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Today's Hot Stories - March 30, 2011

10 Headlines for Today

(1) Lokpal Bill: No precedents for a joint committee
(2) PM promises independent regulator
(3) Syrian cabinet resigns amid unrest
(4) Indian industry becoming energy efficient: UNIDO
(5) Purvankara launches new project
(6) Volkswagen launches new edition of Passat
(7) Sri Lanka stutters into the final
(8) Virender Singh wins 81 kg National Judo
(9) Federer holds off Monaco
(10) Heavy rains lash Mohali

5 Stories for Today

(1) Policemen can’t get away with violence, rape: SC
(2) Opposition beaten back from Sirte
(3) Cabinet clears FDI in Hero Group, Reckitt Benckizer
(4) India Africa businesses discuss $18bn worth projects
(5) Textile units get new lease of life

(1) Policemen can’t get away with violence, rape: SC

Expressing concern over increasing custodial violence, the Supreme Court on Tuesday warned policemen that such incidents including rape would not be tolerated. A Bench of Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra said: “Policemen must learn how to behave as public servants in a democratic country, and not as oppressors of the people.” Quoting the judgment in the D.K. Basu case, the Bench said: “Custodial violence, including torture and death in lock-ups, strikes a blow at rule of law, which demands that the powers of the executive should not only be derived from law but also that the same should be limited by law.”

Justice Katju, writing the judgment, quoted a Urdu poem — Bane hain ahal-e-hawas muddai bhi munsif bhi Kise vakeel karein kisse munsifi chaahen by Faiz Ahmed Faiz — and said: “If ever there was a case which cried out for the death penalty it is this one, but it is deeply regrettable that not only was no such penalty imposed, but not even a charge under Section 302 [murder] of the Indian Penal Code was framed against the accused by the courts below.”

Appellants Mehboob Batcha, Parthasarathy, Jafar Siddique and Karunanidhi, who were policemen, wrongfully confined Nandagopal in police custody in the Annamalai Nagar station (Tamil Nadu) on suspicion of theft from May 30, 1992 to June 2, 1992 and beat him to death with lathis. They also gang-raped his wife Padmini in a barbaric manner. Both the trial court and the Madras High Court held the appellants guilty and sentenced them to 10-year imprisonment.

Dismissing the appeals the Bench said: “The graphic description of the barbaric conduct of the accused shocks our conscience. We see no reason to disbelieve the wife's evidence. Ordinarily, no self-respecting woman would come forward in court to falsely make such a humiliating statement against her honour. Crimes against women are not ordinary crimes committed in a fit of anger or for property. They are social crimes. They disrupt the entire social fabric, and hence they call for harsh punishment. The horrendous manner in which the woman was treated by policemen was shocking and atrocious, and calls for no mercy.”

Rarest of rare cases

The Bench further said: “We are surprised that the accused were not charged under Section 302 IPC and instead the courts below treated the death of Nandagopal as suicide. In fact, they should have been charged under that provision and awarded the death sentence, as murder by policemen in police custody is, in our opinion, in the category of the rarest of rare cases deserving the death sentence, but surprisingly no charge under Section 302 IPC was framed against any of the accused. We are constrained to say that both the trial court and the High Court have failed in their duty in this connection. The entire incident took place on the premises of the Annamalai Nagar police station and the accused deserve no mercy.”

(2) Opposition beaten back from Sirte

Opposition forces have beaten a deep and hasty retreat after being confronted with heavy shelling from pro-Qadhafi forces guarding the regime's stronghold of Sirte. On Tuesday, the frontline once again shifted eastward, in the direction of Ras Lanuf, after forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi rained tank shells, artillery rounds and rocket fire on the opposition militia. Once again, the anti-Qadhafi forces demonstrated they are unprepared to engage in pitched battles with their foes, armed with superior weaponry.

Anti-Qadhafi forces on Tuesday retreated beyond Bin Jawad, 150 km east of Sirte. The reversal in the opposition's fortunes was as dramatic as its earlier advance, when its forces swiftly took over Ajdabiyah and the coastal oil towns of Brega and Ras Lanuf before arriving at the gates of Sirte, where pro-Qadhafi forces appeared to have retreated to. Analysts said that the show of strength on Tuesday reveal that pro-Qadhafi troops loyal to Libyan strongman Muammar Qadhafi are likely to dig in deep to defend Sirte.

The crucial difference between the opposition's advance and its retreat is the role of Western air power. While U.N.-authorised air strikes had destroyed the regime's heavy weaponry around Ajdabiyah and the oil towns, it was absent on Tuesday, when civilian lives were not on line. Observers say that on Monday, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced that air support would be provided only when civilian lives were under threat.

Rejecting the notion that Western forces were enforcing the no-fly zone according to the rule book, Libya's Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim said at a Tripoli press conference that “the objective of the coalition now… is not to protect civilians because now they are directly fighting against the armed forces”. Witnesses said in Sirte, which could define the de facto borderline between the two adversarial camps, that Mr. Qadhafi's forces were arming themselves with light weapons to evade possible air strikes.

Reinforcing diplomatic support to the opposition, the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and William Hague, her counterpart and host at a London conference, met with, Mahmoud Jibril, a senior member of the Benghazi-based Libyan National Council (LNC). A senior American diplomat will now visit Benghazi, the de facto opposition capital, to establish better ties with the anti-Qadhafi camp.

Free elections

Ahead of the London meeting, the LNC released a document in which it pledged to hold free elections to pave the way for democracy in a post-Qadhafi scenario. On Tuesday, Qatar became the first Arab country to recognise the LNC as the representative of the country, the Financial Times reported. Qatar also agreed to sell on Libya's behalf, Libyan oil in the international market. The opposition has said that it would increase oil production, which has reduced after the conflict began.

(3) Cabinet clears FDI in Hero Group, Reckitt Benckizer

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs on Tuesday cleared two major foreign direct investment (FDI) proposals — a Rs.4,500-crore offer of Hero Investments Pvt. Ltd. (HIPL), a part of the Hero Group, and Reckitt Benckiser's plan to invest about Rs.3,300 crore to acquire Paras Pharmaceuticals.In December 2010, the promoters of HIPL had agreed to buyout the entire 26 per cent stake of Japan's Honda in Hero Honda for Rs.3,841.83 crore. The CCEA also approved the proposal of Reckitt Benckiser of the U.K. to set up a new wholly-owned subsidiary investing company with a foreign equity of 100 per cent, subscribed by Ms. Reckitt Benckiser (Singapore) Private Ltd, and R&C Nominees, to make downstream investment in Paras Pharmaceuticals, by way of acquisition of 100 per cent equity, according to an official statement.

(4) India Africa businesses discuss $18bn worth projects

Seeking to forge a new economic partnership, Indian and African businessmen, delegates and political leadership went into a huddle, discussing investments to the tune of $18 billion, covering nearly 204 projects, ranging from energy to education.With the seventh edition of the CII-Exim Bank conclave on India Africa Project Partnership coming to an end on Tuesday, over a dozen Ministers, including two Prime Ministers, attended the meet. The conclave witnessed the largest ever participation of 650 delegates.

Speaking at the valedictory session on Tuesday, Togoan Prime Minister Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo said that the partnership between India and Africa was all about poverty alleviation and wealth creation for our people. The Prime Minister said that he had a dream to see this kind of gathering of India and African businessmen in his country's capital, Lome.Stating that India had adopted a three-tier strategy for the African continent, Vivek Katju, Secretary (West), Ministry of External Affairs, said that the last decade had seen an unprecedented expansion in Indian-African ties. “The new framework of cooperation is for mutual benefit through sustainable and consultative mechanisms. In settling priorities, we are guided by our African partners,” said Mr. Katju.

India has extended $5.4 billion worth of lines of credit to Africa for five years, since 2009-10, as well as grants of $500 million.Mr. Katju also referred to the fact that 19 African countries have so far taken advantage of India's duty-free tariff scheme for less developed countries. The next India-Africa summit will be held in May at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

(5) Textile units get new lease of life

The flagship Technology Upgradation Fund Scheme of the Union Textiles Ministry is all set to be resumed after being suspended on June 29 last year for want of funds. The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) on Tuesday approved the Ministry's proposal for provision of Rs.1,972 crore for new projects during the remaining months of the current Plan period. In addition, the panel cleared an additional Rs.5,432 crore for the scheme to meet the liabilities towards the projects that have been already sanctioned. With this, the allocation for the scheme for the XI Plan has been enhanced to Rs. 15,404 crore from Rs.8,000 crore, a rise of Rs.7,404 crore. The panel also approved certain modifications in the scheme to provide for promotion of investments in sectors such as weaving, which have now very low investment as well as to address the issue of fragmentation and lack of forward integration and to ensure greater administrative and monitoring controls. The restructured TUFS provides for higher capital subsidy along with interest reimbursement for installation of first handlooms. Five per cent interest reimbursement and 10 per cent capital subsidy would be provided on brand new shuttleless looms, while 5 per cent interest reimbursement would only be provided for second-hand looms and that too only those up to 10-year vintage. This apart, under the 20 per cent margin money scheme (MMS), capital ceiling would be raised to Rs.5 crore from Rs.2 crore and capital subsidy to Rs.60 lakh from Rs.20 lakh. The subsidy cap for brand new shuttleless loom would be Rs.1 crore and that for independent preparatory units covered under the 20 per cent MMS scheme Rs.60 lakh. The 15 per cent MMS gap would be raised from Rs.15 lakh to Rs.45 lakh.Giving details of the changes, official sources said that there would be significant improvements for other sectors also. Investments for modernisation in processing units would be eligible for 5 per cent interest reimbursement and 10 per cent capital subsidy. Modernisation programmes in garmenting units would be eligible for 5 per cent interest reimbursement and 10 per cent capital subsidy. Investments on factory building, pre-operative expenses and margin money for working capital would be eligible for reimbursements for the apparel and handloom sectors, with a cap of 50 per cent. Land costs would, however, be excluded from eligible investments under the scheme.

Technical textiles

For technical textile units also, investments for modernisation would be eligible for 5 per cent interest reimbursement and 10 per cent capital subsidy, while investments in the silk sector would be eligible for 5 per cent interest reimbursement or 25 per cent capital subsidy on benchmarked machinery, on a par with the handloom sector. In addition, the 15 per cent MMS scheme for small scale units (SSIs) would be continued, with a capital ceiling of Rs.5 crore against Rs. 2 crore and subsidy cap of Rs.45 lakh against Rs.15 lakh. The sources said that the TUFS scheme had been restructured in such way that the subsidy out-go was not open-ended and had a definite cap of Rs.1,972 crore. Besides, all eligible claims would be pre-authorised by the Textiles Commissioner before approvals and there would be intensive monitoring by an inter-ministerial committee, chaired by the Textiles Secretary.

Repayment schedule

The repayment period has also been reduced to seven years from ten years, but with the two-year moratorium remaining intact. The eligibility of restructured/rescheduled cases would be restricted to the initial loan repayment schedule. “Ballooning of subsidy in rescheduled cases will be avoided.'' The sources said the new projects that were to be sanctioned during the remaining parts of the five year plan was expected to leverage an investment of Rs.46,900 crore. The Textile Commissioner would conduct road shows in select cities soon to popularise the new scheme.

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