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5 more swine flu deaths in India, toll goes up to 1337

Five more people have succumbed to influenza A (H1N1) in India, taking the toll due to the swine flu pandemic in the country so far to 1337, an official statement said here today.

Three of the deaths were reported during the day in Maharashtra. Besides, reports about two earlier deaths - one each in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh - were received from the state authorities concerned today, it said.

Of the total swine flu deaths in the country so far, Maharashtra now accounts for 354, while 276 lives have been lost in Gujarat, 186 in Rajasthan, 146 in Karnataka, 95 in Delhi, 52 in Andhra Pradesh, 39 in Punjab, 38 in Haryana, 37 in Kerala, 26 in Madhya Pradesh, 19 in Uttar Pradesh, 13 in Uttarakhand, 11 in Chhattisgarh, 8 each in Chandigarh and Himachal Pradesh, 7 in Tamil Nadu, 6 in Puducherry, 5 in Goa, 4 in Jammu & Kashmir, 3 in Orissa, 2 in Assam and 1 each in Mizoram and Dadra & Nagar Haveli.

The statement said 32 new cases of the flu were reported today, including 22 in Maharashtra, 3 in Karnataka, 2 each in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh and 1 in Kerala.

With these, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus reported in the country so far has gone up to 29,522, the statement added.

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IAF to showcase fire power at Pokharan on Feb 28

The Indian Air Force (IAF) will stage a massive fire power demonstration (FPD), codenamed Vayu Shakti 2010, at the sprawling Chandan Air-to-Ground Range at Pokharan in Rajasthan on February 28.


An official press release said the event would showcase the operational capabilities of the IAF by day, dusk and night. It will also be the first ever display of the IAF's precision strike capability by night, it said.


The release said the FPD would demonstrate the day and night employability of air power by frontline fighter aircraft of the IAF, including Su-30 MKI, Mirage-2000, Jaguar, Mig-21 and Mig-29. The transport aircraft include AN-32, Embraer and IL-76, while Mi-17 1V and Mi-35 attack helicopters will constitute the rotary wing ingredients.

According to the release, for the first time, AWACS will be used to monitor the mammoth exercise while an unmanned aerial vehicle will stream live video images of the target destruction. In addition to the 65 aircraft participating from all IAF Commands, 30 standby aircraft in air and an equal number on ground will make it one of the biggest participation by IAF aircraft in any such FPD ever.

Mock radar sites, tanks, marshalling yards, terrorist camps, runway, BMP (infantry fighting vehicles), blast pens and convoys are among some of the the targets that pilots will seek to destroy. Para-drop and troop insertion of Garud - IAF’s Special Forces to neutralize a terrorist camp will also be on display.

The other attractions will include aerobatics display by Surya Kirans and Sarang, display by IAF sky diving team - Akash Ganga and renditions by IAF Symphonic Orchestra.

The FPD is a collective display of skills and accuracy in weapon delivery by pilots at the end of their training year. The exercise also aids commanders and planners to gain better insight into the potential and deployment capabilities of aerial weapons, the release added.


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Suggestions invited on amendments to Press & Registration of Books Act

The Government of India today invited suggestions and comments from all stakeholders on the proposed amendments to the Press and Registration of Books (PRB) Act, 1867.


An official press release said the draft amendments had been put of the websites of the Registrar of Newspers for India (RNI)  and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.


It said the RNI had also written to various newspaper associations separately, inviting suggestions on the proposed amendments.


The PRB Act, enacted in the year 1867, has undergone little change, through amendments, in the last 142 years. On the other hand, the print media has grown exponentially over the years. The Government has also allowed news syndication, foreign direct investment (FDI) and facsimile editions of foreign newspapers.


In view of such developments, the Government felt it was necessary to bring the Act in tune with the changing times, as the Act in its present form was inadequate to address the requirements of the print media, the release said.


The last date for sending in suggestions is March 3, it added.


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Justice Sabina appointed judge of Punjab & Haryana HC

The President has appointed Ms Justice Sabina, Additional Judge of the Punjab & High Court, as a Judge of the same High Court.


An official press release said th appointment would be with effect from the date she assumed charge of her office.


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Indian Forest Service Exam from July 10

The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) will hold the Indian Forest Service Examination 2010 from July 10 onwards.


An official press release said the examination would be held at various centres across the country.


Candidates must apply in the Common Application Form devised by the Commission for its examinations, which can be purchased from designated Head Post Offices/Post Offices throughout the country.


Details regarding the eligibility, conditions, syllabus and scheme of the examination, centres of examination and guidelines for filling up the form are available on the UPSC website.


The last date for receiving applications is March 22. In respect of candidates residing abroad or in certain specified remote areas, the last date for receipt of applications by post/speed post only (not by hand or by courier) is March 29, the release added.


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Elections to fill 13 Rajya Sabha seats on March 26

The Election Commission today said elections would be held on March 26 to fill 13 vacancies that will be caused in the Rajya Sabha by the retirement of members in April, including Union Ministers A K Antony and Anand Sharma.

These include five seats in Punjab, three in Kerala, two in Assam and one each in Himachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Tripura.

In Punjab, there were willbe two separate elections, one for three seats and another for two, because they belong to two different biennial cycles.

The notification for these elections will be issued on March 9 and the last date for filing of nominations will be March 16. Counting of votes will be taken up at 5.00 pm on March 26, the day of polling, and the results are expected the same day.

Apart from Mr Antony from Kerala and Mr Sharma from Himachal Pradesh, Union Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports M S Gill's term will also end in April.

The others whose terms are ending in April are: Mr Silvius Condpan, Ms Syeda Anwara Taimur (Assam), Mr P V V Abdul Wahab, Mr A Vijaya Raghavan (Kerala), Mr Khekiho Zhimomi (Nagaland), Mr Matilal Sarkar (Tripura), Mr Ashwani Kumar, Mr Naresh Gujral, Mr Dharam Pal and Mr Varinder Singh (Punjab).

The Election Commission will also hold a bye-election to the Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh on the same day to fill up the vacancy caused by the death of former Union Minister and Samajwadi Party leader Janeshwar Mishra on January 22. In the normal course, his term of office would have expired on April 2, 2012.

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Govt. committed to legislation on food security: President

President Pratibha Patil today said the Government continued to accord the highest importance to ensuring relief to the common man on food prices and was committed to bringing forth a legislation to ensure food security.

Addressing the joint sitting of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha at the start of the Budget Session of Parliament here, Ms Patil listed the several steps taken by the Government to control the prices of essential items and increase production.

She recalled that the Government had recently convened a meeting of the Chief Ministers and State Ministers of Food and Civil Supplies to discuss issues related to the rise in the prices of food articles and evolve a coordinated strategy. A Core Group consisting of senior Ministers of the Union Government and some Chief Ministers had been constituted to examine a wide range of related policy issues, she said.

Ms Patil said that, in the longer term, the country's food security could be ensured only through sustained efforts at increasing agricultural productivity, combined with a comprehensive reform of the public distribution system and open market intervention.

She said the Government now looked foward confidently to further improvement in the country's growth performance in 2010-11.

"My government will aim at a growth rate above 8% in 2010-11 and seek to achieve 9% growth in 2011-12," she said.

According to her, the Government would concentrate on infrastructure development, agriculture and rural development, education and health and ensure that the growth process is adequately sensitive to the concerns and well being of the weaker sections of society. It would work to create an environment which encourages investments, including in Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises, she said.

The President said her Government was voted to office with a clear cut mandate to protect and deepen the values of pluralism and secularism, and to ensure rapid growth with justice and fairness for all.

"Since assuming office in May 2009, my government has worked single-mindedly to build on the achievements of its earlier term to deliver the promise of faster and more inclusive growth. The' aam aadmi' was and is at the core of this promise; the 'aam aadmi' had to be protected against the ravages of the worst ever global economic crisis since the Great Depression and against the failure of the monsoon in large parts of the country in mid-2009," she said.

She said the Government had combined a caring and sensitive approach in dealing with the immediate economic and social problems, had taken measures to strengthen the nation's security, had proceeded with a desire to accommodate disparate political and regional voices, had sincerely worked towards deepening the country's federal polity, had vigorously pursued enlightened national interests in pro-actively engaging with the global community, and had introduced sensitivity in the partnership between the institutions of governance and civil society.

"The global economic slowdown was met by strong policies of administering a domestic stimulus to the economy which has yielded handsome results. Economic growth which had slowed to 6.7% in 2008-09 is likely to improve to around 7.5% in 2009-10. At a time when industrialised countries have experienced negative growth, India has continued to grow at an impressive rate," she said.

The President listed the steps taken by the Government to cope with the unexpected and severe drought that posed special challenges in managing the economy in 2009. At the same time, there had been an unhappy pressure on the prices of foodgrains and food products, she said.

"Higher prices were inevitable given the shortfall in domestic production and prevailing high prices of rice, cereals and edible oils globally. They are also to some extent a reflection of the implementation of our schemes of inclusive growth involving payment of higher procurement prices to our farmers and the impact of higher public spending on programmes of rural development, which have successfully raised incomes in rural areas," she said.

Ms Patil said the Government firmly believed that the time had come to focus on ensuring that the processes of governance were sensitized, administrative instruments sharpened, and that the benefits of welfare programmes reached the common man.

She said this commitment to canons of good governance must guide the massive slew of rural and urban reconstruction initiatives under Bharat Nirman, and other schemes for ensuring inclusive growth and social protection.

She gave details of the progress in the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and other flagship programmes of the Government in areas such as rural housing, rural electrification, urban renewal, urban housing, and so on.

The President said the Government subscribed the idea of a balanced approach to national development, with special attention to the border states. She spoke about the progress in the Prime Minister's reconstruction plan for Jammu & Kashmir and the plans for the rapid development of infrastructure in the North-Eastern States.

Similarly, she dwelt at length on the progress in the implementation of various schemes aimed at making the disadvantaged sections of society - especially Scheduled Tribes and other forest dwellers and minorities - a part of the Indian success story.

"Our unity and social harmony is the best answer to the terrorists and their divisive designs. Hence, government is committed deeply to protecting our social fabric and to that end, it proposes to move for the early passage of the Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005, in this Session of Parliament," she said.

The President said the Government was committed to ensuring early passage of the Women's Reservation Bill which was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in May 2008, urging members of both Houses of Parliament to accord special attention to this critical proposal.

She said two Bills for Constitutional amendment to provide 50% reservation for women in panchayats and urban local bodies had already been introduced and hoped these could be passed during the Budget session of Parliament.

She said the National Youth Corps Scheme had been introduced to enable young men and women between the age group of 25 and 35 years to serve two years in nation-building activities. In the first phase 20,000 volunteers would be deployed and they would be utilized in several creative social activities like cleaning the Dal Lake in Jammu and Kashmir, she said.

The President spoke in detail about the measures being taken by the Government in the area of education.

"My government is committed to bringing about a paradigm shift in our education infrastructure based on the three pillars of expansion, inclusion and excellence," she said.

She said a National Council for Higher Education and Research would soon be established as an overarching body to regulate higher education and research in India. She said the Government was endeavouring to bring forward an appropriate legislation for facilitating the participation of globally renowned and quality academic institutions in the higher education sector, and for bringing in foreign education providers for vocational training and skill development.

She spoke about the Government's plans to list profitable public sector companies on the stock exchanges through a public offer of at least 10 per cent of the equity.

She also detailed the several steps taken by the Government to meet the challenge of climate change, ensure energy security and build infrastructure, including highways. She also mentioned the efforts to revive national carrier Air India and expand and modernise the country's airports and sea ports. She said the Government was committed to a substantial expansion in capacity and modernisation of the Railways, including new lines in Jammu and Kashmir and the North-Eastern states and the construction of the Dedicated Freight Corridors on the Eastern and Western trunk routes.

The President said the Government was, similarly, committed to extending the benefits of modern communication facilities to rural areas. It had already initiated action to set up 10,000 towers in 2010-11 for connecting remote areas across the country.

As against the target of 60 crore telephone connections by 2012, the achievement already exceeds 57 crore, with an unprecedented addition of nearly 2 crore connections in the month of December 2009 itself, she said.

Ms Patil said Mission Clean Ganga, under the aegis of the National Ganga River Basin Authority, was expected to ensure that by the year 2020, no untreated municipal sewage and industrial effluents flow into the Ganga.

She also mentioned the steps being taken by the Government for improving the system of justice and healthcare.

The President said the Government had undertaken a number of steps to unearth unaccounted money parked outside India. These include amendment of the Income-tax Act, 1961 to enable the Central Government to enter into tax agreements with non-sovereign jurisdictions. Steps have already been initiated for negotiations for entering into Agreements for the Exchange of Information with major jurisdictions. Renegotiation of the Tax Treaty with Switzerland is in process. India is an active part of the global efforts to facilitate exchange of tax information, and to take action against tax evasion, she said.

She said the Government wanted to make access to news and entertainment affordable and universal. In addition to notifying guidelines for providing Headend in the Sky services, the digitalization of both All India Radio and Doordarshan was on the anvil, she said.

According to her, the Commonwealth Games 2010 will be covered in High Definition format by Doordarshan for the first time. She said the country was also proud that Indian films and music compositions had got international acclaim and recognition for Indian artistes.

Ms Patil said the Unique Identification Authority of India had been established with a mandate to issue unique identity numbers based on biometrics to all residents of India. "This mammoth and unprecedented exercise will serve as a great enabler to improve targeting and delivery of major government welfare programmes and public services, especially to those who are poor and marginalized. The first set of unique identity numbers is expected to be issued in the early part of 2011," he said.

She said the Government was committed to creating an innovation strategy for government, industry, entrepreneurs, technologists and academicians with a focus on inclusive growth and appropriate eco-system necessary to bring about generational change in the approach to development.

She also referred to the fact that Delhi would be hosting the 19th Commonwealth Games in October this year. "Preparations for the event are at an advanced stage. Every effort will be made to ensure a befitting and successful conduct of the Games," she said.

Turning to the international arena, the President said India had played its role in global affairs with responsibility and in the pursuit of peace, stability and progress in the region and beyond.

She said the Government would continue its active engagement with the world based upon the principles laid down by the nation's founding fathers, and with the objective of furthering its goals of rapid and inclusive economic development and poverty alleviation in an increasingly interdependent world.

She referred to the recent visits to India by the King of Bhutan and the Prime Minister of Bhutan, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, the President of Maldives, and the President and the Prime Minister of Nepal and said these had given new content to the country's traditional ties of friendship with neighbouring countries.

"Following the elections in Sri Lanka, we will continue to work with the Government to enhance our partnership. India will contribute to the humanitarian and rehabilitation efforts for the Tamil minority and long term re-construction in conflict-affected areas. India's assistance to the reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan witnessed important milestones and we will continue to partner Afghanistan in its development efforts," she said.

Ms Patil said India's relations with the major powers had been further consolidated. She said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to the United States had laid the framework for the further expansion of the India-US partnership at the bilateral, regional and global level.

She said her visit and the visit by Dr Singh to Russia had renewed India's time-tested friendship and opened new areas of cooperation.

She also referred to India's relations with the European Union, China, Japan, Brazil, countries of East Asia, ASEAN and Central Asia. She also mentioned India's cooperation with members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and its cooperation with countries in Africa and Latin America.

"India's views on global challenges such as terrorism, energy and food security, climate change and the international financial and economic crisis were unambiguously articulated at the appropriate fora. The issue of reform of institutions of global governance was brought to the fore of the international agenda. India's voice was heard with respect in the G-20 process, the G-8 plus G-5 Summit, and the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen," she said.

Ms Patil praised the contributions made by the overseas Indian community in all walks of life aross the globe, which had earned them high respect.

She said that, as part of the ambitious expansion of the country's nuclear energy programme, approval was accorded for the construction of additional Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors and sites for setting up Light Water Reactors.

Following the availability of imported fuel as a result of the opening of international civil nuclear cooperation, commercial production had commenced in two units of the Rajasthan Atomic Power Project, and one more unit was expected to begin commercial production soon. New agreements for cooperation in the field of civil nuclear energy were concluded with Russia, Mongolia, Namibia, Argentina and the United Kingdom, while others are under negotiation, she said.

She said the country's space programme continued to provide societal services to the nation in the areas of tele-medicine, tele-education and village resource centres.

"The Oceansat-2 satellite was successfully launched onboard the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. The flight test of the GSLV-D3 launch vehicle with indigenous cryogenic stage, and the launch of the Cartosat-2B, INSAT-3D and Resourcesat-2 satellites are planned in the near future. The GSLV-Mark III launch vehicle will be further developed and activities towards the Chandrayaan-2 Mission will be initiated," she said.

Ms Patil said the country today stood at a historic turning point. "Never before were we so close as we are today to realizing our national aspirations as envisioned by our founding fathers and spelt out by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in this very hall on the midnight of 14th August 1947," she said.

"The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means ending poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity.

"We have taken decisive strides towards reaching these goals. Still, much remains to be done. The road is long, but our journey is in progress. Let us march together with confidence to a new, bright future," she added.

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President: Govt. will meet left-wing extremist violence with added vigour

President Pratibha Patil today said the recent cowardly attacks by left-wing extremists in West Bengal strengthened the Government's resolve to meet with added vigour the challenges posed by such violence.

"Left wing extremists continue to indulge in senseless violence, as in their recent attacks in West Bengal, where a large number of innocent lives have been lost," she said in her address to the joint sitting of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha at the start of the Budget Session of Parliament here.

"These cowardly acts strengthen our resolve to meet with added vigour the challenge posed by such violence," she said.

Ms Patil was referring to the attack by armed Maoists on a camp of the Eastern Frontier Rifles (EFR) in the Shilda area of West Midnapore district in West Bengal on February 15, in which 24 security personnel were killed.

The President said the Government had also given a call to left-wing extremists to abjure violence and come for talks.

"Our plan to strengthen civil administration and bring the fruits of inclusive development to all would continue with determination," she said.

Ms Patil said the overall internal security, law and order, and the communal situation remained largely under control during 2009.

She said infiltration of terrorists from across the line of control in Jammu and Kashmir had gone up.

"Even then, the security situation has improved significantly in Jammu and Kashmir as well as in the North East, but left-wing extremism continues to be a significant cause of concern," she added.

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President says Pakistan must seriously address threat of terrorism

President Pratibha Patil said on Monday India was ready to explore a meaningful relationship with Pakistan if it seriously addressed the threat of terrorism and took effective steps to prevent terrorist activities against India.

President Pratibha Patil today said India was ready to explore a meaningful relationship with Pakistan if it seriously addressed the threat of terrorism and took effective steps to prevent terrorist activities against this country.

President Pratibha Patil being led in a ceremonial procession to the Central Hall of Parliament House to address the Members of both the Houses of Parliament on Budget Session, in New Delhi on February 22, 2010. The Speaker, Lok Sabha Meira Kumar, the Vice President and Chairman Rajya Sabha, Hamid Ansari, the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, the Union Minister for Parliamentary Affairs and Water Resources, Pawan Kumar Bansal and other dignitaries are also seen.
President Pratibha Patil being led in a ceremonial procession to the Central Hall of Parliament House to address the Members of both the Houses of Parliament on Budget Session, in New Delhi on February 22, 2010. The Speaker, Lok Sabha Meira Kumar, the Vice President and Chairman Rajya Sabha, Hamid Ansari, the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, the Union Minister for Parliamentary Affairs and Water Resources, Pawan Kumar Bansal and other dignitaries are also seen.

This one-line reference to Pakistan in her address to the joint sitting of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha at the start of the Budget Session of Parliament summed up the Government's approach to the talks between the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries here on February 25.

"India is ready to explore a meaningful relationship with Pakistan if Pakistan seriously addresses the threat of terrorism and takes effective steps to prevent terrorist activities against India," she said.

The composite dialogue between India and Pakistan has remained suspended since the November 26, 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, in which 166 people were killed.

India blames the attacks on elements based in Pakistan and has been insisting that there could be no meaningful dialogue between the two countries unless Islamabad brought those responsible for the attacks to book and dismantled the terrorist infrastructure on Pakistani soil used for activities against India.

Last month, India offered to Pakistan talks at the Foreign Secretary-level, which Pakistan accepted. Accordingly, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir will travel to Delhi for the meeting with his Indian counterpart Nirupama Rao here on Thursday.

Pakistan has been calling for a resumption of the composite dialogue but India has made it clear that the talks between the two Foreign Secretaries would not amount to a resumption of that process, which it says remains suspended.

India has been maintaining that it would stay focused on terrorism as far as the agenda of the talks are concerned and would seek to know from Pakistan the steps it has taken to address India's concerns in this regard.

A day after the date for the Foreign Secretary-level talks was announced, a powerful bomb blast at a popular eatery in Pune on February 13 left 15 people killed and more than 50 others injured.

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) criticised the Government's decision to go for talks, when its concerns on terrorism remained unaddressed, and urged it to reconsider the move.

Ms Patil began her address today by conveying her heartfelt condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in the Pune blast.

She said the Government had taken several new measures to strengthen the security apparatus of the country to equip it to meet the grave challenge posed by terrorism.

These include strengthening of the state and district police machinery and Central Para-Military Forces, operationalization of the National Investigation Agency, establishment of four National Security Guard hubs to ensure quick and effective response to any possible terror attack, augmentation of the strength of the Intelligence Bureau, strengthening of the Multi-Agency Centre in the Intelligence Bureau to enable it to function on a round-the-clock basis, and strengthening of coastal security, she said.

"Government remains vigilant against all forms of challenges posed by terrorism. Zero tolerance of terrorist activities is our principled policy. We have to keep constant watch and innovate against global terrorist groups," she said.

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PM urges Opposition not to disrupt Parliament

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said his Government was prepared to discuss and debate all issues in Parliament and appealed to the Opposition not to disrupt parliamentary proceedings.

"The Government is willing to discuss all issues. I will appeal to the Opposition not to have any disruption of parliamentary proceedings," he told reporters when he arrived for the opening day of Parliament's Budget Session which began today.

"We seek the cooperation of the Opposition in the smooth running of this important session of Parliament, which will be devoted to the passage of both the General Budget and the Railway Budget," he said.

"Parliament is a forum for debate and the Government is ready to debate," he said. "All issues which agitate the mind of the Opposition can be debated on the floor of the House," he said.

The session began with the customary address by the President to a joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament. The Railway Budget for 2009-10 will be presented to Parliament on February 24, the Economic Survey on February 25 and the General Budget for 2009-10 on February 26.

There will be a recess from March 16 to April 12 during which the Standing Committees of Parliament will consider the dmeands for grants of various ministries. The session is scheduled to end on May 7.

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4 killed, 9 hurt in Delhi road accident

Four persons, including two men of the Border Security Force (BSF), were killed when a speeding bus rammed into a van carrying personnel of the paramilitary force on the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor in South Delhi last night, police said today.

The other two killed in the accident, which took place near Sadiq Nagar around 11.30 pm last night, were a motorcyclist, identified as Sanjay, and a scooterist, Surendra.

The BSF men killed were identified as Ranveer, driver of the van, and Deepak, sources said.

The bus is learnt to have first hit the van and then the motorcycle and the scooter on the BRT corridor.

The nine injured people, including seven BSF personnel, were taken to the All India Insitute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) for treatment, the sources added.

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UP Govt. transfers two senior IAS officers

The Uttar Pradesh Government has transferred two senior Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers, official sources said here today.

They said Mr Ashok Verma, Secretary, General Administration Department, has been posted as the Secretary of the State Human Rights Commission.

He will swap places with Ms Anita Chatterjee, who will move from the State Human Rights Commission to the General Administration Department, they added.

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2 more swine flu deaths in India, toll rises to 1332

Two more people have died of influenza A (H1N1) in India, taking the toll due to the swine flu pandemic in the country so far to 1332, an official statement said here today.

One of the deaths was reported during the day from Maharashtra and the other from Haryana, it said.

Of the total swine flu deaths in the country so far, Maharashtra now accounts for 351, while 276 lives have been lost in Gujarat, 186 in Rajasthan, 146 in Karnataka, 95 in Delhi, 52 in Andhra Pradesh, 39 in Punjab, 38 in Haryana, 37 in Kerala, 25 in Madhya Pradesh, 19 in Uttar Pradesh, 13 in Uttarakhand, 10 in Chhattisgarh, 8 each in Chandigarh and Himachal Pradesh, 7 in Tamil Nadu, 6 in Puducherry, 5 in Goa, 4 in Jammu & Kashmir, 3 in Orissa, 2 in Assam and 1 each in Mizoram and Dadra & Nagar Haveli.

Eight new cases of the flu were reported today - six in Karnataka and one each in Gujarat and Rajasthan.

With these, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus reported in the country so far has gone up to 29,490, the statement added.

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Delhi Metro's Inderlok-Mundka line to open by March-end

The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) today said it would open its 15.1 km Inderlok-Mundka line on schedule by the end of March, as originally planned.

DMRC spokesman Anuj Dayal said the line would be opened with 13 trains initially, which will run at a frequency of 4 1/2 to 5 minutes during peak hours.

The line will have 14 stations: Inderlok, Ashok Park (Main), Punjabi Bagh (East),Shivaji Park, Madipur, Paschim Vihar (East), Paschim Vihar (West), Peeragarhi, Udyog Nagar, Surajmal Stadium, Nangloi, Nangloi Railway Station, Rajdhani Park and Mundka, All the stations are elevated.

Mr Dayal said this would be the first Standard Gauge Metro line in India as all other lines opened so far have been on Broad Gauge. Standard Gauge lines have a width of 4 feet 8 1/2 inches between the tracks while Broad Gauge lines have a width of 5 feet 6 inches between the tracks. This will make the Delhi Metro probably the only Metro in the world which will operate on both Standard Gauge and Broad Gauge in the same city, he said.

DMRC will provide a smooth interchange at Inderlok so that passengers can change lines comfortably by walking a very short distance. The platforms and concourse of the Broad Gauge and Standard Gauge connections are linked so that passengers can take trains which will take them to other locations connected by the Delhi Metro network.

The travel time from Inderlok to Mundka will be 31 minutes approximately, Mr Dayal added.

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Budget session of Parliament to begin tomorrow

The Budget Session of Parliament beginning tomorrow is all set to be a stormy affair with the Opposition gearing up to attack the Government on the rise in the prices of food articles and other issues.
The Parliament of India.
The Parliament of India.

The Budget Session of Parliament that will begin here tomorrow is all set to be a stormy affair with the Opposition gearing up to attack the Government on the the rise in the prices of food articles and on its proposal to hold talks with Pakistan later this month.

The session will begin with the customary address by the President to the joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament tomorrow.

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, the Left and other parties have demanded a discussion on the issue of price rise on the very next day, even before the two Houses take up the motion of thanks to the President for her address. They have also indicated that they would not allow the Houses to function normally if their demand were not accepted.

The Government today said they were prepared for a discussion on prices and was even willing to take it up first, though it would be correct to adopt the motion of thanks to the President first.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal said a final decision on this would be taken at the meeting of the Business Advisory Committee tomorrow morning.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has also said that the Government was prepared to discuss all issues in Parliament.

The Railway Budget for 2009-10 will be presented to Parliament on February 24, the Economic Survey on February 25 and the General Budget for 2009-10 on February 26.

There will be a recess from March 16 to April 12 during which the Standing Committees of Parliament will consider the dmeands for grants of various ministries. The session is scheduled to end on May 7.

Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar had convened a meeting wth the leaders of all the parties yesterday to ensure smooth functioning of the House during the session.

Apart from the prices, the two other major issues that the Opposition will be the increasing Maoist violence in different states in recent times, the Pune blast in which 15 people have died and the Government's decision to hold talks at the Foreign Secretary-level with Pakistan.

The BJP, for one, has wondered why the Government decided to reverse its stand and go for talks with Pakistan and, after the Pune blast, has urged the Government to reconsider the move.

The Government will use the opportunity to explain its reasons for the decision to offer to hold talks with Pakistan. It will also talk about the need for concerted action by all the states concerned against the Naxalites.

The Opposition parties are also like to raise the issue of the recent hike in prices of urea, which they feel would be against the interests of farmers.

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Irrigation potential in India at 106 million hectares

Irrigation potential in India had increased to 106 million hectares (mha) today from about 23 mha in 1951, thanks to the construction of 4711 large dams, Minister for Water Resources Pawan Kumar Bansal has said.

Mr Bansal told the Parliamentary Consultative Commiteee attached to his ministry on Friday that this had helped increase the production of foodgrains in the country from 51 million tonnes in 1951 to about 231 million tonnes (MT) at present.

He, however, expressed concern that, due to competing and increasing demand for water from various other sectors such as domestic and industries, the share of water for agriculture was likely to go down from 83 per cent at present to about 68 per cent by 2050.

This, he said, meant that in order to meet the foodgrain requirements of the growing population, estimated to be about 400 MT in 2050, the available water resources would have to be put to optimum use to support agricultural production.

He said this had to be done by bringing more area under irrigated agriculture and by improving the water management of existing systems and through measures for improving efficiency in water use in agriculture, improved agricultural and agronomical practices, on farm development works, conjunctive use of surface and ground water, recycling of waste water, and so on.

Optimizing production and productivity from irrigated agriculture, which is a multi-disciplinary enterprise requiring integrated and coordinated approach, has been the Government's foremost concern., he added.

Mr Bansal informed the committee that, under the restructured and renamed Command Area Development & Water Management (CADWM) programme, central assistance was provided to the State Governments on 50:50 basis for construction activities and 75: 25 basis to carry out training programmes for field functionaries/farmers, adaptive trials and demonstrations in the farmers fields.

He said the performance of the CADWM programme was being periodically evaluated. So far, 53 evaluation studies had been completed in various parts of the country. The programme is being continued during the XIth Plan as a State Sector Scheme with an outlays of Rs 1600 crore.

Minister of State for Water Resources Vincent H Pala said 15 states had so far enacted Participatory Irrigation Management (PIM) Acts while three had drafted Bills and were in the process of enacting them. He said a command area of 13.42 mha had been covered under PIM by way of formation of 56,934 Water Users Association’s (WUAs) in various States. More WUAs will be formed under the programme during the remaining period of the XIth Plan Period.

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Pune blast: Toll rises to 15 with two more deaths

Two more people today succumbed to injuries they suffered in the powerful bomb blast that devastated a popular eatery in Pune on February 13, taking the death toll in the terrorist attack to 15, police said.

Pune police officials told NetIndian over the telephone that both persons breathed their last at the Jehangir Hospital in the city this morning, one at 0530 hours and the other at 1130 hours.

One of them was identified as Rajeev Nandkumar Agarwal, 23, who hailed from Kolkata and was a final year student of law at the Symbiosis Law College in Pune.

The other victim was identified by the police as Vikas Suresh Tulsiani, 24, a resident of Pune, who had completed his engineering degree and was looking for a job.

Nine people had died and 57 others injured on the day of the blast that was set off by unidentified terrorists at the restaurant, located close to the Osho Ashram and a Jewish Chabad House.

Since then, six people, including a Sudanese student, have succumbed to their injuries in hospital.

About six of those still undergoing treatment in hospital are said to be in a serious condition.

The blast at the "German Bakery" in Pune's Koregaon Park area, frequented by foreigners and youngsters, was the first major terrorist incident in India after the November 26, 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, which claimed 166 lives.

Four of those killed in the attack on the restaurant were foreigners. Apart from the Sudanese youth, the others were an Iranian youth, an Italian woman and a Nepalese youth who worked as a waiter at the restaurant.

Reports from the forensic science laboratory in Pune have stablished that ammonium nitrate, RDX and petroleum had been used in the explosive used by the perpetrators of the attack.

Details about how the explosion was triggered, whether by a timer device or by remote conrol, were still not available.

The blast occurred around 7.30 pm on February 13 when the restaurant was teeming with youngsters and foreigners. The explosion took place when a waiter noticed an unattended backpack under one of the tables and tried to open it.

The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) is investigating the case with assistance from officials of the National Investigation Agency (NIA).

The Osho Ashram and the Chabad House had both been surveyed by suspected Lashkar-e-Taiba operative David Coleman Headley during one of his visits to India.

Headley, a US national of Pakistani origin, and Tahawwur Hussain Rana, also believed to be an LeT operative, were arrested by the United States' Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from Chicago in October last year for allegedly conspiring to carry out terrorist attacks in Denmark and India.

Subsequent investigations have led the authorities in the US and India to believe that the two men were involved in the conspiracy to carry out the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai.

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30 new cases of swine flu in India

Thirty fresh cases of influenza A (H1N1) were reported from across India today, but there were no deaths due to the swine flu in any part of the country and the toll remained at 1330.

Of the total swine flu deaths in the country so far, Maharashtra now accounts for 350, while 276 lives have been lost in Gujarat, 186 in Rajasthan, 146 in Karnataka, 95 in Delhi, 52 in Andhra Pradesh, 39 in Punjab, 37 each in Kerala and Haryana, 25 in Madhya Pradesh, 19 in Uttar Pradesh, 13 in Uttarakhand, 10 in Chhattisgarh, 8 each in Chandigarh and Himachal Pradesh, 7 in Tamil Nadu, 6 in Puducherry, 5 in Goa, 4 in Jammu & Kashmir, 3 in Orissa, 2 in Assam and 1 each in Mizoram and Dadra & Nagar Haveli.

Of the 30 new cases today, 19 were in Maharashtra, 7 in Karnataka, 3 in Gujarat and 1 in Chhattisgarh.

With these, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus reported in the country so far has gone up to 29,482, the statement added.

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Govt. to develop stronger thrust on feminine health: Azad

Union Health & Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad today said the Government was in the process of developing an even stronger thrust on feminine health and hygiene.

He said his Ministry was also finalising an intervention to take care of adolescent girls' sexual and reproductive health needs through a community-led programme for behaviour change by promoting the use of sanitary napkins.

Speaking after releasing a report, "Youth in India: Situation and Needs Study", he said India had to learn to look after its girls better if it had to pursue its inclusive agenda of social development. He said there was a need to provide dignity and care to girls in the process of growing up.

The study was conducted by International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai, and Population Council, New Delhi. Well-known economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen was also present at the function.

Prof Sen said the study pointed out that the life of young women remained deeply precarious. He said deprivation and violence towards women call for comprehensive re-examination of values that permeates Indian society.

He expressed despair about the fact that skepticism about the importance of schooling was still very common. He reiterated that education equipped the individuals with capabilities that are essential for realizing their fullest potential.

Prof Sen, in particular, expressed unhappiness that, as per the study, more than 25 per cent women had not gone to school at all. He emphasized that the connection between basic education of women and power of women’s agencies were quite central to understanding the contribution of school education to human security in general.

The removal of survival disadvantage of women (and of young girls in particular), the reduction of child mortality (irrespective of gender), and moderating influence on fertility rates are all among the basic issues involved in removing the "downside risks" that threaten life and dignity, he said.

Mr Azad said young people in India faced multiple risks associated with sexual and reproductive health. These include pregnancy related morbidity and mortality; delayed abortion seeking; STI/HIV; unmet contraceptive need; lack of knowledge and power to make informed decisions.

He pointed to the following findings of the study to support his observations:

• 54 to 62 percent youth have acknowledged the influence of media on their behaviour, style of dressing and extent to which they exhibit aggression;

• only 37 percent of young men and 45 percent of young women knew that a woman can get pregnant at first sex;

• consumption of tobacco and alcohol was reported among one-third and one-sixth youth respectively;

• as many as half of the girls were married before they were 18.

The Minister said efforts would be made to set up exclusive fora of adolescent girls in villages and urban slums to ensure that their multi-dimensional development needs were adequately addressed.

"The challenges are many and our government is committed to ensuring a better quality of life for our young people," he added.

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Khurshid to open conference on mother languages

Union Minister for Minority Affairs Salman Khurshid will inaugurate a conference to mark International Mother Language Day here tomorrow which will discuss, among others, an action plan for developing mother tongues as a medium of instruction in all primary schools in the country.

The conference, organised by the Commissioner of Linguistic Minorities (CLM), is aimed at encouraging multilingualism and facilitating mother languages as the medium of instruction.

An official press release said the conference would also discuss the steps for funding by the Central/State Governments for implementation of safeguards for linguistic minorities and a Communication and Media Policy to make linguistic minorities aware of their rights/safeguards.

The Census Commissioner & Registrar General of India; the heads of the University Grants Commission, the National Council for Educational Research & Training, State Councils for Educational Research & Training and the Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore will be amongst those attending the meeting.

Education officials from the Central and the State Governments and representatives of linguistic minorities associations, representing different languages from all over India, will also participate in the event.

The International Mother Language Day is being observed on February 21 since 2000 to foster unity and harmony while ensuring linguistic and cultural diversity to flower and prosper. It was so proclaimed by UNESCO’s General Conference in November, 1999.

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Pune blast: Toll goes up to 13, Puneites hold candle light vigil

The death toll in the bomb blast that devastated a popular eatery in Pune last Saturday evening went up to 13 today with two more people succumbing to their injuries in hospitals today.

One of those was a Sudanese student, who died in Pune's Inlaks Budhrani hospital in the early hours of today. He was a student at the Wadia College in Pune.

The other was Atul Anap, a 30-year-old employee of Reliance Communications, who passed away in Mumbai's KEM Hospital today. He was a resident of Navi Mumbai.

The blast at the "German Bakery" in Pune's Koregaon Park area, frequented by foreigners and youngsters, was the first major terrorist incident in India after the November 26, 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, which claimed 166 lives.

With the death of the Sudanese youth, the number of foreigners killed in the incident has gone up to four. The others were an Iranian youth, an Italian woman and a Nepalese youth who worked as a waiter at the restaurant.

Nine people had died and 57 others injured on the day of the blast that was set off by unidentified terrorists at the restaurant, located close to the Osho Ashram and a Jewish Chabad House.

Two youths, both engineering students - one from Lucknow and the other from Delhi - had succumbed to their injuries in Pune hospitals earlier this week.

Meanwhile, Pune's Commissioner of Police Satyapal Singh told mediapersons today that German Bakery was one of those establishments in the area that had been warned of possible terror threats and asked to take security measures, including the appointment of a guard, frisking of visitors and so on.

Reports from the forensic science laboratory in Pune have stablished that ammonium nitrate, RDX and petroleum had been used in the explosive used by the perpetrators of the attack.

Details about how the explosion was triggered, whether by a timer device or by remote conrol, were still not available.

The blast occurred around 7.30 pm last Saturday when the restaurant was teeming with youngsters and foreigners. The explosion took place when a waiter noticed an unattended backpack under one of the tables and tried to open it.

The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) is investigating the case with assistance from officials of the National Investigation Agency (NIA).

The Osho Ashram and the Chabad House had both been surveyed by suspected Lashkar-e-Taiba operative David Coleman Headley during one of his visits to India.

Headley, a US national of Pakistani origin, and Tahawwur Hussain Rana, also believed to be an LeT operative, were arrested by the United States' Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from Chicago in October last year for allegedly conspiring to carry out terrorist attacks in Denmark and India.

Subsequent investigations have led the authorities in the US and India to believe that the two men were involved in the conspiracy to carry out the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Puneites, including many youngsters,held a candle-light vigil for the victims of the blast that occurred exactly a week ago and vowed to support the victims and their families. They also asserted that they would not be cowed down by such incidents and would fight the evil of terrorism in every way possible.

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Chidambaram unveils stone for first ICP at Attari on India-Pakistan border

Union Home Minister P Chidambaram unveiled the foundation stone for the construction of the first Integrated Check Post (ICP) at Attari near Amritsar in Punjab on Saturday.

Union Home Minister P Chidambaram unveiled the foundation stone for the construction of the first Integrated Check Post (ICP) at Attari near Amritsar in Punjab today.

Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and other dignitaries were present at the function which saw the beginning of construction on the first of a series of ICPs that the Government has planned along the country's international border as part of a plan scheme with an outlay of Rs 635 crore during the XIth Five Year Plan.

The cost of the Attari ICP is estimated at Rs 150 crore. Work on the project, spread over nearly 130 acres of land, is expected to be completed by April 2011. It will have a modular design, dedicated lanes for each process, separate gates for traffic across the border, least traffic conflicts, self-evident routes, guide signage and administrative and facility area.

The facilities planned at the ICP include passenger terminal building, currency exchange, internet access, cargo process building, cargo inspection sheds, warehouse/cold storage, quarantine laboratory, clearing agents, banks, scanners, closed circuit television and public address systems, isolation bay, parking areas, cafetaria and other public utilities, the release added.

The Department of Border Management in the Home Ministry has finalized the Detailed Project Reports for 13 ICPs to be set up on the borders between India and Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Myanmar.

The ICPs are envisaged to overcome the infrastructural bottlenecks at the various entry and exit points on the land borders of the country. They are expected to provide facilities for the effective and efficient discharge of sovereign functions such as security, immigration, customs, quarantine, and so on while also providing support facilities for smooth cross-border movement of persons, goods and transport.

The Government has introduced a Bill in Parliament for the establishment of a Land Ports Authority of India (LPAI), which has been envisaged as a statutory body for the planning, construction, maintenance and management of these ICPs. This body will be vested with powers on the lines of similar bodies like the Airports Authority of India. Till the LPAI comes into existence, an Empowered Steering Committee has been constituted under the Secretary (Border Management) to undertake the functions that will be ultimately discharged by the LPAI.

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Centre asks States to prepare district plans for drinking water security

The Centre has told all State Governments and Union Territory (UT) Administrations to draw up a preliminary District Perspective Plan to ensure drinking water security in the rural areas of the country.

Recognising that village-level planning, including water, is key factor in ensuring optimum utilisation of water, especially for drinking purposes, a format has been prepared and sent by the Department of Drinking Water Supply under the Ministry of Rural Development to all the States and UTs for their suggestions.

An official press release said the proposed Plan would be on the basis of the revised National Rural Drinking Water Program (NRDWP) Guidelines 2009-2012 issued by the Rajiv Gandhi National Drinking Water Mission, Department of Drinking Water Supply.

The focus would be on development of a "village water security plan". It also includes village water safety plan before taking up planning and installation of water supply system to ensure provision of safe and adequate water supply to each rural household at a convenient location on a sustainability basis.

The Gram Panchayat (GP), Village Water Supply Committee (VWSC) and the field staff of State Rural Water Supply Department would be enabled to prepare the Village Water Supply Plan (VWSP) as per the new guideline and as per the existing institutional set up in the States, the release said.

It is proposed to identify a "Jal Surakshak" for Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance at the household level and at the habitation level. The person would preferably be a woman from VWSC elected at Gram Sabha under the control of GP and paid appropriately on job basis for data collection for the specified activities.

The release said a Water Quality Testing Laboratory with computer facilities would be set up at the sub-division level for testing of all the drinking water sources in villages from where the households collects water. The proposal also envisages that GPS instruments would be procured for identification of water resources in the villages for development of village water resource maps. The Jal Surakshak would also collect water and sanitation related data from the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) so that sanitary inspection can be carried out for identification of source of contamination and take remedial measures.

Household and village data analyzed at the sub-division level along with data from NRHM will enable the VWSC under the technical guidance of field staff of the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) to prepare the village water security plan, which includes the water safety plan. This will basically identify the source of contamination and take corrective measures for the existing water supply system. Based on the village water security plan, an action plan for a new system or augmentation of the existing water supply scheme will be prepared in consultation with all stakeholders.

According to the release, the concept of having a local woman as the "Jal Surakshak" is based on the premise that it is the women who generally manage domestic water, and an essential ingredient of community participation is to improve women’s involvement in the democratic decision-making process.

Since women are the principal beneficiaries of this programme and are the pivot around which sustainability is evolved, it is of critical importance that women are involved at all the stages of planning, implementation and management of rural water supply schemes, it said.

Women’s associations could provide a strong framework for community participation and prominent women from the habitation should be represented in the VWSCs. For the community to function as an organization it is important to make the VWSC fully functional and effective. The VWSC should be made a standing committee of the Gram Panchayat, it added.

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IIM CAT results deferred to end of February

The Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) today announced that the results of their Common Admission Test (CAT) had been deferred to the end of February.

The results of the prestigious examination were earlier scheduled to have been declared by the third week of this month.

This year's CAT was the first time that the examination was conducted as a computer-based online test. It was conducted in the paper-and-pencil format for 33 years.

The original schedule for the test was between November 28 and December 7, which was extended by a day to December 8 to accommodate thousands of students who could not appear during the ten-day window because of technical glitches at several centres across the country.

The IIMs ultimately had to schedule a re-test on January 30 and 31 for about 11,000 candidates who faced problems during the original schedule.

At that stage, the IIMs had announced that the results would be out by the third week of this month. While no reasons were given for the delay of a few days, sources in the IIM, Ahmedabad, which is coordinating this year's CAT, told NetIndian that every effort was being made to complete the work at the earliest.

A total of 241,582 had candidates registered for this year's CAT 2009. The test is reputed to be the toughest entrance examination for business schools in the world.

The CAT is a pre-requisite for admission to various management programmes conducted by the IIMs, including their flagship two-year Post-Graduate Programmes (PGP) in Management. Many other institutions also use the CAT scores to finalise admissions to their management programmes.

The seven IIMs are located at Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Kolkata, Lucknow, Kozhikode, Indore and Shillong.

Four more IIMs are due to start functioning from the academic session 2010-11 at Tiruchirapalli in Tamil Nadu, Ranchi in Jharkhand, Raipur in Chhattisgarh and Rohtak in Haryana. Two others in Uttarakhand and Rajasthan will be set up the following year.

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India, Maldives to enhance cooperation against terrorism, radicalisation

India and the Maldives today resolved to enhance their cooperation to meet the challenges of terrorism and radicalisation of societies, which they said were threats that required a firm and effective response.

At a meeting between Vice-President M Hamid Ansari and his Maldivian counterpart Mohamed Waheed here, the two sides, in this context, welcomed the growing cooperation between the two countries.

The two countries also agreed to continue to cooperate closely in combating climate change, an official press release said.

Dr Waheed arrived here yesterday on his first official visit to India. He is accompanied by his wife Iham Hussain and a high-level delegation.

Recalling his visit to the Maldives in November 2008, Mr Ansari commended the country on its resolve to strengthen the pillars of democracy.

Both leaders expressed satisfaction at the state of bilateral relations between the two countries. Mr Ansari assured the Maldives of all possible assistance in its developmental efforts.

Assistance at the Government level has been supplemented by emerging partnerships and bilateral investments in the Maldives from India in the areas of infrastructure, renewable energy, housing, education and public health.

Dr Waheed also called on President Pratibha Patil, who reiterated India's support for the economic development of the Maldives. Both leaders recalled the traditionally close and friendly relations between India and the Maldives, and welcomed the recent impetus given to this relationship in a range of new areas, especially infrastructure development, renewable energy and housing.

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna also called on Dr Waheed. Later in the evening, Dr Waheed attended a banquet hosted in his honour by Mr Ansari.

Dr Waheed is slated to address a meeting organised by the Observer Research Foundation tomorrow. He will also visit Amritsar, Bangalore and Mysore before he returns home.

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