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The UAE said it is keen to strengthen ties with India and is looking to invest in programmes like Make in India, Digital India and Smart Cities

NEW DELHI: The UAE on Thursday said it is keen to strengthen ties with India and is looking to invest in programmes like Make in India, Digital India and Smart Cities.

"We are determined to attract more investment into India in various sectors. I am extremely keen to hear and listen from you some of the proposals, especially Make in India, Digital India and Smart City initiatives," UAE's foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan said here.

She said infrastructure is a key element in this regard as it opens up markets and opportunities for stronger people-to-people ties.

The minister said that the UAE was "determined" to take its relationship with India "to a new strategic level".

Citing the example of Dubai Ports World, she said: "We want to do more, we have the capacity, the willingness, the drive to do more".

"We hope you allow us to be more entrenched and more involved in your community and your business because the appetite is strong and the commitment is real," Nahyan said.

Pointing out that Dubai will host the World Exposition 2020, the minister said: "We would need our Indian partners and friends for support to help us achieve those deliverables.

She also highlighted the commitment of the two nations to raise bilateral trade by almost 50 to 60 per cent in the coming years.

Pointing out that the UAE was strongly connected through its ports and airports to almost every other city in the world, the minister said Indian industries could use this as an opportunity to reach out to the African continent.

"I am very well aware of the robustness of Indian businesses in Africa," she noted.

source: agency

Xiaomi is considering the introduction of its first laptop early next year, opening a new front in its battle against Apple and Lenovo Group

Xiaomi is considering the introduction of its first laptop early next year, people with direct knowledge of the matter said, opening a new front in its battle against Apple and Lenovo Group.

Xiaomi's notebook may go on sale in the first quarter to compete with such premium computers as Apple's MacBook Air and Lenovo's ThinkPad, the people said, asking not to be identified because the matter is private. Xiaomi has held talks with Samsung Electronics to supply memory chips, and that initial agreement may extend to providing displays, the people said.

Only five years after its founding, Xiaomi vaulted into the global smartphone industry's top ranks by providing stylish devices with premium components at mid-range prices. Xiaomi getting into the PC business risks bringing additional cost pressures against industry leaders Lenovo, Hewlett-Packard and Apple.

Supplying Xiaomi, the fourth-largest smartphone vendor, will boost Samsung's components business as its tries to reduce reliance on providing for its own Galaxy devices.

Samsung and Xiaomi declined to comment in separate e-mails.

Lenovo dropped to a three-year low in Hong Kong trading, falling 2.5% to HK$6.13. Samsung rose 0.5% to 1,090,000 won in Seoul.

Xiaomi's trying to carve out a spot in a rapidly shrinking market. IDC forecast in August an 8.7% slide in 2015 PC shipments and doesn't expect a return to growth till 2017.

The Chinese company co-founded by billionaire Lei Jun made its mark with cheaper smartphones sold online before moving into higher-end devices, buoyed by a thriving online community. Until now, its other hardware forays have been confined to sales of appliances and accessories such as earphones and TVs.

Xiaomi's venture into PCs comes as growth in its core market winds down. Worldwide smartphone sales recorded their slowest growth rate since 2013 in the second quarter of 2015, according to Gartner. A rapidly maturing home market has prompted Xiaomi to look toward India, Brazil and other less-saturated smartphone arenas.

Samsung too is grappling with slowing sales of its own high-end Galaxy range and in July, it posted a fifth straight drop in quarterly profit.

courtesy - Bloomberg

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) said there was no scope of change in the triple talaq system

LUCKNOW: The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) on Thursday said there was no scope of change in the triple talaq system and rejected the suggestion by some community outfits for building a consensus on making a three-month period mandatory before finalisation of divorce.

Though as per Quran and Hadith, "triple talaq" is a crime, but once said the process would be considered complete and cannot be changed, AIMPLB spokesman Maulana Abdul Raheem Qureshi said.

He said through news reports he has come to know that the All India Sunni Ulema Council had written a letter to the Board along with Deobandi and Barelvi sects that if there was any scope in Islamic law then "talaq" said by a person thrice in one go, should be considered as said only once.

"Though the AIMBLP has not received any such letter as yet, but we do not agree with the suggestion. We have nothing to do with what happens in other Islamic countries. What is happening in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Sudan and other countries. We do not look into it. What we follow is what Quran Sharif, Hadith and Sunnat has said," he added.

The spokesman said though saying talaq thrice in one go was not considered good in Islam, the process is considered to be complete.

"There is no scope of change in the system," he said.

Qureshi said last week the AIMPLB had sent a questionnaire to Ulemas across the country in which it was asked whether any penalty could be imposed on a person giving triple talaq or not.

"There is an old fatwa which states that triple talaq in one go is a crime, but the process will be considered to be complete. Earlier, such husbands were lashed, but now it cannot be done. The Ulemas were asked what can be done in the present situation. We will invite them and discuss the issue at length," he said.

General secretary of Jamat Raza-e-Mustafa, a religious and social unit of center of Barelvi sect, Maulana Shahabuddin said the demand to consider triple talaq in one go ineligible had been raised in the past as well.

"But the religious leaders of Hanafi, Shaafai, Maliki and Hambli sects decided that once uttered thrice, talaq will be considered complete," he said.

source: agency


India has added 52 million internet users in first six months of the year, taking the total user base to 352 million as on June 30, 2015

NEW DELHI: India has added 52 million internet users in first six months of the year, taking the total user base to 352 million as on June 30, 2015, industry body IAMAI said.

Interestingly, 213 million (over 60%) users accessed the worldwide web through mobile devices.

"Internet (in India) has reached an inflection point. The consolidated numbers affirm the fact that internet in India has now become inclusive, which augurs well for the industry and society at large," the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) said in a statement.

The number of internet users has grown over 26% from 278 million in October 2014. The number of mobile internet users has also grown about 40% from 159 million users in October last year.

"The internet in India took more than a decade to move from 10 million to 100 million and three years from 100 to 200 million. However, it took only a year to move from 200 to 300 million users. Clearly, internet is mainstream in India today," it said.

source: agency

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has expressed concern over steep rise in airfares during festive seasons

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has expressed concern over steep rise in airfares during festive seasons, following which the civil aviation ministry is looking at ways to curb such instances.

There have been instances of airlines hiking price of air tickets during festival seasons when more people travel.

According to a senior ministry official, Prime Minister has expressed concern over price of air tickets going up during festive seasons and has asked "whether there is a way to handle it (the issue)".

The ministry is looking at various options to address the issue, the official said even as he noted that regulating airfares would not be a way out.

Prime Minister received a representation that airfares are high during the Onam festival that is celebrated in Kerala. At that time, many Keralites - working in the Middle East come home with their families - have to shell out high prices of air tickets, the official said.

"High airfares (during festivals) is a cause for concern. We will try to address the problem... both in international and domestic routes," the official said.

When asked about how the matter could be addressed without regulating airfares, the official said one of the options would be to encourage the use of unutilised bilateral rights with other countries. Utilising bilateral rights would result in increased availability of seats, which in turn can help reduce the airfares, he added.

Last week, minister of state for civil aviation Mahesh Sharma had said the issue of predatory pricing was a concern of a majority of Parliamentarians and as well as the Prime minister.

"The Prime Minister has shown his concern over the predatory pricing issue and it needs to be addressed," he had said.

Concerns have been expressed in various quarters, including by Parliamentarians, over drastic fluctuations in air fares.

source: agency

Ishant Sharma's verbal duels with the Sri Lankans a "pathetic display of aggression" :Bishan Singh Bedi

NEW DELHI: Terming Ishant Sharma's verbal duels with the Sri Lankans a "pathetic display of aggression", former India captain Bishan Singh Bedi has said Test skipper Virat Kohli needs to control his own belligerence and be a role model for his players.

Ishant played a vital role in India's series clinching win in Colombo, bagging eight wickets in the match to join the 200 wicket-takers club. But his continuous verbal duels on the field not only cost him 65 per cent of his match fee in the second game but a second offence at the SSC in the third and final Test attracted an ICC ban for one Test match.

Bedi called it an unfortunate series of events.

"See they talked about aggression and then an Ishant gets banned for a match. Is this what you want on a cricket field? This is pathetic display of aggression. And remember this has nothing to do with Virat's aggression, who is just giving statement after statement and trying to sell his aggression through words," Bedi said.

"He (Kohli) did a very good job in the context of this series but he needs to control his aggro. There is always one camera which is focused on the captain, so he has to be an exceptionally good role model. You be aggressive with your bat, ball and fielding not with your mouth.

"These are very early days as far as his captaincy is concerned. There is so much more to be done. And there are far too many lacunas in the Indian team. We would be absolutely blind if we don't see the shortcomings now," Bedi said.

In a come-from-behind series win, India registered two comfortable Test victories after losing the opening game in Galle. But Bedi, who congratulated the young team for the win, opined that the visitors were up against a weak opposition and the celebrations that followed were uncalled for.

"Ye itna bada kaddoo mein teer nahin maara hai (It's no great achievement either). If they would have won 3-0 then I would have understood. Ok, now you have won, but what's the need for this craziness. You had gone there to win, right.

"So you did what you were expected to do, what's the fuss all about. Let's not go overboard for goodness sake. This Sri Lankan team was a very weak side. They should have destroyed them," said Bedi.

"But a win is a win. I would like to congratulate the boys, but there is no point in the country going berserk over this victory. There has to be some stability in the mind. You lose, you go mad and then you win, you again go crazy. When are we going to mature and accept defeat and victory in a very balanced manner," he added.

The spin legend praised Man-of-the-Series Ravichandran Ashwin for his consistent showing in the three matches but came down hard on the other bowlers.

"Ashwin did a very good job. For the first time I saw him bowl consistently well. But again I would stress that Lankans were a poor unit. I only saw one good knock from Angelo Mathews and that was it. They (the Indians) are going to town about the five-bowler theory. Where are the five bowlers? There is only one bowler that we have," said the left-arm spinner.

"Yes this team looks good no doubt, but we need young wicket-taking bowlers. See bowlers like Amit Mishra, you can discuss in the present tense, but not in the future tense. It is a young man's game. But I don't wish to take anything away from him as he showed a fighting spirit while bowling and batting. Sadly age is not on his side.

"This was a series where we had to groom and blood youngsters and we failed. And I am not willing to believe that we don't have young talent. First match they played Harbhajan Singh, now the time is up for Mishra and Harbhajan," he added.

Bedi also questioned the lack of a genuine all-rounder in the Indian team and said that talent spotting is not happening in national cricket.

"There is a massive question mark on (Stuart) Binny and the presence of an all-rounder in the team. Why did they keep Bhuvneshwar Kumar out of the side? Remember you have won, it doesn't mean that everything is OK. You have got to be very pragmatic and realistic," he said.

"I am sure there are good spinners, left-arm, leg-spinners around if you look for them. Where is the talent getting spotted? These five selectors, who are taking good money from the Board, need to scout for talent at the grass root level," he added.

Bedi also insists that the young team should get ready for a tougher test in the upcoming home series against South Africa starting October.

"There is a very tough opposition coming home and it's a very long series where your ability and your fitness would be tested," he signed off.



Chief of Army Staff Dalbir Singh said that the military needs to be ready for short wars as the borders are live with frequent ceasefire violations and infiltration bids by Pakistan

NEW DELHI: Speaking at the Tri Service Seminar on the 1965 Indo Pak War, Chief of Army Staff Dalbir Singh on Tuesday said that the military needs to be ready for short wars as the borders are live with frequent ceasefire violations and infiltration bids by Pakistan.

"We are acutely aware that the swift short nature of future wars is likely to offer limited warning time. This calls for maintaining very high level of operational preparedness at all times, it's something that has now become important in our strategy," Singh said here.

He also said that the Indian Army has become more alert with the rise in the number of ceasefire violations by Pakistan.

"Our threats and challenges have become more complex. The Indian army has increased in intensity in the past years. With frequent ceasefire violation and infiltrations by our west neighbour, the border remains live and active. New methods are continued to be employed to create unrest in J&K. The recent incidents of terrorist violence are clear points to extend violence to other areas," Singh said here.

Speaking about the 1965 war, Singh paid homage to the brave martyrs who sacrificed their lives to save the contours of India.

"1965 war is saga of raw courage, extraordinary greatness and dogged determination of the Indian military. Most prominently, Indian Army delivered a blow to Pakistan across the entire western front. The war settled many negative myths, restored confidence and laid ground work for the spectacular victory in 1971 six years later," he said.

The general also praised the contribution of the civil population during the war and how the public support was highly important to the troops.

"There was over whelming support from civil population. Breaking caste and communal barriers, people, plunged into civil defence work. Cheering crowds saw marching troops to the fronts as patriotism swept across the country. This immense public support was highly important to the troops as it strengthened the bond between civil society and the Army," Singh said.

The Army Chief of Staff also saluted the brave veterans saying their invaluable contribution and guidance has been a source of strength to the organisation.

sourec: agency

India's competition authority has accused Google of abusing its dominant position in online search

MUMBAI: India's competition authority has accused Google of abusing its dominant position in online search, people with knowledge of the matter said, which if proven could force the US company to alter its practices in a key market or even pay a big fine.

A preliminary report from the Competition Commission of India (CCI), a quasi-judicial regulatory body, found fault with Google's handling of its online advertising services and search results, said the people.

Google, which just last month appointed India-born Sundar Pichai as its new CEO, is already facing a billion-euro fine from the European Union after accusations the company cheated competitors by distorting internet search results in favour of its shopping service. Google has rejected those charges.

The Indian regulator first began investigating Google in 2012, and a preliminary report was submitted to the top CCI officials about six months ago. The findings of that report have been mentioned in the local media in the last few days.

The CCI is expected to make a final ruling after a hearing on September 17, where Google will present itself before a seven-person CCI panel, the people said.

CCI chairperson Ashok Chawla was not immediately reachable over the phone for comments.

"We're currently reviewing this report from the CCI's ongoing investigation," a Google spokesman said in a statement. "We continue to work closely with the CCI and remain confident that we comply fully with India's competition laws."

The initial complaints of Google abusing its position in online search in India were filed by matchmaking website Bharat Matrimony and a not-for-profit organization, Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS).

Udai Mehta, assistant director at CUTS, said if the final ruling too finds Google guilty, the CCI can either order the company to halt what it deems unfair practices or fine it even as much as 10% of its revenues. If found guilty, Google could challenge the decision in court, he said.

Google posted annual revenues of $66 billion for 2014.

A guilty verdict could impact Google's growth in India, where it dominates Internet searches among the country's 300 million online users and is increasingly launching its Android phones and other initiatives to get more people on its operating system.

courtesy - reuters

Earth's first big predatory monster was a weird water bug as big as Tom Cruise, newly found fossils show

WASHINGTON: Earth's first big predatory monster was a weird water bug as big as Tom Cruise, newly found fossils show.

Almost half a billion years ago, way before the dinosaurs roamed, Earth's dominant large predator was a sea scorpion that grew to 5 feet 7 inches (170 centimetres), with a dozen claw arms sprouting from its head and a spike tail, according to a new study.

Geologists at the Iowa Geological Survey found 150 pieces of fossils about 60 feet (18 meters) under the Upper Iowa River, part of which had to be temporarily dammed to allow them to collect the specimens. Then scientists at Yale University determined they were a new species from about 460 million years ago, when Iowa was under an ocean

Then, all the action was in the sea and it was pretty small scale, said James Lamsdell of Yale, lead author of the study published on Monday in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology.

"This is the first real big predator," Lamsdell said. "I wouldn't have wanted to be swimming with it. There's something about bugs. When they're a certain size, they shouldn't be allowed to get bigger."

Technically, this creature — named Pentecopterus decorahensis, after an ancient Greek warship — is not a bug by science definitions, Lamsdell said. It's part of the eurypterid family, which are basically sea scorpions.

Those type of creatures "are really cool," said Joe Hannibal, curator of invertebrate paleontology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Hannibal wasn't part of the study, but praised it for being well done, adding "this species is not particularly bizarre — for a eurypterid."

Unlike modern land scorpions, this creature's tail didn't sting. It was used more for balance and in swimming, but half this creature's length was tail, Lamsdell said.

There were larger sea scorpions half way around the world at the same time but those were more bottom feeders instead of dominant predators, he said.

Lamsdell could tell by the way the many arms come out of the elongated head how this creature grabbed prey and pushed it to its mouth.

"It was obviously a very aggressive animal," Lamsdell said. "It was a big angry bug."

courtesy - AP

Scientists have identified a protein that regulates the severity of tissue damage caused by rheumatoid arthritis

LONDON: Scientists have identified a protein that regulates the severity of tissue damage caused by rheumatoid arthritis.

Researchers have found that the protein, C5orf30, regulates the severity of tissue damage caused by rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease that causes pain, inflammation, stiffness and damage to the joints of the feet, hips, knees, and hands.

Following the discovery, rheumatoid arthritis patients most likely to suffer the severest effects of the condition can now be identified early and fast-tracked to the more aggressive treatments available, researchers said.

Although there is no cure for RA, new effective drugs are increasingly available to treat the disease and prevent deformed joints.

To conduct the research, scientists from University College Dublin and the University of Sheffield, analyzed DNA samples and biopsy samples from joints of over 1,000 Rheumatoid arthritis patients in the UK and Ireland.

"Our findings provide a genetic marker that could be used to identify those RA patients who require more aggressive treatments or personalised medicine," said Gerry Wilson from the University College Dublin's School of Medicine and Medical Science in Ireland, who led the research.

"They also point to the possibility that increasing the levels of C5orf30 in the joints might be a novel method of reducing tissue damage caused by RA," Wilson said.

"These exciting findings will prompt us to further explore the role of this highly conserved protein that we know so little about, and its significance in human health and disease," said co-author Munitta Muthana from the University of Sheffield.

One of the biggest difficulties with treating rheumatoid arthritis is early diagnosis. With early diagnosis and aggressive treatment, it is possible to reduce the damage to the joints caused by RA.

Deciding the most appropriate treatment for each patient at the earliest possible stage is central to effectively tackling the condition, researchers said.

The study was published in the journal PNAS.

source: agency

A sharp sell-off in the stock market wiped out over Rs 2 lakh crore from investors' wealth

MUMBAI: A sharp sell-off in the stock market wiped out over Rs 2 lakh crore from investors' wealth on Tuesday as the benchmark sensex plummeted 587 points following weak domestic and global macroeconomic data.

Total investor wealth of BSE-listed companies tumbled by Rs 2,02,654.47 crore to Rs 96,25,276 crore.

The 30-share index plunged 586.65 points or 2.23 per cent to settle at 25,696.44. Intra-day, the blue-chip index crashed 703.21 points to 25,579.88.

"Tracking weak cues from both domestic and global front, equity benchmarks tanked today. Mainly, sentiments were downbeat in reaction to weak macro-economic data of GDP. Adding to that, negativity on global front pushed benchmarks lower as the day progressed," said Jayant Manglik, president, retail distribution, Religare Securities Ltd.

A government data had on Monday said that domestic growth had slowed down to 7 per cent in the June quarter from 7.5 per cent in the previous quarter, while a private survey on Tuesday showed that China factory output shrank to a three-year low.

Among the 30-sensex stocks, 29 ended with losses led by AXIS Bank, Hindalco Industries, Tata Steel and BHEL.

Sun Pharmaceutical was the only gainer with 0.34 per cent rise.

"Country's key macro-data with slower GDP growth of April-June quarter, subdued Asian cues amid weakness in China's economy, loomed over the trading sentiments," said Vikas Singhania, executive director, Trade Smart Online.

At BSE, 2,093 stocks declined, while 595 advanced and 86 remained unchanged.

source: agency

Essential services are likely to be impacted with 10 central trade unions going ahead with one-day nationwide strike

NEW DELHI: Essential services are likely to be impacted on Wednesday with 10 central trade unions going ahead with one-day nationwide strike to protest against changes in labour laws even as BJP-backed Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and National Front of Indian Trade Unions have pulled out.

These ten unions claim a combined membership of 15 crore workers in public as well as private sector enterprises including banks and insurance companies and they have decided to go ahead with the strike after their talks with a group of senior ministers earlier this month failed to yield desired results.

Union leaders said the strike will affect the functioning of essential services like transport and supply of power, gas and oil, even as BMS claimed that power, oil and gas supplies will not be affected as a large number of public sector workers in these areas would not participate in the industrial action.

As many as 12 central trade unions had given this strike call over a 12-points charter of demands, including withdrawal of the proposed anti-worker amendments in labour laws and stopping the disinvestment and privatization of PSUs.

BMS later pulled out saying the government needed to be given time to fulfil its promises on the basic demands. The National Front of Indian Trade Unions will also stay out.

Speaking on behalf of other unions, All India Trade Union secretary DL Sachdev said that all ten central trade unions recognized by government will go on strike on Wednesday.

He claimed that "many state units of BMS will also join the strike".

Earlier in the day, BMS general secretary Virjesh Upadhyay told reporters that "a large number of public sector undertakings who are members of central trade unions are not going on strike tomorrow. Thus, the services like power, oil and gas supply will not be affected. Big PSUs like NTPC, NHPC and PowerGrid will not observe the strike."

Upadhyay said the National Front of Indian Trade Unions has also decided not to go on strike and wants to give some time to government, at least till the winter session of Parliament, for fulfilling its assurances like uniform minimum wages across the board and enhancing wage ceiling for bonus.

source: agency


Describing 'Ramcharitmanas' as a great work which imbibes the "essence of India", Prime Minister Narendra Modi today released the digital version of a musical production on the epic recorded by All India Radio

NEW DELHI : Describing 'Ramcharitmanas' as a great work which imbibes the "essence of India", Prime Minister Narendra Modi today released the digital version of a musical production on the epic recorded by All India Radio.

Praising efforts of the artistes, the Prime Minister said they had performed not just 'sangeet sadhna, but also sanskriti sadhna and sanskaar sadhna' (devotion not just to music, but also to culture and tradition).

The Prime Minister described Goswami Tulsidas' Ramcharitmanas as a great epic which contained the "essence of India."

He mentioned how the Indians who had travelled to various parts of the world, such as Mauritius, kept alive their link with India over successive generations through the Ramcharitmanas, an official statement said here.

Modi, while unveiling the set of digital CDs, said the recordings have been done over a period of 20-22 years and the effort was no small achievement.

He also appreciated the role played by All India Radio (Akashvani) in uniting the people and spreading awareness and information in India.

He said that he has been informed that AIR has approximately nine lakh hours of audio recordings of various artistes from across the country. He said this was a priceless collection, which should be documented in detail for posterity.

According to officials, AIR recordings of Goswami Tulsidas' work which were released today have been sung by many leading singers of Bhopal 'gharana' over several years from 1980 onwards.

Minister for Information and Broadcasting Arun Jaitley and Chairman Prasar Bharati Board A Suryaprakash were present on the occasion, the statement added.

source: agency

The Kremlin has released pictures of Russian President Vladimir Putin working out at the gym with Russian Prime Minister Dmitrty Medvedev

MOSCOW: The Kremlin has released pictures of Russian President Vladimir Putin working out at the gym with Russian Prime Minister Dmitrty Medvedev, images apparently aimed at shoring up Putin's rugged, masculine image as his popularity dips.

Wearing a white T-shirt, track suit trousers and running shoes, Putin is shown on muscle-building apparatus in a publicity stunt that recalled previous shots of him shirtless riding a horse, flying a supersonic jet and hunting a tiger.

Putin's approval ranking has been dented by a sluggish economy and free-falling rouble whose value has halved since last year due to a decline in the oil price and western sanction over Moscow's role in the Ukraine crisis.

After their workout, at Putin's Black Sea's residence of Bocharov Ruchei, near Sochi, the two politicians were shown on television grilling meat and having tea, adding to the healthy and wholesome picture.

Putin's rating remains very high by western standards. A poll, published on Friday in business daily Vedomosti by the Public Opinion Foundation, showed 72 percent of Russians would have voted for Putin in August, down from 76 percent in May.

According to polling organisation the Levada Center, Putin's approval rating was 61 percent in November 2013, the lowest since 2000 when he was first elected President, but it surged above 80 percent early last year as Russians rallied around his actions over Ukraine.

courtesy - reuters

E-commerce major Flipkart has launched its instant refund mechanism facility

NEW DELHI: E-commerce major Flipkart has launched its instant refund mechanism facility, a move that will help its customers get refunds as early as within 24 hours of returning the product.

Previously, the refund process used to take three to five business days.

"Continuing the innovation journey by announcing this newly launched payment mechanism, Flipkart aims to ensure that refunds for Cash on Deliver (CoD) orders are credited back to customers instantly, as soon as the product reaches the Flipkart hub," Flipkart said in a statement.

The instant refund will be completed using Immediate Payments System (IMPS) transfers, the company said adding that the CoD IMPS return facility is currently active for banks having IMPS transaction capability.

Entitled customers will be regularly notified about the status of their refund via SMS and emails, it said.

"Our return procedure is already one of the fastest in the country. In the last two months, we have extended this further by piloting the IMPS refunds programme, which has seen positive adoption and traction from our end users," Flipkart chief product officer Punit Soni said.

An instant, hassle-free refund experience, combined with consistent and accurate communication to the customer is definitely going to be a breakthrough, and a way forward for all future payment innovations, he added.

"We strongly feel that enabling our fast-growing product IMPS with Flipkart's quicker refund strategy will create a benchmark experience to customers," National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) COO Dilip Asbe said.

Transactions on IMPS can be accessed and initiated across different channels like mobile phones, PCs, NUUP, ATM and at bank branches.

More than 12 million successful transactions are been processed every month, Asbe said.

source: agency

Hardik Patel, a sword-wielding 22-year-old activist has emerged overnight as the most pressing political threat to Narendra Modi

AHMEDABAD: Hardik Patel, a sword-wielding 22-year-old activist has emerged overnight as the most pressing political threat to Narendra Modi, accusing the Prime Minister of breaking a promise to provide jobs that helped him win last year's general election.

Patel, by his own admission, scraped through college and failed to land a steady job. But he has proven to be a talented organiser and rabble-rousing orator, creating a mass movement in a matter of weeks.

The explosive issue he has locked on to is caste: He says India's policies of affirmative action have shut his community the Patels, also known as Patidars, out of university places and government jobs.

Patel has stirred upheaval in Gujarat, the state Modi ran for 13 years before he became Prime Minister - an era of rapid industrial growth that his BJP successfully pitched to voters as a "model" to bring prosperity to India's 1.2 billion people.

Patel calls the model hyped, saying Modi "tried to sell platinum when all he had was steel". Protests culminated last Tuesday in a rally by half a million people in Ahmedabad, Gujarat's largest city. Violence broke out across Gujarat after police detained Patel briefly, leading to at least seven deaths.

"Brother Modi is very angry with me and my community - we have exposed the flaws in his economic and social model," Patel said in an interview on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. "But he shouldn't forget that we supported him."

Gujarat still bears the scars of the violence in 2002 when more than 1,000 people were killed.

Modi's calls for calm now cut no ice with Patel: "I am ready for a fight to protect the Patels against the economic domination of the lower castes," Patel, a slight man with a broad face and thick hair, told Reuters late last week.

Patel came on Sunday to New Delhi to meet leaders of other castes that also harbour jobs grievances. Brandishing a sword before his supporters, he vowed to launch protests across India.

The Patels, who make up 14 percent of Gujarat's 60 million people, are not poor by Indian standards. Originally landowners - the name Patel means one who owns land - they have branched out into trades like diamond polishing in India. The community is also highly mobile and Patels own thousands of small businesses in the United States and Britain.

Yet, in a country where 700 million people subsist on $2 a day or less, many Patels still aspire to join a nascent middle class. With the economy growing too slowly to create jobs, they say they are being excluded from scarce government posts.

After independence, India protected lower castes and tribal communities by reserving college places and government positions for them. These quotas were later expanded to add "Other Backward Classes", including the one that Modi comes from.

The Patel protests have damaged Modi's reputation as an economic policy maker and have had an impact in Bihar that will soon go to the polls. Chief minister Nitish Kumar, seeking to keep Modi's BJP out of power, has sympathised with the Patels.

Officials in Gujarat admit to being blindsided by the outburst of anger, even though they knew that the Patels' small businesses were struggling and the community was sidelined when profitable new dairy cooperatives were set up.

Some analysts speculate the protests were encouraged by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu organisation allied to the BJP that also opposes reservation. RSS leaders told Reuters that they played no role, however.

What is clear is that Hardik Patel enjoys the patronage of influential Patel politicians who fell out of favour with Modi.

"There are several senior Patels standing behind him who were waiting for Modi to leave Gujarat," said one industrialist from the Patel clan. "Hardik Patel is a smart soldier and an able commander."

Protests against India's affirmative action programmes erupted 25 years ago, when caste-based quotas in jobs and colleges were sought to be expanded. The current movement appears to have snowballed because Modi has not been able to meet the expectations of some of his supporters while the economy remains stalled.

"Gujarat's much-celebrated growth rate has slowed down in the last two years. There are hardly any jobs to absorb the young and the restless," said Sebastian Morris, a professor of economics at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad.

"This problem is not just in Gujarat, but it is faced by youths across India."

courtesy - reuters

Islamic State jihadists in Syria severely damaged the Bel temple

BEIRUT: Islamic State jihadists in Syria severely damaged the Bel temple, considered one of the greatest sites of the ancient world, in a massive explosion on Sunday, activists said.

The 2,000-year-old temple was part of the remains of the ancient caravan city of Palmyra in central Syria, seized by ISIS in May.

The news of the latest destruction at Palmyra came just days after ISIS released propaganda images purportedly showing militants blowing up another Palmyra temple, the 2,000-year-old Baalshamin dedicated to the Phoenician god of storms and fertilizing rains.

The UN cultural agency Unesco, which has designated Palmyra as a world heritage site, called the destruction of the Baalshamin temple a war crime.

Earlier this month, relatives and witnesses said that ISIS militants had beheaded Khaled al-Asaad, an 81-year-old antiquities scholar who devoted his life to understanding Palmyra.

The Islamic State group, which has imposed a violent interpretation of Islamic law across its self-declared "caliphate" straddling Syria and Iraq, says such ancient relics promote idolatry.

It already has blown up several sites in neighbouring Iraq, and it is also believed to be selling looted antiquities.

A Palmyra resident, who goes by the name of Nasser al-Thaer, said ISIS jihadists set off a huge blast at 1.45pm on Sunday.

"It is total destruction," he said of the scene of the explosion. "The bricks and columns are on the ground," he said. "It was an explosion the deaf would hear," he added.

The resident said only the outer wall surrounding the temple remains.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists in Syria, said the temple was damaged. It did not provide details.

The temple, consecrated to the Semitic god Bel, had been well-preserved and was a source of much pride for Syrians. It was consecrated in AD 32.

It stood out among the ruins not far from the colonnades of Palmyra, which is affectionately known by Syrians as the "Bride of the Desert."

Earlier on Sunday, ISIS jihadists pushed into a large district in southern Damascus, clashing with rival militants just a few kilometres from the centre of the Syrian capital, the extremist group and Syrian activists said.

More than two dozen militants were killed in the clashes on the edges of the Qadam neighbourhood, said the observatory.

The pro-ISIS Aamaq News Agency reported that ISIS fighters seized half of Qadam. The observatory's Rami Abdurrahman said ISIS fighters were holding two streets and that fighting was continuing.

ISIS supporters posted propaganda pictures claiming to show ISIS fighters advancing in the narrow streets of Qadam. The authenticity of the images could not be confirmed independently.

ISIS has emerged as one of the most powerful forces in the battle to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad. Armed Islamic factions fighting forces loyal to Assad control parts of Damascus and large parts of the city's suburbs. ISIS controls large parts of the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, east of Qadam.

Also on Sunday, a mortar round hit an upscale neighbourhood of central Damascus, killing four people, including a girl, Syrian state TV said.

It is not uncommon for Damascus to be shelled. Sunday's attack targeted the posh neighbourhood of Abu Rummaneh, which houses hotels and several embassies.

An Associated Press reporter on the scene saw two people wounded by shrapnel. Vehicles in the area were also damaged.

courtesy - AP


Kabir Khan says he got the "best gift" from his "Bajrangi Bhaijaan" star Salman Khan

Kabir Khan says he got the "best gift" from his "Bajrangi Bhaijaan" star Salman Khan, who presented the director his famous black-and-white portrait of a man and woman.

The 49-year-old actor's creation, which he titled as Bajrangi Bhaijaan, shows the couple in love. The woman is sporting a red bindi in the still picture.

"Just got the best gift... From my producer, my actor, my friend," Kabir posted on Twitter.

The cross-border drama, also starring Kareena Kapoor Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqu, was co-produced by Salman and Rockline Venkatesh. The Kick star also worked with Kabir in Ek Tha Tiger.

Salman debuted the picture on his Twitter page in June, a month before the release of Bajrangi Bhaijaan on July 17.

source: agency

Hardik Patel, who led the Patel community's agitation for reservation in Gujarat, said he won't allow any political party to enter his agitation

NEW DELHI: Hardik Patel, who led the Patel community's agitation for reservation in Gujarat, on Sunday, said he won't allow any political party to enter his agitation.

"We are not here to meet any minister. Political parties are not welcomed in the agitation," said Patel after reaching the national capital.

Patel, who is going to address the media in the afternoon, asserted that merely five to ten percent of the Patel community members are economically sound and, hence, the community needs reservation.

"We want to take our movement to every part of the nation and have come to Delhi to make future plan of action. We want the support of Jats and Gurjars," he added.

Patel said he will take his the movement forward and to wherever the Patel community needs him.

"We want to take our movement to every part of the nation. Where ever the Patel community needs me, I will go. I will unite the 27 crores. Those who need reservation are not getting it," Patel told.

Addressing media n Delhi, he said that their protest is not a 100 metre race but a marathon that would continue for at least one or two years.

"We (Patel community) are 27 crores in the whole country. We have to unite them and we will take this protest across the country," Patel told media here.

"This protest is not a 100 metre race, it's a marathon and it will continue at least for one or two years," he added.

Patel is expected to hold talks with both Gurjars and Jats in New Delhi on Sunday.

Patel had earlier cleared the air that the meeting was not linked to ongoing protests, and said he had been invited to meet the Jats.

"But if needed, we will go to Jantar Mantar for the protests," he said.

source: agency

Six Nasa recruits have shut themselves inside a dome in Hawaii to begin a year-long isolation programme that will simulate life on Mars to help the US space agency prepare for the pioneering mission to the red planet

WASHINGTON: Six Nasa recruits have shut themselves inside a dome in Hawaii to begin a year-long isolation programme that will simulate life on Mars to help the US space agency prepare for the pioneering mission to the red planet.

The group began the isolation experiment on August 28, and now face 365 days without fresh air, food or privacy.

The group consists of a French astrobiologist, a German physicist and four Americans; a pilot, an architect, a doctor/journalist and a soil scientist.

They are living in a self-contained solar-powered dome, which measures only 11 metres in diameter and is six metres tall.

It is estimated that the first human mission to Red Planet could last between one to three years.

The participants will each have a small sleeping cot and a desk inside their rooms and will be eating food such as powdered cheese and canned tuna, '' reported.

The group has limited access to the internet, and must wear a spacesuit if they want to venture outside.

Scientist and journalist Sheyna Gifford, who is taking part in the experiment, described the team as "six people who want to change the world by making it possible for people to leave it at will" in a post on her blog.

She also posted a photo of her first meal on Mars. "First dinner in simulated space: the cheese & turkey quesadilla & all the veggies were all dehydrated 30 min ago."

"The longer each mission becomes, the better we can understand the risks of space travel," the project's principle investigator, University of Hawaii professor Kim Binstead was quoted as saying.

"We hope that this mission will build on our current understanding of the social and psychological factors involved in long-duration space exploration and give NASA solid data on how best to select and support a flight crew that will work cohesively as a team while in space," Binstead said.

source: agency

Sonia Gandhi lashed out at the Narendra Modi government for "doing nothing other than 'show-baazi'"

PATNA: Top opposition leaders including Sonia Gandhi on Sunday lashed out at the Narendra Modi government for "doing nothing other than 'show-baazi'" by slashing allocations to all major social security schemes like MGNREGA.

Addressing the 'Swabhiman Rally' here along with top leaders of JD(U), RJD and SP, Gandhi said "Modi-government has completed one-fourth of its time. Till now, what has it done other than 'show-baazi'..It has done nothing. You know better than me."

She attacked the BJP-led regime for not fulfilling its promise to provide employment to one crore people but also restricting job opportunities in the government and said the funds for major social security schemes like MGNREGA have been "heavily slashed".

Targeting Modi for his DNA remarks, Gandhi said the Prime Minister has demeaned Bihar and shown its people in a bad light. "Some people take pleasure in mocking Bihar. Whenever they get opportunity they comment about its DNA and culture. They also call it BIMARU," she said.

On government's decision to allow Land Bill to lapse, Gandhi said that Modi had to bow to people's will by giving up the ordinance.

"This is an anti-farmer government. They want to grab their land and distribute it among their rich friends. We fought for the protection of farmers' rights in the Parliament and in the end government had to bow down," she asserted.

Present on the dais were Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, RJD chief Lalu Prasad, JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav and SP leader Shivpal Yadav, among others.

sourec: agency

RJD president Lalu Prasad attacked the BJP on social media saying it "will face a debacle worse than Delhi" in the upcoming Bihar Assembly elections

PATNA: On a day top leaders from the grand secular alliance assembled here to address 'Swabhiman Rally' to counter the NDA, RJD president Lalu Prasad on Sunday attacked the BJP on social media saying it "will face a debacle worse than Delhi" in the upcoming Bihar Assembly elections.

"The public is outraged over non-keeping of promises by the BJP (on) corruption, unemployment and inflation. BJP will face a debacle worse than Delhi. We will break its arrogance to pieces," Prasad posted on social media platforms.

He asserted that the people of Bihar have made up their minds to chase away BJP from the state.

Referring to the crowd of supporters of the 'grand secular alliance' who gathered at the Gandhi Maidan, the venue of today's Swabhiman Rally, Prasad said it was a testimony to the determination of the people of the state.

"The BJP has got a heart attack after noticing Gandhi Maidan teeming with people brimming with enthusiasm," he said.

Prasad also hit out at the 'DNA remark' by PM Narendra Modi against Kumar during his Muzaffarpur rally last month.

The RJD supremo said the people of the state would make BJP understand that "they are not buyable" and in an apparent reference to Modi, said any "outsider with blood of a businessman in his veins" would not be allowed to insult them.

"Good 'sanskara' (habits) course through our veins. Good 'sanskaras' are in our DNA. In our state we call even poor rickshaw-pullers with respect. We will not allow any outsider, who has blood of a businessman in his veins, try to insult us," Prasad added.

source: agency

Within months of its smartwatch launch, tech giant Apple is already at a "striking distance" with global leader in the wearable market

NEW DELHI: Within months of its smartwatch launch, tech giant Apple is already at a "striking distance" with global leader in the wearable market, Fitbit, with shipments of 3.6 million units in the April-June quarter, research firm IDC said.

According to data by IDC, Apple is just 0.8 million units behind Fitbit's 4.4 million units shipment (24.3% market share) in the second quarter of 2015.

The Cupertino-based firm had a market share of 19.9% in its debut quarter.

The global wearable shipment for April-June 2015 quarter grew a whopping 223.2% to 18.1 million units from 5.6 million units shipped in the year-ago period, IDC said.

Apple, which sells the cult range of iPhones, iPads and Macbooks, started selling its smartwatch in select markets like the US, China, Hong Kong, Australia and France in April.

"Anytime Apple enters a new market, not only does it draw attention to itself, but to the market as a whole. Its participation benefits multiple players and platforms within the wearables ecosystem, and ultimately drives total volumes higher," IDC Research Manager (Wearables) Ramon Llamas said.

He added that Apple also forces other vendors, especially those that have been part of this market for multiple quarters, to "re-evaluate" their products and experiences.

"Fairly or not, Apple will become the stick against which other wearables are measured, and competing vendors need to stay current or ahead of Apple," he said.

Jitesh Ubrani, Senior Research Analyst for IDC Mobile Device Trackers, said about two of every three smart wearables shipped this quarter was an Apple Watch.

"Its (Apple) dominance is expected to continue. Although Fitbit outshipped Apple, it's worth noting that Fitbit only sells basic wearables, a category that is expected to lose share over the next few years, leaving Apple poised to become the next market leader for all wearables," he added.

Xiaomi and Garmin ranked third and fourth in the tally with 17.1% share (3.1 million units) and 3.9% share (0.7 million units), respectively.

Samsung saw its shipment declining to 0.6 million units in April-June 2015 quarter from 0.8 million units in the year-ago period. Its market share stood at 3.3% in the quarter under review.

source: agency

In his first reaction on the recent Gujarat violence over the quota issue, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the incidents had upset the entire nation

NEW DELHI: In his first reaction on the recent Gujarat violence over the quota issue, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday said the incidents, which claimed at least ten lives, had upset the entire nation.

"The recent incidents of violence in Gujarat has upset the entire nation. Whatever happens to the land of Gandhi and Sardar Patel, the nation is shocked and pained first," he said in his radio programme 'Mann Ki Baat'.

Appreciating the people of Gujarat, Modi said their cooperation helped in controlling the situation.
"In a very short time, my Gujarati brothers and sisters controlled the situation. They played an active role and did not let the situation worsen and peace was restored in the state.

Urging people to work together for development, he said that development alone will solve all problems.

"Peace, unity and brotherhood are the only correct way and we have to walk together on the path of development as only it is the solution of our problems," he said.

source: agency

Indrani Mukerjea's former husband Sanjeev Khanna and her driver Shyam Rai were taken to Raigad district to "recreate" the crime scene in the Sheena Bora murder case

MUMBAI: Indrani Mukerjea's former husband Sanjeev Khanna and her driver Shyam Rai were on Sunday taken to Raigad district to "recreate" the crime scene in the Sheena Bora murder case by Mumbai Police as investigators sought to gather evidence.

Accused Sanjeev Khanna was brought to Khar police station and later taken to the forest in Pen tehsil, along with the driver, police said.

During sustained interrogation on Saturday, Indrani and Sanjeev blamed each other for the crime.

Indrani's son and Sheena's brother Mikhail Bora was also questioned at a hotel in Bandra on Saturday.

Police are also probing Mikhail's claim that just hours before Indrani and Sanjeev met Sheena on April 24, 2012 and took her for what would be the last drive of her life, Indrani had also allegedly drugged him. By the time they came back, the suspicious, groggy Mikhail had fled.

Meanwhile, a village official in Raigad district, who helped Mumbai Police team locate the spot where Sheena Bora was allegedly buried, today said when he first spotted the body in 2012 it was just a skeleton with no flesh.

"It was all skeleton. There was no flesh. The local government doctor took it for post mortem, after which it was buried," policeman Patil Ganesh Dhene of Hetevne village said.

Asked how he came across the skeletal remains, Dhene said, "I had gone to collect mangoes. The body was not in a suitcase. The surrounding area was burnt."

Indrani, her driver Shyam Rai and Khanna were interrogated at Khar police station on Saturday. During the course of the grilling, they blamed each other for the crime, a police official said.

Police said Khanna and Indrani were giving evasive replies during interrogation.

source: agency


An Egyptian court sentenced three Al-Jazeera English journalists to three years in prison

CAIRO: An Egyptian court on Saturday sentenced three Al-Jazeera English journalists to three years in prison, the last twist in a long-running trial criticized worldwide by press freedom advocates and human rights activists.

The case against Canadian national Mohammed Fahmy, Australian journalist Peter Greste and Egyptian producer Baher Mohammed embroiled their journalism into the wider conflict between Egypt and Qatar following the 2013 military ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

The case began in December 2013, when Egyptian security forces raided the upscale hotel suite used by Al-Jazeera at the time to report from Egypt. Authorities arrested Fahmy, Greste and Mohammed, later charging them with allegedly being part of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, which authorities have declared a terrorist organization, and airing falsified footage intended to damage national security.

Since Morsi's ouster, Egypt has cracked down heavily on his supporters, and the journalists were accused of being mouthpieces for the Brotherhood. Al-Jazeera and the journalists have denied the allegations, saying they were simply reporting the news. However, Doha has been a strong supporter of the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups in the greater Mideast.

At trial, prosecutors used news clips about an animal hospital with donkeys and horses, and another about Christian life in Egypt, as evidence they broke the law. Defense lawyers " and even the judge " dismissed the videos as irrelevant. Nonetheless, the three men were convicted on June 23, 2014, with Greste and Fahmy sentenced to seven years in prison and Mohammed to 10 years.

The verdict brought a landslide of international condemnation and calls for newly elected President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, who as military chief led the overthrow of Morsi, to intervene. Egypt's Court of Cassation, the country's highest appeals court, later ordered their retrial, saying the initial proceedings were marred by violations of the defendants' rights.

Egypt deported Greste in February, though he remained charged in the case. Fahmy and Mohammed were later released on bail.

Fahmy was asked to give up his Egyptian nationality by Egyptian officials in order to qualify for deportation. It's not clear why he was deported, though Fahmy said he thinks Canada could have pressed Cairo harder on the matter.

Angered by Al-Jazeera handling of the case, Fahmy has filed a lawsuit in Canada seeking $100 million from the broadcaster, saying that it put the story ahead of employee safety and used its Arabic-language channels to advocate for the Brotherhood. Al-Jazeera has said Fahmy should seek compensation from Egypt.

courtesy - AP


Vodafone India said it will launch its fourth-generation (4G) mobile telephony services by 2015-end

NEW DELHI: Vodafone India today said it will launch its fourth-generation (4G) mobile telephony services by 2015-end, an announcement that comes days after market leader Airtel rolled out its own.

The rollout will match the upcoming 4G commercial launch by Reliance Jio.

"Important data markets, including Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Kochi, will be part of the first wave of the rollout," the company said in a statement here.

In addition, Vodafone India will introduce its own 3G networks in 7 circles -- Assam, the North-East, Uttar Pradesh-West, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Kerala and Odisha, to expand its overall 3G footprint to 16 circles across the country.

"Testing of 4G services has commenced successfully. Vodafone India has partnered with leading global technology infrastructure service providers for the network rollout," the statement said.

Pan-India 4G services will be launched at "an appropriate time", it said.

Bharti Airtel on August 6 announced launch of its 4G mobile phone services to cover nearly 300 towns in coming weeks. The launch came ahead of Reliance Jio, the telecom arm of the cash-rich conglomerate Reliance Industries, starting 4G voice and data services in December.

"With some of the latest technological developments on the anvil, Vodafone is building a robust and resilient network architecture with a strong backhaul to support the volumes and need for speed from customers," the Vodafone statement said.

Vodafone India had successfully acquired additional 4G (LTE) spectrum in 5 circles -- Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Kerala and Karnataka in February 2014 auctions. These circles together contribute close to 50% of the total data revenues for Vodafone India.

Globally, Vodafone has launched 4G in 18 countries. There are over 20 million 4G customers across the group and its 4G propositions are enhanced with a mixture of music, sports and TV content to increase adoption and usage.

In preparation for the India rollout, Vodafone India had in 2014-15 set up a record number of over 23,000 tower sites, taking its overall network footprint to more than 1,31,000 sites.

"Over the last few months, Vodafone India has taken several steps to modernise its radio network and switching systems. Charging platforms have also been upgraded to facilitate a wider bouquet of products and services," it said.

Major investments have been made in high-capacity fibre/backhaul to significantly increase the Internet connectivity to the rest of the world.

"Vodafone India remains committed towards making significant investments in network expansion and for enhancing overall customer experience," the statement said.

source: agency

Apple Inc has invited journalists to a September 9 event, where it is expected to unveil new iPhones

SAN FRANCISCO: Apple Inc has invited journalists to a September 9 event, where it is expected to unveil new iPhones and potentially a new version of its Apple TV set-top box.

The email invitation includes a colorful Apple logo with the sentence "Hey Siri, give us a hint," referring to Apple's popular digital voice assistant.

The company traditionally announces its new iPhones in September.

Apple is widely expected to unveil the iPhone 6S and the iPhone 6 Plus S. Typically, the company launches upgraded versions to existing phones under the "S" range.

Media reports have indicated that Apple is preparing for the largest initial production run for its next iPhones by the end of the year.

The new iPhones are also said to feature Force Touch technology, which can distinguish between a light tap and deep press.

Cross Research analyst Shannon Cross said she was also expecting a faster processor on iPhones.

"We assume that they may come out with a new iPad at the event as well," Cross added.

When users posed the question in the invitation to Siri on their iPhones, Siri threw back responses such as "You're cute when you're desperate for information" and "You'll have to wait until September 9. I bet you were one of those kids who snuck downstairs to open presents early, weren't you?"

The event will be held at 10:00 am PT in the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, which can hold about 7,000 people.

Apple did not immediately respond to requests for more details on the event.

courtesy -reuters

I will change the face of Bihar with focus on youths and women : Nitish Kumar

PATNA : Thirty-five percent of all government jobs in Bihar will be for women if he formed a government again, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said on Friday, releasing a five-year "Vision Document". He also pledged to launch student credit cards to provide loans of Rs.4 lakh for higher studies to all students who pass Class 12 -- at 3 percent subsidy by the government.

Ahead of the assembly polls, Nitish Kumar said he would be on a "mission mode" if he won the election.

"People of Bihar have faith and trust in me. I will change the face of Bihar with focus on youths and women, by implementing development schemes on a mission mode," he told the media.

"I am confident of making a quantum jump as far as development of Bihar is concerned in the next five years.

"We plan to provide free Wi-Fi in all colleges and universities in Bihar."

Nitish Kumar said a venture capital of Rs.500 crore would be set up to help young entrepreneurs. "We also plan to provide self help allowance to unemployed youths."

He said the government would provide 35 percent reservation to women in all government jobs in Bihar.

"We are already providing 35 percent reservation for women in recruitment as police constables and sub-inspectors and 50 percent reservation as primary school teachers and in Panchayati Raj system."

The Janata Dal-United leader said that he would provide safe drinking water and electricity connection to each household besides building toilets in all houses in the next five years.

Nitish Kumar admitted that many things need to be done for Bihar's development despite whatever he had already achieved.

He said more than 66,000 km of roads were constructed and school dropout rate had fallen to 1.5 percent.

source: agency


Pakistan has informed the UN about the last-minute cancellation of the NSA-level talks with India

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has informed the UN about the last-minute cancellation of the NSA-level talks with India to take the international community into confidence over the Kashmir issue and the situation at the LoC, a media report said on Thursday.

Immediately after cancellation of the meeting between the National Security Advisors of the two countries, Pakistan's permanent representative at the UN Maleeha Lodhi was instructed to contact the UN leadership to discuss the rejection of dialogue by India, Dawn reported.

"UN deputy secretary general Jan Eliasson was briefed in detail on Monday by Pakistan's Permanent Representative to the UN Maleeha Lodhi about India's setting of preconditions for the talks between the National Security Advisers of the two countries which led to the cancellation of the meeting," the paper quoted officials saying.

The UN was contacted as part of a decision to take the international community into confidence over Kashmir and the situation at the Line of Control (LoC), it said.

Eliasson was informed that it was India that had reneged on the agreement reached by the Pakistani and Indian Prime Ministers in the Russian city of Ufa on discussing all issues outstanding between the two countries.

The deputy secretary general was also told that Pakistan decided against sending its NSA Sartaj Aziz to Delhi to meet his counterpart Ajit Doval because it found the Indian condition of not inviting Kashmiri separatists for consultations unacceptable.

"Consultations with Kashmiris, who are an integral part of the Kashmir issue, are essential to evolving a peaceful solution," the UN official was told.

The talks were called off because of differences over the agenda proposed by Islamabad and a planned meeting with the Hurriyat leadership with Aziz.

The meeting between Lodhi and Eliasson was followed by a statement by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday regretting the cancellation of the talks.

"The Secretary-General reiterates his call to both countries to continue to address their differences through dialogue," the UN said in a statement said.

Earlier, Pakistan had decided that appropriate steps will be taken to highlight the issue of Kashmir and alleged violations by India of the 2003 ceasefire agreement.

Lodhi also raised the issue of ceasefire violations along the LoC.

Pakistan claims that since June, Indian troops have violated the ceasefire more than 130 times on the LoC and Working Boundary, as a result of which 16 Pakistanis have been killed and over 60 others injured.

sourec: agency

Facebook is the latest technology company to offer users a virtual assistant service

NEW YORK: Facebook is the latest technology company to offer users a virtual assistant service.

Facebook is testing the artificial intelligence-powered service, called simply 'M', inside its messaging app, Messenger, with some users.

David Marcus, the head of messaging products at the Menlo Park, California company, says in a Facebook post that M can do things like buy items for you, get gifts delivered and book restaurant reservations or appointments.

Apple's Siri is the most well-known virtual assistant. Microsoft and Amazon also have options.

Marcus says M aims to do more than other digital assistants on the market by completing tasks on the user's behalf.

With more than 700 million users, Messenger is one of the world's most popular messaging apps.

Courtesy - AP

Rahul Gandhi targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the violence in Gujarat during quota agitation by Patels

SRINAGAR: Rahul Gandhi on Thursday targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the violence in Gujarat during quota agitation by Patels, saying it was a repercussion of the "politics of anger" pursued by Modi .

"Our Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi is doing politics of anger and such politics has repercussions for the country which you are seeing in Gujarat," the Congress vice-president, who is on a three-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir, told reporters after addressing a farmers' rally at a village in Pampore town, 25 kms from here.

He was asked about the violence in Gujarat during the agitation by Patel community for reservation which has claimed nine lives since Tuesday.

Rahul said the "politics of anger has only benefited Modi".

"They want people to fight and spread anger. We all know this truth. We (Congress) believe that anger does not benefit anybody except Modiji. It does not benefit the country, farmers, poor and businessmen and we have seen this in Kashmir," he said.

Rahul said Congress believed in taking everybody along.

Referring to the 25 years of turmoil in the valley, the Congress leader said it has been seen in Kashmir over the past many years now that violence does not benefit anyone.

Hitting out at the BJP, the Congress leader said they make the people angry and want them to fight each other.

"Congress wants to take everyone along in harmony," he added.

Rahul also accused the NDA government of being anti-farmer.

"This government is anti-farmer across the country. It is a suit-boot ki sarkar. Initially we thought, it was generally suit-boot ki sarkar but now we have realised that it is only (favouring) five or 10 people (corporates)," he added.

Rahul said he had come to Kashmir on the invitation of the saffron growers as they wanted "me to see first hand" the problems they were facing.

source: agency


Police arrested Indrani Mukerjea, founder of 9X Media and wife of former Star India CEO Peter Mukerjea

Police arrested on Tuesday Indrani Mukerjea, founder of 9X Media and wife of former Star India CEO Peter Mukerjea, accusing her of murdering her sister three years ago and dumping the body in the ravines of Maharashtra’s Raigad district.  

Mumbai Police officials took Mukerjea and her driver, 43-year-old Shyam Manav Manohar Rai, into custody saying a financial dispute was likely the motive behind the crime.

"We have arrested Indrani Mukerjea and her driver for murder and other charges under sections 302, 201 and 34 of the IPC," DCP Dhananjay Kulkarni said.

Authorities picked up Rai on August 21 following a tip-off from an informer and found an illegal weapon in his possession. Officials said he confessed to killing Sheena Bora during interrogation.

Suburban Khar police then called Indrani Mukerjea and arrested her following several hours of questioning.

A court remanded both accused in police custody till August 31, police spokesperson Dhananjay Kulkarni said.

Asked for his side of the story, Peter Mukerjea said, “I don’t have a side…. We understand that an FIR has been filed. Whatever cooperation that the police require from the family we will provide. We hope the whole issue would be resolved early.”

The case dates back to 2012 when Raigad police found the victim’s remains, following which a murder case was registered against unidentified people.

A police team from Mumbai recently went to the interior district and managed to recover some bones from the spot Rai showed them. Samples were sent for forensic tests, sources said.

Officials said while preliminary investigation points to a property or financial dispute as probable cause, they were exploring all leads.

Police sources said the process of recreating the sequence of events and finding corroborative evidence had been complicated by the fact that so much time had passed since the crime.

Khar police have formed a special team to investigate the case while officials have also gone to Kolkata to investigate some leads, sources said. There were unconfirmed reports that one person from Raigad area had been detained.

Indrani and Peter Mukerjea married in 2002 when she was an HR consultant and he was CEO of Star India.

They established 9X Media in 2007 – Indrani was the CEO and Peter the chairman. 9X Media was founded through two companies, INX Media Pvt Ltd and INX News Pvt Ltd. They both quit INX Media in 2009.  

courtesy - HT


When director Kabir Khan first narrated the plot of his upcoming film Phantom to Katrina Kaif, the actress' immediate concern was whether it would be safe to make the movie

When director Kabir Khan first narrated the plot of his upcoming film Phantom to Katrina Kaif, the actress' immediate concern was whether it would be safe to make the movie.

Phantom, an action-thriller on the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, has been banned in Pakistan much before its release due to its controversial subject. "Kabir's experience as a documentary filmmaker and working in conflict zones, travelling to different areas like Pakistan and Afghanistan enables him to come up with a perfect setting. Whether it was 9/11 in New York or the strained Indo-Pak relation in Ek Tha Tiger. To do that you need to be well informed, which he is because of his experience. So when he told me about the film, I immediately asked him 'Are you sure it is safe to make the film?' He said yes, and then explained more about the film," Katrina said. The 32-year-old Bang Bang actress said Kabir brings a certain grounding on the table which makes his films, especially Phantom, credible and relevant.

"He likes to give his films a certain grounding and likes to see them as 'Why not'. When you have such relevant topics in the world today, and which are so dramatic, why would you not use it as a backdrop for your film?." Phantom is based on Hussain Zaidi's book Mumbai Avengers and stars Saif Ali Khan opposite Katrina.

The actress, however, said the film will be slightly different from the book. "In the book there are five main characters, but in the movie we kind of combined them into two. That's the primary difference. This is way it is easier to follow. Otherwise there would have been chances of losing the track. The film is based on facts but the screenplay and the outcome is fictional. The film says 'A story you wish were true' but after you see the film, audience will say this is a story which could be true. Had there been any loopholes in the script or things were too convenient, it wouldn't have interested me," she said. Phantom releases this Friday.

source: agency

Actor Sooraj Pancholi has no qualms if his name is associated with Jiah Khan

Actor Sooraj Pancholi, who hit the headlines two years ago when he was arrested for his involvement in girlfriend Jiah Khan's death case, says he still misses her a lot and has no qualms if his name is associated with her.

Young Sooraj's life turned upside down when his name cropped up. He was arrested on abetment charges and sent to jail. "My name will always be associated with her and I have no guilt for that. I am happy that something at least stays with me. I am sad that she ended her life. But at least her name is with me and I have no problems with it," Sooraj told.

Jiah, the 25-year-old British-American actor, was found hanging from a ceiling fan at her Juhu home in 2013. Sooraj met Jiah through Facebook and then after sometime the two fell in love. "I miss her. I miss her everyday of my life. I am missing her while I am sitting with you right now. If I loved a person so much I would miss her," said the 25-year-old Hero star. "She was five years elder to me. She was more mature than me. I was 21-year-old then and she was 26. She knew more about the industry than me."

Sooraj faced further mental trauma when Jiah's mother Rabia alleged that he was responsible for her daughter's death. "I don't know if she is against me. If she feels there is some foul play in this case then she has all the right to do verification," Sooraj, son of Aditya Pancholi and Zarina Wahab, said, "But if she is doing it just to harass me then I would not want to say anything. Truth will definitely come out. If she is doing it for some specific purpose then God is watching."

Sooraj will soon be making his debut as an actor in the remake version of 1983 film Hero, which is co-produced By Salman Khan and Subhash Ghai. The Nikhil Advani-directed film, in which Sooraj is paired opposite Athiya Shetty, is releasing next month.

source: agency

Actress Malaika Arora Khan, who has always maintained her slim frame over the years, considers fitness not only a crucial part of her life but a religion

Actress Malaika Arora Khan, who has always maintained her slim frame over the years, considers fitness not only a crucial part of her life but a religion.

"For me, fitness is a religion. It's not just about going to the gym and picking up some weight and all that for me," said Malaika at the launch of a new centre of Transcend Fitness Club where she was present along with her husband Arbaaz Khan. "Fitness is my life. Without fitness, I feel that I would be an incomplete person. My life is covered by fitness. I really propagate fitness and healthy living. I'm glad that we can be here to spread that awareness and to let people know that fitness is very essential," she added.

Malaika had arrived on the big stage with her item number Chaiyya Chaiyya along with Shah Rukh Khan in Dil Se. The "hot" tag that got associated with her with the song has stayed with her and only got enhanced over the years with other hot numbers and fashionable appearances. This is admirable considering she is a mother to 12-year-old Arhaan. About the secret behind her fit body, she said: "My husband and my son keep me on my toes and keep me constantly busy. They really do. That's the secret of my fitness. But there are a lot of people in my life over the years that I'm really thankful to. They've really been there to guide me and tell me what's right and what's wrong because I really enjoy fitness." Malaika was last seen in the item song, Fashion Khatam Mujh Par in the Sonam Kapoor-starrer Dolly Ki Doli which was her own production.

source: agency

Ranbir Kapoor says actors deserve to be criticized if the movies don't work at the box office

Ranbir Kapoor, who gave two duds Roy and Bombay Velvet back-to-back this year, says actors deserve to be criticized if the movies don't work at the box office.

"I think an actor is given a lot of credit when the film is a hit. When my films do well, I'm showered with love and appreciation. So, when my film does not do well, the criticism should be for me," Ranbir said at the Puma home kit launch for Mumbai City FC, which he co-owns.

"I should be criticised because it (the movie) was my choice, I worked in it, the audience showed faith in me and came to see the movie, and when they don't like it, the result should be for me," he added. His team didn't perform well last season, Ranbir took it graciously. "It is necessary for an actor or a sportsman to graciously accept both loss and success. Humility and goodness are very important. They are an actor's virtue," he said.

Speaking about his colleagues and co-players, he said: "Many people from the (film) industry play football...Abhishek Bachchan, Arjun Kapoor, Varun Dhawan and Dino Morea, to name a few. "In my humble opinion, I am the best player in the industry. I have heard Shah Rukh Khan plays good football, even John Abraham was a school captain. I have not played with them but yes, amongst those playing now, I am the best."

source : agency

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said any dialogue between the two countries without the Kashmir dispute figuring will be pointless

ISLAMABAD: Two days after a scheduled meeting between the national security advisers of Pakistan and India was called off, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said any dialogue between the two countries without the Kashmir dispute figuring will be pointless.

"Any dialogue sans Kashmir issue will be futile," said Sharif in a cabinet meeting in Islamabad on Monday.

Kashmiri leaders are an important party to this issue. Any decision on their future cannot be made without their opinion and consultation, Radio Pakistan cited Sharif as saying.

His remarks came after adviser on foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz briefed the cabinet on the deadlock in the dialogue with India.

Pakistan high commission in New Delhi had invited Hurriyat leaders for a reception on August 23 and Sartaj Aziz had planned to separately meet Hurriyat Conference leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, before his scheduled talks with Indian counterpart Ajit Doval. India had objected to this.

source :agency

China's richest man lost $3.6 billion in a single day after global stock markets tanked and Chinese markets erased all their gains for the year

BEIJING: China's richest man lost $3.6 billion in a single day after global stock markets tanked and Chinese markets erased all their gains for the year.

Wang Jianlin, chairman and founder of property and entertainment company Dalian Wanda, lost more than 10 percent of his total wealth on Monday, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, which tracks the world's richest people.

Shanghai shares Monday collapsed by 8.49 percent, the biggest daily loss since 2007, sparking a vast sell-off in global financial markets as concerns mounted that a slowdown in the world's second-largest economy could hurt global growth.

Shanghai fell an additional 7.63 percent on Tuesday.

The close was the lowest since December 15 last year -- and below the symbolically significant 3,000 point mark -- while Bloomberg News said it marked the steepest four-day rout since 1996.

Wang was the biggest loser at the end of trading on Monday, according to the index, which updates at the end of each day. Figures for Tuesday were not immediately available.

Despite the loss, his wealth has increased by $6 billion this year. China's second richest person Jack Ma, founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba, lost only $545 million on Monday, according to the index.

Beijing launched a huge rescue package after shares collapsed in June, which has included funding the China Securities Finance Corp. to buy stocks on behalf of the government and barring major shareholders from selling their stakes.

In the latest move, Beijing said on Sunday it would allow the state pension fund - which had 3.5 trillion yuan ($548 billion) of assets at the end of 2014 - to buy stocks.

sourtesy - AFP


Newly-launched Bandhan Bank will fund lakhs of small and medium entrepreneurs : Arun Jaitley

KOLKATA: Newly-launched Bandhan Bank will fund lakhs of small and medium entrepreneurs, create jobs and act as a response to agrarian poverty, finance minister Arun Jaitley said on Sunday. "A great institution is being born in West Bengal," he said while inaugurating Bandhan Bank. Bandhan Bank today launched its operations with 501 branches in the country. The company, which started operations as a micro finance institution, got final approval from RBI in June to launch commercial banking operations. Jaitley said Bandhan Bank chairman and managing director Chandra Shekhar Ghosh has said that the priority area of the bank will be small and medium enterprises (SMEs). "It is a landmark initiative in the service of country and state. It is these entrepreneurs in SMEs, many of them in unorganized sector, who today form the backbone of Indian economy. "Small entrepreneurs, from shopkeepers to hawkers, they are generating almost 11-12 crore jobs in this country. The large organized industry is able to generate only a small fraction of that," Jaitley said. He said if private sector initiatives like Bandhan Bank join this effort of funding at the grass-root level, then the small enterprises can grow on their own feet. "All over the eastern parts of the country, in states like West Bengal, if we are able to create small entrepreneurs in lakhs we can then see it as a response to agrarian poverty that is building up," Jaitley said. The objective is to extend over Rs 1 lakh crore worth funds to SMEs across the country, Jaitley said, adding that SMEs usually repay what they borrow and the banks' NPAs are not because of lending to this sector. "If funding of unfunded sector continues, it is they who generate jobs and it is they who take very little assistance from the state and go back and return what they borrow. The problem of NPA, certainly this segment is not responsible for them," he said. Jaitley also said that the Centre has set up a MUDRA agency which will slowly evolve as MUDRA Bank and the main purpose is to fund the unfunded. source : agency

The US space agency has funded researchers to find out how to recycle human excreta into food that can help astronauts sustain on deeper space missions, including Mars

NEW YORK: The US space agency has funded researchers to find out how to recycle human excreta into food that can help astronauts sustain on deeper space missions, including Mars.

The researchers at Clemson University in South Carolina will receive $200,000 a year for up to three years to achieve this task, the US space agency said in a statement.

Using urine and breathed-out carbon dioxide as the building blocks to create useful aboard items, the team is genetically engineering yeast to produce things that astronauts may need.

"A particular strain of yeast can be genetically manipulated to create polymers, or plastics, used for 3D printing, as well as Omega 3s, which lower heart disease risk, and protect skin and hair," Mark Blenner, professor at Clemson, was quoted as saying in a Quartz report.

Nitrogen is needed to grow the yeast and is abundant in human urine.

Yeast also feeds on fatty acids which certain algae can create out of carbon.

Blenner's system would grow yeast that could take those lipids and nitrogen and turn them into plastics and Omega 3s.

The grant was one of eight given to universities around the US, all of which focus on "innovative, early stage technologies that will address high-priority needs of America's space program", Nasa said.

"These early career researchers will provide fuel for Nasa's innovation engine," said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for Nasa's Space Technology Mission Directorate.

Earlier this month, the six astronauts currently living on the International Space Station (ISS) became the first people to eat food grown at the Veggie plant growth system aboard the orbiting laboratory in space.

The fresh "Outredgeous" red romaine lettuce that accompanied the crew's usual freeze-dried fare, however, is far from the first crop grown on a space station.

As the space agency eyes deep-space missions like a trip to an asteroid or Mars, space farming becomes less of a novelty and more of a necessity.

Plants will be an integral part of any life-support system for extended missions, providing food and oxygen and processing waste.

Significant further advances will be necessary, and each of them promises to bring new innovations to agriculture here on the Earth.

Nasa is planning to land humans on Mars by 2030 and is investing in ideas to figure out ways for astronauts to be more self-sufficient on long-term space missions.

source: agency

Rajnath Singh said even foreign scholars have considered Sanskrit to be one of the most scientific of languages.

LUCKNOW: Advocating the promotion of Sanskrit, Union home minister Rajnath Singh on Sunday said even foreign scholars have considered it to be one of the most scientific of languages.

"There is no other language which provides answers to complex philosophical questions like epics written in Sanskrit. Be it art, literature, science or technology, people are admitting Sanskrit is most useful," Singh said addressing the launch of a "Mahaabhiyan" to take Sanskrit to every house which is being led by an educational institution here.

He said that even Nasa, while building a super computer, had said that Sanskrit was the most suitable language for it.

"But the irony is that we are getting away from it in India," he said.

Singh said that Sanskrit does not have a problem of spelling like other languages, such as English, and was pronounced in a similar manner everywhere. Unlike other languages, where pronunciation varies from region to region, Sanskrit does not have this problem as it is based on sound science, he added.

"Even youths in the US and UK are reading Sanskrit," he said.

Singh said that as during his stint as the education minister in Uttar Pradesh government, he had introduced two chapters on Vedic mathematics in the school curriculum which, however, were later removed by the subsequent governments.

He said that if there was the will, knowledge of Sanskrit could be taken to each and every house.

source : agency

Bolstered by the Bombay high court order overturning ban on Maggi, Nestle India plans to bring back the popular instant noodles back in the market by end of this year

NEW DELHI: Bolstered by the Bombay high court order overturning ban on Maggi, Nestle India plans to bring back the popular instant noodles back in the market by end of this year subject to certain clearances.

The company, which has taken a hit of Rs 450 crore, including destroying over 30,000 tonnes of the instant noodles since June when it was banned because of alleged excessive lead content, says it will continue with the existing formula of the product and not change the ingredients.

"We will try and target something that is better than that. My desire is to do it before that but let's see," Nestle India managing director Suresh Narayanan told PTI in an interaction when asked whether Maggi noodles could be back in the market by start of the next year.

He said as per court directives, this quarter it would go in for testing of Maggi samples at three independent laboratories in Punjab, Hyderabad and Jaipur which are accredited with National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL).

"By the time we get everything done (all clearances), it will be middle of September. I can tell you this quarter no, unlikely. Subsequent quarter, we will try (to bring back Maggi)," Narayanan said.

He said the company has to test the Maggi samples within six weeks and after that it would start manufacturing and then the noodles would be tested again.

Asked whether the recent problems would make the company change ingredients of the instant noodles, Narayanan replied in the negative saying "what has worked for 30 years" must work in future too, although the company would continue to work on innovation and add more variants in future.

Acknowledging that the ban has 'dented' the company, Narayanan said the company has to win back consumer confidence and will "spend aggressively" on rebuilding the brand from a "zero" level through customer engagement activities and advertisements.

When asked if the company would consider seeking damages from food regulators on the back of Bombay High Court judgement, Narayanan remained non-committal said the company's focus would be to bring back Maggi as soon as possible, look ahead and move on while working together with authorities.

sourc: agency

The cancellation of the NSA-level talks by Pakistan is "unfortunate", Union home minister Rajnath Singh said in Lucknow

LUCKNOW/SRINAGAR/NEW DELHI: The cancellation of the NSA-level talks by Pakistan is "unfortunate", Union home minister Rajnath Singh said in Lucknow on Sunday and made it clear that the possibility of any future dialogue will depend on the neighbour.

He underlined that India stands for dialogue and cordial relationship with Pakistan, a day after the talks between NSA Ajit Doval and his counterpart Sartaj Aziz were called off.

"The cancellation of NSA-level talks between India and Pakistan is unfortunate. India is in favour of dialogue," Singh said on the sidelines of a function at Sanskrit Vidyapeeth here.

On Pakistan blaming India for cancellation of talks, the home minister said, "It is Pakistan which has cancelled the talks and not India."

He said that India has always been of the view of maintaining good and cordial relationship with the nighbours and its efforts would continue.

"But Pakistan should not have deviated from the agenda decided during the meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (in Ufa in July)," he said.

On Pakistan's criticism of India's objections to Aziz's meeting with Kashmiri separatist leaders, Singh said, "The thing was that there will be no third party in NSA-level talks. It was only NSA-level talks. There was nothing like that others too will hold talks before, later or in between."

He said Pakistan should have held talks as per pre-decided agenda.

On Pakistan's claim that Kashmir was the main agenda, the home minister said, "... then why was it not decided earlier that when it would be part of NSA-level talks? It was never an issue on agenda."

India has maintained that terror was the only agenda on the talks between the two NSAs.

Asked about possibility of any dialogue in future, Singh said, "go and ask Pakistan, how can I reply to it.

Moderate Hurriyat Conference leader Mirwaiz Umer Farooq said calling off of the talks was unfortunate.

"Yet another opportunity lost by both the countries to engage with each other. The last nail in the coffin was put by external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj when she made it clear that there will not be any talks on Kashmir. Instead of moving forward, we are only moving backwards," he said.

He regretted that the BJP had assured, along with its ally PDP, that they would talk to all shades of opinion. "I think there is a lot of difference in what they say and what they do," the Hurriyat leader said.

He hoped a better sense will prevail and the government will discuss Kashmir with Kashmiris.

Another separatist leader Shabir Shah, who continues to be under house arrest at the guest house in south Delhi, said he was disappointed that the talks had been cancelled.

"I wish the government had not put any conditions to Pakistan ahead of talks," he said.

Hardline Hurriyat Conference, headed by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, also termed the cancellation of NSA talks as unfortunate but said "at the end of the day, it is a diplomatic victory for us as well as Pakistan".

Ayaz Akbar, the spokesman for the hardline group, said, "A message has gone to the world that Kashmir issue is not a bilateral territorial dispute between India and Pakistan and that people of Jammu & Kashmir are the principal party to it. The fanatic approach adopted by government is not practicable. How long will New Delhi pursue this policy?"

source: agency


Nearly 75 per cent of all cigarettes in India are sold as single sticks valued at close to 30 per cent of the Rs 35,000 crore (over $5 billion) Indian market

SHIMLA: Nearly 75 per cent of all cigarettes in India are sold as single sticks valued at close to 30 per cent of the Rs 35,000 crore (over $5 billion) Indian market, an international journal says. The sale of single cigarettes, which is not in the interest of public health, is an important factor for early experimentation, initiation and persistence of tobacco use, says the study.

"Based on the data collected from 10 jurisdictions, we estimate that nearly 75 per cent (59-87 per cent) of all cigarettes are sold as single sticks," says the study, published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention.

The study was conducted under the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease across 10 cities — Agartala, Baroda, Chennai, Delhi, Goa, Indore, Jaipur, Jorhat, Patna and Shimla. It recommends that the Indian government ban the sale of single cigarettes and eliminate "kiddy packs". (The ban does exist but is observed more in breach than in practice.)

"Under the tobacco control legislation in India, each tobacco product has to bear a specified pictorial health warning. But the single cigarette sales defy the overall purpose," study co-investigator Ravinder Kumar told IANS.

"The single cigarette sale is a win-win game for the tobacco industry, but not in the interest of public health," said Kumar, a consultant with the World Health Organization's tuberculosis programme and based in Shimla.

It says single or loose cigarettes also promote the sale of illicit cigarettes and neutralise the effect of pack warnings and effective taxation, making tobacco more accessible and affordable to minors.

This is the first study to have estimated the size of the country's single stick market.

The survey was conducted in February 2014 by 10 authors to estimate the sale of cigarettes in packs and sticks, by brands and price over a full business day.

Smoking of cigarettes, bidis and other smoked forms of tobacco are the single largest cause of preventable death among adults in India with more than 1.2 million dying annually.

The study says singles are preferred by smokers as it helps to conceal their habit since it is largely unacceptable publicly in India.

The singles also give vendors a perverse incentive to extract extra margins. For cigarette companies, singles make it easier to promote new brands and conduct market research on customers at the point of sale.

Vendor interviews reveal that the high volumes of singles sale in the premium segment is experimentation of new and existing users, who aspire to become regular smokers of these cigarettes, which are currently smoked occasionally by them, says the study.

Goa among all jurisdictions has the lowest proportion of single cigarette sales and higher pack sales.

It finds that in effect a single cigarette market neutralises four important tobacco control strategies — protecting minors, pictorial warnings, support quitting and effective taxation.

According to it, students are vulnerable to an early initiation of tobacco use. An easy affordability of loose cigarettes is an enabling factor for the students and minors.

The study establishes that taxes can be raised from 15 per cent to 32 per cent (depending upon the segment) till such time as single stick price and pack price variance is zero or diminished.

source: agency

The government hiked the minimum export price of onions sharply by $275 per tonne

NEW DELHI: The government on Saturday hiked the minimum export price of onions sharply by $275 per tonne to curb shipments and boost domestic supply to control spiraling retail prices that have touched up to Rs 80 per kg.

The decision to increase onion MEP to $700 per tonne from $425 is taken as prices of onions at both wholesale and retail levels have been rising on lower output due to unseasonal rains earlier.

"To increase availability in domestic market, it has been decided to raise minimum export price (MEP) of onions further to $700 per tonne," said the consumer affairs ministry in a statement.

The government is keeping a close watch on onion prices and has floated a tender for import of 10,000 tonnes of onions, which will be opened on August 27, it added.

MEP is the rate below which no exports are allowed. The rise in MEP restricts exports and improves domestic supply.

Onion prices have risen unabated in the past few weeks.

Wholesale onion prices on Saturday touched Rs 57/kg at Lasalgaon in Maharashtra, Asia's biggest edible bulb market, which could further spike retail prices in coming days.

The export price was last raised to $425 per tonne from $250 on June 26, it added.

The consumer affairs secretary will on August 24 take stock of the situation with agencies SFAC, NAFED, MMTC and the Delhi government.

"Prices of onions have been rising on account of a decline in total production from 189.23 lakh tonnes in 2014-15 as against 194.02 lakh tonnes in 2013-14 ie a decrease of 4.79 lakh tonnes," the statement said.

Onion exports fell to 10.86 lakh tonnes in 2014-15, from 13.58 lakh tonnes in the previous year.

The shortfall has primarily been on account of adverse weather conditions, including unseasonal rains which have impacted both the standing and harvested crop at major producing centres, it added.

Intervening in the market, Small Farmers Agribusiness Consortium (SFAC) and NAFED, which have procured 8,368 tonnes of onions using the Price Stabilization Fund, are supplying onions for sale at subsidized rates at Mother Dairy's Safal and 120 booths of Delhi Milk Scheme (DMS).

SFAC is supplying onions at Rs 30.50 per kg to Safal, which is retailing at Rs 39 in Delhi. SFAC is also selling onions to consumers at Rs 35 through DMS booths whereas the Delhi government is selling onions at a cheaper Rs 30.

The state governments are also being reminded regularly to keep a tab on price rise and take effective action.

source: agency