Monday, December 31, 2012

Despite last minute deal, US misses fiscal cliff deadline

Despite last minute deal, US misses fiscal cliff deadline

 Despite a last minute deal reached
between the White House, Democrats and the Republicans
brokered by the US Vice President, Joe Biden, the US missed
the Monday midnight "fiscal cliff" deadline to avert sweeping
tax hikes.
 While the Senate was moving ahead with its plan to vote on
the deal, the Republican-majority House of Representatives
was unlikely to meet before Tuesday noon local time (late
Tuesday night IST) to vote on the "fiscal cliff" deal that
would extend tax rates on annual income under USD 450,000,
delay for two months part of the USD 110 billion in spending
 In total, USD 600 billion in tax hikes and spending cuts
are scheduled to hit in the New Year.
 In theory, the fiscal cliff has hit the US, which among
other things, means across the board hike in income tax rates.
 But the Congressional leaders and White House hope that
they can neutralise it by passing the Bill before it can have
an adverse effect on the country's economy.
 The House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, said she would
present the Bill to the House Democratic caucus once it is
passed by the Senate.
 "By waiting until the last minute, and reaching a deal on
a much smaller scale than either side once envisioned,
Washington also deferred many of its thorniest questions for
perhaps as little as a few weeks," 'The Wall Street Journal'
 Earlier in the day both the Republican Leaders and US
President Barack Obama said they were very close to reaching a
 The Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said both sides
were "very, very close" to an agreement.

US supports India's key role in maintaining regional stability

US supports India's key role in maintaining regional stability

 The US has said it supports India's "critical" role
as a leader in maintaining regional stability and both have
 a common interest in promoting global
security and the free flow of global trade and commerce.
 "We have a shared interest in promoting global security,
stability, and economic prosperity through trade, investment,
and connectivity," the State Department said in a background
note on India released yesterday.
 "The United States and India have a common interest in
the free flow of global trade and commerce, including through
the vital sea lanes of the Indian Ocean," it said.
 "The US supports India's critical role as a leader in
maintaining regional stability. Security ties are robust and
growing with bilateral defence and counter-terrorism
cooperation reaching unprecedented levels," it said.
 The two countries also look continue to develop their
defense partnership through military sales and joint research,
co-production and co-development efforts, it added.
 The State Department said the US-India Strategic
Dialogue, launched in 2009, provides opportunities to
strengthen collaboration in areas including energy, climate
change, trade, education, and counter-terrorism.
 The third annual meeting was held in June 2012.
 In 2012 alone, seven Cabinet-level officials made visits
to India to deepen bilateral ties, it added.
 Noting that the strength of people to people linkages
between the US and India has come to define the indispensable
relationship between the two countries, the State Department
said the increased cooperation of state and local officials to
create ties has enhanced engagement in education.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Darul Uloom Deoband bans students from using camera phones

Darul Uloom Deoband bans students from using camera phones

Leading Islamic seminary Darul Uloom Deoband has issued an order banning its students from using mobile phones with cameras and seized 14 such devices from the hostel.
According to deputy Vice-Chancellor Maulana Abdul Khalik, from now on, students may only use simple cellular phone handsets without camera or video features since these are seen as having an adverse effect on their studies. Students at the seminary have been warned that disciplinary action would be taken against anyone found using camera phones.

Sonia not to celebrate New Year in view of gangrape incident

Sonia not to celebrate New Year in view of gangrape incident

 Congress President Sonia Gandhi will not be celebrating the New Year in view of the gangrape incident in the national capital. "Sonia Gandhi has appealed to partymen and well-wishers against coming to her to extend New Year greetings in the wake of gangrape incident," party General Secretary Janardhan Dwivedi said here today.

Gang-rape victim's death: Army no to new year bash by units

Gang-rape victim's death: Army no to new year bash by units

Against the backdrop of the death of the Delhi gang-rape victim, the Army has issued advisories to all its formations across the country against holding new year parties. Advisory has been issued to all formations that they should not organise new year parties, Army officials said here.

Army chief Gen Bikaram Singh and his wife Bubbles Singh will visit patients in Army Research and Referra  Hospital here and Base Hospital on the first day of the new year and distribute sweets

Congress president Sonia Gandhi too has announced that the party will not be celebrating the new year following the incident.

Amid outpouring of anger and grief in the country, the body of the 23-year-old victim was flown here from Singapore early yesterday morning and cremated within hours. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Mukesh Ambani to meet Montek on Monday

Mukesh Ambani to meet Montek on Monday

RIL Chairman Mukesh Ambani is scheduled to meet Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek

Singh Ahluwalia on Monday.

"Reliance Industries (RIL) Chairman and Managing Director

Mukesh Ambani will meet Planning Commission Deputy Chairman

Montek Singh Ahluwalia in the morning on Monday

The meeting comes at a time when RIL is facing hurdles

in getting clearances for its oil and gas exploration

projects. Also, it is facing resistance for approval of its

gas price.

RIL is also seen as a bidder in the fortcoming auction of

telecom spectrum.

Yojana Bhawan, the Ahluwalia's office, is being throned

by industry top brass ever since Prime Minister Manmohan

Singh took direct charge of the portfolio.

Earlier this week, Vodafone India Chairman Analjit Singh

and Chairman of UB Group Vijay Mallya had called upon


Officials in the Planning Commission said many more top

industrialist are expected to visit Yojna Bhawan in the coming

days as Ahluwalia is being seen as key policy maker.

"Ahluwalia is considered close to the Prime Minister and

being an important functionary in the government. It is

obvious that industrialists will meet him," a Planning

Commission official said.

When Singh, as a Finance Minister ushered India into

economic reforms in early 1990s, Ahluwalia was Finance


Besides Ahluwalia, Prime Minister's Economic Advisory

Council chairman C Rangarajan too is likely to play more

proactive role as the government is struggling to put India

back on path of high growth path.

However, some others in Yojna Bhawan said that top

corporates visiting Ahluwalia is a routine affair. In past

also when Mukherjee was Finance Minister top industrialists

used to visit him

Exchange rate: Fixed or floating?

Exchange rate: Fixed or floating?
The RBI does not have sufficient cushion to adhere to a fixed rate regime. 

The Reserve Bank of India’s selective control in the forex market has been unable to control the free fall in the value of rupee in the recent months. This raises a fundamental question as to whether the RBI should consider alternative exchange rate policy options.
Specifically, would moving towards a completely fixed or floating exchange rate regime offer immediate help to the country? 
Currently, by following a mid-path — that is, by selectively controlling foreign capital movement and partially regulating exchange rate prices — the RBI does not seem to successfully combine the best of both regimes. 
So what are the feasible options available outside of the one we currently follow? 

Value of a currency

The value of currency, like the price of any other good or service, depends on its demand and supply. And demand for a currency, say, the US dollar, typically comes from Indian importers, people or institutions that invest in the US (FDI or FII outflows) and travellers to the US. All these agents require dollars for transacting in the US.
Analogously, exporters to the US, travellers to India, FDI and FII inflows supply US dollars in return for rupees to transact in India. If the demand for the rupee decreases compared to, say, the US dollar, the value of the rupee goes down, and vice-versa. How does the central bank ensure that a parity, say for instance, one rupee  equals 0.25 US dollar, is maintained? The answer lies in how it moderates demand and supply of local and foreign currency. 
To explain, assume that the demand for US dollar increases. Consequently, its value  increases, such that each dollar can now buy 10 rupees instead of  four previously. To offset such an increase, the RBI pumps in sufficient amount of dollars into the market to meet the increased demand. This process ensures that the value of the dollar is restored to its original one. The central bank can supply and draw dollars from forex reserves, which is its official kitty.

Indian scenario

Currently, the RBI controls foreign money flowing in and out of the country through different routes. At the same time, it selectively engages in buying and selling of foreign currencies to mediate demand and supply in the forex market.
In effect, the RBI regulates the forex market intermittently. 
But its ammunition to defend the value of the rupee at any particular level is not sustainable for several reasons. First, India’s forex reserves, which stand at $260 billion approximately, cannot defend the falling rupee eternally. Even worse, much of the reserves are liabilities than assets, implying that our ownership in reserves is that much lower to help moderate currency demand and supply. 
To explain, let us assume that one bad day, all foreign investors (FDI and FII holders) in our country decide to take back their money (which is extremely unlikely). In that dire situation, the RBI would have to borrow to a tune of $215 million to pay them all back. 
Also, the increasing oil imports and falling export share in the recent months have contributed significantly towards draining (the already concerning levels of) our forex reserves. The arguments above indicate that the RBI does not have sufficient cushion to adhere to a fixed rate regime.

What is the way out?

Proponents of the RBI’s current (midway) policy argue that if the rupee is completely let free to the market, it would worsen the import bill (particularly through our oil imports)  and might potentially deter economic growth. 
There are potentially few weak links in the claim above. First, such an argument is purely based on the assumption that if the rupee is completely left to market forces, then its value would only depreciate, which does not “have” to be the case. 
But even such a scenario provides a good scope for domestic industries to invest on import substitutive industries. Also, this sets the stage for harnessing the abundant natural energy sources such as solar, wind, and thermal power domestically instead of depending on imported oil. We also need to bear in mind that the RBI’s selective intervention in the currency market feeds into the heavy subsidy in crude oil prices. This combination hurts our economy in several ways. 
To explain, if the entire price increase in crude oil was allowed to pass through (with no subsidy) to consumers, they would have, perhaps, used the commodity more efficiently. If this was combined with a “floating” exchange rate system, the rupee’s value would have deteriorated even further, and the pinch would have been felt all the more. This would have only made us more efficient in using oil. 
Also, our fiscal deficits in this case would not have soared to the current concerning levels owing to huge subsidies. 
Moreover, monetary policy tends to be more effective under coordinated efforts from fiscal discipline — and fiscal discipline becomes an unachievable objective, with the level of subsidies that our government currently provides in the oil and fertiliser sectors.
So arguments against letting the rupee’s value to be determined by market forces do not seem to factor in the structural positive changes from which the country could benefit from. 
Of course, if the RBI lets the value of rupee to be entirely market-determined, and eases out current restrictions on capital flows, there would be temporary displeasures from several corners. Particularly, those who have to repay in US dollars would have to bite the bullet if the market-determined value of the rupee turns out to be much lower than the current levels (and vice-versa).
However, the trade-off is pretty healthy in the long run, for the reasons mentioned above. 
Under these circumstances, we might want to ask ourselves the following question: Who knows better about the price of a good — government or the buyers and sellers? 

NASA Explains Why Clocks Will Get an Extra Second on June 30

NASA Explains Why Clocks Will Get an Extra Second on June 30
How will you spend your bonus time on June 30?

Distances on Earth can be measured with great accuracy by using the technique of Very Long Baseline Interferometry, which was originally developed to study distant astronomical objects called quasars. (Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center)
› Download in high resolution from NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio

If the day seems a little longer than usual on Saturday, June 30, 2012, that's because it will be. An extra second, or "leap" second, will be added at midnight to account for the fact that it is taking Earth longer and longer to complete one full turn—a day—or, technically, a solar day.

"The solar day is gradually getting longer because Earth's rotation is slowing down ever so slightly," says Daniel MacMillan of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

digital clock readout showing 23:59:60
June 30 will be one second longer than the typical day. Rather than changing from 23:59:59 on June 30 to 00:00:00 on July 1, the official time will get an extra second at 23:59:60.Credit: NASA

A radio telescope used in ICRF2
With this antenna at Kokee Park on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, NASA makes regular VLBI (Very Long Baseline Interferometry) measurements that are used in the time standard called UT1 (Universal Time 1). Credit: U.S. Navy/PMRF
› Larger image
Scientists know exactly how long it takes Earth to rotate because they have been making that measurement for decades using an extremely precise technique called Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI). VLBI measurements are made daily by an international network of stations that team up to conduct observations at the same time and correlate the results. NASA Goddard provides essential coordination of these measurements, as well as processing and archiving the data collected. And NASA is helping to lead the development of the next generation of VLBI system through the agency's Space Geodesy Project, led by Goddard.

From VLBI, scientists have learned that Earth is not the most reliable timekeeper. The planet's rotation is slowing down overall because of tidal forces between Earth and the moon. Roughly every 100 years, the day gets about 1.4 milliseconds, or 1.4 thousandths of a second, longer. Granted, that's about 100 or 200 times faster than the blink of an eye. But if you add up that small discrepancy every day for years and years, it can make a very big difference indeed.

"At the time of the dinosaurs, Earth completed one rotation in about 23 hours," says MacMillan, who is a member of the VLBI team at NASA Goddard. "In the year 1820, a rotation took exactly 24 hours, or 86,400 standard seconds. Since 1820, the mean solar day has increased by about 2.5 milliseconds."

By the 1950s, scientists had already realized that some scientific measurements and technologies demanded more precise timekeeping than Earth's rotation could provide. So, in 1967, they officially changed the definition of a second. No longer was it based on the length of a day but on an extremely predictable measurement made of electromagnetic transitions in atoms of cesium. These "atomic clocks" based on cesium are accurate to one second in 1,400,000 years. Most people around the world rely on the time standard based on the cesium atom: Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).

Another time standard, called Universal Time 1 (UT1), is based on the rotation of Earth on its axis with respect to the sun. UT1 is officially computed from VLBI measurements, which rely on astronomical reference points and have a typical precision of 5 microseconds, or 5 millionths of a second, or better.

"These reference points are very distant astronomical objects called quasars, which are essentially motionless when viewed from Earth because they are located several billion light years away," says Goddard's Stephen Merkowitz, the Space Geodesy Project manager.

For VLBI observations, several stations around the world observe a selected quasar at the same time, with each station recording the arrival of the signal from the quasar; this is done for a series of quasars during a typical 24-hour session. These measurements are made with such exquisite accuracy that it's actually possible to determine that the signal does not arrive at every station at exactly the same time. From the miniscule differences in arrival times, scientists can figure out the positions of the stations and Earth's orientation in space, as well as calculating Earth's rotation speed relative to the quasar positions.

Originally, leap seconds were added to provide a UTC time signal that could be used for navigation at sea. This motivation has become obsolete with the development of GPS (Global Positioning System) and other satellite navigation systems. These days, a leap second is inserted in UTC to keep it within 0.9 seconds of UT1.

Normally, the clock would move from 23:59:59 to 00:00:00 the next day. Instead, at 23:59:59 on June 30, UTC will move to 23:59:60, and then to 00:00:00 on July 1. In practice, this means that clocks in many systems will be turned off for one second.

Proposals have been made to abolish the leap second and let the two time standards drift apart. This is because of the cost of planning for leap seconds and the potential impact of adjusting or turning important systems on and off in synch. No decision will made about that, however, until 2015 at the earliest by the International Telecommunication Union, a specialized agency of the United Nations that addresses issues in information and communication technologies. If the two standards are allowed to go further and further out of synch, they will differ by about 25 minutes in 500 years.

In the meantime, leap seconds will continue to be added to the official UTC timekeeping. The 2012 leap second is the 35th leap second to be added and the first since 2008.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

All services, except those under a ‘negative list’, will cost more

Starting today, most services will be taxed 
Negative list of 38 will escape levy  

All services, except those under a  ‘negative list’, will cost more
Except 38 services under the negative list, all others will  be taxed at 12 per cent under the new service tax regime that kicks in on July 1.  
The Government had said earlier it would implement the negative list from July 1.
 Metered taxis, auto-rickshaws, betting, gambling, lottery, entry into amusement parks, transport of goods or passengers and electricity transmission or distribution  are in  the negative list. Other important services that will not be taxed include  funeral and burial, and  transport of the deceased.
 Coaching classes and training institutions will come under the net, though the tax will not be levied on school, university education and approved vocational courses.
Services provided to the Government, local authorities or a Government authority to  repair or maintain  aircraft would also fall under the negative list.
 Services that advocates provide to other advocates, or business entities — up to a turnover of Rs. 10 lakh in the preceding financial year — are exempt. Service providers offering facilities for  public convenience, such as bathrooms, washrooms, urinals or toilets, will not be  taxed .

Rail fares

 There is, however, no clarity  on whether the tax would apply to  rail freight and passenger fares .
 The Union Minister of Railways, Mr Mukul Roy  said  the rail transporter  will not impose tax  on freight movement and  passenger fares from July 1. 
He  has written to Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, who now holds  the Finance portfolio, in this regard.

Negative to positive

The Government has widened the definition of ‘services’ to  tax more business activity. 
As of now, 119 services that come under the ‘positive list’ will attract the levy. 
This new approach to taxation of services is intended to take  the economy a step closer to   the proposed Goods and Service Tax  regime. 
 The finance ministry is aiming to mop up  Rs. 1.24 lakh crore by taxing services  during the current fiscal. 
Last fiscal,  the collections were Rs. 97,000 crore . 

Details revealed in Kalam's book--Kalam was ready to make Sonia PM

A difficult journey, some difficult decisions

My visit to Gujarat

One of the pillars of development that I have thought a lot about is that we have to create a nation where poverty has been totally eradicated and illiteracy removed. Alongside, we need to evolve a society where crimes against women and children are absent and none in the society feels alienated. These thoughts were prominent in my mind during my visit to Gujarat in August 2002, which I took up as my first major task immediately after becoming President.
The State had been hit by riots a few months earlier, and their impact had left thousands of lives in disarray. It was an important and sensitive task, because it took place under unique circumstances, in a politically charged atmosphere. I decided that my mission was not to look at what had happened, not to look at what was happening, but to focus on what should be done. What had happened was already a point of discussion by the judiciary and the Parliament and continues to be discussed even now.
As no President had ever visited an area under such circumstances, many questioned the necessity of my visit to the state at this juncture. At the ministry and bureaucratic level, it was suggested that I should not venture into Gujarat at that point of time. One of the main reasons was political. However, I made up my mind that I would go and preparations were in full swing at Rashtrapati Bhavan for my first visit as President.
The Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, asked me only one question, ‘Do you consider going to Gujarat at this time essential?’ I told the PM, ‘I consider it an important duty so that I can be of some use to remove the pain, and also accelerate the relief activities, and bring about a unity of minds, which is my mission, as I stressed in my address during the swearing-in ceremony.’…
I visited twelve areas — three relief camps and nine riot-hit locations where the losses had been high... I remember one scene, when I visited a relief camp. A six-year-old boy came up to me, held both my hands and said, ‘Rashtrapatiji, I want my mother and father.’ I was speechless. There itself, I held a quick meeting with the District Collector. The Chief Minister also assured me that the boy’s education and welfare would be taken care of by the government.
All through my visit only one thought occupied my mind… Should not development be our only agenda? Any citizen following any faith has the fundamental right to live happily. No one has the right to endanger the unity of minds, because unity of minds is the lifeline of our country, and makes our country truly unique.
After all what is justice, what is democracy? Every citizen in the country has a right to live with dignity; every citizen has a right to aspire for distinction. To access the large number of opportunities, through just and fair means, in order to attain that dignity and distinction is what democracy is all about. That is what our Constitution is all about. And that is what makes life wholesome and worth living in a true and vibrant democracy, the essence of which is tolerance for people’s belief systems and lifestyles…
The increasing intolerance for the views of others and increasing contempt for the way of life or religion of others, or the expression of these differences through lawless violence against people cannot be justified in any context. All of us have to work hard and do everything to protect the rights of every individual …

Returning the Office of Profit Bill

Broadly, the Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Act 1959, stipulates that certain offices of profit under the government shall not disqualify the holders thereof for being chosen as, or for being, Members of Parliament. During mid 2006, I received a number of complaints from MPs about certain fellow members holding office of profit. I had to deal with these complaints. I sent these to the Chief Election Commissioner to study and conduct an inquiry wherever considered essential … Meanwhile I received the Office of Profit Bill from the Parliament for approval.
I studied the Bill and found that it had many anomalies. In the proposed Office of Profit Bill, I did not find a systematic approach towards deciding the question of what constituted an office of profit. Instead exemption was given to only the existing offices which were occupied by MPs. I also discussed the anomalies and my concerns with three former Chief Justices of the Supreme Court. I prepared a letter in consultation with my team and the three CJIs …
The Office of Profit Bill was not sent by the Cabinet for my approval but by Parliament. Hence, I returned the Bill to the Secretary-General of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha for reconsideration by both the Houses of Parliament. This was the first time in the history of Parliament or Rashtrapati Bhavan that a President returned a Bill for reconsideration….
The Bill was reconsidered and sent back for my approval. The Prime Minister met me and he was surprised, as I normally send the approved Bill the next day. Why were weeks rolling by with no action taken, he  wondered. I said some action is needed from Parliament and I have not heard anything about it. The Prime Minister said the Parliament has already decided on the constitution of a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) for going into all aspects of the Office of Profit Bill as per my suggestions. …
I was on tour to the North-East and … received a message that the formation of a JPC on the Office of Profit Bill had been approved by Parliament. Once I got the confirmation about the action by Parliament, I immediately signed the Office of Profit Bill. After a few months, Parliament approved the JPC report which was not complete and did not address the problem which I had suggested. Parliament has to deal with such issues with care, otherwise it would be construed that the highest body of the nation is promoting wrong practices which may set a national trend in different echelons of the government…
Recently, we saw two fasting movements against corruption and many more may get inspired. I was asking myself, why are such movements taking place in our democratic country. This is basically due to the dilution of standards by Parliament itself …

On the death penalty

One of the more difficult tasks for me as President was to decide on the issue of confirming capital punishment awarded by the courts after exhausting all processes of appeals. As a substantial number of cases have been pending in Rashtrapati Bhavan for many years, it is one inherited task that no President would feel happy about. I thought I should get all these cases examined from a normal citizen’s point of view in terms of the crime, intensity of the crime and the social and financial status of the individuals who were convicted and awarded capital punishment. This study revealed to my surprise that almost all the cases which were pending had a social and economic bias. This gave me an impression that we were punishing the person who was least involved in the enmity and who did not have a direct motive for committing the crime. Of course there was one case where I found that the lift operator had in fact committed the crime of raping and killing the girl without doubt. In that case I affirmed the sentence…
We are all the creations of God. I am not sure a human system or a human being is competent to take away a life based on artificial and created evidence.

On Sonia Gandhi as Prime Minister

One of the responsibilities of the President is to appoint the Prime Minister after every general election or whenever an occasion arises for change of the incumbent. On these occasions the President has to satisfy himself there is a party or a coalition which has the required number of members to form a stable government. The process of selection becomes more complex when there is more than one contender laying claim to government in view of none of the parties having a clear majority in the House. In this context, the 2004 election was an interesting event. The elections were over, the results had been announced and none of the parties had the strength to form the government on their own.
The Congress party had the largest number of members elected. In spite of that, three days had passed and no party or coalition came forward to form the government. It was a cause of concern for me and I asked my secretaries and rushed a letter to the leader of the largest party — in this case the Congress — to come forward and stake the claim for forming the government.
I was told that Sonia Gandhi was meeting me at 12.15 in the afternoon of 18 May. She came in time but instead of coming alone she came with Dr. Manmohan Singh and had a discussion with me. She said that she had the requisite numbers but she did not bring the letter of support signed by party functionaries. She would come with the letters of support on the 19th, she said. I asked her why do you postpone. We can even finish it this afternoon. She went away. Later I received a message that she would meet me in the evening, at 8.15 p.m.
While this communication was in progress, I had a number of emails and letters coming from individuals, organisations and parties that I should not allow Mrs Sonia Gandhi to become the Prime Minister of our country. I had passed on these mails and letters to various agencies in the government for their information without making any remarks. During this time there were many political leaders who came to meet me to request me not to succumb to any pressure and appoint Mrs Gandhi as the Prime Minister, a request that would not have been constitutionally tenable. If she had made any claim for herself I would have had no option but to appoint her.
At the allotted time, 8.15 p.m., Mrs Gandhi came to Rashtrapati Bhavan along with Dr. Manmohan Singh. In this meeting after exchanging pleasantries, she showed me the letters of support from various parties. Thereupon, I said that is welcome. The Rashtrapati Bhavan is ready for the swearing-in ceremony at the time of your choice. That is when she told me that she would like to nominate Dr. Manmohan Singh, who was the architect of economic reforms in 1991 and a trusted lieutenant of the Congress party with an impeccable image, as the Prime Minister. This was definitely a surprise to me and the Rashtrapati Bhavan Secretariat had to rework the letter appointing Dr. Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister and inviting him to form the government at the earliest.
Finally, the swearing-in took place on 22 May with Dr. Manmohan Singh and sixty-seven Ministers in the splendid Ashoka Hall.
I breathed a sigh of relief that this important task had finally been done. However, I did puzzle over why no party had staked a claim for three days.
(Excerpted with permission from A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Turning Points: A Journey Through Challenges. Published by HarperCollins, 2012.)

Friday, June 29, 2012

Too much of trouble from Railway agents(tatkal fraud)--Govt takes action

Steps taken by IRCTC to improve working of website.

1.     Capacity constraints:

It may be mentioned that even though capacity has been substantially increased during last few years, the demand window has shrunk to first few minutes at the time of opening of Tatkal i.e. 8AM.  This results in skewed demand where the resources remain under strain at 8 AM and underutilized during rest of the day.
Action taken

Future Plans
1.     High capacity Database servers have been installed,
2.     Internet Bandwidth has been increased from 344 mbps to 450 mbps,
3.     All available resources, including applications servers for the agent booking are diverted for Tatkal and ARP tickets booking by individual users between 8-10 AM,
4.     E-ticketing software licenses have also been augmented for handling extra load between 8-10 AM.
5.     It is proposed to augment further the software and hardware to meet the ever-growing demand.
6.     Four mobile booking service providers are already available and Mobile booking on pilot project basis was also launched by IRCTC on 29.12.2011.
7.     Further, technical evaluation of different types of mobile based technology of all major service providers have been evaluated and process is on to integrate more mobile base service providers.
8.     Single session per user ID check has been implemented w.e.f. 26.5.2012.  With this step, a user on will be able to open his account for booking of e-tickets only ones.  Multiple sessions with single user ID cannot be opened thereby enabling maximum users to access website and reduce congestion at 8 AM.

·     New e-ticketing application is under development in coordination with CRIS. With this it will be able to more than double the existing capacity and address the capacity issues of online demand of tickets.  
2.     Security measures: 

Transactions on are secure and there are zero cases of fraudulent transactions.  The website has never been hacked inspite of repeated attacks.  Multiple checks at hardware, software and network levels have been implemented to ensure IT security.
Action taken

Future Plans
1.     Indian Computer Emergency Response System (CERT-in), Department of Information and Technology, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, Government of India, who has professional competence in the area of proactive and preventive security measures, has been requested to assist IRCTC in further strengthening the security of website in preventing automated software.

2.     The Security audit, Process Audit and Functional audit of e-ticketing system has been conducted through STQC (Standardization, Testing and Quality Certification) Department of Information Technology (DIT), Government of India.

3.     STQC has been requested for functional audit of also.

4.     It is proposed to engage best IT security firm to help on the issue.

·     Latest IT security equipments viz., firewalls etc., are proposed to be procured as per the software specifications of the new e-ticketing applications being developed by CRIS.
3.     Agents cornering tickets :

As per Railway Board guidelines, Agents are not given access to e-ticketing between 8-10 AM. Registered Agents cannot book any type of tickets during 8-10 AM including Tatkal, new ARP opening as well as non ARP non Tatkal tickets. Several stringent measures have been taken to regulate registration, booking flow of tickets on website for individual users to ensure that agents do not misuse the facility and genuine individual passengers are able to get tickets.
Action Taken
1.     All payment initiated before 8AM are logged out to eliminate the possibility of scripting with data pre-filled prior 8 AM.
2.     Single user registration on one e-mail ID with email verification has implemented,
3.     Mobile validation of users and single user registration on one mobile number has been implemented w.e.f. 25.5.2011.
4.     Only two tickets can be booked per IP address between 8-10 AM w.e.f. 21.3.2012.  IP address check has helped in preventing multiple bookings from same office complex/internet cafĂ© etc.  This also helps in facilitating bookings by genuine users and prevents bookings for commercial gains.
5.     Captcha has been put and strengthened for booking in the ‘Plan My Travel’ to check fraudulent booking through automation software.
(CAPTCHAs is a technology used in attempts to prevent automated software from performing actions which degrade the quality of service of a given system)

6.     Quick Book Option* is  removed between 08:00 to 09:00 AM since 01.3.2011.  The timings has further been extended from 08:00 to 10:00 AM w.e.f. 21.11.2011.

*Quick Book option is for users who are well acquainted with the IRCTC Ticket booking Procedure. It provides a mode of booking where in the registered user has an option to populate the form in a single page and proceed to make payments to book the tickets. It is for the user who is well aware of the fare and Route details of his travel.

7.     Cash Cards have been stopped between 08:00 to 09:00 AM since 26.2.2011.  The timings has further been extended from 08:00 AM to 10:00 AM since 21.11.2011.

It is planned to explore that machine ID (computer MAC ID) may also be captured and restriction on booking tickets will be imposed per machine ID accordingly.

UID and PAN no., integration of all individual users for booking Tatkal/ARP. 

Future plans
4.     IT Anti Fraud Team (ITAF):

An IT-Anti Fraud team was formed for cyber space surveillance and pro active analysis and coordination with Railways vigilance and RPF, cyber crime police and other investigating agency.  On the basis of ITAF efforts several measures have been taken for system improvements.
Action Taken
1.     For all customers who have booked tickets between 08.00 to 08.05 AM, telephonic enquiries are being made for cross checking validity of the booking and the travelling passenger.
2.     To prevent alterations in the contents of ERS generated for main site, the necessary technical changes to disable "Copy/selection/right click" on the ERS have been implemented w.e.f. 1/10/11.  
3.     Total 508571 multiple personal User Ids and 44162 IDs created by Agents have been deactivated since 28-Feb-11 till date.

4.     A penalty of Rs.2.5 crores has been recovered from Agents for various violations based on findings by ITAF, passenger complaints, vigilance reports, press/media report etc.

5.     The ITAF is a team comprising personnel from RPF, Ticket Checking Staff and IT Supervisors.

Legal and prosecution measure:

1.     CBI/ACB, Mumbai and CVI, CSTM Western Railway jointly raided agent premises on 30.10.2010.  In March, 2011 this was reported to IT Centre.   On the basis of information provided by ITAF, IRCTC, RPF/Mumbai registered case under section 143 Railway Act against “M/s Mujawar” agent of Done Cash and associated agent M/s Alka Tours & Travel sub agent of ITZ cash card.  Similar case was also registered against M/s Manju Travel, sub agent of ITZ on account of creation of personal user IDs.  All the agent IDs and associated personal user ID were deactivated and blacklisted and penalty was imposed upon the principal agent.
2.     FIR was lodged by IRCTC, West Zone,  with Cyber Crime Police in Mumbai on dated 12.5.2011 against Kalpesh Kirtilal Shah, Mumbai & on dated 13.5.2011 against S.K. Jain (Soft valley) for running software on IRCTC website for booking Tatkal tickets and ARP tickets between 08:00-09:00 AM..  Both  were arrested by Cyber Crime Police.

3.     Internet Ticketing Centre, IRCTC filed FIR on 22.5.2012 against Star Tour Travels at Shahjahanpur, UP on the basis of passenger complaints and TTEs report of ERS manipulation.
Other measures
1.     In its efforts to provide best service to e-tickets customers, IRCTC takes regular help from consultants and industry professionals. IRCTC has appointed Gartner as technology consultant and regular help is taken from Gartner on technology issues.
2.     Close coordination is maintained with CRIS regarding e-ticketing system performance.
3.     In its efforts to provide best service to e-tickets customers, IRCTC takes regular help from Industry professionals in the area of e-commerce, online payment systems, IT Security are also consulted from time to time to implement industry best practices in IRCTC e-ticketing system.
4.     IRCTC has recently inducted IT professionals at various levels. IRCTC now has strong in-house IT team which will help in professional working and reduced dependence on outside agencies.
5.     E-mail verification is complete.  44 lakh multiple user IDs deactivated so far since 30.11.2011.
6.     During Vigilance Awareness Week’ 2011 (2.11.2011 to 14.11.2011) about 1.25 Crore e-mails were sent among the Indian Railway passengers to generate awareness about e-ticketing procedure and rules.