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Home Ministry: Conference visa procedure must be strictly followed

The Ministry of Home Affairs has told all Central Ministries and Departments and all State Government to strictly adhere to the revised procedure for grant of conference visas to foreigners coming to India for conferences, seminars, workshops and such other events.


Detailed guidelines in this regard were put in place by the Centre on July 15, 2009 and the latest instructions have been issued to ensure that the organisers of all such international events strictly adhere to the timeline for submitting their proposals to the Home Ministry at least six weeks before the commencement of the events.


An official press release said this would ensure that security clearance for the event and for the participants could be suitably assessed.


It said the fresh instructions had become necessary because security vetting was a time-consuming process and most of the organisers of international events were not strictly adhering to the time schedules prescribed.


As per the revised procedure, while the Ministry of Home Affairs (Foreigners Division) grants in-principle approval for holding an event, security clearance for grant of conference visa is required from the Home Ministry only in respect of participants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Sudan and in respect of foreigners of Pakistani origin and Stateless persons.


The participants from other countries can obtain conference visa from the Indian mission concerned on production of (i) invitation letter from the organizer, (ii) event clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs, (iii) administrative approval of the nodal Ministry, (iv) political clearance from the Ministry of External Affairs and (v) clearance from the State Government/UT concerned, the release added.


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Govt. approves equity infusion of Rs 800 cr in loss-making Air India

The Government on Wednesday approved a proposal for the release of equity support of Rs 800 crore in two equal monthly instalments to loss-making national carrier Air India.
Air India

The Government today approved a proposal for the release of equity support of Rs 800 crore in two equal monthly instalments to the National Aviation Company of India Limited (NACIL), formed to run national carrier Air India after its merger with Indian Airlines in 2007.

An official press release said this equity infusion had earlier been approved by the Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

The release of funds would be calibrated to the achievement of milestones laid down by the GoM as part of an exercise to revive the loss-making airline.

According to the release, NACIL is currently facing severe financial losses, which are compounded by its costly legacy assets, weakening revenue stream and high cost structure, resulting in rising liabilities.

On the directions of the Government, NACIL has initiated a multi-pronged turnaround plan, which includes complete rationalisation of manpower and productivity-linked incentives (PLI), completion of the integration process of the erstwhile Indian Airlines and Air India, review of all agreements on technical and operational matters, return of leased aircraft at the earliest, large-scale redeployment of staff to curb infructuous expenditure and closure of all overseas offices where NACIL does not operate, the release said.

The release said that, after the financial restructuring and other turnaround measures adopted by NACIL, the GoM had accepted the company's savings and cost reduction plan of Rs 1911 crores for 2009-10.

It said NACIL had initiated action as part of the turnaround plan, along with a cost reduction and revenue enhancement programme, focusing on fleet rationalisation, route profitability, manpower rationalisation and structural changes.

The release said Air India was trying to bring about fleet rationalisation through a reduction of fleet size from 146 aircraft to 105 by March, 2011.

It said 22 aircraft were being removed from the fleet by way of leasing out, return of leased aircraft and sale of aircraft.

This is expected to result in annual cost savings of Rs. 200 crores on maintenance and inventory cost and Rs.400 crores in fuel consumption and efficiency gains. Future requirement of cockpit and cabin crew as well as engineers would also get reduced, resulting in annual savings of Rs.300 crores, it said.

The release said route rationalisation had been reworked for the Winter Schedule 2009 (upto March 2010). Restructuring of operations over Frankfurt Hub (effective December 2009), capacity adjustments, rationalization of overlap operations of NACIL(I) and Air India Express, reduction of positioning flights and replacement of six Boeing 747s by other aircraft will result in expected savings of Rs.563 crores in the current year, it said.

The airline is working out a medium-term network strategy with the assistance of consultants Simat Helliesen and Eichner that will focus on profitable hub operations, leveraging partners for efficiency like DIAL T3 and Star Alliance.

Manpower rationalisation, including staff-related costs, is being attempted as an immediate, short-term and a long-term exercise which is expected to result in annual savings of Rs 113 crores, once implemented in full.

The release said NACIL had shown improvements in its operational and financial parametres during the first half of financial year 2009-10 in comparison to the corresponding period of 2008-09.

It said the airline's passenger load factor, which indicates the utilization of Available Seat Kilometres offered by the airline, had mproved from 57.7% to 62%.

The number of Revenue Passengers carried increased from 5.32 million to 5.61 million. As for financial performance, its operating loss of Rs.2029 crores was about 23% less as compared to Rs.2638 crores for the corresponding period of last year.

The release said NACIL’s present paid-up equity capital of Rs.145 crores was not sufficient for an aviation company of its size. The equity induction will not only ease the cash flow situation of the company but would also preclude borrowing from the markets at a high cost.

The turnaround/restructuring plan of NACIL would be monitored and reviewed by Ministry of Civil Aviation, the Committee of Secretaries (COS) and the GOM periodically, it added.

The present equity infusion of Rs 800 crores is part of a total equity infusion of Rs 5000 crore that the Government is learnt to be thinking of for the airline over a three-year period. The airline has been in talks with the Government for some time now for ways of tiding over its financial crisis.

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Delhi Library exhibition from February 24-28

The Delhi Public Library (DPL) has decided to re-launch an exhibition that it had slated earlier this month to mark its 60th anniversary.


The exhibition had to be abruptly called off on February 2 due to a fire at the venue, the Lalit Kala Akademi, which also destroyed many of the exhibits.


The exhibition, A Saga of Times Gone By, will now be held from February 24-28 at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) in the capital.


According to Dr Banwari Lal, Director, DPL, the exhibition is being reorganised because the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) is holding an International Newspaper Library Conference in India for the first time during this period.


IGNCA has specially requested DPL to relaunch the exhibition for delegates from 15 different countries because it felt the "Newseum" segment would be of special interest to them.


The Newseum is a display showcasing the DPL's newspaper archives, presenting a visual history of Hindi and English newspaper advertisements from 1952 to 2002 as well as an assortment of lesser known but memorable photographs, cartoons and articles from the 1950s and 1960s that depict events of current interest as they occurred then.


Apart from a multi-media "Rewind of the Last Sixty Years", the exhibition will also have a section on archives, displaying papers on selected policy decisions and events that encapsulate crucial moments in Indian history from 1951 till the present, along with actual government files obtained from the National Archives.


There is also a selection of 40 rare gramaphone records, spanning the classical, film, religious and popular genres of Indian music. They are sourced from DPL's collection of more than 4000 records, specially digitised as audio CDs to be played on demand at the exhibition.


Apart from old photographs of the library, also on view will be a selection of books from the DPL's wide-ranging collection of books in English, Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu.


A CNN-IBN film, titled "50 years of Doordarshan", that depicts the television channel's history, with scenes from popular shows, will be shown throughout the exhibition.


DPL was established with assistance from UNESCO and inaugurated by then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on October 27, 1951. It provides free library and information services to residents of Delhi.


It is the busiest public library in South-East Asia and has several branches and sub-branches in Delhi. It also runs a Braille library for the visually-impaired, a prison library for the inmates of Tihar Jail and mobile libraries to areas without library facilities.


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India, Denmark sign Social Security Agreement

India and Denmark today signed a bilateral Social Security Agreement (SSA) that will protect their workers in each other's country against double payment of social security contributions, loss of contributions and loss of benefits.


The agreement was signed by Dr. A. Didar Singh, Secretary, Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs and Ms Inger Stojberg, Minister for Employment of Denmark.


Before the signing, the two sides held a bilateral meeting to discuss the way forward for implementation of the agreement. On the occasion, Dr. Singh said that it was a significant agreement that would further strengthen the bilateral relations between the two countries.


He said the detached workers sent by Denmark-based companies to their Indian subsidiaries, or those sent by Indian companies to their subsidiaries in Denmark would be exempt from social security contribution under the host country's legislation.


While working abroad, these employees would only be subject to the social security regulations of their home country.


Dr Singh said the agreement provided that an employed or self-employed person, other than detached workers, would be subejct only to the legislation of the host country. It also provides for portability of the benefits at the time of relocation to home country or a third country.


He said the agreement would also help enhance trade and investment between the two countries on account of reduction of corporate expeses on social security and would ensure social protection of migrant professionals.


He said a Joint Working Group would be set up to work out the detailed framework of the agreement. He said the agreement would come into effect after completion of the requisite procedures by both countries.


India already has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Labour Mobility Partnership with Denmark in September, 2009.


There are about 13,000 Indians in Denmark most of whom are working as professionals and self-employed persons.

India has signed similar Social Security agreements with Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands in the recent past. Agreements with other countries like Canada, South Korea, Czech Republic and the United States are underway.


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6 more swine flu deaths in India, toll rises to 1321

Six more cases of swine flu deaths have been reported in India, taking the toll due to influenza A (H1N1) pandemic in the country so far to 1321, an official statement said here today.


Three deaths - two in Gujarat and one in Maharashtra - were reported during the day today, the statement said.


Besides, reports of three earlier deaths - two in Karnataka and one in Gujarat - were received from the respective state authorities today, it said.


Of the total swine flu deaths in the country so far, Maharashtra now accounts for 345, while 273 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, 9 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 31 new cases of swine flu were reported from different parts of India today, including 10 in Maharashtra, 8 in Rajasthan, 7 in Karnataka, 4 in Gujarat, and 1each in Madhya Pradesh and Delhi.


With these, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus reported in the country so far has gone up to 29,409, the statement added.


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Hyderabad airport rated best in 5-15 million passenger category

A view of Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad.
A view of Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad.

The Rajiv Gandhi International Airport (RGIA) in Hyderabad has been adjudged as the best among the 5 to 15 million passenger capacity airports in the world by the Airports Council International (ACI).

A press release from GMR Hyderabad International Airport Ltd (GHIAL) said RGIA had been placed fifth amongst all airports in the Asia-Pacific region.

ACI is the definitive authority of the world's airprots. The awards will be formally presented on May 13 during the ACI Asia-Pacific Regional Conference & Exhibition at Hainan in China.

The ACI also ranked Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) as the fourth best airport in the world in the 15-25 million passenger traffic per annum category. IGIA was also top ranked as the "Best Improved Airport" in Asia Pacific region.

Delhi International Airport (P) Limited (DIAL), a joint venture consortium led by global infrastructure major GMR group, took charge of the airport in May 2006, when its Airport Service Quality (ASQ) rating was 3.02 points, which went up to 3.15 points in 2008. It went up to 4.16 points in 2009.

ASQ rating is measured on a scale of 1 to 5 points, with 1 being the lowest and 5 the highest.

GMR Group Chairman G M Rao said the rating had vindicated the company's persistent efforts.

DIAL CEO P S Nair said the opening of the airport's Terminal 3 would help increase its ratings even further. The new terminal will help Delhi Airport build a capacity to handle 70 million passengers per annum by 2010.

According to a DIAL press release, the airports are rated on 34 parameters under 10 broad categories, some of which are directly or indirectly attributable to a host of other agencies at the airport, including key regulatory and facilitating agencies like Customs, Immigration, CISF, Airlines and Ground Handlers.

These categories include: the ambience of the airport, cleanliness of the terminal, comfort of the waiting areas, availability of washrooms, cleanliness of washrooms, courtesy and helpfulness of the airport staff, business lounges, ease of making connections, passport / ID inspection experience and good shopping facilities.

File photo of Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi.
File photo of Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi.

In the case of RGIA, the company was mandated to achieve a score of 3.5 within three years, but it has got 4.44 in the 5-15 million passenger category.

GHIAL CEO P Sripathy said the award recognised the hard work of all the airport staff and stakeholders over the past year.

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Pune blast toll goes up to 11 as student succumbs to injuries

The death toll in the bomb blast that ripped through a popular eatery in Pune on Saturday evening has gone up to 11 with a 21-year-old youth, who hailed from Delhi, succumbing to his injuries in hospital late last night.

The youth, identified as Aditya Mehta, was admitted to the Jehangir Hospital in Pune in a critical condition after the terrorist attack on the "German Bakery" in the city's Koregaon Park area, frequented by foreigners and youngsters.

The body of Mehta, who was a student of engineering at the Bharatiya Vidyapeeth, was brought during the day to the capital.

Pune's Commissioner of Police Satyapal Singh told NetIndian over the telephone that one of the 55 others injured in the explosion was in a critical condition.

He said three of the 11 killed in the incident were foreigners: an Iranian youth, an Italian woman and a Nepalese youth who worked as a waiter at the restaurant.

Mr Singh, however, declined to give any details of the progress in the investigations into the blast, which was the first major terrorist incident in India after the November 26, 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, in which 166 people were killed.

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. One youth, also a student of engineering, had succumbed to his injuries in hospital yesterday.

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.

Mr Singh had told a press conference yesterday that the police had got useful clues from closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras, including one in the bakery itself and another from a camera outside a five-star hotel nearby, which was focused in the general direction of the restaurant.

The blast occurred around 7.30 pm on 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.

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Second Officers Training Academy to come up in Gaya, Bihar

The Cabinet Committee on Security has approved the establishment of a second Officers Training Academy (OTA) at Gaya in Bihar, in addition to the one already existing in Chennai.


An official press release said this was a major long-term step to address the problem of a shortage of officers in the Indian Army.


It said the Army, through this academy, would augment its capacity to commission more Short Service Commission officers to fill vacancies, especially in the junior and middle ranks.


While the Gaya academy will commence training with 250 officers annually, it will be upgraded to its full design capacity to train 750 officer cadets in due course of time. The academy will also train officer cadre from friendly foreign countries.


The project would cost approximately Rs 360 crores and will offer better employment and economic opportunities in the area, the release added.


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"Companion Travels Free" offer for Indians on Buddhist Circuit train

The Indian Railway Catering & Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) has announced a "Companion Travels Free" offer for Indians who travel on the Buddhist Circuit special train for trips commencing on February 26 and March 9 and 20.


The offer is aimed at providing an opportunity for domestic tourists to experience the rich cultural and spiritual heritage of India and travel in the footsteps of Lord Buddha.


The train, which is the winner of the National Tourism Award, covers Bodhgaya, Nalanda, Rajgir, Sarnath, Varanasi, Kushinagar, Lumbini (Nepal), Sravasti and Agra.


Tourist and pilgrims from over 25 countries have traveled on this special train in the last two years, an official press release said here today.


The 7 nights/8 days tour package has an all-inclusive price tag of Rs 41,125 per person for AC 2 tier and Rs 34,545 for AC 3 Tier. Apart from the journey, the package includes hotel accommodation, road transportation in AC deluxe buses, all meals, sightseeing, monuments entrance fee, tour guid services, travel insurance and on-board security.


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Editors Guild expresses concern over plight of journalists in Manipur

The Editors Guild of India (EGI) today expressed grave concern over the plight of journalists in Manipur and called for urgent remedial measures to bridge the growing gulf between the state government and security forces on the one hand and the media there on the other.


A statement issued by Editors Guild president Rajdeep Sardesai and General Secretary Coomi Kapoor said a team from the EGI, comprising well-known journalists, Sumit Chakravartty and B G Verghese, had visited Manipur last month, in response to a request from local journalists.


It said the team had submitted a detailed report on the "traumatic conditions" faced by the media in the state.


The statement said one fact that emerged clearly during the course of the EGI team's discussions was that, unlike in other states, in Manipur the Information and Broadcasting Minister does not interact with journalists.


The report of the team said that, besides the state, the media was under pressure from insurgent groups, especially the splinter elements.


"There is a veiled atmosphere of fear in which there is a private voice and public utterance. This is a very difficult path to negotiate but it is a journey that must be undertaken," the report said.


According to the EGI statement, the All Manipur Working Journalists Union (AMWJU) had written several letters to the guild highlighting the harassment and pressures faced by Manipur journalists. Five journalists were gunned down by unknown persons in the last few years, it said.


.It said S. Hemant, the AMWJU President, wrote urging the EGI to ask the Manipur Government take necessary action to bring to book those responsible for the killing of a 22-year-old journalist, Konsam Rishikanta Singh, a junior sub-editor of The Imphal Free Press, who was shot dead by unknown assailants at Langol in Imphal West on November 17, 2008.


"The state government has so far failed to either identify or book the perpetrators. Media fraternities in the state suspect the involvement of the security forces in some of the killings. Apart from continued harassment by the Manipur police and State Government, journalists in the state are also pressured by non-state underground players," the statement said.


The EGI team's report recommended the establishment of regular informal meetings between senior editors and journalists with the Chief Minister, official spokesman, Chief Secretary, Director General of Police and elements of the Unified Command jointly so as to restore confidence and bring about a rapprochement.


At present the only minister to interact with the media is the sports minister, a former footballer, the statement said.


The guild has also suggested setting up a media support group of academics, former administrators, erstwhile security personnel, respected political figures, jurists, professionals and NGOs in Imphal and elsewhere in Manipur.


"Professional bonding between the state journalists and media groups all over the country through internships could impart mutual strength and solidarity to both the local and national media," the EGI report suggested.


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Kingfisher to start Delhi-London flights from March 28

Private carrier Kingfisher Airlines, part of the Vijay Mallya-led UB Group, today said it would commence daily non-stop flights from New Delhi to London Heathrow.


Flight IT 001 will take off from New Delhi at 1.20 pm and arrive at London Heathrow’s Terminal 4 at 6.10 pm, local time. From London, flight IT 002 will leave at 9.05 pm and arrive the next day at 10.20 am in New Delhi, local time, a press release issued by the airline said.


The flights on the sector will be operated using an Airbus A330-200, which will be configured in two classes, Kingfisher First and Kingfisher Class, the release added.


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Krishna says composite dialogue with Pakistan remains suspended

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna said on Wedneday that the proposed Foreign Secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan did not amount to a resumption of the composite dialogue between the two countries.
File photo of External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna.
File photo of External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna.

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna today said that the proposed Foreign Secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan on February 25 did not amount to a resumption of the composite dialogue process between the two countries, which remains suspended.

"The composite dialogues, they are suspended. Let the nation not be under mistaken inference that composite dialogues are being renewed," he told television channel CNN-IBN in an interview.

"Composite dialogues are suspended from the Indian point of view. The issue that we raised remained to be addressed by Pakistan with a degree of seriousness," he said.

Mr Krishna said the talks between the Foreign Secretaries would focus on terror as the core issue. He said India was concerned about the terrorist activities aimed at it and emanating from across the border and felt it was necessary to engage Pakistan in this very critical area.

"Hence we offered that the talks take place at the level of foreign secretaries. We do not know what issues the Pakistan Foreign Secretary is going to raise. The brief for our secretary is that terror is the centre and focus point of talks," he said.

Referring to the criticism of the proposal for the talks from the Opposition, Mr Krishna said, "If there is a better suggestion in terms of alternative the government is willing to consider those alternatives. If the Opposition in their wisdom emanating from being out of government can suggest the government is not unwilling to look at them," he added.

India had suspended the composite dialogue process with Pakistan after the November 26, 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, which claimed 166 lives.

India blamed elements based in Pakistan for the attacks and has been insisting that there could be no meaningful dialogue between the two countries unless Pakistan brought the perpetrators of the attacks to book and dismantled the terrorist infrastructure on its territory from where terror acts against India are planned and carried out.

Mr Krishna said India had given enough documentary evidence to Pakistan on the masterminds of the 26/11 attacks for carrying out further investigations against those involved, saying the attacks were "committed, hatched and carried out by Pakistanis".

He said India thought it was necessary, after 14 months, to find out what Pakistan had done to address its concerns. "The terror infrastructure is a threat to India, and to the stability in the region," he added.

After months of insisting that there could be no meaningful dialogue with Pakistan unless it shows tangible progress in the investigations against the 26/11 accused, India had late last month offered to hold talks at the Foreign Secretary-level.

Pakistan has accepted the offer and the meeting between Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir is scheduled to take place on February 25 in New Delhi.

Official sources have indicated that India was prepared to go into the talks with an open mind and discuss all relevant issues that could bring peace and stability to the sub-continent. They also indicated that terrorism emanating from Pakistan against India would be one of the major issues on the agenda of the proposed talks. They said India would go into the talks without prejudging the outcome.

Pakistan, on the other hand, has indicated time and again that it would like to see a resumption of the composite dialogue process and discuss all outstanding issues between the two countries, especially Jammu & Kashmir.

India's offer to hold the talks has been attributed at least in part to some of the steps taken by Pakistan in recent weeks in the investigations in the 26/11 cases.

The Government's move has invited criticism from the Opposition, especially after last Saturday's bomb blast in Pune in which 11 people were killed and 55 others injured.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has urged the Government to reconsider the move, describing it as a misconceived and adventurist step.

BJP leader Arun Jaitley said on Sunday that the Pune blast was a grim reminder of the fragility of India's security and the adventurist traps the country was walking into.

"Terror and talks cannot co-exist. When terror threatens India, not talking is a legitimate diplomatic option," he stated.

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21 killed, 1 missing after bus plunges into river in UP

At least 21 people were killed and one person was missing after a bus carrying a marriage party plunged into the Pahuj river near Maharajpura in the Jalaun district of Uttar Pradesh in the early hours of today.


Jalaun district Superintendent of Police Prem Gautam told NetIndian over the telephone that one of those killed in the accident was a girl and the rest were all men.


In all, the bus was carrying 62 people, of whom 40 had been rescued, he said, adding that efforts were on to trace the missing person.


The bus was on its way from Morena district in Madhya Pradesh to Rudrapur in Jalaun district when the mishap occurred.


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Roerich Trust gets patronage of Indian, Russian governments


India and Russia have decided that the International Roerich Memorial Trust (IRMT) in the Kulu valley of Himachal Pradesh will now onwards function under the honorary patronage of the co-Chairmen of their Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Cooperation (IGC).


This was decided at a meeting of the co-chairs - Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Sobyanin and External Affairs Minister S M Krishna - which concluded here today.


The IRMT was established in 1993 at Naggar in the Kulu Valley to preserve the heritage of the place where the Roerich family lived from 1929 till 1948.


They included the famous Russian artist Nicholas Roerich, his wife Helena, their elder son George (Yuri), an orientalist, and younger son Svetoslav, an artist, and his wife, Devika Rani, the well-known Indian actress.


Mr Krishna and Mr Sobyanin emphasised that the multi-faceted activities of the IRMT, in order to preserve the priceless legacy of the Roerichs for future generations, was of special importance and served as a bridge between the cultures and spiritual traditions of the two countries.


In its day-to-day activities, the Trust will now have the support and patronage of the Commission on Culture that is part of the IGC, a press release from the Russian Embassy here said.


The complex at Naggar comprises the estate where the elder Roerichs lived from 1929 to 1947, an art gallery and the Urusvati Himalayan Research Institute.


Until his death in 1993, it was the abode of Svetoslav Roerich and Devika Rani. It is considered one of the unique treasure houses of world culture, on par with Leo Tolstoy’s Yasnaya Polyana and Alexander Pushkin’s village of Mikhailovskoye.


Since 1991, the complex has been run by an Indian-Russian board of trustees formed by Svetoslav Roerich and registered in India as the International Roerich Memorial Trust.


According to the trust deed, the President of the 17-member board is ex-officio the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh with the Russian Ambassador in India serving as the ex-officio Vice-President.


Apart from that, the present Ambassador, Alexander Kadakin, as one of the founders of the museum, was elected a life-trustee. Thanks to the IRMT activities, numerous Russian-Indian festivals and art exhibits, scientific conferences and other functions are held annually at the estate.


Helena Roerich’s Art College is doing commendable work. The art gallery has more than 50 paintings of both Nicholas and Svetoslav Roerich. It has become one of the major attractions of the region, visited by almost 100,000 tourists from India and other countries every year.


According to Mr Kadakin, the decision by the co-Chairs of the IGC to extend their honorary patronage to the Trust creates new opportunities for developing the memorial complex on a qualitatively new basis.


He said the Trust valued the contribution of the Himachal Pradesh authorities, including former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh and present Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, to help preserve the Roerich heritage and make the complex a renowned cultural centre.


He felt the new status of the IRMT would raise its prestige and carry forward the common cultural, historic and spiritual treasure.


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Cabinet Secretary calls for bench-marking of public services in SAARC nations

Union Cabinet Secretary K.M. Chandrashekhar today called for bench-marking of public services in the SAARC region and to make them more user-friendly by adopting e-governance.


Inaugurating a SAARC Workshop on e-Governance here, Mr Chandrashekhar said that because of commonality of culture, administrative experience and other features, joint efforts should be made to identify the services to be delivered and third-party evaluating mechanism should be adopted.


He stressed the need for pooling of experiences in the field of ICT-enabled service delivery mechanisms. This would bring about sea changes in administration and service delivery mechanisms, he said.


Information Technology Secretary R Chandrashekhar said e-governance was an effective tool to achieve goals of development and there was need to learn from mutual experiences.


Mr R C Mishra said the workshop would provide a forum for sharing experienes in this area and pointed out that e-governance was doing what other tools could not achieve. He said initiative had to be taken to take these results to their logical ends.


Making a presentation on India’s initiatives in the area of land records, Ms Rita Sinha, Secretary, Land Resources, said that efforts were being made to digitize all land records and, though it was a cumbersome process, significant success had been achieved.


Digitization of land maps in 20 states has already been initiated and mutation through computers is going on in 16 States. She said that within eight years digitization of land records would be initiated in all districts of the country.

The two-day event will have a special session on Computerization of Land Records and will provide a holistic view of e-governance in India to the delegates from SAARC countries.


The workshop, being attended by experts from industry and academia, will also have interactive sessions on Enabling Public Services through e-Governance, Process Reforms, and Sharing Project Experiences in the other areas of e-Governance especially those relating to Enabling Policy Environment, Building Human Capacity and Supportive Business Environment, and so on.


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Jet Airways announces new daily non-stop flight to South Africa


Private carrier Jet Airways today said it would commence daily non-stop flights from Mumbai to Johannesburg from April 14.


The launch of the new route, using an Airbus 330-200 aircraft, will mark Jet's maiden foray into Africa.


A press release from the airline said flight 9W 242 will depart Mumbai at 0205 hours, arriving in Johannesburg at 0735 hrs. On the return leg, flight 9W 241 will depart Johannesburg at 1100 hrs, arriving in Mumbai at 2330 hrs.


"Jet Airways is delighted to enter Africa with its daily Mumbai-Johannesburg service. South Africa’s reputation as a leading tourist and business destination and the fact that it will play host to the 2010 FIFA World Cup also presents a huge opportunity for Jet Airways," Mr Nikos Kardassis, CEO, Jet Airways said.


He said South Africa and the African region was an important market for the airline and it was confident of capturing and growing the market.


"Given the strong linkages between India and South Africa, and the large number of people of Indian origin living in and/or working in South Africa, we believe that there is untapped potential and this new route promises to serve the needs of our discerning corporate and leisure flyers", Mr. Kardassis said.


South Africa is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world and also emerging as a leading business tourism and conference destination as well as an attractive foreign investment destination.


Johannesburg will be the 22nd destination in the airline’s international network. Jet Airways currently flies to New York (both JFK and Newark), Toronto, Brussels, London (Heathrow), Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Colombo, Bangkok, Kathmandu, Dhaka, Kuwait, Bahrain, Muscat, Doha, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Jeddah, Sharjah and Riyadh.


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Common entrance test for engineering, related courses likely from 2013

Boards of School Education from different states today agreed to move towards a common entrance examination for engineering and related professional courses from the year 2013 onwards.


At a meeting of the Council of Boards of School Education (COBSE) held here today, the chairmen/secretaries/representatives of 20 different state Boards approved a common core curriculum in Science and Mathematics.


Union Minister for Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal told newsmen that most of the Boards were in favour of implementing the common core curriculum in these subjects from the year 2011.


The common curriculum is expected to provide a level playing field for students across the country, who will then find it easier to appear in a common entrance test for engineering and related courses in universities.


The Boards said they could move towards a common entrance examination in these subjects in 2013 after incorporation of the various suggestions made by them with regard to the common core curriculum.


An official press release said a task force would be set up to formulate the modalities for the common entrance examination.


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6 more swine flu deaths in India, toll rises to 1315

Six 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 1315, an official statement said here today.


While no deaths were reported from any part of the country today, information about six deaths that occurred earlier - two each in Gujarat and Chhattisgarh and one each in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh - were received from the respective state governments, it said.


Of the total swine flu deaths in the country so far, Maharashtra now accounts for 344, while 270 lives have been lost in Gujarat, 186 in Rajasthan, 144 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, 9 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 41 new cases of swine flu were reported from different parts of India today, including 26 in Maharashtra, 8 in Karnataka, 2 each in Punjab and Gujarat, and 1 each in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Chandigarh.


With these, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus reported in the country so far has gone up to 29,378, the statement added.


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India, Morocco agree to strengthen cooperation


India and Morocco today agreed to strengthen bilateral cooperation between the two countries in a variety of areas.


At talks between visiting Moroccan Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Mohammed Ouzzine and Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor, the two sides discussed a wide range of matters of bilateral and multilateral interest.


Dr Ouzzine was accompanied on the visit by Mr Allali Badre Eddine, Director, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, an official press release added.


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Railways, HRD Ministry sign MoU to develop schools, colleges

The Ministries of Railways and Human Resource Development (HRD) today signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to develop schools and colleges on railway land for the benefit of the wards of railway employees and others.


The MoU was signed by Ms Anshu Vaish, Secretary, Department of School Education and Ms Vibha Puri Das, Secretary, Department of Higher Education, on behalf of the HRD Ministry and Mr A K Goel, Member (Staff), Railway Board.


Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal and Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee were present on the occasion.


Under the MoU, the two ministries will strive to develop educational instructure on railway land identified by the Ministry of Railways.


This will include around 50 Kendriya Vidyalayas in the civil sector (about 20 during the remainder of the XIth Plan and the rest during the XIIth Plan), 10 residential schools on the pattern of the Navodaya Vidyalayas and an appropriate number of Model Degree Colleges and Technical and Management institutions of National Importance.


These will meet the demand for education from various sections, including wards of Railway employees, either as per the norms specified under the existing schemes/programmes and projects being executed by the Ministry of Human Resource Development or through special programmes and projects mutually agreed by the parties or through innovative financing under public-private partnership (PPP) models or any other combinations of such schemes.


The MoU will cover the development of new facilities as well as the upgradation of existing educational and technical institutions being managed by Railways for which the Ministry of Human Resource Development would provide necessary assistance and know-how in the interest of improving the overall quality of education.


An official press release said the two Ministries would constitute a high-powered working group, consisting of senior officials and experts, to work out a roadmap for implementing the programme.


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Govt. denies bureaucrats will evaluate performance of ministers

The Goverment today described as "incorrect" reports in a section of the media that it had developed a Performance Monitoring & Evaluation System (PMES) whereby the performance of ministers would be reported by bureaucrats.


"This is incorrect. It is not factually correct to say that the serving officers will evaluate the performance of the ministers," the Cabinet Secretariat clarified in a statement issued here.


"The Prime Minister’s order is clear that the entire process has to be driven by the ministers," it said.


According to the statement, the order said: "At the beginning of each financial year, with the approval of the Minister concerned, each Department will prepare a Results-Framework Document (RFD) consisting of the priorities set out by the Ministry concerned, agenda as spelt out in the manifesto if any, President’s Address, announcements/agenda as spelt out by the Government from time to time. The Minister in charge will decide the inter-se priority among the departmental objectives."


It said that the Prime Minister's order further required that "to achieve results commensurate with the priorities listed in the Results-Framework Document, the Minister in charge will approve the proposed activities and schemes for the ministry/department. The Ministers in charge will also approve the corresponding success indicators (Key Result Areas – KRAs or Key Performance Indicators – KPIs) and time bound targets to measure progress in achieving these objectives."


The Cabinet Secretariat said that it was also not true that a minister and secretary were jointly required to sign the Results-Framework Document (RFD).


"The PM’s order does not have any such requirement. The minister has the prerogative and the final authority to decide on the priorities and deliverables for the concerned department at the beginning of the year. Once the priorities, direction and deliverables are decided by the minister, it is the responsibility of the department to achieve these results. The PMES makes this practice more systematic and transparent," it said.


The statement said the assertion that the system was run by a Committee on Government Performance was not true.


"According to PM’s orders, the main function of this Committee is to ensure uniformity, consistency and coordinated action across various Departments. It does the secretarial work of preparing guidelines, ensuring timely submission of RFDs, and providing feedback to the ministries/departments concerned. It plays a supportive role to facilitate the smooth functioning of PMES," it said.


The Cabinet Secretariat said the Committee did not evaluate the performance of ministries or departments but merely provided technical support technical support to facilitate such evaluation by the ministers concerned.


It said the objective was to ensure accountability of the department to the minister, who laid down the goals and targets for each period and reviewed them.

"The PMES is consistent with international best practice and the report of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC II)," the statement added.


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Two British men with plane-spotting gadgets being questioned in Delhi

The Delhi Police are questioning two British nationals who were staying at the Radisson Hotel near the Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) here and were found in possession of some high-tech gadgets for tracking aircraft as well as binoculars and maps.


The two men, Stephen Hampston, in his mid-40s, and Steven Martin, in the mid-50s, were picked up for questioning by the police yesterday, official sources said.


The men had checked into the hotel on Saturday and the hotel authorities informed the police about them after a waiter noticed some suspicious activity. Police in Delhi and other parts of India are on a high alert after Saturday's bomb blast in Pune which killed 10 people and injured 56 others.


The sources said the duo were also being questioned by officials of the Intelligence Bureau.


The officials were examining the equipment the men were using, which can capture details of aircraft hundreds of kilometres away. They also had maps of the IGI Airport, downloaded from Google, as well as powerful binoculars and other gadgets.


The two men are understood to have told the police that the equipment was used only for aeroplane spotting, which they said was their hobby


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Chidambaram condemns Maoist attack on EFR camp

Union Home Minister P Chidambaram today condemend the attack by armed men of the CPI (Maoist) on a camp of the Eastern Frontier Rifles in West Bengal's West Midnapore district yesterday, describing it as another "outrageous attempt" by the banned organisation to overawe the established authority in the State.

At least 24 security personnel were killed when the Maoists struck the camp in the Shilda area of the district and opened fire on the forces deployed to combat the left-wing extremists.

In a statement here, Mr Chidambaram said that, besides the massive loss of lives, more than 40 weapons were reported to have been looted.

He also noted that the leader of the CPI (Maoist), Koteshwar Rao alias Kishenji, had claimed responsibility for the attack and had threatened to repeat such attacks in the future.

The Home Minister said he had spoken this morning to West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and conveyed his deep sense of shock as well as his profound sympathies on the loss of lives.

"While there are indications of failure in some aspects, only a thorough review will reveal how the police camp with adequate strength was overrun, when there was day light, by the CPI (Maoist)," he said.

Mr Chidambaram said every attack of this kind exposed the true nature and character of the CPI (Maoist).

"Their goal is to seize power. Their weapon is violence. No organisation or group in a democratic republic has the right to take to violence to overpower the established legal authority. Unfortunately, this simple truth has escaped a number of well-meaning organisations that find 'legitimacy' in the armed liberation struggle carried on by the CPI (Maoist)," he said.

He said that, during the three-day "bandh" called by the Maoists between February 7 and 9, their main targets of attack were railway property, with a total of 11 incidents - three in Bihar, six in Jharkhand and two in Orissa. He said tracks were blown up, railway stations were attacked, bombs were placed on railway property and railway officials were assaulted.

"I know that the overwhelming majority in this country will condemn the mindless violence unleashed by the CPI (Maoist) and will support the careful, controlled and calibrated efforts being taken by the Central and State Governments to put an end to the violence. However, I would like to hear the voices of condemnation of those who have, erroneously, extended intellectual and material support to the CPI (Maoist)," he said.

Mr Chidambaram said the menace of Naxalism could be ended and progress brought to the people in the conflict zones only if the whole country rejected the preposterous theses of the Maoists and condemned the so-called "armed liberation struggle".

Yesterday's attack came less than a week after Mr Chidambaram had held a meeting in Kolkata with the Chief Ministers and officals of West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar and Orissa to discuss a joint operation against the Maoists.

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Pune blast toll rises to 10 as student succumbs to injuries

The death toll in the bomb blast that devastated a popular eatery in Pune on Saturday evening rose to ten on Tuesday when a 24-year-old youth, belonging to Lucknow, succumbed to his injuries in hospital.

The death toll in the bomb blast that devastated a popular eatery in Pune on Saturday evening rose to ten today when a 24-year-old youth, belonging to Lucknow, succumbed to his injuries in hospital.

Nine people had died and 57 others were injured on the day of the blast that was set off by unidentified terrorists at the "German Bakery" in Pune's Koregaon area, close to the Osho Ashram and a Jewish Chabad House.

Pune Police Commissioner Satyapal Singh told journalists in Pune this morning that the youth was identified as Abhishek Ravi Saxena, a third year student at an engineering college in the city.

Mr Singh also said that the Pune police had received a report from the forensic science laboratory which established that ammonium nitrate, RDX and petroleum hydrocarbon oil had been used in the explosive used by the perpetrators of the attack.

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

Mr Singh also declined to provide any details about the number of people detained or questioned in connection with the attack. He also refused to speculate about the terrorist groups which could have plotted the incident.

He, however, said the police had got useful clues from the closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras, including one in the bakery itself and another from a camera outside a five-star hotel nearby, which was focused in the general direction of the restaurant.

The blast occurred around 7.30 pm on 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 blast is the first major terrorist incident in the country after the horrific November 26, 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, which killed 166 people.

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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4 more swine flu deaths in India, toll goes up to 1309

Four more deaths caused by influenza A (H1N1) have been reported in India, taking the toll due to the swine flu pandemic in the country so far to 1309, an official statement said here today.


No deaths were reported during the day today from any state. But information about four deaths that occurred earlier - three in Karnataka and one in Madhya Pradesh - was conveyed by the state authorities concerned to the Union Ministry of Health & Family Welfare today, it said.


Of the total swine flu deaths in the country so far, Maharashtra now accounts for 343, while 268 lives have been lost in Gujarat, 186 in Rajasthan, 144 in Karnataka, 95 in Delhi, 52 in Andhra Pradesh, 39 in Punjab, 37 each in Kerala and Haryana, 25 in Madhya Pradesh, 18 in Uttar Pradesh, 13 in Uttarakhand, 8 each in Chandigarh and Himachal Pradesh, 7 each in Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh, 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 24 new cases of swine flu were reported from different parts of India today, including 16 in Maharashtra 2 each in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and 1 each in Delhi, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.


With these, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus reported in the country so far has gone up to 29,337, the statement added.


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