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Ansari lists lacunae in implementation of RTI Act

Vice President M Hamid Ansari has said that there was dissatisfaction with several aspects of the implementation of the four-year-old Right to Information Act.

Vice President, M. Hamid Ansari addressing the valedictory session of the 4th Annual Convention on RTI, organized by the Central Information Commission, in New Delhi on October 13, 2009.
Vice President, M. Hamid Ansari addressing the valedictory session of the 4th Annual Convention on RTI, organized by the Central Information Commission, in New Delhi on October 13, 2009.

Vice President M Hamid Ansari has said that while the Right to Information (RTI) Act had brought about transparency and reduced corruption in a significant manner, dissatisfaction with it was also evident in relation to several aspects of its implementation over the last four years.

"In any democratic society, a level of dissatisfaction among the citizenry towards their government should be taken as a given," Mr Ansari said in his valedictory address at the fourth Annual Convention of the Central Information Commission (CIC) here yesterday.

"Far from being a nuisance to the process of governance, it is such dissatisfaction that propels government to improve its functioning, be sensitive and empathetic to the problems of citizens and ensures efficient allocation and spending of public resources," he said.

The Vice-President agreed that the basic tenets of the RTI Act had been implemented and the institutional structure was being utilised by citizens.

He said the RTI had become an important instrumentality to the media and civil society, with the country seeing the beginning of decentralization and participatory governance and a citizen-friendly orientation to government.

Turning to the areas in which there was dissatisfaction with the RTI in various quarters, Mr Ansari said that, for one, a vast number of organisations that should have been covered under the definition of "public authority" for being owned, controlled or substantially financed, directly or indirectly, by funds provided by the appropriate government, had not come forward pro-actively to be covered by the Act.

"They await a case-by-case ruling by the Central or State Information Commissions to be so considered and hence covered by the Act. Currently, neither the Information Commissions nor the governments have ensured that all bodies that are covered by the definition of ‘public authority’ undertake action as listed in Chapter II of the Act," he said.

Secondly, he said that very few public authorities of the Central and State governments had followed the provisions of Section 4 of the Act in letter and spirit. The section calls on public authorities to provide as much information to the public at regular intervals, through various means of communication, so that public has minimum resort to the use of the Act.

According to him, it would be useful to review if cataloguing and indexing of records and data-sets have changed during the last four years in a manner that could facilitate the RTI.

Also, he noted that the actual disclosure of information by the public authorities was marked by inconsistency and unevenness.

"There has been little innovation and adaptation to capture information in government agencies and thereafter bring about suo moto disclosure. The websites of the central and state governments also lack technical and content standardization. There is clearly a case for putting in place detailed ‘RTI Act friendly’ record management practices," he observed.

Mr Ansari said that it was important to note that Section 4 of the Act mandated every public authority to publish the manner of execution of subsidy programmes, including the amounts allocated and details of beneficiaries.

He said this was a significant step given the fact that the total quantum of subsidies provided by the central and state governments to the citizens in the country exceeded Rs. 200,000 crores. While such a process had been initiated with respect to NREGA, significant work remains to be done on this issue, he pointed out.

The Vice-President felt that, currently, the Central and State Information Commissioners worked in relative isolation, with each of their decisions not being available in a systematic manner or in real time to the general public or even to other Commissioners.

He also noted that the decisions of the Information Commissioners also did not constitute precedence for dealing with similar cases. Further, there were still doubts about the validity of decisions taken by individual Commissioners due to a notion that a full bench of the Information Commission should hear the case that comes before it, he said.

According to him, an important lacuna had been the lack of a mandatory monitoring mechanism to look at the implementation of the RTI Act and to ensure that it was implemented in letter and spirit.

"Currently, the media and civil society groups are undertaking this task on an ad hoc basis. The Price Waterhouse Cooper’s report has recommended periodic Third Party Audit to ensure that public authorities comply with provisions and guidelines of the Act," he said.

He hoped that the results of the Convention would be seriously studied and lead to better implementation of the Act.

Mr Ansari also observed that information on the RTI Act, including the translation of the Act itself, was not available in all the 22 languages mentioned in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.

He pointed out that the website of the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions had the RTI Act in only 11 languages. The web sites of most Information Commissions were not multilingual covering the official languages adopted by the appropriate governments. For example, the Central Information Commission does not have a Hindi website for dissemination of information. Likewise, neither the RTI Act nor data on the web sites of Information Commissions of states where Urdu is the Second Official Language are available in Urdu, he said.

"This issue needs to be addressed at the earliest. Empowerment would be meaningless if it is sought to be achieved through a language that the citizen does not understand. Section 4 (4) of the RTI Act mandates that 'all materials shall be disseminated taking into consideration the cost effectiveness, local language and the most effective method of communication in that local area'. Article 350 of the Constitution also entitles every person 'to submit a representation for the redress of any grievance to any officer or authority of the Union or a State in any of the languages used in the Union or in the State, as the case may be,'" he added.

The two-day convention was inaugurated on Monday by President Pratibha Patil. The event marks the fourth anniversary of the coming into effect of the landmark legislation. Among others, the event was attended by representatives of civil society and media from India and from SAARC countries.

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Indian, US Air Forces to hold bilateral exercise Oct 15-24

The Indian and the United States Air Forces will conduct joint exercises, codenamed Cope India, from October 15 to 24 at the Air Force Station at Agra in Uttar Pradesh.

A press release from the US Embassy said this year's Cope India would be an airlift exercise that focuses on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions.

More than 150 US airmen, along with three C-130H Hercules, one C-17 Globemaster III, and one C-130J, will join Indian Air Force airmen and one IL-76 Gajraj, four AN-32 Sutlejes, two MI-17 Prataps, and one Chetak Alouette III for the exercise.

According to the release, Cope India participants will exchange airlift, airland and airdrop delivery techniques; participate in aeromedical and disaster management exercises; conduct cooperative flight operations, to include aircraft generation and recovery, low-level navigation, tactical airdrop, and air-land missions; and conduct subject matter expert exchanges in the operations, maintenance, and rigging disciplines.

"This exercise continues to strengthen the bond between the US and Indian Air Forces, and will be the fourth installment of Cope India," it said.

"Cope India is a bold testament to the strong and growing relationship our two great countries share on strategic issues such as humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and national security," US Ambassador to India Timothy J. Roemer said.

"As President Obama has said, Indians have no greater friend or partner than the people of the United States," he added.

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Air India to deploy B777s on India-Tokyo/Paris sectors

National carrier Air India will deploy its new state-of-the-art Boeing 777-200LR aircraft on its India-Tokyo and India-Paris sectors in its winter schedule effective October 25, 2009.


An Air India press release said the move was aimed at offering a superior product to its passengers on these routes, many of whom are business and leisure travellers.


"The airline will offer passengers the comfort and luxury of the brand new state-of-the-art B777-200LR aircraft to Narita and Charles de Gaulle airports, an upgrade from the A330 service currently in operation," it said.


The airline currently operates the B777 aircraft, inducted in the recent past, to New York, Chicago, Frankfurt and London.


With the induction of more B777s, Air India will now operate to all long haul destinations with this aircraft type, the release added.


According to the release, Air India's domestic schedule offers convenient outbound/inbound connections to/from metro cities to/from both Tokyo and Paris.


Passengers arriving into Delhi from Hyderabad, Mumbai, Bangalore and Kathmandu can connect smoothly to AI 306 (Delhi-Tokyo) while on the inbound leg, passengers arriving from Tokyo into Delhi on AI 307 and bound for Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata can get convenient connections. Similarly, passengers bound for Paris out of Hyderabad, Bangalore, Mumbai,Kolkata and Chennai can connect to AI 143 from Delhi. Immediate connections to Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad are available for incoming passengers of AI 142 from Paris.


The 38-seater B777-200LR with 8 seats in First Class, 35 seats in Executive Class and 195 seats in Economy Class, comes equipped with the latest passenger amenities and features that help make long haul travel more comfortable and enjoyable.


Each First Class seat in the B777-200LR has a width of 21 inches and can be transformed into a fully horizontal flat bed, 77 inches long and 31 inches wide. A buddy seat has also been provided for those wishing to hold face-to-face discussions. In Executive Class, each seat of 20 inches width can be transformed into a 72 inches long flat bed. A divider resembling a Japanese fan has been provided between seats, for privacy. For those travelling Economy Class, each seat with a width of 18.5 inches, has been ergonomically designed and has a therapeutic foot rest, the release said.


A USB port enables passengers to connect electronic devices like laptop, MP3 player, mobile phone and digital camera. A choice of 250 hours of video and 150 hours of audio programmes is available on the latest Thales i5000 inflight entertainment system onboard.


The release said passengers will also be offered gourmet food and mood lighting in the entire aircraft in shades of mauve, green and pink.


It said the airline would continue to offer four flights a week on the Delhi-Tokyo-Delhi route. The flights from Delhi, operating on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, will depart from Delhi at 2135 hrs and arrive in Tokyo at 0800 hours (local time) next day. The return flights will operate on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, leaving Tokyo at 1200 hrs, reaching Delhi at 1800 hrs (local time).


Air India will operate three flights a week on the Delhi-Paris-Delhi route. The flights from Delhi, operating on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, will depart from Delhi at 1245 hrs and arrive in Paris at 1715 hrs (local time). The return flights will operate on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, leaving Paris at 1845 hrs and reaching Delhi at 0750 hrs (local time) next day. Air India also has code-share arrangements on both these sectors, the release added.


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PM chairs meeting on Climate Change

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today chaired a meeting of the National Council on Climate Change to give shape to the National Mission on Strategic Knowledge for Climate Change (NMSKCC).

Speaking at the meeting, Dr Singh stressed the importance of developing skills, knowledge and capacities in the science of climate change.

In particular, he said that, as the country found itself having to engage with the global community on climate change, it was necessary to have the ability to prepare and read scientific data related to climate change.

He cautioned against compartmentalised thinking in various concerned ministries and suggested an integrated approach to capacity building.

An official press release said the meeting emphasised the importance of building a vibrant and dynamic knowledge system for effectively promoting ecologically sustainable development, with the NMSKCC working as a service mission of the National Action Plan on Climate Change.

It outlined the objectives of the Mission as networking existing knowledge institutions for exchange and sharing of data, building institutional and human capacities and improving the understanding of key climate processes and climate risks.

The Mission would also define sustainability pathways and work towards building alliances and partnerships through global pathways, the release said.

The Mission, serviced by the Ministry of Science and Technology, will seek to build synergy with the National Communication (NATCOM) process of the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

The Ministry of Science and Technology was asked to incorporate the suggestions made by the civil society representatives, who had forcefully pointed out that the success of the Mission would hinge on a public private partnership. The civil society representatives also emphasized that this Mission should plan its strategies only after reaching out to the public.

The meeting was attended, among others, by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh, Economic Advisory Council Chairman C Rangarajan, National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council Chairman V Krishnamurthy, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, Science and Technology Secretary T Ramasami and TERI Director General R K Pachauri.

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Sibal moots Common Entrance Test for new Central Universities

Union Minister for Human Resources Development Kapil Sibal today mooted the idea of a Common Entrance Test for the 15 new Central Universities being set up by the Government around the country.

Addressing a meeting of the Vice-Chancellors of the new universities here, Mr Sibal said a common test would enable a common counselling process and obviate the need for students and their families to travel to different locations for entrance tests and counselling sessions.

The meeting was attended by the Vice-Chancellors of the new Central Universities in Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Orissa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Sikkim and Tamil Nadu.

Also present were the Vice-Chancellors of three erstwhile State Universities in Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh which have now been the status of Central Universities.

Mr R P Agrawal, Secretary, Higher Education, and University Grants Commission (UGC) Chairman Sukhdeo Thorat were amongst the others who attended the meeting.

The Government had decided some weeks ago that, as a special case, there would be two Central Universities in Jammu & Kashmir after dropping the proposal for setting up an Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in the state.

The Vice-Chancellors of the new universities made presentations on their vision for their institutions and details of the courses envisaged, infrastructure and human resource issues as well as individual problem areas.

Mr Sibal told them that the Central Universities must set benchmarks for academic excellence for other universities in the country.

He said they should create an eco-system in their states for high quality reserch and design courses which would help create employment within the state. He also advised them to create alliances and chairs with other parts of the world.

The minister suggested that the courses should be designed in such a manner that would make possible the temporary mobility of students and faculty from one institution to the other. He stressed that the courses must be in conformity with the eco-system of the region.

He urged them to invite faculty from abroad and from the private sector in India for short-term teaching stints.

Mr Sibal said the UGC had been asked to set up a panel to coordinate with the Vice-Chancellors to minimise the number of common courses among the Central Universities. He said the UGC would also be asked to look at the possibility of changing its guidelines so that world class faculty could be brought in.

The Minister said the universities must aim for "green" campuses and buildings that are world-class and aesthetic. He said each university would be provided with one giga byte of broadband connectivity.

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7 more die of H1N1 in India, toll goes up to 396

Seven more influenza A (H1N1) deaths have been reported from India, taking the toll due to the pandemic in the country so far to 396, an official statement from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said here today.

One of the deaths occurred in Maharashtra today. Four deaths in Maharashtra and two in Karnataka reported which occurred in recent days have now been confirmed as cases of swine flu, the statement said.

Of the total deaths in India till now, Maharashtra now accounts for 165, while 112 people have lost their lives in Karnataka, 42 in Andhra Pradesh, 36 in Gujarat, 15 in Delhi, 9 in Kerala, 4 each in Tamil Nadu and Haryana, 3 in Goa, 2 each in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand and 1 each in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.

The statement said 140 new cases of the virus were reported from across the country today, including 30 in Delhi, 23 in Maharashtra, 22 each in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, 13 in Kerala, 8 in Haryana, 7 in Uttar Pradesh, 6 in Andhra Pradesh, 4 each in Gujarat and Puducherry and 1 in Mizoram.

With these, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus reported so far in India has risen to 12,185, the statement added.

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Moderate turnout in Maharashtra, Haryana; heavy polling in Arunachal

Maharashtra and Haryana recorded a moderate turnout of voters while there was heavy polling in Arunachal Pradesh as people in the three states exercised their franchise on Tuesday to elect new Legislative Assemblies

Differently abled voters after casting their </p>
<p>vote at a polling booth, at Mohammad Umar Razzaba Municipal Urdu School, Madanpura, during the Maharashtra </p>
<p>Assembly Election, in Mumbai on October 13, 2009.

Differently abled voters after casting their vote at a polling booth, at Mohammad Umar Razzaba Municipal Urdu School, Madanpura, during the Maharashtra Assembly Election, in Mumbai on October 13, 2009.

About 60 per cent of the voters turned out to vote in Maharashtra, 66 per cent in Haryana and 72 per cent in Arunachal Pradesh as people in the three states exercised their franchise today to elect new Legislative Assemblies.

Briefing journalists on the polling, Chief Election Commissioner Navin Chawla said the figures could go up as more information came in later today.

He said about 48 per cent of the electorate had cast their votes in the 10 assembly constituencies in Mumbai and 52 per cent in suburban constituencies.

The polling in all three states was generally peaceful, barring an incident in Maharashtra's Gadchiroli district, where a group of suspected Naxalites attacked a police patrol party and an election booth.

As many as 17 policemen had been killed in an ambush by Naxalites in Gadchiroli district on October 8 and the state authorities had mounted heavy security with the help of Central para-military forces to ensure an incident-free poll.

Mr Chawla said a decision on repoll in some polling stations would be taken by tomorrow. These would include the 22 polling stations in Gadchiroli where the polling parties could not reach because of "obstructions" by Naxalites.

The Chief Election Commissioner gave details of the various steps the Commission had taken to ensure a smooth poll today. These included the deployment of 470 election observers and 14921 micro-observers in the constituencies that went to the polls. He said as many as 17426 video cameras had been used in the sensitive areas to record the polling process to ensure there were no irregularities.

Mr Chawla also spoke about the efforts made by the Commission to update the electoral rolls and encourage maximum turnout.

Today's polls are the first major test for the Congress after the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) led by it had swept back to power at the Centre in May.

The party is currently in power on its own in Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh and in alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in Maharashtra.

Maharashtra, which has a total electorate of 7.58 crore, has 3559 candidates, including 211 women, in the fray in the 288 constituencies.

The Congress has put up 169 candidates, the Shiv Sena 160, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) 119, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) 281, the NCP 114, the Communist Party of India (CPI) 21, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) 19, and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) 1. Independents and others add up to 2675 candidates.

Maharashtra Governor S C Jamir, Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, Union Agriculture Minister and NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Union Heavy Industries Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, industrialist Anil Ambani, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, actress Nagma and lyricist Gulzar were amongst those who cast their votes in the morning.

In Haryana, Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and former Chief Minister Bhajan Lal were among the early voters.

In Maharashtra, the fight is mainly between the ruling Congress-NCP alliance and the Shiv Sena-BJP combine.

The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena of Raj Thackeray, the estranged nephew of Mr Bal Thackeray, is expected to be a crucial factor, with political observers expecting it to damage the chances of the Shiv Sena in many constituencies.

In Haryana, Mr Hooda is hoping to ride on the success of the Congress in the Lok Sabha elections and lead the party to a second straight term in office, something no government in the state has managed to achieve since 1977.

Mr Hooda had decided to go in for a fresh mandate seven months ahead of schedule, clearly trying to take advantage of his party's strong performance in the Lok Sabha elections when it won nine out of the ten seats from the state. In the last Assembly elections, the Congress had won a decisive 67 out of the 90 seats in the Assembly.

The chances of the Congress have been boosted by the fact that the Opposition in the state is in a state of disarray. The BJP and the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) have parted ways. Other parties such as the Haryana Janhit Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party are going it alone.

In Arunachal Pradesh, the Congress has had three of its candidates, including Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu, elected unopposed.

The party has put up candidates for all the other 57 seats. In the outgoing assembly, the Congress has 43 members, while 13 are independents and two each belong to the NCP and the Arunachal Congress. The BJP had nine members but all of them had walked across to the Congress last year, reducing its strength in the house to zero.

Interestingly, the NCP, which is an ally of the Congress in Maharashtra and at the Centre, has put up 36 candidates in Arunachal Pradesh. Another UPA ally, the Trinamool Congress, is contesting from 26 constituencies in the state.

In all, there are 151 candidates in the fray in Arunachal, which has an electorate of 7.25 lakh voters.

There are 2061 polling stations in Arunachal Pradesh, 12,894 in Haryana and 82,028 in Maharashtra.

This time, all the three states are having a one-day poll, and the Election Commission has deployed Central Police Forces and State Armed Police drawn from other states in the three states going to the polls.

Security has acquired added importance after a group of Naxalites ambushed a police party in Maharashtra's Gadchiroli district a few days ago and killed 17 policemen.

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

Explaining the long gap between the polling day and the counting date, Mr Chawla said this had been partly done at the request of various political parties which had wanted the process to be started after the Diwali festival. Secondly, the gap was necessitated by the long travelling time required by polling parties in remote areas of Arunachal Pradesh to return to the counting centres. He said this involved, in many cases, treks for upto two days.

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12,230 students get scholarships for professional, technical education

As many as 12,230 students from minority communities have been awarded merit-cum-means scholarships totalling Rs 33.76 crore for professional and technical education so far in the current financial year.


The Ministry of Minority Affairs said in an official press release here today that the target for 2009-10 was 42,000 scholarships.


It said 17,258 scholarships worth Rs 40.80 crore were awarded in 2007-08, the year the scheme was launched, and 26,195 scholarships worth Rs 64.79 crore given in 2008-09. Of these, 5,009 scholarships in 2007-08 and 8384 in 2008-09 were earmarked for female students.


The targets were 20,000 scholarships for 2007-08 and 35,000 for 2008-09, the release said.


According to the release, the merit-cum-means scholarship scheme is a centrally-sponsored scheme launched in 2007. It is being implemented through State Governments and Union Territory Administrations.


The entire expenditure is being borne by the Central government. The scholarships are available for pursuing professional and technical courses, at under-graduate and post-graduate levels, in institutions recognized by the appropriate authority under the scheme.


The release said 20,000 scholarships are proposed to be awarded every year. Of these, 30 per cent are earmarked for girl students, which may be utilized by boy students, if an adequate number of eligible girl students are not available.


Seventy institutes for professional and technical courses have been listed in the scheme. Eligible students from the minority communities admitted to these institutions will be reimbursed full course fee. A course fee of Rs.20,000 per annum will be reimbursed to students studying in other institutions.


To be eligible, a student should have secured admission in any technical or professional institution, recognized by an appropriate authority. In case of students admitted without a competitive examination, students should have secured not less than 50 per cent marks. The annual income of the family from all sources should not exceed Rs.2.50 lakh, the release added.


The Government has made a financial allocation of Rs 600 crore for 2,55,000 scholarships under the scheme during the XIth Five Year Plan period (2007-12).


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Govt releases Rs 555.45 cr for 72 minority concentration districts

The Government has so far released Rs 555.45 crore for 72 minority concentration districts (MCDs) under the Multi-Sectoral Development Programme (MSDP).

These 72 districts are in 15 states -- Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Assam, Manipur, Bihar, Meghalaya, Jharkhand, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Orissa, Mizoram, Kerala, Karnataka, Uttarakhand and Maharashtra.

Of the total amount, Rs 270.85 crore was sanctioned for 47 MCDs in 2008-09 and Rs 284.60 crore for 25 MCDs upto September 30 in 2009-10.

The MSDP is aimed at improving the socio-economic parameters of basic amenities for improving the quality of life of the people and reducing imbalances in the MCDs during the XIth Five Year Plan period.

An official press release said identified "development deficits" would be made up through a district-specific plan for provision of better infrastructure for school and secondary education, sanitation, "pucca" housing, drinking water and electricity supply, and income generating schemes.

Absolutely critical infrastructure linkages like connecting roads, basic health infrastructure, Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) centres, skill development and marketing facilities required for improving living conditions and income generating activities and catalyzing the growth process would also be eligible for inclusion in the plan.

The focus of the programme is on rural and semi-rural areas of the identified 90 minority concentration districts. An amount of Rs. 2750 crore has been allocated by the Planning Commission for the MSDP in the XIth Plan, the release added.

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India Post makes arrangements for timely delivery of Diwali greetings

The Department of Posts has made special arrangements to ensure that Diwali greetings sent by mail are delivered to their recipients in time in this festive season.


In Delhi, as many as 34 post offices and two railway mail service (RMS) offices at railway stations will accept Diwali mail from today till October 20.


Separate reception counters have been set up at these post offices for the purpose to cope with the rush of mail that is expected at this time of the year.


The post offices include the New Delhi and the Delhi General Post Offices and the post offices at Ashok Vihar, Civil Lines, Chanakyapuri, Delhi Cantonment, Hauz Khas, Janakpuri, Karol Bagh, Kalkaji, Lodhi Road, Lajpat Nagar, Malviya Nagar, Mehrauli, Mayapuri, Patel Nagar, Paschim Vihar, Rohini, R K Puram, Sansad Marg, Sarojini Nagar and Sriniwaspuri.


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CWC to modernise snowmelt runoff forecasting project

The Central Water Commission (CWC) today said it was extending and modernising its field data collection activities under the project for snowmelt runoff forecasting in the Himalayan river basins.

Proposed activities under the project include snowfall runoff forecasting in the basins of Chenab, Beas, Yamuna, Ganga and Sutlej with the help of remote sensing inputs and by continuing field observations at existing and proposed new observatories.

The CWC, which functions under the Union Ministry of Water Resources, has also taken up a project for "Studies and Monitoring of Water Bodies and Glacial Lakes in the Himalayas affecting India".

The work is proposed to be taken up with the help of the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC).

The objectives of the study include preparation of an inventory of glacial lakes and water bodies in the Himalayan river basins using satellite remote sensing techniques. It will also monitor these glacial lakes and water bodies on a monthly basis from June to October for five years, an official press release added.

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India expresses disappointment, concern over Chinese statement on Arunachal

Map of Arunachal Pradesh.
Map of Arunachal Pradesh.

India today expressed its "disappointment and concern" over a statement made by China today on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's recent visit to Arunachal Pradesh, saying it did not help the process of ongoing negotiations between the two Governments on the boundary question between the two countries.

India's reaction came in response to a question about a statement by the official spokesman of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs earlier in the day expressing Beijing's "strong dissatisfaction" over Dr Singh's visit to what it described as "the disputed area" despite China's "grave concerns".

Stating that the China-India border had never been officially demarcated, spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said the Chinese Government's psoition on the "disputed area" had been consistent and clear.

The statement did not name Dr Singh, but the Prime Minister had visited Arunachal Pradesh on October 3 for campaigning in the Assembly elections being held in the border state.

"We urge the Indian side to take China's solemn concerns seriously and do not stir up trouble at the disputed area with a view to ensuring the sound development of China-India relations," the statement, posted on the Chinese Foreign Ministry's website  said.

In response, Mr Vishnu Prakash, the official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, asserted that Arunachal Pradesh was an integral and inalienable part of the India.

"The people of Arunachal Pradesh are citizens of India, and they are proud participants in the mainstream of India’s vibrant democracy. The Chinese side is well aware of this position of the Government of India," he said.

Mr Prakash said it was well-established practice in India's democratic system that its leaders visited States where elections to Parliament and to the State Assemblies were taking plae.

He said the Government of India was deeply committed to ensuring the welfare of its own citizens across the length and breadth of the country.

Mr Prakash said India and China had jointly agreed that the outstanding Boundary Question between them would be discussed by the Special Representatives appointed by the two Governments.

"We, therefore, express our disappointment and concern over the statement made by the Official Spokesman of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, since this does not help the process of ongoing negotiations between the two Governments on the Boundary Question.

"India is committed to resolving outstanding differences with China in a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable manner, while ensuring that such differences are not allowed to affect the positive development of bilateral relations. We hope that the Chinese side will similarly abide by this understanding," he added.

China claims about 90,000 sq km of land in Arunachal Pradesh. 

The latest exchange comes at a time when there have been a spate of media reports in India about Chinese incursions across the border, which the Indian government had made light of. Earlier this month, India had protested against the policy of the Chinese Embassy in Delhi of issuing a different kind of visa to Indians residing in Jammu and Kashmir.

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Photo and map courtesy Government of Arunachal Pradesh website.

Moderate turnout in Maharashtra, Haryana, Arunachal polls


Moderate polling was witnessed in Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh where voters exercised their franchise today to elect new State Legislative Assemblies.


The polls are the first major test for the Congress after the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) led by it had swept back to power at the Centre in May.


The party is currently in power on its own in Haryana and Arunachal and in alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in Maharashtra.


About 10 per cent of the electorate had cast their votes in the first three hours in Maharashtra and Haryana while the turnout was slightly higher at 15 per cent in Arunachal Pradesh.


Maharashtra, which has a total electorate of 7.58 crore, has 3559 candidates, including 211 women, in the fray in the 288 constituencies.


The Congress has put up 169 candidates, the Shiv Sena 160, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) 119, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) 281, the NCP 114, the Communist Party of India (CPI) 21, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) 19, and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) 1. Independents and others add up to 2675 candidates.


Maharashtra Governor S C Jamir, Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, Union Agriculture Minister and NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Union Heavy Industries Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, industrialist Anil Ambani, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, actress Nagma and lyricist Gulzar were amongst those who cast their votes in the morning.


In Haryana, Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and former Chief Minister Bhajan Lal were among the early voters.


In Maharashtra, the fight is mainly between the ruling Congress-NCP alliance and the Shiv Sena-BJP combine.


The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena of Raj Thackeray, the estranged nephew of Mr Bal Thackeray, is expected to be a crucial factor, with political observers expecting it to damage the chances of the Shiv Sena in many constituencies.


In Haryana, Mr Hooda is hoping to ride on the success of the Congress in the Lok Sabha elections and lead the party to a second straight term in office, something no government in the state has managed to achieve since 1977.


Mr Hooda had decided to go in for a fresh mandate seven months ahead of schedule, clearly trying to take advantage of his party's strong performance in the Lok Sabha elections when it won nine out of the ten seats from the state. In the last Assembly elections, the Congress had won a decisive 67 out of the 90 seats in the Assembly.


The chances of the Congress have been boosted by the fact that the Opposition in the state is in a state of disarray. The BJP and the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) have parted ways. Other parties such as the Haryana Janhit Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party are going it alone.


In Arunachal Pradesh, the Congress has had three of its candidates, including Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu, elected unopposed.


The party has put up candidates for all the other 57 seats. In the outgoing assembly, the Congress has 43 members, while 13 are independents and two each belong to the NCP and the Arunachal Congress. The BJP had nine members but all of them had walked across to the Congress last year, reducing its strength in the house to zero.


Interestingly, the NCP, which is an ally of the Congress in Maharashtra and at the Centre, has put up 36 candidates in Arunachal Pradesh. Another UPA ally, the Trinamool Congress, is contesting from 26 constituencies in the state.


In all, there are 151 candidates in the fray in Arunachal, which has an electorate of 7.25 lakh voters.


There are 2061 polling stations in Arunachal Pradesh, 12,894 in Haryana and 82,028 in Maharashtra.


This time, all the three states are having a one-day poll, and the Election Commission has deployed Central Police Forces and State Armed Police drawn from other states in the three states going to the polls.


Security has acquired added importance after a group of Naxalites ambushed a police party in Maharashtra's Gadchiroli district a few days ago and killed 17 policemen.


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


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Polling begins in Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh

Polling began this morning in Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh to elect new state legislative assemblies in what is the first major electoral exercise in the country after the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) swept back to power at the Centre in May this year.

In Maharashtra, where there are 288 seats in the Assembly, the fight is mainly between the ruling Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) alliance and the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine.

The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena of Raj Thackeray, the estranged nephew of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, is expected to be a crucial factor, with political observers expecting it to damage the chances of the Shiv Sena in many constituencies.

In Haryana, Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda is hoping to ride on the success of the Congress in the Lok Sabha elections and lead the party to a second straight term in office, something no government in the state has managed to achieve since 1977.

Mr Hooda had decided to go in for a fresh mandate seven months ahead of schedule, clearly trying to take advantage of his party's strong performance in the Lok Sabha elections when it won nine out of the ten seats from the state. In the last Assembly elections, the Congress had won a decisive 67 out of the 90 seats in the Assembly.

The chances of the Congress have been boosted by the fact that the Opposition in the state is in a state of disarray. The BJP and the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) have parted ways. Other parties such as the Haryana Janhit Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party are going it alone.

In Arunachal Pradesh, the Congress has had three of its candidates, including Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu, elected unopposed.

The party has put up candidates for all the other 57 seats. In the outgoing assembly, the Congress has 43 members, while 13 are independents and two each belong to the NCP and the Arunachal Congress. The BJP had nine members but all of them had walked across to the Congress last year, reducing its strength in the house to zero.

Interestingly, the NCP, which is an ally of the Congress in Maharashtra and at the Centre, has put up 36 candidates in Arunachal Pradesh. Another UPA ally, the Trinamool Congress, is contesting from 26 constituencies in the state.

There are 2061 polling stations in Arunachal Pradesh, 12,894 in Haryana and 82,028 in Maharashtra.

This time, all the three states are having a one-day poll, and the Election Commission has deployed Central Police Forces and State Armed Police drawn from other states in the three states going to the polls.

Security has acquired added importance after a group of Naxalites ambushed a police party in Maharashtra's Gadchiroli district a few days ago and killed 17 policemen.

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

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Suspected Maoists raid Banshipur railway station in Bihar

A group of about 50 armed men, suspected to be Maoists, attacked the Banshipur railway station on the Patna-Kiul section of the Danapur Division of East Central Railway (ECR) in Bihar's Lakhisarai district late last night, official sources said.

ECR spokesman Dilip Kumar told NetIndian over the telephone that the men damaged the control panel of the signalling system and the communication systems at the station.

The suspected Maoists held the staff at the station, including assistant station master N K Gaur, hostage for some time before releasing them, he said. No one was, however, injured in the incident.

As a result of the damage inflicted during the raid, more than a dozen passenger trains were delayed at various points, Mr Kumar said. Senior railway officers and staff were engaged in hectic efforts to restore the damaged equipment at the earliest.

The suspected Maoists managed to escape after the attack and senior police officials, who rushed to the spot after receiving information about the raid, have launched a combing operation to nab them.

In another incident, suspected Maoists blasted a two-metre section of the railway track between the Yogeshwar and Danea stations in Dhanbad Division last night.

The damaged section is on the route to the coal belt in the Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand on East Central Railway.

In yet another incident, also in Dhanbad division, a night patrolman reported to the authorities around 0200 hours this morning that he had noticed a three-feet hole below the railway track near Karmabad station on the Gaya-Dhanbad route. The hole appeared to have been dug for planting an explosive device.

Mr Kumar said the incident had affected the movement of trains for some time till repairs were carried out.

Suspected Naxalites had also damaged the generator set at a mobile telephone tower in Bihar's Aurangabad district, police officials added.

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India, Australia to hold Foreign Ministers' Framework Dialogue tomorrow

The sixth round of the India-Australia Foreign Ministers' Framework Dialogue will be held here tomorrow to discuss ways of advancing bilateral, regional and international cooperation between the two countries.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, who will co-chair the meeting with External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, was scheduled to arrive here late tonight on a four-day visit that will also take him to Mumbai.

This will be Mr Smith's second visit to India as Foreign Minister and it comes at a time when there is considerable concern, both within the Government and among the Indian people, about the series of attacks on Indian students in Australia in recent months.

Mr Smith's visit will be the ninth by an Australian minister to India since January, 2008. In this period, ten Indian ministers have visited Australia, giving some indication of the growing relationship between the two countries.

In a statement issued in Canberra, Mr Smith said he would also discuss issues of common interest to the two countries and international political and economic issues with other Indian leaders.

Among others, Mr Smith is scheduled to meet Home Minister P Chidambaram, Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh and National Security Adviser M K Narayanan.

"Australia and India, both members of the G20, are seeing bilateral trade and investment grow rapidly. India is now Australia’s fifth largest export market. Our strong people-to-people links are increasing, with greater flows of tourists, businesspeople, and students between our countries," he said.

Mr Smith also said that the two countries were working more closely in the fields of defence cooperation, counter-terrorism and non-proliferation. Cooperation is also growing in energy security, climate change and food security, he said.

While in the capital, Mr Smith will also visit facilities connected with the Commonwealth Games, which Delhi is slated to host in October next year.

"Australia will continue to work hard to take India to the front rank of its international relationships," Mr Smith declared.

In Mumbai, Mr Smith is scheduled to meet senior officials of the Reserve Bank of India and businessmen. He will also deliver an address to the Asia Society.

"I will also commemorate the lives lost, including those of two Australians, during last November’s shocking terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Australia expressed its solidarity with India at the time and we will continue to work with India and other countries to tackle terrorism and extremism," he added in his statement.

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Sibal to Prof Ramakrishnan: Visit India as often as you can

Union Minister for Human Resource Development has congratulated India-born scientist Venkatraman Ramakrishnan for winning the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for 2009.


"My happiness and excitement knew no bounds on learning your bagging the Nobel Prize for Chemistry of 2009. You make every Indian proud," Mr Sibal said in his message to Dr Ramakrishnan.


Mr Sibal said he had learnt that Dr Ramakrishnan had been to the University of Madras recently and that his lectures were extremely inspiring to the students.


"I would appeal to you to come to India as often as you can and impress the young men and women of India with your infectious passion for science. The delights of scientific discovery and technological innovation are unfortunately unknown to many of our young men and women, primarily because opportunities are not available to them. We in the Ministry are determined to remove every thing that impedes creativity and innovation in young minds. Our plan to establish 14 world-class universities in India is part of this great endeavour. I shall greatly count on your contribution to realize this great dream of India," Mr Sibal added.


The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences had announced last week that it had decided to award the prestigious Nobel Prize jointly to Prof Ramakrishnan of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, United Kingdom, Prof Thomas A Steitz of Yale University in the US and Prof Ada E Yonath of the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel for studies of "the structure and function of the ribosome".


Dr Ramakrishnan, 57, currently a citizen of the United States, was born in 1952 in Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu. He took his B.Sc. degree in Physics from the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda in Gujarat and went on to do his Ph.D. in Physics in 1976 from the Ohio University in the United States. At present, he is a Senior Scientist and Group Leader at Structural Studies Division, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge in the United Kingdom.


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President appoints Uttarakhand HC judge

The President has appointed Mr Alok Singh to be a Judge of the Uttarakhand High Court with effect from the date he assumes charge of his office.


Mr Nalla Bhuma Narayan Rao and Mr Samudrawala Govindarajulu were appointed as Additional Judges of the Andhra Pradesh High Court for a period of two years with effect from the dates they assume charge of their respective offices.


Similarly, Mr Piyush Mathur has been appointed as an Additional Judge of the Madhya Pradesh High Court for a period of two years with effect from the date he assumes charge of his office, an official press release added.


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Indo-US joint military exercises begin at Babina

India and the United States today began joint joint military exercises, Yudh Abhyas 09, at Babina, a cantonment town in Jhansi district of Uttar Pradesh.

The exercises, part of the ongoing defence cooperation between the two countries and being held under the Southern Command headquarters, will continue till October 29.

An official press release said Yudh Abhyas aimed at conducting a training exercise for sharing useful experience in peace keeping operations and humanitarian disaster relief situations.

It said the scope of the exercise was to conduct joint training exercise with counter insurgency/counter terrorism focus in a semi-urban scenario under United Peace Keeping Operations Chapter VII.

The release said aspects which have been incorporated include military coordination, military decision-making process and rules of engagement, stability operations, anti-mine and counter-IED (improvised explosive device) operations and patrolling.

Human rights aspects, civil military operations (including road opening, convoy protection and humanitarian assistance), community operations and logistics support operations (including equipment issues and humanitarian assistance issues) have also been incorporated in the exercises.

The two sides are expected to share and learn from each other's experience through combined military decision-making and planning processes and employment of forces.

The exercises are designed to promote mutual trust and understanding through the exchange of tactics, techniques and procedures and associated logistics support and provide exposure to high technology weapons, equipment and systems. The exercise will be conducted under United Nations mandate, the release said.

The Mechanised Infantry Battalion of the Indian Army and the 2nd Squadron of 14 CAV of 25 Stryker Brigade Combat Team (with an approximate strength of 325 persons) from the United States are participating in the exercise, the release added.

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169 new cases of H1N1 in India, death toll remains at 389

As many as 169 fresh cases of influenza A (H1N1) were reported from across India today, though no deaths due to the virus occurred during the day, an official statement said.

Of the new cases, 47 were in Kerala, 42 in Delhi, 35 in Maharashtra, 20 in Tamil Nadu, 11 in Haryana, 7 in Uttar Pradesh, 2 each in Andhra Pradesh and Chandigarh, and 1 each in Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and Jammu & Kashmir.

With these, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases of swine flu reported so far in India has risen to 12,043.

"No fresh deaths have been reported during the day," the statement said.

Of the 389 deaths reported from India till yesterday, Maharashtra accounts for 160, while 110 people have lost their lives in Karnataka, 42 in Andhra Pradesh, 36 in Gujarat, 15 in Delhi, 9 in Kerala, 4 each in Tamil Nadu and Haryana, 3 in Goa, 2 each in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand and 1 each in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.

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India increases contribution to UNRWA

India has decided to increase its contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to $ 1 million.

The decision in this regard was conveyed by Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor to UNRWA Commissioner General Karen Abu Zayd.

UNRWA is marking its 60th anniversary this year and the enhanced contribution was in keeping with India's consistent and principled support for the people of Palestine, an official press release from the Ministry of External Affairs said.

In January this year, in response to a Flash Appeal from the UNRWA, India had made a special assistance of $ 1 million for relief work in the Gaza Strip.

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Air India opens booking office in North Block

National carrier Air India today said it had set up a booking office in the premises of the Department of Expenditure in the Ministry of Finance in North Block here to provide the convenience of reservation facilities to Ministries and Government departments at their doorstep.

The fully equipped Implant Office, located in Room 232, North Block has become functional from October 8 and will provide reservation and ticketing facilities from Monday to Friday (0930 hrs-1730 hrs) for travel on Air India's international and domestic sectors.

An Air India press release said the office would cater to the requirements of the Ministries of Home, External Affairs, Defence and the Departments of Personnel & Training, Revenue, Expenditure and Economic Affairs.

It said two more such offices were expected to be set up in Delhi by the end of December this year. The airline is also exploring the possibility of opening similar offices in other Metro cities to cater to government departments.

Air India already has Implant Offices operating from the Ministry of External Affairs at Akbar Hotel and Parliament House.

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ISRO says Oceansat-2 payloads switched on

First Day image of Oceansat-2 of Northern and Western India.
First Day image of Oceansat-2 of Northern and Western India.

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) today said all the three payloads on board Oceansat-2, the country's second ocean observation satellite, had been successfully turned on and were providing good quality data.

The payloads are the Ocean Colour Monitor (OCM), a Scatterometer and a Radio Occultation Sounder for Atmospheric Studies.

Oceansat-2 and six nano-satellites for international customers had been placed in orbit by the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PLSV-C14) launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, SHAR, Sriharikota on September 23.

A press release issued today by ISRO said all the instruments on board Oceansat-2 were working satisfactorily.

According to it, the OCM, a multi-spectral imaging radiometer, provides information on chlorophyl concentration and helps location potential fisheries zones.

The scatterometer, an active microwave sensor, facilitates retrieval of sea-surface wind speed and direction, and monitoring polar sea-ice, it said.

First Images of Oceansat-2 showing a Mosaic of Indian Region.
First Images of Oceansat-2 showing a Mosaic of Indian Region.

The Radio Occultation Sounder measures the parameters pertaining to lower atmosphere and ionosphere.

ISRO said the data provided by the different sensors on board Oceansat-2 would also facilitate monitoring of turbidity and suspended sediments, sea-state and sea-surface winds and meteorological and climatological studies.

The satellite collects data over the entire globe once in two days, the release added.

The Oceansat-2 satellite mainframe systems derive their heritage from previous Indian Remote Sensing satellite missions. It is envisaged to provide continuity of operational services of Oceansat-1(IRS-P4) with enhanced application potential.

The scatterometer, which has a resolution cell of 50 kms x 50 kms is expected to provide the wind vector range of four to 24 metres per second with better than 20 per cent accuracy in speed and 20 degrees in wind direction. It is expected to be useful for forecasting the state of the sea to help the fishing industry and maritime navigation.

First Images of oceansat-2 showing Global Area Coverage.
First Images of oceansat-2 showing Global Area Coverage.

With its ability to look at surface winds and temperature, unlike Oceansat-1 that could only look at the colour of the ocean, Oceansat-2 is expected to help identify potential fishing zones, weather forecasting and other trends of the sea, coastal zone studies and provide inputs for general meteorological observations.

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President says people should use RTI to get good, corruption-free governance

President Pratibha Patil lighting the lamp to inaugurate the 4th Annual Convention on RTI, organized by the Central Information Commission, in New Delhi on October 12, 2009. The Minister of State, Prime Minister’s Office and Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions and Parliamentary Affairs, Shri Prithviraj Chavan is also seen.
President Pratibha Patil lighting the lamp to inaugurate the 4th Annual Convention on RTI, organized by the Central Information Commission, in New Delhi on October 12, 2009. The Minister of State, Prime Minister’s Office and Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions and Parliamentary Affairs, Shri Prithviraj Chavan is also seen.

President Pratibha Patil today said people of the country rightfully expected good governance and corruption-free ystems and they could use the Right to Information (RTI)Act to get them in full measure.

Inaugurating the fourth Annual Convention of the Central Information Commission here, Ms Patil said the RTI Act, the landmark legislation that came into effect this day four years ago, had, in a manner of speaking, created a virtual "Parliament of the People".

This was because every citizen could now, through a simple method seek information from public authorities and expect a response in 30 days.

Before the law came into existence, it was largely the Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs) who could question the performance and functioning of Government authorities through proceedings in the legislatures.

"This has been the biggest fundamental difference that has been brought about by the RTI enactment - providing relatively easy access to information. There is no doubt that the flow of information to the citizens will help them make enlightened judgments," she said.

The President said that in a democracy it was the people who were supreme and it was for them to judge the performance of their elected representatives.

"While the casting of the vote enables them to take the important decision on what Government they want, for assessing deliverability, they need information about how their Government is functioning. The RTI gives to each individual citizen the means to question and to get answers," she pointed out.

Ms Patil said interaction between the citizens and the public authorities was important in making democracy participatory and to move forward towards the common national goals of progress and prosperity.

She said India sought to build an inclusive society and was committed to an inclusive growth process.

She said that the Government had made available substantial amount of funds for numerous social and economic schemes and a major challenge was to ensure the effectiveness of the delivery mechanisms, so that the impact of these schemes was felt by the beneficiaries.

"It is of utmost importance that these funds are spent in conformity with the canons of efficiency and productivity, as well as their wastage and pileferage avoided. The 'RTI Route' can be instrumental in bringing about improvements in the public service delivery systems and mechanisms," she said.

Ms Patil said public authorities were progressively becoming pro-active to the spirit behind the Act and were responding favourably.

According to her, the best practices adopted by various States in response to the RTI Act should be codified and practiced. She also felt it was important that technology was used for better management of records and data so that information sharing became easier.

The President pointed out that institutions were increasingly coming under greater scrutiny and information was no longer the preserve of a few and there was greater emphasis on transparency of work and accountability.

She said that the bureaucracy often evoked an image of red-tapism and a certain opaqueness and hoped that the RTI would help negate this perception.

According to her, the RTI Act had the potential to make Government and the people work together for the benefit of both.

"The occasionally noticed tendency to view public authorities as adversaries should go. There is a fine balance which needs to be maintained between applications under the Right to Information to public authorities and also ensuring that public authorities are not flooded with applications some of them of frivolous nature, which could overwhelm their ability to respond in time," she said.

She said there was a need for a sense of responsibility for more openness on the part of public authorities as also within civil society to ensure that applications which reach authorities are those that genuinely need immediate attention. It is here that the role of the Central Information Commission, as a regulator, balancer and educator, is critical, she stressed.

The President noted that citizens exercising the right to information had substantially grown in numbers, complexion, and stature.

She said the Act had succeeded in creating conditions for free flow of information and thereby empowering the citizen.

"Applications that result in public benefits, in the timely implementation of schemes; that bring relief and welfare to people; help in citizens getting what is theirs rightfully, should receive the uppermost priority. Efforts must also be made to ensure that the RTI option is known and exercised in rural areas and by the disadvantaged sections of society," she said.

The President reiterated the importance nd principles of good governance for the welfare of our citizens, who are at the centre of all government functioning, saying it would further strengthen the country's democratic traditions and credentials.

The two-day convention has "Strengthening Right to Information" as its theme.

Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions Prithiraj Chavan said that, in the first four years of the RTI, the Government had been ably supported by different stakeholders like information seekers, civil society, media, the Information Commissioners and the information providers.

He also gave details of the training and sensitisation programmes organised by the Government, many of them in collaboration with civil society organisations. These were supplemented by the efforts of the State Governments.

He said the Government had initiated an independent study to understand the key issues and constraints in using the RTI Act. He also said the Government had last year launched a centrally-sponsored Plan scheme to strengthen the working of the State Information Commissions.

Mr Chavan said the experience so far had prepared the Government to attempt further strengthening of the Act by initiating some legislative changes to make the RTI Act more user friendly, put more information in the public domain and remove some legal infirmities.

He said a consultation with Information Commissioners of all the states had been planned for October 14, in which civil society organisations would also be involved.

Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah said the RTI Act had given India a model democracy. He said some neighbouring countries like Nepal and Bangladesh had also moved towards freedom of information for their citizens, following the Indian law.

The convention is being attended by representatives of civil society and media from India and from SAARC countries.

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India test-fires two operationalised nuclear-capable Prithvi missiles

India on Monday successfully test-fired two operationalised nuclear-capable short range Prithvi (P-II) missiles within minutes of each other.

File photo of the Prithvi missile.
File photo of the Prithvi missile.

India today successfully test-fired two operationalised nuclear-capable short-range Prithvi (P-II) missiles within minutes of each other.

The test-firing was conducted by the Armed Forces as part of the operational exercises, an official press release said.

The launches took place at 1030 hours from the launch pad at the Interim Test Range (ITR) at Chandipur in Balosore, Orissa.

"The two missiles, aimed at two different targets at 350 kms from the launch point, met all the mission objectives," the release said.

According to it, two Naval ships located at the targets tracked and monitored both the missiles hitting the targets very accurately. All the radars and other sensors along the East Coast monitored the missiles' trajectory parameter, it said.

Prithvi, the first missile developed under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme, has capability to carry 500 kg of warhead, has a length of nine metres with one metre diameter, and is thrusted by a liquid propulsion twin engine.

It uses an Advanced Inertial Guidance System with manoeuvring trajectory and reaches the targets with accuracy of a few metres, the release said.

The release said both the missiles launched today were from the stock of the Armed Forces and the entire operation was carried out by the Strategic Force Command.

Among others, Dr V K Saraswat, Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister, Lt Gen B S Nagal, C-in-C, Strategic Forces Command, Lt Gen V K Singh, GOC-in-C, Eastern Command, Mr Avinash Chander, Director, Advanced Systems Laboratory, Mr S K Ray, Director, Research Centre Imarat, Mr S P Dash, Director, ITR, Mr V L N Rao, Programme Director, Maj Gen (Retd) R Khetrapal, Chairman and Managing Director, Bharat Dynamics Limited witnessed the launches today, the release added.

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