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YSR, 4 others killed in chopper crash

Andhra Pradesh CMY S Rajasekhara Reddy and four others were killed when their helicopter crashed into a hill about 40 nautical miles east of Kurnool at the edge of the Nallamalla range Wednesday morning.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy and four others were killed when their helicopter crashed into a hill about 40 nautical miles east of Kurnool at the edge of the Nallamalla range yesterday morning, reports reaching here today said.

State Finance Minister K Rosaiah was appointed as the caretaker Chief Minister.

Search and rescue teams found the wreckage of the helicopter nearly 24 hours after the crash this morning.

Commandos who slithered down to the spot on the top of the Srisailam hill found the bodies of the Chief Minister and the four others who were on board the helicopter, including the pilot, the co-pilot, an official and a security official, the reports said.

According to the reports, the wreckage was found at a place located between Rudrakoderu and Rollapenta in Kurnool district, some ten km from Atmakur, where villagers had last seen the helicopter yesterday morning around 9.15 am.

The helicopter was found in a badly mangled and burnt state, the reports said. The bodies were retrieved from the site and will be taken to Hyderabad later today.

Earlier this morning, Indian Air Force helicopters managed to locate the wreckage of the chopper but confirmation about the deaths of those on board came more than two hours later after the commandos reached the spot.

Television pictures from the area showed hundreds of people, including security personnel, state ministers, media crews and others, making their way to the spot on the hill, crossing a canal.

The twin-engined Bell 430 helicopter, with Dr Reddy, 60, and the others on board had taken off from the old Begumpet airport in Hyderabad at about 8.38 am yesterday and was scheduled to land in Chitoor at 10.40 am. The trip was part of a month-long programme under which he planned to make on-the-spot inspections of implementation of various government schemes for the people.

Air traffic control lost radio contact with the helicopter around 9.13 am and after that there was no contact with it.

In Delhi, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said the helicopter, with call sign VT-APG, was under the command of Capt S K Bhatia. The co-pilot was Capt M S Reddy.

The other two on board were the Chief Minister's Principal Secretary P Subrahmanyam and his Chief Security Officer A S C John Wesley.

The Central and the State Government mounted an unprecedented search and rescue operation that went on till the evening, after which paramilitary and police personnel started a search effort on the ground that continued till late into the night.

The massive search and rescue operations saw the Central and the State Governments mobilising Indian Air Force Sukhoi 30 MKI aircraft, several helicopters and low-flying aircraft of the National Remote Sensing Agency.

Soon after news came in about the location of the aircraft, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram went to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi to brief them about the situation.

Later, Dr Singh and Ms Gandhi held a meeting with senior leaders such as the Congress President's Political Secretary Ahmed Patel, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Home Minister P Chidambaram and Defence Minister A K Antony.
File photo of a Bell 430
File photo of a Bell 430

Ms Gandhi is expected to reach Hyderabad later today, while Dr Singh is likely to go there tomorrow. Law and Justice Minister Veerappa Moily and Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Prithviraj Chavan are already in the Andhra Pradesh capital.

Andhra Pradesh Governor Narain Dutt Tiwari said he was shocked by the news of Dr Reddy's death and described it as one of the saddest moments of his long career.

Congress leader and former Union Minister Renuka Choudhury told television channels the news had come as a terrible shock not only for her but for lakhs of Congress workers in the state. "It is such an unfortunate incident," she said, describing Dr Reddy as a larger than life figure who had a style of his own.

Thousands of people had gathered near Dr Reddy's residence in Hyderabad from early this morning and many of them broke down after hearing of his death.

Congress spokesperson Jayanti Natarajan said the party would take a long time to get over the loss of Dr Reddy, who was very dynamic and had his finger on the pulse of the people. "It is tragic that he lost his life while engaged in the implementation of his government's schemes," she said.

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YSR's chopper traced, no news about fate of those on board

Search and rescue teams managed to locate the helicopter carrying the Andhra Pradesh CM and 4 others, that went missing Wednesday morning, on top of a thickly forested hill near Kurnool on Thursday morning.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy
Search and rescue teams managed to locate the helicopter carrying Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy and four others, that went missing yesterday morning, on top of a thickly forested hill near Kurnool in the state this morning.

An Air Force official told reporters that helicopters were hovering over the spot, about 40 nautical miles east of Kurnool, at the edge of the Nallamalla range, and were trying to find a place to land.

The official said the Air Force helicopters could not see much because of the thick foliage around the spot and more details would be available only when rescue teams reached the place on foot.

The official said it was not possible to say anything about those on board the helicopter and about how the chopper had landed in that area.

Search and rescue teams were headed for the spot where the helicopter was found, he said.

The twin-engined Bell 430 helicopter, with Mr Reddy, 60, and four others on board -- including the pilot, the co-pilot, an official and a security officer -- had taken off from the old Begumpet airport in Hyderabad at about 8.38 am yesterday and was scheduled to land in Chitoor at 10.40 am.
File photo of a Bell 430
File photo of a Bell 430

Air traffic control lost radio contact with the twin-engined Bell 430 AP helicopter around 9.13 am and after that there has been no contact with the Chief Minister and the officials accompanying him. Reports said air traffic control had not received any distress signal from the chopper.

In Delhi, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said the helicopter, with call sign VT-APG, was under the command of Capt S K Bhatia. The co-pilot was Capt M S Reddy.

The Central and the State Government mounted an unprecedented search and rescue operation that went on till the evening, after which paramilitary and police personnel started a search effort on the ground that continued till late into the night.

The massive search and rescue operations saw the Central and the State Governments mobilising Indian Air Force Sukhoi 30 MKI aircraft, several helicopters and low-flying aircraft of the National Remote Sensing Agency.

Soon after news came in about the location of the aircraft, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram went to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi to brief them about the situation.

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Chopper carrying YSR goes missing, search operations continue

A helicopter carrying Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy and four others went missing Wednesday morning, triggering an unprecedented search and rescue operation.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy
A helicopter carrying Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy and four others went missing this morning, triggering off an unprecedented search and rescue operation that yielded nothing till late in the night, raising concerns about the safety of those on board.

The massive search and rescue operations saw the Central and the State Governments mobilising Indian Air Force Sukhoi 30 MKI aircraft, several helicopters, low-flying aircraft of the National Remote Sensing Agency and images from American satellites.

As daylight faded, the aerial searches, except for the low flying aircraft, were stopped and were slated to resume at first light tomorrow.

Meanwhile, thousands of paramilitary and police personnel as well as dozens of Army and other commandos were headed for the thickly-forested Nallamalla hills, where it was raining heavily and visibility was low. The helicopter was said to have been last seen over that area in Kurnool district.

The area was at one time infested with Naxalites, but National Security Adviser M K Narayanan told television channels that they were the least of the government's worries.

The twin-engined Bell 430 helicopter, with Mr Reddy, 60, and four others on board -- including the pilot, the co-pilot, an official and a security officer -- took off from the old Begumpet airport in Hyderabad at about 8.38 am and was scheduled to land in Chitoor at 10.40 am.

Air traffic control lost radio contact with the twin-engined Bell 430 AP helicopter around 9.13 am and after that there has been no contact with the Chief Minister and the officials accompanying him. Reports said air traffic control had not received any distress signal from the chopper.

In Delhi, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said the helicopter, with call sign VT-APG, was under the command of Capt S K Bhatia. The co-pilot was Capt M S Reddy.

The DGCA said Capt Bhatia had been endorsed with the type Bell 430 in June 2007 and Capt Reddy in January this year. Capt Bhatia had flying experience of more than 5600 hours and Capt Reddy more than 3200 hours.

The DGCA statement said the helicopter had fuel for a maximum endurance of 2 hours and 45 minutes.

"After taking off at 0838 Hrs IST, it remained in contact up to 0913 Hrs IST with Hyderabad Radar at 168 degree, 79 NM from Hyderabad," it said.

The DGCA also clarified that the helicopter had a valid Certificate of Airworthiness, putting to rest speculation in this regard.

It said the helicopter had flown for 2812.20 hours in all and 325.10 hours since the Certificate of Airworthiness had been renewed.

The aircraft was fitted with an Emergency Locator Transmitter, a type of distress beacon used in aircraft, but other sources said no signals had been picked up.

The helicopter was to change over from Hyderabad to Chennai Air Traffic Control at 9.13 am but lost contact thereafter with both places.

The DGCA said search and rescue (SAR) operations were initiated by the SAR Centre in Chennai and the sub-centre in Hyderabad as soon as the helicopter was reported missing.

It said two helicopters took off from Hyderabad to Kurnool at 1315 hours at an altitude of 2000 feet. Both returned after flying for 40 nautical miles from Hyderabad because of bad weather en route.

One helicopter was sent from Krishnapatnam to Chitoor but it also returned from Tirupati due to bad weather.

Another helicopter was sent from Yelahanka, Bangalore, to Kurnool. Yet another was sent from Tirupati to Pakkala at 1612 hours. One more helicopter flew towards Kaddapa.

"So far no significant outcome has been achieved," the DGCA said, adding that a senior officer from the Directorate of Air Safety Mumbai and two senior officers from DGCA headquarters in Delhi have rushed to Hyderabad for coordination.
File photo of a Bell 430
File photo of a Bell 430

"A General Manager from Airport Authority of India (AAI), Chennai is in charge of co-ordination of Search and Rescue," the statement added.

The Chief Minister, who had led the Congress to an impressive victory in the recent Assembly elections to win a second term in office, was planning to visit the Rachabanda area today to meet people affected by the drought as part of a month-long tour programme to boost the confidence of the farmers.

"There is no good news yet. We are keeping our fingers crossed," Union Home Minister P Chidambaram told reporters before going to brief Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi about the situation. Mrs Gandhi is understood to have talked to the Chief Minister's wife and son over the telephone.

"Our prayers are with Mr Rajasekhara Reddy and his family," the Home Minister said.

He said the search for the missing chopper by several helicopters had been stopped for the day because of bad weather and fading light and that it would resume at dawn tomorrow.

Meanwhile, a large force of paramilitary and police personnel have been rushed to the densely forested area where the helicopter had been sighted in the air by villagers around 9.15 this morning and Mr Chidambaram said he had requested the Andhra Pradesh Government to try and begin the search operations on the ground in the night itself with whatever light that could be arranged.

Mr Chidambaram said a large contingent of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) was expected to reach the area soon.

"Let's hope for the best, let's pray for the best," he said.

During the day, there was a fair bit of confusion with some reports suggesting that the helicopter had landed in Kurnool district, but these turned out to be incorrect later.

Late this evening, State Finance Minister K Rosaiah and Chief Secretary Ramakanth Reddy told the media, at their second press conference during the day, that there was no information about the missing helicopter so far.

Mr Reddy said the State Government had received information that some villagers had seen the aircraft between 9.15 and 9.30 am while it was flying over Atmakoor in Kurnool district and appeared to be heading towards Prakasam district.

He said the State Government had requested the National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) to use its low-flying aircraft in the area to try and locate the helicopter. The aircraft could fly at altitudes of just 1250 metres and cover an area of 250 sq km, he said.

Mr Reddy said the Government was also in touch with the US authorities, through the Central Government, for high-resolution satellite images of the area where the helicopter was last sighted. These satellites could provide real-time images, he said.

The Chief Secretary said the assistance of the Army had also been sought in the ground search operations.

Mr Rosaiah said President Pratibha Patil, who is currently in Moscow, had enquired about the Chief Minister, as had Vice-President Mohammad Hamid Ansari, the Prime Minister, several Central Ministers and Governors and Chief Ministers of different states.

Meanwhile, the Congress party is understood to have asked Union Law and Justice Minister Veerappa Moily to rush to Hyderabad. Mr Prithviraj Chavan, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office, is also heading for the Andhra Pradesh capital, sources said.

The Chief Secretary said earlier in the day that seven helicopters from the Indian Air Force bases in Hyderabad and Bangalore and the State Government as well as a civilian chopper were deployed in the search operations.

He said the State Government was also in touch with the Prime Minister's Office and the office of the Congress President in Delhi.

Some of the helicopters had to return to base because of inclement weather in the densely forested area where the Chief Minister's chopper had gone missing. As daylight started fading, the search operations acquired a sense of urgency.

The State Government appealed to people in the Kurnool and adjoining districts to help the authorities in the search operations and report to the nearest police station if they found any information.

"It is possible that because of the strong winds and heavy rains, it is possible it may have landed in some unfamiliar area. If you land in an unfamiliar forest area, getting out will be very difficult," the official said.

In Delhi, Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari told newspersons that the party was in touch with the State Government as well as the party's state unit.

"It is an evolving situation and they are doing everything they can to see a successful resolution of the crisis," he added.

He said Ms Gandhi was concerned about the missing helicopter and was seized of the situation.

Mr Narayanan said the delay in locating the helicopter was not a good sign, but he pointed out that there were instances, especially in the North-East, where people involved in such mishaps were found days later safe and sound.

To a specific query, Mr Narayanan said it was extremely improbable that the chopper had been brought down by Naxalites, stressing that they did not have such capabilities.

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Chopper carrying YSR goes missing, search continues till late night

A helicopter carrying Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy and four others went missing Wednesday morning and day-long search operations failed to yield any information, raising concerns about his safety.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy
A helicopter carrying Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy and four others went missing this morning and day-long search operations failed to yield any information, raising concerns about his safety.

The helicopter, with Mr Reddy, 60, and four others on board -- including the pilot, the co-pilot, an official and a security officer -- took off from the old Begumpet airport in Hyderabad at about 8.30 am and was scheduled to land in Chitoor at 10.40 am.

Air traffic control lost radio contact with the twin-engined Bell 430 AP helicopter around 9.35 am and after that there has been no contact with the Chief Minister and the officials accompanying him. Reports said air traffic control had not received any distress signal from the chopper.

The Chief Minister, who had led the Congress to an impressive victory in the recent Assembly elections to win a second term in office, was planning to visit the Rachabanda area today to meet people affected by the drought as part of a month-long tour programme to boost the confidence of the farmers.

According to various reports, his helicopter was over the thickly-forested Nallamalla hills, where it was raining heavily and visibility was low, when it went missing. The forests are infested with Naxalites.

"There is no good news yet. We are keeping our fingers crossed," Union Home Minister P Chidambaram told reporters before going to brief Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi about the situation. Mrs Gandhi is understood to have talked to the Chief Minister's wife over the telephone.

"Our prayers are with Mr Rajasekhara Reddy and his family," the Home Minister said.

He said the search for the missing chopper by several helicopters had been stopped for the day because of bad weather and fading light and that it would resume at first light tomorrow.

Meanwhile, a large force of paramilitary and police personnel have been rushed to the densely forested area where the helicopter had been sighted in the air by villagers around 9.15 this morning and Mr Chidambaram said he had requested the Andhra Pradesh Government to try and begin the search operations on the ground in the night itself with whatever light that could be arranged.

Mr Chidambaram said a large contingent of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) was expected to reach the area soon.

"Let's hope for the best, let's pray for the best," he said.

During the day, there was a fair bit of confusion with some reports suggesting that the helicopter had landed in Kurnool district, but these turned out to be incorrect later.

Late this evening, State Finance Minister K Rosaiah and Chief Secretary Ramakanth Reddy told the media, at their second press conference during the day, that there was no information about the missing helicopter so far.

Mr Reddy said the State Government had received information that some villagers had seen the aircraft between 9.15 and 9.30 am while it was flying over Atmakoor in Kurnool district and appeared to be heading towards Prakasam district.

He said the State Government had requested the National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) to use its low-flying aircraft in the area to try and locate the helicopter. The aircraft could fly at altitudes of just 1250 metres and cover an area of 250 sq km, he said.

Mr Reddy said the Government was also in touch with the US authorities, through the Central Government, for high-resolution satellite images of the area where the helicopter was last sighted. These satellites could provide real-time images, he said.

The Chief Secretary said the assistance of the Army had also been sought in the ground search operations.

He said President Pratibha Patil, who is currently in Moscow, had enquired about the Chief Minister, as had Vice-President Mohammad Hamid Ansari, the Prime Minister, several Central Ministers and Governors and Chief Ministers of different states.

Meanwhile, the Congress party is understood to have asked Union Law and Justice Minister Veerappa Moily to rush to Hyderabad. Mr Prithviraj Chavan, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office, is also heading for the Andhra Pradesh capital, sources said.

The Chief Secretary said earlier in the day that seven helicopters from the Indian Air Force bases in Hyderabad and Bangalore and the State Government as well as a civilian chopper were deployed in the search operations.

He said the State Government was also in touch with the Prime Minister's Office and the office of the Congress President in Delhi.
File photo of a Bell 430
File photo of a Bell 430

Some of the helicopters had to return to base because of inclement weather in the densely forested area where the Chief Minister's chopper had gone missing. As daylight started fading, the search operations acquired a sense of urgency.

The State Government appealed to people in the Kurnool and adjoining districts to help the authorities in the search operations and report to the nearest police station if they found any information.

"It is possible that because of the strong winds and heavy rains, it is possible it may have landed in some unfamiliar area. If you land in an unfamiliar forest area, getting out will be very difficult," the official said.

In Delhi, Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari told newspersons that the party was in touch with the State Government as well as the party's state unit.

"It is an evolving situation and they are doing everything they can to see a successful resolution of the crisis," he added.

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Chopper carrying YSR goes missing, search on

A helicopter carrying Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy went missing Wednesday morning and, as search operations continued till late this evening, there were concerns raised about his safety.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy
A helicopter carrying Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy went missing this morning and, as search operations continued till late this evening, there were concerns raised about his safety.

The helicopter, with Mr Reddy, 60, and four others on board, took off from the old Begumpet airport in Hyderabad at about 8.30 am and was scheduled to land in Chitoor at 10.40 am.

Air traffic control lost radio contact with the chopper around 9.35 am and after that there has been no contact with the Chief Minister and the officials accompanying him.

During the day, there was a fair bit of confusion with some reports suggesting that the helicopter had landed in Kurnool district, but these turned out to be incorrect later.

State Finance Minister K Rosaiah told a press conference that no contact had been made yet with the Chief Minister's helicopter. He said search and rescue operations were still on and that the State Government was in touch with the Central authorities.

A State Government official said the Union Home and Defence Ministries had been alerted about the crisis. He said seven helicopters, including Indian Air Force helicopters from Hyderabad and Bangalore, state government helicopters and a civilian chopper had been deployed for the search operations.

He said the State Government was also in touch with the Prime Minister's Office and the office of Congress President Sonia Gandhi in Delhi.

Some of the helicopters had to return to base because of inclement weather in the densely forested area where the Chief Minister's chopper had gone missing.

There was a sense of urgency to the search efforts because dusk was fast approaching.

The State Government appealed to people in the Kurnool and adjoining districts to help the authorities in the search operations and report to the nearest police station if they found any information.

"It is possible that because of the strong winds and heavy rains, it is possible it may have landed in some unfamiliar area. If you land in an unfamiliar forest area, getting out will be very difficult," the official said.

In Delhi, Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari told newspersons that the party was in touch with the State Government as well as the party's state unit.

"It is an evolving sitution and they are doing everything they can to see a successful resolution of the crisis," he added.

The Chief Minister was planning to visit the Rachabanda area today meet people affected by the drought as part of a month-long tour programme to boost the confidence of the farmers.

According to some reports, his helicopter was over the thickly-forested Nallamalla hills, where it was raining heavily and visibility was low, when it went missing. The forests are infested with Naxalites.

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PM chairs meeting of Full Planning Commission

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chaired a meeting of the Full Planning Commission here today, the first since the UPA Government began its second five-year term in May.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives to preside over the Full Planning Commission meeting. Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee and Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde are also seen.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives to preside over the Full Planning Commission meeting. Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee and Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde are also seen.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chaired a meeting of the Full Planning Commission here today, the first since the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government began its second five-year term in May.

The meeting has two subjects on the agenda---an assessment of the economic situation in the country and a review of the status of implementation of the Integrated Energy Policy.

Dr Singh, in his opening remarks, said an assessment of the economic situation was relevant, not only because the Government was at the start of its second term but also because the country was at exactly the mid-point of the XIth Five Year Plan (2007-12).

"We have been through a difficult year because of the global economic downturn which is only now coming to an end with a slow return to normalcy in the months that lie ahead. The country has also seen a poor monsoon. I felt it would be useful for the Planning Commission to present its assessment of the overall economic situation to the Minister Members of the Commission," he said.

The Prime Minister said energy was vital for the country's economic growth and this was the area where India was a deficit economy.

He said India imported more than 70 per cent of its petroleum energy needs and was also moving to a deficit position in coal.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressing the Full Planning Commission meeting.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressing the Full Planning Commission meeting.

According to him, rational energy policies are also critical for rational responses to the threat of climate change.

"This is a new compulsion and we need to assess whether we are on track in critical aspects of our energy policy. In our situation each energy sub-sector is the domain of a different Ministry. This has often meant a non-symmetric policy stance – the principles being adopted to determine policy in one sector are not the same as in another.

"The Integrated Energy Policy document that was approved by the Cabinet in December 2008 contained a number of recommendations covering different sub-sectors. I thought it would be useful for the Planning Commission to present an assessment of how these recommendations have been implemented," he said.

Apart from Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia and other full-time Members, the meeting was also attended by, among others, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Home Minister P Chidambaram, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal, New and Renewable Energy Minister Farooq Abdullah, Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee and Dr C Rangarajan, Chairman of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council.

The full-time Members of the Commission are B K Chaturvedi, Saumitra Chaudhuri, Syeda Hameed, Narendra Jadhav, Abhijit Sen, K Kasturirangan, Arun Maira and Mihir Shah.

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Elections to Maharashtra, Haryana, Arunachal assemblies on Oct 13

The Election Commission announced on Monday that elections would be held on October 13 to elect new Legislative Assemblies in Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh.

File photo of voters standing in queue for their turn in an earlier election.
File photo of voters standing in queue for their turn in an earlier election.
The Election Commission today announced that elections would be held on October 13 to elect new Legislative Assemblies in Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh.

The notification for the elections will be issued on September 18 and the last date for filing nominations will be September 25. The nominations will be scrutinised the next day and the last day of withdrawal of candidatures is September 29.

Counting of votes in all three states will be taken up on October 22 and all the results are expected by that evening.

A press release issued by the Election Commission said that it had drawn up the schedule after taking into account all relevant aspects such as the climatic conditions, academic schedules, festivals, prevailing law and order situation in the states, availability of Central Police Forces, time needed for movement and proper deployment of forces, and assessment of other ground realities.

"The Commission after considering all relevant aspects has decided to recommend to the Governors of Arunachal Pradesh, Maharashtra and Haryana to issue notifications for the General Elections to the Legislative Assemblies of the respective States under the relevant provisions of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 as per the schedule given above," it said.

The terms of the Legislative Assemblies of Arunachal Pradesh and Maharashtra are due to expire on October 24 and November 3, respectively. The Legislative Assembly of Haryana has been dissolved by the Governor of Haryana on the recommendation of the Chief Minister on August 21.

Under the law, the new Legislative Assemblies have to be constituted within six months of the expiry of their term or within six months of premature dissolution.

There are 60 seats in the Arunachal assembly of which 59 are reserved for Scheduled Tribes. There are 288 seats in the Maharashtra assembly, of which 29 are reserved for Scheduled Castes and 25 for Scheduled Tribes. The Haryana assembly has 90 seats, of which 17 are reserved for Scheduled Tribes.

According to the release, the elections in Maharashtra and Haryana will be conducted on the basis of the electoral rolls revised with reference to January 1, 2009 as the qualifying date prepared in accordance with constituencies newly delimited by the Delimitation Commission and as per the earlier constituencies in Arunachal Pradesh.

As per the final rolls, there are 7,50,575 electors in Arunachal Pradesh, 1,20,63,257 (approximately) in Haryana and 7,56,34,525 electors in Maharashtra.

Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) will be used in all the polling booths in the three states, the release added.

There are 2,061 polling stations in Arunachal Pradesh, 12,894 in Haryana and 82,028 in Maharashtra. For the facility of physically challenged persons, instructions have been issued to ensure that all polling stations as far as practicable, are located at ground floor and ramps are provided. Facilitation shall also be provided for locating elector’s name against a polling station or a group of polling stations through help lines and facilitation centers.

Based on the assessment of the ground situation, Central Police Forces (CPF) and State Armed Police (SAP) drawn from other States will be deployed during the elections in the three states.

The CPF and SAP will be used generally for safeguarding the polling stations and for providing security to the electors and polling personnel at the polling stations on the poll day. Besides, these forces will also be used for securing the strong rooms where the EVMs are stored and for securing the counting centers. Wherever needed, the CPF will be deployed in advance for area domination and other election related duties. The identification of polling stations requiring static coverage by CPF in various assembly constituencies will be made by district election machinery in consultation with the observers of the Election Commission.

The Commission said it would deploy observers in adequate number to ensure the smooth conduct of the polls. In addition, micro-observers will be deployed to observe the poll proceedings in the polling station on the poll day in selected and critical polling stations.

The release said the Model Code of Conduct has come into immediate effect in all the three states with today's announcement. It will be applicable to all candidates, political parties, the State Governments concerned and the Union Government.

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Chandrayaan-I loses radio contact

ISRO said on Saturday it had abruptly lost radio contact with Chandrayaan-I, its lunar orbiter at 0130 hours (IST), signalling the end of India's first moon mission.

Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft on top of PSLV-C11 fourth stage with Payload fairing partially covering it.
Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft on top of PSLV-C11 fourth stage with Payload fairing partially covering it.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) today said it had abruptly lost radio contact with Chandrayaan-I, its lunar orbiter, at 0130 hours (IST) this morning, signalling the end of India's first moon mission.

An ISRO press release said the Deep Space Network at Byalalu near here received data from the spacecraft, during its previous orbit, upto 0025 hours.

"Detailed review of the telemetry data received from the spacecraft is in progress and health of the spacecraft subsystems is being analysed," it said.

Chandrayaan-I was launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota, on October 22 last year.

The spacecraft has completed 312 days in orbit, making more than 3400 orbits around the moon and providing large volume of data from sophisticated sensors like terrain mapping camera, hyper-spectral imager, moon mineralogy mapper and so on, meeting most of the scientific objectives of the mission, the release added.

Photo courtesy: ISRO

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Krishna: Dialogue with Pakistan only if it honours pledges on fighting terror

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna made it clear on Monday that a meaningful dialogue with Pakistan was possible only if it fulfilled its commitments not to allow its territory to be used for terrorist activities against India.

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna inaugurates the HoMs conference in Delhi.
External Affairs Minister S M Krishna inaugurates the HoMs conference in Delhi.
External Affairs Minister S M Krishna today made it clear that a meaningful dialogue with Pakistan was possible only if it fulfilled its commitments not to allow its territory to be used for terrorist activities against India.

Inaugurating the second Conference of Heads of Indian Missions abroad here this morning, Mr Krishna said that Pakistan must honour the pledges made by it in this regard.

"With Pakistan we have maintained that a stable Pakistan at peace with itself and the region is a desirable goal. We wish to address our differences with Pakistan through dialogue," he said.

"On several occasions we have conveyed to the Pakistani leadership our desire to engage in meaningful discussions and to develop our bilateral relations in a positive manner," he pointed out.

He said that, following the November 26, 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai, Pakistan had taken some steps under the pressure of evidence presented to it.

"However, we are still to see Pakistan take effective steps to end infiltration and dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism," he said.

On India's relations with China, Mr Krishna said there was space for both countries to grow and meet their aspirations.

He said China was now India's largest trading partner and there was congruence in their views on many global issues. "But there are outstanding bilateral issues that should be resolved peacefully through dialogue," he said.

The five-day conference is expected to provide the Government an opportunity to give directions to the Ambassadors on major foreign policy objectives.

A similar conference was held in December last year, when it was decided to make this an annual event.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma and Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi are among those who will address the conference.

National Security Adviser M K Narayanan, Member of Parliament Kapila Vatsayan and other senior ministers and officials will also address the Heads of Missions (HOMs).

The HOMs will also have an interaction with Vice-President M Hamid Ansari, who, incidentally, is himself a former Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officer.

The various sessions during the conference will cover, inter alia, the global financial crisis, the Indian economy and climate change.

A new feature of this year's HOMs Conference will be the interactive sessions with some special topical themes. This will enable the Heads of Missions to provide the government with their own experiences gained during the last one year of implementing foreign policy in different countries and regions.

The Conference is being held just four months after the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government began its second five-year term in May.

Mr Krishna told the Ambassadors that development, inclusive economic growth and alleviation of poverty had to be the country's foremost strategic goals.

"The main purpose of our foreign policy is to assist in the fulfillment of these goals by providing an enabling external environment which ensures our security, promotes trade, nurtures our key bilateral relationships, safeguards our national interest and enhances our influence in the world. We should never forget that the aspirations of India’s people are the bedrock of India’s foreign policy," he stressed.

He said there were many challenges before the country and ways had to be found to manage, contain and eliminate them.

"There is the challenge of terrorism, and of ensuring that our neighbourhood is stable and peaceful and that our surrounding environment is conducive to the pursuit of our national goal of comprehensive socio-economic development," he said.

The Minister said India was committed to close and good neighbourly relations with all the countries in the Indian sub-continent, with whom it shared a special affinity and common destiny.

He pointed out that Bhutan was the first country he visited on assuming charge as Foreign Minister "and for good reason."

He said India had strongly supported Nepal’s transition to a democratic polity. "We recognize that the new government faces serious challenges in achieving stability and have been encouraging all political parties to cooperate with the new government in working towards early conclusion of the peace process on the basis of widest possible consensus," he said.

According to him, the conclusion of the military operations culminating in the defeat of LTTE in Sri Lanka provides it an opportunity for a future free from terrorism and conflict.

"We have been providing humanitarian assistance to Sri Lanka and hope that the internally-displaced persons (IDPs) would be rehabilitated soon. We look forward to the Sri Lankan Government bringing about a lasting political settlement that meets the political aspirations of all communities through effective devolution of power," he said.

Mr Krishna said an encouraging development in the neighbourhood had been the return of Bangladesh to multi-party democratic politics.

He said India had stood firm behind the Government of Afghanistan's efforts to stabilise the country. "This is natural given our age-old ties, our responsibility to a friendly country in our region and given our national security interest in a stable, independent and peaceful Afghanistan which will remain a priority," he remarked.

He said India had recently signed a Free Trade Agreement with the 10-member Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), describing it as another milestone in the country's "Look East" policy.

He noted that India's ties with Japan had entered a new phase in the last few years and said that significant elements of political, economic and security cooperation were behind added to the relationship.

He also said that a new South-South partnership was being built in the India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) framework.

Mr Krishna said India's time-tested relations with Russia were being given a contemporary definition in areas such as nuclear energy, space and defence.

With the United States, he said the two countries were going to build on the positive momentum of the last few years.

"Our new dialogue architecture would reflect the increasingly global character of our bilateral dialogue. India’s established capabilities in high technology and our unimpeachable record of using these technologies in a responsible and transparent manner are creating opportunities for upgrading our access to high technology from the major powers," he said.

On the Doha Round of trade negotiations, he stressed that timely and successful conclusion of the round on the basis of its development mandate was even more important today, particularly in the backdrop of the global economic and financial crisis to restore confidence in the global economy and markets as well as to guard against emerging protectionist tendencies and to protect the livelihoods of the poor and marginalised, particularly in the rural areas.

Mr Krishna said the economic work of Indian missions abroad was increasing in importance as its engagement with the world had deepened and its global trade had grown substantially in recent years.

"In fact with many countries bilateral, economic and commercial relations have become the driving force for more intensive engagement and for many other relationships, are providing anchor for more stable relations. Our 'soft power' is a tremendous asset to promote India’s visibility and influence in the global arena today.

"This is manifest in the outreach afforded to us across the world by our culture, cinema, technology, diaspora and other important elements of our soft power. We need to develop our capabilities to utilize this asset to the fullest extent," he added.

Earlier, welcoming the 112 Heads of Mission, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao spoke of the role, the agenda and the challenges confronting Indian diplomats.

She said that the Indian diplomat today needed to introspect on how his or her practice of the art of diplomacy and the tools used for it, must adapt, or change, in response to the challenges in the world and the decentralization of the international landscape.

She said that the context in which Indian diplomats work today was defined not only by the external dimensions of India’s foreign policy but the country’s domestic needs and aspirations. She stressed the need for future-oriented strategies when it comes to addressing such issues as personnel strength and interaction with academic and research institutions as part of a "retooling" process.

Ms Rao dwelt on aspects like training, capacity-building, greater use of technology, inter-agency cooperation, security, media relations, effective communications, Indian community and consular matters,

During the interactive session that followed, HOMs made a number of suggestions on strengthening communication and exchanges between the Missions and the Ministry.

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Jaswant says he did not realise BJP could be so "narrow-minded"

Former External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, who was sacked by the BJP last week for his views on Jinnah and Sardar Patel, said on Sunday there was a degree of "simplemindedness" in his expulsion.

File photo of Jaswant Singh
File photo of Jaswant Singh
Former External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, who was sacked by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) last week for his views on Pakistan founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah and India's first Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, today said there was a degree of "simplemindedness" in his expulsion.

"There is a degree of simplemindedness in my expulsion because distinction has to be made between the late Mohammed Ali Jinnah's personal attributes as a human being and his politics," Mr Singh told journalist Karan Thapar on the Devil's Advocate programme on CNN-IBN.

"The first, which is the personal attributes are admirable. His equations with human beings of all communities were a real example even then. His politics were abhorable, particularly after 1940," he said.

He also said that he did not realise that the party, with which he was associated for three decades, would be so "small-minded" and "narrow-minded".

Mr Singh's views on Jinnah and Sardar Patel, contained in his political biography of the founder of Pakistan published on August 17, as well as the remarks he made in a similar interview to Thapar last week, got him into trouble with his party. He was seen as having eulogised Jinnah and denigrated Patel in his book and subsequent comments.

Among other things, Mr Singh said Jinnah was a "great man" and a "nationalist" who was misunderstood and demonised by Indians.

"Why should truth be provocative? Why should attempting to find what actually happened when Partition took place," he asked.

Mr Singh said that in personal expression, in finding out the trth about India's partition, no political party can lay down red lines. "We are not living in Stalinist Russia. We are living in India where the tradition of shastrarth is foremost even in Sanatan thought," he said.

Asked if he really believed that he could afford, in his personal capacity, to hold views and write opinions of Jinnah and Sardar Patel which the party itself does not endorse and whether he expected the party would not act against him, he said, "I did certainly."

"I didn't think my party is so narrow minded, so limited or so nervous about Jinnah and/or Patel as to get so riled by what I have written. I have a feeling which I voiced also that perhaps my former colleagues hadn't really read the book when they passed the sentence on me," he said.

At the same time, he maintained he had not been naive when he wrote the book. "These are the views that I hold. I reiterate and I have not stated an untruth. On the contrary, the party should be worried if untruth becomes the core of the party," he said.

Mr Singh stressed he had not denigrated Sardar Patel in the book. "I have not denigrated an icon, I have simply pointed out the facts of history. Late Sardar Patel had the secretary in V P Menon. V P Menon was his advisor as well as Lord Mountbatten's advisor, the plan for partition was sold to Patel by V P Menon. It's a fact of history. Jawaharlal Nehru, in the month of March 1947 asks Patel, it’s an transfer or power, 'please help me with the Congress working committee'".

Asked why, when he was writing a political biography of Jinnah, he had ignored the fact that Jinnah knew of, approved of and probably authorised the Tribal Pathan invasion of Kashmir, which led to the October 1947 war, Mr Singh said he had not overlooked it, but the book had ended with Partition and Jinnah's death.

"I know but that's a separate subject. Of course, he had authorised it. I have also pointed out the great killing of Calcutta in vivid detail. I don't overlook any of the mistakes of his public life," he said.

He said going into this subject would have required altogether a different and a separate book. "Already it was running into 900 pages. The book had to be cut down. There are limits to it," he said.

"It's a decision that an author has to make and a decision that is governed by many factors," he explained.

He said he had no qualms about leaving out this particular part. "I have no qualms at all, as a former soldier I say this because that is an inquiry that goes very deep and to not just Jinnah ordering the launching but the conduct of the entire operations by Indian leaders too," he said.

Asked what he thought was the difference between what he had said about Jinnah and what Leader of the Opposition L K Advani had said about the founder of Pakistan in 2005, Mr Singh said, "One expression is by Lalji Advani and the other is by Jaswant Singh."

He said the only other difference was some phraseology. "Hadn't this question best be asked to Advaniji," he asked.

Asked if he thought there were double standards at work, Mr Singh said he was now outside of the periphery of the BJP's radar screen. But he said he wished the party had not used the word "expelled" and that they had better choices of phrases to use. He said the "expulsion" had hurt him.

He also felt the expulsion could have been handled more gracefully, with the leaders personally coming to him and telling him about it. "He hasn't even telephoned but that doesn't matter, now it's too late," he said.

Mr Singh said that when BJP President Rajnath Singh had telephoned him to tell him about his expulsion, when they were both in Shimla, he had asked if the party leaders had read the book. According to him, Mr Rajnath Singh said some of the leaders had read the book and were very angry.

Pointing out that less than 36 hours had passed since the book was released, Mr Singh said, "I believe and apprehended that it was without really reading it."

"It's quite a feat in speedreading if you read almost 700 pages. I don't believe that my prose is fiction. It is not easy. It requires attention. It would be a remarkable feat," he remarked.

He, however, said he did not question Mr Rajnath Singh on this because it was undignified and not in his make-up. "I laughed," he remarked.

"I laughed ruefully and I did tell him with some pain, I believe, I rather really wish bhai Rajnath Singhji, Advaniji aur aap personally bula kar baat kar lete (I rather Advaniji and you could have called me personally for a talk)," he said.

"He kept quiet, and said, 'phir baat karenge' (we will talk about it) and put the telephone down...But woh mauka phir baat karne ka aaj tak nahi aya? (but that promise of calling up again hasn't taken place till today?)....Woh mauka kaahaan se aayega, woh sadak toh chali gayi (where will the time come from? It's already too late)," he said.

Asked if he had lost respect for people like Mr Rajnath Singh and Mr Advani, Mr Singh said, "I don't want to answer that question. It is highly personalised comment. May God give them whatever they are looking for."

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8 more H1N1 deaths, 159 new cases reported in India

Eight more deaths due to swine flu have been reported in India since yesterday, taking the toll in the country so far to 36, an official statement said on Thursday. As many as 159 new cases have also been reported from different cities.

File photo of patients in Pune waiting at a local hospital to get tested for influenza A (H1N1).
File photo of patients in Pune waiting at a local hospital to get tested for influenza A (H1N1).
Eight more deaths due to swine flu have been reported in India since yesterday, taking the toll due to the influenza A (H1N1) virus in the country so far to 36, an official statement said here today.

Delhi has reported its first two deaths, while four more patients have succumbed to the flu in Bangalore and two more in Pune, it said.

Maharashtra now accounts for 21 of the deaths caused by the flu--15 of them in Pune, the city worst-affected in India by the pandemic. Mumbai and Nasik have reported 3 deaths each.

Bangalore has reported 9 deaths, Delhi 2 and Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Chennai and Thiruvananthapuram 1 each.

Meanwhile, as many as 159 new cases of the flu were reported today, 103 in Maharashtra. These include 66 in Pune, 18 in Mumbai, 6 in Aurangabad, 4 in Dhule, 3 in Nashik, 2 in Osmanabad, and 1 each in Washim, Solapur, Beed and Parbhani.

A central team is stationed in Maharashtra to assist the State Government in instituting appropriate public health measures.
Bangalore has reported 13 fresh cases, Chennai 12, Delhi 11, Udaipur, Visakhapatnam and Davangere 3 each, Hubli 2, and Idukki, Thiruvananthapuram, Ernakulam, Gadag, Chengalpattu, Noida, Bareily, Rohtak and Raipur 1 each.

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

With these, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus reported in India has risen to 2401.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) had declared H1N1 as a phase 6 pandemic in mid-June. According to the latest WHO update, as many as 1,82,166 cases of the flu have been reported worldwide, with 1799 deaths.

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BJP sacks Jaswant Singh for views on Jinnah

The BJP on Wednesday expelled former External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh from the primary membership of the party for his views on Pakistan founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

File photo of Jaswant Singh
File photo of Jaswant Singh
The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) today expelled former External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh from the primary membership of the party for his views on Pakistan founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

The views were expressed by Mr Jaswant Singh in his book, "Jinnah--India, Partition, Independence" which was released here on Monday.

The decision to sack Mr Jaswant Singh from the party was taken by the BJP Parliamentary Board this morning in Shimla, where the party's leaders have gathered for a three-day "Chintan Baithak" (brainstorming session) to take stock of the post-election scenario and work out a plan of action for the future.

BJP President Rajnath Singh, who had issued a statement yesterday completely dissociating the party from the contents of Mr Singh's book, told reporters in Shimla that he had put the matter before the Parliamentary Board today.

He said the Parliamentary Board had decided to expel Mr Singh from the primary membership of the party.

"Mr Jaswant Singh is, therefore, not a member or office-bearer of the party as of today," Mr Rajnath Singh said.

In his statement yesterday, Mr Rajnath Singh had said that the biography of Jinnah authored by Mr Jaswant Singh did not represent the views of the party.

"The important role of M.A. Jinnah in the division of India, which led to a lot of dislocation and destabilisation of millions of people, is too well-known. We cannot wish away this painful part of our history.

"Sardar Patel played a historic role in the unification and consolidation of India amidst serious threats to its unity and integrity. The entire country remains indebted and proud of the profound vision, courage and leadership of Sardar Patel," he had said in his statement.

Ironically, Mr Jaswant Singh had been invited to attend the three-day conclave. But sources said Mr Rajnath Singh had rung up Mr Jawant Singh yesterday, asking him not to attend the meeting, but the latter had by then already reached Shimla.

No BJP leader was present at the function in the capital on Monday to release Mr Jaswant Singh's book.

Ahead of the release, Mr Jaswant Singh had, in an interview to a television channel on Sunday, described Jinnah as a "great man" and a "nationalist" who was misunderstood and demonised by Indians because of the partition of the country in 1947.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reacting to his expulsion, Mr Jaswant Singh, 71, told journalists in Shimla that he was saddened by the decision and the fact that his 30 years of his political life with the BJP had ended this way suddenly.

He recalled that he had been among the first lot of members of the party and had served it to the best of his ability and with dedication. He said the fact that he had been expelled on the grounds of writing a book saddened him immensely more.

He said he could understand if the contents of his book had been disputed. "But the day you start questioning thought, questioning reading, writing, publishing, you are entering a very, very dark alley," he remarked.

Mr Jaswant Singh said it would have been better if he had been told about the party's decision in Delhi itself instead of being informed it after he had arrived in Shimla for the "chintan baithak".

He also said there should not be selectivity in the party in dealing with dissent and discussion. He said there were many members of the party who were upset about such things.

Mr Jaswant Singh also expressed sadness over the fact that Mr Rajnath Singh had informed him of the decision over the telephone and not in person. He said he would have appreciated it if Leader of the Opposition Lal Krishna Advani and Mr Rajnath Singh had shown him the courtesy of informing him of the decision in person.

The former minister, who was elected to the Lok Sabha from Darjeeling in West Bengal in the recent elections, however, made it clear that he would not appeal against the decision and that he would continue in public life.

In 2005, Mr Advani had caused similar consternation within BJP ranks when he had described Jinnah as "secular" during a trip to Pakistan. It led to him stepping down as president of the party but since then Mr Advani has managed to again acquire a pre-eminent position in the organisation.

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Related Stories

PM calls for state-level action plans on climate change

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday urged all state governments to create their own state-level action plans on climate change consistent with the strategies in the National Action Plan.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaking at the inauguration of the National Conference of Ministers of Environment and Forests from States and UTs.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaking at the inauguration of the National Conference of Ministers of Environment and Forests from States and UTs.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today urged all state governments to create their own state-level action plans on climate change consistent with the strategies in the National Action Plan and stressed the need for much broader consultations with the states on this issue.

"I seek your cooperation in making a success of the eight National Missions and other initiatives that are the key components of our National Action Plan on climate change," he told the National Conference of Ministers of Environment and Forests here this morning.

"Climate change is today a major global challenge. The world is seriously concerned about it. So are we. There should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that we fully recognize not just how important this issue is to our country’s future but also our own obligation to address it.

"We are conscious of our responsibilities to both the present and the future generations and we seek to enhance the ecological sustainability of our development path, he said.

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

Apart from Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh, the conference is being attended by ministers of environment and forests from all the states, senior officials of the Centre and the state governments, chairmen of the Central and State Pollution Control Boards, Principal Chief Conservators of Forests of the states, Chief Wildlife Wardens, Members of the Planning Commission and representatives of non-governmental organisations.

Dr Singh said the multiple environmental crises that confronted India had created in many ways an alarming situation.

"Climate change is threatening our fragile ecosystems. We are staring at the prospect of an impending drought. Water scarcity is becoming a way of life. Pollution is a growing threat to our health and to our habitats," he said.

He said the first task was to educate people not just on the impact of the crisis but also to encourage deeper reflection on what this obliges everyone to do.

"There are fundamental choices that we have to make about our lifestyles; about how we wish to produce and consume, the things we ought to do and the things we ought not to do. I sincerely believe that the greatest challenge facing humankind today is the challenge of arriving at a new equilibrium between man and nature," he remarked.

The Prime Minister said the challenges were not insurmountable and pointed out that India was blessed with nature's bounty and its people had a deep cultural sensitivity to the environment.

He said then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had set up the Ministry of Environment at the Centre, initiated Project Tiger in 1972, and was instrumental in the enactment of the Wildlife Protection Act and the Forest Conservation Act.

"These monumental measures were ahead of their times. It is this far-sightedness, commitment and concern for our natural heritage that we need to invoke as we deal with the challenges that confront us now," he said.

Dr Singh said there was a pressing need to modernise the existing forest and wildlife management system in the country. He said the forest departments had to be modernised with improved resources, communication and improved training of personnel.

He expressed concern at the large number of positions of frontline personnel lying vacant in many states in this sector and urged the state ministers to redress this situation on a priority basis.

He said it was also critical to ensure that local communities benefited from conservation so that they could be increasingly involved in the conservation efforts.

"Our tribals are our environmental foot soldiers. They have guarded our forests and evolved a sophisticated way of living in harmony with nature over the centuries. Their wisdom and their experience should be utilised to preserve our forests, to nurse them rather than making them orphans of the environment," he said.

The Prime Minister said the Tribal Rights Act was an opportunity to guarantee the legitimate rights of forest dwellers and to bring them in the frontline of the environment movement for regeneration.

Stressing that the Green India campaign was a major initiative that will have many spin-off benefits, he said the Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) needed to be quickly operationalised by constituting state-level authorities.

The Prime Minister said it was a matter of concern that the degradation of the country's rivers had not been reversed yet.

"We have decided to adopt a different and more holistic approach taking the river and not the city as the unit of planning as we have done until now. The essence of this approach is not just to focus on river pollution but more comprehensively on catchment area treatment, protection of flood plains, ensuring ecological flows and restoration of the river ecosystem," he said.

He said the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) had been established as an empowered body under the Environment Protection Act, 1986. He hoped that this model would be adopted for other major rivers in the country based on the experience gained from the Ganga project.

He said the Centre had substantially increased the allocation for river conservation programme in this year’s budget, including a special provision of Rs.250 crores for the river Ganga.

"It is vital that institutional structures are set up by all States for synergizing the river conservation efforts at the national and state levels. States should explore mobilizing additional resources for river cleaning through innovative models like Special Purpose Vehicles. I would also request State Governments to effectively enforce legal provisions through State Pollution Control Boards to curtail the discharge of untreated industrial effluents that account for nearly 25% of the total pollution load in our river systems," he said.

Dr Singh drew the attention of the meeting to the view that environmental clearances had become a new form of Licence Raj and a source of corruption.

"This is a matter that needs to be addressed head-on. There are trade-offs that have to be made while balancing developmental and environmental concerns. But the procedures must be fair, transparent and hassle free. Decisions must be taken within a specified time," he emphasised.

"I am told that some times there are discrepancies in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Reports. The September, 2006 Notification of the Ministry of Environment and Forests is a major attempt to rationalize the system of giving mandatory environmental clearance. I hope that we can improve the system further in the light of the experience gained," he said.

Dr Singh urged all the states which had not yet established State EIA Authorities to do so at the very earliest, pointing out that effective coordination between the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests and the state ministry was vital for building a credible and efficient system of assessment and clearance.

He said the recent introduction of the National Green Tribunal Bill in Parliament was a positive step forward, which would strengthen environmental adjudication and settlement of disputes. He suggested the setting up of a National Environment Protection Authority supported by regional Environment Protection Authorities.

The Prime Minister said that, in dealing with the challenge of climate change and environmental degradation, the country faced the burden of past mistakes not of its making. But he pointed out that it also had the opportunity to repeat those past mistakes.

"Our growth strategy can be and should be innovative and different. It must be different. We are still at early stages of industrialization and urbanization. Our energy needs will increase sharply in the decades to come. We can and we must walk a different road, an environment friendly road," he said.

"For this we need access to new technologies that are already available with the developed countries. We must also make our own investments in new environment-friendly technologies. We need to strengthen the scientific foundations of our environment policies and strengthen our capacity to deal with the challenges that lie ahead. We must involve more stakeholders particularly our youth to lead the movement for environmental protection and regeneration," he added.

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Four more swine flu deaths in India, toll goes up to 21

Four more persons died of swine flu in India on Thursday---three of them in Pune and one in Bangalore, taking the number of deaths caused by the H1N1 virus in the country so far to 21

File photo of patients in Pune waiting at a local hospital to get tested for influenza A (H1N1).
File photo of patients in Pune waiting at a local hospital to get tested for influenza A (H1N1).
Four more persons died of swine flu in India today---three of them in Pune and one in Bangalore, taking the number of deaths caused by the H1N1 virus in the country so far to 21.

A 26-year-old school teacher became the first victim of the flu in Bangalore while an 11-month-old infant and two women, aged 37 and 75, died after testing positive for the virus in Pune, the city worst hit in India by the pandemic.

The situation arising out of the spread of the virus was discussed in detail at a meeting of the Union Cabinet here today, during which Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad made a presentation on the steps being taken to cope with the pandemic.

Sources said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stressed the need to maintain confidence among the people and not to create a panic.

Mr Azad told reporters after the meeting that the Government was taking all possible steps to handle the situation. He said places in government and private hospitals were being created to admit more patients, if necessary, and private laboratories were being short-listed for testing for the flu.

Meanwhile, as many as 90 new cases of the virus were reported from different cities, including 43 from Pune, 18 from Mumbai, 16 from Delhi, 9 from Bangalore, 2 from Kolhapur and 1 each from Mangalore and Gurgaon. Most of the cases are indigenous in nature with no history of travel abroad. With these, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus reported from India so far has gone up to 1283, an official statement said.

Maharashtra now accounts for  16 of the deaths so far, including 13 in Pune, 2 in Mumbai and 1 in Nasik. Ahmedabad and Vadodara in Gujarat, Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala and Chennai in Tamil Nadu accounted for one death each.

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

The World Health Organisation (WHO) had on June 11 declared the influenza A (H1N1) virus as a phase 6 pandemic.
 
According to the latest update from WHO, as on August 6, as many as 1,77,457 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza A (H1N1) were reported from 168 countries, with a total of 1462 deaths.

Schools and colleges in Mumbai will be closed for a week and cinemas will be shut down for three days as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of the flu. Similar measures are being put in place in some other cities also.
 
The "dahi handi" celebrations on the occasion of Janmashtami, at which thousands of people gather every year, will also be scaled down this year, officials said.

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Six more swine flu deaths in India, toll rises to 17

Six more persons died of swine flu in India on Wednesday, five in Pune and one in Nasik, taking the number of deaths caused by the H1N1 virus in the country so far to 17.

File photo of patients in Pune waiting at a local hospital to get tested for influenza A (H1N1).
File photo of patients in Pune waiting at a local hospital to get tested for influenza A (H1N1).
Six more persons died of swine flu in India today---five in Pune and one in Nasik, taking the number of deaths caused by the H1N1 virus in the country so far to 17.

An official statement said the five patients who died in Pune, the city worst-hit in India by the pandemic, included three men aged 35, 41 and 40 and two women aged 29 and 50. In Nasik, also in Maharashtra, a 27-year-old male doctor, who had tested positive for the virus, died today of complications, it said.

A 33-year-old man from Thiruvananthapuram, who had travelled to Andaman and Nicobar Islands via Chennai, was admitted to the Kerala Institute of Medical Sciences in the state capital and died yesterday. In Pune, a 25-year-old man, who was admitted to hospital on August 6, died yesterday of complications, it said.

Meanwhile, as many as 115 new cases of influenza A (H1N1) were reported from different parts of the country today, including 61 from Pune, 24 from Mumbai, 10 from Bangalore, 8 from Delhi, 4 from Ahmedabad, 3 each from Hyderabad and Kolkata, and one each in Shillong and Goa.

With these, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus reported in India so far has risen to 1193. Of them, 589 have already been discharged while the rest are undergoing treatment in various hospitals.

All the new cases in Pune, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Goa, Delhi, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad today are indigenous in nature, with the patients having no history of travel abroad.

With the latest deaths, the flu has claimed 14 lives in Maharashtra---ten in Pune, two in Mumbai and one in Nasik. Chennai, Thiruvananthapuram, Ahmedabad and Vadodara accounted for one death each.

Schools and colleges in Mumbai will be closed for a week and cinemas will be shut down for three days as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of the flu. Similar measures are being put in place in some other cities also.

The "dahi handi" celebrations on the occasion of Janmashtami, at which thousands of people gather every year, will also be scaled down this year, officials said.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) had on June 11 declared the influenza A (H1N1) virus as a phase 6 pandemic.

According to the latest update from WHO, as on July 31, as many as 1,62,380 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza A (H1N1) were reported from 168 countries around the world, with a total of 1154 deaths.

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H1N1 toll in India rises to 15

Five more people have died of swine flu since last night, taking the number of people who have succumbed to the H1N1 virus in the country to 15.

File photo of patients in Pune waiting at a local hospital to get tested for influenza A (H1N1).
File photo of patients in Pune waiting at a local hospital to get tested for influenza A (H1N1).
Five more people have died of swine flu since last night, taking the number of people who have succumbed to the H1N1 virus in the country to 15.

In Kerala, a 33-year-old man died yesterday at a private hospital in Thiruvananthapuram after testing positive for the virus.

In Pune, three persons, a 29-year-old woman, a 33-year-old Balu Kulund and a six-year-old girl, have died since last night.

In Nashik, a 38-year-old doctor died of the virus at the civil hospital in the town, sources said.

With these, the flu has claimed 11 lives in Maharashtra---eight in Pune, two in Mumbai and one in Thane. Chennai, Thiruvananthapuram, Ahmedabad and Vadodara accounted for one death each.

Schools and colleges in Mumbai will be closed for a week and cinemas will be shut down for three days as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of the flu.

The "dahi handi" celebrations on the occasion of Janmashtami, at which thousands of people gather every year, will also be scaled down this year, officials said.

Meanwhile, as many as 119 new cases of the flu were reported from India today, including 62 from Pune, 24 from Mumbai and 15 from Delhi.

There were four new cases in Bangalore, three in Nagpur, two each in Manipal, Hyderabad and Thiruvananthapuram and one each in Ahmedabad, Osmanabad, Nasik, Goa and Jammu.

With these, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus reported in India has gone up to 1078, the statement said.

Of the 62 cases in Pune, only one had a history of travel to Saudi Arabia. The rest were all indigenous cases. Similarly, only two of the 24 cases in Mumbai had travelled abroad. In Delhi, only one of the 15 cases had travelled from Manila; the rest were all indigenous cases.

The statement said the cases in Nagpur, Osmanabad and Nasik in Maharashtra, Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Mangalore also had no travel history.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) had on June 11 declared the influenza A (H1N1) virus as a phase 6 pandemic.

According to the latest update from WHO, as on July 31, as many as 1,62,380 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza A (H1N1) were reported from 168 countries around the world, with a total of 1154 deaths.

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H1N1 toll in India rises to 10 with three more deaths

Three persons---a 13-year-old girl in Pune, a 7-year-old girl in Vadodara and a 63-year-old woman in Thane---died Tuesday after testing positive for swine flu, taking the number of deaths caused by the virus in the country to ten.

File photo of patients in Pune waiting at a local hospital to get tested for influenza A (H1N1).
File photo of patients in Pune waiting at a local hospital to get tested for influenza A (H1N1).
Three persons---a 13-year-old girl in Pune, a 7-year-old girl in Vadodara and a 63-year-old woman in Thane---died today after testing positive for influenza A (H1N1), taking the number of deaths caused by the virus in the country so far to ten.

Shruti Gawade, a student of the Ahilyadevi school in Pune, had been kept on a ventilator since August 8 when she was brought to the Sassoon Hospital there in a critical condition after being referred to it by a private hospital, which had been treating her for breathlessness, cough and fever for a week. At the time of admission, she was hypoxic and tested positive for H1N1. Her condition worsened on August 9 and she died of complications early this morning, a statement said.

The girl in Vadodara, identified as Arya Borde, succumbed to swine flu in the Sir Sayajirao General (SSG) Hospital this afternoon. She was admitted to the hospital last Wednesday and had tested positive for the virus. She had been on ventilator support since August 7.

The woman in Thane district of Maharashtra, identified as Sayeeda Dorjeewala from Mumbra, was said to be suffering from diabetes and systemic heart disease. She was admitted to a local hospital on August 6 with complaints of breathlessness, chest pain and abdominal pain. On August 9 she tested positive for H1N1 and her condition deteriorated yesterday.

Maharashtra now accounts for seven of the ten deaths due to the virus in India, with Pune alone accounting for five.

With one person dying in Ahmedabad earlier, Gujarat now accounts for two of the deaths. One four-yar-old boy had succumbed to the virus in Chennai yesterday.

Doctors at the Sassoon Hospital in Pune, the city worst-hit by the pandemic in the country, said today that nine patients were currently being treated for the virus in its intensive care unit (ICU), of whom six were on ventilator and four were in a "very critical condition." A Central team is stationed in the city to assess the situation and institute appropriate public health measures.

Meanwhile, as many as 119 new cases of the flu were reported from India today, including 62 from Pune, 24 from Mumbai and 15 from Delhi.

There were four new cases in Bangalore, three in Nagpur, two each in Manipal, Hyderabad and Thiruvananthapuram and one each in Ahmedabad, Osmanabad, Nasik, Goa and Jammu.

With these, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus reported in India has gone up to 1078, the statement said.

Of the 62 cases in Pune, only one had a history of travel to Saudi Arabia. The rest were all indigenous cases. Similarly, only two of the 24 cases in Mumbai had travelled abroad. In Delhi, only one of the 15 cases had travelled from Manila; the rest were all indigenous cases.

The statement said the cases in Nagpur, Osmanabad and Nasik in Maharashtra, Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Mangalore also had no travel history.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) had on June 11 declared the influenza A (H1N1) virus as a phase 6 pandemic.

According to the latest update from WHO, as on July 31, as many as 1,62,380 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza A (H1N1) were reported from 168 countries around the world, with a total of 1154 deaths.

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13-year-old girl dies in Pune, H1N1 toll in India rises to 8

Shruti Gawade, a 13-year-old girl in Pune, died early Tuesday morning of swine flu, becoming the eighth victim of the influenza A (H1N1) virus in India.

File photo of patients in Pune waiting at a local hospital to get tested for influenza A (H1N1).
File photo of patients in Pune waiting at a local hospital to get tested for influenza A (H1N1).
Shruti Gawade, a 13-year-old girl in Pune, died early this morning of swine flu, becoming the eighth victim of the influenza A (H1N1) virus in India.

The girl, a student of the Ahilyadevi school in Pune, had been kept on a ventilator since August 7 when she was brought to the Sassoon Hospital there in a critical condition after being referred to it by a private hospital.

Doctors at the hospital said nine patients were currently being treated for the virus in its intensive care unit (ICU), of whom six were on ventilator and four were in a "very critical condition."

Pune has been the city worst-hit by the pandemic in India, accounting for five of the eight deaths so far in the country. A Central team is stationed in the city to assess the situation and institute appropriate public health measures.

One death each has occurred in Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Chennai in the last few days.

Meanwhile, as many as 95 fresh cases of H1N1 have been reported yesterday from different cities in India, including 47 from Pune alone and 22 from Mumbai and six in Panchgani, also in Maharashtra.

Fourteen cases were reported from Delhi and one each from Noida, Gurgaon, Ajmer and Mangalore.

With these, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases reported so far in India has risen to 959. As many as 563 of them have already been discharged from hospitals after treatment.

The statement said all the 47 cases in Pune were indigenous in nature while only one out of the 22 new cases in Mumbai had travelled recently to Austria. The six cases in Panchgani in Satara district are schoolmates of previously reported cases.

In Delhi, ten of the 14 cases were indigenous. Of the remaining four, two had travelled to the United States and two to Singapore. The case in Noida is a close contact of a previously reported positive case, while the latest case in Gurgaon has no travel history. In Ajmer, the new case is a person who had travelled recently to Dubai. In Mangalore, two of the three cases are indigenous in nature while one of them had travelled to the United Kingdom.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had talked to Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad on Sunday and urged him to step up the efforts to check the spread of the virus.

He also said that there was need to create better awareness about the virus and prevent the spread of misinformation.

He said the state governments should be asked to create more isolation wards in hospitals and train more doctors and paramedical staff to deal with the flu.

Mr Azad held a review meeting with senior officials yesterday, including Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrasekhar, following which he announced several measures to step up the efforts to tackle the virus.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) had on June 11 declared the influenza A (H1N1) virus as a phase 6 pandemic.

According to the latest update from WHO, as on July 31, as many as 1,62,380 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza A (H1N1) were reported from 168 countries around the world, with a total of 1154 deaths

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H1N1 toll rises to 7 with 2 deaths in Pune, 1 in Chennai

Three more persons--two men in their 30s in Pune and a 4-year-old boy in Chennai---died of swine flu on Monday, taking the number of deaths caused by the virus in India to seven.

File photo of patients in Pune waiting at a local hospital to get tested for influenza A (H1N1).
File photo of patients in Pune waiting at a local hospital to get tested for influenza A (H1N1).
Three more persons--two men in their 30s in Pune and a four-year-old boy in Chennai---died of swine flu today, taking the number of deaths caused by the virus in the country so far to seven.

In Pune, an Ayurvedic doctor, identified as Babasahed Mane, 35 died this morning in the Sassoon Hospital.

Later tonight, a chemist, Sanjay Tilekar, also 35, succumbed to the virus at the same hospital.

With these, Pune, the city worst hit by the pandemic, now accounts for four of the seven deaths so far due to the virus in the country.

An official statement here said Mane was admitted to the Inlaks Budhrani Hospital in Pune on August 6 with a history of having fever, sore throat and body ache for the previous seven days. As his condition did not improve, he was shifted to the Sassoon Hospital the next day and was put on ventilator in the intensive care unit (ICU). His condition deteriorated and he passed away this morning, it said.

The Chennai boy, Sanjay, had been admitted to a local hospital in the Perungudi area on August 5 with complaints of fever and loose motions for the previous two days.

The next day his condition became critical due to multi-organ failure. On August 8, he was tested for H1N1 and was found to be positive. He was put on oseltamivir, but his condition worsened and he died this morning, the statement said. Officials said the boy was asthmatic and had been suffering from other problems, including kidney and liver-related complications. This was the first death due to the virus in Chennai.

A 14-year-old girl had died in Pune on August 3, the first patient to have succumbed to the virus in India.

A 42-year-old non-resident Indian on a visit home had died of the flu in Ahmedabad yesterday and a woman had succumbed to the virus in Mumbai on Saturday.

Meanwhile, as many as 95 fresh cases of H1N1 have been reported from different cities in India, including 47 from Pune alone and 22 from Mumbai and six in Panchgani, also in Maharashtra.

Fourteen cases were reported from Delhi and one each from Noida, Gurgaon, Ajmer and Mangalore.

With these, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases reported so far in India has risen to 959. As many as 563 of them have already been discharged from hospitals after treatment.

The statement said all the 47 cases in Pune were indigenous in nature while only one out of the 22 new cases in Mumbai had travelled recently to Austria. The six cases in Panchgani in Satara district are schoolmates of previously reported cases.

In Delhi, ten of the 14 cases were indigenous. Of the remaining four, two had travelled to the United States and two to Singapore. The case in Noida is a close contact of a previously reported positive case, while the latest case in Gurgaon has no travel history. In Ajmer, the new case is a person who had travelled recently to Dubai. In Mangalore, two of the three cases are indigenous in nature while one of them had travelled to the United Kingdom.

In Pune, five other cases are still admitted in Pune's Sassoon Hospital, of which the condition of two was said to be critical. A Central team is stationed in the city to assess the situation and institute appropriate public health measures.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had talked to Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad yesterday and urged him to step up the efforts to check the spread of the virus.

He also said that there was need to create better awareness about the virus and prevent the spread of misinformation.

He said the state governments should be asked to create more isolation wards in hospitals and train more doctors and paramedical staff to deal with the flu.

Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad held a review meeting with senior officials today, including Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrasekhar, following which he announced several measures to step up the efforts to tackle the virus.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) had on June 11 declared the influenza A (H1N1) virus as a phase 6 pandemic.

According to the latest update from WHO, as on July 31, as many as 1,62,380 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza A (H1N1) were reported from 168 countries around the world, with a total of 1154 deaths

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Influenza A (H1N1) toll rises to 6 with deaths in Pune, Chennai

Two more persons---a 35-year-old Ayurvedic doctor in Pune and a 4-year-old boy in Chennai---died of swine flu on Monday, taking the number of deaths caused by the virus in India so far to 6.

File photo of patients in Pune waiting at a local hospital to get tested for influenza A (H1N1).
File photo of patients in Pune waiting at a local hospital to get tested for influenza A (H1N1).

Two more persons--a 35-year-old Ayurvedic doctor in Pune and a four-year-old boy in Chennai---died of swine flu today, taking the number of deaths caused by the virus in the country so far to six.

The doctor, identified as Babasaheb Mane, died this morning in the Sassoon Hospital in Pune, which has been the city worst-hit by the flu in the country. With this, the number of deaths in Pune has risen to three.  

An official statement here said the doctor was admitted to the Inlanks Budhrani Hospital in Pune on August 6 with a history of having fever, sore throat and body ache for the previous seven days. As his condition did not improve, he was shifted to the Sassoon Hospital the next day and was put on ventilator in the intensive care unit (ICU). His condition deteriorated and he passed away this morning, it said.

The Chennai boy had been admitted to a local hospital in the Perungudi area on August 5 with complaints of fever and loose motions for the previous two days.

The next day his condition became critical due to multi-organ failure. On August 8, he was tested for H1N1 and was found to be positive. He was put on oseltamivir, but his condition worsened and he died this morning, the statement said. Officials said the boy was asthmatic and had been suffering from other problems, including kidney and liver-related complications. This was the first death due to the virus in Chennai.

A 14-year-old girl had died in Pune on August 3, the first patient to have succumbed to the virus in India. A 42-year-old non-resident Indian on a visit home had died of the flu in Ahmedabad yesterday and a woman had succumbed to the virus in Mumbai on Saturday.

Meanwhile, as many as 95 fresh cases of H1N1 have been reported from different cities in India, including 47 from Pune alone and 22 from Mumbai and six in Panchgani, also in Maharashtra.

Fourteen cases were reported from Delhi and one each from Noida, Gurgaon, Ajmer and Mangalore.

With these, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases reported so far in India has risen to 959. As many as 563 of them have already been discharged from hospitals after treatment.

The statement said all the 47 cases in Pune were indigenous in nature while only one out of the 22 new cases in Mumbai had travelled recently to Austria. The six cases in Panchgani in Satara district are schoolmates of previousy reported cases.

In Delhi, ten of the 14 cases were indigenous. Of the remaining four, two had travelled to the United States and two to Singapore. The case in Noida is a close contact of a previously reported positive case, while the latest case in Gurgaon has no travel history. In Ajmer, the new case is a person who had travelled recently to Dubai. In Mangalore, two of the three cases are indigenous in nature while one of them had travelled to the United Kingdom.

In Pune, five other cases are still admitted in Pune's Sassoon Hospital, of which the condition of two was said to be critical. A Central team is stationed in the city to assess the situation and institute appropriate public health measures.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had talked to Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad yesterday and urged him to step up the efforts to check the spread of the virus.

He also said that there was need to create better awareness about the virus and prevent the spread of misinformation.

He said the state governments should be asked to create more isolation wards in hospitals and train more doctors and paramedical staff to deal with the flu.

Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad held a review meeting with senior officials today, including Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrasekhar, following which he announced several measures to step up the efforts to tackle the virus.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) had on June 11 declared the influenza A (H1N1) virus as a phase 6 pandemic.

According to the latest update from WHO, as on July 31, as many as 1,62,380 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza A (H1N1) were reported from 168 countries around the world, with a total of 1154 deaths

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India, China express satisfaction at progress on border question

India and China have expressed satisfaction at the progress being made in their talks on the boundary question and said that peace and tranquillity should , meanwhile, be maintained in the border areas.

Chinese State Councilor and Special Representative on the Boundary Question Dai Bingguo calling on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. National Security Advisor M K Narayanan can also be seen.
Chinese State Councilor and Special Representative on the Boundary Question Dai Bingguo calling on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. National Security Advisor M K Narayanan can also be seen.
India and China have expressed satisfaction at the progress being made by them in the talks on the boundary question between their Special Representatives M K Narayanan and Dai Bingguo and reiterated that, pending the settlement of the issue, peace and tranquillity should be maintained in the border areas.

In a statement issued yesterday at the end of the 13th round of the talks between Mr Narayanan and Mr Bingguo, the two sides noted that the Strategic and Co-operative Partnership established between them in 2005 was a major milestone in the relationship.

They reiterated their commitment to consolidate this partnership in all fields in a comprehensive way, it said.

The statement quoted Mr Dai, Chinese State Councillor, as saying that China took a positive view of India's development and progress and also supported a bigger role for India in international affairs.

During his visit, Mr Dai called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Chairperson Sonia Gandhi.

He conved to Dr Singh the greetings of Chinese President Hu Jintao and also handed over a written message of greetings from Premier Wen Jiabao to him.

According to the statement, the two-day talks between Mr Narayanan and Mr Dai were held in a cordial and friendly atmosphere.

Apart from the boundary issues, the discussions covered a broad agenda which included the entire gamut of bilateral relations and regional and international issues of mutual interest.

Describing relations with China as a key foreign policy priority for India, Mr Narayanan, who is the National Security Adviser, said that the joint document on a "Shared Vision for the 21st Century" signed during Prime Minister’s visit to China in January 2008 has taken bilateral relations to a new level.

There has been a significant expansion in bilateral cooperation in areas such as trade and investment, defence, culture, education and people-to-people exchanges, he said.

Reciprocating the sentiments expressed by Mr Narayanan, Mr. Dai referred to the rapid growth witnessed in the bilateral relations in recent years.

Highlighting the importance of ongoing consultations and coordination between the two countries at multilateral fora, he expressed the hope that the two countries would jointly meet global challenges in the spirit of the Shared Vision.

Apart from Mr Narayanan, the Indian delegation to the talks included Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, who was until recently, the country's Ambassador in Beijing, and other senior officials from the external affairs ministry and the Prime Minister's Office.

The Chinese team included Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei and other senior officials of the defence ministry and other ministries.

The latest round of talks has come after a gap of close to a year since the last discussions were held in September, 2008.

Mr Narayanan and Mr Dai were named by their respective governments as the Special Representatives for the talks which are aimed at finding a settlement of the boundary question between the two countries that is "fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable" and based on the Agreement on Guiding Principles and Political Parameters signed between the two countries in April 2005.

Mr Dai is the first high-level official from China to visit India after the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government led by Dr Singh began its second straight five-year term in May after wining a decisive mandate in the general elections.

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna had told the Rajya Sabha on July 31 that both countries were making efforts to find a settlement to the border issue.

"The matter, of course, is complex and requires time and lots of patience. Meanwhile, our endeavour is to ensure that peace and tranquillity are maintained in the border areas," he had said.

Mr Krishna said the two countries have a strategic and co-operative partnership, with an established architecture for dialogue through which all issues of common interest and concern are discussed.

He said bilateral trade had also grown significantly and a target of $ 60 billion by 2010 had been jointly set.

The minister had also said that the "Shared Vision of the 21st Century" signed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao in January 2008 had added a regional and multi-dimensional aspect to the bilateral ties between the two countries.

Dr Singh had, during his visit to Beijing in January last year, said that the "Shared Vision of the 21st Century" was an important milestone in the evolution of the relations between their countries, reflecting not only their common perceptions but also their desire to purposefully cooperate in the future.

Among other things, the document said the two countries had agreed to continue deepening the mutual understanding and trust between their armed forces.

They recognized that their strategic and cooperative partnership should be based on strong, diversified and mutually beneficial economic ties.

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RIL breaks silence on Anil Ambani allegations, says they are baseless and motivated

RIL on Friday broke its silence on the statements by Anil Ambani about the pricing of gas from the KG D6 block saying they were baseless and motivated.

Dhirubhai-1 FPSO unit at KG D-6 block, at night.
Dhirubhai-1 FPSO unit at KG D-6 block, at night.

Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), led by Mukesh Ambani, today broke its silence on the recent statements made by his younger brother Anil Ambani over their near three-year battle on the pricing of gas from the Krishna Godavari (KG) D6 block, saying they were part of an orchestrated campaign designed to bring into public debate and prejudge the issues that are pending before the Supreme Court.

"We emphatically refute and outrightly reject the baseless, tendentious and motivated allegations and insinuations made by Mr. Anil Ambani and his associates against RIL and its Chairman, Mr. Mukesh Ambani," a statement issued by RIL today said.

The two Ambani brothers are involved in an unseemly battle over the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that they signed when the Reliance empire, built by their father Dhirubhai Ambani, was split between them in 2005 after a prolonged public spat over ownership issues following his death in July, 2002.

The MoU said RIL would supply 28 mmscmd of gas from its Krishna Godavari (KG) D-6 block to RNRL on the same terms that RIL would supply gas to the public sector power major NTPC Ltd, subject to government approval.

RIL had earlier emerged as the lowest bidder for supplying gas to NTPC with its offer of a price of $ 2.34 per mmBtu. The two companies, however, are yet to sign a formal gas sale and purchase agreement, with the matter now in the Bombay High Court, after RIL objected to some of the conditions, especially those relating to liability, in the draft agreement.

RIL and Niko Resources of Canada had won the exploration contract for the block under the government's New Exploration Licensing Policy (NELP). RIL owns a 90 per cent stake in the project while Niko holds the remaining ten per cent.

The Bombay High Court ruled in June that RIL should supply gas to RNRL at $ 2.34 per million metric British thermal unit (mmBtu), which is nearly half the $ 4.20 price it had set in an interim order in January. The matter is now in the Supreme Court, where RIL has gone in for an appeal and the Petroleum ministry has filed a special leave petition (SLP).

"Over the last few days, Mr. Anil Ambani and his associates have made several public statements commenting on issues arising out of the proceedings filed before the

Hon’ble Supreme Court of India by his company, Reliance Natural Resources Ltd. (RNRL), the Government of India and Reliance Industries Ltd. (RIL)," the statement from RIL.said.

"Mr. Anil Ambani’s public statements, many of which have been made directly to the press, are a part of an orchestrated campaign designed to bring into public debate and prejudge the issues that are pending before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India," it said.

The statement said Mr Anil Ambani and his associates had attempted to convert what were essentially legal issues into public issues for a self-serving media campaign aimed at maligning RIL as also other venerable institutions of the country for private and personal gain.

"We would like to assure the people of India, the Government of India, Honourable Members of Parliament and all our shareholders that our objective is to act at all times in a manner that is fully in consonance with our respect for the law of the land and is protective of the nation’s interests.

Anil Ambani
Anil Ambani

"We have consistently maintained that in the KG Basin RIL is only a contractor engaged by the Government of India to harness the Basin’s hydrocarbon assets in the best interest of the nation," it said.

RIL said that, as a contractor to the Government, operating one of the largest and logistically one of the most difficult deep water gas discoveries anywhere in the world, it had at all times acted with a full sense of responsibility and in complete compliance with all obligations attached to its role as the contractor.

The company said it was proud of having made an important contribution to India's energy security. It said the asset that had been created by its investment of over Rs 32,000 crore would accelerate India's economic growth and create large-scale employment. It also said that this investment in developing the KG Basin had been made after the demerger of Reliance Industries in 2005.

"As a law abiding and responsible corporate citizen, RIL has chosen to refrain from reacting to the malicious propaganda unleashed by Mr. Anil Ambani in the national media. Our legal advisors have also counseled us to refrain from commenting on issues being adjudicated by the Hon’ble Supreme Court. As such, we shall continue to exercise restraint in the face of Mr. Anil Ambani’s provocative public statements. We hope that Mr. Anil Ambani and his associates will also exercise similar restraint and leave the matter to be decided by the Hon’ble Supreme Court," the statement said.

"Members of the media have rightfully sought our responses to Mr. Anil Ambani’s comments on numerous occasions. However, we believe and hope that the media will understand and appreciate that our respect for the judicial process determines that we present our views and contentions on all aspects of the dispute with RNRL only before the Hon’ble Supreme Court. During the course of his media campaign, Mr. Anil Ambani has also made several personal comments about his elder brother and the Chairman of RIL, Mr. Mukesh Ambani. While Mr. Mukesh Ambani is profoundly saddened by his brother’s remarks, he requests the media to respect his decision not to respond," the statement added.

Mr Anil Ambani has, in recent days, launched a no-holds-barred attack on RIL and the Union Petroleum Ministry, accusing his elder brother's company of corporate greed and the Union Petroleum Minister Murli Deora of being biased in favour of RIL.

The younger Ambani brother had also written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seeking his intervention in the matter.

He said the Petroleum Ministry was raising the bogey of sovereign ownership of national assets such as gas only to bail out RIL and help it renege on its contractual commitments to his company RNRL.

He has also argued that higher prices for the gas from KG D6 block would affect NTPC also.

RNRL has also suggested that RIL had "gold plated" its investments in the KG basin, a charge that has been vehemently denied by the Directorate General of Hydrocarbons.

It has also said that some of the people involved in the independent assessments carried out to evaluate RIL's capital expenditure claims had various kinds of links to the company.

Further, it wanted the audit report of the Comptroller and Auditor General in this regard to be made public. Media reports have quoted sources in the CAG's office as saying that the audit was still not complete and that they were awaiting some more information from RIL on the costs of the project.

Mukesh Ambani
Mukesh Ambani

The dispute has also figured in Parliament in recent days. Mr Deora said in the Lok Sabha last week that the government had nothing to do with the dispute between RIL and RRNL as well as the differences between the two brother but would do everything possible to protect its legal rights to regulate the utilisation of gas and its allocation.

"We have nothing to do with the private dispute of two industries or industrialists. However, we have everything to do with protecting the interests of the Government and public interest; this is our constitutional and legal obligation. We will make all endeavours to protect Government’s legal rights to regulate the utilization of gas and its allocation," he had said in a statement in the Lower House of Parliament.

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India, China borders talks on Friday

National Security Adviser M K Narayanan and Chinese Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Dai Bingguo will meet in Delhi on Friday for the 13th round of the talks on the boundary question between India and China.

A file photo of National Security Adviser M K Narayanan and Chinese Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Dai Bingguo meeting in Delhi in April 2007.
A file photo of National Security Adviser M K Narayanan and Chinese Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Dai Bingguo meeting in Delhi in April 2007.
National Security Adviser M K Narayanan and Chinese Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Dai Bingguo will meet here tomorrow for the 13th round of the talks on the boundary question between the two countries.

Mr Narayanan and Mr Dai have been named as the Special Representatives for the talks and have held 12 rounds of discussions so far in an effort to work out a settlement of the boundary question that is fair, reasonable, mutually acceptable and based on the Agreement on Guiding Principles and Political Parameters signed between the two countries in April 2005.

Tomorrow's meeting is being held after a gap of close to a year, the last round of talks having been held in September, 2008.

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna had told the Rajya Sabha on July 31 that both countries were making efforts to find a settlement to the border issue.

"The matter, of course, is complex and requires time and lots of patience. Meanwhile, our endeavour is to ensure that peace and tranquillity are maintained in the border areas," he had said.

Mr Krishna said the two countries have a strategic and co-operative partnership, with an established architecture for dialogue through which all issues of common interest and concern are discussed.

He said bilateral trade had also grown significantly and a target of $ 60 billion by 2010 had been jointly set.

The minister had also said that the "Shared Vision of the 21st Century" signed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao in January 2008 had added a regional and multi-dimensional aspect to the bilateral ties between the two countries.

Dr Singh had, during his visit to Beijing in January last year, said that the "Shared Vision of the 21st Century" was an important milestone in the evolution of the relations between their countries, reflecting not only their common perceptions but also their desire to purposefully cooperate in the future.

Among other things, the document said the two countries had agreed to continue deepening the mutual understanding and trust between their armed forces.

They recognized that their strategic and cooperative partnership should be based on strong, diversified and mutually beneficial economic ties.

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All-woman newspaper in Chitrakoot gets UNESCO Literacy Prize

Khabar Lahariya, a newspaper produced entirely by women in the rural areas of Chitrakoot and Banda districts of Uttar Pradesh, is among the four winners of this year's Literacy Prizes awarded by UNESCO.

Khabar Lahariyan
Photo courtesy: NIRANTAR
Khabar Lahariya, a newspaper produced entirely by women in the rural areas of Chitrakoot and Banda districts of Uttar Pradesh, is among the four winners of this year's Literacy Prizes awarded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

The newspaper has been chosen for the award in recognition of its innovative programmes designed to teach women, adolescents and other marginalised populations how to read and write, a UN press release said today.

The weekly newspaper – distributed to more than 20,000 readers in Uttar Pradesh– is entirely created and marketed by newly literate women who are training as journalists, the release said.
The Khabar Lahariya Team which won the Chameli Devi Jain award for Outstanding Woman Media Person in 2004.
The Khabar Lahariya Team which won the Chameli Devi Jain award for Outstanding Woman Media Person in 2004.Photo courtesy: NIRANTAR

The rural newspaper is written, edited, illustrated, produced and marketed by a group of women, most of them from marginalised Dalit, Kol and Muslim communities.

The other prizes went to the Tin Tau’s reading skills programme in Burkina Faso, which focuses on gender and community development; the Pashai Language Development Project in Afghanistan, which provides literacy, livelihood, public health and nutrition education to about 1,000 ethnic minority Pashai men and women annually; and a continuing education programme in the Philippines, which attempts to eliminate illiteracy in the 49 villages of the Agoo municipality.

An honourable mention also went to a programme in Bhutan for its holistic approach to literacy and its success in reaching remote areas, with an emphasis on literacy as an integral part of the country’s "Gross National Happiness," as well as its focus on adults and out-of-school youth, particularly women and girls.
A Khabar Lahariya reporter gathering information.
A Khabar Lahariya reporter gathering information.Photo courtesy: NIRANTAR

The theme for this year’s awards was "Literacy and Empowerment," and the laureates were proclaimed by the Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, on the recommendation of an international jury.

The award ceremony will be held at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on September 8 to coincide with International Literacy Day, the release added.
The newspaper being produced......and distributed.
The newspaper being produced and distributed.Photo courtesy: NIRANTAR

Khabar Lahariya, which means "News Waves" in the Bundeli language, had won the prestigious Chameli Devi Jain Award for Outstanding Woman Mediaperson in 2004. The newspaper is brought out by a collective of newly literate women with support from Nirantar, a Delhi-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) and resource group.

The newspaper began publishing in May 2002 in Chitrakoot, among the poorest districts in the country, and a second edition was launched in the adjoining Banda district four years later. It is priced at Rs 2 a copy and sold in the two districts through agents and small shops and tea stalls in the block headquarters and in more than 400 remote villages and hamlets where even established newspaper groups find it difficult to set up a distribution network.
An editorial workshop in progress
An editorial workshop in progress.Photo courtesy: NIRANTAR

The Khabar Lahariya group is now registered as an independent organisation, Pahal, which is probably the only rural women's media collective in the country.

The 8-page newspaper carries a mix of news, information and entertainment tailored to meet the needs of its Bundelkhandi audience, who are rural people with mostly low levels of literacy. Topics of coverage include current affairs and politics, functioning of panchayats, bureaucracy, schools and hospitals in the region.

Special attention is given to reporting about atrocities on women and marginalised sections of society. The process of production takes place over a two-day writing, editing and illustrating workshop.

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Govt: Nothing to do with Ambanis' fight, will protect rights on gas utilisation

The government on Monday said that it had nothing to do with the dispute between the Ambani brothers, but would do everything possible to protect its legal rights to regulate the utilisation of gas and its allocation.

Dhirubhai-1, the floating production storage and offloading vessel, on the Krishna-Godavari Basin, seen at night, after commencement of production.
Dhirubhai-1, the floating production storage and offloading vessel, on the Krishna-Godavari Basin, seen at night, after commencement of production.
The government today declared that it had nothing to do with the dispute between Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), headed by Mr Mukesh Ambani (52), and Reliance Natural Resources Ltd (RNRL), led by his estranged younger brother Anil Ambani (50), but would do everything possible to protect its legal rights to regulate the utilisation of gas and its allocation.

"We have nothing to do with the private dispute of two industries or industrialists. However, we have everything to do with protecting the interests of the Government and public interest; this is our constitutional and legal obligation. We will make all endeavours to protect Government’s legal rights to regulate the utilization of gas and its allocation," Petroleum Minister Murli Deora said in a statement in the Lok Sabha.

The statement was made in response to questions raised in the House on July 29 by Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav about, among other things, the supply of gas to the Dadri power plant being set up in Uttar Pradesh by RNRL. He had also alleged discrimination against Uttar Pradesh in the matter of allocation of gas.

The two Ambani brothers are involved in a near three-year battle over terms of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that they signed when the Reliance empire, built by their father Dhirubhai Ambani, was split between them in 2005 after a prolonged public spat over ownership issues following his death in July, 2002.

The MoU said RIL would supply 28 mmscmd of gas from its Krishna Godavari (KG) D-6 block to RNRL on the same terms that RIL would supply gas to the public sector power major NTPC Ltd, subject to government approval.
Petroleum Minister Murli Deora
Petroleum Minister Murli Deora

RIL had earlier emerged as the lowest bidder for supplying gas to NTPC with its offer of a price of $ 2.34 per mmBtu. The two companies, however, are yet to sign a formal gas sale and purchase agreement, with the matter now in the Bombay High Court.

RIL and Niko Resources of Canada had won the exploration contract for the block under the government's New Exploration Licensing Policy (NELP). RIL owns a 90 per cent stake in the project while Niko holds the remaining ten per cent.

The Bombay High Court ruled in June that RIL should supply gas to RNRL at $ 2.34 per million metric British thermal unit (mmBtu), which is nearly half the $ 4.20 price it had set in an interim order in January. The matter is now in the Supreme Court, where RIL has gone in for an appeal and the Petroleum ministry has filed a special leave petition (SLP).

Mr Deora said that as far as RNRL's Dadra power plant was concerned, the case for supply of gas was considered by the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM).

"This plant is neither installed nor functional. There are many other plants which are in the process of being set up in different parts of the country. The decision of EGoM dated 8.1.2009 in this regard is as follows: Quote :

"Subject to the availability of gas, necessary allocations from RIL's KG D-6 fields will be made to these projects in the pipeline, including Dadri power project, as and when they are ready to commence production. This will be without prejudice to the decision of the Court cases.' Unquote," he said.

"Hence, the intention of the Government is very clear. We will allocate gas to Dadri plant subject to availability and that Dadri plant will be treated on the same footing as other similar plants placed under similar circumstances," Mr Deora said.

The minister said that according to the production sharing contract (PSC) signed in 2000 between the Government and the Contractor (RIL), gas to be produced from the Krishna Godavari (KG) D-6 fields was to be utilised in accordance with the Gas Utilisation Policy to be approved by the Government.
Anil Ambani
Anil Ambani

He said the EGoM had approved the Gas Utilisation Policy which says that, out of the initial production, 15 mmscmd will go to existing urea plants, 18 mmscmd to existing power plants, 3 mmscmd to existing LPG plants and remaining 5 mmscmd for City Gas Distribution projects.

The EGoM had further decided that, if any gas remained unutilized against this allocation, it would be allocated to existing gas-based steel plants and existing gas-based power plants, including captive power plants, he said.

Mr Deora said gas production from the KG D-6 fields began on April 1 this year and around 31 mmscmd of gas is being produced at present. Within a year, this is expected to go up to 80 mmscmd, he said.

He said that as far as the power sector was concerned, 18 mmscmd had been allocated to various existing plants to improve their Plant Load Factor (PLF).

He pointed out that no gas had been allocated to any plant, which is not existing or functional.

As far as NTPC was concerned, Government has allocated 2.67 mmscmd gas to its plants from the 18 mmscmd allocated for the power sector.

Another 2.7 mmscmd had been allocated to Ratnagri Gas and Power Private Ltd (RGPPL) in which NTPC has 28% stake, he said.

"Gas is a scarce commodity and we would like to give gas to as many plants as possible. But, obviously, the first priority will be to supply gas to existing plants, which are not operating at all or are operating sub-optimally because of non-availability of gas," he said.
Mukesh Ambani
Mukesh Ambani

The minister said there had been no discrimination against Uttar Pradesh in the matter of gas allocation, saying that the NTPC plant in Dadri had been allocated 0.45 mmscmd of gas as it was covered under the criteria evolved by the EGoM.

He said that out of a total of 15 existing gas-based urea plants in the entire country, five were in Uttar Pradesh at Aonla, Phulpur, Shahjahanpur, Babrala and Jagdishpur, and all of them had been given gas.

Mr Deora said it was not correct to say that the Government did not present its case before the Bombay High Court. He said the government had intervened in the RIL-RNRL dispute in the court and placed before it its submissions indicating its rights under the PSC, including inter alia the Gas Utilisation Policy.

He said the Government had requested the High Court to lift the injunction on creation of third party interests by RIL, which would enable RIL to supply gas to customers subject to Government policy.

"The plea of the Government was accepted and, as a result of the interim order, gas production has started and gas supply is being made to priority sectors as per the Gas Utilization Policy approved by the EGoM," he said.

According to him, in the fertilizer sector, it is estimated that the supply of 15 mmscmd gas would result, on an annual basis, in saving of subsidy of Rs. 3000 crore.

He said that since the gas production from the KG D6 block started from April 1 this year, about 4000 MW of additional power is being generated as 18 mmscmd gas has been allotted to the power sector.

The minister said about 25 mmscmd of additional gas needs to be supplied to the power sector to enable optimum operation of existing power plants and power plants to be commissioned in 2009-10, which would lead to additional generation of over 5,000 MW of power.

He pointed out that the present cost of assets, which are lying idle/underutilized in the power sector due to non-availability of gas, prior to the commencement of KG D-6 production, was around Rs. 36,000 crore.

Further, he said that three mmscmd gas had been allotted to LPG sector, which would lead to an additional production of about one million tonnes of LPG which is presently being imported in the country.

Mr Deora said that the final order of the Bombay High Court on June 15 in the RIL-RNRL dispute had implications on the Government’s rights to formulate and implement the Gas Utilization Policy under the Production Sharing Contract.

"Notwithstanding Government policies and the provisions of the PSC, the order observes that the provisions of the MOU are binding on the parties. The MOU, as per the judgment, provides that 12 mmscmd will be given to NTPC, 28 mmscmd will be given to RNRL and the remaining, at the option of ADAG, will be shared between RIL and RNRL in the ratio of 60:40. The MoU also stipulates that this share of gas will be applicable to gas not only from reserves of KG D-6 field, but also from other fields to be explored and operated by RIL, even consequent to future bidding by RIL. Under the circumstances, it was necessary to file an SLP in the Hon’ble Supreme Court and accordingly action has been taken. I would not like to dwell further on the subject, as the matter is sub judice," the minister added.

Mr Deora's statement came a day after 30 members of Parliament (MPs) from the Left parties wrote a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in which they urged the government to take over the distribution and marketing of gas from the KG D6 block.

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