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PM on drought: No need to panic, do not sap nation's self-confidence

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the inauguration of Chief Ministers' Conference on Internal Security. Home Minister P Chidambaram, the Ministers of State for Home Affairs Ajay Maken and Mullappally Ramachandran and other dignitaries are also seen.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the inauguration of Chief Ministers' Conference on Internal Security. Home Minister P Chidambaram, the Ministers of State for Home Affairs Ajay Maken and Mullappally Ramachandran and other dignitaries are also seen.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said there was no reason to panic because of the drought conditions in many parts of the country, brought on by deficient monsoon, because the country today had a better understanding of handling such crises.

He was speaking at a special session devoted to the drought situation during the Chief Ministers' Conference on Internal Security.

Dr Singh said the country had faced problems like this before and now there was much greater elbow room to deal with this drought than in the past.

He said there was adequate stock of wheat and rice in the country's godowns and livelihood programmes such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) and the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana were in place now.

He said pragmatic and practical solutions to the problem could be found by working collectively and cautioned against sapping the nation's self-confidence.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said that the Group of Ministers would meet on a regular basis. He said the ground reality was that the drought had set in.

But he pointed out that NREGS was already in place and it could be extended for drought relief purposes. He said there might be a shortage of fodder and suggested that there might be a need to think of short-duration crops.

He commended the Gujarat model on how the NREGS could be used for restoration of water bodies.

Mr Mukherjee said the public distribution system needed to be geared up in an effective manner. He, too, said there was no need to press the panic button and called for efforts to create confidence that the situation could be overcome.

Earlier the Chief Ministers made presentations on the situation in their respective states and appealed for additional central funds.

Those who spoke during the two-hour meeting included the Governor of Jharkhand, the Chief Ministers of Bihar, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh, the Deputy Chief Minister of Punjab and the Parliamentary Affairs Minister of Uttar Pradesh.

Others who attended the session included Home Minister P Chidambaram and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia.

Union Agriculture and Food Minister Sharad Pawar appealed to the Chief Ministers to personally monitor the situation and the rise in prices and to ensure that the steps initiated by the Centre and the States were effectively implemented.

He urged the states to take immediate steps to protect the existing crops, use powers under the Essential Commodities Act to check hoarding of foodgrains and sugar and to commence immediate relief efforts.

Mr Pawar said it was important that the State Governments work in harmony with the Centre and make best use of resources to counter the effect of the drought. He said it was essential that the senior officials of the State Departments of Agriculture visit the districts and review the implementation of the measures taken to reduce the Kharif production losses, prepare for an early Rabi plan and ensure drinking water, fodder and other relief measures in drought-affeted areas.

He said that, to ensure proper coordination, control rooms must be started in the State capitals and at the district levels, which should remain in regular touch with the control room in the Agriculture Ministry in Delhi.

"This is a difficult year for agriculture, more so for our farmers and consumers. I am sure that we can work together to ameliorate the distress of the farmers and also ensure food security of the country," he said.

In particular, he urged the Chief Ministers to use all resources innovatively to:

(a) enhance production, to address the macro issue of food security,

(b) save the standing crops and go for alternate crops, to provide comfort of income security to the farmer at the micro level,

(c) ensure availability of all inputs – seed, fertilizer and credit in adequate quantities,

(d) ensure lifting and proper distribution of foodgrains to those under the poverty line,

(e) control speculative tendencies in the market,

(f) make optimal use of all available central and state government schemes to tide over this situation, and

(g) wherever extreme distress exists, address relief issues on a war footing.

Mr Pawar has also called for meetings of State Food and Agriculture Ministers on August 19 and 21, respectively, to discuss in detail the steps necessary to tackle the situation.

The minister said that, though the initial prediction of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) was about 96 per cent of the long period average (LPA) of the rainfall, the current situation showed a deficit of 29 per cent, which was a cause for concern.

There is, however, some respite with the Live Storage Capacity of the reservoirs in the country improving from 12% as on June 4 to 38% as on August 13, he said.

He said the deficit south-west monsoon had adversely affected agriculture operations in the Kharif season all over the country.

"Compared to last year, there is a shortfall in paddy sowing by 57 lakh hectares. Oil seeds, in particular groundnut, and sugarcane coverage is also less. However, the coverage under coarse grain is marginally better than last year, mainly on account of good sowing of maize. Continuation of the prevailing climatic conditions are likely to affect production and productivity of the sown crop adversely, thereby negatively impacting the foodgrain availability," he said.

He said there was now a need for taking up area specific agro-climatic based schemes and programmes to assess the crop losses in the remaining part of the Kharif season and try to compensate loss of production in Kharif during the coming Rabi season.

"To salvage the losses in Kharif we need to plan for higher crop coverage in the Rabi season. For this strategic use of quality seeds, fertilizers, pest management and availability of credit to the farmers in the coming Rabi season must be ensured," he said.

Mr Pawar said nine States---Assam, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Manipur, Nagaland, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh---had declared drought, partly or wholly in the state.

He said where the rainfall was good, an area specific strategy needed to be adopted by replacing the main crop with short duration crops, pulses, maize, coarse millets and so on. This may be supplemented through an aggressive strategy for higher production of vegetables and horticultural products, wherever the scope existed, he said.

The minister said that, as compared to previous droughts, this year the country had an advantage in the form of the NREGS, which provided an opportunity for employment. He said the scheme also provided an opportunity for water conservation works in the villages. The Department of Rural Development had also recently issued instructions enabling work under the NREGS to be taken up in the lands owned by small and marginal farmers.

"Therefore, this opportunity needs to be utilised most effectively, not only to provide alternate source of employment to the affected people, but also to enhance availability of water for agriculture and drinking purposes. In fact I would suggest that the state governments should take a campaign under NREGS to construct farm ponds and other such water harvesting structures. This would help harness scarce water effectively in the shortest possible time. A concerted effort to provide water retention structures in drought areas may prove beneficial not only in the forthcoming Rabi season, but also for long term drought proofing," he said.

Mr Pawar said the deficient monsoon was having an increasing adverse impact on the prices of food articles and other essential commodities. He said the high prices of pulses, vegetables and sugar had caused considerable hardship to the people.

He listed the efforts made by the Centre to contain and moderate this price increase. He, however, said the availability of pulses this year was only marginally less than last year and the spurt in prices could not be explained just in terms of the supply-demand gap.

According to him, speculative tendencies had fuelled these prices and it was imperative that the State Governments made judicious use of their powers under the Essential Commodities Act.

Besides a check on prices, it was also necessary to ensure that the subsidized food available under the Public Distribution System reached its intended beneficiaries, he said.

Mr Pawar said the Fourth Advance estimates showed record production of food grains last year. He said that, thanks to the efforts of the states, the country also had record procurement last year, resulting in a healthy buffer stock of foodgrains.

"This provides us with some amount of comfort in this difficult year but our efforts need to be sustained over this year too for ensuring food security to our citizens," he added.

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220 new cases of influenza A H1N1 in India

As many as 220 new cases of influenza A (H1N1) were reported from different parts of India today, including 152 from Maharashtra alone.

With these, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus reported so far from India has gone up to 1927, an official statement said.

No death from the flu has been reported today and the toll remained at yesterday's figure of 25, it said.

In Maharashtra, 90 fresh cases of the flu were reported from Mumbai, 42 from Pune, 5 from Nashik, 4 each from Ahmednagar and Osmanabad, 3 from Nagpur, 2 from Washim and 1 each from Aurangabad and Jalna.

Twenty cases were reported from Chennai, 16 in Ahmedabad, 11 in Bangalore, 7 in Delhi, 4 in Jammu, 3 each in Udupi, Raipur and Kolkata and 1 in Belgaum.

Except two of the cases in Mumbai, all the other new cases reported today were indigenous in nature with the patients having no history of recent travel abroad.

Of the 1927 positive cases of the virus, 703 have been discharged from hospital while the rest are undergoing treatment, the statement added.

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Nepal PM to arrive Tuesday on five-day visit

Mr Madhav Kumar Nepal, the Prime Minister of Nepal, will arrive here tomorrow on a five-day official visit to India, his first after assuming office.

"India and Nepal share a unique relationship characterized by close civilizational and multi-faceted links between the people of the two countries. The Prime Minister of Nepal’s visit is in keeping with the tradition of regular exchange of high level visits," a statement from the Ministry of External Affairs said today while annoucing the visit.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meeting Nepal Prime Minister Madhav Kumar, on the sidelines of the 15th NAM Summit, at Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, on July 16, 2009.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meeting Nepal Prime Minister Madhav Kumar, on the sidelines of the 15th NAM Summit, at Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, on July 16, 2009.

Mr Nepal and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had met at Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt in mid-July on the margins of the 15th Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit.

The visit would provide a useful opportunity to both sides to discuss issues of mutual interest and ways to further strengthen and expand the close bilateral ties that exist between India and Nepal, the statement added.

Apart from holding talks with Dr Singh, the Nepalese Prime Minister is due to call on President Pratibha Patil and Vice-President M Hamid Ansari during his visit. He will also have meetings with United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, , Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Home Minister P Chidambaram.

Mr Nepal is also scheduled to attend a business luncheon hosted by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (ASSOCHAM) here on Wednesday.

Mr Nepal will spend a day in Mumbai on Friday before flying back home from there on Saturday.

Ms Sujata Koirala, the Foreign Minister of Nepal, had paid a five-day visit to India last week.

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India Post subscribes to Global Monitoring System

India Post logo
The Department of Posts has subscribed to the Global Monitoring System (GMS) of the Universal Postal Union (UPU)---a quality monitoring system for international mail.

India Post currently delivers about 2100 tonnes of international letter mail received from different countries, which roughly translates to about 31 million articles per year. These have to be delivered in every corner of the country.

As part of its effort to achieve better service quality in delivery of international letter mail to its customers, India Post has made a substantial investment in the project, an official press release said.

According to it, India is one of the ten countries where the GMS is being tested at present. The testing will continue upto December 31 this year.

The GMS uses RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology for a precise diagnosis of the quality of service provided by the postal operator. This involves testing of adherence to delivery standards by an independent auditor selected by the Secretariat of the UPU.

The independent auditor has selected a panel consisting of a number of senders and recipients of letter mail in various countries. These panelists will send and receive letters which have RFID chips inside the envelope. The panelist and their location are not disclosed to the participating postal organization.

RFID readers (gates) have been installed at the postal facilities where mail is received from foreign countries at the airports in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Kochi. These readers will detect letters, which have the RFID chip inside and record the time of arrival in the postal facility. At the time of delivery of the article, the recipients will record the exact date and time of delivery.

The data recorded will be automatically transmitted to the independent auditor, who will analyse this data and forward it to the UPU. The UPU will be compiling this data and providing India Post with details of time taken for delivery of an article from time of receipt in India. Since the exact time of receipt and exit from the postal facilities at the airport and the time of delivery in different cities will be known, it will be possible for India Post to take corrective action to improve quality, the release added.

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HM: Centre, States must have common approach to internal security

Home Minister P Chidambaram speaking at the Chief Ministers' Conference on Internal Security.
Home Minister P Chidambaram speaking at the Chief Ministers' Conference on Internal Security.
Home Minister P Chidambaram today said terrorism, insurgency in the North-Eastern States and Left-wing extremism or Naxalism were the three challenges to internal security in India and said the Centre and the States must agree on a common approach to overcome them.

Speaking at the Conference of Chief Ministers on Internal Security here, Mr Chidambaram also stressed that, amidst the other emerging challenges such as drought in most parts of the country and floods in some, the Centre and the States must remain focused on internal security.

The minister said the Central Government had, with the cooperation and support of the States, delivered on many promises since the last Conference of Chief Ministers on Internal Security here on January 6.

He noted that there had been no terrorist attack after the November 26, 2008 attacks on Mumbai and that elections to Parliament were held in an orderly and peaceful manner, barring a few pre-meditated attacks by Naxalites.

He said the Amarnath Yatra, spread over 52 days, ended without incident and as many as 3,82,512 persons were able to complete the pilgrimage. He said Independence Day celebrations on August 15 had passed off peacefully in all the States and the World Badminton Championships in Hyderabad, the finals of which he watched yesterday from the spectators'gallery after standing in queue and buying his own ticket, had ended without a hitch.

Mr Chidambaram said terrorism, insurgency and Naxalism shared many characteristics with each other but each was significantly different from the other two.

"We have one instrument to confront and defeat the three challenges, and that is the police. In the final analysis, it is the policeman and the policewoman who will help us win these battles. To that policeman and policewoman, this conference must send out a clear message that Government at every level is duty bound to provide them every kind of support - monetary, material and moral," he said.

The minister reminded the gathering that it was the police that had paid the highest price in terms of human lives that had been lost. He said that 303 men and women of the police and paramilitary forces had laid down their lives in 2009 so far and saluted their supreme sacrifice.

Mr Chidambaram said the fact that there was no terrorist attack in the past eight months did not mean that the threat of terror had vanished or receded. He said it was better intelligence and better preparedness that had helped the country thwart potential terror attacks.

"We have cracked several terror modules and made several significant arrests, but the gravity of the threat is undiminished. We cannot afford to lower our guard, and we shall not," he said.

Turning to insurgency or militancy, the minister said the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir had shown perceptible improvement. Militancy had declined, even while agitational politics was on the rise, he said.

He said the Centre had offered every support to the new State Government to maintain law and order, focus on development, and find political solutions through dialogue.

He said insurgency remained a grave threat in the North-East, and detailed how the Government had refined its policy stance in this regard.

According to him, the law will be applied strictly; ceasefire agreements will be enforced in letter and spirit; and the Government will talk to any group only if that group abjures violence, lays down its arms and offers to surrender.

"I regret to say that I cannot report much progress in the North Eastern States. At times, we find that some State Governments have allowed themselves to bend before insurgent groups, making the fight against insurgency that much more difficult. I propose to hold discussions with the State Governments concerned and draw up State-specific strategies to deal with the insurgent groups in the three most affected States of Assam, Nagaland and Manipur," he said.

Mr Chidambaram said the Prime Minister had rightly cautioned the nation, on more than one occasion, that Left-wing extremism posed the "single biggest internal security challenge" to India.

He said that, in the last few months, the CPI (Maoist) had stepped up its attacks on the Indian State and on the Indian people.

He said a document put out by the CPI (Maoist) on June 12, titled, "Post-Election Situation--Our Tasks" had highlighted the nature and gravity of the threat.

He said the Government's policy stance was clear. "We believe in the two-pronged approach of development and police action. However, the naxalites are anti-development and have targeted the very instruments of development – school buildings, roads, telephone towers etc. They know that development will wean the masses, especially the poor tribals, away from the grip of the naxalites. Hence, these deliberate attacks on developmental activities. Our response therefore will be police action to wrest control of territory that is now dominated by the naxalities, restoration of civil administration and undertaking developmental activities – in that order," he said.

He said the Centre would, meanwhile, encourage State Governments to talk to the Naxalites – both individuals and local units – on condition that they give up their misconceived "armed liberation struggle".

"Let our message to the naxalities be this: we will talk; we will act; we will restore order; and we will undertake developmental activities," he said.

The miniser said all the Naxal-affected States had resolved to confront and overcome the challenge of the CPI (Maoist). He said he would be hold a separate meeting with the Chief Ministers of those States this evening.

Looking back on the last seven months, Mr Chidambaram said the collective record on internal security had been a mixed one. He said the best achievements had been in the reiteration of the country's determination to fight terror, in the sharing of intelligence, in the unanimous support for new laws and new instruments, and in acknowledging that police reforms had been neglected for too long.

He said that, on the other hand, there were still critical deficiencies in budget allocations for the police, recruitment, training, procurement of equipment, introduction of technology, and personnel management.

Mr Chidambaram said the situation of vacant posts in the police was quite alarming. As on January 1, 1008, as many as 230,567 posts were vacant against the total strength of the States' police forces, both civil and armed. He hoped the situation had improved since then and urged the State Governments to highlight the progress made in this regard.

He said intelligence sharing had improved with the setting up of the Multi-Agency Centre (MAC) and S-MACs, but there was scope for improvement in intelligence gathering.

He said State Governments could consider creation of a separate cadre for intelligence, filling the vacancies in the State Special Branches (SSB), revision of special branch manual, appointment of a dedicated intelligence officer in each police station, and re-activating the beat constable system.

According to him, while National Security Guard (NSG) hubs had been set up in four cities and Special Forces units located in two cities, there is a need for State Governments to raise and deploy their own special intervention units (SIUs) and quick reaction teams (QRTs) in as many cities as possible. It is also necessary to put in place a clear command structure in the case of a terrorist threat or terrorist attack, he said.

He also suggested that States could consider raising State Industrial Security Forces on the pattern of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), stressing that there were multiple benefits in raising such a force.

Mr Chidambaram said that though there was a new focus on coastal security and border management, the Centre was concerned about the slow pace of construction of coastal police stations, outposts and check posts as well as border outposts along the land border; constitution of State Maritime Boards, registration of vessels, issue of identity cards to fishermen, and utilisation of interceptor speed boats. He said the pace of implementation in these matters needed to be quickened and the gaps in security plugged.

The minister felt police reforms had not received the attention they deserved. He regretted that many State Governments had not yet constituted the Police Establishment Board. They had also not fully complied with other directions issued by the Supreme Court, he said.

Mr Chidambaram said the State Governments and the Central Government shared an onerous responsibility.

"Nothing is more important to ensure the welfare of the people than the assurance of security. And none can contribute more to this sense of security than State Governments. You have the constitutional power and responsibility in respect of matters relating to ‘public order’ and ‘police’," he said.

He said, increasingly, jurists and the general public had emphasized the constitutional duty of the Central Government to "protect every State against internal disturbance".

He said that, therefore, the Centre and the State Governments needed to work together in a spirit of partnership in matters of internal security.

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Bye-elections for 2 seats in AP Legislative Council on Sep 15

The Election Commission today announced that bye-elections to fill up two casual vacancies in the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Council would be held on September 15.

The vacancies are in the Anantapur and the Kadapa Local Authorities' constituencies, caused by the resignation of Mr Palle Raghunatha Reddy and Mr Putha Narasimha Reddy, respectively.

The notification for the bye-elections will be issued on August 21 and the counting of votes will be taken up on September 17, an official release added.

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Bye-elections for 11 assembly seats in Bihar, 1 in Delhi on Sep 15

The Election Commission today announced bye-elections to fill up 11 vacancies in the Bihar Legislative Assembly and one in the Delhi Legislative Assembly would be held on September 15.

The Commission had earlier, on August 12, announced that bye-elections for seven assembly seats would be held on September 10 along with bye-elections for 13 seats in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Sikkim, Uttarakhand and Delhi.

Subsequently, a delegation led by Janata Dal (United) President Sharad Yadav had met the Commission on August 14 and requested it to conduct bye-elections for all the 18 vacant seats in the Bihar Assembly at the same time.

The four-member delegation had pointed out that 26 of the 38 districts in Bihar had been declared drought-affected and massive relief efforts were required to be taken up on an emergency basis. The Model Code of Conduct that come into force when a bye-election is announced might affect the relief operations, they said. They also said that if the bye-elections were held in phases, political parties and the state administration would remain involved with election management and campaigning and long-term relief work might get affected.

The Election Commission had then discussed the matter relating to provision of additional security forces with the Home Ministry yesterday.

An official press release issued today said the Commission had, after taking into account various factors, decided to announce bye-elections to fill up the remaining 11 vacancies in the Bihar Assembly.

The constituencies are: Bagaha (SC), Nautan, Begusarai, Tribeniganj, Simri–Bakhtiarpur, Araria, Dhuraiya (SC), Munger, Phulwari (SC), Ghosi, and Bodh Gaya (SC).

The vacancy in Delhi is in the Okhla constituency, it said.

The notification for the bye-elections will be issued on August 21.

The Commission has also decided that counting of votes for all 18 assembly seats in Bihar would be taken up from the afternoon of September 17. According to the earlier schedule, counting of votes for the seven assembly constituencies going to the polls on September 10 was to be taken up on September 14 along with the other states where bye-elections will be held on that date.

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Chief Justice of Patna High Court appointed

The President has appointed Mr Justice Prafulla Kumar Misra, a Judge of the Madras High Court, as the Chief Justice of the Patna High Court.

The appointment will be with effect from the date he assumes charge of his office, an official press release added.

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PM says cross-border terrorism remains a most pervasive threat

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Monday that internal security issues required a coordinated response by the Centre and the States and underlined that cross-border terrorism remained a most pervasive threat.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh delivering the inaugural address at the Chief Ministers' Conference on Internal Security.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh delivering the inaugural address at the Chief Ministers' Conference on Internal Security.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said that most issues pertaining to internal security required a coordinated response by the Centre and the States acting in concert and underlined that cross-border terrorism remained a most pervasive threat.

Inaugurating the Chief Ministers' Conference on Internal Security, he said there was credible information of ongoing plans of terrorist groups in Pakistan to carry out fresh attacks.

"The area of operation of these terrorists today extends far beyond the confines and Jammu and Kashmir and covers all parts of our country," he said.

Dr Singh said the importance of coordination between the Centres and the States and also among the States could not be over-emphasised.

"A piece meal approach will simply not work given the nature of challenges we face...Not only do we need more information sharing, we also need synchronized action. Let me assure all the States that the Centre will not be found wanting in this regard," he said.

Dr Singh said the Centre was committed to assist the States in all possible ways in dealing with the challenges of internal security.

He said the Union Government would do its utmost in facilitating inter-State coordination and urged the States to take more initiative for coordinating action with other States.

"I do recognize that States often face constraints of resources. But ultimately we must all bear the burden of our shared sense of responsibility. It must also be recognized that there are limits to what the Central Government can provide. I hope that the expectations of the States from the Centre would be guided by a consciousness of their own obligations as well as a sense of practical realism," he said.

Turning to specific challenges, Dr Singh said the Government had put in place additional measures to tackle cross-border terrorism after the November 26, 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai.

"But there is need for continued vigilance...In dealing with the terrorist challenge we need to be prepared for encountering more sophisticated technologies and enhanced capabilities. We also need to guard our sea frontier as vigilantly as our land border," he said.

The Prime Minister said left-wing extremism was another serious challenge and emphasised the growing intensity of the problem.

He said there had been heavy casualties inflicted recently on security forces by Naxalite groups and there were also indications of yet more offensive action by these groups.

"The problem of left-wing extremism is indeed a complex one. There is a need for a balanced and nuanced strategy to deal with it. On the one hand, the State should discharge its responsibilities and obligations and re-establish the rule of law in areas dominated by the Naxalites. At the same time, we should work towards removing the causes which lead to alienation of people and problems like Naxalism," he stressed.
Dr Singh said the situation in Jammu and Kashmir had, during the past few years, seen substantial improvement, with figures of violence steadily declining and at an all-time low today.

But there were some disturbing trends, he said. Levels of infiltration, which had come down very substantially, have seen a surge this year, alongside an increase in attempts at infiltration. The infiltrators appear more battle-hardened, better equipped, and in possession of sophisticated communications, he said.

The Prime Minister said there were also signs of a revival of over-ground militant activities. He said attempts were being made to link isolated and unconnected incidents--such as those which occurred in Shopian, Sopore and Baramulla--to create an impression of a groundswell of anti-national feeling.

"All this shows that efforts to disturb the current status quo have not been given up. Fortunately, the annual Amarnath Yatra passed off without incident, a tribute to the secular character of the people of J&K," he said.

Dr Singh said that in the North-East there was an overall improvement but the situation in some states, particularly in Assam, Manipur and Nagaland, remained problematic and worrisome.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the inauguration of Chief Ministers' Conference on Internal Security. Home Minister P Chidambaram, the Ministers of State for Home Affairs Ajay Maken and Mullappally Ramachandran and other dignitaries are also seen.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the inauguration of Chief Ministers' Conference on Internal Security. Home Minister P Chidambaram, the Ministers of State for Home Affairs Ajay Maken and Mullappally Ramachandran and other dignitaries are also seen.

He said Assam and Manipur accounted for a disproportionately large number of violent incidents reported from the North East, with the latter's share being as high as 30%.

In Assam, the Centre had sanctioned an amount of Rs. 750 crore for development of Bodo areas. But the utilization of these funds remained unsatisfactory. The resettlement and rehabilitation of those affected by the violence in the Bodo areas and North Cachar Hills was a matter of concern, he said.

The Prime Minister said Manipur was plagued by a large number of militant outfits. The Government of Manipur needed to put in place appropriate mechanisms for increased participation of people in developmental projects, he said.

He requested the Chief Ministers of all the North-Eastern States to pay particular attention to the implementation of infrastructure projects.

He said there was also a need in the North-East for more emphasis on pro-active State police forces rather than exclusive reliance on the Central para-military forces and the army.

"The resources for policing need to be enhanced substantially. Manipur has increased the number of sanctioned posts at the police station level but a large number of them remain unfilled. All the States in the North-East would do well to ensure the representation of all groups and communities in their police forces and carry out recruitment to these forces in a transparent manner," he said.

Dr Singh said there were reasons for satisfaction as far as the communal situation was concerned, with no serious communal incident having occurred in the past five years.

But he said that some States like Maharashtra and Karnataka needed to exercise greater vigil to maintain communal peace.

"Karnataka, in particular, has witnessed a number of communal incidents during this year. What is more worrisome is that the incidents were not limited to one or two districts. Like in other areas of internal security, we must all be on our guard against attempts by communal fanatics to accentuate communal tensions, disturb the peace and weaken the fabric of our inclusive society," he said.

The Prime Minister said that a number of steps were discussed at the last such conference of Chief Ministers in January this year and a substantial amount of work had been done in the subsequent period.

He congratulated Home Minister P Chidambaram for his "single minded pursuit of the objectives that we had collectively agreed in general."

He noted that four regional hubs of the National Security Guard (NSG) had been established and operationalised at Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Hyderabad and that two Regional Centres of the NSG would shortly be established at Hyderabad and Kolkata.

He said the National Investigative Agency had been established and requested the Chief Ministers to extend all possible cooperation to this agency to make it a truly effective instrument in the fight against terrorism.
Home Minister P Chidambaram speaking at the Chief Ministers' Conference on Internal Security.
Home Minister P Chidambaram speaking at the Chief Ministers' Conference on Internal Security.

Dr Singh said Quick Response Teams and Special Intervention Units were being set up at the State level to enhance the speed of response to terrorist attacks.

A major effort was being made to improve intelligence gathering and dissemination, both at the Central and State levels, and a well-calibrated Coastal Security Scheme was being put in place, he said.

"But we obviously need to do much more and we shall. The challenges posed by asymmetric warfare and terrorism as also the left-wing extremism can only be met through new ideas and more resolute actions and determination. We need to be ahead of the curve if we are to succeed as we must," he added.

The one-day conference, convened by the Home Ministry, is meant to be a forum for exchange of ideas and work out a broad-based consensus on steps to be taken in crucial areas of internal security. The government hopes it would evolve a consensus about a concerted strategy and action programme to meet the challenges of internal security.

The meeting will assess the levels of the country's preparedness to meet terrorism and other internal security challenges and review the steps taken in recent times to enhance the capability of security forces and intelligence agencies.

In particular, the meeting will focus on the operational preparedness of Quick Response Teams and strengthening of State Special Branches and Intelligence Wings. It will also discuss steps to tackle the menace of fake currency notes, guidelines for security of crowded places, police reforms and better police-community interaction. Other issues that will come up at the meeting include border management and coastal security.

A separate session has been earmarked to consider issues related to left-wing extremism at which Chief Ministers of Naxalite-affected states like Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Bihar and West Bengal will interact with the Union Home Minister.

The meeting will also take stock of the implementation of the decisions taken at the Chief Ministers' Conference on Internal Security held on January 6 this year.

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Moily urges states to operationalise Gram Nyayalayas quickly

Veerappa Moily
Veerappa Moily
Union Law and Justice Minister Veerappa Moily today urged the state governments to operationalise the Gram Nyayalayas in the quickest time and start the first phase of the project within six months.

Addressing the Joint Conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices here, Mr Moily said it was important to make justice more easily available to the people, particularly in the rural areas.

He said Gram Nyayalayas Act, which enables the setting up of Nyayalayas in the Intermediate Panchayat levels, was a revolutionary way of bringing justice loser to people.

According to him, the Nyayalayas would have a Ist Class Magistrate and deal with offences and relief under the Indian Penal Code and Central Acts and relief under State Acts as well as civil, property and other disputes.

"These courts contemplate summary proceedings and a time bound disposal within six months of the institution of the case. Once in operation, justice will be brought to the doorsteps of the common man," he said.

"I, therefore, urge that we put our act together to operationalise the Gram Nayalayas in the quickest time and that we start our first phase within six months," he said.

Mr Moily told the Conference that information and communication technology (ICT) had been introduced in the Supreme Court, 21 High Courts and around 15,000 District and Subordinate Courts in the country.

He said the Centre had already sanctioned Rs 442 crores in the first phase of its judicial reforms as a result of which computerisation and internet connectivity had been achieved in the court complexes and home offices of 13,250 judicial officers in the country.

He said training of judges and court staff in the use of ICT was afoot. He said the government was also thinking of developing 3000 sites in all the court complexes where hardware would be procured and application software would be developed and standardised.

Mr Moily urged the state governments and chief justices to cooperate in successfully computerising courts for better delivery of services and transparency to the stakeholders.

He said the Law and Justice was also implementing a scheme for development of infrastructure for the judiciary, as part of which assistance was provided for construction of court buildings and residential accommodation for judicial officers.

The minister said the Fast Track Courts, established on the recommendation of the XIth Finance Commission, had made a significant impact in disposal of long-pending sessions cases and cases of under-trial prisoners. He said the scheme, initially upto March 31, 2005, had been extended upto March 31, 2010. The matter of continuation of the Fast Track Courts beyond that date needs to be now considered, he said.

"In order to improve the credibility of the system there is a need to make the optimum use of the available infrastructure and resources including human resources. Capacity building of our judicial officers will help the judiciary in their performance and will also bring in a sense of higher commitment," he said.

He urged Chief Justices of High Courts to initiate proposals six months in advance for filling up vacancies, as per the Memorandum of Procedure for the appointment of judges.

He said care should be taken to recommend candidates with proven competence and unimpeachable integrity.

He said the huge pendency of cases in the courts was a matter of great concern. He said more than 2.5 crore cases were reportedly pending in the lower courts and the number could exceed 3.5 crore if the pending cases in the High Courts and the Supreme Court are taken into account. He said the number of under-trials in jails was also causing worry.

Mr Moily said the government intended to evolve a national litigation policy by which the Government was able to fight cases with discretion and care.

He said the Government agreed with the Chief Justice of India that an attitude of taking firm, independent and impartial decisions in the Government would itself lead to a substantial reduction of arrears and control the inflow of litigation into the courts.

He said the major litigants/departments had been advised to work out an integral mechanism to reduce litigation and resolve issues within the Government. This needed to be done at the state level also, he said. There should also be a mechanism to deal with litigations between public sector units of the Union and of the states as well as between states and the Union of India, he stressed.

The minister welcomed the concept of "National Minimum Court Performance Standards" being visualised by the judiciary. He said the government must also have Judicial Infrastructure Supplement Standards so that the performance standards visualised by the judiciary are effectively achieved.

"It may be noted that in a fairly ambitious programme the judiciary today visualizes that its disposal level must be hiked upto 95-100% of total case load in five years. Keeping this fact in view, our senior Law Officers, the Attorney General and the Solicitor General, are looking at a blueprint by which this target is achieved within three years. I may add that in order to achieve such progressively high targets, it would be necessary for the Central Government and the State Governments to address issues of allocation of expenditure, swift budgetary estimates, single window clearances and rationalization of methods of accounts and audit," he said.

He said the Government was also of the opinion that alternative dispute resolution methods must be adopted as a means of exploring conciliation, mediation as well as arbitration in a fair and transparent as well as effective manner.

He expressed happiness that every High Court now has a Conciliation and Mediation Centre. He said the Government was conscious that mediation and conciliation were not ordinary techniques of dispute resolution but required new skills and forms of knowledge in order to achieve synergy between the conflicting parties.

He said the Government was also reviewing the various Law Commission Reports and tabulating their final recommendations, which would be implemented after getting necessary amendment Acts are passed by Parliament.

Mr Moily called for a new and effective mechanism for resolving commercial disputes speedily and effectively, given the rapid increase in commerce and trade following privatisation, liberalisation and globalisation.

"Foreign investors in India must be assured that the Indian courts are as fast as the courts in the most developed countries of the world and that there are no longer any long delays in the judicial process," he said.

He said the Law Commission had recommended constitution of Commercial Divisions in each High Court to handle commercial cases of high threshold value on fast track basis. He said this should be brought into force early.

The minister said the Law Commission's 79th report had drawn attention to the unhealthy practice of the long delay in pronouncements of judgements and emphasised the need for reducing the lag between conclusion of arguments and pronouncement of judgements should not exceed one month, except in some special matters. This recommendation must be taken seriously by all the members of the judicial fraternity, he said.

Mr Moily said the courts should make use of Sections 35 and 35A of the Civil Procedure Code more vigorously to prevent the abuse of legal processes by vested interests. The sections deal with the award of costs and the award of compensatory costs in respect of false or vexatious claims or defences.

He said there was a need to enact provisions for crimes involving mobility of weapons and money which have developed on account of changes in the social fabric as well as the monetary systems in the world.

The minister said that, during the XIth Plan, an allocation of Rs 1470 crore had been provided to the administration of justice as against Rs 700 crore during the Xth Plan.

He said that even this allocation would have to be stepped up substantially, given the Government's commitment to introduce more courts, specially the Gram Nyayalayas, for which the Government is committed to spend Rs 1400 crore.

"We should be committed that the quality of justice must never be compromised and the essential elements of fairness, equality and impartiality must always be ensured. We are also aware that all citizens expect justice like a consumer product. Both the executive and the judiciary have to maintain and satisfy the tests of confidence, reliability and dependability," he added.

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2 more H1N1 deaths in Bangalore, 152 new cases in country

With two more people succumbing to swine flu in Bangalore, the total number of deaths caused by influenza A H1N1 in the country so far has risen to 25.

As many as 16 of the deaths have occurred in Maharashtra--13 in Pune, 2 in Mumbai and 1 in Nasik.

Bangalore now accounts for 5 of the deaths, while Ahmedabad and Vadodara in Gujarat, Chennai in Tamil Nadu and Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala have reported one death each.

Meanwhile, as many as 152 fresh cases of the flu have been reported from different parts of India today, including 97 in Maharashtra alone--60 in Mumbai, 18 in Pune, 9 in Aurangabad, 2 each in Akola and Jalna, and 1 each in Ahmednagar, Solapur, Latur, Nagpur, Jalgaon and Dhule.

There were 10 new cases in Bangalore, 3 in Mangalore, 2 in Davangere and 1 each in Hubli and Hrudyalaya, all in Karnataka.

Apart from that there were 11 cases each in Delhi and Chennai, 10 in Coimbatore, 3 in Kochi, and 1 each in Dibrugarh and Shimla.

Most of the new cases reported today are indigenous in nature, with the patients having no history of recent travel abroad.

With these, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu reported from India so far has gone up to 1707, an official statement said. Of them, 694 have already been discharged from hospital while the rest are undergoing treatment in hospitals, it said.

A central team is stationed in Maharashtra to assist the State Government in instituting appropriate public health measures, the statement said.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) had declared influenza A H1N1 as a phase 6 pandemic in mid-June. In its latest update, the WHO said there were 1,77,457 laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu in 168 countries with a total of 1462 deaths, as of August 6.

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PM to inaugurate CMs' meet on internal security Monday

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will inaugurate a Conference of Chief Ministers on Internal Security here tomorrow, which will assess the levels of the country's preparedness to meet terrorism and other internal security challenges.

An official press release said the conference, convened by the Home Ministry, would review the steps taken in recent times to enhance the capability of security forces to meet internal security challenges and their preparedness to handle terrorist threats or attacks.

The meeting will focus on the operational preparedness of Quick Response Teams and strengthening of State Special Branches and Intelligence Wings, it said.

The Chief Ministers will also discuss steps to tackle the menace of fake currency notes, guidelines for security of crowded places, police reforms and better police-community interaction.

Other issues that will come up at the meeting include border management and coastal security, it said.

According to the release, a separate session has been earmarked to consider issues related to left-wing extremism at which Chief Ministers of Naxalite-affected states like Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Bihar and West Bengal will interact with Home Minister P Chidambaram.

The day-long meeting will also take stock of implementation of the decisions taken at the Chief Ministers’ Conference held on January 6 this year, the release added.

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Jaswant says Jinnah was a nationalist demonised by Indians

Jaswant Singh
Jaswant Singh
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Jaswant Singh has described Pakistan's founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah as a "great man" and a "nationalist" who was misunderstood and demonised by Indians because of the partition of the country in 1947.

"I think we have misunderstood him because we needed to create a demon … we needed a demon because in the 20th century the most telling event in the sub-continent was the partition of the country," the former External Affairs Minister told journalist Karan Thapar in the Devil's Advocate programme on CNN-IBN.

The interview coincides with the release tomorrow of Mr Singh's biography of Jinnah. The first part of the interview will be telecast at 2030 hours and the second at 2330 hours today.

Asked if he subscribed to the popular demonisation of Jinnah in India, Mr Singh said, "Of course I don’t. To that I don’t subscribe. I was attracted by the personality which has resulted in a book. If I was not drawn to the personality I wouldn’t have written the book. It’s an intricate, complex personality, of great character, determination."

To a question about whether he viewed Jinnah as a great man, Mr Singh replied, "Oh yes, because he created something out of nothing and single-handedly he stood against the might of the Congress Party and against the British who didn’t really like him ... Gandhi himself called Jinnah a great Indian. Why don’t we recognize that? Why don’t we see why he called him that?"

Mr Singh, who also served as Finance Minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, said that he thought Jinnah was a nationalist because he fought the British for an independent India but also fought resolutely and relentlessly for the interest of the Muslims of India. "...the acme of his nationalistic achievement was the 1916 Lucknow Pact of Hindu-Muslim Unity," he said.

Mr Singh said there was a lot in Jinnah's character that he admired. "I admire certain aspects of his personality. His determination and the will to rise. He was a self-made man. Mahatma Gandhi was the son of a Diwan. All these  – Nehru and others – were born to wealth and position. Jinnah created for himself a position. He carved in Bombay, a metropolitan city, a position for himself. He was so poor he had to walk to work … he told one of his biographers there was always room at the top but there’s no lift. And he never sought a lift."

He said the view, held by many in India, that Jinnah hated Hindus was totally wrong. "That certainly he was not … his principal disagreement was with the Congress Party ... he had no problems whatsoever with Hindus."

Speaking about the political events that led up to the partition of India, Mr Singh said Jawaharlal Nehru, who went on to become the country's first Prime Minister, believed in a highly centralised polity while Jinnah wanted a federal polity, which even Mahatma Gandhi had accepted. "Nehru didn’t. Consistently he stood in the way of a federal India until 1947 when it became a partitioned India," he said.

Mr Singh said the popular Indian view that Jinnah was the villain of the partition or the man principally responsible for it was wrong. "It is not borne out of the facts … we need to correct it."

About the political demands enunciated by Jinnah on behalf of Indian Muslims prior to 1947, Mr Singh said they were a search for some kind of autonomy of decision-making in their own social and economic destiny.

"Muslims saw that unless they had a voice in their own economic, political and social destiny they will be obliterated. That was the beginning (of their political demands) … for example, see the '46 election. Jinnah’s Muslim League wins all the Muslim seats and yet they don’t have sufficient numbers to be in office because the Congress Party has, without even a single Muslim, enough to form a government and they are outside of the government. So it was realized that simply contesting elections was not enough," he said.

Mr Singh said that, from his five-year-long research into the subject, he believed that Jinnah's call for Pakistan was a "negotiating tactic".

"From what I have written, I have found it was a negotiating tactic because he wanted certain provinces to be with the Muslim League, he wanted a certain percentage of (seats) in the central legislature. If he had that there would not have been partition," he said.

Asked about the Congress party's possible reaction to his views on Nehru, Mr Singh said, "I am not blaming anybody. I am not assigning blame. I am simply recalling what I have found as the development of issues and events of that period."

To a question about whether a united India would have been attained if the final decisions had been taken by Mahatma Gandhi, C Rajagopalachari or Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, rather than Nehru, he replied, "Yes, I believe so".

Mr Singh also spoke about the relationship between Jinnah and Mahatma Gandhi. "Jinnah was essentially a logician. He believed in the strength of logic. He was a parliamentarian. He believed in the efficacy of parliamentary politics. Gandhi, after testing the water, took to the trails of India and he took politics into the dusty villages of India."

According to him, Jinnah had two fears of Gandhi's style of mass politics. He thought that if mass movement was introduced into India, then the minorities in the country could be threatened and there could be Hindu-Muslim riots as a consequence. Jinnah also felt mass movement would result in bringing religion into Indian politics, which he did not want.

Asked if he looked upon both as failures, he said, "Yes, I am afraid I have to say that … I cannot treat this as a success either by Gandhi or Jinnah … the partition of India and the Hindu-Muslim divide cannot really be called Gandhiji’s great success … Jinnah got a moth-eaten Pakistan but the philosophy that Muslims are a separate nation was completely rejected within years of Pakistan coming into being."

The BJP leader said Indian Muslims had paid the price of partition and that India treated them as "aliens".

"Look into the eyes of the Muslims that live in India and if you truly see the pain with which they live, to which land do they belong? We treat them as aliens … without doubt Muslims have paid the price of partition. They could have been significantly stronger in a united India … of course, Pakistan and Bangladesh won’t like what I am saying."

"Every Muslim that lives in India is a loyal Indian and we must treat them as so," he added.

Describing his book as a "shake-up call," Mr Singh said, "We should learn from what we did wrong or didn’t do right so that we do not repeat the mistakes."

He said he had written what he had researched and believed in and had not written the book to please anyone.

"...how do I abandon my search, my yearning and what I have found? If I am wrong then somebody else should do the research and go and prove me wrong," he said.

He also made it clear that he had not written the book as a BJP parliamentarian. "I wrote this book as an Indian … this is not a party document. My party knows I have been working on this," he said, adding that he had mentioned it to Leader of the Opposition Lal Krishna Advani and others.

Asked if he was worried that they might be embarrassed and angry about his views and analysis, Mr Singh said, "No, they might disagree. That is a different matter. Why should there be anger?"

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PM calls for urgent steps to reduce arrears of court cases

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday urged the judiciary and the executive to work together to make the Indian judiciary an arrear-free institution.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaking at the inauguration of the Joint Conference of Chief Ministers of the States and Chief Justices of the High Courts.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaking at the inauguration of the Joint Conference of Chief Ministers of the States and Chief Justices of the High Courts.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today urged the judiciary and the executive to work together to make the Indian judiciary an arrear-free institution.

"Like Gandhiji’s common man, the focus of the judicial system should to be to wipe every tear of every waiting litigant," he told the Joint Conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices here this morning.

"I hope your deliberations will be centred on the single most important stakeholder in this system- the consumer of justice. Unless we meet his or her legitimate demands and expectations in letter and spirit, we cannot rest in peace," he said.

The Prime Minister said India was proud of the fact that its judiciary was dynamic and completely independent and the people of the country had reposed faith in the judicial organ in a very large measure.

He also pointed out that the legal system was manned by legal luminaries second to none in the world.

"Amazingly innovative legal doctrines and precepts have been the gift of the Indian legal system to the world. The "basic structure doctrine" and "public interest litigation" are but two examples. Judicial review has breached unprecedented frontiers," he observed.

But, he said, amidst such strengths, brilliance and dynamism, India had to suffer the scourge of the world's largest backlog of cases and timelines, which generate surprise globally and concern at home.

"The expeditious elimination of this scourge is the biggest challenge for such conferences and should constitute the highest priority for all of us," he stressed.

Dr Singh said the war against the mammoth number of pending cases needed a multi-pronged approach and made it clear that there was no space for piecemeal, patchy or sectoral responses.

At the same time, he emphasised that grand mega plans must be tempered and accompanied by common sense, nitty-gritty solutions, in which the big and the small are harmonised.

"In this war on arrears, the entire legal system and each rung of it has to function as a seamless web and an indivisible whole. Naturally, the apex court has to discharge a vital role. It has to be a catalyst, an organiser, a mentor, an umpire, a participant , and, above all, a role model, all at the same time," he said.

The Prime Minister assured the meeting that the government would not be found wanting at any level in this joint effort. "We promise to match each step of the judiciary with two of our own. We will not hesitate to walk the extra mile at every opportunity," he said.

He said diverse procedural, substantive and attitudinal reforms needed to be continuously and collectively applied to achieve results in this effort.

According to him, meritorious individuals should be appointed in a timely manner to judicial posts, which had been enhanced at the High Court level by 150 in the last few years.

He said the existing vacancies in High Courts were quite high in number and needed to be filled up urgently and urged the Chief Justices of High Courts to initiate proposals for quickly filling up these posts.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh being welcomed by the Law and Justice Minister Veerappa Moily at the inauguration of the Joint Conference of Chief Ministers of the States and Chief Justices of the High Courts.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh being welcomed by the Law and Justice Minister Veerappa Moily at the inauguration of the Joint Conference of Chief Ministers of the States and Chief Justices of the High Courts.

He said he had been told that vacancies at the subordinate level roughly accounted for 20 to 25 per cent of the subordinate judicial posts. He said he had been informed that almost 3000 posts of judges in the country were vacant because of delay in recruitment and stressed that they must be filled up without any further loss of time.

Dr Singh said the State Judicial Academies needed to be strengthened for building capacities of judicial officers.

"Comprehensive computerisation and ultimate linking of all courts in the country into one mega judicial information grid needs to be tailored and adapted to enable screening of all pending cases. Such screening would facilitate disposal of many old cases as moot or infructuous," he said.

The Prime Minister said that, despite the recent increases in judicial strength, there was scope for significant future increase in court strength to improve India’s low judge per million population ratio.

"This is subject, of course, to expeditious filling of existing vacancies. The mechanisms and processes for providing legal aid to the marginalised sections of the society need to be improved," he said.

According to him, Consensual Dispute Resolution – whether by way of arbitration or diverse forms of mediation – was an effective bypass to litigation, with significant preventive and curative virtues.

The Civil Procedure Code now offers an empowering menu of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) choices, he pointed out.

"I am happy to note that court annexed mediation centres are now being created at different levels. But they remain still a drop in the ocean. The plea bargaining provided for by the law since 2005 has not been fully utilised till now. There is a need to give it wider publicity to reduce the pendency of cases and the number of under-trials in the country," he said.

Dr Singh said the Ministry of Law and Justice was working on a road-map for judicial reforms and had already started consultations on the reform initiatives with various stakeholders.

He said a national consultation with jurists and stakeholders would be held in New Delhi soon and it was expected to throw up the broad contours and set the stage for reform.

"But a lot of work will still have to be done for crafting a detailed blueprint and ensuring its implementation thereafter," he remarked.

The Prime Minister urged the state governments to initiate immediate action to operationalise the Gram Nyayalayas Act in their states. He said that though the legislation had been enacted in January this year, it was yet to be enforced.

According to him, once the Act was fully implemented, there would be more than 5000 courts at the intermediate panchayat level, which would bring justice to the doorstep of the common people, who currently feel that getting justice in India is not only time-consuming and costly but sometimes also an intractable proposition.

He said the Centre had committed assistance to the states for setting up the Gram Nyayalays. "While there could be differing views on the adequacy of the assistance being provided, this should not hold us from speedily bringing the Act into force," he said.

Dr Singh informed the meeting that the Union Government, on the advice of the Chief Justice of India, had agreed to establish 71 additional CBI Courts in different states. "Fast Track Courts should conduct their business differently and faster than normal courts; only then we shall be able to tackle the pendency in cases," he said.

He also said that the large number of under-trials in Indian jails was a matter of concern. Many such under-trials had been in jail for periods longer than they would have served had they been sentenced, he pointed out.

"This is indeed very disturbing. There have been pronouncements of the High Courts and the Supreme Court on this issue but still the number of under-trials in jails continues to be very large. I sincerely hope this Conference will devote some time to this issue," he said.

The Prime Minister said the annual conference had become an extremely valuable institutional forum for fruitful interaction between two vital wheels of the chariot of good governance--the executive and the judiciary.

"The enormous and often non quantifiable benefits of such meaningful dialogue in such exchanges cannot be overemphasized. Institutional interactions like this create a deeper understanding of each others’ perspective, enhance trust and impart the necessary direction and momentum for processes of good governance," he added.

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2 H1N1 deaths in Bangalore, 165 fresh cases in country

Two patients in Bangalore died of swine flu in Bangalore today, taking the total number of deaths caused by influenza A H1N1 in the country so far to 23.

Of the 23 deaths, as many as 16 have occurred in Maharashtra alone--13 in Pune, 2 in Mumbai and 1 in Nasik.

Bangalore in Karnataka accounts for three of the deaths, while Ahmedabad and Vadodara in Gujarat, Chennai in Tamil Nadu and Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala have reported one death each.

Meanwhile, as many as 165 new cases of H1N1 were reported from across the country today, 97 of them from Maharashtra alone. Of these 69 were from Pune, which is by far the city worst-hit by the pandemic in India, 6 from Solapur, 5 each from Nanded, Nasik and Latur, 2 from Ratnagiri, and 1 each from Osmanabad, Nagpur, Dhule, Kolhapur and Yavatmal, an official statement said.

As many as 15 new cases were reported from Delhi, 8 from Bangalore, 4 each from Mangalore, Kolkata, Thiruvananthapuram, Coimbatore and Shillong, 3 each from Kochi, Kozhikode and Pondicherry, 2 each from Thrissur, Gurgaon and Mizoram, and 1 each from Ahmedabad, Goa, Hyderabad, Patna, Noida, Chandigarh, Jaipur, Faridabad, Mallapuram and Chennai.

With these, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus reported in the country so far has gone up to 1555, the statement said.

Most of the fresh cases are indigenous in nature, with the patients having no history of recent travel abroad, it said.

Of the 1555 cases, as many as 689 have already been discharged, while the rest are undergoing treatment in hospitals, it added.

According to the latest update from WHO, as many as 1,77,457 laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus have been reported from 168 countries around the world, with a total of 1462 deaths, as on August 6.

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New guidelines for screening, testing, and isolation for H1N1

The Union Government today issued fresh guidelines for screening, testing and isolation for influenza A H1N1 to prevent and contain the outbreak of the virus, which was declared as a phase 6 pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in mid-June.

The flu has claimed at least 21 lives in India and affected 1390 people in different cities, as of yesterday.

The new guidelines were finalised at a meeting chaired by Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad here yesterday that lasted more than five hours and was attended by experts form public and private hospitals and organisations, along with senior officials of the Ministry.

The meeting discussed threadbare the various guidelines and protocols developed by the WHO, the Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Atlanta, United States, and the National Health Service, United Kingdom.

According to the new guidelines, at first, all individuals seeking medical consultations for flu-like symptoms should be screened at healthcare facilities, Government and private, or examined by a doctor and these will be categorised as follows:

Category- A

Patients with mild fever plus cough/sore throat with or without body ache, headache, diarrhoea and vomiting will be categorised as Category-A. They do not require Oseltamivir and should be treated for the symptoms mentioned above. The patients should be monitored for their progress and re-assessed at 24 to 48 hours by the doctor.

No testing of the patient for H1N1 is required.

Patients should confine themselves at home and avoid mixing up with public and high-risk members in the family.

Category-B

(i) In addition to all the signs and symptoms mentioned under Category-A, if the patient has high-grade fever and severe sore throat, may require home isolation and Oseltamivir;

(ii) In addition to all the signs and symptoms mentioned under Category-A, individuals having one or more of the following high risk conditions shall be treated with Oseltamivir:
  • Children less than 5 years old;
  • Pregnant women;
  • Persons aged 65 years or older;
  • Patients with lung diseases, heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease, blood disorders, diabetes, neurological disorders, cancer and HIV/AIDS;
  • Patients on long term cortisone therapy.
  • No tests for H1N1 is required for Category-B (i) and (ii).
  • All patients of Category-B (i) and (ii) should confine themselves at home and avoid mixing with public and high risk members in the family.

Category-C

In addition to the above signs and symptoms of Category-A and B, if the patient has one or more of the following:
  • Breathlessness, chest pain, drowsiness, fall in blood pressure, sputum mixed with blood, bluish discolouration of nails;
  • Irritability among small children, refusal to accept feed;
  • Worsening of underlying chronic conditions.
All these patients mentioned above in Category-C require testing, immediate hospitalization and treatment.

An official press release said these guidelines would be reviewed and revised from time to time as per need and on the basis of the spread of the disease.

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PM to open meeting of state environment ministers on Aug 18

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will inaugurate a National Conference of the Ministers of Environment and Forests of all the States and Union Territories here on August 18.

The meeting has been convened by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests for a comprehensive stock-taking of the implementation of the policies and programmes related to protection of environment, forests and wildlife, an official press release said here today.

Apart from Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh, the conference will also be attended by senior officials of the Union and State Governments, chairmen of the Central and State Pollution Control Boards, Principal Chief Conservators of Forests of the states, Chief Wildlife Wardens, Members of the Planning Commission and representatives of non-governmental organisations.

The release said the conference assumed significance in the context of the emerging and continuing challenges in respect of environment, forests and wildlife. It said the conference would seek to forge enhanced synergies between the efforts of the Central and State Governments for effective implementation of policies and programmes in this regard.

According to it, the existing hiatus between the environmental and forestry laws and their implementation in the country is a matter of concern. The increasing urbanization, along with rapid growth in industrial infrastructure and transportation sectors, has resulted in new pressures on ecosystems. Newer and emerging challenges like climate change, loss of biodiversity, electronics waste, noise pollution, man-animal conflict and illegal trafficking of wild animals are posing threat to environment.

The conference is a part of the Ministry’s exercise to have strategic interventions and creative solutions.

Among other things, the conference will discuss ways of monitoring compliance with environmental and forestry-related laws and regulations and a road-map for institution-building.

Other issues likely to figure at the meeting are cleaning of rivers, strategies for increasing forest cover, strengthening of state forest departments, and wildlife management, including Tiger Conservation.

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President's award for classical language scholars

The President has decided to award the Certificate of Honour to 23 scholars of Sanskrit, Pali/Prakrit, Arabic and Persian on the occasion of Independence Day.

The distinctions are conferred every year on Independence Day in recognition of substantial contribution in these languages.

The awardees this year include Prof. Kompella Ramasuryanarayana; Prof. Vachaspati Sharma Tripathi; Dr. Ramakant Shukla; Prof. Vishwa Murti Shastri; Dr. N.S. Anatha Rangachar; Dr. N. Gopala Panicker; Dr. Sudyumna Acharya; Prof. Keshao Ramrao Joshi; Dr. Bhagaban Panda; Dr. Kamal Anand; Pt. Badari Prasad Shastri; Pt. Annadur Rajagopala Chariar; Prof. Ram Chandra Pandey; Prof. Ashok Kumar Kalia and Dr. Samiran Chandra Chakrabarti for Sanskrit.

The other awardees are Prof. Sheldon Pollock for Sanskrit (International), Dr. Dharma Chandra Jain for Pali/Prakrit, Prof. Shabbir Ahmad Nadvi; Prof. Shah Abdus Salam and Shri Abullais Ansari for Arabic, Prof. Rehana Khatoon; Dr. Mohd. Yaseen Quddusi and Prof. Syed Mohammad Tariq Hasan for Persian.

In addition, the President has also awarded the Maharshi Badrayan Vyas Samman to six scholars of Sanskrit and Persian. They are Dr. Chandra Bhushan Jha; Dr. Malhar Arvind Kulkarni; Dr. Sachchidanand Mishra; Dr. Narayan Dash and Dr. Sashibhusan Mishra for Sanskrit and Dr. Asad Ali Khurshid for Persian, an official press release added.

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Shahrukh Khan detained at Newark airport for two hours

File photo of Shahrukh Khan
File photo of Shahrukh Khan

Bollywood megastar Shahrukh Khan was detained and questioned at the Newark International Airport in New Jersey, United States, for about two hours yesterday before the Indian mission in New York intervened and got him out, reports reaching here said.

In Delhi, the Ministry of External Affairs took up the matter with the Embassy of the United States, which said it was trying to find out what had happened.

US Ambassador to India Timothy J Roemer said in a statement to the media that the embassy was trying to ascertain the facts.

"We are trying to ascertain the facts of the case -- to understand what took place," he said.

"Shah Rukh Khan, the actor and global icon, is a very welcome guest in the United States. Many Americans love his films," he added.

According to the reports, the actor was taken aside to a separate room and questioned for a long time about the purpose of his visit to the US and other such details. The actor is in the US to attend an Independence Day event in Chicago as the guest of honour.

Khan told a television channel that he initially thought the US officials were just being nice to him when they asked him to accompany him to another room. It took him a while to understand that they were questioning him because his name had cropped up on the immigration official's computer, perhaps because it resembled the name of some other person who they are looking for.

When the process took much longer than he thought it should, Khan finally called up a friend in the US, who brought the matter to the attention of the Consulate General of India in New York, which then swung into action and got him out after vouching for him.

Khan said the authorities had a right to question people but he felt the process had taken far too long in his case. He said it had caused him some inconvenience and embarrassment.

Malayalam superstar Mammoty, who is Mohammed Kutty in real life, had to undergo a similar experience in New York recently.



In Delhi, Mr Vishnu Prakash, the official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, said Shahrukh Khan had flown into Newark International Airport late last evening (India time), where he was taken aside for "secondary questioning".

"The Consulate General of India got in touch with him immediately upon learning about the incident. Mr. Khan said that he was all right. The Consulate offered him any assistance that he may require," Mr Prakash said.

He said the Ministry had separately taken up the matter with the US Embassy in New Delhi, which is ascertaining the details.

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PM says govt. can cope with drought, has enough foodgrain stocks

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Saturday the government would be able to meet quite well the situation arising out deficient rainfall and said it had adequte stocks of foodgrains.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressing the Nation on the 63rd Independence Day from the ramparts of the Red Fort.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressing the Nation on the 63rd Independence Day from the ramparts of the Red Fort.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said the deficient rainfall in many parts of the country would definitely have some adverse impact on crops but he was sure the government and the country as a whole would be able to meet the situation quite well.

"We will provide all possible assistance to our farmers to deal with the drought," Dr Singh said in his address to the nation from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort in the capital on Independence Day.

He said that, in view of the deficiency in the monsoons, the government had postponed the date for repayment of bank loans of farmers. He said the government was also giving additional support to farmers for payment of interest on short-term crop loans.

"I have always believed that India's prosperity is not possible without the prosperity of our farmers. This is the reason why our Government had waived bank loans of lakhs of farmers. We have increased the support prices for agricultural products by far more than ever before," he said.

The Prime Minister also assured the nation that the government had adequate stocks of foodgrains and promised that all efforts would be made to control the rising prices of foodgrains, pulses and other goods of daily use. He appealed to all state governments to exercise their statutory powers to prevent hoarding and blackmarketing of essential commodities.

Dr Singh said restoring the country's economic growth rate to nine per cent was the greatest challenge the government faced.

"We will make every necessary effort to meet this challenge -- whether it is for increasing capital flows into the country, or for encouraging exports or for increasing public investment and expenditure. We expect that there will be an improvement in the situation by the end of this year, but till that time we will all have to bear with the fall out of the global economic slow down. I appeal to all businessmen and industrialists to join us in our effort to tackle this difficult situation and to fulfill their social obligations fully," he said.

The Prime Minister pointed out that the economy had grown at a rate of about nine per cent from the year 2004-05 to 2007-08, which came down to 6.7 per cent in 2008-09 due to the global economic crisis. He said that it was only a result of the government's policies that the global crisis had affected India to a lesser extent than many other countries.

This was the sixth consecutive year that Dr Singh was addressing the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort and he used the occasion today to speak about the fight against terrorism and Naxalism, the efforts being made by the government to tackle the influenza A (H1N1) pandemic, climate change, the need to conserve water resources, and India's relations with its neighbours.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressing the Nation on the 63rd Independence Day from the ramparts of the Red Fort.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressing the Nation on the 63rd Independence Day from the ramparts of the Red Fort.

He also dwelt at length on the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government's flagship programmes for employment generation, infrastructure-building and rural and urban development.

The Prime Minister said terrorism had emerged as a threat to peace and harmony in all parts of the world. He said the government had, after the horrific terror attacks in Mumbai last November, taken many steps against the evil and the security forces and intelligence agencies were being constantly upgraded.

"I am sure that with cooperation from all sections of our society, we will be successful in eliminating terrorism from our country," he said.

He said some parts of the country continued to be affected by the Naxalite menace and it was the Constitutional obligation of the government to protect the life and liberty of citizens.

"Those who think that they can seize power by recourse to the gun do not understand the strength of our democracy," he said.

Dr Singh said the Centre would redouble its efforts to deal with Naxalite activities and would extend all help to the state governments to make their police forces more effective.

"Central forces will be provided wherever they are needed. We will also do more to ensure better coordination among States," he said.

The Prime Minister also stated that the government would endeavour to remove those causes of social and economic dissatisfaction which gave rise to problems like Naxalism.

"We believe in a development process which will remove backwardness, unemployment and reduce disparities in income and wealth. We seek active partnership of our brothers and sisters of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in our development processes," he said.

On the H1N1 virus that has affected various parts of the country, he said the Centre and the state governments would together continue to make all necessary efforts to control the spread of the infection. He also assured the people that the situation did not warrant a disruption of daily lives because of fear and anxiety.

At the outset, Dr Singh recalled the sacrifices of lakhs of Indians which had helped the country win its freedom and bring it to its current stage of development.

"Our well being and progress have been built upon the foundation of the hard work and sacrifices of our freedom fighters, the brave jawans of our armed forces, our farmers, our workers and our scientists.  
 
"Today, we remember all those martyrs who laid down their lives for the freedom and security of our country. The best way of paying homage to those brave sons of our country will be to resolve today that we will always stay committed to strengthening the unity and integrity of our nation. Let us all together take a vow that we will spare no effort to take India to greater heights," he said.

The Prime Minister said the recent elections had strengthened the nation and its democracy. "In these elections, the people of India have favoured a politics that integrates our country and our society. You have chosen a political arrangement which is secular and which includes many varied strands of thought. You have voted for a democratic way of life which provides for resolution of differences through debate and discussion. I am of the view that we have received a mandate for starting a new era of cooperation and harmony in our national life. We accept with humility the great responsibility you have entrusted to us," he said.

He assured the people that his government would work with sincerity and dedication to fulfill the expectation of each and every citizen of India.

"It will be our effort to ensure that every citizen of India is prosperous and secure and is able to lead a life of dignity and self respect... It will be our endeavour to carry everyone with us and to lead the country ahead on the path of development by creating an environment of consensus and cooperation," he said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh being received by the Defence Minister A K Antony on his arrival at the Red Fort. Minister of State for Defence M M Pallam Raju is also seen.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh being received by the Defence Minister A K Antony on his arrival at the Red Fort. Minister of State for Defence M M Pallam Raju is also seen.

Dr Singh said the policies and schemes of the UPA government in its first five-year term had been based on the paradigm that India's progress could be real only when every citizen benefited from it and every Indian had a right over its national resources.

"It has been our endeavour to ensure that the benefit of development reaches all sections of the society and all regions and citizens of the country. Our efforts have succeeded to some extent. But our work is still incomplete. We will carry it forward with firm determination and sincerity," he said.

The Prime Minister spoke of the need to adopt modern means to be successful in agriculture and to make more efficient use of scarce land and water resources. He said scientists must devise new techniques to increase the productivity of small and marginal farmers.

"The country needs another Green Revolution and we will try our best to make it possible. Our goal is 4% annual growth in agriculture and I am confident that we will be able to achieve this target in the next 5 years," he said.

He said the government's ardent desire was to ensure that not even a single citizen of India went hungry. He said this was the reason the government had promised a food security law under which every family living below the poverty line would get a fixed amount of foodgrains every month at concessional rates.

"It is also our national resolve to root out malnutrition from our country. In this effort, special care will be taken of the needs of women and children. We will endeavour to extend the benefit of ICDS to every child below the age of six years in the country by March 2012," he said.

He said the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) implemented by the UPA government in its first term (2004-09) had fulfilled the expectations from it to a large extent and had benefited about four crore families in 2008-09. He said it had also contributed to improvement in rural infrastructure.

Dr Singh said that the government would improve the programme to bring more transparency and accountability into it and new types of works would be added to those that could be taken up under it.

Stressing that good education was essential for the empowerment of the people, he spoke about the recently-enacted Right to Education Act which provides each child in the country with the right to elementary education.

He said funds would not be a constraint as far education was concerned and promised special attention to the needs of disabled children.

The Prime Minister said that, as a result of the government's efforts in the last few years, almost every child in the country had access to primary education today and attention now needed to be paid to secondary education.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh inspecting the Guard of Honour at the Red Fort.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh inspecting the Guard of Honour at the Red Fort.

He said secondary education would be expanded through a programme that would ensure that every child in the country got its benefit. He said the government would endeavour to provide bank loans and scholarships to the maximum number of students to support their education.

He said a new scheme would be started to help students from economically weaker sections of society by way of reduced interest rate on their education loans. This will benefit about 5 lakh students in getting technical and professional education.

He spoke about the National Rural Health Mission aimed at strengthening the infrastructure for rural public health services and said the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana would be expanded so as to cover each family below the povrty line. He said special attention would be paid to the needs of differently-abled people and facilities available to them would be increased.

Dr Singh said the government's flagship programmes for the development of rural and urban areas, such as the Bharat Nirman scheme and the Jahwarlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), would be accelerated. He said more ambitious targets for schemes for house construction and telecommunications in rural areas would be set.

He said the government would accelerate its efforts to improve physical infrastructure in the country. He referred in this regard to the plan to construct 20 km of National Highways every day and the work started by the Railways on the Dedicated Freight Corridors between Delhi and Mumbai and Delhi and Kolkata.

He said the government was giving careful attention to the problems of Air India and would resolve them soon. The schemes of roads, railways and civil aviation being implemented in Jammu & Kashmir and the States of the North East would be especially monitored, he said.

Dr Singh said the government wished to make the country slum free as early as possible and said that, in the next five years, it would provide better housing facilities to slum dwellers through the new Rajiv Awas Yojana.

The Prime Minister said climate change had become an issue of global concern in recent years. "If we don't take the necessary steps in time, our glaciers will melt and our rivers will go dry. The problems of droughts and floods will grow in seriousness. We also need to prevent air pollution," he explained.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh receiving the Guard of Honour from the Saluting Dias at the Red Fort on the 63rd Independence Day.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh receiving the Guard of Honour from the Saluting Dias at the Red Fort on the 63rd Independence Day.

According to him, India wished to tackle the problem of climate change in partnership with other countries of the world.

"We have taken a decision to constitute 8 National Missions. We are committed to meet the challenge of climate change through these 8 Missions. To increase the use of solar energy and to make it affordable, we will launch the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission on November 14 this year," he said.

He urged the people to cooperate with the Government in its efforts to keep the rivers of the country, especially the Ganga, clean.

"Our natural resources are limited. We must use them more efficiently. We need a new culture of energy conservation. We also need to prevent the misuse of water. We will pay more attention to programmes for water collection and storage. 'Save Water' should be one of our national slogans," he said.

Dr Singh said the country could meet all challenges that confronted it if the people worked unitedly. He said citizens had the right to express dissent and anger and stressed that every government should be sensitive to people's complaints and dissatisfaction.

"But nothing is achieved by destroying public property and indulging in violence against one's fellow citizens. Our democracy has no place for those who resort to violence to express their disagreement, and the government will deal firmly with such people," he asserted.

The Prime Minister said he did not subscribe to the view that to take special care of the deprived sections of the society amounted to appeasement.

"In fact, we believe that it is our solemn duty to do so. Our government will give its full attention to the well-being of our brothers and sisters belonging to the minority communities. We have started many schemes for the welfare of the minorities. These programmes will be taken forward. The funds for the special schemes taken up for the development of minority concentration districts have been enhanced quite substantially this year," he said.

He said the government had allocated increased funds for scholarship schemes for minorities that the first UPA government had started. A Bill to prevent communal violence had been introduced in Parliament and efforts would be made to convert it into a law as soon as possible, he said.

The Prime Minister said it was regrettable that the practice of female foeticide persisted in the country and described it as a shame for the entire nation.

"We must eliminate it as early as possible. Our progress will be incomplete till women become equal partners in all areas of our life and in our nation's progress," he remarked.

He said the government was committed to the early passage of the Women's Reservation Bill, which would provide one-third reservation for women in Parliament and the State Assemblies.

He said the government was also working on a legislation to provide 50 per cent reservation for women in rural and urban local bodies. He said it had also decided to launch a National Female Literacy Mission, through which female illiteracy would be reduced by half in the next three years.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh unfurling the Tricolour on the ramparts of the Red Fort.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh unfurling the Tricolour on the ramparts of the Red Fort.

Saying that the nation was proud of its soldiers, Dr Singh said the government had accepted the  recommendations of the committee constituted to examine the issue of pension of ex-servicemen. This will lead to increased pension for about 12 lakh retired jawans and Junior Commissioned Officers, he said.

The Prime Minister said the special needs of the backward regions of the country needed to be taken care of and said the government would redouble its efforts to remove regional imbalances in the level of development. He said the government would constantly endeavour to make the states of the North-East equal partners in the country's progress.

"Imphal or Kohima may be physically far away from Delhi, but the welfare of our brothers and sisters of the North East is always close to our heart. We know that without their well-being the country cannot move forward," he said.

Dr Singh said the vigorous participation of the people of Jammu and Kashmir in the state legislative assembly elections and the Lok Sabha polls during the past one year was proof that there was no place for separatist thought in the state.

"Our Government will continue assisting the State Government in improving governance in all parts of Jammu & Kashmir. It will be our endeavour to ensure that human rights are respected in the state and all its citizens are able to lead a life of peace and dignity in an environment of safety and security. We respect the special assurances and concessions provided to Jammu & Kashmir in our Constitution. We will continue to honour these special provisions," he said.

The Prime Minister pointed out that today's world was becoming smaller in many respects and, whether it was the international economic crisis or climate change, what happened in one part of the world had an effect on other parts also.

"The international economic and political order is changing. Questions are being raised on the functioning and continued effectiveness of the multilateral institutions established in the 20th century," he said.

Turning to foreign policy, he said India had good relations with the United States, Russia, China, Japan and Europe. There was a tremendous amount of goodwill for India and its people in the countries of South East Asia, Central Asia, West Asia and the Gulf. India had also  strengthened its traditional ties with Africa and was looking for new opportunities in Latin America, he said.

He said India wanted to live with its neighbours in peace and harmony. He said the country would make every possible effort to create an environment conducive to the social and economic development of the whole of South Asia.

Dr Singh said the benefits of various programmes and schemes would not reach the public until the government machinery was free of corruption and was effective in its implementation.

"I would like our public administration to be more efficient so that programmes for public good can be implemented faster. We need to improve our delivery systems to provide basic services to our citizens," he said.
Tricolour balloons released in the sky after the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s address to the Nation from Red Fort.
Tricolour balloons released in the sky after the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s address to the Nation from Red Fort.

He said the government would act with speed on the recommendations of the Administrative Reforms Commission to strengthen governance.

Renewed efforts will be made to decentralize public administration through the Panchayati Raj Institutions and to ensure greater involvement of people in it. Initiative will be taken for a new partnership between the civil society and the government so that tax payers' money is better spent, he said.

He said the Right to Information Act, enacted to enhance accountability and transparency in public life, would be improved so that it became more effective.

He said special efforts would be made to strengthen the administrative machinery for the government's rural programmes. He said people in villages and semi-urban areas should get services similar to the residents of urban areas.

According to him, communications and information technology could go a long way in achieving this objective. He also referred to the setting up of the Unique Identification Authority of India.

"This is a historic step to link up the whole country through a high quality administrative arrangement. We expect the first set of identity numbers to be available in the next one to one and a half years," he said.

The Prime Minister said that, as he stood on the ramparts of the Red Fort, he could feel the energy of more than 100 crore Indians marching ahead on the path of progress.

"Some people question whether India will ever be able to attain its true potential. I have no doubt about this. We are rapidly moving forward. We have faith in ourselves. We have political stability. Our democracy is an example for the whole world. We are gaining in economic strength. And most importantly, we have full confidence in our youth. They are our future. I am sure that they will take our country to a new glory," he asserted.

Earlier, Dr Singh was received on his arrival at the Lahore Gate of the fort by Defence Minister A K Antony, Minister of State for Defence M M Pallam Raju and Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar.

The Defence Secretary introduce General Officer Commanding (GOC), Delhi Area, Lt General Kanwal Jit Singh Oberoi to the Prime Minister, who then conducted him to the saluting base where a combined inter-services and police guard presented a general salute to him. Thereafter, Dr Singh inspected the guard of honour.

The Guard of Honour contingent for the Prime Minister consisted of one officer and 24 men each from Army, Navy, Air Force and Delhi Police. The Guard of Honour was positioned directly in front of the National Flag across the moat below the rampart.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chanting 'Jai Hind' from the ramparts of the Red Fort.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chanting 'Jai Hind' from the ramparts of the Red Fort.

This year, the Navy was the coordinating agency and the Guard of Honour was commanded by Cdr Gurkeerat Singh Sekhon. The Army contingent was commanded by Captain Bhaskar Pandey, Naval Contingent by Lt Cdr KSN Kumar, Air Force Contingent by Sqn Ldr AS Sachdeva and Delhi Police contingent by Assistant Commissioner of Police Pushpender Kumar.

The Army contingent for the Prime Minister's Guard was from 6th Battalion of the Assam Regiment. The battalion was raised on April 1, 1964 at Assam Regimental Centre in Happy Valley, Shillong. During the 1971 operations, the unit had the singular honour and proud privilege of accepting the surrender of the entire Nator Garrison of the Pakistan Army. More than 5500 officers and other ranks of the garrison, along with a huge quantity of arms and ammunitions, laid down their arms to the battalion.

The battalion is presently the ceremonial battalion of the Indian Army, deployed in Rashtrapati Bhavan, India Gate and other important places in the capital.

After inspecting the Guard of Honour, the Prime Minister proceeded to the ramparts where he was greeted by Mr Antony, Mr Raju, Chief of Army Staff General Deepak Kapoor, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sureesh Mehta and Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Pradeep Vasant Naik. The GOC Delhi area then conducted the Prime Minister to the dais to unfurl the National Flag.

The unfurling of the tri-colour synchronized with the 21-gun salute fired by the gunners of the elite 299 Field Regiment. The battery was commanded by Lt Col Manu Mohan and the Gun Position Officer was RHM Paramjeet Singh.

The National Flag Guard, comprising 32 men and one officer each from Army, Navy Air Force and Delhi Police, presented the Rashtriya Salute at the time of unfurling of the National Flag by the Prime Minister. Cdr Jasvinder Singh will command the Guards. The Naval Contingent for National Flag Guard was commanded by Lt Cdr Manish Chadha, the Army contingent by Captain Vinay Naik, the Air Force contingent by Sqn Ldr C Gulati and Delhi Police contingent by Additional DCP Vivek Kishor.

The Naval Band played the National Anthem when the National Guard presented "Rashtriya Salute" while the Prime Minister unfurled the tricolour. All Service personnel in uniform stood and saluted the flag. The Naval Band was commanded by Dalbir Lal, Master Chief Petty Officer Musician 2nd Class.

Two Naval Officers, Lt A P S Chouhan and Lt K G Das were positioned on either side of the saluting dais for the PM for AsDC duties. Lt Manish Mathew assisted the Prime Minister in the unfurling of the National Flag.
School children of Delhi, dressed in green and light brown colours, re-create the image of India Gate during the Independence Day ceremony at Red Fort in the Capital on Saturday.
School children of Delhi, dressed in green and light brown colours, re-create the image of India Gate during the Independence Day ceremony at Red Fort in the Capital on Saturday.

The Army contingent for National Flag Guard was from the 9th Battalion of Maratha Light Infantry which was raised on October 1, 1964 at the Maratha Light Infantry Regimental Centre, Belgaum. The Battalion has distinguished itself in almost all kinds of operations. During the Indo Pak War of 1971, the Battalion performed commendably at Shakargarh Sector (Basantar) as part of 54 Infantry Division.

After the Prime Minister's address, schoolchildren and cadets of the National Cadet Corps (NCC) sang the National Anthem.

About one thousand Junior Division Cadets of the NCC from Delhi Directorate, comprising Army, Navy, Air Force and Girls wings, participated in the flag-hoisting ceremony this year.

As many as 3550 girl students from 32 government and government-aided schools under the Directorate of Education, National Capital Territory of Delhi sang patriotic songs in different regional languages before the start of the ceremony. These children dressed up in green and light brown colour re-created the image of India Gate, one of Delhi's and the country's most famous landmarks.

UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, several Union Ministers, top officials of the government and the armed forces and members of the diplomatic corps were amongst those who attended the function.

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Moderate quake hits Andaman Islands

A moderate earthquake, measuring 5.3 on the Richter scale, shook the Andaman Islands in the early hours of today, the Indian Meteorological Department said.

The tremor was felt at 0110 hours IST and its epicentre lay at 14.1 N latitude and 93.2 E longitude, it said.

Another moderate quake had hit the islands on Thursday while a high-intensity tremor, measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, had been experienced in the islands and many other parts of India's east coast on Tuesday.

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PIB to webcast PM's address to nation

The Press Information Bureau (PIB) has made arrangements for the webcast of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's address to the nation from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort tomorrow morning on Independence Day.

The webcast will be available simultaneously with the telecast of the address on Doordarshan, an official press release said.

The webcast, being arranged in collaboration with the National Informatics Centre (NIC), will be available from 0700 hours, it said.

PIB has been telecasting important speeches from 2005 to disseminate them to a larger audience using modern technology.

President Pratiba Patil's address to the nation this evening on the eve of Independence Day was also webcast by PIB.

The webcast can also be seen on http://independenceday.nic.in/

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Patil says country must be prepared to cope with less rains, handle H1N1

President Pratibha Patil said on Friday India must be prepared to face the situation arising out of the fact that the monsoon this year had been less than normal, impacting agriculture and availability of water, and handle the swine flu pandemic.
President Pratibha Patil addressing the Nation on the eve of the 63rd Independence Day.
President Pratibha Patil addressing the Nation on the eve of the 63rd Independence Day.
President Pratibha Patil today said the country must be prepared to face the situation arising out of the fact that the monsoon this year had been less than normal, impacting agriculture and availability of water.

"The Government is taking all possible steps to deal with it," she said in her address to the nation this evening on the eve of Independence Day, which was telecast live on Doordarshan and other television channels and broadcast on All India Radio.

Ms Patil also said that the Government was taking all necessary measures to handle the influenza A (H1N1) pandemic, which had claimed 21 lives so far in the country.

She said citizens had to come forward to contribute to the Government's efforts in these areas and in other development initiatives through public-private partnerships, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), community groups or Self Help Groups.

"An enlightened citizenry conscious of its civic duties and social responsibilities, maintaining discipline, following good habits particularly about hygiene and cleanliness, respectful towards nature’s bounty and sensitive to environmental concerns is the greatest asset of a nation," she said.

The President also said that terrorism must be defeated in the interest of the collective goal of humankind to build peaceful societies and a peaceful world. "We need to work together towards this end as humankind shares a common destiny," she said.

"Terrorism, which targets innocent people, is the very anti-thesis of peaceful co-existence. It is condemnable because it is against the tenets of every religion and faith,,,," she said.

At the outset, the President extended her warmest greetings to Indians all over the world and conveyed a special word of gratitude to the personnel of the Armed Forces, para-military forces and Central and state-level police and internal security forces.

She dwelt at length on the long and arduous struggle to liberate India from the colonial yoke and paid homage to those who took part in the freedom movement to give Indians a sovereign nation.

According to her, the four essential pillars necessary to support the edifice of India have been and remain - democracy, inclusive economic development, social empowerment and a value system based on the country's civilizational heritage.

Ms Patil also spoke about the 15th General Elections and how an effort was made to reach out to every voter, even in the remotest parts of the country.

"If we can work to ensure that each citizen gets an opportunity to be heard while choosing representatives to Parliament and the Assemblies, it also becomes our bounden duty to ensure that they are heard even in the period between elections. Each elected Member of Parliament represents on an average the voice of over a 1.3 million electorate - larger than the population of some nations, and this imposes a huge responsibility to represent the aspirations of those who have elected them. They have a clear obligation to work for the welfare of the people and the progress of the nation," she emphasised.

The President pointed out that the expectations of the people were rising as they were becoming more aware of their rights and sought better opportunities.

"Facilities, amenities and services meant for them, whether they are living in rural or urban areas, can be delivered smoothly only is there is an effective governance system that is less cumbersome but more transparent and accountable. There is outrage when money meant for welfare schemes is pilfered out by corrupt practices.

"The flagship programmes of the Government are comprehensive ranging from health to education, employment to expanding social and economic infrastructure. Their implementation will have to be at optimal levels for an impact to be made on the lives of the people. Hence, the emphasis on reform of governance for effective delivery of public services is critical to change the lives of the people. The administrators must be responsive to the needs of the people. Their work is a public service – commitment, dedication and honesty should be the hallmarks of their work," she said.

Ms Patil said India's uninterrupted democratic credentials and its steady economic progress achieved due to the people's hard work had fortified India’s stature.

"Even in the face of a global slowdown, which demands that we manage the economy to counter its effects, we must work to continue our upward trajectory," she said.

According to her, India had a large domestic market and inherent strengths to drive the economy forward.

"We have a large domestic market and inherent strengths to drive the economy forward. As we focus on areas of proven strength, on building of infrastructure throughout the country and rural development, it should be our incessant endeavor to expand into new areas of growth," she said.

"We must prepare for the future world whose contours will be shaped by innovation, technology and a spirit of enterprise. India has been playing a leading role in the knowledge economy and in the IT and IT enabled sectors. We are well placed to face the future with confidence, but we must not be complacent," she said.

Ms Patil said transformational changes had taken place in India when technology had been used for development.

She said the building of modern India required a focus on strengthening the country's academic institutions and research facilities.

"Our efforts in this direction should be motivated by the desire to achieve excellence. India can set high standards of Research and Development so that these can become the international benchmarks in a knowledge society. The world expects India to be one of the largest economies of the world. We know we can achieve this position," she pointed out.

"After all, history tells us that since ancient times India was a wealthy nation well known for its riches and its global importance. However, India which is a civilization in continuum seeks in addition to material progress, enrichment of human life through cultural advancement, a constant search for knowledge and understanding, and above all, social justice," she said.

The President said India's narrative of growth should be a story of opportunity and a life of dignity for all.

"Social empowerment requires considerable amount of work and, hence, must occupy centre stage in our national consciousness. There are the weaker and the vulnerable sections of society who are not full partners in the growth and development process and remain on the sidelines. These sections of society need to be drawn into the national mainstream. They need to be given access to education, health and skill-building - the tools of empowerment. This will equip them with abilities and capabilities and generate confidence about their future prospects. This will give them a sense of control over their destinies. It is within the realm of possibility to achieve this," she stressed.

Ms Patil said signs of change were becoming visible. For instance, there are girls joining colleges, whose parents had never ever been to school.

"This is a development that has happened within a generation. People are today realizing the advantages of being educated and are ready to seize opportunities," she remarked.

The President said the passage of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill was a landmark legislation for achieving the goal of universal education.

Similarly, she felt the National Mission on Empowerment of Women would socially and economically empower women to play an active role in nation-building.

"Giving an equal chance to everybody to get ahead in life is an article of faith for the Republic of India, and building an inclusive society our objective," she said.

Ms Patil said that as India moved forward to become an exemplary democracy, an economic power and a progressive society, it must also be rooted in values.

"India should build its destiny on a culture of peace and harmony. There should be harmony between good traditions and progress.

"India has shown a remarkable capacity to assimilate change as well as the influences that have been brought to its land over centuries by the many groups who came here. This has made us a composite society consisting of many different strands but yet united. This unity has been brought about by the philosophy of harmony which demands a sense of responsibility towards fellow human beings. It seeks to resolve differences rather than widen them. It seeks to bring people together rather than divide them. It looks at change not as a threat but as a reality of the march of time. Peaceful co-existence is inherent in our culture," she said.

She called upon citizens of every religion to live together in harmony. "If we have to progress, communal harmony is important. It is like the thread which holds together a garland of beautiful flowers made of different colours and fragrance. Let us prove that we can be united as human beings and not divided. Let us fight against violence and extremism and be an important part of promoting peace and harmony. If we choose to be bound by the feelings of hatred, mistrust and apathy we will never move forward.

"Therefore, let us build a strong, united and progressive India for us and our future generations as also a peaceful world," she added.

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107 new cases of influenza A (H1N1) in India, death toll put at 21

As many as 107 new cases of influenza A (H1N1) were reported from India on Sunday, including 29 from Mumbai and 13 each from Delhi and Hyderabad.
File photo of patients in Pune waiting at a local hospital to get tested for influenza A (H1N1).
File photo of patients in Pune waiting at a local hospital to get tested for influenza A (H1N1).
As many as 107 new cases of influenza A (H1N1) were reported from India today, including 29 from Mumbai and 13 from Delhi.

Media reports said three more people had died of the virus last night, two in Pune and one in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, but an official statement issued here this evening said the toll remained at the overnight number of 21.

Pune, the city worst hit by the flu in India, accounted for 13 of the deaths, followed by Mumbai with two and Nashik, Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Chennai, Thiruvananthapuram and Bangalore with one each.

With the latest new cases, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu in the country has risen to 1390, of whom 742 are at various stage of recovery,the statement said. The rest have been discharged from hospital.

A central team is stationed in Maharashtra to assist the State Government in instituting appropriate public health measures.

Apart from Mumbai and Delhi, 13 new cases were reported from Hyderabad today, 9 from Bangalore, 6 from Kolkata, 5 each from Ahmedabad, Surat and Gurgaon, 4 each from Pune and Osmanabad, 2 each from Nanded, Nagpur, Goa, Mangalore and Srinagar, and 1 each from Dhule, Nasik, Latur and Panchkula.

Most of the fresh cases were indigenous in nature, with the patients not having any history of recent travel abroad, the statement said.

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PM to unfurl tri-colour on the ramparts of Red Fort on I-Day

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will unfurl the National Flag on the ramparts of the historic Red Fort tomorrow morning to celebrate the 63rd Independence Day and then address the nation.

According to the schedule, Dr Singh will be received on his arrival at the Lahore Gate of the fort by Defence Minister A K Antony, Minister of State for Defence M M Pallam Raju and Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar.

The Defence Secretary will introduce General Officer Commanding (GOC), Delhi Area, Lt General Kanwal Jit Singh Oberoi to the Prime Minister. The GOC Delhi Area will then conduct Dr Singh to the Saluting Base where a combined inter-services and police guard will present general salute to him. Thereafter, Dr Singh will inspect the guard of honour.

The Guard of Honour contingent for the Prime Minister will consist of one officer and 24 men each from Army, Navy, Air Force and Delhi Police. The Guard of Honour will be positioned directly in front of the National Flag across the moat below the rampart.

This year, the Navy being the coordinating agency, the Guard of Honour will be commanded by Cdr Gurkeerat Singh Sekhon. The Army contingent will be commanded by Captain Bhaskar Pandey, Naval Contingent by Lt Cdr KSN Kumar, Air Force Contingent by Sqn Ldr AS Sachdeva and Delhi Police contingent by Assistant Commissioner of Police Pushpender Kumar.

The Army contingent for the Prime Minister's Guard is from 6th Battalion of the Assam Regiment. The battalion was raised on April 1, 1964 at Assam Regimental Centre in Happy Valley, Shillong. During the 1971 operations, the unit had the singular honour and proud privilege of accepting the surrender of the entire Nator Garrison of the Pakistan Army. More than 5500 officers and other ranks of the garrison, along with a huge quantity of arms and ammunitions, laid down their arms to the battalion.

The battalion is presently the ceremonial battalion of the Indian Army, deployed in Rashtrapati Bhavan, India Gate and other important places in the capital.

After inspecting the Guard of Honour, the Prime Minister will proceed to the ramparts where he will be greeted by Defence Minister, the Minister of State for Defence, Chief of Army Staff General Deepak Kapoor, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sureesh Mehta and Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Pradeep Vasant Naik. The GOC Delhi area will conduct the Prime Minister to the dais to unfurl the National Flag.

The unfurling of the tri-colour will synchronize with the 21-gun salute fired by the gunners of the elite 299 Field Regiment. The battery will be commanded by Lt Col Manu Mohan and the Gun Position Officer will be RHM Paramjeet Singh.

The National Flag Guard comprising 32 men and one officer each from Army, Navy Air Force and Delhi Police will present Rashtriya Salute at the time of unfurling of the National Flag by the Prime Minister. Cdr Jasvinder Singh will command the Guards. The Naval Contingent for National Flag Guard will be commanded by Lt Cdr Manish Chadha, the Army contingent by Captain Vinay Naik, the Air Force contingent by Sqn Ldr C Gulati and Delhi Police contingent by Additional DCP Vivek Kishor.

The Naval Band will play the National Anthem when the National Guard presents "Rashtriya Salute" while the Prime Minister unfurls the National Flag. All Service personnel in uniform will stand and salute. The Naval Band will be commanded by Dalbir Lal, Master Chief Petty Officer Musician 2nd Class.

Two Naval Officers, Lt A P S Chouhan and Lt K G Das will be positioned on either side of the saluting dais for the PM for AsDC duties. Lt Manish Mathew will assist the Prime Minister in unfurling of the National Flag.

The Army contingent for National Flag Guard is from the 9th Battalion of Maratha Light Infantry which was raised on October 1, 1964 at the Maratha Light Infantry Regimental Centre, Belgaum. The Battalion has distinguished itself in almost all kinds of operations. During the Indo Pak War of 1971, the Battalion performed commendably at Shakargarh Sector (Basantar) as part of 54 Infantry Division.

After unfurling the National Flag, the Prime Minister will address the nation. After the Prime Minister’s address, schoolchildren and cadets of the National Cadet Corps (NCC) will sing the National Anthem.

About one thousand Junior Division Cadets of the NCC from Delhi Directorate, comprising Army, Navy, Air Force and Girls wings, are participating in the flag-hoisting ceremony this year. The cadets will also participate in the singing of patriotic songs along with school children. As many as 3550 girl students from 32 government and government-aided schools under the Directorate of Education, National Capital Territory of Delhi will sing the National Anthem. They will also sing patriotic songs in different regional languages before the start of the Independence Day ceremony. These children dressed up in green and light brown colour will re-create the image of India Gate, an official press release added.

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