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Today's Hot Stories - March 25, 2011

10 Headlines for Today

(1) Shortest budget sassion in recent years
(2) Jats ignore court order, block railways
(3) Thousands shout for freedom in Southern Syria
(4) Gold futures rise on strong Asian cues
(5) Oil below $106 amid strong demand unrest
(6) TI cycles unveil Montra series bikes
(7) Gritty India dethrones Australia
(8) Saina Nehwal is World No. 3
(9) Tendulkar passes 18,000 runs in ODIs
(10) Government bans Gatifloxacin

5 Stories for Today

(1) Demand in Lok Sabha for inclusion of caste in the ongoing census
(2) Strong quake in Mynmar kills more than 70Manmohan to roll out mobile number portability today
(3) SBI to raise $1bn through bonds; no hike in rates
(4) Production delays likely in North America: Toyota
(5) Food Inflation surges to 10.05%

(1) Demand in Lok Sabha for inclusion of caste in the ongoing census

On the last day of the budget session of Parliament, members raised the issue of inclusion of caste in the ongoing census, prompting the government to assure the House that it will be done.

RJD leader Lalu Prasad raised the issue in the Lok Sabha during Zero Hour.

He reminded the government that he, along with Mulayam Singh Yadav (SP), Sharad Yadav (JD—U) and Gopinath Munde (BJP) had met Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee and asked him to include caste in census.

“We submitted a request for including caste in census. A proforma was sought from us for this. We have given that also,” Mr. Prasad said.

Mr. Mulayam said that he had full faith in Mr. Mukherjee, but steps should be taken before the census exercise is completed.Mr. Mukherjee assured the House that the government is taking steps to include caste in census.

“The proforma had been given to us. Then Sharad Yadav suggested some amendments in it. We have given the amended proforma to the Home Minister. I can assure that this will be encompassed in the Caste based counting,” Mr. Mukherjee said.

OBC leaders have been demanding inclusion of caste in census. They maintain that their percentage in population has gone up and, hence, they are entitled to more reservation in jobs.

(2) Strong quake in Myanmar kills more than 70

A strong earthquake that toppled homes in northeastern Myanmar has killed more than 70 people, and there were fears on Friday that the toll would mount as conditions in more remote areas became known.

The Thursday night quake, measured at a magnitude 6.8 by the U.S. Geological Survey, was centred just north of the town Tachileik in the mountains along the Thai border. It was felt hundreds of miles (kilometers) away in the Thai capital Bangkok and Vietnamese capital Hanoi.

Myanmar state radio announced on Friday that 74 people had been killed and 111 injured in the quake, but was updating the total frequently. It said that 390 houses, 14 Buddhist monasteries and nine government buildings were damaged.

An official from the U.N.’s World Food Programme said that there were many casualties and serious damage in Mong Lin village, five miles (eight kilometers) from Tachileik. State radio said that 29 were killed there and 16 injured.

The state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported that 15 houses collapsed in the town of Tarlay, where state radio said 11 were killed and 29 injured. Another U.N. official said that a small hospital there was partially damaged as well as a bridge, making it difficult to access the town.

The newspaper said that another two people were killed in Tachileik, including a 4-year old boy. It said that six people were injured in the town, which is just across the border from Mae Sai in Thailand’s Chiang Rai province.

In Mae Sai, one woman was killed when a wall fell on her, according to Thai police, but damage was otherwise minimal. The second U.N. official said that medicine would be sent to the affected areas as soon as possible, along with an assessment team in cooperation with the Myanmar Red Cross Society.

Both U.N. officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Myanmar’s government frowns on giving unauthorized information to the media.

Most of rural Myanmar, one of Asia’s poorest countries, is underdeveloped, with poor communications and other infrastructure, and minimal rescue and relief capacity. The country’s military government is also usually reluctant to release information about disasters because it is already sensitive to any criticism.

The government tightly controls information, and in 2008, delayed reporting on - and asking for help with - devastating Cyclone Nargis, which killed 130,000 people. The junta was widely criticized for what were called inadequate preparations and a slow response to the disaster.

Somchai Hatayatanti, the governor of Chiang Rai province, said that dozens of people suffered minor injuries on the Thai side of the border. Cracks were found in buildings in downtown Chiang Rai city, about 55 miles (90 kilometers) from the epicenter, including a provincial hospital and city hall. The tops of the spires fell off from at least two Buddhist temples. As a precaution for aftershocks, a relief centre was being set up on Friday in Mae Sai.

“We are worried that the area might be hit with stronger quakes. There was another quake at 7 a.m. this morning,” said Somsri Meethong of the Mae Sai District office, referring to a 4.9 aftershock. “I had to run again like last night. What we have seen on TV about Japan added to our fear.”

(3) SBI to raise $1bn through bonds; no hike in rates

The country’s largest lender State Bank of India (SBI) on Friday said that it is planning to raise about Rs 4,500 crore through bonds from overseas market next fiscal to fund growth plans.

“There will an issue overseas in the next financial year. It could be around one billion dollars,” SBI Chairman O.P. Bhatt said on the sidelines of the Skoch event here.

It would be raised in one go, he said, adding that the exact quantum would be finalised at the appropriate time, depending upon market condition and need.

Asked about interest rates, he said that they will remain stable during the current fiscal.

Unless there is significant growth in credit demand, lending rate is unlikely to rise in the next few months, he said. Credit off-take is relatively quiet in the first quarter of a financial year, he said.

“There is a general upward bias in the interest rates in general. There has been more impact of it on deposit rates side because liquidity was tight and everybody was preparing for the quarter-end surge which takes place,” he said.

“It has been less on the loan side so that bias continues but regardless of that my own sense is that in the next few months, lending rate is not going to be increased,” he added.

Pressure has been building up on banks to raise interest rates following a 25 basis points hike in short-term lending (repo) and borrowing (reverse repo) rates announced by the RBI at its mid-quarterly review on March 17.

Last month, SBI raised lending and deposit rates on select maturities by 25 basis points in response to a similar rate hike announced by the Reserve Bank in January.

SBI had revised the base rate or the minimum lending rate by 25 basis points to 8.25 per cent.

At the same time, SBI’s Benchmark Prime Lending Rate (BPLR) for the existing customers was also increased by 25 basis points to 13 per cent.

Besides, the bank also increased fixed deposit rates on two select maturities by 25 basis points. Both 555 days and 1,000 days fixed deposits were increased to 9.25 per cent from existing 9 per cent.

(4) Production delays likely in North America: Toyota

Toyota Motor Corp. said on Wednesday that it’s likely that there will be some production halts at its North American plants due to disruptions in the supply of vehicle parts, following Japan’s earthquake and tsunami.

The automaker has told its associates and dealers of the likely production snags, but says it’s too early to predict where the interruptions will occur or for how long.

Most of the parts for Toyota vehicles built in North America come from roughly 500 suppliers there, not Japan. The company says that dealerships still have an ample supply of vehicles and deliveries are continuing. Toyota initially planned to roll out the Prius minivan in April. But the March 11 disaster in northern Japan crippled supply chains and destroyed shops, forcing Toyota to postpone the launch.

Toyota has halted auto production in Japan since March 14 because of difficulty securing components, including rubber parts and electronics.

Toyota made about 8.5 million vehicles in 2010, including about 4 million in Japan. About half the vehicles made in Japan were exported.

But nearly 70 percent of Toyotas sold in the U.S. are made in its 13 plants in North America. Toyota shares slipped 49 cents to $81.65 in aftermarket U.S. trading after falling 86 cents to $82.14 during the regular session.

(5) Food Inflation surges to 10.05%

Much to the surprise of analysts and fresh concern for the government, food inflation surged yet again to double digits at 10.05 per cent for the week ended March 12 from 9.42 per cent in the previous week, as prices of fruits, vegetables and protein-rich edibles continued to rule at higher levels.

Soaring prices

A close look at the wholesale price index (WPI) data reveals that while some solace can be drawn from the fact that food inflation during the like week in 2010 was more than double at 20.62 per cent, the flip side is that the current bout of rising prices is on the back of an inflationary spiral seen last year without any statistical ‘base effect' anomaly. During the week, while vegetable prices rose by 11.20 per cent on a year-on-year basis, fruits remained dearer by 23.60 per cent and eggs, meat and fish continued to rule higher by 13.21 per cent.

Evidently, the sudden spike in food prices has been owing to demand-supply mismatches and such constraints cannot be tackled through monetary measures by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).

According to HDFC Bank chief economist Abheek Barua, it is alarming that food inflation has surged to double digits. “We are again seeing a reversal on the part of food inflation, which is a cause of concern. The surge in prices could be because of supply-side disruptions,” he said.

However, the catch is that since food articles have a weight of more than 14 per cent in the WPI basket for headline inflation, its contribution in overall rise in prices is significant and the RBI may have to opt for hiking its key policy rates yet again during its monetary review due in May.

As per provisional figures, overall inflation stands pegged at 8.31 per cent in February this year.

Perhaps, in anticipation of a fresh surge in prices, the RBI has already upped its projection on overall inflation for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2011, to 8 per cent from 7 per cent estimated earlier. Putting further inflationary pressure in the weeks ahead could be soaring oil prices owing to uncertainty in West Asia and North Africa.

Already, the ongoing political turmoil in the Arab world, especially Libya, has led to a spike in crude oil prices in global markets. “There would be a continuous increase in the prices of decontrolled [oil] products. Moreover, the prices of diesel could be hiked after elections in four states and one Union territory in the country,” Mr. Barua said.

As per the WPI data, inflation of non-food articles was up 26.78 per cent on a year-on-year basis.

While mineral prices went up by 12.35 per cent during the week, petrol turned dearer by 23.14 per cent.




           
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