Congress promises rights to health, pension, housing, social security, dignity

The Congress on Wednesday promised to the people a charter of minimum rights that it will put in place, if elected to office in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, including the Rights to Health, Pension, Housing, Social Security, Dignity and Entrepreneurship.

Sonia Gandhi releases Congress manifesto for LS elections
The Congress today promised to the people a charter of minimum rights that it will put in place, if elected to office in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, including the Rights to Health, Pension, Homestead or Housing, Social Security, Dignity and humane working conditions and to Entrepreneurship that will protect and assist all those who seek to become entrepreneurs.
In its election manifesto released here today by Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, the party pledged to implement a 15-point agenda for socio-economic and political transformation of the country.
"We will endeavour to bring around two-thirds of our population -- the skilled hands that build India - into the middle class, through a package of basic rights for all workers -- formal and informal, organized and unorganized, regular and contractual.
"Our aim will be to provide them and all low-income families with economic security and a minimum standard of living to uplift their condition," the manifesto said.
The Congress said it would ensure that the unpredictable risk of retroactive taxation is avoided and promised to invest more than 1 trillion dollars over the next decade on upgrading India's power, transport and other development infrastructure.
Among other things, the party said it was committed to creating national consensus on affirmative action for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the private sector.
The document said the new rights would supplement the other rights established under the first and second terms in office of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, includind the Right to Food, the Right to Information, the Right to Education, the Right to Employment and the rights to fight corruption (through various laws such as the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act), the Right to Identity (Aadhaar) and the Right to direct receipt of welfare benefits (Direct Benefit Transfers).
The party said it would, to support the Right to Health, increase health expenditure to 3% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and provide universal and quality health care for all Indians, including free medicines.
To support the right to homestead/housing, it will ensure affordable and quality housing for all and expand the Indira Awaas Yojana and Rajiv Awaas Yojana to cover all poor rural and urban households, it said.
The manifesto promised to restore India to eight-plus growth rate within three years. The party said it would ensure India has a globally competitive business and investment-friendly environment.
It promised firm action to control inflation even in a difficult global economic scenario and a open and competive economy, open to global and domestic competition.
"Our vision is building India as the world leader in manufacturing. We will ensure a 10% growth rate in the manufacturing sector with a special emphasis on small and medium enterprises," it said.
The Congress said it would continue on the path of making India a world leader in agricultural  production and agro-industry, taking advantage of its national endowments and the genius of its farmers.
"We will focus on increasing agriculture productivity and farmer incomes by increasing investments in irrigation, agricultural value chains, cold storage and warehousing," it said.
The manifesto said the party would increase the Goods and Services Tax Bills and a new Direct Tax Code Bill in Parliament and ensure they are enactd within one year.
It also promised to support more transparent, competitive and better-regulated public private partnerships for both hard and soft infrastructure development.
The Congress promised to promote a more flexible labour policy as needed for maintaining competitiveness, while moving towards international labour standards for workers.
"We will promote greater integration with the global economy and encourage Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), especially in labour intensive sectors," it said.
"We will ensure that growth is socially responsible, and comes from genuine valude addition, not from stripping our natural resources or from underpaying our labour," it said.
The party said it would ensure that all towns and village panchayats are connected with high-speed broadband connectivity within 18 months.
The manifesto said the UPA government had made serious and systematic efforts to track down and recover black money and promised to continue this effort. It said the government would appoint a special envoy to pursue this agenda.
The Congress promised to provide skills training to 10 crore youth and provide them with employment opportunities over the next five years and ensure that every citizen has a bank account within the next five years.
The manifesto promised to implement the National Youth Policy, which includes development of sports, expand higher education opportunities with a focus on students from low-income families and open up the higher education system to investment from India and from abroad and bring the best available knowldege and teaching to the country's youth.
"We will move our focus from 'Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan' to 'Shreshta Shiksha Abhiyan', making 'quality' the centre of our agenda," it said.
The party promised to work towards the enactment of the Communal Violence Bill at the earliest and continue its focus on empowerment of women and fight for their security, self-respect and dignity, and equality.
Among other things, it said it w ould ensure the passage of the Women's Reservation Bill, formulate a Citizen's Charter for Women's Safety and Security, and provide upto Rs 1 lakh as low-interest loans to women through self-help groups for livelihood activities.
The Congress promised to enhance legal protection and resource allocation for the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs). It said it would enact central legislation on the Scheduled Casts and Scheduled Tribes Sub Plans to ensure focused spending of funds on weaker sections. It also promised to ensure the passage of the Scheduled Cstes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2013.
The manifesto said the party would strongly protect the interests of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), especially those amongst them that are most deprived. It said it would establish a new commission to inquire into the condition of the most backward and marginalized OBC communities who have not adequately received the benefits of government programmes and recommend corrective measures.
The manifesto promised to strengthen the legal and institutional framework to protect children.
"We will improve the working conditions of Anganwadi and related workers in whose our nation entrusts our most precious asset -- our youngest citizens," it said.
The Congress promised a major impetus to planned urbanization, creating inclusive cities, revamping urban governance, empowering mayors, increasing low-income housing and making larger investments in urban infrastructure, especially in multi-modal transport.
It said it would accelerate governance reform including legal, judicial and electoral reform, building on the momentum of the last few months.
It promised to enact the remaining anti-corruption and accountability bills that were blocked by the opposition and to implement a strategy for legal and judicial reforms. It said it would ensure that the recommendations of the second Administrative Reforms Commission are implemented and monitored at every step. It promised to develop a consensus and bring about legislative amendments towards effective and meaningful electoral reforms.
The manifesto said the party was committed to a series of specific legislative, administrative and regulatory measures to protect the environment. It said it would set up a National Environmental Appraisal and Monitoring Authority (NEAMA).
The Congress said it would ensure that the process of procuring the finest, and most state-of-the-art equipment for the Armed Forces was carried out efficiently and transparently, while ensuring the rapid development of the domestic defence industry.
"We will continue to protect and advance the interests of our defence personnel and ex-servicemen. 
"We will continue to follow an unwavering pro-India foreign policy, enhance bilateral relationships with our neighbours and friendly nations, enhance commercial ties and strive to mobilize support for permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council," it added.
The release of the manifesto was preceded by the screening of a short film on the process of drafting it, which included consultations held by Mr Gandhi with various groups, including youth, women, farmers, labourers, fishermen, students, businessmen, across the country to ensure that the document reflected the views of the people of India.
The manifesto talks about the Congress' contributions to India's unity, secular polity and democratic federalism and how it has championed the rights of the weaker sections, created conditions for faster economic growth and been an instrument of social and economic change.
It also includes a report card on the UPA government's performance and a comparison of the Congress with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the main opposition party. It said the Congress had an inclusive vision, while the BJP's was an "exclusionary doctrine".
The document lists the important legislation enacted by the UPA government in the 2009-14 period.
The manifesto has a detailed action plan on the implementation of its manifesto for the next five years as well as a 100-day agenda for growth.
The detailed plan includes an economic roadmap for 2014-19, and the Congress' plans to create more jobs, protect the interests of labour, empower the SCs, STs and OBCs, accelerate skill development, empower women, protect children and safeguard minorities.
It dwells at length on building a world-class education system, promoting sports, rural development and Panchayati Raj, agriculture and family welfare, industrial and manufacturing growth, infrastructure (transport, energy), urban development, housing, environment and information and communications technology.
"The 2014 Lok Sabha elections will offer stark choices. On the one side is the Indian National Congess with its long track record of achievements and accomplishments, with its vision and values bequeathed to it by a most remarkable generation of Indians led by Mahatma Gandhi.
"On the other side is an ideology of hate, bigotry and prejudice, an ideology that negates the very idea of India that has been cherished by us for centuries.
"On the one side is the Indian National Congress, which celebrates and rejoices in the multitude of diversities of India. On the other side is an ideology that seeks to impose uniformity in the name of unity.
"Economic growth, social harmony, empowerment of weaker sections and strengthening of democratic institutions have to all go hand-in hand. It is only the Indian National Congress that will, by its very character, ensure that this happens," it added.

Jaswant Singh says fight is between "real BJP" and "fake BJP"

Amid intense speculation that he might quit the BJP after being denied a ticket to contest the coming Lok Sabha elections from his home town of Barmer in Rajasthan, former External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh said on Saturday the party had been encroached upon by "outsiders".

My fight is between fake and real BJP: Jaswant Singh
Amid intense speculation that he might quit the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after being denied a ticket to contest the coming Lok Sabha elections from his home town of Barmer in Rajasthan, former External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh today said the party had been encroached upon by "outsiders".
He was apparently referring to the fact that the BJP had given Lok Sabha tickets to several people who had joined it in recent days and weeks, including Col Sonaram Choudhary, who switched sides from the Congress recently and was named the candidate from Barmer yesterday.
"All workers of the BJP must be seriously concerned about these developments," he said.
Talking to journalists at Jodhpur on his way to Barmer, where he will meet his supporters today and tomorrow before taking a decision on his future course of action, Mr Singh, 76, also made it clear that he would indulge in any bargaining with the party for post-election positions or any other offers from it.
"My sense of honour is not subject to trading," he said, even as BJP President Rajnath Singh and senior party leader Arun Jaitley said that the party would utilise Mr Singh's abilities in an appropriate manner.
Mr Rajnath Singh said the importance that the BJP acccorded to Mr Singh could not be judged on the basis of an election ticket alone. "He is far above that," he said.
Mr Jaitley said it was true that the BJP had not been able to accommodate Mr Singh's wishes as far as Barmer was concerned, but the party would use his abilities in other ways.
"The challenge today is between the real BJP and the fake BJP," Mr Singh said in Jodhpur today.
"Only the people can decide on the difference between the two," he said.
He said he had lived and struggled all these years to uphold the principles on which the BJP was founded and it was important that he continued to do so.
He said it was for the BJP to realise what would add value to the party, to India and to the people of India.
The BJP's decision to deny the ticket to Mr Singh is being seen as yet another indication that the old order in the party is being forced to yield place to the new.
According to media reports, Mr Singh had conveyed to the BJP leadership that he would contest the election from Barmer as an independent candidate if the party decides against nominating him.
He has never contested from Barmer, having been elected to the Lok Sabha from Chittorgarh in Rajasthan in 1991 and 1996, and from Darjeeling in West Bengal in the last general elections in 2009.
According to sources, Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje had pushed for a ticket for Col Choudhary, a Jat leader, after he joined the BJP some time ago.
Col Choudhary had lost the 2004 Lok Sabha elections from Barmer to Mr Jaswant Singh's son Manvendra Singh, who now represents Sheo - a part of the Barmer Parliamentary constituency - in the Rajasthan Legislative Assembly.
While Mr Singh has not spoken out about his future course of action, the speculation was that he might resign from the BJP in a day or two and decide to contest from Barmer as an independent candidate or ask his son to contest from the constituency, again as an independent. He said that he would announce his decision at Barmer on Monday.
The move to deny Mr Singh a ticket has also upset a section of BJP workers in Barmer.
These development have come just a day after the BJP had, on Thursday, managed to mollify its veteran leader Lal Krishna Advani into accepting the party's decision to field him from Gandhinagar in Gujarat, though he had expressed his wish to shift to Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh.
Earlier, another party veteran, Murli Manohar Joshi, was reportedly upset after he had to make way for BJP Prime Ministerial candidate and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who wanted to contest the Lok Sabha elections from his constituency of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. He was persuaded finally to move to Kanpur.
Another senior leader, Lalji Tandon, had to give up his claim over Lucknow, the seat held by him, to accommodate Mr Rajnath Singh, who decided against contesting from Ghaziabad, the seat he had won the last time.
In Punjab, three-time MP and former Indian cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu had to make way in Amritsar for senior leader Arun Jaitley.

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Advani agrees to contest from Gandhinagar after BJP leaves choice to him

After sulking for nearly 24 hours during which top leaders of the party sought to mollify him, veteran BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani announced on Thursay that he would contest the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Gandhinagar in Gujarat, giving up his insistence on fighting from Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh.

File photo of senior BJP leader L. K. Advani.
File photo of senior BJP leader L. K. Advani.
After sulking for nearly 24 hours during which top leaders of the party sought to mollify him, veteran Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Lal Krishna Advani today announced that he would contest the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Gandhinagar in Gujarat, giving up his insistence on fighting from Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh.
Mr Advani, 86, was miffed by the fact that the party had decided to field him from Gandhinagar, from where he has been elected five times, though he had indicated that he would prefer to contest from Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh.
He was also upset that the party did not give him any choice in this matter, though it had accommodated the wishes of several other senior leaders by allowing them to fight from constituencies they wanted.
In a statement issued here this evening, Mr Advani said BJP President Rajnath Singh had conveyed to him the "desire of the Gujarat unit of the BJP and the decision of the Election Committee yesterday that I should contest the Parliamentary election from Gandhinagar."
He said that, this morning, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who is the BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate, also came over to his residence and emphasised that the people of Gujarat were keen that he represent Gandhinagar in the Lok Sabha once again.
He said Mr Rajnath Singh informed him today that the Madhya Pradesh unit of the BJP had also suggested his name for contesting the Bhopal Parliamentary seat.
"He has further informed me that after consulting all colleagues in the Parliamentary Board and the Central Election Committee of the party, it has been agreed that the choice between the two parliamentary seats should be left to me. 
"I am deeply touched by this gesture of my party colleagues.  I had some weeks ago said that I would be contesting the Parliamentary election from Gandhinagar itself.   I have been integrally connected with Gujarat since migrating from Karachi in 1947. I have represented the State both in Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha.  
"Having represented Gandhinagar constituency in the Lok Sabha since 1991, I have decided to contest the 2014 General Elections from Gandhinagar itself.  I have conveyed my opinion to Shri Rajnath Singh," he said.
Mr Advani also conveyed his gratitude to Mr Kailash Joshi, the present member from Bhopal in Lok Sabha, who had offered him the seat, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Madhya Pradesh BJP chief Narinder Singh Tomar for proposing his name from Bhopal.
Shortly before Mr Advani's decision, Mr Rajnath Singh issued a statement notng that the former Deputy Prime Minister had represented Gandhinagar in the Lok Sabha since 1991.
"He has been winning that constituency in each of the last five general elections by a large margin. The Gujarat Unit of BJP had unanimously recommended Shri Advaniji’s name for contesting the Lok Sabha election from Gandhinagar this time also, and the Central Election Committee of the Party also unanimously decided that Shri Advaniji should contest from Gandhinagar. 
"There was an alternate suggestion that Shri Advaniji should contest from Bhopal. The Madhya Pradesh Unit of the  BJP has recommended Shri Advaniji’s name from the Bhopal Lok Sabha seat.  They were keen that Shri Advaniji, the senior most leader of the party should contest from that State, so that the Party’s gains in that State may also be enhanced," he said.
"I have consulted the members of the Parliamentary Board and the Central Election Committee of the Party on this issue telephonically since most of the members are traveling in various parts of the country.  It is the unanimous view of the party that the choice of where to contest from should be left to Shri Advaniji himself.  I have spoken to Shri Advaniji and conveyed the views of all to him in this regard.  The party will respect the opinion of Shri Advaniji with regard to his choice of constituency for contesting the election," Mr Rajnath Singh added.
The two statements, with Mr Rajnath Singh saying that Mr Advani could choose the constituency he wanted to contest from, and the veteran leader accepting the BJP's decision, indicated that the party had managed to find a way out of an embarassing situation.
The solution was worked out after several senior BJP leaders met Mr Advani last night and throughout the day and following a gentle nudge from the top brass of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is learnt to have advised the party leadership to quickly put a lid on the controversy by accommodating his wishes and showing due deference to his age, seniority and stature.
Senior leaders Sushma Swaraj and Nitin Gadkari had met Mr Advani at his residence here last night to apprise him of the party's position in the matter and persuade him to accept the decision.
The party's Parliamentary Board had last night, after a marathon sitting, decided that Mr Advani would be renominated from Gandhinagar and that Mr Modi would contest from a second seat, Vadodara, in that state.
The party had earlier, on March 15, announced that Mr Modi would contest from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh.
Mr Advani's request to move from Gandhinagar to Bhopal was seen as an indication of the uneasy relationship that he shares with Mr Modi, whose elevation as the party's Prime Ministerial candidate had upset him. Mr Advani has for long wanted a shot at the top job himself.
His insistence on moving to Bhopal has also given rise to speculation that he feared that his chances of getting re-elected from Gandhinagar might be sabotaged by Mr Modi's supporters, who had not taken kindly to Mr Advani's objections to the Gujarat Chief Minister's elevation as the BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate.
Mr Advani was not present at yesterday's meeting of the party's Parliamentary Board. The party's view has been that any shift by Mr Advani would send out "wrong signals".  Mr Modi was amongst those who attended the meeting.
Earlier, the sitting MP from Bhopal and BJP veteran Kailash Joshi had said that he was not keen on contesting from the constituency and had offered the seat to Mr Advani.
This morning, Mr Modi himself met Mr Advani and talked to him for more than half an hour. Later, Ms Swaraj met him again, as did former party president M Venkaiah Naidu.
Political observers said Mr Advani was, by expressing his wish to contest from Bhopal, sending out the message that he was not dependent on Mr Modi to get re-elected to the Lok Sabha. 
Some weeks ago, there were suggestions that the BJP might ask Mr Advani to opt for a Rajya Sabha seat, but that move was dropped after the party patriarch made it clear that he was keen on contesting again from Gandhinagar and in no mood to retire from electoral politics.
The BJP leaders who met Mr Advani as well as the RSS are learnt to have conveyed to him that the party's decision on Gandhinagar would not be changed. But, by this evening, the party appeared to be in a mood to relent and accomodate him, with Mr Rajnath Singh telling reporters in Chennai that Mr Advani was free to contest from any seat of his choice. "It is entirely upto Mr Advani," he said.
The spat, which was all over the front pages and on all television news channels, has caused acute embarassment for the BJP just weeks ahead of the crucial Lok Sabha elections.
Earlier, another senior party leader, Murli Manohar Joshi, was said to be unhappy with the fact that the BJP had made him shift to Kanpur from Varanasi to make away for Mr Modi. Another veteran leader Lalji Tandon was reportedly upset that his Lucknow seat was given to Mr Rajnath Singh.
In Punjab, former Indian cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu had to give up Amritsar, a seat he had won thrice, to enable another senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley to contest from there. Mr Sidhu was offered two other seats, but he made it clear that he would not fight from anywhere else.
In Rajasthan, former External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh is learnt to have told Mr Rajnath Singh that he would contest from Barmer as an independent if he were denied a ticket from there.
On June 10 last year, Mr Advani had resigned from all posts in the party, a day after its president Rajnath Singh, ignoring his objections, appointed Mr Modi as the chairman of its campaign committee for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. 
He came around a day later on the request of senior leaders and on the advice of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat.
Mr Advani had, at that time, skipped the BJP's national executive meeting in Goa, where the announcement about Mr Modi was made.
The manner in which the BJP top brass went ahead and announced Mr Modi's appointment, in Mr Advani's absence, led to the conclusion in many quarters that he had been marginalized by the party that he had led at one time.
Mr Advani, along with former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, is amongst the tallest leaders of the BJP, which the two had helped to found and build over the past three decades and more.
It was largely due to his efforts that the BJP bounced back from just two Lok Sabha seats in 1984 to 86 in 1989, 121 in 1992 and 161 in 1996, when it became the single largest party in the Lok Sabha.
Mr Advani was the BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate in the 2009 elections, which saw the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) win a second term in office.

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Rahul: Congress will deepen democracy, BJP wants to concentrate power in individual

Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandh said on Monday the coming Lok Sabha elections would be about his party's push for a more democratic and open society and the Bharatiya Janata Party's efforts to concentrate power in the hands of an individual.

Rahul Gandhi
Rahul Gandhi
Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi today said the coming Lok Sabha elections would be about his party's push for a more democratic and open society and the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) efforts to concentrate power in the hands of an individual.
In an interview with Times Now Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami, Mr Gandhi said India had always been run successfully when a large number of people were involved in decision-making processes.
Asked why he had shied away from taking on the role of the Prime Ministerial candidate of the Congress in the 2014 elections, he said that it was the prerogative of the Members of Parliament to elect the Prime Minister of the country and the party was only being correct in this regard and showing its respect for the system.
At the same time, he pointed out that he had made it very clear that he would take on any role that the Congress asked him to.
About the Congress decision in the 2009 elections to name Dr Manmohan Singh as the Prime Ministerial candidate, Mr Gandhi said that Dr Singh was the incumbent Prime Minister and the party had only made it clear that there would be no change if it were voted back to power.
To a question about whether he was scared of an electoral fight with BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, he said, "You have to understand Rahul Gandhi...If you did, you will find out that Rahul Gandhi is not scared of anything."
He said people must understand what he had been through in his formative years, and what he thinks. He spoke of how he had lost his grandmother Indira Gandhi and father Rajiv Gandhi.
"My father was in constant combat with the system. I saw him die. I have seen my grandmother die. I saw my grandmother go to jail. I have been through a lot of pain," he said.
Saying that he lost what he would have been scared of losing, he said, "There is nothing I am scared of now."
"I don't like what I see in Indian politics...I see only one thing, I see the system. I am blind to everything else," he said, when asked about what he thought of Mr Modi, who has been attacking him constantly in his political rallies.
Mr Gandhi said the system hurts people every day because it is predatory in nature.
In response to a query about whether he was afraid of losing to Mr Modi, he said he was not and, in any case, that was not the point as far as he was concerned.
"I am here basically for one thing. I see tremendous energy in this country, more than any other country," he said, referring to the millions of youth.
Mr Gandhi said he wanted to change the system and unleash the power of the country's people, especially its youth.
"We will defeat the BJP. We will win the elections. The BJP believes in concentration of powr. I believe in democracy, in opening up the system," he said.
On the Prime Minister's charge that Mr Modi had presided over a massacre in Gujarat in 2002, he said, "What the Prime Minister said is a fact. Gujarat did happen. People did die."
Asked if he, too, thought that Mr Modi was responsible for the violence in which more than a thousand people, mainly Muslims, died, he said, "He was the Chief Minister of Gujarat at that time".
To persistent questions about whether he held Mr Modi responsible for the violence, though courts had cleared him, Mr Gandhi said the Congress and the BJP had opposing ideologies. He said the Congress wanted to push democracy further and deeper, empower the women of the country, create jobs for the youth and open up the political system completely. The BJP, on the other hand, wanted to concentrate power in the hands of an individual, and decision-making in the hands of a few people.
He said the Congress was the only party that was trying to change the system and empower the people.
He repeatedly cited the examples of the Right to Information (RTI) Act and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and spoke about how the UPA government had created a rights-based paradigm.
He also spoke about how he had worked to strengthen democracy within the Indian Youth Congress and the National Students Union of India (NSUI), and about how he now plans to bring about changes within the Congress.
He mentioned how he now plans to, on a pilot basis, select Lok Sabha candidates in 15 constituencies through "primaries". According to him, this would be a far-reaching move and would change the political system in fundamental ways.
Mr Gandhi said there needed to be a debate in the country on how political parties select their candidates, how they are funded, how policies are made and decisions taken, and how the women and the youth could be empowered.
He said he wanted to see India become a manufacturing base for the world, as China is today. He said most major countries in the world wanted to set up manufacturing facilities in India and that is why the Government had taken up projects such as the dedicated freight corridors and the industrial corridors.
Asked about the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, following the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, he said Sikhs as a community had always stood by Mrs Gandhi. He said the act of two individuals could not be overlaid on entire community. He said what had happened in Delhi after Mrs Gandhi's death was horrible. To repeated questions, he said some Congress members were probably involved in the violence, but they were going through a legal process.
But, in answer to another question, he said 1984 was different from 2002 in Gujarat because in the first case, the government of the day was not involved and did everything in its power to stop the violence. He said that, though he was a child at that time, he could see that the government made efforts to end the violence.
He said he had been told by various people that the Government of Gujarat did not do enough to stop the 2002 violence and had, in fact, abetted and pushed the violence. "So there is a huge difference between the two," he said.
Mr Gandhi said that all these pointed to the need to change the system and empower the people. 
He also underlined the need to ensure that elected representatives had a larger role in the process of law-making.
In response to another query, Mr Gandhi said he was open to a discussion on bringing political parties under the purview of the RTI. But this should be done in a way that does not create an imbalance, he said.
At several points, Mr Gandhi said there was a need to move to the fundamental and core issues facing the country instead of discussing "superficial" issues. He said the people on the periphery and on the streets needed to be empowered.
Asked why he had remained silent on many issues in the past ten years, he said he used to share his views with the Prime Minister whenever required.
On corruption, he said the Congress would take firm action against anyone found guilty and had done so in the past.
"I want to take India to a different place," he said, referring to the politics of today. "Unfortunately, it is at a particular place toay. Certainly, there are points at which you might have to take a decision which you are not 100 per cent happy with," he said, answering  a question about whether the Congress would enter into alliances with parties whose leaders have been accused of corruption.
In any case, he said, alliance would be with the party and the idea, and not with an individual.
He said none of these alliances had been tied up yet, but talks were on, and these decisions were taken by the senior leaders of the party.
Asked if he would take responsibility if the Congress lost the elections, he said nobody gave him credit when the party won, but everybody was quick to blame him if it lost. He said that if his party did not do well in the coming elections, he would, as its Vice-President, take responsibility.
To a question about his family name and dynastic politics, Mr Gandhi said he did not choose to be born in the family he was. "I did not sign up to be born in this family," he said.
He said the choice was simple. He could either walk away from everything, or try and do something about the system. He said pretty much everything he had done in the past few years was about changing the system for the better.
"I am also against dynasty, but you cannot wish away dynasty in a closed system," he said. "It happens everywhere," he said, pointing to many other parties in which people from the same families dominated the organisations.
Mr Gandhi said the interviewer was focusing on superficial issues. "You have not asked me one question on India...about how we hope to empower our women and our youth, or how we will create jobs," he said.
On the personal attacks against him and his family, he said he did not worry about them. "I am being attacked becase I am doing things which are dangerous to the system," he said.
Mr Gandhi said people who attacked him had realised that he was a person who was here for the long term and who thought deeply about ways of changing the system.
"You can attack me all you want, I am not going to let go," he said, adding that there were a few thousand people in the party working with him on these ideas and they would not be deterred by such attacks.
"I am a serious politician, I am not somebody who is here to get power, make money," he said. "I am going to take them on."
Mr Gandhi also said he was not worried about losing eletions. He said the tasks he had taken on required long and concentrated thinking by a lot of people. "It is difficult, it is painful," he said.
He said defeats would only make him stronger and he did not consider them as the end of the world.
"I don't like unfairness. It makes my blood boil. That is at the heart of my politics," he said.
"You may find me strange...maybe I look loke an anamoly in this environment," he said.
"I am not driven by the desire for power. Power is an instrument tht can be used to certain things. It is not important for me to capture power, own it. I do not have a quest for power, a thirst for power, it is not there in me," he said.

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Kejriwal undergoes tests at hospital, police register cases against his stir

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal underwent tests at a hospital in Ghaziabad on Wednesday after spending two days in the open in the bitter cold of the national capital on a protest demanding that the Delhi Police act against two of its officers who did not carry out orders from two of his Ministers.

AAP Dharna: Delhi Police register FIR against protestors
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal underwent tests at a hospital near his residence in Ghaziabad early this morning after spending two days in the bitter cold of the national capital on a protest demanding that the Delhi Police act against two of its officers who did not carry out orders from two of his Ministers.
Doctors at the Yashodha Hospital at Kaushambi in Ghaziabad told NetIndian that Mr Kejriwal had arrived there this morning and undergone a variety of tests.
The Delhi Chief Minister has had a persistent cough for the past few weeks and it appeared to have aggravated because of spending two days in the open. He had slept on the pavement outside Rail Bhavan on Monday night as part of an indefinite protest, which he called off yesterday after the Delhi Police finally agreed to send the two officers concerned on leave.
The doctors said there was no cause for concern as far as Mr Kejriwal's health was concerned.
Meanwhile, the Delhi Police have registered complaints against unidentified Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supporters for the protest outside Rail Bhavan in violation of prohibitory orders which banned the assembly of five or more persons.
Mr Kejriwal and his Ministerial colleagues were not named in the complaint, sources said.
"The cases registered in connection with the agitation on January 20th and 21st in the area of Parliament Street Police Station will also be investigated on merit," they said.
Mr Kejriwal, his ministerial colleagues and MLAs of his AAP had begun their protest on Monday morning, escalating an unprecedented showdown with the city police. The issue also became a confrontation between the Delhi Government and the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, to which the Delhi Police reports in view of the fact that Delhi is the national capital.
Mr Kejriwal had demanded that the concerned police officers should be suspended or at least transferred, pending the judicial inquiry ordered in the cases by the Lt Governor.
The decision to send them on leave is being seen as a via media in which both sides got to save their faces.
Mr Kejriwal told a crowd of his supporters at the venue of his protest yesterday evening that the AAP government would continue its efforts to ensure that the Delhi Police becomes accountable to the elected government of the national capital territory.
He also said that his government would continue its efforts to get full statehood for Delhi, as promised in its election manifesto.
He said the Lt Governor had urged him and his colleagues to call off his fast in view of the preparations which needed to be made for the Republic Day Parade and in the interests of national security.
Mr Kejriwal said the decision taken by the Lt Governor to send the police officials on leave was a major step in the march towards full statehood.
The 24-day-old AAP government had demanded the suspension, or at least the transfer, of the Station House Officers (SHOs) of three police stations in the capital in connection with the alleged gang-rape of a Danish tourist some days ago and the confrontation between police officers and two Delhi Ministers -- Somnath Bharti and Rekha Birla -- in two other cases.
Mr Kejriwal wanted action against the police officers who, he alleged, refused to act on Mr Bharti's instructions and raid an apartment from where an alleged drug and prostitution racket was operating.
Mr Bharti, the Law Minister of Delhi, had told the police late in the night last Wednesday night that a decoy customer had been sent to the apartment in the Khirki Extension area and it had been established that a prostitution racket was running from the apartment.
The police, in an episode that was widely covered by television cameras, made it clear to Mr Bharti that they could not do so in the absence of a search warrant and without following proper procedures.
In the case of Ms Birla, the Minister of Women and Child Development, the police had declined to act on her demand that they apprehend the in-laws of a woman who had suffered burns. In this case, too, they said proper procedures had to be followed.
The Delhi government has also accused the police of mishandling the case of the alleged gang-rape of a 51-year-old Danish tourist last week in the Pahargunj area of the city.
According to Mr Kejriwal, he had been informed that all the accused persons in the case of burning of a woman had been arrested two days ago.
In the other two matters, the Lt Governor had decided to send the concerned police officials on leave, he said, satisfying their demand that the officials should not be in their positions while the inquiry was being conducted.
Several people on both sides -- among the AAP supporters and the police -- suffered injuries in the jostling at the venue of the protest yesteday.
Thousands of office-goers and others, meanwhile, had been put to inconvenience as police blocked off many of the roads leading to the Government and other offices in the area and the Delhi Metro shut down four of its stations as a precautionary measure.
People had to walk long distances to their offices or to other Metro stations or the nearest bus stations on the two days that the protest lasted.
The Delhi Police reports to the Union Home Ministry and Mr Kejriwal is demanding, among other things, that they must be under the control of the Delhi Government.
Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde has said that Delhi, being the national capital, has a special status, akin to Washington, DC, in the United States, and the police, therefore, has to be under the Central Government.

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Arvind Kejriwal to be next Chief Minister of Delhi

Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal will be the next Chief Minister of Delhi and is likely to be sworn in at a ceremony at the historic Ramlila Maidan here on December 26.

AAP to form Govt in Delhi, Kejriwal to be CM
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal will be the next Chief Minister of Delhi and is likely to be sworn in at a ceremony at the historic Ramlila Maidan here on December 26.
Mr Kejriwal met Delhi Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung this afternoon and handed over a letter to him conveying his party's readiness to form the next government in the capital.
This followed a meeting of the party's Political Affairs Committee (PAC) at Ghaziabad near here to consider the results of a "referendum" conducted by it among the people of the capital on the question of whether it should form the government or not.
AAP ended up with 28 seats in the 70-member Delhi Legislative Assembly after the December 4 elections, three less than the 31 secured by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is the single largest party in the house. Both parties were short of the 36 seats required for a simple majority.
Mr Jung invited Mr Kejriwal to form the government after the BJP declined to do so, saying it did not have the numbers needed.
The Congress, which managed just eight seats, had, in the meanwhile, written to Mr Jung saying that it would extend support from outside to AAP if it formed the government.
After his meeting with Mr Jung at Raj Nivas, Mr Kejriwal told newspersons that he had handed over a letter to from AAP expressing its readiness to form the next government.
He said that the date for the swearing-in ceremony would be finalised after a formal approval is received from the President.
"This is not my victory but that of the aam aadmi (common man). The common man is the chief minister, not me," he said.
Mr Kejriwal, who had earlier this morning indicated that he would like the swearing-in ceremony to be held at Jantar Mantar here, said that it had been agreed at the meeting with Mr Jung that it would be held at Ramlila Maidan.
Both Jantar Mantar and Ramlila Maidan were venues of the hunger strikes held by Mr Kejriwal and his one-time mentor and veteran social activist Anna Hazare for a strong Lokpal Bill for an anti-corruption ombudsman in the country. Since then, the two have fallen apart following differences over Mr Kejriwal's decision to float a political party.
Earlier, Mr Kejriwal told newspersons outside AAP's office in Ghaziabad that the results of the referendum conducted by it showed that an overwhelming majority people of Delhi wanted it to form the next government in the capital.
He noted that Lt Governor Najeeb Jung had, on December 14, invited AAP to form the government in Delhi and he had sought ten days to take a decision in this regard.
"We are not a small party, we are a party of the common man. We wanted to consult the people before taking a decision," he said.
On December 17, AAP, wary of the mixed signals that would go out if it formed a government with support from the Congress, urged the people of Delhi to vote on its website or send SMSs to help it decide whether it should accept the Lt Governor's invitation or not.
Mr Kejriwal also wrote letters to Congress President Sonia Gandhi and BJP President Rajnath Singh seeking clarifications from them on the support extended by them to AAP if it decided to form the next government.
Senior AAP leader Manish Sisodia said that 64 per cent of the people from Delhi who had participated in the referendum via the internet had backed the idea that the party should form the next government.
He also said that in a majority of the 280 public meetings held in different localities of the capital the people had supported the move.
Mr Sisodia also announced that Mr Kejriwal was the chief ministerial candidate of the party, as had been made clear by it even before the December 4 elections.
Mr Kejriwal said the names of the Ministers in the new government would be finalised in a couple of days.
Mr Kejriwal, 45, was expected to meet Mr Jung around 1230 hours today to convey his decision.
Responding to queries from mediapersons, he said the party would finalise the names of its Ministers in a couple of days.
Mr Kejriwal is an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur. He worked for three years for Tata Steel before joining the Indian Revenue Service (IRS) in 1995. He quit the service in 2006.
In between, he emerged as a vocal right to information (RTI) activist and won the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership in 2006.
His newly-floated Aam Aadmi Party made its debut in the December 4 elections and he defeated Chief Minister Sheila Dixit of the Congress to be elected to the Delhi Legislative Assembly.

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India, Hungary agree to strengthen economic, defence ties

India and Hungary on Thursday agreed to substantially expand their economic relations by leveraging their complementary strengths, India's large and growing market and Hungary's membership of the European Union.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban, at the delegation level talks, in New Delhi on October 17, 2013
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban, at the delegation level talks, in New Delhi on October 17, 2013
India and Hungary today agreed to substantially expand their economic relations by leveraging their complementary strengths, India's large and growing market and Hungary's membership of the European Union.
At talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban here, the two sides had "very productive discussions in which they reviewed the entire spectrum of their relations.
The two leaders welcomed the work done by the Joint Economic Committee, which met earlier this week and identified priority areas for cooperation, including information technology, pharmaceuticals, auto components, healthcare, tourism, energy, engineering goods and food processing, among others.
"I also sought Prime Minister Orban’s support for an early conclusion of the India-EU Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement, which would enhance trade and investment flows between India and Hungary," Dr Singh said at a joint media interaction with Mr Orban later.
He said the two sides had a very productive collaboration in the field of Science & Technology, which has been benefited from the annual contribution of one million Euros each to a Joint Strategic Research Fund. 
"Today, we have agreed to enhance our annual contribution to the Fund to 2 million Euros each. This would enable us to undertake new projects involving high-end technologies," he said.
The two countries also agreed to strengthen their cooperation in the area of defence technology."Hungary possesses advanced technology in niche areas of defence industry and can become a reliable partner in our efforts for modernization of our defence," he said.
Dr Singh said India appreciated Hungary’s support on international issues, including its candidature for a permanent membership of the reformed United Nations Security Council and the 2008 decision of the Nuclear Suppliers Group on civil nuclear cooperation with India. 
"I have sought Prime Minister Orban’s support for India's full membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and other multilateral export control regimes," he said.
Dr Singh said India and Hungary shared strong cultural bonds. "Hungary has an admirable tradition of scholarship in the field of Indology. We will continue to nurture this important strand of our relationship through continued support to Indian studies through fellowships and exchanges. I am confident that the activities planned under the Cultural Exchange Programme 2013-15 would contribute to strengthening our cultural relations," he said.
The two leaders also exchanged views on a wide range of regional and international issues. 
"We both recognized that terrorism and extremism pose a common threat to modern democratic societies like India and Hungary. We noted the need to create a global normative framework against terrorism and agreed to deepen our cooperation in this regard. 
Noting that this was Mr Orban's first ever visit to India, he appreciated his strong personal commitment to deepening the relations between the two countries, which have traditionally been very close and friendly due to the remarkable history of cultural and people-to-people ties. 
"Today, there is much that brings our countries together. Like India, Hungary is a thriving democracy. It is a dynamic economy at the heart of a transforming Central Europe and a member of the European Union. Indian investors are increasingly finding a home in Hungary. In our own ways, both our countries are making important contributions to security and development in Afghanistan. Hungary has also been supportive of concerted global action for combating terrorism. All this gives us reason to work closely together for strengthening our relations. 
"I look forward to working closely with Prime Minister Orban for expanding and deepening our bilateral relations," he added.

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India, China Special Representatives to meet soon to discuss boundary settlement

India and China on Monday agreed that their Special Representatives would meet soon to continue discussions seeking early agreement on a framework for a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable boundary settlement.

Li Keqiang hopes visit would increase trust between India, China

India and China today agreed that their Special Representatives would meet soon to continue discussions seeking early agreement on a framework for a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable boundary settlement.

At talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang here, the two sides tasked their Special Representatives to consider further measures that may be needed to maintain peace and tranquility along the border.
The meeting between the two leaders took place only days after the recent stand-off in Eastern Ladakh caused by an incursion by Chinese troops.
The two Governments had early this month agreed to restore status quo ante along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Western Sector of the India-China boundary as it existed prior to 15 April,2013.
"India and China are two civilizational neighbours and have lived in peace through the ages. We have had our differences in more recent times, but over the last 25 years, we have steadily built a mutually beneficial relationship. The basis for continued growth and expansion of our ties is peace and tranquility on our borders," Dr Singh said at a joint media interaction with Mr Li here today.
"While seeking an early resolution of the boundary question, Premier Li and I agreed that this must continue to be preserved.
"We also took stock of lessons learnt from the recent incident in the Western Sector, when existing mechanisms proved their worth," he said.
Since 2003, the Special Representatives of China and India have held 15 rounds of talks on the border settlement.
National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon is the Special Representative of India and the new Chinese Special Representative is former Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.
Dr Singh said it had been immense pleasure for him to get to know Mr Li personally.
"I sincerely appreciate his reaching out to me on his first day in office and his choosing India as his first foreign destination as Premier," he said.
Dr Singh said that, starting yesterday evening, when they had a restricted meeting, Premier Li and he had had wide-ranging and candid discussions covering all matters of mutual interest and concern. 
"I am delighted that there are so many areas of convergence between us and on which there is a great deal of meeting of minds. Most importantly, we agreed that the relationship between our two countries is of growing significance and essential for our peaceful development and sustained economic growth, as well as for stability and prosperity in our region and the world," he said.
The Prime Minister said he had reiterated to Mr Li India’s concerns about the effects on lower riparians of activities in the upper reaches of their shared rivers. 
"It would be useful for the mandate of our Expert Level Mechanism to be expanded to include information sharing on upstream development projects on these rivers. I am glad that we have agreed to expand cooperation on trans-border rivers. It would also be useful for India and China to collaborate on a better understanding of the stresses on our shared Himalayan ecosystem," he said.
Dr Singh said he had told Mr Li that the rise of China and India was good for the world and that the world had enough space to accommodate the growth aspirations of both their peoples. 
"To make this a reality, it is important to build understanding between our two peoples. We agreed that both sides must work to strengthen greater trust and confidence, which, in turn, will permit much larger co-operation," he said.
He said economic cooperation constituted a very important part of the bilateral relationship and the growth potential of the two economies could provide the engine for greater cooperation.
"There are many ongoing areas of co-operation that we will carry forward as outlined in the Joint Statement. I conveyed to Premier Li our concerns about the trade deficit and sought increased market access to China for our exports and investments. I also invited increased Chinese involvement in the vast opportunities in our infrastructure and manufacturing sectors," he said.
"The rapid development of our economies has opened up new opportunities for economic cooperation bilaterally, in our region and globally, which our Strategic Economic Dialogue will identify and explore. We have also discussed the possibility of infrastructure development to link India’s North Eastern region with Bangladesh, Myanmar, China and other countries in the South East Asian region," he said.
Dr Singh said Premier Li and he also used the opportunity to review the rapidly evolving global political and economic situation and resolved to strengthen their strategic communication and dialogue on these issues. 
"We also agreed that we have a shared interest in an open multilateral trading system and in combating protectionism," he said.
"Before I conclude, let me say again what a pleasure it has been to welcome Premier Li amongst us. I am sure that his leadership will go a long way in strengthening the relationship between our two countries and extending it to new frontiers. I look forward to seeing him again very soon and I have also accepted his gracious invitation to visit China at the earliest opportunity," he added.
Mr Li, who assumed office in March, arrived here yesterday afternoon at the start of a four-nation tour that will also take him to Pakistan, Switzerland and Germany. In India, he will also visit Mumbai.

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Rangarajan panel on PSCs says cost recovery system should be dispensed with

The Committee on the Production Sharing Contract Mechanism in Petroleum Industry has proposed that the cost recovery system be dispensed with in favour of sharing of the overall revenues of the contractor with the Government, without setting off any costs.

File photo of Dr C Rangarajan
File photo of Dr C Rangarajan

The Committee on the Production Sharing Contract (PSC) Mechanism in Petroleum Industry has proposed that the cost recovery system be dispensed with in favour of sharing of the overall revenues of the contractor with the Government, without setting off any costs.

The committee, headed by Dr C Rangarajan, Chairman, Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, had been appointed to look into the PSC mechanism. It submitted its report to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently.
The existing PSC allows the contractor to recover his cost, before giving the Government its share in the contractor's revenues, in case there is commercial discovery leading to production.
A certain proportion of the balance revenues of the contractor are shared with the Government, based on the value of an investment multiple for each year. These are biddable parameters. This investment multiple is the ratio of cumulative net cash income to cumulative exploration & development cost. Government's share increases as the multiple increases, which happens when cumulative income increases at a rate higher than the rate of increase for cumulative cost.
The committee noted that, under this system, a close scrutiny of costs becomes critical for the Government since there is incentive for contractors to book as costs expenses that do not reflect the true economic cost to the contractor (for example, through transfer pricing). 
"This is perceived by contractors as interference in commercial decision-making, whereas the Government and CAG view it as legitimate and necessary. Since decisions are taken in a joint committee, called Management Committee, having government and private party representatives, decisions get delayed and execution under the contract is hampered," the report said.
"Since cost recovery is at the root of the problems experienced, it is proposed to dispense with it, in favour of sharing of the overall revenues of the contractor, without setting off any costs. The share will be determined through a competitive bid process for future PSCs. The bids will be made in a bid matrix, in which the bidder will offer different percentage revenue shares for different levels of production and price levels. The bids will have to be progressive with respect to both volume of production and price level," the committee said.
It said that this would ensure that, as the contractor earns more, Government gets progressively higher revenue, and will also safeguard government interest in case of a windfall arising from a price surge or a surprise geological find. 
Further, the underlying cause of the Management Committee and audit related problems will be removed, and the Management Committee will no longer go into issues relating to approval of budget or procurement issues. Investor interests should remain unaffected, since investors will be free to bid the Government share, and they will also have a more hassle-free operational environment, the report said.
The committee has also recommended that an extended tax holiday of 10 years, as against 7 years already available for all blocks, be granted for blocks having a substantial portion involving drilling offshore at a depth of more than 1,500 metres, since cost of a single well can be as high as $ 150 million.
Further, the committee has recommended extending the timeframe for exploration in future PSCs for frontier, deep-water (offshore, at more than 400 m depth) and ultra-deep-water (offshore, at more than 1,500 m depth) blocks from eight years currently, to ten years.
Apart from Dr Rangarajan, the other members of the committee were Mr Jagannadha Rao, former Cabinet Secretary B.K. Chaturvedi, Prof. Ramprasad Sengupta, Mr J. M. Mauskar and Mr Joemon Thomas; Dr. K. P. Krishnan was convener, and Mr Giridhar Aramane was secretary to the committee. 
Apart from resolution of problems currently experienced in contract management through the proposed fiscal regime under new PSCs, the committee has suggested two mechanisms for improving progress of exploration and development under existing PSCs.
For policy related issues, it has suggested the setting up of a Secretary-level inter-ministerial committee to suggest policy solutions. 
For issues involving condonation of delay on the part of the contractor in preparing for and seeking approvals, and for minor technical issues, the mandate of the existing Empowered Committee of Secretaries (ECS) can be expanded. The ECS has earlier been empowered, with CCEA approval, to condone delays in the exploration phase only.
Issues currently being raised in audit would no longer arise under the proposed fiscal regime for new PSCs. Apart from this, after consulting the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), it has been recommended that the list of blocks be periodically made available to the CAG for selecting those that it would directly audit. CAG would select blocks on the basis of financial materiality, and would focus on blocks in the exploration and development phase, when costs incurred are higher. 
Other blocks would be ordinarily audited by CAG-empanelled auditors, although CAG would continue to have its statutory freedom to directly audit even these. Further, it has been recommended that CAG perform the audit within two years of the financial year under audit, as prescribed under the PSC. Also, for PSCs beyond a high financial threshold, a concurrent audit mechanism may be considered.
On gas price mechanism, the committee noted that, at present, there is administered price mechanism (APM) gas and non-APM gas.
"The difficulty in gas valuation for determining Government's share is that there is no single gas price. India has long-term supply import contracts as well as spot market imports, and the range of prices has significant spread. However, the re-gasification infrastructure limits imports. The domestic gas too does not have adequate transportation infrastructure to enable creation of a domestic market.
"Internationally, gas hubs and balancing points exist in major regional markets, of which US's Henry Hub and UK's National Balancing Point / NBP (which is connected to continental Europe) are the largest. For the Asia-Pacific, Japan's Custom Cleared rate for crude oil is a benchmark rate, although unlike the US and Europe, it represents an import price rather than a producer price," it said.
The committee said the PSC provides for arm's length pricing and prior Government approval of the formula or basis for gas pricing, subject to policy on natural gas pricing. 
"Since no market-determined arm's length price currently obtains domestically and nor is this likely to happen for several more years, a policy on pricing of natural gas has been proposed. The proposed policy would provide for estimation of an unbiased arm's length price based on an average of two prices, which can be interpreted as alternative estimates of an arm's length price for the Indian producer. The relevant price in this context would be the price producers receive in other gas-producing destinations. 
"One price would be derived from the volume-weighted net-back price to producers at the exporting country well-head for Indian imports for the trailing 12 months. The other would be the volume-weighted price of US's Henry Hub, UK's NBP and Japan Custom Cleared (on net-back basis, since it is an importer) prices for the trailing 12 months. The arm's length price thus computed as the average of the two price estimates would apply equally to all sectors, regardless of their prioritisation for supply under the Gas Utilisation Policy," it said.
The report said the suggested formula will apply to pricing decisions made in future, and can be reviewed after five years when the possibility of pricing based on direct gas-on-gas competition may be assessed.

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PM says lack of water could limit India's social, economic growth in future

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Friday that most objective data available pointed unerringly to the conclusion that water, or the lack of it, could well become the limiting factor for India's social and economic growth in the future.

PM chairs Water Resources Council Meet in New Delhi

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said that most objective data available pointed unerringly to the conclusion that water, or the lack of it, could well become the limiting factor for India's social and economic growth in the future.

"With around 18% of the world's population but only 4% of its usable fresh water, India already faces a scarcity of water, which is a vital and stressed natural resource," he said at the 6th meeting of the National Water Resources Council here.
Dr Singh said climate change could further aggravate the distortions in water availability in the country. Receding glaciers would negatively impact flows in the country's major rivers and pose a major new threat to the welfare of millions of our people, he said.
He said rapid economic growth and urbanization today were widening the demand supply gap and leading to worsening of the water-stress index. 
"Our water bodies are getting increasingly polluted by untreated industrial effluents and sewage. Groundwater levels are falling in many parts due to excessive withdrawals, leading to contamination with fluoride, arsenic and other chemicals. The practice of open defecation, which regrettably is all too widespread, contributes further to contaminating potable water sources," he said.
Dr Singh said the situation called for judicious management of the country's limited water resources and a paradigm shift in its approach to this vital issue. 
"Planning for water use and distribution has to be done on the foundation of a national vision. Regions with sufficient water resources are already experiencing the strains that result from having water-deficient regions around them. We therefore need to rise above political, ideological and regional differences and also move away from a narrow project-centric approach to a broader holistic approach to issues of water management," he said.
The Prime Minister said integrated water resources planning at the basin level, conservation of water, preservation of river corridors, recharging of aquifers and their sustainable management and improvement of water use efficiency were among the broad areas that needed urgent attention. 
"Our irrigation systems need to shift from a narrow engineering-construction-centric approach to a more multi-disciplinary and participatory approach. Incentives need to be provided to narrow the gap between irrigation capacities created and those being utilized. We also need to move towards transparent and participatory mechanisms of pricing of water by the primary stakeholders themselves. The local communities have to be involved actively in the management of water resources," he said.
Dr Singh said that groundwater had a prominent role in meeting the requirements of water for drinking and other purposes. 
"In spite of its vital importance, there is no regulation for its extraction and coordination among competing uses. We need to, therefore, initiate steps to minimize misuse of groundwater by regulating the use of electricity for its extraction. We also need to move to a situation where groundwater can be treated as a common property resource in a way that protects the basic needs of drinking water as also the livelihoods of our poor farmers," he said.
Dr Singh recalled that the National Water Resources Council was created by the National Development Council (NDC) at its thirty-sixth meeting on 14th March, 1982, and it was part of the vision of late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. 
"It was devised not only to discuss the National Water Policy issues, but also to deliberate on administrative arrangements and regulations for fair distribution and utilization of water among different beneficiaries, keeping in view the optimum development of this scarce national resource. Our task today is to fulfill that vision so that we can assure our future generations of a water-secure future," he said.
Earlier, the meeting was given a presentation on the highlights of the extensive consultations preceding the formulation of the draft National Water Policy 2012.
"It would not have escaped your attention that the draft is an effort to focus attention on the looming crisis in the water sector and to lay a roadmap for the future, based on the fundamental principles of equity, sustainability and good governance. Our deliberations today need to be guided not only by these sound principles, but also an appreciation of the fact that we are approaching a critical juncture for the future of water management in our country," he said.
Dr Singh said the 12th Plan, which was adopted by the NDC yesterday, had dwelt on these and other issues confronting the water sector and called for path-breaking reform. 
He said outlays for the water sector had been increased substantially. "But these outlays will deliver only if they are matched and supported by better management and good governance. An urgent national consensus on the common denominators of water governance is therefore essential and the first critical step towards achieving water security and sustainability for all," he said.
According to him, one of the problems in achieving better management is that the current institutional and legal structures dealing with water in the country are inadequate, fragmented and need active reform.
"It is in this context that a suggestion has been made for a national legal framework of general principles on water, which, in turn, would pave the way for essential legislation on water governance in every State," he said.
Dr Singh emphasized the need to see the proposed national legal framework in proper perspective. 
"The framework would be an umbrella statement of general principles governing the exercise of legislative, executive or devolved powers by the Centre, the states and the local governing bodies. The central government, I repeat, does not wish to encroach, in any manner, upon the constitutionally guaranteed rights of States or to centralize water management.
"As we move into the Twelfth Plan period, the Indian economy and society will face daunting challenges in the water sector, both in terms of quantity as well as quality. There is a need, therefore, to take urgent and pragmatic decisions because water security is an issue on which we have to swim together or sink together. These decisions need your collective support," he added.

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PM says safety, security of women of highest priority to Govt.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Thursday the issue of safety and security of women was of the highest priority to the Government and stressed that there could be no meaningful development without the active participation of half the population.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressing the 57th meeting of the National Development Council, in New Delhi on December 27, 2012.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressing the 57th meeting of the National Development Council, in New Delhi on December 27, 2012.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said the issue of safety and security of women was of the highest priority to the Government and stressed that there could be no meaningful development without the active participation of half the population.

"And this participation simply cannot take place if their security and safety is not assured," he said in his address to the National Development Council (NDC), the nation's highest policy-making body, called to consider the draft 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17), which has set an overall growth target of 8 per cent for the economy during the period.
Speaking against the background of the brutal gang-rape of a 23-year-old girl in the capital on December 16 and other such reprehensive incidents across the country, Dr Singh said gender inequality was an aspect which deserved special attention.
"Women and girls represent half the population and our society has not been fair to this half. Their socio-economic status is improving, but gaps persist. The emergence of women in public spaces, which is an absolutely essential part of social emancipation, is accompanied by growing threats to their safety and security," he said.
"We must reflect on this problem, which occurs in all states and regions of the country, and which requires greater attention by both the Centre and the States," he said, referring to the Delhi incident.
He said that, in this particular case, the culprits had been apprehended, and the law would deal with them expeditiously. 
"Government has decided to review the present laws and examine the levels of punishments in cases of aggravated sexual assault. A committee of eminent jurists, headed by the former Chief Justice of India, Justice J.S. Verma, has been constituted for this purpose. Let me state categorically that the issue of safety and security of women is of the highest concern to our Government. A Commission of Inquiry is being set up to look into precisely these issues in the Capital," he said.
He urged all Chief Ministers to pay special attention to this critical area in their states.
The Prime Minister said the draft 12th Plan presented a comprehensive assessment of the many challenges the country faces in achieving  the Plan objective of faster, more inclusive and sustainable growth.
"As we begin our Twelfth Plan journey, it is worth noting that we do so with an economy that has shown many areas of strength.
"We achieved an average of 7.9 percent growth in the Eleventh Plan period, despite the fact that there were two global crises in this period. This growth has also been much more inclusive than in the past," he said.
He said the percentage of the population below the official poverty line declined by about 2 percentage points per year after 2004-05, which is two and a half times faster than the rate of decline between 1993-94 and 2004-05. This basic finding that poverty declined faster would hold even if the poverty line is revised, he said.
Dr Singh said agriculture growth accelerated from 2.4 percent in the Tenth Plan to 3.3 percent in the Eleventh Plan. Real wages in agriculture have grown at 6.8 percent per year in recent years, compared with only 1.1 percent per year in the period before 2004-05. Better agricultural performance is an important reason why poverty declined faster, he said.
"States that used to grow slowly in earlier periods have grown much faster. The average growth rate of the five poorest states exceeds the national average for the first time in any Plan. I think we may be reaching the stage when the term 'BIMARU States' can be relegated to history," he said.
He said that, while these developments indicated the strengths of the economy, it was also true that the current economic situation was difficult. 
"The continuing crisis in the global economy has reduced growth everywhere. It is expected to be zero in the Eurozone and Japan and emerging market countries have also slowed down," he said.
According to him, the global slowdown, combined with some domestic constraints, has meant that India's growth has also slowed down. 
"Our first priority must be to reverse this slowdown. We cannot change the global economy, but we can do something about the domestic constraints which have contributed to the downturn," he said.
Dr Singh said the most immediate problems the country needed to tackle were the implementation problems affecting large projects, including especially power projects, which were stuck because of delays in getting clearances and fuel supply agreements. 
He said the Government had taken a number of steps to deal with this problem, including the establishment of a new Cabinet Committee on Investment under his chairmanship. He was confident these steps would have a positive effect, but their full impact would take time. 
Noting that the Planning Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia had indicated that in view of the latest assessment of the state of the global recovery, the overall growth target for the Twelfth Plan is being set at 8 percent.
"This is a reasonable modification but I must emphasise that achieving an average of 8 percent growth, following less than 6 percent in the first year, is still an ambitious target," he said.
He said the high growth scenario would definitely not materialise if India followed a “business as usual” policy. 
"The Plan identifies a number of areas where new initiatives and policy innovations are needed. Many of these are areas where the principal responsibility is that of the States. I look forward to hearing the views of Chief Ministers on these suggestions," he said.
"While we need to accelerate growth, we do not view growth as an end in itself. Our real objective must be to improve the condition of lives of the aam aadmi, which is why we emphasise that growth must be inclusive," he stressed.
Dr Singh said rapid growth was necessary to achieve inclusiveness for two reasons. "First, it is necessary to generate the revenues to finance our many programmes of inclusiveness. If growth slows down, neither the States nor the Centre will have the resources needed to implement inclusiveness programmes. We will either be forced to cut these programmes, or be pushed into tolerating a higher fiscal deficit, which will have other negative consequences," he said.
"Rapid growth also contributes directly to inclusiveness because it provides greater access to income and employment opportunities. Policies aimed at stimulating growth in agriculture and in medium and small industries, combined with steps to promote education and skill development, will produce a growth process which is inherently more inclusive. The Twelfth Plan strategy contains many elements which will ensure that growth is as inclusive as possible. I welcome your comments on this strategy," he said.
Dr Singh also called for special attention to disparities between socio-economic groups such as Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and minorities.
"These groups lag behind the rest of the population in key socio-economic indicators. Fortunately, the gaps are closing but the pace at which this is happening is not satisfactory and certainly does not match expectations. We need to consider how we can do better," he said.
Dr Singh said agriculture is an area of critical concern. Although the share of agriculture in GDP has fallen to only 15%, about half of the population still relies on agriculture as its principal income source. 
"What happens in agriculture is therefore critical for inclusiveness. We need to build on the success of the last Plan by increasing land productivity in agriculture so that we not only meet our rising demand for food, but also increase incomes of those dependent on agriculture. Paradoxically, we should not aim at increasing total employment in agriculture. In fact, we need to move people out of agriculture by giving them gainful employment in the non agricultural sector. It is only when fewer people depend on agriculture that per capita incomes in agriculture will rise significantly and sufficiently to make farming attractive," he said.
"Agriculture is a state subject and most of the policy initiatives needed are in the realm of State Governments," he pointed out.
Dr Singh said growth in manufacturing should be at double digit levels, but this has yet to happen. 
"The Plan mentions many new initiatives aimed at strengthening performance in the manufacturing sector. Small and medium industries are especially important as they generate more employment. Both the Centre and the States must give priority attention to creating an eco-system in which these industries can grow and flourish," he said.
According to him, better infrastructure is the best guarantee for rapid growth of the economy. "Infrastructure development is heavily capital intensive and both the Centre and the States are severely constrained by resource availability. The central government, and many state governments, have been successful in promoting infrastructure development through PPPs. India has the second largest number of PPP projects in infrastructure in the world. It will be necessary to continue this thrust in the Twelfth Plan," he said.
Dr Singh said the 11th Plan had paid special attention to the North-East and the states in the region had responded well, with a number of them achieving higher growth than the national average.
"We plan to step up the pace of investments in infrastructure, particularly roads, rail, airports, waterways and power transmission systems to support and stimulate economic activity in this vital region. I am hopeful that as a result of our Look East Policy, this region will fast become a major gateway to trade and economic activity with our neighbours," he said.
He said the Centre and the States had to make determined efforts to mobilise resources to fund the plan.
"The Plan document points out that we need to increase the tax ratio as a percent of GDP through a combination of tax reforms and better tax administration. Early implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) is critical in this context. I hope we will have the co-operation of the States to introduce the GST as quickly as possible," he said.
He pointed out that the Plan also drew attention to the need to control subsidies. "Some subsidies are a normal and indeed essential part of any socially just system, but subsidies should be well designed and effectively targeted and the total volume must be kept within limits of fiscal sustainability. Failure to control subsidies within these limits only means that other plan expenditures have to be cut or the fiscal deficit target exceeded," he said.
"A common complaint against government programmes is that they suffer from leakages, corruption, delays and poor targeting. The Central Government is taking a major step to deal with this problem by shifting several beneficiary oriented schemes to a direct transfer mode, using the Aadhaar platform. This will begin to roll out for selected schemes in selected districts in the course of January 2013. In due course, a wide range of benefits like scholarships for students, pensions for the elderly, health benefits, MNREGA wages and many other benefits will migrate to direct transfer into bank accounts using Aadhaar as a bridge. This is an innovative step which will be watched by the entire global development community. The Central and State Governments must work together to make this a success," he said.
"Energy is a critical input for any growth process and our domestic energy resources are not sufficient to meet our country's growing needs. We import oil, natural gas and in recent years even coal. If we want to keep our energy import requirement within reasonable limits, we must emphasise energy efficiency to moderate demand and we must increase domestic production of energy. Energy pricing is critical for both objectives. If domestic energy prices are too low, there will be no incentive to increase energy efficiency or to expand even supply.
"Unfortunately, energy is underpriced in our country. Our coal, petroleum products and natural gas are all priced well below international prices. This also means that electricity is effectively underpriced, especially for some consumers. Immediate adjustment of prices to close the gap is not feasible, I realise this, but some phased price adjustment is necessary. Energy experts are unanimous that we cannot expect to achieve rapid, inclusive and sustainable growth if we are not willing to undertake a phased adjustment in energy prices to bring them in line with world prices. The Central Government and the states must work together to create awareness in the public that we must limit the extent of energy subsidies," he said.
Dr Singh said India had been reasonably successful in what it had achieved so far, but it must remember that it is still a low income country.
"We need twenty years of rapid growth to bring it to middle income level. The journey is long and requires hard work and commitment. This meeting of the NDC is an opportunity to re-dedicate ourselves to the arduous task before us," he added.

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Virbhadra Singh takes oath as Himachal Pradesh chief minister for sixth time

Congress leader and former Union Minister Virbhadra Singh took oath as the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh for a record sixth time at the historic Ridge Maidan in Shimla on Tuesday.

Virbhadra Singh takes oath as Himachal CM

Congress leader and former Union Minister Virbhadra Singh took oath as the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh for a record sixth time at the historic Ridge Maidan here today.

Governor Urmila Singh administered the oath of office and secrecy to Mr Virbhadra Singh at a largely attended ceremony. Those present included the newly-elected MLAs, senior officials and other dignitaries.
Along with the Chief Minister, nine other Ministers also took oath today. They are Ms Vidya Stokes, Mr Kaul Singh Thakur, Mr G.S. Bali, Mr Sujan Singh Pathania, Mr Thakur Singh Bharmouri, Mr  Mukesh Agnihotri, Mr Sudhir Sharma, Mr Prakash Chaudhry and Mr Dhani Ram Shandil.
In the elections held on November 4, the Congress bagged 36 seats in the 68-member assembly while the ruling BJP had to rest content with 26 seats. Others got six seats.
Mr Virbhadra Singh, 78, was chosen leader of the Congress legislature party on December 22 after a meeting of the newly elected party legislators with the central observers of the Congress. 
He had earlier served as Chief Minister of the state from April 1983 to March 1990, December 1993 to March 1998 and from March 2003 to 2007. He was also Leader of the Opposition in the state assembly between 1998 and 2003.
Mr Virbhadra Singh, who belongs to the erstwhile ruling family of the princely state of Bushahr in Himachal Pradesh, has also been elected to the Lok Sabha five times. At the Centre, he has served as Cabinet Minister for Steel and later for Mico, Small and Medium Enterprises before resigning in June this year following allegations of corruption.
Mr Singh studied at the Bishop Cotton's School in Shimla before taking a B.A. (Hons.) from St. Stephen's College in Delhi and an MA from the University of Delhi.

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Modi poised for huge win in Gujarat, Congress wrests Himachal from BJP

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi appeared set for a third straight term in office as the Bharatiya Janata Party headed towards a huge win in the state but it lost Himachal Pradesh to the Congress as counting of votes progressed in the Assembly elections in both States today.

Counting begins in Gujarat, BJP secures early lead

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi appeared set for a third straight term in office as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headed towards a huge win in the state but it lost Himachal Pradesh to the Congress as counting of votes progressed in the Assembly elections in both states today.

As results and counting trends became available for all the 182 seats in the Gujarat Assembly, the BJP had won 52 and was leading in 65 others, making for a total of 117 seats, the same number that it has in the outgoing house.
The Congress had won 27 seats and was leading in 32 others. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), an ally of the Congress, had won two seats while the Janata Dal (United), an ally of the BJP, was leading in one constituency. Other parties were ahead in three seats.
Adding to the Congress' misery in Gujarat, its state unit chief Arjun Modhwadia and Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Shaktisinh Gohil lost their seats.
In Himachal Pradesh, the ruling BJP conceded defeat as the Congress won 34 seats in the 68-member Assembly and was leading in two others. The BJP had won 23 and was ahead in another three, while others had won four and were leading in two more.
Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal admitted his party had lost and congratulated the winners. He said the reasons for the BJP's defeat, despite his government's good record of governance, would be analysed at party fora in due course.
In Gujarat, Mr Modi retained his own seat, Maninagar, bagging 120440 votes against 34097 secured by his nearest rival, Shweta Bhatt, wife of suspended Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Sanjiv Bhatt.
The controversial former Minister of State for Home, Mr Amit Shah of the BJP, won from Naranpura, garnering 103988 votes against the 40653 secured by his rival Jitubhai B Patel of the Congress.
In the Ellis Bridge constituency in Ahmedabad, Ms Jagruti Pandya, widow of assassinated former Minister of State for Home Haren Pandya, ended up in the third place. Ms Pandya, a candidate of the Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) floated by former Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel, could muster only 9075 votes against Mr Raesh Shah of BJP, who got 106631 votes. Mr Kamleshkumar Shah of the Congress got 29959 votes.
Mr Modhwadia lost in Porbandar, getting only 60458 votes against the 77604 votes secured by Mr Babubhai Bokhiria of the BJP. Mr Gohil lost from Bhavnagar (Rural) to Mr Purshottam Solanki of the BJP. Mr Solanki got 83980 votes as against 65426 secured by Mr Gohil.
The BJP had won 117 seats in the Gujarat Assembly in the last elections in 2007, while the Congress had 59 seats.
Counting of votes began in both states at 0800 hours today and all the results are expected by this evening.
Elections to the 182-member Gujarat assembly were held in two phases on December 13 and 17, when a record 71.3 per cent of the 38 million voters had exercised their franchise.
Polling for the 68 seats in the Himachal Pradesh assembly was held in a single phase on November 4, and about 74.7 per cent of the 4.60 million voters had cast their votes.
The supporters of Mr Modi, who has been in office since 2001, are hoping that, with yet another big win, he would be propelled to the centrestage of national politics and become the BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Exit polls had predicted a huge win for Mr Modi again this year, while they had given a slight edge in a close contest in Himachal Pradesh.

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PM says universalizing access to energy requires innovative institutions

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Tuesday that universalizing access to energy will require innovative institutions, national and local enabling mechanisms, and targeted policies, including appropriate subsidies and financing arrangement.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh delivering the inaugural address at the 'International Seminar on Energy Access', in New Delhi on October 9, 2012.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh delivering the inaugural address at the 'International Seminar on Energy Access', in New Delhi on October 9, 2012.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said universalizing access to energy will require innovative institutions, national and local enabling mechanisms, and targeted policies, including appropriate subsidies and financing arrangement. 

"The necessary technologies to mitigate the problem are fortunately, available. These technologies need to be viewed as global public goods," he said in his inaugural address at the International Seminar on Energy Access here.
Dr Singh said governments and industry needed to be encouraged to engage in international cooperation in this area on an enlarged scale and work for enhancing the technological capability of developing countries. 
"The Intellectual Property Regimes applied to energy access technologies should balance rewards for innovators with the need to promote the common good of humankind," he said.
"Suitable mechanisms need to be found that will provide incentives for developing new technologies while also facilitating their deployment in developing countries at affordable cost," he said.
Dr Singh said that one of the principal development challenges confronting humankind today is to ensure that each person has affordable access to energy. 
"Lack of access to energy deprives millions of people of a basic minimum living standard. The problem is particularly acute for people living below the poverty line. The figures are quite staggering. Over 1.3 billion people in the world today lack access to reliable electricity. 
"Further, around 3 billion people rely entirely, or very substantially, on traditional biomass for their cooking energy needs. Women in 80% of rural households in our country and many other developing countries use firewood, agricultural waste and dung cakes to cook in poorly ventilated kitchens," he said.
The Prime Minister said the World Health Organisation, among others, had studied the adverse effects of indoor air pollution caused by these traditional fuels. Thousands of premature deaths of women and children in rural areas are attributed to indoor air pollution apart from the incidence of eye infections and respiratory ailments, he said.
He said another important social aspect of the problem is the time and effort rural women spend in collecting and carrying these fuels. 
"According to one survey, Indian women spend nearly 30 billion hours a year in such activities. Not only does this excessive load carrying lead to problems of health but it also prevents girls from doing other productive work, including attending school," he said.
Dr Singh said the links between access to energy and the various Millennium Development Goals are now well established and well documented. Meeting these goals that are fundamental to an existence of minimum dignity and well being all over the world requires access to affordable energy, he said.
"In our planning processes in India, we consider access to energy services as vital to inducing rapid development, reducing inequality and making economic growth processes more inclusive," he said.
He said that, under the ongoing Rajiv Gandhi Rural Electrification Scheme, the goal was to electrify all the 600,000 villages of India. As a result of the efforts, more than 100,000 villages have been provided with electricity connections in recent years, he said.
"Now, only a few thousand villages in the country remain un-electrified. Besides, one million households in India are now using decentralized solar energy to meet their lighting energy needs. The Government of India aims to provide 24x7 electricity to all households in the country and affordable access to electricity in the next 5 years," he said.
Dr Singh said the Government's aim was to provide every individual household with clean cooking fuel. "This is a huge task but it is not unattainable. It is something we must do on a priority basis," he said.
"Most urban households cook with LPG. We have tried to introduce LPG for cooking in rural areas as well," he said.
He said about 12 percent of around 190 million rural households today use LPG to meet their cooking energy needs. 
"Giving all the 240 million households in the country an entitlement of six LPG cylinders per year will require only around 25 million tonnes of LPG. This should be manageable for our country. But, extending distribution network to all villages may take time. To reduce the burden on women, fuel wood plantations within a kilometer of all inhabitations could be set up. Over one million households meet their cooking energy needs from biogas plants. Programmes that give incentives for use of renewable energies, therefore, have to be expanded," he said.
The Prime Minister said the Government recognized that the rural poor would need some subsidyto afford electricity and LPG.
"The issue is to target the subsidy as best as possible. We have launched an ambitious project to give every Indian resident a unique identification number that will facilitate targeting of subsidies under various welfare schemes. For example, in one pilot scheme in Mysore district of Karnataka, 27,000 deliveries of subsidized cylinders have been made by delivery boys after successful biometric authentication of any family member present at home. In the next phase it is planned to transfer the subsidy amount directly to the bank accounts of bona fide beneficiaries," he said.
According to him, renewable energy technologies provide probably the most sustainable and economic options for energy access. 
"At present renewable power represents about 12 per cent of the total installed generating capacity in India. The Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission, launched under the aegis of India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change aims to install 20 Gigawatt of grid connected solar power by 2022. We hope to light up around 20 million rural households with solar home lighting by 2022. Overall, we aim at accelerating the overall deployment of renewable energy in India to achieve around 55 GigaWatt of renewable power by the year 2017," he said.
Dr Singh said providing affordable energy access to the poorer sections of the globe is a challenge that will severely test the capability of the global community, especially the developing countries to forge a common and effective path forward. It will require tremendous creativity and resourcefulness and also new ways of thinking and understanding. To this end, India is fully conscious of its responsibilities and our commitments, he said.
He said India was also conscious that south-south cooperation is vital to achieving universal energy access. 
"In this context, we have been vigorously supporting capacity building in other developing countries. Our experts have helped set up energy access projects in many developing countries. We are delighted to share our experience in policy-making, technological development and implementation by creating a global platform for information and experience sharing," he said.
He said the fact that representatives of such a large number of countries had congregated for the event kindled hopes and aspirations for a more prosperous and better future for everyone.
"Together we can drive out the pessimism about the future of those who are 'energy poor'," he said.
"This would require global cooperation on a gigantic scale for financing as well as implementing viable projects in energy-deficient areas. The path ahead is difficult but we have to persevere," he added.

PM calls for more private investment in scientific research

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday pointed out that India, as a nation, had not succeeded in mobilizing enough private investment into science to raise its investment in scientific research to 2 per cent of the gross domestic product.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaking at the 70th CSIR Foundation Day celebration, in New Delhi on September 26, 2012.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaking at the 70th CSIR Foundation Day celebration, in New Delhi on September 26, 2012.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today pointed out that India, as a nation, had not succeeded in mobilizing enough private investment into science to raise its investment in scientific research to 2 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP).

"...with all our achievements, we cannot rest on our laurels....We need to recognize that excellence has not percolated across all our research and academic institutions," he said in his address at the 70th Foundation Day of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) here.
Dr Singh said India had not been able to make an impact on a world scale commensurate with its large scientific manpower pool. 
"CSIR, therefore,  will need to devote itself to these national challenges in the years to come. It will have to take up national leadership in science, engineering and technology," he said.
Dr Singh recalled the events around the time of partition and said it was, in many ways, a national tragedy far more poignant than people's personal losses.
"In those days of horror, it was easy to write off India, with its deep-rooted poverty, widespread ignorance, frequent epidemics and an economy that had remained stagnant in the five preceding decades.
"But we were fortunate to have in Jawaharlal Nehru a leader who saw science and technology as an elixir for India’s development, and in Dr. (Shanti Swarup) Bhatnagar a scientist of extraordinary organizational capacity and caliber to implement this vision of Jawaharlal Nehru," he said.
He said that, recognizing the potential of scientific research, Jawaharlal Nehru placed the Council under his personal charge, thereby beginning a tradition that successive Prime Ministers have continued. 
"Science has always commanded the utmost priority of our policymakers. I consider it a privilege to preside over this hallowed organization in the seventh decade of its outstanding service to our nation," he said.
Dr Singh said he was glad the CSIR had proven its professional worth in every phase of India’s growth, in line with prevailing national policies and national priorities.
"In the early days of Independence, it was a champion of import substitution, rebuilding our industrial base in the face of shortages and resource crunch. When India became a victim of technology denial, CSIR laboratories created advanced products and technologies, such as India’s first super computer, radiation shielding glasses and components for aerospace and satellites, emerging as a credible partner for our strategic sector. During this time, the Council also catapulted India as the top generic drug producer," he said.
He said that, after India embraced globalization, introduced economic reforms and joined the World Trade Organization (WTO), the CSIR quickly emerged as the flag bearer of the intellectual property movement in the country and became the single largest holder of US and European patents. The Council, in recent years, has also become a world leader in specific domains of biotechnology and recombinant DNA products.
"I would like to particularly compliment the Council on its unique attempt to make healthcare affordable by exploiting the power of open source drug discovery. As a concept, this is a global first and the world has turned from skepticism to partnership. I am happy to learn that the Council has opened its patent chest for accelerated drug discovery for hitherto neglected diseases like tuberculosis and malaria," he said.
He said he was glad that the Council had remained firmly rooted in the social milieu of the country while selecting and implementing projects. 
"I commend the recent CSIR 800 programme which aims at affordable scientific interventions to improve the quality of life of the people at the base of the economic pyramid. The Council’s thrust on research and innovation in renewable energy, in water, environment and waste management also reflect its awareness of contemporary challenges that our country faces," he said.
The Prime Minister said that, in recent times, conventional scientific disciplines and approaches were proving unequal to dealing with complex developmental challenges. 
"New disciplines are emerging at the interface of traditional boundaries. The newly created Academy of Scientific and Innovative Research promises to train our young scientists and engineers in trans-disciplinary skills by tapping into the entire resources and infrastructure of the CSIR fraternity. This is a good initiative and I look forward to early results," he said.
He also spoke about the power and potential of public-private partnership in scientific research and noted that, across CSIR laboratories, new ecosystems like Innovation Complexes are being created to foster innovation through partnership with industry, academia and other R&D institutions. 
"Mechanisms have been put in place to identify needs of India’s industries and to tap bright ideas of the CSIR’s young talent. The Council has announced policies to encourage scientists to create spin offs and new ventures. It is also partnering with the National Innovation Council to provide focused technology assistance to small and medium enterprises," he said.
"In this journey, young people like many of those gathered here are our nation’s hope and future. I congratulate the awardees for their talent, for their devotion to duty and for their aspirations for Indian science. Young scientists must dream big and refuse to despair. I would like to remind them of the exemplary determination and selfless patriotism of Dr. Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar that led to the establishment of one of the finest scientific institutions of our great country – The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research," he added.

India reiterates support for independent Palestine with East Jerusalem as capital

India on Tuesday reiterated its firm support for the struggle of the Palestinian people to achieve a sovereign, independent, viable and united state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital, living within secure and recognized borders, side by side and at peace with Israel.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meeting the President of the Palestine National Authority, Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, in New Delhi on September 11, 2012.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meeting the President of the Palestine National Authority, Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, in New Delhi on September 11, 2012.

India today reiterated its firm support for the struggle of the Palestinian people to achieve a sovereign, independent, viable and united state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital, living within secure and recognized borders, side by side and at peace with Israel.

"Support for the Palestinian cause has been a cornerstone of India’s foreign policy," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told journalists here at a joint interaction with Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas after the two sides held delegation level talks.
Dr Singh said his talks with Mr Abbas were useful and aimed at further expanding and strengthening the India-Palestine partnership. This relationship is rooted in history and flows from the national ethos, he said.
He said India had played an active role in supporting the efforts of the State of Palestine to secure full member status at UNESCO. He said the country would continue to support Palestine’s bid for full and equal membership of the United Nations. 
"We also look forward to early resumption of peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis leading to a comprehensive resolution between the two sides," he said.
Dr Singh said that, bilaterally, India would continue to support the development and nation-building efforts of Palestine. 
"The MOUs signed today are indicative of our commitment to contribute in the areas of Information & Communication Technology, vocational training and education," he said.
He announced a contribution of $ 10 million from India to Palestine’s budget for this year to help address its financial requirements. 
Later today, President Mahmoud Abbas will inaugurate the new Palestinian Embassy building, which has been built with Indian support. "The building is a symbol of the enduring friendship between our two countries and our two peoples," he said.
Dr Singh said President Abbas and he had also exchanged views on regional developments, particularly the developments in the West Asian and the Gulf region. 
"There is a great degree of similarity in our views. We both agree that the developments in the region must be addressed through political dialogue and peaceful means without recourse to violence and outside interference, while taking into account the legitimate aspirations of all people. 
"I look forward to working together with President Mahmoud Abbas to further carry forward our very special bilateral relations," he added.

Shinde urges States to develop capacities to tackle terrorism

Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said on Thursday that the Government was aware of the threats that various terrorist outfits still continued to pose and cognisant of the continuous thrust of Pakistan-based Islamist groups to infiltrate terrorists and hardware across the border.

Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde delivering the inaugural address at annual conference of Directors General and Inspectors General of Police, in New Delhi on September 6, 2012.
Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde delivering the inaugural address at annual conference of Directors General and Inspectors General of Police, in New Delhi on September 6, 2012.

Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde today said the Government was aware of the threats that various terrorist outfits still continued to pose and cognisant of the continuous thrust of Pakistan-based Islamist groups to infiltrate terrorists and hardware across the border and elevate the level of terrorist violence in different parts of India.

"I would urge you to take prompt notice of every piece of intelligence as it is received, develop capacities for addressing the threats posed by terrorism, share experiences and create an overall milieu of collaboration wherein there should be no distinction between Central agencies and State Police Forces as they work together towards achieving the common objective of curbing terrorism," he said in his inaugural address at the annual conference of Directors General of Pollice (DGPs) and Inspectors General of Police (IGPs) here.
"I draw comfort from the fact that, since January 2011, your collaborative efforts have resulted in the interdiction of 19 terrorist modules. Many of those involved have been exposed and will face trials," he said.
Mr Shinde said that, at the same time, there some cases like the serial blasts in Mumbai in mid-July 2011 and the blasts outside Delhi High Court in September 2011, wherein many perpetrators have so far managed to evade arrest.
"I would, therefore, call upon you to redouble your efforts for locating and apprehending such absconders so that the terrorist thrust can be blunted. It is my strong belief that every element of the security apparatus will strive hard for achieving these objectives we have in mind," he said.
Mr Shinde also stressed that threat-related intelligence should be carefully handled, and that should be worked upon diligently but discreetly. 
"Premature exposure of such intelligence can retard and even defeat the possibility of interdiction. Similarly, revealing of clues as collected by painstaking investigations to the print and electronic media alerts other conspirators and blunts the momentum of investigations. 
"Lastly, effectiveness of novel techniques evolved by investigators is also quickly eroded by the indiscriminate disclosure of specifics in the public domain. Investigations must remain firmly focused on identifying precisely the perpetrators," he emphasized.
Mr Shinde said the serial bomb blasts in Pune on August 1, the day he assumed office, in which one person was injured, reflected the potential of terrorist groups, their ability to move swiftly across jurisdictional boundaries, maintain communication at the subliminal level, access hardware, and carry out terrorist actions with telling effect. 
He also said there was increasing evidence of resort taken by terrorists to the cyber-space domain. 
He said the recent incidents in Bangalore, Pune and other places, where motivated rumours and irresponsible use of social networking media led to the exodus of hundreds of people hailing from the North-East, posed a new challenge.
"Besides providing a pervasive infrastructure for discreet communication, cyberspace is proving to be a facilitator for malevolents seeking to enlist new recruits and to purvey a distorted version of the reality.  
"Anonymity that the user acquires in this medium can sometimes test the capacities of even the most experienced police investigator. Police forces will have to develop skills in this area not just for locating malicious content but also for identifying those responsible for posting it," he said.
Mr Shinde said Naxalism continued to pose a significant challenge. He said seven States are experiencing different levels of intensity of this problem, though nearly 80 per cent of Naxal violence is taking place in less than 30 districts, many of which are close to the inter-State boundaries.
"There are indicators about increase in the number of trained and armed cadres, reorganisation of military potential for formation of new battalions, and the creation of well-developed indigenous capacity for accretions to their arsenal. 
"Confidence levels of the Maoists are exhibited in their ability to move in larger formations, hold Jan Adalats, obstruct thoroughfares, and recover levies. Jan Militia cadres are increasingly integrated into the armed forays of Naxal groups," he said.
The Minister said that, on its part, the Union Government is committed to providing every support required by the State Police Forces, and that is being done in a liberal way. 
"The approach of Central Government is to deal with left-wing extremism in a holistic manner, in the areas of security, development, good governance and public perception management. The Central Government is committed to deal firmly with left-wing extremism groups indulging in crime and violence.  The overall objective being to uphold the law of the land, provide security of life and property and provide a secure environment for development and economic growth," he said.
In this regard, he said that, with respect to security-related interventions, the Government of India provides financial assistance to States under various schemes like the Security Related Expenditure (SRE) Scheme, Special Infrastructure Scheme (SIS), the Fortified Police Station Scheme, and so on.  In addition, the Centre has also deployed 81 battalions of Central Armed Forces (CAPFs) to assist the State Governments.
In the development-related interventions, the Government is implementing the Integrated Action Plan (IAP) in 82 districts of India.  This is a specific scheme to address left-wing extremism problems with focus on creating public infrastructure and services.  
"The implementation of this scheme at the State level has been extremely encouraging in most of the left-wing extremism affected States.  Also, an ambitious Road Requirement Plan-I to develop a total road length of 5477 kilometres in 34 most left-wing extremism affected districts is under progress.  This scheme is being implemented at a total cost of Rs. 7300 crore.  The Planning Commission also has a mechanism to monitor implementation of flagship schemes in  Integrated Action Plan districts," he said.
Mr Shinde said left-wing extremism affected States needed to improve the police-population ratio, strengthen the intelligence set-up, raise Special Forces to deal with the problem and enhance the state police budget by making adequate provisions for equipment, weaponry, mobility, communication, training, police station buildings including housing and forensic science. 
"You need to design operational strategies for optimal use of all resources. Central Armed Police Forces, particularly the CRPF, have developed tactics to deal with the threat posed by Naxals, particularly those that intend to operate close to inter-State boundaries. I would appeal to you to make use of this potential. The States should also give priority to effective implementation of developmental schemes leading to all-round development of left-wing extremism  affected areas, for a permanent solution to this problem," he said.
Turning to the North-East, Mr Shinde said the security situation there had, by and large, been improving because of the multi-pronged strategy adopted by the Central Government towards the demands of the insurgent groups operating in the region. 
"The insurgent groups are gradually realizing that the Central Government is serious about elevating the socio-economic status of the ethnic groups in the North Eastern States and providing funds through DONER and other infrastructural Ministries in the Central Government for the overall improvement of the North East in infrastructure, communication and connectivity.  Such confidence building measures over the years have induced more and more ethnic groups to come forward to shed violent means and to find solution to their problems through negotiations," he said.
He said the Government was also strengthening the dispute resolution mechanism in the region.  Notifications for setting up of High Courts in Manipur, Meghalaya and Tripura have been issued.  More focussed administrative efficiency is also likely to be put in place by North Eastern Areas Reorganization (Amendment) Bill, 2011 to enable separation of All India Services Cadre of Manipur and Tripura, he said.
"However, it is unfortunate that the recent violence caused by the ethnic Groups in Assam has been given communal colour and has resulted in heavy loss of lives and displacement of people to relief camps.  I am happy to note that normalcy is restoring to Assam gradually and people are going back from relief camps to their native places due to security arrangements made by the State Police in vulnerable areas. I would request the State Governments to take all possible measures to prevent recurrence of such incidents in future," he said.
Mr Shinde said recent months saw an increase in communal incidents in the country, specially in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra as compared with the same period last year.  
"However, the communal situation in the country by and large withstood the attempts made to provoke communities by various fundamentalist groups/organisations.  It is a tribute to the maturity of our citizens and even handling of such challenges by our State Police Forces," he said.
On Jammu and Kashmir, he expressed happiness at the success of efforts made by all elements of the J&K Government in ensuring steady progress towards controlling terrorist violence and buttressing the confidence of the people about the bright future of their province. 
"Excellent arrangements led to a successful Amarnath Yatra this year and the number of tourists to J&K has increased significantly, with more than 9.1 lakh tourists having visited that State so far this year as against about 5 lakh last year. We realise that there are still sections of society in J&K, albeit small ones with limited influence, which have grievances. Such groups should realise that spirit of accommodation can create the backdrop for  democratic aspirations of the people to be achieved," he said.
Mr Shinde told the States that they had a responsibility to ensure that funds provided by the Centre are properly used, vacancies in police forces are filled up and special capacities created for dealing with threats to peace ad security posed by terrorism and Naxalism.
"The reach of the Multi-Agency Centre is proposed to be increased and efforts are afoot, with your cooperation, for implementation of the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network System (CCTNS). With regard to CCTNS, over Rs. 298 crores out of the Rs. 421 crores released to States/UTs are lying unspent. This money needs to be spent expeditiously as per MHA guidelines to enable further releases. I would request your personal involvement and interest in this key initiative," he told the DGPs and IGPs.
Mr Shinde expressed concern over the continuous increase in serious crimes against women during the period 2009-11 and caled appropriate measures for swift and salutary punishment to those found guilty of violence against women.
He said the overall representation of women in police forces should be increased through affirmative action as there were only 83,829 women police in the country as on January 1 this year.
He also expressed concern about the fact that, in 2011 alone, nearly 60,000 children were reported to be missing in the country.  "This is such a large number that it merits some attention from the police at all levels," he said.
He said the National Informatics Centre (NIC) had developed "Track the Missing Children" portal, which has been successfully piloted in West Bengal for the last three years and would be available to all police stations in the country as well as all the child care institutions.  This would enable faster detection of matches of lost and found children which will enable recovery, he said.
"The people of this country need to be assured that continuous efforts will be made to ensure their safety and security and police will work as their friend to extend helping hand in any kind of situation," he added.

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.
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.
"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.

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.

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


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.
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.

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. 
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.

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.


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.


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.

"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.


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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