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Today's Hot Stories - March 08, 2011

10 Headlines for Today

(1) Lashkar plot to attack cricket stadiums unearthed
(2) Enforcement Directorate takes Hasan Ali into custody
(3) Yunus seeks countrymen's support on Grameen Bank issue
(4) Rajat Gupta resigns from three corporate boards
(5) Panel to examine regulation of NBFCs
(6) Oil hovers near $105 in Asia amid Libyan fighting
(7) Punjab, Haryana win hockey titles
(8) Wimbledon finals to be filmed in 3D
(9) Chennai to host Squash World Cup from March 8
(10) All-woman crew for 13 Air India flights on Women's Day

5 Stories for Today

(1) Lok Sabha clears Railway Budget
(2) Pro-Qadhafi forces launch airstrike on rebels
(3) Highest operational SEZs in south India
(4) As gasoline prices soar, US mulls tapping strategic reserves
(5) Fuel price hike inevitable if crude oil rates remain same: Rangarajan

(1) Lok Sabha clears Railway Budget

Lok Sabha on Monday approved the Rail budget for 2011-12 after Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee assured the House of effecting measures to ensure availability of adequate coaches and wagons in the coming years.

“Our performance is not bad...I have (approved) 16 projects. There will be no problem of coaches,” she said winding up the discussion on the Railway Budget.

The Railway Budget was passed after Speaker Meira Kumar suspended rules to allow the House take up the general discussion on Railway budget, supplementary demands for grants and relevant appropriation bills together.

Referring to the crippling shortage of coaches and wagons, she said, the Rae Bareli factory would roll out its first coach in April.

“I will invite UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi for the function in April,” she said.

Ms. Banerjee said other factories would also come up to bridge the demand-supply gap of coaches and wagons.

Refuting charges of ignoring Finance Ministry and Planning Commission, the Minister asserted that she has not done anything without their approval.

“We discuss every proposal with Planning Commission before going ahead...we should not play dirty politics in development works,” she said, adding that everything was done in accordance with the Constitutional provisions.

Earlier during the discussion, some members accused her of bypassing Planning Commission and Finance Ministry.

The Minister also assured the members that their constituencies would get one passenger railway system (PRS) on individual request.

About new lines in their constituencies, the members were assured by the Minister that railways would conduct a feasibility study and inform them about the fate of their proposals.

On concerns expressed by the members on projects pending since long, Ms. Banerjee said such projects worth Rs. 1,50,000 were stalled because of fund crunch and these could not be financed from earnings from fare and freight.

She assured all members that their request for Aadarsh Stations in their constituencies would be considered, but it is not feasible to have too many World Class Stations because the consultancy work alone requires funds to the tune of Rs. 30 crore to Rs. 40 crore.

The Railways bore extra financial burden due to imposition of cess on diesel and 6th Pay Commission report, but did not increase fare and freights.

About the Public Private Partnership (PPP) in Railways, she said that a committee was working on it.

She said anti-collision devices would soon be introduced in seven railway zones to prevent mishaps.

(2) Pro-Qadhafi forces launch airstrike on rebels

Forces loyal to Muammar Qadhafi have launched an airstrike against a rebel position in a key oil port. There were no casualties in the Monday morning attack in Ras Lanouf.

Libyan rebels say they are regrouping after forces loyal to Qadhafi pounded opposition fighters with helicopter gunships, artillery and rockets on Sunday to stop the rebels’ rapid advance toward the capital.

Sunday’s fighting appeared to signal the start of a new phase in the conflict, with Qadhafi’s regime unleashing its air power on the rebel force trying to oust the ruler of 41 years. Resorting to heavy use of air attacks signalled the regime’s concern that it needed to check the advance of the rebel force toward Sirte, Qadhafi’s hometown and stronghold.

(3) Highest operational SEZs in south India

South India is way ahead of other regions in encashing on the tax-free special economic zones scheme, as 79 of 130 functional Special Economic Zones (SEZs) are located in four southern states.

Among southern states, Andhra Pradesh is on the top of the table, with a maximum number of 32 operational SEZs, followed by Tamil Nadu (22), Karnataka (20) and Kerala (7), according to latest government data.

The sector-wise data shows that out of 130 operational SEZs, an overwhelming 75 of them relate to IT/ITeS and electronic hardware.

“An investment of Rs. 1.95 lakh crore has been made in SEZs,” Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Jyotiraditya Scindia said in a written reply to the Lok Sabha.

In all, 582 SEZ proposals have been approved, while 374 have been notified.

“A total of 130 SEZs have commenced exports,” he said.

The sector-wise analysis shows that the SEZ scheme became very popular with the IT/ITeS and electronic hardware sector.One of the reasons for the rush of these sectors in SEZs was stated to be the sunset clause on earlier schemes like Software Technology Parks of India (STPI). The tax exemptions on STPI are coming to an end at the end of the current financial year. While uncertainty about tax exemptions has also gripped the SEZ promoters, the Commerce Ministry is lobbying hard for the continuation of the benefits to the SEZs, which are contributing 26 per cent of the country’s total exports.

Besides the southern states, Gujarat and Maharashtra have also been pro-active in development of SEZs. Maharashtra has 16 functional tax free enclaves and Gujarat has 13.

SEZs have also come up in sectors like textiles, engineering, gems and jewellery and pharmaceuticals.

(4) As gasoline prices soar, US mulls tapping strategic reserves

With the current unrest in the Middle East propelling gasoline prices to an all-time high in the United States, the Obama Administration is looking into a host of options to bring it down, including tapping the nation’s strategic oil reserves.“It (strategic oil reserve) is an option we are considering, but there are a number of factors that go into it and it is not price-based alone. It’s important to look at history about it and the times when it has been used. So I wouldn’t look to a price threshold,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said at his daily news conference.

In some parts of the country, gasoline prices have crossed the $3.5 per gallon mark.

“I would say that the price of oil is one of a number of factors that are looked at, rather, in making that determination, but not the sole factor,” he said.

Oil prices climbed to $106 a barrel on Monday.

“Is there a major disruption in the flow of oil? That’s obviously a factor. I think the point that we want to make is that we’re very cognizant of the fact that Americans are experiencing a sharp rise in prices at the gas pump and that affects them and their family budgets and we are monitoring that very closely,” he said.

“Meanwhile, we are in discussions with oil-producing countries as well as the IEA about the various options that are available in the global system to deal with a major disruption, should that occur,” Mr. Carney said.

State Department spokesman P J Crowley said that the price of gasoline has nothing to do with America’s judgement regarding who should govern Libya in the future.

“It’s an economic factor, yes. Back to the question of if there’s a legal process that results in our recognising someone else or a group as an interim government of Libya, the price of gas will not enter into that judgement,” he said.

(5) Fuel price hike inevitable if crude oil rates remain same: Rangarajan

In the wake of the crisis in Libya, increase in fuel prices would become “inevitable” if crude oil remains at $100 per barrel, Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council (PMEAC) Chairman C. Rangarajan said on Monday.

“If crude oil prices remain above $100, it will be a cause of concern. It will require some action on our part. Some adjustments in terms of raising the prices of petroleum products will become inevitable,” Mr. Rangarajan said in Chennai on the sidelines of a function.

“Concern for India primarily is because of increase in prices of crude oil. We might want to watch for a few more weeks to see what would happen,” he said.

Asked about food inflation, Mr. Rangarajan said that it would decline from March.

“You see, the impact of the decline in vegetable prices started somewhere in the second week of February. Therefore, even the February numbers may not fully reflect the impact of the decline in vegetable prices. March numbers, I believe, will show the result (and) it will come down. One can expect a sharper decline in March,” he said.

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