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One new influenza A (H1N1) case reported from India

One new case of influenza A (H1N1) was reported from India today, taking the total number of confirmed cases so far to 129.

The new case was of a 23-year-old Thai national, who arrived in Mumbai from Bangkok by a Thai Airways flight on June 28. From there, he had reached the Kandla port in Gujarat, where he was supposed to board a ship of which he is a crew member.

He was detected during the health screening at the port with symptoms of the flu and was isolated at the hospital there on July 1. Four other crew members in close contact with him have also been placed under quarantine and put on chemoprophylaxis.

As many as 90 of the 129 positive cases have already been discharged, while the rest are undergoing treatment in hospital, an official statement added.

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Ansari inaugurates Brig. Mohd Usman Memorial Function at Naoshera

Vice President Hamid Ansari being presented a memento by the Lt. Gen. P C Bhardwaj at the bust unveiling ceremony of Late Brigadier Mohammed Usman, at Jhangar, Naoshera in Jammu & Kashmir on Saturday.
Vice President Hamid Ansari being presented a memento by the Lt. Gen. P C Bhardwaj at the bust unveiling ceremony of Late Brigadier Mohammed Usman, at Jhangar, Naoshera in Jammu & Kashmir on Saturday.
Vice-President Mohammad Hamid Ansari inaugurated the "Brigadier Mohd. Usman Memorial Function" at Jhangar, Naoshera in Jammu and Kashmir today.

The function was held to commemorate the sacrifices of Brig. Usman and other valiant soldiers who laid down their lives for saving their motherland in the 1947-48 operations in the Naoshera Sector.

During the solemn proceedings, Mr Ansari laid a wreath and unveiled the bust of Brig Usman. He also interacted with war veterans of the Naoshera sector as well as the troops deployed on the Line of Control in the sector.

An official press release said the troops were overwhelmed by the occasion and vowed to continue defending the frontiers with greater vigour and dedication.

Lt. General P. C. Bhagwaj, Army Commander, Northern Command and Lt. General R. K. Swami, General Officer Commanding White Night Corps, were amongst those present on the occasion.
Vice President Hamid Ansari laying a wreath at the bust of late Brigadier Mohammed Usman at Jhangar, Naoshera in Jammu & Kashmir on Saturday.
Vice President Hamid Ansari laying a wreath at the bust of late Brigadier Mohammed Usman at Jhangar, Naoshera in Jammu & Kashmir on Saturday.

The Vice President presented mementos and shawls to the Bal Sainiks and senior citizens of Naoshera region on the occasion. They included Honorary Captain Moti Ram, Naib Subedar Gyan Chand, Subedar Sita Ram, Hawaldar Baldev Singh, Subedar Major Dhyan Singh, Naib Subedar S. P Sahani, Kali Das, Mahendra Lal, Basant Singh and S N Randhawa. A large number of civilians also gathered to pay tributes to Brig Usman, the hero who saved Naoshera and reclaimed Jhangar from the enemy’s hand, the release added.

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EPFO Board recommends 8.5 % interest on PF deposits

The Employees' Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) today decided to give interest at the rate of 8.5 per cent for the year 2009-10 on the provident fund deposits of its subscribers.

The decision was taken at a meeting of its Central Board of Trustees presided over by Union Labour and Employment Minister Mallikarjun Kharge.

Mr Harish Rawat, Minister of State for Labour and Employment, was also present at the meeting as the Vice-Chairman of the Trust.

The decision means that the rate of interest on the deposits of the Fund's nearly 45 million subscribers will remain at the same level as last year.

An official press release said the employees' representatives at the meeting were in favour of a higher rate of interest and voiced their dissent when the Board took a decision. This was the fifth regular meeting of the newly-constituted Board.

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British magazine Spectator allowed to publish Indian edition

The Government today said it had approved the publication of an Indian edition of the British magazine Spectator, subject to conditions laid down by the Union Information and Broadcasting Ministry.

The edition, under the title of Spectator India, would deal with news and current affairs and would be published by Telegraph Publications Private Limited, an official press release said.

Telegraph Publications has been allowed to enter into financial arrangements, such as royalty payments, with the owners of the foreign magazine, subject to the rules and regulations of the government.

Telegraph Publications would have to inform the I&B Ministry within 15 days of effecting any changes in the composition of resident Indian directors or key executives and editorial staff. Such changes would be subject to post facto approval of the I&B Ministry, the release said.

The company is liable to intimate the names and details of any foreigners/non-resident Indians/persons of Indian origin proposed to be employed/engaged in the magazine for more than 60 days in a year, either as consultants or as regular employees or in any other capacity. The magazine will have to dispense with the services of such persons if they are subsequently found to be not cleared from the security angle.

The company will have to obtain prior clearance from the I&B Ministry of all persons who are not resident Indians and are proposed to be inducted in the Board of Directors or as key executives or editorial staff of the magazine.

At least three-fourths of the Directors of the Indian company and all key executives and editorial staff have to be resident Indians.

Spectator India is the second foreign magazine in the news and current affairs category to be allowed to publish an Indian edition. In May this year, Forbes India, published by Digital 18 Media Private Limited, had started publication.

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12 new cases of influenza A (H1N1) reported from India

Twelve new cases of influenza A (H1N1) were reported today from India---six from Bangalore, two each from Kozhikode and Delhi, and one each from Hyderabad and Amritsar.

With these, the total number of confirmed cases of the virus reported from India so far has risen to 128, an official statement said.

The new cases in Bangalore include a 27-year-old man, who arrived from Seoul, South Korea, on June 28 and was admitted to hospital after complaining of fever and cough.

Another 26-year-old youth, who arrived from Japan via Bangkok on June 28, reported to the hospital yesterday with complaints of weakness, cough and headache.

A 49-year-old man and a nine-year-old girl of the same family who arrived in Bangalore on June 25 from New Jersey in the United States on June 25, developed symptoms of fever, sore throat and cough on July 1. Two other members of this family who had travelled in the same group had tested positive for the virus earlier.

The other two new cases in Bangalore were a 23-year-old man and a 17-year-old girl, who are close relatives of the same family, who had no travel history.

The two cases in Delhi are of a 17-year-old boy, who arrived from Brisbane, Australia, via Bangkok on July 1 and was detected at the airport with symptoms of the flu, and a six-year-old girl, who had arrived from the US on June 29 and was brought to hospital with headache and fever on July 2.

The cases in Kozhikode are of an eight-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl who arrived there from Abu Dhabi on June 27. Their mother had tested positive earlier.

The case in Hyderabd is of a 30-year-old man who had arrived from Los Angeles in the US via London on July 1. He was detected with symptoms of the flu during the screening at the airport and admitted to hospital, the statement said.

In Amritsar, an 11-year-old boy who arrived on July 1 from Toronto was detected with symptoms during the airport screening and taken to hospital.

Of the 128 positive cases, as many as 82 have already been discharged, while the rest are undergoing treatment in hospital, the statement added.

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Kerala Tourism website to offer online hotel reservations

Kerala Tourism has announced plans to introduce online reservation of rooms at hotels and resorts in the state through its official website, www.keralatourism.org.

The online reservation system will be formally launched on July 8, a press release from Kerala Tourism said today.

The facility has been introduced as part of Kerala Tourism's efforts to assist travelers to plan and book rooms in Kerala much easier and faster. Besides hotels and resorts, properties like ayurvedic centres, homestays and houseboats are also available online.

Nearly 900 properties in Kerala have enrolled to avail of the online facility, out of which 92 have already started offering reservations through this platform.

With the facility in place, rooms can be booked online any time by visiting www.keralatourism.org. At present, 100,000 room nights are available for reservation. This covers destinations like Alappuzha, Kumarakom, Munnar, Periyar, Wayanad, Kochi and Kozhikode.

The rooms can be booked online by using major credit cards, debit cards, net banking and other facilities like Pay Pal, the release said.

The specialty of this reservation platform is that payment made for reservation is going directly to the account of the property. The online reservation engine was developed and is being maintained by www.webcrs.com.

According to Dr. Venu V., Secretary, Kerala Tourism, with the introduction of online reservation facility, the ten-year-old website - www.keralatourism.org has become more resourceful and user-friendly.

Bringing all the hotels, homestays, farm-stays, ayurvedic resorts and so on in Kerala under the purview of online reservation system is the next goal, Mr. M. Sivasankar, Director, Kerala Tourism, said.

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Govt denies Kerala NRI was victim of influenza A (H1N1)

The Union Government today denied media reports which said that a non-resident Indian (NRI) who had died in Kollam, Kerala, on July 1 was possibly a victim of influenza A (H1N1).

In a statement here today, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said the samples of the 51-year-old man had tested negative for influenza A (H1N1) at the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) in Delhi.

The statement said the NRI was a known case of diabetes for 30 years, hypertension, coronary artery disease and dyslipedemia. He had travelled from the United Kingdom and reached Thiruvananthapuram on June 12 after transiting through Dubai and Mumbai.

According to the statement, as per the database of the Airport Health Organisation, specifically maintained for influenza A (H1N1), he had reached Mumbai at about 0400 hours on June 12 by Air India flight IC 684 from Dubai and did not have any symptoms at the time of entry screening on that date.

The statement said the man had developed symptoms of fever and cough on June 23 and had taken medication for viral fever at his native place. When his condition deteriorated, he reported to a private hospital in Kollam district on July 1.

His condition deteriorated and he died within two hours of reaching the hospital on July 1, the statement said.

"There has been speculation in certain sections of the media that his death was due to influenza A (H1N1). This is not correct. His throat and nasal swab have tested negative for influenza A H1N1(swine) at the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, Delhi," the statement added.

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PM hails Rly Budget, says it focuses on passenger amenities, safety

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today hailed the Railway Budget for 2009-10 presented to the Lok Sabha by Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee and said that it focused on improving passenger amenities, safety and security.

He said Ms Banerjee had done a very competent job in the short period of time that was available to her for preparing the budget proposals.

"She has presented a budget without imposing any burden by way of increase in freight charges or passenger fare. At the same time she has, in keeping with our party’s election promise, focused on improving amenities for passengers, improving safety and security of railways and making rail travel a desirable experience.

"She has outlined a programme of modernizing 50 railway stations to world class standards. A large number of facilities have been included by way of using the innovative finance mechanism of public private partnerships to improve the productivity of the Railways and to finance more investment. I therefore compliment the Railway Minister for a very competent job she has done in a very short period," Dr Singh said.

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President, VP condole death of Tyeb Mehta

President Pratibha Patil and Vice-President M Hamid Ansari today condoled the passing away of well-known artist Tyeb Mehta, who died in Mumbai yesterday at the age of 84.

In her condolence message, Ms Patil said Mr Mehta was a celebrated artist and a role model for modern and contemporary Indian artists.

"He had exhibited a number of heart touching paintings such as 'Celebration', 'Kali' and 'Mahishasura'. He will be a source of inspiration for all those interested in art and culture. In his passing away the nation has lost a creative and acclaimed artist," she said.

Mr Ansari said he was deeply grieved to learn about the demise of Mr Mehta, whom he described as a brilliant artist who had contributed immensely to the world of painting.

"He will ever remain a major source of inspiration to younger generations. In his death, the country has lost an eminent artist," he said.

"My wife joins me in sending our heartfelt condolences to the members of the bereaved family and the wide circle of his admirers and friends. We pray to the Almighty to grant them strength and fortitude to withstand this tragedy," he added.

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Tripartite MoU to ensure effective tiger conservation

The Union Cabinet today gave its approval for implementing a new and improved tripartite memorandum of understanding (MoU) format linked to fund flows between the Union Ministry of Environment & Forests, State Governments and the Tiger Reserve Management.

The MoU seeks to ensure effective tiger conservation by laying out the respective responsibilities and reciprocal commitments linked to fund flows to foster public accountability.

According to an official press release, the MoU will strengthen tiger conservation initiatives in the country, reinforce the ongoing initiatives to conserve the tiger in the wake of poaching threats and demand for its body parts in the international illegal market, develop approaches to strengthen the ongoing efforts for conserving tigers in the designated tiger reserves and other tiger bearing forests of the country and address the growing concern among public for saving the tiger.

The implementation would be done through the ongoing Centrally Sponsored Scheme of Project Tiger in the 37 Tiger reserves in the country, it said.

The states covered under the scheme are Uttar Pradesh, Rajathan, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Chattisgarh, West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests said the MoU would foster public accountability relating to tiger conservation by ensuring reciprocal commitments between the Centre, the tiger States and the Field Director of Tiger Reserves. It also contains commitments like establishment of Tiger Conservation Foundation which would promote innovative practices for involving the local stakeholders in tiger conservation.

Mr Jairam Ramesh, Minister of Environment and Forests, said this will also ensure better utilization of funds and increases accountability and responsibility for all three parties. Over the next month,the Ministry is expected to sign these MoUs with 17 states listed above and 37 Project Tiger Reserves, he added.

The Tiger Task Force constituted by the Prime Minister, in the wake of tigers getting locally extinct from Sariska, recommended a system of MoU with Project States for better implementation.

An MoU format was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) in February, 2008 during the revision of the ongoing Centrally Sponsored Scheme of Project Tiger. Central Assistance to States under the scheme is provided only after the MoU is signed by the authorised signatory of the state.

The CCEA in its meeting held on January 30, 2008 approved the continued implementation of f Project Tiger during the XIth Five Year Plan, at an estimated cost of Rs. 600 crores.

The CCEA, while approving the scheme further directed that the MoU contained in the proposal be suitably modified to reflect the responsibilities of the State Governments for delineating the buffer zones and filling staff vacancies.

The directions of the CCEA were duly complied with, and an MoU in the approved format was entered into with 16 out of 17 tiger states, except Bihar, for releasing the central assistance under the ongoing Centrally Sponsored Scheme of Project Tiger.

Keeping in view the directions of the CCEA and the serious concerns about the inadequacy of tiger conservation efforts by tiger states, the matter has been further examined and various generic as well as tiger reserve-specific suggestions were reviewed in a meeting of Field Directors of Tiger Reserves held at Kanha Tiger Reserve last year. Based on these discussions/consultations, a refined MoU was developed to include issues that emerged during the said meeting.

The Ministry earlier had a bilateral MoU between the Ministry of Environment and Forests and tiger reserve States, but a tripartite MoU was considered more effective than the earlier since the Field Director of a tiger reserve is the key functionary vested with the responsibility of day-to-day management, between the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the tiger reserve States as well as the Field Directors of Tiger Reserves.

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Cabinet gives nod for Plasma Fractionation Centre at Chennai

The Union Cabinet today gave its concurrence for setting up a Plasma Fractionation Centre at Chennai with a capacity to process more than 1.5 lakh litres of plasma at a cost of Rs 250 crore.

The centre will be a state-of-the-art facility with the latest technology and equipment and will meet international standards, an official press release said.

The centre will manufacture all important plasma derivatives which are presently being imported, reducing the country's dependence on imports. At present, the imported plasma derivatives are expensive and not accessible to all the needy patients

The centre will be operated on a self-sustained, non-profit model in the public sector, the release said.

Out of Rs 250 crore, Rs 25 crore will be for building construction; Rs.65 crore for procurement of equipments; Rs.20 crore for manpower and Rs.140 crore for consumables and other recurring expenses.

The time frame for setting up this facility will be co-terminus to Phase-III of National AIDS Control Programme, that is by 2012, the release added.

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Cabinet approves cost escalation of Command Hospital modernisation at Udhampur

The Union Cabinet toady approved a proposal for increase in the estimated cost of construction of a new multi-storeyed modern Command Hospital Complex and associated accommodation for the Army's Northern Command at Udhampur.

The project was earlier approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security on August 9, 2005 at an estimated cost of Rs.126.35 crore. The revised approved cost of the project is Rs.232.267 crore, an official press release said.

The Command Hospital would be a 650-bedded tertiary care and referral facility and is responsible for providing specialised medical care to personnel of the Armed Forces of the whole Northern Command.

"Since the hospital is presently housed mostly in old and dilapidated buildings of 1949 and 1960 vintage, there is an inescapable and urgent requirement of new hospital building," the release said.

The project will provide comprehensive medical care to troops and families of the Armed Forces, ex-servicemen and their families located in Northern Command and Jammu & Kashmir. It will also impart training to medical and paramedical personnel, the release added.

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Cabinet approves contribution of $ 240 m to South Asian University

The Union Cabinet, which met today with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the chair, approved payment of India's contribution of US $ 239.30 million to the South Asian University that is being set up by the SAARC member-countries in Delhi.

India's contribution will be around 79 per cent of the total cost of the full establishment of the university until 2014.

As part of its asymmetric commitment to SAARC, India is ready to disburse the first tranche of its financial commitment of $ 9.464 million to ensure that the university is operational in July-August, 2010, an official press release said.

The university will be the first international university to be hosted by India. Its objectives are to disseminate and advance knowledge, wisdom and understanding by providing instructional and research facilities in such branches of learning as it may deem fit.

The South Asian University is meant to be a non-state, non-profit self-governing international educational institution with a regional focus for the purposes set forth by SAARC and shall have full academic freedom for the attainment of its objectives.

The jurisdiction of the University shall extend to whole of India and to campuses and centres established outside India in the SAARC region.

The Ministry of External Affairs is acquiring 100 acres of land next to the Indira Gandhi National Open University from the Delhi Development Authority for leasing to the university.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had proposed the establishment of the South Asian University at the 13th SAARC Summit in Dhaka in November, 2005. The idea was to establish a university that would provide world-class facilities and professional faculty to students and researchers from SAARC member countries.

The Inter-governmental Agreement for the Establishment of the South Asian University was signed at the 14th SAARC Summit (April 3-4, 2007). The SAARC Member States also decided that the University would be established in India.

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) brings together India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, the Maldives and Afghanistan.

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Four new cases of influenza A (H1N1) reported from India

Four new cases of influenza A (H1N1) were reported from India today---one each from Gurgaon, Bangalore, Pune and Kochi.

With these, the total number of confirmed cases of the virus reported in the country so far has gone up to 116, an official statement said.

The new case in Gurgaon is of a six-year-old girl, who landed here on June 27 from Houston in the United States by an American Airlines flight. She was brought to the hospital yesterday with symptoms of fever, running nose and vomitting, the statement said.

The case in Bangalore is of a four-year-old girl who travelled form the US via Singapore and reached the city on June 30. She was detected with symptoms of fever and cough during the screening at the airport and was admitted to the hospital.

In Pune, a 34-year-old woman, who arrived on June 27 from San Francisco in the US via Hong Kong and Mumbai, reported to hospital on June 30 with various symptoms of the flu.

The case from Kochi is of a 68-year-old woman who arrived from Toronto on June 29. She was found to be having symptoms of fever and cough during screening at the airport and admitted to hospital, the statement said.

Of the 116 people who have tested positive for the virus so far, as many as 80 have already been discharged from hospital. The rest are undergoing treatment in hospital, it added.

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Cabinet approves continuance of President's rule in Jharkhand

The Union Cabinet, which met here today with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the chair, approved the continuance of President's rule in Jharkhand beyond July 18.

The Governor of Jharkhand, Mr Syed Sibte Razi, in his report dated June 16, had informed the Centre that even after the lapse of almost five months since President's rule was imposed in the state, the political impasse there still continued and no political party or group had until now stake claim to form a new government in the state.

The Governor had, accordingly, recommended extension of President's rule in the state. This will now go to Parliament in the form of a resolution.

President Pratibha Patil had imposed President's rule under article 356 of the Constitution in Jharkhand on January 19, keeping the 81-member Legislative Assembly under suspended animation.

In terms of the first proviso to clause (4) of article 356 of the Constitution, the proclamation of the President shall cease to operate on the expiration of a period of six months from the date of issue, unless, a resolution approving the continuance in force of the proclamation is passed by both Houses of Parliament, an official statement said.

The decision to impose President's rule in January was taken on the basis of the Governor's report on the political deadlock in the state after Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader Shibu Soren was forced to step down as Chief Minister on January 12 when he failed in his bid to get elected to the State Assembly.

Mr Soren, who was not a member of the Assembly when he took over as Chief Minister, was required under the law to get elected as a member of the House through a bye-election within six months of assuming office.

Since the 2005 Assembly polls, Jharkhand has seen three Chief Ministers. Mr Soren has held office twice. Mr Arjun Munda of the Bharatiya Janata Party stayed in office for 17 months, while Mr Madhu Koda, an independent backed by the JMM and the Congress, occupied the post for almost two years.

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India, Bhutan to fast-track cooperation in hydel sector

India and Bhutan have agreed to fast-track the implementation of hydropower projects in the Himalayan country and are looking at enhancing cooperation in the IT sector.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meeting Bhutan Prime Minister Lyonchhen Jigmi Y Thinley on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meeting Bhutan Prime Minister Lyonchhen Jigmi Y Thinley on Wednesday.
India and Bhutan have agreed to fast-track the implementation of hydropower projects in the Himalayan country and are looking at enhancing cooperation in the information technology (IT)sector.

During meetings between visiting Bhutanese Prime Minister Lyonchen Jigmi Y Thinley and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other Indian leaders here yesterday, both sides expressed satisfaction at the progress made by them in the hydropower sector and reiterated their commitment to achieve the target of 10,000 MW of hydroelectric generation in Bhutan by 2020.

Most of the power generated in Bhutan through joint hydel projects is bought by India to meet its growing electricity needs.

The next meeting of the Empowered Joint Group to fast-track implementation of hydel projects will be held in August, 2009. The first meeting was held here in March after signing of the Protocol to the 2006 Agreement on Cooperation in Hydropower.

A joint press release issued by the two sides today said IT was a new focus sector for Bhutan and Mr Thinley visited NIIT, one of India's best-known IT education and training companies.

Dr Singh lauded Bhutan's efforts to develop a knowledge-based economy through IT and assured India's support to its IT and e-governance project.

Mr Thinley spent two days in Kolkata on June 28-29 and arrived here on June 30 on a four-day working visit. He is scheduled to fly back home tomorrow afternoon.

He is accompanied on the visit by Mr Daw Penjo, Foreign Secretary, Dasho Sonam Tshering, Secretary, Ministry of Economic Affairs, and other officials of the Royal Government.

Mr Thinley is the first head of government to visit India during the second term of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government headed by Dr Singh.
Bhutan Prime Minister Lyonchhen Jigmi Y Thinley meeting President Pratibha Patil at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Wednesday.
Bhutan Prime Minister Lyonchhen Jigmi Y Thinley meeting President Pratibha Patil at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Wednesday.

"The visit provides another opportunity to continue the tradition of high-level exchange of views between the two countries," the release said.

In Kolkata, Mr Thinley had discussions with West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on measures to strengthen cooperation between Bhutan and the state. He also met members of the Indian Chamber of Commerce in Kolkata and exchanged views with them on promoting trade, commerce and investments.

In Delhi, apart from his bilateral talks with Dr Singh, Mr Thinley called on President Pratibha Patil. He also met UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, Leader of the Opposition Lal Krishna Advani and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon.

"All the meetings were very friendly, warm and cordial, reflecting the spirit of trust, cooperation and deep understanding that mark the bilateral relations between India and Bhutan. Discussions covered issues of mutual interest and bilateral cooperation, including cooperation in the hydropower sector, IT and small development projects," the release said.

According to it, Mr Thinley and Dr Singh held extensive talks and exchanged views on various facets of Indo-Bhutan relations and measures to further enhance the relationship.

Mr Thinley conveyed deep appreciation to Dr Singh and other Indian leaders for their contribution to Indo-Bhutan relations. He also expressed gratitude of the Royal Government and people of Bhutan for the unwavering assistance and cooperation extended by India for Bhutan’s development.

The release said both sides exchanged views on regional and international issues. Mr Thinley apprised Dr Singh of the preparations underway to host the 16th SAARC Summit in Thimphu in April 2010. Dr Singh assured full support to Bhutan for hosting the Summit.

Dr Singh conveyed his sympathies for the loss of lives and property caused by the recent flash floods in Bhutan and, as a gesture of solidarity, extended assistance worth Rs. 10 crores to the victims in Bhutan of this tragedy.

"The Prime Ministers of the two countries expressed deep satisfaction with the visit which led to further strengthening of the time-tested ties of friendship, understanding and cooperation between India and Bhutan," the release added.

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

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

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Sibal begins consultation process on education reforms

HRD Minister Kapil Sibal meeting the school principals in New Delhi on Thursday.
HRD Minister Kapil Sibal meeting the school principals in New Delhi on Thursday.
Principals of 30-odd private schools from Delhi called on Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal and underlined the need for reforms in the education sector, which they said were long overdue.

The educationists were one in complimenting him for the reforms he had proposed for the sector, including the move to make the Class X Board examination optional for students in CBSE schools, in his 100-day agenda for his ministry.

The principals stressed that the focus of education should be on children and learning and not on examinations.

Mr Sibal said there was an urgent need for educational reforms, especially at a time when India is expected to have a surplus of 47 million students by 2020.

While the West is seeing negative growth in population, these Indian students must be empowered to take up the opportunity that would be created, he said.

For this, all stakeholders, including schools, whether public, private or municipal, had to be consulted, he said.

Asked if the government proposed to reserve 25 per cent of the seats in private schools for students from the weaker sections, Mr Sibal reiterated the government's commitment to the proposal. He said everyone had societal obligations which must be met.

Mr Sibal said today's meeting was the beginning of the consultation process that he planned to carry out. He said he would hold consultations with people in rural areas and in the smaller towns also. He also said that he would set up a group for interaction regarding education reforms and some school principals would be included in it.

The minister said flexibility of planning was required to ensure quality schooling for a greater number of students.

One of the ideas that he threw up today was handing over responsibility for some dysfunctional government schools to private management. The private management could two shifts, with one shift as a private school and the other with government school norms, he said.

Among those who attended the meeting were Mr Arun Kapur of the Vasant Valley School, Ms Shyama Chona of the Delhi Public School (DPS), R K Puram, Mrs Abha Sehgal of Sanskriti School, Mrs Anjali Aggarwal, Chairperson of the Forum of Public School, Mr. Marc Parkinson, Director of the Shri Ram School, Mr M. Qayam-ud-din, Forum of Minority Schools, and Mr S S  Minhans of Guru Harkrishan Public School.

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Judges appointed to Karnataka, Guwahati High Courts

The President has appointed Mr Justice Arali Nagaraj Amarappa and Mr Justice Arvind Shiwagouda Pachhapura, currently Additional Judges, as Judges of the Karnataka High Court.

An official press release said the appointments, in that order of seniority, would be effective from the date they assume charge of their respective offices.

The President has also appointed Mr Justice Hareswar Baruah, currently an Additional Judge, as a Judge of the Guwahati High Court with effect from the date he assumes charge of his office, a separate announcement said.

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Application process for environmental clearances to go online

Industrial and other projects will soon be able to apply online for environmental and forestry clearances from the Centre.

Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh told reporters here today that the application process would soon be put on the website of his ministry. He said this would help reduce the visits of applicants to the ministry.

Mr Ramesh was speaking after launching the new version of the ministry's website, which has been made more user-friendly and easier to navigate as part of the efforts to make the work of the ministry more professional, transparent and responsive.

The minister said there was a significant reduction in the number of projects pending and awaiting Environmental Clearances with the Ministry from 700 on April 30 to 210 as on June 30.

The status of all pending cases for clearance under the Forest Conservation Act (1980) is now available on the Ministry’s website. The status of the same will be updated on a weekly basis every Friday. Given that the query form used for clearance application is drafted in the same format as the one for Environmental Clearances, a similar interface as the one used for environmental clearances will be used. This will also ensure uniformity of standards. The information will be on a state-wise basis with details of sectors and categories, Mr Ramesh added.

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Three new cases of influenza A (H1N1) reported from India

Three new cases of influenza A (H1N1) were reported today from India---one each from Delhi, Bangalore and Gurgaon.

With these, the total number of confirmed cases of the virus in India has risen to 112, an official statement said.

The case in Delhi is of an 11-year-old boy who reached here on June 26 from Munich via Dubai by an Emirates flight. He was brought to the hospital yesterday with various symptoms of the flu.

The case in Bangalore is a 29-year-old man who arrived there on June 28 from Changsha in China by a Dragon Air flight. He reported to hospital yesterday with symptoms of fever and cough.

In Gurgaon, an 11-year-old girl, who arrived in Delhi from Chicago in the United States on June 28 by an American Airlines flight, reported to the hospital with symptoms of cough and sore throat.

Of the 112 positive cases, 74 have already been discharged while the remaining patients are undergoing treatment in hospital, the release added.

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Panel to oversee implementation of report on women in science

The Government today constituted a Standing Committee to oversee the timely implementation of the recommendations of the task force for women in science.

The 18-member committee would be headed by Minister of Science and Technology and Earth Sciences Prithviraj Chavan.

Mr Chavan told journalists here that the report of the task force was being studied and all feasible action on it would be completed in a time-boound manner.

He said that a sub-committee would be set up for development of women-friendly policies and practical support systems inclusive of crèche, campus housing, transport, facilities for the elderly, mentoring, and so on.

Earlier, Mr Chavan interacted with several women scientists at the Women Scientists Meet 2009 organized by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

On the basis of the discussions at the meeting, it was decided that the efficiency of existing gender sensitive schemes will be studied and actions taken to enhance their efficiency through revision of parameters and strengthening of implementation systems.

An official press release said attempts would be made to make gender audit in scientific establishments obligatory: webpage information should carry statement of graduated goals and set up monitoring goals. It said special schemes would be developed to avoid under-employment of women.

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Mumbai near-miss: Probe team says poor coordination among agencies

A file photo of an Air India A-321.
AA file photo of an Air India A-321.
A joint investigation team, set up by the government to inquire into the near-miss at Mumbai airport on February 19 this year involving an Air India flight and a helicopter from the Presidential fleet, has in its report listed the "unsatisfactory coordination" among various agencies involved as one of the prime factors that led to the incident.

Apart from this, the committee has cited the late transfer of control of the helicopters from approach to the air traffic control (ATC) tower and the landing of the three-helicopter formation without clearance from the ATC as the factors that could be attributed to the incident.

The report has listed the factors according to sequence of events and not in terms of gravity.

It said Pratap 2, one of the helicopters, had landed directly at the place on landing on runway 27 by making a very short circuit. It said Pratap 2 had landed without landing clearance from ATC even before the Pratap formation had reported the finals. It said Pratap 1 and Pratap 3 also landed without landing clearance.

President Pratibha Patil and her entourage, who were on a visit to Maharashtra, were returning to Mumbai by three helicopters when the near-miss occurred.

One of the helicopters landed on the same runway which a Delhi-bound Air India flight, IC 866 being operated with an Airbus A-321 aircraft, was using for take-off. The Air India pilot, Capt S K Kohli, aborted take off at high speed and applied the emergency brakes when he saw the helicopter landing just some metres ahead. The aircraft had 150 passengers on board. The President was not in that helicopter.

The Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) appointed a five-member high-level team, led by Joint Director General (Investigation) of the DGCA, Mr A K Chopra, to probe the entire sequence of events.

The committee has, in its report, also made a series of recommendations, especially in the procedures to be followed for VVIP flights, to prevent the recurrence of such incidents.

The Ministry of Civil Aviation said in a statement that it had accepted the report.

According to the report, the Air India pilot and the Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot of the helicopter were appropriately licensed and authorised to fly the respective aircraft. It also said the plane and the helicopter were both airworthy and had been maintained as per regulations.

It said the Air Traffic Control Officers (ATCOs) on duty also had proper expertise and rating of their units.

The report said the weather at the Mumbai airport was not suitable for Visual Flight Rules (VFR) operations but it was not considered as a contributory factor as far as the incident was concerned.

The report said the coordination among various agencies was unsatisfactory and the coordination meeting was not carried as per the existing instructions. It said there is no common Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) between the IAF and the Airports Authority of India (AAI) for VVIP flights.

According to the report, the radio telephony (RT) reporting procedure for the helicopter formation was not satisfactorily documented. It said there was a difference of opinion between the AAI and the IAF on the procedure to be followed.

The committee felt the transfer of control from approach to the ATC tower should have been earlier. The helicopter was given direct routing from INS Shikra (Kunjali) to Mumbai which was as per the regulations. There was a difference of opinion and understanding about the VFR circuit to be followed, especially for helicopters, between the IAF and the AAI.

At present, as per instructions of the Home Ministry, no closure of airport is required for VVIP flights, but they are given priority landing. The report said there was a lack of common understanding on the concept of priority landing between AAI and IAF.

The committee noted that the Air India pilot had rejected take-off at high speed after sighting the helicopter on the side of the runway and turned to taxi track W to avoid direct collision with the chopper which was in front of him at a distance of 30-40 metres.

The report highlighted the fact that the IAF's MI-8 and MI-17 helicopters are not equipped with flight data recorder (FDR) and other safety equipment which are installed on the civil version of these helicopters.

The committee recommended that the instructions given in the Home Ministry’s Bluebook for coordination procedure should be strictly followed and all members be invited for Coordination Meetings. The minutes of meeting should be documented and circulated to all concerned for compliance.

It said last Minute local changes, if required, can be carried out after consultations among Aerodrome Operator, ATC, IAF and security agencies, which should be documented and should be duly informed to Protocol Department of the State Government.

The report said airport-level coordination meeting should be conducted to discuss the operational issues between AAI, IAF, DGCA and security agencies.

The committee said the Home Ministry should send a copy of Bluebook to AAI in case it is not done at present. Based on the same, AAI will make internal confidential circulars for use of their own officers.

The committee said the AAI and IAF should designate senior level officers for effective coordination for VVIP movements.

It said the AAI should issue an SOP for handling of VVIP flights incorporating all instructions already issued, to make a comprehensive document. IAF and AAI will mutually share SOPs.

It said an airport-specific SOP for VVIP movement in case of AAI-managed airports should be prepared by AAI and will be approved by AAI Headquarters. In respect of IAF airfields, the SOP shall be prepared and approved by IAF. For private airports, the SOP for VVIP movement will be prepared by the aerodrome operator and shall be approved by DGCA.

The standard operating procedure so prepared will be used by IAF, AAI and aerodrome operator jointly, covering all phases of operations. This task may be accomplished at the earliest.

The committee said IAF and AAI should exchange documents in connection with VVIP flights whenever required. Priority landing and privileges attached with it may be defined and documented. Issues regarding routing, special VFR, position reporting etc. should be discussed and resolved at Airport Level Committee 24-48 hours before commencement of VVIP flights, it said.

According to the report, the VVIP flight formation shall report position of lead helicopter even during entering the aerodrome circuit or for asking permission for landing. However, vacation report of runway etc. will be that of last helicopter. This procedure should be documented by IAF and AAI in respective SOPs and in common SOP for correct understanding of procedure.

Helicopters and aircraft used for VVIP flights must have a digital flight data recorder (DFDR), cockpit voice recorder (CVR) with multi channels, ground proximity warning system (GPWS), Traffic Alert & Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) and other safety equipments used on similar civil aircraft/helicopters.

Once these equipments are installed, regular monitoring of these flights should be carried out on the lines of FOQA (Flight operations quality assurance) by other airlines for safety oversight, the report said.

According to it, the Helicopter Committee set up by the Civil Aviation Ministry/DGCA should expedite identification of landing places for helicopters at Delhi and Mumbai and to work out the traffic circuit for them.

Till the time this is implemented, all helicopters should report finals at the beginning of runway and thereafter land at desired spot on the runway. This should be immediately documented and circulated by both IAF and AAI.

Three minutes before and after the estimated time of arrival and estimated time of departure of VVIP operations, air operations, airspace should be closed. This closure should be informed by issuing a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM), the report said.

It said the existing regulations of aircraft landing only after obtaining permission from ATC units should be strictly enforced and circulated to all concerned, including pilots of VVIP flights.

The committee said the Airport Committee comprising AAI, IAF and Aerodrome Operator should work out airport specific operational issues 24-48 hours before actual operations of VVIP flights.

It said the existing laid down procedure for missed approach will remain in force. However, the consequences of missed approach on the security, health and other aspect of VVIP on board need separate examination. In this regard, the Civil Aviation Ministry in consultation with Home Ministry may examine this aspect to asses whether any other procedure can be evolved in such an eventuality of missed approach.

The committee re-emphasized that transfer of control from Approach to Tower and vice versa, should be followed strictly as per ICAO DOC 4444.

Visual surveillance before landing, especially for VFR flights, should be re-emphasized on all aircrew members and ATCO, the report added.

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Sunderbans Tiger Reserve gets additional assistance of Rs 1 crore

The Sunderbans Tiger Reserve in West Bengal, which had been severely affected by the recent cyclone Aila, has been given an additional assistance of Rs one crore, an official press release said here today.


Out of this, Rs 75 lakh has been earmarked for eco-development works and Rs 25 lakh will be spent on rebuilding the infrastructure in the reserve that was damaged by the cyclone, it said.


The decision will benefit 8,800 families of 26 villages. This special assistance would be in addition to the ongoing support given to the state under Project Tiger for Sunderbans Tiger Reserve, the release said.


The cyclone had damaged field camps and fringe villages bordering the reserve. Breaches in the embankments on the village’s side had caused large-scale flooding, which left lakhs of people marooned in the area. The infrastructure including camps, jetties, approach path, earthen embankments, staff quarters, and so on will be repaired with the assistance.


Besides, sal and bamboo poles will be provided to people to rebuild houses. Affected families will be supplied with salient resistant paddy seeds. Wicker baskets, earth cutting implements, bamboo mats and ropes will also be provided for rehabilitation, the release said.

The assistance have been provided after the damage assessment submitted by the Chief Wildlife Warden of West Bengal, it added.


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New ground handling policy at metro airports deferred till Dec 31

Departure area of Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi.
Departure area of Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi.
The government today said it had decided to defer the exit of non-entitled entities from ground handling operations at the metropolitan airports in the country under the new policy in this regard until December 31 this year.

An official press release said the Ministry of Civil Aviation would now undertake a thorough review of the policy, after all necessary inter-Ministerial consultations, before that date.

The government had on February 1, 2007, approved a new ground handling policy wherein it was decided that ground handling operations at all Indian metropolitan airports would be undertaken by the subsidiary companies of the national carrier (NACIL) or its joint ventures (JV) and two other agencies from any of the following categories:

i. The airport operator itself or its JV partner.
ii. Any other ground handling service provider selected through a competitive bidding process.

At all other airports, in addition to the above entities, the domestic airline operators, were also permitted to undertake self-handling.

Airline operators or ground handling service providers not covered by this policy were not to be allowed to undertake self-handling or third party handling with effect from the deadline fixed, which was June 30, 2009

According to the release, after the announcement of the policy in 2007, the Ministry of Civil Aviation had received a number of representations regarding large-scale loss of employment of personnel employed by airlines in metro airports for ground handling.

Airlines had also represented about the loss of substantial investment made by them in ground handling and other related equipments.

The airlines also wished to continue with those aspects of ground handling which required passenger interface like check-in, which directly impacted service standards of the airlines and were part of the product offered by them. The airlines had also complained about the high charges of ground handling agencies.

"To examine these matters thoroughly, to ascertain the readiness of the airport operators and to streamline the policy to achieve world-class standards of ground handling in Indian airports, and at the same time address the concerns of all stakeholders, the Government has decided to defer the exit of all non-entitled entities from all ground handling operations at the six metro airports to 31 December, 2009," the release added.

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Post 26/11, new system of registration of fishing vessels put in place

The Ministry of Shipping has issued two notifications for streamlining the procedure for registration of fishing vessels, an official press release said here today.

The notifications, issued on June 24, will remove the multiplicity of registration regimes for fishing vessels under various Central and state legislations. They will also help in improving the security along India's long coastline, the release said.

Coastal security has acquired added urgency after the November 26, 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai in which ten terrorists had used the sea route to creep into the metropolis in a fishing vessel they had hijacked off the coast of Gujarat.

Under the notifications, registration of all the fishing vessels will henceforth be done under the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1958.

The existing registration format has been revised with inputs from the Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries.

One of the notifications issued notifies the revised registration format for the fishing vessels.

The second notification notifies a list of 127 registrars in various coastal states of the country. These registrars have to register the fishing vessels as per the laid down procedure. With these two notifications, a new system of registration of the fishing vessels has been put in place in the country, the release added.

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