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News Watch 14 Feb 2009

HEADLINES

  • Day after: Pranab says let's wait and see, Mulford calls it first step in right direction (IE)
  • Budget directionless, only jugglery of words: BJP (TOI)
  • Full marks to Lalu for sixth good rail budget: Congress (TOI)

LEAD

Union Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav had lots of self-congratulatory statements to make in his interim Budget for 2009-10, and naturally so, with just two months to go for general elections. Although he blamed the global recession for the sluggish performance this fiscal, he chose not to do his bit to boost growth and help mitigate the impact of the slowdown in his Rs 84,430 crore total expenditure plan for the next fiscal. Though an interim Budget, Yadav stuck to his tried and tested formula of keeping all happy by cutting fares for all masses and classes. But this time around, his largesse of a 2 per cent across-the-board fare cut will result in a Rs 700 crore lower passenger earnings. In 2008-09, he had announced fare cuts but those were dynamic and flexible, resulting in revenue foregone of just Rs 250 crore. (IE)

New Delhi: T R Baalu seems to have perfected the art. In days gone by, the DMK minister used to sit next to the late Murasoli Maran, faithfully collecting pages of his speech one by one as they were read out. On Friday, he did the same, though in reverse order, for Lalu Prasad as the RJD leader read out the railway budget. During Lalu's relatively short 45-minute speech, Baalu handed over single sheets as the railway minister read out the interim budget. It looked like a well-oiled performance with Lalu simply holding a hand out as he reached the end of a page. Appreciative of help rendered, Lalu was quick to compliment "Baaluji" prompting the DMK leader to look a bit sheepish. There were few Lalu witticisms and the budget was quite drab business. But in a poll season there were a few telling cues here and there. If Lalu bent over to be polite to the Left, raising a few laughs as he did so, his ministerial colleague from Bihar, Ramvilas Paswan, was not amused. A stern Paswan did not applaud or thump his desk even once, indicating Lalu's recent charm offensive had yet to yield results. (TOI)

India on Friday kept the pressure on Pakistan insisting that ties could not be normal again unless Islamabad followed the "small step" of arresting some of the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks by concrete and transparent steps to dismantle terror infrastructure on its soil. The detailed response, which also refuted Pakistan's contention that the Mumbai carnage was only partly planned in Pakistan, stressed the composite dialogue will not be restored, drawing a sharp reaction from Pakistan. With India maintaining that more needs to be done, the Pakistan foreign office angrily noted that "India's 26/11 response is mired in domestic politics... It also needs to expose the Indian dimension/conspirators." The aggressive reaction contrasted sharply with the reasonableness on display only on Thursday when Pakistan's interior minister finally conceded the country's connection to the killings in Mumbai and also brought to fore the feud between President Asif Ali Zardari and his PM Yousuf Raza Gilani. Foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee's statement in Parliament clearly had multiple objectives in mind.(TOI)

New Delhi: The US on Friday described Pakistan's response to the Indian dossier as an important first step and said it would help Pakistan take the investigations to its logical conclusion. US ambassador to India David C Mulford probably hit the nail on the head when he said that the Indian dossier was an example of growing cooperation between India and US in counter-terrorism for it was the evidence compiled by the FBI which gave Pakistan little chance to discredit the dossier. "I think it is very upward looking, important first step in the right direction. We will all wait and watch and help to ensure that they do go forward and complete their investigation and prosecution," Mulford told reporters on the sidelines of a function organised by FICCI on Friday, adding that the US also viewed Islamabad's response as "very positive". (TOI)

Mumbai: Metropolitan Magistrate N Shrimangle extended the police custody of Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone terrorist arrested during the Mumbai Terror attack, till February 26. Justice Shrimangle had to visit Kasab in the Crime Branch lock-up at the police headquarters near Crawford market, as the police had cited security reasons for not producing him in court. Kasab (21), who has been in custody since his arrest on November 26 last year, has been booked in 12 cases registered across the city. Kasab and his accomplice Ismail Khan, who was killed in police firing on the same night, boarded a taxi from Cuffe Parade area and got down at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST). The cab, driven from there on by Mohammed Umar Abdul Khalid Shaikh, exploded later near Vile Parle. The police said Kasab and Khan had planted explosives before alighting from the taxi at CST. (IE)

CM Ashok Gehlot is busy doing some ground work for his party ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. In the two days that he toured as many as six districts Tonk, Bhilwada, Banswara, Dungarpur, Rajsamandh and Pali Gehlot missed no opportunity to talk about the UPA's dedication towards farmers and the below poverty line (BPL) families, and the success of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). While inaugurating a bridge, a Panchayati Raj organisation, unveiling the statue of Rajesh Pilot, Gehlot also stressed on the fact that his Govt was working tirelessly towards the uplift of the poor, and that proper water supply was high on his agenda. The CM is obviously satisfied with the response he has got so far, as more such tours are being planned prior to the next Assembly session, due February-end.(IE)

Ghaziabad: Businessman Moninder Singh Pandher and his domestic help Surinder Koli were sentenced to death by a special court today for the rape and murder of 14-year-old Rimpa Haldar, one of the 19 victims in the Nithari serial killings. Special CBI judge Rama Jain said the crimes committed by 55-year-old Pandher and 38-year-old Koli were the "rarest of rare", deserving capital punishment. While Khalid Khan, the counsel of the victim's family, called the verdict a "slap on the face of the CBI" which had given a clean chit to Pandher, the businessman's son Karandeep Singh said his father was innocent and he would appeal against the judgement in the Allahabad High Court. (IE)

BJP

Picking holes in Lalu Prasad's interim railway budget, Opposition BJP termed it as "disappointing, directionless and populist" and accused the minister of taking credit for projects like extending the railways to Kashmir when it was initiated by the previous NDA govt. Demanding that Lalu come out with a "performance budget" for each of the five years of his tenure, party's spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain said, "This budget is directionless and nothing but jugglery of words."(TOI)

Championing the "Swadeshi model" to meet India's developmental challenges, BJP's prime ministerial candidate L K Advani on Thursday stated that the party's "third way" was the only viable alternative to "free-for-all capitalism or freedom-killing communism". "What India needs is a robust, self-confident Swadeshi model of development, which is rooted in the ideals of democracy, equality, justice and integral human progress," Advani said at the 81st annual general meeting of the FICCI in Delhi. Like party president Rajnath Singh, Advani too invoked Mahatma Gandhi and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya while rooting for a course correction. "The concept of Swadeshi should not be discredited as archaic nor interpreted in a narrow sense. Swadeshi means that national priorities must override policies that have benefited only a minority, and largely excluded the majority in the nation's progress. Just as the centre of gravity of the world economy has shifted from the West to Asia, the centre of gravity of our national economy must shift from .India' to .Bharat' to agriculture, revitalisation of our villages and unorganised and informal sector of the economy," said Advani.(IE)

CONGRESS

Congress gave full marks to ally Lalu Prasad for his "consistently good" sixth railway budget though the proposals laid bare by him in the Lok Sabha on Friday were technically an .interim' budget. "The UPA govt has presented a railway budget for the sixth time in as many years without any increase in fares," party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said. Singhvi said that Lalu had achieved a rare feat by holding back pressure to hike passenger fares.(TOI)

The Congress' "election team" could be announced any time in the coming days. While a final decision about a pre-poll alliance with the Samjawadi Party in Uttar Pradesh will be taken next week, the AICC plans to release its first list of Lok Sabha nominees after March 15. Congress chief Sonia Gandhi has decided to constitute her election team in the AICC. While party general secretary V. Kishore Chandra S. Deo and Union minister Ajay Maken, also holding independent charge in the AICC, will be relieved to contest the Lok Sabha elections, being sitting members of the House, other general secretaries like Mr Digvijay Singh and Mr Mukul Wasnik will remain in the team, authoritative sources in the Congress indicated here on Friday. Both Mr Singh and Mr Wasnik are not members of either House of Parliament. AICC media department chairman and in-charge for party affairs in Andhra Pradesh M. Veerappa Moily wants to contest the Lok Sabha election from Karnataka but the high command has not taken view on it. This means Mr Oscar Fernandes, Mr R.K. Dhawan, Mr Janardan Dwivedi, Mr Prithviraj Chavan, Mr B.K. Hari Prasad, Mr V. Narayanasamy and Ms Mohsina Kiwdai will continue to remain in the organisation and Mrs Gandhi may appoint four to five new faces in place of Ms Margaret Alva, Mr Ashok Gehlot, Mr Maken and Mr Deo. Though the Congress managers have to yet to decide a nominee against the NDA's prime ministerial candidate, Mr L.K. Advani, from Gandhinagar, they said the party will field a youth against him.(AA)

LEFT PARTIES

The CPM has initiated a move for the impeachment of Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court. This comes six months after Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan wrote to PM Manmohan Singh recommending the removal of Justice Sen. The UPA has been sitting on that recommendation with Union Law Minister H R Bhardwaj indicating it's in no hurry to move on it. "We are left with no choice," CPM Politburo member Brinda Karat told The Indian Express which was the first to report on the CJI's impeachment proposal. "Neither Justice Sen has resigned on his own nor is the Govt taking any step for his impeachment." The Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968, stipulates that a motion for removal of a judge involving allegations of misbehaviour or incapacity may be admitted if notice is given by at least 100 members of the Lok Sabha or 50 members of Rajya Sabha, then it can be referred to a committee for investigation. Asked if the CPM has contacted other parties to garner support from Members of Parliament, Karat said, "It is a non-party issue...We expect all those who are concerned over the matter to lend their support." (IE)

I. CURRENT AFFAIRS

Amar Singh unhurt after dais collapses (U.P.): Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh escaped unhurt when the dais from which he was addressing party workers collapsed here on Friday.(HINDU)

Farooq elected to Rajya Sabha: Farooq Abdullah and Mohammed Shafi Uri, both belonging to the National Conference, were declared elected to the Rajya Sabha from Jammu and Kashmir on Friday. (HINDU)

STATES

J&K

UPA chairperson and Congress president Sonia Gandhi will inaugurate the Srinagar International Airport at its new integrated terminal building here tomorrow. She is also scheduled to inaugurate the extension of a rail link from Rajwansheer in central Kashmir to Baramulla, thereby linking Anantnag station in south Kashmir to Baramulla in the north. The Anantnag-Rajwansheer railway line, part of the Anantnag-Baramulla link, was inaugurated by PM Manmohan Singh here on October 11 last year. Gandhi will flag off the specially designed 1,400 HP engine train from Mazhom railway station in Budgam district tomorrow, an official spokesman said here today. The train would run tomorrow between Baramulla and Mazhom from 12.30 pm and 1.40 pm, he said, adding that its regular service would commence from February 15. With the completion of the rail link up to Baramulla, people could now travel from Baramulla to Anantnag, a distance of 101 km, he said. (TRIB)

TAMIL NADU

The interim railway budget is a populist one, keeping an eye on the Lok Sabha elections and it is hard to find any winds of change in it, AIADMK general secretary Jayalalithaa said on Friday. In a statement here, she said while loudly proclaiming that Indian Railways had generated cash to the tune of Rs.90,000 crore in the last five years, it was disappointing to note that no sincere effort had been made to transfer the benefit of the so-called achievements to the weaker sections of society. "Considering the huge profit made by Indian Railways and taking into account the cut in the diesel prices, the fare cuts announced are only marginal. It is disappointing to note that the freight rate will remain unchanged," she said. Ms. Jayalalithaa alleged that no serious steps had been taken to strengthen and modernise security arrangements in Indian Railways though the year 2008 witnessed a series of bomb blasts. (HINDU)

UTTAR PRADESH

With the agriculture sector in Uttar Pradesh reeling under the impact of industrialisation and expansion of services sector, the Bahujan Samaj Party Govt led by CM Mayawati proposes to double the farmers' income in the next three years. In addition, renewed emphasis is being placed on social security schemes for the weaker, downtrodden sections of the population in tune with the Govt's policy of "sarvjan hitaya sarvjan sukhaya". Presenting the State Budget for the financial year 2009-10 in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly on Friday, Finance Minister Lalji Verma described the fiscal document as an important step towards the development of UP. He said the Govt had endeavoured to reduce the gap between the national per capita income and the per capita income in the State. (HINDU)

II. INDIA & THE WORLD

Washington: The Obama Administration has described as a "very positive step" Pakistan's action in arresting six of its citizens in connection with the Mumbai terrorist attacks, including their "mastermind and leader" Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi. "I think it shows that Pakistan is serious about doing what it can to deal with the people who may have perpetrated these attacks," State Department Acting Spokesman Robert A Wood said in reply to a question yesterday. Wood said both India and the United States had asked Pakistan "to cooperate fully in trying to bring to justice those who are responsible for the Mumbai attacks. So this would certainly be a very positive step." He, however, said he did not have much more in the way of details with regard to the arrests in Pakistan. "But Pakistan has committed that it would do everything in its power to bring people to justice who may have committed these atrocities who have been within their border. So let me just leave it at that. It's a good step," Wood said. (TRIB)

EDITORIAL

Dateline Islamabad: The Govt was right in responding positively to the unexpected turn of events in Pakistan, where the civilian govt, after weeks of obfuscation and denial, came out Thursday to concede that the Mumbai Terror conspiracy was hatched at least in part on its soil. New Delhi's decision to offer full cooperation to Islamabad is rooted in a political appreciation of Pakistan's about- face. Never before has Islamabad been willing to acknowledge that the sources of the relentless terror campaign against India were rooted in Pakistan. Acknowledgement of the links, clearly, is not the same as credible action against the anti-India terror groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba. As it waits on Islamabad to take the next steps in bringing the masterminds of the Mumbai aggression to justice and dismantle the terror infrastructure on its territory, New Delhi should make an acknowledgement of its own that American support has been critical in compelling Pakistan to move in the right direction. (IE)

 
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