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2G: PM rejects Yashwant's demand

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday virtually rejected BJP leader Yashwant Sinha's demand for his appearance before the joint parliamentary committee (JPC) on 2G, saying the panel should take a call on it even as he asserted that he had nothing to hide.

Two days after Sinha, a JPC member, wrote to him, Singh responded by saying that all "pertinent" documents related to 2G spectrum allocation of 2008 were available with the JPC.

"The decision as to what evidence should be sought and which individuals should be asked to appear before the JPC is a matter that needs to be decided internally by the JPC and its Chairman," the Prime Minister said in his letter to Sinha.

Singh underscored that he had said "from the beginning that neither the Government nor I have anything to hide in this matter" related to 2G spectrum allocation.

"You are aware that all pertinent records and documents available with the Government have already been placed at the disposal of the JPC," he told the BJP leader.

Sinha's letter to the Prime Minister had triggered a fresh war in JPC with its chairman P C Chacko yesterday rubbishing the demand as a "political stunt".

Chacko said Sinha's letter to the Prime Minister directly asking him to appear before the JPC was against established norms.

Sinha had used former Telecom Minister A Raja's communication to the JPC to demand that the Prime Minister should appear before the committee to "clear" his name.

The BJP leader had contended that Raja had levelled "serious allegations" against Singh and if he had nothing to hide, he should not hesitate to appear before the JPC.
Raja, who has repeatedly failed to persuade JPC to call him as witness, wrote to the committee last month saying the Prime Minister had been kept in the loop on 2G spectrum allocation. — PTI Back







New tough anti-rape law comes into force

NEW DELHI: President Pranab Mukherjee has given his assent to the anti-rape bill which provides for life term and even death sentence for rape convicts besides stringent punishment for offences like acid attacks, stalking and voyeurism.

Mukherjee accorded his assent to the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill-2013, brought against the backdrop of the country-wide outrage over Delhi gang rape, and it will now be called the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, an official release said on Wednesday.

The law passed by the Lok Sabha on March 19 and by the Rajya Sabha on March 21, has replaced an Ordinance promulgated on February 3.

It amends various sections of the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Indian Evidence Act and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.

With an aim of providing a strong deterrent against crimes like rapes, the new law states that an offender can be sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than 20 years, but which may extend to life, meaning imprisonment for the remainder of the convict’s natural life and with a fine.

It has provisions for handing out death sentence to offenders who may have been convicted earlier for such crimes.

The law, for the first time, defines stalking and voyeurism as non-bailable offences if repeated for a second time. Perpetrators of acid attack will attract a 10-year jail.

It also defines acid attack as a crime besides granting a victim the right to self-defence. It also has provisions for imposing a minimum 10-year jail term for perpetrators of such acts.

The law has fixed age for consensual sex at 18 years.

New sections to prevent stalking and voyeurism were introduced following a strong demand from women’s organisations.

The amendments seek to define and prescribe punishment for the offences of stalking, voyeurism and sexual harassment.

The law also seeks to widen the definition of rape, broaden the ambit of aggravated rape and enhance the punishment for such crimes.

It also provides that all hospitals shall immediately provide first aid and/or medical treatment free of cost to the victims of acid attack or rape, and failure to do so will attract punishment.

It has provisions for a minimum imprisonment of seven years which may extend to imprisonment for natural life and a fine for rape convict if he is found to be a police officer, a public servant, armed forces personnel or management or hospital staff.

The law also seeks to amend the Indian Evidence Act to allow a rape victim, if she is temporarily or permanently mentally or physically disabled, to record her statement before a judicial magistrate with the assistance of an interpreter or a special educator. It also has provisions to videograph the proceedings. — PTIBack







SFI leader’s death unfortunate: Mamata

KOLKATA: Under pressure from opposition after the death of an SFI leader, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday termed the episode as “unfortunate”, but evaded a question on whether a judicial probe would be ordered as demanded by the CPI(M).

“Any death is unfortunate. This is also unfortunate. I will not say anything more than this,” Banerjee told reporters in Kolkata outside the state-run SSKM hospital where SFI leader Sudipta Gupta’s body was kept.

She said this in response to a media query that whether the state government would order a judicial inquiry into the death as demanded by opposition CPI(M).

Banerjee said the SFI leader was killed after he collided against a post, and claimed many of her own party workers had died in this way.

The Chief Minister said she visited the hospital to express her sympathy and assured all help to the bereaved family.

SFI activists present at the hospital raised slogans against her during the visit.

Sudipta Gupta’s father Pronob Kumar Gupta, however, refused to accept any help from the state government. “My son was beaten to death. Is it justice? I was a central government employee. I get pension. I cannot accept any money. It is against my principle. She is offering me money, but can she return my son?” he said.

Asked about Banerjee’s statement that Sudipta died after he hit a post, Pronob Kumar reiterated that his son was beaten to death and he would fight for justice.

Sudipta’s death has triggered a row with the police claiming it as an accident while CPI(M) alleges that he succumbed to injuries sustained in police lathicharge.

In a separate development, the driver of the bus in which the SFI leader along with other supporters were being taken away, was arrested on Wednesday. — PTIBack







Govt will take decisive action to push growth to 8 pc: PM

NEW DELHI: Terming the 5 per cent GDP expansion as clearly disappointing, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday made a case for speedy and decisive actions to achieve 8 per cent economic growth.

Addressing the CII AGM in New Delhi, Singh said the government will further relax the FDI policy and take steps to bring down inflation.

Singh also said India can get back to the high growth path of 8 per cent even while dealing with problems like corruption, bureaucratic inertia and the difficulties in managing coalition.

"Growth has slowed to 5 per cent, which is clearly disappointing ... We are seeing temporary downturn, partly due to global factors. We can get back to 8 per cent growth rate," Singh said, adding that government will take speedy and decisive action to push growth.

Observing that the high fiscal deficit is unacceptable, Singh said "We are determined to do everything possible to achieve the fiscal deficit target".

As per the road map, the government aims to bring down the fiscal deficit to 3 per cent of GDP by 2016-17. As regards the Current Account Deficit (CAD), he expressed hope that it would moderate in the current financial year from a high of 5 per cent recorded in 2012-13.

The government, he said, will take all steps to ensure that foreign fund flows remain strong and restore the macro-economic balance.

"Corruption is a problem. Bureaucratic inertia is a problem. Managing coalition is not easy. But these problems have not arisen suddenly. They were all there even earlier when the economy was growing at 8 per cent", Singh added.

The Prime Minister said: "Business mood which was unduly optimistic in 2007, is unduly pessimistic today ... I would urge Indian industry to have faith in our determination and avoid getting swamped by negativism".

He said fiscal expansion has led to an expansion in the CAD, which is expected to be around 5 per cent of GDP in 2012-13.

"We financed a CAD of $ 90 billion in 2012-13 without a loss in forex reserves," he said adding the government will take all steps to "ensure that inflows remain strong for the next two years".

Singh said the Cabinet Committee on Investment (CCI), set up in December 2012, has made significant progress in clearing large projects which were held up for long.

In the petroleum sector, he said investments worth $ 20 billion for exploration and production activity in 40 oil blocks had been held up for many years because of security clearances.

"The CCI has made a difference. Clearances have been given for 5 blocks. We hope to resolve issues relating to another 31 blocks within the next two weeks.

"I believe the progress we have achieved is particularly significant because these blocks were awarded many years ago, but were held up for want of clearances," he said.

The Prime Minister further said the fuel supply -- both coal and gas -- to power projects has been posing problems.

"The ministries are working to reach a resolution of these problems in a time bound manner. I hope we will see results in the next three weeks," he said.

India welcomes foreign investment, Singh said adding "liberalisation of FDI in multi brand retail, civil aviation and other areas, are important signals. We are reviewing the FDI policy comprehensively to see what more can be done in the coming months".

He said restoring macro-economic balance, among other things, is essential for revival of investment.

The growth rate of economy is strongly co-related with investment rate, he said, adding both public and private investment declined in 2011-12 as a share of GDP.

"This decline in investment must be reversed. The most important thing we can do to revive investment climate domestically is to deal with the many impediments affecting the implementation of infrastructure projects," he said.

The CCI, he said, has streamlined the processes of granting environment and forest clearances for mega projects.

"Clearances for 12 coal mining projects have been fast tracked. These projects would add 37 million tonnes to our annual coal production," he said.

In the power sector, the CCI has resolved issues relating to the NTPC's proposed 2,000 MW project in Jharkhand's North Karanpura area.

"This project, to be built at a cost of Rs. 14,000 crore, had been pending for the last 13 years because of differences between the ministries of Power and Coal," Singh said.

He further said the government is contemplating other reform measures, including considering the recommendations of the Financial Sector Legislative Reforms Committee.

"The Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill has been cleared by the cabinet and will soon go to Parliament," he said. — PTIBack







Industry welcomes PM statement

NEW DELHI: The industry on Wednesday welcomed the statement of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh making a case for speedy and decisive actions to achieve 8 per cent economic growth.

“Growth has slowed to 5 per cent, which is clearly disappointing ... We are seeing temporary downturn, partly due to global factors. We can get back to 8 per cent growth rate,” Dr. Singh said at the CII AGM, adding that government will take speedy and decisive action to push growth.

Welcoming the statement, Jindal Steel and Power Chairman Naveen Jindal said: “The Prime Minister has addressed all areas of concern of the industrialists for the economy and he has also said that we shouldn’t be pessimistic, we should be optimistic and if we do the right things, we can easily achieve higher growth rates.

“I think it will give the industry the confidence it needs to make investments,” he added.

Reacting positively to the Dr. Singh’s statement, Chairman of Bajaj Group Rahul Bajaj said: “If the prime minister says certain things, you take it seriously. If you don’t take that seriously, who would you take seriously? I think he has made a very positive statement.

“As the prime minister said, we had 8 per cent growth earlier although we had the same problems. We still have the same problems, then why should we be satisfied (with 5 per cent). That is the question we all have to answer,” he added.

Mahindra & Mahindra President (Automotive and Farm Equipment Sectors) Pawan Goenka said Dr. Singh has almost spoken about everything that industry wants the government to address but the real challenge will be the execution and implementation.

Being an election year, there is some level of anxiety among the industry about ‘some inaction’ or ‘some popular steps’ which may not necessarily be good in the long run, he added. — PTI








Jesse Ryder discharged from hospital

WELLINGTON: New Zealand cricketer Jesse Ryder has been discharged from a Christchurch hospital and returned to Wellington less than a week after an assault that initially left him with critical injuries and in an induced coma.

Ryder’s manager, Aaron Klee, confirmed on Wednesday that Ryder, who suffered a fractured skull in separate attacks outside a bar and fast-food restaurant parking lot last Thursday, had gone home.

Ryder told police on Tuesday he has no recollection of the incident. — AP




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