Sydney: Organic chickens might have a better life but when it comes to the end, there is no difference in the taste between free range and factory-raised birds, according to a taste test by Australian food experts. Consumer advocate Choice lined up a panel of four food experts to taste eight different roast chickens

Flagship explorer Oil and Natural Gas Corporation has drilled several holes in CAG's recent observations, first reported by TOI, that ONGC was

On Board Sagar Nidhi: It's an acquisition that would make India's deep-sea research scale new heights and the grit of scientists from National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) indicates they are raring to put the Rs 232-crore

Even before the applause for a Budget

The discussion on the President's address got off to a confrontationist and bitter start in Lok Sabha on Monday with NDA and UPA benches repeatedly interrupting each other even as Leader of Opposition L K Advani called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to reveal how the mega loan waiver would be funded. Advani said while a relief package for farmers was welcome, it was incumbent on government to tell Parliament how it intended to compensate banks and cooperatives for the Rs 60,000 crore sop. "Will this be by way of bonds that will be redeemed later?' he asked. He also pointed out that rural distress had been aggravated by price rise. The Radhakrishnan report on indebtedness said that there were a range of factors that were adding to the farmers' burden. Many farmers who were facing a debt trap had borrowed heavily from private money lenders. He sought to link the waiver with the possibility of an early election and said "since last August there has been uncertainty' referring to Congress-Left brinksmanship over the India-US nuclear deal. He said an unstable government could not deliver. Advani was interrupted with Congress MPs questioning him on issues like the record on combatting terror and BJP's position on Telangana. The heckling seemed part of a pre-planned script. Congress chief Sonia Gandhi's decision to sit on the last bench during the debate seemed to encourage her MPs who competed with one another in aggressively defending the party. The loan waiver issue also had an echo in Rajya Sabha with BJP and CPM charging the Centre with not addressing the real concerns of the poor. Participating in the discussion on the motion of thanks, Abhishek Singhvi (Congress) said the economy had grown by over 8% in the last four years. "But this gung-ho spirit has to be tempered' in the face of hard reality of 25% people still living below the poverty line.

Nath: Where Will Funds Come From? The mega loan waiver announced by the Manmohan Singh government is running into some in-house scepticism with doubts about funding for the give-away being aired in the Cabinet. On Monday, a meeting of the Cabinet saw commerce minister Kamal Nath asking whether the government had made provisions for the Rs 60,000 crore scheme it has announced in the Budget. He also seemed to argue that it would have been better if the Cabinet had been taken into confidence. Sources said that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh intervened to commend finance minister P Chidambaram and the loan waiver. Foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee also said that the finance ministry has chalked out the broad direction and details will soon be worked out. This reflected doubts put forward that the waiver unfairly lumps farmers tilling irrigated lands with those in dry-land conditions and that the two hectare cut-off for beneficiaries cannot apply across the country. Wondering whether the waiver would benefit distressed farmers, minister of state for new and renewable energy Vilas Muttemwar told TOI, "The problem lies in many farmers in areas like Vidarbha owning up to 15 acres of land, but being very poorly off. It is not just the small farmer, even those with larger holdings, who actually can access credit, are suffering.' Muttemwar said he would speak to the Prime Minister and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and ask for the eligibility for the Rs 60,000 crore waiver announced by the government to be altered in a state or regionwise manner. He also said that even smaller farmers might not be able to use the waiver as they were largely indebted to private money lenders. Muttemwar disputed agriculture minister and NCP boss Sharad Pawar's call to farmers to stop paying money lenders. "This is easier said than done. These loan sharks get farmers to sign agreement to sale documents. Even those sales are being closely scrutinised, it is not easy for farmers to simply throw off the yoke of money lenders,' he said. The minister's views could be some cause for worry as he represents Nagpur, the political centre of the Vidarbha region which has been reeling from suicides by farmers. The criticism that farmers who need help might be outside the waiver also dovetails with the argument that UPA's largesse will help well-off agriculturalists in areas like western Maharashtra. Well-known agro-economist M S Swaminathan agreed that it was difficult to compare farmers from green revolution states with those in impoverished dust bowls. "Comparing farmers owning two hectares in Punjab with those with holdings of similar size in Rajasthan or Vidarbha is unfair. The size of holdings in distressed areas should be much bigger,' he said. Swaminathan said farmers in irrigated areas who used advanced methods had access to credit much in excess to what farmers in distressed areas were able to garner. Budget can't be challenged in court: SC Even before the applause for a Budget

With the Capital's power generation unlikely to increase till 2010, the Delhi government has started emphasising on energy conservation. In a bid to promote optimum electricity utilisation among youngsters, the power and education departments have come together to spread awareness among schoolchildren. The awareness initiative will be first implemented in about 500 schools in east and central Delhi, before being carried out in other parts of the city. Termed Bijli Gyan Abhiyan, the discom which caters to these areas

Pretoria: The Doha round of world trade talks could still be concluded by year's end, the head of the World Trade Organisation Pascal Lamy said, despite a European warning of a "high risk of failure.' "We are nearing the end game. Whether it's a success or failure I can't say, but it's doable,' WTO director general Pascal Lamy said after meeting South African President Thabo Mbeki. The talks, launched in the Qatari capital in 2001 and aimed at liberalising world trade, were due to be completed by 2004, but have floundered on disagreements between developed and emerging economies. The WTO is now hoping that a deal might be signed by its 151 members by the end of 2008. "There is much more on the table than last year,' Lamy said in Pretoria. The European Union trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, said on that he feared Doha was now "facing a high risk of failure, the first failure ever for a multilateral trade round. "That would not be a good signal for the global economy which needs the confidence boost and the insurance against protectionism,' he said. But Lamy said doubts were normal at this point in the process. "We are at a crunch-time .. It's not surprising that positions stiffen,' he said. Negotiations have stalled with poorer nations criticizing agricultural subsidies in the developed nations, and the richer economies arguing for lower tariff barriers for industrial products and services. Lamy compared the process with landing a cargo plane, saying "we know now on agriculture which portion of the tarmac we will land on. It is still a little more risky in industry ... and services are more complex.' AFP

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A large part of identifying the beneficiaries, crucial for the success of the Rs 60,000-crore loan waiver to farmers, will be entrusted to banks. It is felt that this would be the best option for the government as banks are expected to have records of persons they have given loans to, and in the case of farmers, would also have the size of their holdings. Having set 2 hectares or 5 acres as the size of holdings for the waiver's beneficiaries, the government has the mammoth task of getting accurate lists ready so as to facilitate a complete rollout by the June 30 deadline. Commercial and rural banks and cooperatives would have an incentive to draw up lists as they would be paid money for loans which had suffered defaults. Official sources pointed out that most of the loans being targeted were anyway "basket cases' for the banks. With little hope of recovery, the banks should be more than willing to divert resources to identify farmers who can benefit from UPA's largesse. In this way, the government would not have to depend on land and revenue records, which were not always well maintained and could be open to manipulation as well. Though payment to the banks will be staggered, in the first year, the banks will be given Rs 40,000 crore. Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar told the media that in the next three years, the figure would be Rs 8,800 crore for 2008-09 and 2009-10 while the final amount to be paid in 2010-11 was expected to be Rs 2,400 crore. While the effectiveness of the loan waiver, and its potential political benefit, is being discussed, the Congress leadership is in an upbeat mood. Scenes of farmers celebrating and dancing have helped waiver enthusiasts argue that the Budget announcement was a popular hit. The massive giveaway, along with the pro-middle class decision to raise incometax exemption limits, could deliver a formidable advantage to the ruling combine. Those who feel somewhat differently point out that most of the really distressed farmers were engaged in dry-land farming. In normal circumstances, they were not eligible for high loan amounts and in contrast, farmers in irrigated areas, with holdings of similar size, would get larger loans. Dry-land farmers had to depend on private money lenders and these debts were outside the waiver. On the other hand, farmers in irrigated areas would now benefit from the waiver while also being in a position to raise regular loans from banks.