Pranab backs Arjun on Anderson's escape


Battling charges over escape of Warren Anderson days after the Bhopal tragedy, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Sunday sought to give a new spin on the issue, saying Arjun Singh took the decision on then Union Carbide CEO's exit keeping in view the law and order situation.
"The statement made by Singh as Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister five days after the Bhopal disaster had been published in a newspaper," he told reporters in Kolkata.
"It is very clear from the statement of Arjun Singh, which was published in The Times of India on December 8, 1984, that the law and order situation in Bhopal would have deteriorated and people's frenzy and temper were running high. Therefore, it was thought necessary to send him (Anderson) out of Bhopal," he said.
He was asked if the Congress was trying to shield Singh on the issue of exit of Anderson from the country.
On whether the government was considering Anderson's extradition to India, Mukherjee said the government would look into the legal avenues available for the possible extradition.
"Though we cannot comment on the court judgement, we have to go to a higher judiciary where there is an appellate provision. We will appeal there," he said.

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Iran OKs 'peace pipeline' deal with Pakistan


Tehran: Iran finalised a USD 7 billion "peace pipeline" deal on Sunday to export natural gas to Pakistan by 2015, Iran's state television reported. 

"The deal was signed. Export of Iran's gas to Pakistan will be launched by the end of 2015," state TV reported. 

"For 25 years Iran will export one million cubic meters of natural gas to Pakistan per day," it said. 

The project is crucial for Pakistan to avert a growing energy crisis already causing severe electricity shortages in the country of about 170 million, at the same time as it confronts Islamist militancy.

Iran has the world's second largest gas reserves after Russia but has struggled for years to develop its oil and gas resources. Iranian officials say the country needs USD 25 billion to develop its crucial energy industry.

Sanctions by the West, political turmoil and construction delays have slowed Iran's development as an exporter.

The pipeline will connect Iran's giant South Fars gas field with Pakistan's southern Baluchistan and Sindh provinces.

State television said the pipeline was 1,000 km (620 miles) long, with about 907 km of it already built.

Dubbed the "peace pipeline," the project has been planned since the 1990s and originally would have extended from Pakistan to its old rival, India. New Delhi has been reluctant to join the project because of its long-running distrust of Pakistan, with whom it has fought three wars since independence in 1947.

Under a deal signed in March, Pakistan will be allowed to charge a transit fee if the proposed pipeline is eventually extended to India.

The United States has tried to discourage India and Pakistan from any deal with Iran because of Tehran's disputed nuclear programme, which the West fears is a cover to build bombs.

Iran, hit by a fourth round of UN sanctions on Wednesday over its refusal to suspend its uranium enrichment activities, denies any such ambitions. 

Anti-Naxal operations


A revised strategy to combat Maoist insurgents is being planned with the focus on precise intelligence, specialised training, modern equipment and faster mobility for the anti-Naxal forces.
Under the new plan being worked out, a slew of operational measures will be instituted and high-end equipment acquired over the next few months with an aim to strengthen the state police forces, official sources said.
On the anvil is a new deployment plan for the central paramilitary forces -- BSF, ITBP and CRPF. This, the sources said, would involve re-shuffling of the forces from one area of operation to the other.
Now that the Cabinet has for the moment ruled out deployment of the Army, the operations of the special anti-Naxal unit of the CRPF -- SAF -- will be broadened, the sources said.
"We will have to do with whatever force we have in our hands. Emphasis would be to provide a more rigorous and systematic training to state police personnel who will lead the fight against Naxals," a source said.
The Union Home Ministry is now looking at recruiting ex-servicemen for demining duties.
Sources said the thrust of the operation would be undertaken by the state police forces who "will have to be provided with modern weapons and systematic training."
The Home Ministry is also looking at possible "substantial" increase in the funds given to the state government for modernisation of police forces.
The Ministry is likely to push for more anti-landmine vehicles and other armoured vehicles.
With the Defence Ministry unable to provide helicopters for transportation and evacuation, the Ministry is looking at hiring private helicopter operators.

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