The next 100-day agenda for Prithviraj Chavan, the CM of Maharashtra (Part III)

The focus must be on Mumbai, to conserve energy through better design of buildings; address congestion and mobility with better footpaths, cycle-ways and implementing the bus rapid transit system; and work on convenient low-cost housing mainly for slum dwellers who constitute the majority of the population

One of the recent chief ministers of Maharashtra, while in office, is reported to have stated that there is nothing in Maharashtra to speak of without Mumbai. That is a sad commentary for a state which has been in the forefront of economic development and social reforms, looking after the welfare of its people over the years. That the rest of Maharashtra could not keep pace with the growth of its capital is perhaps because of the prices of land appreciating by leaps and bounds, relative to not only the other parts of the state, but also with respect to the suburban areas of the capital city itself, and in this, the government in the post-liberalisation era felt it was the best thing that could happen to reflect "India Shining".

Privatisation and globalisation were given more importance than the delivery of services and providing amenities to inhabitants of Mumbai. Non-availability of affordable housing within proximity of the work place and inadequate public transport, has led to undesirable growth of informal housing to an extent that nearly two-third of Mumbai's population live in 'slums'. Perhaps, issues of water supply, sewage disposal and power supply could be tackled to a certain extent, but housing and transport govern the quality of life of the Mumbai citizen. Added to this is the shortage of open public spaces and what came within this domain was thrown away to private parties, silently, by modifying the Development Control Rules in the aftermath of the closure of textile mills in Mumbai.

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Let us see what all we can ask the chief minister to prioritise over the next 100 days. Let us confine ourselves mainly to housing, transport and power.

I will not dwell on generation of power to meet the demand. I am going to say that we must consume less power than we are doing now. In which case, what is the role that the chief minister will have to play in this matter? With so much building activity imminent in Mumbai, the time has come to ensure that buildings are designed for natural lighting and ventilation as they used to be, in the days when before electricity was commercially generated and distributed. Day time consumption of excessive power in non-industrial urban areas must be penalised severely, thus making power available in industrial and agricultural sectors in the state, eliminating the load shedding in the rest of the state.

Recycling water should be mandatory in Mumbai, which will provide for flushing and gardening and also watering of playgrounds and roads to lower the dust levels in the city. Noise levels in the city are high primarily because of movement of traffic, not just due to honking vehicles. Noise from traffic movement can be tackled by reducing usage of motorised vehicles on the road, besides use of more silent engines, which also helps in reduced dust levels. As regards honking vehicles, devices can be made that can penalise excessive honking by vehicles. Tackling this problem automatically reduces the need to have closed habitable space.

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How does one reduce the use of personal motorised vehicles? Given the fact that 44% of Mumbai's inhabitants walk to work, 3.1% cycle to work, 23% use the suburban railway and 17% use buses, we ought to provide good, adequate footpaths and cycle-ways (given that cyclists outnumber motorists), and implement the Bus Rapid Transit System. (BRTS) This would address the problem of congestion and mobility also.

While the items of (i) making buildings environmentally friendly and (ii) promoting walking, cycling and BRTS appear to be long term, their implementation begins now. In fact BRTS can be completed in near about one-fifth the time Metro Rail is estimated to take. Since huge investments are being made, all infrastructure projects must be designed not only to perform in disasters, but to be helpful in managing disaster situations. The chief minister cannot ignore this for reasons of cost, for human lives cannot be monetized. From this point of view, BRTS is a necessary corollary, and so is getting the Konkan Railway's Skybus off the ground.

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Since MMRDA has already taken up the building of rental housing on a large scale in the distant suburbs, the repercussion will be on continuation of slums if there is no safe and efficient public transport. Even with such a transport system in place, housing in far away places means travelling long distances and consequently high energy consumption, which is what we must try to avoid. The chief minister must look at alternatives to house slum dwellers in the same locality, but with better housing facilities, like re-introduction of the chawl system with good sanitation and natural lighting and ventilation and proper maintenance. After all, only about 8% to 10 % of Mumbai's land is occupied by 60% of the population which lives in slums. This cost can be met by the state government jointly with slum dwellers and housing finance institutions.

All other ongoing mega projects need not be stopped. But in case of a financial crunch, they should be given lower priority. Projects that have not begun, need not be started if they have little delivery value.

In summary, Prithviraj Chavan must give priority to the following issues in the next 100 days:
1) Discard the Surbana Consultant's "Concept Plan for MMR for 2052" and initiate planning of a people-oriented, culturally and financially vibrant megapolis of Mumbai, not forgetting that this megapolis is an integral part of Maharashtra and the country.

2) Get internet based, transparent Road Maintenance and Management System initiated and incorporated.

3) Get the Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMMTA) reactivated so that all infrastructure projects can get executed with proper co-ordination.

4) Set up all mechanisms to ensure that all projects get executed in compliance with the CRZ Notification 2011 and information be made available in the public domain.

5) Make it mandatory for new buildings to be designed in an energy-efficient manner-providing natural lighting and ventilation in habitable premises, as much as possible, and proactively penalise excessive use of power during day time in these premises.

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6) Make water recycling mandatory, to make water available for flushing, gardening, street washing and ground watering, reducing dust levels in the city.

7) Promote carbon neutral modes of mobility like walking and cycling, by providing infrastructure for them and implementing BRTS projects, thus addressing the mobility issue instead of increasing the number of personal vehicles. Reducing the usage of personal vehicles, thus lowering dust, air and noise pollution.

8) Incorporation of schemes in all infrastructure projects that would assist in (i) mitigation and (ii) management of disaster situations.

9) Converting all slums into "chawls" for housing and accommodating non-polluting existing cottage industries in the existing locations.

10) Stop all proposed projects that are yet to take off, if they do not fall in these priority categories. Those projects that have already commenced may be discretely suspended or converted to one of the above categories.

Although it was thought that specific projects could be listed and the status mentioned in this concluding part, it was felt that this could have turned into a status review rather than an agenda for the chief minister for the next 100 days.

While the chief minister should put these on priority, the setting up of an internal mechanism to monitor and transparently place this in the public domain is as important as executing the programme. I look forward to the changes taking place within the next one year, if the chief minister will take this up with proper understanding and vigor.

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


Shares prices likely to soften on Friday: Thursday Closing Report

Despite three days of gains, and a strong rebound in commodities and foreign markets, its not yet clear which way the market is headed

Adding to the gains accrued in the previous session, the Indian market opened in the positive terrain influenced by optimism in the global arena. The Sensex added 80 points to open at 18,286 and the Nifty was up at 5502, 22 points higher from its previous close. The benchmark indices touched the day's highs in the first half hour itself at 18,374 and 5,528, respectively. The rise in food inflation numbers for the week ended 12th March led to some nervousness but investors shrugged it off and buying continued.

A bit of nervousness was noticed around 1.30pm dragged the indices to their intra-day lows with the Sensex falling to 18,269 and the Nifty at 5,496. Thereafter the market was range-bound till around 3pm. A fresh round of buying in the last half hour resulted in the market closing in the green for the third day in a row. The Sensex closed 145 points higher at 18,350 and the Nifty settled at 5,522, up 42 points higher than its previous close. The advance-decline ratio on the National Stock Exchange was a positive 997:668.

The broader indices were also in sync with the Sensex as the BSE Mid-cap index closed 0.78% higher and the BSE Small-cap index gained 0.67%.

Barring the oil & gas and health sectors, all other sectoral gauges closed in the positive terrain.  BSE Realty (up 2.83%), BSE Auto (up 1.40%), BSE Capital Goods (up 1.27%), BSE Consumer Goods (up 1.25%) and BSE IT (up 1.07%) were the top gainers. On the other hand, BSE Oil & Gas (down 0.25%) and BSE Healthcare (down 0.09%) were the losers in the sectoral space.

Hindalco Industries (up 4.25%), Mahindra & Mahindra (up 2.88%), BHEL (up 2.82%), TCS (up 2.76%) and Jaiprakash Associates (up 2%) were the major gainers on the Sensex. Maruti Suzuki (down 0.60%), Bajaj Auto (down 0.42%), Hindustan Unilever (down 0.30%), Reliance Industries (down 0.25%) and DLF (down 0.13%) settled at the bottom of the list.

Food inflation was back in double digits at 10.05% for the week ended 12th March after a fortnight-long gap. Food inflation, which has been showing a declining trend for the last three weeks, stood at 9.42% in the week ended 5th March. The rate of price rise in food items, which accounts for over 14% of overall inflation, may prompt the Reserve Bank of India to hike key policy rates.

Most markets in Asia closed in the green on higher commodity prices and on news that factories in Japan are planning to restart production after factories came to a standstill following the earthquake earlier this month. However, concerns about the radiation levels and damage to the economy kept the Nikkei lower in trade.

The Hang Seng gained 0.39%, the Jakarta Composite surged 1.56%, the KLSE Composite advanced 0.12%, the Straits Times rose 0.69%, the Seoul Composite climbed 1.22% and the Taiwan Weighted was up 0.37%. On the other hand, the Shanghai Composite shed 0.06% and the Nikkei 225 ended 0.15% lower.

Back home, institutional investors-both foreign and domestic-were net buyers in the equities segment on Wednesday. Foreign institutional investors pooled in fund worth Rs312.10 crore and domestic institutional investors pumped in Rs1,111.68 crore.

Tractor and SUV major Mahindra and Mahindra (M&M) (up 2.88%) will set up a tractor manufacturing unit at its existing facility at Zaheerabad in Medak district of Andhra Pradesh. M&M will invest Rs300 crore on the tractor manufacturing facility over the next three years and provide direct employment to about 2,000 people and indirect employment to another 5,000 persons.

The proposed facility, Mahindra's first in south India, is intended to manufacture 90,000 tractors per year and also 3 and 4-wheeler commercial vehicles.

Pipavav Shipyard (up 1.02%) has received clearance from Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) for building warships for defence sector. The clearance would allow the company to bid for construction of submarines, destroyers, frigates, LPD, corvettes and aircraft carriers.

In November, 2010, the company had said it received a licence to build warships for Indian Navy after securing clearances from ministries like home and defence and other related agencies.

Dhunseri Petrochem and Tea (up 0.86%) will start construction of its PET resin manufacturing unit in Egypt by June. The company had put on hold plans to start construction because of the political instability after an uprising in that country, which put an end to the 30-year-old rule of Hosni Mubarak.

The plant will be built with an investment of about $160 million and will have the capacity of about 420,000 tonnes per annum (TPA).


Peerless Child Plan: A me-too product that will deliver disappointing returns

The scheme will invest mainly in debt. Therefore, it will not beat inflation and will not help your child much!

Peerless Funds Management Co Ltd has launched an open-ended scheme called Peerless Child Plan. The Plan, a hybrid scheme of debt, equity and gold, was launched quietly two weeks ago and closes on Friday. Is it worth looking at?

The benefit is that an investor gets a combined investment option in three asset classes. But sadly, it is an exact replica of Fidelity's India Children's Plan. Before this, Taurus Mutual Fund launched an open-ended income scheme called 'Taurus MIP Advantage' fund and Canara Robeco launched a hybrid plan called 'Indigo Fund'.

Religare Mutual Fund was the first fund house to enter this asset allocation product in April 2010, with a scheme called Religare Monthly Income Plan (MIP) Plus that seeks to generate income through a portfolio of fixed income securities, gold and equity-related instruments.

The investment objective of the Peerless Child Plan is to generate long-term capital appreciation through a portfolio of fixed-income securities, gold exchange traded funds (ETFs) of other mutual funds and equity and equity-related instruments. The Plan will invest 60%-80% in debt and money market instruments, 5%-35% in equity and 5%-35% gold ETFs. The scheme carries a 1% exit-load if redeemed before one year. It is benchmarked against the CRISIL MIP Blended Index and the price of gold (neutral allocation: 85:15).

Saving for a child's future is high on every parent's agenda. Since the best long-term investment products are equities and equity funds, it is a valid marketing idea for fund companies to come up with a pure equity fund that secures your child's future. Thus, a simple equity diversified fund held over the long term would be good enough. But Peerless will divide its investment in debt, equity and gold ETFs.

Debt and gold will only drag down the performance. Returns from debt cannot keep up with inflation. And while it is a common belief that gold offers good returns over the long term, this is simply not true. Since 1991, gold is up just 8.9% on a compounded annual basis. That hardly beats a recurring deposit scheme.

Suppose 60% is invested in debt, 35% in equity and 5% in gold. If the debt part gives a maximum return of say 9%, the return from the debt part of the portfolio will be around 5.4%. If equity gives a return of around 15%, the return from the equity part of the portfolio would be 5.25%, and if gold crashes the return from gold will be zero to negative. Thus the overall return from the portfolio would be just 10.65%. Thus for just that extra 1.65% return more than the bank fixed deposits, you would pay 2% fees to the fund manager, with the only advantage that the return from the scheme may fetch a slightly lower tax.

Equity mutual funds are the best financial product to beat inflation in the long run. Certainly there is a huge risk involved in equity investment too, such as entry/exit timing, stock selection and as well as portfolio churning. But in the long run it gives the highest-inflation adjusted return. That apart, it is bit strange to see a long-term objective fund investing a majority of its asset in debt. After all, debt is one of those assets which have no growth factor. The return from debt is completely dependent on the prevailing interest rate.

We think the fund is merely designed to attract safe money. Since gold prices are rallying, the fund house has decided to add it to the fund. But gold has been rising for years now. To extrapolate that trend into the future would be imprudent. With so many flaws, we are simply not sure who the fund is meant for. Asset allocation schemes may claim that through one scheme you are able to invest in three asset classes. But this will always lead to sub-optimal returns. It's always good to invest in specific products based on your expectations from that particular asset class that is in line with your financial goals.


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