Somewhere in Guwahati....

A woman plants a kiss on the cheek of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi during an event in Guwahati.

Of Winds of change....

A survey by Pew Research Center has found that seven in 10 Indians are dissatisfied with the way things are and pushing for political change.
According to the survey’s findings, popular dissatisfaction rules the airwaves: “Dissatisfaction is remarkably widespread, with such disgruntlement cutting across various demographic groups: men (72%) and women (67%); Indians aged 18 to 29 years (72%) and those 50 years of age and older (69%); those with primary education or less (67%) and those with a college education or more (75%); and people living in urban areas (72%) and those in rural areas (68%).”
Bruce Stokes, director of Pew Research Center, said, “What we found most interesting was the degree of the desire for change (we didn’t ask who people would vote for they may end up wanting change but still vote for Congress) which suggests that whoever leads the Lok Sabha faces a public that wants change.”
By a margin of three to one, Indians, according to the survey are rooting for Narendra Modi’s BJP to the Congress party. Roughly 78% of Indians have a favourable view of Modi, while 16% hold an unfavourable view, it says. Rahul Gandhi is not exactly unpopular — 50% of those surveyed hold a favourable view of him, while 43% don’t. About 63% prefer the BJP to lead the next government, while only 19 % pick the Congress. Other parties get about 12% support. According to the survey, support for BJP is consistent across age groups, and covers both rural and urban Indians.
But a clear flaw in the survey is the absence of Arvind Kejriwal as it has not factored in Aam Aadmi Party, the new political force which promises to shake up electoral calculations. Questioned on this, Stokes said, “While the survey came after the Delhi elections, the questionnaire, which had to be translated into 8 languages, was formulated before the polls and so we did not appreciate that AAP would win and thus failed to ask about Kejriwal. I wish we had, in retrospect, but it’s one of the limitations of doing door-to-door interviewing. It’s more accurate than say internet surveys but the lead times are far greater.”
Modi’s approval ratings are specially high in the northern states, where he is popular in both rural and urban areas, across income groups and among both educated and uneducated people. But surprisingly, the survey shows his popularity dipping in the western states. In the south, BJP has 59% approval rating — some reason for the party to scramble to find suitable candidates in the southern states where it does not have a strong presence.
Gandhi’s regional support is strongest in the east where the Congress is fighting for political space with Trinamool, JD(U) and BJD among others. The survey observes that there is a notable difference between the intensity of support for Modi and Gandhi. Nearly 60% of those surveyed say they have a ‘very favourable’ view of Modi, while Gandhi polled merely 23% ‘very favourable’ ratings.

Magnetic Maharashtra

LJP back in the NDA

The BJP and LJP leader Ram Vilas Paswan sealed a seat sharing pact in Bihar that will see Paswan’s group contesting seven Lok Sabha seats, a development that marks the much-travelled politician’s return to the NDA-fold.
Paswan surfaced on Wednesday after keeping the Congress, RJD and BJP on tenterhooks for the last few days and announced that his options are open. “Opinion in LJP is not against going with the BJP. In our party’s interests we need to take tough decisions,” he said.
The nitty-gritty of the pact saw Paswan agreeing to contest on seats that are not currently being held by the BJP. The decision is bound to cause heartburn among BJP hopefuls, but the party is pleased with the bargain.
Paswan is seen to command the loyalty of a dalit community that is assertive and can add 3-4 per cent votes to BJP’s base that includes upper castes and some middle castes as well.
Paswan prepared the ground for breaking with Congress and RJD by saying he was made a measly offer of a few seats. But his decision to make up with the BJP after having quit the NDA cabinet over the Gujarat 2002 riots seems driven by the assessment that saffron PM hopeful Narendra Modi is gaining traction in Bihar.
Paswan’s switch helps the BJP counter criticism that Modi’s projection as PM has isolated the party as sources point to Asom Gana Parishad leader Prafulla Mahanta’s statement on Wednesday that he does not rule in or rule out a tie-up with BJP.
Mahanta, along with BJD leader Naveen Patnaik stayed away from a third front inaugural on Tuesday and the Odisha CM’s posture is seen to reflect a convergence with the BJP on seeing the Congress as the common enemy.
“There is no seat sharing with the BJD, but we can work in our own ways to contain Congress,” said a BJP leader about the suituation in Odisha. The BJP leaders feel the party has a satisfactory understanding with Paswan, and talks have centred around the need to select “clean” candidates. Though the CBI is threatening to question Paswan in an appointments scam, the process will not be complete until the elections.
In Tamil Nadu, the BJP is striving to stitch up an alliance with smaller parties like the PMK and the DMDK besides MDMK leader Vaiko who is already part of the NDA. Paswan’s return is significant as he had quit the NDA over the Gujarat 2002 riots, although he was also unhappy over being removed from the telecom ministry when he was in the Vajpayee government.
A close aide of Paswan said, “We have reached an understanding but have had to cede the choice to BJP. It’s a last minute alliance and BJP has already finalised candidates for more seats. We did not have much room to negotiate on the choice of seats. But we are not disappointed, the allocation is respectable.”

Bandra-Versova sealink update

Work on the Bandra-Versova Sea Link is expected to start soon with the government deciding to invite bids before the code of the conduct for the general elections comes into effect in the next couple of weeks.
The 10-km BVSL is a northward extension of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, both part of the Western Freeway project that will originate from Nariman Point. It received environmental approval in January 2013 and the cabinet sub-committee on infrastructure cleared invitation of tenders on January 14, 2014.
“We may float the tenders in two to three days. It will take almost five years to complete the project, which will be built on the PPP (public-private partnership) basis at an estimated cost of Rs 4,300 crore,” said a senior Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation official.
The eight-lane sea link with dispersal points at Joggers Park and Juhu Koliwada will be built 900 metres into the sea. It was proposed as Western Express Highway and S V Road between Bandra and Versova are saturated and it takes at least 75-80 minutes to travel the 10 km at present.
Nearly 50% of the traffic going towards south Mumbai originates in suburbs north of Bandra. With BVSL, most of this traffic can avoid the congested city roads.
The concession period for the tolled project, in the pipeline for four years, is 35 years and the toll rates may be between Rs 150 to Rs 200.
“The opening of this corridor can help save 45 minutes for traffic from Versova up to south Mumbai, besides saving fuel and pollution,” said the senior official.

Mumbai Metro III

A day after ministers and even bureaucrats sparred over the proposed Metro-III project, the state cabinet granted its approval to it.
With the cabinet go-ahead, the state will now extend guarantee to the finances for the project. Japanese International Cooperation Agency will extend 57% loan of the total project cost. A special purpose vehicle (SPV), a joint body of Central as well as state government, has been formed to take the Rs 23,000-crore project forward.
The MMRDA and the BMC will represent the state government in implementing the project with the former being the nodal agency.
The 33.5-km Colaba-Bandra-Seepz line will have 27 underground stations. The deadline for the project is 2020. From Cuffe Parade, it will passe through Churchgate, CST, Girgam, Worli, Mahim, Kalina , international airport and Seepz.
While peak-hour traffic by 2025 has been pegged at 40,000, daily ridership is expected to be about 1,387 by 2025. The train will have six to eight coaches and will ply every three minutes.

Amma's manifesto

Eyeing a larger role at the national level, chief minister J Jayalalithaa released her party’s manifesto for the Lok Sabha polls, promising to distribute freebies, hitherto enjoyed by people in Tamil Nadu, to citizens across the country. Under the Jayalalithaa regime, ration card holders in the state have received mixies, grinders, fans, milch cows, goats and marriage assistance.
“AIADMK will ensure the implementation of these schemes at the all-India level,” the manifesto said. However, there was no mention of how the party intended to fund the largesse. The recent draft guidelines issued by the Election Commission mandate that parties when making promises of freebies in manifestos should also spell out the ways and means of funding them.
The marriage assistance scheme for poor women guarantees them 25,000 each along with a four-gram gold coin, and household items are given away to all eligible ration card holders.
A good portion of the 45-page manifesto listed out key national issues and how the party intends to handle them. “In the election manifesto, we have spelt out many policies and promise to implement many schemes, which are aimed not only at the development of Tamil Nadu, but also the entire nation,” Jayalalithaa told reporters at the AIADMK headquarters. Not shying away from showcasing her national ambitions, the manifesto details what AIADMK could do on issues such as foreign policy, Sri Lanka, economy, power, fuel pricing and the women’s reservation bill. It vowed to get a permanent seat for India in the UN Security Council.
It promised to replace the UPA’s ‘half-baked’ national food security scheme with the universal public distribution system being implemented in the state. It set an agenda to create ten crore jobs and promised to raise the Income Tax exemption limit to Rs 5 lakh. It also pledged to rescind FDI in retail trade.

In what could set off celebrations among pro-Tamil groups in the state, AIADMK on Tuesday announced that it will move the United Nations to render justice to Sri Lankan Tamils by holding a referendum among Lankan Tamils and diaspora for the formation of a separate Eelam. When AIADMK becomes a constituent of the new Union government at the Centre after the Lok Sabha elections, the party would draw the attention of the international agency to the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka, the party’s manifesto said. “The party is determined to ensure that punishment is given through the International Court of Justice to all those who committed war crimes and genocide against the Tamil minorities during the internal strife in Sri Lanka,” it said. The party vowed to take all necessary steps to retrieve Katchatheevu island from Sri Lanka.

NaMo's campaign

Rajnath woos Muslims

BJP president Rajnath Singh has sought to bridge a trust deficit between his party and Muslims by saying that he was ready to apologize for any mistakes committed by the party in the past and urged the community to give the saffron outfit at least one chance.
Singh’s remarks immediately sparked speculation that the BJP chief was referring to events like the 2002 Gujarat riots or Babri Masjid demolition. “Try us once. If we don’t come up to your expectations, don’t look at us ever again,” he said at the event titled ‘Modi for PM—Mission 272+ —Role of Muslims’.
Singh said, “Please note that whenever, wherever, if there has been any mistake and shortcoming on our part, I assure you that we will apologize to you by bowing our heads.”
Rajnath’s comments raised a question if the BJP chief was suggesting that the Gujarat riots were a serious weakness in the BJP campaign
BJP leaders said the remarks did not amount to acceptance of culpability, but the outreach did generate ripples in political circles

On a similar note, but in less dramatic terms, leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley said the BJP had been pleasantly surprised by the success of minority candidates fielded by it in states like Goa and Rajasthan. He said the BJP stressed the principles of equality and security for all citizens. 

Lucknow Metro snippets

Padma Vibhushan E Sreedharan known for successfully executing many mega metro projects of country has given consent to be the principal adviser to the Lucknow Metro Rail Corporation (LMRC). Contradicting recent media reports, the 'Metro Man' gave nod to the proposal just a day after chief minster Akhilesh Yadav approved his appointment.
A two corridor metro-rail project with various feeder lines has been proposed inside the city to reduce traffic burden on roads and give convenience to passengers. Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) has prepared the detailed project report of metro and a special purpose vehicle LMRC has been constituted to execute the project in city. In the first phase, the corridor from Amausi Airport to Munshipulia would be constructed, followed by Charbagh to Vasantkunj.

Bukhari backs Didi for PM

After Anna Hazare, it is now the turn of the Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid Syed Ahmed Bukhari to endorse Mamata Banerjee as a future PM, saying, “She would make a better PM for secular India than others.”
Like Hazare, the Shahi Imam had written to all non-BJP chief ministers on January 30 inquiring about the implementation of recommendations of the Sachar Commission. Only Mamata replied on February 19 detailing the work she had done for minorities.
“After going through the details of developmental work she has done for the development of minorities and Muslims in the state, I personally feel India needs a secular leader like her who believes in work and not lip service,” he said. “I feel she is a secular leader and will not go with BJP or NDA.” Political observers would like to connect it with another development in Delhi where the Shahi Imam severed ties with Samajwadi Party. His son-in-law Umar Ali Khan resigned from the UP cabinet. If the Shahi Imam supports Mamata, it would be a boost to her attempt to go national and blunt the Opposition allegation of a “covert understanding” with BJP. Trinamool Congress MP Sultan Ahmed said, “The Shahi Imam has made his own assessment on the minority development works being undertaken in Bengal. He holds a respectable position and if he endorses Mamata Banerjee as the Prime Minister, many people will pay heed.”
Maulana Qari Fazlur Rehman, the senior cleric who leads Red Road Eid Namaz, had a different take. “To me, Mamata Banerjee is a secular leader.” 

Namma Metro's Second Line

Namma Metro is throwing its second line open to Bangalore: the 10 km track stretch from Malleswaram to Peenya will start operations from Sampige Road on March 1. The official launch of Reach 3 and 3A is scheduled for February 28.
The first Green Line train on the Metro corridor is likely to decongest traffic on busy stretches of Rajajinagar and Yeshwantpur. There are 10 stations on the 10 km stretch, and though some of them are not complete, BMRC said it will go ahead with the launch.
“The project is already delayed by 18 months and the launch cannot be further delayed. BMRC is not in charge of providing parking, which has to be done by the BBMP. BMTC will provide feeder services wherever required,” said R Ramalinga Reddy, transport and Bangalore in-charge minister.
The total cost of the project on this stretch — Reach 3, 3A of Phase 1 — is Rs 2,100 crore. Construction began in 2009-10. The train, running at a speed of 80 km per hour, aims to ferry 1 lakh persons a day. It can take 975 persons per trip.
The train is scheduled to stop for 90 seconds at each station. “Of all the stretches, the challenge was Kuvempu Road, because it’s so narrow,” said BS Sudhir Chandra, director (project & planning), secretary, ministry of railways.
Chief minister Siddaramaiah, petroleum minister Veerappa Moily, railway minister Mallikarjun Kharge and Union minister for transport Oscar Fernandes are likely to take part in the inaugural of Metro Phase-1, Reach 3 on February 28.
“During the launch of the Green Line, we will also have a foundation laying ceremony for other projects of Phase 2, that cost around Rs 26,000 crore,” said BMRC managing director Pradeep Singh Kharola.

Civil work in some of the stations on this stretch is still incomplete. But BMRC MD PS Kharola says it will be completed before the stations open for the public. “The platforms are meant to accommodate a train with six coaches. Currently, we have three coaches. The platforms are adequate for three coaches.’’ Transport minister R Ramalinga Reddy said the elections have nothing to do with the Reach-2 launch. “Each project has a deadline. The project was already delayed by 18 months because of retendering issues. This stretch is ready for launch. Issues of last-mile connectivity will be resolved.”

JNNURM projects approved for Gujarat, Punjab

The Centre has approved four projects under Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM) for Gujarat. While three of them will come up in Ahmedabad one project will be built in Surat. These shall be completed in 24 months.
The three projects in Ahmedabad are secondary and tertiary treatment plants for water recycling and reuse; each having capacity to recycle 60 million litres per day (MLD). While the total cost of three projects will be around Rs 16,080 crore the Central government share in these projects is pegged at Rs 8,955 crore.
These projects will discharge treated effluent in the upstream of Vasna Barrage across Sabarmati river which is one of the drinking water sources for Ahmedabad.The fourth project approved by the UD ministry is water supply system for west & south west zone of Surat Municipal Corporation. The total approved cost of the project is Rs 9,495 crore and Centre will bear 50% of this cost. Once the project gets completed, it will ensure fullfledged water supply 24x7 to west and south west zone of Surat.
A government release said that it has approved seven urban infrastructure projects for Gujarat and Punjab entailing total investment of at least Rs 53,200 crore under its flagship JnNURM programme. Just before announcement of poll date, the urban development ministry sanctioned Rs 6,929 crore as first installment to start work in these projects.
The Centre also approved two projects for Amritsar and one for Ludhiana in Punjab. The holy city will get a sewerage & sewage treatment plant for south east zone with an investment of Rs 8,927 crore and Centre will bear 50% of this cost.
The second project is providing water supply scheme in the balance area of Amritsar with Rs 8,913 crore and Centre will bear 50% of this cost. An official release said that the major outcome of this project will be the availability of potable disinfected water, which shall eradicate the problem of gastroenteritis and other water borne diseases.
The third project approved by the UD ministry is an integrated municipal solid waste management facilities in Ludhiana. This will involve Rs 9,785 crore.
While the first two projects shall be completed in three years the third project shall be completed in two years.

Kejriwal's poser to RaGa

Pressing his charge that major parties bat for big business, Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal wrote to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi asking if he supported the decision to hike the price of natural gas and whether “tainted” leaders would be given Lok Sabha tickets.
Questioning Rahul’s silence on gas pricing, Kejriwal put forward several posers,including whether Congress had received “legitimate or illegitimate” funds from Reliance chief Mukesh Ambani and if he supported the decision to raise gas price to $8 a unit. Tainted ministers referred to by Kejriwal include oil minister Veerappa Moily,urban development minister Kamal Nath, foreign minister Salman Khurshid, agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, finance minister P Chidambaram and law minister Kapil Sibal.Kejriwal also demanded that Rahul make his campaign expenses public.
The AAP leader had recently posed similar queries to BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. Kejriwal continued his offensive against the two leaders, alleging both had maintained a studied silence over the gas price issue.
In a letter to Rahul dated February 22, Kejriwal said, “People say no important decision is taken by the UPA government without asking your family. People want to know this from you whether you support the government’s decision of Mukesh Ambani selling gas at $8 per unit.’’
He also asked Rahul whether Mukesh Ambani was funding the party for seeking favours in return from the government and why senior Congress leaders opposed the AAP-led Delhi government’s order to register FIRs against Ambani and Moily over gas pricing.
“People also say that the decision to double the gas price was taken just before the elections.Has Mukesh Ambani funded the party with unaccounted money for bagging some favours? If it’s not the case then what is it? When AAP led government asked the Anti-Corruption Branch to lodge an FIR against Ambani, senior Congress and BJP leaders vehemently opposed. Do these parties have strong bond with Mukesh Ambani,"Kejriwal asked in his letter.
The former Delhi chief minister also asked Rahul whether the party would give Lok Sabha tickets to ministers facing charges of corruption. “From time to time, your ministers like Moily, Salman Khurshid, Kamal Nath, P Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal have been charged with corruption. Will your give them party ticket this time?" he asked.
The AAP leader continued to criticize use of helicopters and funds for election campaign. "There are media reports about you and Modi using helicopters?Are these aircraft made available for free? There are also reports that crores of rupees are being spent on every election rally. People say that they are being funded by the media,"he said.
Citing the Niira Radia tape conversations, Kejriwal claimed that Ambani interfered in allocation of ministry to a particular minister and also posting of a few bureaucrats. "People say that Mukesh Ambani interferes in allocation of ministries and in posting of few bureaucrats. Does Mukesh Ambani run the government?"Kejriwal asked.

Pune LBT snippets

After a slow start, the local body tax (LBT) collection of the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) has gathered momentum. The civic administration has earned around Rs.1,100 crore in the 10 months since the levy was introduced, which is nearly Rs.30 crore more than the revenue earned from octroi in the previous financial year (2012-13).
“The PMC has earned Rs 1,107 crore through LBT between April 1, 2013, and January 31, 2014. It had collected Rs 1,077 crore octroi during the last financial year,” an official from the LBT department said.
The official said that traders paid Rs 34 crore on February 20, which was the last day to pay LBT for January. In January, the PMC collected Rs 106 crore from LBT. Revenue from octroi in January 2013 was Rs 105.71 crore.
Octroi, property tax and development charges are the main sources of revenue for the PMC. The civic body replaced octroi with LBT in April 2013. Under the new rules, traders who bring goods worth over Rs 5,000 into the city have to register with the civic body.
Traders had strongly opposed LBT on its introduction, and had gone on strike against the levy, claiming that the new system had flaws and was not trader-friendly. LBT collection was therefore hampered for nearly six months. But after that, things have changed for the better, officials said.
In the first seven months of the current financial year, the LBT department had collected Rs 746 crore, including the tax and one per cent stamp duty charges. Octroi revenue during the same period last year was Rs 762 crore.
The LBT department conducts meetings every Thursday, where traders can meet officials and resolve their doubts related to the levy.

EC puts brakes on freebies

Political parties can no longer make tall promises on freebies in their election manifestos as they will now have to explain the rationale of their pledges and means of meeting the financial requirements.
This follows an Election Commission (EC) move to create a level-playing field before elections following directives from the Supreme Court.
In fresh guidelines to political parties, the EC has asked them not to make promises that vitiate the atmosphere or exert undue influence on voters. “Trust of voters should be sought only on those promises which are possible to be fulfilled,” the EC said.
The Supreme Court in its July 5, 2013 verdict had noted that though promises in election manifestos cannot be construed as a corrupt practice as per law, the distribution of freebies of any kind “influences” all people.
Earlier, when EC elicited the views of parties on the issue, they expressed divergent views and most stood against such guidelines, saying that making promises to the electorate was their right. 

Somewhere in Karnataka....

India-US ties under trade stress

India-US ties are again under stress ––this time over trade and investment––according to the government. With calls in the US for designating India a Priority Foreign Country (PFC), the worst downgrading of status by the US Trade Representative for inability to protect intellectual property rights, the government is accusing US authorities of intimidating the health ministry over the issue of compulsory licences ––which allow local firms to manufacture patented drugs –– and simultaneously preventing other developing countries from acting against evergreening of drug patents.
A PFC tag can allow the US to impose unilateral sanctions against India for domestic laws which deny benefits to the US under any trade agreement. Government sources here said there seemed to be a two-fold agenda behind the “cacophony’’ emanating from the US. “Pressure is being created on India’s health ministry to not consider drugs for compulsory licences and at the same time there is also a deliberate attempt to use India to scare away other developing countries like Indonesia and Brazil from introducing legislation to prevent evergreening of drug patents, like section 3 (d) of Indian Patents Act (IPA),’’ said a source.
US pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer have demanded that India amend its patents law by doing away with section 3 (d) altogether. This section prevents patenting new forms of a known substance in case it does not yield higher efficiency than the earlier substance. It was under this provision that the Supreme Court upheld a decision of India’s Patent Office to deny a patent to Novartis for its drug Glivec.
India has also been disturbed by the proposed visit by US International Trade Commission (USITC) to probe the fallout of India's trade and investment policies on the US economy. The government has already asked its officials to not entertain the agency saying any dispute related to India’s trade policies or patents regime should be addressed at WTO.
While the US interlocutors have accused India of “continuous’’ use of compulsory licences (CL), which allows local firms to manufacture patented drugs, India has described this as a canard. The government has told the US authorities that India’s controller-general of patents issued only one CL for a lifesaving drug in March 2012, against a liver and kidney cancer product.
The government is trying to convince the Americans that Indian Patents Act is not an administrative matter under its jurisdiction but a quasilegal process, with a separate and independent appellate body to adjudicate such cases. The final court of appeal in these cases is India’s Supreme Court.

Somewhere in Madhya Pradesh....


Pune infra snippets

Deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar said the government would make substantial provision for the Pune metro project in the state budget. It would also support speedy completion of the proposed 170-km ring road encompassing Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad.
“The Centre has approved the Pune metro project (in principle) and now the state government is going to make a provision for it in the budget. On February 24, I will be presenting a vote-on-account, so it would not be possible to make a big provision for all projects. But when the state will present its full budget, Pune metro will get its share,” said Ajit Pawar, while speaking at a function here.
He added that efforts were taken to speed up the Pune metro project. “The state will contribute 20% funds while the Centre will contribute 20%. The civic body has to chip in 10% and I have asked the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) corporators to ensure that the project work, once started, is not affected over paucity of funds,” Pawar said.
The state has approved the Road Network Plan designed for the peripheral area of Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad. The plan, involving the construction of 90 km of road, is a part of the 170-km outer ring road.
“The government will ensure that this project is not delayed. In fact, all projects should be completed within the stipulated time to avoid cost escalation,” he said. Under the plan, construction of roads will take place in Wagholi-Kesnand-Lonikand, Manjri Budruk-Loni Kalbhor, Khed Shivapur-Dive, Khadakwasla-Yewalewadi, Bhugaon-Nere-Nade-Jambhe, Pirangut-Ghotawade-Urawade, Wadgaon-Urse-Bebadohol, Warale-Sudumbare, Dehu-Khalumbre, Charholi-Chakan. 


Bharat Nirman continues

Delhi Metro : Work in progress

DMIC picks up speed in Maharashtra

The district administration has sent a proposal in regard with the second phase of land acquisition process of 2,246 hectares in Bidkin for the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) project to the state government for approval under MID Act, 1961, section 32 (1) and has demanded approval of Rs 1,314 crore as compensation for the farmers.
District land acquisition officer Sambhaji Adkune said, “The DMIC land acquisition process has gained momentum. The district administration has forwarded the proposal to the state seeking permission for acquisition of 2,246 hectares.”
“After the government gives its nod the further process of payment of compensation to farmers would start. The administration is expecting Rs 1,314 crore which would be paid as compensation to Bidkin farmers under the second phase of land acquisition by March-end,” he said.
“The administration, supported by land record officials, completed the process of land measurement of 2,351 hectares,” he said. The district administration has received consent letter for acquisition of 2,100 hectares from 2,297 farmers.
The corridor covers a distance of 1,482 km and passes from seven states. The DMIC in Maharashtra covers Mumbai, Thane, Raigad, Nashik, Aurangabad, Ahmednagar, Pune, Dhule and Nandurbar districts and influences on 18% of the total area of the state. Out of all these cities covered Aurangabad is part of the DMIC Early Bird project which includes Shendra-Bidkin Industrial Park and International Convention centre and has been proposed over an area of 8,340 hectares.
The land acquisition in the second phase under the DMIC project is being carried out in five villages – Bidkin, Banni Tanda, Bangal Tanda, Nilajgaon and Nandalgaon.
The land acquisition of 555 hectares of land at Karmad was completed under the first phase of DMIC land acquisition project in October 2012, in which the beneficiaries were offered Rs 23 lakh per acre.

15th Lok Sabha statz

Delhi HC stays AAP's paap

The Delhi high court stayed the AAP government’s February 12 decision to give a 50% waiver on pending electricity bills of 24,036 consumers.
A division bench of acting Chief Justice B D Ahmed and Justice Sidharth Mridul suspended the waiver after going through an affidavit where the government admitted some departments have objected to the scheme.
“What is your (the government’s) stand now? What is your proposed action now? Are you going to carry the decision or not?” the bench demanded while issuing a notice for March 18.
In its affidavit, the government informed the high court that comments were sought from the legal, finance and planning departments on the proposed waiver, as well as withdrawal of the theft cases against defaulters.
While the law department said such a waiver can only be given prospectively and not retrospectively as per the statute, Electricity Act, 2003, the planning department had said the proposed exemption was “not appropriate” as it will be “tantamount to rewarding defaulters at the cost of honest and regular paying consumers”. The finance department too had objected saying “it will give an advantage to the defaulters and thus create a bad precedent”, the affidavit conceded.
The Delhi cabinet had approved the proposal “to provide 50% relief on pending arrears to the tune of Rs 6,821 crore” and to direct the finance department to allocate funds as well as inform Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission of the decision.
These consumers had stopped paying their bills during the Aam Aadmi Party’s “bijli satyagraha”.
The bench was hearing a PIL filed by advocate Vivek Narayan Sharma seeking quashing of the Delhi government’s decision to close cases of power theft registered against 2,508 consumers last year. The plea argued that such action by the government amounts to “sponsoring and abetting criminal/terrorism acts and acts against rule of law and constitution”.
Shortly after its formation, the Aam Aadmi Party launched “bijli satyagraha” alleging that power bills in the capital are inflated. As part of the campaign, Kejriwal urged people to stop paying their power bills, the plea said. About 24,036 consumers stopped paying their bills reportedly from October 2012 to December 2013. During this period, the authorities disconnected 2,508 electricity meters due to non-payment of bills and these people started to steal power.
The PIL said numerous theft cases were initiated against consumers which are pending in courts. The AAP government had also announced it would waive off the penalties for defaulters. The plea claimed AAP and its leaders were enticing the public to follow no rule, and the estimated loss to public exchequer because of the move was around Rs 6 crore.
Meanwhile, HC also directed the petitioner, Vivek Sharma, to amend his plea by removing former CM Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia from the list of parties. HC had, on February 19, passed the order as there was “no clarity” on whether the Delhi cabinet had taken a decision to implement the subsidy as claimed by Sharma.

Vote On Account : Snapshotz

Amma gets ambitious

Unwilling to let BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi appropriate the mantle of a growth crusader, Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa pitched in, saying the state had received higher incremental investments under her governance, even more than Gujarat.
Addressing a gathering of industrialists after unveiling new industrial, auto and biotech policies, she said, “According to CMIE (Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy), incremental investment attracted by Tamil Nadu between June 2011 and January 2014 is 1,46,800 crore. Tamil Nadu has achieved 18.2% growth in investments, higher than states like Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka.”
The government showcased agreements with 16 businesses keen to establish operations in the state. The memoranda of understanding signed at the event signify commitments worth 5,081 crore and may help shore up the sagging image of TN as an investment destination.
Wanting to be seen as a serious contender on the national scene, and not a regional satrap, Jayalalithaa said, “I have a vision for India in which Tamil Nadu will play a key role — a vision of a resurgent India, a nation with an inclusive society and open markets, a nation of enterprise and creativity driven by knowledge and shaped by family values, a nation of growth with equity, a nation with peace, stability and development, a modern, secular and prosperous India. I want to assure you all that this day is not far.”
The audience had a galaxy of businessmen, including Venu Srinivasan of TVS, Rafeeque Ahmed of Farida Group, Kris Gopalakrishnan of Infosys, Ficci president Sidharth Birla and Rana Kapoor of Yes Bank.
The CM’s pitch to investors was the first in more than a year. The last time she reached out to corporate India was in 2012 when she interacted with a slew of businesses and signed up agreements worth 26,625 crore.

Kejriwal questions NaMo

Continuing his offensive against BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal has demanded that Narendra Modi make his election expenses and names of campaign donors public. He also sought to know if Modi would bring down the gas prices if he came to power.
In a letter to the Gujarat CM, Kejriwal questioned the BJP leader’s silence on the gas price issue. Kejriwal said that he would also write to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on the issue.
 The AAP-led Delhi government had filed a FIR under the Prevention of Corruption Act earlier this month against former union minister Murli Deora, oil minister Veerappa Moily and Reliance chief Mukesh Ambani.
Kejriwal said he had three questions for Modi. The first one was, “You are a PM candidate, but why are you still quiet over the issue. A common man wants to know whether if your party forms government and you become the PM, would you bring down the gas price from 8 dollars per unit to 4 dollars?”
“What are your links with Mukesh Ambani and who was funding Modi’s election campaign,’’ Kejriwal asked.
 The AAP leader also sought to know how Parimal Nathwani, the group president of the Mukesh Ambani companies, was recently elected to Rajya Sabha with Modi’s help.
“This creates suspicion over your relations with Mukesh Ambani. What is your relation with Mukesh Ambani?” the letter added.
Kejriwal alleged that the UPA government is being run by Mukesh Ambani and if Modi comes to power, would his government be also run by the Reliance Industries chairman? he asked. “You in your speeches talk about bringing back the money from Swiss banks, but the Ambani brothers have money in these banks. If you have good relations with the Ambanis and if they fund you, then would you bring back the black money?” he asked.
The former Delhi chief minister questioned the election funding of the BJP and the Congress. “Helicopters and private jets are being used whenever you and Rahul Gandhi travel within the country and abroad. As per the news reports, the aircraft services you and Rahul Gandhi use are free of cost. Spending in your election rallies are worth crores of rupees. Some people say Mukesh Ambani funds you. Is that true?” he said. 

AirAsia India

The Tata Sons-AirAsia JV crossed the final hurdle with DGCA disposing of all the objections against the proposed low-cost carrier (LCC). The new LCC may get the licence within a fortnight and start flying soon.
The DGCA had received about 20 objections from, among others, the Federation of Indian airlines and BJP leader Subramanian Swamy. Their plea was that FDI by foreign airlines had been allowed into existing Indian airlines and not for creating JV startups.
“The government has clearly said that FDI was for both existing and startup airlines. The matter was taken to court which also ruled that it was for the government to interpret the FDI rule. So all the objections have been disposed of, and once AirAsia meets all the requirements, it will be granted an airline operator permit (AOP),” said an official. 

RaGa's anti-graft bills

Faced with intense pressure from Rahul Gandhi, the UPA government is likely to approach the President for his consent for the promulgation of ordinances on anti-corruption legislations. Sources in the Congress said the government is likely to take up the matter with the President shortly.
Rahul himself indicated that the ordinance route was on. “These bills were in national interest and we felt the opposition would help pass them. I would request the prime minister to bring ordinance on these laws, if possible,” he told reporters at Vijay Chowk, where he came to express solidarity with protestors demanding passage of legislations to fight graft and on social empowerment.
According to National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI), Rahul assured them that he would ensure that Grievances Redressal Bill, Disability Bill and Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe Prevention of Atrocity (Amendment) Bill were promulgated as ordinances.
In a statement, NCPRI, which held a Lok Sansad for the passage of these and other legislations, emphasized that there was multi-party consensus on the three bills.
There was prolonged drama on these pending bills on the last day of the 15th Lok Sabha. Congress MPs came to the well of the lower House holding placards and demanded the session be extended to pass them.
Congress sources said the party may also request the President to approve the promulgation of Prevention of Bribery of Foreign Public Officials Bill, one of the six anti-corruption legislations on Rahul’s wish list, as an ordinance.
Sources said Rahul was unhappy that barring the Whistleblowers Protection Bill, all other bills flagged by him — Right of Citizens for Time-bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Grievances Redressal Bill, Prevention of Bribery of Foreign Public Officials Bill, Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, Public Procurement Bill and Prevention of Corruption Amendment Bill — failed to get parliamentary nod. 

Somewhere near Pune

Whistleblowers Bill passed

At the very fag end of the forgettable existence of the 15th Lok Sabha, Parliament passed the Whistleblower Protection Bill. The Rajya Sabha cleared the crucial anti-corruption law a good two years after it was passed by the Lok Sabha.
The delay was not because the elders brought some new wisdom to the proposed law.
In fact, the bill, seeking to ensure the safety of those exposing corruption in the government, was passed exactly the way it was cleared by the Lower House. In any case, any amendment would have required the bill to be sent back to the Lok Sabha for approval, but the Lower House had been adjourned sine die by then.


NaMu Airport snippets

A dozen international companies have showed interest in building the Navi Mumbai International Airport at Panvel, including operators of Munich, Paris and Singapore airports.
According to sources in CIDCO, who are partners in the project, the foreign airport operators interested are Zurich Airport, Changi Airports International who operates Singapore airport and have tied up with Tata Realty and Infrastructure Ltd.
Also in the race are Frankfurt Airports - Fraport AG,Hochtief Group of Germany,a consortium of Ferrovial SA and Macquarie Group Ltd, Flughafen Munchen GmbH of Munich, AĆ©roports de Paris of France, TAV Airports Holding Company of Turkey, Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd, ADC and HAS Airports Worldwide of Texas, Abertis Infraestructuras SA of Spain and Dublin Airport Authority Plc of Ireland.
Sanjay Bhatia, CIDCO vice-chairman and MD, confirmed meetings have been lined up. “While we have met top officials of Flughafen Zurich AG, which operates Zurich Airport, meetings with other airport developers are being scheduled,” Bhatia said.
The 1,160-hectare airport will be built on a Design, Build, Finance, Operate and Transfer basis.A global tender was floated on Feb 5 for the Request For Qualification,and June 18 is the last date for applications. “We will announce the list of pre-qualified applicants for the Rs 14,574 crore project by August 5,” Bhatia said.
 While CIDCO is tight-lipped, Mumbai International Airport Ltd officials said they are very much in the race.“There’s still time to make it public,but we want to be part of this project,”an official said.GVK Group,which operates MIAL, holds the first right of refusal as it falls within 150 km of the existing one operated by them.

Nod for Green India Mission

After dithering for over two years, the government has finally approved the much awaited ‘Green India Mission’ to increase forest cover in the country and sanctioned Rs.13,000 crore for this purpose.
The money will be spent by involving locals. It will, therefore, create jobs while enhancing carbon sinks through large scale afforestation. The approval came from the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs which also cleared the proposal to converge the mission with MGNREGA and the compensatory afforestation fund. This will also generate employment in areas where authorities plan to increase forest cover. 

Of the Congress-BJP deal on T

A deal on the Telangana bill was sealed late on Wednesday evening with Congress troubleshooters agreeing to the BJP’s demand that the government make a specific commitment on Seemandhra’s post partition revenue deficit.
The Congress finalized its Telangana strategy after party managers knocked off all unviable options like sending the Andhra Pradesh Reorganization Bill back to Lok Sabha with amendments spelling out guarantees for Seemandhra.
BJP leader Arun Jaitley’s insistence that investing the AP governor with powers of law and order for Hyderabad needed a constitutional amendment was a key lever in hectic backstage negotiations over the bill.
Reluctant to take the bill back to LS and aware that a constitutional amendment needs order in the House besides two-thirds majority, Congress proposed that PM Manmohan Singh could spell out the assurances.
BJP leaders, too, knew that any brinksmanship would have to stop short of stalling the Telangana bill as that would prove politically unwise given the party’s longstanding commitment to the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh.
The saffron party felt it had reasons to feel satisfied over its crucial role in formation of Telangana while its batting for the Seemandhra cause, even at a late stage, could keep the door open for a pact with Telugu Desam Party.
The Prime Minister’s declaration that Seemandhra would get special category status along with a promise to make provisions for the “successor state” of AP in the 2014-15 budget were the concessions BJP was looking for.
Given Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s backing to Telangana, her political secretary Ahmed Patel, rural development minister Jairam Ramesh and parliamentary affairs ministers Kamal Nath and Rajiv Shukla worked to seal the deal with BJP leader Jaitley and Venkaiah Naidu.
By Thursday morning, discussions between the government and BJP narrowed to modalities to facilitate functioning of Rajya Sabha with the opposition stressing that concessions to Seemandhra be spelt out unambiguously.
By afternoon, home minister Sushil Shinde was able to tell Telangana Rashtra Samithi leader K Chandrasekhar Rao that the bill would be passed despite repeated disruptions in the upper House.
Unlike other Telangana MPs, Rao has been quite calm over the past few days, confident that Congress would need to deliver on Sonia’s commitment. He was also clear that BJP, despite some hard bargaining, would not renege on Telangana.

Harbour trains to run till Goregaon

A roadblock in extending the Harbour line network from Andheri to Goregaon station was cleared after the BEST recently handed over a portion of its land at Jogeshwari to the Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation (MRVC).
Thousands of commuters, who travel from CST to the western suburbs daily, will benefit from the extension of Harbour line services from Andheri to Goregaon. Currently, suburban trains run on the Harbour line network from CST to Andheri (via Bandra).
“The 104-sq-m plot owned by the undertaking was a hindrance to the project as it came in the way of laying new tracks,” said a BEST source. BEST general manager Om Prakash Gupta brought a proposal before the transport undertaking’s panel seeking clearance for handing over the plot for the railway project.
“The committee has cleared the proposal and we have paved the way for the extension of Andheri-Goregaon Harbour line,” said Gupta. “The work on extending the network was being undertaken by the MRVC under the MUTP-II scheme,” he added.
The project will provide much needed relief to commuters as they will get direct access from Goregaon to CST and also Panvel (using the Harbour network) in future. “The plot belonging to the BEST along the railway boundary was required for the project urgently. Since the land is transferred the work of laying tracks will be expedited,” said an MRVC source.

Rajya Sabha passes T-Bill

Telangana crossed a major hurdle on the route to becoming India’s 29th state with Parliament approving the bill to divide Andhra Pradesh in the face of repeated adjournments and continuous disruptions and sloganeering.
It was 8.05 pm on Thursday when Rajya Sabha deputy chair P J Kurien finally declared “the bill is passed”, setting off raucous celebrations among Telangana supporters in the House and in central hall where Lok Sabha MPs from the region crowded around televison sets.
There were unprecedented scenes with bitter opposition from Seemandhra MPs, supported by some regional parties, leading to a cordon of Congress MPs shielding Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday against aggressive Telangana opponents.
The announcement of Telangana in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday was greeted with loud cheers in Hyderabad as Parliament’s seal of approval makes the Telangana story practically irreversible as presidential assent and notification by gazette expected to be matters of procedure with few variables. Political jockeying over Telangana has seen the pendulum swing wildly with the Congress’s indecision putting the statehood proposal on the back burner for much of the 15th Lok Sabha, until the wheel turned afresh in last few months.
However,PM Manmohan Singh intervened to assure Seemandhra MPs about the Centre’s commitment to compensate for revenue losses due to the loss of Telangana territories.
Though they kept up their protests, Seemandhra MPs from Congress and TDP seemed increasingly reconciled to the inevitability of Telangana as they limited protests to sloganeering and holding up banners rather than physical obstruction.The TMC contingent,however, set a new precedent by placing itself strategically before every speaker in the discussion to raise slogans against Congress and BJP. 

SC stays release of Rajiv killers

The Supreme Court restrained the J Jayalalithaa government from remitting the life terms of Rajiv Gandhi assassination convicts Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan and releasing them while agreeing to hear the Centre’s application claiming that it alone had the powers to remit jail terms of the convicts in this case.
A bench of Chief Justice P Sathasivam and Justices Ranjan Gogoi and N V Ramana issued a notice to the Tamil Nadu government and asked it to maintain status quo on the three convicts till March 6.
By pointing out procedural lapses in the Tamil Nadu government’s decision to remit the sentences of the three, the Centre achieved the purpose of stalling the release of four other convicts in the case—Nalini, Robert Pious, Jayakumar and Ravichandran— whom the TN government had proposed to release after remission. That is because an identical process was followed by the state in proposing remission for all seven.
Not willing to leave anything to chance, the Centre also asked the TN government not to release the four. Also, a substantive petition specifically opposing their possible release may be filed in the SC by early next week.
After succeeding in stalling the impending release of the convicts, the Centre filed a petition in the court seeking a review of its Tuesday order commuting the death sentences of the trio.
Less than 24 hours after the TN government’s decision to remit the sentences and send the proposal for consultation to the Centre with a 72-hour deadline, the UPA government hurriedly drafted an application and placed it before the SC seeking a stay on their release. Aware of the ramifications of a hurried release of the convicts and the accompanying political one-up manship, the bench agreed to hear the Centre’s application within two hours of it being mentioned at 10.30 am.
In keeping with the Centre’s tough response to TN’s decision, solicitor general Mohan Parasaran and additional solicitor general Sidharth Luthra accused TN of throwing the procedure for grant of remission to the winds in its enthusiasm to release them. 

Kiran quits as CM

After being Andhra Pradesh’s chief minister for three years and three months, Kiran Kumar Reddy quit his gaddi and along with this also resigned as MLA and exited from the Congress party. At his farewell press conference, Kiran indicated that he would not like to continue as caretaker chief minister.
Governor ESL Narasimhan, to whom Kiran submitted his resignation, is believed to have submitted a status report to the UPA government. The options before the Centre include imposition of President’s rule and the Congress forming the government once again. The Union cabinet was to have met on Wednesday evening to decide on AP, but deferred it to Thursday.
In the evening, Kiran vacated his camp office and moved to his own accommodation in MLA Colony, Banjara Hills.
At his last press conference as CM, Kiran came down heavily on the Congress leadership for ‘dividing the Telugu people’ and ‘causing permanent damage’ to both the regions. Describing the manner in which the Telangana Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha on Tuesday as robbery, Kiran said: “Like thieves, they passed the T Bill. They stopped the live telecast of the proceedings, closed the doors of the lower House, attacked Telugu MPs and passed the Bill after entering into a secret deal with the opposition BJP.” 

BJP on Amma's decision

Bharatiya Janata Party criticised the J Jayalalithaa government’s decision to set free LTTE terrorists convicted for the conspiracy to kill former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Reacting to the controversial announcement of the Tamil Nadu CM, BJP leader Arun Jaitley said, “The degree of compassion that different institutions have shown towards the killers of a former prime minister is disappointing.”
Jaitley further said, “I am, in fact, quite distressed by the development.”
The BJP leader’s reference to “institutions” was interpreted in the context of Supreme Court’s judgment to commute the death sentence of three convicted for Rajiv’s assassination on the ground of inordinate delay in the execution of capital punishment.
Significantly, BJP’s stand was almost identical to Congress’s at a time when the two parties have been holding divergent views on a range of issues.

Dholera Airport update

The greenfield project for an international airport near Dholera — 129 km from Ahmedabad — has been downsized by 50% to suit the new Draft Development Plan for the airport. The reduction in size of the airport comes almost eight years after it was first proposed. Though it is among the most ambitious projects of the Modi government, work on it is yet to begin.
A new international airport at Dholera was first proposed in 2006-07 but it has not yet got all the necessary clearances. A week back, it got a key clearance certificate from the ministry of defence on the basis of which state government hopes to acquire other approvals for the project.
A senior government official associated with the project said on the condition of anonymity that, initially, the project was planned on 2,800 hectares. “But now the project area has been halved to around 1400 hectares. Earlier, the plan was to have four runaways but now the airport will have only two. ,” the officer said.
The government official confirmed that the ministry of defence had given the project its crucial clearance. “On that basis of that, we will get clearance from the Union ministry of civil aviation. The Airports Authority of India (AAI) is in the final stages of submitting a revised draft development plan. On the basis of this plan the state government will conduct an environment impact assessment (EIA) and also apply for site clearance from the Union ministry of environment & forests. We hope to get clearance in the next few months,” the official said.
According to sources, the project will be implemented through public-private partnership (PPP). “Hence, we are simultaneously preparing to invite expressions of interest (EOI) from private investors. We hope to get a good response,’’ a source said.
The capacity of the international airport at Ahmedabad, which has registered the highest annual growth in traffic, is expected get saturated much before the year 2020.

GIFT update

After a long wait, Gujarat International Finance Tec-city (GIFT) finally took the first significant step towards becoming a financial hub. Five firms, including Tata Communications, World Trade Centre and State Bank of India (SBI), were on Wednesday handed over letters of allotment to start operations here.
With the investment of Rs.600 crore, World Trade Centre Association (WTCA) will develop Gujarat’s first WTC for financial and allied services which will be operational at GIFT City over the next three years. The WTC will be built by Singapore-based private equity firm Viridian Group.
SBI will set up a commercial tower while Tata Communications Ltd is setting up India’s largest green data centre which will provide services including cloud services, colocation, managed hosting and other managed services to customers in GIFT and outside at competitive rates. Chief minister Narendra Modi interacted with about 50 top executives from almost all leading banks, insurance companies and financial firms at the event.
Announced during the Vibrant Gujarat summit in 2007, the GIFT city project was under criticism for not being able to pull in investors. State government officials cited the global financial crisis in 2008 and subsequent aftershocks for lack of investor interest. 

Congress on Amma's move to free Rajiv's killers

The Congress condemned Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s decision to release seven Rajiv Gandhi killers as “perverse” and said no relief should be given to the former Prime Minister’s assassins.
Barely hours after the Tamil Nadu cabinet took the decision, AICC spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said, “The Congress condemns unequivocally such irrational decisions by constitutional functionaries.”
He added, “Every state has powers of remission but these powers are to be exercised by constitutional functionaries in the light of rules and regulations and the spirit of any judicial order.” He dubbed the TN decision as “irresponsible, populist and perverse” and warned of a judicial challenge.
AICC general secretary Ajay Maken said the state’s decision “to suit sectarian vested interests” would set a bad precedent for other chief ministers to take unlawful decisions that are politically motivated.
“By doing so, the government of Tamil Nadu has not only denied basic justice to the families of all those who lost their dear ones in the ghastly attack carried out by the convicted assassins but has also shaken the faith of every law-abiding, peace-loving and patriotic Indian who believes in the rule of law,” he said, adding that the release would put a question mark on the national resolve to fight terrorism.
Singhvi said the nation cannot forget that it lost its once constitutional head of the government, Rajiv Gandhi, and 17 citizens in what was a terrorist attack. He also said that many of those who died in the attack were Tamils.
 The Congress dissociated itself from finance minister and Tamil Nadu MP P Chidambaram for saying he was “not unhappy” with the decision to release the convicts. “This is his personal view, the Congress party condemns the decision,” he said. Interestingly, the Congress asked why the BJP was silent on the issue when it was baying for the blood of Afzal Guru. Finance minister P Chidambaram said he was “not unhappy” with Tamil Nadu government’s decision to release the convicts in Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, a remark that brought sharp rebuke from the Congress.
“I am not unhappy,” Chidambaram said, when asked for his reaction to the state government’s decision. Asked to explain what he meant by “not unhappy”, the finance minister said, “Our grief arises out of the brutal killing of Rajiv Gandhi and if the court says that imprisonment of 22 years is sufficient and leaves it to the executive government to decide, that’s it.”


BJP backs Telangana Bill in Lok Sabha

A determined Congress managed to secure the Lok Sabha’s nod for the creation of Telangana amid din raised by a group of protesting MPs and an unprecedented TV blackout of the proceedings.
Interestingly, the passage of the Andhra Pradesh Reorganization Bill was facilitated by the BJP which overcame resistance from an influential section within to stick to its pro-Telangana stand.
Parliamentary approval for the legislation will clear the way for the division of Andhra Pradesh and the creation of Telangana as the 29th state of the Union.
The significant moment was, however, marred by a mysterious TV blackout of the debate, which was slammed by almost all parties as “undemocratic”.
Even as criticism of the abrupt suspension of live telecast of the 90-minute-long debate poured in from all quarters, why Lok Sabha TV, which has monopoly rights over the telecast of proceedings, went blank remained wrapped in mystery. The Lok Sabha secretariat later blamed the blackout on a “technical glitch”. However, the belated defence was dismissed, with leader of opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj insisting that the disruption of live coverage was a “tactical glitch”.
Although the demand for Telangana is six decades old, the campaign has verged on fruition now only because of the Congress’s determination to sweep 17 Lok Sabha seats in the Telangana region. The party wavered endlessly over the issue before the fear of rout in Andhra Pradesh after the death of former CM YS Rajasekhara Reddy impelled party strategists to tilt decisively towards conferring statehood on Telangana.
The Congress has already opened talks with K Chandrasekhar Rao of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi in the hope that the alliance will sweep the region, helping it salvage a chunk out of its fallen fortress of AP.
BJP’s support to the Bill was crucial and snuffed out the hopes of Telangana opponents -- from TDP leader N Chandrababu Naidu and YSR Congress chief Jaganmohan Reddy to Congress’s own rebel Seemandhra contingent. Apart from its consistent advocacy for Telangana, the BJP supported the Bill because it, increasingly confident of its prospects in the coming elections, did not want to inherit the “mess” created by Congress.
“We did not want this festering issue to spoil the honeymoon for a government that we may possibly form,” said a senior leader when asked why the party chose to support the Bill even after Congress spurned their three demands.
The BJP had demanded explicit commitment in the legislation to compensate Seemandhra for the loss of revenue-rich Hyderabad, for treating the legislation as a constitutional amendment bill and for revoking the suspension of Seemandhra MPs to promote reconciliation between the two warring regions of AP.
BJP’s support meant that numbers were not a problem even if the handful of Seemandhra MPs were to continue their protests despite the suspension of a bulk of anti-T bloc after the violence in the lower House last week.
Home minister Sushilkumar Shinde announced that the government would give a special financial package for Seemandhra region -- an attempt to placate the BJP.
The Bill was taken up for voting after Swaraj made a brief speech in which she slammed the Congress for dragging the issue for 10 years and Congress minister Jaipal Reddy credited Sonia Gandhi for fulfilling the dreams of the Telangana region.
The voice vote on the amendments moved by the government and Trinamool Congress and MIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi were taken up amid loud sloganeering led by MPs of CPM. Though the Congress ministers and members from Seemandhra were in the Well for the duration of the debate, it was more of posturing than a full throated bid to stall the legislation. 

Discover Pondicherry

Of India & Italy....

Accusing India of behaving in an ambiguous and unreliable manner on the issue of its two marines charged with murdering a couple of fishermen off Kerala, Italy has called its ambassador Daniele Mancini to Rome “for consultations’’.
It also summoned Indian ambassador to Italy Basant Gupta to register a strong protest against the manner in which the trial in the Supreme Court has been delayed. After the court postponed the case for hearing on February 24, the Italian foreign ministry said it was “yet another unacceptable, deliberate delay” and recalled Mancini.
Foreign ministry secretary general Michele Valensise conveyed to Gupta that the case showed “an Indian desire to draw out the affair beyond all limits”. “The Indian judicial authorities’ delaying tactics — two years on from the incident — are unacceptable and indicate an Indian desire to procrastinate beyond all limits,” said the Italian official in a statement, according to Italian news agency ANSA.
Foreign minister Emma Bonino said Italy “will continue and intensify action to defend its sovereign rights in line with international law”. This is the second time Italy is recalling its ambassador in connection with the case.
A decision on whether the two Italian marines should be charged under anti-piracy laws — mandating death penalty — will be taken by law minister Kapil Sibal in two to three days, the Supreme Court was told on Tuesday. The Centre is to file an affidavit by Friday.
Italy said the decision to recall the ambassador reflected the feelings of the Italian people. In New Delhi, official sources said the ministry of external affairs has not been informed by Italy about the move. “There is no need for the Italian government to inform MEA if they are calling their ambassador for consultations,” an official said.
Italy has registered strong protest against India for slapping the provisions of the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against Safety of Maritime Navigation and Fixed Platforms on Continental Shelf (SUA) Act against the marines, asserting that these provisions are slapped against pirates and its marines are not pirates.
Italy has also lobbied with the European Union and the United Nations in this regard. 

China overtakes India as top gold consumer

China has overtaken India as the world’s largest gold consumer, according to a World Gold Council report. While Chinese consumers lapped up 1,066 tonnes of gold products in 2013, their Indian counterparts bought 975 tonnes, up 13% from 2012, the report said. India’s demand came down to 974.8 tonnes following curbs imposed by the government to tame hunger for the precious metal, according to WGC’s ‘Gold Demand Trend 2013’. 


It's Nilekani from Bangalore South

The Congress Election Committee (CEC) headed by AICC president Sonia Gandhi has re-nominated all nine sitting MPs from Karnataka besides finalizing the name of Nandan Nilekani for Bangalore South.
Besides Bangalore South, the CEC cleared candidates for two constituencies Congress is looking to wrest from BJP. Laxmi Hebbalkar who has been given the ticket to contest from Belgaum heads the Belgaum Rural Congress unit. A postgraduate in political science, Hebbalkar (38) had lost the 2013 assembly election from Belgaum Rural. The party is fielding former judge N Y Hanumanthappa from Bellary. He had lost from the same constituency in 2009. Congress hopes to regain Bellary which was its bastion before it was captured by the Reddy brothers.
Nilekani who heads the UIDAI has begun campaigning in Bangalore South where he takes on BJP’s HN Ananth Kumar. Sources said the CEC cleared N Dharam Singh (Bidar), Mallikarjun M Kharge (Gulbarga), M Veerappa Moily (Chikkballapur), K H Muniyappa (Kolar), K Jayaprakash Hegde (Udupi-Chikmagalur) among others. H Vishwanath (Mysore), D K Suresh (Bangalore Rural), Ramya (Mandya) and N Dhruvanarayan (Chamarajanagar).
The state election committee had recommended veteran B Janardhana Poojary for Mangalore.

Centre to raise HC Judge strength

The Centre has agreed to increase the strength of high court judges by 25%, responding quickly to Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam’s hard-hitting letter to the prime minister predicting doom for judiciary in the absence of adequate number of hands to deal with monstrous pendency.
Law minister Kapil Sibal has written to chief justices of high courts to immediately start consultations with state governments for putting up adequate infrastructure that would be required after the Centre sanctions 25% increase over the present judge strength of 906 in 24 HCs.
This would entail an increase of around 225 judges in the HCs, which cumulatively face a pendency of around 40 lakh cases. Against a sanctioned strength of 906 judges, over 200 posts are lying vacant. The law minister’s decision at this juncture assumes significance, this being an election year.
The CJI in his letter had reminded the PM about the April 2013 joint conference of chief ministers and chief justices of HCs where then law minister Ashwani Kumar had stated that PM Manmohan Singh had, in principle, agreed to immediately expand the sanctioned strength of HC judges by 25%.
Finding that nothing had been done on this front, the CJI wrote. “It needs no mention that parallel extra-constitutional courts and khaps have, in the recent past, come into existence, and have been passing orders and decrees. Cases relating thereto have also been filed in the SC,” the CJI had said.

Kejriwal on being business friendly

After registering a police compliant against Reliance chief Mukesh Ambani, Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal  sought to allay industry concerns by saying his party was against crony capitalism, not capitalism. The former CM went to the extent of contradicting party leader Prashant Bhushan to assure industry leaders that AAP was not against private enterprise.
“We are not against capitalism, but we are against crony capitalism. It is a cause of concern when spectrum worth Rs 1.5 lakh crore is purchased and sold for Rs 6,000 crore within one week. This is not called business, it is called dacoity,” he said while sharing AAP’s economic plan at a CII event.
He also said it was not the business of government to do business, but rather focus on governance and create enabling policies. He listed three factors that would encourage business including simplifying taxes and processes, creating an enabling policy environment and reducing litigation.
The AAP chief said that a corruption-free government could also help businesses grow and his party was committed to making India free of corruption.

SC attains full strength

Chief justices of the Madras and Delhi high courts — Justices Rajesh Kumar Agrawal and Nuthapati Venkata Ramana — were sworn in as judges of the Supreme Court, enabling the highest court to attain its full sanctioned strength of 31 judges, including the Chief Justice of India.
CJI P Sathasivam administered the oath of office to Justices Agrawal and Ramana in a packed court room No.1. At the customary, post-swearing in tea gathering, the CJI was reluctant to take the entire credit for the quick filling of vacancies to help the SC achieve full strength of judges.
Justice Sathasivam, who has set an enviable record for quick pronouncement of judgments, said equal credit must go to law minister Kapil Sibal, central government and the judges in the collegium for completing the process of appointment to vacant posts

De-allocation of Coal Blocks

The coal ministry has accepted the recommendation of an inter-ministerial group (IMG) and issued formal letters for de-allocating 29 blocks on the grounds of squatting, including those given to Essar Power, Hindalco, Tata Power and Jindal Steel and Power Ltd.
The group had recommended that no action should be taken in case of 30 other mines.
The IMG recommended de-allocation of Chakla and Ashok Karkatta coal blocks in Jharkhand allocated to Essar Power; Tubed coal block in Jharkhand jointly allocated to Hindalco Industries and Tata Power and Gare Palma IV/6 in Chhattisgarh jointly allotted to firms like JSPL and Nalwa Sponge Iron Ltd, among others, according to a coal ministry document.
While in the case of two coal blocks — Kotre Basantpur and Pachmo in Jharkhand — allocated to Tata Steel, the IMG has recommended that the mines are “liable to be de-allocated” and the “decision (on the same) to be taken by the government in view of the court case,” the document said.
The document, however,said no action at present was being taken against coal blocks of companies like Jayaswal Neco Ltd, Jas Infrastructure Capital Ltd, JSW Steel, JLD Yavatmal Energy Ltd and Balco, among others. The IMG on coal blocks, which met for two days on February 7 and 8, reviewed the progress of development of 61 blocks.