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India urges Myanmar to expedite political reform

India has said that it had emphasised to the government of Myanmar the need to expedite their political reform and national reconciliation process and had noted the various steps taken so far by the Myanmarese government in this direction.

In response to a question on the sentence of 18 months of additional house arrest pronounced by a Myanmarese court for pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday, the spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs said that India has maintained that this process oof political reform should be broad-based, including the various ethnic groups.

"In this context, the issue of release of political prisoners will no doubt receive due attention," he added.

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India dismisses Chinese analyst's report

India has dismissed an article by a Chinese analyst that has called for the dismemberment of this country, saying that it appeared to be an expression of individual opinion and not China's position.

"India and China have strategic and cooperative partnership. There is multi-sectoral engagement between the two countries and the pace of exchanges has gained momentum in recent years," Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vishnu Prakash said.

He said both sides had agreed to continue this momentum, while seeking to resolve outstanding issues, including the boundary question through peaceful dialogue and consultations, and with mutual sensitivity to each other's concerns.

He said the Chinese side had conveyed to India that, in approaching India-China relations, China abided by the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence. One of these principles stressed respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, he said.

"The article in question appears to be an expression of individual opinion and does not accord with the officially stated position of China on India-China relations conveyed to us on several occasions, including at the highest level, most recently by the State Councillor Dai Bingguo during his visit to India last week," he said.

"We continue to maintain that opinions and assessment on the state of India-China relations should be expressed after careful judgement based on the long-term interests of building a stable relationship between the two countries," Mr Prakash added.

The Chinese-language article titled "If China takes a little action, the so-called Great Indian Federation can be broken up" has been written by Zhong Guo Zhan Lue Gang of the China International Institute of Strategic Studies appeared on August 8.

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US envoy, two others present credentials to President

Ambassador Timothy Roemer presenting credentials to President Pratibha Patil.
Ambassador Timothy Roemer presenting credentials to President Pratibha Patil.s
Three envoys, including United States Ambassador to India Timothy J Roemer, presented their credentials to President Pratibha Patil at a ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan here today.

The others were Mr Krit Kraichitti, the Ambassador of Thailand, and Mr Ahmad Tariq Karim, the High Commissioner of Bangladesh.

In her interaction with the envoys, the President said terrorism constituted a grave threat to world peace, prosperity and stability and the international community needed to act swiftly and collectively to defeat it.

Ms Patil also said India was focusing on strengthening its infrastructure as well as social sector to bring about equitable development. She said India sought friendly relations with all countries and wanted to build cooperation in diverse sectors, including in education.

The President asked the envoys about the steps being taken in the three countries to tackle the H1N1 influenza.

The ceremony was attended by the senior members of the missions concerned and senior officials of the Ministry of External Affairs and Rashtrapati Bhavan.

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Azad talks to CMs on steps to tackle H1N1 pandemic

Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad today talked to the Chief Ministers of all the States about the preparedness of the state governments to tackle the influenza (H1N1) pandemic that has so far claimed eight lives in the country.

While appreciating the efforts being made in this regard by the state governments, Mr Azad emphasised the need for stepping up the preparedness.

He told the Chief Ministers that Central teams, comprising senior officials, would be visiting all the state capitals as part of the effort to help the states in capacity building. He urged the Chief Ministers to chair the first meeting of these teams so that on-the-spot decisions were taken for swift implementation.

An official statement said the Central teams, led by officers of the level of Additional Secretaries and Joint Secretaries from different ministers, would discuss with the state governments the new guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare with regard to capacity-building issues such as identification of laboratories for testing and hospitals in public and private sectors for screening, diagnosis and treatment of H1N1 cases.

The plan is to involve Central, state, local government institutions, medical colleges and private set-ups in this integrated strategy.

The teams will also discuss the issue of training of doctors and paramedical personnel at various levels. The training is proposed to be imparted utilising current expertise and infrastructure of the ministry, the National Disaster Management Authority and state governments. The teams will also emphasise the importance of awareness campaigns.

The statement said the purpose of the exercise was to accelerate efforts to create a dedicated functional apparatus within the current government and private infrastructure to deal with the emerging pandemic.

Mr Azad briefed the teams personally today and emphasised the importance of conveying the need for preparedness and the importance of integrated approach towards the problem. He told the teams to complete their visits before August 15.

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Darjeeling to have new administrative set-up

Home Secretary G K Pillai chairing the Tripartite Talks on Gorkhaland Issue.
Home Secretary G K Pillai chairing the Tripartite Talks on Gorkhaland Issue.
The Centre, the West Bengal government and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) today agreed that the proposal for the establishment of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution would be dropped and decided to work for the establishment of an alternative administrative framework in the hill district.

At the third round of the tripartite talks between the three parties here today, it was also agreed, in principle, to the repeal of the DGHC Act, 1988.

"The talks were held in a free, frank and cordial atmosphere," an official statement issued after the meeting said.

The Union Government's delegation to the talks was led by Union Home Secretary G K Pillai, the West Bengal delegation by Chief Secretary A K Chakrabarty and the GJM team by Mr Anmole Prasad.

The statement said the repeal of the Act would be processed as soon as an alternative administrative setup/framework was finalised through mutual consultations and agreement.

The Government of India announced the appointment of an Interlocutor to carry forward today's discussions and both the West Bengal government and the GJM welcomed the move.

"The GJM assured that a peaceful and conducive atmosphere would be maintained and all the parties agreed to work in a spirit of constructive cooperation to carry the talks forward," the statement said.

The Centre would also send a team to Darjeeling to review the development works in the district, it said.

The Centre and the West Bengal government proposed that, as an interim measure and to restore the democratic process, the elections to the Panchayat Samitis, Gram Panchayats as well as Municipalities be allowed to be held. The GJM stated that they would consult and revert back to the State Government, the statement said.

The State Government informed the meeting that unutilised portions of the Calamity Relief Fund and special Central assistance, amounting to Rs 70 crore, were lying unutilised. It was agreed that a team of State Government officials would be sent to Darjeeling to discuss the utilization of these funds.

The next tripartite meeting would be held on December 21 at Darjeeling, the statement added.

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IMD scales down rainfall forecast for season to 87 %

In its latest update, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has scaled down its forecast for rainfall for the season (June to September) to 87 per cent for the country as a whole.

This is six per cent lower than the 93 per cent rainfall that the IMD had predicted in its Long Range Forecast Update on June 24 and takes into account the prevailing rainfall scenario and inputs from statistical and numerical weather prediction models based on latest data.

The latest forecast comes with a rider of a plus or minus four per cent variation due to any errors.

The IMD has also scaled down its forecast of rainfall during August from the earlier 101 per cent to 90 per cent, with a possible plus or minus 9 per cent variation.

A statement from the IMD said the south-west monsoon activity was likely to improve during current week as the axis of monsoon trough had shifted southward and currently lay near its normal position running to north Bay of Bengal.

An upper air cyclonic circulation lies over northwest Bay of Bengal and adjoining Gangetic West Bengal and north coastal Orissa, extending upto midtropospheric levels, it said.

"With the above scenario, fairly widespread rainfall with isolated heavy falls is likely over central and eastern India during next 2-3 days. The rainfall activity is also likely to increase over plains of northwest India and adjoining Rajasthan from 12th August 2009 onwards for subsequent two to three days," it said.

According to the statement, the cumulative seasonal rainfall for the country as a whole between June 1 and August 9 has been 28 per cent below the Long Period Average (LPA).

Out of 36 meteorological sub-divisions, the cumulative rainfall during the period has been excess/normal over nine, deficient over 24 and scanty over three (West Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Chandigarh & Delhi and Telengana) sub-divisions.

The sub-divisions with deficiency of 50 per cent or more include West Uttar Pradesh (-67%), Haryana, Chandigarh & Delhi (-64%), Telangana (-60%), East Uttar Pradesh (-53%) and Rayalaseema (-50%), the statement added.

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7.8 quake hits Andaman and Nicobar Islands

A strong earthquake, measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, shook the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the early hours of today, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) said.

The tremors were also felt in several places along India's east coast, sources said, but there were no reports of any casualties.

According to the IMD, the earthquake occurred at 0126 hours and was epicentred at 14.10 North latitude and 93.01 East longitude, about 260 km north of Port Blair.

About 12 minutes later, there was another quake, epicentred at 34.7 North latitude and 138.3 East longitude in Japan.

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Patel meets airlines on their difficulties

Union Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel today held a meeting with representatives of all major Indian airlines to discuss the problems being faced by the aviation industry, which is going through a turbulent period all over the world.

During the hour-long meeting, the Federation of Indian Airlines (FIA) is understood to have made a presentation on the difficulties being faced by its members and possible ways of helping them out of the present crisis.

Later, Kingfisher Airlines Chairman and Managing Director (CMD) Vijay Mallya told journalists that they were satisfied with the minister's assurance that he would take up their issues on an urgent basis with the government.

"The minister is sympathetic towards the problems of the industry," Mr Mallya said, while making it clear that he was not a spokesman for the FIA.

It is learnt that Mr Patel will take up the matter at the next meeting of the Union Cabinet and convey to the Prime Minister and other ministers the airlines' concerns over high taxes on aviation turbine fuel and airport charges.

Apart from Mr Mallya, the meeting was attended by Air India CMD Arvind Jadhav, Jet Airways Chairman Naresh Goyal, SpiceJet CEO Sanjay Agarwal, Indigo Chairman Rahul Bhatia, GoAir Managing Director Jeh Wadia, FIA Secretary General Anil Baijal and Civil Aviation Secretary M M Nambiar.

Earlier this month, the private sector airlines had announced their plan to go on a day's strike on August 18 to draw attention to their problems, but later abandoned the idea after some of their members like SpiceJet, Indigo and GoAir broke ranks and decided to operate their flights on that day.

The government has been saying that it was upto the state governments to decide on the taxes on ATF. As far as the airport charges are concerned, the airlines have been advised to approach the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority, which is expected to start functioning recently.

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IMD says monsoon to improve in next 3-5 days

The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) today said that the south-west monsoon, after a weak spell, was likely to improve over the country with increase in rainfall activity over central and eastern India during the next three to five days.

The rainfall activity is also likely to increase over the plains of north-west India and adjoining Rajasthan from August 13, an official press release said.

According to it, current meteorological analysis indicates that the upper air cyclonic circulation over north-west Bay of Bengal and adjoining Gangetic West Bengal and north coastal Orissa, extending upto mid-tropospheric levels, persists.

Under its influence, a low pressure area is likely to form over north-west Bay of Bengal and neighbourhood during the next 48 hours, the release said.

Fairly widespread rainfall activity with isolated heavy falls is likely over West Bengal and Sikkim, Bihar, Jharkhand, east Uttar Pradesh, Orissa and Chhattisgarh during the next 48 hours and over Madhya Pradesh and Vidarbha thereafter, it said.

Fairly widespread rainfall activity is also likely over the north-eastern states during the next three-four days, it said.

The axis of the monsoon trough passes through Amritsar, Ambala, Nanital, Patana, Kolkata and thence south- eastwards to east-central Bay of Bengal. It is likely to shift slightly southwards during next 48 hours, the release added.

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Antony urges private sector to join defence industry

Defence Minister A K Antony today urged the private sector to enter the defence sector, pointing out that the country was still a long way from establishing itself as a major defence equipment manufacturing nation.

"Much of the content of our defence requirement continues to be imported," he said in his address at a seminar on "Command, Control, Computers, Communication, Intelligence and Information (C4I2) Structures" here.

"Given the fact that India is emerging as a major economic player, this is certainly not a desirable state of affairs," he said.

Mr Antony also stressed the need for indigenisation, particularly in the defence sector, and said it was imperative for a country of India's size and economy to have a vibrant defence industry.

He said the government had undertaken several policy initiatives to correct this imbalance and sought to promote private-public partnerships,

He said the government had allowed 26 per cent foreign direct investment (FDI) in the defence sector and the offset policy was aimed at encouraging technology inflows and enhancing the capability of the country's defence industrial base.

The minister said the private sector’s IT prowess could be harnessed for the requirements of the armed forces.

"Our country’s demonstrated abilities in the field of information technologies should be leveraged towards this objective," he said.

"The ability to process information and respond rapidly to changes in conflict situations can make all the difference between success or failure," he added.

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PM writes to CMs on “new deal” for Urban Street Vendors

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has written to Chief Ministers of all states, urging them to take "personal interest" to ensure that the National Policy on Urban Street Vendors 2009 was vigorously and sincerely implemented by the state governments.

The National Policy on Urban Street Vendors was formulated in 2004. The revised policy of 2009 is aimed at ensuring that urban street vendors are given due recognition at the national, state and local levels to pursue economic activity without harassment and, at the same time, locations on which such activity is to be pursued are earmarked in zoning plans.

In his letter, Dr Singh pointed out that the revised policy underscored the need for a legislative framework to enable street vendors to pursue a honest living without harassment from any quarter.

Accordingly, a. Model Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill, 2009 has also been drafted. The revised Policy and Model Bill have already been forwarded by the Ministry of Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation to the States/UTs, the letter said.

The Prime Minister sought the personal intervention of the Chief Ministers to implement the revised policy and, taking into acount the Model Bill, to take pro-active action to enact a legislation to enable street vendors to ply their trade without harassment.

He also urged them to take steps to restructure Master Planning laws and City/Local Area Plans to make them 'inclusive' and address the requirements of space for street vending as an important urban activity.

"Suitable spatial planning 'norms' for reservation of space for street vendors in accordance with their current population and projected growth may be devised," he said.

Dr Singh said the state governments must ensure the demarcation of "Restriction-free Vending Zones", "Restricted Vending Zones", "No-vending Zones" and "Mobile Vending Areas" in every city/town, taking into account the natural propensity of street vendors to locate in certain places at certain times in response to patterns of demand for their goods/services or the formation of "natural markets", traffic congestion and other factors in view.

He urged the Chief Ministers to also take steps for convergent delivery of various Government programmes for the benefit of street vendors such as Swarna Jayanti Shahri Rojgar Yojana, Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, Prime Minister's Employment Generation Programme, Skill Development Initiative, Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana, National Social Assistance Programme and other welfare schemes.

"I hope you will take steps to accord a new deal to the urban street vendors as a group who need space and facilities for their legitimate activities," he added.

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Govt to step up measures to tackle influenza A (H1N1)

Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad briefing the media on H1N1 on Monday.
Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad briefing the media on H1N1 on Monday.
Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad today reviewed the steps being taken to tackle the influenza A (H1N1) outbreak in the country and later announced a series of measures to streamline the process and minimise the spread of the virus, which has been declared a phase 6 pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

As of today, six people had died of the swine flu---three in Pune and one each in Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Chennai---and 864 had tested positive.

The review meeting was attended by Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrasekhar, at the instance of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and senior officials of the Health ministry, including Dr V M Katoch, Secretary (Health Research), Ms S Jalaja (Secretary, Health and Family Welfare), Dr Shiv Lal, Director of the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) and Mr V Venkatachalam, Additional Secretary in the ministry.

The meeting decided that the health screening of international passengers at the airports, sea ports and other points of entry would continue because they had been found to be effective in detecting infected persons and isolating them.

Mr Azad said four thermal scanners had been installed at Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport on a pilot basis and found that they had helped to improve the detection of cases. The meeting, therefore, decided to procure thermal scanners for all other international airports in the country and install them on an emergency basis.

He said the national stockpile of oseltamivir tablets would be scaled up by another two crore capsules. The existing stockpile would be decentralised even further, he said.

The minister said about 30-35 senior officials of the level of additional secretaries and joint secretaries from other ministries would be drafted to travel to different states and union territories to assess the preparedness in the states in terms of isolation capacity and clinical assessment in different hospitals, both in the government sector and the private sector. He said the officials would be accompanied by officials of the Union Health Ministry and their visit to each state would help impart a sense of urgency to the task of handling the health crisis.

Mr Azad said guidelines for approving private diagnostic laboratories for testing for influenza A (H1N1) had been finalised and already been communicated to the states.

Private laboratories that fulfill these guidelines would be allowed to test for the virus. He said this would ensure availability of additional diagnostic capacity in the country to test for to test for the flu.

Simultaneously, wherever possible, the testing capacity of existing 19 designated laboratories would be doubled, he said.

The minister said the government had decided to import another 22,000 kits to ensure adequate availability of testing reagents, which are currently manufactured by only one company in the United States. This would be in addition to the 27,000 kits recently procured.

He said that the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) would simultaneously examine the possibility of developing low-cost testing kit, which could then be deployed throughout the country. He said the imported kits were quite expensive, working to about Rs 10,000 per positive test and Rs 5000 for a negative result.

Mr Azad said three Indian companies were already working on the development of vaccines for the flu and one of them had already commenced animal trials of a vaccine. To ensure fast track production of the vaccines, it was decided that the Indian Council for Medical Research would harmonize animal trials of the vaccines being developed by these companies. He said such projects had long gestation periods and felt the vaccines would not be ready before December-January.

He said that if any company abroad developed a vaccine in the meantime the government would import them to meet immediate needs, especially to inoculate doctors and other health workers.

About the decision of some schools in Delhi and elsewhere to close down for some days, the meeting felt that the matter should be left to the state governments to decide.

However, the meeting felt that mere closure of schools would not solve any problem unless the children were kept restricted to their homes.

Mr Azad said it was important that parents ensure that children who show symptoms of the flu are made to stay at home and not socialise. He said this was equally valid for adults, too.

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Influenza A (H1N1) toll rises to four with deaths in Pune, Ahmedabad

Two more people, a 42-year-old man in Pune and another 42-year-old man in Ahmedabad, died today of influenza A (H1N1), taking the number of deaths caused by the virus in the country so far to four.

A 14-year-old girl had died some days ago in Pune and a woman had succumbed to the flu in Mumbai yesterday.

The case in Pune had symptoms from August 1 and had taken treatment at the local level. He was admitted to the Sassoon Hospital on August 7 with symptoms of bodyache, sore throat and breathlessness.

An official statement said he was put on oseltamivir on August 7 itself and also put on ventilator in the intensive care unit yesterday. His condition deteriorated and he died in the early hours today, it said.

The statement said there six cases who are still admitted in Sassoon Hospital, Pune out of which the condition of three cases are in critical condition. It said a Central team was stationed at Pune, the worst-hit by the flu in the country, to assess the situation and institute appropriate public health measures.

The case in Ahmedabad is a man who had arrived from Atlanta in the United States in Mumbai on July 31 and then travelled to Ahmedabad. He was admitted to the Sanjeevani Hospital there on August 6 with symptoms of fever, weakness and breathlessness. He was found to be anaemic and had respiratory distress. An X-ray of his chest also showed pneumonitis, the statement said.

He was transferred to the Civil Hospital in Ahmedabad on August 7 and he died in the early hours today, it said.

Meanwhile, as many as 82 new cases of the flu were reported from different cities in India today, including 34 from Pune, 13 from Delhi, 12 from Mumbai, seven from Chennai, four from Goa, three from Vadodara, two each from Kozhikode, Hyderabad and Gurgaon and one each from Thiruvananthapuram, Sirsa and Thrissur.

With these, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus reported so far from India has risen to 864, the statement said.

All the 34 new cases in Pune are indigenous cases without any travel history, mostly school and social contacts of previously reported cases.

In Delhi, 12 of the 13 cases are contacts of previously reported cases. One case is of a 31-year-old man who arrived from Singapore on August 7.

In Mumbai, 11 of the 12 cases are contacts of other positive cases. The 12th case is an eight-year-old boy who arrived from Europe on August 7.

All seven cases in Chennai are indigenous with no history of travel abroad. In Goa, one of the cases, a 17-year-old boy, is a contact of an earlier case. Two of the others had travelled from Bangkok while the fourth had arrived from Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) recently.

The three cases in Vadodara, Gujarat, include an 11-year-old boy and his 9-year-old sister who arrived recently from the US. The third is an indigenous case with no travel history.

In Kozhikode, one case is of a 20-year-old youth who arrived recently from the United Kingdom and another who had recently travelled from Dubai in the UAE.

One of the cases in Hyderabad is a contact of an earlier positive case. The other, a 40-year-old man, had arrived recently from California in the US via Singapore.

The two cases in Gurgaon are contacts of previously reported positive cases. In Sirsa, Haryana, a 32-year-old man with no travel history, has been admitted to hospital with symptoms of the flu. The case is Thiruvananthapuram is indigenous. In Thrissur, a nine-year-old boy who arrived from Los Angeles in the US was quarantined at the isolation facility in the town.

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Six injured in Mumbai train mishap

Six passengers suffered minor injuries when a suburban train rammed into another local train at the Mahim station this afternoon, the Western Railway said.

According to a statement issued by the railway, the slow local Andheri 439 rammed the slow Borivali 437 local from behind on platform number one of the Mahim station at 1310 hours.

It said six passengers suffered "simple injuries" and were given first aid at the Sion hospital. They were identified as Hitesh Hukumchand Ramchandani (M-24), Rajesh Kumar Mahadev Bind (M-22), Avinash Dutto (M-24), Netra S Rane (F-21, Usha Ramesh (F-36) and Asha Jayanti (F-27). They were paid an ex gratia amount of Rs 500 each.

As a result of the accident, trains running on the route were delayed by about 15-20 minutes for some time. Normal traffic was restored after 1500 hours, the statement said.

Mr R S Chugh, Additional General Manager, Western Railway, had rushed to the scene of the accident along with senior offices of the Mumbai Central Division. A detailed senior level inquiry has been ordered into accident, the statement added.

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PM condoles demise of Bhai Patwant Singh

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has expressed grief over the demise of noted writer, philanthropist and activist Bhat Patwant Singh, who had died here yesterday after a cardiac arrest at the age of 84.

In a message, Dr. Singh said that Mr Patwant Singh had made a mark in the literary arena with his creative sensitivities.

His vast knowledge on wide ranging issues along with his vision made a difference to innumerable human lives, the Prime Minister said.

Mr Patwant Singh’s legacy will continue to live through his writings, the Prime Minister added while offering his condolences to the members of the bereaved family.

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Nepal's Foreign Minister Sujata Koirala to arrive Monday

Nepalese Foreign Minister Sujata Koirala will arrive here tomorrow on a four-day visit to India during which she will hold talks with her counterpart S M Krishna and other Indian leaders on ways of improving political and economic ties between the two countries.

Ms Koirala will hold bilateral talks on Tuesday with Mr Krishna, who will also host a lunch for her at Hyderabad house.

Later, in the afternoon on that day, she will meet Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

On Wednesday, Ms Koirala is scheduled to meet Defence Minister A K Antony and Home Minister P Chidamabaram.

She is scheduled to fly back home on Friday.

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PM sets up panel to resolve inter-ministerial issues in road development

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has set up a committee headed by Planning Commission member B K Chaturvedi to resolve inter-ministerial issues hindering the speedy implementation of the government's ambitious plan of developing 35,000 km of National Highways in the next five years.

The decision was taken during a meeting he held yesterday to review the plan that connect the 300 most populous districts of the country and make the Highway Development Programme more inclusive.

Apart from Road Transport and Highways Minister Kamal Nath, the meeting was attended by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia.

Mr Kamal Nath briefed the Prime Minister on the progress made in the programme so far and the road map ahead. He also raised various issues and irritants being faced and the challenges ahead for the road sector.

One of the major concerns raised by Mr Kamal Nath was the long time-frame required for road project implementation. He pointed out that the current process takes almost three years for actual work to start from the conception of a road project and another three years to complete the project. He made several suggestions to reduce this time frame and expedite the implementation.

Other issues discussed in the meeting were financing models and means for this ambitious programme, tolling fee and structure, design of highways based on traffic needs, and issues related to Model Concession Agreement like termination clause, exit clause and so on. Development of a network of expressways was also discussed in the review meeting.

The committee set up by the Prime Minister will also have the Finance Secretary and the Secretary, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, as members.

An official press release said the committee would report to the Prime Minister in two weeks. The issues to be considered by the committee include measures for expediting award of projects, financing road projects, restructuring of 4/6-laning projects based on traffic requirements and those in backward areas, and ensuring inclusive and equitable growth.

Another area on which the committee will give suggestions is making projects attractive for banks and private investors, especially in the wake of the present global recession. It will resolve some of the concerns raised by developers relating to the review of Termination Clause, conflict of interest clause and introduction of Exit Clause, and making dispute settlement process in the National Highway Development Authority (NHAI) faster and more effective.

It will also suggest a Fast Track Mechanism for resolution of inter-ministerial issues not requiring the Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure's approval and to monitor progress on a regular basis for mid-course correction, the release said.

Mr Kamal Nath said that the objective of the Highway Development Programme was to make a visible difference in the country.

He pointed out that road development was an economic stimulus that creates permanent assets. Thus, the road development programme from now on will not only provide the stimulus to the country's economy but will also reach the under-developed and far-flung areas of the country, he added.

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96 new cases of influenza A (H1N1) in India

As many as 96 new cases of influenza A were reported from different parts of India today, with Pune, the worst-hit city in the country, accounting for 37 of them.

Besides, 12 cases were reported from Delhi, 16 from Mumbai, 10 from Bangalore, six from Gurgaon, four each from Hyderabad and Chennai, three each from Kolkata and Mangalore and one from Kozhikode.

With these, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus reported so far from India has risen to 711, an official statement said.

In Pune, 36 of the 37 new cases were contacts of previously-reported case. The 37th case was of a six-year-old boy who arrived recently from Thailand.

All the 12 fresh cases in Delhi and five out of the six in Gurgaon are contacts of previously reported cases. One of the cases in Gurgaon, a 33-year-old man, had arrived on August 1 from Singapore.

In Mumbai, 14 of the new cases are contacts of previously-reported cases as are all ten in Bangalore. The two other cases in Mumbai are a 12-year-old girl and her 14-year-old sister who arrived from the United States on August 5.

In Mangalore, two of the three new cases have returned recently from Malaysia, while the third is a contact of one of the two.

In Hyderabad, three of the new cases are a 34-year-old man who arrived from the US, a 23-year-old man who returned from Bangkok and a 23-year-old youth who returned from Malaysia. The fourth case in the city is a contact of a previously reported case.

In Chennai, two cases, a 47-year-old man and a nine-year-old boy, are members of a family who arrived from the US. The third case arrived from the United Kingdom, while the fourth is a contact case.

Of the three cases in Kolkata, two cases, a six-year-old girl and a 27-year-old youth, do not have any travel history. The third case  is a 22-year-old Japanese youth who arrived in Kolkata on July 31.

The lone case in Kozhikode is a 27-year-old man who arrived on August 4 from Dubai, the statement said.

Meanwhile, Union Health Secretary Naresh Dayal told a press conference in the national capital that there was no cause for panic because the country had enough testing facilities and adequate stocks of medicines to cope with the emerging situation. He also said the government was adding to these facilities.

His comments came as people in Pune turned up in their hundreds to get tested for the virus, putting a strain on the government hospitals in the city. The panic in Pune followed the death a few days of a 14-year-old girl of swine flu. Some educational institutions in the city have closed down for a week after some of their students reported tested positive for the virus.

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India, China begin two-day talks on boundary issue

National Security Adviser M K Narayanan and Chinese Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Dai Bingguo shake hands before the start of the 13th round of talks between the two countries on the boundary question at Hyderabad House in Delhi.
National Security Adviser M K Narayanan and Chinese Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Dai Bingguo shake hands before the start of the 13th round of talks between the two countries on the boundary question at Hyderabad House in Delhi.

India and China today began two days of talks on the boundary question between the two countries after a gap of close to a year since the last round of discussions.

National Security Adviser M K Narayanan led the Indian delegation to the talks while Chinese Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Dai Bingguo headed the Chinese team.

The two countries have held 12 rounds of discussions so far in the search for a settlement of the boundary question that is "fair, reasonable, mutually acceptable" and based on the Agreement on Guiding Principles and Political Parameters signed between the two countries in April 2005.

Mr Narayanan and Mr Dai have been named as the Special Representatives for the talks. The last round of talks were held in September, 2008.

Apart from Mr Narayanan, the Indian delegation included Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, who was until recently the country's Ambassador in Beijing, and other senior officials of the Ministry of External Affairs and the Prime Minister's Office.

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

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

Going into today's talks, Mr Narayanan said the government attached high priority to its relations with China, with whom it also enjoys a strategic and cooperative partnership. He expressed confidence that the two days of discussions would help to further strengthen the multi-faced relationship between the two countries.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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IIM CAT to be held between Nov 28 and Dec 7

IIM Bangalore Convocation ceremony 2008.
IIM Bangalore Convocation ceremony 2008.

The Common Admission Test (CAT) 2009 for the prestigious Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), which will be a Computer Based Test (CBT) from this year onwards, will be held between Saturday, November 28 and Monday, December 7.

According to a post on the CAT website, the advertisement announcing the examination and other details will appear in leading newspapers on August 30.

Since the IIMs are aiming to go paperless, the candidates will not have to buy the bulky CAT bulletins from the designated banks. Candidates will have to buy a scratch-voucher from the designated bank branches and later register online for CAT 2009.

The sale of vouchers will start on Wednesday, September 9 at designated bank branches and their associate outlets. The sale will end on Thursday, October 1, the post, in the form of answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs), said.

According to it, online registration for CAT 2009 will also begin on Wednesday, September 9 and end on Thursday, October 1.

Instructions on access to online registration will be given in the voucher, and detailed registration instructions will be on the CAT website.

Candidates can choose a test date, session (morning/afternoon), and venue across 30 centres (cities) all over India, subject to availability, the post said.

About details on taking a test in the CBT format, the post said that, starting August 30, the CAT website would provide all the details.

CAT scores are used as part of the admission process to the seven IIMs at Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Kolkata, Lucknow, Kozhikode, Indore and Shillong as well as by scores of other management schools in India.

Given the huge numbers of students who appear for the examinations in comparison to the 1500-odd seats on offer at the IIMs for their flagship two-year post-graduate programme in management, CAT has acquired the reputation of being the toughest entrance test worldwide for business schools.

The IIMs have been conducting CAT in paper-&-pencil format for the last 33 years. As more and more students chase the MBA dream, the number of candidates appearing for CAT has increased dramatically over the years.

While about 95,000 candidates took CAT in 2003, the number rose to about 250,000 in 2008, indicating a rise of a whopping 163 percent.

"This has resulted in severe strain on the administrative system of IIMs to conduct CAT in its existing format," a statement issued by the IIMs in April this year to announce the switchover to CBT format said.

Traditionally, the CAT used to be held on the third Sunday of November every year, but the computerised test will be conducted in a window of about ten days in November-December.

While announcing the shift to the new format, the IIMs had said that the CBT CAT would be a candidate-friendly test in terms of flexibility in the selection of test date, ease of registration process, better physical environment and test experience, and enhanced security in terms of biometric identification of candidates and video monitoring.

They said the CBT format would also improve communication between candidates and the IIMs in terms of programme information, test delivery, receipt of admit cards, and receipt of score reports.

They said CBT was a natural culmination of the modernization CAT has undergone. In the late 1960s, multiple choice questions (MCQ), an educational testing innovation, was introduced for the first time in the entrance examinations of IIMs. Later, in the late 1970s, entrance tests of different IIMs were merged to form CAT. In the late 1980s, another technology feature was introduced in the form of optical machine reading (OMR) of the answer-sheets. As a CBT, the CAT format will be comparable to existing tests such as GMAT, GRE, and TOEFL.

The IIMs have selected Prometric ETS to be their partner in delivering the computer-assisted CAT.

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Pay scales of academic staff of central technical institutions revised

The Union Cabinet today approved the revision of pay scales of the faculty, design and scientific staff and other academic staff of centrally-funded technical institutions.

This follows the pay revision of the Central Government employees on the recommendations of the sixth Pay Commission, an official press release said.

The release said the decision would enable the institutes to recruit and retain talented and well- qualified faculty and to provide them an environment and working conditions that encourage them to enhance their performance and capacity.

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Cabinet okays scheme to provide homestead sites to rural BPL families

The Union Cabinet today approved the scheme for providing homestead sites to the rural below poverty line (BPL) households, along with its basic parameters.

According to an official press release, the main parameters of the scheme are as follows:

(i) For the purpose of allotting homestead sites, the beneficiaries will be selected only from the Permanent Indira Awas Yojana (IAY) Waitlists as per their priority in the list. Only those BPL households who have neither land nor housesite will be eligible.

(ii) In the first instance, the State Government will regularize the land as a homestead site if it is presently occupied by a BPL household and if regularization is permissible as per the existing acts and rules.

(iii) If this is not the case, State Government will allot suitable Government land as homestead site to the eligible BPL household. The Government land includes community land, land belonging to panchayats or other local authorities.

(iv) In case suitable Government land is not available for allotment as homestead sites, private land may be purchased or acquired for this purpose.

(v) However, before taking up land purchase or land acquisition, competent authority will certify that it was not possible to regularise occupied land, if any or that there is no suitable government land for allotment as homestead sites.

(vi) Financial assistance of Rs.10,000/- per beneficiary or actual, whichever is less, will be provided for purchase /acquisition of a homestead site of an area around 100-250 sq. mt.

(vii) Funding will be shared by Centre and States in the ratio of 50:50 while in the case of UTs Central Government will fund 100%.

(viii) If the amount per beneficiary falls short, the balance amount will be contributed by the State Government.

(ix) First instalment of the funds will be released only after the State certifies that it has no land to provide to the rural BPL either through regularization or through transfer and that it has identified the land meant for acquisition/purchase. Subsequent instalments would be released when the States take possession of the land.

(x) BPL families allotted land through purchase would be, to the extent feasible, provided house construction assistance in the same year.

(xi) The State Governments will be incentivised by allocating additional funds under IAY to the extent beneficiaries are provided with homestead site by way of regularization, allotment or purchase/acquisition. If necessary, a provision will be made in the guidelines to keep a portion of IAY funds apart for incentivising the States. The unspent amount, if any, out of this component will be distributed to the better performing districts.

(xii) Further to achieve the target of "providing homestead sites to all by 2012" as envisaged in the 11th Plan document, the States will be asked to formulate a Policy and to draw up an Action Plan to achieve this target.

(xiii) The States will be expected to provide funds for the proposed scheme over and above their existing budget for similar initiatives. This is also subject to the condition that the States should continue to budget for the Scheme an amount not less than their previous year’s budget.

This will facilitate the rural BPL households to fulfil their need for shelter and also to enable them to avail the benefit of schemes meant for construction of houses, the release added.

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Cabinet approves design, development of GSAT-10

The Union Cabinet today approved a proposal to undertake the design and development of GSAT-10 spacecraft at a cost of Rs.735 crores with a foreign exchange component of Rs.634.00 crores.

The GSAT-10 satellite, with 12 high power Ku-band transponders, 12 C-band and 12 Extended C band India coverage transponders and a navigation payload, will replace the ageing INSAT-2E and INSAT-3B satellites, create additional capacity for DTH-like applications and provide on-orbit back-up for the GAGAN navigation payload, an official statement said.

The spacecraft structure is designed for a lift-off mass of about 3337 kg with a dry mass of approximately 1432 kg. The spacecraft will employ a proven 1-3K structure used to realize INSAT-4A and 4B satellites. The spacecraft is configured with 2-sided solar array panels to generate around 6 KW of DC power.

The GSAT-10 spacecraft is planned to be realized within 20 months, the statement added.

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19 new cases of influenza A (H1N1) in India

As many as 19 new cases of influenza A (H1N1) were reported from India today---eleven from Delhi and eight from Pune.

With these, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus reported so far from India has risen to 615, an official statement said.

Of the eleven cases in Delhi, ten are contacts of previously reported positive cases, while the eleventh is a 25-year-old youth who arrived from Chicago on July 28.

Seven of eight new cases in Pune, which has been the worst-hit city in India, are contacts of previously reported cases. The eighth case is a 45-year-old woman who arrived from Frankfurt on July 31.

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All 27 states have constituted Information Commissions: Govt.

The government today informed Parliament that all the 27 states, to which the Right to Information Act, 2005, applies, have constituted Information Commissions.

Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions Prithviraj Chavan told the Rajya Sabha in a written reply to a question by a member that Union Territories were covered by the Central Information Commission.

He said the government had initiated a centrally-sponsored scheme on "Strengthening, Capacity Building and Awareness Generation for Effective Implementation of the RTI Act" by providing funds to State Information Commissions.

These funds are to be used for their IT enablement and propagation of right to information; imparting training to various stakeholders; and generating awareness through media, among other activities.

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