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Today's Hot Stories - March 19, 2011

10 Headlines for Today

(1) Corruption, land-grab among 16 charges slapped on Dinakaran
(2) Kalam for review of nuclear facilities
(3) Qadhafi announces ceasefire
(4) Carmakers to increase prices
(5) Infosys not shutting operations in Japan
(6) Crisil expects surge in spot LNG prices
(7) Sangakkara stars in Lanka's big win
(8) Federer, Djokovic advance to semis at Indian Wells
(9) 'Stirling' effort from Ireland
(10) 'Supermoon' to be visible on Saturday

5 Stories for Today

(1) Japan crisis underlines need to revisit nuclear strategy: PM
(2) Japan seeks U.S. help in nuclear crisis
(3) India sitting over Rs. 1 lakh cr of unused external aid: CAG
(4) U.K. to expand business links across emerging Indian cities
(5) Coal India production to stay flat in 2010-11: Jha

(1) Japan crisis underlines need to revisit nuclear strategy: PM

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Friday that the nuclear crisis in Japan underlined the need to revisit strategies for safety of atomic plants and added that he had already ordered a “thorough review.”

“The tragic nuclear incidents in Japan in the aftermath of the recent earthquake and tsunami should make us revisit strategies for nuclear safety, learning lessons from these experiences,” he said addressing the India Today Conclave here.

“I have already ordered a thorough review by the Department of Atomic Energy,” he said.

He pointed out that Indian nuclear power plants had successfully withstood the strongest earthquake at Bhuj in Gujarat and the devastating tsunami that hit parts of the southern coast in December 2004.

Black money in realty

Dr. Singh said that in order to check flow of black money into the real estate sector, stamp duty needed to be reduced, a step that realty players welcomed, stating that it would bring in more transparency.

“I think as far as black money in real estate is concerned, unfortunately that is a reality and one way out of this would be to lower the stamp duties,” Dr. Singh said.

Replying to a poser on black money transactions in the sector, he said that stamp duties in the country were a “big obstacle to cleaning the mess with regard to transactions in real estate.”

“So that's one way in which we can work towards a system whereby black money would be less of a menace in transactions relating to real estate.”

Pirate attacks

Against the backdrop of an increase in incidents of pirate attacks, the Prime Minister said “cooperative solutions” by several countries were needed to prevent piracy on the high seas and eliminate causes which made such acts possible.

Navy role lauded

He said that India had a strong interest in the security of the sea lanes and lauded the Indian Navy's role in foiling piracy attempts in the Arabian Sea.

(2) Japan seeks U.S. help in nuclear crisis

Japan reached out on Friday to the U.S. for help in reining in the crisis at its dangerously overheated nuclear complex, while the U.N. atomic energy chief called the disaster a race against the clock that demands global cooperation.

At the stricken complex, military fire trucks again sprayed the troubled reactor units for a second day, with tons of water arcing over the facility in desperate attempts to prevent the fuel from overheating and spewing dangerous levels of radiation.

“The whole world, not just Japan, is depending on them,” Tokyo office worker Norie Igarashi, 44, said of the emergency teams working amid heightened radiation levels at the complex on the north-eastern coast.

Last week’s 9.0 quake and tsunami set off the nuclear problems by knocking out power to cooling systems at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant on the northeast coast. Since then, four of the troubled plant’s six reactor units have seen fires, explosions or partial meltdowns.

The unfolding crises have led to power shortages in Japan, forced factories to close, sent shockwaves through global manufacturing and triggered a plunge in Japanese stock prices.

“We see it as an extremely serious accident,” Yukiya Amano, the head of the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency, said on Friday after arriving in Tokyo. “This is not something that just Japan should deal with, and people of the entire world should cooperate with Japan and the people in the disaster areas.”

“I think they are racing against the clock,” he said of the efforts to cool the complex.

One week after the twin disasters - which left more than 6,500 dead and over 10,300 missing - emergency crews are facing two challenges in the nuclear crisis - cooling the reactors where energy is generated, and cooling the adjacent pools where used nuclear fuel rods are stored in water.

Both need water to keep their uranium cool and stop it from emitting radiation, but with radiation levels inside the complex already limiting where workers can go and how long they can remain, it’s been difficult to get enough water inside.

Water in at least one fuel pool - in the complex’s Unit 3 - is believed to be dangerously low. Without enough water, the rods may heat further and spew out radiation.

“Dealing with Unit 3 is our utmost priority,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said.

Mr. Edano said on Friday that Tokyo is asking the U.S. government for help and that the two are discussing the specifics.

“We are coordinating with the U.S. government as to what the U.S. can provide and what people really need,” Mr. Edano said.

A U.S. military fire truck was used to help spray water into the crippled Unit 3, according to Air Force Chief of Staff Shigeru Iwasaki, though the vehicle was apparently driven by Japanese workers.

The U.S. vehicle was used alongside six Japanese military fire trucks normally used to extinguish fires at plane crashes.

The fire trucks allowed emergency workers to stay a relatively safe distance from the radiation, firing the water with high—pressure cannons. The fire-fighters also are able to direct the cannons from inside the vehicle.

Officials shared few details about the Friday operation, which lasted nearly 40 minutes, though Mr. Iwasaki said that he believed some water had reached its target.

Meanwhile, tsunami survivors observed a minute of silence on Friday afternoon at the one-week mark since the 9.0—magnitude quake, which struck at 2-46 p.m. Many were bundled up against the cold at shelters in the disaster zone, pressing their hands together in prayer.

Low levels of radiation have been detected well beyond Tokyo, which is 140 miles (220 kilometers) south of the plant, but hazardous levels have been limited to the plant itself. Still, the crisis has forced thousands to evacuate and drained Tokyo’s normally vibrant streets of life, its residents either leaving town or holing up in their homes.

The Japanese government has been slow in releasing information on the crisis, even as the troubles have multiplied. In a country where the nuclear industry has a long history of hiding its safety problems, this has left many people - in Japan and among governments overseas - confused and anxious.

At times, Japan and the U.S. - two very close allies - have offered starkly differing assessments over the dangers at Fukushima. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jazcko said on Thursday that it could take days and “possibly weeks” to get the complex under control. He defended the U.S. decision to recommend a 50-mile (80-kilometer) evacuation zone for its citizens, wider than the 30-mile (50-kilometer) band Japan has ordered.

Crucial to the effort to regain control over the Fukushima plant is laying a new power line to the plant, allowing operators to restore cooling systems. The operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., missed a deadline late Thursday but hoped to complete the effort on late Friday, said nuclear safety agency spokesman Minoru Ohgoda.

But the utility is not sure that the cooling systems will still function. If they don’t, electricity won’t help.

President Barack Obama appeared on television to assure Americans that officials do not expect harmful amounts of radiation to reach the U.S. or its territories. He also said that the U.S. was offering Japan any help it could provide.

Police said that more than 452,000 people, made homeless by the quake and tsunami, were staying in schools and other shelters, as supplies of fuel, medicine and other necessities ran short. Both victims and aid workers appealed for more help, as the chances of finding more survivors dwindled.

About 343,000 Japanese households still do not have electricity and about 1 million have no water.

At the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, a core team of 180 emergency workers has been rotating out of the complex to minimize radiation exposure.

The storage pools need a constant source of cooling water. Even when removed from reactors, uranium rods are still extremely hot and must be cooled for months, possibly longer, to prevent them from heating up again and emitting radioactivity.

(3) India sitting over Rs. 1 lakh cr of unused external aid: CAG

India is sitting on unused foreign aid of over Rs. 1 lakh crore reflecting inadequate planning by ministries like urban development, water resources and energy, a report by government auditor Comptroller and Auditor-General of India (CAG) has said.

“As on March 31, 2010, unutilised committed external assistance was of the order of Rs.1,05,339 crore,” the CAG said in its report tabled in Parliament on Friday.

The government has paid commitment charges of Rs.86.11 crore during 2009-10 in the form of penalty for not timely utilising the aid approved by multilateral and bilateral lending agencies.

“Inadequate planning resulted in avoidable expenditure in the form of commitment changes amounting to over Rs. 86 crore,” said the CAG report.

The report has outlined 16 sectors which sit on unutilised external assistance to the tune of Rs. 1.05 lakh crore.

The sectors include urban development (23,883 crore), roads (Rs. 11,617 crore), agriculture and rural development (Rs. 9,557 crore), water supply and sanitation (Rs. 8,995 crore) and power (Rs. 7,959 crore).

Besides, sectors like railways, health, environment and forestry, atomic energy and rural development too had substantial amount of unutilised foreign assistance.

Among others, India receives financial assistance from World Bank, Asian Development Bank and from developed countries like Japan, France and Germany.

According to the CAG report, the government during 2009-10 paid commitment charges of Rs. 53.26 crore to the ADB and Rs. 27.28 crore to the World Bank, besides others, for delay in utilisation of approved assistance.

(4) U.K. to expand business links across emerging Indian cities

The United Kingdom will expand business links across emerging Indian cities in 2011-12, as part of its ambition of doubling bilateral trade with India over the next five years, U.K.'s Minister for Trade and Investment Stephen Green said on Friday.

Addressing a press conference here, Lord Stephen said that while bilateral trade was around pound sterling 11 billion in recession-hit 2009, the situation improved substantially in 2010. “We are keen on at least doubling bilateral trade with India in another five years.”

His visit to Chennai caps a week-long Indian tour involving interactions with Union Ministers of Commerce and Petroleum as well as businessmen and investors in Mumbai and Delhi.

Pointing out that while traditionally the business class in U.K. tended to take India for granted and, as a result, lost market share, he said that now there was realisation among British companies about the extraordinary transformation taking place in the emerging market. At the other end of the spectrum, 700 of the Indian companies registered with the European Union are in the U.K.

The UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) agency has been engaging with around 2,000 Indian businesses in over 20 emerging cities.

Outreach activities would be strengthened in Coimbatore, Vadodara, Bhubaneswar, Chandigarh and Visakhapatnam in the next twelve months, he said.

Lord Stephen hoped that the Doha Round of trade talks would get a move on during 2011, a critical year for the negotiations, and that ongoing efforts to seal a Free Trade Agreement between the EU and India would be concluded by the year-end.

While an early conclusion of the Doha Round would be in the general interest of the world economy — a benefit estimated to be to the tune of $160 billion — an FTA between the EU and India could be a win-win relationship, he said. However, an FTA involves both sides giving ground on sensitive areas; for instance, the services sector for India and agriculture and people movement for the EU. “It is important not to see it (FTA) as a zero-sum game as overall, the whole thing is a gain for both sides.”

British Deputy High Commissioner in southern India Mike Nithavrianakis said that the outreach programme provided an understanding on the growth potential and sectoral strengths, especially in the Tier II and Tier III cities. Some of the sectors for potential business partnerships include infrastructure, green energy, low carbon technologies, scientific research and higher education. John Saville, UKTI, London and Jamie Cribb, Head, UKTI, Chennai also participated.

(5) Coal India production to stay flat in 2010-11: Jha

Coal India Ltd (CIL) production is expected to be down marginally at about 430 million tonnes this fiscal over the last year's but profit would jump to close to Rs.11,000 crore, a top company official said on Friday.

“The production will be less by one million tonne over the previous year,” Coal India's acting Chairman N. C. Jha said here on the sidelines a function here. However, despite de-growth in production as against 6.8 per cent rise in production in 2009-10, the company was looking forward for jump in net profit to close to Rs.11,000 crore, Mr. Jha said.

In 2009-10, the net profit was Rs.9,830 crore.

With the hike in coal price and higher realisation from e-auction of coal, the company is confident for registering higher profit.

The company had blamed environmental clearances and restrictions for many new coal mining projects.

On the after-effects of the Japan earthquake, Mr. Jha said that this could lead to an increase in demand for coal, as there might be some slowdown in the nuclear energy sector.

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