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  National News
 Kejriwal, cabinet to take oath today in history making event

NEW DELHI, December 27:  The stage is set for a new and exciting chapter in India’s political history to unfold here as Aam Admi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal, who stunned everyone with his party’s electoral success, will take oath as Delhi’s seventh chief minister along with six ministers at the Ramlila Maidan on Saturday.

The sprawling Ramlila Maidan, lying between Old and New Delhi, that is been the venue of many a historic political rally in the past six decades, will provide the unlikely setting for Saturday afternoon’s swearing–in ceremony that will see the activist–turned–political debutant storm into political power on the back of a campaign that became the cynosure of not just the country but the world.

Ramlila Maidan was the venue where anti–corruption campaigner Anna Hazare fasted for 12 days in 2011 to press for an anti–graft Jan Lokpal bill, with Kejriwal by his side. Kejriwal fell out with Hazare since he formed the Aam Aadmi Party in November last year to take the power route to fight graft, but has invited the Gandhian for the oath–taking ceremony amid doubts over his attendance.

The AAP has also invited former Supreme Court judge Santosh Hegde and former police officer Kiran Bedi, who were with Kejriwal in 2011, for the ceremony.

Kejriwal, 45, will be sworn in by Lt. Governor Najeeb Jung at a function expected to draw tens of thousands of supporters and citizens of Delhi who have a lot of expectations from him.

The proposed ministers are former journalists Manish Sisodia, 41, and Rakhi Birla, 26, former lawyers Saurabh Bharadwaj, 34, and Somnath Bharti, 39, architect Satyendra Jain, 49, and businessman Girish Soni, 49.

A woman, Birla will be one of the youngest ministers in India.

Kejriwal has pledged to pass a Jan Lokpal bill within 15 days of taking office to battle corruption. Slashing power tariff by half and providing 700 litres of water per day to needy households are among the key promises made by the AAP.

Kejriwal, who won the Magsaysay award in 2006 for “emergent leadership”, said he, his ministers and lawmakers would take the Metro train ride to reach Ramlila Maidan.

“I will travel by Metro for the oath taking ceremony,” Kejriwal told the media in a posturing that sets him apart. His wife Sunita, an Indian Revenue Service officer like him before he became a campaigner and then a politician, and his two children – a daughter and a son – will accompany him.

Kejriwal, who said everyone was welcome at the swearing–in ceremony, appealed to people to use public transport.

It will be a minority government –– the AAP won only 28 seats in the 70–member assembly –– and will depend on the backing of the eight legislators of the Congress, which was voted out after 15 years of uninterrupted rule.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, which despite being the largest single party refused to form a government, will be the main opposition with 31 members.

The Congress said it is supporting AAP so it can fulfil its poll promises, and has clarified it will continue to prop up the AAP.

Born in Haryana and now residing at Kaushambi adjoining Delhi, Kejriwal, an IIT Kharagpur graduate in mechanical engineering, has refused security and also an official bungalow allotted to the chief minister.

Delhi Police have laid out an elaborate security cover for the event.

The Delhi administration has provided around 25,000 chairs at the Ramlila Maidan which can accommodate around 50,000 people if they stand. But AAP has said it will not have a “VIP enclosure” and even Kejriwal’s parents will be seated with the audience below the canopied concrete podium. (IANS)


 Ghost joyriders leave me totally unspooked

The Funny Side

In these busy times, we all have so many things on our minds that we constantly mislay our important possessions, such as keys, phones and railway trains. Well, trains maybe not so often.

But such was the case at a Sri Lanka rail yard recently when a staff member misplaced his train. His colleagues said they hadn’t seen it. So he called his bosses.

Horrified, bosses ordered staff to phone everyone they could think of to ask possibly the most embarrassing question ever. “Er, I’m calling from Sri Lanka Railways. Just wondering if anybody has seen a train? It’s a big, heavy metal thing with lots of wheels.”

The humiliating calls eventually paid off. An unscheduled “ghost train” had been spotted heading for the city centre, 12 km away. Leaping into a fast vehicle, staff members managed to catch up, and then pounced on board to halt it.

I know what you’re thinking. Didn’t you just see this in a Hollywood movie? Yes, this is the exact plot of Unstoppable, the only difference being that in real life there was no incidental music and the heroes did not get hugged by gorgeous female movie stars when they climbed off the train. Or maybe they did. You never know in Sri Lanka.

But here’s where it gets interesting. You’d have thought the brakes had been left off, right? But technicians said no, the engine had been switched on, indicating that the ghost train had had a ghost train driver. Then reporters found a 1913 newspaper about a ghost train mysteriously leaving the same station, on the same track 100 years earlier on the same day, at the same time.

As a result the most believable theory now is that a ghost train driver visits that particular line and steals a train once a century. This is so convincing that I’ll bet on it, and if I’m wrong, I’ll pay you CASH. (Just come and see me in 100 years’ time with full documentation.)

The same week, there was a viral video going around about a driverless car speeding along a highway in the US state of Utah. Cops eventually worked out that a motorist in a car crash had left his seat, thinking the car was going to blow up, but it merely proceeded on its merry way for several miles. A CNN report noted that the “ghost” car “drove better than most Utah drivers”.

I remember some years ago reporting about a “ghost train” going by itself on a 45 kilometre journey starting in Bogor, Indonesia. The empty drivers’ cabin was locked from the inside. At the time, railway officials sneered at the “ghost train driver” theory as ridiculous superstition, preferring the theory that a Hindu god had materialized, gone for a drive, and then dematerialized. Much more scientific, one has to agree.

Personally, I usually don’t believe in ghosts, preferring the theory that “dumb” inanimate objects, such as trains, rocks and members of nationalist political parties occasionally manifest signs that make other people mistake them for thinking, breathing, sentient beings. But of course they don’t really have any sort of innate intelligence.

Well, some of the rocks, maybe. (IANS)


 Is Kejriwal’s water promise a mirage? Or can he deliver?

New Delhi, December 27:  Is Arvind Kejriwal’s promise of free daily supply of 700 litres of water to around 2.7 million households a tall promise or is it a pledge that he can deliver upon, given the ground situation about what is considered a scarce resource in a water–starved city of 18 million people?

AAP founder leader Arvind Kejriwal said on  Wednesday that within 24 hours of becoming the chief minister of Delhi Dec 28 “we are promising to make 700 litres of water free for each family for which only an executive order is needed”.

But what is now abundantly clear is that the free water promise is only for that segment of population – 80 percent of Delhi – who are beneficiaries of piped water from Delhi Jal Board. But for millions of people who are beyond the pale of piped water supply – which is about 20 percent of Delhi – the promise of water may still have to wait. This means that out of 3.3 million households in the capital, only 2.7 million families who get piped water will be benefited, according to Delhi Jal Board officials.

Delhi needs around 1,100 million gallons of water a day but DJB claims it can supply only 835 million gallons. So the shortfall of 265 million gallons is met through water tankers run by private contractors in collusion with influential people who Kejriwal has termed as “water mafia”.

According to S.A. Naqvi, convenor of NGO Citizen’s Front for Water Democracy, the promise is not at all that tall and can be implemented.

“Around 10 million people get piped water from Delhi Jal Board which has an estimate daily availability of 3.8 billion litres. If we calculate the above figure a family of five can get 2,000 litres of water,” he said.

Some have argued that the promise may hurt the body’s revenues but Naqvi begged to differ.

“Despite only 45 percent of the DJB consumers paying their water bills, the body has an estimated annual profit in excess of Rs.400 crore,” Naqvi explains quoting calculations made by the NGO from DJB statistics. Water crisis in the capital reaches its peak every summer leaving millions of people thirsty — and the government blames it on the 40 percent leakage of water through DJB pipelines. (IANS)


 Congress serious about fighting corruption: Rahul

NEW DELHI, December 27:  Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi on Friday said his party “is serious about fighting corruption” and urged the opposition to help the government pass the anti–graft bills pending in parliament.

“It’s about a system. The Congress party is serious about it (fighting corruption). Let us have a session and pass the (pending) bills together,” Gandhi said at a news conference after the party discussed ways to curb corruption and price rise with 11 Congress chief ministers here.

“The Lokpal bill is one step. If we want to fight corruption, we need a framework not only at the national level but at the state level,” he said.

“But there is silence from the other side,” he said referring to the opposition parties, adding: “We are blocked in the parliament again and again.”

Parliament recently passed the historic Lokpal bill amid din to deal with corruption in high places in the winter session which ended Dec 18.

Noting that price rise was a concern, Gandhi said price of fruits and vegetable was “the main issue”.

Corruption charges against the UPA government in the past years and high price rise were listed as reasons behind the Congress rout in recent assembly polls. (IANS)


 Activists to file PIL seeking telecast of Taslima serial

KOLKATA, December 27:  Accusing the West Bengal government of forcing abandonment of the telecast of a serial based on controversial author Taslima Nasreen’s writings, a section of intellectuals and rights activists on Friday said they would file a PIL seeking immediate broadcast of the programme.

“Dusahobas” was scheduled to be screened  Monday to Saturday on Aakash Aath from December 19, but the channel pulled out in the last minute after some minority religious groups objected to its screening.

Quoting a letter written by channel producer Ishita Surana to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, right activist Sujato Bhadra said the channel was forced to axe the screening following threats of police action as well as vandalism by religious groups.

“How can a serial which has obtained a censor certificate be forced to be withdrawn? Surana in her letter has written that she was forced to do so because a senior police officer threatened action if the serial was telecast and anything untoward happened,” said Bhadra.

Eminent litterateurs including Mahasweta Devi, Shankha Ghosh and Joy Goswami issued statements dubbing the axing of the telecast as a direct assault on a writer’s freedom of speech and expression and demanded the serial be immediately allowed to be telecast.

Bhadra said Concerned Citizens for Freedom of Expression – a forum of activists and intellectuals – was in discussion with legal experts about filing a PIL against the abandonment of the telecast.

“The state government is aware that it has no legal basis to stop the telecast. So it has chosen other avenues and forced the channel to take this step. After being banned, the Supreme Court had allowed the telecast of Govind Nihalani–directed Tamas. So we are planning to file a PIL,” said Bhadra.

Accusing the Mamata Banerjee government of conceding ground to communal sentiments for the sake of vote banks, women’s rights activist Saswati Ghosh said banning of the serial was a further blot to the city which had earlier driven out the exiled Bangladeshi author.

Exiled from Bangladesh in 1994 for "hurting religious sentiments" with her novel "Lajja", Nasreen took refuge in the city in 2004. But after violent protests in the city November 2007, the erstwhile Left Front government whisked her away to New Delhi where she has been residing since then. (IANS)


 A noble cause shall always have my endorsement: Big B on Thackeray

MUMBAI, December 27:  There was a lot of speculation this week over Amitabh Bachchan’s supposed patch–up with Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray, but the Hindi film megastar says that he attended the function for the benefit of the unsung heroes of the filmdom.

Big B and Thackeray apparently had a fall–out after the latter accused the megastar of becoming the “brand ambassador” of Uttar Pradesh. In a later incident, when Jaya Bachchan at a music function had expressed her comfort level with the Hindi language instead of Marathi, Thackeray had made scathing comments on her linguistic preference.

Now five years later, Big B and Raj Thackeray came together for a function Monday to commemorate seven years of MNS’s movie industry wing – Maharashtra Navnirman Chitrapat Karmachari Sena (MNCKS) – at the Shanmukhanand Hall in central Mumbai.

After the function, Samajwadi Party MLA Abu Azmi alleged that Amitabh sharing the dais with Thackeray was an "insult" to north Indians.

Speaking on the supposed rapprochement, Big B said: “I attended a function that paid respect to the hitherto–neglected faces of the film industry, the workers! Very little is ever known about them. The world never sees them or is aware of their contribution. They work tirelessly behind the scenes and are responsible in equal measure for the final outcome of any of our products.”

The Big B said he welcomes any effort to better the financial conditions of the film industry’s work force.

“In a profession as fickle as ours, the security that these workers need for their future is something that requires attention. Many efforts have been made in the past by both institutions and individuals. Any design to take greater care for them is always welcome. The MNCKS has put together an instrument of insurance for these workers. Such a noble cause shall always have my endorsement,” said the 71–year–old. (IANS)


 Differently abled not a vote bank: Rights activists

NEW DELHI, December 27:  Expressing dismay over the inordinate delay in introducing the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPwD) Bill in parliament, differently–abled rights activists on Friday said the political class does not see them as a vote bank.

“We have been let down. Why did the government not take this bill as seriously as the Jan Lokpal bill? Why couldn’t the political class show the same kind of will for this bill? It shows it is all about vote bank, and they still don’t see the 70 million Indians with disabilities as one,” said Disabled Rights Group (DRG) convener Javed Abidi.

He was speaking at an event organised by DRG and National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NRPD) that unveiled the strategy of the differently abled rights groups for pushing the bill in parliament.

“Four years of effort that went into drafting the bill, approved by the cabinet December 12, has gone down the drain with parliament adjourned sine die. Had it been in session for two more days, the bill would have at least got tabled, if not passed,” the activist said.

In the draft Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2012, the definition of “disability” includes more categories.

Abidi added the rights of the differently–abled people in India have been vastly neglected.

“One of the major reasons for this is that we did not have a rights–based approach, and never looked at rights of people with disabilities,” Abidi said.

The bill also prescribes more punishment than contained in the Indian Penal Code for offences against persons with disabilities, especially differently abled women and children.

“The current bill includes disabilities like autism. It looks at the rights of each differently abled person. Like us, even they have the right to take their decisions,” said Action For Autism director Merry Barua.

She said, “If parliament does not take it up now, with elections scheduled next year, it will get lost.”

Sharing their plans, Abidi said they have been approaching all major political parties to garner support, as the cause of disability is a non–political issue.

“As a mark of protest and to exert pressure on the political leadership, disability rights activists will hold a candle light vigil in various parts of the country while the entire world would be celebrating New Year’s eve,” he said.

In Delhi, the vigil will be held outside the house of Vice President Hamid Ansari from 5 p.m. till 12 a.m. “This is because he (Ansari) is the chairman and the custodian of the Rajya Sabha,” Abidi said. (IANS)


 Queer poems about desire and longing

NEW DELHI, December 27:  My poems trace a journey of years of silence and repression, and experience of coming out of closet and finding love, says gay–rights activist Shaleen Rakesh on his collection of poems that are a reflection of his personal life.

“The Lion and the Antler” is a compilation of over 100 small poems about solitude, beginning of a love affair, internal conflicts, acceptance and longing.

“These poems are a record of different phases of my life. From my early depressing period where I was struggling with my identity and yearning to do something... to a phase where I started talking openly about desire,” Rakesh, who works as director at HIV/AIDS Alliance, said .

“Unfortunately, your expression of desire is always feared,” he added.

As the 43–year–old has chosen poems over prose, he sees this medium offering a broader canvas for expressing emotions.

“Poetry allows me to be abstract or concrete. It gives a broader landscape and a larger picture. It depends how you see it,” he said. He to is disappointed with the Supreme Court’s judgment upholding Section 377 of the India Penal Court that criminalises same–gender sexual relations.

He fears people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community won’t come out of closet.

“There is no secret here. We are still struggling to find acceptance amongst mainstream people. This is why people fear to come out, such is the stigma,” he said.

“No one from Bollywood or fashion industry has come out and accepted their sexuality. It is just a few of us doing it, we need more voice,” he added. Rakesh doesn’t shy away from mentioning how the poem “The Beginning” is based on his “first love”.

“It was a special experience to meet my partner at Connaught Place. It was like flowering of a dream or a desire. Love is beautiful, so why shy away from admitting it?” he said. (IANS)


 Shashi Tharoor awarded for working towards animal protection

NEW DELHI, December 27: Minister of State for Human Resource Development Shashi Tharoor has been awarded by PETA–India for his contribution to the protection of animals, the animal rights body said on Friday.

According to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India, Tharoor has been instrumental in encouraging the director of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) to examine PETA’s Central Board of Secondary Education–approved programme for inclusion into its textbooks.

“We are thankful to minister Tharoor for his work and for recognising that animals deserve kindness and consideration,” said Poorva Joshipura, PETA India chief executive officer in a statement here.

Tharoor had also a written a letter to union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and urged him to implement methods of teaching in medical courses that do not harm animals.

In 2012, the ministry of environment and forests issued a directive instructing all the institutes and establishments associated with teaching of medical, pharmacy and other graduate and postgraduate courses in life sciences to follow the guidelines for discontinuation of dissection and animal experimentation.

“The use of animal dissection in teaching at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels is completely avoidable, and the University Grants Commission has already taken up the matter with universities that are teaching life sciences,” said Tharoor. (IANS)


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