JD (U)-led "grand alliance" heads for handsome win in Bihar Assembly elections

The "grand alliance" led by the ruling Janata Dal (United), which includes the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress, was headed for a handsome victory on Sunday as counting of votes progressed in the crucial and bitterly-contested elections to the 243-member Bihar Legislative Assembly.

Grand Alliance heads towards big win in Bihar Assembly elections
The "grand alliance" led by the ruling Janata Dal (United), which includes the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress, was headed for a handsome victory today as counting of votes progressed in the crucial and bitterly-contested elections to the 243-member Bihar Legislative Assembly.
As counting trends became available for 230 of the 243 seats, the JD (U) and its allies were ahead in 125, past the half-way mark for a simple majority, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) had established leads in 96. Others accounted for nine seats.
The campaigning for the elections was marked by sharp and bitter exchanges of barbs among the main contestants.
The elections were seen as a major test of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's appeal to the voters and as a battle for survival for Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of the JD(U) and his foe-turned-ally, RJD chief Lalu Prasad.
Polling in the elections was held in five phases on October 12, October 16, October 28, November 1 and November 5, and more than 56.80 percent voting was registered.
Polling was by and large peaceful across the state and no major untoward incident was reported from anywhere.
A total of 67063004 electors, including 31282535 women, were eligible to exercise their franchise in the elections and there were, in all, 3450 candidates, including 272 women, in the fray.
The Election Commission had set up 65349 polling stations and made elaborate arrangements to ensure a freee and fair poll.
Counting of votes began at 8 am today amidst tight security at 39 centres across the state and al the results are expected to be in by this evening. 
All counting centres are situated in the district headquarters. There are two counting centres separated by a common road in Saharsa distict and one each in the 37 other districts.
The Election Commission ensured 24x7 three-tier security at all counting centres, with the inner cordon being manned by personnel of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF). Closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras have been installed at all counting centres.
The commission also deployed an observer each in all 243 constituencies to oversee the counting process.
Exit polls had produced varying forecasts, with some putting the "grand alliance" ahead and others predicting a victory for the NDA.

Nitish Kumar returns as Chief Minister of Bihar

Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Bihar for the fourth time in Patna on Sunday evening, two days after his loyalist-turned-political foe Jitan Ram Manjhi resigned from the position hours before a trust vote in the state legislative assembly on Friday.

Nitish Kumar takes oath as Chief Minister of Bihar
Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Bihar for the fourth time here this evening, two days after his loyalist-turned-political foe Jitan Ram Manjhi resigned from the position hours before a trust vote in the state legislative assembly here on Friday.
Mr Kumar, 63, and 22 Ministers, including three women, were administered the oaths of office and secrecy by Governor Kesari Nath Tripathi at a ceremony that began around 5 pm today.
The ministers are : Vijay Kumar Chaudhary, Vijendra Prasad Yadav, Ramai Ram, Damodar Raut, Narendra Narayan Yadav, P.K. Shahi, Shyam Rajak, Awadesh Kushwaha, Lesie Singh, Dulal Chand Goswami, Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lallan Singh, Shrawan Kumar, Ramlashan Ram Raman, Ramdhani Singh, Jai Kumar Singh, Manoj Kumar Singh, Javed Iqbal Ansari, Bima Bharti, Ranju Geeta, Baidyanath Sahni, Vinod Singh Yadav and Naushad Alam.
Of them, 20 had resigned from the Manjhi government while the other two --  P K Shahi and Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lallan Singh -- had been removed by the former chief minister.
Mr Kumar has returned as Chief Minister nine months after he had stepped down on May 17 last year, taking moral responsibility for the defeat suffered by his party in the state in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
His return ended about two weeks of political uncertainty in the state following a bitter power struggle between him and Mr Manjhi.
Mr Manjhi finally met Mr Tripathi and handed in his papers on Friday morning. Shortly thereafter, Mr Kumar had called on the Governor and staked his claim to form the next government. Mr Tripathi had invited him to form the new government and asked him to prove his majority on the floor of the assembly within three weeks.
Mr Manjhi, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, Uttar Pradesh Chief Miister Akhilesh Yadav, former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda and Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) leader Abhay Chautala were among those who attended the ceremony.
Mr Manjhi's resignation came after it became clear that he did not have the numbers to win a trust vote in the 243-member assembly even though the  Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has a score to settle with Mr Kumar, had thrown its weight behind him.
Mr Kumar has been claiming that he has the support of 130 MLAs in the House, including 99 of his own party, 24 from the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and five of the Congress.
Ahead of his meeting with the Governor, Mr Kumar, a former Union Minister, had promised on Friday to provide good governance if given another chance to serve the people of Bihar and apologised to them for his decision to resign on May 17 last year after his party's poor performance in the Lok Sabha elections in the state.
Mr Kumar's party had ended up with just two of the 40 Lok Sabha seats from Bihar, while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its erstwhile partner in the state, won as many as 22.
The Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) of former Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, an ally of the BJP, got five seats. The Congress won two seats, the NCP one, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) four and the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party won three.
On June 16, 2013, the JD (U) had formally withdrawn from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and ended its 17-year-old partnership with the BJP in Bihar after it became increasingly clear at that stage that Mr Narendra Modi would be the Prime Ministerial candidate of the party.
Mr Manjhi, who was the Minister for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Backward and Economically Backward Classes Welfare, was handpicked by Mr Kumar to succeed him on May 19 last year.
"I assure the people of Bihar that if I get an opportunity again I will serve them in the same spirit I did for eight and a half years earlier. Good governance was and will remain my priority," Mr Kumar told journalists on Friday.
"I also apologise for my decision to quit. I will never take an emotional decision again. Now I am ready to lead from the front," he said.
The JD (U) has 115 members in the assembly, and most of them back Mr Kumar. The BJP has 88 members and the support of three independents.
Mr Kumar had staked claim to form the next government two weeks ago after the JD (U) removed Mr Manjhi as the leader of its legislature party and elected him to the position to enable him to return as Chief Minister. Mr Manjhi had refused to oblige and was expelled from the party. He then decided to seek a trust vote, banking on the support of the BJP.
Mr Kumar said Mr Manjhi had decided to quit after all the efforts made by the BJP to wean away MLAs from the JD (U) had failed.
Mr Manjhi, however, told journalists that he had decided to quit to protect MLAs supporting him, saying they had received death threats in the past few days. 
Mr Kumar has a degree in electrical engineering from the Bihar College of Engineering, Patna, now the National Institute of Technology (NIT), Patna. He joined politics after a brief stint in the Bihar State Electricity Board.
At the Centre, Mr Kumar has handled the portfolios of Railways and Agriculture.

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Polling underway for 41 seats in final phase of LS elections

Polling was underway on Monday amidst tight security in 41 constituencies spread over three states -- Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal -- in the ninth and final phase of elections to the 16th Lok Sabha.

Ninth phase of 16th LS polls underway
Polling was underway today amidst tight security in 41 constituencies spread over three states -- Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal -- in the ninth and final phase of elections to the 16th Lok Sabha.
Thousands of voters turned out to exercise their franchise in these constituencies and long queues of voters  were seen at many polling stations despite the sweltering heat,
All eyes were, however, on Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, the second constituency from which BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is trying to make his maiden entry into the Lok Sabha. His main rivals in Varanasi are Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal and local Congress leader Ajay Rai.
Mr Modi is also in the fray from Vadodara in Gujarat, where polling was held on April 30.
Around 1.6 million people are eligible to cast their votes in Varanasi in what is clearly the keenest contest of the 2014 elections. There were long queues of voters outside polling stations in most areas of the city.
The authorities have deployed around 45,000 security personnel to ensure free and fair polls in the constituency. More than 12,000 polling booths were put under surveillance with CCTV cameras and proceedings at more than 300 polling stations were being videographed.
The Election Commission has deployed Tamil Nadu Chief Electoral Officer Praveen Kumar as a special observer for the constituency following complaints of bias against the local election officials by the BJP. Several senior police officers of Uttar Pradesh are also camping in the city.
The constituencies that voted today included 18 in Uttar Pradesh, 17 in West Bengal and six in Bihar. They have a total of 66.13 million voters and there were 606 candidates in the fray.
The first phase of polling in the long drawn out election process was held on April 7. Counting of votes for all constituencies will be taken up on May 16 and all results are expected by that evening. Two members in the 545-member Lok Sabha are nominated by the President from the Anglo-Indian community.
Other prominent candidates in the fray in Uttar Pradesh include Samajwadi Party (SP) supremo and former Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav from Azamgarh and UP Legislative Assembly Speaker Mata Prasad Pandey from Doomariaganj.
Union Minister of State for Home Affairs R P N Singh is contesting from Kushinagar and popular Bhojpuri film actor Ravi Kishan from Jaunpur, both on the Congress ticket. Veteran BJP leader Kalraj Mishra is contesting the Deoria seat. Quami Ekta Dal (QED) leader Mukhtar Ansari, who withdrew from the contest in Varanasi and later announced his support for the Congress, is in the contest from Ghosi.
In Bihar, the prominent candidates include well-known Hindi filmmaker Prakash Jha, who is trying his luck yet again, this time as a Janata Dal (United) candidate, and former Union Minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).
In West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has fielded former Union Ministers Sudip Bandopadhyay, Dinesh Trivedi in Barrackpore and Sougata Roy in Dum Dum and actors Dipak Adhikari (Dev) from Ghatal and Tapas Paul in Krishinagar.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has put up Ms Subhashini Ali against Mr Trivedi in Barrackpore, while the BJP has fielded well-known magician P C Sorcar (Junior) in Barasat. West Bengal Congress chief Adhir Chowdhury is the party's candidate in Berhampore.
The TMC had won 14 of the 17 seats that went to the polls today in West Bengal in the 2009 elections, while the CPI, SUCI and Congress had won one each. The TMC and the Congress were in an alliance then. The CPI (M) had not won a single seat from these in 2009.
There are a total of 328 candidates, including 18 women, in the 18 constituencies of Uttar Pradesh, which have a total electorate of 31.6 million voters.
In Bihar, more than 8.8 million voters are eligible to exercise their franchise in the six constituences which have a total of 90 candidates in the fray.
The 17 constituencies that went to the polls in West Bengal have a total electorate of  25.61 million and 188 candidates in the fray.

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Five killed, 83 injured in serial blasts near Modi's rally venue in Patna

At least five people were killed and as many as 83 others suffered injuries in a series of low-intensity blasts that occurred near the Gandhi Maidan in Patna shortly before Gujarat Chief Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party's Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi addressed a huge rally there on Sunday afternoon.

Serial blasts rock Patna; 5 killed, over 80 injured
At least five people were killed and as many as 83 others suffered injuries in a series of low-intensity blasts that occurred near the Gandhi Maidan here shortly before Gujarat Chief Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi addressed a huge rally there this afternoon.
In all, there were seven blasts, including one in a toilet on platform number 10 at the Patna railway station, about two and a half kilometres from the ground. The other six explosions occurred around the Gandhi Maidan, the venue of the rally, which was attended by thousands of people.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar told newspersons that one person suffered injuries in the first blast at the railway station and his condition was stated to be critical.
He said the other five blasts occurred around the Gandhi Maidan within the space of 15-20 minutes.
Mr Kumar said that, in all, 83 people were taken to the Patna Medical College Hospital, where 38 were admitted for treatment while the rest were discharged after first-aid. He said the condition of a few of the injured was serious.
Police sources said four unexploded bombs were found later and had been defused by bomb disposal squads. One policemen suffered injuries while defusing a bomb.
Mr Kumar said the police were questioning some suspects and had gathered valuable clues. He said he was confident the police would find those responsible for the blasts. 
He said there were no intelligence inputs about the possibility of such blasts. According to him, the police had made elaborate arrangements for Mr Modi's rally and it was a matter of serious concern that such an incident had occurred.
He said that the way in which the serial blasts were carried out indicated that somebody had planned to vitiate the atmosphere in the state.
The Chief Minister announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs 5 lakh to the next of kin of those killed in the blasts. He said the state government would meet the medical expenses of those injured in the explosions.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condemned the blasts and called for urgent steps to identify and ake action against those responsibility. He also appealed to the people to maintain peace and calm.
Dr Singh spoke to Mr Kumar to enquire about the situation and called for immediate and firm action against those responsible.
He also assured the Chief Minister of all assistance from the Centre in the investigations.
Mr Kumar held a meeting with senior state government and police officials to take stock of the situation.
In Delhi, Union Minister of State for Home R P N Singh told journalists that the explosions were caused by crude devices.
Condemning the blasts, he said teams from the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the National Security Guard (NSG) had been rushed to Patna to probe the incident.
He said the Ministry of Home Affairs was in continuous touch with the Bihar government in this regard.
The rally continued, with none of the speakers, including Mr Modi making any reference to it. However, towards the end, Mr Modi did urge people to return home from the meeting in a peaceful manner.
Later, he condoled the loss of lives in a post on micro-blogging site Twitter. 
"Blasts in Patna are deeply saddening & unfortunate. Condolences with families of deceased & prayers with injured. I appeal for peace & calm," he said.

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Mukherjee inaugurates ADRI International Conference on Bihar & Jharkhand

The strategy for development of seriously disadvantaged regions like Bihar and Jharkhand requires policy makers to unleash the productive forces of the economy, and not just unquestionably follow a path of industrialization, President Pranab Mukherjee has said.
Inaugurating a conference on “Bihar and Jharkhand: Shared History to Shared Vision’ here yesterday, Mr Mukherjee pointed out that despite the region being a land of rich mineral resources and fertile soil, relative economic progress and development could not take place.
“We also need to realize that, for seriously disadvantaged regions like Bihar and Jharkhand, a strategy of development requires the policy makers to unleash the productive forces of the economy, and not just unquestionably follow a path of industrialization, as was done by countries or regions which had developed earlier. It is here that one requires directed research which can identify appropriate policies that best suit the interests of the regions,” he added.
“More specifically, one may consider the immense potential of human development for promoting economic development in regions like Bihar and Jharkhand. The international experience shows that, for specially disadvantaged regions, human development, could indeed be an alternative development strategy.
“Under this strategy, it is possible for disadvantaged regions to change their comparative advantage from low skill labour-intensive goods and services to more skill-intensive goods and services provider through deliberate human development. A logical requirement of this alternative development strategy will be prioritizing investment on education beyond what would happen under 'normal' circumstances.
“One may also note here that education does not mean economic advantage for the educated persons alone. It has some other important advantages as well — it empowers people and also promotes their participation in both development programs and the political process,” he added.
In the recent past, both the states have started doing well. Particularly Bihar has shown the way in implementation of many social development schemes. The growth performance of Bihar economy has been steady over the past one decade registering an annual growth rate at 10.5%. This is a remarkable achievement.
While Bihar still remains a largely agricultural state, Jharkhand is slowly transforming itself into an economy with larger share of service sector. Governments in both the states have taken a large number of steps to speed up the transformation of the social and economic conditions of the states. I wish the people of this region all the best in their march forward.
The Conference was organized by the Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI) as part of its Silver Jubilee Celebrations.
The President said he was very happy to learn that the Asian Development Research institute (ADRI) is one of those institutions which have been active in social science research during the last 25 years. He expressed the hope that they would continue their efforts in coming years and attain new heights in their academic pursuit and simultaneously provide valuable research support to various development agencies.

Scourge of violence can be overcome with Buddhist philosophy: Mukherjee

President Pranab Mukherjee addressing the closing ceremony of an international conference on “Buddhism in the 21st Century - perspectives and responses to Global Challenges and Crises”, at Rajgir, Nalanda, in Bihar on March 19, 2017.
President Pranab Mukherjee addressing the closing ceremony of an international conference on “Buddhism in the 21st Century - perspectives and responses to Global Challenges and Crises”, at Rajgir, Nalanda, in Bihar on March 19, 2017.
President Pranab Mukherjee today said no part of the world today is free from the scourge of violence and this all pervasive crisis can be overcome with the philosophy of Buddhism.
Addressng the closing ceremony of an international conference on “Buddhism in the 21st Century – perspectives and responses to Global Challenges and Crises” here, Mr Mukherjee said the basic question being raised today is how to stop this wanton destruction and come back to sanity. 
The philosophy of Buddhism is as relevant today as ever - especially as the world grapples with complex problems that seem intractable, he said.
"Buddhism has had a deep influence on human civilization. The mighty Emperor Ashoka who had the ambition of extending his empire as far as he could was converted into a missionary. Dhamma Ashoka is remembered in history rather than warrior Ashoka," he said.
The President said Nalanda reflected the country's ancient educational system which attracted mighty minds in the form of students and teachers.  Education means the development of mind and requires an atmosphere which is conducive to free exchange of ideas, he said.
The President said that, as they return to their respective areas of activity and influence, the delegates should redouble their efforts to promote the simple truths and the path of the Buddha that show people can be better citizens and contribute to making the country a better place to live in.
He expressed happiness that the Nava Nalanda Mahavihara has published the entire Pali Tripitaka (texts or words of the Buddha) in 41 volumes in the Devanagari script. He congratulated the University for this achievement and for opening the first ever Department of Buddhist Sciences in the world.
Mr Mukherjee said he would encourage the texts to be further dispersed – like seeds by migrating birds – far beyond the institutions of Buddhist studies and the region – to Universities in all parts of the world – regardless of their academic specialization.
"These initiatives will go a long way in popularizing the tenets of Buddhism. They will help the coming generations to easily connect with the supreme ideals of humanity, forbearance, discipline and compassion. Once these values are adopted by more and more scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and leaders in letter and spirit, he said he had no doubt that they will work to gear up to address the scepticism and cynicism that ails modern societies," he added.

Projects worth Rs. 1050 crore to arrest sewage pollution in Ganga from Patna

In a major step to develop adequate sewage treatment infrastructure in Patna to keep the Ganga clean, projects worth Rs. 1,050 crore have been awarded under the Namami Gange programme.
An official press release said here yesterday that the amount would be spent on setting up two sewage treatment plants (STPs), renovation of one existing STP , construction of two pumping stations and laying of new underground sewage network of about 400 km.
Contracts to build STP of 60 MLD capacity and laying of new underground sewage network of 227 km in Saidpur zone of the city have been awarded to UEM India Pvt. Ltd and Jyoti Build Tech Pvt. Ltd at a total cost of Rs. 600 crore, it said.
Three other firms – Larsen & Toubro Ltd, Voltas Ltd and GAA Germany JV have been awarded separate projects in Beur zone of the city worth over Rs. 450 crore to build one STP of 23 MLD, renovate existing STP of 20 MLD and lay down new underground sewage network of about 180 km. The scope of work also includes creation of main pumping stations of 83 MLD and 50 MLD capacity in Saidpur and Beur zones, respectively.
The contracts include the cost of operation and maintenance of STPs and sewage networks for a period of 10 years.
The release said the projects aimed not only to treat the current sewage generation in respective zones of Patna but also take into account the sewage estimates of next one decade, considering the expected rise of population in the city. As per a survey by the World Bank, Patna is also one of the fastest growing city in the world in terms of infrastructural development.
After time-bound commissioning of these projects, no untreated water will go into the Ganga from these zones, saving the river from contamination and deterioration, it said.
The progress of the construction will be monitored by the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) to ensure that deadlines are met, the release said.
Patna city, spread in an area of more than 100 square kilometers, is divided into six sewerage zones – Digha, Beur, Saidpur, Kankarbagh, Pahari and Karmali Chak. Contracts for sewage related projects in Karmali Chak zone are expected to be awarded shortly, he added.

Cabinet approves transfer of 11.35 acres of land to AAI for expansion of Patna Airport

The Union Cabinet today approved the transfer 11.35 acres of land at Patna airport to the Airports Authority of India (AAI) by way of exchanging equivalent land of AAI at Anisabad.
The proposed land at Patna Airport will be used for expansion of the airport and construction of new terminal building along with other associated infrastructure, an official press release said. The Bihar Government has also agreed in principle for transfer of the land.
The new terminal building will have a capacity of 3 million passengers per annum. The existing terminal building at Patna Airport was built for a capacity of 0.5 million passengers per annum, against which 1.5 million passengers per annum are already using it, leading to  extreme crowding in the terminal building, the release added.

Cabinet approves transfer of AAI land at Patna Airport

The Union Cabinet today approved the transfer 11.35 acres of land at Patna airport to the Airports Authority of India (AAI) by way of exchanging equivalent land of AAI at Anisabad.
The proposed land at Patna Airport will be used for expansion of the airport and construction of new terminal building along with other associated infrastructure, an official press release said. The Bihar Government has also agreed in principle for transfer of the land.
The new terminal building will have a capacity of 3 million passengers per annum. The existing terminal building at Patna Airport was built for a capacity of 0.5 million passengers per annum, against which 1.5 million passengers per annum are already using it, leading to  extreme crowding in the terminal building, the release added.

24 dead as boat capsizes in Ganga at Patna in Bihar

As many as 24 people, including five children, died after a boat carrying them capsized in the river Ganga at Patna in Bihar on Saturday evening.

24 dead as boat capsizes in Ganga at Patna
As many as 24 people, including five children, died after a boat carrying them capsized in the river Ganga at Patna in Bihar yesterday evening.
Patna District Magistrate Sanjay Kumar Agarwal told NetIndian that the victims included 16 men, three women and five children.
He said about eight people had swum to safety and a similar number had been rescued by people who jumped into the river to save them.
Mr. Agarwal said the boat was carrying about 40 people and none of them are now reported missing. However, search and rescue teams were continuing their operations for some more time to ensure that all the passengers of the boat are accounted for, he said.
He said that two of the eight persons admitted to a local hospital had been discharged, while the other six were undergoing treatment and in a stable condition.
The search and rescue efforts had continued through the night last night, sources said.
The victims were among a large crowd that had gathered at the Ganga Diara here to witness a  kite festival held every year on the occasion of Makar Sankranti. The boat, which had taken people for a free ride on the river, capsized around 6 pm, perhaps, due to overcrowding, the sources said.
Video footage shot by onlookers on the river banks showed rescuers making frantic efforts to save the people.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has asked the District Magistrate to look into the lapses that led to the tragedy.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed grief over the loss of lives in the incident and conveyed his condolences to the bereaved families.
He also approved an ex-gratia payment of Rs. 2 lakh for the next-of-kin of those killed and Rs. 50,000 for the seriously injured from the Prime Minister's National Relief Fund, an official press release in Delhi added.

Modi expresses grief over loss of lives in Bihar bus accident

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has expressed grief over the loss of lives in Bihar today after a bus veered off the road and fell into a deep roadside pond in Madhubani district.
“Deeply saddened by the bus accident in Bihar’s Madhubani district. My thoughts are with the bereaved families in this hour of grief,” he said on micro-blogging site Twitter.

16 dead as bus plunges into pond in Madhubani district of Bihar

At least 16 people died when a private bus they were travelling in veered off the road and fell into a deep roadside pond, Sundar Kund, in Madhubani district of Bihar today, official sources said.
District officials at the scene of the mishap told NetIndian over the telephone that about 12 passengers of the ill-fated bus had been rescued.
Search and rescue teams were searching the pond, said to be about 25 feet deep, to see if there were any more victims.
The officials said they had no exact figures for the number of passengers in the bus, which was completely submerged under water.
By late this evening, the search teams, including personnel of the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), had managed to pull the bus out of the water and extricate several bodies from it.
The bus was on its way to Sitamarhi from Madhubani, 180 kms northeast of Patna, when the mishap occurred around 12.30 pm near Basaitha chowk in Benipatti police station area of the district.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar expressed deep sorrow over the loss of lives in the accident and urged district officials to speed up the rescue and relief efforts.
He asked Revenue Minister Madan Mohan Jha and Panchayati Raj Minister Kapil Dev Kamat to rush to the scene of the tragedy.

Universities must be bastions of free speech, expression: Mukherjee

Universities must be the bastions of free speech and expression where there should be no room for intolerance, prejudice and hatred, President Pranab Mukherjee said today.
Addressing the first convocation of Nalanda University after laying the foundations stone of its new campus here, he said universities must be the arena where diverse and conflicting schools of thought contend.
"There should be no room for intolerance, prejudice and hatred within the spaces of this institution. Further, it must act as a flag bearer for the coexistence of multiple views, thoughts and philosophies.
"The lesson for modern Nalanda is to ensure that this great tradition finds new life and vigour within its precincts," he said.
Mr. Mukherjee said the ancient Nalanda was a melting pot of civilizations and modern India should remain the same. 
“We should not close our windows and yet we should not be blown off by winds from outside. We should let the winds flow freely from all over the world and get enriched by them. We should embrace free discussion and debate leaving behind narrow mindsets and thoughts,” he added.
Mr Mukherjee said as Visitor to Nalanda University, it was his hope that it would truly attain the status of the Nalanda of yore. There are many practices of ancient Nalanda which are worthy of emulation by the new Nalanda. One of the most important characteristics of ancient Nalanda was that it was an international institution where inter-Asian connections, in particular, flourished, he said.
Chinese monks like Xuan Zang, Yijing and Huichao, among others, visited, lived, studied and taught in Nalanda. At a later period, scholars from Tibet kept coming to N?land? for studying Buddhism and other branches of knowledge, he said.
Monks from several other countries including Sri Lanka also came to N?landa, revealing the diversity of religious and cultural influences on the institution. And, the traffic was not just in one direction. Monks from N?land? spread their wisdom across the world and had reached China before Xuan Zang’s visit to India.
The President said ancient Nalanda was known for the high level of debate and discussion it nurtured. It was not a mere geographical expression but it reflected an idea and a culture.
Nalanda conveyed the message of friendship, cooperation, debate, discussion and argument. Discussion and debate are part of our ethos and life, he said.
Mr Mukherjee said though the main subjects of study were the Buddhist texts, importance was also given to critiques of Buddhism by various schools, study of Vedas and beyond.
“I am pleased to know that the Nalanda University has around 125 students including about 25 foreign students from countries such as China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, Laos, Myanmar, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Brazil,” he said.
“With students and faculty from many countries, modern day Nalanda is a novel institution pioneering a new model of learning. Its vision is to “be universalist in its outlook, open to currents of thought and practice from around the globe, and respond to the needs of a world.” It is a matter of satisfaction that within a short period of time, Nalanda has established linkages of various kinds with many leading educational institutions around the world,” he added.
The President said he personally witnessed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Nalanda University and Peking University during his visit to China in May this year.
The new Nalanda University is envisioned as a non-state, non-profit, secular, and self-governing international institution. “Our goal is to bring together the brightest and the most dedicated students from all over the world, especially Asia - irrespective of gender, caste, creed, different abilities, ethnicity or social-economic background and enable them acquire a liberal education,” he added.
“I am particularly happy to see the first batch of students from this University graduate today. I have often spoken of the time when India played a dominant role in the higher education system of the world. Renowned seats of learning like Nalanda, Takshashila, Vikramashila, Valabhi, Somapura and Odantapuri were magnets which attracted scholars from all over the world. They stood at the crossroads of many civilizations and spread knowledge far and wide. Sadly, India’s modern day universities are yet to reach the top position in world rankings. We must work towards regaining that glory of the past,” he added.
The President said, as a result of his persistent efforts, Indian institutions for the first time secured ranks within the top 200 universities in the world in the QS world university rakings 2015. IISc, Bangalore at 147th and IIT, Delhi at 179th position have done exceedingly well, with IIT, Bombay close on the heels at the 202nd rank.
Three other IITs were within the top 300 institutions and they can come within the top 200 in the next one or two years. In the QS university rankings 2015 for the BRICS region, five Indian institutions came in the top 20, including IISc, Bangalore which was ranked fifth.
In the list of top 20 small universities (criteria: less than 5,000 students) by the Times Higher Education, there were two Indian institutions – IIT, Guwahati at 14th and Savitribai Phule, Pune University at the 18th position. Recently, in a ranking amongst Asian institutions, five Indian institutions are placed in the top fifty, he added.

Mukherjee to visit Bihar, Karnataka from August 26-28

President Pranab Mukherjee will visit Bihar and Karnataka from August 26-28, an official press release said here today.
On August 27, the President will address the first convocation of Nalanda University and lay the foundation stone of its campus at Rajgir, Nalanda, Bihar. 
He will also attend a function to commemorate the serving of two billion meals of the Akshaya Patra Foundation in Bangalore, Karnataka on the same day. 
On August 28, the President will address the 24th annual convocation of National Law School of India University, Bangalore before returning to New Delhi. 

Former Bihar, West Bengal and Haryana Governor A R Kidwai passes away

A R Kidwai
A R Kidwai
Dr. Akhlaq Ur Rahman Kidwai, a distinguished scientist and educationist who also served as the Governor of Bihar, West Bengal and Haryana, passed away at a private hospital here today after a brief illness.
He was 96. He is survived by two sons and four daughters. His wife Jamila Kidwai had predeceased him. His funeral will be held tomorrow, sources said.
According to them, he was admitted to the Escorts Hospital here about ten days ago after complaining of breathing difficulties.
Dr. Kidwai served as Governor of Bihar from 1979 to 1985 and again from 1993 to 1998. He also served as Governor of West Bengal from 1998 to 1999 and Haryana from 2004 to 2009.
In between, he also held charge for some time as Governor of Punjab and of Rajasthan and Administrator of Delhi. He was a member of the Rajya Sabha from 2000 to 2004.
Born on July 1, 1920 in Baragaon village of Barabanki district of Uttar Pradesh, took a BA degree from Jamia Milia Islamia University here and went on to complete M. Sc. at the University of Illinois in the United States and Ph. D. from Cornell University, also in the US.
He worked as Professor and Head of the Department of Chemistry and the Dean of the Faculty of Science at the Aligarh Muslim University. He also served as Chairman of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) from 1974-77. He was Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University from 1983 to 1992.
Dr. Kidwai was associated with several bodies, incuding the National Committee on Science and Technology, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), the University Grants Commission (UGC), the Central Advisory Board of Education and the Central Council of Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs).
The Government honoured him with the Padma Vibhushan, the country's second highest civilian award, in 2011.

Earthquake of magnitude 6.7 jolts Myanmar, tremors felt in eastern, NE India

An earthquake of magnitude 6.7 jolted Myanmar this afternoon and the tremors were felt in several parts of eastern and north-eastern India.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) said the quake, which had its epicentre at latitude 21.0 N and longitude 94.4 E, near Chauk town on the Irrawaddy river, occurred at 1604 hours IST at a focal depth of 58 km.
Reports reaching here said the tremors were felt in Kolkata and other parts of West Bengal, Patna in Bihar, Guwahati in Assam and Tripura, among other places. They were also felt in Bangladesh and Thailand.
Residents of the affected areas ran out of their homes and offices as a precautionary measure.

Fruitful exchanges on international, regional issues at BRICS Policy Planning Dialogue

The BRICS Policy Planning Dialogue successfully concluded here today with "fruitful exchanges" on strategic assessments of international situation and the regional situation of each country and trends, going beyond immediate issues of customary diplomacy.
The delegations also discussed the role of BRICS in international governance, ongoing cooperation at BRICS Forum and reflected on areas of convergence among the member countries.
BRICS brings together Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. India has assumed the Presidency of BRICS in February this year. 
The two-day dialogue gave an opportunity for sharing of best practices in foreign policy planning and assessment between the BRICS countries, an official press release said.
The quality and scope of discussions affirmed the significance of the voice of BRICS given that it is a grouping that brings together five major world economies that are home to 43% of the world population, it added.
The release said the discussions would contribute towards India’s objective as Chair of BRICS for 2016 to further consolidate Intra-BRICS cooperation by adopting a five-pronged approach – institution building to further deepen and sustain BRICS cooperation; implementation of the decisions of previous Summits including the Prime Minister’s announcements at the Fortaleza and Ufa Summits; integrating synergies among the existing cooperation mechanisms; innovation, that is, new cooperation mechanisms and continuation of mutually agreed existing BRICS cooperation mechanisms.
During their stay in Patna, the heads of delegations called on Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Some delegations also took the opportunity to visit historic places of interest in the vicinity of Patna such as Nalanda and Rajgir.

Nalanda Mahavihara gets inscribed in World Heritage List

The excavated remains at Nalanda of the great monastic-cum-scholastic establishment has got inscribed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Located around 88 km from Patna, the capital of Bihar, the site presents a key archaeological evidence of a truly international centre for organised learning.
Nalanda Mahavihara was founded by Kumargupta I of the Gupta dynasty in 5th century CE. It was patronized by various rulers including King Harshavardhana of Kannauj (7th century CE) and the Pala rulers (8th – 12th century CE) as well as various scholars.
Later, a number of factors spread over centuries caused the decline of this famed institution. The same region later saw emergence of a number of reputed educational institutions like Vikramshila and Odantpuri but the eminence of Nalanda remains unrivalled.
About six centuries after Nalanda’s decline, the site was first discovered and reported by Sir Francis Buchanan. The site was systematically excavated and consolidated by Archaeological Survey of India from 1915 to 1937 and again from 1974 to 1982.
Nalanda is a rare combination of outstanding achievements in institution-building, site-planning, art and architecture. It symbolized the multiplicity of knowledge production, the innovative processes of the organized transmission of ideas through education and a shared heritage of people living in multiple regions of Asia.
Nalanda distinguished itself as the earliest planned university of the Indian sub-continent. Thematic and iconographic assimilation of features from major art centres of the sub-continent with local practices is evident in art of Nalanda. While Nalanda stucco influenced practices in Thailand, its metal art influenced art of the Malayan archipelago, Nepal, Myanmar and Tibet travelling out through scholars.
Nalanda attracted scholars from the Indian sub-continent and beyond and received patronage of local rulers and foreign kings for an unbroken period of 800 years.
Students were admitted after rigorous evaluation only. Apart from teaching of topics related to Buddhism, contemporary texts and philosophies, logic, grammar, science, and medicine were also part of the knowledge imparted at Nalanda. Earning the title of ‘Medieval School of Discussion and Logic’, Nalanda`s scholars mastered the art and science of debate developing it into a critical tool for higher learning.
Today, the continuity of its systems is also evident in contemporary monasteries in Sri Lanka, Tibet and Nepal. In fact, the term Nalanda has become synonymous with aspired standard of education as evidenced in several 21st century namesake institutions all over the world.
All surviving remains of Nalanda Mahavihara in the proposed property area demonstrate amply the attributes of the property such as its planning and layout, its architectural manifestation and extant building materials and applied ornamental embellishments.
Preserved in-situ is structural remains of viharas (residential-cum-scholastic structure) and chaityas (temple-like structure) whose layers of construction show evolution of the respective forms.
The positioning of these structures over the length of the site shows the planned layout unique to Nalanda. The viharas retain infrastructure for residential-cum-scholastic functions.
The quincuxial or five-fold plan-form characteristic of a Nalanda chaitya is evident in the temple within the property. The site also retains a corpus of moveable and immoveable artefacts and artistic embellishment that shows iconographic development reflecting changes in Buddhist belief system. While stucco and engraved art are conserved in-situ, metal and stone objects are exhibited today at the adjoining Site Museum.

CCEA okays rehabilitation of Mahatma Gandhi Setu on Ganga at Patna

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) yesterday approved a project for the rehabilitation of the four-lane 5.575 km Mahatma Gandhi Setu on national highway (NH)-19 on the Ganga at Patna in Bihar. 
An official press release said the bridge would be constructed after dismantling the damaged pre-stressed cantilever arms superstructure and subsequent re-decking by steel truss.
The project will be implemented in engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) mode. The cost is estimated to be Rs.1742.01 crore, it said.
The bridge was constructed in the 1980s by the Government of Bihar. The distressed bridge is very important link between North Bihar and South Bihar and is a route for several economic as well as socio-political activities. Business with Nepal and Bhutan also flow through this connection. 
The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has made efforts to rehabilitate this bridge in the last 15 years but they were not successful. After a lot of studies through national and foreign experts, it has now been decided that the only remedy left is to dismantle the existing superstructure followed by subsequent re-decking by steel truss, the release added.

Lightning claims 56 lives in Bihar, 24 suffer injuries

Lightning claims 56 lives in Bihar
At least 56 people died and 24 others suffered injuries when lightning struck several parts of Bihar during heavy rains in the state late last night, official sources said here today.
While six peope were killed in Patna, five died in Buxar and four each in  Aurangabad, Rohtas, Bhojpur and Nalanda districts, the sources told NetIndian. 
In all, deaths were reported from as many as 19 districts, including Gaya, Bhagalpur, Saran, Kaimur, Saharsa, Katihar, Samastipur, Monghyr, Madhepura and West Champaran.
Officials said the casualties could be higher with reports from some remote areas yet to come in. The victims included women and children.
Mr. Vyas Ji, Principal Secretary, Disaster Management in the Bihar Government, told newsmen that the state administration had received reports by late yesterday that several people had been killed due to lightning.
He urged people to avoid staying out in the open and remain indoors to minimise the risks.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs. 4 lakh to the next-of-kin of those killed in the incidents.
Lightning strikes are common during the monsoon in Bihar. The south-west monsoon advanced into the state earlier this week and yesterday's rains were among the first downpours of this season.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has condoled the loss of lives due to lightning in Bihar as well as parts of Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and other places over the last few days.
"Deeply anguished by loss of lives due to lightning in parts of UP, Bihar, Jharkhand & other parts of the nation over the last few days.
"My thoughts & prayers are with those who lost their near & dear ones due to the lightning. May the injured recover quickly," he said on microblogging site Twitter.

BHEL commissions 195 MW thermal power unit in Bihar

The public sector Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) today said it had successfully commissioned another 195 MW thermal unit in Bihar.
This is the second 195 MW unit to be commissioned by BHEL at the 2x195 MW Muzaffarpur Thermal Power Station (TPS) Stage-II of Kanti Bijlee Utpadan Nigam Limited (KBUNL), a joint venture of NTPC Ltd. and BSPGCL, in Bihar. The first unit was commissioned in March, 2015, a press release from the company said.
BHEL’s scope of work in the project envisaged design, engineering, manufacture, supply, erection and commissioning of steam turbines, generators and boilers, along with associated auxiliaries and electricals, besides state-of-the-art controls & Instrumentation (C&I) and electrostatic precipitators (ESPs).
Earlier, in the 1980s, BHEL had executed two units of 110 MW each at this project, which are still operational. 
"The successful commissioning of these units has reinforced BHEL’s proven capabilities in execution of thermal power projects involving supply of state-of-the-art equipment, suited to Indian coal and Indian conditions," the release added.

Cabinet nod for financial restructuring of Hindustan Fertilizer Corporation Limited

The Union Cabinet today gave its approval for the financial restructuring of Hindustan Fertilizers Corporation Limited (HFCL). 
An official press release said the Cabinet, amongst other things, approved waiver of the Government of India (GoI) loan of Rs. 1916.14 crore (as on 31.03.2015) and the outstanding interest on GoI loan as on date (the interest amount was Rs. 7163.35 crores as on 31.3.2015). 
The Cabinet also approved transfer of 56 acres of Ash Dyke land of Barauni unit to Bihar State Power Generation Company Limited (BSPGCL) to settle dues of HFCL for faster revival of Barauni Unit, it said.
The release said the decision would facilitate de-registration of HFCL from BIFR by making its net worth positive. It will clear the way for faster revival of Barauni unit of HFCL, which is lying defunct and was not in operation since January 1999. Its associated facilities are also lying unutilized. 
The release pointed out that there is no functional urea unit in the Eastern part of the country except two small units at Namrup in Assam.
The annual consumption of urea in the country is approximately 320 LMT, out of which 245 LMT is produced indigenously and rest is imported. 
"The setting up of a new unit at Barauni will meet the growing demand of urea of Bihar, West Bengal and Jharkhand. It will also ease the pressure on railway and road infrastructure due to long distance transportation of urea from Western and Central Regions and thereby saving in govt. subsidy on freight. This unit will create opportunities for 400 direct and 1200 indirect employments. 
"Barauni unit will also serve as anchor unit to Jagdishpur- Haldia gas pipeline being laid by Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL), which is critical for development and growth of economy and infrastructure in eastern India," the release added.

OMCs to absorb six crore litres of ethanol from Bihar in wake of liquor ban

The state-owned oil marketing companies (OMCs) have told the Central Government that they would strive to absorb the entire quantityof about six crore litres of ethanol that may be produced in Bihar through the molasses route.
The Bihar government, which recently announced a new excise policy under which there is a total ban on liquor in the state, had written to the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas (MoP&NG)requesting it to explore whether the OMCs would be able to lift the entire ethanol produced by distilleries in the state.
An official press release said here today that the Centre was keen to undertake developmental works, more specifically for the agriculture sector, in the State of Bihar. 
The release said the proposal had been considered by the Ministry in consultation with OMCs. It said the OMCs would strive to absorb the six crore litres of ethanol likely to be available for ethanol-blended petrol (EBP) to help Bihar.
This initiative is likely to give approximately Rs. 300 crore to the farmers of Bihar through sugar mills and distilleries and also ensure proper utilizatio of molasses.
"This Government is committed to promote alternate renewable source of energy such as bio-ethanol and bio-diesel which would reduce our dependency on import of crude oil, address growing environment issues and provide better remuneration to the farmers. As a step in this direction, Government of India is running Ethanol Blended Petrol (EBP) Programme in 21 states and 4 UTs with immediate target to achieve 10% ethanol blending in petrol. In order to support the domestic industry, Government has also decided to source ethanol from domestic sources only," the release said.
In the past, ethanol supplies were enough to meet only 30% of the blending requirement. During the sugar year 2013-14, only 38 crore litres of ethanol could be supplied for EBP programme. In order to give a stimulus to this programme, Government in December 2014 enhanced the ethanol procurement price and opened alternate route including lignocelluloses route for ethanol production. OMCs also eased the procurement process for the benefit of suppliers. 
The release said these steps had helped in doubling the ethanol supplies during the Sugar Year 2014-15 wherein 67.42 crore litres had been supplied for blending in petrol. This year, OMCs have floated tender for 266 crore litres of ethanol procurement to meet 10% blending target. There is considerable improvement in the response from the sugar Industry which has offered more than 135 crore litres for the current sugar year. 
Other plans by the Ministry specifically for Bihar include capacity expansion of IOCL Barauni Refinery from 6 MMTPA to 9 MMTPA, upgradation of the refinery to produce BS-VI quality products, integration of the refinery to produce other value-added options and specialty products and establishment of a petrochemical complex at Begusarai, the release added.

High-level Central team reviews the PDS in Bihar

A high-level Central team today urged the Bihar Government to ensure timely lifting of foodgrains from Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns so that they can reach fair price shops (FPS) in the beginning of the month.
All the States have also been asked to upload the data of all beneficiaries of National Food Security Act (NFSA) on State PDS portal, an official press release said.
A high-level Central team, deputed by Union Minister for Consumer, Food & Public Distribution Ram Vilas Paswan visited the Bihar capital to review the public distribution system (PDS) after the death of Jago Manjhi reportedly due to starvation.
After day-long discussions with senior officials of the State Government, the team led by Joint Secretary Deepak Kumar in the Department of Food, found that there was delay in lifting of foodgrains by the state in some districts which was the main reason for not getting ration allocations by the beneficiaries on time, the release said.
It was also observed by the team that the State had not uploaded the data of NFSA beneficiaries on the portal till now, which is one of the mandatory requirement for the allocation of highly subsidized foodgrains. It was depriving a number of beneficiaries from the allocation of wheat at Rs. 2 per kg and rice at Rs. 3 per kg.
During the visit, the Central was informed that problem of lifting of foodgrains was being faced only in districts of Patna, Araria, Bhojpur, Bhagalpur and Saharsa. On receiving complaints of irregularities in these districts, raids were conducted in godowns and licenses were suspended of some private transporters. Now, State Government was arranging transport of foodgrains through State Civil Supplies Corporation. 
Because of non-availability of FCI godowns in some districts, foodgrains were being lifted from neighbouring districts leading to delay in delivery. The Centre asked the FCI and state government agencies to find out ways to avoid this delay. 
During the discussion, computerization of targeted PDS was also reviewed. The State has digitized the data of NFSA beneficiaries but it has not been uploaded on States PDS portal. The committee was informed that a campaign, being conducted in each village and town to collect Aadhar number and other details of beneficiaries,  will be completed in three months. 
In order to check leakage in PDS, states should install ‘Point of Sale Device’ at FPS for biometric identification of beneficiaries at the earliest. State Food Secretary said that such devices were being installed at 56 FPS of Noor block of Nalanda district under system integrator model. 
Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) will also be introduced as pilot project next month in one of the blocks of Purnia district, he added.

BHEL commissions 250 MW thermal plant in Bihar

The public sector Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) tday said it had successfully commissioning a 250 MW coal-based thermal power plant (TPP) in Bihar.
A press release from the company said the 250 MW unit had been commissioned at the upcoming, greenfield 1,000 MW Nabinagar Thermal Power Project (4x250 MW), being set up by Bhartiya Rail Bijlee Company Limited (BRBCL), a joint venture of NTPC Limited and the Indian Railways.
This is the first 250 MW unit to be commissioned at Nabinagar TPP, located at Nabinagar in Aurangabad district of Bihar. Execution of the other three units is also in progress, the release said.
BHEL has a long-standing partnership with NTPC and has supplied over 30,000 MW of the coal-based power plants of NTPC and its JVs that account for around 80% of NTPC’s coal-based installed capacity, the release added.
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