Citizens' Issues
Mumbai Central India's first railway station with free Wi-Fi
Mumbai : Mumbai Central Terminus of Western Railway on Friday earned the distinction of being the first railway station in India to offer free high-speed Wi-Fi to the public.
 
The facility - courtesy Google and RailTel, the telecom wing of Indian Railways - was launched by Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu.
 
He said plans were afoot to bring online 100 railway stations, including those at Allahabad, Patna, Jaipur and Ranchi, by 2016-end.
 
The Wi-Fi service is part of the 'Digital India' initiative of the union government and was announced in September 2015 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to the Google headquarters in Mountain View in the US.
 
RailTel Corporation will provide Internet services as RailWire via its extensive fibre network in partnership with Google.
 
"Affordable smartphones have made it possible for the common masses to experience the power of Internet. With our partnership with Google, we are confident of rolling out a robust, scalable service at railway stations in the near future," RailTel CMD R.K. Bahuguna said.
 
"By the year-end, over 10 million people will be able to enjoy Internet experience at 100 stations across India," Google's South East Asia and India vice president Rajan Anandan assured.
 
Google has committed to collaborate with RailTel and Indian Railways to expand the network to the remaining stations by the year-end, followed by another 400 railway stations thereafter.
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.

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USL investors blame management for net worth erosion
Bengaluru : Blaming the new management for the company's net worth erosion, many shareholders of United Spirits Ltd (USL) on Friday questioned the resolution to declare it sick under the Sick Industrial Companies Act (SICA).
 
Though USL chairman Vijay Mallya and full-time directors did not attend the extra-ordinary general meeting (EGM), a secret ballot was conducted to seek shareholders' approval on the controversial resolution for referring it to the state-run Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction (BIFR).
 
"Result of the secret ballot will be notified to the stock exchanges by January 25 through a regulatory filing," non-executive independent director D. Sivanandan, who chaired the EGM, told reporters later, as media was not allowed to witness the noisy proceedings.
 
The city-based company informed the BSE on December 29 about the EGM to seek investors' approval for declaring itself sick due to erosion of its net worth during the last four fiscal years, as decided by its board on December 22.
 
Net worth of a company is the value of its assets excluding liabilities, including its debt portion.
 
USL is the Indian subsidiary of the London-based British liquor major Diageo plc after it acquired majority stake (54.7 percent) from Mallya's controlled United Breweries Holdings Ltd and public stock in the open market.
 
As the net worth declined to Rs.846 crore for fiscal 2014-15 owing to a whopping Rs.5,045 crore accumulated losses, the board had decided to report the erosion to BIFR as required under section 23 of the SICA, 1985.A
 
According to company sources, about 130 shareholders were present at the meeting to cast their votes in physical ballot, as electronic voting was held on Thursday. Results of electronic and ballot voting will be published by Monday.
 
"The new board under Diageo has failed to manage our company and turned it 'sick'. Those responsible for this should be held responsible for net worth erosion,a one of the shareholders said at the meeting.
 
Other investors wanted the new management to chalk out a rescue strategy to recover the losses and restore the net worth, which has seen 86 percent erosion.
 
Responding to a volley of queries by agitated shareholders, chief financial officer Sanjeev Churiwala denied that the company was sick and claimed the net work had increased to Rs.1,667 crore from Rs.845 crore last fiscal, after factoring profits for first half (April-September) of this fiscal 2015-16.
 
"The resolution is a statutory requirement we are fulfilling by reporting net worth erosion to BIFR," Churiwala asserted.
 
The CFO also assured the shareholders that the company had taken steps to recover losses and about Rs.30 crore had been recovered till recently.
 
"There is no reason for shareholders to worry about the company's health," Churiwala added.
 
The company's blue chip scrip of Rs.10 face value closed at Rs.2,760 per share at the close of trading on the BSE, up 3.04 percent over Thursday price./Eom/480 words.
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.

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Drought is worst in 100 years, Maharashtra water plan struggles
Vasudev Lokhande is the beneficiary of an ambitious Maharashtra government programme to permanently transform the lives of farmers devastated by a record-setting drought, but he is unhappy about its benefits.
 
In an agrarian eastern corner of India’s most industrialised state, Lokhande – a weathered, unsmiling farmer clad in sandals, crumpled brown pants and a dusty white shirt – pointed to little pipe that poked through the stone wall of a well on the edge of his fertile, black-soil farm, five acres of cotton and pigeon pea.
 
The pipe is the outlet for a channel built to funnel rainwater into the well instead of letting it soak into the ground. It is part of the Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan (Irrigated Farmlands Programme), on which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government has spent, for its first phase, Rs.1,400 crore in 2015 to make Maharashtra dushkal-mukt, or drought-free.
 
For Lokhande, the government’s efforts have not worked. With rainfall over the last two years in three of the worst-affected districts that IndiaSpend visited comparable to the lowest in the 20th century, very little water made it to the well. Like many local farmers, he had to spend about Rs.30,000 to install a pipeline and a pump to bring in water from a natural pond half a km away.
 
“I could bear the cost of pipeline and motor,” said Lokhande. “The majority of the farmers in my village cannot.”
 
IndiaSpend‘s investigation of the programme reveals that the government is spreading itself thin in its efforts to reach more farmers as the drought’s efforts worsen. Lokhande’s village, Ghodkhindi, is now one of 34 – up from five earlier this year – listed for the Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan in Yavatmal taluka in the cotton-rich eastern district of the same name.
 
“When the programme began, the worst-affected villages were selected,” an agriculture officer told IndiaSpend on condition of anonymity. “Later, we were told to include all the villages that were now receiving drinking water from tankers.”
 
While the weekly tanker data of the state’s water supply department showed no tanker supplying water to Yavatmal taluka in 2015, the district collector’s office reported 10 tankers plying in the summer of 2015, up from 3, 1 and 11 in 2014, 2013 and 2012 respectively.
 
The original government order mandated at least five villages per taluka, which takes the village count to 1,800. As distress spreads, that number is now up to anywhere between 2,500 and 3,000, according to a government official who requested anonymity.
 
As many as 1,109 farmers in Maharashtra’s water-stressed Marathwada region of eight districts ended their life in 2015, according to an Indian Express report.
 
Rainfall over the last two years in three of the worst-affected districts that IndiaSpend visited (in Marathwada and Vidarbha) was comparable to the lowest in the 20th century.
 
Nine of India’s 29 states – Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal – declared a drought in 2015, seeking as much as Rs.20,000 crore in Central aid. The centre has given Maharashtra the highest agricultural aid: Rs.3,049 crore.
 
A staggering 302 of the country’s 640 districts are living with drought-like conditions. The success – or failure – of Maharashtra’s drought-proofing programme is likely to be closely followed by other states.
 
Rain so inadequate that wells dry up in November
 
The purpose of Jalyukt Shivar is to irrigate the village in times of utmost scarcity. Now, state officials argued, low rainfall has crippled the programme.
 
Maharashtra’s situation – its agricultural output is India’s second largest – is universally difficult, with rainfall short by 40 percent in 2015, the third year of deficit (it was 30 percent short in 2014, 20 percent in 2012 and above average in 2013).
 
Maharashtra has India’s greatest stock of water for irrigation: 35 percent of the country’s large dams and the second-largest amount of annual water resources that can be replenished, after Uttar Pradesh.
 
A closer look at Ghodkhindi, farmer Lokhande’s village, reveals why the Jalyukt Shivar struggles. The village has 40 micro-irrigation projects, of which the taluka agriculture department claims to have completed 15.
 
A third of the households (89 of 230) in the village depend on full-time farming, while agricultural labourers comprise 42 percent (471 of 1,135) of the population, cultivating small tracts of land, according to census data.
 
Experts and farmers told IndiaSpend that Jalyukt Shivar uses a piecemeal approach that does not account for the geological underpinnings of traditional watershed systems. It creates two problems: it spreads itself thin by benefiting only a few farms, and, instead of a long-term measure to make an area drought-free, it offers only temporary relief.
 
It doesn’t help that the rainfall is now lower than the lowest that anyone remembers. But this is no longer news to swathes of Maharashtra.
 
Many areas now live in drought-like conditions
 
For the last four years, drought-like conditions have prevailed in the central Maharashtra district of Beed in the Marathwada region, once part of the Nizam of Hyderabad’s arid dominion.
 
The scarcity, said experts, is beyond the normal deficiency in the last 20 years. Erratic, unseasonal rainfall — unsettling India’s agriculture, economy and politics — are no aberrations, IndiaSpend reported last year.
 
Extreme rainfall events in central India, the core of the monsoon system, are increasing and moderate rainfall is decreasing – as a part of complex changes in local and world weather – according to a clutch of Indian and global studies.
 
In Maharashtra, successive years of low rainfall have resulted in falling groundwater levels and early drying of natural streams.
 
While the Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan struggles to cope with the magnitude of Maharashtra’s rural water crisis, it has, as we shall explain subsequently, worked in some cases – mainly for farmers with large land holdings. The successes and failures indicate how the programme might need to be reworked.
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.

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