Tuesday, January 31, 2012

CPSUs will invest Rs.1.40-lakh cr next year: Manmohan Singh

NEW DELHI, Feb 1, 2012

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday announced a massive investment of Rs.1.40-lakh crore by 17 blue chip government undertakings in the forthcoming financial year (2012-13) in a bid to cope with the adverse global economic environment.

Giving away the SCOPE Excellence awards for 2009-10 here, Mr. Singh said "public investment was particularly needed at a time when the country was facing a difficult global environment and looking to domestic drivers of growth."

Union Minister of Heavy Industries Praful Patel presided over the function.

The Prime Minister said that 17 central public sector undertakings (CPSUs) had committed to an investment plan amounting to Rs.1.40-lakh crore in the next fiscal and encouraged other CPSUs to similarly "pay attention to boosting capital investment" and increase their turnover to stave off the adverse global impact on the economy. He hoped that the private sector would work together with the PSUs and complement each other to meet the demands of the country\'s growing economy which needed huge amounts of investment, particularly infrastructure.

Performance needed to be stepped up in other areas such as mining, coal production, petroleum and gas, he said. He hoped the CPSUs would explore opportunities for acquisition of raw material assets abroad as approved by the Union Cabinet.

Expressing dissatisfaction at the 15 per cent share of manufacturing sector in GDP, Dr. Singh hoped the CPSUs would embark on an ambitious expansion plan to target a growth of 12-14 per cent in the manufacturing sector a reality. Underlining the government\'s commitment for a strong public sector, the Prime Minister said he would remain supportive of those PSUs which needed assistance to become viable again.

News From: http://www.7StarNews.com

Rangarajan for reducing subsidies to pare deficit

NEW DELHI, Feb 1, 2012

The Centre on Tuesday hinted at the possibility of reducing the overall level of subsidies in a bid to contain fiscal deficit even as apprehensions mounted over the possibility of missing the target this financial year.

Prime Minister\'s Economic Advisory Council (PMEAC) Chairman C. Rangarajan stressed on the need to focus on reducing the overall level of subsidies as a proportion to gross domestic product (GDP) through an appropriate road map to reach the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) target of 3 per cent of GDP.

Addressing a lecture at Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham), Dr. Rangarajan underscored the difficulty in keeping fiscal deficit within the targeted 4.5 per cent during the current financial year but stressed on the need to keep it close to the targeted level to gain credibility.

He also expected the GDP growth rate to be in the range of 7-7.25 per cent during 2011-12 as against the 8.4 per cent registered a year ago, given the industrial slowdown and the global economic crisis. Emphasising that some segments of the economy were influenced by external factors, Dr. Rangarajan feared that should the European situation worsen it would affect the country\'s growth adversely. The global situation had affected the balance of payments situation and the rupee due to reduced inflow of capitals.

He, however, expected the economic outlook to be better in 2012-13 with inflation and interest rates settling down to lower levels. He expected inflation to come down to 7 per cent by March-end.

But as and when the complete process of regularisation of petroleum products was completed it would impact the overall inflation, he pointed out.

He underlined the need to use all policy instruments like interventions in foodgrains market, monetary and fiscal policy to bring down the current inflation to the comfort zone of 5 per cent.

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Sensex down 55 points in early trade

MUMBAI, February 1, 2012

The BSE benchmark index Sensex fell by 55 points in early trade on Wednesday investors booked profits after recent gains.

The 30-share barometer, which rallied by 330.25 points in the previous session, moved down by 54.62, or 0.32 per cent, to 17,138.93 points in early trade.

In a similar fashion, the wide—based National Stock Exchange index Nifty declined by 21.35 points, or 0.41 per cent, to 5,177.90 points.

Brokers said investors booked profits after recent gains amid a mixed trend on the other Asian bourses.

In the Asian region, the Hong Kong's Hang Seng index shed 0.04 per cent, while Japan's Nikkei was quoted 0.16 per cent higher in early trade.

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Don\'t sit on sanction for prosecution in corruption cases, says Supreme Court

New Delhi, Feb, 2012

In a blow to every corrupt politician or bureaucrat shielded by the executive\'s unwillingness to let them stand trial, the Supreme Court on Tuesday set a three-month deadline for governments to decide whether or not to grant sanction for prosecution under Section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

A Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and A.K. Ganguly was allowing a petition filed by Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy, who questioned the delay on the part of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the sanctioning authority, in granting sanction for prosecution of the former Telecom Minister, A. Raja, in the 2G spectrum allocation case.

The Bench gave two concurring judgments and held that Dr. Swamy had the locus standi to file a private complaint and seek sanction for prosecution. Justice Singhvi said: "Keeping in view the fact that the Special Judge, CBI, has already taken cognisance of the offences committed by Mr. A. Raja under the PC Act, we do not consider it necessary to give any other direction in the matter."

Justice Singhvi held that had the Prime Minister been apprised of the true, factual and legal position on Dr. Swamy\'s representation, he would surely have taken an appropriate decision and would not have allowed the matter to linger for more than one year.

Justice Ganguly said: "Delay in granting sanction has spoilt many a valid prosecution and is adversely viewed in [the] public mind that in the name of considering a prayer for sanction, protection is given to a corrupt public official as a quid pro quo for services rendered by the official in the past or maybe [to be rendered] in the future and the sanctioning authority and the corrupt officials were or are partners in the same misdeeds."

The Bench rejected Attorney-General G.E. Vahanvati\'s argument that the question of grant of sanction for prosecution of a public servant charged with any of the offences enumerated under Section 19(1) would arise only when the court decided to take cognisance and any request made prior to that was premature.

Justice Singhvi, however, said: "At the same time, we deem it proper to observe that in future every competent authority shall take appropriate action on the representation made by a citizen for sanction of prosecution of a public servant strictly in accordance with the direction [of the Supreme Court] in [the case of] Vineet Narain vs Union of India and the guidelines framed by the Central Vigilance Commission. While considering the issue regarding grant or refusal of sanction, the only thing which the competent authority is required to see is whether the material placed by the complainant or the investigating agency prima facie discloses commission of an offence. The competent authority cannot undertake a detailed inquiry to decide whether or not the allegations made against the public servant are true."

Justice Ganguly said: "Parliament should consider the constitutional imperative of Article 14 enshrining the rule of law wherein 'due process of law\' has been read into it by introducing a time limit in Section 19 of the P.C. Act 1988 for its working in a reasonable manner." Making it clear that the power under Section 19 must be reasonably exercised, he said "Parliament and the appropriate authority must consider restructuring Section 19 of the P.C. Act in such a manner as to make it consonant with reason, justice and fair play."

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DVAC raids houses of former DMK minister

Chennai, February 1, 2012

Vigilance officials on Wednesday conducted raids in the premises of former DMK minister N K K P Raja across Tamil Nadu in connection with a disproportionate assets case.

The raids by officials of the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti Corruption were in progress in Chennai and Erode districts, DVAC sources said.

Mr. Raja is the latest among several DMK leaders and former Ministers besides MLAS to face police and DVAC action either on land grab charges or allegations of disproportionate assets after the AIADMK government came to power in April last year.

DVAC had earlier conducted raids at the houses of former DMK Ministers Veerapandi S Arumugam, K Ponmudy, K N Nehru, M R K Panneerselvam, T M Anbarasan, K P P Samy, Durai Murugan, KKSSR Ramachandran, former MLA B Ranganathan and sitting MLA J Anbazhagan.

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Rafale edges out Eurofighter

New Delhi, Feb 1, 2012

India on Tuesday selected the French Fighter Rafale over the Eurofighter Typhoon in a multi-billion dollar contract for the supply of 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) — the country\'s largest defence deal to date.

Click here for a .pdf of the graphic

Interestingly, for a company that faltered at the start, with the Defence Ministry indicating that the Rafale was out of the race, Dassault made a comeback and went on to win the bid.

The decision to open exclusive negotiations with Dassault was acclaimed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who praised the "very high-level, fair and transparent competition involving the two European finalists."

While expressing disappointment over the development, Cassidian — the defence and security division of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company, which manufactures the Typhoon — maintained in a statement that it had offered the IAF the most modern aircraft available.

Sources in the Defence Ministry said the product was picked up on the basis of it being the Lowest Bidder (L1), a decision arrived at after complex calculations, including the life-cycle costs. The two aircraft were chosen from a list of six, including U.S. Boeing (F/A18) and Lockheed Martin (F-16), Russian MiG-35 and Swedish Saab (Gripen), in April last year.

The deal is estimated to be worth $10.2 billion (Rs.54,000 crore). The plan includes acquiring 126 aircraft, 18 of them in fly-away condition and the rest to be made in India at the Hindustan Aeronautics facility under transfer of technology.

For France, the deal is the third big defence contract that has come its way. In the current financial year, the Government of India cleared the $2.4 billion upgrade of 51 Mirage-2000 aircraft and the $970 million supply of MICA fire-and-forget missile for the same aircraft.

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Heavy voting in Punjab: Who will pay the price?

Chandigarh, Tuesday, January 31, 2012,

Having set a new record with 76.63 percent voting in Punjab\'s election to 117 assembly seats, voters have left the main parties and leaders in a state of anxiety till the results finally come out March 6.Each of the three main players in Punjab\'s political spectrum this time, the ruling Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine, the Congress and the newly floated People\'s Party of Punjab (PPP), are claiming that Monday\'s heavy voting will go in its favour. But the ground reality for all of them and their leaders is that the high voter turnout has increased the uncertainty.

The 76.63 percent voting this time by the state\'s 17,683,559 voters, 8,361,014 of whom were women, was higher than the previous voting record set in the state in the 2007 assembly polls. At that time, 75.47 percent of the electorate had cast their vote and the Akali Dal-BJP had come into power with 68 seats.While the Akali Dal-BJP is now claiming that the high turnout was due to the \"pro-incumbency\" factor, the opposition Congress is sure that the high percentage would vote out the present government led by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal.

\"The Congress is certain to get more than 70 seats in the elections. The very fact that people voted in overwhelming numbers all across the state is a clear indication that people were upset with the Akali-BJP government and they came out to vote against the government\'s misrule and non-performance,\" Punjab Congress president and former chief minister Amarinder Singh, who spearheaded the Congress campaign, said after voting ended.\"We are confident that people have reposed faith in us and the results are likely to go beyond our expectations. The feedback we are getting is that the Congress is forming the next government in Punjab.\"

Even the betting syndicate is putting its money on the Congress to come to power this time. Counting of votes takes place March 6. But the ruling Akali Dal-BJP alliance too is showing no signs of giving up the fight.\"People have turned out in huge numbers to vote so that the development initiated by us continues. We will win at least 80 seats this time,\" said a confident Akali Dal president and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal, who took charge of the Akali campaign this time.

PPP, floated last year by former finance minister and the politically estranged nephew of the chief minister, Manpreet Badal, is also confident about the outcome of heavy voting.\"The heavy voting shows that the people are frustrated with both (Akali Dal and Congress). We have emerged as a potent third alternative in Punjab,\" Manpreet said.The public posturing of the parties and their leaders notwithstanding, candidates themselves are a little worried by the turnout.

\"It can be anyone\'s game now. In a high turnout, you never know which way it will go. Since there was no wave in anyone\'s favour this time, things will remain uncertain till March 6. Let\'s see,\" a Congress legislator, seeking re-election from the Malwa belt, told IANS. The fertile Malwa belt (areas south of Sutlej river), which has 65 assembly seats, voted in good numbers. The average voting in districts in this belt was around 80 percent (79.46 exact).

Guru Har Sahai (90 percent), Gidderbaha (88.70), Malerkotla (87.71), Lambi (86), Rampura Phul (86), Faridkot (85), Sardulgarh (85), Sunam (85), Lehra (85), Ghanaur (85), Fazilka (85), Fatehgarh Sahib, Dakha, Bagha Purana, Dirba and Bhadaur (all 84 percent), saw some of the heaviest polling in the Malwa belt.

In comparison, the Doaba (area between Sutlej and Beas rivers) and Majha belt (area north of Beas river) saw slightly lesser voting at an average of 76.44 and 72.15 percent. The least voting, 56 percent, was in the Amritsar-west seat.

At least 41 assembly seats saw voting in excess of 80 percent.

News From: http://www.7StarNews.com

Increase in registration for arms in Chandigarh

Chandigarh,Monday, 31 January 2012

Chandigarh is generally known as clean and calm city but going by the increase in registration of arms in the UT is a matter of debate. It is quite surprising that 1,675 different types of weapons have been registered at the 11 police stations of Chandigarh in the past 10 years.The Central Division of the city includes 3 police stations: Sectors 3, 11 and 17 and this division has the maximum number of 800 weapons being registered in the city, which is almost double the number of weapons registered at the two other divisions of the Chandigarh. These three police stations include 19 sectors and four villages, many of which are inhabited by the rich class of the city.

The Southern Division stands on second place in registering weapons in Chandigarh. This part of Chandigarh registered 580 weapons in the city. Southern Division covers sectors 31, 34 36 and 39 police stations falling under it. The East division comes at the last in terms of registration of weapons in Chandigarh. East division of city has a total of 295 weapons registered, which is least of all. It covers four police stations viz sec 26, sec 19, Industry Area and Manimajra.

The police station of Sector 3 comes at the top in terms of maximum number of weapons being registered with 358 weapons registered.Second spot has been taken by Sector 34 police station with 227 weapons being registered and Manimajra comes at the bottom with only 20 weapons registered.

According to the police the large number of weapon holders in Chandigarh are either retired or working army personnel. Not only this, number of revolvers and pistols too has seen an increase over the years apart from registration of foreign made weapons. Besides this, many people are inclined to go for single and double barrel guns.It may sound strange but it is true that Chandigarh police have cancelled only four licenses in the past decade due to different reasons. Out of these four, three arms license was cancelled by Sector 36 police station and the fourth license which was cancelled belonged to Davinder Singh Babla (former municipal councillor).

News From: http://www.7StarNews.com

Slave labour, a matter of grave concern

CHANDIGARH,Monday, 31 January 2012

The issue of child labour in India is a matter of grave concern. Child labour is augmented about 55 million children at present below the age of 14 years are illegally employed. Working at coal, mica, diamond, glass, firework factories for long hours yet they are being meagerly paid. Burdened by their family conditions, these kids work under unhygienic conditions for long hours and are provided insufficient and under nourished food. Not only they are mentally burdened but ill at place as most of the times they sleep at their work places.

Poverty ridden families perceive their children as a source of family income. Not only childhood is being sacrificed to work but also their right to education, growth and opportunity to earn equality in the society is marginalized.

Laws made to curb child labour have been rarely adhered to. Factory owners circumvent the law by finding loopholes. It is a complex situation when these child labourers are kept like hostages trapped and beguiled, unaware of their human rights. Employers favor child labor as they are easy to be exploited and oppressed."Under The Right to Education Act", child labor is totally banned and those who breach the law should be brought under the law court. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights is seeking to bring such industries and related organisations under the ambit of labour laws.

News From: http://www.7StarNews.com

CTET 2012: Exam postponed in Chandigarh, Panchkula, Mohali

New Delhi, January 31, 2012

On the advise of the Election Commission of India, the CBSE has further postponed the CTET Jan 2012 examination at Chandigarh, Panchkula, Mohali, besides in the states of Manipur, Punjab and Uttrakhand where the examination has already been postponed on account of General Election for Legislative Assemblies in these states.

Under these circumstances, the CTET January 2012 in the above states is postponed to May 5, 2012 (Saturday).

The candidates are advised to preserve the Admit Cards to appear for the postponed examination on May 5, 2012.

In the remaining states the CTET-Jan 2012 examination will be held as per the Schedule on January 29, 2012 (Sunday).

The Ministry of Human Resource Development, Govt. of India has entrusted the responsibility of conducting the CTET to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), Delhi.

News From: http://www.7StarNews.com

.Saif Ali Khan wants to do roles befitting his age!

January 31st, 2012

Bollywood filmmakers are famous for taking unfathomable cinematic liberties with their screenplays. Like a film's hero can put ten goons to sleep with one hard punch or break into song and dance in the middle of a packed street without causing any traffic chaos. However, one small suspension of disbelief that really beats everybody's imagination is that 40-plus actors continue to successfully play 20-year-olds or college students in one film after another. And everyone, from ace actor Aamir Khan to stylish stud Saif Ali Khan, has indulged in this act of misrepresentation at some time or the other. While Aamir did the college guy act in his last masala entertainer Three Idiots', Saif played a loverboy half his real age in his first home production, Love Aaj Kal.

But in an interview, the Agent Vinod actor-producer confessed that he was done with playing young romantic roles onscreen. "I don't want to be defined with a particular image," said Saif, "I want to dabble in roles which are diverse. I can't play a regular loverboy at 40. I want to play slightly older, mature characters now. Loverboys are for the younger lot to play. If I try to play a 20-year-old, I will look old." Thank god! Finally someone heard our complaint and paid heed to it. But what d'you think – are Saif and his peers justified playing these young-lover characters?

40-plus actors who last played a role that didn't suit their age

Ajay Devgn – The intense actor is a father of two in real life, but in his last film Singham Devgn is smitten by his family friend's young daughter, played by South star Kajal Agarwal.

Aamir Khan – In real life the ace Khan has two grown up children – his son is in college and daughter is in high school. Yet he dared to play a management student in Rajkumar Hirani's Three Idiots'.

Akshay Kumar – Khiladi Kumar played a college dropout who lives off his best friend's hard-earned money in Desi Boyz. Wouldn't the role be more suited for his young contemporaries Ranbir Kapoor or Imran Khan?

Shahrukh Khan – Like in real life, the superstar played a father in RA.One. However, in Yash Chopra's love story he steps back into the shoes of a quintessential romantic hero and will woo the much younger Katrina Kaif.

Salman Khan – While the Dabangg dude's last film was a love story between a bodyguard and his employee (a college student), it's obvious his character wasn't close to his real age in the film.

Sanjay Dutt – Despite being a father of three – the 20-something Trishala, and twin babies, Shahraan and Iqra – the 50-plus played a stereotypical skirt-chaser in his first home production, Rascals.

News From: http://www.7StarNews.com

Salman Khan is my favorite actor- Kareena Kapoor

Jan 31, 2012

Bollywood's reigning actress Kareena Kapoor has been lucky enough to get opportunities of working with some of the biggest actors of the industry. She is one of the few lucky actresses of the industry who has worked with all leading Khans' of the industry.

Be it Shahrukh Khan, Salman Khan, Aamir Khan or the latest being Imran Khan, she has been there done that. But despite of getting equal love from all the sides she too can't help in being biased towards one. The actress recently attended a high end award function where she was probed over her favorite actor.

Citing the fact that both her co-stars Shah Rukh and Salman as well as her cousin Ranbir Kapoor were vying in the same category, it was a tough question for Kareena. But she being the actress who wears her heart on the sleeve came up with a befitting answer spontaneously. She immediately quoted, "Salman is my favorite actor" said Kareena. Well we wonder how her 'Ra.One' costar SRK would react to his favorite Bebo's choice of best actor.

News From: http://www.7StarNews.com

Shahrukh Khan versus Shirish Kunder: Thappad ki goonj

January 31st, 2012

By now the world knows the gory and intimate details of Shahrukh Khan allegedly slapping and/or manhandling Shirish Kunder at Sanjay Dutt's Agneepath success party. The news is warranted to be big enough to be splashed on the front pages of national dailies, pushing other matters of national importance to the inner pages. The repercussions of the already infamous slap, the thappad ki goonj as it were to quote Dr Dang from Karma, are interesting to contemplate. As if it wasn't clear enough before, it's now abundantly obvious that Bollywood is riven with dissensions. SRK's brave and in retrospect correct refusal of Tees Mar Khan with a director who had choreographed many of his best songs and directed two superhit home productions for him in Main Hoon Na and Om Shanti Om set off a chain of events culminating in the fracas in the wee hours of Monday. As we live in an information age, most people who consume Bollywood now know details of these events and do not bear repeating here.

The real question here is that due to a heavily mediated society that is in equal parts fuelled by the media in reporting even the tiniest smidgen of information about the stars and the industry and an eager audience lapping up the information overload, is Bollywood losing its mystique? There was a time when Amitabh Bachchan in the days of his pomp went completely off the press. Reportage on him at the time was limited to rumour and speculation. Rather than people losing interest in him, his films roared louder at the box office. Now, the same Bachchan's most intimate thoughts (or what he would have us believe are) are freely available via his blog and tweets. As for his juniors, every aspect of their lives is mercilessly laid threadbare by the media. And it is by choice. Now that the information flows heavier than the Brahmaputra in spate, the stars vie with each other to feed the media, for, in this day and age, out of sight, fatally, is out of mind. Even the reclusive Aamir Khan who normally surfaces only to promote his films, even avoiding award ceremonies, is now reduced to appearing in a television chat show, thus beaming himself into a billion living rooms. No doubt it is a smart advance promotion strategy for Talaash that releases June 1.

Film industries anywhere in the world have their share of bad boys, drunk and disorderliness and great rivalries and Bollywood is no different. The SRK-Salman divide is well documented and spills over into polarising their fans as well as seen even in these popular pages of BollywoodLife. Some time ago fans of Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan used to clash similarly until they realised that their idols were the best of friends in real life. Alas, in the reality of today's Bollywood, a SRK-Salman entente cordiale seems unlikely given the deep levels of insecurities involved. It seems like yesterday, when after their last spat SRK and Salman made up and danced to Bheegey Hont Tere. Ironically, that was at Farah Khan's wedding to Shirish Kunder.

News From: http://www.7StarNews.com

Asian stocks rise as investors watch Europe

BEIJING, January 31, 2012

Asian stocks were mostly higher on Tuesday as traders watched for a possible deal to cut Greece's debts and Japanese factory output rebounded.

Tokyo's Nikkei 225 rose 0.3 per cent to 8,817.9 after data showed December industrial activity rose 4 per cent over the previous month. Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 0.7 per cent to 20,303.9 and Seoul's Kospi was up 0.8 per cent at 1,955.2.

Traders watched Europe, a major export market, following reports Greece and its creditors were close to a deal to cut its debts. Also Monday, European leaders agreed on a new treaty meant to stop overspending and put an end to the region's crippling debt woes.

"Everyone is watching the European summit and how the Greek debt crisis comes out," said Jackson Wong at Tanrich Securities in Hong Kong. "The general atmosphere is to play a wait-and-see game."

China's benchmark Shanghai Composite Index was flat at 2,281.4 ahead of Wednesday's release of a key manufacturing index. Investors are hoping for a loosening of credit curbs or other measures to boost growth if it shows activity is slowing amid lacklustre global demand for Chinese goods.

Benchmarks in Taiwan and Indonesia rose while Singapore, Malaysia and New Zealand fell.

European markets tumbled Monday on concerns Greece's financial problems might not be solved even if creditors agree to cancel part of its debt.

Under a tentative agreement, investors holding 206 billion euros ($272 billion) in Greek bonds would exchange them for bonds with half the face value. The replacement bonds would have a longer maturity and pay a lower interest rate. When the bonds mature, Greece would have to pay its bondholders only 103 billion euros.

France's CAC-40 shed 1.6 per cent while Britain's FTSE 100 and Germany's DAX both lost 1 per cent.

Wall Street fell in early trading but Asian investors were encouraged after the Dow Jones industrial average recovered most of its losses to close down just 0.1 per cent. The Standard & Poor's 500 lost 0.8 per cent.

Borrowing costs for European countries with the heaviest debt burdens shot higher. The two-year interest rate for Portugal's government debt jumped to 21 per cent after trading around 14 per cent last week.

Portugal may become the next country "where default is a real possibility," said Martin Hennecke of Tyche Group in Hong Kong.

"The euro zone crisis is far from being fixed at all. Italy and Spain are effectively bankrupt as well," Hennecke said. "For Asia, that means there is huge uncertainty in terms of export markets."

The treaty agreed to Monday by all European Union governments except Britain and the Czech Republic includes strict debt brakes and is aimed at making it harder for violators to escape sanctions. The 17 countries in the euro zone hope the tighter rules will restore confidence in their joint currency.

The agreement comes as richer countries such as Germany are losing patience with giving Athens loans, saying the Greek government is not carrying out reforms and spending cuts fast enough. A German official proposed having an EU monitor oversee Greek spending but that idea was quickly rejected at Monday's meeting in Brussels.

Benchmark oil for March delivery gained 37 cents to $99.39 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In currencies, the euro rose to $1.319 from $1.3114 late Monday in New York. The dollar held steady at 76.25 yen.

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Sensex up 183 points in early trade

Mumbai, January 31, 2012

The BSE benchmark Sensex recovered by over 183 points in early trade on Tuesday on buying by funds and retail investors which took cues from firming global trends.

The Sensex, which had lost 370.68 points in the previous session, recovered by 183.75 points to 17,047.05.

Similarly, the broad-based National Stock Exchange index Nifty, moved up by 58.70 points to 5,146 points with banking, consumer durable, refinery, metal and realty stocks trading in the positive zone.

In the Asian region, the Hong Kong's Hang Seng was up by 0.75 per cent, while Japanese Nikkei was up by 0.24 per cent in the morning trade today.

News From: http://www.7StarNews.com

Coal India roll backs hike in coal prices

New Delhi, January 31, 2012

Coal India Ltd (CIL) on Tuesday rolled back the hike in coal prices it effected from January 1 in the face of stiff opposition from user firms, including power, steel and cement, to its new pricing formula.

CIL Chairman N C Jha said the company will delink the rates from international parity prices and eventually, this will reduce the prices for different grades of coal.

He added that the reduction in prices announced on Tuesday will be with retrospective effect from January 1 and CIL will review the system after March.

However, he clarified that GCV-based grading of coal will continue and anomalies in the pricing structure will get addressed after Tuesday's decision.

Addressing a press conference on Tuesday, Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal said, "The GCV (Gross Calorific Value) mechanism will be revenue neutral and assessment (of today's cut in prices) will be done after March."

CIL had shifted to a new pricing mechanism (based on GCV) from January 1. Under this system, prices are linked to the actual calorific value, or quality, of coal.

The new pricing mechanism resulted in an increase in rates of the fossil fuel, even though the Coal Ministry had indicated the new formula would be revenue-neutral.

Till December 31, 2011, CIL used to follow a pricing mechanism based on the Useful Heat Value (UHV) of coal, which deducted ash and moisture content from the standard formula.

Consumers across sectors including power, cement, aluminium and steel have opposed the new methodology as they feel that prices have risen substantially and this will necessitate an increase in the prices of their own commodities.

News From: http://www.7StarNews.com

ICICI Bank net jumps 20 p.c. to Rs 1,728cr

Mumbai, January 31, 2012

The country's largest private sector lender ICICI Bank on Tuesday reported 20 per cent growth in net profit for the December quarter at Rs 1,728.10 crore.

The city-based lender's net profit for the same period last year had stood at Rs 1,437.02 crore.

During the reporting period, the bank's total income climbed to Rs 10,483.73 crore from Rs 8,444.75 crore, it said in a filing to the BSE.

Operating profit stood at Rs 2,687.10 crore as against Rs 2,342.61 crore, it said.

Its total provisions declined to Rs 341.10 crore from Rs 464.27 crore, the bank said.

The net non-performing asset ratio decreased to 0.70 percent from 1.16 per cent 12 months back, it said.

Total capital adequacy stood at 18.88 per cent of which the core tier-I constituted 13.13 per cent.

Investors cheered the result and ICICI Bank shares were trading 4.08 per cent up at Rs 886.70 on the BSE at 1333 hrs.

The 30-share index of BSE was up 1.18 per cent.

News From: http://www.7StarNews.com

U.S. nuclear reactor loses power, venting system

Byron(US), January 31, 2012

A nuclear reactor at a northern Illinois plant was shut down after losing power, and steam was being vented to reduce pressure, according to officials from Exelon Nuclear and federal regulators.

Unit 2 at Byron Generating Station, about 153 kilometres northwest of Chicago, shut down at 10:18 a.m., after losing power, Exelon officials said. Diesel generators began supplying power to the plant, and operators began releasing steam to cool the reactor, but from the part of the plant where turbines are producing electricity, not from within the nuclear reactor itself, officials said.

The steam contains low levels of tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen, but federal and plant officials insisted the levels were safe for workers and the public.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission declared the incident an "unusual event," the lowest of four levels of emergency. Commission officials also said the release of tritium was expected.

Exelon Nuclear officials believe a failed piece of equipment at a switchyard caused the shutdown. The switchyard is similar to a large substation that delivers power from the plant to the electrical grid, they said. Officials were still investigating the equipment failure.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng said releasing steam helps "take away some of that energy still being produced by nuclear reaction but that doesn't have anywhere to go now." Even though the turbine is not turning to produce electricity, she said, "you still need to cool the equipment."

Candace Humphrey, Ogle County's emergency management coordinator, said county officials were notified of the incident as soon as it happened and that public safety was never in danger.

"It was standard procedure that they would notify county officials," she said. "There is always concern. But, it never crossed my mind that there was any danger to the people of Ogle County."

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DOS getting clearances for releasing panel reports, says ISRO Chief

Bangalore, January 31, 2012

The Department of Space is in the process of getting clearances for release of reports of two committees on the controversial Antrix-Devas deal on the basis of which former ISRO chief G Madhavan Nair and three other scientists were barred from holding any government posts.

This was announced on Tuesday by ISRO Chairman K Radhakrishnan, also the DOS Secretary, in a brief statement in his first comments on the issue ever since the controversy erupted over the damning action taken against the four space scientists.

Mr. Radhakrishnan said DOS was in the process of getting necessary clearances for releasing reports of the High Powered Review Committee and the High Level Team formed to examine various aspects of the Antrix-Devas agreement of January 2005.

The government had on February 10, 2011 set up the High Powered Review Committee with B K Chaturvedi and Prof Roddam Narasimha as members to review the technical, commercial, procedural and financial aspects of the agreement.

The five-member high level team, headed by former Central Vigilance Commissioner Pratyush Sinha, was set up on May 31, 2011 to examine the deal and identify the acts of omission and commission by government officials.

Bitter over the government action, Dr. Nair has demanded an apology from those responsible for it and dashed off a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for revoking the official order barring them from holding government posts.

In his letter, Dr. Nair also wanted a probe into the entire matter that led to the action that has caused outrage among the scientific community.

Dr. Nair, the key figure behind India's moon mission, had accused Mr. Radhakrishnan of being responsible for the punitive action against him and the three others because of a "personal agenda".

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Occupy protest rekindles debate about flag-burning

OAKLAND, January 31, 2012

Many in the crowd outside Oakland City Hall shouted "Burn it! Burn it!" as masked protesters readied to set fire to an American flag. That's when a woman emerged from the scrum, screaming for them to stop, that it would hurt the cause.

Moments later, the flames began, and suddenly a movement that seemingly vanished weeks ago was back in the spotlight, this time for an act of protest that has long divided Americans and now the movement itself.

The images of the flag-burning went viral in the hours after Saturday's demonstrations on Oakland's streets, with Occupy supporters denouncing the act as unpatriotic and a black mark on the movement. Others said called it justified.

The flag-burning, however, raised questions about whether the act will tarnish a movement of largely peaceful protests and begin to alienate people who agree with its message against corporate excess and economic inequality.

"I'm quite confident that the general view is that violence of this sort whether it's symbolic or otherwise is contrary to the spirit of the movement and should be renounced," Columbia University sociologist Todd Gitlin said.

Gitlin, who is writing a book about the movement, noted that flags have had a prominent place at the Occupy Wall Street encampments that sprang up last year. They are typically pinned to tents or waving from wooden flagpoles.

"I was thinking how they have come to embrace the American flag as a hallmark of this movement; it's very common to see American flags honoured and elevated at these encampments," he said.

Flag-burning has been a powerful symbol since the days of the anti-Vietnam War movement. Congress at the time passed a law to protect the flag in 1968, and most states followed suit.

In 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court decided such laws were unconstitutional restrictions on free speech. The court's decision set off a move in Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to prohibit desecration of the flag. An attempt in 2006 failed by only one vote in the Senate.

In Oakland, social activism and civic unrest have long marked the rough-edged city across the bay from San Francisco. Beset by poverty, crime and a decades-long tense relationship between the police and residents, its streets have seen many clashes, including anti-draft protests in the 1960s that spilled into town from neighbouring Berkeley.

At Occupy Oakland, flag-burning is nothing new. A well-known San Francisco Bay Area activist burned three during protests that temporarily shut down the Port of Oakland in November.

Troy Johnson, an Occupy Oakland member, said he arrived just in time Saturday to watch his friend, whom he would not name in order to protect his identity, emerge from City Hall with an American flag in tow.

"He asked the crowd, 'What do you want us to do with the flag?'" Johnson recalled. "They said, 'Burn it! Burn it! Burn it!'"

As many egged on the bandanna-masked men, lighters were passed around. A photographer on assignment for The Associated Press said a woman rose from among the crowd to urge against the flag-burning. She then threw the flag to the ground and tried to put out the fire, shouting at them that it would only hurt their cause.

The fire-starter is not an anarchist, but a typical member of Occupy Oakland who feels the system has failed them, said Johnson, who pulled out his mobile phone to show his recording of the flag-burning.

"I would describe him as someone who loves his country, but also disappointed in the system that's running this country," said Johnson, who goes by the nickname "Uncle Boom" and was a sergeant in the U.S. Army.

Saturday's protest culminated in rock-and bottle-throwing and volleys of tear gas from the police, as well as the City Hall break-in that left glass cases smashed, graffiti spray-painted on the walls and, finally, the flag-burning.

Police said more than 400 people were arrested; at least three officers and one protester were injured.

Police said Monday that they were still trying to determine how many of those arrested were from Oakland. In the past, the majority of those arrested in Occupy sweeps were not Oakland residents and this has rankled city officials. Mayor Jean Quan has called on the loosely organized movement to "stop using Oakland as its playground."

Officials said vandalism and activities related to Occupy Oakland has cost the financially-strapped city $5 million since October.

Oakland Councilwoman Libby Schaaf said she was disgusted not to see the American and California flags atop the grand staircase inside City Hall on Monday. The destruction to her workplace couldn't have come at a worse time as the city is grappling with closing a $28 million budget deficit.

Protester Julion Lewis-Tatman said he led the crowd in the plaza outside City Hall, but did not take part in the flag-burning.

"I love this country to death, but burning the flag means nothing to me," he said. "We're burning down the old system and we're starting a new country."

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Antony blames Army for chief’s age row

New Delhi, January 31, 2012

Laying the blame on the army's doors for the controversy over Gen V K Singh's age issue, Defence Minister A K Antony on Tuesday said it occured because the force kept two sets of his date of birth for 36 years and maintained there was no civil-military confrontation.

"For 36 years, two branches of the same institution maintained two dates of birth and that is why this controversy," he told reporters in New Delhi in his first detailed comments on the raging controversy that is before the Supreme Court now.

"It is unfortunate that it took years together but I don't agree with some of you that it is a civil-military controversy," Mr. Antony added.

He suggested that the government had no role to play in the whole issue as this discrepancy was first noticed in 2006 by the Army headquarters and reconciled at that level then and later in 2008 by two respective chiefs.

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2G case: SC allows Swamy’s petiton on sanction of prosecution

New Delhi, January 31, 2012

In a rap on the knuckles of the government in the 2G case, the Supreme Court on Tuesday held that filing of a complaint under the Prevention of Corruption Act is a constitutional right of a citizen and the competent authority decide within a time frame on granting sanction of prosecution of a public servant.

Setting aside the Delhi High Court judgement refusing to give direction to the Prime Minister on the request for sanction of prosecution against the then Telecom Minister A Raja in the 2G scam case, a two-judge bench of the court held that if the sanction is not given within four months then it is deemed to have been granted.

The bench, comprising justices G S Singhvi and A K Ganguly, held that Janata Party President Subramanian Swamy, who had sought sanction for prosecution of Mr. Raja, had the locus standi to seek it.

It said sanction should be granted within a time frame and the competent authority shall take action in accordance with the guidelines laid down by the apex court in the Vineet Narain case of 1996.

Justice Ganguly, who wrote a separate judgement, agreed with Justice Singhvi and said sanction would be deemed to be granted if the competent authority fails to take a decision within a period of four months.

The bench said that right to file a complaint against a public servant under the Prevention of Corruption Act is a constitutional right.

The bench said it was not accepting certain submissions made by the Attorney General in defending the stand of Prime Minister's Office.

Mr. Swamy had alleged that there was an "inordinate delay" on part of the prime minister in taking a decision on his plea for grant of sanction to prosecute Mr. Raja in the scam and his plea was neither allowed not rejected for over 16 months.

The court said it was not declaring as ultra vires the provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act

The apex court had reserved its judgement on November 24, 2010 on the petition filed by Mr. Swamy alleging that there was delay in taking action on his plea seeking sanction to prosecute Mr. Raja.

Mr. Swamy, who had made PM a party in the case, had initially sought a direction to the PM to take decision on sanction to prosecute Mr. Raja but later on he sought framing of guidelines on the issue as his plea became infructuous with the resignation of DMK leader as telecom minister on November 14, 2010.

The PMO had, however, refuted all the allegations and filed an affidavit before the apex court maintaining that the request for sanction for prosecution of Mr. Raja was considered by the prime minister and that he was advised that evidence collected by CBI was necessary before taking a decision.

The government said as the CBI probe was going on it was necessary to wait for its completion before taking any decision on granting sanction.

Mr. Swamy had approached the apex court challenging the Delhi High Court judgement that had refused to pass any direction to the prime minister for taking decision on sanction.

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Amitabh Bachchan magic lights up Ahmedabad pol

Monday, Jan 30, 2012

Kameshwar-ni-pol in Raipur area of Ahmedabad was in thrall to the Bachchan magic on Wednesday when the Bollywood superstar arrived there for the shooting of a Gujarat tourism advertisement film. He flew kites for the commercial amidst loud cheering by hundreds of people who had gathered on different terraces of the Pol for a glimpse of the star.

The artists who were to perform with Bachchan in the commercial had arrived earlier on a terrace in Kameshwar-ni-pol. Hundreds of people had camped on different terraces in the vicinity of the house of BJP MLA, Bhushan Bhatt. There was loud cheering when Bachchan finally arrived on the terrace of Bhatt's house.

Bachchan began with a pink-coloured kite which he flew with aplomb as the cameras rolled and the crowds cheered. Every time the actor was clearly visible to the people on a particular terrace, they would applause loudly with shouts of 'lapet, lapet' coming from other terraces as well. Big B acknowledged their support by waving to the people.

And as it frequently happens with kite flyers during Uttarayan, the string of a kite caused a cut on one of Bachchan's fingers. The scratch had to covered with a white medical tape.

One after another, Bachchan flew three other kites, including a large silver-coloured one that was specially arranged for the occasion. He also shot a cameo at a makeshift kite-shop set up in Kameshwar-ni-pol for the commercial's shooting.

The actual shooting lasted about half-an-hour. On his way back, the superstar was surprised when people opened their windows and showered him with flowers. The sun roof of Bachchan's vehicle slid open and the star emerged and waved in acknowledgement of the people's affection.

Local councillor Mayur Bhatt, who witnessed the entire event, said, "I was delighted to see that Amitabh Bachchan loves to fly kites."

After finishing the shooting of the ad film, the actor also met chief minister Narendra Modi in Ahmedabad. Modi thanked Bachchan for participating in the ad campaign and said: "Amitabh Bachchan

has made a big contribution to tourism in Gujarat and has taken it to new heights."

Amitabh Bachchan magic lights up Ahmedabad pol
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Hrithik finds Shah Rukh Khan\'s wife hot!

January 30, 2012

Here\'s what your favourite Bollywood celebrities are tweeting.

Hrithik Roshan has buried the hatchet and is bonding very well with Shah Rukh Khan and wife Gauri. The actor tweeted that he finds Gauri quite hot and beautiful.

\'With the most beautiful n talented girl in the world!! And hottest if I may add! Gauri khan!!! Watch out world, she\'s about to arrive!!\' he tweeted with the picture (left).

We wonder what SRK has to say about it!

Image: Gauri Khan and Hrithik Roshan

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Sensex tanks 371 points on profit booking

Mumbai, January 30, 2012

Snapping a six-day rally, the BSE benchmark Sensex on Monday tumbled by 371 points on profit booking at existing higher levels amid a weakening global trend.

The Sensex dropped by 370.68 points, or 2.15 per cent, to 16,863.30 points. The 30-share index had gained over 782 points in the last six trading sessions.

The broad-based National Stock Exchange index Nifty lost 117.40 points, or 2.26 per cent, to close at 5,087.30 points with engineering, power and realty stocks plunging up to 5.55 per cent.

A weak trend in the Asian region and lower opening in Europe dampened the market sentiment, brokers said.

Market major Reliance Industries plunged 2.71 per cent to Rs. 795.45 ahead of its plan to buyback stocks, while Infosys lost 0.54 per cent to Rs. 2,705.90 on fears the financial turmoil in Europe might hurt earnings.

Power equipment maker BHEL led the fall in the sector after posting disappointing quarterly profits. BHEL tumbled 10.41 per cent to Rs. 245.15 and Larsen and Toubro by 5.37 per cent to Rs. 1,307.35.

Among banking stocks, private lender ICICI Bank fell by 4.07 per cent to Rs. 851.95 and state-run State Bank of India lost 2.54 per cent to Rs. 1,990.70.

The capital goods sector index suffered the most by losing 5.55 per cent to 9,784.77, followed by the power index which lost 3.54 per cent to Rs. 2,046.81.

The realty index fell by 3.10 per cent to 1,650.21 and metal index by 2.85 per cent to Rs. 11,246.38.

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Oriental Bank of Commerce Q3 net profit dips 13 per cent

New Delhi, January 30, 2012

Public sector lender Oriental Bank of Commerce (OBC) on Monday reported a 13 per cent decline in net profit to Rs. 354.22 crore for the third quarter ended December 31 on account of a rise in bad assets.

The bank had posted net profit of Rs. 408.25 crore for the October-December quarter of 2010-11, OBC said in a statement.

The bank's gross NPAs increased to 2.92 per cent at the end of third quarter from 1.94 per cent in December, 2010. At the same time, provisioning other than tax and contingencies rose to Rs. 380.86 crore from Rs. 191.75 crore in the same quarter of the previous fiscal.

However, the total income of the lender rose to Rs. 4,491.76 crore during the October-December period from Rs. 3,264.17 crore in the same period last year.

During the first nine months of 2011—12, the net profit of the bank dipped 25 per cent to Rs. 876.88 crore from Rs. 1,169.21 crore in the same period a year ago.

It reported a total income of Rs. 12,490.60 crore in the first three quarters, compared to Rs. 9,515.75 crore in the same period last financial year

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Time to tighten fiscal policy: Kotak

Davos, January 30, 2012

Urging India to move ahead with economic reforms to benefit from the changing global dynamics, top banker Uday Kotak has said it is time for the country to go for a tighter fiscal policy and ease its monetary policy stance.

"In the world, what we are seeing is an easing monetary policy and a move toward tighter fiscal policy," Mr. Kotak said.

"But in India, we had a tighter monetary policy and an easier fiscal policy. It's time for us to change that equation," he added.

Speaking on the sidelines of the just-concluded World Economic Forum summit here, he also asserted that the Indian financial sector was in a much better state than what was perceived, but the country must move forward with reforms.

Mr. Kotak further said, "The real pain in the Indian financial sector at this stage is that the mood is worse than the reality and the reality is better than the mood. All the so-called pain is down to about 20-25 leveraged companies and outside that, the Indian financial sector is in good shape," he said.

Asked about his expectations from the Union Budget this year, the chief of Kotak Mahindra group told PTI he would like to see the Budget manage the fiscal deficit and would want the monetary policy to get more relaxed and the fiscal policy to get tightened.

Mr. Kotak said the RBI could again consider a CRR (Cash Reserve Ratio) cut in March and would start lowering interest rates in April. "I see a 100-200 basis points cut in the policy rate of the RBI in this calendar year," he added.

He also listed out rationalisation of subsidies in the energy space and steps to check high gold imports as some immediate steps alongside other economic reforms to bolster the Indian economic growth story.

Asked about the European crisis, which dominated the WEF meeting in a big way, Mr. Kotak said: "My view is that Europe would most likely be a muddle, not a crisis, at least for 2012. This would mean a slow growing euro zone economy, but not a blow-out situation.

"The US economy is growing 2-3 per cent. So the overall Western world will see very slow and sluggish growth, but would not see a major crisis situation. The whole approach of the central banks in the US and Europe is to keep the liquidity very easy and very low interest rates.

"The outcome of this is that, one, if there is no crisis but a slow growth in the Western world, it is an opportunity for India to build itself in this period," he opined.

Mr. Kotak further said that India can utilise this opportunity to put its reform agenda in place.

"In my view, two immediate steps are also required, one being in the oil and energy sector, which India has been ignoring, but should now go ahead with the rationalisation of subsidies, etc," Mr. Kotak said.

"Secondly, another major import India does is of gold and India must find ways to slow down the import of gold, it is not only putting pressure on current accounts, it is also sucking out domestic savings into an unproductive asset," he said.

"If India can maintain 7 per cent growth in such an environment, it is an impressive performance, but we also must take this opportunity for doing something for increasing the flow of savings into investments. We also need to focus on the supply side our economy. India must use the opportunity in 2012 to build itself strong," Mr. Kotak said.

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Plan panel defends govt decision on disinvestment

New Delhi, January 30, 2012

Defending the government's decision to hold back disinvestment due to bad stock market conditions, the Planning Commission on Monday said the process of stake sale in state-owned companies could begin after the improvement in market situation.

"Disinvestment will be decided by market conditions. So if market conditions are not normal, it is sensible for the government to hold back," Ahluwalia said in an interview to private news channel CNBC TV18.

He further said: "I don't think there is any change in the government's plans that we can realise the value of these assets over time. If the government decides not to disinvest in the certain period because it feels the stock prices are unduly low, that's not only understandable but it is actually quite a sensible decision."

The Department of Disinvestment is running against time to meet its ambitious disinvestment target of Rs 40,000 crore for the current fiscal. Till date it has been able to raise only Rs. 1,145 crore through disinvestment in PFC.

In order to fast track the disinvestment programme, the DoD had sought opinion of concerned ministries for buyback of shares and prepared a list of cash—rich PSUs in this regard.

Several ministries like oil, power, steel, coal and mines are believed to have opposed the proposal as it could impact the business expansion plans of the PSUs.

Market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has relaxed norms for buyback of shares and dilution of equity by companies.

The new norms would help the companies to complete the process of selling shares within days against the normal process which can take months, a move that will facilitate offloading of government shares in central PSUs.

Mr. Ahluwalia said that timing of the disinvestment will be decided by market conditions.

"I think we will continue with the disinvestment and the timing of the disinvestment will be decided by market conditions. Which means that whenever we put a number in for disinvestment, it assumes normal market conditions," he said.

He also brushed aside concern about the impact of failure in disinvestment front and its impact on the government's fiscal deficit target of 4.6 per cent of GDP in 2011—12.

"If, for example, a certain amount of resources get shifted from one year to the next, I don't think that the impact of that on the fiscal deficit should be a matter of great concern," Mr. Ahluwalia said.

He also said that in the next three months the government should focus on removing impediments to project implementation

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U.S.-Taliban dialogue in Qatar raises peace hope

KABUL, January 30, 2012

Several Taliban negotiators have begun meeting U.S. officials in Qatar, where they are discussing preliminary trust-building measures, including a possible prisoner transfer, said several former Taliban officials on Saturday.

The former officials said four to eight Taliban representatives had travelled to Qatar from Pakistan to set up a political office for the exiled Afghan militant group.

The comments suggested that the Taliban, which has not publicly said it would engage in peace talks to end the war in Afghanistan, was at least gearing up for preliminary discussions.

U.S. officials would not deny that meetings had taken place, and the discussions seemed to have at least the tacit approval of Pakistan, which has thwarted previous efforts by the Taliban to engage in talks.

The Afghan government, which was initially angry that it had been left out, has accepted the talks in principle but is not directly involved, a potential snag in what could be a historic development.

The former Taliban officials, interviewed on Saturday in Kabul, were careful not to call the discussions peace talks.

"Currently there are no peace talks going on," said Maulavi Qalamuddin, the former minister of vice and virtue for the Taliban, now a member of the High Peace Council. "The only thing is the negotiations over release of Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo which is still under discussion between both sides in Qatar. We also want to strengthen the talks so we can create an environment of trust for further talks in the future."

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland has said Marc Grossman, Obama administration\'s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, had "a number of meetings" related to Afghanistan when he visited Qatar last week.

Move draws fire

The Taliban\'s announcement this month that it would open an office in Qatar, which could allow for direct negotiations, drew fire from some Afghan factions as well as some U.S. policymakers, who fear the militants would use negotiations as a ploy to gain legitimacy and continue their efforts to re-impose an extremist Islamic state in Afghanistan.

Mr. Grossman, at a news conference in Kabul last week, said real peace talks could begin only after the Taliban renounced international terrorism and agreed to support a peace process to end the armed conflict.

The Afghan government and the Qataris must also come to an agreement on the terms under which the Taliban will have an office. Mr. Grossman has been regularly briefing the Afghan government but Afghan officials have complained that they were being kept out of the loop.

The Taliban officials now in Doha, Qatar, include a former secretary to the Taliban\'s leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, as well as several former officials of the Taliban government that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, according to Qalamuddin and Arsala Rahmani, a former Taliban minister of higher education. The former Taliban officials here described fairly advanced discussions in Qatar about the exchange of prisoners. One former official Syed Muhammad Akbar Agha, who had been a Taliban military commander, said five Taliban prisoners were to be released in two phases. "The first group of two to three Taliban prisoners will be released, and then two others," he said.

Kill or capture lists

There has also been discussion of removing some Taliban members from NATO\'s "kill or capture" lists, the former Taliban officials said.

In return, the Taliban have offered to free an American soldier they are holding.

Mr. Grossman, in his comments last week, played down talk of detenu releases, saying the U.S. had not yet made any decision on the issue. "This is an issue of United States law first of all, that we have to meet the requirements of our law," he said.

He said the Obama administration would also consult with Congress. Under U.S. law, the Defence Secretary must certify to Congress that the transfer of any Guantanamo prisoner to a foreign country would meet certain requirements, including that the country maintains control over its prisons and will not allow a transferred detenu to become a future threat to the U.S.

If any detenu were released, Western and Afghan officials said, they would likely be transferred to Qatar and held there, perhaps under house arrest.

The former Taliban officials said they were most surprised by Pakistan\'s decision to allow the Taliban delegates to obtain travel documents and board a plane to Qatar. The former officials have long contended that Pakistan has obstructed talks. "This is a green light from Pakistan," said Mr. Rahmani.

Pakistan "definitely supported this and is also helping," Mr. Qalamuddin added. He said if Pakistan did not approve of the talks, it would have arrested the Taliban delegates to Qatar, just as it did with Mullah Baradar, a senior Taliban official, after he began secret talks with the Afghan government in 2010. — New York Times News Service

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Syrian troops storm areas near capital of Damascus

BEIRUT, January 30, 2012

In dozens of tanks and armoured vehicles, Syrian troops have stormed rebellious areas near the capital, shelling neighbourhoods that have fallen under the control of army dissidents and clashing with fighters. At least 62 people were killed in violence nationwide, activists and residents said.

The widescale Sunday offensive near the capital suggested the regime is worried that military defectors could close in on Damascus, which has remained relatively quiet while most other Syrian cities descended into chaos after the uprising began in March.

The rising bloodshed added urgency to Arab and Western diplomatic efforts to end the 10-month conflict.

The violence has gradually approached the capital. In the past two weeks, army dissidents have become more visible, seizing several suburbs on the eastern edge of Damascus and setting up checkpoints where masked men wearing military attire and wielding assault rifles stop motorists and protect anti-regime protests.

Their presence so close to the capital is astonishing in tightly controlled Syria and suggests the Assad regime may either be losing control or setting up a trap for the fighters before going on the offensive.

Residents of Damascus reported hearing clashes in the nearby suburbs, particularly at night, shattering the city's calm.

"The current battles taking place in and around Damascus may not yet lead to the unravelling of the regime, but the illusion of normalcy that the Assads have sought hard to maintain in the capital since the beginning of the revolution has surely unravelled," said Ammar Abdulhamid, a U.S.-based Syrian dissident.

"Once illusions unravel, reality soon follows," he wrote in his blog Sunday.

Soldiers riding some 50 tanks and dozens of armoured vehicles stormed a belt of suburbs and villages on the eastern outskirts of Damascus known as al-Ghouta Sunday, a predominantly Sunni Muslim agricultural area where large anti-regime protests have been held.

Some of the fighting on Sunday was less than three miles (four kilometres) from Damascus, in Ein Tarma, making it the closest yet to the capital.

"There are heavy clashes going on in all of the Damascus suburbs," said Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, who relies on a network of activists on the ground. "Troops were able to enter some areas but are still facing stiff resistance in others."

The fighting using mortars and machine guns sent entire families fleeing, some of them on foot carrying bags of belongings, to the capital.

"The shelling and bullets have not stopped since yesterday," said a man who left his home in Ein Tarma with his family Sunday. "It's terrifying, there's no electricity or water, it's a real war," he said by telephone on condition of anonymity, for fear of reprisals.

The uprising against Assad, which began with largely peaceful demonstrations, has grown increasingly militarized recently as more frustrated protesters and army defectors have taken up arms.

In a bid to stamp out resistance in the capital's outskirts, the military has responded with a withering assault on a string of suburbs, leading to a spike in violence that has killed at least 150 people since Thursday.

The United Nations says at least 5,400 people have been killed in the 10 months of violence.

The U.N. is holding talks on a new resolution on Syria and next week will discuss an Arab League peace plan aimed at ending the crisis. But the initiatives face two major obstacles- Damascus' rejection of an Arab plan that it says impinges on its sovereignty, and Russia's willingness to use its U.N. Security Council veto to protect Syria from sanctions.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby told reporters Sunday in Egypt that contacts were under way with China and Russia.

"I hope that their stand will be adjusted in line with the final drafting of the draft resolution," he told reporters before leaving for New York with Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim.

The two will seek U.N. support for the latest Arab plan to end Syria's crisis. The plan calls for a two-month transition to a unity government, with Assad giving his vice president full powers to work with the proposed government.

Because of the escalating violence, the Arab League on Saturday halted the work of its observer mission in Syria at least until the League's council can meet. Arab foreign ministers were to meet Sunday in Cairo to discuss the Syrian crisis in light of the suspension of the observers' work and Damascus' refusal to agree to the transition timetable, the League said.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said he was "concerned" about the League's decision to suspend its monitoring mission and called on Assad to "immediately stop the bloodshed." He spoke Sunday at an African Union summit in Addis Ababa.

While the international community scrambles to find a resolution to the crisis, the violence on the ground in Syria has continued unabated.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 27 civilians were killed Sunday in Syria, most of them in fighting in the Damascus suburbs and in the central city of Homs, a hotbed of anti-regime protests. Twenty-six soldiers and nine defectors were also killed, it said. The soldiers were killed in ambushes that targeted military vehicles near the capital and in the northern province of Idlib.

The Local Coordination Committees' activist network said 50 people were killed Sunday, including 13 who were killed in the suburbs of the capital and two defectors. That count excluded soldiers killed Sunday.

The differing counts could not be reconciled, and the reports could not be independently confirmed. Syrian authorities keep tight control on the media and have banned many foreign journalists from entering the country.

Syria's state-run news agency said "terrorists" detonated a roadside bomb by remote control near a bus carrying soldiers in the Damascus suburb of Sahnaya, killing six soldiers and wounding six others. Among those killed in the attack some 12 miles (20 kilometres) south of the capital were two first lieutenants, SANA said.

In Irbil, a Kurdish city in northern Iraq, about 200 members of Syria's Kurdish parties were holding two days of meetings to explore ways of supporting efforts to topple Assad.

Abdul-Baqi Youssef, a member of the Syrian Kurdish Union Party, said representatives of 11 Kurdish parties formed the Syrian Kurdish National Council that will coordinate anti-government activities with Syria's opposition.

Kurds make up 15 percent of Syria's 23 million people and have long complained of discrimination.

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Police move in to end ‘Occupy’ camp in Washington

WASHINGTON, January 30, 2012

The U.S. Park Police plan to begin enforcing a no-camping rule at two Washington sites where Occupy protesters have been demonstrating for months.

The National Park Service has warned the protesters at McPherson Square and at Freedom Plaza that those who violate the camping rule beginning on Monday at noon (local time) will be subject to arrest.

Protesters have said they intend to stay at the two sites and defend their encampments.

The enforcement comes after a House of Representatives oversight subcommittee hearing last week where Republican lawmakers questioned why the park service has allowed Occupy protesters to camp for months on federal land. National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis said protesters have a right to be in the park and won't be evicted, but they will be encouraged to sleep elsewhere.

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Pak Supreme Court lifts Haqqani travel ban

Islamabad, January 30, 2012

Pakistan's Supreme Court on Monday lifted a travel ban on the country's former ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani, as it gave the judicial commission two more months to complete its probe in the memo scandal that rocked ties between the civilian government and the military.

The top court also said that the panel would decide on controversial Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz's request to record his statement outside the country.

A nine-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry lifted a foreign travel ban on Mr. Haqqani, who had resigned over the scandal in November.

Acting on an application filed by the three-judge commission seeking an extension of its term, the bench gave the panel two more months to complete its probe.

Attorney General Anwar-ul-Haq told the bench that the government did not have any reservations on term of the commission being extended.

The Supreme Court had formed the commission on December 30, 2011 and given it four weeks to complete its investigation.

The term of the commission would have ended on Monday.

The Supreme Court rejected an application from Mr. Ijaz that said the commission should be asked to record his statement outside Pakistan. The court said the commission should decide whether it wants to go abroad to record Mr. Ijaz's statement or to call him to Pakistan.

Acting on a request from Mr. Haqqani's counsel Asma Jehangir to ease travel restrictions on her client who had family abroad, the Supreme Court ended a ban on foreign travel it had imposed on the former envoy. However, the bench said that whenever the judicial commission or the apex court summoned Mr. Haqqani, he would have to come back to Pakistan in four days.

The bench further directed Mr. Haqqani to inform the Supreme Court's registrar's office whenever he travelled abroad.

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Swamy granted anticipatory bail

New Delhi, January 30, 2012 Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy, accused of writing an "inflammatory" article in a Mumbai daily, was on Monday granted anticipatory bail by the Delhi High Court.

"In the event of arrest, he shall be released on furnishing of a personal bond and a surety of Rs. 25,000 each," Justice M.L. Mehta said while taking on record Mr. Swamy's undertaking that he would refrain from writing such articles in future.

"Though writing an article based on a book is a fundamental right of a citizen but this right has to be observed with certain reasonable restrictions which have to be taken care of," the court said.

It also appreciated Mr. Swamy for giving an unequivocal undertaking that he will obey the restrictions imposed on him.

"You are a very wise man. You write whatever you want to write but follow the reasonable restrictions. I appreciate your gesture of filing an undertaking," Justice Mehta said while disposing of Mr. Swamy's bail application.

In response to court's observation that India is a secular country and emotions of every section of the society have to be respected, Mr. Swamy said, "I have Muslim relatives. I have Christian relatives. I have a Parsi wife."

The court also observed that no case of communal disharmony has been reported in the country after publication of the alleged inflammatory article in a newspaper on July 16 last year.

The Delhi Police had earlier opposed Mr. Swamy's anticipatory bail plea, saying he should not be granted bail as the matter was serious.

Senior advocate K.T.S. Tulsi, arguing for Mr. Swamy, however, had countered the police plea, saying two police stations in the capital had refused to register the case on private complaints by others as no incident of communal disharmony after the publication of the alleged "inflammatory" article had occurred.

Referring to a Supreme Court judgement, Mr. Tulsi had said the personal liberty of person can be curtailed only under extreme circumstance, which was not the case here.

Mr. Swamy had moved the high court on January 12, seeking anticipatory bail in the case filed against him in October last year by the Crime Branch of Delhi Police, on a direction from the National Commission for Minorities, for writing the article, which, it said, tended to spread communal enmity.

Mr. Swamy had moved the high court for anticipatory bail on January 12 and the following day he was granted interim relief from arrest till January 30.

Mr. Swamy's counsel had argued that this case was lodged to harass him as he (Swamy) had exposed the 2G scam against the government.

The counsel also said Mr. Swamy had written the article based on a book, which he had written six years ago, but no untoward incident had happened after that, but the police suddenly registered a case against him soon after he exposed the 2G scam.

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India won’t scale down petroleum imports from Iran: Pranab

Chicago, January 30, 2012

India, which imports 12 per cent of its oil from Iran, will not scale down its petroleum imports from Tehran despite US and European sanctions against the Islamic republic, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has said.

"It is not possible for India to take any decision to reduce the imports from Iran drastically, because among the countries which can provide the requirement of the emerging economies, Iran is an important country amongst them," Mr. Mukherjee told reporters.

Speaking at the end of a two-day visit aimed at wooing U.S. investment, Mr. Mukherjee, on Sunday, said "Some other countries, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, the other Gulf countries they also contribute but Iran contributes substantially."

"We (India) imports 110 million tonnes of crude per year. We will not decrease imports from Iran. Iran is an important country for India despite U.S. and European sanctions on Iran," the finance minister said.

India, the world's fourth-largest oil consumer, is Iran's second-biggest oil client after China.

The U.S. and other Western sanctions have been imposed on Iran's economy over Tehran's controversial nuclear programme.

U.S. President Barack Obama added to those measures on December 31, last year when he signed into law additional sanctions targeting Iran's central bank and financial sector.

Indian Ambassador to the U.S. Nirupama Rao last week said that India's purchase of oil from Iran has dropped slightly in last two years and is expected to drop further given the difficulties New Delhi might have in making payments through banks due to tough sanctions imposed against Iranian banks.

Ms. Rao had said India was in touch with the U.S. Government and closely monitoring the developing situation concerning Iran, when asked about the pressure from the U.S. that India needs to reduce its dependency on Iranian oil

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Tamil Nadu a victim of Centre’s “persistent indifference”

Chennai, January 30, 2012

Making it clear that it would not compromise on its rights on the Mullaperiyar Dam issue, AIADMK government in Tamil Nadu on Monday alleged it was a victim of the Centre's "persistent indifference" and accused Kerala of whipping up "mass fear and insecurity" over the row.

"The attempts on the part of Kerala to whip up mass fear and insecurity through false propaganda have been the primary cause of these (recent violent) incidents," Governor K. Rosaiah said in his customary address to the first session of the Tamil Nadu assembly this year.

"Tamil Nadu is all for ensuring the safety of the dam and I earnestly appeal to the people of Kerala not to succumb to such malicious campaign," he said, outlining the government's policies and priorities in his first address since becoming the governor.

He said the state government was committed to maintaining cordial relationship with all neighbouring states but Tamil Nadu was a victim of the "persistent indifference" of the Union Government besides "false and parochial" campaigns launched with "short-sighted political interests." "We also urge the Government of India to direct the Kerala government to abide by the decision of the Supreme Court," the governor said.

Tamil Nadu would not compromise on its rights and livelihood of its farmers and would defend them in all appropriate fora and courts of law, Mr. Rosaiah said.

He said Tamil Nadu had shown the utmost restraint and ably handled the recent incidents relating to the Mullaperiyar Dam.

The row had intensified since November with both Tamil Nadu and Kerala sparring over the latter's insistence on building a new dam in place of the 116-year old Mullaperiyar reservoir, causing tension in border areas of both states.

Kerala has been citing safety concerns for its demand to decommission the dam, which feeds five southern districts in Tamil Nadu, under whose control it comes on a 999 year lease.

1.85 lakh crore outlay for 12th plan

Notwithstanding the 'negativities' of the global economic slowdown and its impact on the state, Tamil Nadu government on Monday said it planned for an "ambitious" outlay of Rs 1.85 lakh crore for the ensuing 12th Plan, almost doubling the size compared to the 11th Plan.

"For the ensuing 12th Plan, the state Government plans an ambitious outlay of Rs 1.85 lakh crore for plan schemes, more than double the size of the Eleventh Plan outlay of Rs 85,000 crore," Governor K Rosaiah said in his customary address to the Tamil Nadu Assembly.

This would put the state back on track, even as investments were slowing down in the wake of the economic slowdown and growth projections for 2011—12 had considerably scaled down at national level and the negative impact on Tamil Nadu would be "inescapable," he said.

"Notwithstanding these negativities,this Government is determined to ensure that spending by Government towards infrastructure and social security is not compromised in any manner," he said.

Further the state government's Vision 2025 document will be released shortly by Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, he said, adding, a Bill will be introduced during the coming Budget session for the formation of the Tamil Nadu Infrastructure Development Board.

The Board would serve as an institutional framework for conceptualisation, prioritisation and speedy implementation of critical infrastructure projects, he said.

A separate Infrastructure Development Fund would be constituted to give a fillip to implementation of critical projects. "In this direction, this Government will also come out with a new Public Private Partnership Policy to synergise the resources of the Government and Private Sector in project implementation," he said

The Opposition DMK boycotted the Governor's address after attacking the AIADMK on different fronts.

As Mr. Rosaiah got up to deliver his customary address, DMK Legislature Party Leader M.K. Stalin rose and started reading out a prepared speech. The Governor told Mr. Stalin that the Assembly had been convened to discuss all issues but Stalin continued to read and later led a walkout of the DMK MLAs.

The Governor urged the Centre that at this "crucial juncture," the proposed Dam Safety Bill 2010, should ensure that the safety of dams be entrusted to the Dam Safety Cell of the state owning the dam, instead of where it is situated.

Ms. Jayalalithaa had already opposed the bill, saying it was against Tamil Nadu's interests.

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Brisk polling in Punjab, Uttarakhand

Chandigarh/Dehra Dun, January 30, 2012

Brisk polling was on Monday witnessed in the elections to the Assemblies of Punjab and Uttarakhand that were by and large peaceful.

While Punjab registered voting at around 65 per cent, polling in Uttarakhand was put at nearly 70 per cent, officials quoting initial reports from various constituencies in the two States said.

The key elections in Punjab and Uttarakhand, which were being ruled by National Democratic Alliance governments, will decide the fate of 1,866 candidates including Prakash Badal of the Shiromani Akali Dal, Amarinder Singh of the Congress in Punjab and B.C. Khanduri of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Uttarakhand.

Polling began on a dull note due to the morning chill in both the States but picked up as the day progressed. Long queues of voters, including large number of women, were seen at the polling stations.

Barring minor skirmishes in Ludhiana, Bathinda and Amritsar in Punjab, polling in the two states was by and large peaceful, officials said. In Ludhiana, BJP Yuva Morcha General Secretary Sanjay Kapoor received minor injuries in a clash.

While there are 1,078 contestant vying for 117 seats in Punjab, the number of candidates for 70 seats in Uttarakhand is 866. Counting to votes will take place on March 6.

Talking to reporters before leaving for Patiala, Mr. Singh, the State Congress chief, claimed the Dera Sacha Sauda sect, headquartered in Haryana's Sirsa, was supporting his party.

"The Dera is supporting the Congress. The message (from the Dera) has reached the premis (followers) and they are supporting the Congress. This was expected the way Akalis had treated the Dera followers," he said.

Claiming that there was a "clear wave" in his party's favour, Mr. Singh, who is the party's Chief Ministerial candidate, claimed, "We are winning hands down and as I have said we will cross 70 seats... People of Punjab want to oust the Akalis."

Over 250 contestants including Mr. Singh, his wife and Union Minister Preneet Kaur, had visited the Dera premises at Sirsa and sought blessings from the sect chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh.

After casting his vote in his home constituency Lambi's Badal village, Chief Minister Mr. Badal said that the SAD-BJP would comfortably win on the basis of development during the past five years. In Punjab with a 1.7 crore electorate, polling took place at 19,841 polling stations across 22 districts.

In Uttarakhand, nearly 70 per cent of the 63-lakh-strong electorate exercised their franchise, state Chief Election Officer Radha Raturi said.

Expressing optimism, Mr. Khanduri, who is the BJP's Chief Ministerial candidate in Uttarakhand, said, "There is very good response (from the people for the party). It is a very positive signal and that we feel we will form the government comfortably but again it is for the people to decide."

Mr. Khanduri, who is contesting from Kotdwar seat, said, "I have gone to the town and the village areas and people are coming in large numbers and that's a good signal."

In Hoshiarpur in Punjab, Union I&B Minister Ambika Soni, after casting her ballot, said the State was hearing for a change the Congress will register a "landslide" victory.

On poll propects, the 84-year-old Mr. Badal said,"Whatever the Congress people say, it doesn't matter. People know that this government has worked for their betterment and today pro-incumbency wave is sweeping the State."

His son and Deputy, Sukhbir Singh Badal said the people will reject the Congress, which had no agenda for taking Punjab forward.

Prominent candidates whose fate would be sealed on include Raninder Singh (Samana), former Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal (Lehra), former Punjab top cop P.S. Gill (Moga), former Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister D.S. Guru (Bhadaur) and former SGPC chief Bibi Jagir Kaur (Bholath).

Earlier, the Badals including the Chief Minister and Mr. Sukhbir arrived together and cast vote in Badal village.

However, the Badal family's estranged relative and chief of People's Party of Punjab, Manpreet Singh Badal, whose party is also contesting the Punjab polls, was the first to arrive to cast vote in Badal village.

In the 2007 polls, the SAD-BJP alliance came to power with the SAD winning 49 and the BJP 19. The Congress had got 44 seats and remaining five seats went to the Independents.

In Uttarakhand, Mr. Khanduri, former Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank and assembly speaker Harbans Kapoor were among the early voters.

The elections will also decide the fate of top state leaders including Mr. Khanduri, Mr. Nishank from Doiwala, Leader of the Opposition Harak Singh Rawat from Rudraprayag and PCC chief Yashpal Arya from Baajpur seats.

In the outgoing State Assembly, the BJP had a strength of 36 members followed by Congress with 20, the Bahujan Samaj Party with 8 and the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal with 3 while there were three independents.

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

ED to file first charge sheet in CWG scam

New Delhi, January 29, 2012

The Enforcement Directorate is set to file its first charge sheet in the alleged financial irregularities in Commonwealth Games, which will name some top officials of the organising committee (OC) of the 2010 event.

The charge sheet will focus on the alleged foreign exchange violations in the Queen's Baton Relay (QBR) held in 2009 in London and would feature the roles of various OC officials including its sacked chairman Suresh Kalmadi in the overall decision making.

While the alleged irregularities under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) is around Rs five crore, few multi-layered and attached transactions of the event could lead to the overall forex contraventions of about Rs 12-13 crore.

The ED, according to sources, has questioned a number of officials in this regard while it has also separately questioned Mr. Kalmadi last year while he was lodged in Tihar jail.

Amongst those who had been questioned in the case include suspended OC joint director-general T.S. Darbari and former officials like director-general V.K. Verma, deputy director-general Sanjay Mohindroo and joint director-general (accounts and finance) M. Jaychandran.

British authorities had earlier referred to the Indian High Commission a matter regarding AM Films, a London-based company, to which a huge sum of money was also transferred through the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Also, the CBI has recently recorded the statement of Ashish Patel, who owns the two London-based companies — AM Films and AM Vans Pvt Ltd, which bagged the contract for conducting the QBR event in the run up to the Games.

The ED, however, will not record or use the CBI statement of Mr. Patel in its charge sheet as its probe focussed on the legality of the transfer of funds and their utilisation for the QBR and Mr. Patel had no role in it.

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In Jaipur replay, university bows to ABVP film fatwa

Pune, January 29, 2012

Symbiosis University has cancelled the screening of documentary filmmaker Sanjay Kak\'s Jashn-e-Azadi on Kashmir, after the right-wing student organisation, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), raised objections to its 'separatist\' nature. The film was supposed to be screened at a three-day national seminar called 'Voices of Kashmir\' at the Symbiosis College of Arts and Commerce, organised in association with the University Grants Commission (UGC) on February 3, 4 and 5.

The organisation now wants the entire seminar cancelled, ABVP Pune unit Secretary Shailendra Dalvi told The Hindu on Saturday evening. "The content of the seminar, like the film, is anti-India, and against the Indian Army. We will not stand for anything that divides the country. Symbiosis has agreed to cancel the film screening, and we are giving them three days\' time to think about the event, too," Mr. Dalvi stated.

Last week, Jaipur Literature Festival organisers were forced to cancel a videoconference with author Salman Rushdie after protesters threatened to disrupt the event.

Speaking to The Hindu over telephone, Symbiosis College of Arts and Commerce principal Hrishikesh Soman stated that the ABVP had approached him on Friday, and that the college agreed to cancel the film screening "considering their [ABVP\'s] emotions and feelings." "I told them that the seminar is entirely academic, apolitical and non-religious. But the film has met with criticism from all corners. So we have decided to avoid unnecessary controversies and cancel the screening," Mr. Soman said. "If people have a very strong reason to protest the film, then we should be tolerant enough," he stated. The seminar will be attended by senior journalist and Jammu and Kashmir interlocutor Dileep Padgaonkar, among others.

Asked if the college would cancel the event altogether, Mr. Soman said: "After the first meeting, the ABVP has not made such a request yet. If they do, then we will try to sort it out." Asked if the cancellation of the film screening withheld the students\' right to experience and discuss all sides of the Kashmir conflict, Mr. Soman said: "I don\'t want to get into petty issues. The seminar will be purely intellectual, and will focus on socio-cultural and educational issues in Kashmir."

Mr. Soman said Mr. Kak had been "informed categorically" that the film screening had been cancelled. Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Kak stated he would be attending the seminar in spite of the cancellation. "I will utilise the two hours given to me and talk about what I want to talk about," he said. Mr. Kak is scheduled to deliver a presentation on "Speaking about Kashmir" on February 3. His film, Jashn-e-Azadi, made in 2007, explores the meaning of azadi (freedom) in violence-gripped Kashmir.

Apart from Mr. Kak and Mr. Padgaonkar, the panel of speakers includes Hamid Marazi, Zaffar Iffat Fatima, M.K. Raina, Pran Kishore, Sanjay Nahar, and Babali Saraf. Iffat Fatima\'s documentary Where Have You Hidden My New Crescent Moon will be screened at the seminar, a press note stated

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Rahul\'s campaign ‘ground zero\' lukewarm to Congress

Gautam Budh Nagar (U.P.), January 29, 2012

In May 2011, Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi sounded the bugle for the Uttar Pradesh election from Bhatta and Parsaul — two adjoining villages in Gautam Budh Nagar that had exploded in a frenzy of protests over alleged forced land acquisition by the Mayawati government.

Riding into the conflict zone on a motorcycle, and squatting on the ground in protest, Mr. Gandhi became the stuff of prime time television with his dramatic accusations against the incumbent regime. The State police had killed and burnt farmers and criminally assaulted the womenfolk, he told jostling camera crews. Thanks to the publicity, U.P. election 2012 got projected as a fight in the main between the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress, with the latter widely seen as having wrested the Opposition space from the Samajwadi Party.

And yet with elections just days away, the Jat majority villages in Bhatta and Parsaul in Western U.P. are lukewarm towards the Congress and the Gandhi son. Said a clutch of villagers in Bhatta: "The only good that came from Mr. Rahul\'s visit was that we could tell our story to the world and the police brutality stopped. But like every other politically motivated politician, Rahul too just exploited us."

Among other things, Bhatta and Parsaul villagers expected Mr. Gandhi to throw his weight behind the promised Land Acquisition (amendment) Bill. "During the agitation here, Mr. Rahul promised to bring the amended land acquisition bill in Parliament. But when we went to meet him in Delhi, he passed on the blame to the Bharatiya Janata Party, accusing it of blocking the Bill. Why should we vote for him?" asked a member who was among the participants at a 'havan\' organised by the Sarvadal Kisan Sangarsh Samiti (SKSS) to mark the first anniversary of the farmers\' protests.

Simmering anger

There is simmering anger in the village against the continuing incarceration of Manveer Singh Tewatia, local hero and leader of the protests who was charged with violence and locked up in the Dasna jail. "He is the real hero here. He stood by us when the police rained lathis and bullets on us. His family is suffering, his own life stands ruined, but unlike the political turncoats and opportunists, he refused to be bought over,"

The turn of events is unlikely to please the Congress which had hoped to use the Bhatta-Parsaul campaign as a springboard to launch itself into the election campaign. Indeed, Mr. Gandhi\'s visit to the two villages and his support to the agitating farmers in Tappal near Aligarh were all seen as the beginning of the party\'s war against Ms. Mayawati. Today, there is little visible support for the Congress, and almost no enthusiasm for Thakur Devendar Singh, the party\'s candidate from the Jewar Assembly constituency into which Bhatta and Parsaul fall.

On the other hand, the BSP, though deeply unpopular with the peasant castes, has managed to retain the support of the Dalit Jatavs estimated at about 10 per cent of the electorate. A large section of the Jat population in both villages is hoping that Mr. Tewatia will be given a ticket to contest. There is speculation that the Janata Dal United might field him as its candidate from Jewar. Curiously, farmers here are largely supportive of the Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal which recently joined hands with the Congress. Had the Congress left the seat to the RLD, it might have had better luck here. "For the Jats it is Tewatia first and then other parties and the BSP a complete no-no," said Parsaul resident Jagdish Malik.

The farmers are also upset with the Bharatiya Kisan Union which is seen to have defected to the side of Ms. Mayawati. Asked who they will vote in the event Mr. Tewatia was not fielded as a candidate, villagers said that depended on which party satisfied them on their key demands: "We want the release of farmers still languishing in prison; the quashing of "false" cases against them; justice for the atrocities done on our women and early passage of the land acquisition law," said Virpal Singh, a village elder.

Many in fact see elections as a way of getting back at the U.P government. "The scars are still fresh." said Thakur Rajvir Singh, an SKSS member in Bhatta.

Similar sentiments are echoed in Parsaul. "Rahul betrayed us and the BJP and the SP have been indifferent. Tewatia who stood by us is being tortured and treated like a terrorist in jail," said Mr. Malik.

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