Tuesday, January 31, 2012

TCS expands US operation with new facility in Silicon Valley

Expanding its presence in the US, India's IT major Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has opened a new facility here which was welcomed by the US lawmakers and the Californian government.

Just a few blocks away from the Yahoo's corporate headquarters, the facility, among other things, would serve as the worldwide headquarters of TCS' Mobility Solutions Unit which aims to bring the benefits of emerging technologies like big data, analytics and mobility to enterprises across all industries.

Speaking on the occasion, Congressman Mike Honda appreciated the efforts of Indian companies like TCS in the development of Silicon Valley.

"The part that we have to do is to provide the change in the paperwork that is required by the companies to go through in order to establish themselves - so lot of necessary paper work, but unnecessary cumbersome," Honda told PTI after inaugurating the new TCS facility.

On establishment of facility in the Silicon Valley, TCS Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director N Chandrasekaran said, "Silicon Valley is a perfect place for this new TCS customer collaboration centre, given the match between the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of TCS and that of the Valley."

"The convergence of the innovation in the Valley with the highly scalable, high quality and cost-effective engineering strength of TCS will help jumpstart the powerful new phenomenon of the democratisation of innovation," he said.

This is all about a set of front end applications, which will enable any data that is sitting in the back-end to be analyzed, delivered to any place to any type of mobile device, proactively so that decisions can be made, he said.

As of now, the TCS Mobility Solutions has identified banking, retail and travel as focus areas.

The California Government said that the TCS's decision to choose Silicon Valley as the global headquarters for its Mobility Solutions and Next Gen Solutions Unit is a significant contribution to California's innovative economy.

Dassault Rafale wins USD 10.4 billion Indian Air Force jet fighter deal: Sources

The Dassault Rafale fighter jet, manufactured by the French company Dassault Aviation, has won India's mammoth contract worth $10.4 billion, say sources. The Indian Air Force plans to buy 126 aircraft over the next ten years.

The process to determine the L1 (lowest bidder) has been completed, and sources indicate that the final contract is expected to be signed in the next financial year. The first 18 aircraft will be bought off the shelf. The rest 108 will be built by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. through technology transfers.

Sources say Defense ministry experts are still fine-tuning pricing details, including the cost of on-board weaponry and royalties for producing the aircraft in India.

There were six contenders for the world's biggest defence deal which included the Russian MiG- 35,Lockheed Martin's F-16 Falcon, Boeing's F-18 Hornet, the Swedish Saab Gripen, Eurofighter Typhoon and Rafale. (In Pics: Aircraft that competed for the defence deal)

Of these, the European EADS Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale were in the final race for the global tender for a medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA). The Eurofighter bid was backed by four partner nations including Germany, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom while the Dassault Rafale was backed by the French Government.

On November 4 last year, Defence ministry had opened the commercial bid of the two firms left in the race and since then has been busy in determining the lowest bidder. The rest were rejected as they didn't meet the technical qualifications.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has expressed happiness at India's selection of the Rafale. "The President of the French Republic has learned of India’s selection of the Rafale for the acquisition by the Indian Air Force of 126 fighter aircrafts. France is pleased with Indian government’s decision to select the French aircraft to enter into exclusive negotiations with Dassault," said a statement issued by the French Embassy in New Delhi.

It said the announcement comes at the end of "a very high-level, fair and transparent competition" involving two European finalists for the bid.

"Negotiations for the contract will begin very soon and has the full support of the French authorities. It will include important technology transfers guaranteed by the French government. The Rafale has been selected, thanks to the aircraft’s competitive life-cycle costs, after the April 2011 pre-selection on the basis of its top-level operational performance.The realisation of the Rafale project will illustrate the depth and scale of the strategic partnership between France and India," the statement said.

The deal is the first foreign deal for Dassault's fighter jets. The French have for years been trying to get an export deal. Just last month, French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet warned the Rafale program could be stopped if foreign buyers don't materialize.

Longuet maintained that the Rafale is an "excellent plane" but acknowledged it is handicapped by its price, which is higher than its U.S. rival.

The Rafale, in service for the French Air Force since 2006, has been flying air support roles in Afghanistan since 2007, and was a big part of the NATO air campaign against Moammar Gaddafi's forces in Libya in 2011.

India's mobile subscriber base reaches 893.84 mn

The number of mobile phone subscribers in India rose to 893.84 million in December with Idea Cellular alone signing 2.39 million new subscribers, official data showed on Monday.

According to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), the wireless user base grew 1.07 percent with an addition of 9.47 million subscribers, from 884.37 million in November.

With this, the total number of telephone subscribers, including land line holders, touched 926.53 million, registering a growth of 1 percent.

Overall teledensity in India reached 76.86 percent.?

However, of the total 893.84 million wireless subscribers, only 646.77 million subscribers were active subscribers on the date of peak visitor location register (VLR).

VLR is a temporary database of the subscribers who have roamed into the particular area, which it serves. Each base station in the network is served by exactly one VLR, hence a subscriber cannot be present in more than one VLR at a time.

The total number of subscribers of Idea Cellular stood at 106.38 million. Uninor added 2.13 million subscribers to take its subscribers count to 36.31 million.

Bhart Airtel added 9,60,143 customers taking its subscribers base to 175.65 million while Reliance Communications added 9,48,743 users increasing its subscribers count to 150.08 million susbscribers.

State-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL) added 7,50,467 and 34,143 users to have 96.76 million and 5.68 million users respectively.

According to the data, the broadband subscriber base grew 1.3 percent from 13.13 million in November to 13.30 million in December. However, the wireline segment declined marginally from 32.96 million in November to 32.69 million in December.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Search for aliens is on again, but next quest is finding money

E.T. might be phoning, but do we care enough to take the call?

Operating on money and equipment scrounged from the public and from Silicon Valley millionaires, and on the stubborn strength of their own dreams, a band of astronomers recently restarted one of the iconic quests of modern science, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence - SETI, for short - which had been interrupted last year by a lack of financing.

Early in December, a brace of 42 radio telescopes, known as the Allen Telescope Array, nestled here in the shadow of Lassen Peak, came to life and resumed hopping from star to star in the constellation Cygnus, listening for radio broadcasts from alien civilizations. The lines are now open, but with lingering financial problems, how long they will remain that way is anybody's guess.

These should be boom times for those seeking out aliens, or at least their radio proxy.

Astronomers now know that the galaxy is teeming with at least as many planets - the presumed sites of life - as stars. Advanced life and technology might be rare in the cosmos, said Geoffrey W. Marcy, the Watson and Marilyn Alberts in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence professor at the University of California, Berkeley, "but surely they are out there, because the number of Earthlike planets in the Milky Way galaxy is simply too great."

A simple "howdy," a squeal or squawk, or an incomprehensible stream of numbers captured by one of the antennas here at the University of California's Hat Creek Radio Observatory would be enough to end our cosmic loneliness and change history, not to mention science. It would answer one of the most profound questions humans ask: Are we alone in the universe?

Despite decades of space probes and billions of NASA dollars looking for life out there, there is still only one example of life in the universe: the DNA-based web of biology on Earth. "In this field," said Jill Tarter, an astronomer at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., the "number two is the all-important number. We count one, two, infinity. We're all looking for number two."

But the story of SETI is the story of a dream deferred by politics, a lack of money and the technological challenges of searching what astronomers call "the cosmic haystack": 100 billion stars in the galaxy and 9 billion narrow-band radio channels on which aliens, if they exist, might be trying to hail us.

Politics and the recession have crimped astronomers' budgets and left the institute's scientists with a kind of siege mentality. Last spring, the University of California ran out of money to run the Hat Creek observatory, forcing the Allen telescopes into hibernation. In order to continue the search, astronomers are negotiating a deal to share the telescopes with the Air Force, which wants to use them to track satellites and space junk.

No federal funds have been spent searching for radio signals from extraterrestrials since 1993.

A recent visit to the SETI Institute's Mountain View offices found many of the cubicles empty and the corridors eerily quiet. Last summer, as the Allen telescopes slumbered, weeds grew around them.

998,000 Stars to Go

he story begins with a young radio astronomer named Frank Drake, who pointed an antenna from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, W.Va., at a pair of stars in 1960, wondering if he could make contact with anything or anyone.

All he got was static, but the hook was set.

In 1971, NASA held a workshop led by Barney Oliver, the research chief of Hewlett-Packard, that concluded the best way to find extraterrestrials was with a $10 billion array of giant radio telescopes called Cyclops. The price tag - as well as the subject - set off alarm bells that still reverberate.

In 1978, Senator William Proxmire of Wisconsin, an outspoken critic of what he considered wasteful government spending, awarded one of his infamous "Golden Fleece" awards to the hunt for aliens, and in 1993, a NASA-sponsored survey for signals from 1,000 nearby stars was canceled by Congress. With the help of friends like Dr. Oliver in the Silicon Valley, Dr. Tarter and her colleagues took the search private.

As the director of SETI research at the institute, Dr. Tarter, 67, has become the public face of the cause, and she was consulted by the actress Jodie Foster about her portrayal of Ellie Arroway, a radio astronomer who finds a signal, in the movie "Contact."

Dr. Tarter was recruited in 1976, when, as a postdoctorate student at Berkeley, she read the Cyclops report, a rite of passage for most alien-oriented astronomers.

"You didn't have to ask a priest or philosopher about life in the universe," Dr. Tarter said. But she realized she was in the first generation who could conduct experiments about it. A half-century and roughly 2,000 stars later, humanity is still officially alone.

Dr. Drake is undaunted, noting that there are 100 billion suitable stars in the galaxy. His personal estimate, based on an equation he invented in 1961, is that there are 10,000 technological civilizations in the galaxy, one per million stars.

"I've known all along we have to look at a million stars," he said. Now a cherubic 81, Dr. Drake is a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a former chairman of the SETI Institute.

The Allen Array, which was designed to find Dr. Drake his million stars, is named after Paul G. Allen, the Microsoft founder and philanthropist, who put up $25 million to get the project going. Jointly owned and operated by the University of California, Berkeley, and the SETI Institute, it was to consist of 350 antennas, 20 feet in diameter, that were to be mass-produced like satellite dishes.

The full array would be able to map a swath of sky several full moons in diameter in only 10 minutes, or the whole sky in a night - of great interest to astronomers and, as it turned out, to the military.

But Mr. Allen's contribution was only enough to build 42 antennas, which started operating in 2007. The astronomers say that another $55 million would complete the array, but there have been no volunteers yet.

The project got a lift in 2009 when Dr. Tarter won a $100,000 prize and "One Wish to Change the World" at the TED conference - short for Technology, Entertainment and Design - in Long Beach, Calif. Her talk there began, "The story of humans is the story of ideas." It elicited a donation of valuable equipment from Dell and Intel.

The project got another lift - mainly psychological - last year when NASA, whose Kepler spacecraft is beaming back news about the patch of Cygnus that it surveys, published its first list of 1,235 exoplanet candidates.

As Dr. Tarter told a conference of exoplanet hunters recently: "We're not just pointing at stars. We're pointing where you have shown us there are planets, and perhaps technologists."

But the recession and the cutbacks that followed wiped out the university's funds to run the Hat Creek observatory just as it was getting started on a survey of Kepler's planets. The Allen telescopes went quiet, and the astronomical staff left.

An appeal for financing went out on the institute's Web site, which eventually brought in about $220,000 - roughly two months' worth of operating expenses. Meanwhile, the Air Force was interested in using the radio telescopes.

The array, Dr. Tarter explained, turns out to be adept at tracking satellites and space junk, a possibility first identified as early as 2004 in a memo by her husband, William Welch, a radio astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley, who is known as Jack. "There's a long tradition of radio astronomy and the military scratching each other's backs," Dr. Tarter said.

Under terms of an agreement still being negotiated, the Air Force will pay for a share of the operations at Hat Creek, which costs about $1.5 million (plus another $1 million a year to pay the astronomers). The money raised so far will buy a few months at best.

Welcome All Species

The astronomers started bringing their equipment back to Hat Creek in September. The place looked neglected.

"Nobody had cut the weeds," Dr. Tarter said. "It looked so sad."

Early in December, when Dr. Tarter and Dr. Welch returned to Hat Creek in Dr. Welch's Cessna with a reporter in tow, the weeds had been cut and the antennas were majestically turning to a music only they could hear. Scattered across a meadow, they resembled the forest of satellite dishes you see outside events like the Super Bowl.

Nearby in an unassuming ranch house, racks of electronics and computers hummed with life. The doormat read, "Welcome All Species."

Inside, Dr. Tarter plopped down in front of a computer and watched with a suspicious eye as the display popped with a row of numbers indicating that a narrow-band signal - the signature of an artificial source - had been detected.

She takes great pride in the fact that she and her colleagues have never published a false alarm, and she nodded approvingly as the telescope and computers went through the process of eliminating the new signal from consideration. The Earth's motion will cause the frequency of a signal from the sky to drift in frequency, for example. The checklist has grown over the years, she said.

Within a few minutes they were back scanning a new part of the spectrum. The computers will check a persistent signal five times, moving the telescope on and off it, before calling someone to discuss it - "whoever is on the desk," Dr. Tarter said.

The next step would be to call the director of an observatory to the west (since that is the way the sky rotates) and ask for continued observation.

"We've gotten six hours into it four times," Dr. Tarter said. One dramatic moment was in 1998, when Dr. Tarter and her colleagues were working at the observatory in Green Bank, W.Va., and had a signal they could just not eliminate.

Finally they figured out that they were actually receiving transmissions from the European SOHO satellite.

"We went to bed," Dr. Tarter said.

"It was a real adrenaline pumping time," she added. "I can't imagine what the real deal will be."

Kerala Tourism on marketing blitz in Australia, Middle East

Buoyed by an over 11 per cent increase in foreign tourist arrivals in 2011, which was a bad year for the global tourism industry given the bleak economic environment, Kerala is on a marketing blitz to attract more travellers from the Middle East and Down Under.

"We plan to spend over Rs. 10 crore on mass media campaigns and road shows alone in the Middle East and Australia this year," Kerala Tourism Director Rani George told PTI in Thiruvananthapuram recently.

This is significant, considering that the entire marketing budget for the Tourism Department of God's Own Country, which is how Kerala is known in global tourism circles, is only Rs. 35 crore for the year.

The marketing blitz in the Middle East involves road shows and mass media campaigns involving television and the print media.

The first leg of the campaign has already been kicked off in Saudi Arabia, with its three main cities of Riyadh, Jeddah and Dhamam as the focal points of the road shows, George said.

In Australia, too, the department will be using the mass media and road show models to lure Australians to the country, she said, adding that the campaign will kick off in early February.

The other focal markets for 2012 will be Russia and China, she added.

George further said the department has empanelled creative agency Stark to come out with a tourism awareness film that will help locals respect foreigners visiting the state. The ad film will be ready in the next six months and will be aired in the main markets of Europe and Britain, she added.

"Foreign tourist arrivals rose 11.18 per cent in 2011 to 7.32 lakh, while domestic arrivals touched 93.8 lakh during the year, which is an increase of 9.15 per cent," George said.

How much is the Kerala temple treasure really worth

A committee appointed by the Supreme Court of India will return to the vaults of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram on the southern tip of India in the second week of February. Their task: try to put a value on what is believed to be the largest temple treasure in the world.

Last July, the world's attention turned to the temple when the committee unearthed what one of its members said was gold, diamonds and precious antiques worth up to $40 billion. The Supreme Court had appointed the committee while hearing a case filed by a former police officer who had alleged that the temple's immense wealth was being embezzled and poorly managed. The committee has recruited experts and marshaled equipment from around the world to resolve the mystery.

But it has not been an easy riddle to solve. Searchers, for instance, have been unable to budge the door of one of the vaults, which is believed to contain a large collection of treasures. The police officer who filed the original case died in July after being ill for several days, fanning fears among some believers that anybody who tried to open the vault would be cursed.

Sree Padmanabha, an avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu who is worshiped at the temple, has a habit of springing surprises. Until a few years ago, most people in the city believed that his image was made of soluble material and that water should not touch it. But when an artist tried to set right an ornament on its hand, it was accidentally revealed that it was made of solid gold and the dark material over it was soot that had accumulated over centuries. Some experts suggested that former rulers had allowed the soot to accumulate to deceive invaders into thinking that the image was not of value. The gold was visible for a few years, but it soon disappeared under fresh soot from the oil lamps.

Sree Padmanabha is greatly revered in this city, which is named after his serpent bed, Anantha. The former royal rulers of Travancore had long maintained that Padmanabha was the true ruler of their kingdom and the rulers were merely his slaves. The deity resides in a sanctum at the center of the temple and is visible only through three narrow doors, one near the head, the second in the middle and the third at his feet. The sanctum is lit by oil lamps, which makes it hard to see him.

The discovery of the treasures has sparked two parallel discussions in the city: what should be done to secure it? And what should be done with it?

Believers are confident no one will dare rob the temple, but the federal and state governments have expressed concern that the discovery of the treasure has made it vulnerable to ordinary thieves and terrorist groups. Uniformed and plain-clothes officers now stand near temple gates that previously were guarded by priests and temple workers. Some secret service agents are dressed in the traditional Kerala waist clothes, or dhotis, with bare upper torsos. Cameras and metal detectors dot the periphery.

There has been a wide-ranging debate about what should be done with the treasure since it was discovered. Some people, including liberals and some leaders of the Communist Party of India, have suggested that the treasures found in the vaults should be sold and the money should be used for the development of the state of Kerala, of which Thiruvananthapuram is the capital. State officials, including Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, have said that the wealth belonged to the temple and should remain there. Some local leaders, including the city's representative in Parliament, Shashi Tharoor, have suggested that rare pieces from the treasure that have artistic and historic significance should be exhibited at the temple under tight security.

Some temple officials have told me privately that they believe that the treasure is not as valuable as it has been made out to be. Historians who have studied Travancore say that the temple's wealth traditionally served as an insurance policy against famine. The head of the former royal family, Padmanabhadasa Uthradam Thirunal, who is the custodian of the temple and its treasure, has said little about the value of the treasure or what should be done with it. Before he died, the former police officer T.P. Sundararajan, who brought the case against the royal family, suggested that the treasure be handed over to the state government.

But for now, the debate about what should be done with the treasure have subsided as residents of Thiruvananthapuram await the results of committee's work.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

India-China trade hits all time high of $73.9 billion in 2011

Chinese exports to India continue to surge crossing the $50 billion mark. The exports logged $50.04 billion registering a growth of 23.51 per cent over 2010.

India-China bilateral trade hit a record $73.9 billion last year, but the ballooning trade deficit in Beijing's favour rose to over $27 billion, raising concern among Indian authorities.

The bilateral trade registered a $12.2 billion increase in 2011, taking the total to $73.9 billion as against $61.7 billion in 2010, according to official trade figures for the last year.

The trade deficit in 2011, however, piled up to $27.07 billion even though Indian exports to China went up to $23.4 billion registering a growth of almost 12.26 per cent compared to the same period in year 2010.

"The overall trade figure looks good but the deficit remains a cause for concern," Indian Ambassador to China S Jaishankar told PTI.

He said efforts are being made to improve market access for Indian products in China.

"We have some early signs of movement in access to the Indian IT products. But these are early days," he said, referring to various campaigns organised by the Indian Embassy to push IT and Pharmaceutical exports to China.

Most important thing is that the bilateral trade is growing well despite the global economic downturn, he said.

Chinese officials have been acknowledging India's concerns over trade deficit and the issue was expected to figure in detail in India-China Trade Ministers talks during the BRICS Commerce Meeting on March 28 in New Delhi.

The Indian exports, mainly composed of primary products and commodity sector, increased despite the decline of iron ore exports, which dominated exports to China for long due to ban on mining in Karnataka and Goa, said K Nagraj Naidu, head of the economic and trade wing of the Indian Embassy.

Chinese exports to India continue to surge crossing the $50 billion mark. The exports logged $50.04 billion registering a growth of 23.51 per cent over 2010.

The share of India-China bilateral trade in China's overall trade increased to about 3.8 per cent compared to 2.06 per cent in 2010.

Naidu said India's exports of ores, slag and ash to China have dropped by 11 per cent to 10.45 billion in 2011.

Iron ore which has traditionally been the top item of export has dropped by 14 per cent to $9.6 billion in 2011 compared to the $11.2 billion exports in 2010.

The share of iron ore in the basket of Indian exports to China has dropped to 41 per cent in 2011 compared to 54 per cent in 2010 and 55 per cent in 2009, he said.

The drop in iron ore exports could be attributed to the ban on mining in Karnataka, illegal mining in Goa, restriction on iron ore truck movements in Orissa.

Also the other reason could be that China is diversifying its spot iron ore purchases away from India, largely in favour of South Africa, Naidu said.

India's cotton, yarn and fabric exports to China have seen a growth of 49 per cent reaching $3.1 billion in 2011.

While India's concerns over trade deficit remained, Indian officials say that there are encouraging signs about Chinese investments in India even though figures are not available as most of the investments are coming through Singapore and Mauritius.

The high volumes of Chinese trade in India is also focussed on infrastructure development specially, telecom and energy generation equipment.

Over all trade and investment appears to emerging as a strong binding force for the bilateral ties, according to the officials.

India's items of export which have seen positive growth rates include, copper ($two billion) precious stones ($1.1 billion), organic chemicals ($999 million) slat, sulphur, earth, stone ($514 million) and machinery ($478 million).

Under machinery, India's principal exports to China included diesel machines worth $47 million and crank shafts worth $32 million. India is Chinas 16th largest source of imports.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Nilekani's biometrics battle: Details of the truce

The Cabinet today has officially sanctioned the terms of a truce between Nandan Nilekani and Home Minister P Chidambaram. The two departments had been battling over the issue of biometrics - the right to scan India's eyes and fingerprints.

The compromise gives both the Home Ministry and Mr Nilekani's UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India) the power to collect biometrics. Mr Nilekani, who has already collected the data for 20 crores has been authorised to gather biometric data for another 40 crores. He had asked for the money and sanction to enroll all Indians. The problem so far was that the same data was also being collected by the Home Ministry for the National Population Register or NPR, which when completed, will be the world's largest biometric database.

The expenditure and effort is massive. So both sides have been told to avoid duplication. Mr Nilekani's team has been working in states like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala will plough ahead there and has been able to enumerate about 17 crore people so far. The Home Ministry will accept this data for the NPR, whose main purpose is to ensure records of all residents for internal security. The Home Ministry's biometrics exercise will focus on areas where the UIDAI has not begun work so far. And while enrolling for the UIDAI remains voluntary, signing up for the NPR is mandatory for all residents. As a result every individual will have to attend NPR data collection camps even he or she has already acquired an Adhaar card.

Earlier, the Home Ministry had said that UIDAI's data was not entirely sound; it had also expressed doubts about how the confidential data would be protected. Now, the ministry has been told that if there are any contradictions, it's biometric information will supercede that of the UIDAI. The National Population Register will serve as the master database.

Mr Nilekani's request to enroll more Indians had upset the Home Ministry, for several reasons. The primary being lack of verification of the data being collected.

Today when allowing Mr Nilekani to enumerate an additional 40 crore people, the Cabinet also extracted a promise from UIDAI to re-look at the processes and address the security concerns of the Government.

Despite the compromise, several questions remain unresolved. To start with UIDAI collects data individually where as all government scheme - MNREGA, BPL Rations etc - takes the house hold as the base unit. The process to reconcile the data i.e. how to tag the data of an individual with a particular family from a data set of over one billion - is not only complicated but hasn't yet been worked out.

On the other hand, there is huge a cost differential in the cost of biometric enumeration between UIDAI and the Registrar General of India. UIDAI is more costly. According to some estimates, the UIDAI will incur at least Rs. 600 crore more than NPR in enumerating 60 crore people. Mr Nilekani, however, ducked this question when taking to reporters after the Cabinet meeting.

The UIDAI is a sub-set of the Planning Commission whose parent is the Finance Ministry.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

President Pratibha Patil's address on the eve of Republic Day

New Delhi: President Pratibha Devisingh Patil, addressed the nation on the eve of the 63rd Republic Day and stressed on reforms, economy, democracy and women empowerment among other subjects. Following is the text of the President's address on the occasion:

Dear Citizens,
On the eve of our 63rd Republic Day, I convey my warmest greetings to all of you across the country, from every walk of life and in different parts of the world. I convey my special greetings to the Armed Forces and the Para-Military Forces who guard our frontiers with great vigil and valour, in high mountainous terrains, deserts and the plains, on the coasts and the seas. I also convey my best wishes to our internal security forces and to our civil services. I compliment all citizens for their contribution to the process of nation-building.

We are living in a world that is complex and challenging. Forces of globalization have created an interlinked and interdependent world. No country exists in isolation; it is continuously being influenced by external developments. All nations, developed and developing, are facing the impact of global economic instability, as well as problems of unemployment and inflation, in varying degrees. Indeed, the 21st Century has brought in its trail a host of issues at a breath-taking pace. There are growing aspirations of the people, coupled with their expectations of immediate solutions. We are observing, an information explosion and ever-newer technological inventions. These have altered lifestyles and there is also a growing quest for materialism. There are persistent questions about how growth and resources will be shared in a more equitable manner. There are worries about the direction in which the human community is heading in this age of globalization, knowledge and technology.

For us in India, the discourse is about how an ancient civilization and a young nation, will move ahead to take India to its destiny. Our vision and our goals are clear. We look at building our country, as one whose economy demonstrates a robustness to grow, so that we can become a developed nation. For us, however, economic prosperity alone is not enough. We look towards an India, where there is equity and justice. We look at democracy, rule of law and human values, as being essential for making our country strong. We want a scientific and technological outlook in our people. We also look towards India as a country which will continue to bring moral force on to the global stage. I believe that there is a unity behind this vision of India. But, yet, sometimes one gets distracted by discordant pulls and pressures. How should we proceed to build our nation and its people? I believe that the answer lies in our age old values; the ideals of our freedom movement; the principles of our Constitution, as also in our unity, a positive attitude and our aspiration to grow.

It is often said, but not fully realized, that we are very fortunate to have a rich legacy of values, traditions and teachings. The ageless spirit of India, the eternal voice of India, has been resonating through millennia. What are those intrinsic qualities which have seen India prosper through centuries and eras? What is the message that should light our path, as we chart our future course? Our civilizational ethos contains the lessons of duty and truth. It tells us to be humane in all our thoughts and deeds. It highlights the qualities of compassion, care and of respect for others. It teaches that human beings and nature must exist in harmony with each other. All issues should be viewed in the context of humanity as a whole. Concepts, like 'Samanvaya', 'Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah' 'Vasudheva Kutumbakam', are the very essence of Indian thought. This philosophy has given succeeding generations the inherent strength to grow, embracing in their fold a vast diversity of cultures, languages, religions and communities. So, when the question is asked, as to what ideals should be placed before the new generation, to take the country forward, should then there be any dithering or doubt in a country like India? As the inheritors of thousands of years of history and culture, we should follow the high ideals of our age-old civilization. More particularly, the youth should understand this, as they are the architects of the future as well. Our past becomes the essential guide for the future as well. In this context, I recall the lines of Gurudev Tagore, "Every great people holds its history so valuable because… it contains not mere memories, but hope, and therefore the image of the future." The past of India has been glorious and so must be its future.

We can also draw inspiration from our independence movement. It was a unique struggle, as it involved non-violent methods and required extraordinary mass discipline, steadfastness and patience. We followed this course, under the leadership of Gandhiji, because we had faith in ourselves and in our strength. Surely, we can demonstrate the same discipline in nation building. But, how do we do this? It is, only when we resolve to make the goal of nation building more important, than anything else and, show strong belief in it. It is then that courage, confidence and determination, shall be our companions in this task, which has to be carefully piloted in a constitutionally acceptable order.

In fact, during various times of difficulties or when searching for an answer, the Constitution has provided us our moorings. It was framed by those who had participated in the freedom struggle, and had a deep understanding of the aspirations of the people, and of our culture. The Constitution has been and should be our compass, guiding us in nation-building. It is the charter of our democracy. It is the document guaranteeing individual freedoms to its citizens. It is the basis on which institutions of the State have been created and have derived their powers and functions. Our Constitution is a living and dynamic instrument, which has demonstrated its ability to be flexible enough to meet the demands of changing times, while retaining its basic features. Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedkar in his closing speech at the Constituent Assembly said, "The first thing in my judgment we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives." Unquote.

Dear Citizens,
There is tremendous work to be done to move forward on our social and economic agenda, if we are to achieve fast, inclusive and sustainable growth. Our foremost priority is the removal of poverty, hunger and malnutrition, disease and illiteracy. All social welfare programmes must be implemented efficiently. Agencies involved in the delivery of services should have a strong sense of duty and work in a transparent, corruption-free, time-bound and accountable manner.

We have a population which is predominantly young. With education and training, they can become skilled and, thus, capable of finding their livelihoods, starting their own businesses and thus, becoming productive assets. Reinforcing our health and education sectors is fundamental for developing our human resources. Primary education is now a fundamental right for children. There is a commitment to universalize secondary education. Expansion of school education will also require increase in the number of higher education institutions. This process has to be structured with great thoughtfulness, to ensure quality and excellence. Moreover, education must reach every section of our society, as must access to health reach all. We need to expand health services, particularly in rural areas. We need quality medical facilities for our population, which are affordable. In today's era of ICT, technology can be very useful in our mission of health and education. In fact, science and technology is a critical input for the growth of the nation and for all sectors of the economy. Focus on research and development is an investment in our future. Our agriculture, industry and service sectors need to be working more efficiently, with greater scientific inputs and more inter-linkages with each other. Agriculture, however, is one sector whose integration with other sectors of the economy remains inadequate. We need to look at models of partnership, of farmers with industry and with R&D institutions in various activities, so that, not only does agricultural productivity increase, but farmers benefit as well. Special focus is necessary on dryland farming, given its enormous potential and, the fact that, a large proportion of farm labour and poor farmers are dependent on it. At the same time, it is very important to build our physical infrastructure - such as roads, ports and airports, to overcome constraints to rapid growth.

I strongly believe that women need to be drawn fully into the national mainstream. Empowerment of women will have a very big impact on creating social structures that are stable. The National Mission on Empowerment of Women set up in 2010, should help in the co-coordinated delivery of women-centric and women-related programmes. An important component of women's development is their economic and social security. Social prejudices prevalent in our society which have led to gender discrimination need to be corrected. Social evils like female foeticide, child marriage and dowry must be eradicated. Status of women is an important indicator of progress in a society.

Dear Citizens,
India can take pride in its democratic record, but as in any functional democracy, it faces pressures and challenges. An important feature of a democracy is the constant expression of opinions. This process of incessant dialogue should flow in such a manner, that we are willing to listen to each other. Those who believe in democracy must try to see whether there is rationale in the others' point of view. Gandhiji once said, "Evolution of democracy is not possible if we are not prepared to hear the other side. We shut the doors of reason when we refuse to listen." The purpose of discussions and deliberations is to find solutions. Often, we are quick to find blame with others; but, yet are unable to give constructive responses. There seems to be a tendency to doubt almost everything. Do we not have faith in our own people's strengths and in our institutions? Can we afford distrust amongst ourselves? Nations are built through great patience and sacrifices. Concord and not discord is the way forward for a country as large as India. All issues, therefore, must be resolved through dialogue and there can be no place for violence. Negativity and rejection cannot be the path for a vibrant country that is moving to seek its destiny. Our work, our values and our approach, must be based on the vast capability and capacity that India and its people have.

Our institutions may not be flawless, but they have coped with many challenges. Our Parliament has enacted path-breaking laws. Our Government has put together schemes for the progress and welfare of the people. Our judiciary has a reputable standing. Our media too has played an important role. With all institutions working together for the same national purpose it will create a stream of positive energy. Our effort to improve is an on-going process. While bringing about reforms and improving institutions, we have to be cautious that while shaking the tree to remove the bad fruit, we do not bring down the tree itself. There will be short term pressures, but in this process we must not lose sight of the long term goals, and must work together on our core national agenda. I do hope in the spirit of national interest, matters of national importance, are discussed and solutions are found between different stakeholders. This will strengthen the roots of our democracy and the foundations of our nation. We have a shared future, and we should not forget that it can be achieved if we demonstrate a sense of responsibility and a show of unity. I think India could set an example before the democratic world of progress and growth.

Dear Citizens,
India's foreign policy is aimed at the promotion of an environment that is conducive to its socio-economic transformation. We seek to build bridges of cooperation and friendship with all countries of the world. We constructively engage with the international community to find responses to global challenges. The role and stature of India, has been growing and our nation has been scaling up in the ladder of the comity of nations. India seeks an architecture for global institutions that is more reflective of contemporary realities. We are also proud of the contributions of the Indian Diaspora, spread over many countries and across continents, to the economic, professional and political fields of the countries where they live.

Dear Citizens,
In conclusion, I would like to say that we must build a strong, prosperous nation, based upon a firm system of values. As we remove poverty, let us also enrich our thoughts. As we remove disease, let us all remove ill-will towards others. As our youth study more and acquire more knowledge, let them also learn to be more involved in activities for the progress of the nation, other than only self advancement. As we legislate, let us also understand that the most effective law is the conscience of citizens. As we advance in science and technology, let us realize and understand that it is more for human welfare. As we use the Earth's resources, let us not forget to replenish and renew its vitality. On the eve of our Republic Day, let me once again convey my greetings, to all fellow citizens and end with the following lines which describe an India we should work for:

Bahein jahaan sadbhaav ki nadiyaan,
Uge jahaan naitikta ki faslein,
Sab mann ekta ki geet sunaaein,
Pag-pag desh ka vikaas badhaaein,
Milkar aisa desh banaaein.

(Together, let's make a nation where, harmony prevails, where we sow the seeds of ethics, where everyone sings the song of unity and where every citizen takes a step towards the nation's development)


Nandan Nilekani's battle for biometrics ends with compromise

The battle over biometrics between Nandan Nilkani's department and the Home Ministry has ended in a compromise. At a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister and attended by senior ministers, Mr Nilekani, and Home Minister P Chidambram, it was resolved that the fingerprints and iris scans of Indians will be collected by both teams, with as little duplication as possible.

Mr Nilekani, since he was head-hunted by the government in 2009 from Infosys, has been leading one of India's most ambitious projects - the Unique Identification Authority of India - that has been set up to issue to every Indian a card bearing a 12-digit ID, or aadhaar, which will be stored in a central database, and linked to the individual's fingerprints and other biometric data. This unique ID will help India's poor avail the welfare schemes and benefits they are entitled to, currently over-run by corrupt middlemen.

Mr Nilekani's department has so far spent Rs. 670 crores and enrolled 20 crore Indians with their biometrics including their finger prints and iris . The problem is that the Home Ministry is empowered to collect exactly the same data for the National Population Register or NPR. At the meting today, it was decided that Mr Nilekani would conduct his enrollment exercise in areas where his team has already collected information on more than 50% of the population. Remaining areas will be handled by the Home Ministry's officials. Mr Nilekani's exercise, the meeting agreed today, should be seen through the prism of development; the NPR's focus will remain on accumulating data vital for internal security.

Mr Nilekani's department was initially meant to use the NPR's data for its work. But because the NPR's collection of data was moving slowly, the UIDAI asked for and received permission to collect the biometrics for 20 crore Indians. The logic was that the two databases of the NPR and the UIADI would eventually be married. But the Home Ministry then said that the UIDAI's data was not upto its standard. Separately, concerns have been raised about whether the UIADI is legally empowered to collect personal information, and how the safety of its data would be guaranteed.

There have also been allegations that Mr Nilekani has been caught in the crossfire between the Finance and Home Ministries, whose rivalry is well-known. The UIADI is supervised by the Planning Commission, whose parent is the Finance Ministry.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Google Plus user base crosses 90 million mark

Google's online social networking service 'Google Plus' has crossed 90 million users mark since its launch in June. Google Plus now has attracted 90 million users,reflecting the huge interest in the social networking site which was opened to the public on September 20. That more than doubles the 40 million that Google reported in October.

Earlier, Google Plus service was available only through invitation as part of trial runs. Interestingly, rival Facebook took about four years to reach 90 million users. Facebook, founded in 2004, has now 800 million users globally.

"I am super excited about the growth of ... Google Plus,which now has 90 million users globally well over double what I announced just three months ago. By building a meaningful relationship with our users through Google Plus we will create amazing experiences across our services," Google CEO Larry Page said while announcing the company's latest quarterly earnings.

Google unveiled 'Google Plus' in late June as part of efforts to garner a share of the lucrative social networking space that has so far been dominated by Mark Zuckerberg led Facebook.

Since launch, Google has added toolbars and other buttons on its websites to aggressively promote the service. During the quarter, Google has reported a net income to USD 2.71 billion in for October-December, which analysts termed as below market expectation.It registered revenue of USD 10.58 billion for the quarter ended December 31, 2011, an increase of 25 per cent from the year-ago period.

iPhone sales drive record quarter for Apple

Apple reported record quarterly net profit and revenue on Tuesday in the first quarter since the death of founder Steve Jobs, driven by strong sales of the new iPhone.

Apple said its net profit more than doubled in the first quarter of fiscal 2012 to a record $13.06 billion while revenue rose to a record $46.33 billion from $26.74 billion a year ago.

Earnings per share of $13.87 blew past the $10.08 per share expected by Wall Street analysts.

Apple said it sold 37.04 million iPhones in the quarter which ended on December 31, up 128 percent from a year ago, and 15.43 million iPads, a 111 per cent increase.

The California-based gadget-maker sold 5.2 million Macintosh computers in the quarter, up 26 per cent, and 15.4 million iPods, a 21 per cent decline from a year ago.

"We're thrilled with our outstanding results and record-breaking sales of iPhones, iPads and Macs," Apple chief executive Tim Cook said in a statement.

"Apple's momentum is incredibly strong, and we have some amazing new products in the pipeline," Cook said.

Apple's previous quarterly highs for iPhone, iPad and Macintosh sales were 20.34 million, 15.43 million and 5.2 million respectively.

It was the company's first full quarter without its visionary co-founder and chief executive Steve Jobs, who died of cancer a day before the October 4 launch of the iPhone 4S.

The hot-selling iPhone 4S was the "fastest iPhone rollout" in the company's history, Cook said in a conference call with financial analysts.

"We made a very bold bet on demand" but the company was "still short" in some markets due to pent-up demand, he said.

"As it turned out we didn't bet high enough," said Cook, who took over as CEO from Jobs in August.

Growth in iPhone sales in the United States and Japan was "great," he said. "We could not be happier."

The fiscal 2012 first-quarter included a 14th week, the important holiday shopping week between Christmas and New Year's.

Investors applauded the blockbuster quarter, sending Apple shares up 7.5 percent to $452.00 in after-hours trading.

Apple said it ended the quarter with a cash pile of $97.6 billion, compared with $81.6 billion for the September quarter.

"We are actively discussing the best use of our cash balance," Peter Oppenheimer, Apple's chief financial officer, said in the conference call.

"We don't have anything to announce specifically today," he added.

Cook indicated the priority for iPhone expansion was China. "We have a ton more energy in the China market today," he said.

The iPhone was sort of a "catalyst" in spurring sales of other Apple products, much like the iPod's "halo" effect on the Macintosh in 2003-2004, he said.

The iPad, which runs on Apple's operating software, is benefiting from competition among other tablets, where "cannibalization" is clearly working in Apple's favor, Cook said.

"We're just going to innovate like crazy in this area," he said.

More than 55 million iPads have been sold since its launch in April 2010.

Apple's forecasts for the quarter leaped over Wall Street expectations: $32.5 billion in revenue and earnings of $8.50 per share. The market had penciled in $32 billion and $8.03, respectively.

Apple's iCloud, launched a few months ago, now has more than 85 million subscribers.

That was an "incredible" response from customers that marked a fundamental shift in recognition of the need to have numerous devices integrated online, Cook said.

He said iCloud is "not a product, it is a strategy for the next decade."

Apple doubles iPhone sales in Q1, stock up 7%

The iPhone is taking over Apple.

For the first time, the device that changed how people use mobile phones, accounts for more than half of the behemoth company's sales.

Apple Inc. on Tuesday said it sold 37 million iPhones in the last three months of 2011, vastly exceeding analyst estimates and propelling the company to record quarterly results.

The phone accounted for 53 percent of Apple's revenue in the quarter. Though it has other hit products, like MacBooks and the iPad, they can't keep up with the iPhone, whose sales more than doubled over last year from an already high level.

The sales mean Apple is set to regain the position it briefly held earlier last year of being the world's largest maker of smartphones. Nokia Corp., the earlier No. 1, in transition to a new generation of smartphones, and more recent competitor Samsung Electronics Co. has announced preliminary figure of 35 million smartphones sold in the October to December period.

October saw Apple launching the iPhone 4S in the U.S. and some other countries. The phone was delayed for a few months, which meant that Apple's results for the July to September quarter were uncharacteristically tepid.

It came back with a vengeance in the holiday season. On Tuesday, Apple said net income in the fiscal first quarter, which ended Dec. 31, was $13.06 billion, or $13.87 per share. That was up 118 percent from $6 billion, or $6.43 per share, a year ago.

Analysts polled by FactSet were expecting earnings of $10.04 per share for the latest quarter, Apple's fiscal first.

Revenue was $46.33 billion, up 73 percent from a year ago. Analysts were expecting $38.9 billion.

"It was a pristine quarter," said ISI Group analyst Brian Marshall. "The investment community has never seen a company like this, inside or outside technology."

The stellar performance could re-establish Apple as the world's most valuable company, again toppling Exxon Mobil Corp. Apple first unseated Exxon last summer, and the two have been trading places since then.

Apple shares rose $30.67, or 7.3 percent, to $451.08 in extended trading, after the company released its results. If that rally sticks in Wednesday's regular trading sessions, Apple's market value will be hovering around $420 billion. Exxon's market value stood at $417.9 billion Tuesday, while Apple's was $391.9 billion at the end of regular trading.

Apple shipped 15.4 million iPads in the quarter, again more than doubling sales over the same quarter last year. The November launch of Amazon.com Inc.'s $199 Kindle Fire tablet didn't appear to put much of a dent in the iPad's sales, as some analysts predicted it would.

Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer said the company expects earnings of $8.50 per share in the current quarter, and sales of $32.5 billion. Both figures are above the average estimate of analysts polled by FactSet, even though Apple usually low-balls its estimates.

The Cupertino, Calif. company ended the quarter with a cash balance of a staggering $97.6 billion. That's more than enough to buy Citigroup Inc. outright, or issue a special dividend of $100 per Apple share.

For years, investors have been frustrated with Apple's unwillingness to put the cash to use, but complaints have been muted as Apple continues to generate record-breaking results and as the stock price keeps rising. Apple executives have said the cash hoard gives the company flexibility to make acquisitions and long-term supply deals.

Apple's results lifted shares of smaller companies that supply chips for the iPhone, like TriQuint Semiconductor, up 7.7 percent, Cirrus Logic Inc., up 6.8 percent, Broadcom Corp., up 4.2 percent, and Skyworks Solutions Inc., up 3.7 percent.

Apple co-founder and longtime CEO Steve Jobs died Oct. 5, just as the record-breaking quarter started.

How an embargo of Iranian oil could affect markets.

The US and Europe are trying to stop Iran, the world's third-biggest oil exporter, from selling crude. Iran's response is to threaten to disrupt shipments from the entire Middle East.

Yet oil prices have hardly budged. They're at $98.95, up just 12 cents since the start of year.

Just a year ago, uprisings in far less important oil-producing countries such as Egypt and Libya sent oil and gasoline prices to their highest levels in three years and prompted Western nations to release millions of barrels of oil from emergency supplies.

The reason for such calm this year: No oil has been blocked, and there's a good chance none will be.

The US and Europe want to deprive Iran of the oil income it needs to run its government and, most importantly, fund what the West believes is an effort to build a nuclear weapon. Last year, Iran generated $100 billion in revenue from oil, up from $20 billion a decade ago, according to IHS CERA, an energy consulting firm.

The European Union announced Monday it would ban the import of Iranian crude starting in July. The U.S. already doesn't buy Iranian oil, but last month it placed sanctions on Iran's banks to make it harder for that nation to sell crude. The U.S., however, has delayed implementing those sanctions for at least six months because it is worried about sending oil prices higher at a time when the world economy is struggling.

Iran, in retaliation, has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow Persian Gulf waterway between Iran and Oman through which one-fifth of the world's oil passes. If that were to happen, experts say oil prices could soar toward $200 per barrel and deliver a blow to already wobbly Western economies. Drivers would pay more for gasoline, airlines would spend more on fuel and shippers would pay more for diesel. That would leave people and companies with less money to spend and invest.

Using oil as a political weapon is an old tactic, but it may not be effective this time. If either side blocks the sale of oil in a meaningful way, it hurt itself. Iran's economy depends on the sale of oil. The economies of Western nations depend on reasonably priced oil.

Here are key questions and answers about what the European ban on Iranian oil could mean for energy markets.

Q: What is Iran's role in the world oil market?

A: Iran exports 2.5 million barrels of oil per day, about 3 percent of world supplies. About 500,000 barrels go to Europe and most of the rest goes to China, India, Japan and South Korea. These Asian customers do not plan to stop buying Iranian oil.

Iranian fields produce a type of oil known as heavy, sour crude. This is a common type of crude that contains more sulfur than so-called light, sweet crude. Heavy crudes are harder and more expensive to refine into valuable fuels such as gasoline and therefore generally command a lower price.

Q. With all the saber rattling, why aren't oil prices soaring?

A: Because oil will likely keep flowing. Asian countries, already Iran's biggest customers, aren't joining the Europeans in banning Iranian crude. Also, the European embargo doesn't start until July, so markets will likely have time to adjust.

As Europe turns away from Iran to other markets, though, it could push up prices for certain types of global crudes. And the brinkmanship between Iran and the West may already be having some effect on prices, analysts say. "It could already be baked into the price (of oil)," says, Michael Levi, Director of the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change at the Council on Foreign Relations

Q: Will the embargo hurt or help Iran?

A: If Iran can no longer sell to Europe, it will have to find other buyers. That won't likely be difficult, especially given Asia's rising demand for oil. But Asian nations may be able to negotiate a discount for Iranian oil. "In the oil market, a little discount goes a long way," says Bhushan Bahree, a Middle East oil expert at IHS CERA.

On the other hand, if global oil prices rise and Iran can sell its oil for somewhat higher prices, Iran's oil revenue will grow.

Q: If Iranian oil is prevented from getting to market, will other nations be able to make up the difference?

A: Eventually, yes. The U.S. is pressuring other Middle East and African nations to increase production to help keep Europe and the world well-supplied as the embargo slowly takes effect. Saudi Arabia says it could increase its supplies to make up for any lost Iranian crude. Iran's relatively heavy crude is easier to replace than the Libyan light, sweet crude that was cut off during last year's uprising.

Still, an increase in production from other nations would leave little wiggle room for those countries to increase supplies further if needed. The oil market gets nervous, and sends prices higher, if it thinks producing nations don't have capacity to pump more oil to make up for a supply interruption somewhere in the world.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Nandan Nilekani on UID project, Aadhaar

Nandan Nilekani speaks to NDTV's Sreenivasan Jain on the UID project, Aadhaar

Sreenivasan Jain: Hello and welcome to this NDTV exclusive. When the Unique Identity Scheme was launched, it started with immense amount of promise, partly because it was headed by Nandan Nilekani; someone who retains immense goodwill amongst all the stakeholders involved. But increasingly it is running into a storm of controversies, some external, some internal, raising serious questions about its future. Joining me is Nandan Nilekani himself to talk about the future of UID. Thank you very much indeed, Nandan.

Nandan Nilekani: Thanks

Sreenivasan Jain: Did you have any idea when you got going into this that you are going to run into such a storm?

Nandan Nilekani: Sure, obviously I did not know about the contours about what would be the situation. But when you are doing a change programme of this magnitude, which affects a billion people, we are bringing in a whole new technology and charting into uncharted territories in terms of reach and scale, there are bound to be different points of view. That's a legitimate part of the process.

Sreenivasan Jain: But you weren't familiar with the world of the government, negotiating policy and all of that. So did it come as a bit of a surprise?

Nandan Nilekani: No I don't think so. I see this as an occupational hazard of being in public life. That there are different points of view and you can't accommodate every point of view in what you are doing. But at the end of the day we process all of that and we are convinced we are doing the right thing, we keep doing what we are doing.

Sreenivasan Jain: And you are still going ahead, I mean as we speak AADHAAR, the unique identity process is kind of barreling on?

Nandan Nilekani: I think it is important to break it into 3 parts. There is one part, which is enrollment, which is getting people into the system, a one-time activity. There is a second part, which is a technology platform to ensure everyone gets a unique number. The third part is the applications on top of this which are ..

Sreenivasan Jain:.. All the benefits that are meant to accrue ..

Nandan Nilekani: NREGA payments or PDS reforms or education or you know telecom or whatever. So as far as item number two is concerned, technology is concerned, we have built a really top class platform that will process a million applications a day. A scale that has never been done anywhere before.

Sreenivasan Jain: A million?

Nandan Nilekani: A million a day, 10 lakh dedupiclations per day.

Sreenivasan Jain:Deduplication means that you can verify that a person is a duplicate or not?

Nandan Nilekani: At the time you enroll the system will check that you are, so this means that we have a 100 million people, 1 crore people in our database and 10 lakh people coming in every day. Each of those 10 lakhs has to be compared against all of the 1 crore to check. So it's a very computing intensive, very sophisticated process that has to be developed. So that's working fully and ..

Sreenivasan Jain: And you have already enrolled almost 18crores?

Nandan Nilekani: It will be close to 20 crores by February.

Sreenivasan Jain: Right and you have given away about 110-115 million IDs?

Nandan Nilekani: The technology is proven and it's working. The applications have started. We have started doing NREGA payments in Jharkhand. We are doing LPG cash transfers in Mysore; we are doing mobile KYC in Hyderabad, so on and so forth. So applications have started. The only issue is how do people come into the system, which is the enrollment part. That's where the issue is.

Sreenivasan Jain: Well there are enough friends of yours that are raising questions about the entire process. Right from the entry point, but when we are talking about the enrollment let's begin from there because that's where it all starts. And we have now been able to get a chance to look at how its working in some AADHAAR centers, is where you actually see those debates between trying to be inclusive and trying to have clean verified data, and its not always easy because people are coming up with all sort of documents. How can you verify if these are authentic or not?

Nandan Nilekani: I think we have good processes but remember we are a country where even today there are millions of people who don't have any form of identity, and we have been able to bring them into the system, otherwise they will be outsiders because they don't have an acknowledged existence. They can't apply for their PDS; they can't get a bank account.

Sreenivasan Jain: So you don't want to get trapped in that cycle where you need an identity to get an identity?

Nandan Nilekani: That will get into a loop, right, you require one document A to get document B and require document B to get document C. What about the people who have no documents? They can't enter. So we have broken that loop by creating an introducer concept and so forth. So fundamentally this project is about inclusion. It is about giving people who are left out a chance to participate, which is why we have to strike a very balanced approach.

Sreenivasan Jain: But even with this introducer system it is not an easy thing, because often we found that introducers may not know everyone in the room, so you are often introducing people on good faith.

Nandan Nilekani: But the thing is when you introduce someone we record the AADHAAR number of the introducer, so we know who introduced him. And the most important thing that you must recognize, is that this system makes sure that there are no duplicates, so a person can enroll in this system only once, and that is really the best system we can have, because if you enroll, you enroll with some other name ..

Sreenivasan Jain: So even if you enroll under a false name or with false records you are saying that the identity is fixed

Nandan Nilekani: Fixed to that name and you are going to be that name for the rest of your life. So the fact that you are establishing uniqueness, that is the real value proposition. And the uniqueness has happened because, using the biometrics that creates a unique digital signature for everyone, we have established technologically that it is a unique person. That's what is important value proposition here.

Sreenivasan Jain: So when you talk about biometrics, which is essentially your finger prints and your iris scans, which is what you record in the system, now again there, whatever little research I've been doing, suggests that this scale of biometrics has never been done and its uncharted. Even in the countries like the UK, where they tried to start an identity card system, have had serious doubts about it.

Nandan Nilekani: That's for other reasons. But anyway ..

Sreenivasan Jain:Yes it is a combination of both, both the apprehensions of an identity card, but also about the doubts about biometric data.

Nandan Nilekani: Of course they are uncharted waters. The world's largest biometric database is of 120 million. We are talking about 1.2 billion. So that's 10 times anything else in the world. We are the only project that's doing on that scale using fusion biometrics, because we combine iris and fingerprints.

Sreenivasan Jain: What's the guarantee that this biometric project of yours is going to work?

Nandan Nilekani: No, we have enough data now. We have data on 100 million people enrolled and we have done a lot of analysis, and now we are confident that our technology can scale up to a billion people with an accuracy of over 99.96%

Sreenivasan Jain:That's the figure, which you are willing to go ahead with, almost one hundred percent accurate?

Nandan Nilekani: We will publish a report shortly, which has all the data and the research behind it.

Sreenivasan Jain: And this would be an independent report?

Nandan Nilekani: No it's our report. But independently we can check it out. Now look remember one thing we are doing things no one has done but that's not a reasons for us not doing it as long as you are confident that you can get it done which we now think we are. So I don't think technology of biometric for deduplication will be an issue anymore.

Sreenivasan Jain:The other issue with biometric is, we actually got to see it in practice, where a lot of people, especially those who do manual labour, are not being able to give clean fingerprints for example, which is again a problem.

Nandan Nilekani: No, that's why we go with the iris. The whole idea of taking the iris of both the eyes was that we said the more data points you have, the more ability to ensure that there is no duplicate. The fact that we have a digital map of the iris, as well as 10 fingers, ensures that if one or two of those attributes is not the best, the other attributes makeup for it. That's why we chose this model.

Sreenivasan Jain: Nandan, the other big question I had raised about your project is on security. How secure is the data, the UID data that you have with you?

Nandan Nilekani: Very, very secure. I think in terms of the security of this system, it's really probably is as good as it can get, because right from the time of enrollment, you go and enroll in an enrollment station, the data is immediately encrypted, which means even the operator can't see the data after that. And from there, from the enrollment station, all the way to our data center, it travels completely in an encrypted manner, so nobody can hack into it. Once it comes to our system it's again out behind many security walls and the actual biometric data, once you extract, the minute it is kept offline. So there is a huge amount of things we have done to make this a very secure system.

Sreenivasan Jain: Is this data going to be shared?

Nandan Nilekani: It is a black box. The purpose of this data is only in authentication. When you go somewhere to receive a service and you say I am Sreenivasan Jain Jain, the system will reply it is him, or not him. That's all it does. Only a yes or a no.

Sreenivasan Jain: So no one else no government or private agency can demand access to this data?

Nandan Nilekani: Unless it is national security issue, which anywhere in the world you are allowed to.

Sreenivasan Jain: So for a national security issue they can access it?

Nandan Nilekani: There will be a process by which you make an application.

Sreenivasan Jain: So at the moment this data is in a box. But going down the line the idea is to converge this with other silos of information, right?

Nandan Nilekani: What will happen is that if you go to your bank and you start opening an AADHAAR based bank account, that bank account will have your AADHAAR number. If you go get an insurance policy and you use an AADHAAR number that will have. So different databases will have your AADHAAR number but they will all be different databases. That's the whole idea. This is called as a federated model so no one person has all data.

Sreenivasan Jain: With AADHAAR as the connecting link number. But at some point we also talk about the convergence of the various databases, for example the exercise going on with the National Public Register.

Nandan Nilekani: No. Everybody will have their own database. Now converge, that means somebody has to bring it together, and that first of all is not that easy to bring together databases of 2 different entities. Secondly it has to be done through a framework.

Sreenivasan Jain: So here's what the doubters say, they say that this project is coming from a development perspective. But once all the data is in the system, then it could also become a security or a surveillance project, which will violate the individuals' privacy.

Nandan Nilekani: No, the data in the system, we don't have, for example, if a bank uses it to authenticate a person's ID, and the time of withdrawal of money, the UID system does not know what he has withdrawn, how much he has withdrawn. That's only known only to the bank's system. That's what I meant by a federated architecture, data is known only to those service providers. If the PDS system uses this to authenticate a person before giving rice, wheat or kerosene, that information is in the PDS system.

Sreenivasan Jain: At the moment, you don't know, but again those who want to push this argument further, and say as long as you are talking about any government agency which controls a large amount of data on individuals, then its not entirely clear how much the government would want to know or not. And that is a problem going down the line, that we don't have enough data protection laws and legislature to allow something like this.

Nandan Nilekani: No I think, there obviously has to be a data protection law, which we have been suggesting for quite some time, not just for this, it should be there for telephone tapping, so many things are happening which are also privacy issues. Privacy is a vast subject. Also remember that privacy and convenience is always a trade-off. When you open a bank account and want to borrow some money and you want to get a very cheap loan, you'll share all details of your assets because you want them to give you a low interest rate. When you go to get a health insurance policy, you share your health details to get a health insurance policy. When you go and put your photograph on a social networking site, you are sharing details about yourself. But in each of those instances you see a certain benefit of doing that. Similarly here, when you get the AADHAAR number, the benefits that come from that are so immense, that the privacy that you give up is a very marginal thing. It's a trade-off.

Sreenivasan Jain: Okay, so you have been taking on now some of the criticism that has been coming from the outside. But you have been also facing a lot of internal opposition and a lot of internal questions within the govt. And I am referring specifically to the Home Ministry's questions that they have raised about the data that you have been collecting. They say we can't use the UID data, its not up to our standards, that's a huge problem isn't it?

Nandan Nilekani: No, I think it's like this; as I said there are three parts to this project, there is the enrolment of individuals to this system, which is a one-time activity that will cover a billion plus people; there is a technology platform that does deduplication and there are applications. Technology platforms, there is no issue, that everybody agrees that this is the right technology platform and it will be used by everybody, Applications, no issue, the only question is how do we enroll people and that's where there is a question, whether we enroll it through using the multiple register that we have or through the NPR? That's a matter, which is before the Cabinet and Cabinet will take the appropriate decision.

Sreenivasan Jain: But you agree with view of Home Ministry and the NPR that your data is somehow not up to scratch. It's not very sound data?

Nandan Nilekani: Well, we believe that we follow due process; we believe that the process is as per the process as defined by the Vitthal Committee, which we set up, which had everybody as a member. We have very high standards of security; we believe that it serves the purpose it does.

Sreenivasan Jain: The genesis of this problem is that the NPR, the National Public Register was collecting data, and UID was meant to give numbers. Why did you get into enrollment?

Nandan Nilekani: It was a question of building a model, because what is a goal? A goal is get as many as people in India, residents of India, into this system as fast as possible, so the more people offering the function the better. Today we are at 27,000 thousand locations where the enrollment is going on.

Sreenivasan Jain: But would you like to cover the whole of India with your data collection?

Nandan Nilekani: Well that is the matter that is in front of Cabinet so they will take proper decision.

Sreenivasan Jain: Some believe that you are collateral damage in a proxy war between Mr Chidambaram and Mr Pranab Mukherjee.

Nandan Nilekani: See I cannot comment on all these things. See I can tell you one thing, this project is a huge benefit for people, a hundred and seventy million people are enrolled in the system.

Sreenivasan Jain: How much is all of this costing?

Nandan Nilekani: It is costing nearly 100 to 150 rupees per person.

Sreenivasan Jain:No I am saying the overall costs involved, because you have already spent, you had a budget clearance of about 3500 to 4000 crores. You have asked for a budget extension of about 8000 crores?

Nandan Nilekani: It's actually much less than that.

Sreenivasan Jain: What's the kind of ballpark figure we are looking at today?

Nandan Nilekani: 600 million is what we are committed to before 2014, so if you want to do 600 million, it will cost you around, let's say 9000 crores.

Sreenivasan Jain: 9000 crore Rupees for the entire population?

Nandan Nilekani: No half the population. But look it at the other way. This is going to be used to improve the quality of service delivery. Now every year India spends 3000 crores every year on entitlements and subsidies, 3000 crores that's today you know, right it, will keep going up in future. And if you can bring in using AADHAAR numbers, you make sure that you eliminate ghosts and duplicate numbers among beneficiaries.

Sreenivasan Jain: So you are saying there are savings involved, which will balance out the high cost of conducting this exercise?

Nandan Nilekani: Cost is reference to its gain, so the cost benefit is very obvious.

Sreenivasan Jain: Nandan, there is also fierce opposition from this Parliamentary Standing Committee, which is meant to have looked into this bill, which is supposed to have given legislative teeth to AADHAAR. Do you need legislative teeth?

Nandan Nilekani: No, to do the executive part, to execute the project, we can do it under executive authority. We have taken an opinion from the Law Ministry and Attorney General.

Sreenivasan Jain: You do not need the Parliament's approval to go ahead with your project?

Nandan Nilekani: No, we said that from day one. We are doing that with the full legal sanction that this project, that can be done with the Executive order.

Sreenivasan Jain: But overall you feel that this is project still has legs?

Nandan Nilekani: Of course it has legs. 170 million have voted with their feet.

Sreenivasan Jain: And it helps to have Rahul Gandhi's backing?

Nandan Nilekani: Yes definitely it helps, and we think the promise of this is being seen; that this can transform services to the people.

Sreenivasan Jain: Thanks very much Nandan Nilekani.

Nandan Nilekani: Thank you

Friday, January 20, 2012

Trivandrum-Kasargod High-Speed Rail Corridor

The Central government Thursday decided to give aid to the Kasargod-Thiruvananthapuram high speed railway track. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation has been asked to prepare a detailed project report on it.

The authorities have asked DMRC to file its report within six months. The decision was taken at a high power committee meeting held at the Prime Minister's office by the central government.

The Centre Friday promised financial assistance for the Thiruvananthapuram-Mangalore high-speed rail corridor project.

The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation has now been entrusted with preparation of a detaile project report to be submitted within six months.

A decision regarding this was taken at a high level meet convened at the Prime Minister's Office.

A feasibility report by DMRC says that the first phase from Thiruvananthapuram to Kochi might entail an investment of over Rs 40,000 crore.

The second phase that would link Kochi with Mangalore might need an investment of a little over Rs 1.18 lakh crore.

If realised travel from Kochi to Thiruvananthapuram could be covered in 45 minutes.

In a boost to Kerala's efforts to fast-track infrastructure development, the Centre has given the green signal to its ambitious high speed rail corridor project, linking the entire stretch from Kasargode in the north to the state capital in the south.

At a high-level meeting convened at the Prime Minister's Office in Delhi last evening, the state was asked to draw up a Detailed Project Report (DPR) of the scheme, official sources here said.

Pulok Chatterjee, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Kerala Chief Secretary P Prabhakaran and Managing Director of Infrastructure Kerala Limited T Balakrishnan were involved in the discussions.

The meeting was convened in response to Chief Minister Oommen Chandy's plea to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seeking the Centre's support for the mega project.

The 580-km track which will reduce end-to-end running time to two to three hours, is expected to cost Rs. one lakh crore.

Though the finance pattern of the project is yet to be finalised, it is likely to be a Private-Public Partnership' venture with technical and financial collaboration of the Indian Railways, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) and central and state governments, sources said.

The green signal to the high speed rail project has come close on the heels of the Kochi Metro Rail, the basic works for which has already begun.

On coming to power in May 2011, the United Democratic Front Government headed by Chandy unveiled an ambitious development agenda with its focus on infrastructure development.

Key Facts

Route : Trivandrum to Manglore
First Phase : Trivandrum to Cochin (cost: Rs. 43,254 crore)
Second Phase : Cochin to Manglore (cost: Rs. 1,18,050 crore)
Total Cost : Rs. 1,61,304 crore
Top Speed : 350 km/hr
Traveling Speed : 300 km/hr
Traveling Time : Trivandrum to Cochin only 45 minutes.
No. of Stations : 9
Seating Capacity : 817

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Slew of initiatives to promote Information Technology and Bio-technology in Kerala

The Congress-led United Democratic Front government in Kerala has devised a slew of initiatives for growth of Information Technology sector, including steps to reduce the working cost of Information Technology companies functioning in state-run Information Technology parks, Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said today.

"Our effort is to make Kerala a prominent destination for international companies to invest," Chandy said after inaugurating the two-day 'India Information Technology Summit-2012' here.

Schemes would be formulated to overcome issues inhibiting the growth of the Information Technology sector and to create an investment climate, he added.

As part of the new initiatives, Information Technology Special Investment Regions would be set up at Kozhikode, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram, while a new knowledge hub would be set up at Malappuram, he added.

Asserting that the upcoming 'Smart City' Information Technology park in Kochi will be implemented in a time-bound manner, Chandy said the project, when completed, is expected to provide jobs to one lakh people.

Outlining the strategies for the Information Technology sector, State Industries Minister P K Kunhalikutty said various subsidies would be granted to Information Technology companies to ensure smooth operations and revenue generation.

Another initiative to aid Information Technology growth will be the development of a 'Technocity', he said. The Technocity is being developed across 450 acres in Pallipuram, about 5 km from the Technopark campus, on the NH-47 to Kollam, he said.

Confederation of Indian Industry Vice-President and Infosys Executive Co-Chairman S Gopalakrishnan said the Information Technology sector was in a transition period.

"The Information Technology sector is at a very important point," he said, adding that it was shifting from "Persocal Computer-based applications to mobile-based technology."

The two-day event has been organised by Confederation of Indian Industry, Kerala, with over 300 delegates taking part.

List of IT Parks and Cities developed in the NH47 stretch of Trivandrum, Kollam,Alleppy and Kochi.








8.L&T Tech Park Ltd-KOCHI

9.Muthoot Technopolis -KOCHI


12.Smart City- KOCHI

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Will foreign airlines be allowed to own upto 49% of Indian carriers?

In an attempt to bail out bleeding airlines, the government is considering whether to allow foreign airlines to own upto 49 per cent of Indian carriers.

Currently, foreign investors can own upto 49 per cent stake in Indian airlines, but only if they are not in the airline business abroad. What the government is now considering would allow an airline like Virgin, for example, to own upto 49 per cent in a local carrier like Kingfisher - an earlier proposal suggested a cap on FDI at 26 per cent for foreign airlines.

After a lengthy meeting with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh shared, "The question was to allow foreign airlines to participate in FDI. I discussed it with the Finance Minister and he has agreed. We will bring out a note for the Cabinet now."

The Commerce Ministry and the Civil Aviation Ministry have been working on this new proposal and today, the relevant Group of Ministers has agreed in principle to this proposal. It will now have to be discussed and reviewed by the cabinet.

Recently, airlines like Kingfisher which are trapped in a cash-crunch and mega-losses have been petitioning for foreign airlines as partners. The Civil Aviation Minister also said it would be upto each airline to decide if they want to allow FDI. Together, India's main carriers are expected to lose close to $3 billion in this financial year.

Meanwhile, just days after nearly 40 pilots of the cash-strapped national carrier Air India went on an agitation over pending incentives, the Civil Aviation Minister has also said the government will be immediately releasing Rs. 150 crore to pay productivity-linked incentives.

Asked by when would the amount be released to Air India, Mr Singh said "we have agreed, the Finance Ministry has agreed. So, it should be released soon. It may not be too long. This is basically money owed to the airline by the government."

Maintaining that this was "just the first part of it" and the total was around Rs. 600 crore, he said several Ministries have to bear the cost of VVIP travel. "Some Ministries have approved it, others have to approve it. I will talk to those Ministers also."

The Civil Aviation Minister also said a Group of Ministers will consider a restructuring plan for the airline. The debt-ridden carrier has outstanding loans and dues worth Rs. 67,520 crore, of which Rs. 21,200 is working capital loan, Rs. 22,000 crore is long-term loan on fleet acquisition, Rs. 4,600 is vendor dues and an accumulated loss of Rs. 20,320 crore, according to official figures.