 18 months of state and national elections.
The night before he was due to be nominated for a second term, Gadkari quit after income tax raids on companies connected to the Purti group left his position untenable and cost him the crucial support of the BJP's ideological patron, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).
The return of political heavyweight Rajnath — who was BJP president from 2006 to 2009 — complicates the choice of the BJP's prime ministerial candidate in 2014, because Rajnath has in the past shared an uneasy relationship with Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, currently a favourite for the mantle.
Who will be the face of the party in the general elections will almost certainly be decided by the RSS, which once again showed its clout in BJP appointments by pushing through the choice of Rajnath for president once it became clear that returning Gadkari was becoming impossible.
Gadkari's exit was the culmination of a dramatic day marked by Advani sticking to his opposition to a second term, and another top leader, Yashwant Sinha, signalling his interest in the job by procuring a nomination form. A third leader, lawyer Mahesh Jethmalani, complained he was denied one.
After news of the income-tax raids, top BJP and RSS leaders went into a huddle in Mumbai and Delhi.
Advani told RSS deputy chief Bhaiyya Joshi that Yashwant Sinha would contest against Gadkari, to which the BJP chief said he would quit and Rajnath should take over.
RSS then summoned BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj, Venkaiah Naidu and Ananth Kumar, who assembled at BJP's Rajya Sabha leader Arun Jaitley's office. RSS pointsman Suresh Soni told the leaders that Rajnath would be the next party chief.

Earlier, Gadkari was in Uttan, near Mumbai, sharing the stage with Advani at an RSS event, but the two appeared to exchange cold vibes.
Gadkari, who faces charges of impropriety related to the Purti group of companies formerly owned by his family, issued a statement that the IT raids and probe on him were an act of "political vendetta".
He had consistently said that he would quit only if held guilty by a court of law, but BJP leaders told the RSS that they would be hard put to defend him any further, and the president found himself isolated.
Sources said the BJP-RSS talks threw up names including Venkaiah Naidu and Ananth Kumar but the RSS firmly made it clear that if it was not Gadkari, their first choice for the top post, then it would have to be Rajnath. Other senior BJP leaders apparently agreed to "concur" as the Sangh's view was clear.
Gadkari said: "I have committed no wrong or any impropriety either directly or indirectly. Yet the UPA government has been making an effort to spread disinformation about me in order to hurt me and my party. I have always said that I am willing for any independent enquiry. I shall fight these efforts of this government both politically and legally."
He added: "I do not wish that this should in any way adversely affect the interest of the BJP. I have therefore decided not to seek a second term as the president of the BJP."