Politics & the Nation
  • Railway budget presented; highlights
    • The Interim Budget has been presented for the next four months, and will be replaced by a full Railway Budget to be presented by the new Union government.
    • Return on capital budgeted to drop to 9.1% in 2009-10
    • Investible surplus to drop to Rs. 14,500 cr in 2008-09
    • 43 new trains, 14 extensions & increase in frequency of 14
    • Re 1 cut in non-suburban ordinary fares for fares up to Rs. 50 & 2% across the board cut in other cases.  The fare cuts, announced in the government’s interim railway budget for 2009-10, are expected to set the Indian Railways back by only around Rs 700 crore but will make little difference to its cash pile of Rs 90,000 crore. The Railways’ cash position is a huge achievement for an organisation which not long ago found it hard to replace worn-out assets due to paucity of cash and had defaulted on dividend payments to the government in 2001. 
    • THE operating ratio — operating expenditure as a proportion of revenues; the lower this ratio, the more efficient the Railways — worsened to 88% against 76% in 2007-08, reflecting no significant decline in operating efficiency.
    • The facts that could be considered worrisome are — a) that there is no regulatory mechanism or transparency on its tariff setting b) its passenger operation continue to be a very, very poor and unsafe and c) signalling and technology upgradation of the system continue to make very slow progress. 
    • Take a look at this table presenting the budget at a glance.
  • Details of the DA (Disproportionate Assets) case against Ms. Mayawati
    • The CBI had registered a DA case against the BSP chief in 2003, alleging that the assets shown by her in the Akbarpur parliamentary constituency were worth over Rs one crore whereas the assets increased to over Rs 50 crore in her declaration papers submitted during the 2007 assembly polls. 
    • The agency contends that the BSP supremo in her affidavit filed before the returning officer for Akbarpur Lok Sabha constituency had declared that she had Rs 1.5 lakh cash, Rs 9.78 lakh bank deposits and properties worth Rs 1.25 crore in Delhi. Three years later, Mayawati had declared her wealth amounting to a whopping Rs 52 crore in yet another affidavit filed for contesting the assembly elections, CBI had pointed out. 
    • There was a sudden jump of her wealth, the sources of which were not disclosed by Mayawati, CBI had said in its document annexed with the affidavit filed in the apex court.
Finance & Economics
  • The country's fertilizer subsidy bill
    • THE NATION’S actual fertiliser subsidy bill for 2008-09 is now pegged at about Rs 1,14,000 crore, thanks mainly to the high price of crude oil for the better part of 2008. Of this, the department of finance (DoF) has already spent Rs 1,02,000 crore by January end. An additional Rs 12,000 crore spend is estimated. This is despite the steep drop in the global prices of fertiliser inputs and raw materials between October 2008 and early 2009. 
  • Non-food credit grows.  Does it mean economy is performing well?
    • The jury is still out on this one.
    • Credit to petroleum and fertiliser companies more than doubled till end-December 2008 against an 11.5% growth in the year-ago period. High crude oil prices till September 2008 may have pushed the demand for banking funds. 
    • Excluding credit to these companies, non-food credit has grown 22.9% till end-December 2008 compared with 22.1% in year-ago period. Similarly, several companies, most notably real estate companies, relied heavily on bank funds to substitute their non-bank funds or to refinance other debt. Credit to these companies rose 48.1% during the fiscal year till December 19 compared with a 35% rise a year ago. This was despite a major slowdown in activity in the real estate sector for much of the year. 
  • Organic tea from India tries to go global
    • ORGANIC tea produced by traditional communities in Assam is fast gaining market, globally. After making its presence felt in Canada, the tea is now ready to enter Hong Kong. The Singpho community, credited for being pioneers in the discovery of tea, has developed a tea coin. The product is sold under the brand name Phalap (tea is called phalap in Singpho language). Two grams of tea are packed in coin shape and can be consumed by dissolving it in hot water. They produce a blend of oolong and green tea. 
    • It has already found markets in Thailand, US and UK.
  • We were noting yesterday that India should be worried about a failed Pakistan.  This excerpt from today's ET editorial buttresses that view, more effectively:
    • A far greater danger emanating from Pakistan is that of it turning into an actual failed state. Not merely because of the host of issues it faces — ranging from a squabbling political elite, to permanent army control over foreign and security policy, to an economy in tatters — but because a large section of the population is now so far disconnected from the state as to refuse to believe the steadily encroaching Islamic extremists are a primary threat. That is one reason why, despite large-scale army actions, the battle against the Taliban is not being won. To that end, the aim of dismantling the terrorist infrastructure must also be seen as being possibly achievable through both judicious pressure on, as well as allowing manoeuvring room for, the civilian dispensation.
  • Is China pulling itself out of a slowdown?
    • CHINA’S economy is showing signs that a 4 trillion yuan ($585 billion) stimulus package is taking effect. 
    • The world’s third-biggest economy may expand 6.6% in the second quarter after slowing to 6.3% in the three months to March 31, the weakest pace since 1999, according to the median estimates of 14 economists. 
    • China is trying to reverse an economic slide that has already cost 20 million jobs, raising the risk of social unrest as exports plunge and the property market sags. Spending on roads railways and housing has increased prices for iron ore, put a floor under industrial output and helped to drive a record $237 billion of new loans in January.