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Tuesday, 3 February 2015

From Today's Papers - 03 Feb 2015

Ministry to review withdrawal of toll exemption to Army men
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, February 2
The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MRTH) will re-examine the issue of the withdrawal of toll tax exemption to serving defence personnel after a section of veterans contended that the move was illegal and based on incorrect advice by departmental officials.

According to sources, the MRTH has sought comments on the issue from the Ministry of Defence and Army Headquarters, following which the further course of action will be decided.

MRTH had issued a circular a few months ago stating that serving armed forces personnel would not be eligible for toll exemption while travelling in their private vehicles.

The Services community had raised objections over it, pointing out that the circular was in contravention of the provisions of the Indian Tolls (Army & Air Force) Act, 1901, and also against the clarification issued by the same _ministry in 2003 in consequence of a legal case.

According to the Act, all serving armed forces personnel are exempt from paying toll whether travelling on duty or not and whether in a government vehicle or a private vehicle.

The purpose behind the Act was to facilitate frequent movement of defence personnel and their families across the country. Some legal experts opine that since the toll exemption is granted through a legislative Act, its provisions cannot be overridden by way of an executive order.

Toll exemption to defence personnel has been a long and contentious issue, with many toll operators in the past refusing to abide by the guidelines. The matter was settled after lengthy legal adjudication _with the Supreme Court finally affirming the provisions of the Act.
Army copter crashes, pilots escape unhurt

Kohima/Kolkata, February 2
A Cheetah helicopter of the Army crashed today seconds after taking off from Rangapahar helipad in Nagaland’s Dimapur district, with the two pilots and an Army official on board escaping unhurt.

The Army aviation chopper was on a routine sortie when it crashed nose down from a height of about 10-12 feet on the ground at 9.30 AM, Defence PRO in Shillong, Amit Mahajan said. Defence PRO in Kohima Lt Col Emron Musavi said there were two pilots and an Army official in the helicopter but none was injured in the crash. Mahajan said the helicopter was damaged in the crash. A probe has been ordered into the incident, he said. — PTI
India-piloted terror resolution gets China, Russia backing
Sandeep Dikshit in Beijing

February 2
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Monday said her counterparts from Russia and China had understood the need for endorsing an India-piloted resolution in the United Nations (UN) to crack down on terrorism regardless of its underlying causes.

The resolution — the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) — has been pending at the UN for 19 years because of its wide-ranging definition of terrorism.

India had proposed the resolution in 1996 against the backdrop of Pakistan supporting Kashmir militancy with the avowed claim of backing its people in their fight for self-determination.

Sushma Swaraj said her first attendance at the Russia-India-China (RIC) meeting was successful on several other counts such as backing for India's membership to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum, both pending for a long time.

India wants to join APEC, consisting of major economic powers like the US, Japan and China, but its membership was on hold. The issue didn't appear clinched because RIC will have a special meeting on this later. SCO too hasn't added new members and plans to include Pakistan, Iran and Mongolia besides India. Its next meeting at Ufa in Russia may see the long-awaited expansion. It could then play a bigger role in Afghanistan because all existing members -- Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia and China -- and potential ones fear a spill over if the situation deteriorates in Kabul and the Islamic State extends its reach there. The RIC joint communiqué, however, fell short of endorsing India's permanent membership in the UNSC. At one-to-one summit meetings, Russia (and the US, France and Britain) have endorsed India's candidature but the fifth permanent member China has not been equivocal.

This is because India is trying to enter the UNSC along with Japan, Germany, Brazil and South Africa. China is opposed to Japan making the cut on the basis of this package deal and hence doesn't support India's membership too.

The RIC communiqué had sections that provided cheer to India such as opposing "terrorism in all its forms and manifestations committed by whomever, wherever, and for whatever purposes" and "the need for all countries to join efforts in combating terrorism under the UN.”
17 Punjab MLAs meet Rahul, most for change of guard
Aditi Tandon

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 2
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi today signalled an overhaul of the Punjab unit as he met 17 party MLAs from the state and sought their view over strengthening the party unit.

Two separate meetings that lasted around an hour each (the first with nine Dalit MLAs and the second with eight general category legislators) saw most leaders favouring an immediate resolution of the Punjab leadership tussle between incumbent Pradesh Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa and former Chief Minister and Amritsar MP Capt Amarinder Singh.

The Tribune has learnt that most legislators spoke of the need to replace the incumbent chief and bring Captain Amarinder Singh to lead the party in the face of a rising challenge from the BJP.

The eight legislators from the general category who met Rahul comprised Partap Bajwa’s wife Charanjit Kaur Bajwa from Qadia segment. A source said she was present when most leaders stressed the need for bringing in a “strong leader” to counter the rising BJP, which is winning in the name of PM Narendra Modi.

“We spoke of the need to wake up to the relevance of personality based politics. Most MLAs mentioned how the BJP and AAP were seeking votes in the name of strong leaders such as Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal. We need one such leader, we said. And Capt Amarinder Singh is a clear choice,” said an MLA who attended the meeting.

The group of Dalit MLAs is also learnt to have spoken in favour of Captain as their leader, leaving the final decision to the leadership.

This group also said the top three positions in Punjab Congress — state unit president; Congress Legislature Party leader and head of complaints committee — must have a Jat, Dalit and Hindu face.

SC legislators reminded Rahul of 2002 when the party cruised to victory with Capt Amarinder, a Jat, as the state unit chief and a Dalit face as the CLP leader. Rahul did not say anything at the two meetings and only listened to the MLAs on ways to strengthen the party enough to win the 2017 elections, win back Dalit votes and galvanise workers.

Sources said he wanted to script Congress’ resurrection in Punjab by winning it and “realised that balances needed to be struck”. Congress leaders said while Rahul’s meeting with MLAs today was a clear indication of an impending overhaul in the state unit and a change of leadership.
China mustn’t feel wary of Indo-US ties, says Obama
Washington, February 2
President Barack Obama has said there are undoubtedly “aspects of India” that make US closer to India but China doesn’t need to be “threatened” because Washington has good relations with New Delhi. The US President, however, cautioned the Communist giant against “bullying” small nations such as Vietnam or the Philippines on maritime issues.

On Obama’s visit to India, China’s state-run media had said India must not fall into the trap of rivalry set by the West to support the US’ “pivot to Asia” strategy, mainly devised to counter the Communist nation’s rise.

“I was surprised when I heard that the Chinese Government had put out these statements... China doesn’t need to be threatened because we have good relations with India,” Obama said in his first comments on China’s reaction to his unprecedented second visit to India as President.

Obama referred to his November visit to China and said he had some very successful meetings with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

“My belief is that in this moment in history, there’s an opportunity to create a win-win formula in which all countries are abiding by a common set of rules and standards and we’re focused on lifting up prosperity for our people, not at the expense of others, but together with each other. That’s what my discussions with Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi have focused on,” Obama told a US news channel.

He said he had continuously emphasised that it was very much in the US interest to see a peaceful rise of China.

“What’s dangerous for us is a destabilised and impoverished and disintegrating China. It’s much better for us if China is doing well,” he said in the interview, which was recorded in New Delhi during his three-day India trip.

“But what we’ve said since the start of my term in office is China’s growth shouldn’t be at the expense of other folks. It shouldn't bully small countries such as Vietnam or Philippines around maritime issues, but try to resolve those peacefully in accordance with international law. It shouldn’t manipulate its currencies to get itself trading advantages that others don't have,” Obama said. — Agencies
Rebels pound Ukrainian troops
Military, civilian deaths pile up in renewed fighting | Separatists announce mobilisation
Yenakieve, February 2
Separatist rockets streaked across hills in eastern Ukraine on Monday as rebels pounded the positions of Ukrainian government troops holding a strategic rail town while both sides pressed ahead with mobilising more forces for combat.

Kiev’s military said five more Ukrainian soldiers were killed in clashes while municipal authorities in the big rebel-controlled city of Donetsk said 15 civilians were killed at the weekend by shelling in a surge of violence following the collapse of a new peace effort on Saturday.

Talks between Ukraine, Russia and rebel officials in Minsk, Belarus, had raised hopes of a new ceasefire to stem the violence in a conflict which has claimed more than 5,000 lives. But they broke up without progress with Ukraine and the separatists accusing each other of sabotaging the meeting.

Donetsk reverberated to the thud of artillery and mortar fire through the night and several homes were destroyed with at least one civilian death on Monday.

But separatists kept up attacks on Debaltseve, a strategic rail hub to the northeast of Donetsk, in an attempt to dislodge government forces there.

The outskirts of Yenakieve and Vuhlegirsk, both on the main highway to Debaltseve, were under heavy artillery fire as rebel multiple rocket launchers and artillery pummelled the positions of Ukrainian troops in the area.

At one point, a salvo of around three dozen rockets fired from rebel positions screamed across surrounding hills towards Debaltseve. It was followed 15 minutes later by incoming fire from government forces.

“The toughest situation is around Debaltseve where the illegal armed formations are continuing to storm the positions of Ukrainian military,” military spokesman Andriy Lutsenko told a briefing. But he said Ukraine’s forces in the town were enough to hold it and he denied government forces were encircled.

The separatist rebellion erupted last April after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea in response the ousting of a Moscow-back president by street protests in Kiev which ushered in a government committed to integration with Europe.

Moscow denies it has any regular troops in Ukraine despite what the West and Kiev say is incontrovertible proof.

In a street on Yenakieve outskirts, a shell landed directly onto a 3rd floor apartment of a nine-storey building, instantly killing a woman and wounding her husband.

“We had to climb across the balcony to evacuate the man, and we left her lying in the rubble. She was picked up later by a sanitary team,” said Anatoly Pomazanov, 42, who owns a grocery shop in the building.

“It is like this every day. The shelling is incessant. We keep children in cellars. We let them out only during lulls in shelling, for about 30 minutes at most. I want to ask President Poroshenko: are we also Ukrainians or simply targets?” Several residents were seen loading bags in cars and hastily leaving the neighbourhood.

Natalya, 68, who with her daughter lives in an apartment a floor below the one destroyed was weeping. “Tell me what do I do now? This is all I had, the soldiers are two kilometres away, there are no targets here.”

Dmytro Boichuk, 78, a retired miner said people were already immune to the shelling. “We are numb. We go about our businesses. Someone gets killed, someone gets wounded, but we carry on.” — Reuters
India conducts first canister-based trial of Agni-V ballistic missile
The Indian Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has successfully conducted the first canister-based trial of the Agni-V intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Wheeler Island off the Odisha coast.

Launched from a canister mounted on a road-mobile launcher from the integrated test range's launch complex-IV, the nuclear-capable missile climbed to a height of more than 600km in its parabolic trajectory and accurately hit the designated target point in the Indian Ocean after 20 minutes.

The missile's parameters were monitored by radars and electro-optical systems, while the ships located in mid-range and at the target point tracked the vehicle and witnessed the final event.

DRDO Missiles and Strategic Systems director general and Agni programme mission director Dr VG Sekaran said: "All mission objectives have been achieved, down-range ships have confirmed final splashdown, the mission is a great success and it is a momentous occasion."

DRDO director general and department of defence research and development director defence secretary scientific adviser Dr Avinash Chander said: "It is India's first ever ICBM launch from a canister and is a giant leap in country's deterrence capability."

The road-mobile canister-version will enable Agni-V to be fired from stop-to-launch within a few minutes and ensure higher reliability, longer shelf-life and reduced maintenance.

In addition, it is expected to provide the Indian armed forces with the operational flexibility to swiftly transport and fire the missile from their preferred locations, The Times of India reported.

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