Saturday, February 28, 2009

Rupee hits record low of 51.12 against dollar

27 Feb 2009, PTI

MUMBAI: Sliding for the fifth day in a row, the Indian rupee on Friday breached the 51-mark for the first time ever against the greenback as the local currency lost 66 paise on sustained strong demand for the US dollar from foreign banks and oil importers amid weak stock markets.

The US dollar ended sharply higher against the rupee at Rs.51.12/14 per dollar and the Pound Sterling also finished higher at Rs.72.49/51 per pound at the close of the Interbank Foreign Exchange (Forex) market on Friday.

Dealers in foreign exchange said that the stronger dollar abroad gave an opportunity to the foreign banks to buy American currency in the local market and sell it in offshore non-deliverable forward contracts for immediate profits.

In the overseas market, the dollar gained against its major rival euro but slipped against Asian competitor yen.

The rupee on Thursday only set a fresh low record of 50.46 on sudden surge in demand for dollar. The previous low record of the domestic currency was recorded on last December 2 when it touched the intra-day high of 50.60. Including today's fall of 66 paise, the rupee had slumped by a whopping 151 paise or 3.04 per cent in the straight past five sessions.

Continued selling by Foreign Institutional Investors (FIIs) in equity markets also weighed against the rupee. They have pulled out nearly USD 1.6 billion in the current calender year so far, dealers said. Weakness in equity markets also put pressure on domestic unit, they added.

LDF lacks confidence to face voters: Chennithala

Alappuzha: Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president Ramesh Chennithala has said the Left Democratic Front (LDF) in the State lacks confidence to face the voters in the forthcoming general election.

Addressing a press conference here on Friday on the sidelines of the 'Kerala Raksha March' being led by him, Mr. Chennithala said this lack of confidence was evident in the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M) through the contradictory statements made by Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechury and CPI(M) State secretary Pinarayi Vijayan on the election being an assessment of the State government's performance.

While Mr. Vijayan had stated that the election would be an appraisal of the government, Mr. Yechury had an entirely different opinion, he said.

Police to enhance security for pongala

Thiruvananthapuram: Elaborate security arrangements have been planned for the smooth conduct of the annual Attukal pongala beginning on March 2.

Addressing a press conference at the temple trust office here on Thursday, Minister for Home Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said instructions were given to the police to tighten the security arrangements for the festival in view of the 'special circumstance.' As many as 2,500 policemen and 300 women constables would be deployed for the festival.

Closed circuit televisions would be installed to monitor the crowd movement and the places in and around the temple during the festival period. A 24-hour control room manned by senior police officials would be opened in the temple.

The Minister said the police would ensure the security of the pilgrims who arrived at the temple during the festival period and women who arrived for offering the pongala on March 10.

Inspector General of Police (IGP), Thiruvananthapuram range, would supervise the security arrangements to be made by the City Police Commissioner and the Deputy Police Commissioner. The volunteers of the Janamaithri Suraksha would be roped in for the security arrangements, the Minister said.

To a request of the temple trust not to transfer the police officials posted for security duty for the forthcoming pongala, the Minister said the State government cannot intervene in it as it was the prerogative of the Election Commission.

V. Sivankutty, MLA, who was present at the press conference, said a meeting of residents' associations of corporation wards near the temple had agreed to the restrictions on the use of loudspeakers during night in view of the SSLC and Plus Two examinations.

Mr. Sivankutty said those who want to contribute food to the pilgrims should register their names with the local police station. The local people and social organisations had also been asked not to force the pilgrims to drink water and buttermilk

Antony laid keel of first indigenous aircraft career

Kochi, Feb 28: Defence Minister A.K. Antony laid the keel of the country's first indigenous aircraft carrier at the Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL) here today, which marked a significant upgradation of India's shipbuilding capabilities.

A.K. Antony described the occasion as a 'historic moment for India'. 'It is a crucial milestone and a moment to cherish in the country's maritime history.'

With a displacement of 40,000 tonnes, the carrier will be the first military vessel at CSL. To be launched in 2010, the ship is scheduled to be delivered to the Indian Navy in 2014.

In a press release issued here Friday CSL said it had been selected for the challenging project based on its technical expertise, inherent strength in detailed engineering, capacity to innovate, reputation for on time delivery and modern infrastructure.

The yard commenced the steel cutting for this project in April 2005 and has achieved the keel laying as per schedule, after the government sanctioned the design in January 2003.

The ship, which is 260 metres long and 60 metres wide, will be propelled by two LM2500 gas turbines that will enable it attain speeds in excess of 28 knots.

With two runways and a landing strip equipped with three arrester wires, the ship will carry a maximum of 30 aircraft with adequate hangar capacity.

The design of this prestigious ship has been undertaken by the Directorate of Naval Design (DND) that has experience of over 40 years in successfully designing 17 different classes of warships.

It'll be a tough for us (CPI-M) if there is an alliance-Basu

28 February 2009
Kolkata: The electoral battle in the coming Lok Sabha elections will be tough for the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) if the Congress and the state's main opposition Trinamool Congress formed an alliance in West Bengal, veteran communist leader Jyoti Basu said here Friday.

"It'll be a tough for us (CPI-M) if there is an alliance," Basu told reporters at the party headquarters at Alimuddin Street here.

He said the CPI-M might lose some seats in the coming Lok Sabha polls if the Congress-Trinamool alliance finally materialised.

Basu came to attend the party's state secretariat meeting Friday. He came at around 10.40 am and stayed inside the party office for nearly 40 minutes.

He had last attended the CPI-M state secretariat meeting last week (Feb 20) at the party headquarters, after a gap of six months.

When asked about the possibility of a CPI-M-Congress coalition at the centre, Basu, would not comment on whether the communists would support the Congress at the centre after Lok Sabha elections.

"No such decision was taken in the party meeting," he added.

Basu was the chief minister of West Bengal from June 1977 to November 2000.

Advani blasts Rama Sene for Mangalore pub attack

28 February 2009

Bangalore: Bharatiya Janata Party leader L.K. Advani Saturday blasted the rightwing Hindu group Sri Rama Sene for its attack on women in a Mangalore pub last month, saying such "barbaric attacks are condemnable".

Advani was referring to the Jan 24 attack on young women by around 40 Rama Sene men. The Sene members had accused the women who go to pubs of violating Indian traditions.

He was addressing a well attended rally of students and youth in Karnataka to mark the conclusion of a state-wide anti-terror campaign by the ruling BJP.

Speaking to reporters after the rally, Advani said: "I strongly condemn the attack on girls in Mangalore. There can be no compromise on this. It is wrong and against Indian culture and ethos."

The BJP's prime ministerial candidate said people could have different perspectives on whether they approved of young men and women frequenting pubs but attacking them was wrong.

"Girls and boys will have their own ways, and you may not approve, but it is wrong to attack them for it," he said.

Hundreds of male and female students attended the rally in scorching heat at the Palace Grounds, about five kilometers from the city centre, a highlight of which was an address by K. Unikrishnan, father of Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, a National Security Guard (NSG) commando who was killed in a gun battle with terrorists during the Nov 26-29 Mumbai carnage last year.

After being garlanded and presented with a shawl by Advani, Unnikrishnan and his wife Dhanalakshmi sought the BJP leader's blessings by touching his feet.

In his brief address in Kannada, Unnikrishnan said his son was not killed but sought death fighting the terrorists.

"Have such fire in you and no terrorist can kill you," he exhorted the cheering young audience.

BJP to contest 11 ls seats in Kerala

28 February 2009
Kottayam: The BJP would contest 11 out of the 20 Lok Sabha constituencies in Kerala in the coming elections, party state unit President P.K.Krishnadas said.

The candidates for nine seats had already been finalised and a decision on the remaining two constituencies would be taken before March 15, he told reporters here.

Referring to the CBI's move to prosecute CPI-M state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan in the SNC Lavalin corruption case, he said Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan should keep his promise that all the accused would be prosecuted. He said the time was ripe to form a third front against the LDF and UDF.

BJP edges Congress in cyberspace campaign

Saturday,28 February 2009
New Delhi: In what promises to be a keen electoral contest to determine who rules India, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has already taken an early lead over the Congress -- in cyberspace warfare.

With general elections involving some 700 million voters only two months away, the BJP - perhaps taking a leaf from the Barack Obama style of campaigning - is targeting voters who are mostly young and net savvy.

"Advani for prime minister" is the theme of five campaigns by the BJP on more than 2,000 websites, including those of the US, British and Pakistani media which Indians often frequent.

Prodyut Bora, convenor of the BJP's IT cell, said: "We are the leaders in the use of Internet for elections."

So far there has been no similar effort from the Congress. But the party has shown it can use the Internet if it wishes. In the Rajasthan assembly contest late last year, it launched an Internet campaign with video ads.

To go with the web ads, Advani, 81, has started a blog -- the first senior Indian politician to do so.

On Jan 7, he wrote: "My young colleagues who created this website told me that a political portal without a blog is like a letter without a signature. I am excited by the idea of using the Internet for the election campaign."

But the question remains - will the Internet campaign bring in the votes?

V.K. Malhotra, the BJP's chief ministerial candidate in Delhi last year, launched a website to woo voters. It did not help. Incumbent Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit of the Congress won again.

Arun Kumar of the School of Social Sciences in New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) says the BJP campaign is unlikely to help it garner too many votes because "Internet-savvy people are a small portion of the population".

According to him, what really matters are face-to-face interactions based on issues that matter to the people. Similarly, he says, the lack of an Internet campaign is unlikely to harm the Congress.

All major parties such as the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) have their official websites. The CPI-M website has comments on a whole range of issues.

On the coming Lok Sabha polls, it says: "The party should conduct a vigorous political campaign in the run up to the Lok Sabha polls. We should call for the defeat of the BJP and the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) to ensure that the communal forces are kept out of power at the centre. The campaign should attack the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government's anti-people economic policies. The Left parties, along with the secular parties, should work together to make a non-Congress, non-BJP alternative realisable."

The Samajwadi Party's official website says: "This website aims to communicate with the masses and let people understand the party better. As time changes, technology changes; Samajwadi Party believes in staying up to date with technology and using it for betterment."

The website of Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar's NCP welcomes visitors to "join our cause and make a difference".

Navneet Kaushal, founder CEO of Page Traffic, told IANS: "Political parties have been using online media since 2003. The online Congress campaign in the last state elections showed it can gather a momentum of its own. However, Advani's campaign is the first of its kind on a national scale and borrows heavily from Barack Obama's style. We will have to see if it connects with the Indian people."

Dipankar Gupta, also of the School of Social Sciences in JNU, says: "The Congress seems to think there is not much advantage to be had by going for an Obama-style Internet campaign. The BJP campaign is unlikely to help it secure too many votes, just as it is unlikely that Congress's prospects will be harmed as most real voters don't surf the Internet."

Friday, February 27, 2009

Three students sentenced for raping a junior in 2005

Feb 26, 2009
Thiruvananthapuram: Three students of a nursing school in Kerala's Kottayam district were on Wednesday found guilty of raping a junior student on the pretext of ragging at the college in 2005. A special court in Kottayam on Thursday sentenced two of them to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment and the third accused was sentenced to undergo three years' imprisonment. The court acquitted six others.
According to the prosecution, the 17-year-old nursing student of School of Medical Education (SME), under Mahatma Gandhi University, was sexually assaulted by six third-year students in the institute's laboratory after the class hours on October 21, 2005. Before proceeding to outrage her modesty, the senior students subjected her to ragging.

Renjith Varghese and S Sherin were the first and the second accused, who were slapped with RI of 10 years. The third accused is Shefique Yusuf.

Other accused students were Ashly Varghese, Robin Paul and Divine Philip. Apart from them, the prosecution has arraigned SME principal K M Mariam, director Muralidharan and Dr Zybuneesa Beevi, the psychiatry professor at Kottayam medical college, on charges of their attempt to cover up the incident and tamper with the evidence. The first three accused were charged with rape and abduction of a minor, among other sections of the IPC.

Besides, they were also slapped with various provisions of the anti-ragging Act.

Earlier, the Supreme Court had quashed a High Court directive to nullify the suspension of the accused students from the SME. The apex court was also against subjecting the victim for a lie detection test, as ordered by the Kerala High Court. After the nightmarish experience, the victim was forced to quit the course midway

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Surrender? No No

Achuthanandan relents, joins rival Vijayan's march

Thiruvananthapuram:Buckling under pressure from party seniors, Kerala Chief Minister and Communist Party of India-Marxist

(CPI-M) politburo member V.S. Achuthanadan Wednesday took part in the concluding programme of a statewide march led by his

arch rival Pinarayi Vijayan here.

Achuthanandan has on several occasions said that he would not be part of the march led by Vijayan, who is the party's state

secretary. Even Tuesday night, Achuthanandan had brushed aside all questions on the march and said: 'Haven't I made my stand

very clear a few times? Why do you want to keep asking the same question over and over again?'

He was the last to arrive on the specially erected dais at the Shanghumukam beach near the airport here. While many on the dais got

up to greet the veteran, Vijayan merely looked the other way.

Vijayan, who began his march Feb 2, has been accused by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) of irregularities in awarding a

contract to Canadian firm SNC Lavalin when he was the state's power minister in 1997.

Achuthanandan and Vijayan are known rivals and head the two factions of the party. The chief minister has for long maintained

silence over Vijayan's alleged involvement in the multi-million rupee scam, while most CPI-M leaders had openly defended the state

party secretary.

The buzz in the political circles is that Achuthanandan changed his defiant stand as CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat, who

arrived here early Wednesday, and other Left leaders spoke to the chief minister over the matter.

Inaugurating the meeting attended by a large crowd of party activists, Karat warned the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance

(UPA) government against using the CBI to settle scores.

'We will tackle the Lavalin case where our comrade is being charge sheeted both politically and legally,' Karat said.

While Vijayan praised CPI-M workers for standing by the party at a time of distress, Achuthanandan spoke briefly, but said his party

was free from corruption.

'We will fight the case legally as and when it comes up in court and we will not fight against the judges. For long our party has been

fighting corruption and we all know the various corruption cases that the present Congress-led United Democratic Front leaders are

accused in. So it is best they stop crying about corruption,' Achuthanandan said.

Cloud of dust over CPM after Nava Kerala Yatra

Prakash Karat and Pinarayi Vijayan watch closely as CM V S Achuthanandan enters the stage at the conclusion of Nava Kerala

March on Wednesday.Express News Service First Published : 26 Feb 2009 01:32:00 AM ISTLast Updated : 26 Feb 2009 12:58:07

PM ISTTHIRUVANANTHAPURAM: In an anti-climax that would beat any political movie, the CPM’s 24- day roadshow concluded

at Shanghumughom on Wednesday evening leaving it loud and clear that inner-party issues will continue to simmer in the party in the

coming days.

On a stage, where CPM heavyweights waited with bated breath watching the final act unfurl, both VS and Pinarayi stuck to their

stated positions even as a helpless and hapless Prakash Karat sat as a mute witness. Ironically, none of them cared to acknowledge

the motto of the Nava Kerala Yatra `Safe India, prosperous Kerala’, as the general relief `all is well that ends well’ swept over the

thousands of comrades who had assembled to endorse the political might of the party.

From the ship-shaped dais to huge garlands and flower crown that Pinarayi donned, the event was very filmy complete with dialogues

with multi-layer meaning that stirred the crowd.

While leaving VS and Pinarayi in a win-win situation, the finale gave enough ammunition to the CPM to silence the critics who were

all buckled up to use the rift between the top brass as a poll plank. The CPM, especially Pinarayi, could accomplish a big victory by

dragging V S Achuthanandan to Shanghumughom and forcing him to endorse albeit partially the party line that SNC-Lavalin case will

be dealt with politically.

But, in the very next sentence, Achuthanandan reminded his followers and the party leadership that an indicted person need to prove

his innocence in the court.

“We will deal with the case against party secretary politically and legally. (He) can go to the court when it is convenient and prove his

innocence. (We) need not wage a war against judges,” said VS.

Recalling his fight against UDF leaders in the Idamalayar, Brahmapuram and Palmolein cases, VS said that the UDF had no ground

to ridicule the CPM in the name of corruption.

Earlier in his speech, Nava Kerala March captain and CPM state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan said a party worker would gain strength

only when he was with the party. "If a bucket of water is taken from the sea, there won’t be waves in that. Waves are only created

when the water is in the sea,” he reminded VS, who was sitting in a chair away but was not ready to share a word with him during the

entire two-and-ahalf hours when both the leaders sat together.

A late entry by Achuthanandan which created excitement among the 25,000-strong crowd at Shanghumughom was the highlight of the

concluding rally. VS, who could maintain suspense about his participation in the rally till the last moment, decided to go by the party

diktat after being cajoled by a couple of politburo members and leaders of other left parties.

“Our party will never compromise with corruption. However high may be the positions, the party won’t tolerate if they are involved in

corruption. The Kerala party has many such examples,” said CPM general secretary Prakash Karat after inaugurating the public

rally of Nava Kerala Yatra.

Referring to the SNC-Lavalin case, Karat reiterated the PB stand that the case had been politically motivated. He asked the Union

Government to let the CBI function in a professional manner.

“There are very good officers in the CBI. Let them do their duty. Don’t use the CBI for political gains,” Karat said. PB members S

Ramachandran Pillai and Kodiyeri Balakrishnan also spoke.

Kerala CM attends Vijayan's rally

25 Feb 2009, 1921 hrs IST, PTI

THIRUVANATHPURAM: Ending suspense, Kerala chief minister V S Achuthanandan attended the CPI-M rally 'Nava Kerala

March' led by his betenoir and party state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan here.

The long-drawn feud in the state CPM between the two leaders recently intensified with Achuthanandan declining to toe the party's

official line of defending Vijayan, who is sought to be arraigned as an accused in the SNC Lavalin graft case by the CBI.

While the party in the state has cranked up its entire strength to make the rally a big event, Achuthanandan had not confirmed

whether he would turn up for the event or not.

The 85-year-old Marxist veteran has refused to bless Vijayan's road-show which started from Kasargode on February 22 or address

any meeting connected with it.

Kerala CM attends Vijayan-led rally

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The apparent battle of wits within the CPM in Kerala that prevailed during the party’s Nava Kerala

Yatra appeared to end in favour of party state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan today.

Chief minister V S Achuthanandan, who had unswervingly refused to be part of the rally, succumbed this evening, apparently

following some pep talk by coalition partners and CPM general secretary Prakash Karat, and turned up for the concluding session of

the rally here this evening.

That was a huge reversal of his stand not to be part of the rally, seemingly because he did not like the idea of Mr Vijayan, whose

name has been linked to alleged corruption in the SNC Lavalin case, leading the yatra.

Through the more than three weeks that the rally took to wind its way from Kasaragod to Thiruvananthapuram, the groups seen to be

supporting the CM and the party state secretary seemed to be playing a cat-and-mouse game, with the VS camp not confirming the

CM’s participation in the rally and the Vijayan camp reiterating that all party members would attend the yatra.

That stand-off appeared to culminate in an anti-climax today as the CM took the dais on the concluding event of the rally, perhaps

disappointing his fans within the party cadres and outside.

The avowed objectives of the yatra were “India’s security and Kerala’s prosperity”, but what was in focus all through were divisive

vibes among cadres and an ugly incident of a chappal being hurled at the rally at Payyannur, besides publicity boards of the rally

being destroyed at different parts of the state.

Political observers here say that the CM may have decided to drop his hardline stand and attend the rally in view of the forthcoming

Lok Sabha polls, the result of which could also be seen as an appraisal of his government’s performance in the state.

Kerala CM attends march led by arch rival

February 26, 2009, (Thiruvananthapruam)
A crisis in the CPM's Kerala unit has been averted for the time being. Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan's participated in the Nava

Kerala March public meeting led by CPM state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan. The CPM's Kerala was pleasantly surprised on

Wednesday when Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan showed up at a function led by CPM state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, even

though he had earlier said he would stay away.

Nevertheless, he used the opportunity to reiterate his stand on corruption, even though his comments were no longer aimed at


"The party General Secretary has explained the position on CPM ledader's corruption issue. We will fight it politically and legally,"

Achuthanandan said.

But earlier, Pinarayi Vijayan did take a potshot at Achuthanadan's one man style of functioning, saying no one was above the party.

"All our strength is because of this sea-like organisation. Without this organisation, no individual has any strength. This is the reality

we all are aware of," he said.

The party general secretary Prakash Karat was clearly doing his bit to undo damage caused by the recent spat between

Achutananadan and Vijayan.

"We are united we will go with the resolve for the battle of elections."

With Achuthanadan and Pinarayi sharing the stage, the crisis in the party seems to be over, at least for now.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dubai-based Kerala businessman gets bail in airport brawl case

Thiruvananthapuram: A court here Tuesday gave conditional bail to Madathil Reghu, an influential Dubai-based businessman, for allegedly manhandling a Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) trooper at the airport early this month.
The Thiruvananthapuram chief judicial magistrate's court gave bail to Reghu on a deposit of Rs.500,000, two sureties and asked him to present himself for two days for police questioning.

Egyptian national Ahmmed Mohammed, who holds a British passport, was also involved in the brawl but got bail last week. The two jumped the queue at the immigration counter Feb 7 and allegedly manhandled the CISF trooper who sought to discipline them.

This case created a problem for the police here after the two, alleged to be close friends of Kerala Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan's son, initially got away after the brawl.

But things turned for the worse for the duo after the media took up this issue and the CISF top brass protested the manner the police hushed up the issue.

Following this, the Kerala government Feb 16 suspended two police officials who had failed to register a case against the two.

Last week, Mohammed surrendered and was let out on bail while Reghu went into hiding and secured anticipatory bail but was asked by the court to appear before it before Feb 26

Nava Kerala march to conclude Wednesday

Thiruvananthapuram: CPM state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan told mediapersons to wait till tomorrow and see when asked if chief minister V S Achuthanandhan would take part in the Nava Kerala march on Wednesday. The march would conclude on Wednesday. Pinarayi said that the party is bound to abide by the decision taken by the high command.

Comrade V S Achuthanandhan has a long political history and no one should cast aspersions against him, he said. Regarding the number of people taking part in the march, he said that it is difficult to predict who all will be taking part as people come and join as the march approaches their district.

The Lavlin case is politically motivated and the party high command has endorsed this. We will stand by the party decision firmly.

The Thiruvananthapuram district committee of the CPI(M) has planned to make the conclusion in a grand way with cultural fare and a red volunteer march. The valedictory meeting at the Shanghumughom beach will be inaugurated by CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat.

Achuthanandan firm on stand against Pinarayi's march

Thiruvananthapruam: Kerala Chief Minister and Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) politburo member V.S.Achuthanadan Tuesday said he has made his stand clear on his participation in the state wide march of his party arch-rival and state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan.
'Haven't I made my stand very clear a few times? Why do you want to keep asking the same question over and over again?' said Achuthanandan to repeated questions whether he would be on the dais at the march's concluding programme here Wednesday evening.

The chief minister was talking to reporters after the weekly cabinet meeting.

When reporters asked if they could give the news that Achuthanandan would not take part in the rally, he walked away.

Achuthanandan, early this month after the march began, had on more than one occasion said he would not take part in the march.

Vijayan, who began his march on Feb 2, was asked the same question practically every day when he met reporters. Asked the same question Tuesday, he shot back: 'There is still time left and we will all know tomorrow if he will take part or not.'

Vijayan has been accused by the Central Bureau of Investigation of irregularities in awarding a contract to Canadian firm SNC Lavalin when he was the state's power minister in 1997.

Achuthanandan and Vijayan are known rivals and head the two factions of the party. The chief minister has for long maintained silence over Vijayan's alleged involvement in the multi-million rupee scam, while most CPI-M leaders had openly defended the state party secretary.

CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat will inaugurate the public meeting to be held here Tuesday at the end of Vijayan's march.

Achuthanandan skips question on attending party rally

24 Feb 2009, PTI

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Kerala chief minister V S Achuthandandan declined to give a direct answer to the crucial question of his participation in CPI-M's mega rally here tomorrow to mark the finale of party state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan's 'Nava Kerala March'.

Vijayan is sought by CBI as an accused in the SNC-Lavalin case, concerning alleged corruption in award of contract to the Canadian company for renovation of three hydro electric projects when he was power minister in 1998.

"I have made my position clear on this question before," was Achuthandandan's response when reporters asked him if he would be sharing the party podium with Vijayan at Sanghumugham beach.

Achuthanandan also said there was no change in his stand on the case. "I have made this repeatedly clear. Why do you keep asking me this again and again?," he asked.

CPI-M General Secretary Prakash Karat, who is the main speaker at the rally, had said "wait and see" when the question was put to him after the party politburo meeting in Delhi on February 14 which discussed the Lavalin case.

Achuthanandan has differed sharply from the CPI-M's official line and declined to come to the defence of his estranged colleague, who faces the prospect of being prosecuted in the case.

'Global Meltdown reduced tourist arrival'

24 February 2009
New Delhi: The global meltdown, coupled with the Mumbai terror attacks, considerably impacted the foreign tourist arrivals in India and their number rose only 5.56 percent last year against the expected growth of 14.56 percent, the Rajya Sabha was informed Tuesday.

"The global meltdown has affected those countries that are our primary source of tourist arrivals. There have been cancellations but I would like to point out that a growth rate of 5.56 percent is way above the global average of two percent," Tourism Minister Ambika Soni said during question hour.

"The Mumbai attacks also contributed to the dip in arrivals," she added.

"Till August-September, we had very high growth rates. Then came the global meltdown and the Mumbai attacks," she said, adding that in spite of the dip in arrivals, foreign exchange earnings last year rose 14.4 percent.

"This is because we receive a number of high-end travellers and those who spend a lot of money," Soni explained.

The minister vehemently denied suggestions that efforts to encourage foreign tourist arrivals were being made at the cost of domestic tourism.

"Any steps to encourage foreign tourist arrivals is not at the cost of domestic tourism," she said, adding that 560 million Indians travelled within the country last year.

"When I became a minister, the prime minister had clearly said that domestic tourism was a priority. Thus, we have been able to increase the number of domestic tourists from 320 million to 560 million (last year)."

Detailing the steps her ministry had taken to promote domestic tourism, Soni said Rs.378 crore (Rs.3.78 billion) had been sanctioned for 16 mega projects in the country, while another six were in the pipeline.

"Under this scheme, Rs.25 crore (Rs.250 million) is given for destination development and Rs.50 crore for circuit development," Soni said, adding that the projects were coming up in places like Amritsar, Ajmer, Pushkar, Goa and Tirupathi.

This apart, the government had identified 139 spots for promoting rural tourism and was providing Rs.50 lakh (Rs.5 million) at each place for infrastructure development and Rs.20 lakh for capacity building.

Soni also sought to allay apprehensions that the regional media were being ignored for advertisements for the tourism ministry's "Incredible India" campaign.

"A special committee decides where the advertisements are to be placed. I want to make it very clear that from Jammu and Kashmir to Kerala, from east to west, no language is left untouched. At the same time, we cannot give advertisements to each and every newspaper," Soni pointed out.

Modi says Rahul 'aquarium fish'

25 February 2009

Modi says Rahul 'aquarium fish'
The war of words between Narendra Modi and the Congress grew shriller Sunday. The Gujarat chief minister likened Congress MP Rahul Gandhi to a "small fish" in an aquarium, and the Congress promptly described Modi as a "piranha who devours human beings".

Modi, addressing a poll rally in Goa, said Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders like him and his counterparts in states ruled by the party are like "ocean fish" who weather big storms, unlike those "floating around in aquariums".

In an obvious dig at Rahul Gandhi, the 38-year-old Congress general secretary who is being projected as a youth icon by the Congress, Modi said: "We are not small fish floating around in the comfort of aquariums, but we weather huge storms to win."

"We are not flowers cultivated by gardeners of the rich. We have grown up in the forests on our own," Modi said, asking: "Which young people are they talking about?"

He continued: "Aren't there young people living in the slums and in the homes of poor? But they are not considered young, for their fathers are not rich, because their fathers were not prime ministers or their mothers are not big people."

Modi, who is in-charge of the BJP in Goa for upcoming Lok Sabha elections, claimed that compared to the Congress, his party had younger chief ministers.

The Congress reacted sharply to Modi's "fish" remarks, with spokesperson Manish Tewari saying in New Delhi: "If Rahul is a fish in the aquarium, then Modi is a piranha who devours human beings."

He said Modi had no right to speak about the poor, for unlike Rahul Gandhi, he had never spent a day in a Dalit's shanty. "The chief minister of Gujarat has lost it completely," remarked Tewari.

He said the "Congress party has a history of empowering the youth; it is not a new development."

Modi, addressing a party rally in Mapusa, 12 km from Panaji, said for the first time in independent India's political history, chiefs of armed forces had been forced to indulge in war rhetoric before the media.

"It is unprecedented. This is nothing but a ploy to appease their minority vote bank. Despite 26/11, the Congress does not want to act tough against Pakistan," Modi said.

Raising the pitch further, the Gujarat chief minister said that with the 26/11 terror-strikes in Mumbai, Pakistan had initiated war and India should have responded accordingly.

"Instead, the Indian government went and begged before the US, pleading with them to lean on Pakistan."

Claiming that the Congress-led coalition government had failed miserably vis-?is security and progress, Modi said the Congress had made India weak-kneed in face of growing terrorism.

"Why is Afzal Guru not being hanged, despite being pronounced guilty? Why is he being kept alive, as if he is in a museum," he said.

Modi addressed BJP party workers meetings in the two Lok Sabha constituencies during his two-day visit to Goa.

While sitting MP Shripad Naik will contest the North Goa seat, the BJP has introduced a new face for the South Goa seat in Narendra Savoikar.

Resul Pookutty makes history

Ian Tapp, Richard Pryke and Resul Pookutty hold the Oscars for achievement in sound mixing for their work on "Slumdog Millionaire"
Los Angeles: After winning the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA), 36-year-old Resul Pookutty has created history by becoming the first Indian to bag the Oscar for best sound mixing for the critically acclaimed film "Slumdog Millionaire".

Pookutty shared the Oscar with Ian Tapp and Richard Pryke for their work in the Mumbai-based rags-to-riches drama directed by British filmmaker Danny Boyle.

"This is unbelievable. I share this stage with two magicians...I dedicate this award to my country," Pookutty said while accepting the award here Sunday.

Pookutty, who lives in Mumbai with his wife and two young children, got his big break in Bollywood with the critically acclaimed 2005 film "Black" that was directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali.

He subsequently engineered sound for productions like "Musafir" (2004), "Zinda" (2006), "Traffic Signal" (2007), "Gandhi, My Father" (2007), "Saawariya" (2007) and "Dus Kahaniyaan" (2007) apart from several others. He also designed sound for the 2008 blockbuster "Ghajini", starring Aamir Khan.

Pookutty is now looking forward to Sanjay Leela Bhansali's next film. But he is currently busy doing the sound of Rajat Kapoor's "Rectangular Love Story", Suarabh Shukla's "Pappu Can't Dance Saala" and new director Sharad's "Rangeen In Love".

Pookutty, who hails from Kerala, did his schooling in Malayalam medium. He was the youngest of eight children and had a passion for films right from his young days.

Though Pookutty's father was keen that he should become a doctor, he failed the medical entrance examinations.

After finishing his graduation, he took admission to a law course in 1990. Going against his father's wishes, he dropped out of law college in Thiruvananthapuram and joined the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune in 1995.

Nun's controversial tale in English, Hindi

24 February 2009

Mumbai: The controversial book, "Amen - Autobiography of a Nun", by a Kerala Catholic nun in which she alleges that sexual abuse and homosexuality are prevalent in the Catholic Church in the southern state, will soon be published in English, Hindi and Marathi.

The book, which has taken the Catholic Church by storm, could hit bookshelves across the country before the Lent period begins on March 10, book's author Sister Jesme told said over phone from Calicut.

"An agreement was signed yesterday (Monday) evening with Penguin Books, giving them the full domestic rights for the book. They hope to bring it out within the next 10-15 days or so," she said.

Sr. Jesme said the English version is ready. "In fact, I had written the book first in English, but there were no takers," she revealed.

When a Malayalam publisher got ready to publish it, she translated it into Malayalam and it was published a few months ago, raising Church eyebrows around the world as the word spread.

Though she said there has been no official reaction from the Vatican so far, church authorities in Kerala have been in touch with her seeking clarifications about her motives behind penning the book.

"I have maintained right from the beginning that I am not against the church, all that I am seeking is a 'renewal in the church'. I am dedicated to Lord Jesus and he is my guiding spirit all these years," said the 52-year-old Sr. Jesme.

Asked about the Hindi and Marathi versions, she said that Penguin will arrange to get the translated versions and these will hit the markets after the English book - to be titled "Amen - The Story of a Nun" - is out.

"We agreed on Hindi and Marathi since these are Penguin's speciality areas apart from English," Sr. Jesme explained.

Born in Trichur as Meamy Raphael, Sr. Jesme joined a convent and became a nun at a young age.

In the book, she speaks about shocking instances of carnal pursuits by members of the church. She has even highlighted how she became a victim to such incidents, setting off a furore.

Sr. Jesme said that reactions to the book - there were even some death threats - have amazed her.

"However, as a believer, I feel Lord Jesus is behind all this. I am merely an instrument. He wants a renewal in the church," she asserted, explaining that her name itself is a combination of herself and Lord Jesus - 'Jes' and 'Me."

The middle among seven children, Sr. Jesme is no stranger to the world of publishing. Prior to the latest book, she has penned three collections of poems - "A Cascade", "Rhapsody" and "At The Foot Of The Cross" - and a critique on criticism "Narrative Aesthetics - A Case Study".

While the 180-page Malayalam book "Amen - Autobiography of a Nun" had several pictures, she is not sure if Penguin would include photographs in the English, Hindi and Marathi editions which are expected to be over 200 pages each.

NRI businessman surrenders in Court

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: An NRI businessman involved in a case connected with a drunken brawl at the International airport here surrendered before the Chief Judicial Magistrate court on Tuesday.

Judge P Muraleedharan granted conditional bail to the NRI Madhil Reghu. The case was that Reghu along with one of his foreign friends Ahammad Muhammad Al Jalak had allegedly beat up the CISF security and immigration officials at the airport here on February 7.

The Court directed Reghu, hailing from Kollam district, to furnish a security of Rs Five lakh as condition for bail.

The local police had allowed them to go after registering a petty case. However, when the incident became a controversy and CISF complained about the manner in which the accused were treated by the local police, holding that the issue involved airport security, the government ordered a probe.

Later, the government suspended two police personnel including an assistant commissioner in connection with the incident.

Jalak surrendered before the police on February 11 and was on bail.

Kerala government to honour Oscar winners with gold medals

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Kerala government will accord a civic reception to music maestro A R Rahman, lyricist Gulzar and sound engineer Resul Pookutty, for their Oscar-winning feat for the film "Slumdog Millionaire" and present them gold medals.

Announcing a cabinet decision in this regard, chief minister V S Achuthanandan told reporters that the date for civic reception would be decided as per the award winners' convenience.

The government would present each of them a gold medal, he said.

The cabinet also congratulated Rahman, Pookutty and Gulzar for winning the coveted award.

Earlier in the day, the state assembly also congratulated Rahman, Gulzar and Pookutty.

Showering praises on Rahman, Assembly Speaker K Radhakrishnan said the musician has been able to create new waves in Indian film music at a very young age by dint of talent and dedication.

Keralites were elated to hear about the honour for Pookutty as he is the first Malayali to win the paramount award of the film world, he said.

Kerala assembly congratulates Rahman, Pookutty

Thiruvananthapuram: The Kerala assembly Tuesday congratulated music maestro A.R. Rahman and sound technician Resul Pookutty of 'Slumdog Millionaire' for bagging Oscars at the 81st annual Academy Awards.

Speaker K. Radhakrishnan said the assembly is happy for Tamil Nadu's Rahman and Pookutty, a Keralite who grew up near Anchal in Kollam district. He congratulated the two immediately after the question hour came to a close.

'We are happy as this is an achievement for our country and more importantly they have dedicated this to the country,' he said.

Pookutty won the award for sound mixing while composer Rahman bagged two Oscars - for best original song and best original score

Monday, February 23, 2009

Shivratri gift to Malayalis: Pookutty

Anchal: The sleepy Vilakkupara village burst into cheers early morning when Resul Pookutty was declared Oscar winner for sound mixing.

His family members, neighbours and friends got into a celebration mood, hugging each other, distributing sweets as Resul Pookutty became the first Keralite to win an Oscar.

''It's a Shivratri gift to Malayalis,'' he told a Malayalam television channel after receiving the award.

Kerala Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan, Culture Minister M A Baby, his colleagues in the film industry and people from all walks of life congratulated him for his success.

''Both Resul Pookutty and A R Rahman made the country proud by winning the Oscar,'' the Chief Minister said.

''Hard work pays off and this is going to be a great impetus for all in the film industry,'' Mr Baby said.

Cine actors Mammoottty and Mohanlal were among those who congratulated 37-year-old Resul in the greatest achievement in his career.

The youngest of eight children, Resul had a passion for films right from his young days. After passing out from the Film and Television Institute of India, he made his sound designing and mixing debut with Rajat Kapoor's film Private Detective in 1997.

He was the sound designer for offbeat films such as Rahul Bose starrer Split Wide Open, Deepak Tijori's Snip!, Rahul Bose's Everybody Says I'm Fine, Boom and critically-acclaimed Matrubhoomi.

He got his big break in 2005 with Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Black, which was followed by films like Bluffmaster, Zinda, Traffic Signal, Saawariya, Gandhi My Father, Dus Kahaniyaan and Woodstock Villa.

Then came Slumdog Millionaire, a project that brought him worldwide recognition.

When Resul Pookutty studied under a kerosene lamp

Los Angeles: Slumdog Millionaire has brought the best out of Kerala-born sound engineer Resul Pookutty.

Besides an Oscar, Pookutty has also won a BAFTA and a Cinema Audio Society (CAS) award for best sound mixing for the film.

But life wasn't always this bright for Pookutty. Hailing from a small village of Vilakkupara in Kerala's Kollam district which didn't have electricity, he studied under a kerosene lamp.

He then went to the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune from where he graduated in 1995.

The sound designer accepted the Oscar along with re-recording mixers Ian Tapp and Richard Pryke.

He made his debut in 1997 in Rajat Kapoor's Private Detective and went on to work in films like Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Black, Gandhi My Father and Ghajini.

His film credits include Saawariya, Zinda, Musafir and Amu.

He won the Zee Cine award for the best Sound Designer for Musafir while he won critical acclaim for his work in Black and won all the major awards in India.

When Resul almost walked out of Slumdog

Posted: Feb 23, 2009

The Oscar winner for sound mixing had almost walked out of Slumdog Millionaire after a tiff.

Resul Pookutty almost made the biggest mistake of his life during the making of Slumdog Millionaire. The sound mixer, who's just picked up an Academy Award for Best Sound Mixing at Los Angeles's Kodak Theatre, felt the Slumdog team wasn't giving sound its due importance. After a heated exchange with Danny Boyle, Pookutty walked out of the film, only to be wooed back by the filmmaker.

Just before he left for foreign shores, to pick up the trophies from the BAFTA and Cinema Audio Society (CAS) award and now the Oscar, Pookutty said: "I would have been crying now had I not been persuaded to join the project back."

"It was a difficult project and Danny was very demanding. It put a lot of strain on me emotionally and physically," Pookutty recalled. Since the film was shot in Mumbai, a "very noisy city", in motion, the sound designer had trouble recording the sound from the viewers' perception. In keeping with the film's flavour, Pookutty decided to record the soundscape of the city.

The sequences shot at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus were among the toughest. "Since I wanted to record the sound of city life, I positioned my assistants with mikes across the station," he said.

In fact, after a career spanning 13 years in the industry, Pookutty applied fresh tactics for this film. "I had to keep my usual techniques aside and constantly reinvent ways of getting the best possible sound," he revealed.

Like most, Pookutty said he didn't have much inkling Slumdog Millionaire would go on to become such a huge phenomenon, though he was a fan of Boyle after watching Trainspotting. "I even had a poster of Trainspotting in my room at FTII," he said.

When he first met Boyle, the FTII graduate was in awe of him. He was tongue-tied when the British director asked him to suggest some films he should watch to know about his sound designing style. The 36-year-old replied, "Watch any of my films, you will find my mark." When he met Boyle for the second time, Pookutty said, he found that the director had done his homework.

Resul Pookutty makes history

Ian Tapp, Richard Pryke and Resul Pookutty hold the Oscars for achievement in sound mixing for their work on "Slumdog Millionaire"
Los Angeles: After winning the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA), 36-year-old Resul Pookutty has created history by becoming the first Indian to bag the Oscar for best sound mixing for the critically acclaimed film "Slumdog Millionaire".

Pookutty shared the Oscar with Ian Tapp and Richard Pryke for their work in the Mumbai-based rags-to-riches drama directed by British filmmaker Danny Boyle.

"This is unbelievable. I share this stage with two magicians...I dedicate this award to my country," Pookutty said while accepting the award here Sunday.

Pookutty, who lives in Mumbai with his wife and two young children, got his big break in Bollywood with the critically acclaimed 2005 film "Black" that was directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali.

He subsequently engineered sound for productions like "Musafir" (2004), "Zinda" (2006), "Traffic Signal" (2007), "Gandhi, My Father" (2007), "Saawariya" (2007) and "Dus Kahaniyaan" (2007) apart from several others. He also designed sound for the 2008 blockbuster "Ghajini", starring Aamir Khan.

Pookutty is now looking forward to Sanjay Leela Bhansali's next film. But he is currently busy doing the sound of Rajat Kapoor's "Rectangular Love Story", Suarabh Shukla's "Pappu Can't Dance Saala" and new director Sharad's "Rangeen In Love".

Pookutty, who hails from Kerala, did his schooling in Malayalam medium. He was the youngest of eight children and had a passion for films right from his young days.

Though Pookutty's father was keen that he should become a doctor, he failed the medical entrance examinations.

After finishing his graduation, he took admission to a law course in 1990. Going against his father's wishes, he dropped out of law college in Thiruvananthapuram and joined the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune in 1995.

Tears, cheers and sweets at Pookutty's Kerala home

Anchal : His family was in tears, villagers crowding around a TV set in front of his house here cheered and plates of sweets did the rounds as Resul Pookutty became the first Indian to bag an Oscar for best sound mixing for critically acclaimed film 'Slumdog Millionaire'.
Tension had built up in the neighbourhood as the Oscar for sound editing did not go to 'Slumdog Millionaire', but shouts of joy broke out when Pookutty, 36, was declared the winner for sound mixing.

'We decided to place a TV in front of our home because since last evening the mood was building up. He (Pookutty) called me last night and said it is going to be tough,' said Byju P.T., the Oscar winner's elder brother.

The ones who could not hide their happiness were his two sisters who had tears rolling down their cheeks in Vilakupara village, about 50 km from the Kerala capital.

'We just can't hide our emotions and I don't know what to say,' said one of his sisters.

As Pookutty was set to make his acceptance speech in faraway Los Angeles, hundreds of villagers waited spellbound.

The minute the award was announced, plateful of sweets did the rounds among the ecstatic villagers who had been glued to the television since 6.30 a.m.

Saifuddin, another brother of Pookutty, thanked Allah for the honour bestowed on their family.

'We are humbled that this has happened in my family and an award many felt he would never won,' Saifuddin said.

Wishes poured in for Pookutty from Malayalam film stars and state ministers as well.

'He has reached the real heights in the film industry. Though he is a Malayali, he is yet to work in a Malayalam film. This is because sound has not got its due share here. Now things will change,' said Malayalam superstar Mammootty.

State Culture Minister M.A. Baby couldn't stop praising Pookutty.

'This is unbelievable for Kerala and for the country. Resul has got it at the prime of his youth ... this is what is more exciting. Hard work pays off and this is going to be a great impetus for all in the film industry,' Baby said.

Pookutty was the youngest of eight children and had a passion for films right from his young days. However, his father was keen that he become a doctor, but Resul failed the medical entrance examinations and went on to pursue his film industry dreams after studying at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune. He has also got a degree in law.

'It's like the Olympics or World Cup of films'

23 Feb 2009

PUNE: It took a while for Resul Pookutty and wife Shadia to register the fact that Resul's name had been announced as the winner of an Oscar for sound mixing. The award came as bolt from the blue, say the Pookuttys, speaking to TOI over the phone from Los Angeles at 4.15 am (US time). "The earlier category before sound mixing was that of sound editing for which the winner was The Dark Knight'. When we heard that, we became a bit apprehensive so that, when our award was announced, I just went blank. I did not know what was happening around me," says Pookutty.

Shadia, who accompanied Pookutty to the ceremony agreed. "For a second or two we kept telling ourselves that the name announced was Resul and that meant us," she laughed. Pookutty, a Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) graduate of the 1995 batch, admits that the award is big. It means a lot to him and the entire sound fraternity in India, he said. "The last couple of days have been strenuous, but now it is time for celebration. This is like the Olympics or World Cup of films. Now I have some idea how sportspersons feel when they win," he said.

The Oscar experience was great, says Shadia, "We had a wonderful time and meeting so many people was an experience in itself. Everyone was so humble and nice. Of course, what made it even more memorable was the eight Oscars that the film eventually won," she said.

Pookutty agreed. "One of the highlights of my experience at the Oscars was when Steven Spielberg and Brad Pitt came and congratulated me in the winner's gallery. The people we spoke to were also trying to learn about a culture that was alien to them," he said.

Pookutty said that though he had not prepared an acceptance speech in advance, he had a vague idea of what he would say. "I knew that I wanted to dedicate it to my country. Everything else came straight from my heart. Being up there was just great," he said. He said he was aware of making a few gaffes, one of them being the fact that he forgot to thank the FTII, the institute that shaped and made him. "I would like to thank them now. I owe a lot to the institute," he stated.

Asked how he planned to celebrate the victory, Pookutty said that he had no idea. "Right now I'm just enjoying the feeling of being on cloud nine and of course I'm talking to everyone in my family. I'm just living the moment for now."

Resul Pookutty wins Sound Mixing Oscar for 'Slumdog'

Mon Feb 23, 2009
NEW DELHI -Resul Pookutty won a Sound Mixing Oscar for his work on Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire" on Sunday, capping an impressive tally of eight trophies for the rags-to-riches romance set in Mumbai's slums.

Pookutty, who shared the award with Ian Tapp and Richard Pryke, joined a select group of Indians to have won an Academy Award.

Composer A.R. Rahman also won for Best Original Score and Original Song on a Hollywood night that put the spotlight on India.

"Thank you, Academy, this is not just a sound award, this is history being handed over to me," an overwrought Pookutty said on stage while accepting the Academy Award.

The Indian film fraternity rarely honours technicians for their work and Pookutty has previously said their work needs to be appreciated more in India.

"Technicians are the ones who work behind the scenes. Because of them, an actor looks good, presentable, he sounds good," Pookutty told Reuters when "Slumdog Millionaire premiered in Mumbai last month.

While "Slumdog Millionaire" was the Oscar front-runner, another film shot in India took home an Academy Award.

'Slumdog' shines with 8 Oscars: 2 for Rahman, one for Pookutty

Los Angeles, Feb 23 (PTI) "Slumdog Millionaire", the rags-to-riches story of a Mumbai slum dweller, had a golden run at the Oscars today sweeping eight awards with two going to music maestro A R Rahman, the first Indian to achieve the historic feat.

43-year-old Rahman bagged Oscars for Original Score in the film, named the best at the 81st Academy Awards, and along with veteran lyricist Gulzar also won the Best Song award for the foot-tapping number 'Jai ho'.

"Before coming here I was excited and terrified. The last time I felt that way was when I was getting married," a beaming Rahman, dubbed as 'Mozart of Madras', said in his acceptance speech as he became the first Indian to win an Oscar in the mainstream section and the third after Bhanu Athaiya (costume design, 1983) and Satyajit Ray (lifetime achievement, 1992).

"The film is about optimism and the power of hope...All my life I had a choice of hate and love. I chose love and I'm here," Rahman, clad in a black suit, said about the low-budget movie based on Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup's novel "Q & A".

Kerala-born sound engineer Resul Pookutty notched up an Oscar for Sound Mixing while Briton Danny Boyle was adjudged the Best Director.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Kerala sees money in sand in dams

February 22, 2009

Kerala has come up with an innovative idea when governments the word over are facing a revenue shortfall: It wants to dredge the sands silted in the five dams in the state and sell it for real estate development and other civil construction.

The state government estimates that the sand, which has reduced the water storage capacity in major dams in Kerala by 30-40 per cent, is worth Rs 12,000-15,000 crore.

Presenting the budget for 2009-10, Kerala Finance Minister T M Thomas Isaac said this will not only improve the storage capacity of the dams but also provide additional revenue to the government. In addition, illegal sand mining done along the river beds will be checked.

The global economic crisis has hurt Kerala more than other states — overseas tourist numbers have fallen and remittances from West Asia have dropped sharply. Hence, the idea to tap sand deposits in the reservoirs. “Monthly income from this scheme will be amortised and raised in 2009-10. This may yield revenue of Rs 300 crore,” Issac said.

The state will first study whether it’s feasible to take sand deposits from the dams without damaging the ecosystem and also drinking water facilities. Thereafter, sand from the Malampuzha dam will be taken out. Bidders will be selected through an open tender process for a period of two years.

Experts said dredging of sands from dams is not a complicated process and is not uncommon. “But problems arise when desiltation is not done properly and leads to increased silting again in three to six months. Then you realise that the money is not well spent,” said a hydro-power expert.

The state government is projecting a revenue deficit of Rs 3,728 crore in the current fiscal year, which is likely to decline to around Rs 3,000 crore in 2009-10. Revenue receipts are projected to increase by nearly Rs 3,000 crore to Rs 28,153 crore in 2009-10.

Kerala airports on alert after bomb threat

21 February 2009

Kerala's three international airports at Kochi, Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram were Saturday put on high alert after an anonymous call to the Saudi Airlines' office in Jeddah warned of a bomb blast at an airport in India's southern state.

"Saudi Airlines got in touch with their office here, which informed us about the bomb threat. We acted immediately and put all three airports on high alert. Everything is under control," Inspector General of Police Vinson M. Paul told IANS.

He said that the caller had not specified which of the three airports would be targeted.

Paul added that information about the origin of the call and other details were not yet available.

Nava Kerala March successfull: Pinarayi

19 February 2009: CPM State Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan today said the Nava Kerala march led by him was a success and the party had succeeded in conveying the desired message to the people.

Addressing a press conference here, Vijayan reiterated that Kadavoor Sivadasan, the then Electricity Minister, was responsible for the cancellation of the Lavalin agreement.

Even though the then Chief Minister A K Antony had announced after visiting the cancer institute that the MoU would be renewed, the minister concerned had not taken timely steps to renew it, he accused.

The UDF was in power at the 'beginning and end' periods of the agreement, he said, in reply to a question, and added that he was not willing to go into the merit of the case.

Referring to the alleged letter of Balanandan, he said it was a forged document. Balanandan had never passed such comments to him.

In reply to a question on the DYFI activists taking the arrested persons from police custody forcibly at different centres in the state, he said the party would not support the forcible release of the arrested persons from police stations.

It was a culture of the RSS to release the arrested from police stations forcibly, but the party would not support such actions and only the court could release the arrested persons, he said.

Referring to 'media syndicate,' he said he was not against the media criticising the policies of the party or writing editorials.

Media syndicate was there earlier and it was a group engaged in creating news against the party and now that group had once again started its' activities, he said.

Asked about his party's relationship with the NSS and the church, he said there was no estrangement.

In a democracy it was natural to react against the comments or statements and that did not mean enmity, he added.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Kerala budget highlights

The budget shows deficit of Rs 934 crore and estimates total revenue at Rs 28,153.90 crore, expenditure at Rs 31,161.85 crore and a revenue deficit of Rs 3,007.95 crore.

Mobilisation of an additional Rs 574.29 crore by tapping non-tax revenue.

No new taxes imposed.

Hike in welfare pensions.

Rice would be supplied at Rs two a kg to families below the poverty line.

Rs 10,000 crore special package to tide over the slowdown in the economy due to the global recession.

Waiver of loans up to Rs 25,000 taken from government institutions by Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and converted Christians.

Schemes worth Rs 5,000 crore for implementing drinking water and irrigation projects.

Rs 250 crore earmarked as food subsidy with the objective of ensuring supply of essential commodities at reasonable prices for all.

The funds would also be utilised for improving infrastructure facilities.

Anticipating a reverse migration from the Gulf during the recession period, the government announced a welfare fund of Rs ten crore for giving financial assistance to those who returned from Gulf countries. The Kerala Financial Corporation (KFC) would also give Rs 100 crore worth loan to Gulf returnees, he said.

A sum of Rs 300 crore was anticipated from the sale of construction sand from the reservoirs in the state.

Lease rent for government land given to private parties would be hiked to mobilise a substantial amount. One-time settlement scheme would be introduced for settling sales tax, stamp duty and other areas.

Tax reduction for a number of khadi and small scale products.

Massive campaign will be carried out to replace incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient CFL lamps during 2009-10. Rs 20 crore would be set apart as giving subsidy for undertaking this mega campaign. This would save 780 mega watt electricity during peak hours. This almost equals the generating capacity of the mega Idukki hydel project. The state electricity board, would distribute the CFL lamps. It would charge Rs 15 from the consumers as part of their electricity consumption bill.

Rs 10.9 crore allocated for promoting traditional energy sources.

The windfarm in Ramakkalmedu would be given Rs 10 crore.

Nine new power projects would be set up during the year.

Rs 64 crore for ''food security scheme'' in the budget for 2009-2010.

Rs 56 crore for increasing paddy production. It would also make available an additional Rs 30 crore from the 'Rashtriya Krishivikas Yojana'.

The government would renovate 177 lift irrigation projects in Thrisssur and Malabar area at a cost of Rs 20 crore.

Rs 134 crore for big and medium irrigation projects.

Rs 125 crore was required for creating infrastructure facilities in Thrissur, Ponnani and Mepayoor in Kozhikode, Kattamabally in Kannur, Kabani in Wayanad and Ernakulam Pokali, which would pave way for the cultivation of an additional 20,000 hectres. Rs 20 crore allocated in the budget as administrative sanction.

Plan for replantation of coconut palms in Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam and Alappuzha districts after felling the affected palms, jointly with Coconut Development Board. The project would be completed in three years, the total expenditure for the project would be Rs 500 core. Rs 10 crore earmarked in the budget as the share of the state. In addition Rs 15 crore has also been earmarked for the development of coconut.

Rs 15 crore would be provided as a share capital for the Coastal Development Corporation as it's an important initiative taken by the government in the fishing sector. The Corporation would construct ten fishing harbours in the State through loans. Implement a comprehensive sea safety scheme aimed to rescue fishermen from natural calamities and accidents in the sea.

The Budget allocation for Tsunami-related works raised to Rs 70 crore from Rs 50 crore allotted in the previous Budget.

Rs 10 crore earmarked for creating job opportunities connected with fish processing and marketing in the view of the global economic recession. Rs 1.50 crore allocated for Matsyakeralam Project.

Rs 10 crore set apart for setting up welfare fund for migrant labourers.

Express Way gets new name

Thiruvananthapuram: The controversial highspeed corridor has been given a new name in the budget presented by Finance Minister Thomas Issac. The Express Way which was being opposed tooth and nail by environment activists will now be known as North South Friendship corridor.

An environment feasibility study will also be conducted for the project according to the budget speech.

The Kerala Expressway is a 507km long access controlled high speed corridor that is proposed to serve as the arterial facility linking almost all the important destinations of the state with 19 inter change points.

The Expressway was originally proposed to be executed in three phases. Phase I is between Pulikkal near Kozhikode and Athani near Ernakulam, Phase II is between Athani and Pallippuram near Thiruvananthapuram and Phase III is between Chalinkal near Kasaragod and Pulickal.

UDF is jealous of Budget: Pinarayi

'UDF is jealous of the pro-people State budget presented by Dr.Thomas Issac, that's why they are making false allegations against it and are in total rejection', says Pinarayi Vijayan, CPI (M) State Secretary on his Nava Kerala March meeting here today.

The comprehensive revival and rehabilitation package for the thousands of Gulf expatriates and a special package for Malabar region have been a right time step to met with the economic crisis, he added. It was against the Central Government's budget which discarded the global crisis' effect on Indian states. Nowadays, UDF is criticising every steps taken by the state government and is undemocratic.

The Opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) on Friday criticised Finance Minister for his failure to make sufficient budgetary allocation to meet the impending crisis on account of the economic downturn.

Kerala plans Rs 100cr aid for Gulf returnees

21 Feb 2009,

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Kerala will help Malayalees returning from the Gulf due to recession with a Rs 100-crore package for starting business ventures.
The package was announced in the budget 2009-10 by finance minister T M Thomas Issac on Friday. The government said it would pump in Rs 10,000 crore to tide over the economic slowdown. Below poverty line families will get rice at Rs 2 per kg.

The state-owned Kerala Financial Corporation (KFC) will handle the package for Gulf returnees, Issac told the assembly.

The government has also decided to register those coming back from the Gulf as part of its plan. There is also an amount of Rs 10 crore for immediate relief. In another benefit, the government, Issac assured, would also take steps to ensure school admission for the children of these returnees.

With its eye on the Lok Sabha polls, the Left government steered clear of imposing any new levies in the budget.

The stimulus package has allocations for infrastructure development, including roads and bridges, coastal highway, hill highway, irrigation, housing and airports. The amount will be spent over two years, the minister said.

Issac said the government would waive loans up to Rs 25,000 taken by Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and converted Christians.

He also announced that Rs 250 crore would be earmarked as food subsidy to ensure supply of essential commodities at reasonable prices.

The budget aims to mobilise an additional Rs 574.29 crore by tapping non-tax revenue. It shows deficit of Rs 934 crore and estimates total revenue at Rs 28,153.90 crore and a revenue deficit of Rs 3,007.95 crore.

While Issac termed the budget an indication of change, the opposition dubbed it an eye-wash.

Kerala nun alleges sexual harassment in convents

20 Feb 2009,PTI

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: As a tell-all autobiography of a former nun revealing alleged sexual abuse threatened to embarrass the Catholic church in Kerala, the woman herself said on Friday the society has "every right" to know what is happening to Sisters.

In her memoirs in Malayalam titled "Amen" (so be it, said by Christians at the end of every prayer), 'Sister' Jesme alleged that harassment, sexual repression, exploitation of nuns by priests and clandestine same sex relations take place behind the closed doors of convents.

The Catholic Church is silent on the book and is yet to make its official response to the tell-all reminiscences of the 52-year-old Jesme holding they would react only after studying the book. But the book released two days ago is being lapped up and is selling like hotcakes.

Narrating how deeply disappointed and disillusioned she is after choosing the religious vocation on her own volition at a very young age, Jesme exposes the power struggles in the 'dark confines' of convents she had lived for about 30 years and in corridors of church administration.

An English professor and later the principal of a church-run college in Thrissur, Jesme quit the convent last year after what she said were years of 'sufferings and struggles.'

"I wanted an outlet for my experiences of my trauma...Society has every right to know what is happening to Sisters," Jesme said dismissing suggestions she has sensationalised issues to get cheap publicity.

Kerala may lose agri-commodity economy status

21 Feb 2009, ET Bureau

KOCHI: If Vasco da Gama’s voyage in 1498 in search of Indian “black gold” or pepper was to happen today he would, in all probability, anchor at the Karnataka coast, not Calicut in Kerala. Yes, one of the oldest monopolies in history, Kerala’s leadership in pepper, is under threat. Karnataka is fast emerging as a major producer. The noteworthy aspect of this phenomenon is that it is happening not just in pepper. The agri-commodity economy of resource-rich Kerala is shifting its base to other states.

A host of factors like low productivity, ad hoc policies, lack of investment, diseases etc have combined to undermine the leadership position that the state has in a number of agri-commodities such as coconuts, pepper, seafood, cashew and others. And, the state has already started experiencing the negative fallout of this in its income, exports and employment.

Three years ago, Kerala had 44.6% share in total production of coconuts in the country. The share of Tamil Nadu was just 25.3% in that year. However, by 2006-07 Kerala’s share declined to 38.2%, while the share of Tamil Nadu increased to 34.2%. The area of cultivation declined slightly in Kerala, while in Tamil Nadu it showed an increase. It was the huge increase in productivity that Tamil Nadu achieved that led to its fast growth in production.

In 2001-02, the pepper production in the country stood at 80,000 tonnes. Of this, Kerala’s share was 75%, while Karnataka and Tamil Nadu had a share of 18.8% and 6.3%, respectively. The official estimate of total production in the country this year is 50,000 tonnes. The decline is mainly due to the fall in pepper production in Kerala. The share of Kerala is around 56%. Karnataka accounts for 40% of the total, while the rest is the share of Tamil Nadu.

Karnataka’s production increased from 10,000-15,000 tonnes to 20,000 tonnes in the past one decade. On the other hand, production in Waynad district in Kerala declined from 20,000 tonnes to 4,000 tonnes in the past one decade. “We need higher investment for replanting in Idukki and Wynad, the two main pepper producing districts of the state,” said VJ Kurien, chairman, Spices Board. With respect to the production of raw cashewnuts, Kerala’s number one position slipped to 4th in the past 15 years. On the other hand, the cashew processing industry in the country, which was almost fully located in and around Kollam, started moving to other states during the 1975-1980 period. Today, Kanyakumari and Mangalore account for 35% of cashew processing.

“Earlier, if you take five major seafood exporters, four of them would be from Kerala,” said Sando Joseph, secretary, Seafood Exporters Association of India. “Today, the list would contain just one or two,” he added. The export industry shifted out of Kochi due to the raw material shortage on the one hand, and due to the development of aquaculture on the other. The port-wise data show that Kochi’s share in total exports fell to 17% last year from 25% in 1995-96. “There was a time when it used to be around 35% to 40%,” he said.

Other commodity brands like Alleppey ginger and Cochin turmeric have almost disappeared due to the shortage of planting material. Coir industry has started taking roots in other places and in coir pith and Tamil Nadu accounts for 60% production. Kangayam in Tamil Nadu has emerged as the major centre of coconut oil with most of the upcountry buyers now deserting Kochi. Thus the ambience that the state provided for commodities is gradually eroding. When chilli and mint became the main export earners in spices the commerce minister Jairam Ramesh commented in lighter vein that the Spices Board should be moved out of Kerala!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Lavalin dubs CAG report as 'error-filled'

Thiruvananthapuram: Adding a new dimension to the controversy over the SNC Lavalin graft case, in which CPI-M Kerala unit secretary Pinarayi Vijayan has figured prominently, the Canadian company has questioned the CAG's findings that the state did not benefit from the contract awarded to it to renovate three hydroelectric projects in 1998

In its first reaction after the CBI sought to prosecute Vijayan, who was power minister when the deal was signed, Lavalin claimed that through the renovation work,the installed capacity of Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) had been increased by 10 per cent from 112.22 MW to 123.60 MW.

Contradicting the CAG's finding that the state suffered a loss of Rs 374 crore under the deal, Lavalin said in statement
posted in its website that it had saved KSEB Rs 104 crore as the work was carried out without shutting down the power
stations fully.

But it noted there were severe droughts during the period of construction, commissioning and post-commissioning phases
which reduced inflows into hydel reservoirs from 2001-03.

The auditor's report concerning the project appeared to have been prepared during this period when power generation
was low due to forces beyond its control. PTI

Unemployment goes up in Kerala

Thiruvananthapuram: The number of unemployed people in Kerala was a little over four million in June 2008 and included about 158,000 professional and technical job seekers, according to the 2008 Economic Review that was tabled in the state assembly Thursday.

The figure was below the four-million mark in 2007.

Of the jobless, over 2,000 are medical graduates, nearly 8,000 are engineers, more than 31,000 are diploma holders, and about 53,000 are postgraduates.

As of March 31, 2008, more than two million women were jobless.

Pinarayi blames Kadavoor for not renewing MoU

Thiruvananthapuram: The letter purportedly written by late Balanandan regarding the Lavlin issue was neither discussed with me nor with the party, said CPI (M) party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan here on Thursday. He was speaking to press persons as part of the Nava Kerala march here.

He also accused Kadavoor Sivadasan, the then power minister in the UDF government, for having not renewed the memorandum of understanding with Lavlin in sanctioning funds for Malabar Cancer Centre.

Port issue: Walkout in Kerala House

18 Feb 2009, ET Bureau

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The opposition United Democratic Front on Wednesday staged a walkout in the state assembly, alleging foul play over the awarding of the contract for the Vizhinjam international container transshipment project.

The development comes on the heels of the Hyderabad-based Lanco Infratech refuting allegations made against the company in connection with the port project.

The port project ran into rough weather after the initial awarding of the contract to Lanco, with a series of litigations in connection with the tendering of the project. The Supreme Court recently upheld a Kerala High Court order and directed the state government to consider the bid of Zoom Developers, which had also been among those participating in the original bidding.

The opposition called for an adjournment motion for discussion on the issue, but state minister for ports M Vijayakumar countered opposition charges, stating that the Kerala government had an open mind on the matter and that it would soon take a decision based on the Supreme Court order.

The minister said the state's interest was in realizing the port, which was tipped to be among the largest of its kind in the region.

Kerala has highest per capita debt in southern India

19 Feb 2009

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Kerala's 2006 per capita debt stood at over Rs 14,300; the highest among states in south India - against the national average of around Rs.9,000.

This was stated in the Economic Review 2008 tabled in the Kerala Assembly on Thursday. Among the south Indian states, Kerala is followed by Andhra Pradesh with a per capita debt of around Rs.9,300, Tamil Nadu with about Rs.8,600, and Karnataka with about Rs.8,500.

Kerala's per capita debt has been increasing steadily; it was about Rs.8,400 in 2002, Rs.9,700 in 2003, nearly Rs.11,000 in 2004, and about Rs.12,700 in 2005.

This increase comes at a time when the total public debt of the state, according to the 2008-09 budget estimate, is around Rs.61,600 crore, up from Rs.55,400 crore for 2007-08.

The state's public debt for 2008-09 includes an internal debt of around Rs.38,600 crore, small savings provident fund of Rs.17,100 crore, and loans and advances of about Rs.5,900 crore from the central government.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Kerala's new IT park styled as 'water park'

17 Feb 2009, ET Bureau

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Kerala government has decided to put to full effect the state’s striking natural beauty while establishing its newest IT park at Ambalappuzha in Alappuzha district, designing the park to resemble what could be termed the first water theme park of the IT industry.

The IT park at Ambalappuzha is part of the state government’s decision to have the IT infrastructure in the state more broad based by having IT parks in all districts as against the present concentration of the tech industry in Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi.

The Ambalappuzha IT park, for which chief minister V S Achuthanandan laid the foundation stone this week, will function as a hub of the Kochi-based Infopark. The park has a 100-acre campus, of which a third has been granted special economic zone status, officials said.

Kerala IT secretary Ajay Kumar said the Ambalappuzha Infopark, and the Kollam Technopark which was initiated last week, signaled the beginning of the fruition of the state government’s long-standing dream of setting up IT parks all over the state.

He said work on the Ambalappuzha park would commence by April, starting with the establishment of facilities like windmills, reverse osmosis for treatment of brackish water and other facilities like educational/training institutions, marina, entertainment and retail IT services, health centers and residential apartments.

Infopark CEO Siddhartha Bhattacharya said the Ambalappuzha park, with its unique location at the popular backwater region of Alappuzha, would enable combined promotion of the IT and tourism sectors in the state, and could transform the location into an IT Venice of the East.

He said islands would be formed with interconnected roads and bridges, retaining the natural features, thereby creating an ambience conducive for a stress-free environment for professionals to work in.

Twelve killed in bus accident in Kerala

17 February 2009

- Kottayam: Twelve Ayyappa devotees from Andhra Pradesh, including ten women were killed and 35 sustained injuries, five of them seriously, when the bus in which they were travelling overturned at Kanamala, near Pampa Valley (Erumely), Tuesday morning.

Police said here ten pilgrims died on the spot and two others on way to hospital.

The ill-fated bus was on its way to Sabarimala with the pilgrims.

The devotees hailed from various areas of West Godavari District in Andhra Pradesh.The injured were admitted to the Kottayam Medical College Hospital.

Devaswom Minister G. Sudhakaran sanctioned Rs one lakh to each of the families of the deceased. He also visited the injured at the hospital.

Steps were being taken to identify the deceased and send the bodies to Andhra Pradesh after post-mortem at the Hospital, the District Collector said.

Airoprt case: police officials suspended

16 February 2009

- Acting on directive from home minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, DGP Monday suspended S Sanal Kumar, Assistant Commissioner, Shankhumukham and D K Prithviraj, SI of Valiyathura and District President of Police Officers' Association, who released the person accused of assaulting security officers at Thiruvananthapuram airport charging on him a petty case. A department level inquiry has also been ordered against ASI Rajkumar.

Ambika, a staff with KTDC was also suspended for not informing the police about the stay of the accused, Al Jalal, in the hotel. A temporary staff with the hotel, Unnikrishnan, was dismissed. The minister has also ordered an inquiry into the connivance of the police in the case.

Monday, February 16, 2009

'Kerala CPM chief guilty’

A day after the CPM declared that the allegations of corruption against its Kerala unit boss and Politburo member Pinarayi Vijayan were “politically motivated”, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe report showed his direct involvement in the deal which allegedly caused huge financial losses to the state, running into hundreds of crores of rupees.

The CBI report submitted to the Kerala High Court and seen by HT comes as a major embarrassment for the CPM. It has provided specific instances of Vijayan’s complete involvement, something which his party bosses have denied so far.

The allegations of bribery against Vijayan in a 12 year-old deal, when he was the state power minister, pertain to awarding a contract to a Canadian company SNC Lavalin for the repair and modernisation of three hydroelectric power projects in the state.

“Those who have seen the (CBI) report say there is not an iota of evidence that Vijayan has benefited monetarily. I won’t go into the details unless I have studied the report,” party general secretary Prakash Karat had said.

The detailed CBI report showed how misplaced was Karat’s claim. “Though the total contract amount for renovation and modernisation of Pallivasal, Sengulam and Panniar hydroelectric projects was Rs 243 crore, a total amount of Rs 333 crore was spent,” said the CBI report.

It said a committee headed by senior CPM leader E. Balanandan had submitted a report to Vijayan in 1997. Balanandan’s report was based on the recommendations of experts. It estimated the total cost of repair and modernisation as just Rs 100 crore. “Without considering the recommendations of the Balandan committee, supply contracts were signed with SNC Lavalin immediately,” the CBI report pointed out.

“Exploiting the opportunity, Pinarayi hatched the second level of conspiracy since SNC Lavalin had promised a grant for the establishment of Malabar Cancer Centre (MCC) at Thalassery which falls within his native district,” the CBI report said.

Pinarayi visited Canada in 1996, shortly after taking over as the power minister and finalised the contract in the absence of then Chief Minister E.K. Nayanar, the agency alleged. “Even a na├»ve or unsophisticated person will not believe the offer of Rs 100 crore of grant-in-aid for a project initially estimated at Rs 159 crore. Obviously, Lavalin wanted to bag the contract at an exorbitant rate and accused officials along with the minister wanted the cancer centre,” the report said.

Party leader and Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan is in favour of allowing the CBI to prosecute Vijayan, his political rival.

Karat says truce but VS & Pinarayi play deaf

16 Feb 2009, ET Bureau

NEW DELHI: Barely a day after CPM general secretary Prakash Karat claimed that the politburo has settled factionalism in its Kerala unit, chief
minister VS Achuthanandan and state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan were back at carping at each other.

While the CM said that he would continue his fight against corruption, hinting that he would not pipe down his attack on the SNC Lavalin scandal-tainted Vijayan, the state secretary hit back saying Mr Achuthanandan will have to work within the confines of the politburo decision.

The CPM politburo on Saturday had reiterated its stand that the case against Mr Vijayan was political motivated. The apex decision making body had rejected the chief minister’s call for a uniform yardstick in corruption cases against politicians. “If he (Vijayan) was a MLA, MP or minister we would have asked him to step down,” Mr Karat had said on Saturday after the meeting of the politburo. This was a major setback for the chief minister, who had lobbied hard for action against Mr Vijayan. While leaving Delhi, the chief minister told reporters that he would continue his battle against corruption.

The chief minister, who took care not to offend the central leadership, refrained from mentioning the Lavalin scam and cited only cases of corruption when the state was under the Congress-led UDF rule. His bete noire, who had the politburo rallying around him, retaliated saying, “VS is not a one man army fighting against corruption. He is a product of the party. The war against corruption was actually thought of and decided by the party. Mr Achuthanandan was only implementing the party’s directions.”

Veerendrakumar stable; takes ill during budget presentation

New Delhi: An otherwise uneventful interim budget presentation by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee today saw the Lok Sabha MPs on their feet when JD(S) member from Kerala M P Veerendra Kumar complained of uneasiness.

Fifty minutes into the budget presentation, Kumar suffered from breathlessness, prompting Speaker Somnath Chatterjee to stop the proceedings.

Women and Child Development Minister Renuka Chowdhury, who was one of the first members to rush to Kumar's aid, was heard telling others, 'Move back. Let him breathe.'
Kumar was provided water and doctors were called in.

He decided to walk out instead of using the foldable stretcher which was brought in. Chatterjee made a rare gesture of walking down from his seat to enquire if he was fine.

The House was adjourned for ten minutes. While the Speaker went out to ensure Kumar was taken to hospital immediately, others chatted among themselves. Mukherjee took this opportunity to have a chocolate to energise himself, much to the amusement of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, who enquired what he was upto.

Renuka later briefed Sonia about Kumar. Chatterjee returned and informed the House that Kumar was out of danger. The presentation was more or less event-less with most members yawning. A couple of them even had their forty winks while others kept walking in and out.

Though the Treasury Benches were nearly full, attendance in the Opposition Benches was thin.

Storm in Kerala CPI(M) unlikely to subside

Thiruvananthapuram (PTI): The long-drawn feud in the Kerala CPI(M) is unlikely to subside with the party Polit Bureau rejecting firmly Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan's demand for removal of his arch foe Pinarayi Vijayan as state unit Secretary in the wake of the CBI's move to prosecute him in the SNC Lavalin corruption case.

Though both sides may refrain from engaging in open clashes till the Parliament elections are over, indications are clear that a lasting patch-up between the two top leaders is a remote possibility, political observers said.

This has become amply clear from Achuthanandan's statement on Sunday morning that he would continue his "battles against corruption" as he had always done. In a sharp but cleverly-worded comment, he only cited the cases of corruption when the state was under the Congress- led UDF rule, which he took up and campaigned as an Opposition Leader.

The message was obvious that he was not going to be contained or silenced by the 's rejection of his position in the Lavalin case also. The Polit Bureau's reiteration that the CBI had acted under duress from the Congress in the Lavalin case is seen as a victory for it by the Vijayan camp. This was evident from Vijayan's words, when he met media persons in Kochi on Sunday morning.

A calm and composed Vijayan appeared extremely cautious in his choice of words and turn of phrases while fielding even the most provocative questions from the journalists. But he did not mince words when he stated that the fight against corruption that Achuthanandan had mentioned were campaigns "collectively" decided by the party and not a one man's battle fought by his senior colleague.

The message implied was that Achuthanandan was not above the party, and whatever decision collectively taken by the party was binding on him as well.

According to sources in the Vijayan camp, Achuthanandan's assertion that he would continue his fight against corruption was meant to console his supporters in the ranks who would be disappointed to see their hero meekly submitting for the sake of his position as Chief Minister.

Though the 85-year-old Marxist veteran has largely been constrained from talking openly, his supporters in the ranks, including those rebels who had come out recently in different parts of the state, would continue to harp on issues like Lavalin to the irritation of the leadership.

The question, being debated in political circles now, is whether Achuthanandan would share podium with Vijayan when the latter's 'Nava Kerala March' concludes in the state capital on February 25.

'Nava Kerala March' getting overwhelming response: Vijayan

CPI(M) Kerala Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan on Sunday claimed that the ongoing 'Nava Kerala March' led by him was getting overwhelming response from the people.

Speaking to mediapersons at the government guest house here, he said performance of the CPI(M)-led LDF government in the state that had been functioning for the welfare of the people was evaluated by the public.

"Majority of the welfare steps taken by the government was a model for the country and as a result, the government, the LDF and the party are getting their support," he said.

Replying to a query whether a letter purportedly written by former Politburo member E Balanandan on the SNC Lavalin corruption case was discussed in the Politburo meeting on Saturday, he asked "how can there be a discussion on a non-existing letter?"

A magazine run by CPI(M) rebels had recently carried a 'letter' purportedly written by Balanandan in 1990s, expressing serious reservation on the decision to award the contract for renovation of three hydro electric projects in the state to the Canadian firm, SNC Lavalin, by the then LDF government in which Vijayan was the Electricity minister.

Vijayan declined to make any detailed discussion on the SNC Lavalin issue, in which CBI had sought the government's sanction to prosecute him.

Replying to a query whether the LDF Government led by Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan would complete its full term, Vijayan said "there need not be any concern on that".

Vijayan, who had arrived only last night after attending the Politiburo, sought to play down Achuthanandan's disassociation from the march so far.

"Everyone in this party will cooperate with the march and you need not have any doubt" he said, adding "when we have decided to organise the march, we did not think of lining the Ministers, but we will create awareness among the people on the attempts being made by some to destroy the achievements of the government."

On any decision was taken not to include Achuthanandan in the march, Vijayan said "these are your own observations". Vijayan criticised Leader of Opposition, Oommen Chandy's statement that the march should have been taken after solving the Chengara land struggle. "Land will be given to the deserving landless as per the government norms," he said.

To another query, after the Politiburo yesterday, will Vijayan and Achuthanandan move together, he said "are we not together. Are we not in the same party." Later, Vijayan left for Paravoor as part of the march. (PTI)