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.


SpiceJet announces 12 new domestic flights

Low-cost carrier SpiceJet today announced 12 new direct flights on its domestic network, effective March 31, 2019, becoming the first Indian airline to introduce daily direct services on the Bhopal-Surat-Bhopal, Gorakhpur-Mumbai-Gorakhpur and Jaipur-Dharamshala-Jaipur sectors.
"The new flights reiterate the airline’s commitment for direct connectivity and on-boarding non-metros and smaller cities onto the national aviation map," a press release from SpiceJet said.
The release said SpiceJet would also be the first budget airline to connect Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh, with Delhi.
All the new flights introduced will be operational daily, except the evening flight on the Bhopal-Delhi route which will fly on all days except Sunday.
Shilpa Bhatia, Chief Sales & Revenue Officer - SpiceJet, said, “We see immense potential in these sectors and are delighted to introduce these 12 new flights on our domestic network. We are sure that the new flights will offer immense flexibility to both business and leisure travellers. Besides an evening flight on the Bhopal-Delhi route, in addition to the morning flight will help business travelers conveniently plan same day trips.”
SpiceJet had recently added Bhopal as its 50th domestic destination. The airline had introduced 10 direct flight services on the routes of Bhopal-Jaipur, Bhopal-Ahmedabad, Bhopal-Hyderabad and Bhopal-Shirdi. SpiceJet has now further enhanced air connectivity to the capital city of Madhya Pradesh with the addition of eight new direct flights.
Deploying a mix of its fleet of Boeing 737 and Bombardier Q-400 aircraft on the routes, the new flights helps to strengthen SpiceJet’s network across Central India, the release said.

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Projects worth Rs 1387.71 crore in Yamuna towns approved under Namami Gange

Sewerage infrastructure and other projects worth Rs 1387.71 crore focusing on towns along river Yamuna have been approved in the 20th Executive Committee meeting of Namami Gange on February 15.
An official press release said here that the projects involve the construction and renovation of sewage treatment plants (STPs), online monitoring systems of STPs and other infrastructure projects.
Sewage infrastructure project worth Rs 140.6 crore were given the go-ahead. This includes interception and diversion of Tixi Nala, upgradation of existing STPs including chlorination systems, a new STP of 2.1 crore litres per day sewage treatment capacity and online monitoring system of three STPs. The project also includes the operations and maintenance of the approved projects at a cost of Rs 49.74 crore.
Sewerage infrastructure projects worth Rs 51.08 crore approved by the committee involve tapping of two nalas, construction of two sewage pumping station, construction of main sewer lines and other development work. The projects also includes their operations and maintenance for 15 years. 
Projects worth Rs 77.36 crore have been approved in Baghpat town of Uttar Pradesh for sewerage infrastructure. This includes construction of a 1.4 crore litres per day capacity STP, tapping of four nalas, construction of interception and main sewer lines and sewage pumping station. After completion, the projects will be maintained over a period of 15 years.
The committee approved projects worth Rs 681.78 crore for development of sewerage infrastructure in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh. The sanctioned projects include the creation of a new STP with capacity of 200 MLD, interception and diversion of the sewer lines and development of rising mains.
The committee approved sewerage infrastructure projects worth Rs 317.2 crore in Agra. This includes the online monitoring of six STPs, automation of existing 15 sewage pumping stations, renovation of sewage pumping stations and operations and maintenance of 29 nala tappings.
The committee approved a project worth Rs 2.70 crore for Faecal Sludge Management and Pollution Abatement in Chunar city, Uttar Pradesh to be executed by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). 
This includes the creation of a 10 KLD Faecal Sludge treatment plant. The projects shall include operations and maintenance of the plant for five years as well as creating an enabling environment for project execution for which the committee has approved the training of Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) and Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam (UPJN). 
Other approved components in Chunar include sanitation survey, geo-tagging of all properties along with web-based GIS and MIS.
Reviving aquatic biodiversity in the Ganga river is one of the key focus areas of the Namami Gange Programme. Important projects have been approved by the Executive Committee to restore aquatic life in the Ganga.
The second phase of Biodiversity Conservation projects undertaken by Wildlife Institute of India (WII) involves Planning and Management for Aquatic Species Conservation and Maintenance of Ecosystem Services in river Ganga. 
The project includes science-based aquatic species conservation and maintenance of ecosystem services in the Ganga River Basin. Other important components of the project include capacity building of Forest Department and other stakeholders for effective Ganga biodiversity conservation and Community based aquatic species conservation and outreach in the Ganga river basin. 
This will spread the work done in the first phase to other rivers in the basin while scaling up interventions on the main stem of Ganga.
Another project is to be taken up by Uttar Pradesh Forest Department. This projects focus on the development of captive breeding infrastructure by procurement of more breeding turtles and gharials and also conduct post-release monitoring to investigate survival rate of Gharials and turtles as well as carry out education, awareness and training Programmes. 
Another important component of the project is to develop and follow relevant animal husbandry protocols of national and international standards alongside strengthening the existing Laboratory for Aquatic Biology and veterinary unit.
A project addressing the Urban Drivers of River Health in the Ganga River Basin was awarded to the National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA). The project requires developing strategic guidelines to mainstream urban river management into a city’s Master Plan as well as support one selected Class-I town for the systematic preparation of an Urban River Management Plan. 
NIUA will also roll out three different capacity building modules for selected Urban Local Bodies and other stakeholders in the knowledge and application of matters related to river health management, the release added.

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Report on Magnitude of Substance Use in India submitted to Government

The National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre (NDDTC) of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi submitted its report on “Magnitude of Substance Use in India” to Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Thaawarchand Gehlot here on Monday.
Speaking on the occasion, Gehlot said the State governments and all other stakeholders including NGOs and Drug De-addiction centres will be consulted to formulate guidelines and action plan to counter the menace of drug abuse. 
The survey, conducted at the national level as well as at the state level, is first of its kind which has been officially released, he added. The survey was conducted by a team led by Dr Atul Ambedkar during 2018.
The last National Survey on the extent, pattern and trend of drug abuse was sponsored by Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in the year 2000-2001. The report was published in 2004.  However, the survey did not give any State-level estimates.
A combination of two data collection approaches was employed in this survey. A Household Survey (HHS) was conducted among the representative, general population (10-75 years old) of all the 36 states and UTs. 
This was aimed primarily at studying the use of common, legal substances (like Alcohol and Cannabis). At the national level, a total of 200,111 households were visited in 186 districts and a total of 473,569 individuals were interviewed.
A Respondent Driven Sampling (RDS) survey along with multiplier approach was conducted in 123 districts among 70,293 people suffering from dependence on illicit drugs. This was aimed primarily at estimating the prevalence of dependence on the illicit drug (since the HHS tends to underestimate illicit drug use).
Substance categories studied were: Alcohol, Cannabis (Bhang and Ganja/Charas), Opioids (Opium, Heroin and Pharmaceutical Opioids), Cocaine, Amphetamine Type Stimulants (ATS), Sedatives, Inhalants and Hallucinogens.
Major findings of the survey at the national level as well as at the state level found that at the national level, about 14.6% (among 10-75 year old) were users of alcohol, that is about 16 crore people. The prevalence is 17 times higher among men than women.
Among people consuming alcohol, country liquor (‘desi’, about 30%) and spirits (IMFL – Indian Made Foreign Liquor, about 30%) are the predominantly consumed beverages.
About 5.2% (more than 5.7 crore people) are estimated to be affected by harmful or dependent alcohol use. In other words, every third alcohol user in India needs help for alcohol-related problems.
States with the high prevalence of alcohol use are Chhattisgarh, Tripura, Punjab, Arunachal Pradesh and Goa.
States with high prevalence (more than 10%) of alcohol use disorders are Tripura, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Chhattisgarh, and Arunachal Pradesh.
About 2.8% (3.1 crore individuals) report having used any cannabis product within past 12 months (Bhang – 2% or 2.2 crore people; Ganja/Charas – 1.2% or 1.3 crore people). About 0.66% (or approximately 72 lakh individuals) need help for their cannabis use problems.
Though bhang use is more common than ganja/charas, the prevalence of harmful/dependent use is proportionately higher for ganja/charas users.
States with the higher than national prevalence of cannabis use are Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Sikkim, Chhattisgarh and Delhi. In some states, the prevalence of cannabis use disorders is considerably higher (more than thrice) than the national average (e.g. Sikkim, Punjab).
At the national level, the most common opioid used is Heroin, (current use 1.14%) followed by Pharmaceutical opioids (current use 0.96%) and then Opium (current use 0.52%). Prevalence of current use of opioids overall is 2.06% and about 0.55% of Indians are estimated to need help for their opioid use problems (harmful use and dependence). More people are dependent upon Heroin than Opium and Pharmaceutical Opioids.
Of the total estimated approximately 60 lakh people with opioid use disorders (harmful or dependent pattern) in the country, more than half are contributed by just a few states: Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.
In terms of percentage of population affected, the top states in the country are those in the northeast (Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Manipur) along with Punjab, Haryana and Delhi.
About 1.08% of 10-75-year-olds (approximately 1.18 crore people) are current users of sedatives (non-medical, non-prescription use).
States with the highest prevalence of sedative use are Sikkim, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram. However, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat are the top five states which house the largest populations of people using sedatives.
Inhalants are the only category of substances for which the prevalence of current use among children and adolescents is higher (1.17%) than adults (0.58%).
At the national level, an estimated 4.6 lakh children and 18 lakh adults need help for their inhalant use (harmful use/dependence). In terms of absolute numbers, states with a high population of children needing help for inhalant use are Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Delhi and Haryana.
 Cocaine (0.10%) Amphetamine Type Stimulants (0.18%) and Hallucinogens (0.12%) are the categories with the lowest prevalence of current use.
Nationally, it is estimated that there are about 8.5 lakh People Who Inject Drugs (PWID). High numbers of PWID are estimated in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Haryana, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Manipur and Nagaland. 
Opioid group of drugs are predominantly injected by PWID (heroin – 46% and pharmaceutical opioids – 46%). A substantial proportion of PWID reports risky injecting practices.
Access to treatment services: In general, access to treatment services for people affected by substance use disorders is grossly inadequate. Just about one in 38 people with alcohol dependence report getting any treatment. 
Only about one in 180 people with alcohol dependence report getting in-patient treatment/hospitalization for help with alcohol problems. Among people suffering from dependence on illicit drugs, one among 20 people has ever received inpatient treatment/ hospitalization for help with drug problems.

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Amit Panghal, 3 women boxers make finals, India assured of seven

Defending champion Amit Panghal continued his quest for a second consecutive gold medal as he reached the final of the 70th Strandja Memorial Boxing Tournament in Sofia, Bulgaria late last night.
The 23-year-old, also a silver medallist at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, showed his grit and determination in a hard-fought 3-2 win over Said Mortaji in the 49kg semi-finals.
According to information received here, former world junior champion Nikhat Zareen (51kg) led three Indian women boxers into the finals as India is now assured of a total of seven medals from this season-opening tournament.
Zareen put up a dominating performance as she outclassed Drabik Sandra of Poland 4-1 to keep up her quest for the gold. 48kg national champion Manju Rani too continued her dream run on her debut on foreign soil. The youngster, who turned to boxing to manage her anger, pummelled Emi-Mari Todorova 4-1 to enter the final.
But the best performer among the Indian women pugilists on Day 5 of this event was Maisnam Meena Kumari. The Nagaland boxer, a former bronze medallist at the Asian Championships, did not give her opponent, Ekaterina Sycheva a chance to settle down and was declared a 5-0 unanimous winner.
However, the journey ended for Neeraj (60kg), Lovlina Borgohain (69kg) and Pwilao Basumatary (64kg), all of whom had to settle for the bronze medal following their losses in the semi-finals.
Haryana girl Neeraj, whose resume is embellished with a gold medal from the Nations Cup, put her heart and soul into the fight but ultimately had to settle for the second best in her 2-3 loss to Sweden’s Agnes Alexiusson.
Borgohain, a gold medallist at the 2018 Indian Open, went down 1-4 to Nien-Chin Chen of Taipei while Basumatary was no match for Italy’s Valentina Alberti who notched up a commanding 5-0 victory. 
Earlier, Commonwealth Games gold medallist Gaurav Solanki (52kg) and Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Naman Tanwar (91kg) lost their respective bouts to bow out in the quarter-finals.

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Terrorism is serious threat to global peace, needs united action: Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Argentine President Mauricio Macri, at Hyderabad House, in New Delhi on February 18, 2019.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Argentine President Mauricio Macri, at Hyderabad House, in New Delhi on February 18, 2019.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said terrorism was a serious threat to global peace and stability and the brutal terrorist attack in Pulwama showed that the time for discussions is over now and the whole world unitedly needs to take concrete steps against the menace.
In a press statement during the visit of Argentinian President Mauricio Macri, Mr Modi said, “I and President Macri agree that terrorism is a very serious threat to global peace and stability. The brutal terrorist attack in Pulwama shows that the time for discussions is over now. Now the whole world unitedly needs to take concrete steps against terrorism and its supporters. 
“Hesitating to act against terrorists and their anti-humanitarian supporters is also equivalent to promoting terrorism. As the G-20 countries, it is also important that we implement the 11-point agenda of 'Hamburg Leaders' Statement’ on countering terrorism. 
“In this regard, it is important that we, both the countries are issuing a special declaration against terrorism after our discussions today,” he added.
He said his fifth meeting with President Macri today reflects the fast and growing importance of bilateral engagement between the two countries. “We have proved that the distance of 15,000 kilometres between the two countries is just a number. 
“This visit of President Macri is taking place in a special year; This is the 70th year of establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. But the mutual relations of our people is older than this. Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore had travelled to Argentina in 1924. The immense effect of that journey has become immortal through his creations. 
"Considering our shared values and our interests to promote peace, stability, economic progress and prosperity both the countries have given their relations the status of a strategic partnership. 
“Our cooperation in the field of space and peaceful use of nuclear energy is continuously increasing. The Memorandum of Understanding signed today in respect of Defence Cooperation will give a new dimension to our cooperation in the defence sector,” he added.
“India and Argentina are complementary to each other in many ways. It is our endeavour to take full advantage of this for our mutual benefit. Argentina is the powerhouse of agriculture. India sees it as an important partner for its food security. The work-plan of Agro-Industrial Cooperation between us today is an important step in this direction. 
“India's success in the ICT field, especially JAM, Jandhan-Aadhaar-Mobile trinity and digital payment infrastructure, we are ready to share with Argentina. We have set a goal in India that by 2030 at least 30% of our vehicles will run with electrical batteries,” he added. 
“Argentina is a part of the Lithium Triangle and it has approximately 54% of the world's lithium reservoir. Our joint venture 'KABIL' has started discussions with Argentina for cooperation in the mining sector,” the Prime Minister said.
“In the last 10 years, our bilateral trade has more than doubled and have become in excess of US $ 3 billion. There are possibilities for a significant increase in many sectors such as agriculture, metals and minerals, oils and gas, pharmaceutical, chemicals, motor vehicles and services. 
“Today we have identified specific methods to enhance our commercial engagement. I am glad that representatives from many important Argentine companies have come with President Macri. I am confident that his talks with business leaders in Delhi and Mumbai will be useful," he said.
Modi said India was the first country to sign a Preferential Trade Agreement with MERCOSUR in 2004. The discussions today covered several measures for the expansion of the India-MERCOSUR trade.
“There are millions of fans of Indian art, culture and spirituality in Argentina. Argentina's Tango dance and football are very popular in India. In order to bring people closer, agreements have been made between tourism and Public Broadcasting agencies for cooperation and exchange of cultural programmes,” he added.
“India and Argentina have good cooperation in international forums. For global peace and security and economic and social advancement of all people, we accept the need for reformed multilateralism. 
“Argentina has strongly supported India's membership in the Missile Technology Control Regime, Wassenaar Arrangement, Australia Group and the Nuclear Suppliers Group. South-South Cooperation holds great importance for us. 
"I am happy to say that India will actively participate in the second high-level conference of United Nations on South-South Cooperation in Buenos Aires in 2019. Our views are similar in the fight against climate change. I am very happy to welcome Argentina as a new member in the International Solar Alliance (ISA)," Modi said.

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