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Coal blocks allocation: SC stays summons for Manmohan Singh, others

The Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed the order issued by a special court here on March 11 summoning former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as an accused in a case related to allocation of coal blocks to Hindalco, a part of the Aditya Birla Group of companies.
File photo of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
File photo of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
The Supreme Court today stayed the order issued by a special court here on March 11 summoning former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as an accused in a case related to allocation of coal blocks to Hindalco, a part of the Aditya Birla Group of companies.
 
Along with him, Aditya Birla Group Chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla, former Coal Secretary P C Parakh and three other officials were also summoned as accused in the case for the alleged offences of criminal conspiracy and breach of trust and under provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
 
All of them were asked by Special CBI Judge Bharat Parashar to appear in court on April 8. While doing so, the court rejected the Central Bureau of Investigation's (CBI) finding in its final report that there was "no prosecutable evidence against anyone".
 
A bench headed by Justice V Gopala Gowda also stayed the summons issued against Mr Birla, Mr Parakh and the others.
 
Senior Congress leader and advocate Ashwani Kumar told newspersons that the court felt that there were some important and substantive questions of law and processes that had been raised and it would like to decide on them.
 
He said that, in the meantime, the apex court had stayed the orders summoning Dr Singh and the others as well as the proceedings in the trial court.
 
Acting on six petitions filed by Dr Singh and the others in the case, seeking quashing of the summons, the court also issued notices in this regard to the CBI and others and gave them three weeks to file their replies.
 
Dr Singh was Prime Minister from May 2004 to May 2014 at the head of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government.
 
He was reportedly questioned by a team of CBI officials in January this year at his Motilal Nehru Marg residence here in connection with the allocation of the Talabira II block to Hindalco when he was also holding the portfolio of Coal.
 
The former Prime Minister is understood to have defended the decision and stressed that it was made after due deliberations.
 
Dr Singh had held the Coal portfolio between 2006 and 2009, which is part of the period that is being probed by the CBI.
 
Dr Singh's tenure in office was marred by the finding of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) that the delay in introduction of the process of competitive bidding in the allocation of coal blocks to private companies for captive mining had led to likely financial gains of Rs 1.86 lakh crore to them.
 
The CAG had, in his report tabled in Parliament on August 17, 2012 said that a part of this financial gain could have accrued to the national exchequer by operationalising the decision taken years earlier to introduce competitive bidding for allocation of coal blocks.
 
The CAG estimated the financial gains to the private coal block allottees on the basis of the average cost of production and average sale price of opencast mines of the public sector Coal India Limited (CIL) in 2010-11.
 
The CBI had earlier sought closure of the case, in which Mr Birla, Mr Parakh and others were named as accused. The court directed it to carry out further investigations and submit a report on January 27. It also said that it would be appropriate if the then Coal Minister were examined first.
 
 
SC stays summons issued to Manmohan Singh in coal blocks case
The CBI had registered the case in October 2013, following which the Prime Minister's Office had, on October 18, 2013, issued a detailed statement saying that Dr Singh was satisfied that the final decision taken in the matter relating to the allocation of Talabira-II and III coal blocks in Odisha to Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd (MCL), Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) and Hindalco was entirely correct and based on the merits of the case placed before him.
 
On September 24, 2014, the Supreme Court had scrapped 214 of the 218 coal blocks allocated between 1993 and 2010, sparing only four  -- two allocated to an ultra mega power project (UMPP) and two to public sector companies, Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) and NTPC.
 
The Government put up more than 30 of those blocks for auction recently.
 
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16 trapped in landslide in J&K as authorities issue flood alert in state

At least 16 persons were believed trapped after a landslide buried several houses in the Chadoora area of Budgam district of Jammu & Kashmir on Monday even as the authorities issued a flood alert after incessant rains in the state since Saturday.
 
Water level in Jhelum rises in Kashmir, rescue efforts underway
At least 16 persons were believed trapped after a landslide buried several houses in the Chadoora area of Budgam district of Jammu & Kashmir today even as the authorities issued a flood alert after incessant rains in the state since Saturday.
 
The police and the army, along with the people of the area, have launched a major effort to rescue those feared trapped under the tons of mud in Laiden village of Chadoora area, official sources said.
 
The continuous rains of the past few days have raised fears of a repeat of the devastating floods that hit the state in September last year -- the worst in six decades.
 
But officials said the rain gods had relented a bit today and they were hopeful of an improvement in the situation.
 
However, the Jhelum was flowing close to the danger level in many areas and the authorities have alerted those living on its banks to be vigilant and be prepared to move to safer areas if necessary.
 
Schools have been closed for the next two days as a precautionary measure, they said.
 
In New Delhi, the Ministry of Home Affairs said it was in touch with the state government and closely monitoring the situation of increasing water levels in the Jhelum. No breach of embankment has been reported, it said.
 
'However, as a precautionary measure, to assist the state government authorities, two teams of NDRF have been deputed and another four teams kept stand-by. 
 
"The state government has been asked to indicate the assistance required by them," an official press release added.
 
Officials said they had learnt from last year's disaster and are taking several precautionary steps to prevent a repeat of that kind of tragedy. Boats, sandbags and other facilities are being made available in all the vulnerable areas.
 
In particular, a close watch is being kept on the embankments of the river, which had suffered breaches at many places last year and which were not plugged fully yet.
 
"There is no reason for panic, but we have asked the people to be alert," the officials said.
 
Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed went around some parts of Srinagar to take stock of the situation.
 
Meanwhile, with the meteorological department forecasting more rains over the next few days, the civil administration has reached out to the Arm for rescue and relief efforts in Srinagar and Pulwama districts.
 
The Army is keeping a close watch on the situation and 20 columns with rescue boats and other equipment have been kept on alert.
 
An official spokesperson said the Army was assisting the civil administration in flood control measures in Baramulla since yesterday and a relief operation is under progress in South Kashmir to rescue people trapped in collapsed houses. 
 
Army engineers are also undertaking strengthening of identified weak spots on the bunds of Jhelum river near Sonwar in Srinagar. 
 
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh discussed the situation in the state with Mr Sayeed and assured him of full Central assistance to tackle any eventuality.
 
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A meeting of the National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC) was held here today under the chairmanship of Cabinet Secretary, Ajit Seth to take stock of the situation and to review the arrangements made or required to be made to deal with it.
 
The meeting was attended by the Secretaries and other senior officers of the relevant departments of the Government of India. The Chief Secretary of Jammu & Kashmir and other officers of the State Government participated through video conferencing. 
 
The Chief Secretary gave an account of the ground situation indicating that the Jhelum is flowing above the danger mark at certain places and as a result, flood alert has been issued by the State Government.
 
He said the State Government was geared up to deal with the situation and all steps had been taken to safeguard life and property from the flood waters. They have adequate sand bags and river bank reinforcement material. As a precautionary measure adequate quantities of rice, potable water and medical supplies are being stocked at various locations. There is no shortage of various types of fuel as there is a minimum stock level of all varieties of fuel for 10 days. 
 
The National Highway 1-A between Jammu and Srinagar, which is blocked due to landslides, is likely to be cleared for vehicular traffic later today.
 
Mr Seth reviewed the preparatory arrangements made to handle the flood situation and issued necessary directions to all departments of the Government of India to provide all possible assistance to tide over the crisis. 
 
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AAP removes Bhushan from disciplinary panel, replaces Ramdas as Lokpal

In its continuing drive against dissidence, the Aam Aadmi Party on Sunday removed its founding leader Prashant Bhushan from its disciplinary committee even as it named a new internal Lokpal in place of former Chief of Naval Staff Admiral (Retd.) L Ramdas.
 
AAP removes Bhushan from disciplinary panel
In its continuing drive against dissidence, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) today removed its founding leader Prashant Bhushan from its disciplinary committee even as it named a new internal Lokpal in place of former Chief of Naval Staff Admiral (Retd.) L Ramdas.
 
At a meeting of its national executive (NE) here, the party reconstituted its Lokpal panel, saying the term of the rpevious panel headed by Admiral Ramdas had ended.
 
The new Lokpal panel comprises former Indian Police Service (IPS) oficer N. Dilip Kumar, former Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) Deputy Inspector General Rakesh Sinha and educationist S P Verma.
 
The party's reconstituted three-member national disciplinary committee will now be headed by Mr Dinesh Waghela and include Mr Pankaj Gupta and Mr Ashish Khetan.
 
The latest moves came a day after the party's National Council had yesterday, amidst acrimonious scenes, removed Mr Bhushan, Mr Yogendra Yadav, Prof Anand Kumar and Mr Ajit Jha from its National Executive for alleged anti-party activities.
 
Admiral Ramdas said he was greatly surpised and saddened tohear from a journalist that the party no longer required his services as its internal Lokpal.
 
"I am disappointed that the leadership of the party did not accord me the courtesy of informing me first before making this decision public. I still await their phone-call," he said in a statement.
 
"I am surprised because less than two weeks ago the party publicly reaffirmed its confidence in me.  At no point in my tenure did the party express to me any dissatisfaction with my service.  Neither did its leaders question my neutrality or my objectivity in this position. As recently as January 2015, I was asked to investigate complaints against potential electoral candidates. I took it as a sign of the party's confidence in me when on February 15th, at an informal meeting at the home of Mr Kejriwal, in the presence of many other senior leaders of the party, including members of the executive committee, I was actually requested to consider serving an additional five years as Lokpal.
 
"I am, however, more sad than surprised. It was with a sense of excitement and hope that I became part of this movement to bring a new kind of politics to India.  I believed in the ideals of transparency, accountability and fairness that was encapsulated in the institution of the Lokpal. And, I was honoured to be the first person to serve in this capacity," he said.
 
Admiral Ramdas said he had tried to discharge his duties and responsibilities to the best of his abilities. 
 
"My two previous letters, one which became public, the other which was intended to be public, reflected my effort to encourage the various leaders of the party to work together to remember the principles on which it was founded and to make sure that the promises made to the electorate - to the people- were fulfilled. Unfortunately I did not succeed in that effort.
 
"I still hope that the party which has fired the imagination and hopes of so many Indians will be able to fulfill its promises of good governance, both internally and externally, in the exercise of political power in its new capacity as the government of Delhi. I wish them well in this endeavour," he added.
 
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AAP removes Yadav, Bhushan, two others from National Executive

In a bitter denouement to the behind-the-scenes intrigue and open full-scale war that had broken out within the top leadership of the Aam Aadmi Party, four of its senior leaders -- Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan, Anand Kumar and Ajit Jha -- were removed from its National Executive on Saturday.
 
Yadav, Bhushan, 2 others expelled from AAP National Executive
In a bitter denouement to the behind-the-scenes intrigue and open full-scale war that had broken out within the top leadership of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), four of its senior leaders  -- Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan, Anand Kumar and Ajit Jha -- were removed from its National Executive today.
 
The decision was taken at an acrimonious meeting of the party's National Council here this morning.
 
"The National Council hereby resolves that Mr Yogendra Yadav, Mr Prashant Bhushan, Mr Anand Kumar and Mr Ajit Jha be removed from the National Executive for their anti-party activities," the resolution adopted by the meeting said.
 
The move came a day after Mr Yadav and Mr Bhushan had come out openly against the party's national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal at a press conference here yesterday and the Kejriwal camp responding in kind a little later.
 
While Mr Yadav and Mr Bhushan had accused Mr Kejriwal, among other things, of wishing to exercise sole control over the affairs of the party and brooking no dissenting views, leaders from the rival camp -- Sanjay Singh, Ashutosh and Ashish Khetan -- denied the charges and gave details of the extent to which they had gone to keep the party united but to no avail.
 
At the fag end of the day yesterday in yet another sign of the unease and distrust within the leadership, an audio tape emerged in which Mr Kejriwal was heard telling a member of AAP, ostensibly trying to make peace between the two camps,  that Mr Bhushan and Mr Yadav had left no stone unturned to ensure the defeat of the party in the recent elections to the Delhi Legislative Assembly.
 
He also told the member that Mr Bhushan and Mr Yadav were welcome to take over the party and that he was prepared to move out with its 66 other MLAs in Delhi and form a new outfit.
 
"Any other party would have kicked them out long ago," he was heard telling Umesh Singh of AAP's Varanasi unit on the tape, the contents of which could not be independently verified.
 
Both Mr Yadav and Mr Bhushan were visibly upset at the proceedings at the National Council today and its decision to sack them from the National Executive.
 
"I am very sad to say this, democracy was murdered in the National Council today," Mr Yadav said.
 
He said that only Mr Kejriwal spoke at the meeting and nobody else was allowed to speak. He alleged that some members who wanted to have their say were escorted out by "bouncers" and several MLAs kept shouting that "the traitors should be kicked out of the party".
 
Mr Yadav said that, as soon as Mr Kejriwal ended his speech, he asked Mr Gopal Rai to chair the proceedings as he had to leave. A resolution was then moved and approved by voice vote, without any discussion, he alleged.
 
He said that the manner in which the meeting was conducted and the resolution adopted made it clear that the entire affair was "pre-scripted".
 
Mr Bhushan also said he was very sad at the day's developments. He said the manner in which the meeting was conducted showed the "mentality of Mr Kejriwal and his coterie".
 
All indications are that the issue of the alleged anti-party activities of Mr Yadav and Mr Bhushan will now be referred to the disciplinary committee of AAP as a prelude to their formal expulsion from the party.
 
Prof Anand Kumar told journalists that they continued to be in the party and would continue their fight for internal democracy. "We willl neither leave the party nor break it; we will reform, and reform the party," he said.
 
Leaders of the Kejriwal camp told a press conference later that 247 members of the National Council had voted in favour of the resolution to expel the four dissidents and eight against it. They also denied that there was any scuffle at the meeting.
 
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There was some drama before the meeting began, with Mr Yadav staging a brief demonstration, alleging that many members were not allowed to attend the meeting of the National Council.
 
The developments will come as a huge disappointment to the thousands of AAP supporters around the country, especially in Delhi where it won 67 of the 70 seats in the Delhi Legislative Assembly in the February 7 elections.
 
There hectic negotiations between the two sides in the past fortnight but they did not help to narrow the rift that had developed.
 
Earlier this month, the Kejriwal camp had succeded in getting Mr Yadav and Mr Bhushan removed from the Political Affairs Committee of the party.
 
At yesterday's press conference, Mr Yadav and Mr Bhushan said Mr Kejriwal had gone back on the founding principles of the party and stifled internal democracy. They reiterated their readiness to quit all positions in the party if the five demands they had made were accepted.
 
They said they were repeatedly pressured to resign and made it clear that they had never raised the issue of the national convener, a position being held by Mr Kejriwal.
 
Mr Bhushan said that while Mr Kejriwal had many strengths, including good political judgement, he also had two fatal flaws which could lead to disaster for the party. He said Mr Kejriwal wanted to always have his way within the party and did not want around him people who would question or disagree with him.
 
He said Mr Kejriwal had told him that he had never been part of any organisation where his writ did not run.
 
The duo said that any issue raised by them was portrayed as an attempt to question Mr Kejriwal's leadership and to remove him from the post of national convener of the party.
 
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SC strikes down much-criticised Section 66A of IT Act as unconstitutional

In a landmark judgement that extends the right of free speech and expression to the Internet, the Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down as unconstitutional the much-criticised Section 66A of the IT Act under which the police could arrest people for social media posts seen by the authorities as "offensive" or "annoying".
In a landmark judgement that extends the right of free speech and expression to the Internet, the Supreme Court today struck down as unconstitutional the much-criticised and often-abused Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act under which the police could arrest people for social media posts seen by the authorities as "offensive" or "annoying", among other things.
 
"Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 is struck down in its entirety being violative of Article 19(1)(a) and not saved under Article 19(2)," a two-judge bench comprising Justices Jasti Chelameswar and Rohinton Nariman said.
 
The court held that Section 69A and the Information Technology (Procedure & Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules 2009 were constitutionally valid.
 
It said Section 79 was valid subject to Section 79(3)(b) being read down to mean that an intermediary upon receiving actual knowledge from a court order or on being notified by the appropriate government or its agency that unlawful acts relatable to Article 19(2) are going to be committed then fails to expeditiously remove or disable access to such material.
 
Similarly, the Information Technology “Intermediary Guidelines” Rules, 2011 are valid subject to Rule 3 sub-rule (4) being read down in the same manner as indicated in the judgement, it said.
 
The court also struck down Section 118(d) of the Kerala Police Act for being violative of Article 19(1)(a) and not saved by Article 19(2).
 
The ruling came in a verdict on a batch of writ petitions filed under Article 32 of the Constitution, incuding one filed by Shreya Singhal, a law student, challenging hte validity of Section 66A of the IT Act.
 
The judges noted that the petitions filed raised very important and far-reaching questions relatable primarily to the fundamental right of free speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
 
Section 66A of the IT Act of 2000 was not in the Act as originally enacted, but came into force by virtue of an Amendment Act of 2009 with effect from 27.10.2009. 
 
Section 66A reads thus: 
 
“66-A. Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc. 
—Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,—
(a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or 
(b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication
device; or 
(c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such
messages,
shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.
 
Explanation.— For the purposes of this section, terms 'electronic mail' and 'electronic mail message' means a message or information created or transmitted or received on a computer, computer system, computer resource or communication device including attachments in text, image, audio, video and any other electronic record, which may be transmitted with the message."
 
 
SC strikes down Section 66A of IT Act, terms it 'unconstitutional'
A related challenge was also made to Section 69A introduced by the same amendment which reads as follows:-
 
“69-A. Power to issue directions for blocking for public access of any information through any computer resource.—
(1) Where the Central Government or any of its officers specially authorised by it in this behalf is satisfied that it is necessary or expedient so to do, in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above, it may subject to the provisions of subsection (2), for reasons to be recorded in writing, by order, direct any agency of the Government or intermediary to block for access by the public or cause to be blocked for access by the public any information generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted in any computer resource.
(2) The procedure and safeguards subject to which such blocking for access by the public may be carried out, shall be such as may be prescribed.
(3) The intermediary who fails to comply with the direction issued under sub-section (1) shall be punished with an imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable
to fine.”
 
In the Statement of Objects and Reasons appended to the Bill which introduced the Amendment Act, the Government had said that the rapid increase in the use of computer and internet had given rise to new forms of crimes like publishing sexually explicit materials in electronic form, video voyeurism and breach of confidentiality and leakage of data by intermediary, e-commerce frauds like personation commonly known as Phishing, identity theft and offensive messages through communication services.
 
It said that, therefore, penal provisions were required to be included in the Information Technology Act, the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Indian Evidence Act and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) to prevent such crimes.
 
The petitioners contended that the very basis of Section 66A -- that it has given rise to new forms of crimes -- is incorrect, and that Sections 66B to 67C and various Sections of the IPC were good enough to deal with all these crimes.
 
The petitioners’ various counsel also raised a large number of points as to the constitutionality of Section 66A. According to them, first and foremost Section 66A infringed the fundamental right to free speech and expression and was not saved by any of the eight subjects covered in Article 19(2). 
 
According to them, the causing of annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill-will were all outside the purview of Article 19(2). Further, in creating an offence, Section 66A suffered from vagueness because unlike the offence created by Section 66 of the same Act, none of the aforesaid terms are even attempted to be defined and cannot be defined, the result being that innocent persons are roped in as well as those who are not.
 
The counsel argued that it was open to the authorities to be as arbitrary and whimsical as they liked in booking such persons under the said Section. In fact, a large number of innocent persons had been booked and many instances were mentioned in the form of a note to the court.
 
They said the enforcement of the Section would really be an insidious form of censorship which impairs a core value contained in Article 19(1)(a). In addition, the said Section has a chilling effect on the freedom of speech and expression, they argued. Also, the right of viewers is infringed as such chilling effect would not give them the benefit of many shades of grey in terms of various points of view that could be viewed over the internet, they said.
 
The petitioners also contended that their rights under Articles 14 and 21 were breached inasmuch there was no intelligible differentia between those who use the internet and those who by words spoken or written use other mediums of communication. To punish somebody because he uses a particular medium of  communication is itself a discriminatory object and would fall foul of Article 14 in any case, they said.
 
Mr. Tushar Mehta, Additional Solicitor General, defended the constitutionality of Section 66A. He argued that the legislature is in the best position to understand and appreciate the needs of the people. The court could, therefore, interfere with the legislative process only when a statute is clearly violative of the rights conferred on the citizen under Part-III of the Constitution. 
 
Mere possibility of abuse of a provision cannot be a ground to declare a provision invalid, he argued. He said loose language may have been used in Section 66A to deal with novel methods of disturbing other people’s rights by using the internet as a tool to do so. Further, vagueness is not a ground to declare a statute unconstitutional if the statute is otherwise legislatively competent and non-arbitrary, he said.
 
The judges, in their verdict, discussed the content of the expression “freedom of speech and expression”. They said there were three concepts which were fundamental in understanding the reach of this most basic of human rights. The first is discussion, the second is advocacy, and the third is incitement. 
 
"Mere discussion or even advocacy of a particular cause howsoever unpopular is at the heart of Article 19(1)(a). It is only when such discussion or advocacy reaches the level of incitement that Article 19(2) kicks in. It is at this stage that a law may be made curtailing the speech or expression that leads inexorably to or tends to cause public disorder or tends to cause or tends to affect the sovereignty & integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, etc.
 
"Why it is important to have these three concepts in mind is because most of the arguments of both petitioners and respondents tended to veer around the expression 'public order'," they said.
 
The judges noted that Section 66A had been challenged on the ground that it cast the net very wide – “all information” that is disseminated over the internet is included within its reach.
 
'Two things will be noticed. The first is that the definition is an inclusive one. Second, the definition does not refer to what the content of information can be. In fact, it refers only to the medium through which such information is disseminated. It is clear, therefore, that the petitioners are correct in saying that the public’s right to know is directly affected by Section 66A.
 
"Information of all kinds is roped in – such information may have scientific, literary or artistic value, it may refer to current events, it may be obscene or seditious. That such information may cause annoyance or inconvenience to some is how the offence is made out. It is clear that the right of the people to know – the market place of ideas – which the internet provides to persons of all kinds is what attracts Section 66A. That the information sent has to be annoying, inconvenient, grossly offensive etc., also shows that no distinction is made between mere discussion or advocacy of a particular point of view which may be annoying or inconvenient or grossly offensive to some and incitement by which such words lead to an imminent causal connection with public disorder, security of State etc. 
 
"The petitioners are right in saying that Section 66A in creating an offence against persons who use the internet and annoy or cause inconvenience to others very clearly affects the freedom of speech and expression of the citizenry of India at large in that such speech or expression is directly curbed by the creation of the offence contained in Section 66A," the judgement said.
 
One of the challenges to Section 66A made by the petitioners’ counsel was that the offence created by it had no proximate relation with any of the eight subject matters contained in Article 19(2). 
 
"We may incidentally mention that the State has claimed that the said Section can be supported under the heads of public order, defamation, incitement to an offence and decency or morality. Under our constitutional scheme, as stated earlier, it is not open to the State to curtail freedom of speech to promote the general public interest," the judges said.
 
The Additional Solicitor General argued that a relaxed standard of reasonableness of restriction should apply, regard being had to the fact that the medium of speech being the internet differs from other mediums on several grounds. 
 
Whle repelling an Article 14 challenge by the pettioners, the judges said they did not find anything in the features outlined by the Additional Solicitor General to relax the Court’s scrutiny of the curbing of the content of free speech over the internet. 
 
"While it may be possible to narrowly draw a Section creating a new offence, such as Section 69A for instance, relatable only to speech over the internet, yet the validity of such a law will have to be tested on the touchstone of the tests already indicated above," they stressed.
 
Testing the Section from various standpoints, the judges said it was clear that it had no proximate relationship to public order whatsoever. 
 
"Under Section 66A, the offence is complete by sending a message for the purpose of causing annoyance, either `persistently’ or otherwise without in any manner impacting public order," they noted.
 
"Viewed at either by the standpoint of the clear and present danger test or the tendency to create public disorder, Section 66A would not pass muster as it has no element of any tendency to create public disorder which ought to be an essential ingredient of the offence which it creates," the verdict said.
 
On defamation, the judgement said Section 66A did not concern itself with injury to reputation. "Something may be grossly offensive and may annoy or be inconvenient to somebody without at all affecting his reputation. It is clear therefore that the Section is not aimed at defamatory statements at all," it said.
 
Equally, the judges said, Section 66A had no proximate connection with incitement to commit an offence.
 
"Firstly, the information disseminated over the internet need not be information which 'incites' anybody at all. Written words may be sent that may be purely in the realm of 'discussion' or 'advocacy' of a 'particular point of view'. Further, the mere causing of annoyance, inconvenience, danger etc., or being grossly offensive or having a menacing character are not offences under the Penal Code at all. They may be ingredients of certain offences under the Penal Code but are not offences in themselves. For these reasons, Section 66A has nothing to do with 'incitement to an offence'. As Section 66A severely curtails information that may be sent on the internet based on whether it is grossly offensive, annoying, inconvenient, etc. and being unrelated to any of the eight subject matters under Article 19(2) must, therefore, fall foul of Article 19(1)(a), and not being saved under Article 19(2), is declared as unconstitutional," they said.
 
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The judges said what had been said with regard to public order and incitement to an offence equally applied to decency and morality.
 
"Section 66A cannot possibly be said to create an offence which falls within the expression ‘decency’ or ‘morality’ in that what may be hrossly offensive or annoying under the Section need not be obscene at all – in fact the word ‘obscene’ is conspicuous by its absence in Section 66A.
 
"However, the learned Additional Solicitor General asked us to read into Section 66A each of the subject matters contained in Article 19(2) in order to save the constitutionality of the provision. We are afraid that such an exercise is not possible for the simple reason that when the legislature intended to do so, it provided for some of the subject matters contained in Article 19(2) in Section 69A. We would be doing complete violence to the language of Section 66A if we were to read into it something that was never intended to be read into it. Further, he argued that the statute should be made workable, and the following should be read into Section 66A:
 
“(i) Information which would appear highly abusive, insulting, pejorative, offensive by reasonable person in general, judged by the standards of an open and just multi-caste, multireligious, multi racial society;"
 
"What the learned Additional Solicitor General is asking us to do is not to read down Section 66A – he is asking for a wholesale substitution of the provision which is obviously not possible," they said.
 
Counsel for the petitioners had argued that the language used in Section 66A was so vague that neither would an accused person be put on notice as to what exactly is the offence which has been committed nor would the authorities administering the Section be clear as to on which side of a clearly drawn line a particular communication will fall.
 
Going by the standards laid down in various judgements, the judges said it was quite clear that the expressions used in 66A were completely open-ended and undefined. 
 
They noted that the narrowly and closely defined contours of offences made out under the Penal Code were conspicuous by their absence in Section 66A which in stark contrast uses completely open ended, undefined and vague language.
 
",,, every expression used is nebulous in meaning. What may be offensive to one may not be offensive to another. What may cause annoyance or inconvenience to one may not cause annoyance or inconvenience to another. Even the expression 'persistently' is completely imprecise – suppose a message is sent thrice, can it be said that it was sent 'persistently'? Does a message have to be sent (say) at least eight times, before it can be said that such message is 'persistently' sent? There is no demarcating line conveyed by any of these expressions – and that is what renders the Section unconstitutionally vague," they said.
 
The Additional Solicitor General argued that expressions that are used in Section 66A may be incapable of any precise definition but for that reason they were not constitutionally vulnerable. 
 
The judges said it was clear that Section 66A arbitrarily, excessively and disproportionately invaded the right of free speech and upset the balance between such right and the reasonable restrictions that may be imposed on such right.
 
"In point of fact, Section 66A is cast so widely that virtually any opinion on any subject would be covered by it, as any serious opinion dissenting with the mores of the day would be caught within its net. Such is the reach of the Section and if it is to withstand the test of constitutionality, the chilling effect on free speech would be total," they said.
 
"... not only are the expressions used in Section 66A expressions of inexactitude but they are also over broad and would fall foul of the repeated injunctions of this Court that restrictions on the freedom of speech must be couched in the narrowest possible terms," they said.
 
"We, therefore, hold that the Section is unconstitutional also on the ground that it takes within its sweep protected speech and speech that is innocent in nature and is liable therefore to be used in such a way as to have a chilling effect on free speech and would, therefore, have to be struck down on the ground of overbreadth," they said.
 
The Additional Solicitor General cited a large number of judgments on the proposition that the fact that Section 66A was capable of being abused by the persons who administered it was not a ground to test its validity if it is otherwise valid. He further assured the court  that this Government was committed to free speech and that Section 66A would not be used to curb free speech, but would be used only when excesses are perpetrated by persons on the rights of others.
 
"In this case, it is the converse proposition which would really apply if the learned Additional Solicitor General’s argument is to be accepted. If Section 66A is otherwise invalid, it cannot be saved by an assurance from the learned Additional Solicitor General that it will be administered in a reasonable manner. Governments may come and Governments may go but Section 66A goes on forever. An assurance from the present Government even if carried out faithfully would not bind any successor Government. It must, therefore, be held that Section 66A must be judged on its own merits without any reference to how well it may be administered," the bench said.
 
Mr Mehta had also submitted that if the court were not satisfied about the constitutional validity of either any expression or a part of the provision, the Doctrine of Severability as enshrined under Article 13 may be resorted to.
 
"The submission is vague: the learned Additional Solicitor General does not indicate which part or parts of Section 66A can possibly be saved. It has been held by us that Section 66A purports to authorize the imposition of restrictions on the fundamental right contained in Article 19(1)(a) in language wide enough to cover restrictions both within and without the limits of constitutionally permissible legislative action. We have held ... that the possibility of Section 66A being applied for purposes not sanctioned by the Constitution cannot be ruled out. It must, therefore, be held to be wholly unconstitutional and void," the judges said.
 
The judges held that no part of Section 66A was severable and the provision as a whole must be declared unconstitutional.
 
Having struck down Section 66A on substantive grounds, the judges felt they need not decide the procedural unreasonableness aspect of the Section.
 
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Fire breaks out in Parliament House complex, no one injured

A major fire broke out on the periphery of Parliament House complex, near one of its boundary walls and at quite some distance from the main building, in the national capital on Sunday afternoon, fire brigade sources said.
 
Massive fire breaks out in Parliament premises
A major fire broke out on the periphery of Parliament House complex, near one of its boundary walls and at quite some distance from the main building, in the national capital this afternoon, fire brigade sources said.
 
No one was reported injured in the blaze, which started in the air-conditioning plant, located near the main reception at the southern end of the sprawling campus, and was brought under control within half an hour.
 
Fire brigade officials said some maintenance work was being carried out in the air-conditioning plant, and some insulation material like PVC cables lying around appeared to have caught fire due to sparks from a welding machine.
 
The officials said they received the first report about the fire at 2.21 pm and more than ten fire tenders and tankers were rushed to the scene. One fire tender, which is always stationed in the complex, was the first to respond to the blaze.
 
The officials told journalists that the blaze had been localised and contained within half an hour and was doused completely a little later.
 
Security personnel cordoned off the area as thick black smoke billowed into the sky from the fire and hundreds of mediapersons and onlookers gathered in the area.
 
Being a Sunday, not many people were on duty in the complex when the fire broke out, the sources added.
 
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30 dead, 50 injured as Dehradun-Varanasi Express derails near Rae Bareli

At least 30 passengers were killed and 50 others suffered injuries when the engine and two coaches of the Dehradun-Varanasi Janata Express derailed at Bachhrawan in Rae Bareli district of Uttar Pradesh on Friday.
 
30 killed, 50 injured as Dehradun-Varanasi Express derails
At least 30 passengers were killed and 50 others suffered injuries when the engine and two coaches of the Dehradun-Varanasi Janata Express derailed at Bachhrawan in Rae Bareli district of Uttar Pradesh today.
 
The mishap occurred around 9.10 am as the train was coming to a scheduled stop at the Bachhrawan station, around 30 km from Rae Bareli and 50 km from state capital Lucknow, official sources said.
 
One of the coaches, a general compartment, bore the brunt of the impact, while the other was the guard's van.
 
Northern Railway spokesperson Neeraj Sharma told NetIndian over the telephone that 30 bodies had been recovered from the affected coach and 50 others had suffered injuries.
 
Railway sources said the train had to stop at the Bachhrawan station and the locomotive driver appeared to have overshot the signal and train hit the sand hump.
 
As soon as the mishap occurred, scores of people from the nearby localities rushed to the scene and started pulling out the victims.
 
Police, fire brigade teams, medical personnel and other emergency services reached the spot soon and started rescue and relief operations.
 
Senior Railway officials were at the scene, overseeing the relief efforts as well as the operations to restore traffic on the Lucknow-Varanasi line.
 
The Division Railway Manager of Lucknow Division, along with other officers and doctors, was among those who rushed to the site immediately.
 
An Accident Relief Medical train and an Accident Relief Train were also sent immediately.
 
Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu directed Chairman, Railway Board and the concerned Member, Railway Board as well as the General Manager of Northern Railway to rush to the scene.
 
He also directed the railway administration to provide the best possible medical care and all assistance to the injured. 
 
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Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha is also visiting the accident site.
 
Mr Prabhu expressed his profound grief over the loss of innocent lives. He announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs 2 lakh to the next-of-kin of the deceased, Rs 50,000 for the grievously injured passengers and Rs 20,000 for those with simple injuries.
 
The Railways have set up the following helpline numbers: 
 
Bachhravan-09794845621, Dehradun-0135-2624002, Lucknow-09794830973, Varanasi-9542-2503814, Pratapgarh-0534-2223830, Rae Bareli-0535-2211224, Haridwar-0134-226477, 226479, Barelly-0581-2558161, 2558162 
 
An inquiry has been ordered by Railways under Commissioner Railway Safety, Northern Circle, to ascertain the cause of the accident. 
 
Rescue workers had to use flame cutters and other equipment to extricated the trapped passengers from the coach.
 
Doctors from the King George Medical University in Lucknow had been rushed to the spot to treat the injured.
 
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Modi "deeply concerned", asks for report on Nadia nun's gang-rape, Hisar church attack

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has voiced deep concern about the alleged gangrape of an elderly nun at Nadia in West Bengal recentlyand the attack on a church at Hisar in Haryana and sought an immediate report on the incidents.
File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has voiced deep concern about the alleged gangrape of an elderly nun at Nadia in West Bengal recentlyand the attack on a church at Hisar in Haryana and sought an immediate report on the incidents.
 
"PM is deeply concerned about the incidents in Hisar, Haryana and Nadia, West Bengal," the Prime MInister's Office (PMO) said on micro-blogging site Twitter today.
 
"PMO has asked for immediate report on facts & action taken regarding the incidents in Haryana and West Bengal," it added.
 
A 71-year-old nun was allegedly gang-raped by dacoits at a convent in Nadia district in the early hours of Saturday. The incident has triggered protests in West Bengal and the state government has ordered a probe by the CID in the case.
 
In the second incident, a church under construction at Kaimri village near Hisar in Haryana was vandalised by a group of people on Sunday.
 
Both the incidents have evoked widespread condemnation across the country, with the Christian community expressing serious concern about the safety of churches and other institutions.
 
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Govt. denies snooping on Rahul Gandhi, accuses Congress of raising a non-issue

The Government on Monday accused the Congress of making a "mountain out of what is not even a molehill" by raising the issue of alleged snooping by the Delhi Police on its Vice-President Rahul Gandhi and asserted that it was part of a routine security exercise carried out for decades.
 
Jaitley denies snooping on Rahul Gandhi by Delhi Police
The Government today accused the Congress of making a "mountain out of what is not even a molehill" by raising the issue of alleged snooping by the Delhi Police on its Vice-President Rahul Gandhi and asserted that it was  part of a routine security exercise carried out for decades.
 
Responding to the concerns expressed by leaders of the Congress as well as other opposition parties, Finance Minister and Leader of the House Arun Jaitley said in the Rajya Sabha that the Delhi Police had been profiling protected persons since 1957.
 
He said a proforma had been introduced for the purpose in 1987, when the Congress was in power and this had been updated in 1999.
 
Using that proforma, the Delhi Police had, as of today, got profiles of as many as 526 persons on its records to be able to provide better security to them, he said. They included former Prime Ministers, Congress President Sonia Gandhi, senior leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other parties and members of Parliament, he said.
 
The Congress had reacted angrily to the visits made by Delhi Police personnel to the residence of Mr Gandhi last week to collect information about him, terming it as a case of snooping and political espionage. 
 
The party had also alleged that it was an intrusion into Mr Gandhi's personal life and demanded explanations from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
 
Mr Jaitley said snooping was not done by sending policemen to visit somebody's house and asking them to fill out forms. "This practice was started in 1987," he said.
 
He also asked the Opposition to not make fun of the kind of queries made in the proforma about the make and size of shoes worn by protected persons. He recalled that when former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, his body could be identified only because of the shoes he was wearing.
 
"Let us leave security to the experts," he said, adding that the information so collected by the police was routinely reviewed and updated.
 
He also pointed out that the policemen concerned had, on the same day as they had visited Mr Gandhi's residence, also visited the homes of several other leaders living in the vicinity. "There is no snooping, no espionage," he said.
 
Earlier, raising the issue as soon as the House assembled, Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said that, in the more than 35 years that he had been an MP and Minister at the Centre, during which period he was given the highest levels of security, he had never seen any such proforma for seeking information about protectees.
 
He said it was even more surprising that the police had suddenly woken up to the need for such information about Mr Gandhi, who has been under the protection of the Special Protection Group (SPG) since his father became Prime Minister in late 1984. 
 
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"The Delhi Police never thought it necessary all these years to collect this information," he said.
 
He said the kind of personal details sought and the information asked for about Mr Gandhi's friends, associates and aides did not augur well for Indian democracy.
 
Mr Azad said the whole exercise of collecting such information appeared to be a way of putting pressure on political parties so that they do not raise important issues of national importance and called upon the Home Minister to make an explanation in the house.
 
He said that late last year there were reports about some Ministers being put under surveillance. He said at a time when the religious freedom of the people was under threat, this kind of attack on political freedom was against all democratic norms.
 
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India backs Sri Lanka's journey of peace, reconciliation, progress

India on Friday conveyed its sincere support for Sri Lanka's new journey of peace, reconciliation and progress and its commitment to strengthening their partnership in advancing peace and prosperity in the region, including their common maritime neighbourhood.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena in Colombo on March 13, 2015.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena in Colombo on March 13, 2015.
India today conveyed its sincere support for Sri Lanka's new journey of peace, reconciliation and progress and its commitment to strengthening their partnership in advancing peace and prosperity in the region, including their common maritime neighbourhood.
 
"We stand with you in your efforts to build a future that accommodates the aspirations of all sections of society, including the Sri Lankan Tamil community, for a life of equality, justice, peace and dignity in a united Sri Lanka," Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at a joint media interaction with Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena in Colombo after their talks.
 
"We believe that early and full implementation of the 13th Amendment and going beyond it would contribute to this process," he said.
 
"The meeting today has been very productive. It gives me great confidence and optimism about the future of our relations," he said.
 
Earlier, Mr Modi arrived in Colombo on the last leg of a three-nation tour of Indian Ocean countries that had earlier taken him to Seychelles and Mauritius. He was received at the Bandaranaike International Airport by Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and senior officials from both sides.
 
"I have eagerly looked forward to visiting one of our closest neighbours and a nation with which we share so much. I am conscious of the significance of this visit. It is the first standalone bilateral visit to Sri Lanka by an Indian Prime Minister since 1987.
 
"Last month, President Sirisena honoured us by making India his first foreign visit as President. I am glad to be here so soon. This is how it should be between neighbours. We should meet regularly," he said.
 
"It helps us understand each other better; find solutions to mutual concerns; and, move our relationship forward," he said.
 
Mr Modi announced a fresh Line of Credit of upto $ 318 million for Sri Lanka's railways sector, saying that India is privileged to be a development partner for Sri Lanka. The line of credit will be used to procure rolling stock, and to restore and upgrade existing railway track. 
 
"Economic ties are a key pillar of our relationship. The progress we have made reflects our shared commitment to stronger economic cooperation. 
 
"Our trade has seen impressive growth over the past decade. I am aware of your concerns about trade with India. As I said in Delhi, we will try and address them," he said.
 
Mr Modi said the agreement today on cooperation between their customs authorities was a step in that direction. It will simplify trade and reduce non-tariff barriers on both sides, he said.
 
"We are not just looking at addressing problems. We are also focusing on new opportunities. Today, Lanka IOC and Ceylon Petroleum Corporation have agreed to jointly develop the Upper Tank Farm of the China Bay Installation in Trincomalee on mutually agreed terms," he said.
 
Mr Modi said a Joint Task Force would be constituted soon to work out the modalities. India stood ready to help Trincomalee become a regional petroleum hub, he said.
 
He said he also looked forward to early commencement of work on the ground in the Sampur Coal Power Project, which would meet Sri Lanka's energy needs. 
 
"The ocean economy is a new frontier that holds enormous promise for both of us. It is a priority for our two countries. Our decision to set up a Joint Task Force on Ocean Economy is a significant step, especially because of our proximity," he said.
 
He said a number of decisions had been taken to encourage people-to-people contacts, improve connectivity and increase tourism.
 
"We will extend the facility of Tourist Visa on Arrival - Electronic Travel Authorization Scheme to Sri Lankan citizens from the Sinhala and Tamil New Year on 14 April 2015. Air India will soon start direct flights between New Delhi and Colombo. We will cooperate in developing a Ramayana Trail in Sri Lanka and a Buddhist Circuit in India," he said.
 
 
Modi says fishermen issue needs long-term solution
Mr Modi said a Festival of India would be organized in Sri Lanka later this year. "Sri Lanka is where Buddhism has truly flourished. We will be organizing an exhibition showcasing our Buddhist heritage as part of this festival," he said.
 
He said the memorandum of understanding on cooperation in youth affairs signed today was an important long term investment in their relationship.
 
He said India would provide assistance for the construction of the Rabindranath Tagore auditorium at Ruhuna University in Matara. 
 
Tomorrow, Mr Modi will visit some of the projects being financed by India, including the housing project. "I am pleased that more than 27,000 houses have already been built," he said.
 
The Reserve Bank of India and the Central Bank of Sri Lanka have agreed to enter into a Currency Swap Agreement of US$ 1.5 billion. This will help keep the Sri Lankan rupee stable. 
 
Mr Modi said and Mr Sirisena had discussed the fishermen’s issue. "This complex issue involves livelihood and humanitarian concerns on both sides. We should handle it from this perspective. At the same time, we need to find a long term solution to this issue," he said.
 
"It is also important that fishermen's associations of India and Sri Lanka meet at the earliest to find a mutually acceptable arrangement. It can then be taken forward by both governments," he said.
 
Mr Modi also took the opportunity to convey India's admiration for President Srinisena's efforts to build an inclusive future for Sri Lanka. 
 
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Coal block allocation: Former PM Manmohan Singh summoned as accused by court

In a major setback to him personally and his Congress party, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was on Wednesday summoned as an accused by a special court in a case related to coal block allocations to Hindalco, a part of the Adiya Birla Group of companies.
File photo of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
File photo of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
In a major setback to him personally and his Congress party, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was today summoned as an accused by a special court in a case related to coal block allocations to Hindalco, a part of the Adiya Birla Group of companies.
 
Along with him, Aditya Birla Group Chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla, former Coal Secretary P C Parakh and three other officials were also summoned as accused in the case for the alleged offences of criminal conspiracy and breach of trust and under provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
 
All of them were asked by Special CBI Judge Bharat Parashar to appear in court on April 8. While doing so, the court rejected the Central Bureau of Investigation's (CBI) finding in its final report that there was "no prosecutable evidence against anyone".
 
Dr Singh was Prime Minister from May 2004 to May 2014 at the head of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government.
 
He was reportedly questioned by a team of CBI officials in January this year at his Motilal Nehru Marg residence here in connection with the allocation of the Talabira II block to Hindalco when he was also holding the portfolio of coal.
 
The former Prime Minister is understood to have defended the decision and stressed that it was made after due deliberations.
 
Dr Singh had held the Coal portfolio between 2006 and 2009, which is part of the period that is being probed by the CBI.
 
Dr Singh's tenure in office was marred by the finding of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) that the delay in introduction of the process of competitive bidding in the allocation of coal blocks to private companies for captive mining had led to likely financial gains of Rs 1.86 lakh crore to them.
 
 
Coal scam: Manmohan Singh among six summoned as accused by court
The CAG had, in his report tabled in Parliament on August 17, 2012 said that a part of this financial gain could have accrued to the national exchequer by operationalising the decision taken years earlier to introduce competitive bidding for allocation of coal blocks.
 
The CAG estimated the financial gains to the private coal block allottees on the basis of the average cost of production and average sale price of opencast mines of the public sector Coal India Limited (CIL) in 2010-11.
 
The report noted that the Screening Committee had recommended the allocation of coal blocks to particular allottees, out of all the applications for them, by way of minutes of its meetings.
 
"However, there was nothing on record in the said minutes or in other documents on any comparative evaluation of the applicants for a coal bock which was relied upon by the Screening Committee Minutes of the Screening Committee did not indicate how each one of the applicants for a particular block was evaluated. Thus, a transparent method for allocation of coal blocks was not followed by the Screening Committee," it said.
 
Dr Singh had held the Coal portfolio himself during much of the period under review in the report in the first term of the UPA Government, prompting the opposition to hold him personally responsible for the alleged scam.
 
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had earlier sought closure of the case, in which Mr Birla, Mr Parakh and others were named as accused. The court directed it to carry out further investigations and submit a report on January 27. It also said that it would be appropriate if then Coal Minister were examined first.
 
The CBI had registered the case in October 2013, following which the Prime Minister's Office had, on October 18, 2013, issued a detailed statement saying that Dr Singh was satisfied that the final decision taken in the matter relating to the allocation of Talabira-II and III coal blocks in Odisha to Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd (MCL), Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) and Hindalco was entirely correct and based on the merits of the case placed before him.
 
The PMO had given the details of the processing of the matter at different stages of the decision-making to clarify the position.
 
The statement came four days after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed a first information report (FIR) in which it named Mr Birla, Hindalco and Mr Parakh in connection with the alleged coal blocks allocation scam.
 
The FIR alleged that Hindalco was shown "undue favour" in the allocation of Talabira II and TAlabira III coal blocks in Odisha.
 
"The Talabira coal block allocation is a case where the final decision differed from the earlier recommendation of the Screening Committee, and this was done following a representation received in the Prime Minister's Office from one of the parties, which was referred to the Ministry of Coal," the PMO statement had said.
 
The following is the annexure issued by the PMO with the statement, giving details of the decision-making in the matter:
 
"1. The Prime Minister received a letter dated 7.5.2005 from Shri Kumar Mangalam Birla requesting allocation of Talabira-II and III coal blocks in Odisha to HINDALCO for its 650 MW captive power plant in its Integrated Aluminium Project in Sambalpur District, Odisha and for a 100 MW captive plant for the expansion of its Hirakud Aluminium plant in Odisha. The letter was acknowledged by the Prime Minister who noted on the letter– “Please get a report from Coal Ministry”. 
 
2. The Prime Minister’s Office forwarded the letter to the Ministry of Coal on 25.5.2005 requesting it to look into the matter and send a report. 
 
3. Shri Kumar Mangalam Birla submitted another letter to the Prime Minister on 17.6.2005 repeating the request. This letter was linked to the earlier reference and sent to the Ministry of Coal with a request to send their report on the matter. 
 
4. In August 2005, Ministry of Coal sent its file on the matter to the Prime Minister. In the file, it was mentioned that the Screening Committee had considered three major contenders for allocation of Talabira-II and decided to allocate this block to Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) as: 
 
(i) adequate coal linkages had been provided to HINDALCO from Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd. (MCL) a long time back and HINDALCO had not used the coal, 
 
(ii) Talabira-II & III blocks needed to be developed together to extract an additional 30 million tonnes of coal which would have gone waste otherwise at the boundaries of each block, (Talabira-III is a coal block which had been separately allocated to Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd.) and
 
(iii) NLC & Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd. can develop the two blocks together as one large mine through a Joint Venture (JV). 
 
Shri Kumar Mangalam Birla had requested for allocation of Talabira-II to Hindalco as: 
 
(i) Hindalco was the first applicant for it as long back as 1996, 
 
(ii) the coal linkage granted earlier was not used as a bauxite mine lease relating to the aluminium plant had not materialized, 
 
(iii) in view of the current shortage of coal, Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd. will not be able to supply coal as per the earlier linkage, and
 
(iv) the Government of Odisha favoured allocation of Talabira-II to Hindalco in preference to NLC. 
 
While the file was being processed in PMO, the Prime Minister received a letter dated 17.8.2005 from the Chief Minister of Odisha on the allotment of Talabira-II to Hindalco. The CM’s letter mentioned that the State Government had assigned topmost priority to the allocation of Talabira-II to Hindalco and had strongly supported the case in the Steering Committee meeting. The letter mentioned that aluminium plants should get higher priority over independent power plants as they generate more employment, create more wealth for the country and add to the growth of the manufacturing sector directly. Further, it stated that it is equitable to accord higher priority to units adding more value through manufacturing within the state where the coal mine is located. The letter urged that these special considerations be kept in mind and the matter examined expeditiously. 
 
6. On 29.8.2005, the Ministry of Coal file on the matter was returned with the comment that while the file was being processed, a letter was received from Chief Minister, Odisha and the Ministry of Coal may please take this letter of CM, Odisha on record, re-examine the matter in light thereof and resubmit the file. 
 
7. Ministry of Coal resubmitted the file on 16.9.2005 with the proposal that
 
i) Talabira II & III be mined as a single mine with the mining done by a JV formed between MCL, NLC & Hindalco. 
 
ii) The shareholding of the JV between MCL:NLC:Hindalco to be 70:15:15. 
 
iii) Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd’s equity shareholding of 70% would approximately equal Talabira-III’s extractable reserves as a proportion of the total of the two blocks. Under the sharing arrangement, 70% of the total annual production will be handed over to Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd. 
 
iv) The remaining 30% of the annual production will be shared equally between Hindalco and NLC with each getting 15%.
 
v) The satisfaction level of NLC would be 29% of its total requirement and of Hindalco, 81.5%. 
 
8. The reasoning given by the Ministry of Coal was that: 
 
i) Talabira-II & III combined have reserves of 553 million tonnes. 
 
ii) The total requirement of coal from these blocks from the three main contenders is 503 million tonnes, with NLC seeking 280 million tonnes, Hindalco seeking 100 million tonnes and Orissa Sponge Iron Ltd (OSIL) seeking 123 million tonnes. 
 
iii) Allocating the blocks to these three would leave little coal for Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd. 
 
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iv) NLC may not be dropped as it is a Central PSU already recommended by the Screening Committee. Hindalco’s case for allocation has been strongly recommended by the State Government and it has also been an early applicant. OSIL can be accommodated elsewhere. 
 
v) It was further brought out that the Government of Odisha have indicated a clear preference for allotment of the block to Hindalco in the interest of creating more employment and growth of the manufacturing sector in the state.
 
vi) It was also pointed out that while both Hindalco and NLC get the same amount of coal, Hindalco's satisfaction level is about 80%, whereas NLC’s is much lower.. However, as NLC and Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd. are proposing to set up a JV power plant from the coal available from Talabira-II & III, NLC’s full requirements could be met from Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd’s reserves in Talabira-III. This would fully meet the coal requirement of the two CPSUs to set up their power project and protect the interests of the CPSUs. 
 
9. While processing this proposal in PMO, it was noted that the ownership ratio in the JV ownership was not in congruence with the guidelines approved by PM on 09.06.2005 which required this ratio to be in proportion to the assessed requirement of coal of each allocatee. As per this guideline, the NLC:Hindalco ratio in their 30% share should be 22.5:7.5 and not 15:15 as was proposed. 
 
10. While recommending the case to the Prime Minister, it was clearly brought out that: 
 
i) The State Government of Odisha has strongly recommended allocation of Talabira-II to Hindalco and supported it in the Screening Committee. Chief Minister, Odisha had reiterated this position assigning topmost priority to the allocation of Talabira-II in favour of Hindalco.
 
ii) Under the MMDR Act, the mining lease for coal is granted by the State Government with the previous approval of the Central Government. Thus, under the federal framework of sharing mining rights as provided under the Act, both the Central and State Governments need to concur before an allocatee can be granted a mining lease. Accordingly, the strong recommendation of the Government of Odisha is important and has to be given due consideration while taking a decision in the matter. 
 
iii) The Ministry’s suggestion for allocation of 30% share of production in the JV for Talabira-II & III combined to NLC & Hindalco, with the remaining 70% of the total production taken by MCL has merit and may therefore be considered for acceptance. 
 
iv) As for the NLC:Hindalco equity ratio in the JV, this would require relaxation of guidelines that were approved by PM earlier, but this could be considered as NLC and Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd. are sister PSUs and NLC’s requirements of coal could be met from Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd’s 70% share of production. This would fully meet the coal requirement of the two CPSUs to set up their power project and protect the interests of the CPSUs. 
 
11. Based on these arguments, and also on the reasoning of the Ministry, it was proposed that Prime Minister may approve: 
 
i) Allocation of Talabira-II & III to a JV owned jointly by MCL:NLC:Hindalco in the ratio 70:15:15 with the other aspects as proposed by the Ministry. 
 
ii) The existing long term coal linkage of Hindalco may be reviewed and suitably reduced after taking into account Hindalco’s requirement of coal for the project and the share of Hindalco in the coal mined by the JV in Talabira-II & III. 
 
12. The Prime Minister approved the proposal on 1.10.2005."
 
On September 24, 2014, the Supreme Court had scrapped 214 of the 218 coal blocks allocated between 1993 and 2010, sparing only four  -- two allocated to an ultra mega power project (UMPP) and two to public sector companies, Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) and NTPC.
 
In recent days, the Government has put up more than 30 of those blocks for auction.
 
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Centre not consulted, informed: Modi tells Lok Sabha on Masarat Alam's release

Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the Lok Sabha on Monday that the Centre was not consulted or informed by the Jammu & Kashmir government on its decision to release separatist Masarat Alam and made it clear that he shared the anger of the house on the issue.
 
Modi says Centre not consulted on Masarat Alam release
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today told the Lok Sabha that the Centre was not consulted or informed by the Jammu & Kashmir government on its decision to release separatist Masarat Alam and made it clear that he shared the anger of the house on the issue.
 
"There is outrage in the house and outside and I would like to add my voice to that," he said after the Congress and other Opposition parties raised the issue, demanding a statement from the Prime Minister clarifying the Government's position on Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed's decision.
 
Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is a partner of Mr Sayeed's People's Democratic Party (PDP) in the J&K government.
 
"This country, on the issue of separatism, terrorism, does not think in partisan terms and will not do even now," he said, noting that the house had expressed its outrage in one voice today.
 
"I wish to assure the house, the people of the country that whatever steps, decisions have been taken in Jammu & Kashmir, were not taken in consultation with Government of India  and they were done without informing the Government of India," he said.
 
He urged members not to politicise the issue, though he acknowledged that they had the right to criticise the BJP as a partner in the J&K government.
 
"But let us not speak in different voices on issues related to national security, let us not give that message to the world or to Jammu and Kashmir or to the rest of the country.
 
"That is why I would like to assure the house and the entire country that this government will not accept any such steps. We do not approve of any compromise with the unity and integrity of the country," he said.
 
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"Decisions can be taken only within the limits of the Constitution, now and in the future also," he said.
 
Mr Modi said it was wrong to suggest that he was staying silent on the issue because he had spoken about such issues only a few days ago in the house.
 
"We are those people, who for these principles, had sacrificed the life of Shyama Prasad Mukherjee. Therefore, kindly do not give us lessons in patriotism," he told the Opposition.
 
Mr Modi said the Centre had sought some clarifications from the state government on the decision and would provide more information to the house as and when they are received.
 
"This is not the anger of any one party, but of the entire country...not of those benches or these benches, it is of the entire house," he said.
 
"And in one voice, we want to convey to separatist forces, their supporters and those who misuse the law, our outrage. This house is committed to the unity and integrity of the country and the government will take all the steps needed in this regard," he added.
 
The Congress was not fully satisfied with Mr Modi's statement, suggesting that, if he felt so strongly about it, the BJP should withdraw its support to the PDP.
 
Earlier, Mr Rajnath Singh said the Home Ministry had sought a report from the J&K government on the release of Alam and some clarifications.
 
He said that, after receiving the clarifications, the Centre would take appropriate steps in the matter.
 
Alam, 44, had been arrested by the previous Omar Abdullah-led government in J&K in 2010 for his alleged role in fanning trouble during street protests, in which more than a hundred people had died. He was released on Saturday from the Baramullah jail, within days after Mr Sayeed assumed office.
 
The PDP has justified the release, saying it was part of its efforts for reconciliation and that the government could not engage with separatists and bring them into the mainstream when they were in prison.
 
Mr Sayeed had caused the BJP some embarrassment within hours of being sworn in on March 1 when, addressing mediapersons, he thanked "people from across the border", which was taken as a reference to Pakistan and militants -- for allowing the smooth conduct of the recent Assembly elections in the state.
 
The Congress and other parties had raised a similar ruckus on the issue in the Rajya Sabha, too.
 
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BBC film: Govt. says will take all necessary steps against broadcast

Home Minister Rajnath Singh said on Thursday the Government would take all necessary steps in the matter of the BBC's decision to air last night a documentary film featuring an interview with one of the convicts in the horrific Nirbhaya gang-rape case of December 16, 2012 despite a court order restraining its telecast.
 
Rajnath says will act against airing of Nirbhaya documentary
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh today said the Government would take all necessary steps in the matter of the BBC's decision to air last night a documentary film featuring an interview with one of the convicts in the horrific Nirbhaya gang-rape case of December 16, 2012 despite a court order restraining its telecast.
 
Though the Government had, on Tuesday, obtained a restraining order from a local court against the dissemination of the contents of the documentary, BBC went ahead and aired it late last night in the United Kingdom. It was also available on video sharing website YouTube.
 
Talking to reporters here today, Mr Singh said the Government had informed all television channels in the country not to telecast the interview.
 
"But the BBC told us that they were an independent organisation and had decided to go ahead with its telecast," he said. The BBC, in fact, advanced the screening of the film to last night from the original date of March 8, International Women's Day.
 
Mr Singh said the Government would take all necessary steps in this regard, including to prevent the further dissemination of the contents of the film.
 
"Whatever action we have to take, the Home Ministry will go ahead and take it," he said, adding that there had been no laxity on the part of the Government in this regard.
 
Asked about the possible steps the Government could take, he said that he would not like to make any further comment at this stage. "All I can say is that whatever is required, will be done. If conditions have been violated, there will be appropriate action," he said.
 
The Home Ministry is understood to be in touch with the Ministries of External Affairs, Information & Broadcasting and Communications & Information Technology in this regard.
 
While there was no official word from the Government on the steps it had taken in the matter, various sources said it had asked YouTube to remove the film.
 
BBC is learnt to have conveyed to the Government that it did not plan to telecast the film in India in compliance with the directive.
 
Delhi Police Commissioner B S Bassi told journalists that suitable action would be taken under the law, especially with regard to portions in the film which transgressed the law.
 
"We will take steps to ensure there is no further dissemination o the film, especially on (internet) portals," he said. "We are going to take action under the law," he said.
 
Yesterday, Mr Singh had told the Rajya Sabha that the makers of the film had violated the conditions under which permission had been given by the authorities to shoot the documentary and conduct interviews in Tihar Jail here with convicts in cases related to atrocities against women.
 
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Mr Singh said a No Objection Certificate (NOC) to shoot the documentary and conduct interviews in Tihar jail of cases was given by the Ministry of Home Affairs on 24 July, 2013 and thereafter the permissions were given by the jail authorities to shoot the documentary to Ms. Leslee Udwin and Ms. Anjali Bhushan.
 
He said the permission was given, subject to the following conditions:
 
(i)         Prior approval of jail authorities is to be taken for publishing the research paper or for releasing the documentary film, which is being made for purely social purposes without any commercial interest as conveyed.
(ii)        To interview only such convicted prisoners who give written consent.
(iii)       The complete unedited footage of shoot in the Tihar Jail premises will be shown to the jail authorities to ensure there is no breach of Prison security.
 
The documentary features an interview with Mukesh Singh, one of the four convicts in the Nirbhaya case who are now facing the death sentence.
 
Certain remarks during the interview by Mukesh Singh, who was the driver of the bus in which a 23-year-old student of physiotherapy was gang-raped by six men on that fateful night, have caused outrage across the country as well in both houses of Parliament.
 
The media calls the victim Nirbhaya because she cannot be identified under the country's laws.
 
The film's makers have said that they had all the required permissions to shoot inside Tihar Jail and interview the convicts.
 
While many people have been outraged by the reported remarks of Mukesh Singh and have sought a ban on the documentary, there are others who feel such a move would be a violation of the freedom of expression.
 
Ms Udwin told the BBC that the decision to ban the film was ill-advised. "I went out there not to point a finger at India - the opposite, to put it on a pedestal, to say not in my life have I seen another country go out with that fortitude and courage the way the Indian nation did," she said.
 
"Unfortunately what this ill-advised decision to ban the film is now going to do is have the whole world point fingers at India," she said.
 
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Govt. gets court order restraining broadcast of interview with Nirbhaya case convict

Home Minister Rajnath Singh said on Wednesday the Government had taken legal action and obtained a restraining order from a court against dissemination of the contents of a documentary by BBC Four featuring an interview with one of the convicts in the horrific Nirbhaya gang-rape case of December 16, 2012.
Court restrains telecast of interview of Nirbhaya case convict
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh today said the Government had taken legal action and obtained a restraining order from a court against dissemination of the contents of a documentary by BBC Four featuring an interview with one of the convicts in the horrific Nirbhaya gang-rape case of December 16, 2012.
 
He told the Rajya Sabha in a statement that the makers of the film had violated the conditions under which permission had been given by the authorities to shoot the documentary and conduct interviews in Tihar Jail here with convicts in cases related to atrocities against women.
 
Mr Singh said a No Objection Certificate (NOC) to shoot the documentary and conduct interviews in Tihar jail of cases was given by the Ministry of Home Affairs on 24 July, 2013 and thereafter the permissions were given by the jail authorities to shoot the documentary to Ms. Leslee Udwin and Ms. Anjali Bhushan.
 
He said the permission was given, subject to the following conditions:
 
(i)         Prior approval of jail authorities is to be taken for publishing the research paper or for releasing the documentary film, which is being made for purely social purposes without any commercial interest as conveyed.
(ii)        To interview only such convicted prisoners who give written consent.
(iii)       The complete unedited footage of shoot in the Tihar Jail premises will be shown to the jail authorities to ensure there is no breach of Prison security.
 
Mr Singh said the documentary, inter alia, featured an interview with Mukesh Singh, one of the four convicts in the Nirbhaya case who are facing the death sentence.
 
Certain remarks during the interview by Mukesh Singh, who was the driver of the bus in which a 23-year-old student of physiotherapy was gang-raped by six men on the fateful night, have caused outrage across the country as well in both houses of Parliament.
 
The media calls the victim Nirbhaya because she cannot be identified under the country's laws.
 
The film's makers have said that they had all the required permissions to shoot inside Tihar Jail and interview the convicts.
 
"It came to the notice of the jail authorities that the permission conditions have been violated and hence a legal notice was issued to them on 7th April, 2014 to return the unedited footage within 15 days and also not to show the film as it violates the permission conditions," he said.
 
"Subsequently, the documentary film was shown to the jail authorities where it was noticed that the documentary film depicts the comments of the convict which are highly derogatory and are an affront to the dignity of women.  It was also noticed that the film shown was the edited version and not the unedited as per permission conditions.  Hence, they were requested to provide full copy of the unedited film shootout for further review by the authorities and that they were asked not to release/screen the documentary till it is approved by the authorities," he said.
 
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He said it had come to the notice of the Government that BBC Four was going to telecast the documentary on March 8.
 
"The Government has taken necessary legal action and obtained a restraining order from the court disseminating the contents of the film," he said.
 
"Our Government condemns the incident of 16th December, 2012 in the strongest possible terms and will not allow any attempt by any individual, group or organization to leverage such unfortunate incidents for commercial benefit.  The respect and dignity of women constitute a core value of our culture and tradition.  Our Government remains fully committed to ensuring safety and dignity of women," he added.
 
While many people have been outraged by the reported remarks of Mukesh Singh and have sought a ban on the documentary, there are other groups who feel such a move would be a violation of the freedom of expression.
 
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Nitish Kumar returns as Chief Minister of Bihar

Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Bihar for the fourth time in Patna on Sunday evening, two days after his loyalist-turned-political foe Jitan Ram Manjhi resigned from the position hours before a trust vote in the state legislative assembly on Friday.
 
Nitish Kumar takes oath as Chief Minister of Bihar
Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Bihar for the fourth time here this evening, two days after his loyalist-turned-political foe Jitan Ram Manjhi resigned from the position hours before a trust vote in the state legislative assembly here on Friday.
 
Mr Kumar, 63, and 22 Ministers, including three women, were administered the oaths of office and secrecy by Governor Kesari Nath Tripathi at a ceremony that began around 5 pm today.
 
The ministers are : Vijay Kumar Chaudhary, Vijendra Prasad Yadav, Ramai Ram, Damodar Raut, Narendra Narayan Yadav, P.K. Shahi, Shyam Rajak, Awadesh Kushwaha, Lesie Singh, Dulal Chand Goswami, Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lallan Singh, Shrawan Kumar, Ramlashan Ram Raman, Ramdhani Singh, Jai Kumar Singh, Manoj Kumar Singh, Javed Iqbal Ansari, Bima Bharti, Ranju Geeta, Baidyanath Sahni, Vinod Singh Yadav and Naushad Alam.
 
Of them, 20 had resigned from the Manjhi government while the other two --  P K Shahi and Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lallan Singh -- had been removed by the former chief minister.
 
Mr Kumar has returned as Chief Minister nine months after he had stepped down on May 17 last year, taking moral responsibility for the defeat suffered by his party in the state in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
 
His return ended about two weeks of political uncertainty in the state following a bitter power struggle between him and Mr Manjhi.
 
Mr Manjhi finally met Mr Tripathi and handed in his papers on Friday morning. Shortly thereafter, Mr Kumar had called on the Governor and staked his claim to form the next government. Mr Tripathi had invited him to form the new government and asked him to prove his majority on the floor of the assembly within three weeks.
 
Mr Manjhi, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, Uttar Pradesh Chief Miister Akhilesh Yadav, former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda and Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) leader Abhay Chautala were among those who attended the ceremony.
 
Mr Manjhi's resignation came after it became clear that he did not have the numbers to win a trust vote in the 243-member assembly even though the  Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has a score to settle with Mr Kumar, had thrown its weight behind him.
 
Mr Kumar has been claiming that he has the support of 130 MLAs in the House, including 99 of his own party, 24 from the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and five of the Congress.
 
Ahead of his meeting with the Governor, Mr Kumar, a former Union Minister, had promised on Friday to provide good governance if given another chance to serve the people of Bihar and apologised to them for his decision to resign on May 17 last year after his party's poor performance in the Lok Sabha elections in the state.
 
Mr Kumar's party had ended up with just two of the 40 Lok Sabha seats from Bihar, while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its erstwhile partner in the state, won as many as 22.
 
The Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) of former Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, an ally of the BJP, got five seats. The Congress won two seats, the NCP one, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) four and the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party won three.
 
On June 16, 2013, the JD (U) had formally withdrawn from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and ended its 17-year-old partnership with the BJP in Bihar after it became increasingly clear at that stage that Mr Narendra Modi would be the Prime Ministerial candidate of the party.
 
Mr Manjhi, who was the Minister for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Backward and Economically Backward Classes Welfare, was handpicked by Mr Kumar to succeed him on May 19 last year.
 
"I assure the people of Bihar that if I get an opportunity again I will serve them in the same spirit I did for eight and a half years earlier. Good governance was and will remain my priority," Mr Kumar told journalists on Friday.
 
"I also apologise for my decision to quit. I will never take an emotional decision again. Now I am ready to lead from the front," he said.
 
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The JD (U) has 115 members in the assembly, and most of them back Mr Kumar. The BJP has 88 members and the support of three independents.
 
Mr Kumar had staked claim to form the next government two weeks ago after the JD (U) removed Mr Manjhi as the leader of its legislature party and elected him to the position to enable him to return as Chief Minister. Mr Manjhi had refused to oblige and was expelled from the party. He then decided to seek a trust vote, banking on the support of the BJP.
 
Mr Kumar said Mr Manjhi had decided to quit after all the efforts made by the BJP to wean away MLAs from the JD (U) had failed.
 
Mr Manjhi, however, told journalists that he had decided to quit to protect MLAs supporting him, saying they had received death threats in the past few days. 
 
Mr Kumar has a degree in electrical engineering from the Bihar College of Engineering, Patna, now the National Institute of Technology (NIT), Patna. He joined politics after a brief stint in the Bihar State Electricity Board.
 
At the Centre, Mr Kumar has handled the portfolios of Railways and Agriculture.
 
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Arrested former journalist Santanu Saikia says papers leak case is Rs 10,000 crore scam

Former journalist Santanu Saikia, who was arrested by the Delhi Police on Friday in connection with the alleged leak of confidential documents from the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas to private oil companies, created a sensation on Saturday by claiming that it was a Rs 10,000 crore scam and that he was just covering it.
 
It's 10000 crore scam: Saikia
Former journalist Santanu Saikia, who was arrested by the Delhi Police yesterday in connection with the alleged leak of confidential documents from the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas (MoPNG) to private oil companies, today created a sensation by claiming that it was a Rs 10,000 crore scam and that he was just covering it.
 
"It is a 10,000 crore scam, you know. I was trying to do a cover up. I was doing a cover up operation. It is a 10,000 crore scam," he told reporters as he was led away by policemen into the Delhi Police Crime Branch office.
 
The claim came even as the Delhi Police late yesterday arrested five executives of major private energy companies as part of its investigations into the corporate espionage case.
 
Union Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Dharmendra Pradhan ruled out any suggestion that the authorities were covering up matters, and said Saikia was only trying to save his own skin.
 
Union Home Miniser Rajnath Singh said no one found guilty in the case would be spared and that strict action would be taken against them.
 
"We should be appreciated for unearthing this. We found out that this was happening. Those responsible will be punished," he told reporters, adding that the scandal would not have come to light if the government had not been vigilant.
 
The five executives arrested in the case have been identified as Shailesh Saxena of Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), Vinay Kumar of Essar, K K Naik of Cairns India, Subhash Chandra of Jubilant Energy and Rishi Anand of Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (ADAG).
 
Delhi Police Commissioner B S Bassi told journalists that the police would produce the five in a local court and seek their custody for interrogation.
 
The police had earlier arrested seven persons, including Saikia, in connection with the case. While five people, including two employees of the MoPNG, were arrested on February 17, the former journalist and Prayas Jain, an energy consultant, were arrested early yesterday.
 
Mr Bassi siad the police had questioned the recipients of the documents stolen and leaked by the five men arrested in the first instance. "The documents that have been stolen were further sold and the recipients of the stolen property have been taken in control and were being questioned by us," he said.
 
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Saikia, who used to work for a business newspaper in the capital earlier, now runs a portal on energy. Jain's firm is based in Delhi and Melbourne.
 
Saikia, Jain and two others arrested earlier have been sent to police custody till February 23. The remaining three are in judicial custody for 14 days.
 
Official sources said the stolen documents incuded inputs for the General Budget for 2015-16, due to be presented on February 28 by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, a letter from the Prime Minister's Office and documents related to the power and coal ministries.
 
According to the police, the men in the first group of arrested persons usd to enter the MoPNG offices in Shastri Bhavan with the help of forged identity cards and entry passes and open rooms of senior officias and copy papers they found there. The papers were sold to the consultants, who would pass it on for a price to energy companies, they said.
 
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Nitish Kumar to return as Bihar CM after Manjhi quits ahead of trust vote

Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar will be sworn in as Chief Minister of Bihar for a fourth time on Sunday evening after his loyalist-turned-political foe Jitan Ram Manjhi resigned from the position hours before a trust vote in the state legislative assembly in Patna on Friday.
 
I accept my mistake and apologize to the people of Bihar: Nitish
Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar will be sworn in as Chief Minister of Bihar for a fourth time on Sunday evening after his loyalist-turned-political foe Jitan Ram Manjhi resigned from the position hours before a trust vote in the state legislative assembly here today.
 
Mr Kumar, 63, who has the necessary numbers on his side, called on Bihar Governor Kesari Nath Tripathi, shortly after Mr Manjhi met him and handed in his papers, and staked his claim to form the next government.
 
Mr Tripathi invited him to form the new government and will administer the oaths of office and secrecy to him and his ministers at 5 pm on Sunday. He has been asked to prove his majority on the floor of the assembly within three weeks.
 
Mr Manjhi drove to Raj Bhavan to meet the Governor at about 10.15 am and submitted his resignation, shortly before he was supposed to seek a vote of confidence from the House.
 
The outgoing Chief Minister clearly seemed to have realised that he did not have the  numbers to win the trust motion in the 243-member assembly, despite the fact that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had thrown its weight behind him.
 
Mr Kumar has been claiming that he had the support of 130 MLAs in the House, including 99 of his own party, 24 from the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and five of the Congress.
 
Ahead of his meeting with the Governor, Mr Kumar, a former Union Minister, promised to provide good governance if given another chance to serve the people of Bihar and apologised to them for his decision to resign on May 17 last year after his party's poor performance in the Lok Sabha elections in the state.
 
Mr Kumar's party had ended up with just two of the 40 Lok Sabha seats from Bihar, while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its erstwhile partner in the state, won as many as 22.
 
The Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) of former Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, an ally of the BJP, got five seats. The Congress won two seats, the NCP one, the 
Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) four and the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party won three.
 
On June 16, 2013, the JD (U) had formally withdrawn from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and ended its 17-year-old partnership with the BJP in Bihar after it became increasingly clear at that stage that Mr Narendra Modi would be the Prime Ministerial candidate of the party.
 
Mr Manjhi, who was the Minister for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Backward and Economically Backward Classes Welfare, was handpicked by Mr Kumar to succeed him on May 19 last year.
 
"I assure the people of Bihar that if I get an opportunity again I will serve them in the same spirit I did for eight and a half years earlier. Good governance was and will remain my priority," Mr Kumar told journalists.
 
"I also apologise for my decision to quit. I will never take an emotional decision again. Now I am ready to lead from the front," he said.
 
The JD (U) has 115 members in the assembly, and most of them back Mr Kumar. The BJP has 88 members and the support of three independents.
 
Mr Kumar had staked claim to form the next government ten days ago after the JD (U) removed Mr Manjhi as the leader of its legislature party and elected him to the position to enable him to return as Chief Minister. Mr Manjhi refused to oblige and was expelled from the party. He then decided to seek a trust vote, banking on the support of the BJP.
 
Mr Kumar said Mr Manjhi had decided to quit after all the efforts made by the BJP to wean away MLAs from the JD (U) had failed.
 
Mr Manjhi, however, told journalists that he had decided to quit to protect MLAs supporting him, saying they had received death threats in the past few days. 
 
Mr Kumar has a degree in electrical engineering from the Bihar College of Engineering, Patna, now the National Institute of Technology (NIT), Patna. He joined politics after a brief stint in the Bihar State Electricity Board.
 
At the Centre, Mr Kumar has handled the portfolios of Railways and Agriculture.
 
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10 dead, 50 hurt as Bangalore-Ernakulam Inter-City Express derails near Hosur

At least ten passengers died and about 50 others suffered injuries when the 12677 Bangalore-Ernakulam Inter-city Express derailed on Friday morning near Anekal Road, close to Hosur in Tamil Nadu, official sources said.
 
10 dead, 50 injured as Bangalore-Ernakulam Inter-City Express derails
At least ten passengers died and about 50 others suffered injuries when the 12677 Bangalore-Ernakulam Inter-city Express derailed this morning near Anekal Road, close to Hosur in Tamil Nadu, official sources said.
 
The mishap occurred at around 7.45 am between Anekal Road and Hosur stations on the Bangalore-Salem section of South-Western Railway, they said.
 
Prima facie, the derailment occurred after the train hit a boulder that had rolled down onto the tracks in the ghat section, the sources said.
 
The train had left Bangalore at 6.15 am for Ernakulam in Kerala. Nine coaches and the engine of the train went off the rails, and one coach in particular, D8, a second class chair car, was badly affected, they said.
 
The derailed coaches included two air-conditioned chair cars and six second class chair cars, but they did not suffer much damage.
 
A pantry car and four second class chair cars were not affected by the derailment, the sources said.
 
South-Western Railway spokesperson Chandrasekhar Gupta told NetIndian over the telephone that ten bodies had been extricated from the mangled coaches.
 
He said 18 of the injured passengers had suffered severe injuries and were undergoing treatment in the Narayan Hridalaya, Sparsh and Anekal General hospitals nearby.
 
Police and emergency personnel, including railway officials and staff, from nearby areas in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka rushed to the spot with ambulances and medical equipment. The Railways rushed medical vans and accident relief vans to the spot.
 
Efforts were being made to restore rail traffic on the section at the earliest, the sources said.
 
In Delhi, Minister for Railways Suresh Prabhu said he was rushing to the scene of the accident and that he had directed the Chairman of the Railway Board, the General Manager of South-Western Railway and other senior officials to reach the spot.
 
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He said all possible help would be rendered to the affected passengers and families. He also announced an ex-gratia amount of Rs 200,000 for the next-of-kin of each of those killed in the accident, Rs 50,000 for the grievously injured passengers and Rs 20,000 for those with minor injuries.
  
Union Minister D V Sadananda Gowda, a former Minister for Railways and former Karnataka Chief Minister, was among those who reached the scene of the accident. 
 
"I am personally monitoring it and in touch with State and local administration. All Sr rail officials are directed by me to be on job," Mr Prabhu said.
 
"Condolences to all the  unfortunate members of the families who lost lives. Directed to provide best possible medical care to the injured," he said.
 
"Ordered enquiry to fix responsibility and for corrective action to prevent such unfortunate accidents. Monitoring action regularly," he added.
 
The Railways have set up the following helplines to provide information and assistance to victims and their relatives: 0948090599,  08022371166, 09731666751.
 
Besides, the Railways have set up the following helpline numbers in Kerala:
 
Trivandrum: 0471-2321205, 2321237, 09746769960
Ernakulam Jn.: 0484-2100317, 0813699773
Ernakulam Town: 0484-2398200
Trichur: 04877-2424148, 2430060
Aluva: 0484-2624143
 
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Kejriwal meets Modi, raises issue of statehood for Delhi

Delhi Chief Minister-designate Arvind Kejriwal met Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his residence in New Delhi on Thursday morning and raised, among other issues, the question of granting full statehood to Delhi.
Delhi Chief Minister-designate and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on February 12, 2015. Senior AAP leader Manish Sisodia is also seen.
Delhi Chief Minister-designate and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on February 12, 2015. Senior AAP leader Manish Sisodia is also seen.
Delhi Chief Minister-designate Arvind Kejriwal met Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his residence here this morning and raised, among other issues, the question of granting full statehood to Delhi.
 
Mr Kejriwal was accompanied to the meeting by his close aide and senior Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Manish Sisodia, who is tipped to be the Deputy Chief Minister in the new Delhi government.
 
Mr Kejriwal invited Mr Modi for the swearing-in ceremony to be held at the historic Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi on February 14, but the Prime Minister has regretted his inability to attend the event in view of prior engagements outside Delhi.
 
Earlier, Mr Modi, who had been involved in a bitter war of words with Mr Kejriwal during the campaigning for the February 7 elections to the Delhi Legislative Assembly, welcomed the AAP leader with a bouquet of flowers and congratulated him on his stunning victory.
 
Incidentally, Mr Kejriwal had also fought against Mr Modi in the Lok Sabha elections from the Varanasi constituency of Uttar Pradesh, though he ended up losing by a big margin.
 
AAP swept the polls, winning an astounding 67 of the 70 seats in the assembly, leaving just three for Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and blanking out all the other parties, including the Congress, which had ruled Delhi for 15 consecutive years before the last Assembly elections in December 2013.
 
Mr Kejriwal was unanimously elected as the leader of the AAP legislative party on Tuesday, following which he had met Lt Governor Najeeb Jung to inform him of the party's decision and formally stake claim to forming the next government in Delhi.
 
 
Modi not to attend Kejriwal's swearing-in ceremony: Sisodia
Mr Sisodia said Mr Modi had assured Mr Kejriwal that he would look into AAP's demand for full statehood for Delhi. Mr Sisodia said the fact that there was a government with absolute majority at the Centre and there will be a government with a strong mandate in Delhi provided a "golden opportunity" for them to push through various measures to make the national capital a world class city.
 
Mr Kejriwal had met Delhi Chief Secretary Deepak Mohan Spolia and asked him to get all departments to make presentations to him on the status of projects and programmes on February 19.
 
The Chief Secretary has also been asked to draw up an action plan to cope with any shortage of power, water, vegetables and other essential supplies during the summer months.
 
Mr Kejriwal also issued an audio message today, inviting people of Delhi to attend his swearing-in ceremony.
 
Yesterday, Mr Kejriwal and Mr Sisodia had called on President Pranab Mukherjee at Rashtrapati Bhavan. They had also met Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Urban Development Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu.
 
Mr Mukherjee congratulated Mr Kejriwal on his resounding victory and gifted him a copy of the Constitution of India and one of his own book, Thoughts and Reflections.
 
Mr Sisodia said it was a courtesy call and there was "no special agenda" for the meeting. He said they thanked Mr Mukherjee for his guidance and blessings.
 
He said that they had invited Mr Singh to the swearing-in ceremony and also called for "constructive cooperation" between the Centre and the Delhi Government.
 
 
 
He said Mr Kejriwal had also sought the cooperation of the Centre in granting full statehood for Delhi, a demand that AAP has been making for a long time and had been espoused by the BJP, too, in the past.
 
Mr Kejriwal also invited Mr Naidu to the swearing-in ceremony and discussed development plans for Delhi with him.
 
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Kejriwal calls on Mukherjee, who gifts him a copy of the Constitution

A day after scoring a stunning win in the elections to the Delhi Legislative Assembly, Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal called on President Pranab Mukherjee at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on Wednesday.
Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal meeting President Pranab Mukherjee at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on February 11, 2015
Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal meeting President Pranab Mukherjee at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on February 11, 2015
A day after scoring a stunning win in the elections to the Delhi Legislative Assembly, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal called on President Pranab Mukherjee at Rashtrapati Bhavan here today.
 
Mr Kejriwal, accompanied by senior AAP leader Manish Sisodia, also met Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Urban Development Minister M Venkaiah Naidu earlier in the day.
 
Mr Kejriwal will be sworn in as Chief Minister at the historic Ramlila Garden on February 14, exactly a year after he had quit from that position after just 49 days in office.
 
AAP won 67 of the 70 seats in the Delhi Assembly, with the other three seats going to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Congress and other parties drew a complete blank. Mr Kejriwal was unanimously elected as the leader of the AAP legislative party yesterday, following which he had met Lt Governor Najeeb Jung.
 
Mr Mukherjee congratulated Mr Kejriwal on his astounding victory and gifted him a copy of the Constitution of India and his own book, Thoughts and Reflections.
 
Mr Sisodia said it was a courtesy call and there was "no special agenda" for the meeting. He said they thanked Mr Mukherjee for his guidance and blessings.
 
Kejriwal pays courtesy call on Pranab MUkherjee
 
He said that they had invited Mr Singh to the swearing-in ceremony and also called for "constructive cooperation" between the Centre and the Delhi Government.
 
He said Mr Kejriwal had also sought the cooperation of the Centre in granting full statehood for Delhi, a demand that AAP has been making for a long time and had been espoused by the BJP, too, in the past.
 
Mr Kejriwal also invited Mr Naidu to the swearing-in ceremony and discussed development plans for Delhi with him.
 
"Met Venkaiah Naidu ji n Rajnath ji -the 2 most imp ministries for del govt. Invited them to oath ceremony," Mr Kejriwal said on micro-blogging site Twitter after the meetings.
 
"Explained to both of them that full statehood for Delhi was necessary to meet people's expectations.
 
"We want constructive n healthy relationship wid centre," he added.
 
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Home Secretary Anil Goswami sacked for interference in Saradha case, L C Goyal replaces him

Union Home Secretary Anil Goswami was on Wednesday evening removed from his position after he allegedly tried to stall the arrest of former Union Minister Matang Singh by the Central Bureau of Investigation in the multi-crore Saradha deposits scam a few days ago.
Anil Goswami
Anil Goswami
Union Home Secretary Anil Goswami was today removed from his position after he allegedly tried to stall the arrest of former Union Minister Matang Sinh by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the multi-crore Saradha deposits scam a few days ago.
 
Mr Goswami put in his papers after meetings with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and in the Prime Minister's Office, at which he was told in unequivocal terms that his position had become untenable, official sources said.
 
Rural Development Secretary L C Goyal, an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer of the 1979 batch (Kerala cadre), has been appointed as the new Home Secretary. 
 
A notification from the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) said late tonight that the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) had approved the acceptance of the request of Mr Goswami, an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer of the 1978 batch (Jammu & Kashmir cadre), for voluntarily retiring from service with immediate effect by waiving the notice period.
 
It said that, consequently, the term of Mr Goswami as Home Secretary stood curtailed with immediate effect.
 
The ACC also approved the appointment of Mr Goyal as the new Home Secretary for a period of two years from the date he assumes charge of his new assignment, the notification added.
 
Mr Goswami was appointed as Home Secretary by the previous government on April 26, 2013 and took over the position on June 30 that year after the retirement of Mr R K Singh. In between, he served as Officer on Special Duty in the Home Ministry from April 27, 2013 onwards.
 
Before that, he was Secretary, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment He had also served as Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs. In the normal course, his tenure would have ended on June 30 this year.
 
The allegation against Mr Goswami is that he had called up some officials in the CBI on Saturday in an effort to stall the arrest of Mr Sinh after receiving a call for help from him. The former Congress Minister, who was a Minister of State in the P V Narasimha Rao government, was arrested by the CBI in Kolkata last Saturday on charges of criminal conspiracy, cheating and misappropriation of funds.
 
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Obama says India will succeed only if it is not splintered along religious lines

United States President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that India would succeed so long as it was not splintered along the lines of religious faith, or any other lines, and was unified as one nation.
 
Obama talks about religious freedom, racism, intolerance
United States President Barack Obama today said India would succeed so long as it was not splintered along the lines of religious faith, or any other lines, and was unified as one nation.
 
"The peace we seek in the world begins in human hearts.  And it finds its glorious expression when we look beyond any differences in religion or tribe, and rejoice in the beauty of every soul," he told students and others at a town hall-style meeting at Siri Fort Auditorium here today.
 
It was Mr Obama's last engagement during a three-day visit to India before he and First Lady Michelle Obama left for Saudi Arabia on their way back home.
 
"And nowhere is that more important than India.  Nowhere is it going to be more necessary for that foundational value to be upheld," he said.
 
"And it’s when all Indians, whatever your faith, go to the movies and applaud actors like Shah Rukh Khan.  And when you celebrate athletes like Milkha Singh or Mary Kom.  And every Indian can take pride in the courage of a humanitarian who liberates boys and girls from forced labor and exploitation -- who is here today -- Kailash Satyarthi.  Our most recent winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace," he said.
 
"So that's what unifies us:  Do we act with compassion and empathy.  Are we measured by our efforts -- by what Dr. (Martin Luther) King called 'the content of our character' rather than the colour of our skin or the manner in which we worship our God. 
 
"In both our countries, in India and in America, our diversity is our strength.  And we have to guard against any efforts to divide ourselves along sectarian lines or any other lines.  And if we do that well, if America shows itself as an example of its diversity and yet the capacity to live together and work together in common effort, in common purpose; if India, as massive as it is, with so much diversity, so many differences is able to continually affirm its democracy, that is an example for every other country on Earth.  That's what makes us world leaders -- not just the size of our economy or the number of weapons we have, but our ability to show the way in how we work together, and how much respect we show each other," he said.
 
Mr Obama reiterated that the relationship between India and the US could be one of the defining partnerships of this century.
 
He recalled that when he had addressed the Indian Parliament on his last visit he had laid out his vision for how the two nations could built that partnership.
 
"And today, I want to speak directly to you -- the people of India -- about what I believe we can achieve together, and how we can do it," he said.
 
He spoke about Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., whose guiding light was Mahatma Gandhi. "And those two great souls are why we can gather here together today, Indians and Americans, equal and free," he said. He also spoke about Swami Vivekananda's visit more than a century ago to Chicago, his home town, where he spoke of his faith and the divinity in every soul, and the purity of love.
 
"My confidence in what our nations can achieve together is rooted in the values we share.  For we may have our different histories and speak different languages, but when we look at each other, we see a reflection of ourselves," he said.
 
"Having thrown off colonialism, we created constitutions that began with the same three words -- 'we the people'.  As societies that celebrate knowledge and innovation, we transformed ourselves into high-tech hubs of the global economy.  Together, we unlock new discoveries -- from the particles of creation to outer space -- two nations to have gone to both the Moon and to Mars.  And here in India, this dynamism has resulted in a stunning achievement.  You’ve lifted countless millions from poverty and built one of the world’s largest middle classes," he said.
 
He said nobody embodied this progress and this sense of possibility more than the young people of both countries, empowered by technology, connecting and collaborating like never before.
 
"And chances are, you’re talking to someone in America -- your friends, your cousins.  The United States has the largest Indian diaspora in the world, including some three million proud Indian-Americans.  And they make America stronger, and they tie us together -- bonds of family and friendship that allow us to share in each other’s success," he said.
 
"For all these reasons, India and the United States are not just natural partners.  I believe America can be India’s best partner.  I believe that," he said.
 
Mr Obama stressed that only Indians could decide their country's role in the world. "But I’m here because I’m absolutely convinced that both our peoples will have more jobs and opportunity, and our nations will be more secure, and the world will be a safer and a more just place when our two democracies -- the world’s largest democracy and the world’s oldest democracy -- stand together," he said.
 
"So here in New Delhi, Prime Minister Modi and I have begun this work anew.  And here’s what I think we can do together.  America wants to be your partner as you lift up the lives of the Indian people and provide greater opportunity.  So working together, we’re giving farmers new techniques and data -- from our satellites to their cell phones -- to increase yields and boost incomes.  We’re joining you in your effort to empower every Indian with a bank account," he said.
 
"And with the breakthroughs we achieved on this visit, we can finally move toward fully implementing our civil nuclear agreement, which will mean more reliable electricity for Indians and cleaner, non-carbon energy that helps fight climate change.   And I don’t have to describe for you what more electricity means.  Students being able to study at night; businesses being able to stay open longer and hire more workers; farmers being able to use mechanized tools that increase their productivity; whole communities seeing more prosperity.  In recent years, India has lifted more people out of poverty than any other country.  And now we have a historic opportunity with India leading the way to end the injustice of extreme poverty all around the world," he said.
 
Mr Obama said the US wanted to be India's partner as it protectd the health of its people and the beauty of this land, "from the backwaters of Kerala to the banks of Ganges".
 
"As we deliver more energy, more electricity, let’s do it with clean, renewable energy, like solar and wind.  And let’s put cleaner vehicles on the road and more filtration systems on farms and villages.  Because every child should be able to drink clean water, and every child should be able to breathe clean air.  We need our young people healthy for their futures.  And we can do it.  We have the technology to do it," he said.
 
"America wants to be your partner in igniting the next wave of Indian growth.  As India pursues more trade and investment, we want to be first in line.  We’re ready to join you in building new infrastructure -- the roads and the airports, the ports, the bullet trains to propel India into the future.  We’re ready to help design 'smart cities' that serve citizens better, and we want to develop more advanced technologies with India, as we do with our closest allies," he said.
 
Mr Obama said he believed the two countries could be even closer partners in ensuring their mutual security. "And both our nations have known the anguish of terrorism, and we stand united in the defense of our people.  And now we’re deepening our defense cooperation against new challenges.  The United States welcomes a greater role for India in the Asia Pacific, where the freedom of navigation must be upheld and disputes must be resolved peacefully.  And even as we acknowledge the world as it is, we must never stop working for the world as it should be -- a world without nuclear weapons.  That should be a goal for all of us," he said.
 
Mr Obama said that if the two countries were going to be true global partners, then they must do more around the world together. "So to ensure international security and peace, multilateral institutions created in the 20th century have to be updated for the 21st.  And that’s why I support a reformed United Nations Security Council that includes India as a permanent member," he said.
 
He said that with power came responsibility and pointed out that India could play a positive role in the region in helping countries forge a better future, from Myanmar to Sri Lanka.
 
"With your experience in elections, you can help other countries with theirs.  With your expertise in science and medicine, India can do more around the world to fight disease and develop new vaccines, and help us end the moral outrage of even a single child dying from a preventable disease.  Together, we can stand up against human trafficking and work to end the scourge of modern day slavery," he said.
 
Mr Obama said that being global partners meant confronting the urgent global challenge of climate change. 
 
"With rising seas, melting Himalayan glaciers, more unpredictable monsoons, cyclones getting stronger -- few countries will be more affected by a warmer planet than India.  And the United States recognizes our part in creating this problem, so we’re leading the global effort to combat it.  And today, I can say that America’s carbon pollution is near its lowest level in almost two decades," he said.
 
"I know the argument made by some that it’s unfair for countries like the United States to ask developing nations and emerging economies like India to reduce your dependence on the same fossil fuels that helped power our growth for more than a century.  But here’s the truth:  Even if countries like the United States curb our emissions, if countries that are growing rapidly like India -- with soaring energy needs -- don't also embrace cleaner fuels, then we don’t stand a chance against climate change," he said.
 
Mr Obama said the US welcomed India's ambitious targets for generating more clean energy and would continue to help it deal with the impacts of climate change, because it should not have to bear that burden alone.
 
"As we keep working for a strong global agreement on climate change, it's young people like you who have to speak up, so we can protect this planet for your generation.  I'll be gone when the worst effects happen.  It's your generation and your children that are going to be impacted.  That's why it's urgent that we begin this work right now," he told the young people in the audience.
 
"Development that lifts up the lives and health of our people.  Trade and economic partnerships that reduce poverty and create opportunity.  Leadership in the world that defends our security, and advances human dignity, and protects our planet -- that’s what I believe India and America can do together.  So with the rest of my time, I want to discuss how we can do it.  Because in big and diverse societies like ours, progress ultimately depends on something more basic, and that is how we see each other.  And we know from experience what makes nations strong," he said.
 
Mr Obama said countries and people were the strongest when they saw the inherent dignity in every human being.
 
"Look at our countries -- the incredible diversity even here in this hall.  India is defined by countless languages and dialects, and every color and caste and creed, gender and orientations.  And likewise, in America, we’re black and white, and Latino and Asian, and Indian-American, and Native American.  Your constitution begins with the pledge to uphold 'the dignity of the individual'. And our Declaration of Independence proclaims that 'all men are created equal', he said.
 
Mr Obama said his grandfather was a cook for the British army in Kenya and that the distant branches of his wife Michelle Obama's family tree included both slaves and slave owners.
 
"When we were born, people who looked like us still couldn’t vote in some parts of the country.  Even as America has blessed us with extraordinary opportunities, there were moments in my life where I’ve been treated differently because of the color of my skin. 
 
"Many countries, including the United States, grapple with questions of identity and inequality, and how we treat each other, people who are different than us, how we deal with diversity of beliefs and of faiths.  Right now, in crowded neighborhoods not far from here, a man is driving an auto-rickshaw, or washing somebody else’s clothes, or doing the hard work no one else will do.  And a woman is cleaning somebody else’s house.  And a young man is on a bicycle delivering lunch. A little girl is hauling a heavy bucket of water.  And I believe their dreams, their hopes, are just as important, just as beautiful, just as worthy as ours.  And so even as we live in a world of terrible inequality, we’re also proud to live in countries where even the grandson of a cook can become President, or even a Dalit can help write a constitution, and even a tea seller can become Prime Minister," he said.
 
"The point is, is that the aim of our work must be not to just have a few do well, but to have everybody have a chance, everybody who is willing to work for it have the ability to dream big and then reach those dreams. 
 
"Our nations are strongest when we uphold the equality of all our people -- and that includes our women," he said.
 
"In the United States, we’re still working to make sure that women and girls have all the opportunities they deserve, and that they’re treated equally," he said.
 
"And here in India, it’s the wives and the mothers who so often hold families and communities together.  Indian women have shown that they can succeed in every field -- including government, where many of your leaders are women.  And the young women who are here today are part of a new generation that is making your voice heard, and standing up and determined to play your part in India’s progress," he said.
 
"We know from experience that nations are more successful when their women are successful.  When girls go to school -- this is one of the most direct measures of whether a nation is going to develop effectively is how it treats its women.  When a girl goes to school, it doesn’t just open up her young mind, it benefits all of us -- because maybe someday she’ll start her own business, or invent a new technology, or cure a disease.  And when women are able to work, families are healthier, and communities are wealthier, and entire countries are more prosperous.  And when young women are educated, then their children are going to be well educated and have more opportunity. 
 
"So if nations really want to succeed in today’s global economy, they can’t simply ignore the talents of half their people.  And as husbands and fathers and brothers, we have to step up -- because every girl’s life matters.  Every daughter deserves the same chance as our sons.  Every woman should be able to go about her day -- to walk the streets or ride the bus -- and be safe, and be treated with respect and dignity. She deserves that," he said.
 
"And one of the favorite things about this trip for me has been to see all these incredible Indian women in the armed forces, including the person who commanded the Guard that greeted me when I arrived. It's remarkable, and it's a sign of great strength and great progress.
 
"Our nations are strongest when we see that we are all God’s children -- all equal in His eyes and worthy of His love.  Across our two great countries we have Hindus and Muslims, Christians and Sikhs, and Jews and Buddhists and Jains and so many faiths.  And we remember the wisdom of Gandhiji, who said, 'for me, the different religions are beautiful flowers from the same garden, or they are branches of the same majestic tree'," he said.
 
"Our freedom of religion is written into our founding documents.  It’s part of America’s very first amendment.  Your Article 25 says that all people are 'equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion'.  In both our countries -- in all countries
-- upholding this fundamental freedom is the responsibility of government, but it's also the responsibility of every person," he said.
 
Mr Obama spoke about his Christian faith and the times when his faith had been questioned, who said, among other things, that he adhered to a different religion, "as if that were somehow a bad thing".
 
"Around the world, we’ve seen intolerance and violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to be standing up for their faith, but, in fact, are betraying it.  No society is immune from the darkest impulses of man.  And too often religion has been used to tap into those darker impulses as opposed to the light of God.  Three years ago in our state of Wisconsin, back in the United States, a man went to a Sikh temple and, in a terrible act of violence, killed six innocent people -- Americans and Indians.  And in that moment of shared grief, our two countries reaffirmed a basic truth, as we must again today -- that every person has the right to practice their faith how they choose, or to practice no faith at all, and to do so free of persecution and fear and discrimination," he said.
 
Mr Obama went on to speak about the need to empower the youth becaue, utlimately, they were the ones who had to break down these old stereotypes, barriers and ways of thinking.
 
"Prejudices and stereotypes and assumptions -- those are what happens to old minds like mine.  I'm getting gray hair now.  I was more youthful when I first started this office.  And that’s why young people are so important in these efforts," he said.
 
"Sisters and brothers of India, we are not perfect countries. And we’ve known tragedy and we've known triumph.  We’re home to glittering skyscrapers, but also terrible poverty; and new wealth, but also rising inequality.  We have many challenges in front of us.  But the reason I stand here today, and am so optimistic about our future together, is that, despite our imperfections, our two nations possess the keys to progress in the century ahead.  We vote in free elections.  We work and we build and we innovate.  We lift up the least among us.  We reach for heights previous generations could not even imagine.  We respect human rights and human dignity, and it is recorded in our constitutions.   And we keep striving to live up to those ideals put to paper all those years ago.
 
"And we do these things because they make our lives better and safer and more prosperous.  But we also do them because our moral imaginations extend beyond the limits of our own lives.  And we believe that the circumstances of our birth need not dictate the arc of our lives.  We believe in the father working far from home sending money back so his family might have a better life.  We believe in the mother who goes without so that her children might have something more.  We believe in the laborer earning his daily wage, and the student pursuing her degree.  And we believe in a young boy who knows that if he just keeps studying, if he’s just given the chance, his hopes might be realized, too.
 
"We are all 'beautiful flowers from the same garden…branches of the same majestic tree'.  And I'm the first American President to come to your country twice, but I predict I will not be the last. Because, as Americans, we believe in the promise of India.  We believe in the people of India.  We are proud to be your friend.  We are proud to be your partner as you build the country of your dreams," he added.
 
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India, US decide to move towards commercial cooperation in civil nuclear energy

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday that, six years after they signed their bilateral civil nuclear agreement, India and the United States were moving towards commercial cooperation, consistent with Indian law, its international legal obligations and technical and commercial viability.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and United States President Barack Obama at a joint media interaction after their talks in New Delhi on January 25, 2015.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and United States President Barack Obama at a joint media interaction after their talks in New Delhi on January 25, 2015.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said that, six years after they signed their bilateral civil nuclear agreement, India and the United States were moving towards commercial cooperation, consistent with Indian law, its international legal obligations and technical and commercial viability.
 
At a joint media interaction with US President Barack Obama here after they held bilateral talks, both in the restricted format and at the delegation level, he said they had decided to give their critical partnership a new thrust and sustained attention.
 
For this, Mr Obama and Mr Modi agreed that India and the US must have regular summits at greater frequency. They also decided to establish hotlines between the Prime Minister of India and the US President as well as between their National Security Advisers.
 
"The civil nuclear agreement was the centrepiece of our transformed relationship, which demonstrated new trust. It also created new economic opportunities and expanded our option for clean energy," Mr Modi said.
 
"In the course of the past four months, we have worked with a sense of purpose to move it forward," he said.
 
Mr Modi said Mr Obama had also assured him of strong US efforts in support of India's full membership of the four international export control regimes at the earliest. 
 
He also said that the two countries had today decided to take their growing defence cooperation to a new level.
 
"We have agreed, in principle, to pursue co-development and co-production of specific advanced defence projects. These will help upgrade our domestic defence industry; and expand the manufacturing sector in India. We will also explore cooperation in other areas of advanced defence technologies. 
 
"We have renewed our Defence Framework Agreement. We will deepen our cooperation on maritime security," he said.
 
Noting that terrorism remained a principal global threat and was taking on a new character, even as existing challenges persisted, Mr Modi said he and Mr Obama had agreed that there was need for a comprehensive global strategy and approach to combat the evil.
 
"There should be no distinction between terrorist groups. Every country must fulfil its commitments to eliminate terrorist safe havens and bring terrorists to justice," he said.
 
Mr Modi said India and the United States would deepen their bilateral security cooperation against terrorist groups and further enhance their counter-terrorism capabilities, including in the area of technology. 
 
The two leaders agreed that a strong and growing economic relationship between the two countries was vital for the success of their strategic partnership.
 
"Economic growth in our two countries is becoming stronger. Our business climate is improving. This gives me great optimism about our economic ties. In addition, we have established a number of effective bilateral mechanisms to identify opportunities and also help our businesses trade and invest more," he said.
 
The Prime Minister said the two sides would also resume their dialogue on a  Bilateral Investment Treaty. They will also restart discussions on a Social Security Agreement that is important for the hundreds of thousands of Indian professionals working in the United States. 
 
Modi, Obama have "Chai pe Charcha" at Hyderabad House
 
"For President Obama and me, clean and renewable energy is a personal and national priority. We discussed our ambitious national efforts and goals to increase the use of clean and renewable energy. We also agreed to further enhance our excellent and innovative partnership in this area. I asked him to lead international efforts in making renewable energy more accessible and affordable to the world. President and I expressed hope for a successful Paris Conference on climate change this year," he said.
 
Mr Modi said India was honoured that Mr Obama had accepted its invitation to be the Chief Guest at its Republic Day celebratons tomorrow. "It is special because on this day we celebrate the values shared by the world's two largest democracies," he said.
 
He also noted that Mr Obama was the first US President to visit India twice in office and this reflected the transformation in the bilateral relationship as well as showed his deep personal commitment to the partnership.
 
"It tells us that our two nations are prepared to step forward firmly to accept the responsibility of this global partnership – for our two countries and for shaping the character of this century. The promise and potential of this relationship has never been in doubt. This is a natural global partnership. It has become even more relevant in the digital age. It is needed even more in our world of far-reaching changes and widespread turmoil," he said.
 
Mr Modi said the success of the partnership was important for their progress and for advancing peace, stability and prosperity around the world. 
 
"From the turn of this century, we have begun transforming our relationship. But, we have to convert a good start into lasting progress. This requires translating our vision into sustained action and concrete achievements," he said.
 
"In the last few months, I see new excitement and confidence in this relationship. I see renewed energy in our engagement. I thank you for your leadership and for setting the tone last September, when I visited White House," he said.
 
Mr Modi said the two countries would continue to deepen their collaboration in science, technology, innovation, agriculture, health, education and skills. These are central to the future of the two countries; and also give them an opportunity to help others around the world, he said.
 
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"Indeed, our strategic partnership will only be complete if we assume our responsibility to work together to promote development and connectivity in our vast region. President Obama and I agreed to pursue this goal with a sense of priority," he said.
 
Mr Modi said Mr Obama and he had an "excellent discussion" on global and regional issues. In particular, they renewed their commitment to deepen their coopeation to advance peace, stability and prosperity in Asia, Pacific and Indian Ocean Region, which is critical for the future of their two countres and the destiny of the world. They also agreed to work closely to help Afghanistan through its transition.
 
"Our relationship stands at a new level today. We have outlined a broad vision for our friendship and cooperation that reflects the opportunities and challenges of this century," he added.
 
 
Mr Obama said Mr Modi's election and strong personal commitment to the India-US relationship gave them an opportunity to further energize the efforts to enhance ties between the two countries.
 
He said the two sides had made substantive progress and that they had signed a new Declaration of Friendship that elevates and formalizes their partnership.
 
"And not only is it grounded in the values we share, but it commits us to more regular meetings at the leaders level, and sets up frequent consultations across our government," he said.
 
He said they had agreed that bilateral trade and economic partnerships must focus on improving the daily lives of their people.  
 
"Prime Minister Modi described for me his ambitious efforts to empower rural Indians with bank accounts, and to ensure clean water and clean air for the Indian people.  And we want to be partners in this effort," he said.
 
Mr Modi said that, in the last few years, bilateral trade had increased by some 60 per cent toward a record $ 100 billion. "We want to trade even more.  So we welcome the reforms that the Prime Minister is pursuing to make it easier to do business here in India," he said.
 
"Today, we achieved a breakthrough understanding on two issues that were holding up our ability to advance our civil nuclear cooperation, and we’re committed to moving towards full implementation.  And this is an important step that shows how we can work together to elevate our relationship.  We also, as the Prime Minister noted, agreed to resume discussions about a possible bilateral investment treaty.  And we will continue to pursue export reforms so that we can advance more high-tech collaborations with India," he said.
 
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He said the two sides had agreed to a number of important steps to promote clean energy and to confront climate change.  "We very much support India’s ambitious goal for solar energy, and stand ready to speed this expansion with additional financing.  We’re also launching new joint projects to improve air quality in Indian cities.  The United States will share more data and develop tools to help India assess and adapt to the impact of climate change and to help vulnerable communities become more resilient," he said.
 
"And going forward, we’ve agreed to work together to make concrete progress this year towards phasing out hydrofluorocarbons, under the Montreal Protocol, and the Prime Minister and I made a personal commitment to work together to pursue a strong global climate agreement in Paris.  As I indicated to him, I think India’s voice is very important on this issue.  Perhaps no country could potentially be more affected by the impacts of climate change, and no country is going to be more important in moving forward a strong agreement than India.  So we appreciate his leadership," he said.
 
Mr Obama said the two countries had agreed to deepen their defence and security cooperation. "We’ve renewed the framework that guides our defense cooperation for another 10 years.  And in a major step forward for our relationship, our Defense Technology and Trade Initiative will allow us to jointly develop and produce new defense technologies. We’ve also agreed to a new vision for the Asia Pacific so that we’re doing more together to advance our shared security and prosperity in this critical region," he said.
 
Mr Obama reiterated to the Indian people that the US supported a reformed UN Security Council that includes India as a permanent member. "At the same time, we see India playing a greater role in ensuring international security and peace and meeting shared challenges.  As a leading contributor to U.N. peacekeeping missions for many years, India can help the world do even more to protect citizens in conflict zones.  We welcome India’s leadership in combatting diseases and promoting global health that advances the rights and dignity of citizens around the world," he said.
 
"This new partnership will not happen overnight.  It’s going to take time to build and some patience.  But it’s clear from this visit that we have a new and perhaps unprecedented opportunity, and deepening our ties with India is going to remain a top foreign policy priority for my administration," he said.
 
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Obama embarks on India visit, to focus on climate change, trade, investment, security

United States President Barack Obama has embarked on a landmark three-day visit to India during which he wil be the chief guest at its Republic Day celebrations on Monday and hold talks with the Indian leadership on strengthening bilateral ties across the full breadth of the strategic partnership.
 
US President Barack Obama leaves for India
United States President Barack Obama has embarked on a landmark three-day visit to India during which he will be the chief guest at its Republic Day celebrations on Monday and hold talks with the Indian leadership on strengthening bilateral ties across the full breadth of the strategic partnership.
 
Mr Obama, accompanied by First Lady Michelle Obama, left by Air Force One, the presidential aircraft from the Andrews Air Force Base and is due to arrive in Delhi on Sunday morning after a refuelling halt at Ramstein in Germany.
 
Mr Obama's talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi are expected to focus on climate change, trade, investment, security and issues related to counterterrorism, Afghanistan, Iran and the Asia Pacific.
 
Briefing newspersons earlier this week about the visit, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said it was the culmination of a "qualitative invigoration" of bilteral ties following the meeting between Mr Modi and Mr Obama at the White House in Washington in September last year.
 
Soon after landing here, Mr Obama will be accorded a ceremonial reception at Rashtrapati Bhavan, following which he will visit Rajghat to pay homage to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi.
 
He will hold discussions with Mr Modi, both in the restricted format and at the delegation level, at Hyderabad House. Mr Modi will also host a lunch for Mr Obama and his delegation.
 
Mr Obama will meet President Pranab Mukherjee in Rashtrapati Bhavan in the evening. Mr Mukherjee will host a banquet for Mr Obama.
 
After attending the Republic Day Parade on Rajpath on January 26, Mr Obama will attend the "At Home" hosted by Mr Mukherjee at Rashtrapati Bhavan later in the day.
 
Mr Obama and Mr Modi will also address business events during the afternoon of that day.
 
On January 27, Mr Obama will address a select gathering before leaving for Saudi Arabia, having cancelled his plans to visit the Taj Mahal in Agra. He will now fly to Riyadh to offer his condolences on the passing away of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who died on Friday at the age of 90, and to meet King Salman.
 
Mr Obama will be the first US President to visit India twice in his tenure and also the first US President to be the Chief Guest at India's Republic Day celebrations.
 
Mr Akbaruddin said that, since the September 2014 meeting between Mr Obama and Mr Modi, the two sides had "acted with alacrity, collaborated in common pursuits, and have traversed a transformative path".
 
He said they had had nine Indo-US dialogue meetings since then and eight meetings relating to defence and security, covering areas such as cyber security, border management, counter IEDs, defence technology, trade initiatives, and global entry programme. 
 
Also, on the economic and commercial fronts, there have been three meetings on matters such as smart cities, financial regulations and so on. In the science and technology sphere there have been three meetings on subjects including vaccination programme and scientific research collaboration on monsoon, he said.
 
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He said that the two countries had, since September, sgned 10 MoUs in areas such as space, renewable energy, skill development and urban development.
 
"Looking ahead, India sees vast potential for growth in our relations. From our perspective, the United States is a key partner for capital, technology, knowledge, and skills in our development path. It is also a potentially important source of clean energy technology and hydrocarbons. It is an important partner in areas like defence technology and counterterrorism. It is an important factor in our space security and cyber security programmes," he said.
 
"The United States is India’s key interlocutor in adjustments to the global security and economic architecture including reforms of the United Nations Security Council. It is a partner in our quest for a rule-based, open international trading and economic order. And it is a partner in our efforts to seek peace and stability in our extended neighbourhood and globally. All these issues that I listed just now for you are likely to be the basis of our discussions during the bilateral meeting," he said.
 
"We see the visit of President Obama to India as strengthening our ties across the full breadth of our full spectrum relationship, ties between our governments, ties between our people, and ties between our institutions," he said.
 
On civil nuclear energy cooperation, Mr Akbaruddin said that negotiators from both sides were currently meeting in London to sort out various issues. This is the third meeting of the contact group set up by Mr Modi and Mr Obama in September, having met earlier in New Delhi and Vienna.
 
"As far as India is concerned, nuclear is an important component of our energy mix. It is a low carbon form of energy and, therefore, we see it as an extremely important ingredient in our energy mix. Therefore, we are engaged with the United States on discussing on this issue. I think all of you need to understand what are the issues that are being discussed. Nuclear issue is a rubric. Under that rubric what is being discussed in specific terms is administrative arrangements. You will understand that following the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement we also have to have administrative arrangements which will basically be the rules of the road of how we can work with each other administratively. So, what is being discussed, number one, are administrative arrangements. Number two, also you are aware that India and the United States have previously also agreed that the United States will support India’s quest for membership of the NSG. We are in discussions on that, how to actualise that," he said.
 
"And of course, there are issues relating to clarifications and understanding of our nuclear liability regime. Let me explain to you that what is being discussed is how within the four walls of our legal framework, our legislation, we can provide assurances to our partners in the United States of any concerns that they may have either through their vendors or their lawyers. That is the discussion that is right now taking place in London," he said.
 
"The talks are under way. There has been progress since we started. This is the third round of talks. So what we can say is that the talks are under way; there has been progress in the past; nuclear is an important component of our energy mix and we look forward to utilising the full potential of our nuclear establishment in using civil nuclear energy for our energy mix," he said.
 
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Earlier this week, US Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes, in a preview of the visit, told journalists via telephone from Washington that Mr Obama had, from the time he took office, made increasing US engagement with India a top foreign policy priority.
 
"I think that’s rooted in the belief we have that U.S. cooperation with India can significantly advance our interests in terms of promoting economic ties and increased exports to a growing market.  That’s based on our belief that our Asia Pacific policy benefits from closer ties with India, and it’s also based on our cooperation on broad ranges of global issues, which we can discuss in a bit here," he said.
 
Mr Rhodes said the trip was coming at a time when the US has a growing agendra with India. "And a lot of what the President wants to get done over the course of the next two years will benefit greatly from closer cooperation with India," he said.
 
Lising some of the areas where there is room for bilateral enhancements, he mentioned climate change and clean energy, trade and investment, security cooperation, defence and counterterrroism. He said there would be discussion on range of regional and gobal issues, including Afghanistan, Iran and the Asia Pacific, and civil nuclear cooperation.
 
So over the course of the three days, we believe this can be part of a continued transformation of the U.S.-India relationship, both in bringing about substantive outcomes that can advance our top foreign policy priorities, but also realizing the potential of the relationship that will do a lot to define the 21st century. 
 
Mr Phil Reiner, Senior Director for South Asia, National Security Council, said the visit was a "seminal moment" in the bilateral relationship and underlined that Mr Modi's invitation to Mr Obama for the Republic Day celebrations had set a different tone for the reinvigorated partnership.
 
Mr Rhodes said the US had always encouraged India and Pakistan to pursue a dialogue to resolve their bilateral issues and had been very suppportive of that process.
 
"I think terrorism is an issue that can unite people who have faced traditional divides, and we saw that in the aftermath of the horrific attack in Peshawar, where India was very quick to issue a statement of condolence and condemnation, and to reach out the Pakistani people," he said.
 
"But at the same time, we have a counterterrorism policy, as the President said, that extends from South Asia all the way to the Sahel.  And in the South Asian context, there’s really no other area where we’ve been more active from a counterterrorism standpoint since the day the President took office.  That was where the al Qaeda core was rooted, and we have made I think more progress against al Qaeda core than against any other terrorist organization since the President took office in removing a significant number of al Qaeda leaders from the battlefield, including Osama bin Laden," he said.
 
"We have a robust security cooperation in place with Pakistan, and we’ve seen the Pakistanis take some steps in recent months to go on the offensive against some of the militant groups that have threatened the Pakistani people and Pakistani government, including the Pakistani Taliban.  And again, these are groups that have a nexus to many different organizations that have threatened India, the United States and, again, importantly, the Pakistani people as well.
 
"So when you look at the network of extremist groups that operate in that part of the world, from al Qaeda to the Pakistani Taliban, to the Haqqani Network to LeT, we have significant counterterrorism cooperation with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India that has been a priority of this administration from day one," he said.
 
While in Delhi, Mr Obama will join Mr Modi on the fourth edition of his radio programme Mann Ki Baat to be broadcast on All India Radio on January 27.
 
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Delhi Assembly elections: Kejriwal calls for debate, Bedi sidesteps, Maken ready

AAP)leader Arvind Kejriwal on Tuesday challenged BJP) chief ministerial candidate Kiran Bedi to a debate on the main issues in the February 7 election to the Delhi Legislative Assembly but the former IPS officer sidestepped the dare while Congress leader Ajay Maken said he was prepared for a structured discussion.
 
Kejriwal dares Bedi to debate with him
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal today challenged Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief ministerial candidate Kiran Bedi to a debate on the main issues in the February 7 election to the Delhi Legislative Assembly but the former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer sidestepped the dare while Congress leader Ajay Maken said he was prepared for a structured discussion.
 
Ms Bedi told reporters that she was prepared for a debate with Mr Kejriwal, but on the floor of the Assembly if he is elected to the house. 
 
"I accept the challenge but I will do it only in the Delhi assembly. Right now, I am focusing on delivery, while debate is all he has been doing," she said.
 
Mr Kejriwal, a former Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer, threw the challenge while congratulating Ms Bedi this morning after she was named last last night as the party's chief ministerial candidate for Delhi by BJP President Amit Shah.
 
"I appeal to her...it will be a very good initiative for democracy if there is a debate between the two of us," he said. He said people often voted on the basis of religion and caste and had little understanding of the issues involved in an election.
 
"Such a debate would help people make an informed choice from amongst the candidates," Mr Kejriwal, who became Chief Minister after the December 4, 2013 elections and resigned after just 49 days in office, said.
 
"Ajay Maken, Kiran Bedi and I, all three should have a debate so that people can make an informed choice about selecting their chief minister," he said.
 
Mr Maken, who is leading the Congress campaign in the elections, said he was prepared for a structured debate on a mutually acceptable platform and with a mutually acceptable moderator. In fact, he said, there could be two or three such debates in the run-up to the elections.
 
Meanwhile, Mr Kejriwal organised a road show today on his way to the district magistrate's office to file his nomination papers, but the filing of papers had to be postponed because the show began late and the huge crowds and the resultant traffic jam meant that he missed the deadline.
 
Mr Kejriwal is now expected to file his nominations tomorrow, as are Ms Bedi and Mr Maken.
 
The BJP had won 31 seats in the 70-member Assembly in the 2013 elections. AAP won 28 seats and was able to form the government after it received suport from the outside from the Congress, which ended up with just eight seats after ruling Delhi for the previous 15 years.
 
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