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Today's Hot Stories - July 17, 2009

10 Headlines for Today

(1) The Supreme Court dismissed a petition seeking impeachment of Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan on the ground that he was not eligible to hold the office.
(2) India and Pakistan to ‘delink’ action on terror from dialogue.
(3) US Defense secretary Robert Gates says more US troops than first planned could go to Afghanistan by year's end.
(4) Govt seeks 6-month credit to pay ailing AI's fuel bill.
(5) Tata to deliver first Nano today.
(6) Google has seen better-than-expected quarterly results even as revenue growth slowed following the economic downturn.
(7) Andrew Strauss’s ton seeks to push England's innings past 400 on day two of the second Test against Australia at Lord's.
(8) India gets right to host next Davis Cup tie.
(9) Manchester United call off their match in Indonesia on Monday after bomb blasts hit the hotel they were due to stay in.
(10) India's first moon mission Chandrayaan-I, launched in October last with a two-year life span, has lost a major sensor and may meet a premature end.

5 Stories for Today

(1) U.P. Congress chief arrested for remarks against Mayawati
(2) Fatal blasts hit Jakarta hotels
(3) RIL can't sell gas to RNRL; asks SC not to stop 3rd party sale
(4) British Airways raises $1 billion to avert cash crisis
(5) Government may reduce USO charges for phone users

(1) U.P. Congress chief arrested for remarks against Mayawati

Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee (UPCC) president Rita Bahuguna Joshi was remanded to 14-day judicial custody and sent to jail on Thursday for making derogatory remarks against Chief Minister Mayawati.

Dr. Joshi, who was arrested late on Wednesday night in Ghaziabad district while on her way to Delhi, was produced at the residence of the Moradabad Chief Judicial Magistrate on Thursday. She was remanded and sent to the Moradabad jail.

Congress workers staged demonstrations and blocked roads in different parts of the State in protest against the action against Dr. Joshi as well as the arson at her house here.

Earlier in the day, an FIR was filed by the Moradabad police in the Majhola police station against her for making indecent references to Ms. Mayawati at a Mahila Congress meeting on Wednesday. She was booked under Sections 153 A (promoting enmity between two groups on ground of religion or caste) and 509 (word or gesture aimed at outraging the modesty of a woman) of the IPC, the Scheduled Castes, Tribes (prevention of atrocities) Act, 1989 and Section 7 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act.

Dr. Joshi later expressed her regrets to the Chief Minister.

On Wednesday night, Dr. Joshi’s residence, located within walking distance from the Chief Minister’s Secretariat, was torched by masked men, alleged to be BSP supporters. Five persons have been arrested in connection with the incident and the police registered a case against unnamed persons in the Hussainganj police station.

Distancing herself and her party from the arson at Dr. Joshi’s residence, Ms. Mayawati blamed the Congress for masterminding the incident “in a bid to divert the country’s attention from the indecent remarks made against her.” The remarks came at the behest of the Congress high command, she alleged.

At a press conference here, Ms. Mayawati accused Congress president Sonia Gandhi of maintaining silence on the issue. She questioned Ms. Gandhi’s decision to make Dr. Joshi the PCC president, though she made derogatory references to the Gandhi family in a book on her father, Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna.

(2) Fatal blasts hit hotels in Jakarta (Indonesia)

A pair of powerful explosions at two luxury hotels killed nine and wounded at least 50 people in an upscale Jakarta neighborhood Friday morning, sending debris and glass flying onto the streets.

Anti-terror forces were at the scenes of both blasts, but did not yet want to speculate about the possibility of an attack by militants.

“There were bodies on the ground, one of them had no stomach,'' said a man who lives near the hotels and who arrived at the Marriott before emergency services. “It was terrible.''

Alex Asmasubrata, who was jogging by the hotels, said he first heard a loud explosion at the Marriott. Five minutes later, a bomb followed at the Ritz.

The blasts were caused by “high explosives”, Security Minister Widodo Adi Sucipto told reporters at the scene, without elaborating. He said they exploded two minutes apart. He said a Kiwi was among those killed, and that 13 other foreigners were among the injured.

Two US officials said an American is believed to have been injured but that has not yet been confirmed. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the situation publicly.

The police operational chief Arief Wahyunadi said the bombs were planted in the Ritz-Carlton's Air Langga restaurant and the basement of the Marriott, which was attacked in 2003. Twelve people died in that assault, which was blamed on Southeast Asian terror network Jemaah Islamiyah.

There has been a massive crackdown by anti-terror officials since then, and it has been more than three years since a major terrorist attack in Indonesia.

The Manchester United football team was scheduled to stay at the Ritz on Saturday and Sunday nights for a friendly match against the Indonesian All Stars, the Indonesian Football association said.

Because of past attacks, most major hotels in Jakarta take security precautions, such as checking incoming vehicles and requiring visitors to pass through metal detectors. Still, international hotels make attractive targets, since the nature of their business requires them to be relatively open and accessible.

(3) RIL can't sell gas to RNRL; asks SC not to stop 3rd party sale

Mukesh Ambani-led RIL on Friday said it would not be possible to supply gas to Anil Ambani group firm RNRL without the government's nod and requested the Supreme Court not to restrain it from selling gas to others.

Accusing RNRL of taking contradictory stands in an attempt to mislead Supreme Court, RIL said in its affidavit that the interim relief sought by the other party on gas sale be rejected as it did not have any plants capable of receiving the fuel.

RIL also submitted that any damages suffered by RNRL, if established, can be recompensated later by money and added that gas supplied at this stage to RNRL could be used only for the purpose of trading with third parties.

"The profits that RNRL may make is not a concern of RIL. In fact, RNRL was created just so that it could earn such a profit," RNRL had said in its affidavit filed in Supreme Court on Tuesday in reply to a separate petition by RIL.

Stating that it can't sell gas to anybody without official nod, the affidavit filed by RIL's law firm Parekh & Company said today the government as such had rejected the price of USD 2.34 per mmBtu for gas. The current applicable price as per government formula is USD 4.20 per mmBtu.

Both RIL and RNRL have filed cross-appeals challenging the Bombay High Court decision on gas supply, in which the Mukesh Ambani-run firm has named the government as intervener. The government's affidavit is expected anytime now.

(4) British Airways raises $1 billion to avert cash crisis

British Airways, unveiled plans to raise about 600 million pounds ($1 billion) through a combination of bondholder debt and bank credit, when it reported a first-quarter loss of 100 million pounds.

On Tuesday, chairman Martin Broughton had said BA was considering a convertible bond, not a rights issue, to shore up a balance sheet ravaged by the global aviation sector downturn.

BA said on Friday it planned to raise 300 million pounds by issuing five-year bonds convertible into 15-20 percent of its shares.

It also said it had also negotiated a release of bank guarantees with its British pension fund trustees which would give it access to up to $540 million of bank facilities.

Chief executive Willie Walsh told reporters the moves eliminated any short-term threat of a financial crisis at the airline. "This puts to bed the suggestions British Airways is in any sort of risk in the short term.

"We are one of the strongest airlines in terms of cash. Our trading position is difficult, but we have taken action ahead of competitors," he said

BA also reported an operating loss of 100 million pounds for the three months ending June 30, on revenues of 1.98 billion.

Airlines around the world have been suffering from what many consider the worst conditions ever due to falling passenger numbers in the face of global economic turmoil, and traditional carriers have faced intense competition from budget operators.

BA stock has lost nearly 70 percent of its value in the past year.

(5) Government may reduce USO charges for phone users

Every telecom user contributes towards connecting the unconnected in India through a levy called the Universal Service Obligation (USO) charge. Now, with a large portion of rural India already connected, this contribution could come down with indications that the government could review and reduce the USO levy.

The average consumer pays Rs 134 per year towards the USO charge through a 5% levy on his phone bill. The USO fund is primarily used for deploying village public telephones (VPTs) across India’s 5,93,601 inhabited villages.

India’s roughly 430 million telecom users contributed Rs 5,759.52 crore from 2008 to 2009 (see chart) or roughly an average of Rs 11 per month or 37 paise per day.

The government phased out another similar levy called the Access Deficit Charge (ADC) towards the end of 2008 and it is highly likely that there will be serious pressure to further reduce the current percentage at which the USO is being charged.

Since 2002, when the USO was levied on phone bills, the government collected Rs 26,163.96 crore over a 7-year period. In sharp contrast to the fiscal deficit, the USO Fund shows a massive unspent surplus raising questions about the need to burden consumers further.

So far it has spent only Rs 7,971.44 crore for the period 2002 to 2009. An additional Rs 6,948.64 crore has been given by way of reimbursement of license fee and spectrum charges for fulfilling rural obligations to BSNL during 2002 to 2006. Despite this, the government is sitting on Rs 11,243.88 crore of unspent money collected from phone users across the country in the name of rural telephony.

Apart from the fact that nearly 40% of the money remains unspent, mobile service providers are now also rushing to build mobile infrastructure for rural India, which means an incentive to serve rural India is no longer necessary.

While the overall teledensity for the quarter ending March 2009 increased by 11.86% to 429 million, the rural wireless subscriber base reached 109.71 million, increasing by a higher 17.77%. This was nearly 6% higher than the increase in the urban wireless subscriber base, which clocked 391.76 million for the quarter, showing an increase of 13%.

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