Monday, April 25, 2011

Suresh Kalmadi arrested; formal announcement this afternoon

Updated: April 25, 2011 13:24 IST

New Delhi:  Suresh Kalmadi  has been arrested - a formal announcement is likely this afternoon - for allowing and in some cases inducing corruption in the Commonwealth Games that were held in India in October last year.

Mr Kalmadi was interrogated this morning by the CBI for the fourth time about a slate of contracts that saw the most expensive firms being hired for equipment and services.  These include conspiring with a Swiss firm that supplied the Timing-Scoring-Results System (TSR) for the Games at exorbitant rates.

Mr Kalmadi served as the Chairman of the Organising Committee that has been drenched in corruption charges.  Team Kalmadi was allegedly in the habit of handing out contracts to firms that provided equipment or services at exorbitant rates; reasonable bids from other firms were allegedly ignored.

Several of Mr Kalmadi's closest aides have already been arrested- including Lalit Bhanot,  who served as the Secretary General of the Organizing Committee and V K Verma who was its Director General.

While Mr Kalmadi's own role has long been suspect, the CBI believes it finally has enough evidence to prove his corruption.  "Better late than never," was the official response of the BJP to the news of Mr Kalmadi's arrest.  In November, Mr Kalmadi, who is a heavyweight Congress politician from Pune, was fired as the Secretary of the Congress Parliamentary Party.

The Queen's Baton Relay which kickstarted the Games was held in London in September 2009. A London-based firm named AM Films was hired by Mr Kalmadi to provide taxis, portable toilets and massive public TV screens for the ceremony. Mr Kalmadi sanctioned transfers of huge amounts of cash to AM Films and its owner, Ashish Patel, even though there was no signed contract.  Mr Kalmadi later told NDTV that because London officials had requested equipment at the last minute, he did not have the time to process a contract. AM Films charged phenomenal amounts for its services.  The financial track record of Mr Patel proved to be dubious.  And then emails surfaced that showed Mr Kalmadi's close aides instructing Mr Patel for what rates to charge the Committee.  

A team from the CBI has reportedly met with Mr Patel in London, and is encouraging him to turn approver.  It has also discovered that three other bids made by other UK firms for the Queen's Baton Relay function were forged - most likely in an attempt to prove that due process had been followed in considering offers from a series of companies.

Mr Kalmadi's associates had first said that AM Films had been suggested as a potential contractor by the Indian High Commission in London.  It was soon proved that the emails brandished by the Organizing Committee to prove this were doctored.

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Manmohan to visit Puttaparthi PTI

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will visit Puttaparthi on Tuesday to pay his respect to the late Satya Sai Baba.
He will leave in the morning and return the same day after paying his homage to the spiritual leader who died on Sunday, official sources said.
Expressing “deep and profound sadness” over Baba’s death, the Prime Minister had on Sunday said that he was a spiritual leader who inspired millions to lead a moral and meaningful life even as they followed the religion of their choice.
“Sri Sathya Saibaba as a preacher of the highest human values was an iconic figure for over five decades. He endeared himself to the people through various institutions, with headquarters at Prashanthi Nilayam, that promoted egalitarian values, education and public health,” Dr. Singh said.
Courtesy:The Hindu

Childhood friends offer a glimpse into early days

Ravi P. Benjamin

PUTTAPARTHI: Before the world at large witnessed and believed the unsual powers of Sathya Sai Baba, it was his childhood friends who stood testimony to his out-of-the-world deeds. For many of his contemporaries and childhood friends, he was a prodigy and a cut above the rest.

Though Ratnakaram Satyanarayana Raju-turned-Sathya Sai Baba is the last of the five siblings of Pedda Venkama Raju and Eeswaramma to leave this material world, he still has several childhood friends in Puttaparthi. They recollect the days of their friendship with Sai Baba as the happiest phase of their lives.

“We were close friends like any high-school or higher secondary school friends nowadays and we used to meet almost every day on the Chitravati river bed outside the village,” Keshappa (82), who retired as a school headmaster. “I am very fortunate to be associated with Sathya Sai, who became a God to millions across the globe.”

Many other contemporaries, including Ramalingamaiah (79), Susheelamma (80), Shakuntala, Laxmidevamma and Jayamma, too were in a state of shock when The Hindu approached them for some glimpses into the Sai Baba's early life.

“Association with Sathya Sai was thrilling in every respect. He had his band of 5-6 close friends and I was among it. He used to recite slokas in Sanskrit melodiously and continuously,” Mr. Ramalingamaiah explained while dwelling on the past.

After reaching the banks of the Chitravati river, Sathya Sai first used to scale a ‘kalpavriksham' (a tree) and meditate there for some time. “He produced mangoes many a time and gave them to us. We savoured those sweet fruits. He also used to produce ‘laddus' as ‘prasadam' after taking some sand in his hands,” Mr. Keshappa recollected.

Even though Sathya Sai started giving discourses to groups of his believers in his early 20s, his friends kept in touch with him when he entered the 40s and they used to meet regularly. But there came a gap once Sai Baba became famous. “He used to invite us and present us with new clothes and would speak affectionately on his birthdays every year later,” Mr. Keshappa said.

Sathya Sai also had 3-4 girls as close friends whom he used to meet on the Chitravati bed when they went to fetch water. “Once, when we were heading for a percolation pit on the river bed for water Sathya Sai told us to remove sand at the point we were standing, and we found abundant water there,” recollected Ms. Susheelamma.

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Courtesy:The Hindu

What the future holds for Sathya Sai Trust

B. Chandrashekhar & Sharath Srivatsa
Amid reports of divergences, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy issues clarification

No differences between the Trust and family members, says Geetha Reddy
Baba has put a system in place and it will continue: Congress MLA

HYDERABAD: The passing of Sathya Sai Baba has thrown up certain questions about the future of the spiritual and service activities managed by the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust. The fate of the properties of the spiritual guru, estimated to be worth anywhere between Rs. 40,000 crore and Rs. 1.5 lakh crore, remains to be determined.

Since its founding in 1972, the Central Trust has run free schools and hospitals, a university and spiritual centres. It undertakes development and philanthropic work across 165 countries with money received as donations from an estimated 30 million devotees.

The Trust had Sai Baba as Chairman. K. Chakravarthi is the Secretary and R.J. Ratnakar is one of the members. The latter is the son of Sai Baba's younger brother, the late Janaki Ramaiah.

Sai Baba's demise has left a vacuum as he was the guiding spirit all along. There was discipline and a certain sense of awe among the Trustees in carrying out tasks entrusted by ‘Swami.' The question now is whether it would continue in the same manner, asked a staunch follower who runs businesses in Puttaparthi.

“It's quite natural that the flow of funds is bound to slow down drastically after the Baba. The future of his good work in the education and healthcare space depends largely on how the existing funds are managed,” says K.A.N. Moorthy, former chairman of Serifed, who hails from Puttaparthi.

Amid reports of divergences between members of the Trust and the family, the Andhra Pradesh government on Sunday sought to clear the air. Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy clarified that the Trust had been asked to continue its activities as was done when the Baba was alive. “Baba still lives with us and all the matters of the Trust are in order. There'll be no change. The Trust will continue to function the way it did earlier,” he told mediapersons.
Major Industries Minister Geetha Reddy said: “It is a matter of pain that people are speculating on the Trust's activities. There are no differences between the Trust and family members.”

Congress MLA M. Shashidhar Reddy said the Trust had assured the government that it would function as it had functioned so far. “Baba has put a system in place and it will continue.”

Ever since the Baba took ill, there were rumours about a possible takeover of the Trust by the Andhra Pradesh Government due to a rift between a Trust member and Baba's family members. Hence, the trustees were asked to refrain from making any statements.

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courtesy:The Hindu

Tokyo toy museum joins relief operations

Monday, April 25, 2011

News photo
Early Christmas: Chihiro Tada, president of the Tokyo Toy Museum in Shinjuku Ward, joins some of the 100 volunteers who helped pack a collection of free toys in the Yotsuya district to give to children in disaster-hit areas of eastern Japan. YOSHIAKI MIURA


Staff writer
Thousands of colorful donated toys from Japan and overseas were brought to the Tokyo Toy Museum in Shinjuku Ward on Sunday to be packed by nearly 100 volunteers for distribution in the disaster-hit Tohoku region.
About 9,800 brand new toys, packed in sets of 100, have been donated by 55 companies in14 countries, including toy makers Bandai Co., Margarete Steiff GmbH from Germany and Kapla from France.
"We want to bring not only toys but also playing environments to shelters in the Tohoku region," said Chihiro Tada, head of the Good Toy Association. The association runs the museum, which is dedicated to low-tech, electricity-free toys.
After considering what they can do to help the people in Tohoku, Tada and his staff decided to support the area in the only way they knew how — by sending toys and reviving the joy of low-tech simplicity.
The toys included the classic wooden building blocks that the museum likes to promote.
Enlisting other toy professionals, museum staff and toy consultants, Tada will start by taking the red, toy-filled boxes to shelters in the stricken cities of Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, and Rikuzentakada, Iwate Prefecture, starting Wednesday.
His team plans to visit five shelters in three days and to repeat the journey once a month for at least a year, visiting different places each time, Tada said.
Each toy set is made of pink and brown floor mats and about 45 toys, including building blocks, card games, drawing kits and stuffed toys.
Tada plans to take the sets to each shelter and create a colorful playing space in any room available so he can teach them how to play.
"For children, toys ares like food. Children need nutrition for their body and also for their heart. They need to have both," Tada said. "So delivering children toys and supporting their playing is as equally important as providing food."
Tada, who is also chief director of the museum, went to Kessennuma and Rikuzentakada in early April to study what the children there really need.
He was hesitant at first to spread out the colorful floor mats and toys in a room where elderly people were sleeping, but he soon realized that the sight of kids playing energized the worn-out adults.
"They began to get up and see the kids playing. Some began tossing around beanbags," Tada said.
Some old ladies even began sewing a little bag to put the beanbags in and looked very happy, Tada said.
One of the ladies was quoted by Tada as saying, "If this helps, then I will help you at any time."
"It was then that I realized that the scene of children playing gives energy to adults," Tada said. "I think playing sometimes has a a more positive impact than counseling. As for mental support, what we can also do is ask them to help us. Give them something to do."


Stamp out 'barbaric' khap panchayats, rules SC


April 19, 2011 21:01 IST

Terming 'khap' panchayat as illegal and honour killing as "barbaric and shameful", the Supreme Court on Tuesday said these should be stamped out "ruthlessly" and asked states to suspend district magistrates and SPs concerned if they failed to act against the offenders.
A bench of justices Markandeya Katju and Gyan Sudha Mishra said in a judgement that the new trends of kangaroo courts, honour killings, "khap" panchayaths in northern India [ Images ] and "katta" panchayats in Tamil Nadu were barbaric and illegal, the perpetrators of which required the harshest punishment.

"We have in recent years heard of 'khap panchayats' (known as katta panchayats in Tamil Nadu) which often decree or encourage honour killings or other atrocities in an
 institutionalised way on boys and girls of different castes and religion, who wish to get married or have been married, or interfere with the personal lives of people," the ruling noted.

"We are of the opinion that this is wholly illegal and has to be ruthlessly stamped out. There is nothing honourable in honour killing or other atrocities and, in fact, it is nothing but barbaric and shameful murder. Other atrocities in respect of personal lives of people committed by brutal, feudal-minded persons deserve harsh punishment," Justice Katju said writing the judgement.
The apex court asked the administrative and police officials to take strong measures to prevent such atrocious acts.

"If any such incidents happen, apart from instituting criminal proceedings against those responsible for such atrocities, the State Government is directed to immediately suspend the district magistrate/collector and SSP/SPs of the district as well as other officials concerned and chargesheet them," the bench said.

The apex court said the government should proceed against such officials departmentally if they do not prevent the incident despite having prior knowledge.

"If they failed to promptly apprehend the culprits and others involved and institute criminal proceedings against them, as in our opinion they will be deemed to be directly or indirectly accountable in this connection."
"Only in this way can we stamp out such acts of barbarism and feudal mentality. Moreover, these acts take the law into their own hands, and amount to kangaroo courts, which are wholly illegal," the bench said.

The apex court said copy of the judgement shall be sent to all chief secretaries, home secretaries and director generals of police in all states and union territories for circulating the same to the district magistrates and SSPs for compliance.


Excerpts from the article : Love Commandos Against Honour Killings

Discrimination on grounds of caste is banned under Indian law, but still persists in arranged marriages.

The highest castes are Brahmins. The lowest, once known as untouchables, are Dalits. Movement between castes is not possible, and the Indian government still defines a number of castes just above Dalits as "other backwards castes".
Though ancient Hindu scripts, the Vedas, make little mention of caste, the codification appears to have developed over thousands of years.

Khap panchayats, the local caste councils, issue rulings on who may or may not marry.

Caste councils also take into consideration the complex gotra system, an ancestral system under which people are allotted to a certain lineage at birth. Unlike the caste system, those in the same gotra are barred from marriage

Egypt: Mubarak to be moved to Cairo military hospital

The former Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, is to be moved to a military hospital in Cairo after a doctor declared him well enough to travel.
He has been in hospital in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh since falling ill during questioning about corruption allegations and protesters' deaths.
Prosecutors said the 82-year-old was supposed to go to Tora prison hospital, but it was not ready to receive him.
The military council that took power in February is under pressure to try him.
Mr Mubarak's two sons, Gamal and Alaa, along with a number of senior officials and business figures close to him are already being held at Tora prison.
Condition 'stable'
For the past two weeks, the former leader has been in a private wing of a hospital in Sharm el-Sheikh after being admitted with heart problems.
But the public prosecutor, Abdul Maguid Mahmoud, said Mr Mubarak was now fit enough to be transferred to the Mazraa hospital at Tora prison.
He will first be moved to a military hospital in the capital, the International Medical Centre, and then to the prison hospital once proper preparations have been made. The facility is not equipped with intensive care facilities that could deal with any sudden deterioration of his heart condition.
Once there, Mr Mubarak will face questioning over allegations of corruption, including charges that his government supplied gas to Israel at below market prices.
He will also be questioned about his role in ordering the violent response to anti-government protests, in which more than 800 people died.
The prosecutor's office cited a doctor's report as saying Mr Mubarak could be moved without endangering his health, as long as he was given appropriate medical treatment.
An official source cited by the state news agency Mena said he could be transferred to the military hospital with 48 hours.
The BBC's Jonathan Head in Cairo says many Egyptians doubted that the country's new military rulers would be willing to hold the man many soldiers regard as a war hero to account for the abuses of the old regime.
But the incarceration of his sons, many of his closest associates and now Mr Mubarak himself may push those doubts aside, he adds.
Courtesy:BBC News

PM didn’t contact Kayani: PMO

UPDATED  23/4/2011 5:23:02 PM

New Delhi:

The Prime Minister's Office today termed as 'false' a media report that Manmohan Singh had contacted Pakistan Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani before the Mohali meeting between Prime Ministers of the two countries.

"We have seen media reports quoting a British newspaper saying that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh contacted Pakistan Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani before the Mohali meeting between the two Prime Ministers. The report is false," PM's Media Adviser Harish Khare said in a statement.

London-based 'The Times' had yesterday reported that Singh had appointed an "unofficial envoy" to make contact with Kayani, who exercises de facto control over Pakistan's foreign policy.

The talks, through a back channel, have encouraged the UK and US believe that the countries' competition for influence in Afghanistan could be better managed during efforts to start a peace process, the media report had said.

PM, Sonia emphasise need to strengthen panchayats

Updated on Sunday, April 24, 2011, 14:15 

New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and NAC chairperson Sonia Gandhi on Sunday emphasised the need to strengthen Gram Sabhas for effective participation of people in governance. 

Addressing a function on National Panchayat Diwas here, Singh said the government was considering increasing the capacity of Panchayats so that they can discharge their responsibilities effectively. 

Noting that timely elections to Panchayats were necessary for their effective functioning, the Prime Minister said the 70 to 80 percent turnout in the Panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand a few days back "reflects that people now want to decide their future themselves". 

The Prime Minister said that though the idea of self-governance has got legal acceptance, there is still a "long way to go for bringing decentralisation". 

He said the Panchayati Raj had a special place in late Rajiv Gandhi's vision of a modern India and the 73rd Constitutional amendment in 1993 on Panchayati Raj led to decentralisation of political powers, giving many powers to the Panchayats. 

There is greater transparency in implementation of government schemes at present due to social audit, he added. 

Gandhi said the Gram Sabhas should have power for social audit of all schemes and it has a special role in the monitoring of MNREGS. 

She said there was need to consider many options to strengthen the Panchayati Raj system. The meetings of Gram Sabhas should be held regularly and women and deprived sections must participate in them to place their views. 

Noting that the UPA government has taken many steps for the social and economic development of the common man, she said full benefits of these programmes will reach people only when the Panchayati Raj institutions in the country are strengthened. 

The UPA chairperson said the main purpose of Panchayati Raj is self-governance, which is the last stage of democracy to which "we all are committed." 

Gandhi and Singh also distributed the Annual PEAIS awards to the best performing states under the Panchayat Empowerment and Accountability Incentive Scheme. 

Maharashtra bagged the maximum number of awards. 

Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda personally received the award for his state. 

Minister of Panchayati Raj Vilasrao Deshmukh said the Gram Sabhas need to be strengthened on the lines of Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabha. 



Hazare movement could undermine democracy: Aiyar

Updated on Sunday, April 24, 2011, 23:30

New Delhi: The recent civil society movement triggered by Anna Hazare's anti-corruption campaign holds the danger of undermining democracy and its institutions, senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar said on Sunday. 

"Civil society's recent movement has not understood the malaise. Their recent movement carries the danger of undermining our democratic institutions and our democracy," Aiyar told reporters on the sidelines of a function here. 

"Civil society can and should agitate on issues but the resolution of issues can only take place in the institutions of democracy," he said.

Aiyar, a nominated member of Rajya Sabha, said, "If a politician is not allowed to enter Janta Mantar and anybody who says he has got the support of the people is described as a filthy dirty fellow and these noble people will never fight an election...then you are endangering democracy...They don't understand what they are doing is undermining democracy."

Aiyar's remarks came days after the government said it was keen to work with civil society members to draft a sound Lokpal bill despite controversies and yesterday's meeting of the activists led by Anna Hazare that decided that Justice Santosh Hegde, who had threatened to quit from the drafting committee, would continue as a member. 

Emphasising the need for inclusive growth in the country, Aiyar said, "That is the danger we are facing, if we have to preserve our democracy...we must recognise that inclusive governance is a critical pre-requisite for development.

Without inclusive growth, we will neither be able to sustain development nor promote democracy," he said.

Noting that without inclusive growth, high growth will cause deep social fissures that will aggravate inequalities in the society, he said, "Widening gap will lead to naxal problem and mindless anti-incumbency and like the recent atmosphere by the middle class in which the political class is being disrespected."