In an age where open-source technologies such as Wikipedia and Linux are re-defining the world, seasoned journalist M. B. Lal has come up with a simple non-patented invention that aims at helping people keep cool during the sizzling hot summers

Sonia Nudges Manmohan On Package For Farmers, Women And Tax Breaks Setting the agenda for the government, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi has asked it to focus on farm loans, women-related schemes and income tax slabs in the Budget. During three rounds of deliberations with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spread over the last week, the UPA chief, sources disclosed, sought to nudge her visitor on what she thinks should be the defining themes of the Budget in an election year. Sonia was keen on a package for farmers and there were already signs to suggest that the PM may have already heeded the advice. Addressing a group of farmers from Punjab asking for debt relief for small and marginal land owners, Singh said, "I would like to assure you that under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi, our government will pay attention to the demands listed in the memorandum submitted.' The Congress chief also made no bones of the fact that the package figures on the top of the "to do' list she has framed for the government. "We know farmers are facing difficult times. I hope, I know Manmohan Singh's government will give due attention to your demands,' Sonia said. Sources rated the chances of a waiver, at least on the interest component, for defaulters among small and marginal farmers as a certainty. As reported by TOI on December 31, the package could cover bad and doubtful loans worth at least Rs 30,000 crore. While the PM refused to get into details citing Budget confidentiality, the government's receptivity to suggestions from political leadership should be happy augury for those expecting a relook at income tax slabs. While the government was expected to push up the exemption limit to Rs 1.25 lakh from Rs 1.1 lakh at present, an upward revision in the tax slab was not being hotly pursued by the finance ministry. An increase in the basic slab of 10% from Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 2 lakh would cost the exchequer around Rs 5,000 crore and the tax department brass was not keen on foregoing easy money coming its way. Given the enhanced stakes for the party in wooing urban India, the party leadership is hoping that Sonia's prod might cause them to pull out their calculators once again. Delimitation has increased the number of urban constituencies where tax payers constitute a significant slice of the electorate while Delhi, which boasts of the largest number of salaried tax payers in the country, is scheduled to go to polls later this year. The party expects tax concession to help blunt BJP's attempt to reclaim its constituency among the urban middle class. Apart from the plight of farmers, Sonia has also asked the government to focus on schemes aimed at empowering women. She had made this priority plain while on a visit to her constituency last week, and the preference for "gender justice' was repeated during the interactions with Singh. Sources said that among other things, the Integrated Child Development Scheme was likely to be strengthened. sidhartha.kumar@timesgroup.com diwakar.asthana@timesgroup.com POPULAR TOUCH: Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi with a delegation of farmers from Punjab, in New Delhi on Monday

The National Urban Health Mission (NUHM) will cover 100 cities, including the four metros and Bangalore, in the first phase. Of the 429 cities identified for the five-year-mission, which aims at improving the health of the urban poor and other disadvantaged sections, facilitating access to the health system, the remaining 329 will be covered in the second phase. This will benefit 22 crore people, with the focus on a five-crore slum population. All cities with a population above one lakh, State capitals and even district headquarters will be brought under NUHM purview. "This is the second largest health programme that will fill the lacunae created after the implementation of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) and take care of the unmet needs in the fast urbanisation process,' Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss told The Hindu here on Wednesday. The Rs. 9,159-crore mission, to be launched in a few months, would focus on private participation and insurance. "The scheme is likely to take off much faster due to awareness, presence of non-governmental organisations and better accessibility in the cities.' The Ministry proposed to implement the programme by strengthening the existing systems, rationalising manpower and resources, and filling the gaps in service delivery through private-public partnerships. "The guidelines for administration and operationalisation of the mission will flow from the NRHM which will then be implemented by urban civic bodies,' Dr. Ramadoss said. As far as possible, the NUHM would converge with institutional structures such as the Jawaharlal Nehru National Renewal Mission and the Integrated Child Development Services. The mission would need 4,500 Urban Health Centres acting as focal points; of these 2,500 existing structures would be strengthened, followed by priority to private-public partnership and creation of infrastructure. Each centre would be a referral point with the facilities of out-patient department and maternal healthcare. Accredited Social Health Activists of the NRHM in the cities would be known as Urban Social Health Activists, each catering for a population of 2,000.

The 10th Venu Menon National Animal Award's Ceremony was recently held here. Kapila Vatsyayan, Member of Parliament; Sathya Saran, renowned journalist and editor, DNA; MK Ranjitsinh, chairman Wildlife Trust of India; KB Menon, chairman, Venu Menon Animal Allies Foundation graced the occasion and conferred awards on six individuals, two organisations and one community for making a difference to the lives of animals by acts of kindness and extraordinary courage. Fred O'Regan, president of International Fund for Animal Welfare, delivered the 8th Venu Menon Memorial Lecture on the occasion. Vivek Menon, managing trustee of Venu Menon Animal Allies Foundation and executive director of Wildlife Trust of India while addressing the event said, "In ten years, the awards ceremony has grown to a national event of great importance among the animal welfare and wildlife fraternity. This is the best tribute to Venu's memory that the foundation can hope for.' The Venu Menon Animal Awards are India's premier private awards that commemorate excellence in animal welfare. Started in 1998 in the memory of Venu Menon, an animal lover and a highly respected and successful Communications Consultant.

The 2005 report of the Dehradun-based Forest Survey of India reveals that the forest and tree cover in Delhi now stands at 19.09% of the total geographical area which is an increase of 15 sq km over the 2003 assessment. The survey report attributes this increase in open forest cover of the total forest cover to plantations carried out in the capital. Like all other states, Delhi has to reach the target of expanding the green cover to 33 per cent of the capital's geographical area by 2021 to meet the requirements of the National Forest Policy. Environment secretary JK Dadoo said the assessment of 2005 is information in retropect and a lot of greening action has happened between 2005 and 2007.

With three more cases of meningococcaemia reported in the last 24 hours, taking the total number of cases this year up to 64, the spread of the potentially deadly disease is still far from being checked. The toll so far this year is 10. However, the number of cases reported till date this year is still much lower than the last two years.

Dhalaos will soon be a thing of the past. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) hopes to begin door-to-door garbage collection in Shahdara (south) in next 45 days. They also plan to float tenders to invite private parties to carry out the collection in Najafgarh and South zone within the next three weeks.

The new MCD commissioner K S Mehra took over charge on Wednesday from A K Nigam. Mehra had served as the principal secretary (Urban development) before this and is a 1978 batch IAS officer.

New Delhi: In what could be a fresh headache for government, a petition challenging the constitutional validity of a pet UPA project, the Forest Rights Act aimed at giving land rights to traditional forest dwellers, has been filed by prominent wildlife groups in Supreme Court.

Gram panchayat members of 19 villages have demanded that the compensation for land acquisition be increased from Rs.75 lakh per acre to Rs.2 crore. At a meeting organised by senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Vijay Goel at Alipur here, it was pointed out that the Delhi Government had increased the compensation from Rs.25 lakh per acre to only Rs.75 lakh per acre in the last ten years, "even though the market price in these areas had gone up to Rs.3 crore per acre'.

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