Afghan Mine Bid and Indian Consortium Mint 24 August, 2011 | Telegraphy | Poverty & Homelessness





growth, Asia After Tata Steel exit, consortium ‘Despite lacks social benefits’ to meet on Afghan mine bid

The 1.8 billion tonnes iron ore mine may also see bids from Brazil’s Vale and Australia’s BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto
B Y U TPAL B HASKAR R UCHIRA S INGH ·························


························· have so much difficulty expanding in their own market that (in) an underdeveloped place like Afghanistan, difficulties can only be worse,” said K.N. Rahman, deputy research head, Way2Wealth Brokers. “Participation from private players would have given the bid a very technology aggressive stance. But SAIL can go solo also as a goodwill gesture.” Afghanistan called for international bids in January for the Hajigak deposit, located in the Bamiyan province, 130km west of capital Kabul. The country has been promoting its minerals sector to foreign firms with the hope of boosting economic growth and employment after decades of war. It aims to generate a revenue of $2 billion ( `9,140 crore) annually by 2017-18 from the mining sector, including oil and gas, from about $100 million now. India has invested $1.3 billion in rebuilding Afghanistan and views the country as key to its strategic interests, not least because it is situated at the crossroads between South Asia and energy-rich Central Asia. The US has discovered nearly $1 trillion worth of untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan. The deposits contain iron, copper, cobalt, gold and lithium. Afghanistan is keen to develop itself as a mining destination, with tenders for four more assets containing copper and gold deposits, which will be opened in October. The Afghan government will conduct road shows in Singapore and Canada for the assets at the end of September.


fter the exit of Tata Steel Ltd from an Indian mining consortium slated to bid for a significant iron ore deposit in Afghanistan, the remaining members are expected to meet in a day or two to decide their strategy. “The last date of bid submission is 4 September, which is still some time away. We will review the partnership,” said C.S. Verma, chairman of stateowned Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL), which leads the consortium. The other members of the group are NMDC Ltd, Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Ltd (RINL), JSW Steel Ltd and Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL). On whether the consortium will drop its bid following Tata Steel’s exit, Verma said: “There is no possibility of dropping the bid. How does their pulling out affect the bid?” The Indian Express newspaper on Tuesday reported that Tata Steel and the JSW Group were opting out of the consortium. A JSW spokesperson, however, said the company is still a part of the consortium. As for Tata Steel, a company spokesperson said it is “reconsidering our participation”. Rana Som, chairman and managing director of NMDC, India’s largest iron ore producer and exporter, said he


Securing deposits: SAIL chairman C.S. Verma says there is no possibility of the consortium dropping the bid for the Afghan mine. was unaware of any exit from the consortium. Sushil Maroo, director and group chief financial officer of JSPL, did not respond to phone calls. An RINL spokesperson said his company is still a part of the consortium and that he wasn’t aware of Tata Steel’s exit from it. The bid for Afghanistan’s Hajigak deposit is expected to play an important role in India’s engagement with the war-ravaged country. The consortium was formed at the government’s behest to place a bid for a 1.8 billion tonnes iron ore mine. The deposit may also see bids from top global miners such as BHP Billiton Ltd and Rio Tinto Plc of Australia and Vale SA of Brazil. India is also pushing the bid for geopolitical reasons as it fears Chinese companies may begin to dominate Afghanistan, having already secured the Aynak copper deposit in 2007. Though Afghanistan is still struggling with insurgency, the deposits are attractive for Indian companies desperate for growth as their local expansion plans face hurdles over land acquisition and environmental clearances. While SAIL is interested in building a steel plant as well, analysts say the mammoth infrastructure needed to get the remote mining deposit up and running it will be the biggest cost guzzlers for the project. They also cite security concerns. “For the private companies, there are enough domestic issues right now as they are suffering from the mining ban in Karnataka. Most companies

ost Asian economies have not done enough to provide good jobs and adequate social benefits for their people, despite rapid economic growth over 20 years, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said on Tuesday. Poor social provision and the tensions it often produces could hamper the region’s long-term growth prospects, said the Manila-based lender, urging countries to tap their high savings to improve social safety nets. Asia grew an average 6.4% per year between 1990 and 2008, much faster than the rest of the world, including developed countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which expanded by an average 1.8% in the same period. The growth has led to a higher number of Asians finding jobs and 150 million people being hauled out of poverty, ADB said. But job creation and poverty reduction have been very uneven across the region, it said. “Asia continues its high and resilient growth of the last two decades, but behind this rosy picture, we have to remember that progress is uneven,” ADB chief economist Changyong Rhee told reporters in Singapore. “Poverty still remains high in many low-income countries... Asia is far behind in terms of quality employment.” “We have done a lot, but on the other end, there is much room for us to improve... We are still in a situation with lowquality public services,” said Rhee. “This kind of divergence in income inequality and nonincome indicators can lead to


some social tension and it may hamper the growth prospects of the region in the longer term.” ADB, Asia’s version of the World Bank, said the region remains home to most of the world’s poor with more than 40% of most developing countries’ populations living below the poverty threshold of two dollars a day. Most of the jobs created in Asia are low-wage manufacturing positions, it said. Many workers are in the informal sector, which means they are exposed to greater risks, have no contracts, and are not covered by non-wage benefits such as pensions, severance pay and health insurance. “Developing Asia has a very high rate of informal employment, with more than twice the share of the labour force in informal employment compared with Latin America,” ADB said. A “large majority” of Asian countries have informal employment rates exceeding 40% of the working population, it added. China had 58.9% of workers working in the informal sector in 2008, with India coming in higher at 81.9%. Rhee, the ADB chief economist, said Asian governments should use some of their foreign reserves to invest in social safety nets. “In Asia, we haven’t spent very much on social safety nets. That’s one reason why we have less fiscal problems,” he told reporters, referring to Asia’s massive foreign exchange reserves which helped the region weather the 2008 global recession. “Now is the time for us to think seriously about these kinds of issues because it’s going to become one of the important determinants for the long-term sustainability of the region,” he said. AFP


Telegram: a bullock cart in the time of trains and buses




.V. Deshmuk has a lot of time on his hands. A telegraphist at Mumbai’s central telegraph office, his job is not as hectic as it used to be. Once touted as filling the common man’s instant communication needs, telegrams can be described as the original text message. But the telegram has fallen into disfavour, rendered obsolete by more reliable landlines, mobile phones, email and text messages. Now, the Indian telegram is in its death throes. The first telegrams in India were sent in 1850 between Kolkata and Diamond Harbour, West Bengal, with the government opening up the service to the nation in 1855. At the peak there were 25 telegraph offices in Mumbai; now there are eight. Of those, only the central office sees any activity, said chief telegraphist Ashok Gajbhiye. He said that 80% of countries worldwide have closed their telegraph services. Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL), which took over the telegraph system in 1994, acknowledges on its website that “there has been steep decline in the usage of telegraph services” of late. When he joined the telegraph office, Deshmuk trained for nine months using Morse

code and teleprinters, sending messages transmitted by underground and undersea cables. In 1982, Sam Pitroda, the first chairman of India’s Telecom Commission, was brought in to modernize the system, an event Deshmuk remembers fondly. “In those days, a telephone was a luxury. It could take up to 10 years to get a connection,” Pitroda said. Being in India’s business hub, Mumbai’s central office was the busiest in the country, he said. “Now, there’s no reason for it to exist. It’s one of those things that has to die. It’s sad, but it happens.” “Everyone depended on this system,” said Deshmuk, who wore a pink Oxford shirt and glasses with smart frames. “Now, day by day, the (number of) telegram(s) decreases.” He estimates that the frequency with which telegrams are sent has dropped 90% since he joined the telegraph office. Today’s telegrams are little more than emails by another name. Last year, BSNL finished converting the countrywide system to a “Web-based telegraph messaging system”. Now, when someone books a telegram, it’s transcribed and sent by email to a server in Thiruvananthapuram, from which is it rerouted to the relevant regional office, where it’s transcribed and hand-delivered. On a recent visit by Mint , Mumbai’s central telegraph of-

Dying medium: Telegraphist A.V. Deshmuk at the central telegraph office in Mumbai. fice was bereft of customers. A dozen clerks were on hand to service three people, each of whom had queries about their BSNL phone service. (One can also send a fax or surf the Internet on a lone computer terminal.) When Deshmuk started work, sending a telegram cost upwards of `3.50. Now, it costs upwards of `30. Early in his tenure, Deshmuk said, people would use the service to prearrange a time for a conversation on a public landline, or send news of a death, birthday or marriage. Indeed, discounted, prewritten greetings are still available for everything from the very specific (“Heartiest Ugadi greetings”) to the very general (“Wishing the function every success”). Deshmuk estimates that during the telegram’s heyday, some 4,000-5,000 passed through his office every day, and over 100,000 went through the wires in Maharashtra. The office used to be open 24 hours, he said. “Since last year, it is open only from 8am to 8pm. It was all shift duties back then. You had a quota, maybe 30, 40, 50 telegrams per hour. Now it is (much) less,” he added. Previously, there were 800 telegraphists in the central office. There are 80 now, he said.

These days, telegrams are largely sent as official communiques. “They are sent by banks to defaulters or by the government for legal purposes,” Deshmuk said. “When banks decide that people have defaulted, or when the rent comes due, we get very busy. We could get 4,000-5,000 bookings. (But) when those bookings will come, nobody knows.” Most other days are quiet, he said. During Mint ’s visit, a lone telegram sat in the telegraphists’ outbox. From an employer to an absconder, the message read: “Report on duty immediately with written explanation.” When Mint sent a telegram to its office, the Internet was down, so it was hand-typed and dispatched by messenger. “This telegram service is going to die within five to ten years,” Deshmuk said. “Very rarely do people approach us any more. Internet and mobile phones are instant. An express telegram takes half an hour.” ( Mint ’s local telegram took 24 hours to reach.) “Previously, it was a great service,” Deshmuk said. “Now, the telegraph is like the bullock cart when it was replaced by the train or the bus.” Still, he allowed himself to get wistful about the telegram. “If you send a message by your hand to the village, when it was received at the house, your words are there,” he said. “The telegram is like a letter. It’s from your heart. SMS and email are faster, but human relations belong to the telegram. Emotions belong to the telegram.”

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