SC asks govt to allow fit taxis on Kothi-Rohtang route

The Supreme Court (SC) today passed an interim order diluting the ban on four-year-old taxis to ply on the Kothi-Rohtang route. A Bench comprising Justices Gyan Sudha Misra and PC Ghose directed the Himachal Pradesh government to test the fitness of the banned vehicles and allow them to ply if they complied with pollution and other norms.

The apex court passed the order on a petition filed by the Him-Aanchal Taxi Operators Union, Manali, challenging the HP High Court’s ban on commercial vehicles of more than four years’ old plying between Kothi and Rohtang.

Appearing for the union, senior counsel KV Viswanathan pleaded that instead having the age of the vehicles as the norm, the state government should prescribe the level of pollutants emitted by the taxis as the criterion for allowing them to ply. In several cases, a four-year-old taxi would not have done even 50,000 km and as such it was not fair to ban it, he contended.

The Bench said it would hear the case again after two weeks and asked the parties to file additional documents. It also asked the government to explore other options keeping in mind the interests of the taxi operators, commuters’ safety and environment.

The SC had issued notice to the state government on July 30 on the union’s petition contending that more than 75 per cent of the taxies numbering about 1,400 would go off the roads under the HC order.

The taxi owners had taken bank loans to buy the vehicles which they were still repaying and as such the HC decision would put them in a deep trouble, it was contended.

The HC had issued the order on the recommendations of the National Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), pointing out the fragile ecology in the high-altitude Rohtang area.

Source: The Tribune


Flying abroad? Not declaring goods may land you in trouble

MUMBAI: After angadias emerged from anonymity following a recent raid on trucks filled with cash, gold and diamonds, people have been asking if a person carrying a lot of money and valuables can be pulled up for doing so, especially if one is flying. Can a flyer be refused security clearance for carrying cash and valuables above a limit? The rules are different for international and domestic travel.

As per customs rules, for carrying gold and expensive items from India to other countries, one needs to procure a certificate from the precious cargo complex a day in advance.

For travelling abroad, one needs to be careful about one’s baggage. It is usual for one to carry jewellery, cash and expensive gadgets, but unless one declares the goods and their value before leaving, one can fall into customs’ net upon return. As per customs rules, for carrying gold and expensive items from India to other countries, one needs to procure a certificate from the precious cargo complex a day in advance. Upon return, the certificate can be shown to customs to claim duty exemption. “The traveler can thus leave the airport without any hassle,” said an officer from the Air Intelligence Unit.

What about bringing home goods bought abroad? “One needs to pay duty if one brings into the country things that cost more than a certain limit,” said a customs official. The duty is 36% for goods worth more than Rs 35,000. For gold, the duty regime is more liberal for women, the allowance being amounts costing up to Rs 20,000. For men, the limit is Rs 10,000. Amounts of gold above these limits attract a duty of 36%. As for cash, one is allowed to bring into the country $5 000 and an equal amount in traveler’s cheques (above what one declared at the time of leaving India).

Customs officials say travelers should never knowingly hide valuables to escape duty. “If discovered, they need to pay a fine apart from duty. It could also lead to an arrest and a court case,” said an official. “In 20-30% of the cases, the intention is not smuggling, but the cases are classified as such.”

What about domestic travel? Well, there is no rule on carrying cash, gold, jewels or gadgets, which means one can carry whatever one feels like and in any quantity. “We do not set limits on such items as they do not pose a haz ard to aircraft security,” said an official of the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security.

But then the income tax department comes into the picture. “If the department receives a tipoff that someone is carrying a huge quantity of cash, its officials can stop and interrogate the flyer,” said an officer. “If one can produce a receipt or otherwise show the origin of the cash, there is no problem.”

Source: The Times of India


On beach holiday, desis high on intimacy with strangers

MUMBAI: After Singaporeans, it is Indians who are apparently most likely to indulge in intimacy with complete strangers on a beach holiday, a global survey done by an online travel portal has revealed. The recent survey threw up other improbable findings as well, the most striking being that Indians topped the list of global travelers opting for a sun-and-sand vacation—as many as 95% said they were likely to take a beach holiday this year.

“Eighteen per cent of Indian and 20% of Singaporean respondents said that intimacy with strangers is among the ways in which they typically indulge themselves on beach vacations,” the survey, an analysis of the behaviour and preferences among beachgoers in Asia, North America, South America, Europe and Australia, said. That’s not all. Twenty per cent Indian respondents—26% men and 3% women—said they have gone topless on beaches. Four per cent said they have gone nude, while 11% have done both.

The survey was conducted online across Asia Pacific, Europe, North America and South America among 8,606 respondents in 21 countries, including the US, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Denmark, Brazil, South Korea, Japan and Australia. The highest number of respondents were from Canada (1,285), while in India the survey covered 485 people.

Among the interesting revelations was the coming of age of the Indian traveller—they now prefer to do their own research, check out reviews, blogs and social media while planning their vacation. They plan a beach holiday months in advance, contrary to the popular perception that Indians are last-minute travellers. They literally work towards the holiday by going on diets and going in for makeovers and shopping to get into that swimsuit.

Twenty six per cent respondents said they had postponed their beach vacation from less than one month to more than a year to get into shape. The trend was led by south Indians (28%) followed by Delhiites (27%) and Mumbaikars (23%). It is not surprising as 56% of Indians surveyed said they buy a new beach outfit for their vacation.

Another interesting finding is that the fair skin-obsessed country values a tan, perhaps aping the West. However, Indians do not get their tan on the beach. Rather, they start their beach holiday with a tanned body. “Forty six per cent Delhiites get tanned before their beach vacation. The national average is 27%.”

Indians were also are among the most fun-loving people when on vacation, with the highest percentage of any nationality being involved in various activities such as spa (47%), playing volleyball (43%), water sports (52%) and running (65%). India has the second highest percentage of shopping lovers on vacation (76%), behind Singapore (78%). The country stands third when it comes to enjoying nightlife and dancing (51%). The trend is led by Brazilians (64%) and Mexicans (57%).

Malaysians, at 68%, were the most likely to share their beach photos on social networking sites, while 57% Indians said they do the same. “About 54% of Indians email/text photos to family/friends, followed by South Koreans at 51% and Americans at 47%. Indians (34%) also blog about their experience, sharing photos/videos, a trend led by South Koreans with 39%,” the survey said.

The Expedia Flip Flop Report 2013 was conducted online by Harris Interactive from April 19 to May 15. Vikram Malhi, general manager, South and South East Asia, Expedia, said, “The survey shows a clear evolution of the Indian traveller with respect to planning and booking behaviour. Their reliance on third party reviews when choosing a holiday destination has increased. Indians topped in consulting traveller reviews (62%), travel guidebooks (58%), travel magazines/ TV shows (54%) and were second in consulting social media (42%), news stories (42%) and travel blogs (47%).”

In fact, nearly nine in ten (89%) vacationers who travelled or plan to travel internationally felt it was important to learn the local culture and history of their international beach vacation destinations, he said.

Source: The Times of India


Flying Skywhale tale grows by at least $100,000

ACT taxpayers are paying at least $100,000 more than the territory government had indicated for the Skywhale hot-air balloon.

Official documents reveal the balloon is costing at least $334,000, not the $170,000 figure quoted by ACT government officials.

The official line on the cost to taxpayers of the balloon had been $170,000, with some extra costs for piloting and educational materials.

Jeremy Lasek, executive director of culture for the ACT Chief Minister’s directorate, gave Fairfax Media the figure on Thursday morning.

‘‘The balloon itself was in the vicinity of $170,000. We’ve also created a website, educational kits, piloting, a bunch of other things that were on top of it. So, I don’t have the total number, but the balloon design and construction and the testing was around $170,000,’’ he said.

But Chief Minister Katy Gallagher told an Assembly committee on Friday afternoon the cost to ACT taxpayers was $300,000, with one of her top officials saying the price would be capped at that level.

Philanthropic funding of $50,000, provided by the Aranday Foundation, would make up the rest of the cost.

On Friday afternoon, Mr Lasek confirmed the Skywhale, although paid for with ACT taxpayer funds, belonged to Melbourne company Global Ballooning.

The Skywhale would be good for about 100 flights, although there was no guaranteed minimum number of flights in the capital.

The giant artwork, which was revealed on Thursday morning, has divided opinion on its aesthetic qualities and reignited the sometimes acrimonious debate on taxpayer-funded government art.

Ms Gallagher said when she first saw diagrams of the balloon her eyes ‘‘nearly fell out of her head’’, but she had since become quite fond of it.

‘‘It shows us as a cosmopolitan city. Too often we are talked about as a boring place where nothing happens … it challenges those beliefs about Canberra,’’ she said.

Speaking on 2CC Friday morning, Centenary of Canberra creative director Robyn Archer also defended the cost of the hot-air balloon.

‘‘This is the cheapest piece of public art. Almost every piece of public art in Canberra cost more,’’ she said.’’

Aranday Foundation chairman Rupert Myer AM said he was excited by the work of Canberra-raised artist Patricia Piccinini.

‘‘In a glance, her works spirit us away to another type of universe where life exists differently. Without judgment,’’ Mr Myer said.

‘‘She makes us think deeply about how we respond to the unfamiliar and unknowable. And she does it with wit and candour.

‘‘It is a privilege to have supported the commission.’’

Piccinini’s Skywhale is nearly 23 metres high and took 1880 hours of work to make.

It used more than 3500 metres of fabric and weighs 500 kilograms with fuel, a pilot and two passengers on board.

The Skywhale will be revealed to the Canberra public on Saturday morning at 8.20am outside the National Gallery of Australia and will  shortly thereafter make its first flight, weather permitting, at 9.20am. The first official flight was originally scheduled for Monday morning, and a flight then will still go ahead if the weather remains favourable.

Source: Canberra Times


Flyers to pay more for heavy bags, changed travel plans

NEW DELHI: Flying with heavy bags, changing travel plans and not showing up for your flight will be an expensive affair from next week. Air India has decided to reduce the free check-in weight from 20 kg to 15 kg for economy class domestic flyers from Monday. Jet and JetKonnect will follow suit from Wednesday. The Jet group and AI will charge Rs 250 per kg for excess baggage (beyond 15 kg) from people flying within the country. Registered frequent flyers and business class passengers have been spared this new rule.

Flyers who have heavy bags, change travel plans and do not show up for thier flight will have to pay more from next week.

In addition, AI has also hiked the no-show, cancellation and itinerary change fees. Jet had earlier made its lowest fare tickets non-refundable and now AI has done that and a lot more.

For lowest fare economy tickets, re-issue or date change will now cost Rs 1,500 — twice the earlier fee of Rs 750. These tickets remain non-refundable in case of no shows.

Mid range fare bucket tickets have now been made non-refundable while AI earlier used to charge Rs 500 as penalty from no-shows and allow them to use it on some other flight. Changing this fare level’s tickets will now cost Rs 1,000, up from earlier Rs 500.

Not showing up has also been made expensive for passengers with highest fare levels of economy and business class tickets of AI. The no-show charge has been hiked to Rs 1,000 from the earlier Rs 200. The airline has decided to continue with its policy of not charging anything from such passengers for an itinerary change.

A senior AI official said: “Our flights are going 80% full now and business class is also seeing good occupancy. We are offering economical fares and not showing up means a dead loss for us. These charges have been hiked as an attempt to help us keep offering low base fares to passengers and keep flying affordable.”

AI earlier had excess baggage charge between Rs 150 and Rs 400 per kg, depending on the distance. While passengers had to pay Rs 280 per kg for extra baggage on Delhi-Mumbai route, the charge for Delhi-Kochi was Rs 400. The airline has now moved to a flat rate of Rs 250, which has been the practice at other Indian carriers like Jet and IndiGo.

AI is now tweaking its software to start charging from pre-booking of seats. Low-cost carriers IndiGo and SpiceJet, which used to charge for this facility till two years back before the Directorate General of Civil Aviation stopped them from doing so, may restart this fee anytime now. IndiGo will charge a fee of Rs 500 for sitting in row numbers one, two, 12 and 13 (emergency rows that have extra leg room) on domestic flights and Rs 800 on international routes. Pre-booking other window and aisle seats will cost Rs 200 and Rs 300 for domestic and internationals flights, respectively.

After domestic flyers, Indian carriers will look at international flights too to increase ancillary revenue. AI is first going to re-examine the free baggage check-in on flights between India and Gulf and Southeast Asia. Later it may change baggage norms for flights to Europe and North America too.

“Airlines know what charges are to be put where but are just waiting for someone to make the first move,” admitted an official.

Source: The Times of India