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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Swamy Aseemanand takes back confession says was ‘coerced’

The prime accused in the string of terror cases involving alleged Hindu extremists, Swami Aseemanand, has told the Ajmer Chief Judicial Magistrate that his confession to the CBI was under coercion from investigation agencies. And so was his letter allegedly suggesting he wanted to turn approver.

Aseemanand told the court he has no desire to turn approver in the cases including the Samjhauta Express, Ajmer, Malegaon and Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad. Aseemanand and three other accused in the Ajmer blast probe, including Harshad Solanki, Bharat Rateshwar and Mukesh Vasani, were produced in the Ajmer court yesterday where Aseemanand handed his application. A senior advocate present during the proceedings said Aseemanand alleged he was physically and mentally tortured during interrogations.

However, the Rajasthan ATS declined to comment. A senior official said: “The investigation is genuine and we do not want to comment about Aseemanand’s application to the court.”

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

India Enters World Cup final beating Pakistan

India have won cricket World Cup semi final match against arch-rivals Pakistan by 29 runs. Misbah Ul Haq was the last man out on the last but one ball of the Pakistan innings.

Indian bowlers shared the spoils - Harbhajan Singh, Munaf Patel, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and Yuvraj Singh took two a piece.

But the celebrations, at first cautious, had already begun at the PCA stadium in Mohali much earlier when Munaf Patel dismissed Abdul Razzak for 3 to get India its sixth wicket. And then skipper Shahid Afridi fell for 19 (of 17 balls). Caught Sehwag, bowled Harbhajan. Pakistan 184 for 7.

The India innings saw as much drama as possible in 50 overs. And much of that drama revolved around Sachin Tendulkar, who led a charmed life on his way to 85, surviving two close appeals and four dropped catches before being caught by Shahid Afridi, bowled Saeed Ajmal. Too soon for comfort, skipper MS Dhoni, at 25, fell to Wahab Riaz.

When Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag walked out to bat, almost 28,000 voices rose as one to cheer. A few hours into the match, the cricket has been exciting. There was a collective sigh of disappointment as Virender Sehwag got out after a blistering innings, there were two back-to-back heart-in-the-mouth moments as Sachin survived two close appeals and reviews. Pakistan also dropped him at score 27, 45, 70 and 81. Before finally catching him at 85.

Before Sachin, the dismissal of Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli and Yuvraj in rapid succession already had the match in balance. Sachin and Dhoni attempted to rebuild but the tumble continued after Tendulkar's departure. Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan and then finally Ashish Nehra, run out on the penultimate ball, fell at regular intervals.

Celebrities, politicos, industrialists are mere fans

Among those on the edge of their Mohali stadium seats are Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and wife, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, her son Rahul Gandhi, daughter Priyanka Gandhi with her husband Robert Vadra. The Speaker of the Lok Sabha Meira Kumar is there as are a number of ministers. Rahul Gandhi watched the slog overs of the India innings from a non-VIP stand.

The Ambani brothers, Mukesh and Anil, are at the PCA stadium with their families and Kingfisher Airlines owner Vijay Mallya is watching with son Sidharth.

Aamir Khan and director wife Kiran Rao are representing Bollywood. Also Rahul Bose, Vivek Oberoi and Dino Morea watching some live action at Mohali.

Bhagavan Sai Baba’s health condition stable: Doctors


The health condition of Sri Satya Sai Baba, who was admitted to a hospital on Monday for lung and chest congestion, is stable, doctors attending on him said today.

85-year-old Sai Baba was admitted to the Super Speciality hospital in Puttaparti near here after he complained of slowing heart beat and giddiness.

All clinical parameters are satisfactory and his condition is stable,

“He had a restful night yesterday and he is under constant care of a panel of experts. Baba’s health condition is progressing,” according to a health bulletin issued by the hospital.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bhagavan Sri Sathya sai Baba Hospitalised

PUTTAPARTHI: Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba underwent a cath lab procedure on Monday and a pacemaker was implanted at the Sri Sathya Institute of Higher Medical Sciences Hospital at Puttaparthi.

"BABA.s clinical parameters are satisfactory. . Baba is recuperating in the ICU,, "It won't be long before he resumes his darshans." .Hospital Sources reports.

Hassan Ali is alleged to have evaded a whopping Rs80,000 crore in income-tax

Pune’s stud farm owner Ali is alleged to have evaded a whopping Rs80,000 crore in income-tax and financed politicians from Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) came under severe attack on Monday as the Supreme Court (SC) expressed dissatisfaction on a status report concerning country’s biggest tax evader Hasan Ali Khan.

ED had submitted the status report in a sealed cover to the court and also urged that the contents be kept secret.

The judges observed “going by the report, it is very difficult for us to be calm and quiet.”
It is learnt that ED told SC that Ali and family members were under threat.

“Tell us why are you claiming privilege. Why not they (names of people involved) be disclosed. Let the people of the country know what is happening. Now there is no privilege on one name (Hasan Ali). People have come to know everything,” judges added.

The court reiterated the need to set up a special investigation team (SIT) to probe the entire issue. However, solicitor general (SG) Gopal Subramanium said it would be too early to consider setting up of an SIT and sought one more chance to satisfy the court about the progress of the investigation.

“No further information is forthcoming from you. The whole concentration is focused only on one individual. What about others?” the court asked.

They asked the agency to track the more ‘serious’ aspect of source of the money.

“We would like to know what progress has been made by you in each case (relating to black money). We would also like to know from you on next hearing the progress made in the investigation from the national security aspect and what is the source of such money which is more serious aspect,” the bench added.

The judges also took note of the investigators facing a security threat. “There’s a need to provide protection to all ED officers involved in the probe,” the SG said.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Rs.20 crore unaccounted cash seized in Tamil Nadu

Chennai: The Income Tax department's investigation wing has seized unaccounted cash amounting to Rs.20 crore while carrying out vehicle checks across Tamil Nadu, a top election commission official said Friday.

Speaking to reporters here, state chief electoral officer Praveen Kumar said Rs.20 crore was seized on Thursday and the money will be returned after due verification.

The income tax department is carrying out the checks to seize unaccounted cash so that it is not used for distribution to voters.

Praveen Kumar also said voters will be allowed to vote only if they produce the electors photo identity card or the voter's slip to be distributed door to door from April 1 onwards.

He said the election commission would carry out a media campaign urging voters to come and exercise their democratic right - to vote.

The campaign film features movie artists like Jayam Ravi, Suriya and Rohini who are not politically aligned.

The CEO said the election commission will also stick posters `Say Yes to Vote and No to Money' in English and Tamil.

The state is going to polls April 13 to elect a new 234-member assembly.

Gujarat leads GDP growth, South India slumps

Gujarat has reported the highest growth rate among Indian states, helped by its growth initiatives, while southern states have seen growth slumping, consultancy firm McKinsey & Co said in a report.

According to the report, Gujarat has witnessed growth rate of over 11 per cent against the 9 per cent average growth recorded by other Indian states.

Real GDP growth in Gujarat stood at 11.3 per cent as against 11 per cent in Haryana, 9.6 per cent in Bihar, 8.5 per cent in Karnataka, 8.1 per cent in Kerala and 7.4 per cent each in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu during the 2005-10 period, the report said.

South India has seen a slowdown in GDP growth rate, despite its overall strong position, McKinsey & Co Partner Ananth Narayan said.

The report was released at the conference `The Next Wave of Growth - South India', organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry.

Gujarat, Narayan said, has achieved leadership in the chemicals industry, with 35 per cent share of all investments in this sector over the past five years.

US should not preach India on human rights: Modi

Gandhinagar: Gujarat Chief minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday said the US need not preach India on human rights in the wake of its concerns on this issue in his state as reflected in leaked diplomatic cables from an American Consul.

Modi at the same time noted that the cables had also spoken of him being "incorruptible" and Gujarat being a "progressive" state.

He also said that the central government should address the issue of US "interference" in the internal affairs of India.

"(Michael) Owen had discussed Gujarat..I looked into his eyes and said America should not give us advice on human rights," Modi recalled. Michael S Owen was US' Consul General in Mumbai when he had a meeting with Modi in 2006.

Modi reiterated his stand in the wake of Owen's purported November 2, 2006 cable made public by Wikileaks that "direct encounters with Modi will also enable us to deliver a clear message regarding USG (United States Government) concerns for the state of human rights and religious freedom in Gujarat." The US had denied visa to the BJP stalwart in 2005 in the wake of 2002 post-Godhra riots.

"Ye america hame manvta ki salah na de (This America should not give us advice on human rights). I am son of India and I know what human rights violations you have done. Good that dialogue is faithfully reproduced," he told reporters today.

According to a report citing Wikileaks cables, US diplomats found themselves in 2006 facing the possibility of Modi assuming a leadership role at the national level.

Owen in his cable emphasized the need for US to open interaction with Modi.

Such interaction, Owen said in the cable, "will also shield us from accusations of opportunism from the BJP that would invariably arise if we ignored Modi now but sought a dialogue with him in the likely event that he makes it to the national stage."

To a question on alleged US interference in Indian internal affairs as suggested in the leaked US diploamtic cables over issue of appointment of Pranab Mukherjee as Finance Minister, Modi said, "Government of India should address the issue of American interference in internal matters of India."

Modi also said "America has shown me incorruptible. There are many non- corrupt people, but they have termed me incorruptible, which is good for the people of Gujarat. Wikileaks shows two faces one that of Government of India and another of progressive Gujarat.

The Mumbai Consulate's 2,850-word assessment, which was cleared by the New Delhi Embassy before being cabled to the State Department, said "If Modi does eventually get a national leadership role in the BJP in the foreseeable future, the USG will be obliged to decide how it wants to deal with a figure of national prominence whose B1/B2 we revoked."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Iodine tablets: how iodine protects the thyroid from radiation

Workers in Switzerland pack iodine tablets to send to the Swiss embassy in Japan. The tablets can protect the thyroid gland from radiation from failing nuclear power plants.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said over the weekend that Japan had "distributed 230,000 units of stable iodine to evacuation centres" near the Fukushima Daiichi and Fukushima Daini nuclear power plants.

Damage to those plants from Friday's earthquake and tsunami has increased the risk that people in the area could be exposed to radiation.

If that happens, here's why taking iodine tablets might help.

In this fact sheet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explain that the body needs iodine -- in a nonradioactive form -- to make thyroid hormones, which regulate metabolism. People usually get the stable iodine they need from food.

But absorbing radioactive iodine-131, which is present in the steam released from failing power plants like the ones in Japan, can cause cancer. Once breathed into the lungs or consumed by eating or drinking contaminated food or beverages, radioactive iodine travels through the body and quickly is absorbed by the thyroid gland, where it can damage DNA.

The body can't tell the difference between stable and radioactive iodine. Taking stable iodine tablets can protect the thyroid from injury by "filling up" the gland -- thus preventing it from taking up radioactive iodine. It's important for people to take it quickly, the CDC said. It remains effective for 24 hours.

Iodine tablets do not prevent radioactive iodine from entering the body in the first place, nor do they protect organs other than the thyroid gland. They also do not reverse thyroid damage that has already occurred.

Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant - Radiation Fears

More than 100,000 people have been evacuated from homes near Fukushima

There have been two explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, following Friday's earthquake and tsunami, and a third reactor is reportedly at risk of fuel-rod meltdown.

How great a danger do these problems pose for people in Japan and further afield?

Has there been a leakage of radioactive material?

Yes. Local government officials in Fukushima say 190 people have been exposed to some radiation. An American warship, the USS Ronald Reagan, has detected low levels of radiation at a distance of 100 miles (161km) from the Fukushima plant.

How much radioactive material has escaped?

The Japanese authorities say only low levels of radiation have been detected outside the plant. The International Atomic Energy Agency has described it as a level four event on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES), which is used for an accident "with local consequences". No abnormal levels of radiation have been detected in Russia.

What type of radioactive material has escaped?

There are reports of radioactive isotopes of caesium and iodine in the vicinity of the plant. Experts say it would be natural for radioactive isotopes of nitrogen and argon to have escaped as well. There is no evidence that any uranium or plutonium has escaped.

What harm do these radioactive materials cause?

Radioactive iodine could be harmful to young people living near the plant. After the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster there were some cases of thyroid cancer as a result. However, people who were promptly issued with iodine tablets ought to be safe. Radioactive caesium, uranium and plutonium are harmful, but do not target any particular organ of the body. Radioactive nitrogen decays within seconds of its release, and argon poses no threat to health.

How did the radioactive materials escape?

There have been problems with cooling systems, causing the reactors to overheat. Production of steam has caused pressure to build up inside the reactor, so small amounts of steam have been deliberately released. Experts say that the presence in the steam of caesium and iodine - which are among the by-products of nuclear fission - suggests that the metal casing of some of the fuel rods has melted or broken. But the uranium fuel itself has a very high melting point so it is less likely to have melted, let alone vapourised.

Could radioactive materials have escaped by any other means?

The authorities have pumped sea water into three reactors. This water will be contaminated by its passage through the reactor, but it is currently unclear whether any of it has been released into the environment.

How long will any contamination last?

Radioactive iodine decays quite quickly. Most will have disappeared within a month. Radioactive caesium does not last long in the body - most has gone within a year. However, it lingers in the environment and can continue to present a problem for many years.

Has there been a meltdown?

The term "meltdown" is used in a variety of ways. As noted above, the reported detection of radioactive caesium and iodine may indicate that some of the metal casing enclosing the reactors' uranium fuel has melted (a "fuel-rod meltdown"). However, there is as yet no indication that the uranium fuel itself has melted. Still less is there any indication of a "China Syndrome" where the fuel melts, gathers below the reactor and resumes a chain reaction, that enables it to melt everything in its way, and bore a path deep into the earth. If there were to be a serious meltdown, the Japanese reactor is supposed to be able to handle it, preventing the China Syndrome from taking place. Reports suggest that underneath the reactor, within the outer containment vessel, there is a concrete basin designed to capture and disperse any molten fuel.

Could there be a Chernobyl-like disaster?

Experts say this is highly unlikely. The chain reaction at all Fukushima reactors has ceased. The explosions that have occurred have taken place outside the steel and concrete containment vessels enclosing the reactors, which apparently remain solid. At Chernobyl an explosion exposed the core of the reactor to the air, and a fire raged for days sending its contents in a plume up into the atmosphere. At Fukushima the explosions - caused by hydrogen and oxygen vented from the reactor - have damaged only the roof and walls erected around the containment vessels.

Could there be a nuclear explosion?

No. A nuclear bomb and a nuclear reactor are different things.

What caused the hydrogen release from the reactor?

At high temperatures, steam can separate into hydrogen and oxygen in the presence of zirconium, the metal used for encasing the reactor fuel. This mixture is highly explosive.

How do iodine tablets work?

If the body has all the iodine it needs, it will not absorb further iodine from the atmosphere. The tablets fill the body up with non-radioactive iodine, which prevent it absorbing the radioactive iodine.

What kind of radiation levels have been recorded at Fukushima?

The Kyodo news agency reports that a radiation level of 1,557 microsieverts per hour was registered on Sunday. At this level, one hour's exposure is roughly equivalent to one chest X-ray. Later measurements included 750 microsieverts per hour at 0200 on Monday, and 20 microsieverts per hour at 1145. The last of these measurements is not much to worry about - on a long-haul flight passengers are exposed to about five microsieverts per hour. Furthermore, moving away from the source of radiation, measurements would quickly tail off. Five or 10km away from the plant, the radiation level would be significantly lower.

Is any level of exposure to radiation safe?

In some parts of the world, natural background radiation is significantly higher than others - for example in Cornwall, in south-west England. And yet people live in Cornwall, and many others gladly visit the area. Similarly, every international air flight exposes passengers to higher than normal levels of radiation - and yet people still fly, and cabin crews spend large amounts of time exposed to this radiation. Patients in hospitals regularly undergo X-rays. Scientists dispute whether any level of exposure to radiation is entirely safe, but exposure to some level of radiation - whether at normal background levels or higher - is a fact of life.

How do Fukushima's problems affect the rest of the world?

It depends on how much radiation is released. At present, the IAEA says the effects are of a "local" nature.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Japan's PM says there is a 'very high' risk of further radiation leaks

A fresh explosion rocked reactor 2 at the Fukushima Daiichi plant - 250km (155 miles) north-east of Tokyo - in the early hours of Tuesday.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said, "Now we are talking about levels that can impact human health."

He stressed that such levels were recorded at the plant and that the "further away you get from the power plant or reactor, the value should go down".

In his televised address, Prime Minister Kan said: "There is still a very high risk of more radiation coming out."

He added that the last remaining people within a 20km (12 mile) exclusion zone around the plant had to leave, and that those living between 20km and 30km from the site should remain indoors.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Hundreds dead and up to 80,000 missing in Japan tsunami

Thousands of people were feared dead yesterday after a tsunami triggered by one of the biggest earthquakes in history hit Japan.

Ships, trains, buildings and cars were swept away as monster 33ft waves smashed into the port city of Sendai.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan declared a nuclear emergency when the 8.9 magnitude quake shut down the cooling systems at the country’s largest atomic plant.

Experts were last night battling to stop radiation leaks as 6,000 people were evacuated and US military jets flew in chemicals to avert a disaster.

Amid the desolation, more than 300 bodies washed up when the catastrophic flood waters retreated.

But Japanese authorities said 80,000 people are missing and fear the death toll will rise dramatically in the coming days.

Hundreds of fires continued to burn last night in Kesennuma, a coastal town of 70,000 people, with little hope of being put out. A boat carrying 80 dock workers was swept away in the 500mph tidal wave while a cruise ship with 100 passengers is also thought to be missing.

Officials have lost contact with four trains which are feared to have been engulfed by the tsunami along the coastline.

They include two of the famous bullet trains, one of them with 400 passengers.

As entire communities remained cut off, one emergency worker said: “We witnessed biblical scenes. Huge container ships were tossed around like matchsticks. There was nothing anyone could do.”

The quake is the sixth largest of all time and the worst to hit Japan.

Capital Tokyo survived the tremors relatively unscathed but one million residents in the north eastern city of Sendai watched in horror as the mammoth wall of water struck without warning.

Witnesses said there was an eerie silence “like the world had stopped” seconds before the quake hit at 2.46pm (5.46am UK time). Thousands of people were forced to run for their lives as killer waves full of mud and debris swallowed neighbourhoods. Desperate drivers tried to outrun the water in their cars along the coast.

Bridges were swept away and a packed hotel in the city collapsed.

A worldwide tsunami warning was issued after the tremor, which struck six miles down and 80 miles off the east coast.

Last night Japanese scientists decided to release radioactive vapour to ease temperatures at the Fukushima Daiich nuclear plant. Radiation levels were said to be 1,000 times the normal level.

Another 10 reactors at three other nuclear plants are also unstable because they have no electricity.

A second plant was later feared to have developed the same fault.

The pressure inside one of Fukushima’s six water reactors had risen to 1.5 times the level considered normal.

But experts said the radioactive element in the vapour released would not affect the environment or human health. Their main aim is to prevent ­radiation leaks as they repair cooling systems. The quake also started a fire in a turbine building at a nuclear power plant in north-eastern Japan, but the reactor was reported to be secure.

Hasan Ali gets bail, ED fails to establish case ?

Mumbai:A court Friday granted conditional bail to Hasan Ali Khan, accused of stashing away $8 billion abroad, and said the Enforcement Directorate (ED) had failed to establish a case of money laundering against him.

Judge M.L. Tahilyani observed that the documents given cannot substantiate ED's case linking Khan to money laundering.

Khan was given bail on a surety of Rs.75,000. The court also directed Khan to stay in Mumbai for the next five days and said ED can question him for the next 48 hours.

The court also observed that ED cannot get Khan's custody due to lack of substantial evidence.

Questioning ED for lack of preparedness in forming a case against Khan, the court observed that it is difficult to say if the documents submitted by the ED were genuine.

However, Special Public Prosecutor Rajiv Awasthi said that ED possesses 'overwhelming evidences' against Khan and that the court 'failed to appreciate the evidence submitted'.

'We wanted Khan's remand as we have vital links on the issue and need to have his custodial interrogation,' Awasthi said.

'We will first secure an order copy of the verdict and then appeal in a higher court as per the law,' he said.

Japan Earthquake: Tsunami Hits After 8.9 Quake

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Over 38 lakh users opt for mobile number portability

New Delhi: Over 38 lakh (3.8 million) customers opted for mobile number portability (MNP) - which allows users to switch operators while retaining their numbers - till the end of February, official data showed Wednesday.

The service was implemented across the country Jan 20, 2011 while the pilot launch of the service took place in Haryana Nov 25, 2010.

'As per the data reported by the service providers, by the end of February 2011, about 38.33 lakh subscribers have submitted their requests to different service providers for porting their mobile number,' the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) said in a statement.

Out of these requests, around 3.20 lakh were from Haryana, where the service was first implemented.

In the rest of the country, Gujarat reported the maximum number of requests, at 3.65 lakh subscribers.

Karnataka led the way in southern and eastern India with 3.18 lakh subscribers opting to change their operators.

To opt for MNP, a customer has to pay a maximum of Rs.19 to the new operator for 'porting' the number and remain with the new operator for at least three months.

The customer has to send an SMS from the existing phone to 1900. Based on this, a unique porting code will be sent by existing provider. An application then has to be filed with the new service provider mentioning the code for transferring the connection.

The telecom regulator also said that it was constantly monitoring the implementation of MNP in the country. According to it, the main reasons for rejection of port request were incorrect unique porting codes, non-completion of the mandatory three-month stay and existing contractual obligations and dues.

In view of the large number of rejections and complaints, TRAI is also in the process of verifying the correctness of the port rejections by the service providers on a sample basis, the statement said.

Al Qaida, Lashkar-e-Toiba target World Cup

New Delhi: India has received specific intelligence on terrorist groups Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Al-Qaida preparing to attack. A team of 10-16 terrorists is believed to have already entered India as a part of this mission.

The intelligence has been corroborated by Foreign Intelligence agencies. The US has warned Pakistan to prevent terrorists based there from staging these attacks.

Gujarat , Maharashtra and all venues for World Cup matches have been alerted. The navy and the Coast Guard have also been warned.

Security agencies have also received information about a threat to the MA Chidambaram stadium in Chennai.

"We have tightened security and stadium will be taken over 36 hours in advance. All places near stadium like lodges have been combed. Many security vans have been installed at strategic places and are fitted with cameras. We are taking all steps to ensure rest of the matches are peaceful," Tamil Nadu DGP said.

India is going to play West Indies in Chennai on March 20.

Another team is expected to try and join the terrorists that have already entered the country.

PM blames Prithviraj Chavan for CVC in fiasco fresh Contravercy

NEW DELHI: Asserting that he had not known of a graft case against sacked chief vigilance commissioner P J Thomas, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday virtually blamed Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan — previously minister of state in PMO — for putting Thomas on the list of candidates.

Although he accepted responsibility for the goof-up in appointing Thomas as India's chief anti-corruption official, the PM told Rajya Sabha on Tuesday that Chavan supervised the relevant note for the selection committee comprising the PM, home minister and leader of opposition in LS.

"Was I aware of the pendency of the chargesheet against Thomas? The honest answer is that the note was prepared under the guidance of the minister of state in charge of DoPT, and that note did not contain this information," Singh said.

The PM said Chavan prepared the note for the selection committee's consideration and also approved a shortlist of candidates. "I did become aware of this case only when the leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha raised this issue in the meeting itself," he said.

As Chavan handled DoPT file work, Singh virtually washed off all knowledge of Thomas being chargesheeted in a case relating to import of palm oil in 1991. "As far as responsibility for the preparation of the shortlist is concerned, that came through normal channels and it came with the approval of the minister of state, department of personnel," the PM said.

In Mumbai, Chavan said the PM could not scrutinise every file but insisted that vigilance clearance was granted on basis of reports provided by state governments. In Thomas's case, this is Kerala. Thomas has been a Kerala cadre IAS officer.

The PM's response came after pointed clarifications sought by Arun Jaitley, Sitaram Yechury and CPI leader D Raja.

Opposition leaders, BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad and CPM's Brinda Karat, promptly said the PM was blaming Chavan while ostensibly accepting responsibility. "The PM said the MoS did not present full facts, but we want the accountability fixed," said Prasad. Karat said the minister who did not present facts was promoted as CM.

Opposition MPs pointed out that even if DoPT did prepare a shortlist, how could the PM's own office not know that Thomas was named in a much-discussed palm oil import case.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Thomas quits as CVC after Supreme Court strikes down appointment

New Delhi: In the latest blow to the Manmohan Singh government, Central Vigilance Commissioner P.J. Thomas quit Thursday after the Supreme Court struck down his appointment for his alleged involvement in a corruption scandal and raised the issue of 'institutional integrity'.

Six months after the Kerala bureaucrat was named the country's anti-corruption watchdog, the Supreme Court said the appointment by a high-powered panel, consisting of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Home Minister P. Chidambaram and opposition leader Sushma Swaraj, did not exist in law.

Responding to the ruling, Manmohan Singh said: 'I respect the court judgment and I will speak in the house.'

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Sushma Swaraj had placed her opposition to his appointment on record at a Sep 3, 2010 meeting. But the government overruled the opposition and appointed him to the post.

An apex court bench headed by Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia was giving its verdict on a petition by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) challenging Thomas' appointment.

The petitioner had said that Thomas, a 1973 batch Indian Administrative Service officer of Kerala cadre who was earlier the telecom secretary, was facing a criminal chargesheet in a case related to palm oil import in Kerala and that he was not an 'outstanding civil servant of impeccable integrity'.

'We are not in any position to say anything now. He has tendered his resignation and the Supreme Court also held his appointment illegal,' Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily told reporters.

He denied that the order had left the government red faced as the appointment was made by a panel of which opposition leader Sushma Swaraj was a part.

Thomas was Kerala's civil supplies secretary in 1992 when the alleged palm oil scam took place.

A case was registered in 1999, accusing Thomas and others of criminal conspiracy and causing a loss of Rs.2.32 crore to the exchequer. They were accused of importing 15,000 tonnes of palm oil from Malaysia at an inflated price for distribution through fair price shops.

The apex court said institutional integrity and functioning were more important than personal integrity though both were related.

It said it was incumbent upon the high-powered committee to keep in mind the institutional integrity while making the recommendation of the CVC and it should be according to the law.

The ruling - the latest blow to the government fighting a series of corruption scandals, including on the allocation of 2G spectrum and the Commonwealth Games - provided the opposition just the ammunition it was looking for.

The BJP and the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) said the Supreme Court decision was a victory against corruption. They called for Chidambaram's resignation on moral grounds.

'As home minister, his duty was to present the right facts but they concealed facts on the allegations against Thomas,' BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi said outside parliament, where the budget session is in progress.

'Even when (Sushma Swaraj) brought it to their notice that Thomas' name was involved in a corruption case, they ignored it,' he said.

Toeing the same line, Janata Dal-United leader Sharad Yadav said the step was a victory for the movement against corruption.

BJP asks Manmohan Singh to introspect over CVC controversy

The BJP on Thursday used Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's favourite quote of Caesar's wife being above suspicion to demand that he "introspect" over the chief vigilance commissioner controversy and inform the nation whether he was "misled or allowed himself to be misled" on PJ Thomas' appointment.

"Leader of the opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj has vindicated herself by expressing dissent (on Thomas's appointment). The responsibility lies with the prime minister and the home minister. The prime ministe should introspect on whether he was misled or allowed himself to be misled," senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley said.

The selection panel for choosing the CVC comprises the prime minister, home minister and leader of opposition in Lok Sabha. During the meeting to choose Thomas, when Swaraj said Thomas had a case pending against him in the Palmolein import scam home minister P Chidambaram had reportedly told her that he had been cleared in the matter.

After the Supreme Court judgment, Jaitley said that the person occupying the CVC post should have a "spotless record".

"The appointment of Thomas was vitiated due to non-application of mind," he added.

The prime minister is expected to make a statement in Parliament on the issue. BJP sources said the party is waiting for the PM's statement before it responds further.

The BJP, which in the recent past never lost any opportunity to demand the PM's resignation, today refrained from it.

"PM often says Caesar's wife must be above suspicion. Now that Supreme Court has quashed the appointment of CVC on the ground that relevant information relating to his involvement in a corruption case was ignored, the country is certainly entitled to know on what benchmark he is going to judge himself," BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said.

The BJP alleged that the UPA government wanted a "pliant" CVC as the 2-G scam is under investigation by the CBI and the CVC exercises a decisive influence and monitoring over the investigating agency. After today's verdict the government stands "indicted", the party said.

"The appointment of CVC was done by this government in which the prime minister has a direct role to play. The country is entitled to know as to what was the coalition compulsion behind the appointment of Thomas," Prasad said, referring to recent statement of Singh on why A Raja was given telecom ministry.

Welcoming the SC judgment, BJP said it has restored the dignity of the office of CVC and upheld the "rule of law and democratic propriety".

"Integrity and independence are the most important qualities for appointment to the post of CVC. Integrity particularly is indeed very significant because the CVC is the most important institution in monitoring and inquiry into cases of corruption," Prasad said.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Congress refuses to comment on Godhra case Verdict

Mar 1, 2011

Congress on Wednesday refused to comment on the judgment of a Gujarat court in Godhra case, saying the party does not comment on court judgments.

"We do not comment on court judgments. So we do not have to comment on the quantum of punishment given by the court as well," party spokesperson Jayanthi Natarajan told reporters at the AICC briefing here.

She was responding to questions on the judgment of a special court in Gujarat today handing down death sentence to eleven convicts and life imprisonment to 20 others in the 2002 Godhra train burning incident that left 59 'karsevaks' dead, triggering riots which claimed over 1200 lives in the state.

Asked to comment on BJP's statement that the court order has laid to rest the theory that everything was instigated by the Narendra Modi government, Natarajan said Congress would not like to draw a parallel between the court judgment and committee findings.

Responding to the same question, law minister M Veerappa Moily also said, "I am not going to comment on that...there are differing reports of the commissions. Nanavati Commission is yet to give a report. There are other reports like Justice Mukherjee report. I do not want to get into it."

The one-man UC Banerjee Commission appointed by the railway ministry under Lalu Prasad Yadav had said that fire was "accidental" while the Nanavati Commission, appointed by the Gujarat government to probe the carnage, had in the first part of the report concluded that the fire in the S-6 coach was not an accident, but was caused by throwing of petrol inside it.

11 get death for Godhra train burning, 20 sentenced to life

A special court today sentenced 11 convicts to death and gave lifers to 20 people in the 2002 Godhra train burning incident that killed 59 people and triggered large scale communal violence in Gujarat. Designated judge P R Patel hearing the case inside the Sabarmati Central Jail pronounced the quantum of punishment to those who were found guilty of criminal conspiracy and murder.

The prosecution had sought death sentence for all the 31 convicts saying that it was a heinous act.

While the defence lawyers had pleaded leniency for the accused and requested the court to take into consideration their role during the incident, and considering their past record, family circumstances and time spent in jail since their arrest.

The court has accepted the prosecution's contention that there was a conspiracy behind the incident and convicted 31 under various sections of Indian Penal Code (IPC) like 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder) and 120B(criminal conspiracy).

They have also been convicted under IPC section 147, 148 (rioting with deadly weapons), 323, 324,325,326 (causing hurt), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on religious grounds), various sections of the Indian Railways Act, Prevention of Damages to Public Property Act and Bombay Police Act.

The Court on February 22 had acquitted 63 others, in the burning of S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express in 2002 near Godhra railway station where 59 persons were killed.

Following the Godhra train burning incident on February 27, 2002, large scale communal violence had broken out in various parts of Gujarat in which over 1000 people died, mainly belonging to the minority community.PTI

63 people under scanner in 2G spectrum case, CBI tells SC

New Delhi: Sixty-three persons, including promoters and CEOs of 10 telecom firms have come under its scanner in the 2G spectrum case, the CBI on Tuesday told the Supreme Court which expressed satisfaction over the ongoing probe.

The central government, which is also party to the case, informed a bench of justices G S Singhvi and A K Ganguly that it is in favour of setting up a special court to try the accused in the 2G case and the law minister has written a letter to the Delhi high court chief justice asking him to constitute a court and identify a judge for this purpose.

'The matter is under consideration,' additional solicitor general Indira Jaisingh told the bench, which wanted to know about the progress of investigation into the case.

Senior advocate K K Venugopal, representing the CBI, apprised the bench about the progress by the CBI and placed the probe status report in a sealed cover.

'63 persons including promoters and CEOs of 10 companies have come under the scanner of the CBI in its probe into the 2G spectrum scam,' Venugopal said.

The bench asked the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate to place before it their reports about the investigation by March 10 and posted the matter for further hearing on March 15.

Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Tata group of companies, meanwhile, pleaded for in-camera proceedings.

Earlier on February 10, while hearing a plea by Centre for public interest litigation for probe into the 2G case, the Supreme Court had asked the CBI to widen its probe ambit and include into it high flying corporate honchos without getting influenced by their status.

While giving the CBI a free hand to probe the case, the court had also asked the government to set up a special court to exclusively try the spectrum scam case accused.

'We have a large number of persons who think themselves to be the law. Law must catch them. It should be done with greater expedition. Merely that they are on the Forbes list or they are millionaires does not make any difference,' the bench had remarked after perusing the CBI's probe status report in which names of big corporate houses and their officials had been mentioned.

But counsel Prashant Bhushan appearing for petitioner CPIL had pointed out to the court that the agencies have not questioned the heads of several companies including those of Swan Technology, which was controlled by Anil Ambani's Reliance Group, when the spectrum was allocated.

At this, the bench said, 'Top authorities of companies were not questioned. It is surprising that the managing directors were not summoned'.

Seeking to widen the CBI's probe ambit, the apex court had said the agency's freedom to investigate the matter should not be curtailed in any way and asked the agency to go beyond the role of the four persons, including former Telecom Minister A Raja, already arrested in the case.

'This investigation has led to prima-facie conclusion about the culpability of four persons. What about the beneficiaries. They are part of a larger conspiracy. We want to know about them. You (CBI) take instructions and tell us what action you are planning to take,' the bench had told the CBI. PTI

K.G.Balakrishnan's kin accumulated unaccounted wealth: Income Tax

Kochi: Retired Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan's family members are in possession of wealth disproportionate to their known sources of income, a top Income Tax official said here Saturday.

Director general of Income Tax E.C. Lukose was addressing reporters here to inform about the procedures to be followed at the time of the forthcoming polls.

When asked about the ongoing investigation into the wealth of Balakrishnan and his family members, he said the investigation is in its final stages.

'It has come to light that the family members of Balakrishnan are in possession of wealth above their known sources of income. More investigations are also going on and are in the final stages,' Lukose said.

He, however, remained mum to a question if Balakrishnan is in possession of wealth beyond his known sources of income.

To another question on what are the likely steps that would be there now that the family members of Balakrishnan have been identified as possessing unaccounted wealth, Lukose said: 'A penalty could be levied or prosecution proceedings can be there after more detailed investigations are done.'

Retd Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer launched a tirade against Balakrishnan at the end of last year following widespread amassment of wealth by the kith and kin of the latter.

Since then, time and again Iyer has lashed out at Balakrishnan and even asked him to break his silence, but it is yet to happen.

Following Iyer's outbursts and on account of a complaint to Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan by a Kochi resident, the state government has begun a vigilance probe into the amassing of wealth by Balakrishnan's son-in-law P.V. Srinijin, a Youth Congress leader who has quit the party after the allegations surfaced.

Market reacts Positively to Union Budget 2011 -Sensex Gains 600 Points

A powerful rally in auto and banking shares lifted the Sensex 623 points—the highest single-day gain in absolute terms in over 21 months—on Tuesday, as investors appeared to be focussing on the positives in the Union Budget.

Strong February sales numbers announced by automobile companies ignited a buying frenzy in the stocks, while the lower borrowing target of the government for FY12 is expected to keep interest rates in check and so benefit banks and real estate shares.

The 30-share Sensex closed at 18446.50, up 3.5% over the previous close. The gains in auto, banking and realty shares were even more impressive. The BSE Auto index gained around 6%, and the BSE Banking and BSE Realty indices by around 4% each.

Yet, most players are cautious in their outlook on the market for the next few months as they feel the local macro issues and concerns over volatile crude oil prices may not have fully played out yet.

"We remain positive on the equity markets for the year ahead, but believe sustainable returns will be back ended as the policy initiatives announced fructify and as high inflation and tight liquidity roll over into the year," brokerage house JP Morgan Securities said in its post-Budget note.

The big gainers among index components included Maruti Suzuki, Tata Motors and Mahindra & Mahindra, which gained 5-8%. Star performers in the banking sector were ICICI bank and HDFC Bank, up 6% and 4% respectively.

Mid-cap and small-cap shares too performed in line with their large cap counterparts. But brokers caution that it is too early to say if the bearish trend in the market has reversed.

"I think markets should trade lower, at least during the next three-four months," says Sandeep Bhatia of Kotak Securities, as he sees liquidity constraints because of government borrowings, and earnings downgrades of companies.

"The borrowing programme of the government is always front ended. So, we will see pressure on rates coming through. Also, the real issue is whether we will see the bottom of earnings downgrade in the current quarter. After that, we will look around to see if commodity prices are coming off and margins can hold and expand in the second half of the year," he said.