Monday, March 29, 2010

Modi comes out in Big B's support, calls his detractors Taliban

Lashing out at those objecting to Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan's presence at a government function in Mumbai, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has dubbed them as 'Talibans of untouchability'.

Writing on his blog, Modi described 67-year-old Bachchan as a great artist with legendary humility and even taller achievements who has chosen to celebrate the glorious heritage of Gujarat even while facing a lot of criticism from many quarters. 'This is inspiring', he said on Sunday.

A controversy erupted over Bachchan attending at a government function in Mumbai where Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan was also present. A section of Congress took objection to his presence as he is the brand ambassador for BJP-ruled Gujarat.

The Bachchan-Congress row took a new twist yesterday with the megastar claiming that his son Abhishek's posters were removed from the venue of WWF's Earth Hour event in Delhi on Saturday evening attended by Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and saw a 'pattern' behind such acts.

Modi said the anti-Gujarat game plan behind the opposition and the controversy over senior Bachchan stood exposed in broad daylight now.

'These 'Talibans of Untouchability' have lost all their sensibilities in their pursuit of anti-Gujarat attitudes.
'They may well in future tell us not to eat even salt. They may even ban the eating of Amul butter and milk and order our young people not to wear denim jeans! And guess why? Because Gujarat produces these things,' he said.

'Friends, my heart is still unwilling to believe that these Talibans are unaware of the damage they are causing to this nation and to our society,' said Modi.

The Gujarat Chief Minister also wrote about his marathon grilling by the Supreme Court-appointed SIT in connection with a Gujarat riots case.

'I have cooperated with the process of law and accepted its supremacy. I heartily express my thankfulness to the people for their support and prayers in this difficult moment,' his blog entry read.

Modi was grilled for over nine hours on Saturday for his alleged role in the Gulbarg Society massacre in which 69 people including former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri were kill

Sunday, March 28, 2010

It is amazing to be a soldier, says Mohanlal

Actor Mohanlal appeared to have fully savoured the experience of being in full battle gear inside the barracks of the 122 Infantry Battalion stationed here on the second day of his training on Saturday.

"Now I know the value of being part of the Army. It is an unbelievable feeling to participate in the Army training and it is amazing to be a soldier", said Lt. Col. (Hon.) Mohanalal while interacting with reporters at the battalion station here on Saturday. He said that his three-day training programme allowed him to know closer the 'disciplined and choreographed' activities of the Army. Unlike in a make believe world of cinema where he had to play different roles as a professional actor, to be a soldier was a different kind of experience, he said adding that he would be proud of being the brand ambassador of the Territorial Army (TA).

The actor in uniform, who appeared with battalion Commanding Officer Col. Davidson Kolath and other officers, said that more gainfully employed young people should join the TA units in the country as India was facing threats from inside and outside. He said that he had come to know of the TA while he was in Army camps as part of the shooting of Army-related films. The battalion here being the only citizen's Army unit in the State, it should be supported, he pointed out.

"My training is only a fraction of what soldiers normally undergo", he said adding that one of his tasks as the brand ambassador of the TA was to talk about the TA, especially on his website, and motivate more people to join it.

Col. Kolath said that Lt. Col. (Hon.) Mohanlal's commissioning into the TA unit here had brought the battalion to the limelight. The battalion had already earned recognition in various operational and other activities, he said adding that its reputation was only enhanced by Mohanlal's entry. More people had now come to know of the TA unit, which is one of the 68 TA battalions in the country including 44 infantry battalions and eight ecology battalions. Being a citizens' army, the TA battalions always work in close co-operation with local people, he said. He also said that joining the TA was not easy as there were stringent procedures to be completed.

Kingfisher bomb: Prime suspect in custody

In a breakthrough in the case of planting of crude explosive material in the cargo-hold of a Kingfisher aircraft here last week, police said on Sunday that it has taken into custody the prime suspect in the case.

The man, a former contract employee at the airport, is suspected to have planted the explosive in the aircraft, police said but discounted any terror link in the incident.

The investigators, however, declined to disclose the man's name and said that it would be revealed after completing all formalities.

He was taken into custody two days ago and is being interrogated, sources said.

"There are strong reasons to believe that he is the key person behind the incident," a senior police official told PTI without elaborating further.

Some crude explosive material wrapped in paper was found in the cargo-hold of a Kingfisher flight which arrived here from Bangalore last Sunday.

A police team led by city Commissioner M R Ajith Kumar has been probing the case here and in Bangalore and several persons have been questioned in connection with the case.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

British cabs to attract visitors to Kerala

New Delhi, March 27 (IANS) Taxis in several British cities will now sport scenes of Kathakali and the idyllic backwaters of Kerala in a new campaign to attract more tourists to the state.
“The British taxis will sport attention-grabbing Kathakali and backwater images. It is an innovative campaign to showcase a splendid tapestry of Kerala’s scenic grandeur, classical dances and martial arts,” Kerala Tourism Director M. Sivasankar said Saturday in a statement.

As many as 120 cabs with Kerala branding are now operating in Glasgow, Manchester and Birmingham under the state tourism department’s branding exercise aimed at British tourists, who form a a sizeable number of the 650,000 foreigners visiting the state every year, he said.

“The images are generating curiosity among the people in these three British cities,” said Sivasankar, who was in Britain to launch the campaign.

Arrival figures from Great Britain have been showing a steady growth, with 141,147 tourists visiting Kerala in 2008.

For Kerala Tourism, the tie-up with British cabs comes after forging a deal with Indian Railways on the tracks, with Jet Airways in the skies and with Louis Cruises on the high seas.

It has also tied up with Google to create a buzz about the state as a tourist destination

Respect for soldiers and the army has now increased-Mohanlal

Kannur: Film star Mohanlal said his respect for soldiers and the army has increased after the training with Territorial Army. Mohanlal who is a Lieutant Colonel in the Territorial army, also said his three day training was a wonderful experience. He was speaking to the reporters at the army headquarters here.

Being part of the army makes him feel more proud than receiving the national award for the best actor, Mohanlal said. Actors who excell in films have the chance to get award every year. But getting a rank in the army is a rare feat for an individual.

Sea-link row: Amitabh hasn't committed a crime, says Thackeray

Coming out in defence of old friend Amitabh Bachchan, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray today said the actor has done nothing wrong by attending the inauguration of the second phase of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link.

'Amitabh hasn't committed a crime by attending the event,' Thackeray said in an editorial in party mouthpiece Saamana.
Lambasting Congress for 'treating the actor as an untouchable', Thackeray said 'Shah Rukh Khan, who took cudgels
on behalf of Pakistanis, will do for Congress, which is allergic to Amitabh.'

'Amitabh attending the function only added to the prestige of the event,' Thackeray said on the actor sharing the dias with Congress leaders at the sealink function.

Bachchan is not a thief, dacoit or a terrorist, Thackeray said. The presence of Bachchan at the inauguration of second
phase of the Sea Link a couple of days back had sparked a controversy with Congress leaders from Mumbai taking objection to Chief Minister Ashok Chavan sharing platform with the actor who is a brand ambassador for BJP-ruled Gujarat.

'Amitabh is targeted because he is brand ambassador of Gujarat. Ambani and Tata who live in Mumbai have invested heavily in Gujarat. Will anyone from Congress ask them why were they investing in Narendra Modi's Gujarat,' Thackeray said.
The actor belongs to the nation and will remain so, he said.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Operation Green Hunt kills 90 Maoists in Chhattisgarh

More than 90 Maoist militants were killed and 12 terror camps dismantled during the government's anti-Maoist Operation Green Hunt, Chhattisgarh Home Minister Nankiram Kanwar said Thursday.
'As many as 90 Maoists were killed and 12 of their terror camps were destroyed till Feb 27 this year in state's Bastar region under Operation Green Hunt,' the minister told legislators during question hour in the assembly.

The minister did not mention the date when the operation was launched in the state and also skipped a question from his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) colleague Devjibhai Patel about how many policemen were killed during Operation Green Hunt.

When Patel pressed for a number, the minister said: 'It's sure they (policemen) are just a few... situation in state is far better now compared to earlier situation when policemen were getting killed without inflicting much casualties to the enemies.'

Global Ayurveda Summit focusses on accreditation issues

KOCHI: Several speakers at the ongoing Global Ayurveda Summit being organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (Ayush), Government of India, here on Thursday highlighted the need for standard accreditation system for hospitals and institutions practising traditional medicine, including Ayurveda.

It was pointed out that the process undertaken by the National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Healthcare (NABH) was being followed by a host of institutions, but concerted efforts were required to gain global acceptance.

Darshan Shankar, Executive Chairman, Institute of Ayurveda and Interactive Medicine at the Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions, Bangalore, said a comprehensive accreditation system need not be a government initiative. Clinical management software was available and it could be helpful to those institutions seeking to adopt accepted standards. Accreditation would instil confidence among consumers. It would have an impact on manufacturing sector as well.

Mr. Shankar said setting up of autonomous institutes on Ayurveda and other traditional medicines would help promote innovation. ‘Good manufacturing practices' should give way to ‘next manufacturing practices' involving modern technology with a view to gaining excellence. Tools of IT should be utilised for various processes. Web-based short-term courses for young professionals of traditional medicine could also be started. Pointing out that Ayurveda had a role to play in public health, he said traditional practices adopted in the Ayurvedic system could be popularised to strengthen preventive healthcare.

Rajiv Vasudevan, founder and CEO of Ayurvaid hospitals and member, technical committee, NABH, said market expansion for Ayurveda beyond India could happen only with accreditation.

Ayurveda remained a personalised healthcare system. It was often forgotten that Ayurvedic treatment was basically a service-oriented one. Affordability and acceptability were important in the medical management procedures.

Harshajeet Kuroop, Managing Director, Birla Kerala Vaidyasala Private Limited, said the holistic nature of Ayurveda coupled with the absence of side-effects provided a good ground for the system to gain popularity. In an era of lifestyle disorders, conventional medicines had a significant role to play. Evidence based on documentation and integration of practices of herbal medicine was among the challenges faced by the sector.

T. Balakrishnan, Additional Chief Secretary, Industries and Commerce Department, Government of Kerala, said branding of Ayurvedic products of Kerala was being taken up at the ‘Care Keralam,' a cluster of Ayurvedic groups. Facilities for technology transfer, adoption of good manufacturing practices and research and development were being offered as part of the project. The centre was engaged in setting up accreditation norms, he said.

Several key issues involved in promoting Ayurveda at the global level were discussed by experts at the seminar. The three-day meet will conclude on Friday.

Dubai firm asks state govt to abide by agreement

Smart City Dubai, which is to build an IT park in Kochi, Thursday said it had not asked for anything outside the framework agreement signed with the Kerala government.
The Dubai-based builder was responding to Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan's statement earlier this month blaming the firm for the delay in the proposed Rs.1,500-crore Smart City Kochi project.

In 2007, Smart City Dubai had signed the agreement to build the IT project. Since then, nothing has moved despite several rounds of discussions as both sides have differed over granting 12 percent freehold rights to the builder, among other issues.

'Freehold is a contractual obligation, not a favour done to us. Moreover, the freehold is asked for Smart City Kochi, an Indian company registered under the Indian companies act. We are not asking for anything which is not in the framework agreement,' said Smart City Dubai in a press release here.

The statement came ahead of a board of directors meeting of Smart City Kochi scheduled for March 29.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Brand ambassador: Amitabh retaliates in blog

Mumbai: Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan has come out openly in his blog about the ongoing controversy in appointing him as the brand ambassador to promote Kerala tourism. He said that the issue has been made deliberately political.

Bachchan said in his blog: ' It is a petty act of cheap convenience to prevent me from doing that, and by pitting me up against political connotations and maneuvers without paying any respect for the actual work that would be done.'

Amitabh said that what he would be doing as brand ambassador is to work in a short film that highlight the various places of interest in the State.That is what he would be doing for Kerala. There is no need to politicise the issue.

He said that it is the govt which had come forward and extended an invitation and now they want to decline it. Amitabh said that he would abide by the state's judgement. He also blamed the media trait in trying to find fault at everything

NIA permitted to probe larger conspiracy

Kochi: CBI Special court here has permitted the National Investigation Agency to probe the larger conspiracy in the case relating to recruitment of youths from Kerala for terrorist outfits in Kashmir.

Accepting the NIA plea that further inquiry was needed as there was a larger conspiracy behind the recruitment of youths from the state, Judge S Vijaykumar gave the nod for further probe yesterday.

The NIA, which is probing various terror related cases in Kerala, had stated that it wanted to investigate the conspiracy in the case beyond Kerala and to ascertain the funding of terrorist activities.

Further probe was needed into the source of funds and training places, it submitted adding it had also some information about the presence of sleeper cells.

The court also remanded seven accused to judicial custody till April 6 in connection with the case.

Kerala turning out to be land of goons: Opposition

Thiruvananthapuram: The Opposition today raised allegations in the House saying that Kerala is turning out to be a land of goons. C P Muhammad raised these allegations when he wanted an adjournment motion to discuss the daylight murder of a housewife in Palakkad. Muhammad said that robbery and murder have become an ordeal and the law and order system in the state have completely broken down.

Replying to the allegation, Law Minister M Vijayakumar, on behalf of the Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, said that the probe into the Palakkad murder has been intensified. The probe will be conducted under Thrissur Range IG Muhammad Yassen.

Two groups comprising two CIs under a Palakkad SP are investigating the murder. The minister said that the guilty will be held very soon. After the reply, the Speaker denied permission to move an adjournment motion.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Kerala police arrest man on suspicion of planting crude bomb

March 23, 2010

Bangalore: The Kerala police have identified a person, suspected of planting a crude bomb in Kingfisher flight IT-4731 at the Thiruvananthapuram International Airport.Unconfirmed reports said that the man had been detained.

Meanwhile, the Kerala police also the found that the newspaper in which the bomb was wrapped was circulated in Nedumangad, about 18 km from the state capital. A senior police officer in Kerala said that the bomb was probably placed before passengers had boarded the flight on Saturday night.It was learnt that an interrogation of the cleaning staff had not yielded any results.

The flight, which reached the Bengaluru International Airport on Saturday night, returned to Thiruvananthapuram the next morning with 27 passengers and four crew members.

A Kerala police team, headed by Thiruvananthapuram city police commmissioner MR Ajith Kumar had, on Sunday, interrogated more than 20 people who were on duty at the Bangalore airport.

The investigating team also grilled airline officials before returning. The Bangalore police also questioned those on duty at the cargo section and security check points of the airport.

“We suspect the involvement of outsourced employees (caterers and loaders) as nobody else – with the exception of the cabin crew – has access to the galley at the rear of the aircraft,” an airport official said. Ruling out the possibility of passengers or other airport workers being involved, he said, “Nobody else is allowed to enter that area of the aircraft. We are only looking at people who have access to that section.”

Meanwhile, deputy commissioner of police (north-east) Basavaraj Y Malagatti said that the fact that the bomb was wrapped in the Thiruvananthapuram edition of a Malayalam newspaper, dated March 17, 2010, and a Kerala SSLC question paper suggested that the crude bomb was placed into the aircraft at Thiruvananthapuram.

Malagatti said that the city police were waiting for their Kerala counterparts to complete their part of the investigation. “We have formed five teams to probe the case from the Bangalore side. We will be sharing information with our Kerala counterparts,” he said.

Kashmir recruitment: NIA seeks re-investigation

Kochi: The National Investigation Agency told the CBI court on Tuesday that it wants a re-investigation into the case in which Kerala youth were recruited to Kashmir for terror-related activities. The special CBI court will take up the NIA appeal in the afternoon.

Those accused in the case have been remanded till April 6. They have been taken to the Viyoor central jail in Thrissur. The seven accused were produced before the Kochi court. Thadiyandevida Naseer and Shafaz are also among the 23 accused in the case. Three are still to be traced.

The case which was investigated by the police was transferred to the NIA, which has sought a re-investigation into the case. The inveatigations into the Kalamassery bus burning case, Kozhikode twin blasts case, Ernakulam collectorate blast, Beypore blast, Valappatanam Mattanur bomb case is also going on

Saturday, March 6, 2010

State per capita debt highest in south India

Kerala leads the south Indian states with a per capita debt of Rs.14,629 in 2007, according to the Economic Review 2009 tabled in the state assembly Thursday.

The figure is significantly higher than the national average of Rs.9,754. Kerala's per capita debt has been on the rise in the past few years. It was Rs.9,512 in 2003, Rs.11,478 in 2004 and Rs.12,503 in 2005 and Rs.13,588 in 2006.

Andhra Pradesh with a per capita debt of Rs.11,912 follows Kerala. Tamil Nadu has a per capita debt of Rs.9,094 and Karnataka Rs.8,590.

The increase comes at a time when the total public debt of the state according to the 2009-10 budget estimate is Rs.67,180 crore, up from Rs.63,270 crore for 2008-09.

The break-up of the debt of the state for 2009-10 includes an internal debt of Rs.43,882 crore,small savings provident fund Rs.16,414 crore, loans and advances from the central government Rs.7,384 crore.

According to the 2001 Census, Kerala's population stands at 318.41 lakh which includes 163.72 lakh women and 154.69 lakh men.

The per capta income of the state is at Rs 35,457 crore, which is higher than the national average. Growth in agriculture production has come down though the production had gone up, mainly of rice and milk. Cultivable land for rice too has expanded to 2.34 lakh hectares bringing up the production to 11.74 per cent (5.89 percent for the previous year).

Though the export rate is down, profit of PSUs have increased. The fiscal deficit is 2.1 per cent of the GDP and the revenue deficit increased by .54 per cent. Interest income has gone up 13.99 per cent from last year.

The unemployment rate is at 45,22,000, said the survey report. The survey also said that the ASEAN deal is against the state interest.

Rs.50,000 crore rapid rail project to take off soon: minister

Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Isaac Saturday said the proposed Rs.50,000 crore rapid rail corridor project in the state could become a reality in six years.

Isaac told reporters that Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) has been asked to prepare the preliminary report for which Rs.50 crore has been set aside in the state budget.

The proposed project would extend from the northern tip of the state to the southern point and the 600-km distance can be covered in six hours, he said.

'This proposed project is likely to come up with the help of the Indian Railways. This corridor can either pass by the side of the existingrailway track. Through this land required can be minimised,' said Isaac.

He said a separate company, in which the government will have a stake, would be set up.

'It could be on the lines of the Konkan Railway Corporation,' he said.

With regards to the funds, Isaac said state Industries Minister Elamaram Kareem has already come up with a proposal where a monetary institution is ready to fund the project.

'It has now proved beyond doubt that state government companies cannot execute such projects due to various reasons and hence it would be handed to independent corporations who will execute it in a time bound manner,' added Isaac.

Kerala budget taxes liquor, proposes sops for tourism

Thiruvananthapuram: The Kerala government's budget for 2010-11 today proposed to extend the ambit of welfare schemes like employment guarantee and food subsidy, reduce taxes on tourism, beer and wine and impose fresh ones
on direct to home services and jewellery shop owners.

While continuing with most of the schemes under the Rs 10,000-crore stimulus package unveiled last year during the
slowdown, State Finance Minister Thomas Isaac in his budget announced fresh sops for the crisis-hit tourism sector by
slashing the luxury tax.

Luxury tax on tourism, a major revenue earner, was brought down to 7.5 per cent and 12.5 per cent in different
categories from 10 per cent and 15 per cent.

Among other highlights of the budget are the extension of the Rs 2-per-kg-rice scheme to labourers of the unorganised
sector from June and the employment guarantee scheme to the urban areas. The government has earmarked Rs 500 crore for the food subsidy plan that will benefit about 3.5 million families.

Possibly with an eye on the assembly polls next year, the budget also left VAT rates untouched but proposed a 10 per
cent hike in tax on liquor other than beer and wine.

The budget, showing a cumulative deficit of Rs 577.09 crore, also sharply brought down the stamp duty on registration of real estate property as a sop to recession-hit construction sector.

Stating that Kerala cannot get rid of the revenue deficit by 2014-15 as suggested by the 13th Finance Commission,
Issac said it would be Rs 3629.55 crore for the year, about 11.64 per cent of the state's revenue.

Total capital expenditure is pegged at Rs 4145.38 crore while the state plans to raise Rs 874.14 crore, mainly by
tapping non-tax sources.

Tax on beer and wine was slashed by 10 per cent, but that on other liquors was increased by 10 per cent.

The budget also sought to rationalise stamp duty and increased lifetime tax to 8 per cent for new motor cars and omni buses for private use, where engine capacityis 1500 cc and above.

A lifetime tax of six per cent ad valorem on all types of construction equipment vehicles was also imposed.

As the steep rise in gold prices had not been adequately reflected in the compounded tax, the budget refixed tax rates
increase payable by the Jewellery shop owners.

Direct to Home service was brought under the tax net, with a levy of one per cent tax on gross charges paid by

To protect small-scale Cable TV operators, it exempted those having less than 5000 connections from luxury tax.

The budget proposed to regularise conversion of paddy land into commercial land in revenue records prior to 2008 by
levying a fee on the basis of newly fixed fair value of land.

This will come into force from April next. Another proposal was to mobilise revenue from sand and silt mining from dams.
The budget pegged outlay for large-scale industries, tourism and IT sectors at Rs 412 crore and proposed to start
eight Public Sector Units with a total investment of Rs 125 crore.

An amount of Rs 275 crore was earmarked for expansion of existing PSUs and Rs 246 crore for protection of traditional

The budget earmarked Rs 70 crore for development of IT parks at Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi and Cyber parks at
Kozhikode, Kannur and Kasaragod.

Isaac’s gift to CPM

06 Mar 2010

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The forthcoming polls to the Local Self-Government institutions has acted as a catalyst for the 2010-11 budget presented by Finance Minister Thomas Isaac.

The fact that 50 percent of seats in local bodies has been reserved for women in the election was evident in Isaac’s budget speech.

A slew of promises, ranging from rest rooms at bus stands to allocation of Rs 620 crore of the plan fund for women-friendly schemes, has been offered by Isaac as part of a strategy planned by the CPM.

The election to panchayats and municipalities will take place in August-September. Since 50 percent of seats has been reserved for women, their vote will prove crucial in the election.

The populist measures announced in the budget, including rice at Rs 2/kg, health insurance for more people and a hike of welfare pensions to Rs 300, clearly indicate that the LDF has formally launched its election campaign with the budget.

Politics had been an important ingredient of the two-and-aquarter- hour-long speech by Isaac. He touched the ASEAN free trade agreement and the illeffects of globalisation during the speech.

“One thing is clear. ASEAN countries can enter the national markets and seriously affect the cash crops of the state. This would destroy the state’s agriculture sector and bring back the dark era of farmer suicides,’’ said Isaac.

In the speech, the Finance Minister demanded a special package for Kerala to compensate the loss suffered due to the ASEAN agreement.

Even the measures suggested by the Minister for mobilising extra revenue are not harmful to the general public. When Pranab Mukherjee taxed petrol and diesel for making easy money, Isaac has decided to tax liquor for that.

Again, a move that will get applause from women voters.

After the serious setback suffered by the CPM in the last Lok Sabha polls, the party has been looking for an appropriate platform for launching its campaign for the next election. Thomas Isaac, through this budget, has gifted the party one.