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Today's Hot Stories - April 01, 2010

10 Headlines for Today

(1) Chidambaram may visit Lalgarh after weekend meet with Buddhadeb
(2) Day-long bandh in Bihar
(3) Iran continues to build nukes, says CIA report
(4) Kuwait offered equity in Dahej, Paradip projects
(5) Ericsson gets $1.3 b contract from Bharti
(6) US to accept H-1B visa applications from today
(7) IPL 3: Delhi Daredevils thrash Rajasthan Royals by 67 runs
(8) Vijay, Raina script Chennai's victory over Bangalore
(9) Arsenal comeback stuns Barcelona
(10) Muslim scholars tell Osama he's got it all wrong

5 Stories for Today

(1) Will defeat Maoists by 2013: Chidambaram
(2) All children should have access to education: Manmohan
(3) Rs. 650-crore sops to lagging export sectors
(4) Speculation hinders investment
(5) India, China on road to better ties

(1) Will defeat Maoists by 2013: Chidambaram

Home Minister P Chidambaram has said India would be able to counter the Maoist insurgency by 2013.

"We must meet the challenge to fight against Maoists and terrorism in the next two to three years. We know it's a big challenge for India, but we will be able to meet the challenge in the next two to three years," he said.

But the country, he added, was facing another challenge — that of preventing criminals from entering Parliament. "We are the largest and most disciplined democracy in the world. We need honest and decent people to come to Parliament," he said.

The home minister also said India would press for access to Lashkar-e Taiba operative David Headley, who has pleaded guilty in the US to charges of being involved in 26/11, and his extradition. The government is examining Headley's plea bargain with the US authorities in this context.

To demonstrate its keenness to have access to Headley, a Pakistani-origin American, the home ministry is sending a letter to the US, which is currently being vetted.

Headley and the US attorney have agreed on a plea bargain and "we are examining the legal implications of the agreement," Chidambaram said. "We intend to press our request for access to David Headley for questioning him and for recording his testimony."

In the plea bargain, Headley has expressed readiness to be available to foreign officials for questioning through video conferencing, deposition or letter rogatory (official request). The government is also examining the plea agreement in the light of the provisions of the Extradition Treaty between India and the US, Chidambaram said.

Asked about the proposal to send a letter to the US to seek access to Headley, Chidambaram said: "It is a legal document... it is being vetted."

Asked if India would also seek access to Headley's associate Tahawur Rana, Chidambaram said he had pleaded not guilty and the government would "think what action should be taken and what action can be taken" only after he is chargesheeted. Rana, a Pakistan-born Canadian national, was arrested along with Headley in Chicago last October.

(2) All children should have access to education: Manmohan

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday said the government was committed to ensuring that all children irrespective of gender and social category have access to education and fund constraints would not be allowed to hamper implementation of the Right to Education Act.

Addressing the nation as the Right to Education Act went into force on Thursday, he said, “the government is committed to ensuring that all children irrespective of gender and social category, have access to education.”

“Our government, in partnership with state governments, will ensure that financial constraints do not hamper the implementation of the Right to Education Act” he said.

Adding a personal touch to the importance of education, the Prime Minister recalled his own childhood days as someone born in a family of modest means who had to walk a long distance to go to school. “I read under the dim light of a kerosene lamp. I am what I am today because of education,” he said.

“I want every Indian child, girl and boy, to be so touched by the light of education. I want every Indian to dream of a better future and live that dream”, Dr. Singh said.

Recalling the desire of Gopal Krishna Gokhale about 100 years ago when he had urged the Imperial Assembly to confer on the Indian people the Right to Education, Dr. Singh said about 90 years later the Constitution was amended to enshrine the Right to Education as a fundamental right.

“Today, our government comes before you to redeem the pledge of giving all our children the right to elementary education,” Dr. Singh said adding “this demonstrates our national commitment to the education of our children and to the future of India “.

Pointing out that India is a country of young people, he said “it is the belief of our government that if we nurture our children and young people with the right education, India’s future as a strong and prosperous country is secure.”

Dr. Singh said the government at the Centre, in states and union territories and authorities at district and village levels must work together as part of a common national endeavour to realise the Right to Education and asked the states to join in this national effort with “full resolve and determination“.

Noting that success of any educational endeavour was based on the ability and motivation of teachers and the implementation of the Right to Education is no exception, he asked the teachers across the country to become partners in this effort.

At the same time, Dr. Singh said it was also incumbent upon all to work together to improve the working conditions of teachers and enable them to teach with dignity, giving full expression to their talent and creativity.

Parents and guardians too have a critical role to play having been assigned school management responsibilities under the Act, he said adding “the needs of every disadvantaged section of our society, particularly girls, Dalits, adivasis and minorities must be of particular focus as we implement this Act.”

(3) Rs. 650-crore sops to lagging export sectors

In a major boost to the ailing export sector, the Centre on Wednesday announced Rs.625-crore incentives to some industries like electronics, garments, jute and carpet, even as exports registered 34.8 per cent growth at $16.09 billion in February.

“We are extending help to some sectors that are still in the red, which include electronics, jute, carpet and garments. Over Rs.400-crore worth of incentives will go for exports of about 300 garment items to the U.S. and Europe, while the balance will be given for exports of 200 engineering, electronics and agro chemical items to 15 countries, including China and Japan,” Union Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma said.

Exports to these nations would be covered under the Market Linked Focus Product (MLFP) under, which exporters can claim 2 per cent of their merchandise value for one year. The incentives would be given for six months from April 1, he added.

Meanwhile, revival in some segments like tea, coffee, plastics, chemicals and man-made yarns and fabrics, saw exports picking up fast. In February exports registered 34.8 per cent growth for the fourth straight month, but due to dismal performance up to November 2009, cumulative exports during the April-February period declined by 11 per cent to $153 billion.

Hailing the government's decision to give incentives to the lagging export sector, Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO) President A. Sakthivel said: “The new incentives will impart competitiveness to sectors that are still in red. These measures will push diversification both at product and market levels.”

Similarly, Engineering Export promotion Council (EEPC) Chairman Aman Chadha said the incentives would help the sector, which was lagging behind due to slump in demand. Mr. Sharma said exports in the current fiscal were likely to be in the range of $170 billion against $185 billion in 2008-09.

“I expect we would reach $168-169 billion,” he said.

Exports of electronic items, jute and carpet dipped by 28.6 per cent, 22.4 per cent and 96 per cent, respectively, in February. However, Mr. Sharma expressed hope that the exports would expand between 15 and 20 per cent in the financial year beginning on Thursday. In the Foreign Trade Policy announced in August last, the government had set an export target of $200 billion in 2010-11. Meanwhile, imports rose by 66.1 per cent to $25.06 billion in February from $15.08 billion in the corresponding month last fiscal.

(4) Speculation hinders investment

Excessive speculation in crude oil prices is a big problem but the present oil prices are comfortable for OPEC nations, Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries Secretary-General Abdalla Salem El-Badri said on Wednesday.

Speaking at the energy forum, Mr. El Badri said the current crude oil prices of around $80 a barrel were good for the world as they would not hurt both producers and consumers, allowing channelling of funds for further investment in production. However, he warned that anything below $70 would come in the way of new investments in exploration and production.

All the 65 nations that have gathered here for the meet plan to come out with a joint declaration for the first time on the issue of volatility and transparency in curde oil trading and markets. On the other hand, Algerian Energy Minister Chakib Khelil said his country hoped the prices would remain within the current range over the next year. Algeria is one of the 12 nations in OPEC, which sets production quotas in an effort to influence oil prices.

(5) India, China on road to better ties

India's relations with the US are drifting, ties with Pakistan going steadily downhill, but on the eastern front India and China are doing surprisingly well.

In a few days, the Chinese government will allow 21 Indians in Chinese prisons to meet their families. China has charged these 21 Indians with smuggling and money-laundering on February 10. But in an almost unprecedented gesture, they are being allowed to meet their loved ones. China is not known for such gestures; even their most celebrated dissident prisoner at present, Gao Zhisheng, is not allowed to meet his family.

As foreign minister S M Krishna heads to Beijing to kick off the 60th anniversary celebrations of diplomatic relations between the two countrues next week, his visit will punch all the right buttons, and a lot of goodwill will flow across the Himalayas. But Krishna won't have to try too hard.

Because after a period of sullen silence, India and China are talking again. In January, the defence secretary went across for a defence dialogue, the first; in February commerce minister Anand Sharma restarted an economic dialogue after four years, where India pushed China on market access. Foreign office consultations started in February after two and a half years and last week, the two sides sat down to sort out visa issues with each other.

In April, experts from both sides will talk trans-border rivers. For India that's very big, given its concerns on the Chinese diverting the Brahmaputra. National security adviser Shivshankar Menon has been designated the special representative for boundary talks, and he will lead the next round in late summer.

Even trade figures are encouraging. India's biggest grouse with China recently has been non-tariff barriers that leaves the trade balance dangerously skewed. But in January-February 2010, Chinese Customs reported a jump in bilateral trade by 55% from the same period last year. Most important, out of the $8.98 billion total, Indian exports were worth $3.49 billion, a 75% hike from 2009.

After the battering on stapled visas for Kashmiris, none for Arunachalis, harsh words on border incursions that marked most of the past couple of years, temperatures have cooled between the two countries. They have been helped by the unusual cooperation during the Copenhagen climate summit where India held China's hand as it faced off international pressure on carbon emissions caps.

Moreover, if 2009 was the year of the American 'kowtow' to China, 2010 is building up as the year when things look particularly dire between China and US. Similarly, for a whole lot of reasons emanating from Pakistan, India's relations with the US are gritty.

India and China are not turning to each other on the rebound, but there appears to be greater understanding.

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