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Committed to put economy back on high growth path: PM

NEW DELHI: Amid global slowdown impacting India as well, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday said the government is committed to do everything to put economy back on a high growth path of 8-9 per cent.

“The steps we have taken recently are only the beginning of the process to revive our economy and take it back to its trend growth rate of 8-9 per cent,” Dr Singh said at the 85th Annual General Meeting of FICCI here.

He said the global economy is passing through turbulent times and “excessive pessimism” at home has hurt the country’s growth process.

“But I stand before you to reassure you that our government is committed to doing everything that is possible to alter the policy environment, accelerate economic growth and make the growth process socially and regionally more inclusive,” he told the industry captains.

The economic growth slowed to a nine year low of 6.5 per cent in 2011-12 and this year, too, the GDP growth, as per RBI’s estimates, is likely to be 5.8 per cent. In the three preceding years the 2008 global economic crisis, India was growing at a rate of more than 9 per cent.

The Prime Minister further said the government needs to take forward the steps it has taken through constitution of Cabinet Committee on Investment to revive the economy.

“We need to complete the exercise that has begun on GAAR (General Anti-Avoidance Rules) and taxation of the IT sector... We will speed up the disinvestment process which will also revive our equity markets,” he added.

Liberalisation of foreign direct investment norms in sectors like multi-brand retail and aviation and cutting subsidies on petroleum products are some of the key economic reforms undertaken by the government in the recent past.

In an apparent dig on parties which oppose reforms, the Prime Minister said: “Some of the decisions we have taken were politically difficult and the naysayers and the cynics have tried to halt us in our track, but we had the courage of our conviction and the interests of our people at heart”. 

Referring to opposition to opening of the retail sector to global supermarkets, Dr Singh said: "I am afraid that those who oppose these moves are either ignorant of global realities or are constrained by outdated ideologies.

“For example, when I hear the debate on FDI in retail, what I hear are arguments against large scale organised retail, not against FDI in retail.”

The Centre's decision to open up the retail sector to FDI had attracted widespread criticism, with the debate on the issue being put to vote in Parliament and the government securing a majority.

The government also intends to get Parliament's approval for raising the FDI cap in the insurance sector to 49 per cent from the current 26 per cent, besides amendment to the banking laws.

Referring to inflation which is still high, the Prime Minister said it needs to be brought down to 5-6 per cent.

“The inflation rates in the last two years have also increased to unacceptably high levels and need to be brought down to no more than 5-6 per cent per annum," Dr Singh added. 

The Prime Minister also assured the industry that two ambitious tax reforms — Direct Taxes Code (DTC) and Goods and Services Tax (GST) — are high on government's priority list.

Dr Singh said while it is a matter of satisfaction that India's per capita income level has increased, he is "pained" to see the level of social and regional inequalities that continue to exist in the country.

"The years of high growth enabled us to generate resources that have been deployed to improve the well being of our people. But we need to do more to eradicate poverty, ignorance and disease from this blessed land of ours," Dr Singh said.

He, however, said despite the challenges India continues to face, "we must recognise that poverty has declined at a pace never seen in the past 200 years".

Dr Singh further said while subsidies have an important role to play in "softening the harsh edges of extreme poverty", the outgo on this front has grown in the recent years which is constraining the government in its efforts for the economic well being and empowerment of people.

"Under-pricing of energy, particularly electricity and petroleum products, has greatly affected the resources 

available for investments in infrastructure and social development. The subsidy on oil alone is more than what the government spends on health and education put together.

"We need to address these issues even as we ensure that the poor and the vulnerable are protected," Singh said, adding that Aadhaar based direct cash transfer will help reduce leakages of subsidies, cut down corruption, eliminate middlemen, target beneficiaries better and speed up transfer of benefits to individuals."

The government plans to provide direct cash transfer into bank accounts of beneficiaries of 34 centrally-sponsored schemes in 51 districts from January 1 and expand it to the whole country by end of 2013.

The high subsidy bill is putting pressure on India's fiscal deficit.

"Last year, the central government's fiscal deficit touched a high of 5.9 per cent of GDP. This was clearly 

unsustainable... government is serious about moving in this (fiscal consolidation) direction. Our action in correction of distortions in energy pricing, reducing diesel and LPG subsidies was aimed to achieve this objective," Dr Singh said.

The government has come out with a fiscal consolidation roadmap to bring it down to 3 per cent of GDP by 2016-17 financial year. The fiscal deficit is likely to touch 5.3 per cent of GDP this financial year.

Stressing on the need for "compact between business, government and society", Dr Singh said the private sector must own up its responsibility in supporting affirmative action designed to provide employment opportunities for under privileged sections, persons with disabilities and women.

He also said the private sector must play an active role in areas of research and development, education and skill development, health and rural development.

The Prime Minister informed the industry leaders that the Railways are working on a Rail Tariff Authority, which will make fare setting a "more rational exercise".

On the Land Acquisition Bill, he said it "should soon usher in a more fair and transparent regime for land acquisition". The Union Cabinet recently cleared the land Bill.

The Prime Minister further said that the Cabinet Committee on Investment, which was cleared by the Cabinet earlier this week, would help in clearance of major projects in a time-bound manner.— PTI





US school shooting: Obama calls for 'meaningful action'

WASHINGTON: A tearful President Barack Obama said US leaders must "take meaningful action'' regardless of politics in response to the mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school.

The President teared up, at times using an index finger to wipe at the corner of his eyes, as he addressed the nation from the White House. He also paused repeatedly as he struggled to keep his composure while speaking of the children, ages 5 to 10, who had died and the life milestones they now would miss.

He said, quote, "Our hearts are broken.''

Shortly before speaking, Obama ordered that US flags be flown at half-staff on public grounds through Tuesday.

Text of Obama's address: 

``This afternoon, I spoke with Governor Malloy and FBI Director Mueller. I offered Gov. Malloy my condolences on behalf of the nation and made it clear he will have every single resource that he needs to investigate this heinous crime, care for the victims, counsel their families.'' 

``We've endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years. And each time I learn the news, I react not as a president, but as anybody else would as a parent. And that was especially true today. I know there's not a parent in America who doesn't feel the same overwhelming grief that I do.'' 

``The majority of those who died today were children, beautiful, little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old. They had their entire lives ahead of them _ birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own. Among the fallen were also teachers, men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children fulfill their dreams.'' 

``So our hearts are broken today for the parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers of these little children, and for the families of the adults who were lost.'' 

``Our hearts are broken for the parents of the survivors, as well, for as blessed as they are to have their children home tonight, they know that their children's innocence has been torn away from them too early and there are no words that will ease their pain.'' 

``As a country, we have been through this too many times. Whether it is an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago, these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods and these children are our children. And we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.'' 

``This evening, Michelle and I will do what I know every parent in America will do, which is hug our children a little tighter, and we'll tell them that we love them, and we'll remind each other how deeply we love one another. But there are families in Connecticut who cannot do that tonight, and they need all of us right now. In the hard days to come, that community needs us to be at our best as Americans, and I will do everything in my power as president to help, because while nothing can fill the space of a lost child or loved one, all of us can extend a hand to those in need, to remind them that we are there for them, that we are praying for them, that the love they felt for those they lost endures not just in their memories, but also in ours.'' 

``May God bless the memory of the victims and, in the words of Scripture, heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds.'' — AP





World leaders express shock at ‘senseless’ school shooting

NEW YORK: Shocked at the horrific shooting at a US elementary school that left 20 children and six teachers dead, world leaders on Saturday said it was a “senseless and incomprehensible act of evil”, as US President Barack Obama sought “meaningful action” to prevent such tragedies in future.

A gunman, identified as 20-year-old Adam Lanza in media reports, opened indiscriminate fire at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut yesterday killing 26 people.

He later died from a self-inflicted gun shot wound, according to law enforcement agents.

Reacting to the horrific shooting, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described it as “heinous and unthinkable” even as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg prodded Mr. Obama to take “immediate” action to correct the country’s gun laws.

Ban extended his condolences to families of the victims and to “all others traumatised by this horrendous crime.” 

The UN chief wrote to Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy to express his deepest condolences at the “shocking murders.”

Bloomberg, who is also the co-chair of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said after similar incidents of “madness” in Virginia Tech, Aurora and Wisconsin, it is time Obama send a bill on gun laws to Congress to fix the problem.

“With all the carnage from gun violence in our country, it’s still almost impossible to believe that a mass shooting in a kindergarten class could happen. It has come to that. Not even kindergarteners learning their A, B, Cs are safe,” he said in a statement.

European Union diplomacy chief Catherine Ashton voiced her “shock” at the “tragic shooting, while head of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso mentioned his “deep shock and horror” over the incident, which he termed as a “terrible tragedy.” 

After the incident, Obama said meaningful action should be taken to prevent any future shooting tragedies.

“It is time to take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics,” he said 

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II sent a message to Obama, saying she was “deeply shocked and saddened.”

“The thoughts and prayers of everyone in the United Kingdom and throughout the Commonwealth are with the families and friends of those killed and with all those who have been affected by today’s events.” 

In his reaction, British Prime Minister David Cameron said he was “shocked and deeply saddened” by the horrific shooting. “It is heartbreaking to think of those who have had their children robbed from them at such a young age, when they had so much life ahead of them.” 

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper wrote on his Twitter account that “the news is just awful. The thoughts and prayers of Canadians are with the students and families affected by this senseless violence.”

French President Francois Hollande, in a message to Obama, said the news had “horrified” him and he wished to express his “deep shock and consternation.” 

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said her country “grieves” with America following the mass shooting of primary school children and teachers in Connecticut.

“Like President Obama and his fellow Americans, our hearts too are broken. We share America’s shock at this senseless and incomprehensible act of evil.” 

In April this year, a gunman had killed seven people and wounded three in a shooting rampage at a Christian college in Oakland in the US.

Later in July, a masked gunman killed 12 people and wounded 58 when he opened fire on moviegoers at a showing of the Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora.

The Sikh community was also targeted by a gunman when he attacked a Wisconsin gurdwara during Sunday morning prayers in August killing six persons and critically injuring three more.

Later in August, two people were killed and eight wounded in a shooting outside the iconic Empire State Building here at the height of the tourist season. — PTI





UK nurse's body to reach India today

Mumbai: The body of Indian-origin nurse Jacintha Saldanha will arrive in Mumbai on Saturday.

46-year-old Saldanha's body is being transported by a Jet Airways flight from London to Mumbai. It will then be flown to Mangalore tomorrow for the funeral to be held at Surve near Udipi.

Saldanha had allegedly committed suicide after being duped by a prank call to a UK hospital treating a pregnant Princess Kate. Reports had yesterday claimed that in one of her three suicide notes, the mum-of-two had criticised her senior colleagues. Saldanha wrote three emotional notes revealing the anguish that led to her suicide after she was duped by two Australian radio DJs into believing they were royalty.

In one of the notes, the distraught mum-of-two outlines how she struggled to come to terms with the prank call by Australian DJs Mel Greig and Michael Christian to the hospital where 30-year-old Kate was being treated for severe morning sickness, the Daily Mirror reported. Back





Pak makes changes to Asian CT squad

Karachi: Pakistan have made just two changes to their national hockey squad for the Asian Champions Trophy to be held in Doha, Qatar from December 20 to 27.

The head coach and manager of the national team Akhtar Rasool announced on Friday that Mohammad Rizwan junior and Muhammad Umar Bhutta had been dropped from the squad that finished with the bronze medal in the recent Champions Trophy in Melbourne.

"Rizwan is medically unfit and Bhutta we felt didn't give a satisfactory performance in Melbourne," Rasool said.

Surprisingly the management which selects the national squad has retained goalkeeper Imran Shah despite his poor form in the Champions Trophy.

Also retained are seniors including Shakeel Abbasi and Waseem Ahmed while Muhammad Imran has been retained as captain.Back




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