Current Affairs: July 2009
| CURRENT NATIONAL AFFAIRS |
BANKING & FINANCE
RBI gives nod to cash withdrawals using swipe machines in stores
The Reserve Bank has allowed cash withdrawals using swipe machines at retail shops. The facility will initially be available to the 14.3-crore people holding debit cards issued in India. One will be able to withdraw up to Rs 1,000 in a day.
To avail this facility, a card holder will have to pay a fee of 2 to 3%. In case the card-holder also makes a purchase with the card, the receipt will have to separately indicate the cash withdrawn. For this, the swipe machines, or point-of-sale (PoS) terminals, will have to be upgraded. The banks will split the service charge with retailers to entice them to offer this service. At present, merchants pay a fee of 1.5-2% for every card transaction.
The move will particularly benefit customers in smaller towns and rural areas, which have few ATM machines. It will also bring down the amount of money a retailer needs to deposit in a bank every day as it can disburse the same for a fee. As for banks, the increased debit card usage will translate into higher fee income.
RBI has said the facility can be made available at any merchant establishment designated by a bank after due diligence.
RBI Policy Review
Announcing the first quarter policy review for Financial Year 2009-10, RBI Governor D. Subbarao said the apex bank’s status quo on policy rates would anchor interest rate expectations that could spur investment demand. With concerns over rising inflation, the RBI has decided to leave Cash Reserve Ratio at 5 per cent and the repo and reverse repo rates at 4.75 per cent and 3.25 per cent, respectively.
The RBI has projected inflation at 5 per cent from the 4 per cent forecast earlier. India’s GDP is projected to grow to 6 per cent in March 2010 “with an upward bias”. Export demand remains weak. The services sector is sluggish on lagged impact of weak industry growth, but the business outlook has turned positive.
According to the RBI, its policy initiatives since mid-September 2008 aimed at providing ample rupee liquidity and ensuring continued flow of credit to all productive sectors has shown results. These actions have resulted in augmentation of actual/potential liquidity of over Rs 5,61,700 crore. The liquidity situation has remained comfortable since mid-November 2008 as evidenced by the LAF window where the Reserve Bank has been absorbing nearly Rs 1,20,000 crore on a daily average basis during 2009-10.
Liberhan Commission on Babri Masjid demolition
It was on December 16, 1992 that M.S. Liberhan, then a judge of Punjab and Haryana High Court, was asked to probe the conspiracy leading to the demolition of Babri Masjid—an event that took communal polarisation to a new scale, and shaped the politics of the turbulent 1990s.
Seventeen years, 399 sittings, 100 witnesses, 48 extensions and Rs 9 crore later, Justice Liberhan submitted his report to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, indicting the BJP and its leaders, including L.K. Advani and the Sangh Parivar for conspiring to demolish the Mughal-era mosque at Ayodhya on December 6, 1992.
The indictment of other front-ranking Hindutva leaders is sharper, with former UP Chief Minister Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharti, Murli Manohar Joshi, Ashok Singhal, Vinay Katiyar and others all coming in for severe criticism for their individual culpability. As for Congress, the criticism is limited to the “inaction” of former PM P V Narasimha Rao.
‘One rank, one pension’ for officers, too
Defence Minister A.K. Antony clarified in the Lok Sabha on July 12, 2009, that "one rank, one pension" recommendation of the Cabinet Secretary-led panel had been accepted by the government for jawans as well as officers.
The decision is now nearer to the goal of “one rank, one pension” demand of nearly 1.5 million personnel, Mr Antony said during question hour. The total financial implications on account of benefits to the personnel would be Rs 2,144 crore.
The committee has recommended inclusion of Classification Allowance for the Personnel Below Officer Rank (PBOR) from January 1, 2006, and removal of linkage of full pensions with 33 years from the same date. The committee also recommended revision of pension of Lt Generals after carrying out a separate pay scale for them, bringing parity between pension pre- and post-October 10, 1997, for PBOR pensioners and further improving PBOR pensions based on award of Group of Ministers in 2006.
With regard to the separate pay commission, the Minister said it had been agreed, and as and when necessary it would be set up in the future. The government has also accepted the committee's recommendations regarding raising the pension amount for those disabled or injured in war.
PLANNING & ECONOMY
Union Budget, 2009
“Aam Aadmi is now the focus of all our programmes and schemes”, declared Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee while presenting the Union Budget for 2009-10 in Parliament on June 6, 2009. He further added that the UPA government has gone for a paradigm shift for making the development process more inclusive, which involves creating entitlements backed by legal guarantee to provide basic amenities and opportunities for livelihood to vulnerable sections.
For industry as a whole the Budget turned out to be a mixed bag. While there is cause for celebration that the Fringe Benefit Tax has been abolished, there is unhappiness over the Minimum Alternate Tax (MAT) on booked profits being raised from 10 per cent to 15 per cent. As a first reaction to the disappointment of investors in general, the stock market tanked, with the BSE benchmark suffering the biggest fall on any Budget day, and in the year too, by plunging over 869 points.
Mamata Banerjee spent the first couple of minutes of her first Budget speech vehemently arguing that railway projects should be judged on social rather than economic viability. For the next hour and a bit she showed that she values political viability more than either. Railway ministers have traditionally lost no opportunity to do their constituencies and home States a favour. But Mamata’s third rail budget—she presented two in the NDA’s tenure in 2000 and 2001—comfortably surpassed all previous efforts at regional partisanship.
It’s not as if her budget was harsh on other—neither passenger fares nor freight rates have been touched. Not only does her home State, West Bengal, have 181 of the 309 stations identified for conversion into “Adarsh stations”, there were oodles of other goodies like a rail coach factory, a huge chunk of new trains and proposed new lines, nursing and medical colleges, and a de-congestion plan for the Kolkata metro.
Despite some brave talk from Mamata on how well the Railways were bearing up under the strain imposed by the pay commission and the economic slowdown, the numbers reveal the financial stress. The operating ratio—which tells you what proportion of traffic receipts get used up in just keeping the railways running—is up to 92.5% from 75.9% just two years ago, a clear sign that less and less is available for investing in future assets.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that Mamata asked for and got Rs 15,000 crore as support from the government’s coffers against the Rs 10,000 crore her predecessor Lalu Prasad had estimated in the interim budget.
Beyond West Bengal, the budget proposed a revamp of the Tatkal scheme, cutting the advance period to two days from five, while also reducing the minimum mark-up to Rs 100 from Rs 150 and making it a percentage of the base fare rather than a flat premium.
However, the corporation decided to increase the dividend to the central government by Rs 768 crore to Rs 5,479 crore, despite a dip of over Rs 3,000 crore in cash surplus on account of a higher wage bill following implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission award.
The cash surplus of the Railways during the current fiscal is estimated to dip to Rs 14,201 crore, from Rs 17,400 crore in 2008-09. The investible surplus of the corporation is down by 36% to Rs 8,631 crore in 2009-10, from Rs 13,532 crore in the previous year.
Travel with ‘Izzat’: The scheme aims to provide an opportunity to the poorest of the poor to travel with dignity. Under the scheme, a uniformly priced monthly season ticket of Rs 25 would be available free of all surcharges for travel up to 100 km for members of the un-organised sector with monthly income not exceeding Rs 1500.
‘Duronto’ to beat Rajdhani: For the first time in the history, non-stop train service is being introduced in India. The non-stop train service 'Duronto' will have AC and non-AC sleepers and will run between select cities throughout the country. The 12 new non-stop fast trains announced by Mamata will take less time than even Rajdhani Express to complete their journey.
Ladies special: Mamata proposed to run 'Only Ladies' EMU trains in Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata on the lines of those in Mumbai during office hours in suburban services. Women RPF personnel would be deployed for security of women passengers in trains.
List of new trains
1. Vishakhapatnam-Secunderabad-Mumbai Superfast (bi-weekly).
2. Sriganga Nagar-Delhi-Nanded Superfast (weekly)
3. New Jalpaiguri-Sealdah Superfast (tri-weekly)
4. Bangalore-Hubli-Solapur Superfast (tri-weekly)
5. Howrah-Bangalore Superfast (weekly)
6. Pune-Daund-Solapur Superfast (daily)
7. Ranchi-Howrah (3 days via Ghatshila-Kharagpur and 3 days via Asansol); intercity (6 days a week)
8. Kamakhya-Puri Express (weekly)
9. Jabalpur-Ambikapur Express (tri-weekly)
10. Gandhidham-Howrah Superfast (weekly)
11. Delhi-Sadulpur Express (tri-weekly)
12. Ajmer-Bhopal Express (by integration of 9655/56 Ajmer-Ratlam and 9303/04 Ratlam- Bhopal express trains) (daily)
13. Bilaspur-Tirunelveli Jn. (Thiruvananthapuram) Superfast (weekly)
14. Mumbai-Karwar Superfast (tri-weekly)
15. Durg-Jaipur Express (weekly)
16. Dibrugarh Town-Chandigarh Express (weekly)
17. Delhi-Farakka Express (bi-weekly)
18. Hazrat Nizmmudin-Bangalore Rajdhani Express (tri-weekly), via Kacheguda
19. New Jalpaiguri-Delhi Express (bi-weekly), via Barauni
20. Mumbai-Varanasi Superfast (daily)
21. Mysore-Yesvantpur Express (daily)
22. Koraput-Rourkela Express (daily) via Rayagada
23. Agra-Ajmer Intercity Superfast (daily)
24. Mumbai-Jodhpur-Bikaner Superfast (bi-weekly)
25. Agra-Lucknow Junction Intercity (daily)
26. Hapa-Tirunelveli Jn Superfast (bi-weekly), via Thiruvananthapuram
27. Gwalior-Bhopal Intercity Express (5 days a week), via Guna
28. Kanyakumari-Rameshwaram Express (tri-weekly), via Madurai
29. Howrah-Haridwar Superfast (5 days a week)
30. Varanasi-Jammu Tawi Superfast (daily)
31. Gorakhpur-Mumbai Superfast (daily)
32. New Delh-Guwahati Rajdhani Express (weekly), via Muzaffarpur
33. Veraval-Mumbai-link service
34. Ranchi-Patna Jan Shatabdi Express (daily)
35. Jhansi-Chhindwara Express (bi-weekly) via Bina-Bhopal
36. Mumbai-Jodhpur Express (weekly)
37. Jamalpur-Gaya Passenger (daily)
38. Jhajha-Patna MEMU (daily)
39. Kanpur-New Delhi Shatabdi Express (6 days a week)
40. Bhopal-Lucknow-Pratapgarh Superfast (weekly)
41. Lucknow-Rae Bareli-Bangalore Superfast (weekly)
42. Shimoga-Bangalore Intercity Express (daily)
43. Madurai-Chennai Express (bi-weekly)
44. Guwahati-New Cooch Behar Express Intercity (daily)
45. Balurghat-New Jalpaiguri Express (daily), via Kishanganj
46. Alipurduar-New Delhi Jalpaiguri Express Intercity (daily), via Siliguri
47. Dharmanagar-Agartala Fast Passenger (daily)
48. Rewari-Phulera Passenger (daily), via Ringus
49. Shoranur-Nilambur Road Passenger (daily)
50. Coimbator-Shoranur Passenger (daily)
51. Mathura-Kasganj Passenger (daily)
52. Farakka-Katwa-Azimganj-Nawadwip Dham Express (daily)
53. Bangalore-Kochuveli Superfast (weekly)
54. Kolkata-Rampurhat Express (daily)
55. New Jalpaiguri-Digha Express (weekly)
56. Purulia-Howrah Express (bi-weekly)
57. Kolkata-Bikaner Express (weekly), via Nagore
India’s population may touch 2 billion by 2101
India’s future population could be much more than what is currently estimated. The latest demographic projections by the Population Foundation of India (PFI) and the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), USA, predict that India may have a population of two billion by 2101, posing huge challenges in terms of distress migration, pressures of the numbers on land, employment and environment, prolonged poverty and changes in the demographic balance.
The study makes two more alarming conclusions: the population of 60 plus would exceed that of those aged between 0 and 14 years, leading to substantial future ageing in India by 2051. Further, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan would account for almost half of the country’s population by 2101. These four States, with their high fertility rate, currently account for 40 per cent of the country’s numbers, and are characterised by low literacy levels and low health indicators such as high infant and maternal mortality.
There is, however, a difference between population projections of India by the Registrar General of India (RGI) and those by the PFI/PRB. Contrary to the RGI’s projection of 1,399 million population of India by 2026, the PFI/PRB projections indicate 1,464 million by the said year. The new demographic study puts the country’s population at 1825 million in 2051, reaching up to 2181 (crossing the two billion mark) by 2101.
These differences stem mainly from the assumed total fertility rates (TFRs) in the country’s four most populous States—UP, Bihar, MP and Rajasthan. Whereas the PFI study concludes that TFR of 2.1 will be achieved in UP between 2051-56; Bihar (2061-66); MP (2041-46) and in Rajasthan between 2051-56, the RGI assumes these States would achieve the TFR targets much earlier.
As per the PFI, India, with the final TFR of 1.85, will achieve two billion population by 2101; growth will peak in 2081-2086, after which the population decline will start. The population of Kerala and Tamil Nadu would start declining in 2041-2051; that of Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal would do so around 2061.
The study adds: “The priority for India should be to contain the unacceptably high numbers of maternal and infant deaths, improve quality health services for institutional deliveries; meet the unmet needs of family planning services and focus on adolescents and youth (10 to 34 years) to make them productive through gender-sensitive education.”
Current account swings to a surplus in March
India’s current account may have swelled to a surplus in the March quarter, but that couldn’t dam a wider deficit for the 2008-09 fiscal as imports rose and exports fell sharply due to the global slump.
Latest RBI data shows India’s current account, which captures trade flows, boasting of a surplus of $4.75 billion during the quarter Jan-March 2009, as against a deficit of $1.5 billion in the year-ago period, meaning the country has received more dollars from selling goods and services to foreign countries than it paid to buy them in this period. But the current account deficit for 2008-09 widened to $29.82 billion, or 2.6% of the gross domestic product (GDP), against the previous year’s $17.03 billion, or 1.5% of GDP.
The capital account, meanwhile, ended in a modest surplus of $9 billion compared to $108 billion in the previous year. Remittances also grew, but not at the same pace as in the previous year. India’s balance of payment surplus—the sum of current and capital accounts—saw a sharp drop to $300 million against $24.99 billion in the previous year driven by dollar outflows due to FII selling in the stock market and repayment of short-term foreign currency loans by domestic corporates.
Three-tier educational tribunal in the offing
The long awaited Educational Tribunal Bill, recommended by the Supreme Court in the TMA Pai judgement and even by the Law Commission, envisages a three-tier structure to deal with disputes between students and institutions, teachers and institutions as well as disputes related to affiliation, unfair means adopted by students in examination and by institutions.
The Bill proposes a National Educational Tribunal (NET) at the top. It will have the power to settle any dispute between a higher educational institution and any regulatory body except in matters of recognition. It will also adjudicate any dispute between any two or more statutory regulatory bodies. NET will also adjudicate any dispute related to matters of affiliation between a higher educational institution and the affiliating university, where such a university is a Central Educational Institution.
At the state level will be the State Educational Tribunal (SET). It will have original jurisdiction to settle any dispute related to matters of affiliation between a higher educational institution and the affiliating university. SET will also exercise original jurisdiction to adjudicate a dispute related to any Central Educational Institution in the state. It can call for records and pass orders in any matter either pending or already decided by any District Educational Tribunal if it feels DET has overstepped its jurisdiction.
SET will also adjudicate any matter referred it by DET where there is a difference of opinion between the chairperson and member of DET. Either on a complaint or suo motu, SET at any stage can transfer any case pending before DET to another DET within the State. SET will exercise appellate jurisdiction over any matter decided by any DET in the State.
At the lowest level will be DET. It will have the power to deal with grievances expressed by a teacher or any other employee of a higher educational institution against the management or governing body, provided the teacher or employee has availed of all remedies available in the service rules.
Civil courts and High Courts will not entertain matters that concern the educational tribunals. Chairperson of all tribunals would be judicial officers: a district judge for DET, High Court judge for SET and Supreme Court judge for NET. Judges at all levels can be either retired or serving.
India, Japan to work together on climate change
Cementing their strategic ties, India and Japan, on July 2, 2009, agreed to cooperate on pressing global issues of climate change, disarmament and non-proliferation while moving ahead in negotiations to stitch a comprehensive economic partnership pact.
External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, during his visit to Japan, held wide-ranging discussions with the Japanese side on a gamut of bilateral relations during the third strategic dialogue he co-chaired with his counterpart Hirofumi Nakasone.
On the issue of climate change, which they identified as an "important global challenge," India and Japan hoped that all countries would participate constructively and work towards an "ambitious" outcome at a crucial meeting on a pact to replace the Kyoto protocol in Copenhagen later this year. During his talks with Krishna, Nakasone asked India to play a leadership role "even more positively and in a broader perspective" at the UN-sponsored 'COP 15' meeting on climate change in December to discuss a new agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol.
Japan is keen to get India's cooperation on persuading industrialised and emerging countries to iron out differences over how to fight global warming ahead of the Copenhagen talks. The new pact, a successor to the 1997 Kyoto protocol, is controversial because key polluters like the USA and Europe want emerging economies to also help cut global gas emissions.
Prime Minister’s visit to France
The progress on the nuclear front, fight against terrorism, economic ties and science and technology cooperation were high on agenda during Manmohan Singh’s visit to Paris on July 13-14, 2009. An agreement on up-gradation of 51 French-made Mirage fighters was also discussed. The IAF had inducted Mirages into its fleet in the mid-1980s and the upgrade is intended to increase its service life by another 25 years. The visit also helped in putting the nuclear agreement with France on fast track.
Prime Minister Singh was the first foreign dignitary to be the Guest of Honour at the Bastille Day parade on July 14. German President Horst Koehler and Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen also attended the parade. Several top foreign dignitaries have attended the French National Day celebrations in the past but the Indian Prime Minister was the first to be accorded the honour of being the Chief Guest.
Nearly 400 personnel from the Indian armed forces also participated in the parade in Paris alongside the men from the French Army, marking the commemoration of Indian soldiers’ participation on French side and in French territory during the two World Wars.
At the parade, the bonhomie between Mr Sarkozy and Mr Singh showed despite the contrast between their personalities: the flamboyant Sarkozy dressed in dark suit with his stunning wife, model-cum-singer-turned-first lady Carla Bruni in tow, alongside the genial and soft-spoken Singh in his trade-mark sky blue turban. The body language that the two leaders shared was an indication of the importance that they attach to the growing economic and international engagement between New Delhi and Paris that has seen their heads of governments routinely visiting each other.
France, an enthusiastic backer of India at 2008’s Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) meetings that ended its isolation from the civil nuclear mainstream, is one of the few countries besides the US and Russia with whom India has signed a nuclear cooperation agreement. Both countries continued to hold joint naval exercises even in the aftermath of the nuclear test and their level of comfort came to the fore when France was selected as the Indian Air Force’s first partner for joint fighter level exercises in 2003. Trade, cultural and people-to-people contacts are areas both sides are working on and French companies have a long presence in India.
India de-links terror from composite dialogue
After three hours of hard-nosed negotiations on July 16, 2009, India and Pakistan came out with a joint statement in which New Delhi appears to have bent somewhat on its earlier steadfast position of keeping the focus on terror. The statement, issued after the meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani, on the sidelines of the NAM Summit, recognised that terrorism was the “main threat to both countries’’ but delinked the menace from the resumption of the composite dialogue process.
In fact, India even agreed with the Pakistani formulation that it is also a victim of terror. Both reaffirmed their resolve to cooperate on this issue and share “real-time, credible and actionable information on any future terror attacks”.
On its part, Pakistan conceded some ground to the Indian negotiating team by dropping any reference to Kashmir though there was an implicit mention to this issue in the statement which said, “Prime Minister Singh said that India is ready to discuss all issues with Pakistan, including all outstanding ones.”
Later addressing a press conference, Manmohan Singh sought to downplay the reference to delinking terror from the dialogue process, saying New Delhi’s position on the issue remained unchanged. “Pakistan wants the dialogue to begin. We said it can’t commence unless action is taken against those who masterminded the Mumbai terror attack,’’ he underlined.
Asserting that the joint statement could not be termed as surrender by India, the Mr Singh said India wanted an assurance that acts like Mumbai would not recur. He emphasised that the India-Pakistan normalisation process would fail to move ahead if no action was taken by Pakistan to check terrorism emanating from its soil
However, he reiterated that India could choose its friends but not neighbours. “Dialogue is the only way forward but the composite dialogue has its history…we need to think over it.’’ There was no decision on the nature of dialogue and the issue would be sorted out by the foreign secretaries.
Pakistan scored over India by muscling in a mention to the troubled Balochistan in the statement. “Prime Minister Gilani mentioned that Pakistan has some information on threats in Balochistan and other areas,” the statement said. Islamabad has persistently accused India of fomenting trouble in its largest province in response to New Delhi’s charge that the Pakistani territory was being used for launching terror attacks against India.
Many in the Indian diplomatic establishment were sceptical about the language of the joint statement, which clearly gave an impression that India had diluted its tough stand on the issue of terrorism, but Mr Singh pushed through his agenda in keeping with his stand that good neighbourly relation between India and Pakistan presented a win-win situation for both of them.
Amid Pakistan’s attempt to cash in on the reference to Balochistan in the India-Pakistan joint statement, Afghanistan dismissed Islamabad’s charge that India was backing insurgency in Pakistan’s restive province. Visiting Afghanistan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta pointed out that this was not a new claim by Pakistan. India had never used the Afghanistan territory against Pakistan. Islamabad’s claim of India’s involvement in Balochistan was absolutely false, he said.
Pak dossier owns up to two more 26/11 attackers
Islamabad has acknowledged that besides Ajmal Kasab, two more of the 10 terrorists who attacked Mumbai on 26/11—Imran Babar and Abdur Rahman Chota—were Pakistani nationals.
The acknowledgment is part of the 26/11 dossier Pakistan handed over to India in July 2009, which says that the nationality of Babar and Abdur Rahman were determined on the basis of DNA samples.
This marked the first time Pakistan accepted that the attackers of Mumbai, Kasab included, were its citizens.
Initially, Pakistan had contested Kasab’s disclosure about his being a citizen of village Faridkot in Okara district. Though investigation by a television channel and, later, statements of Kasab’s kin forced them to accept the fact, it is the first time the acknowledgement has been made in a document handed over to India.
Pak dossier names 10 LeT foot soldiers, including Amjid Khan and Muhammad Usman, whose involvement in the 26/11 attacks is ‘established beyond reasonable doubt’. It says evidence ‘connects’ Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, al-Qama and Zarar Shah with the attack. India sees the three as the men who planned the terror strike.
Imran Babar, one of the two terrorists that Islamabad acknowledged as a Pakistani citizen, called up a TV channel after landing in Mumbai, posing as a member of Deccan Mujahideen—a concoction meant to mask the involvement of Pakistani terrorists belonging to Lashkare-Taiba. Babar had grabbed the mobile phone of Holtzberg Gavriel, a resident of Nariman House. Gavriel was among those who were killed by Babar and his accomplice at Nariman House.
Abdur Rahman Chota had headed for Oberoi Trident Hotel where he snatched the phone of Rita Sanjay Agarwal of Malabar Hill, Mumbai. Rita was later killed by the terrorists. Besides matching the DNA samples, the identities of Kasab, Babar and Abdur Rahman was established also with the help of records of families and schools, statements of family members and voter list. The finding about the nationalities of the three terrorists also validates the statement given by Kasab, the sole attacker to have been nabbed by Mumbai police on the fateful night.
Visit of Secretary of US State Hillary
On her two-day visit to New Delhi, in July 20, 2009, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton drove straight from the airport to ITC Green, an energy-efficient building in Gurgaon, to make a case that India could grow without hurting the environment. Besides environment issues she discussed defence sales, civil nuclear issues and NPT during her various meetings with the Indian establishment. But, she made climate change her top priority.
On climate change, India firmly reiterated its position that it was not in a position to take on legally binding targets on reducing emissions. This statement came even as US secretary of state Hillary Clinton accepted that developed countries had made “mistakes”, but that all countries need to take steps to reduce emissions. Ms Clinton was speaking at the ITC Green Building in Gurgaon on the first day of the Delhi leg of her India visit.
India stressed that its position on the on-going climate change agreement negotiations is “clear, credible and consistent”. “We are fully alive to our global responsibilities as well. We have done detailed modelling, the results of which are being released very soon. The results are unambiguous. Even with 8-9% GDP growth every year for the next decade or two, our per capita emissions will be well below that of developed country averages. There is simply no case for the pressure that we, who have among the lowest emissions per capita, face to actually reduce emissions. As if this pressure was not enough, we also face the threat of carbon tariffs on our exports to countries such as yours,” said Jairam Ramesh, Union Minister for Environment.
Reaching out, Ms Clinton reassured that “the US does not and will not do anything that will limit India’s economic progress. The challenge is to create a global framework that recognises the different needs and responsibilities of developed and developing countries alike.” Mr Ramesh reiterated that “India’s position is that we are simply not in a position to take on legally binding emissions reductions targets”.
India and the US have agreed on “concrete partnerships” in the area of energy efficiency. “I want to say that both sides have agreed on the need of partnerships, concrete partnerships, on projects in various fields like energy efficiency, solar energy, biomass, energy-efficient buildings of the type that you are seeing here today. We have made a good beginning. We have taken a small step today. We will continue our engagements in multilateral forums. But we will also have bilateral engagements,” Mr Ramesh said.
Ahead of the Copenhagen conference later in 2009, India and the US agreed upon the need for a "fair" agreement on climate change and discussed ways of collaborating in the fields of environmental planning, regulation, management and forestry.
Ms Hillary assured that the US would not do anything to limit India's economic growth and was aware of the concerns of the developing countries that needed to eradicate poverty. She, however, said poverty eradication was possible with sustainable development.
India listed three areas of cooperation with the US in the area of climate change—research through an Indo-US Foundation for Climate Change; collaboration in environment planning, regulation and management, and building institutional capacity for continuing research on the subject.
During her visit to Mumbai, Hillary Clinton paid homage to the victims who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks. In a symbolic gesture she stayed at Taj Hotel Mumbai. Among those who met Clinton included 13 staff members of the Taj and Oberoi hotels who were injured in the attack, including Taj General Manager Karambir Kang who lost his wife and children in the terror strike.
She sought action against the ‘syndicate of terrorism’ in Pakistan and the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks, but defended Islamabad’s commitment to countering terror. Ms Clinton expressed faith in the Pakistani establishment saying that there has been an ‘evolving commitment’ on Islamabad’s part to take action against terrorism and recognition within the country that terrorists are an internal threat.
“Over the last six months, in the course of working with the government of Pakistan, we believe there is a commitment to fighting terrorism that permeates the entire government. We are watching it and hope they will make progress against the syndicate of terrorism, including the Al Qaeda, Taliban and the other groups,” she said.
In Delhi, Ms Clinton, apart from calling on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, met UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Leader of the Opposition L.K. Advani. She held bilateral talks with External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna.
During her visit the two countries signed several major accords, including an end-use monitoring agreement to bolster high-end arms sales and another on space launches.
She assured India that the Obama administration will honour the Indo-US nuclear deal, in letter and spirit. Dispelling all misgivings, she promised not to block transfer of nuclear technology to India, nor deny enrichment and reprocessing technology (ENR) to India. She also announced that Mr Manmohan Singh would be the first State guest at the Obama White House on November 24, 2009.
India and USA identified two nuclear sites which will kick off US nuclear business in India, but due to the fact that the Indian government would have to announce it in Parliament first, Krishna could not take credit for the announcement. The sites are in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. But for those sites to draw in US businesses — GE-Hitachi and Toshiba-Westinghouse are looking at jobs, investment, big business — India will first have to sign the IAEA’s liability convention that will enable US companies to do nuclear business here. Clinton gently nudged the Indian government on this saying the next step would be for India to sign the liability act on nuclear damage.
India makes fresh bid for UNSC seat
India launched a renewed campaign for a seat in the UN Security Council using the forum of the G-8 Summit. In an unusually feisty article written for the compendium of the G-8, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, “The Security Council has not changed at all and its present structure poses serious problems of legitimacy. The system of two-tiered membership, which gives a veto to the five permanent members—the nations that emerged victorious after the Second World War—is clearly anachronistic.”
In his article, Mr Manmohan Singh made a strong case for reforming all international institutions, from the Security Council to institutions of global and financial governance. “The problems faced by the institutions of governance charged with handling the financial system are also relevant for other international institutions dealing with political and security issues, trade, climate change, etc. They need to update structures and upgrade work methods; reform decision-making and ensure effective delivery,” he said.
JAMMU & KASHMIR
Governor gives clean chit to Omar, tells him to continue
J&K Governor N.N. Vohra has conveyed to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah that, based on the information supplied to him by the Union Home Ministry, there was no basis for him to resign. Omar had, on July 28, 2009, submitted his resignation to the Governor following the PDP allegations in the Assembly of his involvement in the infamous sex scandal of 2006.
The Chief Minister in his meeting with the Governor had requested the Governor to inquire, on a time-bound basis, into the allegations made against his moral character. Omar had requested him to accept his resignation immediately in case the Governor was satisfied that there was any basis therein.
The rejection of the Chief Minister’s resignation set at rest speculations and uncertainty that had prevailed in the political circles. Omar had himself made it clear that unless any final decision was taken there was no lowering of guard on the functioning of the government.
Srinagar sex scandal had made headlines in 2006. CBI filed charge sheet against 36 people in the case, but the investigations threw up a huge list of people who needed to be questioned. The case, being heard by a division bench, passed its verdict in October 2007 after CBI “concluded” investigations and submitted its 4,000-page findings. The two judges—Justices B A Kirmani and Hakeem Imtiaz Hussain—were unanimous in terming investigation lax and deficient and asked CBI why certain influential persons, who had been named and identified by witnesses, were left out.
Delhi HC says homosexuality not a crime
On July 2, 2009, India took a giant, albeit belated, step towards globalization when the Delhi High Court delivered a historic judgement to amend a 149-year-old colonial-era law—Section 377 of the IPC—and decriminalize private consensual sex between adults of the same sex. It is the biggest victory yet for gay rights and a major milestone in the country’s social evolution. India has become the 127th country to take the guilt out of homosexuality.
In a judgement that has aroused strong reactions from religious and political groups, the court declared that Section 377 IPC—where it ‘‘criminalized consensual sexual acts of adults in private’’—violated fundamental rights to personal liberty (Article 21 of the Constitution), equality (Article 14) and prohibition of discrimination (Article 15).
A bench comprising Chief Justice A.P. Shah and Justice S. Muralidhar clarified that the provisions of Section 377, enacted in 1860 to deal with an unspecified range of ‘‘unnatural offences’’, would hereafter be restricted to non-consensual penile ‘‘non-vaginal sex’’ (rape by a homosexual) and ‘‘penile non-vaginal sex involving minors’’ (paedophilia).
Upholding the petition filed by Naz Foundation, the court ruled: ‘‘Indian constitutional law does not permit the statutory criminal law to be held captive by the popular misconceptions of who the LGBTs (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans-genders) are. It cannot be forgotten that discrimination is antithesis of equality and that it is the recognition of equality which will foster the dignity of every individual.’’
Seven years after Parliament approved an amendment to the Constitution making education for children between the age of six and 14 a fundamental right, the apex legislative body has passed the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill, 2009.
Though an initial draft of the legislation had been prepared by the NDA government, progress was slow with early elections. With the BJP-led alliance voted out, the task of honouring the commitment was left to the UPA government. A draft law was prepared by a committee headed by the current Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal.
Once the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill becomes an Act, the 86th Amendment to the Constitution will be notified. As of now, free and compulsory education is part of the Directive Principles of State Policy.
Both the Centre and States will be responsible for the finances. The Centre will prepare the capital and recurring expenditure and provide it as grants-in-aid to each State from time to time. The share between the Centre and States will be decided later.
The cost to the exchequer will be nearly Rs 12,000 crore every year. Even private, unaided schools will get assistance, as 25% of their seats will have to be reserved for poor children in the neighbourhood. However, the Bill is clear that schools which got land at a concessional rate and were anyway obliged to give reservation to 25% poor children in the neighbourhood will not be compensated. Compensation will be based on per-child expenditure by government on education. Currently, per-child cost borne by government is about Rs 3,000 per annum.
The legislation has a host of features that stress not only on reaching out to every child in the 6-14 age group, but also on quality and accountability of the State and education system. To ensure that the law gets effectively implemented, the Bill has provisions that prohibits teachers from undertaking private tuition and not letting them being used for non-educational purposes. To ensure that parents have equal stake in the system, the Bill provides for school management committees in all government and aided schools. Women have been given 50% reservation in the school committees. Each committee will monitor and oversee the working of the school, manage its assets and ensure quality.
Every State government would have to compulsorily define and set up neighbourhood schools to educate every child aged six to 14 years. For this, the States will receive financial assistance from the Centre. The Centre has left it to States to define “disadvantaged groups”, mandating the inclusion of disabled children in this category.
The law puts the onus on States to notify its historic requirements—no child can be expelled from school or be put through any exam, not even class V and VIII boards; no child can be denied admission to any school for lack of birth or transfer certificate; no capitation fee can be charged. Also, the States will have to ensure no non-teaching work is given to teachers and quality teachers are recruited; untrained teachers would have to upgrade themselves in five years.
For the first time, quality of schools has been mandated under law, with the government listing minimum infrastructure requirements on the part of schools. It has asked the States to identify schools that don’t conform, asking them to do so in three years or face de-recognition.
There is also a provision that teacher vacancy should never exceed more than 10% of the total strength. To monitor implementation of the law, the Bill proposes a National Advisory Council at the Centre and State advisory council in each State capital. In case of complaints of non-compliance, the initial complaint would go to local authority and should be resolved within 90 days.
Nuclear Bill on civil liability
The proposed bill on nuclear civil liability—very high on the US priority list with India—to cover accidents in nuclear installations will limit monetary accountability of the operator to Rs 300 crore, while damages in excess will be borne by the Indian government.
The limited liability clause could bring cheer to multinationals who are looking at billions of dollars worth of business in India. Fixing the liability on operators is important to US firms who are looking to supply nuclear reactors at Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat as otherwise they cannot avail of insurance. With operators, not suppliers, responsible for liability commitments, US firms can go ahead with their business contracts.
The proposed Bill, besides limiting the liability of the operator, gives flexibility to central government to decrease compensation amount on the operator. But in what could be of significance, the Bill states that in each case where the government decides to decrease the liability, it “shall not be less than Rs 100 crore”. The amount of liability shall not include any interest or cost of proceedings.
The bill debars civil courts from entertaining any suit or proceedings in respect of any matter which the claims commissioner is empowered to adjudicate.
The setting up of a six-member nuclear damage commission has been proposed to look into the claims. The chairperson and members of the commission shall be appointed by the central government on the recommendation of a three-member committee headed by the cabinet secretary and having secretaries from the department of atomic energy and the ministry of law as the other two members.
The chairperson of the commission will be a person who will be qualified to be a judge of a High Court.
No dilution in foreign policy, says Manmohan
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, July 17, 2009, had difficulties in selling the idea of an engagement with Pakistan where the action on terror was delinked from the composite dialogue process. He claimed that there was no dilution on India’s stand on cross border terrorism and that ‘meaningful dialogue’ with Pakistan would depend on steps taken by Islamabad to end cross border terrorism.
BJP leader Arun Jaitley, during his clarification, had pointed out that India’s consistent position on cross-border terrorism and use of terms like State-sponsored terrorism were at variance with what is stated in the joint statement on delinking terror issues from the composite dialogue process. He further pointed out that India’s national commitment is going to be the joint statement and not other statements.
The Indo-Pak joint statement said that “action on terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process and these should not be bracketed.”’ This is followed by a line that says India is “ready to discuss all issues with Pakistan, including all outstanding issues.”
The reference to Baluchistan in the joint statement also invited criticism as Pakistan for long has accused India of fomenting trouble. There is acknowledgment that New Delhi’s concession to Pakistan will enable it to claim parity with India as a terror victim.
Mr Singh in a statement in both Houses of Parliament maintained that a “meaningful dialogue” would depend on Islamabad fulfilling its pledge on terrorism “in letter and spirit”. “It has been and remains our consistent position that the starting point of any meaningful dialogue with Pakistan is a fulfillment of their commitment, in letter and spirit, not to allow their territory to be used in any manner for terrorist activities against India,’’ he said.
The Prime Minister further said that India would take the call on broadening the dialogue with Pakistan. “Whether, when and in what form we broaden the dialogue with Pakistan will depend on future developments,’’ he said, and added that the foreign secretaries would meet often and report to the Foreign Ministers who will meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
Mr Singh further maintained that he got an assurance from Mr Gilani on bringing the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attack to justice and that he had been told that there is growing consensus within Pakistan against the terror infrastructure.
Invoking his predecessor Atal Behari Vajpayee, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on July 29, 2009, silenced the critics of his recent foreign policy initiatives in the Opposition, asserting that there was no dilution in India’s stand on terror while strongly pitching for remaining engaged with Pakistan in the larger interest of peace in South Asia.
Setting at rest fears that India had capitulated to Pakistan by agreeing to delink terror from the composite dialogue process, the Mr Singh explained ‘’this is not correct. The joint statement emphasised that action on terrorism cannot be linked to dialogue. Pakistan knows very well that action on terror is an absolute and compelling imperative that does not depend on the resumption of dialogue.’’
On the controversial reference to Balochistan in the joint statement, he said his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani raised the issue during their Sharm-el Sheikh meeting. “I told him we are willing to discuss all these issue because we know we are doing nothing wrong. I told PM Gilani that our conduct is an open book.”
Underlining that dialogue was the best way to move forward, he asserted that India was not diluting its resolve to defeat terrorism by talking to any country. “Unless we talk directly talk to Pakistan, we will have to rely on third parties to do so,” a route which has its own limitations.
In this context, he cited the example of Vajpayee, recalling how his predecessor demonstrated political courage of visiting Lahore in 1999, which was followed by the Kargil conflict, and the hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane to Kandahar. Still Vajpayee invited then Pakistan Pervez Musharraf to Pakistan in July 2001 and tried to make peace.
Noting that the global scenario was changing fast, he narrated how the US and Iran had also come to the negotiating table after 30 years of hostilities. “Unless we want to go to war with Pakistan, dialogue is the only way out,” he added.
R.K. Anand is guilty: SC
Talking tough on the deteriorating professional standards among lawyers, the Supreme Court upheld the punishment awarded to the noted criminal lawyer R.K. Anand for influencing a key witness in the BMW hit-and-run case. The court asked the Bar Council of India and the Bar Councils of the States to take remedial measures for restoration of the professional standards among lawyers for proper dispensation of criminal justice system in the country.
Dismissing the appeal of Anand, a bench comprising Justice B.N. Agrawal, Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice Aftab Alam said, “the sting recordings were rightly made the basis of conviction and the irresistible conclusion is that the conviction of R.K. Anand for contempt of court is proper legal and valid calling for no interference”.
The court sought within two months a reply from Anand as to why his punishment should not be enhanced which may include a jail term and extending of his period of prohibition from appearance in the Delhi High Court and its sub-ordinate courts. “He does not show any remorse for his gross misdemeanour and instead tries to take on the High Court by defying its authority,” the bench said entertaining the plea of enhancement of Anand’s punishment in the case.
The bench, however, allowed the appeal of special public prosecutor I.U. Khan who was convicted for criminal contempt for colluding with the defence in the case. The court also set aside the fine slapped on Khan and asked the full court of the Delhi High Court to consider the issue of stripping of Khan’s status of a senior advocate.
The Delhi High Court, on August 21, 2008, had prohibited both Anand and Khan by way of punishment, from appearing before it and its sub-ordinate courts for a period of four months. It, however, left them free to carry on their other professional work, such as consultations, advises, conferences, opinion etc. It had also said the both Anand and Khan had forfeited their right to be designated as senior advocates and recommended to the full court to divest them of the honour.
TERRORISM; LAW & ORDER
ISI spreading terrorism in India, says US
A top US military strategist has affirmed that Pakistan has been fomenting terrorism in India and Afghanistan, endorsing New Delhi’s and the Indian Army’s long-held view at a time when the two neighbours are sparring over the issue. The damning public US indictment of Pakistan’s use of terrorism came from US Admiral Mike Mullen, who told the Arabic television network Al Jazeera, ahead of his meeting with General Deepak Kapoor, that in the long run the ISI has to change its strategic thrust, which has been to foment chaotic activity in its border countries.
When the surprised anchor asked, ‘‘What do you mean when you say the ISI has had a strategic thrust to foment chaos in bordering countries?’’ Mullen did not mince words. ‘‘What I mean is that they have clearly focused on support of ... historically, of militant organizations both east and west. I mean that’s been a focus of theirs in Kashmir, historically, as well as in FATA. And I think ... that fundamentally has to change.’’
Mullen’s observations are critical because Pakistan has lately taken to accusing India of fomenting insurgency in Balochistan and even backing the Taliban to offset its indictment in Kashmir, charges that have been scoffed at in both New Delhi and Washington. The prevailing Pakistani narrative, encouraged by some of its high officials, is that India and Afghanistan are in cahoots with Washington in destabilizing Pakistan, including the use of Pakistan’s own proxy, Taliban, against it.
Islamabad has also complained repeatedly to the US about the strong Indian influence in Afghanistan where Pakistan is now largely despised, except in Taliban strongholds. There is palpable agitation in Pakistan over closer military ties between New Delhi and Washington, even though many in India itself are still leery and distrustful about the US.
Kasab confesses, names Pak masters
Springing a surprise on the 65th day of 26/11 attack trial, lone surviving Pakistani terrorist Mohammad Ajmal Kasab pleaded guilty before a special court on the charges of executing the terror strikes in Mumbai along with his accomplices, that claimed over 180 lives. He followed up his confession with a plea for an early sentence.
22-year-old Kasab, who had earlier backed off from his police confession admitting his role in the Mumbai mayhem stating that it had been made under duress, confessed before the court mid-way through the hearing, admittedly upon discovering that Islamabad had accepted his Pakistani nationality. He confirmed to the judge that that he was not confessing under duress.
Kasab’s confession began right from his journey from Karachi on the Lashker-e-Taiba-orchestrated terror mission and narrated the entire sequence of events leading up to Mumbai carnage, including terror training of the attackers at Pakistani camps, their boarding the rogue ship Al Husseini from Pakistani waters, hijacking an Indian vessel midsea and then landing on the Mumbai coast in a boat along with nine other terrorists. Importantly, he claimed that an Indian named Abu Jindal had taught Hindi to the Mumbai attackers during their training in Pakistan.
Kasab, in his confession, described in detail how the 10-member LeT attack team split into smaller groups after landing in Mumbai, with he getting paired with terrorist Abu Ismail, and the two went on to fire indiscriminately at the CST station, before proceeding to Cama Hospital, killing ATS chief and Mumbai top cops Vijay Salaskar and Ashok Kamte, and then driving away to Girgaum Chowpatty.
Kasab’s sudden confession came as a complete surprise to the prosecution. Special public prosecutor admitted he was “surprised” at the “unexpected” confession, but added nevertheless that it had come has a big victory for the prosecution. Even Judge Tahiliyani seemed to have been taken aback by Kasab’s decision to plead guilty and called lawyers from both sides to figure out the significance of the under-trial’s statement.
Pakistan, however, questioned the “quality” of Kasab’s confessions. “They (confessions) are no evidences. These were provided by a person who is behind the bars. We cannot crackdown on people based on his statements,” Pakistan’s Defence Minister told a private TV channel. The statement has raised questions about Pakistan’s sincerity.
Maoists plan to take battle to new fields
If the Centre has its action plan ready to deal with Maoists, the Red ultras have a counter-plan in place which talks about expanding their “guerrilla war to new areas” to “disperse the enemy force (security personnel) over a sufficiently wider area”.
Taking note of what Home Ministry has planned to counter them, the politburo of CPI (Maoist)—an umbrella organisation of naxal outfits in the country—in its meeting on June 12, 2009 came out with a detailed plan, asking its armed wing, People Liberation of Guerrilla Army (PLGA), to carry out “tactical counter-offensives” keeping in mind strengths and weaknesses of government forces.
A copy of the naxals’ plan was seized by security agencies during operations in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa. It explains how the ultras are fanning out to different States to deviate police and paramilitary forces from Abhujmaad—an area comprising nearly 4,000 sq km of dense forest in Chhattisgarh, considered to be the Maoists’ safest base.
Though the politburo considered government forces to be “superior”, it noted that that it would be difficult for the Centre to send enough forces required by each state in near future as raising of central forces would take time. “Keeping this in mind, we have to further aggravate the situation and create more difficulties for the enemy (security) forces by expanding our guerrilla war to new areas, on the one hand, and intensify the mass resistance in existing areas so as to disperse the enemy forces over a sufficiently wider area,” the Maoists’ politburo said. Realising that any mistake on their part would be utilised by government forces to isolate them, the politburo has issued certain dos and don’ts for its cadre.
Mumbai blasts case
A special court set up under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) has found three persons guilty of carrying out two bomb blasts at Zaveri Bazaar and the Gateway of India in Mumbai on August 25, 2003 and has sentenced them to death.
Judge M.R. Puranik of the special court found the three—Hanif Sayyed, 46, his wife Fahmeeda, 43, and Ashrat Ansari, 32—guilty. Three other persons had been let off earlier by the court. One of the three, the daughter of the Sayyed couple who was a minor at the time of the incident, was made an approver in the case. This is said to be the first instance of a couple being found guilty under POTA. The two have another daughter who was four years old at the time of the incident.
The blasts claimed the lives of 52 persons injured 184 others. According to the prosecution, the trio was responsible for attempting to set off a series of bomb blasts across Mumbai in retaliation for the 2002 post-Godhra riots in Gujarat. They were part of an outfit called the Gujarat Revenge Force formed to carry out the attacks.
Apart from the blasts at Gateway of India and the Zaveri Bazaar, the three had allegedly planted explosives at the Santa Cruz Export Processing Zone in December 2002 and in a BEST bus some weeks before the deadly blasts. While the bomb at SEEPZ was defused, the blast in the bus claimed two lives.
Investigators probing the blasts had first picked up Ansari whose interrogation led them to the Sayyed couple and their daughter. Two others, Rizwan Ladoowala and Hassan Batterywala, who were also arrested in connection with the case, were let off following an order of the Supreme Court in 2008. According to the prosecution a third accused Nisar Ahmed, who was the brain behind the blasts, was killed in an encounter shortly after the others were arrested.
Pak admits LeT hand in Mumbai attack
Pakistan has finally admitted the complicity of Lashker e Taiba in the 26/11 terror strikes on Mumbai and has filed a charge-sheet against the plotters of the attack.
The second and supplementary charge-sheet in the 26/11 case, filed by the Pakistani investigating authorities in the Adiala court, names five LeT operatives, including operations chief Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and communications head Zarar Shah, as accused in planning and launching the Mumbai strikes. The five—Lakhvi, Shah, Abul Al Qama, Shahid Jamir Riaz and Hamad Amin Sadiq—will be tried in the anti-terror court in the garrison city of Rawalpindi. The trial will held in camera within the high-security Adiala Jail for security reasons.
The supplementary charge-sheet came close on the heels of Pakistan’s admission in a fresh 36-page dossier submitted to India, that LeT indeed was the terror outfit that had launched the daring attack on November 2008. This was after investigations by Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) confirmed the findings of the Indian probe linking LeT bosses in Pakistan to the 26/11 mayhem. While the latest charge-sheet names Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi as the main mastermind, Zarar Shah is described as the leader in charge of LeT’s communications and Ajmal Amir Kasab identified as a Pakistani national.
CURRENT INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS
US launches biggest operation against Afghan Taliban
On July 2, 2009, thousands of US marines stormed deep into Taliban territory in an Afghan river valley, launching the biggest military offensive of Barack Obama’s presidency. The marines said that Operation Khanjar, or Strike of the Sword, will be decisive and is intended to seize virtually the entire lower Helmand River valley, the heartland of the Taliban insurgency and the world’s biggest opium poppy producing region.
The Taliban has vowed to fight back. “Thousands of Taliban mujahideen are ready to fight US troops,” Mullah Hayat Khan, a senior Taliban commander, said. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s army deployed more troops to a stretch of the Afghan border to stop Taliban militants fleeing the major US offensive in Afghanistan.
China faced its worst unrest in decades in July 2009 when tensions between the dominant Han Chinese and the Turkic-speaking, Muslim Uighurs descended into violence in the regional capital of Urumqi. Nearly 200 people died in the unrest. Chinese officials said that police killed 12 people during July 5 rioting—a rare acknowledgment by the government that security forces opened fire in the worst ethnic clashes to hit the region in decades.
The chairman of the Standing Committee of the Xinjiang Regional People's Congress blamed the riots on "three forces"—extremism, separatism, and terrorism—both at home and abroad. Eligen Imibakhi, the top legislator in Xinjiang, said authorities will speed up local legislation against separatism in the western region that has a long-running independence movement by minority Uighurs. He added that the public's lack of understanding about laws is also an "urgent problem," and the government plans to distribute legal booklets in ethnic minority languages to farmers and herdsmen across the region.
The violence began when police in Urumqi intervened at a peaceful protest by Uighurs, who went on a rampage, smashing windows, burning cars and beating Han Chinese. Two days later, vigilante groups of Han took to the streets and attacked Uighurs.
Even as additional security personnel and machinery poured into Urumqi, the capital of western Xinjiang province, the Chinese foreign ministry got into action asking several countries, including Pakistan, to prove their friendship by taking a stand on the issue. Beijing wants several countries to unearth the links between their citizens and the World Uighur Congress, which Beijing claims is behind the violence in Urumqi. The government had earlier issued a white paper, which claimed that several Xinjiang terrorists were trained in training bases in Pakistan.
A worried Hu Jintao, President of China, left the G-8 summit in Italy and rushed back to Beijing as it dawned on Chinese authorities that the Urumqi violence might set off a chain reaction and eventually affect the party position.
Troops rout ‘Taliban’, kill 200
On July 30, 2009, Nigerian forces put Islamist extremists to fight in a brutal all-out assault on their northern stronghold after an uprising led to clashes that have left hundreds dead. Nigerian troops raided the Islamists headquarters in the northern city of Maiduguri, killing some 200 followers of the self-styled Taliban sect, along with its deputy leader.
Maiduguri has seen the worst of the unrest in northern Nigeria which started in nearby Bauchi State. At least 600 people have been killed in the clashes in Borno and three other northern States, according to figures from police and witnesses.
Boko Haram, also called ‘Nigerian Taliban’, is a sect led by Mohammed Yusuf, an Islamic scholar who wants sharia law across Nigeria. Based in Maiduguri, his followers include former university lecturers and students as well as illiterate, jobless youths. Mohammed Yusuf is in his mid-30s and has considerable wealth. His followers say he was educated in Iran.
Boko Haram means “western education is sinful” in Hausa language. Boko Haram followers pray in separate mosques and believe their wives should not be seen by any men other than themselves Nigeria has equal numbers of Christians and Muslims. In 2002, 215 died in rioting in Kaduna after a newspaper article suggested Prophet Mohammad would have married a beauty queen at a Miss World contest held in Abuja. A protest against Danish cartoons of the Prophet in 2006 sparked riots, killing 157.
Emergency was unconstitutional: SC
In a landmark judgement, the Pakistan Supreme Court on July 10, 2009, declared as illegal and unconstitutional the emergency imposed on November 3, 2007, by former President Gen Pervez Musharraf and all his subsequent actions, including sacking of 60 judges.
The judgement, which has far reaching legal and political implications, termed Musharraf a “usurper” whose actions were subversive of the Constitution. The imposition of provisional Constitution order (PCO), under which Musharraf purged the judiciary and packed it with pliant judges, was also declared unconstitutional.
In a significant move, the apex court allowed protection to some of Musharraf's actions, including holding of general elections, oath administered by Justice Dogar to President Asif Zardari and the ordinance creating command and control authority for security and safety of country's nuclear assets.
Prior to announcing the judgement delivered by a 14-judge bench, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry declared that the court was looking forward to a kind of verdict which should not be disruptive. “Huge unconstitutionality and illegality had taken place under Musharraf's emergency,” he observed, adding: “But we have to be very careful in order not to rock the boat and destroy the democratic system.”
The court also declared as illegal the action of the present PPP government to enhance the number of judges of the Supreme Court from 17 to 29 through the Finance Bill that contained the budgetary proposals in June 2008. The creation of Islamabad High Court was also declared unconstitutional as this step required a Constitutional amendment by Parliament and not through the amendment introduced by Musharraf as the army chief.
The judgement was widely acclaimed across the country and people raised slogans, and distributed sweets. President Asif Zardari welcomed the judgement and promised to implement it.
Hillary spells out US international agenda
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered a major foreign policy speech in Washington in July 2009, in which she pledged her commitment to "smart power" while acknowledging an international agenda that is "unforgiving."
Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, Clinton noted that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, conflict in the South West Asia, ongoing threats of violent extremism and nuclear proliferation, global recession, climate change, hunger and disease, and a widening gap between rich and poor are all challenges that affect America's security and prosperity. "And all threaten global stability and progress." she said.
In approaching these foreign policy challenges, she said, the US has to deal with the urgent, the important and the long-term all at once.
She was confident that the Obama administration had the right strategy, the right priorities and the right policies. "We have the right President. And we have the American people, diverse, committed, involved and open to the future," she said. Defending the administration's willingness to talk with perceived foes of the US, she said this was not a sign of weakness to be exploited. "We will not hesitate to defend our friends, our interests and above all our people, vigorously and when necessary with the world's strongest military," she said.
Discussing Afghanistan and Pakistan, Clinton said the US was committed to disrupting, dismantling, and ultimately defeating Al-Qaida and its extremist allies. Yet, she admitted, "Americans often ask as to why do we ask our young men and women to risk their lives in Afghanistan when Al-Qaida's leadership is in neighbouring Pakistan?" She went on to answer that question, saying, "We and our allies fight in Afghanistan because the Taliban protects Al-Qaida and depends on it for support, sometimes, coordinating activities. In other words, to eliminate Al-Qaida, we must also fight the Taliban."
Priorities of Obama administration
IMF pegs 2010 global growth at 2.5%
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has raised its 2009 growth forecast for Asia's developing economies from 4.8% to 5.5% but cautioned that a sustained rebound will depend on recovery in developed economies. It cited improved prospects for regional giants China and India. In a report, it raised its 2009 growth outlook for China by one percentage point to 7.5%, and for India by 0.9 percentage points to 5.4%.
IMF also raised its outlook for the global economy in 2010, but said recovery from the worst recession since World War II would be sluggish. The IMF boosted its 2010 global growth forecast to 2.5%, an improvement of 0.6 percentage point from its April forecast. The updated IMF forecast was marginally worse for 2009, showing a contraction of 1.4% across the global economy.
IMF to issue bonds to combat crisis
The International Monetary Fund has decided to issue bonds for the first time in its 60-year history in an effort to win contributions from emerging economies such as China, Brazil and Russia. China has already said it will invest $50 billion, while Russia and Brazil have pledged $10 billion each through the new bond offer. It would mark the first time that developing countries have made contributions to the IMF. The bonds will be issued in the IMF’s own currency, known as Special Drawing Rights, which is based on a basket of currencies made up of the dollar, euro, yen and British pound. The bonds will be issued for a maximum of five years.
Thanks to Asia, economic crisis is rolling back: UN
The current economic crisis is rolling back due to the significant progress made by countries in Asia like India and China, according to a top UN official. The financial stimulus packages and reforms announced by these countries could help in creating a more integrated and coordinated Asia and the Pacific that builds up on collective regional strengths and resources. During the course of the UN Economic and Social Council session in Geneva, UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Executive Secretary Noeleen Heyzer highlighted the need for appropriate investments in infrastructure to create economic corridors that link less developed countries to economic centres in the region, thereby increasing intra-regional trade. Heyzer added that her organization has responded to the crisis by encouraging policies that include social programmes such as health coverage, pensions, education and agricultural extension services, as well as investment in small and medium scale enterprises.
Climate talks stall as West asks India, China to cut emissions
Attempts to forge a global consensus to battle climate change suffered a serious setback as developed countries tried to wriggle out of any short-term commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and instead, demanded that developing economies such as India and China accept emission reduction targets.
At a meeting of the Major Economies Forum in Rome on July 9, 2009, the developed countries tried to renege on their commitment to use 1990 as the base year for reducing emissions. Nor would they spell out what quantum of commitments they would accept in the run-up to 2020. The developed nations insisted that India, China and other emerging economies like Brazil and South Africa agree to a long-range target for reduction of GHGs with the burden-sharing formula remaining ambiguous.
Sources termed the deliberations at the Rome meeting as “tense” with India and China having to join hands to counter pressure from the developed world led by the US. The India-China partnership had staved off a similar challenge at the Bonn climate change talks.
India blinks on emission caps
At the Major Economies Forum (MEF) meeting in Italy, India has gone back on some key principles— like a refusal to accept emission caps—that it had held to be non-negotiable till just before the G8 meet in Italy. In the course of some tough negotiations, India appears to have relented in the face of pressure from industrialized countries. Its biggest compromise at the MEF was to accept that all countries would work to reduce emissions in order to not let global temperatures rise more than 2°C above pre-industrialization levels.
When this declaration, signed by PM Manmohan Singh, is turned into targets for different countries, this may imply substantial emission reduction targets for India even if rich countries take a hefty 80% cut in their own emissions by 2050. While an 80% cut is the most ambitious target ever considered for the developed world, India and China would still be faced with large cuts.
Till date, India had insisted that the science behind the 2°C target has been questioned even by the UN climate science panel. It demanded that unless rich nations put figures on the table about what sort of reductions they were willing to accept collectively by 2020, and then again by 2050, India would not agree to any commitments for the long term which the 2-degree agreement places on them.
According to several Indian observers, the recent decision would tie India’s hands as it goes into talks at the formal UN negotiations. India for the first time has officially agreed that there is a global target and it may now, in due course, spell out what it will take to reach it. Now the global target of emission cuts instead of equity would become the over-arching argument in the negotiations.
Myanmar close to testing N-bomb
As world concerns remain focused on the clandestine nuclear programme of North Korea and Iran, reports are filtering in of Myanmar’s isolated military junta may be just a few years from testing its first atomic bomb. The key far-eastern nation is building a secret nuclear reactor and plutonium extraction facilities with North Korea’s help, Sydney Morning Herald has reported citing two key junta defectors. The Herald identified the two defectors as an officer with a Myanmar army’s secret nuclear battalion and the other a former executive and leading regime business partner, Htoo Trading, who handled nuclear contracts with Russia and North Korea.
The Myanmarese military is said to have the reactor located in mountain caves inter-linked by deep tunnels at Naung Laing in Northern part of the country, apparently to camouflage it from detection by satellites.
The secret complex, the paper said, runs parallel to a civilian reactor being built at another site by Russia, which both Moscow and Yangon authorities say will be put under international safeguards.
The revelations by the Australian Daily come as US Naval Warships recently shadowed a North Korean commercial vessel bound for Myanmar, suspecting it to be carrying contraband nuclear and missile components. However, the ship was not intercepted. China and other Asian nations had helped persuade Myanmar to turn back the North Korean freighter.
A month back Japanese police had arrested a North Korean and two of its own nationals allegedly trying to export illegally to Myanmar magnetic measuring device that could be used to develop missiles.
Washington, the report said, is increasingly concerned that Myanmar is the main nuclear proliferation threat from North Korea, after Israel destroyed in September 2007 a reactor that North Koreans were apparently building in Syria.
Medvedev threatens US over missile shield
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has warned the United States that if it did not reach agreement with Russia on plans for missile defence systems, Moscow would deploy rockets in an enclave near Poland. In sharp contrast to his positive words during President Barack Obama’s visit to Moscow in first week of July, 2009, when the two reached broad agreement on nuclear arms cuts, Medvedev used a news conference at the G8 summit to return to Russia’s earlier tough rhetoric on arms control.
Referring to an order he gave in early 2009 to prepare deployment of short-range Russian missiles in the western enclave of Kaliningrad to answer to any U.S. deployment of a missile shield in central Europe, Medvedev said: “If we don’t manage to agree on the issues, you know the consequences. What I said during my state of the nation address has not been revoked.”
In Moscow, Medvedev and Obama agreed a target for cuts in nuclear arms and a year-end deadline for a reduction deal. Obama had praised Medvedev as a “straightforward professional” leader. Before his Moscow visit, Obama had made clear, though, that he would not accept any effort by Moscow to link arms control to missile defence, and reiterated Washington’s stance that any system would be to protect against a threat from Iran, not from Russia.
Obama meets Putin
US President Barack Obama held his first meeting with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow on July 7, 2009, and hoped that talks between them would put bilateral relations “on a much stronger basis”.
Obama, on his first visit to Russia since becoming President, met Putin at the Prime Minister’s country residence, a day after inking a landmark strategic arms reduction treaty with President Dmitry Medvedev. After exchanging pleasantries, Putin told Obama that Russia is hoping for better relations with the US, following the disagreements that arose with the previous administration. Obama said the meeting provided an opportunity to “put US-Russian relations on a much stronger basis”.
Ties between the two Cold-War rivals have been marked with several strains, including over arms control, NATO expansion, and US missile defence plans for Europe. The two leaders had traded barbs ahead of the US President’s visit, with Obama terming Putin a man who has ‘one foot in the past’ and the Prime Minister responding by saying that ‘Russians do not stand with feet apart’.
On July 8, 2009, G-8 leaders held their summit meeting at L’Aquila, a mountain town in Italy. According to the summit draft, G8 leaders believe the world economy still faces “significant risks” and may need further help. The draft also reflected on failure to agree climate change goals for 2050.
Discord over environmental measures was underlined by withdrawal from the meeting of Chinese President Hu Jintao, who returned to Beijing because of unrest in north-western China in which 156 people were killed.
The Group of Eight—United States, Germany, Japan, France, Britain, Italy, Canada and Russia—kicked off with debate on the economic crisis, after what one analyst called a “reality check” in recent times on the prospects for rapid recovery. G8 leaders badly underestimated the economic problems facing them when they met in Japan in 2008 and now focused on what must be done to prevent another meltdown.
President Barack Obama and his G-8 summit partners held tense discussions about how both rich and emerging nations can live up to new clean climate goals adopted by leading industrialised nations. Confronting global warming, a trend scientists say could unleash devastating droughts, floods and disease if left unchecked, was a dominant theme again G-8.
The G8 summit wound up with a wry acknowledgement of its growing irrelevance as the world’s premier power bloc. Phoenix-like, the G14 is rising from its ashes, much more inclusive, with developed and developing countries together on an equal footing.
The intimation of G8’s impending demise came from the host of the summit, Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi. ‘‘We saw that G8 is no longer a suitable format to show a global economic way of doing. Instead, a consolidated G14 representing 80% of the world economy could create a real dialogue. We want to see if the G14 is the best solution to make debates which will bring to us unique results.’’
The deliberations of G8 and G5 saw even French president Nicolas Sarkozy making a strong case for G14 to deal with the issues of global governance after Brazil’s President Lula spoke about the idea of a new group.
After dealing with issues of climate change, trade and global economic downturn, the G8 and G5 countries turned their attention to food security, pledging to mobilise US $20 billion over three years by substantially increasing aid to agriculture for achieving food security across the nations.
The leaders also committed themselves to reducing trade distortions and refrain from raising new barriers to trade and investment and to implement WTO-consistent measures to stimulate exports. To this end, the ‘L'Aquila Joint Statement on Global Food Security and Regional Organisations’ said the nations would aim at an ambitious, comprehensive and balanced conclusion of the Doha Development Round and called for renewed and determined to bring it to a timely and successful conclusion.
Admitting the global economic crisis had serious and alarming implications for growth and poverty eradication in developing countries, the declaration said G8 and G5 countries were determined to engage responsibly with low-income countries, especially those in situations of fragility. It resolved that partner countries should continue reforming financial system regulation to prevent boom and bust cycles in economy. The declaration admitted international financial institutions needed reform to make them compatible to the reality of the new world financial order.
The G-8 nations also asked international bodies to study ways of intervening in oil markets to block speculation.
The next Summit will be held at Muskoka in Canada in 2010.
Leaders from Non Aligned Movement countries, including India, met in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt on July 15, 2009 to hammer out a strategy to tackle the world financial crisis and sought international solidarity to fight terrorism and enhance peace and development.
Opening the two-day 15th NAM Summit of the 118 developing nations at this Egyptian Red Sea resort city, Cuban President Raul Castro said the grouping believes that all countries in the world should search for effective and justified measures to tackle the current financial crisis.
In his address, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who took over the NAM Chairmanship from Castro for a three-year term, sought serious efforts and international solidarity to enhance world peace and development. Mubarak spoke about the international financial system and the need to deal with on war-footing challenges like climate change, food security, peace and security, disarmament, human rights and rule of law.
The Summit aimed at evolving a new international order to effectively face contemporary world challenges.
Founded in September 1961 by first Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel-Nasser and ex-Yugoslav President Josip Tito, NAM now groups 118 member states, 16 observer countries and 9 observer organisations. The grouping, which represents nearly two-thirds of the UN member countries and comprises 55 per cent of the world population, focuses on interests of developing world.
At the two-day Summit, the leaders discussed the global financial crisis, climate change, the Mideast peace process, food security, energy and nuclear issues. They also signed the Summit's Final Document and Sharm El Sheikh Declaration and approved the NAM's strategy and action plan for the future three years.
Sharm El Sheikh Summit Declaration reiterated the strong commitment to the purposes and the principles of the United Nations Charter and the principles of international law, international humanitarian law and human rights law. The member-States desired to enhance the strengthening and revitalization process of the Movement through concrete measures, at all levels.
The declaration said NAM will continue to promote disarmament and international security and stability on the basis of equal and undiminished security for all, bearing in mind that total and complete Nuclear Disarmament remains the only route to establish a world free from Nuclear Weapons, taking into consideration related issue of Nuclear Non Proliferation in all its aspects and the inalienable right of all states to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. NAM will engage constructively with concrete actions towards the implementation of the unequivocal undertaking by the Nuclear Weapon States, as well as the recent statements made by leaders of some Nuclear Weapons States to eliminate their nuclear arsenals and work towards realizing a World Free of Nuclear Weapons, including through the establishment of Nuclear Weapon Free-Zones, particularly in the Middle East region;
NAM will also ensure that the current comprehensive review of Peace Keeping Operations takes duly into account the position of the Movement, in particular the demands of Troop Contributing Countries, and to ensure that the review processes of the Peace Building Commission and the Peace Building Fund will achieve their objectives to support all countries emerging from conflict, based on the principle of national ownership and coordinated activities within the United Nations system;
NAM will reinforce and build new momentum in addressing human rights issues based on a cooperative and balanced approach focused on constructive dialogue and capacity building, while taking duly into account the diversity of societies, political, economic, social and legal systems, cultures and religions, and avoiding selectivity, double standards and any attempt to exploit or use human rights as an instrument for political purposes, with a view to reinforcing the commitment to the promotion and protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, in particular the right to development,
NAM will continue to uphold the fundamental and inalienable right of all peoples, including all non-self governing territories, as well as those territories under foreign occupation and colonial or alien domination to self determination, the exercise of which, in the case of peoples under foreign occupation and colonial or alien domination, remains valid and essential to ensure the eradication of all these situations and to guarantee universal respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms;
NAM also demanded achieving a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East based on relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions, Madrid Terms of Reference, land for peace, and the Arab Peace Initiative in its entirety; and said that NAM firmly supports the inalienable rights of the Palestine people to self-determination and the establishment of their independent, contiguous and viable State in Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a just and agreed upon solution to the Palestine refugee question on the basis of resolution 194.
The declaration also seeks to restore the balance between the Principal Organs of the United Nations and reaffirm the role and authority of the General Assembly, while asserting its fundamental role in international peace and security and in promoting multilateralism.
On climate change the declaration asked to strengthen the political momentum in preparation for the Copenhagen conference in a manner that duly reflects the views of NAM countries with regard to mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology transfer, capacity building and shared vision in accordance with the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities, and fully utilize the high level meeting to be convened by the Secretary General of the United Nations at the beginning of the 64th session of the General Assembly to highlight the concerns of the NAM countries.
On terrorism the declaration aspired to strengthen NAM solidarity in combating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, wherever and by whomsoever committed, in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter, international law and the relevant international conventions. In this context, it stressed that terrorism should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilization or ethnic group.
The Heads of State and Government recognised the long history of Nelson Mandela’s leading role in and support for Africa’s struggle for liberation, self determination and Africa’s unity and also his outstanding contribution in the creation of a non-racial, non sexist, and democratic South Africa. They expressed their support for and solidarity with the Nelson Mandela Day International Campaign and called on Non-aligned Movement member States and peoples to join in the campaign, including by contributing 67 minutes of their time in service of their communities in recognition of Madiba’s 67 years contribution in service of humanity. They also endorsed the declaration to observe July 18, Madiba’s birthday, as Nelson Mandela International Day, and requested that a resolution to this effect be adopted by the UN General Assembly at its 64th session.
Pak nurtured terrorism: Zardari
In an astonishingly candid admission—a first by any Pakistani head of State—President Asif Ali Zardari has admitted militants and terrorists were wilfully created by past Pakistani governments and nurtured as a policy to achieve tactical objectives.
‘‘Militants and extremists emerged on the national scene and challenged the state not because the civil bureaucracy was weakened and demoralized but because they were deliberately created and nurtured as a policy to achieve short-term tactical objectives. Let’s be truthful and make a candid admission of the reality,’’ he told a gathering of civil servants in Islamabad on Tuesday night.
‘‘The terrorists of today were heroes of yesteryear until 9/11 occurred and they began to haunt us as well,’’ Zardari said. He also pointedly said that future generations won’t forgive the current leadership if it does not take corrective measures.
India has long charged Pakistan with sponsoring terrorism in Kashmir by providing arms, ammunition and training to militants who have been engaged in a war of secession. Zardari’s admission is bound to create a major flutter in Islamabad, particularly within the Army.
Criticising former military rulers—itself an act of derring-do—Zardari said concentration of power in one individual was against the spirit of democracy and good governance. ‘‘Too much power in one hand lasts for a short time,’’ he said. ‘‘For power to be effectively used for long lasting public good, it must be dispersed as widely as possible.’’
India responded by saying that Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari's “confession” about nurturing of terrorists had vindicated its stand and hoped Islamabad would now make a “determined” effort to end terrorism across the border.
Making statements in both Houses of Parliament, External Affairs Minister SM Krishna said Pakistan must “expose” and “take action” against “conspiracies and conspirators” for terror attacks launched in India from across the border, as future of dialogue is premised on an atmosphere free of the threat of violence.
|According to data released by the Central Statistical Organisation, India's per capita income has increased by over one-third from Rs 26,003 in 2005-06 to Rs 37,490 in 2008-09. Per capita income is the amount an individual earns, of the yearly income that is generated in the country through productive activities. It means the share of each individual when the income from the productive activities is divided equally among citizens. |
The growth in real gross domestic product at factor cost declined from 9 per cent in 2007-08 to 6.7 per cent in 2008-09. The sector-wise growth of GDP in agriculture, forestry and fishing in 2007-08 was 4.9 per cent, but declined to 1.6 per cent in 2008-09. Industry witnessed a growth of 8.1 per cent in 2007-08, but it reduced to 3.9 per cent in 2008-09.
Bharti Airtel has picked up the title sponsorship of the Champions League T20 cricket tournament 2009, for Rs 170 crore.
Developers of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) will now get a blanket exemption from stamp duty on land purchases within the notified area for non-core activities such as building hotels, housing complexes, shopping malls and golf courses. For the developers of the 500-odd SEZs in the country, slated to bring in investments of over Rs 100,000 crore, this ends the uncertainty that had cropped up after some States had voiced their opposition. The exemption, however, will be available only after formal approval of the zone. For land bought after in-principle approval, the State government may either give the exemption upfront or collect the duty and refund it after the zone has been set up. If under some circumstances, notification of a zone is cancelled, the State government will be entitled to withdraw the concession and recover the same from the developer.
Gail India, country’s largest gas transportation company, will invest Rs 7,600 crore in building India’s longest gas pipeline from Jagdishpur in Uttar Pradesh to Haldia in West Bengal.
Haryana has become the first State in India to have ten eco-sensitive zones. Union ministry of environment and forests has notified around two national parks and eight wildlife sanctuaries of Haryana.
Indian film industry is the world’s largest in terms of number of films produced as well as the number of cinema-goers. It produces almost as many films as the next three—the US, Japan and China— combined. The Indian film industry, with its major centres at Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad, produced 1,132 feature films in 2007. In comparison, the American film industry in 2008 produced 520 feature films, Japan 418 and China 400. As for theatre admissions, India’s count of 3.3 billion for 2008 was higher than the combined total of the next nine biggest film producing countries. The US was the only other country to have more than a billion admissions. These facts have been put together by European Audiovisual Observatory, a public service body gathering and distributing information on the audiovisual industry, in its publication, ‘Focus 2009-World Film Market Trends’.
Indian Railways has introduced a new train, Andolan (agitation) Express that will run from Singhur to Howrah. According to Railway Minister Mamta Banerjee the name “signifies the victory of the poor farmers of Singur against the forcible acquisition of their farmland”.
India's external debt went up by $5.3 billion or 2.4% to $229.9 billion as of March 2009, according to RBI. The debt denominated in US dollar accounted for 57% of total external debt.
Milan has been named as the world’s top fashion city in the Global Language Monitor’s (GLM) annual global survey. Mumbai is at 16th and New Delhi at 17th position. Following Milan are New York, Paris, Rome and London.
Netbooks are low-cost notebook PCs designed for internet surfing and other Web-based applications.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has become the first head of State to be Chief Guest at France National Day. The celebrations commemorate the 1789 invasion of the Bastille prison that sparked the French Revolution. Also, the parade down the Champs Elysees was lead by Indian Army’s Maratha Regiment contingent.
Quotes that various Finance Minister of India quoted in their Budget speech: Manmohan Singh, in his path-breaking 1991 speech paraphrased the French writer Victor Hugo to declare ‘No power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come”; P. Chidambaram opted for the Tamil seer-poet Thiruvalluvar’s lines, “Iyattralum, eettalum, kattalum, katta; Vakuthalam vallath arasu (To be able to increase wealth, to lay it up and guard; And also well to distribute it, marks a royal lord) in his first Budget speech and stayed with him for every successive speech. Yashwant Sinha was noted for quoting Ramdhari Singh Dinkar’s lines, “The stars of the dark night are fading. The whole sky belongs to you,” in his first Budget speech, and then his own Prime Minister, AB Vajpayee, in his second. Pranab Mukherjee, in his 2009 Budget speech, quoted extensively from Kautilya’s Arthshastra.
Revising the growth projection to 6.5% from the earlier 5.7% for 2009-10, Reserve Bank of India has said it expected inflation to go up to 5.4% by 2009-10-end. In its macro-economic review, RBI, however, said indications are that dampened growth impulses may continue due to significant delay in monsoon in certain parts of the country and persistence of global recession. The review, ahead of the quarterly review of RBI's annual monetary policy, quoted the RBI’s Professional Forecasters Survey to indicate that the average inflation in the fourth quarter of 2009-10 will be around 5.4%.
The Union government has decided to change the base year of the Wholesale Price Index (WPI) series from 1993-94 to 2004-05. The move is aimed at tracking changes in price level accurately.
US citizens continued to be on the top of the list of those who found the country attractive enough to travel. Latest figures released by the Home Ministry show that India received as many as 52,78,852 foreign visitors in 2008, against 50,96,990 in 2007, an increase of 1.81 lakh, quite less than what the country witnessed during 2004-07 when it recorded an addition of over five lakh visitors every year. US, along with the UK, accounted for nearly 30% of the total foreigners who visited India in 2008.
World Population Day is observed on July 11.