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Today's Hot Stories - April 10, 2010

10 Headlines for Today

(1) PM leaves for US to attend nuclear security summit
(2) Stuck with VIP duty, forces yet to begin anti-Naxal ops
(3) New Russian gas pipeline to Europe
(4) India 2nd in auto market after China
(5) ULIP ban on 14 private life insurance companies
(6) Lehman to court: Barclays received secret discount
(7) IPL: Kochi ownership issue solved
(8) Title judgement day as Real bid to stop Messi and Barca
(9) Kings XI Punjab beat Mumbai Indians by 6 wickets
(10) RIL finds 4 more commercially viable gas reserves in KG basin

5 Stories for Today

(1) Dantewada massacre: CRPF men fought till bullets ran out
(2) Obama, Manmohan to discuss upcoming Indo-U.S. Strategic Dialogue
(3) Pranab asks CAG to find ways of containing rising subsidy bill
(4) China posts first monthly trade deficit in 6 yrs
(5) Working groups will not help tame inflation: Bardhan

(1) Dantewada massacre: CRPF men fought till bullets ran out

Though suddenly overwhelmed by a heavily armed force of Maoists, the 80 CRPF men who were caught in a brutal ambush on Tuesday did not go down meekly. The encounter raged for a couple of hours and the men fell one by one till a clutch of injured survivors ran out of ammunition.

The Maoists then moved in from the heights they occupied on the road near the village of Chintalnar in Dantewada and shot the injured and looted weapons. The seven CRPF men who were finally rescued were helped by arrival of reinforcements who encountered heavy fire but did not suffer casualties.

A part reconstruction after visits by police and CRPF officers indicates the actual armed People's Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA) cadres numbered closer to 350 and were assisted by a supporting cast of 200-odd local militia (armed informers) and ‘sangams’ or village associations. This is considerably less than the 1,000-odd attackers earlier suspected.

While officers are guarded as an inquiry into the shooting that claimed 76 lives -- including that of a local police head constable -- is on, they said the detachment did fight back but had no chance. "It was a total siege-like situation.

Some of those who lived managed to make it by pretending to be dead but even so their prospects might have been bleak as the Maoists searched bodies and stripped weapons and ammunition. The reinforcements forced the ultras to break off. Only three rifles could be retrieved from the site of the encounter. The shooting was intended to be a deadly and swift affair.

While the wisdom of sending the CRPF team into a heavily Maoist-infested area is being questioned, sources in Dantewada and Bastar insisted this was routine. The Maoist death squad certainly got a tip-off but may have set up the ambush in just a few hours once it became clear which road was being used. The CRPF men were on foot and the vehicle with them was not anti-mine, but only bullet-proof.

Though officers remain circumspect about what went wrong, they point out there might have been "fieldcraft and tactical" lapses. They insist the assignment was not based on any intelligence alert either planted or otherwise. Once you move out of the camp, your location cannot be secret. But the idea is to be in sufficient strength to take on challengers. Hills on the road to Chintalnar were perfect to stage an ambush.

The accounts that have been gathered from the survivors, locals and other intelligence all point, said sources, to a routine deployment running into a well-trained enemy. The CRPF and police need to adjust tactics with mobile groups, moving away from the road, having an advantage. Large numbers were not a problem as Maoists were also in big groups as they too feared running into a para-military detachment.

(2) Obama, Manmohan to discuss upcoming Indo-U.S. Strategic Dialogue

Looking forward to meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh here tomorrow, U.S. President Barack Obama would be discussing with the visiting Indian leader, among other issues, the upcoming Strategic Dialogue between the two countries, nuclear security and Afghanistan.

This would be the first meeting between Mr. Obama and Dr. Singh after the November 24 State Dinner last year at the White House hosted by the US President.

During their meeting on Sunday, the President’s first bilateral meeting in advance of next week’s Nuclear Security Summit, the leaders will discuss the upcoming Strategic Dialogue between India and the U.S. on June 3, nuclear security and non-proliferation and other regional and global issues of shared interest.

Mr. Obama, who has a very high respect for Dr. Manmohan Singh and considers him a global statesman, is also expected to discuss the issue of situation in India’s neighbourhood, especially Afghanistan.

Of late, India and the U.S. have not been on the same page on policies related to Afghanistan in particular the talks with the Taliban and the role of Pakistan.

The Obama Administration is sensitive to the views of New Delhi on Afghanistan and the meeting between the two leaders is likely to address India’s concerns with regard to the recent development in Afghanistan, post-London in particular.

Earlier in the day, Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, said that India is the first country with whom the U.S. President would having his bilateral on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit.

“Obviously the President has developed a close working relationship with Prime Minister Singh, who visited the United States for a State Dinner and working visit last year.

We expect to, again, have a dialogue with the Indians — continuing dialogue on a — on a range of issues that we’re working with them together on,” he said.

Following his meeting with Prime Minister Singh, Obama would have bilateral meetings with several other world leaders including South African President Jacob Zuma and later in the day he would meet Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani.

“The United States and Pakistan have a deepening partnership on a range of issues, and the President looks forward to this opportunity to continue strengthening that partnership through his discussions with Prime Minister Gilani,” Mr. Rhodes said.

Mr. Obama would meet Chinese President Hu Jintao on Monday.

(3) Pranab asks CAG to find ways of containing rising subsidy bill

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Friday asked the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) to focus its audit priorities on facilitating effective and economic use of public funds on the government's flagship and various other development programmes and suggest ways of containing the rising subsidy bill on fertiliser, food and petroleum products without hurting the targeted beneficiaries.

In his valedictory address at the 25th Conference of Accountants General, Mr. Mukherjee said, “subsidies on fertiliser, petroleum and food — both explicit and implicit — impose a high burden on public finances, and reduce the pool of money available for developmental programmes. I would like you [CAG] to focus on how the expenditure on subsidies can be contained, without adversely affecting the targeted beneficiaries of such subsidies.”

The government has been making efforts to bring down the subsidy bill by way of more efficient targeting of the needy so that the funds thus saved can be utilised for other social sector programmes. From an estimated Rs 1.31 lakh crore in 2009-10, the subsidy bill for the current fiscal is pegged lower at Rs 1.16 lakh crore and accounts for over 10 per cent of the government's total expenditure.

Noting that the conference's suggestions on revamp of the CAG Act, audit of funds released through NGOs, public-private partnership (PPP) projects and migration to accrual system of accounting were under the government's active consideration, the Finance Minister also sought to highlight some key issues for audit priorities.

For one, he asked the CAG to prepare a report on quality of expenditure to help the government improve effectiveness of the development programmes. The government, Mr. Mukherjee said, would be interested in having CAG's macro and micro-level assessments, at periodic and timely intervals, of the state of public finances, both at the Central and State level.

“While the government of India has been allocating and releasing huge volumes of funds for various developmental programmes which had also received a significant boost as part of the stimulus package, we would like to have your detailed reports on the quality of expenditure being incurred at the grassroots level in implementing these programmes,” he saidThis, Mr. Mukherjee said, was in view of the vast spread of CAG's audit jurisdiction, covering not only the Centre and State governments and their agencies but also technical guidance and supervision of audit of Panchayati Raj institutions in most States, which would enable you to “follow the Rupee” to its ultimate use.

The Minister also expressed interest in having periodic assessments of the CAG on implementation of the flagship Plan programmes in different parts of the country, “so that government can take mid-course corrective action, as appropriate, in a timely manner, and optimise the use of public money.”

In his welcome address, CAG Vinod Rai reiterated the need to repeal and replace the existing CAG Act with a new legislation to equip the institution with an enforceable mandate.

(4) China posts first monthly trade deficit in 6 yrs

China reported a $7.24 billion trade deficit in March, its first in almost six years, according to customs figures released Saturday. Officials say the trend will be short-lived.

The March deficit was China's first since it recorded a $2.26 billion deficit in April 2004.

The return to deficit after many years of surplus could help ease pressure on China to allow the value of its currency to rise against the dollar, a key source of contention with the US and other trading partners.

But even China's minister of commerce, Chen Deming, described March's deficit as only a "blip on the radar,” Market trends are the main factor determining the trade balance, said Chen, who had said earlier that China expected to announce a deficit for March.

Exports totaled $112.11 billion in March, up 24.3% from a year earlier. Imports reached US$119.35 billion, up 66% compared to the same period last year, the Customs Administration said in data posted on its Web site.

In the first three months of this year, China still posted a global trade surplus of $14.5 billion, down 76.7% from the first quarter of 2009. The trade surplus was $7.6 billion in February and the combined January-February surplus was $21.8 billion.

China saw its exports plunge last year as demand evaporated in markets stricken by the global recession.

Economists say the deficit for March reflected relatively weak exports to the United States and other major markets still struggling to recover. Strong imports of commodities and components to fuel China's own booming industrial sector contributed to the 66% jump in imports _ albeit from a relatively low base the year before when China was also just emerging from a slowdown.

China recorded a $9.87 billion trade surplus with the United States in March and a $30.7 billion surplus for the first quarter, the customs figures showed.

Exports to the United States rose nearly 20% in March year-on-year, while imports climbed 43%.

China's trade surplus with the European Union was $7 billion in March and $29.3 billion for the first three months of the year.

Chinese officials have resisted pressure to allow the yuan to rise in value, saying the trade sector remains weak and prey to weaknesses elsewhere.

"China has to be prepared for the uncertainties on the global market as they would create problems and pressure for the nation," Chen, the commerce minister, was quoted as saying.

(5) Working groups will not help tame inflation: Bardhan

The Communist Party of India said on Friday that the Centre's decision to set up three working groups of Chief Ministers would not help tame food inflation.

“Now they [the government] are cleverly involving the Chief Ministers so that the blame is not placed just on the Centre, but is shared by the States which do not have anything to do with formulating economic policies that are fuelling inflation,” CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan said .

Accusing the government of turning a deaf ear to all the suggestions offered by the Left parties to control the rising prices of essential commodities, Mr. Bardhan said it was pursuing policies that were adding to the miseries of the people. All the monetary and fiscal correction policies the Centre had taken in the past few months did not help contain inflation. The government, he said, could not cite the fall in the prices of a couple of vegetables to claim a downward trend in prices.The government's calculation that a bountiful harvest would push down the prices would prove wrong, since the corporate sector and futures traders would corner the produce, he said.

A day after the Left parties conducted a ‘jail bharo' agitation, he said there were plans to intensify the protest in and outside of Parliament. A meeting, scheduled for April 12 and to be attended by representatives of 13 parties, would discuss a cut motion to the Union Finance Bill and a daylong ‘Bharat Bandh.'

Mr. Bardhan said the cut motion was to force the government to withdraw the proposal to increase the excise duty on petrol and diesel and custom duty on crude oil. “We do not intend to destabilise the government, but want to exert maximum pressure it.”

As for the proposed Food Security Bill, he said the Left parties would demand that the government determine the percentage of the people living below the poverty line. The estimates of the Union Planning Commission and several expert committees varied.

The Left parties also objected to the slashing of the grain allocation from 35 kg. a family to 25 kg.

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