Current level of food inflation unacceptable: FM

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee said the high inflationary pressure, especially in food and some non-food articles, existed in other emerging economies also, adding that the government has taken several steps to bring down rising food prices by enhancing supply of essential commodities

New Delhi: Terming the current level of food inflation of 9.5% as "unacceptable", finance minister Pranab Mukherjee today said the government has taken several steps to bring it down further especially through enhancing supply of essential commodities, reports PTI.

"At the beginning of last year, food inflation was 20.2%, and now it is 9.5%. However, this figure is equally unacceptable," Mr Mukherjee said while replying to the discussion on the General Budget 2011-12 in Lok Sabha.

Mr Mukherjee said the high inflationary pressure, especially in food and some non-food articles, existed in other emerging economies also.

"I am not making any plea. This is not an excuse that because there is inflation in other areas there should be inflation in India also. It is not. But the fact of the matter is inflationary pressure is visible all over the world. It is not merely in our country," he said.

Linking food inflation to global developments, the minister pointed out that the surplus liquidity is being converted into commodity. "There are apprehensions it appears to be the ground reality that surplus liquidity has been converted into commodity such as oil and foodgrain," he said.

Mr Mukherjee said such a trend was also noticed in other essential commodities.

"These are the economic factors. We may try to wish them away but we cannot because the global linkage is here..," he said

Food inflation has been in the double-digits for most of this fiscal. According to latest figures, it has, however, dipped to 9.52% for the week ended 26th February.

The overall inflation continues to be above the 8% mark since February 2010. The government hopes that it would fall to 7% by March end.

But political unrest in Middle East and North Africa resulting in high crude oil prices, have raised doubts on the projections, experts said.

The government has taken various steps in the Budget like special initiative for agriculture, supply chain management, promotion of coal chains among others, Mr Mukherjee said.

"These are intended to address issues of demand and supply constraints," he said.

He also expressed concern over the state of distribution networks in the country including the PDS (Public Distribution System) for below poverty line (BPL) families saying it was not up to the mark.

He said the government has received a number of suggestions from the expert group headed by Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi on revamping the PDS and added "there are some suggestions which could be implemented."


Mr Chief Minister, the proposed Concept Plan for Mumbai is flawed

The whole approach to the Concept Plan appears to be non-inclusive, even while the planners keep harping about inclusive development. Prithviraj Chavan should put the Surbana proposal behind and initiate the preparation of a people-oriented development plan

On 4 March 2011, Surbana International, a Singapore-based urban planning consultancy unveiled "The Concept Plan for Mumbai 2052". The consultancy has drawn up the concept plan on the directions of the Government of Maharashtra and ideas provided by Bombay First. In a nutshell, it envisages a higher average floor space index (FSI) of 5 in the inner city, 3 for the suburbs and 3 in the 'hinterland'. It also envisages further concentration of the central business district by providing much more FSI of up to 14, starting with Nariman Point.

Lest the hype around the plan unveiled affects Prithviraj Chavan, the newly-appointed chief minister of Maharashtra, and his cabinet colleagues and they succumb to the "Vision 2052" scheme and decide to go ahead with it, I thought that I should let them know that the inhabitants of Mumbai have a vision and aspirations also that should be taken into consideration through public consultations, while evolving the new Concept Plan. Besides, the Concept Plan is not a "Vision", but merely a dream of some people. Mumbai is a part of Maharashtra and a part of India and despite the grandiose dream of some people, this fact cannot be overlooked. Mumbai cannot grow in isolation from the rest of the Indian nation.

In view of this, I felt that I should deal with this matter now, rather than listing the agenda for the chief minister for the next 100 days, lest the government take a thoughtless decision on the matter.

To understand what all those FSI numbers mean, we need to know the prevailing state of affairs. As of today, the island city (72 sq km) has an FSI of 1.33 and suburban Mumbai (394 sq km) 1.0. What is more important is the density of Mumbai's people and the quality of life related to that. Going by the 2001 census, the island city has a density of about 460 persons per hectare (one hectare is the area enclosed in a square of 100metres x 100metres) and in suburban Mumbai it is about 220 persons per hectare (p/Ha). The island city has practically no open spaces-or lung spaces as they are more popularly called-and the suburban area is no better except for Borivli National Park, the salt pan lands and some mangrove stretches.

In the island city, the population has been stable for quite some time now. The 2011 census figures are unlikely to show any significant increase or decrease, thereby the variation in density too is not going to be significant. If the provisional population of Mumbai in 2011 is about 145 lakh, as against 119 of 2001, we could conclude that practically all of 26 lakh were added in the suburbs in the last decade, from 86 lakh to 112 lakh, increasing the density to about 284 p/Ha. If we remove the 103 sq km of National Park area and another say 50 sq km of salt pans and mangroves, we would have a net inhabited area of 241 sq km that would mean a current density as high as 465 p/Ha in the suburbs of Mumbai. This is higher than the 460 in the island city.

We know that the real estate prices in the island city are skyrocketing, as also in the suburbs; they are more than the highest rates in other parts of India, with the exception of Delhi and Bengaluru.

The projected population of metropolitan Mumbai in 2052 is 450 lakh (45 million) while the 2001 population figure was 189 lakh. Out of 189 lakh, 119 lakh or about two-thirds is in Greater Mumbai alone. I am of the view that these figures are conservative; I expect we will touch these levels in the year 2031 itself. However, even going by the projection of the Government of Maharashtra, it is quite a population to manage. The density in Greater Mumbai would touch 490 p/Ha from 254 in 2001, and in the island city 530 p/Ha from the 2001 figure of 460. Urban metropolitan Mumbai will house 410 lakh people, of which 230 lakh would reside in Greater Mumbai. This is about 55%, a reduction from 67% in 2001. These figures are based on the continuation of existing FSI norms.

So, what are the implications of the FSI given in the Surbana proposal? Mumbai is already the densest city in the world; it has the least open public spaces for its inhabitants, with about 100 lakh living in slums. Public transport is totally inadequate, so much so that there are nearly 4,000 fatalities on the suburban railway system every year and about seven deaths on the roads daily, due to high-speed motoring, without adequate safety and convenient passage for pedestrians and non-motorised vehicles. The most vulnerable groups of citizens are pedestrians, the NMV users and railway commuters. The Concept Plan does not look into the needs of this vulnerable group.

Increasing the 'Inner city' FSI to 5 means a four-fold increase in the buildable area and increasing it to 3 for the suburbs means a three-fold increase in the habitable space. Making the FSI in Nariman Point and southern areas of the city, including defence areas, to 14, means a ten-fold increase, while bringing defence areas that were hitherto very low-density areas into actual usage. Even Hong Kong or New York with FSIs of 15 to 18 have densities barely touching 300 p/Ha.

Urban experts said that initially the densities will be increasing and then they will begin to drop. Perhaps that is what happened in New York and Hong Kong, but what were their base population and base densities? Does Mumbai compare anywhere near those? Also, is that what we want for our city? A city is made of people, its inhabitants, current as well as future. It is laudable that the government is seriously thinking of promoting development in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, but by developing Greater Mumbai in accordance with the proposed Concept Plan, it will negate every effort to make this a livable city. The city has to be livable for all of its inhabitants.

The premise on which the Concept Plan is proposed is that Mumbai's per capita income will be rising considerably and affordability will be prolific. Would that be true for the rest of the country or even those living in the slums? Would there be large enough numbers of people, migrating or otherwise, who can afford these highly-priced houses or office spaces to occupy large space and thereby achieve stable or even reduced densities? Or will more people with affordable incomes for smaller dwellings come in and greatly increase the density in the city further?  

The experts from Singapore added another dimension to the Concept Plan, that is to carry out reclamation on the harbour side and build exclusive townships. Their logic is to make high-priced land available at low construction costs. Mumbai after all came into being through reclamation of the sea. What is forgotten is that it was the mudflats which were reclaimed in the late 18th and the 19th centuries, joining the seven islands in the island city. Those were the times when concepts of environment, ecology and project-affected persons were unheard of. Reclaiming land in dock areas is nothing short of realty driving the Concept Plan.

The whole approach to the Concept Plan appears to be non-inclusive, while the planners keep on harping on inclusive development. They have mentioned nothing of how they will cater to the present population, that too the 100 lakh slum dwellers. These are our people and the government as trustees of the people's welfare cannot abdicate its responsibility and adopt an exclusive development plan.

Thus, I will conclude this week by saying that the top most priority for Prithviraj Chavan should be to put the Surbana proposal behind and initiate the preparation of a people-oriented development plan. There are enough of us here with a vision for Mumbai that we can be proud of when it is implemented. This will take some time, but at least we will be able to make a livable and vibrant city of Mumbai for its current and future inhabitants.

(Sudhir Badami is a civil engineer and transportation analyst. He is on the Government of Maharashtra's Steering Committee on Bus Rapid Transport System (BRTS) for Mumbai and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority's Technical Advisory Committee on BRTS. He is also a member of the Research & MIS Committee of Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority. He was a member of the Bombay High Court-appointed erstwhile Road Monitoring Committee (2006-07). He has also been an active campaigner against noise pollution for over a decade and he is a strong believer in a functioning democracy. He can be reached at [email protected])




6 years ago

Bombay city planning has been a hybrid exercise. Historically it is a port city, its land mass is largely gained by the reclamations between 7 islands and have seismic threats.Its developement has Imperial colonial motivations. Its sea boundary forces vertical developemnt dangerous to the the residential interests.It cannot be visualised as "a green city".Its business or Industrial interests cacannot be harmoniously synchronised with conflicts in its diverse tenures.its present masters are from mainland and prepared to compromise even National and "aam admi" interests.Its business interests are also under tsunami threats like Japan.Let God bestow wisdom on the ignorants.

Coal ministry turns down RINL request to swap coal blocks

The coal ministry had cancelled the allocation of two coking coal blocks having reserves of about 500 million tonnes in Jharkhand to RINL as the steel firm had difficulties in developing the blocks

New Delhi: The coal ministry has turned down the request of state-run Rashtriya Ispat Nigam (RINL) for swapping two of its coking coal blocks in Jharkhand with other reserves, reports PTI.

"As regards allocation of alternative coal block(s), there is no policy/guidelines for allocation of alternative coal block in lieu of surrendered coal block," the ministry said on its website.

RINL, whose two coking coal blocks in Jharkhand-Mahal allocated in 2005 and Tenughat-Jhirki allocated in 2008-were de-allocated by the coal ministry at the beginning of this month, had earlier requested permission to surrender these blocks in lieu of two alternative blocks in the region.

Instead, the coal ministry has asked the steel firm to apply afresh for coal blocks.

"RINL is at liberty to apply for blocks as and when applications for a fresh list of coal blocks (are invited)...

The request will be considered along with other applications, as received then, as per the... guidelines for allocation of coal blocks," the ministry said.

The coal ministry had cancelled the allocation of two coking coal blocks having reserves of about 500 million tonnes in Jharkhand to RINL as the steel firm had difficulties in developing the blocks.

As per the steel ministry, not only were the coal seams deep-seated and intermeshed with gaseous deposits, obstructions in the form of railway lines and nearby rivers also existed, the ministry had said.

The Mahal block has deposits of 258 million tonnes of coking coal, while the Tenughat-Jhirki block holds an estimated 215 million tonnes of coal.

It added that both blocks involved a high investment and production cost. Moreover, RINL has not met the milestones for developing the blocks.


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