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Krishna denies US pressure to resume talks with Pakistan

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna has denied that India was under any pressure from the US to resume the stalled peace talks with Pakistan and said the talks could re-start once Pakistan took credible steps to convey that it was willing to fight terror.

Devil's Advocate: Karan Thapar interviewing S M KrishnaExternal Affairs Minister S M Krishna today denied that India was under any pressure from the United States to resume the stalled peace talks with Pakistan and said the talks could re-start once the neighbouring country took credible steps to convey that it was willing to fight terror both within and without.

"I do not know from where one gets this idea that India is a country which can be pressurised to take a particular posture. We are a sovereign country and we take decisions in what is best for our national interest," Mr Krishna told journalist Karan Thapar in an interview for the Devil's Advocate programme on CNN-IBN. The interview will be telecast by the channel on Sunday night and repeated on Monday.

"We have got to safeguard our territory; we have got to safeguard our polity, so we will be guided by the developments in our own country rather than being pressurised by ‘A’ power or ‘B’ power," Mr Krishna said.

Asked if the letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from US President Barack Obama and one from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to him were part of a concerted attempt by Washington to push India into resuming the composite dialogue with Pakistan, Mr Krishna said the US might have friendly advice and suggestions but that did not mean it was going to put pressure on India.

"We have taken up our relationship with the US to a higher level than what it was especially after the civil nuclear treaty. We have moved closer to the US. In view of the fact that there are a number of other concerns where we are acting closely with the US, so they might have friendly advice, suggestions, just as we can give them friendly advice and suggestions. But that doesn't mean to say that they are going to pressurise us or we are going to pressurise them," he said.

Asked if that meant that India had indeed been receiving "friendly advice, suggestions" to start the talks with Pakistan, he said, "We have friendly exchange of views about not only the bilateral relationship between the US and India but about the border situation, the neighbourhood."

In reply to another question about whether US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke's assignment also included India, Mr Krishna said it was entirely Washington's concern what it did with other countries. "But where India is concerned we are free to take decisions depending upon the circumstances prevailing in our country and keeping the national interest of India in mind," he said.

The Minister recalled Dr Singh's speech in Parliament earlier this week in which he had said that India was willing to meet Pakistan more than half-way in the matter of resuming the peace talks if the Pakistani leadership created the right atmosphere by taking concrete steps to bring those responsible for the November 26, 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai to book.

India has refused to re-start the dialogue with Pakistan unless it dismantled the terrorist infrastructure in its territory aimed at India and stopped cross-border terrorism and infiltration.

"We are hoping that Pakistan sees the path of reason and they would live up to what we expect them to do. Then perhaps it becomes smoother for any dialogue to be meaningful. There should be a very conducive atmosphere and that is what we are trying to create," Mr Krishna said.

"That is what we expect from Pakistan. They should take some credible steps to convey to India that they are willing to fight terror both within and without," he said.

On India-US relations, Mr Krishna did not share the perception that the relationship would be any different under President Obama than what it was during the term of his predecessor George W Bush.

"I believe and am looking forward that the same relationship will continue and perhaps we might improve our relationship further as we go along the road," he said.

The minister said Mr Obama was a great democrat, who believes in democracy, who was aware that he was dealing with the world's largest democracy. He said the two countries shared so much in common in terms of democratic and other values. He, therefore, saw very close relations developing between the two countries.

"The US' relationship with other countries is certainly something that they will have to evaluate themselves," he said about Washington's ties with Islamabad.

"But as far as we are concerned, whether it is President Obama or the Secretary of State, Mrs Hillary Clinton, I Devil's Advocate: Karan Thapar interview S M Krishnabelieve that they understand India's position globally speaking and India's strength in the neighbourhood and India's relevance in keeping peace and tranquility in this stable region," he said.

Asked about the US efforts to identify "good or moderate" Taliban who could be incorporated into the Afghan government, Mr Krishna said he was not aware of any way of distinguishing between different kinds of Taliban. "Talibanism is certainly evil personified," he felt.

Asked if India would be concerned if the US did go ahead with such a move, Mr Krishna said, "That is something which the US will have to work out with Pakistan. And we certainly will have no role in shaping that."

"But we evaluate what Talibanism is all about and we certainly will communicate to the US in our own way what we feel about it," he added.

Asked if India would be under pressure from Washington to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), he said, "Well, we presume that President Obama understands India's special status."

He remarked that it was not without reason that then President Bush had given India that kind of status when he signed the India-US Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement with Dr Singh in July, 2005.

"So I am sure the new administration in the US will understand the com

NPCIL says missing engineer had no access to nuclear secrets

The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) today said it and other government agencies were making all efforts to locate its engineer Loganathan Mahalingam, an employee of its Kaiga Atomic Power Station in Karnataka, who has been reported missing since Monday morning, but ruled out that he was privy to nuclear secrets.

In a statement, NPCIL said Mahalingam had been associated with the training department of the nuclear power plant, responsible for imparting training in routine operation and maintenance aspects to the plant personnel, which is essentially an educational and skill development function.

The clarification comes in the wake of media reports which said Mr Mahalingam was a senior official who had access to sensitive nuclear secrets.

The reports said Mr Mahalingam had gone for jogging from the Mallapuram township in Karwar and did not return home. The reports also said that he had once disappeared for five days when he was working at the Kalpakkam atomic power station some years ago. On his return, he had reportedly said that he had gone to seek spiritual solace.

The NPCIL statement said it was a government-owned public sector enterprise responsible for design, construction, commissioning and operation of nuclear power plants and did not deal with the country's strategic programme.

Currently, NPCIL operates 17 nuclear power plants at various locations in the country, including Kaiga, the statement added.

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5 Bihar Infantry for UN Mission in Congo

A contingent of the 5 Bihar Infantry Battalion Group will represent the country in Congo as part of the United Nations Peace Keeping Mission (MONUC), an official statement said here today.

The battalion was raised on January 1, 1963 and has been nominated for the coveted UN mission on the strength of its performances in Operation Rhino in Assam during 1995-98 and in Operation Rakshak and Operation Parakram in Jammu and Kashmir during 2001-03.

The Director General of Staff duties addressed the contingent today and praised the outstanding work done by Indian troops in several UN Peace Keeping Operations in the past. He said he expected 5 Bihar to live up to their standards.

He reminded them of the challenging tasks ahead and exhorted them to demonstrate their tradition of selfless dedication, devotion and humanitarian approach for ensuring peace in Congo, an official statement added.

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Shakti ACCCS dedicated to Indian Army

Shakti, a fully digitized, integrated and networked Artillery Combat Command and Control System (ACCCS) was dedicated to the Indian Army at a function here today.

The system has been jointly developed by Bharat Electronics limited (BEL), Bangalore, Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR), Armament Research and Development Establishment (ARDE) and Project Management Organisation (PMO) ACCCS of Directorate General of Information Systems (DGIS).

Lt Gen P C Katoch, Director General of Information Systems and Mr Ashwani Kumar Datt, Chairman & Managing Director, BEL handed over the Shakti equipment to Army Chief Gen Deepak Kapoor and Lt Gen K R Rao, Director General of Artillery.

The function was attended by several army officers alongwith senior officers from the Air Force, the Navy, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and BEL, an official statement said.

Project Shakti is the first among the various Combat Command Control and Information (C31) systems being fielded in the Army. It is a network of military-grade tactical computers automating and providing decision support for all operational aspects of artillery functions from the corps down to the battery level. The system is also designed to seamlessly integrate with overall C31 grid. Project Shakti will be the hub of the fire power resource component of the corps combat potential, the statement said.

The major functions that the systems can perform are :-

• Technical fire control for accurate delivery of fire power at the right time and place.

• Tactical fire control for optimum utilization of available resources.

• Fire planning.

• Deployment management to ensure timely and speedy deployment to achieve maximum fire densities at critical area.

• Operational logistics management.

According to the statement, Shakti will give the Army the capability to concentrate the artillery fire power at tactical level with ease and deliver the decisive blow by concentrated fire power at critical areas to ensure victory in battle.

In his address, the Army Chief stated that future wars would be short, intense and technology-driven. To achieve a cutting edge, the Army needs to take speedy decisions facilitated by situational awareness and decision support tools in a networked C31 environment. Project Shakti has empowered the Artillery with that cutting edge through automation of all artillery functions in war at all levels of command, he added.

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India-UK naval exercises from July 17

An Indian Navy Task Group, led by the destroyer INS Delhi, along with frigates INS Beas and INS Brahmaputra and tanker INS Aditya, will reach Portsmouth in the United Kingdom on June 17 for Exercise Konkan with the Royal Navy.

An official statement said the task group would be under the command of Rear Admiral Surinder Pal Singh Cheema, Flag Officer Commanding Western Fleet.

Exercise Konkan is an annual exercise between the two navies, conducted with the aim of building maritime inter-operability and mutual understanding.

So far, four such exercises have been conducted since 2004. This is the first time that the exercise will be conducted in UK waters, the statement said.

UK participants, commanded by Commodore Simon Ancona, include the frigates HMS Westminster and HMS Lancaster, the nuclear-powered submarine HMS Trafalgar, the auxiliaries RFA Mounts Bay and RFA Fort Rosalie and an RAF Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft.

A team of Indian Navy divers will also be conducting Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) training with the Plymouth-based Southern Diving Group, the statement said.

After the harbour phase, the combined Task Group will sail on July 20, Saturday and exercise together for six days. The focus will be on anti-submarine warfare, but there will be opportunities to practice anti-air and anti-surface skills, including specialist boarding operations, it added.

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Govt. fully prepared to deal with influenza: Azad

Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad today said the country was fully prepared to face the challenge of the novel influenza A virus (H1N1 strain), which the World Health Organisation (WHO) yesterday declared as a phase 6 pandemic.

Mr Azad told journalists that, given the size and population of the country, the number of positive cases reported so far was very low. He also pointed out that the disease had not emanated locally, with all the cases coming from outside, mainly the United States.

The minister said there was absolutely no cause for panic. "The disease is fully curable and we have enough stock of medicines," he said.

Mr Azad said all the 15 cases reported so far were being treated and, in fact, five of the patients had already been discharged.

According to the minister, 16 more laboratories were being activated in the country to deal with the situation. He said ten million doses of Tamiflu had been procured and Rapid Response Teams were being trained at state levels. Such teams would also be operationalised at district levels, he said.

'"Screening and isolation facilities were put in place well in time, all the necessary measures are being taken," he said.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said in Geneva yesterday that the H1N1 strain had not circulated previously in humans and was entirely new.

She said the virus is contagious, spreading easily from one person to another, and from one country to another. As of yesterday, nearly 30,000 confirmed cases had been reported in 74 countries.

"The world is now at the start of the 2009 influenza pandemic. We are in the earliest days of the pandemic. The virus is spreading under a close and careful watch. No previous pandemic has been detected so early or watched so closely, in real-time, right at the very beginning. The world can now reap the benefits of investments, over the last five years, in pandemic preparedness," Dr Chan said.

She also said the WHO had, globally, good reason to believe that this pandemic, at least in its early days, would be of moderate severity.

"As we know from experience, severity can vary, depending on many factors, from one country to another. On present evidence, the overwhelming majority of patients experience mild symptoms and make a rapid and full recovery, often in the absence of any form of medical treatment. Worldwide, the number of deaths is small. Each and every one of these deaths is tragic, and we have to brace ourselves to see more. However, we do not expect to see a sudden and dramatic jump in the number of severe or fatal infections," she said.

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Arun Yadav to lead youth delegation to China

Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports Arun Yadav will lead a 100-member Indian youth delegation to China from June 15 to 24, an official statement said here today.

The visit is part of the India-China Youth Exchange Programme launched to foster and enhance contacts between the youth of the two countries and consolidate their long-standing bilateral relationship, it said.

During their ten-day stay, the delegation will visit Beijing, Chengdu and Guangzhou, the statement said.

In view of the Commonwealth Games being hosted by Delhi in October next year, the delegation this year will try to learn from China's Volunteers Programme for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and other international events, including the World Expo.

As part of the Chinese programme, large numbers of volunteers were recruited and trained to handle international visitors and the actual conduct of the Olympics and other events.

The statement said the Chinese side had promised to arrange appropriate visits and interactions for the purpose in Beijing and Guangzhou (the venue of the next Asian Games). They will also visit Sichuan, where volunteers had played an important role in relief and rehabilitation efforts are a major earthquake last year.

According to the statement, the Indian delegation will include volunteers from the National Service Scheme (NSS), the Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan (NYKS), National Youth Festival winners, young journalists and students of Chinese language, who will also function as interpreters. The team will also include five officials, it said.

The India-China Youth Exchange Programme was agreed upon during the visit of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to India in April, 2005. Among other things, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mr Wen announced that they would invite a hundred youth from each other's country every year. Accordingly, Indian delegations have travelled to China in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

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South Korean court acquits Indian sailors

South Korea's Supreme Court today acquitted two Indian sailors who had been imprisoned for a year after a crane barge collided with their crude carrier and caused a major oil spill in December, 2007.

Capt J S Chawla and Chief Officer Chetan Syam of the marine vessel "Hebei Spirit" were held "not guilty" on the charge of criminal negligence leading to destruction of property, reports reaching here said.

The spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs said the Government of India welcomed the verdict of the Daejon High Court.

"This verdict once again vindicates the position of the two Indian seafarers that there was no criminal negligence on their part in the accident involving their ship," he said.

He said the government understood that the lawyers of the sailors had already approached the Prosecution for lifting the exit ban on them.

"It is hoped that the exit ban on the two seafarers will be lifted and that they will be able to return home soon," the spokesman added.

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US favours India-Pak talks, says they should decide when and how

The United States said Thursday it would like to see India and Pakistan resume their stalled peace talks but left it to the two neighbours to decide on the timing and the scope of such a dialogue.
The United States today said it would like to see India and Pakistan resume their stalled peace talks but left it to the two neighbours to decide on the timing and the scope of such a dialogue.

"The scope and the character of that dialogue is something for Indian and Pakistani leaders to decide on, how and when to approach that dialogue," US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William J Burns told a news conference here this evening after meetings with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other Indian leaders and officials.

He said the US had always welcomed a dialogue between India and Pakistan and better ties between the two countries.
US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, William Burns calling on Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, in New Delhi today.
US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, William Burns calling on Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, in New Delhi today.

Mr Burns is the first senior US official to travel to India after Dr Singh assumed office on May 22 for a second straight five-year term in office.

India has refused to resume the composite dialogue with Pakistan unless it brought to book those responsible for the November 26, 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai that claimed 166 lives. India blames the attack on elements based in Pakistan.

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister had told Parliament that India was ready to meet Pakistan more than half-way in the matter of resuming the peace talks if the Pakistani leadership created the right atmosphere by taking concrete steps against terrorists operating from that country against India.

In reply to a question, Mr Burns said the US had made it clear to Pakistan that it had a special responsibility to act firmly and promptly against those responsible for the Mumbai attacks and bring them to book.

The remark came in the context of the recent decision of the Lahore High Court to free Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Sayeed, the main accused in the Mumbai attack.

On Kashmir, Mr Burns said a resolution of the issue had to take into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people.

Mr Burns is also understood to have discussed with Dr Singh the implementation of the India-US Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, the expanding defence cooperation between the two countries, and the situation in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.

During the day, Mr Burns also met National Security Adviser M K Narayanan, Leader of the Opposition Lal Krishna Advani and Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal.

At his meeting with Mr Sibal, the two sides decided to set up a Joint Working Group on Education to identify ways of enhancing cooperation between the two countries in the field of education.

Mr Burns, who is here on a four-day visit, met External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, Home Minister P Chidambaram and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon yesterday.

During his meeting with the Prime Minister, Mr Burns handed over to him a letter from US President Barack Obama in which the latter is understood to have conveyed his firm commitment to strengthening the bilateral relationship and taking the strategic partnership between the two countries to the next phase. He also invited Dr Singh to visit the US.

The US official's visit is also aimed at preparing the ground for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's planned trip to India next month. Mr Burns said the proposed visit reflected the importance the US attached to its relations with India. He said it would launch a new phase in the strategic partnership between the two countries.

Yesterday, after his meeting with Mr Krishna, Mr Burns had said that India was a major foreign policy priority for the US.

"We consider India to be a crucial global partner for the United States in the 21st century," he had said.

He had also said both countries were working on an ambitious bilateral agenda for the next phase of their strategic partnership.

"We have come a long way together in recent years, including, in particular, the Civil Nuclear Agreement which was a very significant accomplishment. But I am convinced that there is a great deal more that we can do together," he had said.

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India reports 4 more cases of influenza A

India today reported four more cases of novel influenza A (H1N1), taking the total number of confirmed cases so far to 15.

Three of the new cases were of passengers who travelled from the United States to Delhi in recent days, while one came to Goa from the United Kingdom, an official statement said.

The patients include an 18-year-old youth who arrived here on June 7 from Boston in the US. He reported to the health authorities two days later with complaints of fever and sore throat. He was isolated at the Dr Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) Hospital and later tested positive.

Another passenger, a 25-year-old woman, who travelled from New York to Delhi, reported to the authorities with fever and cough on June 9, also tested positive for the virus.

The third case in Delhi was of a 41-year-old woman who travelled from Haiti via New York and reached here on June 5 by an Air India flight.

The fourth case reported today was of a 41-year-old man who arrived in Goa from London via Mumbai on June 4. He complained of fever on June 6 and is presently isolated at the identified health facility at Chiklim.

All members of the families and the contacts of these passengers are being traced and provided chemoprophylaxis, the statement said. Details of passengers who travelled by the same flights and were seated close to these patients are also being collected from the concerned airlines.

Similarly, the contacts and relatives of cases reported earlier in Delhi, Hyderabad and Coimbatore are also on chemoprophylaxis and they are being monitored, the statement added.

Of the eleven cases confirmed earlier in India, two were indigenous in nature in that they got the infection from people who travelled to the country from abroad.

Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has been reviewing the situation regularly. One of the proposals made by him to the government was to request governments of the countries affected by the flu to undertake health screening of outbound passengers so that the spread of the disease can be limited. The Ministry of External Affairs said this evening that Indian missions in the concerned countries had been instructed to take up the matter with the host governments on an urgent basis.

India has undertaken screening of all arrivals at international airports of the country since the outbreak of the disease in Mexico, the United States and some other Western countries. More than 220 doctors and 90 paramedical staff have been deployed at 21 airports for the purpose.

More than 44,000 passengers were screened yesterday, including more than 26,000 who arrived from the affected countries. Five suspect cases, three at Delhi, one at Bangalore and another in Goa were isolated at identified health facilities, the spokesman added.

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G K Pillai joins as OSD in Home Ministry

Mr Gopal Krishna Pillai, who was the Commerce Secretary till now, today took over as Officer on Special Duty (OSD) in the Ministy of Home Affairs.

He will succeed Mr Madhukar Gupta as the Union Home Secretary on June 30. Mr Gupta had got a three-month extension in his tenure till the end of this month because of the General Elections.

Mr Pillai is an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer of the 1972 batch and belongs to the Kerala Cadre. He has held various important positions in Kerala and at the Centre in his long career. He has previously served in the Home Ministry as Joint Secretary for about five years.

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Home Secretary reviews coastal security measures

Union Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta undertook a comprehensive review of all issues related to coastal security of the country at a high-level meeting here today.

The meeting, which was also attended by the Secretary, Border, Management, Mr Vinay Kumar, conducted a critical review of the ongoing Coastal Security Scheme, an official statement said.

The Directors General of the Coast Guard and Shipping as well as senior officers of the Navy and ministries of Home, Defence, Shipping and Fisheries attended the meeting.

Home Secretaries or their representatives from nine coastal states and four Union Territories also participated in the discussions.

With the delivery of interceptor boats under the Coastal Security Scheme having started, the states and Union Territories were asked to ensure availability of the required infrastructure and trained manpower for proper handling and maintenance of the vessels.

The meeting also focused on firming up additional requirements of the coastal states and Union Territories, based on vulnerability/gap analysis in consultation with the Coast Guard, for the purpose of formulating the proposed Phase-II of the scheme.

The status of implementation of other linked initiatives, such as registration of fishing and other vessels, installation of communication equipment on these boats and uniform system of issuance of identity cards to fishermen, was also examined and it was observed that satisfactory progress had been achieved.

The issue of recruitment/training of executive as well as technical staff for coastal police stations/boats was also discussed at length. The Indian Navy and Coast Guard were asked to provide assistance to the states in this regard.

The question of coastal security has acquired urgency after the November 26, 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai in which ten terrorists entered the metropolis through the sea route and opened fire indiscriminately at different locations, leaving more than 160 people killed.

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India, US to set up Joint Working Group on Education

India and the United States will set up a Joint Working Group on education headed by the Human Resource Development Minister of India and his US counterpart.

This was decided at a meeting here today between Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal and US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William J Burns.
US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, William Burns meeting the Union Minister of Human Resource Development, Kapil Sibal, today.
US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, William Burns meeting the Union Minister of Human Resource Development, Kapil Sibal, today.

The group will meet once every year, alternately in India and the US, and will focus on institutional linkages between the two countries in the field of Secondary Education, Higher Education and Vocational Education, an official statement said.

The US side expressed keen interest in pursuing a Bilateral Education Dialogue with India for fruitful cooperation in this sector, it said.

Mr Sibal said at the meeting that the 21st century would be the Knowledge Century and India, with its young population, would be a major provider of a trained workforce to the entire world.

He said one of his focus areas would be to bring up the gross enrolment ratio to even beyond 15 as envisaged in the XIth Plan.

Mr Sibal also made it clear that fly-by-night operators would not be tolerated in the education sector.

India tops the list of countries sending students to the US for higher studies. Current estimates are about 90,000 students leave for the US every year for studies.

Mr Burns arrived here yesterday on a four-day visit, the first by a senior US official after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government assumed office on May 22 for a second straight five-year term. Mr Burns met Home Minister P Chidambaram, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna and Foreign Secretary yesterday.

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Think creatively, PM tells his team

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today met senior officers of the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) to discuss with them the agenda of the new government and ways of improving delivery of government services.

Dr Singh stressed the need to rethink systems of monitoring and evaluation, an official statement said after the meeting.

The meeting discussed, in particular, the various measures listed by the government for initiation in its first 100 days in office. The pending reform of regulatory institutions in the areas of health and education were also discussed.

The Prime Minister reiterated the need to think creatively on the agenda put forward by the government and said all actions should be guided by the watchwords of equity, innovation and public accountability in the work of the office.

Among others, the meeting was attended by Minister of State in the PMO Prithviraj Chavan, National Security Adviser M K Narayanan, Principal Secretary T K A Nair, Secretary in the PMO M N Prasad and all officers in the rank of Joint Secretary and Director, sources added.

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Burns says India major foreign policy priority for US

United States Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William J Burns met top Indian leaders here today and then said that India was a major foreign policy priority for his country.

"India is a major foreign policy priority for the United States. We consider India to be a crucial global partner for the United States in the 21st century," he told reporters on his way out of South Block after a meeting with External Affairs Minister S M Krishna.

He had earlier met Home Minister P Chidambaram and also held talks with Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon. He said he had "excellent" discussions with all of them.

Mr Burns said he looked forward to another round of meetings with Indian leaders tomorrow. It is learnt that he will be meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and National Security Adviser M K Narayanan.

Mr Burns said the relationship between the two countries held extraordinary promise, particularly at a time when there was a new President in the United States and a new term for Dr Singh's government.

He said US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had sent him with a "straight forward message" that India is a major foreign policy priority for Washington.

William J BurnsHe said both countries were working on an ambitious bilateral agenda for the next phase of their strategic partnership.

"We have come a long way together in recent years, including, in particular, the Civil Nuclear Agreement which was a very significant accomplishment. But I am convinced that there is a great deal more that we can do together," he said.

Mr Burns is the first high-level US official to visit India after Prime Minister Singh began his second term on May 22. His talks here are also expected to lay the ground for a planned visit by Ms Clinton next month.

The US official arrived in India a day after the Prime Minister told Parliament that India was ready to meet Pakistan more than half-way in the matter of resuming talks between them if the Pakistani leadership created the right atmosphere by taking concrete steps against terrorists operating from that country soil against India.

The US had reacted to this yesterday by saying that it would support any dialogue between the two estranged neighbours.

India has refused to resume the composite dialogue with Pakistan until it took firm action to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure aimed at India on its territory and brought to book those responsible for the November 26, 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai which claimed more than 160 lives.

Though there was no word from either side, it is certain that the situation in Pakistan figured in the talks between Mr Menon and Mr Burns. Mr Menon is understood to have used the opportunity to explain that, while India was not averse to resuming the dialogue with Pakistan if the right atmosphere were created, it was not possible to move forward unless Pakistan took transparent steps to eliminate the terrorist infrastructure on its soil and to check infiltration into India. He is also understood to have conveyed to Mr Burns India's disappointment over the Lahore High Court's decision to free Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Sayeed, the main accused in the Mumbai attacks case, for want of evidence.

The situation in Sri Lanka, where the army has won the war against the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and decimated its entire leadership, and the developments in Afghanistan are also understood to have figured in the talks.

"The visit will provide an occasion to review and take forward the India-US partnership and exchange views on matters of mutual interest," the spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs had said on Monday.

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Additional Judges for Patna HC

The President has appointed Mrs Anjana Prakash and Mr Jyoti Saran as Additional Judges of the Patna High Court, an official press release said here today.

It said the appointments, in that order of seniority would be for two years with effect from the dates they assume charge of their respective offices.

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Gogoi meets Kamal Nath to discuss Assam road projects

Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi met Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Kamal Nath here today to discuss urgent issues relating to the problems of development of roads and highways in the north-eastern state.

Mr Kamal Nath assured him that his ministry would do everything to solve all pending issues in the road and transport sector in Assam.

The issues that came up for discussion were the law and order situation hampering the development and maintenance of roads in the state, land acquisition in various sectors of the project as well as for the development of other roads of the state; and removal of encroachment, forest clearances and stone quarries.

Assam is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the East-West corridor of the National Highway Development Project under which about 678 kms. of national highway would be developed in the state. Mr Kamal Nath has promised to give new momentum to this project.

The Minister also reviewed the construction of the four additional bridges to be built over the river Brahamputra. The Minister asked the Chief Minister to direct the Chief Secretary of the state to hold a meeting with all the District Magistrates along with other authorities working in this sector, within two weeks, to address all the pending matters. Senior officials of the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) and the Ministry of Surface Transport would also participate in this meeting.

The Chief Minister has promised to look into all the unresolved issues that come up in this meeting. Mr Kamal Nath has called for a complete report on Assam by July 7, an official statement added.

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Wreckage of IAF's AN-32 aircraft found, all 13 aboard killed

Search teams Wednesday found the wreckage of an Indian Air Force AN-32 transport aircraft, which had gone missing over the mountains of Arunachal Pradesh a day earlier, and recovered the bodies of all 13 defence personnel aboard, official sources said.

Search teams today found the wreckage of an Indian Air Force (IAF) Antonov AN-32 transport aircraft, which had gone missing over the mountains of the north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh yesterday, and recovered the bodies of all 13 defence personnel aboard, official sources said.

"It has been confirmed that there are no survivors," Wing Commander Ranjib Sahoo, spokesman for the IAF's Eastern Air Command, told NetIndian over the telephone from Shillong.

The plane was carrying seven Air Force personnel and six men of the Indian Army on a routine food supply and maintenance sortie from the Mechuka Advanced Landing Ground in West Siang district of the state to Jorhat in Assam when it crashed.

Wg Cdr Sahoo gave the names of seven IAF personnel on the aircraft as Wg Cdr G S Butalia, Wg Cdr P K Shaji, Squadron Leader P Siddharth, Sqn Ldr Manas Mishra, Flight Lieutenant Varun Kumar, Master Warrant Officer Ramesh and Aircraftsman Sanjay Kumar, all from the Rowriah air base in Jorhat.

The wreckage was found near a village, Heyo, in the district, some 30 km from Mechuka and close to the border with China around 1600 hours today, official sources said. 

The discovery of the wreckage was made by ground search teams, which were aided by Mi-17 and Cheetah helicopters and AN-32 aircraft of the Air Force flying above, the sources said.

Bad weather had forced the IAF to suspend the search for the Russian-built aircraft for some time today.

The plane had left Mechuka around 1400 hours yesterday and was due to land at Jorhat about 90 minutes later but lost contact with air traffic control.

Helicopters were sent yesterday to trace the missing aircraft but the efforts had to be abandoned soon when visibility turned poor due to the approaching sunset.

Army and paramilitary personnel in the area had also been requested to help in the search efforts on the ground in what is very difficult terrain.

Reports reaching here said some villagers had told the police that they had heard a loud noise and later saw thick smoke billowing from the hills in the distance.

The Air Force will send a team of specialists to the scene of the crash to help recover the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and the flight data recorder (FDR) to try and ascertain the cause of the crash, the sources said.

The Air Force flies sorties regularly to forward areas to carry essential items for the troops posted there.

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UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah to arrive Thursday

United Arab Emirates (UAE) Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan will arrive here tomorrow on a two-day visit to the country.

Sheikh Abdullah, a younger brother of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan, the President of the UAE and the Ruler of Abu Dhabi, will hold talks with External Affairs Minister S M Krishna on Friday.

Before that, he will have a meeting with Union Minister of New and Renewable Energy, Dr Farooq Abdullah, and also call on Vice-President Mohammed Hamid Ansari, official sources said.

Sheikh Abdullah will leave for Colombo on Friday evening, the sources added.

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Wreckage of IAF's AN-32 aircraft found, no survivors

Search teams Wednesday found the wreckage of an Indian Air Force AN-32 transport aircraft that had gone missing over the mountains of Arunachal Pradesh a day earlier with 13 defence personnel aboard. There were no survivors, officials said.

Search teams today found the wreckage of an Indian Air Force (IAF) Antonov AN-32 transport aircraft that had gone missing over the mountains of the north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh yesterday with 13 defence personnel aboard, official sources said.

"It has been confirmed that there are no survivors," Wing Commander Ranjib Sahoo, spokesman for the IAF's Eastern Air Command, told NetIndian over the telephone from Shillong.

The plane was carrying seven Air Force men and six from the Indian Army on a routine food supply and maintenance sortie from the Mechuka Advanced Landing Ground in West Siang district of the state to Jorhat in Assam when it crashed.

The wreckage was found at a village, Heyo, in the district, some 30 km from Mechuka and close to the border with China around 1600 hours today, official sources said, adding that the bodies of the victims were being recovered.

The discovery of the wreckage was made by ground search teams, which were aided by Mi-17, Cheetah and AN-32 aircraft of the Air Force flying above, the sources said.

Bad weather had forced the IAF to suspend the search for the Russian-built aircraft for some time today.

The plane had left Mechuka around 1400 hours yesterday and was due to land at Jorhat about 90 minutes later but lost contact with air traffic control.

Helicopters were sent yesterday to trace the missing aircraft but the efforts had to be abandoned soon when visibility turned poor due to the approaching sunset.

Army and paramilitary personnel in the area had also been requested to help in the search efforts on the ground in what is very difficult terrain.

The Air Force flies sorties regularly to forward areas to carry essential items for the troops posted there.

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Chidambaram to visit Srinagar from Thursday

Union Home Minister P Chidambaram will pay a two-day to Srinagar from tomorrow for a detailed review of the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir, an official statement said today.

During his stay there, Mr Chidambaram will meet, among others, Governor N N Vohra, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and other state ministers and officials.

The statement said the Home Minister would also attend a meeting of the Unified Command. Besides, he would discuss with the State Government issues relating to the development of Jammu and Kashmir, it said

This is Mr Chidambaram's first visit to the state after the UPA government began its second term in office on May 22.

The visit is taking place at a time when parts of the state, including the state, are witnessing protests against the alleged rape and murder of two young women, who were found dead near a stream in Shopian, about 60 km from Srinagar.

The Chief Minister has ordered an inquiry into the deaths, which the authorities said were caused by drowning.

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Bad weather forces IAF to suspend search for missing plane

File photo of An-32
A file photo of an An-32
Bad weather forced the Indian Air Force (IAF) today to suspend the search for an Antonov AN-32 transport aircraft that went missing over the mountains of the north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh yesterday with 13 people on board and is feared to have crashed.

The Russian-built aircraft was on a routine air maintenance sortie and was carrying seven IAF personnel, including the pilot, and six men of the Indian Army,from the Mechuka Advanced Landing Ground in West Siang district of the state to Jorhat when it was reported missing.

The plane had left Mechuka around 1400 hours and was due to land at Jorhat about 90 minutes later but lost contact with air traffic control.

Helicopters were sent yesterday to trace the missing aircraft but the efforts had to be abandoned soon after sunset.

The search resumed this morning, with helicopters again setting out to look for the aircraft, but the operation had to be suspended because of bad weather, Wg Cdr Ranjib Sahoo, an IAF spokesman in Shillong, told NetIndian. He said the search and rescue operation would resume as soon as the weather improved.

Army and paramilitary personnel in the area had also been requested to help in the search efforts on the ground in what is very difficult terrain.

The Air Force flies sorties regularly to forward areas to carry essential items for the troops posted there.

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President condoles passing away of Habib Tanvir

President Pratibha Patil today condoled the passing away of renowned theatre personality Habib Tanvir, who died in Bhopal yesterday at the age of 85.

In a condolence letter to Mr Tanvir's daughter, Nageen, the President described him as an acclaimed playwright, actor and director who was known for his innovative style and approach to theatre. She said his death had left a colossal void.

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IAF plane with 12 on board missing in Arunachal

File photo of An-32
A file photo of an An-32
An Antonov-32 transport aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF), with 12 IAF personnel on board, was reported missing over the mountains of the north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh today and was feared to have crashed, official sources said.

The aircraft left around 1400 hours on a routine sortie from Mechuka in Arunachal Pradesh to Jorhat, but went missing soon after, IAF spokesman Wing Commander P Sahu told NetIndian from Shillong.

Helicopters were sent to trace the missing aircraft but the efforts had to be abandoned for the day after sunset. The IAF will resume the search again at daybreak tomorrow, he said.

Wg Cdr Sahu said army and paramilitary personnel in the area had also been requested to help in the search efforts on the ground.

The sorties are conducted by the IAF in the area regularly to help in the maintenance of troops in the border areas.

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PM: India will meet Pakistan more than half-way if it creates climate for peace

The Prime Minister said Tuesday that he believed that it was in India's interest to try again to make peace with Pakistan and hoped its leaders would create the right atmosphere by acting against terrorists operating against India from their soil.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said he sincerely believed that it was in India's vital interest to try again to make peace with Pakistan and hoped that the leaders of the neighbouring country would create an atmosphere in which this vision could be realised by acting against terrorists operating against India from their soil.

"If the leaders of Pakistan have the courage, the determination and the statesmanship to take this road to peace, I wish to assure them that we will meet them more than half way," Dr Singh said while winding up the debate in the Lok Sabha on the President's address to both Houses of Parliament.

He said he expected the Government of Pakistan to take strong, effective and sustained action to prevent the use of their territory for the commission of acts of terrorism in India, or against Indian interests, and use every means at their disposal to bring to justice those who have committed these crimes in the past, including the November 26, 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai. "I believe that such actions will be welcomed by the people of both countries," he said.

"We are living in a neighbourhood of great turbulence. I have believed India cannot realize its ambitions unless there is peace and prosperity in South Asia as a whole and if our neighbourhood is suffering from instability, turbulence that has direct bearing on our own evolution as a democratic polity committed to sustained growth and development," he said.

He said he had a vision for a transformed South Asia where, with the cooperation of all neighbour, the region moved from poverty to prosperity, from ignorance to a knowledge society and from insecurity to lasting peace.

"What is at stake is the future of one-and-a-half billion people living in South Asia. I sincerely believe it is in our vital interest therefore to try again to make peace with Pakistan. I recognise, it takes two hands to clap. There are some disturbing trends, but I do hope that the Government of Pakistan will create an atmosphere in which we can realize this vision," he said.

The Prime Minister's remarks assume great significance because India has refused to resume the composite dialogue with Pakistan unless it acts decisively against those responsible for the Mumbai attacks, which claimed more than 160 lives. India also wants Pakistan to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure it says exists on Pakistani soil and which is targeted against India. In recent days, there have been media reports suggesting that India thinks it should find a way of resuming the dialogue with Pakistan.

About Sri Lanka, Dr Singh said the Tamil problem was larger than the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which the Sri Lankan army recently decimated in a prolonged war.

He said India had a deep and abiding interest in the well-being of the Tamil people in that country.

He hoped the Sri Lankan government would show imagination and courage in meeting the legitimate concerns and aspirations of the Tamil people to live their lives as equal citizens and with dignity and self-respect.

"We have been taking an active part in the relief and rehabilitation of the Internally Displaced Persons in Sri Lanka and I have already earmarked Rs.500 crore for this purpose. We are willing to do more to restore normalcy and to return such people to their rightful homes and occupations," he said.

The Prime Minister took note of the concern expressed by members of both Houses about the recent attacks on Indian students in Australia, which had emerged as a major destination for youngsters from India going abroad for higher education.

"I have been appalled by the senseless violence and crime, some of it racially motivated against our students in Australia. I propose to engage the authorities in Australia in a high level dialogue with a view to taking stock of the situation and to providing adequate security for Indian students," he said.

Dr Singh said he had already spoken to his Australian counterpart Kevin Rudd on this subject and the latter had assured him that any racist attacks on Indian students would be strongly dealt with.

"He made a Statement in Parliament in which he condemned and deplored the attacks and said that they were unacceptable. He emphasised that Australia is a multi-cultural nation which respects and embraces diversity. He said that these would be countered with the full force of the law," he said.

He said he did not wish to under-play the anxiety of the parents of Indian students, but he requested the media to be mindful of the fact that there are over 200,000 Australian citizens of Indian origin. "We should be mindful of their interests and avoid willy-nilly creating a situation where these citizens of Australia of Indian origin become the targets of racist intolerance. India and Australia have very good relations and it has been our effort to widen and deepen these ties in the last five years," he said.

About India's relations with China, the Prime Minister said there was enough space for both countries to develop and contribute to global peace, stability and prosperity.

"We do not see our relations with China in antagonistic terms. We have a large trading relationship, we consult each other on global issues, whether in the G-20 process on climate change or terrorism, and we share a common commitment to maintain peace and tranquillity on our border," he said.

He pointed out that the two countries had agreed upon a mechanism to address complex issues such as the boundary question.

"We wish to build a strong and stable relationship with China. This is in the mutual interest of both our countries. I have been assured by the Chinese leadership – I have interacted with them extensively in the last five years – that they also subscribe to the views I have expressed just now. But whether it is China or any country, we will ensure the territorial integrity and unity of our country and protect the security in every manner necessary. The House should have no misgiving on that score," he stressed.

At the outset, Dr Singh said he believed that the emergence of India as a major powerhouse of the global economy and the global polity was an idea whose time had come. He hoped that the House would be able to maintain a spirit of bipartisanship when it came to dealing with national problems and concerns.

"I sincerely believe that social and economic transformation of India in the framework of a democratic polity, an open society committed to the rule of law, committed to respect for all fundamental human rights, is a development in world history which, if it succeeds, will have profound consequences for the processes of development in all countries of the third world," he said.

"People marvel at a country of a billion people characterized by the vast diversity of languages spoken, characterized by the diversity of religious beliefs and caste tensions, yet moving forward together. This is something which has earned our country deep admiration. At least, that is what I have sensed in my five years as Prime Minister as I travelled to various parts of the world.

"It is our privilege and it is our bounden duty to strengthen the democratic foundations of our magnificent Republic," he said.

Dr Singh cited the growing use of money power and muscle power in elections as developments that needed to be tackled even as the country congratulated itself on the smooth conduct of the recent General Elections.

"Also, if we have to succeed, it is necessary for us to take a firm pledge that we will not encourage groups and individuals who wish to divide our country on the basis of religion or caste.

"We should deal firmly with people who believe violence is the only way to achieve their objectives. I believe we must all be solemnly committed to ensuring that social and economic development, which is a must for a poor country, must benefit all sections of society, all States of the Union, all communities and all persons," he said.

The economist-turned-politician assured members that the backward regions of the country would get priority attention from the government as it dealt with the challenges of development. At the same time, he stressed the need to take a long-term view of many issues instead of adopting a short-term perspective under the pressure of competitive politics.

He said the election results, which returned his government to power for a second straight term, was a mandate for a strong purposeful government, a stable government and a government committed to the pursuit of an inclusive development process. "This is an agenda which will keep us all busy every day of the next five years. The mandate, therefore, is a mandate for stability, of change with continuity, commitment to inclusive growth, equitable development and commitment to the preservation and protection of a secular and plural India," he said.

He said the government would consolidate its efforts on each of these fronts and strengthen its flagship programmes for employment, education, rural and agricultural development, health and other sectors through greater transparency and accountability.

He said that in dealing with the states and the panchayati raj institutions, the government would operate strictly on the basis of objectivity, without discrimination against any state on political grounds.

"Development is meaningless if our people suffer from ill-health, if our people are illiterate, if environment protection measures are not in place, if the degradation of land and water resources of our country and the river resources of our country goes unchecked. Therefore, we commit ourselves to this inclusive vision for development where the fruits of development would be equitably shared, where all individuals in our magnificent Republic would get an equal chance to fulfil their ambitions," he said.

Dr Singh said the Indian economy had managed to grow at the rate of 8.6 per cent in the last five years, which had benefited the government's revenues enormously and enabled it to expand the resource flows for various development schemes.

"More recently, particularly in the last one year, because of the international slow down our economy has been affected. Our growth rate which was about 9 per cent in the previous four years has declined to about 7 per cent. We live in an increasingly inter-dependent world economy and I cannot promise you that we will not be affected by global events. But I am convinced that since our savings rate is as high as 35 per cent, given the collective will, if all of us work together, we can achieve a growth rate of 8 to 9 per cent even if the world economy does not do well. This shows we will maintain, at least, 7 per cent growth rate. In the short run, we cannot do better but this is not good enough. Therefore, the ambition that our Government has is that notwithstanding developments in the global economy, our country must have the resilience to so manage its affairs that it grows at the annual rate of 8 to 9 per cent. I am convinced this can be done with the cooperation of all sections of this august House. That will be the direction in which we will be moving," he said.

He recognised that the fiscal system was under strain and that the fiscal deficit had increased. He felt that despite this the government would have room to spend more resources on its flagship programmes and believed that the Finance Minister would unfold the strategy in this regard when he presents the General Budget for 2009-10 in early July.

"But as I said, we cannot spend our way into prosperity. In the present situation there is considerable scope to increase public expenditure, particularly on infrastructure projects and that would not lead to inflation, that would only add to our development growth potential and I reckon that is the right way to deal with international slow down that has affected many countries in the world," he said.

The Prime Minister said the world economy was inter-linked the management of a vast country like India and there were international factors which affected India. He also said that developments in security matters could derail the development process. In this context, he spoke about the need to eliminate the scourge of terrorism and Naxalism.

"Therefore, as a Government we are committed to doing all that is in our power to ensure that terrorist elements are brought under control." he said.

He said the government had to operate on two fronts in dealing with these extremist elements. "We cannot allow violence to be used as an instrument of getting results. At the same time we recognise that there is a climate in which violence flourishes and it should be our objective to ensure that people are not carried away by economic and social discontent to join the ranks of the affected people," he said.

Dr Singh said, in this context, that the whole development strategy for tribal areas, at least in Central India, required a fresh look.

He also spoke about the various steps taken by the government since the Mumbai terror attacks to tighten the vigil against any such incidents in the future. He gave details of the measures taken to strengthen coastal security.

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