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Delhi

Ramdev to protest outside Parliament, calls for boycott of corrupt politicians

As the Government continued to studiously ignore Baba Ramdev's fast against corruption and black money at the historic Ramlila Ground in the capital, that he began on August 9, the yoga guru on Monday announced he sit on a protest outside Parliament till his demands for steps against these evils are met.

 
Act on Black Money by Sunday evening: Ramdev to PM

As the Government continued to studiously ignore Baba Ramdev's fast against corruption and black money at the historic Ramlila Ground here, that he began on August 9, the yoga guru today announced that he would march towards Parliament and sit on a protest there till his demands for steps against these evils are met.

Ramdev had initially planned to sit on a fast at Ramlila Ground for three days, but when there was no response from the Government, he issued an ultimatum to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to announce decisive steps against corruption and black money by Sunday evening or face a revolution across the country from today.
 
That deadline also passed without any reaction from the Government, and Ramdev announced this morning that the next round of the agitation would be staged outside Parliament.
 
He made it clear that he was not staging a "gherao" of Parliament, because there were many good and honourable Members in both Houses.
 
But he called for a social and political boycott of those politicians who are selling the country's interests and amassing illicit wealth.
 
Ramdev had made three main demands at the start of his fast -- that the Government pass a strong Lokpal Bill (for an anti-corruption ombudsman), take steps to bring back to the country the illicit wealth allegedly stashed abroad by tax evaders and enact a citizens' charter.
 
Ramdev said the protest outside Parliament would be peaceful and non-violent and told the police to act against any "anti-social elements" who might try to cause disturbances.
 
Addressing the crowd at Ramlila Ground here this morning, Ramdev said the Government had failed to hear the voice of the poor and hungry, which he had tried to raise from the venue of his fast.
 
"The Government has become very deaf," he said.
 
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Among those who turned up to share the dais with Baba Ramdev this morning at Ramlila Ground were opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Nitin Gadkari, BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) convener Sharad Yadav and Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy. 
 
Yesterday, former Army chief Gen V K Singh and former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Kiran Bedi, a key member of social activist Anna Hazare's campaign on similar issues, had turned up to express their support for Ramdev's movement.
 
Addressing the crowd at the venue of his protest yesterday, Ramdev said he had given the Government a full opportunity and ample time to act in the matter. "But if they cannot hear the voice of the people emanating from the Ramlila maidan, they cannot blame me for defaming them," he said.
 
"They are doing it themselves, they are digging their own graves with their own hands," he said.
 
Ramdev said the Prime Minister was personally a very honest person, but it was now time for him to show "political honesty", too.
 
He said he had written to Dr Singh in this regard and given him time till Sunday evening to announce decisive steps against corruption and black money.
 
He said that, if Dr Singh failed to act, there would be questions raised about his political honesty.
 
Ramdev said Dr Singh had not delivered on his election promise of bringing back black money from abroad within 100 days of assuming office. "Many 100 days have passed since then," he said.
 
The yoga guru had also said that he would expose, with full evidence, details of the misdeeds of Congress leaders.
 
"Why don't you act against black money? Why don't you declare the illegal money stashed abroad as national wealth? Is it because it is is your money?" he asked the Congress, which heads the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) at the Centre.
 
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Ramdev begins three-day fast, makes three demands in fight against corruption

Yoga guru Baba Ramdev on Thursday launched a three-day fast at the historic Ramlila Ground in the capital as part of his fight against corruption and black money, and made three demands -- that the Government pass a strong Lokpal Bill, bring back illicit wealth stashed abroad by tax evaders and enact a citizens' charter.

 
CBI and Lokpal on Ramdev's agenda
Yoga guru Baba Ramdev today launched a three-day fast at the historic Ramlila Ground in the capital as part of his fight against corruption and black money, and made three demands -- that the Government pass a strong Lokpal Bill, bring back illicit wealth stashed abroad by tax evaders and enact a citizens' charter.
 
The yoga guru, who was returning to the Ramlila Ground 14 months after the police had evicted him from there in a midnight swoop during a similar protest in June last year, told the crowd at the venue of his protest that he would outline his future course of action if the Government did not act on his demands.
 
He made it clear that his movement had no political agenda and said that his agitation was only aimed at making India a better place.
 
"If they cannot understand the voice of peace, then may be we have to make them listen to the voice of revolution but without violence," he said.
 
Speaking again in the evening at the end of the first day of the protest, he said that, if the Government acted on his demands, prices of all commodities would come down drastically, with petrol prices falling to Rs 35 a litre.
 
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"But for this, you need an honest and courageous Prime Minister," he said.
 
Ramdev also wanted a change in the process of appointing the director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Central Vigilance Commissioner, the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Election Commissioners.
 
Referring to the reported remarks of Union Minister Harish Rawat that the Government was ready for talks, he said his doors were also open at all times.
 
None of the prominent supporters of social activist Anna Hazare, who had called off an indefinite fast for a strong Lokpal Bill, a few days ago at Jantar Mantar in the capital, was  present at the venue today.
 
Mr Arvind Kejriwal, a key member of "Team Anna" had announced the group's decision to form a political party before they broke their fast.
 
Ramdev appeared to be against such a move, and underlined this when he said today that he would support the social agenda of Mr Hazare.
 
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PM expresses shock, sadness over US gurudwara shooting

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday expressed shock and sadness at the loss of lives and injuries to people in the shooting incident at a gurudwara in Wisconsin in the United States, in which six people were killed during Sunday morning prayers.

 
Six killed in US gurudwara shooting

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today expressed shock and sadness at the loss of lives and injuries to people in the shooting incident at a gurudwara in Wisconsin in the United States, in which six people were killed during Sunday morning prayers.

“I am deeply shocked and saddened to learn of the shooting incident that has resulted in the loss of precious lives and injuries to devotees attending a prayer service at a gurudwara in Wisconsin, U.S.A.," Dr Singh said.
 
"That this senseless act of violence should be targeted at a place of religious worship is particularly painful. I send my deepest condolences to the families that have been bereaved in this incident. Our thoughts are with them in this moment of their grief," he said.
 
"India stands in solidarity with all the peace-loving Americans who have condemned this violence. We welcome the U.S. President's statement on the tragic incident. We hope that the authorities will reach out to the grieving families and ensure conditions that such violent acts are not repeated in the future," he added.
 
The six people were killed and several others suffered injuries in the attack that was carried out by at least one gunman, who was also shot dead, police said.
 
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PM stresses need to revive investor sentiment, address exchange rate, capital flow issues

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday stressed the need to work towards reviving investor sentiment, both domestic and international, and address issues related to the slide in the exchange rate of the rupee and drying up of capital flows

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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today stressed the need to work towards reviving investor sentiment, both domestic and international, and address issues related to the slide in the exchange rate of the rupee and drying up of capital flows

At a meeting with officials of the Ministry of Finance after taking over the portfolio, Dr Singh said the country was passing through challenging times economically.
 
"The growth rate has taken a dip; the industrial performance is not satisfactory; things are not rosy on the investment front; inflation continues to be a problem," he said.
 
"On the external front, I am concerned about the way the exchange rate is going. Investor sentiment is down and capital flows are drying up," he said.
 
"There are some external reasons and we need to work towards making our country resilient in meeting these external challenges. However, there are many domestic reasons as well. We need to address these quickly. We need to work to get the economy going again and restart the India growth story. 
 
"In the short run, we need to revive investor sentiment, both domestic and international," he said.
 
Dr Singh has decided to keep the Finance portfolio with himself after Mr Pranab Mukherjee resigned as Finance Minister yesterday to contest the July 19 election for the office of the President as a candidate of the ruling Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and several other parties.
 
He said there have been many factors that have contributed to the general negative mood in the country.
 
"There are problems on the tax front which need to be addressed. On the financial sector side, we need to see how we can improve matters. There are issues about the mutual funds industry which need to be resolved. The insurance sector has seen a slowing down which is not normal in a country with large unmet insurance needs. This needs to be looked into. I would like you all to work as a team on all these matters. There are some issues we must address in the short run and some in the long run. I am sure you will be able to work on both fronts," he said.
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Dr Singh, who had served as Finance Minister during 1991-96, when he had launched the economic reforms, told the officials that, apart from a brief spell in 2008, he had been away from the details and nitty-gritty of Finance for a long time.
 
"Therefore, I depend on all of you to give me sound advice on not just matters relating to the Finance Ministry but all aspects of the government and the economy as a whole," he said.
 
He pointed out that the Finance Ministry is an all-encompassing Ministry whose reach extends to every corner of the government and the nation. 
 
"The way it functions is critical for the future of millions of our countrymen who look up to the government to throw open channels for their progress, prosperity and welfare. Therefore, the Finance Ministry has a vital role in evolving economic policies which are conducive to economic growth and the overall welfare of the nation," he said.
 
"The Finance Ministry has had a glorious tradition of doing excellent work. I expect the same from you," he added.
 
Those present at the meeting included Dr Kaushik Basu, Chief Economic Adviser, Mr Pulok Chatterjee, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Finance Secretary R S Gujral and Secretaries in the Finance Ministry R Gopalan, Sumit Bose, D K Mittal and Mohammed Haleem Khan and other senior officials.
 
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PM's visit to Myanmar expected to enrich bilateral ties, take them to new plane

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will pay a three-day state visit to Myanmar from May 27-29 which is expected to enable the two countries to build on the new foundations of their multi-faceted relationship laid during Myanmarese President Thein Sein's visit to India last year.

File photo of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
File photo of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will pay a three-day state visit to Myanmar from May 27-29 which is expected to enable the two countries to build on the new foundations of their multi-faceted relationship laid during Myanmarese President Thein Sein's visit to India last year.

"We seek to leverage this to secure a stronger and mutually beneficial relationship with a neighbouring country that is integral to India’s Look East Policy," Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai told journalists during a briefing on the visit.
 
"Considerable progress has been made in implementing decisions and agreements emanating from the President’s visit in October, 2011," he said.
 
Dr Singh will be accompanied on the visit by his wife, Mrs Gursharan Kaur, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna and senior officials. A delegation of Indian CEOs will also visit Myanmar at the same time. 
 
The visit to Myanmar by Dr Singh will be the first by an Indian Prime Minister in 25 years after the visit by then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in December, 1987.
 
Mr Mathai said the visit followed the "very successful" state visit of President Thein Sein to India in October last year and comes at a time when Myanmar is undergoing rapid transformation.
 
"This visit will provide us an opportunity to review that progress and to discuss new initiatives that we would be taking in the furtherance of our relations. The new political environment in Myanmar also provides fresh opportunities to take our bilateral relationship to a new plane," he said.
 
Mr Mathai said the visit would provide an opportunity to enrich the substance of the bilateral relationship, both qualitatively and in scope and lays down a long-term vision and roadmap for mutually reinforcing bilateral cooperation in a wide range of areas including security, connectivity, infrastructure development, trade and investment promotion, capacity-building and human resource development, culture and people-to-people contacts, and academic exchanges. 
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He said the two sides hoped to sign a number of agreements and memoranda of understanding (MoUs) to further strengthen their bilateral cooperation. 
 
He said Dr Singh's discussions with President Thein Sein in Nay Pyi Taw would cover bilateral, regional and other issues of mutual interest. The President will host a banquet in honour of the Prime Minister on May 28. 
 
Apart from the official engagements in Nay Pyi Taw, the Prime Minister will also visit Yangon where he is expected to meet Ms Aung Sang Suu Kyi, the Chairperson of the National League for Democracy, and other prominent personalities. 
 
During his visit, Prime Minister will also deliver a public address on the theme “India and Myanmar: A Partnership for Progress and Regional Development”, at a function organized by the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, and the Myanmar Development Resource Institute. There will also be interactions between the business delegations of the two sides. 
 
The Prime Minister will also visit the historic Shwedagon Pagoda and the Mazar of the Last Mughal Emperor of India Bahadur Shah Zafar, which is in Yangon. He will also have a separate interaction with the Indian community in Myanmar.
 
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Chidambaram says investigators have got "promising clues" in Delhi blast case

Home Minister P Chdidambaram said on Friday the investigations into Wednesday's powerful blast outside the Delhi High Court, which had claimed 13 lives and left about 72 people injured, had thrown up some promising leads but nothing conclusive yet.

Union Home Minister P Chdidambaram today said the investigations into Wednesday's powerful blast outside the Delhi High Court, which had claimed 13 lives and left about 72 people injured, had thrown up some promising leads but nothing conclusive yet.

11 killed, more than 75 injured in blast outside Delhi High Court

Terror struck the capital again when at least 11 people were killed and more than 75 others injured, many of them seriously, in a powerful blast that took place at a spot outside gates 4 and 5 of the Delhi High Court on Wednesday morning.

Terror struck the capital again when at least 11 people were killed and more than 75 others injured, many of them seriously, in a powerful blast that took place at a spot outside gates 4 and 5 of the Delhi High Court this morning. 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on an official visit to Dhaka, described the blast as a "cowardly act of a terrorist nature" and said the country would deal with it and never succumb to the pressure of terrorism.

Home Minister P Chidambaram at the blast site at Delhi High Court in New Delhi on September 7, 2011.Investigating officials at the blast site at Delhi High Court in New Delhi on September 7, 2011.Commandos with sniffer dogs searching for clues at the blast site at Delhi High court in New Delhi on September 7, 2011.
Home Minister P Chidambaram at the blast site at Delhi High Court in New Delhi on September 7, 2011. ; Investigating officials at the blast site at Delhi High Court in New Delhi on September 7, 2011.; Commandos with sniffer dogs searching for clues at the blast site at Delhi High court in New Delhi on September 7, 2011. UNI PHOTOS

Union Home Minister P Chidambaram told the Lok Sabha in a statement that the Government was determined to track down the perpetrators of the "horrific crime".

"I appeal to the House and to the people of the country that we must remain resolute and united. We must not show any vacillation. We shall never be intimidated by terrorist groups," he said.

The blast occurred around 1015 hours near the reception outside the court premises, where people form long queues to get passes made for entering the court premises. The explosion occurred just 15 minutes before court proceedings were due to begin at 1030 hours, a time when there is a huge crowd of people waiting to get inside.

The injured were rushed by ambulances and other vehicles to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) as well as the Safdarjung, Loknayak Jayaprakash Narayan (LNJP), Ram Manohar Lohia (RML), Moolchand and Sir Gangaram hospitals.

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Mr U K Bansal, Special Secretary (Internal Security) in the Home Ministry said most of the injured had been admitted to the RML Hospital.

"The condition of some of the injured is reported to be critical. In all cases of injured people where surgery was required the same has been performed or is being done now," he said.

Mr Bansal said two of the injured were in the Intensive Care Unit of RML Hospital, while as many as 51 had undergone surgical or orthopaedical procedures and were out of danger.

He said the investigation of the case has been transferred to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) by the Union Government in exercise of its powers under the NIA Act. The NIA has requested the Delhi Government and Delhi Police to associate with and assist them in the investigation.

Mr Bansal said an alert had been sent out to all States in the light of this incident for enforcing all possible precautions in sensitive areas.

He said a team from the Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL), Delhi had collected evidence from the spot which was being examined for clues. The

The National Security Guard's (NSG) post-blast investigation team has also collected relevant traces, residue and so on from the spot and is conducting its own forensic examination. The reports of this scientific examination will be available to the NIA shortly, he said.

TV grab of veteran BJP leader L K Advani speaking in the Lok Sabha on the blast outside Delhi High Court, on September 7, 2011.One of the injured in a blast outside Delhi High Court being led away after being administered first aid, in New Delhi on September 7, 2011.A car, damaged in a blast outside Delhi High Court being towed away, in New Delhi on September 7, 2011.
TV grab of veteran BJP leader L K Advani speaking in the Lok Sabha on the blast outside Delhi High Court, on September 7, 2011.; One of the injured in a blast outside Delhi High Court being led away after being administered first aid, in New Delhi on September 7, 2011. ; A car, damaged in a blast outside Delhi High Court being towed away, in New Delhi on September 7, 2011. UNI PHOTOS

Mr Bansal said preliminary investigation revealed that the blast created a small crater, about 2- 3 feet wide and about one foot deep, at the place where the explosive charge is suspected to have been kept in a briefcase near the reception centre of the High Court.

"The examination of the scene of blast indicates towards the use of nitrate-based explosives with traces of PETN (explosive)," he said.

He said about two kgs of explosives appeared to have been used for the blast. He said most of the victims had been killed by the blast and not by shrapnels.

He said the Delhi Police had been put on high alert and vigorous investigations were in progress, including checking of guest houses, hotels, bus stands, railway stations and airports. All entry and exist routes are also being put under extensive surveillance and checking. Neighbouring States have also been asked to send their teams of Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) experts to examine the scene of the blast and assist in the investigation, he added.

Police vans, fire tenders and ambulances rushed to the spot immediately after the blast and the area was cordoned off. Police requested people to move out of the area so that the security personnel could scan the area and ensure there were no other explosives planted there.

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Intelligence officials, bomb disposal squads, disaster management personnel and other officials had rushed to the spot. Sniffer dogs were also deployed.

Heavy rains that began about 90 minutes after the blast hampered the work of the investigative agencies, especially in the matter of gathering evidence from the spot.

As news of the blast spread, relatives of those injured rushed to the hospitals to inquire about their loved ones.

Today's blast came less than four months after a minor explosion had occurred near a car in the parking lot of the High Court on May 25. No one had been injured in that incident.

In the evening, the Delhi Police released the sketches of two suspects in the case. One of them was said to be around 26 years, 5'9" tall with his hair parted in the middle. The other was said to be around 50 years with a light beard and shallow complexion and of stout build.

Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital to meet the injured in the Delhi High Court blast, in New Delhi on September 7, 2011. UNI PHOTO
Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital to meet the injured in the Delhi High Court blast, in New Delhi on September 7, 2011. UNI PHOTO

Mr Chidambaram, Delhi Lt Governor Tejinder Khanna, Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, BJP leaders L K Advani and Sushma Swaraj and Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi were amongst those who visited the scene of the blast and the hospitals.

Mr Chidambam was also in touch with the Prime Minister in Dhaka in this regard. Dr Singh is due to return to the capital this evening.

Dr Singh told journalists in Dhaka that fighting terror was a long war in which all political parties and the people of India had to stand united so that the "scourge of terrorism is crushed".

In the Lok Sabha, Mr Chidambaram said, "On behalf of the Government, I offer my sincere condolences to the families of those who lost their lives. I offer my sympathies to those who have been injured and I assure the House that we will extend the best medical treatment to the injured."

Mr Chidambaram said the objective of terrorist groups was to strike fear and to destabilise the country.

"We are clear in our mind that there is no cause that will justify terrorist acts. Government unequivocally condemns the terrorist attack that took place today," he said.

"Delhi is a target of terrorist groups. When Parliament is in session and during certain other times of the year Delhi is placed on high alert. Intelligence agencies constantly share intelligence inputs with Delhi Police. Intelligence pertaining to threats emanating from certain groups was shared with Delhi Police in July, 2011. At this stage it is not possible to identify the group that caused the bomb blast today.

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"In the last few years, several measures have been taken to strengthen Delhi Police. Despite the capacity that has been built and despite Delhi Police remaining on high alert, the tragic incident occurred today," he added.

United News of India adds:

Some reports said the Harkat-ul-Jehad Islami (HuJI) has claimed responsibilty for today's attack, citing Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru's death sentence as the reason for the act.

An email received by different media organizations said that HuJI takes responsibility for today's blast in Delhi. HUJI is a Pakistan-based terrorist group. "We take the mail very seriously," said NIA Chief S C Sinha.

The email states, "We own the responsibility of today's blast at high court delhi.....our demand is that Afzal Guru's death sentence should be repealed immediately else we would target major high courts & the Supreme Court of India..........".

Afzal Guru has been sentenced to death by the Supreme Court for his role in the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001. His mercy petition that asks for his sentence to be commuted to life is pending with President Pratibha Patil. The Home Ministry has reportedly recommended that it be rejected.

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PM says Third Front could "unwittingly" help BJP

Manmohan Singh says the Third Front as well as the new grouping launched by three current constituents of the ruling United Progressive Alliance could unwittingly help the Bharatiya Janata Party in the coming elections.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said that the Third Front forged by the Left parties, erstwhile allies of his Congress party, with some regional outfits as well as the new grouping launched by three current constituents of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) could end up unwittingly helping the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the coming elections

The Left parties, which had supported the Congress-led UPA for the first four years of its five-year term before withdrawing support in protest against the India-United States Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, have formed partnerships with several regional parties to form the so-called Third Front on on anti-Congress, anti-BJP platform.

The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), led by Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), headed by Steel Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, and former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party (SP), meanwhile, have launched a separate front, which is contesting against the Congress in 134 constituencies in the politically crucial states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Dr Singh said he sincerely felt the Third Front would not be able to form the government at the Centre after the elections, which are due to be held in five phases from April 16 to May 13, and would only end up dividing the so-called secular vote.

"They are wittingly or unwittingly strengthening the BJP....I would like the SP and LJP to work together (with the Congress)," he said during an interaction with members of the Indian Women's Press Corps.

In reply to a question, Dr Singh hinted at the possibility of seeking the support of the Left parties after the elections. "We will cross that bridge when we come to it," he said, adding that he had a lot of respect for the Left leaders.

Referring to the support extended earlier by the Left parties to the UPA government, he said, "We successfully led a coalition in the past four and a half years. The Left was also happy with us until they quarrelled over the India-US Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement."

But he more or less ruled out the possibility of any alliance with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). "I don't think such an eventuality will arise," he quipped.

He described as "opportunism" the decision of the RJD, SP and LJP to go their separate way in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. "They could affect the electoral outcome to some extent...Today, there is a tendency to divide the country on the lines of caste and religion," he said. "We must be alert to these tendencies."

The Prime Minister pointed out that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) had also not been able to retain its allies. "Where are Chandrababu Naidu, Naveen Patnaik and others," he asked.

The economist-turned politician said the global economic meltdown had posed enormous problems for India and asserted that only the Congress party could steer the country out of the present crisis.

Dr Singh used the opportunity to launch a scathing attack on the BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate Lal Krishna Advani, who was the Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister in the previous NDA government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Mr Advani has repeatedly described Dr Singh as India's weakest ever Prime Minister, one who takes orders from 10, Janpath, the residence of Congress President Sonia Gandhi.

The Prime Minister said the people of the country should ask themselves whether they wanted a government which fanned communal passions and which had again raised old issues like special constitutional provisions for Jammu and Kashmir, a common civil code and the Ram Temple at a time when India had to put up a united front against terrorism and needed a decisive government.

Dr Singh said Mr Advani was present at the spot during the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya and, if he were such a strong leader as he claims to be, he could easily have stopped it. He also referred to the NDA government's decision to send the foreign minister to Kandahar in Afghanistan to escort three terrorists who had been released in exchange for the safe release of passengers of an Indian Airlines flight that had been hijacked. One of the terrorists released later founded the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), he pointed out. He listed the several cases of terrorist attacks that took place around the country when Mr Advani was the Home Minister.

The Prime Minister also spoke about the communal violence in Gujarat in 2002 in which, officially, 1180 lives were lost during BJP leader Narendra Modi's chief ministership. He wondered how the BJP could go around claiming that Mr Modi was the most successful chief minister in the country.

Dr Singh said he could not match Mr Advani in public speaking. "We need a Prime Minister who is strong. Who can take decisions. Speaking loudly doesn't make you a strong Prime Minister...I am not used to abusive language. That is against the Indian culture," he remarked.

He also did not attach much importance to Mr Advani's frequent taunts about the need to have a Prime Minister who is an elected member of the Lok Sabha and not from the Rajya Sabha. He pointed out that several other Prime Ministers before him had been members of the Upper House.

"Judge us on our record and not what Mr Advani says. I want the people of India to decide who is strong and who is weak," he said.

Dr Singh said the government was taking all possible steps, including the strengthening of the intelligence agencies and police forces, to fight the increasing threat of terrorism.

Prime Minister said the Congress party's decision to drop Mr Jagdish Tytler and Mr Sajjan Kumar as candidates for the Parliamentary elections from Delhi after protests by Sikhs against their alleged role in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots reflected its sensitivity to the sentiments of the people.

''By reversing the decision, the Congress party has shown it is sensitive to sentiments to the protestors. Der aaye, durust aaye (better late than never),'' he said.

The issue had acquired a new momentum after a Sikh journalist hurled a shoe at Home Minister P Chidambaram at a press conference here earlier this week in protest against the clean chit given by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to Mr Tytler in cases relating to the anti-Sikh violence that had erupted in Delhi and other places following the October 31, 1984 assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by two of her own Sikh bodyguards.

Dr Singh asserted that neither he nor his office, which oversees the functioning of the CBI, had anything to do with the so-called "clean chit" to Mr Tytler. He said neither he nor Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office, Prithviraj Chavan, had been consulted or informed by the CBI of its stand in the case.

In reply to a question, the Prime Minister dismissed allegations by Pakistani authorities about Indian involvement in the recent terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore.

''These are tactics by Pakistan to divert people's attention. The allegation should be dismissed with the contempt it deserves,'' he said.

Dr Singh said India could not resume its dialogue with Pakistan until there was enough evidence of its willingness and sincerity to prosecute those responsible for the Novemer 26, 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

The Prime Minister promised that if the Congress were returned to power it would take all possible steps to end gender bias. He was referring in particular to the "collective failure" of all political parties to get the bill for reserving 33 per cent of the seats in Parliament for women passed.

Dr Singh said the high point of his tenure was the signing of the India-US Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement.

''It also was the toughest time. But the fact that it came about despite the Left deserting us, was most satisfying,'' he said.

He admitted that he had staked his reputation on the accord and had resolved to resign if it did not materialise.

''It was a question of India's honour. We had negotiated with the US for three years. If the Government had not been able to do it, it would have created a bad impression on the type of system India had. I had made it known to everyone that if the deal did not go through, I would not continue in office,'' he said.

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Sonia says Congress faces its toughest challenge, but will not retreat from the fight

 
I wanted my son, husband out of politics, but they had responsibilities: Sonia
Outgoing Congress President Sonia Gandhi today said that the Congress had never before faced the challenges it does today, with the fundamentals of the country's Constitution under attack and the party having lost several state elections.
 
"But an exemplary energy fires our Congress workers. We are not ones to bend in fear, because our struggle is a fight for the very soul of this nation. We will never reatreat from this fight," she said in her last address as president of the party before handing over the baton to her son and party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who was elected unopposed as the new president earlier this month.
 
Ms. Gandhi said Congress leaders and workers were teh custodians of the ideals and principles on which the nation was built.
 
"This is no small matter. It is not power, wealth or self-importance that is our aim, it is this country -- it is safeguarding our fundamental principles. We are all witness to the daily attacks against freedom of speech and epression, against our culture of diversity, and its replacement with an atmosphere of suspicion and fear. The Congress mustlook within in order to forge ahead. If we do not stand by our principles, we will not be able to wage this fight. It is a battle of righteousness, and we must fit ourselves in order to attain success," she said.
 
The Italian-born Ms. Gandhi began by recalling the day in 1998 when she assumed office for the first time as president of the Congress and the two decades since in which she became the longest-serving head of the 132-year-old organisation.
 
She spoke of her marriage to then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's son Rajiv Gandhi, which brought her into contact with politics. She went on to talk about Mrs. Gandhi's assassination in 1984, after which Rajiv Gandhi became the Prime Minister.
 
"With him I travelled to remote corners of the country, came to understand something of our people's problems and the challenges facing our country. Then, just seven years after the death of Indiraji, my husband too was assassinated. I lost my anchor and my support," she said.
 
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"It was many years later that I could emerge from my shell. Only when I came to feel that the Congress was facing a crisis, and that communal forces were gaining strength did I feel compelled to respond to the call of the party workers. I felt that my turning away from this summons would negate the sacrifice of my mother-in-law's life and my husband's life. So I entered politics -- to fulfill a duty to my family, party and country," she said.
 
Ms. Gandhi went on to speak about the years that followed and finally the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance's (UPA) victory in the 2004 Lok Sabha  elections. "For ten years, we gave the people a responsible and progressive government led by Dr Manmohan Singh that worked for all sections of our society. We are proud that during this period we brought in rights-based laws securing for our poor brothers and sisters their rights to food, education, employment, information, etc.," she said.
 
Pointing out that India is a young country, she expressed confidence that with a new an young leadership the party would be reinvigorated and bring about the changes it needed.
 
About Mr. Rahul Gandhi, she said that while, from his childhood, he had borne the experience of violence, the savage personal attacks he had confronted since entering politics had served to make him a brave and stout-hearted man. "I am proud of his endurance and firmness, and I confident he will lead teh party with a pure heart, patience and devotion," she added.
 
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Manmohan Singh says Sonia Gandhi's leadership of Congress will be remembered

 
Rahul brings new sense of dedication, commitment: Manmohan Singh
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said that the powerful leadership that outgoing Congress President Sonia Gandhi provided to the party in the last 19 years would be remembered in its history.
 
"In these 19 years, I have been associated with Sonia ji as a Member of the Congress Working Committee and ten years as Prime Minister of our country," he said at a ceremony at the Congress headquarters here at which Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi took over as the new President of the party.
 
"As Prime Minister for 10 years, I had the unique privilege of the guidance of Smt. Sonia Gandhi and in those ten years we took some historic decisions. The growth rate of the country was at an all-time high, with an average growth rate of 7.8%. Around 140 million people were lifted from poverty in this period of ten years," he said.
 
He said a large number of social legislations were enacted during this period, including the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and the Right to Information (RTI) Act, under the guidance of Ms. Gandhi.
 
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"Now, that Sonia ji is handing over the reins of the Congress President to Rahul ji, we salute Sonia ji for the magnificent leadership that she has provided in the last 19 years. Rahulji has been helping us for a long period. He has been looking after many of the activities of the Congress Party for many years and he brings to this Office of the Congress President a new sense of dedication, a new sense of commitment, a new sense of looking after the leadership role with courage and humaility. 
 
"Rahul ji today is taking over as the President of our party at the time when there are certain disturbing trends noticeable in our politics. As a distinguished academic pointed out a few days ago there are dangers that the politics of fear will take over the politics of hope. 
 
"Rahul ji, we depend upon you to ensure that the politics of fear does not prevail over the politics of hope which this country need. Our country’s basic problems are problems of poverty, ignorance and disease which still afflict millions and millions of our people. Rahul ji you have travelled all over the country. You know the problems first hand as nobody else knows. We therefore trust that under your distinguished leadership our party will scale new heights of glory achievements. 
 
"With these words I join all Congressmen and Congresswomen in all parts of our country in conveying our good wishes to Rahul ji. May your path be blessed," Dr. Singh added.
 
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Plastic waste can be used for decontamination of water

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Recycling is the only option to handle plastic waste at present. Now Indian scientists have found a new use for plastic waste -- for decontamination of water.
 
Dr. Premanjali Rai and Dr. Kunwar P. Singh from Environmental Chemistry Division, CSIR - Indian Institute of Toxicology Research, Lucknow have used plastic waste to develop  a low-cost magnetically responsive adsorbent material which can be used to remove an antibiotic cephalexin from water.
 
The indiscriminate burning of plastic results in emission of deadly gases and carcinogens into the environment. Dumping them in landfills results in leaching of toxins into ground and surface water resources. Now scientists have formulated an effective strategy of upcycling polyethylene terephthalate (PET) waste into a functional material to mitigate another critical environmental problem -- the emerging levels of antibiotics in water.
 
"We collected PET refuse from the surroundings and converted the same into a magnetically responsive carbon nano-material by carbonization and activation of the PET char under controlled conditions and magnetic modification by a simple chemical precipitation route," explained Dr Rai.
 
Extensive use and disposal of pharmaceuticals in the environment is leading to its contamination and increasing antibiotic resistance. Widely used antibiotic, Cephalexin, is detected as micropollutant in the environment. 
 
"This newly developed low-cost magnetic nanomaterial has the adsorptive potential for cephalexin from the water. The minimal adsorbent dose of 0.4 gram per liter could remove greater than half of the initial cephalexin concentration under laboratory conditions. This technique of magnetic separation for spent adsorbent decreases the secondary pollution problems associated with the non-magneto active adsorbents," said Dr. Rai.
 
The newly developed adsorbents have considerable desorption potential and can be reused. These advantages make it an efficient adsorbent for removal of emerging micropollutants. These findings will prompt to develop more innovative strategies for non-biodegradable waste management.
 
This work has been published in the Journal of Environmental Management. 
 
(India Science Wire)
 
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Kovind urges educational institutions to help find solutions to problems related to their surroundings

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Stressing that education was the foundation of the country, President Ram Nath Kovind said here yesterday that true education, apart from providing technical skills, made people aware of their responsibilities towards society by building an ethical character.
 
"And this is the real contribution of education to the nation," he said in his address at the 14th convocation of the Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology (MNNIT) here.
 
Mr. Kovind said that, if students use their talent and knowledge in everyday life, they will be able to advance their prospects in a balanced and rounded manner and also contribute to society. 
 
He said that MNNIT should help find comprehensive solutions to problems related to its surroundings. 
 
"For instance, its students could contribute to the Namami Gange campaign by making technical suggestions," he said.
 
He was also happy to note that MNNIT has set up an Entrepreneurship Cell, the aim of which is to produce job creators. 
 
Mr. Kovind expressed happiness at the fact that since 2007 the Institute has the status of an “Institute of National Importance”. He noted that talented students from this institution are contributing impressively across the country and abroad. 
 
MNNIT, he said, should now set itself the goal of figuring in global rankings of best technology institutions.
 
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Rahul Gandhi takes over as President of Congress

Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi took over as the new President of the party on Saturday, succeeding his mother Sonia Gandhi and ushering in a generational shift in the 132-year-old organisation that spearheaded the country's freedom struggle.

 
Congress guided by service of community: Rahul Gandhi
Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi took over as the new President of the party here today, succeeding his mother Sonia Gandhi and ushering in a generational shift in the 132-year-old organisation that spearheaded the country's freedom struggle.
 
He formally assumed charge of the position at a ceremony held at the Congress headquarters, at which he was handed over the election certificate by Mr. Mullapally Ramachandran, chairman of the party's Central Election Authority.
 
Apart from Mrs. Gandhi, most other senior leaders of the party, including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, were present at the ceremony. Members of the Gandhi family, including Mr. Gandhi's sister Priyanka Vadra, were also amongst those present.
 
Hundreds of party workers celebrated outside the Congress headquarters at 24, Akbar Road, as the ceremony was held.
 
Mr. Gandhi, 47, had been declared elected unopposed to the position on December 11 at the end of the deadline for withdrawal of candidatures in the election for the post.
 
Congress leaders from across the country had filed 89 nominations proposing Mr. Gandhi for the post. He was the only candidate in the fray.
 
The Election Commission had set a deadline of December 31 for the Congress to complete its organisational elections, after giving it an extension.
 
Mr. Gandhi, 47, is the sixth person from the Nehru-Gandhi family to hold the position after Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehu, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi.
 
Mrs. Gandhi was the longest serving president of the Congress, having been elected to the position first in 1998.
 
Mr. Gandhi's assumption of the leadership of the party has taken place just two days ahead of the counting of votes in the crucial elections to the Gujarat Legislative Assembly, which had seen him leading from the front in a campaign that had stretched over the last three months and more.
 
Under his leadership, the party made a spirited bid to wrest power back in Gujarat from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has been ruling the state for 22 years. For the first time in a long time, the Congress sees a chance for itself in Gujarat -- the home state of both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah -- and Mr. Gandhi travelled extensively throughout the state, addressing several meetings.
 
Counting of votes in Gujarat as well as Himachal Pradesh, where polling was held on November 9, will be taken up on December 18 and all results are expected by that evening.
 
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Mr. Gandhi was elevated as Vice-President and, therefore, the number two in the party  on January 19, 2013, ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, at the Chintan Shivir of the party in Jaipur. He has been virtually leading the party in recent times because Mrs. Gandhi has been unwell and has cut back on her public engagements.
 
Born on June 19, 1970, Mr. Gandhi is the son of late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Mrs Sonia Gandhi. He represents Amethi constituency in Uttar Pradesh in the Lok Sabha. He was elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time in 2004 from Amethi and re-elected in 2009 and 2014.
 
He attended St. Stephen's College, Delhi, Harvard College and Rollins College, Florida, from where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts. He went on to receive an M. Phil. in Development Studies from Trinity College, Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.
 
Thereafter, he joined the Monitor Group, a strategy consulting group, in London, and worked there for three years.
 
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Cabinet okays subsidizing MDR charges on debit card/BHIM UPI/AePS transactions up to Rs 2000

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The Union Cabinet today approved that the Merchant Discount Rate (MDR) applicable on all debit card/BHIM UPI/ Aadhaar enabled Payment System (AePS) transactions up to and including a value of Rs 2000 will be borne by the Government for a period of two years with effect from January 1, 2018 by reimbursing the same to the banks.
 
A Committee comprising of Secretary Department of Financial Services, Secretary Ministry of Electronics & I.T. and the CEO, National Payment Corporation of India (NPCI) will look into the industry cost structure of such transactions which will form the basis to determine the levels of reimbursement.
 
As a result of this approval, for all transactions less than Rs 2000 in value, the consumer and the merchant will not suffer any additional burden in the form of MDR thereby leading to greater adoption of digital payment modes for such transactions. Since such transactions account for sizeable percentage of transaction volume, it will help to move towards a less cash economy.
 
It is estimated that the MDR to be reimbursed to the banks in respect of transactions less than Rs 2000 in value would be Rs 1,050 crore in FY 2018-19 and Rs.1,462 crore in FY 2019-20.
 
When payment is made at a merchant point of sale, MDR is payable by the merchant to the bank. Citing this, many people make cash payments in spite of having debit cards. Similarly, MDR is charged on payments made to merchants through BHIM UPI platform and AePS.
 
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Modi to visit Mizoram and Meghalaya on Saturday, to launch various projects

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Mizoram and Meghalaya tomorrow where he will inaugurate various development projects. 
 
“The enchanting and effervescent Northeast calls! Looking forward to visiting Mizoram and Meghalaya tomorrow, where various development projects will be inaugurated. These projects will add impetus to the development journey of the Northeast," Mr. Modi said on micro-blogging site Twitter.
 
"It is my privilege to be dedicating the Tuirial Hydropower Project to the nation at tomorrow’s programme in Aizawl. The completion of this project is a boon for the people of Mizoram. 
 
"Giving wings to our Yuva Shakti, DoNER has set up a Rs. 100 crore Northeast Venture Capital Fund. Tomorrow I will be distributing cheques to entrepreneurs from this fund. A spirit of enterprise among the Northeast’s youth augurs well for the empowerment of the region," Mr. Modi said. 
 
"In Shillong I will inaugurate the Shillong-Nongstoin-Rongjeng-Tura Road. This project will improve connectivity and further economic growth. I will also address a public meeting. 
 
"We see immense potential in the Northeast and are committed to doing everything for the region’s overall progress," he added.
 
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Cabinet approves creation of one circle office of Commissioner of Metro Railway Safety

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The Union Cabinet today approved the creation of one circle office of Commissioner of Metro Railway Safety (CMRS), along with all supporting officers and staff for carrying out the functions of Commission of Metro Railway Safety.
 
The Cabinet also allowed assigning of an additional charge of two circles to two existing Commissioners of Railway safety (CRSs) who will exercise their powers within their existing jurisdiction. These circles will not be under the jurisdiction of CMRS, New Delhi.
 
The post of Commissioner of Metro Railway Safety will be in HAG ( pay level 15) in the Commission of Railway Safety under the Ministry of Civil Aviation.
 
The estimated expenditure on salary will be around Rs 59,39,040 per annum for the (one) Circle office. Apart from the initial establishment of the organization. The likely expenses for the Circle office per year will be Rs.7,50,000.
 
Creation of these posts will ensure focused attention on the passenger safety and metro rail operation related issues, in respect of existing, as well as upcoming various metro rail projects, as envisaged in the "Metro Railways (Operations and Maintenance) Act, 2002", in the Commission of Railway Safety under the Ministry of Civil Aviation.
 
The post of Commissioner of Metro Railway Safety would be filled from the cadre of Indian Railway Engineering Services (IRSE, IRSEE, IRSSE, RSME) & IRTS by the Ministry of Civil Aviation through nomination from willing officers from Ministry of Railways in consultation with UPSC, initially according to Recruitment Rules for Commissioner of Railway Safety in the Commission of Railway Safety. The process to fill up the posts will be initiated within two months.
 
The proposal for the creation of the posts of Dy. Commissioner of Metro Railway Safety (Dy. CMRS) and supporting staff will be taken up with the Department of Expenditure, Ministry of Finance. On receipt of their approval, orders for creation of the post shall be released immediately.
 
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Cabinet nod for agreement with UNESCO on International Training Centre for Operational Oceanography in Hyderabad

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The Union Cabinet today approved the establishment of International Training Centre for Operational Oceanography, as a Category-2 Centre (C2C) of UNESCO, in Hyderabad.
 
The purpose of the agreement is to establish a training centre towards development of capacity for the countries on the Indian Ocean Rim (IOR), African countries bordering the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, and small island countries under the framework of UNESCO.
 
The operational oceanography is an activity of conducting systematic oceanographic studies towards providing information services to various sectors -- fisherman, disaster management, shipping, ports, coastal states, navy, coast guard, environment, offshore industries for conducting their day-to- day operations.
 
The Centre will provide assistance in areas of capacity building and training, knowledge sharing and exchange of information, and hence could represent a valuable resource for UNESCO and its Intergovernmental Oceanography Commission (IOC) by enhancing the impact and visibility of UNESCO's action.
 
The establishment of UNESCO Category-2 Centre will provide an opportunity for India to emerge as a leading country in the Indian Ocean.
 
This will also help India to forge cooperation and improve engagement among the counties of the Indian Ocean, including South Asian and African states bordering the Indian Ocean.
 
The establishment of the centre would respond to the worldwide increasing need to build technical and management capacity to address marine and coastal sustainability issues and prepare the region for and react efficiently to marine natural hazards.
 
The Centre could contribute to achieving Sustainable Development Goal-14 (SDG 14) related to building marine scientific research capacity in geographical area of the Centre responsibility which will also fulfil the commitments to support Small Island Developing States, Least Developed Countries.
 
This C2C is intended to improve skill of students and other participants which will increase the employment opportunities within and outside India. The establishment of C2C is also expected to increase ancillary development leading to employment generation in India.
 
 The centre is currently operational with the state-of-the-art facilities available at Indian Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), Hyderabad. So far, over 681 scientists including 576 from India and 105 from 34 other countries have been trained at this centre in various aspects of operational oceanography.
 
The other infrastructure facilities like building and training hostel are being established. It is also envisaged to invite world class (acuities and trainees from around the world and work out a curriculum for long duration courses (of 3-9 months).
 
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Cabinet okays special package for employment generation in leather and footwear sector

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The Union Cabinet today approved the special package for employment generation in the leather and footwear sector.
 
The package involves implementation of the Central Sector Scheme, Indian Footwear, Leather & Accessories Development Programme, with an approved expenditure of Rs. 2600 crore over the three financial years from 2017-18 to 2019-20.
 
The scheme would lead to development of infrastructure for the leather sector, address environment concerns specific to the leather sector, facilitate additional investments, employment generation and increase in production, an official press release said.
 
Enhanced tax incentive would attract large scale investments in the sector and reform in labour law in view of seasonal nature of the sector will support economies of scale.
 
The Special Package has the potential to generate 3.24 lakhs new jobs in three years and assist in formalization of 2 lakh jobs as cumulative impact in Footwear, Leather & Accessories Sector, the release said.
 
A sub-scheme under Human Resource Development (HRD) proposes to provide assistance for Placement Linked Skill Development training to unemployed persons @ Rs 15,000 per person, for skill up-gradation training to employed workers @ Rs 5,000 per employee and for training of trainers @ Rs 2 lakh per person.
 
The placement of 75% of trained persons is proposed to be mandatory for availing assistance related to skill development training component. The proposal under this sub-scheme is to train/skill 4.32 lakh unemployed persons, upgrade the skills of 75,000 existing employees and train 150 master trainers during the three years with proposed outlay of Rs 696 crore.
 
The Integrated Development of Leather Sector (IDLS) sub-scheme proposes to incentivize investment and manufacturing including job creation by providing backend investment grant/subsidy @ 30% of the cost of new Plant and Machinery to Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and @ 20% of the cost of Plant and Machinery to other units for modernization/ technology upgradation in existing units and also for setting up of new units.
 
The proposal under this sub-scheme is to incentivize 1000 units in Leather, Footwear and Accessories & Components sector during the three years with proposed outlay of Rs 425 crore.
 
Establishment of Institutional Facilities sub-scheme proposes to provide assistance to Footwear Design & Development Institute (FDDI) for upgradation of some of the existing campuses of FDDI into "Centres of Excellence" and establishing three new fully equipped skill centres alongside the upcoming Mega Leather Clusters, based on project proposals, with proposed outlay of Rs. 147 crore for the three years.
 
The Mega Leather, Footwear and Accessories Cluster (MLFAC) sub-scheme aims at providing infrastructure support to the Leather, Footwear and Accessories Sector by establishment of Mega Leather, Footwear and Accessories Cluster.
 
Graded assistance is proposed to be provided up to 50% of the eligible project cost, excluding cost of land with maximum Government assistance being limited to Rs. 125 crore. The outlay of Rs 360 crore has been proposed to support 3-4 new MLFACs, for the three years.
 
Under the Leather Technology, Innovation and Environmental Issues sub-scheme, assistance is proposed to be provided for upgradation/ installation of Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETPs) @ 70% of the project cost. The sub-scheme will also provide support to national level sectoral industry council/ association and support for preparation of vision document for Leather Footwear and Accessories Sector. The proposed outlay for this sub-scheme is Rs 782 crore for the three years.
 
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Under Promotion of Indian Brands in Leather, Footwear and Accessories Sector sub-scheme, the eligible units approved for Brand Promotion are proposed to be assisted.
 
The Government assistance is proposed to be 50% of total project cost subject to a limit of Rs. 3 crore for each brand, each year for three years. The proposal under this sub-scheme is to promote 10 Indian brands in the international market in three years with proposed outlay of Rs. 90 crore.
 
Under Additional Employment Incentive for Leather, Footwear and Accessories Sector sub-scheme, it is proposed to provide the employers' contribution of 3.67% to Employees' Provident Fund for all new employees in Leather, Footwear and Accessories sector, enrolling in EPFO for first three years of their employment.
 
The sub-scheme would be applicable to employees with salary upto Rs15,000. The proposed outlay is Rs 100 crore to assist in formalization of approximately 2,00,000 jobs in the sectors.
 
The special package also includes measures for simplification of labour laws and incentives for employment generation. By enhancing the scope of Section 80JJAA of Income Tax Act, deduction will be provided to Indian company engaged in manufacture of goods in a factory towards additional wages paid for three years to new workman.
 
The provisions of minimum 240 days employment in a year to a workman under Section 80JJAA of Income Tax Act would be further relaxed to 150 days for Footwear, Leather & Accessories Sector considering the seasonal nature of this sector.
 
In order to attract large scale investments at global scale, the regulatory framework for labour related issues is proposed to be addressed by introduction of Fixed Term Employment under Sub Section (1) of section 15 of Industrial Employment (Standing Order) Act, 1946 looking at the seasonal nature of Leather, Footwear and Accessories industry.
 
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Cabinet approves continuation of NLCPR scheme for North East till March 2020

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The Union Cabinet today approved the continuation of the existing Non-Lapsable Central Pool of Resources (NLCPR) scheme with funding pattern of 90:10 till March 2020 with an outlay of Rs 5300 crore.
 
It would enable completion of ongoing projects, an official press release said.
 
The Cabinet also approved the introduction of new Central Sector Scheme of “North East Special Infrastructure Development Scheme” (NESIDS) from 2017-18 with 100% funding from the Central Government to fill up the gaps in the creation of infrastructure in specified sectors till March 2020.
 
The new scheme will broadly cover the creation of infrastructure including physical infrastructure relating to water supply, power, connectivity and especially the projects promoting tourism.
 
It would also take up infrastructure creation in social sectors of education and health.
 
The assets to be created under the new scheme of NESIDS will not only strengthen health care and education facilities in the region but will also encourage tourism thereby the employment opportunities for local youth.
 
The scheme will act as a catalyst in the overall development of the region in the years to come, the release added.
 
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India's exports soar by 30.55% to $ 26.196 billion in November, 2017

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Bouncing back into positive territory, India's merchandise exports soared by a huge 30.55 percent to $ 26.196 billion in November, 2017 as compared to $ 20.066 billion during the same month of 2016. 
 
In rupee terms, the exports were valued at Rs. 169912.50 crore as compared to Rs. 135699.47 crore during November, 2016, up 25.21%, an official statement said here today.
 
The country's exports had declined by 1.12% in October 2017, reversing a 13-month uptrend.
 
The statement said that the major commodity groups of export which showed high growth over the corresponding month of last year were Engineering Goods (43.76%), Petroleum Products (47.68%), Gems & Jewellery (32.69%), Organic & Inorganic Chemicals (54.28%), and Drugs & Pharmaceuticals (13.39%).
 
The cumulative value of exports for the period April-November 2017-18 was $ 196.482 billion (Rs 1267771.18 crore) as against $ 175.410 billion (Rs 1174997.07crore) registering a growth of 12.01% in dollar terms and 7.90% in rupee terms over the same period last year.
 
Non-petroleum and non-gems and jewellery exports in November 2017 were valued at $ 19.247 billion as against $ 15.104 billion in November 2016, an increase of 27.43%. Non-petroleum and non-gems and jewellery exports during April -November 2017-18 were valued at $ 143.528 billion as compared to $ 126.660 billion for the corresponding period in 2016-17, an increase of 13.32%.
 
The statement said imports during November 2017 were valued at $ 40.025 billion (Rs 259612.29 crore) which was 19.61% higher in dollar terms and 14.73% higher in rupee terms over the level of imports valued at $ 33.462 billion (Rs. 226288.21 crore) in November 2016. The cumulative value of imports for the period April-November 2017-18 was $ 296.459 billion (Rs. 1913047.30 crore) as against $ 243.297 billion (Rs. 1630199.71 crore) registering a growth of 21.85% in dollar terms and 17.35% in rupee terms over the same period last year.
 
Major commodity groups of import which showed high growth in November 2017 over the corresponding month of last year are Petroleum, Crude & products (39.14%), Electronic goods (24.97%), Pearls, precious & Semi-precious stones (85.80%), Machinery, electrical & non-electrical (23.24%) and Coal, Coke & Briquettes, etc. (51.80%).
 
Oil imports during November 2017 were valued at $ 9.551 billion which was 39.14% higher than oil imports valued at $ 6.864 billion in November 2016. Oil imports during April-November 2017-18 were valued at $ 65.803 billion which was 22.65% higher than the oil imports of $ 53.652 billion in the corresponding period last year.
 
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The statement pointed out that the global Brent prices ($/bbl) had increased by 34.73% in November 2017 vis-à-vis November 2016.
 
Non-oil imports during November 2017 were estimated at $ 30.474 billion which was 14.57% higher than non-oil imports of $ 26.597 billion in November 2016. Non-oil imports during April-November 2017-18 were valued at $ 230.656 billion which was 21.63% higher than the level of such imports valued at $ 189.644 billion in April-November 2016-17.
 
As far as services were concerned, exports during October 2017, the latest month for which data was available, were valued at $ 14.152 billion (Rs. 92103.06 crore), a growth of 3.06% in dollar terms as compared to growth of 0.23% during September 2017.
 
Imports of services during October 2017 were valued at $ 8.700 billion (Rs. 56620.73 crore) registering a growth of 2.96% in dollar terms as compared to a decline of 2.40% during September 2017.
 
In the case of merchandise, the trade deficit for November 2017 was estimated at $ 13.829 billion as against the deficit of $ 13.395 billion during November 2016.
 
In the case of services, the trade balance for October 2017 was estimated at $ 5.452 million.
 
Taking merchandise and services together, overall trade deficit for April-November 2017-18 is estimated at $ 60.928 billion as compared to $ 30.095 billion during April-November 2016-17, the statement added.
 
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Modi to dedicate 60 MW Tuirial Hydroelectric Power Project in Mizoram to nation on Saturday

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi will formally dedicate the 60 MW Tuirial Hydroelectric Power Project (HEPP) in Mizoram to the nation tomorrow.
 
Mr. Modi will also launch ‘MyDoNER App’ and distribute cheques to the Start-up Entrepreneurs at Aizawl, an official press release said.
 
Mizoram Governor Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Nirbhay Sharma, Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla, Minister of State for Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) Jitendra Singh and Minister of State for Power and New & Renewable Energy R.K. Singh will be present on the occasion.
 
The Tuirial HEPP has been constructed as a Central Sector Project and implemented by North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO), under the administrative control of the Ministry of Power, Government of India. 
 
The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) cleared the project for implementation in July 1998 with commissioning scheduled in July 2006. After completion of about 30% of the project activities, the works were totally suspended with effect from June 2004 due to local agitation. With sustained efforts by NEEPCO and with active support of Ministry of Power and Ministry of DoNER and Government of Mizoram, the stalled works of the project were resumed in January 2011. 
 
According to the release, the project, being remotely located, encountered various hindrances ranging from inadequate communication infrastructure to the project site, massive failure of the Power House slopes due to poor soil condition, lack of availability of skilled manpower, and so on. These factors resulted in comparatively longer gestation period for the project. However, with all efforts from the agencies concerned, the project works were completed successfully, leading to commissioning of Unit-I on 25-08-2017 and Unit-II on 28-11-2017. 
 
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The project has been implemented by NEEPCO by engaging Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd for supply and erection of power generating equipment, Patel Engineering Ltd for execution of major civil works and Sew-PES-Tuirial consortium for hydro-mechanical works. The project has been built at a cost of Rs. 1302 crore. 
 
The project is the biggest power project located in Mizoram and will feed the entire energy to be generated to the home State, which will facilitate all-round development of the State and achieving Government of India's mission ‘24x7 Affordable Clean Power for All’. 
 
The State's current demand of electricity is only 87 MW and this is being met by State's mini power projects and availability of its share of power from central sector projects. With the additional 60 MW of electricity from the project, the State of Mizoram will now be the third power-surplus State in North East India after Sikkim and Tripura. Apart from attaining self-sufficiency in electric power, the project will fetch other spin-off benefits to the State of Mizoram like employment generation, navigation, water supply, pisciculture and wild life conservation, tourism and so on.
 
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BHEL bags Rs. 7,300 crore contract for 1,320 MW Supercritical Power Project in Tamil Nadu

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The public sector Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) today said it had, against stiff international competition bidding (ICB), won an order for setting up a 1,320 MW Supercritical Thermal Power Project (TPP) in Tamil Nadu.
 
Valued at over Rs. 7,300 crore, the order for setting up the 2x660 MW Udangudi TPP has been placed on BHEL by Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation Limited (TANGEDCO), a press release from the company.
 
The release said this was the fourth order for supercritical sets finalised in the last three years by TANGEDCO, and all the four orders have been won by BHEL. The previous three orders -- 2x660 MW Ennore SEZ, 1x800 MW North Chennai Supercritical TPP Stage-III and 2x800 MW Uppur TPP -- were also secured by BHEL on ICB basis, it said.
 
Located at Udangudi in Thoothukudi district of Tamil Nadu, the greenfield project will be executed by BHEL on Engineering, Procurement, Construction (EPC) basis. BHEL's scope of work in the current contract involves design, engineering, manufacture, supply, erection, commissioning and civil works for the entire plant including sea water intake and outfall systems, it said.
 
The key equipment for the project will be manufactured at BHEL’s Trichy, Haridwar, Bhopal, Ranipet, Hyderabad, Jhansi, Thirumayam and Bengaluru plants while the company's Power Sector - Southern Region shall be responsible for civil works, erection and commissioning of the equipment.
 
The implementation of the new projects will help foster growth in Tamil Nadu and provide easy access to electricity to the people of the state. At present, BHEL has a share of 83% in the state’s coal-based generating capacity, the release added.
 
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Modi hopes Parliament will function in a positive manner

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi today hoped that both Houses of Parliament would function in a positive manner so that the country could be benefited, democracy strengthened and the expectations of the people are fulfilled.
 
"Our Winter Session is getting started. And I believe that in this Winter Session, that is beginning in 2017 and will continue in 2018, several important issues of the government, that have far reaching impact, will be brought before the Parliament," he told journalists on his arrival at Parliament House for the opening day of the Winter Session of Parliament.
 
"There should be a good debate, there should be a positive debate, and the debate should take place with innovative suggestions… only then the time of the Parliament will be properly utilized for the benefit of the country. 
 
"I am confident of it, and even yesterday we had an ‘All Party meeting’ in which there was a common voice that the session of the parliament should be utilised in the proper manner for taking the country forward. 
 
"And I also hope that if the house will function in a positive manner then the country will be benefitted, democracy will be strengthened and a new trust for fulfilling the expectations and hopes of common people will be created," he added.
 
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Naidu launches New Delhi edition of Marathi newspaper Lokmat

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Vice-President M. Venkaiah Naidu has said that the media had great power to influence the people and urged the Fourth Estate to use its freedom of expression to spread harmony and contribute to the nation's development.
 
Launching the New Delhi edition of Marathi daily newspaper Lokmat here yesterday, he said the media should exercise the freedom of expression with responsibility.
 
“When the freedom is misused and expression becomes distorted and dangerous and you overstep, the law will have to step in,” he said.
 
Cautioning the media not to let itself become a tool in the hands of rumour mongers, Mr. Naidu said, “Information with confirmation is great ammunition; without confirmation, it remains gossip and can lead to dangerous rumour mongering."
 
Asking the media to exercise self-restraint, the Vice-President said if the control is from without, it would prove more dangerous. It can be profitable only when exercised from within, he added. 
 
“You should hold the mirror to the society but the mirror should be a straight one, not convex, concave or contorted,”Mr. Naidu said. "News should be news, views should be separate,” he added. 
 
“News is a public good. Please use it for enhancing the 'good quotient' in society. You have the power to influence, use the power wisely,” said the Vice-President. “Use it to get to the truth (Satyam) and share it for the larger societal benefit (Shivam) in a beautiful format(Sundaram),” he said.
 
Mr. Naidu also recalled the history of the Lokmat newspaper, which is entering into its centennial year this day, and its contribution to India’s freedom struggle. 
 
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Tata Motors delivers first batch of the Tigor electric vehicles to EESL

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Automobile manufacturers Tata Motors yesterday delivered the first set of Tigor electric vehicles (EVs) to state-run Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL) as part of their initiative to procure 10,000 electric vehicles. 
 
Mr. Guenter Butschek, CEO & MD, Tata Motors handed over the keys of the Tigor EVs to Mr. Saurabh Kumar, Managing Director, EESL, accompanied by the senior management teams from both the companies.
 
“This initiative of the Government of India to procure 10,000 electric vehicles is a bold step in terms of promoting green & sustainable transport solutions. We, at Tata Motors are extremely proud to be part of this project and are supportive of the Government’s transformational vision of auto electrification in India," Mr. Butschek said.
 
"With Tigor EV, we have begun our journey in boosting e-mobility and will offer a full range of electric vehicles to the Indian customers. This tender has effectively paved the way for connecting our aspirations in the e-mobility space with the vision of the Government.”
 
"The Tigor EV is a full electric, zero emission ‘StyleBack’ that comes with a stunning, break-free and revolutionary design, set to build on the existing Passenger Vehicles portfolio of Tata Motors. Specific to the EESL order, the Tigor EV will be delivered in three trim variants – Base, Premium and High and will be available in ‘Pearlescent White’ colour with blue decals. Over the basic requirements of the tender, the Tigor EV, across the variants, would have FATC (Fully Automatic AC) to provide maximum comfort to its occupants. Equipped with a single speed, automatic transmission, the Tigor EV will also allow the customers to enjoy the driving experience, maximized efficiency and seamless acceleration. The electric drive systems for the Tigor EV is developed and supplied by Electra EV – a company established to develop and supply electric drive systems for the automotive sector," a press release from the company said.
 
Tata Motors had qualified as L1 bidder in the midst of stiff competition and won the tender floated by EESL in September 2017. For phase 1, Tata Motors is required to deliver 250 Tigor EVs, for which it has received a LoA.
 
"Tata Motors is committed to the Government’s vision for electric vehicles by 2030 and will work in a collaborative manner to facilitate faster adoption of electric vehicles and to build a sustainable future for India," the release added.
 
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