Cooperation only way forward for energy security: Krishna

India and other countries in Asia can achieve energy security only with regional cooperation as opposed to competition to satisfy the growing demand given the backdrop of constraints, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna has said.

“Energy security is an issue of great importance for the development, progress and well-being of our peoples,” Krishna said, inaugurating the Delhi Dialogue-II conference on regional security and cooperation.

“A regional approach on energy matters can accommodate competing demands and constraints while shifting the focus from competition to cooperation based on mutual interests,” the external affairs minister added.

“In the wake of the recent global financial and economic crisis, which was not of our making, it is imperative to develop greater cooperation among developing countries, so that we have an effective voice in the international financial architecture.”

The event was organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry in association with the external affairs ministry and a host of think tanks from the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Krishna said cooperation between India and ASEAN was varied and functional, and included sectors such as trade, investment, science, technology, health, pharmaceuticals, space, agriculture, IT, communications, infrastructure, tourism and culture.

“The India-ASEAN Trade-in-Goods Agreement under a Free Trade Agreement, which came into force on Jan 1, has opened new possibilities for the expansion of trade with the region. We hope agreements on trade-in-services and investment will be concluded soon.”

He said bilateral trade between India and several members of ASEAN, including Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore, had crossed $10 billion each.

“India since the early 1990s has been closely pursuing closer relations with South East Asia and the Pacific regions as envisioned in our ‘Look East Policy’. It is our belief expanding our dialogue and cooperation would greatly contribute to our common endeavour for inclusive socio-economic development of our peoples.”

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India ready for ‘any eventuality’ in case of another 26/11: Krishna

A day after the US warned Pakistan of the limits to India’s patience in the event of another Mumbai-like attack, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna on Thursday on said the government would have to be prepared to meet any eventuality.

“Yes, that is a worrying development because having been a victim of an earlier attack, gone through the anguish, the agony, the trauma, I think India certainly will have to be prepared to meet any such eventuality,” he told reporters.

Krishna was responding to a question on US Defence Secretary Robert Gates’ remarks Wednesday that it would be extremely difficult for India to show “restraint and statesmanship” if another 26/11 attack was repeated.

“Of course, the defence forces and the home ministry are in close touch and coordination with the external affairs ministry and it will be our endeavour to maintain peace and tranquility within India,” he said.

Gates Wednesday had warned India about the possibility of more terror strikes from the Al Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

Appreciating India’s restraint after the Mumbai attacks in 2008, Gates had said: “The situation is complicated in the region. The terrorists operations intend to destabilise the region and a 26/11 type of attack on India will test New Delhi’s patience.”

“The LeT which is operating in league with the Al Qaeda is dangerous for the whole region of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India,” he had said.

At the height of tensions between the two neighbours following the Mumbai massacre, allegedly masterminded and executed by Pakistani militants, India had ruled out war as an option. Instead New Delhi has asked Islamabad repeatedly to punish the terrorists linked to the Mumbai carnage and dismantle the larger anti-India infrastructure on its territory.

Hyd not a terror hub: A.K. Khan

It was improper to term Hyderabad as a terror hub, the city’s new police commissioner Abdul Khayyum Khan said Thursday.

“Terrorism is not confined to Hyderabad alone. Every city has this problem. It is not correct to say that whatever happens in other parts of the country is planned here or terrorism has its roots here,” Khan told reporters after taking charge.

Khan, the second Muslim to become the city’s police chief in nearly three decades, said very few “elements” in Hyderabad were involved in terror activity.

“We have identified them and are keeping a watch on their activity. In the past, some modules and sleeper cells were busted and a continuous vigil on such activities will be a priority for the police,” Khan, who succeeded B. Prasada Rao, said.

Khan, earlier an additional director general of police, is a 1981 batch Indian Police Service (IPS) officer.

Khan, who is from the Rayalaseema region, said police would perform its duties professionally while handling “ongoing movements”. He was referring to the campaign for and against a Telangana state.

“For the last two to three months, the intensity of different movements has affected civic life in the city but I am confident that the city will pass through this phase. The police have the responsibility to bring normalcy as quickly as possible.”

Khan, who served in the city in different positions for the last six years, said he was taking over as the police chief of the historic city with a sense of humility and pride.

Telangana issue: CCS to investigate student’s death

Investigations into the death of K Venugopal Reddy, an MCA student who allegedly committed suicide for the cause of separate Telangana state, have been handed over to the Central Crime Station (CCS), a top official of Hyderabad police said today.

“As the local police were busy maintaining law and order, the case has been handed over to CCS. The autopsy and a report of the Forensic Science Laboratory are awaited. The CCS will conduct field inquiries and whatever will be the facts…we will bring out,” Hyderabad’s new Police Commissioner A K Khan told reporters here.

CCS is a wing of Hyderabad City Police.

The charred body of Venugopal was found near Tagore Auditorium in the Osmania University campus on Tuesday sparking off violent protests from students.

U.S. lifts ban on Muslim scholar

The U.S. administration has lifted a ban on a planned visit by a leading European Muslim critic of the Iraq war, a U.S. official said on Wednesday, in a move hailed by a rights group as a victory for civil liberties.

The scholar, Professor Tariq Ramadan of Oxford University, said the decision showed what he called a new U.S. willingness to permit critical debate. He had been barred from the United States due to alleged terrorism ties, which he denies.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the State Department had also decided to end the exclusion of another prominent scholar, Professor Adam Habib of Johannesburg University, who had been critical of U.S. counter-terrorism policies.

“The orders ending the exclusion of Adam Habib and Tariq Ramadan are long overdue and tremendously important,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project, saying this was “a major vistory for civil liberties”.

“For several years, the United States government was more interested in stigmatizing and silencing its foreign critics than in engaging them. The decision… is a welcome sign the Obama administration is committed to facilitating rather than obstructing the exchange of ideas across international borders.”

A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the decision about Ramadan meant that if he applied for a visa in future “he will not be found inadmissable based on the facts that led to the previous denial.”

The official said the decision was based on a “specific exemption” to U.S. immigration rules after consultation with the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.

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“Professor Ramadan remains subject to all other standards of eligibility” should he apply for a U.S. visa, the official said.

Ramdan, who has Swiss citizenship, told Reuters that as a result of the decision he would apply soon for a visa to visit the United States.

Campaigners have championed the case of Ramadan and Habib as part of a pattern of scholars and writers being excluded due to unwarranted or unspecified U.S. national security grounds.

The United States has revoked Ramadan’s visa several times since 2004.

India outsourcers hiring staff as US demand grows

India’s top three outsourcing companies are ramping up hiring and increasing pay as global corporations, mainly from the U.S., send more work offshore to cut costs as they emerge from the downturn.

Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys and Wipro expanded their global workforces by an average of 5.1 per cent last quarter, together adding 16,701 employees, company documents show – an early sign that the Great Recession may ultimately benefit India as cost-conscious companies outsource more work, just as they did after the dot-com bust.

“Our expectations are for flat to marginally stronger IT budgets with a greater share of offshore spend,” Wipro chairman Azim Premji said in a conference call Wednesday. “Our customers remain focused on cost reduction.” he added.

The employment revival in India’s outsourcing sector, which counts on the U.S. for about 60 per cent of global sales, comes as unemployment in the U.S. stagnates around 10 per cent near a 26-year high. Inflation-adjusted wages in the U.S. last year fell 1.6 per cent, the biggest decline since 1990.

“When there is a downturn the compulsion to control costs increases,” said Dipen Shah, an analyst at Mumbai’s Kotak Securities. “The demand for off-shoring will increase. That will play to the advantage of Indian IT companies.” he added.

He argues that the cost savings from off-shoring has helped U.S. companies survive – and that’s good for the American worker.

“You might say jobs in the U.S. are getting displaced by jobs in India, but because of the value provided by Indian companies and lower costs, there are firms who are able to keep their heads above water and continue to employ their existing employees,” he said.

TCS, Infosys and Wipro, which can do everything from call center management and claims processing to software development and consulting, all reported stronger than expected results for the December quarter. Revenues and volumes grew, signalling that the cost-cutting imperative of this last, lean year may be over for India’s $60 billion software services industry.

After about a year of hiring slowdowns, all three companies are sweetening compensation as the fight to hold on to talented employees in India heats up.

Infosys offered its Indian employees an average 8 per cent pay hike in October, their first raise since April 2008, and executives said last week they are considering another raise to combat rising attrition.

“The market is heating up and we want to retain talent,” human resources director Mohandas Pai told reporters.

Infosys last week raised its gross hiring target for the second time this fiscal year, to 24,000 people.

Wipro executives said they plan to offer staffers a raise in February.

Tata Consultancy Services has paid out 150 percent of performance-lined pay – which amount to 20 to 45 per cent of compensation – for the last two quarters, and executives say they will raise salaries next quarter, after a year-long wage freeze.

As demand for workers revives, employers have begun to worry about rising staff turnover. Employees who sat tight during the downturn have started to shop around for better jobs and better salaries.

Attrition at Wipro jumped to 13.4 per cent last quarter, up from an average of 8.9 per cent over the prior three quarters. Attrition at Infosys rose to 11.6 per cent last quarter from 10.9 per cent the prior quarter. Attrition at TCS has been stable, at around 11.5 per cent, though executives say they expect that number to rise.

Indian firms say they are increasing global hiring, including in the U.S., as they pursue higher-end work like consulting. But U.S. employees remain a fraction of total staff.

TCS, for example, recently finished hiring 250 Americans for its Cincinnati campus, but U.S. employees still account for less than 0.5 per cent of the company’s global workforce.

Twitter’s Growth Slows Dramatically

hubspot_logo_jan09.jpgAfter news about the landing of US Airways 1549 in the Hudson first broke on Twitter in January 2009, the microblogging service quickly captured the imagination of a new group of potential users. Throughout the first months of 2009,  Twitter grew at a rapid pace, peaking at a growth rate of 13% in March 2009.

Now, however, according to the latest data from HubSpot, Twitter’s growth is slowing dramatically. In October 2009, Twitter’s growth rate had fallen to 3.5%. On a positive note, though, the average active user on Twitter today is more engaged than six months ago.

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Most Twitter users, however – even if they are now more engaged on average – still have fewer than 100 followers. Only 18% of all Twitter users have more than 100 followers. A total of 81% of all users are currently also following less than 100 people. Just six months ago, the average user was just following around 40 accounts.

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HubSpot’s analysis also shows that more Twitter users now include bios (54%), links (65%) and location data (41%) in their profiles.

International Footprint Increases

As we pointed out earlier this month, social media analytics firm Sysomos also noted that most of Twitter’s growth is currently happening internationally. According to HubSpot’s analysis of over 5 million Twitter accounts, 40% of the top 20 Twitter locations are now outside of North America. In July 2009, only 15% were from outside North America.

For Twitter, this means that its current user base is making better use of the service, but the company also has to worry that its growth is slowing down. Maybe some of the earlier high growth rates were inflated by spam accounts, but a 3.5% growth rate is very low and the overall trend is only pointing down at this time.