Monday, August 31, 2009

Indian economy grows by 6.1 pc in Q1, against 7.1% a year ago

The country managed a reasonable economic growth of 6.1 pc during the first quarter of the current fiscal despite the global financial crisis impacting manufacturing and certain services like hotels.

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate during April-June 2009 at 6.1 percent was higher than 5.8 percent in the previous quarter, though it witnessed a decline when compared to 7.8 percent economic expansion recorded during the corresponding period of the last fiscal.

The government and Reserve Bank have been maintaining that the Indian economy will grow by six percent growth with upward bias.

If agriculture growth does not crash and this trend continues, growth this fiscal would be in line with the expectations of the authorities.

Mining and electricity among industrial sector, and financing among services sector posted higher growth of 7.9, 6.2 and 8.1 percent, respectively, in the first quarter of this fiscal, against 4.6, 2.7 and 6.9 percent a year ago.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Petroleum Ministry rules out reducing ATF price

Petroleum Ministry lined out reducing the base price of ATF as demand by the cash-strapped aviation industry, saying there was little scope for tinkering given the low margins oil firms earn on processing of basic bought at international rates.

"(While) the base price (of jet fuel or ATF) is linked to international prices (import parity), the price build-up has a significant tax component," Petroleum Secretary R S Pandey told reporters.

State-run fuel retailers Indian Oil, Bharat fuel and Hindustan Petroleum pay international rates for buying crude oil and so the products refineries produce are also priced at international parity.

Pandey said refinery margins or the value a company earns for processing a barrel of crude oil, were low. "Margins are not very high... they have (infact) shrunk in recent days and you have to appreciate this (before seeking a cut in base price)," he said.

Central and state taxes make up for more than one-third of the jet fuel price, he said, adding the Government does not control the price of aviation turbine fuel (ATF) as it was a deregulated product. The Rs 37.48 per litre selling price of ATF in Mumbai comprised Rs 13.46 a litre in excise duty and sales tax.

"Taxes are entirely in domain of the finance ministry and the states," he added. The basic price for jet fuel in Mumbai, the nation's busiest airport, is Rs 24.02 per litre. Freight and other costs add Rs 3.68 to the price while excise duty contributes Rs 2.28 a litre.

State sales tax is the biggest component, making up for one fifth or Rs 7.50 per litre of the retail ATF price. Sales tax is the highest in Chennai adding Rs 9.03 to the price and the lowest in Delhi where only Rs 6.05 a litre is added.

In Kolkata, the state government earned Rs 8.88 per litre from jet fuel sales.
"The methodology adopted in fixing the price of ATF by the public sector oil marketing companies at the airports is based on the ex-refinery price of jet fuel which is linked to the import parity price," Pandey said.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

SFIO to visit Satyam office to enquire into fund siphoning

A Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) team will visit Hyderabad soon to enquire into the siphoning of funds by promoters of the IT company Satyam. The SFIO team, sources said, will be meeting officials of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) which is also probing the Satyam fraud.

"The visit is with the view to have a better coordination with the CBI working there. Discussions would be held regarding the various aspects of the fraud at Satyam, especially, to gather insight into the findings of the CBI in the money-siphoning case," an official source told a news agency.

The SFIO, the investigative arm of the Corporate Affairs Ministry, has been asked by the government to probe the angle of siphoning of money by the promoters of Satyam and submit its report by October. The investigation would require the SFIO to check the accounts of over 350 companies and 700 to 800 bank accounts.

Besides visiting the headquarters of the IT company, which has been taken over by Tech Mahindra, the SFIO team would meet representatives of some local companies which had dealings with Satyam.

In April, the SFIO had submitted a preliminary report on the Satyam fraud to the government. The report, spread over 14,000-page, however, has not been able to track down the chain of events leading to diversions of funds, sources said.

The report also did not give any indication about the beneficiaries of third-party transactions totalling about Rs 600 crore. Similarly, the end use of funds raised through American Depositories Receipts worth USD 100 million have not been tracked.

Talking to reporters in Hyderabad last week, Corporate Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said, "there are still some aspects to be reported on and the final report will now come." The Minister dismissed media reports that the government was not satisfied with the preliminary report submitted by the SFIO. "There s no question of not being satisfied with the report," he had said.

The SFIO in its preliminary report showed violations of various provisions of the Indian Penal Code like criminal breach of trust, forgery and cheating.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

NASA begins filling shuttle Discovery's external fuel tank

NASA on Monday began filling the external fuel tank of the shuttle Discovery, one day before it blasts off toward the International Space Station carrying a crew of seven astronauts. As space officials prepared for Tuesday's launch, they said they saw nothing worrisome at this time that would lead to a delay.

"Everything looks normal. There is no technical issue to report," said NASA spokesman George Diller. Mission officials said there is an 80 percent chance of launch-friendly meteorological conditions, although there is a slight risk of thunderstorms and lightning within an eight-kilometer (five-mile) area of the launchpad.

Discovery's liftoff is set for 0136 am (0536 GMT) on Tuesday from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The task of filling the enormous reservoir, which got underway about 10 minutes late, was to be completed at 7:15 pm (23H15 GMT), US space officials said.

The space vehicle's external fuel tank was being filled with nearly two million liters of liquid hydrogen and oxygen. Discovery is to deliver equipment for a new bedroom, a treadmill, a freezer, food and other supplies. It will also be dropping off the newest member of the ISS team -- US astronaut Nicole Stott.

Stott will be taking over from engineer and fellow American Tim Kopra, who has been aboard the ISS since July and is returning to Earth with the Discovery. The Discovery crew, led by astronaut Rick Sturckow, will be delivering 6.8 tonnes of cargo transported in a pressurized module called Leonardo that was built by the Italian space agency.

Two astronauts from the team are scheduled to conduct three spacewalks of six and a half hours each during the 13-day mission, which is the fourth of five planned for the shuttle this year. The last is scheduled for November.

One of the key goals of the space walks is the replacement of an old liquid ammonia tank, which will be substituted with a new 800 kilogram replacement brought from Earth aboard the Discovery. The substance is used as a coolant.

The astronauts will also be retrieving experiment equipment from the outside of the ISS and returning it to Earth for processing. The new freezer will store samples of blood, urine and other materials that will eventually be taken back to Earth for study on the effects of zero-gravity.

The COLBERT treadmill, named after popular US comedy talkshow host Stephen Colbert, will be the second aboard the ISS. Exercise is key for astronauts spending long periods of time in space, where zero-gravity can result in muscle atrophy.

Among the seven-member crew is veteran European astronaut Christer Fugglesang, 52, of Sweden. The shuttle flight also is the first with two Hispanic astronauts: veteran mission specialist John "Danny" Olivas, 44, of El Paso, Texas, and rookie Jose Hernandez, 47, of Stockton, California.

Hernandez will provide bilingual Twitter updates from space, via The mission will be the 128th for the space shuttle program, and the 30th mission to the ISS. Once the Discovery mission is complete, just six more shuttle flights remain before NASA's three shuttles are retired in September 2010.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Railways exhibition starts today in Delhi

Over 150 railway equipment companies, including those from the US, the UK and China, will showcase products and latest technologies at an exhibition in New Delhi on Monday

The three-day exhibition, to be jointly organised by Railways Ministry and industry body CII, will support the modernisation plans of the Indian Railways.

The 8th International Railway Equipment Exhibition (IREE 2009) is expected to be participated by over 150 companies from 12 countries, including the US, the UK, Australia, China, France and Germany, CII said in a statement.

"The Indian Railways, this time, will specially focusing on Railway equipment manufacturers, electrification, energy conservation, locomotives, maintenance and service equipment, mass rapid transport systems, safety and security systems," it said. Indian Railways is continuously focusing on modernisation of its entire railway system particularly stations and trains, in view of the Commonwealth Games, to be held in Delhi in 2010.

Keeping in view the security concerns for the railways and the government's focus on the issue, the IREE would also display special security equipments and technologies for the railway stations.Over 10,000 business visitors, besides a large number of government officials are expected to visit the exhibition at Pragati Maidan

Saturday, August 22, 2009

ISRO eyes mission to Mars; Govt sanctions Rs 10 cr

After the challenging mission to moon, ISRO on Wednesday said it has begun preparations for sending a spacecraft to Mars within the next six years. The Government has sanctioned seed money of Rs 10 crore to carry out various studies on experiments to be conducted, route of the mission and other related details necessary to scale the new frontier, said ISRO Chairman G Madhavan Nair.

"Already mission studies have been completed. Now we are trying to collect scientific proposals and scientific objectives," he told reporters on the sidelines of a day-long workshop of the Astronautical Society of India in New Delhi. He said the space agency was looking at launch opportunities between 2013 and 2015.

Chandrayaan-I, the country's maiden unmanned moon mission, appears to have fired the imagination of young scientists who have taken to space sciences and ISRO plans to tap this talent for its mission to Mars.

"A lot of young scientists are being brought into the mission, particularly from the Indian Institute of Space Technology, the Physical Research Laboratory, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and other research laboratories," K Radhakrishnan, Director of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, said.

He said the space agency would use its Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) to put the satellite in orbit and was considering using ion-thrusters, liquid engines or nuclear power to propel it further towards Mars.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Spectacular Moon-Venus conjunction at break of dawn

A celestial show greeted skygazers at the break of dawn on Monday with Venus and Moon coming together in the eastern sky for a conjunction.

The phenomenon was seen in the early morning sky during which the thin waning crescent Moon poised directly above Venus, popularly known as Goddess of Love, Director of Science Popularisation Association of Communicators and Educators (SPACE) C B Devgun said.

Conjunction is a term used in astronomy for the relative positions of celestial bodies. In the Moon-Venus conjunction, two celestial bodies will appear close in the sky.Some astro-enthusiasts saw the celestial treat with naked eyes but some used a pair of binoculars for its exact positioning in the northeastern horizon at around 4:00 AM when Venus rises, he said.

The crescent Moon was right on the meridian, high in the south, and the planet Venus was only 4 degrees away from it, to the lower left.The event was visible from all parts of the world, even from light-polluted cities.Venus, the undisputed Queen of the morning sky, will appear in the eastern sky before sunrise everyday till October, and then begin to disappear once again into the glare of the Sun.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

India, Russia to ink convey aircraft JV accord in Sept

In line with the BrahMos cruise missile project, India and Russia are predictable to ink a deal during Defence Minister A K Antony's Moscow visit next month on setting up of a joint venture for production of state-of-art multi-role transport aircraft (MTA) for their air forces.

The "formal agreement" for floating the MTA JV is expected to be signed in September during Antony's Moscow visit for the session of Joint Commission on military- technological cooperation, V Balakrishnan, General Manager of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) aircraft manufacturing division, said.

The Russian administration has cleared the formalities for the creation of 50-50 JV and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has allocated funds for financing Russia's share, he told the news agency on the sidelines of the International Aero-space show 'MAKS-2009'.
From the Indian side HAL will hold 50 per cent equity in the JV.

The inter-government agreement for the joint growth and production of MTA was inked in 2006 during the then President Putin's India visit, as the air forces of both the countries are seeking to replace their ageing Soviet-era Antonov series transport aircraft.

Balakrishnan said IAF has evinced interest in acquiring 40 MTA aircraft for transport troops, military hardware and military cargo with option of buying more aircraft, while the Russian air force has confirmed readiness to acquire 100 planes.

According to earlier reports under the USD 600 million JV, a highly higher transport aircraft with the capacity of 20 tonnes and capable of landing on any type of runway, including in the high Himalayan altitudes, would be developed on the basis of Ilyushin Il-214 aircraft.

HAL and Ilyushin are to co-design and develop the aircraft.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

US Iraq war would end in 2011PM favours envt-friendly technologies to tackle climate change

Terming Climate Change as a big challenge before the world, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has called for making investments in new environment-friendly technologies.

Inaugurating the National Conference of Ministers of Environment and forests from States in National capital Dr. Singh said there was a pressing need to modernize existing Forest and Wildlife management system in the country. Dr Singh said State level action plans on climate change should be consistent with the strategies in the National Plan.

He also asked States to effectively enforce legal provisions to curtail the discharge of untreated industrial effluents. Expressing concern that environmental clearances have become a new form of Licence Raj and a source of corruption, Prime Minister said the procedures must be fair, transparent and hassle free.

Monday, August 17, 2009

PNB aims to issue global credit cards by March 2010

Intending to widen its credit card base across value as well as high end customers, public sector lender Punjab National Bank (PNB) is now aiming to issue 2 lakh global credit cards by March 2010.

"We are targeting to issue two lakh global credit cards to our customers by end of the current fiscal," PNB Chief General Manager (Credit Card Venture) Ranjan Dhawan told this to a news agency on Monday. The bank would also shortly launch its new cards- Corporate and Platinum credit cards.

"Corporate Cards will be meant for senior executives of companies who often travel for business purposes. In this category, there will be two cards such as Individual liability and corporate liability," he informed. Another second Platinum card will come with enhanced benefits for high end Justify Fullcustomers (income having between Rs 7 to 10 lakh per annum).

"This card will meet the requirements of customers like premium gold membership, lounge expenses etc,"

Friday, August 14, 2009

Nation wrapped in security blanket on eve of 63rd I'day

Security personnel were out in force and kept a tight vigil at vital installations, transport terminals, markets and places of worship, especially in the national capital, on the eve of 63rd Independence Day when IEDs and bombs were recovered in Jammu and Assam.

Though there was no specific intelligence input of a threat to the celebrations-the first after the Mumbai terror attack, security forces and intelligence agencies were leaving nothing to chance with terror groups, Left wing extremists or insurgents in North-East having the potential to carry out possible suicide terror strikes.

The area around the 17th century Red Fort here where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will unfurl the national tri-colour and address the nation from its ramparts has turned into an impregnable fortess with gun-toting security personnel guarding evey nook and corner of the area.

All entry and exit points to the walled city were also regulated.

In Jammu and Kashmir, security personnel recovered two Improvised Explosive Devices in Jammu region prompting the security personnel to carryout repeated checks.

A major disaster was averted in Assam with seizure of seven powerful IEDs from Guwahati and another from Bongaigaon district after intelligence inputs that ULFA and NDFB activists might try to disrupt the celebrations.

The Indo-Nepal border has already been sealed by the authorities and tight vigil is being maintained along the Line of Control and International Border along Pakistan and Bagladesh.

The area around the Red Fort where Singh will be addressing the nation -the first during his second tenure has been completly sanitised by security and intelligence agencies and the area will be a no-fly zone during the function.

Officials of Delhi Police, elite SPG and NSG along with other security agencies carried out detailed recee of the Red Fort area to thwart any attack.

Sharpshooters, dog squads, bomb disposal squads and anti-aircraft and air defence guns have also be deployed and put on high alert as part of security drill around the key installations of the national capital.

Snipers of elite National Security Guards will also be positioned on top of high-rise buildings in the old Delhi area around the Red Fort and along the route taken by Prime Minister and other VIPs to reach there.

The security agencies will also be maintaining tight vigil around key installations here including Parliament complex, Railway stations, bus-terminus, Indira Gandhi International airport and metro stations.

The borders of National capital will be sealed and tight checking is already going on at all the entry points of the national capital.

Outside the capital, security has also been tightened in Jammu and Kashmir, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Assam and other North-Eastern states.

Security agencies are also keeping a close watch on the Indian maritime borders to counter any attempt of the terrorists to use the sea route to enter the country.

Besides, patrolling by Sashastra Seema Bal and police personnel has been enhanced along the porous Indo-Nepal border to prevent Nepali Maoists from sneaking into the Indian territory to disrupt the celebrations.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

GoM to study impact of jet fuel prices on aviation industry

A Group of Ministers (GoM) would be set up soon to study the impact of high jet fuel prices on the aviation industry and recommend measures to bring down its burden on the operational costs of the airlines.This was decided on Thursday at a meeting of the Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, where Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel made a presentation on the health of the aviation sector.

After the meeting, Patel said the GoM, to be set up soon by the Prime Minister, would focus on the "very high nature" of sales tax being imposed on aviation turbine fuel (ATF) by various state governments as also its base price, which was "much higher" than most countries.

ATF accounts for over 40 per cent of the total operational cost of an airline in India, compared with 20-25 per cent globally. The Minister said he briefed the Cabinet on the need for additional capital infusion in Air India, which currently has an equity base of only Rs 145 crore and has ordered planes worth over Rs 50,000 crore.

He also informed the meeting about the decision of Airports Authority of India to raise funds by issuing infrastructure bonds worth Rs 5,000 crore. AAI is modernising and upgrading a large number of airports throughout India, including those in Kolkata and Chennai.

Elaborating on the need for reducing the burden of ATF, the Minister said the prices of jet fuel had increased by as much as 99.6 per cent in one year. The private airlines had recently withdrawn a strike call to protest against the high taxation on ATF and high airport charges.

Giving comparative figures, he said ATF price per kilolitre averaged between Rs 24,000 to Rs 26,000 from the entire East and Southeast Asia to Dubai, London and New York. However, its price in states like Andhra Pradesh, which had the lowest sales tax rate of four per cent, ranged between Rs 34,000 and Rs 35,000. In Delhi, it was Rs 38,000, in Mumbai over Rs 40,000 and in Kolkata Rs 46,000.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

ISRO eyes mission to Mars; Govt sanctions Rs 10 cr

After the challenging mission to moon, ISRO on Wednesday said it has begun preparations for sending a spacecraft to Mars within the next six years.Government has sanctioned seed money of Rs 10 crore to carry out various studies on experiments to be conducted, route of the mission and other related details necessary to scale the new frontier, said ISRO Chairman G Madhavan Nair.

"Already mission studies have been completed. Now we are trying to collect scientific proposals and scientific objectives," he told reporters on the sidelines of a day-long workshop of the Astronautical Society of India in New Delhi.He said the space agency was looking at launch opportunities between 2013 and 2015.

Chandrayaan-I, the country's maiden unmanned moon mission, appears to have fired the imagination of young scientists who have taken to space sciences and ISRO plans to tap this talent for its mission to Mars.

"A lot of young scientists are being brought into the mission, particularly from the Indian Institute of Space Technology, the Physical Research Laboratory, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and other research laboratories," K Radhakrishnan, Director of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, said.

He said the space agency would use its Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) to put the satellite in orbit and was considering using ion-thrusters, liquid engines or nuclear power to propel it further towards Mars.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Great intensity earthquake hits Andaman island, Japan

A great intensity earthquake of 7.6 magnitude on Richter scale struck off the Andaman and Nicobar islands on Tuesday, Indian Meteorological Department said.

However, no casualty has been reported so far. The quake hit the island at 01:26 AM about 265 kms north of Port Blair city, the IMD said.Tremors were also felt at several places in Chennai. The residents of Anna Nagar, Mylapore, Besant Nagar and Nungambakkam areas in Chennai felt the tremors.

Complaints of cracks in the houses were also received from few places.

Quake strikes Japan

Powerful earthquakes on Tuesday rattled Japan, triggering panic on fears of a tsunami and injuring dozens of people southwest of Tokyo.

The quake struck in the early hours, shutting down bullet train services in the affected region of Japan and provoking a landslide with the nation already braced for more damage from Typhoon Etau.

At least 43 people were injured, mostly by falling objects, with two in a serious condition, said a Shizuoka prefecture official.

Monday, August 10, 2009

India to open new uranium mines, boost nuclear power

India is embarking on opening new uranium mines and boosting nuclear power generation capacity as fuel supplies are expected to get a major push from domestic and international sources, a top scientist said.

Chairman of Atomic Energy Commission Anil Kakodkar told a news agency in Bangalore that the first consignment of 120 tonnes of uranium pellets had already landed in India, and the government was engaged in a dialogue with international vendor countries to get more such supplies.

Kakodkar said the uranium had been delivered under a kind of a long-term contract (with Russia). "They (Russia) will keep delivering and we will use it in the reactors, which we are putting under safeguards," he said. "We also had a contract with Areva (of France) and uranium has come from there too," said Kakodkar, also Secretary in the Department of Atomic Energy.

The scientist said India was talking to a number countries, but did not name them saying that the discussions with some countries were "in very fluid stages".Prospective vendor companies are currently in discussion mode and have to go through a lot of understanding about the reactors and their design, among other things, he said.

Its not a shop where you go and buy. You have to customise in given site. That work is going on and after that it has to be costed.We have to find out what its going to cost us and we have said that electricity generation should be competitive with other alternatives which are available," Kakodkar said.
He said the vendors would have to do a lot of value additions within India. "Thats what we are emphasising. So, this is a detailed exercise as it may take some time. These are processes which easily take one year to one-and-half years," Kakodkar said.

India's current nuclear power generation capacity is 4,120 MW which is planned to be increased by around 3,000 MW within the next two years as some of the reactor projects are currently under construction. The focus is also on reaching full capacity at the existing and new nuclear power plants.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Adequate foodgrains available for any difficult situation:

Observing that the country was facing a "difficult situation" following delayed and deficient rainfall, PM Manmohan Singh has said the Centre has adequate foodgrains and would not hesitate to take strong measures and intervene in the market if the need arose.

"Agricultural operations have been adversely affected in several parts of the country causing distress to farmers. A deficit of more than 6 million hectares has been reported in paddy, which is the worst affected crop," he said addressing the Conference of Chief Secretaries on the monsoon situation at New Delhi on Saturday.

The government has enough cushion on account of bumper production in the previous two years, Singh said. "We are in a position to ensure adequate availability of foodgrains in drought affected areas. We should not hesitate to take strong measures and intervene in the market if the need were to rise," Singh said in the presence of Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar.

Emphasising the need to act promptly, collectively and effectively, he assured the Centre's full support regarding any additional assistance that States would require on this front. "In no case, should we allow citizens to go hungry."

Cautioning that the reduced production of Kharif crop in the current year may have an inflationary impact on prices of food items in the coming months, Singh said the Centre and states will have to work together and activise the public distribution system (PDS).

"We will also have to ensure effective enforcement of stock holding limits and strong action against hoarders and black marketeers," Singh said, observing that of late, the country has witnessed rising trend in prices of pulses, sugar and some vegetables.

On immediate concerns over monsoon, Singh urged states to commence relief operations wherever there was a need. "In case the Contingency Relief Fund available with the States is not sufficient, they (States) should quickly prepare a detailed memorandum for assistance under the National Calamity Contingency Fund," he said.

Singh regretted that no state governments has so far send memorandum seeking assistance for drought affected districts, even though 141 districts of the country have been declared as drought affected.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Air India in talks with govt on turnaround

Faced with a Rs 60,000 crore debt, Air India is in talks with the govt for equity infusion and a soft loan even as it began a major cost-cutting exercise, which includes the launch of a low-cost domestic service this September.Aiming at a turnaround in the next 2-3 years with initiatives like starting Special Business Units in areas like maintenance, repair and overhaul, cargo and groundhandling, AI CMD Arvind Jadhav said the company was negotiating with banks and financial institutions to turn its high-cost debt of Rs 10,000-11,000 crore into low-cost.

However, the banks want the national carrier to get a comfort letter or a sovereign guarantee from the government to convert the high-cost debt into low-interest loans, he said."We have never written to the government for a bailout package ... we have never talked of waiver of ATF charges, waiver of taxes, waiver of penalties," he told reporters at New Delhi on Friday.

"The airline had made a presentation to the government on the need for equity infusion and soft loan and the government is carrying out a financial analysis," Jadhav said. Air India Express, the national carrier's low cost entity, will commence domestic operations from September with 27 percent of Air India's existing routes that were not profitable, he said, adding ten additional aircraft would be deployed for this purpose.

Noting that current market pressures would continue over the next two-three years, Jadhav said AI would start preparing for an initial public offering in 2010-11 as well as additional fund offering in the next fiscal.He said the national carrier was estimating an earning of Rs 180-200 crore through its low-cost operations on the domestic sector, which would "improve our bottomline".

Air India would gradually shift 70-75 percent of its existing domestic operations to Air India Express, he said.The airline will focus on high-density domestic and international routes and operate an "aggressive" route restructuring to provide seamless connectivity, he said.

A cost management and audit team has been set up to look at AI's overall financial restructuring, including debt servicing, risk management, hedging and other related issues.To questions on manpower rationalisation, he said the creation of SBUs relating to engineering, MRO and ground handling would lead to almost two-thirds of the 32,000 staff going out of airline operations, thus lowering the aircraft-to-employee ratio to match global standards.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Govt approves acquisition of Russian Kamov-31 choppers

In a bid to strengthen the Navy's capabilities to detect airborne and surface-based maritime threats, Government has approved the acquisition of five Russian Kamov-31 early warning choppers. Defence Ministry officials said the Cabinet Committee of Security (CCS) at a meeting on Tuesday gave its approval for procuring these choppers, which can track 30-40 targets on ground and air simultaneously with its airborne electronic warfare radar, mounted on the underbelly of the chopper.

The deal for the five choppers between India and Russia is expected to be signed in the next couple of months, they said. Navy already has a fleet of nine Ka-31 helicopters, which are deployed on India's only aircraft carrier INS Virat and the Talwar Class Guided Missile frigates of the Navy.

They are also operated from Navy's shore based air stations. To modernise its air arm, the Navy is on a look out for various types of helicopters including the 10 tonne class multirole helicopters for which global tenders were released last year.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Patel promises to convert AAI into a company by 2010

Airports Authority of India would be turned into a company by amending laws to enable the body raise funds from market for carrying out modernization of a large number of major airports across the country, Civil Aviation Minister Pratfall Patel said on Wednesday."We are looking at corporatizing the AAI, turning it into a company from an authority which it is now... our objective is to list AAI (in the stock market)," he told reporters.

This, he said, would be carried out by amending the AAI Act that governs the airports' body to "help them in their financial future". "Funding will become easier if it becomes a company," Patel said. The amendment would be placed before Parliament "latest by March 2010.

Replying to a spate of questions he said, private infrastructure firms, including those involved in airport modernization, were listed companies and had good standing in the market. The AAI is currently modernizing major airports in and Chennai and 35 non-metro airports. It has huge properties including land and other assets across the country.

On upgrading non-metro airports, Patel said, the AAI had already started upgrading the terminal buildings. Private parties under the private-public partnership model are developing the city-side in these airports. The AAI is also making efforts to increase the non-traffic revenues at airports by better exploitation of the commercial opportunities, he said, adding that the terminal building was decided to be privatized.

In Parliament earlier, he had said the authority is planning to spend Rs 12,434 core for modernizing airports and air traffic services across the country during the Eleventh Plan period.These development projects would be financed through internal resources and borrowings by the AAI.

Of the 125 airports managed by the AAI, 86 are operational. As many as 15 of them made profit during 2007-08, the Minister said.The number of profit-making airports during the last three years was 13 in 2005-06, 14 in 2006-07 and 15 in 2007-08, he said.

Also, the minister had pointed out that major domestic airlines owed around Rs 250 core to the AAI for using various facilities, including air traffic control, parking space and landing facilities. These include Kingfisher Airlines, Jet Airways and Air India

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

India will achieve uranium self-sufficiency by 2013

India is expected to achieve self-sufficiency in uranium production to feed its existing nuclear power projects and proposed plants by 2013, Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Anil Kakodkar said today.With the Jadugoda Uranium mill in Jharkhand expanded and the proposed expansion of Turamdih mill expected to be over next year, uranium production would go up.

Besides, exploration of uranium is underway at Tummalapalle in Andhra Pradesh and it is expected to go on stream by 2013, he told reporters here.Kakodkar was here on the occasion of five years of the propellant reaction project at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research attaining criticality.

We are also working to explore uranium at Gogi near Gulbarga in Karnataka," he said and expressed the hope that a proposed project at Meghalaya would also be cleared soon.With the completion of proposed projects, the country would overcome shortage of uranium by 2013.

Stating that the existing reactors were of world class, Kakodkar said, "We will also put in continuous efforts to further improve their performance through our research and development team.Centre had given approval, in principle, for setting up a 4X700 MW nuclear power reactor unit.

We want to quickly get (final) approval and start constructing these projects. There are also plans to set up another 4x700 MW power unit, he said but did not divulge details.