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Panchayati Raj completes 50 years in India

A National Convention of Panchayati Raj ministers and Zilla Parishad presidents will be held here tomorrow to mark the Golden Jubilee of Panchayati Raj in India.

A function will also be held in the evening tomorrow at Nagaur in Rajasthan, where India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had inaugurated Panchayati Raj 50 years ago.

The convention in the capital will also be attended by elected representatives of Panchayats who have served more than 25 years from across the country, an official press release said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, United Progressive Alliance Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Union Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Minister C P Joshi will address the convention.

Among other things, there will be presentations on activating the Gram Sabhas and Gram Panchayats and on the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) at the convention.

A film on Hiware Bazaar, a model Panchayat in Maharashtra, will also be screened on the occasion, the release said.

The convention will also discuss plans for observing 2009-10 as the "Year of Gram Sabha", it said.

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India conveys concern to China over "stapled" visas to J&K residents

India has conveyed to China its concern over a newspaper report that the Chinese Embassy in Delhi was issuing visas on a separate sheet of paper to Indians from Jammu and Kashmir instead of stamping them in their passports.

The Hindu had reported today that immigration authorities at the Delhi airport had started noticing the standalone visas a few weeks ago. In fact, immigration officials initially thought the visas were fake and turned the travellers--Kashmiri students and businessmen--back from the airport.

When some of them returned with letters from the Chinese Embassy stating that the visas were genuine, the immigration authorities referred the matter of the "stapled" visas to the Ministry of External Affairs.

"It is our considered view and position that there should be no discrimination against visa applicants of Indian nationality on grounds of domicile or ethnicity," the official spokesperson for the Ministry, Mr Vishnu Prakash, said when asked about the report.

"We have conveyed our well-justified concern to the Chinese government in this regard," Mr Prakash added.

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IIMs extend CAT registration date till Oct 11

A pergola at IIM Bangalore.
A pergola at IIM Bangalore.

The Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) have extended the last date for online registration for their Common Admission Test (CAT) 2009 until October 11.

The registration was earlier scheduled to have ended today, an announcement on the CAT website said, explaining that the decision was taken in view of a series of bank holidays in recent days that might have inconvenienced some candidates.

It said the sale of CAT 2009 vouchers from designated branches of Axis Bank had also been extended till October 8. The "edit" feature, through which applications who have inadvertently made wrong selections or other errors in their registration submissions can correct their Candidate Profile and Application Data, will also be available until October 11, the announcement said.

The CAT is scheduled to be held between Saturday, November 28 and Monday, December 7 this year. It is being conducted as a Computer Based Test from this year onwards. The sale of vouchers and online registration for this year's CAT had opened on September 9.

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

The IIMs have selected Prometric ETS to be their partner in delivering the computer-assisted CAT.

A statement by IIMs and Prometric said the extended window for online registration would allow those who might have been inconvenienced by these holidays more time to obtain a voucher and register for the examination.

"With more than 2 lakhs registrations to date, some test sites have already been completely filled," said Mr. Ramesh Nava, Vice President & General Manager, Asia Pacific, Japan & Africa, Prometric.

"Candidates are encouraged to check the list of available test sites, read the registration instructions carefully and view the YouTube tutorial video prior so as to experience a smooth registration process," he said.

The examination will be conducted in 32 Indian cities through 105 secure specially-prepared computer-based testing centres.

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.

The CAT score cards will be available on the CAT website from January 22, 2010.

Given the huge numbers of students who appear for the examinations in comparison to the 2000-odd seats on offer at the IIMs for their flagship PGP, CAT has acquired the reputation of being the toughest entrance test worldwide for business schools.

The IIMs have been conducting CAT in paper-&-pencil format for the last 33 years. As more and more students chase the MBA dream, the number of candidates appearing for CAT has increased dramatically over the years.

While about 95,000 candidates took CAT in 2003, the number rose to about 250,000 in 2008, indicating a rise of a whopping 163 percent.

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Lt Gen Bhardwaj takes over as Vice Army Chief

Lieutenant General P C Bhardwaj took over as Vice-Chief of Army Staff in a brief ceremony held at South Block here today.

Lt Gen Bhardwaj was commissioned into First Battalion Parachute Regiment on June 14, 1970. He is an alumnus of National Defence Academy at Khadakwasla in Pune, the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun, the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington and National Defence College, Delhi.

A specialist in Special Operations, he was the first person from the Indian Army to undergo the rigorous Commando Divers Course at the Naval Diving School. He excelled in the course, qualifying as an instructor. He has also attended the prestigious Special Forces Officers Course at Fort Bragg in the United States, doing well again and earning an instructor rating.

As a Second Lieutenant in the 1971 war, he was awarded the Vir Chakra for conspicuous bravery. He commanded his parent unit, 1 PARA (Cdo) in Counter Insurgency operations in the East and was awarded the Shaurya Chakra for a daring rescue operation.

He commanded a Mountain Brigade in Nagaland and also the elite Parachute Brigade. As a Major General he commanded Counter Insurgency Force Delta in Doda/Kishtwar and thereafter was appointed as the General Officer Commanding Delhi Area, where he was awarded the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal for distinguished service.

The General Officer commanded 14 Corps, responsible for the vast areas of Ladakh and the Siachin Glacier before assuming command of Northern Command on March 1, 2008. For his distinguished service rendered, he was awarded the Param Vishisht Seva Medal on January 26 this year, making him the most decorated soldier in the Indian Army.

He has held many prestigious Instructional and Staff Appointments. He served as an Instructor at Infantry School Mhow and at the Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School. He has been a Brigade Major of an Infantry Brigade and Deputy Director General at the Directorate General of Military Operations, Army Headquarters. He was appointed as the Defence Attache at Embassy of India, Yangon (Myanmar) from 1994 to 1997.

Gen Bhardwaj is married to Mrs Deepa Bhardwaj. Their two daughters, Shivani and Shveta, are married and are living in the United Kingdom and the United States, respectively.

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P J Thomas named new Secretary, DoT

Mr P J Thomas, an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer of the 1973 batch (Kerala cadre), has been appointed as the new Secretary, Department of Telecommunication in the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.

Mr Thomas, who is at present Secretary, Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, will succeed Mr S Behura, IAS (UP:73), who retired yesterday.

An official press release said the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) had also approved the appointment of Ms Jayati Chandra, at present Secretary, Department of Youth Affairs in the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, as the Secretary, Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region.

It said Ms Chandra, an IAS officer of the 1975 batch, Uttar Pradesh cadre, would succeed Mr Jarnail Singh, who retired yesterday.

Ms K Sujatha Rao, the Secretary, Department of Health and Family Welfare in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, will hold the additional charge of the post of Secretary, Department of AIDS Control in the same Ministry, for a period of three months from today or until further orders, whichever is earlier.

Similarly, Ms Sindhushree Khullar, Secretary, Department of Sports, Ministry of Youth Affais and Sports, will hold the additional charge of the post of Secretary, Department of Youth Affairs in the same ministry, the release added.

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Air India says normal domestic operations in few days

National carrier Air India today said it would resume normal services on domestic trunk routes with immediate effect as its executive pilots called off their four-day-old strike this morning and started returning to work.

A spokesperson for the loss-making airline said a flight restoration plan had been drawn up for its domestic operations, as part of which services on major and other routes would be restored at the earliest, keeping in view that tomorrow would mark the beginning of a long weekend.

However, the airline had cancelled as many as 111 flights in advance today, due to the non-availability of the pilots, so that passengers were not inconvenienced. The flights would be gradually restored, the spokesperson said.

As far as the international services were concerned, the spokesperson said Air India would be operating all long haul flights, barring the non-stop flights from Delhi and Mumbai to New York, from tomorrow, October 1.

The flights being operated include AI 127 on the Delhi / Frankfurt / Chicago sector, AI 191 on the Mumbai / Frankfurt / Newark sector, AI 131 on the Mumbai / London sector, AI 111 on the Delhi / London sector, AI 187 on the Amritsar / London / Toronto sector and AI 121 on the Ahmedabad / Frankfurt sector.

The effective date of resumption of the non-stop flights to New York from Delhi and Mumbai will be decided once the executive pilots, who had taken mass sick leave in the past few days, start reporting fit for duty, he added.

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7 more H1N1 deaths in India, toll rises to 315

Seven more influenza A (H1N1) deaths were reported from India today, taking the toll due to the pandemic in the country so far to 315, an official statement said.

Two of the deaths occurred today, one in Delhi and the other in Andhra Pradesh, the statement said.

Besides, a death that occurred in a private hospital in Delhi yesterday and four deaths in Karnataka have now been confirmed as cases of H1N1 by the results of the laboratory tests on the patients, it said.

There were two suspected swine flu deaths in Andhra Pradesh today, but the results of the laboratory tests were awaited, it said.

Of the total deaths, Maharashtra now accounts for 120, while 96 people have lost their lives in Karnataka, 34 in Andhra Pradesh, 31 in Gujarat, 13 in Delhi, 5 in Kerala, 4 in Tamil Nadu, 3 each in Goa and Haryana, 2 each in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand and 1 each in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.

Meanwhile, as many as 197 fresh cases of the flu were reported today from across the country, including 59 in Delhi, 46 in Maharashtra, 25 in Tamil Nadu, 13 each in Karnataka and Kerala, 12 each in Haryana and Chandigarh, 9 in Andhra Pradesh, 4 in Uttar Pradesh, 2 in Chhattisgarh and 1 each in Goa and Rajasthan.

With these, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus reported so far in India has risen to 10,233, the statement added.

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PM says India committed to promoting ties with China

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today told his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao that India was fully committed to further promoting the bilateral relations between the two countries in an all-round manner.

"Our Strategic and Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity has developed over the last four years," he said in a message to Mr Wen on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

"Our Shared Vision for the 21st Century is also reflected in our wide-ranging cooperation and coordination on pressing global and international issues," Dr Singh said in the message, through which he conveyed greetings to the Chinese people and government on the occasion.

"This is an important milestone in the life of China and an occasion for celebrations of your great nation's many achievements in the last 60 years. As a friendly neighbour and a developing nation, we in India share your sense of happiness on this important occasion," the Prime Minister added.

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IAEA chief ElBaradei receives Indira Gandhi Prize

President Pratibha Patil, Vice President Mohd. Hamid Ansari, the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Chairperson, UPA, Sonia Gandhi with the D.G., IAEA, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, the winner of Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development-2008, in New Delhi on September 30, 2009.
President Pratibha Patil, Vice President Mohd. Hamid Ansari, the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Chairperson, UPA, Sonia Gandhi with the D.G., IAEA, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, the winner of Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development-2008, in New Delhi on September 30, 2009.

President Pratibha Patil today presented the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development for 2008 to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei and said there was a need for a new global consensus on non-proliferation to address contemporary challenges.

The award was given to him for his impassioned opposition to the use of nuclear energy for military purposes.

Ms Patil said the world particularly must address the dangers emanating from the likelihood of non-state actors acquiring and using weapons of mass destruction.

"While every State has the right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy, we also believe that States should adhere to commitments they have undertaken under international treaties and instruments," she said.

The President said India was proud of its non-proliferation record and pointed out that the country had an effective law-based system of export controls and was a responsible member of the comity of nations.

Ms Patil said that late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi believed that development, disarmament and peace were closely linked. She said that Dr ElBaradei, who has been at the helm of IAEA for more than 12 years during an important period in international relations, had in his work demonstrated concern and compassion towards humankind and spoken of the interdependence between security and poverty alleviation.

"We are living in a time when energy security and climate change are among the issues defining global discourse. Over the world, there is a high dependency on fossil fuels for energy, but there is also an accompanying search for alternative energy sources," she said.

The President said India was seeking to increase the share of renewable and non-conventional sources of energy in its energy mix. She said the country looked at nuclear energy as a valuable means for addressing its rising energy needs and sustaining the nation's development, even as it addressed the challenges of climate change.

She made special mention of Dr ElBaradei's consistent encouragement and support during the last few years when India was concluding civil nuclear cooperation agreements with different countries. She said these agreements would enable India to expedite its goal of harnessing the peaceful uses of nuclear energy for the benefit of more than one billion of its people.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaking at the function of Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development-2008, in New Delhi on September 30, 2009.

The President said India's commitment to universal, non-discriminatory and comprehensive nuclear disarmament stood undiluted and undiminished. She said India believed that the advances made in science and technology must be used for human welfare.

"Let us give up the race for weapons. Let us build peace and harmony," the President said.

Vice-President M Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Chairperson Sonia Gandhi were amongst those present at the ceremony.

Dr Singh described Dr ElBaradei as a very distinguished diplomat, a scholar, an international civil servant of the highest order and a world statesman.

"As the Director General of the IAEA since 1998, Dr Mohamed ElBaradei has brought about a fundamental transformation in the way we look at atomic energy. The Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 recognised the efforts of Dr. ElBaradei and the IAEA in ensuring that nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is used in the safest possible manner," he said.

The Prime Minister said nuclear energy was vital to meeting energy and developmental needs, particularly those of large developing countries like India.

"The applications of nuclear energy in agriculture, medicine and industry have also enormous potential. We need the concerted and collective efforts of the world community to promote the peaceful uses of nuclear energy as widely as possible. Its benefits should not remain confined to a privileged few," she said.

Dr Singh said the international community had a vital stake in strengthening global energy security through the use of nuclear energy as a clean, safe and sustainable energy source. He said the world must provide the necessary support to the IAEA to perform its functions as provided in its statute.

He said India's long-standing relationship with the IAEA had been spotless. "We are committed to providing all the necessary support for the Agency to perform its designated role and functions to facilitate the expansion of nuclear energy," he said.

The Prime Minister said the successful conclusion of India’s civil nuclear initiative was in no small measure due to the enlightened approach of Dr ElBaradei to the issues involved.

"I would like to convey to him the heartfelt appreciation of the Government and people of India. India is now poised for a major expansion of its nuclear programme in which international cooperation will be an important component," he said.

He said a major milestone in this process was the conclusion of India’s safeguards agreement and its Additional Protocol with the IAEA. This gives India the possibility of additionally accessing a whole range of technologies and resources from the rest of the world. It also enables the global nuclear industry to benefit from India’s technical and industrial expertise.

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Govt issues guidelines for sustaining the Himalayan ecosystem

The Union Ministry of Environment & Forests and the Govind Ballabh Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment & Development (GBPIHED) have released a report on "Governance for Sustaining Himalayan Ecosystem: Guidelines and Best Practices (G-SHE)".

The report was released here yesterday by Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh who said it put together key guidelines related to the governance and management of the Himalayan ecosystem, along with relevant case studies.

According to him, G-SHE was an appropriate acronym for the guidelines in view of the pivotal role that women played in managing the Himalayan ecosystem on a day-to-day basis.

The report will be a key input in the formulation of India's National Mission for Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem under the country's National Action Plan for Climate Change.

According to an official press release, India is is putting together the Mission in view of the importance of the Himalayan region as a unique repository of biodiversity, and considering its sensitivity to climatic and anthropogenic changes.

The Mission aims to scientifically study the impact of climate change on the Indian Himalayas, and puts in place adaptation measures to meet the growing challenge. The Mission will bring together the efforts of climatologists, glaciologists, other experts and local stakeholders. The details of the Mission are under preparation and are likely to be finalized in the next few months, it said.

The release said the guidelines in the report covered a wide variety of issues such as urbanization, tourism, water security, energy, forest management and infrastructure, all of which are considered very pertinent because the Himalayas faced new and increased pressures.

There is substantial literature on the subject of sustainable management of the Himalayas but these are dispersed across various institutions and publications. The report has attempted to collate key learnings from them in one place, embodied in a set of guidelines and best practices for various aspects of the governance and management of the Himalayan ecosystem.

The release said the report was meant to be a working document, to provide the basis on which new approaches and practices could be adopted.

It said the report had been put in the public domain, including on the website of the Ministry. The Ministry has sought comments and inputs from State governments, domestic and international institutions, civil society, local communities and other stakeholders.

The Indian Himalayan Region (IHR) occupies a strategic position along the entire northern boundary of the country and administratively covers 10 states -- Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya -- and two states partially -- the hill districts of Assam and West Bengal.

The region has wide-ranging ecological and socio-economic significance. Apart from all kinds of goods, the region generates a variety of services not only for Himalayan inhabitants but also for people living beyond.

Among other things, the region, with a large area under permanent snow cover and glaciers, forms a unique water reservoir that feeds several important perennial rivers. With its vast green cover, the IHR also acts as a giant carbon "sink", the release said.

According to it, the IHR also forms a considerably large part of identified Himalayan Biodiversity global hotspot. The region, however, is facing environmental problems on account of various factors including the stress caused by anthropogenic activities. Even geologically, the Himalayan ecosystem falls under the most vulnerable category. Therefore the environmental issues being faced by the IHR are of critical importance, the release added.

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Environment and Forests Ministry launches new website

Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh has launched the new website of his ministry which, he said, was part of its efforts to make its activities more transparent and citizen-friendly.

He said the website had been redesigned after a long consultation process with prominent civil society groups, key user groups and other stakeholders. He said efforts were made to take all their suggestions on board in the development of the new website.

According to him, the governing principle in this redesign has been to provide users with ready access to relevant information. He said features such videos, pictures and a blog by the minister himself had been added to the site.

The website is also a platform for the ministry to provide the world with a window to its functioning and to receive feedback on its working, he added.

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Air India pilots call off strike, offer full cooperation to management

Executive pilots of Air India on Wednesday called off their four-day-old strike over cuts in productivity-linked incentives, saying they would return to work immediately and restore normal operations quickly.
Air India

Executive pilots of national carrier Air India today called off their four-day-old strike over cuts in productivity-linked incentives (PLI) and flying-related allowances, saying they would return to work with immediate effect and help restore normal operations as quickly as possible.

Capt V K Bhalla, a spokesman for the agitating pilots, said they had decided to end the strike following the intervention made by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the matter and the assurances given to them by Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel yesterday that the decision on the cuts in PLI had been kept in abeyance.

At a press conference here yesterday evening, Mr Patel had appealed to the executive pilots, who had taken mass sick leave, to return to work immediately in the nation's and the airline's interest and restore normal operations by today.

He also said that if the pilots failed to respond to this appeal and join duty by today, the Air India management would be free to take appropriate steps to cope with the situation.

While Mr Patel's deadline of midnight last night passed without the pilots resuming work, Capt Bhalla called a press conference this morning to announce their decision to return to their duties with immediate effect. He appealed to his colleagues around the country to rejoin work immediately.

Capt Bhalla said the pilots had taken this decision in view of Mr Patel's assurance that the Air India management's decision of last week on the 25-50 per cent cut in the PLI and flying-related allowances for more than 7000 officers had been put on hold.

Capt Bhalla thanked Dr Singh and Mr Patel for intervening in the matter and said the pilots had full faith in them. He said the executive pilots would now work shoulder-to-shoulder with the Air India management to help revive the loss-making airline, which is going through the worst financial crisis in its history.

Capt Bhalla also apologised to the passengers of Air India who had been put to inconvenience during the last four days, during which the airline was forced to cancel scores of flights every day.

He said he had received an "official communication" about the government's assurances and been told that a written assurance in this regard was on its way.

Mr Patel had said yesterday that the government had been very considerate about Air India's financial crisis, and it had been its constant endeavour to support the airline to come out of its present difficulties.

He recalled that the Prime Minister had, three months ago, set up a Committee of Secretaries (COS), headed by the Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrasekhar, to look into various issues in this regard. The committee had, among other things, decided in principle that the government should support the airline, including by infusing fresh equity to the tune of Rs 5000 crore in a phased manner against the current equity of just Rs 145 crore.

He said the COS had also recommended that the airline's high-cost debt should be reduced to low-cost debt.

The minister said such steps by the government had to be accompanied by cost reduction and revenue enhancement measures within the airline so that it could be revived in two or three years.

Mr Patel said the Government was clear that, while it would do everything possible to help revive Air India, all sections of the airline's employees would also have to cooperate and put their best forward.

He said Air India Chairman and Managing Director Arvind Jadhav was in constant dialogue with the employees' unions and representatives of other groups in the airline to find a way out of the present financial crisis.

He made it clear that Air India, in its current form, could not absorb its present high cost structure and, therefore, it was important that expenses in various areas were controlled.

He said the cut in PLI was not applicable at all to the unionised employees. Even in the case of the executives, the decision had been kept in abeyance, pending the report appointed by a committee two days ago to go into the entire issue after the pilots launched their agitation.

Mr Patel said that there was, therefore, no reason for the pilots or any other employees of the airline to feel aggrieved. He said all decisions on cost-cutting would be taken by the management only in consultation with the employees.

He urged the pilots and all sections of Air India's employees to realise that it was India's national and their own airline.

He said the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government had almost finalised a deal to disinvest in Air India in 2003-04 but that did not go through only because the Tata-Singapore Airline combine withdrew their offer at the last minute. He said it was the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government led by Dr Singh which had decided to retain Air India in the public secor and had done everything possible to strengthen it. He said the UPA government had made it possible for the airline to buy new aircraft, something that had not been done for some 20 years.

Mr Patel said the airline's employees must also understand that the aviation sector all over the world was going through a very difficult period, and all airlines, including other carriers in India, were facing serious financial difficulties. All of them were cutting costs in order to survive these difficult times, he said.

He urged the pilots and other employees to see reason and avoid a confrontation with the management at this juncture. "Please cooperate, please return to your duties, there is no reason for you to be aggrieved," he said.

He said the management was in the process of finalising a turnaround plan for the airline, but made it clear that this could not be a painless process.

The decision to keep the reduction in PLI in abeyance was taken on Sunday after a meeting between Mr Jadhav and Mumbai-based representatives of the executive pilots. A committee, consisting of representatives of the management and the executive pilots, had been set up to examine the concerns raised by the pilots.

But the pilots persisted with their agitation, demanding that the management first withdraw the decision. They also wanted the airline to clear accumulated dues of the past three months and give an assurance that salaries and allowances would be paid on time from now onwards.

An Air India statement last night said that the airline had paid salaries for September to all employees. It also said that the PLI would be paid on October 7.

On Monday, Mr Jadhav had held a meeting with the Delhi-based pilots in the capital and had appealed to them to restore normalcy at the earliest as the cancellation of flights was causing inconvenience to passengers and harming the airline's interests.

At one stage, it appeared that the Air India management was considering suspending operations for 15 days from midnight on Monday night and derostering all pilots. But it is understood that the Prime Minister personally intervened in the matter and told the Civil Aviation Minister that a lock-out in Air India was not an option.

The Board of Directors of the airline had approved the cut in the PLI at its meeting in Mumbai last Wednesday.

The cut was to be applicable to all officers, including top management personnel, in various management disciplines and range from 25 per cent for those getting PLI of Rs 10,000 or less per month to 50 per cent for those receiving PLI or flying related allowances of Rs 2 lakh or more per month.

The cut for those receiving PLI of Rs 10001 to Rs 25000, Rs 25001 to Rs 50000 and Rs 50001 to Rs 2.00 lakhs was to be 35 %, 40% and 45%, respectively. The cut was to be effective from the PLI payable in August 2009 onwards. The pilots said they had not been taken into confidence by the management before the decision was taken.

A day after announcing the decision, Mr Jadhav met the employees at the airline's headquarters in Mumbai on Thursday and exhorted them to join the efforts to help it tide over the current financial crisis.

Mr Jadhav said that, given the fact that the scope for increasing revenues was limited in the current market scenario of low fares, poor yields and surplus capacity, the emphasis on cost control was imperative for ensuring the survival of the company.

He said that all areas of expenditure were being targeted by the cost control measures initiated in recent months. These included procurement of material, inventories, fuel, landing and navigation charges, rationalisation of routes, closure of offline offices and recall of India-based officers from abroad.

The decision to cut the PLI came against the background of the discussions that the airline has been having with the Centre for assistance to tide over the present difficulties.

The Government is looking at a proposal for equity infusion of Rs 5000 crore into the airline over a period of three years. Out of this, Rs 2000 crore could be brought in by December this year.

But the Government has made it clear to Air India that any assistance to it must be preceded by concrete steps to reduce costs and increase savings.

Last Monday, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had held a meeting in New Delhi with Civil Aviation Secretary M Madhavan Nambiar and Mr Jadhav to review the airline's turnaround plan.

The airline and the Civil Aviation Ministry have been working on the turnaround plan in consultation with the CoS, which had decided, among other things, that Air India should appoint a Cost Auditor immediately to monitor, review and ensure that the cost reduction and operational efficiencies were effected.

Mr Patel had said earlier that independent directors would be brought into the airline and a professional Chief Operating Officer would be inducted to assist the company's Chairman and Managing Director.

He said SBI Capital had been appointed to suggest a road map for the financial restructuring of the company in the short and medium term.

In July, Mr Patel had told Parliament that the accumulated losses of the National Aviation Company of India Limited (NACIL), which runs Air India after its merger with Indian Airlines, as on March 31 this year, were likely to be in the region of Rs 7200 crore.

He said that Air India and Indian Airlines had incurred losses of Rs 541.30 crore and Rs 230.97 crore, respectively, during 2006-07 before the merger.

He said that, in 2007-08, the combined airline posted a loss of Rs. 2226 crores and during 2008-09, the expected loss is approximately Rs.5000 crores.

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Related stories

Air India says salaries for September paid, PLI by Oct 7

Air India today said it had cleared the salaries for September to its employees and the amounts had been credited to their respective bank accounts.

A spokesman for the airline said that the productivity-linked incentive (PLI) would be paid to all employees on October 7.

The statement assumes importance at a time when the striking executive pilots of the loss-making airline have been claiming that the airline had not cleared dues against the PLI for two-three months.

A section of the executive pilots has been on mass sick leave in protest against the Air India management's decision to reduce PLI for some 7000 officers of the airline by 25-50 per cent.

After the pilots began their agitation, the airline management has kept that decision in abeyance and appointed a committee, which includes representatives of the executive pilots, to go into all related issues.

The pilots have, however, not returned to work and are insisting on a complete withdrawal of the decision. They also want the airline to clear all dues immediately and give an assurance of timely payment of salaries from now onwards.

The management had thought about the PLI cuts as part of an effort to cut costs and enhance revenues so that the airline could qualify for financial assistance to help it out of its present crisis, the worst in its history.

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Patel urges AI pilots to return to work

Minister for Civil Aviation Praful Patel addressing a press conference, in New Delhi on September 29, 2009.
Minister for Civil Aviation Praful Patel addressing a press conference, in New Delhi on September 29, 2009
Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel today appealed to the striking pilots of national carrier Air India to return to work immediately in the nation's and the airline's interest and restore normal operations by tomorrow.

He also said that if the pilots failed to respond to this appeal and join duty by midnight tonight, the Air India management would be free to take appropriate steps to cope with the situation.

Addressing a crowded press conference here, Mr Patel said the current situation in Air India, a section of whose executive pilots were on mass sick leave for the fourth day today, was a matter of concern.

"The Government, as the owner of Air India, is certainly not very happy with the recent developments, including the strike by the executive pilots," he said.

The pilots are protesting against the 23-50 per cent cut in the productivity-linked incentive (PLI) for more than 7000 officers announced by the airline last week.

As a result, Air India had to cancel nearly 50 its flights, with about 150 of the executive pilots staying away from work today.

Mr Patel said the government had been very considerate about Air India's financial crisis, and it had been its constant endeavour to support the airline to come out of its present difficulties.

He recalled that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had, three months ago, set up a Committee of Secretaries (COS), headed by the Cabinet Secretary, to look into various issues in this regard. The committee had, among other things, decided in principle that the government should support the airline, including by infusing fresh equity to the tune of Rs 5000 crore in a phased manner against the current equity of just Rs 145 crore.

He said the COS had also recommended that the airline's high-cost debt should be reduced to low-cost debt.

The minister said such steps by the government had to be accompanied by cost reduction and revenue enhancement measures within the airline so that it could be revived in two or three years.

Mr Patel said the Government was clear that, while it would do everything possible to help revive Air India, all sections of the airline's employees would also have to cooperate and put their best forward.

He said Air India Chairman and Managing Director Arvind Jadhav was in constant dialogue with the employees' unions and representatives of other groups in the airline to find a way out of the present financial crisis.

He made it clear that Air India, in its current form, could not absorb its present high cost structure and, therefore, it was important that expenses in various areas were controlled.

He said the cut in PLI was not applicable at all to the unionised employees. Even in the case of the executives, the decision had been kept in abeyance, pending the report appointed by a committee two days ago to go into the entire issue after the pilots launched their agitation.

Mr Patel said that there was, therefore, no reason for the pilots or any other employees of the airline to feel aggrieved. He said all decisions on cost-cutting would be taken by the management only in consultation with the employees.

He urged the pilots and all sections of Air India's employees to realise that it was India's national and their own airline.

He said the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government had almost finalised a deal to disinvest in Air India in 2003-04 but that did not go through only because the Tata-Singapore Airline combine withdrew their offer at the last minute. He said it was the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government led by Dr Singh which had decided to retain Air India in the public sector and had done everything possible to strengthen it. He said the UPA government had made it possible for the airline to buy new aircraft, something that had not been done for some 20 years.

Mr Patel said the airline's employees must also understand that the aviation sector all over the world was going through a very difficult period, and all airlines, including other carriers in India, were facing serious financial difficulties. All of them were cutting costs in order to survive these difficult times, he said.

He urged the pilots and other employees to see reason and avoid a confrontation with the management at this juncture. "Please cooperate, please return to you duties, there is no reason for you to be aggrieved," he said.

The minister also claimed that the airline had cleared salaries and all allowances, including the PLI, to all employees till July and only the amounts for August were now pending. This was later disputed by a representative of the executive pilots.

He said the management was in the process of finalising a turnaround plan for the airline, but made it clear that this could not be a painless process.

He said if the pilots did not respond to the call to return to work, the management would be free to take any decision in the airline's and the nation's best interests.

"The management will have no option but to take appropriate action," he said, without spelling out what those measures might be.

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PM calls on President

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called on President Pratibha Patil at Rashtrapati Bhavan here today, an official statement said.

The meeting lasted for about 50 minutes and the two leaders discussed various issues of national and international importance.

Dr Singh briefed Ms Patil about the September 24-25 G-20 Summit at Pittsburgh in the United States, which he had attended.

Ms Patil apprised the Prime Minister about her recent visit to Russia and Tajikistan, the statement said.

Matters relating internal security also came up for discussion between the two leaders, the statement added.

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6 more H1N1 deaths in India, toll rises to 308

Six more influenza A (H1N1) deaths were reported from India today, taking the toll due to the pandemic in the country so far to 308, an official statement said.

Five of the deaths occurred today---two in Maharashtra and one each in Delhi, Haryana and Andhra Pradesh.

Besides, one death that occurred yesterday in Kerala has now been confirmed as a case of swine flu after the receipt of the reports of the laboratory tests.

The statement also said that one death due to suspected swine flu had been reported from a private hospital in Delhi, and the results of the laboratory tests were awaited.

Of the total deaths, Maharashtra now accounts for 120, while 92 people have lost their lives in Karnataka, 33 in Andhra Pradesh, 31 in Gujarat, 11 in Delhi, 5 in Kerala, 4 in Tamil Nadu, 3 each in Goa and Haryana, 2 each in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand and 1 each in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.

Meanwhile, as many as 178 fresh cases of the flu were reported today from across the country, including 56 in Delhi, 43 in Maharashtra, 27 in Tamil Nadu, 16 in Assam, 9 in Andhra Pradesh, 8 in Karnataka, 7 in Haryana, 6 in Kerala, 4 in Gujarat, and 1 each in West Bengal and Nagaland.

With these, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus reported so far in India has crossed the 10,000-mark and touched 10,036, the statement added.

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India, Denmark sign MoU on Labour Mobility Partnership

India today signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on Labour Mobility Partnership with Denmark in Copenhagen today, its first such agreement with any European country.

The MoU was signed by Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi and Ms Birther Ronn Hornbech, Danish Minister of Refugee, Immigration and Integration Affairs.

An official press release said the MoU would facilitate promotion of orderly migration of workers from India to meet the growing demand for skilled and trained workers in the Danish economy and prevent illegal/irregular migration.

It said the salient features of the MOU are:

(i) Cooperation between the two countries concerning the following branches of labour and employment for qualified workers within their national objectives and the relevant laws:

(a) Labour market expansion,
(b) Employment facilitation,
(c) Organized entry and orderly migration and
(d) Exchange of information and cooperation in introducing best practices for mutual benefit.

(ii) Equal treatment of workers with the nationals of the receiving state.

(iii) Undertaking mutually beneficial studies for recruitment and identifying emerging sectors in Danish economy that require qualified workers.

(iv) Promoting direct contact between the employers in Denmark and the state. managed or private recruiting agencies in India, without intermediaries to facilitate regular and orderly recruitment of workers.

(v) Protection and welfare of all categories of workers under the labour laws and other relevant laws of the host country.

The MOU also provides for constitution of a Joint Working Group of both the countries, with following mandate:

i. Study employment opportunities and suggest means for enhancing cooperation between states.

ii. To interpret the provisions of the memorandum of understanding and oversee its implementation.

iii. Create guidance material on rights and duties of employers and workers to minimize labour disputes and create information material about the existing system for dispute settlement.

iv. Suggest amendments to the MOU for better achievements of its objectives.

v. Recommend measures to prevent misuse of visit visas by unscrupulous employers and recruiting agencies.

vi. Recommend initiatives to address any issues that might arise in the context of the MOU.

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Gram Nyayalaya Act to come into effect from Oct 2

The Union Government today said that the provisions of the Gram Nyayalayas Act, 2008 would come into force in the areas to which the Act extends on October 2, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

The Act has been enacted to provide for the establishment of courts at the grassroot level for the purpose of providing access to justice to citizens at their doorsteps.

According to an official press release, the Gram Nyayalayas are aimed at providing inexpensive justice to people in rural areas. The Gram Nyayalaya will be a court of Judicial Magistrate (First Class) and its presiding officer (nyayadhikari) will be appointed by the State Government in consultation with the High Court.

The Gram Nyayalaya shall be established for every Panchayat at intermediate level or a group of contiguous Panchayats at intermediate level in a district. Where there is no Panchayat at intermediate level in any State, the Nyayalaya shall be set up for a group of contiguous Panchayats.

The Nyayadhikaris who will preside over these Nyayalayas are strictly judicial officers and will draw the same salary, deriving the same powers, as First Class Magistrates working under High Courts.

The Gram Nyayalaya shall be a mobile court and shall exercise the powers of both Criminal and Civil Courts.

According to the release, the seat of the Gram Nyayalaya will be located at the headquarters of the intermediate Panchayat, and they will go to villages, work there and dispose of the cases.

The Nyayalaya will try criminal cases, civil suits, claims or disputes which are specified in the First Schedule and the Second Schedule to the Act.

The release said the Central as well as the State Governments had been given power to amend the First Schedule and the Second Schedule of the Act, as per their respective legislative competence.

It said the Gram Nyayalaya shall follow summary procedure in criminal trial and exercise the powers of a Civil Court with certain modifications and shall follow the special procedure as provided in the Act,

It said the Gram Nyayalaya shall try to settle the disputes as far as possible by bringing about conciliation between the parties and for this purpose, it shall make use of the conciliators to be appointed for this purpose.

The release said the judgment and order passed by the Gram Nyayalaya shall be deemed to be a decree and, to avoid delay in its execution, the Gram Nyayalaya shall follow summary procedure for its execution.

The Gram Nyayalaya shall not be bound by the rules of evidence provided in the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 but shall be guided by the principles of natural justice and subject to any rule made by the High Court. Appeal in criminal cases shall lie to the Court of Session, which shall be heard and disposed of within a period of six months from the date of filing of such appeal. Appeal in civil cases shall lie to the District Court, which shall be heard and disposed of within a period of six months from the date of filing of the appeal.

According to the release, a person accused of an offence may file an application for plea bargaining.

It said the Centre had decided to meet the non-recurring expenditure on the establishment of these Gram Nyayalayas, subject to a ceiling of Rs. 18 lakhs out of which Rs. 10 lakhs is for construction of the court, Rs. 5 lakhs for vehicle and Rs. 3 lakhs for office equipment.

The Government has also estimated that the Gram Nyayalayas upon establishment would incur a recurring expenditure of Rs. 6.4 lakhs per annum on salaries and such other heads and proposes to share these with the State Government for the first three years within this ceiling.

More than 5000 Gram Nyayalayas are expected to be set up under the Act for which the Central Government would provide about Rs.1400 crores by way of assistance to the concerned States/Union Territories, the release said.

The Gram Nyayalayas are an important part of the Government's efforts to bring about judicial reforms and they are expected to help reduce the arrears of cases in courts.

At present, there are as many as 2.6 crore cases in arrears and the nyayalayas are expected to reduce half of the pendency of cases in subordinate courts. They will also take care of new litigations, which shall be disposed of within six months.

"This measure will usher in a great revolution in disposal of cases and also take justice to the doorsteps of the common man," the release added.

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AI pilots' strike: Rlys to set up counters at airports

The Indian Railways have decided to set up train passenger reservation counters and "May I Help You?" booths at all important airports in the country in view of the disruption in the flight schedules of Air India due to a strike by a section of its pilots.

An official press release said the counters would help stranded Air India passengers who might want to travel by trains to their destinations.

The release said the Ministry of Railways had instructed all the Zonal Railways to give wide publicity through all possible means, including the media, about the availability of a large number of vacant berths/seats in important trains.

The Railways have also been asked to coordinate with airline officials to facilitate the movement of passengers who wish to use the option of travel by train.

Interested passengers may also contact the nearest Passenger Reservation Centre or visit the Railways' reservation website for e-tickets, the release added.

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States told to make roof top rain water harvesting mandatory

The Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) has written to all states with overexploited blocks to take all necessary measures to promote and adopt artificial recharge of ground water, including making it mandatory for buildings to provide rooftop rain water harvesting systems.

The CGWA has also issued directives to group housing societies, institutions, schools, hotels, industrial establishments and farm houses in notified areas of Delhi and Haryana to install rooftop rainwater harvesting systems.

Besides, all group housing societies in Delhi, where groundwater levels are more than 8m and are abstracting groundwater, have also been directed to adopt roof top rain harvesting systems. The directions have been issued under Section 5 of Environment (Protection) Act 1986, an official press release said here today.

The Ministry of Water Resources has requested all the States and Union Territories to make suitable provisions in their planned schemes for construction of rooftop rain water harvesting structures in all government buildings. The Ministry of Urban Development has also sent similar letters to the states.

According to the release, many states have taken several initiatives to promote rainwater harvesting in government and private buildings by amending building bye-laws. The Union Government provides financial and technical support for such activities, it said.

The release said 18 states and four Union Territories have already made rooftop rain water harvesting mandatory. They are Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Nagaland, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh., Uttarakhand, West Bengal., Chandigarh, Daman & Diu, Delhi and Puducherry.

Four states--Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Orissa and Jharkhand--and the Union Territories of Lakshadweep and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are currently in the process of making such a provision.

Chhattisgarh, Sikkim, Mizoram, Assam and Dadra & Nagar Haveli have not initiated action in this regard so far while two states, Jammu and Kashmir and Manipur--did not respond, the release added.

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Air India pilots continue strike for fourth day, flights disrupted

Air India

National carrier Air India cancelled nearly 50 of its flights---nine to international destinations and 37 domestic services---as about 150 of its executive pilots continued to be on leave for the fourth day today to protest against the 25-50 per cent cut in the productivity-linked incentive (PLI) for more than 7000 employees announced by the airline last week.

On Sunday, after a meeting between Air India Chairman and Managing Director Arvind Jadhav and Mumbai-based representatives of the executive pilots, the airline had decided to put on hold that decision and set up a committee to look into the concerns raised by the pilots.

But the pilots have decided to persist with their agitation, demanding that the management first withdraw the decision. They also want the airline to clear accumulated dues of the past three months and also an assurance that salaries and allowances would be paid on time from now onwards.

Mr Jadhav had held a meeting with the Delhi-based pilots in the capital yesterday and had appealed to them to restore normalcy at the earliest as the cancellation of flights was causing inconvenience to passengers and harming the airline's interests. But the pilots did not budge from their stand.

At one stage, it appeared that the Air India management was considering suspending operations for 15 days from midnight last night and derostering all pilots. But it is understood that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh personally intervened in the matter and told Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel that a lock-out in Air India was not an option.

He is learnt to have told Mr Patel that the ministry and Air India must take steps to minimise inconvenience to passengers. He also urged the ministry and Air India to work together in finding a solution to the crisis.

A press release issued by Air India said it had cancelled nine of 21 flights today, including the non-stop services to New York from Delhi and Mumbai, flights to London from Delhi and Mumbai, to Chicago from Delhi and to Singapore from Mumbai. The Amritsar-London-Toronto and the Ahmedabad-Frankfurt flights were also cancelled, it said.

The release said Air India had cancelled 37 out of its 177 scheduled flights today, while four flights would be combined.

It said Air India was keeping its channels of communication with the Executive Pilots open so that those wishing to have their concerns addressed or clarified could do so.

Meanwhile, Civil Aviation Secretary M Madhavan Nambiar and the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) met representatives of all the airlines today to ensure that passengers booked on Air India flights did not suffer any  inconvenience due to cancellation, re-routing and merging of flights.

Mr Jadhav, who was present, informed Mr Nambiar that an effective mechanism for full refund of tickets had been set up.

As a part of the contingency plan, Air India had put in place a special team to monitor the merging, re-routing, cancellations, refunds of flights and transfer of passengers to other airlines, as required, he said, adding that the airline was monitoring the situation continuously.

Mr Nambiar appealed to all the airlines to make the transfer of Air India passengers to private airlines as seamless as possible. He also asked them to explore the possibilities of mounting extra flights in sectors where the demand was more. He stressed that there should be no exploitation of the passengers and that, till the crisis was resolved, the fares should be held at the pre-strike period.

He said the airport operators would also be asked to help in transfer of checked-in baggage in case the Air India passengers were endorsed on flights of other airlines and had to be transferred to a different terminal building.

The DGCA cautioned all the airlines to be very watchful on the safety aspects and directed them to provide adequate facilitation to the passengers. The DGCA would carefully monitor the ticket prices during this period, he said.

At the meeting, the representatives of all airlines, including, Jet Airways, Kingfisher, Indigo, Go Air, Paramount and Spice Jet, assured Mr Nambiar that that they would do all things possible to help Air India cope with the crisis.

The airlines said they would also would appoint a "pointsperson" in each airline to coordinate with the Air India team in facilitating the passengers. They would also deploy additional capacity where possible and share loads in different sectors.

Meanwhile, Mr Nambiar also issued a statement saying that the Air India management had not taken any decision on reducing the PLI or any allowance for the unionised section of the airline's employees.

He said a decision regarding the executive employees would be taken only after the committee set up for the purpose had examined all aspects in consultations with employees.

He said the disruption of flights was causing immense problems to the traveling public and bringing disrepute to the airline.

"In these circumstances the pilots and all employees must cooperate with the management for the turnaround of the airline. Though the Government support is coming, it must be linked to a proper turnaround plan, including cost cutting and revenue enhancement," he said.

"We will advise the management to enter into a comprehensive dialogue with all sections of employees. This strike must end immediately in the interest of the public and this will also stand the airline in good stead for future Government support," he added.

The Board of Directors of the loss-making airline, which is going through the worst financial crisis in its history, had approved the cut in the PLI at its meeting in Mumbai last Wednesday.

The cut was to be applicable to all officers, including top management personnel, in various management disciplines and range from 25 per cent for those getting PLI of Rs 10,000 or less per month to 50 per cent for those receiving PLI or flying related allowances of Rs 2 lakh or more per month.

The cut for those receiving PLI of Rs 10001 to Rs 25000, Rs 25001 to Rs 50000 and Rs 50001 to Rs 2.00 lakhs was to be 35 %, 40% and 45%, respectively. The cut was to be effective from the PLI payable in August 2009 onwards. The pilots said they had not been taken into confidence by the management before the decision was taken.

A day after announcing the decision, Mr Jadhav met the employees at the airline's headquarters in Mumbai on Thursday and exhorted them to join the efforts to help it tide over the current financial crisis.

Mr Jadhav said that, given the fact that the scope for increasing revenues was limited in the current market scenario of low fares, poor yields and surplus capacity, the emphasis on cost control was imperative for ensuring the survival of the company.

He said that all areas of expenditure were being targeted by the cost control measures initiated in recent months. These included procurement of material, inventories, fuel, landing and navigation charges, rationalisation of routes, closure of offline offices and recall of India-based officers from abroad.

The decision to cut the PLI came against the background of the discussions that the airline has been having with the Centre for assistance to tide over the present difficulties.

The Government is looking at a proposal for equity infusion of Rs 5000 crore into the airline over a period of three years. Out of this, Rs 2000 crore could be brought in by December this year.

But the Government has made it clear to the Air India that any assistance to it must be preceded by concrete steps to reduce costs and increase savings.

Last Monday, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had held a meeting in New Delhi with Civil Aviation Secretary M Madhavan Nambiar and Mr Jadhav to review the airline's turnaround plan.

The airline and the Civil Aviation Ministry have been working on the turnaround plan in consultation with a Committee of Secretaries (CoS) headed by Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrasekhar.

Among other things, the CoS had decided that the airline should appoint a Cost Auditor immediately to monitor, review and ensure that the cost reduction and operational efficiencies were effected.

Mr Patel had said earlier that independent directors would be brought into the airline and a professional Chief Operating Officer would be inducted to assist the company's Chairman and Managing Director.

He said SBI Capital had been appointed to suggest a road map for the financial restructuring of the company in the short and medium term.

In July, Mr Patel had told Parliament that the accumulated losses of the National Aviation Company of India Limited (NACIL), which runs Air India after its merger with Indian Airlines, as on March 31 this year, were likely to be in the region of Rs 7200 crore.

He said that Air India and Indian Airlines had incurred losses of Rs 541.30 crore and Rs 230.97 crore, respectively, during 2006-07 before the merger.

He said that, in 2007-08, the combined airline posted a loss of Rs. 2226 crores and during 2008-09, the expected loss is approximately Rs.5000 crores.

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PM says return of India to nuclear mainstream significant for world

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Tuesday that the return of India to the international nuclear mainstream was of high significance not only for India but also for global energy security.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressing the inaugural session of the International Conference on ‘Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy-2009’, in New Delhi on September 29, 2009.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressing the inaugural session of the International Conference on ‘Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy-2009’, in New Delhi on September 29, 2009.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said the return of India to the international nuclear mainstream was of high significance not only for India but also for global energy security.

Inaugurating the International Conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy here this morning, Dr Singh referred to the several agreements and reciprocal commitments concluded as part of the Civil Nuclear Initiative to allow the resumption of full civil nuclear cooperation between India and the international community.

"We look forward to their full and effective implementation in the coming months and years," he said.

Dr Singh said India saw nuclear energy as a vital component of its energy security. He said the three-stage programme, based on a closed nuclear fuel cycle, allowed the country to really think big.

He said the Indian nuclear indutry was poised for a major expansion and there would be huge opportunities for the global nuclear industry to participate in it.

The Conference has been organised by the Department of Atomic Energy (DEA) in association with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Indian Nuclear Society (INS) as part of the year-long programme to mark the birth centenary year of nuclear scientist Homi Jehangir Bhabha.

Dr Bhabha was the founder of the Indian atomic energy programme and had presided over the first international conference on this subject held in Geneva way back in 1955.

Noting that Dr Bhabha had enunciated the three-stage nuclear power programme, Dr Singh said India was proud of its achievements in mastering all aspects of the fuel cycle.

He said the current international interest in closing the fuel cycle was a vindication of Dr. Bhabha’s pioneering vision and genius.

Describing Dr Bhabha as a brilliant scientist and a true visionary, the Prime Minister recalled that, at the Geneva conference in 1955, he had unveiled a bold vision of the peaceful uses of atomic energy for the industrialsiation of the under-developed countries, for the continuation of civilisation and for its further development. He had said that atomic energy was not merely an aid but an absolute necessity.

Pointing out that that vision had proved to be prophetic, Dr Singh said the conference was taking place on the crest of a global nuclear renaissance in which India would be a significant factor.

Dr Singh said that, as a result of the far-sighted plans of its scientists, India had emerged as a leader in the developing world in harnessing the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

He said the first stage of India's three stage nuclear programme, involving the setting up of Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) and associated fuel cycle facilities, had now reached a level of maturity.

The technology for the manufacture of various components and equipment for PHWRs in India was now well established and had evolved through active collaboration with Indian industry, he said.

The Prime Minister said the second stage envisaged setting up of Fast Breeder Reactors (FBRs) backed by reprocessing plants and plutonium-based fuel fabrication plants.

"With the construction of the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor at Kalpakkam we have now entered the second stage of the programme. A facility for reprocessing thorium fuel has also been set up. An Advanced Heavy Water Reactor has been designed and its construction will be launched in the near future. This will expedite the transition to thorium-based systems that will, I believe, mark the third stage of our programme. We are proud of the achievements of India’s nuclear scientists and of our industry," he said.

Dr Singh recalled that Dr Bhabha had strongly advocated the use of nuclear power as an instrument of economic development. According to him, this was truer today than ever before as the developing countries sought new energy to sustain high rates of economic growth.

He said there was now a growing consensus that nuclear power was not only important for energy security but was also clean. "In fact, the majority of nuclear power plants under construction worldwide are now located in Asia," he said.

Dr Singh said that if India managed its nuclear power programme well, the three-stage strategy could potentially yield 470,000 Mw of power by the year 2050. He said that this would sharply reduce the country's dependence on fossil fuels and would be a major contribution to global efforts to combat climate change.

He stressed that the peaceful uses of nuclear energy was not just about power. He said there were promising applications in the areas of agriculture, food production and preservation, medicine and water desalination.

"In India, we have successfully developed 37 mutant varieties of seeds for commercial cultivation using nuclear techniques. Use of radiation technology for food preservation is growing. We have built a nuclear desalination plant at Kalpakkam and are working on the use of isotope hydrology techniques for rejuvenation of springs, which is an important source of drinking water," he said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives at the inaugural session of the International Conference on ‘Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy-2009’, in New Delhi on September 29, 2009. Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and the Director General, International Atomic Energy Agency, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei are also seen.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives at the inaugural session of the International Conference on ‘Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy-2009’, in New Delhi on September 29, 2009. Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and the Director General, International Atomic Energy Agency, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei are also seen.

He said that, given this limitless potential, the international community and India could cooperate on multiplying the benefits of nuclear energy for humankind.

The Prime Minister said the International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles was an example of such international cooperation. He also pointed out that India was a participant in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) Project.

"We are ready to contribute to global research and development into new proliferation-resistant fuel cycles. There are proposals for an international fuel bank and we would support efforts in this direction as a supplier nation," he said.

Dr Singh said another critical area of cooperation was that of nuclear safety. He said the nuclear industry's safety record over the last few years had been encouraging.

"It has helped to restore public faith in nuclear power. But the technology and management of nuclear safety must be continuously improved," he stressed.

The Prime Minister said the world also had a pressing and immediate moral obligation to draw down and eventually do away with the destructive use of nuclear energy and promised that there would be no greater proponent in this collective effort than India.

He recalled that India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had advocated the prohibition and abandonment of all weapons of mass destruction way back in the 1950s. He said that in 1988 then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had put forward at the General Assembly of United Nations a comprehensive Action Plan for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons, to which India remained committed.

Dr Singh said that, in 2006, India had put forward a set of proposals at the United Nations General Assembly that had outlined specific steps that could lead to the elimination of nuclear weapons. It included the proposal for the negotiation of a Nuclear Weapons Convention that would prohibit the development, production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons and providing for their elimination within a specified time frame, he said.

"It is a matter of regret that the global non-proliferation regime has not succeeded in preventing nuclear proliferation. Its deficiencies, in fact, have had an adverse impact on our security. Global non-proliferation, to be successful, should be universal, comprehensive and non-discriminatory and linked to the goal of complete nuclear disarmament. We believe that there is growing international acceptance for this viewpoint," he said.

Dr Singh said India felt encouraged by some recent positive signs. He noted that United States President had indicated, in a significant speech at Prague in April this year, the willingness of the US to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in its national security strategy and work towards a vision of a world free of nuclear weapons. The United States and Russia are also negotiating further cuts in their nuclear arsenals. States with substantial nuclear arsenals should take meaningful steps on nuclear disarmament, Dr Singh said.

The Prime Minister said India was proud of its non-proliferation record and was committed to global efforts for preventing the proliferation of all weapons of mass destruction.

"We are committed to a voluntary, unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing. As a nuclear weapon state and a responsible member of the international community, we participate constructively in the negotiations of an FMCT (Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty) in the Conference on Disarmament," he said.

Dr Singh said India had an updated, effective and comprehensive export controls system and was committed to not transferring sensitive technologies and equipment to other countries that do not possess them.

He said the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had a crucial role in promoting the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, while reducing proliferation risks.

Dr Singh also drew attention to the spectre of nuclear terrorism and said it was a formidable challenge facing the entire world.

He said India supported strengthening of international efforts to improve nuclear security and, in this context, welcomed President Obama's initiative to convene a Global Summit on Nuclear Security in 2010.

"If we use the power of the atom wisely for the universal good, the possibilities are unbounded. But if we do not, the consequences would also be devastating for the peace and progress that all nations seek for their people. The choices are stark and the challenges are indeed daunting. But it is not beyond the imagination of the human mind to devise solutions and strategies that exploit the vast potential of atomic energy security for human progress, while assuring global peace and security. This task will require the collective will, wisdom and determination of the world community and we think it is a task that can no longer be put off," he added.

The three-day conference will discuss a road map for the growth of nuclear energy and its peaceful applications against the background of the progress made in the area in the last five decades. It will discuss both power and non-power applications of nuclear energy.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, IAEA Director General Mohammed Elbaradei and INS President P Rama Rao were among those who spoke at the inaugural session.

The conference is being attended by policy-makers and eminent nuclear scientists and technologists. There will also be presentations by experts from some countries with emerging nuclear programmes.

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4 more H1N1 deaths in India, toll crosses 300-mark

Four more influenza A (H1N1) deaths were reported from India today, taking the toll due to the pandemic in the country so far to 302, an official statement said.

According to it, one death each was reported from Karnataka, Delhi, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.

Besides, one death has also been reported in Kerala because of suspected swine flu, but the results of the laboratory tests were awaited, it said.

Of the total deaths, Maharashtra now accounts for 118, while 92 people have lost their lives in Karnataka, 32 in Andhra Pradesh, 31 in Gujarat, 10 in Delhi, 4 each in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, 3 in Goa, 2 each in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand and 1 each in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.

Meanwhile, as many as 177 fresh cases of the flu were reported today from across the country, including 68 in Delhi, 47 in Maharashtra, 16 in Andhra Pradesh, 13 in Haryana, 11 in Kerala, 7 each in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, 4 in Uttar Pradesh, 3 in Uttarakhand and 1 in Jammu & Kashmir.

With these, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus reported so far in India has risen to 9871, the statement added.

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Air India puts PLI cuts on hold, sets up panel on pilots' concerns

Air India

Faced with the threat of an agitation by its executive pilots, national carrier Air India today decided to put on hold its decision of last week to effect a 25-50 per cent cut in the productivity-linked incentive (PLI) paid to more than 7000 of its employees---about a quarter of the airline's total strength.

After a meeting between Air India Chairman and Managing Director Arvind Jadhav and Mumbai-based representatives of the executive pilots, the airline said a committee would be set up to look into the concerns raised by the pilots.

Air India spokesperson Jitender Bhargava told journalists after the meeting that the committee would comprise the airline's Executive Director (Finance), Executive Director (Industrial Relations), General Manager (Operations-Mumbai) and four representatives of the executive pilots.

He said the decision on the cut in the PLI would be kept on hold till the committee submits its report.

The four-hour meeting came after the airline was forced to cancel about 30 flights today because a section of the pilots went on leave for the second day today to protest against the management's decision on the PLI.

Mr Bhargava said about 20 executive pilots attended the meeting and they are now expected to consult their colleagues in other parts of the country. Most of the pilots who went on leave are based in Delhi and they were expected to make their stand known soon on the management's offer. He was hopeful that normal flight services would be restored by tomorrow.

Earlier in the day, Mr Bhargava told NetIndian that the airline was operating today to a revised schedule worked out on the basis of its requirements, the passenger loads and the availability of pilots.

He said flights were being operated today as per the revised schedule, which meant, among other things, combining some flights and transfering passengers of some flights to those of Air India Express, its no-frills subsidiary.

Yesterday, the loss-making airline, which is currently going through a severe financial crisis, had cancelled at least 13 of its domestic flights when about 20 of the pilots failed to report for work.

Air India has 319 executive pilots, of whom 157 were part of the erstwhile Indian Airlines which was merged with Air India some time ago.

Air India's Board of Directors had approved the cut in the PLI at its meeting in Mumbai on Wednesday on the basis of the recommendations made by a committee headed by Mr Anup Srivastava, Director-Personnel.

The cut was applicable to all officers, including top management personnel, in various management disciplines and will range from 25 per cent for those getting PLI of Rs 10,000 or less per month to 50 per cent for those receiving PLI or flying related allowances of Rs 2 lakh or more per month.

The cut for those receiving PLI of Rs 10001 to Rs 25000, Rs 25001 to Rs 50000 and Rs 50001 to Rs 2.00 lakhs was 35 %, 40% and 45%, respectively. The cut was to be effective from the PLI payable in August 2009 onwards. The pilots said they had not been taken into confidence by the management before the decision was taken.

A day after announcing the decision, Mr Jadhav met the employees at the airline's headquarters in Mumbai on Thursday and exhorted them to join the efforts to help it tide over the current financial crisis--the worst in its history.

Mr Jadhav said that, given the fact that the scope for increasing revenues was limited in the current market scenario of low fares, poor yields and surplus capacity, the emphasis on cost control was imperative for ensuring the survival of the company.

He said that all areas of expenditure were being targeted by the cost control measures initiated in recent months. These included procurement of material, inventories, fuel, landing and navigation charges, rationalisation of routes, closure of offline offices and recall of India-based officers from abroad.

Mr Jadhav also provided some details of the turnaround plan initiated by the company and said the employees had a pivotal role to play in this effort.

"No turnaround can be achieved unless employees are fully involved," he stressed. He said the Government had committed itself to a robust Air India but the financial help from the government would come only if the airline demonstrated its commitment and effected considerable savings in all areas of expenditure.

Mr Jadhav praised the employees for bring about a significant improvement in the airline's on-time performance. He said the increase witnessed in the number of passengers carried per day by Air India this month was testimony to the return of many passengers to Air India's fold as a consequence of improvement in on-time performance and deployment of new aircraft. There is, however, a need to improve the product in its totality for making Air India a preferred airline of the customers, he stressed.

Mr Jadhav also asked employees to take a fresh look at their existing work practices and adopt a work culture that was contemporary, cost effective and productive. "We have to change with times to suit the competitive environment," he added.

The decision to cut the PLI came against the background of the discussions that the airline has been having with the Centre for assistance to tide over the present difficulties.

The Government is looking at a proposal for equity infusion of Rs 5000 crore into the airline over a period of three years. Out of this, Rs 2000 crore could be brought in by December this year.

But the Government has made it clear to the Air India that any assistance to it must be preceded by concrete steps to reduce costs and increase savings.

Last Monday, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had held a meeting in New Delhi with Civil Aviation Secretary M Madhavan Nambiar and Mr Jadhav to review the airline's turnaround plan.

The airline and the Civil Aviation Ministry have been working on the turnaround plan in consultation with a Committee of Secretaries (CoS) headed by Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrasekhar.

Among other things, the CoS had decided that the airline should appoint a Cost Auditor immediately to monitor, review and ensure that the cost reduction and operational efficiencies were effected.

Minister of State for Civil Aviation Praful Patel had said earlier that independent directors would be brought into the airline and a professional Chief Operating Officer would be inducted to assist the company's Chairman and Managing Director.

He said SBI Capital had been appointed to suggest a road map for the financial restructuring of the company in the short and medium term.

In July, Mr Patel had told Parliament that the accumulated losses of the National Aviation Company of India Limited (NACIL), which runs Air India after its merger with Indian Airlines, as on March 31 this year, were likely to be in the region of Rs 7200 crore.

He said that Air India and Indian Airlines had incurred losses of Rs 541.30 crore and Rs 230.97 crore, respectively, during 2006-07 before the merger.

He said that, in 2007-08, the combined airline posted a loss of Rs. 2226 crores and during 2008-09, the expected loss is approximately Rs.5000 crores.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had made a special mention of the airline in his Independence Day address on August 15.

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8 more H1N1 deaths in India, toll rises to 298

Eight more influenza A (H1N1) deaths have been reported from India, taking the toll due to the pandemic in the country so far to 298, an official statement said today.

Of them four of the deaths were reported today--two in Karnataka and one each in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh.

Besides, two deaths that occurred in recent days in Andhra Pradesh and two in Gujarat have also been confirmed today as cases of swine flu after the receipt of the results of laboratory tests, the statement said.

Of the total deaths, Maharashtra accounts for 117, while 91 people have lost their lives in Karnataka, 31 each in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat, 9 in Delhi, 4 each in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, 3 in Goa, 2 each in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand and 1 each in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.

Meanwhile, as many as 189 fresh cases of the flu were reported from across the country, including 53 in Delhi, 46 in Maharashtra, 39 in Andhra Pradesh, 17 in Karnataka, 12 in Haryana, 7 in Kerala, 4 in Uttar Pradesh, 3 each in Tamil Nadu and Chandigarh, 2 each in Gujarat and Puducherry, and 1 in Jammu & Kashmir

With these, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus reported so far in India has risen to 9694, the statement added.

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