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Reduced punishment in Bhopal case due to apex court: Moily


Law and Justice Minister M.Veerappa Moily today said it was the Supreme Court that converted the Bhopal gas tragedy case into a case that attracted minor punishment though the original charges filed against the accused entailed a maximum of 10 years in jail. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) wanted the tragedy to be treated as an offence of culpable homicide not amounting to murder which entails a jail term which can extend up to 10 years and also a fine, he told reporters here. However the Supreme Court directed that the case be treated as causing death by rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide, Moily said. Under this law, the maximum punishment is for up to two years in jail or a fine or both. "Unfortunately the judiciary did it," Moily said. The minister said there was need for laws to fix responsibility for disasters like the Bhopal gas tragedy. The central government would ensure that disasters were treated as disasters only, he said. "Our courts are very conservative. Hence we are working on new set of laws to deal with such disasters," Moily said. On bringing the then Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson to justice, he said the case against him has not been closed. "Everyone is equal in the eyes of law and age did not matter," Moily said when asked about Anderson's wife's comment that her husband was too old to travel. Anderson, now 89, was released shortly after his arrest for the tragedy in Bhopal in December 1984. He flew back to the US immediately.

India will demand Anderson's extradition: Pranab

India will demand the extradition of former Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson from the US, union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said here today. "We would request the US government for the extradition of Warren Anderson, Union Carbide CEO at the time of the Bhopal gas tragedy," said Mukherjee. Anderson, 89, is now retired and lives in the US. He headed the Union Carbide when the company's pesticide plant in Bhopal leaked gas from December 2-3, 1984, killing over three thousand people instantly and many more later. Mukherjee is on his first visit to the metropolis after the Trinamool Congress single-handedly overpowered the ruling Left Front in recently concluded civic polls. When asked if there are chances of preponing the assembly elections salted for next year as demanded by the Trinamool Congress, he said, "This is the duty of the Election Commission to decide.

Gadkari praises Nitish Kumar for Bihar's growth

Praising Bihar's National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for "good governance", Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Nitin Gadkari today said the 11 percent growth recorded during its term has changed the state's image.

In his inaugural address at the party's two-day national executive meet, Gadkari said: "In the NDA rule, under the leadership of Nitish Kumar and his deputy Sushil Kumar Modi, Bihar has been converted to a 'jujharu' (combative) state from a 'Bimaru' (sick) state a few years ago."

The BJP president said that the 11 per cent growth rate in the state is a "new miracle economy" in the country.

Gadkari also accused the previous state governments of embarrassing the people of Bihar with their insensitive and inefficient rule and said that it was for the first time, Bihar has witnessed a government that is functioning and bringing the desired results.

"The bad governance had taken Bihar to a negative growth rate between 5 to 15 percent and from there, the NDA has brought it to a positive 11 percent," he said.

Gearing up for the assembly polls in Bihar, Gadkari urged the people to "once again repose their confidence in the NDA to make Bihar known internationally for its phenomenal success".

Government must ask apex court to review Bhopal verdict: BJP

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Nitin Gadkari today said the government should again move the Supreme Court and "aggressively seek a review of its judgement" diluting the charges against the accused in he Bhopal gas tragedy.

In his inaugural address at the two-day national executive meet here, he said: "Bhopal has once again reminded the entire nation as to how Congress rulers, from time to time, are compromising with the interest of the people of India for personal and political gains".

Terming the Bhopal gas verdict "a cruel joke by our criminal justice system," he said it was an example of how its "inherent weakness" allows the culprit to escape and that "those swearing by 'aam admi' (common man) day in and day out are in fact stabbing the very common people in their back."

The Supreme Court October 1991 partially upheld a 1989 pact between the Indian government and Union Carbide, absolving the company of all criminal and civil liabilities of the Bhopal gas tragedy on a payment of $470 million, and reinstated the criminal charges against the company.

It was only after this that the trial began in November 1991 in the court of the chief judicial magistrate in Bhopal. In 1993, the court charged eight accused of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, carrying a maximum punishment of 10 years in jail.

The eight accused moved the Madhya Pradesh High Court's Jabalpur bench, challenging the decision to try them for a graver offence. As the high court rejected their contention, they approached the Supreme Court, which in 1996 acceded to their plea and dropped the charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder against them.

BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad later told reporters here that the Congress must apologise to the nation for what happened in the Bhopal gas tragedy case. He said that the party will take up the issue across the country to "expose the Congress".

Prasad labelled the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government as the "Union Carbide Protect Agency".

He also attacked the government and the then Madhya Pradesh chief minister Arjun Singh for maintaining silence over the issue and demanded they give an explanation.

"Why is the Congress not telling the nation as to how Anderson was allowed to escape India," he asked.

CBI is Congress Bureau of Intimidation: BJP

Charging the government with using the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to work for its political ends, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Nitin Gadkari today demanded a parliamentary probe into the "misuse" of what he termed the "Congress Bureau of Intimidation".

"While the nation is facing innumerable threats to its internal security, government is forcing the CBI to work for its political designs. The CBI has become a tool of intimidation," Gadkari said in his inaugural address at the BJP's two-day national meet here.

Gadkari also referred to the remarks of former CBI joint director B.R. Lall about having received a letter which said the extradition of former Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson should not be pursued in the wake of the Bhopal gas leak case.

"The latest revelation by an officer in the context of the Bhopal tragedy has reinforced our fear that the Congress is continuing this strategy to cow down opponents or to let free from our law their acquaintances - (Italian businessman Ottavio) Quattrochhi and Anderson," Gadkari said.

"This proves that their commitment is not for the people of India. We in the BJP strongly demand a JPC (joint parliamentary committee) probe into the misuse of the CBI," he said.

Warren Anderson, the CEO of Union Carbide Corp in 1984, left the country within days of Bhopal gas tragedy that killed thousands of people.

Eelam dreams only hurting Tamils: Sri Lankan minister

A Sri Lankan Tamil minister who accompanied President Mahinda Rajapaksa to India says the Tamil diaspora's refusal to give up the Tamil Eelam dream is only hurting his community. Expatriate Tamils in Western countries who continued to be loyal to the goal of forming an independent state were no way serving the mass of Tamils in Sri Lanka, said cabinet minister Douglas Devananda. "The fact is there is going to be no Tamil Eelam, now or ever," the minister for traditional industries and small enterprises development told the media in an exclusive interview. "It remained a dream even when (LTTE chief Velupillai) Prabhakaran was alive. Today it is like dreaming about a dream. "Can these Tamils achieve what Prabhakaran failed to?" he asked. "They cannot. But their actions create suspicions in the minds of a section of the government (in Sri Lanka). It makes life more difficult for the Tamils." Ever since the Sri Lankan military crushed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and wiped out its leadership in May last year, pro-LTTE Tamils in the West have kept alive hopes of forming an independentTamil Eelam state. The need of the hour, Devananda said, was to speed up the process of reconstruction of the island's war-battered northeast and the rehabilitation of the thousands who suffered during the quarter century of conflict. President Rajapaksa succeeded in conveying this to the Indian leadership during the June 8-11 visit to India, said Devananda, who took part in the delegation level discussions here. "True, there are shortcomings in the process of rehabilitation, in what we have achieved since the LTTE's demise," he said. "This is because of the existence of a large number of landmines, plus other factors. "We told the Indian prime minister (Manmohan Singh) that we needed more aid to help people start lives afresh," he said, referring mainly to the Tamils who were the worst victims of the LTTE's separatist war and the military offensive. He said while a few thousands were still in camps in the north though the war ended over a year ago, many thousands had started life anew, with or without the help of the authorities. Farming had resumed in the north in some of the areas that saw the brunt of the war, with the government and others providing seeds, tractors, fertilizers and water pumps to irrigate the land. "We told the Indian leaders, in particular those from Tamil Nadu, to see for themselves what the government was doing (in the northeast)," he said. "Surely we won't be doing that if we had things to hide." "I underlined that if everyone chipped in, things could return to normalcy in about two years." Devananda, among the first to take to Tamil militancy in the 1970s, heads the Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP), which has been bitterly opposed to the LTTE for decades. He survived several LTTE assassination attempts including one which has left him partly blind. Devananda dismissed as "silly" media reports about his links to a 1986 killing in Chennai. "It is an old issue. Those who know the facts know that I was nowhere present where the incident took place. I had then taken moral responsibility because the incident was blamed on a party member. That is all. "Since then, I have visited India so many times. Nobody ever complained. So why rake it up now? I can only speculate."

I'd do nothing to hurt my Tamil fans: Madhavan

Multilingual actor R. Madhavan, who was conspicuous by his absence at the 11th International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) awards, says he makes sure that he doesn't do anything that hurts the sentiments of his Tamil fans. "I wouldn't like to get into the politics of it because I'm an apolitical person. Even when I did 'Kannathil Muthamital', which had a bearing on LTTE activities, I did it for the love of Mani Ratnam, not politics. But yes I'd do nothing to hurt the sentiments of my Tamil fans. There were hundreds of messages on Twitter and the SMS imploring me to stay away from IIFA this year," said Madhavan. In fact, to show his solidarity with the Tamil community, Madhavan along with Kamal Haasan held the 'mahurat' of their new Tamil film "Manmadanambu" in Chennai June 3 when all of the Indian film industry headed for Colombo for IIFA. When Madhavan had done Ratnam's "Kannathil Muthamital" on the workings and emotional pressures caused by the LTTE activities, his Tamil fans, whose network spreads from Tamil Nadu to Singapore to the US, were pleased by their hero's participation in a film that seemed to be a rare cinematic voice trying to understand their cause. Many Bollywood stars skipped IIFA this year including its brand ambassador Amitabh Bachchan as well as superstar Shah Rukh Khan and according to reports, they gave it a miss following a boycott call from the south Indian film industry. A statement issued by the South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce had said that southern stars and filmmakers would boycott all Bollywood stars who attend the IIFA in Colombo from June 3-5. They have been campaigning against the island government and the alleged killing of civilian Tamils during the conflict between Sri Lankan army and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Significantly, after hits like "3 Idiots" in Hindi Maddy has gone back to Tamil cinema on his Tamil fans' say-so. "I kept getting hate messages about why I wasn't doing Tamil films. I hadn't done a Tamil film for a while. As for Hindi cinema, I've just completed 'Tanu Weds Manu', which is turned out really well," says the actor who turned 40 on June 1. "On my birthday my wife and I headed for Pune to play golf with all my old friends. My wife is a really good golfer. She can beat me at the game any time. After playing the whole day, we headed back to Mumbai to our favourite restaurant. Satiated with Japanese wine we headed home..."

Tamil, Telugu versions of 'Raavan' to release in US

The makers of "Raavan" are all set to tap Tamil and Telugu speaking audiences in the US by releasing the film in the two languages in over 40 screens in that country today. The Tamil version, shot simultaneously with Hindi, is titled "Raavanan", while the dubbed Telugu version is called "Villain" and these are part of the film's worldwide release. BIG Cinemas will release and market the theatrical screening rights of the film. "There is a vast audience for regional Indian Cinema outside of India and particularly in the US. We are dedicated to bringing these quality regional Indian language films to new markets where there are audiences waiting to be entertained," Reliance MediaWorks CEO Anil Arjun said in a press statement. The Tamil and Telugu versions of the film star Vikram, Aishwarya Rai and Prithviraj Sukumaran in the lead roles. Directed by Mani Ratnam, the film has been co-produced by director's banner Madras Talkies and Reliance BIG Pictures. The music for "Raavan" has been composed by Academy Award winner A.R. Rahman, with cinematography by Santosh Shivan and Manikandan.

I've broken the mould in my films: Abhishek Bachchan

The much- awaited "Raavan" marks 10 years in the Hindi film industry for Abhishek Bachchan, who describes his journey of highs and lows as a fulfilling experience. He says he has "broken the mould" in all his movies and is hungry for more.

"I'll complete 10 years in the industry with 'Raavan'. I've learnt a lot in these years. I didn't know anything at that time. There has been tremendous learning and I'm still hungry to do a lot more. It's been a great journey and it makes me happy and proud that I'm part of this industry," Abhishek told the media in an exclusive interview.

The 34-year-old, who bowed in with J.P. Dutta's "Refugee" in 2000, says failures have played an important role in his growth.

"The low phase that I went through, I think it was necessary. It teaches you a lot. I believe there is no success without failure. It keeps you grounded and makes you appreciate things," said Abhishek who gave a string of flops before "Dhoom" happened to him.

After "Dhoom" Abhishek played all kinds of roles in box office successes like "Yuva", "Bunty Aur Babli", "Bluffmaster", "Dostana", "Delhi-6" and "Paa" among others.

"Thankfully I've managed to break the mould with all my films. I've broken the mould in 'Raavan' too from my last performance in "Paa" where I played a clean cut politician," he said.

Filmmaker Mani Ratnam's "Raavan" is slated to hit the screens June 18. The bilingual, co-produced by Reliance BIG Pictures and Madras Talkies, features Aishwarya Rai as a dance teacher who is happily married to a cop, played by Tamil superstar Vikram, and shows how Abhishek's character Beera spoils that tranquillity in their lives.

Commenting upon his role, Abhishek said: "It's very exciting to get roles where you can push yourself and challenge yourself to do a role you have not attempted before. I'm happy that I'm doing different roles, I'll be really bored if I had to do the same thing every day."

Earlier Ratnam had given Abhishek two of his memorable roles in "Yuva" and "Guru" and now "Raavan" is their third outing together. The actor shares a great comfort level with the director who understands him and his potential very well.

"I share a great comfort level with Mani. As far as I'm concerned, I can do anything for him. I also feel that Mani understands me and my potential as an actor more than even I do. I think that's one major reason that two of the most memorable films I have done have been with Mani," he said.

"'Raavan' is a wonderful film and I'm very proud of it. I feel this is Mani's most commercial film till date. I'm happy with the way it's turned out. Mani has outdone himself. It is drastically different from his other films, which is a challenge, especially when the same team comes together."

The actor was also offered the Tamil version of the film, but he declined due to the language problem.

"I was offered a role in the Tamil version as well. I had said yes initially, but when I read the draft, I realised this is not happening. I told Mani that I can't do the Tamil version because I don't know the language.

"I realised that my performance will become very mechanical. If you don't understand what you are saying, you can't give a good performance," he said.

After "Raavan", many big films, including "Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey", "Game", "Dum Maro Dum" and "Dostana 2" will keep Abhishek busy for a year.

Abhishek Bachchan does marathon promo for 'Raavan'

After breaking the Guinness world record for maximum public appearances in 12 hours while promoting "Delhi 6" last year, actor Abhishek Bachchan hopped to 10 different locations in Mumbai today to promote Mani Ratnam's "Raavan".

The actor toured the city with an entourage of six dancers dressed as characters in the song "Thok di killi" from "Raavan" and attracted crowds since morning.

"This is amazing! Mumbai! You guys are the best. Love all of you," Abhishek posted on his Twitter page during his tour.

"...heading to town for the 'Raavan' tour. Let's see how many Beera lookalikes Mumbai has. Delhi, I'm coming for you tomorrow! Till I get there, gonna blast Beera beera," he added.

The locations on his schedule in Mumbai included - Metro Cinemas (near Churchgate), Kalaghoda, Wilson College, Phoenix Mills, Bandstand, Juhu, Mithibai College, Inorbit Mall (Malad) and Cinemax (Versova).

The actor was also supposed to visit Flora Fountain. However, the sound equipment to be used for the promotion was picked up from the location by police as it is considered a silent zone. So the team skipped the location.

Abhishek was rejoicing while meeting and greeting his fans on his way in an open trailer. He also threw goodies like "Raavan" keychains and T-shirts to his fans, who merrily joined in the fun.

The promotional stint did not cause any traffic jams thanks to four cars of security and police personnel accompanying the 34-year-old star.

In 2009, he did a whirlwind, seven-city tour for Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's "Delhi-6".

In "Raavan", which releases Friday, Abhishek plays the role of Beera. The movie, co-produced by Reliance BIG Pictures and Madras Talkies, also features Aishwarya Rai as a dance teacher who is happily married to a policeman, played by Tamil superstar Vikram, and shows how Beera causes mayhem in their lives.

FIFA World Cup mania grips Kerala

Uninterrupted live TV coverage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup and heavy monsoon rains forcing people to remain indoors means that football is now the only thing being discussed in soccer-crazy Kerala. In the northern district of Malappuram, the names of certain villages have been re-christened as Brazil Nagar and Argentina Nagar, where intense rivalry has begun on who will win the cup this year. "We decided to raise passions by painting an autorickshaw in the colours of the Argentinean jersey. Our rivals soon brought out an autorickshaw painted like the Brazilian jersey," said Sabeer Mohammed from Malappuram. Malayalam superstar Mammootty, who has just returned from a foreign holiday, hopes to watch the matches on his 3G iPad. "I have quite a few favourites to win the cup - it could well be Spain, Italy or any of the South American teams but an African delight should not be ruled out either," he said. Jibbin Jacob, who owns an electronic showroom in Kottayam, is happy as sales of television sets have picked up because of the soccer World Cup after a lull. "I had heavily invested in fresh stocks and for some time I thought I would end up in losses. But with ESPN sports channel (that has earned the telecast rights for the World Cup) being aired now, things are looking better and sales have picked up considerably," he said. ESPN last year blocked its services to the main cable operator in the state. The heavy monsoon rains have also come as a blessing in disguise as many prefer to remain indoors and be glued to their TV sets - watching football. "As I am retired I saw my first full World Cup football match yesterday (Friday). If the rains are in store for the next few weeks, I will be glued to the TV set because the game is certainly interesting," said former Christian priest Kurian Chacko, who has been briefed about the nuances of the game by his 16-year-old grandson. And coming to the help of those who are unable to watch the match live, Technopark-based start up IT company Innoz Technologies has created a software such that those who do not wish to miss football scores can get to know live scores by sending an SMS. "People have to send SMS "GYAN WORLDCUP" to 56161 to avail this service on their mobile. They will be charged as per operator rates. This service is currently available only in India," said Deepak Ravindran, chief executive officer of Innoz. Some hotels have also joined the football mania. Hotel Udaya Samudra in Kovalam is organising a food festival till the World Cup ends and its staff would be dressed in football jerseys. Live football action can be seen on their giant screen. While watching the matches, one can have Argentinean, Brazilian or French grills besides Wayne Rooney Cranapple Cooler or Ronaldo Strawberry Margarita. Former Indian football captain Xavier Pious said he expected Brazil to win this time. "They are my all-time favourite, simply because the way they play. But a clearer picture will emerge once the first round matches are over," said Pious, who is now an officer with the State Bank of India here.

Fear of mobile tower radiation grips Delhi area

Residents in northwest Delhi's Shalimar Bagh are demanding the demolition of a mobile phone tower in the residential area, alleging that electromagnetic radiation from it poses a threat to their lives.

Shubash Kapoor, a resident of BC Block in Shalimar Bagh (East), told the media that an Idea Cellular tower has been erected on the terrace of the third floor apartment where he lives as a tenant, with the permission of the landlord.

As telecom giants pay huge rents, house owners allow them to set up mobile phone towers. "Why can't they look at other alternatives for revenue? Why are they playing with the lives of residents?" Kapoor asked.

Sudha Sharma, an angry resident, said: "Why don't they (mobile network companies) understand residents' problems? We have to suffer because of mobile towers."

"For over two years since the erection of the mobile tower, we have been suffering health problems like headache, fatigue and vomiting because of radiation. My six-year-old son is the worst-hit," she claimed.

"My doctor has confirmed these health issues are linked to radiation from the mobile tower," she added.

Sharma said their neighbour was suffering from cancer in the spinal cord, while another resident had complained of heart ailments.

According to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), Delhi has over 5,000 mobile phone towers, of which 2,500 are illegally erected. Shockingly, most of these are in residential areas.

The MCD has threatened to seal illegal mobile phone towers because of possible health hazards. The Delhi High Court, which had earlier ordered the formation of a panel to study the health risks caused by mobile phone towers, put a stay on it and issued notice to the cellular operators association to file their responses by July 8.

"Despite the civic body's norms, many mobile towers are installed near residential colonies, schools, hospitals and dispensaries - all areas where they are not allowed," a civic body official told the media.

Experts say mobile phone towers installed on top of buildings are a definite threat to human health.

"Exposure to electromagnetic waves generate heat in the body and high levels of radiation can even affect the enzyme system, cause mutation of DNA, protein structure and cell membranes," said Neha Kumar, an expert in industrial biotechnology, who has done research work on electromagnetic radiation.

"People who stay within the beam of the towers are the worst-hit. The continuous exposure to electromagnetic radiation could have a pernicious effect on our health," she said.

"The safest radiation exposure limit for a human being is 100 micro watts per square metre. But in many residential areas, the exposure limit is more than 1,000 micro watts per square metres," she added.

G.K. Jadhav, senior consultant in the oncology department of Apollo Hospital, said the worst-affected by mobile tower radiations are heart patients, particularly those who have pacemakers.

"We also attend to many brain tumour patients who are constantly exposed to electromagnetic radiation," Jadhav added.

However, chief co-operative affairs officer of Idea Cellular Rajat Mukarji denied the allegations, saying the towers installed by the company across the country are not harmful.

"The radiation levels are checked by a telecom engineering centre and they are at nominal levels; yet if the residents demand that the tower be removed, they should approach the company directly," he added.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), along with other central agencies, has proposed that the radiation exposure be limited to be 9.2 watts per square metre in India, though experts say this needs to be widely debated and analysed before implementation.

In some countries, the permissible limit in a radius between 50 and 300 metres varies from 0.001 to 0.24 watts per square metre.

"The level suggested in India is many times higher than that in the US, Switzerland, Poland and Russia," Kumar said.

S. Raghunath, senior scientist in the Central Electronics Engineering Research Institute (CEERI) at Pilani, however, said: "As a scientist, I cannot believe that mobile towers emit such radiation. Radiation from mobile phones used for long duration is higher than those from mobile towers."

Afridi exudes confidence ahead of Asia Cup

The Pakistani cricket team left for Sri Lanka today for the Asia Cup at Dambulla later this month and skipper Shahid Afridi said they will go all out to win the title. The June 15-24 Asia Cup will be the first assignment for Pakistan during a 101-day odyssey before a long summer in England, where it will play back-to-back series against Australia and the hosts from early July to end of September. The last time they went on a long sojourn - the twin tours of New Zealand and Australia - Pakistan had to endure a series of controversies and returned home after losing all their matches against Australia. Later, a Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) probe committee ruled that the national team flopped because its players were engaged in infighting and went on to punish seven of its leading members including Mohammad Yousuf - Pakistan’s captain in New Zealand and Australia. However, Shahid Afridi, Pakistan’s current captain, believes all those controversies are now a thing of the past. "What has happened cannot be changed," he told the media. "What we can do is ensure that past mistakes are not repeated. We cannot afford to be a bickering lot and the only way we can give our best is by staying united." Afridi assured that under him, there won’t be any "groupings" in the team. "What I want is that our team should be united on the field and off it." The skipper said he would see to it that the players spend maximum time together in Sri Lanka and in England. "I know the importance of having frequent team meetings," he said. "It’s also important for all the players to dine together as much as possible and discuss issues openly because these are the things that help to boost team spirit." Afridi, who was appointed the Pakistan captain for all three formats last month, believes his team is capable of producing good results both in Sri Lanka and in England. "It’s a pretty balanced actually," he said. "We have a very solid bowling attack and the batting is also looking good. There is a lot of potential. What we need is to translate that potential into positive results and that’s only possible if each and every player gives his best for the team." Afridi said for the moment his team is just focusing on the Asia Cup. "We have a long and challenging tour of England coming up but right now we are completely focusing on the Asia Cup, which is also an important assignment." He believes that a title-winning triumph in Dambulla will put his team on the right track for World Cup 2011. "A good showing in the Asia Cup would be a great start to our World Cup plans."

Giant screens for Kolkata soccer fans

With the World Cup soccer kicking off in South Africa, the West Bengal government has began installing giant screens across the state to give sports buffs of the football crazy state a chance to view the action live. "Around 400 giant screens will be set up across the state to enable people watch the matches. Our aim is to cover all the blocks, with special stress on the backward ones," a sports department official said. In the metropolis, where the soccer mania is already visible, giant screens will come up at major crossings. Among the crossings are Gariahat, Shyambazar, Moulali, Park Circus, Ballygunge and Esplanade. The screens are being taken on rent from private agencies, the official said

Global Hospitals to invest Rs.200 crore

Global Hospitals will come up with a 400-bed tertiary care centre in Mumbai with an investment of Rs.200 crore, a top official said today. The facility, to be set up in Parel in south-central Mumbai, is expected to be operational from December this year. The hospital will focus on multi-organ transplantation and stem cell therapy, including gastroenterology, liver, kidney, minimal access surgery, cardiology, trauma, orthopaedics, neurosciences, oncology, digestive and urological diseases. "We are the first centre in India to launch a liver dialysis facility. Having established a strong and credible presence in south India, we now want to expand our reach across India," said K. Ravindranath, chairman-cum-managing director of Global Hospitals. "The setting up of the Mumbai facility is in full swing. We will shortly start our facilities in Delhi, Kolkata and Bhubaneshwar as well," he added. Eminent liver transplant specialist Mohamed Rela will be the head of liver transplant unit. He has conducted over 1,300 liver transplants in Britain and India. "Liver transplantation is a complex procedure. Right from finding a donor to recovering enough to ensure that the organ has been accepted by the body, this is one of the most difficult surgeries to undertake," he said. "Given the high incidence of Hepatitis-B and Hepatitis-C in India, a large number of people in the country are in need of transplant operations. Our aim is to treat such cases successfully," he added. Talking about the law that governs organ transplant, Rela said it was time to make it possible for all equipped hospitals to retrieve organs. "The law needs to be revised. One need not be at a transplant centre to donate organs. All hospitals with Intensive Care Units and specialists should be authorised to do so," he said.

Mahindra Satyam driving FIFA World Cup's software network

Mahindra Satyam is the official information technology service provider for the FIFA World Cup Soccer and has developed the event management solutions with some complex software for one of the most watched sporting events in the world.

"These solutions are enriching the experience of all fans arriving in stadiums to watch the 64 matches and ensuring seamless movement of all delegates, staff and volunteers," the company said, ahead of the tournament's kick-off in South Africa today.

The company's applications for the tournament cover systems for accreditation, space and material management, transportation, volunteer management, infrastructure, intranet and extranet at the veues, apart from helpdesk services.

Mahindra Satyam is one of the eight World Cup sponsors and the only one from India. It joins hands with seven other firms -- America's Budweiser, Castrol, Continental and McDonald's, South Africa's MTN and South Korea's Yingli Solar -- as sponsors.

The tournament also has six partners in names like Adidas, Coca-Cola, Emirates, Sony, Hyundai and Visa, apart from six national supporters drawn from South Africa.

Broadband auction winners to pay up license fee by June 22

The government today formally approved results of the broadband wireless access (BWA) auction and said the winners need to pay up the license fee by June 22.

"The results were considered and approved by the committee headed by the cabinet secretary. Winning bidders, including MTNL and BSNL, are required to pay the amount by June 22, 2010," said a telecom ministry statement.

The auction for BWA spectrum ended on Friday, swelling the government coffer by Rs.38,543.31 crore (over $8.56 billion).

The pan-India license price stood at Rs.12,847.77 crore (over $2.85 billion) at end of the 16-day auction and 117 rounds in which 11 companies --Bharti Airtel, Reliance WiMax, Idea Cellular, Aircel, Augere Mauritius Ltd, Infotel Broadband Services, Qualcomm, Spice Internet Service Provider, Tata Communications Internet Services, Tikona Digital Networks and Vodafone Essar - took part.

The government had already allocated one block each of 20 MHz of unpaired spectrum to Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL) and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) in their respective service areas.

Infotel broadband services won licenses in all the 22 circles into which India has been geographically divided for telecom services.

Aircel bagged seven slots, Tikon got five, Qualcomm and Bharti four each, and Augere emerged winner in one circle.

Interestingly, Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries announced on Friday the company has acquired a 95 percent stake in Infotel for Rs.4,800 crore (little over $1 billion) to enter the broadband services.

Syria seeks strategic energy, IT partnership with India

Syria has invited Indian companies to set up joint ventures and forge strategic partnerships, especially in the fields of energy and information technology, as the two countries agreed to step up efforts to raise bilateral trade. Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma, who co-chaired the second session of the India-Syria Joint Commission Meeting (JCM) in the Syrian capital Damascus on June 10, said India and Syria had agreed to make "concerted efforts" to increase two-way trade "to a level commensurate with the potential of the two countries." The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on trade facilitation and an agreement on exempting visa requirements for government officials, according to an official statement issued here. Sharma said the two countries shared common views on most of the multilateral issues and voiced India's keenness to cooperate on all matters of mutual interest. Sharma was accompanied by a business delegation from the Confederation of India Industry (CII). The CII signed a MoU with the Federation of Syrian Chambers of Industry. Both sides agreed to enhance cooperation in various sectors like oil and natural gas, IT, phosphatic fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, automobiles, processed food products, agricultural machinery and marine transport, the statement said. Sharma said India is following with interest the Syrian economic reform programme and hoped the two-way trade volume would increase to $1 billion, the syrian news agency SANA reported from Damascus. Currently, the bilateral trade stands at $420 million. Syrian Trade Minister Lamia Marai Aasi said Syria, located strategically between Asia and Europe, offered many investment opportunities and a suitable investment climate. She invited Indian businessmen to set up joint projects in all fileds, including power, oil and gas, automobiles and IT, SANA said. Sharma also asked businessmen to benefit from economic and trade agreements signed by the two countries and form a Syrian-Indian businessmen council. Both sides said they would increase business delegation visits and participation in fairs, exhibitions and buyer-seller meets.

Government infuses Rs.6,211 crore in five state-run banks

The government today approved capital infusion of Rs.6,211 crore in five state-owned banks to help maintain their capital adequacy and increase lending capacity. The five banks are Bank of Maharashtra, Central Bank of India, IDBI Bank, UCO Bank and Union Bank of India. Capital adequacy ratio is the ratio which determines the capacity of the bank in terms of meeting the time liabilities and credit and operational risks. These banks would be able to leverage this capital and lend an additional amount of about Rs.77,637 crore to productive sectors, giving a push to the all-round economic activity, besides paying additional dividends and tax revenues to the government, a finance ministry statement said. The government would inject Rs.590 crore into Bank of Maharashtra through the perpetual non-cumulative preference shares (PNCPS) route. Central Bank of India will get Rs.2,016 crore through a rights issue to which the government will subscribe. IDBI Bank will receive Rs.3,119 crore by way of preferential placement of equity. UCO Bank will get Rs.375 crore and Union Bank of India Rs.111 crore through the PNCPS route. The government said it was giving the funds on certain conditions and would closely monitor the performance of these banks so that they continue to maintain the desired capital adequacy and improve performance. The government move is part of the budgetary promise to provide Rs. 16,500 crore to ensure that these public sector banks are able to attain a minimum 8 percent Tier-I capital by March 31, 2011. In the last four months, the government has put in Rs.8,911 crore, the highest capital infusion in the public sector banks in recent times. The government had infused Rs.1,500 crore in four public sector banks in May 2010 and Rs.1,200 crore in three others in March 2010. Central Bank of India, Vijaya Bank, UCO Bank and United Bank of India had been infused with Rs.1,900 crore in 2009, after the government subscribed to their Tier-I capital instruments. In 2009, Central Bank of India got Rs.700 crore, UCO Bank -- Rs. 450 crore, Vijaya Bank -- Rs. 500 crore and United Bank of India -- Rs.250 crore.

Obama lauds Indian woman who came to build her dreams

US President Barack Obama has lauded an Indian woman entrepreneur who came to America "to build your own dreams and be your own boss" and set up a successful technology services company.

This "promise of being able to build your own dreams and be your own boss led Prachee - Prachee Devadas to come to this country, become a citizen, and open up what's become a successful technology services company," he said at a White House event on Friday.

"Prachee told me that when she started, she had just one employee. Today, she employs more than a hundred people-including her husband Anand, who is here today," said Obama with the Indian American couple sharing the stage with him after a meeting with a group of small business owners.

"Historically, small businesses have created roughly two out of every three new jobs in our country. To replace the millions of jobs lost in the recession, we need to make sure small companies are able to open up, expand, and add names to their payrolls," he said.

"Small businesses will help lead this economic recovery. And that's why we will continue to stand by them," Obama said. "But ensuring that small businesses can thrive is about more than just economic success."

"It's also about who we are as a people. It's about a nation where anybody who's got a good idea and a willingness to work hard can succeed. That's the central promise of America."

"It's that promise that has drawn millions of people to our shores. It's what drives workers to become their own bosses. It's what propels some basement inventor to bring a new concept to market," Obama said citing the example of Devadas couple.

Prachee Devadas is president & CEO of Synergy Enterprises, while Anand Devadas is its vice president. Synergy Enterprises Inc (SEI), a certified woman-owned company, provides information technology and management consulting services to local, national, and international clientele in the public and private sectors.

Before starting SEI, Prachee J. Devadas worked for small companies gaining experience in business development, managing multimillion-dollar contracts while providing professional services in training and technical assistance, publication development, grant review and conference management.

Prachee arrived in the US States in 1986 after receiving her bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Pune. Since inception, Synergy Enterprises, Inc. has grown from 1 to over 120 employees and was named among Washington Technology's 2008 Top 25 small contractors.

G.N. Rao honoured at World Ophthalmology Congress

Gullapalli N. Rao, an eminent ophthalmologist and founder-chairman of the L.V. Prasad Eye Institute here, has been honoured at the 32nd World Ophthalmology Congress in Germany, a statement issued by the institute said today.

Rao was conferred the prestigious Bernardo Streiff Gold Medal at the Congress organised by International Council of Ophthalmology in Berlin from June 5-9, the statement said.

The Bernardo Streiff Gold Medal is awarded by election every four years by the Academia Ophthalmologica Internationalis at the World Ophthalmology Congress.

The honour is conferred on an ophthalmologist who has contributed most through history, ethics and education, to the advancement of ophthalmology.

Academia Ophthalmologica Internationalis is a 60-member group of the top academicians in the world in the field of ophthalmology.

Rao is the second Indian to be a member of this group after his teacher L.P. Agarwal, former director of the All India Institute Medical Sciences, the statement said.

Rights panel seeks amendment in child labour laws

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has demanded an amendment to the child labour act to bring the unorganised sector within the ambit of the law.

"There are a number of loopholes in the child labour act which makes it ineffective. It does not include agriculture and allied activities which account for highest incidences of child labour," NCPCR chairperson Shantha Sinha told the media.

"Millions of children are engaged in works which are not listed as processes of occupation... all these children do not come in purview of the act. This is why we are demanding an amendment in the act," she said.

The National Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act prohibits employment of children below the age of 14 in factories, mines and hazardous employments.

"Children working as part of family are also not identified as labour. Employers exploit these provisions," Sinha said.

The commission has also demanded raising the age for classifying child labour from current 14 years to 18.

The chairperson said that a request has been sent to the labour and employment ministry for amending the act.

"We are awaiting a response from the ministry of labour and employment," Sinha said.

According to the NCPCR, there are nearly nine million child labourers in the country, a majority of who are in rural areas. Two-thirds of them are engaged in agriculture, accounting for 73 percent of casual child labourers and nine percent of regular workers.

Education can help end child labour: experts

The Right to Education Act, which calls for free and compulsory education for everyone under the age of 14, will help to eliminate child labour in India, experts said today. Speaking on the World Day Against Child Labour, speaker after speaker underlined the importance of education. "Every child out of school will sooner, rather than later, be a child labourer. Realisation of Right to Education is crucial in reaching the aim," said Shantha Sinha, chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR). India is home to nearly nine million child labourers, most of whom come from impoverished families and are often forced into hazardous industries. Many slave away without being paid. Speaking at an event organised by the central government, the UN and a few industrial organisations, Sinha urged the private sector to join the initiative. "The government needs equal social partners to see that the world is free of child labour. The role of private sector is inevitable," she said. A joint statement from the NCPCR, International Labour Organisation, Unicef and Unesco said that the Right to Education will substantiate efforts to eliminate child labour. National Advisory Committee member and social activist Harsh Mander stressed the need to set up residential schools to woo child labourers. "We we need to provide them residential facilities along with education," Mander said. "After freeing a child labourer, the case is not followed and most go back to work. We must focus on taking them back to school."


Indian officials in US interrogate Headley for 7 days

Indian investigators have spent seven days questioning a Pakistani-American in the United States who has admitted to playing a role in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, the US Justice Department said on Thursday. The Justice Department did not reveal the nature of the questioning posed to David Headley, who pleaded guilty to 12 terrorism charges on March 18 in a federal court in Illinois and remains in US custody. India for some time had been seeking access to Headley. The Justice Department said in a statement that Indian officials were granted access to him "as part of the cooperation and partnership between the United States and India in the fight against international terrorism". The November 26, 2008, terrorist attack in Mumbai was believed to have been carried out by the Pakistani-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group. The coordinating attack left 173 people dead.

Sri Lankan president ends Shimla visit

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa today left for New Delhi after a one-and-a-half-day private visit to this Himachal Pradesh state capital. "President Mahinda Rajapaksa, his wife Shiranthi, their family members, and ministers and other dignitaries accompanying him left in choppers of the Indian Air Force for Chandigarh this (Friday) morning, from where he would again fly to New Delhi," Himachal Pradesh Health Minister Rajeev Bindal told the media. Rajapaksa boarded the chopper at the Annadale helipad of the Indian Army here. One of his aides said: "The visit of Rajapaksa was quite a memorable one and relaxing too." Rajapaksa reached here on Thursday morning and stayed at the Oberoi Group's heritage hotel Wildflower Hall on the outskirts of the town. On Thursday afternoon, Rajapaksa and his colleagues went for a short trek near Wildflower Hall, while his wife Shiranthi spent more than two hours strolling through the streets of the town. "It is nice and homely to be in this town," Shiranthi Rajapaksa told the media while taking a casual stroll on the Mall, the main street of this former British summer capital. "This is my first visit to the town and the hill state too. It's, of course, a memorable one," she added. Shiranthi Rajapaksa also took back some woollens from the shops, especially shawls. Visibly satisfied with the hospitality of the local people, she remarked: "Look at the overwhelming response of the people." Later in the evening, the couple attended a reception hosted by Governor Urmila Singh in the Barnes Court (Raj Bhavan). Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal too attended the reception.

$500 for Bhopal gas victims - Why India settled for so less?

Bhopal Gas Tragedy victimized the people from all quarters. Besides affecting the physical health and maiming the normal lifestyle, it also deprived them of considerable compensation. As far as the report goes, the victims were paid a mere pittance of around Rs 12,000 as compensation for the losses they had suffered. The compensation was paid in 1989, few years before Dow Chemicals (it is the owner of Union Carbide) paid a handsome $10 million in 2002 to the family of a child who suffered a brain injury following his exposure to pesticide. Going by the statistics, the Bhopal gas tragedy was of more severe intensity than that of the one for which Dow Chemicals paid compensation. This gives rise to a pertinent question - Why did Indian government settled with Union Carbide for so less? When Dow Chemicals was asked about this discrimination in terms of doling out compensation, the company spokesperson blatantly stated that "$500 is plenty good for an Indian." It is only few days back that Dow made its intention clear to retract those words. In an official statement the company asserted that Dow wants to retract the 2002 statement of Dow PR Head Kathy Hunt and admitted the fact that those words have always haunted them. Even if we consider that Dow Chemicals was at fault, but then wasn't Indian government also at fault. Did the Indian government also think in the same line and feel that $500 is good enough amount to be paid as compensation. Attorney General, K Parasaran, who was in-charge of the settlement, clearly stated that the settlement amount was decided by the Supreme Court.

Trinidad PM invited for law conference in India

Trinidad and Tobago's newly elected Indian-origin Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has been invited to attend an international law conference to be held in New Delhi next year, an advocate from India said.

Persad-Bissessar would be the guest of honour at the 17th Commonwealth Law Conference from Feb 5-9, 2011 if she accepts the invitation. Some 1,500 law experts from across the Commonwealth will be attending the conference.

Indian advocate R. Santhan Krishnan came here earlier this week to extend the invitation to Persad-Bissessar.

"The event is happening in India next year...we thought that your prime minister should come," he told the media.

Krishnan hoped that Trinidad and Tobago would host the conference in 2013.

He has also invited Chief Justice Ivor Archie and Attorney General Anand Ramlogan for the Commonwealth Law Conference.

Krishnan also held talks with San Fernando High Court judge Prakash Moosai on the Lawyers' Cricket World Cup to be held in Barbados in August 2011.

The first tournament was held in India's Hyderabad city in 2007, which India won while and the second one was held in Cambridge that Australia won.

Persad-Bissessar's forefathers came from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar between 1845 and 1917 to work on the sugar and cocoa plantations.

US expects India to implement Iran sanctions

The United States has expressed confidence that India would implement the tough new United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions against Iran for its alleged clandestine nuclear weapons programme.

"I think India's record on implementation of previous Security Council resolutions has been an admirable one," US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns told reporters on Thursday.

"And I do expect that India, as its leadership has made clear publicly, will follow through and implement the new resolution," he said when asked if India and the US were on the same page on sanctions against Iran.

India, he noted, has voted three times in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors to hold Iran accountable for its failure to meet its international obligations.

"Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has also reinforced on a number of occasions the fact that India shares international concerns about a nuclear-armed Iran and the obvious negative consequences that would have for a part of the world that's very important to both of us, as well as to the global economy," Burns said.

Manmohan Singh has time and again underlined India's traditional ties with Iran and voiced opposition to sanctions that, in New Delhi's view, end up hurting the common people.

While India believes that a nuclear powered Iran is not in the interests of regional stability, it has consistently advocated dialogue and diplomacy to resolve the issue of the Iranian nuclear programme and supported Tehran's right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy within the purview of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

New sanctions target Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard and include freezing the assets of 40 additional companies and organizations -- 15 linked to the guards, 22 involved in nuclear or ballistic missile activities and three linked to the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines.

The sanctions also bar Iran from pursuing "any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons," investing in nuclear-related activities like uranium mining, and buying some categories of heavy weapons, including attack helicopters and missiles.

The Iran issue figured during the recently concluded India-US Strategic Dialogue between team led by External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Air India Kanishka bombing report next week

Exactly 25 years after the Air India Kanishka bombing in 1985, the Canadian commission which investigated the tragedy will table its report on Thursday. Former Canadian chief justice John Major, who was appointed to head the commission in May 2006, will present his voluminous report on the failures which led to the bombing of the Montreal-to-Delhi Kanishka flight 182 off the Irish coast on June 23, 1985, killing all 329 people on aboard. Another bomb, meant for another Air India flight, also went off at Tokyo airport the same day, killing two baggage handlers. As the Air India trial court said, both the bombs were loaded at Vancouver airport in two unaccompanied suitcases which were later transferred to the connecting Air India flight and Tokyo-bound flight at Toronto airport. "The Final Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Investigation of the Bombing of Air India Flight 182 will be released in Ottawa on June 17, 2010. Further information on the release will be available shortly,'' said commission spokesman Michael Tansey. "Comprising five volumes, the final report runs into 4,000 pages. Along with the report, the commission will also release various academic papers and a number of studies conducted by various people (who appeared at the inquiry),'' Tansey told the media. Inderjit Singh Reyat, who was released last year after spending 15 years in jail, was the only person convicted for the Kanishka bombing blamed on Khalistani extremists seeking revenge for the Indian army action at the Golden Temple to flush out militants in 1984. Two other suspects - Ajaib Singh Bagri and Ripudaman Singh Malik - were acquitted by the trial court in March 2005. The verdict created pressure by the families of the victims on the Canadian government to pinpoint the reasons for the worst air tragedy till 9/11, leading to the appointment of the commission under Justice John Major. During its long inquiry, the commission held public hearings with the families of the victims and called more than 200 witnesses. The report comes when a Sikh MP has moved a motion in the Canadian parliament to urge the Canadian government to declare the killing of Sikhs in 1984 after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's assassination by her own Sikh guards as an act of genocide.

Still looking for female lead for 'Rockstar': Imtiaz Ali

There were reports that Imtiaz Ali has finalised half Czech- half Pakistani model Nargis Fakhri for "Rockstar" opposite Ranbir Kapoor, but the director denied it saying he is still looking for the female lead.

"No, that's not true. We are still hunting for the female lead... I can't speak more on it now as I am really not talking about it right now," Ali, 38, told the media.

Casually dressed in a white striped t-shirt and jeans, the director was looking his usual calm self when he was spotted by the media correspondent on Wednesday at the Sheraton hotel here.

Although he is denying Nargis' presence in the cast, it won't be surprising if he ropes in a foreign face again after launching Brazillian model Giselle Monteiro in his last outing "Love Aaj Kal" opposite Saif Ali Khan.

According to reports, New York-based Nargis, 21, who featured in the 2009 Kingfisher swimsuit calendar, auditioned several times for the role of a dancer for Ali's film.

The three-film old director also confirmed that he is on a recce in the capital for right locations for his movie. He was recently spotted doing the same with Ranbir.

Co-produced by Eros International Media Ltd and Shri Ashtavinayak Cine Vision, the movie is said to be inspired by the lives of rockstars. It will most probably go on floors next month.

Radio reality show winners to sing for Bollywood film

Claiming to be first of its kind, the radio reality show "Generation A-Star Mirchi Create With Agnee" will give its winners a chance to lend their voice in the upcoming Bollywood movie "Gulaab Gang". "It is a first-of-its-kind reality show. Aspirants can just log on to our site and follow a simple procedure. We intend to provide a platform to them so that they can perform and prove their mettle," Shamik Talukder, senior vice president of Radio Mirchi, told the media. "The best part is that the winners will get an opportunity for playback singing in movie 'Gulaab Gang', a unique opportunity never offered before by any such reality show," Talukder added. Director Shoumik Sen's "Gulaab Gang" stars Raveena Tondon, Tabu and Shahana Goswami. Set in western Bihar, the movie tells the story of women who decide to fight against atrocities towards them. The two winners - a male and a female - will also get an opportunity to work with the band Agnee, which is composing music for the movie. K. Mohan, lead vocalist of the band, said it is not just another reality show. "We launched the show not to create a business model, but to get singers who will in sometime replace me in the band and will get a chance to make there name in the industry through their performances," he said. He further added that they would like to continue the show next year. "Hopefully, if this time we get a good response, we would like to continue it next year. We are also looking for actors, directors and dancers to perform and direct our videos," he said. Currently the show organisers are busy auditioning and so far they have finalised Saurav Paul from Kolkata and Manvi Gupta, a doctor by profession, from Delhi. Now they will go to Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Mumbai, and Pune in search of talent. In total there will be eight finalists who will contest for the title at the grand finale on July 10 in Mumbai. Those who wish to apply for the auditions can log on to or

Pankaj Kapoor dubs at world's poshest studio

Veteran Pankaj Kapoor, who dubbed for Bhavna Talwar's "Happi" at the Canongate Studios in Edinburgh, is perhaps the first Indian actor to work at one of the poshest post-production centres in the world.

In "Happi", Pankaj plays the Charlie Chaplinesque role of homeless tramp and most of the dialogues and sounds have been captured live. However some vital portions of the brilliant actor's lines had to be dubbed in a studio.

Since Pankaj had to leave for Scotland to shoot for his first directorial venture "Mausam", it was suggested that he dub the vital lines in Edinburgh.

"This is the studio where Sean Connery dubs for all his films. We needed to dub just a handful of Pankaj-ji's lines. So we decided, why not do it at one of the best post-production studios in the world since we were shooting right next to it," said Sheetal Talwar, producer of "Happi".

Pankaj was accompanied to the recording studio by his son Shahid who wanted to get a feel of the way voices are dubbed in a studio that has recorded Connery's baritone for decades.

I didn't skip IIFA: Abhishek Bachchan

Abhishek Bachchan, who missed the 11th International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) event in Sri Lanka, defended his absence from the gala due to work commitments.

"I didn't skip the IIFA awards. I have been shooting in Istanbul for one of my films called 'Game' so unfortunately I couldn't attend it," Abhishek said via live chat.

Abhishek was on live chat on with over 40,000 fans for almost an hour, to promote his upcoming movie "Raavan".

Many Bollywood stars skipped IIFA this year including its brand ambassador Amitabh Bachchan as well as superstar Shah Rukh Khan and according to reports, they gave it a miss following a boycott call from the south Indian film industry.

A statement issued by the South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce had said that southern stars and filmmakers would boycott all Bollywood stars who attend the IIFA in Colombo from June 3-5.

They have been campaigning against the island government and the alleged killing of civilian Tamils during the conflict between Sri Lankan army and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Releasing on June 18, "Raavan" is a bilingual and has been directed by Mani Ratnam. Co-produced by Reliance Big Pictures and Madras Talkies, the movie also stars Aishwarya Rai and Tamil superstar Vikram, who makes his Bollywood debut with the movie.

Aamir may come on Twitter: Big B

Aamir Khan may soon join microblogging site Twitter thanks to Amitabh Bachchan who used his powers of persuasion on him. "At dinner with Aamir... coaxing him to come on Twitter," Amitabh posted on his Twitter page. "Success come to those that dare and act!! Convinced the inconvincible Aamir over dinner to come on Twitter." Big B affirmed that Aamir will be on site soon and posted a picture of them on the site with the caption - "With Aamir at dinner, Italian, good food and the smile on his face is his excitement of being convinced to come on Twitter". "A wonderful evening at Italian restaurant. Ronnie, Aamir, Kiran and Jaya...delightful, meaningful conversation (on) films, life, posterity," said the 67-year-old.

After five decades, Indian cinema re-enters golden period: Karan Johar

With new ideas, new energy and new talent, the Indian film industry is entering the golden period of cinema it left behind five decades ago, says Karan Johar, one of India's most formidable commercial filmmakers. "The Indian film industry has changed leaps and bounds over 10 years... there's new energy, new ideas, new ideologies being represented... so much immense talent. We are entering the golden period of cinema which we left behind five decades ago and I think we are going to attain that status very soon," Karan told the media in an interview. "We have come a long way from being perceived as a song-and-dance filmmaking nation to a filmmaking nation that has truly gone global. It's been a great journey for our industry," said the 38-year-old whose Dharma Productions is one of Bollywood's most successful production companies. In the last decade, Karan's own style of filmmaking has evolved - from the effervescent college romance "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai" in 1998 to the distinctly different "My Name Is Khan" in 2010 that reached out to a global audience with its complex and contemporary theme of post-9/11 America. Both had the same cast - Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol. The first was wildly popular and still seen in countless re-runs, while the other about the autistic man received critical acclaim and was a hit in the overseas market. Either way, Karan had demonstrated then and now that he has a finger on the pulse of an increasingly demanding audience. In between, he has also produced films like "Dostana", "Wake Up Sid" and "Kurbaan" - each different in mood and theme, and far removed from designer family dramas like "Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham". Clearly, Karan, who was in the capital on Wednesday to host the Chivas Studio Spotlight as the brand ambassador of Chivas Regal, likes to keep his offerings varied. After the intense "My Name Is Khan", Dharma Productions is now ready with the Imran Khan-Sonam Kapoor-starrer "I Hate Luv Storys", with dollops of romance and aimed at the young at heart. "I am so looking forward to 'I Hate Luv Storys'. It releases on July 2. It is a fresh pairing. It's an exciting young film by a debut director (Punit Malhotra). It's a young, popcorn fun film with lots of love and mush and all the stuff that Dharma Productions has always stood for. We had deviated (with 'My Name Is Khan'), but are now back at it again," he said with a grin. Up next in Karan's production ventures after "I Hate Luv Storys" will be the Indian adaptation of Chris Columbus' 1998 comedy drama "Stepmom". It is a heartwarming tale about a divorcee coping with the new woman in her ex-husband's life and the problems they face to find a common ground of understanding. The Hindi remake has been directed by Siddharth Malhotra and features actors Kareena Kapoor, Kajol and Arjun Rampal. "The adaptation of 'Stepmom' is ready for release in October, but we haven't titled it yet. We are hoping we have a brainwave of a title soon," said Karan. The sequel to "Dostana" is ready to roll in August; a remake of his father's 1990 hit "Agneepath" is also in the pipeline. What's the update? "As for the 'Agneepath' remake, we are waiting to cast it before we launch it. The script is ready; we are just giving it finishing touches before we approach the lead actors." Any actors in mind? "Of course they are on our mind... but we are not going to reveal them to you," he signed off.

High yarn prices may cause lay-offs in hosiery industry

The hosiery industry may soon face massive lay-offs if the government does not take steps to reduce the prices of cotton yarn by cutting down exports, a manufacturers' lobby said today. The prices of cotton yarn have jumped to Rs.190 a kg from Rs.135 in September last year in the domestic market, leading to buyers' resistance and consequent drop in production, Federation of Hosiery Manufacturers of India (FOHMA) secretary B. D. Kothari said here. "The supply of yarn in the domestic market has also become irregular. Our profit margin has dipped by 10 percent. In West Bengal, the production cut is 10-15 percent," Kothari said. The main reason for the escalating prices is the massive rise in exports of the yarn, produced mainly in South India. "Seventeen percent of the total yarn production in the country is exported now. The government should take immediate steps to reduce the exports." He demanded that the government impose export duty, ensure regularity in supplies in the domestic market and put in place a mechanism to check the abnormal increase in yarn prices. "We have already approached the ministry of textiles. We have been assured action. But if that is not done, and the present situation continues for about a months, there may be large scale lay-offs in the industry," he said. The industry provides direct employment to a million people. Kothari said the situation deteriorated sharply over the last 15 days forcing virtual closure of the Knitting units. "This chain effect of non-availability of knitted fabric will hit down the line processes like bleaching and dyeing, cutting and tailoring units," he added. He cited the examples of Pakistan and Bangladesh, which have taken measures to protect their domestic textile units by imposing export duties and reducing import duties respectively. Tirupur in Tamil Nadu is the largest manufacturing centre of hosiery garments in the country, followed by West Bengal. Together, the two states account for 90 percent of the production.

BWA auction ends, government reaps $8.5 bn

The auction for government broadband wireless access (BWA) services ended today, swelling the government exchequer to Rs.38,543.31 crore (over $8.56 billion). The pan-India license price stood be at Rs.12,847.77 crore (over $2.85 billion) at end of the 16-day auction in which 11 companies participated, according to official data released here. The auction, which began on May 24, saw the pan-India BWA licence price going up around 634 percent from the Rs.1,750 crore base price fixed by the government. Today saw the conclusion of 117 rounds of the auction of airwaves for BWA services. It was a simultaneous online auction for two slots in each of the country's 22 service areas. The government has already raised Rs.67,719 crore from 3G spectrum auction. The total revenue of the government from sale of spectrum for both 3G and BWA touched over Rs.1.06 lakh crore. BWA spectrum is essential for rolling out Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX) services enabling hand-held devices and laptops to access the Internet. According to the latest information available on the website of the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), Mumbai and Delhi attracted the highest bids. Mumbai got bids of Rs.2,292.95 crore, while Delhi got bids worth Rs.2,241.02 crore. The spectrum will allow companies to offer high-speed Internet access as well as Internet telephony and television services. It can also be used for voice and high-speed data services. Bharti Airtel, Reliance WiMax, Idea Cellular, Aircel, Augere Mauritius Ltd, Infotel Broadband Services, Qualcomm, Spice Internet Service Provider, Tata Communications Internet Services, Tikona Digital Networks and Vodafone Essar - took part in the BWA auction. The government has already allocated one block each of 20 MHz of unpaired spectrum to Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL) and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) in their respective service areas. The two state-run firms will have to pay the winners' price. The successful bidders in this auction can use the assigned frequency for commercial purposes immediately after they get the spectrum, the DoT has said.

Ganguly to lead MCC side against Pakistan

Former India captain Sourav Ganguly will lead a Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) side, which will include Brian Lara of the West Indies, in a Twenty20 match against Pakistan at Lord's on June 27. It will be the first time that an MCC team will feature in a Twenty20 fixture. Pakistan will be led by Shahid Afridi, who has not played at Lord's since last year's World Twenty20 triumph. Sri Lankan pacer Chaminda Vaas and Australian all-rounder Ian Harvey are also part of the MCC team. "We are delighted to welcome to Lord's a Pakistani side who have a proven track record in Twenty20 cricket. Shahid Afridi's men will face an exciting MCC team comprising world-class performers and up-and-coming talent," said MCC head of cricket John Stephenson. "Brian Lara is one of the finest batsmen to have ever played the game and Sourav Ganguly is a world-leading Twenty20 cricketer. The match will provide spectators with a fantastic opportunity to see wonderful cricket and great cricketers."

Indian teen in Finland, bringing Facebook, Twitter closer

Want to know from your mobile phone where to hangout in Delhi or eat out in Beijing? Three teens in Finland, including one from India, are giving final touches to a system that integrates social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. They are part of a team of 30 brainy teens who have come to Finland from 16 countries to take part in the week-long Millennium Youth Camp being held in a forested area, abutting a lake, about an hour's drive from capital Helsinki. "Our's is a GPS (global positioning system) that integrates social networking sites," Muhammad Zeeshan Samad, one of the teens from Kerala, told the media here. "It collects information from Facebook and Twitter. It is then uploaded on mobile phones." The project was co-conceived by 18-year-old J. Nishida from Japan and 15-year-old Finn Wenlei Dai, the third team member. Their effort is already partly functional and in the coming months, the team hopes it would hit the market. Using GPS and a software platform called Android, it seeks to add another dimnension to social networking sites, that of location. Accordingly, people can not only interact by using these sites, but also know where exactly the other person is, physically. "I am very excited about this project," said Samad, a die-hard soccer fan who supports Liverpool and is an avid amateur photographer with a quite an impressive blog -- "The World in 35 MM" -- which showcases his magic with an Olympus C-760. "I am working in an international environment for the first time," the 17-year-old added while sounding quite excited at being selected for the camp and thrilled at the progress of their project. The camp ends on Saturday and the teens leave for their homes on Sunday. "The participants are 15-19 year-olds who are keen on natural sciences, mathematics and technology. The camp is free of charge," said Maija Aksela, professor at University of Helsinki. "The target of the camp for these young students to is network with people from all over the world -- with Finnish businesses and top scientists -- and to increase the awareness of the Millennium Technology Prize". The Millennium Technology Prize was won Wednesday by Michael Gratzel, a professor from Switzerland who has developed an advanced solar cell that mimics nature.

Iran skips Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit

Iran has rejected the invitation to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit beginning here on Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose country has an observer status at the SCO along with India, Pakistan and Mongolia, decided to snub the meeting after ties between Moscow and Tehran strained over the UN Security Council vote imposing fresh sanctions on Iran. Twelve members of the 15-member UNSC voted for a resolution to impose the fourth set of sanctions on Iran on Wednesday. The resolution was proposed by the world body's five permanent members- the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia. "No one cancelled an invitation, sent by the Uzbek hosts to President Ahmadinejad, it was his decision not to come," Lavrov said. Ahmadinejad "received an invitation in due time, like other participants, confirmed (his participation) and then it was up to him to decide," he added. Instead, the Iranian president will fly to China to visit the Shanghai Expo. Iran has long been seeking membership of the six-member alliance which was established in 2001 to ensure security along the border between China and former Soviet republics. Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are the founding members of SCO. Uzbekistan, which joined the organisation in 2001, holds the organisation's rotating presidency this year.

Comet McNaught closest to Earth next week

If you look towards the northeastern sky before sunrise on June 15, the recently discovered comet McNaught will be closest to Earth and visible to the naked eye. The comet will appear as a dim and diffuse circular patch of light gliding through the constellation of Perseus in the northern sky. It has been brightening rapidly as it approaches Earth for a 100-million-mile close encounter. "Comet McNaught has a vivid green head and a long wispy tail that looks great through small telescopes. By the end of the month it could be visible to the naked eye perhaps as bright as the stars of the Big Dipper," said N.S. Raghunandan Kumar, general secretary, Planetary Society, India. The Big Dipper is an alignment of seven stars known in ancient Indian astronomy as "Sapta Rishi" or "The Seven Great Sages". According to scientists, this is the comet's first visit to the inner solar system, so predictions of future brightness are necessarily uncertain. Comet McNaught was discovered in September 2009 by Robert McNaught at Australia's Siding Spring Observatory while conducting a search for potentially dangerous near-Earth objects.

Nepal in fresh Dalai Lama row

As Nepal stepped up its crackdown on Tibetan refugees under pressure from China, the ruling alliance was left red-faced after its MPs were found to have gone on a junket to Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama's seat in India to meet top leaders and attend the self-styled Tibetan parliament in exile. Two lawmakers from the Nepali Congress, the biggest party in the coalition government, and a third from Terai party Madhesi Janadhikar Forum were part of the delegation from Nepal taken to visit Dharamsala town in northern India. Nepali MPs Harshajit Lama, Lalita Kingring Magar and Om Prakash Yadav on Thursday met the Dalai Lama's "prime minister" Samdhong Rinpoche, and attended a dinner hosted by the Tibetan government in exile. Today, they are scheduled to attend the ongoing session of the Dalai Lama's parliament in exile. The visit has triggered a stinging row with the opposition Maoist party saying it violated the "One China" policy of Nepal which regards Tibet as an integral and inalienable part of China. The Maoists are also alleging that the visit is tantamount to supporting the "Free Tibet" protest movement by Tibetan refugees which the Nepal government has been trying to suppress on China's command. The new row comes a year after six Nepali MPs visited Dharamsala and met the Dalai Lama in June 2009. It stung China into seeking an explanation from the Nepal government, which tried to hush up the matter by saying the MPs had not been fully informed about their itinerary. One of the MPs told the media that it was a purely religious visit for her as she was a Buddhist and revered the Dalai Lama as the leader of all Buddhists. Under pressure from Beijing, Nepal in 2005 closed the office of the Dalai Lama's representative in Kathmandu and it has not been allowed to re-open officially since then. Nepal has also beefed up patrols on its northern border adjoining Tibet to foil Tibetans from escaping to India via Nepal. In 2008, in an unprecedented move, Nepal put a temporary curb on climbing Mt Everest, the highest peak in the world, to prevent anti-China protests at a time Beijing was hosting the Olympic Games. Nepal also prevents Tibetans from celebrating the Dalai Lama's birthday in public and does not invite the Nobel laureate to the annual Buddhist meets it holds in Lumbini in southern Nepal, the birthplace of the Buddha.

Woman gangraped in Hindu group's Nepal office

A Hindu organisation that triggered a controversy five years ago when it supported the army-backed bloodless coup by King Gyanendra has run into fresh controversy after a 52-year-old woman was gangraped inside its office here. The 70-year-old caretaker at the Vishwa Hindu Mahasangh (VHM) office in Kathmandu's Bansbari area, another employee and three of their acquaintances were arrested by police early Thursday morning. According to Deputy Superintendent of Police Dipak Thapa, the woman, the mother of grown-up children, was a local resident who had stepped outside her house late Wednesday night to get respite from the heat wave sweeping Kathmandu valley. The five men, who were sitting at the gate of the VHM office and drinking, saw her come out of her house and pace the road. Lok Bahadur Khadka, the caretaker, and another man overpowered her and pulled her inside the building. The five men then dragged her to the top floor of the four-storey building. Alerted by the woman's cries for help, the neighbours informed police. When a police team reached the building, they found the victim unconscious. Her attackers were apprehended after a long wait by police during which the former locked themselves up inside the building. The incident triggered protests by angry residents from the neighbourhood. Except Khadka, who is from neighbouring Lalitpur district, the rest are from Sindhupalchowk near the Tibetan border. The other employee is a 29-year-old man, Dharma Raj Budathoki. Police said the duo, along with Lal Bahadur Tamang, Arjun Neupane and Sumit Khadka would be charged with gangrape. The VHM shot into prominence in 2005 when it was one of the recipients of King Gyanendra's largesse to people and organisations supporting his coup. It has close ties with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of India, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and Shiv Sena whose leaders have visited in Nepal to support the campaign for the restoration of Nepal as a Hindu kingdom.


Maoist sabotage threat hits Bengal train movements

Train movement was late on Wednesday suspended over a part of the South Eastern Railway in West Bengal following intelligence inputs that Maoists had assembled near the tracks in West Midnapore district for another sabotage attempt, officials said. Divisional Railway Manager (Kharagpur) Anil Handa told the media that around 7 p.m. he was informed by the state police and government railway police (GRP) personnel that between 100 and 150 armed Maoists had gathered between Chakulia and Jhargram stations.

"Immediately, railway officials and other staff were informed and it was decided to suspend train movement over Kharagpur-Tatanagar section," Handa said.

The Howrah-Tatanagar Steel Express, which was then at Kalaikunda, was brought back to Kharagpur. The Howrah-bound Duranto Express was also taken back to Tatanagar to ensure safety of the passengers, he said.

Police sources claim the alert was sounded after the interception of a telephonic conversation by Maoists calling for an attack on the Duranto Express on Wednesday and the Bhubaneshwar Rajdhani Express today.

On May 28, the Mumbai-bound Gyaneshwari Express ran off the tracks near Jhargram because of alleged Maoist sabotage and a speeding freight train rammed into five derailed coaches. In all, 148 passengers were killed and scores were injured.

As part of security measures in the wake of the May 28 derailment, passenger train services were stopped in the Kharagpur-Rourkela and Kharagpur-Adra sections between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

But following Wednesday's intelligence report, train services were suspended on the stretches three hours in advance.

Joint security forces, engaged in flushing out Maoists in large parts of West Midnapore, conducted raids in some villages near the track but failed to find any rebelS.

Train movement will start once the track is sanitised thoroughly. "Arrangements have been made to bring back the passengers of the Howrah-Tatanagar Steel Express to Howrah by train. Security has also been beefed up," Handa said.

Let economics drive our relations, Bangladesh envoy tells India

Bangladesh has urged India to open its doors wider to allow duty-free goods and reach a "meaningful" free trade agreement (FTA) to facilitate a "convergence (of interests)" that will make economy drive politics and bilateral relations. "Politics has, unfortunately, driven our economic ties and has impacted overall relations. It is time to change this pattern. Once that happens, other issues like fighting militancy, boundary dispute and water sharing will also become easier to deal with," Bangladesh's High Commissioner to India Tariq A. Karim told the media in an interview. The two countries are considering a FTA that will open up duty-free export of garments, leather, jute and ceramic products from Bangladesh to India. According to one estimate, two-way trade is likely to grow four-fold in around five years once the pact is in place. Told about reservations in many Indian quarters because of past experiences, Karim said there could be "no guarantee", but Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government had "walked an extra mile" to change earlier perceptions. "If India does not respond, other forces are ready to take over in our country," he warned. India, he said, should take "a leap of faith" in cooperating with Bangladesh, without nursing "fears of past and the future", and help create "a measure of inter-dependence" that cannot be easily reversed. "All I can say is: bring down the wall of fear. There is no option. There is this chance for us both," Karim said. "Cooperation between us is now a choice, not a constraint," Karim said, pointing to the presence of "stable coalition governments" now ruling in Dhaka and New Delhi. He drew this comparison with the 1996-2001 tenure of Prime Minister Hasina when India too went through unstable and short-lived coalition governments. The present phase is "most auspicious" for forging close bilateral ties. "The wheel of history has taken a full circle. The situation is almost like in 1971," he said, referring to the close understanding between the two prime ministers of that era, Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in the early 1970s, immediately after the birth of Bangladesh. The task of the Hasina Government had been made easy by the spirit of accommodation shown by India when she visited New Delhi in January. The "unusual generosity" India showed in granting a $1-billion line of credit had been noted and the task was to translate it into specific projects. Bangladesh welcomed investment, a significant signal sent by Indian telecom giant Bharti Airtel that has recently entered mobile telephony and telecom infrastructure. Of Tata Group that withdrew its $3-billion investment offer, the highest ever Bangladesh has received, Karim said: "Tatas are most welcome, if they move away from the idea of buying cheap gas from us for their projects. We do not have gas to spare." Appreciating Indian concerns, both security and economic, in its northeastern region, Karim said that reversing earlier policies, Dhaka had "decided to join South Asia," by linking with the trans-Asian super highway and rail network. One thing the two governments could leave for posterity would be to undo the British legacy of 115 enclaves that dot the border. This could be rationalized to end the sufferings of the people residing in those enclaves. "It is a challenge, but it is not impossible," he said a month ahead of the meeting of officials. During Sheikh Hasina's India visit in January, both the countries had come to an agreement to address the land issues keeping the spirit of the 1974 Land Boundary Agreement. "Now that political understanding has been reached, let us try a hundred percent. Even sixty percent achievement will be worth it. "We do not have much time, and I am impatient," Karim told the media.

Sri Lankan president tours Shimla

After wrapping up official talks in New Delhi, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa today began a one-and-a-half day sojourn in this Himachal Pradesh state capital.

"Rajapaksa along with his wife reached Shimla this morning on a private visit," state Health Minister Rajeev Bindal told the media.

The president would stay in Oberoi Group's heritage hotel Wildflower Hall on the outskirts of the town, he said.

"The president will attend a reception hosted by Governor Urmila Singh in the Barnes Court (Raj Bhavan) Thursday evening, where Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal will also be present," Bindal, who is the minister protocol, said.

State hospitality and protocol secretary Ajay Bhandari said Rajapaksa would spend most of the time touring the grand buildings constructed in the British era.

"Both Wildflower Hall hotel and Barnes Court are historical landmarks of the town," he said

It was at Barnes Court that the Simla Agreement between India and Pakistan was inked after the 1971 war. It is now the residence of the governor.

Constructed in 1832, this elegant building was the residence of former Lieutenant Governor of Punjab Sir Louis Dane.

Likewise, Wildflower Hall, close to Congress president Sonia Gandhi's daughter Priyanka's upcoming cottage, was once the residence of the commander-in-chief of the British army.

After India's independence, the building was handed over to the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation for running a hotel. It was gutted in a fire in 1992. The government in 1995 handed over the property to the Oberois to re-construct it into a luxury spa at Charabra at a height of 8,300 feet amid thick verdant forests of pine and cedar.

Mamata - stormy petrel matures into chief minister-in-waiting

Once dubbed a rabble rouser incapable of doing anything constructive, Mamata Banerjee has matured. Today the union railway minister and Trinamool Congress chief is widely accepted as West Bengal's chief minister-in-waiting. Her ascendancy into the state secretariat, called Writers' Building, is now seen to be just months away. 'Didi's' transformation is seen to have come about through fierce political struggle and unwavering opposition to Communists who lead the state's ruling Left Front. From being her party's solitary representative in the previous Lok Sabha to wrecking the red bastion in West Bengal, 55-year-old Banerjee and the Trinamool Congress she founded 12 years ago to take on the Communists now occupy an enviable position in the state. She may be railway minister but has made her preference for West Bengal clear, camping for days on end in the state to the exclusion of much else. When a passenger train derailed in the Maoist stronghold of Jhargram, killing more than 100 people, she was there right on the spot, directing relief operations and stating that she would not move till the last person had been rescued. That was just two days ahead of the civic polls on May 30, which she swept, routing the Left Front. Banerjee is now trying to extend her party's influence and step up pressure on the state government through a series of movements to erode Communist bases ahead of next year's assembly polls. Banerjee's journey in politics spans almost four decades since her baptism as a stormy petrel of the Congress' students wing, Chhatra Parishad, in the 1970s. The daughter of a freedom fighter and with a post-graduate degree in arts besides degrees in law and education, Banerjee was mentored in her early public life by Subrata Mukherjee - now ironically one of her followers in the Trinamool. Maverick and emotional, she first hogged the limelight by blocking Jayaprakash Narayan's convoy by throwing herself on the ground when he came to the city to organise the masses against Indira Gandhi before Emergency. Banerjee made political analysts sit up and take notice in 1984 when she stunned Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) stalwart Somnath Chatterjee by defeating him in the Jadavpur constituency on her maiden Lok Sabha contest. The 'didi' of Kalighat soon became a rallying point for the anti-Left Front sections which saw in her an uncompromising, incorruptible and credible fighter. Her nondescript residence - a tiled single-storey house in a dingy lane close to the Kalighat temple - and equally simple attire comprising cotton saris, jhola bags and cheap hawai chappals, endeared her to the masses. And till date, the long honeymoon with the masses continues, with Banerjee being one of the handful politicians in the country whose lifestyle has remained the same regardless of her growing stature. Banerjee quit the Congress in 1998, saying it had diluted its opposition to the CPI-M, and formed the Trinamool Congress, which soon dislodged the parent party to become the state's main opposition. In her bid to strike the right arithmetic to oust the CPI-M-led Left Front government, Banerjee courted the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) during 1998-2001, supped with the Congress during the 2001 assembly polls, and again dated the NDA during 2001-06. In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, Banerjee joined forces with the Congress to defeat the Left Front, only to fight the recent civic polls alone after the collapse of seat adjustment talks between the two parties. Till 2006, Banerjee raised the prospect of scoring better than the Left Front before every election, only to be disappointed by the results. She first made inroads into the Left's rural votebank during the panchayat elections in 2008, riding on the peasant protests in Nandigram and Singur. The movements led by her - civil society and other political parties joined Banerjee's bandwagon - forced the state government to scrap the chemical hub in Nandigram while Tata Motors shifted the Nano plant from Singur to Gujarat. Banerjee coined a catchy slogan "Ma, Mati o Manush" (Mother, Land and People) before last year's Lok Sabha polls and played on the anti-incumbency factor after more than three decades of Left rule and the creeping disillusionment among several sections, like Muslims, to decimate the Left in partnership with the Congress. She successfully sold a vision of development, cashing in on the deep resentment among the middle classes and unemployed youths, promising jobs and development. "We will metamorphose Kolkata into London, the sea resort of Digha into Goa and the hill tourist haven Darjeeling into Switzerland," she thundered at public rallies. "I have a vision, I have a mission and I have the brains to implement them," Banerjee told the people.

Trinamool MP threatens revolt, to vote against UPA

Trinamool Congress Lok Sabha member Kabir Suman today said he will defy his party's whip and vote against the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government on issues like the anti-Maoist Operation Green Hunt and the proposed seeds bill. Addressing reporters at the Kolkata Press Club, the singer-turned-politician termed the Maoists as "true patriots" fighting to prevent capture of tribal lands and destruction of culture by corporate houses with the help of the government. Suman, whose party is the second largest UPA constituent, attacked the central government for launching an extensive operation against the Leftwing rebels in Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. "I opposed the Operation Green Hunt since it was launched by the UPA government to kill innocent people in the name of flushing out the Maoists. And I will oppose it despite being a part of the UPA government," said Suman. "Though I am a part of the UPA, I will definitely ignore the party whip and oppose the polices of the government which will affect the interest of the people". Suman declared he will cast his vote against the seeds bill, which is likely to be tabled in the monsoon session of parliament. "The speaker and the Trinamool Congress may terminate me from my post for voting against the party whip, but I stick to my stand," said Suman. He also warned that the ultras will not allow government domination of tribal land despite the deployment of the joint forces. Suman opposed any move to deploy the army in the rebel-infested areas. "I believe the central government will realise what is war if it deploys the army to fight against the Maoists. The Maoists will make them realise what is true war," said Suman. "By deploying the army, several innocent people will be killed and many more will be displaced from their native land, but the Maoists cannot be defeated," said Suman. The MP said his relationship with Trinamool got strained due to his stand against the Operation Green Hunt. He had even offered to resign from his post of MP in April but was dissuaded by writer Mahasweta Devi. However, Suman's public statement today made it clear he will continue his support for the Maoists even though the union home ministry has warned intellectuals neither to maintain contacts with the rebels nor propagate their ideology. The notice issued by the ministry on May 6 states that under Section 39 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, any person supporting the Maoists would be liable to be punished.

Panel on Bhopal gas tragedy reconstituted under Chidambaram

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has reconstituted the empowered group of ministers which has been tasked with suggesting remedial measures to help the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy, the worst ever industrial disaster in the world. "Yes, the empowered group has been reconstituted as on May 26. It had been originally set up in 2008," a senior official in the Prime Minister's Office told the media today, adding that Home Minister P. Chidambaram will be heading the high-powered panel.

The other members of the group include Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, Law Minister Veerappa Moily, Urban Development Minister S. Jaipal Reddy, Road Transport Minister Kamal Nath, Housing Minister Kumari Selja and Fertiliser Minister M.K. Azhagiri.

Minister of State for Environment Jairam Ramesh and Minister of State for Science and Technology Prithviraj Chavan are also its members, while the minister for Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation Department in the Madhya Pradesh government is a permanent invitee.

"The terms of reference of the group is to examine all issues relating to the Bhopal gas tragedy. The group will make appropriate recommendations on remedial measures that can be taken for rehabilitation of victims and their families," the official added.

Tonnes of lethal gas had leaked from the Union Carbide's pesticide plant in Bhopal on the night of Dec 2-3 in 1984, killing about 3,500 instantly and thousands later.

A court in Bhopal had Monday held Union Carbide India and seven of its officials guilty of criminal negligence and had sentenced the officials to two years' imprisonment. The seven were later released on bail.

Both Law Minister Moily and Environment Minister Ramesh had termed the verdict "very unsatisfactory" and had said they would work for stricter laws and focus on ensuring implementation of environment protection laws to ensure such incidents do not occur in future.