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Today's Hot Stories - January 01, 2013

10 Headlines for Today

(1) Jayalalithaa proposes death penalty for rapists
(2) Chiranjeevi: Will abide by Sonia’s decision on Telangana
(3) Iran showcases cyber, drone warfare skills
(4) NABARD to fund 71 rural road, 45 bridge projects
(5) State Bank launches pre-paid mobile wallet
(6) Mercedes-Benz India to hike prices
(7) Prakash does Amritraj name proud
(8) Dope, Olympics flop show mar Indian athletes in 2012
(9) Football: Manchester United, City begin 2013 with big wins
(10) Fog at IGI disrupts schedule of over 30 flights

5 Stories for Today

(1) Supreme Court verdict on Kudankulam this month
(2) Clinton treated with blood thinners to dissolve clot
(3) PMO bounty helps cut environmental redtape for 15 Coal India projects
(4) EDP changes hands, comes under Saksoft
(5) Govt mulls steps to reduce gold import: Chidambaram

(1) Supreme Court verdict on Kudankulam this month

The Supreme Court reserved orders in 2012 on five important cases — the Kudankulam nuclear plant issue; gay sex, mercy petitions; the Mumbai blasts cases and freebies as poll promises. The judgments are expected this month once the court re-opens after the winter vacation.

In the Kudankulam case, the argument was that the plant could not be commissioned without resolving the issue of the Russian government’s liability in case of a nuclear accident and without putting in place 17 safety measures. The state contended these safety measures were only additional steps to be implemented over a period of time. The commissioning of the plant depends on the court verdict.

In the gay matter, the court reserved verdict in March after a marathon hearing on a batch of appeals that challenged the Delhi High Court’s ruling that decriminalised gay sex between consenting adults. The hearing drew widespread media attention in India and abroad. The Centre came in for criticism from the court as it did not file any appeal against the judgment. Several parents and relatives of sexual minorities testified in court, asking that the original verdict not be overturned as it would interfere with their right to life and liberty guaranteed by the Constitution.

As for the mercy petitions, the court said it would lay down guidelines and fix a time limit for the President and the Governor to dispose of pleas, which are more often than not disposed of on political considerations by the party in power.

In the blast cases, it is dealing with several death and life sentences and varying terms of imprisonment to the accused, including Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt, who was convicted under the Arms Act.

In the freebies case, the petitioner who had earlier questioned the free colour TV scheme of the DMK government in Tamil Nadu submitted that the present government had also announced freebies and no guidelines had been issued. He said public spending on these goods of about Rs. 9,000 crore “far outweighs any public benefits that might arise from such distribution.”

Though the court initially indicated it wanted to frame guidelines to the media for court reporting, in its judgment it refused to do so but gave the higher judiciary option to pass orders to postpone certain events.

It said: “They [orders of postponement] should be passed only when necessary to prevent real and substantial risk to the fairness of the trial [court proceedings], if reasonable alternative measures such as change of venue or postponement of trial will not prevent the said risk and when the salutary effects of such orders outweigh the deleterious effects to free expression.”

Evolving the ‘Doctrine of Postponement’ to balance the right of an accused to be presumed innocent till completion of trial with the media’s right to freedom of expression, the Supreme Court said the media had a right to appeal against postponement orders.

Setting at rest the controversy on the safety of the 116-year-old Mullaperiyar dam, the Empowered Committee, headed by the former Chief Justice of India A.S. Anand said “the dam is structurally and hydrologically safe and Tamil Nadu can raise the water level from 136 ft to 142 ft. after carrying out certain repairs. The dam is also seismically safe and the earth tremors in that region last year did not have any impact on the Mullaperiyar dam and the Idukki reservoir and there was no danger to the safety of the two dams.”

The court had appointed the expert panel to go into the safety of the dam and the panel took two years to conduct various studies to come to the conclusion that the dam was safe. The court will have final hearing of the case in February this year.

In the Cauvery river case, the court directed Karnataka to release water to Tamil Nadu to save the samba crop. On the directions of the court, the Centre also agreed to notify the final decision of the Cauvery water disputes given by the tribunal on February 5, 2007.

The court gave a clean chit to BSP leader Mayawati in the disproportionate assets case holding that the CBI could not continue with the proceedings against her. However, on a review petition from the Centre for Public Interest Litigation, the court issued notice to the CBI and Ms. Mayawati seeking their response.

“The Supreme Court is not a theatre for farcical plays” observed the court while rejecting a public interest petition for initiating criminal action against the Presidential candidate Pranab Mukherjee under the Prevention of Corruption Act for resorting to alleged corruption in soliciting votes in the Presidential poll. The court in December upheld Mr. Pranab’s election as President.

The court rejected the bail plea of the President of YSR Congress Jagan Mohan Reddy seeking bail in the cases registered against him by the Central Bureau of Investigation. The court granted time to the CBI to complete probe in seven cases before he could seek bail.

The court, while confirming the death sentence on Ajmal Kasab, slammed the electronic media for its live coverage of the Mumbai terror attack and said by doing so the Indian TV channels did not serve any national interest or social cause.

“The reckless coverage of the terrorist attack by the channels gave rise to a situation where on the one hand the terrorists were completely hidden from the security forces and they had no means to know their exact position or even the kind of firearms and explosives they possessed and on the other hand the positions of the security forces, their weapons and all their operational movements were being watched by the collaborators across the border on TV screens and being communicated to the terrorists.”

The court held that Indian courts had no jurisdiction to pass interim orders in foreign arbitration awards between an Indian company and a foreign company under the provisions of the Indian Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996.

(2) Clinton treated with blood thinners to dissolve clot

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was treated with blood thinners to dissolve the clot in her head and doctors were confident the top American diplomat will make a full recovery.

Ms. Clinton was admitted to a New York hospital on Sunday after doctors discovered a blood clot related to a concussion she suffered early this month while she was recovering from a stomach infection.

“In the course of a routine follow-up MRI on Sunday, the scan revealed that a right transverse sinus venous thrombosis had formed,” said Dr. Lisa Bardack from Mt. Kisco Medical Group, and Dr. Gigi El-Bayoumi, from George Washington University, in a statement.

“This is a clot in the vein that is situated in the space between the brain and the skull behind the right ear,” the doctors treating her said a day after she was admitted to the New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

“It did not result in a stroke, or neurological damage. To help dissolve this clot, her medical team began treating the Secretary with blood thinners. She will be released once the medication dose has been established,” doctors said in a statement.

“In all other aspects of her recovery, the Secretary is making excellent progress and we are confident she will make a full recovery.

“She is in good spirits, engaging with her doctors, her family, and her staff,” the statement added.

(3) PMO bounty helps cut environmental redtape for 15 Coal India projects

This will enable these projects to ramp up production by 25 per cent

Coal India Ltd. (CIL), which produces over 80 per cent of the country’s coal, received a Christmas gift from the Centre last week. A bounty that would help the world’s single-largest coalminer to start work on about 15 coal projects slicing through some of the time-consuming environmental procedures.

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), which is now playing a proactive role to help increase coal supplies, has asked the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to make necessary changes in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification of 2006 so that public hearings are done away with and environment clearances come fast. This would enable these projects to ramp up production by 25 per cent, adding about 45 million tonnes annually and about 160 million tonnes within this Plan period, which mandates CIL to add 180 million tonnes additionally. It was learnt that CIL was petitioning the MoEF for long for this relaxation given the fact that due diligence had already been done on these projects.

In a way, this symbolises the proactive role played by the PMO through the year. At times, nudging the country’s monopoly producer to give its best, at times, creating a more enabling atmosphere for the giant to perform.

It started with the issue of fuel supply agreements (FSAs), which CIL’s independent directors found to be an imposition, but the fact remains that in doing so, the PMO has taken the consumers’ sentiment in its reckoning too. “The power sector’s mood is now better,” said an analyst. In the case of price-pool issue too, the PMO tried its level best to talk out issues as the demand-supply scenario made it clear that import of coal would be inevitable.

However, it is not only on sensitive issues such as price-pooling , FSAs or environmental clearances — the PMO has taken a lead role in almost all issues, including some apparently routine and less contentious ones such as mechanism for detailed exploration by the Central Mine Planning and Design Institute of India (CIL subsidiary) and introduction of new technology. It has also taken meetings on the issue of constituting an empowered group like the Foreign Investment Promotion Board for single-window mechanism for clearing coal projects given the fact that some projects are pending for seven to eight years.

Coal sector experts say and CIL senior management concur that the role played by the PMO has put CIL back on the growth track even as it put matters in perspective while sensitising all about the obstacles faced by CIL in its task.

And arguably, the PMO’s intervention has come in at the right time. At a recent talk here, C. Rangarajan, Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, had flagged sectoral constraints such as availability of coal and shortage of electric power as two areas of concern saying that these needed to be tackled.

(4) EDP changes hands, comes under Saksoft

Software services company Saksoft, on Tuesday, announced that it had acquired a U.S-based information management consultancy firm, Electronic Data Professionals (EDP), through its American subsidiary.

The value and terms of the deal, however, were not divulged.

EDP, which is a 50-employee strong firm and reported $6.5 million in 2012, will operate as a separate company, becoming a direct subsidiary of Saksoft Inc., U.S.

“EDP will be an additional channel for client acquisition and account management for us, and we believe for our growth in the U.S, this acquisition is a good fit. Saksoft is investing in sales, marketing and delivery capabilities for the American market, and we are impressed with EDP’s strength in the information management area,” said Aditya Krishna, CEO, Saksoft.

At present, the U.K market accounts for 55 per cent of Chennai-based Saksoft’s revenue, with 45 per cent coming from U.S and the rest from the Asia-Pacific region.

According to Sampath Rengachari, Executive Vice- President, Saksoft, the company believes that its market lies in the U.S, despite the recent rush to Continental Europe by most software service firms.

“We believe we are well entrenched in the U.K market and want to set up a similar base in the U.S market. We have learned from some of the management issues we had with the acquisition of Acuma in the U.K and believe that this one will go smoothly,” Mr. Rengachari said.

(5) Govt mulls steps to reduce gold import: Chidambaram

The government is considering steps to reduce gold import by making it more expensive, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said on Wednesday.

“Demand for gold must be moderated... We may be left with no choice but to make it more expensive to import gold. The matter is under government consideration,” he told reporters in New Delhi.

Gold import is a major constituent of India’s rising Current Account Deficit (CAD). The CAD widened to a record high of 5.4 per cent of GDP, or $ 22.3 billion, in the July-September quarter.

In value terms, gold imports stood at $ 20.2 billion in the April-September period of the current fiscal, a decline of 30.3 per cent over the corresponding period a year ago.

For the entire 2011-12 fiscal, gold imports stood at $ 56.2 billion.

The decline was mainly on account of increase in customs duty on gold imports by government in January and March 2012.

In his Budget proposal, the then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had doubled the basic customs duty on standard gold bars to four per cent and on non-standard gold to 10 per cent.

He also imposed one per cent excise duty on unbranded jewellery, which was subsequently rolled back after protest from jewellers across the country.

Currently, the government is also making efforts to channelise investor money into equities and other financial instruments to reduce demand for the yellow metal.

The CAD had risen to 4.2 per cent of GDP in the 2011-12 fiscal on account of high gold import and increasing prices of crude oil in international markets.

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