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July 1st, 2008

Shiv Shankar Mukherjee Presents His Credentials To Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

India's High Commissioner to Britain, Shiv Shankar Mukherjee, on June 24 presented his credentials to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at the Buckingham Palace. He was accompanied by his wife, Nalini, and senior members of his diplomatic staff. Mukherjee is the 21st High Commissioner of India to the United Kingdom since 1947.

Mukherjee moved to London after an eventful and successful three-year stint in Kathmandu, capital of Nepal, during which the Himalayan country witnessed revolutionary changes resulting in the abolition of monarchy. With India having a crucial role in Nepal, he is credited with having efficiently handled the situation arising in that country since King Gyanendra seized power in February 2005.

A major popular movement followed which resulted in the king giving up absolute power and rebel Maoists joining the government after a decade-long fight against the system

Mukherjee joined the Indian Foreign Service in the year 1971. He was an attaché to the Under Secretary (Bangladesh) in the Ministry of External Affairs from July 1973 to August 1975. As Secretary, he was in Damascus from September 1975 to April 1979 and then in Brussels from April 1979 to June 1982. He then served as the Deputy High Commissioner in Lusaka from August 1982 to August 1985.

Mukherjee has carried out a wide range of diplomatic assignments in Africa, Asia, Europe, U.S. and at the Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi. He has served in Washington, Windhoek, Cairo and Pretoria.

As a Director, Mukherjee was spokesperson of the Indian Foreign Ministry from December 1988 to July 1989. He was Joint Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs from November 1992 to June 1994. He also served as the Director-General of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) from July 1994 to September 1995. From October 1995 to July 1998, he served as the Minister (Press Information & Culture) in Washington.

Before Nepal, Ambassador Mukherjee was India's High Commissioner to South Africa from November 2000 to September 2004. He also served as India's Ambassador to Egypt from August 1998 to November 2000 and High Commissioner to Namibia from March 1990 to November 1992. Earlier, Mukherjee also served as the Head of India Observer Mission at Windhoek from July 1989 to March 1990.

Ambassador Mukherjee is married with two children. He is a Post Graduate in Chemistry from Delhi University.

President Patil Launches E-Passport Scheme

India on June 25 became the first major developing country to launch electronic passports. President Pratibha Devisingh Patil launched the e-passport scheme at a ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan, where External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee presented the first diplomatic e-passport to her. Mukherjee also presented an e-diplomatic passport to Patil's husband Devisingh Shekhawat. The biometric passports are initially meant for diplomats. They would be issued to those included in the "officials category" from next month. The scheme will be extended to other citizens from September next year.

"It is compatible with international standards and national identity cards and would protect against fraud and security breaches," Mukherjee said. "It is easy to verify the authenticity of e-passports," he said while allaying security concerns about the new scheme. "It will make it easier for the Indian citizens to cross border control points with e-passports reading facilities," Patil said.

Alluding to India's rising international profile and growing global linkages, the President underlined that the passport issuance is an area where the government has to constantly balance the needs of security with making passports and travel facilities easier for the people.

The External Affairs Minister then called on Vice President Hamid Ansari and presented e-passports to him and his wife. Later, Mukherjee presented Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh his e-passport at his residence. With the national launch, India has become the 42nd country to issue e-passports.The Indian e-passports conform to the specifications laid down by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

The e-passports contain an electronic contactless chip embedded in the passport booklet and its cover page has an ICAO approved special logo.

The chip in the e-passport booklets for diplomats and officials will contain data such as facial bio-metrics, signature, name, nationality and date of birth of the passport holder. Specified bio-metric features such as the fingerprints of the holder are also proposed to be added to this data when e-passports are issued in the ordinary pass-port category.

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Direct tax collections up 71%

India's direct tax collections continued to grow at a robust pace to log a 71.28 percent rise in the first two months of this fiscal at Rs.228.4 billion ($5.7 million), against Rs.133.35 billion in the like two months of the previous fiscal. The growth in personal income tax was the highest with 73.05 percent at Rs.146.9 billion, against Rs.84.89 billion, while the corporate tax mop-up was higher by 68 percent at Rs.81.26 billion against Rs.48.35 billion. "Direct tax collections have been witnessing a high growth due to better tax compliance by the taxpayers and an improved tax administration," a statement issued by the Finance Ministry said on June 19.

Finance Minister P. Chidambaram recently said that the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) would meet soon to revise upward the official estimate on direct taxes for this fiscal, set at Rs.3,650 billion.

Wheat production record high

India's wheat production has touched a record high of 78 million tonnes for 2007-08 against the third advanced estimate of 76.78 million tonnes. "The wheat production for 2007-08 has gone up to 78 million tonnes. It is the highest figure in the past eight years," Food Corporation of India (FCI) chairman and managing-director Alok Sinha, told reporters in New Delhi. India's total wheat production in 1999-2000 was 74.25 million tonnes. Sinha hoped wheat procurement would touch the 25 million tonne mark when further procurement is made; it was 22.02 million tonnes till June 12. Total procurement last year was 11.13 million tonnes.

An official press communiqué from the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food, and Public Distribution recently said that government agencies had procured 22.02 million tonnes. A sharp increase in production means that India may not have to import wheat at all, as its requirement of wheat based on actual consumption is estimated to be 74.8 million tonnes by 2011-12.

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India to build 43 new IT cities

The Government is planning to build 43 new information technology (IT) cities across the country to tap the huge surge in demand for IT-enabled services over the next 10 years. The move comes at a time when the rising infrastructure and employee costs in big cities is threatening to blunt India's crucial cost advantage.

The plan to build brand new towns is designed to address some of these issues. It is felt that these new towns will provide a steady supply of workers besides being specifically geared towards the needs of the IT and BPO sectors. The proposal, suggested by a high-level group on service sector, has been cleared by the Planning Commission.

At present, the major volume of IT-enabled services is concentrated in seven cities - Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Gurgaon and Noida.

On the other pages

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India Pakistan Sri Lanka Bangladesh UK

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