Citizens' Issues
Finally, it’s the festival of lights, not cacophony: Diwali less noisy in Mumbai this year

Though denizens of the metropolis seem to have become more aware about the noise pollution norms, much more needs to be done to reduce decibel levels and instil the civic spirit in various areas of Mumbai

Fireworks during Diwali this year were less noisy this year as compared to the earlier years. While the police were on the lookout for people who flouted the 10pm deadline, fireworks went on well past midnight in most areas. Although the cops managed to persuade revellers in south Mumbai to stop lighting crackers after 11pm, the noise continued in places like Bandra (a western suburb) and Mazagaon (at central Mumbai).

Noise and air pollution levels of firecrackers monitored jointly by the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) and Awaaz Foundation, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) working towards this end, showed that there was some awareness among citizens of the metropolis as bursting of firecrackers was seen mostly on 5th November, the last day of Diwali.

While the two organisations have welcomed the move, a lot still needs to be done.

Sumaira Abdulali, convener of the Awaaz Foundation told Moneylife, "All the effort, court rulings and public campaigns to reduce noise levels are proving to be useless.  Far from worrying about the environment and not bursting noisy crackers, statistics collated around the city show that in most places the decibel levels were shattering."

Sudhir Badami, an activist working for the betterment of transportation in Mumbai and a resident of Babulnath (central Mumbai), said that bursting of firecrackers in this area begins only after 10pm. Awareness by the media, especially print and television, in advance, could have helped in curbing the noise menace to some extent, according to him.

Mr Badami added, "While I have seen advertisements of Haryana State and Punjab State Pollution Control Boards and Diu-Daman, Dadra-Nagar-Haveli Pollution Control Committee bringing out advertisements in the Indian Express, the state's Maharashtra State Pollution Control Board and Central Pollution Control Board's advertisements are nowhere to be seen, despite the decision that was taken in a stakeholder's meeting organised by state environment secretary Valsa Nair Singh on 16 October 2010 to carry out an awareness programme."

As per the MPCB notification under the Environmental (Protection) Act dated 5 October 1999, sale or use of firecrackers generating noise levels exceeding 125 decibels (dB) or 145 dB at the peak are prohibited for individual firecrackers. For firecrackers in series, these noise limits have been made more stringent depending upon the number of crackers in the series.

Noise readings monitored by MPCB and Awaaz Foundation (on 5th November) showed the following:

(Please click to see table)

Looking at the above details, isn't it time revellers learnt to put a lid on proceedings next Diwali? Or should the government ignite some draconian measures?


RPower secures $5 bn funding from US Exim Bank

Mumbai: Anil Ambani-led Reliance Power (RPower) on Sunday announced a deal to secure $5 billion (nearly Rs22,000 crore) in funding from the US Export Import Bank for gas-based and renewable energy projects totalling about 9,000 MW here.

The deal, which coincides with the three-day visit of US president Barack Obama to India, was signed by Reliance Power chairman Anil Ambani and US Exim Bank chairman and president Fred Hochberg on Saturday.

RPower also had announced a deal in the presence of Mr Obama to procure equipment worth about Rs10,000 crore from General Electric and other US companies for its various power and coal mining projects.

"As we look to India today, the United States sees an opportunity to sell our exports in one of the fastest growing markets in the world. For America this is a jobs strategy," Mr Obama had said on the occasion.

Commenting on the commercial deals between the two companies of the two nations and totalling $10 billion and with job creation potential of 50,000, Mr Obama had said this was barely scratching the potential and dubbed India as the market of the future.

Under the memorandum of understanding (MoU), "Exim Bank will make available up to $5 billion in support of purchases of US goods and services for the group's various projects including among others 900 MW of renewable power generating technology (solar and wind) and up to 8,000 MW of gas fired thermal electric generating technology," the company said in a statement here.

"This is defining moment in Indo-US energy cooperation," ADA Group chairman Anil Ambani had said after signing the deal with General Electric chairman Jeff Immelt.

On the $5 billion Exim Bank financing deal, RPower said this would be in addition to the $ 917 million from secured in October this year to finance its facility in Sasan, where the company is undertaking a 4,000 MW ultra mega power project.

The company said the MoU would enable RPower and its affiliates access Exim Bank's long term loans at a substantially reduced processing time.

"Considering that Exim Bank exposure to India has been primarily limited to public sector, execution of the MoU is a landmark event that would go a long way in increasing diversity of lenders that could provide long term finance to India's private sector," it said.

The company said that purchase of goods and services by Reliance Power and its affiliates that are financed by Exim Bank would provide international quality products and services to its projects at competitive terms and will create jobs in the manufacturing and services sector in the US.


The recent American elections: The more things change, the more they stay the same

The temporary change of parties in power in the United States Congress might help to temporarily cut taxes and put some brakes on an ever-expanding government, but do not expect any huge shift in American domestic policy

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. This is a French proverb that means: the more things change, the more they stay the same. Often this expression is used in reference to elections. Certainly in regard to the recent American election, it is in some ways quite accurate. In other ways, quite wrong.
The American elections on 2nd November did result in a rather dramatic shift to what at least Americans would consider a more conservative government. According to the polls many of the election results were driven by a populist movement known in the United States as the "Tea Party" movement. The term "tea party" is a reference to an incident in the early history of the United States. Both the modern tea party movement and the historical one are not really what they seem.
The original so called Boston Tea Party occurred in 1773 in the city of Boston in the then Colony of Massachusetts. The event consisted of the destruction of a cargo of tea owned by the British East India Company. It has gone down in history as a protest against the right of the British Parliament to tax colonies without any representation. The reality was that the mob that destroyed the tea was most likely instigated by John Hancock whose smuggled Dutch tea would not have been able to compete against the British tea even with the onerous tax. So it was really about the defence of a privilege.
The present 'tea party' movement in the US has developed its own mythology. It is supposed to be about cutting taxes, lowering the US deficit and shrinking the size of government. But it is really none of those things.
For the US government to cut taxes, reduce spending and the size of its deficit, it have to limit outlays on so-called entitlements, including healthcare for the elderly, and defence spending, because they make up the largest parts of the American budget. But no member of the tea party movement has advocated any of these things. Quite the contrary, tea party members, usually older white people without university educations, have strongly advocated that privileges for entitlements and defence spending should not be touched.
So both the tea party movement and the real Boston tea party are about the defence of privileges in a given regulatory system. Like the striking workers in France, the tea party members are unhappy that their privileges, their cut of the national wealth, are being eroded by the forces of immigration and globalisation. It is change and they don't like it. But although the change might be hard for the people who once ran things, it is good for the market. It is good for the market because it ultimately changes the rules to limit power.
In his book, the Wealth of Nations, the father of economics, Adam Smith, warned that it was in the interest of certain businesses "to widen the market and to narrow competition." These privileges and market distortions could be created by law. Smith believed that such laws should be "listened to with great precaution and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined not only with the most scrupulous, but the most suspicious attention." He felt that such privileges might only benefit the few and result in an "absurd tax" on anyone else.
The great economist Mancur Olson wrote that power groups would, if given the chance, use law to subvert more of the economic pie to their own benefit rather than trying to increase it. So if law is used as a limit to the privileges of power or if law is used to limit the power of government itself, then the entire system gains in efficiency.
The temporary change of parties in power in the United States Congress will act as such a limit. It will not necessarily shrink the budget deficit. It might temporarily cut taxes and it will put some brakes on an ever-expanding government. But do not expect any huge shift in American domestic policy. The demography of the United States itself will limit the impact of the tea party.
Immigration mostly from Hispanic countries and the population growth of the Hispanics in the US will ultimately make the whites in the US another large minority. Although this inevitability is frightening to most of the tea party movement, it will serve to rejuvenate the US domestic market by helping to institutionalise change.
The markets and political systems that may have issues in the future are those that cannot change. The United States economy is undergoing a structural change as consumers are required to deleverage. This will slow growth not only in the US, but also in exporting countries, specifically China. The real problem is that China's system does not allow change. So although the impact of the US election will not be great, the impact of no elections in China will be.

(The writer is president of Emerging Market Strategies and can be contacted at [email protected] [email protected])


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