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(ARCHIVE) VOL. XXII No. 11, September 16-31, 2012
China can help us connect

Business notes
Editor, Industrial Economist

The Managing Director of Schwing Stetter India, Anand Sundaresan, and two of his senior colleagues recently visited China. He seemed to have been struck by the spectacular attention paid to physical and social infrastructure. He referred to the smooth and fast travel from Shanghai to Xuzhou, a distance of 600 km, covered in about 150 minutes with speeds displayed of over 300 kmph! He pointed to kilometres and kilometres of condominiums along the multi-lane trail tracks providing housing to thousands.

I have suggested for long such a focus on rail development. Today the technology is available and funding options are also great. Specially laid high-speed rail tracks that can help run trains at 350/400 kmph can help disperse population from the crowded metros. I have been specially suggesting such a rail corridor between Chennai and Bengaluru.

With its much lower steel prices, and thanks to a large built up capacity, India can look at inviting China for the construction of high-speed rail tracks.

High speed connectivity needed

I had great expectations on ASSOCHAM and the Madras Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) that arranged a national conference on the Chennai-Bengaluru industrial corridor. But there was little focus on the subject of the Chennai-Bengaluru industrial corridor.

The Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor, with liberal funding from Japan, includes a dedicated freight rail line. The states en route plan large special economic regions each of which is envisaged as a separate Singapore in itself.

Gujarat has been busy developing two SERs with a great deal of imagination and interest.

In 2007, I organised a seminar on the Corridors of Excellence. It suggested, among other things, a high speed rail line connecting Chennai and Bengaluru, capable of running trains at speeds of over 300 kmph, which means that the distance can be covered in just about an hour.

The corridor is already a rich continuum of industrially developed towns – Chennai, Sriperumbudur, Kancheepuram, Ranipet, Vellore, Krishnagiri, Hosur, Electronics City and Bengaluru.

The predominant portion of the corridor lies within Tamil Nadu. If this could be extended to Mysore and also include parts of Andhra Pradesh upto Vijayawada, the three states can build a strong case for Central support.

The Japanese have been extending huge funding for the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor. They have been evincing interest in such a project for South. The southern states can together present a detailed plan for such a corridor and access funding from Japan.

If the government can be less obsessed over the railways' monopoly, there is also a good potential for developing a high speed rail corridor in the Public Private Partnership (PPP) mode. I remember several business leaders of Sriperumbudur, who included CEOs of Nokia and Saint Gobain, evincing interest in such a concept. IE highlighted that such a high speed rail line will help decongest Chennai and Bengaluru. Large housing projects can spring up anywhere along the route since travel will become faster!

France, Germany and Japan have been running trains at 300 kmph for decades. In recent years China has embarked on extensive construction of such high speed tracks as mentioned above. I suggest a cess on rail freight and on passenger tickets that could be used for the construction of new rail lines, especially high speed ones.

All-pervasive corruption

In his recent book, N. Vittal, former Central Vigilance Commissioner, deals with all- pervasive corruption. What is of greater concern is that the cancer is well rooted in ordinary day-to-day transactions. I provide two instances:

Citizens need dozens of services that call for registration at the sub- registrar's office. These range from marriages to property to getting powers of attorney registered.

At one sub-registrar's office, a bribe of around Rs.700 is facilely taken for registering a power of attorney, even for a perfect, simple and valid document. This is routinely done with no questions asked. Compute the money passing hands for hundreds of such transactions every day.

Have you looked at the issues involved in the construction of the dwelling unit? Rules specify movement of aggregates and other construction material only during nights. This makes for a field day for the police and officials of the Corporation, and also if space is not available for storing sand, blue metal and other aggregates within the compound of a construction site.

Such construction activity compelled to be done at night does cause a certain amount of inconvenience to the neighbours. Ask any civil contractor; he will have dozens of tales of woe on illegal demands literally at the point of a knife: cough up or else... Policemen will point to complaints from neighbours that will necessitate charge-sheeting and spot fines.

Contractors liberally add in their estimates provision for such expenses along with their own margins.

Government has streamlined the issue of passports, which earlier involved enormous delays and corruption. Remember a chief passport officer in Chennai suspended for demanding illegal gratification, not long ago? A government serious about elimination of corruption should entrust such responsibilities to leading private companies along with requisite supervision. A company with expertise in IT and systems can handle the task involving thousands of transactions everyday speedily and without corruption.

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In this Issue

Lurching from crisis to crisis
If Anna Arches, why not other heritage buildings?
China can help us connect
Luminaries of our High Court
Looking back on Madras Week
Tracing the City's Old Wall
New facts learnt...
Zooming in on a changing Chennai
The Murugappa Madras Quotient Quiz 2012

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Dates for your diary


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