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Friday, August 31, 2012

Indian economy's growth slows to 5.5 percent in first quarter

New Delhi : The Indian economy grew at a much lower pace of 5.5 percent in the first quarter of this fiscal, as per official estimates of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) released Friday, against 8 percent in the like period of 2011-12. The drop was mainly on account of a mere 0.2 percent growth in the manufacturing sector, against 7.3 percent in the previous fiscal, even as farm growth also dropped from 3.7 percent to 2.9 percent, showed the data of Central Statistical Organisation (CSO). Surprisingly, construction and services sector, which includes insurance, finance and realty, grew at 10.9 percent and 10.8 percent, respectively. Output from these two groups had expanded by 3.5 percent and 9.4 percent in the first quarter of last fiscal.

Supreme Court asks Sahara Group to refund Rs. 17,400 crore to investors

The Supreme Court on Friday ordered the Sahara conglomerate to refund Rs. 17,400 crore it had raised from millions of small investors, reaffirming an order from market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India or SEBI, which had said the process violated rules. The Supreme Court also ordered Sahara to pay 15 per cent interest to investors on their deposits. Two unlisted group companies of Sahara, which has interests ranging from financial services and housing to media and sports, had between 2008 and 2011 raised a total of Rs. 17,400 crore from 22 million small investors through an instrument known as an optionally fully convertible debenture. OFCDs are debentures that investors can convert into shares at their option. The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) last year ordered the group companies to refund the money, with 15 percent annual interest, after it found that the fund-raising process did not comply with rules. In October, an appellate tribunal upheld the regulator's order after hearing Sahara's appeal, and said that the group had to refund the money raised through OFCDs to investors within six weeks. The Sahara Group then moved the Supreme Court, which had stayed the SAT decision in November 2011. Former Supreme Court Judge BN Agarwal will monitor the refund to investors, the court said today. SEBI will check the genuineness of the investors and if the investors are not traceable, the amount will go to the government. The court further said that in case of non-compliance, SEBI can attach and sell properties of the Sahara Group.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

BJP accuses Cong of getting huge bribes in coal allocation

New Delhi: Stepping up its attack on the government, the BJP has alleged that the Congress party got huge bribes in the allocation of 142 coal blocks and asserted they would continue to disrupt Parliament till Prime Minister Manmohan Singh resigns. Alleging that Singh delayed coal block auctions for undue benefits to Congress, the principal opposition party also said even if its allies deserted them there will be no let up in stalling Parliament. Singh's appeal to BJP to agree to a debate on the coal block allegations fell on deaf ears with the BJP launching a direct attack on the prime minister. BJP claimed it has the support of NDA allies and parties like AIADMK and will continue to press for Singh's resignation on moral grounds. "Congress has got a fat sum from coal block allocation, that is why this delay (in amending the laws) was caused. My charge is that huge revenue was generated but it did not go to the government and went to the Congress party," Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj told reporters. She used the phrase 'mota maal' to allege that the Congress got a fat sum. Slamming Singh's statement disputing CAG's findings, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley said it was an assault on constitutionalism and constitutional authority. BJP demanded cancellation of all 142 coal blocks alloted since 2006 and insisted that these be auctioned. "If an impartial probe is conducted, I can say with full responsibility as Leader of Opposition that Congress will be in the dock along with the government," Swaraj said. Asked if BJP is alone on this issue as even its allies have indicated that they would like a debate in Parliament on the issue, Jaitley said, "We don't stand alone. And on corruption even if we have to fight alone it would be majestic isolation. The support of the people is with us." Swaraj claimed allies SAD, JD(U) and Shiv Sena were with the BJP and even parties like AIADMK were supporting NDA on the demand for the prime minister's resignation. BJP said as minister in-charge of coal ministry, PM was morally responsible and he should step down.

Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh among MPs with worst attendance in Parliament

New Delhi: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, Janata Dal (Secular) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy, Uttar Pradesh chief minister and Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav, and Bharatiya Janata Party's Navjyot Singh Sidhu are among those who barely attended Parliament in the third year of the 15th Lok Sabha. Nirmal Khatri, P.L. Punia, J.P. Agarwal (all from Congress), LK Advani (BJP), M Thambidurai (AIADMK) were among those having cent per cent attendance. Giving details about the spending from Member of Parliament Local Area Development Fund (MPLADS), the report said that Sonia Gandhi utilised Rs 2.32 crore, Advani spent Rs 1.71 crore and Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj spent Rs 8.58 crore. A total of 12,201 interruptions and 110 adjournments were reported from the Lower House in the 85 sittings. In all, 175 hours and 51 minutes were lost in chaos with issues like price rise, land acquisition, CAG report, Lokpal and Lokayukta, FDI and demand of the then Home Minister P. Chidambaram's resignation halting the proceedings. Also, 91 Private Members Bills were presented and eight per cent MPs used this Parliamentary provision. However, more than 50 per cent of the members used the Parliamentary instrument of 'Special Mention'.

India gets high praise in Republican platform

Washington, Aug 28 — Seeking a stronger relationship with India, the Republican Party platform set to be adopted as the foreign policy plank of its presidential candidate Mitt Romney, urges New Delhi to permit greater foreign investment and trade. "We welcome a stronger relationship with the world's largest democracy, India, both economic and cultural, as well as in terms of national security," says the platform posted on the Republican National Committee's website ahead of the party's national convention in Tampa, Florida. The convention that would formally anoint Romney as the party's presidential candidate gets underway Tuesday with its schedule pushed back a day over concerns about the tropical storm Issac even as it passed well west of Tampa Monday. "We encourage India to permit greater foreign investment and trade. We urge protection for adherents of all India's religions," says the platform that also praises the contributions of Indian-Americans. "Both as Republicans and as Americans, we note with pride the contributions to this country that are being made by our fellow citizens of Indian ancestry." "We hereby affirm and declare that India is our geopolitical ally and a strategic trading partner," the party platform said. The Republican platform "arguably lavishes more praise on India than on any country mentioned in the document except Israel and Taiwan", says Uri Friedman in his blog post in influential Foreign Policy magazine. The passage relating to India particularly stands out when compared with the more businesslike language employed in the 2008 Republican platform, he says. While the 2008 Democratic platform praised India as a "natural strategic ally", the Republicans then simply said, "We welcome America's new relationship with India, including the US-India Civil Nuclear Accord." "Our common security concerns and shared commitment to political freedom and representative government can be the foundation for an enduring partnership." Reflective of the growing political importance of Indian-Americans, the two Indian-American governors, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and South Carolina's Nikki Haley were invited to be headliners at the Republican convention. While Jindal, who was scheduled to address the convention Wednesday, is skipping it with Issac bearing down on his state, Haley - born Nimrata (Nikki) Randhawa to Sikh immigrant parents from India - is set to speak at prime time Tuesday. In a move aimed at providing a healing touch to the Sikh community in the aftermath of the Wisconsin gurdwara shooting, Ishwar Singh, a Sikh faith leader, will offer the invocation at convention Wednesday. Noting that only around 500,000 Indian-Americans are expected to vote nationwide in the November election, Friedman wrote: "But what they lack in numbers they contribute in some measure in money and activism." "No other ethnic group outside white, African-Americans, and Latinos - including Chinese-American and Filipino-Americans who are numerically larger groups than Indians - have as many political heavyweights," he noted.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

BJP renews demand for PM's resignation

New Delhi: Proceedings in both houses of parliament were disrupted for the second consecutive day Tuesday as the BJP-led opposition renewed its demand for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's resignation over the official auditor's report on coal block allocation. The Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha had to be adjourned repeatedly with not much business transacted as the opposition took up its demand following the Comptroller and Auditor General's (CAG) report that lack of transparency in allocation of coal blocks to private players resulted in a notional loss of Rs.1.85 lakh crore ($37 billion) to the exchequer as on March 11 last year. The audit report does not directly indict the prime minister or his office. But during the time these mining blocks in question were allotted, the coal portfolio was held by him -- between July 2004 and May 2009. Question hour could not be taken up in either house. The Lok Sabha was adjourned till 12 noon soon after it met at 11 a.m., and the Rajya Sabha adjourned in quick succession twice till noon. When the two houses met again at noon, the morning scenes were repeated with BJP members trooping towards the presiding officers' chairs, raising slogans demanding the prime minister's resignation. With the BJP determined not to let the houses function until the prime minister resigned, the chairs in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha were forced to adjourn the house till 2 p.m. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal defended the coal block allocations, saying: 'There is no wrong doing on the part of the government. The coal block allocation was done in the nation's interest and country's development.' BJP leader Arun Jaitley was not impressed. 'The prime minister must accept his culpability in this matter and the reason is very obvious. In the five out of eight years only 142 coal blocks were allocated. This means public revenue suffered and private parties gained. He himself was the coal minister,' Jaitley told a news channel. 'In the 2G spectrum allocation scam, the minister concerned resigned and when he resigned, others tried to escape from their responsibility. This is a case where the prime minister was the coal minister and the government is putting a brave face and saying they are ready for a debate. But why do you require a debate,' the BJP leader asked. 'If in December 2010, we had not held up the winter session (A.) Raja would not have resigned... Our pressure in parliament did work in the 2G scam and I hope it does work even now.' BJP leader Balbir Punj told IANS: 'The prime minister is the prime accused in this case. How can we have a debate on the issue unless he resigns. We are ready for discussion only after he resigns.'

Inflammatory messages: PFI under scanner

Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala-based Popular Front of India has come under the scanner of intelligence agencies for its suspected role in spreading inflammatory SMSs and MMSs following Assam violence, that triggered exodus of northeastern people from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Taking note of reports in this regard in local media, state Home Minister Thiruvanchur Radhakrishnan has asked ADGP (Intelligence) to cross-check the matter with Central authorities. 'We have taken note of the reports. The intelligence head of state police has been asked to cross-check the matter with Central agencies to find out the facts,' Radhakrishnan told PTI. He said so far there had been no reported incident of panic fleeing by migrant North Easterners from Kerala as had happened in some other states. Only an isolated case of some unidentified persons intimidating migrant workers in a hollow-brick unit in Malappuram district had been reported and cases had been registered against 12 persons, he said. Meanwhile, rejecting reports that it was involved in creating scare among the labourers from North East states, PFI general secretary Abdul Hameed said the organisation was ready to face any inquiry. 'This is not for the first time that PFI is being targetted. In all earlier cases, PFI has proved the allegations wrong and come out clean. But, unfortunately, our innocence never used to get published in media,' Hameed told PTI.

Facebook to remove content that incites violence or hate speech

WASHINGTON: In the backdrop of appeals by India to remove hate posts, world's largest social networking website Facebook on Wednesday said it will remove content, block pages or even disable accounts of those users who upload contents that incite violence or perpetuate hate speech. Comprehending the gravity, Facebook's stern warning to its users comes in the wake of the Indian government bringing to its notice the posting of contents, including inflammatory matters and doctored pictures and videos to create social unrest in the country. 'Facebook will remove content which breaches our terms as set out in our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. Content or individuals can be removed from Facebook for a variety of reasons including issuing direct calls for violence or perpetuating hate speech,' a Facebook spokesperson said. 'We have received requests from Indian authorities and agencies and are working through those requests and responding to the agencies. We encourage people to continue to use our tools to report content they are concerned about so that we can investigate and take action fast,' the spokesperson said when asked about the actions being taken by the company. Given the gravity of the situation, which the social networking site officials term 'an emergency situation' a large number of Facebook employees are working round the clock in both India and the US to review and monitor the content and take necessary action, which the company says is part of its social responsibilities. In fact, Facebook has already removed quite a significant number of such 'inflammatory' and 'hate' contents from its website and in some cases blocked pages. However, because of the company policy and privacy reasons, its official would not quantify the number of such actions. If any user repeatedly tries to upload such hateful content, Facebook can even disable the account, said an official requesting anonymity as he was not allowed to speak to the press on this issue. Expressing serious concern over the current situation in India wherein people have tried to use Facebook as a tool to incite violence or spread hate, the official said Facebook has taken a number of measures to prevent this. The company is taking a cue from its 2010 experience of riots in London wherein it closely worked with local police to prevent its website being used by hatemongers for either gathering purposes or spread rumors. The Facebook, the official said, is 'pretty aligned' with the views of the Indian government on this and have 'not run into any issues' with the government. 'We understand the gravity of the situation,' the official said, adding that the company has intensified the monitoring of such content related to India. Facebook has some 50 million users in India. Company officials urged users to remain alert on any such inflammatory or objectionable posting and keep it informed. PTI

Monday, August 6, 2012

Vikas Gowda in Olympics discus throw final

London: India's Vikas Gowda became only the seventh Indian to qualify for the finals of the track and field event at the Olympic Games when he hurled the disc to 65.20 metres for an automatic selection. Gowda, who trains in the United States, breached the 65m mark in his second attempt, having managed a throw of 63.52 m in his first throw. The automatic qualification standard for the discus final was set at 65m. The finals will be held on Wednesday Gowda is also only the second Indian to make the finals in track and field at the ongoing Games after Krishna Poonia, who eventually finished seventh in women's discus throw. The other five Indians to make it to the final round of Olympic Games' track and field events are Milkha Singh (400m), Gurbachan Singh Randhawa (110m hurdles), Sriram Singh (800m), P T Usha (400m hurdles) and Anju Bobby George (Long Jump).

Google unveils new ultra-high speed internet

Chicago:After more than two years of anticipation, Google finally announced Thursday that the company's ultra-high speed internet service Google Fiber would become available to the residents of its test community Kansas City starting in September. Offering an internet connectivity speed of one gigabit per second, Google said the service will be about 100 times faster than the speed most Americans have with current broadband connections, reported Xinhua. Instead of a broadband connection, Google Fiber is composed of thin optical fiber lines that run directly from a person's home to a data centre, which is then in turn connected to the national internet backbone. According to Google, it is this 'direct connection' from a person's home to the national backbone that will allow users to experience such high internet speeds. Google said it was inspired to develop Google Fiber in line with the Federal Communication Commission's 2010 National Broadband Plan, which calls for making high speed internet more widely available in the US. Despite the fact that internet was invented in the US, according to content delivery network Akamai's 2011 State of the Internet report, the US ranks only 12th globally in internet connection speed, with an average connection of 5.8 megabits per second. South Korea ranks first, with an average speed of 17.5 megabits per second. In an interview on telephone, Google Fiber spokesperson Jenna Wandres told Xinhua that Google had already done advocacy work around the development of the National Broadband Plan and improving US internet connectivity, and that it set the stage for the company to do even more once the Plan was released. Wandres added Google hoped greater internet accessibility and speed could additionally lead to more technological innovation, and set the stage for the future of internet browsing. 'When we think back about the way we used to use the internet when we were still listening to a dial tone, there were all sorts of innovations that we couldn't even imagine - we were sitting waiting for it to dial in,' Wandres said, comparing how much the internet had changed since it was first developed. 'We're hoping that with Google Fiber and its higher speeds, these things will lead to new and unpredictable innovations that as a whole will move the web forward in the US,' she added. After months of laying the infrastructure and groundwork, Google Fiber will finally start home-installation after the pre-registration deadline Sep 9. The internet service is priced at $70 a month, which is competitive with most US broadband internet providers. Google also announced the new internet service could be paired with a television component, Google Fiber TV, which Google says will include regular broadcast channels and thousands of TV shows on demand. Although Google already owns video-sharing site YouTube, it will be the company's first venture into serving as a television provider. The Google Fiber project first started in February 2010, when Google announced that the company planned to build an ultra-high speed internet network in a select US city that was willing to partner with them. According to Google, the response was overwhelming. The company received invitations from almost 1,100 US communities and close to 200,000 individuals, all expressing their desire for faster internet service. Some cities even tried doing stunts hoping to attract the Google Fiber project, with one city mayor even jumping into a frozen river and posting the request on YouTube. Ultimately, the Midwest community of Kansas City was chosen as the Google Fiber launch site in spring 2011. According to Wandres, Kansas City was chosen because of its business-friendly infrastructure, community involvement, and supportive officials. MPP

Syrian PM defects to Jordan: reports media

Amman: Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab has defected to Jordan, a Jordanian official source said on Monday, prompting Syria to announce he had been sacked and replaced by a caretaker premier. "Hijab is in Jordan with his family," said the source, who did not want to be further identified. Hijab's defection was one of the most high profile desertions from President Bashar al-Assad's political and military circles. On Sunday, al Arabiya television reported a senior Syrian intelligence officer had also defected to Jordan. Hijab, a Sunni Muslim from Syria's Sunni province of Deir al-Zor, was also a ruling Baath Party apparatchik. State television said Omar Ghalawanji, who was a deputy prime minister as well as minister for local administration, would lead a temporary caretaker government. Assad had appointed Hijab, a former agriculture minister, as prime minister in June following a parliamentary election which came after more than a year of violent protests against Assad's rule.