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5 Oct, 2007

India Launches Buddhist Pilgrimage Train

The Indian Railway Catering & Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) has introduced ‘Mahaparinirvan’, a special train for the Buddhist Pilgrimage.

In this dispatch:










[Editor’s Note: In order to prevent any inaccuracy, all numbers in the following are being retained in their original Indian reporting format. One crore is 10,000,000, and one lakh is 100,000. Pls use www.xe.com for conversion]


Thursday, October 04, 2007 — The Indian Railway Catering & Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), a Public Sector Undertaking under the Ministry of Railways, has introduced a ‘Mahaparinirvan’ special train for the Buddhist Pilgrimage from India and abroad particularly from the South Asian countries. The first run of this special train will be flagged off from Safdarjung Railway Station, New Delhi, on 6 October 2007.

The eight-day journey covers Gaya, Rajgir-Nalanda, Varanasi, Gorkhpur, Kushinagar, Lumbani in Nepal, Gonda, Agra and back to Delhi. The fare from October 2007 to March 2008 will be US$150, US$105 and US$88 for 1st AC, 2nd AC and 3rd AC respectively for per person per night on twin sharing basis. In other words, the total individual fair for seven days will be US$1050, US$735 and US$616 respectively.

Tariff includes all the comforts of Rajdhani Express Air Conditioned train, which includes train journey, onboard/off board catering, house keeping, road transfer by AC vehicles, sightseeing, Darshan, visit to holy places, hotel stay in AC rooms and entrance fee at monuments. Indian passengers can pay in equivalent Rupee (INR) amount, at the exchange rate prevalent at the time of payment.

For information and booking, one can contact Email: tourticket@irctc.co.in or Market Office of IRCTC, 2nd Floor, STC Building, Jawahar Vyapar Bhawan, 1-Tolstoy Marg, New Delhi-110001. Tel./Fax: 011-23701174, 23701145-47.



Tuesday, October 02, 2007 – India celebrated the 138th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi on Oct 2, an event that gained additional importance as it also marked the first commemoration of the new U.N. International Day of Non-Violence. Speaking on the occasion, Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh said Mahatma Gandhi’s message was not just for India. “Nor was it just for the times he lived in. Mahatma Gandhi’s message of love and peace, of non-violence and satyagraha, of the equality of all peoples, of harmony between all religions, is a universal message. It is a message for all times, for all societies and for all peoples.” Excerpts from his address:

“We in India are proud and grateful that the international community has declared this day as the International Day of Non-Violence. This unanimous decision of the United Nations General Assembly originates in a declaration of the International Conference on Peace, Non-violence and Empowerment: The Gandhian Philosophy in the 21st Century, a conference which was convened by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and that met some months ago in New Delhi. This conference, commemorating the centenary of the Satyagraha Movement launched by Gandhiji, underscored the universal relevance of Mahatma Gandhi’s message of non-violence and the fight for truth.

“Gandhiji’s message is more important today than ever before since nations across the world continue to grapple with the threat of conflict, violence and terrorism. For as long as there is temptation to resort to violence in the human mind, the Mahatma’s message of non-violence will tug at our hearts.

“Many ‘isms’ have battled for our minds over this past century, but few have succeeded in touching our hearts. Many political ideologies, and movements based on them, have come and gone. Some with doubtful legacies and others with terrible consequences. Gandhiji’s philosophy has stood the test of time, and I believe will continue to do so, as long as humankind seeks peace and equality of all people.

“The universal relevance of Mahatma Gandhi’s message of non-violence has been under-scored time and again by the life and teaching of great men of peace in our lifetime such as Martin Luther King Jr and Dr. Nelson Mandela. Wherever and whenever injustice is redressed and freedom won through peaceful means, Gandhiji will always be remembered.

“The key words we associate with (the Mahatma) are tolerance, truth, transparency, non-violence and self-respect. There is a permanence in these principles and values that transcends and unites humankind. Gandhiji had abiding regard for the dignity of labour. He showed the meek the power they could conjure up from within themselves and all it needs is the courage to silently but surely keep faith and act with courage and with purpose.

Gandhiji gave practical shape to his beliefs in a given historical and social context. Be it in England, be it in South Africa, be it in India – he applied his ideas to concrete situations. He practiced what he preached. He cared for the poorest of the poor, the weakest of the weak.

This, and the idea of communal harmony and non-violence, are the central ideas of Gandhiji that continue to have great relevance even for our present troubled age. I hope on this day the world community will re-discover the relevance of the eternal message of the Mahatma for all humanity. As long as there is strife and injustice, as long as there is inequality and indignity in the human condition, as long as there is pain and suffering, as long as there is violence and hatred, the ideas and ideals of Mahatma Gandhi will resonate and find followers everywhere.

The greatest scientist of the 20th Century, Albert Einstein, said of Gandhiji, ‘Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.’ The fact that the international community has today come to observe this day as the International Day of Non-Violence, in memory of Mahatma Gandhi, should ensure that generations to come would never forget the eternal message of the Mahatma.”



Tuesday, October 02, 2007 – The government will soon establish a ‘Diaspora Knowledge Network’ – an electronic platform to enable the Diaspora of overseas Indians to deploy knowledge and skills and transform ideas into individual initiatives and community action in India. Speaking at Harvard University on ‘The Indian Diaspora: It’s contribution to India’s Economic Development’ on the occasion of “Mahatma Gandhi Jayanti’ (birth anniversary), Mr.Vayalar Ravi, Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs said that a ‘Global Indian Foundation’ is also being set up to provide the Overseas Indian Community a credible window to channel Diaspora Philanthropy into deserving causes such as education, health and rural development.

Overseas Indians also are being engaged through the Overseas Citizenship of India scheme, similar to the Green Card of USA. A newly-established Overseas Indian Facilitation Centre, a not-for-profit trust, can be the Diaspora’s window to invest in India via a ‘one-stop-shop’, he added.

Estimated at about 30 million in 130 countries, the Indian Diaspora is a significant economic, social and cultural mosaic of peoples, regions, religions, languages, values, cultures and histories. Referred to as India’s “brand ambassadors” they produce an economic output of about $400 billion, and have an annual income equal to about 30 percent of India’s Gross Domestic Product. India is already the highest recipient of remittances at over $23 billion last year, nearly half of which – about $12 billion annually — comes from just 5 million overseas Indians in the Gulf.

Overseas Indians comprise one of the largest, most diverse, best educated communities. The Minister said that to draw upon and use this ‘Knowledge Bank’, an electronic platform is to be set up to enable the Diaspora to work on projects in India without having to relocate.



Monday, October 01, 2007 – More than 300 Indian and Thai businessmen attended a North East India Trade & Investment Opportunities Week, organized in Bangkok to promote Thai investment, especially tourism, into India’s eight North Eastern states: Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura. The event was organised by the Indian Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region, the Ministry of Commerce, and the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC).

Mani Shankar Aiyar, Union Minister of DoNER, headed what was called the largest ever delegation from India in Thailand. He said the North-East of India must develop the necessary absorptive capacity to accept significant Thai investments in sectors of strategic importance like Infrastructure, Agro & Food Processing, Tourism, Handloom & Handicrafts, etc. Saying that the India-Thailand FTA is a great positive step towards an improved bilateral relationship, Mr. Aiyar stressed the need for improving connectivity between the two countries, especially air connectivity.

Mr. Krirk-krai Jirapaet, the Thai Minister of Commerce, had earlier this year visited 3 North Eastern states for identifying areas for mutual business tie-ups and investment, as part of a high profile Thai business delegation. Infrastructure (road, rail, inland waterways, air connectivity and energy), food processing, tourism & hospitality, horticulture, handlooms & handicrafts, rubber and bamboo are sectors that Thailand is interested to explore in the North East, said Mr.Jirapaet.

The 4-day mega Investment Week also featured Exhibitions and Expositions on the North-East. The Chief Ministers of Manipur, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland, participated in the talks along with Mrs. Latha Reddy, Indian Ambassador to Thailand. The Investment Week is a follow up of the 3rd North East Business Summit held in April, 2007 in collaboration with the Indian Chamber of Commerce, Kolkata.

The Trilateral Highway Project, connecting Thailand, India and Myanmar, now under construction, will create new economic opportunities for both North-east India and Thailand. India is moving rapidly to upgrade the quality of roads in northeast India. One key project is known as the Special Accelerated Road Development Programme for North Eastern Region (SARDP–NE).

This week, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs has approved: (i) Improvements and construction of an additional 994 km roads, which adds upto a total of 2304 km; (ii) Tendering for 4-laning of 330 km of National Highway 44 in Tripura. Improvement and widening of roads will properly connect State Capital towns and District Headquarter towns of the North East Region and will also provide connectivity to remote and backward areas, industrial places, neighbouring countries etc. Phase ‘A’ is targeted to be completed by 2012-13 and Phase ‘B’ by 2015-16.

Progress of key road projects like the East West corridor in Assam has been held up by issues such as non-completion of land acquisition, diversion of forestland, shifting of telephone and electricity lines and security threats to workers and engineers. National Highways Authority of India officials have been told to ensure that the contractors speed up construction work in order to ensure completion by April 2010 and in accordance with international standards. Budget allocation for the project is a high Rs. two crore per km.



Tuesday, October 02, 2007 – A special advertisement policy package has been announced to support small and medium newspapers in regional and other languages such as Bodo, Dogri, Kashmiri, Khasi, Konkani, Maithili, Manipuri, Nepali, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi, Urdu and Tribal language newspapers published in Jammu & Kashmir, Andaman & Nicobar Islands and North Eastern States as well as those published in backward, hilly, border and remote areas. The special package applies to all advertising routed through the Directorate of Advertising & Visual Publicity (DAVP), the nodal agency of the Government of India for advertising by various Ministries and government organisations including public sector undertakings and autonomous bodies.

Under the new guidelines, 50% of all DAVP advertisements (in rupee terms) will be given to small and medium papers, with not less than 15% to small and not less than 35% to medium newspapers, up from the existing limit of 10% respectively, and 35% of all DAVP advertisements (in rupee terms) will be placed in regional and other languages newspapers, up from 30% presently. The Central Government public sector undertakings/autonomous bodies/societies also have been allowed to directly place classified and display advertisements in newspapers at DAVP rates and in line with the new percentage ceiling.


On October 03, 2007, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, addressed the 66th Annual General Meeting of Indian Language Newspapers Association. He noted that India is witness an unprecedented growth both in readership and viewership of media, thanks to rising literacy rates, growing political awareness and rising levels of incomes, along with urbanisation. “It may be no exaggeration to suggest that we are living through a golden era of Indian media,” the Prime Minister said. Excerpts from his speech:

“The expansion of regional language newspapers has contributed to greater employment opportunities as well as the growth of other media related industries and services. It has also widened the choice available to your readers and viewers. There is much greater variety, today, in terms of opinion and coverage. Such diversity is always good in a democracy.

“On the other hand, I must draw your attention to certain issues and urge you to reflect on them. I have said in the past that the quantitative growth we have witnessed in Indian media has outpaced qualitative growth. This is understandable partly because demand has been outstripping the supply of well trained journalists. In the long run, I hope, as supply adjusts, this problem will get addressed. But it does need the attention of your industry.

“I sincerely hope that your Association will pay greater attention to the challenge of improving the quality of journalism in our country. You are the medium through which the message of modernisation, the message of development, the message of national integration and the message of social justice must go to the far corners of our country. You have to promote communal harmony and secular values, which are the bedrock of our nation. You have a vital role to play in the transformation of our society and our polity.


“This is no doubt an onerous responsibility placed on the shoulders of Indian language media. The vast majority of our people see the world through your eyes. They see changes happening in our country and in their own regions through your coverage. Their thinking is shaped by the opinions you express through your newspapers. The challenge before you, therefore, is to help take India forward by changing the mindsets of our population. Modernisation is not just about better infrastructure, not about mere more creative comforts or the way we dress and live. Modernisation in the final analysis is an attitude of the state of the mind of our people.

“In an ancient land like India, successful modernisation must be rooted in our enduring traditions and socio-cultural values. At the same time, we must adapt some of these values, some of these norms to suit the needs of changing times. For example, our attitude towards the caste, our attitude towards women and to manual work. These must change so that our people, particularly our women and the downtrodden sections of our society do feel that they are part of the processes of social change and our effective partners in processes of social and economic development.

“Modernisation is not westernisation. Modernisation should be viewed as a means of dealing with the world as it is changing. It should be a process by which we embrace all that is good and creative in the new ideas and the new experiences that define the world around us. I hope our editors and journalists can implant this idea firmly in the minds of our people so that as a nation we are better equipped to deal with the winds of change.


“In a democracy, the media has to play a watchdog role. We in government do benefit enormously from the criticism and the corrective advice of the media. We have today a large number of grassroot programmes which seek to empower our people to become active partners in the processes of development. If these programmes are implemented honestly and effectively, they can certainly change the face of rural India in the next four or five years.

“The National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme, which we have decided to extend now to all rural districts of our country, if implemented honestly and sincerely will put a flow over rural income and certainly we will be able to soften very considerably the harsh edges of extreme poverty. But there are leakages, there are administrative inadequacies and it is the duty of the media and other civil society agents to highlight these weaknesses so that these programme can be implemented in the spirit which has guided their implementation. This is all necessary in a democracy.

“However, criticism should not promote cynicism or negativism. It should encourage positive change and give hope to our people. I welcome such criticism and I hope our media will continue to play a positive developmental role and strengthen our country and empower our people and strengthen the bonds of communion and community feeling, fellow feeling among various citizens of our great country.

“Small and medium newspapers have genuine difficulties and considering their importance in the development processes of a country as vast as ours, it is the solemn duty of the government to do all that we can to help them in the process of expansion and development of this segment of the newspaper industry. Some measures have been introduced, but if more is needed we would be very happy to sit together with editors and journalists to find out what are the genuine difficulties which we ought to be seeking to redress. You have my assurance that we will work to that object. Our government will do whatever is necessary to help the development of Indian language media.”



03 October 2007 – An India Urban Space 2007 Expo has been held in Mumbai to discuss India’s growing urbanisation challenges such as spatial planning, water supply and sanitation issues, waste management, urban transport, urban finances and e-governance. Over 1,000 delegates attended the inaugural function, including Mayors and Municipal Commissioners, private sector executives and urban planning experts. Coming in the backdrop of implementation of the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Development Mission (JNNURM), the event was organized by India Urban Space Foundation in partnership with the Ministry of Urban Development.

Urban Development Secretary, Mr.M Ramachandran, said that India Urban Space itself is a good example of public private partnership, not for building infrastructure projects, but as an event that forges partnerships for exchange of ideas, solutions and knowledge. Awards for excellence in implementation of urban infrastructure projects were given to the town of Suryapet from Andhra Pradesh for solid waste management; the city of Indore for public-partnership model in building city roads; and the town of Rampur from Uttar Pradesh for use of innovative trenchless technologies for building sewer systems in congested areas.

Over 30 cities participated in an accompanying Expo, showcasing their city vision, flagship projects and urban development initiatives. About 50 private sector companies and other service providers showcased their technologies, products and services. The municipalities of Surat, Kolkata and Greater Mumbai received awards for the best city booths.



Monday, October 01, 2007 – A master plan for the artificial recharge of ground water in India has identified a total area of 448,760 sq kms which need to be artificially recharged as a first priority to ameliorate the water scarcity problems. A master plan prepared by the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) under Ministry of Water Resources estimates that annually about 36,453 million cubic metres of surplus surface run-off can be recharged to augment the ground water. The Master Plan envisages construction of 2.25 lakh Artificial Recharge structures in rural areas at a cost of Rs. 19,880 crore. In Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, North Eastern States, Sikkim emphasis is to be placed on spring development and 2,700 springs are proposed for augmentation and development.

Urban areas are in need for conservation of ground water. Rooftop rainwater harvesting has been proposed both by augmenting the ground water storage as well as by storing it in specially built tanks. It is estimated that 37 lakh rooftop rainwater harvesting structures are feasible in the country at an estimated cost of Rs. 4590 crore. The total cost of the Master Plan is Rs. 24500 crore, to be implemented in a phased manner.



Wednesday, October 03, 2007 – India’s economic development has opened up another challenge – conserving and protecting the country’s wild flora and fauna. One among the world’s 12 Mega Biodiversity Countries, India organised a series of events to mark Wildlife Week, which coincided with Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary.

Mr. S.Regupathy, Minister of State for Environment and Forests further said a large network of 606 Protected Areas comprising 96 National Parks and 510 Wildlife Sanctuaries has been created, covering an area of 15.59 million hectares. Project Tiger has been restructured and transformed into the National Tiger Conservation Authority with wider mandate and powers.

Recent efforts have placed greater emphasis on better management planning for protected areas, expeditious settlement of rights, improved habitat management and strengthening of enforcement infrastructure. The Minister said that people’s participation and support are crucial for implementation of policies and programmes.

Ms Meena Gupta, Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests expressed concern over steadily shrinking nature and wildlife space, noting that wildlife conservation is an enormously difficult task in today’s world. She added that with human beings converting nature to serve their own comforts, they are changing climate of this world, which was once a vast expanse of landscape and water spaces teeming with innumerable life forms, plants and animals.

She said that in India the ethos of conservation are deeply ingrained in our national culture. Conservation Movements by people such as Chipko Movement in Uttarakhand and the Bishnoi Conservation of Rajasthan bear testimony to this. The story of the Dodo, a bird of Madagascar and Passenger pigeon in North America are such examples of extinction. India has lost the Cheetah and Himalayan Quail. The tiger, the lion, the elephant, the rhino and many other lesser-known species are seriously threatened due to loss of forest.

Two individuals were conferred Rajiv Gandhi Wildlife Conservation Awards: Mr. Mike Pandey and Mr. Himmat Singh Negi. Mr. Pandey is the first Asian to win the UN International Award for Outstanding Achievements in Global Conservation. Dr. Negi is an outstanding forest officer and active in the wildlife management and conservation.

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