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THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
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N A T I O N

Saurashtra holds the key for Congress
New Delhi, December 17
Confident about a good show in the Gujarat Assembly elections, Congress strategists believe the final outcome will depend primarily on the gains they are able to make in the Saurashtra region and the extent of their losses in north Gujarat.

AP to revive subsidised rice scheme
Hyderabad, December 17
Apparently gearing up for possible mid-term elections, the Congress government in Andhra Pradesh today unveiled a string of sops, including revival of the Rs 2 per kg rice scheme, scholarships for Muslim students and devolution of powers to local bodies.

Government fails to contain spread of AIDS
New Delhi, December 17
Despite spending about 26 per cent of the health budget on the AIDS control measures, the efforts of the government had virtually failed in checking the spread of dreaded HIV infection, a data placed before the Supreme Court by the centre indicates.


EARLIER STORIES


Painted storks catch fish from a pond at the Zoological Park in New Delhi
STORKS’ DAY OUT:
Painted storks catch fish from a pond at the Zoological Park in New Delhi on Monday. — AFP

A milkman covers himself with a woollen shawl as he travels on the back of a truck in New Delhi on a cold and foggy Monday
BEATING THE CHILL:
A milkman covers himself with a woollen shawl as he travels on the back of a truck in New Delhi on a cold and foggy Monday. — AFP

MHA perturbed over Pak-based terror groups’ anti-India designs
New Delhi, December 17
While the ministry of external affairs is engaged in the peace process with Pakistan, two key bodies of the Government of India, ministry of home affairs and national security adviser’s secretariat, have disturbing information about dangerous designs of Pakistan-based terror outfits.

China funding Naxals: Fernandes
Patna, December 17
Former defence minister and NDA convenor George Fernandes charged the Congress-led UPA government with continuing to ignore the threats posed to the country from China, both internal and external.

Defence talks with France get under way
New Delhi, December 17
The two-day meeting of the high-powered Indo-French High Committee on Defence Cooperation got underway here today with issues like the progress in the manufacturing of the Scorpene submarines, besides the forthcoming deal on the upgrading of the Mirage-2000 fighter aircraft with the Indian Air Force (IAF) being on the agenda for discussion.

India may consider resuming arms supplies to Nepal
New Delhi, December 17
India may consider resuming arms supply to Nepal provided a formal request to this effect is made by the Nepal government. Nepal Army chief General Rukmangad Katuwal, who met top Indian leadership and officials here last week, made a pitch for India resuming arms supplies to Nepal.

India to supply naval spares to Vietnam
New Delhi, December 17
India and Vietnam today agreed to take a number of measures to further expand their relations in defence cooperation to take it to new heights. Defence minister A.K. Antony is on a three-day visit to Vietnam that began yesterday.

Blast-rattled Rlys intensifies track patrolling
Guwahati, December 17
Rattled by the last Thursday’s blast in elite Rajdhani Express that left five dead, the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) had decided to intensify track patrolling ahead of every passenger trains.

Ropar school adjudged ‘greenest’ in country
New Delhi, December 17
A government school in Boormajra in Ropar district, a rural school from a remote corner of south Sikkim, and two schools from Delhi and Noida have been adjudged the “greenest” in the country by the Centre or Science and Environment (CSE).

Dispute over cricket ball claims life
Patna, December 17
At a time when Team India left for its two-and-a-half-month-long tour to Australia today, a boy of Chapra in Bihar was beaten to death with a cricket bat after he tried to mediate over a minor dispute related to a cricket ball.

Nod to appointment of secretaries
New Delhi, December 17
The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) has approved the appointment of Rita Sinha as Secretary, Department of Land Resources in the Ministry of Rural Development.

9 kg gold stolen
Vijayawada, December 17
A gang of unidentified persons struck at an apartment of a gold merchant and decamped with nine kg of gold ornaments, worth Rs one crore, at Governorpet area here late last night.

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Saurashtra holds the key for Congress
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 17
Confident about a good show in the Gujarat Assembly elections, Congress strategists believe the final outcome will depend primarily on the gains they are able to make in the Saurashtra region and the extent of their losses in north Gujarat.

AICC leaders associated with the the crucial election maintain the party will improve substantially on its 2002 performance in the Saurashtra region when the Congress had won only 14 of the 52 seats. However, the gains here may be offset by its losses in the 33 seats of north Gujarat which, they admit, is the Congress’ weak spot as it was plagued by rebellion there.

If Modi is able to contain his losses in Saurashtra and do exceedingly well in north Gujarat as he is projected to do, it may well be curtains for the Congress. Alternatively, if the Congress is able to dent the Saurashtra citadel and keep its losses to the minimum in the North, this high-decibel election campaign may produce a surprise result.

Disregarding the exit polls which have predicted an edge for Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, AICC leaders maintain a number of factors like disenchantment of the Kolis and Leuva Patels, the rebellion in the BJP ranks and the anger among farmers and tribals worked against the incumbent chief minister. In addition, the powerful diamond and textile lobbies also abandoned Modi this time while the latter’s hardline Hindutva campaign failed to evoke the same passions as it did in the last poll since it was held shortly after the post-Godhra communal violence.

According to the Congress assessment, the dissensions in the BJP were most evident in the Saurashtra region with the party’s strongman Keshubhai Patel coming out openly against Modi while eight of its legislators quit the party just before the elections to contest on Congress tickets.The Congress believes this critical factor could well prove to be Modi’s undoing.

Giving details of the other regions, Congress strategists said they would definitely improve on their past performance in central Gujarat which was once the party its stronghold but went the BJP way in the 2002 elections because of the Hindutva wave. The Congress could win only seven of the 62 seats in this region last time. The confidence in the Congress is based on the fact that three of its MPs, Shankersinh Vaghela, Bharat Solanki and Naranbhai Rathwa, are from this region and their political careers are on stake in this poll.

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AP to revive subsidised rice scheme
Ramesh Kandula
Tribune News Service

Hyderabad, December 17
Apparently gearing up for possible mid-term elections, the Congress government in Andhra Pradesh today unveiled a string of sops, including revival of the Rs 2 per kg rice scheme, scholarships for Muslim students and devolution of powers to local bodies.

A meeting of the cabinet, chaired by Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy, decided to re-launch the subsidised rice scheme on April 7, 2008, the Telugu New Year day.

Brainchild of former Chief Minister late N.T. Rama Rao, the rice scheme was first introduced by the actor-turned politician soon after storming to power in 1983. It remained his USP in the subsequent elections.

It was modified by his son-in-law N. Chandrababu Naidu who took over the reins of the state in 1995. However, the price under the subsidised rice scheme was increased to Rs 5.50 per kg.

In the backdrop of political parties re-inventing populism, sensing possible mid-term polls, the Reddy government decided to revive the rice scheme which is expected to benefit 1.82 crore families in the state and entail an additional annual burden of Rs 1,000 crore on the exchequer. The scheme would be applicable to all BPL families, the state information minister A. Ramanarayana Reddy told reporters after cabinet meeting.

In another move to checkmate Telugu superstar Chiranjeevi, who is said to be toying with idea of entering politics, the cabinet decided to consider the demand for inclusion of “Kapu”, a numerically dominant community to which the actor belongs, under the backward classes list along with 15 other castes.

A special committee would be set up to examine the representations received from these communities for according BC status, the minister said.

The committee would then submit its report to the Backward Classes Commission to enable it to take a decision.

The cabinet also gave its nod to providing scholarships to Muslim students covering pre-metric and post-metric categories, entailing an annual financial commitment of Rs 75 crore.

It was also decided to devolve powers and funds to local bodies with respect to several subjects like agriculture, rural development, drinking water supply, education, health and social welfare.

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Government fails to contain spread of AIDS
S.S. Negi
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, December 17
Despite spending about 26 per cent of the health budget on the AIDS control measures, the efforts of the government had virtually failed in checking the spread of dreaded HIV infection, a data placed before the Supreme Court by the centre indicates.

As per the international data on HIV/AIDS infections, India stood in the group of countries having dismal performance while the disease is catching fast among its vulnerable sections of its population.

The badly performing countries include South Africa, Malaysia, China and Indonesia who have only covered between 21 and 35 per cent of their HIV/AIDS affected patients providing necessary antiretroviral therapy (ART) as per the international standards.

The government in its detailed affidavit placed before a Bench, headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, hearing a bunch of PILs on the alarming HIV/AIDS scenario, showed that in India the ART facility was only available to 35 per cent of the nearly two lakh patients immediately requiring it.

Though the government had increased annual budgetary allocation for HIV/AIDS control measures, including for awareness campaign to Rs 815 crore in 2006-07 out of the total health budget of Rs 2627 crore, only 98,000 patients could be covered under the ART programme, which in medical terms is necessary for saving the life of a full blown patient.

Some private organisations of late also have chipped in to supplement the efforts of the government to provide ART facility to estimated 35,000 patients, but doubts were raised by the court on these figures as they were mainly supplied by some pharmaceutical companies, who were more interested in promoting their drugs. Even if it was taken into account, only 1.24 lakh patients are covered under the scheme out of nearly two lakh requiring it immediately.

As per the government’s own admission, the situation has attained alarming proportion in most of the states as 3.40 lakh patients will be requiring ART by 2012. The signals become more alarming with this figure will include 40,000 child patients.

Though the government has scaled down the estimate of 5 lakh HIV/AIDS infected people in the country, claiming that it was not based on correct data, the centre tends to take solace from the fact that India has done better than South Africa, Malaysia and China. South Africa has the worst record of only covering 21 per cent patients under the ART programme, which the figures for Malaysia and China were 27 and 25 per cent, respectively.

As per the health ministry, 250 centres for ART in government health institutions will be adequate to cover the existing infected persons but most of the states have done precious little as the facility was provided only by six states through 88 centres, of which maximum were in Delhi. Though 32 more centres have been approved, yet most of the states had shown no urgency in making them operational.

The data on the performance by countries like Brazil, Thailand and even Uganda could be an eye opener for Indian authorities. Brazil had covered 81 per cent of its patients under the ART scheme while Thailand and Uganda have extended the facility to 60 and 51 per cent infected people, respectively.

The court, which had described the situation in India really alarming, has given two months to the centre to come up with concrete measures to control the dreaded disease, posing a biggest threat to human population.

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MHA perturbed over Pak-based terror groups’ anti-India designs
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 17
While the ministry of external affairs is engaged in the peace process with Pakistan, two key bodies of the Government of India, ministry of home affairs and national security adviser’s secretariat, have disturbing information about dangerous designs of Pakistan-based terror outfits.

Government sources today said Jamaat-ud-Dawa/Laskar-e-Toiba had launched a vigorous fund-raising campaign in Pakistan in the name of Bangladesh cyclone. JuD/LeT leadership in Pakistan has directed its activists to raise funds in different cities of Pakistan.

JuD/LeT intends to use this opportunity to strengthen its network in Bangladesh by infiltrating many of its activists. The JuD volunteers sent to Bangladesh have been instructed to create goodwill through aid work and also to identify suitable areas/persons to be used for propagating jehad.

Earlier, at a meeting Hafiz JuD/LeT Chief Mohammed Saeed had demanded that Islamic laws should be implemented in Pakistan. He demanded that the political parties should strive for the imposition of Shariah in Pakistan.

It is an “actionable” information that has been sent to the top-level security managers of the country. The sources, however, did not say what action has been taken or is being planned.

Another “actionable” information is that Mohammed Kamruzzaman, senior assistant secretary general of Jamaat-e-Islami, has been facilitating ULFA by giving them financial assistance and supply of arms and ammunition. Mohammed Kamruzzamman’s ancestral house in Sherpur district is being frequently used as a hideout for nefarious activities.

ULFA cadres carry out their activities in these areas reportedly under the protection of Bangladesh Rifles (BDR). Sources said locals of these sparsely populated hilly jungle areas assist the ULFA cadres in their illegal activities for two reasons: fear and money. The ULFA cadres and the locals of these areas are having similar physical features and it becomes difficult to distinguish between them.

Officials here are taking these inputs very seriously which, they said, indicated a spurt in terrorism in India in the near future, particularly in the northeast.

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China funding Naxals: Fernandes
Ambarish Dutta
Tribune News Service

Patna, December 17
Former defence minister and NDA convenor George Fernandes charged the Congress-led UPA government with continuing to ignore the threats posed to the country from China, both internal and external.

Fernandes said, “Today the country is facing danger from both outside and within. The borders have been compromised. China has started to flex its muscle again and is using the Naxalites to its own political advantage. In spite of all this, the UPA government has chosen to look the other way as if everything is just dandy.”

The Naxalites now reportedly operate in 182 districts, spread over 14 states of India, and their proverbial ‘red corridor’ stretches from Siliguri in north Bengal bordering Nepal to Andhra Pradesh in the south.

The NDA convenor was interacting with mediapersons here yesterday evening after the conclusion of the two-day seminar on socialism organised by him and his associates.

Expressing concern over the spread of Naxalites in the country, Fernandes claimed that these rebels were not the ones fighting for the downtrodden. “They are funded by China”, he said, asserting that the links between Indian Naxals and China would soon be out in the open.

The accusations from Fernandes, known for his China bashing, come at a time when for the first time India and its communist neighbour have reportedly decided to hold their first ever joint Army exercises as a military to military confidence building measures.

Before his departure for Beijing recently Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had reportedly said the People’s Liberation Army was interested in conducting anti-terrorism manoeuvres with India.

The Indian Army, which has been in the thick of battling insurgencies in the country’s north-east and in Jammu and Kashmir, has already won international acclaim for its low intensity warfare techniques. Military personnel from US and UK have held such joint exercises with Indian forces in recent past.

China, on the other hand, even though has never acknowledged facing any armed internal dissent, but often there have been reports of a simmering insurgency in its Muslim dominated areas of Xinjian and Turkestan provinces.

The growing bilateral relations between India and its communist neighbour did not deter Fernandes from criticising China for claiming some parts of Uttaranchal, besides the yet unresolved border disputes over Arunachal Pradesh.

Fernandes said, “The Chinese President during his recent visit to India claimed parts of Uttaranchal to be an integral pat of China. The UPA government has not said much against this Chinese stand”.

To substantiate his views Fernandes pointed out to the latest military reports suggesting construction of roads and other infrastructure by China near border areas with India, on which it has staked claim.

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Defence talks with France get under way
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 17
The two-day meeting of the high-powered Indo-French High Committee on Defence Cooperation got underway here today with issues like the progress in the manufacturing of the Scorpene submarines, besides the forthcoming deal on the upgrading of the Mirage-2000 fighter aircraft with the Indian Air Force (IAF) being on the agenda for discussion.

The meeting is being co-chaired by defence secretary Vijay Singh and representative of French Minister of Defence Thierry Borja de Mozota.

India and France had signed a deal for the manufacture of six Scorpene submarines in October 2005. Under the almost Rs 16,000 crore deal Scorpene submarines, touted world’s most silent underwater killer machine, would be manufactured under full-technology transfer by the state-owned Mazagoan Docks and delivered between 2012 and 2017.

Reports here suggested that the issue of turbo-mica engines for helicopters and the sale of radars to the Indian armed forces were also likely to come up during the meeting.

Other issues likely to be taken up at the meeting, which would be the 10th of the committee, included defence related activities such as joint exercises, high-level visits, transfer of technology and activities relating to co-development and co-production.

Under this high committee, there are three sub-committees. The Sub Committee on Military Cooperation has representatives from the headquarters of Integrated Defence Services and the three Services. The second sub committee deals with strategic issues and the third one is on Defence Industry Procurement and Research and Technology.

The Sub Committee on Military Cooperation will role out plan for service to service activities for the forthcoming year while the Sub Committee on Strategic Issues will discuss matters relating to regional issues. The Sub Committee on Defence Industry Procurement and Research and Technology will discuss the transfer of technology, joint development and production.

The two sides are also expected to sign an MoU tomorrow which would further boost the Indo-French military ties. A bilateral MoU on the supply of defence equipment was earlier signed with France in January 1982 in the context of the sale of Mirage aircraft, aimed at the uninterrupted supply of defence equipment, services and related technology from France to India.

A defence cooperation working group set up under the MoU met regularly until 1995 when it was interrupted because of the reporte.

French move to sell Mirage 2000 aircraft to Pakistan. Subsequently, as a result of the initiative of former President Jacques Chirac during his visit to India in 1998, a government to government agreement was reached and cooperation in the field of defence was revitalised following which the Indo-French High Committee on Defence Cooperation meetings are conducted every year alternatively in India and France.

The ninth meeting of this committee was held in November 2006 in Paris.

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India may consider resuming arms supplies to Nepal
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 17
India may consider resuming arms supply to Nepal provided a formal request to this effect is made by the Nepal government.

Nepal Army chief General Rukmangad Katuwal, who met top Indian leadership and officials here last week, made a pitch for India resuming arms supplies to Nepal. India had stopped arms supplies to Nepal after King Gyanendra’s royal coup almost three years ago.

Since then, there has been a complete turnaround in Nepal’s situation and the Indian government’s sense is that it could consider resuming arms supplies if the Nepal government were to make a formal request.

Two factors have contributed to new nuances in India’s Nepal policy: (i) the changed equations of the Nepal Army with the King and the Maoists, (ii) the China factor.

The Nepal army has traditionally been a staunch supporter of the monarch. But in the past one year, the monarch has been marginalised and his role minimised. The Maoists have shown their willingness to co-exist with their hitherto arch rival, the Nepal army. Moreover, India would like to mend its ties with the Nepal army, which has had age-old warm relations with the Indian Army.

The past few years have brought about a transformation in China’s perception of Nepal. Now that the United Nations, the USA and the European Union have become far more important players in Nepal than they ever were, China no longer views Nepal as India’s exclusive sphere of influence and has therefore increased its sweepstakes in the Himalayan kingdom.

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India to supply naval spares to Vietnam
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 17
India and Vietnam today agreed to take a number of measures to further expand their relations in defence cooperation to take it to new heights. Defence minister A.K. Antony is on a three-day visit to Vietnam that began yesterday.

At a meeting with his counterpart General Phung Quang Thanh in Hanoi, Antony announced that New Delhi would transfer 5,000 items of naval spares belonging to Petya class of ships to Vietnam to make many of its ageing vessels operational.

A defence ministry release here said the defence minister also announced the deputation of a four-member team to impart training on UN peacekeeping operations in the first half of next year.

The two sides also agreed to set up a joint working group to facilitate the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on defence cooperation.

According to the release, the minister said the measures taken following the meeting “will open a new chapter in defence cooperation between the two countries that will take the strategic partnership ahead”.

The minister also highlighted the traditionally close and cordial relations between India and Vietnam, the foundations for which were laid by first Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and then Vietnamese President Ho Chi Minh at their very first meeting in Hanoi 50 years ago.

“The commonality of views of the two countries in many areas are a reflection of our shared strategic interests,” Antony said.

The minister congratulated Vietnam on being elected as a non-permanent member of UN Security Council for a period of two years.

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Blast-rattled Rlys intensifies track patrolling
Bijay Sankar Bora
Tribune News Service

Guwahati, December 17
Rattled by the last Thursday’s blast in elite Rajdhani Express that left five dead, the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) had decided to intensify track patrolling ahead of every passenger trains.

The NFR’s chief public relations officer (CPRO) Trikalagya Rabha informed that personnel of the Railway Protection Force (RPF) and the Railway Protection Special Force (RPSF) would move ahead of every passenger train to carry out checks on the track.

The mobile patrol teams of the RPF and the RPSF will move in a goods train or a light engine and even a motor trolley to keep the track occupied as much as possible leaving less time for insurgents to plant bombs on the tracks.

It will be in addition to the security provided by the Government Railway Police (GRP) and the paramilitary forces provided by the state government to guard over the railway tracks and other infrastructure. Official sources said given the looming threat from insurgents, the GRP was ill equipped to deal with the situation. The GRP has only 12 stations in Assam. The force is also not authorised to conduct operations outside the Railways areas even if the force gets tip-off about sabotage bids militants.

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Ropar school adjudged ‘greenest’ in country
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 17
A government school in Boormajra in Ropar district, a rural school from a remote corner of south Sikkim, and two schools from Delhi and Noida have been adjudged the “greenest” in the country by the Centre or Science and Environment (CSE).

The schools were conferred the 2007 Green Schools Awards at a ceremony today by NCERT Director Krishna Kumar. The CSE has been giving out these awards since 2006 under its Green Schools Programme.

The top honour has gone to the Boormajara school, which is a winner for the second time in a row. In 2006 the school had beaten other contenders by presenting remarkably precise audit documents.

The data reflects the effort the school community with limited resources made in managing its water. It is reusing almost 50 per cent of the spillage from taps to irrigate the school grounds. As per the CSE, this year, students and teachers of Boormajra have outdone themselves and produced minutely detailed information, not only on water, but on land, air and energy as well.

Coordinator of CSE’s Green Schools Programme Sumita Dasgupta says that the award has gone to Boormajara because the school has been able to grasp the real message that the programme seeks to promote.

“The school is actually practicing sustainable use of natural resources and constantly looking out for new and more innovative ways of managing them. The school has now set up a rainwater harvesting system with help of funds from the state government.

More importantly, it has been able to motivate a large group of schools in different parts of Punjab to participate in the programme. It has truly played the role of a model Green School, proving beyond doubt that plentiful resources or elitist status are not the ingredients that make true leaders,” says Dasgupta.

The second position has gone to the Government Secondary School at Daramdin in Sikkim. The school’s environmental audit team has worked with most basic facilities at its disposal. Every time a package, carrying documents, had to be dispatched to Delhi, the teacher concerned had to travel 25 km up the hilly terrain to reach the only post office which offers Speed Post facility in the neighbourhood.

Among the six shortlisted schools in Delhi, Apeejay School, Pitampura has emerged at the top. It got the overall third position as well as top spot in the Best Students Team category.

The schools team has earned the honours for meticulously prepared biodiversity register which is a feat in itself considering the school’s location in extremely crowded west Delhi, says Dasgupta, adding that the other NCR school that has been a winner is the Vishwabharati School in Noida. It has received the Best Teachers’ Team award.

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Dispute over cricket ball claims life
Tribune News Service

Patna, December 17
At a time when Team India left for its two-and-a-half-month-long tour to Australia today, a boy of Chapra in Bihar was beaten to death with a cricket bat after he tried to mediate over a minor dispute related to a cricket ball.

The police said Gajendra Singh, 22, was beaten to death on Sunday afternoon. While Saroj Kumar, neighbour of Singh, protested after the ball entered his field, this led to a heated exchange between him and the youths, who attacked Kumar. When Singh went to mediate between them he too was attacked and beaten with a bat and wickets.

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Nod to appointment of secretaries
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 17
The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) has approved the appointment of Rita Sinha as Secretary, Department of Land Resources in the Ministry of Rural Development.

An IAS officer of the 1973 batch, Sinha is at present secretary, Central Information Commission.

The ACC has also okayed the appointment of Satyanarayana Dash as secretary, Department of Ex-servicemen Welfare in the Defence Ministry. A 1973 batch officer of the Kerala cadre, Dash is at present holding the post of principal adviser, Planning Commission.

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9 kg gold stolen

Vijayawada, December 17
A gang of unidentified persons struck at an apartment of a gold merchant and decamped with nine kg of gold ornaments, worth Rs one crore, at Governorpet area here late last night.

The police today said the merchant found his apartment ransacked, when he returned last night. A search was on to nab the culprits. — UNI

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