Current Events: India
Lok Sabha elections from April 16 to May 13
The model code of conduct has come into play
The general elections to the 15th Lok Sabha will be held in five phases, on April 16, 23 and
30, and May 7 and 13. A total of 714 million voters — an increase of 43 million over the
2004 elections — will elect 543 members. The counting of votes was scheduled for May 16
and the results would be announced the same day. The entire poll process would be
completed by May 28. With the announcement of the poll dates, the model code of conduct
comes into force with immediate effect.
The delimitation process, undertaken in all States except Jammu and Kashmir, Arunachal
Pradesh, Assam, Jharkhand, Manipur and Nagaland, has resulted in 499 constituencies being
redrawn. For the first time, photo electoral rolls will be used in 522 out of the 543
The Assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Sikkim will be held simultaneously
with the Lok Sabha poll. Polling will be held in 124 Lok Sabha constituencies on April 16; in
141 constituencies (including one in Manipur which will go to the polls on April 22) on April
23; in 107 constituencies on April 30; in 85 constituencies on May 7 and in 86 constituencies
on May 13.
While Jammu and Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh will have a five-day polling, it will be a fourday
event in Bihar and a three-day exercise in Maharashtra and West Bengal. The election
will be a two-day affair in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh,
Manipur, Orissa and Punjab. The remaining 15 States and seven Union Territories will
witness a one-day poll.
A polling booth in Gujarat's Gir forests will have just a single voter. The polling station is
located at Banej in Junagadh district's Gir forests, home to the Asiatic lion, Chief Election
Commissioner N. Gopalaswami told reporters while announcing the Lok Sabha polls
schedule. The lone voter is the priest of a temple there. There was only one voter from the
area in the Assembly elections late last year. Gujarat goes to the polls on April 30. In
Chhattisgarh, one polling station had just two voters while three booths in Arunachal Pradesh
had three voters each.
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Third front launched
Is likely to make a dent into the vote shares of the two national formations
CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan, CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat, JD(S) supremo
H.D. Deve Gowda and TDP president N. Chandrababu Naidu jointly launched the Third
Front at Dobbespet in Karnataka. The coalition of Left and major regional parties has vowed
to defeat the Congress-led UPA and the Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA in the Lok Sabha
elections to form the next government at the Centre.
The mammoth rally saw the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of
India, the Janata Dal (Secular), the Telugu Desam Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the All-
India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, the Revolutionary
Socialist Party, the Forward Bloc, and the Janhit Congress Party of the former Haryana Chief
Minister, Bhajan Lal, closing ranks against the Congress and the BJP.
The former Prime Minister and JD (S) supremo, H.D. Deve Gowda, who presided, said a
national policy document would be prepared soon and placed before the people.
A Third Front Government is dependent on the support of a larger party. Such fronts consist
of parties of somewhat similar clout and size but conflicting ambitions; thus by their very
composition they inject instability into the polity. Twice, Third Front governments (V.P.
Singh's in 1989 and Deve Gowda's in 1996) have been installed at the Centre and collapsed
well before their full tenure.
The Third Front could well turn out to be the spoilsport for the two national formations–
Congress led UPA and the BJP led NDA. A three-way division of votes would mean that
neither the UPA nor the NDA may be within easy reach of the halfway mark. What has set
alarm bells ringing in both the UPA and the NDA is that, this time round, their allies appear
shifty and unreliable. The NDA's ranks have already been depleted by defections, the latest
body blow being the departure of the BJD, an uncomplaining electoral partner for the last
Former bureaucrats, academics bat for probity in public life
Clean governance and politics now seems to be on everybody's agenda whether it is
NGOs or citizen bodies
Former bureaucrats and young professionals are jumping into the hurly-burly of politics, not
shying away from dirtying their hands. Last year, former Reserve Bank of India (RBI)
governor Bimal Jalan, who is also a Rajya Sabha MP, launched the Public Interest
Foundation (PIF), which is leading a campaign to ensure that criminals are kept out of
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Among his other associates were Suresh Neotia, former Ambassador to the US Naresh
Chandra, CII chief mentor Tarun Das, economist and consultant Arun Maira, industrialist
Harshvardhan Neotia, dramatist Shyamanand Jalan and retired IAS officer Anil Kumar.
According to PIF, one-fourth of candidates who stood in the previous Lok Sabha elections
(2004) had some criminal cases pending against them. "Raising levels of awareness in these
times of coalition governments is urgent. Today, five people in a Parliament of 545 can
decide what kind of government we have, and can influence policies. We can't allow people
with criminal records to decide the path the country takes," says Jalan.
Not that earlier political parties were clean, he says. "It is just that today's coalition politics is
seeing components grow smaller in size. If four or five people in a party of 30 were bad
earlier, it didn't matter so much but today a faction of five people can make or break a
government," he says. Jalan's foundation is going to bombard voters with information
through SMS on candidates in their constituencies. This he says could lead to voters thinking
twice before casting their vote, and parties thinking several times before nominating
Jalan is not alone in this clean India effort. Janagraha, a Bangalore-based NGO, has launched
a campaign named Jaago Re to ensure that more and more people cast their votes. Similarly,
leading public figures such as Tata Group Chairman Ratan Tata, E Sreedharan of Delhi
Metro, former Chief Vigilance Commissioner N Vittal and former Election Commissioner TS
Krishnamurthy joined hands last year to launch a platform called the Forum for Restoration
Another such forum is the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), which was founded
by a group of professors from the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A) and
National Institute of Design, besides some alumni of the IIM. The forum works towards
strengthening democracy and governance in the country by focusing on fair and transparent
electoral processes. Following a petition filed by ADR in the Supreme Court, the Election
Commission made it mandatory for candidates to declare their criminal records before
Vijay Mallya wins bid for Mahatma's artifacts
Navjivan Trust groping in the dark about the whereabouts of Gandhiji's memorabilia
Hours after high drama and frenzied bidding, Mahatma Gandhi's personal belongings were
bought for $1.8 million (Rs. 9.3 crore) by industrialist Vijay Mallya, who said he "bid for the
country" at the auction after last-ditch attempts by India to stall the sale fell through.
Mahatma Gandhi memorabilia were on sale at an auction in New York.
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Just before the auction, owner of the items, James Otis, said he would withdraw them but the
auction house did not agree. It argued that it could have a big liability if it allowed the items
to be taken off as more than 30 bidders had already registered for them and some had even
sent written bids.
Gandhiji's iconic items, including his glasses, sandals, pocket watch, plate and a bowl will
now remain in India. Gandhi memorabilia "automatically come under the ownership of
This is not the first time that the Government of India and the Navjivan Trust are involved in
a controversy over the auctioning of Mahatma Gandhi's belongings. The current James Otis
incident may not be the last time either.
"It is only when someone makes a claim of possessing Gandhiji's belongings and threatens to
auction them that we come to know about their existence. It is quite possible that some of his
belongings, original manuscripts of his letters and writings and other artifacts are being held
by someone somewhere in the world and may come up with the idea of auctioning them,"
said Jitendra Desai, the managing trustee of the Ahmedabad-based Navjivan Trust, set up by
the Mahatma in 1929.
It is only through Gandhi's will prepared on February 20, 1940, that the Navjivan Trust can
stake claim to the Father of the Nation's personal belongings. In his will Gandhi said he did
not believe that he had any property, but "anything which by social convention or in law is
considered mine, anything movable or immovable, books, articles etc. I endow to the
Navjivan Institution whom I hereby declare as my heirs."
Though the Navjivan Trust is mainly entrusted with the task of publishing Gandhi's writings,
Desai said the trust believes that according to his will, these artefacts like the ones possessed
by Otis and ready to be auctioned, "formed part of Gandhiji's property and automatically fell
in the Trust's ownership."
Desai, however, has no idea how these articles came into the possession of Otis. He is also
not sure whether all of them are originals. He said during his lifetime, Gandhi had gifted
many of his personal belongings to people close to him, who in turn might have "sold" or
"gifted them away" to some others.
Navjivan Trust, which is the trustee and custodian of all properties belonging to
Mahatma Gandhi, is a public trust created by the father of the nation along with
Mohanlal Maganlal Bhatta on November 26, 1929.
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EC pulls up Delhi, Union govt over advertisement
Asks them to recover the cost from personal accounts of those who released it
The Election Commission of India has taken a serious view of the full-page advertisement on
the Commonwealth Games that was placed in major newspapers recently and has asked the
Union and the State government to recover the cost from the personal accounts of those who
The Commission has sought the names of the officers who authorised the release of these
advertisements and details of the total expenditure incurred on them.
"The total cost of the advertisements should be recovered from the personal accounts of the
officers and persons responsible for the release of the advertisements," the letter said. Further,
according to the Commission, this is a clear violation of the Model Code of Conduct which
prohibits publication of the achievements of governments at the cost of the public exchequer.
The advertisement highlights the promise that the Games holds for Indians; listing the
infrastructural facilities that have come up in preparation for the 2010 event. The Election
Commission, officials said, took suo motu cognisance of the advertisement.
The advertisement does not indicate who placed it but clearly specifies that it has been issued
by the Organising Committee of the Commonwealth Games. The advertisement account of
the Games is with JWT – one of the two advertising companies selected to showcase the
Congress campaign for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
The Delhi unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party had earlier wrote to the Chief Election
Commissioner; drawing attention to the advertisement and alleging that the Delhi
government was trying to promote its achievements under the garb of the Commonwealth
Infosys chief mentor to be Amar Chitra Katha's comic book hero
Will be the first living person profiled by ACK Media
N R Narayana Murthy has several firsts to his credit. It's time to add one more: that of a
comic book hero. Murthy's life story is to be the content of a new comic to be brought out by
Amar Chitra Katha, the popular comic book series, making him the first living person to be
featured in the Amar Chitra Katha series, which mostly focuses on popular Indian myths and
legends. ACK Media, the publisher, will follow this up with stories of famous personalities
like cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and former Indian President and Bharat Ratna award winner,
APJ Abdul Kalam.
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This is the first time ACK Media will profile a living person in its history of around 40 years.
It is now planning to profile some of the personalities who have brought glory to the country.
"Like the classics, their stories will be a great source of inspiration to the younger
generation," said Amar Chitra Katha Editor-Emeritus Anant Pai.
The publisher has confirmed that it has sought Murthy's permission to publish his story. But
that shouldn't be difficult as Murthy, himself a comic book fan, told the media that "Amar
Chitra Katha has brought so much joy to children and parents alike by bringing alive the
epics and the biographies of heroes and legends of India to every drawing room. This is one
investment that my wife and I did not grudge making for our children".
Murthy, who founded Infosys Technologies in 1981, became a middle class hero for building
the country's second largest IT firm (in terms of revenues), creating job opportunities and
wealth for its over 100,000 employees. The chairman and chief mentor of Infosys had also
received numerous awards like the Padma Vibhushan and Padma Shri, apart from numerous
business awards and the Légion d'honneur (France's highest civilian award).
Physicists Homi Bhabha (hailed as the father of India's atomic energy programme and
Vikram Sarabhai (considered the father of the Indian space programme) are among others on
Amar Chitra Katha's list.
Amar Chitra Katha started publishing folk stories from the Panchatantra Tales (originally a
canonical collection of Sanskrit and Buddhist animal fables) and was published by India
Book House. ACK Media acquired it in 2007.
EC bans exit poll results till last phase
SC says the Election Commission has powers to ban exit poll/opinion poll results
Television channels, newspapers or any other media will not be able to release exit poll or
opinion poll results during the voting for 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Acting on a recent order
of the Supreme Court, the Election Commission has imposed restrictions on the
dissemination of such surveys.
The Supreme Court, in its order in January 2009, said the EC was eligible to ban exit polls
and opinion polls during elections. "The Election Commission is free to frame its guidelines
to regulate publication of exit polls," said a bench of Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and
Justice P Sathasivam on a petition seeking ban on such surveys. The commission has banned
opinion polls during the 48 hours before the end of the poll in case of a single-phase election.
In case of a multi-phase election, there is a blanket ban on exit polls till the last round of
polling is over.
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Last year, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had decided to ban these exit
and opinion polls and a legislation to this effect is pending in Parliament.
Last year, the Union Cabinet had approved a proposal to restrict publication of exit polls till
the end of the last phase of polling by an amendment to Section 126 (B) of the Representation
of People Act, 1951. The Bill for this purpose has already been passed by the Rajya Sabha
and is pending before the Lok Sabha.
According to the EC guidelines, electronic media includes government and private radio and
television channels, covering satellite, DTH, terrestrial and cable channels. Print media
includes dissemination through any newspaper, magazine, periodical, electronic media,
pamphlet, poster, placard, handbill or any other document.
Land acquisition bills lapse
Opposition from CPI (M) and BJP thwarted their passage in Parliament
Two Bills that would have empowered industry to buy land from farmers with government
help lapsed in Parliament yesterday — the last day of the 14th Lok Sabha, whose tenure was
marred by some violent disputes over acquisition of land for industry.
The Land Acquisition Act Amendment Bill and the Relief & Rehabilitation Bill — which
would have allowed industry to acquire 70% of the land needed directly from the farmers and
get the rest with the help of the government — lapsed as the Rajya Sabha failed to pass these
in the just concluded session of the Parliament.
The combined strength of the BJP and the CPI(M) thwarted the Bills in the Rajya Sabha. The
Bills, initially introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 7, 2007, and sent to a parliamentary
standing committee, came unstuck mainly on the issue of the definition of public purpose.
The Bills were also opposed for the clause that only those farmers who sold their land to the
government would be rehabilitated. The CPI(M) and the BJP stressed the point that they had
earlier raised in the standing committee — that a partnership between industry and
government could not be fair to the farmers.
CPI(M) MP Hannan Mollah, who was a part of the standing committee, which gave a series
of recommendations, said the Bills, in their present form, would have been anti-farmer.
According to him, when the government offers to buy 30% of the land needed for a project
on behalf of industry, the farmer is under pressure to sell to industry or take the price the
government offers. "So he (the farmer) is left with little choice," says Mollah.
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Both Bills moved from the standing committee to a Group of Ministers and were passed in
the Lok Sabha on February 25. When the Bills were sought to be introduced in the Rajya
Sabha, the CPI(M) members insisted that only the Bills listed by the Business Advisory
Committee of the Rajya Sabha be introduced. The two Bills were not listed as the agenda was
prepared when these had not been passed in the Lok Sabha. "The two have lapsed and
justifiably so," said CPI(M) MP, Prasanta Chatterji.
Infosys institutes prizes to honour outstanding scientists
Prof. Manindra Agarwal is the winner in mathematical sciences
Infosys Technologies has instituted prizes to honour outstanding Indian scientists in
mathematics, physical sciences (physics and chemistry), engineering sciences, life sciences
(biology and medicine) and social sciences. The annual prizes, of Rs. 50 lakh each, will be
awarded by the Infosys Science Foundation, a non-profit trust.
The Chief Mentor and Chairman of the Infosys Board, N.R. Narayana Murthy, said the award
would be funded by a corpus of Rs. 21.5 crore, which was raised through personal
contributions made by seven executive directors of the company. This would be
supplemented by an annual grant of Rs. 2 crore from the company.
Murthy said that though India had emerged as a "global player" in space and rocketry
sciences and in developing telecommunication technologies, "there is considerable need to
enhance the focus of higher education." He pointed out that only two Indian universities
figured in the top 100 universities of the world in 2007. In comparison, there were 34 from
Japan and 18 from China in the top 100.
Murthy said the prize, "the largest ever instituted in India, is a way of showing our respect to
Indian scientists." He hoped that this would "create a positive environment" for young
Indians to take to science. He hoped the prizes would "encourage Indian scientists to reach
The selection process would be stringent, Mr. Murthy said. The jury would include leading
scientists. The jury for the prize in mathematical sciences would be headed by Professor S.R.
Srinivasa Varadhan, winner of the Abel Prize, which is regarded the most prestigious
international prize in the field. The Foundation was finalising the jury for the other
The prize for mathematical sciences would be awarded to Manindra Agarwal, Professor of
Computer Science and Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur.
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India Today Woman Awards
The nine winners include badminton player Saina Nehwal
As many as nine woman achievers were presented with the India Today Woman Awards in
Mumbai recently. Tessy Thomas, project director, Agni II variant, DRDO, was declared the
Amway India Today Woman of the Year. Other winners and the categories in which they
Minal Vazirani, co-founder, SaffronArt–Business
Jyotsna Dhawan of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology–Science
Ashvini Yardi, programming head, Colors– Media
Anuja Chauhan–Storyteller award
Neelam Dhawan, managing director, HP India–Corporate world
Rohini Nilekani, founder chairperson, Arghyam–Public service
Baba Ramdev takes to entrepreneurship
The Yoga Guru plans to set up food-park based on organic farming products
Yoga teacher Baba Ramdev is now getting ready to display his entrepreneur skills. Focusing
on organic farming, the yoga guru has decided to set up a mega food park in Uttarakhand
with an initial investment of over Rs 200 crore.
Baba Ramdev's Haridwar-based cash-rich Patanjali Yogpeeth will be the main agency for
funding this project. Factories, related to organic, herbal and other agriculture products, will
be set up in the food park. The foundation stone ceremony of the food park was held in
February. The Patanjali Yogpeeth has already identified 90 acres of land at Padartha area in
Haridwar district where the food park will be established.
"Through this endeavour, we will be procuring agricultural produce directly from farmers,
giving them all their dues in Uttarakhand and other areas," said Acharya Balakrishnan,
managing director, Patanjali Food and Herbal Park, the special purpose vehicle for the food
park. A total investment of Rs 500 crore is expected in the food park.
The Union government Centre has proposed to set up 10 mega food parks under the Eleventh
Five-year plan. Each food park will have 20 units, which are expected to attract an
investment of Rs 250 crore.
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Already, several herbal products made at Patanjali Yogpeeth are popular in the market. In the
proposed food park at Padartha, Baba Ramdev will also offer various juices from different
vegetables and fruit like carrot and papaya. A factory for bio-diesel from jatropha has also
been proposed in the food park.
Grain output to decline in 2008-09
Kharif output was poor as the monsoon was delayed in a number of states
The country's grain output in 2008-09 is estimated at 227.88 million tonnes, according to the
second advance estimate released today, down 1.26 per cent from the previous year's final
estimate of 230.78 million tonnes. The dip can be attributed to poor kharif output as the
monsoon was delayed in a number of states.
The kharif grain output is estimated to have declined 2.48 per cent to 117.96 million tonnes
while the rabi grain output has remained flat at 109.92 million tonnes. Output has declined
mainly in kharif pulses and coarse cereals while a marginal dip has been projected in the rabi
However, rice production is estimated at an all-time high of 98.89 million tonnes. The wheat
output of 77.78 million tonnes is also the second best.