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Today's Hot Stories - April 02, 2010

10 Headlines for Today

(1) Top brass behind bars, rifts hit Maoists
(2) Cong MLAs demand luxury flats in Commonwealth Games Village
(3) Three children hurt in Israeli air raids on Gaza
(4) Food inflation rises to 16.35%
(5) CLSA Capital invests $24m in Equitas
(6) EU probes complaint over Indian subsidies to its steel industry
(7) Yuvraj wanted to leave Kings XI before IPL 3
(8) Gutsy Ganguly guides KKR to a 24-run victory
(9) Cardozo goals help Benfica sink 10-man Liverpool
(10) U.S. asks Pakistan to take action against terror groups

5 Stories for Today

(1) Youths on death row: families seek Prime Minister's help
(2) No decision on direct access to Headley
(3) RBI relaxes rules for asset classification, reduces banks’ bad loans
(4) Gulf Air, Jet Airways enter into code-share agreement
(5) U.S. refuses mediation in Indo-Pak water dispute

(1) Youths on death row: families seek Prime Minister's help

The death sentence awarded to 17 Indians by a Shariat Court in the United Arab Emirates has sent shock waves across Punjab, as 16 of them belong to the State.

Cutting across party lines, leaders have appealed to the Union government, especially Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, to use diplomatic channels to save the men convicted of killing a Pakistani national.

It is reported that the Pakistani was killed in a fight over alleged illegal liquor business.

Dependents of all the 17 assembled at Jalandhar on Thursday under the aegis the Lok Bhalai Party (LBP), whose chief and the former Union Minister, Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, sought immediate intervention as most of those convicted in the UAE were the sole breadwinners of their families back home.

Mr. Ramoowalia said that while a three-member delegation of the party would attempt to gain consular access to the convicted men, the LBP would approach the U.N. and major Muslim organisations, including the Dar-ul-Uloom, to prevent execution of the sentence. He sought expeditious action from the Union government as only 11 days were left for filing an appeal in a higher court in the UAE.

Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has also sought immediate intervention by the Prime Minister. In a letter to Dr. Singh, he requested that the Ministry of External Affairs be advised to provide the legal aid to these men. Similar sentiments were expressed by the president of the Punjab unit of the Congress, Mohinder Singh Kaypee.

The Chief Minister recalled that Punjabi labourers and skilled workers had made contributions towards infrastructure development in UAE and other Middle East countries in the last 25 years. He also said these Punjabi youth were the sole breadwinners of their families most of whom had mortgaged small landholdings to arrange their work visas.

Punjab's Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh and his wife, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, MP, argued that these 16 Punjabis had told their relatives that they had been framed in the case and had no direct or indirect involvement in the murder of the Pakistani national. The leaders said these people were from poor families and due to lack of proper legal support in UAE they had been awarded the death sentence based on concocted unsubstantiated evidence.

“It is unfortunate that our Embassy in UAE failed in its primary duties to provide legal assistance to the 17 Indians resulting in their implication in this false murder case,” they said in yet another letter to the Prime Minister.

(2) No decision on direct access to Headley

The US has reiterated its stand of sharing full information on David Headley with India but says no decision has yet been made on whether New Delhi will have direct access to the Pakistani-American terror suspect.

“We understand that there’s a lot of information that Headley has that is of great interest to India, particularly because he was scouting out some possible sites,” Assistant Secretary Of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake said.“And so, obviously, the government of India has great interest in anything to do with that. And we have a great interest in sharing as much information as we can on that,” he said when asked about India’s demand for direct access to Headley who has confessed to his role in the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

“So again, we are very much committed to full information sharing with the government on that,” Mr. Blake said. “However, no decision has yet been made on the question of whether they will have direct access to David Headley.” “And you know, the US Department of Justice is working with the government of India to discuss the modalities for such cooperation. But again, no decision has been made on that,” he said.

Mr. Blake, who was briefing on his recent trip to India, Afghanistan and Pakistan, said: “The United States also believes its important for Pakistan to not allow any terrorist groups to use Pakistan as a base from which to attack India or any other country.”

“And so I made that point not only publicly but privately with our friends in Pakistan.”

Mr. Blake also disagreed with a suggestion that “there’s a strong, growing anti-American feeling” in India over US failure to press Pakistan to cease cross-border terrorism in the context of the Headley case.

“On the contrary, we think that counter-terrorism is a growing and important area of cooperation for the United States,” he said referring to Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s ” very successful” visit to the US last autumn.

“So we feel that a lot of very good practical cooperation is taking. And the most recent example of that is the Headley case where, again, we’ve been in very close touch at high levels on the Headley, and I think our Indian friends would say the same,” he said.

“And the only point I made was just the importance of just continuing that process, because that’s an important confidence-building measure for the Indians and for the United States, I might add, since there were six Americans killed in those attacks,” he said.

Blake also said: “I think that Pakistan has made very important progress in the fight on terrorism...but that there’s still some things that need to be done.”

(3) RBI relaxes rules for asset classification, reduces banks’ bad loans

RBI has eased asset classification infrastructure and project loan guidelines, which in turn will lower the amount of bad loans in the books of banks.

Till now, a bank had to classify a project loan as a ‘sub-standard’ asset if commercial operations did not start within six months of the completion of the project, even if the company regularly serviced its loan.

Similarly, in case of infrastructure loans, a bank had to classify it as sub-standard if commercial operations did not start within two years of the completion of the project even if it is being repaid.

RBI has increased the grace period for classifying them as standard assets provided the borrower continue to pay.

In case of infrastructure projects, RBI has increased the grace period to a total of four years if the reason for delay in starting production is because of arbitration proceeding or a court case and to three years if the delay is for reasons beyond the control of promoters. For project loans, RBI has extended the grace period to one year from six months from the original date of commencement of commercial operations (DCCO).

RBI has clarified that this dispensation will not be applicable for commercial real estate, consumer loans, capital market exposure and personal loans.

The RBI has also increased the provisioning requirement on standard assets if banks choose to extend the grace period in case of project and infrastructure loans. If the grace period is six months from DCCO, the bank will have to provide standard provision of 0.40%, but if it gives a grace period of one year, the standard provision would be 1%. In case of infrastructure loans, if the grace period is two years, standard provision would be 0.40% and beyond two years is 1%.

Over the last two years, several banks had asked RBI to ease rules for project and infrastructure loans on grounds that they had to classify several accounts as sub-standard because the project could not start commercial production within two years (for infrastructure projects) and six months (for non infrastructure) or two years from the originally agreed date of completion of project because of external reason which were beyond their control.

(4) Gulf Air, Jet Airways enter into code-share agreement

In a view to enhance connectivity between India and Bahrain, Jet Airways and Gulf Air have entered into a code-share agreement.

The agreement comes into effect from April 12. As per the agreement, Gulf Air will place its flight code on Jet Airways' daily services between Mumbai and Bahrain while Jet Airways will place its flight code on all Gulf Air-operated flights between Bahrain and Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram.

"Besides offering enhanced connectivity to Bahrain from several cities in India, the agreement will also enable our guests from Bahrain to tap into our unmatched domestic network, besides complimenting our existing frequent flier partnership," Nikos Kardassis, CEO, Jet Airways said.

Jet Airways currently flies to 42 domestic destinations that span the length and breadth of India, and 22 destinations across North America, Europe, Asia and the Gulf from several cities in India.

While, Gulf Air's current network stretches from Europe to Asia, connecting 43 cities in 28 countries, with a fleet of 35 aircraft.

Gulf Air CEO Samer Majali said the agreement will enable both carriers to further leverage their respective networks, offering passengers enhanced connectivity, baggage checked-through to their final destination and a host of other benefits.

"This agreement makes commercial sense for both carriers to achieve further revenue synergies by utilising each others leadership position in their respective market niches," he said.

(5) U.S. refuses mediation in Indo-Pak water dispute

Rejecting the Pakistani demand for American mediation on its water dispute with India, a top Obama Administration official has said that Islamabad has the option to go to the independent arbitration panel set up for the issue.

“If Pakistan believes that India is violating the Indus Waters Treaty, then Pakistan should avail itself of the opportunity to submit whatever grievances it has to the independent arbitration panel that has been set up by the Indus Waters Treaty,” the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake said.

“We are not going to get involved in bilateral issues related to water, because I think the World Bank is the best mechanism for that,” Mr. Blake said.

Mr. Blake, who was recently in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, said the issue cane up before him at virtually every meeting in Pakistan.

“Both countries have appealed to that panel many times in the past, most recently with respect to the Baglihar Dam. So this is a functioning mechanism that has worked well in the past.

So again if there are serious issues that Pakistan believes need to be addressed, then that is the address to which it should make its claim,” the State Department official said.

“I do believe that if asked, that the United States could help both sides with respect to water supply and again how to make better use of the existing water supply, how to make it more efficient use of it, how to increase water storage, rainwater harvesting, a lot of those kind of techniques.

So that’s where we and other friends of both countries might be able to have a role,” Mr. Blake said.

“It is our view that the real issue is that both India and Pakistan have rapidly expanding populations and rapidly expanding economies. Therefore of course, water use is growing very rapidly in both of these countries,” he said, adding that the real challenge is how to make better use, more efficient use of the water that they now have.

“In Pakistan, there’s a particular urgency to looking at the agricultural sector, which accounts for more than half of water usage.

There are a great many practices that are inefficient, for example, the practice of flood irrigation, that if modified would make a significant difference to the amount of water that is used in Pakistan,” he said.

“So I think that’s the kind of thing that we are working with Pakistan on.

One of the things that we’re doing now in Pakistan, that’s noteworthy is we have a tube-well initiative, where we’re helping to make 10,000 tube wells more efficient by replacing the engines on them.

That’s just one of many,” Mr. Blake said, adding that this is where the real focus should be.

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