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Clinton in Delhi, to meet PM, Krishna on Monday

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who arrived in Delhi on Sunday on the second leg of a five-day visit to the country, has assured India that the US would not do anything that would limit India's progress.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses Mumbai Consulate General staff at the Crystal Ballroom of the Taj Palace Hotel on Sunday.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses Mumbai Consulate General staff at the Crystal Ballroom of the Taj Palace Hotel on Sunday.
United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who arrived here today on the second leg of a five-day visit to the country, has assured India that the US would not do anything that would limit India's progress.

Ms Clinton told reporters at the ITC Green Centre in Gurgaon that economic progress in India was in everyone's interest but said she also believed that there was a way of eliminating poverty while ensuring sustainability.

Soon after landing in the capital, Ms Clinton drove to the Centre for a conference on climate change and green technologies.

The Centre is the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified building in India, which she described as a "monument to the future". She said the building would become a new monument on India's tourism map just like the Taj Mahal in Agra and the India Gate in Delhi.

Ms Clinton, who is accompanied on the visit by the US Special Envoy on Climate Change Todd Stern, was shown around the Centre by Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh.

She also held discussions on climate change with Mr Ramesh and Mr Shyam Saran, the former Foreign Secretary who is now the Prime Minister's Special Envoy on Climate Change.

Speaking at the function, Mr Ramesh said India was very conscious of the local impacts of climate change within the country and would never allow its per capita emissions to exceed that of the developed countries.

He said India's position in the on-going climate change agreement negotiations was clear, credible and consistent.

"Embedded in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Bali Action Plan, we are fully alive to our global responsibilities as well. We have done detailed modeling, the results of which are being released very soon," he said.

"The results are unambiguous. Even with 8-9% GDP growth every year for the next decade or two, our per capita emissions will be well below that of developed country averages," he assured.

"There is simply no case for the pressure that we, who have among the lowest emissions per capita, face to actually reduce emissions," he said. He said that, as if this pressure were not enough, India was also facing the threat of carbon tariffs on its exports to countries such as the US.

Mr Ramesh said India was ensuring that its economic growth path was ecologically sustainable, and added that he saw a critical role for international technology cooperation in enabling countries like India to adapt to climate change.

He said that, in collaboration with the UN, India would host an International Conference on Climate Change and Technology on October 22-23. He hoped the New Delhi Statement on Technology and Climate Change, which would come out of the conference, would be reflected in the Copenhagen Agreement to be finalised at the end of this year.

He said the National Action Plan on Climate Chang was driven primarily by India's adaptation imperatives but did not neglect what it should do on its own for mitigation.

The minister said the plan was being converted into a large number of specific programmes and projects.

"All this is in the public domain. The energy sector is key. Our focus is on making technology leaps to ensure lower emissions. Our biggest power utility, National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) has the second lowest carbon dioxide intensity in the world—that is, emissions per megawatt of power generated. Our energy consumption per unit of GDP has been falling significantly," he said.

He also pointed out that India was a world leader in fast breeder reactor technology. He said the country was also establishing a 182 MW commercial power plant based on indigenously- developed Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) technology. He said the country had launched a major initiative on extracting carbon dioxide from flue gases for propagating algae in bioreactors.

Mr Ramesh said India was also embarking on $ 3 billion programme to regenerate its natural forests that already cover some 165 million acres – roughly the size of Texas. He said this was one of the largest carbon sinks in the world that would only grow in size and impact. In this connection, he sought US support for India’s proposals to the UNFCCC and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries, REDD+, that is to acknowledge and reward countries who are in the business of actually expanding forest cover.

The minister said there were numerous opportunities for joint research, development, demonstration and dissemination projects. He proposed collaboration in the area of environmental planning, regulation and management.

Mr Ramesh said India was planning to establish its own independent, professional, science-based national environmental protection authority.

"We are planning to set up a National Green Tribunal as some sort of an environmental court. I am convinced that we have much to learn from your long experience in this area. We can also collaborate in the on-going renewal of our vast forestry and biodiversity science and management establishment," he said.

He said building institutional capacity for continuing research on climate change and its impacts was another area where the countries could collaborate.

Ms Clinton also visited the Indian Agricultural Reseach Institute here for discussions on enhancing cooperation between the two countries in the agricultural sector.

Ms Clinton had arrived in Mumbai on Thursday night at the start of a visit that is aimed at discussing the structure and elemetns of an enhanced strategic partnership between the two countries.

Her engagements in the metropolis yesterday were designed to enable her to interact with a broad cross-section of Indian society. She met staff of the Taj Mahal and the Trident hotels, who had survived the 26/11 terror attacks on Mumbai and saved the lives of many guests, and interacted with top Indian businessmen. She also visited the Mumbai office of the Ahmedabad-based non-governmental organisation Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA) headed by Magsaysay Award winner Ela Bhatt.

In Delhi, Ms Clinton will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and hold talks with External Affairs Minister S M Krishna. She will also meet United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Leader of the Opposition Lal Krishna Advani. She will also interact with students at the Delhi University and meet businessmen and scientists.

She will leave New Delhi on July 21 for the second leg of her Asia visit that will take her to Thailand, where apart from bilateral meetings, she will attend the ASEAN Post-Ministerial Conference and the ASEAN Regional Forum in Phuket.

Before leaving for India, Ms Clinton had said that she would be engaging in a very broad, comprehensive dialogue in Delhi that was the most wide-ranging that had ever been put on the table between the two countries.

"It has six pillars to it, one of which, of course, is foreign policy, strategic challenges, along with other matters, like health and education and agriculture and the economy," she had said in a question-answer session after her Foreign Policy Address to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington last Wednesday.

Ms Clinton had said that India had a tremendous opportunity and a growing responsibility, which it acknowledges, to play not just a regional role, but a global one as well.

"How they choose to define that, we will explore in depth during the course of our discussions. But obviously, there are a number of areas where we would welcome Indian leadership and involvement that are difficult," she had said.

Ms Clinton is the highest-ranking US leader to visit India after the Barack Obama administration assumed office in January. Since then, Dr Singh, who began his second term as Prime Minister in May, has met Mr Obama at multi-lateral events, such as the G-20 Summits in Washington and London, the most recent being the G8/G5 Summits at L'Aquila in Italy last week.

Dr Singh is expected to visit Washington later this year and Mr Obama is likely to travel to India sometime next year.

In the run-up to Ms Clinton's visit, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William J Burns and National Security Adviser General James L Jones had visited New Delhi in June.

In her Foreign Policy Address, Ms Clinton had outlined six foreign policy approaches that the US would follow, the first of which was to build stronger mechanisms of cooperation with its historic allies, with emerging powers and with multilateral institutions and to pursue that cooperation in a pragmatic and principled way.

She had said that, as part of this approach, the US would put special emphasis on encouraging major and emerging global powers---China, India, Russia and Brazil, as well as Turkey, Indonesia and South Africa---to be full partners in tackling the global agenda.

"I want to underscore the importance of this task, and my personal commitment to it. These states are vital to achieving solutions to the shared problems and advancing our priorities – nonproliferation, counterterrorism, economic growth, climate change, among others. With these states, we will stand firm on our principles even as we seek common ground.

"This week, I will travel to India, where External Affairs Minister Krishna and I will lay out a broad-based agenda that calls for a whole-of-government approach to our bilateral relationship," she had added.

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Clinton in Mumbai, says no US pressure on India, Pakistan to resume talks

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Saturday that Washington fully supported India's stand on terrorism and was not putting any pressure on it to resume dialogue with Pakistan.

Secretary Clinton meets with Hemant Oberoi, a chef at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and a survivor of the Mumbai November 2008 terror attack.
Secretary Clinton meets with Hemant Oberoi, a chef at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and a survivor of the Mumbai November 2008 terror attack.
United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today said Washington fully supported India's stand on terrorism and was not putting any pressure on it to resume dialogue with Pakistan.

She said the decision on re-starting the dialogue was something that the two sovereign governments of India and Pakistan had to take for themselves.

Ms Clinton arrived in the metropolis late last night at the start of a five-day visit aimed at discussing the structure and elements of an enhanced strategic partnership between the two countries.

Her engagements in Mumbai today were designed to enable her to interact with a broad cross-section of Indian society.

Among other things, she attended a function at the historicTaj Mahal hotel, where she is staying, to commemorate the victims of the November 26, 2008 terror attacks on the Taj and the Trident hotels as well as at the Chhatrapati Shivaji railway terminus and other places in Mumbai.

She met the staff of the two hotels who had survived the attacks and risked their lives to save the guests, even as many of their colleagues were gunned down by the terrorists. She told them that she was deeply touched to meet them.

Among those she met was Taj General manager Karambir Kang, who lost his wife and two sons to the terrorists' bullets in the attack.

She recalled that Americans had stood by Indians in the aftermath of the 26/11 just as Indians had stood by Americans after the 9/11 attacks on New York.

She wrote a tribute in the memorial book at the function:

"Americans share a solidarity with this city and nation.

Both our people have experienced the senseless and searing effects of violent extremism. And both can be grateful and proud of the heroism of brave men and women whose courage saved lives and prevented greater harm on 26/11 and 9/11. Now it is up to all nations and people who seek peace and progress to work together. Let us rid the world of hatred and extremism that produces such nihilistic violence. Our future deserves no less.

With profound sympathy and resolve.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton signs the November 26, 2008 memorial book at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai. Ratan Tata, Chairman of the Tata Group (L), and Timothy J. Roemer, U.S. Ambassador-Designate to India (R), stand in the background.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton signs the November 26, 2008 memorial book at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai. Ratan Tata, Chairman of the Tata Group (L), and Timothy J. Roemer, U.S. Ambassador-Designate to India (R), stand in the background.

Hillary Rodham Clinton"

More than 160 people were killed in the attacks, which India has blamed on elements based in Pakistan.

Ms Clinton also had a meeting with some of the country's leading businessmen and spent some time at the Mumbai office of the Ahmedabad-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA) and interacted with its members and its founder, Magsaysay Award winner Ela Bhatt.

Ms Bhatt and Ms Clinton are co-chairpersons of the Global Women's Trade Finance Council set up in New York in 2007. Ms Bhatt updated her on the work done by the Council. Ms Clinton had visited SEWA's headquarters in Ahmedabad when she had visited India as First Lady.

Those present at her meeting with businessmen included Tata Group Chairman Ratan Tata, Reliance Industries Limited Chairman Mukesh Ambani, Ms Swati Piramal of the Piramal Group, Ms Sudha Murthy, wife of Infosys Chairman N R Narayana Murthy, ICICI Bank Managind Director & CEO Chanda Kochhar and State Bank of India Chairman O P Bhatt.

Tomorrow, Ms Clinton will arrive in the capital, where she is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Leader of the Opposition Lal Krishna Advani, businessmen, scientists and youth.

Ms Clinton will leave New Delhi on July 21 for the second leg of her Asia visit that will take her to Thailand, where apart from bilateral meetings, she will attend the ASEAN Post-Ministerial Conference and the ASEAN Regional Forum in Phuket.

At the interaction with the media, Ms Clinton said she and President Barack Obama believed that the relationship between India and the US was entering a new and even more promising era.

"Over the next few days, I will be working on behalf of President Obama and the American people to strengthen the important strategic relationship between the United States and India for the 21st century. I will be meeting with government officials in New Delhi to broaden and deepen our efforts to work more effectively together on issues ranging from economic growth and development, to climate change, to education and healthcare, to nonproliferation and counterterrorism," she said.

Ms Clinton said US was willing to help in any way in could in the alleviation of poverty in India, which was a central goal of the Manmohan Singh government and the people of the country.

"Expanded dialogue between our governments is essential and exciting. But the strength of this partnership ultimately rests on the deep and enduring ties between the Indian and the American people," she said.

"In a speech this week in Washington, I said the problems of the 21st century demand a new mindset and a willingness to create partnerships with government, but also beyond government, with NGOs, with businesses, with the people themselves. The world's problems are too complex for anything less," she said.

"We face a lot of challenges, but I am convinced that together, we are more than ready to meet those challenges, sharing our common interests, our common values, and a common stake in the 21st century. If we are now prepared to turn our common interests and cooperative actions, and I believe we are, then we will succeed not only for the Indian and American people, but for the world that we hope to create for our children. Thank you all very much," he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton meets with India's business leaders in Mumbai, India July 18, 2009. From left to right: Jamshyd N. Godrej, Chairman of the Board of Godrej and Boyce Manufacturing Company Limited; Timothy J. Roemer, U.S. Ambassador-Designate to India; Ratan Tata, Chairman of the Tata Group; Secretary Clinton; Mukesh Ambani, chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries; Swati Piramal, Director of Strategic Alliance and Communication at Piramal Healthcare Ltd.; Robert O. Blake, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia; O.P. Bhatt, Chairman of the State Bank of India. [State Department photo]
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton meets with India's business leaders in Mumbai, India July 18, 2009. From left to right: Jamshyd N. Godrej, Chairman of the Board of Godrej and Boyce Manufacturing Company Limited; Timothy J. Roemer, U.S. Ambassador-Designate to India; Ratan Tata, Chairman of the Tata Group; Secretary Clinton; Mukesh Ambani, chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries; Swati Piramal, Director of Strategic Alliance and Communication at Piramal Healthcare Ltd.; Robert O. Blake, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia; O.P. Bhatt, Chairman of the State Bank of India. [State Department photo]

To a question about the resumption of talks between India and Pakistan, she said, "I think that India is a sovereign nation fully capable and prepared to protect her own interests, to stand up for the rights and security of her own people. And we are very supportive of the steps that India has taken to try to stand against terrorism.

"Clearly, any decision that is made between the governments of India and Pakistan to begin talking together to explore the very difficult issues between them is up to those governments. And I think that the United States, as you know, is very supportive of steps that the governments take, but we are not in any way involved in it or promoting any particular position. We respect the sovereignty of the decisions that lie in the hands of the Indian Government," she said.

In response to a question about steps being taken by Pakistan against terrorism, Ms Clinton said, "Well, I believe based on what we have seen in the last six months, which is what I'm speaking - based upon, there has been a much greater effort and commitment that is not only at the governmental level, but much more free society to take on the terrorists. And I believe that there is a concerted effort that we can look to and see the results from.

"It is too early to tell the outcome of this commitment that we see coming from Pakistan. I also believe that in the next few days, there will be a greater awareness of whether or not there will be a commitment to bring the Mumbai terrorists to heal and hopefully to justice.

"You raised the questions about other terrorist organizations that are focused on India. Clearly, we believe that they have to be rooted out, that they must be defeated and dismantled, and we have made that very clear and we will continue to do so," she said.

About the India-Pakistan dialogue, she said it was something entirely between the two countries.

"There has to be a very clear understanding that we respect the right of India to make decisions that India decides are in the best interests of the Indian people. I'm focused on the India-West relationship. That is the relationship that we can influence and that we are looking forward to working on. And clearly, we will be speaking with our Indian counterparts over the next several days about how better to tackle the threat of terrorism.
SEWA (Self-Employed Women’s Association) Vice President and artisan Gauriben Ramabhai presents an embroidered door hanging made by her mother 80 years ago, to Secretary Clinton, in acknowledgement of her friendship and support for SEWA over the years.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton meets with India's business leaders in Mumbai, India July 18, 2009. FroSEWA (Self-Employed Women’s Association) Vice President and artisan Gauriben Ramabhai presents an embroidered door hanging made by her mother 80 years ago, to Secretary Clinton, in acknowledgement of her friendship and support for SEWA over the years.

So we have a great sense of solidarity and sympathy, having gone through what we did on 9/11. We know how important - we are fighting wars to end the threat of terrorism against us, our friends and allies around the world. So we are very committed to working with India to make sure that together, we are effective. There are different ways of doing that. Some, we will do together. Some, India will decide how best to do on their own.

"But the bottom line for me is that our government is committed in the fight against terrorism. And we expect everyone with whom we have relations and who we see as being part of a future world that we take in what we're building together to take strong action to prevent terrorism from taking root on their soil, to making sure that terrorists are not trained and deployed. And we believe that around the world, not with any one particular country, but every one. And that's what we are working toward, and we will work in whatever way is determined to be useful from an Indian perspective to be of service," she said.

To a question about climate change and the discussions she had on the subject at her meeting with businessmen, Ms Clinton said there was no inherent contradiction between poverty eradication and moving toward a low-carbon economy.

"The United States wants to see India continue to progress in its development in lifting millions and millions of more people out of poverty and providing greater opportunity for people to pursue their own dreams. And that is something that they would not expect any country to turn away from.

"Our point is very simple: That we acknowledge, now with President Obama, that we have made mistakes - the United States - and we, along with other developed countries, have contributed most significantly to the problems that we face with climate change. We are hoping that a great country like India will not make the same mistakes. And just as India went, from a few years ago, having very few telephones to now having more than 500 million mostly cell phones by leapfrogging over the infrastructure that we built for telephone service, we believe India is innovative and entrepreneurial enough to figure out how to deal with climate change while continuing to lift people out of poverty and develop at a rapid rate.

"Obviously, these decisions are up to the people of India, but the private sector, based on our conversations, is looking for economic opportunities in clean energy and looking for ways to figure out how to move toward low-carbon energy production. So we're going to be engaged in these conversations. Todd Stern, as you know, our Climate Change Envoy, is here with me. He'll be having a number of in-depth discussions with people in both the private and the public sector in the next several days. So we are well aware of the challenges that India faces, but we think that there are some very creative approaches to this that we're sharing," she said.

A US Embassy press release said Ms Clinton's visit was not only being covered by the traditional media but also by the online media community.
Secretary Clinton and Bollywood Star Aamir Khan discuss education and community service with students at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai.
Secretary Clinton and Bollywood Star Aamir Khan discuss education and community service with students at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai.

It said her engagements would be covered on social networking sites such as "Twitter," "Flickr," and "Facebook." The "Americagov" Twitter feed will be following her during her activities in Mumbai and New Delhi, it said.

According to the release, Ms Clinton's fans and participants at all of her India events will be using the "Twitter" hash tag address #HillaryIndia to follow and comment on the issues addressed during her visit. They will also be posting both professional and cell-phone photos on "Flickr" using the same tag, #HillaryIndia.

It said Ms Clinton could be followed on Facebook.

"A big fan of new media social networking tools, Secretary Clinton encourages friends around the world to use new media to discuss important issues and share photos of her India activities," it added.

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Indian, Pakistani PMs meet in Egypt, discuss terror

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani at Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt today and is understood to have sought a firm assurance that those responsible for tlast November's terror attacks on Mumbai would be brought to justice.

A file photo of Pakistani PM Yousuf Raza Gilan meeting with PM Manmohan Singh.
A file photo of Pakistani PM Yousuf Raza Gilan meeting with PM Manmohan Singh.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani on the margins of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt today and is understood to have sought a firm assurance from him that those responsible for the November 26, 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai would be brought to justice.

Dr Singh is also understood to have looked for a commitment from Mr Gilani that credible action would be taken by Islamabad to dismantle the terrorist groups and infrastructure working against India from Pakistani territory.

The meeting was primarily aimed at assessing the steps that Pakistan claims that it has taken against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks.

More than 160 people were killed in the attacks carried out by ten gunmen and India has said that the men came from Pakistan and that the conspiracy was hatched in that country.

The meeting between the two Prime Ministers was preceded by two rounds of meetings between Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and his Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir at Sharm el Sheikh on Tuesday night and Wednesday. Mr Menon also met Mr Gilani yesterday to prepare for today's meeting.

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, National Security Adviser M K Narayanan and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi were present when the two Prime Ministers began their meeting.

There was some speculation that the two Prime Ministers might make a joint statement after the talks, but the Indian side has indicated that Dr Singh might address only the Indian media on the outcome of the meeting.

Ahead of the meeting between the Foreign Secretaries, the Pakistan government had, last Saturday, handed over to the Indian High Commission in Islamabad a fresh dossier on the progress made in its investigations into the Mumbai terror attacks.

Today's meeting between the two Prime Ministers is a follow-up of the interaction between Dr Singh and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari at Yekaterinburg, Russia, on June 16 on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit.

The leaders had asked their Foreign Secretaries to meet to specifically discuss the steps taken by Pakistan to bring those behind the November 26, 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai to justice and to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan aimed at India.

They had also announced that they would meet again at Sharm el Sheikh during the NAM Summit.


The meeting in Yekaterinburg was the first between Dr Singh and Mr Zardari after the Mumbai attacks. India has repeatedly said that it could not resume its Composite Dialogue with Pakistan unless it took concrete action to bring to justice those behind the attacks and dismantled the terrorist infrastructure on Pakistani soil.

At their meeting in Russia, Dr Singh told Mr Zardari that the talks could resume only if Pakistan took credible action in this regard.

After returning to Islamabad from Russia, Mr Zardari let it be known that he would not be attending the NAM Summit. Mr Zilani is leading the Pakistani delegation to the Summit.

On his flight back home last Friday from the G8/G5 Summits in Italy, the Prime Minister sought to assuage public opinion in Pakistan by clarifying that he had not intended to hurt Mr Zardari's feelings in any way when he had, at their meeting in Yekaterinburg, conveyed to him India's views rather bluntly.

Dr Singh had conveyed to him the full extent of India's strong sentiments on the issue and made it very clear that his limited mandate for that meeting was to tell him that Pakistani territory should not be used to mount terror attacks against India.

The remarks were made even as mediapersons were still in the room for the photo-opportunity and were taking pictures of the two leaders.

"Let me say that, what I had said to Zardari Sahib, I had not intended to say that in the presence of all the media. I simply forgot that the media were present there. It was not my intention in any way to hurt Zardari Sahib's feelings," the Prime Minister had told journalists accompanying him on that trip.

The Prime Minister has repeatedly said that India would have to work with its neighbours to bring about peace and amity in South Asia if it were to realise its development ambitions and its place in the comity of nations.

He has also said that India was willing to walk more than half the distance to normalise its relations with Pakistan if the latter took credible action to deal with terrorist elements directing their energy to disrupt and destabilise India's economy and polity.

Apart from Mr Gilani, Dr Singh also held bilateral meetings with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet on the sidelines of the summit.

He also held discussions with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who took over as chairman of NAM during the summit.

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PM arrives in France to build upon strategic partnership

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reached Paris on Monday night on a two-day visit during which he would seek to build upon the close and wide-ranging strategic partnership between India and France.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh talking to the media on his arrival at Orly airport in Paris on Monday. His wife, Gursharan Kaur, and the Indian Ambassador to France, Ranjan Mathai can be seen in the background.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh talking to the media on his arrival at Orly airport in Paris on Monday. His wife, Gursharan Kaur, and the Indian Ambassador to France, Ranjan Mathai can be seen in the background.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reached Paris last night on a two-day visit during which he would seek to build upon the close and wide-ranging strategic partnership between India and France.

Dr Singh was received on arrival at the Orly airport by French Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, Indian Ambassador to France Ranjan Mathai and other senior Indian and French officials.

During his stay in Paris, Dr Singh will be the Guest of Honour at the French National Day celebrations in Paris today.

In a departure statement issued yesterday ahead of his five-day visit that will also take him to Egypt, Dr Singh had pointed out that India's relations with France encompassed a large number of areas and had served the country's national interests well.

Dr Singh will leave later today for Egypt, where he will attend the 15th Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit, being held on July 15-16 at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh and meet his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani on the margins of the event.

The Prime Minister had said that the invitation extended by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to him to participate as the Chief Guest at the National Day celebrations of France was an honour for the people of India.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with the French Justice Minister Alliot Marrie at Orly Airport in Paris on Monday.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with the French Justice Minister Alliot Marrie at Orly Airport in Paris on Monday.

While in Paris, Dr Singh will hold talks with Mr Sarkozy, who will host a lunch in his honour.

"We would like to build upon our partnership in the areas of trade and investment, high technology, space, nuclear energy, defence, education, culture, tourism and scientific research and development," the Prime Minister said.

An Indian contingent, representing all three services of the Armed Forces, will participate in the military parade as part of the French National Day celebrations.

India and France have been exchanging visits at the highest level regularly. Dr Singh last visited France in September last year for the India-European Union (EU) Summit in Marseilles, followed by the India-France Summit in Paris. Last year, Mr Sarkozy was the Guest of Honour at India's Republic Day celebrations.

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PM seeks to build on strategic partnership with France

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Monday his visit to Paris would seek to build upon the close and wide-ranging strategic partnership between India and France.

PM Manmohan Singh leaving for Sharm el Sheikh from L'Aquila, Italy.
PM Manmohan Singh leaving for Sharm el Sheikh from L'Aquila, Italy.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said his two-day visit to Paris from today would seek to build upon the close and wide-ranging strategic partnership between India and France.

In a departure statement issued ahead of his four-day visit, that will also take him to Egypt, Dr Singh pointed out that India's relations with France encompassed a large number of areas and had served the country's national interests well.

During his visit, Dr Singh will be the Guest of Honour at the French National Day celebrations in Paris tomorrow, attend the 15th Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit at Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh and meet his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani on the margins of the event.

The Prime Minister said the invitation extended by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to him to participate as the Chief Guest at the National Day celebrations of France was an honour for the people of India.

While in Paris, Dr Singh will hold talks with Mr Sarkozy, who will host a lunch in his honour.

"We would like to build upon our partnership in the areas of trade and investment, high technology, space, nuclear energy, defence, education, culture, tourism and scientific research and development," the Prime Minister said.

An Indian contingent, representing all three services of the Armed Forces, will participate in the military parade as part of the French National Day celebrations.

India and France have been exchanging visits at the highest level regularly. Dr Singh last visited France in September last year for the India-European Union (EU) Summit in Marseilles, followed by the India-France Summit in Paris. Last year, Mr Sarkozy was the Guest of Honour at India's Republic Day celebrations.

Dr Singh will fly to Sharm el Sheikh tomorrow itself for the July 15-16 NAM Summit that will be chaired by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

He said non-alignment had been the bedrock of India's foreign policy since it was enunciated by the country's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

"Non-alignment remains an article of faith for us. In the post-Cold War era, when the world is no longer divided into two military blocs, the Non-aligned Movement has a renewed role to play in the emerging world order," he said.

According to him, the diversity and universality of NAM offered the movement a unique opportunity to address the challenges of today.

"India will play its part in helping NAM to regain its moral high ground to address issues which are of direct concern and relevance to developing countries such as sustainable development, climate change, food security, energy security, terrorism and reform of the architecture of international governance," he said.

Dr Singh said that, apart from the Pakistani Prime Minister, he would also have bilateral meetings with leaders of Egypt, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, among others, at Sharm el Sheikh.

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, National Security Adviser M K Narayanan and senior officials will form part of the Prime Minister's delegation to the Summit.

The themes of the 15th Summit are: International Solidarity for Peace and Development, and the Current Economic & Financial Crisis.

In accordance with NAM practice, the Summit would focus in comprehensive manner on global, regional and sub-regional issues as well as issues relating to development and human rights and on social issues, too, Mr Vivek Katju, Special Secretary (International Organisations) in the MEA, said last week while briefing journalists on the visit.

NAM Foreign Ministers will meet at Sharm el Sheikh for two days from today to prepare for the Summit. Mr Krishna will participate in this meeting. There will be a meeting of the NAM Committee on Palestine today, at which Mr Krishna will make a statement.

There will also be a NAM First Ladies' Summit that will be held at the initiative of hosts Egypt. Dr Singh's wife, Mrs Gursharan Kaur, will participate in this meeting, which will be on the theme, "Women in Crisis Management---Perspectives and Challenges, Best Practices and Lessons Learned".

Mr Katju said the meeting would be anchored by the Suzanne Mubarak Women’s International Peace Movement and will focus on the role of women in the context of the global economic and food, health and humanitarian crises.

Heads of UN agencies such as the Food and Agricultural Organisation, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organisation and the International Telecommunication Union are expected to make brief statements at the First Ladies' Summit. Mrs Gursharan Kaur will make a statement during the meeting.

Mr Katju said NAM stood for principles which India has always espoused and pursued in international affairs: sovereign equality of states; respect for territorial integrity, a peaceful, equitable and just world order; and the progress of developing countries through socio-economic development.

"India’s commitment to NAM is firm and abiding. As in the past, India will continue to play active role in the movement," Mr Katju added.

The meeting with Mr Gilani at Sharm el Sheikh will be a follow-up of the interaction Dr Singh had on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Yekaterinburg, Russia, with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari on June 16.

That was the first interaction between the two leaders after the November 26, 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai, which claimed more than 160 lives and which India blamed on elements based in Pakistan.

India has said that it could not resume its Composite Dialogue with Pakistan unless it took concrete action to bring to justice those behind the Mumbai attacks and also to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure on Pakistani soil that is used against India.

At their meeting in Russia, Dr Singh told Mr Zardari that the talks could resume only if Pakistan took credible action in this regard. The two leaders decided that their Foreign Secretaries would meet before the NAM Summit to take stock of the action that Pakistan has taken on this front. They had also agreed to meet again at Sharm el Sheikh to consider the report of their Foreign Secretaries.

After returning home from Russia, Mr Zardari let it be known that he would not be attending the NAM Summit, and it is now expected that Dr Singh would meet Mr Gilani at Sharm el Sheikh.

The meeting of the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries is also likely to take place at Sharm el Sheikh, sources said.

On his flight back home last Friday from the G8/G5 Summits in Italy, the Prime Minister sought to assuage public opinion in Pakistan by clarifying that he had not intended to hurt Mr Zardari's feelings in any way when he had, at their meeting in Yekaterinburg, conveyed to him India's views rather bluntly.

Dr Singh had conveyed to him the full extent of India's strong sentiments on the issue and made it very clear that his limited mandate for that meeting was to tell him that Pakistani territory should not be used to mount terror attacks against India.

The remarks were made even as mediapersons were still in the room for the photo-opportunity and even as they were still taking pictures of the two leaders.

"Let me say that, what I had said to Zardari Sahib, I had not intended to say that in the presence of all the media. I simply forgot that the media were present there. It was not my intention in any way to hurt Zardari Sahib's feelings," the Prime Minister told journalists on his aircraft.

"I have often said India and Pakistan are close neighbours, we can choose our friends but we have no choice with regard to our neighbours," he said.

The Prime Minister said he believed that India would have to work with its neighbours to bring about peace and amity in South Asia if it were to realise its development ambitions and its place in the comity of nations.

"And we will do all that is necessary to resolve all outstanding issues that have bedevilled India’s relations with Pakistan. But it requires credible action on the part of Pakistan to deal with terrorist elements directing their energy to disrupt and destabilize our economy and polity," he said.

"So I look forward to the meeting with Prime Minister Gilani for an exchange of views and I do hope that out of that meeting we will have a renewed reaffirmation on the part of Pakistan that they will bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai massacre to justice, that they will not allow Pakistani territory to be used for terrorist acts directed against our country. If they do that we are willing to walk more than half the distance to normalize our relations," he said.

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G8/G5 to work together on global challenges, improving governance

The G-8 and G-5 have committed themselves to work together on global challenges and to improve international governance through a genuine partnership.

The G8-G5 leaders posing for a family photo.
The G8-G5 leaders posing for a family photo.
Leaders of the Group of Eight and the Group of Five countries have committed themselves to work together on global challenges and to improve international governance through a genuine partnership in the context of a strengthened multilateralism.

In a joint declaration after meeting in the G8 plus G5 plus Egypt format in the Italian town of L'Aquila yesterday, the Heads of State and Government said they would cooperate to ensure that the global economy resumed growth along a balanced, equitable and sustainable path for the benefit of all, especially the most vulnerable.

"We will resist protectionism and promote open markets for trade and investment. We will contribute to ensuring food security and energy security. We will support developing countries in withstanding the impact of the crisis and restoring conditions for their future progress. We share a common vision on development and will mobilise resources to respond to the development emergency and to advance in the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)," the declaration said.

Apart from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who led the Indian delegation to the G8/G5 Summits, the signatories to the declaration are the leaders of Italy, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and the President of the European Commission, together with the leaders of Egypt and Sweden, as President of the European Council.

The statement said the ongoing economic and financial crisis had clearly reinforced the need for enhanced international and multilateral cooperation.

"We have acted more forcefully and cooperated more fully than in any earlier economic crisis," it said.

The leaders said they were fully committed to implementing rapidly the decisions of the G-20 Summits in Washington and London, including those to strengthen financial regulation and reform International Financial Institutions (IFIs), and to provide them with adequate resources.

They said it was also important to ensure that developing economies, in particular low income countries, were able to cope with the effects of the crisis.

The declaration noted that, in 2007 at Heiligendamm, the G8+G5 had taken the initiative to begin an equal and enduring partnership on key issues on the global agenda. It said the 13 countries had carried forward their overall dialogue in an open, transparent and constructive manner and had built common understanding and trust.

"This dialogue adds value in the search for shared solutions and complements formal negotiations in multilateral institutions and fora. We will cooperate in a stable and structured manner with a view to reaching a common understanding on key issues to advance the global agenda," it said.

The declaration said the leaders had decided to continue the partnership over the next two years on an equal footing.

"This will be a results-oriented process, focusing on global challenges of common and crucial interest to our countries," it said.

"Building on the results achieved through our dialogue, we aim to reinforce our interactions at all levels, with a view to enhance our collective capacity to contribute to advance the global agenda," it said.

The leaders said they were committed to work together to ensure a green global recovery based on firm and lasting foundations for sustainable, balanced, innovative and inclusive growth in the medium term.

In particular, they pledged to foster a macro-economic environment that supports a robust and balanced resumption of domestic private spending to promote the revival of demand. The statement said such an environment would require rehabilitating banking sectors in some countries, and the resumption of lending on a sound basis.

They said that, while continuing to support their economies with every necessary measure to overcome the crisis, they would also begin to prepare exit strategies from the extraordinary policy measures taken to respond to the crisis, to be adopted once the recovery is assured and to ensure monetary and fiscal sustainability in the medium term.

"We will cooperate in our efforts to support domestic demand and achieve a robust, balanced, inclusive and sustainable global recovery. We will foster and work together to ensure an appropriate adjustment of savings, and investments, according to respective national circumstances," the declaration said.

It said the G8/G5 countries would refrain from competitive devaluations of their currencies and promote a stable and well-functioning international monetary system.

They also pledged to tackle the social dimensions of the crisis, putting people's concerns first.

"We are modernising, reinforcing and increasing the efficiency of social protection policies, including safety nets, health and education. Strengthened and sustainable social protection, supporting employment and enhancing skills, will also help to sustain and rebalance global demand. We will exchange best practices in support of the people who have lost their jobs or who are threatened by unemployment. We will strengthen our capacity for training to adapt to new labour market conditions," it said.

The leaders said they were resolved to continue reforming financial system regulation and supervision to prevent boom and bust cycles.

They said they would work to ensure propriety, integrity and transparency of international economic and financial activity.

"We support an international financial system which fosters global economic and financial stability," the statement said.

The leaders said they would promote higher growth potential through a range of policies in the areas of human capital, research, infrastructure, and promotion and protection of innovation.

"We will put greater emphasis on the development of agricultural and small scale industries to make economic recovery more inclusive and more resilient," they said.

The declaration said the leaders would encourage and facilitate the development, dissemination and mutually agreed transfer of clean, low-carbon technologies, reducing carbon emissions and increasing energy efficiency from production to consumption, thereby improving energy security and access.

"We reconfirm our political will for reaching a comprehensive, fair, effective, agreed outcome, following the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December," it said.

The leaders also promised to continue to reform the International Financial Institutions' mandates, scope and governance, to enhance their relevance, effectiveness, and legitimacy and improve accountability and credibility and to give emerging and developing economies, including the poorest, greater voice and representation.

The declaration said they would promote regular consultations on structural and macroeconomic issues in all appropriate fora.

"Enhanced international dialogue and strengthened coordination will help to build a more stable, equitable and long-lasting global growth model, and so to gradually achieve and sustain a rebalanced global economy," it said.

The reaffirmed their commitment to maintain and promote open markets and reject ll protectionist measures in trade and investment.

"We stress the importance of adhering to the standstill commitment renewed in London to refrain from measures that would introduce barriers to trade and investment and to rectify promptly any such measures. We reaffirm our request that the WTO, together with other international bodies, within their respective mandates, monitor the situation and report publicly on the adherence to these commitments on a quarterly basis," the statement said.

"We, together with the leaders of Australia, Indonesia and Republic of Korea and in the presence of the Director General of the World Trade Organization, are committed to seek an ambitious and balanced conclusion to the Doha Development Round in 2010, consistent with its mandate, building on the progress already made, including with regard to modalities.

"We regard enhancing the transparency and understanding of the negotiating results to date as a necessary means to facilitate the conclusion of an agreement. In order to fill in the remaining gaps in the negotiations as soon as possible, we instruct our Ministers in charge of trade to explore immediately all possible avenues for direct engagement within the WTO and to meet prior to the Pittsburgh Summit," the declaration said.

The leaders said they considered international investment a major source of growth, employment, innovation and development in their countries.

They said they were committed to maximizing the positive impact of investment as a catalyst for sustainable development, including through a further dissemination of Corporate Social Responsibility standards, and to minimizing protectionist responses.

"There is a need for continued discussion on key principles that enhance predictability and stability in the international investment environment and that could serve as the basis for a coherent common framework. Building on the results of this process, we will consider appropriate further steps, involving emerging economies, developing and developed countries, relevant international organizations and other major stakeholders," the statement said.

The leaders said they were alarmed about the serious implications of the global crisis for growth and for poverty eradication in developing countries.

They reaffirmed their commitment to contribute to achieving the MDGs through economic growth and support to peace and security, especially in Africa.

"We received with great concern the estimates of the World Bank and other development institutions regarding the number of people, in particular children, who may perish or fall into poverty as a result. We underscore that climate change severely affects developing countries and is becoming a major threat to their ability to achieve internationally agreed development goals including the MDGs," the declaration said.

The leaders said they were committed to mobilising all resources for development, as they kept engaged to ensure the proper follow-up and implementation of the Monterrey Consensus and the Doha Declaration on Financing for Development.

"We recognize that mobilising financial resources for development and the effective use of all those resources are central to the global partnership for sustainable development. As part of these overall efforts, the G8 countries are committed to meet their ODA commitments, especially to sub-Saharan Africa, including those on Aid for Trade and debt relief," they said.

The leaders said they were committed to strengthening their dialogue and partnership with low income countries on the basis of a set of core development principles:
  • Promoting effective and responsible policies for sustainable development
  • Promoting good governance, accountability and transparency
  • Promoting partnership, dialogue and capacity development
  • Strengthening multilateral and regional institutions.
They also said they were committed to advance reform processes in international organisations, including the United Nations, to reflect contemporary reality and challenges, thus enhancing their relevance, legitimacy and efficiency.

They said they were also dedicated to improving the coherence of the multilateral system and welcomed stronger coordination of international organisations.

"In particular, we encourage the relevant UN organisations, the IMF, the FSB, the ILO, the OECD, the WB and the WTO to work in a coordinated manner," the declaration added.

Photo courtesy: G8website / ANSA photo by Massimo Percoss

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PM calls for inclusive approach in response to economic downturn

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that it was only through an inclusive approach that a collective global response to the ongoing economic slowdown could be effective.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the Joint Press Conference of G5 Leaders at L’Aquila, Italy on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the Joint Press Conference of G5 Leaders at L’Aquila, Italy on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that it was only through an inclusive approach that a collective global response to the ongoing economic slowdown could be effective.

At a joint press conference in the Italian town of L'Aquila yesterday evening after a summit of G-5 leaders, Dr Singh said developing countries had been the worst affected by the weakened global economy.

The G-5 groups Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa. Yesterday's meeting was chaired by Mexico.

"In our meeting today, we covered a large agenda...We discussed how we could contribute to strengthening the green shoots of recovery," he said of the discussions that the G-5 leaders had.

The Prime Minister is in Italy to attend the G-8/G-5 Summits. Yesterday, the G-8 and G-5 had separate, parallel meetings, and the G-5 leaders will meet their G-8 counterparts today.

He said the G-5 countries would stress at their meeting with the G-8 leaders the importance of maintaining adequate flow of finance to the developing countries and also of keeping markets open by resisting protectionist pressures.

"The developing countries are also the worst affected by high food prices. We agreed that agriculture and food security need to be placed at the core of the international agenda," he said.

Dr Singh said the G-5 countries, as responsible members of the international community, recognised their obligation to preserve the environment. But, he stressed, climate change could not be addressed by perpetuating the poverty of the developing countries.

"The concept of sustainable development has so far been a buzz word. We need to evolve a strategy of growth that brings about a higher standard of living without harming the environment," he said.

The Prime Minister said the G-5 declaration reflected many of the concerns and positions of developing countries.

"These need to be taken into account in shaping global responses to global challenges. We would like to engage in a dialogue with our developed country partners on an equal footing.

"India looks forward to working with the G-5 as we begin our dialogue with the G-8 countries tomorrow," he added.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the dinner with G5 Leaders, at L’Aquila, Italy on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the dinner with G5 Leaders, at L’Aquila, Italy on Wednesday.

The G-8/G-5 Outreach meetings are scheduled today. In the morning, the G-8 will meet with all G-5 leaders and Egypt, which has been invited by Italy, the hosts.

The meeting is expected to discuss global issues and development policies and ways of taking the dialogue between the two groups foward.

The G8 had in 2007, at the Heiligendamm Summit, started the Heiligendamm Dialogue Process between the G-5 and G-8 countries on a host of issues, including protecting innovation, research, cross border investment, energy and development, particularly in Africa.

It was supposed to be a two-year dialogue that has gone through two Summits already and the leaders will now have to take a decision on how to carry the process further.

At lunch today, the G-8/G-5 leaders and a few other invitees will discuss issues such as the future sources of growth in the world economy and how to revive the growth in the world economy.

Tomorrow, the G-8 will do an Outreach with African countries over breakfast, which will be followed by a session, involving the G-5 and international organisations, devoted to food security.

This is the Prime Minister's fifth such summit. India had been invited as an Outreach partner at the Evian Summit in France in 2003. There was no Outreach in 2004. India was again one of the invitees, along with other members of the G5, at the Gleneagles Summit in 2005, when it had presented a paper on climate change and international cooperation and energy security. India was also present at the St. Petersburg, Heilgendamm and Toyako Summits in the years that followed.

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Slowdown: PM calls for global response to systemic failures

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Tuesday that India would, in the wake of the world financial and economic slowdown, like to see a concerted global response to address systemic failures and to stimulate the real economy.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said India would, in the wake of the world financial and economic slowdown, like to see a concerted and well-coordinated global response to address systemic failures and to stimulate the real economy,

"In the longer run, we would like to see a much higher level of stability and sustainability in the growth patterns of the developed world, and in international financial governance," Dr Singh said in a departure statement today before leaving for L'Aquila in Italy to attend the G-8 and G-5 Summit.

"The global financial and economic slowdown that we are witnessing is particularly detrimental for the development objectives of developing countries such as India. This has not been a crisis of our making, but we have had to bear its consequences. The slowdown in the advanced economies has affected our exports, strengthened protectionists sentiments and impacted credit and capital flows," he said.

Apart from attending the July 9-10 Summit, being hosted by the Italian Presidency of the G-8, the Prime Minister will also attend a meeting of the leaders of the G5 group of countries (Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa.

As part of the G-8 related events, he will also participate in the meetings of the Major Economies Forum on Trade Matters and Climate Change, as well as a meeting on food security being organized by Italy with the participation of several African nations.

Dr Singh said the meetings would be an occasion for projecting India's views on major global issues relating to the world economic and financial crisis and its impact on development, food security, energy security and climate change, international trade negotiations and reform of international institutions.

"The issues of food security, energy security and climate change are closely interlinked. They have to be approached as a single undertaking if we are to give meaning to the concept of sustainable development," he said.

The Prime Minister said climate change would be an important subject of discussion at the meetings, pointing out that the developing countries were the worst affected by the problem.

"What we are witnessing today is the consequence of over two centuries of industrial activity and high consumption lifestyles in the developed world. They have to bear this historical responsibility. India will actively participate in the international negotiations on climate change within the framework of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Bali Action Plan," he said.

Dr Singh is also scheduled to have bilateral meetings with the leaders of Italy, Angola, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom during his visit. He is also likely to meet United States President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the Summit.

Briefing journalists yesterday about the Prime Minister's visit, Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon said there would be separate, parallel meetings of the G5 and G8 leaders tomorrow.

Mexico will chair the G5 meeting and the five leaders are scheduled to address a joint press conference before going in for dinner among themselves.

On July 9, the G8/G5 Outreach meetings will be held. In the morning, the G8 will meet with all G5 leaders and Egypt, which has also been invited by Italy, as the host.

Mr Menon said the meeting would discuss global issues and development policies and ways of taking the dialogue between the two forward.

The G8 had in 2007, at the Heiligendamm Summit started the Heiligendamm Dialogue Process between the G5 and G8 countries on a host of issues, including protecting innovation, research, cross border investment, energy and development, particularly in Africa.

It was supposed to be a two-year dialogue that has gone through two Summits already and the leaders will now have to take a decision on how to carry the process further.

At lunch, on July 9, the G8/G5 leaders and a few other invitees will discuss issues such as the future sources of growth in the world economy and how to revive the growth in the world economy.

In the afternoon, there will be meetings of the Major Economies Forum on energy and climate change in two sessions and another one on trade, which will discuss ways of fighting protectionism and moving the international trade agenda forward.

Mr Menon said that on July 10 the G8 will do an Outreach with African countries over breakfast, which will be followed by a session, involving the G5 and international organisations, devoted to food security.

This will be the Prime Minister's fifth such summit. India had been invited as an Outreach partner at the Evian Summit in France in 2003. There was no Outreach in 2004. India was again one of the invitees, along with other members of the G5, at the Gleneagles Summit in 2005, when it had presented a paper on climate change and international cooperation and energy security. India was also present at the St. Petersburg, Heilgendamm and Toyako Summits in the years that followed.

Mr Menon said the meetings have been useful for India because its gets a chance to discuss major global issues with leaders of the major economies and significant partners in a relatively informal atmosphere and also to hold bilateral talks.

He pointed out that the issues have varied over time, and this year's summit is taking place against the background of the world economic crisis.

He felt the discussions on climate change in Italy would be important in the run up to the Copenhagen meeting in December.

"This is an issue the international community will need to address. They will get the chance to talk about it. This is not a negotiating forum and this is not an occasion where you try and substitute what is done in the various negotiating forums but it does provide a chance to people to talk to each other frankly and to try and understand each other’s points of view and to see how we can take this forward. And that is really the value of this sort of dialogue at the highest level," Mr Menon explained.

"We, from our point of view, it is clearly important that, as we look for global solutions to global problems, that we work with rest of the international community and in a constructive, positive way and India also assumes her responsibilities internationally and this is why we find it essential and useful to engage in this process and have done so consistently, as I said, for the last five (summits)," he said.

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Banerjee proposes 12 new non-stop train services in budget

Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee announced 12 new point-to-point non-stop trains between major cities in the Lok Sabha on Friday while presenting the 2009-10 Railway Budget, which did not propose any increase in passenger fares or freight rates.

Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee arrives at the Parliament with Ministers of State for Railways E Ahamed and K H Muniyappa to present the 2009-10 Rail Budget on Friday.
Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee arrives at the Parliament with Ministers of State for Railways E Ahamed and K H Muniyappa to present the 2009-10 Rail Budget on Friday.
Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee announced 12 new point-to-point non-stop trains between major cities in the Lok Sabha today while presenting the Railway Budget for 2009-10, which did not propose any increase in passenger fares or freight rates.

The new service, named "Duronto", will have air-conditioned and non-airconditioned sleepers and will run between select cities.

The pairs of cities are: New Delhi-Jammu Tawi, New Delhi-Lucknow, New Delhi-Allahabad, Mumbai-Ahmedabad (all tri-weekly), Howrah-Mumbai, Chennai-Delhi, Delhi-Pune, Howrah-Delhi, Sealdah-New Delhi, Kolkata-Amritsar (all bi-weekly) and Bhubaneswar-Delhi and Ernakulam-Delhi (weekly).

Ms Banerjee also announced 57 new train services, extension of 27 trains and increase in the frequency of 13 trains. She also proposed the introduction of air-conditioned double-decker coaches for inter-city travel.

She announced a new scheme, "Izzat", for travel with dignity. Under this scheme, people in unorganized sector with monthly income upto Rs.1,500/- can avail concessional monthly season ticket of Rs.25/- for travel upto 100 km.

The existing student concession will be extended to students of madrasas and students in Kolkata will now have the monthly season ticket facilities for Kolkata Metro also.

To provide relief to women passengers, Ms Banerjee proposed "Ladies Only" EMU trains in the suburban sections of Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata during rush hours. She also announced new "Yuva trains" dedicated to young generation from rural areas to major metros with concessional fares but with air-conditioned coaches.

Accredited journalists will get increased concession of 50 per cent instead of the existing 30 per cent. Once in a year, their spouse can also travel with 50 per cent concession.

Ms Banerjee said 50 railway stations would be developed as world-class stations and 375 stations as ‘Adarsh Stations’ with improved basic amenities. Multi-functional complexes with shopping facilities, food stalls and budget hotels will be constructed at 50 railway stations at centres of pilgrimage, tourism and industry.

The minister said the approach in the budget was for "inclusive growth" and expansion of the railway network to take development to every corner of the country.

She said the railways would have an outlay of Rs 40,745 crore for 2009-10. Out of this, Rs.2,921 crore will be spent on new lines, Rs.1,750 crore on gauge conversion and Rs.1,102 crore on passenger amenities, which is 119% more than the allocation in the interim budget. She said Rs.424 crore will be spent on railway staff amenities.

She proposed freight loading target of 882 million tonnes (MT) and estimated gross freight receipt at Rs.88,419 crore.

Giving an overview of financial performance of the Railways in 2008-09, the minister said that freight loading during the period grew by five percent while traffic receipts increased by 11.4 per cent to reach Rs. 79,862 crore.

The budget has proposals for seven new lines, gauge conversion of 17 lines and doubling of 13 lines. In addition, proposals for 53 new lines, three gauge conversion and doubling of 12 lines will be processed during the year.

Ms Banerjee proposed to revise the "Tatkal Scheme" to make it more passenger-friendly by reducing the advance booking time and the minimum charges.

She promised a perceptible improvement in passenger amenities and said that safety and security would be given the highest importance. She said cleanliness and quality of railway catering would be improved with focus on strict monitoring.

The minister said ticketing facilities would be taken to the grassroot level. Under the "Maa Mati Manush" initiative, computerized tickets will also be made available through Post Offices. Mobile ticketing vans, "Mushkil Aasaan", will also be introduced to provide services in remote areas.

Timely track renewal, modernization of signals and use of digital ultrasonic flaw detectors will be introduced for the safety of the passengers besides Integrated Security Scheme at 140 vulnerable and sensitive stations. Women Railway Protection Force (RPF) squads, exclusively for women passengers, will also be introduced, she said.

Ms Banerjee announced the introduction of "Janata Khana", in which national and regional cuisines would be provided to passengers. To improve the cleanliness, the onboard house keeping scheme (OBHS) will cover 200 additional pairs of trains. The long distance trains will have onboard availability of doctors and infotainment services.

She also proposed 1000 new passenger reservation locations and expansion of Unreserved Ticketing System terminals from 5000 to 8000, In addition, automated ticket vending machines will be installed at 200 large and medium-sized stations.

Stressing on the extension of facilities for handicapped persons, the Railway Minister said that the Railway will have more ramps, lifts, escalators and special coaches for physically challenged and aged persons.

Reiterating her priority to extend railway services to farmers, she announced special trains to ferry perishable agro-products like fruits and vegetables and also village handicrafts, cottage industry and textile products from production clusters to consumer centres.

She also proposed a premium freight service for container movement with assured transit time and a mega logistics hub alongside the Eastern and the Western dedicated freight corridors. Premium parcel services with guaranteed transit time on pilot basis will be introduced on three routes. During 2009-10, Railway would acquire 18,000 new wagons against 11,000 in 2008-09.

The minister announced the creation of a North-East Rail Development Fund for timely completion of national projects in the North-Eastern region.

She said the new Quazigund-Anantnag line in Jammu and Kashmir would be completed by next month.

Ms Banerjee proposed the setting up of a new factory at Kanchrapara-Halisahar for manufacturing rail coaches and setting up a 1000 MW power plant at Adra, in collaboration with the Ministry of Power.

The Railway Minister said that welfare of railway staff will be given high priority. As many as 6560 staff quarters will be constructed in 2009-10 and indoor stadia will be developed in major railway divisions and zones. Increased contribution of Rs.350 per employee to Staff Benefit Fund will continue for a year, with Rs.100 per employee for women empowerment.

She said scholarships would be introduced for the higher education of girl children of Group ‘D’ staff. She proposed attached medical colleges with railway hospitals at 18 locations and one burns unit at major hospitals.

The Minister said the policy on Railway Recruitment Boards would be reviewed. Special recruitment drives for filling vacancies in posts reserved for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and physically handicapped persons would be undertaken, she said.

Ms Banerjee said there would be a review of projects with social perspective and said innovating financing methods would be adopted.

She said the Railways would come out with a White Paper on its organizational, operational and financial status based on the performance of the last five years and also a Vision 2020 document with short and long term strategy and a plan of action.

The minister said that a project monitoring committee would be set up for developing mechanisms to avoid slippages in project delivery. Special monitoring will be taken up for all National Rail Projects.

She also proposed a committee headed by telecom expert Sam Pitroda to suggest innovations to utilize the optic fibre cable network of the Railways and take information technology to remote areas.

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Liberhan Commission submits report to PM

More than 16 years after it was set up, the Liberhan Commission, which probed the December 6, 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya, submitted its report to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh being presented the Liberhan Commission Report by Justice M S Liberhan on Tuesday. Home Minister P Chidambaram is also seen.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh being presented the Liberhan Commission Report by Justice M S Liberhan on Tuesday. Home Minister P Chidambaram is also seen.
More than 16 years after it was set up, the Liberhan Commission, which probed the December 6, 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya, submitted its report to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today.

Justice (Retd.) M S Liberhan, a former Judge of the Supreme Court, who headed the one-man commission, handed over the report to Dr Singh in the presence of Union Home Minister P Chidambaram. The contents of the report were not immediately known.

"The report, in four volumes with an extensive set of annexures, will now be further processed by the Home Ministry," a spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office said.

The Commission was set up on December 16, 1992, by the Home Ministry ten days after the demolition of the mosque. It was expected to submit its report in three months, but it ultimately took nearly 16 and a half years to complete its work.

In between, the Commission got 48 extensions, the last one being for three months in March this year. In the process, it became the long-serving Commission of Inquiry in India and also one of the costliest, having spent nearly Rs 8 crore.

The Commission held more than 400 sittings during which it recorded the statements of senior BJP leaders such as Lal Krishna Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Kalyan Singh, who was the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh when the demolition took place. The Commission heard the last witness in 2005.

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Bhutanese PM Thinley to arrive tomorrow on working visit

Bhutanese Prime Minister Lyonchen Jigmi Y Thinley will pay a four-day working visit to New Delhi from Tuesday, an official announcement said.

Bhutan Prime Minister Jigme Thinley
Bhutan Prime Minister Jigme Thinley
Bhutanese Prime Minister Lyonchen Jigmi Y Thinley will pay a four-day working visit to New Delhi from tomorrow, an official announcement said here today.

He will be the first head of government to visit India after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh assumed office on May 22 for a second straight term in office.

While announcing the visit, the Ministry of External Affairs underlined the fact that India and Bhutan shared a special relationship characterised by close consultations, mutual trust and understanding. It is nurtured by regular high-level exchange of views.

Mr Thinley had paid a state visit to India in July last year as his country's first democratically elected Prime Minister after Bhutan's transition to a democratic, constitutional monarchy. He again visited India in November last year to participate in the second BIMSTEC Summit in New Delhi.

Dr Singh had visited Bhutan in May last year and, in November, President Pratibha Patil had travelled to Thimphu for the coronation of King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk.

During his stay in Delhi, Mr Thinley will call on Ms Patil and meet Dr Singh. He will also meet United Progressive Alliance Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, the statement added.

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Bardhan blames LF neglect for Lalgarh crisis

CPI General Secretary A B Bardhan brought into the open differences in the LF regime in West Bengal, saying that it was being run as a "one-party government more or less" and blamed neglect by the state government for the rise of the Maoists.

A B Bardhan
A B Bardhan (File photo)
Communist Party of India (CPI) General Secretary A B Bardhan today brought into the open differences in the Left Front regime in West Bengal, saying that it was being run as a "one-party government more or less" and blamed neglect by the state government for the rise of the Maoists in Lalgarh.

"...I must say (there was) an element of neglect and not undertaking the work that should be have been done, particularly in an area inhabited by tribal people. There is a need for paying special attention to the tribal people, development and all that," Mr Bardhan said in an interview to journalist Karan Thapar on the "Devil's Advocate" show on CNN-IBN.

Mr Bardhan said the Left Front government had undertaken agrarian reforms and 75 per cent of the tribal people were beneficiaries of the programmes. "But beyond that you have to do something more...They neglected it. Yes I wil say so." he said.

The veteran CPI leader that there was no question of him giving advice to the Left Front government. "In fact, the government was being run as a one-party government more or less," he said, accusing the Communist Party of India (Marxist) of not consulting its junior partners in the front.

"I don’t know if we were capable of giving advice but if they had consulted all the partners of the Left Front, I think they would have done better," he said.

"That is one of the failings of the Left government in West Bengal if I may say so. They amount of consultation that ought to be there is not there," he said.

Mr Bardhan also felt that some Left leaders, including members of the CPI, had failed to stay in touch with the people after assuming positions of authority in West Bengal and Kerala.

He said when the people are neglected, especially in tribal areas, they tend to become alienated. "Across the border is Jharkhand and the whole area is a forest area and the Maoists can just walk in," he said of the crisis in Lalgarh where the West Bengal police and paramilitary forces are trying to regain the area from Maoist control.

"The Maoists found a fertile soil," he remarked.

Asked if he thought the fertile soil was created by the Left Front government, he said, "It is true. Facts must be admitted. The Left government is responsible up to a certain level, having given them land which they own. Seventy five per cent are beneficiaries. You have to move ahead...They did not move ahead..Particularly, it has been aggravated during the last 10 years," he said.

He said there were other factors responsible, too such as the rise of the Trinamool Congress (TC) led by Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee and the alleged nexus between her party and the Maoists. But he admitted that this also essentiall pointed to a weakness on the part of the Left front.

"I admit that...If the Left Front government was not failing, in some respects, what scope would the TC have? None. Mamata Banerjee or the TC leadership can take advantage of only our weaknesses," he said.

Mr Bardhan admitted Ms Banerjee had taken advantage of the situation. But he added, "You must also see the unscrupulousness of the whole thing in that she is willing to join hands with the Maoists, the Maoists were willing to help her."

He admitted that Left Front did not take action seven months ago when they could have nipped the Maoist menace in Lalgarh in the bud.

"For six months, the entire area is isolated. Administration is not there, healthcare is not there, food is not available. Somebody has to go," he said.

He said he was saying all this because "there ought to be some self-criticism. We should understand that why did it happen in Lalgarh."

"We have come to a position now where you require help from the Centre in order to face the situation, which the West Bengal police ought to have faced before," he remarked.

He said a solution to the situation had to be found now but hastened to add that this did not mean a change in leadership. "You don’t change leadership when you have to face a situation," he said.

He said what he was suggesting, as the junior partner, was more in the nature of "a change in the direction of work."

"Whether one goes and other one comes do not make any difference. The party is there. The party is a collective team," hesaid.

"What I am saying is that I am not concerned with leadership at the moment. I am concerned about the people of Lalgarh. There is a war going on with the tribals, who are our own people," he explained. "...this alienation from the people is something that has to be cured."

At the same time, Mr Bardhan said the Left Front leadership in West Bengal would have to answer the questions raised by the Lalgarh crisis.

"These questions will certainly have to answered by the leadership. There has to be a post- mortem and there has to be a cure. Supposing even if the police action is successful in driving the Maoists out, then what? How do you ensure that they don’t come back? How do you ensure that you have won over the people?" he said.

He said what was needed was a "steady and patient winning back of the people of Lalgarh."

"I am not interested in the change of leadership. Nor can I bring it about nor am I interested in it. And I don’t think that it will be a solution for the whole problem. The policy has to change. For seven months now, Lalgarh has not be getting medical help, no education is going on, no food is going there. All of this has to be done. All the people there must get relief as the police operation carry on," he said.

Mr Bardhan said his party's representative in the core committee of the West Bengal Cabinet would take up some of these questions in right earnest.

He also felt ways of strengthening the state police force, both in terms of personnel and equipment, must be looked into.

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US NSA holds talks with Indian leaders on deepening partnership

US National Security Adviser Gen James L Jones said on Friday that the US and India would, apart from broadening their partnership on a variety of global and bilateral issues, would work together closely on regional security matters.

US National Security Advisor General James Jones calling on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday. National Security Advisor M K Narayanan and US Charge d'Affairs Peter Burleigh can be seen.
US National Security Advisor General James Jones calling on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday. National Security Advisor M K Narayanan and US Charge d'Affairs Peter Burleigh can be seen.
United States National Security Adviser General James L Jones today said the US and India would, apart from broadening their partnership on a variety of global and bilateral issues, would work together closely on regional security matters.

"This is an area in which India is playing an important role. I trust that we will develop an even closer bond between the American and Indian people and build a more prosperous and secure future," Gen Jones said at the end of a two-day visit to Delhi.

Gen Jones' June 25-26 visit was part of an ongoing effort by the Barack Obama Administration to further strengthen and deepen the key US-India partnership, a statement from the US Embassy said.

He is the second senior US official to visit India since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh assumed office for a second straight five-year term on May 22. Earlier this month, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William J Burns had paid a two-day visit to India. His visit was also aimed at laying the ground for a planned trip by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to India in July.

During his stay here, Gen Jones met the Prime Minister, Defence Minister A K Antony, Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and members of Parliament. He also held intensive discussions with National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan.

"These consultations covered a broad range of bilateral and regional issues affecting our common interests. Among the topics for discussion were the U.S. government’s strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, our shared commitment to combat terrorism, and the post-election situation in Iran." the US Embassy statement said.

They also talked about energy and developing closer economic and trade links as well as defense ties. Gen. Jones outlined President Obama’s desire to move quickly in the months ahead to make tangible progress on a range of issues that affect the two nations’ futures, it said.

Gen. Jones conveyed President Obama’s invitation to Dr Singh to visit the White House this fall. The upcoming visit will be an opportunity to continue the discussion that the two leaders held during the G-20 meeting in London, focusing on the global economic situation, trade, energy and climate change, and regional security issues, the statement said.

"I enjoyed a very productive visit to India. President Obama views the U.S. - India relationship to be of foremost importance in advancing our common interests," Gen Jones added.

A statement from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said that the dialogue between the National Security Advisers of the two countries was one of the several bilateral mechanisms in the India-US relationship.

"The visit provided an opportunity for both sides to review the current state and future growth of the India-US partnership," it said.

According to it, Gen Jones conveyed President Obama's commitment to expanding bilateral relations in all areas, and the importance attached by the US Administration in working with India in shaping events in the twenty first century at the regional and global level.
US National Security Advisor General James Jones called on Defence Minister A K Antony on Friday. The Chief of Army Staff General Deepak Kapoor and the Defence Secretary Vijay Singh are also seen along with US Charge d'Affairs Peter Burleigh.
US National Security Advisor General James Jones called on Defence Minister A K Antony on Friday. The Chief of Army Staff General Deepak Kapoor and the Defence Secretary Vijay Singh are also seen along with US Charge d'Affairs Peter Burleigh.

Mr Narayanan conveyed the desire of the Government of India to build a wide-ranging and mutually beneficial relationship with the United States, based on the successes of the past, their shared values and converging interests.

Apart from bilateral issues, the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and global issues such as terrorism were discussed, it said.

A spokesman for the Defence Ministry said that, during the meeting between Gen Jones and Mr Antony, the two sides called upon the international community to jointly fight the menace of terrorism.

Gen Jones was accompanied to the meeting with Mr Antony by US Acting Ambassador Peter Burleigh and Mr. Don Camp, Senior Director for South Asia.

The Indian delegation included the Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor and Defence Secretary Vijay Singh.

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Assam Governor Shiv Charan Mathur passes away

Assam Governor and three-time Rajasthan Chief Minister Shiv Charan Mathur died at a private hospital in New Delhi on Thursday night after a brief illness, official sources said.

Shiv Charan Mathur
Shiv Charan Mathur
Assam Governor Shiv Charan Mathur died at a private hospital here tonight after a brief illness, official sources said.

He was 83. He is survived by his wife, two daughters and a son.

The sources said Mr Mathur, a two-time Chief Minister of Rajasthan, had been taken to the Fortis Hospital here this evening after complaining of respiratory problems. He passed away around 20.30 hours, they said.

Earlier, Mr Mathur had undergone treatment for some time at another Delhi hospital and had been discharged from there only this morning. He was taken to hospital again in the evening when he complained of uneasiness, they said.

Mr Mathur had taken over as governor of Assam on July 4 last year. He had served as Chief Minister of Rajasthan from 1981 to 1985 and from 1988 to 1989.

Rajasthan government sources said Mr Mathur would be accorded a state funeral in Jaipur tomorrow. His body will be first taken to his residence in the city to enable people to pay their last respects before being taken to the crematarium.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Union Rural Development Minister C P Joshi were among those who visited Mr Mathur's residence in Jaipur soon after the news of his death came and offered condolences to his son and other members of his family present there.

Mr Mathur was born on February 14, 1926 at Madhi-Qanungo in Madhya Pradesh. He graduated with a diploma in Labour Welfare. He had participated in the Quit India movement of 1942.

After working in the Rajasthan Students Congress for some time, he was elected Chairman of the Municipal Board in Bhilwara in 1956-57 and later became president of Bhilwara District Panchayat. He was a member of the All India Congress Committee from 1972.

He was elected to the third Lok Sabha in 1964-67. He was elected to the Rajasthan state legislative assembly several times from 1967 onwards and served as Minister for Education, Power, Public Works and Public Relations in 1967-72. He was Minister for Food and Civil Supplies, Agriculture and Animal Husbandry in 1973-77 before becoming Chief Minister, first in 1981-85 and then in 1988-89.

He was a member of the 10th Lok Sabha from 1991-96 and served on various Parliamentary committees. He was widely travelled.

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Bhardwaj appointed Governor of Karnataka

Former Union Law and Justice Minister H R Bhardwaj was appointed on Wednesday as the new Governor of Karnataka, a Rashtrapati Bhavan communique said.

Dr. H R Bhardwaj
Dr. H R Bhardwaj
Former Union Law and Justice Minister H R Bhardwaj was today appointed as the new Governor of Karnataka, a Rashtrapati Bhavan communique said.

Mr Bhardwaj will succeed Mr Rameshwar Thakur, who will move to Bhopal as the Governor of Madhya Pradesh for the remainder of his term in place of Dr Balram Jakhar.

The President has also appointed former Assam Finance Minister Devanand Konwar as the new Governor of Bihar in place of Mr R L Bhatia, the communique added.

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PM calls for efforts to rid world of terrorism

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday urged every one to work to rid the world of terrorism as he commemorated the anniversary of the Air India Kanishka air crash which claimed 329 lives.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today urged every one to work to rid the world of terrorism as he commemorated the anniversary of the Air India Kanishka air crash which claimed 329 lives.

The flight, AI 182, was on its way from Montreal to Delhi via London on June 23, 1985, when it crashed into the sea off the coast of Ireland.

The aircraft had exploded while flying at a height of about 31,000 feet above the Atlantic, south of Ireland. All 329 on board, including 82 children, were killed.

The tragedy was regarded as the single deadliest terrorist incident involving aircraft until September 11, 2001, when terrorists crashed two aircraft into the twin World Trade Centre towers in New York.

"Today on the eve of the twenty fourth anniversary of that tragic event, as we honour the memory of the innocent victims of this grim tragedy, the best homage we can pay to them is to work earnestly to rid the world of the scourge of terrorism," Dr Singh said in his commemoration message.

"On this sad day, my thoughts go out to all those who lost their loved ones in the crash," he added.

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Rajnath says ready to take rap for BJP defeat, won't give up Hindutva

BJP chief Rajnath Singh said on Saturday he was willing to take responsibility for the setback suffered by the party in the recent General Elections and made it clear that that the organisation would not jettison its Hindutva agenda.

Rajnath Singh
Rajnath Singh
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Rajnath Singh today said he was willing to take responsibility for the setback suffered by the party in the recent General Elections and made it clear that that the organisation would not jettison its Hindutva agenda, asserting that the ideology represented the very identity of India.

In his presidential address to the two-day meeting of the National Executive of the BJP, which began here this morning, Mr Singh said some people had started advising the party to abandon Hindutva after losing the General Elections for the second time in a row.

He refused to accept the suggestion from such quarters that the election results were a rejection of the ideology of Hindutva.

"Since we have emerged as the main opposition party, how can it be said that we or our ideology have been totally rejected by the people?" he asked.

"Hindutva is the national essence of India. It is the natural flow of India’s national consciousness. Hindutva has not emerged out of a political resolution from the parliamentary board or executive of a party or organization; it is the national identity of India. On account of this very identity, the political nature of India is inherently democratic," he said.

"Ideology is a constant which is a perpetual guiding force for a party over and above victory or defeat in elections. Hindutva / Bharatiyata / Cultural Nationalism occupies the same esteemed space in the politics of the BJP as the Constitution of India occupies in the politics of the country," Mr Singh said.

"Though we may not have got the expected success in the elections, but even today I am not willing to accept that our policies based on the feeling of staunch nationalism are faulty. Even today we are firm on all the issues raised by us, be it related to external and internal security of the country, foreign policy, terrorism, appeasement or disrespect to the cultural symbols or those related to the plight of the common man or farmers, as these issues are relevant for the country," he said.

Mr Singh said that the party had, in its election manifesto, reiterated its commitment for building a temple at the Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya, its clear views for abrogating Article 370 of the Constitution and its appeal for implementing the Uniform Civil Code.

"Even today we are firm on these issues because we believe that they are the core issues of the unity and integrity of the country. All these issues are in national interest. In the coming years we need to more effectively convince the people about these issues," he said.

At the same time, Mr Singh accepted that the party might not have been able to disseminate its position on these issues among the people as effectively as it was required. He said the party, perhaps, needed to present its views "in a better and more contemporary context."

"For this, it is necessary that we evaluate our organizational structure, campaign and strategy," he said.

Mr Singh said that, as per the BJP's tradition and ideology, "success is a collective credit and failure is a collective responsibility." Therefore, the party must collectively find a solution out of its present crisis, he said.

"Yes, if anyone feels that any person should take the responsibility, then as the President of the party, I am willing to take this responsibility," he said.

This is the first meeting of the BJP's National Executive after the elections and it is being held in the background of very strong and rather public criticism of the party leadership by some of its senior leaders about the manner in which it had responded to the electoral defeat and its aftermath. They were especially resentful of the fact that there was no attempt within the party to analyse the causes for its poor show in the elections and discuss remedial measures.

In particular, there has been criticism by such leaders as former Union Ministers Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie about the way in which those who were responsible for the strategies adopted for the elections have been chosen for major responsibilities again. The two-day meeting is, therefore, expected to be a stormy affair, with more leaders likely to give vent to their feelings on the defeat in the elections and related issues.

Anticipating some of this trouble, Mr Singh plunged straight into the topic in his presidential address.

"The results were not upto our expectations. The people have once again given us the mandate to sit in opposition. We accept the verdict with humility and will once more resume our work. While we may be surprised by the results, we are certainly not demoralized by them," he said.

Mr Singh said the results were "definitely a subject of serious introspection and analysis for us."

"At every step we will undertake introspection and analysis. The conclusions that emerge from this process of churning of ideas will become our guiding light....In my opinion, there might have been some shortcomings in our dedication and action. With time we need to do away with these shortcomings," he said.

At the same time, Mr Singh took pains to point out that the BJP had not been defeated across the nation. "At some places our performance has been spectacular, in some places we have substantially improved as compared to earlier, in some places it has been as it is and in some states our performance has been disappointing," he said.

"Yet the reality is that in totality we have lost 22 seats from what it was in the previous Lok Sabha," he said.

He went on to analyse the meaning of the results and said the people's verdict had given a big jolt to parties which used the politics of pure opportunism and had made it a fashion to unnecessarily pressurize the government to display their strength. He made particular mention of the Left parties and the Bahujan Samaj Party in this context.

"All such parties who followed this type of unprincipled politics that had emerged over the last 15-20 years, suffered heavily in these elections," he said.

"On the one hand, the dreams of those parties who pursued caste-based politics got shattered, and on the other hand, several candidates having the image of musclemen were also badly defeated. So at least on this account, the results of the 15th Lok Sabha have given an indication that our democracy is becoming more mature," he remarked.

"This election has virtually demolished the politics of despotism and absolute opportunism. In West Bengal and Kerala the people have not only taught a lesson to the communists by defeating them, but have also put a stop to their political blackmailing," he said.

The big difference between the second largest and third largest parties clearly indicates that the people’s confidence in the country is increasing towards bi-polar politics, Mr Singh said.

"That is why we can claim that if in the forthcoming years we properly expand our organization and take effective steps to get the people’s mandate, then tomorrow will definitely be ours," he declared.

Mr Singh said the BJP had always placed greater emphasis on the nation over votes and had never used caste, creed and religion for the sake of votes.

He said the BJP would continue its fight for the cause of India’s poor, farmers, labourers and the common man. He also promised that on all issues of national interest and those connected with the welfare of the average citizen, it would fully support the government.

"However, for this the government will also have to step forward. As is expected in a democracy, it will be the responsibility of the government to show that it is continuing with the tradition of building consensus on all important issues," he said.

Mr Singh said the manner in which comments and propaganda were being made about the BJP's defeat could create confusion in the minds of the party's workers and supporters.

He dwelt at length on the direct and indirect effect of Hindutva on politics in India and said the politics of the so-called right wing had a definitive space in the history of the country. He said this space had never become vacant though its context kept on changing.

"The past indicates that this so called right wing positions in Indian polity were never left vacant. We are the natural flag bearers of this legacy. In this is imbibed our pride of the past, the strategy of the present and achievement in the future," he said.

Mr Singh said the BJP's political power would be assessed in standing on the pole opposite to the Congress. "...the political reality of today indicates that we should be seen clearly on the pole opposite and different to the Congress. Otherwise any kind of confusion not only in principle but also in political terms would be detrimental to us," he stressed.

Arguing that the election results showed that political parties that had relinquished their basic character had to bear losses, he said changing the basic character or ideology would prove to be fatal for any party.

"Therefore any such idea would be fatal for us in future. We should free ourselves from any such illusion," he said.

"When we talk about the basic character of the party we should keep in mind that we are not an ordinary political party which has the sole aim of forming the government. But we are a representative party of such an ideology the goal of which is to establish a new era and civilization. Our thinking has a civilizational parameter. Therefore, defeat in one or two elections cannot deviate us," he said.

"If we want to change history then we will have to possess an extremely strong will to stand against the tide of time," he said.

Mr Singh said the party would have to kindle trust among the people again and expand itself organisationally, ideologically, socially and politically. For this, the tradition of "Not me, but you" will have to be revived, he stressed.

The BJP chief said it was a matter of some concern that only 38 of the party's MPs in the previous Lok Sabha had been re-elected this time. He said a similar pattern had been noticed in the previous elections, too. He urged party MPs to take care of their constituencies and reminded them that they had a major role in helping to rebuild the image of the party.

Mr Singh had a special word of praise for the BJP governments in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, which, he said, had been re-elected because of their good performance. He said the BJP governments in all the states ruled by it had a huge responsibility to win the people's affection and goodwill.

He made a special mention of the need for discipline within the organisation and said the party's interests were always above the interests and aspirations of individuals.

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India, Bhutan discuss ways of strengthening ties

India and Bhutan on Thursday held talks on ways of further strengthening their unique relationship and boost economic cooperation between them for the prosperity of their people.

India and Bhutan today held talks on ways of further strengthening their unique relationship and boost economic cooperation between them for the prosperity of their people.

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, who reached Thimphu today on a two-day official visit, met King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk, his predecessor and father, the Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuk, Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinley and Foreign Minister Lyonpo Ugyen Tshering during the day.

"In all these conversations, it was evident that the warmth and the meeting of minds that characterize India-Bhutan relations were stronger and deeper than ever," Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon told reporters in the Bhutanese capital.

Mr Menon said both sides felt the relationship was in excellent state and saw the future of the two countries as being interlinked.

Mr Krishna told the Bhutanese leadership that India looked forward to working with Bhutan to bring about development and prosperity and reviewed progress in the implementation of Bhutan's Xth Plan and the developments over the last one year.

The two countries have set themselves an ambitious target of at least 10,000 MW of electricity generated in Bhutan through Indo-Bhutan cooperation by 2020.

"We are on track. In fact, we have projects which exceed 11,000 MW and we have an Empowered Joint Group which has senior people from both sides to expeditiously implement the MoU. They will be meeting within next month to see the implementation on ground," Mr Menon said.

''The Minister was also briefed on progress in Bhutan and he was gratified to hear about various issues in the Kingdom and the successful democratic transition that is taking place. I think it is important to note that ours is not just any relationship, but one which probably does not have another parallel anywhere else. This is also a relationship which is absolutely trouble free. There is a great deal that we want to do together," he said.

This is Mr Krishna's first visit abroad after he took over as External Affairs Minister in the new United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in May.

"I am very happy to be here on my first visit abroad as the External Affairs Minister of India. We wish to reaffirm our close relations. I bring greetings and good wishes from the government and people of India for Bhutan," Mr Krishna said in a statement on arrival at Bhutan's Paro airport this morning.

He said India and Bhutan shared uniquely warm and cordial relations founded on close consultations, maturity, complete trust, mutual understanding, shared interests and mutually beneficial cooperation. "They are an example of good-neighbourly relations," he said.

"We are privileged to be a close development partner of Bhutan for about half a century based on the Royal Government’s priorities. We, therefore, rejoice in Bhutan’s progress and prosperity.

"While our multi-faceted cooperation covers a broad canvas, cooperation in the hydropower sector is a key element. Building on the successful execution of the three hydro projects – Chukkha, Kurichu and Tala – the Governments of the two countries have decided to add another 10,000 MW of hydropower capacity by 2020. This would substantially benefit both the countries," Mr Krishna said.

The Minister congratulated Bhutan for the successful completion of the first year of its historic transition to a constitutional democratic monarchy. He noted that India had been able to share its experience in democracy with Bhutan through interactions between Parliamentarians of the two countries.

Soon after his arrival, Mr Krishna flagged off the first Druk Air flight from Paro to Bagdogra in West Bengal which would facilitate greater connectivity to promote trade and tourism between the two countries. Druk Air already operates flights to Delhi and Kolkata.

Mr Krishna and his Bhutanese counterpart signed the boarding passes of some of the passengers themselves before seeing the flight off.

This is the first international commercial service that the Bagdogra airport will handle. The airport also becomes the second in West Bengal, after Kolkata, to handle international flights.

The Minister will also sign the memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the Nehru-Wangchuk Scholarships that would provide an opportunity to meritorious and talented Bhutanese students to study in prestigious Indian universities and institutions.

The visit also serves to underlines India's decision to remain engaged with its neighbours.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had visited Bhutan in May last year and President Pratibha Patil was present at the formal coronation of the present King in November last year.

At a banquet hosted for him this evening, Mr Krishna said the substance of the bilateral relationship was manifested in the ever widening canvass of the interaction between the two countries, covering a broad spectrum such as, power, transport, communications, infrastructure, education, IT, industry, medicine and agriculture.

He assured the Bhutanese leadership that India would stand with Bhutan, the world's youngest democracy, in the fulfillment of its democratic aspirations.

Mr Krishna said that in the years ahead the two countries would need to work together even more closely in deepening and widening the canvass of their bilateral engagement.

"India will fulfill its commitments under Bhutan’s 10th Five Year Plan, and for the fruition of many other projects where we are working together, including new and emerging areas such as IT. In Bhutan’s march to peace, progress and prosperity, India will be your reliable companion," he added.

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Krishna in Bhutan on two-day visit

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna is in Bhutan on a two-day visit during which he will hold discussions with its leadership on ways of further strengthening bilateral relations and economic cooperation between the two countries.

S M KrishnaExternal Affairs Minister S M Krishna is in Bhutan on a two-day official visit during which he will hold discussions with its leadership on ways of further strengthening bilateral relations and economic cooperation between the two countries.

This is Mr Krishna's first visit abroad after he took over as External Affairs Minister in the new United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in May.

"I am very happy to be here on my first visit abroad as the External Affairs Minister of India. We wish to reaffirm our close relations. I bring greetings and good wishes from the government and people of India for Bhutan," Mr Krishna said in a statement on arrival at Bhutan's Paro airport this morning.

He said India and Bhutan shared uniquely warm and cordial relations founded on close consultations, maturity, complete trust, mutual understanding, shared interests and mutually beneficial cooperation. "They are an example of good-neighbourly relations," he said.

During his stay in Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, Mr Krishna will have meetings with King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk, his predecessor and father, the Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuk, Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinley and Foreign Minister Lyonpo Ugyen Tshering.

"We are privileged to be a close development partner of Bhutan for about half a century based on the Royal Government’s priorities. We, therefore, rejoice in Bhutan’s progress and prosperity.

"While our multi-faceted cooperation covers a broad canvas, cooperation in the hydropower sector is a key element. Building on the successful execution of the three hydro projects – Chukkha, Kurichu and Tala – the Governments of the two countries have decided to add another 10,000 MW of hydropower capacity by 2020. This would substantially benefit both the countries," Mr Krishna said.

The Minister congratulated Bhutan for the successful completion of the first year of its historic transition to a constitutional democratic monarchy. He noted that India had been able to share its experience in democracy with Bhutan through interactions between Parliamentarians of the two countries.

Mr Krishna flagged off the first Druk Air flight from Paro to Bagdogra in West Bengal which would facilitate greater connectivity to promote trade and tourism between the two countries. Druk Air already operates flights to Delhi and Kolkata.

This is the first international commercial service that the Bagdogra airport will handle. The airport also becomes the second in West Bengal, after Kolkata, to handle international flights.

The Minister will also sign the memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the Nehru-Wangchuk Scholarships that would provide an opportunity to meritorious and talented Bhutanese students to study in prestigious Indian universities and institutions.

The visit also serves to underlines India's decision to remain engaged with its neighbours.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had visited Bhutan in May last year and President Pratibha Patil was present at the formal coronation of the present King in November last year.

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PM meets Zardari, calls for action against terror groups

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari on the sidelines of the SCO Summit in Yekaterinburg on Tuesday and is understood to have told him to take strong and credible action to end acts of terrorism against India emanating from Pakistan.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meeting Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari in Yekaterinburg on Tuesday.Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in the central Russian city of Yekaterinburg today and is understood to have told him to take strong and credible action to end acts of terrorism against India emanating from Pakistan.

Details of their discussion were not immediately available, but it is learnt that Dr Singh also told Mr Zardari that it was imperative that Pakistan brought those responsible for the November 26, 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai to book without delay.

This was the first meeting between the two leaders after the Mumbai attacks, which claimed 166 lives and which India blamed on elements based in Pakistan. They had last met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September, 2008.

India suspended the composite dialogue with Pakistan after the attacks and said the process could resume only if Pakistan acted against those behind the terrorist act.

Pakistan has been repeatedly calling for the resumption of the dialogue so that outstanding issues between the two countries could be discussed and sorted out.

Last Tuesday, Dr Singh said in Parliament that India was willing to meet Pakistan more than half-way if Pakistani leaders created the right atmosphere for the resumption of the peace talks by dismantling the terrorist infrastructure aimed at India operating out of its territory.

India and Pakistan are both Observer States at the SCO and the summit has provided an opportunity for the two leaders to break the ice and discuss ways of taking the peace process foward in the given circumstances.

There have also been reports that the United States has been pushing both countries towards early resumption of their talks. Last week, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William J Burns, who met Dr Singh and other Indian leaders in Delhi, told reporters that Washington would welcome such talks, but left the pace, timing and scope of such a dialogue to the two countries.

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India wants to intensify engagement with Central Asia: PM

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is leaving here later today on a three-day visit to Russia to attend the SCO and the BRIC Summits, said India could make significant contributions to and gain considerably from the two groupings.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is leaving here later today on a three-day visit to the central Russian city of Yekaterinburg to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the Brazil-Russia-India-China (BRIC) Summits, said India could make significant contributions to and gain considerably from the two groupings.

India is an observer-country at the SCO Summit that will be held tomorrow morning. The BRIC countries will hold their first-ever stand-alone summit tomorrow afternoon and evening.

India has been attending the SCO Summit regularly since 2005, but has been represented only at the ministerial level. This is the first time that Dr Singh has decided to attend the meeting himself.

"My decision to attend the Summit is a reflection of the high regard we have for Russia’s Presidency of the SCO, and our desire to intensify our engagement with countries of our extended neighbourhood in Central Asia.

"There are issues which concern both of us, such as the fight against terrorism and extremism and cooperation in areas of energy security, infrastructure development, agriculture, transportation, science and technology and education. India and the SCO stand to gain considerably from each other through such cooperation," he said in a pre-departure statement issued here today.

Dr Singh pointed out that BRIC countries together accounted for 40 per cent of the world's population and 40 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product. He said the grouping had the potential to lead global economic growth. In fact, he felt global economic recovery was closely linked to the success of the BRIC economies.

"India is among the fastest growing BRIC economies, and we are ready to play our part in coordinating international efforts to overcome the ongoing financial and economic slowdown. BRIC countries also have a role to play in promoting the principle of multilateralism in international affairs, and in the reform of institutions of global governance, including the United Nations, to reflect contemporary realities. From these points of view, the convening of the first stand-alone summit of BRIC countries is a significant development," he said.

The Prime Minister said he also looked forward to meeting and exchanging views with the other world leaders who will be present in Yekaterinburg.

This will be Dr Singh's first foreign trip after assuming office on May 22 for a second straight five-year term in office.

A major highlight of the visit will be the meeting he is expected to have with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari on June 16 on the sidelines of the SCO Summit.

While no formal meeting has been scheduled between the two leaders, it is clear that they will come face-to-face at the Summit, where Pakistan is also an observer-state.

"They will be in the same room, at the same place, at the same time. I am sure they will be meeting but what sort of meeting it will be is very difficult to say because the time will be limited," Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon had said on Friday while briefing journalists on the Prime Minister's visit.

He said it was difficult to predict what kind of talks the two leaders would have, while making it clear that no structured meeting was in the offing, at least partly because of the paucity of time.

The interaction between the two will be their first after the November 26, 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai, which claimed 166 lives and which India blamed on elements based in Pakistan.

India has since then suspended the composite dialogue with Pakistan and said the process could resume only if Pakistan took concrete action against those responsible for the attacks.

Last Tuesday, Dr Singh said in Parliament that India was willing to meet Pakistan more than half-way if Pakistani leaders created the right atmosphere for the resumption of the peace talks by dismantling the terrorist infrastructure aimed at India operating out of its territory.

Apart from shaking hands and breaking the ice, the two leaders are expected to talk very briefly abut how to take things forward in the given circumstances.

There have also been reports that the United States has been pushing both countries towards early resumption of their talks. Last Thursday, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William J Burns, who met Dr Singh and other Indian leaders in Delhi, told reporters that Washington would welcome such talks, but left the timing, pace and scope of such a dialogue to the two countries.

Mr Menon explained that, at its last summit in Dushanbe, the SCO had decided to raise the involvement of the Observer States to a qualitative new level. And this time, for the first time, the Observer States and the Member States will be meeting together in both a restricted format and then in an expanded plenary where they will discuss all issues together.

"It is a measure of how important we think the SCO is that the Prime Minister is going himself, also because we think it is particularly important that regional cooperation in Asia should be encouraged at a time when the world economy is under considerable stress and when there are major issues which need to be discussed at the summit level," Mr Menon said.

The BRIC leaders will have a restricted meeting of the leaders tomorrow afternoon, followed by delegation-level talks. The four leaders are then expected to address the media together.

They are expected to exchange views on subjects such as the ongoing global economic meltdown, its implications for the world economy and for security, progress in the G-20 Summits, food and energy security, development and climate change issues and regional developments, Mr Menon said.

The SCO was founded in 2001 and brings together China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. India, Iran, Pakistan and Mongolia are "observer" countries in the grouping.

The main thrust of SCO's discussions are on security in Central Asia, terrorism, drug trafficking and related issues. In recent years, the discussions have also focussed on strengthening economic and cultural cooperation in the region.

Yekaterinburg is a major city in Central Russia, located on the eastern side of the Ural mountain range, and the main industrial and cultural centre of the region. With a population of about 1.3 million, it is Russia's fifth largest city. Between 1924 and 1991, the city was known as Sverdlovsk.

The Prime Minister will be accompanied on the trip by National Security Adviser M K Narayanan, his Principal Secretary T K A Nair, Mr Menon and other senior officials. He is scheduled to return home on June 17.

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Yashwant Sinha quits all BJP posts

Former External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha Saturday resigned from all posts in the BJP in protest against the manner in which the organisation had responded to the setback it had suffered in the recent General Elections.

Yashwant SinhaAs the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) struggled to cope with dissensions in the aftermath of its electoral defeat, former External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha today resigned from all party posts in protest against the manner in which the organisation had responded to the crisis.

In a letter sent to BJP President Rajnath Singh, Mr Sinha was scathing in his criticism of the post-election happenings in the party and suggested that all office-bearers of the party and its parliamentary party should quit and the posts then filled up through the process of election laid down by the party's constitution.

"If we are a party with a difference, let us set an example in abnegation. If the responsibility is collective, as I have often heard you say, then all of us should jointly share the responsibility for our defeat. Let the party implement its own Kamraj Plan under which all office bearers of the party and the parliamentary party should resign from their posts which should then be filled up through the process of election laid down by our constitution," he said.

He said he was, therefore, submitting his resignation from the post of the Vice-President of the party, the membership of its National Executive and from all other positions of responsibility in the organisation. He sent copies of the letter to members of the party's core group.

Despite repeated attempts, Mr Sinha, 71, who was in Jharkhand, could not be contacted for his comments. His aides said he was in a meeting with party workers.

However, Mr Nalin S Kohli, convener of the BJP's Media Cell, told NetIndian that the resignation had been received and accepted.

Mr Sinha was elected to the Lok Sabha in the recent elections from the Hazaribagh constituency of Jharkhand.

The former Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer had served first as Finance Minister and then as External Affairs Minister in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government headed by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He had two stints as Finance Minister earlier, too.

The news about Mr Sinha's resignation came just a few days after media reports about a note written by former External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh to the Leader of the Opposition Lal Krishna Advani. The reports said Mr Singh had, in his letter, questioned the way in which the party was being run and complained about how there was no co-relation between performance and rewards.

That was seen as a comment on Mr Advani's decision to appoint Mr Arun Jaitley as the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, among other things.

Before that, Mr Arun Shourie had highlighted the need for a proper analysis of the reasons for the party's poor show in the elections.

There were also some murmurs in the party over the manner in which Mr Jaitley and Mr Sudheendra Kulkarni, considered close to Mr Advani, had aired their views about the reasons for the party's defeat in newspaper articles.

Ironically, the news about Mr Sinha's resignation came just as Mr Rajnath Singh was holding a press conference to announce that strict action would be taken by the party against those airing their views on the party's affairs in public in violation of the organisation's discipline.

Mr Rajnath Singh also refuted media reports about the party being in disarray, saying that the leaders were united and would analyse the reasons for the BJP's defeat in the elections.

He said the election results were "not upto the expectations" of the BJP but the party accepted the people's verdict with humility.

"The BJP's emergence as the principal opposition party clearly indicates that millions of voters expect the BJP to perform the role as a responsible and responsive opposition party to ensure that the government does not treat the mandate as an excuse to take any decision that may go against the interests of the common man," he said.

He said the recent statements and interaction of some BJP leaders on various media platforms appeared to have created an impression in some quarters that the party's leadership was in disarray and was not analysing the reasons behind the defeat.

"This is far from the truth. The BJP leadership stands united and is already in the process of analysing the outcome of the results to assess why the party could not get the mandate it expected. This obviously has to be an exhaustive and collective exercise and it has already begun at various levels," he said.

The BJP President said the entire process would culminate in a detailed "Chintan Baithak" (brainstorming session) in August after the coming session of Parliament.

He also announced that the party had decided that disciplinary action would be taken against any party leaders or functionaries who speak out of turn.

"As President of the party, I have to say that it has been decided that henceforth, all party leaders and functionaries should refrain from formally or informally sharing any views or inputs outside the party forums such as the media or any other platform, about the internal deliberations within the party or share any information that might negatively impact the image of the party, failing which they will invite disciplinary proceedings against themselves," he said.

In his letter, Mr Sinha wrote about how he was surprised to find that, as far as the party was concerned, it was "business as usual" despite the defeat in the elections. He said he had hoped there would be meetings to review the party's performance, draw lessons from the defeat and initiate remedial steps.

According to him, the election had thrown up issues which the party could ignore only at its peril. He said these issues related to the party's basic tenets, its policies and programmes, the issues that it raised during the elections, the language in which these were expressed, the election strategy that was adopted, the campaign style of its leaders and the faces the party projected.

The four-page letter also talked about the need to understand the voting behaviour of various groups such as the minorities, first-time voters, women, scheduled castes and tribes, the urban middle class, government employees, farmers and industrial workers. It also said the party must understand the factors which helped the Congress increase its tally from 145 seats in 2004 to 206 in this election.

Mr Sinha felt a detailed review would not only be instructive and show the party the path for the future, but also help establish the principle of accountability. Pointing out that the party had not carried out any review even after the 2004 defeat, he said he was getting a "sinking feeling" that once again there was a conspiracy of silence.

He said that those responsible for the management of the campaign had, meanwhile, already made their views public, drawn their conclusions,apportioned blame and given themselves a clean chit. Those who actually toiled in the field and took all the risk had not even been heard, he said.

Mr Sinha said Mr Advani had set a fine example of accountability by declining to take up the position of the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha. But he was persuaded to continue, just like some others who had wanted to take responsibility and resign, he said. According to him, it appeared that there were some people in the party who were determined to ensure that the principle of accountability did not prevail "so that their own little perch is not disturbed."

He also said the party had completely disregarded the parliamentary party constitution in the elections of the office-bearers of the parliamentary party on May 31. He said it was difficult to avoid the impression that the party had put a premium on failure.

According to him, the party's reluctance to introspect and the rat race for posts was unacceptable to many in the organisation.

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PM writes to Ministers on government's priorities

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has written to his colleagues in the Council of Ministers highlighting the priorities of the United Progressive Alliance government in its second term and listing out some dos and don'ts for them.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has written to his colleagues in the Council of Ministers highlighting the priorities of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in its second term and listing out some dos and don'ts for them.

Dr Singh said the people's mandate in the recent General Elections was both for continuity and change. He said the people had endorsed the government's efforts in its previous tenure to create an inclusive society and an inclusive economy.

"The flagship programmes that we put in place to translate this vision of inclusion into reality need to be consolidated. We have to ensure that these flagship programmes confer appropriate benefit on disadvantaged groups particularly scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, minorities, women and children. The empowerment of women is central to our agenda" he said.

The Prime Minister said ministers looking after flagship programmes must address the task of plugging leakages in the operation of these programmes with single-minded devotion.

He said the President's address to the joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament had drawn attention to some areas of immediate concern. Certain activities had also been identified which need to be pursued in the next 100 days, he said.

"I would request you to focus on the issues raised in the President's Address within the time-frames indicated. I have asked my Principal Secretary to follow up on these issues," he said.

Dr Singh reminded the ministers of their special responsibility in respect of the institutions under their watch, whether they are public sector undertakings or other autonomous institutions.

"The spirit of functional autonomy in which they have been conceived should be respected in full and there should be no action that may lead to the erosion of this autonomy or credibility," he said.

The Prime Minister said India's parliamentary traditions were constantly evolving and the country was setting new benchmarks in its democratic enterprise. He said work related to Parliament and the Committees of Parliament should receive the ministers' undivided attention so that the aspirations of the people were brought to bear on governance through their elected representatives.

He also urged the ministers to ensure that requests of Members of Parliament for appointment were attended to on priority basis and their letters replied to quickly. "We should make conscious efforts to enlarge and deepen the democratic processes," he said.

Dr Singh said ministers with Cabinet rank who have Ministers of State reporting to them had a special obligation. He said the junior ministers must be given adequate responsibility so that they got a sense of involvement and ownership and were also groomed for bigger roles in the future.

"Respect for dissent and argument is the essence of our culture. I do not have to labour the point that we must give due consideration to the views of the opposition and seek to work together for the collective well-being of our people," he said.

He said the UPA government had, in its first term, been noted for its bipartisan approach on development issues.

"We have been objective and fair in dealing with the genuine concerns of all State Governments. Let me urge you to ensure that all requests made by State Chief Ministers, and Ministers are responded to quickly and effectively. You may also like to ensure that Panchayati Raj Institutions and civil society have an appropriate role in the formulation and implementation of development projects and schemes," he said.

Dr Singh said India faced many challenges on the economic front and the government had to ensure that the economy continued to grow rapidly inspite of the global slowdown.

"We must create an environment conducive to rapid growth and also ensure that the growth process benefits all our people, especially the disadvantaged sections of the population. Our young population is our strategic resource and we must ensure that the agenda of the youth in terms of education, skills, and employment remains our key concern. As you would see, the agenda of our government, as indicated in the President's Address, has several major steps for equalizing opportunities for all our fellow citizens. We need to be focused on them. We need to push the frontiers and question outdated practices to bring a critical edge to governance. The Decade of Innovation about which the President spoke in her address should see promotion of creativity and innovation in your areas of work. Equity, innovation and public accountability should be the watchwords of our government," he said.

The Prime Minister made it clear that matters that required the views or concurrence of other Ministries or involved unbudgeted financial outlays ought not be made public without due consultation.

"The collective responsibility of the Cabinet enjoins us to do so. Needless to say, in case you have urgent problems or you consider it necessary to make any policy announcements you can always take them up with me.

"I am confident that you would bring to bear your considerable experience in public life and your professional commitment on the onerous task assigned to you. Once again I wish you all the very best in your endeavours as we grapple with the many challenges we face as a nation," he added.

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India will reshape relationship with Pakistan: President

President Pratibha Patil said on Thursday that the government would seek to reshape India's relationship with Pakistan, depending on the sincerity of Pakistan's actions to confront groups who launch terrorist attacks against India from its territory.

President Pratibha Patil today said the government would seek to reshape India's relationship with Pakistan, depending on the sincerity of Pakistan's actions to confront groups who launch terrorist attacks against India from its territory.

The remark has come at a time when relations between the two countries are strained after the November 26, 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai, which claimed nearly 180 lives and which India has blamed on elements based in Pakistan.

India has accused Pakistan of not doing enough to bring those responsible for the attacks to book and has stalled the peace process between the two countries, saying the talks cannot be resumed unless Pakistan acts against terrorist groups operating from its soil and stops cross-border infiltration.

Addressing a joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament, Ms Patil also said that India would support initiatives in Sri Lanka which could lead to a permanent political solution of the conflict there and ensure that all Sri Lankan communities, especially the Tamils, felt secure and enjoyed equal rights so that they could lead a life of dignity and self-respect.

"India will make appropriate contribution to rehabilitate those affected by the conflict," she said.

President, Pratibha Patil is being led in a ceremonial procession to the Central Hall of the Parliament House to address the Joint Session of the Parliament today. Vice President Mohammed Hamid Ansari, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Pawan K. Bansal are also seen.
President, Pratibha Patil is being led in a ceremonial procession to the Central Hall of the Parliament House to address the Joint Session of the Parliament today. Vice President Mohammed Hamid Ansari, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Pawan K. Bansal are also seen.

This is the first session of Parliament after the recent General Elections in which the people of the country voted for a new Lok Sabha.

The 15th Lok Sabha began its maiden session on June 1, with the first two days reserved for oath-taking by the newly-elected members. The Rajya Sabha began its session today.

The President addresses a joint sitting of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha in the first session after a new Lok Sabha is elected and on the opening day of the first session each year, which is usually the Budget session. The address basically outlines the policies and programmes of the government of the day and unveils details of its agenda of governance.

"In Nepal and Bangladesh, where multi-party democracy has returned, India will work closely with both countries to continue expanding bilateral ties for mutual benefit. Government will strengthen our close and vibrant partnerships with Bhutan and Maldives and continue to assist in the reconstruction of Afghanistan," the President said.

Overall, the President said, the government's foreign policy would continue to pursue India's enlightened national interest, maintaining the strategic autonomy and independent decision-making that has been its hallmark.

"India has a vital interest in the stability and prosperity of our neighbours. The highest priority will be accorded to working with our friends in SAARC to promote stability, development and prosperity in the region. Government will sincerely work with our neighbours to ensure that outstanding issues are addressed and the full potential of our region is realized," she said.

Ms Patil said the momentum of improvement of India's relations with the major powers would be maintained.

"The transformation of our partnership with the United States of America will be taken forward. Our strategic partnership with Russia has grown over the years, and we will seek to further consolidate it. With countries of Europe and Japan my Government will continue the sustained diplomatic efforts, which have produced qualitative changes in our relations since 2004. The multi-faceted partnership with China will be expanded," she said.

The President said the government would continue to work with other developing nations.

"It will contribute to all efforts at peace in West Asia through the establishment of a viable Palestinian State at the earliest. The traditionally close ties with countries in the Gulf will be strengthened. The process of engagement with Africa re-energized with the first Indo-Africa Summit organized by my Government will be further expanded. The multi-dimensional partnerships with countries in South-East Asia and the Pacific as well as Central Asia and the Latin American region will be consolidated," she said.

Ms Patil said the Indian diaspora estimated at over twenty-five million across the world was an important economic, social and cultural force and her Government would deepen its engagement with it.

"Our ties and kinship with the diaspora make us acutely conscious of their well-being and to be sensitive to their concerns. As a responsible member of the international community, India will work with other countries in tackling issues of common concern such as international terrorism, the global economic crisis, climate change, energy security and reform of multilateral institutions to reflect contemporary realities," she said.

At the outset, Ms Patil told the new Lok Sabha members that they now had the mandate and the opportunity to translate the hopes and aspirations of the people of India into change in the everyday lives of the people.

"I urge you to use each day of the next five years in giving substance to those aspirations and in doing so, find greater meaning in your own lives," she said.

Ms Patil also congratulated the Lok Sabha for unanimously electing a woman and a Dalit as the Speaker. "This has enhanced the prestige of India's democratic traditions, that of the House and its members," she felt.

The President promised all help from the government to the cyclone affected people of West Bengal.

She also praised the Election Commission for the smooth and largely peaceful conduct of the Lok Sabha elections in April-May. "Democracy is one of the finest ideas that humankind has produced and every Indian election celebrates the freedom of choice that powers this idea," she remarked.

The President said the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government (2004-09) had set before the country a vision of an inclusive society and an inclusive economy. She said it had worked diligently towards translating this vision into policies and programmes.

"My Government sees the overwhelming mandate it has received as a vindication of the policy architecture of inclusion that it put in place. It is a mandate for inclusive growth, equitable development and a secular and plural India. My Government is determined to work harder and better to realize these goals," she said, referring to the second term in office won by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government.

Dr Singh, UPA Chairperson and Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Leader of the Lok Sabha Pranab Mukherjee, Leader of the Opposition Lal Krishna Advani, Union Ministers and nearly all the members of the two Houses were present in the Central Hall of Parliament to hear the President.

Ms Patil said a continuing priority of the Government would be to consolidate the ongoing flagship programmes for inclusion.

"This will require re-energising government and improving governance. It will require meeting the challenge of restoring economic growth, which is now hurt by the global economic slowdown, back to a higher growth path. High growth is necessary to provide the government the capacity to expand opportunities for employment. It is necessary to provide resources to increase outlays in education, health care and infrastructure to meet the needs of all regions and all people. My Government will ensure that the growth process is not only accelerated but also made socially and regionally more inclusive and equitable. The yearning of our people for inclusiveness - economic social and cultural -- and the rejection of the forces of divisiveness and intolerance that my Government spoke of in 2004 continues as both its inspiring vision and its unfinished business," she said.

Saying that the government was acutely conscious of the challenge of rising expectations of the people, the President said there would be ten broad areas of priority for the government for the next five years:

  • Internal security and preservation of communal harmony;
  • Stepping up of economic growth in agriculture, manufacturing and services;
  • Consolidation of the existing flagship programmes for employment, education, health, rural infrastructure, urban renewal and introduction of new flagship programmes for food security and skill development;
  • Concerted action for the welfare of women, youth, children, other backward classes, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, minorities, the differently-abled and the elderly along with strengthened social protection;
  • Governance reform;
  • Creation and modernization of infrastructure and capacity addition in key sectors;
  • Prudent fiscal management;
  • Energy security and environment protection;
  • Constructive and creative engagement with the world and
  • Promotion of a culture of enterprise and innovation.

Ms Patil said the government would maintain utmost vigil in the area of internal security and pursue a policy of zero-tolerance towards terrorism, from whatever source it originates. She also promised stern measures to handle insurgency and left-wing extremism.

She said the government had already prepared a detailed plan to address internal security challenges to be implemented in a time-bound manner. The Multi-Agency Centre will be strengthened to ensure effective intelligence sharing and processing and Subsidiary Multi-Agency Centres will be activated in all States. The National Investigation Agency has become operational and will be empowered to handle terror-related offences. Central and State police forces and intelligence agencies will be expanded and fully equipped with the best technology. A national counter-terrorism centre will be established to take pro-active anti-terrorism measures. Special Forces and Quick Response Teams will be raised and deployed in vulnerable areas. Enhanced information and intelligence sharing on a real time basis, would be made possible by the creation of a net-centric information command structure, she said.

The President also said the government would actively pursue police reform and promote community policing to ensure the active participation of the citizenry in internal security.

At the same time government will continue to constructively engage with all groups that abjure violence in the Northeast, Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of the country, she said.

Ms Patil said communal harmony would be preserved at all costs, stressing that the mandate the government had received was unmistakable in that the people wanted the country's secular fabric to be protected. She said the government would seek early approval of the Bill introduced in Parliament for the prevention of communal violence.

The President said the armed forces would be fully enabled with modern technology to repel any threat from land, sea or air. She also said that the welfare of ex-servicemen would continue to be accorded high priority.

The Committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary, to look into the issue of One Rank One Pension has already commenced its work and it is expected to complete it by the end of June 2009, she said.

She said the Unique Identity Card scheme for each citizen would be implemented in three years overseen by an Empowered Group. This would serve the purpose of identification for development programmes and security.

The President dwelt at length on the previous government's efforts in the economic and social sectors and also spoke about the steps taken by it to respond to the global financial crisis.

"It is a matter of satisfaction that the Indian economy has not suffered the kind of slowdown that has been witnessed in almost every other country of the world," she said.

Ms Patil said the immediate priority must be to focus on management of the economy that will counter the effect of the global slowdown by a combination of sectoral and macro-level policies. She said the government would focus attention on sectors that are adversely affected, especially Small and Medium Enterprises, exports, textiles, commercial vehicles, infrastructure and housing.

"This must be accompanied by measures to achieve a countercyclical expansion in public investment in infrastructure sectors including public-private partnerships in these sectors. Financing the investment will be a critical constraint and my Government is determined to ensure that innovative steps are taken in this area, consistent with a medium-term strategy of prudent fiscal management," she said.

Ms Patil said India had benefited from large foreign investment flows in recent years and these, especially foreign direct investment, needed to be encouraged through an appropriate policy regime. There is also a need to augment resources in the banking and insurance sectors in order to permit them to serve the needs of society better, she said.

"Towards this end my Government will recapitalize the public sector banks to strengthen their financial position and also bring legislation to establish a regulator for the pension sector," she said.

The President said the momentum of public investment in agriculture and irrigation built up in the last five years will be further expanded and the three major instruments -- the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, National Food Security Mission and the National Horticulture Mission -- strengthened.

She said the government's flagship programmes, which had moved the country towards inclusive development, would be consolidated in the next five years.

In particular, she said, the government would enlarge the scope of works permitted under the transformational National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), presently limited to unskilled manual work.

She said the opportunity for improving land productivity through the NREGA would be maximized through better convergence of NREGA with other programmes. To ensure transparency and public accountability, independent monitoring and grievance redressal mechanisms will be set up at the district level, she said.

The President said the National Rural Health Mission would be consolidated to make perceptible reduction in infant mortality and maternal mortality in the next five years. Vaccine producing institutes in the public sector will be revived to support the immunization programme.

She said the government would expand the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana to cover all families below the poverty line in the next five years. The nutrition delivery programme will be comprehensively revamped to bring it under the watch of panchayat institutions and move to provision of hot cooked meals in anganwadis, she said.

Ms Patil said quality education would be made a right through the enactment of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill now under consideration of Parliament.

The Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan would universalize access to secondary education and the massive expansion in higher education through new institutions under implementation in the Eleventh Plan would enable the country to meet the challenge of education in full measure, she said.

She said the wide range of scholarships and educational loans introduced in the last five years for the needy and deserving students would be reviewed and strengthened further.

According to her, the suggestions given by the National Knowledge Commission would guide the formulation and implementation of the strategy in higher education.

The President said the National Literacy Mission would be recast as a National Mission for Female Literacy to make every woman in the country literate in the next five years.

Increased female literacy is expected to become a force multiplier for all social development programmes.

She said the remaining tasks of Bharat Nirman, launched five years ago as a time-bound business plan for rural infrastructure, would be completed in the second phase of the programme in the next five years.

The Indira Awas Yojana, which exceeded the original target of sixty lakh houses for 2004-09, will now take up double the target of rural housing to 1.2 crore houses in the next five years.

The Rural Water supply programme will be completed by 2011 and handed over to be managed by panchayats in the next Plan.

The rural telecommunication target will be set at reaching 40% rural teledensity in the next five years and expanding broadband coverage to connect every panchayat to a broadband network in three years. The scheme for Common Service Centres or e-kiosks will be suitably repositioned to be a network of panchayat-level Bharat Nirman Common Service Centres to provide government services to citizens in rural areas.

She said new targets would be set for rural electrification, irrigation and road connectivity.

The President said the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) would continue to focus on infrastructure, basic services and governance reform and increase support to cities to upgrade public transport.

She said more than 15 lakh houses were under construction for the urban poor but there was a need to focus urban housing programmes on the poor living in slums.

Ms Patil said the government proposed to introduce a Rajiv Awas Yojana for the slum dwellers and the urban poor on the lines of the Indira Awas Yojana for the rural poor. The schemes for affordable housing through partnership and the scheme for interest subsidy for urban housing would be dovetailed into the Rajiv Awas Yojana which would extend support under JNNURM to states that are willing to assign property rights to people living in slum areas.

"My Government's effort would be to create a slum free India in five years through the Rajiv Awas Yojana," she declared.

The President also said the government proposed to enact a new law -- the National Food Security Act -- that will provide a statutory basis for a framework which assures food security for all. Every family below the poverty line in rural as well as urban areas will be entitled, by law, to 25 kilograms of rice or wheat per month at Rs. 3 per kilogram. This legislation will also be used to bring about broader systemic reform in the public distribution system.

"Government is acutely conscious of its responsibilities to provide greater opportunities for women, youth, other backward classes, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, minorities and the elderly as well as strengthen measures for social protection for categories with special vulnerabilities. Some concrete steps that are proposed to create equal opportunities for women are reservation to elected bodies at all levels, reservation in jobs and a National Mission on Female Literacy," she said.

Noting that over half of India's population is below 25 years of age, Ms Patil said the challenge was to invest in their education, employability and employment.

"India has the capacity to contribute to a fourth of the global work force if it invests in skill development of its youth. Education which provides employable skills holds the key for equal opportunities for Other Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Minorities," she said.

She said the government, besides making massive investments in education, would focus on the national skill development initiative that has commenced operation with the very ambitious goal of creation of 500 million skilled people by 2022 so that India realised its demographic dividend.

Ms Patil said the implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act would be monitored to ensure that all title deeds are distributed by end of 2009.

She said the government would continue to accord the highest priority to the welfare of minorities.

"The Prime Minister's New 15 Point Programme for the Welfare of Minorities and the action taken on the recommendations of the Sachar Committee have, to some extent, succeeded in ensuring an equitable share for the minorities in government resources, jobs and plans. Steps under way would be consolidated further. Government would strive to strengthen and modernize the administration of wakfs, reform the management of Haj operations and set up an Equal Opportunity Commission," she said.

She said the government would endeavour to reintroduce and enact the Amendment Bill to the Land Acquisition Act and the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill in the coming budget session of Parliament. These bills were aimed at protecting farmers and others dependent on farming from unfair displacement. They were placed before Parliament but could not be carried through.

The President said the government, in its previous term, had considerably enhanced provisions for social security through old age pension for all people below the poverty line and above 65 years of age, all handicapped people and all widows above the age of forty.

"It will examine extending social protection to other persons at special risk. Social security schemes for other occupations like landless labour, weavers, fisherfolk, toddy tappers, leather workers, plantation labour, construction labour, mine workers and beedi workers will be appropriately expanded," she said.

Some of the other topics she spoke about included reform of governance for effective delivery of public service.

She said the government would initiate steps in the following measures within the next 100 days:

  • Early passage of the Women's Reservation Bill in Parliament providing for one-third reservation to women in State legislatures and in Parliament;
  • Constitutional amendment to provide 50 percent reservation for women in panchayats and urban local bodies. Women suffer multiple deprivations of class, caste and gender and enhancing reservation in panchayats and urban local bodies will lead to more women entering the public sphere;
  • Concerted effort to increase representation of women in central government jobs;
  • A National Mission on Empowerment of Women for implementation of women-centric programmes in a mission mode to achieve better coordination;
  • A voluntary national youth corps which could take up creative social action around the river cleaning and beautification programme beginning with the river Ganga;
  • Restructuring the Backward Regions Grant Fund, which overlaps with other development investment, to focus on decentralized planning and capacity building of elected panchayat representatives. The next three years would be devoted to training panchayat raj functionaries in administering flagship programmes;
  • A public data policy to place all information covering non-strategic areas in the public domain. It would help citizens to challenge the data and engage directly in governance reform;
  • Increasing transparency and public accountability of NREGA by enforcing social audit and ensuring grievance redressal by setting up district level ombudsman;
  • Strengthening Right to Information by suitably amending the law to provide for disclosure by government in all non-strategic areas;
  • Strengthening public accountability of flagship programmes by the creation of an Independent Evaluation Office at an arm's distance from the government catalysed by the Planning Commission. It would work on a network model by collaborating with leading social science research organizations and concurrently evaluate the impact of flagship programmes and place it in the public domain;
  • Establishing mechanisms for performance monitoring and performance evaluation in government on a regular basis;
  • Five Annual Reports to be presented by government as Reports to the People on Education, Health, Employment, Environment and Infrastructure to generate a national debate;
  • Facilitating a Voluntary Technical Corps of professionals in all urban areas through JNNURM to support city development activities;
  • Enabling non government organisations in the area of development action seeking government support through a web-based transaction on a government portal in which the status of the application will be transparently monitorable;
  • Provision of scholarships and social security schemes through accounts in post offices and banks and phased transition to smart cards;
  • Revamping of banks and post offices to become outreach units for financial inclusion complemented by business correspondents aided by technology;
  • Electronic governance through Bharat Nirman common service centres in all panchayats in the next three years;
  • A model Public Services Law, that covers functionaries providing important social services like education, health, rural development etc. and commits them to their duties, will be drawn up in consultation with states;
  • A National Council for Human Resources in Health as an overarching regulatory body for the health sector to reform the current regulatory framework and enhance supply of skilled personnel;
  • A National Council for Higher Education as recommended by the Yashpal Committee and the National Knowledge Commission to bring in reform of regulatory institutions;
  • Develop a "brain gain" policy to attract talent from all over the world into the 14 universities proposed in the 11th plan to position them as "Innovation Universities";
  • A roadmap for judicial reform to be outlined in six months and implemented in a time-bound manner;
  • Targeted identification cards would subsume and replace omnibus Below Poverty Line (BPL) list. NREGA has a job card and the proposed Food Security Act would also create a new card. Identification of beneficiaries for other programmes which currently use the omnibus BPL list would improve identification based on programme objectives with the common underlying principle that all identification of beneficiaries will be done through gram sabhas and urban local bodies and the list placed in the public domain to be open to challenge;
  • A Delivery Monitoring Unit in the Prime Minister's Office to monitor flagship programmes and iconic projects and report on their status publicly;
  • Suitably institutionalized quarterly reporting on Flagship programmes as "Bharat Nirman Quarterly Reports" where Ministers would publicly report on progress through the media.

The President promised that bottlenecks and delays in implementation of infrastructure projects because of policies and procedures, especially in railways, power, highways, ports, airports and rural telecom would be systematically removed.

She said the regulatory and legal framework of public-private partnerships (PPPs) would be made more investment friendly. She said the government would continue its special emphasis on infrastructure development in the North-East and Jammu and Kashmir and enhance connectivity to these regions.

She said the government would develop a roadmap for listing and people-ownership of public sector undertakings while ensuring that government equity does not fall below 51 per cent.

Ms Patil said the government was firmly committed to maintaining high growth with low inflation, particularly in relation to prices of essential agricultural and industrial commodities.

"It will steadfastly observe fiscal responsibility so that the ability of the Centre to invest in essential social and economic infrastructure is continuously enhanced. This will require that all subsidies reach only the truly needy and poor sections of our society. A national consensus will be created on this issue and necessary policy changes implemented," she said.

She said the roadmap for moving towards a Goods and Services Tax would be vigorously pursued.

"My Government is fully seized of the issue of illegal money of Indian citizens outside the country in secret bank accounts. It will vigorously pursue all necessary steps in coordination with the countries concerned," she said.

Promising an integrated energy policy, she said the effort would be to see that at least 13,000 MW of generating capacity was added each year through a mix of sources -coal, hydel, nuclear and renewables. Village and rural household electrification and reduction in aggregate technical and commercial losses will continue to be given the highest priority. Competitiveness and efficiency in the power sector will be enhanced through time-bound measures, including operationalising the provision of open access, she said.

The President said the pace of oil and gas exploration would be intensified and India's oil diplomacy aggressively pursued. Reforms in the coal sector, for which a detailed blueprint has been prepared, will be pursued with urgency. The international civil nuclear agreements will be operationalised with various countries even as domestic sources of uranium are exploited and work continues on the indigenously designed fast breeder and thorium reactors, she said.

She said that the government would ensure that India's space programme, which had achieved wide recognition, continued to bring rich dividends to society in agriculture, tele-medicine, tele-education and by providing information to rural knowledge centres, besides contributing to telecommunication, television broadcasting and weather forecasting. Several innovative initiatives commenced by government in the science and technology sector in the last five years and now under implementation will be further strengthened, she said.

Ms Patil said the government was proactively addressing issues of climate change through eight national missions. Of these the National Solar Mission, the National Water Mission, the National Mission on Energy Efficiency, the National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture and the National Mission on Sustainable Habitat will be launched by the end of this year. The National Ganga River Basin Authority, set up recently, will evolve a new action plan for cleaning and beautifying the river in partnership with the basin states.

"Honourable Members, my Government believes that in the knowledge society in which we live today, creativity, innovation and enterprise hold the key to people and nations realizing their potential. The 'dreary desert sand of dead habit' must be left behind. Our young people are tearing down the narrow domestic walls of religion, region, language, caste, and gender that confine them. The nation must invest in their hope. My Government will ensure that its policies for education and science and technology are imbued with a spirit of innovation so that the creativity of a billion people is unleashed. The next ten years would be dedicated as a Decade of Innovation. It may be a symbolic gesture but an important gesture to drive home the need to be innovative in finding solutions to our many challenges. India's young population is naturally restless and wants to see change quickly. My Government carries the weight of their dreams. Together let us dedicate ourselves to making each day of the next five years, a day closer to the realization of their dreams," the President added.

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Meira Kumar elected Lok Sabha Speaker unopposed

Meira Kumar was elected on Wednesday unopposed as the Speaker of the 15th Lok Sabha after emerging as the consensus candidate of the ruling UPA led by her party Congress as well as the opposition BJP.

Former Union Minister Meira Kumar was today elected unopposed as the Speaker of the 15th Lok Sabha after emerging as the consensus candidate of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) led by her party Congress as well as the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The Speaker, Lok Sabha, Meira Kumar briefing the media, at Parliament House today.
The Speaker, Lok Sabha, Meira Kumar briefing the media, at Parliament House today.

Ms Kumar, 64, is the first woman to be elected to the coveted position and the second Dalit leader, after the late G M C Balayogi, to occupy the chair.

The election of the Speaker was taken up soon after all the newly-elected members of the House had finished taking the oath of affirmation. The first two days of the maiden session of the new Lok Sabha and the early part of today were reserved for the new members to take oath.

Another former Union Minister, Mr Karia Munda of the BJP, is set to become the Deputy Speaker after the UPA offered the post to the opposition party as per convention. The election for the Deputy Speaker's position will be held later, but Mr Munda is also expected to be elected unopposed.

Mr Manikrao Gavit, 75, a Congress MP and the seniormost member of the House, conducted the proceedings of the House as pro tem Speaker till the new Speaker was elected.

Congress President and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi moved a motion proposing that Ms Kumar be elected as Speaker of the House, which was seconded by Finance Minister and Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee.

A similar proposal was then moved by Leader of the Opposition Lal Krishna Advani and seconded by Deputy Opposition Leader Sushma Swaraj, both of the BJP.

Motions proposing Ms Kumar's name for the post were also moved by, among others, Ms Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress, Mr T R Baalu of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party, Mr Sharad Yadav of the Janata Dal (U), Mr Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party, Dr Farooq Abdullah of the National Conference, Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal and Mr E Ahamed of the Indian Union Muslim League.

The House adopted the motions with a voice vote, after which Mr Gavit declared her elected as Speaker.

Immediately afterwards, Prime Miniser Manmohan Singh, Mr Mukherjee and Mr Advani escorted Ms Kumar to the Speaker's chair as per tradition.

Dr Singh said that Ms Kumar's election to the august office was, in many ways, a historic occasion in that it was the first time a woman has been elected to the post, who also happens to be from the Dalit community.
The Speaker, Lok Sabha, Meira Kumar with the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, L K Advani, the Union Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, the Chairperson, UPA, Sonia Gandhi and other dignitaries at Parliament House today.
The Speaker, Lok Sabha, Meira Kumar with the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, L K Advani, the Union Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, the Chairperson, UPA, Sonia Gandhi and other dignitaries at Parliament House today.

He said that, in electing her, the House was paying tribute to all women in India for their great services and contributions to the nation's life.

The Prime Minister recalled his association with Ms Kumar's father, former Deputy Prime Minister Jagjivan Ram, and said she was the embodiment of many of his qualities.

He also said that Ms Kumar had a distinguished record of service to the country as a diplomat, as a member of Parliament and as a Union Minister. "The knowledge and experience will stand you in good stead," he said.

He also felt that Ms Kumar's charm, grace and tact would help her in handling frayed tempers in the House.

Mr Mukherjee hoped the 15th Lok Sabha would be see fewer obstructions by members and more debates and discussions. He said there could be divergence of views but these must be discussed and debated. He also said that Ms Kumar had been elected to a post that had been held by great personalities in the past, all of whom had set a great record of impartiality and correct decisions.

Mr Advani recalled his association with the late Jagjivan Ram, when they were both ministers in the Morarji Desai government, and said that his administrative skills had impressed everyone.

Others who felicitated Ms Kumar included Mr Basudev Acharia of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mr Baalu, Mr Pawar, Mr Sharad Yadav, Mr Gurudas Dasgupta of the Communist Party of India and Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav.

Ms Kumar, who was sworn in as a Cabinet Minister on May 22 and had taken over the portfolio of Water Resources last Friday, resigned from the Union Council of Ministers on Sunday.

Ms Kumar is a former officer of the Indian Foreign Service (IFS). She had served as the Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment in the previous UPA government.

She has a Master's degree in English and a degree in Law, as well as an advanced diploma in Spanish. This is her fifth term in the Lok Sabha. She has served on various parliamentary committees and has been a General Secretary of the Congress party and a member of its working committee.

She joined the IFS in 1973 and served in Indian missions in Madrid and London as well as in the Ministry of External Affairs in Delhi before resigning from the service in 1985 to join politics.

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