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India: Supreme Court asks where Yamuna river cleanup money disappeared

India has spent $2 billion to clean up Delhi's Yamuna River over the past 20 years. And it's dirtier than ever.
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It's tempting to conclude that the Indian government simply threw $2 billion intended for the cleanup of Delhi's Yamuna River into the drink with the rest of the trash and sewage.  But the truth is that nobody's too sure where the money went, according to India's Supreme Court.

“Where has all this money gone? We don’t see any improvement in the water of the river... what is the use of this money,” asked the bench of Justices Swatanter Kumar and Madan B Lokur, according to the Indian Express.

Nearly $2 billion has been spent in the last 18 years by the central government and the governments of Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh and their civic bodies, the court noted.

The bench asked Additional Solicitor General P P Malhotra to place before it by November 9 the Yamuna River Action Plan and any other plan, if formulated, to clean the river by resorting to correctional and preventive measures, the paper said.

As I wrote for Newsweek some years ago, India's horrendously polluted rivers are among the reasons why it routinely scores miserably on Yale and Columbia's Environmental Performance Index. 

"If anybody needed a reminder of how crippling bureaucracy can be, consider the campaign to clean up the sacred Yamuna River in Delhi," I wrote at the time. "The river oozes through town like a putrid ribbon of black sludge. Its level of fecal bacteria is 10,000 times higher than what's deemed safe for bathing. After a half-billion-dollar, 15-year program to build 17 sewage treatment plants, raw sewage still spills into the river at the rate of 3.6 billion liters a day."

And as the Supreme Court irascibly points out, nothing has changed since 2008.... At least not for the better.


India: Why some graft allegations spark swift investigations...

Allegations against government allies are too laughable to investigate, naturally. But when an opposition leader comes under the lens, they unleash the sniffer dogs.
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As usual, the biting wits at have summed up the meaning of the tit-for-tat corruption allegations against various Congress Party bigwigs and Bharatiya Janata Party President Nitin Gadkari:

"The investigative mills of the government grind slowly – but only when allegations of corruption are levelled against one of its own," writes Venky Vembu. "When the charges relate to a leader of the principal Opposition party, the same leaden-footed investigative agencies begin to show extraraordinary agility and earnestness of purpose."

So true.

When anti-corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal leveled accusations at Robert Vadra--the husband of Sonia Gandhi's daughter--there was no question of a probe being launched by the Central Bureau of Investigation. And some Congress wallah or another had the nerve to argue that there was no need to bother about Vadra's affairs at all, since he's a "private citizen."  When Kejriwal accused Uttar Pradesh Congress Party leader Salman Khurshid of dipping into the funds intended for a charitable trust run by his wife, the politician's outrage was deemed proof enough that the strong smell of fish was purely a coincidence.


India: Forbes unveils rich list

Reliance honcho Mukesh Ambani remains richest Indian, with a net worth of $21 billion, mostly from the oil and gas business.
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As all India reflects on corruption allegations leveled against top politicians from every major party, Forbes unveiled its latest list of the country's richest tycoons. Reliance Industries' Mukesh Ambani remains on top, with a net worth of $21 billion, mostly from the oil and gas business.

Here's the rankings:

1. Mukesh Ambani, Reliance Industries: $21 billion. (Oil and gas)

2. Lakshmi Mittal, Mittal Steel: $16 billion. (Steel)

3. Azim Premji, Wipro: $12.2 billion. (IT services / outsourcing)

4. Pallonji Mistry, Shapoorji Pallonji Group: $9.8 billion. (Construction)

5. Dilip Shanghvi, Sun Pharmaceutical: $14 billion. (Pharma)

6. Adi Godrej, Godrej Group: $9 billion. (Consumer goods)

7. Savitri Jindal, OP Jindal Group: $8.2 billion. (Steel and power)

8. Brothers Shashi and Ravi Ruia, Essar Group: $8.1 billion. (Various industries, from mining to power)

9. Hinduja brothers (Prakash, Srichand, Gopichand and Ashok), Hinduja Group: $8 billion. (Commercial vehicles, oil, wealth management et al). 

10. Kumar Mangalam Birla, Aditya Birla Group: $7.8 billion. (Retail to mining and media).


India: Growth and graft prompt comparisons to US "Gilded Age"

Stories of the days of Morgan and Carnegie sound "eerily familiar" in India, writes Brown University's Ashutosh Varshney
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Brown University professor Ashutosh Varshney has argued that India's current climate of high growth and rampant graft mirrors America's "Gilded Age," when so-called Robber Barons built untold fortunes through sweetheart deals related to the construction of the transcontinental railroad and other government projects. But there are some salient differences, too, Varshney writes in Friday's Indian Express.


India: A nation's bad health reflects worst of rich and poor

About 37% of Indian deaths are still caused by "poor country" diseases like TB and malaria, while 53% stem from "rich country" problems like heart failure and diabetes.
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An Indian boy receives anti-polio vaccination drops by an Indian Health worker as part of a Polio vaccination campaign in Amritsar on January 23, 2011. (NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images)

With an abysmal record on health care spending and one of the world's poorest populations, you'd expect India to be a sick country. But what's surprising is that the situation is arguably getting worse faster than it's getting better.

Consider this: 


India: Drivers, peons, and astrologers sit on board of directors of politicians' firms

An investigation into companies owned by some of India's top politicians, including BJP president Nitin Gadkari, uncovers a rank fishy smell.
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India's anti-corruption movement went bipartisan last week, with the media-indictment of Bharatiya Janata Party President Nitin Gadkari. But it's the details of the latest wave of revelations that are interesting.


India's Narendra Modi: Too big to ban?

UK breaks ice with Narendra Modi despite lingering questions about Gujarat riots
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The UK government has ended its freeze-out of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, signaling that the Bharatiya Janata Party leader may be getting "too big to ban" as he edges closer to becoming his party's nominee for the prime ministerial race. The next question: Does this mean the US will rethink its decision to deny a visa to the man whom many still accuse of preventing police from interceding in the deadly Gujarat riots of 2002?


India: Hot for teacher

Schools in Kerala tell female teachers to wear aprons and overcoats to stop naughty mobile phone pics
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ndian schoolchildren from The Devnar Foundation School for the Blind shake hands with their teachers as they participate in Teachers Day celebrations in Hyderabad. (NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images)

To paraphrase '80s hair band Van Halen: They've got it bad, so bad. They're hot for teacher.

That's right, dear readers. Officials at private schools in Kerala have advised their female teachers to wear aprons or overcoats in a bid to stop naughty schoolboys from snapping revealing pictures of them while they write on the blackboard, or pick up the oft-dropped pencil and the like, reports the Times of India.

According to the newspaper, there's no dress code being enforced. It's just a word to the wise, as schools have had no success in banning mobile phones from campus.


India: Local giants wait and watch as Starbucks opens in Mumbai

Local chains Barista and Cafe Coffee Day converted Youngistan from tea to coffee, but now Starbucks is coming to town.
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Starbucks' signature burnt and bitter coffee comes to India on Friday, with the opening of the global java chain's first outlet in Mumbai.  But the US giant's late entry could make cracking India's booming coffee business tougher than expected.

Two Indian pioneers, Barista and Cafe Coffee Day, succeeded in converting Indian youth from tea to coffee essentially by providing a cheap date. Stop by any outlet in Delhi, Mumbai, or even a remote locale like Puri, home of the Jagunath Temple, on the coast of Orissa, and you'll find teenagers and 20-somethings on stealth dates -- nursing a single coffee frappe or brownie sundae for hours, and occasionally slipping out to the street for a cigarette.  

Sure, there are professionals, too. You'll note the occasional laptop. But the music is loud and there's a guitar on hand for anybody who wants to start a spontaneous singalong.  

That doesn't mean there's unbreakable brand loyalty for either joint, I suspect. But it suggests that the Indian market isn't as big or as profitable as Starbucks likely estimates. (The margins on a 60 rupee cup of coffee, consumed over two-and-a-half hours, have to be razor thin).  And it means that the world's biggest purveyor of milky drinks (something has to kill that bitter taste!) is way behind when it comes to boots on the ground.

As the Hindustan Times reports, the organized cafe business in India is presently worth about $240 million in revenue per year, which is a drop in the bucket compared with the $3.3 billion in revenue Starbucks posted for the third quarter. While the sector is growing by as much as 30 percent a year, there are already some 1,950 branded cafe stores in operation -- led by Cafe Coffee Day with 1,350 outlets. And global competitors like Costa Coffee and Dunkin Donuts have yet to dent Indians' preference for the local outfits.


India: Delhi and Mumbai are neither lovable nor livable, says UN

Delhi ranks last in UN survey of "green cities," while both Delhi and Mumbai fall in bottom half on "prosperity."
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New Delhi and Mumbai are world class cities. Just ask anybody who's never been outside of India. But don't go to the United Nations. 

According to a new UN study of the world's largest cities, India's most prestigious metropolises are neither lovable nor livable. Despite frequently patting itself on the back for its trees (what of the garbage strewn around their boles!?), New Delhi ranked dead out of 95 cities on the UN's environmental index. And neither Delhi nor Mumbai was able to break into the top half in "prosperity."