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Sunday, March 29, 2009

If PM not willing, he can ask Sonia for a debate: Advani

Mar 28 (PTI) With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh refusing his offer for a television debate, senior BJP leader L K Advani today said that if he was not willing, he could ask Congress President Sonia Gandhi for the same.

"I have told the PM several times that it would be so nice that like in foreign countries (US presidential debate), we should also have a debate. Instead of a BJP public meeting, the Election Commission could organise a meeting (for the debate)," Party's prime ministerial candidate Advani told an election rally here.

"If the Prime Minister is not willing (for a debate), he can ask the Congress President (Sonia Gandhi)," he said.

On the lines of US Presidential debate, Advani had earlier this week asked the Prime Minister for a TV debate to help people judge who was the better prime ministerial candidate.

Reacting to this, Congress spokesperson Jayanthi Natarajan said, "the BJP was too impressed with the US system".

Some of the Congress members have opposed such a debate, saying it was more suited to countries having a presidential form of government. PTI

Varun charged with attempt to murder

29 March 2009

Pilibhit: BJP Lok Sabha candidate Varun Gandhi has been charged with attempt to murder, rioting and other offences in an FIR filed in connection with violence that erupted here even as police today maintained a close vigil to maintain law and order in this district.

29-year-old Varun, along with Uttar Pradesh BJP chief Kalraj Mishra, local MLA Sukhlal and former party MLA B K Gupta, have been named in another FIR registered for violation of prohibitory orders under section 144 CrPC Saturday when the BJP candidate courted arrest in a case related to his alleged anti-Muslim speeches, Kotwali police sources said.

Varun, who is in judicial custody, has been booked under sections 147, 148 and 149 (rioting and related charges), 307 (attempt to murder), 332 (voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from his duty), 336 (doing any act that endangers human life or the personal safety of others) and certain sections of IPC and public safety and certain state acts for the violence around the district jail here, they said.

The FIR relating to rioting and other chages has been filed by Pilibhit district jailor Mukesh Arora against Varun and his supporters after BJP activists fought a pitched battle with the police and laid a siege of the jail premises.

Opposition made Varun a poster boy: Advani

Mar 28 (PTI) BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate L K Advani today came out in support of Varun Gandhi, under fire for his alleged hate speeches, and said it was the opposition which had made him a "poster boy".

He accused the Election Commission of exceeding its brief by suggesting BJP should not field him as a candidate in the election.

"We did not make Varun Gandhi a poster boy. It is the others who give publicity. Most of the time, our opponents have made him a poster boy," Advani told PTI.

Advani attacked the Election Commission's suggestion that Gandhi should not be given nomination by BJP as the poll panel had found him guilty of making inflammatory speeches in his constituency Pilibhit.

"The case of Varun Gandhi got wide publicity as the Election Commission did something unprecedented. I was surprised. I support Varun because EC has done an illegal thing as the charge against him has not been proved," Advani said.

Without naming actor Sanjay Dutt, who is set to contest from Lucknow as Samajwadi Party candidate, he said "one who has been convicted is contesting from Lucknow but the Election Commission has not said anything." Advani addressed election meetings for BJP candidates in Padrauna and Maharajganj areas of Uttar Pradesh.

Some of the locals raised slogans of "Varun Gandhi zindabad" during Advani's speech. PTI

No VIP treatment in jail for Varun

29 March 2009

Pilibhit (Uttar Pradesh): Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate Varun Gandhi, who was sent to jail here Saturday for his inflammatory speeches, did not get VIP treatment in prison but was provided homemade food for dinner, a prison official said.

"Due to security reasons, we have kept him in a separate cell but besides homemade food, no additional facilities are being provided to him," Jail Superintendent Mukesh Arora told IANS.

The permission to provide him food made outside the jail was granted Saturday by the court that sent him to judicial custody until March 30.

A BJP worker brought the food, which was given to Varun Gandhi at around 7 p.m. after the jail pharmacist and doctor examined it.

"After conducting the final checking at 7.30 p.m., we left his cell for the day," Arora said.

"His personal behaviour was very good, but his supporters created a ruckus til late (Saturday) evening outside the jail," he added.

Two armed policemen have been deployed outside his cell in Pilibhit, around 350 km from Lucknow.

A Pilibhit court sent Varun to jail until Monday for allegedly making hate speeches amid clashes between party workers and the police Saturday. The court ruling came shortly after the BJP candidate from Pilibhit said he was "ready to go to jail" over the reported anti-Muslim speeches that he denies having made.

Hundreds of BJP supporters followed the police vehicle in which Gandhi was taken away from the court. A few of them were seen clinging to the vehicle and climbing onto its bonnet, making it difficult for the policemen to drive.

The police then opened fire, injuring three people.

Gandhi courted controversy after his speeches, that had derogatory references to Muslims, gained media attention. Gandhi maintains that the speeches, whose recorded copies were aired repeatedly on television, were doctored.

The Election Commission came down heavily on him and suggested that he should not be fielded as a candidate in the Lok Sabha elections. The BJP refused to do that and questioned the Election Commission's jurisdiction to suggest that.

On Friday, Gandhi withdrew his bail application from the Delhi High Court and decided to surrender.

The Election Commission wants criminal charges to be filed against him for his speeches.

Asked if the BJP saw Gandhi as the new Hindutva poster-boy and star campaigner, party leader Kalraj Misra said Saturday: "He (Varun) is just a party worker and our candidate from Pilibhit and he will be utilised according to his capabilities."

Around 50 BJP workers were also arrested here Saturday after they blocked roads and clashed with the police while waiting for Gandhi. They were charged with unlawful assembly.

Top 10 cos add Rs 91,000 cr in a week; RIL leads pack

29 Mar 2009

MUMBAI: Extending their gains of the past two weeks, country's 10 most valued firms added over Rs 91,000 crore to their market capitalisation last week with Reliance Industries alone accounting for over one-third of the total gain.

The most valued firm of the country Reliance Industries added Rs 32,963 crore to its valuation last week. Shares of RIL surged nearly 16 per cent on the Bombay Stock Exchange, amid the broader market witnessing a counter rally in bear market.

At the end of the Friday's trade, the valuation of Mukesh Ambani-led RIL stood at Rs 2,43,624 crore, against Rs 2,10,661 crore a week ago.

The top-10 firms, comprising four private and six public sector entities, added Rs 91,480 crore last week, taking the total market cap of the elite club to Rs 11,15,658 crore.

In the previous week, the valuation of the club was at Rs 10,24,177 crore.

Two state-run companies-- oil major Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) and power utility NTPC-- added Rs 11,325 crore and Rs 3,710 crore respectively to their valuation last week.

At the end of Friday's trade, ONGC remained the most valued PSU firm with a market cap of Rs 1,72,821 crore, while NTPC was valued at Rs 1,50,109 crore.

The rejig in the premier club saw power equipment maker BHEL replacing trading firm MMTC at the sixth place. BHEL rose one spot in the club, after adding Rs 8,395 crore to its valuation, while MMTC moved down by a notch to the seventh despite adding Rs 1,700 crore.

Telecom services provider Bharti Airtel and IT bellwether Infosys Technologies added Rs 10,042 crore and Rs 2,853 crore respectively to their market cap last week.

Country's largest lender State Bank of India rose one spot to eighth, after adding Rs 10,907 crore to its valuation, replacing diversified conglomerate ITC, which slipped to ninth place even after adding Rs 6,472 crore last week.

Mining giant NMDC added Rs 3,112 crore in its valuation taking its market cap to Rs 63,197 crore at the end of trade last week.

Apart from the top 10 most valued firms, two private- sector lenders, ICICI Bank and HDFC Bank, together added Rs 13,696 crore to their valuation last week.

While, ICICI Bank saw its market cap surge by Rs 6,936 crore to Rs 42,883 crore, HDFC Bank added Rs 6,760 crore to Rs 42,393 crore at the end of trade on Friday last week.

RIL, the numero-uno in the list, is followed by ONGC (Rs 1,72,821 crore), NTPC (Rs 1,50,109 crore), Bharti Airtel (Rs 1,18,108 crore), Infosys (Rs 77,144 crore), BHEL (Rs 75,944 crore), MMTC (Rs 72,822 crore), SBI (Rs 71,446 crore), ITC (Rs 70,442 crore), NMDC (Rs 63,197 crore).

Markets heading for smart recovery?

29 Mar 2009, ET Bureau

A week is a long period for stock markets these days. It can change the mood, index levels and even make investors look at equity all over again.

That's been the trend in the domestic stock markets in the last few days as they have been rallying smartly amid bear market conditions.

Many have been wondering what led to the sudden change in mood among investors at a time when there are specific concerns such as elections and annual results from the corporate sector staring at us. To a great extent, the rally has been triggered by improved liquidity from the institutional front, led by both foreign institutional and domestic institutional investors.

The volumes have been on the rise even in the cash segment as indicated by many broking houses. Not surprisingly , investors are back to 'buy' recommendations from many analysts though technical analysts have been still harping on the fact that the index in the range of 6,500 is still around us. Surely, that is a worrying factor for small individual investors.

Though individual investors too can take comfort from the fact that the markets have once again moved into a buying mood, they need to keep in mind the fact that the year 2009 on the whole is likely to be one of the challenging years for equity investors. The global financial mess is unlikely to disappear in a hurry and hence, the economies around the globe are in for a challenging period in the next 12-24 months. As any fund manager would tell you, the biggest worry about the current crisis is its lack of clarity (in terms of its finale). Hence, even as the market stages its interim rallies which are more relief providers than conviction, investors need to reconcile to the fact that weakness is an integral part of the markets this year.

One of the best ways to play the current trend is to narrow the buying and selling range for the short to medium term portfolios within an index level of 8,000 to 10,000. In the last 12 months, the markets have not been successful in breaching both levels barring in October when there was mayhem. Hence, it would be advisable for investors to distinguish between short and longterm portfolios.

Free cash withdrawals from all ATMs from April 1

29 Mar 2009, PTI

NEW DELHI: Come April 1 and you need not have to sweat it out looking for an ATM of your own bank as you can use ATMs of your choice without Top 20 Global Banks

Thanks to an RBI directive, much to the relief of common man, banks have been prevented from charging any fee for cash withdrawals using ATM and debit cards issued by other banks from April 1 onwards.

However, banks can still charge extra for services like cash withdrawal with the use of credit cards and at ATMs located outside India.

Last year on March 10, the RBI had come out with guidelines limiting the fee charged by banks for using their ATMs by clients of other lenders to Rs 20. It had also allowed the use of ATM for purposes like balance enquiry free of any charge.

This was to ensure greater transparency and to facilitate usage of any ATM installed within the country by customers without shelling out more, the central bank had said.

At present, banks charge Rs 20 per transaction when a customer uses the cash machine of any bank other than the one in which he/she has an account with.

At the end of December 2007, there were 32,342 ATMs in the country and various banks have entered into bilateral and multi-lateral arrangements with other banks to have inter-bank ATM networks.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Ready for live TV debate with Manmohan: Advani

Seppa (Arunachal Pradesh): Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani Thursday challenged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to a live television debate ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, like in the US, and also described Manmohan Singh as the weakest political head the country has ever seen.

"Let the prime minister come for a live TV debate for which I am ready. This is the practice prevalent in the US during elections," Advani told an election rally in Sepa in East Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh bordering China.

The BJP's prime ministerial candidate also termed Manmohan Singh as the weakest prime minister India has ever seen.

"I have never seen a prime minister who has to take orders from the party high command to do anything for the country. Without Sonia Gandhi's approval, nothing moves in the government," Advani said at a modest gathering.

The BJP leader also challenged Manmohan Singh to contest parliamentary elections instead of taking the Rajya Sabha route. "Singh will be more acceptable to the people of India if he decides to fight the elections and go to the Lok Sabha," Advani said.

Manmohan Singh is a member of Rajya Sabha from Assam.

Earlier, Advani addressed two election rallies in Assam where he lashed out at the Congress party for what he termed its failure to tackle infiltration from Bangladesh which has posed a threat to the country's internal security.

Advani's remarks come two days after Manmohan Singh challenged the BJP leader's ability to rule India, saying his only contribution to "national welfare" was his role in the 1992 demolition of the Babri mosque.

Advani had on Tuesday termed Manmohan Singh a "weak" prime minister.

Current surge in markets a participatory uptrend

25 Mar 2009, 0655

Just about everyone is convinced that the current leg of rally in the markets is nothing more than a Bear Market rally. Bear market rallies are often described as sharp and swift rallies, which are accompanied with the advent of low volumes. One unique feature of the current rally is the extraordinary jump in volumes.

Picture this – last time when the markets rallied 30% from 2008 lows in the month of October, volumes were sub-60000 crore. Post October, volumes only deteriorated, with the average turnover being sub-50000 crore.

Source: - NSE + F&O

This is a significant number, as these are the volumes that we clocked as back as in Jan '08-during the peak of this bull market.

One explanation that some feel could partly explain the phenomenal rise in volumes could be the surge in option activity. Option used to account for a mere 25-30% of the total derivative turnover.

The recent few sessions have options accounting for over 40% of the total derivative turnover. The surge in option activity coupled with the rise in the markets indicates that market participants want to trade long, but with an insurance cover.

The fact that markets have risen on robust volumes indicates that this is not just another bear market rally. This rally is witnessing increased participation, which makes this rally one on stronger legs than the earlier ones.

Even though it may be too early to speak about the advent of another bull market, investors could take heart from the fact that the market is not necessarily thinking on lines of a bear market rally – more likely, the current surge is a participatory uptrend.

Google to expand TV ad service to online video

27 Mar 2009,

WASHINGTON: Internet giant Google is testing a new service that would expand its television-ad brokering business to YouTube and video on other
websites, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

Michael Steib, Google's director of television ads, told the newspaper that Google is working on technology that would allow advertisers to buy ads across Google TV, YouTube and other websites through the same interface.

He said Google is testing the service, called Google TV Ads Online, with a small group of advertisers. The newspaper said it was likely to be introduced in the coming months.

It said Google, which currently makes 97 per cent of its revenue from online advertising, was hoping the new service would make it easier for bigger brand advertisers to spend across both traditional and online media.

The Journal said that for the new effort to work, however, YouTube needs to secure longer-form video such as television shows and movies.

And it noted that some television ads may not be suitable to run before or alongside online video.

Google's move comes as increasing numbers of people are watching television online.

Earlier this year, Google dropped another advertising initiative, its Print Ads program, an attempt to auction off space in newspapers to bargain-seeking advertisers.

The elimination of Print Ads came as Google cuts costs in the face of a struggling economy that has slowed even the online advertising king's money-making machine.

Google also announced it was getting out of the broadcast radio advertising business in a move that was expected to result in the Internet powerhouse shedding about 40 workers.

On Thursday, Google said that it plans to cut nearly 200 marketing and sales jobs from its international operations.

Google's rapid growth resulted in some job duplications and the company "over-invested" in some areas, Google senior vice president of sales and business development Omid Kordestani said.

Krishnam replaces Ramalinga as Raju clan's new icon

27 Mar 2009, ET Bureau

HYDERABAD: Actor-turned politician Chiranjeevi pulled a coup of sorts by roping in his elder peer U V Krishnam Raju into his newly-formed Praja
Rajyam Party. Krishnam Raju, a la Manoj Kumar of the Telugu film world, was the minister of state for external affairs in the NDA government led by A B Vajpayee between 1999 and 2004. But many were surprised when he snapped his decade-old ties with BJP to join PRP this week.

Both Raju and Chiranjeevi hail from Mogaltur, a district in West Godavari, something that could perhaps explain their bonding. Skeptics say this could be short-lived, given the ideological differences between the two actors.

Krishnam Raju belongs to the Raju clan, which is concentrated in coastal Andhra, mainly Bhimavaram (West Godavari). The community, comprising about 5% of the state’s population, is economically empowered by virtue of being land owners. They are also a close-knit community.

Chiranjeevi, on the other hand, belongs to the Kapu clan, dominated by peasants in the state. According to an analyst, the Raju clan was looking at aligning with Chiranjeevi, soon after he floated the PRP. The PRP camp is now dominated by the Raju community with more than 80% of the party workers belonging to this little known clan.

"Krishnam Raju has been wielded as one of the most important candidate to revive the lost glory of the Raju community, that was apparently dented after B Ramalinga Raju, the defamed founder of Satyam Computer Services, admitted to doctoring Satyam’s books," said a PRP spokesperson.

There are also reports that several members from the Raju community who were denied tickets in the grand alliance and Congress hopped over to PRP as tickets are up for grabs in the newly-formed party.

The Raju community has its share of woes against Congress and TDP, both rivals of PRP. During his hey-days, Ramalinga Raju had the best of equations with the former chief minister and TDP leader, N Chandrababu Naidu. The poster boy of IT revolution in Andhra Pradesh, Mr Naidu drew mileage showcasing Satyam, once ranked as the fourth largest software exporter in the country.

He was equally comfortable with the ruling Congress when it came to power in 2004. TDP has alleged that Congress had favoured firms promoted by the Raju family and the rest as they say is history. The Raju clan is unhappy with both Congress and TDP and now see PRP as their new protector,” said an analyst.

Several dead in attack on Pak mosque

27 Mar 2009

AMRUD/PAKISTAN: A suicide bomber blew himself up in a packed mosque in northwest Pakistan at Friday prayers, killing 48 people and wounding dozens
in one of the deadliest attacks in the nuclear-armed nation.

The bombing took place on the weekly Muslim day of rest in the town of Jamrud in the restive Khyber tribal region, which is located on a key road used to ferry supplies to Western troops across the border in Afghanistan.

It came just hours before US President Barack Obama was to unveil a new offensive against terror havens in Afghanistan and Pakistan, aiming to deal a death blow to Al-Qaeda more than seven years after the September 11 attacks.

"Forty-eight bodies have been pulled out of the debris and many others may still be trapped under the rubble," Tariq Hayat, the top administration official in Khyber, told AFP by telephone.

"More than 70 people were wounded. There may be many more dead," he said.

"The bomber was present inside the mosque and blew himself up when Friday prayers began," Hayat said.

"The entire building collapsed," a top security official said, referring to the temporary mosque, which had been set up by local police and paramilitary troops who have a camp in the surrounding area of remote, mountainous Khyber.

It was the deadliest bomb blast in Pakistan, a frontline state in the US-led "war on terror", since 60 people died in a suicide truck bomb at the five-star Marriott Hotel in Islamabad last September.

US officials say northwest Pakistan has become a safe haven for Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants who fled after the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan and have since regrouped to launch attacks on foreign troops across the border.

Pakistani security officials said they suspected Friday's attack was to avenge ongoing security operations against Taliban fighters and other Islamist militants in Khyber's Barra area to secure NATO supplies into Afghanistan.

The bulk of supplies and equipment required by NATO and US-led forces battling a Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan is shipped through Pakistan, and the fabled Khyber pass is the principal land route.

A spate of militant attacks across Pakistan from extremists opposed to the government's decision to join the US-led "war on terror" after the September 11, 2001 attacks, has killed more than 1,600 people in less than two years.

The unrest has fanned international fears about deteriorating stability in the nuclear-armed Islamic republic, where Obama has said extremists -- like those in Afghanistan -- pose a grave threat.

To win a war aides said was "adrift," Obama is to dispatch 4,000 extra troops to train the Afghan army, on top of 17,000 deployments already authorized, in a bold move in defiance of critics who fear a quagmire.

Obama also will send hundreds more civilian officials into Afghanistan and stump up billions of dollars of extra aid to help Pakistan secure its democracy, senior administration officials said.

"It is a clear, concise, attainable goal, and that goal is to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al-Qaeda in its safe havens in Afghanistan and Pakistan," one of the officials said on condition of anonymity.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Jaitley lambasts Chidambaram on IPL's shift abroad

Mon, 23 Mar 2009

New Delhi, Mar 23 : The Indian Premier League's decision to shift abroad has "almost clubbed" India with Pakistan as an unsafe sporting venue, BJP leader Arun Jaitley said today as he took another potshot at Home Minister P Chidambaram for refusing to assure security for the event.

Jaitley, also the Delhi and District Cricket Association president, said the Home Ministry's refusal to assure security for the high-profile Twenty20 league has given the country a bad name.

"The Impression which has gone is that India is not a safe destination for sporting events. Today, it's sporting events, tomorrow it maybe other events where crowds gather. It maybe some religious events like Kumbh Mela or Ajmer Sharif function," Jaitley fumed in a press conference here.

"Therefore the impression that India is a safe destination must be created. Country's activities don't come to a standstill merely because elections are being held.

"He must realise that it amounts to giving India a bad name, almost clubbing us with the image Pakistan has. He must concentrate on the job assigned to him," Jaitley said. More

Jaitley lambasts Chidambaram on IPL's shift abroad

Mon, 23 Mar 2009

New Delhi, Mar 23 : The Indian Premier League's decision to shift abroad has "almost clubbed" India with Pakistan as an unsafe sporting venue, BJP leader Arun Jaitley said today as he took another potshot at Home Minister P Chidambaram for refusing to assure security for the event.

Jaitley, also the Delhi and District Cricket Association president, said the Home Ministry's refusal to assure security for the high-profile Twenty20 league has given the country a bad name.

"The Impression which has gone is that India is not a safe destination for sporting events. Today, it's sporting events, tomorrow it maybe other events where crowds gather. It maybe some religious events like Kumbh Mela or Ajmer Sharif function," Jaitley fumed in a press conference here.

"Therefore the impression that India is a safe destination must be created. Country's activities don't come to a standstill merely because elections are being held.

"He must realise that it amounts to giving India a bad name, almost clubbing us with the image Pakistan has. He must concentrate on the job assigned to him," Jaitley said. More

Two key detractors of Orissa CM joins BJP

Mon, 23 Mar 2009

New Delhi, March 23 : Former Orissa state NCP chief Bijay Mohapatra and former MP Dilip Ray, two key detractors of Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, today joined BJP for a "collective fight to unseat the BJD Government".
"Both the stalwarts of Orissa politics have decided to accept the membership of BJP and repose their faith in our policies," party president Rajnath Singh told reporters here in the presence of both Mohapatra and Ray.

The two leaders from Orissa have taken major roles in the formation of BJD and bringing the BJP-BJD alliance together.

Rajnath, however, said they will formally join the party after March 27 in Bhubaneswar.

Asked if they will be given tickets for the Lok Sabha polls, he said, "Nobody has asked for tickets. They have not laid down any conditions," he said.

Talking to PTI, Ray said Mohapatra is expected to contest the elections while he will work for the party as a member.

"Our collective fight is to unseat the BJD Government and expose Naveen Patnaik," Ray said.

Earlier they met L K Advani and held discussion with other senior BJP leaders before firming up plans on joining the saffron brigade.

Mohapatra said his objective of joining BJP is to defeat Naveen Patnaik for which he has been campaigning for over a decade.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

BJP is not a temple construction company: Naqvi

21 Mar 2009 PTI

NEW DELHI: BJP on Saturday underlined its commitment to the cause of building Ram Temple in Ayodhya but said the construction had to be done by the Ramjanambhoomi Trust and not the party as it is not a "construction company".

"BJP is committed that a temple should be built in Ayodhya after religious leaders of both sides reach a consensus through dialogue," BJP Vice President Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said here.

"The task of building it (temple), however, has to be undertaken by the Ramjanambhoomi Trust as BJP is not a construction company," he told PTI.

Naqvi was issuing clarification after his comments to Gulf News were subjected to various interpretations by sections of the media.

In this interview to the Gulf newspaper, the Muslim face of the saffron party had said: "BJP is not a construction company to build a temple, mosque, church and gurudwara. We support the cause that there should be a Ram temple in Ayodhya, but it has to be done with consensus of the religious groups and organisations through negotiations and talks. Or according to the court's verdict."

He said some sections of the media here were interpreting his comments wrongly as they were quoting him "selectively".

Amid the controversy, BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad clarified the matter while defending Naqvi.

"What he (Naqvi) has stated is essentially correct because we have never in the past said that BJP will personally construct the temple. The responsibility of constructing the temple is with the Ramjanambhoomi Trust which has undertaken it upon itself," Prasad said.

"BJP will only facilitate construction of the temple," he said.

BJP to declare Ramsetu 'heritage monument' if it comes to power

22 Mar 2009, PTI

CHENNAI: BJP will declare the Ramasetu "a heritage monument," if the alliance led by the party would be voted to power at the Centre in the Lok Sabha polls, party's state unit said on Sunday.

BJP state unit president L Ganesan, in a statement here, alleged that if the alliance comprising the DMK came to power, "it will try to demolish" the Ramsetu.

The bridge, believed to have been constructed by Lord Ram, became a centre of controversy after Hindus opposed its demolition for the construction of Rs 2,400 crore Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project (SSCP).

While crediting former Prime Minister A B Vajpayee for issuing in-principle approval and taking up study for the implementation of the project, Ganesan claimed the plan was "altered" after the UPA Government took over.

"The DMK has assumed the matter as its policy failure and is adamant (in the implementation)," he said at an apparent reference to DMK president M Karunanidhi asking his party workers to inform people on the "roadblocks" created for the project.

"If another alliance comprising of the DMK comes to power, it will try to demolish the Ramsetu. But if a BJP-led combine is voted to power, the bridge will be declared a heritage monument of historical importance," he said.

Mohan Bhagwat is new RSS chief

21 Mar 2009
Nagpur: Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief K.S. Sudarshan Saturday stepped down on health grounds, handing over the mantle to Mohan Bhagwat, a veterinary doctor who detests party politics.

Expressing his inability to continue to shoulder the 'onerous responsibility' that entailed hectic touring across India, Sudarshan, 74, requested colleagues that he should be allowed to resign.

Sudarshan was speaking at the Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha, the national representative body of India's most influential Hindu nationalist group.

'Sudarsahnji announced his decision to retire from the post of Sarsanghachalak (RSS chief) citing age and receding health as main causes. He appointed Mohanji Bhagwat, current Sarkaryavah (general secretary), as his successor,' said a statement on the RSS website.

RSS spokesman Ram Madhav told IANS that Bhagwat, 59, would be the new RSS chief. 'Sudarshanji's request (to resign) has been accepted and Mohanji has agreed to take over,' RSS propganda chief Manmohan Vaidya added.

While the 'Pratinidhi Sabha' meets every year at different places in the country, the meeting is held in Nagpur, where the RSS is headquartered, every third year to hold organisational 'elections' for all posts except that of the 'Sarsanghchalak' (organisational chief).

Sudarshan has been regularly touring until recently, meeting delegations and attending public functions.

The appointment of Bhagwat is seen in the Sangh Parivar as a conscious step to promote relatively younger functionaries over the old guard.

After Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, who founded the RSS in 1925 at the age of 36, Bhagwat is the youngest RSS chief. All his immediate juniors, manning key positions in RSS, are much older to him.

Bhagwat has worked the last 30 years as a RSS 'pracharak', a term used for volunteers who work full time for the organisation and remain unmarried.

Born in Chandarpur near Nagpur in Maharashtra, Bhagwat was inducted into RSS by his father who joined it during the life time of Hedgewar.

Within RSS circles, Bhagwat is known as a look alike of the first RSS chief.

'The new RSS chief is a straight forward person with a clear vision that the RSS should stay away from party politics. His focus would be to strengthen the organisational structure,' a senior RSS pracharak who has worked closely with Bhagwat told IANS in New Delhi.

Sudarshan is the third 'Sarsanghchalak' to demit the office on health grounds, the others being Balasaheb Deoras and Rajendra Singh alias Rajju Bhaiyya.

An eloquent speaker known for his erudition, Sudarshan has been the most controversial RSS chief in recent years.

His harsh criticism of then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and deputy prime pinister L.K. Advani, his plea to alter the basic structure of the Indian constitution and his appeal to Hindu women to give birth to at least three children each to counter Muslim population growth were some of the controversial positions he took publicly.

Nano launch: Indian auto industry to create history

22 March 2009

New Delhi: History will be created in Mumbai Monday when Tata Motors launches the world's least expensive car, Nano - a car that can redefine personal transportation in modern India.

Described as "People's Car" by Tata Group Chairman Ratan Tata, Nano's commercial launch will mark a milestone in a journey, which was replete with controversies, hurdles and criticism from competitors.

As far as customers are concerned, they can expect to own a car coming at a price between Rs 1.20 lakh and Rs 1.30 lakh, depending on the version of Nano, although bookings will start only in April second week.

According to dealer sources, if the company keeps the ex-factory price at Rs 1 lakh, as promised by Tata, then the base model could easily have an on-road price of Rs 1.20 lakh after adding taxes such as excise duty, education cess and road tax, along with transportation cost, local taxes, insurance and registration fees and a lifetime parking fees (wherever applicable).

Last month, Tata Motors had appointed public sector lender State Bank of India as the sole booking agent for the world's least expensive car from the stable of Tatas.

The booking amount is reportedly fixed at Rs 70,000.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Inflation dips to near-zero levels

20 Mar 2009, ET Bureau

NEW DELHI: India’s inflation rate skidded to a record low of 0.44% in the first week of March, well on course for a widely expected move into Financial crisis negative territory, triggering hopes authorities would be forced to intervene with steps to shore up demand in the economy.

The inflation rate as measured by the wholesale price index fell from 2.43% in the preceding week, led by plunging food prices and cheaper fuels. Very soon, buyers in wholesale markets may be paying less for most items, except food, than what they paid last March.

Economists say there is a good chance prices may continue falling longer than expected unless the government moves quickly to rev up demand. They expect Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to infuse more liquidity to counter this trend, besides cutting policy rates further.

“The higher base effect along with low demand in the economy is expected to keep inflation in negative territory for five to six months. Inflation will turn negative starting from April and will remain so until the end of 2009... We expect the Reserve Bank to ease liquidity to support growth,” said economist Tushar Poddar at Goldman Sachs.

Given the inflation outlook and macro environment, Goldman Sachs expects a 150 basis point cut by June in the cash reserve ratio, the funds banks have to keep with the RBI. Analysts say further infusion of funds through increased lending by banks may keep the system flush with liquidity.

“We expect continued policy action, including unconventional measures, to stem the deceleration in growth,” Citi analyst Rohini Malkani said in a research note. But the government maintained that though prices may drop to below 2008 levels, demand continues to remain strong. “I do not see any signs of deflation as demand for certain core sectors like steel, cement and automobiles is picking up, along with rural demand,” said cabinet secretary KM Chandrasekhar, who is the government’s seniormost bureaucrat. “Only those sectors that are heavily dependent on overseas demand will take time to pick up,” he added.

When prices decline, consumers typically postpone purchases in anticipation of catching the bottom. This causes further shrinkage of demand. Even so, companies manufacturing household electronic items say they are not worried.
“We are observing a slight easing of consumer spending and with the inflation coming down, we expect a positive impact on consumer spending,” said R Zutshi, deputy managing director of Samsung India.

One reason why companies remain optimistic is that prices in the retail market continued to rise faster than before in the week ended March 7. Retail inflation, measured by various consumer price indices (CPI), is still high. CPI for industrial workers has moved to 10.45% in January, the highest in over a decade.

But even retail inflation may eventually cool, if food, especially fruits and vegetables, become substantially cheaper in the coming months. They are already less expensive compared to January. Annual food inflation index has dropped to 7.24% from a 10-year high of 11.64% in January.

Prices of manufactured products, with a 64% weight in the WPI, did not change over the week. Inflation in this category could fall further if demand for manufactured goods does not pick up. While auto, cement, steel and retail sales in February beat market expectations, sectors such as real estate, freight and port traffic continue to be a cause of concern for policymakers.

The International Monetary Fund said this week that India should rely more on monetary policy to support the economy because it has already exhausted options such as additional spending and tax sops.

Inflation at 30-year low, but interest rates remain sticky

Economic Bureau
Mar 20, 2009

New Delhi: From a 15-year high of about 13 per cent till September 2008, the Inflation rate based on the wholesale price index (WPI) has now slid to 0.44 per cent for the week ending March 7, the lowest level since 1977-78. The 199 basis points fall from the previous week when the rate was 2.43 per cent is the sharpest since November 1, 2008.

With inflation already at such low levels, dis-inflation or inflation in the negative territory is more or less a certainty. But there is a distinction to make between dis-inflation and deflation. In the case of deflation, there is a contraction in overall demand along with negative inflation. The Indian economy continued to grow — though at a slower pace — at 5.3 per cent in the third quarter of 2008-09.

The rapid fall in the inflation rate has renewed demands from various agencies for a further cut in interest rates and has also given more elbow room to the Government to continue with its fiscal stimulus measures. “It gives us reassurance that we can take measures to stimulate the economy,” said Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, noting that negative inflation would not be good for growth.

Though the Reserve Bank of India has been loosening up the monetary policy, India Inc sees the need for a more aggressive easing. “What is particularly worrisome is that given the present inflation rate and the interest rates being charged by banks, the real rate of interest in the economy continues to be at double digits. The banks must lower the lending rates to single digit levels if economic activity is to be stimulated,” said Ficci president Harshpati Singhania.

Arvind Virmani, chief economic advisor in the finance ministry, pointed out that since September 2008 the percentage drop in the wholesale price index has been about 3 per cent. While fuel contributed 60 per cent to the decline, manufactured goods contributed about 40 per cent. “The index for primary food items, however, rose marginally by 0.2 per cent. This has, in fact, slowed down the decline in the inflation rate,” he pointed out.

According to him, this is due to a buoyant demand for food in rural India. This also partly explains the consumer price index-based inflation rate for industrial workers continuing to remain high at 9 per cent in January. “Rural areas are still a source of strength as far as demand is concerned,” he said.

Indian inflation falls to near zero

New Delhi , March 20 2009

India is on course for a deflationary dip after data yesterday showed the country's wholesale price index rose by only 0.44 per cent earlier this month in spite of government efforts to stimulate the economy.

India's inflation has been falling steadily since August when it peaked at nearly 13 per cent as commodity prices, most particularly crude oil, have cooled and the domestic economy has slowed. Yesterday's figures for the week ending March 7 were the lowest since 1995, when the current measurement began, and were a lower than expected drop on the previous week's reading of 2.43 per cent.

Economists predict that deflation will set in by the end of March, but will be temporary as policymakers take steps to defend high rates of economic growth.

"With negative readings already seen in China and Japan, deflation is now priced in across big economies. This may not be prolonged as policymakers are taking aggressive measures to reflate economies," said Rohini Malkani, economist at Citigroup India in Mumbai. "I thought we would see deflation in the second half of the year, but it is knocking at the door now. It paves the way for interest rates to be cut further," said Deepak Lalwani, the director of India investments at Astaire & Partners, a London stockbroker.

But a senior government official said India would avoid deflation as an economic revival was being felt.

"I do not see any signs of deflation, as demand for certain core sectors like steel, cement and automobiles is picking up, as is also rural demand," said K.M. Chandrasekhar, the cabinet secretary. "The inflation trend clearly shows that the stimulus packages rolled out by the government are starting to show results."

The fall in inflation to near zero prompted the country's industrialists to call for interest rate cuts to boost the economy. They complain that commercial banks have not passed on to borrowers progressive cuts by the Reserve Bank of India of its key lending rate in emergency measures to ease a liquidity crunch.

Since October, the RBI has cut the repurchase rate by 400 basis points and relaxed the cash reserve ratio - the amount banks have to hold with the central bank.

Indian economy staring at deflation. Is it good news?

20 Mar 2009,

NEW DELHI: India is staring at deflation, or negative inflation, with the official inflation rate this week falling to 0.44% — the lowest since Financial crisis of 1977. Food prices, however, continued to be high, with food grains roughly 9% costlier than a year ago, reinforcing a cruel paradox for consumers that they hear about zero inflation but face high prices when they buy their groceries.

With the wholesale price index (WPI) falling by one point to 226.7 for the week ending March 7, 2009 — the same level at which the index was on March 29, 2008 — it now means the year-on-year inflation rate will become zero by the last week of March even if the index for the current year falls no further. TOI had pointed this out last Friday.

As most commodities are becoming cheaper with every successive week in the recent past, deflation is expected to set in even before that. The rabi harvest should see a drop in foodgrain prices too, and that will only accentuate the trend.

If deflation lasts for some time, as seems possible, it would be a new experience for India. Japan went through a decade-long deflation in the 1990s, termed as the ``lost decade'' for that country. At present, most major economies are witnessing disinflation — a lowering of the inflation rate — and some have also seen deflation kicking in. Japan and China have already reported negative inflation rates in the latest data and there are signs that the US, too, could be heading the same way.

While a fall in prices may sound like good news to most laymen, economists see this as an ominous sign of a collapse in demand in the economy. A recent Citibank report echoed this concern in the Indian context saying that the present trend of decline in inflation was not because of any improved efficiency in the economy but because of falling demand. The report warned that this trend would weaken economic activity and discourage investments, which would affect the economy in the longer term.

The fear about investments not materializing is aggravated by the fact that nominal interest rates are at relatively high levels. When prices are falling, this means the real interest rates — the difference between the nominal rate and the rate of inflation — are becoming very high for producers, making it unviable for them to raise funds.

Demands for the RBI to intervene to induce a further round of cuts in interest rates are bound to mount in the face of the latest data. However, planning commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia on Thursday said that the inflation rate would rebound from its present level. While not ruling out the possibility that inflation could go into negative territory, he maintained that it would last for only a few weeks. Hence, he said, it should not be termed as deflation, a term that implies sustained negative inflation.

From the aam admi's point of view, what makes the situation worse is that prices of essential commodities like foodgrains are stubbornly refuse to come down. According to the latest data, the index for foodgrains rose by 9.3% in the week ending March 7 as against 10.06% in the previous week. Under the ``food articles'' head, inflation fell to 7.4% after having been stable at 8.3% in the previous two weeks.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

People adore Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Soliloquy, with Atalji’s poetry

Mar 08, 2009

Taking dynasty out of democracy "Haar nahin maanoonga, raar nayee thaanoonga Kaal ke kapaal par likhata mitaata hoon Geet naya gaata hoon"

The poet who wrote these defiant and inspirational lines is now back at his home, after many days of hospitalisation. The news of his being admitted in New Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences had caused concern all over the country. Now that he has been discharged from hospital, crores of Indians must be saying to themselves: “God is kind. Our prayers have been answered.”

People adore Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

India has produced many great leaders since Independence. Some were politically more powerful than him. Some were electorally more successful than him. But few have received so much admiration and adoration for so long a time as Atalji has.

Many have asked me in the past few weeks: “Do you feel Atalji’s absence in this election campaign?” The answer is obvious. This is the first parliamentary election, since the first one in 1952, in which Atalji will not be actively campaigning. He did not contest the 1952 elections. But since the 2nd Lok Sabha in 1957, he has had an almost uninterrupted innings in Parliament. He will not be a candidate in 2009. The 15th Lok Sabha will miss him and so will Indians miss his election rallies for the coming elections. In the past, people used to travel several hundred miles just to experience the magnetism of his oratory.

Memory helps us feel his presence in many ways. As India’s Prime Minister who ably steered the ship of the nation at a critical time; as the leader who made India a nuclear weapons power; as the peacemaker who, despite the betrayal in Kargil, left no stone unturned to normalise India’s relations with our unreliable neighbour; one who built those world-class highways to progress; one who is ajaatashatru, a man with no enemies.

But today I feel Atalji’s presence as a poet of extraordinary sensitivity and strength. After a long and tiring day in office, in the silence of the midnight hour, I open YouTube to listen to Jagjit Singh’s soulful rendition of Atalji’s ‘Kya Khoya Kya Paaya Jag Mein...’ and Lata Mangeshkar’s recreation of the magic of ‘Aao man ki gaanthen khole...’ Jagjit Singh’s music video, titled Samvedana, was the first-of-its-kind collaborative effort of a prime minister and several great names in Bollywood: Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Javed Akhtar and Yash Chopra. Javed Akhtar, himself a great poet and lyricist, writes in his introductory lines that the distinction between the poet and the reader dissolves when one reads (or listens to) Atalji’s poems.
So true.

We won't move jobs to India, says ANZ

March 15, 2009
The ANZ bank says it does not expect to make any "material" cuts to jobs in 2009, including jobs in Australia, and will not be shifting 500 jobs to India.

"Despite the economic slowdown, ANZ's business is continuing to grow, and the bank does not expect material reductions in employment in 2009," ANZ said in a statement on Sunday.

An ANZ spokeswoman said this applied to ANZ's overall employment levels and to levels specifically within Australia.

ANZ was responding to media speculation that it would send 500 Australian jobs offshore, to Bangalore in India.

The bank said on Sunday that it had not announced job losses in Australia related to "offshoring". Nor, said the spokeswoman, was the bank expecting to do so in future.

The spokeswoman said the nature of some people's jobs may change but they were mostly expected to be redeployed within the group.

ANZ has a technology centre in Bangalore that employs 3,000 people.

The bank said the growth of the Bangalore facility had not meant fewer overall jobs in Australia.

Asked if the bank could categorically say that 500 jobs in Australia will not be shifted to India, the spokeswoman said: "Categorically, yes".

ANZ chief executive officer, Australia, Brian Hartzer said the bank understood that people were concerned about the effect of the economic slowdown on jobs and expected that banks would play their role in maintaining lending and supporting people facing hardship.

"While in these times, the difficult reality for all businesses is that there will be change to adapt to the current economic climate," he said.

"ANZ is committed to being transparent about change programs and to making any changes responsibly and with care to ensure the impact on staff is minimised."

ANZ to offshore Melbourne back-office ops to India by end-2009

13 Mar 2009, PTI

MELBOURNE: Australian ANZ Bank is reportedly offshoring its back-office operations in Melbourne to India by the end of the year.

According to an ANZ spokesperson most of the jobs about to be scrapped were in Melbourne with around 500 jobs being slashed.

"In 2008, the size of the operation in Bangalore grew by around 500 people and it is reasonable to expect there will be some further growth in 2009," said an ANZ spokeswoman in a statement.

However, call centres will remain in Australia and New Zealand, the bank said.

The decision has led to criticism from the Finance Sector Union, with National Secretary Leon Carter calling on the federal government to set conditions on the support it provides to Australians in the form of government guarantees.

Last year, the bank was advised by consultants to cut 620 jobs between January and September 2009, with 870 jobs identified for "offshore migration". At the time, the bank refused to quantify any local cuts.

The move will allow ANZ to focus more on its Asian business and the latest round of cuts in Australia would boost the 3,000-strong workforce it already has in Bangalore.

Centralising the processing centre in India is part of the ANZ's plan to grow into a super-regional bank in Asia, as outlined by chief executive Mike Smith.

India’s Potential, Seen From the Inside

Published: March 14, 2009
THERE are scores of books by well-known businessmen who pontificate about social, political and economic issues affecting a broad swath of humanity. Unfortunately, far too many of these books are exercises in self-promotion or revisionist history, and with thinly veiled ideological agendas.

“Imagining India: The Idea of a Renewed Nation” by Nandan Nilekani (Penguin Press, $29.95) is one of those rare books in which a businessman proves himself to be a capable expository writer, a balanced social and political commentator, and an innovative economic thinker.

Mr. Nilekani is a co-founder of Infosys Technologies, a business-process outsourcing company based in Bangalore. In the introduction to “Imagining India,” Thomas L. Friedman, the New York Times columnist, credits Mr. Nilekani with inspiring his best-selling book “The World Is Flat.”

“There are not a lot of executives around the world who are known simply by their first names,” Mr. Friedman writes. “Silicon Valley has ‘Steve’ — as in Jobs, Seattle has ‘Bill’ — as in Gates. Omaha has ‘Warren’ — as in Buffett. And Bangalore has ‘Nandan’ — as in Nilekani.”

Like its subject, “Imagining India” is vast and complicated. Its more than 500 pages contain a laundry list of topics, ranging from the influences of the British Raj, Nehru and Mahatma, Indira and Rajiv Gandhi to the intricacies of caste, class, region, religion, family planning, sanitation, urbanization, education, health care and information technology (Mr. Nilekani’s area of expertise).

The unifying theme is what the author calls an “idea-based approach” to meeting the present and future challenges facing the world’s largest and fastest-growing democracy.

Mr. Nilekani divides his book into four idea-based sections. The first, subtitled “Ideas That Have Arrived,” recounts India’s stumbling march toward globalization, its begrudging acceptance of the role of entrepreneurs in transforming the formerly socialist economy, and its even more grudging acceptance of English as the unofficial national language. It also addresses a feature that sets India significantly apart from every other country except China: its population of one billion people.

“The idea of population as an asset rather than a burden has especially gained currency with the rise of knowledge-based industries such as I.T., telecommunications and biotechnology in the 1970s,” Mr. Nilekani observes. “In fact, the information economy is the culmination of what the Industrial Revolution started — it has placed human capital front and center as the main driver of productivity and growth.”

Mr. Nilekani contends that India is uniquely positioned to enjoy a “demographic dividend” because the median age of its population is only 23 while that of China, with a total of 1.3 billion people, is already over 32. “India already has the second-largest reservoir of skilled labor in the world,” Mr. Nilekani notes. “It produces 2 million English-speaking graduates, 15,000 law graduates and about 9,000 Ph.D.’s every year. And the existing pool of 2.1 million engineering graduates increases by nearly 300,000 every year.”

Mr. Nilekani, however, is keenly aware of the contradictions, paradoxes and sociocultural obstacles that may prevent India from sustaining its current annual growth rate of 6 percent. In Part 2 , subtitled “Ideas in Progress,” he notes that even though Indians now widely recognize a need for primary education, the country has the world’s highest rate of high school dropouts. In Part 3, subtitled “Ideas in Battle,” he likewise laments that the nation’s university system still consists of “institutions of sand.”

According to Mr. Nilekani, Indian politics continues to be mired in conflicts between feudalism and secularism, rationalism and traditionalism, and is based on caste, class, regional and religious interests. As recently as 1998, he notes, a political candidate was said to be the reincarnation of Kush, the son of Lord Vishnu.

He says a predilection to cling to statism and bureaucracy creates “the paradox of a nation that is blessed with the most talented and diverse entrepreneurs, but which still does not trust the market to deliver on broad-based development.”

MR. NILEKANI uses the final section of his book, subtitled “Ideas to Anticipate,” to discuss likely challenges for India in coming decades. He puts special emphasis on avoiding the mistakes made by developed countries like the United States.

“We do not need to burn through our forests and drain our groundwater before we realize that abusing the environment has awful consequences,” he writes. “We do not need to grow addicted to oil before we realize the potential of renewable energy.”

“Imagining India” has its flaws. Grandly ambitious in scope, the book touches on so many issues as to boggle the mind. Mr. Nilekani has a tendency to repeat facts, and he often resorts to the rhetorical flourishes of the populist demagogues he decries. (“For the first time there is a sense of hope across the country, which I believe is universal,” he declares.)

Even so, he provides us with a vividly realistic portrait of his native India, a nation with potential that may forever defy the imagination.

India worried Mumbai attacks dossiers be shelved in Pakistan

NEW DELHI, March 14 (Xinhua) -- India is very much worried about Islamabad's action against the alleged masterminds behind the Mumbai terror attacks, due to the current political crisis in Pakistan, said a senior Indian External Affairs Ministry official Saturday.

The official said that Pakistan may exploit the current situation to shelve the Mumbai terror attacks dossier and India's latest responses to its 30 questions on it.

"We are concerned that Pakistan may stop acting on the evidence provided by India to prosecute those responsible for the Mumbai terror attacks, citing the current crisis prompted by political protests," he said, on condition of anonymity.

India Friday handed over the answers to all the 30 questions which Pakistan had posed over the Mumbai terror attacks dossier, including DNA profile and voice recordings of the attackers in conversation with their "handlers" in Pakistan.

The 401-page document contains question-by-question replies and annexures. It was personally handed over by Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon to Pakistani High Commissioner to India Shahid Malik on Friday in the former's office.

L.K. Advani releases BJP’s IT Vision Document

L.K. Advani releases BJP’s IT Vision Document for Transforming India, Empowering Bharat
BJP’s pledge: IT for All

Har Hindustani ka bank khaata;
Har BPL parivar ko smart phone
Har gaon mein broadband suvidha;
Har school mein Internet shiksha;
Sabko rozgaar; Shaasan Janata ke dwaar.

The Bharatiya Janata Party today laid out a grand vision for transforming India and empowering Bharat using the power of information technology (IT). Unveiling the BJP’s IT Vision document, the National Democratic Alliance’s prime ministerial candidate Shri LK Advani said, “A future NDA Government, if elected to office in the coming parliamentary elections, would give high priority to the realisation of this vision, which would help India overcome the current economic crisis; create productive employment opportunities on a large scale; accelerate human development through vastly improved and expanded education and healthcare services; check corruption; and make India’s national security more robust.”

Shri Rajnath Singh, Party President, and Shri Arun Shourie, BJP MP and former Minister of Communications and Information Technology in the Vajpayee Government , were also present.

The highlights of the 30-page IT Vision document are:
Multipurpose National Identity Card (MNIC) with unique Citizen Identification Number (CIN) for every Indian citizen in 3 years; to replace all other identification systems.
1.2 crore (12 million) new IT-enabled jobs in rural areas.
1 crore (10 million) students to get laptop computers at Rs 10,000. Interest-free loan for anyone unable to afford it.
National Digital Highway Development Project to create India's Internet backbone, and Pradhan Mantri Digital Gram Sadak Yojana for last-mile access even in the remotest of villages.
Broadband Internet (2 Mbps) in every town and village, at cable TV prices (less than Rs 200/month).
All schools and colleges to have Internet-enabled education.
100% financial inclusion through bank accounts, with e-Banking facilities, for all Indian citizens. Direct transfer of welfare funds, preferably to the woman of the house.
Every BPL family to be given a free smart mobile phone, which can be used by even illiterate users for accessing their bank accounts.
Number of mobile subscribers to be increased from 40 crore at present to 100 crore in five years. Internet users to equal mobile subscribers. India to equal China in every IT parameter in five years.
Video conferencing to be made affordable and universally accessible.
Primary Health Centre in every village to be linked to the National Telemedicine Service Network. Basic health insurance scheme for every citizen, using the IT platform. Cashless hospitalisation.
India’s ranking in the United Nations’ Human Development Index, which is currently 128, to be improved to 50 in five years, with the long-term objective of bringing India within Top Twenty by 2020.
Massive expansion in the use of IT in agriculture, rural development, SMEs, retail trade, and informal and unorganised sectors of the economy.
National e-Governance Plan to cover every Government office from the Centre to the Panchayats. The ‘E Gram Vishwa Gram’ scheme, launched by Shri Narendra Modi in Gujarat, to be implemented nationwide.
Government spending to be made corruption-free. A former Prime Minister had once said, “If I put Rs. 100 in the pipeline in Delhi, only Rs. 15 reach the end beneficiary.” In contrast to Congress governments’ Leaky Pipeline, the BJP’s IT Pipeline will ensure 100% benefit to people. Those who misappropriate public funds will be punished.
All post offices to be converted into IT-enabled Multi-Service Outlets. All telephone booths to be upgraded to Internet kiosks.
Citizens will have a simple 1-800 BSNL Toll Free Number, which will be accessible 24x7x 365 days of the year, to contact their Member of Parliament.
Unlimited VoIP access to all
e-Bhasha: National Mission for Promotion of IT in Indian Languages.
Special focus to bring women, SC/STs, OBCs and other weaker sections of society within the ambit of IT-enabled development.
Use of IT for the protection of India’s priceless cultural and artistic heritage.
Government to standardise on ‘open standard’ and ‘open source’ software.
Domestic IT hardware industry to be aggressively promoted to minimise dependence on imports.
Domestic hosting industry to be promoted to minimise international bandwith charges.
An independent body, Digital Security Agency (DSA), to be set up for cyber warfare, cyber counter-terrorism, and cyber security of national digital assets.

Shri Rajnath Singh launches BJP’s redesigned website

The BJP also used the occasion to launch its revamped website, It was launched by Party President Shri Rajnath Singh. Way back in 1997, the BJP became the first political party in India to have its own website. The content of the past 12 years has not only been transferred to the redesigned site, but also several new features have been added. The new website will be used creatively to support the BJP’s campaign for the elections to the 15th Lok Sabha.

An important tool on the site is the Google-powered internal search engine. Another important feature is Google’s Feedburner-based ‘Alert’ system whereby anyone who submits his/her email ID on the site would get an automatic email-alert anytime a new press release is uploaded.

Commenting on this development, Shri Shailesh Rao, Managing Director of Google India, said, “We are impressed with the innovative way in which the BJP has shown commitment to the Internet and realized its potential power in better connecting with their constituency.”

Thursday, March 12, 2009

24 Indians make it to 'World's Richest' club

11 Mar 2009

Washington: Two dozen Indians made it to the Forbes list of 'World's Richest' with four of them among the top 10, as Warren Buffett dethroned Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who held the top slot for 13 straight years.

Steel czar Lakshmi Mittal, heading the world's largest steelmaker ArcelorMittal, is in the fourth place with a personal fortune of $45 billion. A long-time resident of London, he is also Europe's richest resident, notes the US business magazine.

Next comes Mukesh Ambani, 'Asia's richest resident, who heads petrochemicals giant Reliance Industries, India's most valuable company by market cap' with $43 billion.

The year's biggest gainer, Anil Ambani, is in the sixth place with a fortune of $42 billion. He is up $23.8 billion in the past year, and is closing the gap with his estranged brother Mukesh.

K.P. Singh, now the world's richest real estate baron after listing his real estate development company DLF in 2007, takes the eighth place in the list with $30 billion.

Declaring Buffett as the richest man on the planet, Forbes said: 'Riding the surging price of Berkshire Hathaway stock, America's most beloved investor has seen his fortune swell to an estimated $62 billion, up $10 billion from a year ago.'

That massive pile of scratch puts him ahead of Gates, who is now worth $58 billion and is ranked third in the world after Mexican telecom tycoon Carlos Slim Hel? with an estimated net worth of $60 billion.

The other 20 Indians in the billionaires list are Shashi and Ravi Ruia (43), Azim Premji (60), Sunil Mittal and family (64), Kumar Birla (76), Ramesh Chandra (86), Gautam Adani (91), Savitri Jindal and family (110), Anil Agarwal (164), Adi Godrej and family (178), G.M. Rao (198), Indu Jain (236), Dilip Shanghvi (260), Jaiprakash Gaur (277), Shiv Nadar (277), Uday Kotak (288), Cyrus Poonawalla (307), Anand Jain (327), Chandru Raheja (368), Tulsi Tanti (368) and Rakesh Wadhawan and family (428).

The Forbes list also mentions two Indians, Gautam Adani ($9.3 billion) and Sameer Gehlaut ($1.2 billion), as 'notable billionaires'.

'Adani is a college dropout who spurned his father's textile trading business to seek his own fortune... Today he is Asia's richest newcomer thanks to two big public holdings, Adani Enterprises, and Mundra Port, one of India's first private-sector ports,' it says.

'India's youngest self-made billionaire, Gehlaut' is an engineer from the elite Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. He started online brokerage Indiabulls with two college friends in 1999. He still heads the company and is its largest shareholder.

A few young tycoons were able to make money this past year in the face of financial turmoil, Forbes said. Among them Indian pharmaceutical kings Malvinder and Shivinder Singh added $100 million to their combined net worth.

Bill Gates regains world's richest title with $40 bn

12 Mar 2009

NEW YORK: Microsoft Corp founder Bill Gates is the richest man again, overtaking investor Warren Buffett.

The number of billionaires in the world fell by nearly a third to 793 in the past year, with large numbers dropping off the list in Russia, India and Turkey.

Gates regained his title as the richest man in the world, with $40 billion after slipping to third last year when he was worth $58 billion. Buffett, last year's richest man, fell to second place with $37 billion, down from $62 billion. Mexican telecommunications tycoon Carlos Slim took third place with $35 billion, down from $60 billion.

Collectively, the top three billionaires lost $68 billion in the year to Feb 13, when Forbes took a snapshot of wealth around the world to compile its annual list of billionaires. Chief Executive of Forbes Magazines Steve Forbes said that, while few would shed a tear for the plight of a billionaire, it was bad for the economy when entrepreneurs were in trouble.

'Billionaires don't have to worry about their next meal, but if their wealth is declining and you're not creating numerous new billionaires, it means the rest of the world is not doing very well,' he told reporters. 'The typical billionaire is down at least one third on their net worth.'

The net worth of the world's billionaires fell from $4.4 trillion to $2.4 trillion, while the number of billionaires was down to 793 from 1,125. 'It's the first time since 2003 that we have lost billionaires, but we've never before lost anywhere near this number,' said Luisa Kroll, senior editor of Forbes.

'It's really hard to find something to cheer about unless you get some perverse pleasure in realizing that some of the most successful ... people in the world ... can't figure out this global economic turmoil better than the rest of us.' New York City replaced Moscow as home to the most billionaires, with 55. Russia, which saw the number of super- rich soar in recent years, suffered among the biggest shocks, with the number of billionaires down to 32 from 87.

What goes up fast, comes down fast

Other developing countries that saw fast growth in previous years were hit hard as well, including Turkey, where the number of billionaires fell to 13 from 35, partly due to the collapse in the value of the lira currency, and India.

Indian businessman Anil Ambani, the biggest gainer on last year's list, was the biggest loser this time, with $32 billion wiped out over the last 12 months. Ranked sixth last year, he fell to 34 with an estimated wealth of $10.1 billion. 'India took a huge whack,' Kroll said, noting that last year Indians held four of the top 10 spots and now only two, and the number of Indian billionaires more than halved to 24.

Sehwag’s unconquered 74-ball 125

Virender Sehwag smashed the fastest ODI hundred by an Indian and paved the way for India’s first ever series win in New Zealand.

Hamilton: All tour Virender Sehwag has threatened to make a hundred. On Wednesday he made good the threat, playing an innings that was brutal and violent, but as resplendent as the rainbow that arched over Seddon Park.

Sehwag’s unconquered 74-ball 125 — the fastest century by an Indian, and the seventh-quickest overall — settled the fourth and penultimate ODI by 84 runs (Duckworth/Lewis method), winning India its first series in New Zealand, 3-0.

The measure of Sehwag’s brilliance may be had from the fact that New Zealand, after winning the toss, did well to keep the contest competitive in the first half, mustering 270 for five in 47 overs, thanks to a 102-run opening stand between Jesse Ryder and McCullum, and a 61-ball partnership of 95 between wicketkeeper Peter McGlashan and Grant Elliott.

The target was adjusted a fair few times — as is common in a match with numerous rain interruptions — but it didn’t make the slightest difference to Sehwag. The opener, who may be stopped at Customs the next time he tours, for he’s sure to be classified as a Dangerous Commodity, annihilated New Zealand’s bowlers.

Sensible thing

Gautam Gambhir, at the other end, was in his best form of the tour. The sharpest thing he did, however, was not compete with Sehwag. The ball-striking from India (and on occasion from New Zealand) has touched rarefied levels in the one-day series; Sehwag’s held out the illusion that it may have surpassed anything seen thus far, and that’s some achievement.

Debutant left-armer Ewen Thompson was mauled. Not that anyone was spared, but Thompson is mentioned, for it was during one stroke off him that Sehwag’s outrageous skill revealed its subtlety. Thompson bowled floating cutters, and to one outside off-stump, with short-cover in place, Sehwag metered his flash-fast bat-speed to accommodate the pace shed off the wicket. The drive on the up over extra-cover was stripped of risk.

Breaks Azhar’s record

Nothing was beyond Sehwag — not the pull in front of square, not the slap through cover, feet shifting slightly, not the leg-glance, and certainly not the robust heave over deep mid-wicket. He broke, by two balls, Mohammad Azharuddin’s record (62 balls) for the fastest century by an Indian. He hit 14 fours and six sixes, and although the umpires called off play because of rain, there remained a sneaking suspicion that it was, in reality, an act of kindness to New Zealand’s bowlers.

Earlier, Zaheer Khan and Praveen Kumar began well, utilising the swing and seam-movement on offer. Although Zaheer’s first over went for 10, he dragged it back sufficiently, so that New Zealand’s marauding openers had managed only 21 in seven overs. They did well to survive, actually, particularly the left-handed Ryder, who groped at Praveen’s deliveries.

Then, all of a sudden, Ryder broke free, twice hitting Praveen on the up through cover. McCullum, who had made three from 20 balls, found his power tools. He sauntered down the track to Zaheer, slice-edged for six and upper-cut the wayward Ishant Sharma, and turned his attention to Praveen. A cracking pull was the pick of three successive boundaries.

Dhoni missed stumping McCullum (on 43) off Yuvraj, but the bowler wasn’t to be denied, although he had to settle for the partner. Ryder’s top-edged sweep swirled like an eagle in an eddy, and Suresh Raina did splendidly to judge it into his hands. India pulled things back through Yuvraj and Yusuf Pathan; Ross Taylor contributed, contriving to pull a long-hop to deep backward square-leg.

New Zealand enforced the batting power play after over 33. McCullum, who had been dropped by Sehwag off Yuvraj on 68, couldn’t get his foot out of the way of a Zaheer yorker. Ishant returned with purpose, hustling Jacob Oram into gloving a lifter to Dhoni.

The fast-bowler provoked an edge from McGlashan (0) next ball, but Dhoni, diving to his right, couldn’t hold on. McGlashan proceeded to punish India, playing an innings of cheek and no little skill. Ishant had Martin Guptill caught at third-man, although there was doubt if substitute Dinesh Karthik had kept the ball from the ground, doubt the replays couldn’t clear.

McGlashan and Elliott did more than prevent India’s bowlers from getting at the lower-order; they attacked, McGlashan, with sweeps, reverse-sweeps, and switch-hits (played against the seamers as well), and Elliott, with slightly more orthodox methods, as the Black Caps regained momentum. They held it for about 20 minutes before Sehwag wrenched it from them.


New Zealand: J. Ryder c Raina b Yuvraj 46 (57b, 6x4); B. McCullum lbw b Zaheer 77 (95b, 7x4, 2x6); R. Taylor c Rohit b Yusuf 5 (13b); M. Guptill c sub (Karthik) b Ishant 25 (49b); J. Oram c Dhoni b Ishant 1 (2b); P. McGlashan (not out) 56 (42b, 6x4, 1x6); G. Elliott (not out) 35 (27b, 3x4, 1x6); Extras (lb-9, nb-3, w-13) 25; Total (for five wkts. in 47 overs): 270. Fall of wickets: 1-102 (Ryder), 2- 114 (Taylor), 3-155 (McCullum), 4-156 (Oram), 5-175 (Guptill).

Power Plays: One (1-10): 43/0; Bowling (11-15): 44/0; Batting (34-38): 32/3.

India bowling: Zaheer 10-0-49-1, Praveen 7-0-51-0, Ishant 8-0-57-2, Yuvraj 9-0-40-1, Yusuf 5-0-14-1, Harbhajan 8-0-50-0.

India: G. Gambhir (not out) 63 (67b, 6x4); V. Sehwag (not out) 125 (74b, 14x4, 6x6); Extras (lb-9, w-4) 13; Total (for no loss in 23.3 overs) 201.

Power Plays: One (1-10): 83/0; Batting (12-15): 43/0.

New Zealand bowling: Mills 5-0-29-0, Thompson 4-0-42-0, O'Brien 3-0-37-0, Vettori 5-0-32-0, Oram 4.3-0-43-0, Elliott 2-0-9-0.

India won by 84 runs (D/L method)

Lawyers, Opposition to go ahead with 'long march' despite crackdown

12 Mar 2009, REUTERS

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani lawyers and opposition parties vowed to go ahead with a nationwide protest on Thursday, heading for a showdown with the government which has banned rallies and detained hundreds of activists.

The so-called "long march" to press for an independent judiciary could destabilise the civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari at a time when Pakistan faces severe challenges from Taliban militants and a sinking economy.

Protesters' convoys of cars and buses were to set off from the southern provinces of Sindh and Baluchistan for Islamabad, despite a crackdown in which 300 opposition party activists were detained. "It's now a battle of nerves," Ali Ahmed Kurd, president of Supreme Court bar association and a protest organiser, said.

"They're trying to make us scared by such tactics."Let's see who wins this battle." The protesters were expected to converge on Islamabad on Monday to demand the reinstatement of former Supreme Court chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, dismissed by president Pervez Musharraf in 2007. The organisers plan a sit-in outside parliament, although the government has said the rally will not be allowed in the city centre. Zardari has refused to reinstate the judge.

Analysts say he fears Chaudhry could nullify an amnesty Musharraf granted Zardari and his late wife Benazir Bhutto. His main rival, opposition leader and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, has thrown his weight behind the lawyers, putting him into open confrontation with Zardari. Sharif, who is also infuriated by a Supreme Court ruling which barred him and his brother from office, and which he blamed on Zardari, called the protest a defining moment for Pakistan.

The government has threatened to prosecute Sharif for sedition if violence erupts during the long march. Authorities in Punjab and Sindh provinces also announced bans on protests. The political turmoil has worried the United States, which has been pushing Pakistan to focus on fighting militants holed up on the border with Afghanistan, and which is concerned about further instability in the nuclear-armed country.

"Our biggest concern, of course, is that the situation become violent and then start to spiral downward," a US official, who asked not to be named, said. "What we are trying to do is head that kind of thing off." The United States called for restraint and urged all sides to avoid violence and respect the rule of law, a US embassy spokesman said.

Pak crisis: Army chief Kayani meets PM Gilani

11 Mar 2009, PTI

ISLAMABAD: Amidst political turmoil in Pakistan, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday dismissed reports of an army takeover of the troubled country once again.

Sharif, who has urged the masses to defy a government clampdown and join a nationwide protest, said the "chances of army takeover is absolutely nil".

Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani met with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, according to a press release from the premier's office. It gave no details of their discussion. The meeting comes at a time when President Asif Ali Zardari was on a visit to Iran.

In 1999, then army chief General Pervez Musharraf seized power from Sharif in a bloodless coup.

Despite a crackdown on the Pakistan Muslim League- (N) workers and lawyers, a defiant Sharif told a TV channel that his party will go ahead with its long march.

Asked if the deepening political crisis will open the door for the US to intervene, Sharif said: "there is absolutely no need for international intervention and we are capable of restoring order in our house."

Blaming Zardari for the current imbroglio in the country, Sharif said "talks with him possible only after he reinstates the judges as promised earlier."

Earlier, Pakistan Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani met Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and discussed the political and security situation in the country.

Kayani called on Gilani at the Prime Minister's House and discussed matters of national importance, state-run APP news agency reported without giving details.

Official sources told private TV news channels that the two leaders had discussed the internal security situation and political issues.

The two leaders met at a time when President Asif Ali Zardari is out of the country to attend a summit of the Economic Cooperation Organisation in Tehran. The government moved to refute media reports that Zardari was going to UAE and might not be present when the opposition march to press for reinstatement of judges sacked during the 2007 emergency takes place.

Defying government orders, Sharif addressed a huge rally in northwestern town Abbottabad.

"Today is a defining moment in Pakistan's history. We can change the destiny of this country. Pakistan stands at a crossroads today and it is your duty to save it," Sharif told the rally.

We want to change this outdated system because it poses a danger to our existence and they want to charge me for sedition," Sharif told the rally of thousands of supporters, who cheered and waved party banners.

"I ask them (the government) can this law stop the flood of people?"

"Allah has put the decision to change the fate of Pakistan in your hands. It is possible in seven days, even three days. These conspirators will run away with their tails between their legs," Sharif said.

Pakistani authorities on Tuesday launched a crackdown on rights activists, lawyers and opposition party activists in Islamabad and Punjab province ahead of a "long march" by the lawyers' movement to pressure the government to reinstate judges sacked during the 2007 emergency by former President Pervez Musharraf.

Hundreds of people have been detained or placed under house arrest by the authorities, who have banned protests and rallies across Punjab and Sindh provinces.

A political meltdown at this time, media reports have warned, could lead to some form of intervention by the country's powerful military, which has often stepped in to seize power when there is a political chaos.

The political confrontation in the country comes even as Islamabad is grappling with a surge in terror attacks and trying to fix an ailing economy which is afloat only, thanks to international donors.

Putting this points across, Sharif declared "I cannot rest when Pakistan is being taken on a disastrous course."

"We cannot compromise when all institutions are being ruined and the system is on the verge of collapse," the former prime minister said.

Cong divided on fielding MP Abdulla Kutty

Kannur: Efforts are on in the Congress-led United Democratic Front camp in Kerala to field expelled CPI-M MP A P Abdulla Kutty in the Kannur constituency, even as a section of the Congress is lukewarm to the move.

Two-time MP Abdulla Kutty, who faced the axe for his remarks praising Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, had expressed keenness last week to associate with like-minded mainstream party stating he had technically ceased to be a member of CPI-M, which promptly expelled him the very next day.

While reports suggested that he could be a possible UDF nominee, Abdulla Kutty has remained non-committal saying he was yet to make up his mind.

The Congress camp led by local MLA and KPCC General Secretary K Sudhakaran is quite keen on fielding Abdulla Kutty as the UDF nominee in Kannur, considered as a CPI-M bastion, and is holding talks with the party state leadership.

"We are holding talks with KPCC and UDF leadership though Abdulla Kutty has not formally expressed his willingness to contest from Kannur for the third time," Sudhakaran told PTI. However, the Kannur District Congress Committee is against the move, saying the front would not derive any advantage.

"There is no reason why Kutty should be made UDF nominee when there are many capable leaders to take on the LDF," DCC President P Ramakrishnan said.

Thousands throng Attukal pongala fest

Thursday, March 12, 2009
Thiruvananthapuram: The Attukal Pongala mahotsavam began with much religious fervour on Tuesday at the Attukal Bhagawathy Temple. Devotees from all walks of life thronged the temple complex to offer pongala to the deity.

The pongala will be blessed by the chief priest of the temple by around 2.30 pm. An aircraft will shower rose petals over the devotees.

Spirals of smoke rose from hundreds of firewood stoves here Tuesday as an estimated three million women devotees from Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu converged on the path to the Attukal Bhagavathi temple and cooked rice offerings for the goddess.

The offering is made on the penultimate day of the 10-day-long Attukal Pongala festival, which is often referred to as the equivalent of the Sabarimala pilgrimage for women.

Attukal Bhagavathi is believed to be an incarnation of Kannaki, the central character of the Tamil epic 'Silappathikaaram'.

'This time the number of devotees has crossed three million. The women are seated on roads. This year several more roads have been occupied compared to last year,' Sreekumaran Nair, the temple superintendent, told IANS.

Only those women who had arrived three days ago managed to get a place to cook near the temple. About 20 sq km around the temple was choc-a-bloc with devotees.

The Guinness Book of World Records listed it as the world's largest annual gathering of women in 1997, when 1.5 million devotees converged here on Feb 23.

'We have posted 2,000 policemen and 500 women constables besides 15 deputy superintendents of police and three superintendents. We have put up close circuit cameras at all important points,' Commissioner of Police Ravada Chandrasekhar told reporters.

Miss World Parvathy Omanakuttan said this was the second she was offering pongala.

'Last time I won the Miss India crown and became the Miss World runner up after I cam here. Amma is really powerful and one really experiences a feeling of satisfaction after doing this pongala. I am really happy I am here,' said Omanakuttan.

Women devotees arrived here with bricks, firewood, rice, jaggery and coconut to cook the rice offering. They lit their stoves after the chief priest lit the main stove in the compound at about 10.30 a.m.

According to legend, Kannaki destroyed Madurai in Tamil Nadu after the king of Madurai wrongfully imposed the death penalty on her husband. After that, Kannaki travelled to Kerala, where she rested for a while at Attukal and women are said to have cooked pongala to appease her.

Like every year, film actresses also turned up at the temple to prepare the pongala offering.

'This is the 10th time I am offering pongala. I believe Amma is really powerful. One has to be here to experience the goodness,' said film and TV actress Chippy.

Malayalam superstar Suresh Gopi, who is present alongside the priests when the main stove is lit every year, said that he feels fortunate to be able to participate in the event.

'I keep aside all other work to be inside the temple for the lighting of the main stove. Despite the massive crowd, everything takes place with absolute calmness,' he said.

The day of the Attukala Pongala is a holiday in the district except for IT firms.

'The whole city seems like a holy place due to the festival. I will do my best to see that this is turned into a national pilgrimage centre,' said Lok Sabha secretary general P.D.T. Achary.

The railways ran special trains and added additional coaches for the devotees.

Elaborate train and bus facilities have been provided for the devotees and security has been put in place.
The city police has taken extensive traffic measures for the Pongala event.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Internet sounding death knell for newspapers: Survey

10 Mar 2009

SYDNEY: Newspapers will wither and perhaps die unless they convert into online platforms, according to a survey of next generation journalists.

Alan Knight, professor of journalism at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), said more than 200 first-year journalism students took part in his international online survey of their news reading habits.

"More than 90 percent of the respondents were aged under 21 and many of these want-to-be journalists don't read newspapers," Knight said.

"More than 60 percent read a printed newspaper once a week or less. Yet 95 percent said they enjoyed keeping up with news.

"Their preferred source of news was broadcast on television, particularly commercial television, with at least half watching television news at least once a day."

Knight said online news was their next preferred source with students nominating Google and Ninemsn followed by other mainstream journalism sites. Facebook, specialist websites and Wikipedia were also popular.

"The results confirmed educators' suspicions - even journalism students are not reading newspapers," Knight said, according to a QUT statement.

"This poses a greater threat to the printed press than the global economic crisis or the loss of advertising revenue to the web. If the journalists of the future don't want to read newspapers, who will?"

Knight said the next stage of the study would involve focus groups of students discussing how news could be made more interesting and attractive to netizens.

India's own version of Google Earth causes security worries

11 Mar 2009, AFP

WASHINGTON: The United States must "at a minimum" prevent Taliban insurgents from returning to power in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in an interview on Tuesday.

While President Barack Obama's administration was still reviewing US strategy in Afghanistan, Gates said that the US effort would have to ensure the Taliban would not rule the country again after being ousted in 2001.

"I would say that at a minimum, the mission is to prevent the Taliban from retaking power against a democratically elected government in Afghanistan, thus turning Afghanistan, potentially again, into a haven for al-Qaida and other extremists," Gates told National Public Radio.

The defense chief was asked if the administration's goal was to gain a strong enough position to pursue negotiations with elements of the insurgents, but he did not speak directly to possible talks with the Taliban.

"The specific mission is clearly one of the subjects under review by the administration right now. And I think we have to wait until that's done to have real clarity on that," he said.

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden said this week that possible negotiations with elements of the insurgents should be considered, with Biden saying on Tuesday it was an option "worth exploring."

Taliban insurgents, allied with al-Qaida, have rebounded in Afghanistan in the years since the US-led invasion toppled their regime in 2001.

Gates said "the reality is that this situation really began to go downhill again about 2005, 2006, as the Taliban began to take advantage of their safe haven on the Pakistani side of the border, to begin to re-infiltrate into Afghanistan, and create security problems."

"And we've really just been responding to that."

Asked if the war was entering a new phase, Gates said: "Well, I don't know whether it's act three or just a prolongation of act two. But clearly, we all still have our work cut out for us."

Gates also reiterated calls for bolstering civilian efforts in Afghanistan and that he hoped NATO allies could provide some assistance.

"I think that they are committing additional troops to provide security for the election. I'm not sure that they'll be there for a prolonged period of time," he said referring to NATO member states.

"But I would say that really where we need the help is on the civilian side, whether it's agricultural specialists or people who can help with governance, economic development, and so on."

Obama last month approved the deployment of 17,000 US troops to Afghanistan, who will join the already 38,000 strong US force taking on a growing insurgency.

Google blocks music videos on YouTube in UK

10 Mar 2009, ANI

LONDON: Music lovers who are addicted to watching online videos on Youtube will not be able to do so anymore as Google has blocked viewings after a dispute over licensing.

Google had started blocking UK viewers from watching "premium music videos" from the night of March 9.

But now the Internet giant has said that it will take several days until all professional music videos are covered by the restriction.

Google described the move, as a "painful decision" which it knew would cause "significant disappointment".

PRS for Music licenses Google to make music videos available to UK users on YouTube, but right now the firms are in talks for a new licensing deal.

PRS for Music said it was shocked by Google's "drastic action" and said that the decision would "punish" music lovers and songwriters.

The collection society, which issues licences and collects royalties on behalf of copyright holders, said Google wants to pay "significantly less than at present to the writers of the music."

On the other hand, Google said that the deal that was offered to it could maje them lose money every time a video was played.

"Our previous licence from PRS for Music has expired, and we've been unable so far to come to an agreement to renew it on terms that are economically sustainable for us," The Daily Express quoted a statement from Google as saying.

The statement further read: "Prohibitive licensing fees" were an obstacle in the negotiations and added: "We're still working with PRS for Music in an effort to reach mutually acceptable terms for a new licence, but until we do so we will be blocking premium music videos in the UK that have been supplied or claimed by record labels. This was a painful decision, and we know the significant disappointment it will cause within the UK."

PRS for Music said it was "outraged on behalf of consumers and songwriters that Google has chosen to close down access to music videos on YouTube in the UK".

Although negotiations are on, Google said it would be working "to create more ways to compensate musicians and other rights-holders on YouTube".

Recently, Google introduced the option for YouTube users to pay to download a song.

"We hope that professional music videos will soon be back on YouTube for our users in the UK to enjoy," its statement added.

Now, Taliban knocks on Peshawar's door

11 Mar 2009,

PESHAWAR: Arbab Alamgir is a prosperous businessman in Peshawar who has made a mark in politics as federal communications minister. But that's unlikely to protect him this time.

As the Taliban knock on Peshawar's door, Alamgir is preparing to wind up his business and move out of his native city. "I received letters and phone calls from Lashkar-e-Islam of Mangal Bagh to close down my women's garment shops on Jamrood Road," Alamgir told The Times of India.

After tasting victory in Swat, where the Taliban forced the Pakistan government to its knees and accept imposition of sharia, Peshawar appears set to be the next big city to fall. If or when that happens, it will bring Taliban within striking distance of Pakistan's seats of power — Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

Alamgir and many people of his ilk regularly face threats from militants that may not necessarily be Taliban but are challenging the government writ in their own way.

"We cannot leave our women and children alone at home even during daytime," said Ali Akber, a resident of Hayatabad in Peshawar. With police and paramilitary forces being targeted frequently, the provincial government is even considering arming the citizenry. One plan envisages giving out 30,000 weapons to residents to defend themselves from criminals and the Taliban.

As the United States prepares for a troop surge and a decisive battle against the Afghan Taliban this year, there appears to be little hope that the Pakistani army, hobbled by political paralysis, can save the key provincial capital of Pakistan's Frontier province, just 25km from the Pakistan-Afghan border.

The provincial metropolis is geographically important not only to Pakistan but also for allied troops in Afghanistan. For years, it was an operational base for the war against Russian troops. Now, it is equally important for the US and allied troops fighting the Taliban along the Pak-Afghan border.

Nearly 100 trucks carrying supplies to the US and Nato troops in Afghanistan were set on fire a few weeks back — one of the largest operations by Taliban.

"If Peshawar falls to militants, it will not take long for other areas of the NWFP to succumb," said Shahid Khatak, professor of international relations at Peshawar University.

Peshawar shares borders with Mohmand Agency in the North, Khyber Agency in West and Darra Adam Khel in the South. Abdul Wali alias Umer Khalid is the Taliban commander in Mohmand Agency, Mangal Bagh is chief of Lashkar-e-Islam in Khyber while Tariq Afridi in Darra Adam Khel (with roots in another militant outfit in Jaish-e-Mohammad).

Recent attacks in the suburbs of Peshawar on high-profile politicians like Awami National Party chief Asfandyar Wali have sent alarm bells ringing across the country. Senior NWFP Minister Bashir Bilour narrowly survived a suicide attack, while Alamzeb — a member of the provincial assembly — perished in another attempt by the militants who use suicide attacks as a routine tactic in this part of the world.