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Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Taufiq Hidayat tames Sourabh Verma in final

RICH, RICHER: It was a memorable experience for Sourabh Verma in the Syed Modi India Open Grand Prix though he finished second best to Taufiq Hidayat. Photo: Subir Roy

Wins his first title of the season

With a young Indian up against a former World and Olympic champion, the result was probably easy to guess. However, a packed house at the Banarasi Das badminton stadium played an unexpected role in making the final evening of the $120,000 Syed Modi India Open Grand Prix Gold badminton championship a memorable one here on Sunday.

Armed with the tri-colour and plenty of lung-power, the spectators backed Sourabh Verma all the way even though it was clear that Taufik Hidayat could not be denied his first title of the season in his final competition of the year.

Hidayat ended his title drought with a 21-15, 21-18 triumph and collected $9,000 for his efforts. Generous in his praise for Sourabh, Hidayat said, “Sourabh is a good player and has the strokes to get much better.” The Indonesian shrugged off a slow start, as he used his experience to dictate the pace of the rallies and won the big points with ease.

Childhood dream

Sourabh, who lived his childhood dream of playing Hidayat, could not have asked a better setting for his maiden final appearance in a Grand Prix Gold event.

In keeping with the popular demand, Sourabh raced away to an 8-2 lead, thanks to a high number of errors from Hidayat. But, once the Indonesian settled down, the script followed the anticipated course.

Hidayat made it 8-all and finally broke away from 16-15, winning the last five points of the first game.

In the second, Sourabh showed that he was not overawed by his famed rival as he led 17-14. However, Hidayat won six straight points and clinched the title on his second match point.

Sourabh matched Hidayat stroke for stroke in the second game, winning a few long rallies and seldom letting the champion use his feared forehand cross-courts. It was only when Sourabh's energy level came down in the second game, Hidayat finished the mid-court returns with trademark smashes.

Sourabh, for his part, retrieved far more shots than what Hidayat would have expected. It was the Indian's strong defence that kept him in the contest that lasted 46 minutes.

“I should have won the second game but I am happy with the way I played. It was a good learning experience,” said the Indian, who received $4,560.

Coach Gopi Chand was proud of his trainee. “Sourabh played superbly. He carried out the plan well, but he was up against the class of Taufik, who had planned the big points so well.”

The women's singles final was a non-starter. With second seed Porntip Buranaprasertsuk down with fever, fellow Thai — third seed Inthanon Ratchanok — was assured of the $9,000 cheque that came with the title. The duo left for home even before the presentation ceremony. The doubles' winners shared $9,450 and the runners-up split $4,560.

Teacher held for allegedly raping former student

 A 40-year-old teacher has been arrested at Ambedkar Nagar here for allegedly raping one of his former students on several occasions by threatening to make public a video clip showing her in a compromising position.

The victim was in school when she took tuitions from the accused. She completed her schooling and, encouraged by the teacher, her graduation and also obtained a degree in a professional course.

In 2004, the accused teacher took her to Rajasthan on some pretext where he allegedly raped her in a hotel room. He also allegedly made a video clip of her and threatened to make it public if she revealed anything to her family. The accused sexually abused the victim on several occasions.

The traumatised woman finally narrated her woes to a relative, at whose insistence she lodged a complaint with the police.

Subsequently the police registered a case and arrested the teacher.

The digital picture: from reel to HD

Digitisation ensures better clarity, enhanced image projection, but it has to play a key role in preservation of films

With the promise of better clarity, enhanced projection of images and an array of technologically advanced tools to shoot with, digital cinema, most would agree, is the future. But behind the screen, there is another area in which digitisation has a key role to play: preservation of films and archiving.

Noted film director Balu Mahendra says the two movies he made from his heart, Veedu and Sandhya Raagam were lost, as was Shyam Benegal's Trikaal. The National Film Archives of India, Pune, has space for storing just 4,000 prints. “So unless the movie is really well known or has won some awards, there is no way of getting [it] into the archives,” says filmmaker K. Hariharan, who has directed movies, including Ezhavathu Manithan and Dubashi.

Officials of the National Film Archives of India (NFAI) point out that due to the space occupied by the film rolls, producers and distributors even abandon prints in railway warehouses. A few years ago, the NFAI received 500 cans of films, including 12 Hindi ones, from the Railways' lost property warehouses. “Even then, we get only parts of movies. The shortage of manpower is also why we cannot look at all the material available to us,” says an official.

In spite of all this, the National Film Archives has managed to restore and digitise films of Dadasaheb Phalke, Satyajit Ray, Mehboob Khan, and V. Shantaram, among others. Many other filmmakers, however, have not been so lucky.

Besides the National Film Archives, which stores movie prints, the 15-odd laboratories across the country store the negatives of 1,100 movies released annually in India. Most negatives are barely salvageable. “For the government, preserving the legacy of cinema does not seem to be important,” says Mr. Hariharan. And, storage doesn't necessarily mean preservation, he notes, given the poor conditions in which prints are maintained.

And one can't fault companies like Kodak or Fuji, since they never experience such weather problems in their countries, and Indian film stock business is not big enough, experts say.

Preserving of negatives is a humongous task, say experts. They have to be stored at 10 degrees Celsius and 20 degrees humidity. And since most ‘film' cities, barring Hyderabad and Bangalore, are on the coast, the prevailing humidity acts as a deterrent. “When you open them after a year, the reels are stuck to each other,” Mr. Hariharan explains. Western countries have devised elaborate preservation techniques. For instance, while Los Angeles, home to Hollywood, is a coastal city, the archiving is done in Nevada. Most are stored in air-conditioned underground vaults with no humidity.

A movie such as The Dark Knight had nearly 14,000 film prints released across the world. Almost all of them are useless now, ending up often in landfills and, being non-biodegradable, become a huge hazard to the environment. It is in this context that ushering in a strategy would necessitate digital methods of archiving soon.

The digital restoration and preservation has just started in most laboratories in India. “What most of us do now is scan the original prints and store them in digital files,” says S. Sivaraman, general manager, Prasad Film Labs. “For very high-end purposes, we store in 2k resolution.” Methods like Liner Tape Open Drive-4 (LTO 4) that help to store digital data in a tape format are also being used.

However, there are impending dangers to digital archiving, too. For instance, files get corrupted and their shelf life is not as long as well-preserved celluloid. “Digital archiving is an evolving technology. Decay for at least 10-15 years can certainly be prevented, and it is also cheaper than earlier methods,” says Mr. Sivaraman. Rules of preservation apply to digital tapes too, including storing them in recommended temperatures, running them at least once every three years, and re-copying them into the contemporary format.

Film laboratories in western countries and some in India have started digital restoration with digital-to-film recording. “The prints of old movies are taken and their colours enhanced, defects removed, after which they are transferred back to celluloid to be preserved for 100 more years,” says Mr. Sivaraman.

With most digital devices giving way to modern advancements, there is also a need to standardise formats, say experts. With a host of formats, including beta, digibeta, different versions of jpegs and now, mpegs, filmmakers say one standard format would really help the process. “The versions of the same format are not upgradable. They have to be redone again. And while a few archives are getting digitised, the resolution of digibeta is not so high as HD, often leading to an unsatisfactory experience,” says Mr. Hariharan.

Is cloud the answer?

There are also questions of capacity. Raw files occupy a lot of space. So would the cloud provide the answer here and if so, what are the encryption methods necessary and what about the ownership concerns? After six years of hosting and playing videos, Google Videos is expected to shut down soon, hence the storage and licensing questions remain a concern.

“IT companies and labs that store negatives, or even filmmakers need to work hand in hand to come up with an easier way of storing their films,” suggests Mr. Hariharan.

The serious side of comics

It's storytime again! Alok Sharma's documentary brings back a slice of childhood by tracing the journey of Indian comics on screen, says Anusha Parthasarathy

There are certain comic characters that you will always remember — wise Chacha Chaudhary with a grand red turban and his giant friend Sabu, Little-Lulu-like Pinky, Billu with his hair falling over his eyes (who often runs into trouble with Bajrangi the wrestler) and the trusty, straightforward Bahadur. But when did these colourful panels of art begin to hold our attention?

Ever since the 1960s, Indian comics, in different forms and frames, have kept generations of children entertained on long train rides, road trips and summer holidays. Alok Sharma, comic book illustrator and scriptwriter, who grew up on Bahadur, Billu, Pinky and the endearing Chacha Chaudhary has a collection of Indian comics running into many thousands. But that's not all. After years of wondering why Indian comics haven't been documented or had their stories told, he decided to do it himself. His documentary, on the evolution of homegrown picture stories, is called ‘Chitrakatha'.

“This film talks about the evolution of Indian comics through the eyes of a fan and will feature every single comic written by the last three generations of cartoonists — from the Anant Pai-Pran era to the latest batch of Virgin Comics. The idea came about in 2005, when I quit my job as an illustrator with Gotham comics to explore radio. There, they had a massive library where I learnt how much importance international comics had — there were magazines and books dedicated to them but none such for the Indian contemporaries. I've been planning this for a few years but only began working on it from 2008,” says Alok, “I decided to name the documentary after the Indian name for comics. ‘Chitra' is illustration and ‘Katha' means story.”

While the documentary is still in production, a sneak preview shows comic artist Aabid Surti (who created Inspector Azad and Bahadur) talking about how he was introduced to comics in the 1950s. “The first generation of comics was from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, after which the Diamond comics generation happened,” says Alok, “First we had syndicate comic strips that were published in newspapers; Flash Gordon, Mandrake the Magician, Phantom and others. These comics had to be location-neutral so that everyone could relate to them. Therefore, Flash Gordon fought aliens on a different planet and for a long time people thought comics such as Phantom (Vetal in Hindi) were Indian comics.”

When Phantom grew popular, Anant Pai and those in Indrajal comics collected the strips and published it as a comic book. “People were crazy about Phantom in the 1960s, when these anthologies came out as comic books. I had interviewed a book seller who has been around from that time and he told me that all the books would be sold in an hour,” says Alok, “But while this was happening, Anant Pai also wanted Indian comics and so, after a while, the Phantom comic would have 16 pages of Phantom and 16 pages of Indian comics. It was an expensive task, though, to hire artists and print them, so they reduced it eventually.”

Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) began after Anant quit Indrajal and it started off by buying the rights for 10 American fairy tales such as Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk and Pinocchio. “There was Indrajal comics, Deewana, the Indian Mad magazine had already started and Anant Pai was struggling to complete the first comic done. Finally, Krishna (the serial number is #11) was released and it was gone in a day or two. They did not have a copy of the cover art for the second reprint and hence, the artist had to draw another one. Later, when there was a fire in the ACK office, they had to draw another cover art for the same comic.”

To bring about the entire story, Alok spent many months trying to interview the artists. “It was a massive challenge because Anant Pai wasn't at the best of his health when we met but when I introduced the concept of my documentary, he was happy and began to talk. Aabid Surati's comic strips appeared when my parents were children and I first met him at a cartoon fest when I was 17. We kept in touch and then after days of coaxing, he finally gave us an interview,” explains Alok.

The documentary will be released in the first half of 2012 in three different forms, a 45-minute film, one 70-minute documentary and a two-hour fan boy cut. “When I began working on ‘Chitrakatha', I introduced these artists to social networking, created a Facebook page where they can all meet their fans and get feedback on their work. It's funny to see these 70-plus people who never knew the kind of fan base they have, interacting with people who've been trying to reach them for so long.”

Thinking after acting

Though people can misuse this information, there is a compelling need for scientists to be aware of these mutations so that effective drugs and vaccines can be developed. Little wonder that both editors have reacted strongly to censorship and demanded that a mechanism be put in place to ensure that bona fide scientists have full and complete access to the results. This has finally prompted the U.S. government to act. It is also working on an oversight policy to evaluate dual-use research proposals prior to approval and funding. But the biggest concern is the risk of the new strain escaping from the labs. According to Nature, scientists working on SARS at four “high-containment labs” in China, Taiwan, and Singapore were “infected.” And the 395 bio-safety breaches in the U.S. between 2003 and 2009 could have resulted in the “accidental release of dangerous pathogens from high-containment labs.”

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Time to rein in unauthorised boat services

But safety concerns and the absolute lack of any mechanism to regulate the tourist boating operation have never come to the forefront since the fatality numbers were low. The fact that the fishermen have started opposing boating is a tragic irony. It was a very good source of additional income for them.

The Pazhaverkadu village itself was almost inaccessible even a decade ago. The reasonably good roads, the schools and the pucca buildings are available now partly because of the money pumped into the local economy by visiting tourists. Its only claim to fame for many years was that actor Tamil film Citizen, starring actor Ajith, was shot on the shores around these parts.

“Boating began as a ferrying service,” says R.Mugundan, a fisherman belonging to the Lighthouse kuppam. It provided connectivity between Pazhaverkkadu and a small 300-foot-wide strip of land sandwiched between the backwater and the sea.

“Operating boats was a livelihood issue. It was never meant to cater to tourists. If it has to continue, the Tourist Department has to take over and adequate safety precautions should be taken,” Mr. Murugan says.

Now, a bridge has come up connecting the land strip to the mainland. Many lights have been installed along it, but none of them work. “The panchayat does not even have the money to pay the power cost,” says Muhammad Ali, another fisherman.

Though the lake receives about 500-1,000 tourists on festive days, it does not even have adequate lighting or first-aid infrastructure. During Sunday's rescue operation, efforts were severely hampered because of it.

But for a group of alert fishermen who risked their lives, not even the three children who were rescued in the aftermath of Sunday's accident would have had a chance. Many of them stayed with the children at the Ponneri government hospital as they were being treated. Scenes inside their ward were chaotic. “The children asked me to look after the car and the three two-wheelers in which the group had come,” Ashok, the fisherman who rescued them, said. “They had no idea they had just lost their parents,” he added.

Traffic partially restored across border

Kumily sub-inspector Fiinny Varghese told The Hindu on Sunday that there was complete peace prevailing in the area but it might be because of fear that the Kerala vehicles were not moving to Tamil Nadu. A large number of vehicles carrying Sabarimala pilgrims crossed the border to and fro.

The eased tension here was evident as people moved freely across the check posts and there were also large number of people on the streets despite Sunday being a holiday.

The traffic through the Cumbom Mettu was almost normal, reports reaching here said.

Idukki Superintendent of Police George Varghese had convened a meeting of the Hindu organisations and peoples representatives on Saturday evening and Hindu Aikyavedi president Kummanam Rajasekharan read out a message issued by Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy appealing normalisation of the situation here. Mr. George Vargese also held telephonic talks with his counter part in Theni district and there was a co-ordinated move to restore normalcy across the border.

The police had placed a banner across the road welcoming the Sabarimala pilgrims and vehicles carrying pilgrims from other States also crossed the border. The police had erected a tent for Ayyappa devotees with water and other facilities there.

The Kumily sub-inspector said that the work on the tent was delayed this season due to the tension prevailing across the border. The police were making the facility for the past four years.

A Tamil Nadu police jeep was seen crossing the border moving on the town this part clearly indicating a cordial co-ordination at the official level between the two States.

Trauma of tsunami continues for these women

A LUCKY FEW: A file photo of four fisherwomen of Keechankuppam and Akkaraipettai coastal hamlets in Nagapattinam who gave birth to babies after recanalisation surgery. Photo: Special Arrangement

They have not only lost their children in the tragedy but also failed to benefit from recanalisation surgery

In the fishing village of Tharangambadi in Nagapattinam, five women entered into a ‘pact' that they will not agree to the remarriage of their husbands. These women had lost their children in the tsunami of December 2004.

But, their solidarity fizzled out in the face of domestic pressure. One of them committed suicide, leaving behind two teenage daughters, unable to reconcile to the death of her two sons. Selvi succumbed to her inability to give birth to sons again and equally driven by her husband's wish to remarry.

Of the many traumatic consequences of the 2004 tsunami, a community of mothers-in-waiting was just another. They are women who lost all or some of their children in the tsunami, and could no more conceive as they had undergone sterilisation (tubectomy) prior to the disaster.

The government intervened within days, and came up with a scheme to sponsor sterilization-reversal surgeries in government and notified private hospitals to enable them to conceive again.

Seven years on, of the 67 recorded cases of recanalisation surgery, only 13 women have conceived, placing the success rate at 19 percent, says an independent micro-study by SNEHA, a district based women's research organisation. The study – on the implications of recanalisation surgery on reproductive and sexual health rights of women in post-tsunami Nagapattinam – speaks of an intervention that reinforced patriarchal tendencies, providing no voice for women.

Recanalisation surgery in the aftermath of tsunami was seen as a “socio-psychological support at that point and an intelligent solution” for the grieving families, but the view was contested by researchers and activists. “Our question was whether women could decide under trauma, whether their choices were informed or if they had a choice at all. We tried to locate the entire vulnerability of women back to the family planning policy,” says Beulah Azariah, an independent researcher. Both the State and non-State actors focus on women, not exploring other possibilities, says Ms. Azariah.

The intervention also spawned a spate of private fertility clinics that profiteered on the promise of ‘motherhood' across affected districts. “Women's bodies became a site of commercialization for private clinics and families spent a major chunk of death compensation on these private fertility clinics,” says Ms. Azariah.

Today, their concerns hold ground in the face of a community of ‘recanalised women', all from the fishing community, living with a sense of ‘failure' and ‘inadequacy'. For the 12 women interviewed by The Hindu, the decision to undergo recanalisation was not based on information and counselling, but was made out of desperation and on the euphoria generated by the first conception towards end of 2005. In their midst are those rendered destitute by husbands who went on to remarry. Many others continue to exist within the marriage as ‘second class' women in a perpetual state of would-be-mothers.

The report based on focus group studies with the recanalised women over the past six years also revealed spousal infertility and spousal ailments that were ignored prior to the recanalisation. “While a few suffered ectopic pregnancies (an abnormal conception outside the uterus), many never conceived, and all of them were caught in a physical and psychological limbo,” says Vanaja, rights activist. These women were never given the time to mourn their loss, recover and heal.

According to Kameshwari, head of the women's health unit, Life Health Reinforcement Group, Hyderabad, who has also placed her research as part of the study, such mass scale recanalisations ignored prior factors for success. The reproductive health of the woman, technique used to anastomose (join) the tube, and the effect of sterilization on the tube determined conception.

“The site of tubal ligation, length of the fallopian tube after recanalisation, time interval between sterilization and its reversal are ignored. When these are not explored, recanalisation is not just viable and it further weakens women bodily and psychologically,” Dr.Kameshwari says.

Recanalisation, feels Dr.Kameshwari, opened up a possibility as retrograde as sex selection, with 26 percent of surgeries done after the death of a son. “Our interventions can never go beyond nature and our reproductive health policy must shift the onus from women to men through vasectomies.”

But, there are a few intrepid women that have braved multiple injustices. Kalvi - having ‘failed' to conceive and ostracized by her husband - has chosen to eke out a living as a single woman. Thirteen of those women have adopted children.

Two wrongs do not make a right

Some weeks ago during a social dinner chat, the head of a well known non-banking finance company headquartered in Chennai made an interesting comment. The subject was fuel pricing and the distortions in the economy caused by the widening gap between petrol and diesel prices. This gentleman, seeking to buy an upmarket car, went to one of the dealerships that his group owned but had to return empty handed because all the cars there were diesel models. He wanted to buy a petrol model and the reason he gave was striking: “How is it right for me to buy a luxury diesel car and pay Rs.45 a litre for fuel when the average Indian pays Rs.70 a litre for petrol to fuel his Rs.40,000 two-wheeler?''

Whether this is an extreme definition of ethics or not is another matter but the comment certainly sums up very well the distortions that are being caused in the economy by the government's flawed policy on fuel pricing. On the one hand, the oil companies are wailing over mounting ‘under-recoveries', which by itself is a questionable concept. On the other, the benefit of lower diesel prices is enjoyed by those consumers who can actually afford to pay more.

Petro-diesel price gap

The gulf between petrol and diesel prices that has widened over the last year (see graph) has prompted a mass shift of car buyers to diesel-engine vehicles from petrol. Between 4 and 5 of every ten cars sold in the country today — depending on whose estimate you want to believe — are diesel engine ones. And this is despite the higher price of diesel cars relative to petrol ones. Obviously, people like the gentleman above are a minority!

‘Dieselisation' of the car market is happening slowly but surely and this has consequences for not just the automobile manufacturers and oil companies but also the government.

According to the recent report of a Parliamentary panel on petroleum, diesel cars consume as much as 15 per cent of the total diesel sold in the country.

It is not surprising therefore, that the panel has recommended a cess on all diesel cars to make them more expensive and deter buyers. That the panel's, over-arching interest was to protect the oil companies is evident from its other recommendation that this cess should go to the oil companies to compensate them for their ‘under-recoveries'.

Predictably, there is opposition to any such suggestion of higher duties on diesel cars from the wing of government responsible for the well-being of car companies.

Heavy Industries Minister Mr. Praful Patel is supposed to have opposed it in a letter to the Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee. Howsoever tempting it might be for Mr. Mukherjee in the context of raising revenues, such a cess, if imposed, will be akin to correcting one wrong with another.

The basic problem is with the fuel pricing policy of the government and not with the car companies. That cannot be corrected with another flawed policy on taxing automobiles.

A cess on diesel cars will surely put a brake on demand, slowing down sales of such cars. But how fair is it to change policies on such critical issues after car companies have already invested heavily depending on stability of policy? And again, what about the stock of diesel cars that are already on the road? Is it in the interest of the government to mess with an industry that is one of the biggest employers?

There have been suggestions for a dual pricing policy for diesel. Cars will be charged a higher price than goods carriers and tractors. But this is not a workable suggestion; it is not possible to regulate price at the petrol pump based on the vehicle that comes for a refill. Nor is it logistically feasible to separate dispensing outlets based on vehicles.

So, what is the way out then? There is simply no alternative to completely overhauling the fuel pricing policy. We need market-determined, competitive prices for transportation fuels that are based on the cost of production. The present policy of linking domestic prices of petrol and diesel to the landed cost of imports when in reality not a litre is being imported needs to be done away with.

Petrol and diesel cost almost the same to produce but the reason for the wide differential in their prices is taxes. While encouraging the oil companies to compete with each other and basing prices on their cost structures, the government should also take a holistic look at the taxation policies on petroleum products.

Petrol suffers higher excise duty and sales tax compared to diesel. Duties on the two products need to be rationalised and made comparable with each other. In fact, it may be desirable to revisit the taxation policies for all petroleum products and rationalise them.

These are important reform measures that, realistically speaking, are unlikely to happen in the near term. Come the Budget in February and we might well see the government imposing additional taxes on diesel cars. And the wide gap between petrol and diesel prices is not going to disappear any time soon. The likes of the gentleman mentioned in the beginning are unlikely to drive a diesel car in the near future.

Vijayakant, DMDK cadres held for attempting black flag protest

Mr. Vijayakant and his party workers were arrested at Saidapet area in the city, the route taken by Dr. Singh this morning to attend a function at Madras University, police said.

The Prime Minister had arrived here on Sunday evening and stayed overnight at the Raj Bhavan. He attended a function at Madras University today to celebrate the 125th birth anniversary of mathematics wizard Srinivasa Ramanujan.

Earlier, Greater Chennai Police Commissioner J K Tripathy had warned that those staging black flag demonstrations would be arrested.

Monday, 26 December 2011

VVS, Zaheer will be key players in Australia: Irfan

The Hindu Starry event: Cricketer Irfan Pathan signing an autograph on a bat during an event on Sunday. Photo: Nagara Gopal

‘Australian players will have a tough time bowling at Laxman, besides facing Zaheer'

In the India-Australia cricket series commencing with the Boxing Day Test match at Melbourne on Monday, V.V.S. Laxman and Zaheer Khan will be the key players making a difference between the two teams, according to cricketer Irfan Pathan.

“Sachin Tendulkar is everybody's favourite and my favourite is Laxman. He is ‘very very special' and Australian players will have a tough time bowling at him, besides facing Zaheer,” said Irfan Pathan here on Sunday.

Participating in a flash cricket match organised by Nokia as part of its ‘The Amazing Everyday' campaign at GVK One Mall, the bowler said all the hype about green pitches and bouncy tracks would not affect Indian players.

“India played very well in the last couple of tours to Australia and this is a very good opportunity for the team to win a test series in Australia,” said Irfan.

“It is always good to play against Australia and I still remember my childhood days when I used to get up early and watch the match live on television,” he said. On not being picked in the team for Australia, he said, “I cannot comment on this. My job is to play well and enjoy the game. I am happy that I made a comeback to the national side against the West Indies and will continue to play well.”

On his plans for this New Year eve, he said, “I will be at home celebrating with my family members.”

Meanwhile, a few visitors at the mall had great fun playing along with Irfan Pathan in a flash cricket match. The cricketer bowled and batted for some time along with the visitors.

Was whistle-blower victimised for doing her job?

PMO probe on as officials deny their own records

It could have been just another day at work. For IAS officer Smita Bharadwaj, it turned out to be anything but. The day she blew the whistle on financial irregularities and sought an inquiry, little did Ms. Bharadwaj know she had stirred up a hornet's nest.

Ms. Bharadwaj, a Madhya Pradesh cadre IAS officer, “joined on deputation” as Executive Director of the Synthetic and Rayon Textiles Export Promotion Council in 2009. In the course of her job, she found that the assistant director (Finance) “had taken higher grade pay for himself without taking due approvals which would have financial implications for the SRTEPC,” as stated in the Bombay High Court order.

The move ensured her swift and summary ouster. It provoked a welter of allegations and counter-allegations, an attempt to sully her service record and above all a string of peculiar denials from the government in courts of law. Everything but an official probe into the irregularities she had brought to notice.

“This is a case of a whistle-blower being victimised,” Nitish Bharadwaj, the officer's husband and former MP, told The Hindu.

CAT's opinion

Ms. Bharadwaj was prematurely repatriated; her deputation cancelled on grounds of poor performance. Noting that no explanation was sought before repatriating her, the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), where she challenged her repatriation, observed: “It was as if the applicant was seen as a stumbling block against smooth functioning of the SRTEPC and her summary removal from the scene was seen as the solution. That was done.”

The October 8, 2010, order concludes: “ ... we find that the impugned repatriation order is not sustainable in the eyes of law for being illegal.”

The High Court and the Supreme Court upheld the CAT order for reinstating Ms. Bharadwaj. However, till date she has not been reinstated in her position, compelling her to initiate contempt proceedings.

In line with the CAT order, the High Court observed that the Council found Ms. Bharadwaj to be “an inconvenient officer” and sought her “ouster.”

“There is no material on record even to reach a prima facie conclusion that the applicant was proved to be dishonest, high-handed or whimsical in her approach or that while discharging her duties she acted against the interests of the Council.”

Deputation denied, Ms. Bharadwaj's case stood legal scrutiny, but the government went to astonishing lengths to put its foot in its mouth.

Consider this. The Council and the Ministry of Textiles, on whose request Ms. Bharadwaj was deputed, told the courts she was never deputed in the first place. Charging her with “suppressing” facts before the CAT, the Council contended Ms. Bharadwaj was a “direct entrant.”

However, records of the Government of India's (GoI) Ministry of Textiles (MoT) and Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) obtained under the Right to Information Act by Mr. Bharadwaj prove otherwise.

The “Department has ‘no objection' to the proposed deputation ... for a period of five years,” wrote the DoPT in a letter dated January 23, 2009. An earlier office memorandum of the MoT stated that her “selection procedure” was to be “in conformity with the provision of para 1.2.1 of the Consolidated Deputation Guidelines.”

What's more, Ms. Bharadwaj's salary slip even shows a “deputation allowance,” paid by the SRTEPC every month. And the Council's request letters to the MoT asked for “cancellation of deputation.”

Upholding the appointment as deputation, the CAT noted, “... the sheer fact of her appointment in SRTEPC having been considered and treated as a case of deputation and cadre clearance ... her limited rights as a deputationist cannot be whittled down by the respondents by turning back and saying that hers was not a case of deputation.”

Private company

In another surprising twist, the Council contended that it was a private company. It countered nearly six decades of claims that it was set up by the Union government in 1954.

The nature of the Council is now a matter pending before courts. However, there lies a bizarre prelude of flip-flops whereby the Council is seen to owe allegiance to the GoI and deny it at will.

For instance, a year ago, when Council Chairman Ganesh Kumar Gupta's car was stopped from entering the office premises he shot off a letter to the director of DB Realty (which has the building's ownership rights).

“The Council,” Mr. Gupta said in the letter, “is an all-India apex organisation of around 4,000 exporters set up by the Ministry of Textiles, Government of India.” A copy of the letter dated November 9, 2010, obtained under the RTI, was furnished to the Tribunal.

The phrase ‘Set up by the Government of India, Ministry of Textiles' also finds a proud mention on Mr. Gupta's visiting card. Plus, a list of public authorities downloaded from the MoT's website by Mr. Bharadwaj and submitted to the court includes SRTEPC. Currently, SRTEPC is absent from this list.

In the Supreme Court, however, the Council did a stunning U-turn.

“It may be clarified at this stage that, on account of some oversight in the past, inadvertently, on some of the official documents, including letter-head ... it came to be historically written that it is ‘Set up by the Government of India, Ministry of Textiles',” says the Special Leave Petition filed by the Council on April 4, 2011.

When The Hindu spoke to Vinod Kumar Ladia, current Chairman of the Council, he said: “We are a private company, never set up by the GoI. We are only promoted by the GoI. We were set up under Section 25 of the Companies Act. The GoI does not hold a single share in the company ... She [Ms. Bharadwaj] was sent by the MoT. The matter is sub judice. There are legal points to be decided.”

Annual reports of the Council are tabled in Parliament. Its primary objectives of export promotion are akin to performing a government function for which the Council receives grants. As the courts have observed, it has “multiple trappings of a ‘State'.”


Contempt proceedings are under way, in the absence of compliance with the CAT order. In addition, Mr. Bharadwaj has written to the Prime Minister's Office seeking an inquiry against Textile Secretary Rita Menon and the Council, for “an unnecessary legal battle ... [and] wasting of public money and precious time of the judiciary as well as gross misconduct of senior IAS officers.”

Subsequently, in May, the Cabinet Secretariat sought “comments” from Ms. Menon, “on all the allegations levelled in the complaint.”

When contacted over the phone, Ms. Menon refused to comment saying the matter was sub judice. “I can't say anything. I have not heard of the Supreme Court order. I don't wish to say anything about the case,” she said.

It is apparent from the mountain of litigation in the case that the Ministry and the Council, which receives government funds, have spent a colossal amount of time and, expectedly, money in simply undoing their own records.

Refusal to comply

On condition of anonymity, an official from the Ministry said in an emailed response, “[The] government's position on the matter is that the case is sub judice and we have no comments to offer on the subject at this stage.”

“Any publication citing government officials other than the above would be rebutted by the government in the light of the above clarification.”

Mr. Bharadwaj refuted the stand that the matter is sub judice. “It is not. The Supreme Court has dismissed SRTEPC's SLP and its order was served to the MoT. A contempt notice has also been sent,” he said.


Smelling a rat in the whole affair, the DoPT, which acted on the MoT's requests for deputation and repatriation, asked the MoT to present the correct facts.

“The contention of the Respondents No. 3 [the MoT], 4 and 5 [SRTEPC] that the appointment of Ms. Smita Bharadwaj is not a deputation does not appear to be fully correct … The Ministry of Textiles is, therefore, requested to discuss the matter with the government standing counsel in Mumbai and apprise the Hon'ble CAT of the factual position,” as per the DoPT's letter obtained under the RTI.

Its internal note sheet dated November 15, 2010, clearly states, “…it appears that Ministry of Textiles has suppressed these documents [obtained under RTI] from the Hon'ble Tribunal and completely misrepresented DoPT.”

The CAT too pulled up the MoT for producing only “part of” the official records. “It does not give us any pleasure,” the CAT observed, “to mention that complete official records have not been produced before us.”

In the wake of the ongoing PMO inquiry, the MoT's position and its vain attempt at suppressing its records have been put under the scanner.

But at the heart of the matter is the question: Was Ms. Bharadwaj victimised for being a whistle-blower?

Woman strangled; rings, chain stolen

The police said that Nagarajaiah, a teacher at a private school, found the body of his wife, Anuradha (35), who was a teacher in a government school nearby, when he returned from work at 6.30 p.m.

According to the Rajankunte police, injury marks on the neck indicated that she was strangled to death. The police said that it could be murder for gain. “A gold chain and rings, both estimated at Rs. 60,000, were stolen from the house,” the police said.

The couple had been married for 14 years, and had two children aged 12 and 6, who were out playing at a nearby charitable organisation during the day.

Run overA 70-year-old man died after a train ran over him while he was crossing the railway tracks at Byrathi village on Sunday.

The body of Ram Balraj Singh, a resident of Geddalahalli in Hennur, was found by a railway gangman around 1.30 p.m. According to the Byappanahalli Railway police, Singh had left the house for a walk around 9.30 a.m.

“He was trying to cross the railway line (between Byappannahalli station and Yeshwanthpur station) when the train ran him over,” said the police.

In another case, a man died on the spot after he fell from a moving train near Heelalige Gate in Anekal on Saturday morning. The police are yet to identify the man.

Year-long celebration

A statement by the Ramanujan Mathematical Society on the series of activities planned in 2012 to mark the anniversary

December 22, 2012 marks the 125th birth anniversary of Srinivasa Ramanujan. The Ramanujan Mathematical Society (RMS) has planned a series of mathematical activities through the year 2012 by way of celebration. Towards this end, a National Committee for the celebrations has been constituted with Minister for Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal as the chair. An Organising Committee has been formed with Professor M.S. Raghunathan, president of the RMS, as chair, and Professor Dinesh Singh, secretary of the RMS, as secretary. The Organising Committee will formulate and implement programmes and projects to be undertaken as part of the celebration, while the National Committee will supervise the work of the Organising Committee.

These are some of the activities proposed for the year 2012, which is to be declared National Mathematics Year by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who will inaugurate the celebrations on December 26, 2011 in Chennai. The inaugural function will be held at the Madras University Centenary Auditorium at 10 a.m. The Prime Minister will also announce that December 22 is to be celebrated as National Mathematics Day from 2012 on. Mr. Sibal will also address the gathering.

A commemorative stamp will be issued on the occasion. A new edition of the Ramanujan Notebooks, published by the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in 1957 (which contains facsimile images of pages from the notebooks maintained by Ramanujan to record some of his mathematical discoveries), will be released on the occasion. Also at the function, Professor Robert Kanigel, author of an excellent biography of Ramanujan, will be felicitated.

The mathematical activities that are planned are meant to cater to diverse sections of society all over the country. A programme meant for the public is a lecture tour by Prof. Kanigel covering Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Delhi.

The Organising Committee is also planning to bring out translations of Prof. Kanigel's biography in Indian languages. Translators for Hindi, Marathi and Tamil have been identified and commissioned. The committee is trying to locate good translators in other languages as well.

The Organising Committee is in touch with mathematicians in different parts of the country to organise programmes for college and school students in their respective regions. Efforts will be made to reach out to students in smaller towns.

Forums for mathematics teachers in colleges are being planned in different regions. These forums will meet periodically to discuss pedagogical and other professional issues. They will hold enrichment lectures to help their members to acquaint themselves with happenings in current research.

About 20 eminent mathematicians known for their outstanding expository skills are being invited to visit India for a week and deliver five or six talks. These will survey a topic of their choice, starting at a level that will be accessible to first-year PhD students but leading up to current developments. Invitations have been sent out to many and most have accepted, but dates are not confirmed in any of these cases. Announcements of each of these lecture courses (which have been named ‘Mathematical Panorama Lectures') will be made when the dates are firmed up.

Circulars about them will be sent (at least three months in advance) to university departments, and they will also be announced on the websites of the RMS and other leading mathematics institutes. These lectures will be organised in one of the following metros: Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Mumbai.

In December 2012 (December 17-22) there will be an international conference in Delhi on mathematics related to Ramanujan's work. An International Scientific Committee (chaired by Professor Bruce Berndt) has given a list of speakers to be invited. Translating books such as What is Mathematics by Courant & Robbins into Indian languages is another project on the anvil.

Apart from these activities, there are two major projects that are to be initiated during 2012, though they cannot be completed within that year. One is the establishment of a mathematics museum in Chennai (to be named after Ramanujan). The second project is to produce a documentary film on the history of Indian mathematics.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Cabinet to discuss lokpal today, Anna calls it worthless

The union cabinet is likely to meet on Tuesday to approve the contentious Lokpal Bill even as Anna Hazare described the government draft as "worthless and good for nothing". If it gets the Cabinet nod the bill will be passed in Parliament on Dec 21.
As the winter session ends Dec 22, the government may extend it for a day Dec 23 or may reconvene parliament from Dec 27-29 post-Christmas holidays to pass the Lokpal bill.

Parliamentary affairs minister PK Bansal has informed the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) about the government's intention to extend the session.

Both parties have also issued whips to their members to be present in parliament till Dec 22. 

Sources said an extension might be required as the draft bill has over 60 amendments and more could come from opposition members when the legislation is debated in parliament.

Sources said keeping in mind the high number of amendments, the government is likely to bring a new bill in the Lok Sabha for clarity after withdrawing the one already introduced.

The cabinet meeting could not be held Monday after home minister P Chidambaram found fault with the drafting of the bill.

A crack team including Chidambaram, law minister Salman Khurshid and minister of state in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) V Narayanasamy - all lawyers by training - scrutinised the government draft for any loopholes in a meeting which lasted over two-and-half hours.

Khurshid later told reporters the final draft will be cleared by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday night.

According to sources, the bill is likely to bring the prime minister under the ombudsman with riders. Sources said the government is not keen on bringing the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) completely under the Lokpal, as being demanded by Anna Hazare.

In a first, the bill, which will suggest a constitutional status for Lokpal, will provide for reservation for SC/ST, women and minorities in the anti-graft ombudsman.

While the government is open to bring the 57 lakh lower bureaucracy under the Lokpal, with proper procedures, it is unlikely to bring a citizen's charter under it. The government plans to introduce a separate bill for the purpose, said sources.

Government sources said they hope the draft bill would be acceptable to a large number of people in the house except those who are opposed to the concept of Lokpal.

Minister of state for planning Ashwani Kumar said: "The government and Congress are trying to build consensus on the Lokpal by consulting its allies and parties in opposition."

However, sounding a word of caution, union minister Farooq Abdullah said parliament should keep in mind that "a super government to the government is not formed while creating the Lokpal".

Meanwhile, in Pune Hazare termed the proposed bill as "worthless and good for nothing" and cancelled his plan to visit Delhi on Monday.

"We will fill up jails in New Year," said Hazare reiterating he would launch a new movement, 'Jail Bharo Andolan' (fill up jails), from Jan 1 in front of the houses of Member of Parliament (MPs) if they attempt to dilute the Lokpal bill.

Centre wants to delay UP division: Mayawati

Taking exception to the central government's decision to return the proposal for division of Uttar Pradesh into four parts, chief minister Mayawati on Tuesday accused it of trying to shirk responsibility on the issue for political reasons. Addressing a press conference in Lucknow barely a few hours after receiving a letter from the central government, Mayawati said it was a "blatant violation of constitutional provisions" and aimed at "dillydallying" the all-important issue.

Referring to the union home secretary's letter with as many as eight key queries relating to modalities for sharing of finances and assets of the parent state, Mayawati called them a "deliberate roadblock".

Mayawati sought to point out it was the ultimate prerogative of the centre to create a new state.

“Nowhere does the Indian constitution say that the process of carving out a new state has to be initiated by a state government or by the assembly of the concerned state assembly,” she said.

“The national parliament is fully empowered to suo motu initiate the creation of a new state and after passing such a resolution it has to be sent to the president, who may seek the opinion of the concerned state legislature,” she said.

Mayawati even cited the provisions of Article 3 of the Indian Constitution: "Parliament may by law form a new state by separation of territory from any state or by uniting two or more states or parts of states or by uniting any territory to a part of any state.” 

The article says, "Parliament can also increase or decrease the area of any state as also alter the boundaries or even the name of any state in the country.”

Further pointing out that the constitution also provides for initiating the entire process by the president too, she said, "Fact remains that the state government has no role to play in the creation of another state; and it was amply evident that by shooting off such a letter and raising irrelevant queries, the central government is simply trying to shirk its responsibility."

Citing the case of the formation of Uttarakhand, Mayawati urged the centre to follow the same process.

"Let me remind the central government that the resolution for formation of Uttarakhand was passed by the state legislature on April 24, 1997, and forwarded to the central government, which in turn returned it to the state legislature together with a letter from the president, following which a resolution was formally adopted by the state legislature March 30, 2000," she pointed out.

Mayawati had Nov 21 managed to get a resolution passed by the state assembly for division of the state into four smaller states - Purvanchal in eastern Uttar Pradesh, Paschim Pradesh in the west, Avadh Pradesh in the centre and Bundelkhand in the south.

According to her, "The dilly-dallying tactics adopted by the centre has made it clear they are just not serious about the issue and are simply trying to pass the buck to the state government for obvious political reasons."

"Right from day one when the BSP government was formed in 2007, I have been pursuing the issue with the prime minister, to whom a few letters were also written by me in this regard. However, since the centre never cared to pay any heed to our repeated appeals, we were left with no choice but to initiate the process by formally getting a resolution passed by the state assembly and then forwarding it to the central government."

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Citizen's charter bill tabled in Parliament

The citizen's charter bill that spells out responsibilities of government departments towards citizens, their right to delivery of goods and services, and redressal of their grievances in a time-bound manner was introduced in Lok Sabha on Tuesday.

Minister of state in the Prime

Minister's Office (PMO) V Narayanasamy introduced the Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011, which was cleared by the cabinet earlier this month.

The government has gone ahead with the bill despite severe opposition from Anna Hazare and his team who want the provisions to be kept within the ambit of the proposed anti-corruption lokpal bill.

The bill has been referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee that will prepare its report and submit it to the house before the legislation is debated and passed.

The highlights of the bill are:

- Every department or the authority would be asked to publish a citizen's charter, listing all the services it renders and the possible time frame within which the goods and services could be delivered.

- It also mandates that every government department should create an information and facilitation centre which may include a customer helpline or helpdesk to handle complaints and guide citizens.

- It also suggests appointment of grievance redress officer in every department or public authority who can provide all necessary assistance to citizens in filing complaints.

- The officer has to ensure that any complainant is informed in writing about the action taken on his complaint.

- If this is not done, a complainant can appeal to a designated authority who will have authority to summon accused officers and question them within 30 days of the complaint, and if proven guilty they could face penalty. They will also have to compensate the citizen.

- If a complainant feels unsatisfied with the designated authority's decision, he or she can approach public grievances redressal commissions which would be established at both central and state levels.

Clinton urges new NKorean leaders to choose peace

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appealed to North Korea's new leadership to choose a path to peace, respect human rights and improve relations with their neighbors.

In a statement released late Monday, Clinton said the US is deeply concerned about the welfare of the

North Korean people.

She said the US is ready to help North Korea improve conditions for its people if the government is willing to work with the international community to "usher in a new era of peace, prosperity and lasting security on the Korean peninsula."

Clinton's comments came 24 hours after North Korea announced the death of leader Kim Jong Il and the succession of his son, Kim Jong Un.

Earlier on Monday, Clinton called for a stable transition but did not offer US assistance.

Declare Bhagavad Gita as national book, demands BJP

 International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) members hold posters as they chant devotional songs in front of the Consulate General of Russian Fedaration, to protest against Russia's ban on Bhagvad Gita in Kolkata. (AFP Photo)Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sushma Swaraj on Tuesday demanded in Lok Sabha that the government declare the Bhagavad Gita a "national book", after a Russian court decided to ban the holy book on grounds that it was extremist literature.

Her demand found resonance with her

colleague Tarun Vijay in Rajya Sabha.

"Can sun be banned, Himalayas be banned...?" he asked.

Hoping to extract political mileage too, Vijay said, "The matter came up during the prime minister's visit to Russia. Did the prime minister raise the issue?"

Several members cutting across party lines were furious.

Rajya Sabha deputy chairman K Rahman Khan said "the entire house agrees with this and joins in condemning this".

Stating that it was the work of "misdirected and motivated individuals", external affairs minister SM Krishna sought to clarify the government's position in the Lok Sabha, "The officials of India in Moscow and our ambassador have been in regular touch with representatives of Iskcon. We have taken up the matter at highest levels with the Russian government."

He said he hoped the matter would be resolved keeping in mind India's civilisational values.

The case, which has been going on since June, seeks a ban on a Russian translation of the "Bhagavad Gita As It Is" written by AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

In a last-ditch effort, Hindus in Russia had appealed to the Siberian court to seek the views of the nation's human rights commission on the religious text before pronouncing its verdict. The verdict will now be pronounced Dec 28.

Indians in Moscow, numbering about 15,000, and followers of the Iskcon movement in Russia have appealed to the Indian government to intervene to resolve the issue.

As the controversy escalated, Russian ambassador Alexander Kadakin said here he condemned the "madmen" seeking the ban, and underlined that Russia was a secular country.

"Russia is a secular and democratic country where all religions enjoy equal respect… Even more applicable it is to the holy scriptures of various faiths -- whether it is the Bible, the Holy Quran, Torah, Avesta and, of course, Bhagvad Gita -- the great source of wisdom for the people of India and the world.

"I consider it categorically inadmissible when any holy scripture is taken to the courts. For all believers these texts are sacred," he stressed.

The case in a Russian court to ban the Bhagavad Gita continued to create an uproar on Tuesday with political parties voicing their concern in parliament while the government assured that it had taken up the issue at the "highest levels". Russia's envoy here denounced the "madmen" seeking to proscribe the sacred text.

As early as Nov 1, in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's principal secretary Pulok Chatterji, Krishna devotees urged the government to use "some high-level ministerial visits" to Moscow, ahead of Manmohan Singh's own trip, to ensure that the sacred text was not banned.

"As a reason the affidavit quoted an assessment by a panel of expert stating that Krishna is evil and not compatible with Christian views," said the letter, written by Iskcon's governing body commissioner Gopal Krishna Goswami.

Since the letter was written, six Indian ministers and top officials visited Russia, culminating in Manmohan Singh's visit Dec 15-17 for a bilateral summit with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Digvijaya accuses Team Anna of being dictatorial

Taking potshots at Team Anna, Congress leader Digvijaya Singh on Tuesday accused it of acting "dictatorial" and said it would find an excuse to oppose the lokpal bill no matter what the government does.
Singh, a strong critic of Anna Hazare and his anti-corruption campaign, also alleged that the proposed fast of Anna is being shifted to Mumbai not because of weather conditions but due to the western metropolis providing "greater opportunity" for them to collect money for their NGOs.

"They have a political agenda and no matter what the government does or says they would always find one way or the other to oppose," Singh told reporters here.

He said different thoughts and proposals have now emerged and the government has given hearing to each one of them.

Everyone should allow the "collective wisdom" of Parliament to frame the legislation, he said, adding "If something is missing, it can again be amendedbut  this kind of a threat, that you would pass only what we have said is I think not only I would say dictatorial but not right in a functional democracy."

Taking a dig at Hazare's team, he said in a tweet, "Team Anna is being very cruel to Anna. I strongly protest. They all keep the 75-year-old hungry and have a gala feast at his expense".

Singh's comments came on the heels of Hazare threatening to launch fast from December 27 if Parliament does not pass Lokpal by then.

On Team Anna's decision to shift the proposed fast from New Delhi to Mumbai, he said, "Venue of Anna's fast shifted to Mumbai. Is the reason cold winter or a greater opportunity to raise funds for NGOs of Team Anna?"

First US-Japan-India trilateral meeting

As India, United States and Japan held their first trilateral meeting in Washington, Tokyo and Washington affirmed a deepening of strategic ties with India and made it clear the dialogue was not directed against China.
In fact after a meeting with visiting Japanese foreign minister Koichiro Gemba on Monday shortly before the official level trilateral, secretary of state Hillary Clinton said Washington supported a similar trilateral meeting between US, Japan and China as proposed by Tokyo.

"The United States supports a meeting between Japan, China, and ourselves, as foreign minister Gemba recently proposed," she said at a press conference after the meeting which "covered global issues like Iran's nuclear ambitions and the situation in Afghanistan."

Echoing Clinton, Gemba citing the Japan-US-India trilateral dialogue "as a specific example of collaboration" said: "On India, as the secretary suggested, we affirmed that Japan and the United States are deepening strategic relationship with India."

The meeting, at officials' level, was co-chaired by assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia Robert Blake and assistant secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell. India was represented by Jawed Ashraf and Gautam Bambawale, joint secretaries in charge of Americas and East Asia respectively.

Later in a press release, the Indian embassy said at their first ever trilateral dialogue the three sides "exchanged views on a wide range of regional and global issues of mutual interest.

"These discussions mark the beginning of a series of consultations among our three governments, who share common values and interests across the Asia-Pacific and the globe.

"All sides welcomed the frank and comprehensive nature of the discussions, and agreed the talks help advance their shared values and interests," it said.

The group agreed to meet again in Tokyo in 2012 to continue their deliberations.

Driven by Tokyo and finalised during then foreign secretary Nirupama Rao's visit to Japan in April 2010, the dialogue is also part of New Delhi's effort to go beyond the stated Look East policy and engage North Asia as well.

The trilateral has been in the making for a long time, but the first meeting came at a time when China is becoming increasingly assertive in East Asia and the US is seeking to ramp up its engagement with the Asia-Pacific region that includes some of the fast-growing economies in the world.

Meanwhile, Hemant K Singh, former Indian ambassador to Japan and Karl F Inderfurth, former US assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, who have been part of the track II trilateral meetings said in a commentary that "relations between the three (nations) are in a transformational stage."

The Washington trilateral "provides an opportunity to begin the process of operationalising Indo-Pacific cooperation as a seamless construct in areas such as maritime security cooperation, counter-terrorism, counter-piracy, counter-proliferation, disaster relief and humanitarian assistance," they said.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Fog covers part of Delhi, flight ops unaffected at IGI

Flight operations were largely unaffected at the Indira Gandhi International airport in New Delhi which witnessed shallow fog on Tuesday morning. Though some flights were delayed, it was due to poor weather conditions at the destinations. Most of the flights departing were largely on schedule, an airport official said.

Flights mostly to cities like Lucknow, Port Blair, Kolkata, Patna, Chandigarh were delayed due to poor weather conditions there.

Though the Met Department had predicted dense fog and issued a warning, the airport largely remained free from fog with runway visibility above 2,000 metres on the main runway through the night.

But the visibility started to dip around 8.30am.

The visibility at the new runway (29/11) and second runway (27/09) was low, forcing authorities to implement low visibility procedures.

According to Met Department, this is a temporary relief as western Disturbance (WD) is passing through the region due to which city experiences easterly winds during the day and Westerly during the nights.

"The situation would become clear by December 23 or 24 when WD would pass away. We have been issuing fog warning as fog had enveloped whole of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh since December 6," a Met Official said.

On Monday, more than 50 flights were delayed as dense fog blanketed the airport causing inconvenience to passengers.

Meanwhile, poor visibility also led to a 10-car pile-up on the Greater Noida Expressway at around 4.30am on Tuesday morning.

The collisions took place due to a container truck that broke down in the middle of the road.

Around 200 trains were affected on Monday due to dense fog. The situation is expected to worsen for rest of the 2011 and first 15 days of January 2012.

Freezing cold, fog claim 65 lives in UP

The cold wave sweeping large parts of Uttar Pradesh over the past three days has claimed the lives of 65 people so far.
According to an official source, "most of the dead were pavement or slum dwellers, with very little or virtually no woollens to protect them from the biting chill".

State meteorological department director JP Gupta has forecast some respite from biting cold over the next day. "According to our estimates, day temperature is likely to rise and the dense fog too is expected to thin down, along with the possibility of a bright sun in the next 24 hours," he said.

Heavy fog conditions have disrupted not only rail and air services across the state, but even road commuters are having a tough time travelling, particularly at night.

Meanwhile, the state administration has ordered closure of all schools for students up to Class 8, to protect children from the adverse weather conditions.

Govt accepts Kejriwal's resignation after six years

Government has finally accepted the resignation of Team Anna member Arvind Kejriwal from the Indian Revenue Service (IRS), almost six years after he quit the job.
The acceptance of resignation came 45 days after Kejriwal deposited over Rs nine lakh as dues to settle the issue.

"The government has finally accepted my resignation from the Income Tax Department. I received the letter today," Kejriwal told PTI. He had quit the IRS in February 2006.

Kejriwal, who was a joint commissioner in the IT Department when he quit, had earlier said he will fight in court to retrieve the money he had paid as dues.

He had on November three submitted a cheque of over Rs 9,27,787 along with a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, asking him not to trouble his six friends who had given him an interest-free loan to settle his dues.

The 43-year-old activist, a 1995-batch IRS officer, had decided to settle the dues in an attempt to blunt attacks by his detractors.

Government has claimed that he had violated bond rules by quitting the service before completing mandatory three years of service after going on a study leave on full pay. However, Kejriwal said he took non-paid leave and quit the service after serving bond conditions.

Kejriwal had taken study leave on full pay for two years from November 1, 2000 after signing a bond that he would return the salary if he resigns or retires or fails to resume duty within three years of his study leave. He rejoined on November 1, 2002 but took non-paid leave after 18 months.

Government argued that taking leave after 18 months was violation of bond conditions but this was contested by Kejriwal who claimed that he did not "violate" any bond provisions and resigned from the job after the stipulated three years of rejoining duty following his study leave.

The Office of the Chief Commissioner of Income Tax (CCIT) had on August five issued notice to Kejriwal asking him to pay Rs 9.27 lakh, which Kejriwal and other Team Anna members had termed as an action of the government's "dirty tricks department" under instructions from political bosses.

Kejriwal had said he has been trying to convince the government for the past five years that he has not committed any wrong.

The Income Tax department had set October 27 as the deadline for him to pay the dues but he had failed to comply with it, saying he needed more time to consult his friends to take a final decision on the matter. He finally cleared the dues on November 3.

India denies Oz reports of warm-up game boycott

Team India has denied all reports of the team walking out of the ongoing three-day warm-up game against Cricket Australia Chairman's XI. Australian media reported that the Indian team wanted to boycott the game and head to Melbourne for better practice.

"The story is completely

baseless. There is no truth in it. Rain is part of cricket. You don't leave a venue only because it's raining," said the Indian team's media manager G S Walia in Canberra on Tuesday.

It rained heavily on the night prior to the start of the three-day game between the tourists and Cricket Australia Chairman's XI, forcing the game to begin only after lunch on Monday.

The Australian media has gone to town stating that India were contemplating heading for Melbourne for better practice sessions, leading up to the first Test starting there on December 26.

The reports said that a member of the support staff, travelling with the Indian team, had actually enquired with the groundsman at the Manuka Oval about the effect persistent rain would have on the three-day match.

The groundsman has also been quoted as saying that a "mysterious" member of the Indian team's camp suggested they might move to Melbourne for practice.

"I don't know who is this member of the Indian squad they are referring to. There is none amongst us who has or could have made this suggestion," said Walia.

The team, on its part, is treating the episode as a "comic relief" and joking about the identity of this "mysterious" person who could have made the suggestion.

While stirring up the matter, the Australian media has drawn parallel with the "monkeygate" episode of the Sydney Test of the previous tour four years ago and mentioned about the high-handed manner in which Indian Cricket Board operates.

India takes Gita issue with Russian Federal authorities

India has strongly taken up the demand for banning Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita, which a group linked to the Christian Orthodox Church has described as 'extremist', with the Russian authorities, Indian ambassador to Russia Ajai Malhotra said.

"The matter has been taken up by the

Indian embassy in Moscow with the Russian government at senior official level, seeking its favourable and positive intervention in the matter," Malhotra said, as the court in Tomsk postponed its ruling on the petition banning Bhagawad Gita as 'extremist' and allegedly 'sowing' social-discord in Russia.

Describing Bhagawad Gita as extremist, a group linked to the Christian Orthodox Church has demanded ban due to conflict of interests between the Russian followers of Lord Krishna and the local authorities in the Siberian region of Tomsk.

Malhotra personally and his mission have publicly expressed their support to the local chapter of International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).

The final hearing in the Tomsk district court is scheduled for December 28, as the court agreed to seek the opinion of the Russian Ombudsman on Human Rights in Tomsk Region and of Indologists from Moscow and St Petersburg (all of whom favour dismissal of the case).

The case pertains to the legal relationship between a Russian registered socio-cultural organisation and the local authorities.

Nevertheless, the embassy in Moscow has been publicly supportive and sympathetic in the matter.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Lokpal meet postponed, draft still not ready

The Union cabinet meeting to approve the contentious lokpal bill has been postponed and it will meet later in the day as the draft of the bill is still being worked out, reports said on Tuesday.

Anna Hazare described the government draft as "worthless and good for


If it gets the cabinet nod the bill will be passed in Parliament on Dec 21.

As the winter session ends Dec 22, the government may extend it for a day Dec 23 or may reconvene Parliament from Dec 27-29 post-Christmas holidays to pass the Lokpal bill.

Parliamentary affairs minister PK Bansal has informed the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) about the government's intention to extend the session.

Both parties have also issued whips to their members to be present in Parliament till Dec 22. 

Sources said an extension might be required as the draft bill has over 60 amendments and more could come from opposition members when the legislation is debated in Parliament.

Sources said keeping in mind the high number of amendments, the government is likely to bring a new bill in the Lok Sabha for clarity after withdrawing the one already introduced.

The cabinet meeting could not be held Monday after home minister P Chidambaram found fault with the drafting of the bill.

A crack team including home minister P Chidambaram, law minister Salman Khurshid and minister of state in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) V Narayanasamy - all lawyers by training - scrutinised the government draft for any loopholes in a meeting which lasted over two-and-half hours.

Khurshid later told reporters the final draft will be cleared by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday night.

According to sources, the bill is likely to bring the Prime Minister under the ombudsman with riders. Sources said the government is not keen on bringing the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) completely under the Lokpal, as being demanded by Hazare.

In a first, the bill, which will suggest a constitutional status for Lokpal, will provide for reservation for SC/ST, women and minorities in the anti-graft ombudsman.

While the government is open to bring the 57 lakh lower bureaucracy under the Lokpal, with proper procedures, it is unlikely to bring a citizen's charter under it. The government plans to introduce a separate bill for the purpose, said sources.

Government sources said they hope the draft bill would be acceptable to a large number of people in the house except those who are opposed to the concept of Lokpal.

Minister of state for planning Ashwani Kumar said: "The government and Congress are trying to build consensus on the Lokpal by consulting its allies and parties in opposition."

However, sounding a word of caution, union minister Farooq Abdullah said Parliament should keep in mind that "a super government to the government is not formed while creating the Lokpal".

Meanwhile, in Pune Hazare termed the proposed bill as "worthless and good for nothing" and cancelled his plan to visit Delhi on Monday.

"We will fill up jails in New Year," said Hazare reiterating he would launch a new movement, 'Jail Bharo Andolan' (fill up jails), from Jan 1 in front of the houses of Member of Parliament (MPs) if they attempt to dilute the Lokpal bill.

Maoists attack CRPF camp in Gaya, no casualties

Heavily armed Maoists attacked CRPF's elite Cobra battalion at their camp in Dumaria police station in Bihar's Gaya district on Sunday, a police official said.

Heavily armed Maoist guerrillas gathered outside the Cobra battalion camp around 8.30pm and fired on the security forces who fired to retaliate, Magadh range DIG, N Hasnain Khan said.

Encounter between Maoists and CRPF jawans was still going on, he said. There was no report of injuries or casualties from either side, Khan said.

Neeraj Grover murder: No relief for Emile Jerome

Observing that there was sufficient circumstantial evidence, the Bombay high court on Tuesday rejected the bail plea of naval officer Emile Jerome, convicted in the Neeraj Grover murder case. "There is sufficient circumstantial evidence. At the most we can expedite hearing on the appeals filed by the accused against the conviction and the state government's appeal seeking enhancement of sentence," a division bench of Justices VM Kanade and ML Tahalayani observed.

Rejecting the bail plea, the bench expedited hearing of the appeals and posted it for hearing in February.

The court had on the last hearing remarked that there was enough circumstantial evidence and that the trial court had gone on a wrong footing in the beginning itself by strongly relying on the retracted confession of co-accused Maria Susairaj.

The trial court had acquitted both Jerome and his fiance Susairaj on murder charges after observing that it was not a premeditated murder.

Jerome was convicted for culpable homicide and sentenced to ten years imprisonment and Susairaj was convicted on lesser charge of destruction of evidence and sentenced to three years imprisonment. Since she had spent more time in jail as an undertrial, Susairaj was freed a day after the sentencing.

The high court has admitted appeals filed by Jerome and Susairaj against their conviction and also an appeal by the state government seeking enhancement of their sentences.

Shirish Gupte, counsel for Jerome, blamed Susairaj for the entire conspiracy and murder.

He argued that Jerome came to Mumbai only in the afternoon of May 7, 2008.

"He met his fiancé Susairaj and took her for shopping. Jerome does not know what happened in her flat the previous night," Gupte said.

Also, the prosecution does not have evidence to show that Grover was alive when Jerome reached Mumbai, the defence counsel argued saying even time of Grover's death has still not been established.

Rajesh More, additional public prosecutor argued that Grover's murder was premeditated. Susairaj felt "cheated" by Grover who failed to get her a role in television serials, claims prosecution.

According to police, Grover was stabbed to death by Jerome after the victim got into a feud with the naval officer on May 7, 2008. The alleged murder took place at the suburban residence of Susairaj. The two accused had allegedly cut the body into several pieces before disposing it of at Manor Jungles on the outskirts of the city.

Opposition wants Chidambaram's scalp, disrupts Parliament

 Home minister P Chidambaram speaks in Lok Sabha in New Delhi. PTI/TV grabOpposition MPs on Tuesday heckled home minister P Chidambaram to prevent him from speaking in Lok Sabha, part of the move to boycott the former finance minister in Parliament for his alleged complicity in the 2G spectrum allotment case.

Led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), MPs

rose from their seats and booed Chidambaram when he began replying to a question by Congress' Meenakshi Natarajan on human trafficking.

There was noisy protests and slogans whenever the home minister stood up to answer questions on issues like human trafficking and the present status of setting up of National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) and the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC).

Though barely audible, the home minister appeared unfazed and continued with his reply.

Demanding Chidambaram's resignation for his alleged role in irregularities in allotment of the 2G telecom spectrum when he was the finance minister, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) members had decided to boycott the home minister at the start of the winter session that began Nov 22.

The BJP also briefly disrupted proceedings in Rajya Sabha.

Soon after the House mourned the deaths in southern Philippines due to cyclone, Chandan Mitra (BJP) raised the issue of Chidambaram allegedly helping his former client, a charge that has been vehemently denied by the home minister.

BJP members also expressed anguish over the move in Siberia to ban Bhagavad Gita.

Chairman Hamid Ansari said a notice for zero hour mention has been accepted and the issue can be raised them.

An agitated NC Pany (BJP) demanded resignation of Chidambaram for his alleged role in the 2G scam.

He also said that the home minister was allegedly behind the midnight crackdown by the Delhi Police at the venue of yoga guru Ramdev's agitation at Ramlila grounds here.

Ansari disallowed Mitra, who was supported by AIADMK, and took up the first listed question of the day.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Philippine storm toll exceeds 1,000

The toll of dead and missing from a cyclone that swept the southern Philippines has exceeded 1,000, a government agency said Tuesday as cities prepared mass burials for the victims.

    The government disaster monitoring council said in its latest update that tropical storm Washi had left 957 dead and 49 missing after lashing the southern island of Mindanao and surrounding areas over the weekend.
The day before, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council had listed 662 dead and 82 missing while the Philippine Red Cross gave a tally of 713 dead and 563 missing.
The southern port cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan were the worst affected with 579 and 279 fatalities respectively, the disaster management council said in a statement.
Disaster council chief Benito Ramos had told AFP that the death toll was rising as the bodies of people who were washed out to sea were floating to the surface.
"They were underwater for the first three days but now, in their state of decomposition, they are bloated and floating to the surface," Ramos told AFP.
Storm Washi brought heavy rains that spawned overflowing rivers, flash floods and landslides that struck coastal slum areas in the dead of night, taking residents by surprise.
The huge numbers of dead have overwhelmed funeral parlours in the region with dead bodies lying everywhere.
Both Cagayan de Oro and Iligan authorities are preparing mass burials of unidentified bodies to avoid health concerns and the overpowering stench.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino is due to visit both cities on Tuesday to survey the damage and check on relief efforts.

Sensex falls 5th day to 28-month closing low

The BSE Sensex fell for a fifth session in a row on Tuesday, dropping 1.3% to their lowest close in 28 months, as risk aversion deepened in the absence of policy initiatives to revive slowing domestic growth.

Investor confidence was further dented when European shares initially

extended a two-week slide after a euro zone plan to boost crisis funds parked with the IMF failed to reach a hoped-for target.

Engineering and construction conglomerate Larsen and Toubro, which has been facing a slowdown in new orders as companies put off investment in large projects, was among the big losers.

"The whole India story was built around just one word -- growth," said Jagannadham Thunuguntla, research head at SMC Global Securities.

"Now that growth is not there and nobody is interested in this market."

The main 30-share BSE index shed 1.33%, or 204.26 points, to 15,175.08, its lowest close since August, 2009.

All but 5 of its components ended in the red.

Industrial output in India fell for the first time in two years in October, shrinking 5.1%, and the central bank held interest rates unchanged last week after 13 rounds of increases since early 2010.

Pushed to a corner by a series of corruption scandals, the ruling coalition has been unable to reach a consensus on policy decisions that are needed to lift investment and growth.

Foreign funds have pulled out a net $300 million from Indian shares this year till last Friday, after ploughing in a record of more than $29 billion in 2010.

"It is tough to find many optimists willing to bet their money on Indian equities at the moment," brokerage IIFL said in a research note on Tuesday.

Swelling fiscal deficit, widening current account gap, high interest rates, slowing economy and policy inaction were driving investors away, it said.

The benchmark BSE index has lost 5.2% over five sessions, taking the fall to 26% since the start of January and making it the worst performing major stock market in the world.

Larsen & Toubro fell 5.3% to 977.70 rupees, its lowest close since May, 2009.

Energy major Reliance Industries, which has about 10% weight on the main index, fell 3% and Bharti Airtel, the country's largest mobile operator, shed 3.9%.

Production cuts announced by European steelmakers this month because of gloomy outlook for steel demand weighed on metal makers.

Tata Steel, the world's seventh biggest steelmaker, dropped 5.7%, while Jindal Steel and Power fell 3.8%.

Media firm Network 18 bucked the trend and rose 6.9% after a newspaper report Mukesh Ambani, India's richest man and head of oil and gas major Reliance Industries , is seeking to buy a stake in the company.

A Reliance spokesman said the company was not interested in buying a stake in Network 18.

The 50-share NSE index fell 1.5% to 4,544.20.

There were about 2.8 losers for every gainer in the broader market. About 573 million shares changed hands.

At 1030 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares was up 0.4%. World stocks, as measured by the MSCI world equity index, rose 0.3%.

Taliban is not America's enemy, says Joe Biden

 US Vice President Joe Biden speaks to students at Sichuan University in Chengdu. Biden is in the southwest manufacturing hub after talks in Beijing during which leaders of the world's second largest economy expressed confidence in the ability of the US to overcome its present fiscal difficulties.The United States has said that Taliban is not an enemy of America, a move seen as the latest effort of the Obama administration to send an olive branch to the terrorist outfit that ruled Afghanistan before 9/11.

"Look, the Taliban per se is not our enemy. That's critical," US

Vice President Joe Biden said in an interview to the Newsweek magazine.

"There is not a single statement that the (US) President has ever made in any of our policy assertions that the Taliban is our enemy because it threatens US interests," he said.

If, in fact, the Taliban is able to collapse the existing government, which is cooperating with us in keeping the bad guys from being able to do damage to us, then that becomes a problem for us. So there's a dual track here, Biden added.

"One, continue to keep the pressure on al Qaeda and continue to diminish them. Two, put the government in a position where they can be strong enough that they can negotiate with and not be overthrown by the Taliban," he said.

"And at the same time try to get the Taliban to move in the direction to see to it that they, through reconciliation, commit not to be engaged with al Qaeda or any other organization that they would harbor to do damage to us and our allies," Biden said.

White House press secretary Jay Carney, supporting Biden's statement, said the Vice President does not regret having said this.

"We didn't invade Afghanistan. We did not send US military personnel into Afghanistan because the Taliban were in power. They had been in power. We went into Afghanistan because al Qaeda had launched an attack against the US from Afghanistan," he said.

Rupee down by 11 paise against US dollar

The rupee fell by 11 paise to Rs 52.97 per US dollar in early trade on the Interbank Foreign Exchange on Tuesday amid increased demand for the American currency from importers and strengthening of the dollar against the euro overseas.

However, a higher opening in the equity market

capped the rupee losses.

Dealers said apart from dollar gains against the euro -- which dipped to a 11-month low amid a debt crisis in the common currency region -- increased demand for the dollar from importers mainly weighed on the rupee sentiment.

However, a higher opening in the equity market limited the losses.

The rupee had lost 16 paise to close at Rs 52.86/87 against the US dollar in the previous session due to fresh demand for the American currency from importers amid weak stock markets.

The BSE benchmark Sensex recovered by 68.79 points, or 0.44%, to 15,448.13 in opening trade on Tuesday.

PM okays lokpal draft, to be tabled on Dec 27

The Lokpal bill will be tabled in Parliament on December 27, with the winter session being extended till December 29 to pass the anti-graft law, official sources said.The government has taken this decision to keep the promise made by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in August that the Lokpal bill will be passed in the winter session, the sources added.

It also wants to defuse the agitation of Anna Hazare, who has threatened to go on a fast from December 27 if a stringent Lokpal bill is not passed.

As per the new schedule, both houses of parliament will adjourn for Christmas holidays December 22 and re-convene Dec 27.

The lokpal bill is scheduled to be come up for approval in the cabinet meeting to be held at 7.30 pm on Tuesday. It will be tabled alongwith the whistleblowers' bill, labour minister Harish Rawat told IANS.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Russia denounces 'madmen' seeking ban on Gita

Russian ambassador to India Alexander Kadakin on Tuesday strongly denounced the "neighbourhood madmen" who are seeking a ban on the Bhagvad Gita in Siberia and underlined that Russia is a secular country where all religions enjoy equal respect.

"Russia, as it is known to anyone,

is a secular and democratic country where all religions enjoy equal respect," the Russian envoy said in a statement after controversy over a move to ban the Gita in Russia rocked Parliament.

"Even more applicable it is to the holy scriptures of various faiths -- whether it is the Bible, the Holy Quran, Torah, Avesta and, of course, Bhagvad Gita -- the great source of wisdom for the people of India and the world," he said.

"I consider it categorically inadmissible when any holy scripture is taken to the courts. For all believers these texts are sacred," the envoy stressed.

"It is not normal either when religious books are sent for examination to ignorant people. Their academic scrutiny should be done at scientists' fora, congresses, seminars, etc but not in courts," he said.

He said it was "strange" that such events are unfolding "in the beautiful university city in Siberia, Tomsk, which is famous for its secularism and religious tolerance".

"Well, it seems that even the lovely city of Tomsk has its own neighbourhood madmen. It is sad indeed," he said in a strong condemnation of some fringe elements seeking a ban on the Gita which is being heard by a court in Tomsk.

The case, which has been going on since June, seeks a ban on a Russian translation of the "Bhagavad Gita As It Is" written by AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

In a last ditch effort to save the Bhagvad Gita from a ban, Hindus in Russia appealed to the Siberian court to seek the views of the nation's human rights panel on the religious text and preachings, before pronouncing its verdict.

Following their last-minute plea, represented by their advocate Mikhail Fralov, the court in Tomsk city in Siberia has given the human rights panel 24 hours to come with its deposition, following which it will deliver the verdict on Tuesday.

Indians in Moscow, numbering about 15,000, and followers of the Iskcon religious movement in Russia have appealed to the Indian government to intervene diplomatically to resolve the issue.

Replete with confusion, inaccuracy: Jaya on food security bill

Strongly opposing the draft National Food Security Bill, Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa on Tuesday said it was replete with "confusion and inaccuracy" and asked the Centre not to attempt encroaching into the domains of states.

In a strongly-worded letter to Prime

Minister Manmohan Singh, she said the Central government "should not attempt or be seen to attempt encroaching into the domains of the states" and sought exemption of Tamil Nadu from the purview of the proposed measure.

"In a Federal structure like ours where the states are in close and direct contact with the people, the choice of designing and implementing popular welfare schemes is at best left to the states," Jayalalithaa said responding to the Centre seeking the state's views on the measure.

Noting that the provisions of the bill contemplated achieving food security through Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), the chief minister said "forced implementation of TPDS" would entail an additional financial burden of about Rs 1,800 crore per annum with no statutory commitment forthcoming from the Centre.

"Like the BPL norms proposed by the Union Planning Commission, the categorisation of households and arbitrary restriction of coverage as contained in the Central Bill will lead to controversy and make a mockery of providing food security," she said.

Jayalalithaa said the proposed classification of target groups into Priority House Holds (PHH) and General House Holds (GHH) for the purpose of delivery of food entitlements would "surely invite sharp criticisms and furious opposition from every body concerned".

Noting that the very basis of such classification was "unscientific and unacceptable", she said no reason had been adduced for restricting the coverage under TDPS to 75 per cent of the rural population and 50 per cent of urban population.

Asserting that her government has been successfully implementing the Universal Public Distribution System (UPDS) for the last several years, she said through this initiative, it has been able to address the issue of food security for all without any exception.

In addition, she said, the state government has ordered the supply of rice free of cost to all under the UPDS and said it was well received by the public.

Under UPDS, rice, wheat, sugar and other commodities like toor dal, urad dal, fortified palmolien and atta, were supplied to the public at heavily subsidised prices through 32,977 fair price shops, she said, adding that the annual food subsidy was to the tune of Rs 5,000 Crore.

"I would like to register my strong opposition to the Draft National Food Security Bill 2011," the chief minister said requesting the Centre to not only continue to supply foodgrains to the state at existing price, allowing the same pattern and also restore the monthly allotment of kerosene.

Salem: 7 Ayyappa devotees killed in accident

Seven Sabarimala pilgrims were killed and 15 injured when the van in which they were travelling collided with a bus near Salem on Monday. The van from Andhra Pradesh was carrying nine Ayyappa devotees on their way to the Sabarimala hill shrine in Kerala when the mishap occurred at 1.40 am, Salem Collector Magarabhusan and Superintendent of Police PR Muthuswamy said.

All the deceased were from Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh.

The injured comprised drivers of both vehicles, a devotee and 12 bus passengers who have been hospitalised.

The private bus was on its way to Dharmapuri.

Will fast for 3 days from Dec 27, jail bharo from Dec 30: Anna

 Arvind Kejriwal and other members of Team Anna address a press conference in Kaushambi, Ghaziabad. (HT Photo by Sonu Mehta)Team Anna on Tuesday said extension of winter session of Parliament will be worth only if a strong Lokpal Bill is brought with CBI out of government control.

"I will fast for three days from December 27 and from December 30 till January 1, there will be a jail bharo agitation

across the country," said Anna Hazare while talking to the reporters on Tuesday evening.

Anna Hazare also said that the government's intentions are not clear on Citizens' Charter.

Team Anna member Kiran Bedi on Tuesday also slammed the government for the proposed draft of the Lokpal Bill and said that extension would be worth if it was for a strong Lokpal with CBI out of government control and with Lokpal. Everything depends on the content of the bill.

She was reacting to reports about government deciding to extend the winter session by three days from December 27 to facilitate the passage of the Lokpal Bill and some other key legislations.

Team Anna also asked the BJP whether it was determined on Lokpal as it was on issues of JPC probe into 2G scam and FDI in retail and cautioned the opposition party against "double speak" on the question of bringing CBI under the ombudsman.

"Is BJP as determined as it was in JPC and FDI on Lokpal? When will BJP make its stand on CBI categorical. Now that Congress' is evident!" Bedi said.

She also warned the main opposition party that it will be a "bigger loser if it does double speak" on CBI. "People will not forgive them either," she said.

Bedi also said that it was "frustrating to be waiting to see" what Congress does. "It changes every minute," she added.

Her comments came as government raced against time to firm up Lokpal Bill in view of the looming threat of Anna Hazare to go on hunger strike from December 27 if Parliament fails to pass a strong Lokpal Bill.

Pressing for inclusion of CBI under the Lokpal, she said, "Unless independent Lokpal replaces government for oversight over CBI, expect no change in the anti-corruption systems. Let's not be fooled. Mere tweaking will not work. It will dilute whatever is remaining. "If we leave any weak point in Lokpal bill and we do not see substantial reduction in corruption it shall be a dream shattered. Now or Never!"

Team Anna member Arvind Kejriwal told TV channels that the government is creating an institution which does not have any investigating power.

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