• Chidambaram cannot afford a harsh budget

    Ashok Dasgupta Elections are due in many State Assemblies this year P. Chidambaram With Assembly polls due in a number of States during the year-end and the general elections in 2009, it is a foregone conclusion that the Union budget for the next fiscal, to be presented by Finance Minister P. Chidambaram in three days from now, will not be a harsh one, even at worst. For the simple reason that over the last few weeks, the people's aspirations of deriving some benefits by way of budgetary goodies have been raised so high through statements by various functionaries of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and its coalition partners that anything not matching up to their expectations would perhaps be viewed as a great betrayal. And that's something that the ruling regime can ill afford, especially when the government is set to unveil its policy programmes and statement of accounts, the fifth and final in its current Lok Sabha term. In effect, the government will not only have to but also be seen as compensating the

  • Discharge-free green toilets to clean up tracks

    Railway minister Lalu Prasad is embarking on a move to clean up the railway stations and cut down corrosion of tracks. The railways trains will have discharge-free green toilets in all the coaches by 2011-12. "Discharge from toilets of train has been the prime reason for poor sanitation facility at stations

  • Record foodgrain output in 2007-08'

    Food grain production in 2007-08 is estimated at a record level of 219.32 million tonnes as per the second advance estimate. This is higher than the 217.28 million tonnes for 2006-07. This was stated by Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar at a National Conference on Agriculture for Kharif Campaign here on Tuesday. Mr. Pawar said the rice production was estimated at 94.08 million tonnes, compared to 93.35 million tonnes the previous year. The production of coarse cereals was estimated at 36.09 million tonnes. The cotton production stood at 233.81 lakh bales in 2007-08, which, he termed a record. For 4 p.c. growth Pointing out that the government aimed at achieving 4 per cent growth in agriculture, Mr. Pawar said resource constraint would not be allowed to stand in the way of achieving this target. Necessary funds would be provided to States for all agricultural schemes. The target for agricultural growth in the XI Plan was fixed at 4 per cent per annum. To achieve this target, action on several areas was required. This included bringing technology to farmers, improving efficiency of investments, increasing systems support and rationalising subsidy, besides protecting food security concerns and fostering inclusiveness through group approach by which the poor would get better access to land, credit and skill, Mr. Pawar said. Directive to States The Minister asked the State governments to work out an action plan for implementing the National Policy for Farmers, keeping in view the grass roots level requirements. On maximising kharif output, he asked the States to popularise hybrid rice technology through demonstrations and availability of quality seeds.

  • Highlights: Cash surplus at record high

    The Minister for Railways, Mr Lalu Prasad, flanked by the Ministers of State, Mr Naranbhai Rathwa (left), and Mr R.Velu, arriving to present the Rail Budget on Tuesday. Review of Performance: 2007-08

  • Focus on agriculture

    The article on "Focus on agriculture' (Business Line, February 18) highlighted the need for giving importance to the agricultural sector in the context of its importance to the economy. The article focused on price levels of agricultural commodities in the background of the Government's concern for checking inflation. In this context, it is worth looking at the growth strategy adopted by Israel, a small country made up of predominantly desert and semi-arid land. Since its independence in 1948, it has been able to increase its agricultural production 16-fold, thanks to the synergies and co-operation between agricultural scientists, extension workers, farmers and service industries. Israeli farmers conserve water by constructing terraces in the hilly regions, which naturally holds water. Besides, drip irrigation techniques are used to reduce water consumption for agriculture. Also, use of optimal water, sunlight and air pressure increases productivity. Genetic technology and tissue culture have been employed to reduce the cropping time. Besides, techniques such as use of soil preparation machinery have increased soil fertility. Result: Higher production at low cost. This has enabled the country to export more than 70 per cent of its farm produce. What India requires is a marriage of superior cost-effective techniques and farming, akin to the Israeli model, to increase production at lesser cost. This will increase the profit margin of farmers and could be a solution to their economics-related problems. P. E. Muthu Mumbai

  • In The Pink Of Health

    R&D is a fast evolving segment of Indian pharmaceutical industry. Innovation, international partnerships, collaborations, inflow of funds, clinical trials partnerships and co-development deals are changing the landscape of R&D. However, the potential is far greater and to aid the harnessing of this potential, the Times Group organised the ET Bio-Pharma Development Summit in Mumbai. Dr Swati Piramal, director, Nicholas Piramal, was the chairperson of the forum, with the keynote speaker being Dr Ted Bianco, director, Wellcome Trust. The highlight of the event was the special address delivered by Kapil Sibal, union minister for science and technology and earth sciences. Dr Piramal delivered the opening address to a house full of delegates. She highlighted the need of innovation in R&D and how India can excel in the same. Her address was followed by an interesting speech made by Dr Ted Bianco, director, Wellcome Trust, UK. He provided an insight into early stage R&D through translational research funding and management of intellectual property arising thereafter. Then, it was time for Mr Sibal's speech. He termed the new disease pathogens the terrorists of the 21st century and said there was an urgent need to safeguard public health. He also made a strong case for growth of R&D in case of Indian pharmaceutical industry and how it could be harnessed in India to provide affordable cure. The minister stressed on the need for a forward-looking drug policy and government subsidies to boost innovation in the country. Malvinder Singh, MD and CEO, Ranbaxy Laboratories, the speaker for the second session, gave a address on the future of generics. He informed that the global bio-generic industry was worth $60 billion today. Indian pharma industry can capitalize on this opportunity and grow to become $100 billion industry in the coming years. He pointed out that having 50 NCEs being produced by 15-20 companies is not economically sustainable. Industry needn't duplicate infrastructure as it would be feasible to unite through partnerships and collaborations, he said. He also stressed upon the need for an enabling regulatory framework, which moves away from the price control regime. He pointed out that at present, R&D done internally by the companies alone qualified for weighted deduction under section 35(2AB) of Income tax act. He urged that the government to facilitate innovation by extending this benefit to outsourced R&D as well. The third session was a panel discussion providing an HR perspective on strategies for human resource management. Dr Ganesh Shermon, partner & country head, human capital advisory services, KPMG India, Rajorshi Ganguli, director, HR, Dr Reddy's Laboratories, Sanjay Muthal, president, HR, Nicholas Piramal and Shiv Raman Dugal, chairman, Instiute of Clinical Research of India, were the distinguished speakers forming the panel. Various strategies needed to drive excellence in research and cross-functional areas were discussed. The next session emphasising on what's next in Indian bio-pharmaceuticals was moderated by Utkarsh Palnitkar, national head of health and science industry, Ernst & Young, India. One of the speakers - Dr Ramani Aiyer, chief scientific officer, Actis Biologics - highlighted the new trends in bio pharma. He also delved into the concepts of angiogenesis, gene therapy, recombinant proteins and follow-on biologics. Kavita Khanna, president, Bharat serums & Vaccines, was the next speaker in the session and gave her views on the way forward in publicprivate partnerships. She presented a case study on 'Kala Azaar' (Leishmaniasis), to explain how public private partnership was being proposed to eradicate the disease by 2010. Adnan Naseemullah, a student of university of California, Berkeley, was one of the invitees to the session. He spoke about the growth and development of the Indian pharmaceutical industry and highlighted the variations in research strategies followed by the industry. The post lunch session was a two-speaker special session held by Dr S K Gupta, dean and director, Institute of Clinical Research of India (ICRI) and Dr Anand Bidarkar, VP, Siro Clinpharm India. They delved into the various clinical research strategies to maange research and development in India. Dr Gupta provided the statistical data on the infrastructure which is available for clinical research in India and how can India emerge as a world-class destination for conducting quality clinical research. Dr Bidarkar explained how MNCs were taking advantage of Indian clinical R&D to shorten their drug development timelines. He also highlighted how Indian companies could look at outsourcing to overcome their competitive disadvantages. The concluding session of the day was the CEO round table. Presided by Dr Piramal, with Pratibha Pilgaonkar, CEO, Rubicon Research, Dr Naveen Rao, MD, Merck India and Dr Ajit Dangi, president and CEO, Danssen Consulting, being the other participants in the discussion. Dr Piramal posed various questions to the panel relating to scope of R&D in India, possibility of doing a Nano in pharma and cost of innovation. Dr Naveen Rao, MD, Merck India, expressed the need for big pharma companies to look at India and its cost-effective resources. He also stated that partnerships offered an attractive method of risk and reward sharing. Ms Pilgaonkar pointed out that SMEs in Indian pharma industry at an early stage need the support and funding from big players in the industry to become agents of research and innovation. Dr Dangi stressed on the need for world class intellectual property (IPR) regime, lowering of transaction costs and a liberal price policy in the country. Strengthening of the infrastructure of Drug Controller General of India, approval of various protocols for clinical trials, framing of laws on cloning and neutraceuticals were other issues discussed by the panel discussion. Dr Piramal projected that by 2010, India would have discovered at least five new drugs . Her personal bet on the cost of innovation of a new drug in India stood at less than $50 million. The session concluded after a question and answer session where the audience put forth their questions to the panelists.

  • MNCs' diabetes drug patents worry experts

    Even as India is fast turning into the diabetes capital of the world, multinational drug companies are busy patenting new-generation diabetes medicines for exclusive marketing rights in the country. The Indian Patent Office has already awarded patents to at least three such products, say patent experts. Though the immediate impact of the patent protection to such drugs is not known, experts say prices of diabetes medicine has a long-term economic significance due to the fast-growing diabetic population of the country. Official estimates predict the number of diabetics in India to be 3.77 crore by 2010 and 4.58 crore by 2015. "Considering the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates for Indian diabetic population, patenting of these drugs are sure to have significant impact on the diabetic population,' Varun Chhonkar, a Mumbai-based intellectual property consultant said. In February, a patent was granted (the most recent grant of such patent) to Swiss drug major Novartis for Vildagliptin, an anti-diabetic compound. Vildagliptin is the second drug in the class of dipeptidyl peptidase IV (DPP IV) inhibitors to reach the market. The first one was Merck's Sitagliptin which also received an Indian patent in December. Globally marketed as Januvia, Merck's Sitagliptin recorded $668 million in worldwide sales in 2007 and is projected to reach $2 billion by 2011. In June, Bristol-Myer had received an Indian patent for its Saxagliptin, a likely global blockbuster diabetes drug. "The drug companies will have to make medicines affordable to Indian patients. I have suggested Merck to have an India specific pricing for Januvia as the prices they charge in the US, $5 for a pill, may not be affordable for majority of our patients. Diabetic patients often have multiple medical complications and will have to take other medicines also, thereby making treatment very costly,' A K Jhingan, chairman, Delhi Diabetes Research Centre, said. According to World Health Organisation estimates, the projected number of diabetic patients in the next decade globally will exceed 20 crore. India had 3.2 crore diabetics in 2000 and might touch 8 crore by 2030, it has pointed out. The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) has also reported that the total number of diabetic subjects in India was 4.1 crore in 2006 and would rise to 7 crore by 2025. It should be noted that the chemicals ministry, the administrative ministry for the pharma sector, has constituted a committee to recommend a scheme for price negotiation of patented medicines to make such new generation drugs cheaper in the country.

  • Sonia hailed for relief to farmers

    Dressed in traditional attire and accompanied by musicians beating drums, a large number of senior Delhi Congress leaders met party president Sonia Gandhi at her 10 Janpath residence here on Wednesday to thank her for enhancing the compensation payable to farmers on acquisition of their land from Rs.25 lakh per acre to Rs.75 lakh per acre. Led by Outer Delhi MP Sajjan Kumar, the delegation also lauded the permission granted to farmers -- through the new Master Plan for Delhi-2021

  • Rise in Chinese coking coal price in March may hit India

    Chinese domestic coking coal prices are expected to rise $14 per tonne next month, which could trigger problems for the Indian steel industry whose demand for coke is expected to touch 85.34 million metric tons by 2011-12. "Chinese domestic coking coal prices are expected to rise by 100 yuan ($14) per tonne for March delivery, pushed up by strong demand for coke,' the Metal Bulletin reported. Coal producers in China are talking about raising prices next month in the face of strong demand as steel mills gradually ramp up production after the snowstorms, it quoted Chinese trading sources as saying. Currently, coking coal is transacting at 1,300-1,400 yuan per tonne in Shanxi province, China's largest coal and coke producer. This is double the price paid in the middle of last year. Indian Steel Alliance sources said that rise in Chinese coking coal prices could generate problems for the Indian steel industry as domestic firms are considerably dependent on the neighbouring country for coke. Recent force majeure announcements by BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto at several hard coking coal mines in Queensland, Australia, have also seriously affected many Asian steel mills and caused a global shortage of coking coal supply.

  • Forex inflows still a 'challenge': Survey

    Govt's annual report doubts ability to eliminate revenue deficit. Calling double-digit growth a tough task, the government today cited foreign capital inflow and inflation as the macroeconomic challenge to high sustained growth in its Economic Survey for 2007-08. "If you wish me to sum up in one phrase the outlook for 2008-09, I would say optimism but with caution is the watchword,' Finance Minister P Chidambaram told reporters after presenting the Survey in Parliament. The annual report card on the economy also said the target of bringing the revenue deficit down to zero by 2008-09 would "remain a challenge,' pointing to a step-up in expenditure as the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance prepares for general elections next year. Though bullish on growth, the Survey has sounded an unmistakable note of caution on the capital inflows that the country has seen in the last several months. As these inflows are substantially higher than what the country needs to cover its trade deficit, these funds threaten to raise prices, leading to a tighter monetary policy. This, in turn, is threatening to capital investments in the country. As the sub-prime crisis unfolds in the US and Europe, global investors are likely to be more risk-averse and are, therefore, likely to cut investments in emerging markets like India, the Survey says. However, this could be balanced out by the increased liquidity created by Western Central Banks to deal with the crisis. "On balance, the decline in capital inflows as a proportion of GDP in 2008 is likely to be modest,' the Survey notes. There could be a softening in global commodity prices because of the moderate slowdown in the world economy led by the sub-prime crisis in the US, the Survey says. However, the slowdown could hurt Indian exports, resulting in a modest increase in the country's deficit in trade of goods and services, unless the US slowdown turns into a severe recession, it adds. The Survey also lists radical policy reform options. These include allowing regulated private entry into coal mining, phasing out controls on sugar, fertiliser and drug industries, opening up all retail trade to foreign investment, raising foreign ownership of insurance companies from 26 per cent to 49 per cent (51 per cent for companies operating in the rural sector) and allowing foreign companies to set up fully-owned rural banks. Some of these options like opening retail and insurance sectors have been debated internally by the government in the past. However, opposition from its Communist allies has made it put these proposals on the backburner. The Survey does not mention how actively these options are being considered by the government. However, a finance ministry official told Business Standard that these are the policy reforms that need to be undertaken if the country wants to move to the high growth trajectory. "Hopefully, the inputs will be picked and debated for implementation. These are suggestions and not recommendations,' the official said. In addition, the Survey calls for amending the Factories Act that would allow companies to meet seasonal ups and downs in demand and new bankruptcy laws to facilitate the exit of old management as expeditiously as possible. It also lists an ambitious disinvestment programme of listing all closely-held public sector companies and auctioning all loss-making units that cannot be revived. For the first three years of its rule (2004-07), the government kept its word to the Left parties and did no disinvestment at all. It was only earlier this year that it decided to list all its power utilities.

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