Saturday, June 30, 2012

India's rocket launch business is open to industry.

In a bold move, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is opening up to market forces and is hoping to hand over part of the lucrative rocket launch business and satellite manufacturing to the Indian industry.

India's workhorse rocket, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), which has completed 20 consecutively successful launches under the eagle eye of ISRO, is one such technology that the agency is hoping to hive off to private players. Today, about 80 % of the vehicle is put together with parts supplied by the private industry. If K Radhakrishnan, the current chairman of ISRO and a manager trained at the Indian Institute of Management at Bangalore has his way, then the entire vehicle itself could well be made and launched by private players.

Mr Radhakrishnan says, "The PSLV is a reliable vehicle...there are requirements of putting Indian satellites, and in the global market, the PSLV too has a niche. Capability is there, demand is there, now how to enhance the capacity to realize more PSLVs? As of now more than 400 industrial firms are working for realizing various elements of PSLV. Can we get the Indian space industry to realize the [entire] PSLV vehicle itself?"

Each PSLV vehicle costs the tax payer about Rs. 120 crores, and today ISRO can, at best, fabricate four PSLV rockets per year. In the next two-three years, almost a dozen launches of PSLV are already slated and ISRO will be stretched to meet these requirements.

The plan is to carve out a 250-acre, dedicated 'Space Park' adjoining the space port at Sriharikota, which could be used by private players to develop the Indian aerospace industry.

ISRO is also thinking of hiving off the money-spinning communication satellite business. Adding further, Mr Radhakrishnan said, "On communications satellites, there is a large demand for transponders today. So, if the proven platforms of communications satellites...if they could be replicated with the help of the industry. With industry taking a major role, that is another way of meeting the national demands at the earliest possible."

Today, the global space business is valued at $ 177 billion and growing. So, will the Indian industry not want a share? M V Kotwal, Board Member, Larsen & Toubro & President Heavy Engineering and head of L&T's space and nuclear business told NDTV, "If ISRO is interested in partnering the Indian Industry in overall management of the entire Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle programme and the communications satellite fabrication programme, it is a very welcome and necessary step. With its wide experience and expertise in project management, L&T would be positively inclined and well placed to take over the complete programme management with technical support from ISRO. In future, we could jointly explore global opportunities in these domains."

With missions to Mars, moon and sun on the mind, ISRO rightfully seeks to divest itself of repeat and routine manufacturing which is best done by nimble private players, but with the Antrix-Devas fiasco fresh in everyone's mind, will the private players really bite the bait? ISRO now seeks to do what it does best - cutting-edge research. So it now wants to sell off its launcher and communication satellite units to the industry.

Friday, June 29, 2012

20 incredible iPhone stats on its fifth birthday.

The original iPhone was unveiled by then Apple CEO, the late Steve Jobs on 9 January 2007. It released on 29 June 2007, which means the smartphone turns five today! Here are 20 stats that look at iPhone's journey from a modest beginning to a worldwide cultural and technological phenomenon.

1) The original iPhone cost $499 and had just 4GB of storage. The 8 GB model cost $599.

2) On September 5, 2007 Apple dropped the 8GB model price to $399 and discontinued the 4 GB model.

3) A 16 GB model costing $499 was released on February 5, 2008.

4) The development cost of the original iPhone is estimated to be around $150 million.

5) The display of the original iPhone had 153600 pixels, at a display resolution of 320x480 pixels at 163 pixels-per-inch.

6) The iPhone 4S has 614400 pixels, or four times the original. It has a display resolution of 640X960 at 326 pixels-per-inch.

7) The original iPhone, which debuted only on one carrier in the US, sold 270,000 units in its first two days.

8) The first iPhone took 74 days to reach one million sales.

9) The iPhone 3G, the second version of the iPhone, clocked a million sales in the opening weekend. The iPhone 3GS clocked similar opening weekend sales.

10) The iPhone 4 clocked over 600,000 pre-orders in just a single day.

9) 1.7 million units of the iPhone 4 were sold during the weekend that sales opened.

11) iPhone 4S was the first iPhone to break the million pre-orders mark, clocking the figure the day pre-orders opened.

12) The original iPhone was 11.6mm thick and weighed 135 grams.

13) iPhone 4S weighs 140 grams and is 9.3mm thick.

14) The iPhone 3G is the lightest iPhone till date at 133 grams.

15) iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S are the slimmest at an identical 9.3mm thickness.

16) The original iPhone launched with a grand total of 0 third-party apps. Apple didn't let developers write app for its phone until the iPhone 3G.

17) Apple had sold over 218 million iPhones (all generations combined) as of 31st March 2012.

18) There are over 650,000 iOS apps as June 2012.*

19) There have been over 30 billion apps download from Apple's App Store as of June 2012.*

20) Apple has paid over $5 billion to developers as their share of the App Store revenue.*

Delhi Durbar Tiara at Queen's diamond display

The Delhi Durbar Tiara, made in 1911 for Queen Mary to wear at the Delhi Durbar in the same year, will be shown to the public for the first time as part of a special exhibition of Queen Elizabeth's diamonds at the Buckingham Palace from Saturday.

The exhibition - Diamonds: A Jubilee Celebration - will showcase more than 10,000 diamonds, including a number of the Queen's personal jewels and pieces from the Royal Collection.

The Delhi Durbar was held in 1877, 1903 and 1911.

The 1911 Delhi Durbar was held in December to commemorate the coronation in Britain of King George V and Queen Mary, and their proclamation as Emperor and Empress of India. It was attended by almost every ruling prince, nobleman, landed gentry and other persons of note in India.

The Delhi Durbar Tiara was part of the Queen's parure of emeralds and diamonds made for the occasion by Garrard & Co Ltd. The parure included a necklace, stomacher, brooch and earrings. King George V referred to the Delhi Durbar Tiara as 'Mary's best tiara'.

Queen Mary loaned the tiara to Queen Elizabeth I in 1946 for the South African Tour in 1947, and it remained with her until her death in 2002. In 2005, it was loaned by The Queen to The Duchess of Cornwall.

Exhibition curator Caroline de Guitaut said, "The exhibition shows how over the past three centuries monarchs have used diamonds to display magnificence, whether in personal adornment or as a statement of power."

Coca-Cola to invest $5 bn in India over 8 years.

Beverage giant Coca-Cola on Tuesday said it, along with its partners, will invest $5 billion (about Rs. 28,000 crore) in India by 2020 on various activities, including setting up of new bottling plants.

This investment is higher by $3 billion from the previous announcement made in November 2011 for a period of five years to enhance its operations in India.

"Coca-Cola will invest $5 billion in India between now and 2020. This investment in India is a part of $30 billion globally planned by the company. India aims to be among top five countries in Coca-Cola's markets. It is at present No. 7," chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent said.

The investment, along with its partners, will go on increasing bottling lines, adding new bottling plants, enhancing back-end chain infrastructure as well as marketing by the company, he added.

"We have robust investment plans as we have examined our business here. Why are we increasing it? Because we are absolutely confident this is the right decision considering the vast opportunities in India," he added.

In line with its plan to double revenue globally by 2020, Coca-Cola along with its partners had announced last year investments of $2 billion in India over the next five years to enhance its business operations, including setting up a new plant in the country.

The company has over 50 manufacturing centres across India.

Coca-Cola reported a growth of 20% in volumes for the quarter ended September 30 as compared to the same period last year.

Globally, the company reported volume growth of 5% for the first quarter. Volume growth in the quarter was well-balanced around the world, with solid growth in key developed markets, including North America (+2%), Japan (+3%) and Germany (+3%) as well as strong growth in key emerging markets such as India (+20%), China (+9%) and Brazil (+4%).

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Samsung struggles to keep pace with Galaxy S III demand.

Samsung Electronics' struggle to keep pace with rampant demand for its new Galaxy S III smartphone may have cost the South Korean firm some 2 million units of sales in just a month.

For a company that has never stirred the sort of consumer frenzy that accompanies each new Apple Inc gadget, overwhelming demand is a nice problem to have. But some of the shortage stemmed from a manufacturing glitch that affected some European sales, while major carriers in the United States have had to delay delivery of some pre-ordered phones.

The Galaxy S III has received the most positive reviews among any of the Samsung smartphones, and the technology giant says the phone is on track to become its fastest selling smartphone, with sales likely to top 10 million in the first two months since its launch.
The latest Galaxy's launch has been well timed as the next iPhone is not expected until later this year, and offerings from others such as Google's Motorola and Nokia have not created much of a market stir.

"Samsung might have been caught off guard by the demand, not because they did not believe in their own products, but because they might have over-estimated the competition," said Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi. "In other words, aside from the iPhone and HTC's oneX there's not much out there at the moment, which would have certainly helped Samsung."

Analysts reckon the Galaxy shortage will be a temporary hiccup, affecting some 2 million units of shipments in the April-June quarter. Samsung expects another record quarter of earnings from its handset business in the current period, helped by solid sales of its predecessor S II and phone-cum-tablet Galaxy Note.

Barclays lowered its forecast for Samsung's second-quarter Galaxy S III shipments to 6.5 million from 8 million, but raised its third-quarter shipment forecast by 1 million to 15 million.

Samsung said component shortages have been resolved and it is running at full tilt to meet demand. "It is simply that demand far exceeded our expectation. But that doesn't mean we had set a very conservative demand forecast," Samsung said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

Apple challenger

Samsung kicked off global sales of the Galaxy S III on May 29, but immediately signalled a delay of 2-3 three weeks for delivering the pebble-blue version of the model.

Less than a fortnight before launch, Samsung's then CEO Choi Gee-sung, now head of parent Samsung Group's corporate strategy office, ordered that half a million of the blue cases be thrown away as the design, with thin, silver stripes, was unsatisfactory, according to daily newspaper Chosun Ilbo.

After numerous design tweaks, Choi approved the final version on a Sunday less than 10 days before launch, the report said - as he was boarding a plane to fly to a court-ordered meeting in the United States with Apple CEO Tim Cook as part of a long-running patent dispute between the two smartphone powerhouses.

Samsung said on Tuesday that delays caused by the blue case issue were a temporary blip and had been resolved, adding that a supply shortage in the United States was rapidly getting back to normal.

In the United States, where sales were launched last week, major carriers including Sprint Nextel Corp and AT&T struggled to deliver pre-ordered smartphones. Sprint said on its website that both the 16 gigabyte and 32 GB models were out of stock, and an AT&T spokesperson said future orders would arrive within 10 business days based on available supplies.

Samsung launched its first Galaxy two years ago in a bid to counter Apple's iPhone success. At the time, Samsung's global smartphone market share was below 10 percent. It has since overtaken Apple, and the company said in late April that the new Galaxy would "substantially contribute" to second-quarter results.

Samsung sold 44.5 million smartphones in January-March, and current quarter sales are expected to top 50 million.

"It's increasingly apparent the Galaxy S III is being considered a true peer to the iPhone, rather than simply the least-bad alternative," said CLSA analyst Matt Evans.

"The change in status is most evident in the uniformity of the device among the five U.S. carriers. Unlike the Galaxy S II, there's little customisation. Samsung has obviously developed huge leverage in negotiations with carriers and created a 'must have' handset."

Monday, June 25, 2012

Cloud computing: Five reasons why it matters

Computer users will start storing at least one-third of their content on cloud services by 2016, research firm Gartner has said.

Only 7 per cent content was stored in the cloud in 2011, the company said in a report, adding that this number was likely to grow to 36 per cent by 2016.

Cloud computing, which is Internet-based, facilitates sharing of technological resources, software and digital information. This emerging field functions on a pay-per-use model, helping technology companies to bring down cost.

Market research and analysis firm IDC has estimated that IT cloud services helped businesses around the world generate more than $600 billion in revenue and 1.5 million new jobs in 2011. According to its study, more than 50 per cent of the 14 million jobs would be generated in the small and medium businesses.

Earlier this year, Microsoft had said that with an increasing number of companies adopting cloud computing, over two million jobs were expected to be created in India by 2015.

Here are five facts from the Gartner report:

1. Gartner predicts that worldwide consumer digital storage needs will grow from 329 exabytes in 2011 to 4.1 zettabytes in 2016. This includes digital content stored in PCs, smartphones, tablets, hard-disk drives (HDDs), network attached storage (NAS) and cloud repositories. (1 exabyte is 10^18 bytes; 1 zettabyte is 10^21 bytes.)

2. Average storage per household will grow from 464 gigabytes in 2011 to 3.3 terabytes in 2016, Gartner says, adding that the adoption of camera-equipped tablets and smartphones will drive consumer storage needs.

3. A majority of this growth will come from North America and Western Europe. In the Asia/Pacific region, Japan and South Korea will witness the highest growth in cloud storage, Gartner says.

4. The bulk of the cloud storage needs of consumers in the near term will be met by social media sites such as Facebook, which offer free storage space for uploading photos and videos for social sharing, says Gartner.

5. On-premises storage will remain the main repository of consumer digital content, although Gartner predicts that its share will progressively drop from 93 per cent in 2011 to 64 per cent in 2016 as the direct-to-cloud model becomes more mainstream.

How Indian Navy is expanding and modernising.

Suddenly, the Indian Navy is the service to watch out for.

Quietly, it has gathered pace in acquisition and modernisation together. Currently it is in the middle of a planned expansion designed to cater to emerging maritime security challenges in the Indian Ocean Region and beyond.

Two weeks ago, Vikramaditya, formerly Admiral Gorshkov, a 45,000-tonne displacement aircraft carrier built in Russia began its sea trials, six months before it is handed over to the Indian Navy on December 4, the Navy Day.

Last week, four frontline warships finished a port call in Shanghai at the end of a sustained overseas deployment as part of India's 'Look East' Policy. The four Indian Navy ships, Rana, Shivalik, Karmukh and Shakti, under the command of Rear Admiral P Ajit Kumar, Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Fleet are on an operational deployment to the South China Sea and North West Pacific. Earlier in the deployment, the first bi-lateral maritime exercise between India and Japan 'JIMEX 12' (Japan India Maritime Exercise) was conducted, coinciding with the commemoration of 60 years of diplomatic relations between India and Japan.

According to the Indian Navy, even as the four ships of the Eastern Fleet are in the South China Sea, another ship, INS Savitri is currently in Port Victoria, Seychelles. INS Savitri will participate in the National Day celebrations of Seychelles and thereafter be deployed for about two months to undertake surveillance of the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of Seychelles and Mauritius.

The Indian Navy continues to maintain one Dornier aircraft in Seychelles to provide aerial surveillance for the Seychelles EEZ. Another Dornier aircraft is actively flying from Maldives to meet Maldivian requirements of EEZ surveillance and anti-piracy patrols.

INS Tabar, is on a sustained deployment in the Gulf of Aden on convoy escort and anti-piracy patrol.

Four ships of the Western Fleet have just begun on an overseas deployment to Horn of Africa, Red Sea and the Western Mediterranean under the command of Rear Admiral AR Karve, Flag Officer Commanding, Western Fleet.

For instance, in April, India's latest naval base, INS Dweeprakshak (Island protector) was put into operation at Kavaratti in Lakshawadeep, the tiny island chain, southwest Kerala. Although the Indian Navy has had a small presence on the strategically important islands for the past decade, its decision to open a permanent base emanated from recent incidents of piracy very close to these islands. At least 100 pirates were caught and several piracy attempts foiled in the vicinity by the Indian Navy in recent times.

In a statement, the Navy said: "Indian Navy has been operating a detachment at Kavaratti since early eighties. With the commissioning of INS Dweeprakshak, the island territories would see calibrated strengthening of assets in step with their growing relevance to the security calculus of the Nation. A firmer footing in the islands, which are spread outside some of the busiest shipping lanes of the world, would provide the necessary wherewithal to the Indian Navy to discharge its responsibilities suitably. Indian Naval Warships on patrol would now extend their reach farther with base support from INS Dweeprakshak."

The establishment of this base is in keeping with the announcement made by the Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Nirmal Verma. "The Navy is also in the process offsetting up Operational Turn Around (OTR) bases, Forward Operating Bases and Naval Air Enclaves along the coast which would enhance the reach and sustainability of our surveillance effort. In 2011, the Navy has provided a renewed impetus and focus towards creation of operational and administrative infrastructure in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the Lakshadweep and Minicoy Islands. These islands are the country's strategic outposts and augmentation of the facilities would enhance our reach and enable extended presence in the area," he had said in December2011.

The Navy's long-term Maritime Capabilities Perspective Plan in fact has identified a mix of two major roles for the force: One, the traditional blue water operational capability and two, a plan to effectively counter threats closer to the coast.

According to the report of the Standing Committee on Defence, tabled in Parliament in the last week of April, the Navy's short-term plan has the following objectives:

•Augment airborne maritime surveillance, strike, Anti-Submarine Warfare and air defence capability through induction of shore-based aircraft, integral helos, carrier based aircraft, space based AIS and UAVs, along with suitable weapons and sensors.

•Develop ASW (anti-submarine warfare) capability through induction of suitable platforms, weapons and sensors.

•Build adequate standoff capability for sea lift and Expeditionary Operations to achieve desired power projection force levels, influence events ashore and undertake Military Operations Other Than War.

•Induct assets and develop suitable infrastructure to augment forces available for Low Intensity Maritime Operations (LIMO), protection of off- shore assets and Coastal Security framework.

•Induct force multipliers like satellite based global communications, reconnaissance and network enabled platforms to achieve Battle-Space dominance capability and perform network centric operations.

•Induct state-of-the-art equipment and specialised platforms for Special Forces to enhance niche capabilities to conduct Maritime Intervention Operations and other envisaged roles.

•Develop support infrastructure in island territories to support the planned force levels as well as support infrastructure for ships/submarines/aircrafts at ports and airbases.

Given the extensive plans presented to the Parliament, it is evident now that the Indian Navy is in the middle of its most ambitious expansion plan in the past three decades. Senior officers point out that the Indian Navy's perspective-planning in terms of 'force-levels' is now driven by a conceptual shift from 'numbers' of platforms - that is, from the old 'bean-counting' philosophy - to one that concentrates on 'capabilities'.

Naval headquarters says 50 modern ships are currently on order with majority being built in Indian shipyards. The Parliament's Standing Committee on Defence was informed last month that while Indian shipyards have made remarkable progress in building hulls and associated equipment but still lag behind in building and manufacturing weapons and sensors.

Traditionally the Indian Navy has sourced most of its ships from the former Soviet Union but over the past decade, defence planners have leaned hard on Indian shipbuilding yards to deliver a variety of warship for the Indian Navy.

Two stealth ships - INS Shivalik and INS Satpura - commissioned recently have been designed and built by public sector Mazgaon Docks Limited. The order books of India's oldest government-owned shipbuilders are full with the Navy wanting four more such guided missile frigates over the next five years.

There are more acquisitions in the pipeline. They include: four anti-submarine corvettes, four guided missile destroyers, three stealth frigates, six Scorpene submarines (being built at Mazgaon Docks with French technology and help) and two nuclear-powered submarines.

India's conventional diesel-powered submarine fleet is down to single digits right now but with the Russian-built Nerpa class nuclear submarine (leased for a decade) joining service earlier this year, the submarine arm has got a major boost. But the biggest force accretion in recent years has come in the form of Boeing Pi-8long range maritime reconnaissance (LRMR) plane that gives the Indian Navy a reach and capability to mount surveillance way beyond its traditional areas of influence.

According to its near-term plans, the Indian Navy has ambitions to become a three Battle Carrier Groups force by 2020.

While it's most prestigious acquisition-Russian Aircraft Carrier Admiral Gorshkov, to be renamed INS Vikramaditya - is likely to be inducted into the fleet latest by March 2013, one more carrier being built indigenously will most likely join the service by 2015.

Currently India operates a lone Aircraft Carrier, INS Viraat, a British-built 1960s vintage ship that is on an extended lease of life thanks to the Navy's innovative engineers and planners.

Vikramaditya, once inducted, will give India the much needed edge in its maritime capabilities since it will come with the latest MiG-29 K series of aircraft. Indian Naval Aviators are already hard at work training themselves on the planes but away from the ship.

Defence Minister AK Antony in fact told the Naval Commanders conference last month: "India's strategic location in the Indian Ocean and the professional capability of our Navy bestows upon us a natural ability to play a leading role in ensuring peace and stability in the Indian Ocean Region."

Little wonder than the US wants India and especially the Indian Navy to play a major role in its quest to form new and lasting regional alliances in Asia as articulated by visiting secretary of defence Leon Panetta.

Samsung sells nearly 21,000 phones every hour.

Samsung Electronics Co expects sales of its new Galaxy S III, launched at the end of last month as a main rival to Apple's iPhone, to top 10 million during July, making it the South Korean group's fastest selling smartphone.

It also predicted earnings from its handset division would be higher in the current second quarter than in January-March, countering market concerns that tight supplies of the new Galaxy model and the weak global economy would pressure earnings at Asia's most valuable technology firm.

Shares in Samsung dropped more than 4 percent on Monday to a four-and-a-half month low, after more brokers cut their quarterly profit outlook, citing concerns over its chip and telecoms businesses. The benchmark KOSPI stock index was down 1.6 percent.

"The overall market condition was challenging due to euro zone issues and tight supply of components ... but (our) second-quarter results will be better than the first quarter," JK Shin, head of Samsung's mobile division, told reporters.

Profit from Samsung's mobile division nearly trebled in January-March to $3.6 billion, accounting for 73 percent of group operating profit.

Samsung kicked off global sales of its Galaxy S III on May 29, but shipments have been affected by the tight supply of parts such as the handset casing for the pebble-blue model.

"Supply remains very tight due to strong demand and component shortages, but we expect overall supply conditions to improve from next week," Shin said.

Samsung said in late April that new Galaxy smartphones would "substantially contribute" to second-quarter results.

Analysts have downgraded estimates for Samsung's second-quarter smartphone shipments in recent weeks, predicting that sales of the latest Galaxy model have triggered a steeper than expected drop-off in sales of earlier products. They also cited tight supply of the S III model and growing competition from low-end manufacturers such as Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corp .

JPMorgan cut its forecast for Samsung's second-quarter smartphone shipments by a tenth to 50 million units.

Samsung sold 44.5 million smartphones in January-March - equal to nearly 21,000 every hour - giving it 30.6 percent market share. Apple sold 35.1 million iPhones, taking 24.1 percent market share.

Samsung introduced its first Galaxy in 2010, three years after the iPhone's debut, to counter Apple's roaring success in smartphones and take advantage of stumbles at bigger rivals Nokia and BlackBerry maker Research In Motion .

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Delhi, Mumbai to get missile defence shield.

Delhi and Mumbai have been chosen for the Defence Research and Development Organisation's (DRDO) Ballistic Missile Defence system that can be put in place at short notice.

The detailed proposal is being prepared for final clearance from the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).

The strategic planning has already begun to install the defence system in the two cities and the final proposal will be put before the government after detailed analysis of the entire project, sources said.

The sites for installing radars to track enemy missiles and storing counter-attack projectiles will be determined during the planning stage, they said, adding that these locations must have adequate stealth feature and protection against enemy sabotage.

To ensure maximum protection against air-borne threats, DRDO will put a mix of counter-attack missiles which will be able to shoot down enemy missiles both within earth's atmosphere (endo-atmospheric) and outside it (exo-atmospheric).

The BMD system will require minimum human intervention due to the complete automation of tracking devices and counter-measures. Human intervention will be required only to abort the mission, the sources said.

After successful implementation in Delhi and Mumbai, the system will be used to cover other major cities in the country, they added.

The shield, developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation, has undergone a series of successful tests. It can destroy an incoming ballistic missile with the range of up to 2,000 km.

During the test stage, DRDO used variants of Prithvi missiles as simulated targets and successfully intercepted them in mid-air.

All the necessary elements such as long-range radars and tracking devices, real-time datalink and mission control system required for installing the BMD missile system have been also been successfully tested by the DRDO.

The system is all set to be upgraded to the range of 5,000 km by 2016.

The system was first test-fired in November 2006, elevating India into the elite club of countries to have successfully developed an anti-ballistic missile system after the US, Russia and Israel.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

India for greater economic ties with Cuba: SM Krishna.

India is keen on fostering closer economic ties with oil-rich Cuba as the two countries already share "excellent" political relations, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna has said.

"The purpose of my visit to Cuba is to promote economic relations between both countries. Our political relations are excellent," Mr Krishna said on state television after a meeting with the speaker of Cuba's National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon.

Krishna and his Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodriguez agreed to foster bilateral links and the steps to be followed to boost them, Cuba's official news agency Prensa Latina said.

The ministers held two meetings on Friday as part of the agenda of Krishna's first official visit to Cuba.

Mr Krishna said he was "impressed" by recent developments in Cuba, billed as reforms by President Raul Castro, while issuing an invitation to Mr Rodriguez to visit India next month.

India has invested in oil exploration off Cuba's coast in the Gulf of Mexico and the country's Trade and Industry minister Jyotiraditya Scindia will visit Cuba to further boost good relations, Mr Krishna added.

According to the Mr Rodriguez, Cuba and India have stepped up to keep expanding exchanges between the two countries, adding both countries ratified their commitments to multilateralism.

Earlier this week, Mr Rodriguez had expressed his country's eagerness to co-operate with India in a range of fields, including hydrocarbon exploration.

"Cuba will cooperate with India in the fields of sports, bio-technology and pharmaceuticals, and will highly encourage India to partner in hydrocarbons and oil exploration sectors," Mr Rodriguez said.

Bilateral trade between India and Cuba reached its highest level in the 1980s when it topped USD 300 million annually.

Two-way trade currently stands at around USD 50 million a year. According to official 2010 figures trade between the two countries reached some USD 54 million, EFE news agency said.

Havana, Jun 17 (PTI) India is keen on fostering closer economic ties with oil-rich Cuba as the two countries already share "excellent" political relations, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna has said.

"The purpose of my visit to Cuba is to promote economic relations between both countries. Our political relations are excellent," Mr Krishna said on state television after a meeting with the speaker of Cuba's National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon.

Krishna and his Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodriguez agreed to foster bilateral links and the steps to be followed to boost them, Cuba's official news agency Prensa Latina said.

The ministers held two meetings on Friday as part of the agenda of Krishna's first official visit to Cuba.

Mr Krishna said he was "impressed" by recent developments in Cuba, billed as reforms by President Raul Castro, while issuing an invitation to Mr Rodriguez to visit India next month.

India has invested in oil exploration off Cuba's coast in the Gulf of Mexico and the country's Trade and Industry minister Jyotiraditya Scindia will visit Cuba to further boost good relations, Mr Krishna added.

According to the Mr Rodriguez, Cuba and India have stepped up to keep expanding exchanges between the two countries, adding both countries ratified their commitments to multilateralism.

Earlier this week, Mr Rodriguez had expressed his country's eagerness to co-operate with India in a range of fields, including hydrocarbon exploration.

"Cuba will cooperate with India in the fields of sports, bio-technology and pharmaceuticals, and will highly encourage India to partner in hydrocarbons and oil exploration sectors," Mr Rodriguez said.

Bilateral trade between India and Cuba reached its highest level in the 1980s when it topped USD 300 million annually.

Two-way trade currently stands at around USD 50 million a year. According to official 2010 figures trade between the two countries reached some USD 54 million, EFE news agency said.

India seeks to boost economic ties with oil rich Cuba.

The strains of the Indian national anthem filled the iconic revolution square in Havana as India's foreign Minister SM Krishna started his three-day visit to the Cuban capital by paying homage to the father of the Cuban revolution, Jose Marti. He was then ceremonially greeted by all the 180 ambassadors to Cuba from the world over at the foreign ministry.

It was an unprecedented welcome by Cuba for an old friend whose world view was identical at one point of time in history but which has taken a very different path since then. While India has had an embassy in Cuba for the past 50 years, this is the first visit of a foreign minister in 23 years - a time during which much has changed in both countries and in the rest of the world. Neither side acknowledged the drifting of ties in the middle. Minister Krishna opened his bilateral meeting with his Cuban counterpart saying, "There is a special place for Cuba and the Cuban people in India's heart."

Cuba and India have historically had strong relations since the revolution in 1959. India was among the first countries to recognise Cuba and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was among the first major world leaders to visit Havana in 1960. The personal role of President Castro in forging the India-Cuba alliance is well known. The image of him embracing Indira Gandhi while handing over the NAM chairmanship to her in 1983 has become iconic. But in a world where international affairs are ruled increasingly by pragmatism, the challenge for New Delhi is whether it can build on the goodwill of a historic alliance, based largely on an increasingly irrelevant ideology, and craft a new partnership for a new world.

The apparent warmth and bonhomie on Mr Krishna's three-day visit is reflective of both countries' desire to strengthen and renew relations and take it to the next level.

According to Mr Krishna, "Our political relations are excellent, but we must give greater economic content to those ties." Bilateral trade between India and oil rich Cuba reached its highest level in the 1980s when it topped $300 million annually. It currently stands at around $30 million a year. Krishna also announced that India's commerce and industry minister, Jyotiraditya Scindia, will travel to Cuba in July to "open new horizons" in bilateral economic cooperation.

Already ONGC has invested over 70 million US dollars in oil exploration in Cuba's Exclusive Economic Zone in the Gulf of Mexico. It's a move welcomed by the Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez who expressed his appreciation saying, "We welcome the powerful Indian oil companies with international activity and I hope that this business can be in mutual interest and profitability for both our countries."

Foreign minister Krishna's itinerary over the past week has looked like something out of a James Bond movie. He has travelled for bilateral talks from China to the US and now to Cuba, an ideological rival of Washington. Whether it is coincidence or plain logistical sense taking into consideration world geography, the Indian foreign minister's transcontinental travels reflects India's determination to balance diverse partners in an increasingly interlinked and multi-colour world.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Ikea to invest Rs 10,500 cr to set up 25 stores in India.

Sweden-based furniture retailer IKEA has approached the finance ministry with a proposal to invest Rs 10,500 crore for setting up of 25 stores in single-brand retail in the country.

The IKEA group, which sells office and home furniture, proposes to invest €1.5 billion (Rs 10,500 crore) through a 100 per cent subsidiary in single-brand retail trading in India, sources said.

This would be the largest investment in the single-brand retailing ever since the government has allowed foreign investment in this sector.

The company has filed an application with the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) through its adviser Titus and Co Advocates.

According to the proposal, IKEA would be investing €600 million (Rs 4,200 crore) to open 10 stores in the first stage. The remaining €900 million (Rs 6,300 crore) would be used to open 15 more stores.

In January, the government has notified 100 per cent foreign direct investment (FDI) in single-brand retail, paving way for global chains like Adidas, Louis Vuitton and Gucci to have full ownership of their India operations.

Meanwhile, IKEA chief executive and president M Ohlsson on Friday met commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma in St Petersburg and discussed about the investment plans in India.

The Scandinavian firm, which is already purchasing products from India and under the current FDI norms, will be required to source 30 per cent of their requirement from Indian SMEs.

Rio +20 - The Indian Perspective

To quote from the Prime Minister's speech at the Rio+20 summit here in Brazil: "Sustainable development (also) mandates the efficient use of available natural resources. We have to be much more frugal in the way we use natural resources. A key area of focus is energy. We have to promote, universal access to energy, while, at the same time, promoting energy efficiency and a shift to cleaner energy sources by addressing various technological, financial and institutional constraints."

Dr. Manmohan Singh also stressed the need to find 'new pathways for sustainable living', saying current consumption patterns in the industrialised world are unsustainable.

But this is exactly where Indian NGOs, present at the summit say India could have used the opportunity to show some leadership at the summit and even practice what it is trying to preach to other nations across the world.

In an open letter to the Prime Minister, representatives of different NGOs write: "India is no exception to the global trends (of massive hunger, poverty, unemployment, and various forms of deprivation). Recent evidence suggests we too are beyond our natural limits, and we too have glaring inequalities that are only getting worse. Our own 'development' path, in particular over the last 20 years, has shown scant respect for either environment or for communities dependent on nature. And the only response to repeated ecological and economic crises is conventional strategies and 'reforms' ... in other words, more of the same poison that has created or worsened the problem in the first place.

Ashish Kothari of Kalpavriksh stressed the urgent need to have people-centric policies, "While it's fine to say it's (unsustainable practices) happening at a global level, it is very much happening in India as well."

In fact, both the Prime Minister and the Environment Minister have said that they are satisfied with the restoration of the centrality of the principles of common but differentiated goals in the outcome document, but as NGOs point out "Even as India justifiably asserts the principle of 'common but differentiated responsibilities' at Rio, and seeks preferential access to technologies and financial resources, you cannot ignore the fact that within our own country, the rich and powerful behave the same way towards the poor and the weak, as industrialised countries do towards 'developing' nations."

"India has to stop hiding behind the poor and using equity as a shield", said Biraj Swain of Oxfam India.

Soumya Dutta added, "Voices of resistance are being criminalised. It is important to preserve the democratic space."

But the biggest lament seemed to be absence of strong voice here at the summit. Sejal Worah of WWF, India said, "We are losing our leadership edge. I've not heard India's voice here at all. It seems we are happy with the situation and want the status quo to be maintained."

And just as India committed a major funding at Los Cabos during the G20 summit to recapitalise the IMF (International Monetary Fund), many feel that it's time some charity begins at home as well.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Rio+20 Summit: PM hits out at developed nations over emissions.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today hit out at industrialised countries over the issue of making available additional finance and technology to help developing world reduce carbon emissions, saying there is "little evidence" of support for them.

Singh also made a strong plea for finding new pathways for sustainable living since the current consumption patterns in the industrialised world are unsustainable.

The Prime Minister's remarks came even as a draft statement finalised at the Summit showed developing countries' failure to get any figures in paragraphs about financing sustainable growth for poorer economies. The Group of 77 and China bloc had demanded USD 30 billion a year.

The prime minister enunciated India's stand in his address during the plenary session of the Rio+20 summit, which is officially known as the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.

"Many countries could do more if additional finance and technology were available. Unfortunately, there is little evidence of support from the industrialised countries in these areas (reducing emissions intensity). The ongoing economic crisis has made matters worse," he said.

Describing economic development, social inclusion and environmental sustainability as all equally critical as components of sustainable development, Prime Minister Singh said that the task before the world community is to give practical shape and content to this architecture in a manner that allows each country to develop according to its own national priorities and circumstances.

Observing that the Rio+20 Summit was meeting at a time of serious economic crisis and political ferment in the world, the prime minister said it is timely because it focuses the world community's minds on "the future we want" and how to realise it.

"Difficult though it may seem, we have to summon the imagination to balance the costs that we will incur in the present with the benefits that will accrue to future generations," said Prime Minister Singh, who was among the 125 world leaders who participated in the deliberations.

The Prime Minister made it clear to the summit that for developing countries, inclusive growth and a rapid increase in per capita income levels are development imperatives.

"Those living at the subsistence level cannot bear the costs of adjustment and their livelihood considerations are important in determining how scarce natural resources such as land, water and forests are used. The severe deterioration of land and water resources is already affecting the well-being of millions of people living on the edges of subsistence, particularly women and children," he said.

Noting that Sustainable development also mandated the efficient use of available natural resources, Singh said the world community has to be much more frugal in the way it uses natural resources.

"A key area of focus is energy. We have to promote universal access to energy, while at the same time, promoting energy efficiency and a shift to cleaner energy sources by addressing various technological, financial and institutional constraints. In India, we are implementing an ambitious National Solar Mission as a critical option for our energy security," he said.

Observing that environmental sustainability is the third leg of the sustainable development architecture, the prime minister said that economic activity invariably results in negative spinoffs, either by way of local pollution, or by way of global effects such as Greenhouse Gas emissions.

"We need to tackle both," said the prime minister.

Singh also spoke about issues relating to local pollution and how it can be regulated and how such regulation may impose costs on various economic actors.

"To ensure equity, there may be a case for targeted assistance to small producers to meet part of these costs and this should be built into policy," he said.

At the global level, Singh said that the approach to the problem should be guided by equitable burden sharing.

"It is for this reason that the first Rio Summit enshrined the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. I am happy we have reaffirmed this principle as well as the principle of equity during this Summit," he said.

This does not, however, mean that countries should not take proactive actions to promote sustainable development, Singh said.

"In India, our efforts over the last two decades have yielded positive results. Over the period 1994-2007, our emissions-GDP intensity, excluding agriculture, has declined nearly 25 per cent. Looking ahead, we have set a target to further reduce the emissions intensity of GDP by 20-25 per cent between 2005 and 2020, the prime minster said.

Stating that one of the key challenges that demanded urgent global action is the worrying depletion of bio-diversity across our planet, Singh said the Eleventh Conference of Parties on Convention on Biodiversity is being hosted by India in October this year at Hyderabad.

"We look forward to working with the global community to make it a success," he said.

"The future we want should be a future in which there is ecological and economic space for sustainable growth for all. Let us work together to attain the future that we all desire..," Singh added.

Mumbai skyline to get 78 times taller: Five reasons why prices never fall.

On Saturday, High-rise Committee chairman Shafi Parkar and BMC commissioner Sitaram Kunte approved development proposals for 78 skyscrapers " buildings above the height of 70 metres. Saying that Mumbai has only 30 buildings of 100 metres height or more, while Shanghai has 200 and New York close to 500, Mr Kunte made a case for buildings to get taller to circumvent the city's lack of space.

The High-rise Committee's approval for 78 skyscrapers (higher than 70 metres) in the near future, along with the support of the BMC commissioner, is set to change Mumbai's skyline in the near future.

Civic chief Sitaram Kunte and chief of the High-rise Committee, justice (retd) Shafi Parkar, both advocated the need for towers citing space crunch in Mumbai.

Participating in a seminar called 'Rising skyline of Mumbai' hosted by the practising engineers, architects and town planners association (PEATA) on Saturday, Kunte quoted an article in a reputed economics periodical, saying that Mumbai has only 30 buildings which are at a height of 100 metres or more, whereas Shanghai has 200 and New York has close to 500.

The present committee, appointed last year, has approved 38 new proposals of high-rises and 40 proposals which were pending with the last committee, said the civic chief. In his address, justice (retd) Parkar said tall buildings were a necessary alternative for the rising population of Mumbai. He stressed that enough space around the buildings was required for the high-rises.

Even as the limited space available makes it imperative to have high-rises, Mr Kunte said, a suggestion by the Maharashtra Chamber of Housing Industry (MCHI) to allow high-rises on small plots was not acceptable. He said the State government's approval to recommendations by the BMC on proposals for tall buildings - up to 120 metres - should not require the High-rise Committee approval and proposals for structures between 120 to 200 metres must be scrutinised by reputed institutions such as VJTI and IIT. Structures higher than 200 metres height must have structural consultants of international repute.

Mr Kunte assured the PEATA members and developers that the civic body will not go ahead on proposals without prior consultation. He also informed them that till May 31 this year, 326 proposals on high-rises were received by the High-rise committee, out of which 322 were cleared and 104 were pending. Sixty two are pending for submission of required documents.

In his welcome speech, PEATA chairman Pravin Kanekar said the city skyline was changing fast with diminishing textile mills and old chawls which used to be part of its identity. High-rises are a necessity and proposals for them should be cleared on priority, he said.

Making a presentation, Sunil Nesarikar, deputy chief fire officer of the BMC, said that soon, a 90 metre-high ladder will be procured to meet the requirements for fighting fires in Mumbai. Currently, the tallest ladder is 68 metres high and the tallest ladder available in the world is 120 metres high. The seminar was coordinated by architect Shirish Sukhatme and convened by Dr H M Raje and Ajit Khatri.
Residential property prices in Mumbai have held firm despite high interest rates, rising inventory of homes with developers and unaffordability. In that context, the city's property market is a puzzle for experts.

Analysts at Citibank have made an effort to demystify the market trend. Here are some takeaways from a recent report:

• Inventory is overstated: The home inventory figure for Mumbai is overstated. The supply also incorporates projects which are launched but yet to start construction or will be completed only after a long time. This actually means the demand for homes is greater than the number of homes available. According to Citibank,in most cases, the quoted inventory is calculated by dividing available stock (completed + under construction + launched but yet to start construction) by actual trailing twelve months absorption. Absorption is the monthly rate of flats sold. As against this monthly absorption figure of about 900 units (as at December 2011), only 1,040 units were complete or close to being complete, the report said. So there is no significant oversupply of homes in Mumbai.

• Delays add to supply constraints: Due to large delays in securing approvals/execution, supply of ready properties has been weak. Mumbai is looking at completed home supply of about 8,350 units by the end of 2013. This translates to about 9 months of supply at the present absorption rate of 900 units per month. This tips the balance of power towards developers and away from genuine end users and keeps prices high.

• High land prices limit ability of developers to cut prices: High prices are also supported by higher prices of land which reduces ability of developers to cut prices. Property developers involve equity investors in project from the start. They promise a specific return on investment to that investor. This makes cutting on home prices tough.

• Nobody wants to cut prices: The developers who have bought expensive land over past 2-3 years obviously do not have too much room to cut prices. The developers who bought land at lower prices pre 2005 can afford to cut prices and can thus achieve higher volumes. But they have chosen to not do so. This is despite affordability of flats being an issue.

• Bets on upward movement in property prices: There is a belief that Mumbai real estate price offers a one sided bet. Over past 6-7 years, Mumbai real estate prices have only gone up (except for a brief decline at the time of global financial crisis). This has strengthened the belief that any unsold inventory can always be sold at higher prices in future, thereby at least earning the cost of funding the inventory (and possibly even more). This belief is further strengthened by skewed demand supply situations.

India and China to achieve a bilateral trade target of USD 100 billion by 2015

India and China have agreed to step up their defence and security dialogue and take steps to achieve a bilateral trade target of USD 100 billion by 2015.

Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao spoke about the need to continue with this dialogue at their 40-minute meeting on the sidelines of the Rio20 Environment Summit here.

Briefing reporters after the meeting, Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said that during the discussion on trade and economic cooperation Prime Minister Singh invited Chinese investment in infrastructure in India.

Mathai also said that Indian rice exports to China will commence soon.

Reflecting the good chemistry shared between them, Wen told Singh that their meeting in Brazil was the 13th. Mathai said the two leaders discussed the issue of trans-border rivers flowing in India and China during which Beijing agreed to transfer of data in this regard to New Delhi.

Official sources said this move sent a strong signal from China on sharing of information with India on the rivers issue. This was also important since India was a lower riparian country.

"Defence and strategic dialogue (between India and China) should continue and be stepped up," Mathai said. The two countries have already agreed to establish a "strategic and cooperative partnership for peace and prosperity". They have also reiterated their intention to promote regular ministerial-level exchanges and make full use of the strategic dialogue and other bilateral dialogue mechanisms. Prime Minister Singh also spoke of Indian naval ships recently visiting China.

On the boundary question, Singh and Wen said the Special Representatives of the two countries have been asked to prepare details of the joint work done so far.

The two leaders also spoke of the joint mechanism set up by the two sides. The mechanism was floated by Wen last year.

Mathai described as "good" the bilateral meeting. He said the two countries are on track to achieve USD 100 billion trade target by 2015.

Chinese authorities have already given the green light for Indian exports of basmati rice following a long and tortuous six-year process that has been seen as underscoring the difficulties of navigating the complex bureaucratic hurdles that bar entry into the China market.

Negotiations on the issue of rice exports were on since 2006, when President Hu Jintao visited India. It took another visit from Hu six years later, when he travelled to New Delhi last month for the BRICS Summit in April, to give the final push to a long-running process.

Indian exporters can begin shipping basmati rice to China after both countries agree on a mutually satisfactory quarantine protocol.

On the trans-border rivers issue, China has maintained that its hydropower project on Brahmaputra river in Tibet was not obstructing the water flow to India. It has also said that its dam was not big enough to affect the lower riparian regions like in India.

But Arunachal Pradesh government says that the Brahmaputra river was suddenly found to have almost dried up at a town in the state; Tsangpo river is the Tibetan name for Brahmaputra. It originates from Angsi glacier, located on the northern side of the Himalayas in Burang County of Tibet.

Meanwhile, Wen said the two sides need to further consolidate their political and strategic mutual trust and ensure that their ties will move forward on the right track.

"Under the current complex global and regional circumstances, China and India face mutual challenges and opportunities," Wen said, adding that deepening their strategic and cooperative partnership serves the fundamental interests of both countries and the world at large.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Britain's Queen Elizabeth gets bumper pay hike.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth has another reason to be cheerful in her Diamond Jubilee year - her annual pay is about to jump by 20 percent to 36 million pounds.

Her property holdings, known as the Crown Estate, posted a record profit of 240.2 million pounds, a net rise of 4 percent in the year through March 2012 largely due to strong tenant demand for its shops in the upmarket Regent Street and St James's districts of London.

At a time when Britain is in recession and many families are feeling the pinch of higher household costs and taxes, the Queen's allowance will rise to 36 million pounds from 30 million pounds, the level at which it was frozen in October 2010 under new laws which peg her pay to the estate's profits.

"It's a great set of results and I'm sure everyone's going to be happy," Crown Estate Chief Executive Alison Nimmo said.

The 85-year-old queen celebrated her 60th year on the throne this month with a 1,000-vessel flotilla on London's River Thames and nationwide street parties.

She has been paid by taxpayers through an allowance set by Parliament and via other government grants since King George III ceded all property profits to the Treasury in 1760.

The Crown Estate pays all of its profit to the Treasury, or finance ministry. Under new laws that come into effect in 2013-14, the monarch's pay is calculated as 15 percent of the estate's profits from two years prior.

The changes were designed to ensure the queen's pay would rise and fall with the health of the British economy, which this year entered its second recession since the start of the global financial crisis.

Used mainly to pay the Royal household's staff as well as for items like laundry, stationery and official functions, her 2013-14 pay will be the highest since 2008 though still less than half of her 1991 pay of 77.3 million pounds.

The Crown Estate, which owns a mix of wind farms, retail parks and most of Britain's seabed in addition to its central London properties, outperformed the industry's I n vestment Property Databank (IPD) be n chmark index due to strong international interest in the London property market and the country's growing dependency on renewable energy.

The value of its property portfolio rose 7.4 percent to 7.6 billion pounds from the previous year, while the total return, which includes rental income, was 16.8 percent, outperforming the IPD index by 10.4 percentage points.

Its London projects include the 500 million pound regeneration of the St James's district, where it will redevelop almost 300,000 square feet of new shops, offices and homes.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison to buy 98% of Hawaiian island

Oracle Corp. CEO Larry Ellison has reached a deal to buy 98 percent of the island of Lanai from its current owner, Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie said Wednesday.

The land's owner, Castle & Cooke Inc., has filed a transfer application with the state's public utilities commission, Abercrombie said.

The sale price for the property — the vast majority of the island's 141 square miles — was not immediately clear. Lawyers for the seller redacted a copy of the sale agreement signed May 2, saying it includes confidential information that would competitively hurt Ellison and the seller if disclosed. The Maui News previously reported the asking price was between $500 million and $600 million.

Representatives for Castle & Cooke, owned by self-made billionaire David Murdock, did not immediately return a call seeking comment from The Associated Press. Attempts to reach a representative for Ellison through Oracle were not successful after business hours Wednesday.
Ellison co-founded the Redwood City, Calif.-based business software company in 1977. Forbes ranks him as the world's sixth-richest person, with a net worth of $36 billion as of March.

Abercrombie said Ellison has had a longstanding interest in the island.

"We look forward to welcoming Mr. Ellison in the near future," Abercrombie said. "His passion for nature, particularly the ocean is well known specifically in the realm of America's Cup sailing," he said.

The deal involves 88,000 acres of land, plus two resorts, two golf courses, a stable and various residential and commercial buildings, lawyers for the seller told the utilities commission in its application.

Ellison plans to pay cash, and the deal should result in new jobs, economic stimulus and a reinvigorated local tourism industry, the application said.

"The buyer anticipates making substantial investments in Lanai and is looking forward to partnering with the people of Lanai to chart the island's future," Castle & Cooke lawyers said in the application.

Lanai is Hawaii's smallest publicly accessible inhabited island, with some 3,200 residents. It is known as the "pineapple island" even though Murdock closed its pineapple operations to make way for luxury resort and home development.

Murdock bought out fellow Castle & Cooke shareholders for nearly $700 million in 2000 and took the company private.

The island boasts unspoiled charm with 30 miles of paved roads, 400 miles of unpaved roads and no traffic lights. Other people own the 2 percent of the island's land that Ellison isn't buying.

According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, more than 26,000 people visited the island from January to April of this year, a 6 percent decline from the same period last year.

The utilities commission is reviewing the prospective deal because it involves indirectly transferring public utilities Castle & Cooke owns on the island — a water company, a bus and shuttle service, and the island's wastewater utility. Castle & Cooke asked for interim approval by June 26.

Hawaii law requires commission approval to transfer public utilities, and the commission will try to make its decision by that date, said Sean Mikell of the PUC's research division, which is considering the application. The commission does not have jurisdiction over the sale of the island, aside from the transfer of public utilities.

J. Kalani English, a state senator who represents Lanai in Hawaii's Legislature, said he's hopeful the sale will mean a return of agriculture to the island.

"I'm relieved because he's one of the richest people on the planet, which means he knows he'll lose a lot of money in the beginning and he can sustain that," said English, a Democrat.

English said Ellison has been known to vacation on Lanai.

World leaders open Rio summit on 'green' economy

World leaders opened a three-day summit on environment and poverty in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday to a warning from UN chief Ban Ki Moon that "time is not on our side" for fixing a mounting list of problems.

Ban formally opened the Rio+20 summit on sustainable development which brings together 191 UN members, including 86 presidents and heads of government.

The high-profile event comes 20 years after Rio's first Earth Summit when nations vowed to roll back climate change, desertification and species loss.

Maldives President Mohamed Waheed came to the podium to announce that his Indian Ocean archipelago planned to set up the world's biggest marine reserve to protect its fisheries and biodiversity.

He said the Maldives would become "the single largest marine reserve in the world," where only sustainable and eco-friendly fishing will be allowed.

"It will exclude deep-sea, purse-seining and other destructive techniques," he added, referring to a fishing technique in which a bag-shaped seine net is used to ensnare fish and other catch.

Mr Waheed did not spell out how big the reserve would be, but said, "We can do it in a short time. I hope we can do it in five years."

A total of 191 speakers were to take the floor until Friday when the summit leaders are to give their seal of approval to a 53-page draft document agreed on by their negotiators on Tuesday.

The draft outlines measures for tackling the planet's many environmental ills and lifting billions out of poverty through policies that nurture rather than squander natural resources.

Earlier, the summit was launched to a three-minute movie, "State of the Planet: Welcome to the Anthropocene" that gave a visual trip through the dramatic changes in the environment since the Industrial Revolution.

The Anthropocene is the name given by many scientists for a new era in Earth's history. It derives from Greek words to indicate the era of humans.

Summit participants also heard a moving appeal by Brittany Trilford, a 17-year-old student from New Zealand, challenging leaders to lay the foundation for a more sustainable world.

"I stand here with fire in my heart. I'm confused and angry at the state of the world. We are here to solve the problems that we have caused as a collective, to ensure that we have a future," said Trilford, winner of the "Date with History" youth video speech contest.

In his remarks, the UN secretary general praised Brazil, the summit host, for securing a deal on the summit's final draft statement.

"We are now in sight of a historic agreement," the UN chief said.

"The world is watching to see if words will translate into action as we know they must. Rio+20 is not an end but a beginning. It's time for all of us to think globally and long term, beginning here now in Rio, for time is not on our side," he said.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who was elected president of the conference, said she had no doubt "that we will be up to the challenges that the global situation imposes on us."

As the summit got under way, eight multilateral development banks announced that they would set aside $175 billion to finance sustainable transport systems over the next decade.

The pledge was made jointly by the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, African Development Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, CAF-Development Bank of Latin America, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, European Investment Bank and Islamic Development Bank.

Some of the most contentious issues discussed at the conference were proposed measures to promote a green economy and the "Sustainable Development Goals" that are set to replace the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals after they expire in 2015.

Connie Hedegaard, the European Union commissioner for climate change, said Europe had pushed for a more ambitious text.

"I think that many Europeans, including the ministers, the presidency, the commission, fought for more ambition, fought for more commitments, more deadlines," she told AFP. "We do not get everything we want, but we secure progress.

Environmentalist groups meanwhile were scathing in their criticism of the draft.

"There's absolutely nothing there for people and the planet," Daniel Mittler, political director of Greenpeace International, told AFP.

Bill Gates gives India high marks for its 'culture of innovation'

If you're wondering whether development aid programs really do any good, or if you doubt that government spending on things like health can really make a difference, then you should go to India, as I did again just recently.

India's progress over the past 20 years has been quite phenomenal. It deserves recognition especially now, as rich countries consider whether to continue investing in global development assistance despite all the economic problems they face at home.

India still faces many challenges. More than 400 million Indians live in extreme poverty. The country is home to half of all the world's malnourished and underweight children and one fourth of the world's tuberculosis.

But over the past 20 years, India has really emerged as a dynamic, influential country. It's been one of the world's fastest growing major economies, and it's playing an increasingly important role in world affairs, including as a member of the G20 and the BRICS group of newly industrialized nations.

The current situation in India is quite hopeful. The country has a lot of talented people. The universities are improving. Government spending is going up because of the nation's economic strength. Some reforms are needed, and that's progressing, gradually. India represents all the challenges you face when you have lots of people living in poverty. And so India can contribute to how we solve problems globally.

A lot of progress has come from the nation's culture of innovation, which has produced some really original and creative solutions. Yet, aid also has played an important role. Our foundation has invested more than $1 billion USD in programs to fight disease and poverty in India. I'm pleased with the results, and we will invest more in the future.

During my recent visit, I had a chance to see the latest progress on things that matter a lot to us: on eradicating polio and curtailing the spread of infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, for example. And I saw how India is emerging as a model and increasingly a catalyst for improvement in other developing countries. For example, India has become a world leader in the development of high-quality, low-cost vaccines and other bio-pharmaceuticals, which are playing a huge role in improving health not only in south Asia but also in Africa and elsewhere.

Ending Polio

It's now been more than a year since the last new case of polio was reported in India. In February, India was officially removed from the list of polio-endemic countries.

This is especially great when you look at it in context. Three years ago, India had more polio cases than anywhere else in the world. Its polio problem seemed like the toughest to tackle. Compared with the countries where polio persists, India is bigger by far, with the most kids, and still has regions where sanitation is poor. Within the country there's lots of movement, which tends to spread infection.

Yet, India really stepped up to the challenge on polio. The government funded its own eradication program. They really educated mothers about why vaccination is good for kids. Twice a year, 2 million volunteers prepare 800,000 vaccination booths around the country-at schools, hospitals, and community centers. They immunize more than 172 million children one by one. Working with partners like Rotary International, WHO, and UNICEF, they have built an impressive infrastructure for delivering health services to some of the most underprivileged children in the world. And they have been very persistent in following up to find kids, even the kids of migrant workers, to get vaccination levels up above 90 percent. And so the disease stopped.

India is very proud of this achievement, and rightly so. It's a direct result of political will, dedicated resources, and rigorous management and accountability. The commitment of government leaders has been critically important.

And that commitment is helping with other health problems. By extending vaccination into the poorest and most inaccessible places, the drive against polio has helped establish better public-health delivery systems that can improve the well-being of millions of children and families.

India's experience carries lessons for developing and newly industrialized countries around the world. It proves that success can be achieved - against polio and other diseases, as well - even in the most challenging circumstances.

Curbing HIV/AIDS & Tuberculosis

Another great example of India's progress is in its work to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS. Our foundation has been helping with this for a long time. With a number of Indian partners, we started the Avahan program. It's fighting HIV/AIDS in communities and at the street level, helping local groups deploy peer-to-peer counselors, distribute condoms and provide HIV testing, treatment and care.

Important leadership has been provided by the national government, which has increased funding for HIV/AIDS and established a national strategic plan that includes community-led HIV prevention. The National AIDS Control Organization has done great work. NACO and Avahan have contributed to a 50-percent reduction in the incidence of HIV/AIDS over the past six years. That's saved India something like $100 million USD in health costs averted because of fewer AIDS cases.

Now, NACO is facilitating a smooth transition of Avahan to management by the state governments. This transition is very important and encouraging because it indicates India's resolve to sustain the fight against HIV/AIDS for the long haul, which is what it will take to really beat this thing. This is a great example of what collaboration between funders and governments can achieve.

Lessons learned from HIV/AIDS work have helped with other critical health efforts, like the Ananya partnership, which is really scaling up programs to improve maternal and child health. India is also a model for other countries on how to scale up HIV prevention efforts.

The country faces many other health challenges. For example, India has the largest tuberculosis epidemic in the world, with nearly one thousand deaths from TB each day. But there's a solid basic TB control program and a real commitment to getting TB under control. The government has an ambitious strategic plan to provide universal access to good diagnosis and treatment to all TB patients. This plan can prevent the emergence of multidrug resistant TB thru prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

India has begun to execute this strategy by making TB a nationally notifiable disease, which means cases must be reported to authorities. This will help ensure they get the care they need regardless of whether they are being treated by government or private doctors.

India is also using its leadership in information technology, which could be a big help to government and private health providers in monitoring the spread of the disease, improving the efficiency of the TB control program and in treating patients.

Leading on Low-cost Vaccines

Just a few decades ago in India, many basic vaccines were hard to get. They were almost all imported from overseas. But today, Indian manufacturers play a critical role in driving down prices for vaccines and making them available to not only Indians but also millions of poor people worldwide.

One of the leaders in this transformation is the Serum Institute, in Pune. I visited with Serum's chairman Cyrus Poonawalla and other executives. Their work is absolutely vital to our foundation's work around the world, because Serum is extremely good at making high-quality vaccines for many different diseases - and doing it at low cost so that poor countries can afford them.

Serum has gradually evolved from making relatively simple vaccines for things like tetanus to making more advanced ones. In response to a request from African leaders for a better weapon against meningitis epidemics, Serum developed a vaccine for meningitis A, the first vaccine created specifically for poor countries. Serum is developing important new vaccines against rotavirus, which causes diarrhea and vomiting that kills hundreds of thousands of children in poor countries every year.

Serum's the world's highest-volume provider of vaccines - does it at very high quality, very low price. It's a great example of the potential for innovation in developing and newly industrializing countries - innovation that can benefit poor people

Achieving Progress through Collaboration

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently committed to raising government investments in health to 2.5 percent of GDP by 2017, which will really help extend health services to more people and will pay big economic dividends in the long term.
During my recent India trip, I was very glad to see the evolution and strengthening of our partnerships with government. I spoke with many government leaders including the dynamic chief ministers of two states, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, which are among the poorest in the country. I was very impressed with the forward strides they're making. The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Akhilesh Yadav, is under 40, the state's youngest chief minister ever.

In Bihar, chief minister Nitish Kumar has helped drive remarkable improvements in farm productivity and is taking steps toward big improvements in health. Bihar's maternal mortality rate is among the highest in India. But good things are happening. Last year our foundation launched a five-year, $80-million USD grant made in partnership with the state government and leading Indian and international non-government organizations. Bihar is becoming one of the nation's biggest success stories.

As in Bihar, one important reason we invest in India is that we've found the government can be a very effective partner. Our government partners there are especially good at scaling up the very best ideas and sustaining them over the long term, as they've done with polio and now with HIV/AIDS.

This pattern has been repeated across the country over the past several decades. And as a result, aid has steadily become a smaller and smaller portion of the national economy. This is the good that can happen when aid donors and governments work hand in hand.

Why India's $10 bn to Euro zone is big deal

India has graciously committed $10 billion to the International Monetary Fund or IMF to stabilize Europe. China said it will contribute $43 billion. Russia and Brazil have also agreed to contribute $10 billion each. While there is no specific plan announced to disburse the amount, the contribution is significant when one looks at the overall government finances and the current market situation. Since the Euro zone is working on a bailout, it is possible that India may have to payout sooner than later. (Read: India to contribute $10bn to stabilise Euro zone, says Manmohan Singh)

Here is the context for the $10 billion or (Rs 55,000 crore) that India has committed:

The Indian government spends more money than it generates. India’s fiscal deficit is expected to be at 5.1 per cent of gross domestic product or GDP, according to budget estimates for 2012-13. This is approximately $90 billion. Many pundits expect this to surge to 6 per cent or over $100 billion if the government does not cut expenditure.

The Reserve Bank of India did not cut repo rates or benchmark interest rates that we pay for borrowing. This is because it wants the government to reduce subsidies and thereby focus on consolidating the fiscal deficit. While the growth slows, RBI needs maintain low interest rates to stimulate the economy and ease the burden on borrowing for businesses. However, due to the spiraling fiscal deficit, RBI is not able to do so.

The quantum of total subsidies is expected to be $34.5 billion, according to budget estimates in 2012-13.

The Indian rupee breached the Rs 56-mark today. Unlike China and Russia, India has a current account deficit. This means the country imports more goods and services than exports. India’s trade deficit in April 2012 came in at $13.48 billion on Friday, according to data from the Ministry of Trade and Commerce. A falling currency makes thing even more difficult for importers.

Oil imports, which account for the single largest chunk of India’s import bill, increased 7 per cent in April 2012 to $13.9 billion from the corresponding period last fiscal, while non-oil imports were $24.03 billion.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Whether euro lives or dies, Europe’s reputation savaged.

Whether the euro lives or dies, the chaotic way Europe has tackled the crisis could undermine the region's geopolitical clout for years to come and leave it at a distinct disadvantage in a rapidly changing world.

With an apparently never-ending series of last-minute summits and telephone calls, Europe's leaders and finance ministers have held the bloc together in the face of growing strains between states, a rising political backlash and market alarm.

But with hindsight, outsiders say each measure proved too little, too late. US officials in particular complain European leaders have either failed to grasp the scale of the problem or proved unwilling to countenance the awkward political decisions necessary to fix it.

As a result, they say, what should have been one of the most stable parts of the world has now become one of the most unpredictable.

At one extreme, the euro area might be about to embark on a journey towards further fiscal and political union as an almost totally unitary "super state". At the other, it could unravel and collapse into an unstable mess of regional rivalry.

"From almost every conversation I've had in the last year - with Chinese, with Indians, with just about anybody - the message is always the same," says Fiona Hill, a former senior officer for the US National Intelligence Council and now head of the Europe programme at Washington think tank the Brookings Institute. "Europe can no longer be trusted. It seems to be moving from being a source of stability to a driver of instability"

Long-held certainties were being challenged, she said. Even non-euro member Britain suddenly appeared at risk of breaking up, with Scotland due to hold a referendum on independence that experts say could yet go either way.

The slow burning euro zone debt and banking crisis is accelerating. Last weekend brought a decision by euro zone political leaders to bail out Spain's banks. This weekend Greece holds a parliamentary election which many observers fear could spell the end of its euro membership.

Some argue it is too soon to write Europe - or the EU institutions - off altogether. Under foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, some credit Europe with making real progress in talks with Iran and other powers over the future of its disputed nuclear programme. But their energy for anything beyond their immediate problems is seen decidedly limited.

"The Europeans are completely consumed with a battle to save the euro zone," says Ian Bremmer, president of political risk consultancy Eurasia Group. "It's a deep and ongoing crisis bigger than any they've experienced in decades... it's an environment where European leaders could hardly be expected to prioritise anything else."

That could leave the continent being increasingly sidelined as emerging powers - not just the BRIC powers of Brazil, Russia, India and China but other states such as Turkey, Indonesia and South Africa - grow in importance.

At the very least, it could undermine the ability of the continent's leaders to persuade the rest of the world to take them seriously on a range of issues, from trade to the importance of democracy and human rights.

"Europe probably isn't going to stop preaching to the rest of the world," says Nikolas Gvosdev, professor of national security studies at the US Naval War College. "But it's much less likely that others are going to be inclined to listen."


At the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, European states suffered the indignity of being outside the room when the final deal was struck between the United States and emerging powers. In the aftermath of the euro zone crisis, it's a position European leaders may simply have to get used to.

But for the rest of the world, it's not just the continent itself that is rapidly losing its shine. The whole European political model - generous welfare systems, democratic decision-making, closer regional integration and the idea of a currency union as a stabilising factor - no longer seems nearly as appealing to other, still growing regions.

"Europe is at a crossroads, with the very future of the EU at stake," says Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies at New Delhi think tank the Centre for Policy Research. "If the euro dies, it will mark the end of the European experiment in forging closer financial and political integration. But it will also have wider international implications."

Not everyone agrees what those will be, however. Chellaney argues the demise of the euro might help secure the primacy of the dollar - and therefore perhaps of the United States itself - for years to come.

But others believe a European collapse would be a sign of things to come for the US as well. Bharat Karnad, a colleague of Chellaney at the Centre for Policy Research, argues that whatever happens powers such as China are on the rise and that the West will be increasingly challenged regardless of what happens to the euro.

"The health of the euro or the EU, for that matter, will have a marginal impact on gold and power that is tending any way towards Asia, especially China," he said.

Washington takes the potential threat of Europe's unravelling very seriously. In the short-term, the Obama administration is clearly concerned over the electoral fallout should the crisis in Europe cross the Atlantic before November's presidential election.

But in the longer term, whether the euro survives or not US planners are beginning to face up to the fact that the continent will likely be poorer and rather more self-centred than Washington had hoped.

Washington has long been pushing European powers to take more responsibility for their own immediate neighbourhood. While Britain and France took the political lead in Libya last year, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates complained European NATO forces were in fact almost entirely dependent on US munitions, logistics and other backup.

But the change in European thinking and the additional defence spending Washington called for now looks all but impossible in this time of austerity.


"It's doubtful any future US Defence Secretary is even going to bother to make that kind of pitch," says Gvosdev at the US Naval War College. "We'd hoped Europe could take the lead in some parts of North Africa as well as the Balkans and Eastern Europe. That now looks very unlikely."

US planners were also waking up to the fact that European states were no longer likely to match US donor pledges when it came to humanitarian or financial aid for war zones and troublespots, he said. Then, there were longer term strategic concerns.

Washington's military "pivot " towards Asia, he said, had been based in part on the assumption that Europe would remain stable and wealthy and the US now had little or nothing to worry about on its North Atlantic flank. A weakened Europe could make US planners much less confident of that, particularly if China extends its influence.

Beijing has upped its investments in Europe in recent years, including major port projects in Greece and Italy.

Some political analysts contend the weaknesses and drivers behind the euro zone crisis go much further and can be found in most western economies - including the United States itself.

"The jettison involves essentially the ballast which used to provide stability to the vessel of post-war society," Jin Liqun, chairman of the supervisory board for China's sovereign wealth fund the China Investment Corporation, wrote on May 21 in Communist Party-run newspaper the People's Daily, making it clear he saw similar problems in the US.

Some waning of Europe's international influence was always likely, experts say, with an ageing population chewing up ever more resources and emerging economies inevitably growing faster. But the current crisis could supercharge its decline. Whether the continent's leaders realise that, however, is another matter.

"Europe's main source of influence (should) be the success of its political and economic model in providing high living standards and democratic freedoms," says Jack Goldstone, professor of international affairs at George Mason University near Washington DC "If the current crisis undermines both of those as well, Europe will look like a rather weak, badly run system of ageing and economically stagnant states. Irrelevance awaits."