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N A T I O N

SAARC transport project for Afghanistan
New Delhi, March 28
The revolutionary SAARC multi-model transport project will be extended to Afghanistan, the latest entrant of the 8-national grouping.

SC verdict on OBC quota today
New Delhi, March 28
The Supreme Court will tomorrow deliver its verdict on the crucial question relating to the constitutional validity of the Centre’s decision to enforce 27 per cent reservation benefits for other backward classes (OBCs) in elite educational institutions from the academic year 2007.

Geelani denied visa by USA
New Delhi, March 28
Hardline Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who underwent a surgery in Mumbai, has been denied visa by the United States on the ground that he had refused to renounce violence as a weapon to achieve "independence" of Kashmir.

Monica faints
Bhopal, March 28
Bollywood starlet and underworld don Abu Salem’s girlfriend, who stands accused in a fake passports case, today fainted in the Chief Judicial Magistrate's court.







EARLIER STORIES




TDP president N Chandra Babu Naidu along with TDP MLAs protest in front of the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly demanding a reduction in the height of the Baabli project, in Hyderabad.
TDP president N Chandra Babu Naidu along with TDP MLAs protest in front of the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly demanding a reduction in the height of the Baabli project, in Hyderabad on Wednesday. — PTI

K’taka says ‘no’ to sex education in schools
Bangalore, March 28
Karnataka may be vying to become the first state to make pre-marital HIV tests mandatory, but its education ministry has announced that schools need not obey the human resource development ministry’s directive to introduce sex education at the secondary level in the state.

Tough norms for permanent resident status mooted
Dehra Dun, March 28
Outsiders may find hindrances in acquiring permanent resident status in Uttarakhand if the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD), a crucial partner in the BJP-led government, has its way.

Bihar, a model for Centre!
Patna, March 28
RJD ministers from the state may not agree, but Bihar is now a model for the Centre, for several ‘firsts’ initiated by the Nitish government during its 15-month rule.

Query answered after 18 yrs
Jaipur, March 28
It took 18 years for the Union govt. to clarify a state govt. query that whether the Banjara community is eligible for inclusion in the Schedule Tribe (ST) list.

Army begins CoI against 2
New Delhi, March 28
The Army has launched a court of inquiry against two personnel, including a Major, working with its intelligence wing, after two Ethiopian girls were found at their residence last week.

Samjhauta slowed down before blasts: Report
New Delhi, March 28
The Samjhauta Express, with a prescribed speed limit of 110 kmph, slowed down to 20 kmph near Diwana on February 18 before two blasts claimed 68 lives. This finding by the commissioner of the railway safety has strengthened the theory that the men who planted the bombs had alighted from the train.

Mulayam promises 4 saris to poor women
Lucknow, March 28
The death of his 102-year-old mother a few days ago was turned into an election issue by Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav today when he declared that his true tribute to the departed soul was by ensuring “roti and saris” for millions of poor mothers in the state.

British MPs keen to raise TB profile in Westminster
New Delhi, March 28
A delegation of British members of Parliament and the Indian Medical Parliamentary Forum today signed the ‘Call to Stop TB’, a global campaign to raise awareness about tuberculosis.

MLA suspended for insulting deputy speaker
Mumbai, March 28
A Shiv Sena MLA, Arjun Khotkar, was today suspended for a day from the Maharashtra Assembly for insulting deputy speaker Pramod Shende. The House approved by voice vote, the motion moved by the Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Harshwardhan Patil, seeking suspension of Khotkar, who hails from Jalna in Marathwada region, after Shende took strong objection to the Sena MLA’s remarks and gestures directed against him.

Karunakaran reaching out to Cong?
New Delhi, March 28
Former Kerala Chief Minister K.Karunakaran, who parted company with the Congress last year ahead of the assembly polls, created ripples in the capital’s political circles when he met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yesterday and followed it up with meetings with union minister Pranab Mukherjee and Arjun Singh today.

Troops reduction: Cong core group defers decision
New Delhi, March 28
With Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Gulam Nabi Azad keen on a political consensus on the issue of troop reduction, the Congress core group today deferred a decision on the mechanism to meet the demands of its alliance partner People's Democractic Party.


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SAARC transport project for Afghanistan
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 28
The revolutionary SAARC multi-model transport project will be extended to Afghanistan, the latest entrant of the 8-national grouping.

However, its implementation will have to face an iron wall from Pakistan which has for years blocked Indian request for land transit rights to Afghanistan.

India at the coming 14th SAARC summit here on April 3-4, nonetheless, will definitely raise the issue, foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon said today. However, the problem is that as per Article 10 of the SAARC Charter, the grouping works on unanimity. “Connectivity” is the overriding theme of the 14th SAARC summit, being hosted by India.

Development and war on terror will be high on agenda of the summit. Sri Lanka has already intimated India of its resolve to pitchfork the issue of terrorism at the summit. India has taken a serious note of the recent bloodbath by the LTTE, particularly attacks on the Sri Lankan military base near Colombo by two light aircraft.

The foreign secretary remarked that there was a greater recognition among SAARC leaders to move towards implementation of projects rather than keep on studying issues.

Among the developmental issues that are high on the SAARC summit agenda this time are - (i) Regional tele-medicine project, (ii) Regional food bank, (iii) South Asia university, (iv) SAARC development fund, and (v) SAARC disaster management centre.

Vice-Chancellors of SAARC countries recently deliberated here on the South Asian university concept which would comprise best students and best faculty in the region. An inter-governmental steering committee would be formed during the 14th summit for detailing the concept.

India had already pledged $ 100 million for poverty alleviation programmes, none of which would be used in India. India planned to park this amount in the SAARC development fund.

Free movement of media personnel and products would also be high on this summit’s agenda.

Menon expressed satisfaction at the fact that all member countries’ economy was on an upswing and clocking a growth rate of more than 5 per cent. He said SAARC members had a shared economic destiny and the opening up of the economies could lead to complementarities of all sorts.

The 14th SAARC summit will have two first-time developments: inclusion of Afghanistan as the eighth member and the United States, Japan, China, the European Union and South Korea joining the grouping as observers.

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SC verdict on OBC quota today

New Delhi, March 28
The Supreme Court will tomorrow deliver its verdict on the crucial question relating to the constitutional validity of the Centre’s decision to enforce 27 per cent reservation benefits for other backward classes (OBCs) in elite educational institutions from the academic year 2007.

A Bench of Justices Arijit and Pasayat and L.S. Panta would deliver the verdict on the batch of petitions filed by various organisations and individuals challenging the decision as being ultra vires (unconstitutional). — PTI

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Geelani denied visa by USA

New Delhi, March 28
Hardline Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who underwent a surgery in Mumbai, has been denied visa by the United States on the ground that he had refused to renounce violence as a weapon to achieve "independence" of Kashmir.

His family said they were called to the US consulate in Mumbai where they were conveyed the decision of the US State Department barring Geelani, who is suffering from cancer in the kidney, from entering the US. — PTI

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Monica faints

Bhopal, March 28
Bollywood starlet and underworld don Abu Salem’s girlfriend, who stands accused in a fake passports case, today fainted in the Chief Judicial Magistrate's court.

Monica's counsel urged the court to grant permission to take her back to the jail in view of her poor health.

After CJM Ravindra Singh granted permission, she was sent back to the jail.

Six witnesses today recorded their statements in connection with the case. — UNI

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K’taka says ‘no’ to sex education in schools
Jangveer Singh
Tribune News Service

Bangalore, March 28
Karnataka may be vying to become the first state to make pre-marital HIV tests mandatory, but its education ministry has announced that schools need not obey the human resource development ministry’s directive to introduce sex education at the secondary level in the state.

Even though the announcement may fly in the face of government claims of doing its utmost to create awareness about AIDS, state education minister Basavaraj Horatti today said the centre’s syllabus was not “worth teaching.”

“It does not align with the goal of preventing AIDS and I do not feel teaching young children about AIDS prevention achieves the desired objective.”

Horatti said he was ready for further debate on the issue before a final decision was taken. He said prominent women organisations and NGOs had been invited to discuss the matter with government representatives to arrive at a consensus. He said till such time the central manuals would not be issued to CBSE or ICSE schools.

According to the minister, there had been strong opposition to the sex education manuals provided to ICSE and CBSE schools for teaching in schools. “The manuals are completely unfit for children,” he said, adding that even teachers and educationists had complained about the unscientific nature of the manuals.

The syllabus for sex education has been prepared by the National Council for Education Research and Training and the National AIDS Control Organisation for classes six to twelve. Recently the HRD department had issued a stern reminder to CBSE and ICSE schools to introduce sex education in the 2007-08 academic session.

Meanwhile, the state government has come out with its own syllabus on the issue. This, however, has also drawn flak from academicians with former Bangalore University vice-chancellor Prof M.S. Thimmappa saying much of the material was unscientific, a similar charge made against the central syllabus by the minister.

Other educationists feel that the issue can also be tackled through screening of expert documentaries on the subject till such time a proper syllabus is ready.

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Tough norms for permanent resident status mooted
Raju William
Tribune News Service

Dehra Dun, March 28
Outsiders may find hindrances in acquiring permanent resident status in Uttarakhand if the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD), a crucial partner in the BJP-led government, has its way. Raising the controversy before allocation of portfolios to the new ministers by Chief Minister B.C. Khanduri, the Cabinet minister from UKD quota Diwakar Bhatt today said the permanent resident status should be given only to those living for 20 years in the state. Also the chief of UKD legislature party, Bhatt took the oath of office in the cabinet expansion by Khanduri yesterday.

Moreover, those living in Uttarakhand for three generations should be eligible for the domicile certificate. Besides, entry of their names in revenue records should also be a condition for giving domicile certificates for jobs. “Our party has discussed these issues with the BJP and would like the government to formulate a policy in this regard,” he asserted in the news conference here.

Notably, UKD has been demanding imposition of Article 371 in Uttarakhand to prevent outsiders from purchasing land in the state. The previous Congress government had passed a law banning outsiders from purchasing agricultural land except for tourism, industry and institutions. However, anyone could buy not more than 500 square yard plot for residential purposes.

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Bihar, a model for Centre!
Tribune News Service

Patna, March 28
RJD ministers from the state may not agree, but Bihar is now a model for the Centre, for several ‘firsts’ initiated by the Nitish government during its 15-month rule.

Sources in the state HRD department said that the Centre had expressed its desire to emulate the common school system(CCS) method being worked out by the Bihar government to end the divide between the rich and the poor in classrooms across the country.

It was learnt that the secretary, school education, in the union HRD ministry, Champak Chatterjee, not only appreciated the CCS model conceptualised by Nitish, but was also in favour of suggesting it to other states to follow the same. Nitish has already appointed former bureaucrat Muchkund Dubey to work out the modalities for CCS in Bihar.

Furthermore, the Centre was also willing to provide complete financial assistance to achieve the goal of revamping the education system in Bihar by Nitish.
This was not the first time the Centre evinced interest to replicate any Bihar model.

Earlier, the planning commission, too, showed interest to follow the coupon system introduced by Nitish to provide subsidised commodities and kerosene through the PDS for people who are below the poverty line in the state.

The move was aimed at plugging the loopholes in the PDS, as well as to keep a check on the corrupt practices of ration dealers to sell foodgrains meant for PDS in the open market.

The decision to reserve 50 per cent seats for women in the panchayat polls held last year, which aimed at eyeing a gender revolution at the grassroots, has already earned kudos. Bihar was the first state in the country to reserve 50 per cent seats for women in panchayats.

The same model is going to be replicated in the state, in the up and coming urban bodies polls, initiated by Nitish for an ‘empowered’ women’s raj, which would be beyond the considerations of caste, creed and religion.

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Query answered after 18 yrs

Jaipur, March 28
It took 18 years for the Union govt. to clarify a state govt. query that whether the Banjara community is eligible for inclusion in the Schedule Tribe (ST) list.

The Social Welfare Minister, Madan Dilawar in the Assembly today informed that the state govt. got the reply on October 27, 1999, for its letter dated October 17,1981, regarding the issue of inclusion of the Banjara community in the ST list.

According to the Census commissioner, the Banjara community on comparative basis comes under the forward caste. They have no permanent features comparable to the Schedule Tribes. They live in the valleys.

According to the letter, the Central govt. is compiling information from the district collectors regarding the fulfilment of the criteria by the community for their inclusion in the list.— UNI

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Army begins CoI against 2

New Delhi, March 28
The Army has launched a court of inquiry against two personnel, including a Major, working with its intelligence wing, after two Ethiopian girls were found at their residence last week.

The Army authorities have taken a serious view of the presence of two foreigners at the residence of the Army officer and also passed on the information to the ministry of home affairs and other intelligence agencies. It has also decided to initiate a court of inquiry against him and orderly, officials here said.

The two Ethiopian women -- Samarawit (23) and Rehal (19) -- were picked up by the Army officer outside a pub in Chanakyapuri and took them home located within Delhi cantonment area, a restricted zone for foreigners.

It was at the complaint of neighbours that the police arrived at the scene and found two women at the residence of the officer.

The Army officer, in an effort to divert attention, gave out a story that the two women were being questioned by the Army intelligence in connection with a drug-peddling case. However, when it was pointed out that such investigation was out of the jurisdiction of the Army, he had no answer. — TNS

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Samjhauta slowed down before blasts: Report
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 28
The Samjhauta Express, with a prescribed speed limit of 110 kmph, slowed down to 20 kmph near Diwana on February 18 before two blasts claimed 68 lives. This finding by the commissioner of the railway safety has strengthened the theory that the men who planted the bombs had alighted from the train.

The report of a statutory inquiry by the commissioner of railway safety states, “After starting its journey from Old Delhi railway station at 10.50 pm on that day, the train observed one speed restriction of 20 kmph....between Badli and Holambi Kalan railway stations on the up line.”

Commissioner of railway safety (northern circle Bhupinder Singh, who conducted the probe, said the train ran through without stopping till Samalkha station and had an uneventful ran. At the time of the accident, its speed was 100 kmph. Sources said the slowing down of the train to 20 kmph would have helped anyone wanting to get off the moving train. The preliminary report said the explosions in two coaches of the Samjhauta Express led to a fire and killed 68 passengers.

In his provisional findings, the commissioner observed, “Having carefully considered the factual and circumstantial evidence so far available at my disposal, I am of the prima facie opinion that unusual occurrences of fire in the coaches of 4001 UP Attari Special, while it was running through the Diwana railway station of Delhi-Ambala double line, occurred due to explosion of bombs kept on the under racks near doorways of coaches.”

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Mulayam promises 4 saris to poor women
Tribune News Service

Lucknow, March 28
The death of his 102-year-old mother a few days ago was turned into an election issue by Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav today when he declared that his true tribute to the departed soul was by ensuring “roti and saris” for millions of poor mothers in the state.

Confessing that he was grieved by the loss of his mother, the Chief Minister said he, however, had to worry about the millions of mothers of the state who could not manage two saris and two square meals a day.

Speaking at Islamia Inter College Maidan soon after filing his nomination papers from Gunnaur in Badaun district today, the Chief Minister today promises four free saris for poor women if he is returned to power.

The promise comes despite his government’s failure to fulfil the promise to procure and distribute just two saris to the poor women in the state before Divali last year.

As one of his pre-election promises, the Chief Minister had declared to distribute two saris each to nearly 1.25 crore women living below the poverty line.

A separate budgetary allocation of Rs 250 crore had been made for this ambitious scheme in the second supplementary grants for 2006-2007 that was passed by the Vidhan Sabha in August, 2006.

First, the state Mahila Kalyan Vibhag (women's welfare department) was entrusted with the responsibility of procuring the saris through an open tender.

The department wanted to purchase in bulk from manufacturers in Surat and Tamil Nadu. When the manufacturers expressed their inability to provide 2.5 crore saris before Divali, the state government decided to float tenders.

However, the Chief Minister’s project to clad the poor women of the state ran into rough weather when tenders floated twice could not shortlist a single company that was in a position to supply such a large order.

While two companies, who had applied, were dealing in pharmaceuticals and had no experience in textiles the other two were government bodies but had to be rejected on technical grounds, as they had not deposited the mandatory earnest money.

Finally, unable to purchase the saris for the scheme the government was left with no choice but to return Rs 250 crore to the state treasury.

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British MPs keen to raise TB profile in Westminster
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 28
A delegation of British members of Parliament and the Indian Medical Parliamentary Forum today signed the ‘Call to Stop TB’, a global campaign to raise awareness about tuberculosis.

Determined to raise the profile of tuberculosis in Westminster, the six-member delegation of British MPs said they were keen to work with their colleagues in other countries to persuade governments to step up the fight against TB. They are of the view that while there is a lot of interest in the UK about AIDS, there is not equal interest about TB.

Led by Nick Herbert, co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on global TB, the delegation comprises Tom Clarke (Labour), Ann Cryer (Labour), Jeremy Hunt (Conservative), Ashok Kumar (Labour) and Baroness Lindsay Northover.

The delegation's visit during the World TB Week assumes significance in the light of the recently released Global TB report card for 2007. The report card for 22 TB high-burden countries puts India on the number two position with regard to a significant risk for developing multi-drug resistant TB on a large scale. The chairperson of the Indian Medical Parliamentary Forum, Dr M. Jagannath, said they planned to set up an inter-parliamentary group on TB.

Herbert, who is a Conservative MP for Arundel and South Downs, said that about 9000 tuberculosis infections were reported in the UK every year. “The re-emergence of tuberculosis in Britain is a consequence of immigration. People from high-burden countries have been passing on the infection. The reason we are here is because British parliamentarians have concern for a disease that globally killed one and a half million people last year. This was unnecessary as TB is curable. We think it is part of our duty as representatives of the people to eradicate the disease.''

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MLA suspended for insulting deputy speaker

Mumbai, March 28
A Shiv Sena MLA, Arjun Khotkar, was today suspended for a day from the Maharashtra Assembly for insulting deputy speaker Pramod Shende. The House approved by voice vote, the motion moved by the Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Harshwardhan Patil, seeking suspension of Khotkar, who hails from Jalna in Marathwada region, after Shende took strong objection to the Sena MLA’s remarks and gestures directed against him.

Earlier, as the Opposition Shiv Sena-BJP staged a walkout after the deputy speaker did not allow BJP leader Eknath Khads to speak on a calling-attention notice on Dabhol gas issue, Shende said “If you feel I am not doing my duty properly, I will go” to which Khotkar retorted “go, go”.

“You are not insulting me but the chair,” Shende told Khotkar.

Patil said Khotkar had insulted the deputy speaker and moved a resolution seeking suspension of the Sena MLA prompting the Opposition members to rush to the well of the House, shouting slogans against Shende and the minister. — PTI

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Karunakaran reaching out to Cong?
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 28
Former Kerala Chief Minister K.Karunakaran, who parted company with the Congress last year ahead of the assembly polls, created ripples in the capital’s political circles when he met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yesterday and followed it up with meetings with union minister Pranab Mukherjee and Arjun Singh today.

Although he has joined Sharad Pawar’s NCP, Karunakaran’s meetings with his old Congress colleagues set off speculation about a homecoming. For the record, the former Congress veteran maintained that he had met the Prime Minister in connection with pending state projects.

At the same time, he also spoke of fighting communal forces unitedly, thus indicating that he was reaching out to his old party. “The NCP is a strong party but not strong enough to fight communal forces.,” he told presspersons, adding that he was ready to cooperate with anybody in this battle.

Congress insiders, however, did not attach too much significance to Karunakaran’s talks with party seniors, describing these as a last-ditch effort by an ageing leader to retain his political space and relevance.

On the other hand, the party is quite wary about the Kerala leader’s moves as he also held a series of meetings with disgruntled Congressmen Bhajan Lal and K. Natwar Singh and Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh. Suspicious Congress leaders see this as an effort to regroup a third front by weakening the Congress. He also held talks with NCP leaders Sharad Pawar and P.A. Sangma. Telugu Desam Party chief Chandrababu Naidu is also expected to meet Karunakaran in Thiruvanathapuram.

The former Congress leader is apparently also trying to get in touch with former Uttaranchal Chief Minister N.D. Tiwari.

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Troops reduction: Cong core group defers decision
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 28
With Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Gulam Nabi Azad keen on a political consensus on the issue of troop reduction, the Congress core group today deferred a decision on the mechanism to meet the demands of its alliance partner People's Democractic Party.

The core group, which met for over two hours at the residence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, discussed the formula being planned to meet the PDP demands and enable the smooth functioning of the coalition government in the state.

The meeting, which was attended by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee, home minister Shivraj Patil, defence minister A.K. Antony and political secretary to Congress president Ahmed Patel, was apparently of the view that the two coalition partners should appear to be on the same wavelength on the PDP demands of troop reduction, the withdrawal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the vacation of agricultural land held by security forces.

The Congress leaders discussed their talks with PDP patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed over the past week. Sources said following a message from the Prime Minister to Mufti Sayeed, the PDP postponed its political

affairs committee meeting from March 29 to March 31. This is the second postponement of the PAC by the PDP, which had initially scheduled the meeting for March 25.

The sources said the government wanted more time for consultations apparently to clear the issue with the Chief Minister who had not been in favour of the demand of troop reduction. While Azad had opposed the demand during his last visit to the Capital, he met yesterday in Jammu the ruling coalition MLAs, barring those of the PDP, to endorse his statement for evolving a consensus among the state's political parties on the “sensitive” issue of phased pull-out of troops from Kashmir. The sources said government was planning to set up a panel to look into the possibility of replacing troops with the police and withdrawing disturbed areas Act from civilian areas which had seen least violence.

The PDP sources today claimed there was a large consensus among the political parties in the state for troop reduction and the issue was to be decided by the government and not by political parties.

The PDP, they said, was keen that leaders of coalition parties come “on board” on the way its demands were met.

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