Sunday, February 27, 2011

THE HINDU

Online edition of India's National Newspaper
Saturday, Feb 26, 2011

Bangalore does not get commuter rail again

Staff Reporter

The Railway Budget 2011-12 presented by Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee may have won many bouquets for its munificence on Karnataka, but the absence of any reference to the State's demand for commuter rail system has come in for criticism.

Though the State had been fervently seeking a commuter rail system for Bangalore to complement other modes of public transport such as the bus and Metro, the Railway Ministry's failure to include the proposal in the budget has come as a disappointment to not only the Bangalore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCIC) but also the Citizens Action Forum.

While the Minister announced the setting up of a special purpose vehicle for commuter rail to Kolkata, which had a Metro service operated by the Railways, no similar gesture was shown to Bangalore. This is despite t

he State Government promising to share the cost or arrange a public-private partnership for the initiative.

In a statement, N. Mukund from the Citizens Action Forum said the demand for commuter rail for Bangalore should have been considered on the lines of MRVC of Mumbai. The fact that Ms. Banerjee did not visit Karnataka since she became the Railway Minister could have prevented her from sensing the actual requirements of the State, he quipped.

Bangalore Chamber of Industry and Commerce (BCIC) welcomed the budget and said some novel features had been announced to initiate reforms and modernisation to make railway services more contemporary. The chamber appreciated the Minister for providing the highest outlay of Rs. 57,630 crore which, it feels, will make most of the proposals a reality. The chamber also congratulated the Minister for introducing several new trains for Karnataka, according to a release.

The former Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy has criticised the Railway Budget for “ignoring” Karnataka. “It appears Karnataka does not exist on the map of India for the UPA Government,” Mr. Kumaraswamy said in a statement.

C. Sunish, General Secretary of South Western Railway Zone's All India Loco Running Staff Association, regretted the silence of the budget on relieving the human element from stress and strain of overworking. While the worldwide working hours for railway pilots are kept at 36 hours a week or six hours a day, in India, the railway pilots are forced to work at least 10 hours a day, he regretted.

He also criticised the Minister's hesitation to increase the passenger fares commensurate with diesel price hike. While concessions had to be limited, the budget expanded the scope of concessions, he rued. Reduction in ticket booking charges will affect revenues, he said.


· ‘The demand should have been considered'

· ‘Novel features will make services contemporary'

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/article1491527.ece

THE HINDU

Challenges galore on Railways' track to growth

K. Balchand

In 2011-12 budget, Mamata Banerjee has to make a fresh attempt at restoring the authority of Railway Board

The challenges before the Railways are mounting. The performance of this giant public-sector carrier is below expectations, and bleak prospects make the picture look more dismal.

The extraneous factors apart, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, if her critics are to be believed, is to blame, to some extent, for putting the Railways in a difficult situation. The balance sheet had gone astray in 2009-10 itself, but few corrective measures seem to have been initiated.

In the 2011-12 budget, Ms. Banerjee has a task: to explain why things have gone wrong in the past two years of her second tenure; and to make a fresh attempt at restoring the rightful authority of the Railway Board which has allegedly been rendered redundant.

It is no surprise that the performance, at both the physical and policy levels, have become a matter of concern to the Planning Commission as well as the Prime Minister, as the Railways don't seem geared up to meet the needs of the growing economy. Construction of new track, electrification and gauge conversion are short of the target. On the operational side, goods carriage has been so tardy that the only way to rake in the budgeted revenue is by increasing cargo fares, including those for transporting some essential items, affecting the common man already reeling under the high inflation.

Things have come to such a pass that the Railways have not made any headway in achieving the Vision 2020 goals; or whatever endeavour it has made has not yielded any result. Things are back to square one even two years after the document was released.

Ms. Banerjee set up a committee of experts, ignoring the Railway Board's objection that the panel would undermine its authority.

The chairman of the committee called the shots at crucial meetings with business leaders, where the Board members, including its chairman, looked hapless. The worst part is that the committee has failed to deliver; officials don't hesitate to say that it has caused an immense damage to the Railways' growth and morale.

The committee has failed to rope in the private sector and mobilise resources for projects, while the other public-private participation initiatives — establishing world-class stations and manufacture of locomotive, coaches and wagon at Kanchrapara and Dankuni in West Bengal — have not made any progress worth the name, says an internal status paper.

The projects at Madhepura and Marhaura in Bihar too are still in the bidding stage. These projects require Rs.3,423 crore. Even the proposed power plant at Adra, West Bengal, at an estimated cost of Rs.7000 crore, is still on the drawing board; the Railway Board still examines the feasibility report.

To make amends, Ms. Banerjee silently set up a committee of officials to prepare a fresh way ahead and draw up new projects. This committee has submitted its report, which is under the consideration of the Board. Ms. Banerjee is likely to reveal it in her budget speech. Capacity-building and cutting fuel cost remains thorny issues.

Moreover, Ms. Banerjee has not been able to find the resources needed to finance the proposed projects. Her repeated entreaties to the Prime Minister, the Finance Minister and the Planning Commission have not found the kind of favour she would have expected: only a marginal increase in the budgetary support has been promised.

If the projects have not come up for lack of funds, there are accusations that funds have been diverted. Officials are tight-lipped. Even the socially desirable projects have not received any priority. Development and capital funds did not receive notable allocations in the 2010-11 budget. Safety and security too have suffered.

The promised safety devices, including an anti-collision device, have not been put in place, though fog affected punctuality and caused a spate of accidents, especially in Ms. Banerjee's home State of West Bengal.

The Sainthia accident in July that left 60 persons dead exposed a chink in the armour of the Railway Board. The Chairman, who doubles as Member, Traffic, was on a foreign trip, leaving officials in the lower echelons to cope with the situation. And the Board functioned all through the year with the post of several members remaining vacant.

One hopes Ms. Banerjee reposes more faith in the otherwise well-oiled machinery of the Railways and presents a budget that will have something to write home about.

http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article1484375.ece

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Hindu

Online edition of India's National Newspaper
Thursday, Feb 17, 2011

‘Include doubling of trunk routes in rail budget'

Anil Kumar Sastry

A circular train between Hubli-Bangalore also demanded




BANGALORE: Doubling of trunk railway routes between Bangalore–Miraj, Bangalore–Guntakal, Bangalore–Mysore and Bangalore–Dharmapuri are among the several demands put forth by the State Government, industrial and trade Union bodies from the State for inclusion in the Railway Budget.

Unless these already saturated trunk routes are doubled and electrified, introduction of new trains on the existing tracks will be difficult, according to the former member of Zonal Rail Users' Consultative Coordination Committees of Southern and South Western Railways, Prakash Mandoth.

He said South Western Railways (SWR) and Karnataka had not been receiving a fair budgetary allocation, despite making substantial contribution to the revenue of the Railways. Also, the State Government was willing to share 50 per cent of the project costs, Mr. Mandoth told The Hindu.

If the Ministry of Railways and the Railway Board did not give preferential treatment to the demands of Karnataka, the State's railway network would remain poor in comparison to other south Indian States, he warned.

Echoing a similar concern, general secretary of the All-India Loco Running Staff Association, SWR, C. Sunish said doubling of trunk routes, electrification and constructing new lines on routes of economic significance were the need of the hour.

The State Government too had already made its demands clear to the Railway Ministry.

New trains

Mr. Mandoth said there was need for new train services that include superfast train from Bangalore to Mumbai; daily train to Shirdi or Aurangabad; trains to Jammu, Varanasi, Amritsar, Dehradun and Indore; daily service to Belgaum; Garib Rath to Solapur to cater to the Hyderabad Karnataka people; direct train to Karwar; Hubli–Hyderabad service; Hubli–Bangalore circular train service via Londa, Madgaon, Karwar, Mangalore, Hassan, Bangalore and Hubli, and commuter rail service for Bangalore.

He said immediate attention should be given to doubling of track between Tumkur–Miraj; Bangalore–Guntakal and Bangalore–Dharmapuri, as these lines were already saturated. Doubling of lines would not only facilitate introduction of more passenger trains, but also speed up movement of goods trains, Mr. Mandoth noted.

Also, the new line between Hubli and Ankola should be given priority, he demanded. New Railway divisions in Gulbarga and Mangalore under SWR, pending for long time, should be sanctioned, he urged.

Mr. Sunish said that all trains originating and reaching Bangalore should be given stops at stations along the periphery of the city to prevent passengers' travel by road within the city.

The Bangalore–Devanahalli line should be doubled and electrified to run regular train to the international airport, he said. Mr. Sunish noted that speedy completion of Kadur–Chikmagalur–Sakaleshpur line would reduce the distance between Hubli and Mangalore.

A new line should be built between Mysore and Thalaserry via Kadakola, Suragur and Mananthavadi.

He also demanded re-routing of the 11097/ 98 Pune–Ernakulam Poornima Express via Hubli, Arsikere, Hassan, Mangalore instead of Londa and Madgaon and introduction of direct train between Hubli and Mangalore.

Meanwhile, the other demands which have come up ahead of the Railway budget include reasonable modification of passenger fares in view of diesel price hike; restriction on unwarranted concessions, namely, Izzat monthly pass etc; filling vacancies in critical and top posts.

Mr. Sunish felt that important sectors should not be handed over to private sector in the name of PPP.

He emphasised the importance of strict financial discipline and increase in Garib Rath passenger fares to include bed roll charges.


The Hindu-

Feb 17,2011

Unpersuasive interaction

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's 70-minute interaction with editors of television channels, which was telecast live, is an event of some political significance. It has come at a time when the United Progressive Alliance government is besieged by corruption scandals and issues arising from governance and ethical deficits, policy muddles, and coalition woes. Reaching out to a large national audience by having a free and open interaction with informed journalists is a politically smart idea. But this assumes that the leader has a strong message to communicate and can do it persuasively. Wednesday's event was worthwhile in that we got to know a little more about what has been going on in Dr. Singh's mind than we did before this ‘conversation.' Unfortunately, the terms and format of the interaction imposed severe limitations on the depth of questioning by not allowing any real focus on the key issues raised by the television journalists. But that was not the real problem with the Prime Minister's performance on live television. He had no strong and clear message to communicate on any of the critical issues troubling the people of India — corruption, inflation, livelihood and other economic issues — and therefore failed to persuade.

Dr. Singh did well to announce unequivocally the government's “sovereign policy decision,” even if taken rather late in the day, to go for annulment of the indefensible Antrix-Devas S-band deal. But on the issue at the top of political India's mind — the 2G spectrum allocation scam, where the kingpin, a former Cabinet colleague, is in the custody of the Central Bureau of Investigation and will soon be charge-sheeted, and various others, including those in high places, are presumably being investigated for their misdeeds — he was anything but convincing. Facing questions on how and why he as Prime Minister, who was in communication with Telecom Minister A. Raja in 2007-2008, allowed the so-called First Come, First Served policy of 2G spectrum allocation to go through, he essentially washed his hands of the affair, which resulted in a revenue loss of tens of thousands of crores of rupees. Dr. Singh's defence is four-legged: (a) Mr. Raja, the Telecom Ministry, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, the Telecom Commission, and eventually even the Finance Ministry were of “the same view,” namely that “auctions ...[were] not the way forward as far as 2G spectrum ... [was] concerned”; (b) “at that moment, there was no reason to feel that anything wrong had been done”; (c) was the presumptive loss a real ‘loss'? and (d) in any case, coalition compulsions made his party accept its ally's choice of Cabinet Ministers and presumably their ways. This amounts to evading the key issue of prime ministerial accountability for high-stake Cabinet decisions in a parliamentary form of government.

23rd February March to Parliament - Why ?

The working class of the country is gearing up for a major struggle against the anti-worker and anti- people policies of the Government. All the central trade unions who have called for the 23rd February ‘March to Parliament’ have started preparations in right earnest. The reports from different states and industrial federations indicate that the workers are responding enthusiastically to the call and the targets set are expected to be surpassed. The 23rd February ‘March to Parliament’ is indeed going to be a milestone in the history of the working class of India.

Why?

Because the demands raised by the trade unions touch the day to day lives of all sections of workers and also the fact that all the major trade unions have been unanimous in raising these demands. The struggle is not for any increase in the wages or other monetary benefits of the workers but for a reversal of the policies of the government which are adversely impacting the working and living conditions of not only the entire working class but also all the other sections of the toiling masses.

Right to Food

The first and foremost demand is for immediate steps by the Government to control the continuous price rise of all the essential commodities, particularly food articles. Even dal and roti, the staple food of the poor, have gone beyond their reach. It is not the seasonal ups and downs in production and demand that are responsible for the rise in the prices but the policies pursued by the government. Despite the FCI godowns overflowing with 5.7 crore tonnes of food grains, the government has refused to distribute them at cheaper rates through the PDS, which would have helped in bringing down the market prices.

The report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Right to Food has made it clear that the increase in the prices of food commodities was due to the entry of big powerful investors in speculative trade, i.e. the futures and forward trading. In less than one year, the volume of trade in commodity market has grown by more than 102% though their production has increased by only 3-4%. But the government refuses to ban forward and futures trading in order to protect the windfall profits of the corporates and big business houses.

The deregulation of petrol price by the UPA II Government and its intention to deregulate the prices of diesel and cooking gas, the repeated increase in the price of petrol - seven times in the last six months - have further contributed to the price rise. The overwhelming majority of the workers including the unorganised sector workers, the anganwadi employees, ASHAs, mid day meal workers, domestic workers, construction workers etc, the poor peasants, agricultural workers etc find that their real incomes are being eroded due to the steep rise in the prices.

Implementation of Labour Laws

Any citizen of the country is bound to abide by the laws of the land. Common people are penalised for even minor infringements like violation of traffic rules. Severe restrictions are imposed on the workers and the common people even on exercising their basic rights, like the right to protest etc. In many cities today, wall writing, display of banners, buntings, and flags at public places are not allowed; and restrictions are being imposed by the courts on demonstrations, rallies etc.

However, the laws of the land apparently do not apply to the employers. The government and its law enforcement machinery has become totally subservient to the corporates, domestic as well as foreign, protecting them even in cases of gross violations of labour laws. The 8 hour work day, minimum wages, social security benefits, the right to organisation and collective bargaining, the Contract Labour Abolition Act etc were all won by the working class, through decades of hard struggles. But, today all these laws are violated with impunity by the employers. In the industrial centres in and around Delhi, the national capital, a 12 hour work day has become the norm; workers are forced to work on contract basis for decades without any security and without being regularised. Earlier, the company managers often used to deploy ‘goondas’ to intimidate the workers and to break the unions; but now, ‘goondas’ are being employed as managers and are moving around brandishing pistols and arms. No safety rules are implemented. Hundreds of workers continue to die in industrial accidents, be it the BALCO chimney collapse, fires in Agra shoe companies, in Bhushan Steel or construction workers, including those employed in the prestigious Delhi Metro project and in the construction related activities of the Commonwealth games.

Contractorisation and outsourcing have become the order of the day, not only in the private sector but also in public sector undertakings and government departments, both central and state. Millions of workers are at present employed as contract workers in regular jobs, to perform work of a permanent nature. These workers are paid miserably low wages and have no social security benefits, thus creating a situation where two types of workers work side by side in an enterprise, doing the same job but getting highly unequal wages and benefits, thereby creating rifts among the workers.

Whether it is Honda in Gurgaon and Liberty in Karnal in Haryana or Hyundai, Foxconn, Build Your Dreams in Chennai, or Hero cycles in Ludhiana or Mahindra and Mahindra in Nasik, mass scale victimisation and repression are let loose on the workers when they try to organise and demand implementation of their basic rights. An overwhelming majority of the struggles by the workers and the labour disputes today are not related to any new demands by the working class but to the implementation of existing labour laws.

Instead of ensuring implementation of the labour laws, the governments in several states, except those in the Left ruled states of West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, are resorting to the most brutal police repression on the workers and their union leaders. It is not the employers who are punished for not implementing the laws but the trade union leaders who are punished for demanding their implementation. The most recent example is the handcuffing and imprisonment of A Soundararajan, Secretary of CITU and the General Secretary of its Tamil Nadu state committee for leading the fight of the Foxconn workers.

Employment

The third demand highlighted by the joint movement of the trade unions pertains to employment. According to the Employment Survey conducted by the Labour Bureau, unemployment has reached an alarming proportion of 9.4%. In addition to this, underemployment is a serious problem in our country as the poor cannot afford to remain to be unemployed as they do not get any unemployment allowance. Lakhs of workers, particularly in the export oriented sectors, have lost their jobs due to the global economic crisis during last two years. Many sectors, like the handloom and textile sectors, which provide employment to lakhs of workers, are still facing a serious situation resulting in loss of employment to large numbers of workers. But the government has not taken any action either to create jobs or even to protect the existing jobs.

The trade unions have demanded that job protection should be made conditional for extending stimulus packages for industry impacted by the global economic crisis. But though the government has extended lakhs of crores of rupees worth of incentives to the big corporates on the pretext of the global economic crisis, and has decided to continue them even now, it has not taken any measures either to protect the jobs of the workers ot to create new jobs for the unemployed.

Social Security

The UPA I government enacted the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act in 2008, on the eve of the Lok Sabha elections. Much hype was generated on providing social security to the unorganised sector workers who constitute 94% of the workers in the country. More than two years down the line, what have the unorganised sector workers gained from this Act? No specific social welfare scheme has been formulated under the Act till now. Only ten existing social welfare schemes have been annexed to the Act and were supposed to cover the unorganised sector workers. Most of these are confined to BPL sections only. With the income criteria norms of the Planning Commission being fixed at ridiculously low levels of around Rs 11 per day in rural areas and Rs 16 per day for urban areas, 90% of the unorganised sector workers are excluded from the purview of these welfare schemes. The government has allotted a meagre amount of Rs 1000 crores in the last Budget for the National Fund for the unorganised sector workers. But till now no concrete welfare measure has been identified for spending even this amount.

Though the National Social Security Board (NSSB) constituted as per the Act has unanimously recommended that all the unorganised sector workers in the country should be provided floor level social security that includes old age pension, health and maternity benefits, and accident insurance, and that adequate fund should be created to ensure social security benefits to all the unorganised sector workers, the government has not yet taken any concrete decision on this. It has only decided to extend the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY) to some segments of the unorganised sector workers. Even in this case, it has not taken any action on the NSSB recommendation to include the Anganwadi employees and ASHAs under the RSBY.

Disinvestment - Sale of Public Assets

The UPA II government has fast tracked the disinvestment process. It was not that the UPA I government under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the prime architect of the neo liberal globalisation initiated by a Congress government in the country, had any intention of strengthening the public sector. But the strong opposition from the Left, on whose support it depended for its survival, had forced the UPA I to abandon the disinvestment it had announced in BHEL and Neyveli Lignite Corporation. With no such constraints in the 15th Lok Sabha, the UPA II has already disinvested shares in Sutlej Jal Vidyut Nigam, Engineers India Limited, National Mineral Development Corporation, National Hydro Power Corporation, National Thermal Power Corporation, Rural Electrification Corporation and Coal India Limited. Disinvestment in Power Grid Corporation, Manganese Ore India Limited, Shipping Corporation, and Hindustan Copper are next in line to be followed by follow on offers in Indian Oil Corporation, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation and Steel Authority of India Limited. The government wants to earn Rs 59000 crores through this process of selling public assets in this financial year itself.

The predominant role of public sector in our economy is also being consciously reduced, as in the case of BSNL and Air India, by unrestricted entry of private corporates in these sectors. A similar fate awaits ONGC, NTPC, IOC, BPCL and HPCL in the fields of natural gas production, power generation and oil sectors.

Almost all these public sector units are in strategic sectors like minerals, power, oil, infrastructure etc. They have been contributing to the development of self reliance for our country and in protecting our sovereignty. They have been contributing huge amounts of money to the public exchequer through taxes, dividends etc. They have huge reserves which could have been utilised to expand their capacity which in turn would generate employment. But the government, is not bothered about the self reliance and sovereignty of our country. Our precious natural resources including mines, are being handed over to private corporates including the multinational corporations. Can the working class be a silent spectator to such loot of the nation’s assets by private national and multinational corporations?

Despite the continuous joint campaign during the past one and a half years on the above demands, during which the trade unions have organised different forms of struggles to highlight the above demands of the workers including an all India Protest Day, State level rallies etc and the unprecedented All India general strike on 7th September 2010, the UPA II government has remained arrogantly insensitive to these demands. It is in this situation that the ‘March to Parliament’ is being organised on 23rd February 2011, in which, as per reports from different states, more than ten lakh workers will be participating.

Through this historic march the working class will give a jolt to the government and brace itself for more intensive struggles if the government continues to be insensitive to the plight of the common people.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Behind the S-band spectrum scandal

Every well-informed schoolchild knows this is rising India's Age of Uninterrupted Scams. No government before the present United Progressive Alliance regime has had to deal with such a dizzying succession of exposés of corruption scandals — 2G spectrum, the Commonwealth Games, Adarsh Housing, money laundering, and the rest that have come tumbling out. The latest in the series is the Indian Space Research Organisation's deal — hatched in secret and sought to be covered up over a period of six years — to launch two customer-specific satellites and give away 70 MHz of high-value S-band for unfettered commercial exploitation at a scandalously low price of just over Rs 1000 crore to a private company, Devas Multimedia Private Limited. The transaction and its implications were first exposed by Business Line, the business daily of The Hindu group, in a detailed report published on May 31, 2010.

Despite Telecommunications Minister Kapil Sibal's defence of the indefensible, enough is known about the 2G spectrum allocation scam to place it at the top of the list of independent India's corruption scandals. But what is the essence of the S-band spectrum deal concluded in January 2005 between ISRO's commercial arm, Antrix Corporation, and Devas Multimedia which, it turns out, was born of an incestuous relationship with India's space programme? The agreement (the full text is available under Resources at www.thehindu.com) relates to two customer-specific satellites, GSat-6 and GSat 6-A, which ISRO is contractually committed to design, build, and launch in order to make available to Devas the S-band spectrum for commercialising a range of multimedia, broadband services across India. What is special about the S-band, which is defined as radio waves with frequencies that range from 2 GHz to 4 GHz? According to “The 2.6 GHz Spectrum Band: Unique Opportunity to Realize Global Mobile Broadband,” a 2009 report prepared for the GSM Association: “As mobile voice and data traffic increases, wireless operators around the world will require additional spectrum. However, as a finite public commodity, few bands remain available for new allocation to mobile wireless services and even fewer exist for global harmonisation of wireless spectrum assets. The 2.6 GHz band is one exception. The 2.6 GHz band (2500-2690 MHz), sometimes also referred as the 2.5 GHz band, was allocated by the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) in 2000 for terrestrial mobile communications services. The band provides an opportunity to meet rapidly rising demand for capacity to deliver mobile broadband services on a widespread, common basis across the world.”

Armed with secret knowledge of what ISRO could do for it by launching customer-specific satellites to make available at a throwaway price a large chunk of S-band spectrum, Devas Multimedia — a venture founded in 2004 at the initiative of former officials of the Indian space programme and involving foreign investors — thought it had struck gold. In July 2008, it even sold a 17 per cent stake to Deutsche Telecom AG for $ 75 million (around Rs. 318 crore at the time) and over the next year was clearly looking forward to a time of unrivalled growth in valuation. According to a preliminary estimate by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, whose search for the relevant documents within the Department of Space has been actively obstructed, the presumptive loss of revenue to the government in the event of the Antrix-Devas deal going through now would exceed two lakh crore rupees (approximately $44.4 billion).

ISRO and the Department of Space have scored many successes and enjoyed a good, clean reputation over the decades. Fortunately, in late 2009 some outraged insiders blew the whistle on the secret deal — so secret that ISRO's chief, K. Radhakrishnan, had to admit at a press conference on February 8, 2011 that for reasons that were being “reviewed” internally, ISRO failed “explicitly” to inform the Union Cabinet that GSat-6 and GSat-6A were customer-specific satellites that would be “predominantly used for a novel and commercial application developed by Devas Multimedia in association with global experts.” Towards the end of 2009, thanks to the whistle-blowers and perhaps not unrelated to the stink raised by the 2G spectrum allocation scandal, a view began to form at the top levels of ISRO that the Antrix-Devas deal must be annulled. The Space Commission also wanted the deal to be annulled and the Prime Minister was informed on an indeterminate date.

But nothing much happened until Business Line published its report in May 2010, which the CAG followed up conscientiously despite the bureaucratic hurdles placed in its path. Among the concerns registered by the CAG in its process of enquiry were the following: S-band spectrum was being given away without inviting competitive bids; organisational control systems were not followed; the Prime Minister's Office, the Cabinet, and the Space Commission were not properly informed about the contract details; public resources were being diverted to building two customer-specific satellites; and the contract terms deviated from the terms of previous contracts entered into by ISRO and Antrix. To cut the story short, the publication of the results of the special Business Line investigation, backed up by documents and other reliable evidence, in The Hindu and Business Line has brought the CAG's commendable efforts to light — and placed the nature, scale, and modalities of the S-band spectrum scandal on the public agenda. True to form, those at the receiving end have questioned the accuracy of the media reports or suggested they are overblown. It is a matter of satisfaction that the deal now seems to be heading for annulment — but no thanks to due diligence and oversight by a central government whose procrastination, lack of transparency, obfuscation, and indeed delinquency in this affair have shocked the nation.

Train drivers & guard save passengers

KOLKATA: General class passengers of the Howrah-Puri Express had a narrow escape in the wee hours of Friday after their compartment caught fire near Narayangarh station. Though nobody was injured, there was panic among passengers, and train services were disrupted for four hours.

Had it not been for the quick reaction of the drivers and guard, the fire could have spread to other compartments.

The fire in the SLR (luggage van-cum-general coach) was detected as the train approached Narayangarh, 142km from Howrah, around 12.56am. Pilot S Soren and co-pilot S K Banerjee applied emergency brakes and stopped the train on the outskirts of Narayangarh station.

With the help of guard S Tudu, they evacuated the SLR of the 25-odd passengers and detached it from the rest of the train, said a railway official. The driver and his assistant then drove the locomotive, with the burning SLR, to Narayangarh station, where firemen took three hours to put out the blaze.

SER general manager Vinay Mittal has asked officials to carry out inspections to see if inflammable and other dangerous cargo are being loaded in SLRs.

The Bullet and the Elephant Express
By Raja Murthy

MUMBAI - While China has begun to earn billions of dollars exporting high-speed bullet train technology to the United States and Europe, the struggle of Indian Railways to manage its financial woes and modernization delays serves as a stark contrast between the operators of the world's two largest railway networks.

Cash-strapped Indian Railways has asked the Indian Finance Ministry for US$8.6 billion in the annual railway budget to be released this month, more than double the allocation of $3.47 billion in the 2010 budget for modernization programs.

Though railway revenues went up by 10.40% for the period

11th to 20th January 2011 - to $570 million from $517 million during the same period in 2010 - unconfirmed insider accounts says Indian Railways faces a $547 million budgetary deficit, with losses of $875 million between April and December 2010, the first nine months of its financial year.

In contrast, China Railways, which will invest $106 billion in railway infrastructure this year, has no money worries, allowing it to expand a high-speed railway network that with a combined length of 7,531 kilometers, is longer than the rest of the world's high-speed networks put together.

China latest fast train, the CRH380A, set a new record on December 3, 2010 by clocking 486.1 kilometers an hour in its Beijing to Shanghai trial. India's fastest trains, the Rajdhani and Shatabdi categories, average about 100 km per hour on their better days.

China's Railway Ministry plans to nearly double the high-speed rail network for its sleek bullet trains to 13,000 kilometers by 2012. In the same year, India hopes only to start basic work on its first high-speed rail track between New Delhi and Mumbai. Indian Railways has commissioned international consultants for pre-feasibility studies.

India might benefit from consulting China Railways for high-speed corridors, but this lack of a neighborly railway partnership only highlights how China and India, both expected to dominate global economy by 2050, have divergent strategies for their vast rail networks, a key to economic growth.

The 157-year old Indian Railways, hauling over 13 million passengers daily and calling itself the "Lifeline of the Nation", is closely linked to the common man, with its heavily subsidized fares; it offers 25% to 75% fare concessions to 50 categories of travelers, from the physically and mentally impaired to patients traveling for medical treatment, war widows, the elderly and students, including those from overseas.
China runs 91,000 km of train tracks, compared with India's 63,327 km, and both the state-owned behemoths are their country's single largest employer. The Indian Railways pay roll has over 1.6 million entries, with an additional 300,000 jobs to be filled in the next six months, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee declared on January 27. China's Ministry of Railways employs nearly 3.2 million people, more than the country's 2.3 million army troops.
In contrast to the flashy, high-speed Chinese train dragon, the slower Indian elephant steadily trudges with a more down-to-earth outlook. The 2011 Railway budget, presented separately to parliament in February ahead of the general budget, is expected to stress enhancing passenger safety, such as improving signaling systems and installing safety-related technology such as anti-collision devices (ACD) and a train protection warning system (TPWS).

China Railways, on the other hand, is being accused of paying more attention to on-rail showboats like the bullet trains, whose tickets cost nearly that of air fares, instead of improving services for the masses.
Such grumbles are reported louder during the just completed week-long Lunar New Year holidays, when around 230 million people have to be transported, the largest annual migration in the world.

Migrant Chinese workers can wait for as much as three days, often braving bitter winter winds and hunger, for train tickets that cost about 400 yuan (US$61), nearly one-third of a blue collar worker's monthly pay.
The stress was too much for migrant worker Chen Weiwei this January, who removed his clothes, except for grey underpants, and ran shouting around Jinhua Railway Station in eastern China's Zhejiang province. He had snapped after waiting third in a queue for 14 hours, only to be told that tickets were "sold out". Later, the station authorities magically changed the "sold out" status and gave Chen five tickets.
In contrast, the equivalent Indian worker need pay only 629 rupees (about $13) for a reserved second-class ticket with a sleeping berth on the Himsagar Express, in its three-night, 3,715-km odyssey between Kanyakumari, in India's southern-most tip, to Jammu city, in India's northern-most Jammu and Kashmir state.

Indian Railways has the world's largest online ticketing service - but insider fraud is often suspected, with tickets in very popular trains sold out almost instantly when reservations opens three months in advance.
For most trains and routes though, India's nationally computerized train booking system ensures that tickets, from anywhere to anywhere within the country, can be bought from thousands of Indian Railways counters nationwide, including in a small one-high-street town like Igatpuri, 150 km from Mumbai.
Internet booking, too, has cut short once daunting queues, saving millions of man-hours. The Centre for Railway Information Systems, created to use the latest information technology, reported 8.8 million online ticket transactions in January 2011, a 75% success rate from 11.7 million transactions attempted.
While Indian Railways benefits from the country's rich software expertise, it continues to import technology, such as coaches from Germany for the fully air-conditioned Rajdhani trains, even though it owns facilities like the Integral Coach Factory in Chennai.
China, in contrast, has done with its railways what it has done in other industrial sectors: import high technology, jiggle it a bit, label it as "advanced Chinese technology" and then export it heavily, undercutting the original foreign technology providers such as Siemens, Bombardier and Alstom.

Not surprisingly, China's largest train maker, CSR, last week said it expected profits in 2010 to have gained more than 50% last year from $254 million in 2009. CSR earned $1.24 billion in overseas sales. CSR is now the world's third-largest high-speed train producer, just behind Bombardier and Alstom.
In December, CSR also signed an agreement with General Electric for a 50-50 joint venture to manufacture high-speed trains in the United States. The $1.4 billion deal is expected to add 2,000 jobs in the US.
China is also competing with Japan, South Korea, France, Germany and Belgium to build a 1,100-kilometer high-speed railway in California, connecting San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego in 150 minutes, at a speed of 350 kph.

The Indian Railways suffers no such international competition anxieties as its Chinese counterpart, but with increasing traffic between the two nations, possibilities of a trans India-China rail network, and a New Delhi-Beijing Friendship Express by year 2025 will not be far-fetched.

TIPS ON INCOME TAX FOR RUNNING STAFF FOR THE YEAR 2010-2011.

INCOME TAX SLABS:-

Taxable Income

Up to Rs. 1, 60,000/- _______________ No Tax

From Rs. 1, 60,001/- to 5, 00,000/- ____________ ___ 10%of amount exceeding

Rs.1, 60,000/-.

From Rs. 5, 00,001/- to 8, 00,000/- ________________ Rs. 34,000.00+ 20% of amount

Exceeding Rs.5, 00,000/-

For women:-

Up to Rs. 1, 90,000/- _______________ No Tax

From Rs. 1, 90,001/- to 5, 00,000/- ____________ ___ 10%of amount exceeding

Rs.1, 90,000/-.

From Rs. 5, 00,001/- to 8, 00,000/- ________________ Rs. 31,000.00+ 20% of amount

Exceeding Rs.5, 00,000/-

I. Income Exempted From tax:-

1. Amount received under Life Insurance Policy.

2. Amount received from PF (temporary or final withdrawal).

3. Agricultural income.

4. Transfer Allowance.

5. Cell Allowance.

6. House Rent Allowance---subject to conditions,

Least of the following amount can be exempted if you submit receipt of rent paid.

a.) Actual HRA received , or

b.) Rent paid in excess of 10%of salary , or

c.) An amount equal to

n 50% of salary if accommodation is at Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi or Madras.

n 2/5th of salary if accommodation at any other place.

7. Mileage: - 70% of mileage up to a maximum of Rs. 10,000/- per month is exempted.

(To find out taxable amount in mileage –

@ Multiply mileage amount with 0.3, if your mileage is below Rs. 14,285/-

@ Deduct Rs.10, 000/- from mileage amount, if your mileage is Rs. 14,286/- or above.)

8. Children Education Allowance: Rs.100 per month per child (up to a Max of two children.)

9. Children Hostel Allowance: Rs.300 per month per child (up to a Max of two children.)

10. Transportation Allowance: Rs 800 per month.

II. Permissible Deductions:-

1. Mediclaim premium ------------------------------------ Up to Rs. 15,000/-

2. Medical treatment for handicapped dependents---------- Rs.50, 000/- to 70,000/ according

to severity of disability.

3. Medical treatment for specified diseases like Cancer, AIDS, Parkinson etc.----Rs. 40,000/-

4. Entire interest paid on loan taken for higher studies.

5. Full donation to Prime Ministers Relief Fund.

6. Professional Tax in full.

7. Housing Loan Interest paid up to Rs. 1, 50,000/- (if loan taken on or after 01.04.1999) if

deducted from Gross Total Income.

8. Deduction up to 1,00,000/-is allowed for the amount paid or deposited in certain specified schemes like PF, LIC, Shares, Debentures, Mutual Funds, Pension Funds, National Saving Certificate (NSC), Principle amount repaid on Housing Loan, Tuition Fee for two children, etc..

9. An additional Rs. 20,000/- will also be deducted if invested in specific infrastructure bond.

i. Now calculate your Gross Total Income.

ii. Exempt income as shown in Para I.

iii. Deduct permissible amount as shown in Para II.

iv. Now calculate your tax as per the slab given.

v. Add 3% of Tax as educational cess.

This will be your tax. For more details refer IT Rules.

Prepared by Com. MM Roly.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What's the big deal about S-band spectrum?

Thomas K. Thomas

Madhumathi D.S.


New Delhi/Bangalore, Feb. 6:

The S-band spectrum, which is part of the Devas-ISRO deal, is extremely valuable for mobile broadband services, in terms of usage as well as money.

The frequency, also known as 2.5 Ghz band, is globally used for providing mobile broadband services using fourth generation technologies such as WiMax and Long Term Evolution (LTE).

This frequency band is unique because it has a substantial amount of spectrum (190 MHz) that can be put to use for mobile services. All other spectrum bands up to 3.5 GHz include significantly smaller amounts of spectrum for terrestrial mobile communication, or are not available.

In India, of the 190 Mhz, the Department of Space was given 150 Mhz – 30 years ago – for Broadcast Satellite Service and Mobile Satellite Service. Twenty Mhz was recently given to Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd for offering broadband spectrum.

BSNL and MTNL were asked to pay Rs 12,847 crore for their 20 Mhz. But Devas is getting access to 70 Mhz in the same band for just over Rs 1,000 crore.

Global prices

Globally, this frequency band has been put up for auction in many countries and has fetched governments billions of dollars. In 2009, three operators together paid HK $1.53 billion for 90 MHz of radio spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band.

A few months ago, Finland-based mobile operator Telia Sonera launched 4G mobile services based on LTE technology in this band.

Operators in several other countries such as Brazil and South Africa are on the verge of using the S-band after the World Radio communication Conference 2000, held under the aegis of the International Telecommunication Union, designated the 2.5 Ghz band for mobile services.

Using the Spectrum

The usability of spectrum depends on how harmonious it is with global usage. That is because mobile device makers and network equipment manufacturers can focus on developing products for a specific radio frequency for every country. If each country were to have its own plan for using spectrum, then telecom networks and devices would become very complex and expensive.

So if most countries are moving towards adopting 2.5 Ghz for telecom services, India will lose out if the satellite agency continues to hold on to it.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has already recommended that it would like to review the usage of this frequency band by the incumbents and refarm it for commercial mobile services.

Indian railways bankrupt under Mamata

The Indian Railways has become a loss making entity

Indian Railways is on the brink of bankruptcy. The ministry has asked the Government to double its budgetary support to Rs 39,600 crore. The Finance Ministry has responded by saying, "Railways need to have a certain discipline." Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee can't blame anybody but herself for putting the organisation in red. Under her stewardship, Indian Railways has registered a sharp decline in earnings and a steep rise in expenditure. She promised 1,000 km of new lines every year but has not been able to deliver even 10 per cent of that. Expenditures have gone up by Rs 1,330 crore and earnings are down by Rs 1,142 crore, taking the net deficit to Rs 2,500 crore. The Operating Ratio (OR) of the Railways is likely to be the highest in recent times. It would be spending Rs 95 to earn every Rs 100. One of the best ORs in recent times was in 2007-08 when the organisation spent as little as Rs 75.9 to earn Rs 100. The Railways' reserves are at its lowest in recent years at Rs 5,000 crore.

  • Expenditures are up by Rs 1,330 cr
  • Earnings are down by Rs 1,142 cr
  • Net deficit stands at Rs 2,500 cr
  • Railway reserves are Rs 5,000 cr

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Planning Commission Vice-Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia are a worried lot as Banerjee takes no advice. At a meeting with Manmohan and Mukherjee earlier this month, she asked them not to insist on a fare hike. Poised to present what she hopes will be her last Railway Budget, she has asked for a free hand. Banerjee knows it is also her last chance to woo the electorate in West Bengal. So it is going to be another bout of populism: more new lines and trains for her home state.

The Planning Commission has asked Indian Railways to cut its losses from passenger operations, which are at Rs 14,000 crore per year now. The losses were being subsidised by increasing freight charges, which too had come down by Rs 700 crore. The Railways does not have enough money to put into its two critical reserves-the Capital Fund and Development Fund, used to purchase and upgrade assets and improve passenger amenities. The Railways failed to put even a single rupee into the Capital Fund last year too, a sign of a bleeding organisation. Yet, Banerjee has announced a revamp of the Kolkata Metro network at a cost of Rs 11,000 crore.

Payments to suppliers have been held back for the first time in the history of the Railways. "It was bad enough last year when payments to contractors were held till after the budget, to present a relatively better picture. This year, payments to regular suppliers of crucial equipment such as cables used for signalling and fishplates for tracks have been withheld. Many suppliers have complained, saying that even they are running an industry and have to prepare balance sheets," says a senior Railway Board official.

Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee

The board has asked all 16 zones to send details of their carry-forward liability. Officials in the budget and finance departments have been trying to figure out how to best present the least scary picture of Railways finances. Here too they are constrained, working without a head. The whimsical minister has not appointed a finance commissioner (FC) since Sowmya Raghavan retired six months ago. Banerjee's handpicked official, additional member Samar Jha, is overseeing budget preparation. "She decided to go ahead with the budget without an FC since it is the official's job to question unnecessary spending and projects. Didi is definitely in no mood to have anything questioned or scrutinised," says a Railways ministry official.

Raghavan had said in March 2010 that "if the trend of spending more and earning less continues, not only the internal generation of funds suffers but there is a very serious threat of the ministry defaulting on the dividend-payment liability". She also said the fund balances have all been utilised, so there are no savings to meet shortfall in internal generation targets. According to Raghavan, unless the Railways controls expenditure and increase earnings on a sustained basis, "survival of the organisation will become a difficult proposition".

Apart from the FC, the Railways has been functioning without a Member (Traffic)-a post vacant for more than a year now. The Member (Traffic) is arguably the most important official, responsible for policy formulation, management of passengers and goods traffic. At a time when the Railways is losing revenue in carrying passengers and goods, the importance of the post can't be undermined.

Another flagship project of the Railways-Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC)-is on the verge of derailment. Manmohan had laid the foundation stone of the project in 2006 but it has not gone beyond that stage. In the last budget speech, Banerjee had promised to get the project on track by revamping the DFC Corporation, in charge of executing the project. Nothing has moved in that direction. In fact, even the position of the managing director (MD) has been vacant after V.K. Kaul was removed five months ago.

Similarly, the Rail India Technical and Economic Services has been functioning without an MD for three months. "Banerjee is just not interested in these day-to-day tasks of running the ministry. Apart from her apathy, crucial decisions get delayed because she rarely comes to Rail Bhavan, functioning out of Kolkata," says another official. "All the files have to be sent there. Since those are important, most of the times, senior ministry officials, including Chairman Railway Board, have to personally take the files to Kolkata. As far as Rail Bhavan is concerned, she is the non-resident Railways minister."

Banerjee flags off the Singur-Howrah Express

In the run-up to the last budget, Mukherjee had raised objections to several projects which Banerjee had proposed since she had not got the mandatory clearance from the Planning Commission. Subsequently, the prime minister had written a note to Banerjee, making certain suggestions about running the Railways (see box: Prime Concerns). Obviously, Banerjee is in no mood to implement them.

An Indian Railways spokesperson defends the organisation's financial mess as something beyond the control of the ministry. Citing figures, he says the Railways had to dish out Rs 55,000 crore over the past three years as arrears and pension under the Sixth Pay Commission. Indian Railways lost Rs 2,500 crore for non-loading of iron ore from Orissa and Karnataka, and another Rs 1,500 crore on account of Maoist and Gurjar protests. The multiple hikes in diesel prices also cost the Railways Rs 1,000 crore. The organisation had to shell out Rs 1,500 crore under the modified assured career growth scheme. "It is a question of increased working expenses. The Railways will be able to overcome the impact in a year or two," he said. Reality defies such optimism.

PRIME CONCERNS

  • ABSENCE OF A LONG-TERM VISION: Railways planning is not guided by a clear vision of where it should be 10 to 20 years from now. It should fix specific targets.
  • CAPACITY AUGMENTATION: GDP growth of 9 per cent requires total transport to grow at 10 per cent per year but the Railways is growing at only 7 per cent, leading to a steady loss of freight to roads. Its share is abnormally low at 30 per cent.
  • TECHNOLOGY MODERNISATION: Globally, passenger trains reach 240 kmph, but the average speed of our Shatabdi is 80 kmph.
  • RATIONALISATION OF TARIFF STRUCTURE: The next budget must include a minimum increase of 10 to 15 per cent in Class II passenger fare with no increase in freight. The unbalanced fare structure, with high freight rates and low passenger fares, has several adverse consequences. Indian Railways has consistently resisted the Planning Commission's proposal to set up a statutory regulator to fix fares.
  • LAND ACQUISITION: A disturbing development is the Railways being told to avoid land acquisition and instead "negotiate" with farmers. Unless this is quickly resolved, we can expect long delays.
  • PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP: A decision on the role of Public-Private Partnership is urgently needed. The Railways has been reluctant to adopt the PPP model.
  • DEDICATED FREIGHT CORRIDOR: Immediate review of the status of Dedicated Freight Corridor with clear timelines and fixing responsibility.

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