Veeresh Malik
China Express

China is building 42 high-speed passenger rail lines of 13,000 km in the next three years, covering more than 90% of the population. By 2012, trips from Beijing to most provincial capitals would only take between one and eight hours. What’s the scene in India?

High-speed trains are not new, as far as China is concerned, nor are new railway lines across the country and within cities. What is new and of interest is the way it came about. From top speeds of 43 km per hour (kmph) in 1978 it took China 23 years to be able to provide trains capable of 100kmph, and this was for passenger trains, previously often taking four-six days to cross from one end to the other, even longer for trains that traversed across to the erstwhile Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). As for freight trains, perish the thought, they took forever. As a seafarer visiting Chinese ports in the early '80s, this correspondent was witness to the amazingly ancient rolling stock and decrepit lines serving ports, which even then made India look like an advanced nation.
Compared to that, in the early '80s, India already had passenger trains capable of 150kmph and some sections of railway lines capable of providing safe paths for some stretches, at those speeds. "Superfast" meant a train with an average speed exceeding 65kmph, now reduced to trains with average speeds of 55kmph or more, and the Rajdhani Express trains have actually seen an increase in transit times on routes like Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Kolkata. On the other hand, the sheer number of passenger trains in India has gone through the roof in the last few decades, and freight trains in India have seen improvement in both rolling stock as well as transit times, with some container trains known as ‘Con-Raj’ rakes achieving even higher average speeds than superfast trains on the same routes.
But what is interesting to note is the difference in approach by governance towards improvement of passenger services in China, vis-a-vis India. The Chinese continue to take a position where future development and growth of the interiors is the biggest driver for new passenger train services. In India, the Indian Railways has increasingly given higher priorities to freight movements along already established lines or on newer mining trade routes, with scant attention to developing new routes and areas for better movement of passengers.
So the next pragmatic question to be asked is this—should the Indian Railways devote itself to faster passenger and freight trains on fewer routes, or should it try to widen the net to include larger segments of underserved habitats with a mix of freight and passenger movements at the same technology levels and speeds?
The answer to this is simple—there is enough room, scope and business to absorb all options, and the sooner the better.
The only question here, however, is this—does our form of governance really wish to adopt and execute a strategy of developing and invigorating the interior parts of India, with passenger movements over rail as a motivator for future growth? No amount of number crunching for or against any argument on railways in India will resolve anything unless this specific question is answered. And to help answer that, here are a few examples:
a) There is an Indian Railways route known as the "KK" as different from the "KR" or Konkan Rail. Very few people would have heard of the "KK" Railway, some of us may have heard of Koraput or Jagdalpur especially if we researched pre-1947 India a bit more than what the text-books taught us. This route is from Vishakapatnam to Kirandul, off the Bailadila mines, and it is a picture perfect fully electrified line, with plenty of surplus capacity. The KK Line also boasts of the highest broad gauge railway station in India, at Shimilguda, and passes through some of the most beautiful valleys and mountains in India, Araku being one, as multiple trains carrying iron ore race on the same route.
There is only one train for passengers on this route, a slow passenger, and it takes over 16 hours to cover 470 kilometres, at an average speed of below 30kmph. Needless to mention, this train is often late, sometimes by days—not just hours. Roads are almost non-existent, and the only airstrips as well as helipads there belong to the mining industry controlled entities, but for the past few decades now, it has been only this one slow-passenger train.
b) The Chinese, as we all know, have crossed even permafrost to build a railway line into Tibet. We are still struggling to link Jammu to Srinagar, with Leh/Ladakh nowhere on the horizon.  Moreover, existing narrow gauge lines on routes like Mettupalyam to Ooty and Pathankot to Jogindernagar are increasingly neglected, with freight and passenger movements both being given the go-bye. Likewise, the metre gauge line from Lucknow to the foothills of the Nepal border, barring a few milk-run passenger trains, is slowly withering away.
Meanwhile, all attention is diverted by arguing over point-to-point trains and demanding more stoppages on existing routes. Expansion plans, where sanctioned, are often along existing alignments and even spur lines to the interior are not provided—thanks to the gauge rationalisation concept, newer and cheaper metre gauge or narrow gauge lines have been banned—and building broad gauge only costs a lot more.
c) Railways are a Central subject. Not too easy for anybody other than those in the Central Government to accrue major side benefits here. Road transport, however, vests with State Governments. And elements in State Governments have tasted the benefits of toll roads, even if it is for decrepit little bridges across minor rivulets as are seen all over Uttar Pradesh, or daily usage options across urban sprawls like the Thane Creek bridge.
So what do State Governments do, to increase their revenues, when more cargo moves by rail? They invent newer and more innovative taxes and charges, payable at points of entry and exit into and out of railway stations, thereby forcing cargo back onto the roads. And now they have started doing the same with passenger intermodal connecting transport modes like buses and taxis too. It is almost like a battle out there between the Indian Railways and State Governments.
In all this, the real growth of passenger traffic from the interiors of India gets totally voided, while perception is moved towards replicating high-speed trains. So congratulate the Chinese, sure, but don't think of copying them by making one high-speed line on an existing trunk route somewhere.
(Big news of the day as far as the railways are concerned is the high-speed train in China. Here are some quotes from one report out of hundreds on the subject, courtesy China Daily, the full report can be seen at


Cyber criminals threaten to dampen New Year celebrations

Hackers use their best schemes during holidays to steal people's money, credit card or net-banking information. Following seasonal trends, these thieves create holiday-related websites and other convincing emails that can trick even the most cautious Internet user

Shopping online for a New Year gift? Or clicking on that New Year e-greeting link? Be careful this time around as cyber criminals armed with a new set of Web threats, including viruses, spam and cyber-scams, would be on the prowl to trap gullible Internet users, reports PTI.

Hackers use their best schemes during holidays to steal people's money, credit card or net-banking information. Following seasonal trends, these thieves create holiday-related websites and other convincing emails that can trick even the most cautious Internet user, say experts.

"Spam and phishing attacks usually see a surge during this time of the year as an increasing number of people use the Internet to shop, send e-cards, greetings or even simply surf. Cyber criminals take advantage of increased traffic online to send spam and manipulate search engines in order to draw victims to their websites," Roger Thompson, chief research officer of security software maker AVG Technologies said.

In the run-up to New Year, shoppers often fail to check the authenticity of websites which claim to offer gifts at throwaway prices before simply vanishing a few weeks later, he said.

According to a recent report by online market research company Juxtconsult, the burgeoning online landscape has a population of 49 million Internet users in India; out of which 44 million use emails and close to 25 million browse the Internet every day.

With the advent of the holiday season, the density of online shopping and Internet usage goes up manifold and so do online security threats, a spokesman for software manufacturing giant Microsoft said.

Before a consumer enters his credit card number, he should make sure that the company website requires only personal information like card number, address and telephone number to complete the purchase. They should be wary if the site asks for other information such as bank account numbers, or their mother's maiden name, etc, said the spokesman.

Observing that most of the Web threats are carried out through emails, Rakshit Tandon, a cyber security consultant with the Internet & Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), warned about fake New Year e-greeting cards.

"When you load that e-card, a malicious code enters your computer compromising your security. They might hijack your computer and install a key-logger into it, through which whatever you type into your computer would be seen by the attacker. So you lose all your privacy and even passwords," he said.

On any given day, AVG estimates that around 8 to 14 million unique users worldwide are exposed to social engineering scams. "More troubling is the speed with which these threats take place. Our research shows that an average of 60% of poisoned websites disappear in less than 24 hours," Mr Thompson says.

"Users cannot assume that the pages they know and visit everyday are safe from threats to their personal and financial well-being. Increasingly, it is legitimate websites, compromised by criminals, that pose threats," he added.

Charity-phishing scams in which hackers dupe unsuspecting citizens by taking advantage of their generosity during the festive season is also a major threat. "Charity-phishing scams will be bigger this time. Hackers send emails that appear to be from legitimate charitable organisations. They also create fake Web pages and the poor user ends up giving them his credit card information or net-banking password," said Mr Tandon, who also works with the cyber complaint redressal cell of the Uttar Pradesh police.

Hackers are also sending out fake mails saying that the person's bank is doing a security upgrade during New Year and request him to update his personal information through a false Web link.


SEBI may allow higher stake for buyers

While any changes are expected to take effect from the next fiscal only, the SEBI committee is said to be seriously looking at increasing the open offer size from 20% to as high as 100%

Corporate acquisitions in India could become costlier with market regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), mulling over making it mandatory for acquirers to make an offer of up to 100% stake in any listed company, reports PTI.

As of now, an open offer for a minimum of 20% in the target company is required to be made by any entity that has purchased 15% equity, either from the promoters or the open market.

SEBI has set up a Takeover Regulatory Advisory Committee, with former Securities Appellate Tribunal (SAT) presiding officer C Achuthan as chairman, which is looking into suitable changes in the existing takeover regulations.

While any changes are expected to take effect from the next fiscal only, the committee is said to be seriously looking at increasing the open offer size from 20% to as high as 100%, while it might also increase the open offer trigger limit from 15%, sources said.

While an increase in open offer size could mean larger cash outgo for the acquirers, the step is being considered in larger interest of retail and other public shareholders.

As per the current practice, all the public shareholders do not necessarily get an exit option even if the ownership of a company changes hands, as the open offer size need not be more than 20%.

In most of the merger and acquisition (M&A) deals, the promoters sell off their stake to the acquirer, which later makes a 20% open offer for public shareholders.

Accordingly, an acquirer can get away with acquisition of just 35% stake in a listed company— 15% from promoters or open market and further 20% from public open offer—thus leaving as much as 65% equity holders without any option but to sell their shares.

The SEBI committee is currently holding talks with various stakeholders on the issue, sources added.

The acquisition of shares and control of a company are currently governed by the SEBI (Substantial Acquisition of Shares and Takeover) Regulations, 1997, commonly known as the Takeover Code.

There have been many amendments to the code, whenever there has been any need, which could pertain to any particular deal.

Experts have been saying that some parts of the code needed to be changed and an urgent attention was needed in the open offer trigger and size-related provisions.

They have been asserting that an open offer trigger of as low as 15% restricts the companies, mostly private equity firms, from making any larger investment in a company. The current rules restrict any investment to below 15%, unless the investor is willing to go for as high as 35% investment.

Globally, many countries such as the UK, Hong Kong and Singapore, have a higher open offer trigger limit.

The demands for a higher open offer size, compared with 20% currently, is mostly based on the fact that many shareholders get stuck in a company even if they want to exit in cases like change in control of a company.

As per the current regulations, an acquirer who intends to acquire shares which along with his existing shareholding would entitle him to exercise 15% or more voting rights, can acquire such additional shares only after making a public offer to acquire at least additional 20% of the voting capital of the target company from the shareholders through an open offer.

The price for the open offer is derived after taking into consideration the negotiated price under the agreement which triggers the open offer and the price paid by the acquirer for acquisition.

Besides, it needs to take into account the average of weekly high and low of the closing prices of the shares of the target company during the 26 weeks, or the average of the daily high and low prices during the two weeks preceding the date of public announcement, whichever is higher.


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