ADVERTISEMENT

National

CCEA nod for National Tobacco Control Programme

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) today approved the National Tobacco Control Programme (NTCP) that is aimed at building the capacity of the States/Districts to effectively implement the Tobacco Control Laws.


The programme is also designed to bring about greater awareness about the harmful effects of tobacco.


The main components of the proposed NTCP are :

a. National level:

(i) Public awareness/media campaigns for awareness building and for behavioural change.

(ii) Establishment of tobacco product testing laboratories, to build regulatory capacity, as required under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, (COTPA).


(iii) Mainstreaming the programme components as a part of the health delivery mechanism under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) framework.

(iv) Mainstreaming research & training – on alternate crops and livelihoods with other nodal Ministries.

(v) Monitoring and evaluation, including surveillance e.g. Adult Tobacco Survey (ATS).

b. State level

(i) Dedicated tobacco control cells for effective implementation and monitoring of anti- tobacco initiatives.

c. District level:

(i) Training of health and social workers, NGOs, school teachers etc.

(ii) Local IEC activities.

(iii) Provision of tobacco cessation facilities (iv) School Programme


According to an official press release, the total financial outlay for the NTCP in the XIth Plan (2007-12) is Rs 182 crore. The implementation of the programme is expected to increase the awareness of the community about the harmful effects of tobacco use, make the public aware of the provisions under COTPA, establish tobacco product testing labs and also provide baseline estimates of tobacco prevalence and status of implementation of the Tobacco Control Law.


The release said the components of the NTCP at the national level would cover the entire country while the pilot phase would focus on 42 districts of 21 States.


The release pointed out that tobacco was the foremost preventable cause of death and disease in the world today. In India, nearly 8-9 lakh die every year in India due to diseases related to tobacco use.


In order to reduce consumption of tobacco products in society, to protect the youth and children from tobacco use and to protect the health of non smokers from the harmful effects of second hand smoke, Parliament enacted COTPA in 2003.


NNN

India expresses dismay at fresh attacks on Indians in Australia


India today expressed dismay at the reports of fresh incidents of violence against Indians living in Australia and said External Affairs Minister S M Krishna was likely to raise the issue once again with his Australian counterpart Stephen Smith on the margins of a meeting in London they are both attending.


Minister of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur said in a statement here that Indian High Commissioner Sujata Singh was, meanwhile, visiting Brisbane and meeting community leaders and members of the Queensland Police authorities to discuss and deal with the recent attacks and to ensure that remedial measures are urgently undertaken.


Ms Kaur was reacting to the latest incidents in Brisbane where four Indians, including three taxi drivers, were attacked in two separate incidents on Thursday.


Mr Krishna had met Mr Smith on the margins of the Conference on Afghanistan in London yesterday, when he had conveyed that the recurring attacks were particularly worrisome as the Indian community individuals appear to be singled out and it was becoming increasingly difficult to accept them as mere opportunistic crime devoid of any racial motives.


He impressed upon Mr Smith that there had been no visible progress so far into most of the investigations into previous attacks, including the murder of Nitin Garg earlier this month. The External Affairs Minister said it was the responsibility of the Australian authorities to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to book at the earliest and immediately put effective measures into practice to prevent further attacks.


Mr Smith informed Mr Krishna that a high-level working group had been set up under his overall charge to deal on an urgent basis with this issue.


"In view of the latest incidents reported today, EAM is likely to raise this issue once again with the Australian Foreign Minister later today on the margins of the meetings in London," Ms Kaur added.


NNN

Four more swine flu deaths in India, toll goes up to 1210

Four more people have died of influenza A (H1N1) in India, taking the death toll due to the swine flu pandemic in the country so far to 1210, an official statement said here today.


While no deaths were reported during the day today, information about four deaths that occurred earlier - two in Haryana and one each in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh - was received from the state governments concerned by the Union Ministry of Health & Family Welfare today,


Of the total swine flu deaths in the country so far, Maharashtra now accounts for 312, while 223 lives have been lost in Gujarat, 176 in Rajasthan, 141 in Karnataka, 93 in Delhi, 52 in Andhra Pradesh, 38 in Punjab, 36 each in Kerala and Haryana, 21 in Madhya Pradesh, 18 in Uttar Pradesh, 13 in Uttarakhand, 8 each in Chandigarh and Himachal Pradesh, 7 in Tamil Nadu, 6 each in Chhattisgarh and Puducherry, 5 in Goa, 4 in Jammu & Kashmir, 3 in Orissa, 2 in Assam and 1 each in Mizoram and Dadra & Nagar Haveli.


The statement said 36 new cases of swine flu were reported from different parts of India today, including 20 in Maharashtra, 7 in Gujarat, 2 each in Madhya Pradesh and Delhi, and 1 each in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.


With these, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus reported in the country so far has gone up to 28,711, the statement added.


NNN

Ansari says "paid news" could tarnish polity, destabilise economy

Vice-President M Hamid Ansari on Thursday said the recent practices of leveraging political and economic content in the media for overt and covert revenue generation could tarnish the polity and destabilise the economy.

Vice-President M Hamid Ansari today warned that the recent practices of leveraging political and economic content in the media for overt and covert revenue generation had the malevolent potential to tarnish the polity and even destabilise the economy.

Delivering the inaugural M C Varghese Memorial Lecture here this evening, Mr Ansari said this had led the Editors Guild and the Press Council to investigate the phenomenon of electoral malpractices of "paid news" and "coverage packages".

The lecture series has been instituted by the Kottayam-based Malayalam newspaper group Mangalam in the memory of its founder, the late Mr M C Varghese, who rose from a newspaper boy to head a large newspaper group.

Mr Ansari said the winds of the economic liberalisation in the country had brought with them the elements of the market economy which have changed the DNA of Indian media organisations.

In this context, he referred to the rampant growth of broadcasting media, principally television, along with new delivery modes such as satellite TV, Cable TV, Mobile TV, IPTV and so on.

He said he print media, too, had grown and Indiaa was today estimated to be the world's second largest print market.

"The phenomenon of convergence between news media, entertainment and telecom has meant that the demarcation between journalism, public relations, advertising and entertainment is rapidly eroding," he said.

Mr Ansari said that, amongst the pillars of democracy, it was only the Fourth Estate that had an identifiable business and commercial persona.

"Today’s media organizations are large business entities with thousands of employees and huge financial and other assets. Thus their primary professional duty to their readership has been diluted by the commercial logic of catering to the interests of the shareholders of the holding companies," he said.

He said the commercial success of media organisations had become a function of advertising revenues rather than subscription and circulation figures. The advertisers have thus replaced the recipients of media products. By the same logic, circulation figures, meant to attract advertising, became more important than content, he noted.

The Vice-President said the pursuit of profit had altered the profile of the media entrepreneur.

"Today, a media enterprise is seen as a necessary subsidiary for a growing business enterprise, a political party and even individuals seeking to leverage public influence for private gain. On the other hand deception, opaque flow of political information, or slanted economic data prevents political and economic actors from exercising rational and well considered choices. They impede the democratic process and could lead to public disenchantment," he cautioned.

Mr Ansari said the public purpose of journalism that guided newspapers in an earlier era had changed.

"In a changed and changing world, it would be useful to remember that vibrant journalism in a democracy is watchdog journalism. It monitors the exercise of power in the State and stands for the rights and freedoms of citizens. It informs and empowers citizens rather than entertains and titillates them. Vibrant journalism is based on professional ethics and should be the rule rather than the exception it has come to be," he said.

Mr Ansari drew attention to three questions on which introspection was necessary:

· Is there a public debate on issues of concern to the common citizen?

· Is sufficient media space given for the concerns of the marginalized, the dispossessed and the vulnerable?

· To what extent has our media contributed to upholding the social and political objectives of the Constitution?

NNN

Khurshid launches leadership development scheme for minority women

Union Minister of Minority Affairs Salman Khurshid today launched a scheme for "Leadershi Development of Minority Women" that will reach out to women through non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other institutions.


These institutions would be provided with financial support for conducting leadership development training in a village or locality and in residential government training institutes so that women are empowered and emboldened to move out of the confines of their homes and assume leadership roles in their neighbourhoods.


An official press release said the objective of the scheme was to empower and instill confidence in women by providing knowledge, tools and techniques for interacting with Government, banks and Government functionaries at all levels.


The scheme is expected to enable women to assert their rights, collectively or individually, in accessing services, facilities, skills and opportunities besides claiming their due share of development benefits for improving their lives and living conditions.


Apart from NGOs, societies under the Societies Registration Act, public trusts, charitable companies, universities and institutions of higher learning and Panchayati Raj institutions can apply for financial assistance under the scheme, the release added.


NNN

Dense fog disrupts nearly 120 flights at Delhi airport

A blanket of dense fog that shrouded Delhi and surrounding areas since last night disrupted about 120 flights to and from the Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA), airport officials said today.


The officials said the fog started descending on the capital around 1900 hours last night and stayed till about 1100 hours, reducing visibility drastically.


During this 16-hour period, as many as 54 flights were cancelled, while 34 flights were diverted to other airports and another 31 rescheduled. Scores of other flights were delayed.


According to the officials, a total 167 flights were operated during this period of low visibility using various instrument landing systems (ILS).


The India Meteorological Department (IMD) had forecast foggy conditions in the forenoon of today in the capital. It has predicted mist tomorrow and a partly cloudy sky with thundery development on Friday.


Delhi has experienced foggy conditions in the early part of the day for all but one of the past nine days, affecting scores of flights at the Delhi airport each day. Yesterday, close to a hundred flights were affected by the blinding fo that had covered the region.


NNN

10 more swine flu deaths in India, toll rises to 1206

Influenza A (H1N1) continued to claim lives in India, with ten more deaths reported from different parts raising the toll due to the swine flu pandemic in the country so far to 1206.


An official statement said seven of the deaths - six in Gujarat and one in Rajasthan - were reported during the day.


Besides, reports of three more deaths that occurred in recent days - one each in Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Delhi and Haryana - were conveyed by the respective state governments to the Union Ministry of Health & Family Welfare today, it said.


Of the total swine flu deaths in the country so far, Maharashtra now accounts for 311, while 223 lives have been lost in Gujarat, 176 in Rajasthan, 141 in Karnataka, 93 in Delhi, 52 in Andhra Pradesh, 38 in Punjab, 36 in Kerala, 34 in Haryana, 20 in Madhya Pradesh, 18 in Uttar Pradesh, 13 in Uttarakhand, 8 each in Chandigarh and Himachal Pradesh, 7 in Tamil Nadu, 6 each in Chhattisgarh and Puducherry, 5 in Goa, 4 in Jammu & Kashmir, 3 in Orissa, 2 in Assam and 1 each in Mizoram and Dadra & Nagar Haveli.


The statement said 30 new cases of swine flu were reported from different parts of India today, including 8 in Gujarat, 6 in Karnataka, 4 in Chandigarh, 3 each in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, 2 in Haryana and 1 each in Andhra Pradesh. Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala.


With these, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus reported in the country so far has gone up to 28,665, the statement added.


NNN

42 undertrial prisoners released at special sitting in Delhi

As many as 42 undertrial prisoners were ordered to be released at a special sitting of the Patiala House Court in the capital today.


The sitting was held as part of the National Mission for Delivery of Justice and Legal Reforms to the Undertrial Prisoners initiated by the Ministry of Law & Justice.


Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ajay Pandey presided over the special sitting at which the cases of 46 undertrial prisoners were taken up. The court ordered the release of 42 of them.


Uion Law and Justice Minister M Veerappa Moily, Mr Justice Madan Lokur, Executive Chairman of the Delhi Legal Services Authority, Mr Justice Manmohan and Ms Justice Indermeet Kaur were also present in the court and watched the proceedings for one hour.


An official press release said that similar special sittings would be held in all the District Courts of Delhi by the Delhi Legal Services Authority.


Dr Moily expressed his happiness over the prompt action initiated by the Delhi High Court and the Delhi Legal Services Authority.


NNN

Govt. defends Padma Bhushan to Sant Singh Chatwal

The Government today strongly defended its decision to confer the Padma Bhushan award on New York-based non-resident Indian (NRI) hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal, saying he had been discharged by a court in Mumbai and there was nothing adverse on record against him.


Mr Chatwal was among the 43 people chosen by the Government for the prestigious Padma Bhushan on the eve of Republic Day earlier this week.


The decision sparked off a controversy with the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) objecting to the move because of cases launched by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) against the hotelier and restaurateur some years ago.


Reacting to these objections, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs also made it clear that the Padma Awards were conferred only after consideration in terms of the guidelines regulating the award and after observance of established and elaborate procedures.


"A ‘due diligence’ exercise is undertaken in respect of each awardee in consultation with appropriate agencies before announcement of the award. No Padma award is conferred except on the recommendation of the Awards Committee constituted for the purpose and after the due diligence has been done," the Ministry said in a statement.


Referring to the allegations against Mr Chatwal, the Ministry clarified that, between 1992 and 1994, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had registered five cases against him and some bank officials for allegedly conniving with the intention to defraud the Bank of Baroda and Bank of India, both public sector banks.


It said three of these cases were closed by the CBI itself while chargesheets were filed by the CBI in two cases before the court of Special Judge, CBI, Mumbai. It said that, in these two cases also, the court had discharged Mr Chatwal.


"As per available reports, there is nothing adverse on record against Mr Chatwal," the statement said.


The Ministry also said that Mr Chatwal was a tireless advocate of India’s interests in the United States and had been working relentlessly for strengthening bilateral relationships between India and the United States.


It said he was a Trustee of the William J. Clinton Foundation which focuses on critical global issues such as health care, climate change and economic empowerment of the underprivileged in the world community. He is also founder trustee of the American India Foundation and has made frequent trips to India to provide relief to victims of tsunami and AIDS. He is also a prominent leader of the Indian-American community, it said.


The statement said Mr Chatwal had distinguished himself in the hospitality sector and been an active member of the NRI community in the US in securing support for the nuclear deal among the members of the Congress of the United States. He is a recipient of the Rajiv Gandhi Award 2005. He was honoured by the National Jewish Outreach Programme in New York in 2001 and with the "Order of the Khalsa" by the Government of Punjab in 1999, it added.


NNN

NIFTEM to start activities during 2010-11 academic session

The National Institute of Food Technology Entrepreneurship and Management (NIFTEM) at Kundli in Sonepat, Haryana, set up to provide core courses in Food Science and Food Technology, will start its activities from the 2010-11 academic session.


The Institute has been established as a "world-class institution" by the Union Ministry of Food Processing Industries and will cater to the needs of various stakeholders such as entrepreneurs, industry, exporters, policy makers, the government and existing institutions.

The Institute will be fully supported by the Ministry while enjoying reasonable autonomy in its functioning. A state-of-the-art campus is being created with modern infrastructure, a library and residential facilities, an official press release said.

The objective of the institute is to promote cooperation and networking amongst existing institutions both within the country and international bodies, create a complete data base on domestic resources and bring in international best practices for improving the food processing sector, it said.

NIFTEM will also provide industry-friendly short-term courses as well as regular degree and management courses leading up to Ph.D programmes, for developing human resources for the sector, the release added.


NNN

Govt. denies move to demerge Air India, Indian Airlines

The Government on Wednesday denied any plans for the demerger of Air India and Indian Airlines and said the merger of the two carriers was a carefully thought out proccess.

Air India
Air India

The Ministry of Civil Aviation today denied any plans for the demerger of Air India and Indian Airlines and asserted that the merger of the two national carriers in 2007 was a carefully thought out proccess and a collective decision of all agencies of the Government of India.

The statement came after a report in the Times of India this morning which said that the Ministry of Finance had mooted a proposal to undo the decision to merge the two airlines into a single entity.

According to the report, the merger has actually not moved much beyond a common billboard and a holding company, the National Aviation Company of India Limited (NACIL).

It said the Finance Ministry was "increasingly nervous over the viability of bailout plans for the floundering carrier" and justified the demerger by pointing ut that international and domestic markets behaved differently. It also said the merger had not been "thought through".

"The Ministry of Civil Aviation has no move afoot for the AI-IA demerger. The merger was a carefully thoughtout process and a collective decision of all agencies of the Government of India," the statement by the Government said, without referring to the newspaper report.

According to it, the merger of Air India (erstwhile) and Indian Airlines was approved by the Government on 1 March, 2007 and a new company, the National Aviation Company of India Limited (NACIL) was incorporated on 30 March, 2007 with the brand name of "Air India".

It said the merger of two the airlines was envisaged to provide the following benefits:

• Provide an integrated international/domestic footprint which will significantly enhance customer proposition and allow easy entry into one of the three global airline alliances;

• Enable optimal utilization of existing resources through improvement in load factors and yields on commonly serviced routes as well as deploy freed up aircraft capacity on alternate routes;

• Provide an opportunity to fully leverage strong assets, capabilities and infrastructure;

• Potential to launch high growth & profitability businesses (Ground Handling Services (GHS);

• Maintenance, Repair & Overhaul (MRO) etc;

• Potentially enable merged entity to command better valuation;

• Operate a combined fleet strength which will be largest in India and comparable to other airlines in Asia/region;

• Provides maximum flexibility to achieve financial and capital restructuring. Above benefits leading to improvement in the prospects of the company are expected to translate into better prospects for all the employees.

NNN

Foggy morning in Delhi, cold conditions abate

A thick blanket of fog covered Delhi and many other parts of north India from late last night till the early hours today, severely disrupting flight and train schedules and slowing down road traffic, but the cold conditions in the capital appeared to be abating.


The maximum temperature in the capital during the past 24 hours was 22.8 degrees Celsius, down from 24 degrees yesterday and 0.8 degrees above normal. The minimum temperature was 9.8 degrees Celsius, up slightly from yesterday's 9.4 degrees and 1.8 degrees above normal for this time of the year.


The India Meteorological Department (IMD) had forecast till the forenoon today and a partly cloudy sky later. It said the maximum and minimum temperatures today would be around 22 and 11 degrees Celsius, respectively.


For tomorrow, the IMD has predicted mist in the morning and maximum and minimum temperatures of 21 and 10 degrees Celsius. It said there would be a partly cloudy sky on Friday with thundery development on Friday, with maximum and minimum temperatures of 20 and 12 degrees Celsius.


More than 80 flights to and from the Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) in the capital were disrupted between last night and this morning because of the heavy fog.


The Northern Railway has cancelled 11 trains today because of foggy conditions in the region, over and above the several trains already cancelled till January 31. Besides, 37 trains were running between 3 and 30 hours late and 11 were rescheduled, the Railway said.


NNN

Dense fog disrupts over 80 flights at Delhi airport

A blanket of dense fog that enveloped Delhi and surrounding areas since last night disrupted more than 80 flights to and from the Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA), airport officials said today.


The officials said the fog started descending on the capital around 2230 hours last night and stayed till the early hours today, reducing visibility drastically. However, the skies started clearing by mid-morning and at 1030 hours, the visibility had improved to around 900 metres.


During the nearly 12-hour period of low visibility, at least 43 flights - 24 departures and 19 arrivals - were cancelled, the officials said. Besides, 25 flights were diverted to other airports and 15 were rescheduled, they said.


With a huge backlog of flights, it would take quite some time for normal operations to be restored, the officials said. Scores of flights have been delayed and these are expected to have a cascading effect on the rest of the network.


The India Meteorological Department (IMD) had forecast foggy conditions in the forenoon of today in the capital. It has predicted mist tomorrow and a partly cloudy sky with thundery development on Friday.


Delhi has experienced foggy conditions in the early part of the day for all but one of the past nine days, affecting scores of flights at the Delhi airport each day. Yesterday, close to a hundred flights were affected by the blinding fo that had covered the region.


NNN

2 swine flu deaths in J&K take India toll to 1196

The death toll due to influenza A (H1N1) in India has gone up to 1196 with two more people dying of the swine flu pandemic in Jammu & Kashmir in recent days, an official statement said here today.


While no deaths were reported from any state during the day today, details of the two deaths that occurred earlier in Jammu & Kashmir were conveyed to the Union Ministry of Health & Family Welfare today, it said.


Of the total swine flu deaths in the country so far, Maharashtra now accounts for 311, while 217 lives have been lost in Gujarat, 175 in Rajasthan, 141 in Karnataka, 92 in Delhi, 52 in Andhra Pradesh, 38 in Punjab, 36 in Kerala, 33 in Haryana, 20 in Madhya Pradesh, 18 in Uttar Pradesh, 13 in Uttarakhand, 8 each in Chandigarh and Himachal Pradesh, 7 in Tamil Nadu, 6 each in Chhattisgarh and Puducherry, 5 in Goa, 4 in Jammu & Kashmir, 3 in Orissa, 2 in Assam and 1 in Mizoram.


The statement said 15 new cases of swine flu were reported from different parts of India today - 9 in Gujarat, 5 in Karnataka and 1 in Delhi.


With these, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus reported in the country so far has gone up to 28,611, the statement added.


NNN

Blinding fog disrupts nearly 100 flights in Delhi on Tuesday

Blinding fog disrupted the schedules of close to a hundred domestic and international flights at the Delhi airport this morning.


Today's fog came after a day of clear skies yesterday, which was preceded by six days of foggy conditions, during which flight operations at the airport had been severely affected.


The fog, which started descending in the early hours today, reduced visibility to less than 100 metres at the airport this morning. Visibility had improved to around 200 metres by 1100 hours this morning.


Airport officials said low visibility procedures were implemented for 7 hours 31 minutes on runway 28 from 0455 hours and for 8 hours 13 minutes from 0506 hours on runway 29.


During this period, as many as 50 flights (23 domestic departures, 25 domestic arrivals, 1 international arrival and 1 international departure) were cancelled and 25 flights (18 domesic and 7 international) were diverted.


Besides, 26 flights (26 domestic departures, 1 international arrival and 1 international departure) were rescheduled, they said.


During the low visibility period, a total of 78 flights were operated using various instrument landing systems (ILS), they added.


NNN

President confers Ashok Chakra on three soldiers

Ashoka Chakra Medal
Ashoka Chakra Medal

President Pratibha Pandit today conferred the Ashok Chakra, the nation's highest peacetime gallantry award, on Major D. Sreeram Kumar of 39 Assam Rifles, Major Mohit Sharma (posthumous) of 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment (Special Forces) and Havildar Rajesh Kumar (posthumous) of 11th Battalion, Rajputana Rifles.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who was the Chief Guest at the parade, Vice-President M Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Union Ministers, ruling United Progressive Alliance Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, diplomats, senior officials and thousands of people present watched in quiet gratitude as the President honoured the brave soldiers.

While Maj Sreeram Kumar received his award in person, Maj Rishima Sharma received it on behalf of her late husband Maj Sharma and Ms Beeta received the award on behalf of her late husband Havildar Rajesh Kumar.

The award for Havildar Rajesh Kumar was announced yesterday while those for Maj Sharma and Maj Sreeram Kumar were announced on the eve of Independence Day last year.

Havildar Rajesh Kumar was leading a section of a Ghatk team that was searching the dense forest in Kupwara district of Jammu and kashmir when it came under intense and indiscriminate firing by terrorists. He returned the fire and scrambled into the undergrowth to outflank the terrorists.

President Pratibha Patil giving away the highest gallantry award Ashok Chakra to Beeta, wife of Havildar Rajesh Kumar (posthumous) in New Delhi on January 26, 2010.
President Pratibha Patil giving away the highest gallantry award Ashok Chakra to Beeta, wife of Havildar Rajesh Kumar (posthumous) in New Delhi on January 26, 2010.
With dogged determination he closed in around the flank and killed one terrorist. While continuing the search, the team was again engaged by two terrorists positioned further up the slope.

Realizing the danger to the lives of his teammates, Havildar Rajesh Kumar moved to outflank one of the terrorists through a veritable hail of bullets. While closing in, he sustained gunshot wounds in the abdomen. Disregarding the injuries, he shot and killed the second terrorist. Bleeding profusely, he moved to outflank the third terrorist from his blind side and engaged him in fierce hand-to-hand combat, killing the terrorist with a burst of fire, before succumbing to his own injuries.

"Havildar Rajesh Kumar showed unparalleled feat of most conspicuous gallantry, fortitude and the rare spirit of self-sacrifice in fighting the terrorists," the citation said.

Maj Sharma was commissioned into the First Battalion of the Parachute Regiment (Special Forces) on December 30, 1999. During his initial probation period, he got injured and was posted back to his parent unit on medical grounds, where he served for three years.

Thereafter, he was posted to 38 Rashtriya Rifles Battalion and, due to his exemplary services in combating terrorism during Operation Rakshak, he was awarded the Chief of Army Staff Commendation Card. After serving in the unit for 21 months, he again volunteered for probation with the First Battalion of the Parachute Regiment (Special Forces). Displaying unparalleled motivation, he successfully cleared probation. He was awarded with Sena Medal (gallantry) for a daring covert operation in 2005.

President Pratibha Patil giving away the highest gallantry award Ashok Chakra to Major Rishima Sharma wife of the Major Mohit Sharma (posthumous) in New Delhi on January 26, 2010.
President Pratibha Patil giving away the highest gallantry award Ashok Chakra to Major Rishima Sharma wife of the Major Mohit Sharma (posthumous) in New Delhi on January 26, 2010.

On March 21, 2009, while tracking an infiltrating terrorist group, he and his men came under heavy fire. Unmindful of his safety he rescued two of his comrades to cover under overwhelming effective fire, killed two terrorists and in the process sustained multiple gunshot wounds. Grievously wounded but sensing grave danger to his commandos, he charged at the terrorists and killed two more at close range.

"The brave officer succumbed to his injuries and made the supreme sacrifice in the finest traditions of the paltan and the country," the citation said.
President Pratibha Patil Patil giving away the highest gallantry award Ashok Chakra to Major D Shreeram Kumar of 39 Assam Rifles in New Delhi on January 26, 2010.
President Pratibha Patil Patil giving away the highest gallantry award Ashok Chakra to Major D Shreeram Kumar of 39 Assam Rifles in New Delhi on January 26, 2010.

Maj Sreeram Kumar, 29, was commissioned into 90 Medium Regiment (Artillery) on March 20, 2004 and was promoted to the rank of major on August 24, 2008. He is presently serving with 39 Assam Rifles since March, 2007 in Arunachal Pradesh (Operation Orchid) and from December 2007 in Manipur (Op Hifazat).

"With his consummate leadership and ingenuity, he has created an effective and vibrant intelligence network, delivering hard blows to the activities of the terrorists and making it extremely difficult for them to operate in the battalion area of responsibility.

"Due to his efforts there has been a palpable decrease in insurgency activities in the unit area of responsibility which has bought succour to the people and ensured their safety.

"The officer has personally participated in a number of operations, leading from the front, and has eliminated 12 terrorists, apprehended 23 terrorists and recovered 12 weapons since induction of the Battalion in Manipur in Dec 2007. Largely due to his efforts and earnestness the unit, in 2008, has achieved numerous operational successes in Manipur (Op Hifazat)," the citation said.

NNN

Photo courtesy Press Information Bureau

Delhi, many parts of north India covered by dense fog

The sun barely seen through the thick fog that enveloped New Delhi in the morning of January 26, 2010.
The sun barely seen through the thick fog that enveloped New Delhi in the morning of January 26, 2010.

Delhi and many other parts of North India were enveloped by a blanket of dense fog that disrupted flight operations at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, threw train schedules out of gear and slowed down road traffic.

The heavy fog also meant that visibility on Raj Path and around India Gate in the capital was less than a hundred metres as the Republic Day parade got underway in the presence of President Pratibha Patil, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who was the Chief Guest, Vice-President M Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and thousands of other people.

The maximum temperature in the past 24 hours was 24 degrees Celsius, the same as the previous day and three degrees above normal.

The minimum temperature in the past 24 hours came down slightly to 9.4 degrees Celsius from 10.7 degrees on the previous day and 1.4 degrees above normal for this time of the year.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) had forecast fog in the morning in the capital and mainly clear skies later. It said the maximum and minimum temperatures today would be around 23 and 8 degrees Celsius.

The IMD has has forecast foggy conditions in the morning for the next two days. It said the maximum and minimum temperatures would be around 22 and 7 degrees Celsius tomorrow and 23 and 9 degrees Celsius on Thursday.

The Northern Railway has cancelled 20 trains today because of foggy conditions in the region, over and above the several trains already cancelled till January 31. Besides, 60-odd trains were running between 3 and 30 hours late and several were rescheduled, the Railway said.

NNN

NetIndian photo by Vinita Abraham

Dense fog disrupts flight operations at Delhi airport

A thick blanket of dense fog over the capital disrupted the schedules of scores of flights at the Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) here today.


Today's fog came after a day of clear skies yesterday, which was preceded by six days of foggy conditions, during which flight operations at the airport had remained disrupted.


The fog, which started descending in the early hours today, reduced visibility to less than 100 metres at the airport this morning. As a result, a few flights were cancelled and scores were delayed. Some flights were rescheduled and a few diverted to other airports.


Visibility had improved to around 200 metres by 1100 hours this morning.


NNN

India, South Korea agree to work towards civil nuclear deal


India and South Korea today agreed to work towards a framework for bilateral civil nuclear cooperation and signed agreements in areas such as cooperation in information technology and services, science and technology and peaceful uses of outer space.


At the end of talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and visiting South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, the two sides also signed an agreement on the transfer of sentenced persons.


Noting that the India-South Korea partnership was a factor for peace and stability in Asia as well as between the two countries, the two leaders decided to enhance the bilateral relations to a Strategic Partnership.
A joint statement issued after the talks said the two leaders shared the view that nuclear energy could play an important role as a safe, sustainable and non-polluting source of energy.


South Korea is a member of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group and had backed consensus in the grouping for resuming nuclear trade with India last September.


India has already signed civil nuclear agreements with the United States, Russia, France, Kazakhstan, Namibia, Argentina and Mongolia.


Mr Lee arrived in Chennai on January 24 at the start of a five-day State Visit to India and reached the capital the same evening. He will be the Chief Guest at the Republic Day Parade here tomorrow morning.


The South Korean leader met President Pratibha Patil and had a summit meeting with Dr Singh, during which they discussed ways to develop bilateral relations and exchanged views on regional and international issues.


According to the statement, they expressed satisfaction on the strong development of India -South Korea relations based on the "Long-term Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity" established in October 2004.


Both sides welcomed the steady growth in high level exchanges and contacts between the two countries, and the expansion in various areas of bilateral relations including defence, trade, science & technology, information & communication technology, education, and culture.


Dr Singh and Mr Lee agreed there was immense scope for further enhancing bilateral relations in various areas. In this context, they also welcomed the entry into force of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) on 1 January 2010 as the bedrock of a new comprehensive partnership between their countries.


They also recognized that, as both countries are major economies in the region, the partnership has the capacity to promote regional growth, and to contribute to prosperity and economic development of Asia.

Referring to the common challenges that both countries face in ensuring security against non-conventional threats, the two leaders agreed on the importance of cooperating and consulting with each other in developing regional architecture in the broader Asia-Pacific region.


As part of their Strategic Partnership between the two countries, the two leaders decided to main regular contacts, including on the margins of international meetings and conferences.


They reiterated the importance of the India-South Korea Joint Commission co-chaired by the Foreign Ministers of the two countries and acknowledged the necessity of holding the Joint Commission on an annual basis. It was agreed that the sixth meeting of the Joint Commission will be held in 2010.


Dr Singh and Mr Lee agreed that e Foreign Policy & Security Dialogue between the two countries would be raised to the level of Vice Foreign Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT) of South Korea and Secretary (East), Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) of India. It was also agreed that the first meeting of the upgraded dialogue will be held in 2010.

The two leaders agreed to strengthen dialogue and exchanges in the area of defence through regular high-level military exchanges. They also agreed to explore the possibilities of joint venture cooperation in research & development, and manufacture of military equipment including through transfer of technology and co-production. It was agreed that the third meeting of the Joint Committee on Defence Logistics and Industry will be held during the first half of 2010.

The two leaders also agreed on the need for greater cooperation between the navies and coast guards in areas pertaining to the safety and security of international maritime traffic. They shared the view that developing long-term cooperative relations in this area will contribute to peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.


As far as economic and trade cooperation was concerned, the two sides felt that the CEPA would contribute to enhancing trade and investment flows between the two countries. It was agreed that the first meeting of the Joint Committee headed by Trade Ministers of the two countries or their representatives will be held in the second half of 2010 to review the status of the implementation of the CEPA.

Dr Singh and Mr Lee set a target of $ 30 billion for bilateral trade to be achieved by 2014 from the present level of about $ 16 billion. They also agreed to strengthen cooperation in trade and investment, SMEs, SPS and Standards related measures, trade remedies and IPR issues.


Both sides agreed to enhance cooperation in the financial sector through bilateral consultations on macroeconomic policy, budget, taxation, finance, and public sector reform.

Noting that the expansion of mutual investment will contribute to the reciprocal economic growth of both countries, the two leaders agreed to enhance cooperation and support at the governmental level to nurture a favourable environment, including through mutual agreement on a revised Double Taxation Avoidance Convention (DTAC) before the end of 2010.


The Indian side expressed the hope that investment from South Korea into India would expand, including in the infrastructure and manufacturing sectors. In this context, referring to the project to set up a Korean industrial complex and technology zone in Gujarat, the two leaders noted its potential to further accelerate the bilateral trade and investment linkages.


According to the joint statement, the two leaders also recognized the need to expedite the implementation of the POSCO project in Orissa. The Korean side hoped that Indian investment in Korea will also expand. It was agreed that the fourth meeting of the India-South Korea Joint Committee on Investment Promotion will be held in New Delhi in 2010.


The two leaders agreed to explore the possibility of enhancing air connectivity between the two countries. They also agreed to consider the early conclusion of a mutually beneficial Maritime Shipping Agreement.


Dr Singh and Mr Lee agreed to designate 2011 as the Year of Korea in India and the Year of India in Korea.


The Indian side also welcomed the Korean initiative to open a Korean Cultural Centre in New Delhi in 2011.


The two leaders recognized the legitimate and long-term interests of both countries in the peace and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region, and the importance of developing an open and inclusive economic regional architecture that is based on the principles of mutual benefit and shared opportunity.


In this context, they affirmed that both India and South Korea had a significant role to play in such a regional architecture and agreed to maintain regular consultations and close coordination in the EAS, ARF, ACD and ASEM processes.

Both sides agreed to work for comprehensive United Nations reform, including Security Council expansion.


The two leaders reiterated their commitment to the eradication of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, and agreed to enhance cooperation in this area, including through information sharing.


Both sides also reiterated their common commitment on nuclear disarmament and the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery.

The two leaders valued the G-20 as the premier forum for international economic cooperation and commended its timely and strong policy response in the crisis. They welcomed the Framework for Strong, Sustainable and Balanced Growth launched at Pittsburgh and looked forward to its implementation.

They welcomed the Copenhagen Accord and reaffirmed their determination to work closely together in the negotiations both under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol towards an Agreed Outcome to be adopted at the 16th Session of the Conference of the Parties.


NNN

Correctional Service Medals awarded to 14 prison personnel

The Correctional Service Medal for Meritorious Service have been awarded to 14 prison personnel on the occasion of the Republic Day, 2010.

The names of the awardees are: A.G. Sainath Reddy, Superintendent of Jails, Central Prison, Rajamundry, Andhra Pradesh, Satrunhan Prasad Sahu, Warder, Sub Jail Baloda Bazar, Chhattisgarh, Sheoraj Yadav, Deputy Superintendent, Central Jail No. 1, Tihar, Delhi, Ved Prakash, Head Warder (Factory), Central Jail, No. 2, Tihar, Delhi, Sudhir Chandra Jha, Jailor, Daltonganj, Jharkhand, Kumuda Bandhu Naik, Senior Superintendent, Circle Jail, Cuttack, Choudwar, Orissa, Bijaya Kumar Jena, Sub Assistant Jailor, Berhampur Circle Jail, Orissa, V. Jaganathan, Assistant Jailor, Sub- Jail Rasipuram, Tamilnadu, R. Rukumani Devi, Chief Head Warder (Female) Women Sub Jail, Thuckalay, Tamilnadu, Prem Chandra Pandey, Warder, District Jail Rae Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, Amarpal Singh, Warder, Adarsh Karagar, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, Rama Kant Yadav, Warder, District Jail Rae Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, Anil Kumar, Warder, District Jail Shahjahanpur,Uttar Pradesh, Sakuntala Sen, Chief Controller of Correctional Services, Alipore Women’s Correctional Home, Alipore, Kolkata, West Bengal.


NNN

Delhi Metro introduces 43rd train on Line 3/4

The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) today introduced an additional train on its Line 3/4 from Dwarka Sector 9 to Noida City Centre/Anand Vihar - its most heavily crowded route.


The line is also the DMRC's longest in operation, at present carrying 48 per cent of the total ridership on the Metro system.


With the addition of the new train, the Metro will now have 43 trains on the line and it will now be able to run 78 additional trips from Dwarka to Yamuna Bank. From Yamuna Bank, 39 of these trips will go on to Noida City Centre and the remaining 39 to Anand Vihar, a DMRC press release said.


The 78 trips will help DMRC accommodate 90,000 people and ease the traffic, the release said.


The Line 3/4 of the Delhi Metro is 47.1 kms (Dwarka Sector-9 to Noida City Centre) and 6.25 kms (Yamuna Bank to Anand Vihar).


NNN

President says Government will continue to tackle terror threats

President Pratibha Patil today said the Government had taken and would continue to take necessary steps to tackle threats emanating from terrorism.

"For growth, an environment of security is essential. Government is committed to maintain high vigil and take appropriate measures to address internal security challenges," Ms Patil said in her customary address to the nation on the eve of Republic Day.

Noting that India had been a target of terrorism for more than two decades, she said the Government would continue to work with the international community to combat this menace.

She said that, as in the past, in the future also, the voice of India in the world would be a voice for peace, development and hope.

"In the global arena, we will seek a change in the structure of multilateral institutions, so that they reflect contemporary realities. We will continue to cooperate with the international community to deal with global issues. We will seek to build friendly relations with countries in our region and those across the world," she said.

Ms Patil said she agreed with the view that the next decade would be one of reckoning for India.

"It must, therefore, mean a decade in which all Indians must do their work with a sense of responsibility, discipline, integrity of mind and purpose as well as with a spirit of cooperation. We will have to inspire our young generation so that they are virtuous, with good character and a sense of fellow feeling towards others. We must channelise all our efforts towards the goal of taking the country to a higher level of all round national development and not rest till we achieve our goal. We can then be proud that we have performed our duty and borne our responsibility well. It is said that, fortune is an outcome of good work and can slip away, if we are lax in our work," she said.

The President noted that, in the first decade of the 21st century, India had emerged as a force driving change in the world. She said India's achievements and experiences had brought the nation to a definitional stage, where the promise of a bright future as a developed and progressive nation is for it to claim.

"However, as we overcome deficiencies and convert our strengths into an energetic force, we must remain deeply conscious of what we must preserve and what we must change," she said.

In this context, Ms Patil stressed the importance of continuing with the country's democratic principles and way of life and its path of secularism. She also pointed out that climate change had become a major challenge and called for judicious use of the planet's resources and efforts to conserve its flora and fauna.

Noting that the country was today the fourth largest economy of the world in terms of purchasing power parity, she said its target of achieving a double digit growth rate was plausible and realistic, given its impressive performance during the last decade and its resilience during the global economic downturn.

"We should continue with policies that promote growth, and also take growth patterns to the bottom of the pyramid and, to those currently outside its purview. Empowering the poor and the disadvantaged, enabling them to move up the economic ladder, to join the ranks of the prosperous, is a task that must be accomplished by all of us. Women need to be made full and equal partners. The inclusive growth strategy, which we have chosen, can make our growth process equitable and sustainable," she said.

Ms Patil said the roadmap to inclusive growth required social justice that could be delivered through an effective social sector infrastructure. It should make quality education and good health facilities available to all citizens, along with social services and job opportunities, she said.

She said this, in turn, would create a human resource base which had the skills, knowledge and capacity to work productively.

"Hence, our attention must remain focused on this, especially as we have a young population. They must be nurtured and prepared for taking up their responsibilities. Future growth in all sectors will depend on knowledge workers and skilled workforces. They can make our economy dynamic, our service sector efficient and competitive, our manufacturing industries broad based and our agriculture and allied sectors strong," she said.

The President said integrating and developing linkages between sectors would further reinforce growth. These linkages could be fortified by having connectivity at various levels, she said.

"For a nation which is the seventh largest in geographical terms and the second largest in terms of population, our existing physical infrastructure is inadequate. This constrains and limits connectivity. We have to change this situation. The number of bridges, roads, harbours as well as our power generation capacity and transport facilities, among others, require extensive additions," she said.

Ms Patil said it was equally important to connect hearts and minds and strengthen the unity of the nation. She also underlined the importance of strengthening democracy at all levels.

"This is important to make the development of a democratic nation of over one billion people, participatory and sustainable. In the next decade, not only must we witness the speedy building up of infrastructure, but also a greater cohesiveness among citizens," she said.

The President said weak implementation and corruption in the system were bottlenecks and impediments in bringing about the desired results for which policies and schemes had been formulated and huge allocation of funds had been made.

She said the causes of the chronic ailment of tardy implementation had to be treated. She also said that there should be accountability for lack of implementation of projects, programmes and schemes. This was critical for bringing about positive change.

Ms Patil made a special mention of the role that public-private partnerships and self-help groups could play in achieving inclusive growth.

She also spoke about the need for an intense focus on increasing agricultural productivity to ensure food availability, particularly of agricultural produces which are in short supply, to avoid spiralling food prices.

"To achieve this very important objective, I call for urgent steps towards a Second Green Revolution. There should be use of new technologies, better seeds, improved farming practices, effective water management techniques, as well as more intense frameworks for connecting the farmer with the scientific community, with lending institutions and with markets," she said.

Ms Patil also said that the agricultural economy had to be involved more pro-actively into the growth process, both as a centre of production and as a generator of demand for various products and services.

She said there were many complementarities that existed between farming communities and the corporate world because both are private enterprises. She said some Indian companies had understood that linking farmers to industrial units would be beneficial to both and had developed interesting models of engagement with the farming community.

The President underlined the need for technologies for more efficient and cleaner energy and for industry and agriculture. She said the quality of research in the country must be upgraded to build knowledge structures.

Ms Patil said Indian research institutions should join global knowledge netowrks to keep themselves abreast of worldwide advancements in research. She said technology should reach a broader section of society and the movement of grassroots innovations should receive encouragement.

She also spoke about the need for eradication of various social malpractices, in particular those related to discrimination against women. "This is essential for our inclusive growth agenda and for tapping the full potential of our population," she said.

Ms Patil said the media could create awareness by bringing information to the people, getting them to reflect and making them realise their responsibilities towards the nation.

"With a media that plays a constructive role, people would be inspired to take actions that would contribute to building the nation and also to learn about the benefits of positive actions," she added.

NNN

National Communal Harmony Awards announced

Well-known Sanskrit scholar Mohammed Hanif Khan Shastri and the Centre for Human Rights & Social Welfare, a social organisation in Rajasthan working for welfare of the homeless and deprived sections, have been chosen for the National Communal Harmony Awards for 2009.


The jury headed by Vice-President M Hamid Ansari selected the awardees in recognition of their contribution for the promotion of communal harmony, an official press release said.


Dr Shastri, 58, is a learned Sanskrit scholar and has been awarded Ph.D. on Mahamantra Gayatri Aur Surah Fatiha Ka Arth Prayog Evam Mahatmya Ki Drishtri Se Tulnatmak Addhayan in 1991.


Dr Shastri has at least eight books to his credit as an author. The most popular amongst these publications are Mohangita, Geeta Aur Quran men Samanjasya, Ved aur Quran se Mahamantra Gayatri aur Surah Fatiha, Vedon men Manav Adhikar and Meljol. The publications are considered as masterpieces by academicians and scholars.


According to the release, Dr. Shastri has endeavored to promote communal harmony by highlighting similarities between Hindu and Muslim religions through his literary contributions in Hindi and Sanskrit. His other activities include delivering lectures, talks and TV shows on theme of communal harmony. He has also received appreciation letters for his contribution in literature with particular reference to communal harmony.

The Centre for Human Rights & Social Welfare, registered in 1976, is a social organisation working for communal harmony, human rights, welfare of the homeless persons, women, footpath dwellers, rehabilitation of needy and deprived persons.


Its specific activities include organising interfaith dialogue, programmes of "milan" on the occasions of Eid, Holi, Diwali and Christmas, communal harmony rally, kavi sammelan, mushaira and so on to promote communal harmony and national integration.


The Centre has campaigned against terrorism and has been organising programmes like ‘Dil se suno’ and ‘Garima samvad’ to sensitize the people on the rights of the homeless persons. The organisation has actively participated in the rehabilitation work of the victims of bomb blasts that occurred in Jaipur in May 2008. It also organised a number of programmes to strengthen fraternity at sensitive places.

The National Communal Harmony Awards were instituted in 1996 by the National Foundation for Communal Harmony, an autonomous organisation set up by the Ministry of Home Affairs for promoting communal harmony and national integration.


The award has been instituted with a view to demonstrating due appreciation and recognition of the efforts of individuals and organisations/institutions for promotion of communal harmony and national integration in a sustained manner over a sufficiently long period of time.

In addition to a citation in each category, the award carries a cash award of Rs five lakh for the organisation and Rs two lakh for the individual categories.


NNN

10 more swine flu deaths in India, toll rises to 1194

Ten more people have died of influenza A (H1N1) in India, taking the toll due to the swine flu pandemic in the country so far to 1194, an official statement said here today.


It said seven of the deaths - three in Gujarat and one each in Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh - were reported during the day today.


Besides, reports of three deaths that occurred earlier - two in Gujarat and one in Delhi - were received from the state authorities concerned by the Union Ministry of Health & Family Welfare today, it said.


Of the total swine flu deaths in the country so far, Maharashtra now accounts for 311, while 217 lives have been lost in Gujarat, 175 in Rajasthan, 141 in Karnataka, 92 in Delhi, 52 in Andhra Pradesh, 38 in Punjab, 36 in Kerala, 33 in Haryana, 20 in Madhya Pradesh, 18 in Uttar Pradesh, 13 in Uttarakhand, 8 each in Chandigarh and Himachal Pradesh, 7 in Tamil Nadu, 6 each in Chhattisgarh and Puducherry, 5 in Goa, 3 in Orissa, 2 each in Assam and Jammu & Kashmir and 1 in Mizoram.


The statement said 36 new cases of swine flu were reported from different parts of India today, including 14 in Maharashtra, 9 in Gujarat, 3 in Uttar Pradesh, 2 each in Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi and 1 each in Karnataka, Jammu & Kashmir, Rajasthan and Chandigarh.


With these, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus reported in the country so far has gone up to 28,596, the statement added.


NNN

Elections: PM concerned over background of many contestants, winners

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday called for reforms in the electoral process to ensure that talented and educated professionals were attracted to politics and people with questionable backgrounds kept out.

President Pratibha Patil at a photo exhibition organised to mark the Diamond Jubilee of the Election Commission. Chief Election Commissioner Navin Chawla and Election Commissioner S. Y. Qureshi are also seen.
President Pratibha Patil at a photo exhibition organised to mark the Diamond Jubilee of the Election Commission. Chief Election Commissioner Navin Chawla and Election Commissioner S. Y. Qureshi are also seen.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today called for reforms in the electoral process to ensure that talented and educated professionals were attracted to politics and people with questionable backgrounds kept out.

Speaking at the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of the Election Commission of India (ECI) here, Dr Singh said that, while applauding the achievements of the Election Commission and Indian democracy, it would be good to ponder on some of the challenges that still lay ahead.

He said there was a genuine concern that politics in the country was not attracting the best and the brightest among the people.

He said it was also a matter of concern that educated professionals and the growing middle class often shied away from the participation in the electoral process.

"Many of them are not even willing to take the trouble to cast their vote. Poor turn-out in many constituencies undermines, to some extent, the legitimacy of the victor in a `first past the post' system that we follow," he said.

Dr Singh said there was a general worry that people without sufficient means could not contest elections. "The background of many contestants, and quite often the winning ones, does not inspire confidence in the voters," he said.

He said there was no easy answer to these questions. While there was near unanimity that something needed to be done about these issues, there was no consensus on how exactly to go about it.

"The Election Commission has considered some of these problems and given its recommendations. The Standing Committee of our Parliament is also seized of many of these issues. I hope in the coming years we will be able to find solutions to these problems by consensus, and in the process improve the quality of our democracy," he said.

President Pratibha Patil, Vice-President M Hamid Ansari, ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj and National Democratic Alliance (NDA) convener Sharad Yadav were amongst the others who spoke at the event.

Chief Election Commissioner Navin B Chawla and Election Commissioners S Y Quraishi and V S Sampath also spoke on the occasion.

Ms Patil, in her inaugural address, stressed the need for steps to remove various impediments, lacunae and malpractices in India's electoral process.

"These would have to be removed with determination, to make our democracy cleaner, healthier and stronger," she said.

"India has impressive democratic credentials, but yet has the challenge of becoming a 'role model' for other countries," she said.

Ms Patil stressed the need to adhere to the values, spirit and principles of the Constitution and to ensure that the power of voting vested in the people made them powerful enough to change their own destiny through democracy. She said it was important to make democracy fully participatory.

She said there had been constant attempts by the Government to increasingly involve people in governance and expressed confidence that these would continue to be made.

"Through the Panchayati Raj Institutions and Local Urban Bodies, we have sought to deepen the reach of democracy. Their role and responsibility for executing programmes and schemes, particularly social and welfare schemes must increase," she said.

Mr Ansari also dwelt at length of the challenges that lay before Indian democracy and the Election Commission.

He said real empowerment and participative governance at the third tier of government was still a work in progress. He hoped that, as recommended by the Second Administrative Reforms Commission, the electoral process at the local self-government level would benefit from coordination and sharing of experiences and resources with the ECI.

He spoke about how, despite stringent efforts, unaccounted election expenses constituted the major expenditure of political parties and their candidates.

"These relate to the distribution of freebies, liquor and cash during elections, the phenomenon of surrogate advertisements, and the extensive media-related malpractice of 'paid news' and 'coverage packages.' Each of these is a blot on the democratic process and on the objective of free and fair elections. Corrective action by the Election Commission and our political parties is imperative," he said.

Mr Ansari said the Election Commission had insisted upon and enforced procedural inner party democracy in recognised political parties.

"The challenge for the political parties now is to bring about substantive organisational democracy," he said.

Ms Gandhi said Indian democracy had traversed a long way, especially with regard to ensuring the participation of women. She pointed out that, in many places, women outnumbered male voters during elections.

She also said that steps such as the disclosure norms had ensured that people now had more information about their candidates. Likewise, the model code of conduct had created a level playing field for all candidates and parties, she said.

At the same time, there was a need for more steps to minimise the role of money and muscle power and ensure greater transparency in the electoral process, she added.

NNN

Syndicate content
© Copyright 2012 NetIndian. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of NetIndian content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of NetIndian Media Corporation. Write to info[AT]netindian[DOT]in for permission to use content. Read detailed Terms of Use.