June 14th, 2012
12:56 PM GMT
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Herat, Afghanistan (CNN) - In several Afghan provinces the fight to curb the growing of opium poppies seems to be a losing battle.

In 2011 a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime survey said opium poppy cultivation rose by 7% overall from the prior year. Opium poppy has been one of the main sources of funding for the Taliban especially since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Poppy cultivation is expected to grow partly because the opium poppy's prices are rising and because farmers are having a hard time deriving as much profit from alternative crops.

But one Afghan province is showing real progress in doing just that. The alternative crop is the world's most expensive spice, saffron.


October 4th, 2011
03:47 AM GMT
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New Delhi (CNN) – For most Indians living in poverty, their interaction with technology is minimal. But now, every Indian has the opportunity to have their irises and fingerprints scanned using cutting-edge technology.

This is part of the government’s massive effort to give every Indian citizen a biometric, 12 digit identity card. If successful, India will become the only country in the world with a universal biometric identity system.

Indians are flocking to government offices to get their I.D. cards made, attracted by opportunities such as welfare benefits and the ability to apply for bank loans that were previously unavailable or difficult to obtain for undocumented citizens.

Supporters also say it could help alleviate India’s endemic problems with corruption, which has resulted in massive protests in the past year.

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Filed under: AsiaGlobal ExchangeIndia

September 28th, 2011
05:36 AM GMT
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New Delhi (CNN) - Every morning for almost four years I have been serenaded by the sounds of annoying beeps emanating from my phone. Once started, it continued sporadically through the day and increased as it got dark. Of course you are probably familiar with the sound I’m referring to: The pinging tones of a cell phone’s short message service (otherwise known as an SMS, or text).

In my case on my phone it isn’t an urgent message from the office, friends or family (sigh): instead they are a multitude of solicitations trying to help me speak to “d” public or “increase my height” with new “Japanese technology” now available in India. Never mind those companies are marketing to the wrong person: I’m close to 6-feet tall and I speak to the public all the time as a part of my work as a correspondent.

There were many others that are too boring to mention, but suffice it to say none of them were even remotely useful. I wouldn’t take what they were offering even if it was free so there was no way they were going to find a customer in me. I counted the number of unwanted SMS solicitations for a week and it came to an average of 12 per day. That does not include the unwanted solicitation calls I get.

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Filed under: India

April 4th, 2011
09:35 AM GMT
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India’s aviation industry is taking off again. Between 2009 and 2010 domestic passenger traffic grew 19% - an impressive figure considering the 2008 global financial meltdown that led airlines around the world, including those in India, to ask for government bailouts.

“I have never seen such a dramatic change in the market character in such a short span of time,” analyst Kapil Kaul, who runs the Center for Asia Pacific Aviation, said.

He notes that less than 2% of India’s 1.2 billion population travels by air, which points to massive potential for growth.
“We’ve not even started. We could see potentially at least three to five decades of very high and profitable growth,” Kaul said.

Over the last five years, the industry has expanded, but it hasn’t been profitable, he said. But he thinks that will change and foresees a future of sustainable growth and profit making. 

So far the big winners have been the low-cost carriers.

One of the newest to take off in India has been 5-year-old no-frills carrier IndiGo, which has climbed to the top of the pack.

Its kitschy advertisements, reputation for good customer service and low fares are making a mark on the industry.

The  financial meltdown took a heavy toll on the global aviation business. But the Indian industry didn’t experience a “dramatic fall,” said IndiGo President Aditya Ghosh. "In the worst year in the aviation business ever India only dipped 5%,” he told CNN. “Now in that same year we grew by 46% in India. IndiGo grew by 46%.”

How did IndiGo manage that? One factor is that “we kept consistently bringing aircraft in,” Ghosh said.

IndiGo Airlines made history this year with the single largest aircraft deal in global history. The company made an order for 180 aircraft worth more than $15 billion. 

IndiGo will need those planes if it continues to grow the way it has. This year the Indian government gave the company the go-ahead to start international service. Airlines in India are required to operate in the country for five years before being allowed to start flying internationally.

But growth certainly has its limits in India, where airlines contend with some of the world’s highest fuel taxes, insufficient infrastructure and a massive bureaucracy.

“While we were constructing this airport, we had to contend with 58 government departments. During this period, we had to contend with 100 court cases to take care of encroachments in this area,” said Aniruddha Ganguly.

Ganguly is the group head of business integration for GMR Group, the company that built Delhi Airport’s new $1.3 billion Terminal 3. He says the terminal was built on time despite the roadblocks.

“I would say that the country over the years has learnt the art of overcoming obstacles,” Ganguly said.

IndiGo’s Ghosh says the opportunities outweigh the challenges.

“Either I could work in another part of the world where fuel taxes are low and there are more efficiencies in some sectors but there is hardly any growth, or work in India where there is a 15% to 20% growth in passenger numbers every year and for the foreseeable future.”

Analysts say in the next decade India will need three times the number of airports that it has today. Since it doesn’t have enough skilled labor to build them or pilots to fly the planes, people with the right skills in developed nations with wilting economies may want to look east for opportunities.

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Filed under: Air industryAsiaBusinessIndia

January 18th, 2010
03:29 AM GMT
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New Delhi, India (CNN) – Most of us don’t worry about “the economy.”

We worry about our own personal economies. We ask questions such as how will I pay my bills if I get laid off?  How can I possibly ask for a raise in this kind of economy? Where do I put my money so it is safe for retirement?

When some of the best and brightest minds on Wall Street failed to predict the global financial meltdown, where do you turn for advice about your financial future?

In India some are turning to a centuries old tradition for help.

Vandana Varma is a saleswoman trying to make a name for herself on the global stage but it’s been hellish. “My effort level was 100% but my finances were going down,” she said.

Nothing was working and Varma was losing self-confidence fast. Varma decided to solve her financial frustration by going to an astrologer, or as some in the West might put it, a fortuneteller.

“People are looking for solutions and every country every direction on the globe has some solutions,” she said. “We Indians have lot of alternate remedies. For example we have Astrology, Gemology, Vastu, and Reiki.”

Varma picked one of the most sought after seers in New Delhi, Poonam Sethi who calls herself a “Karmic Healer.”  She reads flames, coffee grinds, Tarot Cards, a Crystal Ball and faces among other things.

As the economy has declined, her clientele has gone upscale. "CEOs, vice presidents all that lot – I used to never have people of that lot coming in,” Sethi said. “One, maybe they were too practical in life and they had it all going for them, they never needed to. But today I see all of them.”

The question is does it work? It is hard to find a scientist who will agree any of the methods Sethi uses can predict anything.

But for Varma it’s done something else. She says Sethi’s reading was like having a personal guide through life’s financial pitfalls. It has also given her a boost in confidence, which has helped her work-life.

“It’s as if I’ve gathered lot of strength,” Varma said. “I have become calm, composed. [The] situations are still the same they may have changed a little, however the anxiety level has come down to such a low level…I feel relaxed.”

It also won’t hurt her chances for better sales now that economic analysts are predicting India’s economy will surpass growth expectations and grow between 7 and 7.5 percent this fiscal year.

The question is: Is it crazy to think that a fortuneteller might be able to help predict your financial future as well as say one of Wall Streets best and brightest financial gurus?

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